The Shrieking Pit - Arthur Rees - ebook

Colwyn had never seen anything quite so eccentric in a public room as the behaviour of the young man breakfasting alone at the alcove table in the bay embrasure, and he became so absorbed in watching him that he permitted his own meal to grow cold, impatiently waving away the waiter who sought with obtrusive obsequiousness to recall his wandering attention by thrusting the menu card before him.To outward seeming the occupant of the alcove table was a good-looking young man, whose clear blue eyes, tanned skin and well-knit frame indicated the truly national product of common sense, cold water, and out-of-door pursuits; of a wholesomely English if not markedly intellectual type, pleasant to look at, and unmistakably of good birth and breeding. When a young man of this description, your fellow guest at a fashionable seaside hotel, who had been in the habit of giving you a courteous nod on his morning journey across the archipelago of snowy-topped tables under the convoy of the head waiter to his own table, comes in to breakfast with shaking hands, flushed face, and passes your table with unseeing eyes, you would probably conclude that he was under the influence of liquor, and in your English way you would severely blame him, not so much for the moral turpitude involved in his excess as for the bad taste, which prompted him to show himself in public in such a condition. If, on reaching his place, the young man's conduct took the additional extravagant form of picking up a table-knife and sticking it into the table in front of him, you would probably enlarge your previous conclusion by admitting the hypotheses of drugs or dementia to account for such remarkable behaviour.All these things were done by the young man at the alcove table in the breakfast room of the Grand Hotel, Durrington, on an October morning in the year 1916; but Colwyn, who was only half an Englishman, and, moreover, had an original mind, did not attribute them to drink, morphia, or madness. Colwyn flattered himself that he knew the outward signs of these diseases too well to be deceived into thinking that the splendid specimen of young physical manhood at the far table was the victim of any of them. His own impression was that it was a case of shell-shock. It was true that, apart from the doubtful evidence of a bronzed skin and upright frame, there was nothing about him to suggest that he had been a soldier: no service lapel or regimental badge in his grey Norfolk jacket. But an Englishman of his class would be hardly likely to wear either once he had left the Army. It was almost certain that he must have seen service in the war, and by no means improbable that he had been bowled over by shell-shock, like many thousands more of equally splendid specimens of young manhood. Any other conclusion to account for the strange condition of a young man like him seemed unworthy and repellent...

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Arthur Rees


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Copyright © 2016 by Arthur Rees

Published by Ozymandias Press

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Distribution by Pronoun

ISBN: 9781531291860

































COLWYN HAD NEVER SEEN ANYTHING quite so eccentric in a public room as the behaviour of the young man breakfasting alone at the alcove table in the bay embrasure, and he became so absorbed in watching him that he permitted his own meal to grow cold, impatiently waving away the waiter who sought with obtrusive obsequiousness to recall his wandering attention by thrusting the menu card before him.

To outward seeming the occupant of the alcove table was a good-looking young man, whose clear blue eyes, tanned skin and well-knit frame indicated the truly national product of common sense, cold water, and out-of-door pursuits; of a wholesomely English if not markedly intellectual type, pleasant to look at, and unmistakably of good birth and breeding. When a young man of this description, your fellow guest at a fashionable seaside hotel, who had been in the habit of giving you a courteous nod on his morning journey across the archipelago of snowy-topped tables under the convoy of the head waiter to his own table, comes in to breakfast with shaking hands, flushed face, and passes your table with unseeing eyes, you would probably conclude that he was under the influence of liquor, and in your English way you would severely blame him, not so much for the moral turpitude involved in his excess as for the bad taste, which prompted him to show himself in public in such a condition. If, on reaching his place, the young man’s conduct took the additional extravagant form of picking up a table-knife and sticking it into the table in front of him, you would probably enlarge your previous conclusion by admitting the hypotheses of drugs or dementia to account for such remarkable behaviour.

All these things were done by the young man at the alcove table in the breakfast room of the Grand Hotel, Durrington, on an October morning in the year 1916; but Colwyn, who was only half an Englishman, and, moreover, had an original mind, did not attribute them to drink, morphia, or madness. Colwyn flattered himself that he knew the outward signs of these diseases too well to be deceived into thinking that the splendid specimen of young physical manhood at the far table was the victim of any of them. His own impression was that it was a case of shell-shock. It was true that, apart from the doubtful evidence of a bronzed skin and upright frame, there was nothing about him to suggest that he had been a soldier: no service lapel or regimental badge in his grey Norfolk jacket. But an Englishman of his class would be hardly likely to wear either once he had left the Army. It was almost certain that he must have seen service in the war, and by no means improbable that he had been bowled over by shell-shock, like many thousands more of equally splendid specimens of young manhood. Any other conclusion to account for the strange condition of a young man like him seemed unworthy and repellent.

“It must be shell-shock, and a very bad case—probably supposed to be cured, and sent up here to recuperate,” thought Colwyn. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”

As Colwyn resumed his breakfast it occurred to him that some of the other guests might have been alarmed by the young man’s behaviour, and he cast his eyes round the room to see if anybody else had noticed him.

There were about thirty guests in the big breakfast apartment, which had been built to accommodate five times the number—a charming, luxuriously furnished place, with massive white pillars supporting a frescoed ceiling, and lighted by numerous bay windows opening on to the North Sea, which was sparkling brightly in a brilliant October sunshine. The thirty people comprised the whole of the hotel visitors, for in the year 1916 holiday seekers preferred some safer resort than a part of the Norfolk coast which lay in the track of enemy airships seeking a way to London.

Two nights before a Zeppelin had dropped a couple of bombs on the Durrington front, and the majority of hotel visitors had departed by the next morning’s train, disregarding the proprietor’s assurance that the affair was a pure accident, a German oversight which was not likely to happen again. Off the nervous ones went, and left the big hotel, the long curved seafront, the miles of yellow sand, the high green headlands, the best golf-links in the East of England, and all the other attractions mentioned in the hotel advertisements, to a handful of people, who were too nerve-proof, lazy, fatalistic, or indifferent to bother about Zeppelins.

