Chapter III. A Discovery
 

Harkings was not a large house. Some three hundred years ago it had been a farm, but in the intervening years successive owners had so altered it by pulling down and building on, that, when it passed into the possession of Hartley Parrish, little else than the open fireplace in the lounge remained to tell of the original farm. It was a queer, rambling house of only two stories whose elongated shape was accentuated by the additional wing which Hartley Parrish had built on.

For the decoration of his country-house, Parrish had placed himself unreservedly in the hands of the firm entrusted with the work. Their architect was given carte blanche to produce a house of character out of the rather dingy, out-of-date country villa which Harkings was when Hartley Parrish, attracted by the view from the gardens, first discovered it.

The architect had gone to his work with a zest. He had ripped up walls and ceilings and torn down irrational matchwood partitions, discovering some fine old oak wainscot and the blackened roof-beams of the original farmstead. In the upshot he transformed Harkings into a very fair semblance of a late Jacobean house, fitted with every modern convenience and extremely comfortable. Furnished throughout with genuine "period" furniture, with fine dark oak panelling and parquet floors, it was altogether picturesque. Neither within nor without, it is true, would a connoisseur have been able to give it a date.

But that did not worry Hartley Parrish. He loved a bargain and he had bought the house cheap. It was situated in beautiful country and was within easy reach by car of his town-house in St. James's Square where he lived for the greater part of the week. Last but not least Harkings was the casket enshrining a treasure, the realization of a lifelong wish. This was the library, Parrish's own room, designed by himself and furnished to his own individual taste.

It stood apart from the rest of the house at the end of the wing which Parrish had constructed. The wing consisted of a single ground floor and contained the drawing-room--which was scarcely ever used, as both Parrish and his guests preferred the more congenial surroundings of the lounge--and the library. A long corridor panelled in oak led off the hall to the new wing. On to this corridor both the drawing-room and the library gave. Halfway down the corridor a small passage ran off. It separated the drawing-room from the library and ended in a door leading into the gardens at the back of the house.

It was to the new wing that Horace Trevert and Dr. Komain now hastened. They hurried across the hall, where the big lamp of dulled glass threw a soft yellow light, and entered the corridor through the heavy oak door which shut it off from the hall. The corridor was wrapt in silence. Halfway down, where the small passage ran to the garden door, the electric light was burning.

Horace Trevert ran down the corridor ahead of the doctor and was the first to reach the library door. He knocked sharply, then turned the handle. The door was locked.

"Hartley!" he cried and rapped again. "Ha-a-artley! Open the door! It's me, Horace!"

Again he knocked and rattled the handle. Not a sound came from the locked room. There was an instant's silence. Horace and the doctor exchanged an interrogatory look.

From behind the closed door came the steady ticking of a clock. The silence was so absolute that both men heard it.

Then the door at the end of the corridor was flung open and Bude appeared. He was running at a quick ambling trot, his heavy tread shaking the passage,

"Oh? sir," he cried, "whatever is it? What has happened?"

Horace spoke quickly, incisively.

"Something's happened to Mr. Parrish, Bude," he said. "The door's locked and he doesn't answer. We'll have to break the door down."

Bude shook his head.

"It's solid oak, sir," he began.

Then he raised his hand.

"Pardon me, gentlemen," he said, as though an idea had struck him. "If we were to go out by the garden door here, we might get in through the window. We could break the glass if needs be!"

"That's it!" exclaimed Horace. "Come on, Doctor!"

He dashed down the corridor towards the little passage. The doctor laid a hand on Bude's arm.

"One of us had better stay here," he said with a meaning glance at the closed door.

The butler raised an affrighted face to his.

"Go with Sir Horace, Bude," said the doctor. "I'll stay!"

Outside in the gardens of Harkings it was a raw, damp evening, pitch-black now, with little gusts of wind which shook the naked bushes of the rosery. The garden door led by a couple of shallow steps on to a gravel path which ran all along the back of the house. The path extended right up to the wall of the house. On the other side it flanked the rosery.

The glass door was banging to and fro in the night wind as Bude, his coat-collar turned up, hurried out into the darkness. The library, which formed the corner of the new wing, had two windows, the one immediately above the gravel path looking out over the rosery, the other round the corner of the house giving on the same path, beyond which ran a high hedge of clipped box surrounding the so-called Pleasure Ground, a plot of smooth grass with a sundial in the centre.

A glow of light came from the library window, and in its radiance Bude saw silhouetted the tall, well-knit figure of young Trevert. As the butler came up, the boy raised something in his hand and there was a crash of broken glass.

The curtains were drawn, but with the breaking of the window they began to flap about. With the iron grating he had picked up from the drain below the window young Trevert smashed the rest of the glass away, then thrust an arm through the empty window-frame, fumbling for the window-catch.

"The catch is not fastened," he whispered, and with a resolute thrust he pushed the window up. The curtains leapt up wildly, revealing a glimpse of the pleasant, book-lined room. Both men from the darkness without saw Parrish's desk littered with his papers and his habitual chair beyond it, pushed back empty.

Trevert turned an instant, a hand on the window-sill.

"Bude," he said, "there's no one there!"

"Best look and see, sir," replied the butler, his coat-tails flapping in the wind.

Trevert hoisted himself easily on to the window-sill, knelt there for an instant, then thrust his legs over the sill and dropped into the room. As he did so he stumbled, cried aloud.

Then the heavy grey curtains were flung back and the butler saw the boy's face, rather white, at the open window.

"My God," he said slowly, "he's dead!"

A moment later Dr. Romain, waiting in the corridor, heard the key turn in the lock of the library door. The door was flung open. Horace Trevert stood there, silhouetted in a dull glow of light from the room. He was pointing to the open window, beneath which Hartley Parrish lay on his back motionless.