The master of Chadlands was both drawn
and repelled by his guest. Signor Mannetti revealed
a type of mind entirely beyond the other’s experience,
and while he often uttered sentiments with which Sir
Walter found himself in cordial agreement, he also
committed himself to a great many opinions that surprised
and occasionally shocked the listener. Sir Walter
was also conscious that many words uttered flew above
his understanding. The old Italian could juggle
with English almost as perfectly as he was able to
do with his own language. He had his country’s
mastery of the phrase, the ironies, the double meanings,
half malicious, half humorous, the outlook on humanity
that delights to surprise the compliment
that, on closer examination, proves really to be the
reverse. Mary’s father voiced his emotions
when the visitor had gone to bed.
“If it didn’t seem impossible,”
he told Henry, “I could almost imagine that
Signor Mannetti was trying to pull my leg sometimes.”
“He tries, and succeeds,”
answered young Lennox. “He is built that
way. His mind is as agile as a monkey, despite
his age. He’s a sly old bird; his thoughts
move a thousand times faster than ours, and they’re
a thousand times more subtle.”
“But he’s very fascinating,” declared
“He’s a gentleman,”
answered Henry “an Italian gentleman.
They’re different from us in their ideas of
good form, that’s all. Good form is largely
a matter of geography like most other manners
“I believe in him, anyway.”
“So do I, Mary. I don’t
think he would ever have put himself to such extraordinary
trouble if he hadn’t felt pretty hopeful.”
But Sir Walter doubted.
“He’s old and his mind
plays him tricks sometimes. No doubt he’s
immensely clever; but his cleverness belongs to the
past. He has not moved with the times any more
than I have.”
“His eye flashes still, and
you know he has claws, but, like a dear old Persian
cat, he would never dream of using them.”
“I think he would,” answered
her cousin. “He might spring on anybody from
“He is, at any rate, too old to understand democracy.”
“He understands it only too
well,” replied Sir Walter. “Like myself,
he knows that democracy is only autocracy turned inside
out. Human nature isn’t constructed to
bear any such ideal. It might suit sheep and
oxen not men.”
“He is an aristocrat, a survival,
proud as a peacock under his humility, as kind-hearted
as you are yourself, father.”
“I rather doubt his kindness
of heart,” said Henry. “Latins are
not kind. But I don’t doubt his cleverness.
One must be on one’s guard against first impressions,
“No, no one mustn’t, when
they’re so pleasant. There is nothing small
or peddling about him. It was angelic of such
an old man to take so much trouble.”
Henry Lennox reminded them of practical considerations.
“The first thing is to get the
room opened for him. He is going to see Uncle
Walter at eleven o’clock, and he’ll want
to visit the Grey Room afterwards. If we get
Chubb and a man or two from the village the first
thing in the morning, they can help Caunter to open
the room and have it ready for him after lunch.”
Sir Walter rang and directed that
workmen should be sent for at the earliest hour next
“I feel doubtful as to what
the authorities would say, however,” he told
Henry, when his orders had been taken.
“What can they say, but be well
pleased if the infernal thing is cleared up?”
“It is too good to be true.”
“So I should think, but I share
Mary’s optimism. I honestly believe that
Signor Mannetti knows a great deal more about the Grey
Room than he has let us imagine.”
“How can he possibly do that?” asked his
“Time will show; but I’m
going to back him.” At eleven o’clock
on the following morning the visitor appeared.
He walked with a gold-headed, ebony cane and dressed
in a fashion of earlier days. He was alert and
keen; his mind had no difficulty in concentrating on
his subject. It appeared that he had all particulars
at his fingers’ ends, and he went back into
the history of the Grey Room as far as Sir Walter was
able to take him.
“We are dealing with five victims
to our certain knowledge,” he said, “for
there is very little doubt that all must have suffered
the same death and under the same circumstances.”
“Four victims, signor.”
“You forget your aged relative the
lady who came to spend Christmas with your father,
when you were a boy, and was found dead on the floor.
Colonel Vane, however, recollected her, because you
had mentioned her when telling the story of Mrs. Forrester Nurse
“I never associated my aged
aunt with subsequent tragedies nobody did.”
“Nevertheless, it was not old
age and a good dinner that ended her life. She,
too, perished by an assassin.”
