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The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont
Robert Barr



CONTENTS


1.  _The Mystery of the Five Hundred Diamonds_
2.  _The Siamese Twin of a Bomb-Thrower_
3.  _The Clue of the Silver Spoons_
4.  _Lord Chizelrigg's Missing Fortune_
5.  _The Absent-Minded Coterie_
6.  _The Ghost with the Club-Foot_
7.  _The Liberation of Wyoming Ed_
8.  _Lady Alicia's Emeralds_



APPENDIX: TWO SHERLOCK HOLMES PARODIES

1.  The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs
2.  The Adventure of the Second Swag


       *       *       *       *       *


1. _The Mystery of the Five Hundred Diamonds_


When I say I am called Valmont, the name will convey no impression to
the reader, one way or another. My occupation is that of private
detective in London, but if you ask any policeman in Paris who Valmont
was he will likely be able to tell you, unless he is a recent recruit.
If you ask him where Valmont is now, he may not know, yet I have a
good deal to do with the Parisian police.

For a period of seven years I was chief detective to the Government of
France, and if I am unable to prove myself a great crime hunter, it is
because the record of my career is in the secret archives of Paris.

I may admit at the outset that I have no grievances to air. The French
Government considered itself justified in dismissing me, and it did
so. In this action it was quite within its right, and I should be the
last to dispute that right; but, on the other hand, I consider myself
justified in publishing the following account of what actually
occurred, especially as so many false rumours have been put abroad
concerning the case. However, as I said at the beginning, I hold no
grievance, because my worldly affairs are now much more prosperous
than they were in Paris, my intimate knowledge of that city and the
country of which it is the capital bringing to me many cases with
which I have dealt more or less successfully since I established
myself in London.

Without further preliminary I shall at once plunge into an account of
the case which riveted the attention of the whole world a little more
than a decade ago.

The year 1893 was a prosperous twelve months for France. The weather
was good, the harvest excellent, and the wine of that vintage is
celebrated to this day. Everyone was well off and reasonably happy, a
marked contrast to the state of things a few years later, when
dissension over the Dreyfus case rent the country in twain.

Newspaper readers may remember that in 1893 the Government of France
fell heir to an unexpected treasure which set the civilised world
agog, especially those inhabitants of it who are interested in
historical relics. This was the finding of the diamond necklace in
the Château de Chaumont, where it had rested undiscovered for a
century in a rubbish heap of an attic. I believe it has not been
questioned that this was the veritable necklace which the court
jeweller, Boehmer, hoped to sell to Marie Antoinette, although how it
came to be in the Château de Chaumont no one has been able to form
even a conjecture. For a hundred years it was supposed that the
necklace had been broken up in London, and its half a thousand stones,
great and small, sold separately. It has always seemed strange to me
that the Countess de Lamotte-Valois, who was thought to have profited
by the sale of these jewels, should not have abandoned France if she
possessed money to leave that country, for exposure was inevitable if
she remained. Indeed, the unfortunate woman was branded and
imprisoned, and afterwards was dashed to death from the third storey
of a London house, when, in the direst poverty, she sought escape from
the consequences of the debts she had incurred.

I am not superstitious in the least, yet this celebrated piece of
treasure-trove seems actually to have exerted a malign influence over
everyone who had the misfortune to be connected with it. Indeed, in a
small way, I who write these words suffered dismissal and disgrace,
though I caught but one glimpse of this dazzling scintillation of
jewels. The jeweller who made the necklace met financial ruin; the
Queen for whom it was constructed was beheaded; that high-born Prince
Louis René Edouard, Cardinal de Rohan, who purchased it, was flung
into prison; the unfortunate Countess, who said she acted as
go-between until the transfer was concluded, clung for five awful
minutes to a London window-sill before dropping to her death to the
flags below; and now, a hundred and eight years later, up comes this
devil's display of fireworks to the light again!

Droulliard, the working man who found the ancient box, seems to have
prised it open, and ignorant though he was--he had probably never seen
a diamond in his life before--realised that a fortune was in his
grasp. The baleful glitter from the combination must have sent madness
into his brain, working havoc therein as though the shafts of
brightness were those mysterious rays which scientists have recently
discovered. He might quite easily have walked through the main gate of
the Château unsuspected and unquestioned with the diamonds concealed
about his person, but instead of this he crept from the attic window
on to the steep roof, slipped to the eaves, fell to the ground, and
lay dead with a broken neck, while the necklace, intact, shimmered in
the sunlight beside his body. No matter where these jewels had been
found the Government would have insisted that they belonged to the
Treasury of the Republic; but as the Château de Chaumont was a
historical monument, and the property of France, there could be no
question regarding the ownership of the necklace. The Government at
once claimed it, and ordered it to be sent by a trustworthy military
man to Paris. It was carried safely and delivered promptly to the
authorities by Alfred Dreyfus, a young captain of artillery, to whom
its custody had been entrusted.

In spite of its fall from the tall tower neither case nor jewels were
perceptibly damaged. The lock of the box had apparently been forced by
Droulliard's hatchet, or perhaps by the clasp knife found on his body.
On reaching the ground the lid had flown open, and the necklace was
thrown out.

I believe there was some discussion in the Cabinet regarding the fate
of this ill-omened trophy, one section wishing it to be placed in a
museum on account of its historical interest, another advocating the
breaking up of the necklace and the selling of the diamonds for what
they would fetch. But a third party maintained that the method to get
the most money into the coffers of the country was to sell the
necklace as it stood, for as the world now contains so many rich
amateurs who collect undoubted rarities, regardless of expense, the
historic associations of the jewelled collar would enhance the
intrinsic value of the stones; and, this view prevailing, it was
announced that the necklace would be sold by auction a month later in
the rooms of Meyer, Renault and Co., in the Boulevard des Italians,
near the Bank of the Crédit-Lyonnais.

This announcement elicited much comment from the newspapers of all
countries, and it seemed that, from a financial point of view at
least, the decision of the Government had been wise, for it speedily
became evident that a notable coterie of wealthy buyers would be
congregated in Paris on the thirteenth (unlucky day for me!) when the
sale was to take place. But we of the inner circle were made aware of
another result somewhat more disquieting, which was that the most
expert criminals in the world were also gathering like vultures upon
the fair city. The honour of France was at stake. Whoever bought that
necklace must be assured of a safe conduct out of the country. We
might view with equanimity whatever happened afterwards, but while he
was a resident of France his life and property must not be endangered.
Thus it came about that I was given full authority to ensure that
neither murder nor theft nor both combined should be committed while
the purchaser of the necklace remained within our boundaries, and for
this purpose the police resources of France were placed unreservedly
at my disposal. If I failed there should be no one to blame but
myself; consequently, as I have remarked before, I do not complain of
my dismissal by the Government.

The broken lock of the jewel-case had been very deftly repaired by an
expert locksmith, who in executing his task was so unfortunate as to
scratch a finger on the broken metal, whereupon blood poisoning set
in, and although his life was saved, he was dismissed from the
hospital with his right arm gone and his usefulness destroyed.

When the jeweller Boehmer made the necklace he asked a hundred and
sixty thousand pounds for it, but after years of disappointment he was
content to sell it to Cardinal de Rohan for sixty-four thousand
pounds, to be liquidated in three instalments, not one of which was
ever paid. This latter amount was probably somewhere near the value of
the five hundred and sixteen separate stones, one of which was of
tremendous size, a very monarch of diamonds, holding its court among
seventeen brilliants each as large as a filbert. This iridescent
concentration of wealth was, as one might say, placed in my care, and
I had to see to it that no harm came to the necklace or to its
prospective owner until they were safely across the boundaries of
France.

The four weeks previous to the thirteenth proved a busy and anxious
time for me. Thousands, most of whom were actuated by mere curiosity,
wished to view the diamonds. We were compelled to discriminate, and
sometimes discriminated against the wrong person, which caused
unpleasantness. Three distinct attempts were made to rob the safe, but
luckily these criminal efforts were frustrated, and so we came
unscathed to the eventful thirteenth of the month.

The sale was to begin at two o'clock, and on the morning of that day I
took the somewhat tyrannical precaution of having the more dangerous
of our own malefactors, and as many of the foreign thieves as I could
trump up charges against, laid by the heels, yet I knew very well it
was not these rascals I had most to fear, but the suave, well-groomed
gentlemen, amply supplied with unimpeachable credentials, stopping at
our fine hotels and living like princes. Many of these were foreigners
against whom we could prove nothing, and whose arrest might land us
into temporary international difficulties. Nevertheless, I had each of
them shadowed, and on the morning of the thirteenth if one of them had
even disputed a cab fare I should have had him in prison half an hour
later, and taken the consequences, but these gentlemen are very shrewd
and do not commit mistakes.

I made up a list of all the men in the world who were able or likely
to purchase the necklace. Many of them would not be present in person
at the auction rooms; their bidding would be done by agents. This
simplified matters a good deal, for the agents kept me duly informed
of their purposes, and, besides, an agent who handles treasure every
week is an adept at the business, and does not need the protection
which must surround an amateur, who in nine cases out of ten has but
scant idea of the dangers that threaten him, beyond knowing that if he
goes down a dark street in a dangerous quarter he is likely to be
maltreated and robbed.

There were no less than sixteen clients all told, who we learned were
to attend personally on the day of the sale, any one of whom might
well have made the purchase. The Marquis of Warlingham and Lord Oxtead
from England were well-known jewel fanciers, while at least half a
dozen millionaires were expected from the United States, with a
smattering from Germany, Austria, and Russia, and one each from Italy,
Belgium, and Holland.

Admission to the auction rooms was allowed by ticket only, to be
applied for at least a week in advance, applications to be accompanied
by satisfactory testimonials. It would possibly have surprised many of
the rich men collected there to know that they sat cheek by jowl with
some of the most noted thieves of England and America, but I allowed
this for two reasons: first, I wished to keep these sharpers under my
own eye until I knew who had bought the necklace; and, secondly, I was
desirous that they should not know they were suspected.

I stationed trusty men outside on the Boulevard des Italians, each of
whom knew by sight most of the probable purchasers of the necklace. It
was arranged that when the sale was over I should walk out to the
boulevard alongside the man who was the new owner of the diamonds, and
from that moment until he quitted France my men were not to lose sight
of him if he took personal custody of the stones, instead of doing the
sensible and proper thing of having them insured and forwarded to his
residence by some responsible transit company, or depositing them in
the bank. In fact, I took every precaution that occurred to me. All
police Paris was on the _qui vive_, and felt itself pitted against the
scoundrelism of the world.

For one reason or another it was nearly half-past two before the sale
began. There had been considerable delay because of forged tickets,
and, indeed, each order for admittance was so closely scrutinised that
this in itself took a good deal more time than we anticipated. Every
chair was occupied, and still a number of the visitors were compelled
to stand. I stationed myself by the swinging doors at the entrance end
of the hall, where I could command a view of the entire assemblage.
Some of my men were placed with backs against the wall, whilst others
were distributed amongst the chairs, all in plain clothes. During the
sale the diamonds themselves were not displayed, but the box
containing them rested in front of the auctioneer and three policemen
in uniform stood guard on either side.

       *       *       *       *       *

Very quietly the auctioneer began by saying that there was no need for
him to expatiate on the notable character of the treasure he was
privileged to offer for sale, and with this preliminary, he requested
those present to bid. Someone offered twenty thousand francs, which
was received with much laughter; then the bidding went steadily on
until it reached nine hundred thousand francs, which I knew to be less
than half the reserve the Government had placed upon the necklace. The
contest advanced more slowly until the million and a half was touched,
and there it hung fire for a time, while the auctioneer remarked that
this sum did not equal that which the maker of the necklace had been
finally forced to accept for it. After another pause he added that, as
the reserve was not exceeded, the necklace would be withdrawn, and
probably never again offered for sale. He therefore urged those who
were holding back to make their bids now. At this the contest livened
until the sum of two million three hundred thousand francs had been
offered, and now I knew the necklace would be sold. Nearing the three-
million mark the competition thinned down to a few dealers from
Hamburg and the Marquis of Warlingham, from England, when a voice that
had not yet been heard in the auction room was lifted in a tone of
some impatience:--

    'One million dollars!'

There was an instant hush, followed by the scribbling of pencils, as
each person present reduced the sum to its equivalent in his own
currency--pounds for the English, francs for the French, marks for the
German, and so on. The aggressive tone and the clear-cut face of the
bidder proclaimed him an American, not less than the financial
denomination he had used. In a moment it was realised that his bid was
a clear leap of more than two million francs, and a sigh went up from
the audience as if this settled it, and the great sale was done.
Nevertheless the auctioneer's hammer hovered over the lid of his desk,
and he looked up and down the long line of faces turned towards him.
He seemed reluctant to tap the board, but no one ventured to compete
against this tremendous sum, and with a sharp click the mallet fell.

'What name?' he asked, bending over towards the customer.

'Cash,' replied the American; 'here's a cheque for the amount. I'll
take the diamonds with me.'

'Your request is somewhat unusual,' protested the auctioneer mildly.

'I know what you mean,' interrupted the American; 'you think the
cheque may not be cashed. You will notice it is drawn on the
Crédit-Lyonnais, which is practically next door. I must have the
jewels with me. Send round your messenger with the cheque; it will
take only a few minutes to find out whether or not the money is there
to meet it. The necklace is mine, and I insist on having it.'

The auctioneer with some demur handed the cheque to the representative
of the French Government who was present, and this official himself
went to the bank. There were some other things to be sold and the
auctioneer endeavoured to go on through the list, but no one paid the
slightest attention to him.

Meanwhile I was studying the countenance of the man who had made the
astounding bid, when I should instead have adjusted my preparations to
meet the new conditions now confronting me. Here was a man about whom
we knew nothing whatever. I had come to the instant conclusion that he
was a prince of criminals, and that a sinister design, not at that
moment fathomed by me, was on foot to get possession of the jewels.
The handing up of the cheque was clearly a trick of some sort, and I
fully expected the official to return and say the draft was good. I
determined to prevent this man from getting the jewel box until I knew
more of his game. Quickly I removed from my place near the door to
the auctioneer's desk, having two objects in view; first, to warn the
auctioneer not to part with the treasure too easily; and, second, to
study the suspected man at closer range. Of all evil-doers the
American is most to be feared; he uses more ingenuity in the planning
of his projects, and will take greater risks in carrying them out than
any other malefactor on earth.

From my new station I saw there were two men to deal with. The
bidder's face was keen and intellectual; his hands refined, lady-like,
clean and white, showing they were long divorced from manual labour,
if indeed they had ever done any useful work. Coolness and
imperturbability were his beyond a doubt. The companion who sat at his
right was of an entirely different stamp. His hands were hairy and
sun-tanned; his face bore the stamp of grim determination and
unflinching bravery. I knew that these two types usually hunted in
couples--the one to scheme, the other to execute, and they always
formed a combination dangerous to encounter and difficult to
circumvent.

There was a buzz of conversation up and down the hall as these two men
talked together in low tones. I knew now that I was face to face with
the most hazardous problem of my life.

I whispered to the auctioneer, who bent his head to listen. He knew
very well who I was, of course.

'You must not give up the necklace,' I began.

He shrugged his shoulders.

'I am under the orders of the official from the Ministry of the
Interior. You must speak to him.'

'I shall not fail to do so,' I replied. 'Nevertheless, do not give up
the box too readily.'

'I am helpless,' he protested with another shrug. 'I obey the orders
of the Government.'

Seeing it was useless to parley further with the auctioneer, I set my
wits to work to meet the new emergency. I felt convinced that the
cheque would prove to be genuine, and that the fraud, wherever it lay,
might not be disclosed in time to aid the authorities. My duty,
therefore, was to make sure we lost sight neither of the buyer nor the
thing bought. Of course I could not arrest the purchaser merely on
suspicion; besides, it would make the Government the laughing-stock of
the world if they sold a case of jewels and immediately placed the
buyer in custody when they themselves had handed over his goods to
him. Ridicule kills in France. A breath of laughter may blow a
Government out of existence in Paris much more effectually than will a
whiff of cannon smoke. My duty then was to give the Government full
warning, and never lose sight of my man until he was clear of France;
then my responsibility ended.

I took aside one of my own men in plain clothes and said to him,--

'You have seen the American who has bought the necklace?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Very well. Go outside quietly, and station yourself there. He is
likely to emerge presently with the jewels in his possession. You are
not to lose sight of either the man or the casket. I shall follow him
and be close behind him as he emerges, and you are to shadow us. If he
parts with the case you must be ready at a sign from me to follow
either the man or the jewels. Do you understand?' 'Yes, sir,' he
answered, and left the room.

It is ever the unforeseen that baffles us; it is easy to be wise after
the event. I should have sent two men, and I have often thought since
how admirable is the regulation of the Italian Government which sends
out its policemen in pairs. Or I should have given my man power to
call for help, but even as it was he did only half as well as I had a
right to expect of him, and the blunder he committed by a moment's
dull-witted hesitation--ah, well! there is no use of scolding. After
all the result might have been the same.

Just as my man disappeared between the two folding doors the official
from the Ministry of the Interior entered. I intercepted him about
half-way on his journey from the door to the auctioneer.

'Possibly the cheque appears to be genuine,' I whispered to him.

'But certainly,' he replied pompously. He was an individual greatly
impressed with his own importance; a kind of character with which it
is always difficult to deal. Afterwards the Government asserted that
this official had warned me, and the utterances of an empty-headed ass
dressed in a little brief authority, as the English poet says, were
looked upon as the epitome of wisdom.

'I advise you strongly not to hand over the necklace as has been
requested,' I went on.

'Why?' he asked.

'Because I am convinced the bidder is a criminal.'

'If you have proof of that, arrest him.'

'I have no proof at the present moment, but I request you to delay the
delivery of the goods.'

'That is absurd,' he cried impatiently. 'The necklace is his, not
ours. The money has already been transferred to the account of the
Government; we cannot retain the five million francs, and refuse to
hand over to him what he has bought with them,' and so the man left me
standing there, nonplussed and anxious. The eyes of everyone in the
room had been turned on us during our brief conversation, and now the
official proceeded ostentatiously up the room with a grand air of
importance; then, with a bow and a flourish of the hand, he said,
dramatically,--

'The jewels belong to Monsieur.'

The two Americans rose simultaneously, the taller holding out his hand
while the auctioneer passed to him the case he had apparently paid so
highly for. The American nonchalantly opened the box and for the first
time the electric radiance of the jewels burst upon that audience,
each member of which craned his neck to behold it. It seemed to me a
most reckless thing to do. He examined the jewels minutely for a few
moments, then snapped the lid shut again, and calmly put the box in
his outside pocket, and I could not help noticing that the light
overcoat he wore possessed pockets made extraordinarily large, as if
on purpose for this very case. And now this amazing man walked
serenely down the room past miscreants who joyfully would have cut his
throat for even the smallest diamond in that conglomeration; yet he
did not take the trouble to put his hand on the pocket which contained
the case, or in any way attempt to protect it. The assemblage seemed
stricken dumb by his audacity. His friend followed closely at his
heels, and the tall man disappeared through the folding doors. Not so
the other. He turned quickly, and whipped two revolvers out of his
pockets, which he presented at the astonished crowd. There had been a
movement on the part of every one to leave the room, but the sight of
these deadly weapons confronting them made each one shrink into his
place again.

The man with his back to the door spoke in a loud and domineering
voice, asking the auctioneer to translate what he had to say into
French and German; he spoke in English.

'These here shiners are valuable; they belong to my friend who has
just gone out. Casting no reflections on the generality of people in
this room, there are, nevertheless, half a dozen "crooks" among us
whom my friend wishes to avoid. Now, no honest man here will object to
giving the buyer of that there trinket five clear minutes in which to
get away. It's only the "crooks" that can kick. I ask these five
minutes as a favour, but if they are not granted I am going to take
them as a right. Any man who moves will get shot.'

'I am an honest man,' I cried, 'and I object. I am chief detective of
the French Government. Stand aside; the police will protect your
friend.'

'Hold on, my son,' warned the American, turning one weapon directly
upon me, while the other held a sort of roving commission, pointing
all over the room. 'My friend is from New York and he distrusts the
police as much as he does the grafters. You may be twenty detectives,
but if you move before that clock strikes three, I'll bring you down,
and don't you forget it.'

It is one thing to face death in a fierce struggle, but quite another
to advance coldly upon it towardsthe muzzle of a pistol held so
steadily that there could be no chance of escape. The gleam of
determination in the man's eyes convinced me he meant what he said. I
did not consider then, nor have I considered since, that the next five
minutes, precious as they were, would be worth paying my life for.
Apparently everyone else was of my opinion, for none moved hand or
foot until the clock slowly struck three.

'Thank you, gentlemen,' said the American, as he vanished between the
spring-doors. When I say vanished, I mean that word and no other,
because my men outside saw nothing of this individual then or later.
He vanished as if he had never existed, and it was some hours before
we found how this had been accomplished.

I rushed out almost on his heels, as one might say, and hurriedly
questioned my waiting men. They had all seen the tall American come
out with the greatest leisure and stroll towards the west. As he was
not the man any of them were looking for they paid no further
attention to him, as, indeed, is the custom with our Parisian force.
They have eyes for nothing but what they are sent to look for, and
this trait has its drawbacks for their superiors.

I ran up the boulevard, my whole thought intent on the diamonds and
their owner. I knew my subordinate in command of the men inside the
hall would look after the scoundrel with the pistols. A short distance
up I found the stupid fellow I had sent out, standing in a dazed
manner at the corner of the Rue Michodière, gazing alternately down
that short street and towards the Place de l'Opéra. The very fact that
he was there furnished proof that he had failed.

'Where is the American?' I demanded.

'He went down this street, sir.'

'Then why are you standing here like a fool?'

'I followed him this far, when a man came up the Rue Michodière, and
without a word the American handed him the jewel-box, turning
instantly down the street up which the other had come. The other
jumped into a cab, and drove towards the Place de l'Opéra.'

'And what did you do? Stood here like a post, I suppose?'

'I didn't know what to do, sir. It all happened in a moment.'

'Why didn't you follow the cab?'

'I didn't know which to follow, sir, and the cab was gone instantly
while I watched the American.'

'What was its number?'

'I don't know, sir.'

'You clod! Why didn't you call one of our men, whoever was nearest,
and leave him to shadow the American while you followed the cab?'

'I did shout to the nearest man, sir, but he said you told him to stay
there and watch the English lord, and even before he had spoken both
American and cabman were out of sight.'

'Was the man to whom he gave the box an American also?'

'No, sir, he was French.'

'How do you know?'

'By his appearance and the words he spoke.'

'I thought you said he didn't speak.'

'He did not speak to the American, sir, but he said to the cabman,
"Drive to the Madeleine as quickly as you can."'

'Describe the man.'

'He was a head shorter than the American, wore a black beard and
moustache rather neatly trimmed, and seemed to be a superior sort of
artisan.'

'You did not take the number of the cab. Should you know the cabman if
you saw him again?'

'Yes, sir, I think so.'

Taking this fellow with me I returned to the now nearly empty auction
room and there gathered all my men about me. Each in his notebook
took down particulars of the cabman and his passenger from the lips of
my incompetent spy; next I dictated a full description of the two
Americans, then scattered my men to the various railway stations of
the lines leading out of Paris, with orders to make inquiries of the
police on duty there, and to arrest one or more of the four persons
described should they be so fortunate as to find any of them.

I now learned how the rogue with the pistols vanished so completely as
he did. My subordinate in the auction room had speedily solved the
mystery. To the left of the main entrance of the auction room was a
door that gave private access to the rear of the premises. As the
attendant in charge confessed when questioned, he had been bribed by
the American earlier in the day to leave this side door open and to
allow the man to escape by the goods entrance. Thus the ruffian did
not appear on the boulevard at all, and so had not been observed by
any of my men.

Taking my futile spy with me I returned to my own office, and sent an
order throughout the city that every cabman who had been in the
Boulevard des Italiens between half-past two and half-past three that
afternoon, should report immediately to me. The examination of these
men proved a very tedious business indeed, but whatever other
countries may say of us, we French are patient, and if the haystack is
searched long enough, the needle will be found. I did not discover the
needle I was looking for, but I came upon one quite as important, if
not more so.

It was nearly ten o'clock at night when a cabman answered my
oft-repeated questions in the affirmative.

'Did you take up a passenger a few minutes past three o'clock on the
Boulevard des Italiens, near the Crédit-Lyonnais? Had he a short black
beard? Did he carry a small box in his hand and order you to drive to
the Madeleine?'

The cabman seemed puzzled.

'He wore a short black beard when he got out of the cab,' he replied.

'What do you mean by that?'

'I drive a closed cab, sir. When he got in he was a smooth-faced
gentleman; when he got out he wore a short black beard.'

'Was he a Frenchman?'

'No, sir; he was a foreigner, either English or American.'

'Was he carrying a box?'

'No, sir; he held in his hand a small leather bag.'

'Where did he tell you to drive?'

'He told me to follow the cab in front, which had just driven off very
rapidly towards the Madeleine. In fact, I heard the man, such as you
describe, order the other cabman to drive to the Madeleine. I had come
alongside the curb when this man held up his hand for a cab, but the
open cab cut in ahead of me. Just then my passenger stepped up and
said in French, but with a foreign accent: "Follow that cab wherever
it goes."'

I turned with some indignation to my inefficient spy.

'You told me,' I said, 'that the American had gone down a side street.
Yet he evidently met a second man, obtained from him the handbag,
turned back, and got into the closed cab directly behind you.'

'Well, sir,' stammered the spy, 'I could not look in two directions at
the same time. The American certainly went down the side street, but
of course I watched the cab which contained the jewels.'

'And you saw nothing of the closed cab right at your elbow?'

'The boulevard was full of cabs, sir, and the pavement crowded with
passers-by, as it always is at that hour of the day, and I have only
two eyes in my head.'

'I am glad to know you had that many, for I was beginning to think you
were blind.'

Although I said this, I knew in my heart it was useless to censure the
poor wretch, for the fault was entirely my own in not sending two men,
and in failing to guess the possibility of the jewels and their owner
being separated. Besides, here was a clue to my hand at last, and no
time must be lost in following it up. So I continued my interrogation
of the cabman.

'The other cab was an open vehicle, you say?'

'Yes, sir.'

'You succeeded in following it?'

'Oh, yes, sir. At the Madeleine the man in front redirected the
coachman, who turned to the left and drove to the Place de la
Concorde, then up the Champs-Elysées to the Arch and so down the
Avenue de la Grande Armée, and the Avenue de Neuilly, to the Pont de
Neuilly, where it came to a standstill. My fare got out, and I saw he
now wore a short black beard, which he had evidently put on inside the
cab. He gave me a ten-franc piece, which was very satisfactory.

'And the fare you were following? What did he do?'

'He also stepped out, paid the cabman, went down the bank of the river
and got on board a steam launch that seemed to be waiting for him.'

'Did he look behind, or appear to know that he was being followed?'

'No, sir.'

'And your fare?'

'He ran after the first man, and also went aboard the steam launch,
which instantly started down the river.'

'And that was the last you saw of them?'

'Yes, sir.'

'At what time did you reach the Pont de Neuilly?'

'I do not know, sir; I was compelled to drive rather fast, but the
distance is seven to eight kilometres.'

'You would do it under the hour?'

'But certainly, under the hour.'

'Then you must have reached Neuilly bridge about four o'clock?'

'It is very likely, sir.'

The plan of the tall American was now perfectly clear to me, and it
comprised nothing that was contrary to law. He had evidently placed
his luggage on board the steam launch in the morning. The handbag had
contained various materials which would enable him to disguise
himself, and this bag he had probably left in some shop down the side
street, or else someone was waiting with it for him. The giving of the
treasure to another man was not so risky as it had at first appeared,
because he instantly followed that man, who was probably his
confidential servant. Despite the windings of the river there was
ample time for the launch to reach Havre before the American steamer
sailed on Saturday morning. I surmised it was his intention to come
alongside the steamer before she left her berth in Havre harbour, and
thus transfer himself and his belongings unperceived by anyone on
watch at the land side of the liner.

All this, of course, was perfectly justifiable, and seemed, in truth,
merely a well-laid scheme for escaping observation. His only danger of
being tracked was when he got into the cab. Once away from the
neighbourhood of the Boulevard des Italiens he was reasonably sure to
evade pursuit, and the five minutes which his friend with the pistols
had won for him afforded just the time he needed to get so far as the
Place Madeleine, and after that everything was easy. Yet, if it had
not been for those five minutes secured by coercion, I should not have
found the slightest excuse for arresting him. But he was accessory
after the act in that piece of illegality--in fact, it was absolutely
certain that he had been accessory before the act, and guilty of
conspiracy with the man who had presented firearms to the auctioneer's
audience, and who had interfered with an officer in the discharge of
his duty by threatening me and my men. So I was now legally in the
right if I arrested every person on board that steam launch.

       *       *       *       *       *

With a map of the river before me I proceeded to make some
calculations. It was now nearly ten o'clock at night. The launch had
had six hours in which to travel at its utmost speed. It was doubtful
if so small a vessel could make ten miles an hour, even with the
current in its favour, which is rather sluggish because of the locks
and the level country. Sixty miles would place her beyond Meulan,
which is fifty-eight miles from the Pont Royal, and, of course, a
lesser distance from the Pont de Neuilly. But the navigation of the
river is difficult at all times, and almost impossible after dark.
There were chances of the boat running aground, and then there was the
inevitable delay at the locks. So I estimated that the launch could
not yet have reached Meulan, which was less than twenty-five miles
from Paris by rail. Looking up the timetable I saw there were still
two trains to Meulan, the next at 10.25, which reached Meulan at
11.40. I therefore had time to reach St. Lazare station, and accomplish
some telegraphing before the train left.

With three of my assistants I got into a cab and drove to the station.
On arrival I sent one of my men to hold the train while I went into
the telegraph office, cleared the wires, and got into communication
with the lock master at Meulan. He replied that no steam launch had
passed down since an hour before sunset. I then instructed him to
allow the yacht to enter the lock, close the upper gate, let half of
the water out, and hold the vessel there until I came. I also ordered
the local Meulan police to send enough men to the lock to enforce this
command. Lastly, I sent messages all along the river asking the police
to report to me on the train the passage of the steam launch.

The 10.25 is a slow train, stopping at every station. However, every
drawback has its compensation, and these stoppages enabled me to
receive and to send telegraphic messages. I was quite well aware that
I might be on a fool's errand in going to Meulan. The yacht could have
put about before it had steamed a mile, and so returned back to Paris.
There had been no time to learn whether this was so or not if I was to
catch the 10.25. Also, it might have landed its passengers anywhere
along the river. I may say at once that neither of these two things
happened, and my calculations regarding her movements were accurate to
the letter. But a trap most carefully set may be prematurely sprung by
inadvertence, or more often by the over-zeal of some stupid ass who
fails to understand his instructions, or oversteps them if they are
understood. I received a most annoying telegram from Denouval, a lock
about thirteen miles above that of Meulan. The local policeman,
arriving at the lock, found that the yacht had just cleared. The fool
shouted to the captain to return, threatening him with all the pains
and penalties of the law if he refused. The captain did refuse, rung
on full speed ahead, and disappeared in the darkness. Through this
well-meant blunder of an understrapper, those on board the launch had
received warning that we were on their track. I telegraphed to the
lock-keeper at Denouval to allow no craft to pass towards Paris until
further orders. We thus held the launch in a thirteen-mile stretch of
water, but the night was pitch dark, and passengers might be landed on
either bank with all France before them, over which to effect their
escape in any direction.

It was midnight when I reached the lock at Meulan, and, as was to be
expected, nothing had been seen or heard of the launch. It gave me
some satisfaction to telegraph to that dunderhead at Denouval to walk
along the river bank to Meulan, and report if he learnt the launch's
whereabouts. We took up our quarters in the lodgekeeper's house and
waited. There was little sense in sending men to scour the country at
this time of night, for the pursued were on the alert, and very
unlikely to allow themselves to be caught if they had gone ashore. On
the other hand, there was every chance that the captain would refuse
to let them land, because he must know his vessel was in a trap from
which it could not escape, and although the demand of the policeman at
Denouval was quite unauthorised, nevertheless the captain could not
know that, while he must be well aware of his danger in refusing to
obey a command from the authorities. Even if he got away for the
moment he must know that arrest was certain, and that his punishment
would be severe. His only plea could be that he had not heard and
understood the order to return. But this plea would be invalidated if
he aided in the escape of two men, whom he must know were wanted by
the police. I was therefore very confident that if his passengers
asked to be set ashore, the captain would refuse when he had had time
to think about his own danger. My estimate proved accurate, for
towards one o'clock the lock-keeper came in and said the green and red
lights of an approaching craft were visible, and as he spoke the yacht
whistled for the opening of the lock. I stood by the lock-keeper while
he opened the gates; my men and the local police were concealed on
each side of the lock. The launch came slowly in, and as soon as it
had done so I asked the captain to step ashore, which he did.

'I wish a word with you,' I said. 'Follow me.'

I took him into the lock-keeper's house and closed the door.

'Where are you going?'

'To Havre.'

'Where did you come from?'

'Paris.'

'From what quay?'

'From the Pont de Neuilly.'

'When did you leave there?'

'At five minutes to four o'clock this afternoon.'

'Yesterday afternoon, you mean?'

'Yesterday afternoon.'

'Who engaged you to make this voyage?'

'An American; I do not know his name.'

'He paid you well, I suppose?'

'He paid me what I asked.'

'Have you received the money?'

'Yes, sir.'

'I may inform you, captain, that I am Eugène Valmont, chief detective
of the French Government, and that all the police of France at this
moment are under my control. I ask you, therefore, to be careful of
your answers. You were ordered by a policeman at Denouval to return.
Why did you not do so?'

'The lock-keeper ordered me to return, but as he had no right to order
me, I went on.'

'You knew very well it was the police who ordered you, and you ignored
the command. Again I ask you why you did so.'

'I did not know it was the police.'

'I thought you would say that. You knew very well, but were paid to
take the risk, and it is likely to cost you dear. You had two
passengers aboard?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Did you put them ashore between here and Denouval?'

'No, sir; but one of them went overboard, and we couldn't find him
again.'

'Which one?'

'The short man.'

'Then the American is still aboard?'

'What American, sir?'

'Captain, you must not trifle with me. The man who engaged you is
still aboard?'

'Oh, no, sir; he has never been aboard.'

'Do you mean to tell me that the second man who came on your launch at
the Pont de Neuilly is not the American who engaged you?'

'No, sir; the American was a smooth-faced man; this man wore a black
beard.'

'Yes, a false beard.'

'I did not know that, sir. I understood from the American that I was
to take but one passenger. One came aboard with a small box in his
hand; the other with a small bag. Each declared himself to be the
passenger in question. I did not know what to do, so I left Paris with
both of them on board.'

'Then the tall man with the black beard is still with you?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Well, captain, is there anything else you have to tell me? I think
you will find it better in the end to make a clean breast of it.'

The captain hesitated, turning his cap about in his hands for a few
moments, then he said,--

'I am not sure that the first passenger went overboard of his own
accord. When the police hailed us at Denouval--'

'Ah, you knew it was the police, then?'

'I was afraid after I left it might have been. You see, when the
bargain was made with me the American said that if I reached Havre at
a certain time a thousand francs extra would be paid to me, so I was
anxious to get along as quickly as I could. I told him it was
dangerous to navigate the Seine at night, but he paid me well for
attempting it. After the policeman called to us at Denouval the man
with the small box became very much excited, and asked me to put him
ashore, which I refused to do. The tall man appeared to be watching
him, never letting him get far away. When I heard the splash in the
water I ran aft, and I saw the tall man putting the box which the
other had held into his handbag, although I said nothing of it at the
time. We cruised back and forward about the spot where the other man
had gone overboard, but saw nothing more of him. Then I came on to
Meulan, intending to give information about what I had seen. That is
all I know of the matter, sir.'

'Was the man who had the jewels a Frenchman?'

'What jewels, sir?'

'The man with the small box.'

'Oh, yes, sir; he was French.'

'You have hinted that the foreigner threw him overboard. What grounds
have you for such a belief if you did not see the struggle?'

'The night is very dark, sir, and I did not see what happened. I was
at the wheel in the forward part of the launch, with my back turned to
these two. I heard a scream, then a splash. If the man had jumped
overboard as the other said he did, he would not have screamed.
Besides, as I told you, when I ran aft I saw the foreigner put the
little box in his handbag, which he shut up quickly as if he did not
wish me to notice.'

'Very good, captain. If you have told the truth it will go easier with
you in the investigation that is to follow.'

I now turned the captain over to one of my men, and ordered in the
foreigner with his bag and bogus black whiskers. Before questioning
him I ordered him to open the handbag, which he did with evident
reluctance. It was filled with false whiskers, false moustaches, and
various bottles, but on top of them all lay the jewel case. I raised
the lid and displayed that accursed necklace. I looked up at the man,
who stood there calmly enough, saying nothing in spite of the
overwhelming evidence against him.

'Will you oblige me by removing your false beard?'

He did so at once, throwing it into the open bag. I knew the moment I
saw him that he was not the American, and thus my theory had broken
down, in one very important part at least. Informing him who I was,
and cautioning him to speak the truth, I asked how he came in
possession of the jewels.

'Am I under arrest?' he asked.

'But certainly,' I replied.

'Of what am I accused?'

'You are accused, in the first place, of being in possession of
property which does not belong to you.'

'I plead guilty to that. What in the second place?'

'In the second place, you may find yourself accused of murder.'

'I am innocent of the second charge. The man jumped overboard.'

'If that is true, why did he scream as he went over?'

'Because, too late to recover his balance, I seized this box and held
it.'

'He was in rightful possession of the box; the owner gave it to him.'

'I admit that; I saw the owner give it to him.'

'Then why should he jump overboard?'

'I do not know. He seemed to become panic-stricken when the police at
the last lock ordered us to return. He implored the captain to put him
ashore, and from that moment I watched him keenly, expecting that if
we drew near to the land he would attempt to escape, as the captain
had refused to beach the launch. He remained quiet for about half an
hour, seated on a camp chair by the rail, with his eyes turned towards
the shore, trying, as I imagined, to penetrate the darkness and
estimate the distance. Then suddenly he sprung up and made his dash. I
was prepared for this, and instantly caught the box from his hand. He
gave a half turn, trying either to save himself or to retain the box;
then with a scream went down shoulders first into the water. It all
happened within a second after he leaped from his chair.'

'You admit yourself, then, indirectly responsible for his drowning, at
least?'

'I see no reason to suppose that the man was drowned. If able to swim
he could easily have reached the river bank. If unable to swim, why
should he attempt it encumbered by the box?'

'You believe he escaped, then?'

'I think so.'

'It will be lucky for you should that prove to be the case.'

'Certainly.'

'How did you come to be in the yacht at all?' 

'I shall give you a full account of the affair, concealing nothing. I am a
private detective, with an office in London. I was certain that some attempt
would be made, probably by the most expert criminals at large, to rob
the possessor of this necklace. I came over to Paris, anticipating
trouble, determined to keep an eye upon the jewel case if this proved
possible. If the jewels were stolen the crime was bound to be one of
the most celebrated in legal annals. I was present during the sale,
and saw the buyer of the necklace. I followed the official who went to
the bank, and thus learned that the money was behind the cheque. I
then stopped outside and waited for the buyer to appear. He held the
case in his hand.'

'In his pocket, you mean?' I interrupted.

'He had it in his hand when I saw him. Then the man who afterwards
jumped overboard approached him, took the case without a word, held up
his hand for a cab, and when an open vehicle approached the curb he
stepped in, saying, "The Madeleine." I hailed a closed cab, instructed
the cabman to follow the first, disguising myself with whiskers as
near like those the man in front wore as I had in my collection.'

'Why did you do that?'

'As a detective you should know why I did it. I wished as nearly as
possible to resemble the man in front, so that if necessity arose I
could pretend that I was the person commissioned to carry the jewel
case. As a matter of fact, the crisis arose when we came to the end of
our cab journey. The captain did not know which was his true
passenger, and so let us both remain aboard the launch. And now you
have the whole story.'

'An extremely improbable one, sir. Even by your own account you had no
right to interfere in this business at all.'

'I quite agree with you there,' he replied, with great nonchalance,
taking a card from his pocket-book, which he handed to me.

'That is my London address; you may make inquiries, and you will find
I am exactly what I represent myself to be.'

The first train for Paris left Meulan at eleven minutes past four in
the morning. It was now a quarter after two. I left the captain, crew,
and launch in charge of two of my men, with orders to proceed to Paris
as soon as it was daylight. I, supported by the third man, waited at
the station with our English prisoner, and reached Paris at half-past
five in the morning.

The English prisoner, though severely interrogated by the judge, stood
by his story. Inquiry by the police in London proved that what he said
of himself was true. His case, however, began to look very serious
when two of the men from the launch asserted that they had seen him
push the Frenchman overboard, and their statement could not be shaken.
All our energies were bent for the next two weeks on trying to find
something of the identity of the missing man, or to get any trace of
the two Americans. If the tall American were alive, it seemed
incredible that he should not have made application for the valuable
property he had lost. All attempts to trace him by means of the cheque
on the Crédit-Lyonnais proved futile. The bank pretended to give me
every assistance, but I sometimes doubt if it actually did so. It had
evidently been well paid for its services, and evinced no impetuous
desire to betray so good a customer.

We made inquiries about every missing man in Paris, but also without
result.

The case had excited much attention throughout the world, and
doubtless was published in full in the American papers. The Englishman
had been in custody three weeks when the chief of police in Paris
received the following letter:--

'DEAR SIR,--On my arrival in New York by the English steamer
_Lucania_, I was much amused to read in the papers accounts of the
exploits of detectives, French and English. I am sorry that only one
of them seems to be in prison; I think his French _confrère_ ought to
be there also. I regret exceedingly, however, that there is the rumour
of the death by drowning of my friend Martin Dubois, of 375 Rue aux
Juifs, Rouen. If this is indeed the case he has met his death through
the blunders of the police. Nevertheless, I wish you would communicate
with his family at the address I have given, and assure them that I
will make arrangements for their future support.

'I beg to inform you that I am a manufacturer of imitation diamonds,
and through extensive advertising succeeded in accumulating a fortune
of many millions. I was in Europe when the necklace was found, and had
in my possession over a thousand imitation diamonds of my own
manufacture. It occurred to me that here was the opportunity of the
most magnificent advertisement in the world. I saw the necklace,
received its measurements, and also obtained photographs of it taken
by the French Government. Then I set my expert friend Martin Dubois at
work, and, with the artificial stones I gave him, he made an imitation
necklace so closely resembling the original that you apparently do not
know it is the unreal you have in your possession. I did not fear the
villainy of the crooks as much as the blundering of the police, who
would have protected me with brass-band vehemence if I could not elude
them. I knew that the detectives would overlook the obvious, but would
at once follow a clue if I provided one for them. Consequently, I laid
my plans, just as you have discovered, and got Martin Dubois up from
Rouen to carry the case I gave him down to Havre. I had had another
box prepared and wrapped in brown paper, with my address in New York
written thereon. The moment I emerged from the auction room, while my
friend the cowboy was holding up the audience, I turned my face to the
door, took out the genuine diamonds from the case and slipped it into
the box I had prepared for mailing. Into the genuine case I put the
bogus diamonds. After handing the box to Dubois, I turned down a side
street, and then into another whose name I do not know, and there in a
shop with sealing wax and string did up the real diamonds for posting.
I labelled the package "Books", went to the nearest post office, paid
letter postage, and handed it over unregistered as if it were of no
particular value. After this I went to my rooms in the Grand Hotel
where I had been staying under my own name for more than a month. Next
morning I took train for London, and the day after sailed from
Liverpool on the _Lucania_. I arrived before the _Gascoigne_, which
sailed from Havre on Saturday, met my box at the Customs house, paid
duty, and it now reposes in my safe. I intend to construct an
imitation necklace which will be so like the genuine one that nobody
can tell the two apart; then I shall come to Europe and exhibit the
pair, for the publication of the truth of this matter will give me the
greatest advertisement that ever was.

'Yours truly,

'JOHN P HAZARD.'

I at once communicated with Rouen and found Martin Dubois alive and
well. His first words were:--'I swear I did not steal the jewels.'

He had swum ashore, tramped to Rouen, and kept quiet in great fear
while I was fruitlessly searching Paris for him. It took Mr. Hazard
longer to make his imitation necklace than he supposed, and several
years later he booked his passage with the two necklaces on the
ill-fated steamer _Burgoyne_, and now rests beside them at the bottom
of the Atlantic.

    Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
    The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear.




2. _The Siamese Twin of a Bomb-Thrower_


The events previously related in 'The Mystery of the Five Hundred
Diamonds' led to my dismissal by the French Government. It was not
because I had arrested an innocent man; I had done that dozens of
times before, with nothing said about it. It was not because I had
followed a wrong clue, or because I had failed to solve the mystery of
the five hundred diamonds. Every detective follows a wrong clue now
and then, and every detective fails more often than he cares to admit.
No. All these things would not have shaken my position, but the
newspapers were so fortunate as to find something humorous in the
case, and for weeks Paris rang with laughter over my exploits and my
defeat. The fact that the chief French detective had placed the most
celebrated English detective into prison, and that each of them were
busily sleuth-hounding a bogus clue, deliberately flung across their
path by an amateur, roused all France to great hilarity. The
Government was furious. The Englishman was released and I was
dismissed. Since the year 1893 I have been a resident of London.

When a man is, as one might say, the guest of a country, it does not
become him to criticise that country. I have studied this strange
people with interest, and often with astonishment, and if I now set
down some of the differences between the English and the French, I
trust that no note of criticism of the former will appear, even when
my sympathies are entirely with the latter. These differences have
sunk deeply into my mind, because, during the first years of my stay
in London my lack of understanding them was often a cause of my own
failure when I thought I had success in hand. Many a time did I come
to the verge of starvation in Soho, through not appreciating the
peculiar trend of mind which causes an Englishman to do inexplicable
things--that is, of course, from my Gallic standpoint.

For instance, an arrested man is presumed to be innocent until he is
proved guilty. In England, if a murderer is caught red-handed over his
victim, he is held guiltless until the judge sentences him. In France
we make no such foolish assumption, and although I admit that innocent
men have sometimes been punished, my experience enables me to state
very emphatically that this happens not nearly so often as the public
imagines. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred an innocent man can at
once prove his innocence without the least difficulty. I hold it is
his duty towards the State to run the very slight risk of unjust
imprisonment in order that obstacles may not be thrown in the way of
the conviction of real criminals. But it is impossible to persuade an
Englishman of this. _Mon Dieu!_ I have tried it often enough.

Never shall I forget the bitterness of my disappointment when I
captured Felini, the Italian anarchist, in connection with the
Greenwich Park murder. At this time--it gives me no shame to confess
it--I was myself living in Soho, in a state of extreme poverty. Having
been employed so long by the French Government, I had formed the
absurd idea that the future depended on my getting, not exactly a
similar connection with Scotland Yard, but at least a subordinate
position on the police force which would enable me to prove my
capabilities, and lead to promotion. I had no knowledge, at that time,
of the immense income which awaited me entirely outside the Government
circle. Whether it is contempt for the foreigner, as has often been
stated, or that native stolidity which spells complacency, the British
official of any class rarely thinks it worth his while to discover the
real cause of things in France, or Germany, or Russia, but plods
heavily on from one mistake to another. Take, for example, those
periodical outbursts of hatred against England which appear in the
Continental Press. They create a dangerous international situation,
and more than once have brought Britain to the verge of a serious war.
Britain sternly spends millions in defence and preparation, whereas,
if she would place in my hand half a million pounds I would guarantee
to cause Britannia to be proclaimed an angel with white wings in every
European country.

When I attempted to arrive at some connection with Scotland Yard, I
was invariably asked for my credentials. When I proclaimed that I had
been chief detective to the Republic of France, I could see that this
announcement made a serious impression, but when I added that the
Government of France had dismissed me without credentials,
recommendation, or pension, official sympathy with officialism at once
turned the tables against me. And here I may be pardoned for pointing
out another portentous dissimilarity between the two lands which I
think is not at all to the credit of my countrymen.

I was summarily dismissed. You may say it was because I failed, and it
is true that in the case of the Queen's Necklace I had undoubtedly
failed, but, on the other hand, I had followed unerringly the clue
which lay in my path, and although the conclusion was not in
accordance with the facts, it was in accordance with logic. No, I was
not dismissed because I failed. I had failed on various occasions
before, as might happen to any man in any profession. I was dismissed
because I made France for the moment the laughing-stock of Europe and
America. France dismissed me because France had been laughed at. No
Frenchman can endure the turning of a joke against him, but the
Englishman does not appear to care in the least. So far as failure is
concerned, never had any man failed so egregiously as I did with
Felini, a slippery criminal who possessed all the bravery of a
Frenchman and all the subtlety of an Italian. Three times he was in my
hands--twice in Paris, once in Marseilles--and each time he escaped
me; yet I was not dismissed.

When I say that Signor Felini was as brave as a Frenchman, perhaps I
do him a little more than justice. He was desperately afraid of one
man, and that man was myself. Our last interview in France he is not
likely to forget, and although he eluded me, he took good care to get
into England as fast as train and boat could carry him, and never
again, while I was at the head of the French detective force, did he
set foot on French soil. He was an educated villain, a graduate of the
University of Turin, who spoke Spanish, French, and English as well as
his own language, and this education made him all the more dangerous
when he turned his talents to crime.

Now, I knew Felini's handiwork, either in murder or in housebreaking,
as well as I know my own signature on a piece of white paper, and as
soon as I saw the body of the murdered man in Greenwich Park I was
certain Felini was the murderer. The English authorities at that time
looked upon me with a tolerant, good-natured contempt.

Inspector Standish assumed the manner of a man placing at my disposal
plenty of rope with which I might entangle myself. He appeared to
think me excitable, and used soothing expressions as if I were a
fractious child to be calmed, rather than a sane equal to be reasoned
with. On many occasions I had the facts at my finger ends, while he
remained in a state of most complacent ignorance, and though this
attitude of lowering himself to deal gently with one whom he
evidently looked upon as an irresponsible lunatic was most
exasperating, I nevertheless claim great credit for having kept my
temper with him. However, it turned out to be impossible for me to
overcome his insular prejudice. He always supposed me to be a
frivolous, volatile person, and so I was unable to prove myself of any
value to him in his arduous duties.

The Felini instance was my last endeavour to win his favour. Inspector
Standish appeared in his most amiable mood when I was admitted to his
presence, and this in spite of the fact that all London was ringing
with the Greenwich Park tragedy, while the police possessed not the
faintest idea regarding the crime or its perpetrator. I judged from
Inspector Standish's benevolent smile that I was somewhat excited when
I spoke to him, and perhaps used many gestures which seemed
superfluous to a large man whom I should describe as immovable, and
who spoke slowly, with no motion of the hand, as if his utterances
were the condensed wisdom of the ages.

'Inspector Standish,' I cried, 'is it within your power to arrest a
man on suspicion?'

'Of course it is,' he replied; 'but we must harbour the suspicion
before we make the arrest.'

'Have confidence in me,' I exclaimed. 'The man who committed the
Greenwich Park murder is an Italian named Felini.'

