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Title:      A Silent Witness (1914)
Author:     R. Austin Freeman
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0301591.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          December 2003
Date most recently updated: February 2014

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Title:      A Silent Witness (1914)
Author:     R. Austin Freeman



CHAPTER I

THE BEGINNING OF THE MYSTERY

THE history upon which I am now embarking abounds in incidents so amazing
that, as I look back on them, a something approaching to scepticism
contends with my vivid recollections and makes me feel almost apologetic
in laying them before the reader. Some of them indeed are so out of
character with the workaday life in which they happened that they will
appear almost incredible; but none is more fraught with mystery than the
experience that befell me on a certain September night in the last year
of my studentship and ushered in the rest of the astounding sequence.

It was past eleven o'clock when I let myself out of my lodgings at Gospel
Oak; a dark night, cloudy and warm and rather inclined to rain. But,
despite the rather unfavourable aspect of the weather, I turned my steps
away from the town, and walking briskly up the Highgate Road, presently
turned into Millfield Lane. This was my favourite walk and the pretty
winding lane, meandering so pleasantly from Lower Highgate to the heights
of Hampstead, was familiar to me under all its aspects.

On sweet summer mornings when the cuckoos called from the depths of Ken
Wood, when the path was spangled with golden sunlight, and saucy
squirrels played hide and seek in the shadows under the elms (though the
place was within earshot of Westminster and within sight of the dome of
St. Paul's); on winter days when the Heath wore its mantle of white and
the ring of gliding steel came up from the skaters on the pond below; on
August evenings, when I would come suddenly on sequestered lovers (to our
mutual embarrassment) and hurry by with ill-feigned unconsciousness. I
knew all its phases and loved them all. Even its name was delightful,
carrying the mind back to those more rustic days when the wits
foregathered at the Old Flask Tavern and John Constable tramped through
this very lane with his colour-box slung over his shoulder.

It was very dark after I had passed the lamp at the entrance to the lane.
Very silent and solitary too. Not a soul was stirring at this hour, for
the last of the lovers had long since gone home and the place was little
frequented even in the daytime. The elms brooded over the road, shrouding
it in shadows of palpable black, and their leaves whispered secretly in
the soft night breeze. But the darkness, the quiet and the solitude were
restful after the long hours of study and the glare of the printed page,
and I strolled on past the ghostly pond and the little thatched cottage,
now wrapped in silence and darkness, with a certain wistful regret that I
must soon look my last on them. For I had now passed all my examinations
but the final "Fellowship," and must soon be starting my professional
career in earnest.

Presently a light rain began to fall. Foreseeing that I should have to
curtail my walk, I stepped forward more briskly, and, passing between the
posts, entered the narrowest and most secluded part of the lane. But now
the rain suddenly increased, and a squall of wind drove it athwart the
path. I drew up in the shelter of one of the tall oak fences by which the
lane is here inclosed, and waited for the shower to pass. And as I stood
with my back to the fence, pensively filling my pipe, I became for the
first time sensible of the utter solitude of the place.

I looked about me and listened. The lane was darker here than elsewhere;
a mere trench between the high fences. I could dimly see the posts at the
entrance and a group of large elms over-shadowing them. In the other
direction, where the lane doubled sharply upon itself, was absolute, inky
blackness, save where a faint glimmer from the wet ground showed the
corner of the fence and a projecting stump or tree-root jutting out from
the corner and looking curiously like a human foot with the toes pointed
upward.

The rain fell steadily with a soft, continuous murmur; the leaves of the
elm-trees whispered together and answered the falling rain. The Scotch
pines above my head stirred in the breeze with a sound like the surge of
the distant sea. The voices of Nature, hushed and solemn, oblivious of
man like the voices of the wilderness; and over all and through all, a
profound, enveloping silence.

I drew up closer to the fence and shivered slightly, for the night was
growing chill. It seemed a little lighter now in the narrow, trench-like
lane; not that the sky was less murky but because the ground was now
flooded with water. The posts stood out less vaguely against the
background of wet road, and the odd-looking stump by the corner was
almost distinct. And again it struck me as looking curiously like a
foot--a booted foot with the toe pointing upwards.

The chime of a church clock sounded across the Heath, a human voice,
this, penetrating the desolate silence. Then, after an interval, the
solemn boom of Big Ben came up faintly from the sleeping city.

Midnight! and time for me to go home. It was of no use to wait for the
rain to cease. This was no passing shower, but a steady drizzle that
might last till morning. I re-lit my pipe, turned up my collar, and
prepared to plunge into the rain. And as I stepped out, the queer-looking
stump caught my eye once more. It was singularly like a foot; and it was
odd, too, that I had never noticed it before in my many rambles through
the lane.

A sudden, childish curiosity impelled me to see what it really was before
I went, and the next moment I was striding sharply up the sodden path. Of
course, I expected the illusion to vanish as I approached. But it did
not. The resemblance increased as I drew nearer, and I hurried forward
with something more than curiosity.

It was a foot! I realized it with a shock while I was some paces away;
and, as I reached the corner, I came upon the body of a man lying in the
sharp turn of the path; and the limp, sprawling posture, with one leg
doubled under, told its tale at a glance.

I laid my finger on his wrist. It was clammy and cold, and not a vestige
of a pulse could I detect. I struck a wax match and held it to his face.
The eyes were wide-open and filmy, staring straight up into the reeking
sky. The dilated pupils were insensitive to the glare of the match, the
eyeballs insensitive to the touch of my finger.

Beyond all doubt the man was dead.

But how had he died? Had he simply fallen dead from some natural cause,
or had he been murdered? There was no obvious injury, and no sign of
blood. All that the momentary glimmer of the match showed was that his
clothes were shiny with the wet; a condition that might easily, in the
weak light, mask a considerable amount of bleeding.

When the match went out, I stood for some moments looking down on the
prostrate figure as it lay with the rain beating down on the upturned
face, professional interest contending with natural awe of the tragic
presence. The former prompted me to ascertain without delay the cause of
death; and, indeed, I was about to make a more thorough search for some
injury or wound when something whispered to me that it is not well to be
alone at midnight in a solitary place with a dead man--perchance a
murdered man. Had there been any sign of life, my duty would have been
clear. As it was, I must act for the best with a due regard to my own
safety. And, reaching this conclusion, I turned away, with a last glance
at the motionless figure and set forth homeward at a rapid pace.

As I turned out of Millfield Lane into Highgate Rise I perceived a
policeman on the opposite side of the road standing under a tree, where
the light from a lamp fell on his shining tarpaulin cape. I crossed the
road, and, as he civilly touched his helmet, I said: "I am afraid there
is something wrong up the lane, Constable; I have just seen the body of a
man lying on the pathway."

The constable woke up very completely. "Do you mean a dead man, sir?" he
asked.

"Yes, he is undoubtedly dead," I replied.

"Whereabouts did you see the body?" enquired the constable.

"In the narrow part of the lane, just by the stables of Mansfield House."

"That's some distance from here," said the constable. "You had better
come with me and report at the station. You're sure the man was dead,
sir?"

"Yes, I have no doubt about it. I am a medical man," I added, with some
pride (I had been a medical man about three months, and the sensation was
still a novel one).

"Oh, are you, sir?" said the officer, with a glance at my half-fledged
countenance; "then, I suppose you examined the body?"

"Sufficiently to make sure that the man was dead, but I did not stay to
ascertain the cause of death."

"No, sir; quite so. We can find that out later."

As we talked, the constable swung along down the hill, without hurry, but
at a pace that gave me very ample exercise, and I caught his eye from
time to time, travelling over my person with obvious professional
interest. When we had nearly reached the bottom of the hill, there
appeared suddenly on the wet road ahead, a couple of figures in
waterproof capes. "Ha!" said the constable, "this is fortunate. Here is
the inspector and the sergeant. That will save us the walk to the
station."

He accosted the officers as they approached and briefly related what I
had told him. "You are sure the man was dead, sir?" said the inspector,
scrutinizing me narrowly; "but, there, we needn't stay here to discuss
that. You run down, Sergeant, and get a stretcher and bring it along as
quickly as you can. I must trouble you, sir, to come with me and show me
where the body is. Lend the gentleman your cape, sergeant; you can get
another at the station."

I accepted the stout cape thankfully, for the rain still fell with steady
persistency, and set forth with the inspector to retrace my steps. And as
we splashed along through the deep gloom of the lane, the officer plied
me with judicious questions. "How long did you think the man had been
dead?" he asked.

"Not long, I should think. The body was still quite limp."

"You didn't see any marks of violence?"

"No. There were no obvious injuries."

"Which way were you going when you came on the body?"

"The way we are going now, and, of course, I came straight back."

"Did you meet or see anyone in the lane?"

"Not a soul," I answered.

He considered my answers for some time, and then came the question that I
had been expecting. "How came you to be in the lane at this time of
night?"

"I was taking a walk," I replied, "as I do nearly every night. I usually
finish my evening's reading about eleven, and then I have some supper and
take a walk before going to bed, and I take my walk most commonly in
Millfield Lane. Some of your men must remember having met me."

This explanation seemed to satisfy him for he pursued the subject no
farther, and we trudged on for awhile in silence. At length, as we passed
through the posts into the narrow part of the lane, the inspector asked:
"We're nearly there, aren't we?"

"Yes," I replied: "the body is lying in the bend just ahead."

I peered into the darkness in search of the foot that had first attracted
my notice, but was not yet able to distinguish it. Nor, to my surprise,
could I make it out as we approached more nearly; and when we reached the
corner, I stopped short in utter amazement.

The body had vanished! "What's the matter?" asked the inspector. "I
thought this was the place you meant."

"So it is," I answered. "This is the place where the body was lying;
here, across the path, with one foot projecting round the corner. Someone
must have carried it away."

The inspector looked at me sharply for a moment. "Well, it isn't here
now," said he, "and if it has been taken away, it must have been taken
along towards Hampstead Lane. We'd better go and see." Without waiting
for a reply, he started off along the lane at a smart double and I
followed.

We pursued the windings of the lane until we emerged into the road by the
lodge gates, without discovering any traces of the missing corpse or
meeting any person, and then we turned back and retraced our steps; and
as we, once more, approached the crook in the lane where I had seen the
body, we heard a quick, measured tramp. "Here comes the sergeant with the
stretcher," observed the inspector; "and he might have saved himself the
trouble." Once more the officer glanced at me sharply, and this time with
unmistakable suspicion. "There's no body here, Robson," he said, as the
sergeant came up, accompanied by two constables carrying a stretcher. "It
seems to have disappeared."

"Disappeared!" exclaimed the sergeant, bestowing on me a look of extreme
disfavour; "that's a rum go, sir. How could it have disappeared?"

"Ah! that's the question!" said the inspector. "And another question is,
was it ever here? Are you prepared to make a sworn statement on the
subject, sir?"

"Certainly I am," I replied.

"Then," said the inspector, "we will take it that there was a body here.
Put down that stretcher. There is a gap in the fence farther along. We
will get through there and search the meadow."

The bearers stood the stretcher up against a tree and we all proceeded up
the lane to the place where the observant inspector had noticed the
opening in the fence. The gravel, though sodden with the wet, took but
the faintest impressions of the feet that trod it, and, though the
sergeant and the two constables threw the combined light of their
lanterns on the ground, we were only able to make out very faintly the
occasional traces of our own footsteps.

We scrutinized the break in the fence and the earth around with the
utmost minuteness, but could detect no sign of anyone having passed
through. The short turf of the meadow, on which I had seen sheep grazing
in the daytime, was not calculated to yield traces of anyone passing over
it, and no traces of any kind were discoverable. When we had searched the
meadow thoroughly and without result, we came back into the lane and
followed its devious course to the "kissing-gate" at the Hampstead Lane
entrance. And still there was no sign of anything unusual. True, there
were obscure foot-prints in the soft gravel by the turnstile, but they
told us nothing; we could not even be sure that they had not been made by
ourselves on our previous visit. In short, the net result of our
investigations was that the body had vanished and left no trace. "It's a
very extraordinary affair," said the inspector, in a tone of deep
discontent, as we walked back. "The body of a full-grown man isn't the
sort of thing you can put in your pocket and stroll off with without
being noticed, even at midnight. Are you perfectly sure the man was
really dead and not in a faint?"

"I feel no doubt whatever that he was dead," I replied.

"With all respect to you, sir," said the sergeant, "I think you must be
mistaken. I think the man must have been in a dead faint, and after you
came away, the rain must have revived him so that he was able to get up
and walk away."

"I don't think so," said I, though with less conviction; for, after all,
it was not absolutely impossible that I should have been mistaken, since
I had discovered no mortal injury, and the sergeant's suggestion was an
eminently reasonable one.

"What sized man was he?" the inspector asked.

"That I couldn't say," I answered. "It is not easy to judge the height
of a man when he is lying down and the light was excessively dim. But
I should say he was not a tall man and rather slight in build."

"Could you give us any description of him?"

"He was an elderly man, about sixty, I should think, and he appeared to
be a clergyman or a priest, for he wore a Roman collar with a narrow,
dark stripe up the front. He was clean shaven, and, I think, wore a
clerical suit of black. A tall hat was lying on the ground close by and a
walking-stick which looked like a malacca, but I couldn't see it very
well as he had fallen on it and most of it was hidden."

"And you saw all this by the light of one wax match," said the inspector.
"You made pretty good use of your eyes, sir."

"A man isn't much use in my profession if he doesn't," I replied, rather
stiffly.

"No, that's true," the inspector agreed. "Well, I must ask you to give us
the full particulars at the station, and we shall see if anything fresh
turns up. I'm sorry to keep you hanging about in the wet, but it can't be
helped."

"Of course it can't," said I, and we trudged on in silence until we
reached the station, which looked quite cheerful and homelike despite the
grim blue lamp above the doorway. "Well, Doctor," said the inspector,
when he had read over my statement and I had affixed my signature, "if
anything turns up, you'll hear from us. But I doubt if we shall hear
anything more of this. Dead or alive, the man seems to have vanished
completely. Perhaps the sergeant's right after all, and your dead man is
at this moment comfortably tucked up in bed. Good-night, Doctor, and
thank you for all the trouble you have taken."

By the time that I reached my lodgings I was tired out and miserably
cold; so cold that I was fain to brew myself a jorum of hot grog in my
shaving pot. As a natural result, I fell fast asleep as soon as I got to
bed and slept on until the autumn sunshine poured in through the slats of
the Venetian blind.

CHAPTER II

THE FINDING OF THE RELIQUARY

I AWOKE on the following morning to a dim consciousness of something
unusual, and, as my wits returned with the rapidity that is natural to
the young and healthy, the surprising events of the previous night
reconstituted themselves and once more set a-going the train of
speculation. Vividly I saw with my mind's eye the motionless figure lying
limp and inert with the pitiless rain beating down on it; the fixed
pupils, the insensitive eyeballs, the pulseless wrist and the sprawling
posture. And again I saw the streaming path, void of its dreadful burden,
the suspicious inspector, the incredulous sergeant; and the unanswerable
questions formulated themselves anew.

Had I, after all, mistaken a living man for a dead body? It was in the
highest degree improbable, and yet it was not impossible. Or had the body
been spirited away without leaving a trace? That also was highly
improbable and yet, not absolutely impossible. The two contending
improbabilities cancelled one another. Each was as unlikely as the other.

I turned the problem over again and again as I shaved and took my bath. I
pondered upon it over a late and leisurely breakfast. But no conclusion
emerged from these reflections. The man, living or dead, had been lying
motionless in the lane all the time that I was sheltering, and probably
for some time before. In the interval of my absence he had vanished.
These were actual facts despite the open incredulity of the police. How
he had come there, what had occasioned his death or insensibility, how he
had disappeared and whither he had gone; were questions to which no
answer seemed possible.

The fatigues of the previous night had left me somewhat indolent. There
was no occasion for me to go to the hospital to-day. It was vacation
time; the school was closed; the teaching staff were mostly away, and
there was little doing in the wards. I decided to take a holiday and
spend a quiet day rambling about the Heath, and, having formed this
resolution, I filled my pipe, slipped a sketch-book into my pocket, and
set forth.

Automatically my feet turned towards Millfield Lane. It was, as I have
said, my usual walk, and on this morning, with last night's recollections
fresh in my mind, it was natural that I should take my way thither.

Very different was the aspect of the lane this morning from that which I
had last looked upon. The gloom and desolation of the night had given
place to the golden sunshine of a lovely autumn day. The elms, clothed
already in the sober livery of the waning year, sighed with pensive
reminiscence of the summer that was gone; the ponds repeated the warm
blue of the sky; and the lane itself was a vista of flickering sunlight
and cool, reposeful shadow.

The narrow continuation beyond the posts was wrapped as always, in a
sombre shade, save where a gleam of yellow light streamed through a chink
between the boards of the fence. I made my way straight to the spot where
the body had lain and stooped over it, examining each pebble with the
closest scrutiny. But not a trace remained. The hard, gravelly soil
retained no impress either of the body or even of our footsteps; and as
for the stain of blood, if there had ever been any, it would have been
immediately removed by the falling rain, for the ground here had a quite
appreciable slope and must have been covered last night by a considerable
flowing stream.

I went on to the break in the fence--it was on the right-hand side of the
path--and was at once discouraged by the aspect of the ground; for even
our rough tramplings had left hardly a trace behind. After an aimless
walk across the meadow, now occupied by a flock of sheep, I returned to
the lane and walked slowly back past the place where I had sheltered from
the rain. And then it was that I discovered the first hint of any clue to
the mystery. I had retraced my steps some little distance past the spot
where I had seen the body, when my eye was attracted by a darkish streak
on the upper part of the high fence. It was quite faint and not at all
noticeable on the weather-stained oak, but it chanced to catch my eye and
I stopped to examine it. The fence which bore it was the opposite one to
that in which the break occurred, and, since I had sheltered under it,
the side of it which looked towards the lane must have been the lee side
and thus less exposed to the rain.

I looked at the stain attentively. It extended from the top of the
fence-which was about seven feet high--half-way to the ground, fading
away gradually in all directions. The colour was a dull brown, and the
appearance very much that of blood which had run down a wet surface. The
board which bore the stain was traversed by a vertical crack near one
edge, so that I was able to break off a small piece without much
difficulty; and on examining that portion of the detached piece which had
formed the side of the crack, I found it covered with a brownish-red,
shiny substance, which I felt little doubt was dried blood, here
protected by the crack and so less altered by contact with water.

Naturally, my next proceeding was to scrutinize very carefully the ground
immediately beneath the stain. At the foot of the fence, a few tussocks
of grass and clumps of undergrown weeds struggled for life in the deep
shade. The latter certainly had, on close examination, the appearance of
having been trodden on, though it was not very evident. But while I was
considering an undoubted bruise on the stalk of a little dead-nettle, my
eye caught the glint of some bright object among the leaves. I picked it
out eagerly and held it up to look at it; and a very curious object it
was; evidently an article of jewellery of some kind, but quite unlike
anything I had ever seen before. It appeared to be a little elongated,
gold case, with eight sides and terminating at either end in a blunt
octagonal pyramid with a tiny ring at its apex, so that it seemed to have
been part of a necklace. Of the eight flat sides, six were ornamented
with sunk quatre-foils, four on each side; the other two sides were plain
except that each had a row of letters engraved on it-A.M.D.G on one side,
and S.V.D.P on the other. There was no hall-mark and, as far as I could
see, no means of opening the little case. It seemed to have been
suspended by a thin silk cord, a portion of which remained attached to
one ring and showed a frayed end where it had broken or chafed through.

I wrapped the little object and the detached fragment of the fence in my
handkerchief (for I had broken off the latter with the idea of testing it
chemically for blood-pigment), and then resumed my investigations. The
appearances suggested that the body had been lifted over the fence, and
the question arose, What was on the other side? I listened attentively
for a few seconds, and then, hearing no sound of footsteps, I grasped the
top of the fence, gave a good spring and hoisting myself up, sat astride
and looked about me. The fence skirted the margin of a small lake much
overgrown with weeds, amidst which I could see a couple of waterhens
making off in alarm at my appearance, and beyond the lake rose the dark
mass of Ken Wood. The ground between the fence and the lake was covered
with high, reedy grass, which, immediately below my perch, bore very
distinct impressions of feet, and an equally distinct set of tracks led
away towards the wood--or from the wood to the fence; it was impossible to
say which. But in any case, as there were no other tracks, it was certain
that the person who made them had climbed over the fence. I dropped down
on the grass and, having examined the ground attentively without
discovering anything fresh, set off to follow the tracks.

For some distance they continued through high grass in which the
impressions were very distinct: then they entered the wood, and here
also, in the soft humus, lightly sprinkled with fallen leaves, the
footprints were deep and easy to follow. But presently they struck a
path, and, as they did not reappear on the farther side, it was evident
that the unknown person had proceeded along it. The path was an old one,
well made of hard gravel, and, where it passed through the deeper shade
of the wood, was covered with velvety moss and grey-green lichen; on
which I made out with some difficulty, the imprints of feet. But these
were no longer distinct; they did not form a connected track; nor was it
possible to distinguish them from the footprints of other persons who
might have passed along the path. Even these I soon lost where I had
halted irresolutely under a noble beech that rose from a fantastic coil
of roots, and was considering how, if at all, I should next proceed,
when, there appeared round a curve of the path a man in cord breeches and
gaiters, evidently a keeper. He touched his hat civilly and ventured to
enquire my business. "I am afraid I have no business here at all," I
replied, for I did not think it expedient to tell him what had brought me
into the wood. "I suppose I am trespassing."

"Well, sir, it is private property," he rejoined, "and being so near
London we have to be rather particular. Perhaps you would like me to show
you the way out on to the Heath."

I accepted his offer with many thanks for his courteous method of
ejecting a trespasser, and we walked together through the beautiful
woodland until the path terminated at a rustic turnstile. "That will be
your way, sir," he said, as he let me out, indicating a track that led
down to the Vale of Health.

I thanked him once more and then asked: "Is that a private house or does
it belong to your estate?" I pointed to a small house or large cottage
that stood within a fenced enclosure not far from the edge of the wood.

"That, sir," he replied, "was formerly a keeper's lodge. It is now let
for a short term to an artist gentleman who is making some pictures of
the Heath, but I expect it will be pulled down before long, as there is
some talk of the County Council taking over that piece of land to add to
the public grounds. Good-morning, sir," and the keeper, with a parting
salute, turned back into the wood.

As I took my way homeward by the Highgate Ponds I meditated on the
relation of my new discoveries to the mystery of the preceding night. It
was a strange affair, and sinister withal.

That the tracks led from the lane to the wood and not from the wood to
the lane, I felt firmly convinced; and equally so that the body of the
unknown priest or clergyman had undoubtedly been spirited away. But
whither had it been carried? Presumably to some sequestered spot in the
wood. And what better hiding-place could be found? There, buried in the
soft leaf-mould, it might lie undisturbed for centuries, covered only the
deeper as each succeeding autumn shed its russet burden on the unknown
grave.

And what, I wondered, was the connection between this mysterious tragedy
and the queer little object that I had picked up? Perhaps there was none.
Its presence at that particular spot might be nothing but a coincidence.
I took it from my handkerchief and examined it afresh. It was a very
curious object. As to its use or meaning, I could only form vague
surmises. Perhaps it was some kind of locket, enclosing a wisp of hair;
the hair perhaps of some dead child or wife or husband or even lover. It
was impossible to say. Of course, this question could be settled by
taking it to pieces, but I was loth to injure the pretty little bauble;
besides it was not mine. In fact, I felt that I ought to notify publicly
that I had found it, though the circumstances did not make this very
advisable. But if it had any connection with the tragedy, what was the
nature of that connection? Had it dropped from the dead man or from the
murderer--as I assumed the other man to be? Either was equally possible,
though the two possibilities had very different values.

Then the question arose as to what course I should pursue. Clearly it
would be my duty to inform the police of the mark on the fence and the
tracks through the grass. But should I hand over the mysterious trinket
to them? It seemed the correct thing to do, and yet there might after all
be no connection between it and the crime. In the end I left the matter
to be decided by the attitude of the police themselves.

I called at the station on my way home and furnished the inspector with
an account of my new discoveries; of which he made a careful note,
assuring me that the affair should be looked into. But his manner
expressed frank disbelief, and was even a trifle hostile; and his
emphatic request that I would abstain from mentioning the matter to
anyone left me in no doubt that he regarded both my communications as
wild delusions if not as a deliberate hoax. Consequently, though I
frequently reproached myself afterwards with the omission, I said nothing
about the trinket, and when I left the station I carried it in my pocket.

No communication on the subject of this mysterious affair ever reached me
from the police. That they did actually make some perfunctory
investigations, I learned later, as will appear in this narrative. But
they gave no publicity to the affair and they sought no further
information from me. For my own part, I could, naturally, never forget so
strange an experience; but time and the multitudinous interests of my
opening life tended to push it farther into the background of memory, and
there it might have remained for ever had not subsequent events drawn it
once more from its obscurity.

CHAPTER III

"WHO IS SYLVIA?"

THE winter session had commenced at the hospital, but at Hampstead the
month of October had set in with something like a return to summer. It is
true that the trees had lost something of their leafy opulence, and that
here and there, amidst the sober green, patches of russet and gold had
made their appearance, as if Nature's colour-orchestra were tuning up for
the final symphony. But, meanwhile, the sun shone brightly and with a
genial heat, and if, day by day, he fell farther from the zenith, there
was nothing to show it but the lengthening noonday shadows, the warmer
blue of the sky and the more rosy tint of the clouds that sailed across
it.

Other and more capable pens than mine have set forth the charm of autumn
and the beauties of Hampstead--queen of suburbs of the world's
metropolis; therefore will I refrain, and only note, as relevant to the
subject, the fact that on many a day, when the work of the hospital was
in full swing, I might have been seen playing truant very agreeably on
the inexhaustible Heath or in the lanes and fields adjacent thereto. In
truth, I was taking the final stage of my curriculum rather lazily,
having worked hard enough in the earlier years, and being still too young
by several months to be admitted to the fellowship of the College of
Surgeons; promising myself that when the weather broke I would settle
down in earnest to the winter's work.

I have mentioned that Millfield Lane was one of my favourite haunts;
indeed, from my lodgings, it was the most direct route to the Heath, and
I passed along it almost daily; and never, now, without my thoughts
turning back to that rainy night when I had found the dead--or
unconscious--man lying across the narrow footway. One morning, as I
passed the spot, it occurred to me to make a drawing of the place in my
sketch-book, that I might have some memorial of that strange adventure.
The pictorial possibilities of the lane just here were not great, but by
taking my stand at the turn, on the very spot where I had seen the body
lying, I was able to arrange a simple composition which was satisfactory
enough.

I am no artist. A neat and intelligible drawing is the utmost that I can
produce. But even this modest degree of achievement may be very useful,
as I had discovered many a time in the wards or laboratories--indeed, I
have often been surprised that the instructors of our youth attach such
small value to the power of graphic expression; and it came in usefully
now, though in a way that was unforeseen and not fully appreciated at the
moment. I had dealt adequately with the fence, the posts, the tree-trunks
and other well-defined forms and was beginning a less successful attack
on the foliage, when I heard a light, quick step approaching from
Hampstead Lane. Intuition--if there is such a thing--fitted the foot-step
with a personality, and, for once in a way, was right; as the newcomer
reached the sharp bend of the path, I saw a girl of about my own age,
simply and serviceably dressed and carrying a pochade box and a small
camp-stool. She was not an entire stranger to me. I had met her often in
the lane and on the Heath--so often in fact that we had developed that
profound unconsciousness of one another's existence that almost amounts
to recognition--and had wondered vaguely who she was and what sort of
work she did on the panels in that mysterious box.

As I drew back to make way for her, she brushed past, with a single,
quick, inquisitive glance at my sketchbook, and went on her way, looking
very much alive and full of business. I watched her as she tripped down
the lane and passed between the posts out into the sunlight beyond, to
vanish behind the trunks of the elms; then I returned to my sketch and my
struggles to express foliage with a touch somewhat less suggestive of a
birch-broom.

When I had finished my drawing, I sauntered on rather aimlessly,
speculating for the hundredth time on the meaning of those discoveries of
mine in this very lane. Was it possible that the man whom I had seen was
not dead, but merely insensible? I could not believe it. The whole set of
circumstances--the aspect of the body, the blood-stain on the fence, the
tracks through the high grass and the mysterious gold trinket--were
opposed to any such belief. Yet, on the other hand, one would think that
a man could not disappear unnoticed. This was no tramp or nameless
vagrant. He was a clergyman or a priest, a man who would be known to a
great number of persons and whose disappearance must surely be observed
at once and be the occasion of very stringent enquiries. But no enquiries
had apparently been made. I had seen no notice in the papers of any
missing cleric, and clearly the police had heard nothing or they would
have looked me up. The whole affair was enveloped in the profoundest
mystery. Dead or alive, the man had vanished utterly; and whether he was
dead or alive, the mystery was equally beyond solution.

These reflections brought me, almost unconsciously, to another of my
favourite walks; the pretty footpath from the Heath to Temple Fortune. I
had crossed the stile and stepped off the path to survey the pleasant
scene, when my eye was attracted by a number of streaks of alien colour
on the leaves of a burdock. Stooping down, I perceived that they were
smears of oil-paint, and inferred that someone had cleaned a palette on
the herbage; an inference that was confirmed a moment later by what
looked like the handle of a brush projecting from a clump of nettles.
When I drew it out, however, it proved to be not a brush, but a very
curious knife with a blade shaped like a diminutive and attenuated
trowel; evidently a painting-knife and also evidently home-made, at least
in part, for the tang had been thrust into a short, stout brush-handle
and secured with a whipping of waxed thread. I dropped it into my outside
breast pocket and went on my way, wondering if by chance it might have
been dropped by my fair acquaintance; and the thought was still in my
mind when its object hove in sight. Turning a bend in the path, I came on
her quite suddenly, perched on her little camp-stool in the shadow of the
hedge, with the open sketching-book on her knees, working away with an
industry and concentration that seemed to rebuke my own idleness. Indeed,
she was so much engrossed with her occupation that she did not notice me
until I stepped off the path and approached with the knife in my hand. "I
wonder," said I, holding it out and raising my cap, "if this happens to
be your property. I picked it up just now among the nettles near the
barn."

She took the knife from me and looked at it inquisitively. "No," she
replied, "it isn't mine, but I think I know whose it is. I suspect it
belongs to an artist who has been doing a good deal of work about the
Heath. You may have seen him."

"I have seen several artists working about here during the summer. What
was this one like?"

"Well," she answered with a smile, "he was like an artist. Very much
like. Quite the orthodox get up. Wide brimmed hat, rather long hair and a
ragged beard. And he wore sketching-spectacles--half-moon-shaped things,
you know--and kid gloves--which were not quite so orthodox."

"Very inconvenient, I should think."

"Not so very. I work in gloves myself in the cold weather or if the
midges are very troublesome. You soon get used to the feel of them; and
the man I am speaking of wouldn't find them in the way at all because he
works almost entirely with painting-knives. That is what made me think
that this knife was probably his. He had several, I know, and very
skilfully he used them, too."

"You have seen his work, then?"

"Well," she admitted, "I'm afraid I descended once or twice to play the
'snooper'. You see, his method of handling interested me."

"May I ask what a 'snooper' is?" I enquired.

"Don't you know? It's a student's slang name for the kind of person who
makes some transparent pretext for coming off the path and passing behind
you to get a look at your picture by false pretences."

For an instant there flashed into my mind the suspicion that she was
administering a quiet "backhander", and I rejoined hastily: "I hope you
are not including me in the genus 'snooper'."

She laughed softly. "It did sound rather like it. But I'll give you the
benefit of the doubt in consideration of your finding the knife--which you
had better keep in trust for the owner."

"Won't you keep it? You know the probable owner by sight and I don't; and
meanwhile you might experiment with it yourself."

"Very well," she replied, dropping it into her brush-tray, "I'll keep it
for the present at any rate."

There was a brief pause, and then I ventured to remark, "That looks a
very promising sketch of yours. And how well the subject comes."

"I'm glad you like it," she replied, quite simply, viewing her work with
her head on one side. "I want it to turn out well, because it's a
commission, and commissions for small-oil paintings are rare and
precious."

"Do you find small oil pictures very difficult to dispose of?" I asked.

"Not difficult. Impossible, as a rule. But I don't try now. I copy my oil
sketches in water-colour, with modifications to suit the market."

Again there was a pause; and, as her brush wandered towards the palette,
it occurred to me that I had stayed as long as good manners permitted.
Accordingly, I raised my cap, and, having expressed the hope that I had
not greatly hindered her, prepared to move away. "Oh, not at all," she
answered; "and thank you for the knife, though it isn't mine--or, at any
rate, wasn't. Good-morning."

With this and a pleasant smile and a little nod, she dismissed me; and
once more I went my idle and meditative way.

It had been quite a pleasant little adventure. There is always something
rather interesting in making the acquaintance of a person whom one has
known some time by sight but who is otherwise an unknown quantity. The
voice, the manner, and the little revelations of character, which confirm
or contradict previous impressions, are watched with interest as they
develop themselves and fill in, one by one, the blank spaces of the total
personality. I had, as I have said, often met this industrious maiden in
my walks and had formed the opinion that she looked a rather nice girl;
an opinion that was probably influenced by her unusual good looks and
graceful carriage. And a rather nice girl she had turned out to be; very
dignified and self-possessed, but quite simple and frank--though, to be
sure, her gracious reception of me had probably been due to my
sketch-book; she had taken me for a kindred spirit. She had a pleasant
voice and a faultless accent, with just a hint of the fine lady in her
manner; but I liked her none the less for that. And her name was a pretty
name, too, if I had guessed it correctly; for, on the inside of the lid
of her box, which was partly uncovered by the upright panel, I had read
the letters "Syl". The panel hid the rest, but the name could hardly be
other than Sylvia; and what more charming and appropriate name could be
bestowed upon a comely young lady who spent her days amidst the woods and
fields of my beloved Hampstead?

Regaling myself with this somewhat small beer, I sauntered on along the
grassy lane, between hedgerows that in the summer had been spangled with
wild roses and that were now gay with the big, oval berries, sleek and
glossy and scarlet, like overgrown beads of red coral; away, across the
fields to Golder's Green and thence by Millfield Lane, back to my
lodgings at Gospel Oak, and to my landlady, Mrs. Blunt, who had a few
plaintive words to say respecting the disastrous effects of
unpunctuality--and the resulting prolonged heat--on mutton cutlets and
fried potatoes.

It had been an idle morning and apparently void of significant events;
but yet, when I look back on it, I see a definite thread of causation
running through its simple happenings, and I realize that, all
unthinking, I had strung on one more bead to the chaplet of my destiny.

CHAPTER IV

SEPTIMUS MADDOCK, DECEASED

IT was getting well on into November when I strolled one afternoon into
the hospital museum, not with any specific object but rather vaguely in
search of something to do. During the last few days I had developed a
slight revival of industry--which had coincided, oddly enough, with a
marked deterioration of the weather--and, pathology being my weakest
point, the museum had seemed to call me (though not very loudly, I fear)
to browse amongst its multitudinous jars and dry preparations.

There was only one person in the great room; but he was a very important
person; being none other than our lecturer on Medical Jurisprudence, Dr.
John Thorndyke. He was seated at a small table whereon was set out a
collection of jars and a number of large photographs, of which he
appeared to be making a catalogue; but intent as he was on his
occupation, he looked up as I entered and greeted me with a genial smile.
"What do you think of my little collection, Jardine?" he asked, as I
approached deferentially. Before replying, I ran a vaguely enquiring eye
over the group of objects on the table and was mighty little enlightened
thereby. It was certainly a queer collection. There was a flat jar which
contained a series of five differently-coloured mice, another with a
similar series of three rats, a human foot, a hand--manifestly deformed--a
series of four fowls' heads and a number of photographs of plants. "It
looks," I replied, at length, "like what the auctioneers would call a
miscellaneous lot."

"Yes," Dr. Thorndyke agreed, "it is a miscellaneous collection in a
sense. But there is a connecting idea. It illustrates certain phenomena
of inheritance which were discovered and described by Mendel."

"Mendel!" I exclaimed. "Who is he? I never heard of him."

"I daresay not." said Thorndyke, "though he published his results before
you were born. But the importance of his discoveries is only now
beginning to be appreciated."

"I suppose," said I, "the subject is too large and complex for a short
explanation to be possible."

"The subject is a large one, of course," he replied; "but, put in a
nutshell, Mendel's great discovery amounts to this; that, whereas certain
characters are inherited only partially and fade off gradually in
successive generations, certain other characters are inherited completely
and pass unchanged from generation to generation. To take a couple of
illustrative cases: If a negro marries a European, the offspring are
mulattoes--forms intermediate between the negro and the European. If a
mulatto marries a European, the offspring are quadroons--another
intermediate form; and the next generation gives us the
octoroon--intermediate again between the quadroon and the European. And
so, from generation to generation, the negro character gradually fades
away and finally disappears. But there are other characters which are
inherited entire or not at all, and such characters appear in pairs which
are positive or negative to one another. Sex is a case in point. A male
marries a female and the offspring are either male or female, never
intermediate. The sex-character of only one parent is inherited, and it
is inherited completely. The characters of maleness or femaleness pass
down unchanged through the ages with no tendency to diminish or to shade
off into one another. That is a case of Mendelian inheritance."

I ran my eyes over the collection and they presently lighted on the
rather abnormal-looking foot, hanging, white and shrivelled in the clear
spirit. I lifted the jar from the table and then, noticing for the first
time, that the foot had a supernumerary toe, I enquired what point the
specimen illustrated. "That six-toed foot," Thorndyke replied, "is an
example of a deformity that is transmitted unchanged for an indefinite
number of generations. This brachydactylous hand is another instance. The
brachydactyly reappears in the offspring either completely or not at all.
There are no intermediate conditions."

He picked up the jar, and, having wiped the glass with a duster,
exhibited the hand which was suspended within; and a strange-looking hand
it was; broad and stumpy, like the hand of a mole. "There seem to be only
two joints to each finger," I said. "Yes. The fingers are all thumbs, and
the thumb is only a demi-thumb. A joint is suppressed in each digit."

"It must make the hand very clumsy and useless," I remarked.

"So one would think. It isn't exactly the type of hand for a Liszt or a
Paganini. And yet we mustn't assume too much. I once saw an armless man
copying pictures in the Luxembourg, and copying them very well, too. He
held his brush with his toes; and he was so handy with his feet that he
not only painted really dextrously, but managed to take his hat off to a
lady with quite a fine flourish. So you see, Jardine, it is not the hand
that matters, but rather the brain that actuates it. A very indifferent
hand will serve if the motor centres are of the right sort."

He replaced the jar on the table, and then, after a short pause, turning
quickly to me, he asked: "What are you doing at present, Jardine?"

"Principally idling, sir," I replied.

"And not a bad thing to do either," he rejoined with a smile, "if you do
it thoroughly and don't keep it up too long. How would you like to take
charge of a practice for a week or so?"

"I don't know that I should particularly care to, sir," I answered.

"Why not? It would be a useful experience and would bring you useful
knowledge; knowledge that you have got to acquire sooner or later.
Hospital conditions, you know, are not normal conditions.

"General practice is normal medical practice, and the sooner you get to
know the conditions of the great world the better for you. If you stick
to the wards too long you will get to be like the nurses; who seem to
think that,

"'All the world's a hospital,
And men and women only patients.'"

I reflected for a few moments. It was perfectly true. I was a qualified
medical man, and yet of the ordinary routine of private practice I had
not the faintest knowledge. To me, all sick people were either
in-patients or out-patients. "Had you any particular practice in your
mind, sir?" I asked.

"Yes. I met one of our old students just now. He is at his wit's end
to find a locum tenens. He has to go away to-night or to-morrow
morning, but he can't get anyone to look after his work. Won't you go
to his relief? It's an easy practice, I believe."

I turned the question over in my mind and finally decided to try the
venture. "That's right," said Dr. Thorndyke. "You'll help a professional
brother, at any rate, and pick up a little experience. Our friend's name
is Batson, and he lives in Jacob Street, Hampstead Road. I'll write it
down."

He handed me a slip of paper with the address on it and wished me
success; and I started at once from the hospital, already quite elated,
as is the way of the youthful, at the prospect of a new experience.

Dr. Batson's establishment in Jacob Street was modest to the verge of
dinginess. But Jacob Street, itself, was dingy, and so was the immediate
neighbourhood; a district of tall, grimy houses that might easily have
seen better days. However, Dr. Batson himself was spruce enough and in
excellent spirits at my arrival, as was evident when he bounced into the
room with a jovial greeting, bringing in with him a faint aroma of
sherry. "Delighted to see you, Doctor!" he exclaimed in his large brisk
voice (that "doctor" was a diplomatic hit on his part. They don't call
newly-qualified men "doctor" at the hospital.) "I met Thorndyke this
morning and told him of my predicament. A busy man is the Great
Unraveller, but never too busy to do a kindness to his friends. Can you
take over to-night?"

"I could," said I.

"Then do. I want particularly to be off by the eight-thirty from
Liverpool Street. Drop in and have some grub about six-thirty; I shall
have polished off the day's work by then and you'll just come in for the
evening consultations."

"Are there any cases that you will want me to see with you?" I asked.

"Oh, no," Batson replied, rather airily I thought. "They're all plain
sailing. There's a typhoid, he's doing well--fourth week; and there's a
tonsilitis and a psoas abscess--that's rather tedious, but still, it's
improving--and an old woman with a liver. You won't have any difficulty
with them. There's only one queer case; a heart."

"Valvular?" I asked.

"No, not valvular; I can tell you that much. I know what it isn't, but
I'm hanged if I know what it is. Chappie complains of pain, shortness of
breath, faintness and so on, but I can't find anything to account for it.
Heart-sounds all right, pulse quite good, no dropsy, no nothing. Seems
like malingering, but I don't see why he should malinger. I think I'll
get you to drop in this evening and have a look at him."

"Are you keeping him in bed?" I asked.

"Yes," said Batson, "I am now; not that his general condition seems to
demand it. But he has had one or two fainting attacks, and yesterday he
must needs fall down flop in his bedroom when there was nobody there,
and, by way of making things more comfortable, he drops his medicine
bottle and falls on the fragments. He might have killed himself, you
know," Batson added in an aggrieved tone; "as it was, a long splinter
from the bottom of the bottle stuck into his back and made quite a deep
little wound. So I've kept him in bed since, out of harm's way; and there
he is, deuced sorry for himself but, as far as I can make out, without a
single tangible symptom."

"No facial signs? Nothing unusual in his colour or expression."

Batson laughed and tapped his gold-rimmed spectacles. "Ah! There you are!
When you've got minus five D and some irregular astigmatism and a pair of
glasses that don't correct it, all human beings look pretty much alike; a
trifle sketchy, don't you know. I didn't see anything unusual in his
face, but you might. Time will show. Now you cut along and fetch your
traps, and I'll skip round and polish off the sufferers."

He launched me into the outer greyness of Jacob Street and bounced off in
the direction of Cumberland Market, leaving me to pursue my way to my
lodgings at Gospel Oak.

As I threaded the teeming streets of Camden Town I meditated on the new
experience that was opening to me, and, with youthful egotism, I already
saw myself making a brilliant diagnosis of an obscure heart case. Also I
reflected with some surprise on the calm view that Batson took of his
defective eyesight. A certain type of painter, as I had observed, finds
in semi-blindness a valuable gift which helps him to eliminate trivial
detail and to impart a noble breadth of effect to his pictures; but to a
doctor no such self-delusion would seem possible. Visual acuteness is the
most precious item in his equipment.

I crammed into a large Gladstone bag the bare necessaries for a week's
stay, together with a few indispensable instruments, and then mounted the
jingling horse-tram of those pre-electric days, which, in due course,
deposited me at the end of Jacob Street, Hampstead Road. Dr. Batson had
not returned from his round when I arrived, but a few minutes later he
burst into the surgery humming an air from the Mikado. "Ha! Here you are
then! Punctual to the minute!" He hung his hat on a peg, laid his
visiting-list on the desk of the dispensing counter and began to compound
medicine with the speed of a prestidigitateur, talking volubly all the
time. "That's for the old woman with the liver, Mrs. Mudge, Cumberland
Market, you'll see her prescription in the day book. S'pose you don't
know how to wrap up a bottle of medicine. Better watch me. This is the
way." He slapped the bottle down on a square of cut paper, gave a few
dextrous twiddles of his fingers and held out for my inspection a little
white parcel like the mummy-case of a deceased medicine bottle. "It's
quite easy when you've had a little practice," he said, deftly sticking
the ends down with sealing-wax, "but you'll make a frightful mucker of it
at first." Which prophecy was duly fulfilled that very evening.

"What time had I better see that heart case?" said I.

"Oh, you won't have to see it at ail. Man's dead. Message left half an
hour go. Pity, isn't it? I should have liked to hear what you thought of
him. Must have been fatty heart. I'll write out the certificate while I
think of it. Maggie! Where's that note that Mrs. Samway left?"

The question was roared out vaguely through the open door to a servant of
unknown whereabouts, and resulted in the appearance of a somewhat scraggy
housemaid bearing an opened note. "Here we are," said Batson, snatching
the note out of its envelope and opening the book of certificate forms;
"Septimus Maddock was the chappie's name, age fifty-one, address 23,
Gayton Street, cause of death--that's just what I should like to
know--primary cause, secondary causes--I wish these infernal government
clerks had got something better to do than fill printed forms with silly
connundrums. I shall put "Morbus Cordis"; that ought to be enough for
them. Mrs. Samway--that's his landlady, you know--will probably call for
the certificate during the evening."

"Aren't you going to inspect the body?" I asked.

"Lord, no! Why should I! It isn't necessary, you know. I'm not an
undertaker. Wish I was. Dead people good deal more profitable than live
ones."

"But surely," I exclaimed, "the death ought to be verified. Why the man
may not be dead at all."

"I know," said Batson, scribbling away like a minor poet, "but that isn't
my business. Business of the Law. Law wastes your time with a heap of
silly questions that don't matter and leaves out the question that does.
Asks exact time when I last saw him alive, which doesn't matter a hang,
and doesn't ask whether I saw him dead. Bumble was right. Law's an ass."

"But still," I persisted, "leaving the legal requirements out of
consideration, oughtn't you for your own sake, and as a public duty, to
verify the death? Supposing the man were not really dead?"

"That would be awkward for him," said Batson, "and awkward for me, too,
if he came to life before they buried him. But it doesn't really happen
in real life. Premature burial only occurs in novels."

His easy-going confidence jarred on me considerably. How could he, or
anyone else, know what happened? "I don't see how you arrive at that," I
objected. "It could only be proved by wholesale disinterment. And the
fact remains that, if you don't verify a reported death you have no
security against premature burial--or even cremation."

Batson started up and stared at me, his wide-open, pale-blue eyes looking
ridiculously small through his deep, concave spectacles. "By Jove!" he
exclaimed, "I am glad you mentioned that--about cremation, I mean,
because that is what will probably happen. I witnessed the chappie's will
a couple of days ago, and I remember now that one of the clauses
stipulated that his body should be cremated. So I shall have to verify
the death for the purpose of the cremation certificate. We'd better pop
round and see him at once."

With characteristic impulsiveness he sprang to his feet, snatched his hat
from its peg, and started forth, leaving me to follow. "Beastly nuisance,
these special regulations," said Batson, as he ambled briskly up the
street. "Give a lot of trouble and cause a lot of delay."

"Isn't the ordinary death certificate sufficient in a case of cremation?"
I asked.

"For purposes of law it is, though there is some talk of new legislation
on the subject, but the Company are a law unto themselves. They have made
the most infernally stringent regulations, and, as there is no
crematorium near London excepting the one at Woking, you have to abide by
their rules. And that reminds me--" here Batson halted and scowled at me
ferociously through his spectacles.

"Reminds you?" I repeated.

"That they require a second death certificate, signed by a man with
certain special qualifications." He stood awhile frowning and muttering
under his breath and then suddenly turned and bounced off in a new
direction. "Going to catch the other chappie and take him with us," he
explained, as he darted out into the Hampstead Road. "Be off my mind
then. A fellow named O'Connor, Assistant Physician to the North London
Hospital. He'll do if we can catch him at home. If not, you'll have to
manage him."

Batson looked at his watch--holding it within four inches of his
nose--and broke into a trot as we entered a quiet square. Halfway up he
halted at a door which bore a modest brass plate inscribed "Dr.
O'Connor," and seizing the bell-knob, worked it vigorously in and out as
if it were the handle of an air-pump. "Doctor in?" he demanded briskly of
a startled housemaid; and, without waiting for an answer, he darted into
the hall, down the whole length of which he staggered, executing a sort
of sword-dance, having caught his toe on an unobserved door-mat.

The doctor was in and he shortly appeared in evening dress with an
overcoat on his arm, and apparently in as great a hurry as Batson
himself. "Won't it do to-morrow?" he asked, when Batson had explained his
difficulties and the service required.

"Might as well come now," said Batson persuasively; "won't take a minute
and then I can go away in peace."

"Very well," said O'Connor, wriggling into his overcoat. "You go along
and I'll follow in a few minutes. I've got to look in on a patient on my
way up west, and I shall be late for my appointment as it is. Write the
address on my card, here."

He held out a card to my principal, and when the latter had scribbled the
address on it, he bustled out and vanished up the square. Batson followed
at the same headlong speed, and, again overlooking the mat, came out on
the pavement like an ill-started sprinter.

Gayton Street, at which we shortly arrived, was a grey and dingy
side-street exactly like a score of others in the same locality, and
Number 23 differed from the rest of the seedy-looking houses in no
respect save that it was perhaps a shade more dingy. The door was opened
in answer to Batson's indecorously brisk knock by a woman--or perhaps I
should say a lady--who at once admitted us and to whom Batson began,
without preface, to explain the situation. "I got your note, Mrs. Samway.
Was going to bring my friend, here, round to see the patient. Very
unfortunate affair. Very sad. Unexpected, too. Didn't seem particularly
bad yesterday. What time did it happen?"

"I can't say exactly," was the reply. "He seemed quite comfortable when I
looked in on him the last thing at night, but when I went in about seven
this morning he was dead. I should have let you know sooner, but I was
expecting you to call."

"H'm, yes," said Batson, "very unfortunate. By the way, Mr. Maddock
desired that his remains should be cremated, I think?"

"Yes, so my husband tells me. He is the executor of the will, you
remember, in the absence of any relatives. All Mr. Maddock's relations
seem to be in America."

"Have you got the certificate forms?" asked Batson.

"Yes. My husband got all the papers from the undertaker this afternoon."

"Very well, Mrs. Samway, then we'll just take a look at the body--have to
certify that I've seen it, you know."

Mrs. Samway ushered us into a sitting-room where she had apparently been
working alone, for an unfinished mourning garment of some kind lay on the
table. Leaving us here, she went away and presently returned with a sheaf
of papers and a lighted candle, when we rose and followed her to a back
room on the ground floor. It was a smallish room, sparely furnished, with
heavy curtains drawn across the window, and by one wall a bed, on which
was a motionless figure covered by a sheet.

Our conductress stood the candlestick on a table by the bed and stepped
back to make way for Batson, who drew back the sheet and looked down on
the body in his peering, near-sighted fashion. The deceased seemed to be
a rather frail-looking man of about fifty, but, beyond the fact that he
was clean shaven, I could form very little idea of his appearance, since,
in addition to the usual bandage under the chin to close the mouth, a
tape had been carried round the head to secure a couple of pads of cotton
wool over the eyes to keep the eyelids closed.

As Batson applied his stethoscope to the chest of the dead man, I glanced
at our hostess not without interest. Mrs. Samway was an unusual-looking
woman, and I thought her decidedly handsome though not attractive to me
personally. She seemed to be about thirty, rather over the medium height
and of fine Junoesque proportions, with a small head very gracefully set
on the shoulders. Her jet-black hair, formally parted in the middle, was
brought down either side of the forehead in wavy, but very smooth, masses
and gathered behind in a neat, precisely-plaited coil. The general effect
reminded me of the so-called "Clytie," having the same reposefulness
though not the gentleness and softness of that lovely head. But the most
remarkable feature of this woman was the colour of her eyes, which were
of the palest grey or hazel that I have ever seen; so pale in fact that
they told as spots of light, like the eyes of some lemurs or those of a
cat seen in the dusk; a peculiarity that imparted a curiously intense and
penetrating quality to her glance.

I had just noted these particulars when Batson, having finished his
examination, held out the stethoscope to me. "May as well listen, as
you're here," said he, and, turning to our hostess, he added: "Let us see
those papers, Mrs. Samway."

As he stepped over to the table, I took his place on a chair by the
bedside and proceeded to make an examination. It was, of course, only a
matter of form, for the man was obviously dead; but having insisted so
strongly on the necessity of verifying the death I had to make a show of
becoming scepticism. Accordingly I tested, both by touch and with the
stethoscope, the region of the heart. Needless to say, no heart-sounds
were to be distinguished, nor any signs of pulsation; indeed, the very
first touch of my hand on the chilly surface of the chest was enough to
banish any doubt. No living body could be so entirely destitute of animal
heat.

I laid down the stethoscope and looked reflectively at the dead man,
lying so still and rigid, with his bandaged jaws and blindfolded eyes,
and speculated vaguely on his personality when alive and on the hidden
disease that had so suddenly cut him off from the land of the living; and
insensibly--by habit I suppose--my fingers strayed to his clammy,
pulseless wrist. The sleeve of his night-shirt was excessively long,
almost covering the fingers, and I had to turn it back to reach the spot
where the pulse would normally be felt. In doing this, I moved the dead
hand slightly and then became aware of a well-marked rigor mortis, or
death stiffening in the arm of the corpse; a condition which I ought to
have observed sooner.

At this moment, happening to look up, I caught the eye of Mrs. Samway
fixed on me with a very remarkable expression. She was leaning over
Batson as he filled up the voluminous certificate, but had evidently been
watching me, and the expression of her pale, catlike eyes left no doubt
in my mind that she strongly resented my proceedings. In some confusion,
and accusing myself of some failure in outward decorum, I hastily drew
down the dead man's sleeve and rose from the bedside. "You noticed, I
suppose," said I, "that there is fairly well-marked rigor mortis?"

"I didn't," said Batson, "but if you did it'll do as well. Better mention
it to O'Connor when he comes. He ought to be here now."

"Who is O'Connor?" asked Mrs. Samway.

"Oh, he is the doctor who is going to sign the confirmatory certificate."

Again a gleam of unmistakable anger flashed from our hostess' eyes as she
demanded: "Then who is this gentleman?"

"This is Dr. Humphrey Jardine," said Batson. "'Pologize for not
introducing him before. Dr. Jardine is taking my practice while I'm away.
I'm off to-night for about a week."

Mrs. Samway withered me with a baleful glance of her singular eyes, and
remarked stiffly: "I don't quite see why you brought him here."

She turned her back on me, and I decided that Mrs. Samway was somewhat of
a Tartar; though, to be sure, my presence was a distinct intrusion. I was
about to beat a retreat when Batson's apologies were interrupted by a
noisy rat-tat at the street door. "Ah, here's O'Connor," said Batson,
and, as Mrs. Samway went out to open the door, he added: "Seem to have
put our foot in it, though I don't see why she need have been so peppery
about it. And O'Connor needn't have banged at the door like that, with
death in the house. He'll get into trouble if he doesn't look out."

Our colleague's manner was certainly not ingratiating. He burst into the
room with his watch in his hand protesting that he was three minutes late
already, and, he added, "if there is one thing that I detest, it's
being late at dinner. Got the forms?"

"Yes," replied Batson, "here they are. That's my certificate on the front
page. Yours is overleaf."

Dr. O'Connor glanced rapidly down the long table of questions, muttering
discontentedly. "'Made careful external examination?' H'm. 'Have you made
a post mortem?' No, of course, I haven't. What an infernal rigmarole! If
cremation ever becomes general there'll be no time for anything but
funerals. Who nursed the deceased?"

"I did," said Mrs. Samway. "My husband relieved me occasionally, but
nearly all the nursing was done by me. My name is Letitia Samway."

"Was the deceased a relation of yours?"

"No; only a friend. He lived with us for a time in Paris and came to
England with us."

"What was his occupation?"

"He was nominally a dealer in works of art. Actually he was a man of
independent means."

"Have you any pecuniary interest in his death?"

"He has left us about seventy pounds. My husband is the executor of the
will."

"I see. Well, I'd better have a few words with you outside, Batson,
before I make my examination. It's all a confounded farce, but we must go
through the proper forms, I suppose."

"Yes, by all means," said Batson. "Don't leave any loop-hole for queries
or objections." He rose and accompanied O'Connor out into the hall,
whence the sound of hurried muttering came faintly through the door.

As soon as we were alone, I endeavoured to make my peace with Mrs. Samway
by offering apologies for my intrusion into the house of mourning. "For
the time being," I concluded, "I am Dr. Batson's assistant, and, as he
seemed to wish me to come with him, I came without considering that my
presence might be objected to. I hope you will forgive me."

My humility appeared entirely to appease her; in a moment her stiff and
forbidding manner melted into one that was quite gracious and she
rewarded me with a smile that made her face really charming. "Of course,"
she said, "it was silly of me to be so cantankerous and rude, too. But it
did look a little callous, you know, when I saw you playing with his
poor, dead hand; so you must make allowances." She smiled again, very
prettily, and at this moment my two colleagues re-entered the room. "Now,
then," said O'Connor, "let us see the body and then we shall have
finished."

He strode over to the bed, and, turning back the sheet, made a rapid
inspection of the corpse. "Ridiculous farce," he muttered. "Looks all
right. Would, in any case though. Parcel of red tape. What's the good of
looking at the outside of a body? Post mortem's the only thing that's any
use. What's this piece of tape-plaster on the back?"

"Oh," said Batson, "that is a little cut that he made by falling on a
broken bottle. I stuck the plaster on because you can't get a bandage to
hold satisfactorily on the back. Besides, he didn't want a bandage
constricting his chest."

"No, of course not," O'Connor agreed. "Well, it's all regular and
straightforward. Give me the form and I'll fill it up and sign it." He
seated himself at the table, looked once more at his watch, groaned aloud
and began to write furiously. "The Egyptians weren't such bad judges,
after all," he remarked as he laid down the pen and rose from his chair.
"Embalming may have been troublesome, but when it was done it was done
for good. The deceased was always accessible for reference in case of a
dispute, and all this red tape was saved. Good-night, Mrs. Samway." He
buttoned up his coat and bustled off, and a minute or so later we
followed.

"By jove!" exclaimed Batson, "this business has upset my arrangements
finely. I shall have to buck up if I'm going to catch my train. There's
all the medicine to be made up and sent out yet, to say nothing of
dinner. But dinner will have to wait until the business is all settled
up. Don't you hurry, Jardine. I'll just run on and get to work." He broke
into an elephantine trot and soon disappeared round a corner, and, when I
arrived at the surgery, I found him posting up the day-book with the
speed of a parliamentary reporter.

Batson's dexterity with medicine-bottles and wrapping paper filled me
with admiration and despair. I made a futile effort to assist, but in the
end, he snatched away the crumpled paper in which I was struggling to
enswathe a bottle, dropped it into the waste-paper basket, snatched up a
clean sheet and--slap! bang! in the twinkling of an eye, he had
transformed the bottle into a neat, little white parcel as a conjuror
changes a cocked hat into a guinea-pig. It was wonderful.

My host was a cheerful soul, but restless. He got up from the table no
less than six times to pack some article that he had just thought of; and
after dinner, when I accompanied him to his bedroom, I saw him empty his
trunk no less than three times to make sure that he had forgotten
nothing. He quite worried me. Your over-quick man is apt to wear out
other people's nerves more than his own. I began to look anxiously at the
clock, and felt a real relief when the maid came to announce that the cab
was at the door. "Well, good-bye. Doctor!" he sang out cheerily, shaking
my hand through the open window of the cab. "Don't forget to keep the
stock-bottles filled up. Saves a world of trouble. And don't take too
long on your rounds. Ta! ta!"

The cab rattled away and I went back into the house, a full-blown general
practitioner.

CHAPTER V

THE LETHAL CHAMBER

A YOUNG and newly-qualified doctor, emerging for the first time into
private practice, is apt to be somewhat surprised and disconcerted by the
new conditions. Accustomed to the exclusively professional and scientific
atmosphere of the hospital, the sudden appearance of the personal element
as the predominant factor rather takes him aback. He finds himself in a
new and unexpected position. No longer a mere, impersonal official, a
portion of a great machine, he is the paid servant of his patients: who
are not always above letting him feel the conditions of his service. The
hospital patient, drilled into a certain respectful submissiveness by the
discipline of the wards, has given place to an employer, usually
critical, sometimes truculent and occasionally addicted to a disagreeable
frankness of speech.