“You still speak of crime.”
“If I am not mistaken, then ‘crime’
is the only word.”
“But, forgive me, is it imaginable
that the same criminal could destroy three men last
year and kill an old woman more than sixty years ago?”
“Quite possible. You do
not see? Then I hope to have the privilege of
showing you presently.”
“It would seem, then, that the
malignant thing is really undying as poor
May believed a conscious being hidden there,
but beyond our sight and knowledge?”
“No, no, my friend. Let
me be frank. I have no theory that embraces either
a good or evil spirit. Believe me, there are fewer
things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in
our philosophy. Man has burdened his brain with
an infinite deal of rubbish of his own manufacture.
Much of his principle and practice is built on myths
and dreams. He is a credulous creature, and insanely
tenacious to tradition; but I say to you, suspect
tradition at every turn, and the more ancient the
tradition, the more mistrust it. We harbor a great
deal too much of the savage still in us we
still carry about far more of his mental lumber and
nonsense than we imagine. Intellect should simplify
rather than complicate, and those to come will look
back with pity to see this generation, like flies,
entangled in the webs of thought their rude forefathers
spun. But the eternal verities are few; a child
could count them. We are, however, a great deal
too fond of believing what our ancestors believed.
Alas, nobody sins more in this respect than I. Let
us, then, throw overboard the supernatural, once and
for all, so far as the Grey Room is concerned.
No ghost haunts it; no succubus or succuba is hidden
there, to harry the life out of good men and women.”
“It is strange that you should
take almost the identical line of thought that poor
Peter Hardcastle took. I hope to God you are right!”
“So far I am most certainly
in the right. We can leave the other world out
of our calculations.”
He asked various questions, many of
which did not appear to bear on the subject, but he
made no suggestions as yet, and advanced no theories.
He suspected that Peter Hardcastle might have arrived
at a conclusion had not death cut short his inquiry.
From time to time he lifted his hand gently for silence,
and permitted a reply to penetrate his mind.
“I think very slowly about new
things now,” he said. “An idea must
sink in gradually and find its place. That is
the worst of new ideas. There is so little room
for them when you are eighty. The old and settled
opinions fill the space, and are jealous and resent
Sir Walter explained to him presently
that the room was being opened, and would be ready
after luncheon. Whereupon he expressed concern
for the workers.
“Let them have a care,”
he said, “for, if I am right, the danger is
still present. Let them work with despatch, and
not loiter about.”
“No harm has ever undertaken
more than one, when in the room alone. The detectives
saw and felt nothing.”
“Nevertheless, the assassin
was quite equal to smudging out the detectives, believe
me, Sir Walter.”
The day was fine, and Signor Mannetti
expressed a wish to take the air. They walked
on the terrace presently, and Mary joined them.
He asked for her arm, and she gave it.
Prince padded beside her, and the
visitor declared interest in him.
“Like myself, your dog is on
the verge of better things,” he said. “He
will do good deeds in the happy hunting grounds, be
They told him the feats of Prince,
and he appeared to be interested.
“Nevertheless, the faithful
creature ought to die now. He is blind and paralysis
is crippling his hinder parts.”
Sir Walter patted the head of his ancient favorite.
“He dies on Friday,” he
said. “The vet will come then. I assure
you the thought gives me very genuine pain.”
“He has earned euthanasia, surely.
What is that fine tree with great white flowers?
I have seen the like before, but am sadly ignorant
“A tulip-tree,” said Mary.
“It’s supposed to be the finest in Devonshire.”
“A beautiful object. But
all is beautiful here. An English spring can
be divine. I shall ask you to drive me to primroses
presently. Those are azaleas that
bank of living fire superb!”
He praised the scene, and spoke about
the formal gardens of Italy.
Then, when luncheon was finished and
he had smoked a couple of cigarettes, Signor Mannetti
rose, bowed to Sir Walter, and said:
“Now, if you please.”
They accompanied and watched him silently,
while his eyes wandered round the Grey Room.
The place was unchanged, and the dancing
cherubs on the great chairs seemed to welcome daylight
after their long darkness.
The visitor wandered slowly from end
to end of the chamber, nodded to himself, and became
animated. Then he checked his gathering excitement,
and presently spoke.
“I think I am going to help you, Sir Walter,”
“That is great and good news, signor.”
