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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title: Dr Thorndyke Short Story Omnibus
Author: R Austin Freeman
eBook No.:  0500391.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
Character set encoding:     Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted:          April 2005
Date most recently updated: June 2014

This eBook was produced by: Jon Jermey

Production notes:
[Compiler's note: These short stories consist of those compiled by
Freeman into several earlier volumes--'The Singing Bone' (1912), 'John
Thorndyke's Cases' (1909), and 'The Magic Casket' (1927) along with
others from sources I am not familiar with.

This particular volume has apparently been issued under several names:
'The Famous Cases of Dr Thorndyke' and 'The Dr Thorndyke Omnibus' in
addition to the current title taken from the edition in my possession.

I have used eBook sources for the material from 'The Singing Bone' and
'John Thorndyke's Cases', plus some of the other stories. Others have
been scanned from the omnibus volume to complete the set.

Illustrations to these stories, where available, can be found in the HTML
version at http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0500391h.html ]

* * *

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Title: Dr Thorndyke Short Story Omnibus
Author: R Austin Freeman



Dr Thorndyke Short Story Omnibus
First Published as:
The Famous Cases of Dr. Thorndyke (1928)
(published in the USA as The Dr Thorndyke Omnibus)




CONTENTS:


THE SINGING BONE 1912
(a.k.a. The Adventures of Dr. Thorndyke)

ORIGINAL PREFACE TO "THE SINGING BONE"
THE CASE OF OSCAR BRODSKI
A CASE OF PREMEDITATION
THE ECHO OF A MUTINY
A WASTREL'S ROMANCE
THE OLD LAG


THE GREAT PORTRAIT MYSTERY 1918
(This book included 2 Thorndyke Stories)

THE MISSING MORTGAGEE
PERCIVAL BLAND'S PROXY


JOHN THORNDYKE'S CASES 1909
(a.k.a. Dr. Thorndyke's Cases)

ORIGINAL PREFACE TO 'JOHN THORNDYKE'S CASES'
THE MAN WITH THE NAILED SHOES
THE STRANGER'S LATCHKEY
THE ANTHROPOLOGIST AT LARGE
THE BLUE SEQUIN
THE MOABITE CIPHER
THE MANDARIN'S PEARL
THE ALUMINIUM DAGGER
A MESSAGE FROM THE DEEP SEA


THE MAGIC CASKET 1927

THE MAGIC CASKET
THE CONTENTS OF A MARE'S NEST
THE STALKING HORSE
THE NATURALIST AT LAW
MR. PONTING'S ALIBI
PANDORA'S BOX
THE TRAIL OF BEHEMOTH
THE PATHOLOGIST TO THE RESCUE
GLEANINGS FROM THE WRECKAGE


THE PUZZLE LOCK 1925

THE PUZZLE LOCK
THE GREEN CHECK JACKET
THE SEAL OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR
PHYLLIS ANNESLEY'S PERIL
A SOWER OF PESTILENCE
REX V. BURNABY
A MYSTERY OF THE SAND-HILLS
THE APPARITION OF BURLING COURT
THE MYSTERIOUS VISITOR


DR. THORNDYKE'S CASE BOOK 1923
(a.k.a. The Blue Scarab)

THE CASE OF THE WHITE FOOTPRINTS
THE BLUE SCARAB
THE NEW JERSEY SPHINX
THE TOUCHSTONE
A FISHER OF MEN
THE STOLEN INGOTS
THE FUNERAL PYRE

* * * * *


ORIGINAL PREFACE TO "THE SINGING BONE"


The peculiar construction of the first four stories in the present
collection will probably strike both reader and critic and seem to call
for some explanation, which I accordingly proceed to supply.

In the conventional "detective story" the interest is made to focus on
the question, "Who did it?" The identity of the criminal is a secret
that is jealously guarded up to the very end of the book, and its
disclosure forms the final climax.