The locum tenens, moreover, is peculiarly susceptible to these
conditions, especially if, as in my case, his appearance is youthful.
Patients resent the substitution of a stranger for the familiar medical
attendant and are at no great pains to disguise the fact. The "old woman
with the liver" (to adopt Batson's pellucid phrase) hinted that I was
rather young, adding encouragingly that I should get the better of that
in time; while the more morose typhoid bluntly informed me that he hadn't
bargained for being attended by a medical student.

Taken as a whole, I found private practice disappointing and soon began
to wish myself back in the wards and to sigh for my quiet, solitary
rambles on Hampstead Heath.

Still, there were rifts in the cloud. Some of the patients appreciated
the interest that I took in their cases, evidently contrasting it with
the rather casual attitude of my principal, and some were positively
friendly. But, in general, my reception was such as to make me slightly
apprehensive whenever a new patient appeared.

On the fourth evening after Batson's departure, Mrs. Samway was announced
and I prepared myself for the customary snub. But I was mistaken. Nothing
could be more gracious than her manner towards me, though the object of
her visit occasioned me some embarrassment. "I have called, Dr. Jardine."
she said, "to ask you if you could let me have the account for poor Mr.
Maddock. My husband is the executor, you know, and, as we shall be going
back to Paris quite shortly, he wants to get everything settled up."

I was in rather a quandary. Of the financial side of practice I was
absolutely ignorant and I thought it best to say so. "But," I added, "Dr.
Batson will be back on Friday evening, if you can wait so long."

"Oh, that will do quite well," she replied, "but don't forget to tell him
that we want the account at once."

I promised not to forget, and then remarked that she would, no doubt, be
glad to be back in Paris. "No," she answered, "I shall be rather sorry.
Of course Camden Town is not a very attractive neighbourhood, but it is
close to the heart of London; and then there are some delightful places
near and quite accessible. There is Highgate, for instance."

"Yes; but it is getting very much built over, isn't it?"

"Unfortunately it is; but yet there are some very pleasant places left.
The old village is still charming. So quaint and old world. And then
there is Hampstead. What could be more delightful than the Heath? But
perhaps you don't know Hampstead?"

"Oh, yes I do," said I; "my rooms are at Gospel Oak, quite near the
Heath, and I think I know every nook and corner of the neighbourhood. I
am pining for a stroll on the Heath at this very moment."

"I daresay you are," she said sympathetically. "This is a depressing
neighbourhood if you can't get away from it. We found it very dismal, at
first, after Paris."

"Do you live in Paris?" I asked.

"Not permanently," she replied. "But we spend a good deal of time there.
My husband is a dealer in works of art, so he has to travel about a good
deal. That is how we came to know Mr. Maddock."

"He was a dealer too, wasn't he?" I enquired.

"Yes, in a way. But he had means of his own and his dealing was a mere
excuse for collecting things that he was not going to keep. He had a
passion for buying, and then he used to sell the things in order to buy
more. But I am afraid I am detaining you with my chatter?"

"No, not at all," I said eagerly, only too glad to have an intelligent,
educated person to talk to; "you are the last caller, and I hope I have
finished my day's work."

Accordingly she stayed quite a long time, chatting on a variety of
subjects and finally on that of cremation. "I daresay," she said, "it is
more sanitary and wholesome than burial, but there is something rather
dreadful about it. Perhaps it is because we are not accustomed to the
idea."

"Did you go to the funeral?" I asked.

"Yes. Mr. Maddock had no friends in England but my husband and me, so we
both went. It was very solemn and awesome. The coffin was laid on the
catafalque while a short service was read, and then two metal doors
opened and it was passed through out of our sight. We waited some time
and presently they brought us a little terra-cotta urn with just a
handful or two of white ash in it. That was all that was left of our poor
friend Septimus Maddock. Don't you think it is rather dreadful?"

"Death is always rather dreadful," I answered. "But when we look at the
ashes of a dead person, we realize the total destruction of the body;
whereas the grave keeps its secrets. If we could look down through the
earth and see the changes that are taking place, we should probably find
the slow decay more shocking than the swift consumption by fire.
Fortunately we cannot. But we know that the final result is the same in
both."

Mrs. Samway shuddered slightly, and drew her wraps more closely about
her. "Yes," she said with a faint sigh; "the same end awaits us all--but
it is better not to think about it."

We were both silent for awhile. I sat with my gaze bent rather absently
on the case-book before me, turning over her last somewhat gloomy
utterance, until, chancing to look up, I found her pale, penetrating eyes
fixed on me with the same strange intentness that I had noticed when she
had looked at me as I sat by the body of Maddock. As she met my glance,
she looked down quickly but without confusion, and with a return to her
habitual reposefulness.

Half-unconsciously I returned her scrutiny. She was a remarkable-looking
woman. A beautiful woman, too, but of a type that is, in our time and
country, rare: an ancient or barbaric type in which womanly beauty and
grace are joined to manifest physical strength. I felt that some unusual
racial mixture spoke in her inconsistent colouring; her clear, pink skin,
her pale eyes and the jet-black hair that rippled down either side of her
low forehead in little crimpy waves, as regular and formal as the
"archaic curls" of early Greek sculpture.

But predominant over all other qualities was that of strength. Full and
plump, soft and almost ultra-feminine, lissom and flexible in every pose
and movement, yet, to me, the chief impression that her appearance
suggested was strength--sheer, muscular strength; not the rigid bull-dog
strength of a strong man, but the soft and supple strength of a leopard.
I looked at her as she sat almost limply in her chair, with her head on
one side, her hands resting in her lap and a beautiful, soft, womanly
droop of the shoulders; and I felt that she could have started up in an
instant, active, strong, formidable, like a roused panther.

I was going on, I think, to make comparisons between her and that other
woman who was wont to trip so daintily down Millfield Lane, when she
raised her eyes slowly to mine; and suddenly she blushed scarlet. "Am I a
very remarkable-looking person, Dr. Jardine?" she asked quietly, as if
answering my thoughts.

The rebuke was well merited. For an instant a paltry compliment fluttered
on my lips; but I swallowed it down. She wasn't that kind of woman. "I am
afraid I have been staring you out of countenance, Mrs. Samway," I said
apologetically.

"Hardly that," she replied with a smile; "but you certainly were looking
at me very attentively."

"Well," I said, recovering myself, "after all, a cat may look at a king,
you know."

She laughed softly--a very pretty, musical laugh--and rose, still
blushing warmly. "And," she retorted, "by the same reasoning, you think a
king may look at a cat. Very well, Dr. Jardine. Good-night."

She held out her hand; a beautifully-shaped hand, though rather
large--but, as I have said, she was not a small woman; and as it clasped
mine, though the pressure was quite gentle, it conveyed, like her
appearance, an impression of abundant physical strength.

I accompanied her to the door and watched her as she walked up the dingy
street with an easy, erect, undulating gait; even as might have walked
those women who are portrayed for the wonder of all time on the
ivory-toned marble of the Parthenon frieze. I followed with my eyes the
dignified, graceful figure until it vanished round the corner, and then
went back to the consulting-room dimly wondering why a woman of such
manifest beauty and charm should offer little attraction to me.

Batson's practice, among its other drawbacks, suffered from a deadly lack
of professional interest. Whether this was its normal condition, or
whether his patients had got wind of me and called in other and more
experienced practitioners, I know not; but certainly, after the stirring
work of the hospital, the cases that I had to deal with seemed very small
beer. Hence the prospect of a genuine surgical case came as a grateful
surprise and I hailed it with enthusiasm.

It was on the day before Batson's expected return that I received the
summons; which was delivered to me in a dirty envelope as I sat by the
bedside of the last patient on my list. "Is the messenger waiting?" I
asked, tearing open the envelope.

"No, Doctor. He just handed in the note and went off. He seemed to be in
a hurry."

I ran my eye over the message, scrawled in a rather illiterate hand on a
sheet of common notepaper, and read:

"SIR,

"Will you please come at once to the Mineral Water Works in Norton Street.
One of our men has injured himself rather badly.

"Yours truly,

"J. PARKER.

"P.S.--He is bleeding a good deal, so please come quick."

The postscript gave a very necessary piece of information. An injury
which bled would require certain dressings and surgical appliances over
and above those contained in my pocket case; and to obtain these I should
have to take Batson's house on the way. Slipping the note into my pocket,
I wished my patient a hasty adieu and strode off at a swinging pace in
the direction of Jacob Street.

The housemaid, Maggie, helped me to find the dressings and pack the
bag--for she was a handy, intelligent girl though no beauty; and
meanwhile I questioned her as to the whereabouts of Norton Street and the
mineral water factory. "Oh, I know the place well enough, sir," said she,
"though I didn't know the works were open. Norton Street is only a few
minutes' walk from here. It's quite close to Gayton Street, in fact these
works are just at the back of the Samway's house. You go up to the corner
by the market and take the second on the right and then--"

"Look here, Maggie," I interrupted, "you'd better come and show me the
way, as you know the place. There's no time to waste on fumbling for the
right turning."

"Very well, sir," she replied, and the bag being now packed with all
necessary instruments and dressings, we set forth together. "Is this a
large factory?" I asked, as she trotted by my side, to the astonished
admiration of Jacob Street, and the neighbourhood in general.

"No, sir," she replied. "It's quite a small place. The last people went
bankrupt and the works were empty and to let for a long time. I thought
they were still to let, but I suppose somebody has taken them and started
the business afresh. It's round here."

She piloted me round a corner into a narrow bystreet, near the end of
which she halted at the gate of a yard or mews. Above the entrance was a
weather-beaten board bearing the inscription, "International Mineral
Water Company" and a half-defaced printed bill offering the premises to
let; and at the side was a large bell-pull. A vigorous tug at the latter
set a bell jangling within, and, as Maggie tripped away up the street, a
small wicket in the gate opened, disclosing the dimly-seen figure of a
man standing in the inner darkness. "Are you the doctor?" he inquired.

I answered "Yes," and, being thereupon bidden to enter, stepped through
the opening of the wicket, which the man immediately closed, shutting out
the last gleam of light from the street lamp outside. "It's rather dark,"
said the unseen custodian, taking me by the arm.

"It is indeed," I replied, groping with my feet over the rough cobbles;
"hadn't you better get a light of some kind?"

"I will in a minute," was the reply. "You see, all the other men have
gone home. We close at six sharp. This is the way. I'll strike a match.
The man is down in the bottling-room."

My conductor struck a match by the light of which he guided me through a
doorway, along a passage or corridor and down a flight of stone steps. At
the bottom of the steps was a flagged passage, out of which opened what
looked like a range of cellars. Along the passage I walked warily,
followed by the stranger and lighted, very imperfectly, by the matches
that he struck; the glimmer of which threw a gigantic and ghostly shadow
of myself on the stone floor, but failed utterly to pierce the darkness
ahead. I was exactly opposite the yawning doorway of one of the cellars
when the match went out, and the man behind me exclaimed: "Wait a moment,
Doctor! Don't move until I strike another light."

I halted abruptly; and the next moment I received a violent thrust that
sent me staggering through the open doorway into the cellar. Instantly,
the massive door slammed and a pair of heavy bolts were shot in
succession on the outside.

"What the devil is the meaning of this?" I roared, battering and kicking
furiously at the door. Of course there was no answer, and I quickly
stopped my demonstrations, for it dawned on me in a moment that the
factory was untenanted save by the ruffian who had admitted me; that I
had been decoyed here of a set purpose, though what that purpose was I
could not imagine.

But it was not long before I received a pretty broad hint as to the
immediate intentions of my host. A gentle thumping at the door of my
cellar attracted my attention and caused me to lay my ear against the
wood. The sound that I heard was quite unmistakable. The crevices of the
door were being filled, apparently with pieces of rag, which my friend
was ramming home, presumably with a chisel. In fact the door was being
"caulked" to make the joints airtight.

The object of this proceeding was clear enough. I was shut up in an
air-tight cavity in which I was to be slowly suffocated. That was quite
obvious. Why I was to be suffocated, I could form no sort of guess
excepting that I had fallen into the hands of a homicidal lunatic. But I
was not greatly alarmed. The air in a good-sized cellar will last a
considerable time, and I could easily poke out anything that my friend
might stuff into the keyhole. Then, when the men arrived in the morning,
I could kick on the cellar door, and they would come and let me out.
There was nothing to be particularly frightened about.

Were there any men? The injured man was evidently a myth. Supposing the
other men were a myth too? I recalled Maggie's remark, that she "had
thought the place was to let still." Perhaps it was. That would be rather
more serious.

At this point my agitations were broken in upon by sounds from the
adjoining cellar; the sound of someone moving about and dragging some
heavy body. And it struck me at once as strange that I should hear these
sounds so distinctly, seeing the massive door of my own cellar was sealed
and the walls were of solid brick, as I ascertained by rapping at them
with my knuckles. But I had no time to consider this circumstance, for
there suddenly rose a new sound, whereat, I must confess my heart fairly
came into my mouth; a loud, penetrating hiss like the shriek of escaping
steam. It seemed to come from some part of the cellar in which I was
immured; from a spot nearly overhead; and it was immediately echoed by a
similar sound in the adjoining cellar and then by a third. Even as the
last sound broke forth, the door of the adjoining cellar slammed, the
bolts were shot and then faintly mingled with the discordant hissing. I
could hear the dull thumping that told me that the cracks of that door,
too, were being caulked.

It was a frightful situation. The hissing sound was obviously caused by
the escape of gas under high pressure, and that gas must be entering my
cellar through some opening. I felt for my match-box, and, groping along
the wall towards the point whence the loudest sound--and, indeed, all the
sounds--proceeded, I struck a match. The glimmer of the wax vesta made
everything clear. Close to the ceiling, about seven feet from the ground,
was an opening in the wall about six inches square; and pouring through
this in a continuous stream was a cloud of white particles that glistened
like snowflakes. As I stood under the opening, some of them settled on
my face; and the more than icy coldness of the contact, told the whole,
horrible tale in a moment.

This white powder WAS snow--carbonic acid snow. The hissing sound came from
three of those great iron bottles, charged under pressure with liquified
carbonic acid, which are used by mineral water manufacturers for aerating
the water. The miscreant (or lunatic) who had imprisoned me had turned on
the taps, and the liquid was escaping and turning into to snow with the
cold produced by its own rapid evaporation and expansion. Of course the
snow would quickly absorb heat, and, without again liquefying, evaporate
into the gaseous form. In a very short time both cellars would be full of
the poisonous gas, and I--well, in a word, I was shut up in a lethal
chamber.

It has taken me some time to write this explanation, which, however,
flashed through my brain in the twinkling of an eye as the light of the
match fell on that sinister cloud of snowflakes. In a moment I had my
coat off, and was stuffing it for dear life into the opening. It was but
a poor protection against the gas, which would easily enough find its way
through the interstices of the fabric; but it would stop the direct
stream of snow and give me time to think.

On what incalculable chances do the great issues of our lives depend! If
I had been a short man I must have been dead in half an hour; for the
opening through which the cloud of snow was pouring was well over seven
feet above the floor and would have been quite out of my reach. Even as
it was, with my six feet of stature and corresponding length of arm, it
was impossible to ram my coat into the opening with the necessary force,
for I had to stand close to the wall with my arm upraised at a great
mechanical disadvantage. Still, as I have said, imperfect as the
obstruction was, it served to stop the inrushing cloud of snow. It would
take some time for the heavy gas in the adjoining cellar to rise to the
level of the opening, and, meanwhile, I could be devising other measures.

I lit another match and looked about me. The cellar was much smaller than
I had thought and was absolutely empty. The floor was of concrete, the
walls of rough brickwork and the ceiling of plaster, all cracked and
falling in. There was plenty of ventilation there, but that was of no
interest to me. Carbonic acid gas is so heavy that it behaves almost like
a liquid, and it would have filled the cellar and suffocated me even if
the top of my prison had been open to the sky. The adjoining cellar was
already filling rapidly, and when the gas in it reached the level of the
opening, it would percolate through my coat and come pouring down into my
cellar. But that, as I have said, would take some time--if the dividing
wall was moderately sound. This important qualification, as soon as it
occurred to me, set me exploring the wall with the aid of another match;
and very unsatisfactory was the result. It was a bad wall, built of
inferior brick and worse mortar, and was marked by innumerable holes
where wall-hooks and other fastenings had been driven in between the
bricks. My brief survey convinced me that, so far from being gas-tight,
the wall was as pervious as a sponge, and that whatever I meant to do to
preserve my life, I must set about without delay.

But what was I to do? That was the urgent, the vital question. Escape was
evidently impossible. There were no means of stopping up the numberless
holes and weak places in the wall. The only vulnerable spot was the door.
If I could establish some communication with the outer air, I could, for
a time at least, disregard the poisonous gas with which I should
presently be surrounded.

The first thing to be considered was the keyhole. That must be unstopped
at once. Fumbling in my bag--for I had grown of a sudden niggardly with my
matches--I found a good-sized probe, which I insinuated into the keyhole;
and, in a moment, my hopes in that direction were extinguished. For the
end of the probe impinged upon metal. The keyhole was not stopped with
rag, but with a plate of metal fixed on the outside. With rapidly-growing
alarm, but with a tidiness born of habit, I put the probe back in the bag
and began feverishly to review the situation and consider my resources.
And then I had an idea; only a poor, forlorn hope, but still an idea.

There is a certain ingenious type of pocket-knife, devised principally in
the interest of the cutlery trade, that innocent persons (usually of the
female persuasion) are wont to bestow as presents on their masculine
friends. Such a knife I chanced to possess. It had been given to me by an
aunt, and sentimental considerations had induced me to give it an amount
of room in my trousers' pocket that I continually grudged. However, there
it was at this critical moment, with its corkscrew, gimlet, its
bewildering array of blades, its hoof-pick, tooth-pick, tweezers, file,
screw-driver and assorted unclassifiable tools; a ponderous lump of
pocket-destroying uselessness--and yet, the appointed means of saving my
life.

The gimlet was the first tool that I called into requisition. Very
gingerly--for these tools are commonly over-tempered and brittle--I bored
in the thick plank a hole at about the level of my mouth; and as I worked
I turned over my further plans. When the gimlet was through the door, I
selected a tool on whose use I had often speculated--a sharp-edged spike,
like a diminutive and very stumpy bayonet--which I proceeded to use
broach-wise to enlarge the hole. When this tool worked loose, I exchanged
it for the screwdriver, with which I managed to broach the hole out to
about half an inch in width. And this was as large as I could make it,
and it was not large enough. True, one could breathe fairly comfortably
through a half-inch hole, but, with the deadly gas circulating around, a
freer opening was very desirable.

Then I bethought me that the magic knife contained a saw--a wretched,
thick-bladed affair, but still a saw--which would actually cut wood if you
gave it time. This implement suggested a simple plan which I forthwith
put into execution, working as rapidly as I could without running the
risk of breaking the tools. My plan was to make a second hole some two
inches diagonally below the first, and from each hole to carry two
saw-cuts at right angles to one another. The two pairs of cuts would
intersect and take a square piece out of the door, giving me a little
window through which I could breathe in comfort.

It was a trifling task, but yet, with the miserable tools I had, it took
a considerable time to execute; the more since the saw-blade was wider
than the holes, excepting at its point. However, it was accomplished at
last, and I had the satisfaction of pushing out the little separated
square of wood and feeling that I now had free access to the pure air
outside my dungeon.

But it was none too soon. As I rested from my labours, it occurred to me
to test the condition of the air inside. Lighting a wax match, I held the
little taper so that the flame ascended steadily, and then lowered it
slowly. As it descended the flame changed colour somewhat, and about
eighteen inches from the floor it went out quite suddenly. There was,
then, a layer of the pure gas about eighteen inches deep covering the
floor, and, no doubt, rising pretty rapidly.

This was rather startling, and it warned me to have recourse without
delay to my breathing hole. For though carbonic acid gas behaves somewhat
as a liquid, it is not a liquid: like other gases, it has the power of
diffusing upwards, and the air of the cellar must be already getting
unsafe. Accordingly, after carefully wiping the surface of the door with
my handkerchief, I applied my mouth, with some distaste, to the opening
and took in a deep draught of undoubtedly pure air.

The position in which I had to stand with my mouth to the hole was an
irksome one, and I foresaw that it would presently become very fatiguing.
Moreover, when the gas reached the level of my head, it would be
difficult to prevent some of it from finding its way into my mouth and
nostrils; and if it did, I should most assuredly be poisoned. This
consideration suggested the necessity of making another hole at a lower
level to let out the gas and allow me to rest myself by a change of
position. But this new task had to be carried out with my mouth glued to
the breathing hole; and very awkward and tiring I found it and very slow
was the progress that I made. This second hole was smaller than the
first, for time was precious, and I reflected that I could easily enlarge
it by fresh saw-cuts, each two of which would take out a triangular piece
of wood.

But it was tedious work, and its completion left me with aching arms;
indeed, I was beginning to ache all over from the constrained position.
Taking a deep breath and shutting my mouth, I stood up and stretched
myself. Then I lit a match and looked at my watch. Half-past eight. I had
been over two hours in the cellar. And meanwhile the patients were
waiting for me at the surgery, and, no doubt, murmuring at the delay. How
soon would my absence lead to enquiries? Or were enquiries being made
even now?

Looking at the match that I still held in my hand, I noticed that its
flame was pallid and bluish; and as I lowered it slowly, it went out when
it was a little over two feet from the floor. The gas, then, was still
rising, though not so rapidly as I, had feared, but from the altered
colour of the flame, it was evident that the air of the cellar,
generally, contained enough diffused gas to be actively poisonous.

After a time, the erect position began to grow insupportably fatiguing. I
felt that I must sit down for a few minutes' rest, even though prudence
whispered that it was highly unsafe. I struggled for awhile, but
eventually, conquered by fatigue, sat down on the floor with my mouth
applied closely to the lower breathing-hole. I persuaded myself that I
would sit only just long enough to recover some of my strength, but
minute after minute sped by and still I felt an unaccountable reluctance
to rise.

Suddenly I because conscious of a vague feeling of drowsiness; of a
desire to lean back against the wall and doze. It was only slight, but
its significance was so appalling that I scrambled to my feet in a panic,
and, putting my mouth to the upper breathing-hole, took several deep
inspirations. But I soon realized that the upright position was
impossible. The drowsy feeling continued and there was growing with it a
lassitude and weakness of the limbs that threatened to leave me only the
choice between sitting or falling. A wave of furious anger swept over me
and roused me a little; a burst of hatred of the cowardly wretch who had
decoyed me, as I now suspected, to my death. Then this feeling passed and
was succeeded by chilly fear, and I sank down once more into a sitting
position with my mouth pressed to the lower opening.

The time ran on unreckoned by me. Gradually, by imperceptible degrees, my
mental state grew more and yet more sluggish. Anger and fear and
ever-dwindling hope flitted by turns across the slowly-fading field of my
consciousness. Intervals of quiet indifference--almost of placid
comfort--began to intervene, with increasing lassitude and a growing
desire for rest. To lie down; that was what I wanted. To lay my head upon
the stony floor and sink into sweet oblivion.

At last I must have actually dozed, though, fortunately, without removing
my mouth from the breathing-hole, for I had no sense of the passage of
time, when I was suddenly aroused by the loud and continuous jangling of
a bell.

I listened with a sort of dull eagerness and keeping awake with a
conscious effort.

The bell pealed wildly and without a pause for what seemed to me quite a
long time.

Then it ceased, and again my consciousness began to grow dim. After an
interval, I know not how long, there came to me dimly and only
half-perceived, the closing of a door, the patter of quick footsteps, and
then the voice of a man calling me by name.

I struggled to get on to my feet, but could not move. But I still held
the clasp-knife and was able to rap with it feebly on the door. Again I
heard the voice--it sounded nearer now, and yet infinitely far away--and
again I rapped on the door and shouted through the breathing-hole; a
thin, muffled cry, such as one utters in a troubled dream. And then the
drowsiness crept over me again and I heard no more.

The next thing of which I was conscious was a sounding thwack on the
cheek with something wet that felt like a dead fish. I opened my eyes and
looked vaguely into two faces that were close to mine and seemed to be
lighted by a lamp or candle. The faces were somehow familiar, but yet I
failed clearly to recognize them, and, after staring stupidly for a few
moments, I began to doze again. Then the dead fish returned to the
assault and I again opened my eyes. Another vigorous flop caused me to
open my mouth with an unparliamentary gasp. "Ah! That's better," said a
familiar and yet "unplaced" voice. "When a man is able to swear, he is
fairly on the road to recovery." Flop!

The renewed attentions of the dead fish (which turned out, later, to be
merely a wet towel) evoked further demonstrations on my part of
progressing recovery, accompanied by a nervous titter in a female voice.
Gradually the clouds rolled away, and to my returning consciousness, the
faces revealed themselves as those of Maggie, the housemaid, and Dr.
Thorndyke. Even to my muddled wits, the presence of the latter was
somewhat of a puzzle, and, in the intervals of anathematizing the
deceased fish--which I had not yet identified--I found myself hazily
speculating on the problem of how my revered teacher came to be in this
place, and what place this was. "Come, now, Jardine," said Dr. Thorndyke,
emptying a jug of water on my face, and receiving a volley of spluttered
expletives in exchange, "pull yourself together. How did you get in that
cellar?"

"Hang' 'f I know," said I, composing myself for another nap. But here the
wet towel came once more into requisition, and that with such vigour
that, in a fit of exasperation, I sat up and yawned. "I think you'd
better fetch a cab," said Thorndyke, as Maggie wrung out the towel
afresh; "but leave the gate open when you go out."

"Wasser cab for?" I asked sulkily. "Can't I walk?"

"If you can, it will be better," said Thorndyke. "Let us see if you are
able to stand." He hoisted me on to my feet and he and Maggie, taking
each an arm, walked me slowly up and down the cobbled yard, which I now
began to recognize as appertaining to the Mineral Water Works. At first I
staggered very drunkenly, but by degrees the drowsy feeling wore off and
I was able to walk with Thorndyke's assistance only. "I think we might
venture out now," said he, at length, piloting me towards the gate, and
when I had stumbled rather awkwardly through the wicket, we set forth
homeward.

On my arrival home, Thorndyke ordered a supply of strong coffee and a
light meal, after which--it being obvious that I was good for nothing in
a professional sense, he suggested that I should go to bed. "Don't worry
about the practice," said he. "I will send for my friend Jervis, and,
between us, we will see that everything is looked after. If Maggie will
give me a sheet of paper and an envelope I will write a note to him; and
then she can take a hansom to my chambers and give the note either to Dr.
Jervis or my man Polton. Meanwhile, I will stay here and see that you
don't go to sleep prematurely."

He wrote the note; and Maggie, having made such improvements in her
outward garb as befitted the status of a rider in hansoms, took charge of
it and departed with much satisfaction and dignity. Thorndyke made a few
enquiries of me as to the circumstances that had led to my incarceration
in the cellar, but finding that I knew no more than Maggie--whom he had
already questioned--he changed the subject; nor would he allow me again
to refer to it. "No, Jardine," he said. "Better think no more of it for
the present. Have a good night's rest and then, if you are all right in
the morning, we will go into the matter and see if we can put the puzzle
together."

CHAPTER VI

A COUNCIL OF WAR

I AWOKE somewhat late on the following morning; indeed, I was but half
awake when there came a somewhat masterful and peremptory tap at my
bedroom door, followed by the appearance in the room of a rather tall
gentleman of some thirty years of age. I should have diagnosed him
instantly as a doctor by his self-possessed, proprietary manner of
entering, but he left me no time for guessing as to his identity.
"Good-morning, Jardine," he said briskly, jingling the keys and small
change in his trousers' pockets, "my name is Jervis. Second violin in the
Thorndyke orchestra. I'm in charge here pro tem. How are you feeling?"

"Oh, I'm all right. I was just going to get up. You needn't trouble about
the practice. I'm quite fit."

"I'm glad to hear it," said Jervis, "but you'd better keep quiet all the
same. My orders are explicit, and I know my place too well to disobey.
Thorndyke's instructions were that you are not to make any visits or go
abroad until after the inquest."

"Inquest?" I exclaimed.

"Yes. He's coming here at four o'clock to hold an inquiry into the
circumstances that led to your being locked up in a cellar, and until
then I'm to look after the practice and keep an eye on you. What time do
you expect the offspring of the flittermouse?"

"Who?" I demanded.

"Batson. He's coming back to-day, isn't he?"

"Yes. About six o'clock to-night."

"Then you'll be able to clear out. So much the better. The neighbourhood
doesn't seem very wholesome for you."

"I suppose I can do the surgery work," said I.

"You'd better not. Better follow Thorndyke's instructions literally. But
you can tell me about the patients and help me to dispense. And that
reminds me that a person named Samway called just now, a rather
fine-looking woman--reminded me of a big, sleek tabby cat. She wouldn't
say what she wanted. Do you know anything about her?"

"I expect she came about her account. But she'll have to see Batson. I
told her so, only a night or two ago."

"Very well," said Jervis, "then I'll be off now, and you take things easy
and just think over what happened last night, so as to be ready for
Thorndyke."

With this he bustled away, leaving me to rise and breakfast at my
leisure.

His advice to me to think over the events of the previous night was
rather superfluous. The experience was not one that I was likely to
forget. To have escaped from death by the very slenderest chance was in
itself a matter to occupy one's thoughts pretty completely, apart from
the horrible circumstances, and then there was the mystery in which the
whole affair was enveloped, a mystery which utterly baffled any attempt
to penetrate it. Turn it over as I would--and it was hardly out of my
thoughts for a minute at a time all day--no glimmer of light could I
perceive, no faintest clue to any explanation of that hideous and
incomprehensible crime.

At four o'clock punctually to the minute, Dr. Thorndyke arrived, and,
having quickly looked me over to see that I was none the worse for my
adventure, proceeded to business. "Have you finished the visits, Jervis?"
he asked.

"Yes; and sent off all the medicine. There's nothing more to do until
six."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "we might have a cup of tea in the
consulting-room and talk this affair over. I am rather taking possession
of you, Jardine," he added, "but I think we ought to see where we are
quite clearly, even if we decide finally to hand the case over to the
police. Don't you agree with me?"

"Certainly," I agreed, highly flattered by the interest he was taking in
my affairs; "naturally, I should like to get to the bottom of the
mystery."

"So should I," said he, "and to that end, I propose that you give us a
completely circumstantial account of the whole affair. I have had a talk
with your very intelligent little maid, Maggie, and now I want to hear
what happened after she left you."

"I don't think I have much to tell that you don't know," said I;
"however, I will take up the story where Maggie left off," and I
proceeded to describe the events in detail, much as I have related them
to the reader.

Thorndyke listened to my story with profound attention, making an
occasional memorandum but not uttering a word until I had finished. Then,
after a rapid glance through his memoranda, he said: "You spoke of a note
that was handed in to you. Have you got that note?"

"I left it on the writing-table, and it is probably there still. Yes,
here it is." I brought it over to the little table on which our tea was
laid and handed it to him; and as he took it from me with the dainty
carefulness of a photographer handling a wet plate, I noted mentally that
the habit of delicate manipulation contracted in the laboratory makes
itself evident in the most trifling of everyday actions.

"I see," he remarked, turning the envelope over and scrutinizing it
minutely, "that this is addressed to 'Dr. H. Jardine.' It appears, then,
that he knows your Christian name. Can you account for that?"

"No, I can't. The only letter I have had here was addressed 'Dr.
Jardine', and I have signed no certificates or other documents."

He made a note of my answer, and, drawing the missive from its envelope,
read it through. "The handwriting," he remarked, "looks disguised rather
than illiterate, and the diction is inconsistent. The blatantly incorrect
adverb at the end does not agree with the rest of the phraseology and the
correct punctuation. As to the signature, we may neglect that, unless you
are acquainted with anyone in these parts of the name of Parker."

"I am not," said I.

"Very well. Then if you will allow me to keep this note, I will file it
for future reference. And now I will ask you a few questions about this
adventure of yours, which is really a most astonishing and mysterious
affair; even more mysterious, I may add, than it looks at the first
glance. But we shall come to that presently. At the moment we are
concerned with the crime itself--with a manifest attempt to murder you--and
the circumstances that led up to it; and there are certain obvious
questions that suggest themselves. The first is: Can you give any
explanation of this attempt on your life?"

"No, I can't," I replied. "It is a complete mystery to me. I can only
suppose that the fellow was a homicidal lunatic."

"A homicidal lunatic," said Thorndyke, "is the baffled investigator's
last resource. But we had better not begin supposing at this stage. Let
us keep strictly to facts. You do not know of anything that would explain
this attack on you?"

"No."

"Then the next question is: Had you any property of value on your
person?"

"No. Five pounds would cover the value of everything I had about me,
including the instruments."

"Then that seems to exclude robbery as a motive. The next question is:
Does any person stand to benefit considerably by your death? Have you any
considerable expectations in the way of bequests, reversions or
succession to landed property or titles?"

"No," I replied with a faint grin. "I shall come in for a thousand or two
when my uncle dies, but I believe the London Hospital is the alternative
legatee, and I suppose we would hardly suspect the hospital governors of
this little affair. Otherwise, the only person who would benefit by my
death would be the undertaker who got the contract to plant me."

Thorndyke nodded and made a note of my answer. "That," said he, "disposes
of the principal motives for premeditated murder. There remains the
question of personal enmity--not a common motive in this country. Have
you, as far as you know, an enemy or enemies who might conceivably try to
kill you?"

"As far as I know, I have not an enemy in the world, or anyone, even, who
would wish to do me a bad turn."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "that seems to dispose of all the ordinary
motives for murder; and I may say that I have only put these questions as
a matter of routine precaution--ex abundantia cautelae, as Jervis says,
when he is in a forensic mood--because certain other facts which I have
learned seem to exclude any of these motives except, perhaps, robbery
from the person."

"You haven't been long picking up those other facts," remarked Jervis.
"Why the affair only happened last night."

"I have only made a few simple enquiries," replied Thorndyke. "This
morning I called on Mr. Highfield, whose name, as solicitor and agent to
the landlords, I copied from the notice on the gate at the works last
night. He knows me slightly so I was able to get from him the information
that I wanted. It amounts to this.

"About four months ago, a Mr. Gill wrote to him and offered a lump sum
for the use of the mineral water works for six months. Highfield accepted
the offer and drew up an agreement, as desired, granting Gill immediate
possession of the premises and the small stock and plant, of which the
residue was to be taken back at a valuation by the landlords at the
expiration of the term.

"I noted Gill's address, as it appeared on the agreement, and sent my
man, Polton, to make enquiries.

"The address is that of a West Kensington lodging house at which Gill was
staying when he signed the agreement. He had been there only three weeks,
he left two days after the date of the agreement and the landlady does
not know where he went or anything about him."

"Sounds a bit fishy," Jervis remarked. "Did he tell Highfield what he
wanted the premises for?"

"I understood that something was said about some assay work in connection
with certain--or rather uncertain--mineral concessions. But of course
that was no affair of Highfield's. His business was to get the rent, and,
having got it, his interest in Mr. Gill lapsed. But you see the bearing
of these facts. Gill's connection with these works does, as Jervis says,
look a little queer, especially after what has happened. But, seeing that
he made his arrangements four months ago, at a time when Jardine had no
thought of coming into this neighbourhood, it is clear that those
arrangements could have no connection with this particular attempt. Gill
obviously did not take those works with the intention of murdering
Jardine. He took them for some other purpose; quite possibly the purpose
that he stated. And we must not assume that Gill was the perpetrator of
this outrage at all. Could you identify the man who let you in?"

"No," I replied. "Certainly not. I hardly saw him at all. The place was
pitch dark, and whenever he struck a match he was either behind me or in
front with his back to me. The only thing I could make out about him was
that he had some sort of coarse wash-leather gloves on."

"Ha!" exclaimed Thorndyke. "Then we were right, Jervis."

I looked in surprise from one to the other of my friends, and was on the
point of asking Thorndyke what he meant, when he continued. "That closes
another track. If you couldn't identify the man, a description of Gill,
if we could obtain it, would not help us. We must begin at some other
point."

"It seems to me," said Jervis, "that we haven't much to go upon at all."

"We haven't much," agreed Thorndyke, "but still we have something. We
find that the motive of this attempt was apparently not robbery, nor the
diversion of inheritable property, nor personal enmity. It must have been
premeditated, but yet it could not have been planned more than a week in
advance, for Jardine has only been in this neighbourhood for that time,
and his coming was unexpected. The appearances very strongly suggest that
the motive, whatever it was, has been generated recently and probably
locally. So we had better make a start from that assumption."

"Is it possible," Jervis suggested, "that this man Gill may be some sort
of anarchist crank? Or a sort of thug? It is actually conceivable that he
may have taken these premises for the express purpose of having a secure
place where he could perpetrate murders and conceal the bodies."

"It is quite conceivable," said Thorndyke, "and when we go and look over
the works--which I propose we do presently--we may as well bear the
possibility in mind. But it is merely a speculative suggestion. To return
to your affairs, Jardine, has your stay here been quite uneventful?"

"Perfectly," I replied.

"No unusual or obscure cases? No injuries?"

"No, nothing out of the common," I replied.

"No deaths?"

"One. But the man died before I took over."

"Nothing unusual about that? Everything quite regular?"

"Oh, perfectly," I answered; and then with a sudden qualm, as I recalled
Batson's uncertainty as to the actual cause of death, I added, "At least
I hope so."

"You hope so?" queried Thorndyke. "Yes. Because it's too late to go into
the question now. The man was cremated."

At this a singular silence fell. Both my friends seemed to stiffen in
their chairs, and both looked at me silently but very attentively. Then
Thorndyke asked, "Did you have anything to do with that case?"

"Yes," I replied. "I went with Batson to examine the body."

"And are you perfectly satisfied that everything was as it should be?"

I was on the point of saying "yes." And then suddenly there arose before
my eyes the vision of Mrs. Samway looking at me over Batson's shoulder
with that strange, inscrutable expression. And again, I recalled her
unexplained anger and then her sudden change of mood. It had impressed me
uncomfortably at the time, and it impressed me uncomfortably now. "I
don't know that I am, now that I come to think it over," I replied.

"Why not?" asked Thorndyke.

"Well," I said, a little hesitatingly, "to begin with, I don't think the
cause of death was quite clear, Batson couldn't find anything definite
when he attended the man, and I know that the patient's death came as
quite a surprise."

"But surely," exclaimed Thorndyke, "he took some measures to find out the
cause of death!"

"He didn't. He assumed that it was a case of fatty heart and certified it
as 'Morbus cordis'; and a man named O'Connor confirmed his certificate
after examining the body."

"After merely inspecting the exterior?"

"Yes."

My two friends looked at one another significantly, and Thorndyke
remarked, with a disapproving shake of the head: "And this is what all
the elaborate precautions amount to in practice. A case which might have
been one of the crudest and baldest poisoning gets passed with hardly a
pretence of scrutiny. And so it will always be. Routine precautions
against the unsuspected are no precautions at all. That is the danger of
cremation. It restores to the poisoner the security that he enjoyed in
the old days when there were no such sciences as toxicology and organic
chemistry, when it was impossible for him to be tripped up by an
exhumation and an analysis."

"You don't think it likely that this was a case of poisoning, do you?" I
asked.

"I know nothing about the case," he replied, "excepting that there was
gross neglect in issuing the certificates. What do you think about it
yourself? Looking back at the case, is there anything besides the
uncertainty that strikes you as unsatisfactory?"

I hesitated, and again the figure of Mrs. Samway rose before me with that
strange, baleful look in her eyes. Finally I described the incident to my
colleagues. "Mrs. Samway!" exclaimed Jervis. "Is that the handsome
Lucrezia Borgia lady with the mongoose eyes who called here this morning?
By Jove! Jardine, you are giving me the creeps."

"I understand," said Thorndyke, "that you were making as if to feel the
dead man's pulse?"

"Yes."

"There is no doubt, I suppose, that he really was dead?"

"None whatever. He was as cold as a fish, and, besides there was quite
distinct rigor mortis."

"That seems conclusive enough," said Thorndyke, but he continued to gaze
at his open note-book with a profoundly speculative and thoughtful
expression.

"It certainly looks," said Jervis, "as if Jardine had either seen
something or had been about to see something that he was not wanted to
see; and the question is what that something could have been."

"Yes," I agreed, gloomily; "that is what I have just been asking myself.
There might have been a wound or injury of some kind, or there might have
been the marks of a hypodermic needle on the wrist. I wish I knew what
she meant by looking at me in that way."

"Well," said Jervis, "we shall never know now. The grave gives up its
secrets now and again, but the crematorium furnace never. Whether he died
naturally or was murdered, Mr. Maddock is now a little heap of ashes with
no message for anyone this side of the Day of Judgment."

Thorndyke looked up. "That seems to be so," said he, "and really, we have
no substantial reasons for thinking that there was anything wrong. So we
come back to your own affairs, Jardine, and the question is, What would
you prefer to do?"

"In what respect?" I asked.

"In regard to this attempt on your life. You have told us that you have
not an enemy in the world. But it appears as if you had; and a very
dangerous one, too. Now would you like to put the case into the hands of
the police, or would you rather that we kept our own counsel and looked
into it ourselves?"

"I should like you to decide that," said I.

"The reason that I ask," said Thorndyke, "is this: the machinery of the
police is adjusted to professional crime--burglary, coining, forgery, and
so forth--and their methods are mostly based on 'information received.'
The professional 'crook' is generally well known to the police, and, when
wanted for any particular 'job,' can be found without much difficulty and
the information necessary for his conviction obtained from the usual
sources. But in cases of obscure, non-professional crime the police are
at a disadvantage. The criminal is unknown to them; there are no
confederates from whom to get information; consequently they have no
starting-point for their enquiries. They can't create clues; and they,
very naturally, will not devote time, labour and money to cases in which
they have nothing to go on.

"Now this affair of yours does not look like a professional crime. No
motive is evident and you can give no information that would help the
police. I doubt if they would do much more than give you some rather
disagreeable publicity, and they might even suspect you of some kind of
imposture."

"Gad!" I exclaimed. "That's just what they would do. It's what they did
last time, and this affair would write me down in their eyes a confirmed
mystery-monger."

"Last time?" queried Thorndyke. "What last time is that? Have there been
any other attempts?"

"Not on me," I replied. "But I had an adventure one night about six or
seven weeks ago that has made the Hampstead police look on me, I think,
with some suspicion"--and here I gave my two friends a description of my
encounter with the dead (or insensible) cleric in Millfield Lane, and my
discoveries on the following morning.

"But my dear Jardine!" Thorndyke exclaimed when I had finished, "what an
extraordinary man you are! It seems as if you could hardly show your nose
out of doors without becoming involved in some dark and dreadful
mystery."

"Well," said I, "I hope I have now exhausted my gifts in that respect. I
am not thirsting for more experiences. But what do you think about that
Hampstead affair? Do you think I could possibly have been mistaken? Could
the man have been merely insensible, after all, as the police suggested?"

Thorndyke shook his head. "I don't think," he replied, "that it is
possible to take that view. You see the man had disappeared. Now he could
not have got away unassisted, in fact he could not have walked at all.
One would have to assume that some persons appeared directly after you
left and carried him away; and that they appeared and retired so quickly
as not to be overtaken by you on your return a few minutes later with the
police. That is assuming too much. And then there are the traces which
you discovered on the following day, which seem to suggest strongly that
a body had been carried away to Ken Wood. It is a thousand pities that
you encountered that keeper, if you could have followed the tracks while
they were fresh you might have been able to ascertain whither it had been
carried. But now, to return to your latest experience, what shall we do?
Shall we communicate with the police, or shall we make a few
investigations on our own account?"

"As far as I am concerned," I replied eagerly, "a private investigation
would be greatly preferable. But wouldn't it take up rather a lot of your
time?"

"Now, Jardine, you needn't apologize," said Jervis. "Unless I am much
mistaken, my respected senior has 'struck soundings,' as the nautical
phrase has it. He has a theory of your case, and he would like to see it
through. Isn't that so, Thorndyke?"

"Well," Thorndyke admitted, "I will confess that the case piques my
curiosity somewhat. It is an unusual affair and suggests some curious
hypotheses which might be worth testing. So, if you agree, Jardine, that
we make at least a few preliminary investigations, I suggest that, as
soon as Batson returns, we three go over to the what the newspapers would
call 'the scene of the tragedy' and reconstitute the affair on the spot."

"And what about Batson?" I asked. "Shall we tell him anything?"

"I think we must," said Thorndyke, "if only to put him on his guard; for
your unknown enemy may be his enemy, too."

At this moment the street door banged loudly, a quick step danced along
the hall, and Batson himself burst into the room. "Good Lord!" he
exclaimed, halting abruptly at the door and gazing in dismay at our
little council. "What's the matter? Anything happened?"

Thorndyke laughed as he shook the hand of his quondam pupil.

"Come, come, Batson," said he, "don't make me out such a bird of
ill-omen."

"I was afraid something awkward might have occurred, police job or
inquest or something of that sort."

"You weren't so very far wrong," said Thorndyke. "When you are at liberty
I'll tell you about it."

"I'm at liberty now," said Batson, dropping into a chair and glaring at
Thorndyke through his spectacles. "No scandal, I hope."

Thorndyke reassured him on this point and gave him a brief account of my
adventure and our proposed visit to the works; to which he listened with
occasional ejaculations of astonishment and relief. "By Gum!" he
exclaimed, "what a mercy you got there in time. If you hadn't there'd
have been an inquest and a devil of a fuss. I should never have heard the
last of it. Ruined the practice and worried me into a lunatic asylum. Oh,
and about those works. I wouldn't go there if I were you."

"Why not?" Thorndyke asked.

"Well, you may have to answer some awkward questions, and we don't want
this affair to get about, you know. No use raising a dust. Rumpus of any
kind plays the deuce with a medical practice."

Thorndyke smiled at my principal's frank egoism. "Jervis and I went over
last night," said he, "and had a hasty look round and we found the place
quite deserted. Probably it is so still."

"Then you won't be able to get in. How jer get in last night?"

"I happened to have a piece of stiff wire in my pocket," Thorndyke
replied impassively.

"Ha!" said Batson. "Wire, eh? Picklock in fact. I wouldn't, if I were
you. Devil of a bobbery if anyone sees you. Hallo! There goes the bell.
Patient. Let him wait. 'Tisn't six yet, is it?"

"Two minutes past," replied Thorndyke, rising and looking at his watch.
"Perhaps we had better be starting as it's now dark, and the business at
the works, if there is any, is probably over for the day."

"Hang the works!" exclaimed Batson. "I wouldn't go nosing about there.
What's the good? Jardine's alright and the chappie isn't likely to be on
view. You'll only raise a stink for nothing and bring in a crowd of
beastly reporters humming about the place. There's that damn bell again.
Well, if you won't stay, perhaps you'll look me up some other time.
Always d'lighted to see you. Jervis too. You're not going, Jardine. I've
got to settle up with you and hear your report."

"I'll look in later," said I; "when you've finished the evening's work."

"Right you are," said Batson, opening the door and adroitly edging us
out. "Sorry you can't stay. Good-night! Good-night!"

He shepherded us persuasively and compellingly down the hall, with a
skill born of long practice with garrulous patients, and, having
exchanged us on the doorstep for a stout woman with two children,
returned into the house with his prey and was lost to sight.

CHAPTER VII

AN UNSEEN ENEMY

FROM my late principal's house we walked away quickly down the lamplit
street, all, I think, dimly amused at the circumstances of our departure.
"Is Batson always like that?" Thorndyke asked.

"Always," I replied. "Hurry and bustle are his normal states."

"Dear, dear," commented Thorndyke, "what a terrible amount of time he
must waste. Of course, one can understand now how that cremation muddle
came about. Your incurable hustler is always thinking of the things he
has got to do next instead of the thing that he is doing at the moment.
By the way, Jardine, I am taking it for granted that you would like to
inspect these premises. It is not essential. Jervis and I had a
preliminary look round last night, and I daresay we picked up most of the
facts that are likely to be of importance if we should be going farther
into the matter."

"I think it would be as well for me to take a look at the place and show
you exactly where and how the affair happened."

"I think so too," said Thorndyke. "It was all pretty evident, but you
might be able to show us something that we had overlooked. Here we are. I
wonder if Mr. Gill is on the premises--supposing him still to frequent
them."

He looked up and down the street, and, taking a key from his pocket,
inserted it into the lock. "Why, how on earth did you get the key?" I
asked.

Thorndyke looked at me slyly. "We keep a tame mechanic," said he, as he
turned the key and opened the wicket.

"Yes, but how did he get the pattern of the lock?" I asked.

Thorndyke laughed softly. "It is only a simple trade lock. The fact is,
Jardine, that in our branch of practice we have occasionally to take some
rather irregular proceedings. For instance, I usually carry a small set
of picklocks--fortunately for you. That is how I got in last night. Then
I never go abroad without a little box of moulding wax; a most invaluable
material, Jardine, for collecting certain kinds of evidence. Well, with a
slip of wood and a bit of wax I was able to furnish my man with the
necessary data for filing up a blank key. One doesn't want to be seen
using a picklock. Now, can you show us the way?"

He flashed a pocket electric lamp on the ground, and we advanced over the
rough cobbles until we reached a door at the side. "This is where I went
in," said I. "It opens into a sort of corridor, and at the end is a door
opening on some steps that lead down to the passage below."

Thorndyke tried the handle of the door and pushed, but it was evidently
locked or bolted. "I left this door unlocked last night," said he; "so it
is clear that someone has been here since. I hardly expected that. I
thought our friend would have cleared off for good. But it is possible
that Gill had nothing to do with the attempt. The premises may have been
used by someone who happened to know that they were unoccupied. It would
have been quite easy for such a person to gain admittance; as you see."

While speaking, he had produced from his pocket a little bunch of
skeleton keys, with one of which he now quietly unlocked the door. "These
builders' locks," said he, "are merely symbolic of security. You are not
expected to unfasten them without authority, but you can if you like and
happen to have a bit of stiff wire."

We entered the corridor, and, as we proceeded, looked into the rooms that
opened out of it. One of them was meagrely furnished as an office, but
the thick layer of dust on the desk and stools showed clearly that it had
been long disused; the other rooms were empty and desolate, and showed no
trace of use or occupation. "The worthy Gill," said Jervis, "seems to
have been able, like Diogenes, to get on with a very modest outfit."

"Yes," agreed Thorndyke, "it is a little difficult to guess what his
occupation is. The place looks as if it had never been used at all. Shall
I go first?"

He halted for a moment, passing the light of his lamp over the massive
door at the head of the steps, and then began to descend. It was
certainly a horrible and repulsive place, especially to my eyes, with the
recollection of my late experience fresh in my mind. The rough brick
walls, covered with the crumbling remains of old white-wash, the black
masses of cobwebs that drooped like funereal stalactites from the
ceiling, the fungi that sprouted in corners, and the snail-tracks that
glistened in the lamplight on the stone floor, all contributed to a
vault-like sepulchral effect that was most unpleasantly suggestive of
what might have been and very nearly had been.

My late prison was easily distinguished by the two holes in the door. We
looked in; but that cellar was completely empty save for a few chips of
wood and a pinch or two of sawdust; memorials of my sojourn in the lethal
chamber at which I could hardly look without a shudder. Then we passed on
to the next cellar-the one adjoining my prison-and this was an object of
no little curiosity to me. Here, while I was securely bolted into my
cell, that unknown villain had, deliberately and in cold blood, made all
the arrangements for my murder; arrangements which he little suspected
that I should survive to look upon.

Thorndyke, too, was interested. He stood at the open door, looking in as
if considering the positions of various objects. As in fact he was.
"Someone has been here since last night, Jervis," said he.

"Yes," agreed Jervis.

"That gas bottle has been taken down from the opening. You see, Jardine,"
he continued, "he had stood that big packing-case up on end and laid the
gas bottle along the top, with its nozzle just opposite the hole. Two
other bottles were standing upright with their nozzles upwards."

"I understand," said Thorndyke, "that you heard three bottles only turned
on?"

"Yes," I answered; "there was the one opposite the hole and two others."

"I ask," Thorndyke said, "because there are, as you see, seven other
bottles, lying by the wall. Those are all empty. We tried them when we
came here last night."

"I know nothing about those others," said I. "The three bottles that I
have mentioned I heard distinctly, and after he had turned on the third,
the man went out of the cellar and closed up the door."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "the other seven were presumably used for some
other--and let us hope, more legitimate--purpose. I wonder why our friend
has been at the trouble of moving the cylinders."

"Perhaps," suggested Jervis, "he thought that the arrangement might be a
little too illuminating for the police, if they should happen to pay a
visit to the place. He may not be aware that the apparatus had already
been inspected in situ by us. Or, again, the cylinders may have been
moved by someone else. We are assuming that he is a lawful occupant of
the premises; but he may be a mere secret intruder like ourselves, who
has discovered that the place is more or less unoccupied and has made use
of the premises and plant for his own benevolent purposes."

"Yes," agreed Thorndyke, "that is perfectly true. But we can put the
matter to the test, at least negatively. If the cylinders have been moved
by an innocent stranger they will bear the prints of hands."

"But why shouldn't the man himself leave the prints of his hands on the
cylinders?" I asked.

"Because, my dear Jardine, he is too knowing a bird. Jervis and I went
carefully over the cylinders last night in the hope of getting a few
finger-prints to submit to Scotland Yard; but not a vestige could we
find. Our friend had seen to that. We assumed that he had operated in
gloves and your description of him confirmed our assumption. Which, in
its way, is an interesting fact, for a man who is knowing enough to take
these precautions has probably had some previous experience of crime, or,
at least, has some acquaintance with the ways of criminals. The
suggestion, in fact, is that, although this is not an ordinary
professional crime, the perpetrator may be a professional criminal. And
the further suggestion is, of course, that of very deliberate
premeditation."

While he had been speaking he had produced from his pocket a small,
flattened bottle fitted with a metal cap and filled with a yellowish
powder. Removing the cap and uncovering a perforated inner cap, like that
of an iodoform dredger, he proceeded to shake a cloud of the light powder
over the three upper cylinders, jarring them with his foot to make the
powder spread. Then he blew sharply on them, one after the other, when
the powder disappeared from their surfaces, leaving visible one or two
shapeless whitened smears but never a trace of a finger-print or even the
shape of a hand.

Thorndyke rose and slipped the bottle back in his pocket. "Apparently,"
said he, "the cylinders were moved by our unknown friend, with the same
careful precautions as on the first occasion. A wary gentleman, this,
Jervis. He'll give us a run for our money, at any rate."

"Yes," agreed Jervis; "he doesn't mean to give himself away. He preserves
his incognito most punctiliously. I'll say that for him."

"And meanwhile," said Thorndyke, "we had better proceed with our measures
for drawing him out of this modest retirement. I want you, Jardine, to
look round this cellar and tell us if any of the things that you see in
it reminds you of anything that has happened to you, or suggests any
thought or reflection."

I looked round, I am afraid rather vacantly. A more unsuggestive
collection of objects I have never looked upon. "There are the gas
cylinders," I said, feebly; "but I have told you about them. I don't see
anything else excepting a few oddments of rubbish."

"Then take a good look at the rubbish," said he. "Remember that it may be
necessary at some future time for you to recall exactly what this cellar
was like, and what it contained. You may even have to make a sworn
statement. So cast your eye round and tell us what you see."

I did so, wondering inwardly what the deuce I was expected to see and
what might be the importance of my seeing it. "I see," said I, "a
mouldy-looking cellar about fifteen feet by twelve, with very bad brick
walls, a plaster ceiling in an advanced stage of decay, and a concrete
floor. In the left hand wall is a hole about six inches square opening
into the adjoining cellar. The contents are ten gas cylinders, all
apparently empty, a key or spanner which seems to have been used to turn
the cocks, a large packing-case, which, to judge by its shape, seems to
have contained gas cylinders--"

"The word 'large,'" interrupted Thorndyke, "is not a particularly exact
one."

"Well, then, a packing-case about seven feet long by two and a half feet
wide and deep."

"That's better," said Thorndyke. "Always give your dimensions in
quantitative terms if possible. Go on."

"There are a couple of waterproof sheets," said I. "I don't see quite
what they can have been used for."

"Never mind their use," said Thorndyke. "Note the fact that they are
here."

"I have," said I; "and that seems to complete the list with the exception
of the straw in which I suppose the gas cylinders were packed. There is a
large quantity of that, but not more than would seem necessary for the
purpose. And that seems to complete the inventory, and, I may say, that
none of these things conveys any suggestion whatever to my mind."

"Probably not," said Thorndyke, "and it is quite possible that none of
these things has any particular significance at all. But as they are the
only facts offered us, we must make the best of them. There is one other
cellar that we have not yet looked into, I think."

We came out, and, walking along the passage, came to another door which
stood slightly ajar. Thorndyke opened it, and, throwing in the light of
his lamp, revealed a considerable stack of long iron gas bottles, and one
or two packing-cases similar to the one I had already seen. "I presume,"
said he, "that these are full cylinders; the store from which our friend
got his supply, but we may as well make sure."

He ran back into the adjoining cellar, and returned with the spanner,
with which he proceeded to turn the cock of one of the topmost cylinders;
upon which a loud hiss and a thin, snowy cloud showed that his surmise
was correct.

He had just closed the cock and stepped out into the passage to take back
the spanner, when I saw him stop suddenly as if listening. And then he
sniffed once or twice. "What is it?" asked Jervis; but Thorndyke, without
replying, ran quickly along the passage and up the steps, and I heard him
trying the door at the top.

"Bring up one of the empty cylinders," he said quietly. "They have bolted
us in and apparently set fire to the place."

We did not require much urging to act quickly. Picking up one of the
long, ponderous iron cylinders, we ran with it along the passage towards
the light of Thorndyke's lamp. As we ascended the steps I became plainly
aware of the smell of burning wood and of a crackling sound, faintly
audible through the massive door. "There is only one bolt," said
Thorndyke; "I noticed it as we came in. I will throw my light on the part
of the door where it is fixed, and you two must batter on that spot with
the cylinder."

The door was, as I have said, a massive one, but it would have been a
massive door indeed that could have withstood the blows of that ponderous
iron cylinder, wielded by two strong men whose lives depended on their
efforts. At the very first crash of the battering-ram, a tiny chink
opened and at each thundering blow, the building shook. Furiously we
pounded at the thick, plank-built door, and slowly the chink widened as
the screws of the bolt tore out of the woodwork. And as the chink opened,
a thin reek of pungent smoke filtered in, and the cold light of
Thorndyke's lantern became contrasted with a red glare from without. And
then suddenly, the door, under the heavy battering, burst from its
fastenings and swung open. A blinding, choking cloud of smoke and sparks
rolled in upon us, through which we could see in the corridor outside a
pile of straw and crates and broken packing-cases, blazing and cracking
furiously. It looked as if we were cut off beyond all hope.

Jervis and I had dropped the now useless cylinder and were gazing in
horror at the blazing mass that filled the corridor and cut off our only
means of escape, when we were recalled by the voice of Thorndyke,
speaking in his usual quiet and precise manner. "We must get the full
cylinders up as quickly as possible," said he; and, running down the
steps he made straight for the end cellar, whither we followed him.
Picking up one of the cylinders, we carried it quickly to the top of the
steps. "Lay it down," said Thorndyke, "and fetch another."

Jervis and I ran back to the cellar, and taking up another cylinder,
brought it along the passage. As we were ascending the steps, there
suddenly arose a loud, penetrating hiss, and as we reached the top, we
saw Thorndyke disengaging the spanner from the cock of the cylinder out
of which a jet of liquid was issuing, mingled with a dense, snowy cloud.

An instantaneous glance, as we laid down the fresh cylinder, reassured me
very considerably. The icy, volatile liquid and the falling cloud of
intensely cold carbonic acid snow had produced an immediate effect; as
was evident in a blackened, smouldering patch in the midst of the blazing
mass. With reviving hope I followed Jervis once more down the steps and
along the passage to the end cellar, from which we brought forth a third
cylinder.

By this time the passage was so filled with smoke that it was difficult
either to see or to breathe, and the bright light that had at first
poured in through the open doorway had already pulled down so far that
Thorndyke's figure, framed in the opening, loomed dim and shadowy amidst
the smoke and against the dusky red background. We found him, when we
reached the top of the steps, holding the great gas bottle and directing
the stream of snow and liquid on to those parts of the wood and straw
from which flames still issued. "It will be all right," he said in his
calm, unemotional way; "the fire had not really got an effective start.
The straw made a great show, but that is nearly all burnt now, and all
this carbonic acid gas will soon smother the burning wood. But we must be
careful that it doesn't smother us too. The steps will be the safest
place for the present."

He opened the cock of the new cylinder and, having placed it so that it
played on the most refractory part of the burning mass, backed to the
steps where Jervis and I stood looking through the doorway. The fire was,
as he had said, rapidly dying down. The volumes of gas produced by the
evaporation of the liquid and the melting snow, cut off the supply of air
so that, in place of the flames that had, at first, looked so alarming,
only a dense reek of smoke arose. "Now," said Thorndyke, after we had
waited on the steps a couple of minutes more, "I think we might make a
sortie and put an end to it. If we can get the smouldering stuff off that
wooden floor down on to the stone, the danger will be over."