I gave the address of the exact room in which he was to be found, with
cautions regarding the elusive nature of this individual. I said that
he had been three times in my custody, and those three times he had
slipped through my fingers. I have since thought that Inspector
Standish did not credit a word I had spoken.

'What is your proof against this Italian?' asked the Inspector slowly.

'The proof is on the body of the murdered man, but, nevertheless, if
you suddenly confront Felini with me without giving him any hint of
whom he is going to meet, you shall have the evidence from his own
lips before he recovers from his surprise and fright.'

Something of my confidence must have impressed the official, for the
order of arrest was made. Now, during the absence of the constable
sent to bring in Felini, I explained to the inspector fully the
details of my plan. Practically he did not listen to me, for his head
was bent over a writing-pad on which I thought he was taking down my
remarks, but when I had finished he went on writing as before, so I
saw I had flattered myself unnecessarily. More than two hours passed
before the constable returned, bringing with him the trembling
Italian. I swung round in front of him, and cried, in a menacing
voice:--

'Felini! Regard me! You know Valmont too well to trifle with him! What
have you to say of the murder in Greenwich Park?'

I give you my word that the Italian collapsed, and would have fallen
to the floor in a heap had not the constables upheld him with hands
under each arm. His face became of a pasty whiteness, and he began to
stammer his confession, when this incredible thing happened, which
could not be believed in France. Inspector Standish held up his
finger.

'One moment,' he cautioned solemnly, 'remember that whatever you say
will be used against you!'

The quick, beady black eyes of the Italian shot from Standish to me,
and from me to Standish. In an instant his alert mind grasped the
situation. Metaphorically I had been waved aside. I was not there in
any official capacity, and he saw in a moment with what an opaque
intellect he had to deal. The Italian closed his mouth like a steel
trap, and refused to utter a word. Shortly after he was liberated, as
there was no evidence against him. When at last complete proof was in
the tardy hands of the British authorities, the agile Felini was safe
in the Apennine mountains, and today is serving a life sentence in
Italy for the assassination of a senator whose name I have forgotten.

Is it any wonder that I threw up my hands in despair at finding myself
amongst such a people. But this was in the early days, and now that I
have greater experience of the English, many of my first opinions have
been modified.

I mention all this to explain why, in a private capacity, I often did
what no English official would dare to do. A people who will send a
policeman, without even a pistol to protect him, to arrest a desperate
criminal in the most dangerous quarter of London, cannot be
comprehended by any native of France, Italy, Spain, or Germany. When I
began to succeed as a private detective in London, and had accumulated
money enough for my project, I determined not to be hampered by this
unexplainable softness of the English towards an accused person. I
therefore reconstructed my flat, and placed in the centre of it a dark
room strong as any Bastille cell. It was twelve feet square, and
contained no furniture except a number of shelves, a lavatory in one
corner, and a pallet on the floor. It was ventilated by two flues
from the centre of the ceiling, in one of which operated an electric
fan, which, when the room was occupied, sent the foul air up that
flue, and drew down fresh air through the other. The entrance to this
cell opened out from my bedroom, and the most minute inspection would
have failed to reveal the door, which was of massive steel, and was
opened and shut by electric buttons that were partially concealed by
the head of my bed. Even if they had been discovered, they would have
revealed nothing, because the first turn of the button lit the
electric light at the head of my bed; the second turn put it out; and
this would happen as often as the button was turned to the right. But
turn it three times slowly to the left, and the steel door opened. Its
juncture was completely concealed by panelling. I have brought many a
scoundrel to reason within the impregnable walls of that small room.

Those who know the building regulations of London will wonder how it
was possible for me to delude the Government inspector during the
erection of this section of the Bastille in the midst of the modern
metropolis. It was the simplest thing in the world. Liberty of the
subject is the first great rule with the English people, and thus many
a criminal is allowed to escape. Here was I laying plans for the
contravening of this first great rule, and to do so I took advantage
of the second great rule of the English people, which is, that
property is sacred. I told the building authorities I was a rich man
with a great distrust of banks, and I wished to build in my flat a
safe or strong-room in which to deposit my valuables. I built then
such a room as may be found in every bank, and many private premises
of the City, and a tenant might have lived in my flat for a year and
never suspected the existence of this prison. A railway engine might
have screeched its whistle within it, and not a sound would have
penetrated the apartments that surrounded it unless the door were
open.

But besides M. Eugène Valmont, dressed in elegant attire as if he were
still a boulevardier of Paris, occupier of the top floor in the
Imperial Flats, there was another Frenchman in London to whom I must
introduce you, namely, Professor Paul Ducharme, who occupied a squalid
back room in the cheapest and most undesirable quarter of Soho.
Valmont flatters himself he is not yet middle-aged, but poor Ducharme
does not need his sparse gray beard to proclaim his advancing years.
Valmont vaunts an air of prosperity; Ducharme wears the shabby
habiliments and the shoulder-stoop of hopeless poverty. He shuffles
cringingly along the street, a compatriot not to be proud of. There
are so many Frenchmen anxious to give lessons in their language, that
merely a small living is to be picked up by any one of them. You will
never see the spruce Valmont walking alongside the dejected Ducharme.

'Ah!' you exclaim, 'Valmont in his prosperity has forgotten those less
fortunate of his nationality.'

Pardon, my friends, it is not so. Behold, I proclaim to you, the
exquisite Valmont and the threadbare Ducharme are one and the same
person. That is why they do not promenade together. And, indeed, it
requires no great histrionic art on my part to act the rôle of the
miserable Ducharme, for when I first came to London, I warded off
starvation in this wretched room, and my hand it was that nailed to
the door the painted sign 'Professor Paul Ducharme, Teacher of the
French Language'. I never gave up the room, even when I became
prosperous and moved to Imperial Flats, with its concealed chamber of
horrors unknown to British authority. I did not give up the Soho
chamber principally for this reason: Paul Ducharme, if the truth were
known about him, would have been regarded as a dangerous character;
yet this was a character sometimes necessary for me to assume. He was
a member of the very inner circle of the International, an anarchist
of the anarchists. This malign organisation has its real headquarters
in London, and we who were officials connected with the Secret Service
of the Continent have more than once cursed the complacency of the
British Government which allows such a nest of vipers to exist
practically unmolested. I confess that before I came to know the
English people as well as I do now, I thought that this complacency
was due to utter selfishness, because the anarchists never commit an
outrage in England. England is the one spot on the map of Europe where
an anarchist cannot be laid by the heels unless there is evidence
against him that will stand the test of open court. Anarchists take
advantage of this fact, and plots are hatched in London which are
executed in Paris, Berlin, Petersburg, or Madrid. I know now that this
leniency on the part of the British Government does not arise from
craft, but from their unexplainable devotion to their shibboleth--'The
liberty of the subject.' Time and again France has demanded the
extradition of an anarchist, always to be met with the question,--

'Where is your proof?'

I know many instances where our certainty was absolute, and also cases
where we possessed legal proof as well, but legal proof which, for one
reason or another, we dared not use in public; yet all this had no
effect on the British authorities. They would never give up even the
vilest criminal except on publicly attested legal evidence, and not
even then, if the crime were political.

During my term of office under the French Government, no part of my
duties caused me more anxiety than that which pertained to the
political secret societies. Of course, with a large portion of the
Secret Service fund at my disposal, I was able to buy expert
assistance, and even to get information from anarchists themselves.
This latter device, however, was always more or less unreliable. I
have never yet met an anarchist I could believe on oath, and when one
of them offered to sell exclusive information to the police, we rarely
knew whether he was merely trying to get a few francs to keep himself
from starving, or whether he was giving us false particulars which
would lead us into a trap. I have always regarded our dealings with
nihilists, anarchists, or other secret associations for the
perpetrating of murder as the most dangerous service a detective is
called upon to perform. Yet it is absolutely necessary that the
authorities should know what is going on in these secret conclaves.
There are three methods of getting this intelligence. First,
periodical raids upon the suspected, accompanied by confiscation and
search of all papers found. This method is much in favour with the
Russian police. I have always regarded it as largely futile; first,
because the anarchists are not such fools, speaking generally, as to
commit their purposes to writing; and, second, because it leads to
reprisal. Each raid is usually followed by a fresh outbreak of
activity on the part of those left free. The second method is to bribe
an anarchist to betray his comrades. I have never found any difficulty
in getting these gentry to accept money. They are eternally in need,
but I usually find the information they give in return to be either
unimportant or inaccurate. There remains, then, the third method,
which is to place a spy among them. The spy battalion is the forlorn
hope of the detective service. In one year I lost three men on
anarchist duty, among the victims being my most valuable helper, Henri
Brisson. Poor Brisson's fate was an example of how a man may follow a
perilous occupation for months with safety, and then by a slight
mistake bring disaster on himself. At the last gathering Brisson
attended he received news of such immediate and fateful import that on
emerging from the cellar where the gathering was held, he made
directly for my residence instead of going to his own squalid room in
the Rue Falgarie. My concierge said that he arrived shortly after one
o'clock in the morning, and it would seem that at this hour he could
easily have made himself acquainted with the fact that he was
followed. Still, as there was on his track that human panther, Felini,
it is not strange poor Brisson failed to elude him.

Arriving at the tall building in which my flat was then situated,
Brisson rang the bell, and the concierge, as usual, in that strange
state of semi-somnolence which envelops concierges during the night,
pulled the looped wire at the head of his bed, and unbolted the door.
Brisson assuredly closed the huge door behind him, and yet the moment
before he did so, Felini must have slipped in unnoticed to the
stone-paved courtyard. If Brisson had not spoken and announced
himself, the concierge would have been wide awake in an instant. If he
had given a name unknown to the concierge, the same result would have
ensued. As it was he cried aloud 'Brisson,' whereupon the concierge of
the famous chief of the French detective staff, Valmont, muttered
'_Bon_! and was instantly asleep again.

Now Felini had known Brisson well, but it was under the name of
Revensky, and as an exiled Russian. Brisson had spent all his early
years in Russia, and spoke the language like a native. The moment
Brisson had uttered his true name he had pronounced his own death
warrant. Felini followed him up to the first landing--my rooms were on
the second floor--and there placed his sign manual on the unfortunate
man, which was the swift downward stroke of a long, narrow, sharp
poniard, entering the body below the shoulders, and piercing the
heart. The advantage presented by this terrible blow is that the
victim sinks instantly in a heap at the feet of his slayer, without
uttering a moan. The wound left is a scarcely perceptible blue mark
which rarely even bleeds. It was this mark I saw on the body of the
Maire of Marseilles, and afterwards on one other in Paris besides poor
Brisson. It was the mark found on the man in Greenwich Park; always
just below the left shoulder-blade, struck from behind. Felini's
comrades claim that there was this nobility in his action, namely, he
allowed the traitor to prove himself before he struck the blow. I
should be sorry to take away this poor shred of credit from Felini's
character, but the reason he followed Brisson into the courtyard was
to give himself time to escape. He knew perfectly the ways of the
concierge. He knew that the body would lie there until the morning, as
it actually did, and that this would give him hours in which to effect
his retreat. And this was the man whom British law warned not to
incriminate himself! What a people! What a people!

After Brisson's tragic death, I resolved to set no more valuable men
on the track of the anarchists, but to place upon myself the task in
my moments of relaxation. I became very much interested in the
underground workings of the International. I joined the organisation
under the name of Paul Ducharme, a professor of advanced opinions, who
because of them had been dismissed his situation in Nantes. As a
matter of fact there had been such a Paul Ducharme, who had been so
dismissed, but he had drowned himself in the Loire, at Orleans, as the
records show. I adopted the precaution of getting a photograph of this
foolish old man from the police at Nantes, and made myself up to
resemble him. It says much for my disguise that I was recognised as
the professor by a delegate from Nantes, at the annual Convention held
in Paris, which I attended, and although we conversed for some time
together he never suspected that I was not the professor, whose fate
was known to no one but the police of Orleans. I gained much credit
among my comrades because of this encounter, which, during its first
few moments, filled me with dismay, for the delegate from Nantes held
me up as an example of a man well off, who had deliberately sacrificed
his worldly position for the sake of principle. Shortly after this I
was chosen delegate to carry a message to our comrades in London, and
this delicate undertaking passed off without mishap.

It was perhaps natural then, that when I came to London after my
dismissal by the French Government, I should assume the name and
appearance of Paul Ducharme, and adopt the profession of French
teacher. This profession gave me great advantages. I could be absent
from my rooms for hours at a time without attracting the least
attention, because a teacher goes wherever there are pupils. If any of
my anarchist comrades saw me emerging shabbily from the grand Imperial
Flats where Valmont lived, he greeted me affably, thinking I was
coming from a pupil.

The sumptuous flat was therefore the office in which I received my
rich clients, while the squalid room in Soho was often the workshop in
which the tasks entrusted to me were brought to completion.

       *       *       *       *       *

I now come to very modern days indeed, when I spent much time with the
emissaries of the International.

It will be remembered that the King of England made a round of visits
to European capitals, the far-reaching results of which in the
interest of peace we perhaps do not yet fully understand and
appreciate. His visit to Paris was the beginning of the present
_entente cordiale_, and I betray no confidence when I say that this
brief official call at the French capital was the occasion of great
anxiety to the Government of my own country and also of that in which
I was domiciled. Anarchists are against all government, and would like
to see each one destroyed, not even excepting that of Great Britain.

My task in connection with the visit of King Edward to Paris was
entirely unofficial. A nobleman, for whom on a previous occasion I had
been so happy as to solve a little mystery which troubled him,
complimented me by calling at my flat about two weeks before the
King's entry into the French capital. I know I shall be pardoned if I
fail to mention this nobleman's name. I gathered that the intended
visit of the King met with his disapproval. He asked if I knew
anything, or could discover anything, of the purposes animating the
anarchist clubs of Paris, and their attitude towards the royal
function, which was now the chief topic in the newspapers. I replied
that within four days I would be able to submit to him a complete
report on the subject. He bowed coldly and withdrew. On the evening of
the fourth day I permitted myself the happiness of waiting upon his
lordship at his West End London mansion.

'I have the honour to report to your lordship,' I began, 'that the
anarchists of Paris are somewhat divided in their opinions regarding
His Majesty's forthcoming progress through that city. A minority,
contemptible in point of number, but important so far as the extremity
of their opinions are concerned, has been trying--'

'Excuse me,' interrupted the nobleman, with some severity of tone,
'are they going to attempt to injure the King or not?'

'They are not, your lordship,' I replied, with what, I trust, is my
usual urbanity of manner, despite his curt interpolation. 'His most
gracious Majesty will suffer no molestation, and their reason for
quiescence--'

'Their reasons do not interest me,' put in his lordship gruffly. 'You
are sure of what you say?'

'Perfectly sure, your lordship.'

'No precautions need be taken?'

'None in the least, your lordship.'

'Very well,' concluded the nobleman shortly, 'if you tell my secretary
in the next room as you go out how much I owe you, he will hand you a
cheque,' and with that I was dismissed.

I may say that, mixing as I do with the highest in two lands, and
meeting invariably such courtesy as I myself am always eager to
bestow, a feeling almost of resentment arose at this cavalier
treatment. However, I merely bowed somewhat ceremoniously in silence,
and availed myself of the opportunity in the next room to double my
bill, which was paid without demur.

Now, if this nobleman had but listened, he would have heard much that
might interest an ordinary man, although I must say that during my
three conversations with him his mind seemed closed to all outward
impressions save and except the grandeur of his line, which he traced
back unblemished into the northern part of my own country.

The King's visit had come as a surprise to the anarchists, and they
did not quite know what to do about it. The Paris Reds were rather in
favour of a demonstration, while London bade them, in God's name, to
hold their hands, for, as they pointed out, England is the only refuge
in which an anarchist is safe until some particular crime can be
imputed to him, and what is more, proven up to the hilt.

It will be remembered that the visit of the King to Paris passed off
without incident, as did the return visit of the President to London.
On the surface all was peace and goodwill, but under the surface
seethed plot and counterplot, and behind the scenes two great
governments were extremely anxious, and high officials in the Secret
Service spent sleepless nights. As no 'untoward incident' had
happened, the vigilance of the authorities on both sides of the
Channel relaxed at the very moment when, if they had known their
adversaries, it should have been redoubled. Always beware of the
anarchist when he has been good: look out for the reaction. It annoys
him to be compelled to remain quiet when there is a grand opportunity
for strutting across the world's stage, and when he misses the
psychological moment, he is apt to turn 'nasty,' as the English say.

When it first became known that there was to be a Royal procession
through the streets of Paris, a few fanatical hot-heads, both in that
city and in London, wished to take action, but they were overruled by
the saner members of the organisation. It must not be supposed that
anarchists are a band of lunatics. There are able brains among them,
and these born leaders as naturally assume control in the underground
world of anarchy as would have been the case if they had devoted their
talents to affairs in ordinary life. They were men whose minds, at one
period, had taken the wrong turning. These people, although they
calmed the frenzy of the extremists, nevertheless regarded the
possible _rapprochement_ between England and France with grave
apprehension. If France and England became as friendly as France and
Russia, might not the refuge which England had given to anarchy become
a thing of the past? I may say here that my own weight as an anarchist
while attending these meetings in disguise under the name of Paul
Ducharme was invariably thrown in to help the cause of moderation. My
rôle, of course, was not to talk too much; not to make myself
prominent, yet in such a gathering a man cannot remain wholly a
spectator. Care for my own safety led me to be as inconspicuous as
possible, for members of communities banded together against the laws
of the land in which they live, are extremely suspicious of one
another, and an inadvertent word may cause disaster to the person
speaking it.

Perhaps it was this conservatism on my part that caused my advice to
be sought after by the inner circle; what you might term the governing
body of the anarchists; for, strange as it may appear, this
organisation, sworn to put down all law and order, was itself most
rigidly governed, with a Russian prince elected as its chairman, a man
of striking ability, who, nevertheless, I believe, owed his election
more to the fact that he was a nobleman than to the recognition of his
intrinsic worth. And another point which interested me much was that
this prince ruled his obstreperous subjects after the fashion of
Russian despotism, rather than according to the liberal ideas of the
country in which he was domiciled. I have known him more than once
ruthlessly overturn the action of the majority, stamp his foot, smite
his huge fist on the table, and declare so and so should not be done,
no matter what the vote was. And the thing was not done, either.

At the more recent period of which I speak, the chairmanship of the
London anarchists was held by a weak, vacillating man, and the mob had
got somewhat out of hand. In the crisis that confronted us, I yearned
for the firm fist and dominant boot of the uncompromising Russian. I
spoke only once during this time, and assured my listeners that they
had nothing to fear from the coming friendship of the two nations. I
said the Englishman was so wedded to his grotesque ideas regarding the
liberty of the subject he so worshipped absolute legal evidence, that
we would never find our comrades disappear mysteriously from England
as had been the case in Continental countries.

Although restless during the exchange of visits between King and
President, I believe I could have carried the English phalanx with me,
if the international courtesies had ended there. But after it was
announced that members of the British Parliament were to meet the
members of the French Legislature, the Paris circle became alarmed,
and when that conference did not end the _entente_, but merely paved
the way for a meeting of business men belonging to the two countries
in Paris, the French anarchists sent a delegate over to us, who made a
wild speech one night, waving continually the red flag. This aroused
all our own malcontents to a frenzy. The French speaker practically
charged the English contingent with cowardice; said that as they were
safe from molestation, they felt no sympathy for their comrades in
Paris, at any time liable to summary arrest and the torture of the
secret cross-examination. This Anglo-French love-feast must be wafted
to the heavens in a halo of dynamite. The Paris anarchists were
determined, and although they wished the co-operation of their London
brethren, yet if the speaker did not bring back with him assurance of
such co-operation, Paris would act on its own initiative.

The Russian despot would have made short work of this blood-blinded
rhetoric, but alas, he was absent, and an overwhelming vote in favour
of force was carried and accepted by the trembling chairman. My French
_confrère_ took back with him to Paris the unanimous consent of the
English comrades to whom he had appealed. All that was asked of the
English contingent was that it should arrange for the escape and safe
keeping of the assassin who flung the bomb into the midst of the
English visitors, and after the oratorical madman had departed, I, to
my horror, was chosen to arrange for the safe transport and future
custody of the bomb-thrower. It is not etiquette in anarchist circles
for any member to decline whatever task is given him by the vote of
his comrades. He knows the alternative, which is suicide. If he
declines the task and still remains upon earth, the dilemma is solved
for him, as the Italian Felini solved it through the back of my
unfortunate helper Brisson. I therefore accepted the unwelcome office
in silence, and received from the treasurer the money necessary for
carrying out the same.

I realised for the first time since joining the anarchist association
years before that I was in genuine danger. A single false step, a
single inadvertent word, might close the career of Eugène Valmont, and
at the same moment terminate the existence of the quiet, inoffensive
Paul Ducharme, teacher of the French language. I knew perfectly well I
should be followed. The moment I received the money the French
delegate asked when they were to expect me in Paris. He wished to know
so that all the resources of their organisation might be placed at my
disposal. I replied calmly enough that I could not state definitely on
what day I should leave England. There was plenty of time, as the
business men's representatives from London would not reach Paris for
another two weeks. I was well known to the majority of the Paris
organisation, and would present myself before them on the first night
of my arrival. The Paris delegate exhibited all the energy of a new
recruit, and he seemed dissatisfied with my vagueness, but I went on
without heeding his displeasure. He was not personally known to me,
nor I to him, but if I may say so, Paul Ducharme was well thought of
by all the rest of those present.

I had learned a great lesson during the episode of the Queen's
Necklace, which resulted in my dismissal by the French Government. I
had learned that if you expect pursuit it is always well to leave a
clue for the pursuer to follow. Therefore I continued in a low
conversational tone:--

'I shall want the whole of tomorrow for myself: I must notify my
pupils of my absence. Even if my pupils leave me it will not so much
matter. I can probably get others. But what does matter is my
secretarial work with Monsieur Valmont of the Imperial Flats. I am
just finishing for him the translation of a volume from French into
English, and tomorrow I can complete the work, and get his permission
to leave for a fortnight. This man, who is a compatriot of my own,
has given me employment ever since I came to London. From him I have
received the bulk of my income, and if it had not been for his
patronage, I do not know what I should have done. I not only have no
desire to offend him, but I wish the secretarial work to continue when
I return to London.'

There was a murmur of approval at this. It was generally recognised
that a man's living should not be interfered with, if possible.
Anarchists are not poverty-stricken individuals, as most people think,
for many of them hold excellent situations, some occupying positions
of great trust, which is rarely betrayed.

It is recognised that a man's duty, not only to himself, but to the
organisation, is to make all the money he can, and thus not be liable
to fall back on the relief fund. This frank admission of my dependence
on Valmont made it all the more impossible that anyone there listening
should suspect that it was Valmont himself who was addressing the
conclave.

'You will then take the night train tomorrow for Paris?' persisted the
inquisitive French delegate.

'Yes, and no. I shall take the night train, and it shall be for Paris,
but not from Charing Cross, Victoria, or Waterloo. I shall travel on
the 8.30 Continental express from Liverpool Street to Harwich, cross
to the Hook of Holland, and from there make my way to Paris through
Holland and Belgium. I wish to investigate that route as a possible
path for our comrade to escape. After the blow is struck, Calais,
Boulogne, Dieppe, and Havre will be closely watched. I shall perhaps
bring him to London by way of Antwerp and the Hook.'

These amiable disclosures were so fully in keeping with Paul
Ducharme's reputation for candour and caution that I saw they made an
excellent impression on my audience, and here the chairman intervened,
putting an end to further cross-examination by saying they all had the
utmost confidence in the judgment of Monsieur Paul Ducharme, and the
Paris delegate might advise his friends to be on the lookout for the
London representative within the next three or four days.

I left the meeting and went directly to my room in Soho, without even
taking the trouble to observe whether I was watched or not. There I
stayed all night, and in the morning quitted Soho as Ducharme, with a
gray beard and bowed shoulders, walked west to the Imperial Flats,
took the lift to the top, and, seeing the corridor was clear, let
myself in to my own flat. I departed from my flat promptly at six
o'clock, again as Paul Ducharme, carrying this time a bundle done up
in brown paper under my arm, and proceeded directly to my room in
Soho. Later I took a bus, still carrying my brown paper parcel, and
reached Liverpool Street in ample time for the Continental train. By a
little private arrangement with the guard, I secured a compartment for
myself, although up to the moment the train left the station, I could
not be sure but that I might be compelled to take the trip to the Hook
of Holland after all. If any one had insisted on coming into my
compartment, I should have crossed the North Sea that night. I knew I
should be followed from Soho to the station, and that probably the spy
would go as far as Harwich, and see me on the boat. It was doubtful if
he would cross. I had chosen this route for the reason that we have no
organisation in Holland: the nearest circle is in Brussels, and if
there had been time, the Brussels circle would have been warned to
keep an eye on me. There was, however, no time for a letter, and
anarchists never use the telegraph, especially so far as the Continent
is concerned, unless in cases of the greatest emergency. If they
telegraphed my description to Brussels the chances were it would not
be an anarchist who watched my landing, but a member of the Belgian
police force.

The 8.30 Continental express does not stop between Liverpool Street
and Parkeston Quay, which it is timed to reach three minutes before
ten. This gave me an hour and a half in which to change my apparel.
The garments of the poor old professor I rolled up into a ball one by
one and flung out through the open window, far into the marsh past
which we were flying in a pitch dark night. Coat, trousers, and
waistcoat rested in separate swamps at least ten miles apart. Gray
whiskers and gray wig I tore into little pieces, and dropped the bits
out of the open window.

I had taken the precaution to secure a compartment in the front of
the train, and when it came to rest at Parkeston Quay Station, the
crowd, eager for the steamer, rushed past me, and I stepped out into
the midst of it, a dapper, well-dressed young man, with black beard
and moustaches, my own closely cropped black hair covered by a new
bowler hat. Anyone looking for Paul Ducharme would have paid small
attention to me, and to any friend of Valmont's I was equally
unrecognisable.

I strolled in leisurely manner to the Great Eastern Hotel on the Quay,
and asked the clerk if a portmanteau addressed to Mr. John Wilkins had
arrived that day from London. He said 'Yes,' whereupon I secured a
room for the night, as the last train had already left for the
metropolis.

Next morning, Mr. John Wilkins, accompanied by a brand new and rather
expensive portmanteau, took the 8.57 train for Liverpool Street, where
he arrived at half-past ten, stepped into a cab, and drove to the
Savoy Restaurant, lunching there with the portmanteau deposited in the
cloak room. When John Wilkins had finished an excellent lunch in a
leisurely manner at the Café Parisien of the Savoy, and had paid his
bill, he did not go out into the Strand over the rubber-paved court by
which he had entered, but went through the hotel and down the stairs,
and so out into the thoroughfare facing the Embankment. Then turning
to his right he reached the Embankment entrance of the Hotel Cecil.
This leads into a long, dark corridor, at the end of which the lift
may be rung for. It does not come lower than the floor above unless
specially summoned. In this dark corridor, which was empty, John
Wilkins took off the black beard and moustache, hid it in the inside
pocket of his coat, and there went up into the lift a few moments
later to the office floor, I, Eugène Valmont, myself for the first
time in several days.

Even then I did not take a cab to my flat, but passed under the arched
Strand front of the 'Cecil' in a cab, bound for the residence of that
nobleman who had formerly engaged me to see after the safety of the
King.

You will say that this was all very elaborate precaution to take when
a man was not even sure he was followed. To tell you the truth, I do
not know to this day whether anyone watched me or not, nor do I care.
I live in the present: when once the past is done with, it ceases to
exist for me. It is quite possible, nay, entirely probable, that no
one tracked me farther than Liverpool Street Station the night before,
yet it was for lack of such precaution that my assistant Brisson
received the Italian's dagger under his shoulder-blade fifteen years
before. The present moment is ever the critical time; the future is
merely for intelligent forethought. It was to prepare for the future
that I was now in a cab on the way to my lord's residence. It was not
the French anarchists I feared during the contest in which I was about
to become engaged, but the Paris police. I knew French officialdom too
well not to understand the futility of going to the authorities there
and proclaiming my object. If I ventured to approach the chief of
police with the information that I, in London, had discovered what it
was his business in Paris to know, my reception would be far from
cordial, even though, or rather because, I announced myself as Eugène
Valmont. The exploits of Eugène had become part of the legends of
Paris, and these legends were extremely distasteful to those men in
power. My doings have frequently been made the subject of _feuilletons_
in the columns of the Paris Press, and were, of course, exaggerated by
the imagination of the writers, yet, nevertheless, I admit I did some
good strokes of detection during my service with the French
Government. It is but natural, then, that the present authorities
should listen with some impatience when the name of Eugène Valmont is
mentioned. I recognise this as quite in the order of things to be
expected, and am honest enough to confess that in my own time I often
hearkened to narratives regarding the performances of Lecocq with a
doubting shrug of the shoulders.

Now, if the French police knew anything of this anarchist plot, which
was quite within the bounds of possibility, and if I were in
surreptitious communication with the anarchists, more especially with
the man who was to fling the bomb, there was every chance I might find
myself in the grip of French justice. I must, then, provide myself
with credentials to show that I was acting, not against the peace and
quiet of my country, but on the side of law and order. I therefore
wished to get from the nobleman a commission in writing, similar to
that command which he had placed upon me during the King's visit. This
commission I should lodge at my bank in Paris, to be a voucher for me
at the last extremity. I had no doubt his lordship would empower me to
act in this instance as I had acted on two former occasions.

       *       *       *       *       *

Perhaps if I had not lunched so well I might have approached his
lordship with greater deference than was the case; but when ordering
lunch I permitted a bottle of Château du Tertre, 1878, a most
delicious claret, to be decanted carefully for my delectation at the
table, and this caused a genial glow to permeate throughout my system,
inducing a mental optimism which left me ready to salute the greatest
of earth on a plane of absolute equality. Besides, after all, I am the
citizen of a Republic.

The nobleman received me with frigid correctness, implying disapproval
of my unauthorised visit, rather than expressing it. Our interview was
extremely brief.

'I had the felicity of serving your lordship upon two occasions,' I
began.

'They are well within my recollection,' he interrupted, 'but I do not
remember sending for you a third time.'

'I have taken the liberty of coming unrequested, my lord, because of
the importance of the news I carry. I surmise that you are interested
in the promotion of friendship between France and England.'

'Your surmise, sir, is incorrect. I care not a button about it. My
only anxiety was for the safety of the King.'

Even the superb claret was not enough to fortify me against words so
harsh, and tones so discourteous, as those his lordship permitted
himself to use.

'Sir,' said I, dropping the title in my rising anger, 'it may interest
you to know that a number of your countrymen run the risk of being
blown to eternity by an anarchist bomb in less than two weeks from
today. A party of business men, true representatives of a class to
which the pre-eminence of your Empire is due, are about to proceed--'

'Pray spare me,' interpolated his lordship wearily, 'I have read that
sort of thing so often in the newspapers. If all these estimable City
men are blown up, the Empire would doubtless miss them, as you hint,
but I should not, and their fate does not interest me in the least,
although you did me the credit of believing that it would. Thompson,
you will show this person out? Sir, if I desire your presence here in
future I will send for you.'

'You may send for the devil!' I cried, now thoroughly enraged, the
wine getting the better of me.

'You express my meaning more tersely than I cared to do,' he replied
coldly, and that was the last I ever saw of him.

Entering the cab I drove to my flat, indignant at the reception I
had met with. However, I knew the English people too well to malign
them for the action of one of their number, and resentment never
dwells long with me. Arriving at my rooms I looked through the
newspapers to learn all I could of the proposed business men's
excursion to Paris, and in reading the names of those most prominent
in carrying out the necessary arrangements, I came across that of W.
Raymond White, which caused me to sit back in my chair and wrinkle my
brow in an endeavour to stir my memory. Unless I was much mistaken, I
had been so happy as to oblige this gentleman some dozen or thirteen
years before. As I remembered him, he was a business man who engaged
in large transactions with France, dealing especially in Lyons and
that district. His address was given in the newspaper as Old Change,
so at once I resolved to see him. Although I could not recall the
details of our previous meeting, if, indeed, he should turn out to be
the same person, yet the mere sight of the name had produced a mental
pleasure, as a chance chord struck may bring a grateful harmony to the
mind. I determined to get my credentials from Mr. White if possible,
for his recommendation would in truth be much more valuable than that
of the gruff old nobleman to whom I had first applied, because, if I
got into trouble with the police of Paris, I was well enough
acquainted with the natural politeness of the authorities to know that
a letter from one of the city's guests would secure my instant
release.

I took a hansom to the head of that narrow thoroughfare known as Old
Change, and there dismissed my cab. I was so fortunate as to recognise
Mr. White coming out of his office. A moment later, and I should have
missed him.

'Mr. White,' I accosted him, 'I desire to enjoy both the pleasure and
the honour of introducing myself to you.'

'Monsieur,' replied Mr. White with a smile, 'the introduction is not
necessary, and the pleasure and honour are mine. Unless I am very much
mistaken, this is Monsieur Valmont of Paris?'

'Late of Paris,' I corrected.

'Are you no longer in Government service then?'

'For a little more than ten years I have been a resident of London.'

'What, and have never let me know? That is something the diplomatists
call an unfriendly act, monsieur. Now, shall we return to my office,
or go to a café?'

'To your office, if you please, Mr. White. I come on rather important
business.'

Entering his private office the merchant closed the door, offered me a
chair, and sat down himself by his desk. From the first he had
addressed me in French, which he spoke with an accent so pure that it
did my lonesome heart good to hear it.

'I called upon you half a dozen years ago,' he went on, 'when I was
over in Paris on a festive occasion, where I hoped to secure your
company, but I could not learn definitely whether you were still with
the Government or not.'

'It is the way of the French officialism,' I replied. 'If they knew my
whereabouts they would keep the knowledge to themselves.'

'Well, if you have been ten years in London, Monsieur Valmont, we may
now perhaps have the pleasure of claiming you as an Englishman; so I
beg you will accompany us on another festive occasion to Paris next
week. Perhaps you have seen that a number of us are going over there
to make the welkin ring.'

'Yes; I have read all about the business men's excursion to Paris, and
it is with reference to this journey that I wish to consult you,' and
here I gave Mr. White in detail the plot of the anarchists against the
growing cordiality of the two countries. The merchant listened quietly
without interruption until I had finished; then he said,--'I suppose
it will be rather useless to inform the police of Paris?'

'Indeed, Mr. White, it is the police of Paris I fear more than the
anarchists. They would resent information coming to them from the
outside, especially from an ex-official, the inference being that they
were not up to their own duties. Friction and delay would ensue until
the deed was inevitable. It is quite on the cards that the police of
Paris may have some inkling of the plot, and in that case, just before
the event, they are reasonably certain to arrest the wrong men. I
shall be moving about Paris, not as Eugène Valmont, but as Paul
Ducharme, the anarchist; therefore, there is some danger that as a
stranger and a suspect I may be laid by the heels at the critical
moment. If you would be so good as to furnish me with credentials
which I can deposit somewhere in Paris in case of need, I may thus be
able to convince the authorities that they have taken the wrong man.'

Mr. White, entirely unperturbed by the prospect of having a bomb thrown
at him within two weeks, calmly wrote several documents, then turned
his untroubled face to me, and said, in a very confidential, winning
tone:--'Monsieur Valmont, you have stated the case with that clear
comprehensiveness pertaining to a nation which understands the
meaning of words, and the correct adjustment of them; that felicity of
language which has given France the first place in the literature of
nations. Consequently, I think I see very clearly the delicacies of
the situation. We may expect hindrances, rather than help, from
officials on either side of the Channel. Secrecy is essential to
success. Have you spoken of this to anyone but me?'

'Only to Lord Blank,' I replied; 'and now I deeply regret having made
a confidant of him.'

'That does not in the least matter,' said Mr. White, with a smile;
'Lord Blank's mind is entirely occupied by his own greatness. Chemists
tell me that you cannot add a new ingredient to a saturated solution;
therefore your revelation will have made no impression upon his
lordship's intellect. He has already forgotten all about it. Am I
right in supposing that everything hinges on the man who is to throw
the bomb?'

'Quite right, sir. He may be venal, he may be traitorous, he may be a
coward, he may be revengeful, he may be a drunkard. Before I am in
conversation with him for ten minutes, I shall know what his weak spot
is. It is upon that spot I must act, and my action must be delayed
till the very last moment; for, if he disappears too long before the
event, his first, second, or third substitute will instantly step into
his place.'

'Precisely. So you cannot complete your plans until you have met this
man?'

'_Parfaitement._'

'Then I propose,' continued Mr. White, 'that we take no one into our
confidence. In a case like this there is little use in going before a
committee. I can see that you do not need any advice, and my own part
shall be to remain in the background, content to support the most
competent man that could have been chosen to grapple with a very
difficult crisis.'

I bowed profoundly. There was a compliment in his glance as well as in
his words. Never before had I met so charming a man.

'Here,' he continued, handing me one of the papers he had written, 'is
a letter to whom it may concern, appointing you my agent for the next
three weeks, and holding myself responsible for all you see fit to do.
Here,' he went on, passing to me a second sheet, 'is a letter of
introduction to Monsieur Largent, the manager of my bank in Paris, a
man well known and highly respected in all circles, both official and
commercial. I suggest that you introduce yourself to him, and he will
hold himself in readiness to respond to any call you may make, night
or day. I assure you that his mere presence before the authorities
will at once remove any ordinary difficulty. And now,' he added,
taking in hand the third slip of paper, speaking with some hesitation,
and choosing his words with care, 'I come to a point which cannot be
ignored. Money is a magician's wand, which, like faith, will remove
mountains. It may also remove an anarchist hovering about the route of
a business man's procession.'

He now handed to me what I saw was a draft on Paris for a thousand
pounds.

'I assure you, monsieur,' I protested, covered with confusion, 'that
no thought of money was in my mind when I took the liberty of
presenting myself to you. I have already received more than I could
have expected in the generous confidence you were good enough to
repose in me, as exhibited by these credentials, and especially the
letter to your banker. Thanks to the generosity of your countrymen, Mr
White, of which you are a most notable example, I am in no need of
money.'

'Monsieur Valmont, I am delighted to hear that you have got on well
amongst us. This money is for two purposes. First, you will use what
you need. I know Paris very well, monsieur, and have never found gold
an embarrassment there. The second purpose is this: I suggest that
when you present the letter of introduction to Monsieur Largent, you
will casually place this amount to your account in his bank. He will
thus see that besides writing you a letter of introduction, I transfer
a certain amount of my own balance to your credit. That will do you no
harm with him, I assure you. And now, Monsieur Valmont, it only
remains for me to thank you for the opportunity you have given me, and
to assure you that I shall march from the Gare du Nord without a
tremor, knowing the outcome is in such capable custody.'

And then this estimable man shook hands with me in action the most
cordial. I walked away from Old Change as if I trod upon air; a
feeling vastly different from that with which I departed from the
residence of the old nobleman in the West End but a few hours before.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning I was in Paris, and next night I attended the underground
meeting of the anarchists, held within a quarter of a mile of the
Luxembourg. I was known to many there assembled, but my acquaintance
of course was not so large as with the London circle. They had half
expected me the night before, knowing that even going by the Hook of
Holland I might have reached Paris in time for the conclave. I was
introduced generally to the assemblage as the emissary from England,
who was to assist the bomb-throwing brother to escape either to that
country, or to such other point of safety as I might choose. No
questions were asked me regarding my doings of the day before, nor was
I required to divulge the plans for my fellow-member's escape. I was
responsible; that was enough. If I failed through no fault of my own,
it was but part of the ill-luck we were all prepared to face. If I
failed through treachery, then a dagger in the back at the earliest
possible moment. We all knew the conditions of our sinister contract,
and we all recognised that the least said the better.

The cellar was dimly lighted by one oil lamp depending from the
ceiling. From this hung a cord attached to an extinguisher, and one
jerk of the cord would put out the light. Then, while the main entry
doors were being battered down by police, the occupants of the room
escaped through one of three or four human rat-holes provided for that
purpose.

If any Parisian anarchist does me the honour to read these jottings, I
beg to inform him that while I remained in office under the Government
of France there was never a time when I did not know the exit of each
of these underground passages, and could during any night there was
conference have bagged the whole lot of those there assembled. It was
never my purpose, however, to shake the anarchists' confidence in
their system, for that merely meant the removal of the gathering to
another spot, thus giving us the additional trouble of mapping out
their new exits and entrances. When I did make a raid on anarchist
headquarters in Paris, it was always to secure some particular man. I
had my emissaries in plain clothes stationed at each exit. In any
case, the rats were allowed to escape unmolested, sneaking forth with
great caution into the night, but we always spotted the man we wanted,
and almost invariably arrested him elsewhere, having followed him from
his kennel. In each case my uniformed officers found a dark and empty
cellar, and retired apparently baffled. But the coincidence that on
the night of every raid some member there present was secretly
arrested in another quarter of Paris, and perhaps given a free passage
to Russia, never seemed to awaken suspicion in the minds of the
conspirators.

I think the London anarchists' method is much better, and I have ever
considered the English nihilist the most dangerous of this fraternity,
for he is cool-headed and not carried away by his own enthusiasm, and
consequently rarely carried away by his own police. The authorities of
London meet no opposition in making a raid. They find a well-lighted
room containing a more or less shabby coterie playing cards at cheap
pine tables. There is no money visible, and, indeed, very little coin
would be brought to light if the whole party were searched; so the
police are unable to convict the players under the Gambling Act.
Besides, it is difficult in any case to obtain a conviction under the
Gambling Act, because the accused has the sympathy of the whole
country with him. It has always been to me one of the anomalies of the
English nature that a magistrate can keep a straight face while he
fines some poor wretch for gambling, knowing that next race day (if
the court is not sitting) the magistrate himself, in correct sporting
costume, with binoculars hanging at his hip, will be on the lawn by
the course backing his favourite horse.

After my reception at the anarchists' club of Paris, I remained seated
unobtrusively on a bench waiting until routine business was finished,
after which I expected an introduction to the man selected to throw
the bomb. I am a very sensitive person, and sitting there quietly I
became aware that I was being scrutinised with more than ordinary
intensity by someone, which gave me a feeling of uneasiness. At last,
in the semi-obscurity opposite me I saw a pair of eyes as luminous as
those of a tiger peering fixedly at me. I returned the stare with such
composure as I could bring to my aid, and the man, as if fascinated by
a look as steady as his own, leaned forward, and came more and more
into the circle of light.

Then I received a shock which it required my utmost self-control to
conceal. The face, haggard and drawn, was none other than that of
Adolph Simard, who had been my second assistant in the Secret Service
of France during my last year in office. He was a most capable and
rising young man at that time, and, of course, he knew me well. Had
he, then, penetrated my disguise? Such an event seemed impossible; he
could not have recognised my voice, for I had said nothing aloud
since entering the room, my few words to the president being spoken in
a whisper. Simard's presence there bewildered me; by this time he
should be high up in the Secret Service. If he were now a spy, he
would, of course, wish to familiarise himself with every particular of
my appearance, as in my hands lay the escape of the criminal. Yet, if
such were his mission, why did he attract the attention of all members
by this open-eyed scrutiny? That he recognised me as Valmont I had not
the least fear; my disguise was too perfect; and, even if I were there
in my own proper person, I had not seen Simard, nor he me, for ten
years, and great changes occur in a man's appearance during so long a
period. Yet I remembered with disquietude that Mr. White recognised me,
and here tonight I had recognised Simard. I could not move my bench
farther back because it stood already against the wall.

Simard, on the contrary, was seated on one of the few chairs in the
room, and this he periodically hitched forward, the better to continue
his examination, which now attracted the notice of others besides
myself. As he came forward, I could not help admiring the completeness
of his disguise so far as apparel was concerned. He was a perfect
picture of the Paris wastrel, and what was more, he wore on his head a
cap of the Apaches, the most dangerous band of cut-throats that have
ever cursed a civilised city. I could understand that even among
lawless anarchists this badge of membership of the Apache band might
well strike terror. I felt that before the meeting adjourned I must
speak with him, and I determined to begin our conversation by asking
him why he stared so fixedly at me. Yet even then I should have made
little progress. I did not dare to hint that he belonged to the Secret
Service; nevertheless, if the authorities had this plot in charge, it
was absolutely necessary we should work together, or, at least, that I
should know they were in the secret, and steer my course accordingly.
The fact that Simard appeared with undisguised face was not so
important as might appear to an outsider.

It is always safer for a spy to preserve his natural appearance if
that is possible, because a false beard or false moustache or wig run
the risk of being deranged or torn away. As I have said, an anarchist
assemblage is simply a room filled with the atmosphere of suspicion. I
have known instances where an innocent stranger was suddenly set upon
in the midst of solemn proceedings by two or three impetuous
fellow-members, who nearly jerked his own whiskers from his face
under the impression that they were false. If Simard, therefore,
appeared in his own scraggy beard and unkempt hair it meant that he
communicated with headquarters by some circuitous route. I realised,
therefore, that a very touchy bit of diplomacy awaited me if I was to
learn from himself his actual status. While I pondered over this
perplexity, it was suddenly dissolved by the action of the president,
and another substituted for it.

'Will Brother Simard come forward?' asked the president.

My former subordinate removed his eyes from me, slowly rose from his
chair, and shuffled up to the president's table.

'Brother Ducharme,' said that official to me in a quiet tone, 'I
introduce you to Brother Simard, whom you are commissioned to see into
a place of safety when he has dispersed the procession.'

Simard turned his fishy goggle eyes upon me, and a grin disclosed
wolf-like teeth. He held out his hand, which, rising to my feet, I
took. He gave me a flabby grasp, and all the time his inquiring eyes
travelled over me.

'You don't look up to much,' he said. 'What are you?'

'I am a teacher of the French language in London.'

'Umph!' growled Simard, evidently in no wise prepossessed by my
appearance. 'I thought you weren't much of a fighter. The gendarmes
will make short work of this fellow,' he growled to the chairman.

'Brother Ducharme is vouched for by the whole English circle,' replied
the president firmly.

'Oh, the English! I think very little of them. Still, it doesn't
matter,' and with a shrug of the shoulders he shuffled to his seat
again, leaving me standing there in a very embarrassed state of mind;
my brain in a whirl. That the man was present with his own face was
bewildering enough, but that he should be here under his own name was
simply astounding. I scarcely heard what the president said. It seemed
to the effect that Simard would take me to his own room, where we
might talk over our plans. And now Simard rose again from his chair,
and said to the president that if nothing more were wanted of him, we
should go. Accordingly we left the place of meeting together. I
watched my comrade narrowly. There was now a trembling eagerness in
his action, and without a word he hurried me to the nearest café,
where we sat down before a little iron table on the pavement.

'Garçon!' he shouted harshly, 'bring me four absinthes. What will you
drink, Ducharme?'

'A café-cognac, if you please.'

'Bah!' cried Simard; 'better have absinthe.'

Then he cursed the waiter for his slowness. When the absinthe came he
grasped the half-full glass and swallowed the liquid raw, a thing I
had never seen done before. Into the next measure of the wormwood he
poured the water impetuously from the carafe, another thing I had
never seen done before, and dropped two lumps of sugar into it. Over
the third glass he placed a flat perforated plated spoon, piled the
sugar on this bridge, and now quite expertly allowed the water to drip
through, the proper way of concocting this seductive mixture.
Finishing his second glass he placed the perforated spoon over the
fourth, and began now more calmly sipping the third while the water
dripped slowly into the last glass.

Here before my eyes was enacted a more wonderful change than the
gradual transformation of transparent absinthe into an opaque
opalescent liquid. Simard, under the influence of the drink, was
slowly becoming the Simard I had known ten years before. Remarkable!
Absinthe having in earlier years made a beast of the man was now
forming a man out of the beast. His staring eyes took on an expression
of human comradeship. The whole mystery became perfectly clear to me
without a question asked or an answer uttered. This man was no spy,
but a genuine anarchist. However it happened, he had become a victim
of absinthe, one of many with whom I was acquainted, although I never
met any so far sunk as he. He was into his fourth glass, and had
ordered two more when he began to speak.

'Here's to us,' he cried, with something like a civilised smile on his
gaunt face. 'You're not offended at what I said in the meeting, I
hope?'

'Oh, no,' I answered.

'That's right. You see, I once belonged to the Secret Service, and if
my chief was there today, we would soon find ourselves in a cool
dungeon. We couldn't trip up Eugène Valmont.'

At these words, spoken with sincerity, I sat up in my chair, and I am
sure such an expression of enjoyment came into my face that if I had
not instantly suppressed it, I might have betrayed myself.

'Who was Eugène Valmont?' I asked, in a tone of assumed indifference.

Mixing his fifth glass he nodded sagely.

'You wouldn't ask that question if you'd been in Paris a dozen years
ago. He was the Government's chief detective, and he knew more of
anarchists, yes, and of Apaches, too, than either you or I do. He had
more brains in his little finger than that whole lot babbling there
tonight. But the Government being a fool, as all governments are,
dismissed him, and because I was his assistant, they dismissed me as
well. They got rid of all his staff. Valmont disappeared. If I could
have found him, I wouldn't be sitting here with you tonight; but he
was right to disappear. The Government did all they could against us
who had been his friends, and I for one came through starvation, and
was near throwing myself in the Seine, which sometimes I wish I had
done. Here, garçon, another absinthe. But by-and-by I came to like the
gutter, and here I am. I'd rather have the gutter and absinthe than
the Luxembourg without it. I've had my revenge on the Government many
times since, for I knew their ways, and often have I circumvented the
police. That's why they respect me among the anarchists. Do you know
how I joined? I knew all their passwords, and walked right into one of
their meetings, alone and in rags.

'"Here am I," I said; "Adolph Simard, late second assistant to Eugène
Valmont, chief detective to the French Government."

'There were twenty weapons covering me at once, but I laughed.

'"I'm starving," I cried, "and I want something to eat, and more
especially something to drink. In return for that I'll show you every
rat-hole you've got. Lift the president's chair, and there's a
trap-door that leads to the Rue Blanc. I'm one of you, and I'll tell
you the tricks of the police."

'Such was my initiation, and from that moment the police began to pick
their spies out of the Seine, and now they leave us alone. Even
Valmont himself could do nothing against the anarchists since I have
joined them.'

Oh, the incredible self-conceit of human nature! Here was this ruffian
proclaiming the limitations of Valmont, who half an hour before had
shaken his hand within the innermost circle of his order! Yet my heart
warmed towards the wretch who had remembered me and my exploits.

It now became my anxious and difficult task to lure Simard away from
this café and its absinthe. Glass after glass of the poison had
brought him up almost to his former intellectual level, but now it
was shoving him rapidly down the hill again. I must know where his
room was situated, yet if I waited much longer the man would be in a
state of drunken imbecility which would not only render it impossible
for him to guide me to his room, but likely cause both of us to be
arrested by the police. I tried persuasion, and he laughed at me; I
tried threats, whereat he scowled and cursed me as a renegade from
England. At last the liquor overpowered him, and his head sunk on the
metal table and the dark blue cap fell to the floor.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was in despair, but now received a lesson which taught me that if a
man leaves a city, even for a short time, he falls out of touch with
its ways. I called the waiter, and said to him,--

'Do you know my friend here?'