These thirty guests, scattered far and wide over the spacious isolation of the breakfast-room, in twos and threes, and little groups, seemed, with one exception, too engrossed in the solemn British rite of beginning the day well with a good breakfast to bother their heads about the conduct of the young man at the alcove table. They were, for the most part, characteristic war-time holiday-makers: the men, obviously above military age, in Norfolk tweeds or golf suits; two young officers at a table by the window, and—as indifference to Zeppelins is not confined to the sterner sex—a sprinkling of ladies, plump and matronly, or of the masculine walking type, with two charmingly pretty girls and a gay young war widow to leaven the mass.

The exception was a tall and portly gentleman with a slightly bald head, glossy brown beard, gold-rimmed eye-glasses perilously balanced on a prominent nose, and an important manner. He was breakfasting alone at a table not far from Colwyn’s, and Colwyn noticed that he kept glancing at the alcove table where the young man sat. As Colwyn looked in his direction their eyes met, and the portly gentleman nodded portentously in the direction of the alcove table, as an indication that he also had been watching the curious behaviour of the occupant. A moment afterwards he got up and walked across to the pillar against which Colwyn’s table was placed.

“Will you permit me to take a seat at your table?” he remarked urbanely. “I am afraid we are going to have trouble over there directly,” he added, sinking his voice as he nodded in the direction of the distant alcove table. “We may have to act promptly. Nobody else seems to have noticed anything. We can watch him from behind this pillar without his seeing us.”

Colwyn nodded in return with a quick comprehension of all the other’s speech implied, and pushed a chair towards his visitor, who sat down and resumed his watch of the young man at the alcove table. Colwyn bestowed a swift glance on his companion which took in everything. The tall man in glasses looked too human for a lawyer, too intelligent for a schoolmaster, and too well-dressed for an ordinary medical man. Colwyn, versed in judging men swiftly from externals, noting the urbane, somewhat pompous face, the authoritative, professional pose, the well-shaped, plump white hands, and the general air of well-being and prosperity which exuded from the whole man, placed him as a successful practitioner in the more lucrative path of medicine—probably a fashionable Harley Street specialist.

Colwyn returned to his scrutiny of the young man at the alcove table, and he and his companion studied him intently for some time in silence. But the young man, for the moment, was comparatively quiet, gazing moodily through the open window over the waters of the North Sea, an untasted sole in front of him, and an impassive waiter pouring out his coffee as though the spectacle of a young man sticking a knife into the table-cloth was a commonplace occurrence at the Grand Hotel, and all in the day’s doings. When the waiter had finished pouring out the coffee and noiselessly departed, the young man tasted it with an indifferent air, pushed it from him, and resumed his former occupation of staring out of the window.

“He seems quiet enough now,” observed Colwyn, turning to his companion. “What do you think is the matter with him—shell-shock?”

“I would not care to hazard a definite opinion on so cursory an observation,” returned the other, in a dry, reticent, ultra-professional manner. “But I will go so far as to say that I do not think it is a case of shell-shock. If it is what I suspect, that first attack was the precursor of another, possibly a worse attack. Ha! it is commencing. Look at his thumb—that is the danger signal!”

Colwyn looked across the room again. The young man was still sitting in the same posture, with his gaze bent on the open sea. His left hand was extended rigidly on the table in front of him, with the thumb, extended at right angles, oscillating rapidly in a peculiar manner.

“This attack may pass away like the other, but if he looks round at anybody, and makes the slightest move, we must secure him immediately,” said Colwyn’s companion, speaking in a whisper.

He had barely finished speaking when the young man turned his head from the open window and fixed his blue eyes vacantly on the table nearest him, where an elderly clergyman, a golfing friend, and their wives, were breakfasting together. With a swift movement the young man got up, and started to walk towards this table.

Colwyn, who was watching every movement of the young man closely, could not determine, then or afterwards, whether he meditated an attack on the occupants of the next table, or merely intended to leave the breakfast room. The clergyman’s table was directly in front of the alcove and in a line with the pair of swinging glass doors which were the only exit from the breakfast-room. But Colwyn’s companion did not wait for the matter to be put to the test. At the first movement of the young man he sprang to his feet and, without waiting to see whether Colwyn was following him, raced across the room and caught the young man by the arm while he was yet some feet away from the clergyman’s table. The young man struggled desperately in his grasp for some moments, then suddenly collapsed and fell inert in the other’s arms. Colwyn walked over to the spot in time to see his portly companion lay the young man down on the carpet and bend over to loosen his collar.

The young man lay apparently unconscious on the floor, breathing stertorously, with convulsed features and closed eyes. After the lapse of some minutes he opened his eyes, glanced listlessly at the circle of frightened people who had gathered around him, and feebly endeavoured to sit up. Colwyn’s companion, who was bending over him feeling his heart, helped him to a sitting posture, and then, glancing at the faces crowded around, exclaimed in a sharp voice:

“He wants air. Please move back there a little.”

“Certainly, Sir Henry.” It was a stout man in a check golfing suit who spoke. “But the ladies are very anxious to know if it is anything serious.”

“No, no. He will be quite all right directly. Just fall back, and give him more air. Here, you!"—this to one of the gaping waiters—"just slip across to the office and find out the number of this gentleman’s room.”

The waiter hurried away and speedily returned with the proprietor of the hotel, a little man in check trousers and a frock coat, with a bald head and an anxious, yet resigned eye which was obviously prepared for the worst. His demeanour was that of a man who, already overloaded by misfortune, was bracing his sinews to bear the last straw. As he approached the group near the alcove table he smoothed his harassed features into an expression of solicitude, and, addressing himself to the man who was supporting the young man on the floor, said, in a voice intended to be sympathetic,

“I thought I had better come myself, Sir Henry. I could not understand from Antoine what you wanted or what had happened. Antoine said something about somebody dying in the breakfast-room——”

“Nothing of the sort!” snapped the gentleman addressed as Sir Henry, shifting his posture a little so as to enable the young man to lean against his shoulder. “Haven’t you eyes in your head, Willsden? Cannot you see for yourself that this gentleman has merely had a fainting fit?”