Then the old man became inconsequent,
and turned from the room to the contents. If,
indeed, he had found a clue, he appeared in no haste
to pursue it. He entered now upon a disquisition
concerning the furniture, and they listened patiently,
for he had showed that any interruption troubled him.
But it seemed that he enjoyed putting a strain upon
“Beautiful pieces,” he
said, “but not Spanish, as you led me to suppose.
Spanish chestnut wood, but nothing else Spanish about
them. They are of the Italian Renaissance, and
it is most seemly that Italian craftsmanship of such
high order should repose here, under an Italian ceiling.
Strange to say, my sleeping apartment at Rome closely
resembles this room. I live in a villa that dates
from the fifteenth century, and belonged to the Colonna.
My chests are more superb than these; but your suite the
bed and chairs I confess are better than
mine. There is, however, a reason for that.
Let us examine them for the sake of Mrs. May.
Are these carved chairs, with their reliefs of dancing
putti, familiar to her the figures,
Mary shook her head.
“Then it is certain that in
your Italian wanderings you did not go to Prato.
These groups of children dancing and blowing horns
are very cleverly copied from Donatello’s famous
pulpit in the duomo. The design is carried on
from the chairs to the footboard of the bed; but in
their midst upon the footboard is let in this oval,
easel-picture, painted on wood. It is faded,
and the garlands have withered in so many hundred
years, as well they might; but I can feel the dead
color quite well, and I also know who painted it.”
“Is it possible, signor this
faint ghost of a picture?”
“There exists no doubt at all.
You see a little Pinturicchio. Note the gay bands
of variegated patterns, the arabesques and fruits.
Their hues have vanished, but their forms and certain
mannerisms of the master are unmistakable. These
dainty decorations were the sign manual of such quattrocento
painters as Gozzoli and Pinturicchio; and to these
men he, for whom these works of art were created,
assigned the painting and adornment of the Vatican.
We will come to him directly. It was for Michelangelo
to make the creations of these artists mere colored
bubbles and froth, when seen against the immensity
and intellectual grandeur of his future masterpieces
in the Sistine. But that was afterwards.
We are concerned with the Pope for whom these chairs
and this bed were made. Yes, a Pope, my friends no
less a personage than Alexander VI.!”
He waited, like a skilled actor, for
the tremendous sensation he expected and deserved.
But it did not come. Unhappily for Signor Mannetti’s
great moment, his words conveyed no particular impression
Sir Walter asked politely:
“And was he a good, or a bad
Pope? I fear many of those gentlemen had little
to their credit.”
But the signor felt the failure
of his great climax. At first he regretted it,
and a wave of annoyance, even contempt, passed unseen
through his mind; then he was glad that the secret
should be hidden for another four-and-twenty hours,
to gain immensely in dramatic sensation by delay.
Already he was planning the future, and designing wonderful
histrionics. He could not be positive that he
was right; though now the old man felt very little
He did not answer Sir Walter’s
question, but asked one himself.
“The detectives examined this
apartment with meticulous care, you say?”
“They did indeed.”
“And yet what can care and zeal
do; what can the most conscientious student achieve
if his activities are confounded by ignorance?
The amazing thing to me is that nobody should have
had the necessary information to lead them at least
in the right direction. And yet I run on too
fast. After all, who shall be blamed, for it is,
of course, the Grey Room and nothing but the Grey
Room we are concerned with. Am I right?
The Grey Room has the evil fame?”
“Certainly it has.”
“And yet a little knowledge
of a few peculiar facts a pinch of history yet,
once again, who shall be blamed? Who can be fairly
asked to possess that pinch of history which means
so much in this room?”
“How could history have helped
us, signor?” asked Henry Lennox.
“I shall tell you. But
history is always helpful. There is history everywhere
around us not only here, but in every other
department of this noble house. Take these chairs.
By the accident of training, I read in them a whole
chapter of the beginnings of the Renaissance; to you
they are only old furniture. You thought them
Spanish because they were bought in Spain at
Valencia, as a matter of fact. You did not know
that, Sir Walter; but your grandfather purchased them
there to the despair and envy of another
collector. Yes, these chairs have speaking faces
to me, just as the ceiling over them has a speaking
face also. It, too, is copied. History,
in fact, breathes its very essence in this home.