He led the way cautiously into the corridor, and, once more bringing his
electric lamp into requisition, began to kick the smouldering cases and
crates and the blackened masses of straw down the steps on to the stone
floor of the passage, whither we followed them and scattered them with
our feet until they were completely safe from any chance of re-ignition.
"There," said Jervis, giving a final kick at a small heap of smoking
straw, "I should think that ought to do. There's no fear of that stuff
lighting up again. And, if I may venture to make the remark, the sooner
we are off these premises the happier I shall be. Our friend's methods of
entertaining his visitors are a trifle too strenuous for my taste. He
might try dynamite next."

"Yes," I agreed; "or he might take pot shots at us with a revolver from
some dark corner."

"It is much more likely," said Thorndyke, "that he has cleared off in
anticipation of the alarm of fire. Still, it is undeniable that we shall
be safer outside. Shall I go first and show you a light?"

He piloted us along the corridor and up the cobbled yard, putting away
his lamp as he unlocked the wicket. There was no sign of anyone about the
premises nor, when we had passed out of the gate, was there anyone in
sight in the street. I looked about, expecting to see some sign of the
fire; but there was no smoke visible, and only a slight smell of burning
wood. The smoke must have drifted out at the back. "Well," Thorndyke
remarked, "it has been quite an exciting little episode. And a highly
satisfactory finish, as things turned out; though it might easily have
been very much the reverse. But for the fortunate chance of those
gas-bottles being available, I don't think we should be alive at this
moment."

"No," agreed Jervis. "We should be in much the same condition by this
time as Batson's late patient, Mr. Maddock, or at least, well on our way
to that disembodied state. However, all's well that ends well. Are you
coming our way, Jardine?"

"I will walk a little way with you," said I. "Then I must go back to
Batson to settle up and fetch my traps."

I walked with them to Oxford Street and we discussed our late adventure
as we went. "It was a pretty strong hint to clear out, wasn't it?" Jervis
remarked.

"Yes," replied Thorndyke; "it didn't leave us much option. But the affair
can't be left at this. I shall have a watch set on those premises, and I
shall make some more particular enquiries about Mr. Gill. By the way,
Jardine, I haven't your address. I'd better have it in case I want to
communicate with you; and you'd better have my card in case anything
turns up which you think I ought to know."

We accordingly exchanged cards, and, as we had now reached the corner of
Oxford Street, I wished my friends adieu and thoughtfully retraced my
steps to Jacob Street.

CHAPTER VIII

IT'S AN ILL WIND--

LONDON is a wonderful place. From the urban greyness of Jacob Street to
the borders of Hampstead Heath was, even in those days of the slow horse
tram, but a matter of minutes--a good many minutes, perhaps, but still,
considerably under an hour. Yet, in that brief and leisurely journey, one
exchanged the grim sordidness of a most unlovely street for the solitude
and sweet rusticity of open and charming country.

A day or two after my second adventure in the mineral water works, I was
leaning on the parapet of the viaduct--the handsome, red brick viaduct
with which some builder, unknown to me, had spanned the pond beyond the
Upper Heath, apparently with purely decorative motive, and in a spirit of
sheer philanthropy. For no road seemed to lead anywhere in particular
over it, and there was no reason why any wayfarer should wish to cross
the pond rather than walk round it; indeed, in those days it was covered
by a turfy expanse seldom trodden by any feet but those of the sheep that
grazed in the meadows bordering the pond. I leaned on the parapet,
smoking my pipe with deep contentment, and looking down into the placid
water. Flags and rushes grew at its borders, water-lilies spread their
flat leaves on its surface, and a small party of urchins angled from the
margin, with the keen joy of the juvenile sportsman who suspects that his
proceedings are unlawful.

I had lounged on the parapet for several minutes, when I became aware of
a man, approaching along the indistinct track that crossed the viaduct,
and, as he drew near, I recognized him as the keeper whom I had met in
Ken Wood on the morning after my discovery of the body in Millfield Lane.
I would have let him pass with a smile of recognition, but he had no
intention of passing. Touching his hat politely, he halted, and, having
wished me good-morning, remarked: "You didn't tell me, sir, what it was
you were looking for that morning when I met you in the wood."

"No," I replied, "but apparently, someone else has."

"Well, sir, you see," he said, "the sergeant came up the next day with a
plain-clothes man to have a look round, and, as the sergeant is an old
acquaintance of mine, he gave me the tip as to what they were after. I am
sorry, sir, you didn't tell me what you were looking for."

"Why?" I asked.

"Well," he replied, "we might have found something if we had looked while
the tracks were fresh. Unfortunately there was a gale in the night that
fetched down a lot of leaves, and blew up those that had already fallen,
so that any foot-marks would have got hidden before the sergeant came."

"What did the police officers seem to think about it?" I asked.

"Why, to speak the truth," the keeper replied, "they seemed to think it
was all bogey."

"Do you mean to say," I asked, "that they thought I had invented the
whole story?"

"Oh, no, sir," he replied, "not that. They believed you had seen a man
lying in the lane, but they didn't believe that he was a dead man and
they thought your imagination had misled you about the tracks."

"Then, I suppose they didn't find anything?" said I.

"No, they didn't, and I haven't been able to find anything myself, though
I've had a good look round."

And then, after a brief pause: "I wonder," he said, "if you would care to
come up to the Wood and have a look at the place yourself."

I considered for a moment. I had nothing to do for I was taking a day
off, and the man's proposal sounded rather attractive. Finally, I
accepted his offer, and we turned back together towards the Wood.

Hampstead--the Hampstead of those days--was singularly rustic and remote.
But, within the wood, it was incredible that the town of London actually
lay within the sound of a church bell or the flight of a bullet. Along
the shady paths, carpeted with moss and silvery lichen, overshadowed by
the boughs of noble beeches; or in leafy hollows, with the humus of
centuries under our feet, and the whispering silence of the woodland all
around, we might have been treading the glades of some primeval forest.
Nor was the effect of this strange remoteness less, when presently,
emerging from the thicker portion of the wood, we came upon a moss-grown,
half-ruinous boat-house on the sedgy margin of a lake, in which was drawn
up a rustic-looking, and evidently, little-used punt.

"It's wonderful quiet about here, sir," the keeper remarked, as a
water-hen stole out from behind a clump of high rushes and scrambled over
the leaves of the water-lilies.

"And presumably," I remarked, "it's quieter still at night."

"You're right, sir," the keeper replied. "If that man had got as far as
this, he'd have had mighty little trouble in putting the body where no
one was ever likely to look for it."

"I suppose," said I, "that you had a good look at the edges of the lake?"

"Yes," he answered. "I went right round it, and so did the police, for
that matter, and we had a good look at the punt, too. But, all the same,
it wouldn't surprise me if, one fine day, that body came floating up
among the lilies; always supposing, that is," he added, "that there
really was a body."

"How far is it," I asked, "from the lake to the place where you met me
that morning?"

"It's only a matter of two or three minutes," he answered, "we may as
well walk that way and you can see for yourself." Accordingly, we set
forth together, and, coming presently upon one of the moss-grown paths,
followed it past a large summerhouse until we came in sight of the beech
beyond which I had encountered him while I was searching for the tracks.
As we went, he plied me with questions as to what I had seen on the night
in the lane, and I made no scruple of telling him all that I had told the
police, seeing that they, on their side, had made no secret of the
matter.

Of course, it was idle, after this long period--for it was now more than
seven weeks since I had seen the body--to attempt anything in the nature
of a search. It certainly did look as if the man who had stolen into that
wood that night had been bound for the solitary lake. The punt, I had
noticed, was only secured with a rope, so that the murderer--for such I
assumed he must have been--could easily have carried his dreadful burden
out into the middle, and there sunk it with weights, and so hidden it for
ever. It was a quick, simple and easy method of hiding the traces of his
crime, and, if the police had not thought it worth while to search the
water with drags, there was no reason why the buried secret should not
remain buried for all time.

After we had walked for some time about the pleasant, shady wood, less
shady now that the yellowing leaves were beginning to fall with the
passing of autumn, the keeper conducted me to the exit by which I had
left on the previous occasion.

As I was passing out of the wicket, my eye fell once more on the cottage
which I had then noticed, and, recalling the remark that my fair
acquaintance had let fall concerning the artist to whom the derelict
knife was supposed to belong, I said: "You mentioned, I think, that that
house was let to an artist."

"It was," he replied; "but it's empty now, the artist has gone away."

"It must be a pleasant little house to live in," I said, "at any rate, in
summer."

"Yes," he replied, "a country house within an hour's walk of the Bank of
England. Would you like to have a look at it, sir? I've got the keys."

Now I certainly had no intention of offering myself as a tenant, but,
yet, to an idle man, there is a certain attractiveness in an empty house
of an eligible kind, a certain interest in roaming through the rooms and
letting one's fancy furnish them with one's own household goods. I
accepted the man's invitation, and, opening the wide gate that admitted
to the garden from a byroad, we walked up to the door of the house. "It's
quite a nice little place," the keeper remarked. "There isn't much
garden, you see, but then, you've got the Heath all around; and there's a
small stable and coachhouse if you should be wanting to go into town."

"Did the last tenant keep any kind of carriage?" I asked.

"I don't think so," said the keeper, "but I fancy he used to hire a
little cart sometimes when he had things to bring in from town; but I
don't know very much about him or his habits."

We walked through the empty rooms together, looking out of the windows
and commenting on the pleasant prospects that all of them commanded, and
talking about the man who had last lived in the house. "He was a queer
sort of fellow," said the keeper. "He and his wife seem to have lived
here all alone without any servant, and they seem often to have left the
house to itself for a day or two at a time; but he could paint. I have
stopped and had a look when he has been at work, and it was wonderful to
see how he knocked off those pictures. He didn't seem to use brushes, but
he had a lot of knives, like little trowels, and he used to shovel the
paint on with them, and he always wore gloves when he was painting;
didn't like to get the paint on his hands, I suppose."

"It sounds as if it would be very awkward," I said.

"Just what I should have thought," the keeper agreed. "But he didn't seem
to find it so. This seems to be the place that he worked in."

Apparently the keeper was right. The room, which we had now entered, was
evidently the late studio, and did not appear to have been cleaned up
since the tenant left. The floor was littered with scraps of paper on
which a palette-knife had been cleaned, with empty paint-tubes and one or
two broken and worn-out brushes, and, in a packing-case, which seemed to
have served as a receptacle for rubbish, were one or two canvases that
had been torn from their stretchers and thrown away. I picked them out
and glanced at them with some interest, remembering what my fair friend
had said. For the most part, they were mere experiments or failures,
deliberately defaced with strokes or daubs of paint, but one of them was
a quite spirited and attractive sketch, rough and unfinished, but
skilfully executed and undefaced. I stretched out the crumpled canvas and
looked at it with considerable interest, for it represented Millfield
Lane, and showed the large elms and the posts and the high fence under
which I had sheltered in the rain. In fact, it appeared to have been
taken from the exact spot on which the body had been lying, and from
which I had made my own drawing; not that there was anything in the
latter coincidence, for it was the only sketchable spot in the lane.
"It's really quite a nice sketch," I said; "it seems a pity to leave it
here among the rubbish."

"It does, sir," the keeper agreed. "If you like it, you had better roll
it up and put it in your pocket. You won't be robbing anyone."

As it seemed that I was but rescuing it from a rubbish-heap, I ventured
to follow the keeper's advice, and, rolling the canvas up, carefully
stowed it in my pocket. And shortly after as I had now seen all that
there was to see, which was mighty little, we left the house, and, at the
gate, the keeper took leave of me with a touch of his hat.

I made my way slowly back towards my lodgings by way of the Spaniard's
Road and Hampstead Lane, turning over in my mind as I went, the
speculation suggested by my visit to the wood. Of the existence of the
lake I had not been previously aware. Now that I had seen it, I felt very
little doubt that it was known to the mysterious murderer--for such I
felt convinced he was--who must have been lurking in the lane that night
when I was sheltering under the lee of the fence. The route that he had
then taken appeared to be the direct route to the lake. That he was
carrying the body, I had no doubt whatever; and, seeing that he had
carried it so far, it appeared probable that he had some definite
hiding-place in view. And what hiding-place could be so suitable as this
remote piece of still water? No digging, no troublesome and dangerous
preparation would be necessary. There was the punt in readiness to bear
him to the deep water in the middle; a silent, easily-handled conveyance.
A few stones, or some heavy object from the boat-house, would be all that
was needful; and in a moment he would be rid for ever of the dreadful
witness of his crime.

Thus reflecting--not without dissatisfaction at the passive part that I
had played in this sinister affair--I passed through the turnstile, or
"kissing-gate," at the entrance to Millfield Lane. Almost certainly, the
murderer or the victim or both, had passed through that very gate on the
night of the tragedy. The thought came to me with added solemnity with
the recollection of the silent wood and the dark, still water fresh in my
mind, and caused me unconsciously to tread more softly and walk more
sedately than usual.

The lane was little frequented at any time and now, at mid-day, was
almost as deserted as at midnight. Very remote it seemed, too, and very
quiet, with a silence that recalled the hush of the wood. And yet the
silence was not quite unbroken. From somewhere ahead, from one of the
many windings of the tortuous lane, came the sound of hurried footsteps.
I stopped to listen. There were two persons, one treading lightly, the
other more heavily, apparently a man and a woman. And both were
running--running fast.

There was nothing remarkable in this, perhaps; but yet the sound smote on
my ear with a certain note of alarm that made me quicken my pace and
listen yet more intently. And suddenly there came another sound; a
muffled, whimpering cry like that of a frightened woman. Instantly I gave
an answering shout and sprang forward at a swift run.

I had turned one of the numerous corners and was racing down a straight
stretch of the lane when a woman darted round the corner ahead, and ran
towards me, holding out her hands. I recognised her at a glance, though
now she was dishevelled, pale, wild-eyed, breathless and nearly frantic
with terror, and rage against her assailant spurred me on to greater
speed. But when I would have passed her to give chase to the wretch, she
clutched my arm frantically with both hands and detained me. "Let me go
and catch the scoundrel!" I exclaimed; but she only clung the tighter.

"No," she panted, "don't leave me! I am terrified! Don't go away!"

I ground my teeth. Even as we stood, I could hear the ruffian's footsteps
receding as rapidly as they had advanced. In a few moments he would be
beyond pursuit. "Do let me go and stop that villain!" I implored. "You're
quite safe now, and you can follow me and keep me in sight."

But she shook her head passionately, and, still clutching my sleeve with
one hand, pressed the other to her heart. "No, no, no!" she gasped, with
a catch in her voice that was almost a sob, "I can't be alone! I am
frightened. Oh! Please don't go away from me!"

What could I do? The poor girl was evidently beside herself with terror,
and exhausted by her frantic flight. It would have been cruel to leave
her in that state. But all the same, it was infuriating. I had no idea
what the man had done to terrify her in this way. But that was of no
consequence. The natural impulse of a healthy young man when he learns
that a woman has been ill-used is to hammer the offender effectively in
the first place, and then to inquire into the affair. That was what I
wanted to do; but it was not to be. "Well," I said, by way of compromise,
"let us walk back together. Perhaps we may be able to find out which way
the man went."

To this she agreed. I drew her arm through mine--for she was still
trembling and looked faint and weak--and we began to retrace her steps
towards Highgate. Of course the man was nowhere to be seen, and by the
time that we had turned the sharp corner where I had found the body of
the priest, the man was not only out of sight, but his footsteps were no
longer audible.

Still we went on for some distance in the hopes of meeting someone who
could tell us which way the miscreant had gone. But we met nobody. Only,
some distance past the posts, we came in sight of a sketching box and a
camp-stool, lying by the side of the path. "Surely those are your
things?" I said.

"Yes," she answered. "I had forgotten all about them. I dropped them when
I began to run."

I picked up the box and the stool, and debated with myself whether it was
worth while to go on any farther. From where we stood, nothing was to be
seen, for the lane was still enclosed on both sides by a seven foot fence
of oak boards. But the chance of overtaking the fugitive was not to be
considered; by this time he was probably out of the lane on the Heath or
in the surrounding meadows; and meanwhile, my companion, though calmer
and less breathless, looked very pale and shaken. "I don't know that it's
any use," I said, "to tire you by going any farther. The man is evidently
gone."

She seemed relieved at my decision, and it then occurred to me to suggest
that she should sit down awhile on the bank under the high fence to
recover herself, and to this, too, she assented gladly. "If it wouldn't
distress you," I said, "would you mind telling me what had happened?"

She pondered for a few seconds and then answered: "It doesn't sound much
in the telling and I expect you will think me very silly to be so much
upset."

"I'm sure I shan't," I said, with perfect confidence in the correctness
of my statement.

"Well," she said, "what happened was this as nearly as I can remember: I
was coming up the path from the ponds and I had to pass a man who was
leaning against the fence by the stile. As I came near to him, he looked
at me, at first, in quite an ordinary way, and then, he suddenly began to
stare in a most singular and disturbing fashion, not at me, so much, as
at this little crucifix which I wear hung from my neck. As I passed
through the turnstile, he spoke to me: 'Would you mind letting me look at
that crucifix?' he asked. It was a most astonishing piece of
impertinence, and I was so taken aback that I hardly had the presence of
mind to refuse. However, I did, and very decidedly, too. Then he came up
to me, and, in a most threatening and alarming manner, said: 'You found
that crucifix. You picked it up somewhere near here. It's mine, and I'll
ask you to let me have it, if you please.'

"Now this was perfectly untrue. The crucifix was given to me by my father
when I was quite a little child, and I have worn it ever since I have
been grown up--ever since he died, in fact, six years ago. I told the man
this, but he made no pretence of believing me, and was evidently about to
renew his demand, when two labourers appeared, coming down the lane. I
thought this a good opportunity to escape, and walked away quickly up the
lane; it was very silly of me; I ought to have gone the other way."

"Of course you ought," I agreed, "you ought to have got out into a public
road at once."

"Yes, I see that now," she said. "It was very foolish of me. However, I
walked on pretty quickly, for there was something in the man's face that
had frightened me, and I was anxious to get home. I looked back, from
time to time, and, when I saw no sign of the man, I began to recover
myself; but just as I had got to the most solitary part of the lane, just
about where we are now, shut in by these high fences, I heard quick
footsteps behind me. I looked back and saw the man coming after me. Then,
I suppose, I got in a sudden panic, for I dropped my sketching things and
began to run. But as soon as I began to run, the man broke into a run
too. I raced for my life, and when I heard the man gaining on me, I
suppose I must have called out. Then I heard your shout from the upper
part of the lane and ran on faster than ever to gain your protection.
That's all, and I suppose you think that I have been making a great fuss
about nothing."

"I don't think anything of the kind," I said, "and neither would our
absent friend if I could get hold of him. By the way, what sort of person
was he?--a tramp?"

"Oh, no, quite a respectable looking person; in fact, he would have
passed for a gentleman."

"Can you give any sort of description of him, not that verbal
descriptions are of much use except in the case of a hunchback or a
Chinaman or some other easily identifiable creature."

"No, they are not," she agreed, "and I don't think that I can tell you
much about this man excepting that he was clean-shaved, of medium height,
quite well dressed, and wore a round hat and slate-coloured suede
gloves."

"I'm afraid we shan't get hold of him from that description," I said.
"The only thing that you can do is to avoid solitary places for the
present and not to come through this lane again alone."

"Yes," she said. "I suppose I must, but it's very unfortunate. One cannot
always take a companion when one goes sketching even if it were
desirable, which it is not."

As to the desirability, in the case of a good-looking girl, of wandering
about alone in solitary places, I had my own opinions; and very definite
opinions they were. But I kept them to myself. And so we sat silent for
awhile. She was still pale and agitated, and perhaps her recital of her
misadventure had not been wholly beneficial. At the moment that this idea
occurred to me, a crackling in my breast-pocket reminded me of the
forgotten canvas, and I bethought me that perhaps a change of subject
might divert her mind from her very disagreeable experience. Accordingly,
I drew the canvas out of my pocket, and, unrolling it, asked her what she
thought of the sketch. In a moment she became quite animated. "Why," she
exclaimed, "this looks exactly like the work of that artist who was
working on the Heath a little while ago."

"It is his," I replied, considerably impressed and rather astonished at
her instantaneous recognition; "but I didn't know you were so familiar
with his work."

"I'm not very familiar with it," she replied, "but, as I told you, I
sometimes managed to steal a glance or two when I passed him. You see,
his technique is so peculiar that it's easily recognised, and it
interested me very much. I should have liked to stop and watch him and
get a lesson."

"It is rather peculiar work," I said, looking at the canvas with new
interest. "Very solid and yet very smooth."

"Yes. It is typical knife-work, almost untouched with the brush. That was
what interested me. The knife is a dangerous tool for a comparative tyro
like myself, but yet one would like to learn how to use it. Did he give
you this sketch?"

I smiled guiltily. "The truth is," I admitted, "I stole it."

"How dreadful of you!" she said, "I suppose that you could not be bribed
to steal another?"

"I would steal it for nothing if you asked me," I answered, "and
meanwhile, you had better take possession of this one. It will be of more
use to you than to me."

She shook her head: "No, I won't do that," she said, "though it is most
kind of you. You paint, I think, don't you?"

"I'm only the merest amateur," I replied. "I annexed the sketch for the
sake of the subject. I have rather an affection for this lane."

"So had I," said she, "until to-day. Now, I hate it, but, might I ask how
you managed your theft?"

I told her about the empty cottage and the rejected canvases in the
rubbish box. "I'm afraid none of the others would be of any use to you
because he had drawn a brushful of paint across each of them."

"Oh, that wouldn't matter," she said. "The brush-strokes would be on dry
paint and could easily be scraped off. Besides, it is not the subject but
the technique that interests me."

"Then I will get into the cottage somehow and purloin the remaining
canvases for you."

"Oh, but I mustn't give you all this trouble," she protested.

"It won't be any trouble," I said. "I shall quite enjoy a deliberate and
determined robbery. But where shall I send the spoil?"

She produced her card-case, and, selecting a card, handed it to me, with
a smile: "It seems to me," she said, "that I am inciting you to robbery
and acting as a receiver of stolen goods, but I suppose there's no harm
in it, though I feel that I ought not to give you all this trouble."

I made the usual polite rejoinder as I took from her the little magical
slip of pasteboard that, in a moment, transformed her from a stranger to
an acquaintance, and gave her a local habitation and a name. Before
bestowing it in my pocket-book, I glanced at the neat copper-plate and
read the inscription: "Miss Sylvia Vyne. The Hawthorns. North End."

The effect of our conversation had answered my expectations. Her
agitation had passed off, the colour had come back to her cheeks, and, in
fact, she seemed quite recovered. Apparently she thought so herself, for
she rose, saying that she now felt well enough to walk home, and held out
her hand for the colour-box and stool. "I think," said I, "that if you
won't consider me intrusive, I should like to see you safely out on to an
inhabited road at least."

"I shall accept your escort gratefully," she replied, "as far as the end
of the lane, or farther if it is not taking you too much out of your
way."

Needless to say, I would gladly have escorted so agreeable and winsome a
protegee from John o' Groats to Land's End and found it not out of my way
at all; and when she passed out of the gate into Hampstead Lane, I clung
tenaciously to the box and stool and turned towards "The Spaniards" as
though no such thing as a dismissal had ever been contemplated. In fact,
with the reasonable excuse of carrying the impedimenta, I maintained my
place by her side in the absence of a definite conge; and so we walked
together, talking quite easily, principally about pictures and painting,
until, in the pleasant little hamlet, she halted by a garden gate, and,
taking her possessions from me, held out a friendly hand. "Good-bye," she
said. "I can't thank you enough for all your help and kindness. I hope I
have not been very troublesome to you."

I assured her that she had been most amenable, and, when I had once more
cautioned her to avoid solitary places, we exchanged a cordial hand-shake
and parted, she to enter the pleasant, rustic-looking house, and I to
betake myself back to my lodgings, lightening the way with much agreeable
and self-congratulatory reflection.

CHAPTER IX

THORNDYKE TAKES UP THE SCENT

AT my lodgings, which I reached at an unconscionably late hour for lunch,
I found a little surprise awaiting me; a short note from Dr. Thorndyke
asking me if I should be at liberty early on the following afternoon to
show him the spot on which I had found the mysterious body. Of course, I
answered by return, begging him to come straight on from the hospital to
an early lunch, over which we could discuss the facts of the case before
setting out. Having dispatched my letter, I called at the offices of the
house agent who had the letting of the cottage on the Heath, to see if he
had duplicate keys. Fortunately he had, and was willing to entrust them
to me on the understanding that they should be returned some time during
the next day. I did not, however, go on to the cottage, for it occurred
to me that Thorndyke would probably wish to visit the wood, and I could
make my visit and purloin the canvases then.

A telegram on the following morning informed me that Thorndyke would be
with me at twelve o'clock, and, punctually to the minute, he arrived. "I
hope you don't mind me swooping down on you in this fashion," he said, as
the servant showed him into the room.

I assured him, very truthfully, that I was delighted to be honoured by a
visit from him, and he then proceeded to explain. "You may wonder,
Jardine, why I am busying myself about this case, which is really no
business of mine, or, at least, appears to be none; but the fact is, that
as a teacher and a practitioner of Medical Jurisprudence, I find it
advisable to look into any unusual cases. Of course, there is always a
considerable probability that I may be consulted concerning any out of
the way case; but, apart from that, I have the ordinary specialist's
interest in anything remarkable in my own speciality."

"I should think," said I, "that it would be well for me to give you all
the facts before we start."

"Exactly, Jardine," he replied, "that is what I want. Tell me all you
know about the affair and then we shall be able to test our conclusions
on the spot."

He produced a large scale ordnance map, and, folding it under my
direction, so that it showed only the region in which we were interested,
he stood it up on the table against the water bottle, where we could both
see it, and marked on it with a pencil each spot as I described it.

It is not necessary for me to record our conversation. I told him the
whole story as I have already told it to the reader, pointing out on the
map the exact locality where each event occurred. "It's a most remarkable
case, Jardine," was his thoughtful comment when I had finished, "most
remarkable; curiously puzzling and inconsistent too. For you see that on
the one hand, it looks like a casual or accidental crime, and yet, on the
other, strongly suggests premeditation. No man, one would think, could
have planned to commit a murder in what is, after all, a public
thoroughfare; and yet, the long distance which the body seems to have
been carried, and the apparently selected hiding-place, seem to suggest a
previously considered plan."

"You think that there is no doubt that the man was really dead?" I asked.

"Had you any doubt at the time yourself?"

"None at all," I replied, "it was only the disappearance of the body,
and, perhaps, the sergeant's suggestion, that made me think it possible
that I might have been mistaken."

Thorndyke shook his head. "No, Jardine," said he, "the man was dead. We
are safe in assuming that; and on that assumption our investigations must
be based. The next question is, how was the body taken away? Did you
measure the fence?"

"No, but I should say it is about seven feet high."

"And what kind of fence is it? Are there any footholds?"

"I can show you exactly what the fence is like," I answered. "That
sketch, which I have pinned up on the wall, was apparently painted from
the exact spot on which the body lay. That fence on the right-hand side
is the one under which I sheltered and is exactly like the one over which
the body seems to have been lifted."

Thorndyke rose and walked over to the sketch, which I had fixed to the
wall with drawing-pins. "Not a bad sketch, this, Jardine," he remarked;
"very smartly put in, apparently mostly with the knife. Where did you get
it?"

I had to confess that the canvas was unlawfully come by, and told him how
I had obtained it. "You don't know the artist's name?" said Thorndyke,
looking closely at the sketch.

"No. In fact, I know nothing about him, excepting that he worked mostly
with a small painting-knife, and usually wore kid gloves."

"You don't mean that he worked in gloves?" said Thorndyke.

"So I am told," said I. "I never saw him."

"It's very odd," said Thorndyke. "I have heard of men wearing a glove on
the palette-hand to keep off the midges, and many men paint in gloves in
exceptionally cold weather. But this sketch seems to have been painted in
the summer."

"I suppose," said I, "the midges don't confine their attentions to the
palette-hand. And after all, to a man who worked entirely with the knife,
a glove wouldn't be really in the way."

"No," Thorndyke agreed, "that is true." He looked closely at the sketch,
and even took out his pocket lens to help his vision, which seemed almost
unnecessary. It appeared that he was as much interested in the unknown
artist's peculiar technique as was my friend, Miss Sylvia Vyne. "By the
way," said he, when he had resumed his seat at the table, "you were
telling me about some kind of gold trinket that you had picked up at the
foot of the fence. Shall we have a look at it?"

I fetched the little gold object from the dispatch box in which I had
locked it up, and handed it to him. He turned it over in his fingers,
read the letters that were engraved on it, and examined the little piece
of silk cord that was attached to one ring. "There is no doubt," said he,
"as to the nature of this object, nor of its connection with the dead
man. This is evidently a reliquary, and these initials engraved upon it
bear out exactly your description of the body. S.V.D.P evidently means
St. Vincent de Paul, who, as you probably know, was a saint who was
distinguished for his works of charity. You have mentioned that the dead
man wore a Roman collar, with a narrow, dark stripe up the front. That
means that he was the lay-brother of some religious order, probably some
philanthropic order, to whom St. Vincent de Paul would be an object of
special devotion. The other letters, A.M.D.G., are the initials of the
words Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam--the motto of the Society of Jesus. But as
St. Vincent de Paul was not a Jesuit saint, the motto probably refers to
the owner of the reliquary, who may have been a Jesuit or a friend of the
Society. It was apparently attached--perhaps to the neck--by this silk
cord, which seems to have been frayed nearly through, and probably broke
when the body was drawn over the top of the fence."

"I suppose I ought to have shown it to the police," I said.

"I suppose you ought," he replied, "but, as you haven't, I think we had
better say nothing about it now."

He handed it back to me, and I dropped it into my pocket, intending to
return it presently to the dispatch box. A few minutes later, we sallied
forth on our journey of exploration.

It is not necessary to describe this journey in detail since I have
already taken the reader over the ground more than once. We went, of
course, to the place where I had found the body and walked right through
to Hampstead Lane. Then we returned, and reconstituted the circumstances
of that eventful night, after which, I conducted Thorndyke to the place
where I assumed that the body had been lifted over the fence. "I
suppose," I said, "we must go round and pick up the track from the other
side."

He looked up and down the lane and smiled. "Would your quondam professor
lose your respect for ever, Jardine, if you saw him climb over a fence in
a frock coat and a topper?"

"No," I answered, "but it might look a little quaint if anyone else saw
you."

"I think we will risk that," he said. "There is no one about, and I
should rather like to try a little experiment. Would you mind if I
hoisted you over the fence? You are something of an out-size, but then,
so am I, too, which balances the conditions."

Of course I had no objection, and, when we had looked up and down the
lane and listened to make sure that we had no observers, Thorndyke picked
me up, with an ease that rather surprised me, and hoisted me above the
level of the fence. "Is it all clear on the other side?" he asked.

"Yes," I answered, "there's no one in sight."

"Then I want you to be quite passive," he said, and with this, he hoisted
me up further until I hung with my own weight across the top of the
fence. Leaving me hanging thus, he sprang up lightly, and, having got
astride at the top, dropped down on the other side, when he once more
took hold of me and drew me over. "It wasn't so very difficult," he said.
"Of course, it would have been more so to a shorter man, but, on the
other hand, it is extremely unlikely that the body was anything like your
size and weight."

We now followed the track up to the wood, which we entered by an opening
in the fence, through which I assumed that the murderer had probably
passed. I conducted Thorndyke by the nearest route to the boat-house,
and, when he had thoroughly examined the place and made notes of the
points that appeared to interest him, I showed him the way out by the
turnstile.

It was here when we came in sight of the cottage that I bethought me of
my promise to Miss Vyne, and somewhat sheepishly explained the matter to
Thorndyke. "It won't take me a minute to go in and sneak the things," I
said apologetically, and was proposing that he should walk on slowly,
when he interrupted me.

"I'll come in with you," said he. "There may be something else to filch.
Besides, I am rather partial to empty houses. There is something quite
interesting, I think, in looking over the traces of recent occupation,
and speculating on the personality and habits of the late occupiers.
Don't you find it so?"

I said "Yes," truthfully enough, for it was a feeling of this kind that
had first led me to look over the cottage. But my interest was nothing to
Thorndyke's; for no sooner had I let him in at the front door, than he
began to browse about through the empty rooms and passages, for all the
world like a cat that has just been taken to a new house. "This was
evidently the studio," he remarked, as we entered the room from which I
had taken the canvas, "he doesn't seem to have had much of an outfit, as
he appears to have worked on his sketching-easel; you can see the
indentations made by the toe-points, and there are no marks of the
castors of a studio easel. You notice, too, that he sat on a camp-stool
to work."

It did not appear to me to matter very much what he had sat on, but I
kept this opinion to myself and watched Thorndyke curiously as he picked
up the empty paint tubes and scrutinized them one after the other. His
inquisitiveness filled me with amused astonishment. He turned out the
rubbish box completely, and having looked over every inch of the
discarded canvases, he began systematically to examine, one by one, the
pieces of paper on which the late resident had wiped his palette-knife.

Having rolled up and pocketed the waste canvases, I expressed myself as
ready to depart. "If you're not in a hurry," said Thorndyke, "I should
like to look over the rest of the premises."

He spoke as though we were inspecting some museum or exhibition, and,
indeed, his interest and attention, as he wandered from room to room,
were greater than that of the majority of visitors to a public gallery.
He even insisted on visiting the little stable and coachhouse, and when
he had explored them both, ascended the ricketty steps to the loft over
the latter. "I suppose," said I, "this was the lumber room or store.
Judging by the quantity of straw it would seem as if some cases had been
unpacked here."

"Probably," agreed Thorndyke. "In fact, you can see where the cases have
been dragged along, and also, by that smooth indented line, where some
heavy metallic object has been slid along the floor. Perhaps if we look
over the straw, we may be able to judge what those cases contained."

It didn't seem to me to matter a brass farthing what they contained, but
again I made no remark; and together we moved the great mass of straw,
almost handful by handful, from one end of the loft to the other, while
Thorndyke, not only examined the straw but even closely scrutinized the
floor on which it lay.

As far as I could see, all this minute and apparently purposeless
searching was entirely without result, until we were in the act of
removing the last armful of straw from the corner; and even then the
object that came to light did not appear a very remarkable one under the
circumstances, though Thorndyke seemed to find what appeared to me a most
unreasonable interest in it. The object was a pair of canvas-pliers,
which Thorndyke picked up almost eagerly and examined with profound
attention. "What do you make of that, Jardine?" he asked, at length,
handing the implement to me.

"It's a pair of canvas-pliers," I replied.

"Obviously," he rejoined, "but what do you suppose they have been used
for?"

I opined that they had been used for straining canvases, that being
their manifest function. "But," objected Thorndyke, "he would hardly have
strained his canvases up here. Besides, you will notice that they have,
in fact, been used for something else. You observe that the handles are
slightly bent, as if something had been held with great force, and if you
look at the jaws, you will see that that something was a metallic object
about three quarters of an inch wide with sharp corners. Now, what do you
make of that?"

I looked at the pliers, inwardly reflecting that I didn't care twopence
what the object was, and finally said that I would give it up. "The
problem does not interest you keenly," Thorndyke remarked with a smile;
"and yet it ought to, you know. However, we may consider the matter on
some future occasion. Meanwhile, I shall follow your pernicious example
and purloin the pliers."

His interest in this complete stranger appeared to me very singular, and
it seemed for the moment to have displaced that in the mysterious case
which was the object of his visit to me. "A strange, vagabond sort of man
that artist must have been," he remarked, as we walked home across the
Heath, "but I suppose one picks up vagabond habits in travelling about
the world."

"Do you gather that he had travelled much, then?" I asked.

"He appears to have visited New York, Brussels and Florence, which is a
selection suggesting other travels."

I was wondering vaguely how Thorndyke had arrived at these facts, and was
indeed about to ask him, when he suddenly changed the subject by saying:
"I suppose, Jardine, you don't wander about this place alone at night?"

"I do sometimes," I replied.

"Then I shouldn't," he said; "you must remember that a very determined
attempt has been made on your life, and it would be unreasonable to
suppose that it was made without some purpose. But that purpose is still
unaccomplished. You don't know who your enemy is, and, consequently, can
take no precautions against him excepting by keeping away from solitary
places. It is an uncomfortable thought, but at present, you have to
remember that any chance stranger may be an intending murderer. So be on
your guard."

I promised to bear his warning in mind, though I must confess his
language seemed to me rather exaggerated; and so we walked on, chatting
about various matters until we arrived at my lodgings.

Thorndyke was easily persuaded to come in and have tea with me, and while
we were waiting for its arrival, he renewed his examination of the sketch
upon the wall.

"Aren't you going to have this strained on a stretcher?" he asked.

I replied "yes," and that I intended to take it with me the next time I
went into town.

"Let me take it for you," said Thorndyke. "I should like to show it to
Jervis to illustrate the route that we have marked on the map. Then I can
have it left at any place that you like."

I mentioned the name of an artist's-colourman in the Hampstead Road, and,
unpinning the canvas, rolled it up and handed it to him.

He took it from me and, rolling it up methodically and carefully,
bestowed it in his breast pocket. Then he brought forth the map, and, as
we drank our tea and talked over our investigations, he checked our route
on it and marked the position of the cottage. Shortly after tea he took
his leave, and I then occupied an agreeable half-hour in composing a
letter to Miss Vyne to accompany the loot from the deserted house.

CHAPTER X

THE UNHEEDED WARNING

THOBNDYKE'S warning, so emphatically expressed, ought to have been alike
unnecessary and effective. As a matter of fact, it was neither. I suppose
that to a young man, not naturally timorous, the idea of a constantly
lurking danger amidst the prosaic conditions of modern civilization is
one that is not readily accepted. At any rate, the fact is that I
continued to walk abroad by day and by night with as much unconcern as if
nothing unusual had ever befallen me. It was not that the recollection of
those horrible hours in the poisoned cellar had in any way faded. That
incident I could never forget. But I think, that in the back of my mind,
there still lingered the idea of a homicidal lunatic; though that idea
had been so scornfully rejected by Thorndyke.

But before I describe the amazing experience by which I once more came
within a hair's breadth of sudden and violent death, I must refer to
another incident; not because it seemed to be connected with that
alarming occurrence, but because it came first in the order of time, and
had its own significance later.

It was a couple of days after Thorndyke's visit that I walked down the
Hampstead Road with the intention of fetching the sketch from the
artist's-colourman's. The shop was within a few hundred yards of Jacob
Street, and as I crossed the end of that street, I was just considering
whether I ought to look in on Batson, when a lady bowed to me and made as
if she would stop. It was Mrs. Samway. Of course, I stopped and shook
hands, and while I was making the usual polite enquiries, I felt myself
once more impressed with the unusualness of the woman. Even in her dress
she was unlike other women, though not in the least eccentric or bizarre.
At present, she was clothed from head to foot in black; but a scarlet
bird's wing in the coquettish little velvet toque, and a scarlet bow at
her throat, gave an effect of colour that, unusual as it was, harmonized
completely and naturally with her jet-black hair and her strange,
un-English beauty. "So you haven't started for Paris yet," I remarked.

"No," she replied, "my husband has gone and may, perhaps, come back. At
any rate, I am staying in England for the present."

"Then I may possibly have the pleasure of seeing you again," I said, and
she graciously replied that she hoped it might be so, as we shook hands
and parted. A few minutes later, in the artist's-colourman's shop, I had
another chance meeting and a more agreeable one. The proprietor had just
produced the sketch, now greatly improved in appearance by being strained
on a stretcher, when the glass door opened and a young lady entered the
shop. Imagine my surprise when that young lady turned out to be none
other than Miss Vyne. "Well," I exclaimed, as we mutually recognized each
other, "what an extraordinary coincidence!"

"I don't see that it is very extraordinary," she replied. "Most of the
Hampstead people come here because it's the nearest place where you can
get proper artist's materials. Is that the sketch you were telling me
about?"

"Yes," I answered, "and it's the pick of the loot. But it isn't too late
to alter your mind. Say the word and it's yours."

"Well," she replied, with a smile, "I am not going to say the word, but I
want to thank you for rescuing those other treasures for me."

She had, as a matter of fact, already thanked me in a very pretty little
note, but I was not averse to her mentioning the subject again. We
stepped back to the door, and in the brighter light, looked at the sketch
together. "It's a pity," she remarked, "that he handled it so carelessly
before the paint was hard. Those fingermarks wouldn't matter a bit on a
brush-painted surface; but on the smooth knife-surface they are rather a
disfigurement."

She placed the sketch in my hand, and I backed nearer to the glass door
to get a better light. Happening to glance up, I noticed that a sudden
and very curious change had come over her; a look of haughty displeasure
and even anger, apparently directed at somebody or something outside the
shop.

For a few moments I took no notice; then, half-unconsciously, I looked
round just as some person moved away from the door. I looked once more at
Miss Vyne. She was quite unmistakably angry. Her cheeks were flushed and
there was a resentful light in her eyes that gave her an expression quite
new to me.

I suppose she caught my enquiring glance for she exclaimed: "Did you see
that woman? I never heard of such impertinence in my life."

"What did she do?" I asked.

"She came right up to the doorway and looked over your shoulder; and then
stared at me in the most singular and insolent manner. I could have
slapped her face."

"Not through the glass door," I suggested; on which her anger subsided in
a ripple of laughter as quickly as it had arisen. "What was this
objectionable person like?" I asked. "Was she a charwoman or a slavey?"

"Oh, not at all," replied Miss Vyne. "Quite a ladylike looking person,
except for her manners. Rather tastefully dressed, too; a black and
vermilion scheme of colour."

The reply startled me a little. "Had she a scarlet bird's wing in her
hat?" I asked.

"Yes, and a scarlet bow at her throat. I hope you are not going to say
that you know her."

It was a rather delicate situation. I could not actually disavow the
acquaintance, but I did not feel inclined to have a black and scarlet fly
introduced into the sweet-smelling ointment of my intercourse with the
fair Sylvia; so I explained with great care the exact scope of the
acquaintance; on which Miss Vyne remarked that "she supposed that doctors
could not be held responsible for the people they knew"; and proceeded to
make her purchases.

I did not take the sketch away with me after all, for it occurred to me
that I might as well leave it to be framed; but instead, I carried forth
with me the parcel containing Miss Vyne's purchases. I had not far to
carry it, for she was returning at once to Hampstead. I was tempted to
return, for the sake of enjoying a chat with her, too, but discreetly
withstood the temptation, and, having escorted her to a tram, I turned my
face south and walked away at a leisurely pace into the jaws of an
all-unsuspected danger.

It was some hours, however, before anything remarkable happened.

My immediate objective was Lincoln's Inn Fields, where, at the College of
Surgeons, a lecture on Epidermic Appendages was to be delivered by the
Hunterian Professor; and there, in the college theatre, I spent a
delightful hour while the genial professor took his hearers with him on a
personally-conducted tour among structures that ranged from the plumage
of the sun-bird to the dermal plates of the crocodile, from the silken
locks of beauty to the quills of the porcupine or the mail of the
armadillo.

When I came out, the dusk was just closing in. It was a slightly foggy
evening. The last glow of the sunset in the western sky lighted up the
haze into a rosy back-ground, against which the shadowy buildings were
relieved in shapes of cloudy grey. It was a lovely effect; an effect such
as London alone can show, and fugitive as a breath on a mirror. As I
sauntered westward up the Strand I presently bethought me that, before
the light should have faded completely, I would see how the effect looked
by the riverside. Walking quickly down Buckingham Street, I came out on
to the Embankment and looked into the west. But the light was nearly
gone, the shadows of evening were closing in fast, and the fog, creeping
up the river, ushered in the night.

I leaned on the parapet and watched the last glimmer die away; watched
the darkness deepen on the river and the faint lights on the barges
moored on the southern shore at first twinkle pallidly and then fade out
as the fog thickened. I lit my pipe and looked down at the dark water
swirling past, and gradually fell into a train of half-dreamy meditation.

Not for the first time since the occurrence, my thoughts turned to Mrs.
Samway. Why had she stared at Miss Vyne in that singular manner--if
indeed it was really Mrs. Samway, and if she really had stared in the
manner alleged? It was an odd affair; but, after all, it did not very
much matter. And with this, my thoughts rambled off in a new direction.

It was to the cottage on the Heath that they wandered this time, and the
picture of Thorndyke's cat-like prowlings and pryings arose before me.
That was very queer, too. Was it possible that this learned and astute
man habitually went about eagerly probing into the personal habits and
trivial actions of chance strangers? The apparently puerile
inquisitiveness that he had displayed seemed totally out of character
with all that I knew about the man; but then it often happens that the
private life of public men develops personal traits that are surprising
and disappointing to those who have only known them in connection with
their public activities.

I had become so completely immersed in my thoughts as to be almost
oblivious of what was happening around. Indeed, there was mighty little
happening. The gathering darkness and the thin fog limited my view to a
few square yards. Now and again, a muffled hoot from the lower river
spoke of life and movement on the water, and at long intervals an
occasional wayfarer would pass along the pavement behind me.

My reflections had reached the point recorded above, when a person
emerged from the obscurity near to the parapet and approached as if to
pass close behind me. I only caught the dusky shape indistinctly with the
tail of my eye; so indistinctly that I could not say certainly whether it
was that of a man or a woman, for I was still gazing down at the dark
water. He or she approached quietly, swerving towards me across the wide
pavement, and was in the act of passing quite close to me when the thing
happened. Of a sudden, I felt my knees clasped in a powerful grip, and at
the same moment I was lifted off my feet and thrust forward over the
parapet. Instinctively, I clutched at the stonework, but its flat surface
offered nothing for my fingers to grasp. Then my assailant let go, and
the next instant I plunged head-first into the icy water.

It was fortunate for me that the tide was nearly full, else must I,
almost certainly, have broken my neck. As it was, my head struck on the
firm mud at the bottom with such force, that for some moments I was
half-stunned. Nevertheless, I must have struck out automatically, for
when I began to recover my wits my head was above water, and I was
swimming as actively as my clinging garments would let me. But,
apparently, in those moments of dazed semi-consciousness, I must have
struck out towards the middle of the river, for now I was encompassed by
a murky void in which nothing was visible save one or two reddish,
luminous patches--presumably, the lamps on the Embankment.

Towards one of these I turned and struck out vigorously. The water was
desperately cold, and hampered as I was with my clothing, I felt that I
should not be able to keep myself afloat very long, strong swimmer as I
was. The dim, red nebula of the unseen lamps moved past slowly, showing
me that I was drifting down on the ebb-tide. Before me, I knew, was the
long, inhospitable wall of the Embankment. True, there were some steps,
if I was not mistaken, by Cleopatra's Needle, but the question was
whether I had not drifted past them already. I had given one or two lusty
shouts as soon as I had cleared my chest of the mouthful of water that I
got in my first plunge, and I was now letting off another yell, when, out
of the darkness behind me, came a prolonged hoot.

I looked round quickly in the direction whence the sound had come, and
then became aware of the churning of a propeller. Almost at the same
moment, a dim, ruddy smudge of light broke through the darkness over the
river, and began rapidly to brighten until it took the form of the twin
mast-head lights of a tug with a vessel in tow.

For a moment I hesitated. My first impulse was to avoid the danger of
being run down; but suddenly I altered my mind. For, as the tug bore down
on me, with a roaring of water and a loud clank of machinery, I saw that
she was not absolutely end-on, for her green starboard light, which had
been for a moment visible, suddenly disappeared. Of what happened during
the next few moments, I have but a confused recollection.

A splashing and churning, with the loud wash of water, the throb of the
engines and a glare of light which blazed before my eyes for a moment, to
vanish in an instant into pitchy darkness; a huge, black object, felt
rather than seen to sweep past before me; and then my hand clutched a
wooden projection, and I felt myself dragged violently through the water.
The projection that I had laid hold of was the lee-board of a sailing
barge, as I discovered when the rush of the water banged me against it;
and much ado I had to hold on, with the water dragging at me and spouting
up over my head. But, with what strength was left to me, I reached out
with the other hand and clawed hold of the dwarf bulwark over which the
water was lapping; and so, with a last violent effort, contrived to drag
myself up on to the deck.

I essayed to stand up, and did, in fact, succeed, but as my sensations
suggested those of a leaden statue with india-rubber legs, I sat down
hastily on the hatch-cover to avoid going overboard. And there I sat for
a minute or two leaning against the lowered mast with my teeth
chattering, and seeming to grow more and more chilled and exhausted every
moment.

Numb as my mind was by this time, my medical instincts told me that this
would not do. Somehow I must get warmth and shelter, for I might as well
have been drowned at once as die of exposure and cold. I looked round
lethargically. There was no sign of any-one on board. Another barge was
towing alongside, and the bows of two others were dimly visible astern.
On those rear-most barges there must certainly have been someone
steering. But they were inaccessible to me, and I had not the energy to
shout; nor could anyone have got across to me if I had.

Suddenly my eye fell on the little chimney that rose by the cabin
scuttle. A thin stream of smoke issued from it and blew away astern.
Perhaps, then, the crew were below, or, if not, at least there was a
fire. I crawled aft, holding on with my hands, and, pushing back the
scuttle, backed cautiously down the ladder closing the scuttle after me.

There seemed to be nobody below, and the cabin was in darkness, save for
the glow of the fire that burned in the little grate. The air was
probably warm, though to me it felt icy; but, at least, there was no wind
to play on my wet clothes.

I sat down on the locker as near to the fire as I could, and rested my
elbows on the little triangular table. Chilled to the marrow and utterly
exhausted, I was sensible of a growing desire to sleep; a desire which I
repressed, as I believed, with noble resolution. But apparently my
efforts in this respect were not so successful as I had supposed, for the
next incident opened with suspicious suddenness.

A vigorous shake, which dislodged one of my elbows, introduced the
episode.

I looked up, blinking sulkily, at a bright and most objectionably
dazzling light, which further inspection showed to proceed from a
hurricane lamp held by a rather dirty hand. "Here, wake up, mister," said
a hoarse voice, "this here ain't the Hotel Cecil, you know."

I sat up and stared vaguely at the speaker, or at least, the holder of
the lamp, but could not think of anything appropriate to say. Then
another voice emerged from nowhere in particular. "'E's been overboard,
that's what 'e's been."

"Any fool can see that," said the first man; "but the question is, who is
he and what's he a-doin' in my cabin? Who are yer, mister?"

Now, that would seem to be a perfectly simple and straightforward
question. But it is not so simple as it seems. To a complete stranger,
the bare mention of a name is unilluminating. Further explanations are
needed. And at that moment I did not feel equal to explanations. Besides,
I was not so very clear on the subject myself. Consequently, I preserved
a silence which, perhaps, was wooden rather than golden. "D'ye 'ear?"
persisted the first man. "I'm a-arskin' you a question."

"What'a the good of arskin' questions of a man what's been a-rammin' 'is
crumpet aginst the bottom of the river?" protested the other man.

"What d'ye mean?" demanded the first mariner.

"Can't you see?" retorted the other, "as 'e's took the ground 'ard? Look
at 'is 'ed."

Here the first mariner--Lucifer, or lamp-bearer--wiped his hand over the
top of my head and then examined the tip of his forefinger critically as
though it were the arming of a deep-sea lead. "You're right, Abel," said
he. "That's mud off the bottom, that is. He must have took a regular
header. Sooicide perhaps, and altered his mind. Found it a bit damper'n
what he expected. Put the kittle on, Abe."

From this moment, the two mariners treated me as if I had been a
lay-figure. Silently, they peeled off my wet clothes, and dried my skin
with vigorous friction as if it had been a wet deck. They not only asked
no further questions, but when I would have spoken they urged me to
economize my wind. They inducted me into stiff and hairy garments of
uncouth aspect, and finally, Abe set before me on the table a large
earthenware mug, the contents of which steamed and diffused through the
cabin a strong odour of Dutch gin. "You git outside that, mister," said
the luminiferous mariner (who turned out subsequently to be the skipper),
"and then you'd best turn in."

The treatment was not strictly orthodox, but I obeyed without demur. Most
people would have done the same under the circumstances. But the process
of "getting outside" it took time, for the grog was boiling hot and had
been brewed with a flexible wrist. By the time that I had emptied the mug
I was not only revived, but (so far as my memory serves) rather disposed
to be garrulously explanatory and facetious. I even felt a slight
inclination to sing. But my friends would stand no nonsense. As soon as
the mug was fairly empty, they bundled me, neck and crop, into a sort of
elongated cupboard and proceeded to pile on me untold quantities of
textile fabrics, including a complete suit of oilskins. Then they
commanded me to go to sleep; which I believe I must have done almost
instantly.

CHAPTER XI

A CHAPTER OF ACCIDENTS

AWAKENING in a strange place is always a memorable experience; especially
to the young, in whom the capacity for novel sensations has not yet been
exhausted by repetition. When I emerged, somewhat gradually, from the
unconsciousness of sleep, my first impressions concerned themselves with
the unusual appearance of the bedroom wall and its remarkable proximity
to my nose. I further noticed that the bedstead had become inexplicably
tilted and that the house appeared to be swaying; and as I mused on these
phenomena with the vagueness of the half-awake, a loud voice, proceeding
apparently from the floor above, roared out the mystic words, "Lee-O!"
whereupon there ensued a sound like the shaking of colossal table cloths
and the loud clanking of chains, and my bedstead took a sharp tilt to the
opposite side. This roused me pretty completely, and turning over in the
bunk, I looked out into the barge's cabin.

It was broad daylight and evidently not early, for a square patch of
sunlight crept to and fro on the little table, whence presently it
slipped down to the floor and slithered about unsteadily, as if Phoebus
had overdone his morning dram and could not drive his chariot straight. I
watched it lazily for some time and then, becoming conscious of a vacancy
within, crept out from under the mountain of bedclothes and made my way
to the ladder.

As I put my head through the companion hatch, a man who stood at the
wheel regarded me stolidly. "So you've woke up, have yer?" said he.
"Thought you was going right round the clock. Abel! he's woke up. Tell
young Ted to stand by with them heggs and that there 'addick."

Here Abel looked round from behind the luff of the mainsail, and having
verified the statement, conveyed the order to some invisible person in
the fore-peak. Then he came aft with an obvious air of business. The time
for explanations had arrived.

Accordingly I proceeded to "pitch them my yarn," as they expressed it;
to which they listened with polite attention and manifest disappointment,
clearly regarding the story as a fabrication from beginning to end. And
no wonder. The whole affair was utterly incredible even to me; to them it
must have seemed sheer nonsense. Their own verdict of "sooicide" during
very temporary insanity with sudden mental recovery, under the influence
of cold water, was so much more rational. Not that they obtruded their
views. They listened patiently and said nothing; and nothing that they
could have said could have been more expressive.

Meanwhile I looked about me with no little surprise. Some miles away to
the south lay a stretch of low land, faint and grey, with a single
salient object, apparently a church with two spires. In every other
direction was the unbroken sea horizon. "You seem to have made a pretty
good passage," I remarked.

"We've had sixteen hours to do it in," replied the skipper, "and spring
tides and a nice bit of breeze. If it 'ud only hold--which I'm afraid it
won't--we'd be in Folkestone Harbour this time to-morrow, or even sooner.
Folkestone be much out of your way?"

I smiled at the artlessness of the question. It was undeniable that the
route from Charing Cross to Hampstead by way of Folkestone was slightly
indirect. But there was no need to insist on the fact. My hospitable
friends had acted for the best and their prudence was justified by the
result; for here I was, not a whit the worse for my ducking save that I
badly wanted a bath. "Folkestone will suit me quite well," I replied,
"if there is enough money left in my pockets to pay my fare home."

"That's all right," said the skipper. "I cleared out your pockets myself.
You'll find the things in a mug in the starboard locker. Better overhaul
'em when you go below and see if you've dropped anything. Here comes
young Ted with your grub."

As he spoke the apprentice rose through the fore-hatch like a stage
apparition--if one can imagine an apparition burdened with a tin tea-pot,
two "heggs" and an "'addick"--and came grinning along the weather
side-deck, to vanish through the cabin hatchway. I followed gleefully,
and, almost before young Ted had finished the somewhat informal table
arrangements, fell to on the food with voracious joy. "If you want any
more eggs or anythink," said the apprentice, "all you've got to do is
just to touch the electric bell and the waiter'll come and take your
orders," and having delivered this delicate shaft of irony he presented
me with an excellent back view of a pair of brown dreadnoughts as he
retired up the ladder.

As I consumed the rough but excellent breakfast I reflected on the
strange events that had placed me in my present odd situation. For the
first time, I began fairly to realize that I was in some way involved in
a nexus of circumstances that I did not in the least understand. I had an
enemy; a vindictive enemy, too, in whose eyes mere human life was a thing
of no account. But who could he be? I knew of no one on whom I had ever
inflicted the smallest injury. I bore no man any grudge and had never to
my knowledge had unfriendly dealings with any human creature. Was this
inveterate enemy of mine anyone whom I knew? Or was he some stranger
whose path I had crossed without knowing it, and whom I should not
recognize even if I saw him?

This last supposition was highly disquieting, especially as it seemed
rather probable; for if my enemy was unknown to me, what precautions
could I take?

Then, again, there was the question! What was the occasion of this
extraordinary vendetta? What had I done to this man that he should pursue
me with such deadly purpose? As to Jervis's suggestion, that I had seen
something at the Samways' house that I was not wanted to see, there was
nothing in it; for, as a matter of fact, I had seen nothing. There was
nothing to see. The man Maddock was certainly dead. As to what he died
of, that was Batson's affair; but even in that there was no sign of
anything suspicious. The man himself had consulted Batson, and had
thought so badly of himself that he had made his will in Batson's
presence. The patient himself was fully aware of his serious condition;
it was only Batson, with his eternal hurry and bustle and his defective
eyesight, who had missed observing it. The only circumstance that
supported Jervis's view was that the acts of violence seemed to be
connected with the locality of Batson's house.

Of course there remained the mystery of the dead priest or lay-brother.
But with that these attempts seemed to have no connection. Nor was there
any reason why the murderer should pursue me. I had seen the body, it is
true; but nobody believed me and no proceedings were being taken. Nor
could I have identified the murderer if I had been confronted with him.
Clearly, he had nothing to fear from me.

From the causes of my present predicament I passed to the immediate
future. I should have to get back from Folkestone, and I ought to send a
telegram to my landlady, Mrs. Blunt, who would probably be in a deuce of
a twitter about me. I raised the lid of the locker, and, reaching out the
big earthenware mug, emptied its contents on the table. All my portable
property seemed to be there, including the little gold reliquary, which I
had carelessly carried in my pocket ever since I had shown it to
Thorndyke. My available funds were some four or five pounds; amply
sufficient to get me home and to discharge my liability to the skipper as
well. I swept the things back into the mug, which I returned to the
locker, and having cut myself another thick slice of bread, proceeded
with the largest breakfast that I have ever eaten.

The skipper's forebodings were justified by the course of events. When I
came on deck the breeze had died down to a mere faint breath, hardly
sufficient to keep the big red main-sail asleep--as the pretty old
nautical phrase has it. The skipper was still at the wheel and Abel was
anxiously taking soundings with a hand-lead. "You won't do it, Bill,"
said the latter, coiling up the lead-line with an air of finality, "this
'ere breeze is a-petering right out."

The skipper said nothing, but stared gloomily at the land which was now
right ahead and much nearer than when I had last looked; and from the
land his eye travelled to a sand-bank from which rose a tall post at the
top of which was an inverted cone. "Ought to a-gone about a bit sooner,
Bill," pursued Abel; whereupon the skipper turned on him fiercely.

"What's the good o' saying that now!" he demanded. "If you'd a-told me
the wind was going to drop, I a-gone about sooner. What water is there?"

"Five fathom here," replied Abel; "that means one and a quarter on the
Woolpack. You'd best shove her nose round now, Bill."

"Oh, all right!" retorted the skipper, "Lee-O! This is going to be an
all-night job, this is," and with this gloomy prediction, he spun the
wheel round viciously, and once more headed away from the land.

Prophecy appeared to be the skipper's speciality and, like most prophets,
he tended to view the future with an unfavourable eye. Gradually the
breeze died away into a dead calm, so that we had presently to let go the
anchor to avoid drifting on to a great sand-bank which now lay between us
and the land. And here we remained not only for the rest of the day and
the succeeding night, as the skipper had promised, but throughout the
whole of the next day and following night.

I have already remarked on the incalculable chances by which the course
of a man's life is determined. Looking back now, I see that the skipper's
little miscalculation and his failure to cross the Woolpack Shoal into
the inshore channel, was an antecedent determining the most momentous
consequences for me. For had the barge been becalmed in the inshore
channel, I could, and should, have landed in the boat and returned home
forthwith; and if I had, certain events would not have happened and my
life might have run a very different course. As it was miles of sea and
the great bank known as the Margate Sand, lay between me and the shore;
whence I was committed to the wanderings and dallyings of the barge as
irrevocably as if we were crossing the Pacific.

