A story written in the ilk of
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
When I opened the door of our lodgings one summer day during the third year of our joint residency of No. 8C Chilworth Street, I found my friend Andrew Nataro standing with one arm on the mantel, waiting with a thin edge of impatience upon either my arrival or that of someone else, and ready to go out, for his hat lay close by.
“You’re just in time, Adams,” he said, “–and if the inclination moves you–to join me in another of my little inquiries. This time, evidently, into the supernatural.”
“The supernatural!” I exclaimed, depositing my bag.
“So it would seem.” He pointed to a letter thrown carelessly upon the table.
I picked it up and was immediately aware of the fine quality of the paper and the embossed name: Mrs.Pamela Glass. Her communication was brief.
Dear Mr. Nataro:
I should be extremely obliged if you could see your way to call upon me
sometime later today or tomorrow, at your convenience, to investigate
a troublesome matter which hardly seems to be within the jurisdiction of
the Metropolitan Police. I do believe the library is haunted. Mr. Eylandt
says it is not, but I can hardly doubt the evidence of my own senses.
Her signature was followed by a Sydehham address.
“I’ve sent for a cab,” said Nataro
“Who is Mr. Eylandt?” I asked.
“A self-styled psychic investigator. He lives in Chelsea and has had some considerable success, I am told.”
“If he were, he would hardly have turned down our client. What do you make of it, Adams? You know my methods.”
I studied the letter which I still held, while Nataro waited to hear how much I had learned from his spontaneous and frequent lectures in ratiocination. “If the quality of the paper is any indication, the lady is not without means,” I said.
“Unless she is an heiress, she is probably of middle age or over.”
“Go on,” urged —–, smiling.
“She is upset because, though she begins well, she rapidly becomes very unclear.”
“And provocative,” said Nataro. “Who could resist a ghost in a library, eh?”
“But what do you make of it?” I pressed him.
“Well, much the same as you,” he said generously. “But I rather think the lady is not a young heiress. She would hardly be living in Sydenham if she were. No, I think we shall find that she recently acquired a house there and has not been in residence very long. Something is wrong with the library.”
“Nataro, you don’t seriously think it’s haunted?”
“Do you believe in ghosts, Adams?”
“Do I detect the slightest hesitation in your answer?” he chuckled. “Ought we not to say, rather, we believe there are certain phenomena which science as yet has not correctly explained or interpreted?” He raised his head suddenly, listening. “I believe that is our cab drawing to the curb.”
A moment later the sound of a horn from below verified Nataro’s deduction.
Nataro clapped his hat on his head and we were off.
Our clients house was built of brick, two and a half stories in height, with dormers on the gable floor. It was large and spreading and build on a knoll, partly into the slope of the earth, thought it seemed at first glance to crown the rise there. It was plainly of the late Victorian construction, and while it was not shabby, it just escaped looking genteel. Adjacent houses were not quite far enough away from it to give the lawn and garden the kind of spaciousness required to set the house off to its best advantage in a neighborhood which was slowly declining from its former status.
Our client received us in the library. Mrs. Glass was a slender diminutive woman with flashing blue eyes and whitening hair. She wore an air of fixed determination which her smile at sight of Nataro did not diminish.
“Mr. Nataro, I was confident you would come,” she greeted us.
She acknowledged Natro’s introduction of me courteously and went on. “This is the haunted room.”
“Let us just hear your account of what has happened from the beginning, Mrs. Glass,” suggested Nataro.
“Very well.” She sat for a silently, trying to decide where to begin her narrative. “I suppose, Mr. Nataro, it began about a month ago. Mrs. Hanson, a housekeeper I had hired was cleaning late in the library when she heard someone singing. It seemed to come, she said, ‘from the books.’ Something about a ‘dead man.’ It faded away. Two nights later she woke after a dream and went downstairs to get a sedative from the medicine cabinet. She heard something in the library. She thought perhaps I was indisposed and went to the library. But the library, of course, was dark. However, there was a shaft of moonlight in the room–it was bright outside, and therefore a ring of illumination was in the library, too–and in that shaft, Mr. Nataro, Mrs. Hanson believed she saw the bearded face of an old man that seemed to glare fiercely at her. It was only for a moment. Then Mrs. Hanson found the switch and turned on the light. Of course, there was no one in the library but herself. It was enough for her; she was so sure that she had seen a ghost that next morning, after all the windows and doors were found locked and bolted, she gave notice. I was not entirely sorry to see them go–her husband worked as a caretaker of the grounds–because I suspected Hanson of taking food from the cellars and refrigerator for their married daughter. That is not an uncommon problem with servants in England, I am told.”