“I’m delighted to hear it, Sir Henry,” replied the hotel proprietor. But his face expressed no visible gratification. To a man who had had his hotel emptied by a Zeppelin raid the difference between a single guest fainting instead of dying was merely infinitesimal.

“Who is this gentleman, and what’s the number of his room?” continued Sir Henry. “He will be better lying quietly on his bed.”

“His name is Ronald, and his room is No. 32—on the first floor, Sir Henry.”

“Very good. I’ll take him up there at once.”

“Shall I help you, Sir Henry? Perhaps he could be carried up. One of the waiters could take his feet, or perhaps it would be better to have two.”

“There’s not the slightest necessity. He’ll be able to walk in a minute—with a little assistance. Ah, that’s better!” The abrupt manner in which Sir Henry addressed the hotel proprietor insensibly softened itself into the best bedside manner when he spoke to the patient on the carpet, who, from a sitting posture, was now endeavouring to struggle to his feet. “You think you can get up, eh? Well, it won’t do you any harm. That’s the way!” Sir Henry assisted the young man to rise, and supported him with his arm. “Now, the next thing is to get him to his room. No, no, not you, Willsden—you’re too small. Where’s that gentleman I was sitting with a few minutes ago? Ah, thank you"—as Colwyn stepped forward and took the other arm—"now, let us take him gently upstairs.”

The young man allowed himself to be led away without resistance. He walked, or rather stumbled, along between his guides like a man in a dream. Colwyn noticed that his eyes were half-closed, and that his head sagged slightly from side to side as he was led along. A waiter held open the glass doors which led into the lounge, and a palpitating chambermaid, hastily summoned from the upper regions, tripped ahead up the broad carpeted stairs and along the passage to show the way to the young man’s bedroom.



SIR HENRY DISMISSED THE CHAMBERMAID at the door, and Colwyn and he lifted the young man on to the bed. He lay like a man in a stupor, breathing heavily, his face flushed, his eyes nearly closed. Sir Henry drew up the blind, and by the additional light examined him thoroughly, listening closely to the action of his heart, and examining the pupils of his eyes by rolling back the upper lid with some small instrument he took from his pocket.

“He’ll do now,” he said, after loosening the patient’s clothes for his greater comfort. “He’ll come to in about five minutes, and may be all right again shortly afterwards. But there are certain peculiar features about this case which are new in my experience, and rather alarm me. Certainly the young man ought not to be left to himself. His friends should be sent for. Do you know anything about him? Is he staying at the hotel alone? I only arrived here last night.”

“I believe he is staying at the hotel alone. He has been here for a fortnight or more, and I have never seen him speak to anybody, though I have exchanged nods with him every morning. His principal recreation seems to lie in taking long solitary walks along the coast. He has been in the habit of going out every day, and not returning until dinner is half over. Perhaps the hotel proprietor knows who his friends are.”

“Would you be so kind as to step downstairs and inquire? I do not wish to leave him, but his friends should be telegraphed to at once and asked to come and take charge of him.”

“Certainly. And I’ll send the telegram while I am down there.”

But Colwyn returned in a few moments to say that the hotel proprietor knew nothing of his guest. He had never stayed in the house before, and he had booked his room by a trunk call from London. On arrival he had filled in the registration paper in the name of James Ronald, but had left blank the spaces for his private and business addresses. He looked such a gentleman that the proprietor had not ventured to draw his attention to the omissions.

“Another instance of how hotels neglect to comply with the requirements of the Defence of the Realm Act!” exclaimed Sir Henry. “Really, it is very awkward. I hardly know, in the circumstances, how to act. Speaking as a medical man, I say that he should not be left alone, but if he orders us out of his room when he recovers his senses what are we to do? Can you suggest anything?” He shot a keen glance at his companion.

“I should be in a better position to answer you if I knew what you consider him to be really suffering from. I was under the impression it was a bad case of shell-shock, but your remarks suggest that it is something worse. May I ask, as you are a medical man, what you consider the nature of his illness?”

Sir Henry bestowed another searching glance on the speaker. He noted, for the first time, the keen alertness and intellectuality of the other’s face. It was a fine strong face, with a pair of luminous grey eyes, a likeable long nose, and clean-shaven, humorous mouth—a man to trust and depend upon.

“I hardly know what to do,” said Sir Henry, after a lengthy pause, which he had evidently devoted to considering the wisdom of acceding to his companion’s request. “This gentleman has not consulted me professionally, and I hardly feel justified in confiding my hurried and imperfect diagnosis of his case, without his knowledge, to a perfect stranger. On the other hand, there are reasons why somebody should know, if we are to help him in his weak state. Perhaps, sir, if you told me your name——”

“Certainly: my name is Colwyn—Grant Colwyn.”

“You are the famous American detective of that name?”

“You are good enough to say so.”

“Why not? Who has not heard of you, and your skill in the unravelling of crime? There are many people on both sides of the Atlantic who regard you as a public benefactor. But I am surprised. You do not at all resemble my idea of Colwyn.”

“Why not?”

“You do not talk like an American, for one thing.”

“You forget I have been over here long enough to learn the language. Besides, I am half English.”

Sir Henry laughed good-humouredly.

“That’s a fair answer, Mr. Colwyn. Of course, your being Colwyn alters the question. I have no hesitation in confiding in you. I am Sir Henry Durwood—no doubt you have heard of me. Naturally, I have to be careful.”

Colwyn looked at his companion with renewed interest. Who had not heard of Sir Henry Durwood, the nerve specialist whose skill had made his name a household word amongst the most exclusive women in England, and, incidentally, won him a knighthood? There were professional detractors who hinted that Sir Henry had climbed into the heaven of Harley Street and fat fees by the ladder of social influence which a wealthy, well-born wife had provided, with no qualifications of his own except “the best bedside manner in England” and a thorough knowledge of the weaknesses of the feminine temperament. But his admirers—and they were legion—declared that Sir Henry Durwood was the only man in London who really understood how to treat the complex nervous system of the present generation. These thoughts ran through Colwyn’s mind as he murmured that the opinion of such an eminent specialist as Sir Henry Durwood on the case before them must naturally outweigh his own.