We lay, then, in the Queen's Channel, outside Margate Sand, for two whole
days and nights; during which time the skipper and Abel slept much and
smoked more, and young Ted, having cleaned and dried my clothes, inducted
me into the art of bottom-fishing. On the third day, a faint breath of
breeze enabled us to crawl round the North Foreland, and the skipper
having elected to pass outside the Goodwin, managed to get becalmed again
in the neighbourhood of the East Goodwin Lightship. A little breeze at
night enabled us to move on a few miles farther; and so we continued to
crawl along at intervals, mainly on the tide, until nine o'clock in the
morning of the fifth day, when we finally crawled into Folkestone
Harbour.

As soon as the barge was brought up to a buoy, young Ted was detailed to
put me ashore in the boat. The skipper and Abel had insisted on treating
me as a guest, and I had perforce to accept the position. But young Ted
had no such pride; and when I ran up the wooden steps by the old
fish-market, I left him on the stage below, staring with an incredulous
grin at a gold coin in his none-too-delicate palm.

I was not sorry to be landed in this unfashionable quarter of the town,
for in spite of young Ted's efforts, my turn-out left much to be desired,
especially in the matter of shirt-cuffs and collar, and I was, moreover,
hatless and somewhat imperfectly shaved. Accordingly, I slunk
inconspicuously past the market and the groups of lounging fishermen, and
when I saw a well-dressed, lady-like woman preceding me into the little
narrow street, known as the Stade, I slackened my pace so as not to
overtake her. She sauntered along with a leisurely air as if she were
waiting for something or somebody, and this and the fact that she carried
a light canvas portmanteau and a rug, suggested to me that she was
probably travelling by the cross-channel boat which was due to start
presently.

Suddenly my attention was diverted from her by a loud chattering and a
series of shouts. A small crowd of men and women ran excitedly past the
end of the little street. The clattering rapidly drew nearer; and then a
horse, with a light van, swept round the corner and passing under an
archway, advanced at a furious gallop. Evidently the horse had bolted and
now, mad with terror, dashed forward with trailing reins, zigzagging
erratically and making the van sway to and fro, so that it took up the
whole of the narrow street. The few wayfarers darted into doorways and
sheltered corners, and I was about to secure my own safety in a similar
manner, when I noticed that the woman in front of me had apparently
become petrified with terror, for she stood stock still, gazing
helplessly at the approaching horse. It was no time for ceremony. The
infuriated animal and the swaying van were thundering up the street like
an insane Juggernaut. With a hasty apology, I seized the woman from
behind and half-dragged, half-carried her to the opening of a little yard
beside a sail-loft. And even then, I was hardly quick enough, for as the
van roared past some projecting object struck me between the shoulders
and sent me flying, face downwards, on to a pile of tarred drift-net.

I had had the presence of mind to let go, as I was struck, so that my
fair protegee was not involved in my downfall; but in a moment, she was
stooping over me, and with many expressions of concern, endeavouring to
help me to rise. Beyond a thump in the back, however, I was not hurt in
the least, but picked myself up, grinning and turned to reassure her. And
then I really did get a shock; for as I turned, the woman gave a shriek
and fell back on the steps of the sail-loft, gasping, and staring at me
with an expression of the utmost astonishment and terror. I supposed the
accident had upset her nerves; but to be sure, my own received, as I have
said, a pretty severe shock. For the woman was Mrs. Samway.

We remained for a moment or two gazing at one another in mute
astonishment. Then I recollected myself, and advanced to shake hands; but
to my discomfiture, she shrank away from me and began to sob and laugh in
an unmistakably hysterical fashion. I must confess that I was somewhat
surprised at these manifestations in so robust a woman as Mrs. Samway.
Unreasonably so, indeed, for all women-kind are more or less prone to
hysteria; but whereas the normal woman tends to laugh and cry, the weaker
vessels develop inexplicable diseases, with a tendency to social reform
and emancipation.

I put on my best bedside manner, at once matter-of-fact and persuasive.
"You seem quite upset," I said, "and all about nothing, for the poor
beggar of a horse must be half a mile away by now."

"Yes," she answered shakily, "it's ridiculous of me, but it was so sudden
and so--" here she laughed noisily, and as the laugh ended in a
portentous sniff, I hastened to continue the conversation. "Yes, it was a
bit of a facer to see that beast coming up the street as if it was
Tottenham Corner. Why on earth didn't you get out of the way?"

"I am sure I don't know." she answered. "I seemed to be paralyzed and
idiotic and--" here the laughter began again.

"Well," I interrupted cheerfully, "you didn't get rolled on those tarred
nets, so that's something to be thankful for."

This was a rather unlucky shot, for the semblance of facetiousness
started a most alarming train of giggles, interrupted by rather loud
sobs; but at this point, a new curative influence made itself manifest.
Two smack boys halted outside the opening and surveyed her with frank
interest and pleased surprise. Simultaneously, an elderly mariner
appeared at the door of the sail-loft, grasping a black bottle and a
tea-cup, and rather shyly descending the steps, suggested that "perhaps a
drop o' sperits might do the lady good."

Mrs. Samway bounced off the steps, her hitherto pale cheeks aflame with
anger. "I am making a fool of myself," she exclaimed. "Let us go away
from here."

She walked out into the street, and I, having thanked the old gentleman
for his most efficacious remedy, followed. As soon as I caught her up,
she turned on me quickly and held out her hand. "Good-bye, Dr. Jardine,"
she said, "and thank you so very much for risking your life for a--for a
wretched giggling woman."

"Oh, you're not going to send me packing like this," I protested, "when
we've hardly said good morning. Besides, you're not fit to be left. But
you're not to begin laughing again," I added, threateningly, for an
ominous twitching of her mouth seemed to herald a relapse, "or I shall go
back and get that black bottle."

She shook her head impatiently, but without looking at me. "I would
rather you went away, Dr. Jardine," she said in an agitated voice. "I
would, really. I wish to be alone. Don't think me ungracious. I am really
most grateful to you, but I would rather you left me now."

Of course there was nothing more to be said. She was not really ill or in
need of assistance, and probably her instinct was right. Hysteria is not
one of those affections which waste their sweetness on the desert air, I
shook her hand cordially and, advising her to keep out of the way of
stray vans and horses, once more pursued my way towards the town,
meditating as I went, on the oddity of the whole affair. It was an
astonishing coincidence that I should have run against this woman in this
out of the way place. I had left her but a few days since apparently
firmly rooted in the Hampstead Road, and now, behold, as I step ashore
from the barge, she is almost the first person that I meet. And yet the
coincidence, which had evidently hit her as hard as it had me, like most
coincidences, tended to disappear on closer inspection. The only really
odd feature was my own presence in Folkestone. As to Mrs. Samway, she had
probably been sent for by her husband, and was crossing by the boat that
was now due to start.

Her anxiety to get rid of me was more puzzling, until I suddenly
remembered my bare head, my crumpled collar and generally raffish and
disreputable appearance. The latter was, in fact, at this moment brought
to my notice by a man, with whom, in my preoccupation, I collided; who
first uttered an impatient exclamation and then, bestowing on me a quick
stare of astonishment, muttered a hasty apology and hurried past. The
incident emphasized the necessity for some reform, and I mended my pace
towards the region of shops in a very ferment of uncomfortable
self-consciousness.

With the purchase of a new hat, a collar, a pair of cuffs, a neck-tie, a
pair of gloves and a stick, some faint glimmer of self-respect revived in
me. I was even conscious of a temptation to linger in Folkestone and
spend a few hours by the sea; but a sense of duty, aided by a large,
muddy stain on my coat, finally decided me to return to town at once.
Accordingly, having sent off a telegram to my landlady and ascertained
that a train left for London in about twenty minutes, I betook myself to
the station.

There were comparatively few people travelling by this particular train;
in fact, when I had established myself with the morning paper in the
off-side corner seat of a smoking compartment, I began, with an
Englishman's proverbial unsociability, to congratulate myself on the
prospect of having the compartment to myself, when my hopes were dashed
by the entrance of an elderly clergyman; who not only broke up my
solitude, but aggravated the offence by quite unnecessarily seating
himself opposite to me. I was almost tempted to move to another corner,
for my length of leg gives an added value to space; but it seemed a rude
thing to do; and as the train moved off at this moment, I resigned myself
to the trifling discomfort.

My clerical friend was a somewhat uncommon-looking man, with a
countenance at once strong and secretive; a rectangular, masterful face,
with a bull-like dew-lap and a small, and very sharp, Roman nose. On
further inspection, I decided that he was either a High-Church parson or
a Roman Catholic priest. His proceedings seemed to favour the latter
hypothesis, for the train was barely out of the station before he had
whisked out of his pocket an ecclesiastical-looking volume, which he
opened at a marked place, and instantly began to read. I watched him with
inquisitive interest, for his manner of reading was very singular. There
was something habitual, almost mechanical, about it, suggesting an
allotted and familiar task, and a lack of concentration that suggested a
corresponding lack of novelty in the matter. As he read, his lips moved,
and now and again I caught a faint whisper, by which I gathered that he
was reading rapidly; but the most singular phenomenon was, that when his
eyes strayed out of the carriage window, as they did at frequent
intervals, his lips went on sputtering with unabated rapidity. Quite
suddenly he appeared to come to the end of a sort of literary measured
mile, for even as his lips were still moving, he clapped in the
book-mark, shut the volume, and returned it to his pocket with a curious
air of businesslike finality.

As his eyes were no longer occupied with the book, my observations had to
be suspended, and my attention was now turned to my own affairs. Putting
my hand in my coat pocket for my pipe and pouch, I became aware of a
state of confusion in the said pocket which I had already noticed when
making my purchases. The fact is, that I had nearly come away from the
barge without my portable property. It was only at the last moment that
the skipper, remembering the mug, had fetched it hurriedly from the
locker and shot its contents bodily into my coat pocket. The present
seemed a good opportunity for distributing the various articles among
their proper receptacles. Accordingly I turned out the whole pocketful on
the seat by my side, and a remarkably miscellaneous collection they
formed; comprising knives, pencils, match-box, keys, the minor implements
of my craft, and various other objects, useful and useless, including the
little gold reliquary.

My neighbour opposite was, I think, quite interested in my proceedings,
though he kept up a dignified pretence of being entirely unaware of my
existence. Only for a while, however. Suddenly he sat up, very wide
awake, and slewing his head round, stared with undisguised intentness at
my little collection. I guessed at once what it was that had attracted
his attention. A cleric would not be thrilled by the sight of a clinical
thermometer or an ophthalmoscope. It was the reliquary that had caught
his eye. That was an article in his own line of business.

With deliberate mischief, I left the little bauble exposed to view as I
very slowly and methodically conveyed the other things one by one, each
to its established pocket. Last of all, I picked up the reliquary and
held it irresolutely as if debating where I should stow it. And at this
point His Reverence intervened, unable any longer to contain his
curiosity. "Zat is a very remargable liddle opchect, sir," he said in
excellent Anglo-German. "Might one bresume to ask vat it's use is?"

I handed the reliquary to him and he took it from me with ill-disguised
eagerness. "I understand," said I, "that it is a reliquary. But you
probably know more about such things than I do. I haven't opened it so I
can't say what is inside."

He nodded gravely. "Zo! I am glad to hear you zay zat. Brobably zere is
inside some holy relic vich ought not to be touched egzepting by bious
handts." He turned the case over, and, putting on a pair of
spectacles--which he had not appeared to require for reading--closely
scrutinized the inscriptions, and even the wisp of cord that remained
attached to one of the rings. "You zay," he resumed without raising his
eyes, "zat you understandt zat zis is a reliquary. Do you not zen know?
Ze berson who gafe it to you, did he not tell you vat it gondained?"

"It wasn't given to me at all," I replied. "In fact, it isn't properly
mine. I picked it up and am merely keeping it until I find the owner."

He pondered this statement with a degree of profundity that seemed rather
out of proportion to its matter; and he continued to gaze at the
reliquary, never once raising his eyes to mine. At length, after a
considerable pause and a most unnecessary amount of reflection, he asked:
"Might one ask, if you shall bardon my guriosity, vere you found zis
liddle opchect?"

I hesitated before replying. My first, and natural, impulse was to tell
him exactly where and under what circumstances I had found the "opchect."
But the way in which my information had been received by the police had
made me rather chary of offering confidences; besides which, I had half
promised them not to talk about the affair. And, after all, it was no
business of this good gentleman's where I found it. My answer was,
therefore, not very explicit. "I picked it up in a lane at Hampstead,
near London."

"At Hampstead!" he repeated. "Zo! Zat would be a very good blace to find
such sings. I mean," he added, hastily, "zere are many beople in zat
blace and some of zem will be of ze old religion."

Now, this last remark was such palpable nonsense that it set me
speculating on what he had intended to say, for it was obvious that he
had altered his mind in the middle of the sentence and completed it with
the first words that came to hand. However, as I could read no sense into
it at all, I said that "perhaps he was right," which seemed an eminently
safe rejoinder to an unintelligible statement.

When he had finished his minute examination of the reliquary, he handed
it back to me with such evident reluctance that, if it had been mine, I
should have been tempted to ask him to accept it. But it was not mine. I
was only a trustee. So I made no remark, but watched him as he, very
deliberately, took off his spectacles and returned them to their case,
looking meanwhile, at the floor with an air of deep abstraction. He
appeared to be thinking hard, and I was quite curious as to what his next
remark would be. A considerable interval elapsed before he spoke again;
but at last the remark came, in the form of a question, and very
disappointing it was. "You are not berhaps very much interested in relics
and reliquaries?"

As a matter of fact, I didn't care two straws for either the one or the
other; but there was no need to put it as strongly as that. "We are apt,"
I replied, "to find a lack of interest in subjects of which we are
ignorant." That was a fine sentence. It might have come straight out of
Sandford and Merton.

"Zat is vat I sink, too," he rejoined. "Ve do not know; ve do not care.
But zere is a very eggeilent liddle book vich egsplains all ze gustoms
and zeremonies gonnected vid relics of ze zainte. I should like you to
read zat book. Vill you bermit me to send you a gobby vich I haf?"

Of course I said I should be delighted. It was an outrageous falsehood,
but what else could I say? "Zen," said he, "I shall haf great pleasure in
zending it to you if you vill kindly tell me how I shall address it."

I presented him with my card, which he read very attentively before
bestowing it in his pocket-book. "I see," he remarked, "zat you are a
doctor of medicine. It is a fine brofession, if one does not too much
vorget ze spiritual life in garing for zat of ze body."

In this I acquiesced vaguely, and the conversation drifted into detached
commonplaces, finally petering out as we approached Paddock Wood; where
my reverend acquaintance bought a newspaper and underwent a total eclipse
behind it.

As soon as the train started again, I took up my own paper; and the very
first glance at it gave me a shock of surprise that sent all other
matters clean out of my mind. It was an advertisement in the column
headed "Personal" that attracted my attention, an advertisement that
commenced with the word "Missing," in large type, and went on to offer
Two Hundred Pounds Reward: thus:--

"MISSING. TWO HUNDRED POUNDS REWARD.

"Whereas, on the 14th inst., Dr. Humphrey Jardine disappeared from his
home and his usual places of resort; the above reward will be paid to any
person who shall give information as to his whereabouts, if alive, or the
whereabouts of his body if he is dead. He was last seen at 12.20 pm on
the above date in the Hampstead Road, and was then walking towards Euston
Road. The missing man is about twenty-six years of age; is somewhat over
six feet in height; of medium complexion; has brown hair, grey eyes,
straight nose and a rather thin face, which is clean-shaved. He was
wearing a dark tweed suit, and soft felt hat.

"Information should be given to Hector Brodribb, Esquire, 65, New Square,
Lincoln's Inn, by whom the above reward will be paid."

Here was a pretty state of affairs: It seemed that while I was placidly
taking events as they came; smoking the skipper's tobacco and
bottom-fishing with young Ted; my escapade had been producing somewhere a
most almighty splash. I read the advertisement again, with a
self-conscious grin, and out of it there arose one or two rather curious
questions. In the first place, who the deuce was Hector Brodribb? And
what concern was I of his? And how came he to know that I was walking
down Hampstead Road at 12.20 on the 14th inst.?

I felt very little doubt it was actually Thorndyke who was tweaking the
strings of the Brodribbian puppet. But even this left the mystery
unsolved. For how did Thorndyke know? This was only the fifth day after
my disappearance, and it would seem that there had hardly been time for
exhaustive enquiries.

Then another highly interesting fact emerged. The only person who had
seen me walk away down Hampstead Road was Sylvia Vyne; whence it followed
that Thorndyke, or the mysterious Brodribb, had in some way got into
touch with her. And reflecting on this, the mechanism of the enquiry came
into view. The connecting-link was, of course, the sketch. Thorndyke had,
himself, left the canvas with Mr. Robinson, the artist's-colourman, and
he must have called to enquire if I had collected it. Then, he would have
been told of my meeting with Miss Vyne, and as she was a regular
customer, Mr. Robinson would have been able to give him her address. It
was all perfectly simple, the only remarkable feature being the
extraordinary promptitude with which the inquiry had been carried out.
Which went to show how much more clearly Thorndyke had realized the
danger that surrounded me than I had myself.

These various reflections gave me full occupation during the remainder of
the journey, extending themselves into consideration of how I should act
in the immediate future. My first duty was obviously to report myself to
Thorndyke without delay; after which, I persuaded myself, it would be
highly necessary for me personally to re-assure the fair, and, perhaps,
anxious Sylvia. As to how this was to be managed, I was not quite clear,
and in spite of the most profound cogitation, I had reached no conclusion
when the train rumbled into Charing Cross Station.

CHAPTER XII

MISS VYNE

As I stepped out on to the platform with a valedictory bow to my reverend
fellow-passenger, my irresolution came to an end and my duty became
clear. I must, in common decency, report myself at once to Thorndyke,
seeing that he had been at so much trouble on my account. His card, which
he had given me, I had unfortunately--or perhaps fortunately, as it
turned out--left on the mantelpiece at my lodgings; but I remembered that
the address was King's Bench Walk and assumed that I should have no
difficulty in finding the house. Nor had I, for, as I entered the Temple
by the Tudor Street gate--having overshot my mark on the Embankment--I
was almost immediately confronted by a fine brick doorway surmounted by a
handsome pediment and bearing legibly painted on its jamb, "First pair,
Dr. Thorndyke."

I ascended the "first pair" of stairs, which brought me to an open oak
door, massive and iron-bound, and a closed inner door, on the brass
knocker of which I executed a flourish that would have done credit to a
Belgravian footman; whereupon the door opened and a small man of sedate
and clerical aspect regarded me with an air of mild enquiry. "Is Dr.
Thorndyke at home?" I asked. "No, sir. He is at the hospital."

"Dr. Jervis?"

"Is watching a case in the Probate Court. Perhaps you would like to leave
a message or write a note. A message in writing would be preferable."

"I don't know that it's necessary," said I. "My name is Jardine, and if
you tell him that I called that will probably be enough."

The little man gave me a quick, bird-like glance of obviously heightened
interest. "If you are Dr. Humphrey Jardine," said he, "I think a few
explanatory words would be acceptable. The Doctor has been extremely
uneasy about you. A short note and an appointment, either here or at the
hospital, would be desirable."

With this he stepped back, holding the door invitingly open, and I
entered, wondering who the deuce this prim little cathedral dean might
be, with his persuasive manners and his quaintly precise forms of speech.
He placed a chair for me at the table, and, having furnished me with
writing materials, stood a little way off, unobtrusively examining me as
I wrote. I had finished the short letter, closed it up and addressed it,
and was rising to go, when, almost automatically, I took out my watch and
glanced at it. Of course it had stopped. "Can you tell me the time?" I
asked.

My acquaintance drew out his own watch and replied deliberately:
"Seventeen minutes and forty seconds past one." He paused for a moment
and then added: "I hope, sir, you have not got any water into your
watch."

"I'm afraid I have," I replied, rather taken aback by the rapidity of his
diagnosis. "But I'll just wind it up to make sure."

"Oh, don't do that, sir!" he exclaimed. "Allow me to examine it before
you disturb the movement." He whipped out of his pocket a watchmaker's
eyeglass, which miraculously glued itself to his eye, and, having taken a
brief glance at the opened watch, produced a minute pocket screw-driver
and a sheet of paper; and, in the twinkling of an eye, as it seemed to
me, the paper was covered with the dismembered structures which had in
their totality formed my timepiece. "It's quite a small matter, sir," was
his report, as he rose from his inspection and pocketed his eye-glass.
"Just a speck or two of rust. If you will take my watch for the present,
I will have your own in going order by the next time you call."

It seemed an odd transaction; but the little man's manner, though quiet,
was so decisive that I took his proffered watch, and, affixing it to my
chain, thanked him for his kindness and departed, wondering if it was
possible that this prim clerical little person could possibly be the
"tame mechanic" of whom Thorndyke had spoken.

Travelling in London was comparatively slow in those days--which,
perhaps, was none the worse for a near and pleasant suburb like
Hampstead; it had turned half-past two when I let myself into my lodgings
with a rather rusty key and almost literally, fell into the arms of Mrs.
Blunt. I feared, for a moment, that she was going to kiss me. But that
was a false alarm. What she actually did was to seize both my hands and
burst into tears with such violence as to cover me with confusion and
cause the servant maid to rise like a domestic, and highly inquisitive,
apparition from the kitchen stairs. I pacified Mrs. Blunt as well as I
could and shook hands heartily with the maid, who thereupon retired, much
gratified, to the underworld, whence presently issued an odour suggestive
of sacrificial rites, not entirely unconnected with fried onions, and
accompanied by an agreeable hissing sound. "But wherever have you been
all this time?" Mrs. Blunt asked, as she preceded me up the stairs wiping
her eyes, "and why didn't you send us a line just to say that you were
all right?"

To this question I made a somewhat guarded answer in so far as the cause
of my immersion in the river was concerned; otherwise I gave her a fairly
correct account of my adventures. "Well, well," was her comment, "I
suppose it was all for the best, but I do think those sailors might have
put you on shore somewhere. Dear me, what a time it has been. I couldn't
sleep at night for thinking of you, and what Susan and I have eaten
between us wouldn't have kept a sparrow alive. And Dr. Thorndyke, too,
I'm sure he was very anxious and worried about you, though he is such a
quiet, self-contained man that you can't tell what he is thinking of. And
Lord; what a lot of questions he do ask, to be sure!"

"By the way, how did he come to know that I was missing?"

"Why I told him, of course. When you didn't come home that night--which
Susan and me sat up for you until three in the morning--I thought there
must be something wrong, you being so regular in your habits; so next
day, the very first thing, I took his card from your mantelpiece and down
I went to his office and told him what had happened. He came up here that
evening to see if you had come home, and he's been here every day since
to enquire."

"Has he really?"

"Yes. In a hansom cab. Every single day. And so has the young lady."

"The young lady!" I exclaimed. "What young lady?"

Mrs. Blunt regarded me with something as nearly approaching a wink as can
be imagined in association with an elderly female of sedate aspect.
"Now," she protested slyly, "as if you didn't know! What young lady
indeed! Why, Miss Vyne, to be sure; and a very sweet young lady she is,
and talked to me just as simple and friendly as if she'd been an ordinary
young woman."

"How do you know that she isn't an ordinary young woman?" I asked.

Mrs. Blunt was shocked. "Do you suppose, Mr. Jardine, sir," she demanded
severely, "that I who have been a head parlour-maid in a county family
where my poor husband was coachman, don't know a real gentlewoman when I
meet one? You surprise me, sir."

I apologized hastily and suggested that, as so many kind enquiries had
been made, the least I could do was to call and return thanks without
delay. "Certainly, sir," Mrs. Blunt agreed; "but not until you have had
your lunch. It's a small porterhouse steak," she added alluringly, being
evidently suspicious of my intentions. The announcement, seconded by an
appetizing whiff from below, reminded me that I was prodigiously sharp
set, having tasted no food since I had come ashore at Folkestone, and put
the grosser physiological needs of the body, for the moment, in the
ascendant. But even as I was devouring the steak with voracious gusto, my
mind occupied itself with plans for a strategic descent on the abode of
the fair Sylvia and with speculations on the reception I should get; and
the noise of water running into the bath formed a pleasing accompaniment
to the final mouthfuls.

When I had bathed, shaved and attired myself in carefully selected
garments, I set forth, as smart and spruce as the frog that would
a-wooing go--saving the opera hat, which would have been inappropriate to
the occasion. The distance to Sylvia's house was not great, and a pair of
long and rapidly-moving legs consumed it to such purpose that it was
still quite reasonable calling time when I opened the gate of "The
Hawthorns" and gave a modest pull at the bell. My summons was answered by
a rather foolish-looking maid, by whom I was informed that Miss Vyne was
at home, and when I had given her my name--which she seemed disposed to
confuse with that of a well-known edible fish--she ushered me down a
passage to a room at the back of the house, and, opening the door,
announced me--correctly, I was glad to note; whereupon I assumed an
ingratiating smile and entered.

Now there is nothing more disconcerting than a total failure of agreement
between anticipation and realization. Unconsciously, I had pictured to
myself the easy-mannered, genial Sylvia, seated, perhaps, at an easel or
table, working on one of her pictures, and had prepared myself for a
reception quite simple, friendly and unembarrassing. Confidently and
entirely at my ease, I walked in through the doorway; and there the
pleasant vision faded, leaving me with the smile frozen on my face,
staring in consternation at one of the most appalling old women that it
has ever been my misfortune to encounter.

I am, in general, rather afraid of old women. They are, to my mind, a
rather alarming class of creature; but the present specimen exceeded my
wildest nightmares. It was not merely that she was seated unnaturally in
the exact centre of the room and that she sat with unhuman immobility,
moving no muscle and uttering no sound as I entered, though that was
somewhat embarrassing. It was her strange, forbidding appearance that
utterly shattered my self-possession and seemed to disturb the very
marrow in my bones.

She was a most remarkable-looking person. An immense Roman nose, a mop of
frizzy grey fringe and a lofty surmounting cap or head-dress of some
kind, suggested that monstrous and unreal bird, the helmeted hornbill;
and the bird-like character was heightened by her eyes, which were small
and glittering and set in the midst of a multitude of radiating wrinkles.

To this most alarming person I made a low bow--and dropped my stick, of
which the maid had neglected to relieve me and for which I had found no
appointed receptacle. As I stooped hastily to pick it up, my hat slipped
from my grasp, and, urged by the devil that possess disengaged hats,
instantly rolled under a deep ottoman, whence I had to hook it out with
the handle of my stick. I rose, perspiring with embarrassment, to
confront that immovable figure, and found the glittering eyes fixed on me
attentively but without any sign of expression of human emotion.
Haltingly I essayed to stammer out an explanation of my visit. "Er--I
have--er--called-" Here I paused to collect my ideas and the old lady
watched me stonily without offering any remark; indeed no comment was
needed on a statement so self-evidently true. After a brief and hideous
silence I began again. "I--er--thought it desirable--er--and in fact
necessary and--er--proper to call--er and--"

Here my ideas again petered out and a horrid silence ensued, amidst which
I heard a still, emotionless voice murmur: "Yes. And you have accordingly
called."

"Exactly," I agreed, grasping eagerly at the slenderest straw of
suggestion. "I have called to--er--well, the fact is that my--er--very
remarkable absence seemed to call for some explanation, especially as
certain enquiries--er--"

At this point I stopped suddenly with a horrible doubt as to whether I
was not saying more than was discreet; and the misgiving was intensified
by that chilly, calm voice, framing the question: "Enquiries made
personally?"

Now this was a facer. I seemed to have put my foot in it at the first
lead off. Supposing Sylvia had said nothing about her little visits to
Mrs. Blunt? It would never do to give her away to this inquisitorial old
waxwork. I endeavoured to temporize. "Well," I stammered, "not exactly
made personally to me."

"By letter, perhaps?" the voice suggested in the same even, impassive
tone.

"Er--no. Not by letter."

There was a short embarrassing pause, and then the old lady, as if
summing up the case, said frigidly: "Not exactly personally and not by
letter."

I was so utterly confounded by her judicial manner, her immovable,
expressionless face and the hypnotic quality of those glittering eyes,
that for the moment I could think of nothing to say. "Don't let me
interrupt you," said she after some seconds of agonized silence on my
part; whereupon I pulled myself together and made a fresh start. "I
should, perhaps, have explained that I have been unavoidably absent from
home for some time, and, as I was unable to communicate with my friends,
I have, I am afraid, caused them some anxiety. It was this that seemed to
make it necessary for me to call and give an account of myself."

She pondered awhile on this statement--if a graven image can be said to
ponder--and at length enquired: "You spoke of your friends. Are any of
them known to me?"

"Well," I replied, "I was referring more particularly to your daughter."

She continued to regard me fixedly, and, after a brief interval,
rejoined: "You are referring to my daughter. But I do not recall the
existence of any such person. I think you must be mistaken."

It seemed extremely probable, and I hastened to amend the description. "I
beg your pardon. I should have said Miss Vyne. But perhaps she is not at
home."

"You are evidently mistaken," was the paralyzing reply. "I am Miss Vyne;
and I need not add that I am at home."

"But," I demanded despairingly, "is there not another Miss Vyne?"

"There is not," she answered. "But it is possible that you are referring
to Miss Sylvia Vyne. Is that so?"

I replied sulkily that it was; and being somewhat nettled by this
unnecessary and rather offensive hairsplitting, offered no further
remark. How the conversation would have proceeded after this, I cannot
even surmise. But it did not proceed at all, for the embarrassing silence
was brought to an end by a very agreeable interruption. The door opened
softly and for one moment Sylvia herself stood framed in the portal;
then, with a little cry, she ran towards me with her hands held out
impulsively and the prettiest smile of welcome. "So it is really you!"
she exclaimed. "That silly little goose of a maid has only just told me
you were here. I am glad to see you. When did you graciously please to
descend from the clouds?"

"I arrived home this afternoon, and as soon as I had changed and had
lunch I came here to report myself."

"How nice of you," said Sylvia. "I suppose you guessed how anxious we
should be?"

"I didn't presume to think that you would actually be anxious about me,"
I replied, with a furtive eye on the waxwork, "though I knew that you had
been kind enough to express an interest in my fate."

"What a cold-bloodedly polite way to put it!" laughed Sylvia. "'Express
an interest,' indeed! We were most dreadfully worried about you."

To a somewhat friendless man like myself this sympathetic warmth was very
delightful, and my pleasure was not appreciably damped when a chill,
emotionless voice affirmed: "The use of the first person singular would,
I think, be preferable."

Sylvia turned on her aunt with mock ferocity. "Well, really!" she
exclaimed. "You are a dreadful impostor, Mopsy, dear! Just listen to her,
Dr. Jardine. And if you had only seen what a twitter she was in as the
time went on and no news came!"

I gasped, and the hair seemed to stir on my scalp. Mopsy! The name was
obviously not applied to me. But could it be--was it possible that such a
name could be associated with that terrific old lady? It was
inconceivable. It was positively profane! It was almost as if one should
presume to address the Deity as "old chap." I could hardly believe my
ears.

I glanced at her nervously and caught her glittering eye; but the
grotesque face was as immovable as everlasting granite, though, indeed,
by some ventriloquial magic, the word "Rubbish" managed to disengage
itself from her person.

"It isn't rubbish," retorted Sylvia. "It's the plain truth. We were both
worried to death about you. And no wonder. Dr. Thorndyke was very quiet
and matter-of-fact, but there was no disguising his fear that something
dreadful had happened to you. And then there was the advertisement in the
papers. Did you see that? Oh, it's nothing to grin about. You've given us
all a nice fright; and me especially, because, of course, I naturally
thought of that ruffian from whom you rescued me in the lane."

"But he never saw me."

"You don't know. He may have done. At any rate, you owe us an
explanation; so, when the tea comes in you shall give us the true story
of your adventures. I hope you've let Dr. Thorndyke know about your
resurrection."

I reassured her on this point, and as the "goose of a maid" now brought
in the tea, I proceeded to "pitch my yarn," as the skipper had expressed
it, without those reservations that I had considered necessary in the
case of Mrs. Blunt.

The old lady, having been unmasked by Sylvia, developed a slight tendency
to thaw. She even condescended, in a rigid and effigean fashion, to
consume bread and butter; a proceeding that seemed to me weirdly
incongruous, as though one should steal into the British Museum in off
hours and find the seated statue of Amenhotep the Third in the act of
refreshing itself with a sandwich and a glass of beer. But I was less
terrified of her now since I had gathered that a core of warm humanity
was somewhere concealed within that grim exterior; and even though her
little sparkling eyes were fixed on me immovably, I told my story to the
end without flinching.

Sylvia listened to my narration with a rapt attention that greatly
flattered my vanity and made me feel like a very Othello, and when I had
finished, she regarded me for a while silently and with an air of
speculation. "It's a queer affair," she said at length, "and there is a
smack of mystery and romance about it that is rather refreshing in these
commonplace days. But I don't like it. Adventure is all very well, but
there seems to have been a deliberate attempt to make away with you;
unless you think it may have been a piece of silly horse-play that went
farther than it was meant to."

"That is quite possible," I replied untruthfully--for I didn't think
anything of the sort, and only made this evasive answer to avoid raising
other and more delicate issues.

"I hope that is the explanation," said Sylvia, "though it sounds rather a
lame one. You would know if you had an enemy who might wish to get rid of
you. I suppose you don't know of any such person?"

It was a rather awkward question, I didn't want to tell an untruth, but,
on the other hand, I knew that Thorndyke would not wish to have my
affairs discussed while his investigations were in progress; so I
"hedged" once more, replying, quite truthfully, that I was not acquainted
with anyone who bore me the slightest ill-will.

My adventures done with, the talk drifted into other channels and
presently came round to the little crucifix that had been the occasion of
Sylvia's disagreeable experience in the lane. In spite of my confusion, I
had noticed, on first entering the room, that the old lady was wearing
suspended from her neck, a small enamelled crucifix, and had instantly
identified it and wondered not a little that she should be thus
disporting herself in borrowed ornaments; but when Sylvia had arrived,
behold, the original crucifix was hanging on its chain from her neck.
From time to time during my recital my eyes had wandered from one to the
other seeking some difference or variation but finding none, and at
length my inquisitive glances caught the younger lady's attention. "I can
see. Dr. Jardine," said she, "that you are eaten up with curiosity about
the crucifix that my Aunt is wearing. Now confess. Aren't you?"

"I am," I admitted. "When I first came in I naturally thought it was
yours. Is it a copy?"

"Certainly not," said Miss Vyne, the elder. "They are duplicates."

Sylvia laughed. "You'd better not talk about copies," said she. "My aunt
has only acquired her treasure lately, and she is as proud of it as a
peacock; aren't you, dear?"

"The sensations of a peacock," replied Miss Vyne, "are unknown to me. I
am very gratified at possessing the ornament."

"Gratified indeed!" said Sylvia. "I consider such vanity most unsuitable
to a person of your age. But they are very charming, and there is quite a
little story attached to them. My father and a cousin of his--"

"By marriage," interposed Miss Vyne.

"You needn't insist on that," said Sylvia, "as if poor old Vitalia were a
person to be ashamed of. Well, my father and this cousin were at a Jesuit
school in Belgium--at Louvain, in fact--and among the teachers in the
school was an Italian Jesuit named Giglioli. Now the respected Giggley--"

"--oli," interposed Miss Vyne in a severe voice.

"--oli," continued Sylvia, "had formerly been a goldsmith; and the Father
Superior, with that keen eye to the main chance which you may have
noticed among professed religious, furnished him with a little workshop
and employed him in making monstrances, thuribles and church plate in
general. It was he who made these two crucifixes; and, with the Father
Superior's consent, he gave one to my father and the other to the cousin
as parting gifts on their leaving school. As the boys were inseparable
friends, the two crucifixes were made absolute duplicates of one another,
with the single exception that each had the owner's name engraved on the
back. When my poor father died his crucifix became mine, and a short time
ago, his cousin--who is now getting an old man--took a fancy that he
would like the two crucifixes to be together once more and gave his to my
aunt. So here they are, after all these years, under one roof again."

As she finished speaking, she detached the crucifix from her neck and,
having given it to me to examine, proceeded to remove its fellow from the
neck of the elder lady--who not only submitted quite passively but seemed
to be unaware of the transaction--and handed that to me also.

I laid them side by side in my palm and compared them, but could not
detect the slightest difference between them. They were complete
duplicates. Each was a Latin cross with trefoiled extremities, wrought
from a single piece of gold and enriched with champlevé enamel. The body
of the cross was filled with a ground of deep, translucent blue, from
which the figure stood out in rather low relief, and the space between
each of the trefoils was occupied by a single Greek letter--Iota and Chi
at the top and bottom respectively, and at the ends of the horizontal arm
Alpha and Omega. On turning them over, I saw that the back of each bore
an engraved inscription carried across the horizontal arm, that on
Sylvia's reading: "A. M. ROBERTUS, D.G.," while that on the other read:
"A. M. VITALIS, D.G."

"They are very charming little things," I said, as I returned them to
Sylvia; "and it was a pretty idea of the old Jesuit to make them both
alike for the two friends. I suppose he didn't make any more of them for
his other pupils?"

"What makes you ask that?" demanded Sylvia.

"I am thinking of that man in the lane. He must have had some reason for
claiming the crucifix as his, one would think; and as these are quite
unlike any ordinary commercial jewellery, the suggestion is that the
worthy Giglioli was tempted to repeat his successes. What do you think?"

"I think," said Miss Vyne, "that the suggestion is inadmissable. Father
Giglioli was an artist, and an artist does not repeat himself."

"I am inclined to agree with my aunt," said Sylvia. "An artist does not
care to repeat a design, excepting for a definite purpose, as in the case
of these duplicates; especially when the thing designed is intended as a
gift."

To this I gave a somewhat qualified assent, though I found the argument
far from convincing; and, as I had made a very long visitation,
especially for a first call, I now rose to depart. "I hope I may be
allowed to come and see you again," I ventured to say as Miss Vyne raised
a sort of semaphore arm to my extended hand. "I see no reason why you
should not," she replied judicially. "You seem to be a well-disposed
young man, though indiscreet. Good-afternoon."

I bowed deferentially and then, to my gratification, was escorted as far
as the garden gate by Sylvia; who evidently wished to gather my
impressions of her relative, for, as she let me out, she asked with a
mischievous smile: "What do you think of my aunt, Dr. Jardine?"

"She is rather a terrifying old lady," I replied.

Sylvia giggled delightedly. "She does look an awful old griffin, doesn't
she? But it's all nonsense, you know. She is really a dear old thing, and
as soft as butter."

"Well," I said, "she conceals the fact most perfectly."

"She does. She is a most complete impostor. I'll tell you a secret, Dr.
Jardine," Sylvia added in a mysterious whisper, as we shook hands over
the gate; "she trades on her nose. I've told her so. Her nose is her
fortune, and she plays it for all it's worth. Goodbye--or rather, au
revoir! for you've promised to come and see us again."

With a bright little nod she turned and ran up the garden path, still
chuckling softly at her joke; and I wended homewards, very well pleased
with the circumstances of my visit, despite the soul-shaking incidents
with which it had opened.

CHAPTER XIII

A MYSTERIOUS STRANGER

ON the following morning I betook myself to the hospital intending to
call later in the day at Dr. Thorndyke's chambers; but that visit turned
out to be unnecessary, for, as I ran my eye over the names on the
attendance board in the entrance hall, I saw that Thorndyke was in the
building, although it was not the day on which he lectured. I found him,
as I had expected, in the museum and was greeted with a hearty grip of
the hand and a welcome, the warmth of which gratified me exceedingly.
"Well, Jardine," he said, "you've given us all a pretty fine shake up. I
have never been more relieved in my life than I was when my man Polton
gave me your note. But you seem to have had another fairly close shave.
What a fellow you are, to be sure! You seem to be as tenacious of life as
the proverbial cat."

"So that little archbishop is your man Polton, is he?"

"Yes; and a most remarkable man, Jardine, and simply invaluable to me,
though he ought to be in a very different position. But I think he is
quite happy with me--especially now that he has got your watch to
experiment on. You will see that watch again some day, when he has rated
it to half a second. And meanwhile let us go into the curator's room and
reconstitute your adventures."

The curator's room was empty at the moment; empty, that is to say, so far
as human denizens were concerned. Otherwise it was decidedly full; the
usual wilderness of glass jars, sepulchral slate tanks, bones in all
stages of preparation and unfinished specimens, being supplemented by
that all-pervading, unforgettable odour peculiar to curator's rooms,
compounded of alcohol and mortality, and suggesting a necropolis for
deceased dipsomaniacs. Thorndyke seated himself on a well-polished stool
by the work-bench, and, motioning me to another, bade me speak on. Which
I did in exhaustive detail; giving him a minute history of my experiences
from the time of my parting from Sylvia to the present moment, not
omitting my encounter with Mrs. Samway and the clerical gentleman in the
train.

He listened to my narrative in his usual silent, attentive fashion,
making no comments and asking no questions until I had finished; when he
cross-examined me on one or two points of detail. "With regard to Mrs.
Samway," he asked, "did you gather that she was crossing by the Boulogne
boat?"

"I inferred that she was, but she said nothing on the subject."

He nodded and then asked; "Do I understand that you never saw your
assailant at all?"

"I never got the slightest glimpse of him; in fact I could not say
whether the person who attacked me was a man or a woman excepting that
the obvious strength and the method of attack suggest a man."

To this he made no reply, but sat a while absorbed in thought. It was
evident that he was deeply interested in the affair, not only on my
account but by reason of the curious problems that it offered for
solution. Indeed, his next remark was to this effect. "It is a most
singular case, Jardine," he said. "So much of it is perfectly clear, and
yet so much more is unfathomable mystery. But just now, the speculative
interest is overshadowed by the personal. I am rather doubtful as to what
we ought to do. It almost looks as if you ought not to be at large."

"I hope, sir, you don't suggest shutting me up," I exclaimed with a grin.

"That was in my mind," he answered. "You are evidently in considerable
danger, and you are not as cautious as you ought to be."

"I shall be mighty cautious after this experience," I rejoined; "and you
have yourself implied that I have nine lives."

"Even so," he retorted, "you have played away a third of them pretty
rapidly. If you are not more careful of the other six, I shall have to
put you somewhere out of harm's way. Do, for goodness sake, Jardine, keep
away from unpopulated places and see that no stranger gets near enough to
have you at a disadvantage."

I promised him to keep a constant watch for suspicious strangers and to
avoid all solitary neighbourhoods and ill-lighted thoroughfares, and
shortly after this we separated to go our respective ways, he back to the
museum and I to the surgical wards.

For some time after this, the record of my daily life furnishes nothing
but a chronicle of small beer. I had resumed pretty regular attendance at
the hospital, setting forth from my lodgings in the morning and returning
thither as the late afternoon merged into evening; taking the necessary
exercise in the form of the long walk to and from the hospital, and
keeping close indoors at night. It began to look as though my adventures
were at an end and life were settling down to the old familiar jog trot.

And yet the beer was not quite so small as it looked. Coming events cast
their shadows before them, but often enough those shadows wear a shape
ill-defined and vague, and so creep on unnoticed. Thus it was in these
days of apparent inaction, though even then there were certain little
happenings at which I looked askance. Such an episode occurred within a
few days of my return, and gave me considerable food for thought. I had
climbed on to the yellow 'bus in the Tottenham Court Road and was seated
on the top, smoking my pipe, when, as we passed up the Hampstead Road, I
noticed a woman looking into the window of Mr. Robinson, the
artist's-colourman. Something familiar or distinctive in the pose of the
figure made me glance a second time; and then I think my eyes must have
grown more and more round with astonishment as the 'bus gradually drew me
out of range. For the woman was undoubtedly Mrs. Samway.

It was really a most surprising affair. This good lady seemed to be
ubiquitous; to fly hither and thither and drop from the clouds as if she
were the possessor of a magic carpet. Apparently she had not gone to
Boulogne after all; or if she had, her stay on the Continent must have
been uncommonly short. But if she had not crossed on the boat, what was
she doing in Folkestone? It was all very well to say that she had as much
right to be in Folkestone as I had. That was true enough, but it was a
lame conclusion and no explanation at all.

It was my custom, as I have said, to walk from my lodgings to the
hospital, a distance of some five miles; but this was practicable only in
fine weather. On wet days I took the tram from the "Duke of St. Alban's";
and beguiled the slow journey by reading one of my text-books and
observing the manners and customs of my fellow-passengers. Such a day was
the one that followed the re-appearance of Mrs. Samway. A persistent
drizzle put my morning walk out of the question and sent me reluctant but
resigned to seek the shelter of the tram, where having settled myself
with a volume of Gould's "Surgical Diagnosis," I began to read to the
accompaniment of the monotonous rhythm of the horses' hoofs and the
sleepy jingle of their bells. From time to time I looked up from my book
to take a glance at the other occupants of the steamy interior, and on
each occasion that I did so, I caught the eye of my opposite neighbour
roving over my person as if taking an inventory of my apparel. Whenever
he caught my eye, he immediately looked away; but the next time I glanced
up I was sure to find him once more engaged in a leisurely examination of
me.

There was nothing remarkable in this. People who sit opposite in a public
vehicle unconsciously regard one another, as I was doing myself; but when
I had met my neighbour's eye a dozen times or more, I began to grow
annoyed at his persistent inspection; and finally, shutting up my book,
proceeded to retaliate in kind.

This seemed to embarrass him considerably. Avoiding my steady gaze, his
eyes flitted to and fro, passing restlessly from one part of the vehicle
to another; and then it was that my medical eye noted a fact that gave an
intrinsic interest to the inspection. The man had what is called a
nystagmus; that is, a peculiar oscillatory movement of the eyeball. As
his eyes passed quickly from object to object, they did not both come to
rest instantaneously, but the right eye stopped with a sort of vertical
stagger as if the bearings were loose. The condition is not a very common
one, and the one-sided variety is decidedly rare. It is usually
associated with some defect of vision or habitual strain of the
eye-muscles, as in miners' nystagmus; whence my discovery naturally led
to a further survey and speculation as to the cause of the condition in
the present case.

The man was obviously not a miner. His hands--with a cigarette stain, as
I noticed, on the left middle finger--were much too delicate, and he had
not in any way the appearance of a labourer. Then the spasm must be due
to some defect of eyesight. Yet he was not near-sighted, for, as we
passed a church at some distance, I saw him glance out through the
doorway at the clock and compare it with his watch; and again, I noticed
that he took out his watch with his left hand. Then perhaps he had a
blind eye or unequal vision in the two eyes; this seemed the most likely
explanation; and I had hardly proposed it to myself when the chance was
given to me to verify it. Confused by my persistent examination of him,
my unwilling patient suddenly produced a newspaper from his pocket and,
clapping a pair of pince-nez on his nose, began to read. Those pince-nez
gave me the required information, for I could see that one glass was
strongly convex while the other was nearly plane.

The question of my friend's eyesight being disposed of, I began to debate
the significance of that stain of the left middle finger. Was he
left-handed? It did not follow, though it seemed likely; and then I found
myself noting the manner in which he hold his paper, until, becoming
suddenly conscious of the absurdity of the whole affair, I impatiently
picked up my book and reverted to the diagnosis of renal calculus. I was
becoming, I reflected disparagingly, as inquisitive as Thorndyke himself;
from whom I seemed to have caught some infection that impelled me thus to
concern myself with the trifling peculiarities of total strangers.

The trivial incident would probably have faded from my recollection but
for another, equally trivial, which occurred a day or two later. I was
returning home by way of Tottenham Court Road and had nearly reached the
crossing at the north end when I suddenly remembered that I had come to
the last of my note-books. The shop at which I obtained them was in Gower
Street, hard by, and as the thought of the books occurred to me, I turned
abruptly and, running across the road, strode quickly down a by-street
that led to the shop.

As I came out into Gower Street I noticed a small, but rapidly augmenting
crowd on the pavement, and, elbowing my way through, found at its centre
a man lying on the ground, writhing in the convulsions of an epileptic
fit. I proceeded to ward off the well-meant attentions of the usual
excited bystanders, who were pulling open his hands and trying to sit him
up, and had thrust the corner of a folded newspaper between his teeth to
prevent him from biting his tongue when a constable arrived on the scene;
upon which, as the officer bore on his sleeve the badge of the St. John's
Ambulance Society, I gave him a few directions and began to back out of
the crowd.

At this moment, I became aware of a pressure behind me and a suspicious
fumbling, strongly suggestive of the presence of a pick-pocket.
Instantly, I turned right about and directed a searching look at
the people behind me, and especially at a bearded, nondescript person who
seemed also to be backing out of the crowd. He gave me a single, quick
glance as I followed him through the press and then averted his eyes; and
as he did so, I noticed, with something of a start, that his right eye
came to rest with a peculiar, rapid up-and-down shake. He had, in fact, a
right-sided nystagmus.

The coincidence naturally struck me with some force. A nystagmus is not,
as I have said, a very common condition; one-sided nystagmus is actually
a rare one; and, of the one-sided instances, only some fifty per cent
will affect the right eye. The coincidence was therefore quite a notable
one; but had it any particular bearing? I had a half-formed inclination
to follow the man; but he had not actually picked my pocket or done any
other overt act, and one could hardly follow a person merely because he
happened to suffer from an uncommon nervous affection.

The man was now walking up the street, briskly, but without manifest
hurry; looking straight before him and swinging his stick with something
of a flourish. I watched him speculatively, as I walked in the same
direction, and then suddenly realized that he was carrying his stick in
his left hand, and carrying it, too, with the unmistakable ease born of
habit. Then he was left-handed! And here was another coincidence; not a
remarkable one in itself, but, when added to the other, so singular and
striking that I insensibly quickened my pace.

As my acquaintance reached the corner of the Euston Road, an omnibus
stopped to put down a passenger. It was about to move on when he raised
his stick, and, following it, stepped on the footboard and mounted to the
roof. I was undecided what to do. Should I follow him? And, if so, to
what purpose? He would certainly notice me if I did and be on his guard,
so that I should probably have my trouble for nothing and possibly look
like a fool into the bargain. And while I was thus standing irresolute at
the corner, the omnibus rumbled away westward and decided the question
for me.

I am not, as the reader may have gathered, a particularly cautious man or
much given to suspicion. But recent events had made me a good deal more
wary and had taught me to look with less charity on chance fellow
creatures; and this left-handed person with the nystagmus occupied my
thoughts to no small extent during the next day or two. Was he the man
whom I had seen in the tram? Apparently not. The latter had been clean
shaven and dressed neatly in the style of a clerk or ordinary City man,
whereas the former wore a full beard and was shabby, almost beyond the
verge of respectability. As to their respective statures, I could not
judge, as I had seen the one man seated and the other standing; but,
superficially, they were not at all alike, and, in all probability they
were different persons.

But this conclusion was not at all inevitable. When I reflected on the
matter, I saw that the resemblances and differences did not balance. The
two men resembled one another in qualities that were inherent and
unalterable, but they differed in qualities that were superficial and
subject to change. A man cannot assume or cast off a nystagmus, but he
can put on a false beard. A left-handed man may endeavour to conceal his
peculiarity, but the superior deftness of the habitually used hand will
make itself apparent in spite of his efforts; whereas he can make any
alterations in his clothing that he pleases. And thus reflecting, the
suspicion grew more and more strong that the two men might very well have
been one and the same person, and that it would be discreet to keep a
bright look-out for a left-handed man with a right-sided nystagmus.

During all this time I had seen nothing of my new friend Miss Sylvia. But
I had by no means forgotten her. Without wishing to exaggerate my
feelings, I may say that I had taken a strong liking to that very
engaging young lady. She was a pleasant, easy-mannered girl, evidently
good-tempered, and very frank and simple; a girl--as Mr. Sparkler would
have said--"with no bigod nonsense about her." Her tastes ran along very
similar lines to my own, and she was clever enough to be a quite
interesting companion. Then it was evident that she liked me--which was
in itself an attraction, to say nothing of the credit that it reflected
on her taste--and, in a perfectly modest way, she had made no secret of
the fact. And finally, she was exceptionally good-looking. Now people may
say, as they do, that beauty is only skin deep--which is perfectly
untrue, by the way; but even so, one is more concerned with the skins of
one's fellow creatures than with their livers or vermiform appendices.
The contact of persons, as of things, occurs at their respective
surfaces.

From which it will be gathered that I was only allowing a decent interval
to elapse before repeating my visit to "The Hawthorns"; indeed, I was
beginning to think that a sufficient interval had already passed and to
contemplate seriously my second call, when my intentions were forestalled
by Sylvia herself. Returning home one Friday evening, I found on my
mantelpiece a short letter from her, enclosing a ticket for an exhibition
of paintings and sculpture at a gallery in Leicester Square, and
mentioning--incidentally--that she proposed to visit the show on the
following morning in order to see the works by a good light; which seemed
such an eminently rational proceeding in these short winter days, that I
determined instantly to follow her example and get the advantage of the
morning light myself.

I acted on this decision with such thoroughness that, when I arrived at
the gallery, I found the attendant in the act of opening the doors, and,
for nearly half an hour I was in sole possession of the premises. Then,
by twos and threes, other visitors began to straggle in, and among them
Sylvia, looking very fresh and dainty and obviously pleased to see me. "I
am glad you were able to come," she said, as we shook hands. "I thought
you would, somehow. It is so much nicer to have someone to talk over the
pictures with, isn't it?"

"Much more interesting," I agreed. "I have been taking a preliminary look
round and have already accumulated quite a lot of profound observations
to discharge at you as occasion offers. Shall we begin at number one?"

We began at number one and worked our way methodically picture by
picture, round the room, considering each work attentively with earnest
discussion and a wealth of comment. As the morning wore on, visitors
arrived in increasing numbers, until the two large rooms began to be
somewhat inconveniently crowded. We had made a complete circuit of the
pictures and were about to turn to the sculpture, which occupied the
central floor space, when Sylvia touched me on the arm. "Let us sit down
for a minute," said she. "I want to speak to you."

I led her to one of the large settees that disputed the floor-space with
the busts and statuettes, and, somewhat mystified by her serious tone and
by the rather agitated manner, which I now noticed for the first time,
seated myself by her side. "What is it?" I asked.

She looked anxiously round the room, and, leaning towards me, said in a
low tone: "Have you noticed a man who has been keeping near us and
listening to our conversation?"

"No, I haven't," I replied. "If I had I would have given him a hint to
keep farther off. But there's nothing in it, you know. In picture
galleries it is very usual for people to hang about and try to overhear
criticisms. This man may be interested in the exhibits."

"Yes, I know. But I don't think this person was so much interested in the
exhibits. He didn't look at the pictures, he looked at us. I caught his
eye several times reflected in the picture-glasses, and once or twice I
saw him looking most attentively at this crucifix of mine. That was what
really disturbed me. I wish, now, that I hadn't unbuttoned my coat."

"So do I. You will have to leave that crucifix at home if it attracts so
much undesirable attention. Which is the man? Is he in this room?"

"No, I don't see him now. I expect he has gone into the next room."

"Then let us go there, too; and if you will point him out to me, I will
pay him back in his own coin."

We rose and made our way to the door of communication, and, as we passed
into the second room, Sylvia grasped my arm nervously. "There he
is--don't let him see us looking at him--he is sitting on the settee at
the farther end of the room."

It was impossible to make a mistake since the settee held only a single
person; a fairly well-dressed, ordinary-looking man, rather swarthy and
foreign in appearance, with a small waxed moustache. He was sitting
nearly opposite the entrance door and seemed, at the moment to be reading
over the catalogue, which he held open on his knee; but, as he looked up
almost at the moment when we entered, I turned my back to him and
continued my inspection with the aid of the reflection in a
picture-glass. "He is probably a journalist," I said. "You see he is
scribbling some notes on the blank leaves of his catalogue; probably some
of your profound criticisms, which will appear, perhaps to-morrow
morning, clothed in super-technical jargon, in a daily paper."

Here I paused suddenly, for I had made a rather curious observation. The
reflection in a mirror is, as everybody knows, reversed laterally; so
that the right hand of a person appears to be the left, and vice versa.
But in the present case, no reversal seemed to have taken place. The
figure in the reflection was writing with his right hand. Obviously,
then, the real person was writing with his left.

This put a rather different aspect on the affair. Up to the present, I
had been disposed to think that Sylvia had been unduly disturbed; for
there are plenty of ill-bred bounders to be met in any public place who
will stare a good-looking girl out of countenance. But now my suspicions
were all awake. It is true that left-handed men are as common as
blackberries; but still--"Can you tell me, Miss Vyne," I asked, as we
worked our way towards the other end of the room, "if this man is at all
like the one who frightened you so in Millfield Lane?"

"No, he is not. I am sure of that. The man in the lane was a good deal
taller and thinner."

"Well," said I, "whoever he is, I want to have a good look at him, and the
best plan will be to turn our attention to the sculpture. Shall we go and
look at that rather remarkable pink bust? That will give our friend a
chance of another stare at you, and, if he doesn't take it, I will go and
inspect him where he sits."

The bust to which I had referred was executed in a curious, rose-tinted
marble, very crystalline and translucent, a material that suited the
soft, girlish features of its subject admirably. It stood on an isolated
pedestal quite near the settee on which the suspicious stranger was
sitting, and I hoped that our presence might lure him from his retreat.
"I don't think," I said, taking up a position with my back to the
settee, "that I have ever seen any marble quite like this. Have you?"

"No," replied Sylvia. "It looks like coarse lump sugar stained pink. And
how very transparent it is; too transparent for most subjects."

Here she gave a quick, nervous glance at me, and I was aware of a shadow
thrown by some person standing behind me. Had our friend risen to the
bait already?

I continued the conversation in good audible tones. "Very awkward these
isolated pedestals would be for slovenly artists who scamp the back of
their work."

With this remark I moved round the pedestal as if to examine the back of
the bust, and Sylvia followed. The move brought us opposite the person
who had been standing behind me; and, sure enough, it was the gentleman
from the settee. I continued to talk--rather blatantly, I
fear--commenting on the careful treatment of the hair and the backs of
the ears; and meanwhile took an occasional swift glance at the man
opposite. He appeared to be gazing in wrapt admiration at the bust, but
his glance, too, occasionally wandered; and when it did, the "point of
fixation," as the oculists would express it, was Sylvia's crucifix, which
was still uncovered.

Presently I ventured to take a good, steady look at him and was for a few
moments unobserved. His left eye moved, as I could see, quite smoothly
and evenly from point to point; but the right, at each change of
position, gave a little, rapid, vertical oscillation. Suddenly he became
aware of my, now undisguised, inspection of him, and, immediately, the
oscillation became much more marked, as is often the case with these
spasmodic movements. Perhaps he was conscious of the fact; at any rate,
he turned his head away and then moved off to examine a statuette that
stood near the middle of the room.

I looked after him, wondering what I ought to do. That he was the man
whom I had seen on the two previous occasions I had not the slightest
doubt, although I was still unable to identify his features or anything
about him excepting the nystagmus and the left-handed condition. But
there could be no question that he was the same man; and this very
variability in his appearance only gave a more sinister significance to
the affair, pointing clearly, as it did, to careful and efficient
disguise. Evidently he had been, and still was, shadowing me, and, what
was still worse, he seemed to be taking a most undesirable interest in
Sylvia. And yet what could I do? My small knowledge of the law suggested
that shadowing was not a criminal act unless some unlawful intent could
be proved. As to punching the fellow's head--which was what I felt most
inclined to do--that would merely give rise to disagreeable, and perhaps
dangerous, publicity.

"My lord is pleased to meditate," Sylvia remarked at length, breaking in
upon my brown study.

"I beg your pardon," I exclaimed. "The fact is I was wondering what we
had better do next. Do you want to see anything else?"

"I should rather like to see the outside of the building," she answered.
"That man has made me quite nervous."

"Then we will go at once, and we won't sign the visitor's book."

I led her to the door, and, as we rapidly descended the carpeted stairs,
I considered once more what it were best to do. Had I been alone I would
have kept our watcher in view and done a little shadowing on my own
account; but Sylvia's presence made me uneasy. It was of the first
importance that this sinister stranger should not learn where she lived.
The only reasonable course seemed to be to give him the slip if possible.
"What did you make of that man?" Sylvia asked when we were outside in the
square. "Don't you think he was watching us?"

"Yes, I do. And I may say that I have seen him before."

She turned a terrified face to me and asked: "You don't think he is the
wretch who pushed you into the river?"

Now this was exactly what I did think, but it was not worth while to say
so. Accordingly I temporized. "It is impossible to say. I never saw that
man, you know. But I have reason for thinking that this fellow is keeping
a watch on me, and it occurs to me that, if he appears still to be
following us, I had better put you into a hansom and keep my eye on him
until you are out of sight."

"Oh, I'm not going to agree to that," she replied with great decision. "I
don't suppose that my presence is much protection to you, but still, you
are safer while we are together, and I'm not going to leave you."

