The Ghost of Downhill – Chapter 7
THE FOOTPRINTS ON THE ROOF
How had the paper got there? He looked round and the solution became apparent. The table was placed near to the window and above the window were two small ventilating panes, one of which was opned. The paper could have been thrust in from the outside and the chances were that it would fall upon the table. He opened the window to let the fumes disperse and then sat down to puzzle out the situation.
Suddenly a thought struck him, and he went to the fire and looked at it carefully. On the top of the red glowing coal were the ashes of paper. He went into the next room and made a similar discovery. Slowly a smile dawned on his face.
“So that’s it, is it?” he muttered and went out of the house taking with him a step ladder which stood in the passage. His home was built into the hill rather than upon it, and the fields behind were almost on a level with the roof. He planted his step ladder and climbed carefully. In a second he was standing on a small stone parapet which surrounded the roof. There was no doubt now as to what the visitor had done; the snow-covered slates were marked in all directions with footprints, and they led up to the squat chimney stack. He made an inspection and returned to his room. Whoever the Ghost of Down Hill was, there was no doubt as to the method he had employed for producing the effect which had so startled Jeremiah and the girl. Two packages of red fire had been dropped down the two chimnies simulteneously, had fallen into the fire, and had ignited producing the red glow.
He went back to where he had left his car and drove down the hill again to reassure the girl whom he found waiting wrapped in her furs at the garden gate of Mr. Stuart’s house.
“Nothing very startling,” he said carelessly. “Some fireworks that I had intended using to celebrate the coming of the New Year had been left too close to the fire, and were touched off.”
“It might have been serious,” said the girl. “Your house might have been burnt down.”
“I don’t think it was as bad as that,” said Jeremiah.
He stood talking to the girl for some time, and then went back to the house. Half way up the hill he thought he saw a figure crouching in the shelter of some bushes, and stopping the car with a jerk, jumped out. The man turned to run, but Jeremiah was on him before he had gone a few paces.
“Let me have a look at you, my friend,” he said as he gripped the stranger’s arm; and then he fell back in surprise, for the man was Minter.
“What the dickens do you mean by sneaking away into the bushes?” demanded the exasperated Jerry. “Now see here, Minter, I have had just as much of this mystery as I am willing to stand. You will come up to the house and explain what you are doing here when you are supposed to be in London attending the sick bed of your sister.”
The man made no reply, but stepping on to the running board of the car as it moved, accompanied Jerry back to the house.
“Now, Minter,” said Jeremiah grimly, as he closed the door. “I won’t trouble you to spin a yarn about the Ghost of Downhill; I will even excuse you the lie that you were turning home, and that you mistook me for the monkish bogey and hid from fear. Let us have the truth.”
Minter was dressed in a rough knicker-bocker suit, over which he wore a heavy Irish ulster. He did not seem in the least embarrassed by his employer’s direct questions, and his placid face remained impassive all the time Jerry was talking.
“I have no explanation to give, sir,” he said in a smooth, even way, “if you will not accept the story that I was returning to the house when you overtook me,”
“Why did you run away?” asked Jeremiah sternly.
“That, I admit, was an error,” replied Minter, gravely inclining his head. “I should have stood my ground and offered my explanation. The truth is, Mr. Jowlett, I did not think that the occupant of the car was you.”
“Nonsense,” snapped Jerry, “you know the sound of my car as well as you the sound of Big Ben. Now, what have you to say for yourself?”
But Minter had evidently no explanation to offer, for he remained silent.
“Very good,” said Jeremiah, “then you leave my service tomorrow, you understand, Minter? I will not have these infernal mysteries.”
Suddnely a though struck him.
“You haven’t by chance been perambulating the roof of the bungalow tonight?” he asked sardonically, and Minter smiled.
“No, sir, I did not go on to the roof,” he said, “but I have been wandering about the house; it is possible you may have observed my footmarks, though I was careful to keep to the paths as much as possible.”
“Did you see the fire?”
“The red fire,” corrected the other, “yes, I saw that.”