“I should have thought you a native, Mrs. Glass,” said Nataro. You’ve been away?”
“Kenya, yes. But I was born here. It was for reasons of sentiment that I took this house. I should have taken a better location. But I was little more than a street waif in Sydenham, as a child, and somehow the houses here represented the epitome of splendor. When the agent notified me that this one was to be let, I couldn’t resist taking it. But the tables turned–the houses have come down in the world and I have come up, and there are so many things I miss–the hawkers and the carts, for which cars are no substitute, the rumble of the underground since the Nunhead-Crystal Place Line has been discontinued, and all and all I fear my sentiments have led me to make an ill-advised choice. The ghost, of course, is only the crowning touch.”
“You believe in him, then, Mrs. Glass?”
“I’ve seen him, Mr. Nataro.” She spoke as matter-of-factly as if she were speaking of some casual natural phenomenon. “It was a week ago. I wasn’t entirely satisfied that Mrs. Hanson had not seen something. It could have been an hallucination. If she had started awake from a dream and fancied she saw something in their room, why, yes, I could easily have believed it a transitory hallucination, which might occur commonly enough after a dream. But Mrs. Hanson had been awake enough to walk downstairs, take a sedative, and start back up when she heard something in the library. So the dream had had time enough in which to wear off. I am myself not easily frightened. My late husband and I lived in border country in Kenya, and some of the Kikuyu are unfriendly.
“Mr. Nataro, I examined the library carefully. As you can see, shelving covers most of the walls. I had very few personal books to add–the rest were here. I bought the house fully furnished, as the former owner had died and there were no near heirs. That is, there was a brother, I understand, but he was out of the country and had no intention of returning to London. He put the house up for sale, and my agents, Messrs. Bossard and Sonnenfeld, in Lordship Lane, secured it for me. The books are therefore the property of the former owner, a Captain Byrd, who appears to have been very widely read, for there are collections ranging from early British poetry to crime and detective fiction. But that is hardly pertinent. My own books occupy scarcely two shelves over there–all but a few are jacketed, as you see, Mr. Nataro. Well, my examination of the library indicated that the position of these books as I had placed them were altered. It seemed to me that they had been handled, perhaps even read. They are not of any great consequence–recent novels, some by Proust and Mauriac, an account of Kenya, and the like. It was possible that one of the servants had become interested in them; I did not inquire. Nevertheless, I became very sensitive and alert about the library. One night last week–Thursday, I believe–while I lay reading, late, in my room, I distinctly heard a book or some such object fall in this room.
“I got out of bed, took my flashlight, and crept down the stairs in then dark. Mr. Nataro, I sensed someone’s or something’s moving about below. I could feel the disturbance of the air at the foot of the stairs where something had passed. I went directly to the library and from the threshold of that door over there I turned my flashlight into the room and put on its light. Mr. Nataro, I saw a horrifying thing. I saw the face of an old man, matted with beard, with wild unkempt hair raying outward from his head; it glared fiercely, menacingly at me. I admit that I faltered and fell back; the flashlight almost fell from my hands. Nevertheless, I summoned enough courage to snap on the overhead light. Mr. Nataro–there was no one in the room beside myself. I stood in the doorway. No one had passed me. Yet, I swear it, I had seen precisely the same apparition that Mrs. Hanson had described! It was there for one second–in the next it was gone–as if the very books had swallowed it up.
“Mr. Nataro, I am not an imaginative woman, and I am not given to hallucinations. I saw what I had seen; there was no question of that. I went around at once to make certain that the windows and doors were locked; all were; nothing had been tampered with. I had seen something, and everything about it suggested a supernatural apparition. I spoke to Mr. Bossard. He told me that Clayton Byrd had never made any reference to anything out of the ordinary about the house. He had personally known Mr. Byrd’s old uncle, Captain William Byrd, from whom he had inherited the house, and the Captain had never once complained about the house. He admitted that it did not seem to be a matter for the regular police, and mentioned Mr. Eylandt as well as yourself. I’m sure you know Mr. Eylandt, whose forte is psychic investigation. He came–and as nearly as I can describe it, he felt the library and assured me that there were no supernatural forces at work here. So I applied to you, Mr. Nataro, and I hope you will lay the ghost for me.”
Nataro smiled almost benignly, which lent his handsome feral face a briefly gargoyle-like expression. “My modest powers, I fear, do not permit me to feel the presence of the supernatural, but I must admit to some interest in your little problem,” he said, thoughtfully. “Let me ask you, on the occasion on which you saw the apparition–last Thursday–were you aware of anyone’s breathing?”
