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Title: Felo de Se?
Author: R Austin Freeman
eBook No.: 0500361.txt
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Title: Felo de Se?
Author: R Austin Freeman

*

CONTENTS

PART I. THE GAMBLER: NARRATED BY ROBERT MORTIMER

CHAPTER I. THE MAN IN THE PORCH
CHAPTER II: JOHN GILLUM
CHAPTER III: THE GAMING HOUSE
CHAPTER IV: ABEL WEBB, DECEASED
CHAPTER V: CLIFFORD'S INN
CHAPTER VI: THE PASSING OF JOHN GILLUM
CHAPTER VII: THE CORONER'S INQUEST

PART 2: THE CASE OF JOHN GILLUM, DECEASED: NARRATED BY CHRISTOPHER JERVIS, M.D.

CHAPTER VIII: IS THERE A CASE?
CHAPTER IX: THE EMPTY NEST
CHAPTER X: MR. WEECH DISAPPROVES
CHAPTER XI: A FRESH PUZZLE
CHAPTER XII: THE PURSUIT OF DR. PECK
CHAPTER XIII: DR. AUGUSTUS PECK
CHAPTER XIV: FURTHER EXPLORATIONS
CHAPTER XV: SERMONS IN DUST
CHAPTER XVI: THE DISCLOSURE
CHAPTER XVII: A SYMPOSIUM
CHAPTER XVIII: CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE
CHAPTER XIX: RE-ENTER MR. SNUPER
CHAPTER XX: EPILOGUE

*

PART I: THE GAMBLER: Narrated by Robert Mortimer

CHAPTER I: THE MAN IN THE PORCH

THERE IS SOMETHING ALMOST uncanny in the transformation which falls
upon the City of London when all the offices are closed and their
denizens have departed to their suburban homes. Throughout the working
hours of the working days, the streets resound with the roar of traffic
and the pavements are packed with a seething, hurrying multitude. But
when the evening closes in, a strange quiet descends upon the streets,
and the silent, deserted by-ways take on the semblance of thoroughfares
in some city of the dead.

The mention of by-ways reminds me of another characteristic of this
part of London. Modern, commonplace, and dull as is the aspect of
the main streets, in the areas behind and between them are hidden
innumerable quaint and curious survivals from the past; antique
taverns lurking in queer, crooked alleys and little scraps of ancient
churchyards, green with the grass that sprang up afresh amidst the
ashes of the Great Fire.

With one of these curious "hinterlands"--an area bounded by Cornhill,
Gracechurch Street, Lombard Street, and Birchin Lane, and intersected
by a maze of courts and alleys--I became intimately acquainted, since
I usually crossed it at least twice a day going to and from the branch
of Perkins's Bank at which I was employed as a cashier. For the sake of
change and interest, I varied my route from day to day--all the alleys
communicated and one served as well as another--but the one that I
favoured most was the very unfrequented passage which took me through
the tiny churchyard of St. Michael's. I think the place appealed to me
specially because somewhere under the turf reposes old Thomas Stow,
grandfather of the famous John, laid here in the year 1527 according to
his wish "to be buried in the litell Grene Churchyard of the Parysshe
Church of Seynt Myghel in Cornehyll, betwene the Crosse and the Church
Wall, nigh the wall as may be." Many a time, as I passed along the
paved walk, had I tried to locate his grave; but the Great Fire must
have made an end of both Cross and wall.

I have referred thus particularly to this "haunt of ancient peace"
because it was there, on an autumn even in the year 1929, that there
befell the adventure that has set me to the writing of this narrative;
an adventure which, for me, changed the scene in a mom from a haunt of
peace to a place of gruesome and tragic memories.

It was close upon eight o'clock when I emerged from the bank and
started rather wearily on my way homeward. It had been a long day, for
there had been various arrears to dispose of which had kept us hard at
work hours after the bank had closed its doors; and it had been a dull,
depressing day, for the sky had been so densely overcast that no single
gleam of sunlight had been able to break through, and we had perforce
kept the lamps alight all day. Even now, as I came out and shut the
door behind me, twilight seemed to have descended on the City, though
the sun had barely set and it was not yet time for the street lamps to
be lit.

I stood for a moment looking up the gloomy, twilit street, hesitating
as to which way to go. Our branch was in Gracechurch Street close to
the corner of Lombard Street, and both thoroughfares were equally
convenient. Eventually, I chose Gracechurch Street, and, crossing
to the west side, walked up it until I came to the little opening
of Bell Yard. Turning into the dark entry, I trudged up the narrow
passage, cogitating rather vaguely and wishing that I had provided
some thing better than the scanty cold supper that I knew awaited me
at my lodgings. But I was tired and chilly and empty; I had not had
enough food during the day, owing to the pressure of work; so that the
needs of the body tended to assert themselves to the exclusion of more
elevated thoughts.

At the top of the yard I turned into the little tunnel-like covered
passage that led through into Castle Court and brought me out by the
railings of the churchyard. Skirting them, I went on to the entrance to
the paved walk and passed in up a couple of steps and through the open
gateway, noting that even "the litell Grene Churchyard" looked dull
and drab under the lowering sky and that lights were twinkling in the
office windows beyond the grass plot and in those of the tavern at the
side.

At the end of the paved walk is a long flower-bed against the wall of
St. Michael's Church, and, just short of this, the arched entrance
to another tunnel-like covered passage into which, near its middle,
the deep south porch of the church opens. I was about to step down
into the passage--which is below the level of the churchyard--when I
noticed a hatlying on the flower-bed close up in the corner. It lay
crown downwards with its silk lining exposed, and, as it appeared to
be in perfectly good condition, I picked it up to examine it. It was
quite a good hat; a grey soft felt, nearly new, and the initials A.
W., legibly written on the white lining, suggested that the owner had
set some value on it. But where was the owner? And how on earth came
this hat to belying abandoned by the wayside? A man may drop a glove
or a handkerchief or a tobacco pouch and be unaware of his loss; but
surely the most absent-minded of men could hardly lose his hat without
noticing the fact. And then the further question arose: what does one
do with a derelict hat? Of course, I could have dropped it where I
had found it; but from this my natural thriftiness and responsibility
revolted. It was too good a hat to have been casually flung away by its
owner, and, since Fate had appointed me its custodian, the duty seemed
to devolve on me to restore it.

I stood for a few moments holding the hat and looking through the dark
passage at the shape of light at the farther end, but no one was in
sight; and I now recalled that I had not met a soul since I entered
Bell Yard from Gracechurch Street. Still wondering how I should set
about discovering the owner of the hat, I stepped down into the passage
and began to walk along it; but when I reached the middle and came
opposite the church porch, my problem seemed to solve itself in a
rather startling fashion; for, glancing into the porch, I saw, dimly
but quite distinctly in its shadowy depths, a man sitting on the lowest
of the three steps that lead up to the church door. He was leaning back
against the jamb limply and helplessly as if he were asleep or, more
probably, drunk, the latter probability being rather confirmed by a
stout walking-stick with a large ivory knob, which had fallen beside
him, and what looked like a rimless eyeglass which lay on the stone
floor between his feet. But what was more to my present purpose was the
fact that not only was he bare-headed, but that no hat was visible.
This, then, was doubtless the owner of the derelict.

Holding the latter conspicuously, I stepped into the cavern-like porch,
and, addressing the man in a rather loud tone, enquired whether he had
lost a hat. As he made no reply or any sign of having heard me, I was
disposed to lay the hat down by his side and retire, when it occurred
to me that he might possibly have had some kind of fit or seizure. On
this I approached closer, and, stooping over him, listened for the
sound of his breathing. But I could hear nothing nor could I make out
any movement of his chest.

As he was sitting, or sprawling, with his legs spread out, his
shoulders supported by the jamb of the door and his head drooping
forward on his chest, his face was almost hidden from me. But I now
knelt down beside him, and, taking my petrol lighter from my pocket,
held it close to his face. And then, as the gleam of the flame fell on
him, I sprang up with a gasp of horror. The man's eyes were wide open,
staring before him with an intensity that was in hideous contrast to
his limp and passive posture. And the face was unmistakably the face of
a dead man.

Dropping the hat by his side, I ran through the passage into St.
Michael's Alley and down this to Cornhill. At the entrance to the alley
I stood for a moment looking up and down the street. In the distance,
near the Royal Exchange, I could see a white-sleeved policeman
directing the traffic, and I was about to start off towards him when,
glancing eastward, I saw a constable approaching along the pavement.
At once I hurried away in his direction and we met nearly opposite St.
Peter's Church. A few words conveyed my information and secured his
very complete attention. "A dead man, you say. Whereabouts did you see
him?"

"He islying in the south porch of St. Michael's Church, just up the
alley."

"Well," said he, "you had better come along and show me"; and without
further parley he started forward with long, swinging strides that gave
me some trouble to keep up with him. Back along Cornhill we went and up
the alley until we came to the arched entrance to the passage, and here
the constable produced his lantern and switched on the light. As we
came opposite the porch and my companion threw a beam of light into it,
the cave-like interior was rendered clearly visible with the dead man
sitting, or reclining, just as I had left him.

"Yes," said the constable, "there don't seem to be much doubt about
his being dead." Nevertheless, he put his ear close to the man's face,
raising the head gently, and felt for the pulse at the wrist. Then he
stood up and looked at me.

"I'd better get on the phone," said he, "and report to the station.
They'll have to send an ambulance to take him to the mortuary. Will you
stay here until I come back? I shan't be more than a minute or two."

Without waiting for an answer, he strode out of the passage and
disappeared down the alley, leaving me to pace up and down in the
gathering gloom or to stand and gaze out on the darkening churchyard.
It was a dismal business, and very disturbing to the nerves I found
it; for I am rather sensitive to horrors of any kind, and, being now
tired and physically exhausted, I was more than ordinarily susceptible.
I had suffered a severe shock, and its effect was still with me as I
kept my vigil, now glancing with horrid fascination at the shadowy
figure in the dark porch, and now stealing away to the entrance to be
out of sight of it. Once, a man came in from the offices across the
churchyard, but he hurried through into the alley, brushing past me and
all unaware of that dim and ghostly presence.

After the lapse of two or three incredibly long minutes the constable
reappeared, and, almost at the moment of his arrival, the lights were
switched on and a lamp in the vault of the passage exactly opposite the
porch threw a bright light on the dead man.

"Ah!" the officer commented cheerfully, "that's better. Now we can see
what we are about." He stepped up to the body, and, stooping over it,
cast the light from his lantern on the step behind it.

"There's something there on the stone step," he remarked; "some broken
glass and some metal things. I can't quite see what they are, but we'd
better not meddle with them until the people from the station arrive.
But while we are waiting for the ambulance I'll just jot down a few
particulars." He produced a large note-book, and, taking an attentive
look at me, added: "We'll begin with your name, address and occupation."

I gave him these, and he then enquired how I came to discover the body.
I had not much to tell, but, such as my story was, he wrote it down
verbatim in his note book and made me show him the exact spot where I
had found the hat; of which spot he entered a description in his book.
When he had completed his notes, he read out to me what he had written;
and on my confirming its correctness, he handed me his pencil and asked
me to add my signature.

He had just returned the note-book to his pocket when an inspector
appeared at the alley entrance of the passage, closely followed by two
constables carrying a stretcher and one or two idlers who had probably
been attracted by the ambulance. The inspector walked briskly up to the
porch, and, having cast a quick glance at the dead man, turned to the
constable.

"I suppose," said he, "you have got all the particulars. Which is the
man who discovered the body?"

"This is the gentlemen, sir," the constable replied, introducing me;
"Mr. Robert Mortimer; and this is his statement."

He produced his note-book and presented it, open, to his superior; who
stood under the lamp and ran his eye over the statement.

"Yes," he when he had finished reading and returned the book to its
owner, "that's all right. Not much in it except the hat. Just show me
where you found it."

I conducted him up into the churchyard and pointed out the corner of
the flower-bed where the hat had beenlying. He looked at it attentively
and then glanced down the passage, remarking that the dead man had
apparently come down from Castle Court. "By the way," he added, "I
suppose you don't recognise him?"

"No," I replied, "he is a total stranger to me."

"Ah, well," said he, "I expect we shall be able to find out who he is
in time for the inquest."

His reference to the inquest prompted mc to ask if I should be wanted
to give evidence.

"Certainly," he replied. "You haven't much to tell, but the little that
you have may be important."

We were now back at the porch, on the floor of which the stretcher had
been placed. At a word from the inspector the two bearers lifted the
corpse on to it, and, having laid the hat on the body and covered it
with a waterproof sheet, grasped the handles of the stretcher, stood
up, and marched away with their burden, followed by the spectators.

The raising of the body had brought into view the objects which the
constable had observed and which now appeared to be the fragments
of a broken hypodermic syringe. These the inspector collected with
scrupulous care, spreading his handkerchief on the upper step to
receive them and picking up even the minute splinters of glass that had
scattered when the syringe was dropped. When he had gathered up every
particle that was visible, and taken up some drops of moisture with a
piece of blotting-paper, he made his collection into a neat parcel and
put it in his pocket. Then he cast a rapid but searching glance over
the floor and walls of the porch, and, apparently observing nothing
worth noting, began to walk towards the alley.

"I wonder," he said as we turned into it and came in sight of the
waiting ambulance, "how long that poor fellow had beenlying there when
you first saw him. Not very long, I should say. Couldn't have been.
Somebody must have noticed him. However, I expect the doctor will be
able to tell us how long he has been dead. And you had better note down
all that you can remember of the circumstances so that you can be clear
about it at the inquest."

Here we came out into Cornhill, where the ambulance had been drawn up
opposite the church, and the inspector, having wished me "good night,"
pushed his way through the considerable crowd that had collected and
took his place in the ambulance beside the driver. Just as the vehicle
was moving away and I was about to do the same, a voice from behind me
enquired:

"What's the excitement? Motor accident?"

I seemed to recognise the voice, which had a slight Scottish
intonation, and when I turned to answer I recognised the speaker. He
was a Mr. Gillum, one of the bank's customers with whom I had often
done business.

"No," I replied, "I don't know what it was, but the dead man looked
perfectly horrible. I can't get his face out of my mind."

"Oh, but that won't do," said Gillum. "It has given you a bad shake up,
but you've got to try to forget it."

"I know," said I, "but just now I'm rather upset. This affair caught me
at the wrong time, after a long, tiring day."

"Yes," he agreed, "you do look a bit pale and shaky. Better come along
with me and have a drink. That will steady your nerves."

"I am rather afraid of drinks at the moment," said I. "You see, I have
had a long day and not very much in the way of food."

"Ah!" said he, "there you are. Horrors on an empty stomach. That's all
wrong, you know. Now I'm going to prescribe for you. You will just come
and have a bit of dinner and a bottle of wine with me. That will set
you up and will give me the great pleasure of your society."

Now I must admit that a bit of dinner and a bottle of wine sounded
gratefully in my ears, but I was reluct ant to accept hospitality
which my means did not admit conveniently of my returning. A somewhat
extravagant taste in books absorbed the surplus of my modest income
and left me rather short of pocket-money. However, Gillum would take
no denial. Probably he grasped the position completely. At any rate,
he brushed aside my half-hearted refusal without ceremony and, even
while I was protesting, he hailed a prowling taxi, opened the door and
bundled me in. I heard him give the address of a restaurant in Old
Compton Street. Then he got in beside me and slammed the door.

"Now," said he, as the taxi trundled off, "for 'the gay and festive
scenes and halls of dazzling light'; and oblivion to the demmed
unpleasant body."


CHAPTER II: JOHN GILLUM


AS THE TAXI PURSUED ITS unimpeded way westward through the
half-populated streets, I reflected on the curious circumstances that
had made me the guest of a man who was virtually a stranger to me,
and I was disposed to consider what I knew of him. I use the word
"disposed" advisedly, for, in fact, my mind was principally occupied
by my late experiences, and the considerations which I here set down
for the reader's information are those that might have occurred to me
rather than those that actually did.

I had now been acquainted with John Gillum for some six months; ever
since, in fact, I had been transferred to the Gracechurch Street branch
of the bank. But our acquaintance was of the slightest. He was one of
the bank's customers and I was a cashier. His visits to the bank were
rather more frequent than those of most of our customers and on slack
days he would linger to exchange a few words or even to chat for a
while. Nevertheless, our relations hardly tended to grow in intimacy;
for though he was a bright, gay, and rather humorous man, quite
amusing to talk to, his conversation persistently concerned itself
with racing matters and the odds on, or against, particular horses, a
subject in which I was profoundly uninterested. In truth, despite our
rather frequent meetings, his personality made so little impression
on me that, if I had been asked to describe him, I could have said no
more than that he was a tallish, rather good-looking man with black
hair and beard which contrasted rather noticeably with his blue eyes,
that he spoke with a slight Scotch accent and that two of his upper
front teeth had been rather extensively filled with gold. This latter
characteristic did, indeed, attract my notice rather unduly; for,
though gold is a beautiful material (and one that a banker might be
expected to regard with respectful appreciation), these golden teeth
rather jarred on me and I found it difficult to avoid looking at them
as we talked.

Yet even in those days I felt a certain interest in our customer; but
it was a purely professional interest. As cashier, I naturally knew all
about his account and his ways of dealing with his money, and on both,
and especially his financial habits, I occasionally speculated with
mild curiosity. For his habits were not quite normal, or at least were
not like those of most other private customers. The latter usually make
most of their payments by cheque. But Gillum seemed to make most of his
in cash. It is true that he appeared to pay most of his tradespeople
by cheque, but from time to time, and at pretty frequent intervals,
he would present a "self" cheque for a really considerable sum--one,
or even two or three hundred pounds, and occasionally a bigger sum
still--and take the whole of it away in pound notes.

It was rather remarkable, in fact very much so when I came to look over
the ledger and note the fluctuations of his account. For at fairly
regular intervals he paid in really large cheques--up to a thousand
pounds--mostly drawn upon an Australian bank, which for a time swelled
his account to very substantial proportions. But, by degrees, and not
very small degrees, his balance dwindled until he seemed on the verge
of an overdraft, and then another big cheque would be paid in and give
him a fresh start.

Now there is nothing remarkable in the fluctuation of an account when
the customer receives payment periodically in large sums and pays out
steadily in the small amounts which represent the ordinary expenses of
living. But when I came to cast up Gillum's account, it was evident
that the great bulk of his expenditure was in the form of cash. And it
seemed additional to the ordinary domestic payments, as I have said;
and I found myself wondering what on earth he could be doing with his
money. He could not be making investments, or even "operating" on the
Stock Exchange, for those transactions would have been settled by
cheque. Apparently he was making some sort of payments which had to be
made in cash.

Of course it was no business of mine. Still, it was a curious and
interesting problem. What sort of payments were these that he
was making? Now when a man pays away at pretty regular intervals
considerable sums in cash, the inference is that he is having some sort
of dealings with someone who either will not accept a cheque or is not
a safe person to be trusted with one. But a person who will not accept
payment by an undoubtedly sound cheque is a person who is anxious to
avoid evidence that a payment has been made. Such anxiety suggests
a secret and probably unlawful transaction; and in practice, such a
transaction is usually connected with the offence known as "demanding
money with menaces." So, as I cast up the very large amounts that
Gillum had drawn out in cash, I asked myself, "Is he a gambler, or
has he fallen into the clutches of a blackmailer?" The probability of
the latter explanation was suggested by certain large withdrawals at
approximately quarterly periods, and also by the fact that Gillum not
only took payment almost exclusively in pound notes, but also showed a
marked preference for notes that had been in circulation as compared
with new notes, of the serial numbers of which the bank would have
a record. Still, the two possibilities were not mutually exclusive.
A gambler is by no means an unlikely person to be the subject of
blackmail.

Such, then, were the reflections that might have occupied my mind
had it not been fully engaged with my recent adventure. As it was,
the short journey was beguiled by brief spells of scrappy and
disjointed conversation which lasted until the taxi drew up opposite
the brilliantly lighted entrance of the restaurant and a majestic
person in the uniform of a Liberian admiral hurried forward to
open the door. We both stepped out, and when Gillum had paid the
taxi-driver--extravagantly, as I gathered from the man's demeanour--we
followed the admiral into a wide hail where we were transferred to the
custody of other and less gorgeous myrmidons.

Giamborini's Restaurant was an establishment of a kind that was beyond
my experience, as it was certainly beyond my means. It oozed luxury
and splendour at every pore. The basin of precious marble in which
I purged myself of the by-products of the London atmosphere was of
a magnificence that almost called for an apology for washing in it;
the floor of delicate Florentine mosaic seemed too precious to stand
upon in common boots; while as to the dining-saloon, I can recall it
only as a bewildering vision of marble and gilding, of vast mirrors,
fretted ceilings and stately columns--apparently composed of gold and
polished gorgonzola--and multitudinous chandeliers of a brilliancy
that justified Dick Swiveller's description, lately quoted by Gillum.
I found it a little oppressive and was disposed to compare it (not
entirely to its advantage) with the homely Soho restaurants that I
remembered in the far-off pre-war days.

A good many of the tables were unoccupied, though the company was
larger than I should have expected, for the hour was rather late
for dinner but not late enough for theatre suppers. Of the guests
present, the men were mostly in evening dress, and so, I suppose,
were the women, judging by the considerable areas of their persons
that were uncovered by clothing. As to their social status I could
form no definite opinion, but the general impression conveyed by
their appearance was that they hardly represented the cream of the
British aristocracy. But perhaps I was prejudiced by the prevailing
magnificence.

"What are you going to have, Mortimer?" my host asked as we took
our seats at the table to which we had been conducted. "Gin and It,
cocktail, or sherry? You prefer sherry. Good. So do I. It is wine that
maketh glad the heart of man, not these chemical concoctions."

He selected from the wine list the particular brand of sherry that
commended itself to him and then gave a few general directions which
were duly noted. As the waiter was turning away, he added: "I suppose
you haven't got such a thing as an evening paper about you?"

The waiter had not. But there was no difficulty. He would get one
immediately. Was there any particular paper that would be preferred?

"No," replied Gillum, "any evening paper will do." Thereupon the waiter
bustled away with the peculiar quick, mincing gait characteristic
of his craft; a gait specially and admirably adapted to the rapid
conveyance of loaded trays. In a minute or two he came skating back
with a newspaper under his arm and a tray of hors-d'oeuvres and two
brimming glasses of sherry miraculously balanced on his free hand.
Gillum at once opened the paper, while I fixed a ravenous eye on the
various and lurid contents of the tray. As I had expected, he turned
immediately to the racing news. But he did not read the column. After a
single brief glance, he folded up the paper and laid it aside with the
remark, uttered quite impassively: "No luck."

"I hope you haven't dropped any money," said I, searching for the least
inedible contents of the tray.

"Nothing to write home about," he replied. "Fifty."

"Fifty!" I repeated. "You don't mean fifty pounds?"

"Yes," he replied calmly. "Why not? You can't expect to bring it off
every time."

"But fifty pounds!" I exclaimed, appalled by this horrid waste of
money. "Why, it would furnish a small library."

He laughed indulgently. "That's the bookworm's view of the case but it
isn't mine. I've had my little flutter and I'm not complaining; and
let me tell you, Mortimer, that I have just barely missed winning a
thousand pounds."

I was on the point of remarking that a miss is as good as a mile,
but, as that truth has been propounded on some previous occasions, I
refrained and asked: "When you say that you have just barely missed
winning a thousand pounds, what exactly do you mean? How do you know
that you nearly won that amount?"

"It is perfectly simple, my dear fellow," said he. "I laid fifty pounds
on the double event at twenty to one against. That is to say, I backed
two particular horses to win two particular races. Now, one of my
horses won his race all right. The other ought to have done the same.
But he didn't. He came in second. So I lost. But you see how near a
thing it was."

"Then," said I, "if you had backed the two horses separately, I suppose
you would have won on the whole transaction?"

"I suppose I should," he admitted, "but there would have been nothing
in it. The horse that won was the favourite. But the double event was a
real sporting chance. Twenty to one against. And you see how near I was
to bringing it off."

"Nevertheless," I objected, "you lost. And you went into the business
with the knowledge, not only that you might lose, but that the chances
that you would lose were estimated at twenty to one. I should have
supposed that no sane man would have taken such a chance as that."

He looked at me with a broad smile that displayed his golden teeth to
great disadvantage.

"Thus saith the banker," he commented. "But you are taking a perverted
view of the transaction. You are considering it as an investor might;
as a means of realising the greatest profit with the smallest risk.
That is the purely commercial standpoint. But I am not engaged in
commerce; I am engaged in sport--in gambling, if you prefer the
expression. Now the essence of the sport of gambling is the possibility
that you may lose. If you were certain to win every time, it might be
highly profitable but it would be uncommonly poor fun. Believe me,
Mortimer, the heart and soul of the game is the chance of losing."

He spoke quite gravely and earnestly and the statement put me, for the
moment, rather at a loss for a reply. For, in its mad way, it was true,
and yet, from a practical point of view, it was nonsense. Meanwhile,
the waiter brought and placed before us a strangely sophisticated dish,
based, I believe, on fish, and then proceeded to fill our glasses
with champagne. It was, I think, quite good champagne, though I am
no authority, my extreme dissipation, in the ordinary way, not going
beyond the traditional "chop and a pint of claret." At any rate, it was
highly stimulating, and when Gillum had raised his glass and, with a
toast "to the next double event," emptied it and insisted on my doing
likewise, the last traces of my depression vanished.

"I admit, Gillum," said I, resuming the discussion, "that there is a
certain amount of truth in what you say. But we must try to keep some
sense of proportion. Fifty pounds is a devil of a price for the fun of
a little flutter. Surely you could have got your sport at a cheaper
rate than that."

"But that is just what you can't do," said he. "What you don't seem to
realise is that the intensity of the thrill is strictly proportionate
to the amount of the possible loss, and, of course, of the possible
gain. I could have laid five shillings on the double event and been
secure from appreciable loss. But then I should have stood to gain a
mere flyer. No, my young friend, you can't get a respectable thrill for
five bob. And there is another thing that you are over-looking. You
speak as if I lost every time. But I don't. Sometimes I win. If I never
won, it would be a dull game and I expect I shouldn't go on."

"I think you would," said I. "You would always be hoping that at last
you would get your money back."

"Perhaps you are right," he conceded. "It is certainly the fact that a
genuine gambler is not put off by a succession of losses. The oftener
he loses the more dogged he becomes."

"So I have always understood," said I. "But to come to your own case,
you say that sometimes you win. How often do you win? Taking your
betting transactions as a whole, how does the balance stand? Are you in
pocket or out?"

"Out, of course," he replied promptly. "Every body is, excepting the
bookies. And they don't do it for sport, but just as a cold-blooded
matter of business. They don't lose, in ordinary circumstances, and
they don't win to a considerable extent. They just balance their
books and make a comfortable living. But, of course, the fact that
the bookies are in pocket by the transaction is clear proof that the
backers, as a whole, must be out."

There seemed to me something very odd and rather abnormal in the
reasonable and lucid way in which he discussed this absurdity. I had
the sort of feeling that one might have had in discussing insane
delusions with a lunatic. But I returned to the charge, futile as I
knew the discussion to be.

"Very well," said I, "you agree that the balance of profit and loss is
against you. How much, you know better than I do, but I suspect that
your losses, from month to month, are pretty heavy." (Of course, I did
not "suspect." I knew. The bank's books told the story.) "You must be
paying very considerable sums for your little flutters and I put it to
you, isn't it a most monstrous waste of money?"

He laughed cheerfully and refilled our glasses.

"I see," he replied, "that you are an incorrigible financier. You are
taking a completely perverted view of the matter. You speak of waste of
money. But what, after all, is money?"

"If you are asking me that as a banker," I replied, "I can only say
that I don't know. I know what money was before the war, but now that
the politicians and financial theorists have taken it over, it has
become something quite different and I don't profess to understand it."

"That isn't quite what I meant," said he. "I was referring to money in
general terms. What is it? It is simply a means of obtaining certain
satisfactions or pleasures. No one wants money for itself excepting a
miser."

"You can rule out misers," said I. "They are an extinct race. A miser
doesn't hoard paper vouchers which have only a conventional and
temporary value."

"No, I suppose not," he agreed. "At any rate, I am not a miser,"
(which was most unquestionably true), "and I have no use for money
excepting as a means of obtaining satisfactions. And that is the
rational use of money. I put it to you, Mortimer, if a man has money
and there are certain things that he desires and that money will buy,
is it not obviously reasonable that he should exchange the thing that
he doesn't want for the things that he does? You speak of waste of
money. But is it wasted when it is being used for the very purpose for
which it exists? Take, for instance, this bottle of champagne--which,
by the way, is getting low and needs replacing. Now, I think we like
champagne."

"I do, certainly," I admitted.

"I am glad you do. So do I. And we can get it in exchange for your
despised paper vouchers. Accordingly, like sensible men, we make
the exchange; and I submit that it is a reasonable and profitable
transaction. For if, as you suggest, the money is a mere fleeting
convention, the champagne for which we have exchanged it isn't. It is
real champagne."

Seeing that we had already emptied one bottle, the cogency of this
argument did not impress me. Probably I should have proceeded to rebut
it, but at this paint an interruption occurred and the discussion broke
off.

When we had entered the room, I had noticed a party of three persons,
two men and a woman, at a table in a corner. They had caught my
attention because we had evidently caught theirs. But I don't think
that Gillum observed them; and when we had seated ourselves, as his
back was towards them, they were outside his range of vision whereas
I was nearly facing them; and throughout our meal I found myself
from time to time looking in their direction, attracted as before
by the occasional glances that they cast in ours. It seemed to me
that they must be acquainted with Gillum, for there was otherwise
nothing noticeable in our appearance. At any rate, they were obviously
interested in us and I received the impression that we were being
discussed.

They did not prepossess me favourably. I cannot say exactly why, but
there was an indefinable some thing about them that jarred on me. The
men did not look like gentlemen, and the woman, dressed in the extreme
of an unbecoming fashion, was so heavily and coarsely made up as to
extinguish any good looks that she might have had. Everything about
her seemed to be artificial. Her hair was of an unnatural colour, her
cheeks were visibly painted, and her lips were plastered with crude
vermilion like the lips of a circus clown.

That these people were acquaintances of Gillum's became evident when
they rose to depart, for they steered a course across the room which
brought them opposite our table. And here they halted; and, for the
first time, Gillum became aware of their presence. His expression did
not convey to me that he was over joyed, but as the lady bestowed on
him the kind of leer that is known as "giving the glad eye," he made
shift to produce a responsive smile.

"Now, don't let us interrupt your dinner," said she, as he rose to
shake hands. "But, as you cut us dead when you came in, we have just
come across to say 'howdy' and let you know that we saw you. We are now
off to the club. Shall you be coming along presently?"

Gillum was inclined to be evasive.

"I don't quite know what the programme is," he replied. "It depends on
what my guest would like to do."

"Bring him along with you," said she, "and let him see the ball roll.
I'm sure he'd enjoy it, wouldn't you?"

As she asked the question, she turned to me with the peculiar cat-like
grin that one sees in newspaper portraits of young women, with a
distinct tendency to the "glad eye"; and I noticed that it seemed a
rather tired eye and slightly puffy about the lower lids.

"I am not really an enthusiast in regard to billiards," I replied, "and
I am no player. But it is interesting enough to look on at a good game."

Apparently I had said something funny, for the lady greeted my answer
with a gay--and rather strident--laugh, and the two men, who had been
looking on in silence, broke into sour grins. But Gillum, also smiling,
evidently wished to get rid of his acquaintances for he interposed with
the air of closing the conversation.

"Well, we shall see what we feel like when we have dined. I won't make
any engagement now."

The lady took the hint graciously enough. "Very well, Jack," said she.
"We will leave you in peace and hope to see you later;" and with this
and another smile which embraced us both, she moved off with her two
companions, neither of whom seemed to take any notice of Gillum.

"What was the joke?" I asked when they had gone. "And what club was she
referring to?"

"It isn't really a club," replied Gillum. "It is what, I suppose, you
would call a gambling hell; a place where you can stake your money at
trente et quarante, rouge et noir, chemin de fer, or any of the regular
gambling games. The joke was that the ball she meant was not a billiard
ball but the little ball that rolls round the roulette wheel. It is not
a particularly amusing joke."

"No," I agreed. "And are these people connected with the club?"

"Very much so," he replied. "That tall chappie--the one with the
squint--runs the place, and I should think he does fairly well out of
it. He is a Frenchman of the name of Foucault."

"He doesn't look a particularly amiable person," I remarked, recalling
the rather sulky way in which he had looked on at the interview.

Gillum laughed. "He is a silly ass," said he, "as jealous as the devil;
and as Madame's manners are, as you saw, of the distinctly coquettish,
slap and tickle order, there is pretty constant trouble. But he needn't
worry. There is no harm in the fair Marie. Her engaging wiles are all
in the way of business."

"Do you spend much time at the club?" I asked.

"I drop in there pretty frequently," he replied.

"And I suppose you drop a fair amount of money."

"I suppose I do. But not so much as you would think. You orthodox
financiers seem to imagine that a gambler always loses, but that is
quite a mistake. The luck isn't always on the one side. Sometimes I
pick up a little windfall that pays my expenses for quite a long time."

"Still," said I, "the balance must be against you in the long run."

"I have already admitted," he replied, "that I lose on my gambling
transactions as a whole, and probably I lose, in the long run, at the
club, though it isn't so easy to keep accounts of what I do there. But
supposing that the balance is against me. What about it? Foucault runs
the club to make a profit. But he can only make a profit if the players
make a loss. What they lose to the bank is, in effect, their payment to
him for the entertainment that he supplies. Hang it all, Mortimer, you
can't expect to get your fun for nothing."

"Some people do," said I, "the people, I mean, who have infallible
systems. I gather that you don't use a system."

"Well," he replied cautiously, "I haven't managed yet to devise a
system that really works, but I have given some thought to the matter.
There ought to be some way of ascertaining how the laws of chance
operate, and if one could discover that, one would have the means of
circumventing them."

"You haven't tried the plan of doubling the stakes when you lose?"

"Yes, I have; and I must admit that, for sheer excitement there is
nothing like it. Your real, rabid gambler loves it--and usually cleans
himself out. But for a sane and sober gambler it is not practicable.
There are too many snags. To begin with, at the best you only get your
money back plus the amount of the lowest stake. Consequently, the first
stake must be a fairly large one or there is nothing in it. But if you
start with a substantial stake and the luck is against you, you are
up in enormous figures before you know where you are. For instance,
supposing you are playing roulette and you lay a hundred pounds on
manque or impair or any of the even chances. If you lose four times in
succession, which would not be extraordinary, you have dropped fifteen
hundred pounds; and the danger is that you may empty your pocket before
the winning coup comes round. Then you have lost the lot. But there
is another snag. The bank won't let you go on doubling as long as you
like. There is a limit set to each kind of bet, and when you reach that
limit you are not allowed to double any more. If you go on playing you
have got to go back to a flat stake, in which case it is impossible for
you to win back what you have lost. So, regarded as a serious method of
play, the doubling racket is no go."

"It seems astonishing," said I, "that anyone should practise it. But
perhaps they don't."

"Oh, don't they?" said Gillum. "You must understand, Mortimer, that to
the real, perfect gambler, the charm of the game is the risk of losing.
The bigger the risk, the greater the thrill. Plenty of people at the
club, particularly the roulette players, double the stakes when they
lose; and there is a temptation, you know, when you have lost, to take
another chance in the hope of getting your money back. But it is a bad
plan, because you stand to lose so much more than you stand to gain."

"Don't some people double on their winnings?" I asked.

"Ah," said he, "but that is quite a different kind of affair. There
is some sense in that because it is quite the opposite of the other
method. If you win you win, you don't merely get your money back; and
if you eventually lose, you have only lost your original stake--plus
your winnings, of course. Supposing you take an even chance at
roulette, say you put a hundred pounds on red and you win; and suppose
that you leave the stake and the winnings--two hundred pounds--on the
table as a fresh stake. If the red turns up again you take up four
hundred, of which one hundred is your original stake. You have won
three hundred. But if you lose, you have only lost a hundred, plus the
three that you had won. From a gambler's point of view it is quite a
sound method."

"Yes," I agreed, "I see that, at least, you start with the knowledge
of the amount that you stand to lose. But the whole thing is beyond my
comprehension. I can't begin to understand the state of mind of a man
who is prepared to risk his money in a transaction over which he has no
control and in respect to which no judgement, calculation or prevision
is possible."

He laughed gaily and refilled our glasses. "You are a banker to the
finger-tips, Mortimer," said he; "and, as you happen to be my banker,
I am not disposed to quarrel with your eminently correct outlook. I
suppose you have never seen a gambling den.''

"Never," I replied; "and I am an absolute ignorant on the subject of
gambling. I hardly know how to play the common card games."

"I think you ought to know what these shows are like," said he. "I can
assure you that, as a mere spectacle, a regular gaming house is worth
seeing. What do you say to strolling round to the club with me when we
have had our coffee? It's too late to do anything else."

It was really too late to do anything but go home and to bed. But
I could hardly, in the circumstances, suggest that course. Nor, in
fact, was I particularly disposed to; for the excellent dinner and the
equally excellent wine had produced a state of exhilaration that made
me not disinclined for adventure. In my normal state, nothing would
have induced me to set loot in a gambling den. Now I fell in readily
enough with Gillum's suggestion.

"But shan't I be expected to play?" I enquired. "Because I am not going
to."

"That will be all right," he replied. "I shall explain to Madame, and
she will see that you are left in peace. But you understand that this
is an unregistered club and that you will keep your own counsel about
your visit there. I shall have to guarantee your secrecy."

I gave the necessary undertaking and Gillum then held the wine bottle
up to the light.

"There's half a bottle left," said he, making as if to refill my glass.
"Won't you really? Not another half-glass? Well, I don't think I will,
either. We will just have our coffee and a cognac and then toddle round
to the club and see the ball roll."


CHAPTER III: THE GAMING HOUSE


FROM GIAMBORINI'S WE STROLLED forth into Wardour Street, and,
proceeding in a southerly direction, promptly turned into Gerrard
Street. I knew the place slightly and on my occasional passage through
it had found a certain bookish interest in contrasting its recent faded
and shabby aspect with that which it must have presented in the days
when Dryden was a resident, and, later, when the Literary Club with
Johnson, Reynolds, Goldsmith and Gibbon, held its meetings here.

"Queer old street," Gillum commented, looking about him disparagingly.
"Quite fashionable, I believe, at one time, but it is down on its luck
nowadays. Very mixed population, too. All sorts of odd clubs, British
and foreign, and tradesmen who seem to have survived from the Stone
Age. There is a fellow some where along here who makes spurs. Think of
it. Spurs! In the twentieth century. This is our show."

He halted at a doorway which, shabby and grimy as it was, yet preserved
some vestiges of its former dignity, and having run his eye over an
assortment of bell handles, put his finger on an electric button which
surmounted them and pressed several times at irregular intervals.

"Are you ringing out a code message?" I asked.

"Well, yes, in a way," he replied. "There is a particular kind of ring
that the regular members give just to let the people upstairs know that
it isn't a stranger. There is always the possibility of a raid and our
friends like to have time to make the necessary arrangements."

The idea of a police raid was not a pleasant one and the suggestion
tended rather to damp my enthusiasm. I expressed the hope that this
would not happen to be the occasion of one.

"No, indeed," said Gillum, "it would be unfortunate for you. Wouldn't
increase your prestige at the bank. But you needn't worry. There has
never been any trouble since I have known the place. I have sometimes
suspected that Foucault has some sort of discreet understanding with
the authorities, but in any case, I know there is a bolt hole through
into the next house where an Italian club has its premises."

This did not sound very reassuring. I felt the exhilarating effects
of the champagne evaporating rapidly; and when at length the door
was opened, the aspect of the janitor did not produce a favourable
impression. He was a big, powerful man, with a heavy jaw and beetling
brows and a strong suggestion of the professional pugilist. He carried
an electric lamp, the light of which he cast on us while he inspected
us critically. Then the truculent expression faded suddenly from his
face and a cheerful Irish voice exclaimed:

"Whoy, it's Mr. Gillum. Good evening, sorr. And the other gentleman,
would he be a friend of yours?"

"Yes," replied Gillum, "it's all right, Cassidy. All's well and the
lights are burning brightly, sir."

Mr. Cassidy chuckled as he let us in and shut the door. "Many's the
time," said he, "as I've spoken them same wurrds in the days when I
used the sea. What did ye say the gentleman's name was?"

"His name is Mortimer," replied Gillum.

"To be sure it is," said Cassidy, adding, as he threw his light
downwards: "Kape your oyes on the stairs, sorr. There's a tread loose
at the turn."

The stairs were, in fact, in somewhat indifferent repair, but I
noticed as the light flickered over them that this had once been
quite a handsome staircase though a trifle narrow; and even now the
fine moulded handrail and the graceful twisted balusters redeemed
its extreme shabbiness. At the top of the second flight we came to a
bare landing with a door facing us. This Cassidy opened, and, having
admitted us, passed in himself, crossed the room and disappeared
through mother doorway, presumably to report our arrival and identity.

I looked round the room which we had entered and was conscious of
a faint sense of anti-climax. It was so very ordinary and so very
innocent; much like the interior of the cheaper kind of old-fashioned
Soho restaurant. At the farther end of the room was a large sideboard,
presided over by a man in a white coat and cap and piled with a variety
of food, including a ham, a number of different types of sausage, a
great stack of sandwiches and long French loaves. On a shelf behind was
a long row of bottles of mineral waters but on the sideboard I noted
several champagne bottles, a few of whisky, and some of absinthe and
other liqueurs.

The room was moderately full of people; full enough to have given Mr.
Cassidy considerable occupation if they had been admitted separately.
Some of them were lounging about, talking; others were seated at
little tables, taking food rather hurriedly, and some were actually
drinking ginger ale, though most of them were provided with wine,
whisky or Dutch gin. One or two of the tables were furnished with
chess-boards and sets of dominoes, but none of them appeared to be in
use. Apparently their function was purely psychological. They were part
of the "make-up" of the establishment.

I had not much time to examine the company, but a rapid inspection
conveyed to me the impression that they were all rather abnormal
and slightly disreputable. There was an air of eagerness, anxiety
and excitement about them, mingled, in some cases, with a sort of
wild hilarity. Those at the tables gobbled their food as if they
were hastily stoking up and were anxious to get the business over.
Particularly I noticed a group of four men standing by the sideboard
devouring sandwiches wolfishly and gulping champagne from tumblers.
But, as I said, I had little time to observe them, for, after a brief
pause and a curious glance round the room, Gillum conducted me to a
door near the farther end from which Cassidy emerged as we approached.

There was certainly nothing innocent about the room that we now
entered. A single glance convicted it. The roulette table alone
furnished evidence to which there could be no answer, and the groups
of haggard, intent men and women gathered round the card tables that
filled most of the room, if less conclusive to a possible raider, were
unmistakable, seen as I saw them.

From one of these tables the lady of the restaurant rose, and laying
down her cards, came to meet us.

"So you have persuaded Mr. Mortimer to come," she said, bestowing a
gracious smile on me and offering an extensive sample of teeth for my
inspection (apparently she had got my name from Mr. Cassidy).

"Yes," replied Gillum, "but he has only come as a spectator. I have
just brought him round to show him the ropes in case he may feel
disposed for an evening's sport later on."

"That is very good of you, Jack," said she. "Of course, he can please
himself as to whether he plays or not. Perhaps, when he has looked on
for a while, he may feel inclined to try his luck. People who come to
look on very often do."

"I have no doubt they do," said Gillum with a sly mile. "The complaint
is catching and fools who come to scoff remain to play."

"I hope Mr. Mortimer hasn't come to scoff," said she; and when I had
protested with more emphasis than sincerity she asked: "Where is your
pupil going to take his first lesson?"

"Well," he replied, "as he knows practically nothing about card games,
I think roulette will suit him best. Besides, it is the beginner's game
and it is the most typical game of chance."

"That's true," Madame agreed, "though it seems to me a dull game, if
you can call it a game at all. Let me find a couple of chairs so that
you and your pupil can sit together; and then, when Mr. Mortimer is
comfortably settled, I want to have a few words with you."

We secured two chairs and placed them in a vacant place at the end
of the table by the compartment distinguished by a red lozenge on
the green cloth. Then Madame introduced me to the croupier, whom she
addressed as Hyman--his surname I found later to be Goldfarb--and when
Gillum had placed his hat on his chair, she linked her arm with his and
led him away among the multitude of card tables.

Left to myself, I first disposed of my hat and stick under my chair, as
I noticed that several other men had done, though there was a large hat
rack in the adjoining room. Then I proceeded to make my observations.

There was plenty to observe, and it was all strange and novel to me.
There were, for instance, the various players, most of them seated
at the table, though some preferred to stand and hover about behind
the chairs, and there was the croupier, a pleasant faced Jew, calm,
impassive and courteous, though obviously very much "on the spot"; and
there were the parties of players at the card tables, most of whom I
could see from my position without appearing to spy on them.

I considered them one by one. My next neighbour was an elderly woman
whom I judged to be French, who sat like a graven image, silently
and immovably intent on her game. She seemed to have the disease
in a chronic form, for she played mechanically without a sign of
satisfaction when she won or annoyance when she lost. At each spin
of the wheel she laid a ten-shilling note on the space before which
she sat--that marked with the red lozenge. If she won, she put the
note that she had gained into a little hand bag and held the other
in readiness for the next turn of the wheel; if she lost, she fished
a note out of the bag for the next coup. So she went on as long as I
observed her; always the same stake on the same spot. It looked deadly
dull, and it was not gambling at all in any proper sense; for, by the
ordinary laws of chance, it was almost impossible for her either to win
or lose to an appreciable extent. So fatuous her proceedings seemed
that I almost felt more respect for her next-door neighbour, a small
German who might, from his appearance, have been a waiter. He certainly
took risks, for his formula was two numbers "a cheval," and he kept to
the same two numbers. As the odds against him were seventeen to one,
he naturally lost with great regularity; and when he lost cursed under
his breath--not very far under--shook his head and grimaced angrily. I
think he must have been pretty near the end of his resources, for I saw
him take out a wallet and look into it anxiously. But at this moment
his magic number was announced, whereat he gave a yell of ecstasy,
grabbed up his winnings, stuffed them into his wallet excepting one
pound note, which he laid on the same spot as before and lost within a
minute.

From the roulette table my attention wandered to the other occupants of
the room and occasionally to Gillum and Madame, who walked slowly to
and fro at the end of the room conversing earnestly. Nor was I the only
observer. Several of the card-players cast a glance from time to time
at the pair, and the three occupants of the table from which Madame
had risen made no secret of their interest. Two of these I could not
see very well but M. Foucault sat facing me; and never have I seen a
more evil expression than that which his countenance bore as he watched
them. He was not a pleasant-looking man at the best, and a slight
squint did not improve matters; but now his aspect was positively
villainous.

Not that his manifest anger was without provocation, for Madame's
oglings and her caressing manner towards Gillum, regardless of the
company, would have been offensive to the most tolerant of husbands.
She might have been Gillum's lover--and not a very reticent lover at
that. It is true that Gillum took it all very coolly with no sign of
responsive demonstrations; but I felt that he was being more than
indiscreet. Obviously, in his association with this woman, who seemed
of set purpose to exasperate her husband, he was taking the risk of
serious trouble.

Presently, to my relief they strolled over to Foucault's table and
while Madame resumed her seat, Gillum drew up a spare chair and sat
down facing her husband. Apparently the lady was giving some sort
of explanation for she spoke volubly, leaning across the table to
avoid raising her voice, while the others leaned forward to listen,
and Foucault appeared to be gazing simultaneously at his wife and
Gillum--an optical illusion, of course, due to his "swivel eye."

The discussion did not last long, and it was evidently quite an
amicable affair, for when Gillum stood up, he shook hands with them
all, including the grim-faced Foucault, before turning away to rejoin
me; and I noted the leave-taking with considerable satisfaction, for it
was getting alarmingly late and I began to feel that I had had enough
of this not very thrilling form of entertainment.

"Yes," Gillum agreed, when I ventured on a hint to that effect, "time's
getting on and you've to be at the bank as fresh as a lark to-morrow
morning. But we must have one little flutter before we go. What shall
it be? Shall we try an experiment with the doubling plan that we were
discussing at dinner?"

Without waiting for an answer he laid a pound note on the red beside
the ten-shilling note that the elderly lady had just put down. I
watched with unexpected in as the revolving wheel was checked and
the little white ball clattered round the dial, and was sensibly
disappointed when it settled at last in compartment 21. For 21 happened
unfortunately to be black. But Gillum was as indifferent as the old
lady, and while Mr. Goldfarb raked in the bank's winning's and paid out
to the players who had won, he calmly selected two fresh notes from his
bulging wallet.

Once more the wheel was spun, the ball was thrown out on to the
revolving surface, then the croupier chanted "Rien ne va plus" and
checked the wheel, Gillum laid down his two notes, and a dozen pairs of
eyes anxiously followed the travels of the dancing ball. At length it
dropped into compartment 32--black again; and Gillum sorted out four
pound notes from his wallet.

So it went on for a while. Regardless of the law of probability, the
ball persisted in dropping into black compartments, and at each failure
Gillum doubled his stake. I watched the proceedings with ridiculous
anxiety. At the fourth losing coup when the croupier raked in eight
of Gillum's pound notes, I noted mentally that my friend was already
fifteen pounds out of pocket. If he lost the next coup, that fifteen
would become thirty-one. It was positively harrowing to a thrifty man
like myself; accustomed to keep a rigid account of every shilling that
I spent.

However, he did not lose this time. My anxious eye following the ball,
saw it eventually settle in compartment four which was red; and the
croupier's rake, instead of sweeping away Gillum's sixteen pounds,
added to them another sixteen.