'I do not know his name,' replied the garçon, 'but I have seen him
many times at this café. He is usually in this state when he has
money.'

'Do you know where he lives? He promised to take me with him, and I am
a stranger in Paris.'

'Have no discontent, monsieur. Rest tranquil; I will intervene.'

With this he stepped across the pavement in front of the café, into
the street, and gave utterance to a low, peculiar whistle. The café
was now nearly deserted, for the hour was very late, or, rather, very
early. When the waiter returned I whispered to him in some anxiety,--

'Not the police, surely?'

'But no!' he cried in scorn; 'certainly not the police.'

He went on unconcernedly taking in the empty chairs and tables. A few
minutes later there swaggered up to the café two of the most
disreputable, low-browed scoundrels I had ever seen, each wearing a
dark-blue cap, with a glazed peak over the eyes; caps exactly similar
to the one which lay in front of Simard. The band of Apaches which now
permeates all Paris has risen since my time, and Simard had been
mistaken an hour before in asserting that Valmont was familiar with
their haunts. The present Chief of Police in Paris and some of his
predecessors confess there is a difficulty in dealing with these
picked assassins, but I should very much like to take a hand in the
game on the side of law and order. However, that is not to be;
therefore, the Apaches increase and prosper.

The two vagabonds roughly smote Simard's cap on his prone head, and as
roughly raised him to his feet.

'He is a friend of mine,' I interposed, 'and promised to take me home
with him.'

'Good! Follow us,' said one of them; and now I passed through the
morning streets of Paris behind three cut-throats, yet knew that I was
safer than if broad daylight was in the thoroughfare, with a meridian
sun shining down upon us. I was doubly safe, being in no fear of harm
from midnight prowlers, and equally free from danger of arrest by the
police. Every officer we met avoided us, and casually stepped to the
other side of the street. We turned down a narrow lane, then through a
still narrower one, which terminated at a courtyard. Entering a tall
building, we climbed up five flights of stairs to a landing, where one
of the scouts kicked open a door, into a room so miserable that there
was not even a lock to protect its poverty. Here they allowed the
insensible Simard to drop with a crash on the floor, thus they left us
alone without even an adieu. The Apaches take care of their own--after
a fashion.

I struck a match, and found part of a bougie stuck in the mouth of an
absinthe bottle, resting on a rough deal table. Lighting the bougie, I
surveyed the horrible apartment. A heap of rags lay in a corner, and
this was evidently Simard's bed. I hauled him to it, and there he lay
unconscious, himself a bundle of rags. I found one chair, or, rather,
stool, for it had no back. I drew the table against the lockless door,
blew out the light, sat on the stool, resting my arms on the table,
and my head on my arms, and slept peacefully till long after daybreak.

Simard awoke in the worst possible humour. He poured forth a great
variety of abusive epithets at me. To make himself still more
agreeable, he turned back the rags on which he had slept, and brought
to the light a round, black object, like a small cannon-ball, which he
informed me was the picric bomb that was to scatter destruction among
my English friends, for whom he expressed the greatest possible
loathing and contempt. Then sitting up, he began playing with this
infernal machine, knowing, as well as I, that if he allowed it to drop
that was the end of us two.

I shrugged my shoulders at this display, and affected a nonchalance I
was far from feeling, but finally put an end to his dangerous
amusement by telling him that if he came out with me I would pay for
his breakfast, and give him a drink of absinthe.

The next few days were the most anxious of my life. Never before had I
lived on terms of intimacy with a picric bomb, that most deadly and
uncertain of all explosive agencies. I speedily found that Simard was
so absinthe-soaked I could do nothing with him. He could not be bribed
or cajoled or persuaded or threatened. Once, indeed, when he talked
with drunken affection of Eugène Valmont, I conceived a wild notion of
declaring myself to him; but a moment's reflection showed the absolute
uselessness of this course. It was not one Simard with whom I had to
deal, but half a dozen or more. There was Simard, sober, half sober,
quarter sober, drunk, half drunk, quarter drunk, or wholly drunk. Any
bargain I might make with the one Simard would not be kept by any of
the other six. The only safe Simard was Simard insensible through
over-indulgence. I had resolved to get Simard insensibly drunk on the
morning of the procession, but my plans were upset at a meeting of the
anarchists, which luckily took place on an evening shortly after my
arrival, and this gave me time to mature the plan which was actually
carried out. Each member of the anarchists' club knew of Simard's
slavery to absinthe, and fears were expressed that he might prove
incapable on the day of the procession, too late for a substitute to
take his place. It was, therefore, proposed that one or two others
should be stationed along the route of the procession with bombs ready
if Simard failed. This I strenuously opposed, and guaranteed that
Simard would be ready to launch his missile. I met with little
difficulty in persuading the company to agree, because, after all,
every man among them feared he might be one of those selected, which
choice was practically a sentence of death. I guaranteed that the bomb
would be thrown, and this apparently was taken to mean that if Simard
did not do the deed, I would.

This danger over, I next took the measurements, and estimated the
weight, of the picric bomb. I then sought out a most amiable and
expert pyrotechnist, a capable workman of genius, who with his own
hand makes those dramatic firework arrangements which you sometimes
see in Paris. As Eugène Valmont, I had rendered a great service to
this man, and he was not likely to have forgotten it. During one of
the anarchist scares a stupid policeman had arrested him, and when I
intervened the man was just on the verge of being committed for life.
France trembled in one of her panics, or, rather, Paris did, and
demanded victims. This blameless little workman had indeed contributed
with both material and advice, but any fool might have seen that he
had done this innocently. His assistance had been invoked and secured
under the pretence that his clients were promoting an amateur firework
display, which was true enough, but the display cost the lives of
three men, and intentionally so. I cheered up the citizen in the
moment of his utmost despair, and brought such proof of his innocence
to the knowledge of those above me that he was most reluctantly
acquitted. To this man I now went with my measurement of the bomb and
the estimate of its weight.

'Sir,' said I, 'do you remember Eugène Valmont?'

'Am I ever likely to forget him?' he replied, with a fervour that
pleased me.

'He has sent me to you, and implores you to aid me, and that aid will
wipe out the debt you owe him.'

'Willingly, willingly,' cried the artisan, 'so long as it has nothing
to do with the anarchists or the making of bombs.'

'It has to do exactly with those two things. I wish you to make an
innocent bomb which will prevent an anarchist outrage.'

At this the little man drew back, and his face became pale.

'It is impossible,' he protested; 'I have had enough of innocent
bombs. No, no, and in any case how can I be sure you come from Eugène
Valmont? No, monsieur, I am not to be trapped the second time.'

At this I related rapidly all that Valmont had done for him, and even
repeated Valmont's most intimate conversation with him. The man was
nonplussed, but remained firm.

'I dare not do it,' he said.

We were alone in his back shop. I walked to the door and thrust in the
bolt; then, after a moment's pause, turned round, stretched forth my
right hand dramatically, and cried,--'Behold, Eugène Valmont!'

My friend staggered against the wall in his amazement, and I continued
in solemn tones,--'Eugène Valmont, who by this removal of his disguise
places his life in your hands as your life was in his. Now, monsieur,
what will you do?'

He replied,--'Monsieur Valmont, I shall do whatever you ask. If I
refused a moment ago, it was because I thought there was now in France
no Eugène Valmont to rectify my mistake if I made one.'

I resumed my disguise, and told him I wished an innocent substitute
for this picric bomb, and he at once suggested an earthenware globe,
which would weigh the same as the bomb, and which could be coloured to
resemble it exactly.

'And now, Monsieur Valmont, do you wish smoke to issue from this
imitation bomb?'

'Yes,' I said, 'in such quantity as you can compress within it.'

'It is easily done,' he cried, with the enthusiasm of a true French
artist. 'And may I place within some little design of my own which
will astonish your friends the English, and delight my friends the
French?'

'Monsieur,' said I, 'I am in your hands. I trust the project entirely
to your skill,' and thus it came about that four days later I
substituted the bogus globe for the real one, and, unseen, dropped the
picric bomb from one of the bridges into the Seine.

On the morning of the procession I was compelled to allow Simard
several drinks of absinthe to bring him up to a point where he could
be depended on, otherwise his anxiety and determination to fling the
bomb, his frenzy against all government, made it certain that he would
betray both of us before the fateful moment came. My only fear was
that I could not stop him drinking when once he began, but somehow our
days of close companionship, loathsome as they were to me, seemed to
have had the effect of building up again the influence I held over him
in former days, and his yielding more or less to my wishes appeared to
be quite unconscious on his part.

The procession was composed entirely of carriages, each containing
four persons--two Englishmen sat on the back seats, with two Frenchmen
in front of them. A thick crowd lined each side of the thoroughfare,
cheering vociferously. Right into the middle of the procession Simard
launched his bomb. There was no crash of explosion. The missile simply
went to pieces as if it were an earthenware jar, and there arose a
dense column of very white smoke. In the immediate vicinity the
cheering stopped at once, and the sinister word 'bomb' passed from lip
to lip in awed whispers. As the throwing had been unnoticed in the
midst of the commotion, I held Simard firmly by the wrist, determined
he should not draw attention to himself by his panic-stricken desire
for immediate flight.

'Stand still, you fool!' I hissed into his ear and he obeyed
trembling.

The pair of horses in front of which the bomb fell rose for a moment
on their hind legs, and showed signs of bolting, but the coachman held
them firmly, and uplifted his hand so that the procession behind him
came to a momentary pause. No one in the carriages moved a muscle,
then suddenly the tension was broken by a great and simultaneous
cheer. Wondering at this I turned my eyes from the frightened horses
to the column of pale smoke in front of us, and saw that in some
manner it had resolved itself into a gigantic calla lily, pure white,
while from the base of this sprung the lilies of France, delicately
tinted. Of course, this could not have happened if there had been the
least wind, but the air was so still that the vibration of the
cheering caused the huge lily to tremble gently as it stood there
marvellously poised; the lily of peace, surrounded by the lilies of
France! That was the design, and if you ask me how it was done, I can
only refer you to my pyrotechnist, and say that whatever a Frenchman
attempts to do he will accomplish artistically.

And now these imperturbable English, who had been seated immobile when
they thought a bomb was thrown, stood up in their carriages to get a
better view of this aerial phenomenon, cheering and waving their hats.
The lily gradually thinned and dissolved in little patches of cloud
that floated away above our heads.

'I cannot stay here longer,' groaned Simard, quaking, his nerves, like
himself, in rags. 'I see the ghosts of those I have killed floating
around me.'

'Come on, then, but do not hurry.'

There was no difficulty in getting him to London, but it was absinthe,
absinthe, all the way, and when we reached Charing Cross, I was
compelled to help him, partly insensible, into a cab. I took him
direct to Imperial Flats, and up into my own set of chambers, where I
opened my strong room, and flung him inside to sleep off his
intoxication, and subsist on bread and water when he became sober.

I attended that night a meeting of the anarchists, and detailed
accurately the story of our escape from France. I knew we had been
watched, and so skipped no detail. I reported that I had taken Simard
directly to my compatriot's flat; to Eugène Valmont, the man who had
given me employment, and who had promised to do what he could for
Simard, beginning by trying to break him of the absinthe habit, as he
was now a physical wreck through over-indulgence in that stimulant.

It was curious to note the discussion which took place a few nights
afterwards regarding the failure of the picric bomb. Scientists among
us said that the bomb had been made too long; that a chemical reaction
had taken place which destroyed its power. A few superstitious ones
saw a miracle in what had happened, and they forthwith left our
organisation. Then again, things were made easier by the fact that the
man who constructed the bomb, evidently terror-stricken at what he had
done, disappeared the day before the procession, and has never since
been heard of. The majority of the anarchists believed he had made a
bogus bomb, and had fled to escape their vengeance rather than to
evade the justice of the law.

Simard will need no purgatory in the next world. I kept him on bread
and water for a month in my strong room, and at first he demanded
absinthe with threats, then grovelled, begging and praying for it.
After that a period of depression and despair ensued, but finally his
naturally strong constitution conquered, and began to build itself up
again. I took him from his prison one midnight, and gave him a bed in
my Soho room, taking care in bringing him away that he would never
recognise the place where he had been incarcerated. In my dealings
with him I had always been that old man, Paul Ducharme. Next morning I
said to him:--'You spoke of Eugène Valmont. I have learned that he
lives in London, and I advise you to call upon him. Perhaps he can get
you something to do.'

Simard was overjoyed, and two hours later, as Eugène Valmont, I
received him in my flat, and made him my assistant on the spot. From
that time forward, Paul Ducharme, language teacher, disappeared from
the earth, and Simard abandoned his two A's--anarchy and absinthe.




3. _The Clue of the Silver Spoons_


When the card was brought in to me, I looked upon it with some
misgiving, for I scented a commercial transaction, and, although such
cases are lucrative enough, nevertheless I, Eugène Valmont, formerly
high in the service of the French Government, do not care to be
connected with them. They usually pertain to sordid business affairs,
presenting little that is of interest to a man who, in his time, has
dealt with subtle questions of diplomacy upon which the welfare of
nations sometimes turned.

The name of Bentham Gibbes is familiar to everyone, connected as it is
with the much-advertised pickles, whose glaring announcements in crude
crimson and green strike the eye throughout Great Britain, and shock
the artistic sense wherever seen. Me! I have never tasted them, and
shall not so long as a French restaurant remains open in London. But I
doubt not they are as pronounced to the palate as their advertisement
is distressing to the eye. If then, this gross pickle manufacturer
expected me to track down those who were infringing upon the recipes
for making his so-called sauces, chutneys, and the like, he would find
himself mistaken, for I was now in a position to pick and choose my
cases, and a case of pickles did not allure me. 'Beware of
imitations,' said the advertisement; 'none genuine without a facsimile
of the signature of Bentham Gibbes.' Ah, well, not for me were either
the pickles or the tracking of imitators. A forged cheque! yes, if you
like, but the forged signature of Mr. Gibbes on a pickle bottle was out
of my line. Nevertheless, I said to Armand:--

'Show the gentleman in,' and he did so.

To my astonishment there entered a young man, quite correctly dressed
in the dark frock-coat, faultless waistcoat and trousers that
proclaimed a Bond Street tailor. When he spoke his voice and language
were those of a gentleman.

'Monsieur Valmont?' he inquired.

'At your service,' I replied, bowing and waving my hand as Armand
placed a chair for him, and withdrew.

'I am a barrister with chambers in the Temple,' began Mr. Gibbes, 'and
for some days a matter has been troubling me about which I have now
come to seek your advice, your name having been suggested by a friend
in whom I confided.'

'Am I acquainted with him?' I asked.

'I think not,' replied Mr. Gibbes; 'he also is a barrister with
chambers in the same building as my own. Lionel Dacre is his name.'

'I never heard of him.'

'Very likely not. Nevertheless, he recommended you as a man who could
keep his own counsel, and if you take up this case I desire the utmost
secrecy preserved, whatever may be the outcome.'

I bowed, but made no protestation. Secrecy is a matter of course with
me.

The Englishman paused for a few moments as if he expected fervent
assurances; then went on with no trace of disappointment on his
countenance at not receiving them.

'On the night of the twenty-third, I gave a little dinner to six
friends of mine in my own rooms. I may say that so far as I am aware
they are all gentlemen of unimpeachable character. On the night of the
dinner I was detained later than I expected at a reception, and in
driving to the Temple was still further delayed by a block of traffic
in Piccadilly, so that when I arrived at my chambers there was barely
time for me to dress and receive my guests. My man Johnson had
everything laid out ready for me in my dressing-room, and as I passed
through to it I hurriedly flung off the coat I was wearing and
carelessly left it hanging over the back of a chair in the
dining-room, where neither Johnson nor myself noticed it until my
attention was called to it after the dinner was over, and everyone
rather jolly with wine.

'This coat contains an inside pocket. Usually any frock-coat I wear at
an afternoon reception has not an inside pocket, but I had been rather
on the rush all day.

'My father is a manufacturer whose name may be familiar to you, and I
am on the directors' board of his company. On this occasion I took a
cab from the city to the reception I spoke of, and had not time to go
and change at my rooms. The reception was a somewhat bohemian affair,
extremely interesting, of course, but not too particular as to
costume, so I went as I was. In this inside pocket rested a thin
package, composed of two pieces of cardboard, and between them rested
five twenty-pound Bank of England notes, folded lengthwise, held in
place by an elastic rubber band. I had thrown the coat across the
chair-back in such a way that the inside pocket was exposed, leaving
the ends of the notes plainly recognisable.

Over the coffee and cigars one of my guests laughingly called
attention to what he termed my vulgar display of wealth, and Johnson,
in some confusion at having neglected to put away the coat, now picked
it up, and took it to the reception-room where the wraps of my guests
lay about promiscuously. He should, of course, have hung it up in my
wardrobe, but he said afterwards he thought it belonged to the guest
who had spoken. You see, Johnson was in my dressing-room when I threw
my coat on the chair in the corner while making my way thither, and I
suppose he had not noticed the coat in the hurry of arriving guests,
otherwise he would have put it where it belonged. After everybody had
gone Johnson came to me and said the coat was there, but the package
was missing, nor has any trace of it been found since that night.'

'The dinner was fetched in from outside, I suppose?'

'Yes.'

'How many waiters served it?'

'Two. They are men who have often been in my employ on similar
occasions, but, apart from that, they had left my chambers before the
incident of the coat happened.'

'Neither of them went into the reception-room, I take it?'

'No. I am certain that not even suspicion can attach to either of the
waiters.'

'Your man Johnson--?'

'Has been with me for years. He could easily have stolen much more
than the hundred pounds if he had wished to do so, but I have never
known him to take a penny that did not belong to him.'

'Will you favour me with the names of your guests, Mr. Gibbes?'

'Viscount Stern sat at my right hand, and at my left Lord Templemere;
Sir John Sanclere next to him, and Angus McKeller next to Sanclere.
After Viscount Stern was Lionel Dacre, and at his right, Vincent
Innis.'

On a sheet of paper I had written the names of the guests, and noted
their places at the table.

'Which guest drew your attention to the money?'

'Lionel Dacre.'

'Is there a window looking out from the reception-room?'

'Two of them.'

'Were they fastened on the night of the dinner party?'

'I could not be sure; very likely Johnson would know. You are hinting
at the possibility of a thief coming in through a reception-room
window while we were somewhat noisy over our wine. I think such a
solution highly improbable. My rooms are on the third floor, and a
thief would scarcely venture to make an entrance when he could not but
know there was a company being entertained. Besides this, the coat was
there less than an hour, and it appears to me that whoever stole those
notes knew where they were.'

'That seems reasonable,' I had to admit. 'Have you spoken to any one
of your loss?';

'To no one but Dacre, who recommended me to see you. Oh, yes, and to
Johnson, of course.'

I could not help noting that this was the fourth or fifth time Dacre's
name had come up during our conversation.

'What of Dacre?' I asked.

'Oh, well, you see, he occupies chambers in the same building on the
ground floor. He is a very good fellow, and we are by way of being
firm friends. Then it was he who had called attention to the money, so
I thought he should know the sequel.'

'How did he take your news?'

'Now that you call attention to the fact, he seemed slightly troubled.
I should like to say, however, that you must not be misled by that.
Lionel Dacre could no more steal than he could lie.'

'Did he show any surprise when you mentioned the theft?'

Bentham Gibbes paused a moment before replying, knitting his brows in
thought.

'No,' he said at last; 'and, come to think of it, it appeared as if he
had been expecting my announcement.'

'Doesn't that strike you as rather strange, Mr. Gibbes?'

'Really my mind is in such a whirl, I don't know what to think. But
it's perfectly absurd to suspect Dacre. If you knew the man you would
understand what I mean. He comes of an excellent family, and he
is--oh! he is Lionel Dacre, and when you have said that you have made
any suspicion absurd.'

'I suppose you caused the rooms to be thoroughly searched. The packet
didn't drop out and remain unnoticed in some corner?'

'No; Johnson and myself examined every inch of the premises.'

'Have you the numbers of the notes?'

'Yes; I got them from the Bank next morning. Payment was stopped, and
so far not one of the five has been presented. Of course, one or more
may have been cashed at some shop, but none have been offered to any
of the banks.'

'A twenty-pound note is not accepted without scrutiny, so the chances
are the thief may find some difficulty in disposing of them.'

'As I told you, I don't mind the loss of the money at all. It is the
uncertainty, the uneasiness caused by the incident which troubles me.
You will comprehend how little I care about the notes when I say that
if you are good enough to interest yourself in this case, I shall be
disappointed if your fee does not exceed the amount I have lost.'

Mr. Gibbes rose as he said this, and I accompanied him to the door
assuring him that I should do my best to solve the mystery. Whether he
sprang from pickles or not, I realised he was a polished and generous
gentleman, who estimated the services of a professional expert like
myself at their true value.

I shall not set down the details of my researches during the following
few days, because the trend of them must be gone over in the account
of that remarkable interview in which I took part somewhat later.
Suffice it to say that an examination of the rooms and a close
cross-questioning of Johnson satisfied me he and the two waiters were
innocent. I became certain no thief had made his way through the
window, and finally I arrived at the conclusion that the notes were
stolen by one of the guests. Further investigation convinced me that
the thief was no other than Lionel Dacre, the only one of the six in
pressing need of money at this time. I caused Dacre to be shadowed,
and during one of his absences made the acquaintance of his man
Hopper, a surly, impolite brute, who accepted my golden sovereign
quickly enough, but gave me little in exchange for it. While I
conversed with him, there arrived in the passage where we were talking
together a huge case of champagne, bearing one of the best-known names
in the trade, and branded as being of the vintage of '78. Now I knew
that the product of Camelot Frères is not bought as cheaply as British
beer, and I also had learned that two short weeks before Mr. Lionel
Dacre was at his wits' end for money. Yet he was still the same
briefless barrister he had ever been.

On the morning after my unsatisfactory conversation with his man
Hopper, I was astonished to receive the following note, written on a
dainty correspondence card:--

                                    '3 and 4 Vellum Buildings,
                                             'Inner Temple, E.C.

     'Mr. Lionel Dacre presents his compliments to Monsieur Eugène
     Valmont, and would be obliged if Monsieur Valmont could make
     it convenient to call upon him in his chambers tomorrow
     morning at eleven.'

       *       *       *       *       *

Had the young man become aware that he was being shadowed, or had the
surly servant informed him of the inquiries made? I was soon to know.
I called punctually at eleven next morning, and was received with
charming urbanity by Mr. Dacre himself. The taciturn Hopper had
evidently been sent away for the occasion.

'My dear Monsieur Valmont, I am delighted to meet you,' began the
young man with more of effusiveness than I had ever noticed in an
Englishman before, although his very next words supplied an
explanation that did not occur to me until afterwards as somewhat
far-fetched. 'I believe we are by way of being countrymen, and,
therefore, although the hour is early, I hope you will allow me to
offer you some of this bottled sunshine of the year '78 from _la belle
France_, to whose prosperity and honour we shall drink together. For
such a toast any hour is propitious,'and to my amazement he brought
forth from the case I had seen arrive two days before, a bottle of
that superb Camelot Frères '78.

'Now,' said I to myself, 'it is going to be difficult to keep a clear
head if the aroma of this nectar rises to the brain. But tempting as
is the cup, I shall drink sparingly, and hope he may not be so
judicious.'

Sensitive, I already experienced the charm of his personality, and
well understood the friendship Mr. Bentham Gibbes felt for him. But I
saw the trap spread before me. He expected, under the influence of
champagne and courtesy, to extract a promise from me which I must find
myself unable to give.

'Sir, you interest me by claiming kinship with France. I had
understood that you belonged to one of the oldest families of
England.'

'Ah, England!' he cried, with an expressive gesture of outspreading
hands truly Parisian in its significance. 'The trunk belongs to
England, of course, but the root--ah! the root--Monsieur Valmont,
penetrated the soil from which this wine of the gods has been drawn.'

Then filling my glass and his own he cried:--

'To France, which my family left in the year 1066!'

I could not help laughing at his fervent ejaculation.

'1066! With William the Conqueror! That is a long time ago, Mr. Dacre.'

'In years perhaps; in feelings but a day. My forefathers came over to
steal, and, lord! how well they accomplished it. They stole the whole
country--something like a theft, say I--under that prince of robbers
whom you have well named the Conqueror. In our secret hearts we all
admire a great thief, and if not a great one, then an expert one, who
covers his tracks so perfectly that the hounds of justice are baffled
in attempting to follow them. Now even you, Monsieur Valmont (I can
see you are the most generous of men, with a lively sympathy found to
perfection only in France), even you must suffer a pang of regret when
you lay a thief by the heels who has done his task deftly.'

'I fear, Mr. Dacre, you credit me with a magnanimity to which I dare
not lay claim. The criminal is a danger to society.'

'True, true, you are in the right, Monsieur Valmont. Still, admit there
are cases that would touch you tenderly. For example, a man,
ordinarily honest; a great need; a sudden opportunity. He takes that
of which another has abundance, and he, nothing. What then, Monsieur
Valmont? Is the man to be sent to perdition for a momentary weakness?'

His words astonished me. Was I on the verge of hearing a confession?
It almost amounted to that already.

'Mr. Dacre,' I said, 'I cannot enter into the subtleties you pursue. My
duty is to find the criminal.'

'Again I say you are in the right, Monsieur Valmont, and I am
enchanted to find so sensible a head on French shoulders. Although you
are a more recent arrival, if I may say so, than myself, you
nevertheless already give utterance to sentiments which do honour to
England. It is your duty to hunt down the criminal. Very well. In that
I think I can aid you, and thus have taken the liberty of requesting
your attendance here this morning. Let me fill your glass again,
Monsieur Valmont.'

'No more, I beg of you, Mr. Dacre.'

'What, do you think the receiver is as bad as the thief?'

I was so taken aback by this remark that I suppose my face showed the
amazement within me. But the young man merely laughed with apparently
free-hearted enjoyment, poured some wine into his own glass, and
tossed it off. Not knowing what to say, I changed the current of
conversation.

'Mr. Gibbes said you had been kind enough to recommend me to his
attention. May I ask how you came to hear of me?'

'Ah! who has not heard of the renowned Monsieur Valmont,' and as he
said this, for the first time, there began to grow a suspicion in my
mind that he was chaffing me, as it is called in England--a procedure
which I cannot endure. Indeed, if this gentleman practised such a
barbarism in my own country he would find himself with a duel on his
hands before he had gone far. However, the next instant his voice
resumed its original fascination, and I listened to it as to some
delicious melody.

'I need only mention my cousin, Lady Gladys Dacre, and you will at
once understand why I recommended you to my friend. The case of Lady
Gladys, you will remember, required a delicate touch which is not
always to be had in this land of England, except when those who
possess the gift do us the honour to sojourn with us.'

I noticed that my glass was again filled, and bowing an acknowledgment
of his compliment, I indulged in another sip of the delicious wine. I
sighed, for I began to realise it was going to be very difficult for
me, in spite of my disclaimer, to tell this man's friend he had stolen
the money. All this time he had been sitting on the edge of the table,
while I occupied a chair at its end. He sat there in careless fashion,
swinging a foot to and fro. Now he sprang to the floor, and drew up a
chair, placing on the table a blank sheet of paper. Then he took from
the mantelshelf a packet of letters, and I was astonished to see they
were held together by two bits of cardboard and a rubber band similar
to the combination that had contained the folded bank notes. With
great nonchalance he slipped off the rubber band, threw it and the
pieces of cardboard on the table before me, leaving the documents
loose to his hand.

'Now, Monsieur Valmont,' he cried jauntily, 'you have been occupied
for several days on this case, the case of my dear friend Bentham
Gibbes, who is one of the best fellows in the world.'

'He said the same of you, Mr. Dacre.'

'I am gratified to hear it. Would you mind letting me know to what
point your researches have led you?'

'They have led me in a direction rather than to a point.'

'Ah! In the direction of a man, of course?'

'Certainly.'

'Who is he?'

'Will you pardon me if I decline to answer this question at the
present moment?'

'That means you are not sure.'

'It may mean, Mr. Dacre, that I am employed by Mr. Gibbes, and do not
feel at liberty to disclose the results of my quest without his
permission.'

'But Mr. Bentham Gibbes and I are entirely at one in this matter.
Perhaps you are aware that I am the only person with whom he has
discussed the case beside yourself.'

'That is undoubtedly true, Mr. Dacre; still, you see the difficulty of
my position.'

'Yes, I do, and so shall press you no further. But I also have been
studying the problem in a purely amateurish way, of course. You will
perhaps express no disinclination to learn whether or not my
deductions agree with yours.'

'None in the least. I should be very glad to know the conclusion at
which you have arrived. May I ask if you suspect any one in
particular?'

'Yes, I do.'

'Will you name him?'

'No; I shall copy the admirable reticence you yourself have shown. And
now let us attack this mystery in a sane and businesslike manner. You
have already examined the room. Well, here is a rough sketch of it.
There is the table; in this corner stood the chair on which the coat
was flung. Here sat Gibbes at the head of the table. Those on the
left-hand side had their backs to the chair. I, being on the centre to
the right, saw the chair, the coat, and the notes, and called
attention to them. Now our first duty is to find a motive. If it were
a murder, our motive might be hatred, revenge, robbery--what you like.
As it is simply the stealing of money, the man must have been either a
born thief or else some hitherto innocent person pressed to the crime
by great necessity. Do you agree with me, Monsieur Valmont?'

'Perfectly. You follow exactly the line of my own reasoning.'

'Very well. It is unlikely that a born thief was one of Mr. Gibbes's
guests. Therefore we are reduced to look for a man under the spur of
necessity; a man who has no money of his own but who must raise a
certain amount, let us say, by a certain date. If we can find such a
man in that company, do you not agree with me that he is likely to be
the thief?'

'Yes, I do.'

'Then let us start our process of elimination. Out goes Viscount
Stern, a lucky individual with twenty thousand acres of land, and God
only knows what income. I mark off the name of Lord Templemere, one of
His Majesty's judges, entirely above suspicion. Next, Sir John
Sanclere; he also is rich, but Vincent Innis is still richer, so the
pencil obliterates both names. Now we arrive at Angus McKeller, an
author of some note, as you are well aware, deriving a good income
from his books and a better one from his plays; a canny Scot, so we
may rub his name from our paper and our memory. How do my erasures
correspond with yours, Monsieur Valmont?'

'They correspond exactly, Mr. Dacre.'

'I am flattered to hear it. There remains one name untouched, Mr
Lionel Dacre, the descendant, as I have said, of robbers.'

'I have not said so, Mr. Dacre.'

'Ah! my dear Valmont, the politeness of your country asserts itself.
Let us not be deluded, but follow our inquiry wherever it leads. I
suspect Lionel Dacre. What do you know of his circumstances before the
dinner of the twenty-third?'

As I made no reply he looked up at me with his frank, boyish face
illumined by a winning smile.

'You know nothing of his circumstances?' he asked.

'It grieves me to state that I do. Mr. Lionel Dacre was penniless on
the night of the dinner.'

'Oh, don't exaggerate, Monsieur Valmont,' cried Dacre with a gesture
of pathetic protest; 'his pocket held one sixpence, two pennies, and a
halfpenny. How came you to suspect he was penniless?'

'I knew he ordered a case of champagne from the London representative
of Camelot Frères, and was refused unless he paid the money down.'

'Quite right, and then when you were talking to Hopper you saw that
case of champagne delivered. Excellent! excellent! Monsieur Valmont.
But will a man steal, think you, even to supply himself with so
delicious a wine as this we have been tasting? And, by the way,
forgive my neglect, allow me to fill your glass, Monsieur Valmont.'

'Not another drop, if you will excuse me, Mr. Dacre.'

'Ah, yes, champagne should not be mixed with evidence. When we have
finished, perhaps. What further proof have you discovered, monsieur?'

'I hold proof that Mr. Dacre was threatened with bankruptcy, if, on the
twenty-fourth, he did not pay a bill of seventy-eight pounds that had
been long outstanding. I hold proof that this was paid, not on the
twenty-fourth, but on the twenty-sixth. Mr. Dacre had gone to the
solicitor and assured him he would pay the money on that date,
whereupon he was given two days' grace.'

'Ah, well, he was entitled to three, you know, in law. Yes, there,
Monsieur Valmont, you touch the fatal point. The threat of bankruptcy
will drive a man in Dacre's position to almost any crime. Bankruptcy
to a barrister means ruin. It means a career blighted; it means a life
buried, with little chance of resurrection. I see, you grasp the
supreme importance of that bit of evidence. The case of champagne is
as nothing compared with it, and this reminds me that in the crisis
now upon us I shall take another sip, with your permission. Sure you
won't join me?'

'Not at this juncture, Mr. Dacre.'

'I envy your moderation. Here's to the success of our search, Monsieur
Valmont.'

I felt sorry for the gay young fellow as with smiling face he drank
the champagne.

'Now, Monsieur,' he went on, 'I am amazed to learn how much you have
discovered. Really, I think tradespeople, solicitors, and all such
should keep better guard on their tongues than they do. Nevertheless,
these documents at my elbow, which I expected would surprise you, are
merely the letters and receipts. Here is the communication from the
solicitor threatening me with bankruptcy; here is his receipt dated
the twenty-sixth; here is the refusal of the wine merchant, and here
is his receipt for the money. Here are smaller bills liquidated. With
my pencil we will add them up. Seventy-eight pounds--the principal
debt--bulks large. We add the smaller items and it reaches a total of
ninety-three pounds seven shillings and fourpence. Let us now examine
my purse. Here is a five-pound note; there is a golden sovereign. I
now count out and place on the table twelve and sixpence in silver and
two pence in coppers. The purse thus becomes empty. Let us add the
silver and copper to the amount on the paper. Do my eyes deceive me,
or is the sum exactly a hundred pounds? There is your money fully
accounted for.'

'Pardon me, Mr. Dacre,' I said, 'but I observe a sovereign resting on
the mantelpiece.'

Dacre threw back his head and laughed with greater heartiness than I
had yet known him to indulge in during our short acquaintance.

'By Jove,' he cried, 'you've got me there. I'd forgotten entirely
about that pound on the mantelpiece, which belongs to you.'

'To me? Impossible!'

'It does, and cannot interfere in the least with our century
calculation. That is the sovereign you gave to my man Hopper, who,
knowing me to be hard-pressed, took it and shamefacedly presented it
to me, that I might enjoy the spending of it. Hopper belongs to our
family, or the family belongs to him. I am never sure which. You must
have missed in him the deferential bearing of a man-servant in Paris,
yet he is true gold, like the sovereign you bestowed upon him, and he
bestowed upon me. Now here, Monsieur, is the evidence of the theft,
together with the rubber band and two pieces of cardboard. Ask my
friend Gibbes to examine them minutely. They are all at your
disposition, Monsieur, and thus you learn how much easier it is to
deal with the master than with the servant. All the gold you possess
would not have wrung these incriminating documents from old Hopper. I
was compelled to send him away to the West End an hour ago, fearing
that in his brutal British way he might assault you if he got an
inkling of your mission.'

'Mr. Dacre,' said I slowly, 'you have thoroughly convinced me--'

'I thought I would,' he interrupted with a laugh.

'--that you did _not_ take the money.'

'Oho, this is a change of wind, surely. Many a man has been hanged on
a chain of circumstantial evidence much weaker than this which I have
exhibited to you. Don't you see the subtlety of my action? Ninety-nine
persons in a hundred would say: "No man could be such a fool as to
put Valmont on his own track, and then place in Valmont's hands such
striking evidence." But there comes in my craftiness. Of course, the
rock you run up against will be Gibbes's incredulity. The first
question he will ask you may be this: "Why did not Dacre come and
borrow the money from me?" Now there you find a certain weakness in
your chain of evidence. I knew perfectly well that Gibbes would lend
me the money, and he knew perfectly well that if I were pressed to the
wall I should ask him.'

'Mr. Dacre,' said I, 'you have been playing with me. I should resent
that with most men, but whether it is your own genial manner or the
effect of this excellent champagne, or both together, I forgive you.
But I am convinced of another thing. You know who took the money.'

'I don't know, but I suspect.'

'Will you tell me whom you suspect?'

'That would not be fair, but I shall now take the liberty of filling
your glass with champagne.'

'I am your guest, Mr. Dacre.'

'Admirably answered, monsieur,' he replied, pouring out the wine, 'and
now I offer you a clue. Find out all about the story of the silver
spoons.'

'The story of the silver spoons! What silver spoons?'

'Ah! That is the point. Step out of the Temple into Fleet Street,
seize the first man you meet by the shoulder, and ask him to tell you
about the silver spoons. There are but two men and two spoons
concerned. When you learn who those two men are, you will know that
one of them did not take the money, and I give you my assurance that
the other did.'

'You speak in mystery, Mr. Dacre.'

'But certainly, for I am speaking to Monsieur Eugène Valmont.'

'I echo your words, sir. Admirably answered. You put me on my mettle,
and I flatter myself that I see your kindly drift. You wish me to
solve the mystery of this stolen money. Sir, you do me honour, and I
drink to your health.'

'To yours, monsieur,' said Lionel Dacre, and thus we drank and parted.

On leaving Mr. Dacre I took a hansom to a café in Regent Street, which
is a passable imitation of similar places of refreshment in Paris.
There, calling for a cup of black coffee, I sat down to think. The
clue of the silver spoons! He had laughingly suggested that I should
take by the shoulders the first man I met, and ask him what the story
of the silver spoons was. This course naturally struck me as absurd,
and he doubtless intended it to seem absurd. Nevertheless, it
contained a hint. I must ask somebody, and that the right person, to
tell me the tale of the silver spoons.

Under the influence of the black coffee I reasoned it out in this way.
On the night of the twenty-third one of the six guests there present
stole a hundred pounds, but Dacre had said that an actor in the silver-
spoon episode was the actual thief. That person, then, must have been
one of Mr. Gibbes's guests at the dinner of the twenty-third. Probably
two of the guests were the participators in the silver-spoon comedy,
but, be that as it may, it followed that one at least of the men
around Mr. Gibbes's table knew the episode of the silver spoons.
Perhaps Bentham Gibbes himself was cognisant of it. It followed,
therefore, that the easiest plan was to question each of the men who
partook of that dinner. Yet if only one knew about the spoons, that
one must also have some idea that these spoons formed the clue which
attached him to the crime of the twenty-third, in which case he was
little likely to divulge what he knew to an entire stranger.

Of course, I might go to Dacre himself and demand the story of the
silver spoons, but this would be a confession of failure on my part,
and I rather dreaded Lionel Dacre's hearty laughter when I admitted
that the mystery was too much for me. Besides this I was very well
aware of the young man's kindly intentions towards me. He wished me to
unravel the coil myself, and so I determined not to go to him except
as a last resource.

I resolved to begin with Mr. Gibbes, and, finishing my coffee, I got
again into a hansom, and drove back to the Temple. I found Bentham
Gibbes in his room, and after greeting me, his first inquiry was about
the case.

'How are you getting on?' he asked.

'I think I'm getting on fairly well,' I replied, 'and expect to finish
in a day or two, if you will kindly tell me the story of the silver
spoons.'

'The silver spoons?' he echoed, quite evidently not understanding me.

'There happened an incident in which two men were engaged, and this
incident related to a pair of silver spoons. I want to get the
particulars of that.'

 'I haven't the slightest idea what you are
talking about,' replied Gibbes, thoroughly bewildered. 'You will need
to be more definite, I fear, if you are to get any help from me.'

'I cannot be more definite, because I have already told you all I
know.'

'What bearing has all this on our own case?'

'I was informed that if I got hold of the clue of the silver spoons I
should be in a fair way of settling our case.'

'Who told you that?'

'Mr. Lionel Dacre.'

'Oh, does Dacre refer to his own conjuring?'

'I don't know, I'm sure. What was his conjuring?'

'A very clever trick he did one night at dinner here about two months
ago.'

'Had it anything to do with silver spoons?'

'Well, it was silver spoons or silver forks, or something of that
kind. I had entirely forgotten the incident. So far as I recollect at
the moment there was a sleight-of-hand man of great expertness in one
of the music halls, and the talk turned upon him. Then Dacre said the
tricks he did were easy, and holding up a spoon or a fork, I don't
remember which, he professed his ability to make it disappear before
our eyes, to be found afterwards in the clothing of some one there
present. Several offered to bet that he could do nothing of the kind,
but he said he would bet with no one but Innis, who sat opposite him.
Innis, with some reluctance, accepted the bet, and then Dacre, with a
great show of the usual conjurer's gesticulations, spread forth his
empty hands, and said we should find the spoon in Innis's pocket, and
there, sure enough, it was. It seemed a proper sleight-of-hand trick,
but we were never able to get him to repeat it.'

'Thank you very much, Mr. Gibbes; I think I see daylight now.'

'If you do you are cleverer than I by a long chalk,' cried Bentham
Gibbes as I took my departure.

I went directly downstairs, and knocked at Mr. Dacre's door once more.
He opened the door himself, his man not yet having returned.

'Ah, monsieur,' he cried, 'back already? You don't mean to tell me you
have so soon got to the bottom of the silver-spoon entanglement?'

'I think I have, Mr. Dacre. You were sitting at dinner opposite Mr
Vincent Innis. You saw him conceal a silver spoon in his pocket. You
probably waited for some time to understand what he meant by this, and
as he did not return the spoon to its place, you proposed a conjuring
trick, made the bet with him, and thus the spoon was returned to the
table.'

'Excellent! excellent, monsieur! that is very nearly what occurred,
except that I acted at once. I had had experiences with Mr. Vincent
Innis before. Never did he enter these rooms of mine without my
missing some little trinket after he was gone. Although Mr. Innis is a
very rich person, I am not a man of many possessions, so if anything
is taken, I meet little difficulty in coming to a knowledge of my
loss. Of course, I never mentioned these abstractions to him. They
were all trivial, as I have said, and so far as the silver spoon was
concerned, it was of no great value either. But I thought the bet and
the recovery of the spoon would teach him a lesson; it apparently has
not done so. On the night of the twenty-third he sat at my right hand,
as you will see by consulting your diagram of the table and the
guests. I asked him a question twice, to which he did not reply, and
looking at him I was startled by the expression in his eyes. They were
fixed on a distant corner of the room, and following his gaze I saw
what he was staring at with such hypnotising concentration. So
absorbed was he in contemplation of the packet there so plainly
exposed, now my attention was turned to it, that he seemed to be
entirely oblivious of what was going on around him. I roused him from
his trance by jocularly calling Gibbes's attention to the display of
money. I expected in this way to save Innis from committing the act
which he seemingly did commit. Imagine then the dilemma in which I was
placed when Gibbes confided to me the morning after what had occurred
the night before. I was positive Innis had taken the money, yet I
possessed no proof of it. I could not tell Gibbes, and I dare not
speak to Innis. Of course, monsieur, you do not need to be told that
Innis is not a thief in the ordinary sense of the word. He has no need
to steal, and yet apparently cannot help doing so. I am sure that no
attempt has been made to pass those notes. They are doubtless resting
securely in his house at Kensington. He is, in fact, a kleptomaniac,
or a maniac of some sort. And now, monsieur, was my hint regarding the
silver spoons of any value to you?'

'Of the most infinite value, Mr. Dacre.'

'Then let me make another suggestion. I leave it entirely to your
bravery; a bravery which, I confess, I do not myself possess. Will
you take a hansom, drive to Mr. Innis's house on the Cromwell Road,
confront him quietly, and ask for the return of the packet? I am
anxious to know what will happen. If he hands it to you, as I expect
he will, then you must tell Mr. Gibbes the whole story.'

'Mr. Dacre, your suggestion shall be immediately acted upon, and I
thank you for your compliment to my courage.'

I found that Mr. Innis inhabited a very grand house. After a time he
entered the study on the ground floor, to which I had been conducted.
He held my card in his hand, and was looking at it with some surprise.

'I think I have not the pleasure of knowing you, Monsieur Valmont,' he
said, courteously enough.

'No. I ventured to call on a matter of business. I was once
investigator for the French Government, and now am doing private
detective work here in London.'

'Ah! And how is that supposed to interest me? There is nothing that I
wish investigated. I did not send for you, did I?'

'No, Mr. Innis, I merely took the liberty of calling to ask you to let
me have the package you took from Mr. Bentham Gibbes's frock-coat
pocket on the night of the twenty-third.'

'He wishes it returned, does he?'

'Yes.'

Mr. Innis calmly walked to a desk, which he unlocked and opened,
displaying a veritable museum of trinkets of one sort and another.
Pulling out a small drawer he took from it the packet containing the
five twenty-pound notes. Apparently it had never been opened. With a
smile he handed it to me.

'You will make my apologies to Mr. Gibbes for not returning it before.
Tell him I have been unusually busy of late.'

'I shall not fail to do so,' said I, with a bow.

'Thanks so much. Good-morning, Monsieur Valmont.'

'Good-morning, Mr. Innis,'

And so I returned the packet to Mr. Bentham Gibbes, who pulled the
notes from between their pasteboard protection, and begged me to
accept them.




4. _Lord Chizelrigg's Missing Fortune_


The name of the late Lord Chizelrigg never comes to my mind without
instantly suggesting that of Mr. T.A. Edison. I never saw the late Lord
Chizelrigg, and I have met Mr. Edison only twice in my life, yet the
two men are linked in my memory, and it was a remark the latter once
made that in great measure enabled me to solve the mystery which the
former had wrapped round his actions.

There is no memorandum at hand to tell me the year in which those two
meetings with Edison took place. I received a note from the Italian
Ambassador in Paris requesting me to wait upon him at the Embassy. I
learned that on the next day a deputation was to set out from the
Embassy to one of the chief hotels, there to make a call in state upon
the great American inventor, and formally present to him various
insignia accompanying certain honours which the King of Italy had
conferred upon him. As many Italian nobles of high rank had been
invited, and as these dignitaries would not only be robed in the
costumes pertaining to their orders, but in many cases would wear
jewels of almost inestimable value, my presence was desired in the
belief that I might perhaps be able to ward off any attempt on the
part of the deft-handed gentry who might possibly make an effort to
gain these treasures, and I may add, with perhaps some little
self-gratification, no _contretemps_ occurred.

Mr. Edison, of course, had long before received notification of the
hour at which the deputation would wait upon him, but when we entered
the large parlour assigned to the inventor, it was evident to me at a
glance that the celebrated man had forgotten all about the function.
He stood by a bare table, from which the cloth had been jerked and
flung into a corner, and upon that table were placed several bits of
black and greasy machinery--cog wheels, pulleys, bolts, etc. These
seemingly belonged to a French workman who stood on the other side of
the table, with one of the parts in his grimy hand. Edison's own hands
were not too clean, for he had palpably been examining the material,
and conversing with the workman, who wore the ordinary long blouse of
an iron craftsman in a small way. I judged him to be a man with a
little shop of his own in some back street, who did odd jobs of
engineering, assisted perhaps by a skilled helper or two, and a few
apprentices. Edison looked sternly towards the door as the solemn
procession filed in, and there was a trace of annoyance on his face at
the interruption, mixed with a shade of perplexity as to what this
gorgeous display all meant. The Italian is as ceremonious as the
Spaniard where a function is concerned, and the official who held the
ornate box which contained the jewellery resting on a velvet cushion,
stepped slowly forward, and came to a stand in front of the bewildered
American. Then the Ambassador, in sonorous voice, spoke some gracious
words regarding the friendship existing between the United States and
Italy, expressed a wish that their rivalry should ever take the form
of benefits conferred upon the human race, and instanced the honoured
recipient as the most notable example the world had yet produced of a
man bestowing blessings upon all nations in the arts of peace. The
eloquent Ambassador concluded by saying that, at the command of his
Royal master, it was both his duty and his pleasure to present, and so
forth and so forth.

Mr. Edison, visibly ill at ease, nevertheless made a suitable reply in
the fewest possible words, and the _étalage_ being thus at an end, the
noblemen, headed by their Ambassador, slowly retired, myself forming
the tail of the procession. Inwardly I deeply sympathised with the
French workman who thus unexpectedly found himself confronted by so
much magnificence. He cast one wild look about him, but saw that his
retreat was cut off unless he displaced some of these gorgeous
grandees. He tried then to shrink into himself, and finally stood
helpless like one paralysed. In spite of Republican institutions,
there is deep down in every Frenchman's heart a respect and awe for
official pageants, sumptuously staged and costumed as this one was.
But he likes to view it from afar, and supported by his fellows, not
thrust incongruously into the midst of things, as was the case with
this panic-stricken engineer. As I passed out, I cast a glance over my
shoulder at the humble artisan content with a profit of a few francs a
day, and at the millionaire inventor opposite him, Edison's face,
which during the address had been cold and impassive, reminding me
vividly of a bust of Napoleon, was now all aglow with enthusiasm as he
turned to his humble visitor. He cried joyfully to the workman:--

'A minute's demonstration is worth an hour's explanation. I'll call
round tomorrow at your shop, about ten o'clock, and show you how to
make the thing work.'

I lingered in the hall until the Frenchman came out, then, introducing
myself to him, asked the privilege of visiting his shop next day at
ten. This was accorded with that courtesy which you will always find
among the industrial classes of France, and next day I had the
pleasure of meeting Mr. Edison. During our conversation I complimented
him on his invention of the incandescent electric light, and this was
the reply that has ever remained in my memory:--

'It was not an invention, but a discovery. We knew what we wanted; a
carbonised tissue, which would withstand the electric current in a
vacuum for, say, a thousand hours. If no such tissue existed, then the
incandescent light, as we know it, was not possible. My assistants
started out to find this tissue, and we simply carbonised everything
we could lay our hands on, and ran the current through it in a vacuum.
At last we struck the right thing, as we were bound to do if we kept
on long enough, and if the thing existed. Patience and hard work will
overcome any obstacle.'

This belief has been of great assistance to me in my profession. I
know the idea is prevalent that a detective arrives at his solutions
in a dramatic way through following clues invisible to the ordinary
man. This doubtless frequently happens, but, as a general thing, the
patience and hard work which Mr. Edison commends is a much safer guide.
Very often the following of excellent clues had led me to disaster, as
was the case with my unfortunate attempt to solve the mystery of the
five hundred diamonds.

As I was saying, I never think of the late Lord Chizelrigg without
remembering Mr. Edison at the same time, and yet the two were very
dissimilar. I suppose Lord Chizelrigg was the most useless man that
ever lived, while Edison is the opposite.

One day my servant brought in to me a card on which was engraved 'Lord
Chizelrigg.'

'Show his lordship in,' I said, and there appeared a young man of
perhaps twenty-four or twenty-five, well dressed, and of most charming
manners, who, nevertheless, began his interview by asking a question
such as had never before been addressed to me, and which, if put to a
solicitor, or other professional man, would have been answered with
some indignation. Indeed, I believe it is a written or unwritten law
of the legal profession that the acceptance of such a proposal as
Lord Chizelrigg made to me, would, if proved, result in the disgrace
and ruin of the lawyer.

'Monsieur Valmont,' began Lord Chizelrigg, 'do you ever take up cases
on speculation?'

'On speculation, sir? I do not think I understand you.'

His lordship blushed like a girl, and stammered slightly as he
attempted an explanation.

'What I mean is, do you accept a case on a contingent fee? That is to
say, monsieur--er--well, not to put too fine a point upon it, no
results, no pay.'