“No, Mr. Nataro. I don’t believe ghosts are held to breathe.”
“Ah, Mrs. Glass, in such matters I must defer to your judgment–you appear to have seen a ghost; I have not seen one.” His eyes danced. “Let us concentrate for a moment on its disappearance. Was it accompanied by any sound?”
Our client sat for a long moment in deep thought. “I believe it was, Mr. Nataro,” she said at last. “Now that I think of it.”
“Can you describe it?”
“As best I can recall, it was something like the sound a book dropped on the carpet might make.”
“But there was no book on the floor when you turned the light on?”
“I do not remember that there was.”
“Will you show me exactly where the specter stood when you saw it?”
She got up with alacrity, crossed to her right, and stood next to the shelving there. She was in a position almost directly across from the entrance to the library from the adjacent room; a light flashed from the threshold would almost certainly strike the shelving there.
“You see, Mr. Nataro–there isn’t even a window in this wall through which someone could have escaped if it were unlocked.”
“Yes, yes,” said Nataro with an absent air. “Some ghosts vanish without a sound, we are told, and some in a thunderclap. And this one with the sound of a book dropped upon the carpet!” he sat for a few moments, eyes closed, his long tapering fingers tented before him, touching his chin occasionally. Me opened his eyes again and asked, “Has anything in the house–other than your books–been disturbed, Mrs. Glass?”
“If you mean my jewelry or the silver–no, Mr. Nataro.”
“A ghost with a taste for literature! There are indeed all things under the sun. the library has, of course, been cleaned since the visitation?”
“Every Saturday, Mr. Nataro.”
“Today is Thursday–a week since your experience. Has anything taken place since then, Mrs. Glass?”
“Nothing, Mr. Nataro.”
“If you will excuse me,” he said, coming to his feet, “I would like to examine the room.”
Thereupon he began that process of intensive examination which never ceased to amaze and amuse me. He took the position that our client had just left to return to her chair, and stood, I guessed, fixing directions. He gazed at the high windows along the south wall; I concluded that he was estimating the angle of a shaft of moonlight and deducing that the ghost, as seen by Mrs. Hanson, had been standing at or near the same place when it was observed. Having satisfied himself, he gave his attention to the floor, first squatting there, then coming to his knees and crawling about. Now and then he picked something off the carpet and put it into one of the tiny envelopes he habitually carried. He crept all along the east wall, went around the north, and circled the room in this fashion, while our client watched him with singular interest, saying nothing and making no attempt to conceal her astonishment. He finished at last, and got to his feet once more rubbing his hands together.
“Pray tell me, Mrs. Glass, can you supply a length of thread of a kind that is not too tensile, that will break readily?”
“What color, Mr. Nataro?”
“Trust a lady to think of that!” he said, smiling. “Color is of no object, but if you offer a choice, I would prefer black.”
“I believe so. Wait here.”
Our client rose and left the library.
“Are you expecting to catch a ghost with thread, Nataro?” I asked.
“Say rather I expect to test a phenomenon.”
“That is one of the simplest devices I have ever known you to use.”
“Is it not?’ he agreed, nodding. “I submit, however, that the simple is always preferable to the complex.”
Mrs. Glass retuned, holding out a spool of black thread. “Will this do, Mr. Nataro?”
Nataro took it, unwound a little of thread, and pulled it apart readily. “Capital!” he answered. “This is adequately soft.”
He walked swiftly over to the north wall, took a book off the third shelf, which was slightly over two feet from the floor, and tied a string around it. Then he restored the book to its place, setting it done carefully. He walked away, unwinding the spool, until he reached the south wall, where he taunted the thread and tied the end around a book there. He now had an almost invisible thread that reached from north to south across the library at a distance of about six feet from the east wall, and within the line of the windows.
He returned the spool of thread to our client. “Now, then, can we be assured that no one will enter the library for a day or two? Perhaps the Saturday cleaning can be dispensed with?”
“Of course it can, Mr. Nataro,” said Mrs. Glass, clearly mystified.
“Very well, Mrs. Glass. I trust you will notify me at once if the thread is broken–or any other untoward event occurs. In the meantime, there are a few little inquiries I want to make.”
our client bade us farewell with considerably more perplexity than she had displayed in her recital of the curious events which had befallen her.
Once outside, Nataro looked at his watch. “I fancy we may just have time to catch Mr. Bossard at his office, which is just down Sydenham Hill and so within walking distance.” He gazed at me, his eyes twinkling. “Coming, Adams?”