"There, you see," said Gillum; "I am one pound to the good; and that
is all I should have gained if I had gone on till doomsday. But I am a
gainer to the extent that I have got back what I had lost."

He began to pick up the notes, counting them as he did so. Among them
there had been four ten-shilling notes, but now there were only three;
the explanation of which was that the old lady, when she had gathered
up her two notes, had quietly added to them one of Gillum's. I saw her
do it, and so did he; and he now ventured, with the utmost delicacy,
to point out the little inadvertency. The lady gazed at him stonily,
and I think was about to contest the matter, but at this moment a shout
from the farther end of the room, followed by a crash and the sound of
shattering glass, effectually diverted our attention.

I looked round quickly and saw two men, each grasping the other by
the hair and both yelling like Bedlamites, one accusing the other--in
Italian--of being a cheat and the other retorting--in French--that his
accuser was a liar. A table and two chairs had been capsized, and very
soon, as the combatants gyrated wildly and clawed at each other, more
tables were capsized. Then the occupants of those tables joined in the
fray with suitable vocal accompaniments and in a moment pandemonium
reigned in the previously quiet room. As Foucault and his two friends
sprang up and charged into the midst of the mêlée, the door burst open
and Cassidy rushed in like an angry bull.

"We'd better clear out of this," said Gillum. "If they keep up this
hullabaloo they'll bring the police up." As I agreed heartily, he
grabbed up his winnings (but I observed that there were now only two
ten-shilling notes) and we retrieved our hats from under the chairs and
stole out as well as we could through the little crowd of spectators
from the restaurant-room who had gathered round the door to look on at
the battle. With the aid of my pocket lamp we made the perilous passage
of the stairs--not forgetting the loose tread--and at last emerged
safely into the street.

"My word!" exclaimed Gillum, as we crossed the road the more completely
to sever our connection with the club, "how those dagoes do yell when
they have a bit of a scrap. Just listen to them."

There was not much need to listen for the uproar was such that windows
were opening and various night-birds were appearing from the doors of
adjacent houses. Evidently, it was desirable for us to get out of the
neighbourhood as quickly as possible; which we did, walking briskly but
with no outward sign of undue hurry until we were safely out in Wardour
Street, where we turned to the left and headed for Leicester square.
Here we had the good fortune to encounter prowling, nocturnal taxi, the
driver of which Gillum hailed by voice and gesture. As the vehicle drew
up to the kerb he turned to me and asked: "Whereabouts do you hang out,
Mortimer?"

"I live at Highbury," I replied.

"Yes, but that's a trifle vague. What's the exact address?" I gave him
my full postal address which he communicated to the driver. "And," he
added, "you can drop me at Clifford's Inn Passage, opposite the Inner
Temple Gate. Will that do for the whole journey?

"That" appeared to be a ten-shilling note and the driver replied that
"it would do very well, thank you, sir"; whereupon we got in and the
cab trundled away towards the Strand. I made some ineffectual efforts
to refund my share of the payment, but Gillum declared that the
calculation was beyond his arithmetic and suggested that we should work
it out on some more suitable occasion. We were still arguing the point
when the cab stopped in the shadow of St. Dunstan's Church and Gillum
got out.

"Well, good night, Mortimer," said he, "or good morning, to be more
exact. I hope you have had a pleasant and instructive evening. You have
certainly had a full one what with corpses, illegal gambling, and the
battle of the dagoes."

He shut the door and waved his hand, and the taxi resumed its journey,
turning up Fetter Lane and later heading for Gray's Inn Road. Now that
I was alone, I felt a strong disposition to go to sleep; but by an
effort I managed to keep awake and watch the familiar landmarks as they
slipped by until, in a surprisingly short time, the taxi drew up at the
gate of the eligible suburban residence which enshrined the two rooms
that served me as a home. The driver actually got out to open the door
for me--possibly suspecting some temporary disability, or perhaps as a
demonstration of his satisfaction with the fare. At any rate, he gave
me a cheerful "good night" and I inserted my latch-key with ease and
precision as the clock of a neighbouring church was striking two.


CHAPTER IV: ABEL WEBB, DECEASED


THE EVENTS OF THE EVENING which I had spent with Gillum gave me a
good deal to think about. There was no longer any mystery as to
what he did with the large sums that he drew from the bank. He just
gambled them away. As to how much it was possible for an inveterate
gambler like Gillum to drop in any one transaction, I could form no
guess. Apparently there was no limit excepting the total amount that
the gambler possessed. I had heard and read of players who had lost
thousands in a single game, but it had always seemed to me incredible.
Now, however, judging by what I had seen, and still more by what Gillum
had said, I felt that nothing could overstate the monstrous truth.

The reflection was a sad and depressing one. It made me quite
unhappy. For Gillum was no longer a mere customer. He had become an
acquaintance, almost a friend, and I had found him a pleasant, likeable
man, and apparently a man of good intelligence apart from his insane
hobby. It really distressed me to think of a man with his brilliant
opportunities frittering away the means of achievement in this puerile
sport. And then, what of the future? If his source of supply was a
permanent one he might go on indefinitely, simply flinging away his
income as fast as he received it. But suppose it were not a stable,
continuing income. Suppose it should dwindle or cease? What then? It
was pretty certain that this relatively wealthy man would very soon be
reduced to actual poverty.

But the mystery of Gillum's expenditure was not completely solved.
Apart from the big drafts in cash at irregular intervals there
were those regular, periodic drafts which I had regarded with such
suspicion. Had our evening's experiences thrown any light on them? I
could not say positively that they had. And yet there was at least a
suggestion. The whole atmosphere of that sordid gaming house with its
deeply shady frequenters: the sinister-looking proprietor--manifestly
hostile to Gillum--the painted Jezebel, his wife, the ruffian Cassidy,
obviously a paid bully, and finally, Gillum's long and mysterious
conference with Madame; if these did not actually offer a suggestion
of blackmail, they did at least suggest the very conditions in which
blackmail is apt to occur.

From Gillum and his affairs my thoughts turned at intervals to the
dead man who had been the means of our introduction. I had read a
brief notice of the discovery in the morning paper and had expected to
receive on the same day a summons to attend the inquest. Actually, I
did not receive it until the evening of the second day, when I found it
awaiting me at my lodgings, requiring my attendance on the following
day at two o'clock in the afternoon. Accordingly, on my arrival at the
office in the morning, I showed it to our manager, and, having received
his authority to absent myself from the bank, duly presented myself at
the time and place appointed.

The body had been identified as that of a man named Abel Webb, and that
was all that was said about him in the first place. Further particulars
were left to transpire in the evidence.

There is no need for me to describe the proceedings in detail apart
from the essentials. The coroner opened with a concise statement of
the matter which formed the subject of the inquiry, the jury were then
conducted to the mortuary to view the body, and when they had returned
and taken their places the coroner proceeded to deal with the evidence.

"I think," said he, "that we had better begin by calling Mr. Mortimer.
His evidence is of no great importance but it comes first in the order
of time."

My name was accordingly called, and when I had given the necessary
particulars concerning myself, the coroner said: "Now, Mr. Mortimer,
just tell us how you came to be connected with the subject of this
inquiry. We can ask any necessary questions later."

Thus directed, I gave a plain and rather bald account of my discovery
of the body and the circumstances leading thereto, to which the jury
listened with eager interest; naturally enough, since the coroner's
statement had given but the barest indication of the nature of the case.

"We understand," said the coroner, "that you did not recognise deceased
as a person whom you had ever seen before?"

"That is so," I replied. "The man was a stranger to me."

"Would it have been possible for anyone passing along the alley as you
did to fail to notice the body?"

"Yes," I replied, "and not only possible but rather probable. It was
dark in the alley and still darker in the church porch. I am not sure
that I should have seen the body myself but for the fact that I had
found the hat and was on the look-out for the owner. Moreover, I was
walking very slowly at the moment when I saw the body."

"You think, then, that a person walking at an ordinary pace and not
closely observing his surroundings, might have passed the porch without
seeing the body?"

"I think it extremely likely," I answered. "In fact, while I was
waiting for the constable, a man did actually pass through without
noticing the body. He was certainly in a great hurry, but I think if he
had not been, he still might not have noticed anything."

"That," said the coroner, addressing the jury, "is, of course, only an
opinion, but it agrees with the facts to which the witness has deposed;
and the point may be of some importance. Does anything further occur to
you, Mr. Mortimer, or do you think that you have told us all that you
have to tell?"

"I think I have told you all I know about the matter," I replied;
whereupon the coroner, having invited the jury to ask any questions
that they wished to ask and receiving no response, the depositions were
read and signed and the next witness called.

Constable Walter Allen of the City Police, having completed the
preliminaries, deposed as follows: "I was on duty in Cornhill on the
evening of Monday the ninth of September. At eight-two p.m. on that
evening I was accosted by the last witness, Mr. Robert Mortimer, who
informed me that he had seen the dead body of a man lying in the
passage leading from St. Michael's Alley to the churchyard. I went with
him at once to the place mentioned and there saw the body of deceased
in the church porch. The body was partly sitting and partly lying. It
was seated on the lowest of the three steps and was leaning back in
the corner against the church door. I examined the body sufficiently
to assure myself that the man was really dead and then I went away and
telephoned to the station in Old Jewry, reporting the discovery and
returned to the passage to wait until I was relieved."

"You have heard what the last witness said about the darkness of the
passage," said the coroner. "Do you agree that it would have been
possible for anyone to pass through the passage without noticing the
body?"

"Yes," the constable replied, "I do. It was growing dark out in the
street, and in the passage, which is a sort of tunnel, the light was
very dim; and in the porch, which is about eight feet deep, it was
practically dark. A person might easily have passed through the covered
passage without seeing the body in the porch."

This completed the constable's evidence, and as he retired, the name of
Inspector Pryor was called; whereupon that officer came forward, and
having been sworn, proceeded to give his testimony with professional
conciseness and precision. Taking up the thread of the constable's
story, he confirmed the description of the body and its position in the
porch and agreed that it might have been lying there unnoticed for some
time--perhaps as long as half an hour--before it was discovered.

"Were you able," the coroner asked, "to form any opinion as to how
deceased met with his death?"

"Yes. When the body had been put on the stretcher, I examined the
place where it had been lying and there I found the pieces of a
broken hypodermic syringe and some drops of liquid on the stone step.
The fragments of the syringe gave off a smell rather like bitter
almonds and so did the liquid, which I took up with a piece of clean
blotting-paper. The fragments of the syringe are in this box but the
blotting-paper was handed to the medical officer."

He handed a small cardboard box to the coroner who opened it, peered
in, sniffed at it, and passed it on to the jury. Then he asked: "Were
there any finger-prints on the fragments of the syringe?"

"Only a few smears that were quite undecipherable. I examined the
button of the plunger very carefully, but even there I could find
nothing but a smear."

"You were able to ascertain the identity of deceased?"

"Yes, there were a number of letters in his pocket addressed to Abel
Webb, Esq. which enabled us to make the necessary enquiries."

"Besides the syringe, did you find anything on the spot that could
throw light on this mysterious affair? Any signs of a struggle, for
instance?"

"Nothing whatever," was the reply. "But as to a struggle, seeing that
the floor of the passage is paved and that of the porch tiled, there
would hardly be any traces even if a struggle had occurred."

"No," said the coroner, "I suppose there would not." He reflected for a
few moments, and then, as there was apparently nothing more to be got
out of the Inspector, he intimated that the examination was concluded;
and when the depositions had been read and signed, the officer retired.

"I think," said the coroner, "that, as I see that Dr. Ripley is
present, we had better take the medical evidence next so as not to
detain the doctor unnecessarily."

The new witness, a small, very alert-looking gentle man, having been
sworn and having stated his name and professional qualifications,
looked enquiringly at the coroner; who, after a brief glance at his
notes, opened the examination.

"Perhaps, Doctor," said he, "it would save time if you were to give us
your evidence in the form of a statement. You saw the body, I think,
shortly after the discovery."

"Yes," replied the witness "On Monday evening, the ninth of September,
at eight-fifty-six, I received a summons by telephone from the police
to go to the mortuary to examine a body which had just been brought in.
I went at once and arrived there at five minutes past nine. There I
found the body of the deceased which had been undressed and laid on the
mortuary table. At the first glance I formed the provisional opinion
that deceased had died as a result of poisoning by hydrocyanic acid or
some cyanide compound. The face, and especially the lips, were of a
distinct violet colour. The eyes were wide open, set in a fixed stare.
The jaws were firmly closed and there was slight stiffening of the
muscles at the back of the neck. The hands were tightly clenched and
the finger nails were blue. These are the usual appearances in cases
of cyanide poisoning, but the froth on the lips, which nearly always
occurs in such cases, was absent.

"I examined the body for bruises or other signs of violence, but there
were none, excepting that on the left thigh, a couple of inches from
the groin, was a very distinct puncture which looked as if it had been
made with a hypodermic needle of unusually large size. I was shown a
broken syringe which had been found close to the body. It was not an
ordinary hypodermic syringe but a larger kind; what is known as a serum
syringe; and the needle was not a regular serum needle, but a longer
and stouter form with a larger bore, such as is used by veterinary
surgeons. I produce for your inspection an exactly similar syringe, but
fitted with an ordinary serum needle, which you can compare with the
broken syringe that was handed to you by the inspector."

He laid the syringe on the table and paused while the coroner and the
jury compared it with the fragments in the box. When they had made the
comparison and put the two syringes aside, he resumed: "The broken
syringe and the needle both contained minute quantities of a clear
liquid, which I collected in a pipette for subsequent analysis. But, at
the time, I could tell by the characteristic smell of bitter almonds
that it was one of the cyanide compounds."

"So that, in effect," said the coroner, "you had then established the
cause of death."

"Yes," was the reply, "there was practically no room for doubt. The
body showed the distinctive appearances of cyanide poisoning. There
was no froth on the lips, which suggested that the poison had not been
swallowed. There was the mark of a hypodermic needle, and there was a
syringe containing traces of a cyanide compound. It was all perfectly
consistent."

"You subsequently made a post mortem examination?"

"Yes; and, as it is very important in cases of poisoning by hydrocyanic
acid or cyanide, I made the post-mortem the same night. But first I
analysed the liquid in the pipette; which I found to be a concentrated
solution of potassium cyanide."

"Did the post-mortem throw any fresh light on the case?"

"Not very much, but it converted the inference into an ascertained
fact. I can say with certainty that deceased died from the effects of
a very large dose of potassium cyanide injected into the upper part of
the thigh--the region which is known as Scarpa's Triangle. But one,
possibly important, fact came to light, which was that the needle of
the syringe entered the great vein of the thigh--the femoral vein."

"In what respect is that fact of importance?" the coroner asked.

"In its bearing on the rapidity with which the poison will have taken
effect. Five grains of potassium cyanide will, if swallowed, produce
death in about a quarter of an hour. The same quantity injected
hypodermically would cause death in a minute or two at the most; while
if it were injected into one of the great veins, death would probably
follow in a matter of seconds. Now, in the present case, a much larger
quantity was discharged directly into this great vein; from which I
infer that death must have occurred practically instantaneously."

"Is it possible to say how much was injected?"

"Not in exact terms. I made only a qualitative analysis. Anything
like an exact estimate of quantity would have involved a long and
complicated procedure and it would have served no useful purpose. But I
can say confidently, that the amount of cyanide injected was at least
ten grains."

"When you first saw the body, did you form any opinion as to how long
deceased had been dead?"

"Yes. Judging principally by the temperature of the body, I should say
that he had been dead about an hour."

"You mentioned some stiffening of the muscles--apparently rigor mortis.
Would that occur so soon after death?"

"The clenching of the jaws and hands was not due to rigor mortis.
It was really cadaveric spasm and will have occurred at the moment
of death. But the stiffening of the neck muscles did indicate the
beginning of rigor mortis and was, of course, much earlier than in the
average of cases. But there is nothing remarkable in this early onset.
It very commonly occurs in cases of violent death and especially of
suicide. I don't think deceased had been dead more than about an hour."

The coroner wrote down this statement and appeared to scan the
preceding evidence before putting the next question. At length he
looked up and turned to the witness.

"You say that death was due to poison injected by means of a syringe.
Could that injection have been administered by deceased himself?"

"Yes. The site chosen was not a very convenient one for
self-administration but it was well within reach, and
self-administration would not have been difficult."

"So far as you could judge from your examination, was there anything
that suggested either that deceased had or had not administered the
poison to himself?"

"In a medical sense and in terms of mere physical possibility, there
was no evidence one way or the other."

The coroner looked at the witness critically, and then remarked: "I
seem to detect a note of doubt and reservation in your answer. Is that
not so?"

"Perhaps it is," the doctor replied. "But I am here as a medical
witness and my evidence is properly restricted to what I know, or can
reasonably infer from my examination of the body."

"That is a highly correct attitude, doctor," said the coroner with a
faint smile, "but I don't think we need be quite so particular. Have
you any opinion, medical or other, as to whether deceased did or did
not administer the poison to himself?"

"I have," the witness replied promptly. "My opinion is that he did not
administer the poison to himself."

"That is perfectly definite," said the coroner, "and I am sure the jury
would like to hear your reasons for that opinion, as I should myself."

"My opinion," said Dr. Ripley, "is based upon the circumstances of the
deceased's death. Either he killed himself or was killed by some other
person. There is no question of accident or misadventure. It is either
suicide or homicide. If we consider the theory of suicide, we are
confronted by two anomalies.

"The first is the syringe. Why should deceased have used a hypodermic
syringe? There is no reason at all. In the case of morphia there would
be a reason; for the poison acts comparatively slowly, and large doses,
if swallowed, tend to cause vomiting and so defeat the suicide's ends.
But cyanide poisons act very rapidly and tend to produce death before
the stomach becomes disturbed. Suicide by means of potassium cyanide is
not uncommon, but the usual method is to swallow one or more tablets;
and this is quite efficient for the purpose. I have never before heard
of a syringe being used for this poison.

"The conditions in the case of homicide are exactly the reverse. You
can't compel a man to swallow a tablet or even a liquid poison. But
you can stick a hypodermic needle into him even if he has time to
resist. And then the peculiarities of this particular syringe are
adapted to homicide but not at all to suicide. The big veterinary
needle would cause considerable pain in insertion. Its only advantage,
its large bore, enabling the syringe to be discharged rapidly, would
be of no benefit to the suicide; but it would be of vital importance
to a murderer, who would want to get the business over as quickly as
possible and make off.

"The other anomaly is the place where the death occurred. Why should
a suicide, having provided himself with the poison and the syringe,
go forth to use them in a public thoroughfare when he could have done
the business without disturbance in his own premises? And why, if he
chose a public place, should he have selected a dark corner in an
unfrequented passage? To a suicide, the solitude and obscurity of the
place would offer no advantage. But to a murderer, those conditions
would be essential; for he would want to get clear of the neighbourhood
before the body was discovered. In short, the mode of death, the means
used, and the place selected, were all unadapted to suicide, but
perfectly adapted to homicide."

As the doctor concluded his exposition, a murmur of approval arose from
the jury, and the coroner, who also appeared to be deeply impressed,
commented "Dr. Ripley has given us, in a very ingenious and cogent
argument, his reasons for taking a particular view of this case, and
I am sure that when we come to consider the evidence as a whole, we
shall give them due weight. And now, as he is a busy man, I think we
ought not to detain him any longer, unless any of you wish for further
information."

He looked enquiringly at the jury, and the foreman, in response to the
implied invitation, signified that he would like to put a question.

"The doctor," said he, "has referred to the solitude and obscurity of
the place where the body was found. I should like to ask him if he has
any personal acquaintance with that place."

"Yes," replied the witness, "I know it very well indeed. My practice is
in the City of London and I am perfectly familiar with all the courts
and alleys that form the short cuts from one main thoroughfare to
others. As to St. Michael's Alley, I think that hardly a week passes in
which I do not pass through it at least once."

"And if you pass through it," said the foreman, "I suppose other people
do."

"Undoubtedly," the witness agreed; "and in the day a fair number of
people pass up and down the alley, although after business hours, when
the City has emptied, it is very little frequented. But the point is
that when I go up the alley I go straight up to Castle Court; I don't
turn off through the covered passage. And other people do the same, and
for the same reason, which is that the covered passage also leads to
Castle Court but by a less direct route. The only people who habitually
use the covered passage are those who are employed in the office
building that faces the churchyard. When they have gone, there are
probably periods of half an hour or more during which not a soul passes
through that passage."

The foreman expressed himself as quite satisfied with the explanation
and thanked the witness, who was then released to go about his
business. When he had departed, the name of Alfred Stowell was called
and a middle-aged, gentlemanly man came forward and took his place
at the table. Mr. Stowell, having been sworn, gave his particulars,
describing himself as the manager of The Cope Refrigerating Company, of
Gracechurch Street, London.

"You have viewed the body of deceased," said the coroner. "Did you
recognise it as that of anyone whom you knew?"

"Yes. It is the body of Mr. Abel Webb, lately my assistant manager."

"How long had he been with you?"

"Less than two months. He took up his duties with us on the
twenty-second of last July."

"Do you know how he was employed before he came to you?"

"He was in the service of the Commonwealth and Dominion Steamship
Company and had been for about ten years. He had served as purser on
several of their ships and it was on account of his experience in that
capacity that my firm engaged him."

"I don't quite follow that. In what way is a purser's experience of
value to you?"

"The ships of the Commonwealth Line are engaged in the frozen meat
trade, and Mr. Webb had a rather special knowledge of refrigerating
plant, as well as of the trade in general."

"What sort of person was deceased--as to temperament, I mean? Did he
strike you as a man who might possibly take his own life?"

"Most certainly not," the witness replied. "He was of a singularly
cheerful and happy disposition and very pleased with his new occupation
after the long years at sea."

"Have you any reason to suppose that he was in financial difficulties
or in any way troubled about money?"

"No reason at all. Quite the contrary, in fact. I gathered from certain
remarks that he let fall that he was in very comfortable circumstances.
He was a bachelor without any dependants or responsibilities and had
been steadily saving money all the time that he was at sea. That is
what I understood from him. Of course, I have no first-hand knowledge
of his affairs."

"So far as you know, had deceased any enemies?"

"I am not aware that he had, and I have no reason to suppose that
he had. In the excellent testimonial from his late employers he was
described as an amiable and kindly man who was universally liked. I
know no more than that."

"Do you know of anything that could throw light on the manner and
circumstances of his death?"

"Nothing whatever," was the reply; and as this seemed to conclude the
evidence, the coroner asked the jury the usual question, and when the
depositions had been signed the witness was released.

For some time after he had retired, the coroner sat scanning his
notes with a manifestly dissatisfied air. At length he confided his
difficulties to the jury.

"There is no denying," said he, "that the evidence which we have heard
has left this mysterious affair to a great extent unelucidated; and the
question arises as to whether it is advisable to adjourn the inquiry
and endeavour to obtain further evidence. On the whole, as the police
have not succeeded in discovering any of deceased's relatives, I am
disposed to think that nothing would be gained by an adjournment.
The further elucidation, if it is possible, seems to lie outside our
province and within that of the police. Accordingly, I think it will be
best for us to try to find a verdict on the evidence which is before us.

"It is unnecessary for me to recapitulate that evidence. It was all
very clearly given and you have followed it closely and attentively.
The question that you have to decide is: Who injected the poison? If
deceased injected it himself; it is obviously a case of suicide. If you
decide that it was injected by some other person you will have to find
a verdict of wilful murder, since the injection could not have been
given for any lawful purpose.

"The difficulty of deciding between suicide and murder is that there is
no positive evidence of either. The medical evidence is to the effect
that suicide was physically possible and that murder was physically
possible. That is all that we have in the way of positive evidence.
And in considering the medical evidence we must be careful to keep the
facts separate from the opinions. The facts sworn to by the medical
witness we can accept confidently; but the witness's opinions, weighty
though they are, can be accepted only so far as your judgment confirms
them. It is you who have to find the verdict, and that verdict must be
based on the evidence which you have heard and on nothing else. That, I
think, is all I need say, except to remind you that you are not in the
position of a jury at a criminal trial, who are bound to decide yes or
no, guilty or not guilty. If, having considered the evidence, you find
it insufficient to enable you to decide between the alternatives of
murder and suicide, you are at liberty to say so."

When the coroner had finished speaking, the members of the jury drew
together and engaged in earnest and anxious consultation. It was a
difficult question that they had to settle and they very properly took
their time in debating it. At length the foreman announced that they
had agreed on their verdict, and in reply to the coroner's question
stated "We find that deceased died from the effects of a poison
injected into his body with a syringe, but whether the injection was
administered by himself or by some other person there is no evidence to
show."

"Yes," said the coroner, "I don't see that you could have found
otherwise. I shall record an open verdict and any further inquiries
that may be necessary or possible will be conducted by the police."

The proceedings having now come to an end, the audience and the
witnesses rose and filed out into the street; and as I took my way back
to the bank I reflected a little uncomfortably on what I had heard.
It was a horrible affair and profoundly mysterious. If I had been a
member of the jury my verdict would have been the same as that had been
recorded. But it would not have expressed my inward convictions. The
doctor's convincing exposition, which still rang in my ears, had but
confirmed in my mind an already formed belief.

The circumstance of the tragedy seemed to whisper 'Murder'; and as
I entered Ball Court (instinctively avoiding the neighbourhood of
the fatal passage) and threaded the maze of alleys into George Yard
and Lombard Street, I looked about me with a shuddering interest,
speculating on the way that poor Webb had gone to his death and
wondering whether the callous murderer--with the charged syringe ready
in his pocket--had walked at his side or had waylaid him in the covered
passage.


CHAPTER V: CLIFFORD'S INN


THE EVENTS OF THE EVENING which I had spent with John Gillum, though
they threw a good deal of light on his financial affairs, by no means
diminished my interest in, or curiosity concerning, those affairs. On
the contrary, having now clearly established the principal channel
through which his money flowed--virtually into the gutter--I found
myself the more concerned with the question whether that was the sole
channel or whether he might perchance be dropping money in ways even
less desirable than gambling. I have mentioned that at intervals of
about a month he was accustomed to present a "self" cheque for a
considerable amount, never less, though usually more, than five hundred
pounds. It might be that this represented merely "the sinews of war"
for the month's gambling. But to my eye it looked like something
different, something suggesting a definite periodic payment; and
this view was strengthened by the fact that other drafts, often for
large sums, were presented at irregular intervals. These, from their
irregularity in time and amount, seemed much more likely to represent
his gaming losses.

The periodic cheque was usually drawn about the fourteenth day of
the month (rather suggesting a payment on the fifteenth) and it was
Gillum's custom to notify the bank a day in advance of the amount of
cash that he intended to withdraw. Accordingly, as the day drew near, I
awaited the notification with some expectancy; and sure enough, on the
morning of the thirteenth--two days after the inquest--it was delivered
at the bank and shown to me by the manager, as Gillum usually elected
to transact his business with me. This time the amount was six hundred
and fifty pounds; and as Gillum had a preference for notes that had
been in circulation, some sorting out of the stock was necessary.

On the morning of the fourteenth, soon after the hank had opened, he
made his appearance, and coming straight over to my "pitch," laid his
cheque on the counter.

"I'm afraid I'm the bane of your life, Mortimer." said he, "with my big
cash drafts. You ought to have a note-counting machine--turn a handle,
shoot 'em out by the dozen and show the number on a dial."

"It would be a convenience," I admitted, "though I doubt whether a
court of law would accept the reading of the machine as evidence. But
it is no great trouble to count a few hundred notes, and at any rate,
it is what I am here for."

I brought out the bundles of notes that I had pre pared in readiness
for the payment and having re-counted them, passed the bundles across
to him.

"You had better check them," said I as he picked them up and stuffed
them into his pocket.

"No need," he replied. "I'll take them as read. I'm not equal to your
lightning manipulation, and if we differed I should be sure to be
wrong."

He paused to distribute the seven bundles more evenly and then, as
there were no customers waiting at the moment, lingered to gossip. "I
hope," said he, "you were none the worse for our little dissipation."

"Thank you, no," I replied. "A little sleepy the next morning, but I am
quite convalescent now."

"Good," said he. "We must have another outing soon, not quite so
boisterous. We might go and hear some music."

"That is quite a good idea," said I, "and it reminds me that an
opportunity presents itself this very day. Do you care for organ music?"

"I like it in church," he replied; "not so much in a concert hall. The
appropriate atmosphere seems to be lacking."

"Then," said I, "perhaps you would like to come with me this evening
to St. Peter's, Cornhill. There is to be an organ recital from six to
seven by Dr. Dyer. I am going, and if you can manage it, I can promise
you a musical treat."

He considered for a few moments and then replied: "It sounds rather
alluring and I've got the evening free. So I accept subject to
conditions; which are that after the recital you come along to my
chambers and join me in a little rough bachelor dinner. I can't do you
in Giamborini's style but you won't starve. When we have fed, we can
either smoke a pipe and yarn or go out somewhere. What do you say?"

I accepted promptly, for the proposed entertainment was much more to
my taste than a restaurant dinner; and when we had made the necessary
arrangements he took his leave and I reverted to my duties.

At half-past five he reappeared at the bank and found me waiting
outside, and we strolled together up Gracechurch Street, looking in at
Leadenhall Market on our way, and took our seats in the church at five
minutes to the hour. The fame of the organist had drawn a surprisingly
large number of men and women to the recital, and it was evident by the
instant hush that fell as soon as the music began that Dr. Dyer had a
genuinely appreciative audience.

And I was interested, and a little surprised, to note that Gillum not
only enjoyed but--as I gathered ii ut his whispered comments in the
intervals--followed the rather austere and technical works that were
played with manifest sympathy and understanding. One would hardly have
associated the gambling den and the racecourse with a refined taste for
music. But Gillum was a rather queer mixture in many respects.

When the recital came to an end, we set forth on foot to stretch our
legs and sharpen our appetites with the walk of a little over a mile
from Cornhill to Clifford's Inn, beguiling the short journey with a
discussion of the music that we had been listening to, and comments on
objects of interest that we observed by the way. In Fleet Street Gillum
gave me another mild surprise by halting me opposite Anderton's Hotel
and bidding me note the fine silhouette that St. Dunstan's Church and
the Law Courst made against the sunset sky.

"I always stop here to look at the view," said he, "and although the
shapes are always the same, the picture is different every time I see
it. There is a lot of fine scenery of a kind in the streets of London."

Once more, as we walked on, I reflected on the strange contradictions
and inconsistencies of my companion's temperament. Somehow, he managed
to combine a sensitiveness to the picturesque and beautiful with a
singular tolerance of the sordid and unlovely.

A few yards farther on we turned up Fetter Lane, and crossing the road,
made for an iron gate set in a row of railings and now standing wide
open. Entering, we found ourselves in the precincts of Clifford's Inn
and seemed in a moment to have passed out of the clamorous twentieth
century into the quiet and dignified repose of a bygone age. I knew
the place slightly from having occasionally ventured in to explore and
I now looked round with friendly recognition of the pleasant old red
brick houses and the slightly faded grass and trees in the garden.

"This is my lair," said Gillum, indicating an arched doorway lighted by
a hanging lantern and surmounted by a tablet bearing the inscription
"P.R.G. 1682." Within the deep portal a shadowy flight of stairs faded
away into profound obscurity, and when Gillum led the way in and up
the stairs, he too, faded into the darkness and became a mere black
shape against the dim light from the landing above. I groped my way up
after him (for the lamp at the entry was not yet lit) and presently
emerged on to the landing where I found my host inserting a key into a
massive iron-bound door above which was painted in black letters on a
faded white ground, "Mr. John Gillum." The forbidding, gaol-like door
swung open heavily disclosing a lighter inner door garnished with an
ordinary handle and a small brass knocker. Gillum turned the handle,
and throwing open the door, invited me to enter; and as soon as I was
inside, he pulled to the outer door, which closed with the snap of a
spring latch and a resounding clang suggestive of the door of a prison
cell.

"Just as well to sport the oak," said Gillum. "Not that anyone ever
comes after business hours, but it is more pleasant to feel that you
can't be interrupted."

He switched on the light and I was instantly impressed, by the contrast
of the cheerful, cosy interior with the rather grim approach. A
fire--well banked and enclosed by a guard--was burning in the grate, a
couple of easy chairs faced each othier companionably, and the table,
covered with a spotless white cloth, was laid with all the necessary
appointments for a meal.

Gillum was a good host. This was a simple, informal "feed" and I was
not a guest but a pal who had dropped in. He established the position
at once by setting me to work at decanting the bottle of claret that
had been stood on the mantel shelf to get the chill off, while he
attended to the fire.

"May as well make a bit of a blaze," said he, "though it isn't a cold
evening. But a fire is a companionable thing."

He tipped the remaining contents of the scuttle into the grate and
then, after a hesitating glance at the empty receptacle, put it down.

"Where do you keep your coal?" I asked, with a view to replenishment.

"In the larder, or cellar or store-room," he replied. "It's that door
across the landing, and a most excellent larder it makes; perfectly
cool even in the height of summer. And that reminds me that we shall
want the butter and cheese and perhaps we might as well get out a
bottle of Chablis to go with the lobster--and, by the way, the lobster
is in there, too."

He went to the door and I followed to give assistance in carrying the
goods. Not unnecessarily, as it turned out, for the door across the
landing was fitted, not only with a night latch, but also with a rather
strong spring, fixed to the inside of the door, as the latter opened
outwards. I stood with my back against the open door and received the
butter and the lobster, holding them until Gillum collected the cheese
and the wine and came out, when I moved away and the door closed with a
slam and a click of the lock.

"Now, Mortimer," said Gillum, when he had deposited our burdens on the
table, "you are the wine waiter. Just open the chablis while I go into
the kitchen and hot up the soup."

He retired through one of two small doorways which faced each other at
the farther side of the room and I began operations on the capsule of
the bottle. But at this moment the empty coal-scuttle caught my eye,
and at the same time it occurred to me that we must have left the key
in the larder door, since we had both come away with our hands full.
With the double purpose of retrieving the key and replenishing the
scuttle, I picked up the latter and carried it out to the landing;
and, sure enough, there was the key in the door. I turned it, and
bearing the spring in mind, when I had pulled the door open I set the
scuttle against it while I went in and switched on the light. Then I
took up the scuttle, carefully easing the door to, so that it remained
unlatched (though there was a knob on the inside by which I could have
let myself out), and proceeded to prospect. There was no difficulty in
locating the coal, for a large bin or locker that extended right along
the farther wall was so well filled that its lid gaped and displayed
its contents.

I threw up the lid of the locker, and, taking the scoop from the
scuttle, began rapidly to shovel out the coal, my movements rather
accelerated by the unpleasant cellar-like atmosphere, which struck
an uncomfortable chill in contrast with the warm dining-room. I soon
had the scuttle filled, but in my haste I a few lumps of coal fall
on the floor. Having put the scoop back in its socket, I stooped to
pick up the stray lumps with my fingers. And at that moment I was
conscious of a sudden feeling of giddiness and a loud ringing noise in
my ears. Whether it was due to my position or to the abrupt change of
temperature I cannot say; but as the place seemed to whirl around me
and I felt myself swaying as if I were about to fall, I hastily grabbed
the edge of the locker, pulled myself upright and staggered out on to
the landing.

As I emerged from the larder, letting the door slam behind me, Gillum
appeared at the door of the living it and stared at me in dismay.

"Good God, Mortimer!" he exclaimed. "What on earth is the matter?"

Without waiting for an explanation, he hustled me into the living-room,
threw up the window, and dragging a chair towards it, sat me down in
the full draught.

"What was it?" he asked.

"I don't know," I replied. "I just stooped to pick up a lump of coal
and then I suddenly turned giddy."

"Strange," said he, looking at me anxiously. "Have you ever had any
attacks like this before?"

"Never," I answered; "and I can't imagine what brought it on now. I
suppose it was the sudden stooping."

"But that won't do, Mortimer," said he. "You've no business to get
giddy from stooping at your age. I don't believe you take proper care
of yourself. You'd better let me get you a nip of whisky."

"No, thank you," said I. "The fresh air has done the business. I am all
right now excepting a slight headache, and I expect that will go off in
a few minutes. By the way, I left the light on in the larder."

"I'll go and switch off and get the coal-scuttle," said he, "and then
we will have some grub. That will complete the cure, with a glass of
wine."

He went out and presently returned with the scuttle, shutting the "oak"
behind him. Then he fetched the soup from the kitchen and we drew our
chairs up to the table and proceeded to business.

It was a pleasant little dinner, and not so very little, for when we
had disposed of the lobster, the raising of a couple of covers revealed
a cold roast fowl and a pile of sliced ham, the produce, as I learned,
of an invaluable shop in Fetter Lane. Moreover, as the food was cold it
lent itself to leisurely consumption and the free flow of conversation.
And conversation with Gillum naturally tended to drift in the direction
of betting and play.

"How is the infallible system progressing?" I asked.

"Slowly," he admitted, "but still, I think the thing is possible. I
don't make much of it from the mathematical direction, so I am falling
back on the excellent method of trial and error. I have got a miniature
roulette box and I find it invaluable for trying out schemes of
chances. I'll show it to you."

He produced a beautifully made little wooden box, and placing it on the
table, affectionately twisted the ivory spindle.

"Yes," I agreed, "it is an excellent contraption, for you can play any
odds you like against yourself and win in any event. I should advise
you to stick to it. Do your gambling at home--and let the Foucaults
have a rest."

He laughed, rather grimly I thought.

"Perhaps," said he, "it might rather be a question of their letting me
have a rest. But your advice is futile, as you know perfectly well.
Solo roulette is well enough for experimental purposes, but it isn't
sport and it isn't gambling. You can't gamble if you don't stand to win
or lose."

Of course, I knew this and his reply left me with nothing to say; so I
reverted to the roast fowl and inwardly speculated on the possibility
of a connection between the Foucaults and the morning's transaction
at the bank. He had spoken as if they gave him more attention than he
cared for, but obviously the subject was one that I could not even
approach. When, searching for some new topic, I suddenly remembered the
circumstances of our first meeting and their later developments, in
which Gillum might probably be interested.

"I intended," said I, "to bring you a copy of The Telegraph which I
kept for you. It contains a full report of the inquest on that poor
fellow whose body I discovered. But perhaps you have seen it."

"I have," he replied. "I saw a pretty full account of it in an evening
paper. Extraordinary affair. Rather horrible, too. I liked the way in
which that doctor fellow let out. He knew his own mind."

"Yes, he was remarkably outspoken for a medical witness. But I
certainly agreed with him, and so, I think, did the jury. If he hadn't
been so downright I suspect the verdict would have been suicide while
temporarily insane."

"Very likely. But what was there to suggest insanity?"

"Nothing that I know of," I replied. "I was only repeating the usual
formula. When a man commits suicide it is generally assumed that he was
temporarily insane when he did it."

"I know," said Gillum. "But it is just a convention, and a silly
convention which ought to be dropped. Really, it is a theological
survival. The pretence of insanity is for the purpose of proving that
deceased was not aware of the nature of his act and that there fore he
was not guilty of _felo de se_ and did not die in a state of mortal sin.
It was quite well meant, but it was always a false pretence; and now
that we have outgrown theological crudities of that sort, the formula
ought to be abolished excepting in cases where there is actual evidence
of insanity."

He spoke with an amount of feeling that rather surprised me. For it
did not appear to me that the point was of any importance. Nor did I
entirely agree with his view of the matter, and accordingly proceeded
to contest it.

"I don't think that is quite the position, Gillum," I objected. "No
doubt there is a theological factor, but the usual verdict is based on
the assumption that the very act of suicide constitutes evidence of
mental unsoundness; and I think it is quite a reasonable assumption."

"Why do you think so?" he demanded.

"Because," I replied, "the impulse of self-preservation--the
preservation of one's own life--is so universal and so deep-seated as
to amount to one of the fundamental instincts of intelligent living
beings. But an act which is in opposition to a natural instinct is an
abnormal act and affords evidence of an abnormal state of mind."

"I admit the instinct," he rejoined. "But man is a reasoning animal
and is not completely dominated by his instincts. If in a particular
case he is convinced that the following of those instincts is to his
disadvantage, surely it will be reasonable for him to disregard them
and adopt the action which he knows is to his advantage. Let us take an
instance. Suppose a man to be suffering from a painful and incurable
form of malignant disease. He knows that it is going to kill him within
a measurable time. He knows that until death releases him he will
suffer continual pain. Is he going to drag on a miserable existence,
waiting for the inevitable death, or will he not, if he is a man,
anticipate that death and cut short his sufferings?"

He had put his case with such cogency that I was rather at a loss.
Nevertheless, I objected, somewhat weakly: "The instance you give is a
very exceptional one. The conditions are quite abnormal."

"Exactly," he rejoined. "That is my point. The conditions being
abnormal, the common rules of normal conduct do not apply. The conduct
is adjusted to the conditions and consequently is rational a But that
is true, I think, in a large proportion of suicides. If you consider
them in detail with an open mind you must come to the conclusion that
the act is a reasonable response to the existing conditions."

"I doubt that," said I. "The case that you have cited I should be
disposed to admit, but I can think of no other."

"The point is," said he, "whether the conduct is or is not adapted to
the existing conditions. If it is it is rational conduct. And a man is
entitled to estimate those conditions for himself to decide whether
they are or are not acceptable; whether, in those conditions, he would
rather be alive or not. Whether, in short, life is or is not worth
living. If he decides that it is not, then it is reasonable for him to
bring it to an end."

"My point is," I rejoined, "that a normal man would always rather be
alive than not."

"Then, Mortimer," said he, "I think you are mistaken. Let us take a
concrete case. Suppose a man, like yourself, an employee of a bank,
tied down to a particular place. Suppose he has a quarrelsome wife
who makes his life a misery and perhaps gets him into debt, and a
family who arc a constant trouble and disgrace to him. What is he to
do? He can't escape because he is tied to his job. If he finds life
intolerably unpleasant under these conditions, which he cannot alter,
what could be more reasonable than for him to bring it to an end? Or
again, take the case of a man who has inherited a fortune and has had
a roaring good time enjoying all sorts of expensive pleasures. The
natural result is that he steadily gets through his money. Now when he
comes down to his last shilling what is the prospect before him? What
is the natural thing for him to do?"

"The most reasonable thing," I replied, "would be to turn over a new
leaf; to get a job, work hard at it and live within his means."

Gillum shook his head. "No, Mortimer," said he. "That would not be
possible to the type of man that I am describing. He couldn't do it,
and he wouldn't try. If he was absolutely broke, he could try to live
by sponging, by borrowing, by fraud or by some other form of crime,
but either method would bring him, sooner or later, to disaster; and
almost certainly, in the end, to suicide. But I contend that the more
reasonable plan would be to anticipate and avoid all these troubles.
When once his money was gone and the only kind of life that he cared
for had become impossible, I say that the sane and sensible thing for
him to do would be to recognise the facts and make his quietus--though
not with a bare bodkin."

"But," I exclaimed, "do you mean to tell me seriously that is what you
would do, as a considered act, in the circumstances that you mention?"

He laughed and shook a finger at me in mock reproof. "Now, Mortimer,"
said he, "you know that is quite an improper question. We are
considering a hypothetical case, and in effect, a certain question of
principle. But you immediately--and quite irrelevantly--turn it into a
personal question. What I, personally, might do is beside the mark."

"I don't see that it is," I objected. "If you really mean what you say,
I understand that if ever you should go stony broke with no possible
chance of recovery you would proceed at once, as a matter of considered
policy, to hang yourself or cut your throat."

"No, no, Mortimer," he protested, "I said nothing about hanging or
throat-cutting. That would be temporary insanity with a vengeance. No,
pray do me the justice of believing that, if the occasion arose, I
should perform the coil-shuffling operation with decency, dignity, and
the maximum of personal corn fort. The rope and the carving knife are
the wretched resources of the mere lunatic or moron. There is no excuse
for such barbarities when, as we know, there are certain medicinal
substances which are perfectly efficient for the purpose and which are
not only painless but rather agreeable in their operation."

To this I made no reply, for there had come on me a sudden dislike to
the turn that the discussion had taken. He had spoken semi-facetiously,
but yet there was an underlying seriousness that gave his words a
rather gruesome quality. So I let the discussion drop and, after a
short silence, directed our talk into a fresh channel.

After dinner Gillum brewed a pot of excellent coffee and we then
adjourned to the easy chairs to smoke our pipes and talk; and as I
listened to my host's comments and observations on the various topics
that we discussed, I was surprised--having regard to the outrageous
folly of his conduct--not only at the range of his knowledge and
general in formation but especially at the shrewdness and sanity of
his outlook. Moreover, he was a man of some culture. I had already
noticed his interest in the more serious forms of music and his lively
appreciation of the fine grouping and skyline of the buildings of Fleet
Street, and it now appeared that he shared my affection for the quaint
nooks and corners and antique survivals of the older parts of London
and seemed to have a quite extensive acquaintance with them. Indeed,
so pleasant and sympathetic was our gossip and so agreeably did the
time slip away that I was quite taken aback when St. Dunstan's clock,
reinforced by the more distant bells of St. Clement's, announced the
hour of eleven and bade me set forth on my journey homewards.

"I will pilot you out as far as Fleet Street," said Gillum, as he
helped me into my overcoat. "Next time you will know your way; and I
hope the next will be quite soon."

"You have given me every inducement to repeat the offence," I replied.
"It has been a jolly evening. Quite a red-letter day for me."

We sallied forth from the dark entry--but it was dark no longer now
that the lamp was alight--and, crossing the courtyard, plunged into
the tunnel which passes the Hall, and, crossing the little courtyard,
entered Clifford's Inn Passage. The main gate was shut and the night
porter sat on a chair by the wicket, holding a newspaper and conversing
with a spectacled gentleman who was formally arrayed in a frock coat
and tall hat and supported himself on an umbrella.

"That is Mr. Weech," said Gillum, "the Inn porter; a queer old bird,
quite a character in his way and a complete Victorian survival. I'll
introduce you as you like antiques."

As we approached, Mr. Weech opened the wicket for us and gave my
companion "good evening."

"Good evening, Mr. Weech," said Gillum. "Taking a last look round to
see that we are all safe before you turn in?"

"That is so," replied Mr. Weech. "It is my custom to conclude the day's
duty with a perambulation of the precincts to see that everything is in
order."

"A very wise precaution," said Gillum. "It's of no use to have a locked
gate if the doubtful characters are lurking inside. Let me introduce
my friend, Mr. Mortimer, who has been spending the evening with me,
so that you may know him in future as an accredited visitor. This
is Mr. Weech, the custodian of the Inn and the faithful guardian of
our security. As you see, he carries an umbrella as a symbol of his
protective functions. Isn't that so, Mr. Weech? I notice that you are
never without it."

Mr. Weech chuckled and glanced fondly at the symbol.

"I suppose I am not," he admitted. "When I put on my hat I take up
the umbrella automatically. It has become a habit and I do it without
thinking. Consuetudo alterus naturum, as the saying is."

"Well," said I, as I stepped through the wicket, "it is a wise habit in
a fickle climate like ours. Good-night, Mr. Weech."

He raised his hat with an old-fashioned flourish as he returned my
valediction, and Gillum and I walked slowly down the passage to Fleet
Street.

"An odd fish is Mr. Weech," Gillum remarked. "Quite a good sort but
odd. I believe he takes that umbrella to bed with him. And he's a devil
for Latin. I suspect he keeps a book of quotations and primes himself
with them for conversation. Well, good night, Mortimer. Take care of
yourself and come again soon."

As I made my way homewards to my lodgings I turned over the events of
the evening. It had been a pleasant experience and Gillum had been
a most agreeable companion. Indeed, I had been rather surprised at
the way in which he had improved on better acquaintance and I was
still puzzled by the contrast between his obvious intelligence and
culture and the idiotic manner in which he was wasting his life and
his substance. But as I recalled our conversation there was one item
that jarred on me badly. Gillum's defence of suicide may have been
partly playful. Evidently, he rather inclined to the role of the
Devil's Advocate and took a perverse pleasure in arguing and defending
a paradox. But still, I had an unpleasant feeling that the views that
he had expressed really represented his convictions. And what made the
recollection of his argument especially disturbing to me was the fact
that one of the cases that he had cited in illustration was alarmingly
like what his own case might be. At present, it is true, his wild
expenditure was balanced by his very ample income. He never overdrew;
and as long as his income continued at its present rate, he would
remain solvent and merely waste his possessions.

But suppose some day, his source of income should dry up. Then he would
soon be penniless and would quite possibly fall into debt. And if he
did, the very conditions that he had postulated as justifying suicide
would be brought into being. It was a profoundly disturbing thought;
and though I tried to put it away, it recurred again and again, not
only during my journey home, but at intervals in the days that followed.


CHAPTER VI: THE PASSING OF JOHN GILLUM


HITHERTO I HAVE FOLLOWED in rather close detail the circumstances of
my association with John Gillum. This I have done advisedly; since
the purpose of this narrative is to present as clear a picture as I
am able of his personality and manner of life. But, having done this,
I shall now pass more lightly over the events that occurred during
the remainder of our association. That association, which extended
over a period of about ten months, was fairly intimate and tended to
become more so as the time ran on. Gillum was an entirely acceptable
companion; cheerful, lively, humorous, and extremely well-informed.
And, apparently, he liked my society, for he took every opportunity of
cultivating it. The result was that we met as frequently as could be
expected in the case of two rather self-contained men, each of whom had
his own particular interests and occupations.

