The Bird Cage - Eimar O’Duffy - ebook

The Bird Cage ebook

Eimar O'Duffy

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Opis

Eimar Ultan O’Duffy (29 September 1893 – 21 March 1935), born in Dublin in 1893, was a novelist, poet, playwright and satirist. The Irish Theatre Company produced two of his plays, and a later play „Bricriu’s Feast” was published, though not produced, in 1919. His other publications include „The Wasted Island” (1919), „King Goshawk and the Birds” (MacMillan, 1926) and a series of mystery novels including „The Bird Cage”, „Asses in Clover” and „The Secret Enemy”. In „The Bird Cage”, a murdered man is discovered in a bedroom at the Grand Hotel in Spurn Cove, an English seaside resort... This is the first American edition of a mystery novel by an Irish writer. Eimar O’Duffy’s mysteries give you just enough information to get you drawn into the story and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. Highly recommended for fans of mysteries!

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Liczba stron: 268

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Contents

I. A Death in the Night

II. On the Trail

III. A Hot Scent

IV. Doubts

V. What Miss Philpot Thought

VI. Fresh Forces

VII. What the Photograph Told

VIII. Facts and Theories

IX. The Empty House

X. A Night of Terror

XI. Rescue

XII. Theory Number Four

XIII. Mr. Elthorne at Home

XIV. A Second Problem

XV. Mr. Elthorne at Work

XVI. Allingham Gets Busy

XVII. The Night Hunters

XVIII. Mr. Sparker's Adventure

XIX. Unraveling the Threads

XX. The Villain of the Piece

XXI. The Loose Ends

[I]

A DEATH IN THE NIGHT

The Grand Hotel, Spurn Cove, is not what is called a hotel de luxe–that is to say, a sham palace, all glare, glitter, and jazz music, where everything costs about fifteen times what it is worth,–but it is a very good hotel, with an atmosphere of solid comfort about it, and something of a tradition in cooking. When you enter it on some blustering day after a tramp along the coast, as the swing door cuts off the last wild clutch of the wind at your tingling ears, and you pass over thick-piled carpets to the generous fire burning in the lounge, a sort of heavenly calm seems to lap you round; in the security of which, sunk deep in capacious armchairs, you will have no thought but for tea and muffins.

The hotel is of a piece with the town it belongs to; for Spurn Cove is a resort which has not yet been what is called “developed”; which means that the sea and the hinterland are still its most prominent features, and that it has been sadly neglected by the speculative builder and the entertainment contractor. The main street has a certain individuality; there are few picture palaces, and only one small theater; the promenade is old-fashioned and of no great extent. Altogether it is not the sort of place to attract really go-ahead people, though the excellent bathing and scenery of the neighborhood bring a sufficiency of visitors whose chief requirement on a holiday is rest. It is very prettily situated on a sickle-shaped sweep of coast, backed by wooded hills, looking out over the North Sea.

One summer’s morning, Mr. Latymer, the manager of the Grand Hotel, was sitting at his desk at work on some accounts, when the telephone bell rang.

“Miss Philpot speaking,” came a voice along the wire. “Will you come down at once, sir? There’s something wrong with number twenty-two. The gentleman hasn’t come down to breakfast, and the chambermaid can’t get an answer from him. The door is locked on the inside.”

Mr. Latymer glanced at his wrist-watch. It was five past eleven. Something must be wrong indeed, and horrible imaginings chilled the discreet soul of the manager. “I’ll come down,” he said.

A moment later he stood at the bureau in the hall.

“Whose room is it?” he asked.

“Mr. W. Wilson,” replied Miss Philpot. “He only arrived last night.”

“Give me the master-key,” said Mr. Latymer, and, turning, called to a passing waiter: “Stubbs, I want you to come upstairs with me.”

With the man following, he hurried to the bedroom marked 22, and knocked at the door. There was no answer, He knocked again. Still no answer. He waited a moment, and knocked a third time, much louder, but with no more effect.

Mr. Latymer paled visibly, for he had made enough noise to waken the heaviest sleeper. After a brief hesitation he inserted the key in the lock, and walked into the room, followed by his subordinate. He had steeled himself for a shock; but even so the spectacle that confronted him wrung a cry of horror from his lips, and made him recoil against the stalwart figure of Stubbs behind him. Upon the bed lay the motionless form of a man, his limbs stiffened in a hideous contortion, his face a ghastly ruin, beaten and smashed out of all semblance of humanity, and masked with clotted blood.

The two men stood, half-stunned by the terrible sight. The manager was the first to recover.

“Look here, Stubbs,” he said. “We must get the police at once. Meanwhile, don’t say a word about this to anybody. We don’t want to create a sensation. Do you understand?”

Stubbs having promised compliance, Mr. Latymer locked the door, and went to the telephone in his private room.

“Is that the superintendent?” he inquired when the police station answered his ring.

“No, sir. The superintendent is away on sick leave. This is Inspector Cranley.”

“Well, look here. A dreadful thing has happened.” He told the story in quick nervous tones. “You must come round at once,” he concluded.

“I’ll be over in ten minutes,” promised the voice in the telephone.

“One moment.” Already, in spite of his recent shock, the manager in Mr. Latymer had risen above the man. “Come in mufti,” he said. “Above all things, I don’t want a sensation.”

In due course arrived Inspector Cranley, an alert young man in a gray flannel suit. Mr. Latymer wanted to hurry him at once to the scene of the crime, but he preferred to begin by taking a survey of the outside of the hotel.

“It’s a pretty easy crib to crack,” he remarked as they strolled past the south front. And so it was, for along the whole of this side of the hotel there ran a veranda, the roof of which formed a balcony to the first-floor windows, and which offered ample hold to an active climber.