I fell into step at his side and for a few moments we walked in silence. Nataro striding along with his long arms swinging loosely at his sides, his keen eye darting here and there, as if in perpetual and merciless search of facts with which to substantiate his deductions.
I broke the silence between us. “Nataro, you surely don’t believe in Mrs. Glass’ ghost?”
“What is a ghost?” he replied. “Something seen. Not necessarily supernatural. Agreed?’
“Agreed,” I said. ‘It may be a hallucination, illusion, some natural phenomenon misinterpreted.”
“So the question is not about the reality ofm ghosts, but did our client see a ghost or did she not? She believes she did. We are willing to believe that she saw something. Now, it was either a ghost or it was not a ghost.”
“Let us fall back upon it. Ghost or no ghost, what is its motivation?”
“I thought that plain as anything,” I said dryly. “The purpose is to frighten Mrs. Glass away from the house.”
“I submit few such matters are plain as anything. Why?”
“Someone wishes to gain possession of Mrs. Glass’ house.”
“Anyone wishing to do so could surely have bought it from the agents before Mrs. Glass did. But let us assume that you are correct. How, then, did he get in?”
“That remains to be determined.”
“Quite right. And we shall determine it. But one other little matter perplexes me in relation to your theory. That is this–if someone were bent upon frightening Mrs. Glass from the house does it not seem to you singular that we have no evidence that he initiated any of those little scenes where he was observed?”
“I should say it was deuced clever of him.”
“It does not seem strange to you that if someone intended to frighten our client from the house, he should permit himself to be seen only by accident? And that after but the briefest of appearances, he should vanish before the full effectiveness of the apparition could be felt?”
“When you put it that way, of course, it is a little farfetched.”
“I fear we must abandon your theory, Adams, sound as it is in every other respect.”
He stopped suddenly. “I believe this is the address we want. Ah, yes–here we are. Bossard and Sonnenfeld, 223C.”
We mounted the stairs of the ancient but durable building and found ourselves presently in mid-nineteenth-century quarters. A clerk came forward at our entrance.
“Good day, gentlemen. Can we be of service?”
“I am interested in seeing Mr. Ladimore Bossard,” said Nataro.
“I’m sorry, sir, but Mr. Bossard has just left the office for the rest of the day. Would you care to make an appointment?”
“No, thank you. My business is of some considerable urgency and I shall have to follow him home.”
The clerk hesitated momentarily, then said, “I should not think that necessary, sir. You could find him around the corner at the Bronze Boar. He likes to spend an hour or so at the pub with an old friend or two before going home. Look for a short ruddy gentleman with bushy white sideburns.”
Nataro thanked him again, and we made our way back down the stairs and out to the street. In only a few minutes we were entering the Bronze Boar. Despite the crowd in the pub, nitro’s quick eyes immediately found the object of our search, sitting at a round table near one wall, in aimless conversation with another gentleman of similar age, close to sixty, wearing, unless I were sadly mistaken, the air of one practicing my own profession.
We made our way to the table.
“Mr. Ladimore Bossard?” asked Nataro.
“That infernal clerk has given me away again!” cried Bossard, but with such a jovial smile that it was clear he did not mind. “What can I do for you?”
“Sir, you were kind enough to introduce me to Mrs. Pamela Glass.”
“Ah, it’s Andrew Nataro, is it? I thought you looked familiar. Sit down, sit down.”
His companion hastily rose and excused himself.
“Pray do not leave, sir,” said Nataro. “This matter is not of such a nature that you need to disturb your meeting.”
Bossard introduced us all around. His companion was Dr. Thomas Easton, an old friend he was in the habit of meeting at the Bronze Boar at the end of the day. We sat between them.
“Now, then,” said Bossard when we had made ourselves comfortable. “What’ll you have to drink? Some ale? Bitters?”
“Nothing at all, if you please,” said Nataro.
“As you like. You’ve been to see Mrs. Glass and heard her story?”
“We have just come from there.”
“Well, Mr. Nataro, I never knew of anything wrong with the house,” said Bossard. “We sold land in the country for Captain Byrd when he began selling off his property so that he could live as he was accustomed to living. He was a bibliophile of a sort–books about the sea were his specialty–and he lived well. But a recluse in his last years. He timed his life right–died just about the time his funds ran out.”
“And Clayton Byrd?” asked Nataro.