Sometimes he would call for me at the bank, but more commonly our
rendezvous was Clifford's Inn, where we would take tea and then sally
forth to spend the evening at a concert or a play or in a voyage of
discovery into the lesser-known parts of the London in which we were
both so much interested. Once, on an off day, I accompanied him to a
race meeting, where he narrowly missed winning a considerable sum but
actually--as I learned later--dropped about a hundred pounds. But this
was the only occasion on which I came into contact with his gambling
activities. He had, in his tactful, accommodating way, accepted the
fact that betting and games of chance were outside the sphere of my
interests and such evidence as came to me of his exploits at the tables
or on the turf was in the nature of hearsay. But the books of the bank
furnished direct evidence that, whatever those exploits may have been,
the net result was displayed on the debit side of his account.

As the period of our friendship lengthened I began to be aware of a
rather curious fact; which was that, intimate as we seemed to be, I
really knew nothing about him. It was rather remarkable. In respect of
his present mode of life and his daily doings he was--or, at least,
appeared to be--open even to expansiveness. But of his past life or
his antecedents, not a word was ever dropped. Gradually I came to
realise that, under this appearance of free and frank confidence, lay a
profound secretiveness. It was not a pleasing trait; and it occasioned
a certain amount of reflection on my part. And when I came to consider
it, I began to perceive that the secretiveness was not limited to the
past; for, with all his expansiveness, he never made the slightest
references to those periodical drafts on which I had looked--and still
looked--with so much suspicion. In short, it began gradually to dawn
on me that the confidences that he made with so much apparent openness
were in fact limited to what I, in my capacity as his banker, already
knew.

Of course, I asked no questions. But, naturally, as I reflected on
this secretive habit, amounting virtually to concealment, it aroused
some curiosity. I am not in general an inquisitive person. But when
I came to consider that this man, with whom I was on terms of daily
intimacy, was an absolute stranger to me; that I knew nothing whatever
of his past, of his relations, of the places where he had lived, of
his profession or calling, if he had any, or of how he passed his time
or whether he had any occupation other than gambling; it could not but
appear very remarkable. And these reflections inevitably led to others.
If his past life was never referred to, could there be any reason for
this reticence? Was there anything in his past that made concealment
necessary?

The question was not entirely without relevance. The periodical
drafts, which had always seemed to me to suggest periodical payments,
had raised a suspicion that he was being blackmail and as time went
on, this suspicion tended to grow. But how should he come to be
blackmailed? There is no smoke without fire. It is usually impossible
to blackmail a man unless there is something in his life that he is
unwilling to disclose. Could it be that his past was in some respects
unpresentable? Or could it be that, even now, he was engaged in some
activities that would not bear the light of day?

These questions presented themselves unsought and unwelcomed. For I
liked the man and was unwilling to think ill of him or to harbour
suspicions concerning him. Still, there were the facts, and I had to
recognise them though the process of recognition cost me some mental
discomfort. But presently I began to have anxieties of a different
kind. I had always assumed that Gillum's income was derived from a
permanent source. The large sums that he had paid in at approximately
regular intervals had appeared to represent something in the nature
of dividends or an annuity. But in the last month of my acquaintance
with him this regularity had become suddenly disturbed. One or two
large cheques--unusually large ones--had been paid in, but the balance
created by them had begun immediately to melt away. I waited in
expectation of the usual credit payment. But the time when it should
have become due passed and no such payment was made; and Gillum's
account began to show an uncomfortably small balance. It looked rather
alarmingly like a failure of the source of supply.

Now, so long as his income was regular, his ridiculous expenditure
merely kept him poor when he should have been rich. But with the
failure of the supply and the continuance of the expenditure, a very
different situation was created. As I scanned his account in our books
and noted the growing tendency for the debit to overgrow the credit,
I felt that--unless there were some change in the conditions--sooner
or later, and probably sooner rather than later, some sort of crash
was to be looked for; and, knowing what his ideas were as to the way
to meet a crash, I had already dimly envisaged the kind of disaster
which actually occurred, and of which I shall now proceed to relate the
circumstances.

It was in the early afternoon of a rather sultry day in July that a
tall, sunburnt, athletic-looking man came to the bank and asked to see
the manager, explaining that he had been sent by Mr. Penfield and that
his business was connected with the affairs of our customer, Mr. John
Gillum. On this I pricked up my ears, and when he had been ushered into
the manager's room, I waited expectantly for the summons which seemed
almost inevitable, having regard to my known intimacy with Gillum; and
sure enough, in a few minutes, the bell rang and the clerk who went in
to answer it returned to inform me that the manager wished to speak to
me. Accordingly I went in and found the manager and the visitor seated
on opposite sides of a small table.

"This," said the former, introducing me, "is Mr. Arthur Benson, a
cousin of Mr. Gillum's, who has called to make some enquiries; and as
you know Mr. Gillum personally as well as officially, you will probably
be able to give him more information than I can. Mr. Mortimer is, I
think I may say, a fairly intimate friend of your cousin's, Mr. Benson,
and may be able to tell you what you want to know."

Mr. Benson shook hands heartily and proceeded at once with his
enquiries.

"I am in rather a difficulty, Mr. Mortimer," said he, "and I may
add, a little puzzled and worried by the way in which my cousin is
behaving. But I had better begin by explaining the circumstances. I
have just come from Australia, where I run a sheep farm in which my
cousin, Gillum, is to some extent interested. I have been in regular
correspondence with him about our affairs and have sent him cheques
from time to time, which have been duly acknowledged. Now, as the
business which has brought me to England arose quite unexpectedly, I
wrote to him from Sydney telling him that I should be coming on by the
next boat and asking him either to meet me at Tilbury or to send a
letter to the ship there telling me where and when I should find him.
Well, he didn't meet me at Tilbury, but he sent a letter which was
handed to me as soon as the ship brought up in the river. In this he
asked me to come straight on to his chambers in Clifford's Inn.

"Accordingly, I did so; but when I called at his chambers, I could not
get any answer to my knock. The place was all shut up, and though I
hammered at the iron-bound door with my stick for some time, nothing
happened. It was evident that he was not at home.

"This seemed a bit queer and not at all what I should have expected of
him. However, I went off and got fixed up at an hotel, and then I came
back to the Inn and made another attack on the door. But still there
was no sign of life; so I gave it up for the time and went back to my
hotel and spent the night there. Next day, I went to the Inn again and
had another try. But still there was no result. The place was as still
as the grave.

"It was really very extraordinary and I began to wonder whether there
could be anything amiss. So I went on to Mr. Penfield, who acted for us
in our business transactions, and asked him if he knew anything about
Gillum's movements. But he knew nothing at all, not having seen my
cousin for some months, but he recommended me to come along here and
see whether you knew anything about him or could give me any advice.
So here I am; and the question is, can you give me any sort of help or
tell me where I may be likely to find him?"

The manager looked at me. "What do you say, Mortimer? You know Mr.
Gillum's haunts pretty well, I think. Have you any idea where he is
likely to be found?"

"Not the least," I replied. "I should have expected him to be at his
chambers, especially as he had made an appointment with Mr. Benson.
That is where he lives, and I had always supposed that he, at least,
spent the night there."

"When did you see him last?" the manager asked.

"I haven't seen him for nearly a fortnight," I replied. "The last time
that I saw him was when he came to the bank last Friday week to cash
a cheque. I had a few words with him then but he did not say anything
about his intended movements; and, in fact, he could not have had
any intention of going away as he had made this appointment with Mr.
Benson."

The manager looked thoughtful and rather puzzled. "It really does seem
a little queer," said he, "and I think we ought to try to help Mr.
Benson as he is a stranger in London. What do you suggest, Mortimer?"

"I hardly know what what to suggest," I replied. "It is certainly an
odd affair. Perhaps it might be worth while for me to run round with
Mr. Benson to Clifford's Inn and try the door again and if we still
can't get any answer we might drop in at the lodge and see if we can
get any information from Mr. Weech, the porter of the Inn. He might be
able to tell us something."

"Yes," said the manager, "that seems about the best thing to do. At any
rate, it is worth trying. So perhaps you will kindly take Mr. Benson in
tow and see what you can do for him."

With this he stood up and shook hands with Benson, and the latter then
accompanied me into the outer office, and when I had got my hat and
stick we sallied forth together.

It is no great distance from Gracechurch Street to Clifford's Inn and
we agreed to walk; Benson for the advantage of seeing the town and I
for the opportunity to think things over and possibly get a little
additional information. For, as I have hinted, I was more disturbed by
the strange state of affairs than I had admitted either to the manager
or to our visitor. I had not mentioned to them the amount of the cheque
which had been cashed less than a fortnight ago, but it came to my mind
now with a slightly ominous suggestiveness. The amount had been two
hundred pounds, which I had paid in one-pound notes; and that payment
had not only cleared out the balance but had left the account a few
pounds overrdrawn.

Reflecting on this, I ventured to make one or two discreet enquiries
though avoiding direct questions.

"Your name is fairly familiar to me," I began as a cautious lead off.

"I suppose it is," he replied. "You must have had a good many of my
cheques through your hands."

"Yes," said I. "They have come in at pretty regular intervals until
just lately. But I don't think I have seen one for over three months.
However, the last one was quite a big cheque, if I remember rightly."

"It was," said he; "eleven hundred pounds. That was the final payment."

"Indeed!" said I, rather startled. "Then it was not a continuing
transaction?"

"No," he replied. "The payments were instalments of purchase money.
The sheep farm that I run originally belonged to Gillum. But he had
a fancy to come to England and I was connected with a meat-exporting
establishment; so he proposed that I should take over the farm and
pay for it by instalments out of income while he should buy with the
proceeds, or part of them, a partnership in a firm of meat importers in
London. He thought that we could work things to our mutual advantage,
and so did I. So I fixed up the deal with him and he came to England
and arranged the partnership; and I paid off my debt as well as I could
out of income. But after nearly two years I thought that it had gone on
for long enough, so I raised a loan and paid off the final instalment
in one sum."

"By the way," said I, "did it not occur to you to go round to his firm
and ask if he had been there?"

"It did," he replied. "I went there before I went to Mr. Penfield.
And then I got another surprise. It seemed that he didn't take to the
meat-importing trade and about six months ago he sold his interest in
the concern to the other partner and they have not seen anything of him
since. It is curious that he should not have said anything about it to
me in his letters."

"Very curious," I agreed. And it certainly was very remarkable. But
it was not the oddity of his behaviour that principally impressed me.
What instantly struck me with devastating force was the appalling
fact that, at this moment, John Gillum must be absolutely penniless.
Those big cheques had been paid in to my knowledge and had produced
a most impressive balance; but that balance had been dribbling away
ever faster and faster as the "self" cheques were turned into cash
to provide the means for his insane expenditure. And now, as I have
said, he had not only drawn out the last penny of his balance but was
actually in debt to the bank.

It was a terrible position; and when I reflected on it by the light of
his expressed views on the appropriate way to meet a financial crash,
the behaviour disclosed by Benson's experiences assumed an undeniably
sinister aspect. I said nothing to my companion as to what was in my
mind, but, as we approached the neighbourhood of Clifford's Inn, my
forebodings became so profound as to engender a very definite distaste
for the errand on which I was bent.

We entered the Inn by the postern gate in Fetter Lane, and, crossing
the little quadrangle which I knew so well, made our way straight
to the rather forbidding entry. As we plunged into the shadow
which enclosed the staircase, I could hear the typewriters in the
ground-floor office ticking away, conveying a sense of human life and
activity which seemed to contrast almost uncannily with the silence and
aloofness of the--presumably--empty room upstairs.

We groped our way up the dim staircase and came out on the rather
sordid and ill-lighted landing where the empty dust-bin confirmed the
suggestion of an absent tenant. But we did not stop to examine the
landing. Walking up to the grim iron-bound door, above which the name
of Mr. J. Gillum could be read on a painted label, now rather faded
and dirt-stained, we listened for a few moments and then tapped on the
massive oak panel. Perhaps the word "tapped" is inadequate, for Benson,
who carried a stout stick of some hard and heavy wood, applied it in
the manner of a battering-ram with such effect that the place resounded
with the blows and I expected some protest from the office below.

"Well," said Benson, after banging away for a couple of minutes, "I
think we may take it that there is no one at home. Shall we go round
and hear what your porter man has got to tell us?"

"I think we had better," I replied; and forthwith led the way down the
steep stairs, my state of mind by no means improved by the unpleasant
fashion in which the noise of Benson's hammerings had echoed through
the building. In fact, I found myself growing distinctly nervous and,
as we made our way towards the passage in which the porter's lodge was
situated, I began to consider what we had better do if we could get
no more satisfactory tidings of the missing man. But I still had some
hopes that the porter might be able to resolve the mystery or at least
give us a hint of some kind.

A hearty pull at the pendent handle outside the lodge door elicited a
cheerful jangle from within; and in a few moments the door opened and
Mr. Weech appeared, fully attired as usual in his long frock coat and
tall silk hat. Whether he slept in that hat I cannot guess, but it
seemed that he wore it constantly from the time when he arose in the
morning until he retired at night. At least, that was my impression,
for I never saw him without it. He now regarded me benevolently through
his spectacles and then cast an enquiring glance at my companion.

"We have called, Mr. Weech," said I, "to make one or two enquiries and
see if you can help us. A rather unaccountable thing has happened.
My friend, Mr. Gillum, seems to be absent from his chambers. We have
hammered at his door and can't get any answer, and my friend here, Mr.
Benson, tried yesterday and the day before, but he also could not make
anybody hear."

Mr. Weech retired for a few moments, apparently to fetch an umbrella,
for he reappeared with one in his hand; and thus fortified, he again
inspected me, first through his spectacles and then over them and
replied in a tone of mild protest:

"But what about it, Mr. Mortimer? A gentleman is not bound to stay in
his chambers if he doesn't want to. He isn't under any contract to be
in residence excepting at his own convenience and by his own choice.
Probably he has gone out of town for a few days. Gentlemen frequently
do; and they are not under any obligation to give notice of their
intentions. That is the advantage of living in chambers."

"Yes," I replied, "but that is not quite the position. Mr. Gillum had
an appointment with Mr. Benson at his chambers and it was a rather
special one, definitely made by letter. Mr. Gillum could hardly have
gone away for a holiday and ignored this engagement."

Here I gave Mr. Weech a slight sketch of the circumstances to which he
listened with interest and growing attention.

"M'yes," he agreed, when I had finished, "it does sound a little
remarkable, the way you put it. Of course, he might have overlooked the
matter, but that doesn't seem likely. Still, I certainly have not seen
him about the Inn for the last day or two."

"When did you last see him?" Benson asked.

Mr. Weech considered for a few moments. "Now, let me see," said he. "I
met him one evening just outside the Hall. He was coming down towards
Fleet Street. Now, when would that be? I should say it would be about
ten days ago." He reflected again and then confirmed his estimate with
the definite statement: "Yes. Ten days ago it was. I can fix it by the
fact that one of our tenants, who was a bit in arrears with his rent,
came to the lodge to settle up. And very glad I was. The Court don't
like rents to get behindhand."

"Very well, Mr. Weech," said I. "You haven't seen him for ten days. Now
is that at all unusual?"

Mr. Weech, having duly considered the question, decided that it was
slightly unusual. "You see," he explained, "I am pretty constantly up
and down the Inn and I tend to run up against the resident tenants,
particularly if they are fairly regular in their habits, as Mr. Gillum
is. I should think I must have met him nearly every day since he came
here. And he is a rather sociable man and likes to stop for a bit of a
chat."

"Then," said I, "that seems to confirm our idea that there is something
unusual about this affair. I suppose you don't happen to have a
duplicate key of his chambers?"

Mr. Weech seemed to stiffen at my suggestion. "We don't usually keep
duplicate keys of gentle men's chambers," he replied. "The agreements
stipulate that the tenants shall have full use and enjoyment of their
premises, which would not be the case if we reserved either the right
or the means of entry. But, as a matter of fact, I have a duplicate key
of Mr. Gillum's chambers. I offered it to him, but he said that he had
no use for a second key, and he thought that it might be as well for me
to keep it in case he might lose his or in the event of some emergency
arising. But why do you ask?"

"Well," I said a little diffidently, "it occurred to me that it might
be as well, if you had a key, just to look in and see that all is as it
should be."

Mr. Weech shook his head decidedly. "No, sir," said he, "I have no
right to enter the chambers of any of our tenants without his express
permission and authority."

I realised Mr. Weech's point of view and fully agreed as to its
propriety. But, having ascertained that a key was available, I made up
my mind quite definitely that those chambers had got to be entered.

"That is true enough in ordinary circumstances," said I. "But the
circumstances are not ordinary. You must see that something unusual has
happened, and I may say that Mr. Benson and I are extremely uneasy.
Supposing Mr. Gillum should have been taken ill or had some sort of
accident."

Mr. Weech was visibly impressed though he made no reply, and-I
proceeded to press my advantage.

"What would people say if it should become known that he had been
left in his chambers without help simply because of a mere scruple of
official etiquette?"

"Yes," Mr. Weech admitted, "there is something in that. It would
be very awkward for him, shut up there, solus cum soli, if he was
seriously ill. But we don't know that he is."

"We don't," I agreed, "but we can easily find out. Come, now, Mr.
Weech, don't stand on mere pedantic ceremony. Do the reasonable thing.
Mr. Gillum may be, at this moment, lying in there, helpless, waiting
for someone to succour him. We ought to go and see whether he is or
not. And I am not suggesting anything irregular. Mr. Benson is his
cousin and I am a responsible friend. I am only asking you to do what
he would have expected you to do. You say that he left the key in your
custody in case any emergency should arise. Well, an emergency has
arisen and you have got the key."

"I should hardly call it an emergency," Mr. Weech objected, "but still
I don't want to be obstinate. You have shown cause why a visit of
inspection might reasonably be made, and, if you and Mr. Benson will
take the responsibility, I will get the key and go round with you to
the chambers. Then you will be able to see for yourselves whether there
is or is not any foundation for your anxieties."

With this he went back into the lodge and presently returned carrying
on his finger a couple of keys on a string loop to which was attached a
wooden label.

Together we passed up the outer passage, across the small courtyard,
through the covered way (not to call it a tunnel) on which the door of
the Hall opened, and, crossing the inner courtyard, approached Gillum's
entry. Our previous visit with its very audible accompaniments had
evidently not passed unnoticed, for, as we walked into the entry, the
door of the typewriting office opened slightly and a face appertaining
to an elderly woman appeared, surveying us with an interest that was
not entirely benevolent.

On arriving at the landing, Mr. Weech transferred his umbrella from
his right hand to the left, the better to manipulate the keys, the
larger of which he inserted into the lock. It was not a very good
fit, but, after a few tentative turns, he succeeded in shooting back
the bolt; having done which, he drew the door outwards a couple of
inches and sniffed audibly. Taking the key out of the door, he drew
the latter wide open and was preparing to insert the key into the lock
of the inner door when he observed that the latter was slightly ajar;
whereupon he pushed it open and stepped into the room.

But he took only one two steps, and then, as he passed the open door,
he stopped short, and ejaculating, "God save us!" hastily backed out.
And, at the same moment, I became aware of a strange, musty, cadaverous
odour.

With all my forebodings intensified and a feeling of extreme distaste,
I nevertheless ventured to step in at the open door to see what it
was that had given such a shock to Mr. Weech. But my stay was little
longer than his, though in that instant my eyes took in a tableau that
rises vividly before me as I write. As I cleared the edge of the door,
I came into view of a couch drawn up by the Window, whereon reclined a
pyjama-clad figure whose aspect confirmed the worst of my fears.

It was a horrible spectacle, that motionless figure, half strange and
half familiar, with its discoloured face and the open mouth from which
the two gold teeth seemed to stare out as they gleamed in the bright
afternoon sunlight. I stood, as I have said, gazing at it for but a
few seconds and then, sick with the horror of the sight and the the
effluvium that filled the room, I hurried out an joined Mr. Weech, who
stood at the head of the stairs holding a handkerchief to his nose.

As I came out, Benson looked at me, but he asked no question. I suppose
he guessed what we had seen, but his nerves were evidently stronger
than ours for he strode into the room without hesitation, and pushing
the door right back, opened the view into the room so far that I could
see him stooping over that dreadful figure, regardless of the foul
atmosphere and the obscene flies that buzzed around, He made a long and
critical examination of the corpse and then turned to a small table
that was placed beside the couch. This, I now noticed, bore a decanter,
apparently containing whisky, a siphon, a tumbler, and a small corked
bottle; and each of these objects Benson scrutinised minutely.

At length he came out, shutting the inner door after him, and looking
very grim and solemn. Evidently he was deeply moved, but, though he
was a shade pale, he was quite calm and self-possessed, in striking
contrast to Weech and me, whose nerves were quite unstrung by the
horrid experience. He closed the outer door, and, taking the key out of
the lock, silently handed it to Mr. Weech.

"Well," he said, "what is to be done now?"

"I suppose," said Weech, "I had better communicate with the police. They
have a telephone in the office below and I dare say they will let me
use it."

"Yes," Benson agreed, "that will be the best thing to do; and you had
better ask the police how soon they can send someone up. We shall have
to wait here and see them, as they will want some particulars and we
may as well get the business over at once."

We went down to the ground floor and once more were the objects of
interested scrutiny from the half-opened door. Then Mr. Weech made his
request and was admitted forthwith while Benson and I went out into
the quadrangle to wait for him. Presently he came out and joined us,
with the information that an officer was being sent up and would be
at the Inn in the course of a few minutes. Then he invited us to come
to the lodge to await the officer's arrival; an offer which Benson
promptly declined, explaining that he wanted to talk things over with
me before the officer should arrive. Accordingly, Mr. Weech excused
himself and went off in the direction of the lodge, and Benson and I
turned into the quiet alley between a row of ancient houses and the
garden railings.

"This is a very astounding affair, Mortimer," said Benson, when Mr.
Weech was out of earshot. "Doesn't it seem so to you?"

I hesitated for a moment, but as there was no reason for secrecy, and
as I should certainly have to make a statement to the police, or at the
inquest, I replied: "It is a very dreadful business, but I can't say
that I am so greatly surprised."

"Aren't you?" he exclaimed. "Now, I should have said that Jack Gillum
was the very last person I should have expected to take his life. Why
do you say that you are not surprised?"

"Well," I replied, "I have known a good deal about his way of living
and the muddle that he has got his affairs into; and, of course, I have
certain special knowledge which it would not be permissible for me to
refer to."

"If you mean knowledge that you have obtained in your capacity as an
employee of his bank," said Benson, "there is nothing in it. He was
your customer and you had to keep his affairs secret. But now that he
is dead, his executor is your customer."

"He made a will, then?" said I, somewhat surprised.

"Yes, by special arrangement. Mr. Penfield is his executor and I am the
sole beneficiary under the will. So I am, in effect, your customer and
am entitled to know how his affairs stand."

I was not at all satisfied that this view was technically correct. But,
as it was certain that poor Gillum's affairs would have to be more or
less completely disclosed at the inquest, I felt it to be unreasonable
to withhold the information from one who was so clearly entitled to
know all the facts. Accordingly I replied: "I am not sure that you are
right, but I am prepared to waive the strict letter of the law if you
will promise to regard as absolutely confidential anything that I may
tell you about Gillum's financial position."

"Certainly I will," said he. "But surely his financial position was
perfectly satisfactory?"

"On the contrary," said I, "it was profoundly unsatisfactory; in
fact, I don't think I am exaggerating if I say that he was absolutely
penniless."

Benson stopped and gazed at me with a frown of astonishment.
"Penniless!" he exclaimed. "But he should have been a rich man,
comparatively speaking. When he came to England, he had his very
substantial savings, which I know he sent to Mr. Penfield to be
deposited in a bank--your bank, I suppose."

"Yes," said I. "Mr. Penfield opened the account in Gillum's name with a
deposit of three thousand pounds."

"Very well. Then he had payments from me from time to time, including
the eleven hundred pounds that I sent him a little over three months
ago. And he must have got something from the business, to say nothing
of the purchase price of his partnership, whatever that may have been.
But, of course, you know all about that."

"Yes," said I. "All those big cheques have been paid in, and the
amounts have gone out nearly as fast as they have come in, and the
position now is that there is not only no balance, but the account is a
pound or two overdrawn."

Benson continued to stare at me with the utmost amazement. "But," he
exclaimed, "where the devil has the money gone? Do you suppose he has
been playing the fool on the Stock Exchange?"

"I don't," I replied. "I know where the bulk of the money has gone.
It has been frittered away in gambling; some of it on the turf and
a good deal on cards and roulette and various other fooleries.
I have sometimes suspected that there might be a blackmailer in
the background, but I have no knowledge to that effect. I only
know that the bulk of the money was drawn out in cash and that he
usually asked to have his 'self' cheques cashed in notes of small
denomination--preferably in Treasury notes. It looked as if he wanted
to secure himself against the possibility of the notes being traced."

Benson reflected on this statement in silence for a few moments, still
looking at me with an expression of angry incredulity. At length he
rejoined: "We shall have to go into this in more detail later on.
Obviously, as you are in possession of the actual facts, what you tell
me must be true. But yet I find it beyond belief. The whole affair,
including this suicide--for that is evidently what it is--is so utterly
opposed to all that I know of Jack Gillum--and I have known him since
he was a boy--that I can make nothing of it."

"Then," I suggested, "he was not always a gambler?"

"No," Benson replied, though without much emphasis. "No, I wouldn't
call him a gambler. He liked a game of cards, and he liked to play
rather higher than I cared about, and he had a way of betting in a
small way and making wagers. But his play was never on a great scale,
and his ordinary management of his financial affairs was perfectly
reasonable. The amount that he had saved speaks for itself, and you
can be sure that I should not have been willing to enter into the
arrangements that existed between us if he had been a spendthrift and a
wild gambler."

Benson's account of his cousin did not very greatly surprise me. It had
been obvious to me that his habits could not always have been such as
those that were known to me, or he would never have had any money at
all. The gambling habit must have grown on him by frequent indulgence.
So it appeared to me, and I answered to that effect.

"My acquaintance with your cousin," said I, "extends only to a short
time, only about a year, or rather less. And when I first met him these
new habits were already formed, so I never knew him otherwise. But
even so, it has been a matter of surprise to me that a man, in other
respects so sensible and capable, should have behaved in this idiotic
manner. But what you have just told me makes it even more surprising.
We can only suppose that the new surroundings, when he came to live
in London, must have exerted some peculiar influence over him. And it
may be that he fell into the society of people who had a bad effect on
him. I happen to know that he was acquainted with some pretty shady
characters, though how he came to know them I have no idea."

"There may be something in what you say," said Benson, "in fact, there
must be. But the gambling alone doesn't seem to be a satisfactory
explanation. I am inclined to suspect that you are right in your
suggestion of a possible blackmailer. The way in which the money
was drawn out in untraceable notes seems to support that view very
strongly. There is no reason why a simple, straightforward gambler
should take precautions against having his payments traced. However, we
shall have to adjourn this discussion. That gentleman looks like the
police officer."

As he spoke, Mr. Weech appeared emerging from the covered way in
company with a tall, brisk-looking man in civilian clothes who carried
a largish attaché case. The two men approached us and Mr. Weech
effected a concise introduction.

"There is no need for you two gentlemen to come up with me," said the
officer; "in fact it would be better for me to go alone so that I can
make my observations undisturbed. But I will ask you to be good enough
to wait here until I have seen what there is to see. I shall want to
take a few particulars for the purposes of the inquest."

With this he departed under Mr. Weech's guidance in the direction
of Gillum's entry, the approach of the pair closely observed from
the window of the type writing office. When they had gone, I rather
expected Benson to resume our conversation. But apparently what had
been said already gave him sufficient food for thought, for he paced up
and down the alley at my side uttering no word and evidently deep in
his own reflections, which, to judge by his stern, gloomy expression,
were of a highly disagreeable kind.

The officer's observations took rather longer than I had expected. At
each turn of our walk when we came to the end of the alley and in view
of Gillum's chambers, I could see Mr. Weech at the open landing window,
gazing out discontentedly across the quadrangle, and at the office
window below watchful heads appeared from time to time over the wire
blind. But the officer remained hidden from our sight.

At length, at about the twentieth turn, as we came to the corner of
the alley, I observed that Mr. Weech had disappeared from his post at
the window, and a moment later he came into view in the obscurity of
the staircase and then emerged into the open, followed closely by the
officer, whereupon Benson and I walked forward to meet them.

"Well, gentlemen," said the officer, "it seems quite a straightforward
case from my point of view, but I may as well have a few particulars
for the guidance of the coroner's officer in preparing the details of
the inquest. I will begin by taking your names and addresses and your
relations with deceased."

He looked from one of us to the other, and Benson, as an actual
relative, opened the proceedings by giving his name and address and
stating his relationship.

"Ah!" said the officer, "you are deceased's cousin. Then you will
be the proper person to identify the body. Not that it is of any
importance as there is no question as to who he is. But you have seen
the body. Can you identify it positively?"

"Yes," replied Benson. "It is the body of my cousin, John Gillum."

"Exactly," said the officer. "Now, is there anything that you can tell
us that would throw any light on the suicide--assuming it to be a
suicide?"

"No," replied Benson. "I can't account for it at all. But I haven't
seen deceased for about two years, so I haven't any very recent
information about him. This gentleman, Mr. Mortimer, knows a good deal
more about his affairs than I do."

Thereupon the officer turned to me and asked me to give him any
information that might guide him as to the kind of evidence that would
be required at the inquest and the names of any witnesses who might
have to be called. Accordingly I told him who I was but pointed out
that, as an employee of deceased's bank, I was not at liberty to give
any information as to his financial affairs.

"No," he agreed, "not in the ordinary way. But the customer's death
releases the bank from its obligations of secrecy. However, I won't
press you. Any information that the bank may be able to supply will
have to be given at the inquest if it is relevant. Should you say
that it would be relevant? I mean in relation to the motive for the
suicide--assuming it to be a suicide?"

"Yes," I replied, "I think I may say that much. But perhaps you had
better see the manager. He knows the ropes better than I do."

"Or Mr. Penfield," Benson suggested. "He is Gillum's executor and was
his man of business and as he is a lawyer he will know exactly what
information he ought to give."

The officer agreed to this and took down the addresses of the manager
and Mr. Penfield. "And that," said he, "is all for the present. Now I
must see about getting the body removed to the mortuary. I had better
keep the keys until the inquest is over as we don't want the rooms
disturbed, and there may be some letters or papers which ought to be
examined either by me or by Mr. Penfield. I will hear what he has to
say about that. So I will wish you gentlemen good afternoon."

With this he bustled away and Benson and Weech and I walked down to the
lodge where, declining an invitation to go in and rest a few minutes,
Benson and I left the porter and made our way out into Fleet Street. My
companion was still silent and gloomy, uttering scarcely a word as we
walked down towards Ludgate Circus. Only just before we parted at the
corner did he make any observation on the tragedy.

Then, in a tone of almost passionate grief; he exclaimed: "It is a
miserable business, and what makes it more awful to me is the feeling
that I have been, in a manner, the cause of the disaster. It looks very
much as if poor Gillum had funked meeting me."

I could not but admit that the same idea had occurred to me. It would
certainly have been a very awkward meeting, involving some exceedingly
uncomfortable explanations.

"But he needn't have funked it," said Benson. "Of course, I should have
been pretty sick. But I shouldn't have reproached him and I should not
have let him down. He could have come back with me and helped me to run
the farm and got back to his natural way of life. However, it is no
use thinking now of what might have been. Good-bye, Mortimer. You know
where to find me if you should want me."

He shook my hand heartily and turned away down Farringdon Street, and,
as it was now too late to go back to the bank, I made my way towards my
own place of abode.


CHAPTER VII: THE CORONER'S INQUEST


IF HE FACTS WHICH WERE disclosed by the evidence of witnesses at
the inquest on the body of John Gillum were mostly new to me only
to the extent that they were facts, for most of them had already
existed in my mind in the form of suspicions. Nevertheless, the grim
proceedings had for me the melancholy interest that now, when all the
contributory circumstances of the final catastrophe were assembled, I
was able to realise the enormity of that catastrophe. It was really
beyond belief. That a man who had seemed to have been the especial
favourite of fortune should have mismanaged his affairs so unutterably
as to bring himself to actual destitution and to a pauper suicide's
grave, appeared, and was, an incredible instance of human folly and
perversity. But I need not moralise on the tragedy, the facts deposed
to in evidence tell their own tale.

The first witness was Mr. Weech, who gave a slightly verbose but very
impressive description of the discovery. When he had finished and in
answer to a question, had stated the date on which he had last seen
deceased alive, he was dismissed and his place taken by Arthur Benson.

"You were present with Mr. Weech when the body was discovered," said
the coroner. "Were you able to identify the body?"

"Yes," was the reply, "it was the body of my cousin, John Gillum."

"The identity of the body is not in question," said the coroner, "but
may we take it that you are certain that it was the body of your
cousin?"

"I am quite certain," replied Benson. "The circumstances were so
remarkable that I had at first some doubt whether it could really be
John Gillum, so I examined it closely and carefully. There is no doubt
whatever that it was John Gillum's body."

"Naturally," said the coroner, "you were greatly shocked at what had
happened, but were you surprised?

"I was astounded," replied Benson. "John Gillum was the last man in the
world whom I should have expected to have committed suicide. But I had
not seen him for nearly two years, when he was leaving Australia to
come to England. Up to that time he had been working on a sheep farm
and had seemed to be a happy, capable, well-balanced man. But I learn
that since he came to this country his habits and even his character
seem to have undergone a radical change. Of that, of course, I know
nothing."

Here the coroner put one or two questions concerning Gillum's
antecedents, to which Benson answered in much the same terms as those
in which he had replied to mine, as recorded in the last chapter. And
these details of Gillum's pecuniary position formed the remainder of
his evidence.

The next witness was Detective-Sergeant Edmund Waters, who stepped
up to the place appointed for witnesses and gave his evidence with
professional readiness and precision.

"On Wednesday the eighteenth of July, I was in formed that a telephone
message had been received reporting the finding of the dead body of a
man in a room at 64, Clifford's Inn. I proceeded there forthwith, going
first to the porter's lodge where I met Mr. Weech, who had sent the
message, Mr. Benson and Mr. Mortimer. Mr. Weech conducted me to the
room, which was in a set of chambers on the first floor, and unlocked
the door to admit me.

"On entering the room, I saw the dead body of a man lying on a couch
close to a window. From the appearance of the body and a very foul
odour which pervaded the air of the room, I judged that the man had
been dead several days. I inspected the body without disturbing it
but could see no injuries or any sign of violence or any indication
of a struggle. The man was lying on the couch in an easy posture, as
if he had fallen asleep there and nothing in the room appeared to be
disturbed. By the side of the couch was a small table on which was a
decanter containing whisky, a siphon of soda-water, a tumbler, and a
small bottle labelled 'Tablets of morphine hydrochloride; gr. 1/2.' and
containing a number of white tablets. The description on the label was
written with a pen in block capital letters.

"I took possession of the bottle and then I examined the tumbler. There
were quite a large number of finger-prints on it and most of them
were perfectly distinct. There were also finger-prints on the bottle,
but these were not so distinct and I had to develop some of them up,
especially those on the label, before I could be sure of the pattern.
As I had my finger print apparatus with me, I proceeded very carefully
to take a set of the finger-prints of the body to compare with those
on the tumbler and the bottle. When I made the comparison, it became
perfectly clear that all the prints on both vessels were made by
deceased. Those on the tumbler were prints of the fingers of deceased's
right hand and those on the bottle were principally prints of the left
hand with one or two of the right."

"You are sure," said the coroner, "that there were no other
finger-prints?"

"Quite sure," replied the sergeant. "The prints were all recognisable
and I compared each one separately with the prints that I had taken
from the body."

"That is very important," said the coroner, "and it seems quite
conclusive. Did you make any examination of the room?"

"Not a minute examination. I just looked round to see if there were
any signs of anything unusual, but there were not. Everything looked
perfectly normal."

"Have you made any further investigation since then?"

"Yes. I went to the chambers with Mr. Bateman, who was acting for
the executors, to see if there were any papers or documents that
might throw any light on the affair. We found the keys in the pockets
of deceased's clothes and with them we opened the drawers of the
writing-table. In one of the drawers we found several letters in their
envelopes tied up in a bundle. We read these letters and we both formed
the opinion that they were blackmailer's letters. Mr. Bateman took
possession of them and I believe he has them still."

"Then," said the coroner, "as Mr. Bateman is here and will be giving
evidence, we need not go into the question of the letters now. Is there
anything else that you have to tell us?"

"No," replied the sergeant, "excepting that I notified the
coroner--yourself--that I had the bottle of tablets and, in accordance
with instructions, handed it to Dr. Sidney."

"Then," said the coroner, "we need not trouble you further unless any
member of the jury wishes to ask any questions. No questions? Then we
had better next take the medical evidence."

Accordingly, the medical witness, Dr. Thomas Winsford, was called and,
having given his name and qualifications, deposed, in answer to the
coroner's question: "I have made a careful examination of the body of
deceased. It is that of a man about forty years of age, well-developed
and muscular and free from any signs of disease. I examined it in
relation to the questions of the date of death and its cause. With
regard to the first, there was a slight difficulty owing to the
condition of the body, which was definitely in a state of incipient
putrefaction. But, taking into account the temperature of the room in
which it had been lying, I should say that deceased had been dead from
six to eight days."

"You speak of the heat of the room. Had you any personal knowledge of
the conditions in that room?"

"Yes. I obtained the key of the chambers from Sergeant Waters and
went there in the afternoon. The sun was shining in at the window and
the room was very hot. I took the temperature with a thermometer and
found it to be eighty-one degrees Fahrenheit. That would account for
the rather advanced state of putrefaction in the time that I have
mentioned, and I am inclined to the opinion that deceased had not been
dead more than six or seven days."

"Yes," the coroner remarked, "that seems to agree with what Mr. Weech
has told us. He saw deceased alive ten days before the discovery of the
body. And what do you say as to the cause of death?"

"From the inspection of the body, it was difficult to assign any cause
of death. There were no injuries or external marks of any kind or any
abnormal appearances whatever. But I had been informed of the finding
of the bottle of morphine tablets and I examined the body for signs of
morphine poisoning."

"And did you find any such traces?"

"Morphine does not ordinarily leave very pronounced traces, and the
condition of the body was not favourable for discovering the more
minute signs. But I found a somewhat contracted state of the pupils,
and this, with the absence of any other signs indicating death from any
other cause, confirmed the suggestion that death was due to poisoning
with morphine. But I can only say that all the appearances were
consistent with morphine poisoning and that I could not discover any
other cause of death."

"Did you take any measure, to settle this question?"

"Yes. I removed from the body certain of the internal organs and put
them in chemically clean jars which I closed and sealed and affixed
to each a label on which I wrote the particulars and the date, and
signed my name. These jars, in accordance with instructions, I handed
personally to Dr. Walter Sidney for analysis."

This concluded the doctor's evidence. He was followed by Dr. Walter
Sidney, who deposed that he was a pathologist and an analytical
chemist, and that he had received from the preceding witness certain
jars containing various organs from a human body which he was informed
had been removed from the body of deceased. He had also received from
Sergeant Waters a bottle containing a number of white tablets and
labelled with a written label: "Morphine hydrochloride, gr. 1/2." He
had analysed four of the tablets and found that they were composed of
morphine hydrochloride and that each tablet contained half a grain of
the drug. He had also made a chemical examination of the organs from
the jars and had obtained from them a little over two and a quarter
grains of morphine. He estimated the amount of morphine present in the
whole body at, at least, four grains, but probably more.

"What do you consider a poisonous dose of morphine?" the coroner asked.

"It varies considerably in different persons," the witness replied.
"Half a grain has been known to cause death, but that is very unusual.
One grain would be very likely to cause death in a person who was not
accustomed to the drug, and two grains would ordinarily be a lethal
dose."

"Then four grains is definitely a lethal dose?"

"Yes. It would almost certainly cause death in a person who was not in
the habit of taking the drug."

"Did your examination enable you to form any opinion as to whether
deceased had been in the habit of taking morphine?"

"I should not like to give a very definite opinion. All the organs,
including the liver, were quite healthy; which would hardly have been
the case if deceased had been in the habit of dosing himself with
morphine. I can only say that I found no signs that suggested the
habitual taking of the drug. And Dr. Winsford's evidence, in which he
stated that deceased appeared to be a strong, healthy man, is quite
inconsistent with the idea that deceased was a morphine addict."

"As a result of your examination, can you make any suggestion as to the
cause of death?"

"Inasmuch as a lethal dose of morphine was found in the body, and as no
other cause of death was discoverable, I should say that there is no
doubt that deceased died from poisoning by morphine."

"Thank you," said the coroner; "that is what we want to know; and I
think that, if you have nothing more to tell us, we need not detain you
any longer."

He glanced enquiringly at the jury, and, as neither the jury nor the
witness volunteered any remark, the latter withdrew to his seat.

The next witness was Mr. Alfred Bateman, a gentle man of typically
legal aspect whose acquaintance I had already made. Having been sworn,
he deposed that he was the managing clerk of Mr. Penfield, a solicitor
and executor of the will of deceased, for whom he also acted as man of
business.

"Are you in possession of any facts that explain, or have any bearing
on, the death of deceased?" the coroner asked.

"I am in possession of certain facts which seem to me to be relevant
to the subject of this inquiry," the witness replied. "In the first
place, deceased had, in less than two years, got through a fortune, and
was, at the time of his death, so far as I can ascertain, absolutely
penniless and in debt. In the second place, he was, at the time of his
death, being harassed by blackmailers."

"Yes," said the coroner, "those facts certainly seem to be relevant
to the subject of this inquiry. Perhaps you might give us a few
particulars without going into unnecessary detail."

"As to the financial question," said Bateman, "the facts, in outline,
are these: Nearly two years ago--on the sixteenth of April, 1928, to
be exact--deceased wrote to Mr. Penfield stating that he was coming
to England to live and remitting a sum of three thousand pounds
which he asked Mr. Penfield to deposit in a suitable bank in his,
deceased's, name, five hundred to be placed to the current account and
the remainder on deposit. I dealt with this matter myself, under Mr.
Penfield's instructions, and placed the money in Perkins's Bank. Three
months after the receipt of this letter, that is, on the eighteenth of
September, deceased called at our office to announce his arrival. There
were certain business transactions connected with the purchase of a
partnership which I think I need not describe in detail as they seem
to have no bearing on recent events. When these were concluded, and
deceased had deposited his will with Mr. Penfield, I accompanied him to
the bank and introduced him to the manager. Thereafter our contact with
him practically ceased. He came to the office once or twice afterwards,
and then, as we had finished with his affairs and he had kept the
partnership deed in his own possession, we lost sight of him; and,
excepting that his address in Clifford's Inn was known to us--he having
given Mr. Penfield as a reference when he applied for the chambers--we
knew nothing of what he was doing or how he lived.

"He next came into view, so to speak, when his cousin, Mr. Benson,
called at our office to ask if we could give him any information as
to where he could find deceased. That was on the seventeenth of this
month. As we knew nothing, we referred him to deceased's bank, and,
as he has deposed, he went there. On the evening of the eighteenth,
Mr. Benson called at the office and informed me--as Mr. Penfield had
already left--of the discovery of the body in the chambers. He also
informed me that the keys of the chambers were in the possession
of Sergeant Waters. Thereupon, as I knew that Mr. Penfield was the
executor of deceased's will, I thought it best to see the sergeant
without delay and accordingly went forthwith to the police station
where I was fortunate enough to find the sergeant. He suggested that
we had better go to the chambers and see if there were any letters
or papers which might throw any light on the motives for the assumed
suicide.

"I agreed that it was desirable and we accordingly went together to the
chambers and made the search. In a drawer in the writing-table we found
a considerable number of letters and other documents, all neatly tied
into bundles and docketed. There was one bundle tied with red tape
and labelled 'Horse-leech' and this we examined first. It consisted
of eleven letters, each enclosed in its envelope. They were all in a
similar, and apparently disguised, handwriting, none of them bore any
signature or contained any reference to any person by name, and none of
them was dated, though the date could be inferred from the postmark on
the envelope.

"On reading them, we came to the conclusion that they were undoubtedly
from a blackmailer. Ten of them were quite short and were simply
reminders that a payment was due. The other one, which appeared to be
the first of the series, plainly demanded money with menaces. I produce
the letters for your inspection."

Here the witness drew from his pocket a bundle of letters tied together
with red tape and laid them on the table before the coroner.

"I think," said the latter, "that it would be better for you to read
them to us, or, at least, the first letter and one of the others. The
jury can inspect them afterwards if they wish to."

Accordingly, Mr. Bateman untied the bundle, and, taking the two outside
letters, opened one of them and read its contents aloud: "'With
reference to our little friendly talk last night, as you did not seem
able to make up your mind, I will see if I can help you. To put the
matter in a nutshell, I want £500 from you as a first instalment. The
others we can arrange later, but I must have this at once; and I warn
you that I am not going to stand any nonsense. If this is not handed
over by Sunday night at the latest, the consequences which I mentioned
to you will follow without further notice.

"'The money is to be paid in pound notes (not new ones) and the parcel
is to be handed personally either to me or to the party whom you know
and whose name I mentioned to you.

"'This is the final offer and I advise you to take it. You will be
sorry if you don't.'"

"I agree with you," said the coroner, "as to the character of that
letter. It is a typical blackmailer's letter. What is the date on the
envelope?"

"The postmark is dated the sixteenth of September, 1929. Shall I read
the last letter?"

"If you please," the coroner replied, whereupon the witness drew the
other letter from its envelope, and, glancing at the latter, said:
"This is dated by the post-mark the fourth of this present month of
July and the contents are as follows: 'In case you should forget to
look at your calendar, as you did last time, I am sending you this
little reminder. And don't forget that the notes must be old ones which
have seen some service. There were several brand new notes in the last
instalment which had to be kept for use on the turf. Don't let that
happen again.'"

As he finished reading, Bateman laid the two letters on the table and
the coroner, after glancing through them, passed them to the foreman of
the jury.

"Beyond these blackmailing letters," said he, addressing the witness,
"did you find anything that might throw light on what has happened?"

"Not in the way of letters," Bateman replied. "All the others were just
normal business correspondence and letters from his cousin, Mr. Benson,
sent from Australia. But we found also in that drawer the pass-book
from deceased's bank, and the entries in that were very significant.
We began by looking up the entries corresponding to the dates of the
blackmailing letters, and, from what we could see, it appeared that
deceased had been paying out £500 every quarter, excepting the last.
On the date corresponding to the last letter the amount drawn out was
only £200. But when we looked through the entries other than those
corresponding to the dates of the blackmailing letters, it was clear
that a large number of sums of money had been drawn out in the form of
cash, for what purpose we were, of course, unable to guess."

"You found no evidence of any other blackmailers?" the coroner asked.

"No evidence," Bateman replied, "but it looked highly suspicious. The
'self' cheques appeared at very frequent intervals and some of them
were for considerable amounts. However, we could not make very much of
the pass-book, but, from what we could see, it looked as if deceased
had spent his money as fast as he received it; and the cheques that
were entered to his credit were for quite large amounts.

"But it was on the following day, the nineteenth, that I learned the
full enormity of the affair. On that day I accompanied Mr. Penfield
to the bank, where we had an interview with the manager. He presented
us with a statement of his transactions with deceased and showed us
how the account stood. I need not trouble you with details, but the
position amounted to this; that deceased had drawn out every penny that
he possessed and was actually in debt to the bank, though to only a
small amount."

"You say that deceased had received considerable sums of money. We
don't want details, but, roughly speaking, about how much had he spent
and how long had he been in spending it?"

"The total amount that he had held to his credit, including the
original deposit, was just over £13,000. And he had got through the
whole of this between the end of September, 1928, and the middle of
this present month; a period of one year and ten months."

"Did you learn at the bank whether he appeared to have been operating
on the Stock Exchange?"

"I think we may definitely infer that he had not. Settlements on the
Stock Exchange are made by cheque, and there were no records of any
cheques payable to stockbrokers. The comparatively few cheques that
appeared in the ledger were mostly small in amount and appeared to have
been payable to tradesmen or other persons concerned with the ordinary,
normal expenditure. What had exhausted the account was the large number
of cheques payable to himself in cash."

"Well," said the coroner, addressing the jury, "there is no object in
our enquiring further into the details of this astonishing instance
of reckless prodigality. We have the material fact that in less than
two years this unfortunate man flung away what most of us would have
regarded as a fortune. We also know that, at the time of his death, he
was penniless and in debt, and that he was the victim of a particularly
rapacious set of blackmailers. I think Mr. Bateman has given us some
most illuminating information and that we might now thank him for the
clear and lucid way in which he has given his evidence and not detain
him any longer. Unless any member of the jury wishes for any further
information."

One member of the jury, apparently thrilled by the vast sums that had
been mentioned, would have sought further details, but was politely
suppressed by the coroner; whereupon Bateman was released and retired
to his seat. There was a short interval during which the coroner
glanced through the depositions, and then, as I had expected, my name
was called.

"You have heard Mr. Bateman's evidence," said the coroner, when the
preliminaries had been disposed of. "As a member of the staff of the
bank, you will probably consider yourself prohibited from giving any
particulars of deceased's financial affairs. But can you tell us if you
endorse what the last witness has stated?

"I endorse it completely," I replied. "I was present with the manager
when the particulars were given to him. And I may say that I am fully
authorised by the executor--in whom the account is now vested--and the
manager, to give any information that may be required as to our late
customer's dealings with the bank."

"Then," said the coroner, "as you, in your capacity of cashier, knew
exactly what monies deceased received and what he drew out, and in what
form, perhaps you can tell us what opinions you held as to his very
unusual manner of conducting his affairs. Did you ever suspect that he
was being blackmailed?"

"I did."

"What circumstances in particular led you to form that suspicion?

"In the first place, there were the very large sums which he drew out
in cash. It is very unusual for customers to draw out in cash more
than quite modest amounts and these large drafts in cash were, in
themselves, rather suggestive of some slightly irregular transactions.
But what specially tended to arouse my suspicions was the fact that
deceased usually asked expressly for old notes; notes that had been in
circulation and were more or less soiled."