“Did you see me come up to the house?”
“I even saw you come up to the –“
They were standing near the window when the interruption came. The big glass pane splintered into a thousand pieces, and something dropped heavily on to the floor. Jerry stared open mouthed at Minter, as the man stooped and picked up an object from the ground.
“How very cheerful, sir,” said Minter holding a large white something in his hand, and despite his self possession Jeremiah shivered. It was a human skull that had come hurtling through the window!
Jeremiah Jowlett was early in London following morning, and instead of going to his office, he proceeded straight to Scotland Yard, where he had an interview with the assistant commissioner.
That official listened without comment whilst Jeremiah told his story, and when he had finished:
“What do you want me to do?” he asked.
“I want the best detective you have, sir, preferably Leverett, who I am told is a particularly smart man; for I am sure that behind all these ghostly warnings there is something particularly sinister, and I associate the death of the man Carter –“
“With the Ghost?” smiled the commissioner quietly.
“With the ghost,” said Jeremiah.
The commissioner shook his head.
“I am afraid you can’t have Leverett; he has been working for some time on a very old case – the Flack case; you probably have heard of it?”
“I know about the Flack gang,” smiled Jeremiah, “what is Leverett doing?”
“He has been trying to recover the money that was stolen from the liner. The Flacks got away with an enormous treasure, you remember, and not a penny of it has been recovered. I can let you have Jackson, who is a fairly smart fellow.”
“There is another thing I want to say, Sir John,” said Jeremiah, and he seemed reluctant to continue. “It is about my man Minter; a very excellent chap,” he explained, “but I have reason to suspect that he knows more of this ghost business in fact, I am under the impression that he is the ghost!”
He took a little case from his inside pocket and produced a photograph.
“I snapped Minter when he wasn’t looking the other day; perhaps you people may be able to identify him. I hate thinking ill of the man, who has been a particularly good servant to me, but in the circumstances –“
The commissioner took the photograph from Jerry’s hand and examined it.
“Do you know him, sir?”
“I seem to remember the face.”
“Is he a member of the Flack gang,” said Jeremiah with sudden inspiration.
“I will ask Leverett,” said the commissioner quietly. “And in the meantime Mr. Jowlett, I will see that your house is kept under observation. It must be an extremely trying experience for you.”
“It will be more trying for the ghost,” said Jerry unpleasently.
He had arranged with Minter to take his clothes and personal belongings to James Stuart’s house, and when he returned that evening it was with a sense of going home.
He found the dutiful Minter very much at his ease in his new surroundings.
“Nothing disturbs that fellow,” said Jerry, with reluctant admiration. “You would imagine that he was born and bred in your uncle’s service.”
She was looking unusually beautiful that night, Jerry thought, and he prayed that Mr. Stuart’s investigations into spiritual phenomena would occupy at least a week, though he felt a little guilty that he had allowed the old man to go to the house at all. His conscience was pricking him that night at dinner.
“Do you know, Mr. Stuart,” he blurted out, when they had reached the coffee and dessert stage of the meal, “I think I ought to tell you that these manifestations, as you call them, are due to human agency.”
The old man turned his grave eyes upon Jeremiah.
“That is what the uninitiated say of all manifestations,” he said quietly.
“But I have a feeling that I am fooling you by allowing you to go to the house,” said Jerry.
“I am willing to be fooled,” said Stuart with a quiet smile.
“I saw you today.”
It was the girl who spoke, and she addressed her uncle.
He rose his bristling eyebrows.
“You saw me, my dear,” he said gently. “Where did you see me?”
“At Seafort,” said the girl with a smile.
“You were in a big motor boat. It was almost too big to call a motor boat; it was nearly a yacht. I had to go into Seafort to get some medicine for Mrs. Wilmot, who has rheumatism,” she said.
“You should have gone to Eastbourne, the road isn’t so bad,” he said shortly and then after a long pause; “Yes, I was trying the boat. A man wishes to buy it, but I am not very keen on the sea.”