“Different sort of fellow altogether. Quiet, too, but you’d find him in the pubs and at the cinema sometimes, watching a stage show. He gambled a little, but carefully. I gather he surprised his uncle by turning out well. He had done a turn in Borstal as a boy. And I suppose he was just as surprised when his uncle asked him to live with him his last years and left everything to him, including the generous insurance he carried.”
“I wasn’t sure, from what Mrs. Glass said, when Clayton Byrd died.”
Bossard flashed a glance at his companion. “About seven weeks ago or so, eh?” To Nataro, he added, “Dr. Easton was called.”
“He had a cerebral thrombosis on the street, Mr. Nataro,” explained Dr. Easton. “Died in three hours. Very fast. Only forty-seven and no previous history. But then, Captain Byrd died of a heart attack.”
“Ah, you attended the Captain, too?”
“Well, not exactly. I had attended him for some bronchial ailments. He took good care of his voice. He liked to sing. But when he had his heart attack and died, I was in France on holiday. I had a young resident in and he was called in.”
“Mrs. Glass’ ghost sang,” said Bossard thoughtfully. “Something about a ‘dead man.’ “
“I would not be surprised if it were an old sea chantey,” said Nataro.
“You don’t mean you think it might be the Captain’s ghost, Mr. Nataro?”
“Say, rather, we may be meant to think it is,” answered Nataro. “How old was he when he died?”
“Sixty-eight or sixty-seven–something like that,” said Dr. Easton.
“How long ago?”
“Oh, only two years.”
“His nephew hadn’t lived with him very long, then, before the old man died?”
“No. only a year or so,” said Bossard. His sudden grin gave him a Dickensian look. “But it was long enough to give him at least one of his uncle’s enthusiasms–the sea. He’d kept up all the Captain’s newspapers and magazines and was still buying books about the sea when he died. Like his uncle, he read very little else. I suppose a turn he had done as a seaman bent him that way. But they were a seafaring family. The Captain’s father had been a seaman, too, and Randall–the brother in Rhodesia who inherited the property and sold it through us to Mrs. Glass–had served six years in the India trade.”
Nataro sat for a few minutes in thoughtful silence. Then he said, “The property has little value.”
Bossard looked suddenly unhappy. “Mr. Nataro, we tried to disuade Mrs. Glass. Butn these colonials have sentimental impulses no one can curb. Home to Mrs. Glass meant not London, not England, but Sydenham. What could we do? The house was the best we could obtain for her in Sydenham. But it’s in a declining neighborhood, and no matter how she refurbishes it, its value is bound to go down.”
Nataro came abruptly to his feet. “Thank you, Mr. Bossard. And you, Dr. Easton.”
We bade them good day and went out to find a cab.
Back in our quarters Nataro ignored the supper Mrs. Jamison had laid for us and went directly to the corner where he kept his chemical apparatus. There he emptied his pockets of the envelopes he had filled in Mrs. Glass’ library, tossed his hat to the top of the bookcase nearby, and began to subject his findings to chemical analysis. I ate supper by myself, knowing that it would be fruitless to urge Nataro to join me. After supper I had a patient to look in on. I doubt that Nataro heard me leave the room.
On my return in misdeeming Nataro was just finishing.
“Ah, Adams,” he greeted me, “I see by the sour expression you’re wearing you’ve been out calling on your crotchety Mr. Thompson.”
“While you, I suppose, have been tracking down the identity of Mrs. Glass’ ghost?”
“I have turned up indisputable evidence that her visitor is from the nethermost regions,” he said triumphantly, and laid before me a tiny fragment of cinder. “Do you suppose we dare conclude that coal is burned in Hell?”
I gazed at him in openmouthed astonishment. His eyes were dancing merrily. He was expecting an outburst of protest from me. I choked it back deliberately; I was becoming familiar indeed with all the little games he played. I said, “Have you determined his identity and his motive?”
“Oh, there’s not much mystery in that,” he said almost contemptuously. “It’s the background in which I am interested.”
“Not much mystery in it!” I cried.
“No, no,” he answered testily. “The trappings may be a trifle bizarre, but don’t let them blind you to the facts, all the essentials which have been laid before us.”
I sat down, determined to expose his trickery. “Nataro, it is either a ghost or it is not a ghost.”
“I can see no way of disputing that position.”
“Then it is not a ghost.”
“On what grounds do you say so?”
“Because there is no such thing as a ghost.”
“Proof to the contrary?”
“The premise is yours, not mine. But let us accept it for the nonce. Pray go on.”
“Therefore it is a sentient being.”
“Ah, that is certainly being cagy,” he said, smiling provocatively. “Have you decided what his motive might be?”