"What did you infer from that?"

"As the only possible advantage of a note that has been used is that it
cannot be traced, I inferred that the notes were to be used for making
payments of a secret, and possibly unlawful, character."

"Is it unusual for customers to ask for used notes?"

"It is rather unusual, though some customers prefer the used notes
because they are less liable to stick together than the new. But
usually, customers express a marked preference for new, clean notes."

"But the new notes are more easy to trace?"

"They are quite easy to trace. Usually, when a customer presents a
bearer cheque for a considerable amount, he is paid in notes which have
been newly issued and supplied direct to the bank. Such an issue is in
the form of a series of notes of which the numbers are consecutive, and
the numbers of the series are entered, not only in our own books but in
the books of the bank of issue. Moreover, the numbers of the notes paid
to the customer are also recorded; so that, if any question arises, it
is possible to say with certainty that a particular note was paid to a
particular person on a known date."

"You inferred, then, that these notes were being used to make
payments of a questionable kind? What led you to suspect blackmail in
particular?"

"It is common knowledge that blackmailers always refuse cheques and
insist on being paid in cash; and their objection to cheques would
equally apply to a series of newly issued notes. The only other kind of
persons known to me who demand payment in untraceable cash are either
thieves or receivers of stolen goods. But in the case of deceased,
blackmailers were more probable than thieves or receivers. And there
was another circumstance that strongly suggested a blackmailer. In
addition to the smaller drafts which were presented at irregular
intervals, there were certain larger drafts which were presented
periodically and pretty regularly at intervals of three months. This
suggested that someone was being paid a quarterly allowance; and,
having regard to the mode of payment, I felt very little doubt that
that person was a blackmailer."

"You speak of a blackmailer. It has been suggested that there may have
been more than one. What do you say to that?"

"I can only say that I think it highly probable. I have always, from
the first, suspected a blackmailer in the background, simply by reason
of the large cash withdrawals. But I had nothing more definite than
that to go on until the large periodical drafts began last September.
If there were any other blackmailers they must have been paid at
irregular intervals, and, I should say, in smaller amounts. But it
is possible that the irregular cash drafts merely represented what
deceased spent on gambling. I know that his expenditure on betting and
play was very large."

"But would he have needed used notes for that purpose? Gambling is a
foolish pursuit, but it is not usually unlawful."

"No; but it may be associated with other acts which are unlawful. This
was certainly the case in the one instance in which I accompanied him
to one of his gambling resorts. It was a most disreputable place and
the persons present seemed to me to be of the shadiest type. And drink
was being sold freely on unlicensed premises and during prohibited
hours. The place might have been, at any moment, raided by the police,
and, in that case, deceased would not have wished that any evidence
should exist that he had been associated with it, if he had happened
not to be there at the time of the raid."

"Is it actually known to you that deceased gambled to a really serious
extent?"

"Yes. I was present on two occasions; the one that I have mentioned and
another at a horse-race. On the first occasion he played very little
as he was merely showing me the place and the people. But at the race
he plunged rather heavily and lost--as he informed me--about a hundred
pounds. But he was quite unconcerned about it. He seemed to consider
the dropping of a hundred pounds as quite a negligible loss."

"Did he know that you were aware of the extent to which he gambled?"

"Oh, yes. He made no secret of it. I spoke to him very seriously on
several occasions and pointed out to him how his capital was wasting.
But he was incorrigible. He took my lectures quite amiably, but he
would promise no reform. He was quite confident that he would get all
his losses back presently."

The coroner reflected for a few moments on this statement. Then, in a
grave and emphatic tone, he said: "As you were a friend of deceased's
and the only person who appears to know much of his affairs, I am going
to ask you two questions. The first is: Have you any inkling as to the
identity of the person who was blackmailing him?"

Now I had expected this question and had carefully considered the reply
that I ought to make. I had a very definite suspicion as to who the
blackmailer was. But it was only a guess; and a guess is not an inkling
in the sense intended. I was prepared to communicate my suspicions to
the police, but I had no intention of making guesses in sworn testimony
with the certainty of publicity. Accordingly, I replied with strict
truth: "I have no knowledge whatsoever. Deceased made no confidences to
me, and I never hinted to him what I suspected."

The coroner, whatever he may have thought, accepted this answer without
comment and wrote it down. Then he put his second question.

"Had you ever any reason to think it possible that deceased might take
his life?"

"Yes," I replied, "I have had that possibility in mind for some time,
and, as soon as I heard that he was missing, I suspected what had
happened."

"What led you to that belief?"

"It was something that deceased himself had said. On a certain occasion
we happened to be speaking of suicide and I remarked that, to me, it
seemed that the fact of suicide was in itself evidence of an unsound
state of mind. With this he disagreed emphatically. He contended
that suicide was a perfectly rational proceeding in appropriate
circumstances; and when I asked him what he considered appropriate
circumstances, he mentioned as an example, total and irremediable
financial ruin. From that time, since his affairs were obviously
tending in that direction, I have always had an uneasy expectation
that, when the crash came, he would take that course for solving his
difficulties."

"You had that expectation," said the coroner, "but was it based on the
mere opinion that he had expressed, or on some more definite indication
of intention? I mean, did he ever convey to you that he actually
contemplated suicide as an act possible to himself?"

"He conveyed to me quite definitely the view that, if he were reduced
to abject poverty, life would not be worth living, and that he would
take measures to bring it to an end. He seemed to consider that it was
the natural and reasonable thing to do."

The coroner pondered this statement for a while. Then he looked towards
the jury.

"Are there any further questions that you would like to ask this
witness?" he enquired. "It seems to me that he has given us all the
material facts."

That was apparently the view of the jury, for no further questions
were suggested. Accordingly, when the depositions had been completed,
I was released and returned to my seat, and, as there were no other
witnesses, the coroner proceeded to sum up briefly but quite adequately.

"You have now heard all the evidence," he began, "and you will have
noticed that it all seems to establish a single conclusion. The medical
evidence is quite clear. Deceased died from the effects of a large
dose of morphine, or morphia, as it is more commonly called. On the
question whether the poison was administered by himself or some other
person, we have the evidence of the sergeant that the finger-prints on
the drinking-vessel and on the poison bottle were those of deceased
himself and that there were no signs of the presence of any other
person. Then we have the clear evidence of Mr. Mortimer that deceased
had contemplated suicide as a means of escape from the consequences
of financial ruin; and we have the evidence of both Mr. Bateman and
Mr. Mortimer that financial ruin had actually occurred on a scale
that almost takes one's breath away. So you see that the drift of the
evidence is all in the same direction; and I will leave you to consider
it with the feeling that you will have no difficulty in finding your
verdict."

Apparently the coroner's feeling was a just one, for the jury, after
a very brief consultation, communicated their verdict through the
foreman. It was to the effect that deceased died from the effects of a
large dose of morphine, administered by himself.

"That," said the coroner, "is a verdict of suicide. What do you say as
to the state of deceased's mind 'at the time of the act?"

The decision of the jury, in direct contradiction of poor Gillum's own
view, was that he was insane at the time when the act was committed.
And when this finding had been recorded the proceedings came to an end.

I lingered after the court had risen to exchange a few words with
Benson, to whom I had taken a rather strong liking, and presently we
were joined by Mr. Bateman, who apparently wanted to learn how his
client had been affected by the incidents of the inquiry.

"A most amazing story," he commented, "the evidence in this case has
brought to light. I have never heard anything more astonishing. The
finding of the jury as to the state of mind of deceased at the time of
the act might fairly be extended to all his other acts. The conduct
that the evidence has disclosed is the conduct of a sheer lunatic.
Don't you agree with me, Mr. Benson?"

"I do indeed," Benson admitted gloomily.

"And I think," pursued Bateman, "that you will also agree that, however
incomprehensible poor Gillum's conduct may seem to a sane man, the fact
that he did act in that insane manner has been established beyond any
possible doubt. A consistent story has been elicited and established on
an undeniable basis of ascertained fact."

He looked a little anxiously, as I thought, at Benson, who reflected a
few moments before replying, but, at length, gave a qualified assent to
Bateman's proposition.

"As to the facts which were proved in evidence," said he, "they seem to
admit of no doubt or denial. But I still have the feeling that there is
something behind all this that I don't understand. The whole affair is
too abnormal."

"As to its abnormality," said Bateman, "I am entirely with you. But,
abnormal as it is, I think we have got to accept it as a sequence of
events that actually happened. Surprise is natural enough, but doubt
would seem to be unreasonable."

He paused and looked questioningly at Benson, and, as the latter did
not reply immediately, he asked: "You are not contemplating any further
action in the matter, are you? Any sort of private or unofficial
inquiry? I hope not, for I feel that nothing could come of it; nothing,
that is to say, but the dredging up of a quantity of unprofitable and
unsavoury details. And inquiries of this kind are apt to prove costly
out of all proportion to their value."

"It would certainly be proper," Benson replied, "for me to give very
respectful consideration to your advice, seeing that your experience is
so much greater than mine. But I must confess that I am not satisfied.
Still, I will not take any decision without earnest consideration of
what you have said. I will think things over for a day or two, and I
will let you know whether I decide to accept this mysterious affair at
its face value or to see if any sort of unravelment is possible."

"Very well," rejoined Bateman. "We will leave it at that. If, in the
end, you decide to open the matter further, we have the material. Mr.
Penfield has carried out your instructions. We had, as you may have
noticed, our Mr. James--a very skilful shorthand reporter--in court
to-day to make a complete verbatim report of everything that was said,
in evidence or otherwise. So that we are independent of the newspaper
reports and we shall have no need to ask for access to the depositions.
But I hope that neither will be required."

With this, Mr. Bateman took his leave and bustled away; and, as Benson
appeared more disposed for reflection than conversation, and I had my
own business to attend to, I parted from him at the entrance to the
building and we went our respective ways.

And here my narrative comes to its natural end. Its purpose was to give
an account of my association with John Gillum, and this I have done;
and if my story is not without an epilogue, that epilogue will issue
from a pen other than mine.


PART 2: THE CASE OF JOHN GILLUM, DECEASED: Narrated by Christopher Jervis, M.D.


CHAPTER VIII: IS THERE A CASE?


THE GEORGE AND VULTURE INN has always been I associated in my mind with
the historic case of Bardell and Pickwick and those extremely astute
gentlemen, Messrs. Dodson and Fogg of Freeman's Court hard by. But
nowadays that venerable tavern associates itself more especially with
the very queer case of John Gillum, deceased, and a less famous but
much more respectable practitioner of the law. For it was at the George
and Vulture that I--together with my colleague, John Thorndyke--became
introduced to the queer case aforesaid, and the introducer was no less
a person than Mr. Joseph Penfield.

There was nothing surprising in our encounter there at lunch-time
with Mr. Penfield, for his office in George Yard was but a few doors
from the tavern. Probably it was his daily resort; at any rate, as
we entered the grill-room, there he was, seated at a table gravely
contemplating a grilled chop which the waiter had just set before him.
He observed us as we entered and immediately indicated a couple of
vacant chairs at his table.

"This is an unexpected pleasure," said he as we took possession of the
chairs. "Isn't the City of London rather outside your radius?"

"No place is outside our radius," replied Thorndyke. "But we have just
come from the Griffin Life Office where we have been conferring with
our old friend, Mr. Stalker. The Griffin retains me permanently."

"As medical referee, I suppose?" Mr. Penfield ventured.

"No," replied Thorndyke. "As medico-legal adviser; I might almost
say as adviser in doubtful cases of suicide, for that is the kind of
problem that is usually submitted to me."

"Ha!" said Penfield; "and I presume that Mr. Stalker's bias is usually
towards an affirmative view."

"Naturally," Thorndyke agreed, "but he doesn't expect me to share that
bias. On the contrary, my usual function is rather to shatter his hopes
and to convince him of all the things that he doesn't want to believe."

"Yes," said Penfield, "and a very useful function, too. If more people
would seek the services of an expert destructive critic, there would be
a good deal less litigation."

With this he returned to the consideration of his lunch while I,
having secured the waiter's attention, communicated to him our joint
requirements. Mean while, Mr. Penfield proceeded methodically with
his meal, dropping an occasional remark but chiefly leaving the
conversational initiative to Thorndyke and me. But as I watched him
skilfully dissecting his chop and noted his reflective expression,
I had the feeling that he was cogitating some matter arising out of
Thorndyke's explanation and his own rejoinder, and I waited expectantly
for it to rise to the surface. And at length (as Pepys would have
expressed it) "out it come."

"Your description," said he, "of your connection with the Griffin has
brought to my mind a matter that is causing me some embarrassment. In
short, to be quite honest, it has raised the hope that I may be able to
transfer the burden of it from my shoulders to yours. You may consider
the case as being within your province. It certainly isn't within mine."

"That suggests to me," said Thorndyke, "that it is a criminal case."

"Yes," replied Penfield, "it is. Highly criminal. A nasty, unsavoury,
disreputable affair, and, legally, quite impossible at that. I. will
just indicate its nature, though I expect you know something of it
already from the newspapers. Probably you heard of a case of suicide
that occurred in Clifford's Inn about a month ago."

"I remember it quite well," said Thorndyke, "and I recall that you were
the dead man's solicitor."

"Then," said Penfield, "you will remember that the dead man, John
Gillum by name, having wasted his substance in riotous living, to wit,
in gambling, and having--presumably by his own folly--become the victim
of blackmailers, proceeded to overdraw his accounts at the bank and
then to commit suicide."

"Yes," said Thorndyke, "I remember that."

"Very well," said Penfield. "Now deceased had a cousin who was much
too good for him; a most estimable Australian gentleman named Benson.
I speak of him with sympathy and respect although he is now the bane
of my life. He was present when Gillum's body was discovered and he at
once formed the opinion that there was something abnormal about the
affair; something more than met the eye. And so there may have been.
However, he asked me to send shorthand writer to attend the inquest and
make a verbatim report of the proceedings, which I did; and I can let
you have a transcript of that report if it is of any use. But I must
admit that, on reading it, I was utterly unable to see anything in the
case that was not perfectly normal, the circumstances being what they
were. And that is still my position, and I have tried to impart that
view to Benson. But he is still unsatisfied and he continues to stir
me up from time to time with demands that some kind of action shall be
taken."

"What does he want you to do?" Thorndyke asked.

"To tell you the truth," replied Penfield, "I am not quite clear. But,
primarily, he wants the blood of those blackmailers."

"Naturally," said Thorndyke, "and very properly. But is there any clue
to their identity?"

"Not the slightest," replied Penfield. "He expects me, in some mysteric
manner, by employing private detectives or other agents, to discover
who the blackmailers are and to drag them forth from their lairs and
bring them to justice."

"You say that he has nothing to go on. Nothing at all?"

"Nothing," replied Penfield, "but a few letters in a disguised hand,
dated only by the postmarks, unsigned, of course, and mentioning nobody
by name nor hinting at any locality."

"And have you no letters or documents that might be of assistance?"

"I have Gillum's will. Benson is the sole beneficiary; and the sole
benefit that he has enjoyed has been a small debt to the bank, which
he has insisted on paying. I have also one or two of Gillum's letters
to me, but they are simple business letters making no reference to his
private affairs."

"And what do you want me to do?" Thorndyke asked.

"I should like," replied Penfield, "to bring him to you and let him
state his case and say what he wants. If you think that it is possible
to do anything for him, well and good; and if you think otherwise, I
should suggest that you give him some of the medicine that you tell me
you administer to Mr. Stalker for the cure of unreasonable optimism."

Thorndyke did not reply immediately, but I could see that the case,
unpromising as it looked, was riot without its attractions for him.
For, unlike Penfield, he was stimulated rather than discouraged by
apparent difficulties. Still, even Thorndyke could not embark on a case
without data of some sort. Eventually, he replied without committing
himself to any definite course of action: "I think it would be worth
while to hear what Mr. Benson has to say. He may know more than he is
aware of; and I recall that at the inquest a friend of Gillum's gave
evidence, a man named Mortimer. He seemed to know more about deceased's
affairs than anybody else. Perhaps we might get some information from
him."

"Excellent!" exclaimed Penfield, obviously delighted at the prospect of
shifting his burden on to Thorndyke's shoulders. "Excellent. I can put
you into touch with Mr. Mortimer, and I am sure he will give you any
assistance that he can. And now, as we seem to have finished our lunch,
perhaps you will walk down to my office with me and I will hand you the
report. It contains all the positive information that I think you are
likely to get."

Accordingly, when we had settled our score, we set forth from the
tavern down George Yard to Mr. Penfield's office. There we observed
a rack of deed-boxes the lids of which were decorated, rather like
coffin-plates, with the names of Mr. Penfield's clients. One of these,
bearing the name of "John Gillum Esq.," our friend let down, when
he had unlocked the box, displaying a small collection of documents
within. From these he selected a large envelope, and having opened it
and verified its contents, handed it to Thorndyke.

"That," said he, "is the report. If you decide to undertake the case, I
shall, if you wish it and Mr. Benson agrees, transfer the deed-box with
its contents to you. And now, perhaps we can make an appointment for
your meeting with Mr. Benson. Will you come here, or shall I bring him
to your chambers?"

"I don't see why you should bring him," said Thorndyke, "unless
you would prefer to. I suggest that he calls on me one evening by
appointment, for an informal talk, and if he can bring Mr. Mortimer
with him, we shall be able to see exactly how we stand."

"Thank you," said Mr. Penfield. "It will suit me much better to send
him than to bring him, so, if you will give me a date, I will make the
appointment."

"I will give you two dates," said Thorndyke, "and you can notify me
when to expect the visit. One will be the day after to-morrow at eight
o'clock in the evening, if that will suit you, Jervis, and the other
two days later."

"Both these dates will do for me," said I; on which Mr. Penfield
entered them in his book with undissembled satisfaction.

"I must thank you again," said he, accompanying us out into George
Yard. "You have really rendered me a great service."

He shook hands cordially with us both and even stood watching us as we
walked away up the court towards Cornhill. And thus was set rolling the
ball whose evolutions I was to watch with so much interest during the
next few months. None of Thorndyke's cases ever started less hopefully,
and few developed in a more surprising fashion.

Mr. Benson chose the earlier of the two dates and arrived at our
chambers punctually at eight in the evening thereof; so punctually that
the Temple clock was actually striking the hour as the knock on our
door was heard. He was accompanied by another gentleman, and when I
let him in, mutual introductions were effected and followed by mutual
inspection. Like Mr. Penfield, we were pleasantly impressed by our
visitor, indeed by both our visitors. Benson was a typical Australian;
tall, well set up and athletic looking, with a fresh, weather-beaten
face and a frank, agreeable manner. His companion, Mr. Mortimer, was
of a quite different type; a quiet, sedate man with something rather
studious and bookish in his appearance.

"I suppose," said Benson, when the conversational preliminaries had
been disposed of, "Mr Penfield has given you a general outline of the
business?"

"He has given me the report of the inquest," replied Thorndyke, "and I
and my colleague, Dr. Jervis, have read it most carefully. So now we
probably know as much as to the facts of the case as you do, and are in
a position to discuss them. Mr. Penfield informs me that you wish some
action to be taken, and thefirst question is what kind of action you
contemplate."

This very definite question seemed rather to disconcert Benson, for he
answered in a somewhat hesitating manner: "Well, you see, I have had
all along the feeling that this dreadful affair was perfectly unnatural
and that there was something behind it that was never brought out by
the inquest. In the first place, my cousin, Gillum, was the very last
person whom I should have expected to commit suicide."

"That," said Thorndyke, "is frequently said by witnesses at inquests
and probably quite truly. But let us be definite. There are only two
possibilities in the case of your cousin's death. Either he committed
suicide or he was murdered. The jury decided that he killed himself. Do
you contest the fact of the suicide?"

"Well, no," replied Benson. "I don't see how I can. I heard all the
evidence; and, unwilling as I am to believe that he killed himself, I
don't see that there is any escape from the facts."

"No," Thorndyke agreed, "that is how it appears to me. Then, if we
accept, as we seem bound to do, the fact that John Gillum died by
his own hand, we can pass on to the next point. What is the further
question that you want to raise?"

"The further question," replied Benson, "is, why did he commit suicide?
Mortimer thinks that he killed himself because he had gambled away all
his money, but I don't believe that. It isn't a sufficient reason. And
we know that he was being harassed by blackmailers. Now, my feeling
is that it was not the loss of his money that drove him to suicide,
but the agony of mind that he was suffering on account of these
blackmailing devils."

"That," said Thorndyke, "is a perfectly reasonable view, and I am
inclined to agree with you. But what practical effect do you propose to
give to your belief?"

"If John Gillum was driven to his death by these wretches," Benson
replied with some heat, "they are virtually his murderers. I know that,
in law, they are not chargeable with murder. But, even legally, they
are guilty of a very serious crime, and I want them found and brought
to justice."

"That, again," said Thorndyke, "is a perfectly reasonable position, and
I view your desire very sympathetically. But there are two points that
I think it necessary to put to you. The first is that what you propose
is as nearly as may be an impossibility. So far as I know at present,
there is no clue whatever to the identity of these people, nor--so far
as I am aware--is anything known as to the circumstances in which the
payments were made."

"I think," said Benson, "Mortimer can tell us something about that, and
I believe he has some suspicions as to who these people are."

"We will hear what Mr. Mortimer has to tell us presently," said
Thorndyke. "Meanwhile let us consider the second point. That raises the
question whether it is, in fact, expedient to take any action, even
with a chance of success."

"Expedient?" Benson repeated. "Is there any thing against it besides
the difficulty?"

"I think," said Thorndyke, "that if we consider the circumstances as
they are known to us, we shall see certain objections to taking the
kind of action that you contemplate. May I ask whether your cousin was
at all a nervous or timorous man? A man easily intimidated?"

"Most certainly not," replied Benson. "He was a decidedly bold,
self-reliant man."

"Very well," said Thorndyke, "then consider his position at the time of
his death. He was being blackmailed by at least one person, and that at
the v of two thousand pounds a year. Now, you know, Mr. Benson, it is
not usually possible to levy blackmail on a person who has nothing to
conceal unless that person is more than ordinarily easily frightened.
But your cousin was not easily frightened; and yet he was paying this
enormous amount. More over, as you believe, he was so distressed by his
position that he took his life to escape from the persecution. What
are we to infer from this? Is it possible to resist the inference that
there was something in his life that he was compelled to conceal at any
price?"

Benson was evidently a good deal taken aback by Thorndyke's blunt
statement of the case. He remained silent for some moments; then he
replied: "It had occurred to me that some mud might be stirred up if
we were to bring the blackmailers to justice, but I hadn't put it as
strongly as you have."

"It is necessary to face the facts squarely," said Thorndyke, "and
those facts suggest very strongly that your cousin was concealing
something highly discreditable; and it could have been no trivial
scandal. In that case he could have appealed to the police and would
have been given ample protection without any inquisition. The amount
which he paid suggests something of extreme gravity; something which he
dared not allow to come to light. Therefore, I ask you again, would it
not be wiser to let sleeping dogs lie?"

Once more Benson reflected before replying, but he was not long in
coming to a decision. "It might be wiser," he admitted, "but it would
be against justice and common morality. As to the scandal, poor old
Jack is dead, so it won't affect him. And I don't suppose it was
anything that would lessen my respect for him. At any rate, I feel
strongly that those devils who drove him to a miserable death ought to
be dragged out into the light of day and made to pay their debt."

"Yes," Thorndyke agreed, "I think you are right in principle. But I
must finally remind you of the difficulties of the case. Remember that,
not only are we without any clue as to who these people were--unless
Mr. Mortimer can supply one--but, even if we could discover them, the
principal witness--the vital witness, in fact--is dead, and it might
easily turn out to be impossible to make out a case against them, or,
at any rate, to prove it. Furthermore, the proceedings, involving the
employment of private enquiry agents, might prove to be extremely
costly; and in the very probable event of total failure, a vast amount
of money would have been wasted."

"I know," said Benson, "and it is very good of you to put the matter so
clearly. But my mind is made up. Whatever it costs, if you are prepared
to undertake the case, I should like you to get on with it. I am a man
of ample means, and I am a bachelor; and if I spend every penny that I
have, and even if we fail after all, I shall feel that the money was
well spent in trying to bring Jack Gillum's murderers to the punishment
that they deserve."

I could see that Benson's attitude had secured Thorndyke's warm
sympathy, as, indeed, it had secured mine. But I think both of us
rather regretted that he should have embarked on an enterprise that was
almost certain to end in disappointment.

"Well, Benson," my colleague said cordially, "I congratulate you on
your courage and your very proper desire for justice. I will certainly
do what I can to get you satisfaction; but I warn you that, if the case
turns out to be quite impossible, I shall not waste my time and your
money in pursuing a will-o'-the-wisp."

"Thank you," replied Benson. "I put myself entirely in your hands, and
I promise you to abide loyally by your decision."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "as we are agreed on the conditions, we may as
well make a start and see exactly what our position is. You said that
Mr. Mortimer could give us some useful information. Perhaps we had
better begin with that."

He looked enquiringly at Mortimer, who, in his turn, looked a little
sheepish.

"I am afraid," said he, "that I haven't much to tell. It is only a
matter of suspicion."

"Suspicions," remarked Thorndyke, "are of no use as evidence, but they
may be quite useful as indicating a line of enquiry. At any rate, let
us have them."

"They relate," said Mortimer, "to some people named Foucault who
run a gaming house in Gerrard Street. I went there with Gillum on
one occasion; on the very night, in fact, when I first made his
acquaintance in a social sense. They were an obviously shady lot; but
what specially struck me was that Madame Foucault made a dead set at
Gillum--flirted with him, or made a show of doing so, in the most
ostentatious, almost indecent, manner before the whole roomful of
gamesters."

"And was Gillum responsive?" Thorndyke asked.

"Not in the least," replied Mortimer. "But Monsieur Foucault was. He
watched them closely the whole of the time that they were together, and
his expression as he looked at Gillum was positively murderous. And I
gathered that there had been some trouble on previous occasions, for
Gillum remarked to me on Foucault's jealousy and made rather a joke
of it. And there was no mistaking Foucault's hostility to Gillum. I
noticed it when we met in the restaurant before we followed them to the
gambling den."

"Have you any further knowledge of these people?" Thorndyke asked.

"No," Mortimer answered. "That was the only occasion on which I met
them, and I know nothing more than what I have told you. I must confess
that there doesn't seem to be very much in it."

"I am inclined to agree with you," said Thorndyke. "A little made-up
scandal of the kind that you suggest might account for an attempt at
blackmail on a modest scale. But the one which we are considering seems
to have been something much more formidable. Still, I will get you to
let me have the names and address of these people so that we may make
a few enquiries. And now, as we have squeezed Mr. Mortimer dry, let us
hear what Mr. Benson has to tell us."

"I am afraid," said Benson, "that I have nothing at all to tell. You
see, it is two years since Gillum left Australia and I know nothing
about his doings or way of living since he came to England."

"No," said Thorndyke, "we have to depend on Mr. Mortimer for that. But
there is his life in Australia. I want you to review that. Blackmail is
usually related to the past, and often to a rather remote past. I ask
you to try to recall the circumstances of Gillum's life in Australia
and consider whether there may not have been some incident which could
have been the subject of blackmail."

"I will think that question over," said Benson, "but, at the moment, I
can recall nothing that could possibly have been used against him to
extort money. He had no enemies, he never, to my knowledge, had any
troubles with women, and I never heard of any sort of scandal."

"Well," said Thorndyke, "turn the question over at your leisure. Now,
as we seem to have drawn a blank in Australia, let us take the next
stage, his voyage to England. Do you know anything of the incidents of
that voyage?"

"Not in much detail," replied Benson; "but I came to England in the
same ship, and I had some talk about him with the captain and the first
officer."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "try to recall what you learned from them and
consider whether there was anything--in his relations with the other
passengers, for instance--that might be worth enquiring into."

"I don't think he had much to do with the other passengers. There were
only a few of them--the ship was chiefly a cargo ship--and they were
mostly men in the meat trade. I gathered that Gillum spent most of his
time playing cards with the doctor and the purser in their cabins,
particularly in the purser's room. Those two men were his special
cronies, and, by all accounts, he struck up a very close friendship
with them both."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "they ought to be able to tell us all about the
voyage and who the other passengers were."

"Why do you suppose anything happened on the ship?" Benson asked.

"I am merely considering it as a possibility," Thorndyke replied.
"Remember, Benson, that something happened somewhere. That blackmail
was not paid for nothing; and as we have not yet found a starting-point
for an inquiry, we must trace Gillum's doings and his contacts with
other persons as well as we can. Probably these two men are at present
not available for inquiries. I suppose the ship is now outward bound?"

"Yes," replied Benson, "but neither of those men is on board. Both of
them left the ship and the service at the end of the voyage. I learned
that when I was on board."

"You meau that they both left the ship at the same time as Gillum?"
Thorndyke asked.

"Not actually at the same time," Benson replied. "Gillum went ashore at
Marseilles and travelled over land, making a leisurely journey across
France so as to see something of the country. I think he arrived in
England about six weeks or two months after the others. But I know
that the doctor and the purser both left the service at the end of the
voyage, when they had settled their business with the owners."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "it is possible that their relations with
Gillum may have continued during the time of his residence in England,
in fact, it is rather likely. You don't, I suppose, know where it would
be possible to find them?

"I asked about them at the shipping office," replied Benson. "As to
the doctor, they knew nothing but that he had some idea of going into
practice or else getting a job on a different line. But the purser is
certainly beyond our reach. He is dead. They told me about him when I
called at the office. It seems that he died under rather mysterious
circumstances, for there was some uncertainty as to whether he had
committed suicide or had been murdered. But I don't know any of the
details. As the man was a stranger to me, I didn't go into the matter."

"No," said Thorndyke, "but I think we shall have find out what the
circumstances were. A suicide, and still more a murder, seems to demand
investigation. Do you remember the purser's name?"

"Yes," replied Benson, "his name was Abel Webb."

"Abel Webb!" Mortimer exclaimed in a tone of the utmost astonishment.
"Why, that was the name of the man whose body I discovered in the porch
of St. Michael's Church. It is a most astonishing coincidence. And what
makes it still more so is the fact that the finding of that body was
the occasion of my making Gillum's acquaintance."

"You had better tell us about that," said Thorndyke. "I mean as to
Gillum's connection with your discovery. The case itself I remember
quite clearly."

"It happened this way," said Mortimer. "I had seen the police carry
the body down to the ambulance and was standing there in the crowd
waiting to see it move off when someone came up and asked me what the
excitement was about and whether it was a motor accident. I turned
round to answer, and then I recognised the questioner as one of the
bank's customers, Mr. Gillum. I told him what had happened, and I also
told him, and he could see for himself that I was a good deal upset
by the affair. He was extremely kind and sympathetic and eventually
insisted on taking me off in a taxi to dine with him at a restaurant.
And it was that same evening after dinner, that I went with him to the
gaming house that I told you about."

"I take it," said Thorndyke, "that you did not know at the time who the
dead man was."

"No," answered Mortimer. "I learned that first at the inquest."

"Did Gillum come forward to give any evidence as to deceased at the
inquest or afterwards?"

"He couldn't have come forward before the inquest because the identity
of the deceased had not been disclosed. But I should say that he never
did."

"Do you know whether Gillum ever learned who the dead man was?"

"I know he did, for I discussed the case with him. He had read a
very full report of the inquest and seemed to remember all about the
evidence. And the report contained not only the name of the deceased
but his description as a former purser of one of the Dominion Line
ships."

"Did he tell you much about his relations with Webb?"

"No," replied Mortimer, "the astonishing thing is that he never let
drop the faintest hint that he had ever heard of the man before. In our
talk about the inquest, he spoke of the dead man as if he had been a
complete stranger."

"That is very extraordinary," exclaimed Benson.

"It is," Mortimer agreed, "though Gillum's reticence in this case
is less remarkable than another man's would have been, for he was
reticent about everything; I might almost say, secretive. He never
told me anything about himself--excepting his gambling exploits. He
was confidential enough about those. But he was extraordinarily close
respecting his private affairs. You will hardly believe it, but until
after his death I never knew that he had been in Australia."

When Mortimer had finished speaking, a rather curious silence fell
on us all. Benson looked puzzled, but he made no remark and put no
question to Mortimer. But I could see that the latter's statement had
made a deep impression on Thorndyke, as it had on me; and when the
discussion was resumed, the drift of his questions made it clear to me
that what had struck me had also struck him.

"I think," said he, "that Webb's death occurred about a year ago. Do
you happen to remember the approximate date, Mortimer?"

"I remember the exact date," was the reply. "It was the ninth of last
September."

Thorndyke made a note of the date and then remarked: "The fact that
Abel Webb met a violent death makes it necessary to look rather more
closely into the incidents of the voyage to England. Of course, there
may be no' connection; but it is an abnormal circumstance and we are
bound to take note of it. And as Abel Webb has gone out of our ken, the
only person left from whom we could get any in is the doctor. Benson
can't tell us where he is to be found, but a doctor is usually easy to
trace, as he is bound to keep the Registrar informed as to changes of
address. What was his name?"

"His name was Peck," replied Benson. "Augustus Peck."

"I will look him up in the directory," said Thorndyke "or at the
Registrar's office and see if we can get into touch with him. And now,
Mortimer, to return to the evidences of blackmail. Apart from the large
drafts that you have mentioned, evidently connected with the letters
that were found, is there any positive suggestion of other payments,
earlier in date. It is important that we should fix, if possible, the
time when the blackmailing began. Can you tell us anything definite
about that?"

"Yes," replied Mortimer, "I think I can. Quite recently I have gone
into the question afresh. Benson has kindly lent me Gillum's pass-book
so that I could study it at home. I have gone through it very care
fully, and it occurred to me that if I made a graph of the dates and
amounts, any small periodic fluctuations would be made visible."

"Excellent," said Thorndyke. "And what did your graph show?"

"It showed a small periodic rise corresponding roughly with the
ordinary quarter days. This began quite early, within a month of the
opening of the account, and it went on until the big drafts began."

"Do you say," Thorndyke asked, "that the small rises ceased when the
large drafts began, or were you unable to ascertain that?"

"I am disposed to think that the small rises ceased when the large
quarterly payments began, though they might have become merged in
higher rises of the curve due to the big payments. But, allowing for
the possibility of this confusion, the smaller payments ceased and were
replaced by the larger."

"What were the amounts of the smaller payments?"

"So far as I could judge, the excess above the ordinary withdrawals
would be about two hundred pounds a quarter."

"What did you infer from this? Did it seem to you to suggest that there
was more than one blackmailer?"

"No," replied Mortimer. "My reading of it was that there was only one;
that for about a year he had been satisfied with a payment of something
like eight hundred a year, and that he had then suddenly raised his
demands. That would account for the smaller payments ceasing when the
larger ones began."

"Yes," Thorndyke agreed, "that appears to be a a reasonable inference.
But it is difficult to judge. We really want to know more about
Gillum's private life and habits; but I don't see where we are to gain
the knowledge."

"I think," said Benson, "that Mortimer may be able to help you in that.
He is writing some sort of account of his connection with my cousin.
How are you getting on with it, Mortimer?"

"I have finished it," Mortimer replied, "but I don't think it would be
of much use to Dr. Thorndyke. You see," he continued in response to
an enquiring glance from my colleague, "it occurred to me after the
inquest that it would be rather interesting to put on record, while
the facts were still fresh in my memory, the whole incident of my
acquaintance with John Gillum; and I have found it quite interesting
to write, but I don't think it would be very thrilling to read. And I
doubt whether it would be of any use to you, for I wrote it without any
thought of an inquiry such as you are engaged in."

"But, my dear fellow," said Thorndyke, "that is precisely its most
valuable quality. A man writing an account with the conscious intention
of throwing light on some question tends unconsciously to select the
facts which appear to him to be important and to ignore other facts
which seem to have no bearing. But his selection may be all wrong.
He may omit something of vital importance through having failed to
realise its significance. Whereas your little history gives the facts
impartially without selection. Would it be possible for us to have the
privilege of reading it?"

Mortimer smiled rather shyly. "It is a poor performance in a literary
sense," said he, "but, of course, you can see it if you wish to. I
rattled it off on the typewriter, and, as I did it in duplicate, you
can have one copy to keep as long as you like. I will post it off to
you to-night."

"Thank you," said Thorndyke. "I shall read it with interest even if it
throws no further light on the case. And there are two other matters
that may be mentioned before we adjourn this meeting. Who has the
blackmailer's letters?"

"They are in Penfield's custody at present," replied Benson. "He has
all the documents."

"The other matter," said Thorndyke, "refers to Gillum's chambers. Who
has possession of them? You, I suppose, are the nominal tenant."

"Yes, I am the tenant until Michaelmas or until they are let. Why do
you ask?"

"I merely wanted to know whether they would be available if it should
seem desirable to make an inspection."

"What use would an inspection be?" Benson asked.

"It is impossible to say," replied Thorndyke. "Probably none. But some
point may arise from the reading of Mortimer's manuscript which may be
elucidated by looking over the premises."

"Well, you know best," said Benson. "At any rate, I will send you
the keys in case you should want them. And I think that finishes our
business for the present. It is very good of you to have given us
so much of your time; but, before we go, there is one question that
I should like to ask. You have gone very patiently into the case
to-night. From what you have learned from us, do you think you will be
disposed to do what I am hoping you will; to prosecute a search for
those wretches who are responsible for poor Jack Gillum's death?"

"I am prepared to look into the case," Thorndyke replied. "If I find
that we come to an absolute dead end, I shall advise you to abandon
the inquiry. But if I see any prospect whatever of bringing it to a
successful conclusion, I shall place my services unreservedly at your
disposal. Will that satisfy you?"

"It will more than satisfy me," replied Benson, "and, for my part, I
promise to be guided by your advice, whatever you may decide."

With this, the two men rose, and, when we had escorted them to the
landing and seen them safely launched on the stairs, we wished them
good-night and re-entered our chambers.


CHAPTER IX: THE EMPTY NEST


"WELL, THORNDYKE," I SAID when we had re-entered and closed the door,
"this has been quite an entertaining interview. I fancy that your drag
net brought up rather more than you expected. A mighty queer catch, in
fact."

"Yes," he agreed, as he dug out his pipe with a thoughtful air, "a
decidedly queer catch. And it will need some sorting out. What do you
make of it?"

"It seems to me," I replied, "that we have identified one of the
blackmailers and accounted for the other."

"That is the result in a nutshell," said he. "But I should like to hear
how you arrived at it."

"The argument," I replied, "consists in stating the facts in their
natural sequence. To begin with Abel Webb. I remember the case quite
clearly. It was that cyanide injection case; and when we discussed it,
we agreed that suicide could not be entertained. It was a blatant case
of murder."

"Yes," Thorndyke agreed. "I accept that."

"Then we agree that Abel Webb was murdered. He was murdered on the
ninth of September. At that time Gillum was being blackmailed at the
rate of eight hundred a year. But exactly a week after the murder, on
the sixteenth of September, the blackmail suddenly jumped up to the
rate of two thousand a year.

"At, or about, the time of the murder, Gillum is known to have been
in the neighbourhood, within a few yards of the place where it was
committed; and, after the murder, although he and Mortimer discussed
it in detail, he concealed from Mortimer the fact that he had been
acquainted with Webb. You agree to that?

"Yes," Thorndyke replied. "Mortimer referred to it as reticence, but
reticence to that extent amounts to concealment."

"Those, then," said I, "are the facts, and my interpretation of them is
this: Abel Webb was blackmailing Gillum to the tune of eight hundred a
year. Possibly he was also becoming troublesome. At any rate, Gillum
got tired of it and took an opportunity to kill Abel Webb. For that I
don't blame him, although his methods were not pretty. But then Gillum
had bad luck. Somebody knew more than he was aware of and promptly
put on the screw; and put it on so forcibly that when Gillum came to
the end of his resources, he committed suicide rather than face the
consequences of not being able to pay. That is my reading of the case,
and I rather think it is yours too."

"Yes," Thorndyke agreed, "that is what the facts seem to suggest, and
I am prepared to accept your theory as a working hypothesis. Without
prejudice, however, as our friend Penfield would say. I mean that,
while adopting it as a working hypothesis, we must not lose sight of
its hypothetical nature. Fresh facts may lead us to modify our views."

"Yes, that is true," I admitted; "but you speak of a working
hypothesis. But how does it work? The problem is to find the principal
blackmailer. But I don't see that what we have learned gets us any more
forward on that quest."

"There," said Thorndyke, "I disagree entirely. Assuming your
interpretation of the facts to be correct, we have a most important
clue to the identity of the chief blackmailer. You have said it
yourself. 'Somebody knew more than he was aware of.' But what did that
somebody know? He must have known, not only of the connection between
Gillum and Webb, but that Webb was blackmailing Gillum. That implies
that the blackmailer must have known Webb pretty intimately; but if
Webb was really a blackmailer, the suggestion is that the matter which
supported the blackmail was something connected with the voyage from
Australia to England. But that, in its turn, seems to connect the
unknown blackmailer with the voyage; and if we are right in inferring
such a connection, we have a very valuable hint as to where to look for
further information."

"You mean the ship's doctor?"

"Yes. If the blackmail arose out of any incident that occurred on board
ship, and still more if the blackmailer should have been one of the
other passengers, the doctor could hardly fail to have some knowledge
of the matter, or some knowledge of the circumstances out of which
the blackmail arose. Even if he had no suspicion of the blackmailing
transaction, he must know what the general conditions were on the
voyage. There isn't much privacy on board ship, especially on a long
voyage."

"Yes," I agreed, "the doctor should be a useful witness. Benson's
knowledge of the matter is based on hearsay, but Dr. Peck's is
first-hand, so that we could cross-examine him in detail. But the
question is, how are we to get into touch with him? He may be in India
or China by this time."

"That is a possibility," said Thorndyke, "but we had better begin by
finding out his permanent address from the Medical Directory."

He went into the office and returned with the volume in his hand.
Laying it down on the table, he turned over the leaves until he found
the entry, which he read put.

"Augustus Peck, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., L.D.S., Surgeon, Commonwealth and
Dominions Line. Permanent address, 87, Staple Inn."

"Staple Inn," I repeated. "It is rather odd that this case should be
connected with the only two remaining inns of Chancery. And I notice
that he has the dental as well as the medical qualification."

"Yes," said Thorndyke, "and quite a useful combination for a ship's
surgeon. I suppose our next move must be to call at Staple Inn and see
if we can discover his present whereabouts. But there is no hurry. We
shall have Mortimer's manuscript in the morning and it may be that we
shall pick up some hint from that."

This ended our discussion for the time being; and if it had not carried
us far, it, and the preceding inter view, had yielded more matter for
investigation than Penfield's dismal account of the case had led us to
expect.

On the following morning, Mortimer's manuscript arrived, and the same
post brought a package from Benson containing two keys tied together
and bearing a parchment label inscribed, "64, Clifford's Inn, 1st
floor." As Thorndyke was occupied during the morning and I was free, I
took possession of the manuscript and read through the seven chapters
of which it consisted with close attention and growing disappointment.
For I had expected that Mortimer's story would furnish us with some new
facts; whereas it seemed to me merely to repeat at greater length what
he had already told us or what we had gathered from the report of the
inquest.

But in this, as appeared later, I was mistaken; and as Mortimer's
history contained practically all that we ever knew of the period
that it described, I have attached it as a preface to this record and
shall hence forth assume that the reader is fully acquainted with its
contents. And it may be that he, or she, more discerning than I, will
already have noted certain points the significance of which I failed to
appreciate.

Certain suspicions did, indeed, cross my mind on the subject,
especially when I noted the deep interest and attention with which
Thorndyke studied the document. But then my colleague was a man who
habitually gave his whole attention to even the simplest matters; and I
could see that this case, with all its obscurities and ambiguities, had
taken a strong hold on him. It was the kind of puzzle that he really
enjoyed; and he was going to spare no pains in seeking out the solution.

About a week after the arrival of the manuscript I ventured to ask his
views on it, with the above suspicions in mind.

"What do you make of Mortimer's history?" said I. "To me it seems
rather barren of matter. I have not extracted from it anything that I
did not already know."

"Nor have I," he replied, "in the sense of new facts of a fundamental
order. I hardly expected to. But the story has its value in that it
gives us a lively picture of the man, Gillum. It shows us a shrewd,
ingenious, rather subtle man, with a distinctly casuistical type of
mind; and it enables us to contrast his apparent intelligence with his
amazingly foolish conduct."

"But we were able to do that already," I objected; "and as to the main
problem, the identity of the principal blackmailer, it gives us not the
faintest hint."

"That is true," said Thorndyke. "But perhaps the immediate problem
is rather the occasion of the blackmail; what it was that Gillum had
done to render him susceptible to blackmail. Mortimer throws no light
on that question either. Whatever we are to learn from his story must
be gathered by reading between the lines and considering the possible
significance of apparently trivial things and events."

"You mean, in relation to our working hypothesis?" I suggested.

"Yes," he replied. "But let us not be obsessed by our hypothesis.
It may be entirely erroneous; and while we are using it as the only
instrument of investigation which we possess, we should scrutinise
every new fact, as well as the old ones, to see whether any alternative
hypothesis is suggested. Read Mortimer's history again, Jervis, and
ask yourself in respect of Gillum's sayings and doings and the little
trivial occurrences which Mortimer chronicles, whether they support our
hypothesis or whether they seem to be consistent with some different
meaning."

As this implied that Thorndyke had already taken his own prescription,
I decided to study the manuscript afresh. Meanwhile, by way of "getting
some of my own back," I remarked with a grin: "There is one thing that
I have been expecting ever since Mortimer's document turned up; and I'm
still expecting it."

"What is that?" he asked, regarding me suspiciously.

"I have been expecting that you would want to go across to Clifford's
Inn and nose round the empty chambers."

"And why not?" said he. "I think it is an excellent suggestion. It
would be quite interesting to fill in Mortimer's picture with its
appropriate background; and as we have the afternoon free, I propose
that we put your idea into execution forth with. We will go over as
soon as we have had lunch."

Of course, I agreed (noting that Thorndyke, according to his habit,
had planted his "idea" on me); and, when we had dispatched our meal,
and Thorndyke had provided himself with his invaluable research-case
and his graduated walking-stick, we went forth, and passing out of the
Inner Temple gate, crossed Fleet Street, and walking up Clifford's Inn
Passage, came out into the courtyard by the garden.

"Sic transit," Thorndyke remarked, regretfully, as he cast a
disparaging eye on the garish new buildings that were beginning to
replace the pleasant old houses. "John Penhallow's chambers have gone
and soon all the others will follow; and then all that will remain to
show posterity the quiet sumptuousness and dignity of London chambers
in the seventeenth century will be Penhallow's rooms in the Victoria
and Albert Museum."

He stood for a few moments running a reflective eye over the exterior
of Number 64, observed by a pair of inquisitive eyes from the window of
the type writing office on the ground floor; then he plunged into the
dim entry and I followed him up the stairs until we emerged into the
daylight of the first-floor landing.

"This is rather gruesome," said I, as we threw open the inner door and
looked into the room. "With the exception of the corpse, the place is
just the same as it appeared to Mortimer when he and Benson and Weech
discovered the body. Nothing seems to have been moved."

"No," Thorndyke agreed. "We have only to imagine the body lying on the
couch and we have the tableau that Mortimer described."

We went in and looked curiously at the couch, the pillow of which still
bore the impression of the dead man's head, and the little table by its
side with the siphon, the tumbler, and the decanter, all bearing the
very distinct prints of the dead man's fingers.

"We may as well preserve these," said Thorndyke, slipping on a pair of
loose gloves. "They are not likely to help us, but you never know. It
is a good rule never to destroy evidence."

"I don't see what evidence they could furnish," said I, "seeing that
they were proved to be Gillum's own finger-prints."

"But that is evidence," he replied. "Prints like these are Gillum's;
and prints unlike them are those of somebody else. As we are seeking an
unknown person, that kind of evidence may be quite material. And you
notice that there is a nearly complete set of both hands."

He looked about the room, and observing a built-in cupboard by the
fireplace, turned the key which was in the lock, and opened the door.
One of the shelves was nearly empty, and as the height was sufficient
to take the siphon, he transferred that and the tumbler and the smooth,
patternless decanter from the table to the vacant space and closed the
door.

"We will lock the cupboard and take the key when we go," said he.
"Meanwhile, we may find some other things which we may think fit to put
in it."

He went back to the couch and ran his eye over the cushions and the
pillow, stooping over the latter and examining it more closely.

"This is worth noticing," said he. "The man's head could have rested
on this pillow only a few hours while he was alive and capable of
movement, but yet there are no less than three hairs sticking to the
fabric."

"He may have used the pillow on other occasions," I suggested; to which
Thorndyke assented.

"At any rate," he added, "we may as well collect these hairs, as we can
assume them to be authentic samples of Gillum's hair."

"I suppose so," I agreed, though without enthusiasm; for it would
have been more to the point if they had been authentic samples of the
blackmailer's hair. Thorndyke noted the tone of my remark and smiled as
he opened his research case, which he had deposited on the table.

"You think," said he, "that we are collecting all the things that don't
matter. Probably you are right; but it is better to provide yourself
with useless material than to throw away things that may later be badly
needed."

He took out of the case a pair of forceps and one of his invaluable
seed envelopes, and with the former picked out the three hairs--two
black and one white--and transferred them to the envelope, on which he
wrote a brief description, before returning it to the case. Then he
began a leisurely perambulation of the room, inspecting its various
contents and making occasional remarks on them. The bookcase seemed to
interest him, for he stood before it running his eye along the rows of
volumes and apparently reading their titles.