I replied somewhat severely:--

'Such an offer has never been made to me, and I may say at once that I
should be compelled to decline it were I favoured with the
opportunity. In the cases submitted to me, I devote my time and
attention to their solution. I try to deserve success, but I cannot
command it, and as in the interim I must live, I am reluctantly
compelled to make a charge for my time, at least. I believe the doctor
sends in his bill, though the patient dies.'

The young man laughed uneasily, and seemed almost too embarrassed to
proceed, but finally he said:--

'Your illustration strikes home with greater accuracy than probably
you imagined when you uttered it. I have just paid my last penny to
the physician who attended my late uncle, Lord Chizelrigg, who died
six months ago. I am fully aware that the suggestion I made may seem
like a reflection upon your skill, or rather, as implying a doubt
regarding it. But I should be grieved, monsieur, if you fell into such
an error. I could have come here and commissioned you to undertake
some elucidation of the strange situation in which I find myself, and
I make no doubt you would have accepted the task if your numerous
engagements had permitted. Then, if you failed, I should have been
unable to pay you, for I am practically bankrupt. My whole desire,
therefore, was to make an honest beginning, and to let you know
exactly how I stand. If you succeed, I shall be a rich man; if you do
not succeed, I shall be what I am now, penniless. Have I made it plain
now why I began with a question which you had every right to resent?'

'Perfectly plain, my lord, and your candour does you credit.'

I was very much taken with the unassuming manners of the young man,
and his evident desire to accept no service under false pretences.
When I had finished my sentence the pauper nobleman rose to his feet,
and bowed.

'I am very much your debtor, monsieur, for your courtesy in receiving
me, and can only beg pardon for occupying your time on a futile quest.
I wish you good-morning, monsieur.'

'One moment, my lord,' I rejoined, waving him to his chair again.
'Although I am unprepared to accept a commission on the terms you
suggest, I may, nevertheless, be able to offer a hint or two that will
prove of service to you. I think I remember the announcement of Lord
Chizelrigg's death. He was somewhat eccentric, was he not?'

'Eccentric?' said the young man, with a slight laugh, seating himself
again--'well, _rather_!'

'I vaguely remember that he was accredited with the possession of
something like twenty thousand acres of land?'

'Twenty-seven thousand, as a matter of fact,' replied my visitor.

'Have you fallen heir to the lands as well as to the title?'

'Oh, yes; the estate was entailed. The old gentleman could not divert
it from me if he would, and I rather suspect that fact must have been
the cause of some worry to him.'

'But surely, my lord, a man who owns, as one might say, a principality
in this wealthy realm of England, cannot be penniless?'

Again the young man laughed.

'Well, no,' he replied, thrusting his hand in his pocket and bringing
to light a few brown coppers, and a white silver piece. 'I possess
enough money to buy some food tonight, but not enough to dine at the
Hotel Cecil. You see, it is like this. I belong to a somewhat ancient
family, various members of whom went the pace, and mortgaged their
acres up to the hilt. I could not raise a further penny on my estates
were I to try my hardest, because at the time the money was lent, land
was much more valuable than it is today. Agricultural depression, and
all that sort of thing, have, if I may put it so, left me a good many
thousands worse off than if I had no land at all. Besides this, during
my late uncle's life, Parliament, on his behalf, intervened once or
twice, allowing him in the first place to cut valuable timber, and in
the second place to sell the pictures of Chizelrigg Chase at
Christie's for figures which make one's mouth water.'

'And what became of the money?' I asked, whereupon once more this
genial nobleman laughed. 'That is exactly what I came up in the lift
to learn if Monsieur Valmont could discover.'

'My lord, you interest me,' I said, quite truly, with an uneasy
apprehension that I should take up his case after all, for I liked the
young man already. His lack of pretence appealed to me, and that
sympathy which is so universal among my countrymen enveloped him, as I
may say, quite independent of my own will.

'My uncle,' went on Lord Chizelrigg, 'was somewhat of an anomaly in
our family. He must have been a reversal to a very, very ancient type;
a type of which we have no record. He was as miserly as his
forefathers were prodigal. When he came into the title and estate some
twenty years ago, he dismissed the whole retinue of servants, and,
indeed, was defendant in several cases at law where retainers of our
family brought suit against him for wrongful dismissal, or dismissal
without a penny compensation in lieu of notice. I am pleased to say he
lost all his cases, and when he pleaded poverty, got permission to
sell a certain number of heirlooms, enabling him to make compensation,
and giving him something on which to live. These heirlooms at auction
sold so unexpectedly well, that my uncle acquired a taste, as it were,
of what might be done. He could always prove that the rents went to
the mortgagees, and that he had nothing on which to exist, so on
several occasions he obtained permission from the courts to cut timber
and sell pictures, until he denuded the estate and made an empty barn
of the old manor house. He lived like any labourer, occupying himself
sometimes as a carpenter, sometimes as a blacksmith; indeed, he made a
blacksmith's shop of the library, one of the most noble rooms in
Britain, containing thousands of valuable books which again and again
he applied for permission to sell, but this privilege was never
granted to him. I find on coming into the property that my uncle quite
persistently evaded the law, and depleted this superb collection, book
by book, surreptitiously through dealers in London. This, of course,
would have got him into deep trouble if it had been discovered before
his death, but now the valuable volumes are gone, and there is no
redress. Many of them are doubtless in America, or in museums and
collections of Europe.'

'You wish me to trace them, perhaps?' I interpolated.

'Oh, no; they are past praying for. The old man made tens of thousands
by the sale of the timber, and other thousands by disposing of the
pictures. The house is denuded of its fine old furniture, which was
immensely valuable, and then the books, as I have said, must have
brought in the revenue of a prince, if he got anything like their
value, and you may be sure he was shrewd enough to know their worth.
Since the last refusal of the courts to allow him further relief, as
he termed it, which was some seven years ago, he had quite evidently
been disposing of books and furniture by a private sale, in defiance
of the law. At that time I was under age, but my guardians opposed his
application to the courts, and demanded an account of the moneys
already in his hands. The judges upheld the opposition of my
guardians, and refused to allow a further spoliation of the estate,
but they did not grant the accounting my guardians asked, because the
proceeds of the former sales were entirely at the disposal of my
uncle, and were sanctioned by the law to permit him to live as
befitted his station. If he lived meagrely instead of lavishly, as my
guardians contended, that, the judges said, was his affair, and there
the matter ended.

'My uncle took a violent dislike to me on account of this opposition
to his last application, although, of course, I had nothing whatever
to do with the matter. He lived like a hermit, mostly in the library,
and was waited upon by an old man and his wife, and these three were
the only inhabitants of a mansion that could comfortably house a
hundred. He visited nobody, and would allow no one to approach
Chizelrigg Chase. In order that all who had the misfortune to have
dealing with him should continue to endure trouble after his death, he
left what might be called a will, but which rather may be termed a
letter to me. Here is a copy of it.

     '"MY DEAR TOM,--You will find your fortune between a couple
     of sheets of paper in the library.

     '"Your affectionate uncle,
         '"REGINALD MORAN, EARL OF CHIZELRIGG."'

'I should doubt if that were a legal will,' said I.

'It doesn't need to be,' replied the young man with a smile. 'I am
next-of-kin, and heir to everything he possessed, although, of course,
he might have given his money elsewhere if he had chosen to do so. Why
he did not bequeath it to some institution, I do not know. He knew no
man personally except his own servants, whom he misused and starved,
but, as he told them, he misused and starved himself, so they had no
cause to grumble. He said he was treating them like one of the family.
I suppose he thought it would cause me more worry and anxiety if he
concealed the money, and put me on the wrong scent, which I am
convinced he has done, than to leave it openly to any person or
charity.'

'I need not ask if you have searched the library?'

'Searched it? Why, there never was such a search since the world
began!'

'Possibly you put the task into incompetent hands?'

'You are hinting, Monsieur Valmont, that I engaged others until my
money was gone, then came to you with a speculative proposal. Let me
assure you such is not the case. Incompetent hands, I grant you, but
the hands were my own. For the past six months I have lived
practically as my uncle lived. I have rummaged that library from floor
to ceiling. It was left in a frightful state, littered with old
newspapers, accounts, and what-not. Then, of course, there were the
books remaining in the library, still a formidable collection.'

'Was your uncle a religious man?'

'I could not say. I surmise not. You see, I was unacquainted with him,
and never saw him until after his death. I fancy he was not religious,
otherwise he could not have acted as he did. Still, he proved himself
a man of such twisted mentality that anything is possible.'

'I knew a case once where an heir who expected a large sum of money
was bequeathed a family Bible, which he threw into the fire, learning
afterwards, to his dismay, that it contained many thousands of pounds
in Bank of England notes, the object of the devisor being to induce
the legatee to read the good Book or suffer through the neglect of
it.'

'I have searched the Scriptures,' said the youthful earl with a laugh,
'but the benefit has been moral rather than material.'

'Is there any chance that your uncle has deposited his wealth in a
bank, and has written a cheque for the amount, leaving it between two
leaves of a book?'

'Anything is possible, monsieur, but I think that highly improbable. I
have gone through every tome, page by page, and I suspect very few of
the volumes have been opened for the last twenty years.'

'How much money do you estimate he accumulated?'

'He must have cleared more than a hundred thousand pounds, but
speaking of banking it, I would like to say that my uncle evinced a
deep distrust of banks, and never drew a cheque in his life so far as
I am aware. All accounts were paid in gold by this old steward, who
first brought the receipted bill in to my uncle, and then received the
exact amount, after having left the room, and waited until he was rung
for, so that he might not learn the repository from which my uncle
drew his store. I believe if the money is ever found it will be in
gold, and I am very sure that this will was written, if we may call it
a will, to put us on the wrong scent.'

'Have you had the library cleared out?'

'Oh, no, it is practically as my uncle left it. I realised that if I
were to call in help, it would be well that the newcomer found it
undisturbed.'

'You were quite right, my lord. You say you examined all the papers?'

'Yes; so far as that is concerned, the room has been very fairly gone
over, but nothing that was in it the day my uncle died has been
removed, not even his anvil.'

'His anvil?'

'Yes; I told you he made a blacksmith's shop, as well as bedroom, of
the library. It is a huge room, with a great fireplace at one end
which formed an excellent forge. He and the steward built the forge in
the eastern fireplace of brick and clay, with their own hands, and
erected there a second-hand blacksmith's bellows.'

'What work did he do at his forge?'

'Oh, anything that was required about the place. He seems to have been
a very expert ironworker. He would never buy a new implement for the
garden or the house so long as he could get one second-hand, and he
never bought anything second-hand while at his forge he might repair
what was already in use. He kept an old cob, on which he used to ride
through the park, and he always put the shoes on this cob himself, the
steward informs me, so he must have understood the use of blacksmith's
tools. He made a carpenter's shop of the chief drawing-room and
erected a bench there. I think a very useful mechanic was spoiled when
my uncle became an earl.'

'You have been living at the Chase since your uncle died?'

'If you call it living, yes. The old steward and his wife have been
looking after me, as they looked after my uncle, and, seeing me day
after day, coatless, and covered with dust, I imagine they think me a
second edition of the old man.'

'Does the steward know the money is missing?'

'No; no one knows it but myself. This will was left on the anvil, in
an envelope addressed to me.'

'Your statement is exceedingly clear, Lord Chizelrigg, but I confess I
don't see much daylight through it. Is there a pleasant country around
Chizelrigg Chase?'

'Very; especially at this season of the year. In autumn and winter the
house is a little draughty. It needs several thousand pounds to put it
in repair.'

'Draughts do not matter in the summer. I have been long enough in
England not to share the fear of my countrymen for a _courant d'air._
Is there a spare bed in the manor house, or shall I take down a cot
with me, or let us say a hammock?'

'Really,' stammered the earl, blushing again, 'you must not think I
detailed all these circumstances in order to influence you to take up
what may be a hopeless case. I, of course, am deeply interested, and,
therefore, somewhat prone to be carried away when I begin a recital of
my uncle's eccentricities. If I receive your permission, I will call
on you again in a month or two. To tell you the truth, I borrowed a
little money from the old steward, and visited London to see my legal
advisers, hoping that in the circumstances I may get permission to
sell something that will keep me from starvation. When I spoke of the
house being denuded, I meant relatively, of course. There are still a
good many antiquities which would doubtless bring me in a comfortable
sum of money. I have been borne up by the belief that I should find my
uncle's gold. Lately, I have been beset by a suspicion that the old
gentleman thought the library the only valuable asset left, and for
this reason wrote his note, thinking I would be afraid to sell
anything from that room. The old rascal must have made a pot of money
out of those shelves. The catalogue shows that there was a copy of the
first book printed in England by Caxton, and several priceless
Shakespeares, as well as many other volumes that a collector would
give a small fortune for. All these are gone. I think when I show this
to be the case, the authorities cannot refuse me the right to sell
something, and, if I get this permission, I shall at once call upon
you.'

'Nonsense, Lord Chizelrigg. Put your application in motion, if you
like. Meanwhile I beg of you to look upon me as a more substantial
banker than your old steward. Let us enjoy a good dinner together at
the Cecil tonight, if you will do me the honour to be my guest.
Tomorrow we can leave for Chizelrigg Chase. How far is it?'

'About three hours,' replied the young man, becoming as red as a new
Queen Anne villa. 'Really, Monsieur Valmont, you overwhelm me with
your kindness, but nevertheless I accept your generous offer.'

'Then that's settled. What's the name of the old steward?'

'Higgins.'

'You are certain he has no knowledge of the hiding-place of this
treasure?'

'Oh, quite sure. My uncle was not a man to make a confidant of anyone,
least of all an old babbler like Higgins.'

'Well, I should like to be introduced to Higgins as a benighted
foreigner. That will make him despise me and treat me like a child.'

'Oh, I say,' protested the earl, 'I should have thought you'd lived
long enough in England to have got out of the notion that we do not
appreciate the foreigner. Indeed, we are the only nation in the world
that extends a cordial welcome to him, rich or poor.'

'_Certainement_, my lord, I should be deeply disappointed did you not
take me at my proper valuation, but I cherish no delusions regarding
the contempt with which Higgins will regard me. He will look upon me
as a sort of simpleton to whom the Lord had been unkind by not making
England my native land. Now, Higgins must be led to believe that I am
in his own class; that is, a servant of yours. Higgins and I will
gossip over the fire together, should these spring evenings prove
chilly, and before two or three weeks are past I shall have learned a
great deal about your uncle that you never dreamed of. Higgins will
talk more freely with a fellow-servant than with his master, however
much he may respect that master, and then, as I am a foreigner, he
will babble down to my comprehension, and I shall get details that he
never would think of giving to a fellow-countryman.'

       *       *       *       *       *

The young earl's modesty in such description of his home as he had
given me, left me totally unprepared for the grandeur of the mansion,
one corner of which he inhabited. It is such a place as you read of in
romances of the Middle Ages; not a pinnacled or turreted French
château of that period, but a beautiful and substantial stone manor
house of a ruddy colour, whose warm hue seemed to add a softness to
the severity of its architecture. It is built round an outer and an
inner courtyard and could house a thousand, rather than the hundred
with which its owner had accredited it. There are many stone-mullioned
windows, and one at the end of the library might well have graced a
cathedral. This superb residence occupies the centre of a heavily
timbered park, and from the lodge at the gates we drove at least a
mile and a half under the grandest avenue of old oaks I have ever
seen. It seemed incredible that the owner of all this should actually
lack the ready money to pay his fare to town!

Old Higgins met us at the station with a somewhat rickety cart, to
which was attached the ancient cob that the late earl used to shoe. We
entered a noble hall, which probably looked the larger because of the
entire absence of any kind of furniture, unless two complete suits of
venerable armour which stood on either hand might be considered as
furnishing. I laughed aloud when the door was shut, and the sound
echoed like the merriment of ghosts from the dim timbered roof above
me.

'What are you laughing at?' asked the earl.

'I am laughing to see you put your modern tall hat on that mediaeval
helmet.'

'Oh, that's it! Well, put yours on the other. I mean no disrespect to
the ancestor who wore this suit, but we are short of the harmless,
necessary hat-rack, so I put my topper on the antique helmet, and
thrust the umbrella (if I have one) in behind here, and down one of
his legs. Since I came in possession, a very crafty-looking dealer
from London visited me, and attempted to sound me regarding the sale
of these suits of armour. I gathered he would give enough money to
keep me in new suits, London made, for the rest of my life, but when I
endeavoured to find out if he had had commercial dealings with my
prophetic uncle, he became frightened and bolted. I imagine that if I
had possessed presence of mind enough to have lured him into one of
our most uncomfortable dungeons, I might have learned where some of
the family treasures went to. Come up these stairs, Monsieur Valmont,
and I will show you your room.'

We had lunched on the train coming down, so after a wash in my own
room I proceeded at once to inspect the library. It proved, indeed, a
most noble apartment, and it had been scandalously used by the old
reprobate, its late tenant. There were two huge fireplaces, one in the
middle of the north wall and the other at the eastern end. In the
latter had been erected a rude brick forge, and beside the forge hung
a great black bellows, smoky with usage. On a wooden block lay the
anvil, and around it rested and rusted several hammers, large and
small. At the western end was a glorious window filled with ancient
stained glass, which, as I have said, might have adorned a cathedral.
Extensive as the collection of books was, the great size of this
chamber made it necessary that only the outside wall should be covered
with book cases, and even these were divided by tall windows. The
opposite wall was blank, with the exception of a picture here and
there, and these pictures offered a further insult to the room, for
they were cheap prints, mostly coloured lithographs that had appeared
in Christmas numbers of London weekly journals, encased in
poverty-stricken frames, hanging from nails ruthlessly driven in above
them. The floor was covered with a litter of papers, in some places
knee-deep, and in the corner farthest from the forge still stood the
bed on which the ancient miser had died.

'Looks like a stable, doesn't it?' commented the earl, when I had
finished my inspection. 'I am sure the old boy simply filled it up
with this rubbish to give me the trouble of examining it. Higgins
tells me that up to within a month before he died the room was
reasonably clear of all this muck. Of course it had to be, or the
place would have caught fire from the sparks of the forge. The old man
made Higgins gather all the papers he could find anywhere about the
place, ancient accounts, newspapers, and what not, even to the brown
wrapping paper you see, in which parcels came, and commanded him to
strew the floor with this litter, because, as he complained, Higgins's
boots on the boards made too much noise, and Higgins, who is not in
the least of an inquiring mind, accepted this explanation as entirely
meeting the case.'

Higgins proved to be a garrulous old fellow, who needed no urging to
talk about the late earl; indeed, it was almost impossible to deflect
his conversation into any other channel. Twenty years' intimacy with
the eccentric nobleman had largely obliterated that sense of deference
with which an English servant usually approaches his master. An
English underling's idea of nobility is the man who never by any
possibility works with his hands. The fact that Lord Chizelrigg had
toiled at the carpenter's bench; had mixed cement in the drawing-room;
had caused the anvil to ring out till midnight, aroused no admiration
in Higgins's mind. In addition to this, the ancient nobleman had been
penuriously strict in his examination of accounts, exacting the
uttermost farthing, so the humble servitor regarded his memory with
supreme contempt. I realised before the drive was finished from the
station to Chizelrigg Chase that there was little use of introducing
me to Higgins as a foreigner and a fellow-servant. I found myself
completely unable to understand what the old fellow said. His dialect,
was as unknown to me as the Choctaw language would have been, and the
young earl was compelled to act as interpreter on the occasions when
we set this garrulous talking-machine going.

The new Earl of Chizelrigg, with the enthusiasm of a boy, proclaimed
himself my pupil and assistant, and said he would do whatever he was
told. His thorough and fruitless search of the library had convinced
him that the old man was merely chaffing him, as he put it, by leaving
such a letter as he had written. His lordship was certain that the
money had been hidden somewhere else; probably buried under one of the
trees in the park. Of course this was possible, and represented the
usual method by which a stupid person conceals treasure, yet I did not
think it probable. All conversations with Higgins showed the earl to
have been an extremely suspicious man; suspicious of banks, suspicious
even of Bank of England notes, suspicious of every person on earth,
not omitting Higgins himself. Therefore, as I told his nephew, the
miser would never allow the fortune out of his sight and immediate
reach.

From the first the oddity of the forge and anvil being placed in his
bedroom struck me as peculiar, and I said to the young man,--

'I'll stake my reputation that forge or anvil, or both, contain the
secret. You see, the old gentleman worked sometimes till midnight, for
Higgins could hear his hammering. If he used hard coal on the forge
the fire would last through the night, and being in continual terror
of thieves, as Higgins says, barricading the castle every evening
before dark as if it were a fortress, he was bound to place the
treasure in the most unlikely spot for a thief to get at it. Now, the
coal fire smouldered all night long, and if the gold was in the forge
underneath the embers, it would be extremely difficult to get at. A
robber rummaging in the dark would burn his fingers in more senses
than one. Then, as his lordship kept no less than four loaded
revolvers under his pillow, all he had to do, if a thief entered his
room was to allow the search to go on until the thief started at the
forge, then doubtless, as he had the range with reasonable accuracy
night or day, he might sit up in bed and blaze away with revolver
after revolver. There were twenty-eight shots that could be fired in
about double as many seconds, so you see the robber stood little
chance in the face of such a fusillade. I propose that we dismantle
the forge.'

Lord Chizelrigg was much taken by my reasoning, and one morning early
we cut down the big bellows, tore it open, found it empty, then took
brick after brick from the forge with a crowbar, for the old man had
builded better than he knew with Portland cement. In fact, when we
cleared away the rubbish between the bricks and the core of the
furnace we came upon one cube of cement which was as hard as granite.
With the aid of Higgins, and a set of rollers and levers, we managed
to get this block out into the park, and attempted to crush it with
the sledge-hammers belonging to the forge, in which we were entirely
unsuccessful. The more it resisted our efforts, the more certain we
became that the coins would be found within it. As this would not be
treasure-trove in the sense that the Government might make a claim
upon it, there was no particular necessity for secrecy, so we had up a
man from the mines near by with drills and dynamite, who speedily
shattered the block into a million pieces, more or less. Alas! there
was no trace in its debris of 'pay dirt,' as the western miner puts
it. While the dynamite expert was on the spot, we induced him to
shatter the anvil as well as the block of cement, and then the
workman, doubtless thinking the new earl was as insane as the old one
had been, shouldered his tools, and went back to his mine.

The earl reverted to his former opinion that the gold was concealed in
the park, while I held even more firmly to my own belief that the
fortune rested in the library.

'It is obvious,' I said to him, 'that if the treasure is buried
outside, someone must have dug the hole. A man so timorous and so
reticent as your uncle would allow no one to do this but himself.
Higgins maintained the other evening that all picks and spades were
safely locked up by himself each night in the tool-house. The mansion
itself was barricaded with such exceeding care that it would have been
difficult for your uncle to get outside even if he wished to do so.
Then such a man as your uncle is described to have been would
continually desire ocular demonstration that his savings were intact,
which would be practically impossible if the gold had found a grave in
the park. I propose now that we abandon violence and dynamite, and
proceed to an intellectual search of the library.'

'Very well,' replied the young earl, 'but as I have already searched
the library very thoroughly, your use of the word "intellectual,"
Monsieur Valmont, is not in accord with your customary politeness.
However, I am with you. 'Tis for you to command, and me to obey.'

'Pardon me, my lord,' I said, 'I used the word "intellectual" in
contradistinction to the word "dynamite". It had no reference to your
former search. I merely propose that we now abandon the use of
chemical reaction, and employ the much greater force of mental
activity. Did you notice any writing on the margins of the newspapers
you examined?'

'No, I did not.'

'Is it possible that there may have been some communication on the
white border of a newspaper?'

'It is, of course, possible.'

'Then will you set yourself to the task of glancing over the margin of
every newspaper, piling them away in another room when your scrutiny
of each is complete? Do not destroy anything, but we must clear out
the library completely. I am interested in the accounts, and will
examine them.'

It was exasperatingly tedious work, but after several days my
assistant reported every margin scanned without result, while I had
collected each bill and memorandum, classifying them according to
date. I could not get rid of a suspicion that the contrary old beast
had written instructions for the finding of the treasure on the back
of some account, or on the fly-leaf of a book, and as I looked at the
thousands of volumes still left in the library, the prospect of such a
patient and minute search appalled me. But I remembered Edison's words
to the effect that if a thing exist, search, exhaustive enough, will
find it. From the mass of accounts I selected several; the rest I
placed in another room, alongside the heap of the earl's newspapers.

'Now,' said I to my helper, 'if it please you, we will have Higgins
in, as I wish some explanation of these accounts.'

'Perhaps I can assist you,' suggested his lordship drawing up a chair
opposite the table on which I had spread the statements. 'I have lived
here for six months, and know as much about things as Higgins does. He
is so difficult to stop when once he begins to talk. What is the first
account you wish further light upon?'

'To go back thirteen years I find that your uncle bought a second-hand
safe in Sheffield. Here is the bill. I consider it necessary to find
that safe.'

'Pray forgive me, Monsieur Valmont,' cried the young man, springing to
his feet and laughing; 'so heavy an article as a safe should not slip
readily from a man's memory, but it did from mine. The safe is empty,
and I gave no more thought to it.'

Saying this the earl went to one of the book cases that stood against
the wall, pulled it round as if it were a door, books and all, and
displayed the front of an iron safe, the door of which he also drew
open, exhibiting the usual empty interior of such a receptacle.

'I came on this,' he said, 'when I took down all these volumes. It
appears that there was once a secret door leading from the library
into an outside room, which has long since disappeared; the walls are
very thick. My uncle doubtless caused this door to be taken off its
hinges, and the safe placed in the aperture, the rest of which he then
bricked up.'

'Quite so,' said I, endeavouring to conceal my disappointment. 'As
this strong box was bought second-hand and not made to order, I
suppose there can be no secret crannies in it?'

'It looks like a common or garden safe,' reported my assistant, 'but
we'll have it out if you say so.'

'Not just now,' I replied; 'we've had enough of dynamiting to make us
feel like housebreakers already.'

'I agree with you. What's the next item on the programme?'

'Your uncle's mania for buying things at second-hand was broken in
three instances so far as I have been able to learn from a scrutiny of
these accounts. About four years ago he purchased a new book from
Denny and Co., the well-known booksellers of the Strand. Denny and Co.
deal only in new books. Is there any comparatively new volume in the
library?'

'Not one.'

'Are you sure of that?'

'Oh, quite; I searched all the literature in the house. What is the
name of the volume he bought?'

'That I cannot decipher. The initial letter looks like "M", but the rest
is a mere wavy line. I see, however, that it cost twelve-and-sixpence,
while the cost of carriage by parcel post was sixpence, which shows it
weighed something under four pounds. This, with the price of the book,
induces me to think that it was a scientific work, printed on heavy
paper and illustrated.'

'I know nothing of it,' said the earl.

'The third account is for wallpaper; twenty-seven rolls of an
expensive wallpaper, and twenty-seven rolls of a cheap paper, the
latter being just half the price of the former. This wallpaper seems
to have been supplied by a tradesman in the station road in the
village of Chizelrigg.'

'There's your wallpaper,' cried the youth, waving his hand; 'he was
going to paper the whole house, Higgins told me, but got tired after
he had finished the library, which took him nearly a year to
accomplish, for he worked at it very intermittently, mixing the paste
in the boudoir, a pailful at a time as he needed it. It was a
scandalous thing to do, for underneath the paper is the most exquisite
oak panelling, very plain, but very rich in colour.'

I rose and examined the paper on the wall. It was dark brown, and
answered the description of the expensive paper on the bill.

'What became of the cheap paper?' I asked.

'I don't know.'

'I think,' said I, 'we are on the track of the mystery. I believe that
paper covers a sliding panel or concealed door.'

'It is very likely,' replied the earl. 'I intended to have the paper
off, but I had no money to pay a workman, and I am not so industrious
as was my uncle. What is your remaining account?'

'The last also pertains to paper, but comes from a firm in Budge Row,
London, E.C. He has had, it seems, a thousand sheets of it, and it
appears to have been frightfully expensive. This bill is also
illegible, but I take it a thousand sheets were supplied, although of
course it may have been a thousand quires, which would be a little
more reasonable for the price charged, or a thousand reams, which
would be exceedingly cheap.'

'I don't know anything about that. Let's turn on Higgins.'

Higgins knew nothing of this last order of paper either. The wallpaper
mystery he at once cleared up. Apparently the old earl had discovered
by experiment that the heavy, expensive wallpaper would not stick to
the glossy panelling, so he had purchased a cheaper paper, and had
pasted that on first. Higgins said he had gone all over the panelling
with a yellowish-white paper, and after that was dry, he pasted over
it the more expensive rolls.

'But,' I objected, 'the two papers were bought and delivered at the
same time; therefore, he could not have found by experiment that the
heavy paper would not stick.'

'I don't think there is much in that,' commented the earl; 'the heavy
paper may have been bought first, and found to be unsuitable, and then
the coarse, cheap paper bought afterwards. The bill merely shows that
the account was sent in on that date. Indeed, as the village of
Chizelrigg is but a few miles away, it would have been quite possible
for my uncle to have bought the heavy paper in the morning, tried it,
and in the afternoon sent for the commoner lot; but in any case, the
bill would not have been presented until months after the order, and
the two purchases were thus lumped together.'

I was forced to confess that this seemed reasonable.

Now, about the book ordered from Denny's. Did Higgins remember
anything regarding it? It came four years ago.

Ah, yes, Higgins did; he remembered it very well indeed. He had come
in one morning with the earl's tea, and the old man was sitting up in
bed reading his volume with such interest that he was unaware of
Higgins's knock, and Higgins himself, being a little hard of hearing,
took for granted the command to enter. The earl hastily thrust the
book under the pillow, alongside the revolvers, and rated Higgins in a
most cruel way for entering the room before getting permission to do
so. He had never seen the earl so angry before, and he laid it all to
this book. It was after the book had come that the forge had been
erected and the anvil bought. Higgins never saw the book again, but
one morning, six months before the earl died, Higgins, in raking out
the cinders of the forge, found what he supposed was a portion of the
book's cover. He believed his master had burnt the volume.

Having dismissed Higgins, I said to the earl,--

'The first thing to be done is to enclose this bill to Denny and Co.,
booksellers, Strand. Tell them you have lost the volume, and ask them
to send another. There is likely someone in the shop who can decipher
the illegible writing. I am certain the book will give us a clue. Now,
I shall write to Braun and Sons, Budge Row. This is evidently a French
company; in fact, the name as connected with paper-making runs in my
mind, although I cannot at this moment place it. I shall ask them the
use of this paper that they furnished to the late earl.'

This was done accordingly, and now, as we thought, until the answers
came, we were two men out of work. Yet the next morning, I am pleased
to say, and I have always rather plumed myself on the fact, I solved
the mystery before replies were received from London. Of course, both
the book and the answer of the paper agents, by putting two and two
together, would have given us the key.

After breakfast, I strolled somewhat aimlessly into the library, whose
floor was now strewn merely with brown wrapping paper, bits of string,
and all that. As I shuffled among this with my feet, as if tossing
aside dead autumn leaves in a forest path, my attention was suddenly
drawn to several squares of paper, unwrinkled, and never used for
wrapping. These sheets seemed to me strangely familiar. I picked one
of them up, and at once the significance of the name Braun and Sons
occurred to me. They are paper makers in France, who produce a smooth,
very tough sheet, which, dear as it is, proves infinitely cheap
compared with the fine vellum it deposed in a certain branch of
industry. In Paris, years before, these sheets had given me the
knowledge of how a gang of thieves disposed of their gold without
melting it. The paper was used instead of vellum in the rougher
processes of manufacturing gold-leaf. It stood the constant beating of
the hammer nearly as well as the vellum, and here at once there
flashed on me the secret of the old man's midnight anvil work. He was
transforming his sovereigns into gold-leaf, which must have been of a
rude, thick kind, because to produce the gold-leaf of commerce he
still needed the vellum as well as a 'clutch' and other machinery, of
which we had found no trace.

'My lord,' I called to my assistant; he was at the other end of the
room; 'I wish to test a theory on the anvil of your own fresh common
sense.'

'Hammer away,' replied the earl, approaching me with his usual
good-natured, jocular expression.

'I eliminate the safe from our investigations because it was purchased
thirteen years ago, but the buying of the book, of wall covering, of
this tough paper from France, all group themselves into a set of
incidents occurring within the same month as the purchase of the anvil
and the building of the forge; therefore, I think they are related to
one another. Here are some sheets of paper he got from Budge Row. Have
you ever seen anything like it? Try to tear this sample.'

'It's reasonably tough,' admitted his lordship, fruitlessly
endeavouring to rip it apart.

'Yes. It was made in France, and is used in gold beating. Your uncle
beat his sovereigns into gold-leaf. You will find that the book from
Denny's is a volume on gold beating, and now as I remember that
scribbled word which I could not make out, I think the title of the
volume is "Metallurgy". It contains, no doubt, a chapter on the
manufacture of gold-leaf.'

'I believe you,' said the earl; 'but I don't see that the discovery
sets us any further forward. We're now looking for gold-leaf instead
of sovereigns.'

'Let's examine this wallpaper,' said I.

I placed my knife under a corner of it at the floor, and quite easily
ripped off a large section. As Higgins had said, the brown paper was
on top, and the coarse, light-coloured paper underneath. But even that
came away from the oak panelling as easily as though it hung there
from habit, and not because of paste.

'Feel the weight of that,' I cried, handing him the sheet I had torn
from the wall.

'By Jove!' said the earl, in a voice almost of awe.

I took it from him, and laid it, face downwards, on the wooden table,
threw a little water on the back, and with a knife scraped away the
porous white paper. Instantly there gleamed up at us the baleful
yellow of the gold. I shrugged my shoulders and spread out my hands.
The Earl of Chizelrigg laughed aloud and very heartily.

'You see how it is,' I cried. 'The old man first covered the entire
wall with this whitish paper. He heated his sovereigns at the forge
and beat them out on the anvil, then completed the process rudely
between the sheets of this paper from France. Probably he pasted the
gold to the wall as soon as he shut himself in for the night, and
covered it over with the more expensive paper before Higgins entered
in the morning.'

We found afterwards, however, that he had actually fastened the thick
sheets of gold to the wall with carpet tacks.

His lordship netted a trifle over a hundred and twenty-three thousand
pounds through my discovery, and I am pleased to pay tribute to the
young man's generosity by saying that his voluntary settlement made my
bank account swell stout as a City alderman.




5. _The Absent-Minded Coterie_


Some years ago I enjoyed the unique experience of pursuing a man for
one crime, and getting evidence against him of another. He was
innocent of the misdemeanour, the proof of which I sought, but was
guilty of another most serious offence, yet he and his confederates
escaped scot-free in circumstances which I now purpose to relate.

You may remember that in Rudyard Kipling's story, _Bedalia
Herodsfoot_, the unfortunate woman's husband ran the risk of being
arrested as a simple drunkard, at a moment when the blood of murder
was upon his boots. The case of Ralph Summertrees was rather the
reverse of this. The English authorities were trying to fasten upon
him a crime almost as important as murder, while I was collecting
evidence which proved him guilty of an action much more momentous than
that of drunkenness.

The English authorities have always been good enough, when they
recognise my existence at all, to look down upon me with amused
condescension. If today you ask Spenser Hale, of Scotland Yard, what
he thinks of Eugène Valmont, that complacent man will put on the
superior smile which so well becomes him, and if you are a very
intimate friend of his, he may draw down the lid of his right eye, as
he replies,--

'Oh, yes, a very decent fellow, Valmont, but he's a Frenchman,' as if,
that said, there was no need of further inquiry.

Myself, I like the English detective very much, and if I were to be in
a _mêlée_ tomorrow, there is no man I would rather find beside me than
Spenser Hale. In any situation where a fist that can fell an ox is
desirable, my friend Hale is a useful companion, but for
intellectuality, mental acumen, finesse--ah, well! I am the most
modest of men, and will say nothing.

It would amuse you to see this giant come into my room during an
evening, on the bluff pretence that he wishes to smoke a pipe with me.
There is the same difference between this good-natured giant and
myself as exists between that strong black pipe of his and my delicate
cigarette, which I smoke feverishly when he is present, to protect
myself from the fumes of his terrible tobacco. I look with delight
upon the huge man, who, with an air of the utmost good humour, and a
twinkle in his eye as he thinks he is twisting me about his finger,
vainly endeavours to obtain a hint regarding whatever case is
perplexing him at that moment. I baffle him with the ease that an
active greyhound eludes the pursuit of a heavy mastiff, then at last I
say to him with a laugh,--

'Come _mon ami_ Hale, tell me all about it, and I will help you if I
can.'

Once or twice at the beginning he shook his massive head, and replied
the secret was not his. The last time he did this I assured him that
what he said was quite correct, and then I related full particulars of
the situation in which he found himself, excepting the names, for
these he had not mentioned. I had pieced together his perplexity from
scraps of conversation in his half-hour's fishing for my advice,
which, of course, he could have had for the plain asking. Since that
time he has not come to me except with cases he feels at liberty to
reveal, and one or two complications I have happily been enabled to
unravel for him.

But, staunch as Spenser Hale holds the belief that no detective
service on earth can excel that centring in Scotland Yard, there is
one department of activity in which even he confesses that Frenchmen
are his masters, although he somewhat grudgingly qualifies his
admission by adding that we in France are constantly allowed to do
what is prohibited in England. I refer to the minute search of a house
during the owner's absence. If you read that excellent story, entitled
_The Purloined Letter_, by Edgar Allan Poe, you will find a record of
the kind of thing I mean, which is better than any description I, who
have so often taken part in such a search, can set down.

Now, these people among whom I live are proud of their phrase, 'The
Englishman's house is his castle,' and into that castle even a
policeman cannot penetrate without a legal warrant. This may be all
very well in theory, but if you are compelled to march up to a man's
house, blowing a trumpet, and rattling a snare drum, you need not be
disappointed if you fail to find what you are in search of when all
the legal restrictions are complied with. Of course, the English are a
very excellent people, a fact to which I am always proud to bear
testimony, but it must be admitted that for cold common sense the
French are very much their superiors. In Paris, if I wish to obtain an
incriminating document, I do not send the possessor a _carte postale_
to inform him of my desire, and in this procedure the French people
sanely acquiesce. I have known men who, when they go out to spend an
evening on the boulevards, toss their bunch of keys to the concierge,
saying,--

'If you hear the police rummaging about while I'm away, pray assist
them, with an expression of my distinguished consideration.'

I remember while I was chief detective in the service of the French
Government being requested to call at a certain hour at the private
hotel of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It was during the time that
Bismarck meditated a second attack upon my country, and I am happy to
say that I was then instrumental in supplying the Secret Bureau with
documents which mollified that iron man's purpose, a fact which I
think entitled me to my country's gratitude, not that I ever even
hinted such a claim when a succeeding ministry forgot my services. The
memory of a republic, as has been said by a greater man than I, is
short. However, all that has nothing to do with the incident I am
about to relate. I merely mention the crisis to excuse a momentary
forgetfulness on my part which in any other country might have been
followed by serious results to myself. But in France--ah, we
understand those things, and nothing happened.

I am the last person in the world to give myself away, as they say in
the great West. I am usually the calm, collected Eugène Valmont whom
nothing can perturb, but this was a time of great tension, and I had
become absorbed. I was alone with the minister in his private house,
and one of the papers he desired was in his bureau at the Ministry for
Foreign Affairs; at least, he thought so, and said,--

'Ah, it is in my desk at the bureau. How annoying! I must send for
it!'

'No, Excellency,' I cried, springing up in a self-oblivion the most
complete, 'it is here.' Touching the spring of a secret drawer, I
opened it, and taking out the document he wished, handed it to him.

It was not until I met his searching look, and saw the faint smile on
his lips that I realised what I had done.

'Valmont,' he said quietly, 'on whose behalf did you search my house?'

'Excellency,' I replied in tones no less agreeable than his own,
'tonight at your orders I pay a domiciliary visit to the mansion of
Baron Dumoulaine, who stands high in the estimation of the President
of the French Republic. If either of those distinguished gentlemen
should learn of my informal call and should ask me in whose interests
I made the domiciliary visit, what is it you wish that I should
reply?'

'You should reply, Valmont, that you did it in the interests of the
Secret Service.'

'I shall not fail to do so, Excellency, and in answer to your question
just now, I had the honour of searching this mansion in the interests
of the Secret Service of France.'

The Minister for Foreign Affairs laughed; a hearty laugh that
expressed no resentment.

'I merely wished to compliment you, Valmont, on the efficiency of your
search, and the excellence of your memory. This is indeed the document
which I thought was left in my office.'

I wonder what Lord Lansdowne would say if Spenser Hale showed an equal
familiarity with his private papers! But now that we have returned to
our good friend Hale, we must not keep him waiting any longer.

       *       *       *       *       *

I well remember the November day when I first heard of the Summertrees
case, because there hung over London a fog so thick that two or three
times I lost my way, and no cab was to be had at any price. The few
cabmen then in the streets were leading their animals slowly along,
making for their stables. It was one of those depressing London days
which filled me with ennui and a yearning for my own clear city of
Paris, where, if we are ever visited by a slight mist, it is at least
clean, white vapour, and not this horrible London mixture saturated
with suffocating carbon. The fog was too thick for any passer to read
the contents bills of the newspapers plastered on the pavement, and as
there were probably no races that day the newsboys were shouting what
they considered the next most important event--the election of an
American President. I bought a paper and thrust it into my pocket. It
was late when I reached my flat, and, after dining there, which was an
unusual thing for me to do, I put on my slippers, took an easy-chair
before the fire, and began to read my evening journal. I was
distressed to learn that the eloquent Mr. Bryan had been defeated. I
knew little about the silver question, but the man's oratorical powers
had appealed to me, and my sympathy was aroused because he owned many
silver mines, and yet the price of the metal was so low that
apparently he could not make a living through the operation of them.
But, of course, the cry that he was a plutocrat, and a reputed
millionaire over and over again, was bound to defeat him in a
democracy where the average voter is exceedingly poor and not
comfortably well-to-do as is the case with our peasants in France. I
always took great interest in the affairs of the huge republic to the
west, having been at some pains to inform myself accurately regarding
its politics, and although, as my readers know, I seldom quote
anything complimentary that is said of me, nevertheless, an American
client of mine once admitted that he never knew the true inwardness--I
think that was the phrase he used--of American politics until he heard
me discourse upon them. But then, he added, he had been a very busy
man all his life.

I had allowed my paper to slip to the floor, for in very truth the fog
was penetrating even into my flat, and it was becoming difficult to
read, notwithstanding the electric light. My man came in, and
announced that Mr. Spenser Hale wished to see me, and, indeed, any
night, but especially when there is rain or fog outside, I am more
pleased to talk with a friend than to read a newspaper.

'_Mon Dieu_, my dear Monsieur Hale, it is a brave man you are to
venture out in such a fog as is abroad tonight.'

'Ah, Monsieur Valmont,' said Hale with pride, 'you cannot raise a fog
like this in Paris!'

'No. There you are supreme,' I admitted, rising and saluting my
visitor, then offering him a chair.

'I see you are reading the latest news,' he said, indicating my
newspaper, 'I am very glad that man Bryan is defeated. Now we shall
have better times.'

I waved my hand as I took my chair again. I will discuss many things
with Spenser Hale, but not American politics; he does not understand
them. It is a common defect of the English to suffer complete
ignorance regarding the internal affairs of other countries.

'It is surely an important thing that brought you out on such a night
as this. The fog must be very thick in Scotland Yard.'

This delicate shaft of fancy completely missed him, and he answered
stolidly,--

'It's thick all over London, and, indeed, throughout most of England.'

'Yes, it is,' I agreed, but he did not see that either.

Still a moment later he made a remark which, if it had come from some
people I know, might have indicated a glimmer of comprehension.

'You are a very, very clever man, Monsieur Valmont, so all I need say
is that the question which brought me here is the same as that on
which the American election was fought. Now, to a countryman, I should
be compelled to give further explanation, but to you, monsieur, that
will not be necessary.'

There are times when I dislike the crafty smile and partial closing of
the eyes which always distinguishes Spenser Hale when he places on the
table a problem which he expects will baffle me. If I said he never
did baffle me, I would be wrong, of course, for sometimes the utter
simplicity of the puzzles which trouble him leads me into an intricate
involution entirely unnecessary in the circumstances.

I pressed my fingertips together, and gazed for a few moments at the
ceiling. Hale had lit his black pipe, and my silent servant placed at
his elbow the whisky and soda, then tiptoed out of the room. As the
door closed my eyes came from the ceiling to the level of Hale's
expansive countenance.

'Have they eluded you?' I asked quietly.

'Who?'

'The coiners.'

Hale's pipe dropped from his jaw, but he managed to catch it before it
reached the floor. Then he took a gulp from the tumbler.

'That was just a lucky shot,' he said.

'_Parfaitement_,' I replied carelessly.

'Now, own up, Valmont, wasn't it?'

I shrugged my shoulders. A man cannot contradict a guest in his own
house.

'Oh, stow that!' cried Hale impolitely. He is a trifle prone to strong
and even slangy expressions when puzzled. 'Tell me how you guessed
it.'

'It is very simple, _mon ami_. The question on which the American
election was fought is the price of silver, which is so low that it
has ruined Mr. Bryan, and threatens to ruin all the farmers of the west
who possess silver mines on their farms. Silver troubled America, ergo
silver troubles Scotland Yard.

'Very well, the natural inference is that someone has stolen bars of
silver. But such a theft happened three months ago, when the metal
was being unloaded from a German steamer at Southampton, and my dear
friend Spenser Hale ran down the thieves very cleverly as they were
trying to dissolve the marks off the bars with acid. Now crimes do not
run in series, like the numbers in roulette at Monte Carlo. The
thieves are men of brains. They say to themselves, "What chance is
there successfully to steal bars of silver while Mr. Hale is at
Scotland Yard?" Eh, my good friend?'

'Really, Valmont,' said Hale, taking another sip, 'sometimes you
almost persuade me that you have reasoning powers.'

'Thanks, comrade. Then it is not a _theft_ of silver we have now to
deal with. But the American election was fought on the _price_ of
silver. If silver had been high in cost, there would have been no
silver question. So the crime that is bothering you arises through the
low price of silver, and this suggests that it must be a case of
illicit coinage, for there the low price of the metal comes in. You
have, perhaps, found a more subtle illegitimate act going forward than
heretofore. Someone is making your shillings and your half-crowns from
real silver, instead of from baser metal, and yet there is a large
profit which has not hitherto been possible through the high price of
silver. With the old conditions you were familiar, but this new
element sets at nought all your previous formulae. That is how I
reasoned the matter out.'

'Well, Valmont, you have hit it. I'll say that for you; you have hit
it. There is a gang of expert coiners who are putting out real silver
money, and making a clear shilling on the half-crown. We can find no
trace of the coiners, but we know the man who is shoving the stuff.'

'That ought to be sufficient,' I suggested.

'Yes, it should, but it hasn't proved so up to date. Now I came
tonight to see if you would do one of your French tricks for us, right
on the quiet.'

'What French trick, Monsieur Spenser Hale?' I inquired with some
asperity, forgetting for the moment that the man invariably became
impolite when he grew excited.

'No offence intended,' said this blundering officer, who really is a
good-natured fellow, but always puts his foot in it, and then
apologises. 'I want someone to go through a man's house without a
search warrant, spot the evidence, let me know, and then we'll rush
the place before he has time to hide his tracks.'

'Who is this man, and where does he live?'

'His name is Ralph Summertrees, and he lives in a very natty little
bijou residence, as the advertisements call it, situated in no less a
fashionable street than Park Lane.'

'I see. What has aroused your suspicions against him?'

'Well, you know, that's an expensive district to live in; it takes a
bit of money to do the trick. This Summertrees has no ostensible
business, yet every Friday he goes to the United Capital Bank in
Piccadilly, and deposits a bag of swag, usually all silver coin.'

'Yes, and this money?'

'This money, so far as we can learn, contains a good many of these new
pieces which never saw the British Mint.'

'It's not all the new coinage, then?'

'Oh, no, he's a bit too artful for that. You see, a man can go round
London, his pockets filled with new coinage five-shilling pieces, buy
this, that, and the other, and come home with his change in legitimate
coins of the realm--half-crowns, florins, shillings, sixpences, and
all that.'

'I see. Then why don't you nab him one day when his pockets are
stuffed with illegitimate five-shilling pieces?'

'That could be done, of course, and I've thought of it, but you see,
we want to land the whole gang. Once we arrested him, without knowing
where the money came from, the real coiners would take flight.'

'How do you know he is not the real coiner himself?'

Now poor Hale is as easy to read as a book. He hesitated before
answering this question, and looked confused as a culprit caught in
some dishonest act.

'You need not be afraid to tell me,' I said soothingly after a pause.
'You have had one of your men in Mr. Summertrees' house, and so learned
that he is not the coiner. But your man has not succeeded in getting
you evidence to incriminate other people.'

'You've about hit it again, Monsieur Valmont. One of my men has been
Summertrees' butler for two weeks, but, as you say, he has found no
evidence.'

'Is he still butler?'

'Yes.'

'Now tell me how far you have got. You know that Summertrees deposits
a bag of coin every Friday in the Piccadilly bank, and I suppose the
bank has allowed you to examine one or two of the bags.'

'Yes, sir, they have, but, you see, banks are very difficult to treat
with. They don't like detectives bothering round, and whilst they do
not stand out against the law, still they never answer any more
questions than they're asked, and Mr. Summertrees has been a good
customer at the United Capital for many years.'

'Haven't you found out where the money comes from?'

'Yes, we have; it is brought there night after night by a man who
looks like a respectable city clerk, and he puts it into a large safe,
of which he holds the key, this safe being on the ground floor, in the
dining-room.'

'Haven't you followed the clerk?'

'Yes. He sleeps in the Park Lane house every night, and goes up in the
morning to an old curiosity shop in Tottenham Court Road, where he
stays all day, returning with his bag of money in the evening.'

'Why don't you arrest and question him?'

'Well, Monsieur Valmont, there is just the same objection to his
arrest as to that of Summertrees himself. We could easily arrest both,
but we have not the slightest evidence against either of them, and
then, although we put the go-betweens in clink, the worst criminals of
the lot would escape.'

'Nothing suspicious about the old curiosity shop?'

'No. It appears to be perfectly regular.'

'This game has been going on under your noses for how long?'

'For about six weeks.'

'Is Summertrees a married man?'

'No.'

'Are there any women servants in the house?'

'No, except that three charwomen come in every morning to do up the
rooms.'

'Of what is his household comprised?'

'There is the butler, then the valet, and last, the French cook.'

'Ah,' cried I, 'the French cook! This case interests me. So
Summertrees has succeeded in completely disconcerting your man? Has he
prevented him going from top to bottom of the house?'

'Oh no, he has rather assisted him than otherwise. On one occasion he
went to the safe, took out the money, had Podgers--that's my chap's
name--help him to count it, and then actually sent Podgers to the bank
with the bag of coin.'

'And Podgers has been all over the place?'

'Yes.'

'Saw no signs of a coining establishment?'

'No. It is absolutely impossible that any coining can be done there.
Besides, as I tell you, that respectable clerk brings him the money.'

'I suppose you want me to take Podgers' position?'