“You are very good to say so.” Sir Henry spoke as though the tribute were no more than his due. “In my opinion, the symptoms of this young man point to epilepsy, and his behaviour downstairs was due to a seizure from which he is slowly recovering.”

“Epilepsy! Haut or petit mal?”

“The lesser form—petit mal, in my opinion.”

“But are his symptoms consistent with the form of epilepsy known as petit mal, Sir Henry? I thought in that lesser form of the disease the victim merely suffered from slight seizures of transient unconsciousness, without convulsions, regaining control of himself after losing himself, to speak broadly, for a few seconds or so.”

“Ah, I see you know something of the disease. That simplifies matters. The layman’s mind is usually at sea when it comes to discussing a complicated affection of the nervous system like epilepsy. You are more or less right in your definition of petit mal. But that is the simple form, without complications. In this case there are complications, in my opinion. I should say that this young man’s attack was combined with the form of epilepsy known as furor epilepticus.”

“I am afraid you are getting beyond my depth, Sir Henry. What is furor epilepticus?”

“It is a term applied to the violence sometimes displayed by the patient during an attack of petit mal. The manifestation is extreme violence—usually much greater than in violent anger, as a rule.”

“I believe there are cases on record of epileptics having committed the most violent outrages against those nearest and dearest to them. Is that what you mean by furor epilepticus?”

“Yes; but that attacks are generally directed towards strangers—rarely towards loved ones, though there have been such cases.”

“I begin to understand. When we were at the breakfast table your professional eye diagnosed this young man’s symptoms—his nervous tremors, his excitability, and the extravagant action with the knife—as premonitory symptoms of an attack of furor epilepticus, in which the sufferer would be liable to a dangerous outburst of violence?”

“Exactly. The minor symptoms suggested petit mal, but the act of sticking the knife into the table pointed strongly to the complication of furor epileptic. That was why I went over to your table to have your assistance in case of trouble.”

“You feared he would attack one of the guests?”

“Yes, epileptics are extremely dangerous in that condition, and will commit murder if they are in possession of a weapon. There have been cases in which they have succeeded in killing the victims of their fury.”

“Without being conscious of it?”

“Without being conscious of it then or afterwards. After the patient recovers from one of these attacks his mind is generally a complete blank, but occasionally he will have a troubled or confused sense of something having happened to him—like a man awakened from a bad dream, which he cannot recall. This young man may come to his senses without remembering anything which occurred downstairs, or he may be vaguely alarmed, and ask a number of questions. In either case, it will be some time—from half an hour to several hours—before his mind begins to work normally again.”

“Do you think it was his intention, when he got up from his table, to attack the group at the table nearest him—that elderly clergyman and his party?”

“I think it highly probable that he would have attacked the first person within his reach—that is why I wanted to prevent him.”

“But he didn’t carry the knife with him from his table.”

“My dear sir"—Sir Henry’s voice conveyed the proper amount of professional superiority—"you speak as though you thought a victim of furor epilepticus was a rational being. He is nothing of the kind. While the attack lasts he is an uncontrollable maniac, not responsible for his actions in the slightest degree.”

“But, if he is capable of conceiving the idea of attacking his fellow creatures, surely he is capable of picking up a knife for the purpose, particularly when he has just previously had one in his hand?” urged Colwyn. “I have no intention of setting up my opinion against yours, Sir Henry, but there are certain aspects of this young man’s illness which are not altogether consistent with my own experience of epileptics. As a criminologist, I have given some study to the effect of epilepsy and other nervous diseases on the criminal temperament. For instance, this young man did not give the usual cry of an epileptic when he sprang up from the table. And if it is merely an attack of petit mal, why is he so long in recovering consciousness?”

“The so-called epileptic cry is not invariably present, and petit mal is sometimes the half-way house to haut mal,” responded Sir Henry. “I have said that this case presents several unusual features, but, in my opinion, there is nothing absolutely inconsistent with epilepsy, combined with furor epilepticus. And here is one symptom rarely found in any fit except an epileptic seizure.” The specialist pointed to a faint fleck of foam which showed beneath the young man’s brown moustache.

Colwyn bent over him and wiped his lips with his handkerchief. As he did so the young man’s eyes unclosed. He regarded Colwyn languidly for a moment or two, and then sat upright on the bed.

“Who are you?” he exclaimed.

“It’s quite all right, Mr. Ronald,” said the specialist, in his most soothing bedside manner. “Just take things easily. You have been ill, but you are almost yourself again. Let me feel your pulse—ha, very good indeed! We will have you on your legs in no time.”

The young man verified the truth of the latter prediction by springing off his bed and regarding his visitors keenly. There was now, at all events, no lack of sanity and intelligence in his gaze.

“What has happened? How did I get here?”

“You fainted, and we brought you up to your room,” interposed Colwyn tactfully, before Sir Henry could speak.

“Awfully kind of you. I remember now. I felt a bit seedy as I went downstairs, but I thought it would pass off. I don’t remember much more about it. I hope I didn’t make too much of an ass of myself before the others, going off like a girl in that way. You must have had no end of a bother in dragging me upstairs—very good of you to take the trouble.” He smiled faintly, and produced a cigarette case.

“How do you feel now?” asked Sir Henry Durwood solemnly, disregarding the proffered case.

“A bit as though I’d been kicked on the top of the head by a horse, but it’ll soon pass off. Fact is, I got a touch of sun when I was out there"—he waved his hand vaguely towards the East—"and it gives me a bit of trouble at times. But I’ll be all right directly. I’m sorry to have given you so much trouble.”