"In general," said he, "the books seem to confirm Mortimer's estimate
of Gillum's character and tastes. There are six works on London
topography, catalogues of the National Gallery, the Tate, and the
Wallace Collection, a book on games of chance, and one on the theory
of probability. Those are according to expectation and so is the book
on Modern Organ Music; but Staunton's Chess is not. I don't think that
chess-players are usually interested in games of chance."

He turned away from the bookcase and resumed his travels round the
room, halting presently before a rather elegantly turned roulette box.

"This," said he, "is the box that Mortimer speaks of. Apparently,
Gillum used it for experiments in connection with his projected system.
But it is possible hat the may have used it for actual play with some
of his visitors. Perhaps it would be as well to put it away with the
other specimens."

He took it up in his gloved hands and carried it over to the cupboard
where he placed it on the shelf with the objects from the table. Then,
having exhausted the interest of the living-room, he passed through
into the bedroom.

It was a small room, simply and rather barely furnished, but clean and
orderly with the tidiness of a ship's cabin, a fact which attracted
Thorndyke's attention as well as mine, for he remarked: "The late
Gillum seems to have been a tidy, methodical man. You noticed evidences
of that in the living-room, and it is still more striking here. The
bed, you observe, has been carefully made; and he made it himself;
though he must have known that he was never going to sleep in it. And
no cast-off clothes lying about or even hanging on the pegs. I suppose,
when he undressed, he put them into the wardrobe."

He verified the surmise by opening the doors of the wardrobe; which
showed, in the one division, the clothes that Gillum must have taken
off hanging on the side pegs, while, in the other division, which was
fitted with shelves, were stored clean shirts, collars, handkerchiefs,
several pairs of shoes and three hats. These things he considered
attentively, and especially the cast-off clothes, which he took down
from the pegs and, having looked them over, turned out the pockets,
returning the contents of each after having examined them. But Gillum
seemed to have carried few things in his pockets, and of those which we
found none appeared to be of any interest. A bank-note case--empty--a
handful of silver and bronze coins, a pocket-knife and a set of
well-worn dice formed the principal items.

"Not much to be learned from those," Thorndyke remarked as he closed
the wardrobe, "excepting that he respected his clothes and avoided
bulging pockets."

He walked across the room to the large chest of drawers that stood
in the corner near the bed, lifting the valance of the latter and
revealing a sponge bath underneath. As we reached the chest, I observed
in the dark corner between it and the wall a good sized cylindrical
basket which had apparently served as a rubbish dump, and drew
Thorndyke's attention to it as a possible mine of evidential wealth.
He ignored the irony of my tone and, promptly adopting my suggestion,
picked up the basket and turned out its contents on to the bed. It was
certainly a very miscellaneous collection and as I regarded it with a
faint grin I wondered what Mr. Penfield would have thought if he could
have seen my colleague systematically sorting it out and placing each
article after inspection at the foot of the bed. Over some of these,
such as three obviously superannuated socks and a couple of slightly
frayed collars, he passed lightly with a single glance; but most of
the things he inspected attentively, little as they seemed to merit
his attention, evidently considering what inferences they suggested.
I watched him curiously, my tendency to be amused by the apparent
triviality of the proceedings restrained by the recollection of the
surprising results of similar examinations in the past; and, as I
looked on, I made a mental inventory of the collection with a view to
possible results in the future.

Besides the socks and collars, a pair of worn fabric gloves and a
broken shoe-lace, the "find" included an empty tin which had once
contained an antiseptic tooth powder, which Thorndyke opened, and
sniffed at the pinch of powder which still clung to the box; two empty
"Milk of Magnesia" bottles, a worn-out toothbrush (which Thorndyke
examined closely and also smelt), an empty bottle labelled "Bromidia",
which seemed to suggest that Gilum had suffered from insomnia, another
empty bottle labelled "Cawley's Cleansing Fluid," from which Thorndyke
drew out the cork in order to smell at what remained of the contents,
several crumpled-up tradesmen's bills, and a small, heavy object
wrapped up in a sheet of writing-paper. This Thorndyke took up and
carefully opening out the paper displayed a small bolt with a fly nut
attached.

"Now," said he, "I wonder what that might have belonged to. A one-inch,
square-headed eighth-inch bolt with what looks like a Whitworth thread
and a fly nut. Apparently part of some mechanism; but we have not come
across any mechanism to which it corresponds."

He smoothed out the paper and examined it on both sides, but there
was no writing on it to give any clue to the use of the bolt. Finally
he wrapped the latter up again in its paper and dropped it into his
pocket, presumably for further consideration at his leisure. And having
thus exhausted the material from the basket, he gathered the derelicts
together and returned them to their receptacle.

The chest of drawers had apparently served the purpose of a
dressing-table in conjunction with a good-sized looking-glass which
hung on the wall beside the window. Like the rest of the room, it was
quite tidy though now covered with dust, and the objects set out on it
represented the bare necessaries for the toilet, On a china tray were
two toothbrushes and a small tin of "Odonto" dentifrice, and beside the
tray were a pair of nail scissors, a button-hook, and a turned wooden
box containing spare collar-studs--one gold and several ivory--and a
pair of cheap rolled gold links. There was also an earthenware bowl and
a pair of hairbrushes. The latter Thorndyke took up, and, separating
them, looked them over in his queer, inquisitive way. They were good
brushes, though old and much worn as to the bristles, with ebony backs
in which the initials "J.G." had been inlaid in silver, but they
appeared not to have been cleaned very lately, for the bristles held a
considerable quantity of hair.

"I think," said Thorndyke, "we will take these and sort out the hairs.
Probably they are all Gillum's but it is possible that the brushes may
have been used by some of his visitors, if he ever had any, and we may
learn something about them."

He put the brushes in his coat pocket and then took up the bowl, which
was of red earthenware, fitted with a cover bearing a highly-coloured
label with the inscription: "Dux Super-fatted Shaving Soap."

"Rather a nice bowl," said Thorndyke, holding it out at arm's length to
view it; "a pleasant shape and very suitable to the plain earthen body.
But I am surprised that Gillum didn't soak off that label."

He lifted the lid of the bowl, and finding it empty save for a few
drops of moisture at the bottom, sniffed at it and passed it to me.

"It smells to me," said I, "like chlorine, or perhaps chlorinated soda;
some lotion of the Eusol type."

"Yes," he agreed, "something of that kind. Apparently it came from the
bottle of antiseptic cleansing solution that we found in the tidy."

He put the bowl back in its place and then pulled out the drawers of
the chest in succession. All of them seemed to be filled with articles
of clothing, neatly folded and smelling slightly of camphor. These he
glanced at but without disturbing them, and, when he had pushed in
the last of the drawers, he turned away and stood a while, looking
thoughtfully around the room, apparently memorising its contents and
their arrangement. There was not very much to see. The mantelpiece was
bare save for a couple of candlesticks carrying rather large stearine
candles. There remained only the large porcelain sink in the corner;
a deep, rectangular sink of the kind used in chemical laboratories,
but which here seemed, by the bracket over it bearing a soap dish, a
nailbrush, and a bath sponge, to have served the purpose of a lavatory
basin as well as a means of emptying the bath.

When we had inspected the sink, Thorndyke drew my attention to a
mouse-hole in the corner beneath it which had been very neatly and
effectively filled with Portland cement.

"That," said he, "suggests a man with a practical and efficient mind.
Some people will go on for ever setting traps, regardless of the rate
at which rodents increase. But in old buildings the only effective
method is to stop the holes with Portland cement, preferably mixed with
an 'aggregate' of sand or powdered glass. That is Polton's plan, and it
keeps our chambers practically free from mice."

From the bedroom we passed through a narrow doorway into the kitchen,
and here we noticed the same appearance of order and tidiness as in
the other rooms. It was a small place, but very completely equipped.
There was a little gas cooker mounted on a stand and bearing a large
aluminium kettle, a range of shelves on which the china was neatly
disposed, the plates on edge and the cups inverted and all spotlessly
clean; another shelf bore a row of covered jars and tins, each labelled
with the name of its contents; several dish covers of wire gauze or
aluminium hung from nails on the wall with a frying-pan and a couple of
small saucepans, and a carpet-sweeper in the corner accounted for the
conspicuous cleanness of the floor. And here, too, I noticed a couple
of neatly stopped mouse-holes.

The kitchen communicated with another room by a narrow doorway. The
door was locked, but as the key was in the lock we were able to open
it and pass through into the adjoining room, which I recognised as the
larder that Mortimer had described.

It was smaller even than the kitchen, being only about eight feet by
six; and this small space was further reduced by the great coal-bin,
which occupied the whole of the longer side of the room. But like
the kitchen it was admirably arranged. There were two shelves on one
of which lay three bottles of claret and one of sauterne, while the
other was occupied by one or two dishes protected by wire covers
through which could be seen--and smelt--some mouldy remains of food.
In addition to the open shelves there was a tall, narrow, meat-safe
through the wire gauze panels of which a mouldy, cadaverous odour
exhaled. I opened the door and looked in, but as the odour then became
more pronounced, I was about to shut it when Thorndyke stooped to
examine the bottom shelf and then, reaching in, brought out from the
back of the shelf a basin which was thickly encrusted with Portland
cement and in which a rough bone spatula still stuck.

"I see," said Thorndyke, "that he used the same 'aggregate' that Polton
favours--powdered glass. It is more effective than sand."

"Yes," said I, "and I notice that he has infringed another of Polton's
copyrights--the utilisation of worn out toothbrushes by shaving off the
bristles."

I broke the spatula off the cement and scraped it clean with my
pocket-knife, when it revealed itself as a bone handled dental-plate
brush from which he bristles had been cleanly shaved off leaving a
broad, blunt blade perfectly suited for the purpose for which it had
been used.

"It is really remarkable," I commented, "that a man of so much common
sense and capacity in small things should have been such a fool in the
things that seriously matter."

"It is," he agreed, "but Gillum's case is by no means unique in that
respect."

He turned away from the safe and transferred his attention to the
coal-bin.

"I think," he remarked, "that this is the largest bin that I have ever
seen in a set of chambers. Coal storage is not usually their strong
point."

He measured the principal dimensions roughly with his graduated
stick and then continued: "Eight feet long by thirty inches wide and
twenty-nine inches deep--roughly fifty cubic feet. I don't know what
that represents in coal, but it would seem to be a fairly liberal
allowance for a man living alone and cooking by gas."

"Yes," I agreed. "Nearly a year's supply, I should think. And it
seems," I added, as I lifted the lid and found the bin nearly full, "as
if he had replenished his stock shortly before his death. Which appears
an odd proceeding when we remember what the weather was like at that
time. But perhaps he took advantage of the low summer prices to lay in
his year's supply."

"Possibly," Thorndyke agreed, "that is to say, if it is really all
coal. The quantity seems rather incredible."

He thrust his stick down into the loose coal, and at a few inches of
depth found it stopped by an obviously solid obstruction.

"There seems to be a false bottom," I remarked. "Convenient enough for
keeping the coal within easy reach, but rather a waste of space."

"Perhaps he didn't waste the space," said Thorndyke. "Let us see."

With the scoop that lay on top of the coal, he began to shovel the
latter away from the right-hand end, piling it in a heap at the left
end. This soon brought the false bottom into view, and with it an iron
ring sunk into the board near the right-hand end. Further shovelling
disclosed a crack across the bottom near the middle, that divided it
into two halves. Taking down a brush that hung from a nail on the
wall, and that had manifest traces of coal dust on its hair, Thorndyke
proceeded to brush away the small coal and dust until the surface of
the false bottom was comparatively clean. Then he slipped his finger
through the ring and lifted the right half of the bottom out bodily.

"The space wasn't wasted, you see," he said. "It seems to have been
used as a store for things that were only occasionally wanted."

As he spoke, he threw the light of his pocket-lamp into the dark
cavity, revealing a number of tins of various sizes, apparently
containing tongue and other preserved foods, and seven or eight bottles
of port and sherry.

"There was a good deal of space wasted nevertheless," said I. "The
cavity looks about eighteen inches deep, and only four or five have
been used."

Thorndyke dipped his stick into the cavity and read off the
measurement. "Nineteen inches from the top of the supporting blocks to
the floor. It would have held a good deal more than he put into it, but
it was not a very handy container as the coal had to be moved every
time it was opened. But it looks as if the contrivance had been put in
by Gillum, himself. The bin is obviously old, perhaps as old as the
house, but the false bottom and the blocks that support it look quite
fresh and new. Evidently, they were a recent addition."

He put the false bottom back in its place and then, taking a last look
round, stepped up to the window. Apparently, a sash cord had broken
and not been repaired, for the lower half of the sash was held up as
far as it would go by a piece of wood on either side, which had been
jammed into the groove and fixed with screws. It looked a makeshift
arrangement, but as Thorndyke pointed out, it had been adopted
deliberately, for the little wooden props had been neatly planed and
fitted their place exactly, and the holes for the screws had been
properly countersunk.

"I think," he said, "that there is no need to assume a broken sash
line. It looks like an arrangement to fix the window open permanently
so as to make sure of constant ventilation. You notice the row of holes
at the foot of the door, evidently bored for the same purpose, and
apparently by Gillum, himself to judge by the fresh, unstained wood
inside them."

We let ourselves out by the door which opened on to the landing
and which, presumably for that reason, had been fitted with a Yale
night-latch and a spring. When we had come out and closed the door,
Thorndyke stood for a few moments hesitating.

"I suppose," he said, "that is all, excepting the key of the cupboard."
He unlocked the living-room door and re-entered, and when he had locked
the cupboard and pocketed the key, looked about the room to see if
there was anything that we had omitted to examine.

"What about the writing-table?" said I. "Oughtn't we to see what is in
the drawers?"

"I expect Bateman took away all the papers," he replied. "Still, we may
as well take a glance at them."

We went over to the table and tried the drawers, but they were all
locked, excepting the top one, and we had no key; and the top drawer
contained nothing but Gillum's stock of note-paper and envelopes, of
each of which Thorndyke took a sample before closing the drawer.

"And that," said he as he folded the paper neatly and slipped it into
the envelope, "I think completes the inspection, for the time being, at
any rate; unless you can suggest anything further."

"I can suggest lots of things," I replied with a grin. "For instance,
you might take the legs off the tables and chairs as the police did
in Poe's story of 'The Purloined Letter'; and you might go over the
walls and furniture for finger-prints. And then there is the floor.
You might set Polton to work on it with a vacuum cleaner and examine
with the microscope the dust that he collected. This has been quite a
superficial inspection."

He smiled indulgently at my rather feeble joke, but the result of it
was not quite what I had expected.

"I think," he replied, "that we will leave the furniture intact and
reserve the finger-print hunt for some future occasion. But, really,
your suggestion of the vacuum cleaner is an excellent one, though
Gillum's sweeper may have left us a rather meagre gleaning. I will get
Polton to go over the floors, and hope that Gillum was not too thorough
in his use of the sweeper."

This reply to my facetious suggestion took me aback completely. For
my knowledge of Thorndyke told me that he was, according to a playful
habit of his, crediting me with an idea which was already in his own
mind. He had certainly intended to collect the dust from those floors
for examination. But I could not imagine why. Considering the nature
of our problem, the proceeding seemed to be completely futile and
purposeless. Yet I knew that it could not be. And so the old familiar
feeling came over me; the feeling that he had seen farther into this
case than I had; that he had already some theory and was not groping in
the dark as I was, but was even now seeking an answer to some definite
question.


CHAPTER X: MR. WEECH DISAPPROVES


AS WE CAME OUT OF THE ENTRY into the courtyard, we became aware of our
old acquaintance, Mr. Weech, the porter of the Inn, hovering in the
back ground, whence he had probably observed us at the landing window.
Mr. Weech had always interested me. He was a complete and unabridged
survival from the Victorian age, alike in his dress, his habits and in
a certain subtle combination of dignity and deference in this bearing
towards his social superiors. His costume invariably included a tall
silk hat and a formal frock coat. Formerly, perchance, but not in my
time, the hat may have borne a gold-laced band, and the coat have been
embellished with gilt buttons. But nowadays the hat and coat were
distinctive enough in themselves; and even the umbrella which was his
constant companion, his sceptre and staff of office, seemed not quite
like modern umbrellas.

In speech he was singularly precise and careful in his choice of words,
though, unfortunately, his judgement was not always equal to his care.
For he loved to interlard his sentences with Latin tags; and, as he
obviously had no acquaintance with that language, the results were
sometimes a little startling.

As we came into view, then, Mr. Weech quickened his pace and advanced
towards us with the peculiar splay-footed gait characteristic of men
who stand much and walk little, and peering at us inquisitively through
his spectacles, essayed cautiously to ascertain what our business was.

"I am afraid," said he, "that you will have found poor Mr. Gillum's
chambers locked up--if it was his chambers that you wanted."

"Thank you, Mr. Weech," Thorndyke replied, "but we have the keys. Mr.
Benson has lent them to us."

"Oh, indeed," said Mr. Weech, in a tone of mild surprise and still
milder disapproval.

"We just wanted to look over the chambers," Thorndyke explained.

"Did you indeed, sir?" said Mr. Weech with rather more definite
disapproval. "Not, I venture to hope, for professional reasons?"

"I am sorry, Mr. Weech," Thorndyke replied suavely, "but it must be
admitted that our interest in the chambers has a slight professional
taint. The fact is that Mr. Benson has asked me to make certain
enquiries concerning his late cousin."

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Weech, now undisguisedly disapproving. "Has it
come to that? I had hoped that we had heard the last of that dreadful
business. Don't tell me that these quiet, respectable precincts are to
be involved in another scandal."

"I'll tell you all about it," said Thorndyke. "There is no need to be
evasive with an old friend like you; and I know that I can trust to
your discretion."

"Undoubtedly you can," replied Mr. Weech, evidently mollified by
Thorndyke's candour (he didn't know my colleague as well as I did).

"Well," said Thorndyke, "the position is this: the evidence at the
inquest disclosed the existence of certain blackmailers who had been
preying on Mr. Gillum. Now, Mr. Benson holds those blackmailers
accountable for his cousin's death, and he wants them identified and,
if possible, brought to justice."

"M'yes," said Mr. Weech, clearly sceptical and unsympathetic. "I don't
see why. What's the use, even if it were possible? Poor Mr. Gillum is
beyond their reach now. Your protection of him has come--or would come,
if it came at all--too late. It's a case of post bellum auxilium."

"I am inclined to agree with you, Mr. Weech," Thorndyke replied,
"but it is not my choice. Mr. Benson wants these rascals found and
prosecuted, and he has engaged my professional services to that end;
and it is my duty to render those services to the best of my ability."

"Certainly, sir," Mr. Weech agreed; "and I don't say that I would not
be glad to hear that those wretches had been brought to justice, if it
were possible--which I don't believe it is."

"And I am sure," said Thorndyke, "that you would give me any help that
you could, as a matter of public policy."

"I would for old acquaintance sake," replied Weech, "though I can't
pretend that I am anxious for you to succeed, seeing what a rumpus
there would be if you did. And I really don't see how I can help you."

"I think," said Thorndyke, "that you could help me by supplying certain
information that I should like to have. For instance, as a rather
important point, you could tell me what visitors Mr. Gillum received."

"But I don't know," Weech protested. "How should I? Both gates are
open all day and strangers pass in and out unquestioned. My impression
is that he had very few visitors, but that is only a guess. As far as
actual knowledge goes, I can recall only two. One was a Mr. Mortimer,
who, I think, came to him several times--"

"We know Mr. Mortimer," interrupted Thorndyke. "Who was the other?"

"I have no idea," replied Weech. "I know about him because he spoke to
me when I was standing at the gate by the lodge. That would be about
the beginning of last September. He asked me if a Mr. John Gillum lived
in the Inn. I replied 'Yes,' and gave him the number of the chambers;
whereupon he bustled off. I didn't go with him, as he couldn't make any
mistake, there being only the one set of chambers in that building."

"Can you describe him?" Thorndyke asked.

"Yes," was the reply. "Curiously enough, I remember him quite well,
perhaps because he was little out of the ordinary. He was a short,
stocky man with a sallow face, a small moustache, waxed at the ends,
and bushy black eyebrows. He wore a rather queer kind of single
eyeglass. It had no rim and no cord; it was just a plain glass, stuck
in his eye with no kind of support. How he kept it there I can't
imagine. Then, as he walked off up the passage, I noticed that he had a
slight limp and that he used a stick to help himself along; and a most
uncommonly fine stick it was; a thick malacca with a silver band and a
big ivory knob."

Thorndyke jotted down in his note-book the points of this excellent
description and then asked: "Do you know how long he stayed with Mr.
Gilum?"

"I don't. I never saw him again; but he might have gone out by the
Fetter Lane gate. It couldn't have been a long interview because, about
a quarter of an hour later, I saw Mr. Gillum come out of his chambers
alone, and I thought he looked a little annoyed and upset."

"By the way," said Thorndyke, "you mentioned just now that there is
only one set of chambers in that building. But there is a second floor."

"Yes," Mr. Weech explained, "but it is not suitable for chambers. We
use it as a general lumber room for the Inn, and it is always kept
locked."

As the conversation had developed, we had moved away from the window
of the typewriting office on the ground floor and began slowly to
pace up and down the courtyard, but I noticed that every time that we
re-passed the window there happened to be some person looking out of
it. Apparently we were being kept under observation.

"I am wondering," Thorndyke said after a pause, "by what chance Mr.
Gillum, an Australian, strange to England, should have happened to
discover such a retired backwater as Clifford's Inn. Did he ever tell
you?"

"He did not, because, in fact, he did not discover it. Being a
stranger, he very wisely employed an agent to find him rooms."

"Do you mean a regular house-agent?"

"I don't know what he was, but I had an idea that he was a personal
friend of Mr. Gillum's. At any rate, he not only carried out all the
negotiations but he furnished the chambers and got them ready for the
tenant by the time he wanted them."

"I wonder," said Thorndyke, "whether you would mind giving us a more
circumstantial account of this transaction."

"Well," Mr. Weech replied, "let me see. It happened, so far as I can
remember, somewhat like this. One morning, towards the end of August,
1928, a man came to the lodge to enquire about some chambers that we
had to let at that time. He seemed to think that Number 64, which was
empty, might suit him; so I gave him the keys and he went off to have
a look at them. Presently he came back and said that they would suit
him perfectly and that he would like to take a lease of them. But then
he explained that they were not for himself but that he was acting as
agent for a gentleman of means, and that he was fully authorised to
execute an agreement and to furnish references and to pay whatever
deposit I might think necessary. I would rather have dealt direct with
the prospective tenant, but he produced a written authority from his
principal, Mr. Gillum, who, he assured me, was a gentleman of good
position and ample means, and he referred me to Mr. Gillum's solicitor
and his bank; but he did suggest that it would be better not to take up
the references until the tenant came and entered into residence."

"Did he give any reason for that suggestion?"

"Yes, and quite a sound one. He said that Mr. Gillum had lived abroad
for some years and was still abroad and that his relations with both
his solicitor and his bank had been conducted by correspondence and
that neither of them knew him personally. Well, he was willing to pay
half a year's rent in advance and to sign a provisional agreement
per procurationem, I closed with him. He paid the money--twenty-five
pounds--signed the agreement, and I handed him the keys. He wanted them
because Mr. Gillum had asked him to get the rooms furnished so far as
to be ready for immediate occupation. And that, in fact, is what he
did. He took possession and had the chambers furbished up and some odd
jobs done, and he ordered in enough furniture to enable Mr. Gillum to
go into residence at once."

"I am rather surprised that you agreed to the deal," said I.

"I don't see why," he retorted. "It was a slightly unusual transaction,
but it was quite straightforward. The man couldn't run away with the
chambers. What possible danger of injury was there? Ad quod damnum,
as the lawyers would say." (He pronounced the last word "damn 'em.")
"At any rate, the transaction turned out all right, so my action was
justified by the results."

"Yes," I replied, "that has to be admitted. Finis coronat opus."

"Exactly," he rejoined eagerly (and, I suspect, make a mental note of
the tag with a view to future use). "The proof of the pudding is in the
eating, as the vulgar saying has it."

"When Mr. Gillum arrived," said Thorndyke, "was he introduced to you by
the agent?"

"No," replied Weech. "As I understood from the night porter, the two
gentlemen came to the Inn together at night between nine and ten. He
mentioned the matter to me the next morning, because the agent had
asked him to. When they knocked at the wicket, he opened it, and, as
he knew the agent by sight, having seen him once before, he let them
pass through, and they went up the passage. Presently the agent came
back alone and said: 'By the way, that gentleman is Mr. Gillum, the new
tenant of Number 64. You might mention to Mr. Weech that he has come to
take possession.' Which, as I have told you, he did."

"Did he mention to you how long the agent stayed that night?"

"No. But, you see, that was no business of mine."

"And when did you first meet Mr. Gillum?"

"The very next morning. I made it my business to. I looked in at the
chambers about eleven in the forenoon, and the door was opened by Mr.
Gillum himself. I told him who I was and asked him if he acknowledged
the agreement signed by his agent. He said 'yes,' but that he would
rather have a new agreement signed by himself to put things on a
regular basis. I thought he was quite right; and, as I had the
agreement with me and some forms in my pocket, we filled in a new form,
and, when he had signed it, we tore up the old one. Then he gave me his
references and that finished the business."

"By the way," said Thorndyke, "you didn't mention the agent's name."

"I'm not sure that I remember it," replied Weech. "But does it matter?"

"It might matter," Thorndyke replied, "if it should seem desirable to
get into touch with him, as I think it may be."

"Well," said Weech, "I seem to remember that it was something like
Baker or Barber, or it may have been Barker--something of, that sort."

"Of that sort!" I protested. "But there is all the difference in the
world between a man who bakes your bread and one who shaves you or
barks at you."

Mr. W smiled deprecatingly. "I was referring to the sound," said he.
"They are a good deal alike. And really, his name did not arise,
excepting when he signed the agreement; and his signature was not very
distinct."

"But," objected Thorndyke, "there was the cheque and the receipt that
you gave him."

"There was no cheque," replied Weech. "He paid in five five-pound
notes. And the receipt was made out, at his request, to Mr. John
Gillum. So, you see, his name was never mentioned; and I only saw it
once in writing."

"Perhaps," Thorndyke suggested persuasively, "you might give us some
idea as to what this gentleman was like. I am rather interested in him
because he must know more about Mr. Gillum than most of my informants
seem to."

"Well," Weech replied musingly, "I don't remember much about him. He
was a tallish man--about my height--and he was a fair man, with a
light-brown, tawny beard and moustache and blue eyes. He was quite
a gentlemanly man with a pleasant, persuasive manner, not to say
plausible. And that is really all that I can remember about him. You
see, I only saw him once to speak to, and only once or twice at a
distance when he was furnishing the chambers; and I have never seen him
since. He may have been here to see Mr. Gillum on some occasions, but,
if so, I never happened to see him."

Thorndyke reflected on this statement for a few moments. Then he
asked, apparently apropos of nothing in particular: "I noticed that
some carpenter's work had been done in the rooms at Number 64; some
alterations to the coal-bin and the larder door. Do you happen to know
whether they were done by Mr. Gillum or by the agent?"

"They were done by the agent--Mr. Barker, we'll call him. I only heard
of it afterwards from Mr. Wing, the carpenter, of Fetter Lane, who
does most of the odd jobs about the Inn. He ought really to have got
permission to have the alterations made, though there isn't much in it.
The false bottom to the coal-bin was a distinct improvement, but I did
think the holes in the larder door a trifle ultra vires." (Mr. Weech
made "vires" rhyme with fires; but we knew what he meant.)

Then there was a brief pause, and, as we passed the window of the
typewriting office, I observed a lady in a hat, putting on her gloves.
Then Thorndyke resumed the conversation with the question: "Did you
find Mr. Gillum a satisfactory tenant?"

"Very," Mr. Weech replied. "A model tenant. Paid his rent promptly on
quarter day, kept his chambers clean and tidy, and gave no trouble in
any way. I greatly regret his loss, and so, I am sure, does Miss Darby,
the lady who has the ground floor.''

"Why?" I asked, scenting a romance.

"Well, you see," he replied, "the gentleman who had Mr. Gillum's
chambers before him was terribly untidy, particularly in the matter
of food, which is what matters in chambers. He used to leave food
uncovered on his table and even in the larder, and the crumbs from his
meals all over the floor. The natural consequence was that the place
was overrun with mice; and, of course, they overflowed into the ground
floor and kept the lady's nerves fairly on edge. But when Mr. Gillum
took over, the nuisance stopped at once. The mice disappeared like
magic. Of course, it was quite simple. Mr. Gillum used to sweep up his
crumbs after each meal and keep all food in the larder under covers
or in tins or jars with lids. There was nothing for the mice to feed
on. And what is more, he stopped up all the mouse-holes. Here is Miss
Darby, and I am sure she will bear out what I have said."

At this point the lady whom I had seen at the window emerged from her
entry and met us on our return march. Mr. Weech raised his hat with the
kind of flourish which is possible only with a "topper" and accosted
her. "We were just speaking of the way poor Mr. Gillum cleared the mice
out of his chambers. You remember, I dare say."

"Indeed I do," she replied emphatically. "Before he came, my rooms
simply swarmed with the nasty little creatures. The man on the first,
floor must have lived like a pig--kept a regular restaurant for mice.
It was awful. I had great difficulty in getting the young ladies to
stay with me. But when Mr. Gillum came, the little beasts disappeared
completely. We never saw a mouse. I can't tell you how grateful we
were."

"Very naturally," said Thorndyke. "Mice are pretty little animals, but
they are most unpleasant in their habits. However, I hope that your
mice have gone for good. I suppose you are still clear of them?"

"Well, you know," Miss Darby replied with a slight frown, "the rather
curious thing is that we are not. Just lately, one or two have made
their appearance again. I can't understand it. Of course, we have our
teas in the office, and sometimes our lunches. But we used to do that
before. And we are most careful to sweep up all crumbs and to leave no
food about. It is really rather strange."

"It is," Thorndyke agreed. "But perhaps you would get rid of your
uninvited guests if you were to adopt Mr. Gillum's plan; stop up the
holes with Portland cement mixed with powdered glass. I strongly
recommend you to try that remedy."

Miss Darby thanked him for the advice and then, with a smile and a
little bow, bustled away and disappeared into the tunnel-like passage
that ran past the hail door. And thither we shortly followed her, as
it appeared that Thorndyke had squeezed his informant dry--with mighty
little result, as it seemed to me. But then you could never tell what
was in Thorndyke's mind or what might be the significance to him of
trivial facts that seemed to have no significance at all.

Mr. Weech walked with us down the passage to Fleet Street and finally
dismissed us with another impressive flourish of his hat, which we
returned punctiliously and then crossed the road to the Inner Temple
gate.

As we walked down the lane past the church I reflected on what we
had heard and seen. Presently I remarked "Weech's description of the
unknown visitor at the Inn seemed to me to correspond pretty closely
with that of Abel Webb."

"So I thought," replied Thorndyke; "and, for the present, I am assuming
that he was Abel Webb, though we shall have to get confirmation if
possible."

"I don't quite see how," said I. "But assuming him to have been Webb,
how does that square with what we have been inferring about the
relations between him and Gillum? It seems to me to be rather a misfit.
If the man was Webb, that must have been his first visit to Gillum as
he had to inquire of Weech and was not sure of the address or that
Gillum did actually live there. Now that visit was made only a few days
before his death. But we inferred--at least, I did--that Webb had been
blackmailing Gillum for the best part of a year. There seems to be a
radical disagreement. You can hardly blackmail a man whose address you
do not know."

"It is not actually impossible," said Thorndyke, "but I agree with you
that it is extremely difficult to see how it could be done. However,
we are not certain that this man was Webb, and, before we make any
further inferences, we must get more evidence. The whole question of
the relations of these two men needs to be elucidated; for if we were
wrong in our original inferences we may have to recast our theory of
the circumstances of Webb's death. Obviously, the first thing to do
is to ascertain, if possible, whether the man who came to the inn was
really Abel Webb."


CHAPTER XI: A FRESH PUZZLE


MY COLLEAGUE'S REMARK that it would be necessary to test our belief
as to the identity of the visitor to Gillum's chambers rather puzzled
me. For, apparently, Mr. Weech was the only person who had seen that
visitor, and he had told us all that he had to tell; and I could not
think of any means by which we could check his description. But, on
the very next day, Thorndyke reopened the subject and disposed of my
difficulties. "I think," said he, "that it is desirable that we should
confirm or disprove our assumptions as to the identity of Gillum's
visitor at the Inn. At present our belief is founded entirely on
Mortimer's not very precise description of the stick and the eye glass.
That is not enough. The question whether Abel Webb did or did not go
to Gillum's chambers is a very important one and we ought to settle it
more definitely. Indeed, the whole of the Abel Webb incident requires
clearing up."

"And how do you propose to set about it?" I asked.

"I propose," he replied, "to go to the place where Webb was employed
and get a description of his person. We have an excellent one from
Weech with which to compare it. And perhaps, if we are fortunate, we
may pick up some additional information. We want it badly enough."

"Yes," I agreed; "the Abel Webb business is rather in the air."

"Very much so," said he. "We have adopted the provisional theory that
John Gillum, a most respectable gentleman, murdered Webb. That is a
theory that wants clearing up, one way or the other. So, as the matter
is of some urgency, I am proposing to devote the afternoon to it as we
are both free and I hope that the expedition will interest you. What do
you say?"

Of course I agreed, with some enthusiasm; and, as there were no
preparations to make, we set forth within a few minutes.

It was characteristic of Thorndyke that, in making his way to Webb's
place of business, he should choose the route that carried us over the
scene of the tragedy. Leaving, the Temple by the Tudor Street gate,
we made for the Temple Station and travelled to the bank, whence we
started along the south side of Cornhill until we reached the Church of
St. Michael. Here we turned up the alley, and, in a few paces, came to
the arched entrance to the covered passage that Mortimer had described.
A few steps along this brought us to the cavern-like south porch of
the church; and here we both halted to reconstitute the picture that
Mortimer had drawn so vividly, though the appearance of the place,
in the bright afternoon light, was not easily reconciled with his
description.

"It is an astounding affair," said Thorndyke; as he gazed into the now
well-lighted porch. "By whomsoever that murder was committed, it was a
remarkable exploit; and the murderer must have been a remarkable man--a
man of iron nerve who combined the utmost audacity with caution and
sound judgment. Not a man in ten thousand would have dared to take the
risk; but yet, apart from that momentary risk, the crime was absolutely
safe from detection. The actual murder can have been but a matter
of seconds; and the instant the blow was struck the murderer could
slip out into the alley, quietly walk down into Cornhill, and there
instantly become merged into the indistinguishable population of the
street. For a premeditated murder, which it must have been, it was the
boldest and the most skilfully managed crime that I have ever known."

"I don't know," said I, "that I am so much impressed with his judgment.
It was a terrific gamble and he took a frightful risk. It doesn't seem
to me that he made such a very good choice of the place."

"I am rather assuming," Thorndyke replied, "that he had not much
choice. The suggestion to me is that of a desperate man who felt an
immediate need to dispose of Webb; who had no time to make suitable
arrangements but had to seize the one opportunity that presented
itself. It was an opportunity, and he took it, and the result justified
him in accepting the risk."

I was disposed to smile at Thorndyke's ultra-professional view of
this murder, which he was evidently considering purely in terms of
efficiency; putting himself, in his queer way, in the murderer's shoes
and debating the appropriate technique. But I suppressed my amusement,
and, following his own train of thought, asked: "How do you suppose the
murder was actually carried out?"

"I should assume," he replied, "that the murderer knew that Webb
would pass through this passage at a certain time and that--greatly
favoured by the unusual darkness of the evening--he lurked here,
keeping a look-out from either end for possible wayfarers who might be
approaching. Then, when Webb appeared at the entrance--the coast being
clear at the moment--he made his attack. Probably Webb saw him, and
there was a brief struggle, as suggested by the hat in the churchyard.
But when they came opposite the porch the murderer thrust in the
syringe, pushed his victim down on the steps, and walked away down St.
Michael's Alley. But the point of interest to us is that the murderer
seems to have been familiar with Webb's habits. Perhaps we may get some
further light on that point from our enquiries at Cope's."

With this we turned away from the porch, and, stepping up into the
churchyard, took our way along the paved walk, out into Castle Court
and through the little covered passage into Bell Yard. At the entrance
of the yard into Gracechurch Street, Thorndyke paused and ran his eye
along the houses on the south side of the street until it rested on a
building which bore in large gilded letters the inscription, "The Cope
Refrigerating Company," when we crossed the road and bore down on it.

On entering by the main doorway, we found ourselves in a large showroom
filled with a bewildering assortment of various types of refrigerators,
and were confronted by a member of the staff.

"I think," said Thorndyke, addressing him, "that the late Mr. Abel Webb
was employed here."

"Yes," was the reply, "but not in this department. We deal here with
refrigerating apparatus and plant. Mr. Webb was in the solid carbonic
acid department. That is next door. You turn to the right as you go on."

Following this direction we entered a small doorway adjoining the main
entrance and came into a long, narrow shop or warehouse fitted with a
counter which ran from end to end. Behind this were two men, one at the
farther end, who was delivering one or two large and heavy packages to
a carman, and the other, nearer to us, who appeared to be disengaged.
To the latter Thorndyke repeated his former question, and thereby
immediately captured his attention.

"Yes," he replied, "poor Mr. Webb was employed here. He was assistant
manager. Most of his time was spent in the manufacturing section, which
adjoins this warehouse, and it was there that I knew him. I only came
out into the retail department a short time before his death."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "as you knew him fairly well, perhaps you could
tell us what sort of a man he was to look at. Would you mind?"

"Certainly not," was the cordial reply. "But may I ask, if it is not an
impertinence, whether you two gentlemen are connected with the police?"

"We are not," Thorndyke replied. "My friend and I are lawyers; but I
may say that our interest in Mr. Webb is a professional interest. We
are trying to get some fresh light on the circumstances of his death."

"I am glad to hear that," said the assistant. "It's time someone did.
The police came here once or twice after the inquest, but, of course,
we couldn't tell them much, and they didn't seem particularly keen. But
I don't think the affair ought to have been let drop in the way that
it was. Now, as to what Mr. Webb was like. He was rather a noticeable
man, though short. He was a bit of a dandy, always well-dressed and
smartly turned out; waxed the ends of his moustache and wore a single
eye-glass. Quite a nut in his way."

"Yes," said Thorndyke, "and to come to particulars; was he dark or
fair, fat or thin?"

"He was dark. Sallow face, black moustache and eyebrows--bushy eyebrows
like young moustaches; and I wouldn't call him fat. He was just stoutly
built, and looked stouter because of his shortness."

"You spoke of an eyeglass. What was that like?"

"It was just an eyeglass. No rim or frame, no cord or ribbon. Just a
plain glass. He used to carry it in his waistcoat pocket, and, when he
wanted it, he would take it out and fix it in his eye, and there it
stuck as if it were glued in."

"When he was out of doors, did he carry an umbrella or a stick?"

"A stick, always. He had just a slight limp--I think one leg was a
little shorter than the other. That was why he gave up the sea. Found
it a trifle inconvenient on board ship. So he used a stick for a bit of
extra support. And a rare fine stick it was; a very thick malacca with
a silver band and an ivory knob like a young billiard ball. And that, I
think, is all that I can tell you about Mr. Webb."

"Thank you," said Thorndyke, "you have given us a very admirable and
complete description." He paused for a few moments and appeared to be
reflecting. Then he opened a new topic. "I notice that you seem to
reject the idea that Mr. Webb committed suicide."

"That I certainly do," was the reply. "Webb was not the man to commit
any foolishness of that kind. Besides, it was a plain case of murder.
Anyone could see that from the way it was done--and the place, too, for
that matter."

"What is the significance of the place?" Thorndyke asked.

"The significance is that anyone waiting at that place at the right
time would have been sure of meeting him. He used to get on his bus
at the Royal Exchange and he always walked there by the same route;
through Bell Yard, Castle Court and the churchyard and out into
Cornhill by St. Michael's Alley. Always the same way; he told me so,
himself, one day when I walked that way with him. He that he liked the
walk through the churchyard. And he was wonderfully punctual, too. He
would stay on here finishing up the day's work after the rest of the
staff had gone; but at seven-thirty, sharp, he would take his stick and
hat and off he would go. Anyone waiting for him in that dark passage
could have been certain of him to half a minute. It would have been
perfectly easy if there happened to be nobody about."

"Yes," Thorndyke agreed, "that is quite an important point. But you see
that the idea of some person lying in wait there suggests the further
idea someone who had an intimate knowledge of Mr. Webb's habits. Can
you think of any persons who had that knowledge?"

"No. I don't know that anyone besides myself knew what his habits were;
and even if any of our people knew, there is none of them that I could
possibly suspect."

Thorndyke agreed cordially with the latter statement and again paused
with a reflective air, and I got the impression that he was feeling
about for a new opening. Apparently he found one, for he proceeded to
put a fresh case. "Looking back on that time--the time just before Mr.
Webb's death--can you recall any incident that could possibly be, in
any way, regarded as suspicious?"

Our friend weighed the question seriously for some seconds but finally
concluded that he really did not think that he could. But yet I
seemed to detect a certain hesitancy in his reply as if he did not
absolutely reject the suggestion. And this was evidently perceived
also by Thorndyke, for he returned to the attack with his customary
persistence, tempered by suavity.

"You must forgive me for pressing you, Mr.--"

"My name is Small."

"Mr. Small. But, looking back by the light of what happened, can you
think of any incident--we won't say actually suspicious; perhaps quite
trivial and commonplace, but which, considered retrospectively, might
conceivably have had some connection with the tragedy. Any strangers,
for instance, who might have called to see Mr. Webb, or who might have
met him by chance. Now, what do you say?"

Mr. Small was still hesitant and slightly evasive.

"You see," said he, "when an awful thing like that has happened, it
tends to upset your judgment and sense of proportion. You look back on
what went before and you are apt to magnify every little simple thing
that occurred and think that it might have had something to do with the
disaster."

"Exactly," said Thorndyke. "And so it might have had. Don't forget
that. It is by the close scrutiny of little simple things that we
sometimes get a valuable hint. Now, Mr. Small, I can see that there is
something in your mind that you have given some thought to, but that
you are shy of mentioning because of its apparent triviality. Let us
have it. Perhaps it may not appear so trivial to me; and if it does,
there will be no harm done."

"Well," Mr. Small replied with some reluctance, "it is really a very
trivial incident, but yet I have thought it rather odd. It just
amounts to this: One evening, not very long before closing time, a
man--a gentleman, I might call him--came here to buy some four-pound
blocks of snow--solid carbonic acid, you know--and he had brought a
sort of suit-case to carry it away in. Now, I had got the blocks,
wrapped in a rough insulated packing, and was just handing them to him
when Mr. Webb came in through that door and stopped to look up at the
shelves, standing about where the other assistant is standing now.
Well, what attracted my notice was this; as Mr. Webb came through the
doorway, the customer glanced at him, and then he looked again very
hard with an expression as if he was surprised or startled. And at that
moment Mr. Webb noticed him, and _he_ looked very hard at him. But he
couldn't get a very good view of him, for the customer turned away so
that his back was towards Mr. Webb while he was packing the blocks in
his vase. And when he had got them in, as he had already paid for them,
he said 'good 'evening' and walked out. When he had gone Mr. Webb asked
me if I knew who the customer was, and I said I didn't. 'Well,' he
said, 'the next time that he comes, find out his name if you can,' and
I said I would."

"And did you?" Thorndyke asked.

"No," replied Small, "because he never came again, and I have never
seen him since."

"Do you remember, roughly, the date on which this incident occurred?"

"I should say that it was from ten days to a fortnight before Mr.
Webb's death; and that happened on the ninth of September. That is what
has made it stick in my memory. I have often wondered whether it could
have had any connection with that dreadful affair."

"Naturally," said Thorndyke; "and it does not appear so very improbable
that it had. It might be useful to have a description of that customer
if you could remember what he was like."

"I can't remember much about him," said Small, "though I should know
him if I met him, but, of course, I didn't notice him particularly. I
know that he was a rather tall man, say about five foot ten, and dark;
black hair and a smallish black beard with a close-clipped moustache;
and that is about all that I do remember."

"You didn't by any chance notice what his teeth were like?"

Mr. Small seemed to start, and gazed at Thorndyke in evident surprise.
"Well, now," he exclaimed, "that's curious; because, now that you come
to mention it, I did notice his teeth, when he smiled at something
that I said. His upper front teeth had been stopped with gold; pretty
extensively, too; and those stoppings were no ornament. I wonder he let
the dentist disfigure him in that way. But you seemed to know the man,
to judge by your question."

"It was only a shot," replied Thorndyke. "I remembered a man who might
have been surprised at seeing Mr. Webb here. But, as that man is now
dead, there isn't much in it."

As Thorndyke seemed to have elicited the information that he had come
for, I ventured to seek a little on my own account.

"What sort of people use those blocks that you were speaking of," I
asked, "and what do they use them for?"

"All sorts of people use the solid carbonic acid," replied Small.
"The standard twenty-five-pound blocks are mostly used by brewers and
mineral water manufacturers. The small four-pound blocks were made
in the first place principally for the convenience of the ice-cream
tricycles, to keep their stuff cold. But nowadays those blocks are
used for a number of purposes. Doctors use them for freezing warts and
moles, and engineers and motor repair men use them quite a lot."

"What on earth do engineers want carbonic acid now for?" I asked.

"Principally," he replied, "for shrinking metal. Say you have got a
bush that is just too big to drive into its hole. Well, you can get it
in either by expanding the piece with the hole in it by making it hot,
which may be a big job, or you can shrink the bush by freezing it with
the dioxide snow, which is much more convenient."

Hitherto, fortunately for us, the warehouse had been so nearly empty
that the other assistant had been able to deal with the business.
But now several customers came in, and their arrival brought our
conversation to an end. Mr. Small apologised for having to leave us in
order to attend to them, and accordingly, when we had thanked him for
having given us so much of his time, we wished him good afternoon and
retired.

We took our way back by the way we had come, through Bell Yard and
the paved walk beside the little grass plot, lingering a while in the
quiet and seclusion of the churchyard to discuss the results of the
expedition.

"That was a bold shot of yours," I remarked, "with respect to the
teeth. What made you think that the man might be Gillum--for there can
be no doubt that it was he?"

"Practically none," he replied. "But the reasons that made me chance
the suggestion were, first, that the circumstances seemed to make it
probable that the man was Gillum, and, second, the description that
Small gave fitted Gillum perfectly, as far as it went."

"I don't quite see the probability that you mention," said I; "in fact,
I find these new developments rather bewildering. I can't fit them
into our scheme. Small's description almost suggests an unexpected
meeting, which might be natural enough on Webb's part, but hardly on
Gillum's. For, as he was neither an ice-cream vendor nor a doctor nor
an engineer, it would seem that the purchase of the blocks was merely
a pretext for going to Webb's place of business and getting into touch
with him. But that doesn't seem to fit in with our theory at all; and
neither does Webb's visit to Clifford's Inn--for that visitor certainly
was Webb."

"Yes," Thorndyke agreed, "Small's description corresponds exactly with
Weech's. But you are quite right, Jervis. These new facts do not fit
our theory in its original form. We shall have to modify it. But you
notice that our new discoveries, so far from exonerating Gillum, tend
to confirm our suspicion that he was responsible for Webb's death. What
we shall have to reconsider is the possible motive for the murder.
We assumed that Webb was a blackmailer. We may have been right, but
these two meetings, as you say, do not fit comfortably into the group
of events that we assumed. We must have another try. But what will be
much better than speculating on the possible alternatives, will be
the collection of some further data. There are still some unexplored
territories in which we may possibly make new discoveries."

"Yes," I agreed; "there is, for instance, Dr. Peck. He might be able to
give us some useful information. But the question is: where is he? He
may be in the middle of the Pacific."

"True," Thorndyke admitted; "but, on the other hand, he may not. I
think that your question has to be answered, and I propose that we seek
the answer without delay."


CHAPTER XII: THE PURSUIT OF DR. PECK


THORNDYKE'S DECISION THAT an immediate answer must be found to my
question, "Where is Dr. Peck?" was given effect on the very following
morning; when, as our engagements permitted, we set forth together for
the pleasant old precinct of Staple Inn. As our business was with the
porter, and he was most likely to be found in his lodge by the main
gate, we took our way up Fetter Lane and along Holborn until we reached
the arched entrance in the ancient timber houses through which the
wayfarer in the busy street can get a glimpse of the quiet, secluded
quadrangle. And here, passing under the archway, we found the lodge
door open and the porter plainly visible within.

Observing that we had halted with an air of business, he came to the
door and asked, civilly, what he could do for us.

"I want," said Thorndyke, "to get into communication with one of your
tenants; a certain Dr. Peck."

"Ah!" the official replied, "then you have made a bull's eye at the
first shot; though he is not one of our tenants now. But I can give you
his address."

This he proceeded to do, writing it down on a slip of paper which my
colleague offered for the purpose. And, with this, it seemed to me that
our business had come to an unexpectedly swift conclusion, and that we
might forthwith go about "getting into communication" with our quarry.
But this was evidently not Thorndyke's view, for having put the slip
of paper in his pocket-book, he developed an unmistakeable tendency
to open a conversation and to start the porter talking. From which I
inferred that he hoped to gather up a few unconsidered trifles of a
biographical nature which might be dropped in the course of a properly
directed gossip.

"I came here," said he, "because this was given as his address in the
Medical Directory; though I hadn't much hope of finding him, as he
spends most of his time at sea."

"No," replied the porter, "and if you had come a little earlier you
wouldn't have found him or got any news of him either. He seems to have
been all over the world this last trip, not on an ordinary voyage out
and home, but changing about from one ship to another and going into
all sorts of unheard-of places."

"But I suppose," said Thorndyke, "he kept in touch with you so that you
could send on his letters?"