“But it was a brand new boat, and they told me it had just arrived from London and that it was yours.”
“The wish was probably father to the thought,” he said good humouredly, “and the gentleman who gave you this information was probably the proprietor, who is anxious to sell it to me at a profit.”
He changed the conversation to another channel.
At nine o’clock that night, with a small bag in his hand and Jeremiah’s keys in his pocket, he said good night to the two.
“I shall probably have some very important information to give you in the morning,” he said. “I am in a particularly good mood tonight, and there is very little doubt that I shall gain communication with those upon the other plane.”
“Cheerioh,” said Jeremiah, who could think of nothing more appropriate to say.
“Poor uncle,” said the girl when the older man had gone. “He really does believe in spirits you know.”
“I’m inclined to believe in them myself,” said Jeremiah flippantly. “In fact, I hope that Downhill is stiff with ghosts, then they will keep Mr. Stuart busy for another year.”
He reached out and took her hand, and saw her colour change.
“Margot,” he said, “how long does a man have to know a girl before he falls hopelessly in love with her?”
She tried to withdraw her hand but he held it tightly.
“I know that this is not the most appropriate time for love making, and that by certain rules of conduct I am acting despicably,” he said earnestly, “but Margot, I can answer the question I have just asked. It takes a man just as long as I have known you to fall in love.”
“Do you play chess?” she asked hastily.
“I play everything except the flute,” said Jeremiah.
He was riotously happy man that evening, for he had read the answer to his unspoken questions in the moist eyes of the girl, and when he went to bed hat night (which was in Mr. Stuart’s own room) he seemed to tread on air.
The next morning brought James Stuart a little weary looking, but full of confidence. He had an amazing story to tell of a visitation, and a long conversation he had had with one of the innumerable spirits which haunted Downhill, but he only stayed for ten minutes and then returned to the house.
Jeremiah went up to town, taking Minter with him. He had a number of purchases to make, and he intended that this Christmas day should be a memorable one, not only in his own life, but in the life of the woman he loved.
They got back to Arthurton after nightfall and the snow was falling gently but persistently.
“It looks as if we are going to have a pretty wild night, Minter,” said Jerry as he jumped into the car.
“Yes, sir,” said Minter agreeably.
The wind was blowing in fitful gusts, and long before they had reached the house, both men were white with the driven flakes.
Jerry could not see Downhill house: the falling snow made an impenetrable veil which hid, not only the bungalow, but the whole of the hill.
The girl had been busy decorating the house with holly and greenery, and Jerry spent a happy evening assisting her. He allowed Minter, who said he had a chill, to go to bed early, but this was no great hardship to Jerry, who wanted to be alone with the girl, free from interruption.
They had almost finished their work when Jeremiah remembered a particular present which he had given Minter to carry. It was intended for Mr. James Stuart and was not amongst the parcels that were piled on the hall table. Minter would not be asleep so early, he thought, and went up the stairs to the room where Minter was quartered. He knocked at the door but there was no answer, and he turned the handle and walked in. The room was empty; the bed had not been slept in, and Jeremiah went back to the girl as a very thoughtful young man.
Mrs. Wilmot, the housekeeper whose rheumatism had sent the girl into Seafort, had not seen Minter, nor had the other servants who had been employed since Margot’s arrival.
“He said he had a chill, and I let him go to bed,” said Jeremiah in a troubled voice. “I don’t understand it and I don’t like it. If he had a chill he would not go out on a night like this, and if he hadn’t a chill, he had certainly some reason for lying.”
“Perhaps he has gone up to your house for something he had forgotten,” suggested Margot. “Now don’t be silly, Jeremiah; come along and help me with this holly.”
Midnight came and the girl had gone to bed, but still Minter had not returned. Jerry made three visits to his room, and at one o’clock he decided that he would lock up and go to bed. But how would Minter get in? Minter was beginning to worry him. That smooth, placid man, who was never disturbed and never distressed by the most extraordinary happening, was beginning to present a problem almost as insoluble as the Ghost of Downhill.