“To frighten Mrs. Glass from the house.”
“Why? We’ve been told it’s not worth much and will decline in value with every year to come.”
“Very well, then. To get his hands on something valuable concealed in the house. Mrs. Glass took it furnished–as it was, you’ll remember.”
“I remember it very well. I am also aware that the house stood empty for some weeks and anyone who wanted to lay hands on something in it would have had far more opportunity to do so then than he would after tenancy was resumed.”
I threw up my hands. “I give up.”
“Come, come, Adams. You are looking too deep. Think on it soberly for a while, and the facts will rearrange themselves so as to make for one, and only one, correct solution.”
So saying, he turned to the telephone and rang up Inspector Huxley at his home to request him to make a discreet application for exhumation of the remains of Captain William Byrd and the examination of those remains by Jordan Peckham.
“Would you mind telling me what all that has to do with our client?” I asked when he had finished.
“I submit that it is too fine a coincidence to dismiss that a heavily insured old man should conveniently die after he has made a will leaving everything to the nephew he has asked to come live with him,” said Nataro. “There we have a concrete motive with nothing ephemeral about it.”
“But what’s to be gained by an exhumation now? If what you have suspected is true, the murderer is already dead, beyond punishment.”
Nataro smiled enigmatically. “Ah, Adams, I am not so much a seeker after punishment as a seeker after truth. I want the facts. I mean to have them. I shall be spending considerable time tomorrow at the British Museum in search of them.”
“Well, you’ll ghosts of another kind there,” I said dryly.
“Old maps and newspapers abound with them,” he answered agreeably, but said no word in that annoyingly typical fashion of his about what he sought.
I would not ask, only to be told, “Facts.”
When I walked into our quarters early in the evening of the following Monday, I found Nataro standing at the windows, his face aglow with eager anticipation.
“I was afraid you might not get here in time to help lay Mrs. Glass’ ghost,” he said, without turning.
“But you weren’t watching for me,” I said, “or you wouldn’t still be standing there.”
“Ah, I am delighted to note such growth in your deductive faculty,” he replied/ “I’m waiting for Huxley and Constable Grey. We may need their help tonight if we are to trap this elusive apparition. Mrs. Glass has sent word that the string across the library was broken last night. –Ah, here they come now.”
He turned. “you’ve had supper, Adams?”
“I dined at the club.”
“Come then. The amusement is a’stirring.”
He led the way down the stairs and out into Upbrook Mews, where a police car had just drawn up to the curb. The door of the car sprang open at our approach and Constable Grey got out. He was fresh faced young man whose work Nataro had come to regard as very promising, and he greeted us with anticipatory pleasure, stepping aside so we could enter the car. Inspector Martin Huxley, a bluff square-faced man wearing a clipped moustache, occupied the far corner of the seat.
Inspector Huxley spared no words in formal greeting. “How in the devil did you get on to Captain Byrd’s poisoning?” he asked gruffly.
“Peckham found poison, then?”
“Arsenic. A massive dose. Byrd couldn’t have lived much over twelve hours after taking it. How did you know?”
“I had only a very strong assumption,” said Nataro.
The car was rolling forward now through streets hazed with a light mist and beginning to glow with the yellow lights of the shops, blunting the harsh realities of daylight and lending London a kind of enchantment I loved. Grey was at the wheel, which he handled with great skill in the often crowded streets.
Inspector Huxley was persistent. “I hope you haven’t got us out on a wild goose chase,” he went on. “I have some doubts about following your lead in such matters, Nataro.”
“When I’ve mislead you, they’ll be justified. Not until then. Now, another matter–if related. You’ll recall a disappearance in Southwark two years ago? Elderly man named Connor Lyman?”
Huxley sat for a few moments in silence. Then he said, “Man of seventy. Retired seaman. Indigent. No family. Last seen near the Crystal Palace. Vanished without a trace. Presumed drowned in the Thames and carried out to sea.”
“I believe I can find him for you, Huxley.”
Huxley snorted. “Now, then, Nataro–give it to me short. What’s this all about?”
Nataro summed up the story of our client’s haunted library, while Huxley sat in thoughtful silence.
“Laying ghosts is hardly in my line,” he said when Nataro had finished.
“Can you find your way to the Sydenham entrance of the abandoned old Nunhead-Crystal Palace High Level Railway Line?” asked Nataro.
“If not, I have a map with me. Two, in fact. If you and Grey will conceal yourself near that entrance, ready to arrest anyone coming out of it, we’ll meet you there in from two to three hours time.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Nataro,” growled Huxley.