He proffered this explanation with an easy courtesy, accompanied by a slight deprecating smile which admirably conveyed the regret of a well-bred man for having given trouble to strangers. It was difficult to reconcile his self-control with his previous extravagance downstairs. But to Colwyn it was apparent that his composure was simulated, the effort of a sensitive man who had betrayed a weakness to strangers, for the fingers which held a cigarette trembled slightly, and there were troubled shadows in the depths of the dark blue eyes. Colwyn admired the young man’s pluck—he would wish to behave the same way himself in similar circumstances, he felt—and he realised that the best service he and Sir Henry Durwood could render their fellow guest was to leave him alone.

But Sir Henry was far from regarding the matter in the same light. As a doctor he was more at home in other people’s bedrooms than his own, for rumour whispered that Lady Durwood was so jealous of her husband’s professional privileges as a fashionable ladies’ physician that she was in the habit of administering strong doses of matrimonial truths to him every night at home. Sir Henry settled himself in his chair, adjusted his eye-glasses more firmly on his nose and regarded the young man standing by the mantelpiece with a bland professional smile, slightly dashed by the recollection that he was not receiving a fee for his visit.

“You have made a good recovery, but you’ll need care,” he said. “Speaking as a professional man—I am Sir Henry Durwood—I think it would be better for you if you had somebody with you who understood your case. With your—er—complaint, it is very desirable that you should not be left to the mercy of strangers. I would advise, strongly advise you, to communicate with your friends. I shall be only too happy to do so on your behalf if you will give me their address. In the meantime—until they arrive—my advice to you is to rest.”

A look of annoyance flashed through the young man’s eyes. He evidently resented the specialist’s advice; indeed, his glance plainly revealed that he regarded it as a piece of gratuitous impertinence. He answered coldly:

“Many thanks, Sir Henry, but I think I shall be able to look after myself.”

“That is not an uncommon feature of your complaint,” said the specialist. An oracular shake of the head conveyed more than the words.

“What do you imagine my complaint, as you term it, to be?” asked the young man curtly.

Colwyn wondered whether even a fashionable physician, used to the freedom with which fashionable ladies discussed their ailments, would have the courage to tell a stranger that he regarded him as an epileptic. The matter was not put to the test—perhaps fortunately—for at that moment there was a sharp tap at the door, which opened to admit a chambermaid who seemed the last word in frills and smartness.

“If you please, Sir Henry,” said the girl, with a sidelong glance at the tall handsome young man by the mantelpiece, “Lady Durwood would be obliged if you would go to her room at once.”

It speaks well for Sir Henry Durwood that the physician was instantly merged in the husband. “Tell Lady Durwood I will come at once,” he said. “You’ll excuse me,” he added, with a courtly bow to his patient. “Perhaps—if you wish—you might care to see me later.”

“Many thanks, Sir Henry, but there will be no need.” He bowed gravely to the specialist, but smiled cordially and held out his hand to Colwyn, as the latter prepared to follow Sir Henry out of the room. “I hope to see you later,” he said.

But when Colwyn, after a day spent on the golf-links, went into the dining-room for dinner that evening, the young man’s place was vacant. After the meal Colwyn went to the office to inquire if Mr. Ronald was still unwell, and learnt, to his surprise, that he had departed from the hotel an hour or so after his illness.



LUNCH WAS OVER THE FOLLOWING day, and the majority of the hotel guests were assembled in the lounge, some sitting round a log fire which roared and crackled in the old-fashioned fireplace, others wandering backwards and forwards to the hotel entrance to cast a weather eye on the black and threatening sky.

During the night there had been one of those violent changes in the weather with which the denizens of the British Isles are not altogether unfamiliar; a heavy storm had come shrieking down the North Sea, and though the rain had ceased about eleven o’clock the wind had blown hard all through the night, bringing with it from the Arctic a driving sleet and the first touch of bitter, icy, winter cold.

The ladies of the hotel, who the previous day had paraded the front in light summer frocks, sat shivering round the fire in furs; and the men walked up and down in little groups discussing the weather and the war. The golfers stood apart debating, after their wont, the possibility of trying a round in spite of the weather. The elderly clergyman was prepared to risk it if he could find a partner, and, with the aid of an umbrella held upside down, was demonstrating to an attentive circle the possibility of going round the most open course in England in the teeth of the fiercest gale that ever blew, provided that a brassy was used instead of a driver.

“I don’t see how you could drive a ball with either to-day,” said one of the doubtful ones. “You’d be driving right against the wind for the first four holes, and when you have the wind behind you at the bend in the cliff by the fifth, the force of the gale would probably carry your ball half a mile out to sea. These links here are supposed to be the most exposed in England.”

“My dear sir, you surely do not call this a gale,” retorted the clergyman. “I have played some of my best games in a stronger wind than this. And as for this being the most exposed course in England—well, let me ask you one question: have you ever played over the Worthing course with a strong northeast gale—a gale, mind you, not a wind—sweeping over the Downs?”

“Can’t say I have,” grunted the previous speaker, a tall cadaverous man, wrapped from head to foot in a great grey ulster, and wearing woollen gloves. “In fact, I’ve never been on the Worthing course.”

“I thought not.” The clergyman’s face showed a golfer’s satisfaction at having tripped a fellow player. “The Worthing course is the most difficult course in England, all up hill and down dale, and full of pitfalls for those who don’t know its peculiarities. I had a very remarkable experience there, last year, with the crack local player—his handicap was plus two. We played a round in a gale with the wind whistling over the high downs at the rate of seventy or eighty miles an hour. My partner didn’t want to play at first because of the weather, but I persuaded him to go round, and I beat him by two up and four to play solely by relying on the brassy and midiron. He stuck to the driver, and lost in consequence. I’ll just show you how the game went. Suppose the first hole to be just beyond the hall door there, and you drive off from here. Now, imagine that umbrella stand—would you mind moving away a little from it, sir? Thank you—to be a group of fir trees fully a hundred yards to the right of the fairway. Well, I got a shot 160 yards up the fairway with a low straight ball which never lifted more than a yard from the green, but my opponent, instead of sticking to the brassy, as I did, preferred to use his big driver, and what do you think happened to him? The wind took his ball clean over the fir trees.”