This settled the matter. Of course she was quite right. I was much safer
while she was with me, and if she refused to go off alone, we must make
our escape together. I looked up the square as we turned out of it
towards the Charing Cross Road, but could see no sign of our follower,
and, as we walked on at a good pace, I hoped that we might get clear
away. But I was not going to take any chances. Before turning homewards,
I decided to walk sharply some distance in an easterly direction and then
see if there was any sign of pursuit; for my previous experiences of this
good gentleman led me to suspect that he was by no means without skill
and experience in the shadowing art.

We walked down to Charing Cross and turned eastward along the north side
of the Strand. I had chosen this thoroughfare as offering a good cover to
a pursuer, who could easily keep out of sight among the crowd of
way-farers who thronged the pavement for the first question to be settled
was whether we were or were not being shadowed. "Where are we going now?"
Sylvia asked.

"We are going up Bedford Street," I answered. "There is a book shop on
the right-hand side where we can loiter unobtrusively and keep a
look-out. If we see nobody, we will try one of the courts off Maiden Lane
where we should be certain to catch anyone who was following. But we will
try the bookstall first because, if our friend is in attendance, I have a
rather neat plan for getting rid of him."

We accordingly made our way to the bookstall in Bedford Street and began
systematically to look through the second-hand volumes; and as we pored
over an open book, we were able to keep an effective watch on the end of
the street and the Strand beyond. Our vigil was not a long one. We had
been at the stall less than a minute when Sylvia whispered to me: "Do you
see that man looking in the shop on the farther side of the Strand?"

"Yes," I replied, "I have noticed him. He has only just arrived, and I
fancy he is our man. If he is, he will probably go into the doorway so as
not to have to keep his back to us."

Almost as I spoke, the man moved into the deep doorway as if to inspect
the end of the shop window, and Sylvia exclaimed: "I'm sure that is the
man. I can see his profile now."

There could be no doubt of the man's identity; and, at this moment, as if
to clinch the matter, he took out a cigarette and lighted it, striking
the match with his left hand. "Come along," said I. "We will now try my
little plan for getting rid of him. We mustn't seem to hurry."

We sauntered up to the corner of Maiden Lane and there stood for a few
moments looking about us. Then we strolled across to the farther side of
Chandos Street, and, as soon as we were out of sight of our follower,
crossed the road and slipped in at the entrance to the Civil Service
Stores. Passing quickly through the provision department, we halted at
the glazed doors, from which we could look out through the Bedford Street
entrance. "There he is!" exclaimed Sylvia. And there he was, sure enough,
walking rather quickly up the east side of Bedford Street. "Now," said I,
"let us make a bolt for it. This way."

We darted out through the china, furniture and ironmongery departments,
across the whole width of the building and out of the Agar Street
entrance, where we immediately crossed into King William Street, turned
down Adelaide Street, shot through the alley by St. Martin's Church, and
came out opposite the National Portrait Gallery just as a yellow omnibus
was about to start. We sprang into the moving vehicle, and, as it rumbled
away into the Charing Cross Road, we kept a sharp watch on the end of
King William Street. But there was no sign of our pursuer. We had got rid
of him for the present, at any rate. "Don't you think," said Sylvia,
"that he will suspect that we went into the Stores?"

"I have no doubt he will, and that is where we have him. He can't come
away and leave the building unsearched. Most probably he is, at this very
moment, racing madly up and down the stairs and trying to watch the three
entrances at the same time."

Sylvia chuckled gleefully. "It has been quite good fun," she said, "but
I am glad we have shaken him off. I think I shall stay indoors for a day
or two and paint, and I hope you'll stay indoors, too. And that reminds
me that I am out of Heyl's white. I must call in at Robinson's and get a
pound tube. Do you mind? It won't delay us more than a few minutes."

Now I would much rather have gone straight on to Hampstead, for our
unknown attendant certainly knew the whereabouts of my lodgings and might
follow us when he failed to find us in the stores. Moreover, I had, of
late, given the neighbourhood of the artist's-colourman's shop a rather
wide berth, having seen Mrs. Samway from afar once or twice, thereabouts,
and having surmised that she tended to haunt, that particular part of the
Hampstead Road. But the fresh supply of flake white seemed to be a
necessity, so I made no objection, and we accordingly alighted opposite
the shop and entered. Nevertheless, while Sylvia was making her purchase,
I stood near the glass door and kept a watchful eye on the street. When a
tram stopped a short distance away, I glanced quickly over its
passengers, as well as I could, though without observing anyone who might
have been our absent friend. But just as it was about to move on, I saw a
woman run out from the pavement and enter; and though I got but an
indifferent view of her, I felt an uncomfortable suspicion that the woman
was Mrs. Samway.

Looking back, I do not quite understand why I had avoided this woman or
why I now looked with distaste on the fact that she was travelling in our
direction. She was a pleasant-spoken, intelligent person, and I had no
dislike of her, nor any cause for dislike. Perhaps it was the
recollection of the offence that she had given Sylvia in this very shop,
but a short time since, that made me unwilling to encounter her now in
Sylvia's company. At any rate, whatever the cause may have been,
throughout the otherwise, pleasant journey, and in spite of an animated
and interesting conversation, the thought of Mrs. Samway continually
recurred, and this notwithstanding that I kept a constant, unobtrusive
look-out for the mysterious spy who might, even now, be hovering in our
rear.

We alighted from the tram at the "Duke of St. Alban's" and made our way
to North End by way of the Highgate Ponds. As we crossed the open fields
and the Heath, I turned at intervals to see if there was any sign of our
being followed; but no suspicious-looking person appeared in sight,
though on two separate occasions, I noticed a woman ahead of us, and
walking in much the same direction, turn round and look our way. There
was no reason, however, to suppose that she was looking at us, and, in
any case, she was too far ahead to be recognizable. At last, somewhere in
the neighbourhood of the Spaniard's Road, she finally disappeared,
possibly into the hollow beyond, and I saw no more of her.

At the gate of "The Hawthorns" I delivered up the heavy tube of paint,
and thus, as it were, formally brought our little outing to an end; and
as we shook hands Sylvia treated me to a parting exhortation. "Now do
take care of yourself and keep out of harm's way," she urged. "You are so
large, you see," she added with a smile, "and such a very conspicuous
object that you ought to take special precautions. And you must come and
see us again quite soon. I assure you my aunt is positively pining for
another conversation with you. Why shouldn't you drop in to-morrow and
have tea with us?"

Now this very idea had already occurred to me, so I hastened to close
with the invitation; and then, as she retired up the path with another
"good-bye" and a wave of the hand, I turned away and walked back towards
the Heath.

For some minutes I strode on, across furzy hollows or over little hills,
traversed by sunken, sandy paths, occupying myself with thoughts of the
pleasant, friendly girl whom I had just left and reflections on the
strange events of the morning. Presently I mounted a larger hill, on
which was perched a little, old-fashioned house. Skirting the wooden
fence that enclosed it, I turned the corner and saw before me, at a
distance of some forty yards, a rough, rustic seat. On that seat a woman
was sitting; and somehow, when I looked at her and noted the graceful
droop of the figure, it was without any feeling of surprise--almost that
of realized expectation--that I recognized Mrs. Samway.

CHAPTER XIV

A LONELY WOMAN

IF I had had any intention of avoiding Mrs. Samway, that intention must
inevitably have been frustrated, for her recognition was as instantaneous
as my own. Almost as I turned the corner, she looked up and saw me; and a
few moments later, she rose and advanced in my direction, so that, to an
onlooker it would have appeared as if we had met by appointment. There
was obviously nothing for it but to look as pleased as I could manage at
such short notice; which I did, shaking her hand with hypocritical
warmth. "And I suppose. Dr. Jardine," said she, "you are thinking what a
very odd coincidence it is that we should happen to meet here?"

"Oh, I don't know that it is so very odd. I live about here and I
understood you to say that you often come up to the Heath. At any rate,
our last meeting was a good deal more odd."

"Yes, indeed. But the truth is that this is not a coincidence at all. I
may as well confess that I came here deliberately with the intention of
waylaying you."

This very frank statement took me aback considerably; so much so that I
could think of no appropriate remark beyond mumbling something to the
effect that "it was very flattering of her."

"I have been trying," she continued, "to get a few words with you for
some time past; but, although I have lurked in your line of march in the
most shameless manner, I have always managed to miss you. I thought, from
what you told me, that you passed Robinson's shop on your way to the
hospital."

"So I do," I replied mendaciously; for I could hardly tell her that I had
lately taken to shooting up bystreets with the express purpose of
avoiding that particular stretch of pavement.

"It's rather curious that I never happened to meet you there. However, I
didn't, so, to-day, I determined to take the bull by the horns and catch
you here."

This last statement, like the former ones, gave me abundant matter for
reflection. How the deuce had she managed to "catch me here?" I supposed
that she had seen Sylvia and me in the Hampstead Road and had guessed
that we were coming on to this neighbourhood. That was a case of feminine
intuition; which, like the bone-setter's skill, is a wonderful
thing--when it comes off (and when it doesn't one isn't expected to
notice the fact). Then she had gone on ahead--still guessing at our final
destination--and kept us in sight while keeping out of view herself. It
was not so very easy to understand and not at all comfortable to think
of, for there was a disagreeable suggestion that she had somehow
ascertained Sylvia's place of abode beforehand. And yet--well, the whole
affair was rather mysterious. "You don't ask why it was that I wanted to
waylay you," she said, at length, as I made no comment on her last
statement.

"There is an old saying," I replied, "that one shouldn't look a
gift-horse in the mouth."

"That is very diplomatic," she retorted with a laugh. "But I daresay your
knowledge of women makes the question unnecessary."

"My knowledge of women," said I, "might be put into a nutshell and still
leave plenty of room for the nut and a good, fat maggot besides."

"Then I must beware of you. The man who professes to know nothing of
women is the most deep and dangerous class of person. But there is one
item of knowledge that you seem to have acquired. You seem to know that
women like to have pretty things said to them."

"If you call that knowledge," said I, "you must apply the same name to
the mere blind impulse that leads a spider to spin a nice, symmetrical
web."

She laughed softly and looked up at me with an expression of amused
reflection. "I am thinking," she said, "what a very fine symmetrical web
you would spin if you were a spider."

"Possibly," I replied. "But it looks as if the role of bluebottle were
the one that is being marked out for me."

"Oh! Not a bluebottle. Dr. Jardine. It doesn't suit you at all. If you
must make a comparison, why not say a Goliath beetle, and have something
really dignified--and not so very inappropriate."

"Well, then, a Goliath beetle, if you prefer it; not that he would look
very dignified, kicking his heels in the elegant web of the superlatively
elegant feminine spider."

"Oh, but that isn't pretty of you at all, Dr. Jardine. In fact it is
quite horrid; and unfair, too; because you are trying to get the
information without asking a direct question."

"What question am I supposed to ask?"

"You needn't ask any. I will take pity on your masculine pride and tell
you why I have been lying in wait for you, although I daresay you have
guessed. The truth is, I am simply devoured by curiosity."

"Concerning what?"

"Now, how can you ask? Just think! One day I meet you in the Hampstead
Road, going about your ordinary business, apparently a fixture, at least
for months. A few days later, a hundred miles from London, I feel myself
suddenly seized from behind; I turn round and there are you with tragedy
and adventure written large all over you."

"I thought the tragedy was rather on your side; and so did the ancient
mariner with the black bottle and the tea cup. But--"

"I don't wish to discuss the views of that well-meaning old brute. I want
an explanation. I want to know how you came to be in Folkestone and in
that extraordinary condition. I am sure something strange must have
happened to you."

"Why? Haven't I as much right to be in Folkestone as you have?"

"That is mere evasion. When I see a man who is usually rather carefully
and very neatly dressed, walking in the streets of a seaport town without
hat or a stick and with a collar that looks as if it had been used to
clean out a saucepan, and great stains on his clothes, I am justified in
inferring that something unusual has happened to him."

"I didn't think you had noticed my neglige get-up."

"At the time I did not. I was very upset and agitated, I had just had a
lot of worry and was compelled to cross to France at a moment's notice;
and then there was that horrible horse, and the sudden way that you
seized me and then got knocked down; and the--"

"The ancient mariner."

"Yes, the ancient mariner; and the knowledge that I was behaving like an
idiot and couldn't help it--though you were so nice and kind to me. So
you see, I was hardly conscious of what was happening at the time. But
afterwards, when I had recovered my wits a little, I recalled the
astonishing figure that you made, and I have been wondering ever since
what had happened to you. I assure you. Dr. Jardine, you looked as if you
might have swum to Folkestone."

"Did I, by Jove!" I exclaimed with a laugh. "Well, appearances weren't so
very deceptive. The fact is that I had swum part of the way."

She looked at me incredulously. "Whatever do you mean?" she asked.

"I mean that you are now looking on a modern and strictly up-to-date
edition of Sinbad the Sailor."

"That isn't very explanatory. But I suppose it isn't meant to be. It is
just a preliminary stimulant to whet my appetite for marvels, and a most
unnecessary one, I can assure you, for I am absolutely agape with
curiosity. Do go on. Tell me exactly what had happened to you."

Now the truth is that I had already said rather more than was strictly
discreet and would gladly have drawn in my horns. But I had evidently let
myself in for some sort of plausible explanation, and a lack of that
enviable faculty that enables its possessor to tell a really convincing
and workmanlike lie, condemned me to a mere unimaginative adherence to
the bald facts, though I did make one slight and amateurish effort at
prevarication.

"You want a detailed log of Sinbad's voyages, do you?" said I. "Then you
shall have it. We will begin at the beginning. The port of departure was
the Embankment somewhere near Cleopatra's Needle. I was leaning over the
parapet, staring down at the water like a fool, when some practical joker
came along, and, apparently thinking it would be rather funny to give me
a fright, suddenly lifted me off my feet. But my jocose friend hadn't
allowed for the top-heaviness of a person of my height, and, before you
could say 'knife,' I had slipped from his hold and taken a most stylish
header into the water. Fortunately for me, a barge happened at the moment
to be towing past, and, when I had managed to haul myself on board, I
fell into the arms of a marine species of Good Samaritan, who, not having
a supply of the orthodox oil and wine, proceeded to fill me up with hot
gin and water, which is distinctly preferable for internal application.
Then the Samaritan aforesaid clothed me in gorgeous marine raiment and
stowed me in a cupboard to sleep off the oil and wine, which I did after
some sixteen hours, and then awoke to find our good ship on the broad
bosom of the ocean. And so--not to weary you with the incidents of the
voyage--I came to Folkestone, where I found a beautiful lady
endeavouring, very unsuccessfully, to hypnotize a run-away horse; and so
to the adventure of the tarred nets and the ancient mariner with the
black bottle."

Mrs. Samway smiled a little consciously as I mentioned the last
incidents, but the smile quickly faded and left a deeply thoughtful
expression on her face. "You take it all very calmly," said she, "but it
seems to me to have been a rather terrible experience. You really had a
very narrow escape from death."

"Yes; quite near enough. I'm far from wanting any more from the same
tap."

"And I don't quite see why you assume that it was a mere clumsy joke that
sent you into the river by accident."

"Why, what else could it have been?"

"It looks more like a deliberate attempt to drown you. Perhaps you have
some enemy who might want to make away with you."

"I haven't. There isn't a soul in the world who owes me the slightest
grudge."

"That seems rather a bold thing to say, but I suppose you know. Still, I
should think you ought to bear this strange affair in mind, and be a
little careful when you go out at night; to avoid the riverside, for
instance. Have you--did you give any information to the police about this
accident, as you call it?"

"Good Lord! No! What would have been the use?"

"I thought you might have given them some description of the man who
pushed you over."

"But I never saw him. I don't even know for certain that it was a man. It
might have been a woman for all that I can tell."

Mrs. Samway looked, up at me with that strangely penetrating expression
that I had seen before in those singular, pale eyes of hers. "You don't
mean that?" she said. "You don't really think that it could have been a
woman?"

"I don't think very much about it; but as I never saw the person who did
me the honour of hoisting me overboard, I am clearly not in a position to
depose as to the sex of that person. But if it was a woman, she must have
been an uncommonly strong one."

Mrs. Samway continued to look at me questioningly. "I thought you seemed
to hint at a suspicion that it actually was a woman. You would surely be
able to tell."

"I suppose I should if there were time to think about the matter; but,
you see, before I was fairly aware that anyone had hold of me, I was
sticking my head into the mud at the bottom of the river, which is a
process that does not tend very much to clarify one's thoughts."

"No, I suppose not," she agreed. "But it is a most mysterious and
dreadful affair. I can't think how you can take it so calmly. You don't
seem to be in the least concerned by the fact that you have been within a
hairsbreadth of being murdered. What do your friends think about it?"

"Well, you see, Mrs. Samway," I replied evasively, "one doesn't talk much
about incidents of this kind. It doesn't sound very credible, and one
doesn't want to gain a reputation as a sort of modern Munchausen. I
shouldn't have told you but that you were already partly in the secret
and that you cross-examined me in such a determined fashion."

"But," she exclaimed, "do you mean to tell me that you have said nothing
to anyone about this extraordinary adventure of yours?"

"No, I don't say that. Of course, I had to give some sort of explanation
to my landlady, for instance, but I didn't tell her all that I have told
you; and I would rather, if you don't mind, that you didn't mention the
affair to anyone. I should hate to be suspected of romancing."

"You shan't be through anything that I may say," she replied, "though I
should hardly think that anyone who knew you would be likely to suspect
you of inventing imaginary adventures."

For some minutes after this we walked on without speaking, and, from time
to time, I stole a glance at my companion. And, once again, I found
myself impressed by something distinctive and unusual in her appearance.
Her unquestionable beauty was not like that of most pretty women,
localized and unequal, having features of striking attractiveness set in
an indifferent or even defective matrix. It was diffused and all
pervading, the product of sheer physical excellence. With most women one
feels that the more attractive wares are judiciously pushed to the front
of the window while a discreet reticence is maintained respecting the
unpresentable residue. Not so with Mrs. Samway. Her small, shapely head,
her symmetrical face, her fine supple figure, and her easy movements, all
spoke of a splendid physique. She was not merely a pretty woman, she was
that infinitely rarer creature, a physically perfect human being; comely
with the comeliness of faultless proportion, graceful with the grace of
symmetry and strength.

Suddenly she looked up at me with just a hint of shyness and a little
heightening of the colour in her cheek. "Are you going to tell me again,
Dr. Jardine, that a cat may look at a king? Or was it that a king may
look at a cat?"

"Whichever you please," I replied. "We will put them on a footing of
equality, excepting that the king might have the better claim if the cat
happened to be an exceptionally good-looking cat. But I wasn't really
staring at you this time, I was only giving you a sort of friendly look
over. You weren't quite yourself, I think, when we met last."

"No, I certainly was not. So you are now making an inspection. May I ask
if I am to be informed of the diagnosis, as I think you call it?"

Now, to tell the truth, I had thought her looking rather haggard and worn
and decidedly thinner; and when her sprightliness subsided in the
intervals of our somewhat flippant talk, it had seemed to me that her
face took on an expression that was weary and even sad. But it would
hardly do to say as much. "It is quite irregular," I replied. "The
diagnosis is for the doctor; the patient is only concerned with the
treatment. But I'll make an exception in your case, especially as my
report is quite unsensational. I thought you looked as if you had been
doing rather too much and not greatly enjoying the occupation. Am I
right?"

"Yes. Quite right. I've had a lot of worry and bother lately, and not
enough rest and peace."

"I hope all that is at an end now?"

"I don't know that it is," she replied, wearily, "or, for that matter,
that it will ever be. Fate or destiny, or whatever we may call it, starts
us upon a certain road, and along that road we must needs trudge,
wherever it may lead."

I was rather startled at the sudden despondency of her tone. Apparently
the road that Mrs. Samway trod was not strewn with roses. "Still," I
said, "it is a long road that has no turning."

"It is," she agreed, bitterly, "but many have to travel such a road, to
find the turning at last barred by the churchyard gate."

"Oh, come!" I protested, "we don't talk of churchyards at your time of
life. We think of the jolly wayside inns and the buttercups and daisies
and the may-blossom in the hedgerows. Churchyard indeed! We will leave
that to the old folk and the village donkey, if you please."

She smiled rather wanly. Her gaiety seemed to have deserted her for good.
"The wayside inns and the wayside flowers," said she, "are your
portion--at least, I hope so. They are not for me. And, after all, there
are worse things to think of than a nice quiet churchyard, with the
village donkey browsing among the graves, as you say."

"I quite agree with you. From the standpoint of the disinterested
spectator, not contemplating freehold investments, nothing can be more
delightfully rustic and peaceful. It is the personal application that I
object to."

Again she smiled, but very pensively, and for a while we walked on in
silence. Presently she resumed. "I used to think that the shortness of
life was quite a tragedy. That was when I was young. But now--"

"When you were young!" I interrupted. "Why, what are you now? I can tell
you, Mrs. Samway, that there is many a girl of twenty who would be only
too delighted to exchange personalities with you, and who would stand to
make a mighty fine bargain if she could do it. If you talk like this, I
shall have to refer you to the great Leonardo's advice to painters."

"What is that?" she asked.

"He recommends the frequent use of a looking-glass." She gave me a quick
glance and then blushed so very deeply that I was quite alarmed lest I
should have given offence. But her next words reassured me.

"It was nice of you to say that, and most kindly meant. I won't say that
I don't care very much how I look, because that would be an ungracious
return for your compliment and it wouldn't be quite true. There are times
when one is quite glad to feel that one looks presentable; the present
moment, for instance."

I acknowledged the compliment, with a bow. "Thank you." I said. "That was
more than I deserved. I only wish that your fortune was equal to your
looks, but I am afraid it isn't. I have an uncomfortable feeling that you
are not very happy."

"I'm afraid I'm not," she replied. "Life is rather a lottery, you know,
and the worst of it is that you can only take a single ticket. So, when
you find that you've drawn the wrong number and you realize that there is
no second chance--well, it isn't very inspiriting, is it?"

I had to admit that it was not; and, after a short pause, she continued:
"Women are poor dependent creatures, Dr. Jardine; dependent, I mean, for
their happiness on the people who surround them."

"But that is true of us all."

"Not quite. A man--like yourself, for instance--has his work and his
ambitions that make him independent of others. But, for a woman, whatever
pretences she may make as to larger interests in life, a husband, a home
and one or two nice children form the real goal of her ambition."

"But you are not a lone spinster, Mrs. Samway," I reminded her.

"No, I am not. But I have no children, no proper home, and not a real
friend in the world--unless I may think of you as one."

"I hope you always will," I exclaimed impulsively; for there was, to me,
something very pathetic in the evident loneliness of this woman. She
must, I felt, be friendless indeed if she must needs appeal for
friendship to a comparative stranger like myself.

"I am glad to hear you say that," she replied, "for I am making you bear
a friend's burden. I hope you will forgive me for pouring out my
complaints to you in this way."

"It isn't difficult," said I, "to bear other people's troubles with
fortitude. But if sympathy is any good, believe me, Mrs. Samway, when I
tell you that I am really deeply grieved to think that you are getting so
much less out of life than you ought. I only wish that I could do
something more than sympathize."

"I believe you do," she said. "I felt, at Folkestone, how kind you
were--as a good man is to a woman in her moments of weakness. That is
why, I suppose, I was impelled to talk to you like this. And that is
why," she added, after a little pause, "I felt a pang of envy when I saw
you pass with your pretty companion."

I started somewhat at this. Where the deuce could she have seen us near
enough to tell whether my companion was pretty or not? I turned the
matter over rapidly in my mind, and meanwhile, I said: "I don't quite see
why you envied me, Mrs. Samway."

"I didn't say that I envied you," she replied, with a faint smile and the
suspicion of a blush.

"Or her either," I retorted. "We are only the merest acquaintances."

My conscience smote me somewhat as I made this outrageous statement, but
Mrs. Samway took me up instantly. "Then you've only known her quite a
short time?"

The rapidity with which she had jumped to this conclusion fairly took my
breath away, and I had answered her question before I was aware of it.
"But," I added, "I don't quite see how you arrived at your conclusion."

"I thought," she replied, "that you seemed to like one another very
well."

"So we do, I think. But can't acquaintances like one another?"

"Oh, certainly; but if they are a young man and a maiden they are not
likely to remain mere acquaintances very long. That was how I argued."

"I see. Very acute of you. By the way, where did you see us? I didn't see
you."

"Of course you didn't. Yet you passed quite close to me on the Spaniard's
Road, immersed in conversation, and little suspecting that the green eyes
of envy were fixed on you."

"Oh, now, Mrs. Samway, I can't have that. They're not green, you know,
although what their exact colour is I shouldn't like to say offhand."

"What! Not after that careful inspection?"

"That didn't include the eyes. Perhaps you wouldn't mind if I made
another, just to satisfy my curiosity and settle the question for good."

"Oh, do, by all means, if it is such a weighty question."

We both halted and I stared into the clear depths of her singular, pale
hazel eyes with an impertinent affectation of profound scrutiny, while
she looked up smilingly into mine. Suddenly, to my utter confusion, her
eyes filled and she turned away her head. "Oh! please forgive me!" she
exclaimed. "I beg your pardon--I do beg your pardon most earnestly for
being such a wretched bundle of emotions. You would forgive me if you
knew--what I can't tell you."

"There is no need, dear Mrs. Samway," I said very gently, laying my hand
on her arm. "Are we not friends? And may I not give you my warmest
sympathy without asking too curiously what brings the tears to your
eyes?"

I was, in truth, deeply moved, as a young man is apt to be by a pretty
woman's tears. But more than this, something whispered to me that my
playful impertinence had suddenly brought home to her the void that was
in her life; the lack of intimate affection at which she had seemed to
hint. And, instantly, all that was masculine in me had risen up with the
immemorial instinct of the male in defence of the female; for, whatever
her faults may have been, Mrs. Samway was feminine to the finger-tips.

She pressed my hand for a moment and impatiently brushed the tears from
her eyes. "I do hope, Dr. Jardine." she said, looking up at me with a
smile, "that your wife will be a good woman. You'll be a dreadful victim
if she isn't, with your quick sympathy and your endless patience with
feminine silliness. And now I won't plague you any more with my tantrums.
I hope I am not bringing you a great deal out of your way. You do live in
this direction, don't you?"

"Yes; and I have been assuming that my direction was yours, too. Is that
right? Are you going back to Hampstead Road?"

"Not at once. I'm going to make a call at Highgate first."

"Then you'll want to go up Highgate Rise or Swain's Lane; and I will walk
up with you if you'll let me."

"I think my nearest way will be up the little path that leads out of
Swain's Lane. You know it, I expect?"

"Yes. It is locally known as Love Lane: it leads to the crest of the
hill."

"That is right. You shall see me to the top of it and then I'll take
myself off and leave you in peace."

We had by this time crossed Parliament Hill Fields and passed the end of
the Highgate Ponds. A few paces more brought us out at the top of the
Grove and a few more to the entrance of the rather steep and very narrow
lane. For some time Mrs. Samway walked by my side in silence, and, by the
reflective way in which she looked at the ground before her, seemed to be
wrapped in meditation, which I did not disturb. As we entered the lane,
however, she looked up at me thoughtfully and said: "I wonder what you
think of me, Dr. Jardine."

It was a fine opening for a compliment, but somehow, compliments seemed
out of place, after what had passed between us. I accordingly evaded the
question with another. "What do you suppose I think of you?"

"I don't know. I hardly know what I think of myself. You would be quite
justified in thinking me rather forward, to waylay you in this deliberate
fashion."

"Well, I don't. Your curiosity about that Folkestone affair seems most
natural and reasonable."

"I'm glad you don't think me forward," she said; "but, as to my
curiosity, I am beginning to doubt whether it was that alone that
determined me of a sudden to come here and talk to you. I half suspect
that I was feeling a little more solitary than usual, and that some
instinct told me that you would be kind to me and say nice things and pet
me just a little--as you have done."

I was deeply touched by her pathetic little confession; so deeply that I
could find nothing to say in return. "You don't think any the worse of
me," she continued, "for coming to you and begging a little sympathy and
friendship?"

As she spoke, she looked up very wistfully and earnestly in my face, and
rested her hand for a moment on my arm. I took it in mine and drew her
arm under my own as I replied: "Of course I don't. Only I think it a
wonder and a shame that my poor friendship and sympathy should be worth
the consideration of a woman like you."

She pressed my arm slightly, and, after a little interval, said in a low
voice with just the suspicion of a tremor in it: "You have been very kind
to me, Dr. Jardine; more kind than you know. I am very, very grateful to
you for taking what was really an intrusion so nicely."

"It was not in the least an intrusion," I protested; "and as to
gratitude, a good many men would be very delighted to earn it on the same
terms. You don't seem to set much value on your own exceedingly agreeable
society."

She smiled very prettily at this, and again we walked on for a while up
the slope without speaking. Once she turned her head as if listening for
some sound from behind us, but our feet were making so much noise on the
loose gravel, and the sound reverberated so much in the narrow space
between the wooden fences that I, at least, heard nothing. Presently we
turned a slight bend and came in sight of the opening at the top of the
hill, guarded by a couple of posts. Within a few yards of the latter she
halted, and withdrawing her hand from my arm, turned round and faced me.
"We must say 'Good-bye' here," said she. "I wonder if I shall ever see
you again."

For a moment I felt a strong impulse to propose some future meeting at a
definite date, but fortunately some glimmering of discretion--and perhaps
some thought of Sylvia--restrained me. "Why shouldn't you?" I asked.

"I don't know. But mine is rather a vagabond existence, and I suppose you
will be travelling about. I hope we shall meet again soon; but if we do
not, I shall always think of you as my friend, and you will have a kind
thought for me sometimes, won't you?"

"I shall indeed. I shall think of you very often and hope that your life
is brighter than it seems to be now."

"Thank you," she said earnestly; "and now 'Good-bye!'"

She held out her hand, and, as I grasped it, she looked in my face with
the wistful, yearning expression that I had noticed before, and which so
touched me to the heart that, yielding to a sudden impulse, I drew her to
me and kissed her. Dim as was the light of the fading winter's day, I
could see that she had, in an instant, turned scarlet. But she was not
angry; for, as she drew away from me, shyly and almost reluctantly, she
gave me one of her prettiest smiles and whispered "Good-bye" again. Then
she ran out between the posts, and, turning once again--and still as red
as a peony--waved me a last farewell.

I stood in the narrow entrance looking out after her with a strange
mixture of emotions; pity, wonder and admiration and a little doubt as to
my own part in the late transaction. For I had never before kissed a
married woman, and cooling judgment did not altogether approve the new
departure; for if Mr. Samway was not all that he might be, still he was
Mr. Samway and I wasn't. Nevertheless, I stood and watched my late
companion with very warm interest until she faded into the dusk; and even
then I continued to stand by the posts, gazing out into the waning
twilight and cogitating on our rather strange interview.

Suddenly my ear caught a sound from behind me, down the lane; a sound
which, while it set my suspicion on the alert, brought a broad grin to my
face. It was what I suppose I must call a stealthy footstep, but the
stealthiness might have stood for the very type and essence of futility,
for, as I have said, the ground sloped pretty steeply and was covered
with loose pebbles, whereby every movement of the foot was rendered as
audible as a thunderclap. However, absurd as the situation seemed--if the
unseen person was really trying to approach by stealth--it was necessary
to be on my guard. Moreover, if this should chance to be the person with
the nystagmus, the present seemed to be an excellent opportunity for
coming to some sort of understanding with him.

Accordingly I wheeled about and began to walk back down the lane.
Instantly, the steps--no longer stealthy--began to retire. I quickened my
pace; the unknown and invisible eavesdropper quickened his. Then I broke
into a run, and so did he, notwithstanding which, I think I should have
had him but for an untoward accident. The ground was not only sloping,
but, under the loose gravel, was as hard as stone.

Consequently, the foothold was none of the best, as I presently
discovered, for, as I raced down one of the steepest slopes, the pebbles
suddenly rolled away under my foot and I lost my balance. But I did not
fall instantly. Half recovering, I flew forward, clawing the air,
stamping, staggering, kicking up the gravel, and making the most infernal
hubbub and clatter, before I finally subsided into a sitting posture on
the pebbles. When I rose, the footsteps were no longer audible, though
the lower end of the lane was still some distance away.

I resumed my progress at a more sedate pace and kept a sharp look-out for
a possible ambush, though the lane was too narrow, even in the darkness
that now pervaded it, to furnish much cover to an enemy. Some distance
down, I came to an opening in the fence, where one or two boards had
become loose, and was half disposed to squeeze through and explore. But I
did not, for, on reflection, it occurred to me that if the man was not
there it would be useless for me to go, while if he should be hiding
behind the fence it would be simply insane of me to put my head through
the hole.

When I emerged into the road at the bottom, I looked about vaguely, but,
of course there was no sign of the fugitive--nor, indeed, could I have
identified him if I had met him. I loitered about undecidedly for a
minute or two, and then, realizing the futility of keeping a watch on the
entrance of the lane for a man whom I could not recognize, and becoming
conscious of a ravenous desire for food I made my way down the Grove in
the direction of my lodgings.

CHAPTER XV

EXIT DR. JARDINE

MY second visit to "The Hawthorns," to which I had looked forward with
some eagerness, had, after all, to be postponed indefinitely. I say
"had," since, under the circumstances, it appeared to be so unsafe that I
could not fairly take the risk that it involved. I had made the
engagement thoughtlessly, and, in my preoccupation with Mrs. Samway, had
not realized the indiscretion to which I had committed myself until I was
brought back sharply to the actual conditions by the incident in Love
Lane which I have mentioned. But, after that, I saw that it would be the
wildest folly to show myself in the vicinity of Sylvia's house. Evidently
the spy, after we had given him the slip so neatly, had made direct for
my lodgings and lurked in the neighbourhood, and there it must have been
that he had picked me up again as I passed with Mrs. Samway. Of course it
was possible that the unseen person in the lane was not really shadowing
me at all; but his stealthy approach, his hasty retreat and his
mysterious disappearance, left me in very little doubt on the subject.

I was not very nervous about this enigmatical person on my own account.
In spite of my alarming experiences, I found it difficult to take him as
seriously as I should have done, and still felt a quite unjustifiable
confidence in my capability of taking care of myself. But on Sylvia's
account I was exceedingly uneasy. The interest that this man had shown in
the unlucky little ornament that she wore, associated itself in my mind
most disagreeably with her mysterious and terrifying adventure in
Millfield Lane, and made me feel that it would be sheer insanity for me
to go from my house to hers and so possibly give this unknown villain the
clue to her whereabouts.

This conclusion, at which I had arrived overnight, was confirmed on the
following morning, for, having taken a brisk walk out in the direction of
Harrow, and having kept a very sharp look-out, I was distinctly conscious
of the fact that there always appeared to be a man in sight. I never got
near him and was not able to recognize him, but at intervals throughout
the morning he continually reappeared in the distance, even on the
comparatively solitary country roads and the hedge-divided meadows.

It was excessively irritating. Yet what could I do? Even if I could have
identified him with the man who had apparently shadowed me before, I
really had nothing against him. And cogitating on the matter, with no
little annoyance, I determined to take counsel with Thorndyke, and
meanwhile to avoid the neighbourhood of "The Hawthorns."

After lunch, I wrote a letter to Sylvia, briefly explaining the state of
affairs, and, having given it to our maid to deliver, I took the
precaution to go out and saunter towards Kentish Town with the object of
engaging the spy's attention and preventing him from following my
messenger to North End. The rest of the day I spent at home and occupied
my time in writing a long letter to Thorndyke in which I gave a pretty
detailed account of my recent experiences; which letter was duly posted
by Mrs. Blunt herself in time for the evening collection.

I had barely seated myself at the breakfast table on the following
morning when a telegram was brought to me. On opening it I found that it
was from Thorndyke, advising me that a letter had been dispatched by hand
and asking me to stay at home until I had received it; which I did; and
within an hour it arrived and was delivered into my own hands by a
messenger boy.

It was curt and rather peremptory in tone, desiring me to meet him at one
o'clock at Salter's Club in a turning off St. James's Street and
concluding with these somewhat remarkable instructions: "I want you to
wear an overcoat and hat of a distinctive and easily recognizable
character and to take every means that you can of being seen and, if
possible, followed to the club. You had better put a few necessaries in a
bag or suit-case and tell your landlady that you may not be home
to-night. Follow these instructions to the letter and bring this note
with you."

At the latter part of these directions I was somewhat disposed to boggle,
remembering my worthy teacher's threat to put me somewhere out of harm's
way. But Thorndyke was a difficult man to disobey. Suave and persuasive
as his manners were, he had a certain final and compelling way with him
that silenced objections and produced a sort of frictionless obedience
without any sense of compulsion. Hence, notwithstanding a slight tendency
to bluster and tell myself that I would see him hanged before I would
submit to being mollycoddled like an idiot, I found myself, presently,
walking down the Grove in a buff overcoat and a grey felt hat, carrying a
green canvas suit-case in which were packed the necessaries for a brief
stay away from home, and bearing in my pocket the incriminating letter.

I walked slowly as far as the Junction Road in order to give any pursuer
a fair opportunity to take up the chase and to make the necessary
observations on my tasteful turn-out. At the Junction I waited for a tram
and carefully abstained from staring about in a manner which would have
embarrassed any person who might wish unobserved to share the conveyance
with me; and from the terminus at Euston Road I proceeded in leisurely
fashion on foot, still resisting the temptation to look about and see if
I had picked up a companion by the way.

Salter's Club was domiciled in a typical West End house situated in a
quiet street of similar houses, graced at one end by a cabstand. I timed
my arrival with such accuracy that a neighbouring church-clock struck one
as I ascended the steps; and on my entering the hall, I was met by an
elderly man in a quiet livery who seemed to expect me, for, when I
mentioned Thorndyke's name, he asked, "Dr. Jardine, sir?" and, hardly
waiting for my reply, showed me to the cloak-room. "Dr. Thorndyke," said
he, "will be with you in a few minutes. When you have washed, I will show
you to the dining room where he wished you to wait for him."

I was just a little surprised at even this short delay, for Thorndyke was
the soul of punctuality. However, I had not to wait long. I had been
sitting less than three minutes at a small table laid for two in the deep
bay window, scanning the street through the wire-gauze blinds, when he
arrived. "I needn't apologize, I suppose, Jardine," he said, shaking my
hand heartily. "You will have guessed why I have kept you waiting."

"You flatter me, sir," I replied with a slight grin. "I haven't your
powers of instantaneous deduction."

"You hardly needed them," he retorted. "Of course I was watching your
approach and observing the corner by which you entered the street to see
who came after you."

"Did anyone come after me?"

"Several persons. I examined them all very carefully with a prism
binocular that magnifies twelve times linear, and an assistant is now at
the same window--the one over this--following the fortunes of those
persons with the same excellent glass."

"Did you spot anyone in particular as looking a likely person?"

"Yes. The second man who came after you seemed to be sauntering in a
rather unpurposive fashion and looking a little obtrusively unconcerned.
I noticed, too, that he was carrying an umbrella in his left hand. But we
needn't concern ourselves. If anyone is shadowing you we are certain to
see him. He must expose himself to view from time to time, for he can't
afford to lose sight of our doorway for more than a few seconds, and
there is practically no cover in this street."

"He might hide in a doorway," I suggested.

"Oh, might he! These are all clubs in this street. He'd very soon have
the servants out wanting to know his business. No; he'll have to keep on
the move and he'll have to keep mostly in sight of this house. And
meanwhile we are going to take our lunch at our leisure and have a little
talk to while away the time."

The lunch was on a scale that my youthful appetite approved strongly,
though the number of courses and irrelevant, time-consuming kickshaws
struck me as rather unusual. And I never saw a man eat so slowly and
delay a meal so much as Thorndyke did on that occasion. I believe that it
took him fully twenty minutes to consume a fried sole; and even then he
created a further delay by drawing my attention to the skeleton on his
plate as an illustration of inherited deformity adjusted to special
environmental conditions. But all the time, whether eating or talking, I
noticed that his eye continually travelled up and down the stretch of
street that was visible through the wire blinds. "You haven't told me why
you sent for me, sir," I said, after waiting patiently for him to open
the subject.

"I dare say you have guessed," he replied; "but we may as well thrash the
matter out now. You realize that you are running an enormous and
unnecessary risk by going abroad with this man at your heels?"

"Well, I don't suppose he is following me about from sheer affection."

"No. I thought it possible that he might be a plain-clothes policeman,
but I have ascertained that he is not. Who he is we don't know, but we
have the strongest reasons for suspecting his intentions. There have been
three very determined attempts on your life. They were all made with such
remarkable caution and foresight that, though they failed, practically no
traces have been left. Those attempts imply a strong motive, though to
us, an unknown one; and that motive, presumably, still exists. Your enemy
may well be getting desperate, and may be prepared to take greater risks
to get rid of you; and if he is, the chances are that he will succeed
sooner or later. Murder isn't very difficult to a cool-headed man who
means business."

"Then what do you propose, sir?"

"I propose that you disappear from your ordinary surroundings and come
and stay, for a time, at my chambers in the Temple."

This was no more than I had expected, but my jaw dropped considerably,
notwithstanding. "It's awfully good of you, sir," I stammered--and so, to
be sure, it was--"but don't you think it would be simpler to turn the
tables on this Johnnie and shadow him?"

"An excellent idea, Jardine, and one, I may say, that I am acting on at
this moment. But there isn't so much in it as you seem to think.
Supposing we identify this man and even run him to earth? What then? We
have nothing against him. We know of no crime that has been committed. We
may suspect that the man whom you saw at Hampstead had been murdered. But
we can't prove it. We can't produce the body or even prove that the man
was dead. And we couldn't connect this person with the affair because
nobody was known to be connected with it. I should like to know who this
man is, but I don't want to put him on his guard; and above all, I can't
agree to your going about as a sort of live-bait to enable us to locate
him. By the way, that man on the opposite side of the street is the one
whom I selected as being probably your attendant. Apparently I was right,
as this is the third time he has passed. Do you recognize him?"

I looked attentively at the uncharacteristic figure on the farther side
of the street, but could find nothing familiar in his appearance. "No," I
replied; "he doesn't look to me like the same man. He is dressed
differently--but that's nothing, as he has been dressed differently on
each occasion--and that torpedo beard and full moustache are quite
unlike, though there's nothing in that either; but the man looks
different altogether--distinctly taller, for instance."

Thorndyke chuckled. "Good," said he. "Now look at his feet, as he passes
opposite. Did you ever see an instep set at that angle to the sole? And
does not your anatomical conscience cry out at a foot of that thickness?"

"Yes, by Jove!" I exclaimed; "there's room for a double row of
metatarsals. It is a fake of some kind, I suppose?"

"Cork 'raisers' inside high-heeled boots. Through the glasses I could see
that the boots gaped considerably at the instep, as they will when there
is a pad inside as well as a foot. But you notice, also, that the man is
dressed for height. He has a tall hat, a long coat, and his shoulders are
obviously raised by padding. I think there is very little doubt that he
is our man."

"It must be a dull job," I remarked, "hanging about by the hour to see a
man come out of a house."

"Very," Thorndyke agreed. "I am quite sorry for the worthy person,
especially as we are going to play him a rather shabby trick presently."

"What are we going to do?" I asked.

"We are going to let him in for one of the longest waits he has ever had,
I am afraid. Perhaps I had better give you the particulars of our modus
operandi. First, I shall send down to the stand for a hansom, which will
draw up opposite the club; and thereupon I have no doubt our friend will
hurry down to the cab-stand to be in readiness. At any rate, I shall let
him get down to that end of the street before I do anything more. Then I
shall take the liberty of putting on your coat and hat and go out to the
cab with your suit-case in my hand; I shall stand on the kerb long enough
to let our friend get a good view of my back, I shall get into the cab,
give the driver the direction through the trap to drive to the hospital,
and pay the fare in advance."

"Why in advance?" I asked.

"So that I shall not have to turn round and show my face when I get out
at the hospital entrance. I assume that your friend will follow me in
another hansom. Also that he will alight at the outer gates, whereas I
shall drive into the courtyard right up to the main entrance, so that he
will merely see your hat, coat and suit-case disappear into the building.
Then, as I say, he will be in for an interminable vigil. I have a lecture
to give this afternoon, and, when I have finished, I shall come away in a
black overcoat and tall hat (which are at this moment hanging up in the
curator's room), leaving your friend to wait for the reappearance of your
coat, hat and suit-case. I only hope he won't wait too long."

"Why?"

"Because he may wear out the patience of my assistant. I have a
plain-clothes man keeping a watch from the window above. If your friend
sets off in pursuit of your garments, as I anticipate, the plain-clothes
man will go straight to the hospital and take up his post in the porter's
lodge, which, as you know, commands the whole street outside the gates."

"And what have I got to do?"

"First of all, you will put your tooth brush in your pocket--never mind
about your razor--and let me try on your hat, in case we have to pad the
lining. Then, when you have seen your friend start off in pursuit and are
sure the coast is clear, you will make straight for my chambers and wait
there for me."

"And supposing the chappie doesn't start off in pursuit? Supposing he
twigs the imposture?"

"Then the plain-clothes man will go out and threaten to arrest him for
loitering with intent to commit a felony. That would soon move him on out
of the neighbourhood, and the officer might accompany him some distance
and try to get his address. Meanwhile, you would be off to King's Bench
Walk."

"But wouldn't it be simpler to run the Johnnie in, in any case? Then we
should know all about him."

"No, it wouldn't do. The police wouldn't actually make an arrest without
an information; and, if they did proceed, they would want me to appear.
That wouldn't suit me at all. Until we obtain some fresh evidence, I
don't want this man to get any suspicion that the case is being
investigated. And now I think the time has come for a move. Let us go to
the cloak-room and see if your hat fits me sufficiently well."

It was not a good fit, being just a shade small; but, as it was a soft
felt, this was not a vital defect. The overcoat fitted well enough,
though a trifle long in the sleeves, and when Thorndyke was fully arrayed
in this borrowed plumage, his back view, so far as I could judge, was
indistinguishable from my own. "If you will take out your toothbrush and
hand me your suit-case," said he, "I will send for a hansom, and then we
will watch the progress of events from the dining-room window."

I handed him the green canvas case and we returned to the dining-room and
there, when he had ordered the cab, we took up a position at the window,
screened from observation by the wire blinds. "Our friend," said
Thorndyke, "was walking towards the right hand end of the street when we
saw him last. As the cabstand is at the left hand end, we may hope to
look upon his face once again."

As he spoke, the air was rent by the shriek of the cab-whistle, and the
leading hansom began immediately to bear down on the club. It had hardly
come to rest at our door when a figure appeared from the opposite
direction, advancing at a brisk walk on our side of the road. I
recognized him instantly as the man to whom Thorndyke had directed my
attention, and watched him closely, as he approached, to see if I could
identify him with the man who had shadowed Sylvia and me at the picture
gallery; but, though he passed within a few yards of the window, and I
felt no doubt that he was the same man, I could trace no definite
resemblance. It is true, that while actually passing the club, he averted
his face somewhat; but I had a good view of him within an easy distance,
and the face that I then saw was certainly not the face of the man at the
gallery. The skilfulness of the make-up--assuming it to be really a
disguise--was incredible, and I remarked on it to Thorndyke. "Yes," he
agreed, "a really artistic make-up is apt to surprise the uninitiated.
And that reminds me that Polton has instructions to make a few trifling
alterations in your own appearance."

I stared at him aghast. "You don't mean to say," I exclaimed, "that you
contemplate making me up?"

"We won't discuss the question now," he replied a little evasively. "You
talk it over with Polton. It is time for me to go now, as our quarry has
considerately acted up to our expectations. He little knows what
confusion of our plans he would have occasioned by simply staying at the
other end of the street."

The spy had, in fact, now halted opposite the cabstand and was apparently
making some notes in a pocket-book, facing, meanwhile, in our direction.
With a few parting instructions to me, Thorndyke picked up the suit-case
and hurried out, and I saw him dart down the steps--with his face turned
somewhat to the right--and stand for a few seconds at the edge of the
pavement with his back to the cabstand, but in full view, looking at his
watch as if considering some appointment. Suddenly he sprang into the cab
and, pushing up the trap, gave the driver his instructions and handed up
the fare. At the same moment I saw the unknown shadower hail a hansom,
and, scrambling to the footboard, give some brief directions to the
driver. Then Thorndyke's cabman touched his horse with the whip, and away
he went at a smart trot; but hardly had the cab turned the first corner
when the second hansom rattled past the club in hot pursuit.

I was about to turn away from the window when a tall, well-dressed man
ran down the steps and immediately signalled to the cabstand with his
stick. Thinking it probable that this was the plain-clothes policeman, I
stopped to watch; and when I had seen him enter the cab and drive off in
the same direction as the other two, I decided that the show was over and
that it was time for me to take my departure; which I did, after stuffing
a couple of envelopes into the lining of Thorndyke's hat, to prevent it
from slipping down towards my ears.

That my arrival at number 5A, King's Bench Walk was not quite unexpected
I gathered not only from the fact that the "oak" stood wide open,
revealing the inner door, but from the instantaneous way in which this
latter opened in response to my knock; and something gleeful and
triumphant in Mr. Polton's manner as he invited me to enter, stirred my
suspicions and aroused vague forebodings.

He helped me out of my--or rather Thorndyke's--overcoat, and; having
taken the hat from me, peered inquiringly into its interior and fished
out the two envelopes, which he politely offered to me. Then, having
disposed of his employer's property, he returned to confront me, and,
wrinkling his countenance into a most singular and highly corrugated
smile, he opened his mouth and spoke. "So you have come, sir, the Doctor
tells me, to take sanctuary for a time with us from the malice of your
enemies."

"I don't know about that," I replied, "but there is a cockeyed
transformationist who seems to be dodging about after me, and Dr.
Thorndyke thinks I had better give him the go-by for the present."

"And very proper, too, sir. Discretion is the better part of valour, as
the proverb says--though I really could never see that it is any part at
all. But no doubt our forefathers, who made the proverb, knew best. Did
the Doctor mention that he had given me certain instructions about you?"

"He said that I was to talk over some question with you, but I didn't
quite follow him. What were his instructions?"

Polton rubbed his hands, and his face became more crinkly than ever. "The
Doctor instructed me," he replied, looking at me hungrily and obviously
making a mental inventory of my features, "to effect certain slight
alterations in your outward personality."

"Oh, did he," said I. "And what does he mean by that? Does he mean that
you are to make me up as an old woman or a nigger minstrel?"

"Not at all, sir," replied Polton. "Neither of those characters would be
at all suitable. They would occasion remark, which it is our object to
avoid; and as to a negro minstrel, his presence in chambers would
undoubtedly be objected to by the benchers."

"But," I expostulated, "why any disguise at all, if I am to be boxed up
in these chambers? The chappie isn't likely to come and look through the
keyhole."

"He wouldn't see anything if he did," said Polton. "I fitted these locks.
But, you see, sir, many strangers come to these chambers, and then, too,
you might like to take a little exercise about the inn or the gardens.
That would probably be quite safe if you were unrecognizable, but
otherwise, I should think, inadmissible. And really, sir," he continued
persuasively, "if you do a thing at all you may as well do it thoroughly.
The Doctor wishes you to disappear; then disappear completely. Don't do
it by halves."

I could not but admit to myself that this was reasonable advice.
Nevertheless, I grumbled a little sulkily. "It seems to me that Dr.
Thorndyke is making a lot of unnecessary fuss. It is absurd for an
able-bodied man to be sneaking into a hiding-place and disguising himself
like a runaway thief."

"I can offer no opinion on that, sir," said Polton; "but you're wrong
about the Doctor. He is a cautious man but he is not nervous or fussy.
You would be wise to act as he thinks best, I am sure."

"Very well," I said; "I won't be obstinate. When do you want to begin on
me?"

"I should like," replied Polton, brightening up wonderfully at my sudden
submission, "to have you ready for inspection by the time that the Doctor
returns. If agreeable to you, sir, I would proceed immediately."

"Then in that case," said I, "we had better adjourn to the green-room
forthwith."

"If you please, sir," replied Polton; and with this, having opened the
door and cautiously inspected the landing, he conducted me up the stairs
to the floor above, the rooms of which appeared to be fitted as workshops
and laboratories. In one of the former, which appeared to be Polton's own
special den, I saw my watch hanging from a nail, with a rating table
pinned above it, and proceeded to claim it. "I suppose, sir," said
Polton, reluctantly taking it from its nail and surrendering it to me,
"as you are going to reside on the premises and I can keep it under
observation, you may as well wear it. The present rate is plus one point
three seconds daily. And now I will trouble you to sit down on this stool
and take off your collar."

I did as he bade me, and, meanwhile, he turned up his cuffs and stood a
little way off, surveying me as a sculptor might survey a bust on which
he was at work. Then he fetched a large cardboard box, the contents of
which I could not see, and fell to work.

His first proceeding was to oil my hair thoroughly, part it in the middle
and brush it smoothly down either side of my forehead. Next he shaved off
the outer third of each eyebrow, and, having applied some sort of varnish
or adhesive, he proceeded to build up, with a number of short hairs, a
continuation of the eyebrows at a higher level. The result seemed to
please him amazingly, for he stepped back and viewed me with an
exceedingly self-satisfied smirk. "It is really surprising, sir," said
he, "how much expression there is in the corner of an eyebrow. You look a
completely different gentleman already."

"Then," said I, "there's no need to do any more. We can leave it at
this."

"Oh, no we can't, sir," Polton replied hastily, making a frantic dive
into the cardboard box. "Begging your pardon, sir, it is necessary to
attend to the lower part of the face, in case you should wish to wear a
hat, which would cover the hair and throw the eyebrows into shadow."

Here he produced from the box an undeniable false beard of the torpedo
type and approached me, holding it out as if it were a poultice. "You are
not going to stick that beastly thing on my face!" I exclaimed, gazing at
it with profound disfavour.

"Now, sir," protested Polton, "pray be patient. We will just try it on,
and the Doctor shall decide if it is necessary."

With this he proceeded to affix the abomination to my jowl with the aid
of the same sticky varnish that he had used previously, and, having
attached a moustache to my upper lip, worked carefully round the edges of
both with a quantity of loose hair, which he stuck on the skin with the
adhesive liquid and afterwards trimmed off with scissors. The process was
just completed and he had stepped back once more to admire his work when
an electric bell rang softly in the adjoining room. "There's the Doctor,"
he remarked. "I'm glad we are ready for him. Shall we go down and submit
our work for his inspection?"

I assented readily, having some hopes that Thorndyke would veto the
beard, and we descended together to the sitting-room, where we found that
Jervis and his principal had arrived together. As to the former, he
greeted my entrance by staggering back several paces with an expression
of terror, and then seated himself on the edge of the table and laughed
with an air of enjoyment that was almost offensive; particularly to
Polton, who stood by my side, rubbing his hands and smiling with devilish
satisfaction. "I assume," Thorndyke said, gravely, "that this is our
friend Jardine."

"It isn't," said Jervis. "It's the shopwalker from Wallis's. I recognized
him instantly."

"Look here," I said, with some heat, "it's all very well for you to make
me up like Charley's Aunt and then jeer at me, but what's the use of it?
The fifth of November's past."

"My dear Jardine," Thorndyke said, soothingly, "you are confusing your
sensations with your appearance. I daresay that make-up is rather
uncomfortable, but it is completely successful, and I must congratulate
Polton; for the highest aim of a disguise is the utterly common-place,
and I assure you that you are now a most ordinary-looking person. Fetch
the looking-glass from the office, Polton, and let him see for himself."

I gazed into the mirror which Polton held up to me with profound
surprise. There was nothing in the least grotesque or unusual in the face
that looked out at me, only it was the face of an utter stranger; and, as
Thorndyke had said, a perfectly common-place stranger, at whom no one
would look twice in the street. Grudgingly, I acknowledged the fact, but
still objected to the beard. "Do you think it is really necessary, sir,
in addition to the other disfigurements?"

"Yes, I do," replied Thorndyke. "It is only a temporary expedient,
because, in a fortnight, your own beard will have grown enough to serve
with a little artificial re-enforcement. And," he continued, as Polton
retired with a gratified smile, "I am anxious that your disappearance
shall be complete. It is not only a question of your safety--although
that is very urgent, and I feel myself responsible for you, as we are not
appealing to the police. There are other issues. Assuming, as we do
assume, that some crime has been committed, the lapse of time must
inevitably cause some of the consequences of that crime to develop. If
the man whose body you saw at Hampstead was really murdered, he must
presently be missed and enquired for. Then we shall learn who he was and
perhaps we may gather what was the motive of the crime. Then, your secret
enemy will be left unemployed and may produce some fresh evidence--for he
can't wait indefinitely for your reappearance. And finally, certain
enquiries which I am making may set us on the right track. And, if they
do, you must remember, Jardine, that you are probably the sole witness to
certain important items of evidence; so you must be preserved in safety
as a matter of public policy, apart from your own prejudices in favour of
remaining alive."

"I didn't know that you were actually working at the case," I said. "Have
you been following up that man Gill of the mineral water works?"

"I followed him up to the vanishing-point. He has gone and left no trace;
and I have been unable to get any description of him."

"Then," said I, "if it is allowable to ask the question, in what
direction have you been making enquiries?"

"I have been interesting myself," Thorndyke replied, "in the other case;
that of your patient Mr. Maddock, as the attacks on you seemed to be
associated with his neighbourhood rather than with that of Hampstead. I
have examined his will at Somerset House and am collecting information
about the persons who benefited by its provisions. Especially, I am
making some enquiries about a legatee who lives in New York, and
concerning whom I am rather curious. I can't go into further details just
now, but you will see that I am keeping the case in hand, and you must
remember that, at any moment, fresh information may reach me from other
sources. My practice is a very peculiar one, and there are few really
obscure cases that are not, sooner or later, brought to me for an
opinion."

"And, meanwhile, I am to eat the bread of idleness here and wait on
events."

"You won't be entirely idle," Thorndyke replied. "We shall find you some
work to do, and you will extend your knowledge of medico-legal practice.
You write shorthand fairly well, don't you?"

"Yes; and I can draw a little, if that is of any use."

"Both accomplishments are of use, and, even if they are not, we should
have to exercise them for the sake of appearances. It will certainly
become known that you are here, so we had better make no secret of it,
but find you such occupation as will account for your presence. And, as
you will have to meet strangers now and again, we must find you a name.
What do you think of 'William Morgan Howard'?"

"It will do as well as any other," I replied.

"Very well, then William Morgan Howard let it be. And, in case you might
forget your alias, as the crooks are constantly doing, we will drop the
name of Jardine and call you Howard even when we are alone. It will save
us all from an untimely slip."

To this arrangement also I agreed with a sour smile, and so, with some
physical discomfort in the neighbourhood of the lower jaw, and a certain
relish of the novelty and absurdity of my position, I placed myself,
under the name of Howard, on the roster of Thorndyke's establishment.

CHAPTER XVI

ENTER FATHER HUMPERDINCK

ON the day following my--and Thorndyke's--masterly retreat from Salter's
Club, the plain-clothes officer called to make his report; and even
before he spoke, I judged from his rather sheepish expression that he had
failed. And so it turned out. He had waited in the porter's lodge, he
told us, until midnight keeping a watch on the watcher, who, for his
part, lurked in the street, always keeping in sight of the hospital, and
whiling away the time by gazing into the shop windows. The spy had
evidently failed to recognize Thorndyke, for when the latter left the
hospital in company with one of the physicians, he had given only a
passing glance at the open carriage in which the two men sat.

After the shops had shut, the persevering shadower had occupied himself
with a sort of dismal sentry-go up and down the street, disappearing into
the darkness and reappearing at regular intervals. Once or twice, the
plain-clothes man went out and followed his quarry in his perambulations,
but, not considering it prudent to expose himself too much to view, he
remained mostly in the Lodge. It was after one of these sallies that the
mischance occurred. Returning to the Lodge, he saw the spy pass the gates
and disappear up the dark street; he looked, after the usual interval,
for him to reappear. But the interval passed and there was no
reappearance. Then the officer hurried out in search of his quarry, but
found only an empty street. Even the apparently inexhaustible patience of
the spy had given out at last. And so the quest had ended.

I cannot say that Thorndyke impressed me as being deeply disappointed; in
fact, I thought that he seemed, if anything, rather relieved at his
emissary's failure. This was Jervis's opinion also, and he had no false
delicacy about expressing it. "Well," Thorndyke replied, "as the fellow
thrust himself right under my nose, I could hardly do less than make some
sort of an attempt to find out who he is. But I don't particularly want
to know. My investigations are proceeding from quite another direction;
and you see, Jervis, how awkward it might have been to have this person
on our hands. We could only charge him with loitering with felonious
intent, and we couldn't prove the intent after all; for we can't produce
any evidence connecting this man with the three attempted murders. He may
not be the same man at all. And I certainly don't want to go into the
witness box just now, and still less do I want my new clerk, Mr. Howard,
put into that position. I don't want to take any action until I have the
case quite complete and am in a position to make a decisive move."

"The truth is," said Jervis, addressing me confidentially in a stage
whisper, "Thorndyke hates the idea of spoiling a really juicy problem by
merely arresting the criminal and pumping his friends. He looks on such a
proceeding much as a Master of Foxhounds would look on the act of
poisoning a fox."