'Well, Monsieur Valmont, to tell you the truth, I would rather you
didn't. Podgers has done everything a man can do, but I thought if you
got into the house, Podgers assisting, you might go through it night
after night at your leisure.'

'I see. That's just a little dangerous in England. I think I should
prefer to assure myself the legitimate standing of being the amiable
Podgers' successor. You say that Summertrees has no business?'

'Well, sir, not what you might call a business. He is by the way of
being an author, but I don't count that any business.'

'Oh, an author, is he? When does he do his writing?'

'He locks himself up most of the day in his study.'

'Does he come out for lunch?'

'No; he lights a little spirit lamp inside, Podgers tells me, and
makes himself a cup of coffee, which he takes with a sandwich or two.'

'That's rather frugal fare for Park Lane.'

'Yes, Monsieur Valmont, it is, but he makes it up in the evening, when
he has a long dinner with all them foreign kickshaws you people like,
done by his French cook.'

'Sensible man! Well, Hale, I see I shall look forward with pleasure to
making the acquaintance of Mr. Summertrees. Is there any restriction on
the going and coming of your man Podgers?'

'None in the least. He can get away either night or day.'

'Very good, friend Hale, bring him here tomorrow, as soon as our
author locks himself up in his study, or rather, I should say, as soon
as the respectable clerk leaves for Tottenham Court Road, which I
should guess, as you put it, is about half an hour after his master
turns the key of the room in which he writes.'

'You are quite right in that guess, Valmont. How did you hit it?'

'Merely a surmise, Hale. There is a good deal of oddity about that
Park Lane house, so it doesn't surprise me in the least that the
master gets to work earlier in the morning than the man. I have also
a suspicion that Ralph Summertrees knows perfectly well what the
estimable Podgers is there for.'

'What makes you think that?'

'I can give no reason except that my opinion of the acuteness of
Summertrees has been gradually rising all the while you were speaking,
and at the same time my estimate of Podgers' craft has been as
steadily declining. However, bring the man here tomorrow, that I may
ask him a few questions.'

       *       *       *       *       *

Next day, about eleven o'clock, the ponderous Podgers, hat in hand,
followed his chief into my room. His broad, impassive, immobile smooth
face gave him rather more the air of a genuine butler than I had
expected, and this appearance, of course, was enhanced by his livery.
His replies to my questions were those of a well-trained servant who
will not say too much unless it is made worth his while. All in all,
Podgers exceeded my expectations, and really my friend Hale had some
justification for regarding him, as he evidently did, a triumph in his
line.

'Sit down, Mr. Hale, and you, Podgers.'

The man disregarded my invitation, standing like a statue until his
chief made a motion; then he dropped into a chair. The English are
great on discipline.

'Now, Mr. Hale, I must first congratulate you on the make-up of
Podgers. It is excellent. You depend less on artificial assistance
than we do in France, and in that I think you are right.'

'Oh, we know a bit over here, Monsieur Valmont,' said Hale, with
pardonable pride.

'Now then, Podgers, I want to ask you about this clerk. What time does
he arrive in the evening?'

'At prompt six, sir.'

'Does he ring, or let himself in with a latchkey?'

'With a latchkey, sir.'

'How does he carry the money?'

'In a little locked leather satchel, sir, flung over his shoulder.'

'Does he go direct to the dining-room?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Have you seen him unlock the safe and put in the money?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Does the safe unlock with a word or a key?'

'With a key, sir. It's one of the old-fashioned kind.'

'Then the clerk unlocks his leather money bag?'

'Yes, sir.'

'That's three keys used within as many minutes. Are they separate or
in a bunch?'

'In a bunch, sir.'

'Did you ever see your master with this bunch of keys?'

'No, sir.'

'You saw him open the safe once, I am told?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Did he use a separate key, or one of a bunch?'

Podgers slowly scratched his head, then said,--

'I don't just remember, sir.'

'Ah, Podgers, you are neglecting the big things in that house. Sure
you can't remember?'

'No, sir.'

'Once the money is in and the safe locked up, what does the clerk do?'

'Goes to his room, sir.'

'Where is this room?'

'On the third floor, sir.'

'Where do you sleep?'

'On the fourth floor with the rest of the servants, sir.'

'Where does the master sleep?'

'On the second floor, adjoining his study.'

'The house consists of four stories and a basement, does it?'

'Yes, sir.'

'I have somehow arrived at the suspicion that it is a very narrow
house. Is that true?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Does the clerk ever dine with your master?'

'No, sir. The clerk don't eat in the house at all, sir.'

'Does he go away before breakfast?'

'No, sir.'

'No one takes breakfast to his room?'

'No, sir.'

'What time does he leave the house?'

'At ten o'clock, sir.'

'When is breakfast served?'

'At nine o'clock, sir.'

'At what hour does your master retire to his study?'

'At half-past nine, sir.'

'Locks the door on the inside?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Never rings for anything during the day?'

'Not that I know of, sir.'

'What sort of a man is he?'

Here Podgers was on familiar ground, and he rattled off a description
minute in every particular.

'What I meant was, Podgers, is he silent, or talkative, or does he get
angry? Does he seem furtive, suspicious, anxious, terrorised, calm,
excitable, or what?'

'Well, sir, he is by way of being very quiet, never has much to say
for himself; never saw him angry, or excited.'

'Now, Podgers, you've been at Park Lane for a fortnight or more. You
are a sharp, alert, observant man. What happens there that strikes you
as unusual?'

'Well, I can't exactly say, sir,' replied Podgers, looking rather
helplessly from his chief to myself, and back again.

'Your professional duties have often compelled you to enact the part
of butler before, otherwise you wouldn't do it so well. Isn't that the
case.'

Podgers did not reply, but glanced at his chief. This was evidently a
question pertaining to the service, which a subordinate was not
allowed to answer. However, Hale said at once,--

'Certainly. Podgers has been in dozens of places.'

'Well, Podgers, just call to mind some of the other households where
you have been employed, and tell me any particulars in which Mr
Summertrees' establishment differs from them.'

Podgers pondered a long time.

'Well, sir, he do stick to writing pretty close.'

'Ah, that's his profession, you see, Podgers. Hard at it from
half-past nine till towards seven, I imagine?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Anything else, Podgers? No matter how trivial.'

'Well, sir, he's fond of reading too; leastways, he's fond of
newspapers.'

'When does he read?'

'I've never seen him read 'em, sir; indeed, so far as I can tell, I
never knew the papers to be opened, but he takes them all in, sir.'

'What, all the morning papers?'

'Yes, sir, and all the evening papers too.'

'Where are the morning papers placed?'

'On the table in his study, sir.'

'And the evening papers?'

'Well, sir, when the evening papers come, the study is locked. They
are put on a side table in the dining-room, and he takes them upstairs
with him to his study.'

'This has happened every day since you've been there?'

'Yes, sir.'

'You reported that very striking fact to your chief, of course?'

'No, sir, I don't think I did,' said Podgers, confused.

'You should have done so. Mr. Hale would have known how to make the
most of a point so vital.'

'Oh, come now, Valmont,' interrupted Hale, 'you're chaffing us. Plenty
of people take in all the papers!'

'I think not. Even clubs and hotels subscribe to the leading journals
only. You said _all_, I think, Podgers?'

'Well, _nearly_ all, sir.'

'But which is it? There's a vast difference.'

'He takes a good many, sir.'

'How many?'

'I don't just know, sir.'

'That's easily found out, Valmont,' cried Hale, with some impatience,
'if you think it really important.'

'I think it so important that I'm going back with Podgers myself. You
can take me into the house, I suppose, when you return?'

'Oh, yes, sir.'

'Coming back to these newspapers for a moment, Podgers. What is done
with them?'

'They are sold to the ragman, sir, once a week.'

'Who takes them from the study?'

'I do, sir.'

'Do they appear to have been read very carefully?'

'Well, no, sir; leastways, some of them seem never to have been
opened, or else folded up very carefully again.'

'Did you notice that extracts have been clipped from any of them?'

'No, sir.'

'Does Mr. Summertrees keep a scrapbook?'

'Not that I know of, sir.'

'Oh, the case is perfectly plain,' said I, leaning back in my chair,
and regarding the puzzled Hale with that cherubic expression of
self-satisfaction which I know is so annoying to him.

'_What's_ perfectly plain?' he demanded, more gruffly perhaps than
etiquette would have sanctioned.

'Summertrees is no coiner, nor is he linked with any band of coiners.'

'What is he, then?'

'Ah, that opens another avenue of enquiry. For all I know to the
contrary, he may be the most honest of men. On the surface it would
appear that he is a reasonably industrious tradesman in Tottenham
Court Road, who is anxious that there should be no visible connection
between a plebian employment and so aristocratic a residence as that
in Park Lane.'

At this point Spenser Hale gave expression to one of those rare
flashes of reason which are always an astonishment to his friends.

'That is nonsense, Monsieur Valmont,' he said, 'the man who is ashamed
of the connection between his business and his house is one who is
trying to get into Society, or else the women of his family are trying
it, as is usually the case. Now Summertrees has no family. He himself
goes nowhere, gives no entertainments, and accepts no invitations. He
belongs to no club, therefore to say that he is ashamed of his
connection with the Tottenham Court Road shop is absurd. He is
concealing the connection for some other reason that will bear looking
into.'

'My dear Hale, the goddess of Wisdom herself could not have made a
more sensible series of remarks. Now, _mon ami_, do you want my
assistance, or have you enough to go on with?'

'Enough to go on with? We have nothing more than we had when I called
on you last night.'

'Last night, my dear Hale, you supposed this man was in league with
coiners. Today you know he is not.'

'I know you _say_ he is not.'

I shrugged my shoulders, and raised my eyebrows, smiling at him.

'It is the same thing, Monsieur Hale.'

'Well, of all the conceited--' and the good Hale could get no further.

'If you wish my assistance, it is yours.'

'Very good. Not to put too fine a point upon it, I do.'

'In that case, my dear Podgers, you will return to the residence of
our friend Summertrees, and get together for me in a bundle all of
yesterday's morning and evening papers, that were delivered to the
house. Can you do that, or are they mixed up in a heap in the coal
cellar?'

'I can do it, sir. I have instructions to place each day's papers in a
pile by itself in case they should be wanted again. There is always
one week's supply in the cellar, and we sell the papers of the week
before to the rag men.'

'Excellent. Well, take the risk of abstracting one day's journals, and
have them ready for me. I will call upon you at half-past three
o'clock exactly, and then I want you to take me upstairs to the
clerk's bedroom in the third story, which I suppose is not locked
during the daytime?'

'No, sir, it is not.'

With this the patient Podgers took his departure. Spenser Hale rose
when his assistant left.

'Anything further I can do?' he asked.

'Yes; give me the address of the shop in Tottenham Court Road. Do you
happen to have about you one of those new five-shilling pieces which
you believe to be illegally coined?'

He opened his pocket-book, took out the bit of white metal, and handed
it to me.

'I'm going to pass this off before evening,' I said, putting it in my
pocket, 'and I hope none of your men will arrest me.'

'That's all right,' laughed Hale as he took his leave.

At half-past three Podgers was waiting for me, and opened the front
door as I came up the steps, thus saving me the necessity of ringing.
The house seemed strangely quiet. The French cook was evidently down
in the basement, and we had probably all the upper part to ourselves,
unless Summertrees was in his study, which I doubted. Podgers led me
directly upstairs to the clerk's room on the third floor, walking on
tiptoe, with an elephantine air of silence and secrecy combined, which
struck me as unnecessary.

'I will make an examination of this room,' I said. 'Kindly wait for me
down by the door of the study.'

The bedroom proved to be of respectable size when one considers the
smallness of the house. The bed was all nicely made up, and there were
two chairs in the room, but the usual washstand and swing-mirror were
not visible. However, seeing a curtain at the farther end of the room,
I drew it aside, and found, as I expected, a fixed lavatory in an
alcove of perhaps four feet deep by five in width. As the room was
about fifteen feet wide, this left two-thirds of the space unaccounted
for. A moment later, I opened a door which exhibited a closet filled
with clothes hanging on hooks. This left a space of five feet between
the clothes closet and the lavatory. I thought at first that the
entrance to the secret stairway must have issued from the lavatory,
but examining the boards closely, although they sounded hollow to the
knuckles, they were quite evidently plain matchboarding, and not a
concealed door. The entrance to the stairway, therefore, must issue
from the clothes closet. The right hand wall proved similar to the
matchboarding of the lavatory as far as the casual eye or touch was
concerned, but I saw at once it was a door. The latch turned out to be
somewhat ingeniously operated by one of the hooks which held a pair of
old trousers. I found that the hook, if pressed upward, allowed the
door to swing outward, over the stairhead. Descending to the second
floor, a similar latch let me in to a similar clothes closet in the
room beneath. The two rooms were identical in size, one directly above
the other, the only difference being that the lower room door gave
into the study, instead of into the hall, as was the case with the
upper chamber.

The study was extremely neat, either not much used, or the abode of a
very methodical man. There was nothing on the table except a pile of
that morning's papers. I walked to the farther end, turned the key in
the lock, and came out upon the astonished Podgers.

'Well, I'm blowed!' exclaimed he.

'Quite so,' I rejoined, 'you've been tiptoeing past an empty room for
the last two weeks. Now, if you'll come with me, Podgers, I'll show
you how the trick is done.'

When he entered the study, I locked the door once more, and led the
assumed butler, still tiptoeing through force of habit, up the stair
into the top bedroom, and so out again, leaving everything exactly as
we found it. We went down the main stair to the front hall, and there
Podgers had my parcel of papers all neatly wrapped up. This bundle I
carried to my flat, gave one of my assistants some instructions, and
left him at work on the papers.

       *       *       *       *       *

I took a cab to the foot of Tottenham Court Road, and walked up that
street till I came to J. Simpson's old curiosity shop. After gazing at
the well-filled windows for some time, I stepped aside, having
selected a little iron crucifix displayed behind the pane; the work of
some ancient craftsman.

I knew at once from Podgers's description that I was waited upon by
the veritable respectable clerk who brought the bag of money each
night to Park Lane, and who I was certain was no other than Ralph
Summertrees himself.

There was nothing in his manner differing from that of any other quiet
salesman. The price of the crucifix proved to be seven-and-six, and I
threw down a sovereign to pay for it.

'Do you mind the change being all in silver, sir?' he asked, and I
answered without any eagerness, although the question aroused a
suspicion that had begun to be allayed,--

'Not in the least.'

He gave me half-a-crown, three two-shilling pieces, and four separate
shillings, all the coins being well-worn silver of the realm, the
undoubted inartistic product of the reputable British Mint. This
seemed to dispose of the theory that he was palming off illegitimate
money. He asked me if I were interested in any particular branch of
antiquity, and I replied that my curiosity was merely general, and
exceedingly amateurish, whereupon he invited me to look around. This I
proceeded to do, while he resumed the addressing and stamping of some
wrapped-up pamphlets which I surmised to be copies of his catalogue.

He made no attempt either to watch me or to press his wares upon me. I
selected at random a little ink-stand, and asked its price. It was two
shillings, he said, whereupon I produced my fraudulent five-shilling
piece. He took it, gave me the change without comment, and the last
doubt about his connection with coiners flickered from my mind.

At this moment a young man came in, who, I saw at once, was not a
customer. He walked briskly to the farther end of the shop, and
disappeared behind a partition which had one pane of glass in it that
gave an outlook towards the front door.

'Excuse me a moment,' said the shopkeeper, and he followed the young
man into the private office.

As I examined the curious heterogeneous collection of things for sale,
I heard the clink of coins being poured out on the lid of a desk or an
uncovered table, and the murmur of voices floated out to me. I was now
near the entrance of the shop, and by a sleight-of-hand trick, keeping
the corner of my eye on the glass pane of the private office, I
removed the key of the front door without a sound, and took an
impression of it in wax, returning the key to its place unobserved. At
this moment another young man came in, and walked straight past me
into the private office. I heard him say,--

'Oh, I beg pardon, Mr. Simpson. How are you, Rogers?'

'Hallo, Macpherson,' saluted Rogers, who then came out, bidding
good-night to Mr. Simpson, and departed whistling down the street, but
not before he had repeated his phrase to another young man entering,
to whom he gave the name of Tyrrel.

I noted these three names in my mind. Two others came in together, but
I was compelled to content myself with memorising their features, for
I did not learn their names. These men were evidently collectors, for
I heard the rattle of money in every case; yet here was a small shop,
doing apparently very little business, for I had been within it for
more than half an hour, and yet remained the only customer. If credit
were given, one collector would certainly have been sufficient, yet
five had come in, and had poured their contributions into the pile
Summertrees was to take home with him that night.

I determined to secure one of the pamphlets which the man had been
addressing. They were piled on a shelf behind the counter, but I had
no difficulty in reaching across and taking the one on top, which I
slipped into my pocket. When the fifth young man went down the street
Summertrees himself emerged, and this time he carried in his hand the
well-filled locked leather satchel, with the straps dangling. It was
now approaching half-past five, and I saw he was eager to close up and
get away.

'Anything else you fancy, sir?' he asked me.

'No, or rather yes and no. You have a very interesting collection
here, but it's getting so dark I can hardly see.'

'I close at half-past five, sir.'

'Ah, in that case,' I said, consulting my watch, 'I shall be pleased
to call some other time.'

'Thank you, sir,' replied Summertrees quietly, and with that I took my
leave.

From the corner of an alley on the other side of the street I saw him
put up the shutters with his own hands, then he emerged with overcoat
on, and the money satchel slung across his shoulder. He locked the
door, tested it with his knuckles, and walked down the street,
carrying under one arm the pamphlets he had been addressing. I
followed him some distance, saw him drop the pamphlets into the box at
the first post office he passed, and walk rapidly towards his house in
Park Lane.

When I returned to my flat and called in my assistant, he said,--

'After putting to one side the regular advertisements of pills, soap,
and what not, here is the only one common to all the newspapers,
morning and evening alike. The advertisements are not identical, sir,
but they have two points of similarity, or perhaps I should say three.
They all profess to furnish a cure for absent-mindedness; they all ask
that the applicant's chief hobby shall be stated, and they all bear
the same address: Dr. Willoughby, in Tottenham Court Road.'

'Thank you,' said I, as he placed the scissored advertisements before
me.

I read several of the announcements. They were all small, and perhaps
that is why I had never noticed one of them in the newspapers, for
certainly they were odd enough. Some asked for lists of absent-minded
men, with the hobbies of each, and for these lists, prizes of from one
shilling to six were offered. In other clippings Dr. Willoughby
professed to be able to cure absent-mindedness. There were no fees, and
no treatment, but a pamphlet would be sent, which, if it did not benefit
the receiver, could do no harm. The doctor was unable to meet patients
personally, nor could he enter into correspondence with them. The
address was the same as that of the old curiosity shop in Tottenham
Court Road. At this juncture I pulled the pamphlet from my pocket, and
saw it was entitled _Christian Science and Absent-Mindedness_, by Dr.
Stamford Willoughby, and at the end of the article was the statement
contained in the advertisements, that Dr. Willoughby would neither see
patients nor hold any correspondence with them.

I drew a sheet of paper towards me, wrote to Dr. Willoughby alleging
that I was a very absent-minded man, and would be glad of his
pamphlet, adding that my special hobby was the collecting of first
editions. I then signed myself, 'Alport Webster, Imperial Flats,
London, W.'

I may here explain that it is often necessary for me to see people
under some other name than the well-known appellation of Eugène
Valmont. There are two doors to my flat, and on one of these is
painted, 'Eugène Valmont'; on the other there is a receptacle, into
which can be slipped a sliding panel bearing any _nom de guerre_ I
choose. The same device is arranged on the ground floor, where the
names of all the occupants of the building appear on the right-hand
wall.

I sealed, addressed, and stamped my letter, then told my man to put
out the name of Alport Webster, and if I did not happen to be in when
anyone called upon that mythical person, he was to make an appointment
for me.

It was nearly six o'clock next afternoon when the card of Angus
Macpherson was brought in to Mr. Alport Webster. I recognised the young
man at once as the second who had entered the little shop carrying his
tribute to Mr. Simpson the day before. He held three volumes under his
arm, and spoke in such a pleasant, insinuating sort of way, that I
knew at once he was an adept in his profession of canvasser.

'Will you be seated, Mr. Macpherson? In what can I serve you?'

He placed the three volumes, backs upward, on my table.

'Are you interested at all in first editions, Mr. Webster?'

'It is the one thing I am interested in,' I replied; 'but
unfortunately they often run into a lot of money.'

'That is true,' said Macpherson sympathetically, 'and I have here
three books, one of which is an exemplification of what you say. This
one costs a hundred pounds. The last copy that was sold by auction in
London brought a hundred and twenty-three pounds. This next one is
forty pounds, and the third ten pounds. At these prices I am certain
you could not duplicate three such treasures in any book shop in
Britain.'

I examined them critically, and saw at once that what he said was
true. He was still standing on the opposite side of the table.

'Please take a chair, Mr. Macpherson. Do you mean to say you go round
London with a hundred and fifty pounds' worth of goods under your arm
in this careless way?'

The young man laughed.

'I run very little risk, Mr. Webster. I don't suppose anyone I meet
imagines for a moment there is more under my arm than perhaps a trio
of volumes I have picked up in the fourpenny box to take home with
me.'

I lingered over the volume for which he asked a hundred pounds, then
said, looking across at him:--

'How came you to be possessed of this book, for instance?'

He turned upon me a fine, open countenance, and answered without
hesitation in the frankest possible manner,--

'I am not in actual possession of it, Mr. Webster. I am by way of being
a connoisseur in rare and valuable books myself, although, of course,
I have little money with which to indulge in the collection of them. I
am acquainted, however, with the lovers of desirable books in
different quarters of London. These three volumes, for instance, are
from the library of a private gentleman in the West End. I have sold
many books to him, and he knows I am trustworthy. He wishes to dispose
of them at something under their real value, and has kindly allowed me
to conduct the negotiation. I make it my business to find out those
who are interested in rare books, and by such trading I add
considerably to my income.'

'How, for instance, did you learn that I was a bibliophile?'

Mr. Macpherson laughed genially.

'Well, Mr. Webster, I must confess that I chanced it. I do that very
often. I take a flat like this, and send in my card to the name on the
door. If I am invited in, I ask the occupant the question I asked you
just now: "Are you interested in rare editions?" If he says no, I
simply beg pardon and retire. If he says yes, then I show my wares.'

'I see,' said I, nodding. What a glib young liar he was, with that
innocent face of his, and yet my next question brought forth the
truth.

'As this is the first time you have called upon me, Mr. Macpherson,
you have no objection to my making some further inquiry, I suppose.
Would you mind telling me the name of the owner of these books in the
West End?'

'His name is Mr. Ralph Summertrees, of Park Lane.'

'Of Park Lane? Ah, indeed.'

'I shall be glad to leave the books with you, Mr. Webster, and if you
care to make an appointment with Mr. Summertrees, I am sure he will not
object to say a word in my favour.'

'Oh, I do not in the least doubt it, and should not think of troubling
the gentleman.'

'I was going to tell you,' went on the young man, 'that I have a
friend, a capitalist, who, in a way, is my supporter; for, as I said,
I have little money of my own. I find it is often inconvenient for
people to pay down any considerable sum. When, however, I strike a
bargain, my capitalist buys the book, and I make an arrangement with
my customer to pay a certain amount each week, and so even a large
purchase is not felt, as I make the instalments small enough to suit
my client.'

'You are employed during the day, I take it?'

'Yes, I am a clerk in the City.'

Again we were in the blissful realms of fiction!

'Suppose I take this book at ten pounds, what instalment should I have
to pay each week?'

'Oh, what you like, sir. Would five shillings be too much?'

'I think not.'

'Very well, sir, if you pay me five shillings now, I will leave the
book with you, and shall have pleasure in calling this day week for
the next instalment.'

I put my hand into my pocket, and drew out two half-crowns, which I
passed over to him.

'Do I need to sign any form or undertaking to pay the rest?'

The young man laughed cordially.

'Oh, no, sir, there is no formality necessary. You see, sir, this is
largely a labour of love with me, although I don't deny I have my eye
on the future. I am getting together what I hope will be a very
valuable connection with gentlemen like yourself who are fond of
books, and I trust some day that I may be able to resign my place with
the insurance company and set up a choice little business of my own,
where my knowledge of values in literature will prove useful.'

And then, after making a note in a little book he took from his
pocket, he bade me a most graceful good-bye and departed, leaving me
cogitating over what it all meant.

Next morning two articles were handed to me. The first came by post
and was a pamphlet on _Christian Science and Absent-Mindedness_,
exactly similar to the one I had taken away from the old curiosity
shop; the second was a small key made from my wax impression that
would fit the front door of the same shop--a key fashioned by an
excellent anarchist friend of mine in an obscure street near Holborn.

That night at ten o'clock I was inside the old curiosity shop, with a
small storage battery in my pocket, and a little electric glow-lamp at
my buttonhole, a most useful instrument for either burglar or
detective.

I had expected to find the books of the establishment in a safe,
which, if it was similar to the one in Park Lane, I was prepared to
open with the false keys in my possession or to take an impression of
the keyhole and trust to my anarchist friend for the rest. But to my
amazement I discovered all the papers pertaining to the concern in a
desk which was not even locked. The books, three in number, were the
ordinary day book, journal, and ledger referring to the shop;
book-keeping of the older fashion; but in a portfolio lay half a dozen
foolscap sheets, headed 'Mr. Rogers's List', 'Mr. Macpherson's', 'Mr.
Tyrrel's', the names I had already learned, and three others. These
lists contained in the first column, names; in the second column,
addresses; in the third, sums of money; and then in the small, square
places following were amounts ranging from two-and-sixpence to a
pound. At the bottom of Mr. Macpherson's list was the name Alport
Webster, Imperial Flats, £10; then in the small, square place, five
shillings. These six sheets, each headed by a canvasser's name, were
evidently the record of current collections, and the innocence of the
whole thing was so apparent that if it were not for my fixed rule
never to believe that I am at the bottom of any case until I have come
on something suspicious, I would have gone out empty-handed as I came
in.

The six sheets were loose in a thin portfolio, but standing on a shelf
above the desk were a number of fat volumes, one of which I took down,
and saw that it contained similar lists running back several years. I
noticed on Mr. Macpherson's current list the name of Lord Semptam, an
eccentric old nobleman whom I knew slightly. Then turning to the list
immediately before the current one the name was still there; I traced
it back through list after list until I found the first entry, which
was no less than three years previous, and there Lord Semptam was down
for a piece of furniture costing fifty pounds, and on that account he
had paid a pound a week for more than three years, totalling a hundred
and seventy pounds at the least, and instantly the glorious simplicity
of the scheme dawned upon me, and I became so interested in the
swindle that I lit the gas, fearing my little lamp would be exhausted
before my investigation ended, for it promised to be a long one.

In several instances the intended victim proved shrewder than old
Simpson had counted upon, and the word 'Settled' had been written on
the line carrying the name when the exact number of instalments was
paid. But as these shrewd persons dropped out, others took their
places, and Simpson's dependence on their absent-mindedness seemed to
be justified in nine cases out of ten. His collectors were collecting
long after the debt had been paid. In Lord Semptam's case, the payment
had evidently become chronic, and the old man was giving away his
pound a week to the suave Macpherson two years after his debt had been
liquidated.

From the big volume I detached the loose leaf, dated 1893, which
recorded Lord Semptam's purchase of a carved table for fifty pounds,
and on which he had been paying a pound a week from that time to the
date of which I am writing, which was November, 1896. This single
document taken from the file of three years previous, was not likely
to be missed, as would have been the case if I had selected a current
sheet. I nevertheless made a copy of the names and addresses of
Macpherson's present clients; then, carefully placing everything
exactly as I had found it, I extinguished the gas, and went out of the
shop, locking the door behind me. With the 1893 sheet in my pocket I
resolved to prepare a pleasant little surprise for my suave friend
Macpherson when he called to get his next instalment of five
shillings.

Late as was the hour when I reached Trafalgar Square, I could not
deprive myself of the felicity of calling on Mr. Spenser Hale, who I
knew was then on duty. He never appeared at his best during office
hours, because officialism stiffened his stalwart frame. Mentally he
was impressed with the importance of his position, and added to this
he was not then allowed to smoke his big, black pipe and terrible
tobacco. He received me with the curtness I had been taught to expect
when I inflicted myself upon him at his office. He greeted me abruptly
with,--

'I say, Valmont, how long do you expect to be on this job?'

'What job?' I asked mildly.

'Oh, you know what I mean: the Summertrees affair.'

'Oh, _that_!' I exclaimed, with surprise. 'The Summertrees case is
already completed, of course. If I had known you were in a hurry, I
should have finished up everything yesterday, but as you and Podgers,
and I don't know how many more, have been at it sixteen or seventeen
days, if not longer, I thought I might venture to take as many hours,
as I am working entirely alone. You said nothing about haste, you
know.'

'Oh, come now, Valmont, that's a bit thick. Do you mean to say you
have already got evidence against the man?'

'Evidence absolute and complete.'

'Then who are the coiners?'

'My most estimable friend, how often have I told you not to jump at
conclusions? I informed you when you first spoke to me about the
matter that Summertrees was neither a coiner nor a confederate of
coiners. I secured evidence sufficient to convict him of quite another
offence, which is probably unique in the annals of crime. I have
penetrated the mystery of the shop, and discovered the reason for all
those suspicious actions which quite properly set you on his trail.
Now I wish you to come to my flat next Wednesday night at a quarter to
six, prepared to make an arrest.'

'I must know who I am to arrest, and on what counts.'

'Quite so, _mon ami_ Hale; I did not say you were to make an arrest,
but merely warned you to be prepared. If you have time now to listen
to the disclosures, I am quite at your service. I promise you there
are some original features in the case. If, however, the present
moment is inopportune, drop in on me at your convenience, previously
telephoning so that you may know whether I am there or not, and thus
your valuable time will not be expended purposelessly.'

With this I presented to him my most courteous bow, and although his
mystified expression hinted a suspicion that he thought I was chaffing
him, as he would call it, official dignity dissolved somewhat, and he
intimated his desire to hear all about it then and there. I had
succeeded in arousing my friend Hale's curiosity. He listened to the
evidence with perplexed brow, and at last ejaculated he would be
blessed.

'This young man,' I said, in conclusion, 'will call upon me at six on
Wednesday afternoon, to receive his second five shillings. I propose
that you, in your uniform, shall be seated there with me to receive
him, and I am anxious to study Mr. Macpherson's countenance when he
realises he has walked in to confront a policeman. If you will then
allow me to cross-examine him for a few moments, not after the manner
of Scotland Yard, with a warning lest he incriminate himself, but in
the free and easy fashion we adopt in Paris, I shall afterwards turn
the case over to you to be dealt with at your discretion.'

'You have a wonderful flow of language, Monsieur Valmont,' was the
officer's tribute to me. 'I shall be on hand at a quarter to six on
Wednesday.'

'Meanwhile,' said I, 'kindly say nothing of this to anyone. We must
arrange a complete surprise for Macpherson. That is essential. Please
make no move in the matter at all until Wednesday night.'

Spenser Hale, much impressed, nodded acquiescence, and I took a polite
leave of him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The question of lighting is an important one in a room such as mine,
and electricity offers a good deal of scope to the ingenious. Of this
fact I have taken full advantage. I can manipulate the lighting of my
room so that any particular spot is bathed in brilliancy, while the
rest of the space remains in comparative gloom, and I arranged the
lamps so that the full force of their rays impinged against the door
that Wednesday evening, while I sat on one side of the table in
semi-darkness and Hale sat on the other, with a light beating down on
him from above which gave him the odd, sculptured look of a living
statue of Justice, stern and triumphant. Anyone entering the room
would first be dazzled by the light, and next would see the gigantic
form of Hale in the full uniform of his order.

When Angus Macpherson was shown into this room he was quite visibly
taken aback, and paused abruptly on the threshold, his gaze riveted on
the huge policeman. I think his first purpose was to turn and run, but
the door closed behind him, and he doubtless heard, as we all did,
the sound of the bolt being thrust in its place, thus locking him in.

'I--I beg your pardon,' he stammered, 'I expected to meet Mr. Webster.'

As he said this, I pressed the button under my table, and was
instantly enshrouded with light. A sickly smile overspread the
countenance of Macpherson as he caught sight of me, and he made a very
creditable attempt to carry off the situation with nonchalance.

'Oh, there you are, Mr. Webster; I did not notice you at first.'

It was a tense moment. I spoke slowly and impressively.

'Sir, perhaps you are not unacquainted with the name of Eugène
Valmont.'

He replied brazenly,--

'I am sorry to say, sir, I never heard of the gentleman before.'

At this came a most inopportune 'Haw-haw' from that blockhead Spenser
Hale, completely spoiling the dramatic situation I had elaborated with
such thought and care. It is little wonder the English possess no
drama, for they show scant appreciation of the sensational moments in
life.

'Haw-haw,' brayed Spenser Hale, and at once reduced the emotional
atmosphere to a fog of commonplace. However, what is a man to do? He
must handle the tools with which it pleases Providence to provide him.
I ignored Hale's untimely laughter.

'Sit down, sir,' I said to Macpherson, and he obeyed.

'You have called on Lord Semptam this week,' I continued sternly.

'Yes, sir.'

'And collected a pound from him?'

'Yes, sir.'

'In October, 1893, you sold Lord Semptam a carved antique table for
fifty pounds?'

'Quite right, sir.'

'When you were here last week you gave me Ralph Summertrees as the
name of a gentleman living in Park Lane. You knew at the time that
this man was your employer?'

Macpherson was now looking fixedly at me, and on this occasion made no
reply. I went on calmly:--

'You also knew that Summertrees, of Park Lane, was identical with
Simpson, of Tottenham Court Road?'

'Well, sir,' said Macpherson, 'I don't exactly see what you're
driving at, but it's quite usual for a man to carry on a business
under an assumed name. There is nothing illegal about that.'

'We will come to the illegality in a moment, Mr. Macpherson. You, and
Rogers, and Tyrrel, and three others, are confederates of this man
Simpson.'

'We are in his employ; yes, sir, but no more confederates than clerks
usually are.'

'I think, Mr. Macpherson, I have said enough to show you that the game
is, what you call, up. You are now in the presence of Mr. Spenser Hale,
from Scotland Yard, who is waiting to hear your confession.'

Here the stupid Hale broke in with his--

'And remember, sir, that anything you say will be--'

'Excuse me, Mr. Hale,' I interrupted hastily, 'I shall turn over the
case to you in a very few moments, but I ask you to remember our
compact, and to leave it for the present entirely in my hands. Now, Mr
Macpherson, I want your confession, and I want it at once.'

'Confession? Confederates?' protested Macpherson with admirably
simulated surprise. 'I must say you use extraordinary terms,
Mr--Mr--What did you say the name was?'

'Haw-haw,' roared Hale. 'His name is Monsieur Valmont.'

'I implore you, Mr. Hale, to leave this man to me for a very few
moments. Now, Macpherson, what have you to say in your defence?'

'Where nothing criminal has been alleged, Monsieur Valmont, I see no
necessity for defence. If you wish me to admit that somehow you have
acquired a number of details regarding our business, I am perfectly
willing to do so, and to subscribe to their accuracy. If you will be
good enough to let me know of what you complain, I shall endeavour to
make the point clear to you if I can. There has evidently been some
misapprehension, but for the life of me, without further explanation,
I am as much in a fog as I was on my way coming here, for it is
getting a little thick outside.'

Macpherson certainly was conducting himself with great discretion, and
presented, quite unconsciously, a much more diplomatic figure than my
friend, Spenser Hale, sitting stiffly opposite me. His tone was one of
mild expostulation, mitigated by the intimation that all
misunderstanding speedily would be cleared away. To outward view he
offered a perfect picture of innocence, neither protesting too much
nor too little. I had, however, another surprise in store for him, a
trump card, as it were, and I played it down on the table.

'There!' I cried with vim, 'have you ever seen that sheet before?'

He glanced at it without offering to take it in his hand.

'Oh, yes,' he said, 'that has been abstracted from our file. It is
what I call my visiting list.'

'Come, come, sir,' I cried sternly, 'you refuse to confess, but I warn
you we know all about it. You never heard of Dr. Willoughby, I
suppose?'

'Yes, he is the author of the silly pamphlet on Christian Science.'

'You are in the right, Mr. Macpherson; on Christian Science and
Absent-Mindedness.'

'Possibly. I haven't read it for a long while.'

'Have you ever met this learned doctor, Mr. Macpherson?'

'Oh, yes. Dr. Willoughby is the pen-name of Mr. Summertrees. He believes
in Christian Science and that sort of thing, and writes about it.'

'Ah, really. We are getting your confession bit by bit, Mr. Macpherson.
I think it would be better to be quite frank with us.'

'I was just going to make the same suggestion to you, Monsieur
Valmont. If you will tell me in a few words exactly what is your
charge against either Mr. Summertrees or myself, I will know then what
to say.'

'We charge you, sir, with obtaining money under false pretences, which
is a crime that has landed more than one distinguished financier in
prison.'

Spenser Hale shook his fat forefinger at me, and said,--

'Tut, tut, Valmont; we mustn't threaten, we mustn't threaten, you
know;' but I went on without heeding him.

'Take for instance, Lord Semptam. You sold him a table for fifty
pounds, on the instalment plan. He was to pay a pound a week, and in
less than a year the debt was liquidated. But he is an absent-minded
man, as all your clients are. That is why you came to me. I had
answered the bogus Willoughby's advertisement. And so you kept on
collecting and collecting for something more than three years. Now do
you understand the charge?'

Mr. Macpherson's head during this accusation was held slightly inclined
to one side. At first his face was clouded by the most clever
imitation of anxious concentration of mind I had ever seen, and this
was gradually cleared away by the dawn of awakening perception. When I
had finished, an ingratiating smile hovered about his lips.

'Really, you know,' he said, 'that is rather a capital scheme. The
absent-minded league, as one might call them. Most ingenious.
Summertrees, if he had any sense of humour, which he hasn't, would be
rather taken by the idea that his innocent fad for Christian Science
had led him to be suspected of obtaining money under false pretences.
But, really, there are no pretensions about the matter at all. As I
understand it, I simply call and receive the money through the
forgetfulness of the persons on my list, but where I think you would
have both Summertrees and myself, if there was anything in your
audacious theory, would be an indictment for conspiracy. Still, I
quite see how the mistake arises. You have jumped to the conclusion
that we sold nothing to Lord Semptam except that carved table three
years ago. I have pleasure in pointing out to you that his lordship is
a frequent customer of ours, and has had many things from us at one
time or another. Sometimes he is in our debt; sometimes we are in his.
We keep a sort of running contract with him by which he pays us a
pound a week. He and several other customers deal on the same plan,
and in return for an income that we can count upon, they get the first
offer of anything in which they are supposed to be interested. As I
have told you, we call these sheets in the office our visiting lists,
but to make the visiting lists complete you need what we term our
encyclopaedia. We call it that because it is in so many volumes; a
volume for each year, running back I don't know how long. You will
notice little figures here from time to time above the amount stated
on this visiting list. These figures refer to the page of the
encyclopaedia for the current year, and on that page is noted the new
sale, and the amount of it, as it might be set down, say, in a
ledger.'

'That is a very entertaining explanation, Mr. Macpherson. I suppose
this encyclopaedia, as you call it, is in the shop at Tottenham Court
Road?'

'Oh, no, sir. Each volume of the encyclopaedia is self-locking. These
books contain the real secret of our business, and they are kept in
the safe at Mr. Summertrees' house in Park Lane. Take Lord Semptam's
account, for instance. You will find in faint figures under a certain
date, 102. If you turn to page 102 of the encyclopaedia for that year,
you will then see a list of what Lord Semptam has bought, and the
prices he was charged for them. It is really a very simple matter. If
you will allow me to use your telephone for a moment, I will ask Mr
Summertrees, who has not yet begun dinner, to bring with him here the
volume for 1893, and, within a quarter of an hour, you will be
perfectly satisfied that everything is quite legitimate.'

I confess that the young man's naturalness and confidence staggered
me, the more so as I saw by the sarcastic smile on Hale's lips that he
did not believe a single word spoken. A portable telephone stood on
the table, and as Macpherson finished his explanation, he reached over
and drew it towards him. Then Spenser Hale interfered.

'Excuse _me_,' he said, 'I'll do the telephoning. What is the call
number of Mr. Summertrees?'

'140 Hyde Park.'

Hale at once called up Central, and presently was answered from Park
Lane. We heard him say,--

'Is this the residence of Mr. Summertrees? Oh, is that you, Podgers? Is
Mr. Summertrees in? Very well. This is Hale. I am in Valmont's
flat--Imperial Flats--you know. Yes, where you went with me the other
day. Very well, go to Mr. Summertrees, and say to him that Mr
Macpherson wants the encyclopaedia for 1893. Do you get that? Yes,
encyclopaedia. Oh, he'll understand what it is. Mr. Macpherson. No,
don't mention my name at all. Just say Mr. Macpherson wants the
encyclopaedia for the year 1893, and that you are to bring it. Yes,
you may tell him that Mr. Macpherson is at Imperial Flats, but don't
mention my name at all. Exactly. As soon as he gives you the book, get
into a cab, and come here as quickly as possible with it. If
Summertrees doesn't want to let the book go, then tell him to come
with you. If he won't do that, place him under arrest, and bring both
him and the book here. All right. Be as quick as you can; we're
waiting.'

Macpherson made no protest against Hale's use of the telephone; he
merely sat back in his chair with a resigned expression on his face
which, if painted on canvas, might have been entitled 'The Falsely
Accused.' When Hale rang off, Macpherson said,--

'Of course you know your own business best, but if your man arrests
Summertrees, he will make you the laughing-stock of London. There is
such a thing as unjustifiable arrest, as well as getting money under
false pretences, and Mr. Summertrees is not the man to forgive an
insult. And then, if you will allow me to say so, the more I think
over your absent-minded theory, the more absolutely grotesque it
seems, and if the case ever gets into the newspapers, I am sure, Mr.
Hale, you'll experience an uncomfortable half-hour with your chiefs at
Scotland Yard.'

'I'll take the risk of that, thank you,' said Hale stubbornly.

'Am I to consider myself under arrest?' inquired the young man.

'No, sir.'

'Then, if you will pardon me, I shall withdraw. Mr. Summertrees will
show you everything you wish to see in his books, and can explain his
business much more capably than I, because he knows more about it;
therefore, gentlemen, I bid you good-night.'

'No you don't. Not just yet awhile,' exclaimed Hale, rising to his
feet simultaneously with the young man.

'Then I _am_ under arrest,' protested Macpherson.

'You're not going to leave this room until Podgers brings that book.'

'Oh, very well,' and he sat down again.

And now, as talking is dry work, I set out something to drink, a box
of cigars, and a box of cigarettes. Hale mixed his favourite brew, but
Macpherson, shunning the wine of his country, contented himself with a
glass of plain mineral water, and lit a cigarette. Then he awoke my
high regard by saying pleasantly as if nothing had happened,--

'While we are waiting, Monsieur Valmont, may I remind you that you owe
me five shillings?'

I laughed, took the coin from my pocket, and paid him, whereupon he
thanked me.

'Are you connected with Scotland Yard, Monsieur Valmont?' asked
Macpherson, with the air of a man trying to make conversation to
bridge over a tedious interval; but before I could reply, Hale blurted
out,--

'Not likely!'

'You have no official standing as a detective, then, Monsieur
Valmont?'

'None whatever,' I replied quickly, thus getting in my oar ahead of
Hale.

'This is a loss to our country,' pursued this admirable young man,
with evident sincerity.

I began to see I could make a good deal of so clever a fellow if he
came under my tuition.

'The blunders of our police,' he went on, 'are something deplorable.
If they would but take lessons in strategy, say, from France, their
unpleasant duties would be so much more acceptably performed, with
much less discomfort to their victims.'

'France,' snorted Hale in derision, 'why, they call a man guilty there
until he's proven innocent.'

'Yes, Mr. Hale, and the same seems to be the case in Imperial Flats.
You have quite made up your mind that Mr. Summertrees is guilty, and
will not be content until he proves his innocence. I venture to
predict that you will hear from him before long in a manner that may
astonish you.'

Hale grunted and looked at his watch. The minutes passed very slowly
as we sat there smoking, and at last even I began to get uneasy.
Macpherson, seeing our anxiety, said that when he came in the fog was
almost as thick as it had been the week before, and that there might
be some difficulty in getting a cab. Just as he was speaking the door
was unlocked from the outside, and Podgers entered, bearing a thick
volume in his hand. This he gave to his superior, who turned over its
pages in amazement, and then looked at the back, crying,--

'_Encyclopaedia of Sport_, 1893! What sort of a joke is this,
Mr. Macpherson?'

There was a pained look on Mr. Macpherson's face as he reached forward
and took the book. He said with a sigh,--

'If you had allowed me to telephone, Mr. Hale, I should have made it
perfectly plain to Summertrees what was wanted. I might have known
this mistake was liable to occur. There is an increasing demand for
out-of-date books of sport, and no doubt Mr. Summertrees thought this
was what I meant. There is nothing for it but to send your man back to
Park Lane and tell Mr. Summertrees that what we want is the locked
volume of accounts for 1893, which we call the encyclopaedia. Allow me
to write an order that will bring it. Oh, I'll show you what I have
written before your man takes it,' he said, as Hale stood ready to
look over his shoulder.

On my notepaper he dashed off a request such as he had outlined, and
handed it to Hale, who read it and gave it to Podgers.

'Take that to Summertrees, and get back as quickly as possible. Have
you a cab at the door?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Is it foggy outside?'

'Not so much, sir, as it was an hour ago. No difficulty about the
traffic now, sir.'

'Very well, get back as soon as you can.'

Podgers saluted, and left with the book under his arm. Again the door
was locked, and again we sat smoking in silence until the stillness
was broken by the tinkle of the telephone. Hale put the receiver to
his ear.

'Yes, this is the Imperial Flats. Yes. Valmont. Oh, yes; Macpherson is
here. What? Out of what? Can't hear you. Out of print. What, the
encyclopaedia's out of print? Who is that speaking? Dr. Willoughby;
thanks.'

Macpherson rose as if he would go to the telephone, but instead (and
he acted so quietly that I did not notice what he was doing until the
thing was done), he picked up the sheet which he called his visiting
list, and walking quite without haste, held it in the glowing coals of
the fireplace until it disappeared in a flash of flame up the chimney.
I sprang to my feet indignant, but too late to make even a motion
outwards saving the sheet. Macpherson regarded us both with that
self-deprecatory smile which had several times lighted up his face.

'How dared you burn that sheet?' I demanded.

'Because, Monsieur Valmont, it did not belong to you; because you do
not belong to Scotland Yard; because you stole it; because you had no
right to it; and because you have no official standing in this
country. If it had been in Mr. Hale's possession I should not have
dared, as you put it, to destroy the sheet, but as this sheet was
abstracted from my master's premises by you, an entirely unauthorised
person, whom he would have been justified in shooting dead if he had
found you housebreaking and you had resisted him on his discovery, I
took the liberty of destroying the document. I have always held that
these sheets should not have been kept, for, as has been the case, if
they fell under the scrutiny of so intelligent a person as Eugène
Valmont, improper inferences might have been drawn. Mr. Summertrees,
however, persisted in keeping them, but made this concession, that if
I ever telegraphed him or telephoned him the word "Encyclopaedia", he
would at once burn these records, and he, on his part, was to
telegraph or telephone to me "The _Encyclopaedia_ is out of print,"
whereupon I would know that he had succeeded.

'Now, gentlemen, open this door, which will save me the trouble of
forcing it. Either put me formally under arrest, or cease to restrict
my liberty. I am very much obliged to Mr. Hale for telephoning, and I
have made no protest to so gallant a host as Monsieur Valmont is,
because of the locked door. However, the farce is now terminated. The
proceedings I have sat through were entirely illegal, and if you will
pardon me, Mr. Hale, they have been a little too French to go down here
in old England, or to make a report in the newspapers that would be
quite satisfactory to your chiefs. I demand either my formal arrest,
or the unlocking of that door.'

In silence I pressed a button, and my man threw open the door.
Macpherson walked to the threshold, paused, and looked back at Spenser
Hale, who sat there silent as a sphinx.

'Good-evening, Mr. Hale.'

There being no reply, he turned to me with the same ingratiating
smile,--

'Good-evening, Monsieur Eugène Valmont,' he said, 'I shall give myself
the pleasure of calling next Wednesday at six for my five shillings.'




6. _The Ghost with the Club-Foot_


Celebrated critics have written with scorn of what they call 'the long
arm of coincidence' in fiction. Coincidence is supposed to be the
device of a novelist who does not possess ingenuity enough to
construct a book without it. In France our incomparable writers pay no
attention to this, because they are gifted with a keener insight into
real life than is the case with the British. The superb Charles
Dickens, possibly as well known in France as he is wherever the
English language is read, and who loved French soil and the French
people, probably probed deeper into the intricacies of human character
than any other novelist of modern times, and if you read his works,
you will see that he continually makes use of coincidence. The
experience that has come to me throughout my own strange and varied
career convinces me that coincidence happens in real life with
exceeding frequency, and this fact is especially borne in upon me when
I set out to relate my conflict with the Rantremly ghost, which
wrought startling changes upon the lives of two people, one an
objectionable, domineering man, and the other a humble and crushed
woman. Of course, there was a third person, and the consequences that
came to him were the most striking of all, as you will learn if you do
me the honour to read this account of the episode.

So far as coincidence is concerned, there was first the arrival of the
newspaper clipping, then the coming of Sophia Brooks, and when that
much-injured woman left my flat I wrote down this sentence on a sheet
of paper:--

'Before the week is out, I predict that Lord Rantremly himself will
call to see me.'

Next day my servant brought in the card of Lord Rantremly.

I must begin with the visit of Sophia Brooks, for though that comes
second, yet I had paid no attention in particular to the newspaper
clipping until the lady told her story. My man brought me a
typewritten sheet of paper on which were inscribed the words:--

'Sophia Brooks, Typewriting and Translating Office, First Floor, No. 51
Beaumont Street, Strand, London, W.C.'

I said to my servant,--

'Tell the lady as kindly as possible that I have no typewriting work
to give out, and that, in fact, I keep a stenographer and typewriting
machine on the premises.'

A few moments later my man returned, and said the lady wished to see
me, not about typewriting, but regarding a case in which she hoped to
interest me. I was still in some hesitation about admitting her, for
my transactions had now risen to a higher plane than when I was new to
London. My expenses were naturally very heavy, and it was not possible
for me, in justice to myself, to waste time in commissions from the
poor, which even if they resulted successfully meant little money
added to my banking account, and often nothing at all, because the
client was unable to pay. As I remarked before, I possess a heart the
most tender, and therefore must greatly to my grief, steel myself
against the enlisting of my sympathy, which, alas! has frequently led
to my financial loss. Still, sometimes the apparently poor are
involved in matters of extreme importance, and England is so eccentric
a country that one may find himself at fault if he closes his door too
harshly. Indeed, ever since my servant, in the utmost good faith,
threw downstairs the persistent and tattered beggar-man, who he
learned later to his sorrow was actually his Grace the Duke of
Ventnor, I have always cautioned my subordinates not to judge too
hastily from appearances.