"Not a bit," was the reply. "He couldn't. He never knew where he was
going to next, and he never stayed long in any place. He meant this to
be his last trip at sea, and he was determined to see as much of the
world as he could before he settled down ashore. And he did. It must
have been a regular Captain Cook's voyage."

"And he never gave you any place to send his letters to all the
time that he was away? There must have been a pretty considerable
accumulation when he came home."

"I expect there was. But I never collected them from his chambers as I
had no place to send them to. In fact, he told me to leave them where
they dropped through the letter slit."

"I suppose you heard from him from time to time, when the rent became
due, for instance?"

"No, he never wrote. There was nothing to write about. He had always
left an order with his banker to pay his rent as it became due, when he
was away at sea, and he did the same this time."

"It seems a wasteful arrangement," said Thorndyke, "to have kept a set
of chambers empty, month after month, while the tenant was wandering
about the earth. Don't you think so?"

"I do, and I told him so. But he said that a doctor has to have a
permanent address to keep his name on the register; and he liked to
have a place to come to when he returned from a voyage. But this last
trip did really seem to me out of all reason. He was away close upon
two years; and all that time there were the chambers lying empty and
the rent going on just the same as if he had been living in them. It
happened to be a low rent, because he was an old tenant. He came here
years ago when he was a medical student. We used to have a lot of
students in those days, mostly from Barts, and when one qualified and
gave up his chambers, he was allowed to hand them on to a new student.
So Dr. Peck had been living here more years than I can remember, and
I suppose he didn't like the idea of giving up his old chambers. But
still, as you said, two years' rent for unoccupied chambers does seem a
wicked waste."

"Perhaps," Thorndyke suggested, "he didn't expect to be away so long."

"Oh yes, he did. He told me that he might be away for as much as a
couple of years. He meant to go overland to Marseilles and there pick
up some kind of foreign tramp and go with her wherever she might be
going, and after a time, change over to another ship and make a voyage
somewhere else. And he made mighty preparations so that he should be as
comfortable as possible. He got a brand new cabin trunk, in addition to
his old ones, and he had a couple of portable bookcases made so that he
could have his library with him."

"He must have reckoned that those tramps would have pretty liberal
cabin space," I remarked. "You couldn't get many bookcases into an
ordinary tramp's cabin, so far as my experience goes."

"Oh, but these were quite small things," the porter explained. "Only
about three foot high by a couple of foot wide. And uncommonly cleverly
they were planned, too, at least, so I thought. You see, they were
intended to travel with the books in them. They had moveable fronts
fixed on with a dozen long screws, well greased so that they would come
out easily, and lying flush so that there was nothing projecting to
catch when they were travelling. And when you had got them into your
cabin, all you had to do was to take out the screws and the front was
free. You could just take it off and slip it behind the case out of the
way, and there was your bookcase with all your books properly arranged
and ready for use. I thought it a mighty neat idea."

"So it was," Thorndyke agreed. "Extremely convenient, not only for use
on board ship, but for travelling on land. Did you see the cases?"

"Yes," was the reply, "I saw them in Mr. Crow's workshop just before
he delivered them, and I complimented him on having made such a good
job of them. He had got them stained and varnished so that they looked
quite smart, although they were only made of deal, you understand."

"Mr. Crow, I take it," said Thorndyke, "is a local craftsman."

"Yes, he lives close by in Baldwin's Gardens, so we give him all the
jobs that we want done about the Inn. And a real good tradesman he is.
I always recommend him whenever I can. It's a kindness to him and to
the customer, too."

"It is, indeed," said Thorndyke, "especially to the customer. Really
skilful and dependable tradesmen are getting scarce, and it is no small
advantage to know where one can find such a man on occasion. I shall
make a note of Mr. Crow's address, and perhaps call on him. I am quite
impressed by your description of those bookcases."

"Well, I think you would find them handy if you travel much," said the
porter, apparently much gratified by the impression he had made. "Dr.
Peck did, as he told me; and they took the fancy of the captain of
his last ship to such an extent that when the doctor left the ship at
Marseilles to come home overland, the skipper insisted on buying the
cases, books and all."

"Then you have seen Dr. Peck since he came home?"

"Lord, yes," the porter chuckled, "and I didn't recognise him at first.
You see, he had shaved off his beard; and when a beaver does a clean
shave, the results are apt to be surprising. But he was quite right. A
beard is the thing on board ship, where shaving isn't very convenient
and not at all necessary, but, as he said very truly, when a man is
in practice as a doctor, he doesn't want a bunch of hair on his chin
to stick in his patient's face. Yes, he came here to give notice and
settle up, and to move his things out of the chambers."

"When did he arrive in England?"

"Ah!" was the reply, "that I can't say, exactly. I didn't know that he
was back until he turned up here, as I have told you. That was about
three weeks ago. But he must have been in England some time before
that, seeing that he had taken a house, and perhaps a doctor's business
as well."

"Then he never came back here to live?"

"No. Which makes the waste of money seem worse than ever. He appears to
have taken his new premises, furniture and all, and settled there at
once. So I understood."

"And he is now engaged in medical practice at the address you gave me
just now?"

"Well," the porter replied with a faint grin, "That's as may be. If
he bought a going concern, I suppose he is. But if he just took the
premises without any goodwill, he is probably squatting there and
waiting for business to turn up. However, in either case, he has got a
brass plate at the address I gave you: and there you'll find him, and
he will able to give you the particulars about himself better than I
am."

I seemed to detect in the final sentence a subtle hint that our friend
thought that he had asked questions, and so, apparently, did Throndyke,
for he accepted the hint--the more readily, I suspect, because he had
no further questions to ask--and brought the interview to an end by
thanking our friend for the address and wishing him good morning.

As this dialogue had proceeded, I had become and more puzzled. For
I had supposed mission had the simple purpose of finding out, if
possible, the whereabouts of Dr. Peck; and I had imagined that our
business with Peck was to elicit from him whatever he might be able to
tell us about the incidents of the voyage from Australia as affecting
John Gillum. But it seemed that neither of these suppositions was
true. Thorndyke was not interested only in what Peck might be able and
willing to tell us; he was interested in Peck, himself. The apparently
trivial conversation to which I had listened was, I felt sure, a
carefully conducted examination designed to elicit certain facts. But
what facts? I had listened attentively and even curiously; but not a
single fact of any apparent significance seemed to have transpired.
Yet something had transpired, unperceived by me. Thorndyke's behaviour
had convinced me of that. The way in which he had, almost abruptly,
closed the conversation, told me that, whatever might be the item
of information which he had been seeking, that item was now in his
possession. But I could not form the vaguest guess as to what it could
be.

My confusion of thought was rather increased by Thorndyke's conduct
when we emerged from the Inn; for, halting at the edge of the pavement
and looking across the road, he said, meditatively:

"Baldwin's Gardens. I think that turns out of the Gray's Inn Road a
little way down on the right, doesn't it?"

"Yes," I replied. "About the third turning. Were you thinking of paying
a visit to the ingenious Mr. Crow?"

"Why not?" said he. "We may as well look him up now, as we are so near."

"But," I protested, "why look him up at all? Those bookcases were very
ingenious and handy for the purpose for which they were made, but
you have no use for such things. You don't make sea voyages or even
prolonged journeys away from home; and if you did, you would hardly
want to take your library with you."

"But they would be useful for carrying other things besides books," he
replied; "apparatus and reagents, for instance. At any rate, I should
like to get particulars of construction and dimensions."

"With a view," said I, "to pinching Mr. Crow's copyright and having a
pirated edition turned out by Polton."

"Not at all," he retorted. "If I decided to have one, or a pair, made,
I should certainly commission Mr. Crow to make them."

As he had evidently got some kind of unreasonable fancy for those
bookcases, I said no more. We crossed the road and in two or three
minutes found ourselves at the corner of Baldwin's Gardens, whence we
began a perambulation of the street. It was some time before we were
able to locate Mr. Crow's premises, but eventually we discovered, at
the corner of a side passage, a painted board inscribed with the name
of "William Crow, Carpenter and Joiner" and the intimation that his
workshop would be found on the right up the passage. We accordingly
followed the direction and, coming to a door on which the description
was repeated, pushed it open and entered a spacious, well-lighted
workshop in which a tall, elderly man was engaged in planing up the
edge of a board. At the sound of our entry, he turned and looked at us
over the tops of his spectacles, and then, laying his plane down on the
bench, enquired politely what he could do for us.

Thorndyke briefly stated the purpose of our visit, whereupon Mr. Crow
took off his spectacles to get a better view of us and appeared to
meditate on what my colleague had said.

"A pair of bookcases, you say, sir, made for a gentleman in Staple Inn
of the name of Peck. Yes, I seem to remember a-making of them, but I
can't rightly recollect exactly what they were like. Small cases, I
think you said?"

"Yes; about three feet by two."

"Well, sir," said Mr. Crow--very reasonably, I thought--"if you will
tell me just what you want, I can take down the particulars and make
the articles without troubling about those other ones."

But this simple plan apparently did not commend itself to Thorndyke,
for he objected: "I am not sure that I have got the full particulars
and I rather wanted to see the construction and dimensions of those
that you made for Dr. Peck. Don't you keep an account in your books of
work that you have in hand?"

"Oh, yes," replied Crow, "I've got the particulars all right if I only
knew where to look for them. But you see, it's a longish time ago and
my memory ain't what it was. I suppose, now, you couldn't tell me about
when those cases were made?"

"I can't give you the exact date," said Thorndyke, "but I should say
that it would have been some time in September, 1928, probably the
early part of the month. Or it might have been the latter part of
August. What do you say, Jervis?"

"I expect you are right," I replied, "though I don't quite see how you
arrived at the date."

But however he had arrived at it, the date turned out to be correct;
for when Mr. Crow, having resumed his spectacles, had picked out from a
row of trade books a shabby-looking folio volume and opened it on the
bench, the required entry came into view almost at once.

"Ah!" said Crow, "here we are. Twenty-eighth of August, 1928. I see
the order is marked 'urgent.' Things wanted as soon as possible. They
usually are. So I treated it as urgent and delivered the goods at the
Inn on the thirty-first, in the evening, as soon as I had got them
finished."

"That was a fairly quick piece of work," I remarked.

"Yes," he replied, "I got a move on with 'em. But there was not a lot of
work in 'em, as you can see by the drawings. No dovetails and no gluing
up except for the backs. They were just screwed together and stained
and brush-varnished. It wasn't a job to take up much time. I have
written the dimensions on the drawings, so you can see exactly what the
cases were like."

We looked over the drawings, which were quite neatly executed, though
rapidly sketched in, with the dimensions marked on them in clear
legible figures notwithstanding which, Mr. Crow proceeded to expound
them and the details of construction.

"The cases," said he, "were of yellow deal, stained and varnished;
three foot three high by twenty inches wide and fourteen inches deep,
all outside measurements; and as the stuff was full one-inch board,
the inside measurements would be two inches less in height and width
and one inch less in depth. There were three shelves in each case,
equal distances apart, so you have got four spaces of a little under
nine inches each, as the shelves were only half-inch stuff. All the
parts were fastened together with screws, excepting the shelves, and
they slid freely in grooves. The fronts were the same size as the
backs, and they were just laid on and fixed in position by twelve
two-and-a-half-inch number eight screws, which had to be well greased
with tallow so that they would come out easily. It was quite a handy
arrangement for, you see, you just filled the case up with books
and then you put on the front and ran in the screws and you'd got a
thoroughly secure packing-case with no hinges or other projections to
get in the way when it was being stowed. Then, when you had got it in
the place where it was to be, such as the cabin, all you had got to do
was to draw out the screws, take off the front, and slip it behind the
case, and there you were with all your books ready to hand."

"Wouldn't it have been stronger," I suggested, "if the top and bottom
had been dovetailed to the sides?"

"Yes, it would," he agreed, "and that is what I wanted to do. But
he wouldn't have it. He said that all the parts were to be screwed
together with greased screws so that it could be taken to pieces if
necessary for stowage or storing."

"I don't see much utility in that," I remarked.

"There isn't," he agreed, "excepting that, if the cases should be out
of use at any time, they could be taken apart, and then the pieces
would lie flat and take up less room than the assembled cases."

"I certainly think it a good method of construction," said Thorndyke.
"The case would be strongly bound together by the back and front when
it was travelling, and when it was not travelling, the extra strength
would not be wanted."

"Then," said Crow, "you'd like yours made the same way, I suppose. Did
you wish me to make one case or two?"

"You may as well make two while you are about it," answered Thorndyke,
"and I think you had better make them in every way similar to those
that you have in your day book and of the same dimensions. They are
quite suitable and I don't think they could be improved on. But I may
say that this order is not urgent. You can take your own time over
them."

Mr. Crow thanked him for his consideration, and when he had booked
the order in the current book and taken Thorndyke's name and address,
we took our leave and made our way homeward. During our walk along
Holborn and down Fetter Lane very little was said by either of us.
Thorndyke appeared to be cogitating on the morning's experiences, and
my own reflections were principally concerned with speculations on the
nature of his. For, as far as I could see, the only tangible result
of the expedition was that we had got Peck's address and had secured
two bookcases which we did not want. In addition, we had picked up a
number of rather trivial personal particulars relating to Peck and his
comings and goings, none of which seemed to have the slightest bearing
on the problem which we were endeavouring to solve. But I suspected
that there was more in it than this; that, out of the porter's trifling
reminiscences, Thorndyke had gathered some thing, the significance of
which was evident to him although it had, for the present, escaped me.

We entered the Temple by Mitre Court and, as we emerged into the
upper end of King's Bench Walk, we observed a figure advancing up the
pavement from the direction of our chambers, which, as we drew nearer,
resolved itself into that of our friend Benson. He recognised us at the
same moment and quickened his pace to meet us.

"I have taken the liberty," said he, when he had shaken hands heartily,
"to drop in at your rooms, as I was in the neighbourhood, not to detain
you and waste your time, but just to ask if there were any news of our
case.''

"There is nothing definite to report," replied Thorndyke. "I am making
various enquiries and picking up such facts as I can, but, so far, the
result is a rather miscellaneous collection which will want a good deal
of sorting out and collation. But I am by no means hopeless. Won't
you come back and have a bit of lunch with us? There are one or two
questions that I wanted to ask you, and we might discuss them over the
lunch table."

Benson looked at his watch. "I should like to," said he, "but I think I
had better not. I have an appointment at half-past two, and I mustn't
be late. Could I answer your questions now?"

"I think so," replied Thorndyke. "It is just a matter of personal
description. You see, as I never saw John Gillum and have only the
vaguest idea as to what he was like, I shall be rather at a loss if I
have occasion to trace his movements. I can give no description of him.
Could you sketch out a few personal characteristics by which he could
be described or identified?"

Benson reflected as we turned to walk slowly down the pavement.

"Let me see," said he. "Now, what do you call personal characteristics?
There is his height. He was rather a tall man; about five feet ten.
In colour he was a mixture--dark and fair. His hair and beard were
black, but his skin was fair and his eyes were blue; you know the type
of black-haired blond. But probably the most striking and distinctive
characteristic, and the most useful for identification would be the
peculiarity of his teeth. You have heard, I think, that his upper front
teeth were extensively filled with gold and as they showed a good deal,
they were a very serious disfigurement."

"Yes, I have heard of those teeth," said Thorndyke, "and I have rather
wondered why a fairly good-looking man, as I understood him to be,
should have allowed himself to be disfigured in that way. Were his
other teeth filled extensively in the same way?"

"No," replied Benson, "that was the exasperating feature of the case.
He had an exceptionally fine, sound set of teeth; not a stopping among
the whole lot, I believe. It was bad luck that the only unsound ones
should have happened to be those that were constantly on view. And I
have an impression that they were really sound; that the spots of decay
on them were started by some kind of blow or injury. But I think the
dentist might have done something better for him."

"Yes," I agreed. "A competent man would not have used a gold filling at
all. He would have put in a porcelain inlay."

"To return to the hair," said Thorndyke. "You described it as black. Do
you mean actually black, or very dark brown?"

"I mean black. There was no tinge of brown in it, to the best of my
belief. It seemed to be dead black, with just a tiny sprinkling of
grey. But the grey was hardly noticeable, except, perhaps, on the
temples above the ears. Otherwise, there was only a white hair here and
there; single hairs that you would scarcely notice and that did not
interfere with the general effect of black hair."

"Thank you," said Thorndyke, "Your description is quite helpful. But
what would be still more helpful would be a portrait. If you can show a
portrait and say, 'Is this the man whom you saw?' the identification is
much more definite. I suppose you don't happen to have a photograph of
your cousin?"

"Not here," Benson answered; and then, as with a sudden afterthought,
he said, "Wait, though. I have got something that will possibly
answer your purpose. You must know that I am an amateur in a small
way. I run a pocket camera, and I have a sort of a book file for the
film negatives. That file I have brought with me and it is in one of
my trunks. Among the old films are one or two of Gillum, mostly in
groups, but I don't suppose that will matter. They are not very good
portraits--you know what snapshot portraits are like--and of course,
they are rather small. But they could be enlarged. Do you think they
would be of any use to you?"

"They would be of the greatest use," Thorndyke replied. "They could
not only be enlarged, but they could be retouched to get rid of the
exaggerated shadows, which are the principal cause of the bad likeness
in outdoor snapshots. Will you let me have one or two of them?"

"Certainly," said Benson. "I will look them over and pick out a few of
the best and clearest and send them to you. And I have got a photograph
that the first officer gave me, which he took on the former voyage. It
is a group of officers and passengers, including a fairly good portrait
of Gillum. I will send that too. And now," he added, once more glancing
at his watch, "I think I must really be running away. There wasn't
anything more that you wanted to ask me, was there?"

"No," replied Thorndyke, "I think that was all. If you send me the
photographs and they are reasonably good ones, my difficulties in the
matter of identification will be disposed of."

With this we both shook hands with him and stood awhile, watching him
as he strode away towards Crown Office Row, the picture of health and
strength and energy. Then, as our fancies lightly turned to thoughts of
lunch, we walked back to our entry and ascended to our chambers where
we found the table already laid and Polton on the look-out for our
arrival.


CHAPTER XIII: DR. AUGUSTUS PECK


OF CERTAIN MEN WE ARE apt to say that once seen they are never
forgotten. They are not mere samples of the human race, turned out
from the common mould, but executed individually as special orders and
never repeated. Such were Paganini and the great Duke of Wellington,
recognisable by us all from their mere counterfeit presentments after
the lapse of a century.

Now Mr. Ethelbert Snuper was exactly the reverse. He might have been
seen a thousand times and never remembered. So exactly was he like
every other ordinary person that he might have come straight out of
a text-book of "The Dismal Science "--the Economic Man, now for the
first and only time enjoying a concrete existence. Often as I met
him, I recognised him with doubt. And the worst of it was that when
at last I thought that I had committed his impersonality to memory,
behold! the very next time I met him he was somebody else. It was quite
confusing. There was a sort of unreality about the man. His very name
was incredible, so exactly did it define his status and his "place in
Nature," (but one meets with these coincidences in real life. I once
knew a ritualist clergyman named Mummery).

For Mr. Snuper was a private inquiry agent and, especially, a professed
and expert shadower; a vocation to which his personal peculiarities
(or should I say, his impersonal unpeculiarities?) adapted him with
a degree of perfection usually met with only in the lower creation.
Even as the cylindrical body of the mole answers to the form of his
burrow, and the flatness of Cimex lectularius (Norfolk Howard) favours
unostentatious movements beneath a wallpaper, so Mr. Snuper's total
lack of individual character enabled him to walk the streets a mere
unnoticed unit of the population.

I had often met him about our premises, for Thorndyke had employed
him from time to time to make such enquiries and observations as were
obviously impossible to either of us; and now, the day after our visit
to Staple Inn, I met him once more, descending our stairs, and should
certainly have passed him if he had not stopped to wish me "good
afternoon." As he had evidently just come from our chambers, I assumed
that there was something afoot and was a little curious as to what it
might be, and the more so as we had no case on hand which seemed to
need Mr. Snuper's services.

Of course, I could not put any questions to the gentleman himself,
but I had no such delicacy with Thorndyke. As soon as I entered our
chambers I proceeded to make a few private enquiries on my own account.

"I met Snuper on the stairs," said I. "Is there anything doing in his
line?"

"It is just a matter of one or two enquiries," Thorndyke replied. "I
have set him to collect a few data concerning Peck."

"What sort of data?" I asked.

"Oh, quite simple data," he replied; "what sort of practice he has,
whether he lives on the premises, how he spends his time, what bank he
patronises, and so on. You see, Jervis, we know nothing about Peck, and
it would be useful to have a few facts in our possession when we call
on him."

"I don't see that the kind of facts that you mention have much
relevance to our inquiry," I objected.

He admitted the objection. "But," he added, "your experience in
cross-examination will have taught you that an irrelevant question,
to which you know the answer, may be a valuable means of testing the
general truth of a witness's statements."

To this I had to assent, but I was not satisfied. Such extremely vague
enquiries would have suggested that Thorndyke was at a loose end, which
I did not believe he was.

"You are not connecting Peck with the blackmailing business, are you?"
I asked.

"Why not?" he demanded.

"But the thing is impossible," I exclaimed. "The man was absent from
England during the whole of the material time."

"Which is a fact worth noting," said he. "But what do you call the
material time? When we were discussing Abel Webb, we agreed that the
clue to this business was to be sought in the events of the voyage from
Australia. Peck was present then."

"But he was on the other side of the world when the great blackmailing
took place, after Abel Webb's death and apparently connected with it.
However," I concluded, "it is of no use discussing the matter. I expect
you have perfectly good reasons for what you are doing and are keeping
them to yourself."

He smiled blandly at this suggestion, and the subject dropped; and as
we had several court cases which kept us employed during the fortnight
which followed, the Gillum mystery fell into abeyance, or, at least,
appeared to. Mr. Snuper made no further appearances (but then he never
did in the course of an inquiry, reports by post being more safe from
observation); and the case had nearly faded out of my mind when my
interest in it was suddenly revived by Thorndyke's announcement that he
proposed to call on Dr. Peck on the following day shortly before noon.

"By the way," said I, "where is he carrying on his practice?

"His premises are in Whitechapel High Street," Thorndyke replied.

"Whitechapel High Street!" I repeated in astonishment. "What an
extraordinary place to have pitched upon."

"It does seem a little odd," he admitted, "but somebody must practise
in Whitechapel; and there are some advantages in a poor neighbourhood.
At any rate, that is where he is, and I hope we shan't find him too
busy for an interview. I don't much think we shall, judging from
Snuper's reports of the practice."

How far Mr. Snuper's estimate was correct I was unable to judge when we
arrived at the premises on the following morning. From a brass plate
on a jamb of the side door of a tailor's trimming warehouse I learned
that Augustus Peck, Physician and Surgeon, had consulting-rooms on the
first floor and was to be found in them between the hours of 10.30 a.m.
and 1, and in the afternoon from 2 to 6 p.m. Accordingly, it being
then about 11.30 a.m., we entered the doorway and ascended a flight of
rather shabby stairs to a landing on which two doors opened, one of
which bore the doctor's name in painted lettering with the instruction:
"Ring and enter"; which we did, and found ourselves in a large room
covered with floor-cloth and provided with a considerable number of
chairs, but otherwise almost unfurnished. However, we had no time to
inspect this apartment--of which we were the sole occupants--for,
almost as we entered, a communicating door opened and a rather tall,
well-dressed man invited us to come through into the consulting-room.
We followed him into the sanctuary, and, when he had shut the door
and placed a couple of chairs for us, he seated himself at his
writing-table, and, having bestowed on us a look of more than ordinary
attention, asked:

"Which of you is the patient?"

Thorndyke smiled apologetically as he replied: "Neither of us is. We
have not come for medical advice, but in the hope--rather a forlorn
hope, I fear--that you may be able and willing to assist us in some
inquiries that we have in hand."

Dr. Peck smiled. "I was afraid," said he, "that you were too good to be
true. My practice doesn't include many members of the aristocracy. But
what kind of inquiries are you referring to? And, if you will pardon
me, whom have I the honour of addressing?"

Thorndyke took out his card-case, and, extracting a card, said, as he
handed the latter to Peck: "This will introduce me. My friend is Dr.
Jervis, who is collaborating with me."

Dr. Peck took the card from him and glanced at it, at first rather
casually; but then he looked at it again with such evidently awakened
interest that I felt sure that he had recognised the name. Indeed, he
said so when he had pondered over it a while, for, as I offered him my
card and he took it from me, laying Thorndyke's down on the table, he
asked: "Are you the Dr. Thorndyke who used to lecture at St. Margaret's
on medical jurisprudence?"

Thorndyke admitted that he was the person referred to. "But," he added,
"I don't remember you. Were you ever at St. Margaret's?"

"No," replied Peck, "I am a Bart's man. But I remember your name, as
our lecturer used to quote you rather freely. And that brings us back
to the question of your inquiry. What is its nature, and how do you
think I can help you?"

"Our inquiry," said Thorndyke, "is concerned with a man named John
Gillum who came from Australia to England about two years ago. Do you
remember him?

"Oh, yes," replied Peck, "I remember him quite well. He was a passenger
on the Port Badmington, of the Commonwealth and Dominions Line, of
which I was medical officer. He came on board, I think, at Perth and
travelled with us to Marseilles. What about him?"

"Did you know that he is dead?"

"Dead!" exclaimed Peck. "Good Lord, no. When did he die?"

"He was found dead in his chambers in Clifford's Inn nearly three
months ago. Apparently, he had committed suicide--at least, that was
the verdict of the coroner's jury."

"Dear, dear!" Peck exclaimed in a tone of deep concern. "What a
dreadful affair! Poor old Gillum! A most shocking affair, and
surprising, too. I can hardly believe it. He was such a cheerful soul,
so gay and happy and so full of the high old times that he was going to
have when he got to England. I suppose there is no doubt that he really
did make away with himself?"

"There seemed to be no doubt whatever," replied Thorndyke; "but I can
speak only from hearsay. I had no connection with the case at the time."

"And now that you are connected with the case," said Peck, "what is the
nature of your inquiry? What do you want to know?"

"The answer to that question," said Thorndyke, "involves a few
explanations. From what transpired at the inquest, it appeared that
Gillum had been driven to suicide by the loss of his entire fortune. It
was only a modest fortune--about thirteen thousand pounds--but he had
got through every penny of it. Part of it he had wasted by betting and
other forms of gambling, but a quite considerable portion of what had
been lost appeared to have been paid away to blackmailers."

"Blackmailers!" Peck repeated in a tone of the utmost astonishment. "It
seems incredible. The gambling I can understand to some extent, though
that surprises me. For, though he certainly did like a little flutter
at cards, I should hardly have called him a gambler. But blackmail! I
can't believe it. Who on earth could have blackmailed Gillum? And what
possible chance could he have given them to do it?"

"Precisely," said Thorndyke. "That is our problem. Gillum's relatives
are convinced that it was the blackmail, and not the mere gambling
losses, that was the determining cause of the suicide; and they have
commissioned me to make such inquiries as may establish the identity of
the blackmailers and bring them within reach of the law."

"Very proper, too," said Peck, "but it doesn't look a very hopeful job.
Have you anything to go on?"

"Not very much," Thorndyke replied. "There is this and there are some
other letters, but, as you will see, they are not very helpful."

As he spoke he took from his pocket a little portfolio, from which he
drew out a single sheet of paper and handed it to Peck; who read its
contents slowly and with deep attention and then asked:

"Is this the original letter?"

"No," Thorndyke replied. "One doesn't hawk original documents about,
which may have to be produced in court. This is a copy, but it is
certified correct. The attestation is on the back."

Peck turned the sheet over and glanced at the certificate; then he
turned it back and once more read through the letter.

"It's an astonishing thing," said he. "The blackmail works out at two
thousand a year. Gillum must have had some pretty hefty secrets if he
was prepared to pay that. But I don't quite see where I come in."

"You come in," said Thorndyke, "at precisely the point which you,
yourself have indicated: the identity of the blackmailer and the
subject of the blackmail."

Peck looked at him in astonishment. "I don't understand what you mean,"
said he. "This man, Gillum, travelled on my ship from Australia to
Europe. He came on board a complete stranger to me; he went ashore at
Marseilles, and I never saw him again. Moreover, I have been abroad
for nearly two years, and I came back only a couple of months ago. How
could I know anything about Gillum or his blackmailers?"

"It had occurred to me," Thorndyke replied, "that the blackmailers
might have been some of his fellow passengers on that voyage, and that
the blackmail might have been based on some incidents that had occurred
on board. What do you say to that?"

"It is quite possible," replied Peck, "but I know of nothing to support
the idea. Gillum seemed to be on good terms with everybody, and, as to
the other passengers, I knew very little about them. A much more likely
source of information would be the purser, if you could get into touch
with him. He knew Gillum better than I did, and he knew more about the
passengers. Get hold of him if you can. His name is Webb. Abel Webb."

"Abel Webb is dead," said Thorndyke. "He was found dead about a week
after the date of that letter."

Dr. Peck stared at Thorndyke, round-eyed and open-mouthed. "Good God!"
he exclaimed. "Found dead! Don't tell me that he committed suicide,
too."

"It was suggested that he did," Thorndyke replied, "but it is more
probable that he was murdered. The jury returned an open verdict."

For some seconds Peck sat motionless and silent, his wide-open blue
eyes fixed, with an expression of horror, on Thorndyke's face. At
length he said in a low tone, as if deeply moved: "You are making my
flesh creep, doctor. Two of the ship's company cut off by violence in a
few months! I almost ask myself if it will be my turn next."

There was a long pause, during which Peck and Thorndyke looked at
each other in silence and I continued my observation of the former.
He was a rather good-looking man, clean-shaved and well groomed, with
close-cropped light-brown hair and clear blue eyes. His manners were
easy and pleasant, and he had an undeniably engaging personality. And
yet, somehow, I did not very much like him; and I liked him least when
he smiled and exposed an unpleasing array of false teeth, mingled with
one or two rather discoloured "aboriginals." He had better have kept
his moustache.

"Well, doctor," he said, suddenly recovering himself and handing the
letter back to Thorndyke--who replaced it in the portfolio--"you see
what my position is. I should have liked to help you, but I really have
no connection with the business at all."

"No," Thorndyke agreed, "that appears to be the case. But I am
not greatly disappointed. It was, as I said, only a forlorn hope.
Nevertheless," he added, as he rose and pocketed the portfolio, "I am
greatly obliged to you for having received us so kindly and given us so
much of your time."

"Not at all," Peck replied, opening the side door, which gave access
to the landing, "I am only sorry that your time has been occupied to
so little purpose. Good morning, doctor. Good morning, Dr. Jervis." He
bowed and dismissed us with a genial smile, and we retreated down the
shabby stairs and out into the busy High Street.


CHAPTER XIV: FURTHER EXPLORATIONS


THE ADVANTAGES OF MODERN transport do not include facilities for
conversation. The fact was recognised by us both as we sat in the motor
omnibus which bore us at lightning speed--when it was not held up by an
immovable jam of other lightning speeders--from the cosmopolitan region
in which Dr. Peck had pitched his tent towards the less picturesque but
more respectable west. But even in a motor-bus thought is possible;
and thus I was able to beguile the--intermittently--swift journey by
cogitating upon our recent interview.

As to the results achieved, they were, so far as I was concerned,
exactly what I had expected. The man had been absent from England
during the whole of the blackmailing period and had nothing whatever to
tell. And if Thorndyke had learned anything of his personality--which
I had not--the knowledge could be only curious and irrelevant. For the
one fact that had emerged was that, for the purposes of our inquiry,
Dr. Peck was completely outside the picture.

When the bus delivered us at Holborn Circus and we strode away along
the broad pavement, I ventured to present my views as aforesaid,
adding: "It doesn't seem to me that Snuper's inquiries have helped us
very much, but, of course, I don't know what discoveries he made."

"They were not very sensational," Thorndyke replied, "and mainly they
agree with our own. Peck has just squatted in Whitechapel. His practice
consists, at present, of a brass plate and an empty waiting-room, and
his arrangements dispense with the inconveniences of a night-bell."

"He doesn't live there, then?"

"No. He lives at Loughton, on the skirts of Epping Forest, quite
accessible to East London, and very delightful in the summer but rather
bleak and muddy in the winter."

"It is not very obvious why he gave up his chambers," said I. "Staple
Inn is nearer to Whitechapel than Loughton. What else did Snuper find
out about him?"

"Very little. He ascertained that Peck seems to be a solitary man with
no discoverable friends or acquaintances; that he spends his spare
time in wandering about the far east of London or in long walks in
the forest; and also--which is the most curious discovery--that he,
apparently, has three banks, and that he visits each of them regularly
twice a week."

"That really is odd," said I. "What on earth can he want with three
banks? And for what purpose can he make these regular visits? If he has
no practice there can be no cash to pay in, and he can't draw out twice
a week, and from three banks, too."

Thorndyke smiled in his exasperating way. "There, Jervis," said he,
"is quite a pretty little problem for you to excogitate. Why should a
man who has no visible cash income pay in to three banks at once; or,
alternatively, why should a man whose visible expenditure is negligible
draw out twice a week from three banks?"

"Is there any answer to it?" I asked dismally as we turned into Fetter
Lane.

"There must be," he replied. "Probably several, and one of them will be
the right one. I strongly recommend the problem for your consideration.
Attack it constructively. Think of all possible explanations, and
then consider which of them is applicable to the present case. And,
meanwhile, I suggest that we drop in at Clifford's Inn and see how
Polton is progressing."

"What is Polton doing at Clifford's Inn?" I asked.

"My dear fellow," he replied, "he is carrying out your own suggestion;
collecting dust for microscopical examination."

I smiled acidly at this outrageous fiction; for, of course, my
suggestion had been made ironically as an example of superlative
futility. The idea had been Thorndyke's own; and since there must have
been some reasonable purpose behind it, I was now all agog to discover
what that purpose was. It was not discoverable, however, from Polton's
activities, for they exhibited only the method of procedure, which was,
characteristically, orderly and systematic. The vacuum cleaner that
he was using consisted of a sort of steel jar, into which the suction
tube opened, the latter having a nozzle on which a gauze bag could be
fastened. Thus, when the air-tight lid was on the jar and the machine
was set working, a stream of dust-laden air was discharged into the
bag, which detained the dust and let the air escape through its pores.
Polton had provided himself with half a dozen or so of these bags, and,
by the time when we arrived--letting ourselves in with a duplicate key
of his manufacture--most of them had been filled and now stood in a row
on the mantelpiece, each fitted with a label describing the source of
its contents and referring to a sketch plan of the premises.

"You see, sir, I have nearly finished," said Polton, as Thorndyke
glanced along the row of bags and scanned the labels. "I've done the
bedroom, the kitchen and the larder, and now I am going over this room
in sections. But," he added gloomily, "I'm afraid it will be a poor
harvest. The floors are terribly clean. That carpet-sweeper must have
taken off the cream of the really valuable dust, and they seem to have
used it to a most unnecessary extent. However," he concluded, "I've got
what I could out of that sweeper. I've combed the brushes and vacuumed
the inside thoroughly."

"That was a capital idea," said Thorndyke. "The sweeper is probably
quite a storehouse of ancient dust, and of the most useful kind for our
purpose. By the way, did you have time to make that key?"

"Yes, sir," replied Polton. "I've got it here. It's only a skeleton.
There was no use in fiddling about with wards, so I just cut the middle
of the bit right out. But it opens the lock all right. I've tried it."

With this, he produced from his pocket a monstrous skeleton key, such
as might have been fabricated by Jack Sheppard to open the gates of
Newgate, and handed it to Thorndyke, who remarked as he took it that
"they liked good, substantial keys in the days when these houses were
built."

"What key is it?" I asked.

"It belongs to--or rather, it opens--the door on the landing, which I
have assumed to be that of the staircase leading up to the lumber-room
above which you heard Mr. Weech refer to. I hope there isn't another
locked door at the top. Shall we go and see?"

I assented and followed him out to the landing, speculating on his
object--if he had one--in surveying the lumber-room. But I asked no
question and made no comment. His proceedings in this case were getting
out of my depth.

The big key seemed to fit the lock snugly and shot the bolt back with
unexpected ease, but the ancient hinges groaned when Thorndyke pulled
the door open and exposed the bottom of a flight of rude steps, a sort
of compromise between stairs and a ladder. Only the lower steps were
visible, for they rapidly faded upward into the total darkness of
the chimney-like cavity, but we both noticed that they bore distinct
footprints on their dusty treads. Thorndyke went first, lighting our
way with the little electric lamp that he always carried, until we were
near the top, when a faint glimmer from above mitigated the darkness,
and increased as we ascended.

There was no landing at the top, but just a space cut out of the
floor to accommodate the steps, so that we came up into the room like
a couple of stage demons rising through a trap. When he reached the
floor level Thorndyke stepped sideways, clear of the well, and stood
motionless, peering into the dim interior. I followed him in the same
way, to avoid having the dangerous staircase well behind me, and stood
beside him, looking about me with mild curiosity.

It was a rather eerie place; a great, bare room, little lighter than
the staircase. For, though there were three large windows, they were
all closely shuttered, and what vestiges of light there were filtered
in through the cracks and joints at the hinges and folds. But to our
accustomed eyes the general features of the place were visible in the
dim twilight; the disorderly piles of "junk," ranged along the sides of
the room, shadowy forms of chairs, cupboards, baths, tables, rejected
and forgotten and probably ruinous, chandeliers, lengths of water-pipe,
and multitudinous indistinguishable objects, the accumulations, it
might be, of a century or more. But it was not the "junk" that had
attracted Thorndyke's attention. Along the clear space in the middle of
the room a double row of footprints could be seen, extending from the
head of the staircase and fading away into the darkness at the farther
end.

"Someone has been up here comparatively recently," said he, "and went
directly to the farther end either to fetch or to deposit something.
Perhaps we shall be able to judge which. But before we disturb anything
I think we had better take a record of these footprints. Polton has the
small camera downstairs as there were one or two photographs to take.
I'll just go and fetch him up. And, meanwhile, you might open one set
of shutters, if you can get at the window."

He handed me his lamp, and, when I had seen him safely on to the
steps, I approached the only accessible window and investigated the
fastenings of the shutters. They were simple enough, consisting of a
thick wooden bar resting in wooden sockets and requiring merely to
be lifted out; and when I had done this I was able to pull back the
shutters and let in the light of day. And now I could see how the
footprints had come to be so surprisingly distinct on the bare floor.
In the years during which this room had lain undisturbed, the dust had
been settling continuously until it now formed a thick grey mantle on
every horizontal surface and the footprints were almost as clear as if
they had been in snow or on a sandy shore. In some the very brads in
the soles and heels could be seen.

I was still examining them and speculating on Thorndyke's unaccountable
interest in them, when the staircase became brightly illuminated and my
colleague appeared carrying an inspection lamp and followed by Polton
with the camera slung over his shoulder and the tripod under his arm.
Apparently he had his instructions, for he proceeded at once to walk
along parallel to the tracks, minutely examining each footprint until
he found one that satisfied him. Then he opened the tripod, fixed the
camera to the attachment specially designed for the purpose, laid a
footrule down beside the print, and proceeded to focus them both.

When he had made the exposure--carefully timed by his watch--and
changed the film, he picked up the rule and moved along a few paces,
when he halted by a specially clear impression of a left foot, and,
having drawn Thorndyke's attention to its remarkable sharpness, fetched
the camera and repeated his former procedure.

"And now," said Thorndyke, as Polton carefully re-packed his apparatus,
"let us see if we can find out what was the object of this visit; to
take something away or to get rid of some unwanted article. The latter
seems the more probable."

He followed the double line of footprints to a dark corner at the
farther end of the room, where they became confused with various
large objects--including a big copper bath--which had evidently been
moved, as we could see by the marks on the dusty floor. Behind these,
and close to the wall, was a pile of dismembered remains--a small
cupboard door, a broken table-top, some odd shelves, pieces of board
and fragments of some kind of box or case. A glance at the pile made it
evident that the collection had been disturbed, for there were traces
of finger-marks on some of the fragments and others seemed to have been
wiped, while the heap, as a whole, was free from the thick mantle of
dust which shrouded all the untouched objects in the room. Apparently
this pile had been the object of the unknown visitor's activities.

"It is evident," said Thorndyke, "that all these things have been
moved, and that they were piled up as we see them by the person who
made the footprints. Now, the question is: did he take something away
or did he add something to the pile? And if he added something, what is
it that he added?"

"It is impossible to say," I replied, "whether he took anything away,
but some of those pieces of wood at the bottom look newer than the
rest, and, if they are, they are probably what he added, though it is
curious that they should be at the bottom. What do you say, Polton, as
a practical wood-worker?"

"If you mean those bits of a chest or case," he replied, "I should say
they are not more than six months old, and the broken edges are quite
fresh. Shall I get them out?"

Without waiting for an answer he scrambled over the obstructions and
proceeded to lift off the upper members of the pile, handing them to
Thorndyke and me as he removed them, until he came down to six pieces
of board, the clean surfaces of which contrasted noticeably with the
ancient grime of the objects that had been removed. When he had handed
these out he scrambled back, and he and Thorndyke began a systematic
examination of the fragments--rather to my surprise; for there was
nothing remarkable in their appearance. They seemed to be just the
remains of a broken box or case of some kind.

"What puzzles me," said Polton, who was keenly interested because he
saw that Thorndyke was, "is how these pieces got broken. Sound one-inch
board like this takes some breaking. It couldn't have been an accident;
yet why should anyone want to, break up a good piece of board?"

"What do you suppose it was, originally?" I asked. "Was it some sort of
packing-case?"

"No, sir," he replied, "it couldn't have been that. The stuff is too
good--prime yellow deal, excepting that bit of American white wood--and
so is the workmanship. You see that there are three glued joints and
they have all held. It was the wood that broke, not the joints; which
means that whoever made it was a proper tradesman who could plane a
joint true. Besides, all these pieces were stained on both sides and
varnished on one, which must have been the outside. I should say it was
a permanent case made to carry some particular thing. You see, there
are three grooves in the side piece, so there were three partitions.
But whatever it was meant to carry must have been pretty heavy to
require one inch board throughout. And just look at the screw-holes.
Number eight screws they will have been, and plenty of them, too."

"I suppose they are all parts of the same thing?" said I.

"They seem to be," he replied, running his footrule along one piece
and then resting them upright on the floor. "They are all one
length--thirty-nine inches--and these three broken pieces fit together
to make a complete top or bottom twenty inches wide, while the other
two broken ones seem to make two-thirds of a similar top or bottom; and
the screw-holes in them correspond to those in what must have been one
of the long sides. That's what I make of them, sir."

As he concluded, he looked enquiringly at Thorndyke, who agreed that
the reconstruction appeared to be correct. "But," he added, "I think we
might consider them more conveniently in our own premises. I suppose
you have a bit of string about you, Polton?"

"Do you propose to annex them, then?" I asked, as Polton produced the
inevitable hank of string and proceeded to lash the pieces of board
together.

"Yes," Thorndyke replied. "It is a little irregular, but I shall call
on Weech and explain matters."

But the explanatory call proved unnecessary. For, almost as Thorndyke
was speaking, we became aware of sounds from the staircase as of
someone ascending the steps, slowly and by no means easily. As the
sounds drew nearer we turned to see who the intruder might be, and
presently there arose out of the well, first a chimney-pot hat, then
a pair of spectacles, and finally the entire person of Mr. Weech,
complete with umbrella. When he reached the floor level he stood for a
few moments gazing at us, steadily. Then he advanced towards us with an
expression of something less than his usual cordiality.

"I happened to notice," he said, rather dryly, "as I passed, that the
shutters of one window were open; and as the only key of these premises
is at this moment hanging on the key-board in the lodge, I concluded
that some person, or persons, had obtained access to the said premises
without authority and by some irregular means. Apparently I was right."

"You were perfectly right, Mr. Weech," said Thorndyke, "as you always
are. We are entirely unauthorised intruders. I ought to have applied to
you for authority to inspect this room, but as I happened to have a key
that fitted the lock, and as I merely wanted to look round, I--well, I
waived the formality, thinking that I would mention the matter the next
time we met."

"Yes," said Mr. Weech, fixing a stony gaze on the pieces of board under
Polton's arm. "Quite so. Perhaps it would have been more regular to
obtain the authority before the event rather than after. May I ask why
you wished to inspect this room?"

Now this was precisely the question that I had been asking myself. But
I had not the slightest hope of enlightenment. My learned senior was
not in the least addicted to disclosing his motives. Nevertheless, I
was curious to see how he would avoid this rather awkward question.

"I wished," he replied, "for certain reasons connected with my
inquiries, to ascertain whether this apparently disused room is, in
fact, really disused, or whether it is ever visited or made use of."

"I could have told you that if you had asked me," said Weech. "It
is not. I could have told you that nobody has entered this room for
several years."

"Then, Mr. Weech," Thorndyke retorted, "you would have told me what is
not true. For I have just ascertained that it has been entered within
the last six months; and that it was entered, apparently, for the
purpose of depositing these remains of an obviously new box or case."

"Which," said Weech, with a sly smile, "I see you have taken possession
of and are carrying away without authority. However," he concluded with
a return to his usual geniality, "I raise no objection. The things are
of no value, and de minimus non curat lex. I don't understand what
you want them for, but that is your affair. Have you finished your
explorations?"

"Yes," replied Thorndyke, "we were just about to retire; and you had
better let me hand you your umbrella when you are safely at the bottom
of the steps."

Mr. Weech gratefully accepted this offer, and, when he had closed
the shutters, he embarked on the perilous descent and we followed.
He lingered on the landing to wait for us, and, when Polton had let
himself into the chambers, he strolled in and looked round.

"I see you are having a spring clean," said he, glancing at the vacuum
cleaner. "Not very necessary, I should think, but perhaps just as well
after what has happened."

He wandered through the rooms while Thorndyke retired to the
bedroom--where I caught a glimpse of him making a survey of the late
John Gillum's shoes--and eventually accompanied us down to the court
yard, when we departed for home and a rather belated lunch, attended by
Polton with the camera and the purloined wood. We paused for a minute
or so outside the entry to exchange a few final words with Mr. Weech,
and it was at this moment that a rather curious thing happened.

As we were standing there, almost facing the covered passage that
connected the two courtyards, I saw a man come through it and appear
at the arched entrance. And there he halted. But only for a moment.
For, having taken a single quick glance at us, he turned about, looked
at his watch, and hurried away back through the passage. It was but an
instantaneous glimpse that I had of him; but yet, in that instant, it
seemed to me that the man was extraordinarily like Dr. Peck. Obviously,
it could be no more than a chance resemblance, for we had left that
gentleman established in his consulting-room waiting for the arrival
of patients. But yet his was a face that one would remember, and the
resemblance had certainly been rather remarkable.

I was still reflecting on the coincidence when another man came up
the passage and emerged from the arch. Preoccupied as I was with the
first man, I hardly noticed him, for, unlike the other, he was quite,
undistinctive--he might have been a solicitor's clerk or a superior
type of traveller. Subconsciously, I was aware that he wore horn-rimmed
spectacles, that he carried a small bag and an umbrella and that he
walked with a slight limp. Only as he passed close to us on his way to
the Fetter Lane gate did I become conscious of a feeling that I had
seen him somewhere before; and that feeling might have been due to the
fact that, as he passed us, he gave a quick look at Thorndyke, who
seemed to return an instantaneous glance of recognition.

When we had shaken off Mr. Weech at the door of the lodge, I raised the
question. "Did you recognise that man who passed us in the Inn?"

"Hardly," Thorndyke replied with a laugh. "Not until he looked at me.
Did you?"

"I seemed to have seen him before, but I can't give him a name."

"You weren't meant to," Thorndyke chuckled. "That was our invaluable
and Protean friend, Mr. Snuper."

"Of course!" I exclaimed. "But I never can spot that fellow. He looks
different every time I see him. But there was another man who came up
the passage and who produced exactly the opposite effect. I thought I
recognised him though I must have been mistaken. Did you notice him?"

"Yes," he replied. "What was your impression of him?"

"I thought he was extraordinarily like Dr. Peck."

"So I thought," said Thorndyke.

"Then it was a real resemblance and not a mere illusion. But it is a
queer coincidence; for, of course, the man couldn't have been Peck. The
thing is impossible."

"It isn't impossible," he replied. "Only wildly improbable. He had no
apparent reason for following us as he had our cards and knew where we
lived. But if he had wanted to follow us, it was actually possible for
him to have done it. Snuper did."

"Snuper!" I exclaimed. "You say that Snuper followed us! How do you
know that he did?"

"I saw him in Whitechapel High Street as we came away from Peck's."


CHAPTER XV: SERMONS IN DUST


THE APPEARANCE OF THE PARTY that gathered that same evening round the
table in our sitting-room to examine Polton's gleanings from John
Gillum's chambers struck me at the time as slightly ludicrous. And
that is still my impression when I recall the scene. In the middle
of the table was a collection of the labelled bags, containing the
floor-sweepings, or vacuum-cleanings, from the respective rooms.
Before each of the three investigators was a microscope with triple
nose-piece, flanked by a large photographic dish, a jar for waste, and
a small covered glass pot for "reserved specimens"; and the appointed
procedure consisted in scanning the material with a very low magnifying
power, examining objects of interest with the higher powers, and the
preservation of special "finds" for subsequent consideration.

We began by each taking a bag and turning out its contents on to the
dish; the said contents forming an unsavoury heap of the material known
to housewives as "flue"--the sort of stuff that you can rake out from
under a chest of drawers or a neglected bedstead. From the heap a pinch
was taken up with forceps, spread out on the glass plate and rapidly
inspected through the microscope. If it contained nothing of interest,
it was cast into the waste jar and a fresh pinch taken.

"Are we looking for anything in particular?" I asked as I turned out my
mass of flue into the dish; "or do we report everything?"