The story was interrupted by the sudden entrance from outside of a young officer who had been taking a turn on the front. He strode hurriedly into the lounge, with a look of excitement on his good-humoured boyish face, and accosted the golfers, who happened to be nearest the door.

“I say, you fellows, what do you think has happened? You remember that chap who fainted yesterday morning? Well, he’s wanted for committing a murder!”

The piece of news created the sensation that its imparter had counted upon. “A murder!” was echoed from different parts of the lounge in varying degrees of horror, amazement and dread, and the majority of the guests came eagerly crowding round to hear the details.

“Yes, a murder!” repeated the young officer, with relish. “And, what’s more, he committed it after he left here yesterday. He walked across to some inn a few miles from here along the coast, put up there for the night, and in the middle of the night stabbed some old chap who was staying there.”

There was a lengthy pause while the hotel guests digested this startling information, and endeavoured to register anew their previous faint impressions of the young man of the alcove table in the new light of his personality as an alleged murderer. The pause was followed by an excited hum of conversation and eager questions, the ladies all talking at once.

“What a providential escape we have all had!” exclaimed the clergyman’s wife, her fresh comely face turning pale.

“That’s just what I said myself, madam, when I heard the news,” replied the young officer.

“I presume this murderous young ruffian has been secured?” asked the clergyman, who had turned even paler than his wife. “The police, I hope, have him under arrest.”

The young officer shook his head.

“He’s shown them a clean pair of heels. He may be heading back this way, for all I know. There will be a hue and cry over the whole of Norfolk for him by to-night, but murderers are usually very crafty, and difficult to catch. I bet they won’t catch him before he murders somebody else.”

The men looked at one another gravely, and some of the ladies gave vent to cries of alarm, and clung to their husband’s arms. The clergyman turned angrily on the man who had brought the news.

“What do you mean, sir, by blurting out a piece of news like this before a number of ladies?” he said sternly. “It was imprudent and foolish in the last degree. You have alarmed them exceedingly.”

“Oh, that’s all tosh!” replied the other rudely. “They were bound to hear of it sooner or later; why, everybody on the front is talking about it. I thought you’d be awfully bucked to hear the news, seeing that you were sitting at the next table to him yesterday morning.”

“Who gave you this information?” asked Colwyn, who had just come down stairs wearing a motor coat and cap, and paused on his way to the door on hearing the loud voices of the excited group round the young officer.

“One of the fishermen on the front. The police constable at the place where the murder was committed—a little village with some outlandish name—came over here to report the news. This is the nearest police station to the spot, it seems.”

“But is he quite certain that the man who is supposed to have committed the murder is the young man who fainted yesterday morning?” asked Sir Henry Durwood, who had joined the group. “Has he been positively identified?”

“The fisherman tells me that there’s no doubt it’s him—the description’s identical. He cleared out before the murder was discovered. There’s a rare hue and cry all along the coast. They are organizing search parties. There’s one going out from here this afternoon. I’m going with it.”

Colwyn left the group of hotel guests, and went to the front door. Sir Henry Durwood, after a moment’s hesitation, followed him. The detective was standing in the hotel porch, thoughtfully smoking a cigar, and looking out over the raging sea. He nodded cordially to the specialist.

“What do you think of this story?” asked Sir Henry.

“I was just about to walk down to the police station to make some inquiries,” responded Colwyn. “It is impossible to tell from that man’s story how much is truth and how much mere gossip.”

“I’m afraid it’s true enough,” replied Sir Henry Durwood. “You’ll remember I warned him yesterday to send for his friends. A man in his condition of health should not have been permitted to wander about the country unattended. He has probably had another attack of furor epilepticus, and killed somebody while under its influence. Dear, dear, what a dreadful thing! It may be said that I should have taken a firmer hand with him yesterday, but what more could I have done? It’s a very awkward situation—very. I hope you’ll remember, Mr. Colwyn, that I did all that was humanly possibly for a professional man to do—in fact, I went beyond the bounds of professional decorum, in tendering advice to a perfect stranger. And you will also remember that what I told you about his condition was in the strictest confidence. I should like very much to accompany you to the police station, if you have no objection—I feel strongly interested in the case.”

“I shall be glad if you will come,” replied the detective.

Colwyn turned down the short street to the front, where a footpath protected by a hand rail had been made along the edge of the cliff for the benefit of jaded London visitors who wanted to get the best value for their money in the bracing Norfolk air. At the present moment that air, shrieking across the North Sea with almost hurricane force, was too bracing for weak nerves on the exposed path, and it was real hard work to force a way, even with the help of the handrail, against the wind, to say nothing of the spray which was flung up in clouds from the thundering masses of yellow waves dashing at the foot of the cliffs below. Sir Henry Durwood, at any rate, was very glad when his companion turned away from the cliffs into one of the narrow tortuous streets running off the front into High Street.

Colwyn paused in front of a stone building, half way up the street, which displayed the words, “County Police,” on a board outside. Knots of people were standing about in the road—fishermen in jerseys and sea boots, some women, and a sprinkling of children—brought together by the news of murder, but kept from encroaching on the sacred domain of law and order by a massive red-faced country policeman, who stood at the gate in an awkward pose of official dignity, staring straight in front of him, ignoring the eager questions which were showered on him by the crowd. The group of people nearest the gate fell back a little as they approached, and the policeman on duty looked at them inquiringly.

Colwyn asked him the name of the officer in charge of the district, and received the reply that it was Superintendent Galloway. The policeman looked somewhat doubtful when Colwyn asked him to take in his card with the request for an interview. He compromised between his determination to do the right thing and his desire not to offend two well-dressed gentlemen by taking Colwyn into his confidence.

“Well, you see, sir, it’s like this,” he said, sinking his voice so that his remarks should not be heard by the surrounding rabble. “I don’t like to interrupt Superintendent Galloway unless it’s very important. The chief constable is with him.”

“Do you mean Mr. Cromering, from Norwich?” asked Colwyn.

The policeman nodded.

“He came over here by the morning train,” he explained.