At two o’clock Jerry went up to his room and lay down, pulling the silken coverlet over him, expecting any minute to be disturbed by Minter’s knock, but no sound came. After lying for an hour he got up and looked out of the window. The snow was still falling, and there was no sound but the low soughing of the wind and distant hoot of a fog-horn in the far away Channel.
He wondered what the old man was doing at that lonely house of the hill, and smiled despite his annoyance. Then he heard the low purring of a motor car. IOt came to him with the wind in the little gusts, sometimes loud, sometimes almost indistinguishible. He threw open the casement windows and leant out, peering into the darkness. Nearer and nearer came the sound of the car, and suddenly with a start he recognized that it was his own car which he had left in the garage on the top of the hill, on the previous night.
There was no mistaking the sound. Jeremiah could have distinguished it from a dozen. Suddenly the purring ceased; the engine had stopped. Faintly came the sound of a voice; a queer, eerie sound it made in that silent night; high pitched and unintelligible. Another voice replied, and then there was an interval of silence. Suddnely a shot rang out, clear and distinct. It was followed by another, and a third, in rapid succession.
Jerry waited to hear no more. In three seconds he was outside the house and running through the deep snow in the direction of the road whence the sound had proceeded.
He heard the roar of his car, and jumped aisde just in time to avoid being run down; it was going without lights and he only had time to glimpse a hunddled figure at the wheel before it passed into the night.
He stood stock still, bewildered and baffled. Then there came to him a faint cry from the direction the car had gone; he plunged through a snow drift almost up to his waist in an effort to reach the man who had called. Putting his hand in his pocket he discovered his lamp, and flashed the light. He knew before he had picked up his bearings that he was in one of the deep ditches which ran on either side of the road and he struggled back to firmer going.
“Where are you?” he shouted.
“Here,” cried a faint voice, and he turned into the narrow lane which led up to the Downhill farm.
Suddenly he stopped and his blood ran cold. Staring up from the ground was that ghastly fleshless face he had seen on the monk. Only for a second was he stricken motionless, and stooping picked up the thing. It was a mask; evidently dropped by somebody, but was evidently part of the “ghost’s” equipment.
“Where are you?” he called again.
“Here,” said a voice close at hand, and he turned his lamp on a figure that lay half covered by the driving snowflakes.
“My God,” he gasped, “Minter!”
Minter’s white face was streaked with blood, but that calm man could afford to smile.
“My name isn’t Minter,” he smiled.
“I am Inspector Leverett of Scotland Yard and I am afraid I am badly hurt.”
* * * * *
It was some time before Jeremiah could procure assistance to carry the wounded man to the house, but at last Leverett was propped up on pillows in the drawing room, and Mrs. Wilmot was lighting a fire to prepare restoratives.
Jerry had a rough knowledge of surgery and he saw at once that the two wounds in the man’s head and shoulder were not as desperate as he had feared, a view which was confirmed when Arthurton’s one doctor came upon the scene.
“Who did this?” asked Jeremiah.
“John Flack,” was the reply. “I have been watching him for five months, and now the devil has got away, though he can’t escape from England, that I swear. Which way did he go, sir?”
“Was he in the car?” asked Jeremiah.
The man nodded and winced with the pain of it.
“I think he went to Seaford.”
“To Seaford,” gasped Inspector Leverett. “Didn’t I hear the young lady say that he was trying out a motor boat? That is the means by which John Flack will escape.”
“No, it was Mr. Stuart who was trying the motor boat!” said Jeremiah.
The man looked around.
“Is the young lady about?” he asked in a low voice.
Jeremiah shook his head. “No, thank heavens, she’s still sleeping, Mrs. Wilmost tells me.”
“Good,” said Leverett, and eyed Jeremiah curiously. “You say that Mr. Stuart owned that boat at Seaford,” he said, “and I told you that John Flack would escape by means of that boat. I now tell you what will probably surprise you, Mr. Jowlett. Flack and John Stuart are one and the same person!”
END OF CHAPTER VII