Thorndyke smiled indulgently at his junior. "There is such a thing," said
he, "as failing to poison a fox and only making him too unwell to leave
his residence. A premature prosecution is apt to fail; and then the
prisoner has seen all the cards of his adversaries. At present I am
playing against an unseen adversary, but I am hoping that I, in my turn,
am unseen by him, and I am pretty certain that he has no idea what cards
I hold."

"Gad!" exclaimed Jervis, "then he is much the same position as I am." And
with this the subject dropped.

The first week of my residence in Thorndyke's chambers was quite
uneventful, and was mainly occupied in settling down to the new
conditions. My letters were sent on by Mrs. Blunt to the hospital whence
they were brought by my principal--as I may now call my quondam
teacher--with the exception of Sylvia's; which we had agreed were to be
sent to the chambers enclosed in an envelope addressed to Thorndyke.

At first, I had feared that the confinement would be unendurable; but the
reality proved to be much less wearisome than I had anticipated. A
horizontal bar rigged up by Polton in the laboratory, gave me the means
of abundant exercise of one kind; and in the early mornings, before the
gates of the inn were opened, I made it my daily practice to trot round
the precincts for an hour at a time, taking the circuit from our chambers
through Crown Office Road to Fountain Court and back by way of Pump Court
and the Cloisters, to the great benefit of my health and the mild
surprise of the porters and laundresses.

Nor was I without occupation in the daytime. Besides an exhaustively
detailed account of all the remarkable experiences that had befallen me
of late which I wrote out at Thorndyke's request, I had a good deal of
clerical work of one kind and another, and was frequently employed, when
clients called, in exhibiting my skill as a stenographer; taking down
oral statements, or making copies of depositions or other documents which
were read over to me by Thorndyke or Jervis.

It was the exercise of these latter activities that introduced me to a
certain Mr. Marchmont, and through him to some new and rather startling
experiences. Mr. Marchmont was a solicitor, and, as I gathered, an old
client of Thorndyke's; for, when he called one evening, about ten days
after my arrival, with a bagful of documents, he made sundry references
to former cases by which I understood that he and Thorndyke had been
pretty frequently associated in their professional affairs. "I have got a
lot of papers here," he said, opening the bag, "of which I suppose I
ought to have had copies made; but there hasn't been time and I am afraid
there won't be, as I have to return them to-morrow. But perhaps, if you
run your eye over them, you will see what it is necessary to remember and
make a few notes."

"I think," said Thorndyke, "that my friend, Mr. Howard, will be able to
help us by taking down the essentials in shorthand. Let me introduce you.
Mr. Howard is very kindly assisting me for a time by relieving me of some
of the extra clerical work."

Mr. Marchmont bowed, and, as we shook hands, looked at me, as I thought,
rather curiously; then he extracted the papers from his bag, and,
spreading them out on the table, briefly explained their nature. "There
is no need," said he, "to have copies of them all, but I thought you had
better see them. Perhaps you will glance through them and see which you
think ought to be copied for reference."

Thorndyke ran his eye over the documents, and, having made one or two
brief notes of the contents of some, which he then laid aside, collected
the remainder and began to read them out to me, while I took down the
matter verbatim, interpolating Marchmont's comments and explanations on a
separate sheet of paper. The reading and the discussion occupied a
considerable time, and, before the business was concluded, the Treasury
clock had struck half-past nine. "It's getting late," said Marchmont,
folding the papers and putting them back in the bag. "I must be going or
you'll wish me at Halifax, if you aren't doing so already." He snapped
the fastening of the bag, and, grasping the handle, was about to lift it
from the table, when he appeared to recollect something, for he let go
the handle and once more faced my principal.

"By the way, Thorndyke," said he, "there is a matter on which I have
wanted to consult you for some time past, but couldn't get my client
to agree. It is a curious affair; quite in your line, I think; a
case of disappearance--not in the legal sense, as creating a
presumption of death, but disappearance from ordinary places of
resort with a very singular change of habits, so far as I can learn.
Possibly a case of commencing insanity. I have been wanting to
lay the facts before you, but my client, who is a Jesuit and
as suspicious as the devil, insisted on trying to ferret out the evidence
for himself and wouldn't hear of a consultation with you. Of course he
has failed completely, and now, I think, he is more amenable."

"Are you in possession of the facts, yourself?" asked Thorndyke.

"No, I'm hanged if I am," replied Marchmont. "The case is concerned with
a certain Mr. Reinhardt, who was a client of my late partner, poor
Wyndhurst. I never had anything to do with him; and it unfortunately
happens that our old clerk, Bell--you remember Bell--who had charge of
Mr. Reinhardt's business, left us soon after poor Wyndhurst's death, so
there is nobody in the office who has any personal knowledge of the
parties."

"You say it is a case of disappearance?" said Thorndyke.

"Not exactly disappearance, but--well, it is a most singular case. I can
make nothing of it, and neither can my worthy and reverend client, so as
I say, he is now growing more amenable, and I think I shall be able to
persuade him to come round with me and take your opinion on such facts as
we have. Shall you be at home to-morrow evening?"

"Yes, I can make an appointment for to-morrow, after dinner, if you
prefer that time."

"We won't call it an appointment," said Marchmont. "If I can overcome his
obstinacy, I will bring him round and take the chance of your being in.
But I think he'll come, as he is on his beam-ends; and if he does, I
fancy you will find the little problem exactly to your liking."

With this Mr. Marchmont took his departure, leaving Thorndyke and me to
discuss the various legal aspects of disappearance and the changes of
habit and temperament that usher in an attack of mental alienation. I
could see that the solicitor's guarded references to an obscure and
intricate case had aroused Thorndyke's curiosity to no small extent, for,
though he said little on the subject, it evidently remained in his mind,
as I judged by the care with which he planned the disposal of his time of
the following day, and the little preparations that he made for the
reception of his visitors. Nor was Thorndyke the only expectant member of
our little establishment. Jervis also, having caught the scent of an
interesting case, made it his business to keep the evening free, and so
it happened that when eight o'clock struck on the Temple bell, it found
us gathered round the fire, chatting on indifferent subjects, but all
three listening for the expected tread on the stairs. "It is to be
hoped," said Jervis, "that our reverend friend won't jib at the last
moment. I always expect something good from Marchmont. He doesn't get
flummoxed by anything simple or common place. I think we have had most of
our really thrilling cases through him. And seeing that Jardine has laid
in two whole quarto note-blocks and put those delightful extra touches to
his already alluring get-up--"

"There is no such person here as Jardine," Thorndyke interrupted.

"I beg his pardon. Mr. Howard, I should have said. But listen! There are
two persons coming up the stairs. You had better take your place at the
table, Ja-Howard, and look beastly business-like, or the reverend
gentleman will want you chucked out, and then you'll lose the
entertainment."

I hurried across to the table and had just seated myself and taken up a
pen when the brass knocker on our inner door rattled out its
announcement. Thorndyke strode across and threw the door open, and as Mr.
Marchmont entered with his client I looked at the latter inquisitively.
But only for a single instant. Then I looked down and tried to efface
myself utterly, for Mr. Marchmont's client was none other than the cleric
with whom I had travelled from Folkestone to London.

The solicitor ushered in his client with an air of but half-concealed
triumph and proceeded with exaggerated geniality to do the honours of
introduction. "Let me make you known to one another, gentlemen," said he.
"This is the Very Reverend Father Humperdinck. These gentlemen are Dr.
Thorndyke, Dr. Jervis and Mr. Howard, who will act, on this occasion, as
the recording angel to take down in writing the particulars of your very
remarkable story."

Father Humperdinck bowed stiffly. He was evidently a little disconcerted
at finding so large an assembly, and glanced at me, in particular, with
undisguised disfavour, while I, my oiled hair, deformed eyebrows and
false beard notwithstanding, perspired with anxiety lest he should
recognize me. But however unfavourably the reverend father may have
viewed our little conclave, Mr. Marchmont, who had been watching him
anxiously, gave him no chance of raising objections, but proceeded to
open the matter forthwith.

"I have not brought any digest or precis of the case," said he, "because
I know you prefer to hear the facts from the actual parties. But I had
better give you a brief outline of the matter of our inquiry. The case is
concerned with a Mr. Vitalis Reinhardt, who has been closely associated
with Father Humperdinck for very many years past, and who has now,
without notice or explanation, disappeared from his ordinary places of
resort, ceased from communication with his friends, and adopted a mode of
life quite alien from and inconsistent with his previous habits. Those
are the main facts, stated in general terms."

"And the inquiry to which you referred?" said Thorndyke.

"Concerns itself with three questions," replied Marchmont, and he
proceeded to check them off on his fingers. "First, is Vitalis Reinhardt
alive or dead? Second, if he is alive, where is he? Third, having regard
to the singular change in his habits, is his conduct such as might render
it possible to place him under restraint or to prove him unfit to control
his own affairs?"

"To certify him as insane, if I may put it bluntly," said Thorndyke.
"That question could be decided only on a full knowledge of the nature of
the changes in this person's habits, with which, no doubt, you are
prepared to furnish us. But what instantly strikes me in your epitome of
the proposed inquiry is this: you raise the question whether Mr.
Reinhardt is alive or dead, and then you refer to certain changes in his
habits; but, since a man must be alive to have any habits at all, the two
questions seem to be mutually irreconcilable in relation to the same
group of facts."

Father Humperdinck nodded approvingly. "Zat is chust our great
diffigulty," said he. "Zome zings make me suspect zat my friend Reinhardt
is dead; zome ozzer zings make me feel certain zat he is alife. I do not
know vich to zink. I am gombletely buzzled."

"Perhaps," said Thorndyke, "the best plan would be for Father Humperdinck
to give us a detailed account of his relations with Mr. Reinhardt and of
the latter gentleman's habits as they are known to him; after which we
could discuss any questions that suggest themselves and clear up any
points that seem to be obscure. What do you say, Marchmont?"

"It will be a long story," Marchmont replied doubtfully.

"So much the better," rejoined Thorndyke. "It will give us the more
matter for consideration. I would suggest that Father Humperdinck tells
us the story in his own way and that Mr. Howard takes down the statement.
Then we shall have the principal data and can pursue any issue that seems
to invite further investigation."

To this proposal Marchmont agreed, a little reluctantly, fortifying
himself for the ordeal by lighting a cigar; and Father Humperdinck,
having cast a somewhat disparaging glance at me, began his account of his
missing friend, which I took down verbatim, and which I now reproduce
shorn of the speaker's picturesque but rather tiresome peculiarities of
pronunciation. "My acquaintance with Vitalis Reinhardt began more than
forty years ago, when we were both schoolboys in the Jesuit's house at
Louvain. But I did not see much of him then, as I was preparing for the
novitiate while he was on the secular side. In spite of his German name,
Vitalis was looked upon as an English boy, for his father had married a
rich English lady and was settled in England; and Vitalis, being the only
child, had very great expectations. When he left school I lost sight of
him for some years, and it was only after the war had broken out between
Germany and France that we met again. I had then just been ordained and
was attached as chaplain to a Bavarian regiment; he had come out from
England as a volunteer to attend the sick and wounded; and so we met,
soon after the battle of Saarbrück, in the wards of a temporary hospital.
But our career in the field was not a long one. Less than a month after
Saarbrück, our little force met a French division and had to retreat,
leaving a number of men and guns and all the wounded in the hands of the
enemy. Both of us were among the prisoners, and Vitalis was one of the
wounded, for, just as the retreat began, a French bullet struck him in
the right hip. We were both taken to Paris with the rest of the
prisoners, and there, in the hospital for wounded prisoners, I was
allowed to visit him.

"His wound was a severe one. The bullet had entered deeply and lodged
behind the bone of the hip, so that the repeated efforts of the surgeons
to extract it not only failed but caused great pain and made the wound
worse. From day to day poor Vitalis grew thinner and more yellow, and we
could see plainly that if no change occurred, the end must come quite
soon. So the doctors said and so Vitalis himself felt.

"Then it came to me that, if the skill of man failed us, we should ask
for help from above. It happened that I possessed a relic of the blessed
Saint Vincent de Paul, which was contained in a small gold reliquary, and
which I had been permitted by the Father General to keep. I proposed to
Vitalis that we should apply the relic and make a special appeal to the
saint for help, and also that he should promise to dedicate some part of
his great possessions to the service of God.

"He agreed readily, for he had always been a deeply pious man.
Accordingly he made the promises as I had suggested, we offered up
special prayers to the saint, and, with the permission of the surgeons, I
attached the reliquary to the dressings of the wound, praying that it
should avail to draw out the bullet."

"And did it?" asked Marchmont in a tone which evidently did not escape
the observant Jesuit, for that noble-witted gentleman turned sharply on
the lawyer and replied with severe emphasis: "No, sir, it did not. And
why? Because there was no need. The very next day after the reliquary was
applied, when the dressings were changed, a small shred of filthy cloth
came out of the wound. That was the cause of the trouble, not the clean
metal bullet. The saint, you see, sir, knew better than the surgeon."

"Evidently," said Marchmont, glancing quickly at me, and the expression
that I caught in the eye of that elderly heathen suggested that he had
actually contemplated a wink and then thought better of it.

"As soon as the piece of cloth was out of the wound," Father Humperdinck
resumed, "all the trouble ceased. The fever abated, the wound healed, and
very soon Vitalis was able to get about, none the worse for his mishap.

"It was natural that he should be grateful to the saint who had saved his
life, for though we look forward to the hereafter, we do not wish to die.
Also was it natural that he should feel a devotion to the holy relic
which had been the appointed instrument of his recovery. He did, and to
gratify him, I obtained the Father General's permission to bestow it on
him, which gave him great joy, and thenceforth he always carried the
reliquary on his person."

"I hope he kept his promise to the saint," said Marchmont.

"He did; faithfully, and, indeed, handsomely. No sooner was he recovered
of his wound than he proposed to me the founding of a new society of
brothers of charity to attend the sick and wounded. I consulted with the
Father General of my Society--the Society of Jesus--and received his
sanction to act as director of the new society or fraternity which was to
be affiliated to the Society of Jesus under the title of 'The Poor
Brothers of Saint Joseph of Aramithea'."

"Why not Saint Vincent de Paul?" asked Marchmont.

"Because there was already a society named after that saint, and because
Saint Joseph was a man of eminent charity. But I shall not weary you with
a history of our society. It was founded and blessed by His Holiness, the
Pope, it prospered, and it still prospers to the glory of God and to the
benefit and relief of the sick, the poor, and the suffering. At first
Vitalis paid all the costs, and he has been a generous benefactor ever
since."

"This is all extremely interesting," said Marchmont, "but--you will
excuse my asking--has it any bearing on your friend's disappearance?"

"Yes, sir, it has," replied Father Humperdinck, "as you shall berceive
ven I my narradive gondinue."

Mr. Marchmont bowed, and Father Humperdinck, quite undisturbed by the
interruption, "gondinued his narradive."

"Our first house was established in Belgium, near Brussels, and Vitalis
came to live with us in community. He did not regularly join the society
or take any vows, but he lived with us as one of ourselves and wore the
habit of a lay brother when in the house and the dress of one when he
went abroad. This he has continued to do ever since. Though bound by no
vows, he has lived the life of a professed religious by choice, occupying
an ordinary cell for sleeping and taking his meals at the refectory
table. But not always. From time to time he has taken little holidays to
travel about and mix--with the outer world. Sometimes he would come to
England to visit his relatives, and sometimes he would spend a few weeks
in one of the great cities of the Continent, looking over the museums and
picture-galleries. He was greatly interested in art and liked to frequent
the society of painters and sculptors, of whom he knew several; and one,
in particular--an English painter named Burton, whose acquaintance he
made quite recently--he seemed very much attached to, for he stayed with
him at Bruges for more than a month.

"When he came back from Bruges, he told me that he purposed going to
England to see his relatives and to make certain arrangements with his
lawyers for securing a part of his property to our Society. I had often
urged him to do this, but, hitherto, he had retained complete control of
his property and only paid the expenses of the Society as they occurred.
He was most generous, but, of course, this was a bad arrangement,
because, in the event of his death, we should have been left without the
support that he had promised. It seemed that while he was at Bruges he
had discussed this matter with Mr. Burton, who was a Catholic, and that
the Englishman also had advised him to make a permanent provision for the
Society. It seemed that he had decided to divide his property between our
community and a cousin of his who lives in England, a project of which I
strongly approved. After staying with us for a month or two, he left for
England with the purpose of making this arrangement. That was in the
middle of last September, and I have not seen him since."

"Did he complete the arrangements that he had mentioned?" Thorndyke
asked.

"No, he did not. He made certain arrangements as to his property, but
they were very different ones from those he had proposed. But we shall
come to that presently. Let me finish my story.

"A few days after Vitalis left us, our oldest lay brother was taken very
seriously ill. I wrote to Vitalis, who was deeply attached to Brother
Bartholomew, telling him of this, and, as I did not know where he was
staying, I sent the letter to his cousin's house at Hampstead. He
replied, on the eighteenth of September, that he should return
immediately. He said that he was then booking his luggage and paying his
hotel bill; that he had to see his cousin again, but that he would try to
come by the night train, or if he missed that, he would sleep at the
station hotel and start as early as possible on the following day, the
nineteenth. That was the last I ever heard from him. He never came and
has never communicated with me since."

"You have made enquiries, of course?" said Thorndyke.

"Yes. When he did not come, I wrote to his lawyer, Mr. Wyndhurst, whom I
knew slightly. But Mr. Wyndhurst was dead, and my letter was answered by
Mr. Marchmont. From him I learned that Vitalis had called on him on the
morning of the nineteenth and made certain arrangements of which he,
perhaps, will tell you. Mr. Marchmont ascertained that, on the same day,
Vitalis's luggage was taken from the cloak-room in time to catch the boat
train. I have made inquiries and find that he arrived at Calais, and I
have succeeded in tracing him to Paris, but there I have lost him. Where
he is now I am unable to discover.

"And now, before I finish my story, you had better hear what Mr.
Marchmont has to tell. He has been very close with me, but you are a
lawyer and perhaps know better how to deal with lawyers."

Thorndyke glanced enquiringly at the solicitor, who, in his turn, looked
dubiously at the end of his waning cigar. "The fact is," said he, "I am
in a rather difficult position. Mr. Reinhardt has employed me as his
solicitor, and I don't quite see my way to discussing his private affairs
without his authority."

"That is a perfectly correct attitude," said Thorndyke, "and yet I am
going to urge you to tell us what passed at your interview with your
client. I can't go into particulars at present, but I will ask you to
take it from me that there are sound reasons why you should; and I will
undertake to hold you immune from any blame for having done so."

Marchmont looked sharply and with evidently awakened interest at
Thorndyke. "I think I know what that means," he said, "and I will take
you at your word, having learned by experience what your word is worth.
But before describing the interview, I had better let you know how
Reinhardt had previously disposed of his property.

"About twelve years ago he got Wyndhurst to draft a will for him by which
a life interest in the entire property was vested in his cousin, a Miss
Augusta Vyne, with reversion to her niece, Sylvia Vyne, the only child of
his cousin Robert. This will was duly executed in our office.

"After that our firm had, until quite recently, no special business to
transact for Mr. Reinhardt beyond the management of his investments. The
whole of his property--which was all personal--was in our hands to
invest, and our relations with him were confined to the transfer of sums
of money to his bank when we received instructions from him to effect
such transfer. He never called at the office, and latterly there has been
no one there who knew him excepting Wyndhurst himself and the clerk,
Bell.

"The next development occurred last September. On the seventeenth I
received a letter from him, written at Miss Vyne's house at Hampstead,
saying that he had been discussing his affairs with her and that he
should like to call on me and make some slight alterations in the
disposal of the property. I replied on the eighteenth, addressing my
letter to him at Miss Vyne's house, making an appointment for eleven
o'clock on the morning of the nineteenth. He kept the appointment
punctually, and we had a short interview, at which he explained the new
arrangements which he wished to make.

"He began by saying that he had found it somewhat inconvenient, living,
as he did, on the Continent, to have his account at an English Bank. He
proposed, therefore, to transfer it to a private bank at Paris, conducted
by a certain M. Desire, or rather to open an account there, for he did
not suggest closing his account at his English bank."

"Do you know anything about this M. Desire?" asked Thorndyke.

"I did not, but I have since ascertained that he is a person of
credit--quite a substantial man in fact--and that his business is chiefly
that of private banker and agent to the officers of the army.

"Well, Mr. Reinhardt went on to say that he had become rather tired of
the monotonous life of a lay brother--which he, after all, was not--and
wished for a little freedom and change. Accordingly he intended to travel
for a time--which was his reason for employing M. Desire--and did not
propose, necessarily, to keep anyone informed of his whereabouts. He was
a rich man and he had decided to get some advantage from his wealth,
which really did not seem to me at all an unreasonable decision. He added
that he had no intention of withdrawing his support from the Society of
the Poor Brothers; he merely intended to dissociate himself, personally,
from it, and he suggested that any occasions that might arise for
pecuniary assistance should be addressed to him under cover of M. Desire.

"Finally, he desired me to transfer one thousand pounds stock to his new
agent seven days from the date of our interview, and gave me an authority
in writing to that effect in which he instructed me to accept M. Desire's
receipt as a valid discharge."

"And you did so?" asked Thorndyke.

"Certainly I did. And I hold M. Desire's receipt for the amount."

"Did you think it necessary to raise the question of your client's
identity, seeing that no one in the office knew him personally?"

"No, I did not. The question did not arise. There could not possibly be
any doubt on the subject. He was an old client of the firm, and our
correspondence had been carried on under cover of his cousin, Miss Vyne,
who had known him all his life. You remember that I wrote to him at Miss
Vyne's address, making the appointment for the interview."

"And what happened next?"

"The next development was a letter from Father Humperdinck asking if I
could give him Mr. Reinhardt's address. Of course I could not, but I
wrote to M. Desire asking him if he could give it to me. Desire replied
that he did not, at the moment, know where Mr. Reinhardt was, but would,
if desired, take charge of any communications and forward them at the
first opportunity. This statement may or may not have been true, but I
don't think we shall get any more information out of Desire. He is
Reinhardt's agent and will act on his instructions. If Reinhardt has told
him not to give anyone his address, naturally he won't give it. So there
the matter ends, so far as I am concerned."

"Did Vitalis make no suggestion as to altering his will?" Father
Humperdinck enquired.

"None whatever. Nothing was said about the will. But," Mr. Marchmont
added, after a cogitative pause, "we must remember that he has another
man of business now. There is no saying what he may have done through M.
Desire."

Father Humperdinck nodded gloomily, and Thorndyke addressing the
solicitor, asked: "And that is all you have to tell us?"

"Yes. And I'm not sure that it is not a good deal more than I ought to
have told you. It is Father Humperdinck's turn now."

The Jesuit acknowledged the invitation to resume his narrative by a stiff
bow and then proceeded: "You can now see, sir, that what I said is
perfectly correct. The conduct of my friend Vitalis shows a sudden and
unaccountable change. It is quite inconsistent with his habits and his
way of thinking. And the change is, as I say, so sudden. One day he is
coming with the greatest haste to the bedside of his sick friend, Brother
Bartholomew, the next he is making arrangements for a life of selfish
pleasure, utterly indifferent as to whether that friend is alive or dead.
As a matter of fact, the good brother passed away to his reward the day
after Vitalis should have arrived, without even a message from his old
friend. But now I return to my story.

"When Vitalis failed to appear, and I could get no news of him, I became
very anxious; and, as it happened that the business of our Society called
me to England, I determined to inquire into the matter. Circumstances
compelled me to travel by way of Boulogne and cross to Folkestone. I say
'circumstances,' but I should rather say that I was guided that way by
the hand of Providence, for, in the train that brought me from Folkestone
to London, I had a most astonishing experience. In the carriage, alone
with me, there travelled a young man, a very strange young man indeed. He
was a very large man--or, I should say, very high--and in appearance
rather fierce and wild. His clothes were good, but they were disordered
and stained with mud, as if he had been drunk at night and had rolled in
the gutter. And this, I think, was the case, for, soon after we had
started, he began to turn out his pockets on the seat of the carriage, as
if to see whether he had lost anything during his debauch. And then it
was that I saw a most astonishing thing. Among the objects that this man
took from his pockets and laid on the seat, was the reliquary that I had
given so many years ago to Vitalis.

"I could not mistake it. Once it had been mine, and I had been accustomed
to see it almost daily since. Moreover the young man had the effrontery
to pass it to me that I might examine it, and I found on it the very
letters which I, myself, had caused to be engraved on it. When I asked
him where he had obtained it, he told me that he had picked it up at
Hampstead, and he professed not to know what it was. But his answers were
very evasive and I did not believe him."

"Nevertheless," said Mr. Marchmont, "there was nothing improbable in his
statement. Mr. Reinhardt had been at Hampstead and might have dropped
it."

"Possibly. But he would have taken measures to recover it. He would not
have left England until he had found it. He was a rich man, and he would
have offered a large reward for this his most prized possession."

"You say," said Thorndyke, "that he habitually carried this reliquary on
his person. Can you tell us how he carried or wore it?"

"That," replied Father Humperdinck, "was what I was coming to. The
reliquary was a small gold object with a ring at each end. It was meant I
suppose, to be worn round the wrist, or perhaps the neck, by means of a
cord or chain attached to the two rings, or to be inserted into a chaplet
of devotional beads. But this was not the way in which Vitalis carried
it. He possessed a small and very beautiful crucifix which he set great
store by, because it was given to him by one of the fathers when he left
school, and which he used to wear suspended from his neck by a green silk
cord. Now, when I gave him the reliquary, he caused a goldsmith to link
one of its rings to the ring of the crucifix and he fastened the silk
cord to the other ring, and so suspended both the reliquary and the
crucifix from his neck."

"Did he wear them outside his clothing so that they were visible?"
Thorndyke asked.

"Yes, outside his waistcoat, so that they were not only visible but very
conspicuous when his coat was unbuttoned. It was, of course, very
unsuitable to the dress of a lay brother, and I spoke to him about it
several times. But he was sometimes rather self-willed, as you may judge
by his refusal to settle an endowment on the Society, and, naturally, as
he was not professed, I had no authority over him. But I shall return
presently to the reliquary. Now I continue about this young man.

"When I had heard his explanation, and decided that he was telling me
lies, I made a simple pretext to discover his name and place of abode.
With the same effrontery, he gave me his card, which I have here, and
which, you will see, is stained with mud, owing, no doubt, to those
wallowings in the mire of which I have spoken." He drew the card from his
pocket-book and handed it to Thorndyke, who read it gravely, and, pushing
it across the table to me, said, without moving a muscle of his face:
"You had better copy it into your notes, Mr. Howard, so that we may have
the record complete."

I accordingly copied out my own name and address with due solemnity and a
growing enjoyment of the situation, and then returned the card to Father
Humperdinck, who pocketed it carefully and resumed: "Having the name and
address of this young man, I telegraphed immediately to a private
detective bureau in Paris, asking to have sent to me, if possible, a
certain M. Foucault, who makes a speciality of following and watching
suspected persons. This Foucault is a man of extraordinary talent. His
power of disguising himself is beyond belief and his patience is
inexhaustible. Fortunately he was disengaged and came to me without
delay, and, when I had given him the name and address of this young man,
Jardine, and described him from my recollection of him, he set a watch on
the house and found that the man was really living there, as he had said,
and that he made a daily journey to the hospital of St. Margaret's, where
he seemed to have some business, as he usually stayed there until
evening."

"St. Margaret's!" exclaimed Marchmont. "Why that is your hospital,
Thorndyke. Do you happen to know this man Jardine?"

"There is, or was, a student of that name, who qualified some little time
ago, and who is probably the man Father Humperdinck is referring to. A
tall man; quite as tall, I should say, as my friend here, Mr. Howard."

"I should say," said Father Humperdinck, "that the man, Jardine, is
taller, decidedly taller. I watched him as I walked behind him up the
platform at Charing Cross, and M. Foucault has shown him to me since. But
that matters not. Have you seen the man, Jardine, lately at the
hospital?"

"Not very lately," Thorndyke replied. "I saw him there nearly a fortnight
ago, but that, I think, was the last time."

"Ah!" exclaimed Humperdinck. "Exactly. But I shall continue my story. For
some time M. Foucault kept a close watch on this man, but discovered
nothing fresh. He went to the hospital daily, he came home, and he stayed
indoors the whole evening. But, at last, there came a new discovery.

"One morning M. Foucault saw the man, Jardine, come out of his house, dressed
more carefully than usual. From his house, Foucault followed him to a picture
gallery in Leicester Square and went in after him; and there he saw him meet
a female, evidently by a previous assignation. AND," Father Humperdinck
continued, slapping the table to emphasize the climax of his story,
"From-the-neck-of-that-female-was-hanging-Vitalis-Reinhardt's-CRUCIFIX!"

Having made this thrilling communication, our reverend client leaned back
to watch its effect on his audience. I am afraid he must have been a
little disappointed, for Thorndyke was habitually impassive in his
exterior, and, as for Jervis and me, we were fully occupied in
maintaining a decent and befitting gravity. But Marchmont--the only
person present who was not already acquainted with the incident--saved
the situation by exclaiming: "Very remarkable! Very remarkable indeed!"

"It is more than remarkable," said Father Humperdinck. "It is highly
suspicious. You observe that the reliquary and the crucifix had been
linked together. Now they are separated, and since both the rings of the
reliquary were unbroken, it follows that the ring of the crucifix must
have been cut through and a new one made, by which to suspend it."

"I don't see anything particularly suspicious in that," said Marchmont.
"If Jardine found the two articles fixed together, and--having failed to
discover the owner--wished to give the crucifix to his friend, it is not
unnatural that he should have separated them."

"I do not believe that he found them," Father Humperdinck replied
doggedly; "but I shall continue my story and you will see. There is not
much more to tell.

"It seems that the man, Jardine, suspected Foucault of watching him, for
presently he left the gallery in company with the female, and, after being
followed for some distance, he managed to escape. As soon as Foucault
found that he had lost him, he went to Jardine's house and waited about
the neighbourhood, and an hour or two later he had the good fortune to
see him coming from Hampstead towards Highgate, in company with another
female. He followed them until they entered a narrow passage or lane that
leads up the hill, and when they had gone up this some distance, he
followed, but could not get near enough to hear what they were saying.

"And now he had a most strange and terrible experience. For some time
past he had felt a suspicion that some person--some accomplice of
Jardine's perhaps--was following and watching him; and now he had proof
of it. At the top of the lane, Jardine stopped to talk to the female, and
Foucault crept on tiptoe towards him; and while he was doing so, he heard
someone approaching stealthily up the lane, behind him. Suddenly, Jardine
began to return down the lane. As it was not convenient for Foucault to
meet him there, he also turned and walked back; and then he heard a sound
as if someone were climbing the high wooden fence that enclosed the lane.
Then Jardine began to run, and Foucault was compelled also to run but he
would have been overtaken if it had not happened that Jardine fell down.

"Now, just as he heard Jardine fall, he came to a broken place in the
fence, and it occurred to him to creep through the hole and hide while
Jardine passed. He accordingly began to do so, but no sooner had he
thrust his head through the hole than some unseen ruffian dealt him a
violent blow which rendered him instantly insensible. When he recovered
his senses, he found himself lying in a churchyard which adjoins the
lane, but Jardine and the other ruffian were, of course, nowhere to be
seen.

"And now I come to the last incident that I have to relate. The assault
took place on a Saturday; on the Sunday M. Foucault was somewhat
indisposed and unable to go out, but early on Monday he resumed his watch
on Jardine's house. It was nearly noon when Jardine came out, dressed as
if for travelling and carrying a valise. He went first to a house near
Piccadilly and from thence to the hospital in a cab. Foucault followed in
another cab and saw him go into the hospital and waited for him to come
out. But he never came. Foucault waited until midnight, but he did not
come out. He had vanished."

"He had probably come out by a back exit and gone home," said Marchmont.

"Not so," replied Humperdinck. "The next day Foucault watched Jardine's
house, but he did not come there. Then he made enquiries; but Jardine is
not there, and the landlady does not know where he is. Also the porter at
the hospital knows nothing and is not at all polite. The man Jardine has
disappeared as if he had never been."

"That really is rather queer," said Marchmont. "It is a pity that you did
not give me all these particulars at first. However, that can't be helped
now. Is this all that you have to tell us?"

"It is all; unless there is anything that you wish to ask me."

"I think," said Thorndyke, "that it would be well for us to have a
description of Mr. Reinhardt; and, as we have to trace him, if possible,
a photograph would be exceedingly useful."

"I have not a photograph with me," said Father Humperdinck, "but I will
obtain one and send it to you. Meanwhile I will tell you what my friend
Vitalis is like. He is sixty-two years of age, spare, upright, rather
tall--his height is a hundred and seventy-three centimetres--"

"Roughly five feet nine," interposed Thorndyke.

"His hair is nearly white, he is, of course, clean shaven, he has grey
eyes, a straight nose, not very prominent, and remarkably good teeth for
his age, which he shows somewhat when he talks. I think he is a little
vain about his teeth and he well may be, for there are not many men of
sixty-two who have not a single false tooth, nor even one that has been
stopped by the dentist. As to his clothing, he wears the ordinary dress
of a lay brother, which you are probably familiar with, and he nearly
always wears gloves, even indoors."

"Is there any reason for his wearing gloves?" Thorndyke asked.

"Not now. The habit began when he had some affliction of the skin, which
made it necessary for him to keep his hands covered with gloves which
contained some ointment or dressing, and afterwards for a time to conceal
the disagreeable appearance of the skin. The habit having been once
formed, he continued it, saying that his hands were more comfortable
covered up than when exposed to the air."

"Was he dressed in this fashion when he called at your office,
Marchmont?" asked Thorndyke.

"Yes. Even to the gloves. I noticed, with some surprise, that he did not
take them off even when he wrote and signed the note of which I told
you."

"Was he then wearing the reliquary and crucifix as Father Humperdinck has
described, on the front of his waistcoat?"

"He may have been, but I didn't notice them, as I fancy I should have
done if they had been there."

"And you have nothing more to tell us, Father Humperdinck, as to your
friend's personal appearance?"

"No. I will send you the photograph and write to you if I think of
anything that I have forgotten. And now, perhaps you can tell me if you
think that you will be able to answer those questions that Mr. Marchmont
put to you."

"I cannot, of course, answer them now," replied Thorndyke. "The facts
that you have given us will have to be considered and compared, and
certain enquiries will have to be made. Are you staying long in England?"

"I shall be here for at least a month; and I may as well leave you my
address, although Mr. Marchmont has it."

"In the course of a month," Thorndyke said, as he took the proffered
card, "I think I may promise you that we shall have settled definitely
whether your friend is alive or dead; and if we find that he is alive, we
shall, no doubt, be able to ascertain his whereabouts."

"That is very satisfactory," said Father Humperdinck. "I hope you shall
be able to make good your promise."

With this he rose, and, having shaken hands stiffly with Thorndyke,
bestowed on Jervis and me a ceremonious bow and moved towards the door. I
thought that Marchmont looked a little wistful, as if he would have liked
to stay and have a few words with us alone; indeed, he lingered for a
moment or two after the door was open, but then, apparently altering his
mind, he wished us "good-night" and followed his client.

CHAPTER XVII

THE PALIMPSEST

IT was getting late when our friends left us, but nevertheless, as soon
as they were gone, we all drew our chairs up to the fire with the obvious
intention of discussing the situation and began, with one accord, to fill
our pipes. Jervis was the first to get his tobacco alight, and, having
emitted a voluminous preliminary puff, he proceeded to open the debate.
"That man, Jardine, seems to be a pretty desperate character. Just think
of his actually wallowing in the mire--not merely rolling, mind you, but
wallowing--and of his repulsive habit of consorting with females; one
after the other, too, in rapid succession. It's a shocking instance of
depravity."

"Our reverend friend," said Thorndyke, "reaches his conclusions by a
rather short route--in some cases, at least; in others, his methods seem
a little indirect and roundabout."

"Yes," agreed Jervis, "he's a devil at guessing. But he didn't get much
food for the imagination out of the man, Thorndyke. Why were you so
extraordinarily secretive? With what he told you and what you knew
before, you could surely have suggested a line of inquiry. Why didn't
you?"

"Principally because of the man's personality. I could not have answered
his questions; I could, only have suggested one or two highly probable
solutions of the problem that he offered and partial solutions at that.
But I am not much addicted to giving partial solutions--to handing over
the raw material of a promising inquiry. Certainly, not to a man like
this, who seems incapable of a straight forward action."

"The reverend father," said Jervis, "does certainly seem to be a rather
unnecessarily downy bird. And he doesn't seem to have got much by his
excessive artfulness, after all."

"No," agreed Thorndyke; "nothing whatever. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Look at his ridiculous conduct in respect of 'the man Jardine'. I don't
complain of his having taken the precaution to obtain that malefactor's
address; but, when he had got it, if he had not been tortuous, so eager
to be cunning; if, in short, he had behaved like an ordinary sensible
man, he would have got, at once, all the information that Jardine had to
give. He could have called on Jardine, written to him, employed a lawyer
or applied to the police. Either of these simple and obvious plans would
have been successful; instead of which, he must needs go to the trouble
and expense of engaging this absurd spy."

"Who found a mare's nest and got his head thumped," remarked Jervis.

"Then," continued Thorndyke, "look at his behaviour to Marchmont.
Evidently he put the case into Marchmont's hands, but, equally evident,
he withheld material facts and secretly tinkered at the case himself. No,
Jervis, I give no information to Father Humperdinck until I have this
case complete to the last rivet. But, all the same, I am greatly obliged
to him, and especially to Marchmont for bringing him here. He has given
us a connected story to collate with our rather loose collection of facts
and, what is perhaps more important, he has put our investigation on a
business footing. That is a great advantage. If I should want to invoke
the aid of the powers that be, I can do so now with a definite locus
standi as the legal representative of interested parties."

"I can't imagine," said I, "in what direction you are going to push your
inquiries. Father Humperdinck has given us, as you say, a connected
story, but it is a very unexpected one, to me, at least, and does not
fall into line at all with what we know--that is, if you are assuming, as
I have been, that the man whom I saw lying in Millfield Lane was Vitalis
Reinhardt."

"It is difficult," replied Thorndyke, "to avoid that assumption, though
we must be on our guard against coincidences; but the man whom you saw
agreed with the description that has been given to us, we know that
Reinhardt was in the neighbourhood on that day, and you found the
reliquary on the following morning in the immediate vicinity. We seem to
be committed to the hypothesis that the man was Reinhardt unless we can
prove that he was someone else, or that Reinhardt was in some other place
at the time; which at present we cannot."

"Then," said I, "in that case, the bobby must have been right, after all.
The man couldn't have been dead, seeing that he called on Marchmont the
following day and was afterwards traced to Paris. But I must say that he
looked as dead as Queen Anne. It just shows how careful one ought to be
in giving opinions."

"Some authority has said," remarked Jervis, "that the only conclusive
proof of death is decomposition. I believe it was old Taylor who said so,
and I am inclined to think that he wasn't far wrong."

"But," said Thorndyke, "assuming that the man whom you saw was Reinhardt,
and that he was not dead how do you explain the other circumstances? Was
he insensible from the effects of injury or drugs? Or was he deliberately
shamming insensibility? Was it he who passed over the fence? and if so,
did he climb over unassisted or was he helped over? And what answers do
you suggest to the questions that Marchmont propounded? You answer his
first question: 'Is Reinhardt alive?' in the affirmative. What about the
others?"

"As to where he is," I replied. "I can only say, the Lord knows; probably
skulking somewhere on the Continent. As to his state of mind, the facts
seem to suggest that, in vulgar parlance, he has gone off his onion. He
must be as mad as a hatter to have behaved in the way that he has. For,
even assuming that he wanted to get clear of the Poor Brothers of Saint
Jeremiah Diddler without explicitly saying so, he adopted a fool's plan.
There is no sense in masquerading as a corpse one day and turning up
smiling at your lawyer's office the next. If he meant to be dead, he
should have stuck to it and remained dead."

"The objection to that," said Jervis, "is that Marchmont would have
proceeded to get permission to presume death and administer the will."

"I see. Then I can only suppose that he had got infected by Father
Humperdinck and resolved to be artful at all costs and hang the
consequences."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "I understand your view to be that Reinhardt is
at present hiding somewhere on the Continent and that his mind is more or
less affected?"

"Yes. Though as to his being unfit to control his own affairs, I am not
so clear. I fancy there was more evidence in that direction when he was
forking out the bulk of his income to maintain the poverty of the Poor
Brothers. But the truth is, I haven't any opinions on the case at all. I
am in a complete fog about the whole affair."

"And no wonder," said Jervis. "One set of facts seems to suggest most
strongly that Reinhardt must certainly be dead. Another set of facts
seems to prove beyond doubt that he was alive, at least after that affair
in Millfield Lane. He may be perpetrating an elephantine practical joke
on the Poor Brothers; but that doesn't seem to be particularly probable.
The whole case is a tangle of contradictions which one might regard as
beyond unravelment if it were not for a single clear and intelligible
fact."

"What is that?" I asked.

"That my revered senior has undertaken to furnish a solution in the
course of a month; from which I gather that my revered senior has
something up his sleeve."

"There is nothing up my sleeve," said Thorndyke, "that might not equally
well be up yours. I have made no separate investigations. The actual data
which I possess were acquired in the presence of one or both of you, and
are now the common property of us all. I am referring, of course, to the
original data, not to fresh matter obtained by inference from, or further
examination of those data."

Jervis smiled sardonically. "It is the old story," said he. "The magician
offers you his hat to inspect. 'You observe, ladies and gentlemen, that
there is no deception. You can look inside it and examine the lining, and
you can also inspect the top of my head. I now put on my hat. I now take
it off again and you notice that there is a guinea pig sitting in it.
There was no deception, ladies and gentlemen, you had all the data.'"

Thorndyke laughed and shook his head, "That's all nonsense, Jervis," he
said. "It is a false analogy. I have done nothing to divert your
attention. The guinea pig has been staring you in the face all the time."

"Very rude of him," murmured Jervis.

"I have even drawn your attention to him once or twice. But, seriously, I
don't think that this case is so very obscure, though mind you, it is a
mere hypothesis so far as I am concerned, and may break down completely
when I come to apply the tests that I have in view. But what I mean is,
that the facts known to us suggested a very obvious hypothesis and that
the suggestion was offered equally to us all. The verification may fail,
but that is another matter."

"Are you going to work at the case immediately?" I asked.

"No," Thorndyke replied. "Jervis and I have to attend at the Maidstone
Assizes for the next few days. We are retained on a case which involves
some very important issues in relation to life assurance, and that will
take up most of our time. So this other affair will have to wait.

"And meanwhile," said Jervis, "you will stay at home like a good boy and
mind the shop; and I suppose we shall have to find you something to do,
to keep you out of mischief. What do you say to making a longhand
transcript of Father Humperdinck's statement?"

"Yes, you had better do that," said Thorndyke; "and attach it to the
original shorthand copy. And now we must really turn in or we shall never
be ready for our start in the morning."

The transcription of Father Humperdinck's statement gave me abundant
occupation for the whole of the following morning. But when that was
finished, I was without any definite employment, and, though I was not in
the least dull--for I was accustomed to a solitary life--I suppose I was
in that state of susceptibility to mischief that is proverbially
associated with unemployment. And in these untoward circumstances I was
suddenly exposed to a great temptation; and after some feeble efforts at
resistance, succumbed ignominiously.

I shall offer no excuses for my conduct nor seek in any way to mitigate
the judgment that all discreet persons will pass upon my folly. I make no
claims to discretion or to the caution and foresight of a man like
Thorndyke. At this time I was an impulsive and rather heedless young man,
and my actions were pretty much those which might have been expected from
a person of such temperament.

The voice of the tempter issued in the first place from our letter-box,
and assumed the sound of the falling of letters thereinto. I hastened to
extract the catch, and sorting out the envelopes, selected one, the
superscription of which was in Sylvia's now familiar handwriting. It was
actually addressed to Dr. Thorndyke, but a private mark, on which we had
agreed, exposed that naively pious fraud and gave me the right to open
it; which I did, and seated myself in the armchair to enjoy its perusal
at my ease.

It was a delightful letter; bright, gossipy and full of frank and
intimate friendliness. As I read it, the trim, graceful figure and pretty
face of the writer rose before me and made me wonder a little
discontentedly how long it would be before I should look on her and hear
her voice again. It was now getting into the third week since I had last
seen her, and, as the time passed, I was feeling more and more how great
a blank in my life the separation from her had caused. Our friendship had
grown up in a quiet and unsensational fashion and I suppose I had not
realized all that it meant; but I was realizing it now; and, as I conned
over her letter, with its little personal notes and familiar turns of
expression, I began to be consumed with a desire to see her, to hear her
speak, to tell her that she was not as other women to me, and to claim a
like special place in her thoughts.

It was towards the end of the letter that the tempter spoke out in clear
and unmistakable language, and these were the words that he used, through
the medium of the innocent and unconscious Sylvia: "You remember those
sketches that you stole for me--'pinched,' I think was your own
expression. Well, I have cleaned off the daubs of paint with which they
had been disfigured and put them in rough frames in my studio. All but
one; and I began on that yesterday with a scraper and a rag dipped in
chloroform. But I took off, not only the defacing marks but part of the
surface as well; and then I got such a surprise! I shan't tell you what
the surprise was, because you'll see, when you come out of the house of
bondage. I am going to work on it again to-morrow, and perhaps I shall
get the transformation finished. How I wish you could come and see it
done! It takes away more than half the joy of exploration not to be able
to share the discovery with you; in fact, I have a good mind to leave it
unfinished so that we can complete the transformation together."

Now, I need not say that, as to the precious sketches, I cared not a fig
what was under the top coat of paint. What I did care for was that this
dear maid was missing me as I missed her; was wanting my sympathy with
her little interests and pleasures and was telling me, half
unconsciously, perhaps, that my absence had created a blank in her life,
as her absence had in mine. And forthwith I began to ask myself whether
there was really any good reason why I should not, just for this once,
break out of my prison and snatch a few brief hours of sunshine. The spy
had been exploded. He was not likely to pick up my tracks after all this
time and now that my appearance was so altered; and I did not care much
if he did seeing that he had been shown to be perfectly harmless. The
only circumstance that tended to restrain me from this folly was the one
that mitigated its rashness--the change in my appearance; and even that,
now that I was used to it and knew that my aspect was neither grotesque
nor ridiculous, had little weight, for Sylvia would be prepared for the
change and we could enjoy the joke together.

I was aware, even at the time, that I was not being quite candid with
myself, for, if I had been, I should obviously have consulted Thorndyke.
Instead of which I answered the letter by return, announcing my intention
of coming to tea on the following day; and having sent Polton out to post
it, spent the remainder of the afternoon in gleeful anticipation of my
little holiday, tempered by some nervousness as to what Thorndyke would
have to say on the matter, and as to what "my pretty friend," as Mrs.
Samway had very appropriately called her, would think of my having begun
my letter with the words, "My dear Sylvia."

Nothing happened to interfere with my nefarious plans.

On the following morning, Thorndyke and Jervis went off after an early
breakfast, leaving me in possession of the premises and master of my
actions. I elected to anticipate the usual luncheon time by half an hour,
and, when this meal was disposed of, I crept to my room and thoroughly
cleansed my hair of the grease which Polton still persisted in applying
to it; for, since my hat would conceal it while I was out of doors, the
added disfigurement was unnecessary. I was even tempted to tamper
slightly with my eyebrows, but this impulse I nobly resisted; and, having
dried my hair and combed it in its normal fashion, I descended on tip-toe
to the sitting-room and wrote a short, explanatory note to Polton, which
I left conspicuously on the table. Then I switched the door-bell on to
the laboratory, and, letting myself out like a retreating burglar, closed
the door silently and sneaked away down the dark staircase.

Once fairly outside, I went off like a lamplighter, and, shooting out
through the Tudor Street gate, made my way eastward to Broad Street
Station, where I was fortunate enough to catch a train that was just on
the point of starting. At Hampstead Heath Station I got out, and,
snuffing the air joyfully, set forth at my best pace up the slope that
leads to the summit; and in little over twenty minutes found myself at
the gate of "The Hawthorns."

There was no need to knock or ring. My approach had been observed from
the window, and, as I strode up the garden path, the door opened and
Sylvia ran out to meet me. "It was nice of you to come!" she exclaimed,
as I took her hand and held it in mine. "I don't believe you ought to
have ventured out, but I am most delighted all the same. Don't make a
noise; Mopsy is having a little doze in the drawing room. Come into the
morning room and let me have a good look at you."

I followed her meekly into the front room, where, in the large bay
window, she inspected me critically, her cheeks dimpling with a
mischievous smile. "There's something radically wrong about your
eyebrows," she said, "but, really, you are not in the least the fright
that you made out. As to the beard and moustache, I am not sure that I
don't rather like them."

"I hope you don't," I replied, "because, off they come at the first
opportunity--unless, of course, you forbid it."

"Does my opinion of your appearance matter so much then?"

"It matters entirely. I don't care what I look like to anyone else."

"Oh! what a fib!" exclaimed Sylvia. "Don't I remember how very neatly
turned out you always were when you used to pass me in the lane before we
knew one another?"

"Exactly," I retorted. "We didn't know one another then. That makes all
the difference in the world--to me, at any rate."

"Does it?" she said, colouring a little and looking at me thoughtfully.
"It's very--very flattering of you to say so, Dr. Jardine."

"I hope you don't mean that as a snub," I said, rather uneasy at the form
of her reply and thinking of my letter.

"A snub!" she exclaimed. "No, I certainly don't. What did I say?"

"You called me Dr. Jardine. I addressed you in my letter as 'Sylvia--My
dear Sylvia.'"

"And what ought I to have said?" she asked, blushing warmly and casting
down her eyes.

"Well, Sylvia, if you liked me as well as I like you, I don't see why you
shouldn't call me Humphrey. We are quite old friends now."

"So we are," she agreed; "and perhaps it would be less formal. So
Humphrey it shall be in future, since that is your royal command. But
tell me, how did you prevail on Dr. Thorndyke to let you come here? Is
there any change in the situation?"

"There's a change in my situation, and a mighty agreeable change, too.
I'm here."

"Now don't be silly. How did you persuade Dr. Thorndyke to let you come?"

"Ha--that, my dear Sylvia, is a rather embarrassing question. Shall we
change the subject?"

"No, we won't." She looked at me suspiciously for a moment and then
exclaimed in low, tragical tones: "Humphrey! You don't mean to tell me
that you came away without his knowledge!"

"I'm afraid that is what it amounts to. I saw a loop-hole and I popped
through it; and here I am, as I remarked before."

"But how dreadful of you! Perfectly shocking! And whatever will he say to
you when you go back?"

"That is a question that I am not proposing to present vividly to my
consciousness until I arrive on the door-step. I've broken out of chokee
and I'm going to have a good time--to go on having a good time, I should
say."

"Then you consider that you are having a good time now?"

"I don't consider. I am sure of it. Am I not, at this very moment looking
at you? And what more could a man desire?"

She tried to look severe, though the attempt was not strikingly
successful, and retorted in an admonishing tone: "You needn't try to
wheedle me with compliments. You are a very wicked person and most
indiscreet. But it seems to me that some sort of change has come over you
since you retired from the world. Don't you think I'm right?"

"You're perfectly right. I've improved. That's what it is. Matured and
mellowed, you know, like a bottle of claret that has been left in a
cellar and forgotten. Say you think I've improved, Sylvia."

"I won't," she replied, and then, changing her mind, she added: "Yes, I
will. I'll say that you are more insinuating than ever, if that will do.
And now, as, you are clearly quite incorrigible, I won't scold you any
more, especially as you 'broke out of chokee' to come and see me. You
shall tell me all about your adventures."

"I didn't come here to talk about myself, Sylvia. I came to tell you
something--well, about myself, perhaps, but--er--not my adventures you
know or--or that sort of thing--but, I have been thinking a good deal,
since I have been alone so much--about you, I mean, Sylvia--and--er--Oh!
the deuce!"

The latter exclamation was evoked by the warning voice of the gong,
evidently announcing tea, and the subsequent appearance of the housemaid;
who was certainly not such a goose as she was supposed to be, for she
tapped discreetly at the door and waited three full seconds before
entering; and even then she appeared demurely unconscious of my
existence. "If you please, Miss Sylvia, Miss Vyne has woke up and I've
taken in the tea."

Such was the paltry interruption that arrested the flow of my eloquence
and scattered my flowers of rhetoric to the winds. I murmured inwardly,
"Blow the tea!" for the opportunity was gone; but I comforted myself with
the reflection that it didn't matter very much, since Sylvia and I seemed
to have arrived at a pretty clear understanding; which understanding was
further clarified by a momentary contact of our hands as we followed the
maid to the drawing-room. Miss Vyne was on this occasion, as on the last,
seated in the exact centre of the room, and with the same monumental
effect; so that my thoughts were borne irresistibly to the ethnographical
section of the British Museum, and especially to that part of it wherein
the deities of Polynesia look out from their cases in perennial surprise
at the degenerate European visitors. If she had been asleep previously,
she was wide enough awake now; but the glittering eyes were not directed
at me. From the moment of our entering the room they focussed themselves
on Sylvia's face and there remained riveted, whereby the heightening of
that young lady's complexion, which our interview had produced, became
markedly accentuated. It was to no purpose that I placed myself before
the rigid figure and offered my hand. A paw was lifted automatically to
mine, but the eyes remained fixed on Sylvia. "What did you say this
gentleman's name was!" the waxwork asked frigidly.

"This is Dr. Jardine," was the reply.

"Oh, indeed. And who was the gentleman who called some three weeks ago?"

"Why, that was Dr. Jardine; you know it was."

"So I thought, but my memory is not very reliable. And this is a Dr.
Jardine, too? Very interesting. A medical family, apparently. But not
much alike."

I was beginning to explain my identity and the cause of my altered
appearance, when Sylvia approached with a cup of tea and a carefully
dissected muffin, which latter she thrust under the nose of the elder
lady; who regarded it attentively and with a slight squint, owing to its
nearness. "It's of no use, you know," said Sylvia, "for you to pretend
that you don't know him, because I've told you all about the
transformation--that is, all I know myself. Don't you think it's rather a
clever make-up?"

"If," said Miss Vyne, "by 'make-up' you mean a disguise, I think it is
highly successful. The beard is a most admirable imitation."

"Oh, the beard is his own; at least, I think it is."

I confirmed this statement, ignoring Polton's slight additions. "Indeed,"
said Miss Vyne. "Then the wig--it is a wig, I suppose?"

"No, of course it isn't," Sylvia replied.

"Then," said Miss Vyne, majestically, "perhaps you will explain to me
what the disguise consists of."

"Well," said Sylvia, "there are the eyebrows. You can see that they have
been completely altered in shape."

"If I had committed the former shape of the eyebrows to memory, as you
appear to have done," said Miss Vyne. "I should, no doubt, observe the
change. But I did not. It seems to me that the disguise which you told me
about with such a flourish of trumpets just amounts to this; that Dr.
Jardine has allowed his beard to grow. I find the reality quite
disappointing."

"Do you?" said Sylvia. "But, at any rate, you didn't recognize him; so
your disappointment doesn't count for much."

The old lady, being thus hoist with her own petard, relapsed into
majestic silence; and Sylvia then renewed her demand for an account of my
adventures. "We want to hear all about that objectionable person who has
been shadowing you, and how you finally got rid of him. Your letters were
rather sketchy and wanting in detail, so you have got to make up the
deficiency now."

Thus commanded, I plunged into an exhaustive account of those events
which I have already chronicled at length and which I need not refer to
again, nor need I record the cross-examination to which I was subjected,
since it elicited nothing that is not set forth in the preceding pages.
When I had finished my recital, however, Miss Vyne, who had listened to
it in silence, hitherto, put a question which I had some doubts about
answering. "Have you or Dr. Thorndyke been able to discover who this
inquisitive person is and what is his object in following you about?"

I hesitated. As to my own experiences, I had no secrets from these
friends of mine, excepting those that related to the subjects of
Thorndyke's investigations, But I must not come here and babble about
what took place in the sacred precincts of my principal's chambers. "I
think I may tell you," said I, "that Dr. Thorndyke has discovered the
identity of this man and that he is not the person whom we suspected him
to be. But I mustn't say any more, as the information came through
professional channels and consequently is not mine to give."

"Of course you mustn't," said Sylvia; "though I don't mind admitting that
you have put me on tenterhooks of curiosity. But I daresay you will be
able to tell us everything later."

I agreed that I probably should; and the talk then turned into fresh
channels.

The short winter day was running out apace. The daylight had long since
gone, and I began, with infinite reluctance, to think of returning to my
cage. Indeed, when I looked at my watch, I was horrified to see how the
time had fled. "My word!" I exclaimed. "I must be off, or Thorndyke will
be putting the sleuth-hounds of the law on my track. And I don't know
what you will think of me for having stayed such an unconscionable time."

"It isn't a ceremonial visit," said Sylvia, as I rose and made my adieux
to her aunt. "We should have liked you to stay much longer."

Here she paused suddenly, and, clasping her hands, gazed at me with an
expression of dismay. "Good Heavens! Humphrey!" she exclaimed.

"Eh?" said Miss Vyne.

"I was addressing Dr. Jardine," Sylvia explained, in some confusion.

"I didn't suppose you were addressing me," was the withering reply.

"Do you know," said Sylvia, "that I haven't shown you those sketches,
after all. You must see them. They were the special object of your
visit."

This was perfectly untrue, and she knew it; but I did not think it worth
while to contest the statement in Miss Vyne's presence. Accordingly I
expressed the utmost eagerness to see the trumpery sketches, and the more
so since I had understood that they were on view in the studio; which
turned out to be the case. "It won't take a minute for you to see them,"
said Sylvia. "I'll just run up and light the gas; and you are not to come
in until I tell you."

She preceded me up the stairs to the little room on the first floor in
which she worked, and, when I had waited a few moments on the landing she
summoned me to enter. "These are the sketches," said she, "that I have
finished. You see, they are quite presentable now. I cleaned off the
rough daubs of paint with a scraper and finished up with a soft rag
dipped in chloroform."

I ran my eye over the framed sketches, which, now that the canvases were
strained on stretchers and the disfiguring brush-strokes removed, were,
as she had said, quite presentable, though too rough and unfinished to be
attractive. "I daresay they are very interesting," said I, "but they are
only bare beginnings. I shouldn't have thought them worth framing."

"Not as pictures," she agreed, "but as examples of a very curious
technique, I find them most instructive. However, you haven't seen the
real gem of the collection. This is it, on the easel. Sit down, on the
chair and say when you are ready. I'm going to give you a surprise."

I seated myself on the chair opposite the easel, on which was a canvas
with its back towards me. "Now," said Sylvia. "Are you ready? One, two,
three!"

She picked up the canvas, and, turning it round quickly, presented its
face to me. I don't know what I had expected--if I had expected anything;
but certainly I was not in the least prepared for what I saw. The sketch
had originally represented, very roughly, a dark mass of trees which
occupied nearly the whole of the canvas; but of this the middle had been
cleaned away, exposing an under painting. And this it was that filled me
with such amazement that, after a first startled exclamation, I could do
nothing but stare open-mouthed at the canvas; for, from the opening in
the dark mass of foliage there looked out at me, distinct and
unmistakable, the face of Mrs. Samway.

It was no illusion or chance resemblance. Rough as the painting was, the
likeness was excellent. All the well-known features which made her so
different from other women were there, though expressed by a mere
dextrous turn of the knife; the jet-black, formally-parted hair, the
clear, bright complexion, the pale, inscrutable eyes; all were there,
even to the steady, penetrating expression that looked out at me from the
canvas as if in silent recognition. As I sat staring at the picture with
a surprise that almost amounted to awe, Sylvia looked at me a little
blankly. "Well!" she exclaimed, at length, "I meant to give you a
surprise, but--what is it, Humphrey? Do you know her?"

"Yes," I replied, "and so do you. Don't you remember a woman who looked
in at you through the glass door of Robinson's shop."

"Do you mean that black and scarlet creature? I didn't recognize her. I
had no idea she was so handsome; for this is really a very beautiful
face, though there is something about it that I don't understand.
Something--well eerie; rather uncanny and almost sinister. Don't you
think so?"

"I have always thought her a rather weird woman, but this is the weirdest
appearance she has made. How on earth came her face on that canvas?"

"It is an odd coincidence. And yet I don't know that it is. She may have
been some relative of that rather eccentric artist, or even his wife. I
don't know why it shouldn't be so."

Neither did I. But the coincidence remained a very striking one, to me,
at least; much more so than Sylvia realized; though what its significance
might be--if it had any--I could not guess. Nor was there any opportunity
to discuss it at the moment, for it was high time for me to be gone. "You
will send me a telegram when you get back, to say that you have arrived
home safely, won't you," said Sylvia, as we descended the stairs with our
arms linked together. "Of course nothing is going to happen to you, but I
can't help feeling a little nervous. And you'll go down to the station by
the High Street, and keep to the main roads. That is a promise, isn't
it?"