“Very good. I know Mr. Cromering well. Will you please take this card to the chief constable and say that I should be glad of the favour of a short interview? This is a piece of luck,” he added to Sir Henry, as the constable took the card and disappeared into the building. “We shall now be able to find out all we want to know.”

The police constable came hastening back, and with a very respectful air informed them that Mr. Cromering would be only too happy to see Mr. Colwyn. He led them forthwith into the building, down a passage, knocked at a door, and without waiting for a response, ushered them into a large room and quietly withdrew.

There were two officials in the room. One, in uniform, a heavily built stout man with sandy hair and a red freckled face, sat at a large roll-top desk writing at the dictation of the other, who wore civilian clothes. The second official was small and elderly, of dry and meagre appearance, with a thin pale face, and sunken blue eyes beneath gold-rimmed spectacles. This gentleman left off dictating as Colwyn and Sir Henry Durwood entered, and advanced to greet the detective with a look which might have been mistaken for gratitude in a less important personage.

Mr. Cromering’s gratitude to Colwyn was not due to any assistance he had received from the detective in the elucidation of baffling crime mysteries. It arose from an entirely different cause. Wolfe is supposed to have said that he would sooner have been remembered as the author of Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” than as the conqueror of Quebec. Mr. Cromering would sooner have been the editor of the English Review than the chief constable of Norfolk. His tastes were bookish; Nature had intended him for the librarian of a circulating library: the safe pilot of middle class ladies through the ocean of new fiction which overwhelms the British Isles twice a year. His particular hobby was paleontology. He was the author of The Jurassic Deposits of Norfolk, with Some Remarks on the Kimeridge Clay—an exhaustive study of the geological formation of the county and the remains of prehistoric reptiles, fishes, mollusca and crustacea which had been discovered therein. This work, which had taken six years to prepare, had almost been lost to the world through the carelessness of the Postal Department, which had allowed the manuscript to go astray while in transit from Norfolk to the London publishers.

The distracted author had stirred up the postal authorities at London and Norwich, and had ultimately received a courteous communication from the Postmaster General to the effect that all efforts to trace the missing packet had failed. A friend of Mr. Cromering’s suggested that he should invoke the aid of the famous detective Colwyn, who had a name for solving mysteries which baffled the police. Mr. Cromering took the advice and wrote to Colwyn, offering to mention his name in a preface to The Jurassic Deposits if he succeeded in recovering the missing manuscript. Colwyn, by dint of bringing to bear a little more intelligence and energy than the postal officials had displayed, ran the manuscript to earth in three days, and forwarded it to the owner with a courteous note declining the honour of the offered preface as too great a reward for such a small service.

“Very happy to meet you, Mr. Colwyn,” said the chief constable, as he came forward with extended hand. “I’ve long wanted to thank you personally for your kindness—your great kindness to me last year. Although I feel I can never repay it, I’m glad to have the opportunity of expressing it.”

“I’m afraid you are over-estimating a very small service,” said Colwyn, with a smile.

“Very small?” The chief constable’s emphasis of the words suggested that his pride as an author had been hurt. “If you had not recovered the manuscript, a work of considerable interest to students of British paleontology would have been lost. I must show you a letter I have just received from Sir Thomas Potter, of the British Museum, agreeing with my conclusions about the fossil remains of Ichthyosaurus, Plesiosaurus, and Mosasaurs, discovered last year at Roslyn Hole. It is very gratifying to me; very gratifying. But what can I do for you, Mr. Colwyn?”

“First let me introduce to you Sir Henry Durwood,” said Colwyn.

“Durwood? Did you say Durwood?” said the little man, eagerly advancing upon the specialist with outstretched hand. “I’m delighted to meet one of our topmost men of science. Your illuminating work on Elephas Meridionalis is a classic.”

“I’m afraid you’re confusing Sir Henry with a different Durwood,” said the detective, coming to the rescue. “Sir Henry Durwood is the distinguished specialist of Harley Street, and not the paleontologist of that name. We have called to make some inquiries about the murder which was committed somewhere near here last night.”

“The ruling passion, Mr. Colwyn, the ruling passion! Personally I should be only too glad of your assistance in the case in question, but I’m afraid there’s no deep mystery to unravel—it’s not worth your while. It would be like cracking a nut with a steam hammer for you to devote your brains to this case. All the indications point strongly to one man.”

“A young man who was staying at the Grand till yesterday?” inquired the detective.

The chief constable nodded.

“We’re looking for a young man who’s been staying at the Grand for some weeks past under the name of Ronald. He’s a stranger to the district, and nobody seems to know anything about him. Perhaps you gentlemen can tell me something about him.”

“Very little, I’m afraid,” replied Colwyn. “I’ve seen him at meal times, and nodded to him, but never spoken to him till yesterday, when he had a fainting fit at breakfast. Sir Henry Durwood and I helped him to his bedroom, and exchanged a few remarks with him on his recovery.”

“Yes, I’ve been told of that illness,” said Mr. Cromering, meditating. “Did he do or say anything while you were with him that would throw any light on the subsequent tragic events of the night, for which he is now under suspicion?”

Colwyn related what had happened at breakfast and afterwards. Mr. Cromering listened attentively, and turning to Sir Henry Durwood asked him if he had seen Ronald before the previous day.

“I saw him yesterday for the first time at the breakfast table,” replied Sir Henry Durwood. “I arrived only the previous night. He was taken ill at breakfast. Mr. Colwyn and I assisted him to his room and left him there. I know nothing whatever about him.”

“What was the nature of his illness?” inquired the chief constable.

“It had some of the symptoms of a seizure,” replied Sir Henry guardedly. “I begged him, when he recovered, not to leave his room. I even offered to communicate with his friends, by telephone, if he would give me their address, but he refused.”