"You know what is likely to turn up in a floor sweeping," Thorndyke
replied. "We can ignore the inevitable wool fibres from the carpet, and
cotton and linen fibres. Everything else had better be noted."

With this we all fell to work, stimulated at first by the hope of
turning up something interesting or curious. But, as the things which
we were to ignore appeared to be the only things discoverable, the
occupation began presently to pall, and I don't mind admitting that I
found it rather tedious. By the time that my heap was reduced to a mere
handful, I had observed--apart from the ubiquitous fibres--nothing more
thrilling than a few minute particles of what looked like broken glass.

"Yes," said Thorndyke, when I mentioned my discovery, "I have found
some, too. It isn't quite obvious what they are, but we had better keep
them. Possibly we may come on a larger fragment with a more definite
character."

Accordingly, I picked out the grains with fine forceps, aided by a
pointed sable brush, moistened at the tip, and deposited them in the
glass pot. Having done this, I was about to reach for a second bag when
Polton announced a discovery.

"I've found a hair," said he. "It looks like a moustache hair, but it
must have been a funny sort of moustache. It seems to have been dyed.
Must have been. But did you ever see a man with a violet moustache?"

He passed the slide to Thorndyke, who confirmed the discovery.

"Yes," said he, "it is a moustache hair--a rather fair one--dyed black."

"But," protested Polton, "it's violet."

"Hardly violet," said Thorndyke. "A dull, bluish purple, I should call
it. That is the appearance of a single hair, seen under the microscope
by a strong transmitted light. Seen in a mass by the naked eye and by
reflected light, it would appear jet black."

"Would it, now," said Polton. "Think of that. The microscope is a
wonderful instrument, but you mustn't believe all that it tells you."

He took back his slide, and picking the hair out daintily with his
forceps, deposited it in the glass pot, while I, encouraged by his
success, began an attack on a fresh bagful of flue.

This time, I had considerably better luck. At the first cast I struck
an object which looked like a coarse and rather irregular thread of
glass; and, as I could make nothing more of it than that, I passed the
slide to Thorndyke for a "further opinion."

"Ha!" said he, when he had taken a look at it, "now we know what those
other particles were. This is undoubtedly a fibre of silicate wool, or
slag-wool, as it is sometimes called. It is made from the slag from the
smelting furnaces, which is really a kind of crude glass."

"And what is it used for?"

"For a variety of purposes. As it is cheap and incombustible, is
unaffected by acids--excepting hydrofluoric acid--or by moisture, and
is a bad conductor of heat, it is useful for packing, and especially
for packing hot or cold substances."

"I wonder what Gillum used it for," said I.

"We had better defer speculations and inferences," Thorndyke replied,
"until we have examined the whole of the material"; and with this he
took a fresh bag and resumed his observations.

My good fortune did not stop at the slag-wool fibre. Presently there
came into the field of the microscope a hair, obviously a scalp hair
and probably from a man's head, though the sex is not so easy to decide
in these days of shingling and Eton cropping. At any rate, it was a
short hair and had been recently cut; and as it had been dyed the same
dull purple colour as Polton's moustache hair, it was reasonable to
infer that it came from the same person. Accordingly, I considered it
attentively in its bearing on that person's natural characteristics.
The dye did not, of course, extend to the root. There was a space of
perhaps, a twelfth of an inch above the neck of the bulb--representing
the growth since the last application of the dye--which was of the
natural colour; and from this I was able to infer that the man was of
a medium complexion, inclining to be fair rather than dark; that the
hair had been originally of a somewhat light brown tint. This was also
Thorndyke's opinion, based on an inspection of my "find" and of another
scalp hair which he had found in his own material.

"So," he concluded, "we now know that this was a rather blond man who
wore a moustache. What we don't know is whether he shaved his chin or
wore a beard."

"Begging your pardon, sir," Polton interposed, "I think we do. I have
just found another hair, a thick, rather wavy one. It isn't a moustache
hair and it doesn't look like a hair of the head. I think it must be a
beard hair. Will you just take a look at it, sir?"

Thorndyke took the slide from him, and having made a brief examination
of the specimen, decided that it was undoubtedly a beard hair; a
decision that I confirmed when the slide had been submitted to me.

"So," said I, "we now have a fairly complete picture of this man, and
the question is: Who can he have been? Do you think it possible that
Benson could have been mistaken? That what he took for natural black
hair was really dyed hair?"

"No," Thorndyke replied, decidedly. "That is impossible for two
reasons. First, Benson had known Gillum since his boyhood--practically
the whole of his life. But the second reason is absolutely conclusive.
You remember that Benson described Gillum's hair as being slightly
streaked with grey; that is to say, there was a slight sprinkling
of white hairs among the black. And he expressly stated that he
had examined the hair of the corpse to see whether the proportion
of white hairs had increased, and that he found them apparently
unchanged. Moreover, there are the hairbrushes that we found in the
chambers--apparently Gillum's brushes. I have examined some of the
hairs from those brushes and found them to be natural black hairs with
a very few white ones. So these dyed hairs are not Gillum's, but those
of some other person who had frequented those chambers."

"Yes," I agreed, "that is perfectly clear. I wonder who he can have
been. Is it possible that we have struck the actual villain--the
blackmailer, himself?"

"It seems quite possible," Thorndyke replied; "but we had better get on
with our search and see what the other bags have to tell us."

We worked on steadily for another hour, making no further comments but
transferring all new finds to the glass pots. By this time we had dealt
with all the bags excepting the two small ones containing the material
from the sweeper and the coal-bin; and the net result was, five more
dyed hairs, one natural black hair and seven fibres of slag-wool. Of
the two small bags, I took the one labelled "coal-bin," while the
other was divided between Polton and Thorndyke, the latter taking the
extracted dust while Polton was awarded the fibrous mass that he had so
industriously combed from the sweeper's brushes.

As for my material, I approached it with no expectation of any
discovery, whatever. In a coal-bin one may reasonably anticipate the
presence of coal. And coal there certainly was. When I turned the
bag out into my dish, the contents presented an undeniable heap of
coal-dust, a trial sample of which I took up with the blade of my
pocket-knife and sprinkled over the glass plate. But when I applied
my eye to the microscope, the appearance of that sprinkling came as a
considerable surprise. Undoubtedly there was coal galore; a scattered
mass of black, opaque, characterless fragments. But everywhere in the
spaces between the particles of coal, the glass surface was covered
with a multitude of slag-wool fragments of all sizes from quite
considerable lengths of thread down to mere grains of glassy dust. I
announced my discovery to Thorndyke and passed the slide to him, but
when he had examined it, with evident interest, he handed it back to
me with no comment beyond the suggestion that it seemed desirable to
preserve the whole of the material from the bin.

His own portion of sweeper dust yielded nothing but a single dyed
hair and a few particles of slag-wool, but Polton's combings from the
sweeper-brushes were quite rich in material so far as quantity went.
But they contained nothing new. There were no less than seven hairs,
all dyed, one or two threads of slag-wool, and a number of particles of
no interest such as crumbs of bread or biscuit, tobacco ash, a piece of
cotton thread and some shavings from a lead pencil. The combings were,
in fact, but a sort of condensed epitome of the general "floor-sweep."

"Well, Thorndyke," I said, as I rose and stretched myself, "I think
my brilliant and original idea has justified itself by the results.
But I'm hanged if I understand them. The gent with the purple hair has
deposited well over a dozen samples in different parts of the premises,
including the sweeper, whereas John Gillum has dropped only one. But
Gillum was the resident. The other fellow could only have been a
visitor, even if Gillum put him up. It seems quite inconsistent, unless
we assume that the purple chappie was moulting; which I am not prepared
to do."

"No," Thorndyke agreed, "we shall have to find some explanation more
plausible than that. And now, if you and Polton will clear away the
remains while I jot down a few particulars of the evening's work, we
shall all be ready for supper. I presume," he added, addressing Polton,
"that the contingency has been foreseen."

It had. There could be no doubt of that, though Polton's only reply
was a smile which converted his countenance into the likeness of one
of good Abbot Mendel's famous wrinkled peas. But even that smile
understated the gorgeous reality. A cold boiled fowl and a ham were
mere incidents in the Sybaritic menu. As Polton deposited "the goods"
on the table with another smile--which left the Mendelian pea nowhere
--I was once more impressed by the queer contradictions in his
character. For Polton, himself a spare-living, almost ascetic little
man, was apt, when Thorndyke was concerned, to manifest his devotion
by developing a sort of vicarious gluttony. He would contemplate
Thorndyke's robust appreciation of good food and wine with the
sympathetic joy of a fond mother administering delicacies to a beloved
child.

Of course, we made him join us at the feast. He could not be allowed
to go away and feed in the laboratory, as he had proposed; and when
he had taken his place at the table and I had filled his glass with
Chambertin (I believe he would rather have had ginger beer), the cup of
his happiness was literally full. It was a glorious ending to what had
been, for him, a red-letter day.

When the banquet had passed through its final stages and Polton had
retired triumphant to his own dominions, Thorndyke and I drew up our
chairs to a rather premature but highly acceptable fire and filled our
pipes. And, naturally, my thoughts reverted to the evening's researches
and their rather surprising results. My colleague had seemed unwilling
to discuss them at the time, though we had few secrets from Polton in
these days, but now that we were alone, I thought he might be less
reticent, and accordingly I ventured to reopen the topic.

"The presence in Gillum's chambers," I began, "of that mysterious
stranger with the dyed hair seems to be a new discovery. At least, it
is new to me. Have you any idea who he was?"

"Yes," Thorndyke replied. "I think that the facts in our possession
enable us to form a fairly definite opinion as to his identity."

"You say 'the facts in our possession.' Shouldn't you rather say 'in
your possession'?"

"Not at all," he replied. "Whatever is known to me is known also to
you. As to the actual observed facts, we are on an equal footing. Any
difference between us is in their interpretation."

This was so manifestly true that it left me nothing to say. It was the
old story. I lacked that peculiar gift that Thorndyke had by virtue of
which he was able to perceive, almost at a glance, the relations of
facts which appeared to be totally unrelated. For some time I smoked my
pipe in silence, reflecting on this unsatisfactory difference between
us. Presently I remarked: "You have put in a good deal of work on this
case. Does it seem to you that you have made any real progress?

"Yes," he replied. "I am quite satisfied."

"And have you marked out any further line of investigation?

"No," he answered. "I am making no further investigations. I have
finished. The details can be filled in by the police."

I looked at him in amazement. "Finished!" I exclaimed. "Why, I imagined
that you had hardly begun. Do you mean to say that you have identified
the blackmailer?"

"I believe so," he replied. "Indeed, I may say that I have no doubt.
But there is one point at which I have an advantage over you which must
be redressed at once."

He rose, and, opening the cabinet in which the "exhibits" connected
with the case were kept, took out two sheets of paper, which he laid on
the table.

"Now," said he, "here is the blackmailer's letter, which you have seen;
and here is a sheet of paper which you have also seen. We found it in
the tidy in Gillum's bedroom with a little bolt and nut wrapped in it.
Do you remember?"

"I remember. But I thought it was the bolt and nut that were the
objects of interest."

"So they were at the time," said he. "But I had a look at the paper,
too, and then that became the object of interest. I have flattened it
out in the press to get rid of the creases, so that it is now easy to
compare it with the letter. See what you think of it."

I took up the two sheets and compared them. It was at once obvious that
they were very similar. Both had been torn off a writing-pad; they
appeared to be of the same size; the paper seemed to be the same in
both--a thin, rather low-quality paper, ruled, with very faint lines.
When I held them up to the light, I could see in each a portion of what
was evidently the same watermark; and the ruled lines were exactly the
same distance apart in both.

"Your point," said I, "is that these two pieces of paper are
identically similar. I agree to that. But is the similarity of any
great significance? Writing-pads such as these sheets were torn from
are made by the thousand. There must have been thousands of persons
using pads indistinguishably similar to these at the time when this
letter was written."

"That is perfectly true," Thorndyke agreed. "But now make another
comparison. I put the two sheets of paper together, thus, both face
upwards, as we can tell by the watermark. Now, see if all four of their
edges coincide."

"So far as I can see, they all coincide perfectly."

"Very well. Now I turn one sheet over face down wards and again put the
two together. Can you still make all four edges coincide?"

I tried, but found it impossible. "No," I replied. "They agree
everywhere but at the bottom. One of them must be a little out of the
square."

"Not one of them, Jervis," he corrected. "They must be both equally out
of the square since all four edges coincided when they were both face
upwards. And in fact they are. Test each of them with this set-square.
You see that, in each, the bottom edge is out of the square with
the sides, and in both to the same amount. I measured them with a
protractor and found the deviation in both to be just under one degree.
The reasonable inference is that they are both from the same pad."

"Reasonable," I agreed, "but not conclusive. The whole batch of pads
must have presented the same peculiarity of shape."

"True," he admitted. "But consider the probabilities. Either these two
sheets were from the same pad, or they were from two different pads
in the possession of two different persons. Now, which is the more
probable?"

"Oh, obviously, as a mere question of probability, they would appear
to be from the same pad. But you seem to be suggesting that the
blackmailer was Gillum himself; which is so improbable that it cancels
the other probabilities. I shouldn't admit that the coincidence in
the shape of these sheets is enough to support such an extraordinary
conclusion."

"I agree with you, Jervis," he rejoined. "The coincidence alone would
not justify that conclusion. But it is not alone. From facts known to
us both I had already concluded that the blackmailing letters had been
written by Gillum himself. The evidence of these two sheets is merely
corroborative. But, as corroboration, it is enormously weighty."

"When you speak of facts known to us both," I said hopelessly, "you
leave me stranded. I know of no such facts. But apparently you have
worked out a complete case. What is your next move?"

"I am sending Miller the report of the inquest on Gillum's body and
informing him that I propose handing the case over to him. That will
probably bring him here by to-morrow evening at the latest to get the
particulars. Then I shall, in effect, lay a sworn information."

"An information!" I exclaimed. "But against whom? You say that the
blackmailer is a myth--that Gillum pretended to blackmail himself. But
Gillum is dead; and if he were not, he would have committed no legal
offence. It was a pretence, according to your assertion; but it was
not, in a legal sense, a fraud."

"Now, Jervis," said he, "to-morrow evening I shall show you the
suggested indictment before Miller sees it. But I should like you,
in the interval, to make a final effort to work this case out for
yourself. You have all the facts. Turn them over in your mind without
reference to any preconceived theory, and read Mortimer's narrative
once again. If you do that, I think you will be forced to the
conclusion that I shall propound to Miller."

I could do no less than agree to this. But I foresaw the inevitable
result. Doubtless, I had all the facts. But alas! I had not Thorndyke's
unique power of inference and synthetic reasoning.


CHAPTER XVI: THE DISCLOSURE


A TELEPHONE CALL SHORTLY before midday making an appointment for eight
o'clock in the evening, informed us that Mr. Superintendent Miller had
"caught on." Indeed, he was distinctly curious and would have liked a
few particulars in advance, but as his call was answered by Polton,
in Thorndyke's absence, these were not available. I sympathised with
Miller and should have "liked a few particulars" myself; for I had
re-read Mortimer's narrative before going to bed and cogitated on the
case all the morning, and was as much in the dark as ever.

I saw little of Thorndyke during the day, for he went abroad alone,
and even seemed to make a point of doing so. But we went out together
in the evening for a rather early dinner at a tavern in Devereux
Court; and it was on our way home that I had the unique experience of
recognising Mr. Snuper. We were just about to enter through the little
iron gate that leads from Devereux Court into New Court when a man
emerged from a doorway in the former and came along at a quick pace
behind us. He followed us into New Court and there overtook us, and as
he passed ahead, I observed him, though with no particular attention,
noting, in fact, no more than that he was a nondescript sort of person
and that he carried a large parcel.

It was this parcel that brought him to my notice; for, when he had got
some little distance ahead, he seemed to get into difficulties with it
and nearly dropped it; whereupon he halted to make some readjustments,
allowing us to pass him. And it was at this moment, when he turned his
face towards us and the light from a lamp fell on him, that I suddenly
realised who he was.

Almost at the instant of the recognition Thorndyke seemed to change his
direction. He had appeared to be heading for the passage that leads
through into Essex Court; but now he turned sharply to the right and
led the way down into Fountain Court, which he crossed to the left into
Middle Temple Lane, following the Lane down as far as Crown Office Row
and passing along the latter until we emerged into King's Bench Walk.
And all the way I could hear the footsteps of Mr. Snuper padding along
behind us, and still, to judge by the occasional stoppages, wrestling
with his parcel. When we came out into King's Bench Walk he passed us
once more, and, turning to the right, made for the pavement at the
lower end, where presently he vanished into one of the entries.

It was a mysterious affair for the man appeared to be shadowing us;
which was a manifest absurdity. I was about to seek enlightenment from
Thorndyke when he forestalled my enquiries by producing from his pocket
a small folded paper which he handed to me.

"That," said he, "is a copy of the statement that I am going to hand to
Miller. You had better look through it before the interview so that you
may be in a position to join in the discussion."

I took the little document very gladly; for it would have been rather
humiliating if I had had to expose my ignorance to Miller. And it
was none too soon; for even as we passed in at our entry, fully five
minutes before our time, I caught a glimpse of the superintendent
bearing down on us from the direction of Tanfield Court.

I hurried up the stairs to my bedroom and eagerly took out the paper,
all agog to learn what Thorndyke's conclusions were. My expectations
had been of the vaguest, but whatever they may have been, a glance at
the little document blew them to the winds. I read it through again and
again, hardly able to believe my eyes. For what it affirmed was not
only astounding, it was bewildering and incredible. If the statement
that it set forth was true, I had never even begun to understand the
nature of the problem.

Slipping the paper back into my pocket, I ran down to the sitting-room
where I found Miller already established in an easy chair with a big
whisky and soda at his side and a cigar of corresponding size between
his fingers. He greeted me with an affable smile as I entered and
struck a match by way of getting the cigar going.

"Well, Doctors both," said he, "here we are again with another prime
mystery in the offing. But I can't imagine what it may be."

"You have read the report of the inquest on John Gillum?" Thorndyke
asked.

"Yes," replied Miller. "I haven't had time to read Mortimer's screed,
but I have gone through the inquest carefully; and I have come to the
same conclusion as the jury--a perfectly straightforward and obvious
case of suicide. And I suppose I am wrong. Isn't that the position?

"Yes," Thorndyke replied, "at least, that is my position."

"You are not suggesting that it was a case of murder?"

"I am not suggesting anything," replied Thorndyke, producing a small
sheet of paper from his wallet. "I am making a perfectly definite
statement. This is what I say, and what I am prepared to prove; and you
can have it in the form of a sworn information if you like."

With this he handed the paper to Miller, who took it, opened it, and
read through the short statement. Then he read it through again, with
deep attention and much wrinkling of the brow. Finally, he laid down
his cigar and faced Thorndyke with an air of perplexity.

"I don't quite understand this," said he. "Of course the dates are all
wrong. Clerical error, I suppose."

"The dates are perfectly correct," Thorndyke assured him.

"But they can't be," the superintendent protested. "It's an absurdity.
What you say is that you accuse Augustus Peck, a registered medical
practitioner, that he did, on the night of the 17th of September, 1928,
at 64, Clifford's Inn, London, maliciously and feloniously kill and
murder one John Gillum. Do you say that you really mean that?"

"Certainly, I do," replied Thorndyke.

"But, my dear doctor," Miller protested, plaintively, "the thing that
you are alleging is an impossibility. Gillum's body was discovered on
the 18th of July, 1930. That is nearly two years after the date which
you give as that of the murder. You admit that?"

"Of course I do," Thorndyke replied. "It is the simple fact."

"But the thing is impossible," persisted Miller. "You are alleging, in
effect, that the body which was discovered had been dead nearly two
years."

"Not only in effect," said Thorndyke. "That is my definite statement."

The superintendent groaned. "But, doctor," he urged, "that statement
is not reasonable, and what is more, it isn't true. It is contrary to
all the known facts. That body was examined by a very competent medic
witness who deposed at the inquest that it had been dead from six to
eight days."

"Appeared to have been dead from six to eight days," Thorndyke
corrected. "That is what he said, and I agree to the appearance."

"Very well," said Miller. "Appeared if you like. But the time he stated
was about correct, for the man had been seen alive only ten days
previously by Mr. Weech; and Mortimer had seen him alive only a few
days before that."

"My position is," said Thorndyke, "that neither Weech nor Mortimer had
ever set eyes on John Gillum."

"Never set eyes on him!" exclaimed Miller. "Why, they both knew
him intimately, and had known him for--" He paused suddenly. Then,
directing an intent look at Thorndyke, he added, slowly: "Unless you
mean--"

"Exactly," said Thorndyke. "That is what I do mean. Weech and Mortimer
and Penfield knew a certain man by the name of John Gillum. But he was
not John Gillum. He was Augustus Peck, made up so far as was necessary
to play the part. And he played the part successfully as long as it was
possible; and when it became impossible, he quietly disappeared leaving
John Gillum's body to carry on the illusion."

Miller was profoundly impressed, but he was evidently not convinced,
for he returned to the charge with further objections.

"You say he left the body on view when he disappeared. Then he must
have had it in his possession. Where was it all that time?"

"It was lying hidden in a large coal-bin in the chambers at Clifford's
Inn."

"But how was it that it didn't--well, you know, a dead body tends to
undergo a good deal of change in two years. But the doctor said that
it looked as if it had been dead not more than eight days. How do you
account for that?"

"My dear Miller," said Thorndyke, "we live in a scientific age; an age
in which natural processes are largely under our control. We can, if we
please, prevent dead bodies from decomposing. And we do. In the Paris
Morgue, bodies which have not been identified are now put into storage
and kept, in a perfectly fresh state, ready for further inspections. I
don't know how long they are kept, but, physically, there is no limit
to the possible time."

"Yes," said Miller, "I see. Of course, you have got an answer to every
objection. You would have. I might have known that you wouldn't propose
an impossible case. But now, doctor, let us come down to the immediate
business. As I mentioned when I phoned, I am not free to-night. In
fact," he added, looking at his watch, "I must be off in a few minutes,
but I should like to fix things up before I go. You have given me
the substance of the case, a sort of sketch of an indictment. Now,
I needn't tell you that that's no use even if you swore to it and
signed it. Before I can make an arrest, I must have enough evidence
to establish a prima facie case. When can I have that evidence? The
sooner, the better, if we are not to risk a misfire."

"I agree with you as to the of the matter," said Thorndyke, "for I
suspect that our friend, Peck, has smelt a rat. I have him under close
observation, but I fancy he has me under observation, too."

"The devil, he has!" exclaimed Miller. "I don't like that. What do you
mean by having him under close observation?"

"I have got Snuper and a couple of assistants watching him night and
day. You know Snuper?"

"Yes," replied Miller, "a capital fellow, a genius in his own line. But
he doesn't meet the present case. He has no locus standi. He couldn't
make an arrest unless he caught Peck committing some overt criminal
act. And we don't want that. You had better give me his address and
then I can detail one or two of our men to take over or act with him."

Thorndyke wrote the address on a slip of paper and handed it to the
superintendent, who put it into his note-case and then resumed: "We
mustn't let the grass grow, doctor. Watching is all very well, but
we ought to get that gentleman under lock and key. If your statement
is true he must be a pretty slippery customer. When can I have that
evidence?"

"Can you come in to-morrow evening?" Thorndyke asked.

"Yes," was the reply. "I've got the whole evening free."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "what I propose is this: I ask you to arrange,
if you can, for Anstey to lead for the prosecution, as he is used to
working with me."

"The choice of counsel doesn't rest with us," replied Miller. "The
Director of Public Prosecutions decides that, subject to the Attorney
General. But I expect the Director will be willing to appoint Mr.
Anstey as you will be the principal witness. What then?"

"I shall assume that Anstey will be appointed and I shall get him to
meet you here to-morrow night. I know that he will be able to. Then I
shall lay before you a complete scheme of the evidence. How will that
do?"

"It will do perfectly," replied Miller.

"I should like, also, if you agree," said Thorndyke, "to have Benson
and Mortimer here. We can rely on their secrecy and discretion."

The superintendent was inclined to demur to this proposal. "It doesn't
seem to be quite in order," he objected. "They will both be witnesses."

"They are not witnesses yet," retorted Thorndyke. "And you want to
know what yours are prepared to say and swear to. But apart from that,
I think they may be able to give us some valuable help by answering
questions on matters of fact."

"Very well," Miller agreed. "I don't much like it, but it's your
funeral."

With this, he finished his whisky, and having been provided with a
fresh cigar, rose to take his leave.

"And, look here, doctor," he said, as he shook hands; "don't you go
taking too much outdoor exercise. If this fellow has rumbled you, it's
a case for minding your eye and seeing that you don't make a target
of the principal witness for the prosecution. We shall want you when
the day comes, and for that matter I expect you'll want yourself. Keep
an eye on him Dr. Jervis, and by the same token, keep an eye on his
invaluable coadjutor."

He shook hands again, and having lit the new cigar, bustled away. And
as his footsteps receded down the stairs, we heard him apparently
trying to whistle and smoke at same time.


CHAPTER XVII: A SYMPOSIUM


THE INSTINCTIVE SENSE of simple hospitality which was the gift alike of
Thorndyke and his devoted follower Polton, tended to impart a pleasant
informality to what were essentially professional conferences. I noted
it, not for the first time, when, on the evening following Miller's
visit, we gathered round a cheerful fire to "hearken to the evidence"
that my colleague had promised to expound to us. To an onlooker we
should have seemed more like a party of cronies who had assembled for
gossip and the exchange of "yarns" than a gathering of lawyers and
police concerned with the detection and punishment of a capital crime.

Nevertheless, the attention of us all was concentrated on the business
of the evening; and when Polton had provided for the comforts of all
the guests, and, having placed on the table three wooden objects, one
resembling an elongated brush-box and two shorter, upright boxes, had
retired to the adjoining office (leaving the communicating door ajar)
and the social preliminaries appeared to be getting unduly prolonged,
Miller interposed with the blunt suggestion that Thorndyke "had better
get on with it"; whereupon my colleague began his exposition without
further preamble.

"I have considered," said he, "the most suitable way in which to
present the scheme of evidence in this case and it has seemed to me
that the best plan will be to follow the line of my own investigation;
to produce to you the items of evidence in the order in which they
became apparent to me. Do you agree to that, Anstey?"

"Undoubtedly I do," replied Anstey, "as that will be the order in which
they will be best presented to the jury in the opening address."

"Very well," said Thorndyke, "then I will proceed on those lines.
You have all read the report of the inquest on John Gillum's body
and Mortimer's narrative of his relations with Gillum, and as those
documents contain all the facts with which I started, I can refer to
those facts as matters known to you all.

"The original inquiry was concerned with the identity of the persons
who had blackmailed Gillum. That was the problem that Benson submitted
to me. But though he did not contest the suicide--which seemed to have
been conclusively proved--I could see that, at the back of his mind,
there was a feeling that things were not as they appeared; that, behind
the apparent facts of the case, there was something that had never come
to light.

"Now, as soon as I began to look into the case, I had precisely the
same feeling. The whole affair had a curiously abnormal appearance;
so much so that it at once suggested to me the question whether the
ostensible facts might not cover something of an entirely different
nature. There were unexplained discrepancies. For instance, of the
large sum of money that had been thrown away, no less than three
thousand pounds had been money saved by Gillum in the course of his
business in Australia. One naturally asked oneself how such a man ever
came to have any savings at all. The result of these reflections was
that I postponed the blackmailing problem and proceeded to a critical
consideration of the case as a whole."

Now, the outstanding fact of the case was that a sum of about thirteen
thousand pounds had disappeared in less than two years. It had been
drawn out of the bank in cash--in currency notes and, by special
request, in notes which had been circulated and of which the serial
numbers were unrecorded, and which it was, therefore, impossible
to trace. The explanation offered for this procedure was that this
untraceable money was to be used for payments to blackmailers and for
discharging gambling debts.

"So far as the blackmail was concerned, this explanation was reasonable
enough; but not in connection with gambling. Why should a man take
such elaborate precautions to make it impossible to trace the money
with which he had paid his gambling debts? There was no reason at all.
Gambling debts can be, and usually are, paid by cheque. Why not? Such
payments are not unlawful and there is no valid reason for secrecy.
Therefore I decided that the explanation offered was not adequate. It
was really no explanation at all. But if one rejected the explanation,
the original problem reappeared. Thirteen thousand pounds had
disappeared, leaving no trace. Of that sum, about two thousand could
be accounted for by blackmail. But what of the remaining ten or eleven
thousand? Had it really been gambled away, or was it possible that the
gambling was a mere pretext, covering the disposal of the money in some
other way? Having regard to the inadequacy of the explanation, I was
disposed to suspect that this might be the case; and this suspicion
was strengthened by the fact that Mortimer--the only witness as to the
gambling--had no first-hand knowledge of the matter at all. His belief
on the subject was based on what Gillum had told him; and in reading
his narrative I could not but be struck by the way in which Gillum had
posed as a reckless and desperate gambler and the pains that he had
taken to impress that view of himself on Mortimer.

"From this it appeared that there was really no evidence that any
gambling--on a considerable scale--had ever occurred; and there was
a reasonable suspicion that it was a myth invented and maintained
to cover some other kind of activity. But what kind of activity?
The entertainment of that suspicion raised a new problem. What
reason--apart from blackmail--could a man have for drawing large sums
of money out of his bank in such a form that it could never be traced?
I turned this question over in my mind and I could think of only one
case in which a man might behave in this way. It was that of a man who
had got temporary control of another man's banking account. Such a
man--obviously a dishonest man--would naturally seek to get permanent
possession of the money under his temporary control. But how could he
do this? He could not simply draw cheques in his own favour and pay
them into another bank, for those cheques could be traced and the money
recovered. And the same would be true of bank notes of which the serial
numbers were known. The only plan possible to him would be that adopted
by Gillum. He would have to draw the money out in untraceable cash.
That cash he could pay into another bank or store for future disposal.

"That was the only alternative that I could think of to the gambling
theory, and it appeared to be totally inapplicable to the present
case. For the banking account was Gillum's own banking account and the
money in the bank was his own money which he had himself paid in. What
object could he have had in transferring that money to another bank, or
hoarding it? I could imagine none.

"Nevertheless, I did not immediately abandon the idea, for the
alternative--the gambling theory--was almost as difficult to accept;
and there was a general queerness and abnormality about the case that
disposed one to consider unlikely explanations. There was the suicide,
for instance. Apparently it was a genuine suicide, but there had been
no positive proof that it was. Actually, it was possible that it
might have been a skilfully arranged murder. Accordingly, I decided
to consider this imaginary case in detail and see whether it was as
completely inapplicable as it seemed.

"First, I asked myself the question, how would it be possible for a
man to get control of another person's banking account? Apparently,
the only possible method would be that of personating the real owner.
The case, then, which I had imagined involved, necessarily, the idea
of personation. Accordingly, I set up the working hypothesis of
personation and proceeded to apply it to the case of John Gillum to see
how it fitted and whither it led.

"Now, when one sets up a hypothesis and proceeds to test it and
deduce consequences from it, if the hypothesis is untrue it very soon
comes into conflict with known facts and leads to manifestly false
conclusions. But when I began to apply the personation hypothesis to
the Gillum case, instead of conflicting with known facts it developed
unexpected agreements with them; instead of evoking fresh difficulties,
it tended to dispose of the difficulties that had at first appeared.

"The theory of personation involved the idea of two separate
individuals; the personator and the personated. It was thus necessary,
for the purposes of the argument, to decompose the person, John Gillum,
into two hypothetical individuals: John Gillum of Australia and John
Gillum, the tenant of Clifford's Inn. They had been assumed to be one
and the same person. We had now to see what evidence there was to
support that assumption.

"But the first glance showed that there was no evidence at all.
The identification had been illusory. In effect, there had been no
identification. Benson had identified the body as that of Gillum of
Australia--whom we will call simply Gillum--but he had not identified
it as that of the tenant of the Inn--hereinafter called the Tenant. And
Weech and Mortimer and Bateman gave evidence referring to the Tenant,
but their evidence furnished no proof that the body was the Tenant's
body. There were really two sets of witnesses. There was Benson, who
knew Gillum but had never seen the Tenant; and there were Weech,
Mortimer, Bateman and Penfield, who knew the Tenant but had never seen
Gillum.

"Thus the personation hypothesis did not conflict with the known
facts. No evidence had been produced to prove that Gillum of Australia
and Gillum the Tenant were one and the same person. Therefore, it
was possible that they were different persons. But as soon as this
possibility was established, two rather striking agreements with it
came into view. Let us consider them.

"First there was the time of Benson's arrival in England. He arrived
immediately after the suicide; or, to put it the other way round, the
suicide occurred immediately before his arrival. But not only was it
known that he was coming; the actual date on which he would arrive was
known. Now, on the personation theory, the Tenant of the Inn was some
unknown stranger who was falsely personating John Gillum. He could
not possibly have confronted Benson, for the fraud would then have
been instantly detected. He would have had to clear out. But if he had
simply disappeared, suspicion would have been aroused, whereas the
presence of the body and the apparent suicide continued the illusion
of the personation. Indeed, it did much more. For when Benson had
identified the body as that of John Gillum, and that body had been
accepted by Mortimer and Weech as that of the Tenant of the Inn, the
personation seemed to be covered up for ever beyond any possibility of
discovery.

"The second striking agreement is the state of the Tenant's finances.
At the inquest it transpired that deceased was absolutely penniless and
that he had no expectations whatever. The last payment of the purchase
money for the sheep farm had been paid into the bank and drawn out. All
the money was gone and there was no more to come.

"Now see how perfectly this agrees with the personation theory. What
could have been the object of the personation? Obviously, to obtain
possession of the ten thousand pounds paid for the sheep farm and the
three thousand forming Gillum's savings. Well, at the time of the
suicide this had been done. The whole sum of thirteen thousand pounds
had been drawn out. There was not a penny left in the bank and there
were no more payments to come. Then the personator's object had been
achieved and there was no occasion to continue the personation any
longer. It was time for the personator to disappear; and disappear he
did. Benson's arrival simply accelerated matters and fixed the date of
the disappearance.

"So far, then, the results seemed to be positive. The more the
personation theory was examined, the more did it appear to agree with
the known facts. But there were other difficulties; and the most
formidable of them was the body. If there had been personation, it
must have begun immediately on Gillum's arrival in England and it had
been maintained for nearly two years. But where was Gillum all this
time? He could hardly have been alive; but if he was dead his body must
have been preserved and kept somewhere ready to be produced at the
psychological moment. For the pretended suicide must be assumed to have
been an essential feature of the scheme.

"Of course, there was no physical difficulty. It is quite easy to
preserve a dead body indefinitely, given the suitable means and
appliances. The problem was how it could have been done in the
circumstances of this particular case. But even while I was puzzling
over this difficulty I received sudden enlightenment from Mortimer's
narrative. You will remember that, on the occasion of his first visit
to Clifford's Inn, he had a very remarkable seizure. From his admirable
description it is evident that his symptoms were exactly those of
rather acute carbonic acid poisoning; and he notes that the room--the
larder, or storeroom--in which the attack occurred was noticeably
cold. Further, he mentions that, just before the attack, he had been
shovelling up coal from a bin which he describes as occupying the whole
of one side of the room.

"Now this combination of low temperature with a considerable
concentration of carbonic acid gas was very impressive. It immediately
suggested the presence, somewhere in the room, of a substantial
quantity of solid carbonic acid; and as the gas appeared to issue from
the coal-bin, it seemed probable that the solid acid was contained in
the bin. But if that bin was of the size that Mortimer's description
conveyed, it would be easily large enough to contain a dead body."

"But Mortimer says that it was full of coal," Anstey objected.

"It appeared to be," Thorndyke corrected. "But there might be room for
a false bottom under the coal, and still room for the body under that.
A false bottom would be a necessary feature of the arrangement."

"I think," said Anstey, "that we had better be clear about this solid
carbonic acid. You know all about it, but we don't. Could you just give
us a few particulars as to what it is like and what is its bearing on
the case?"

"A very few particulars will be enough for our purposes," replied
Thorndyke. "I need not go into the method of production. The substance,
itself, is a white solid, rather like block table salt. It is simply
frozen carbonic acid, just as ice is frozen water. And as ice has a
maximum temperature of 0 degrees Centigrade--commonly known as freezing
point--and becomes a liquid if it is raised above that temperature,
so solid carbonic acid--sometimes called carbonic acid snow, from its
resemblance to ordinary snow--has a temperature of minus 79 degrees
Centigrade, that is, 79 degrees Centigrade below the freezing point of
water. But unlike ice, it doesn't melt into liquid when its temperature
is raised. It changes directly into gas, intensely cold gas, which
hangs round it and protects it from contact with warm air. If we were
to place a block of it on the table, it would simply dwindle in size
until it disappeared altogether, but it would not leave the slightest
trace of moisture. And it would dwindle remarkably slowly; for the gas
into which the solid snow changes is a very heavy gas and a specially
bad conductor of heat."

"Thank you," said Anstey. "That is quite clear. There is only one
other question. Is carbonic acid snow obtainable without any great
difficulty?"

"It is quite easy to obtain," replied Thorndyke. "The snow is now
manufactured on a considerable scale, as it is used for a variety of
purposes. It is sold in two forms; the standard twenty-five-pound
blocks, which are the most commonly used, and smaller, four-pound
blocks, made principally for use in ice-cream tricycles to keep the
cream frozen. You can buy the blocks, retail, without any difficulty,
and they will probably be delivered in packages enclosed in insulating
material such as silicate wool, or slag-wool. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly clear," replied Anstey. "Now we can return to the argument."

"Well," Thorndyke resumed, "you will now see the significance of
the presence in this very cold room of free carbonic acid gas in
conjunction with a very large coal-bin. It suggested a perfectly simple
and efficient method of preserving a dead body for a practically
unlimited time, and it thus disposed of what had been my principal
difficulty. I was so much impressed by this new agreement that I
abandoned the rather academic attitude in which I had considered the
personation theory. For that theory was no longer a merely tenable
hypothesis. It agreed with the facts much more closely than did the
gambling theory. Indeed, it offered a perfectly reasonable explanation
of those facts, which the gambling theory did not; and I began to feel
that it was probably the true explanation of those facts.

"But there were still some difficulties; not very formidable ones,
but still they had to be disposed of before the personation theory
could be definitely accepted. There was, for instance, the question of
resemblance and disguise. How far was it necessary for the personator
to resemble John Gillum, and what amount and kind of disguise would
be required to secure the resemblance? Now, it is important to
realise that no very exact likeness was necessary. However much the
personator had been like the personated and however skilfully he had
been disguised, it would have been impossible for him to deceive any
person who had really known John Gillum. On the other hand, in the case
of persons like Penfield, Mortimer and Weech, who had never seen John
Gillum, no resemblance at all was necessary.

"Yet, for other reasons, the personator would have had to bear a
general likeness to the man whom he personated. The production of the
body, for instance, must have been an essential part of the scheme;
and its production involved the idea of its identification as the body
of the Tenant. Therefore, the Tenant must have been so far like John
Gillum that the body of the one could be mistaken for the body of the
other. But for this purpose it would be sufficient for the two men to
be alike in their salient characteristics.

"Now what were the salient characteristics of John Gillum? He was a
tallish man--about five feet ten--with blue eyes, black hair and beard
and upper front teeth which were very conspicuously filled with gold.
He also, apparently, spoke with a slight Scotch accent. In all these
respects, as we know from Mortimer's narrative, the Tenant resembled
John Gillum; and as the body presented the salient physical features
common to the two men, it was naturally recognised by Mortimer and
Weech as the Tenant's body in the single hasty glance that they took.

"But how many of those characteristics must have been natural to the
personator? Evidently, the stature and the eye-colour must have been
real. The personator would have to be a rather tall man with blue eyes.
But the other characteristics could have been produced artificially.
Whatever might have been the natural colour of the hair and beard, they
could easily have been dyed black. The only real difficulty would have
been the teeth. But, even in their case, there would be no physical
difficulty. It would be perfectly easy for the personator to have his
front teeth filled with gold, or, preferably, covered with a removable
gold plating; while, if he should happen to have false teeth, there
would be no difficulty at all. He would simply have a duplicate plate
made with gold-filled teeth in front. But either of these methods would
require the services of a skilled dentist; and that was the fatal
objection to them. They would involve an accomplice. But, since the
personation would not only be a serious crime in itself, but would seem
inevitably to involve a previous murder, the existence of an accomplice
would constitute an appalling danger.

"However, as I have said, there was no physical impossibility or even
any difficulty, and, accordingly, I accepted it provisionally as a
practicable method, reserving further consideration of it until more
facts were available.

"The next question was, assuming personation to have occurred, who
could have been the personator? On this point, neither the report nor
Mortimer's narrative gave any help beyond furnishing certain dates.
But one saw at a glance that the personation would have had to begin
almost on the very day of Gillum's arrival in England; for, immediately
afterwards, the Tenant appeared in the Inn and at Penfield's office.
From this it seemed to follow that, since Gillum knew nobody in
England, the personator must be somebody who had travelled with him
from Australia to England. Of such persons, only two were known to me.
I learned from Benson that Gillum had had two cronies on board the
ship; the purser, Abel Webb, and the ship's surgeon, Dr. Peck; and as
both these men had left the ship on its arrival in England, either of
them might possibly have been the personator. There was no positive
reason for suspecting either; but both fulfilled what appeared to be
the necessary conditions. They had been Gillum's shipmates during the
voyage, and both had left the ship for good at about the same time as
Gillum.

"Of these two, poor Abel Webb was clearly out of the picture; and
even if he had not died, he would still have been impossible as the
personator. He was the wrong size, the wrong shape, and the wrong
colour. There remained, then, Dr. Peck, the only person known to us
whom we could possibly suspect; and it was desirable to get into
touch with him for two reasons; first, to ascertain whether his size,
form, and colour were such as to render the personation possible, and
second, to get some information from him respecting the passengers and
personnel of the ship.

"This brings us to the end of what I may call the first stage of the
inquiry. Up to this point I had been concerned with the original
sources of information; with a critical examination of the report of
the inquest, of Mortimer's narrative, and of the information supplied
by Benson. The inquiry had started as a search for a hypothetical
blackmailer. But examination of the material had brought into view a
problem of an entirely different character; and the result of the first
stage of the inquiry was the establishment of a prima facie suspicion
of false personation against some person unknown. We now enter on the
second stage, that of investigation proper; the search for new facts
which might either confirm or rebut that suspicion."


CHAPTER XVIII: CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE


"HITHERTO," THORNDYKE RESUMED after a brief interval, "I have followed
the enquiry in the chronological order of events. But now, as we are
dealing with an investigation ad hoc, it will be more convenient to
consider it in terms of the particular items of evidence brought
to light, maintaining the chronological sequence only so far as is
practicable. The first stage of the inquiry had left us with certain
matters of fact which required verification and certain others which
had to be ascertained. Among the former was Mortimer's description of
the coal-bin. From it I gathered that the bin was amply large enough to
contain a human body, and I assumed that it probably had a false bottom
to preserve an empty space under the coal. These were matters of vital
importance; for if the bin should prove to be too small, or to have
been kept completely filled with coal, my theory as to the disposal and
preservation of the body would fall to the ground.

"Accordingly, my first proceeding was to get the keys of Gillum's
chambers from Benson. Then Jervis and I went across to the Inn and
made a preliminary tour of inspection. To come at once to the bin, we
found it, as Mortimer had said, to occupy the whole length of the wall,
and, on measurement, it proved to be of these dimensions: eight feet
long, thirty inches from back to front and twenty-nine inches deep.
It appeared to be brimful of coal; but when I took soundings through
the coal with my stick, I came to a firm bottom nine inches from the
top. Thereupon, we shovelled the coal away to one end, when there was
brought into view a tray, or false bottom, of stout board, which we
ascertained to be of the full length and width of the bin. A transverse
crack showed it to be divided into two equal parts, and each half was
furnished with a sunk iron ring. We brushed away the coal dust with
a brush that hung close by--apparently for this purpose, as its hair
was full of coal dust--and then lifted one half by means of the ring,
when we found that the tray was of comparatively new wood, that it was
supported by small wooden blocks which had been screwed on to the sides
of the bin, and that its removal disclosed a cavity underneath nineteen
inches deep and of the full length and width of the bin.

"Here, then, was a receptacle with a capacity amply sufficient to
accommodate, not only a body, but also the mass of insulating material
that would be necessary if that body was to be kept in a frozen state.
The question of possibility was disposed of. It remained to ascertain
whether there was any positive evidence that a body had actually been
preserved in the manner which I have suggested.

"Having finished with the bin, we examined the little room in which it
was situated. It had evidently been intended for a larder or storeroom
and it had no fireplace or other outlet and only one window, which was
about two feet six inches high by eighteen inches wide. But this window
was fixed permanently as wide open as possible. The lower sash was
pushed right up and secured in position by two wooden supports screwed
to the jambs. Further, we found that a row of holes, each one inch in
diameter, had been bored in the foot of the door; which, together with
the permanently opened window, must have maintained a very free draught
of air through this small room. And I may say that we learned from Mr.
Weech that the holes had been made and the window supports and the
false bottom of the bin added by the Tenant--or rather by the Tenant's
agent--at the beginning of the tenancy."

"The Tenant's agent!" exclaimed Miller. "Who was he?"

"Ah!" replied Thorndyke, "who was he? That is a very curious and
interesting question. But the answer to it does not belong to this part
of the story. We shall go into that at a later stage. At present we are
considering the evidence bearing on the subject of refrigeration by
means of solid carbonic acid.

"To resume: In the course of our survey of the chambers we found
several mouse-holes which had been most carefully and efficiently
stopped with Portland cement. There appeared nothing remarkable in
this, as the Tenant had evidently taken pains to keep all food in metal
or earthenware containers so as to avoid harbouring mice. But later, in
conversation with Mr. Weech, we got quite a new light on the matter. It
seemed that he had learned from the lady who conducts the typewriting
establishment on the ground floor that, up to the time when Mr. Gillum
came to the Inn, the house swarmed with mice to such an extent that she
had seriously considered giving up her premises. But, as soon as Mr.
Gillum's tenancy began, the mice suddenly disappeared, and disappeared
so completely that not a single mouse was ever to be seen. While
we were talking, the lady herself came out of her office and fully
corroborated Mr. Weech's statement. Then it occurred to me to ask her
whether her premises were still free from mice; to which she answered
with natural surprise that they were not. Since Mr. Gillum's death they
had begun to reappear.

"This was a very remarkable fact. The disappearance of the mice might
reasonably have been assumed to be due to the Tenant's care to keep
all food covered, and especially to the very thorough stopping of
all mouse-holes. But their reappearance after Gillum's death made it
clear that there must be some other explanation; for the holes were
still stopped and all the conditions were precisely the same. The
disappearance had evidently been due to something connected with the
Tenant himself."

"Yes," Anstey agreed, "that seems to be so. What do you wish us to
infer from this fact?"

"I suggest that the behaviour of the mice is exactly what we should
expect in the conditions which I have postulated. Let us see what
those conditions would be. I assume that the bin contained a dead
body kept frozen by means of solid carbonic acid. New supplies of the
snow would be constantly fed into it, and this snow would be slowly
but continually converted into the gas. Thus the bin would be filled
with the icy gas which would be constantly increasing in quantity and
finding its way out. Now, carbonic acid gas is an extremely heavy gas.
It behaves almost like a liquid. You can fill a tumbler with it and you
can pour it from one tumbler to another as if it were water. Like all
gases, it diffuses upwards into the air, but while it is pure, it falls
by its own weight.

"Thus, as the bin filled up with the gas, this would be constantly
overflowing on to the floor and would tend to pour down through the
cracks between the boards and especially to trickle down through the
mouse-holes into the burrows, so that these and the spaces between
the joists would be full of the gas. In such conditions, it would be
impossible for mice to exist. They would all be either killed or driven
away.

"My conclusion is, therefore, that these facts are completely consistent
with the presence of solid carbonic acid in the bin and that there
seems to be no other explanation."

"Yes," said Anstey, "I am prepared to admit that. What do you say,
superintendent?"

"I agree," replied Miller, "that it seems to establish the point,
subject to the condition that the theory is supported by other
evidence."

"That is all I ask," rejoined Thorndyke. "This is only a single point.
The charge against Peck rests on the whole body of evidence. But I have
not completed the case for the carbonic acid snow. While we are on the
subject, I may as well produce the rest of the evidence.

"Shortly after our visit to the Inn, Jervis and I made a call at the
premises of the Cope Refrigerating Company. My object was twofold.
First, I wanted to verify a description of Abel Webb, which, I may say,
I did. But we will leave the case of Webb for consideration later. The
other object was to ascertain whether the man known as John Gillum
had ever had any dealings with Copes. I had reason to believe that he
had obtained at least a part of his supplies from them and in this it
turned out that I was right. For, when I interviewed a very intelligent
gentleman named Small, I learned, among other interesting matters,
that a man corresponding to the description of the Tenant had, on at
least one occasion, purchased from him some four-pound blocks of solid
carbonic acid; which, I also learned, were delivered in parcels roughly
packed in insulating material. I ask you to note the insulated packing
since the material used for that purpose is almost invariably silicate
wool, or, as it is sometimes called, slag-wool.

"With regard to the identification, I may say that it does not seem to
admit of any doubt. The man whom Mr. Small served resembled the Tenant,
as Mortimer has described him, not only in size and general appearance
but even in respect of his teeth. Mr. Small particularly noticed the
extensive filling of the front teeth with gold and commented on the
disfigurement that it caused.

