We were playing billiards late one June evening when Digby, that most excellent butler, let my host know that he had a caller. I glanced at the mantel clock and raised my brows. It was just past eleven.
“Wishy?” Bunny asked, calmly completing his shot.
“Yes, sir,” Digby replied.
“Slye,” I protested, “how could you possibly know-”
“Few other people would come to visit me at this hour, Max, and fewer still would manage to persuade Digby to let them in. And only one or two of those would ruffle Digby’s feathers.”
“Not at all, sir,” said Digby, eyeing him as only a servant who has known one from one’s diaper days may do.
A voice halloed from the hallway outside the door. “Bunny! You in there, Bunny?”
Digby’s nostrils flared.
“It’s all right, Digby,” said Slye. “Aloysius is untrainable.”
“Yes, sir,” the butler replied with deep feeling.
Anyone who had not previously met Aloysius Hanslow might be forgiven for imagining that the man who burst into the billiards room at that moment had come directly from a stage play about Sherlock Holmes, one in which he had the starring role. He was dressed in a deerstalker and caped coat, his clothing more suited to London three decades ago than to the country estate of a wealthy New York family.
I resided at that estate with Bunny, the damaged scion of that family. This is not said to insult him-I was damaged, too. My scarred face drove others away, but I would not trade my superficial wounds for his deeper, invisible ones. Boniface Slye had returned from the Great War seemingly whole. That he survived even a short time in the metropolis without a complete breakdown is a testament to his will and courage. Shell shock, some would call his condition. The less informed used other names. He managed several nerve-racking months in Manhattan before he suffered the episode that so embarrassed his family, they sent him away posthaste, allowing him-after some argument-to take his hideous physician friend with him. So in the city, the 1920s continued to roar, while we sought peace and quiet in the country.
Digby, aware that any attempt to divest Wishy Hanslow of his hat and coat would be futile, turned toward me and said, “Dr. Tyndale, I rely, as ever, on your good sense.”
Bunny smiled at me. “That’s put me in my place, hasn’t it, Max?”
“I doubt it.”
Wishy, who had gradually overcome his inability to look at my face, said, “Oh, hello, Max. Glad you’re here. You’ll be needed. Old Grimes is dead.”
Bunny frowned. Then seeing my look of puzzlement, he said, “Mr. Everett Grimes owns-owned-several large tracts of land in the neighborhood. Grimes is of my father’s generation, so not as old as Wishy’s appellation would have one believe. Perhaps fifty-five years of age and a bit sporting mad, so I’d venture to say he’s in better condition than the pater. Or was until now.”
“A friend of the family?”
“No. Not a very pleasant fellow.”
“If the man is dead, he can’t possibly need me.”
“Sheriff Anderson specifically asked me to bring you there,” Wishy insisted. “Bunny, too.”
“Where might that be, Wishy?” Bunny asked.
“Marsdale Quarry. I’m to drive you. Explain on the way. Bring your bag, Max, if you would, please. Oh, and you may want a light coat. You know how chilly it is up here in the evenings.”
Wishy often did his own driving, but that night he left it to his capable chauffeur, Owen. While Owen took the Pierce-Arrow Series 51 limousine up country roads toward our destination, Wishy told us of receiving a call from Sheriff Anderson. “He said again that he wished you would get a telephone, Bunny.”
“Sometimes I wish you didn’t have one either, Wishy.”
“Nonsense! For one thing, how would I be able to let you know others were trying to reach you?”
This arrow went wide of the mark. Wishy nodded in satisfaction and continued. “Sheriff said you might be able to see something he’s missing. I’d be happy to tell you the particulars-”
Bunny held up a hand, smiled, and said, “Do you know, Wishy, I think I’ll ask you not to say more, if you don’t mind. I would like to view this scene without any preconceived notions.”
“Quite right,” Wishy said. “Quite right.”
This agreement did not mean that he fell silent. It was Slye who did so, slipping into a reverie while I was left to uphold conversation with Wishy. This required little effort on my part.