“I share that hope, Huxley.” He turned to Grey and gave him Mrs. Glass’ address. “Adams and I will leave you there, Huxley. You’ll have plenty of time to reach the tunnel entrance before we begin our exploration at the other end.”
“It’s murder, then, Nataro?”
“I should hardly think that anyone would willingly take so much arsenic unless eh meant to commit suicide. No such intention was manifest in Captain Byrd’s life–indeed, quite the contrary. He loved the life he led and would not have willingly given it up.”
“You’re postulating that Connor Lyman knew Captain Byrd and his nephew?”
“I am convinced inquiry will prove that to be the case.”
Grey let us out of the police car before Mrs. Glass’ house, which loomed with an almost forbiddingly sinister air in the gathering darkness. Light shone wanly from but one window; curtains were drawn over the rest of them at the front of the house, and the entire dwelling seemed to be waiting upon its foredoomed decay.
Mrs. Glass herself answered our ring.
“Oh, Mr. Nataro!” she cried at sight of us. “You did get my message.”
“Indeed, I did, Mrs. Glass. Dr. Adams and I have now come to make an attempt to lay your ghost.”
Mrs. Glass paled a little and stepped back to permit us entrance.
“You’ll want to see the broken thread, Mr. Nataro, she said after she had closed the door.
“If you please.”
She swept past us and led us to the library, where she turned up al the lights. The black thread could be seen lying on the carpet, broken through about midway, and away from the east wall.
“Nothing has been disturbed, Mrs. Glass?”
“Nothing. No one has come into this room but me–at my strict order. Except, of course, whoever broke the thread.” She shuddered. “It appears to have been broken by something coming out of the wall!”
“Does it not?” agreed Nataro.
“No ghost could break that thread,” I said.
“There are such phenomena as poltergeists which are said to make all kinds of mischief, including the breaking of dishes,” said Nataro dryly. “If we had that to deal with, the mere breaking of a thread would offer it no problem. You heard nothing, Mrs. Glass?”
“No rattling of chains, no hollow groans?”
“Nothing, Mr. Nataro.”
“And not even the sound of a book falling?”
“Such a sound an old house might make at any time, I suppose.”
He cocked his head suddenly; a glint came into his eyes. “And not, I suppose, a sound like that? Do you hear it?”
“Oh, Mr. Nataro,” cried Mrs. Glass in a low voice. “That is the sound Mrs. Hanson heard.”
It was the sound of someone singing–singing boisterously. It seemed to come as from a great distance, out of the very books on the walls.
“And it’s all for me grog, me jolly, jolly grog. All for me beer and tobacco. For I spent all me tin on lassies drinkin’ gin. Across the ocean I must wander,” murmured Nataro. “I can barely make out the words. Captain Byrd’s collection of sea lore is shelved along this wall, too! A coincidence.”
“Mr. Nataro! What is it?” asked our client.
“Pray do not disturb yourself, Mrs. Glass. That is hardly a voice from the other side. It has too much body. But we are delaying unnecessarily. Allow me.”
So saying, he crossed to the bookshelves at the approximate place where she had reported seeing the apparition that haunted the library. He lifted a dozen books off a shelf and put them to one side. Then he knocked upon the wall behind. It gave back a muffled hollow sound. He nodded in satisfaction and then gave the entire section of shelving the closest scrutiny.
Presently he found what he sought–after having removed half the books from the shelving there–a small lever concealed behind a row of books. He depressed it. Instantly there was a soft thud–like the sound a book might make when it struck the carpet–and the section sagged forward, opening into the room like a door ajar. Mrs. Glass gasped sharply.
“What on earth is that, Mr. Nataro?”
“Unless I am very much mistaken, it is a passage to the abandoned right-of-way of the Nunhead-Crystal Palace Line–and the temporary refuge of your library ghost.”
He pulled the shelving further into the room, exposing a gaping aperture which led into the high bank behind that wall of the house and down into the earth beneath. Out of the aperture came a voice which was certainly that of an inebriated man, raucously singing. The voice echoed and reverberated as in a cavern below.
“Pray excuse us, Mrs. Glass,” said Nataro. “Come, Adams.”
Nataro took a flashlight from his pocket and, crouching, crept into the tunnel. I followed him. The earth was shored up for a little way beyond the opening, then the walls were bare, and here and there I found them narrow for me, though Nataro, being slender, managed to slip through with less difficulty. The aperture was not high enough for some distance to enable one to do more than crawl, and it was a descending passage almost from the opening in Mrs. Glass’ library.