I made the promise readily having decided previously to take every
possible precaution, and, when I had wished Sylvia "good-bye" at some
length, I proceeded to execute it; making my way down the well-populated
High Street and keeping a bright look-out both there and at the station.
Once more I was fortunate in the matter of trains, and, having taken a
hansom from Broad Street to the Temple, was set down in King's Bench Walk
soon after half-past six.

As I approached our building, I looked up with some anxiety at the
sitting-room windows; and when I saw them brightly lighted, a suspicion
that Thorndyke had returned earlier than usual filled me with foreboding,
I had had my dance and now I was going to pay the piper, and I did not
much enjoy the prospect; in fact, as I ascended the stairs and took my
latch-key from my pocket, I was as nervous as a school-boy who has been
playing truant However, there was no escape unless I sneaked up to my
bed-room, so, inserting the key into the lock, I turned it as boldly as I
could, and entered.

CHAPTER XVIII

A VISITOR FROM THE STATES

As I pushed open the inner door and entered the room I conceived the
momentary hope of a reprieve from the wrath to come, for I found my two
friends in what was evidently a business consultation with a stranger,
and was on the point of backing out when Thorndyke stopped me. "Don't run
away, Howard," said he. "There are no secrets being disclosed--at least,
I think not. We have finished with your affairs, Mr. O'Donnell, haven't
we?"

"Yes, doctor," was the answer; "you've run me dry with the exception--of
your own little business."

"Then, come in and sit down, Howard, and let me present you to Mr.
O'Donnell, who is a famous American detective and has been telling us all
sorts of wonderful things."

Mr. O'Donnell paused in the act of returning a quantity of papers to a
large attache case and offered his hand. "The doctor," he remarked, "is
blowing his trumpet at the wrong end. I haven't come here to give
information but to get advice. But I guess I needn't tell you that."

"I hope that isn't quite true," said Thorndyke. "You spoke just now of my
little business; haven't you anything to tell me?"

"I have; but I fancy it isn't what you wanted to hear. However, we'll
just have a look at your letter to Curtis and take your questions one by
one. By the way, what made you write to Curtis?"

"I saw, when I inspected Maddock's will at Somerset House, that he had
left a small legacy to Curtis. Naturally, I inferred that Curtis knew him
and could give me some account of him."

"It struck you as a bit queer, I reckon, that he should be leaving a
legacy to the head of an American detective agency."

"The circumstance suggested possibilities," Thorndyke admitted.

O'Donnell laughed. "I can guess what possibilities suggested themselves
to you, if you knew Maddock. Your letter and the lawyer's, announcing the
legacy, came within a mail or two of one another. Curtis showed them both
to me and we grinned. We took it for granted that the worthy testator was
foxing. But we were wrong. And so are you, if that is what you thought."

"You assumed that the will was not a genuine one?"

"Yes; we thought it was a fake, put up with the aid of some shyster to
bluff us into giving up Mr. Maddock as deceased. So, as I had to come
across about these other affairs, Curtis suggested that I should look
into the matter. And a considerable surprise I got when I did; for the
will is perfectly regular and so is everything else. That legacy was a
sort of posthumous joke, I guess."

"Then do I understand that Mr. Curtis was not really a friend of
Maddock's?"

O'Donnell chuckled. "Not exactly a friend, doctor," said he. "He felt the
warmest interest in Maddock's welfare, but they weren't what you might
call bosom friends. The position was this: Curtis was the chief of our
detective agency; Maddock was a gentleman whom he had been looking for
and not finding for a matter of ten years. At last he found him; and then
he lost him again; and this legacy, I take it, was a sort of playful hint
to show which hole he'd gone down."

"Was Maddock in hiding all that time?" asked Thorndyke.

"In hiding!" repeated O'Donnell. "Bless your innocent heart, doctor, he
had a nice convenient studio in one of the best blocks in New York a
couple of doors from our agency, and he used to send us cards for his
private views. No, sir, our dear departed friend wasn't the kind that
lurks out of sight in cellars or garrets. It was Maddock, sure enough,
that Curtis wanted, only he didn't know it. But I guess I'm fogging you.
I'd best answer the questions that you put to Curtis.

"First, do we know anything about Maddock? Yes, we do. But we didn't know
that his name was Maddock until a few months ago. Isaac Vandamme was the
name we knew him by, and it seems that he had one or two other names that
he used on occasion. We now know that the gay Isaac was a particularly
versatile kind of crook, and a mighty uncommon kind, too, the Lord be
praised; for, if there were many more like him we should have to raise
our prices some. He wasn't the kind of fool that make a million dollar
coup and then goes on the razzle and drops it all. That sort of man is
easy enough to deal with. When he's loaded up with dollars everybody
knows it, and he's sure to be back in a week or two with empty pockets,
ready for another scoop. Isaac wasn't that sort. When he made a little
pile, he invested his winnings like a sensible man and didn't live beyond
his means; and the only mystery to me is that, when he died, he didn't
leave more pickings. I see from his will--which I've had a look at--that
the whole estate couldn't have been above five thousand dollars. He had a
lot more than that at one time."

"He may have disposed of the bulk of his property by gift just before his
death," Jervis suggested.

"That's possible," agreed O'Donnell. "He'd escape the death dues that
way. However, to return to his engaging little ways. His leading line was
penmanship--forgery--and he did it to an absolute finish. He was the most
expert penman that I have ever known. But where he had us all was that he
didn't only know how to write another man's name; he knew when to write
it. I reckon that the great bulk of his forgeries were never spotted at
all, and, of the remainder very few got beyond the bare suspicion that
they were forgeries. In the case of the few that were actually spotted as
forgeries, his tracks were covered up so cleverly that no one could guess
who the forger was."

"And how did you come to suspect him eventually?" Thorndyke asked.

"Ah!" said O'Donnell. "There you are. Every crook--even the
cleverest--has a strain of the fool in him. Isaac's folly took the form
of suspicion. He suspected us of suspecting him. We didn't; but he
thought we did, and then he started to dodge and make some false clues
for us. That drew our attention to him. We looked into his record, traced
his little wanderings and then we began to find things out. A nice
collection there was, too, by the time we had worked a month or two at
his biography; forgeries, false notes, and, at least two murders that had
been a complete mystery to us all. We made ready to drop on Isaac, but,
at that psychological moment, he disappeared. It looked, as if he had
left the States, and, as we have no great affection for extradition
cases, we let the matter rest, more or less, expecting that he would turn
up again, sooner or later. And then came this lawyer's letter and yours,
announcing his decease. Of course Curtis and I thought he was at the old
game; that it was a bit of that sort of extra caution that won't let well
alone. So, as I was coming over, I thought I'd just look into the affair
as I told you; and, to my astonishment, I found everything perfectly
regular; the will properly proved, the death certificate made out
correctly and a second certificate signed by two doctors."

"Did you go into the question of identity?" asked Thorndyke.

"Oh, yes. I called on one of the doctors, a man named Batson, and
ascertained that it was all correct. Batson's eyesight seemed to be none
of the best, but he made it quite clear to me that his late patient was
certainly our friend Isaac, or Maddock. So that's the end of the case.
And if you want to go into it any further you've got to deal with a
little pile of bone ash, for our friend is not only dead; he's cremated.
That's enough for us. We don't follow our clients to the next world. We
are not so thorough as you seem to be."

"You are flattering me unduly," said Thorndyke. "I'm not so thorough as
that; but our clients, when they betake themselves to the happy
hunting-ground, usually leave a few of their friends behind to continue
their activities. Do you happen to know what Maddock's original
occupation was? Had he any profession?"

"He was originally an engraver, and a very skilful engraver, too, I
understand. That was what made him so handy in working the flash note
racket. Then he went on the stage for a time, and didn't do badly at
that; but I fancy he was more clever at making-up and mimicry than at
acting in the dramatic sense. For the last ten years or so he was
practising as a painter--chiefly of landscape, though he could do a
figure subject or a portrait at a pinch. I don't fancy he sold much, or
made any great efforts to sell his work. He liked painting and the art
covered his real industries, for he used to tour about in search of
subjects and so open up fresh ground for the little operations that
actually produced his income."

"Was his work of any considerable merit?" Thorndyke asked.

"Well, in a way, yes. It was rather in the American taste, though Maddock
was really an Englishman. Our taste, as you know, runs to technical
smartness and novelty of handling; and Maddock's work was very peculiar
and remarkably smart and slick in handling. He used the knife more than
the brush, and he used it uncommonly cleverly. In fact, he was unusually
skilful in many ways; and that's the really surprising thing about him,
when one considers his extraordinary-looking paws."

"What was there peculiar about his hands?" asked Thorndyke. "Were they
noticeably clumsy in appearance?"

"Clumsy!" exclaimed O'Donnell. "They were more than that. They were
positively deformed. A monkey's hands would be delicate compared with
Maddock's, They were short and thick like the paws of an animal. There's
some jaw-twisting name for the deformity that he suffered from;
bronchodaotilious, or something like that."

"Brachydactylous." suggested Thorndyke.

"That's the word; and I daresay you know the sort of paw I mean. It
didn't look a very likely hand for a first-class penman and engraver of
flash notes, but you can't always judge by appearances. And now as to
your other questions: You ask what Maddock was like in appearance. I can
only give you the description which I gave to Batson and which he
recognized at once."

"Had he noticed the peculiarity of the hands?" enquired Thorndyke.

"Yes. I asked him about it and he remembered having observed it when he
was attending Maddock. Well, then, our friend was about five feet nine in
height, fairly broad and decidedly strong, of a medium complexion with
grey eyes and darkish brown hair. That's all I can tell you about him."

"You haven't got his finger-prints, I suppose?"

"No. He was never in prison, so we had no chance of getting them."

"Was he married?"

"He had been; but some years ago his wife divorced him, or he divorced
her. Latterly he has lived as a bachelor."

"There is nothing else that you can think of as throwing light on his
personality or explaining his actions?"

"Nothing at all, doctor. I've told you all I know about him, and I only
hope the information may be more useful than it looks to me."

"Thank you," said Thorndyke; "your information is not only useful; I
expect to find it quite valuable. Reasoning, you know, Mr. O'Donnell," he
continued, "is somewhat like building an arch. On a supporting mould, the
builder lays a number of shaped stones, or voussoirs; but until all the
voussoirs are there, it is a mere collection of stones, incapable of
bearing its own weight. Then you drop the last voussoir--the
keystone--into its place, and the arch is complete; and now you may take
away the supports, for it will not only bear its own weight, but carry a
heavy superstructure."

"That's so, doctor," said O'Donnell. "But, if I may ask, is this all
gratuitous wisdom or has any particular bearing?"

"It has this bearing," replied Thorndyke. "I have myself been, for some
time past, engaged, metaphorically, in the building of an arch. When you
came here to-night, it was but a collection of shaped and adjusted
stones, supported from without. With your kind aid, I have just dropped
the keystone into its place. That is what I mean."

The American thoughtfully arranged the papers in his case, casting an
occasional speculative glance at Thorndyke. "I'd like to know," he said
presently, "what it was that I told you. It doesn't seem to me that I
have produced any startling novelties. However, I know it's no use trying
to squeeze you, so I'll get back to my hotel and have a chew at what
you've told me."

He shook hands with us all round, and, when Thorndyke had let him out, we
heard him bustling downstairs and away up King's Bench Walk towards Mitre
Court.

For a minute or more after his departure none of us spoke. Thorndyke was
apparently ruminating on his newly-acquired information, and Jervis and I
on the statement that had so naturally aroused the detective's curiosity.

At length Jervis opened the inevitable debate. "I begin to see a glimmer
of daylight through the case of Septimus Maddock, deceased," said he;
"but it is only a glimmer. Whereas, from what you said to O'Donnell, I
gather that you have the case quite complete."

"Hardly that, Jervis," was the reply. "I spoke metaphorically, and
metaphors are sometimes misleading. Perhaps I overstated the case; so we
will drop metaphor and state the position literally in terms of good,
plain, schoolboy logic. It is this: we had certain facts presented to us
in connection with Maddock's death. For instance, we observed that the
cause of death was obscure, that the body was utterly destroyed by
cremation and that Jardine, who was an unofficial witness to some of the
formalities, was subsequently pursued by some unknown person with the
unmistakable purpose of murdering him. Those were some of the observed
facts; and the explanation of those facts was the problem submitted to
us; that is to say, we had to connect those facts and supply others by
deduction and research, so that they should form a coherent and
intelligible sequence, of which the motive for murdering Jardine should
form a part.

"Having observed and examined our facts, we next propose a hypothesis
which shall explain them. In this case it would naturally take the form
of a hypothetical reconstruction of the circumstances of Maddock's death.
That hypothesis must, of course, be in complete agreement with all the
facts known to us, including the attempts to murder Jardine. Then, having
invented a hypothesis which fits our facts completely, the next stage is
to verify it. If the circumstances of Maddock's death were such as we
have assumed, certain antecedent events must have occurred and certain
conditions must have existed. We make the necessary inquiries and
investigations, and we find that those events had actually occurred and
those conditions had actually existed. Then it is probable that our
hypothesis is correct, particularly if our researches have brought to
light nothing that disagrees with it.

"With our new facts we can probably amplify our hypothesis; reconstruct
it in greater detail; and then we have to test and verify it afresh in
its amplified and detailed form. And if such new tests still yield an
affirmative result, the confirmation of the hypothesis becomes
overwhelmingly strong. It is, however, still only hypothesis. But perhaps
we light on some final test which is capable of yielding a definite
answer, yes or no. If we apply that test--the 'Crucial Experiment,' of
the logicians--and obtain an affirmative result, our inquiry is at an
end. It has passed out of the region of hypothesis into that of
demonstrative proof."

"And are we to understand," asked Jervis, "that you have brought
Maddock's case to the stage of complete demonstration?"

"No," answered Thorndyke. "I am still in the stage of hypothesis; and
when O'Donnell came here to-night there were two points which I had been
unable to verify. But with his aid I have been able to verify them both,
and I now have a complete hypothesis of the case which has been tested
exhaustively and has answered to every test. All that remains to be done
is to apply the touchstone of the final experiment."

"I suppose," said Jervis, "you have obtained a good many new facts in the
course of your investigations?"

"Not a great many," replied Thorndyke; "and what new data I have
obtained, I have, for the most part, communicated to you and Jardine. I
assure you, Jervis, that if you would only concentrate your attention on
the case, you have ample material for a most convincing and complete
elucidation of it."

Jervis looked at me with a wry smile. "Now Jardine-Howard." said he; "why
don't you brush up your wits and tell us exactly what happened to the
late Mr. Maddock and why some person unknown is so keen on your vile
body. You have all the facts, you know."

"So you tell me," I retorted; "but this case of yours reminds me of those
elaborate picture puzzles that used to weary my juvenile brain. You had a
hatful of irregular-shaped pieces which, if you fitted them together,
made a picture. Only the beggars wouldn't fit together."

"A very apt comparison," said Thorndyke. "You put the pieces together,
and, if they made no intelligible part of a picture, you knew you were
wrong, no matter how well they seemed to fit. On the other hand, if they
seemed to make parts of a picture you had to verify the result by finding
pieces of the exact shape and size of the empty spaces. That is what I
have been doing in this case; trying the data together and watching to
see if they made the expected picture. As I have told you, O'Donnell's
visit found me with the picture entire save for two empty spaces of a
particular shape and size; and from him I obtained two pieces that
dropped neatly into those spaces and made the picture complete. All I
have to do now is to see if the picture is a true representation or only
a consistent work of imagination."

"I take it that you have worked the case out in pretty full detail," said
Jervis.

"Yes. If the final verification is successful I shall be able to tell you
exactly what happened in Maddock's house, what was the cause of
death--and I may say that it was not that given in the certificates--who
the person is who has been pursuing Jardine and what is his motive,
together with a number of other very curious items of information. And
the mention of that person reminds me that our friend has been disporting
himself in public, contrary to advice and to what I thought was a
definite understanding."

"But surely," I said, "it doesn't matter now. We have given that spy
chappie the slip, and, even if he hasn't given up the chase as hopeless,
we know that he is quite harmless."

"Harmless!" exclaimed Thorndyke. "Why, my dear fellow, he was your
guardian angel. Didn't you realize that from Father Humperdinck's
statement? He shadowed you so closely that no attack on you was possible;
in fact, he actually caught a rap on the head that was apparently meant
for you. You were infinitely safer with him at your heels than alone."

"But we've given the other fellow the slip, too," I urged.

"We mustn't take that for granted," said Thorndyke. "The French
detective, you remember, came on the scene quite recently, whereas the
other man has been with us from the beginning. He probably saw Jervis and
me enter the mineral water works on the night of the fire, for he was
certainly there; and he may even have followed us home to ascertain who
we were. There are several ways in which he could have connected you with
us and traced you here; so I must urge you most strongly not to venture
out of the precincts of the Temple for the next few days, in fact, it
would be much wiser to keep indoors altogether. It will be only a matter
of days unless I get a quite unexpected set back, for I hope to have the
case finally completed in less than a week; and when I do, I shall take
such action as will give your friend some occupation other than shadowing
you."

"Very well," I said. "I will promise not to attempt again to escape from
custody. But, all the same, my little jaunt to-day has not been entirely
without result. I have picked up a new fact, and a rather curious one, I
think. What should you say if I suggested that Mrs. Samway was the wife
of that eccentric artist who used to paint on the Heath? The man, I mean,
who always worked in gloves?"

"I have assumed that she was in some such relation to him," replied
Thorndyke, "but I should like to hear the evidence."

"Mrs. Samway," Jervis said in a reflective tone; "isn't that the handsome
uncanny-looking lady with the mongoose eyes, who reminded me of Lucrezia
Borgia?"

"That is the lady. Well, I met with a portrait of her to-day which was
evidently the work of the man with the gloves," and here I gave them a
description of the portrait and an account of the odd way in which it had
been disinterred from the landscape that had been painted over it, to
which they both listened with close attention.

"It's a queer incident," said Thorndyke, "and quite dramatic. If one were
inclined to be superstitious one might imagine some invisible agency
uncovering the tracks that have been so carefully hidden and working
unseen in the interests of justice. But haven't you rather jumped to your
conclusion? The existence of the portrait establishes a connection, but
not necessarily that of husband and wife."

"I only suggested the relationship; but it seemed a likely one as the
portrait had been painted over and thrown into the rubbish box."

Jervis laughed sardonically; and even Thorndyke's impassive face relaxed
into a smile. "Our young friend," said the former, "doesn't take as
favourable a view of the married state as one might expect from a gay
Lothario who breaks out of his cage to go a-philandering. But we'll
overlook that, in consideration of the very interesting information that
he has brought back with him. Not that it conveys very much to me. It is
obviously a new piece to fit into our puzzle, but I'm hanged if I see, at
the moment, any suitable space to drop it into."

"I think," said Thorndyke, "that if you consider the picture as a whole,
you will soon find a vacant space. And while you are considering it, I
will just send off a letter, and then we had better adjourn this
discussion. We have to catch the early train to Maidstone to-morrow, and
that, I hope, will be the last time. Our case ought to be disposed of by
the afternoon."

He seated himself at the writing-table and wrote his letter, while Jervis
stared into the fire with a cogitative frown. When the letter was sealed
and addressed, Thorndyke laid it on the table while he went to the lobby
to put on his hat and coat, and, glancing at it almost unconsciously, I
noted that the envelope was of foolscap size and was addressed to the
Home Office, Whitehall. The name of the addressee escaped me, for,
suddenly realizing the impropriety of thus inspecting another man's
letter, I looked away hastily; but even then when Thorndyke had taken it
away to the post, I found myself speculating vaguely on the nature of the
communication and wondering if it had any relation to the mysterious and
intricate case of Septimus Maddock.

CHAPTER XIX

TENEBRAE

THE resigned composure with which I accepted Thorndyke's sentence of
confinement within doors was not entirely attributable to discretion or
native virtue. My resolution to follow scrupulously my principal's very
pointed advice was somewhat like the ascetic resolutions formed by the
gourmet as he rises replete from the banquet table; for, just as the
latter is in a peculiarly favourable condition for the unmoved
contemplation of a--temporary--abstinence from food, so I, having enjoyed
my little dissipation, could now contemplate with fortitude a brief
period of retirement. Moreover, the weather was in my favour, being--as
Polton reported, when he returned, blue-nosed and powdered with snow,
with a fresh supply of tobacco for me--bitterly cold, with a threatening
of smoky fog from the east.

Under these circumstances it was no great hardship to sit in a roomy
armchair with my slippered feet on the kerb and read and meditate as I
basked in the warmth of a glowing fire; though, to be sure, my reading
was perfunctory enough, for the treatise of "The Surface Markings of the
Human Body," admirable as it was, competed on very unfavourable terms
with other claimants to my attention. In truth, I had plenty to think
about even if I went no farther for matter than to the events of the
previous day. There was my visit to Sylvia, for instance. I had not said
much to her, but what I had said had pledged me to a life-long
companionship; which was a solemn thing to reflect upon even though I
looked forward to the fulfilment of that pledge with nothing but hopeful
pleasure. The dice were thrown. Of course they would turn up sixes, every
one; but still--the dice were thrown.

From my own strictly personal affairs my thoughts rambled by an easy
transition to the singular episode of the buried portrait, and thence to
the subject of that strange palimpsest. Viewed by the light of Mr.
O'Donnell's revelations, Mrs. Samway's position was not all that could
have been desired. She and her husband had unquestionably been closely
associated with Maddock; but Maddock was, it seemed, a habitual criminal.
Could this fact have been known to the Samways? Or was it that the
cunning forger and swindler had sheltered himself behind their
respectability. It was impossible for me to say.

Then there was the strange and perplexing case of the man Maddock,
himself. I could make nothing of that, had not, indeed, been aware that
there had been a "case", until Thorndyke's investigations had put me in
possession of the fact. And even now I could see nothing on which to base
any suspicion, apart from the attempts on my life, which we were assuming
to be in some way connected with events that had occurred in Maddock's
house. The cause of death was apparently not "Morbus Cordis"; which might
easily enough be, seeing that the diagnosis of heart disease was a mere
guess on Batson's part. But if not Morbus Cordis, what was it? Thorndyke
apparently knew, and seemed to hint that it was something other than
ordinary disease. Could there have been foul play? And, if so, were the
Samways involved in it in any way? It seemed incredible, for had not
Maddock himself suspected that he was in a dangerous state of health.
There was certainly one possibility which I considered with a good deal
of distaste; namely, that Maddock had been in a hypochondriacal state and
that the Samways had taken advantage of his gloomy views as to his health
to administer poison. The thing was actually possible; but I did not
entertain it; for, even if one assumed that poison had been administered,
at any rate, the cremation of the body was not designed to hide the
traces of the crime. The Samways had nothing to do with that; the
cremation had been adopted in preference to burial by Maddock's own wish.

So my thoughts flitted from topic to topic, with occasional interludes of
Surface Markings, through the lazy forenoon until Polton came to lay my
solitary luncheon. And after this little break in the comfortable
monotony, another spell of meditative idleness set in. Polton was busy
upstairs in the laboratory with some photographic copying operations and
I was disposed to wander up and look on; but my small friend politely but
very firmly vetoed any such proceeding. On some other occasion he would
be delighted to show me the working of the great copying camera, but,
just now, he had a big job in hand, and, as he was working against time,
he would prefer to be alone. He even suggested that I might attend to any
stray callers and make my own tea on the gas-ring so as to avoid
interrupting his work; and when I had agreed to relieve him to this
extent, he thanked me profusely and retired and I saw no more of him.

For some time after his departure, I stood at the window looking out
across the wide space at Paper Buildings and the end of Crown Office Bow.
It was a wretched afternoon. The yellow, turbid sky brooded close down
upon the houseroofs and grew darker and more brown moment by moment, as
if the invisible sun had given the day up in despair and gone home early.

A comfortless powdering of snow filtered down at intervals and melted on
the pavements, along which depressed wayfarers hurried with their coat
collars turned up and their hands thrust deep into their pockets. I
watched them commiseratingly, reflecting on the superior advantages of
being within doors and forbidden to go out; and then, having flung
another scoopful of coal on the fire, I betook myself once more to the
armchair, the Surface Markings and idle meditation.

It was some time past four when my reflective browsings had begun to
proceed in the direction of the teakettle, that I heard a light footstep
on the landing as of someone wearing goloshes. Then a letter dropped
softly into the box, and, as I instantly pushed back my chair to rise,
the footsteps retreated. I crossed the room quickly and opened the door;
but the messenger had already disappeared down the dark staircase, and
had gone so silently on his rubber soles that, though I listened
attentively, I could hear no sound from below.

Having closed the door, I extracted the letter from the box and took it
over to the window to examine it, when I was not a little surprised to
find that it was addressed to W. M. Howard, Esq. This was the first
communication that I had received in my borrowed name, and my surprise at
its arrival was not unreasonable, for, of the few persons who knew me by
that name, none--with the exception, perhaps, of Mr. Marchmont--was in
the least likely to write to me.

But, if the address on the envelope had surprised me, the letter itself
surprised me a good deal more; for though the writer was quite unknown to
me, even by name, he seemed to be in possession of certain information
concerning me which I had supposed to be the exclusive property of
Thorndyke, Jervis, Polton and myself. It bore the address, 29, Fig-tree
Court, Inner Temple, and ran thus:


DEAR SIR,

I am taking the liberty of writing to you to ask for your assistance as I
happen to know that my friends, Drs. Thorndyke and Jervis, are away at
Maidstone and not available at the moment, and I understand that you have
some acquaintance with medical technicalities.

The circumstances are these. At half-past five today I shall be meeting a
solicitor to advise as to action in respect of a case in which I am
retained; and the decision as to our action will be vitally affected by a
certain issue on which I am not competent to form an opinion for lack of
medical knowledge. If Dr. Thorndyke had been within reach I should have
taken his opinion; as he is not, it occurred to me to ask if you would
fill his place on this occasion, it being, of course, understood that the
usual fee of five guineas will be paid by the solicitor.

If you should be unable to come to the consultation, do not trouble to
reply, as I am now going out and shall not be returning until
five-thirty, the time of the appointment. I am,

Yours faithfully,

ARTHUR COURTLAND.


The contents of this letter, as I have said, surprised me more than a
little. How, in the name of all that was wonderful, had this stranger,
whose very name was unknown to me, come to be aware that I had any
knowledge of medicine? Not from Thorndyke, I felt perfectly sure; nor
from Jervis, who, notwithstanding a certain flippant facetiousness of
manner, was really an extremely cautious and judicious man. Could it be
that my principal was overseen in his trusted laboratory assistant? Was
it conceivable that the suave and discreet Polton had moments of
leakiness, when, in unofficial talk outside, he let drop the secrets of
which his employer's unbounded confidence had made him the repository? I
could not believe it. Not only did Polton appear to be the very soul of
discretion; there was Thorndyke himself; he was not the man to give his
confidence to anyone until after the most exhaustive proof of the safety
of so giving it. Nor was he a man who was likely to be deceived; for
nothing escaped his observation, and nothing that he observed was passed
over without careful consideration.

My lethargy having been shaken off, I addressed myself to the task of
preparing tea; and, as I listened to the homely crescendo of the kettle's
song, I turned the matter over in all its bearings. By some means this
Mr. Courtland had become aware that I was either a doctor or a medical
student. But by what means? Was it possible that he had merely inferred
from the circumstance of my being associated with Thorndyke that I was of
the same profession? That was just barely conceivable; but, if he had,
then, as Jervis had said of Father Humperdinck, he must be "a devil at
guessing."

As I made the tea and subsequently consumed it, I continued to ruminate
on the contents of that singular letter. No answer to it was required.
Then what was Mr. Courtland going to do if I did not turn up? He admitted
that the issue, which seemed to be an important one, was beyond him, and
yet he had to give an answer to the solicitor. And he was prepared to pay
five guineas for the advice of a man of whom he--presumably--knew
nothing. That was odd. In fact, the whole tone of the letter, with its
inconsistent mixture of urgency and casual trusting to chance, seemed
irreconcilable with the care and method that one expects from a
professional man.

And there was another point. The time of the consultation was half-past
five. Now within an hour of that time Thorndyke would be back--or even
sooner if he came by the earlier train as he had done on the previous
day--as Mr. Courtland must have known, since he knew whither my principal
had gone, and he must have often attended assizes himself. Could he not
have waited an hour? And again; had this business been sprung upon him so
suddenly that he had had no time to get Thorndyke's opinion? And, yet
again, why had be written at all, instead of dropping in at our chambers
with the solicitor, as was so commonly done by Thorndyke's clients?

All of which were curious and puzzling questions which I put to myself,
one by one, and had to dismiss unanswered. And then I came to the
practical question, to which I had to find an answer, and which was:
Could I, under the existing circumstances, accede to Mr. Courtland's
request? To go outside the precincts of the Inn was, I recognized,
absolutely forbidden; but I had given no actual promise to remain in our
chambers, nor had I been positively forbidden to leave them. Thorndyke
had advised me to remain indoors, and his advice had been given so
pointedly and with so evident a desire that it should be followed that I
had not hitherto even thought of leaving our premises. But this was an
unforeseen contingency; and the question was, did it alter my position in
regard to Thorndyke's advice?

I think I have never been so undecided in my life. On the one hand, I was
strongly tempted to keep the appointment. The prospect of triumphantly
handing to Thorndyke a five-guinea fee which I had earned as his deputy
appealed to me with almost irresistible force. On the other hand, my
knowledge of Thorndyke did not support this appeal. I knew him to be a
man to whom a principle was much more important than any chance benefit
gained by its abandonment, and my inner consciousness told me that he
would be better pleased by a strict adherence to our understanding than
by the increment of five guineas.

So my thoughts oscillated, to and fro, now impelling me to risk it and
earn the fee, and now urging me to keep to the letter of my instructions;
and, meanwhile, the time ran on and the hour of the consultation
approached What decision I should have reached, in the end, it is
impossible to say. As matters turned out, I never reached any decision at
all, for, just as the Treasury clock struck a quarter past five, I heard
a light, quick step on our landing and immediately after a soft but
hurried knock at the door.

I strode quickly across the room and threw the door open. And then I
started back with an exclamation of astonishment. For the visitor--who
stood full in the light of the landing-lamp--was a woman; and the woman
was Mrs. Samway.

As I stood gazing at her in amazement, she slipped past me into the room
and softly shut the door. And then I saw very plainly that there was
something amiss, for she was as pale as death, and had a dreadful,
frightened, hunted look which haunts me even now as I write. She was
somewhat dishevelled, too, and, though it was a bitter evening, her
plump, shapely hands were ungloved and cold as ice, as I noted when I
took them in mine. "Are you alone?" she asked, peering uneasily at the
door of the little office.

"Yes. Quite alone," I replied.

She gazed at me with those strange, penetrating eyes of hers and said in
a half-whisper: "How strange you look with that beard. I should hardly
have known you if I had not expected--"

She stopped short, and, casting a strange, scared glance over her
shoulder at the dark windows, whispered: "Can they see in? Can anyone see
us from outside?"

"I shouldn't think so," I replied; but, nevertheless, I stepped over to
the windows and drew the curtains. "That looks more comfortable, at any
rate," said I. "And now tell me how in the name of wonder you knew I was
here."

She grasped both my wrists and looked earnestly-almost fiercely-into my
eyes. "Ask me no questions!" she exclaimed. "Ask me nothing! But listen.
I have come here for a purpose. Has a letter been left here for you?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Asking you to go to a place in Fig-tree Court?"

"Good God!" I exclaimed. "How on earth--"

She shook my wrists impatiently in her strong grasp. "Answer me!" she
exclaimed, "answer me!"

"Yes," I replied. "I was to go there at half-past five."

Again her strong grasp tightened on my wrists. "Humphrey," she said, in a
low, earnest voice, "you are not to go. Do you hear me? You are not to
go." And then, as I seemed to hesitate, she continued more urgently; "I
ask you--I beg you to promise me that you won't."

I gazed at her in sheer amazement; but some instinct, some faint glimmer
of understanding, restrained me from asking for any explanation. "Very
well," I said. "I won't go if you say I'm not to."

"That is a promise?"

"Yes, it's a promise. Besides, it's nearly half-past already, so if I
don't go now, the appointment falls through."

"And you won't go outside these rooms to-night. Promise me that, too."

"If I don't go to this lawyer, I shan't go out at all."

"And to-morrow, too. Give me your word that you won't let any sort of
pretext draw you out of these rooms to-morrow, or the next day, or, in
fact, until Dr. Thorndyke says you may."

For a few moments I was literally struck dumb with astonishment at her
last words, and could do nothing but gaze at her in astounded silence. At
length, recovering myself a little, I exclaimed: "My dear Mrs. Samway--,"
but she interrupted me.

"Don't call me by that horrible name! Give me my own name, Letitia; or,"
she added, a little shyly and in a soft, coaxing tone, "call me Lettie.
Won't you, Humphrey, just for this once? You needn't mind. You wouldn't
if you knew. I should like, when I think of my friend--the only friend
that I care for--to remember that he called me by my own name when he
said good-bye. You'll think me silly and sentimental, but you needn't
mind indulging me just once. It's the last time."

"The last time!" I repeated. "What do you mean by that, Lettie, and by
speaking of our saying good-bye? Are you going away?"

"Yes, I am going away. I don't suppose you will ever see me again. I am
going out of your life."

"Not out of my life, Lettie. We are always friends, even if we never see
one another."

"Are we?" she said, looking up at me earnestly. "Perhaps it is so; but
still, this is good-bye. I ought to say it and go; but O God!" she
exclaimed with sudden passion, "I don't want to go--away from you,
Humphrey, out into the cold and the dark!"

She buried her face against my shoulder, and I could feel that she was
sobbing though she uttered no sound.

It was a dreadful situation. Instinctively certain though I was that her
grief had a real and tragic basis, I could offer no word of comfort. For
what was there to say? She was going, clearly, to a life of wretchedness
without hope of any relief or change and without a single friend to cheer
her loneliness. That much I could guess, vaguely and dimly. But it was
enough. And it wrung my heart to witness her passion of grief and to be
able to offer no more than a pressure of the hand.

After a few seconds she raised her head and looked in my face, with the
tears still clinging to her lashes. "Humphrey," she said, laying her
hands on my shoulders, "I have a few last words to say to you, and then I
must go. Listen to me, dearest friend, and remember what I say. When I am
gone, people will tell you things and you will come to know others.
People will say that I am a wicked woman, which is true enough, God
knows. But if they say that I have done or connived at wickedness against
you, try to believe that it was not as it seemed, and to forgive me for
what I have done amiss. And say to yourself, 'This wicked woman would
have willingly given her heart's blood for me.' Say that, Humphrey. It is
true. I would gladly give my life to make you safe and happy. And try to
think kindly of me in the evil report that will reach you sooner or
later. Will you try, Humphrey?"

"My dear Lettie," I said, "we are friends, now and always. Nothing that I
hear shall alter that."

"I believe you," she said, "and I thank you from my heart. And now I must
go--I must go; and it's good-bye--good-bye, Humphrey, for the very last
time."

She passed her arms around my neck and pressed her wet cheek to mine;
then she kissed me, and, turning away abruptly, walked across to the door
and opened it. On the landing, in the light of the lamp, she turned once
more; and I saw that the hot blush that had risen to her cheek as she
kissed me, had faded already into a deathly pallor, and that the
dreadful, frightened, hunted look had come back into her face. She stood
for a moment with her finger raised warningly and whispered: "Good-bye,
dear, good-bye! Shut the door now and shut it quietly," and then she
passed into the opening of the dark staircase.

I closed the door softly and turned away towards the window; and, as I
did so, I heard her stumble slightly on the stair a short way down and
utter a little startled cry. I was nearly going out to her, and did, in
fact, stand a moment or two listening; but, as I heard nothing more, I
moved over to the window, and, drawing back the curtain, looked down on
our doorstep to see her go out. My mind was in a whirl of confused
emotions. Profound pity for this lonely, unhappy, warm-hearted woman
contended with amazement at the revelation of her manifest connection
with the mystery that surrounded me; and I stood bewildered by the tumult
of incoherent thought, grasping the curtain and looking down on the great
square stone that I might, at least, catch a farewell glance at this poor
soul who was passing so unwillingly out of my life.

The seconds passed. A man came out of our entry and, turning to the left,
walked at a rapid pace towards the Tudor Street gate. Still she did not
appear. Perhaps she had heard him on the stairs and was waiting to pass
out unnoticed. But yet it was strange.

Nearly a minute had elapsed since she started to descend the stairs.
Could I have missed her? It seemed impossible, since I had come to the
window almost immediately. A vague uneasiness began to take possession of
me. I recalled her white face and frightened eyes, and as I stared down
at the door-step with growing anxiety, I found myself listening--listening
nervously for I knew not what.

Suddenly I caught a sound--faint and vague, but certainly a sound. And it
seemed to come from the staircase. In a moment I had the door open and
was stealing on tip-toe out on the landing. The house was profoundly
silent. No murmur even penetrated from the distant streets. I crept
across the landing, breathing softly and listening. And then, from the
stillness below, but near at hand came a faint, whispering sigh or moan.
Instantly I sprang forward, all of a tremble and darted down the stairs.

At the first turn I saw, projecting round the angle, a hand--a woman's
hand, plump and shapely and white as marble. With a gasp of terror I flew
round the turn of the staircase and--

God in Heaven! She was there! Huddled limply in the angle, her head
resting against the baluster and one hand spread out on her bosom, she
lay so still that she might have been dead but for the shallow rise and
fail of her breast and the wide-staring eyes that turned to me with such
dreadful appeal, I stooped over her and spoke her name, and it seemed to
me that a pitiful little smile trembled for a moment on the bloodless
lips, but she made no answer beyond a faint, broken sigh, and it was only
when she moved her hand slightly that the overwhelming horror of the
reality burst upon me. Then when I saw the crimson stain upon her fingers
and upon the bosom of her dress, the meaning of that horrible pallor, the
sharpening features and strange, pinched expression flashed upon me with
a shock that seemed to arrest the very blood at my heart. Yet, stunned as
I was, I realized instantly that human skill could avail her nothing;
that I could do nought for her but raise her from the sharp edge of the
stair and rest her head on my arm. And so I held her, whispering
endearments brokenly, and looking as well as I might through the blinding
tears into those inscrutable eyes, that gazed up at me, no longer with
that stare of horror but with a vague and childlike wonder. And, even as
I looked, the change came in an instant. The wide eye-lids relaxed and
drooped, the eyes grew filmy and sightless, the hand slipped from her
breast and dropped with a thud on the stair, and the supple body in my
arms shrank of a sudden with the horrible limpness of death.

Up to this point my recollection is clear, even vivid, but of what
followed I have only a dim and confused impression. The awfulness--the
unbelievable horror of this frightful thing that had happened left me so
dazed and numb that I recall but vaguely the passage of time of what went
on around me in this terrible dream from which there was to be no waking.
Dimly I recollect kneeling by her side on the silent staircase--but how
long I know not--holding her poor body in my arms and gazing
incredulously at the marble-white face--now with its drowsy lids and
parted lips, grown suddenly girlish and fragile--while the hot tears
dropped down on her dress; choking with grief and horror and a fury of
hate for the foul wretch who had done this appalling thing, and who was
now far away out of reach. I see--dimly still--the livid marks of
accursed fingers lingering yet on the whiteness around the mouth to tell
me why no cry from her had reached me, and the dreadful, red-edged cut in
the bodice mutely demanding vengeance from God and man.

And then of a sudden the silence is shattered by rushing feet and the
clamour of voices. Someone--it is Jervis--leads me forcibly away to our
room and places me in a chair by the table. Presently I see her lying on
our sofa, drowsy-eyed, peaceful, like a marble figure on a tomb. And I
see Thorndyke, with a strange, coppery flush and something grim and
terrible in the set calm of his face, showing the letter, which I had
left on the table, to a tall stranger, who hurries from the room. Anon
come two constables with heads uncovered carrying a stretcher. I see her
laid on the sordid bier and reverently covered. The dread procession
moves out through the doorway, the door is shut after it, and so, in
dreadful fulfilment of her words, she passed out of my life.

CHAPTER XX

THE HUE AND CRY

THE silence of the room remained unbroken for a quite considerable time
after the two bearers had passed out with their dreadful burden. My two
friends sat apart and, with a tact of which I was gratefully sensible,
left me quietly undisturbed by banal words of consolation, to sustain the
first shock of grief and horror and get my emotion under control. Still
dazed and half-incredulous, I sat with my elbows on the table and my
teeth clenched hard, looking dreamily across the room, half unconsciously
observing my two friends as they silently examined the fatal letter. I
saw Thorndyke rise softly and take a small bottle from a cabinet, and
watched him incuriously as he sprinkled on the paper some of the
dark-coloured powder that it contained. Then I saw him blow the powder
from the surface of the paper into the fire and scan the letter closely
through a lens. And still no word was spoken. Only once, when Jervis, in
crossing the room, let his hand rest for a moment on my shoulder, did any
communication pass between us; and that silent touch told me
unobtrusively--if it were needful to tell me--how well he understood my
grief for the woman who had walked open-eyed into the valley of the
shadow, had offered her heart's blood that I might pass unscathed.

In about a quarter of an hour the tall stranger returned, bringing with
him an atmosphere of bustling activity that at once dispelled the gloomy
silence. His busy presence and brisk, matter-of-fact speech, though
distressing to me at the moment, served as a distraction and brought me
out of my painful reverie to the grim realities of this appalling
catastrophe. "You were quite right, sir," said he. "The chambers were an
empty set. Mr. Courtland left them about six weeks ago, so they tell me
at the office. I've looked them over carefully, and I think it is pretty
clear what this man meant to do."

"Did you go in?" asked Thorndyke.

"Yes. Mr. Polton went with me and picked the lock, so I was able to go
right through the rooms. And it is evident that this villain was not
acting on the spur of the moment. He'd made a very neat plan, and I
should say that it was pretty near to coming off. He had selected his
chambers with remarkable judgment, and uncommonly well suited they were
to his purpose. In the first place, they were the top set--nothing above
them; no chance strangers passing up or down; and they were the only set
on that landing. Then some previous tenant had made a little trap or
grille in the outer door, a little hole about six inches square with a
sliding cover on the inside. That was the attraction, I fancy. The
landing lamp was alight--he must have lighted it himself, as the landing
was out of use--and I fancy he meant to watch through the grille for your
friend to come and shoot him as he knocked at the door."

"That would be taking more risk than he usually did," said Thorndyke.

"You mean that the report of the shot would have been heard. Perhaps it
might. But these modern, small-bore, repeating pistols make very little
noise, though they are uncommonly deadly, especially if you open the nose
of the bullets."

"But," objected Thorndyke, "if he had been heard, there he would have
been, boxed up in the chambers with no means of escape."

Our acquaintance shook his head. "No," said he; "that's just what he
wouldn't have been, and there is where he had planned the affair so
neatly. These chambers are a double set. They have a second entrance that
opens on the staircase of the next house. You see the idea. When he's
fired his shot and made sure that it was all right--or all wrong, if you
prefer it--he would just have slipped through to the other entrance, let
himself out, shut the door quietly and walked down the stairs. Then, if
the shot had been heard, there was he, coming out of the next house to
join the crowd and see what was the matter. It was a clever scheme, and,
as I say, it might very well have come off if this poor young lady hadn't
given it away. So that's all about the chambers; and now"--here he cast
a glance in my direction--"I must ask for a few particulars." He produced
a large, black-covered notebook and, opening it on the table, looked at
me inquiringly.

"This," said Thorndyke, "is Mr. Superintendent Miller of the Criminal
Investigation Department. He has charge of this case, so you must tell
him exactly what happened. And try, Jardine, to be as clear and
circumstantial as possible."

The Superintendent looked up sharply. "I had an impression," said he,
"that this gentleman's name was Howard."

"He has used the name of Howard since he has been staying here, for
reasons which no longer exist but which I will explain to you later. His
name is Humphrey Jardine, and he is a bachelor of medicine."

Mr. Miller entered these particulars in his book and then said: "I
suppose it is not necessary to ask if you were actually present when this
poor lady was murdered?"

"No, I was not."

"And I presume you did not see the murderer?"

"I saw a man, whom I believe to have been the murderer, come out of our
entry and walk quickly towards the Tudor Street Gate. But I can give you
no description of him. I saw him from the window and by the light of the
entry lamp."

The Superintendent wrote down my answer and reflected for a few moments.
"Perhaps," said he, "you had better just give us an account of what
happened and we can ask you any questions afterwards. It's very painful
for you, I know, but it has to be, as you will understand."

It was more than painful; it was harrowing to reconstitute that hideous
tragedy, step by step, with the knowledge that the poor murdered corpse
was still warm. But it had to be, and I did it, haltingly, indeed, and
with many a pause to command my voice; but in the end, I gave the
superintendent a full description of the actual occurrences, though I
withheld any reference to those words that my poor dead friend had spoken
for my ear alone. When I had read through and signed my statement, Mr.
Miller studied his note-book with an air of dissatisfaction and then
turned to Thorndyke. "This is all quite clear. Doctor," said he, "and
just about what you inferred from that letter. But it doesn't help us
much. The question is. Who is this man? I've an inkling that you know,
Doctor."

"I have a very strong suspicion as to who he is," replied Thorndyke.

"That will do for me," said Miller. "Your strong suspicion is equal to
another man's certainty. Do you know his name, sir?"

"He has recently passed under the name of Samway," replied Thorndyke.
"What his real name is, I think I shall be able to tell you later.
Meanwhile, I can give you such particulars as are necessary for making an
arrest."

The Superintendent looked narrowly at Thorndyke as the latter pressed the
button of the electric bell. "Apparently, Doctor," said he, "you have
been making some investigations concerning this man, and, as it was not
in connection with this crime, it must have been in connection with
something else."

"Yes," replied Thorndyke, "you are quite right, Miller, and it will be a
matter of the deepest regret to me to my dying day that circumstances
have hindered those investigations as they have. The delay has cost this
poor woman her life. A few more days and my case would almost certainly
have been complete, and then this terrible disaster would have been
impossible."

As Thorndyke finished speaking, the door opened quietly and Polton
entered with a small, neatly-made parcel in his hand. "Ah!" said
Thorndyke, "you guessed what I wanted, and guessed right, as you always
do, Polton. How many are there in that parcel?"

"Three dozen, sir," replied Polton.

"That ought to be enough for the moment. Hand them to the Superintendent,
Polton. If you want any more, Miller, we can let you have a further
supply, and I am having a half-tone block made which will be ready
to-morrow morning."

"Are these portraits of the man you suspect?" asked Miller.

"No, I haven't his portrait, unfortunately, but on each card is a
photograph of three of his finger-prints, which are all I have been able
to collect, and on the back is a description which will enable you easily
to identify him. You can post them off to the various sea-ports and
telegraph the description in advance; and I would recommend you
especially to keep a watch on Dover and Folkestone, as I know that he has
been in the habit of using that route."

"Speaking of finger-prints," said Miller, "have you tried that letter
for them?"

"Yes," replied Thorndyke, "I powdered it very carefully, but there is not
a single trace of a fingerprint. He must have realised the risk he was
taking and worn gloves when he wrote it."

The Superintendent pocketed the parcel with a thoughtful air, and, after
a few moments' cogitation, turned once more to Thorndyke. "You've
supplied me with the means of arresting the man, Doctor," said he, "but
that's all. Supposing I find him and detain him in custody? What then? I
don't know that he murdered this poor woman. Do you? Dr. Jardine can't
identify him, and apparently no one else saw him. I have no doubt that
you have substantial grounds for suspecting him, but I should like to
know what they are."

Thorndyke reflected for a moment or two before replying. "You are quite
right. Miller," he said, at length, "you ought to have enough information
to establish a prima facie case. But I think, that on this occasion, I
can say no more than that, if you produce the man, you can rely upon me
to furnish enough evidence to secure a conviction. Will that do?"

"It will do from you, sir," replied Miller, rising and buttoning his
overcoat. "I will get this description circulated at once. Oh--there was
one more matter; the name of the deceased lady was Samway--the same as
that of the suspected murderer. What was the relationship?"

"She passed as--and presumably was--his wife."

"Ah!" said Miller. "I see. That was how she knew. Well, well. She was a
brave woman, to take the risk that she did, and she deserved something
very different from what she got. But we are taught that there is a place
where people who suffer injustice and misfortune in this world get it
made up to them. I hope it's true, for her sake--and for his," he added
abruptly with a sudden change of tone.

"Naturally you do," said Thorndyke, "but, meanwhile, our business is
with this world. Spread your net close and wide, Miller. I shall never
forgive you if you let this villain slip. It is our sacred duty to
purge the world of his presence. You do your part, Miller, and be
confident that I will do mine."

"You can depend on me to do my best, sir," said Miller, "though I am
working rather in the dark. I suppose you couldn't give me any sort of
hint as to what you've got up your sleeve. You've no doubt, for instance,
that it was really the man Samway who committed this murder?"

Thorndyke, according to his usual habit, considered the Superintendent's
question for awhile before answering. At length he replied: "I don't know
why I shouldn't take you into my confidence to some extent, Miller,
knowing you as I do. But you will remember that this is a confidence. The
fact is that I am proposing to proceed against this man on an entirely
different charge. But I am not quite ready to lay an information; and I
want you to secure his person on the charge of murdering his wife while I
complete the other case."

"Is that another case of murder?" asked Miller.

"Yes. The facts are briefly these. A certain Septimus Maddock, who was
living with the Samways, died some time ago under what seem to me very
suspicious circumstances. He was nursed by Samway and his wife and by no
one else. The cause of death given on the certificate was, in my opinion,
not the true one, and I am proceeding to verify my theory as to what was
the real cause of death."

"I see," said Miller. "You are applying for an exhumation of the body?"

"Well, hardly an exhumation. The man Maddock was cremated."

"Cremated!" exclaimed Miller. "Then we're done. There isn't any body to
exhume."

"No," agreed Thorndyke, "there is no body, but there are the ashes."

"But, surely," said Miller, "you can't get any information out of a few
handfuls of bone ash?"

"That remains to be proved," replied Thorndyke. "I have applied for an
authority to make an exhaustive examination of those ashes, and, if my
opinion as to the cause of death is correct, I shall be able to
demonstrate its correctness; and that will involve a charge of murder
against this man Samway. It will also support a charge against him of
attempts to murder Dr. Jardine, and furnish strong evidence connecting
him with the horrible crime that has just been committed. So you see,
Miller, that the important thing is to get possession of him before he
has time to escape from this country, and hold him in custody, if
necessary, while the evidence against him is being examined and
completed. And I must impress on you that no time ought to be lost in
getting the description circulated."

"No, that's true," said Miller. "I'll go and telegraph it off at once,
and I'll send one or two of our best men to watch the likely seaports."

He shook hands with us all round, and, when we had all most fervently
wished him success he took his departure.

As soon as he was gone, Jervis turned to his senior, and, looking at him
with a sort of puzzled curiosity exclaimed: "You are a most astounding
person, Thorndyke! You really are! I thought I had begun to see daylight
in that Maddock case, and now I find that I was all abroad. And I can't,
for the life of me, conceive what in the world you expect to discover by
examining a few pounds of calcined phosphates. Suppose Maddock was
poisoned, what evidence will be obtainable from the ashes? Of the poisons
which could possibly have been used under the known circumstances, not
one would leave a trace after cremation. But, of course, you've thought
of all that."

"Certainly, I have," replied Thorndyke, "and I agree with you that the
ashes of a body that has been cremated are highly unpromising material
for a primary investigation. But, does it not occur to you that, in a
case where certain circumstantial evidence is available, excellent
corroborative data might be obtained by the examination of the ashes?"

"No," replied Jervis, "I can't say that it does."

"It is not too late to consider the question," said Thorndyke. "I shall
probably not get the authority for a day or two, so you will have time to
turn the problem over in the interval. It is quite worth your while, I
assure you, apart from this particular case, as a mere exercise in
constructive theory. You can acquire experience from imaginary cases as
well as from real ones, as I have often pointed out; in fact, much of my
own experience has been gained in this way. I think I have mentioned to
you that, in my early days, when I had more leisure than practice, it was
my custom to construct imaginary crimes of an elaborately skilful type,
and then--having, of course, all the facts--to consider the appropriate
procedure for their detection. It was a most valuable exercise, for I was
thus able to furnish myself with an abundance of problems of a kind that,
in actual practice, are met with only at long intervals of years. And
since then a quite considerable number of my imaginary cases have
presented themselves, in a more or less modified form, for solution in
the course of practice, and have come to me with the familiarity of
problems that have already been considered and solved. That is what you
should do, Jervis. Try the synthetic method and then consider what
analytical procedure would be appropriate to your result."

"I have," Jervis replied, gloomily. "I have worked at this confounded
case until I feel like a rat that has been trying to gnaw through a
plate-glass window. Still, I'll have another try. By the way, where are
you going to make this examination?"

"I think I shall do it here. I had thought of handing the ashes over to
one of the more eminent analysts, but it will be only a small operation,
well within the capacity of our own laboratory. I think of asking
Professor Woodfield to come here and carry out the actual analysis.
Polton will give him any help that he may want and, of course, we shall
be here to give any further assistance if he should need it."

"Why not have made the analysis yourself?" asked Jervis. "Is there
anything specially difficult or intricate about it?"

"Not at all," replied Thorndyke. "But, as the case will have to go into
Court on a capital charge--that is, assuming that my hypothesis turns out
to be correct--I thought it best to have the analysis made by a man whose
name as an authority on chemistry will carry special weight. Neither the
judge nor the jury are likely to have much special knowledge of
chemistry, but they will be able to appreciate the fact that Woodfield is
a man with a world-wide reputation, and they will respect his opinion
accordingly."

"Yes," agreed Jervis, "I think you are quite right. A well-known name
goes a long way with a jury. I hope your experiment will turn out as you
expect, and I hope, too, that some of Miller's men will manage to lay
that murderous devil by the heels. But I'm afraid they'll have their work
cut out. He is a clever scoundrel; one must admit that. How do you
suppose he contrived to track Jardine here?"

"I think," replied Thorndyke, "that he must have seen us on one of the
two occasions when we went to the mineral water works and followed us
here. Then, when Jardine disappeared from his lodgings, he would
naturally look for him here, this being, in fact, the only place known to
him in connection with Jardine, excepting Batson's house, on which he
also probably kept a watch."

"But how would he have discovered that Jardine actually was here?"

"There are a number of ways in which he might have ascertained the fact.
A good many persons knew that we had a new resident. We could not conceal
his presence here. Many of our visitors have seen him, and the porter and
hangers-on of the inn will have noticed him taking his exercise in the
morning. Samway, himself, even, may have seen him, and he would easily
have penetrated the disguise if he saw him out of doors, for there is no
disguising a man's stature. He might have made enquiries of one of the
porters or lamp-lighters, or he might have employed someone else to make
enquiries. The fact that someone was staying here and that his name was
Howard could not have been very difficult to discover, while, as for
ourselves, we are as well known in the inn as the griffin at Temple Bar.
From the circumstance that he knew of our attendance at the Maidstone
Assizes, it seems likely that he had subsidized some solicitor's clerk
who would know our movements."

"And I suppose," said I, "as he is gone now, I may as well go back to my
lodgings."

"Not at all," replied Thorndyke. "In the first place, we don't know that
he is gone, and we do know that he is now absolutely desperate and
reckless. And you must not forget, Jardine, that whether we charge him
with murder in the case of Maddock, with the murder of poor Mrs. Samway,
or the attempted murder of yourself, in either case you are the chief
witness for the prosecution. You are the appointed instrument of
retribution in this man's case, and you must take the utmost care of
yourself until your mission is accomplished. He knows the value of your
evidence better than you do, and it is still worth his while to get rid
of you if he can. But you, I am sure, are at least as anxious as we are
to see him hanged."

"I'd sooner twist his neck with my own hands," said I.

"I daresay you would," said Thorndyke, "and it is perfectly natural that
you should. But it is not desirable. This is a case for a few fathoms of
good, stout, hempen rope, and the common hangman. The private vengeance
of a decent man would be an undeserved honour for a wretch like this. So
you must stay here quietly for a few days more and give us a little help
when we need it."

Thorndyke's decision was not altogether unwelcome. Shaken as I was by the
shock of this horrible tragedy, I was in no state to return to the
solitude of my lodgings. The quiet and tactful sympathy of my two
friends--or I should rather say three, for Polton was as kind and gentle
as a woman--was infinitely comforting and their sober cheerfulness and
the interest of their talk prevented me from brooding morbidly over the
catastrophe of which I had been the involuntary cause. And, dreadful as
the associations of the place were, I could not but feel that those of my
older resorts would be equally painful. For me, at present, the Heath
would be haunted by the figure of poor Letitia, walking at my side,
telling me her pitiful tale and so pathetically craving my sympathy and
friendship. And the Highgate Road could not but wring my heart with the
recollection of that evening when we had walked together up the narrow
lane--all unconscious of a black-hearted murderer stealing after us and
foiled only by that futile spy--when, as we said good-bye I had kissed
her and she had run off blushing like a girl.

Moreover, if Thorndyke's chambers were fraught with terrible and gloomy
associations, they were also pervaded by an atmosphere of resolute,
relentless preparation which was itself a relief to me; for, as the first
shock of horrified grief passed, it left me possessed by a fury of hatred
for the murderer and consumed by an inextinguishable craving for
vengeance. Nor by the time of suspense so long as we had anticipated, as
the very next morning a letter arrived from the Home Office containing
the necessary authority to make the proposed examination and informing
Thorndyke that on the following day the police would take possession of
the ashes, which would be delivered to him by an officer who would remain
to witness the examination and to resume possession of the remains when
it was concluded.

I saw very little more of Thorndyke that day, but gathered that he was
busy making the final arrangements for the important work of the morrow
and clearing off various tasks so as to leave himself in from
engagements. Nor did I enjoy much of Jervis's society, for he, too, was
anxious to have the day free for the "Crucial Experiment," which was--we
hoped--to solve the mystery of Septimus Maddock's death and explain the
villain Samway's strange vindictiveness towards me.

Left to myself, and by no means enamoured of my own society, I wandered
up to the laboratory to see what Polton was doing and to distract my
gloomy thoughts by a little gossip with him on the various technical
processes of which he possessed so much curious information. I found him
arrayed in a white apron, with his sleeves turned up, busily occupied
with what I took to be a slab of dough, which he had spread on a pastry
board and was levelling with a hard-wood rolling-pin. He greeted me, as I
entered with his queer, crinkly smile, but made no remark; and I stood
awhile in silence, watching him cut the paste in halves, sprinkle it with
flour, fold it up and once more roll it out into a sheet with the wooden
pin. "Is this going to be a meat pie, Polton?" I asked, at length.

His smile broadened at my question--for which I suspect he had been
waiting. "I don't think you'd care much for the flavour of it, if it was,
sir," he answered. "But it does look like dough, doesn't it. It's
moulding-wax; a special formula of the Doctor's own."

"I thought that white powder was flour."

"So it is, sir; the best wheaten flour. It's lighter than a mineral
powder and more tenacious. You have to use some powder to reduce the
stickiness of the wax, especially in a soft paste like this, which has a
lot of lard in it."

"What are you going to use it for?" I asked.

"Ah!" exclaimed Polton, pausing to give the paste a vicious whack with
the rolling-pin, "there you are, sir. That's just what I've been asking
myself all the time I've been rolling it out. The Doctor, sir--God bless
him--is the most exasperating gentleman in the world. He fairly drives me
mad with curiosity, at times. He will give me a piece of work to
do--something to make, perhaps--with full particulars--all the facts, you
understand, perfectly clear and exact, with working drawings if
necessary. But he never says what the thing is for. So I make a
hypothesis for myself--whole bundles of hypotheses, I make. And they
always turn out wrong. I assure you, sir," he concluded with solemn
emphasis, "that I spend the best part of my life asking myself conundrums
and giving myself the wrong answers."

"I should have thought," said I, "that you would have got used to his
ways by now."

"You can't get used to him," rejoined Polton. "It's impossible. He
doesn't think like any other man. Ordinary men's brains are turned out
pretty much alike from a single mould, like a batch of pottery. But the
Doctor's brain was a special order. If there was any mould at all, that
mould was broken up when the job was finished."

"What you mean is," said I, "that he has a great deal more intelligence
than is given to the rank and file of humanity."

"No, I don't," retorted Polton. "It isn't a question of quantity at all.
It's a different kind of intelligence. Ordinary men have to reason from
visible facts. He doesn't. He reasons from facts which his imagination
tells him exists, but which nobody else can see. He's like a portrait
painter who can do you a likeness of your face by looking at the back of
your head. I suppose it's what he calls constructive imagination, such as
Darwin and Harvey and Pasteur and other great discoverers had, which
enabled them to see beyond the facts that were known to the common herd
of humanity."

I was somewhat doubtful as to the soundness of Polton's views on the
transcendental intellect, though respectfully admiring of the
thoughtfulness of this curious little handicraftsman; accordingly I
returned to the more concrete subject of wax. "Haven't you any idea what
this stuff is going to be used for?"