In a friendly spirit, Wishy proceeded to give me a hopelessly tangled history of the Grimes family, whose residency in the local area dated from just after the War of 1812. This tenancy of slightly over one hundred years made them new arrivals by Wishy’s standards. Grimes, described by Wishy as a ruthless businessman, until recent months had spent most of his time in the city, only coming to the country in the summer. At the end of March, though, he had sold his Manhattan home and retired to his estate here. He had greatly increased his fortune during the Great War, mostly as a result of investments in a Massachusetts shipbuilding yard.
Even before moving here permanently he had enlarged upon the family’s original holdings, and bought up properties of several neighbors who had been unable to weather the Panic of 1893.
“One such had been Mr. Marsdale, whose railroad failed after the stock market crash.”
“Marsdale couldn’t make money from the quarry?” I asked.
“Oh, heavens no. The quarry closed down in his grandfather’s time. Been abandoned for years. Full of brush and water now. Old Grimes uses Marsdale’s house as a hunting lodge, I’m told. One would think the main house here in the country-but if a man can afford it, why not?”
“Perhaps his wife does not wish him to fire guns on the property,” Bunny said, and I could see him falling back into a brown study.
I could also see that Wishy was about to remark on this and quickly said, “Not the season, is it? Are there fish in the quarry?”
“Yes, he stocks it,” Wishy said. “Or so I’ve heard. Don’t know if all three wives objected to such pursuits.”
“Old Grimes has been lucky in business, unlucky in love.”
It was enough to distract Bunny. “Wishy, perhaps you should clarify that Grimes did not maintain a harem.”
“Not what I meant at all! Which isn’t to say-what I mean is, married younger women, every time. Beautiful women. Didn’t help him. First wife went mad. Eleanor Grimes-Eleanor Delfontaine that was-her parents were dead by then, but the rest of her family disowned her. Aunts and uncles and such. Grimes had her locked up. Divorced. She escaped from the asylum, but do you know what I think?”
“No, what do you think?” Slye asked.
“Stands to reason. Hasn’t been seen in years. Mad. No family to run to. Doubt she could survive in the woods, or go unseen in the countryside.”
“You make perfect sense.”
Wishy beamed, and continued. “Second wife, Anastasia Morgan Grimes, died. Some say of a broken heart, but that’s nonsense. Had a heart attack, but the Morgans are known for their bad tickers. I knew Anastasia, and you ask me, she didn’t care a rap for Grimes. Long as she could live out here and socialize with her old friends, she was happy. Didn’t like Manhattan. Didn’t bother her that he was having an affair with a woman in the city-”
“This was widely known?” I asked.
“There are few secrets out here in the countryside,” Bunny said.
“Few?” Wishy said. “None. Anyway, that woman is now the third Mrs. Grimes.”
“The Manhattan mistress?”
“Any children by any of these marriages?” I asked.
Slye smiled. “No.”
“The third wife-”
“Susannah Carfield Grimes,” Wishy said.
“So it would seem,” Slye said.
As we reached this point in my history lesson, Owen slowed the vehicle and turned up a lane that had signs reading DANGER-KEEP OUT! and NO TRESPASSING! liberally posted at its entrance. A few yards in, a deputy stood guard at a simple metal gate, recognized us, and opened it to us. “You’ll see another man up ahead. He’ll guide you.”
The dark, winding road was designed not for automobiles but for oxen teams and wagons. Eventually we came to a fork in the road where another deputy stood holding a lantern. He signaled to us to stop.
“You’ll be going to the right here, on the narrower road. You’ll see a couple of pillars after a sharp curve. Tricky there, so take it slow. The drive leads to a stone house. Sheriff Anderson will be waiting for you there, but be damned careful once you step out of the car-you’re at the top of the cliffs now.”
Owen’s skillful driving took us past the imposing pillars. These anchored a pair of spiked iron gates, open at the moment. The property immediately near the home was surrounded by a fence of similar design.
“This seems an awkward road for a quarry crew to use,” Slye said.
“This road’s just for the house, sir,” Owen said. “The place where we made the turn? That other fork leads off to the entrance to the quarry, the one that used to be used by the teamsters. Goes all along the old pit’s edge to the other side of the quarry. That’s where the main ...