This I have always regarded as somewhat of a mistake. In real life,
the identity of the criminal is a question of supreme importance
for practical reasons; but in fiction, where no such reasons exist,
I conceive the interest of the reader to be engaged chiefly by the
demonstration of unexpected consequences of simple actions, of
unsuspected causal connections, and by the evolution of an ordered
train of evidence from a mass of facts apparently incoherent and
unrelated. The reader's curiosity is concerned not so much with the
question "Who did it?" as with the question "How was the discovery
achieved?" That is to say, the ingenious reader is interested more in
the intermediate action than in the ultimate result.

The offer by a popular author of a prize to the reader who should
identify the criminal in a certain "detective story," exhibiting as it
did the opposite view, suggested to me an interesting question.

Would it be possible to write a detective story in which from the
outset the reader was taken entirely into the author's confidence, was
made an actual witness of the crime and furnished with every fact that
could possibly be used in its detection? Would there be any story left
when the reader had all the facts? I believed that there would; and
as an experiment to test the justice of my belief, I wrote "The Case
of Oscar Brodski." Here the usual conditions are reversed; the reader
knows everything, the detective knows nothing, and the interest focuses
on the unexpected significance of trivial circumstances.

By excellent judges on both sides of the Atlantic--including the editor
of 'Pearson's Magazine'--this story was so far approved of that I was
invited to produce others of the same type.

Three more were written and are here included together with one of
the more orthodox characters, so that the reader can judge of the
respective merits of the two methods of narration.

Nautical readers will observe that I have taken the liberty (for
obvious reasons connected with the law of libel) of planting a
screw-pile lighthouse on the Girdler Sand in place of the light-vessel.
I mention the matter to forestall criticism and save readers the
trouble of writing to point out the error.

R. A. F, Gravesend

* * * * *



THE CASE OF OSCAR BRODSKI


PART I. THE MECHANISM OF CRIME


A surprising amount of nonsense has been talked about conscience. On
the one hand remorse (or the "again-bite," as certain scholars of
ultra-Teutonic leanings would prefer to call it); on the other hand "an
easy conscience": these have been accepted as the determining factors
of happiness or the reverse.

Of course there is an element of truth in the "easy conscience" view,
but it begs the whole question. A particularly hardy conscience may
be quite easy under the most unfavourable conditions--conditions in
which the more feeble conscience might be severely afflicted with the
"again-bite." And, then, it seems to be the fact that some fortunate
persons have no conscience at all; a negative gift that raises them
above the mental vicissitudes of the common herd of humanity.

Now, Silas Hickler was a case in point. No one, looking into his
cheerful, round face, beaming with benevolence and wreathed in
perpetual smiles, would have imagined him to be a criminal. Least
of all, his worthy, high-church housekeeper, who was a witness
to his unvarying amiability, who constantly heard him carolling
light-heartedly about the house and noted his appreciative zest at
meal-times.

Yet it is a fact that Silas earned his modest, though comfortable,
income by the gentle art of burglary. A precarious trade and risky
withal, yet not so very hazardous if pursued with judgment and
moderation. And Silas was eminently a man of judgment. He worked
invariably alone. He kept his own counsel. No confederate had he to
turn King's Evidence at a pinch; no one he knew would bounce off in a
fit of temper to Scotland Yard. Nor was he greedy and thriftless, as
most criminals are. His "scoops" were few and far between, carefully
planned, secretly executed, and the proceeds judiciously invested in
"weekly property."

In early life Silas had been connected with the diamond industry, and
he still did a little rather irregular dealing. In the trade he was
suspected of transactions with I.D.B.'s, and one or two indiscreet
dealers had gone so far as to whisper the ominous word "fence." But
Silas smiled a benevolent smile and went his way. He knew what he knew,
and his clients in Amsterdam were not inquisitive.