“It is a pity he did not take your advice,” responded the chief constable. “He appears to have left the hotel shortly after his illness, and walked along the coast to a little hamlet called Flegne, about ten miles from here. He reached there in the evening, and put up at the village inn, the Golden Anchor, for the night. He left early in the morning, before anybody was up. Shortly afterwards the body of Mr. Roger Glenthorpe, an elderly archaeologist, who had been staying at the inn for some time past making researches into the fossil remains common to that part of Norfolk, was found in a pit near the house. The tracks of boot-prints from near the inn to the mouth of the pit, and back again, indicate that Mr. Glenthorpe was murdered in his bedroom at the inn, and his body afterwards carried by the murderer to the pit in which it was found.”

“In order to conceal the crime?” said Colwyn.

“Precisely. Two men employed by Mr. Glenthorpe saw the footprints earlier in the morning, and when it was discovered that Mr. Glenthorpe was missing, one of them was lowered into the pit by a rope and found the body at the bottom. The pit forms a portion of a number of so-called hut circles, or prehistoric shelters of the early Briton, which are not uncommon in this part of Norfolk.”

“And you have strong grounds for believing that this young man Ronald, who was staying at the Grand till yesterday, is the murderer?”

“The very strongest. He slept in the room next to the murdered man’s, and disappeared hurriedly in the early morning from the inn some time before the body was discovered. It is his boot-tracks which led to and from the pit where the body was found. A considerable sum of money has been stolen from the deceased, and we have ascertained that Ronald was in desperate straits for money. Another point against Ronald is that Mr. Glenthorpe was stabbed, and a knife which was used by Ronald at the dinner table that night is missing. It is believed that the murder was committed with this knife. But if you feel interested in the case, Mr. Colwyn, you had better hear the report of Police Constable Queensmead.”

The chief constable touched a bell, and directed the policeman who answered it to bring in Constable Queensmead.

The policeman who appeared in answer to this summons was a thickset sturdy Norfolk man, with an intelligent face and shrewd dark eyes. On the chief constable informing him that he was to give the gentlemen the details of the Golden Anchor murder, he produced a notebook from his tunic, and commenced the story with official precision.

Ronald had arrived at the inn before dark on the previous evening, and had asked for a bed for the night. A little later Mr. Glenthorpe, the murdered man, who had been staying at the inn for some time past, had come in for his dinner, and was so pleased to meet a gentleman in that rough and lonely place that he had asked Ronald to dine with him. The dinner was served in an upstairs sitting-room, and during the course of the meal Mr. Glenthorpe talked freely of his scientific researches in the district, and informed his guest that he had that day been to Heathfield to draw £300 to purchase a piece of land containing some valuable fossil remains which he intended to excavate. The two gentlemen sat talking after dinner till between ten and eleven, and then retired to rest in adjoining rooms, in a wing of the inn occupied by nobody else. In the morning Ronald departed before anybody, except the servant, was up, refusing to wait for his boots to be cleaned. The servant, who had had the boots in her hands, had noticed that one of the boots had a circular rubber heel on it, but not the other. Ronald gave her a pound to pay for his bed, and the note was one of the first Treasury issue, as were the notes which Mr. Glenthorpe had drawn from the bank at Heathfield the day before. The men who had seen the footprints to the pit earlier in the morning, informed Queensmead of their discovery on learning that Mr. Glenthorpe had disappeared. Queensmead examined the footprints, and, with the assistance of the men, recovered the body. Queensmead telephoned a description of Ronald to the police stations along the coast, then mounted his bicycle and caught the train at Leyland in order to report the matter to the district headquarters at Durrington.

“I suppose there is no doubt that the young man who stayed at the inn is identical with Ronald,” said the detective, when the constable had finished his story. “Do the descriptions tally in every respect?”

“Read the particulars you have prepared for the hand-bills, Queensmead,” said the chief constable.

The constable produced a paper from his pocket and read: “Description of wanted man: About 28 years of age, five feet nine or ten inches high, fair complexion rather sunburnt, blue eyes, straight nose, fair hair, tooth-brush moustache, clean-cut features, well-shaped hands and feet, white, even teeth. Was attired in grey Norfolk or sporting lounge jacket, knickerbockers and stockings to match, with soft grey hat of same material. Wore a gold signet-ring on little finger of left hand. Distinguishing marks, a small star-shaped scar on left cheek, slightly drags left foot in walking. Manner superior, evidently a gentleman.”

“That is conclusive enough,” said Colwyn. “It tallies in every respect. The scar is an unmistakable mark. I noticed it the first time I saw Ronald.”

“I noticed it also,” said Sir Henry Durwood.

“It seems a clear case to me,” said the chief constable. “I have signed a warrant for Ronald’s arrest, and Superintendent Galloway has notified all the local stations along the coast to have the district searched. We think it very possible that Ronald is in hiding somewhere in the marshes. We have also notified the district railway stations to be on the lookout for anybody answering his description, in case he tries to escape by rail.”

“It seems a strange case,” remarked the detective thoughtfully. “Why should a young man of Ronald’s type leave his hotel and go across to this remote inn, and commit this brutal murder?”

“He was very short of money. We have ascertained that he had been requested to leave the hotel here because he could not pay his bill. He has paid nothing since he has been here, and owed more than £30. The proprietor told him yesterday morning, as he was going in to breakfast, that he must leave the hotel at once if he could not pay his bill. He went away shortly after the scene in the breakfast room which was witnessed by you gentlemen, and left his luggage behind him. I suspect the proprietor would not allow him to take his luggage until he had discharged his bill.”

“It strikes me as a remarkable case, nevertheless,” said Colwyn. “I should like to look into it a little further, with your permission.”

“Certainly,” replied the chief constable courteously. “Superintendent Galloway will be in charge of the case. I suggested that he should ask for a man to be sent down from Scotland Yard, but he does not think it necessary. I feel sure that he will be delighted to have the assistance of such a celebrated detective as yourself. When are you starting for Flegne, Galloway?”

“In half an hour,” replied the superintendent. “I shall have to walk from Leyland—five miles or more. The train does not go beyond there.”

“Then I will drive you over in my car,” said the detective.

“In that case perhaps you’ll permit me to accompany you,” said the chief constable. “I should very much like to observe your methods.”

“And I too,” said Sir Henry Durwood.