'Show the lady in,' I said, and there came to me, hesitating,
backward, abashed, a middle-aged woman, dressed with distressing
plainness, when one thinks of the charming costumes to be seen on a
Parisian boulevard. Her subdued manner was that of one to whom the
world had been cruel. I rose, bowed profoundly, and placed a chair at
her disposal, with the air I should have used if my caller had been a
Royal Princess. I claim no credit for this; it is of my nature. There
you behold Eugène Valmont. My visitor was a woman. _Voilà!_

'Madam,' I said politely, 'in what may I have the pleasure of serving
you?'

The poor woman seemed for the moment confused, and was, I feared, on
the verge of tears, but at last she spoke, and said,--

'Perhaps you have read in the newspapers of the tragedy at Rantremly
Castle?'

'The name, madam, remains in my memory, associated elusively with some
hint of seriousness. Will you pardon me a moment?' and a vague thought
that I had seen the castle mentioned either in a newspaper, or a
clipping from one, caused me to pick up the latest bunch which had
come from my agent. I am imbued with no vanity at all; still it is
amusing to note what the newspapers say of one, and therefore I have
subscribed to a clipping agency. In fact, I indulge in two
subscriptions--one personal; the other calling for any pronouncement
pertaining to the differences between England and France; for it is my
determination yet to write a book on the comparative characteristics
of the two people. I hold a theory that the English people are utterly
incomprehensible to the rest of humanity, and this will be duly set
out in my forthcoming volume.

I speedily found the clipping I was in search of. It proved to be a
letter to the _Times_, and was headed: 'Proposed Destruction of
Rantremly Castle'. The letter went on to say that this edifice was one
of the most noted examples of Norman architecture in the north of
England; that Charles II had hidden there for some days after his
disastrous defeat at Worcester. Part of the castle had been battered
down by Cromwell, and later it again proved the refuge of a Stuart
when the Pretender made it a temporary place of concealment. The new
Lord Rantremly, it seemed, had determined to demolish this ancient
stronghold, so interesting architecturally and historically, and to
build with its stones a modern residence. Against this act of
vandalism the writer strongly protested, and suggested that England
should acquire the power which France constantly exerts, in making an
historical monument of an edifice so interwoven with the fortunes of
the country.

'Well, madam,' I said, 'all this extract alludes to is the coming
demolition of Rantremly Castle. Is that the tragedy of which you
speak?'

'Oh no,' she exclaimed; 'I mean the death of the eleventh Lord
Rantremly about six weeks ago. For ten years Lord Rantremly lived
practically alone in the castle. Servants would not remain there
because the place was haunted, and well it may be, for a terrible
family the Rantremlys have been, and a cruel, as I shall be able to
tell you. Up to a month and a half ago Lord Rantremly was waited on by
a butler older than himself, and if possible, more wicked. One morning
this old butler came up the stairs from the kitchen, with Lord
Rantremly's breakfast on a silver tray, as was his custom. His
lordship always partook of breakfast in his own room. It is not known
how the accident happened, as the old servant was going up the stairs
instead of coming down, but the steps are very smooth and slippery,
and without a carpet; at any rate, he seems to have fallen from the
top to the bottom, and lay there with a broken neck. Lord Rantremly,
who was very deaf, seemingly did not hear the crash, and it is
supposed that after ringing and ringing in vain, and doubtless working
himself into a violent fit of temper--alas! too frequent an
occurrence--the old nobleman got out of bed, and walked barefooted
down the stair, coming at last upon the body of his ancient servant.
There the man who arrived every morning to light the fires found them,
the servant dead, and Lord Rantremly helpless from an attack of
paralysis. The physicians say that only his eyes seemed alive, and
they were filled with a great fear, and indeed that is not to be
wondered at, after his wicked, wicked life. His right hand was but
partially disabled, and with that he tried to scribble something which
proved indecipherable. And so he died, and those who attended him at
his last moments say that if ever a soul had a taste of future
punishment before it left this earth, it was the soul of Lord
Rantremly as it shone through those terror-stricken eyes.'

Here the woman stopped, with a catch in her breath, as if the fear of
that grim death-bed had communicated itself to her. I interjected
calmness into an emotional situation by remarking in a commonplace
tone,--'And it is the present Lord Rantremly who proposes to destroy
the castle, I suppose?'

'Yes.'

'Is he the son of the late lord?'

'No; he is a distant relative. The branch of the family to which he
belongs has been engaged in commerce, and, I believe, its members are
very wealthy.'

'Well, madam, no doubt this is all extremely interesting, and rather
gruesome. In what way are you concerned in these occurrences?'

'Ten years ago I replied to an advertisement, there being required one
who knew shorthand, who possessed a typewriting machine and a
knowledge of French, to act as secretary to a nobleman. I was at that
time twenty-three years old, and for two years had been trying to earn
my living in London through the typing of manuscript. But I was making
a hard struggle of it, so I applied for this position and got it.
There are in the library of Rantremly Castle many documents relating
to the Stuart exile in France. His lordship wished these documents
sorted and catalogued, as well as copies taken of each. Many of the
letters were in the French language, and these I was required to
translate and type. It was a sombre place of residence, but the salary
was good, and I saw before me work enough to keep me busy for years.
Besides this, the task was extremely congenial, and I became absorbed
in it, being young and romantically inclined. Here I seemed to live in
the midst of these wonderful intrigues of long ago. Documents passed
through my hands whose very possession at one period meant capital
danger, bringing up even now visions of block, axe, and masked
headsman. It seemed strange to me that so sinister a man as Lord
Rantremly, who, I had heard, cared for nothing but drink and gambling,
should have desired to promote this historical research, and, indeed,
I soon found he felt nothing but contempt for it. However, he had
undertaken it at the instance of his only son, then a young man of my
own age, at Oxford University.

'Lord Rantremly at that time was sixty-five years old. His countenance
was dark, harsh, and imperious, and his language brutal. He indulged
in frightful outbursts of temper, but he paid so well for service that
there was no lack of it, as there has been since the ghost appeared
some years ago. He was very tall, and of commanding appearance, but
had a deformity in the shape of a club-foot, and walked with the
halting step of those so afflicted. There were at that time servants
in plenty at the castle, for although a tradition existed that the
ghost of the founder of the house trod certain rooms, this ghost, it
was said, never demonstrated its presence when the living
representative of the family was a man with a club-foot. Tradition
further affirmed that if this club-footed ghost allowed its halting
footsteps to be heard while the reigning lord possessed a similar
deformity, the conjunction foreshadowed the passing of title and
estates to a stranger. The ghost haunted the castle only when it was
occupied by a descendant whose two feet were normal. It seems that the
founder of the house was a club-footed man, and this disagreeable
peculiarity often missed one generation, and sometimes two, while at
other times both father and son had club-feet, as was the case with
the late Lord Rantremly and the young man at Oxford. I am not a
believer in the supernatural, of course, but nevertheless it is
strange that within the past few years everyone residing in the castle
has heard the club-footed ghost, and now title and estates descend to
a family that were utter strangers to the Rantremlys.'

'Well, madam, this also sounds most alluring, and were my time not
taken up with affairs more material than those to which you allude, I
should be content to listen all day, but as it is--' I spread my hands
and shrugged my shoulders.

The woman with a deep sigh said,--

'I am sorry to have taken so long, but I wished you to understand the
situation, and now I will come direct to the heart of the case. I
worked alone in the library, as I told you, much interested in what I
was doing. The chaplain, a great friend of Lord Rantremly's son, and,
indeed, a former tutor of his, assisted me with the documents that
were in Latin, and a friendship sprang up between us. He was an
elderly man, and extremely unworldly. Lord Rantremly never concealed
his scorn of this clergyman, but did not interfere with him because of
the son.

'My work went on very pleasantly up to the time that Reginald, the
heir of his lordship, came down from Oxford. Then began the happiest
days of a life that has been otherwise full of hardships and distress.
Reginald was as different as possible from his father. In one respect
only did he bear any resemblance to that terrible old man, and this
resemblance was the deformity of a club-foot, a blemish which one soon
forgot when one came to know the gentle and high-minded nature of the
young man. As I have said, it was at his instance that Lord Rantremly
had engaged me to set in order those historical papers. Reginald
became enthusiastic at the progress I had made, and thus the young
nobleman, the chaplain, and myself continued our work together with
ever-increasing enthusiasm.

'To cut short a recital which must be trying to your patience, but
which is necessary if you are to understand the situation, I may say
that our companionship resulted in a proposal of marriage to me, which
I, foolishly, perhaps, and selfishly, it may be, accepted. Reginald
knew that his father would never consent, but we enlisted the sympathy
of the chaplain, and he, mild, unworldly man, married us one day in
the consecrated chapel of the castle.

'As I have told you, the house at that time contained many servants,
and I think, without being sure, that the butler, whom I feared even
more than Lord Rantremly himself, got some inkling of what was going
forward. But, be that as it may, he and his lordship entered the
chapel just as the ceremony was finished, and there followed an
agonising scene. His lordship flung the ancient chaplain from his
place, and when Reginald attempted to interfere, the maddened nobleman
struck his son full in the face with his clenched fist, and my husband
lay as one dead on the stone floor of the chapel. By this time the
butler had locked the doors, and had rudely torn the vestments from
the aged, half-insensible clergyman, and with these tied him hand and
foot. All this took place in a very few moments, and I stood there as
one paralysed, unable either to speak or scream, not that screaming
would have done me any good in that horrible place of thick walls. The
butler produced a key, and unlocked a small, private door at the side
of the chapel which led from the apartments of his lordship to the
family pew. Then taking my husband by feet and shoulders, Lord
Rantremly and the butler carried him out, locking the door, and
leaving the clergyman and me prisoners in the chapel. The reverend old
gentleman took no notice of me. He seemed to be dazed, and when at
last I found my voice and addressed him, he merely murmured over and
over texts of Scripture pertaining to the marriage service.

'In a short time I heard the key turn again in the lock of the private
door, and the butler entered alone. He unloosened the bands around the
clergyman's knees, escorted him out, and once more locked the door
behind him. A third time that terrible servant came back, grasped me
roughly by the wrist, and without a word dragged me with him, along a
narrow passage, up a stair, and finally to the main hall, and so to my
lord's private study, which adjoined his bedroom, and there on a table
I found my typewriting machine brought up from the library.

'I have but the most confused recollection of what took place. I am
not a courageous woman, and was in mortal terror both of Lord
Rantremly and his attendant. His lordship was pacing up and down the
room, and, when I came in, used the most unseemly language to me; then
ordered me to write at his dictation, swearing that if I did not do
exactly as he told me, he would finish his son, as he put it. I sat
down at the machine, and he dictated a letter to himself, demanding
two thousand pounds to be paid to me, otherwise I should claim that I
was the wife of his son, secretly married. This, placing pen and ink
before me, he compelled me to sign, and when I had done so, pleading
to be allowed to see my husband, if only for a moment, I thought he
was going to strike me, for he shook his fist in my face, and used
words which were appalling to hear. That was the last I ever saw of
Lord Rantremly, my husband, the clergyman, or the butler. I was at
once sent off to London with my belongings, the butler himself buying
my ticket, and flinging a handful of sovereigns into my lap as the
train moved out.'

Here the woman stopped, buried her face in her hands, and began to
weep.

'Have you done nothing about this for the past ten years?'

She shook her head.

'What could I do?' she gasped. 'I had little money, and no friends.
Who would believe my story? Besides this, Lord Rantremly retained
possession of a letter, signed by myself, that would convict me of
attempted blackmail, while the butler would swear to anything against
me.'

'You have no marriage certificate, of course?'

'No.'

'What has become of the clergyman?'

'I do not know.'

'And what of Lord Rantremly's son?'

'It was announced that he had gone on a voyage to Australia for his
health in a sailing ship, which was wrecked on the African coast, and
everyone on board lost.'

'What is your own theory?'

'Oh, my husband was killed by the blow given him in the chapel.'

'Madam, that does not seem credible. A blow from the fist seldom
kills.'

'But he fell backwards, and his head struck the sharp stone steps at
the foot of the altar. I know my husband was dead when the butler and
his father carried him out.'

'You think the clergyman was also murdered?'

'I am sure of it. Both master and servant were capable of any crime or
cruelty.'

'You received no letters from the young man?'

'No. You see, during our short friendship we were constantly together,
and there was no need of correspondence.'

'Well, madam, what do you expect of me?'

'I hoped you would investigate, and find perhaps where Reginald and
the clergyman are buried. I realise that I have no proof, but in that
way my strange story will be corroborated.'

I leaned back in my chair and looked at her. Truth to tell, I only
partially credited her story myself, and yet I was positive she
believed every word of it. Ten years brooding on a fancied injustice
by a woman living alone, and doubtless often in dire poverty, had
mixed together the actual and the imaginary until now, what had
possibly been an aimless flirtation on the part of the young man,
unexpectedly discovered by the father, had formed itself into the
tragedy which she had told me.

'Would it not be well,' I suggested, 'to lay the facts before the
present Lord Rantremly?'

'I have done so,' she answered simply.

'With what result?'

'His lordship said my story was preposterous. In examining the late
lord's private papers, he discovered the letter which I typed and
signed. He said very coldly that the fact that I had waited until
everyone who could corroborate or deny my story was dead, united with
the improbability of the narrative itself, would very likely consign
me to prison if I made public a statement so incredible.'

'Well, you know, madam, I think his lordship is right.'

'He offered me an annuity of fifty pounds, which I refused.'

'In that refusal, madam, I think you are wrong. If you take my advice,
you will accept the annuity.'

The woman rose slowly to her feet.

'It is not money I am after,' she said, 'although, God knows, I have
often been in sore need of it. But I am the Countess of Rantremly, and
I wish my right to that name acknowledged. My character has been under
an impalpable shadow for ten years. On several occasions mysterious
hints have reached me that in some manner I left the castle under a
cloud. If Lord Rantremly will destroy the letter which I was compelled
to write under duress, and if he will give me written acknowledgment
that there was nothing to be alleged against me during my stay in the
castle, he may enjoy his money in peace for all of me. I want none of
it.'

'Have you asked him to do this?'

'Yes. He refuses to give up or destroy the letter, although I told him
in what circumstances it had been written. But, desiring to be fair,
he said he would allow me a pound a week for life, entirely through
his own generosity.'

'And this you refused?'

'Yes, I refused.'

'Madam, I regret to say that I cannot see my way to do anything with
regard to what I admit is very unjust usage. We have absolutely
nothing to go upon except your unsupported word. Lord Rantremly was
perfectly right when he said no one would credit your story. I could
not go down to Rantremly Castle and make investigations there. I
should have no right upon the premises at all, and would get into
instant trouble as an interfering trespasser. I beg you to heed my
advice, and accept the annuity.'

Sophia Brooks, with that mild obstinacy of which I had received
indications during her recital, slowly shook her head.

'You have been very kind to listen for so long,' she said, and then,
with a curt 'Good-day!' turned and left the room. On the sheet of
paper underneath her address, I wrote this prophecy: 'Before the week
is out, I predict that Lord Rantremly himself will call to see me.'

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning, at almost the same hour that Miss Brooks had arrived the
day before, the Earl of Rantremly's card was brought in to me.

His lordship proved to be an abrupt, ill-mannered, dapper business
man; purse-proud, I should call him, as there was every reason he
should be, for he had earned his own fortune. He was doubtless equally
proud of his new title, which he was trying to live up to, assuming
now and then a haughty, domineering attitude, and again relapsing into
the keen, incisive manner of the man of affairs; shrewd financial
sense waging a constant struggle with the glamour of an ancient name.
I am sure he would have shone to better advantage either as a
financier or as a nobleman, but the combination was too much for him.
I formed an instinctive dislike to the man, which probably would not
have happened had he been wearing the title for twenty years, or had I
met him as a business man, with no thought of the aristocratic honour
awaiting him. There seemed nothing in common between him and the
former holder of the title. He had keen, ferrety eyes, a sharp
financial nose, a thin-lipped line of mouth which indicated little of
human kindness. He was short of stature, but he did not possess the
club-foot, which was one advantage. He seated himself before I had
time to offer him a chair, and kept on his hat in my presence, which
he would not have done if he had either been a genuine nobleman or a
courteous business man.

'I am Lord Rantremly,' he announced pompously, which announcement was
quite unnecessary, because I held his card in my hand.

'Quite so, my lord. And you have come to learn whether or no I can lay
the ghost in that old castle to the north which bears your name?'

'Well, I'm blessed!' cried his lordship, agape. 'How could you guess
that?'

'Oh, it is not a guess, but rather a choice of two objects, either of
which might bring you to my rooms. I chose the first motive because I
thought you might prefer to arrange the second problem with your
solicitor, and he doubtless told you that Miss Sophia Brooks's claim
was absurd; that you were quite right in refusing to give up or
destroy the typewritten letter she had signed ten years ago, and that
it was weakness on your part, without consulting him, to offer her an
annuity of fifty-two pounds a year.'

Long before this harangue was finished, which I uttered in an easy and
nonchalant tone of voice, as if reciting something that everybody
knew, his lordship stood on his feet again, staring at me like a man
thunderstruck. This gave me the opportunity of exercising that
politeness which his abrupt entrance and demeanour had forestalled. I
rose, and bowing, said,--

'I pray you to be seated, my lord.'

He dropped into the chair, rather than sat down in it.

'And now,' I continued, with the utmost suavity, stretching forth my
hand, 'may I place your hat on this shelf out of the way, where it
will not incommode you during our discourse?'

Like a man in a dream, he took his hat from his head, and passively
handed it to me, and after placing it in safety I resumed my chair
with the comfortable feeling that his lordship and I were much nearer
a plane of equality than when he entered the room.

'How about the ghost with a club-foot, my lord?' said I genially. 'May
I take it that in the City, that sensible, commercial portion of
London, no spirits are believed in except those sold over the bars?'

'If you mean,' began his lordship, struggling to reach his dignity
once more, 'if you mean to ask if there is any man fool enough to
place credit in the story of a ghost, I answer no. I am a practical
man, sir. I now possess in the north property representing, in farming
lands, in shooting rights, and what not, a locked-up capital of many
a thousand pounds. As you seem to know everything, sir, perhaps you
are aware that I propose to build a modern mansion on the estate.'

'Yes; I saw the letter in the _Times_.'

'Very well, sir. It has come to a fine pass if, in this country of law
and the rights of property, a man may not do what he pleases with his
own.'

'I think, my lord, cases may be cited where the decisions of your
courts have shown a man may not do what he likes with his own.
Nevertheless, I am quite certain that if you level Rantremly Castle
with the ground, and build a modern mansion in its place, the law will
not hinder you.'

'I should hope not, sir, I should hope not,' said his lordship
gruffly. 'Nevertheless, I am not one who wishes to ride roughshod over
public opinion.

'I am chairman of several companies which depend more or less on
popular favour for success. I deplore unnecessary antagonism.
Technically, I might assert my right to destroy this ancient
stronghold tomorrow if I wished to do so, and if that right were
seriously disputed, I should, of course, stand firm. But it is not
seriously disputed. The British nation, sir, is too sensible a people
to object to the removal of an antiquated structure that has long
outlived its usefulness, and the erection of a mansion replete with
all modern improvements would be a distinct addition to the country,
sir. A few impertinent busybodies protest against the demolition of
Rantremly Castle, but that is all.'

'Ah, then you _do_ intend to destroy it?' I rejoined, and it is
possible that a touch of regret was manifest in my tones.

'Not just at present; not until this vulgar clamour has had time to
subside. Nevertheless, as a business man, I am forced to recognise
that a large amount of unproductive capital is locked up in that
property.'

'And why is it locked up?'

'Because of an absurd belief that the place is haunted. I could let it
tomorrow at a good figure, if it were not for that rumour.'

'But surely sensible men do not pay any attention to such a rumour.'

'Sensible men may not, but sensible men are often married to silly
women, and the women object. It is only the other day that I was in
negotiation with Bates, of Bates, Sturgeon and Bates, a very wealthy
man, quite able and willing to pay the price I demanded. He cared
nothing about the alleged ghost, but his family absolutely refused to
have anything to do with the place, and so the arrangement fell
through.'

'What is your theory regarding this ghost, my lord?'

He answered me with some impatience.

'How can a sane man hold a theory about a ghost? I can, however,
advance a theory regarding the noises heard in the castle. For years
that place has been the resort of questionable characters.'

'I understand the Rantremly family is a very old one,' I commented
innocently, but his lordship did not notice the innuendo.

'Yes, we are an old family,' he went on with great complacency. 'The
castle, as perhaps you are aware, is a huge, ramshackle place,
honeycombed underneath with cellars. I dare say in the old days some
of these cellars and caves were the resort of smugglers, and the
receptacle of their contraband wares, doubtless with the full
knowledge of my ancestors, who, I regret to admit, as a business man,
were not too particular in their respect for law. I make no doubt that
the castle is now the refuge of a number of dangerous characters, who,
knowing the legends of the place, frighten away fools by impersonating
ghosts.'

'You wish me to uncover their retreat, then?'

'Precisely.'

'Could I get accommodation in the castle itself?'

'Lord bless you, no! Nor within two miles of it. You might secure bed
and board at the porter's lodge, perhaps, or in the village, which is
three miles distant.'

'I should prefer to live in the castle night and day, until the
mystery is solved.'

'Ah, you are a practical man. That is a very sensible resolution. But
you can persuade no one in that neighbourhood to bear you company. You
would need to take some person down with you from London, and the
chances are, that person will not stay long.'

'Perhaps, my lord, if you used your influence, the chief of police in
the village might allow a constable to bear me company. I do not mind
roughing it in the least, but I should like someone to prepare my
meals, and to be on hand in case of a struggle, should your surmise
concerning the ghost prove correct.'

'I regret to inform you,' said his lordship, 'that the police in that
barbarous district are as superstitious as the peasantry. I, myself,
told the chief constable my theory, and for six weeks he has been
trying to run down the miscreants, who, I am sure, are making a
rendezvous of the castle. Would you believe it, sir, that the
constabulary, after a few nights' experience in the castle, threatened
to resign in a body if they were placed on duty at Rantremly? They
said they heard groans and shrieks, and the measured beat of a
club-foot on the oaken floors. Perfectly absurd, of course, but there
you are! Why, I cannot even get a charwoman or labourer to clear up
the evidences of the tragedy which took place there six weeks ago. The
beds are untouched, the broken china and the silver tray lie today at
the foot of the stairway, and everything remains just as it was when
the inquest took place.'

'Very well, my lord, the case presents many difficulties, and so,
speaking as one business man to another, you will understand that my
compensation must be correspondingly great.'

All the assumed dignity which straightened up this man whenever I
addressed him as 'my lord', instantly fell from him when I enunciated
the word 'compensation'. His eyes narrowed, and all the native
shrewdness of an adept skinflint appeared in his face. I shall do him
the justice to say that he drove the very best bargain he could with
me, and I, on my part, very deftly concealed from him the fact that I
was so much interested in the affair that I should have gone down to
Rantremly for nothing rather than forgo the privilege of ransacking
Rantremly Castle.

When the new earl had taken his departure, walking to the door with
the haughty air of a nobleman, then bowing to me with the affability
of a business man, I left my flat, took a cab, and speedily found
myself climbing the stair to the first floor of 51 Beaumont Street,
Strand. As I paused at the door on which were painted the words, 'S.
Brooks, Stenography, Typewriting, Translation', I heard the rapid
click-click of a machine inside. Knocking at the door the writing
ceased, and I was bidden to enter. The room was but meagrely
furnished, and showed scant signs of prosperity. On a small
side-table, clean, but uncovered, the breakfast dishes, washed, but
not yet put away, stood, and the kettle on the hob by the dying fire
led me to infer that the typewriting woman was her own cook. I
suspected that the awkward-looking sofa which partly occupied one side
of the room, concealed a bed. By the lone front window stood the
typewriting machine on a small stand, and in front of it sat the woman
who had visited me the morning before. She was now gazing at me,
probably hoping I was a customer, for there was no recognition in her
eyes.

'Good-morning, Lady Rantremly,' was my greeting, which caused her to
spring immediately to her feet, with a little exclamation of surprise.

'Oh,' she said at last, 'you are Monsieur Valmont. Excuse me that I am
so stupid. Will you take a chair?'

'Thank you, madam. It is I who should ask to be excused for so
unceremonious a morning call. I have come to ask you a question. Can
you cook?'

The lady looked at me with some surprise, mingled perhaps with so much
of indignation as such a mild person could assume. She did not reply,
but, glancing at the kettle, and then turning towards the breakfast
dishes on the table by the wall, a slow flush of colour suffused her
wan cheeks.

'My lady,' I said at last, as the silence became embarrassing, 'you
must pardon the impulse of a foreigner who finds himself constantly
brought into conflict with prejudices which he fails to understand.
You are perhaps offended at my question. The last person of whom I
made that inquiry was the young and beautiful Madame la Comtesse de
Valérie-Moberanne, who enthusiastically clapped her hands with delight
at the compliment, and replied impulsively,--

'"Oh, Monsieur Valmont, let me compose for you an omelette which will
prove a dream," and she did. One should not forget that Louis XVIII
himself cooked the _truffes à la purée d'ortolans_ that caused the Duc
d'Escars, who partook of the royal dish, to die of an indigestion.
Cooking is a noble, yes, a regal art. I am a Frenchman, my lady, and,
like all my countrymen, regard the occupation of a cuisinière as
infinitely superior to the manipulation of that machine, which is your
profession, or the science of investigation, which is mine.'

'Sir,' she said, quite unmollified by my harangue, speaking with a
lofty pride which somehow seemed much more natural than that so
intermittently assumed by my recent visitor, 'Sir, have you come to
offer me a situation as cook?'

'Yes, madam, at Rantremly Castle.'

'You are going there?' she demanded, almost breathlessly.

'Yes, madam, I leave on the ten o'clock train tomorrow morning. I am
commissioned by Lord Rantremly to investigate the supposed presence of
the ghost in that mouldering dwelling. I am allowed to bring with me
whatever assistants I require, and am assured that no one in the
neighbourhood can be retained who dare sleep in the castle. You know
the place very well, having lived there, so I shall be glad of your
assistance if you will come. If there is any person whom you can
trust, and who is not afraid of ghosts, I shall be delighted to escort
you both to Rantremly Castle tomorrow.'

'There is an old woman,' she said, 'who comes here to clear up my
room, and do whatever I wish done. She is so deaf that she will hear
no ghosts, and besides, monsieur, she can cook.'

I laughed in acknowledgment of this last sly hit at me, as the English
say.

'That will do excellently,' I replied, rising, and placing a ten-pound
note before her. 'I suggest, madam, that you purchase with this
anything you may need. My man has instructions to send by passenger
train a huge case of provisions, which should arrive there before us.
If you could make it convenient to meet me at Euston Station about a
quarter of an hour before the train leaves, we may be able to discover
all you wish to know regarding the mystery of Rantremly Castle.'

Sophia Brooks accepted the money without demur, and thanked me. I
could see that her thin hands were trembling with excitement as she
put the crackling banknote into her purse.

       *       *       *       *       *

Darkness was coming on next evening before we were installed in the
grim building, which at first sight seemed more like a fortress than a
residence. I had telegraphed from London to order a wagonette for us,
and in this vehicle we drove to the police station, where I presented
the written order from Lord Rantremly for the keys of the castle. The
chief constable himself, a stolid, taciturn person, exhibited,
nevertheless, some interest in my mission, and he was good enough to
take the fourth seat in the wagonette, and accompany us through the
park to the castle, returning in that conveyance to the village as
nightfall approached, and I could not but notice that this grave
official betrayed some uneasiness to get off before dusk had
completely set in. Silent as he was, I soon learned that he entirely
disbelieved Lord Rantremly's theory that the castle harboured
dangerous characters, yet so great was his inherent respect for the
nobility that I could not induce him to dispute with any decisiveness
his lordship's conjecture. It was plain to be seen, however, that the
chief constable believed implicitly in the club-footed ghost. I asked
him to return the next morning, as I should spend the night in
investigation, and might possibly have some questions to ask him,
questions which none but the chief constable could answer. The good
man promised, and left us rather hurriedly, the driver of the
wagonette galloping his horse down the long, sombre avenue towards the
village outside the gates.

I found Sophia Brooks but a doleful companion, and of very little
assistance that evening. She seemed overcome by her remembrances. She
had visited the library where her former work was done, doubtless the
scene of her brief love episode, and she returned with red eyes and
trembling chin, telling me haltingly that the great tome from which
she was working ten years ago, and which had been left open on the
solid library table, was still there exactly as she had placed it
before being forced to abandon her work. For a decade apparently no
one had entered that library. I could not but sympathise with the poor
lady, thus revisiting, almost herself like a ghost, the haunted arena
of her short happiness. But though she proved so dismal a companion,
the old woman who came with her was a treasure. Having lived all her
life in some semi-slum near the Strand, and having rarely experienced
more than a summer's-day glimpse of the country, the long journey had
delighted her, and now this rambling old castle in the midst of the
forest seemed to realise all the dreams which a perusal of halfpenny
fiction had engendered in her imagination. She lit a fire, and cooked
for us a very creditable supper, bustling about the place, singing to
herself in a high key.

Shortly after supper Sophia Brooks, exhausted as much by her emotions
and memories as by her long journey of that day, retired to rest.
After being left to myself I smoked some cigarettes, and finished a
bottle of superb claret which stood at my elbow. A few hours before I
had undoubtedly fallen in the estimation of the stolid constable when,
instead of asking him questions regarding the tragedy, I had inquired
the position of the wine cellar, and obtained possession of the key
that opened its portal. The sight of bin after bin of dust-laden,
cobwebbed bottles, did more than anything else to reconcile me to my
lonely vigil. There were some notable vintages represented in that
dismal cavern.

It was perhaps half-past ten or eleven o'clock when I began my
investigations. I had taken the precaution to provide myself with half
a dozen so-called electric torches before I left London. These give
illumination for twenty or thirty hours steadily, and much longer if
the flash is used only now and then. The torch is a thick tube,
perhaps a foot and a half long, with a bull's-eye of glass at one end.
By pressing a spring the electric rays project like the illumination
of an engine's headlight. A release of the spring causes instant
darkness. I have found this invention useful in that it concentrates
the light on any particular spot desired, leaving all the surroundings
in gloom, so that the mind is not distracted, even unconsciously, by
the eye beholding more than is necessary at the moment. One pours a
white light over any particular substance as water is poured from the
nozzle of a hose.

The great house was almost painfully silent. I took one of these
torches, and went to the foot of the grand staircase where the wicked
butler had met his death. There, as his lordship had said, lay the
silver tray, and nearby a silver jug, a pair of spoons, a knife and
fork, and scattered all around the fragments of broken plates, cups,
and saucers. With an exclamation of surprise at the stupidity of the
researchers who had preceded me, I ran up the stair two steps at a
time, turned to the right, and along the corridor until I came to the
room occupied by the late earl. The coverings of the bed lay turned
down just as they were when his lordship sprang to the floor,
doubtless, in spite of his deafness, having heard faintly the fatal
crash at the foot of the stairs. A great oaken chest stood at the head
of the bed, perhaps six inches from the wall. Leaning against this
chest at the edge of the bed inclined a small, round table, and the
cover of the table had slipped from its sloping surface until it
partly concealed the chest lid. I mounted on this carven box of old
black oak and directed the rays of electric light into the chasm
between it and the wall. Then I laughed aloud, and was somewhat
startled to hear another laugh directly behind me. I jumped down on
the floor again, and swung round my torch like a searchlight on a
battleship at sea. There was no human presence in that chamber except
myself. Of course, after my first moment of surprise, I realised that
the laugh was but an echo of my own. The old walls of the old house
were like sounding-boards. The place resembled an ancient fiddle,
still tremulous with the music that had been played on it. It was easy
to understand how a superstitious population came to believe in its
being haunted; in fact, I found by experiment that if one trod quickly
along the uncovered floor of the corridor, and stopped suddenly, one
seemed to hear the sound of steps still going on.

I now returned to the stair head, and examined the bare polished
boards with most gratifying results. Amazed at having learnt so much
in such a short time, I took from my pocket the paper on which the
dying nobleman had attempted to write with his half-paralysed hand.
The chief constable had given the document to me, and I sat on the
stair head, spread it out on the floor and scrutinised it. It was all
but meaningless. Apparently two words and the initial letter of a
third had been attempted. Now, however grotesque a piece of writing
may be, you can sometimes decipher it by holding it at various angles,
as those puzzles are solved which remain a mystery when gazed at
direct. By partially closing the eyes you frequently catch the intent,
as in those pictures where a human figure is concealed among the
outlines of trees and leaves. I held the paper at arm's length, and
with the electric light gleaming upon it, examined it at all angles,
with eyes wide open, and eyes half closed. At last, inclining it away
from me, I saw that the words were intended to mean, 'The Secret'. The
secret, of course, was what he was trying to impart, but he had
apparently got no further than the title of it. Deeply absorbed in my
investigation, I was never more startled in my life than to hear in
the stillness down the corridor the gasped words, '_Oh, God!_'

I swept round my light, and saw leaning against the wall, in an almost
fainting condition, Sophia Brooks, her eyes staring like those of a
demented person, and her face white as any ghost's could have been.
Wrapped round her was a dressing-gown. I sprang to my feet.

'What are you doing there?' I cried.

'Oh, is that you, Monsieur Valmont? Thank God, thank God! I thought I
was going insane. I saw a hand, a bodiless hand, holding a white sheet
of paper.'

'The hand was far from bodiless, madam, for it belonged to me. But why
are you here? It must be near midnight.'

'It _is_ midnight,' answered the woman; 'I came here because I heard
my husband call me three times distinctly, "Sophia, Sophia, Sophia!"
just like that.'

'Nonsense, madam,' I said, with an asperity I seldom use where the
fair sex is concerned; but I began to see that this hysterical
creature was going to be in the way during a research that called for
coolness and calmness. I was sorry I had invited her to come.
'Nonsense, madam, you have been dreaming.'

'Indeed, Monsieur Valmont, I have not. I have not even been asleep,
and I heard the words quite plainly. You must not think I am either
mad or superstitious.'

I thought she was both, and next moment she gave further evidence of
it, running suddenly forward, and clutching me by the arm.

'Listen! listen!' she whispered. 'You hear nothing?'

'Nonsense!' I cried again, almost roughly for my patience was at an
end, and I wished to go on with my inquiry undisturbed.

'Hist, hist!' she whispered; 'listen!' holding up her finger. We both
stood like statues, and suddenly I felt that curious creeping of the
scalp which shows that even the most civilised among us have not yet
eliminated superstitious fear. In the tense silence I heard someone
slowly coming up the stair; I heard the halting step of a lame man. In
the tension of the moment I had allowed the light to go out; now
recovering myself, I pressed the spring, and waved its rays backward
and forward down the stairway. The space was entirely empty, yet the
hesitating footsteps approached us, up and up. I could almost have
sworn on which step they last struck. At this interesting moment
Sophia Brooks uttered a piercing shriek and collapsed into my arms,
sending the electric torch rattling down the steps, and leaving us in
impenetrable darkness. Really, I profess myself to be a gallant man,
but there are situations which have a tendency to cause annoyance. I
carried the limp creature cautiously down the stairs, fearing the fate
of the butler, and at last got her into the dining-room, where I lit a
candle, which gave a light less brilliant, perhaps, but more steady
than my torch. I dashed some water in her face, and brought her to her
senses, then uncorking another bottle of wine, I bade her drink a
glassful, which she did.

'What was it?' she whispered.

'Madam, I do not know. Very possibly the club-footed ghost of
Rantremly.'

'Do you believe in ghosts, Monsieur Valmont?'

'Last night I did not, but at this hour I believe in only one thing,
which is that it is time everyone was asleep.'

She rose to her feet at this, and with a tremulous little laugh
apologised for her terror, but I assured her that for the moment there
were two panic-stricken persons at the stair head. Taking the candle,
and recovering my electric torch, which luckily was uninjured by its
roll down the incline the butler had taken, I escorted the lady to the
door of her room, and bade her good-night, or rather, good-morning.

The rising sun dissipated a slight veil of mist which hung over the
park, and also dissolved, so far as I was concerned, the phantoms
which my imagination had conjured up at midnight. It was about
half-past ten when the chief constable arrived. I flatter myself I put
some life into that unimaginative man before I was done with him.

'What made you think that the butler was mounting the stair when he
fell?'

'He was going up with my lord's breakfast,' replied the chief.

'Then did it not occur to you that if such were the case, the silver
pitcher would not have been empty, and, besides the broken dishes,
there would have been the rolls, butter, toast, or what not, strewn
about the floor?'

The chief constable opened his eyes.

'There was no one else for him to bring breakfast to,' he objected.

'That is where you are very much mistaken. Bring me the boots the
butler wore.'

'He did not wear boots, sir. He wore a pair of cloth slippers.'

'Do you know where they are?'

'Yes; they are in the boot closet.'

'Very well, bring them out, examine their soles, and sticking in one
of them you will find a short sliver of pointed oak.'

The constable, looking slightly more stupefied than ever, brought the
slippers, and I heard him ejaculate: 'Well, I'm blowed!' as he
approached me. He handed me the slippers soles upward, and there, as I
have stated, was the fragment of oak, which I pulled out.

'Now, if you take this piece of oak to the top of the stair, you will
see that it fits exactly a slight interstice at the edge of one of the
planks. It is as well to keep one's eyes open, constable, when
investigating a case like this.'

'Well, I'm blowed!' he said again, as we walked up the stair
together.

I showed him that the sliver taken from the slipper fitted exactly the
interstice I had indicated.

'Now,' said I to him, 'the butler was not going up the stairs, but was
coming down. When he fell headlong he must have made a fearful
clatter. Shuffling along with his burden, his slipper was impaled by
this sliver, and the butler's hands being full, he could not save
himself, but went head foremost down the stair. The startling point,
however, is the fact that he was _not_ carrying my lord's breakfast to
him, or taking it away from him, but that there is someone else in the
castle for whom he was caterer. Who is that person?'

'I'm blessed if I know,' said the constable, 'but I think you are
wrong there. He may not have been carrying up the breakfast, but he
certainly was taking away the tray, as is shown by the empty dishes,
which you have just a moment ago pointed out.'

'No, constable; when his lordship heard the crash, and sprang
impulsively from his bed, he upset the little table on which had been
placed his own tray; it shot over the oaken chest at the head of the
bed, and if you look between it and the wall you will find tray,
dishes, and the remnants of a breakfast.'

'Well, I'm blessed!' exclaimed the chief constable once again.

'The main point of all this,' I went on calmly, 'is not the disaster
to the butler, nor even the shock to his lordship, but the fact that
the tray the serving man carried brought food to a prisoner, who
probably for six weeks has been without anything to eat.'

'Then,' said the constable, 'he is a dead man.'

'I find it easier,' said I, 'to believe in a living man than in a dead
man's ghost. I think I heard his footsteps at midnight, and they
seemed to me the footsteps of a person very nearly exhausted.
Therefore, constable, I have awaited your arrival with some
impatience. The words his late lordship endeavoured to write on the
paper were "The Secret". I am sure that the hieroglyphics with which
he ended his effort stood for the letter "R", and if he finished his
sentence, it would have stood: "The secret room". Now, constable, it
is a matter of legend that a secret room exists in this castle. Do you
know where it is?'

'No one knows where the secret room is, or the way to enter it, except
the Lords of Rantremly.'

'Well, I can assure you that the Lord of Rantremly who lives in London
knows nothing about it. I have been up and about since daylight,
taking some rough measurements by stepping off distances. I surmise
that the secret room is to the left of this stairway. Probably a whole
suite of rooms exists, for there is certainly a stair coinciding with
this one, and up that stair at midnight I heard a club-footed man
ascend. Either that, or the ghost that has frightened you all, and, as
I have said, I believe in the man.'

Here the official made the first sensible remark I had yet heard him
utter:--

'If the walls are so thick that a prisoner's cry has not been heard,
how could you hear his footsteps, which make much less noise?'

'That is very well put, constable, and when the same thing occurred to
me earlier this morning, I began to study the architecture of this
castle. In the first place, the entrance hall is double as wide at the
big doors as it is near the stairway. If you stand with your back to
the front door you will at once wonder why the builders made this
curious and unnecessary right angle, narrowing the farther part of the
hall to half its width. Then, as you gaze at the stair, and see that
marvellous carved oak newel post standing like a monumental column,
you guess, if you have any imagination, that the stairway, like the
hall, was once double as wide as it is now. We are seeing only half of
it, and doubtless we shall find a similar newel post within the hidden
room. You must remember, constable, that these secret apartments are
no small added chambers. Twice they have sheltered a king.'

The constable's head bent low at the mention of royalty. I saw that
his insular prejudice against me and my methods was vanishing, and
that he had come to look upon me with greater respect than was shown
at first.

'The walls need not be thick to be impenetrable to sound. Two courses
of brick, and a space between filled with deafening would do it. The
secret apartment has been cut off from the rest of the house since the
castle was built, and was not designed by the original architect. The
partition was probably built in a hurry to fulfil a pressing need, and
it was constructed straight up the middle of the stair, leaving the
stout planks intact, each step passing thus, as it were, through the
wall. Now, when a man walks up the secret stairway, his footsteps
reverberate until one would swear that some unseen person was treading
the visible boards on the outside.'

'By Jove!' said the constable, in an awed tone of voice.

'Now, officer, I have here a pickaxe and a crowbar. I propose that we
settle the question at once.'

But to this proposal the constable demurred.

'You surely would not break the wall without permission from his
lordship in London?'

'Constable, I suspect there is no Lord Rantremly in London, and that
we will find a very emaciated but genuine Lord Rantremly within ten
feet of us. I need not tell you that if you are instrumental in his
immediate rescue without the exercise of too much red tape, your
interests will not suffer because you the more speedily brought food
and drink to the lord paramount of your district.'

'Right you are,' cried the constable, with an enthusiasm for which I
was not prepared. 'Where shall we begin?'

'Oh, anywhere; this wall is all false from the entrance hall to some
point up here. Still, as the butler was carrying the meal upstairs I
think we shall save time if we begin on the landing.'

I found the constable's brawn much superior to his brain. He worked
like a sansculotte on a barricade. When we had torn down part of the
old oak panelling, which it seemed such a pity to mutilate with axe
and crowbar, we came upon a brick wall, that quickly gave way before
the strength of the constable. Then we pulled out some substance like
matting, and found a second brick wall, beyond which was a further
shell of panelling. The hole we made revealed nothing but darkness
inside, and although we shouted, there was no answer. At last, when we
had hewn it large enough for a man to enter, I took with me an
electric torch, and stepped inside, the constable following, with
crowbar still in hand. I learned, as I had surmised, that we were in
the upper hall of a staircase nearly as wide as the one on the
outside. A flash of the light showed a door corresponding with the
fireplace of the upper landing, and this door not being locked, we
entered a large room, rather dimly lighted by strongly barred windows
that gave into a blind courtyard, of which there had been no
indication heretofore, either outside or inside the castle. Broken
glass crunched under our feet, and I saw that the floor was strewn
with wine bottles whose necks had been snapped off to save the pulling
of the cork. On a mattress at the farther end of the room lay a man
with gray hair, and shaggy, unkempt iron-gray beard. He seemed either
asleep or dead, but when I turned my electric light full on his face
he proved to be still alive, for he rubbed his eyes languidly, and
groaned, rather than spoke:--

'Is that you at last, you beast of a butler? Bring me something to
eat, in Heaven's name!'

I shook him wider awake. He seemed to be drowsed with drink, and was
fearfully emaciated. When I got him on his feet, I noticed then the
deformity that characterised one of them. We assisted him through the
aperture, and down into the dining-room, where he cried out
continually for something to eat, but when we placed food before him,
he could scarcely touch it. He became more like a human being when he
had drunk two glasses of wine, and I saw at once he was not as old as
his gray hair seemed to indicate. There was a haunted look in his
eyes, and he watched the door as if apprehensive.

'Where is that butler?' he asked at last.

'Dead,' I replied.

'Did I kill him?'

'No; he fell down the stairway and broke his neck.'

The man laughed harshly.

'Where is my father?'

'Who is your father?'

'Lord Rantremly.'

'He is dead also.'

'How came he to die?'

'He died from a stroke of paralysis on the morning the butler was
killed.'

The rescued man made no comment on this, but turned and ate a little
more of his food. Then he said to me:--

'Do you know a girl named Sophia Brooks?'

'Yes. For ten years she thought you dead.'

'Ten years! Good God, do you mean to say I've been in there only ten
years? Why, I'm an old man. I must be sixty at least.'

'No; you're not much over thirty.'

'Is Sophia--' He stopped, and the haunted look came into his eyes
again.

'No. She is all right, and she is here.'

'Here?'

'Somewhere in the grounds. I sent her and the servant out for a walk,
and told them not to return till luncheon time, as the constable and I
had something to do, and did not wish to be interrupted.'

The man ran his hand through his long tangled beard.

'I should like to be trimmed up a bit before I see Sophia,' he said.

'I can do that for you, my lord,' cried the constable.

'My lord?' echoed the man. 'Oh, yes, I understand. You are a
policeman, are you not?'

'Yes, my lord, chief constable.'

'Then I shall give myself up to you. I killed the butler.'

'Oh, impossible, my lord!'

'No, it isn't. The beast, as I called him, was getting old, and one
morning he forgot to close the door behind him. I followed him
stealthily out, and at the head of the stair planted my foot in the
small of his back, which sent him headlong. There was an infernal
crash. I did not mean to kill the brute, but merely to escape, and
just as I was about to run down the stairway, I was appalled to see my
father looking like--looking like--well, I won't attempt to say what
he looked like; but all my old fear of him returned. As he strode
towards me, along the corridor, I was in such terror that I jumped
through the secret door and slammed it shut.'

'Where is the secret door?' I asked.

'The secret door is that fireplace. The whole fireplace moves inward
if you push aside the carved ornament at the left-hand corner.'

'Is it a dummy fireplace, then?'

'No, you may build a fire in it, and the smoke will escape up the
chimney. But I killed the butler, constable, though not intending it,
I swear.'

And now the constable shone forth like the real rough diamond he was.

'My lord, we'll say nothing about that. Legally you didn't do it. You
see, there's been an inquest on the butler and the jury brought in the
verdict, "Death by accident, through stumbling from the top of the
stair." You can't go behind a coroner's inquest, my lord.'

'Indeed,' said his lordship, with the first laugh in which he had
indulged for many a year. 'I don't want to go behind anything,
constable, I've been behind that accursed chimney too long to wish any
further imprisonment.'




7. _The Liberation of Wyoming Ed_


A man should present the whole truth to his doctor, his lawyer, or his
detective. If a doctor is to cure, he must be given the full
confidence of the patient; if a lawyer is to win a case he needs to
know what tells against his client as well as the points in his
favour; if a secret agent is to solve a mystery all the cards should
be put on the table. Those who half trust a professional man need not
be disappointed when results prove unsatisfactory.

A partial confidence reposed in me led to the liberation of a
dangerous criminal, caused me to associate with a robber much against
my own inclination, and brought me within danger of the law. Of
course, I never pretend to possess that absolute confidence in the law
which seems to be the birthright of every Englishman. I have lived too
intimately among the machinery of the law, and have seen too many of
its ghastly mistakes, to hold it in that blind esteem which appears to
be prevalent in the British Isles.

There is a doggerel couplet which typifies this spirit better than
anything I can write, and it runs:--

    No rogue e'er felt the halter draw,
    With a good opinion of the law.

Those lines exemplify the trend of British thought in this direction.
If you question a verdict of their courts you are a rogue, and that
ends the matter. And yet when an Englishman undertakes to circumvent
the law, there is no other man on earth who will go to greater
lengths. An amazing people! Never understandable by the sane of other
countries.

It was entirely my own fault that I became involved in affairs which
were almost indefensible and wholly illegal.

My client first tried to bribe me into compliance with his wishes,
which bribe I sternly refused. Then he partially broke down and, quite
unconsciously as I take it, made an appeal to the heart--a strange
thing for an Englishman to do. My kind heart has ever been my most
vulnerable point. We French are sentimentalists. France has before now
staked its very existence for an ideal, while other countries fight
for continents, cash, or commerce. You cannot pierce me with a lance
of gold, but wave a wand of sympathy, and I am yours.

There waited upon me in my flat a man who gave his name as Douglas
Sanderson, which may or may not have been his legitimate title. This
was a question into which I never probed, and at the moment of writing
am as ignorant of his true cognomen, if that was not it, as on the
morning he first met me. He was an elderly man of natural dignity and
sobriety, slow in speech, almost sombre in dress. His costume was not
quite that of a professional man, and not quite that of a gentleman. I
at once recognised the order to which he belonged, and a most
difficult class it is to deal with. He was the confidential servant or
steward of some ancient and probably noble family, embodying in
himself all the faults and virtues, each a trifle accentuated, of the
line he served, and to which, in order to produce him and his like,
his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had doubtless been
attached. It is frequently the case that the honour of the house he
serves is more dear to him than it is to the representative of that
house. Such a man is almost always the repository of family secrets; a
repository whose inviolability gold cannot affect, threats sway, or
cajolery influence.

I knew, when I looked at him, that practically I was looking at his
master, for I have known many cases where even the personal appearance
of the two was almost identical, which may have given rise to the
English phrase, 'Like master, like man.' The servant was a little more
haughty, a little less kind, a little more exclusive, a little less
confidential, a little more condescending, a little less human, a
little more Tory, and altogether a little less pleasant and easy
person to deal with.

'Sir,' he began, when I had waved him to a seat, 'I am a very rich
man, and can afford to pay well for the commission I request you to
undertake. To ask you to name your own terms may seem unbusinesslike,
so I may say at the outset I am not a business man. The service I
shall ask will involve the utmost secrecy, and for that I am willing
to pay. It may expose you to risk of limb or liberty, and for that I
am willing to pay. It will probably necessitate the expenditure of a
large sum of money; that sum is at your disposal.'

Here he paused; he had spoken slowly and impressively, with a touch of
arrogance in his tone which aroused to his prejudice, the
combativeness latent in my nature. However, at this juncture I merely
bowed my head, and replied in accents almost as supercilious as his
own:--

'The task must either be unworthy or unwelcome. In mentioning first
the compensation, you are inverting the natural order of things. You
should state at the outset what you expect me to do, then, if I accept
the commission, it is time to discuss the details of expenditure.'

Either he had not looked for such a reply, or was loath to open his
budget, for he remained a few moments with eyes bent upon the floor,
and lips compressed in silence. At last he went on, without change of
inflection, without any diminution of that air of condescension, which
had so exasperated me in the beginning, and which was preparing a
downfall for himself that would rudely shake the cold dignity which
encompassed him like a cloak:--

'It is difficult for a father to confide in a complete stranger the
vagaries of a beloved son, and before doing so you must pledge your
word that my communication will be regarded as strictly confidential.'

'_Cela va sans dire_.'

'I do not understand French,' said Mr. Sanderson severely, as if the
use of the phrase were an insult to him.

I replied nonchalantly,--

'It means, as a matter of course; that goes without saying. Whatever
you care to tell me about your son will be mentioned to no one. Pray
proceed, without further circumlocution, for my time is valuable.'