"Not the slightest," he replied. "The Doctor's instructions were to make
six pounds of it, to make it soft enough to take a squeeze of a stiff
feather if warmed gently, and firm enough to keep its shape in a
half-inch layer with a plaster backing, and to be sure to have it ready
by to-morrow morning. That's all. I know there's an important analysis on
to-morrow and I suppose this wax has got something to do with it. But, as
to what moulding wax can have to do with a chemical analysis, that's a
question that I can't make head or tail of."

Neither could I, though I had more data than Polton appeared to possess.
Nor could Jervis, to whom I propounded the riddle when he came in to tea.
We went up to the laboratory together and inspected, not only the wax,
but the exterior of three large parcels addressed to Professor Woodfield,
care of Dr. Thorndyke, and bearing the labels of a firm of wholesale
chemists. But neither of us could suggest any solution of the mystery;
and the only result of our visit to the laboratory was that Polton was
somewhat scandalized by the conduct of his junior employer, who consoled
himself for his failure by executing with the wax, a life-sized and
highly grotesque portrait of Father Humperdinck.

CHAPTER XXI

THE FINAL PROBLEM

AT exactly half-past eleven in the following forenoon, Professor
Woodfield arrived, bearing a massive cowhide bag which he deposited on a
chair as a preliminary to taking off his hat and wiping his forehead. He
was a big burly, heavy-browed man, sparing of speech and rather gruff in
manner. "Stuff arrived yet?" he asked when he had brought his forehead to
a satisfactory polish.

"I think it came yesterday morning," replied Thorndyke.

"The deuce it did!" exclaimed Woodfield.

"Yes. Drapers--Three parcels from Townley and--"

"Oh, you're talking of the chemicals. I meant the other stuff."

"No; the officer hasn't arrived yet, but I expect he will be here in a
few minutes. Superintendent Miller is a scrupulously punctual man."

The professor strode over to the window and glared out in the direction
of Crown Office Row. "That man of yours got everything ready?" he asked.

"Yes," answered Thorndyke; "and I have looked over the laboratory
myself. Everything is ready. You can begin the instant the ashes are
delivered to us."

Woodfield expressed his satisfaction--or whatever he intended to
express--by a grunt, without removing his eyes from the approach to our
chambers. "Cab coming," he announced a few moments later. "Man inside
with a parcel. That the officer?"

Jervis looked out over the professor's shoulder. "Yes," said he, "that's
Miller; and, confound it! here's Marchmont with old Humperdinck. Shall we
bolt up to the laboratory and send down word that we're all out of town?"

"I don't see why we should," said Thorndyke. "Woodfield won't be
inconsolable if we have to leave him to work by himself for a while."

The professor confirmed this statement by another grunt, and, shortly
afterwards, the clamour of the little brass knocker announced the arrival
of the first contingent, which, when I opened the door, was seen to
consist of the solicitor and his very reverend client. "My dear
Thorndyke!" exclaimed Marchmont, shaking our principal's hand; "what a
shocking affair this is--this murder, I mean. I read about it in the
paper. A dreadful affair!"

"Yes, indeed," Thorndyke assented; "a most callous and horrible crime."

"Terrible! Terrible!" said Marchmont. "So unpleasant for you, too, and so
inconvenient. Actually on your own stairs, I understand. But I hope
they'll be able to catch the villain. Have you any idea who he is?"

"I have a very strong suspicion," Thorndyke replied.

"Ah!" exclaimed Marchmont, "I thought so. The rascal brought his pigs to
the wrong market. What? Like doing a burglary at Scotland Yard. He
couldn't have known who lived here. Hallo! why here's Mr. Miller.
Howdy-do, Superintendent!"

The officer, for whom I had left the door ajar, entered in his usual
brisk fashion, and, having bestowed a comprehensive salutation on the
assembled company, deposited on the table an apparently weighty parcel,
securely wrapped and decorated with a label bearing the inscription "This
side up."

"There, sir," said he, "there's your box of mystery; and I don't mind
telling you that I'm on tenterhooks of curiosity to see what you are
going to make of it."

"Professor Woodfield is the presiding magician," said Thorndyke, "so we
will hand it over to him. I suppose the casket is sealed?"

"Yes; it was sealed in my presence, and I've got to be present when the
seals are broken."

"We'll break the seals up in the laboratory," said Woodfield, "but we may
as well undo the parcel here."

He produced a solid-looking pocket knife, fitted with a practicable
corkscrew, and, having cut the string, stripped off the wrappings of the
parcel. "God bless my soul!" exclaimed Marchmont, as the last wrapping
was removed; "why, it's a cremation urn! What in the name of Fortune are
you going to do?"

Miller tapped the lid of the urn with a dramatic gesture. "Dr.
Thorndyke," said he, "is going, I hope, to extract from the ashes in this
casket an instrument of vengeance on the murderer of Mrs. Samway."

"Ach!" exclaimed Father Humperdinck, "do not speak of vengeance in ze
bresence of zese boor remains of a fellow greature. Chustice if you laig,
but not vengeance. 'Vengeance is mine, saiz ze Lordt!'"

"M'yes," agreed Miller, "that's perfectly true, sir, and we quite
understand your point of view. Still, we've got our job to do, you know."

"But," said Marchmont, "I don't understand. What is the connection? These
appear to be the remains of Septimus Maddock, whoever he may have been,
and he seems to have died last November. What has he to do with the
murder of this poor woman, Samway?"

"The connection is this," replied Thorndyke; "the man who murdered Mrs.
Samway murdered the man whose ashes are in this urn. That is my
proposition; and I hope, with the skilful aid of my friend Professor
Woodfield, to prove it."

"Well," said Marchmont, "it is a remarkable proposition and the proof
will be still more remarkable. I certainly thought that a body that had
been cremated was beyond the reach of any possible inquiry."

"I am afraid that is so, as a rule," Thorndyke admitted. "But I hope to
find an exception in this case. Shall we go upstairs and commence the
examination?"

Woodfield having agreed with gruff emphasis, Miller picked up the casket
and we all proceeded to the laboratory, where Polton, like a presiding
analytical demon, was discovered amidst his beloved apparatus. The casket
was placed on a table, the seals broken and the cover removed by
Woodfield, whereupon we all, with one accord, craned forward to peer in
at what looked like a mass of fragments of snowy madrepore coral. "Ach!"
exclaimed Father Humperdinck, "bot it is a solemn zought zat zese boor
ashes vas vunce a living man chust like ourselves."

"Yes," said Marchmont, "it is, and I suppose we shall all be pretty much
alike by the time we reach this stage. Cremation is a leveller, with a
vengeance. Still, I will say this much, these remains are perfectly
unobjectionable in every way, in fact they are almost agreeable in
appearance; whereas, an ordinary disinterment after this lapse of time
would have been a most horrid business."

"Yes, indeed," agreed Thorndyke; "I have had to make a good many
examinations of exhumed bodies, and, as you say, they were very different
from this. If I were not a practitioner of legal medicine--in which
exhumation often furnishes crucial evidence--I should say that this
cleanly and decent method of disposing of the dead was incomparably
superior to any other. Unfortunately it has serious medico-legal
drawbacks. I think, Woodfield, that we will turn the ashes out on that
sheet of paper on the bench, and then, with your permission, I will pick
out the recognizable fragments and examine them while you are working on
the small, powdery portions."

He took up the urn--which was an oblong, terracotta vessel some fourteen
inches in length--and very carefully inverted it over the large sheet of
clean white paper. Then, from the dazzling, snowy heap, he picked out
daintily the larger fragments--handling them with the utmost
tenderness--for, of course, they were excessively fragile--and finally
transferring them, one by one, to another sheet of paper at the other end
of the bench.

The appearance of the remains was not quite as I had expected. Among the
powdery debris was a quite considerable number of larger fragments, most
of which were easily recognizable by the anatomical eye, while some of
the larger long bones almost gave the impression of having been broken to
enable them to be placed in the urn, and suggested that a partial
reconstitution, for the purpose of determining the stature or other
peculiarities of the skeleton was by no means as impossible as I had
supposed. But, large and small alike, the pieces were strangely light and
attenuated, like the ghosts of bones or artificial counterfeits in
porous, spongy coral.

When Thorndyke had picked out such of the fragments as he wished to
examine, Professor Woodfield glanced casually over the collection, but
suddenly he paused and, stooping over a large piece of the right
innominate bone, narrowly inspected a somewhat shiny yellow stain on its
inner surface. "Looks as if you were right, Thorndyke," he said in his
laconic way, "qualitatively, at any rate. We shall see what the
quantitative test says."

I pored over that dull yellow stain--as did Jervis also--but could make no
guess at its nature or conceive any explanation of its presence. What
interested me more was a small depression or cavity in the bone at the
centre of the stain. That it was not the result of cremation was obvious
from the fact that it was surrounded by a small area of sclerosed or
hardened bone, which was quite plainly distinguishable on the spongy
background, and which clearly pointed to some inflammatory change that
had occurred during life. But of its cause, as of that of the stain
itself, I could think of no intelligible explanation. "Have you enough of
the small fragments to go on with for the present, Woodfield?" Thorndyke
asked.

"Plenty," replied Woodfield.

"Then," said Thorndyke, "I will get on with my side of the inquiry. I
shall want the whole-plate camera first, Polton."

While his assistant was preparing the camera, he laid several of the
fragments on a baize-covered board and secured them in position by
threads attached to wooden-headed pins like diminutive bradawls. When the
fragments were fixed immovably, he placed the board in a vertical
position on a stand in a good light, by which time Polton was ready to
make the exposure.

Meanwhile, Professor Woodfield was proceeding--under the horrified
supervision of Father Humperdinck--with his part of the investigation. He
was a matter-of-fact man, a chemist to the backbone, and to him it was
evident that the late Septimus Maddock was simply so many pounds of
animal phosphates. Quite composedly he shovelled up a scoopful of the
ashes, which he emptied into the pan of a spring-balance, and, having
weighed out a pound and a quarter, shot the contents of the pan into a
large mortar and forthwith began to grind the fragments to a fine powder,
humming a cheerful stave to the ring of the pestle. But his next
proceeding scandalized the worthy Jesuit still more deeply. Having
weighed out certain quantities of charcoal, sodium carbonate and borax,
he pulverized each in a second mortar, mixed the whole together and shot
the mixture into the first mortar, which contained the ash, stirring the
entire contents up into a repulsive-looking grey powder. "But, my dear
sir!" exclaimed Father Humperdinck. "You are destroying ze remains!"

Woodfield looked at him from under his beetling brows, but went on
stirring. "Matter is indestructible," he replied stolidly; and with this
he tipped the contents of the mortar on to a sheet of paper and
transferred them to a large fireclay crucible. "Now, Polton," said he,
"is the furnace ready?"

Polton disengaged himself for a moment from the camera, and took up a
position by the side of the big fireclay drum with his hand on the gas
cock. Then Woodfield, having dropped three or four large iron nails into
the crucible, carried the latter over to the furnace and lowered it into
the central cavity. The cock was turned on by Polton and a match applied,
whereupon a great purplish flame shot up with a roar from the mouth of
the furnace; and even when this had been confined by the dropping on of
the massive cover, the ironcased cylinder continued to emit a muffled,
sullen growl.

While the crucible was heating, I transferred my attention to Thorndyke.
The photographic operations were now concluded and the moulding wax had
just been produced from a warmed incubator. Polton's curiosity--and
mine--was about to be satisfied.

Thorndyke began by laying a thick slab of the warm and pliable wax on the
middle of a smooth plate of varnished plaster, at each corner of which
was a small, hemispherical pit, and dusting powdered French chalk
sparingly over the level surface of the wax. Then he took the large
fragment of bone, which bore the mysterious yellow stain, and laid it on
the wax with the stained side uppermost, pressing it very gently until it
gradually sank into the soft, pasty mass. Next, he took a somewhat
smaller slab of wax and, having dusted its surface with French chalk,
laid it on the fragment of bone, pressing it on gently but firmly,
especially in the neighbourhood of the stain. Having squeezed some
irregular-shaped lumps of wax on the back of the top slab, he fastened a
strip of india-rubber round the edge of the plaster plate, so that it
formed an upright rim, and turned to Polton. "Now mix a bowl of
plaster--and mix it extra stiff, so that it will set quickly and hard."

With a soft brush he painted a thin coat of oil on the exposed portion of
the plaster plate, up to the edges of the wax, and including the little
circular hollows. By the time he had done this, Polton reappeared from
the workshop with a basin of liquid plaster, which he was beating up with
a spoon as if preparing a custard or batter pudding. As soon as the
plaster began to thicken, he poured it on the wax and the oiled slab
until it formed a level mass, nearly flush with the top of the
india-rubber rim. In a surprisingly short time, the smooth, creamy liquid
solidified into a substance having the appearance of icing-sugar, and
when Polton had stripped away the india-rubber rim, exposing the edge of
the new plaster slab, this part of the process was finished. "We will put
this mould aside for the plaster to harden while we make the other
mould," said Thorndyke.

"Aren't you going to make moulds of all the fragments?" asked Jervis.

"No," Thorndyke answered; "the photographs of the rest will be
sufficient, and I don't think we shall want even those; in fact, what I
am doing now is merely by way of extra precaution. We are obliged to
destroy the fragments in order to make the analysis, so I am just putting
their appearance on record. You never know what an ingenious defending
counsel may spring on you."

As Polton produced a second plate of varnished plaster and Thorndyke
began to prepare the wax for the next mould, I turned my attention once
more to Professor Woodfield. He had now deserted the mortar--in which he
had been preparing a further supply of "the stuff"--and taken up a
position by the furnace, with a long pair of crucible-tongs in his hand.
On the bench, hard by, was an iron plate, and on this an oblong block of
iron in which were six conical hollows.

Presently Woodfield glanced at his watch, turned off the gas-cock,
removed the cover of the furnace with his tongs, and, reaching down into
the glowing interior, lifted out the nearly white-hot crucible. Instantly
Marchmont, Humperdinck and Jervis gathered round to watch, and even
Thorndyke left his mould to come and see the result of the first trial.

Having stood the crucible on the iron plate while he picked out the large
nails, one by one, Woodfield lifted it and steadily poured its molten
contents into the first hollow in the iron block, which they soon filled,
and overflowing ran along the iron plate in glowing streams that soon
grew dull from contact with the cold surface. I noticed that, as the
crucible was slowly tilted, Thorndyke kept his eyes fixed on its
interior, as also did Jervis and Woodfield; and, watching closely, I saw
just as the vessel was nearly empty, what looked somewhat like a red-hot
oil-globule floating in the last of the glowing liquid. This passed out
as the crucible was tilted further, and disappeared into the iron mould;
when Woodfield, having exchanged a quick, significant glance with
Thorndyke, proceeded forthwith, in his matter-of-fact way to fill up the
still red-hot vessel with another pound and a quarter of the late
Septimus Maddock. "I suppose," said Marchmont, "it is premature to ask
you what is the final object of these very interesting operations?"

"It's no use asking me," replied Woodfield, "because I don't know. I am
searching for traces of a particular substance, but what may be the
significance of its presence, I haven't the slightest idea. You'd better
ask Dr. Thorndyke--and he won't tell you."

"No, I know," said Marchmont. "Thorndyke will never tell you anything
until he can tell you everything. By the way, will the remains be
completely destroyed or will it be possible to recover them?"

"They are not destroyed at all," replied Woodfield. "They are all in the
slag that came out of the crucible. We shall simply put the slag in the
urn. There is a little charcoal, soda and borax added, but nothing is
taken away."

I could see that to the unchemical mind of Father Humperdinck, this was
far from satisfactory, and I observed him poring, with obvious
disapproval, over the dark-coloured, glassy masses of slag on the iron
plate. "Ashes to Ashes" was an intelligible formula, but "ashes to slag"
was quite another matter, for which no provision had been made in any
known ritual.

After a rather hurried luncheon, the wax moulds were carefully opened and
the fragments of bone picked out, when it was seen that each fragment had
left a perfect impression on the wax surface into which it had been
pressed. These hollow impressions were now filled with liquid plaster,
and, when the latter had thickened sufficiently, the two halves of each
mould were quickly fitted together and kept in close contact by a weight.

During the interval which was necessary to allow of the plaster setting
quite firmly, I had leisure to note that Professor Woodfield had filled
two more of the cavities in the iron mould. Now that the furnace was
thoroughly hot, he was able to work rather more quickly, and he had
economized time by leaving a crucible to heat while we were at lunch. He
was preparing to take the fourth charge from the furnace when I observed
Polton removing the weight from one of the moulds and hurriedly
transferred my patronage to his part of the entertainment. The mould on
which he was operating was the one bearing the impressions of the stained
fragment of the innominate bone, and when he separated the two halves and
exposed the newly-made cast inside one might have thought that the actual
bone had been left in, so perfectly did the snowy plaster cast reproduce
the dazzlingly-white calcined bone. But, naturally, the stain did not
appear in the cast, a defect which Thorndyke proceeded at once to remedy
by making a tracing of the exact position and extent of the coloured
patch and transferring it to the cast. Then, and not till then, Thorndyke
regretfully handed the original fragment to Professor Woodfield, who
impassively dropped it into the mortar and pounded it into a mere
characterless powder.

After the opening of the second mould and the removal of the casts, the
interest of the investigation lapsed for a time. Woodfield's operations
were, doubtless, the most important part of the procedure, but they were
not thrilling to look on at. In fact they became by unvarying repetition,
decidedly tedious, and when the last charge--containing the uttermost
crumb of ash--had been placed in the furnace and there was nothing to do
but stare at the great fireclay drum, Marchmont and Humperdinck began to
yawn in the most portentous manner. I rather wondered that they did not
go, for the investigation was no business of theirs, and there was little
entertainment in gazing at the outside of the furnace or watching Polton
and the Superintendent gather up the masses of slag from the plate and
drop them into the casket. But I supposed that they, like myself, were
consoling themselves for the tedium of the chemist's manipulations by the
prospect of satisfying their curiosity as to the final result of the
experiment.

When at length, the last charge was ready, Woodfield withdrew the
white-hot crucible from the furnace and stood it on the iron plate. But
this time he did not pour out the contents. Instead, he tilted the iron
mould, and, picking out the conical masses of slag that it contained, one
by one, lowered them with his tongs into the hot crucible. Then, having
thrown in a little fresh flux, he returned the crucible to the furnace.
"Why didn't he pour out the melted stuff this time?" Marchmont asked.

"Because," Thorndyke replied, "I want, for certain reasons, to have the
total result of the analysis in a single mass. Each of those little cones
of slag contains the result from a sixth part of the ash; the crucible
now contains the matter extracted from the whole of the ashes. For my
purposes this is more suitable, as you will see in a few minutes--for we
shall not have to leave the crucible in the furnace so long this time."

"I'm glad of that," said Marchmont, "though this has been a most
interesting, and I may say, fascinating experience. I am delighted to
have had an opportunity of witnessing these most instructive
and--er--aw--"

The rest of the sentence was rendered somewhat obscure by a colossal
yawn; but very soon the interest of the proceedings was revived by
Woodfield, who approached the furnace with a determined air and removed
its cover with somewhat of a flourish. "Now we shall see, Thorndyke,"
said he, turning off the gas and reaching down into the glowing cavity
with his tongs. He lifted out the crucible and, standing it on the iron
plate, took out the nails, tapping each on the side of the pot as he
withdrew it. "Do you want me to pour it out, or shall I break the pot?"
asked Woodfield.

"That rests with you," replied Thorndyke.

"Better break the pot, then," said Woodfield.

This entailed a further spell of expectant waiting, and we all stood
round, gazing impatiently at the crucible as it slowly faded from bright
red to dull red and from this to its natural dull drab. It was quite a
long time before Woodfield considered it cool enough to be broken, indeed
I half suspected him of prolonging our suspense with deliberate malice.
At length he took up a peculiarly-shaped hammer which Polton had handed
to him, and, laying the crucible on its side, struck it sharply near the
bottom with the pointed beak; then he turned the pot over and struck a
similar blow on the opposite side; upon which the bottom of the crucible
broke off cleanly, exposing the mass of dark, glassy slag, and, embedded
in it, a bright button of metal. "What metal is that?" Jervis demanded
eagerly.

The professor struck the button smartly with the hammer, whereupon it
detached itself from the slag and rolled on to the plate. "Lead," said
he. "I don't vouch for its purity, but it is undoubtedly lead."

Jervis turned to Thorndyke with a puzzled look. "You can't be
suggesting," said he, "that this was a case of acute lead poisoning. The
circumstances didn't admit of it, and besides, the quantity of lead is
impossibly large."

"I should suppose," interposed Miller, "that the doctor was suggesting a
most particularly acute form of lead poisoning, only that it is
impossible to imagine that a cremation certificate would be granted in a
case where a man had been killed by a pistol shot."

"I am not so sure of that," said Thorndyke; "though it is not likely that
a cremation certificate would be applied for under those circumstances.
But I am certainly not suggesting lead poisoning."

"What do you say is the weight of this button, Thorndyke?" the professor
asked.

"That," replied Thorndyke, "depends on its relation to the total content
of lead in the ashes. What percentage do you suppose has been lost in the
process of reduction?"

"Not more than ten per cent. I hope. You may take this button as
representing ninety per cent of the total lead; perhaps a little more."

Thorndyke made a rapid calculation on a scrap of paper. "I suggest," said
he, "that the total lead in the ashes was three hundred and eighty-six
grains. Deducting a tenth, say thirty-eight and a half grains, we have
three hundred and forty-seven and a half grains, which should be the
weight of this button."

Woodfield picked up the button and striding over to the glass case which
contained the chemical balance, slid up the front, and, placing the
button in one pan, put the weight corresponding to Thorndyke's estimate,
in the other. On turning the handle that released the balance, it was
seen that the button was appreciably heavier than Thorndyke had stated,
and Woodfield adjusted the weights with a small pair of forceps until the
index stood in the middle of the graduated arc. "The weight is three
hundred and forty-nine and a half grains," said Woodfield. "That means
that my assay was rather better than I thought. You were quite right,
Thorndyke, as you generally are. I wonder what the object was that
weighed three hundred and eighty-six grains. Are you going to tell us?"

Thorndyke felt in his waistcoat pocket. "It was an object," said he,
"very similar to this."

As he spoke, he produced a rather large, dark-coloured bullet, which he
handed to Woodfield, who immediately placed it in the pan of the balance
and tested its weight. "Just a fraction short of three hundred and
eighty-seven grains," said he.

The Superintendent peered curiously into the balance-case, and, taking
the bullet out of the pan, turned it over in his fingers. "That's not a
modern bullet," said he. "They don't make 'em that size now, and they
don't generally make 'em of pure lead."

"No," Thorndyke agreed. "They don't. This is an old French bullet; a
chassepot of about 1870."

"A chassepot!" exclaimed Humperdinck, with suddenly-awakened interest.

"Yes," said Thorndyke; "and this button,"--he picked it up from the floor
of the balance-case as he spoke--"was once a chassepot bullet, too.
This, Father Humperdinck," he added, holding out the little mass of metal
towards the Jesuit, "was the bullet which struck your friend, Vitalis
Reinhardt, near Saarbrück more than thirty years ago."

The priest was thunderstruck. For some seconds, he gazed from Thorndyke's
face to the button of lead, with his mouth agape and an expression of
utter stupefaction. "But," he exclaimed, at length, "it is impossible!
How can it be, in the ashes of a stranger!"

"I take it," said Marchmont, "that Dr. Thorndyke is suggesting that this
was the body of Vitalis Reinhardt."

"Undoubtedly I am," said Thorndyke.

"It sounds a rather bold supposition," Marchmont observed, a little
dubiously. "Isn't it basing a somewhat startling conclusion upon rather
slender data? The presence of the lead is a striking fact, but still,
taken alone--"

"But it isn't taken alone," Thorndyke interrupted. "It is the final link
in a long chain of evidence. You will hear that evidence later, but, as
it happens, I can prove the identity of these remains from facts elicited
by the examination that we have just made. Let me put the argument
briefly.

"First, I will draw your attention to these plaster casts, which you have
seen me make from the original bones, Take, to begin with, these small
fragments. Dr. Jervis will tell you what bones they are."

He handed the small casts to Jervis, who looked them over--not for the
first time--and passed them to me. "I say that they represent two
complete fingers and the first, or proximal, joint of a right thumb. What
do you say, Jardine?"

"That is what I had already made them out to be," I replied.

"Very well," said Thorndyke. "That gives us an important initial fact.
These remains contained two complete fingers and the first joint of a
thumb. But these remains profess to be those of a man named Septimus
Maddock. Now this man is known to have had deformed hands, of the kind
described as brachydactylous. In such hands all the fingers are
incomplete--they have only two joints instead of the normal three--and
the first, or proximal joint of the thumb is absent. Obviously, then,
these remains cannot be those of Septimus Maddock, as alleged.

"But, if not Maddock's remains, whose are they? From certain facts known
to me, I had assumed them to be those of Vitalis Reinhardt. Let us see
what support that assumption has received. Reinhardt is known to have
been wounded in the right hip by a chassepot bullet, and the bullet was
never extracted. Now I find, among these remains, a considerable portion
of the right hip-bone. In that bone is a mark which plainly shows that it
has been perforated and the perforation repaired, and there is a cavity
in which a foreign body of about the size of a chassepot bullet has been
partly embedded. The chemical composition of that foreign body is plainly
indicated by a stain which surrounds the cavity; which stain is evidently
due to oxide of lead. Clearly the foreign body was composed of lead,
which will have melted in the cremation furnace and run away, but left a
small portion, in the cavity, which small portion, becoming oxidized, the
oxide will have liquified and become soaked up by the absorbent bone-ash,
thus producing the stain.

"Finally, we find by assay, that this foreign body actually was composed
of lead and that its weight was--within a negligible amount of
error--three hundred and eighty-six grains, which is the weight of a
chassepot bullet.

"I say that the evidence, from the ashes alone, is conclusive. But this
is only corroborative of conclusions that I had already formed on a quite
considerable body of evidence. Are you satisfied, Marchmont? I mean, of
course, only in respect of a prima facie case."

"Perfectly satisfied," replied Marchmont. "And now I understand why you
insisted on my being present at this investigation and bringing Father
Humperdinck; which, I must admit, has been puzzling me the whole day. By
the way, I rather infer, from what you said, that there has been foul
play. Is that so?"

"I think," replied Thorndyke, "there can hardly be a doubt that Reinhardt
was murdered by Septimus Maddock."

Father Humperdinck's face suddenly turned purple. "And zis man Maddock,"
he exclaimed fiercely, "zis murderer of my poor friendt Vitalis, vere is
he?"

"He is being sought by the police at this moment," replied Thorndyke.

"He must be caught!" Father Humperdinck shouted in a furious voice, "and
ven he is caught he must be bunished as he deserves. I shall not vun
moment rest until he is hanged as high as Haman." Here I caught a quick
glance from Marchmont's eyes and seemed to hear a faint murmur which
framed the words "Vengeance is mine."

"But," the Jesuit continued, after a momentary pause, in the same loud,
angry tone: "Zis villain has a double grime gommitted; he has murdered a
goot, a chenerous, a bious man; and he has robbed ze boor, ze suffering
and ze unfortunate."

"How has he done that?" asked Marchmont.

"By murdering ze benefactor of our zoziety," was the answer.

"Yes, to be sure," agreed the solicitor. "I hadn't thought of that. Of
course, the original will in favour of Miss Vyne probably stands without
modification."

At this point Superintendent Miller interposed. "You were saying, sir,
that the man Maddock is now being sought by the police. Do you mean under
that name?"

"No," answered Thorndyke. "I mean under the name of Samway. Septimus
Maddock, alias Isaac Van Damme, is written off as deceased. But Samway,
alias Maddock, alias Burton of Bruges, alias Gill, is his re-incarnation,
and, as such, I commend him to your attention; and I hope, Miller, you
will be able to produce him shortly, in the flesh. The evidence, as you
see, is now ready, and all that is lacking is the prisoner."

"He shan't be lacking long, sir, if any efforts of mine can bring him to
light. I see a case here that will pay for all the work that we can put
into it; and now, with your permission, doctor, I will take possession of
this urn and get off, to see that everything necessary is being done."

The Superintendent, as so often happens with departing guests, infected
our other two visitors with a sudden desire to be gone. Father
Humperdinck, especially, seemed unwilling to lose sight of the police
officer--who was correspondingly anxious to escape--and, having wished us
a very hasty adieu, hurried down the stairs in his wake, followed, at a
greater interval, by his legal adviser.

CHAPTER XXII

THORNDYKE REVIEWS THE CASE

WHEN Professor Woodfield, having deliberately packed his bag and--to my
great relief and Jervis's--declined Thorndyke's invitation to stay and
take tea with us, presently took his departure, we descended to the
sitting-room, whither Polton followed us almost immediately with a
tea-tray, having, apparently, boiled the kettle in the adjacent workshop
while the final act of the analysis was in progress. He placed the tray
on a small table by Thorndyke's chair, and, evidently, anticipating the
inevitable discussion on the results of the analysis, made up the fire on
a liberal scale and retired with unconcealed reluctance.

As soon as we were alone, Jervis opened the subject by voicing his and my
joint desire for "more light."

"This has been a great surprise to me, Thorndyke," said he.

"A complete surprise?" Thorndyke asked.

"No, I can't say that. The solution of the problem was one that I had
proposed to myself, but I had rejected it as impossible; and it looks
impossible still, though I now know it to be the true solution."

"I quite appreciate your difficulty," said Thorndyke, "and I see that if
you did not happen to light on the answer to it, the difficulty was
insuperable. That was the really brilliant feature in Maddock's plan. But
for a single fact which was almost certain to be overlooked, the real
explanation of the circumstances would appear utterly incredible. Even if
suspicion had been aroused later and the true explanation suggested,
there seemed to be one fact with which it was absolutely irreconcilable."

"Yes," agreed Jervis; "that is what I have felt."

"The truth is," said Thorndyke, "that this crime was planned with the
most diabolical cleverness and subtlety. We realize that when we consider
by what an infinitely narrow margin it failed. Indeed, we can hardly say
that it did fail. As far as we can see, it succeeded completely, and if
the criminal could only have accepted its success, there seems to be no
reason why any discovery should ever have taken place. Looking back on
the case, we see that our experience has been the same as O'Donnell's; we
had no clue whatever excepting the one that was furnished by the criminal
himself in his unnecessary efforts to obtain even greater security.
Suppose Maddock, having carried out his plan successfully, had been
content to leave it at that, who would have known, or even suspected,
that a crime had been committed? Not a soul, I believe. But instead of
that he must needs do what the criminal almost invariably does; he must
tinker at the crime when all is going well and surround himself by a
number of needless safeguards by which, in the end, attention is
attracted to his doings. He knows, or believes he knows, that Jardine has
in his possession certain knowledge of a highly dangerous character; he
does not ask himself whether Jardine is aware that he possesses such
knowledge, but, appraising that knowledge at what he, himself, knows to
be its value, he decides to get rid of Jardine as the one element of
danger. And that was where he failed. If he had left Jardine alone, the
whole affair would have passed off as perfectly normal and its details
would soon have been lost sight of and forgotten. Even as it was, he
missed complete success only by a hair's breadth. But for the most
trivial coincidence, Jardine's body might be lying undiscovered in that
cellar at this very moment."

"That's a comfortable thought for you, Jardine," my younger colleague
remarked.

"Very," I agreed, with a slight shudder at the recollecting of that
horrible death-trap. "But what was the coincidence? I never understood
how you came to be in that most unlikely place at that very opportune
moment."

"It was the merest chance," replied Thorndyke. "I happened to have called
in at the hospital that evening, and, having an hour to spare, it
occurred to me to look in at Batson's and see if you were getting on
quite happily in your new command. As I had induced you to take charge, I
felt some sort of responsibility in the matter."

"It was exceedingly kind of you, sir," said I.

"Not in the least," said Thorndyke. "It was just the ordinary solicitude
of the teacher for a promising pupil. Well, when I arrived at the house,
I found that excellent girl, Maggie, standing on the doorstep, looking
anxiously up and down the street. It seemed that, on reflection, she was
still convinced that the works were untenanted, and the oddity of the
whole set of circumstances had made her somewhat uneasy. I waited a few
minutes and disposed of one or two patients, and then, as you did not
return, after what seemed an unaccountably long absence, I very easily
induced her to show me where the place was; and when we arrived there,
the deserted aspect of the building and the notice board over the gate
seemed rather to justify her anxiety.

"I rang the bell loudly, as I daresay you know, but I did not wait very
long. When I failed to get any response, I too, became suspicious, and
proceeded without delay to pick the lock of the wicket--and it is most
fortunate that the wicket was unprovided with a bolt, which would have
delayed me very considerably. You know the rest. When I shouted your name
you must have tried to answer, for I caught a kind of muffled groan and
the sound of tapping, which guided me and Maggie to your prison. But it
was a near thing; for, when I opened the cellar door, you fell out quite
unconscious and accompanied by a gush of carbon dioxide that was
absolutely stifling."

"Yes," said I, "it was touch and go. A few minutes more and it would have
been all up with me. I realised that as soon as I recovered
consciousness. But I couldn't, for the life of me understand why anybody
should want to murder me, and I am not so very clear on the subject now.
I really knew nothing about Maddock."

"You knew more than anyone else knew, and he thought you knew more than
you did. But perhaps it would be instructive to review the case in
detail."

"It would be very instructive to me," said Jervis, "for I don't, even
now, see how you managed to bridge over those gaps that stopped me in my
attempts to make a hypothesis that covered all the circumstances."

"Very well," said Thorndyke, "then we will begin at the beginning; and
the beginning, for me, was the finding of Jardine, as I have described
it. Here was a pretty plain case of attempted murder, evidently
premeditated and apparently committed by some person who had access to
these works; evidently, also, conceived and planned with considerable
knowledge, skill and foresight, though with how much foresight I did not
realize until I had heard Jardine's story. When I had Jardine's account
of the affair, I saw that the crime had been planned with quite
remarkable ingenuity and judgment; in fact, the circumstances had been so
carefully considered, and contingencies so well provided for that, but
for a single tactical error the plan would have succeeded. That error was
in making the pretended emergency a surgical injury. If the letter to
Jardine had stated that a man was in a fit, instead of suffering from a
wound, our friend would have had no need to call at the surgery for
appliances but would have gone straight to the works. And there, in all
probability, his body would still be lying, for no one would have known
whither he had gone; and even if his body had been accidentally
discovered, all traces of the means by which he had been killed would
probably have been removed. There would have been nothing to show that he
had not strayed into the deserted factory and turned on the gas himself;
indeed, it is pretty certain that matters would have been so arranged as
to convey that impression to the persons who made the discovery."

"There was the letter," said I. "That would have given things away to
some extent."

"But you would have had it in your pocket, from which he would, of
course, have removed it. We may be sure that he had not overlooked the
letter. It was the need for surgical appliances that he had overlooked;
but, in spite of this error, the plan was ingenious, subtle, and clearly
not the work of an ignorant man.

"And here I would point out to you that this latter fact was one of great
importance in searching for the solution of the mystery. We knew
something of our man. He was subtle, resourceful, and absolutely
ruthless. Noting this, I was prepared, in pursuing the case, to find his
other actions characterized by subtlety, resourcefulness and
ruthlessness. His further actions were not going to be those of a dullard
or an ignoramus.

"But this was not all the information that I had concerning the
personality of this unknown villain. Jervis and I looked over the cellars
that same night within an hour and a half of the rescue and before
anything had been moved. We were then in a position to infer that the
unknown was probably a somewhat tall man and above the average of
strength, as shown by the weight, position and arrangement of the iron
bottles. Moreover, since there was no faintest trace of a finger-print on
any of them, it followed that some precaution against them--such as
gloves--had been adopted; which again suggested either a professional
criminal or a person well acquainted with criminal methods.

"So much for the man. As to the rest of the information that I obtained
by looking into the cellar, it seemed, at the time meagre enough; and
yet, when considered by the light of Jardine's statement, it turned out
to be of vital importance. You remember what it was, Jardine? That cellar
contained certain objects. They seemed very unilluminating and
commonplace, but, according to my invariable custom, I considered them
attentively and made a written list of them. Do you remember what they
were?"

"Yes, quite well. There were ten empty cylinders, a spanner, a
packing-case--"

"What were the dimensions of the case?" Thorndyke interrupted.

"Seven feet long by two and a half wide and deep. Then there were a couple
of waterproof sheets and a quantity of straw. That is the lot, I think,
and I'll be hanged if I can see what any of them--excepting the three
cylinders that were used for my benefit--have to do with the case. Can
you, Jervis?"

"I'm afraid I can't," he replied. "They are all such very ordinary
objects."

"Ordinary or not," said Thorndyke, "there they were; and I made a note of
them on the principle--which I am continually impressing on my
students--that you can never judge in advance what the evidential value
of any fact will be, and on the further principle that, in estimating
evidence, there is no such thing as a commonplace fact or object.

"Until I had heard Jardine's account of the affair there was not much to
be gained by thinking about the possibilities that it presented. There
was, however one point to be settled, and I dealt with it at once. My
slight inspection of the works had shown that no business was being
carried on in them; and the question was whether they were completely
untenanted or whether there was some person who had regular access to
them. My enquiries resulted, as you know, in the unearthing of the
mysterious Mr. Gill, but what his relation to the affair might be I was
not, at the moment, in a position to judge.

"Then came our talk with Jardine, from which emerged the fact that the
ordinary motives of murder apparently did not exist in this case, and
that the crime appeared to have its origin in circumstances that had
arisen locally and recently. And, on our proceeding to search for such
conditions as might conceivably generate an adequate motive, we lighted
on a case of cremation.

"Now, it is my habit, whenever I have to deal with death which has been
followed by cremation, to approach the case with the utmost caution and
scrutinize the circumstances most narrowly. For, admirable as is this
method of disposing of the dead regarded from a hygienic standpoint, it
has the fatal defect of lending itself most perfectly to the more subtle
forms of murder, and especially to the administration of poison. By
cremation all traces of the alkaloids, the toxines and the other organic
poisons are utterly destroyed, while of the metals, the three whose
compounds are most commonly employed for criminal purposes--arsenic,
antimony and mercury--are volatilized by heat and would be more or less
completely dissipated during the incineration of the body. It is true
that the most elaborate precautions in the form of examination and
certification are prescribed--and usually taken, I presume--before
cremation is performed; but, as every medical jurist knows, precautions
taken before the event are useless, for, to be effective, they would have
to cover every possible cause of death, which would be impracticable.
Hence, as suspicion, in case of poisoning, commonly does not arise until
some time after death, I always give the closest consideration to the
antecedent circumstances in cases where cremation has been performed.

"But in this case of Jardine's it was at once obvious that the
circumstances called for the minutest inquiry and that no inquiry had
been made. On the face of it the case was a suspicious one; and the
curious incident that Jardine described made it look more suspicious
still and, moreover, suggested a possible motive for the attempt on his
life. Apparently he had seen, or was believed to have seen, something
that he was not desired to see; something that it was not intended that
anyone should see.

"Now what might that something have been? Apparently it was connected
with the hand or with the part of the arm adjacent to the hand. I
considered the possibilities; and at once they fell into two categories.
That something might have been a wound, an injury, a hypodermic
needle-mark; something, that is to say, related to the cause of death; or
it might have been a mutilation, a deformity, a finger-ring, a
tattoo-mark; something, that is to say, related to the identity of the
deceased. And it followed that the cremation might have been made use of
to conceal either the cause of death or the identity of the body. But all
this was purely speculative. The case looked suspicious; but there was
not a particle of positive evidence that anything abnormal had occurred.

"At this point Jardine exploded on us his second mystery; that of the
dead cleric at Hampstead. This gave us, at once, an adequate motive for
getting rid of him; for it had every appearance of a case of murder with
successful concealment of the body, and Jardine was the only witness who
could testify to its having occurred. On hearing of this I was for a
moment disposed to dismiss the cremation case; to consider that the
suspicious elements in it had been magnified by our imaginations in our
endeavours to find an explanation of the assault on Jardine. Moreover,
since we now had a sufficient motive for that assault the cremation case
appeared to be outside the scope of the inquiry.

"But there was a difficulty. It was now six weeks since Jardine had
encountered the body in the lane, and during that time he had been
entirely unmolested. The assault had occurred on his moving into a new
neighbourhood, to which he had come unexpectedly unannounced. Moreover,
the assault had been committed by some person who either had access to
the factory or was, at least, well acquainted with it and who, therefore,
seemed to be connected with the new neighbourhood; and it was committed
within a few days of the cremation incident. Furthermore, the assault was
manifestly premeditated and prepared; but yet the circumstances--namely,
Jardine's recent and unexpected appearance in the neighbourhood--were
such as to make it certain that the crime could have been planned only a
day or two before its execution. Which again seemed to connect it with
the cremation case rather than with the Hampstead case.

"There were two more points. We have seen that Jardine's would-be
murderer was a subtle, ingenious, resourceful and cautious villain. But a
crime adjusted, to the conditions of cremation is exactly such a crime as
we should expect of such a man; whereas the Hampstead crime--assuming it
to be a crime--appeared to have been a somewhat clumsy affair, though the
successful concealment of the body pointed to a person of some capacity.
So that the former crime was more congruous with the known personality of
the would-be murderer than the latter.

"The second point was made on further investigation. The day after our
consultation I looked round the neighbourhood with the aid of a
large-scale map; when I discovered that the yard of the factory in Norton
Street backed on the garden of the Samways' house in Gayton Street. This,
again, suggested a connection between the cremation case and the assault
on Jardine; and the suggestion was so strong that once more the cremation
incident assumed the uppermost place in my mind.

"I considered that case at length. Assuming a crime to have been
committed, what was the probable nature of that crime? Now, cremation, as
I have said, tends to destroy two kinds of evidence, namely; that
relating to the cause of death and that relating to the identity of the
body; whence it follows that the two crimes which it may be used to
conceal are murder and substitution.

"To which of these crimes did the evidence point in the present instance?
Well we had the undoubted fact that cremation had been performed pursuant
to the expressed wishes of Septimus Maddock, the man who was alleged to
have been cremated. But if it was a case of murder, the crime must have
been hurriedly planned a few days before the man's death--that is, after
the execution of the will; for we could assume that Maddock would not
have connived at his own murder; whereas, if it was a case of
substitution Maddock, himself, was probably the actual agent. Considering
the circumstances--the inexplicable, symptomless illness and the
unexpected death--the latter crime was obviously more probable than the
former. The illness, in that case, would be a sham illness deliberately
planned to prepare the way for the introduction of the substituted body.

"Moreover, the attendant circumstances were more in favour of
substitution than of murder. Of the three doctors who saw the body, only
one had seen the living man; and that one, Batson, was more than half
blind and wholly inattentive and neglectful. For the purpose of
substitution, no more perfectly suitable practitioner could have been
selected. The identity of the body was taken for granted--naturally
enough, I admit--and no verification was even thought of. Then, as to
Jardine's experience. The hand or wrist is not at all a likely region on
which to find either a fatal injury or the trace of a hypodermic
injection; whereas it is a most important region for purposes of
identification. The hand is highly characteristic in itself even when
normal; and there is no part of the body that is so subject to mutilation
or in which mutilations and deformities are so striking, so conspicuous,
and so characteristic. Lost fingers, stiff fingers, webbed fingers,
supernumary fingers, contracted palm, deformed nails, brachydactyly and
numerous other abnormal conditions are not only easily recognized,
but--since the hand is usually unclothed and visible--their existence will
be known to a large number of persons.

"The evidence, in short, was strongly in favour of substitution as
against murder.

"If, however, the body which was cremated was not that of Maddock, then
it was the body of some other person; that is to say that the theory of
substitution left us with a dead body that was unaccounted for. And since
a dead body implies the death for some person, the theory of substitution
left us with a death unaccounted for and obviously concealed; that is to
say, it raised a strong presumption of the murder of some unknown person.
And here it seemed that our data came to an end; that we had no material
whatever for forming any hypothesis as to the identity of the person
whose dead body we were assuming to have been substituted for that of
Septimus Maddock.

"But while I was thus turning over the possibilities of this cremation
case, the other--the Hampstead case--continued to lurk in the background
of my mind. It was much less hypothetical. There was positive evidence of
some weight that a crime had been committed. And the circumstances
offered a fully adequate motive for getting rid of Jardine. Thus it was
natural that I should raise the question. Was it possible that the two
cases could be in any way connected?

"At the first glance, the suggestion looked absolutely wild. But still I
considered it at length; and then it looked somewhat less wild. The two
cases had this in common, that if a crime had been committed, Jardine was
the sole witness. Moreover, the supposition that the two cases were
connected and incriminated the same parties, greatly intensified the
motive for making away with Jardine. But there was another and much
stronger point in favour of this view. If we adopted the theory of
substitution, it was impossible, on looking at the two cases, to avoid
being struck by the very curious converseness of their conditions. In the
Hampstead case we were dealing with a body which had suddenly vanished,
no one could say whither; in the Maddock case we were dealing with a body
which had suddenly appeared, no one could say whence.

"When I reflected on this very striking appearance of relation it was
inevitable that I should ask myself the question. Is it conceivable that
these two bodies could have been one and the same? That the body which
was cremated could have been the body which Jardine saw in the lane?

"Again, at the first glance, the question looked absurd. The first body
was seen by Jardine more than six weeks before the alleged death of
Maddock; and the body which he saw at the Samways' house was that of a
man newly dead, with rigor mortis just beginning. It was, indeed barely
conceivable that the Hampstead body was not actually dead and that the
man might have lingered on alive for six weeks. But this suggestion
failed to fit the known facts in two respects, In the first place, the
body which Jardine saw in the lane was, from his description, pretty
unmistakably a dead body, and, in the second, the sham illness of Maddock
and the elaborate, leisurely preparations suggest a complete control of
the time factor, which would be absent if those preparations were
adjusted to a dying man who might expire at any moment.

"Rejecting this suggestion, then, the further question arose. Is it
possible that the body that was seen in the lane could, after an interval
of six weeks, have been produced in Gayton Street, perfectly fresh and in
a state of incipient rigor mortis? And when the question was thus fairly
stated, the answer was obviously in the affirmative. For, is it, not a
matter of common knowledge that the bodies of sheep are habitually
brought from New Zealand to London, traversing the whole width of the
Tropics in the voyage, and are delivered, after an interval of more than
six weeks, perfectly fresh and in a state of incipient rigor mortis? The
physical possibility was beyond question.

"But if physically possible, was such preservation practicable? Well, how
are the bodies of the sheep preserved? By exposing them continuously to
intense cold. And how is that intense cold produced? Roughly speaking, by
the volatilization of a liquified gas--ammonia, in the case of the sheep.
But behold! The very man whom we are suspecting of being the agent in
this crime is a man who has command of large quantities of a liquified
gas, and who has hired a mineral water factory for no apparent reason and
put the premises to no apparent use."

At this point Jervis brought his fist down with a bang on the arm of his
chair. "Idiot!" he exclaimed. "Ass, fool, dolt, imbecile that I am! With
those cylinders staring me in the face, too! Of course, it was that
interval of six weeks that brought me up short. And yet I had actually
heard Jardine describe the cloud of carbon dioxide snow that fell on his
face! Don't you consider me an absolute donkey, Thorndyke?"

"Certainly not," replied Thorndyke. "You happened to miss a link and, of
course, the chain would not hold. It occurs to us all now and again. But,
do you see, Jardine, how 'the stone which the builders rejected has
become the head of the corner'? Don't you understand how, when I reached
this point, there rose before me the picture of that cellar with the
commonplace objects that it contained? The case, seven feet by two and
a-half--so convenient for preserving a body in a bulky packing; the two
waterproof sheets--so well adapted to holding a mass of carbon dioxide
snow in contact with the body; the mass of straw--one of the most perfect
non-conductors--so admirably fitted for its use as a protective packing
for the frozen body; and lastly, those ten empty cylinders, of which
seven had been used for some purpose unknown to us? Let this case be a
lesson to you, Jardine, not only in legal medicine but in clinical
medicine, too, to take the facts as you find them--relevant or
irrelevant, striking or commonplace--note them carefully and trust them
to find their own places in the inductive scheme."

"It has been a most instructive lesson to me," said I; "especially your
analysis of the reasoning by which you identified the criminal."

"Hum," said Thorndyke. "I didn't know I'd got as far as that."

"But if the body was preserved in a frozen state, there could not be much
doubt as to who had preserved it."

"Possibly not," Thorndyke agreed. "But I had not proved that it had been
so preserved, but only that it was possible for it to have been; and that
the supposition of its having been so preserved was in agreement with the
known circumstances of the case. But I must impress on you that up to
this point I was dealing in pure hypothesis. My hypothesis was perfectly
sound, perfectly consistent in all its parts, and perfectly congruous
with all the known facts, but it did not follow therefore that it was
true. It was entirely unverified; for hitherto I had not one single item
of positive evidence to support it.

"Nevertheless, the striking agreement between the hypothesis and the
known facts encouraged me greatly; and, as it was evident that I had now
exhausted the material yielded by the cremation incident, I decided to
take up the clue at the other end; to investigate the details of the
Hampstead affair. To this end I called on Jardine, who very kindly went
over the case with me afresh. And here it was that I first came within
hail of positive evidence. On his wall was pinned an oil sketch, and on
that sketch was a distinct print of a right thumb. It was beautifully
clear; for the paint having been dry on the surface but soft underneath,
had taken the impression as sharply as a surface of warm wax.

"Now, you will remember that I took possession of the letter which
summoned Jardine to the mineral water works and I may now say that I
tested it most carefully for finger-prints. But paper is a poor material
on which to develop invisible prints owing to its absorbent nature and I
had very indifferent success. Still, I did not fail entirely. By the
combined use of lycopodium powder and photography I obtained impressions
of parts of two finger-tips and a portion of the end of a right thumb.
They were wretched prints but yet available for corroboration, since one
could see part of the pattern on each and could make out that the
ridge-pattern of the thumb was of the kind known as a 'twinned loop.'

"Bearing this fact in mind, you will understand that I was quite
interested to find that the print on the sketch--also that of a right
thumb--had a twinned loop pattern. I noted the fact as a coincidence,
but, of course, attached no importance to it until Jardine told me that
the artist who painted the sketch habitually worked in gloves; and even
then I merely made a mental note that I would ascertain who and what the
artist was.

"I need not go over our examination of the scene of the crime. I need
only say that I was deeply interested in following the track along which
the body had been carried because I was on the look-out for something;
and that something was a house or other building in which the body might
have been temporarily deposited.

"My hypothesis seemed to demand such a building. For, since the body was
quite fresh and rigor mortis was only beginning when Jardine saw it at
Gayton Street, it must have been frozen very shortly after death. Now, it
obviously could not have been carried from Hampstead to Gayton Street on
a man's back; the alternative is either a vehicle waiting at an appointed
place--and necessarily not far away--or a house or other building to
which the body could be taken. But the vehicle would, under the
circumstances be almost impracticable. It would hardly be possible to
make an appointment with any exactness as to time; and the presence of a
waiting or loitering vehicle would, at such an hour--it was about
midnight, you will remember--be almost certain to arouse suspicion and
inquiry.

"On the other hand, a house to which the body could be conveyed would
meet the conditions perfectly. When once the body was deposited there,
the danger of pursuit would be practically at an end; and it would be
quite possible to have a supply of the liquid gas ready for use on its
arrival. This is assuming long premeditation and very deliberate
preparation; an assumption supported by Gill's peculiar tenancy of the
factory.

"I, therefore, kept a sharp look-out for a likely house or building; and,
as Jardine and I came out of Ken Wood by the turnstile, behold! a house
which answered the requirements to perfection. It was a solitary house;
there was no other house near; and it lay right on the track along which
the body had apparently been carried. Instantly, I decided to investigate
the recent history of that house and its tenants; but Jardine saved me
the trouble. From him I learned that, at the time of the assumed murder,
it had been inhabited by the artist whom he had mentioned, but that it
had now been empty for a week or two.

"Here were news indeed! This artist, who habitually wore gloves and whose
right thumb-print was a twinned loop, had been living in this house at
the time of the assumed murder, but had been living elsewhere at the time
of the cremation! It was a striking group of facts, and I eagerly availed
myself of the opportunity of looking over the house.

"At first, the examination was quite barren and disappointing. The man's
habits, as shown by the few discarded articles of use or other traces,
were of no interest to me--and still less to Jardine; and of traces of his
personality there were none. I searched all the rejected canvases and
every available scrap of paper in the hope of collecting some fresh
finger-prints, but without the smallest result. In fact, the examination
looked like being an utter failure up to the very last, when we entered
the stable-loft; but here I came upon one or two really significant
traces of occupation.

"The first of these was a smooth, indented line on the floor, as if some
heavy, metallic object had been dragged along it, with other, rougher
lines, apparently made by a heavy wooden case. Then there was a quantity
of straw, not new straw such as you might expect to find in a
stable-loft, but straw that had evidently been used for packing. And,
finally, there was a pair of canvas pliers which appeared to have been
strained by a violent effort to rotate from right to left some hard,
metallic body, three quarters of an inch wide, with sharp corners and
apparently square in section; some body, in fact, that in shape, in size
and apparently in material, was identical with the square of the cock on
one of the liquid gas bottles; which appeared to have been connected with
a screw thread and had clearly required great force to turn it with this
inadequate appliance.

"The evidence collected from the loft, suggesting that a large case had
been moved in and out and that a gas cylinder had been opened, you will
say was of the flimsiest. And so it was. But the effects of evidence are
cumulative. To estimate the value of these observations made in the loft,
you must add them to the facts just obtained concerning the artist
himself, the position of his house and the date on which he vacated it;
and these coincidences and agreements must be added to--or, more
strictly, multiplied into--the body of coincidences and agreements which
I have already described.

"But the evidence collected at the house was the least important part of
the day's 'catch.' On returning to Jardine's rooms I ventured to borrow
the sketch and took it home with me; and when I compared the thumb-print
on it with the photograph of the thumb-print on the letter--employing the
excellent method of comparison that is in use at Scotland Yard--there
could be no possible doubt (disregarding for the moment, the chances of
forgery) that they were the prints of one and the same thumb.

"Here, then, at last I had stepped out of the region of mere hypothesis.
Here was an item of positive evidence, and one, moreover, of high
probative value. It proved, beyond any reasonable doubt, the existence of
some connection between the house on the Heath and the factory in Norton
Street; and it established a strong presumption that the artist and the
man at the factory were the same person; the weak point in this being the
absence of proof that the thumb-print on the painting was made by the
artist.

"And here, Jardine, I would draw your attention to the interesting way in
which, when a long train of hypothetical reasoning has at length elicited
an actual, demonstrable truth, that truth instantly reacts on the
hypothesis, lifting it as a whole on to an entirely different plane of
probability. I may compare the effect to that of a crystal, dropped into
a super-saturated solution of a salt, such as sodium sulphate. So long as
it is at rest, the solution remains a clear liquid; but drop into it the
minutest crystal of its own salt, and, in a few moments the entire liquid
has solidified into a mass of crystals.

"So it was in the present case. In the instant when it became an
established fact that the house at Hampstead and the factory in Norton
Street had been occupied by the same person, the entire sequence of
events which I had hypothetically constructed sprang from the plane of
mere conceivability to that of actual probability. It was now more likely
than unlikely that the unknown cleric had been murdered, that his body
had been conveyed to the artist's house, that it had there been frozen,
transferred to the factory, preserved there for some weeks, passed over
the wall to the Samways' house, and finally cremated under the name of
Septimus Maddock.

"All that now remained to be done was the verification and identification
of the body. As to the first, I examined the will at Somerset House and
found it, as the American detectives suspected, a mere notification to
the New York authorities that Septimus Maddock was dead. I wrote to the
detective agency and in due course came O'Donnell with the answers to my
questions; from which we learned for certain that the artist was Septimus
Maddock and that the assumed peculiarity of the hands consisted of
brachydactyly. And then came the good Father Humperdinck to enable us to
give a name to the body and to furnish us with that unlocked for means of
identification. Henceforward, all was plain sailing with only one
possible source of failure; the possibility that the bullet might have
been subsequently extracted. But this was highly improbable. We knew that
the wound had healed completely, and it was pretty certain that the
bullet was lying quietly encysted or embedded in the bone. Still, I will
confess that I have never in my life been more relieved than I was when
my eyes lighted on that dent in the ilium with the stain of lead oxide
round it."

"So I can imagine," said Jervis. "It was a triumph; and you deserved it.
I have never known even my revered senior to work out the theory of a
crime more neatly or with less positive matter to work from. And I
suppose you have a pretty clear and connected idea of the actual sequence
of events."

"I think so," replied Thorndyke, "although much of it is necessarily
conjectural. I take it that Maddock, while hiding in Bruges under the
name of Burton, made the acquaintance of Reinhardt, and saw in the rich,
friendless, eccentric bachelor a suitable subject for a crime which he
had probably already considered in general terms. I should think that
they were probably somewhat alike in appearance and that the idea of
personation was first suggested by the circumstance that they both wore
gloves habitually. Maddock will have learned of Reinhardt's intended
visit to England and immediately begun his preparations. His scheme--and
a most ingenious one it was, I must confess--was clearly to cause
Reinhardt to disappear in one locality and produce his body after a
considerable interval in another at some distance; and the house on the
Heath was apparently taken with this object and to be near Reinhardt's
haunts. I take it, that on the night of the murder, Reinhardt had an
appointment to visit him at that house, but that, having learned at Miss
Vyne's of the sudden illness of Brother Bartholomew, he suddenly altered
his plans and refused to go. Then Maddock--who had probably waited for
him on the road--seeing his scheme on the point of being wrecked, walked
with him as he was going home and took the risk of killing him in
Millfield Lane. The risk was not great, considering the time of night and
the solitary character of the place, and the distance from the house was
not too great for a strong man, as Maddock seems to have been, to carry
the body.

"Death was almost certainly produced by a stab in the back; and Maddock
was probably just about to carry the body away when destiny, in the form
of Jardine, appeared. Then Maddock must have lurked, probably behind the
fence which had the large hole in it, until Jardine went away, when he
must instantly have picked up the body, carried it down the lane, pushed
it over the fence--detaching the reliquary as he did so--carried it away
to the house, stripped it and proceeded at once to freeze it, having
provided a bottle of the gas in readiness.

"The next morning he will have gone to Marchmont's office, probably
dressed in Reinhardt's clothes, from thence to Charing Cross, and, with
Reinhardt's luggage, gone straight on to Paris, leaving the body packed
in an abundance of the carbonic acid snow. At Paris he will have made his
arrangements with Desire and then disappeared, returning in disguise to
England to carry out the rest of the plan. And a wonderfully clever plan
it was, and most ingeniously and resolutely executed. If it had
succeeded--and it was within a hair's breath of succeeding--the hunted
criminal, Maddock, would have been beyond the reach of Justice for ever,
and the fictitious Reinhardt might have lived out his life in luxury and
absolute security."

As Thorndyke concluded, he rose from his chair, and, stepping over to a
cabinet, drew from some inner recess a cigar of melanotic complexion and
repulsive aspect.

Jervis looked at it and chuckled. "Thorndyke's one dissipation," said he.
"At the close of every successful case he proceeds, as a sort of
thanksgiving ceremony, to funk us out of these chambers with the smoke of
a Trichinopoly cheroot. But listen! Don't light it yet, Thorndyke. Here
comes some harmless and inoffensive stranger."

Thorndyke paused with the cigar in his fingers. A quick step ascended the
stairs and then came a sharp, official rat-tat from the little brass
knocker. Thorndyke laid the cigar on the mantelpiece and strode over to
the door. I saw him take in a telegram, open it, glance at the paper and
dismiss the messenger. Then, closing the door, he came back to the
fireside with the "flimsy" in his hand. "There, Jardine," said he, laying
it on my knee; "there is your order of release."

I picked up the paper and read aloud its curt message. "Maddock arrested
Folkestone now in custody Bow Street. Miller."

"That means to say," said Thorndyke, "that the halter is already around
his neck. I think I may light my Trichinopoly now."

And he did so.

There is little more to tell. This has been a history of coincidences and
one more coincidence brings it to a close. The very day on which my
formal engagement to Sylvia was made public, chanced to be the day on
which the execution of Septimus Maddock was described in the papers. On
that day, too, the portrait of poor Letitia, painted by that skilful and
murderous hand, was placed in the handsome ebony frame that I had caused
to be made for it. As I write these closing words, it hangs before me,
flanked on either side by the little jar of violets that are renewed
religiously from day to day by my wife or me. The pale, inscrutable eyes
look out on me, her friend whom she loved so faithfully and who so little
merited her love; but as I look into them, the picture fades and shows me
the same face glorified, waxen, pallid, drowsy-eyed, peaceful and
sweet--the dead face of the woman who gave her heart's blood as the price
of my ransom, and who was fated then to pass--out of my life indeed, but
out of my heart's shrine and my most loving remembrance, never.



THE END



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