"This completes the case for the carbonic acid snow, and you see that
it is based on a remarkable body of evidence. There is the illness of
Mortimer, exactly resembling carbonic-acid poisoning, occurring in a
very cold room and close to the bin; the mysterious affair of the mice;
and the direct evidence of the purchase by the Tenant of carbonic acid
snow in blocks of a size exactly suitable for use in the manner that I
have suggested. I submit that it constitutes conclusive proof that the
Tenant had something in that bin which he was preserving by means of
carbonic acid snow."

Both Anstey and Miller appeared to be profoundly impressed by this
demonstration and the latter expressed the hope that the rest of the
evidence would be equally convincing.

"Perhaps," said Anstey, "one might hesitate to use the word
'conclusive'; but even if one should not put it quite as high as that,
still, it is difficult to imagine any alternative explanation. And I
take it that the refrigeration theory is supported by other evidence."

"It is amply supported," Thorndyke replied; "and I shall now proceed
to the consideration of some of the other evidence. To return to
the chambers. My primary object in visiting them was to verify the
dimensions of the bin. But there was another question to which I was
anxious to find an answer, but had very little expectation of finding
it. That question was whether or not the Tenant had artificial teeth.
It was an important question, for there would obviously be great
difficulty in fixing a false gold filling to natural teeth, though
it would not be impossible. But with a dental plate there would be
no physical difficulty at all. The only difficulty would be that the
making of such a plate--obviously for the purpose of disguise--would
involve the very dangerous complicity of a dentist. But that danger
would exist equally in the case of 'faked' natural teeth.

"However, I had better luck than I had expected. In a rubbish basket
I found an empty bottle labelled 'Cawley's Cleansing Fluid,' which is
a sort of detergent lotion, principally used for filling the bowls
in which wearers of false teeth put their dental plates at night so
that they may be clean by the morning. Then, on the chest of drawers
which served as a dressing-table, I found an earthenware bowl labelled
'Super-fatted Shaving Soap.' But, as the Tenant, whoever he was, wore a
beard, he evidently had no use for shaving soap. And, in fact, the bowl
was empty. But there were in it traces of the cleansing fluid, plainly
recognisable by the smell. Apparently, the bowl had been used as a
receptacle for a dental plate during the night; and, in confirmation of
this, we found in the larder the handle of a dental plate brush, which
had been used as a spatula for mixing Portland cement.

"Here, again, you will probably demur to the use of the word
'conclusive'; but the fluid, the bowl, and the brush, taken together,
furnish very convincing evidence that the Tenant wore a dental plate.
But if he did, he could not have been John Gillum, since it is known
that Gillum had a full set of natural teeth and certainly did not
wear a denture. I may add that we found a worn-out toothbrush of the
ordinary kind and a small tin which had contained a toothpowder,
as is used for cleaning natural teeth. So that, judging by these
observations, it would appear that the occupant of these chambers was
a man who had some natural teeth but also wore a dental plate. And I
repeat, that man could not have been John Gillum.

"We made some other discoveries which I shall not deal with now. Among
them was a piece of paper which was so exactly like the paper on which
the blackmailer's letter was written that it was nearly certain that
it was derived from the same writing-pad. But I leave that for your
consideration later with the other letters and documents. You will
probably decide to have these examined by an expert; and, at any rate,
they form no part of my present case.

"The next stage of the investigation deals with the identity of the
personator. I have already explained that Dr. Peck was the only person
known to me who could possibly have personated John Gillum. There was
no positive reason for suspecting him; but he fulfilled the conditions
that made the personation possible, and it was necessary that some
enquiries should be made concerning him. Accordingly, I began by
looking him up in the Medical Directory; and then the interesting fact
emerged that he was not only a qualified medical practitioner, but
also a fully qualified dentist. So that, in his case, the difficulty
of getting the counterfeit gold teeth made did not exist. He could
do whatever was necessary himself. This was, of course, no evidence
against him; but it was another rather striking agreement.

"Dr. Peck's permanent address was given as Staple Inn; and thither
Jervis and I went to pursue our enquiries. We were fortunate enough to
find the porter of the Inn a rather talkative person, so that a few
discreet questions, just to help his conversational powers, soon put us
in possession of all the facts that we wanted. And very striking facts
some of them were. I need not reconstitute the conversation but will
give you the substance of what we elicited.

"In the first place, we were glad to learn that Dr. Peck was in
England. He had just returned from a long voyage; a very long voyage,
for it had taken him close upon two years. And what instantly struck me
when I made a rough estimate of the dates was that he appeared to have
started on his voyage just about the time when John Gillum's tenancy
at Clifford's Inn began and that he had returned a short time after
John Gillum's death. This must be admitted to be a very remarkable
coincidence. And there were certain other circumstances that were at
least rather singular. For instance, he went away with a full beard
and moustache and came back clean-shaved; and he had not come back to
Staple Inn although he had chambers there ready to receive him, and
which he had always kept so that he should have some place to come to
when he returned from a voyage. Instead of this, he had gone straight,
as soon as he had landed, to some premises in Whitechapel where he had
put up a brass plate and started in practice.

"All this was rather odd; but, of the facts disclosed by the porter's
rambling discourse, I was most interested in certain preparations which
Dr. Peck had made before he had started on his voyage. These included a
pair of portable bookcases in which he proposed to carry his travelling
library, packed for transport and yet instantly available for use. Of
these, the porter was able to give us fairly exact particulars; and,
as he gave us the name and address of the man who had made them, I
had--and took--the opportunity to fill in the precise details. And,
as those details are highly material to the subject of our inquiry, I
ask you to give very particular attention to them, both in regard to
dimensions and construction.

"These bookcases were very ingeniously planned. The idea was that they
could be filled with books in their proper order on the shelves and
could then be closed by simply screwing on the fronts; when they would
be ready for transport either by rail or sea. On arrival at their
destination, they could be stowed in the doctor's cabin and the fronts
removed, and they would be ready for immediate use. Furthermore, they
could, if necessary, be quite easily taken apart for storage. There
were no dovetails or other permanent joints. The parts were simply
screwed together with well-greased screws, and when these had been
withdrawn, the cases could be resolved into a collection of boards
which would lie flat for stowage and take up a minimum of space.

"Now, as to the alleged disposal of these cases. They were delivered by
the maker, Mr. Crow, of Baldwin's Gardens, at Peck's chambers in Staple
Inn, and, so far as I could learn, were never seen again. The statement
is that Peck took them with him when he started on his voyage--he is
said to have travelled overland to Marseilles and embarked there on
a foreign ship--to have had them in use throughout that voyage, and
finally to have sold them, with the books that they contained, to the
captain of the ship from which he landed at Marseilles.

"That is the story. Now we return to the cases. They were made
throughout of one-inch board, excepting the three equi-distant shelves,
which were of half-inch stuff and slid freely in grooves. Each case was
three feet three inches high, twenty inches wide and fourteen inches
deep. The depth, you notice, was inconveniently great, as the books
which would stand in the nine-inch spaces between the shelves would
not be more than six or seven inches deep. But the dimensions as a
whole interested me profoundly. I wonder whether you notice anything
significant in them."

"I certainly do not," said Anstey, glancing enquiringly at Miller, who
shook his head with a hopeless expression; "in fact, I cannot imagine
what possible bearing these cases can have on the matter that we are
considering."

"Their significance," Thorndyke explained, "lies in the possibility
of their conversion into something totally different. Each is three
feet three inches high; the two placed end to end with the shelves and
the adjoining ends removed, would form a long case with an interior
capacity of six feet four inches by eighteen inches by thirteen inches.
Such a case would hold quite conveniently the body of a tall man;
and it would go into the coal-bin with eighteen inches to spare in
the length, ten inches in the width and fifteen inches in the depth;
of which ten inches must be subtracted for the false bottom, leaving
a space of five inches. The two halves of the case could be secured
together firmly enough for practical purposes by screwing to each side
a short board such as one of the shelves."

Anstey looked at me with a somewhat wry smile. "This is ingenuity with
a vengeance," said he. "It almost looks like perverted ingenuity; for
even the Great Unraveller must admit that there are plenty of quite
innocent containers which would accommodate a human body perfectly
well. The mere suitability is of no evidential value excepting as
corroboration of evidence showing that it was in fact so used."

"Exactly," Thorndyke agreed. "But at present I am merely proving that
such a container existed. The other evidence comes later."

"But," Anstey objected, "the container appears to have been disposed of
at Marseilles and to be, at present, somewhere on the high seas."

"My thesis," Thorndyke rejoined, "is that Peck's voyage was a myth;
that the cases never went to sea at all, but were simply dismantled and
conveyed piecemeal to Clifford's Inn. But may I suggest that my learned
friend should allow me to produce my evidence in the appointed order
and to defer argument until the facts have been presented?"

"I am sat upon," said Anstey. "Deservedly. I admit it. Let the
demonstration proceed."

"I think," said Thorndyke, "that you hardly appreciate the
extraordinary suitability of these cases for the use that I suggest.
I thought it might be so, and I have accordingly asked Polton to
make a set of scale models--two inches to the foot--to help your
imaginations, and, if necessary, to produce in court. The models are on
the table, but we shall have to find Polton to demonstrate the method
of conversion."

The necessity of finding Polton, however, did not arise, for even as
Thorndyke spoke, he emerged unblushingly from the office and enquired
if anything was wanted. Miller greeted his arrival with a broad grin
and bluntly accused him of eavesdropping; to which Polton made no reply
beyond a bland and crinkly smile, but, producing from his pocket a pair
of forceps and a watchmaker's screwdriver, bore down on the models.

"We will begin with the coal-bin," said Thorndyke, picking up the long,
narrow box and handing it to Polton, "and I shall refer to the real
dimensions, of which all these models are exactly one-sixth--two inches
to the foot. This bin is eight feet long by thirty inches wide and
twenty-nine inches deep. On opening the lid, you see the false bottom
with a cavity above it nine inches deep--deep enough to accommodate a
good supply of coal. But I need not continue the description. You can
see the details for yourselves."

Our friends watched with profound interest while Polton picked up with
his forceps the little sunk rings in the false bottom and lifted the
latter out in its two halves, displaying in the cavity underneath a
number of flat pads of cotton wool, which he picked out and laid on the
table.

"What are those little pads?" Anstey asked.

"They represent the pads of insulating material," Thorndyke replied.
"You will see their use presently. The actual pads were almost
certainly made of silicate wool."

Having passed the bin round, Polton took up one of the model bookcases,
and with his screwdriver extracted the little screws from the front,
when the latter came off, displaying the interior with its three
shelves. When he had repeated the operation on the other one, and
passed both round for inspection, Thorndyke replaced them on the table.

"You have seen these cases," said he, "in their ostensible character
as bookcases, and you will agree that their appearance is quite
convincing. Now we shall see the transformation."

It was very interesting to observe how complete the transformation was.
Polton began by drawing out the shelves, which slid freely in their
grooves. Then, having extracted the lower screws, he let the bottom of
each fall out. Next, laying the two cases on their backs, he brought
the two open ends together, when they formed a long, narrow box,
similar in shape to, but smaller than, the bin. Then he took two of the
shelves, each of which was perforated by six holes, and laying them
on either side of the long box across the junction of the two halves,
fixed them in position with screws. Lifting the box, he demonstrated
that the two cases had now become united to form a single structure
with a continuous cavity.

When this had been passed round and examined, he took up one or two of
the pads and laid them on the floor of the bin. Then he placed the box
inside the bin, packed some more of the pads at the ends and sides,
put the fronts on, laid the rest of the pads over them, and finally
replaced the false bottom, which dropped comfortably into its place on
top of the pads.

"You now see for yourselves," said Thorndyke, "how perfectly
these cases are adapted to the purpose that I have suggested. The
adaptability seems too perfect to be accidental. Not only is the long
case exactly the right size and shape to accommodate the body of a tall
man; it is also exactly the right size and shape to lie in the bin with
enough space around it for the insulating pads and still room enough
for the false bottom. There is not an inch to spare in any direction.
Those cases have the appearance of having been carefully designed for
this very purpose. And I submit that they were."

We were all deeply impressed by the demonstration, and Anstey expressed
the sentiments of us all when he remarked: "You were wise, Thorndyke,
to have these models made. Seeing is not only believing; it is
understanding. No amount of verbal description could have conveyed the
extraordinary fitness of these cases for the purpose that you suggest.
I take off my hat to you and Polton. I am even prepared to take off
my wig; but I will defer that until you have produced the rest of the
evidence."

The demonstration completed, Polton made as if to retire to the office,
but before he could escape, Miller grabbed him and pulled him into a
chair. "What's the use of pretending, Mr. Polton?" said he. "You know
you have been listening all the time. Better sit here and listen in
comfort"; which view, being endorsed by Thorndyke, was duly carried
into effect.

"The fact that we have established," said Thorndyke, "is that these
bookcases were capable of being converted into a receptacle which would
hold the body of a tall man and which would fit the interior of the
coal-bin. The objection to the suggestion that they were so used is
that they are said to have been taken overseas and never brought back.
I now proceed to deal with that objection.

"On the floor above Gillum's chambers at Clifford's Inn is a large
lumber-room which has been used by the authorities of the Inn for
storing old furniture and other bulky rubbish left by outgoing
tenants in their chambers; but I learn that it has been out of use
and undisturbed for some years. Now, it occurred to me, as a bare
possibility, that the Tenant might, at the end of his tenancy when
his proceedings would necessarily be somewhat hurried, find himself
burdened with some objects which he would not wish to leave in the
chambers but which he had no opportunity to take away or destroy; and,
in fact, I had these very cases in mind. Accordingly, I decided to take
a look round the lumber-room and see if anything appeared to have been
deposited there; and did so, assisted by Jervis and Polton."

"Wasn't the room locked?" asked Miller.

"It was," Thorndyke replied. "A common builder's lock which could have
been turned with a stiff wire. We actually used a provisional key."

Miller chuckled delightedly. "A provisional key," he repeated. "I must
remember that expression. Sounds so much better than skeleton key. Yes,
doctor; and, of course, you did find something."

"We did," Thorndyke replied. "Perhaps Polton will be so good as to
produce our gleanings for your inspection."

Thereupon Polton retired to the office and immediately returned bearing
a bundle of pieces of board which he laid out in order on the table.

"These," said Thorndyke, "we found hidden under a pile of much older
lumber. The wood is obviously comparatively new and the broken edges
quite fresh. Let us fit those broken edges together and see what
results. Here, for instance, are three pieces which fit together
perfectly and form a rectangle with finished edges. It is three feet
three inches long by twenty inches wide, the exact dimensions of
the front or back of Peck's bookcases. Moreover, there are twelve
countersunk screw-holes, each of which fits a number eight screw, and
those screws are not only the same size as those in Peck's cases, but
have the same distribution; namely, four equidistant holes on each side
and two at either end.

"Then, here are two pieces which evidently formed part of a similar
structure. They fit together exactly and their screw-holes are the
same size and have the same distribution. Finally, here is a complete
piece which corresponds completely with the sides of Peck's cases.
It is three feet three inches long, thirteen inches wide, it has
three equidistant half-inch grooves, and the screw-holes in the edges
correspond exactly in size and position with those on the back and the
front. But there is in addition an extremely interesting feature. At
one end of this side are three holes which have been made by screws,
showing that something, not part of the original structure, had been
screwed on to the outside. Now, if you will look at Polton's model of
the long case, you will see that the two halves are secured together
by screwing on one of the shelves on either side, forming a sort of
fish-plate; and I submit that these screw-holes afford evidence that
a precisely similar procedure had been followed in the cases of which
these fragments are part."

Miller and Anstey were both greatly impressed. Nevertheless, the
latter objected: "What you have proved, Thorndyke--and proved most
conclusively--is that these fragments are parts of some structure which
was exactly like one of Peck's bookcases. But you haven't proved that
it actually was one of his cases."

"No," Thorndyke agreed, "I admit the objection, and I shall now proceed
to dispose of it. I sent Polton with the complete back to show it to
Mr. Crow, who made Peck's cases. He shall tell you what Mr. Crow said."

"I went to Mr. Crow," said Polton, "and showed him the three pieces
and we put them together on his bench. Then he looked up his book and
compared the dimensions and the size and position of the screw-holes,
and he said that the three pieces made up some thing that was exactly
like the back or front of one of the cases that he had made for Dr.
Peck. I told him that we knew that, and I asked him if he couldn't
be more definite. So he took another look at the pieces, and then he
noticed this bit of American white wood,"--here Polton pointed out the
strip of foreign wood--"and that brought the job back to his memory.
He remembered that he had then had a small piece of good American
white wood left over from another job, and as the case was going to be
stained, he thought he might as well use it up. So he did; and by that
piece of white wood he was able to swear, and he was prepared to swear,
that these pieces were actually the back of one of the cases that he
had made for Dr. Peck."

"I think that is good enough," said Miller; and, as Anstey agreed, the
evidence as to the cases was accepted as complete, so far as it went.

"We are agreed, then," said Thorndyke, "as to the identity of the
cases, and that somebody brought them from Staple Inn to Clifford's
Inn. The next question that we have to settle is: Who brought them?
Fortunately, we have some fairly conclusive evidence on that point. I
have mentioned that the lumber-room had not been disturbed, or even
entered, for at least several years. Apart from Weech's statement,
this was evident from the appearance of the place. Everything in it,
including the floor and the steps leading up to it, was covered with
a thick, even coating of dust, almost like a thin covering of snow.
Now, when we started to ascend the steps, we could see on them the
very distinct footprints of some person who had gone up a short time
previously; and when we reached the room, we could see a double line
of footprints extending from the head of the steps to the farther end
of the room--actually, as we found later, to the pile of lumber under
which the fragments of the cases were hidden.

"As the dust must have been something like an eighth of an inch thick,
these footprints were extraordinarily distinct. Like footprints in
the snow, they were actual impressions, having a sensible depth and
showing some detailed characters of the feet that made them; and their
distinctness emphasised the fact that there was no trace whatever of
any other footprints. As it happened that Polton had a camera with him
in the chambers below, I asked him to photograph two of the footprints,
a right and a left, selecting those which showed the most detail.

"This he did, laying a footrule beside each print to give a measuring
standard and including the rule in the photograph. I produce here
enlargements of the two photographs of the footprints, and I also
produce photographs to the same scale, likewise including a footrule,
of a pair of house-shoes which I found in the bedroom of the chambers
and which seemed to correspond to the footprints. If you examine the
two sets of photographs, you will see that the correspondence is
quite unmistakeable, even to the position of the brads in the soles
and heels, which, as well as the various dimensions, you can verify
with a pair of dividers and the footrule. I have done this, and I am
prepared to swear, and to prove, that the footprints were made by these
shoes. Whence it follows--since there were no other footprints, and the
cases must have been deposited after the last previous visit to the
room--that the fragments of the cases must have been put where we found
them by the Tenant, whoever he may have been. Do you agree to that?"

"It is impossible not to agree," replied Anstey. "The proof is
absolutely conclusive."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "we will consider the cases as disposed of, and
I shall now pass on to another investigation which yielded evidence
on two separate aspects of our inquiry. On Jervis's suggestion, I
decided to make a systematic collection of dust from the floor of
Gillum's chambers. The collection was carried out by Polton with a
vacuum cleaner; and he not only kept the dust from the different areas
separate, but, finding that the Tenant had used a carpet-sweeper,
he extracted the dust from that and also carefully combed out its
brushes. The same evening, we formed a sort of committee, with three
microscopes, and went through the entire collection of dust. I need
not trouble you with details of the procedure. Of the objects brought
to light by our microscopes, there were only two kinds that are of
interest to us; human hairs and particles of silicate wool."

"Silicate wool!" exclaimed Miller. "That sounds rather significant."

"It does," Thorndyke agreed, "but the hairs are, perhaps, even more
illuminating, so we will deal with them first. We found, in all,
nineteen hairs, of which seventeen were from the scalp, one a moustache
hair and one a hair from a beard. Three of the hairs were taken by me
from the pillow on which the head of Gillum's corpse had rested. Two of
these were natural black hairs and one was white. We found, in the dust
from the sitting-room floor, one other natural black hair. Of the other
fifteen hairs, all were rather fair hairs dyed black."

"My eye!" exclaimed Miller. "Fifteen dyed hairs out of a total of
nineteen! I suppose it isn't possible that they could have been
Gillum's?"

"It is quite impossible," replied Thorndyke. "Not only were the black
hairs from the pillow natural black, but one of them was white. And
Benson will tell you that John Gillum's hair, both during life and
after death, was black streaked with white. I need not point out to you
that the presence of white hairs is incontestable evidence that the
hair is not dyed.

"Let us, then, consider what we are compelled to infer from these
dyed hairs. And first as to their number. Of the four natural hairs,
three were from the pillow and had evidently come from the head of the
corpse, while the fourth came from the floor of the same room. It had
probably been detached when the corpse was moved either to or from the
couch. At any rate, it was only a single hair. But there were fifteen
dyed hairs collected from a fairly clean and habitually well-swept
room. The unavoidable inference is that the owner of those dyed hairs
was the person who occupied those chambers. Of Gillum himself there is
no trace excepting four hairs, three of which certainly, and the fourth
most probably, came from the corpse. But there are abundant traces of
a rather fair man with hair, moustache, and beard dyed black. In other
words, of a man who was not Gillum, but who was disguised so as to
resemble Gillum."

"Amazing!" said Anstey; "and all this impressive evidence from a few
handfuls of dust!"

"Yes," said Thorndyke, "but we have not finished with the dust. Besides
the hairs, we found, as I told you, particles of silicate wool. In
the living-room they were few in number and mostly broken quite small
by having been repeatedly trodden on. But Polton made a separate
operation of the coal-bin; and when we came to examine the dust from
that, we found it to consist entirely of coal and silicate wool. And
the wool was not only present in large quantities; it consisted to a
considerable extent of recognisable lengths of fibre."

"I need hardly ask," said Anstey, "whether you have preserved these
tell-tale dust particles for production in evidence?"

"They have all been kept intact," replied Thorndyke, "so that they
can be shown direct as well as by enlarged photographs; indeed, all
possible exhibits have been carefully preserved. And now, you will be
relieved to hear, I am getting near to the completion of my case. Only
two more points of evidence remain to be considered, and I will take
first that relating to the beginning of the tenancy at Clifford's Inn.
I had the particulars from Mr. Weech, and this is what he told me.

"One morning, towards the end of August, 1928, a man came to the lodge
to enquire about some chambers that were to let. He thought that Number
64, which was empty, might suit him, so he was given the keys, and
presently he returned and announced that the chambers would suit him
and that he would like to take a lease of them. But he then explained
that he was not taking them for himself but that he was acting as agent
for a gentleman of means who was, at the moment, abroad, but wanted
a set of chambers made ready for him to come home to. He was fully
authorised to execute an agreement, to furnish references, and to pay
whatever deposit might be thought necessary.

"As he produced a written authority from his principal, Mr. John
Gillum, and referred Weech to Mr. Gillum's solicitor and banker, and
was willing to pay a half-year's rent in advance, Weech accepted the
tenancy. A provisional agreement was signed, the money paid, the keys
handed to the agent to enable him to proceed with the furnishing and
repairs, and the transaction was closed with one exception. The agent
suggested that the references should not be taken up until Mr. Gillum
came into residence."

"Why did he stipulate that?" asked Anstey.

"His explanation--quite a reasonable one--was that Mr. Gillum had
lived abroad for some years and had done all his business with his
solicitor and banker by correspondence and that neither of them knew
him personally. This satisfied Weech arid the agent was allowed to
take possession of the chambers and get on with the furnishing and the
repairs. And it is interesting to note that those repair included the
false bottom to the coal-bin, the fixed window in the larder, and the
holes in the larder door."

"What was the agent's name?" Miller asked.

"Weech is a little obscure on that point. He thinks it was either Baker
or Barker or Barber."

"But," said Anstey, "there is the agreement with his signature."

"That agreement was destroyed when Gillum arrived and a new one
executed."

"Then," said Anstey, "there was the agent's cheque. That ought to be
traceable."

"There was no cheque," replied Thorndyke. "The money--twenty-five
pounds--was paid in five five-pound notes."

"Then there must have been a receipt."

"There was; but it was made out to John Gillum. Mr. Baker, as we will
call him, left no trace whatever. But let us finish with Mr. Weech's
story.

"About three weeks after the signing of the agreement--on the
seventeenth of September, to be exact--John Gillum came to the Inn, and
the circumstances of his arrival were these, as related to Weech by the
night porter: That night, between nine and ten, someone knocked at the
gate, and when he had opened the wicket, he saw two gentlemen, one of
whom was Mr. Baker, whom he had seen once before. Accordingly he let
them pass through and they went up the passage. Presently Mr. Baker
came back alone and said: 'By the way, that gentleman is Mr. Gillum,
the new tenant of Number 64. You might mention to Mr. Weech that he has
come."

"The porter did so in the morning, and Mr. Weech then called at the
chambers. The door was opened by the man thereafter known as John
Gillum; Mr. Weech introduced himself and a new agreement was then
executed and, the old one torn up. So the tenancy began, and the
mysterious Mr. Baker was seen no more."

"How long did he stay that night?" asked Miller.

"There is no answer to that question. The night porter saw him go back
into the Inn, and so far as I can learn he was never seen again."

"Did you get any description of him?" Miller asked.

"Yes," replied Thorndyke. "Weech described him as a tallish man, about
his own height--that is, about five feet ten--fair complexioned, with
light-brown hair, a tawny beard and moustache and blue eyes; apparently
a gentleman with a pleasant, persuasive manner and a rather engaging
personality. You notice that if his fair hair and beard had been dyed
black, he would have seemed to correspond completely to Mortimer's
description of the man whom he knew as John Gillum.

"I now come to the last stage of the investigation, and I must admit
that I approached it with some anxiety. For if the result should not be
what I expected, I should be left with the greater part of the inquiry
to be begun afresh with no data to work from. I had assumed that Dr.
Augustus Peck was the personator of John Gillum, and that Mr. Baker and
Dr. Peck were one and the same person. If these propositions were true,
it followed that Dr. Peck must be a man of about five feet ten inches
in height, of blond complexion with blue eyes and light-brown hair.
Further more, I should expect him to have some false upper front teeth.
If he did not agree with this description, then he could not be the
man; and I should have to look for another person to fill the role of
personator.

"I need not describe our interview with him at length. When Jervis and
I called on him, we were confronted by a rather spare man about five
feet ten inches in height with light-brown hair and blue eyes. As he
was clean-shaved, the colour of his beard was not ascertainable; but
it could reasonably be assumed to agree with that of his hair. While
we were conversing I was able to observe his teeth, as he had a short
upper lip and showed them a good deal; and it was quite easy to see
that there were several false teeth in the upper jaw and that these
included the four upper incisors--the very teeth that had contained the
gold fillings.

"Thus, you see, Dr. Peck's physical characteristics agreed in every
respect with those of the Tenant of the Inn, of the man whom Mortimer
knew as John Gillum, and of the mysterious Mr. Baker; and I affirm his
actual identity with those persons. And I further affirm that, in view
of that identity and of the body of evidence which I have presented,
I have proved that Augustus Peck is the man who, on the night of the
seventeenth of September, murdered John Gillum and thereafter falsely
personated him at the Inn and elsewhere.

"And, as we say in court, that is my case."


CHAPTER XIX: RE-ENTER MR. SNUPER


FOR SOME TIME AFTER Thorndyke had finished speaking, a profound silence
prevailed in the room. We were all deeply impressed by the ingenuity
with which the complicated train of evidence had been constructed
and presented. And yet there was probably the same thought in the
minds of us all. Despite the completeness and conclusiveness of the
demonstration, the case seemed to be pervaded by a certain unreality.
Something seemed to be lacking.

It was Anstey who broke the silence and put our thoughts into words.

"You have presented us, Thorndyke," said he, "with a most remarkable
scheme of circumstantial evidence. I have never heard anything finer of
its kind. The proof of your thesis appears to be absolutely conclusive,
and it would seem almost ungracious for me to offer any criticisms.
But, after all, the superintendent and I are practical men who have
to deal with realities. It will fall to us to translate this scheme
of evidence into action. And we are at once confronted with a serious
practical difficulty. I dare say you realise what it is."

"Your difficulty, I presume," replied Thorndyke, "is that the whole
case, from beginning to end, rests on circumstantial evidence."

"Exactly," said Anstey. "If we arrest this man and charge him with the
murder, we have not a particle of direct evidence to produce against
him. Now, the late Lord Darling once said that circumstantial evidence
is more conclusive than direct evidence. But juries don't take that
view, and I think the juries are right. If we bring this man to trial
on the evidence that you have given us, we may easily fail to get a
conviction; and there is even the possibility that some fact might be
produced by the defence which would upset our case completely. You see
the difficulty?"

"I do," replied Thorndyke. "I have seen it all along; and I have
provided the means to meet it. Hitherto, I have dealt exclusively with
the train of circumstantial evidence because that is really what the
case rests upon. But I have borne in mind the need for some direct
evidence to impart a quality of concrete reality to the other evidence;
and I am able to produce two items which I think will satisfy you and
Miller. The first is a set of photographs which Polton has prepared and
which I will ask him to hand to me that I may show them to you."

Here Polton paid another visit to the office and came back carrying a
small portfolio which he delivered to Thorndyke, who took from it two
ten-by-eight mounted photographs and resumed: "These two photographs
are enlargements from small originals lent to me by Mr. Benson. The
first is a group taken by Mr. Benson, himself; in Australia, and
enlarged from the negative. I chose it because it had been taken in the
shadow of a building and the faces were quite well lighted. What do you
think of it, Benson? Is the likeness fairly good?"

Benson took the photograph from him, and having looked at it, replied:
"It is an excellent likeness. The enlargement has brought it out
wonderfully."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "pass it to Mortimer."

"Has Mortimer seen it before?" asked Anstey.

"No," Thorndyke replied. "I thought it best that you should see the
actual trial."

"You are pretty confident," said Anstey; and the the thought had
occurred to me. But apparently his confidence was justified, for,
after a prolonged and careful examination of the photograph, Mortimer
announced: "There is nobody that I know in this group."

"The man with the beard is John Gillum," said Benson.

"So I had supposed," replied Mortimer. "But I don't recognise him. He
appears to be a complete stranger to me."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "we come to the second photograph. That is an
enlargement from a small print and is not quite so clear as the other.
It was taken by the first officer of the ship and shows a group of four
men, one of whom is John Gillum. Look at the group carefully, Mortimer,
and see if you can recognise Gillum this time."

Mortimer took the photograph and examined it attentively; and as he did
so he appeared to become more and more surprised.

"This is really very curious," said he. "I recognised him at a glance.
I suppose this must be a better likeness than the other."

"Show Benson which is John Gillum," said Thorndyke.

Mortimer turned to Benson, holding out the photograph and pointing to
one of the figures.

"I say that this is Gillum," said he.

"Then," replied Benson, "you are wrong. That is the ship's surgeon, Dr.
Peck. The man standing next him is Jack Gillum."

Mortimer looked at him in astonishment--though I didn't quite see why,
after what we had heard. Then, after another look at the photograph, he
exclaimed:

"So that man is Dr. Peck! Then the man I knew as John Gillum must have
been Dr. Peck, for the likeness is quite unmistakable. It is rather an
appalling thought, though, considering the sort of terms we were on."

Miller rubbed his hands. "Now," said he, "we are getting down to brass
tacks." (apparently he regarded the circumstantial tacks as being of
an entirely different metal). "Mr. Mortimer's evidence seems pretty
convincing, but I think you said, doctor, that you had another item up
your sleeve."

"I have," replied Thorndyke, "and I think it will be particularly
acceptable to you."

He rose, and stepping across to a cabinet, opened it and took out an
object which I recognised as the little roulette box that I had seen in
Gillum's chambers. Having briefly explained its nature and origin, he
continued: "I have fixed it to this board with a spot of glue so that
it can be handled without being touched. You will see that it is marked
all over with a multitude of finger-prints, many of them superimposed
and most of them undecipherable. The grey powder with which I developed
them doesn't show up at all well to the eye, but it photographs
admirably; so I suggest that you give your attention to the excellent
photographs which Polton has made of this box, which show the prints
much more distinctly than they appear in the original."

He took from the portfolio a number of prints on glossy bromide paper
and passed them to Miller, who examined them with eager interest.

"But these are not so bad, doctor," he said, when he had looked them
over. "I can pick out at least half a dozen which our experts could
identify quite easily. But what is the point about them? What do they
prove?"

"The point is," Thorndyke replied, "that they are the prints of someone
who had handled this box. But the box was the property of the Tenant
of the Inn and the prints are presumably the prints of his fingers. At
any rate, they were made by somebody who had been in those chambers;
and Mortimer actually saw the Tenant handling this box. They furnish
evidence, therefore, that the person who made them must, at some time,
have been in John Gillum's chambers. And now cast your eye over this
other collection."

As he spoke, he took out of the portfolio a sheet of paper on which
there were two groups of finger-prints, apparently made with printing
ink and accompanied by a signature of the same intense black. Miller
took the paper and, after a careful scrutiny, compared the prints on it
with those shown in the photographs.

"There is no doubt," said he, "that these finger prints are the same as
those that came from the box. But whose are they, and what are they?
I should have taken them for lithographs. And what is this signature?
That looks like a lithograph, too."

"It is a lithograph," replied Thorndyke, taking yet another paper from
the portfolio. "I will explain how it was made. Here, you see, is a
copy of the famous blackmailer's letter. I wrote it out myself on a
carefully prepared sheet of lithographic transfer paper. When we called
on Dr. Peck, I gave it to him to read. When he had read it, I drew his
attention to the attestation on the back, whereupon he turned it over,
read the attestation, and turned it back. Thus his fingers and thumbs
touched the paper at three different points, all of which I carefully
avoided when I took the letter from him.

"Later, I called on a very skilful lithographer and got him to transfer
both sides of the letter to the one and take off a few proofs.
But first I asked him to write his signature on the letter with
lithographic chalk so that it would ink up with the finger-prints and
enable him to swear to the proofs."

"Then," said Miller, "these are Peck's finger-prints, excepting those
at the upper corners, which I presume are your own, and it follows
that the prints on the box are his, too. But that seems to put the
coping-stone on your case, doctor, though, as this is a murder case, we
could still do with a bit more evidence."

"You will find plenty of further evidence," said Thorndyke, "when you
get to work with regular enquiries; evidence from the banks, from Copes
and from various other sources. But you now have enough to enable you
to arrest Peck. These finger-prints prove that he was in Gillum's
chambers at the very time when, according to his own story, he was
on the high seas at the other side of the world. Are you satisfied,
Anstey?"

"Perfectly," he replied. "I should go into court confidently on what
we have now, without depending on the further evidence that the police
will be able to rake together. I see the shadow of the rope already."

It was at this point that Mortimer interposed a question.

"I have been expecting," said he, "to hear some reference to poor Abel
Webb. Doesn't he come into the scheme of evidence?"

"He did," Thorndyke replied, "for the purposes of my investigation,
but he does not for the purposes of the prosecution. I have not the
slightest doubt that Peck murdered him. But I can't prove it; and
without proof it would be useless to introduce any reference to the
murder."

"Can you form any guess as to why Peck should have murdered him?"

"My dear fellow," exclaimed Thorndyke, "it is not a matter of guessing.
It is obvious. Abel Webb was intimately acquainted with both John
Gillum and Augustus Peck. Now, it happened that he saw Peck at his
place of business, and he must have recognised him and have noticed
that his hair was dyed black--that, in fact, he was disguised so as
to resemble Gillum. He seems to have got Gillum's address--probably
from the shipping office--and he certainly called at Gillum's
chambers, apparently to make enquiries. There he met Peck, disguised
and obviously impersonating Gillum. Then the murder was out. Peck had
the choice of two alternatives; either to kill Webb or to abandon his
scheme and disappear. Naturally, being Peck, he elected to murder Webb;
and, accordingly, Webb was murdered immediately after his visit to the
Inn--apparently on the very same day."

"While we are on the subject of explanations," said Benson, "could
you give us just an outline of the actual events? A sort of condensed
narrative of Peck's proceedings? I am not perfectly clear as to how the
crime was carried out."

"To put it very briefly," Thorndyke replied, "I take it that the
sequence of events was this: During the voyage, Peck learned a good
deal about Gillum's affairs and, among other matters, two very
important facts. First, that Gillum was coming into a large sum of
money, accruing in instalments, and second, that he was a total
stranger to England; that he knew nobody there and that nobody knew
him. These two circumstances suggested to him the possibility of making
away with Gillum, personating him while the instalments were being
paid, and getting the money into his own possession.

"During the rest of the voyage, he must have devoted himself to
finding out everything that he could about Gillum and his affairs
and establishing himself as Gillum's intimate friend. Perhaps Gillum
may have commissioned him to find a residence for him in London. At
any rate, when Gillum went ashore at Marseilles, the friendship was
already established and the two men must have been in communication
while Gillum was travelling in France. That is clear from the fact that
Peck knew when he would arrive in England and was able to meet him and
bring him to the Inn, either as a guest or as the actual tenant of the
chambers.

"As soon as Peck arrived in England, he set about the preparations
to carry out his scheme; and he had the extraordinary good luck to
find a set of chambers which contained an enormous coal-bin in an
isolated room. When he had secured those chambers, his difficulties
were practically over. He had merely to execute the necessary details;
to have the bin made suitable for his purpose, to get a container to
hold the body with the refrigerating material, to lay in a supply of
slag-wool and solid carbon dioxide, to prepare the denture with the
gold-filled teeth, and to obtain a suitable hair dye. All this he was
able to do without committing himself in any way. If the scheme should
prove impossible, he could simply call it off. He had done nothing
unlawful or even irregular.

"Then, when Gillum arrived, everything was ready, even to the
refrigerating chamber lying on its bed of slag-wool, enclosed in the
insulating material, and already charged with carbonic acid snow.
The unsuspecting victim was led into the chambers, the oak was shut,
and Peck proceeded quietly to convert the living man into a corpse.
Probably he gave him food and as much liquor as he would take, with
a moderate dose of morphia mixed in with it; and when this had taken
effect and Gillum had fallen asleep, he administered the lethal dose
with a hypodermic syringe."

"No marks of an injection were found at the post mortem," Anstey
remarked.

"They were not looked for," replied Thorndyke. "But it would be easy
for a doctor to give an injection to a sleeping man so that the marks
would not be discovered. However, the point is not material. The poison
was administered, and when this had been done, Gillum was, in effect, a
dead man. Peck was now irrevocably committed. He had burned his boats;
and the instant, pressing necessity, was to get rid of the corpse. For
if he should be found there with the dead man, he was lost. Probably,
he proceeded with the disposal as soon as Gillum was quite unconscious;
he stripped the body, put it into the container with the carbonic acid
snow, closed the lid, covered it with the slag-wool pads, fitted the
false bottom over it, and emptied a scuttle or two of coal on to the
false bottom."

"Do you mean to suggest," Anstey exclaimed, "that he put the living man
into the refrigerator?"

"He wouldn't be a living man very long," replied Thorndyke, "in an
atmosphere some fifty degrees below freezing-point. But that is what he
must have done. As long as the dead body was visible in the chambers,
he was in deadly peril; but as soon as it was put out of sight and
covered up, he was safe. He could spend the rest of the night dyeing
his hair and completing his arrangements for the morning. And when his
hair was dry and his dental plate with the gold teeth substituted for
the one that he had been wearing, he was ready to begin the personation
and to carry it on as long as should be necessary in perfect safety,
provided that he should never meet any person who knew Dr. Peck or John
Gillum, or, still worse, both of them.

"Moreover, you will note the completeness of his arrangements. Sooner
or later, he would have to bring the personation to an end. What was he
to do then? A simple disappearance would not answer at all. It would
give rise to enquiries. But no disappearance would be necessary. At the
appointed time, he could simply produce the body, properly staged for a
suicide, and the exit of John Gillum would be perfectly natural. But he
did not leave it even at that. He created in advance the expectation of
suicide so as to forestall enquiries; and he prepared the blackmailing
letters with such skill and foresight that they not only agreed with
his drafts on the bank, but, if any suspicion should have arisen as to
his connection with the murder of Abel Webb, they agreed with that,
too. Actually, Jervis and I did, at first, connect the blackmail with
that murder.

"Then, finally, observe the forethought displayed in the production of
the body. As it was managed, it was practically certain that the corpse
would lie undiscovered for several days at the least. But in that time
it would undergo such changes as would effectually cover up any traces
of either the murder or the refrigeration. Looking at the case as a
whole, one has to admit that it was a most masterly crime; amazingly
ingenious in design and conception and still more astonishing in the
forethought, the care and caution, combined with daring and resolution
displayed in its execution."

"That is true," said Anstey, "but what strikes me more is the callous
villainy of the scheme and the way it was carried out. I am glad you
told us the story, Thorndyke, because it has brought home to me what an
inhuman monster we have to deal with. If he escapes the rope, it will
not be from any lack of effort on my part."

We continued for some time rather discursively to debate the various
features of this extraordinarily villainous crime. At length, Miller,
having looked at our clock and then at his watch, remarked that "time
was getting on" and stood up; and the others, taking this as an
indication that the proceedings were adjourned, rose also.

"We will see you safely out of the precincts," said Thorndyke. "It has
been a long sitting and we shall all be the better for a breath of
fresh air."

Accordingly we set forth together, and having discharged Anstey at his
chambers, sauntered by way of Tanfield Court to the Inner Temple Gate,
where we took leave of our guests. As we turned to retrace our steps, I
noticed two men whom I had previously observed loitering opposite our
chambers in the shade of Paper Buildings. Apparently they had followed
us and seemed to be doing so still, for as we turned, they retired, and
slipping round the corner of Goldsmith Building, moved away along the
walk towards the cemetery. I drew Thorndyke's attention to them but, of
course, he had already noticed them.

"I wonder," said I, "whether that will be Snuper and one of his
myrmidons."

"It is quite possible," he replied. "I know that Snuper is keeping an
eye on me. He divides his attention between me and Peck. But they may
be a couple of Miller's men. The Superintendent is nearly as anxious
about me as Snuper is."

He had hardly finished speaking when two shots rang out--sharp,
high-pitched reports, suggesting an automatic pistol. At the moment
we were crossing Tanfield Court and the sound seemed to come from the
direction of the covered passage that leads through to the Terrace.

"That will be Peck," Thorndyke remarked quietly, and forthwith started
off at a run towards the passage. It was extremely uncomfortable;
for, though I would have much preferred to take cover and raise an
alarm there was nothing for it but to keep close to Thorndyke. As we
raced down the echoing passage, I caught, faintly, the sound of quick
footsteps ahead, and almost at the same moment, similar but louder
sounds from our rear, punctuated by the shrieks of a police whistle.

At the moment when we emerged from the passage on to the Terrace, I had
a fleeting glimpse of a man running furiously, but even as I looked, he
shot round the corner into Fig Tree Court and was lost to view. Here
I would very willingly have called a halt to discuss tactics; for Fig
Tree Court, with its two covered passages, both leading into Elm Court,
afforded perfect opportunities for an ambush. It was about as dangerous
a place as could be imagined for the pursuit of a man armed with an
automatic and evidently bent on murder. But there was no choice.
Thorndyke was leading; and when another shot sounded from ahead,
accompanied by the shattering of glass, he merely noted the direction
and bore down straight on the left-hand passage.

It was in Elm Court that the pursuit came to a sudden end. As we rushed
out of the passage we saw two men sprawling on the pavement, engaged
in a fierce and deadly struggle. One of them grasped a pistol and
was trying to turn its muzzle towards his adversary, who, clinging
tenaciously with both hands to the wrist that controlled the pistol,
concentrated his attention on the weapon. But it was an unequal
contest, for, even as we emerged, the man with the pistol was groping
with his free hand under the skirt of his coat.

Thorndyke went straight for the pistol, and seizing it with both hands,
wrenched it out of the holder's grasp; while I gripped the free arm at
wrist and elbow and pinned it to the ground. And none too soon; for,
as I straightened out the arm, I saw that the hand held one of those
deadly, double-edged surgical knives known as Catlins.

But the struggle was by no means over, for our prisoner seemed to have
the strength of twenty men and the ferocity of a hundred. He writhed
and twisted and kicked and even tried to bite. As I looked at his
mouthing, distorted face in the dim lamplight--the face, it seemed,
of a maniac or a wild beast--I found it difficult to connect it with
the calm and dignified Dr. Peck of our Whitechapel interview, but easy
enough to recognise the murderer of Abel Webb and poor, confiding John
Gillum.

The struggle ended as suddenly as the pursuit. It was only a matter of
seconds, though it seemed an hour, before our two followers came flying
out of the passage and instantly fell upon the prisoner. As one of them
helped Thorndyke and me to drag the hands together--with an anxious eye
upon the knife--the other produced a pair of handcuffs and expertly
snapped them on to the wrists.

"There," said he in a soothing, persuasive tone, "that's fixed you up.
It's no use wriggling, and you'd better let me have that knife"; which,
in fact, he took possession of by a method which caused the prisoner
suddenly to drop it.

Apparently, Peck realised the futility of further resistance, for he
allowed his captors to raise him to his feet, when he stood glowering
sullenly at Thorndyke, breathing hard but uttering not a word; while
his original antagonist, who had risen unaided, regarded him with mild
satisfaction and cast an occasional pensive glance at a ragged hole in
his own sleeve through which issued a little oozing of blood. Noticing
this, I exclaimed anxiously:

"I hope you are not seriously hurt."

"Oh, no," he replied, turning to me with a smile, "it's just a matter
of sticking-plaster and a tailor" and as he spoke and looked at me, I
suddenly realised who he was. It was Mr. Snuper.

We accompanied the two officers and their prisoner up to the Inner
Temple Gate and stood by until a police car arrived in response to
a telephone call. Then as the door slammed and the car moved away,
we turned back once more towards our chambers. Mr. Snuper would have
said goodnight and faded away in his usual inscrutable fashion. But
Thorndyke would have none of this.

"No, no, Snuper," said he. "You come back with us. We owe it to you
that we are still alive and you were very near to giving your own life
for ours. Neither of us is likely to forget your courage and devotion.
But now you have got to come and undergo the necessary repairs."

The repairs were executed by me assisted by Polton (who positively
grovelled at Snuper's feet when he heard the story) while Thorndyke
attended to the hospitality; and, speaking as a surgeon, I am not sure
that his methods were quite orthodox, even though it really was little
more than a matter of sticking-plaster.


CHAPTER XX: EPILOGUE


THE TRIAL OF AUGUSTUS PECK lies outside the scope of this narrative.
To follow it in detail would be merely to repeat what the reader has
already been told. For there was practically no defence; ingenious and
convincing as the scheme of the crime had been, directly the alleged
and presumed facts were challenged the whole edifice of deception
collapsed. So overwhelming was the evidence for the prosecution that
the jury agreed on their verdict of "Guilty" after less than ten
minutes' deliberation.

The case for the Crown was based mainly, as Thorndyke had predicted,
on the complete train of circumstantial evidence. But his prediction
turned out to be correct in another respect. No sooner had systematic
enquiries been set afoot by the police than an imposing mass of
confirmatory evidence was brought into view. Inquiries, for instance,
at Copes and other manufacturers of refrigerating material elicited the
fact that Peck had kept himself regularly supplied with blocks of solid
carbon dioxide. And an examination by experts of the various documents,
including Gillum's holograph will, showed that the will and the letters
received from Australia were clearly distinguishable from the skilfully
forged documents executed by Peck; and this examination (together with
Thorndyke's sheet of blank paper) enabled the experts to testify that
the blackmailer's letters had undoubtedly been written by Peck, himself.

But perhaps the most striking corroborative evidence came from the
three banks at which Peck had kept accounts. When Miller, armed with an
order of the Court, called on them to make enquiries, it was revealed
that Peck had been in the habit of paying into each bank some thirty
pounds a week in cash--mostly old one-pound notes--ostensibly the
receipts from his Whitechapel practice, though, in fact, it was proved
that the said practice was a pure fiction. As the money accumulated at
the banks, it was promptly converted into gilt-edged securities, which
Peck retained in his own possession and which were found locked up in
his writing-table at Whitechapel.

But even more striking were the discoveries which were made in the
strong-rooms of those banks; which included three large dispatch boxes,
each crammed with old one-pound notes, evidently forced in under heavy
pressure and forming a solid, compact mass. On counting them, the total
amount contained in them was found to be just over ten thousand pounds;
which, together with the securities and the combined credit balance,
came near to accounting for the whole sum of thirteen thousand pounds
which had been withdrawn from Gillum's bank.

"If one were disposed to moralise," said Thorndyke, as he laid down the
newspaper in which an account of Peck's execution was printed, "one
would lament the misuse of the remarkable gifts with which Augustus
Peck was undeniably endowed. He was a very unusual type of criminal.
I do not recall any other quite like him. He was clearly a man of
some culture; he was gifted with a constructive imagination of a high
order and with inexhaustible ingenuity and resourcefulness. He avoided
risks whenever they could be avoided, and when they could not be, he
took them with a courage and resolution that would be admirable in any
other circumstances. Consider his murder of Abel Webb. The risk of
committing a murder in a public thoroughfare was enormous. But yet, as
a matter of mere policy, the risk was justified. For when he had taken
the immediate risk and escaped, the very publicity of the crime was a
safeguard so complete that though we were certain that he had committed
the crime, we could never have brought it home to him. And Abel Webb
was silenced for ever.

"Nevertheless, he suffered from the inherent folly that is
characteristic of all criminals. The paltry thirteen thousand pounds
was not worth the risk that he took; and his ridiculous attempt to
murder you and me--when, I suppose, he had to some extent lost his
nerve--was sheer imbecility. For he still had a sporting chance of
escape.

"But, at any rate, the world is better without him, and I am not
dissatisfied to have been the means of his elimination."

"No," I agreed. "You have done a brilliant piece of work, and as to the
result of your labours, as Mr. Weech would express it: Finis coronat
opus."



THE END



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