'My son was always a little wild and impatient of control. Although
everything he could wish was at his disposal here at home, he chose to
visit America, where he fell into bad company. I assure you there is
no real harm in the boy, but he became implicated with others, and has
suffered severely for his recklessness. For five years he has been an
inmate of a prison in the West. He was known and convicted under the
name of Wyoming Ed.'

'What was his crime?'

'His alleged crime was the stopping, and robbing, of a railway train.'

'For how long was he sentenced?'

'He was sentenced for life.'

'What do you wish me to do?'

'Every appeal has been made to the governor of the State in an
endeavour to obtain a pardon. These appeals have failed. I am informed
that if money enough is expended it may be possible to arrange my
son's escape.'

'In other words, you wish me to bribe the officials of the jail?'

'I assure you the lad is innocent.'

For the first time a quiver of human emotion came into the old man's
voice.

'Then, if you can prove that, why not apply for a new trial?'

'Unfortunately, the circumstances of the case, of his arrest on the
train itself, the number of witnesses against him, give me no hope
that a new trial would end in a different verdict, even if a new trial
could be obtained, which I am informed is not possible. Every legal
means tending to his liberation has already been tried.'

'I see. And now you are determined to adopt illegal means? I refuse to
have anything to do with the malpractice you propose. You objected to
a phrase in French, Mr. Sanderson, perhaps one in Latin will please you
better. It is "_Veritas praevalebit_," which means, "Truth will
prevail." I shall set your mind entirely at rest regarding your son.
Your son at this moment occupies a humble, if honourable, position in
the great house from which you came, and he hopes in time worthily to
fill his father's shoes, as you have filled the shoes of your father.
You are not a rich man, but a servant. Your son never was in America,
and never will go there. It is your master's son, the heir to great
English estates, who became the Wyoming Ed of the Western prison. Even
from what you say, I do not in the least doubt he was justly
convicted, and you may go back to your master and tell him so. You
came here to conceal the shameful secret of a wealthy and noble house;
you may return knowing that secret has been revealed, and that the
circumstances in which you so solemnly bound me to secrecy never
existed. Sir, that is the penalty of lying.'

The old man's contempt for me had been something to be felt, so
palpable was it. The armour of icy reserve had been so complete that
actually I had expected to see him rise with undiminished hauteur, and
leave the room, disdaining further parley with one who had insulted
him. Doubtless that is the way in which his master would have acted,
but even in the underling I was unprepared for the instantaneous
crumbling of this monument of pomp and pride. A few moments after I
began to speak in terms as severe as his own, his trembling hands
grasped the arms of the chair in which he sat, and his ever-widening
eyes, which came to regard me with something like superstitious dread
as I went on, showed me I had launched my random arrow straight at the
bull's-eye of fact. His face grew mottled and green rather than pale.
When at last I accused him of lying, he arose slowly, shaking like a
man with a palsy, but, unable to support himself erect, sank
helplessly back into his chair again. His head fell forward to the
table before him, and he sobbed aloud.

'God help me!' he cried, 'it is not my own secret I am trying to
guard.'

I sprang to the door, and turned the key in the lock so that by no
chance might we be interrupted; then, going to the sideboard, I poured
him out a liqueur glass full of the finest Cognac ever imported from
south of the Loire, and tapping him on the shoulder, said brusquely:--

'Here, drink this. The case is no worse than it was half an hour ago.
I shall not betray the secret.'

He tossed off the brandy, and with some effort regained his
self-control.

'I have done my errand badly,' he wailed. 'I don't know what I have
said that has led you to so accurate a statement of the real
situation, but I have been a blundering fool. God forgive me, when so
much depended on my making no mistake.'

'Don't let that trouble you,' I replied; 'nothing you said gave me the
slightest clue.'

'You called me a liar,' he continued, 'and that is a hard word from
one man to another, but I would not lie for myself, and when I do it
for one I revere and respect, my only regret is that I have done it
without avail.'

'My dear sir,' I assured him, 'the fault is not with yourself at all.
You were simply attempting the impossible. Stripped and bare, your
proposal amounts to this. I am to betake myself to the United States,
and there commit a crime, or a series of crimes, in bribing sworn
officials to turn traitor to their duty and permit a convict to
escape.'

'You put it very harshly, sir. You must admit that, especially in new
countries, there is lawlessness within the law as well as outside of
it. The real criminals in the robbery of the railway train escaped; my
young master, poor fellow, was caught. His father, one of the proudest
men in England, has grown prematurely old under the burden of this
terrible dishonour. He is broken-hearted, and a dying man, yet he
presents an impassive front to the world, with all the ancient courage
of his race. My young master is an only son, and failing his
appearance, should his father die, title and estate will pass to
strangers. Our helplessness in this situation adds to its horror. We
dare not make any public move. My old master is one with such
influence among the governing class of this country, of which he has
long been a member, that the average Englishman, if his name were
mentioned, would think his power limitless. Yet that power he dare not
exert to save his own son from a felon's life and death. However much
he or another may suffer, publicity must be avoided, and this is a
secret which cannot safely be shared with more than those who know it
now.'

'How many know it?'

'In this country, three persons. In an American prison, one.'

'Have you kept up communication with the young man?'

'Oh, yes.'

'Direct?'

'No; through a third person. My young master has implored his father
not to write to him direct.'

'This go-between, as we may call him, is the third person in the
secret? Who is he?'

'That I dare not tell you!'

'Mr. Sanderson, it would be much better for your master and his son
that you should be more open with me. These half-confidences are
misleading. Has the son made any suggestion regarding his release?'

'Oh yes, but not the suggestion I have put before you. His latest
letter was to the effect that within six months or so there is to be
an election for governor. He proposes that a large sum of money shall
be used to influence this election so that a man pledged to pardon him
may sit in the governor's chair.'

'I see. And this sum of money is to be paid to the third person you
referred to?'

'Yes.'

'May I take it that this third person is the one to whom various sums
have been paid during the last five years in order to bribe the
governor to pardon the young man?'

Sanderson hesitated a moment before answering; in fact, he appeared so
torn between inclination and duty; anxious to give me whatever
information I deemed necessary, yet hemmed in by the instructions
with which his master had limited him, that at last I waved my hand
and said:--

'You need not reply, Mr. Sanderson. That third party is the crux of the
situation. I strongly suspect him of blackmail. If you would but name
him, and allow me to lure him to these rooms, I possess a little
private prison of my own into which I could thrust him, and I venture
to say that before he had passed a week in darkness, on bread and
water, we should have the truth about this business.'

Look you now the illogical nature of an Englishman! Poor old
Sanderson, who had come to me with a proposal to break the law of
America, seemed horror-stricken when I airily suggested the immuring
of a man in a dungeon here in England. He gazed at me in amazement,
then cast his eyes furtively about him, as if afraid a trap door would
drop beneath him, and land him in my private _oubliette_.

'Do not be alarmed, Mr. Sanderson, you are perfectly safe. You are
beginning at the wrong end of this business, and it seems to me five
years of contributions to this third party without any result might
have opened the eyes of even the most influential nobleman in England,
not to mention those of his faithful servant.'

'Indeed, sir,' said Sanderson, 'I must confess to you that I have long
had a suspicion of this third person, but my master has clung to him
as his only hope, and if this third person were interfered with, I may
tell you that he has deposited in London at some place unknown to us,
a full history of the case, and if it should happen that he disappears
for more than a week at a time, this record will be brought to light.'

'My dear Mr. Sanderson, that device is as old as Noah and his ark. I
should chance that. Let me lay this fellow by the heels, and I will
guarantee that no publicity follows.'

Sanderson sadly shook his head.

'Everything might happen as you say, sir, but all that would put us no
further forward. The only point is the liberation of my young master.
It is possible that the person unmentioned, whom we may call Number
Three, has been cheating us throughout, but that is a matter of no
consequence.'

'Pardon me, but I think it is. Suppose your young master here, and at
liberty. This Number Three would continue to maintain the power over
him which he seems to have held over his father for the last five
years.'

'I think we can prevent that, sir, if my plan is carried out.'

'The scheme for bribing the American officials is yours, then?'

'Yes, sir, and I may say I am taking a great deal upon myself in
coming to you. I am, in fact, disobeying the implied commands of my
master, but I have seen him pay money, and very large sums of money,
to this Number Three for the last five years and nothing has come of
it. My master is an unsuspicious man, who has seen little of the real
world, and thinks everyone as honest as himself.'

'Well, that may be, Mr. Sanderson, but permit me to suggest that the
one who proposes a scheme of bribery, and, to put it mildly, an
evasion of the law, shows some knowledge of the lower levels of this
world, and is not quite in a position to plume himself on his own
honesty.'

'I am coming to that, Mr. Valmont. My master knows nothing whatever of
my plan. He has given me the huge sum of money demanded by Number
Three, and he supposes that amount has been already paid over. As a
matter of fact, it has not been paid over, and will not be until my
suggestion has been carried out, and failed. In fact, I am about to
use this money, all of it if necessary, if you will undertake the
commission. I have paid Number Three his usual monthly allowance, and
will continue to do so. I have told him my master has his proposal
under consideration; that there are still six months to come and go
upon, and that my master is not one who decides in a hurry.'

'Number Three says there is an election in six months for governor.
What is the name of the state?'

Sanderson informed me. I walked to my book-case, and took down a
current American Year Book, consulted it, and returned to the table.

'There is no election in that State, Mr. Sanderson, for eighteen
months. Number Three is simply a blackmailer, as I have suspected.'

'Quite so, sir,' replied Sanderson, taking a newspaper from his
pocket. 'I read in this paper an account of a man immured in a Spanish
dungeon. His friends arranged it with the officials in this way: The
prisoner was certified to have died, and his body was turned over to
his relatives. Now, if that could be done in America, it would serve
two purposes. It would be the easiest way to get my young master out
of the jail. It would remain a matter of record that he had died,
therefore there could be no search for him, as would be the case if he
simply escaped. If you were so good as to undertake this task you
might perhaps see my young master in his cell, and ask him to write to
this Number Three with whom he is in constant communication, telling
him he was very ill. Then you could arrange with the prison doctor
that this person was informed of my young master's death.'

'Very well, we can try that, but a blackmailer is not so easily thrown
off the scent. Once he has tasted blood he is a human man-eating
tiger. But still, there is always my private dungeon in the
background, and if your plan for silencing him fails, I guarantee that
my more drastic and equally illegal method will be a success.'

       *       *       *       *       *

It will be seen that my scruples concerning the acceptance of this
commission, and my first dislike for the old man had both faded away
during the conversation which I have set down in the preceding
chapter. I saw him under the stress of deep emotion, and latterly
began to realise the tremendous chances he was taking in contravening
the will of his imperious master. If the large sum of money was long
withheld from the blackmailer, Douglas Sanderson ran the risk of
Number Three opening up communication direct with his master.
Investigation would show that the old servant had come perilously near
laying himself open to a charge of breach of trust, and even of
defalcation with regard to the money, and all this danger he was
heroically incurring for the unselfish purpose of serving the
interests of his employer. During our long interview old Sanderson
gradually became a hero in my eyes, and entirely in opposition to the
resolution I had made at the beginning, I accepted his commission at
the end of it.

Nevertheless, my American experiences are those of which I am least
proud, and all I care to say upon the subject is that my expedition
proved completely successful. The late convict was my companion on the
_Arontic_, the first steamship sailing for England after we reached
New York from the west. Of course I knew that two or three years
roughing it in mining camps and on ranches, followed by five years in
prison, must have produced a radical effect not only on the character,
but also in the personal appearance of a man who had undergone these
privations. Nevertheless, making due allowance for all this, I could
not but fear that the ancient English family, of which this young man
was the hope and pride, would be exceedingly disappointed with him. In
spite of the change which grooming and the wearing of a civilised
costume made, Wyoming Ed still looked much more the criminal than the
gentleman. I considered myself in honour bound not to make any
inquiries of the young man regarding his parentage. Of course, if I
had wished to possess myself of the secret, I had but to touch a
button under the table when Sanderson left my rooms in the Imperial
Flats, which would have caused him to be shadowed and run to earth. I
may also add that the ex-prisoner volunteered no particulars about
himself or his family. Only once on board ship did he attempt to
obtain some information from me as we walked up and down the deck
together.

'You are acting for someone else, I suppose?' he said.

'Yes.'

'For someone in England?'

'Yes.'

'He put up the money, did he?'

'Yes.'

There was a pause, during which we took two or three turns in silence.

'Of course, there's no secret about it,' he said at last. 'I expected
help from the other side, but Colonel Jim has been so mighty long
about it, I was afraid he'd forgotten me.'

'Who is Colonel Jim?'

'Colonel Jim Baxter. Wasn't it him gave you the money?'

'I never heard of the man before.'

'Then who put up the coin?'

'Douglas Sanderson,' I replied, looking at him sidewise as I mentioned
the name. It had apparently no effect upon him. He wrinkled his brow
for a moment, then said:--

'Well, if you never heard of Baxter, I never heard of Sanderson.'

This led me to suspect that Douglas Sanderson did not give me his own
name, and doubtless the address with which he had furnished me was
merely temporary. I did not cable to him from America regarding the
success of the expedition, because I could not be certain it was a
success until I was safely on English ground, and not even then, to
tell the truth. Anyhow, I wished to leave no trail behind me, but the
moment the _Arontic_ reached Liverpool, I telegraphed Sanderson to
meet us that evening at my flat.

He was waiting for me when Wyoming Ed and I entered together. The old
man was quite evidently in a state of nervous tension. He had been
walking up and down the room with hands clenched behind his back, and
now stood at the end farthest from the door as he heard us approach,
with his hands still clasped behind his back, and an expression of
deep anxiety upon his rugged face. All the electric lamps were turned
on, and the room was bright as day.

'Have you not brought him with you?' he cried.

'Brought him with me?' I echoed. 'Here is Wyoming Ed!'

The old man glared at him for a moment or two stupefied, then
moaned:--

'Oh, my God, my God, that is not the man!'

I turned to my short-haired fellow traveller.

'You told me you were Wyoming Ed!'

He laughed uneasily.

'Well, in a manner of speaking, so I have been for the last five
years, but I wasn't Wyoming Ed before that. Say, old man, are you
acting for Colonel Jim Baxter?'

Sanderson, on whom a dozen years seemed to have fallen since we
entered the room, appeared unable to speak, and merely shook his head
in a hopeless sort of way.

'I say, boys,' ejaculated the ex-convict, with an uneasy laugh,
half-comic, half-bewildered, 'this is a sort of mix-up, isn't it? I
wish Colonel Jim was here to explain. I say, Boss,' he cried suddenly,
turning sharp on me, 'this here misfit's not my fault. I didn't change
the children in the cradle. You don't intend to send me back to that
hell-hole, do you?'

'No,' I said, 'not if you tell the truth. Sit down.'

The late prisoner seated himself in a chair as close to the door as
possible, hitching a little nearer as he sat down. His face had taken
on a sharp, crafty aspect like that of a trapped rat.

'You are perfectly safe,' I assured him. 'Sit over here by the table.
Even if you bolted through that door, you couldn't get out of this
flat. Mr. Sanderson, take a chair.'

The old man sank despondently into the one nearest at hand. I pressed
a button, and when my servant entered, I said to him:--

'Bring some Cognac and Scotch whisky, glasses, and two syphons of
soda.'

'You haven't got any Kentucky or Canadian?' asked the prisoner,
moistening his lips. The jail whiteness in his face was now
accentuated by the pallor of fear, and the haunted look of the escaped
convict glimmered from his eyes. In spite of the comfort I had
attempted to bestow upon him, he knew that he had been rescued in
mistake for another, and for the first time since he left prison
realised he was among strangers, and not among friends. In his trouble
he turned to the beverage of his native continent.

'Bring a bottle of Canadian whisky,' I said to the servant, who
disappeared, and shortly returned with what I had ordered. I locked
the door after him, and put the key in my pocket.

'What am I to call you?' I asked the ex-convict.

With a forced laugh he said; 'You can call me Jack for short.'

'Very well, Jack, help yourself,' and he poured out a very liberal
glass of the Dominion liquor, refusing to dilute it with soda.
Sanderson took Scotch, and I helped myself to a _petit verre_ of
brandy.

'Now, Jack,' I began, 'I may tell you plainly that if I wished to send
you back to prison, I could not do so without incriminating myself.
You are legally dead, and you have now a chance to begin life anew, an
opportunity of which I hope you will take advantage. If you were to
apply three weeks from today at the prison doors, they would not dare
admit you. You are dead. Does that console you?'

'Well, squire, you can bet your bottom dollar I never thought I'd be
pleased to hear I was dead, but I'm glad if it's all fixed as you say,
and you can bet your last pair of boots I'm going to keep out of the
jug in future if I can.'

'That's right. Now, I can promise that if you answer all my questions
truthfully, you shall be given money enough to afford you a new
beginning in life.'

'Good enough,' said Jack briefly.

'You were known in prison as Wyoming Ed?'

'Yes, sir.'

'If that was not your name, why did you use it?'

'Because Colonel Jim, on the train, asked me to do that. He said it
would give him a pull in England to get me free.'

'Did you know Wyoming Ed?'

'Yes, sir, he was one of us three that held up the train.'

'What became of him?'

'He was shot dead.'

'By one of the passengers?'

There was silence, during which the old man groaned, and bowed his
head. Jack was studying the floor. Then he looked up at me and said:--

'You don't expect me to give a pal away, do you?'

'As that pal has given you away for the last five years, it seems to
me you need not show very much consideration for him.'

'I'm not so sure he did.'

'I am; but never mind that point. Colonel Jim Baxter shot Wyoming Ed
and killed him. Why?'

'See here, my friend, you're going a little too fast. I didn't say
that.'

He reached somewhat defiantly for the bottle from Canada.

'Pardon me,' I said, rising quietly, and taking possession of the
bottle myself, 'it grieves me more than I can say to restrict my
hospitality. I have never done such a thing in my life before, but
this is not a drinking bout; it is a very serious conference. The
whisky you have already taken has given you a bogus courage, and a
false view of things. Are you going to tell me the truth, or are you
not?'

Jack pondered on this for a while, then he said:--

'Well, sir, I'm perfectly willing to tell you the truth as far as it
concerns myself, but I don't want to rat on a friend.'

'As I have said, he isn't your friend. He told you to take the name of
Wyoming Ed, so that he might blackmail the father of Wyoming Ed. He
has done so for the last five years, living in luxury here in London,
and not moving a finger to help you. In fact, nothing would appal him
more than to learn that you are now in this country. By this time he
has probably received the news from the prison doctor that you are
dead, and so thinks himself safe for ever.'

'If you can prove that to me--' said Jack.

'I can and will,' I interrupted; then, turning to Sanderson, I
demanded:--

'When are you to meet this man next?'

'Tonight, at nine o'clock,' he answered. 'His monthly payment is due,
and he is clamouring for the large sum I told you of.'

'Where do you meet him? In London?'

'Yes.'

'At your master's town house?'

'Yes.'

'Will you take us there, and place us where we can see him and he
can't see us?'

'Yes. I trust to your honour, Mr. Valmont. A closed carriage will call
for me at eight, and you can accompany me. Still, after all, Mr
Valmont, we have no assurance that he is the same person this young
man refers to.'

'I am certain he is. He does not go under the name of Colonel Jim
Baxter, I suppose?'

'No.'

The convict had been looking from one to the other of us during this
colloquy. Suddenly he drew his chair up closer to the table.

'Look here,' he said, 'you fellows are square, I can see that, and
after all's said and done, you're the man that got me out of clink.
Now, I half suspicion you're right about Colonel Jim, but, anyhow,
I'll tell you exactly what happened. Colonel Jim was a Britisher, and
I suppose that's why he and Wyoming Ed chummed together a good deal.
We called Jim Baxter Colonel, but he never said he was a colonel or
anything else. I was told he belonged to the British army, and that
something happened in India so that he had to light out He never
talked about himself, but he was a mighty taking fellow when he laid
out to please anybody. We called him Colonel because he was so
straight in the back, and walked as if he were on parade. When this
young English tenderfoot came out, he and the Colonel got to be as
thick as thieves, and the Colonel won a good deal of money from him at
cards, but that didn't make any difference in their friendship. The
Colonel most always won when he played cards, and perhaps that's what
started the talk about why he left the British army. He was the
luckiest beggar I ever knew in that line of business. We all met in
the rush to the new goldfields, which didn't pan out worth a cent, and
one after another of the fellows quit and went somewhere else. But
Wyoming Ed, he held on, even after Colonel Jim wanted to quit. As long
as there were plenty of fellows there, Colonel Jim never lacked money,
although he didn't dig it out of the ground, but when the population
thinned down to only a few of us, then we all struck hard times. Now,
I knew Colonel Jim was going to hold up a train. He asked me if I
would join him, and I said I would if there wasn't too many in the
gang. I'd been into that business afore, and I knew there was no
greater danger than to have a whole mob of fellows. Three men can hold
up a train better than three dozen. Everybody's scared except the
express messenger, and it's generally easy to settle him, for he
stands where the light is, and we shoot from the dark. Well, I
thought at first Wyoming Ed was on to the scheme, because when we were
waiting in the cut to signal the train he talked about us going on
with her to San Francisco, but I thought he was only joking. I guess
that Colonel Jim imagined that when it came to the pinch, Ed wouldn't
back out and leave us in the lurch: he knew Ed was as brave as a lion.
In the cut, where the train would be on the upgrade, the Colonel got
his lantern ready, lit it, and wrapped a thin red silk handkerchief
round it. The express was timed to pass up there about midnight, but
it was near one o'clock when her headlight came in sight. We knew all
the passengers would be in bed in the sleepers, and asleep in the
smoking car and the day coach. We didn't intend to meddle with them.
The Colonel had brought a stick or two of dynamite from the mines, and
was going to blow open the safe in the express car, and climb out with
whatever was inside.

'The train stopped to the signal all right, and the Colonel fired a
couple of shots just to let the engineer know we meant business. The
engineer and fireman at once threw up their hands, then the Colonel
turns to Ed, who was standing there like a man pole-axed, and says to
him mighty sharp, just like if he was speaking to a regiment of
soldiers:--

'"You keep these two men covered. Come on, Jack!" he says to me, and
then we steps up to the door of the express car, which the fellow
inside had got locked and bolted. The Colonel fires his revolver in
through the lock, then flung his shoulder agin the door, and it went
in with a crash, which was followed instantly by another crash, for
the little expressman was game right through. He had put out the
lights and was blazing away at the open door. The Colonel sprang for
cover inside the car, and wasn't touched, but one of the shots took me
just above the knee, and broke my leg, so I went down in a heap. The
minute the Colonel counted seven shots he was on to that express
messenger like a tiger, and had him tied up in a hard knot before you
could shake a stick. Then, quick as a wink he struck a match, and lit
the lamp. Plucky as the express messenger was, he looked scared to
death, and now, when Colonel Jim held a pistol to his head, he gave up
the keys and told him how to open the safe. I had fallen back against
the corner of the car, inside, and was groaning with pain. Colonel Jim
was scooping out the money from the shelves of the safe, and stuffing
it into a sack.

'"Are you hurt, Jack?" he cried.

'"Yes, my leg's broke."

'"Don't let that trouble you; we'll get you clear all right. Do you
think you can ride your horse?"

'"I don't believe it," said I. "I guess I'm done for," and I thought I
was.

'Colonel Jim never looked round, but he went through that safe in a
way that'd make your hair curl, throwing aside the bulky packages
after tearing them open, taking only cash, which he thrust into a bag
he had with him, till he was loaded like a millionaire. Then suddenly
he swore, for the train began to move.

'"What is that fool Ed doing?" he shouted, rising to his feet.

'At that minute Ed came in, pistol in each hand, and his face ablaze.

'"Here, you cursed thief!" he cried, "I didn't come with you to rob a
train!"

'"Get outside, you fool!" roared Colonel Jim, "get outside and stop
this train. Jack has got his leg broke. Don't come another step
towards me, or I'll kill you!"

'But Ed, he walked right on, Colonel Jim backing, then there was a
shot that rang like cannon fire in the closed car, and Ed fell forward
on his face. Colonel Jim turned him over, and I saw he had been hit
square in the middle of the forehead. The train was now going at good
speed, and we were already miles away from where our horses were tied.
I never heard a man swear like Colonel Jim. He went through the
pockets of Ed, and took a bundle of papers that was inside his coat,
and this he stuffed away in his own clothes. Then he turned to me, and
his voice was like a lamb.

'"Jack, old man," he said, "I can't help you. They're going to nab
you, but not for murder. The expressman there will be your witness. It
isn't murder anyhow on my part, but self-defence. You saw he was
coming at me when I warned him to keep away."

'All this he said in a loud voice, for the expressman to hear, then he
bent over to me and whispered:--

'"I'll get the best lawyer I can for you, but I'm afraid they're bound
to convict you, and if they do, I will spend every penny of this money
to get you free. You call yourself Wyoming Ed at the trial. I've taken
all this man's papers so that he can't be identified. And don't you
worry if you're sentenced, for remember I'll be working night and day
for you, and if money can get you out, you'll be got out, because
these papers will help me to get the cash required. Ed's folks are
rich in England, so they'll fork over to get you out if you pretend to
be him." With that he bade me good-bye and jumped off the train.
There, gentlemen, that's the whole story just as it happened, and
that's why I thought it was Colonel Jim had sent you to get me free.'

There was not the slightest doubt in my mind that the convict had told
the exact truth, and that night, at nine o'clock, he identified Major
Renn as the former Colonel Jim Baxter. Sanderson placed us in a
gallery where we could see, but could not hear. The old man seemed
determined that we should not know where we were, and took every
precaution to keep us in the dark. I suppose he put us out of earshot,
so that if the Major mentioned the name of the nobleman we should not
be any the wiser. We remained in the gallery for some time after the
Major had left before Sanderson came to us again, carrying with him a
packet.

'The carriage is waiting at the door,' he said, 'and with your
permission, Monsieur Valmont, I will accompany you to your flat.'

I smiled at the old man's extreme caution, but he continued very
gravely:--

'It is not that, Monsieur Valmont. I wish to consult with you, and if
you will accept it, I have another commission to offer.'

'Well,' said I, 'I hope it is not so unsavoury as the last.' But to
this the old man made no response.

There was silence in the carriage as we drove back to my flat.
Sanderson had taken the precaution of pulling down the blinds of the
carriage, which he need not have troubled to do, for, as I have said,
it would have been the simplest matter in the world for me to have
discovered who his employer was, if I had desired to know. As a matter
of fact, I do not know to this day whom he represented.

Once more in my room with the electric light turned on, I was shocked
and astonished to see the expression on Sanderson's face. It was the
face of a man who would grimly commit murder and hang for it. If ever
the thirst for vengeance was portrayed on a human countenance, it was
on his that night. He spoke very quietly, laying down the packet
before him on the table.

'I think you will agree with me,' he said, 'that no punishment on
earth is too severe for that creature calling himself Major Renn.'

'I'm willing to shoot him dead in the streets of London tomorrow,'
said the convict, 'if you give the word.'

Sanderson went on implacably: 'He not only murdered the son, but for
five years has kept the father in an agony of sorrow and apprehension,
bleeding him of money all the time, which was the least of his crimes.
Tomorrow I shall tell my master that his son has been dead these five
years, and heavy as that blow must prove, it will be mitigated by the
fact that his son died an honest and honourable man. I thank you for
offering to kill this vile criminal. I intend that he shall die, but
not so quickly or so mercifully.'

Here he untied the packet, and took from it a photograph, which he
handed to the convict.

'Do you recognise that?'

'Oh yes; that's Wyoming Ed as he appeared at the mine; as, indeed, he
appeared when he was shot.'

The photograph Sanderson then handed to me.

'An article that I read about you in the paper, Monsieur Valmont, said
you could impersonate anybody. Can you impersonate this young man?'

'There's no difficulty in that,' I replied.

'Then will you do this? I wish you two to dress in that fashion. I
shall give you particulars of the haunts of Major Renn. I want you to
meet him together and separately, as often as you can, until you drive
him mad or to suicide. He believes you to be dead,' said Sanderson,
addressing Jack. 'I am certain he has the news, by his manner tonight.
He is extremely anxious to get the lump sum of money which I have been
holding back from him. You may address him, for he will recognise your
voice as well as your person, but Monsieur Valmont had better not
speak, as then he might know it was not the voice of my poor young
master. I suggest that you meet him first together, always at night.
The rest I leave in your hands, Monsieur Valmont.'

With that the old man rose and left us.

Perhaps I should stop this narration here, for I have often wondered
if practically I am guilty of manslaughter.

We did not meet Major Renn together, but arranged that he should
encounter Jack under one lamp-post, and me under the next. It was just
after midnight, and the streets were practically deserted. The theatre
crowds had gone, and the traffic was represented by the last 'buses,
and a belated cab now and then. Major Renn came down the steps of his
club, and under the first lamp-post, with the light shining full upon
him, Jack the convict stepped forth.

'Colonel Jim,' he said, 'Ed and I are waiting for you. There were
three in that robbery, and one was a traitor. His dead comrades ask
the traitor to join them.'

The Major staggered back against the lamp-post, drew his hand across
his brow, and muttered, Jack told me afterwards:--

'I must stop drinking! I must stop drinking!'

Then he pulled himself together, and walked rapidly towards the next
lamp-post. I stood out square in front of him, but made no sound. He
looked at me with distended eyes, while Jack shouted out in his
boisterous voice, that had no doubt often echoed over the plain:--

'Come on, Wyoming Ed, and never mind him. He must follow.'

Then he gave a war whoop. The Major did not turn round, but continued
to stare at me, breathing stertorously like a person with apoplexy. I
slowly pushed back my hat, and on my brow he saw the red mark of a
bullet hole. He threw up his hands and fell with a crash to the
pavement.

'Heart failure' was the verdict of the coroner's jury.




8. _Lady Alicia's Emeralds_


Many Englishmen, if you speak to them of me, indulge themselves in a
detraction that I hope they will not mind my saying is rarely graced
by the delicacy of innuendo with which some of my own countrymen
attempt to diminish whatever merit I may possess. Mr. Spenser Hale, of
Scotland Yard, whose lack of imagination I have so often endeavoured
to amend, alas! without perceptible success, was good enough to say,
after I had begun these reminiscences, which he read with affected
scorn, that I was wise in setting down my successes, because the life
of Methuselah himself would not be long enough to chronicle my
failures, and the man to whom this was said replied that it was only
my artfulness, a word of which these people are very fond; that I
intended to use my successes as bait, issue a small pamphlet filled
with them, and then record my failures in a thousand volumes, after
the plan of a Chinese encyclopaedia, selling these to the public on
the instalment plan.

Ah, well; it is not for me to pass comment on such observations. Every
profession is marred by its little jealousies, and why should the
coterie of detection be exempt? I hope I may never follow an example
so deleterious, and thus be tempted to express my contempt for the
stupidity with which, as all persons know, the official detective
system of England is imbued. I have had my failures, of course. Did I
ever pretend to be otherwise than human? But what has been the cause
of these failures? They have arisen through the conservatism of the
English. When there is a mystery to be solved, the average Englishman
almost invariably places it in the hands of the regular police. When
these good people are utterly baffled; when their big boots have
crushed out all evidences that the grounds may have had to offer to a
discerning mind; when their clumsy hands have obliterated the clues
which are everywhere around them, I am at last called in, and if I
fail, they say:--

'What could you expect; he is a Frenchman.'

This was exactly what happened in the case of Lady Alicia's emeralds.
For two months the regular police were not only befogged, but they
blatantly sounded the alarm to every thief in Europe. All the
pawnbrokers' shops of Great Britain were ransacked, as if a robber of
so valuable a collection would be foolish enough to take it to a
pawnbroker. Of course, the police say that they thought the thief
would dismantle the cluster, and sell the gems separately. As to this
necklace of emeralds, possessing as it does an historical value which
is probably in excess of its intrinsic worth, what more natural than
that the holder of it should open negotiations with its rightful
owner, and thus make more money by quietly restoring it than by its
dismemberment and sale piecemeal? But such a fuss was kicked up, such
a furore created, that it is no wonder the receiver of the goods lay
low, and said nothing. In vain were all ports giving access to the
Continent watched; in vain were the police of France, Belgium, and
Holland warned to look out for this treasure. Two valuable months were
lost, and then the Marquis of Blair sent for me! I maintain that the
case was hopeless from the moment I took it up.

It may be asked why the Marquis of Blair allowed the regular police to
blunder along for two precious months, but anyone who is acquainted
with that nobleman will not wonder that he clung so long to a forlorn
hope. Very few members of the House of Peers are richer than Lord
Blair, and still fewer more penurious. He maintained that, as he paid
his taxes, he was entitled to protection from theft; that it was the
duty of the Government to restore the gems, and if this proved
impossible, to make compensation for them. This theory is not
acceptable in the English Courts, and while Scotland Yard did all it
could during those two months, what but failure was to be expected
from its limited mental equipment?

When I arrived at the Manor of Blair, as his lordship's very ugly and
somewhat modern mansion house is termed, I was instantly admitted to
his presence. I had been summoned from London by a letter in his
lordship's own hand, on which the postage was not paid. It was late in
the afternoon when I arrived, and our first conference was what might
be termed futile. It was take up entirely with haggling about terms,
the marquis endeavouring to beat down the price of my services to a
sum so insignificant that it would barely have paid my expenses from
London to Blair and back. Such bargaining is intensely distasteful to
me. When the marquis found all his offers declined with a politeness
which left no opening for anger on his part, he endeavoured to induce
me to take up the case on a commission contingent upon my recovery of
the gems, and as I had declined this for the twentieth time, darkness
had come on, and the gong rang for dinner. I dined alone in the _salle
à manger_, which appeared to be set apart for those calling at the
mansion on business, and the meagreness of the fare, together with the
indifferent nature of the claret, strengthened my determination to
return to London as early as possible next morning.

When the repast was finished, the dignified servingman said gravely to
me,--

'The Lady Alicia asks if you will be good enough to give her a few
moments in the drawing-room, sir.'

I followed the man to the drawing-room, and found the young lady
seated at the piano, on which she was strumming idly and
absentmindedly, but with a touch, nevertheless, that indicated
advanced excellence in the art of music. She was not dressed as one
who had just risen from the dining table, but was somewhat grimly and
commonly attired, looking more like a cottager's daughter than a
member of the great country family. Her head was small, and crowned
with a mass of jet black hair. My first impression on entering the
large, rather dimly lighted room was unfavourable, but that vanished
instantly under the charm of a manner so graceful and vivacious, that
in a moment I seemed to be standing in a brilliant Parisian _salon_
rather than in the sombre drawing-room of an English country house.
Every poise of her dainty head; every gesture of those small, perfect
hands; every modulated tone of the voice, whether sparkling with
laughter or caressing in confidential speech, reminded me of the
_grandes dames_ of my own land. It was strange to find this perfect
human flower amidst the gloomy ugliness of a huge square house built
in the time of the Georges; but I remembered now that the Blairs are
the English equivalent of the de Bellairs of France, from which family
sprang the fascinating Marquise de Bellairs, who adorned the Court of
Louis XIV. Here, advancing towards me, was the very reincarnation of
the lovely marquise, who gave lustre to this dull world nearly three
hundred years ago. Ah, after all, what are the English but a conquered
race! I often forget this, and I trust I never remind them of it, but
it enables one to forgive them much. A vivid twentieth-century
marquise was Lady Alicia, in all except attire. What a dream some of
our Parisian dress artists could have made of her, and here she was
immured in this dull English house in the high-necked costume of a
labourer's wife. 'Welcome, Monsieur Valmont,' she cried, in French of
almost faultless intonation. 'I am so glad you have arrived,' and she
greeted me as if I were an old friend of the family. There was nothing
of condescension in her manner; no display of her own affability,
while at the same time teaching me my place, and the difference in our
stations of life. I can stand the rudeness of the nobility, but I
detest their condescension. No; Lady Alicia was a true de Bellairs,
and in my confusion, bending over her slender hand, I said:--

'Madame la Marquise, it is a privilege to extend to you my most
respectful salutations.'

She laughed at this quietly, with the melting laugh of the
nightingale.

'Monsieur, you mistake my title. Although my uncle is a marquis, I am
but Lady Alicia.'

'Your pardon, my lady. For the moment I was back in that scintillating
Court which surrounded Louis le Grand.'

'How flatteringly you introduce yourself, monsieur. In the gallery
upstairs there is a painting of the Marquise de Bellairs, and when I
show it to your tomorrow, you will then understand how charmingly you
have pleased a vain woman by your reference to that beautiful lady.
But I must not talk in this frivolous strain, monsieur. There is
serious business to be considered, and I assure you I looked forward
to your coming, monsieur, with the eagerness of Sister Anne in the
tower of Bluebeard.'

I fear my expression as I bowed to her must have betrayed my
gratification at hearing these words, so confidentially uttered by
lips so sweet, while the glance of her lovely eyes was even more
eloquent than her words. Instantly I felt ashamed of my chaffering
over terms with her uncle; instantly I forgot my resolution to depart
on the morrow; instantly I resolved to be of what assistance I could
to this dainty lady. Alas! the heart of Valmont is today as
unprotected against the artillery of inspiring eyes as ever it was in
his extreme youth.

'This house,' she continued vivaciously, 'has been practically in a
state of siege for two months. I could take none of my usual walks in
the gardens, on the lawns, or through the park, without some clumsy
policeman in uniform crashing his way through the bushes, or some
detective in plain clothes accosting me and questioning me under the
pretence that he was a stranger who had lost his way. The lack of all
subtlety in our police is something deplorable. I am sure the real
criminal might have passed through their hands a dozen times
unmolested, while our poor innocent servants, and the strangers within
our gates, were made to feel that the stern eye of the law was upon
them night and day.'

The face of the young lady was an entrancing picture of animated
indignation as she gave utterance to this truism which her countrymen
are so slow to appreciate. I experienced a glow of satisfaction.

'Yes,' she went on, 'they sent down from London an army of stupid men,
who have kept our household in a state of abject terror for eight long
weeks, and where are the emeralds?'

As she suddenly asked this question, in the most Parisian of accents,
with a little outward spreading of the hand, a flash of the eye, and a
toss of the head, the united effect was something indescribable
through the limitations of the language I am compelled to use.

'Well, monsieur, your arrival has put to flight this tiresome brigade,
if, indeed, the word flight is not too airy a term to use towards a
company so elephantine, and I assure you a sigh of relief has gone up
from the whole household with the exception of my uncle. I said to him
at dinner tonight: "If Monsieur Valmont had been induced to take an
interest in the case at first, the jewels would have been in my
possession long before tonight."'

'Ah, my lady,' I protested, 'I fear you overrate my poor ability. It
is quite true that if I had been called in on the night of the
robbery, my chances of success would have been infinitely greater than
they are now.'

'Monsieur,' she cried, clasping her hands over her knees, and leaning
towards me, hypnotising me with those starry eyes, 'Monsieur, I am
perfectly confident that before a week is past you will restore the
necklace, if such restoration be possible. I have said so from the
first. Now, am I right in my conjecture, monsieur, that you come here
alone; that you bring with you no train of followers and assistants?'

'That is as you have stated it, my lady.'

'I was sure of it. It is to be a contest of trained mentality in
opposition to our two months' experience of brute force.'

Never before had I felt such ambition to succeed, and a determination
not to disappoint took full possession of me. Appreciation is a needed
stimulant, and here it was offered to me in its most intoxicating
form. Ah, Valmont, Valmont, will you never grow old! I am sure that
at this moment, if I had been eighty, the same thrill of enthusiasm
would have tingled to my fingers' ends. Leave the Manor of Blair in
the morning? Not for the Bank of France!

'Has my uncle acquainted you with particulars of the robbery?'

'No, madame, we were talking of other things.'

The lady leaned back in her low chair, partially closed her eyes, and
breathed a deep sigh.

'I can well imagine the subject of your conversation,' she said at
last. 'The Marquis of Blair was endeavouring to impose usurer's terms
upon you, while you, nobly scorning such mercenary considerations, had
perhaps resolved to leave us at the earliest opportunity.'

'I assure you, my lady, that if any such conclusion had been arrived
at on my part, it vanished the moment I was privileged to set foot in
this drawing-room.'

'It is kind of you to say that, monsieur, but you must not allow your
conversation with my uncle to prejudice you against him. He is an old
man now, and, of course, has his fancies. You would think him
mercenary, perhaps, and so he is; but then so, too, am I. Oh, yes, I
am, monsieur, frightfully mercenary. To be mercenary, I believe, means
to be fond of money. No one is fonder of money than I, except,
perhaps, my uncle; but you see, monsieur, we occupy the two extremes.
He is fond of money to hoard it; I am fond of money to spend it. I am
fond of money for the things it will buy. I should like to scatter
largesse as did my fair ancestress in France. I should love a manor
house in the country, and a mansion in Mayfair. I could wish to make
everyone around me happy if the expenditure of money would do it.'

'That is a form of money-love, Lady Alicia, which will find a
multitude of admirers.'

The girl shook her head and laughed merrily.

'I should so dislike to forfeit your esteem, Monsieur Valmont, and
therefore I shall not reveal the depth of my cupidity. You will learn
that probably from my uncle, and then you will understand my extreme
anxiety for the recovery of these jewels.'

'Are they very valuable?'

'Oh, yes; the necklace consists of twenty stones, no one of which
weighs less than an ounce. Altogether, I believe, they amount to two
thousand four hundred or two thousand five hundred carats, and their
intrinsic value is twenty pounds a carat at least. So you see that
means nearly fifty thousand pounds, yet even this sum is trivial
compared with what it involves. There is something like a million at
stake, together with my coveted manor house in the country, and my
equally coveted mansion in Mayfair. All this is within my grasp if I
can but recover the emeralds.'

The girl blushed prettily as she noticed how intently I regarded her
while she evolved this tantalising mystery. I thought there was a
trace of embarrassment in her laugh when she cried:--

'Oh, what will you think of me when you understand the situation?
Pray, pray do not judge me harshly. I assure you the position I aim at
will be used for the good of others as well as for my own pleasure. If
my uncle does not make a confidant of you, I must take my courage in
both hands, and give you all the particulars, but not tonight. Of
course, if one is to unravel such a snarl as that in which we find
ourselves, he must be made aware of every particular, must he not?'

'Certainly, my lady.'

'Very well, Monsieur Valmont, I shall supply any deficiencies that
occur in my uncle's conversation with you. There is one point on which
I should like to warn you. Both my uncle and the police have made up
their minds that a certain young man is the culprit. The police found
several clues which apparently led in his direction, but they were
unable to find enough to justify his arrest. At first I could have
sworn he had nothing whatever to do with the matter, but lately I am
not so sure. All I ask of you until we secure another opportunity of
consulting together is to preserve an open mind. Please do not allow
my uncle to prejudice you against him.'

'What is the name of this young man?'

'He is the Honourable John Haddon.'

'The Honourable! Is he a person who could do so dishonourable an
action?'

The young lady shook her head.

'I am almost sure he would not, and yet one never can tell. I think at
the present moment there are one or two noble lords in prison, but
their crimes have not been mere vulgar housebreaking.'

'Am I to infer, Lady Alicia, that you are in possession of certain
facts unknown either to your uncle or the police?'

'Yes.'

'Pardon me, but do these facts tend to incriminate the young man?'
Again the young lady leaned back in her chair, and gazed past me, a
wrinkle of perplexity on her fair brow. Then she said very slowly:--

'You will understand, Monsieur Valmont, how loath I am to speak
against one who was formerly a friend. If he had been content to
remain a friend, I am sure this incident, which has caused us all such
worry and trouble, would never have happened. I do not wish to dwell
on what my uncle will tell you was a very unpleasant episode, but the
Honourable John Haddon is a poor man, and it is quite out of the
question for one brought up as I have been to marry into poverty. He
was very headstrong and reckless about the matter, and involved my
uncle in a bitter quarrel while discussing it, much to my chagrin and
disappointment. It is as necessary for him to marry wealth as it is
for me to make a good match, but he could not be brought to see that.
Oh, he is not at all a sensible young man, and my former friendship
for him has ceased. Yet I should dislike very much to take any action
that might harm him, therefore I have spoken to no one but you about
the evidence that is in my hands, and this you must treat as entirely
confidential, giving no hint to my uncle, who is already bitter enough
against Mr. Haddon.'

'Does this evidence convince you that he stole the necklace?'

'No; I do not believe that he actually stole it, but I am persuaded he
was an accessory after the fact--is that the legal term? Now, Monsieur
Valmont, we will say no more tonight. If I talk any longer about this
crisis, I shall not sleep, and I wish, assured of your help, to attack
the situation with a very clear mind tomorrow.'

When I retired to my room, I found that I, too, could not sleep,
although I needed a clear mind to face the problem of tomorrow. It is
difficult for me to describe accurately the effect this interview had
upon my mind, but to use a bodily simile, I may say that it seemed as
if I had indulged too freely in a subtle champagne which appeared
exceedingly excellent at first, but from which the exhilaration had
now departed. No man could have been more completely under a spell
than I was when Lady Alicia's eyes first told me more than her lips
revealed; but although I had challenged her right to the title
'mercenary' when she applied it to herself, I could not but confess
that her nonchalant recital regarding the friend who desired to be a
lover jarred upon me. I found my sympathy extending itself to that
unknown young man, on whom it appeared the shadow of suspicion already
rested. I was confident that if he had actually taken the emeralds it
was not at all from motives of cupidity. Indeed that was practically
shown by the fact that Scotland Yard found itself unable to trace the
jewels, which at least they might have done if the necklace had been
sold either as a whole or dismembered. Of course, an emerald weighing
an ounce is by no means unusual. The Hope emerald, for example, weighs
six ounces, and the gem owned by the Duke of Devonshire measures two
and a quarter inches through its greatest diameter. Nevertheless, such
a constellation as the Blair emeralds was not to be disposed of very
easily, and I surmised no attempt had been made either to sell them or
to raise money upon them. Now that I had removed myself from the
glamour of her presence, I began to suspect that the young lady, after
all, although undoubtedly possessing the brilliancy of her jewels,
retained also something of their hardness. There had been no
expression of sympathy for the discarded friend; it was too evident,
recalling what had latterly passed between us, that the young woman's
sole desire, and a perfectly natural desire, was to recover her
missing treasure. There was something behind all this which I could
not comprehend, and I resolved in the morning to question the Marquis
of Blair as shrewdly as he cared to allow. Failing him, I should
cross-question the niece in a somewhat dryer light than that which had
enshrouded me during this interesting evening. I care not who knows
it, but I have been befooled more than once by a woman, but I
determined that in clear daylight I should resist the hypnotising
influence of those glorious eyes. _Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu_! how easy it is
for me to make good resolutions when I am far from temptation!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was ten o'clock next morning when I was admitted to the study of
the aged bachelor Marquis of Blair. His keen eyes looked through and
through me as I seated myself before him.

'Well!' he said shortly.

'My lord,' I began deliberately, 'I know nothing more of the case than
was furnished by the accounts I have read in the newspapers. Two
months have elapsed since the robbery. Every day that passed made the
detection of the criminal more difficult. I do not wish to waste
either my time or your money on a forlorn hope. If, therefore, you
will be good enough to place me in possession of all the facts known
to you, I shall tell you at once whether or not I can take up the
case.'

'Do you wish me to give you the name of the criminal?' asked his
lordship.

'Is his name known to you?' I asked in return.

'Yes. John Haddon stole the necklace.'

'Did you give that name to the police?'

'Yes.'

'Why didn't they arrest him?'

'Because the evidence against him is so small, and the improbability
of his having committed the crime is so great.'

'What is the evidence against him?'

His lordship spoke with the dry deliberation of an aged solicitor.

'The robbery was committed on the night of October the fifth. All day
there had been a heavy rain, and the grounds were wet. For reasons
into which I do not care to enter, John Haddon was familiar with this
house, and with our grounds. He was well known to my servants, and,
unfortunately, popular with them, for he is an openhanded spendthrift.
The estate of his elder brother, Lord Steffenham, adjoins my own to
the west, and Lord Steffenham's house is three miles from where we
sit. On the night of the fifth a ball was given in the mansion of Lord
Steffenham, to which, of course, my niece and myself were invited, and
which invitation we accepted. I had no quarrel with the elder brother.
It was known to John Haddon that my niece intended to wear her
necklace of emeralds. The robbery occurred at a time when most crimes
of that nature are committed in country houses, namely, while we were
at dinner, an hour during which the servants are almost invariably in
the lower part of the house. In October the days are getting short.
The night was exceptionally dark, for, although the rain had ceased,
not a star was visible. The thief placed a ladder against the sill of
one of the upper windows, opened it, and came in. He must have been
perfectly familiar with the house, for there are evidences that he
went direct to the boudoir where the jewel case had been carelessly
left on my niece's dressing table when she came down to dinner. It had
been taken from the strong room about an hour before. The box was
locked, but, of course, that made no difference. The thief wrenched
the lid off, breaking the lock, stole the necklace, and escaped by the
way he came.'

'Did he leave the window open, and the ladder in place?'

'Yes.'

'Doesn't that strike you as very extraordinary?'

'No. I do not assert that he is a professional burglar, who would take
all the precautions against the discovery that might have been
expected from one of the craft. Indeed, the man's carelessness in
going straight across the country to his brother's house, and leaving
footsteps in the soft earth, easily traceable almost to the very
boundary fence, shows he is incapable of any serious thought.'

'Is John Haddon rich?'

'He hasn't a penny.'

'Did you go to the ball that night?'

'Yes, I had promised to go.'

'Was John Haddon there?'

'Yes; but he appeared late. He should have been present at the
opening, and his brother was seriously annoyed by his absence. When he
did come he acted in a wild and reckless manner, which gave the guests
the impression that he had been drinking. Both my niece and myself
were disgusted with his actions.'

'Do you think your niece suspects him?'

'She certainly did not at first, and was indignant when I told her,
coming home from the ball, that her jewels were undoubtedly in
Steffenham House, even though they were not round her neck, but
latterly I think her opinion has changed.'

'To go back a moment. Did any of your servants see him prowling about
the place?'

'They all say they didn't, but I myself saw him, just before dusk,
coming across the fields towards this house, and next morning we found
the same footprints both going and coming. It seems to me the
circumstantial evidence is rather strong.'

'It's a pity that no one but yourself saw him. What more evidence are
the authorities waiting for?'

'They are waiting until he attempts to dispose of the jewels.'

'You think, then, he has not done so up to date?'

'I think he will never do so.'

'Then why did he steal them?'

'To prevent the marriage of my niece with Jonas Carter, of Sheffield,
to whom she is betrothed. They were to be married early in the New
Year.'

'My lord, you amaze me. If Mr. Carter and Lady Alicia are engaged, why
should the theft of the jewels interfere with the ceremony?'