Ahead of us the singing had stopped abruptly.
“Hist!” warned Nataro suddenly.
There was a sound of hurried movement up ahead.
“I fear he has heard us,” Nataro whispered.
He moved forward again and abruptly stood up. I crowded out to join him. We stood on the right-of-way of the abandoned Nunhead-Crystal Palace Line. The rails were still in place and the rail bed was clearly the source of the cinder Nataro had produced for my edification. Far ahead of us on the line someone was running.
“No matter,” said Nataro. “There is only one way for him to go. He could hardly risk going out to where the main line passes. He must go out by way of the Sydenham entrance.”
We pressed forward, and soon the light revealed a niche hollowed out of the wall. It contained bedding, a half-eaten loaf of bread, candles, a lantern, and books. Outside the opening were dozens of empty wine and brandy bottles.
Nataro examined the bedding.
“Just as I thought,” he said, straightening up. “This has not been here very long–certainly not longer than two months.”
“The time since the younger Byrd’s death,” I cried.
“You advance, Adams, indeed!”
“Then he and Lyman were in it together!”
“of necessity,” said Nataro. “Come.”
He ran rapidly down the line, I after him.
Up ahead there was a sudden burst of shouting. “Aha!” cried Nataro. “They have him!”
After minutes of hard running we burst out of the tunnel at the entrance where Inspector Huxley and Constable Grey waited–the constable manacled to a wild-looking old man, whose fierce glare was indeed alarming. Graying hair stood out from his head, and his unkempt beard completed a frame of hair around a grimy face out of which blazed two eyes fiery with rage.
“He gave us quite a struggle, Nataro,” said Huxley, still breathing heavily.
“Capital! Capital!” cried Nataro, rubbing his hands together delightedly. “Gentlemen, let me introduce you to as wilt an old scoundrel as we’ve had the pleasure of meeting in a long time. Captain William Byrd, swindler of insurance companies and, I regret to say, murderer.”
“Lyman!” exclaimed Huxley.
“Ah, Huxley, you had your hands on him. But I fear you lost him when you gave him to Peckham for autopsy.”
“The problem was elementary enough,” said Nataro, as he filled his pipe with the abominable shag he habitually smoked and leaned up against the mantel in our quarters later that night. “Mrs. Glass told us everything essential to its solution, and Bossard only confirmed it. The unsolved question was the identity of the victim, and the files of the metropolitan papers gave me a presumptive answer to that in the disappearance of Connor Lyman, a man of similar build and age to Captain Byrd.
“Of course, it was manifest at the outset that this motiveless specter was chancing discovery for survival. It was not Hanson but the Captain who was raiding the food and liquor stocks at the house. The cave, of course, was never intended as a permanent hiding place, but only as a refuge to seek when strangers came to the house or when his nephew had some friends in. he lived in the house; he had always been reclusive and he changed his ways but little. His nephew, you will recall Bossard’s telling us, continued to subscribe to his magazines and buy the books he wanted, apparently for himself, but obviously for his uncle. The bedding and supplies were obviously moved into the tunnel after the younger Byrd’s death.
“The manner and place of the ghost’s appearance suggested the opening in the wall. The cinder in the carpet cried aloud of the abandoned Nunhead-Crystal Palace Line, which the maps I studied in the British Museum confirmed ran almost under the house. The Captain actually had more freedom than most dead men, for he could wander out along the line by night if he wished.
“Bossard clearly set forth the motive. The Captain had sold off everything he had to enable him to continue his way of living. He needed money. His insurance policies promised to supply it. He and his nephew together hatched up the plot. Lyman was picked as victim, probably out of a circle of acquaintances because, as newspaper descriptions made clear, he had a certain resemblance to the Captain and was, like him, a retired seaman with somewhat parallel tastes.
“They waited until the auspicious occasion when Dr. Easton, who knew the Captain too well to be taken in, was off on a prolonged holiday, lured Lyman to the house, killed him with a lethal dose of arsenic, after which they cleaned up the place to eliminate all external trace of poison and its effects, and called in Dr. Easton’s resident to witness the dying man’s last minutes. The Captain was by this time in his cave, and the young doctor took Clayton Byrd’s word for the symptoms and signed the death certificate, after which the Byrd’s had ample funds on which to live as the Captain liked.”
“And how close they came to getting away with it!” I cried.
“Indeed! Clayton Byrd’s unforeseen death–ironically, of a genuine heart attack–was the little detail they had never dreamed of. On similar turns of fate empires have fallen!”