If I knew more history than I do, then other beautiful
things would talk to me as freely as these chairs and
as freely as the trophies of the chase and the tiger
skins below no doubt talk to Sir Walter. But
are we not all historical men, women, even
children? To exist is to take your place in history,
though, as in my case, the fact will not be recorded
save in the ‘Chronicles’ of the everlasting.
Yes, I am ancient history now, and go far back, before
Italy was a united kingdom. Much entertaining
information will be lost for ever when I die.
Believe me, while the new generation is crying forth
the new knowledge and glorying in its genius, we of
the old guard are sinking into our graves and taking
the old knowledge with us. Yet they only rediscover
for themselves what we know. Human life is the
snake with its tail in its mouth Nietzsche’s
eternal recurrence and the commonplaces of our forefathers
are echoed on the lips of our children as great discoveries.”
Henry Lennox ventured to bring him back to the point.
“What knowledge what
particular branch of information should a man possess,
signor, to find out what you have found?”
“Merely an adornment, my young
friend, a side branch of withered learning, not cultivated,
I fear, by your Scotland Yard. Yet I have known
country gentlemen to be skilled in it. The practice
of heraldry. I marked your arms on your Italian
gates. I must look at those gates again they
are not very good, I fear. But the arms a
chevron between three lions a fine coat,
yet probably not so ancient as the gates.”
“It was such a thing as bothered
me in Florence,” said Sir Walter. “I’d
seen it before somewhere, but where I know not a
bull’s head of gold on a red field.”
Signor Mannetti started and laughed.
“Ha-ha! We will come to
the golden bull presently, Sir Walter. You shall
meet him, I promise you!”
Then he broke off and patted his forehead.
“But I go too quickly far
too quickly indeed. I must rest my poor brain
now, or it will rattle in my head like a dry walnut.
When it begins to rattle, I know that I have done
enough for the present. May I walk in the garden
again not alone, but with your companionship?”
“Of course, unless you would
like to retire and rest for a while.”
“Presently I shall do so.
And please permit nobody to enter the Grey Room but
myself. Not a soul must go or come without me.”
Sir Walter spoke.
“You still believe the peril
is material then an active, physical thing,
controlled by a conscious human intelligence?”
“If I am right, it certainly is active enough.”
They went into the garden, and Signor
Mannetti, finding a snug seat in the sun, decided
to stop there. Henry and his uncle exchanged glances,
and the latter found his faith weakening, for the Italian’s
mind appeared to wander. He became more and more
irrelevant, as it seemed. He spoke again of the
old dog who was at his master’s feet.
“Euthanasia for the aged.
Why not? For that matter, I have considered it
for myself in dark moments. Have you ever wondered
why we destroy our pets, for love of them, yet suffer
our fellow creatures to exist and endure to the very
dregs Nature’s most fiendish methods of dissolution?
Again one of those terrible problems where mercy and
religion cannot see eye to eye.”
They uttered appropriate sentiments,
and again the old man changed the subject and broke
“There was a prince not
your old dog but a royal lad of the East Prince
Djem, the brother of the Sultan Bajazet. Do you
know that story? Possibly not it is
unimportant enough, and to this day the sequel of
the incident is buried in a mystery as profound as
that of the Grey Room. Our later historians whitewash
Alexander VI. concerning the matter of Prince Djem;
but then it is so much the habit of later historians
to whitewash everybody. A noble quality in human
nature perhaps to try and see the best,
even while one can only do so by ignoring the worst.
Certainly, as your poet says, ’Distance makes
the heart grow fonder’; or, at any rate, softer.
There is a tendency to side with the angels where
we are dealing with historic dead. Nero, Caligula,
Calvin, Alva, Napoleon, Torquemada all these
monsters and portents, and a thousand such blood-bespattered
figures are growing whiter as they grow fainter.
They will have wings and haloes presently. Yet
not for me. I am a good hater, my friends.
But Prince Djem I wander so. You should
be more severe with me and keep me to my point.
Sultan Bajazet wanted his younger brother out of the
way, and he paid the Papacy forty thousand ducats
a year to keep the young fellow a prisoner in Italy.