Mr. Latymer agreed ruefully with the detective’s observation, and pointed out the window of number 22. Cranley at once went down on his knees to examine the geranium border which lay between the path and the verandah.

“By Jove!” he said. “A careful customer. He stepped on a board or something in getting in, but he must have slipped in getting out again, for he’s left us a trace of his heel. There it is. And you see how the earth has been pressed down here by something flat.” The young man rose to his feet. “Now what about the grounds? Are they as easy to get into as the house?”

“I don’t think anyone could climb our railings,” Mr. Latymer replied. “But the main gate isn’t shut till midnight. It would be quite easy to slip in unobserved before that, and hide in the shrubbery.”

“How about getting out again?”

“Well, the gate is opened at six, and he might slip out then; but it would be risky, as the gardeners are about. Another way would be to climb the gate leading to the beach. It isn’t very high.”

“Let’s have a look at it.”

The two men walked down a winding yew-hedged path, which led to a gate through which the sea could be observed dashing in miniature rollers on the beach. It was a perfectly feasible climb, but there were no traces, the path inside being flagged, and the sand without, where it had not been washed clear by the tide, trodden by dozens of feet.

“Nothing to be learned here,” said the detective. “Let’s go back. I must have a look at the bedroom at once.”

The manager led him to a side door, and then by a back stairway to the scene of the crime. But Mr. Latymer did not enter. One view of what was on the bed had been more than enough for him. Inspector Cranley went into the room alone.

[II]

ON THE TRAIL

The room was a large and bright one, with heavy expensive-looking furniture and deep-piled blue carpet. Through the long French windows the morning sun shed brilliant slanting rays.

Inspector Cranley turned his attention at once to the corpse. Clad in pajamas, it lay on its back, half-covered by the bedclothes, with the hideously maltreated head on the pillow. The neck showed dark bruises that could only have been made by throttling fingers, and there was another bruise on the abdomen, as if the murderer had knelt on his victim. The latter had evidently resisted, so far as the disadvantage at which he had been taken allowed, for his fists were clenched, and one of them was badly cut, while a cameo ring which he wore was broken.

Here Cranley’s investigation was interrupted by his catching a glimpse of what was obviously the instrument of the crime, a large and heavy hammer, the head of which was dabbed with blood, with some of the victim’s hairs adhering. He took it up and scrutinized the handle closely with a lens for finger-marks; but there were none. The nature of the brown smears on the wood told plainly that the murderer had worn gloves: a cool hand, evidently, carrying out a well-premeditated crime.

Putting the gruesome implement aside, Cranley now turned to the dead man’s belongings. On the small table by the bedside were a silver watch, which was going, a bunch of keys, and a volume of fiction, with a pair of shell-rimmed glasses between the pages. There was also the large key of the room, with the number plate attached. Other personal accessories lay on the dressing-table: some loose change, a fountain-pen, and a pocket-book containing eleven pounds in Treasury notes, besides the usual toilet requisites. A light raincoat hung from a hook on the door, and the man’s other clothes lay on a chair at the foot of the bed, all but the coat, which the inspector found hanging in the wardrobe. Against the wall stood a large black trunk, unlocked, but not yet unpacked. It was marked at both ends with the initials, W. W., in white paint. There was a tie-on label fastened to each of the handles, having the inscription: W. Wilson, passenger to Spurn Cove; but the railway company’s adhesive label was missing.

Cranley next went to the windows. The right-hand one was shut and latched; but the other was merely closed; and the detective at once saw that a circular piece had been cut out of the glass near the latch. A moment later he found the piece on the dressing-table. A slight discoloration in the center marked the point of adhesion of the putty with which it had been retained in position during the cutting operation; but the putty itself was not to be found, and the glass, like the hammer, proved to be innocent of finger-prints.

Opening the window, the inspector proceeded to examine the balcony for footmarks, and here at last obtained some reward for his pains. The indications were indeed faint, but one of them was definite enough for exact measurement. For all the violence of his assault on his victim, the murderer was evidently not a man of extraordinary physique, for his foot was only a size seven.

Having come to this conclusion, Inspector Cranley stood for a moment looking out at the prospect below. The town of Spurn Cove, as we have said, is very nicely situated on a curve of the coast, not deep enough to be called a bay, with wooded country behind it. From the balcony of the hotel, which stood on the southern point of the arc, Cranley could see the clustering roofs and spires of the town, and the flash of its windows in the morning sun. Beyond the glittering waters of the bay, now dotted with the heads of swimmers, with here and there the white sail of a pleasure boat, the curvature of the shore terminated in another promontory, with scattered red roofs among a mass of trees. Altogether it was a charming view; but the detective’s thoughts were elsewhere. It was evident that the dead man had expected an attack of some kind; for it is unusual in these days for anyone to keep his bedroom windows closed, especially in summer. And the murderer had obviously come prepared for this. But how, Cranley asked himself, could he have counted with confidence on scaling the balcony, cutting the glass, and opening the window, without disturbing the sleeper? More extraordinary still, how had he succeeded? What catlike tread, what deft unerring fingers, what infinite patience the midnight prowler must have owned. Cranley could picture him, gloved, rubber-soled, lithe-bodied, opening the window inch by inch, then creeping softly as a snake to the bedside to deal his deadly blow.

The fell work had gone without a hitch. No slip by the murderer: no cry from the victim. In the dark too; for the moon was in her third quarter. There was something like wizardry in the achievement, unless the man in the bed had been uncommonly deaf.

Deaf? He had better inquire about that. He went to the telephone in the corner of the room and took up the receiver.

“Hello! Is that Miss Philpot;... Me... Don’t you know?... Yes, it’s me, darling. I’m working on this murder... Yes... Now, look here. Did you see this man when he arrived last night?”

“Yes,” replied Miss Philpot.

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