'Mr. Jonas Carter is a most estimable man, who, however, does not move
in our sphere of life. He is connected with the steel or cutlery
industry, and is a person of great wealth, rising upwards of a
million, with a large estate in Derbyshire, and a house fronting Hyde
Park, in London. He is a very strict business man, and both my niece
and myself agree that he is also an eligible man. I myself am rather
strict in matters of business, and I must admit that Mr. Carter showed
a very generous spirit in arranging the preliminaries of the
engagement with me. When Alicia's father died he had run through all
the money he himself possessed or could borrow from his friends.
Although a man of noble birth, I never liked him. He was married to my
only sister. The Blair emeralds, as perhaps you know, descend down the
female line. They, therefore, came to my niece from her mother. My
poor sister had long been disillusioned before death released her from
the titled scamp she had married, and she very wisely placed the
emeralds in my custody to be held in trust for her daughter. They
constitute my niece's only fortune, and would produce, if offered in
London today, probably seventy-five or a hundred thousand pounds,
although actually they are not worth so much. Mr. Jonas Carter very
amiably consented to receive my niece with a dowry of only fifty
thousand pounds, and that money I offered to advance, if I was allowed
to retain the jewels as security. This was arranged between Mr. Carter
and myself.'

'But surely Mr. Carter does not refuse to carry out his engagement
because the jewels have been stolen?'

'He does. Why should he not?'

'Then surely you will advance the fifty thousand necessary?'

'I will not. Why should I?'

'Well, it seems to me,' said I, with a slight laugh, 'the young man
has very definitely checkmated both of you.'

'He has, until I have laid him by the heels, which I am determined to
do if he were the brother of twenty Lord Steffenhams.'

'Please answer one more question. Are you determined to put the young
man in prison, or would you be content with the return of the emeralds
intact?'

'Of course I should prefer to put him in prison and get the emeralds
too, but if there's no choice in the matter, I must content myself
with the necklace.'

'Very well, my lord, I will undertake the case.'

This conference had detained us in the study till after eleven, and
then, as it was a clear, crisp December morning, I went out through
the gardens into the park, that I might walk along the well-kept
private road and meditate upon my course of action, or, rather, think
over what had been said, because I could not map my route until I had
heard the secret which the Lady Alicia promised to impart. As at
present instructed, it seemed to me the best way to go direct to the
young man, show him as effectively as I could the danger in which he
stood, and, if possible, persuade him to deliver up the necklace to
me. As I strolled along under the grand old leafless trees, I suddenly
heard my name called impulsively two or three times, and turning round
saw the Lady Alicia running towards me. Her cheeks were bright with
Nature's rouge, and her eyes sparkled more dazzlingly than any emerald
that ever tempted man to wickedness.

'Oh, Monsieur Valmont, I have been waiting for you, and you escaped
me. Have you seen my uncle?'

'Yes, I have been with him since ten o'clock.'

'Well?'

'Your ladyship, that is exactly the word with which he accosted me.'

'Ah, you see an additional likeness between my uncle and myself this
morning, then? Has he told you about Mr. Carter?'

'Yes.'

'So now you understand how important it is that I should regain
possession of my property?'

'Yes,' I said with a sigh; 'the house near Hyde Park and the great
estate in Derbyshire.'

She clapped her hands with glee, eyes and feet dancing in unison, as
she capered along gaily beside me; a sort of skippety-hop,
skippety-hop, sideways, keeping pace with my more stately step, as if
she were a little girl of six instead of a young woman of twenty.

'Not only that!' she cried, 'but one million pounds to spend! Oh,
Monsieur Valmont, you know Paris, and yet you do not seem to
comprehend what that plethora of money means!'

'Well, madame, I have seen Paris, and I have seen a good deal of the
world, but I am not so certain you will secure the million to spend.'

'What!' she cried, stopping short, that little wrinkle which betokened
temper appearing on her brow. 'Do you think we won't get the emeralds
then?'

'Oh, I am sure we will get the emeralds. I, Valmont, pledge you my
word. But if Mr. Jonas Carter before marriage calls a halt upon the
ceremony until your uncle places fifty thousand pounds upon the table,
I confess I am very pessimistic about your obtaining control of the
million afterwards.'

All her vivacity instantaneously returned.

'Pooh!' she cried, dancing round in front of me, and standing there
directly in my path, so that I came to a stand. 'Pooh!' she repeated,
snapping her fingers, with an inimitable gesture of that lovely hand.
'Monsieur Valmont, I am disappointed in you. You are not nearly so
nice as you were last evening. It is very uncomplimentary in you to
intimate that when once I am married to Mr. Jonas I shall not wheedle
from him all the money I want. Do not rest your eyes on the ground;
look at me and answer!'

I glanced up at her, and could not forbear laughing. The witchery of
the wood was in that girl; yes, and a perceptible trace of the Gallic
devil flickered in those enchanting eyes of hers. I could not help
myself.

'Ah, Madame la Marquise de Bellairs, how jauntily you would scatter
despair in that susceptible Court of Louis!'

'Ah, Monsieur Eugène de Valmont,' she cried, mimicking my tones, and
imitating my manner with an exactitude that amazed me, 'you are once
more my dear de Valmont of last night. I dreamed of you, I assure you
I did, and now to find you in the morning, oh, so changed!' She
clasped her little hands and inclined her head, while the sweet voice
sank into a cadence of melancholy which seemed so genuine that the
mocking ripple of a laugh immediately following was almost a shock to
me. Where had this creature of the dull English countryside learnt all
such frou-frou of gesture and tone?

'Have you ever seen Sarah Bernhardt?' I asked.

Now the average English woman would have inquired the genesis of so
inconsequent a question, but Lady Alicia followed the trend of my
thought, and answered at once as if my query had been quite
expected:--

'_Mais non_, monsieur. Sarah the Divine! Ah, she comes with my million
a year and the house of Hyde Park. No, the only inhabitant of my real
world whom I have yet seen is Monsieur Valmont, and he, alas! I find
so changeable. But now, adieu frivolity, we must be serious,' and she
walked sedately by my side.

'Do you know where you are going, monsieur? You are going to church.
Oh, do not look frightened, not to a service. I am decorating the
church with holly, and you shall help me and get thorns in your poor
fingers.'

The private road, which up to this time had passed through a forest,
now reached a secluded glade in which stood a very small, but
exquisite, church, evidently centuries older than the mansion we had
left. Beyond it were gray stone ruins, which Lady Alicia pointed out
to me as remnants of the original mansion that had been built in the
reign of the second Henry. The church, it was thought, formed the
private chapel to the hall, and it had been kept in repair by the
various lords of the manor.

'Now hearken to the power of the poor, and learn how they may flout
the proud marquis,' cried Lady Alicia gleefully; 'the poorest man in
England may walk along this private road on Sunday to the church, and
the proud marquis is powerless to prevent him. Of course, if the poor
man prolongs his walk then is he in danger from the law of trespass.
On weekdays, however, this is the most secluded spot on the estate,
and I regret to say that my lordly uncle does not trouble it even on
Sundays. I fear we are a degenerate race, Monsieur Valmont, for
doubtless a fighting and deeply religious ancestor of mine built this
church, and to think that when the useful masons cemented those stones
together, Madame la Marquise de Bellairs or Lady Alicia were alike
unthought of, and though three hundred years divide them this ancient
chapel makes them seem, as one might say, contemporaries. Oh, Monsieur
Valmont, what is the use of worrying about emeralds or anything else?
As I look at this beautiful old church, even the house of Hyde Park
appears as naught,' and to my amazement, the eyes that Lady Alicia
turned upon me were wet.

The front door was unlocked, and we walked into the church in silence.
Around the pillars holly and ivy were twined. Great armfuls of the
shrubs had been flung here and there along the walls in heaps, and a
step-ladder stood in one of the aisles, showing that the decoration of
the edifice was not yet complete. A subdued melancholy had settled
down on my erstwhile vivacious companion, the inevitable reaction so
characteristic of the artistic temperament, augmented doubtless by the
solemnity of the place, around whose walls in brass and marble were
sculptured memorials of her ancient race.

'You promised,' I said at last, 'to tell me how you came to suspect--'

'Not here, not here,' she whispered; then rising from the pew in which
she had seated herself, she said:--

'Let us go, I am in no mood for working this morning. I shall finish
the decoration in the afternoon.'

We came out into the cool and brilliant sunlight again, and as we
turned homeward, her spirits immediately began to rise.

'I am anxious to know,' I persisted, 'why you came to suspect a man
whom at first you believed innocent.'

'I am not sure but I believe him innocent now, although I am forced to
the conclusion that he knows where the treasure is.'

'What forces you to that conclusion, my lady?'

'A letter I received from himself, in which he makes a proposal so
extraordinary that I am almost disinclined to accede to it, even
though it leads to the discovery of my necklace. However, I am
determined to leave no means untried if I receive the support of my
friend, Monsieur Valmont.'

'My lady,' said I, with a bow, 'it is but yours to command, mine to
obey. What were the contents of that letter?'

'Read it,' she replied, taking the folded sheet from her pocket, and
handing it to me.

She had been quite right in characterising the note as an
extraordinary epistle. The Honourable John Haddon had the temerity to
propose that she should go through a form of marriage with him in the
old church we had just left. If she did that, he said, it would
console him for the mad love he felt for her. The ceremony would have
no binding force upon her whatever, and she might bring whom she
pleased to perform it. If she knew no one that she could trust, he
would invite an old college chum, and bring him to the church next
morning at half-past seven o'clock. Even if an ordained clergyman
performed the ceremony, it would not be legal unless it took place
between the hours of eight in the morning, and three in the
afternoon. If she consented to this, the emeralds were hers once more.

'This is the proposal of a madman,' said I, as I handed back the
letter.

'Well,' she replied, with a nonchalant shrug of her shoulders, 'he has
always said he was madly in love with me, and I quite believe it. Poor
young man, if this mummery were to console him for the rest of his
life, why should I not indulge him in it?'

'Lady Alicia, surely you would not countenance the profaning of that
lovely old edifice with a mock ceremonial? No man in his senses could
suggest such a thing!'

Once more her eyes were twinkling with merriment.

'But the Honourable John Haddon, as I have told you, is not in his
senses.'

'Then why should you indulge him?'

'Why? How can you ask such a question? Because of the emeralds. It is
only a mad lark, after all, and no one need know of it. Oh, Monsieur
Valmont,' she cried pleadingly, clasping her hands, and yet it seemed
to me with an undercurrent of laughter in her beseeching tones, 'will
you not enact for us the part of clergyman? I am sure if your face
were as serious as it is at this moment, the robes of a priest would
become you.'

'Lady Alicia, you are incorrigible. I am somewhat of a man of the
world, yet I should not dare to counterfeit the sacred office, and I
hope you but jest. In fact, I am sure you do, my lady.'

She turned away from me with a very pretty pout.

'Monsieur Valmont, your knighthood is, after all, but surface deep.
'Tis not mine to command, and yours to obey. Certainly I did but jest.
John shall bring his own imitation clergyman with him.'

'Are you going to meet him tomorrow?'

'Certainly I am. I have promised. I must secure my necklace.'

'You seem to place great confidence in the belief that he will produce
it.'

'If he fails to do so, then I play Monsieur Valmont as my trump card.
But, monsieur, although you quite rightly refuse to comply with my
first request, you will surely not reject my second. Please meet me
tomorrow at the head of the avenue, promptly at a quarter-past seven,
and escort me to the church.'

For a moment the negative trembled on my tongue's end, but she turned
those enchanting eyes upon me, and I was undone.

'Very well,' I answered.

She seized both my hands, like a little girl overjoyed at a promised
excursion.

'Oh, Monsieur Valmont, you are a darling! I feel as if I'd known you
all my life. I am sure you will never regret having humoured me,' then
added a moment later, 'if we get the emeralds.'

'Ah,' said I, '_if_ we get the emeralds.'

We were now within sight of the house, and she pointed out our
rendezvous for the following day, and with that I bade her good-bye.

It was shortly after seven o'clock next morning when I reached the
meeting-place. The Lady Alicia was somewhat long in coming, but when
she arrived her face was aglow with girlish delight at the solemn
prank she was about to play.

'You have not changed your mind?' I asked, after the morning's
greetings.

'Oh, no, Monsieur Valmont,' she replied, with a bright laugh. 'I am
determined to recover those emeralds.'

'We must hurry, Lady Alicia, or we will be too late.'

'There is plenty of time,' she remarked calmly; and she proved to be
right, because when we came in sight of the church, the clock pointed
to the hour of half-past seven.

'Now,' she said 'I shall wait here until you steal up to the church
and look in through one of the windows that do not contain stained
glass. I should not for the world arrive before Mr. Haddon and his
friend are there.'

I did as requested, and saw two young men standing together in the
centre aisle, one in the full robes of a clergyman, the other in his
ordinary dress, whom I took to be the Honourable John Haddon. His
profile was towards me, and I must admit there was very little of the
madman in his calm countenance. His was a well-cut face, clean shaven,
and strikingly manly. In one of the pews was seated a woman--I learned
afterwards she was Lady Alicia's maid, who had been instructed to come
and go from the house by a footpath, while we had taken the longer
road. I returned and escorted Lady Alicia to the church, and there was
introduced to Mr. Haddon and his friend, the made-up divine. The
ceremony was at once performed, and, man of the world as I professed
myself to be, this enacting of private theatricals in a church grated
upon me. When the maid and I were asked to sign the book as witnesses,
I said:--

'Surely this is carrying realism a little too far?'

Mr. Haddon smiled, and replied:--

'I am amazed to hear a Frenchman objecting to realism going to its
full length, and speaking for myself, I should be delighted to see the
autograph of the renowned Eugène Valmont,' and with that he proffered
me the pen, whereupon I scrawled my signature. The maid had already
signed, and disappeared. The reputed clergyman bowed us out of the
church, standing in the porch to see us walk up the avenue.

'Ed,' cried John Haddon, I'll be back within half an hour, and we'll
attend to the clock. You won't mind waiting?'

'Not in the least, dear boy. God bless you both,' and the tremor in
his voice seemed to me carrying realism one step further still.

The Lady Alicia, with downcast head, hurried us on until we were
within the gloom of the forest, and then, ignoring me, she turned
suddenly to the young man, and placed her two hands on his shoulders.

'Oh, Jack, Jack!' she cried.

He kissed her twice on the lips.

'Jack, Monsieur Valmont insists on the emeralds.'

The young man laughed. Her ladyship stood fronting him with her back
towards me. Tenderly the young man unfastened something at the throat
of that high-necked dress of hers, then there was a snap, and he drew
out an amazing, dazzling, shimmering sheen of green, that seemed to
turn the whole bleak December landscape verdant as with a touch of
spring. The girl hid her rosy face against him, and over her shoulder,
with a smile, he handed me the celebrated Blair emeralds.

'There is the treasure, Valmont,' he cried, 'on condition that you do
not molest the culprit.'

'Or the accessory after the fact,' gurgled Lady Alicia in smothered
tones, with a hand clasping together her high-necked dress at the
throat.

'We trust to your invention, Valmont, to deliver that necklace to
uncle with a detective story that will thrill him to his very heart.'

We heard the clock strike eight; then a second later smaller bells
chimed a quarter-past, and another second after they tinkled the
half-hour. 'Hallo!' cried Haddon, 'Ed has attended to the clock
himself. What a good fellow he is.'

I looked at my watch; it was twenty-five minutes to nine.

'Was the ceremony genuine then?' I asked.

'Ah, Valmont,' said the young man, patting his wife affectionately on
the shoulder, 'nothing on earth can be more genuine than that ceremony
was.'

And the volatile Lady Alicia snuggled closer to him.




APPENDIX: TWO SHERLOCK HOLMES PARODIES


1. The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs

(With apologies to Dr. Conan Doyle, and his excellent book, 'A Study in
Scarlet'.)


I dropped in on my friend, Sherlaw Kombs, to hear what he had to say
about the Pegram mystery, as it had come to be called in the
newspapers. I found him playing the violin with a look of sweet peace
and serenity on his face, which I never noticed on the countenances of
those within hearing distance. I knew this expression of seraphic calm
indicated that Kombs had been deeply annoyed about something. Such,
indeed, proved to be the case, for one of the morning papers had
contained an article eulogising the alertness and general competence
of Scotland Yard. So great was Sherlaw Kombs's contempt for Scotland
Yard that he never would visit Scotland during his vacations, nor
would he ever admit that a Scotchman was fit for anything but export.

He generously put away his violin, for he had a sincere liking for me,
and greeted me with his usual kindness.

'I have come,' I began, plunging at once into the matter on my mind,
'to hear what you think of the great Pegram mystery.'

'I haven't heard of it,' he said quietly, just as if all London were
not talking of that very thing. Kombs was curiously ignorant on some
subjects, and abnormally learned on others. I found, for instance,
that political discussion with him was impossible, because he did not
know who Salisbury and Gladstone were. This made his friendship a
great boon.

'The Pegram mystery has baffled even Gregory, of Scotland Yard.'

'I can well believe it,' said my friend, calmly. 'Perpetual motion, or
squaring the circle, would baffle Gregory. He's an infant, is
Gregory.'

This was one of the things I always liked about Kombs. There was no
professional jealousy in him, such as characterises so many other men.

He filled his pipe, threw himself into his deep-seated armchair,
placed his feet on the mantel, and clasped his hands behind his head.

'Tell me about it,' he said simply.

'Old Barrie Kipson,' I began, 'was a stockbroker in the City. He lived
in Pegram, and it was his custom to--'

'COME IN!' shouted Kombs, without changing his position, but with a
suddenness that startled me. I had heard no knock.

'Excuse me,' said my friend, laughing, 'my invitation to enter was a
trifle premature. I was really so interested in your recital that I
spoke before I thought, which a detective should never do. The fact
is, a man will be here in a moment who will tell me all about this
crime, and so you will be spared further effort in that line.'

'Ah, you have an appointment. In that case I will not intrude,' I
said, rising.

'Sit down; I have no appointment. I did not know until I spoke that he
was coming.'

I gazed at him in amazement. Accustomed as I was to his extraordinary
talents, the man was a perpetual surprise to me. He continued to smoke
quietly, but evidently enjoyed my consternation.

'I see you are surprised. It is really too simple to talk about, but,
from my position opposite the mirror, I can see the reflection of
objects in the street. A man stopped, looked at one of my cards, and
then glanced across the street. I recognised my card, because, as you
know, they are all in scarlet. If, as you say, London is talking of
this mystery, it naturally follows that _he_ will talk of it, and the
chances are he wished to consult with me upon it. Anyone can see that,
besides there is always--_Come in!_

There was a rap at the door this time.

A stranger entered. Sherlaw Kombs did not change his lounging
attitude.

'I wish to see Mr. Sherlaw Kombs, the detective,' said the stranger,
coming within the range of the smoker's vision.

'This is Mr. Kombs,' I remarked at last, as my friend smoked quietly,
and seemed half-asleep.

'Allow me to introduce myself,' continued the stranger, fumbling for a
card.

'There is no need. You are a journalist,' said Kombs.

'Ah,' said the stranger, somewhat taken aback, 'you know me, then.'

'Never saw or heard of you in my life before.'

'Then how in the world--'

'Nothing simpler. You write for an evening paper. You have written an
article slating the book of a friend. He will feel badly about it, and
you will condole with him. He will never know who stabbed him unless I
tell him.'

'The devil!' cried the journalist, sinking into a chair and mopping
his brow, while his face became livid.

'Yes,' drawled Kombs, 'it is a devil of a shame that such things are
done. But what would you? as we say in France.'

When the journalist had recovered his second wind he pulled himself
together somewhat. 'Would you object to telling me how you know these
particulars about a man you say you have never seen?'

'I rarely talk about these things,' said Kombs with great composure.
'But as the cultivation of the habit of observation may help you in
your profession, and thus in a remote degree benefit me by making
your paper less deadly dull, I will tell you. Your first and second
fingers are smeared with ink, which shows that you write a great deal.
This smeared class embraces two sub-classes, clerks or accountants,
and journalists. Clerks have to be neat in their work. The ink smear
is slight in their case. Your fingers are badly and carelessly
smeared; therefore, you are a journalist. You have an evening paper in
your pocket. Anyone might have any evening paper, but yours is a
Special Edition, which will not be on the streets for half-an-hour
yet. You must have obtained it before you left the office, and to do
this you must be on the staff. A book notice is marked with a blue
pencil. A journalist always despises every article in his own paper
not written by himself; therefore, you wrote the article you have
marked, and doubtless are about to send it to the author of the book
referred to. Your paper makes a speciality of abusing all books not
written by some member of its own staff. That the author is a friend
of yours, I merely surmised. It is all a trivial example of ordinary
observation.'

'Really, Mr. Kombs, you are the most wonderful man on earth. You are
the equal of Gregory, by Jove, you are.'

A frown marred the brow of my friend as he placed his pipe on the
sideboard and drew his self-cocking six-shooter.

'Do you mean to insult me, sir?'

'I do not--I--I assure you. You are fit to take charge of Scotland
Yard tomorrow --. I am in earnest, indeed I am, sir.'

'Then heaven help you,' cried Kombs, slowly raising his right arm.

I sprang between them.

'Don't shoot!' I cried. 'You will spoil the carpet. Besides, Sherlaw,
don't you see the man means well. He actually thinks it is a
compliment!'

'Perhaps you are right,' remarked the detective, flinging his revolver
carelessly beside his pipe, much to the relief of the third party.
Then, turning to the journalist, he said, with his customary bland
courtesy--

'You wanted to see me, I think you said. What can I do for you, Mr
Wilber Scribbings?'

The journalist started.

'How do you know my name?' he gasped.

Kombs waved his hand impatiently.

'Look inside your hat if you doubt your own name.'

I then noticed for the first time that the name was plainly to be seen
inside the top-hat Scribbings held upside down in his hands.

'You have heard, of course, of the Pegram mystery--'

'Tush,' cried the detective; 'do not, I beg of you, call it a mystery.
There is no such thing. Life would become more tolerable if there ever
_was_ a mystery. Nothing is original. Everything has been done before.
What about the Pegram affair?'

'The Pegram--ah--case has baffled everyone. The _Evening Blade_ wishes
you to investigate, so that it may publish the result. It will pay you
well. Will you accept the commission?'

'Possibly. Tell me about the case.'

'I thought everybody knew the particulars. Mr. Barrie Kipson lived at
Pegram. He carried a first-class season ticket between the terminus
and that station. It was his custom to leave for Pegram on the 5.30
train each evening. Some weeks ago, Mr. Kipson was brought down by the
influenza. On his first visit to the City after his recovery, he drew
something like £300 in notes, and left the office at his usual hour to
catch the 5.30. He was never seen again alive, as far as the public
have been able to learn. He was found at Brewster in a first-class
compartment on the Scotch Express, which does not stop between London
and Brewster. There was a bullet in his head, and his money was gone,
pointing plainly to murder and robbery.'

'And where is the mystery, might I ask?'

'There are several unexplainable things about the case. First, how
came he on the Scotch Express, which leaves at six, and does not stop
at Pegram? Second, the ticket examiners at the terminus would have
turned him out if he showed his season ticket; and all the tickets
sold for the Scotch Express on the 21st are accounted for. Third, how
could the murderer have escaped? Fourth, the passengers in the two
compartments on each side of the one where the body was found heard no
scuffle and no shot fired.'

'Are you sure the Scotch Express on the 21st did not stop between
London and Brewster?'

'Now that you mention the fact, it did. It was stopped by signal just
outside of Pegram. There was a few moments' pause, when the line was
reported clear, and it went on again. This frequently happens, as
there is a branch line beyond Pegram.'

Mr. Sherlaw Kombs pondered for a few moments, smoking his pipe
silently.

'I presume you wish the solution in time for tomorrow's paper?'

'Bless my soul, no. The editor thought if you evolved a theory in a
month you would do well.'

'My dear sir, I do not deal with theories, but with facts. If you can
make it convenient to call here tomorrow at 8 a.m. I will give you the
full particulars early enough for the first edition. There is no sense
in taking up much time over so simple an affair as the Pegram case.
Good afternoon, sir.'

Mr. Scribbings was too much astonished to return the greeting. He left
in a speechless condition, and I saw him go up the street with his hat
still in his hand.

Sherlaw Kombs relapsed into his old lounging attitude, with his hands
clasped behind his head. The smoke came from his lips in quick puffs
at first, then at longer intervals. I saw he was coming to a
conclusion, so I said nothing.

Finally he spoke in his most dreamy manner. 'I do not wish to seem to
be rushing things at all, Whatson, but I am going out tonight on the
Scotch Express. Would you care to accompany me?'

'Bless me!' I cried, glancing at the clock, 'you haven't time, it is
after five now.'

'Ample time, Whatson--ample,' he murmured, without changing his
position. 'I give myself a minute and a half to change slippers and
dressing-gown for boots and coat, three seconds for hat, twenty-five
seconds to the street, forty-two seconds waiting for a hansom, and
then seven minutes at the terminus before the express starts. I shall
be glad of your company.'

I was only too happy to have the privilege of going with him. It was
most interesting to watch the workings of so inscrutable a mind. As we
drove under the lofty iron roof of the terminus I noticed a look of
annoyance pass over his face.

'We are fifteen seconds ahead of our time,' he remarked, looking at
the big clock. 'I dislike having a miscalculation of that sort occur.'

The great Scotch Express stood ready for its long journey. The
detective tapped one of the guards on the shoulder.

'You have heard of the so-called Pegram mystery, I presume?'

'Certainly, sir. It happened on this very train, sir.'

'Really? Is the same carriage still on the train?'

'Well, yes, sir, it is,' replied the guard, lowering his voice, 'but
of course, sir, we have to keep very quiet about it. People wouldn't
travel in it, else, sir.'

'Doubtless. Do you happen to know if anybody occupies the compartment
in which the body was found?'

'A lady and gentleman, sir; I put 'em in myself, sir.'

'Would you further oblige me,' said the detective, deftly slipping
half-a-sovereign into the hand of the guard, 'by going to the window
and informing them in an offhand casual sort of way that the tragedy
took place in that compartment?'

'Certainly, sir.'

We followed the guard, and the moment he had imparted his news there
was a suppressed scream in the carriage. Instantly a lady came out,
followed by a florid-faced gentleman, who scowled at the guard. We
entered the now empty compartment, and Kombs said:

'We would like to be alone here until we reach Brewster.'

'I'll see to that, sir,' answered the guard, locking the door.

When the official moved away, I asked my friend what he expected to
find in the carriage that would cast any light on the case.

'Nothing,' was his brief reply.

'Then why do you come?'

'Merely to corroborate the conclusions I have already arrived at.'

'And might I ask what those conclusions are?'

'Certainly,' replied the detective, with a touch of lassitude in his
voice. 'I beg to call your attention, first, to the fact that this
train stands between two platforms, and can be entered from either
side. Any man familiar with the station for years would be aware of
that fact. This shows how Mr. Kipson entered the train just before it
started.'

'But the door on this side is locked,' I objected, trying it.

'Of course. But every season ticket-holder carries a key. This
accounts for the guard not seeing him, and for the absence of a
ticket. Now let me give you some information about the influenza. The
patient's temperature rises several degrees above normal, and he has a
fever. When the malady has run its course, the temperature falls to
three-quarters of a degree below normal. These facts are unknown to
you, I imagine, because you are a doctor.'

I admitted such was the case.

'Well, the consequence of this fall in temperature is that the
convalescent's mind turns towards thoughts of suicide. Then is the
time he should be watched by his friends. Then was the time Mr. Barrie
Kipson's friends did _not_ watch him. You remember the 21st, of
course. No? It was a most depressing day. Fog all around and mud under
foot. Very good. He resolves on suicide. He wishes to be unidentified,
if possible, but forgets his season ticket. My experience is that a
man about to commit a crime always forgets something.'

'But how do you account for the disappearance of the money?'

'The money has nothing to do with the matter. If he was a deep man,
and knew the stupidness of Scotland Yard, he probably sent the notes
to an enemy. If not, they may have been given to a friend. Nothing is
more calculated to prepare the mind for self-destruction than the
prospect of a night ride on the Scotch Express, and the view from the
windows of the train as it passes through the northern part of London
is particularly conducive to thoughts of annihilation.'

'What became of the weapon?'

'That is just the point on which I wish to satisfy myself. Excuse me
for a moment.'

Mr. Sherlaw Kombs drew down the window on the right hand side, and
examined the top of the casing minutely with a magnifying glass.
Presently he heaved a sigh of relief, and drew up the sash.

'Just as I expected,' he remarked, speaking more to himself than to
me. 'There is a slight dent on the top of the window-frame. It is of
such a nature as to be made only by the trigger of a pistol falling
from the nerveless hand of a suicide. He intended to throw the weapon
far out of the window, but had not the strength. It might have fallen
into the carriage. As a matter of fact, it bounced away from the line
and lies among the grass about ten feet six inches from the outside
rail. The only question that now remains is where the deed was
committed, and the exact present position of the pistol reckoned in
miles from London, but that, fortunately, is too simple to even need
explanation.'

'Great heavens, Sherlaw!' I cried. 'How can you call that simple? It
seems to me impossible to compute.'

We were now flying over Northern London, and the great detective
leaned back with every sign of _ennui_, closing his eyes. At last he
spoke wearily:

'It is really too elementary, Whatson, but I am always willing to
oblige a friend. I shall be relieved, however, when you are able to
work out the ABC of detection for yourself, although I shall never
object to helping you with the words of more than three syllables.
Having made up his mind to commit suicide, Kipson naturally intended
to do it before he reached Brewster, because tickets are again
examined at that point. When the train began to stop at the signal
near Pegram, he came to the false conclusion that it was stopping at
Brewster. The fact that the shot was not heard is accounted for by the
screech of the air-brake, added to the noise of the train. Probably
the whistle was also sounding at the same moment. The train being a
fast express would stop as near the signal as possible. The air-brake
will stop a train in twice its own length. Call it three times in this
case. Very well. At three times the length of this train from the
signal-post towards London, deducting half the length of the train, as
this carriage is in the middle, you will find the pistol.'

'Wonderful!' I exclaimed.

'Commonplace,' he murmured.

At this moment the whistle sounded shrilly, and we felt the grind of
the air-brakes.

'The Pegram signal again,' cried Kombs, with something almost like
enthusiasm. 'This is indeed luck. We will get out here, Whatson, and
test the matter.'

As the train stopped, we got out on the right-hand side of the line.
The engine stood panting impatiently under the red light, which
changed to green as I looked at it. As the train moved on with
increasing speed, the detective counted the carriages, and noted down
the number. It was now dark, with the thin crescent of the moon
hanging in the western sky throwing a weird half-light on the shining
metals. The rear lamps of the train disappeared around a curve, and
the signal stood at baleful red again. The black magic of the lonesome
night in that strange place impressed me, but the detective was a most
practical man. He placed his back against the signal-post, and paced
up the line with even strides, counting his steps. I walked along the
permanent way beside him silently. At last he stopped, and took a
tape-line from his pocket. He ran it out until the ten feet six inches
were unrolled, scanning the figures in the wan light of the new moon.
Giving me the end, he placed his knuckles on the metals, motioning me
to proceed down the embankment. I stretched out the line, and then
sank my hand in the damp grass to mark the spot.

'Good God!' I cried, aghast, 'what is this?'

'It is the pistol,' said Kombs quietly.

It was!!

       *       *       *       *       *

Journalistic London will not soon forget the sensation that was caused
by the record of the investigations of Sherlaw Kombs, as printed at
length in the next day's _Evening Blade_. Would that my story ended
here. Alas! Kombs contemptuously turned over the pistol to Scotland
Yard. The meddlesome officials, actuated, as I always hold, by
jealousy, found the name of the seller upon it. They investigated. The
seller testified that it had never been in the possession of Mr
Kipson, as far as he knew. It was sold to a man whose description
tallied with that of a criminal long watched by the police. He was
arrested, and turned Queen's evidence in the hope of hanging his pal.
It seemed that Mr. Kipson, who was a gloomy, taciturn man, and usually
came home in a compartment by himself, thus escaping observation, had
been murdered in the lane leading to his house. After robbing him, the
miscreants turned their thoughts towards the disposal of the body--a
subject that always occupies a first-class criminal mind before the
deed is done. They agreed to place it on the line, and have it mangled
by the Scotch Express, then nearly due. Before they got the body
half-way up the embankment the express came along and stopped. The
guard got out and walked along the other side to speak with the
engineer. The thought of putting the body into an empty first-class
carriage instantly occurred to the murderers. They opened the door
with the deceased's key. It is supposed that the pistol dropped when
they were hoisting the body in the carriage.

The Queen's evidence dodge didn't work, and Scotland Yard ignobly
insulted my friend Sherlaw Kombs by sending him a pass to see the
villains hanged.




2. The Adventure of the Second Swag


The time was Christmas Eve, 1904. The place was an ancient, secluded
manor house, built so far back in the last century as 1896. It stood
at the head of a profound valley; a valley clothed in ferns waist
deep, and sombrely guarded by ancient trees, the remnants of a
primeval forest. From this mansion no other human habitation could be
seen. The descending road which connected the king's highway with the
stronghold was so sinuous and precipitate that more than once the grim
baronet who owned it had upset his automobile in trying to negotiate
the dangerous curves. The isolated situation and gloomy architecture
of this venerable mansion must have impressed the most casual observer
with the thought that here was the spot for the perpetration of dark
deeds, were it not for the fact that the place was brilliantly
illumined with electricity, while the silence was emphasised rather
than disturbed by the monotonous, regular thud of an accumulator
pumping the subtle fluid into a receptive dynamo situated in an
outhouse to the east.

The night was gloomy and lowering after a day of rain, but the very
sombreness of the scene made the brilliant stained glass windows stand
out like the radiant covers of a Christmas number. Such was the
appearance presented by 'Undershaw', the home of Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle, situated among the wilds of Hindhead, some forty or fifty miles
from London. Is it any wonder that at a spot so remote from
civilisation law should be set at defiance, and that the one lone
policeman who perambulates the district should tremble as he passed
the sinister gates of 'Undershaw'?

In a large room of this manor house, furnished with a luxuriant
elegance one would not have expected in a region so far from
humanising influences, sat two men. One was a giant in stature, whose
broad brow and smoothly shaven strong chin gave a look of
determination to his countenance, which was further enhanced by the
heavy black moustache which covered his upper lip. There was something
of the dragoon in his upright and independent bearing. He had, in
fact, taken part in more than one fiercely fought battle, and was a
member of several military clubs; but it was plain to be seen that his
ancestors had used war clubs, and had transmitted to him the physique
of a Hercules. One did not need to glance at the Christmas number of
the _Strand_, which he held in his hand, nor read the name printed
there in large letters, to know that he was face to face with Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle.

His guest, an older man, yet still in the prime of life, whose beard
was tinged with grey, was of less warlike bearing than the celebrated
novelist, belonging, as he evidently did, to the civil and not the
military section of life. He had about him the air of a prosperous man
of affairs, shrewd, good-natured, conciliatory, and these two
strongly contrasting personages are types of the men to whom England
owes her greatness. The reader of the Christmas number will very
probably feel disappointed when he finds, as he supposes, merely two
old friends sitting amicably in a country house after dinner. There
seems, to his jaded taste, no element of tragedy in such a situation.
These two men appear comfortable enough, and respectable enough. It is
true that there is whisky and soda at hand, and the box of cigars is
open, yet there are latent possibilities of passion under the most
placid natures, revealed only to writers of fiction in our halfpenny
Press. Let the reader wait, therefore, till he sees these two men
tried as by fire under a great temptation, and then let him say
whether even the probity of Sir George Newnes comes scathless from the
ordeal.

'Have you brought the swag, Sir George?' asked the novelist, with some
trace of anxiety in his voice.

'Yes,' replied the great publisher; 'but before proceeding to the
count would it not be wise to give orders that will insure our being
left undisturbed?'

'You are right,' replied Doyle, pressing an electric button.

When the servant appeared he said: 'I am not at home to anyone. No
matter who calls, or what excuse is given, you must permit none to
approach this room.'

When the servant had withdrawn, Doyle took the further precaution of
thrusting in place one of the huge bolts which ornamented the massive
oaken door studded with iron knobs. Sir George withdrew from the tail
pocket of his dress coat two canvas bags, and, untying the strings,
poured the rich red gold on the smooth table.

'I think you will find that right,' he said; 'six thousand pounds in
all.'

The writer dragged his heavy chair nearer the table, and began to
count the coins two by two, withdrawing each pair from the pile with
his extended forefingers in the manner of one accustomed to deal with
great treasure. For a time the silence was unbroken, save by the chink
of gold, when suddenly a high-keyed voice outside penetrated even the
stout oak of the huge door. The shrill exclamation seemed to touch a
chord of remembrance in the mind of Sir George Newnes. Nervously he
grasped the arms of his chair, sitting very bolt upright, muttering:--

'Can it be he, of all persons, at this time, of all times?'

Doyle glanced up with an expression of annoyance on his face,
murmuring, to keep his memory green:--

'A hundred and ten, a hundred and ten, a hundred and ten.'

'Not at home?' cried the vibrant voice. 'Nonsense! Everybody is at
home on Christmas Eve!'

'_You_ don't seem to be,' he heard the servant reply.

'Me? Oh, I have no home, merely rooms in Baker Street. I must see your
master, and at once.'

'Master left in his motor car half an hour ago to attend the county
ball, given tonight, at the Royal Huts Hotel, seven miles away,'
answered the servant, with that glib mastery of fiction which
unconsciously comes to those who are members, even in a humble
capacity, of a household devoted to the production of imaginative art.

'Nonsense, I say again,' came the strident voice. 'It is true that the
tracks of an automobile are on the ground in front of your door, but
if you will notice the markings of the puncture-proof belt, you will
see that the automobile is returning and not departing. It went to the
station before the last shower to bring back a visitor, and since its
arrival there has been no rain. That suit of armour in the hall
spattered with mud shows it to be the casing the visitor wore. The
blazonry upon it of a pair of scissors above an open book resting upon
a printing press, indicates that the wearer is first of all an editor;
second, a publisher; and third, a printer. The only baronet in England
whose occupation corresponds with this heraldic device is Sir George
Newnes.'

'You forget Sir Alfred Harmsworth,' said the servant, whose hand held
a copy of _Answers_.

If the insistent visitor was taken aback by this unlooked-for
rejoinder, his manner showed no trace of embarrassment, and he went on
unabashed.

'As the last shower began at ten minutes to six, Sir George must have
arrived at Haslemere station on the 6.19 from Waterloo. He has had
dinner, and at this moment is sitting comfortably with Sir Arthur
Conan Doyle, doubtless in the front room, which I see is so
brilliantly lighted. Now if you will kindly take in my card--'

'But I tell you,' persisted the perplexed servant, 'that the master
left in his motor car for the county ball at the Royal--'

'Oh, I know, I know. There stands his suit of armour, too, newly
blackleaded, whose coat of arms is a couchant typewriter on an
automobile rampant.'

'Great heavens!' cried Sir George, his eyes brightening with the light
of unholy desire, 'you have material enough there, Doyle, for a story
in our January number. What do you say?'

A deep frown marred the smoothness of the novelist's brow.

'I say,' he replied sternly, 'that this man has been sending
threatening letters to me. I have had enough of his menaces.'

'Then triply bolt the door,' advised Newnes, with a sigh of
disappointment, leaning back in his chair.

'Do you take me for a man who bolts when his enemy appears?' asked
Doyle fiercely, rising to his feet. 'No, I will unbolt. He shall meet
the Douglas in his hall!'

'Better have him in the drawing-room, where it's warm,' suggested Sir
George, with a smile, diplomatically desiring to pour oil on the
troubled waters.

The novelist, without reply, spread a copy of that evening's
_Westminster Gazette_ over the pile of gold, strode to the door, threw
it open, and said coldly:--

'Show the gentleman in, please.'

There entered to them a tall, self-possessed, calm man, with
clean-shaven face, eagle eye, and inquisitive nose.

Although the visit was most embarrassing at that particular juncture,
the natural courtesy of the novelist restrained him from giving
utterance to his resentment of the intrusion, and he proceeded to
introduce the bidden to the unbidden guest as if each were equally
welcome.

'Mr. Sherlock Holmes, permit me to present to you Sir George--'

'It is quite superfluous,' said the newcomer, in an even voice of
exasperating tenor, 'for I perceive at once that one who wears a green
waistcoat must be a Liberal of strong Home Rule opinions, or the
editor of several publications wearing covers of emerald hue. The
shamrock necktie, in addition to the waistcoat, indicates that the
gentleman before me is both, and so I take it for granted that this is
Sir George Newnes. How is your circulation, Sir George?'

'Rapidly rising,' replied the editor.

'I am glad of that,' asserted the intruder, suavely, 'and can assure
you that the temperature outside is as rapidly falling.'

The great detective spread his hands before the glowing electric fire,
and rubbed them vigorously together.

'I perceive through that evening paper the sum of six thousand pounds
in gold.'

Doyle interrupted him with some impatience.

'You didn't see it _through_ the paper; you saw it _in_ the paper.
Goodness knows, it's been mentioned in enough of the sheets.'

'As I was about to remark,' went on Sherlock Holmes imperturbably, 'I
am amazed that a man whose time is so valuable should waste it in
counting the money. You are surely aware that a golden sovereign
weighs 123.44 grains, therefore, if I were you, I should have up the
kitchen scales, dump in the metal, and figure out the amount with a
lead pencil. You brought the gold in two canvas bags, did you not, Sir
George?'

'In the name of all that's wonderful, how do you know that?' asked the
astonished publisher.

Sherlock Holmes, with a superior smile, casually waved his hand towards
the two bags which still lay on the polished table.

'Oh, I'm tired of this sort of thing,' said Doyle wearily, sitting
down in the first chair that presented itself. 'Can't you be honest,
even on Christmas Eve? You know the oracles of old did not try it on
with each other.'

'That is true,' said Sherlock Holmes. 'The fact is, I followed Sir
George Newnes into the Capital and Counties Bank this afternoon, where
he demanded six thousand pounds in gold; but when he learned this
would weigh ninety-six pounds seven ounces avoirdupois weight, and
that even troy weight would make the sum no lighter, he took two small
bags of gold and the rest in Bank of England notes. I came from London
on the same train with him, but he was off in the automobile before I
could make myself known, and so I had to walk up. I was further
delayed by taking the wrong turning on the top and finding myself at
that charming spot in the neighbourhood where a sailor was murdered by
two ruffians a century or so ago.'

There was a note of warning in Doyle's voice when he said:--'Did that
incident teach you no lesson? Did you not realise that you are in a
dangerous locality?'

'And likely to fall in with two ruffians?' asked Holmes, slightly
elevating his eyebrows, while the same sweet smile hovered round his
thin lips. 'No; the remembrance of the incident encouraged me. It was
the man who had the money that was murdered. I brought no coin with
me, although I expect to bear many away.'

'Would you mind telling us, without further circumlocution, what
brings you here so late at night?'

Sherlock Holmes heaved a sigh, and mournfully shook his head very
slowly.

'After all the teaching I have bestowed upon you, Doyle, is it
possible that you cannot deduct even so simple a thing as that? Why am
I here? Because Sir George made a mistake about those bags. He was
quite right in taking one of them to 'Undershaw', but he should have
left the other at 221B, Baker Street. I call this little trip 'The
Adventure of the Second Swag'. Here is the second swag on the table.
The first swag you received long ago, and all I had for my share was
some honeyed words of compliment in the stories you wrote. Now, it is
truly said that soft words butter no parsnips, and, in this instance,
they do not even turn away wrath. So far as the second swag is
concerned, I have come to demand half of it.'

'I am not so poor at deduction as you seem to imagine,' said Doyle,
apparently nettled at the other's slighting reference to his powers.
'I was well aware, when you came in, what your errand was. I deduced
further that if you saw Sir George withdraw gold from the bank, you
also followed him to Waterloo station.'

'Quite right.'

'When he purchased his ticket for Haslemere, you did the same.'

'I did.'

'When you arrived at Haslemere, you sent a telegram to your friend, Dr
Watson, telling him of your whereabouts.'

'You are wrong there; I ran after the motor car.'

'You certainly sent a telegram from somewhere, to someone, or at least
dropped a note in the post-box. There are signs, which I need not
mention, that point irrevocably to such a conclusion.'

The doomed man, ruined by his own self-complacency, merely smiled in
his superior manner, not noticing the eager look with which Doyle
awaited his answer.

'Wrong entirely. I neither wrote any telegram, nor spoke any message,
since I left London.'

'Ah, no,' cried Doyle. 'I see where I went astray. You merely inquired
the way to my house.'

'I needed to make no inquiries. I followed the rear light of the
automobile part way up the hill, and, when that disappeared, I turned
to the right instead of the left, as there was no one out on such a
night from whom I could make inquiry.'

'My deductions, then, are beside the mark,' said Doyle hoarsely, in an
accent which sent cold chills up and down the spine of his invited
guest, but conveyed no intimation of his fate to the self-satisfied
later arrival.

'Of course they were,' said Holmes, with exasperating self-assurance.

'Am I also wrong in deducting that you have had nothing to eat since
you left London?'

'No, you are quite right there.'

'Well, oblige me by pressing that electric button.'

Holmes did so with much eagerness, but, although the trio waited some
minutes in silence, there was no response.

'I deduct from that,' said Doyle, 'that the servants have gone to bed.
After I have quite satisfied all your claims in the way of hunger for
food and gold, I shall take you back in my motor car, unless you
prefer to stay here the night.'

'You are very kind,' said Sherlock Holmes.

'Not at all,' replied Doyle. 'Just take that chair, draw it up to the
table and we will divide the second swag.'

The chair indicated differed from all others in the room. It was
straight-backed, and its oaken arms were covered by two plates,
apparently of German silver. When Holmes clutched it by the arms to
drag it forward, he gave one half-articulate gasp, and plunged
headlong to the floor, quivering. Sir George Newnes sprang up standing
with a cry of alarm. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle remained seated, a
seraphic smile of infinite satisfaction playing about his lips.

'Has he fainted?' cried Sir George.

'No, merely electrocuted. A simple device the Sheriff of New York
taught me when I was over there last.'

'Merciful heavens! Cannot he be resuscitated?'

'My dear Newnes,' said Doyle, with the air of one from whose shoulders
a great weight is lifted, 'a man may fall into the chasm at the foot
of the Reichenbach Fall and escape to record his adventures later, but
when two thousand volts pass through the human frame, the person who
owns that frame is dead.'

'You don't mean to say you've murdered him?' asked Sir George, in an
awed whisper.

'Well, the term you use is harsh, still it rather accurately sums up
the situation. To speak candidly, Sir George, I don't think they can
indite us for anything more than manslaughter. You see, this is a
little invention for the reception of burglars. Every night before the
servants go to bed, they switch on the current to this chair. That's
why I asked Holmes to press the button. I place a small table beside
the chair, and put on it a bottle of wine, whisky and soda, and
cigars. Then, if any burglar comes in, he invariably sits down in the
chair to enjoy himself, and so you see, that piece of furniture is an
effective method of reducing crime. The number of burglars I have
turned over to the parish to be buried will prove that this taking off
of Holmes was not premeditated by me. This incident, strictly
speaking, is not murder, but manslaughter. We shouldn't get more than
fourteen years apiece, and probably that would be cut down to seven on
the ground that we had performed an act for the public benefit.'

'Apiece!' cried Sir George. 'But what have I had to do with it?'

'Everything, my dear sir, everything. As that babbling fool talked, I
saw in your eye the gleam which betokens avarice for copy. Indeed, I
think you mentioned the January number. You were therefore accessory
before the fact. I simply had to slaughter the poor wretch.'

Sir George sank back in his chair wellnigh breathless with horror.
Publishers are humane men who rarely commit crimes; authors, however,
are a hardened set who usually perpetrate a felony every time they
issue a book. Doyle laughed easily.

'I'm used to this sort of thing,' he said. 'Remember how I killed off
the people in "The White Company". Now, if you will help me to get rid
of the body, all may yet be well. You see, I learned from the
misguided simpleton himself that nobody knows where he is today. He
often disappears for weeks at a time, so there really is slight danger
of detection. Will you lend a hand?'

'I suppose I must,' cried the conscience-stricken man.

Doyle at once threw off the lassitude which the coming of Sherlock
Holmes had caused, and acted now with an energy which was
characteristic of him. Going to an outhouse, he brought the motor car
to the front door, then, picking up Holmes and followed by his
trembling guest, he went outside and flung the body into the tonneau
behind. He then threw a spade and a pick into the car, and covered
everything up with a water-proof spread. Lighting the lamps, he bade
his silent guest get up beside him, and so they started on their
fateful journey, taking the road past the spot where the sailor had
been murdered, and dashing down the long hill at fearful speed towards
London.

'Why do you take this direction?' asked Sir George. 'Wouldn't it be
more advisable to go further into the country?'

Doyle laughed harshly.

'Haven't you a place on Wimbledon Common? Why not bury him in your
garden?'

'Merciful motors!' cried the horrified man. 'How can you propose such
a thing? Talking of gardens, why not have buried him in your own,
which was infinitely safer than going forward at this pace.'

'Have no fear,' said Doyle reassuringly, 'we shall find him a suitable
sepulchre without disturbing either of our gardens. I'll be in the
centre of London within two hours.'

Sir George stared in affright at the demon driver. The man had
evidently gone mad. To London, of all places in the world. Surely that
was the one spot on earth to avoid.

'Stop the motor and let me off,' he cried. 'I'm going to wake up the
nearest magistrate and confess.'

'You'll do nothing of the sort,' said Doyle. 'Don't you see that no
person on earth would suspect two criminals of making for London when
they have the whole country before them? Haven't you read my stories?
The moment a man commits a crime he tries to get as far away from
London as possible. Every policeman knows that, therefore, two men
coming into London are innocent strangers, according to Scotland
Yard.'

'But then we may be taken up for fast driving, and think of the
terrible burden we carry.'

'We're safe on the country roads, and I'll slow down when we reach the
suburbs.'

It was approaching three o'clock in the morning when a huge motor car
turned out of Trafalgar Square, and went eastward along the Strand.
The northern side of the Strand was up, as it usually is, and the
motor, skilfully driven, glided past the piles of wood-paving blocks,
great sombre kettles holding tar and the general _débris_ of a
re-paving convulsion. Opposite Southampton Street, at the very spot so
graphically illustrated by George C. Haité on the cover of the _Strand
Magazine_, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stopped his motor. The Strand was
deserted. He threw pick and shovel into the excavation, and curtly
ordered his companion to take his choice of weapons. Sir George
selected the pick, and Doyle vigorously plied the spade. In almost
less time than it takes to tell it, a very respectable hole had been
dug, and in it was placed the body of the popular private detective.
Just as the last spadeful was shovelled in place the stern voice of a
policeman awoke the silence, and caused Sir George to drop his pick
from nerveless hands.

'What are you two doing down there?'

'That's all right, officer,' said Doyle glibly, as one who had
foreseen every emergency. 'My friend here is controller of the Strand.
When the Strand is up he is responsible, and it has the largest
circulation in the--I mean it's up oftener than any other street in
the world. We cannot inspect the work satisfactorily while traffic is
on, and so we have been examining it in the night-time. I am his
secretary; I do the writing, you know.'

'Oh, I see,' replied the constable. 'Well, gentlemen, good morning to
you, and merry Christmas.'

'The same to you, constable. Just lend a hand, will you?'

The officer of the law helped each of the men up to the level of the
road.

As Doyle drove away from the ill-omened spot he said:--

'Thus have we disposed of poor Holmes in the busiest spot on earth,
where no one will ever think of looking for him, and we've put him
away without even a Christmas box around him. We have buried him for
ever in the _Strand_.'



THE END




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