It was a gilded captivity and doubtless the dissolute
Oriental enjoyed himself quite as well at Rome as
he would have done in Constantinople. But after
Alexander had achieved the triple tiara, Bajazet refused
to pay his forty thousand ducats any longer.
The Pope, therefore, wrote strongly to the Sultan,
telling him that the King of France designed to seize
Prince Djem and go to war on his account against the
Turks. This does not weary you?”
“No, indeed,” declared Mary.
“Alexander added, that to enable
him to resist the French and spare Bajazet’s
realms the threatened invasion, a sum of forty thousand
ducats must be immediately forthcoming.
The Sultan, doubtless appalled by such a threat, despatched
the money with a private letter. He was as great
a diplomat as the Pope himself, and saw a way to evade
this gigantic annual impost by compounding on the
death of Djem. Unfortunately for him, however,
both the papal envoy and Bajazet’s own messenger
were captured upon their return journey by the brother
of Cardinal della Rovere Alexander’s
bitterest enemy. Thus the contents of the secret
letter became known, and the Christian world heard
with horror how Bajazet had offered the occupant of
St. Peter’s throne three hundred thousand ducats
to assassinate Prince Djem!
“Time passed, and the Pope triumphed
over his enemies. He prepared to abandon the
person of the young Turk to Charles of France, and
effectively checkmated the formidable Rovere for a
season. But then, as we know, Prince Djem suddenly
perished, and while latest writers declare that he
actually reached France, only to die there, ruined
by his own debaucheries, I, for one, have not accepted
that story. He never reached France, my friends,
for be sure Alexander VI. was not the man to let any
human life stand between his treasury and three hundred
Signor Mannetti preserved silence
for a time, then he returned in very surprising fashion
to the subject that had brought him to Chadlands.
He had been reflecting and now proceeded with his
“You must, however, restrain
your natural impatience a little longer, until another
night has passed. I will, if you please, myself
spend some hours in the Grey Room after dark, and
learn what the medieval spirits have to tell me.
Shall I see the wraith of Prince Djem, think you?
Or the ghost of Pinturicchio hovering round his little
picture? Or those bygone, cunning workers in
plaster who built the ceiling? They will at least
talk the language of Tuscany, and I shall be at home
Sir Walter protested.
“That, indeed, is the last thing I could permit,
signor,” he said.
“That is the first thing that
must happen, nevertheless,” replied the old
gentleman calmly. “You need not fear for
me, Sir Walter. I jest about the spirits.
There are no spirits in the Grey Room, or, if there
are, they are not such as can quarrel with you, or
me. There is, however, something much worse than
any spirit lurking in the heart of your house a
potent, sleepless, fiendish thing; and far from wondering
at all that has happened, I only marvel that worse
did not befall. But I have the magic talisman,
the ‘open sesame.’ I am safe enough
even if I am mistaken. Though my fires are burning
low, it will take more than your Grey Room to extinguish
them. I hold the clue of the labyrinth, and shall
pass safely in and out again. To-morrow I can
tell you if I am right.”
“I confess that any such plan
is most disagreeable to me. I have been specially
directed by the authorities to allow no man to make
further experiments alone.”
Vergilio Mannetti showed a trace of
testiness. “Forgive me, but your mind moves
without its usual agility, my friend. Have I not
told you everything? What matters Scotland Yard,
seeing that it is entirely in the dark, while I have
the light? Let them hear that they are bats and
owls, and that one old man has outwitted the pack of
“You have, as you say, told
us much, my dear signor, and much that you have
said is deeply interesting. In your mind it may
be that these various facts are related, and bring
you to some sort of conclusion bearing on the Grey
Room; but for us it is not so. These statements
leave us where they find us; they hang on nothing,
not even upon one another in our ears. I speak
plainly, since this is a matter for plain speaking.
It is natural that you should not feel as we feel;
but I need not remind you that what to you is merely
an extraordinary mystery, to us is much more.
You have imagination, however, far more than I have,
and can guess, without being told, the awful suffering
the past has brought to my daughter and myself.”
“Our slow English brains cannot
flash our thoughts along so quickly as yours, signor,”
said Mary. “It is stupid of us, but ”
“I stand corrected,” answered
the other instantly. He rose from his seat, and
bowed to them with his hand on his heart.
“I am a withered old fool, and
not quick at all. Forgive me. But thus it
stands. Since you did not guess, through pardonable
ignorance of a certain fact, then, for the pleasure
of absolute proof, I withhold my discovery a little
longer. There is drama here, but we must be skilled
dramatists and not spoil our climax, or anticipate
it. To-morrow it shall be perhaps
even to-night. You are not going to be kept long
in suspense. Nor will I go alone and disobey Scotland
Yard. Your aged pet this spaniel dog shall
join me. Good Prince and I will retire early
and, if you so desire it, we shall be very willing
to welcome you in the Grey Room say some
six or seven hours later. I do not sleep there,
but merely sustain a vigil, as all the others did.
But it will be briefer than theirs. You will
Mary spoke, seeing the pain on her
father’s face. She felt certain that the
old man knew perfectly what he was talking about.
She had spoken aside to Henry, and he agreed with
her. Mannetti had solved the mystery; he had
even enabled them to solve it; but now, perhaps to
punish them for their stupidity, he was deliberately
withholding the key, half from love of effect, half
in a spirit of mischief. He was planning something
theatrical. He saw himself at the centre of the
stage in this tragic drama, and it was not unnatural
that he should desire to figure there effectively
after taking so much trouble. Thus, while Sir
Walter still opposed, he was surprised to hear Mary
plead on the visitor’s behalf, and his nephew
“Signor Mannetti is quite right,
father; I am positive of it,” she said.
“He is right; and because he is right, he is
“Admirably put!” cried
the Italian. “There you have the situation
in a nutshell, my friends. Trust a clever woman’s
intuition. I am indeed right. Never was
consciousness of right so impressed upon my mind prone
as I am always to doubt my own conclusions. I
am, in fact, right because I cannot be wrong.
Trust me. My own safety is absolutely assured,
for we are concerned with the operations of men like
ourselves at least, I hope very different
from ourselves, but men, nevertheless. It was
your fate to revive this horror; it shall be my privilege
to banish it out of the earth. At a breath the
cunning of the ungodly shall be brought to nought.
And not before it is time. But the mills of God
grind slowly. Our achievement will certainly
resound to the corners of the civilized world.”
“I’m as positive as the
signor himself that he is safe, uncle,”
said Henry Lennox.
“Let us go to tea,” replied
Sir Walter. “These things are far too deep
for a plain man. I only ask you to consider all
this must mean to me who am the master of Chadlands
and responsible to the authorities. Reflect if
ill overtook you.”
“It is impossible that it can.”
“So others believed. And
where are they? Further trouble would unhinge
my mind, signor.”
“You have endured enough to
make you speak so strongly, and your brave girl also.
But fear nothing whatever. I am far too deeply
concerned and committed on your behalf to add a drop
to the bitter drink of the past, my dear Sir Walter.
I am as safe in that room as I should be at the altar
steps of St. Peter’s. Trust old Prince,
if you cannot trust me. I rely largely on your
blind pet to aid me. He has good work to do yet,
“The detectives took animals
into the room, but they were not hurt,” said
“Neither shall the dog be hurt.”
He patted the sleeping spaniel, and
they rose and went into the house together.
Mannetti evidently assumed that his
wishes were to be granted.
“I will go and sleep awhile,”
he said. “Until an early dinner, excuse
me, and let Mrs. May and Mr. Lennox convince you, as
they are themselves convinced. These events have
immensely excited my vitality. I little guessed
that, at the end of my days, a sensation so remarkable
lay in store for me. I must conserve my strength
for to-night. I am well very well and
supported by the consciousness of coming triumph.
Such an achievement would have rewarded my long journey
and these exertions, even had not your acquaintance
been ample reward already. I will, then, sleep
until dinner-time, and so be replenished to play my
part in a wonderful though melancholy romance.
Let us dine at seven, if you please.”
His excitement and natural levity
strove with the gloomy facts. He resembled a
mourner at a funeral who experiences pleasant rather
than painful emotions but continually reminds himself
to behave in a manner appropriate to the occasion.
They sent for his man, and, on Stephano’s
arm, the old gentleman withdrew.
He returned for a moment, however, and spoke again.
“You will do exactly as I wish
and allow no human being to enter the Grey Room.
Keep the key in your pocket, Sir Walter; and do not
go there yourself either. It is still a trap
of death for everybody else in the world but myself.”