Such was Silas Hickler. As he strolled round his garden in the dusk of
an October evening, he seemed the very type of modest, middle-class
prosperity. He was dressed in the travelling suit that he wore on his
little continental trips; his bag was packed and stood in readiness
on the sitting-room sofa. A parcel of diamonds (purchased honestly,
though without impertinent questions, at Southampton) was in the inside
pocket of his waistcoat, and another more valuable parcel was stowed in
a cavity in the heel of his right boot. In an hour and a half it would
be time for him to set out to catch the boat train at the junction;
meanwhile there was nothing to do but to stroll round the fading garden
and consider how he should invest the proceeds of the impending deal.
His housekeeper had gone over to Welham for the week's shopping, and
would probably not be back until eleven o'clock. He was alone in the
premises and just a trifle dull.

He was about to turn into the house when his ear caught the sound of
footsteps on the unmade road that passed the end of the garden. He
paused and listened. There was no other dwelling near, and the road
led nowhere, fading away into the waste land beyond the house. Could
this be a visitor? It seemed unlikely, for visitors were few at Silas
Hickler's house. Meanwhile the footsteps continued to approach, ringing
out with increasing loudness on the hard, stony path.

Silas strolled down to the gate, and, leaning on it, looked out with
some curiosity. Presently a glow of light showed him the face of a man,
apparently lighting his pipe; then a dim figure detached itself from
the enveloping gloom, advanced towards him and halted opposite the
garden. The stranger removed a cigarette from his mouth and, blowing
out a cloud of smoke, asked:

"Can you tell me if this road will take me to Badsham Junction?"

"No," replied Hickler, "but there is a footpath farther on that leads
to the station."

"Footpath!" growled the stranger. "I've had enough of footpaths. I came
down from town to Catley intending to walk across to the junction. I
started along the road, and then some fool directed me to a short cut,
with the result that I have been blundering about in the dark for the
last half-hour. My sight isn't very good, you know," he added.

"What train do you want to catch?" asked Hickler.

"Seven fifty-eight," was the reply.

"I am going to catch that train myself," said Silas, "but I shan't be
starting for another hour. The station is only three-quarters of a mile
from here. If you like to come in and take a rest, we can walk down
together and then you'll be sure of not missing your way."

"It's very good of you," said the stranger, peering, with spectacled
eyes, at the dark house, "but--I think--?"

"Might as well wait here as at the station," said Silas in his genial
way, holding the gate open, and the stranger, after a momentary
hesitation, entered and, flinging away his cigarette, followed him to
the door of the cottage.

The sitting-room was in darkness, save for the dull glow of the
expiring fire, but, entering before his guest, Silas applied a match to
the lamp that hung from the ceiling. As the flame leaped up, flooding
the little interior with light, the two men regarded one another with
mutual curiosity.

"Brodski, by Jingo!" was Hickler's silent commentary, as he looked at
his guest. "Doesn't know me, evidently--wouldn't, of course, after all
these years and with his bad eyesight. Take a seat, sir," he added
aloud. "Will you join me in a little refreshment to while away the
time?"

Brodski murmured an indistinct acceptance, and, as his host turned to
open a cupboard, he deposited his hat (a hard, grey felt) on a chair in
a corner, placed his bag on the edge of the table, resting his umbrella
against it, and sat down in a small arm-chair.

"Have a biscuit?" said Hickler, as he placed a whisky-bottle on the
table together with a couple of his best star-pattern tumblers and a
siphon.

"Thanks, I think I will," said Brodski. "The railway journey and all
this confounded tramping about, you know--?"

"Yes," agreed Silas. "Doesn't do to start with an empty stomach. Hope
you don't mind oat-cakes; I see they're the only biscuits I have."

Brodski hastened to assure him that oat-cakes were his special and
peculiar fancy, and in confirmation, having mixed himself a stiff
jorum, he fell to upon the biscuits with evident gusto.

Brodski was a deliberate feeder, and at present appeared to be somewhat
sharp set. His measured munching being unfavourable to conversation,
most of the talking fell to Silas; and, for once, that genial
transgressor found the task embarrassing. The natural thing would have
been to discuss his guest's destination and perhaps the object of his
journey; but this was precisely what Hickler avoided doing. For he knew
both, and instinct told him to keep his knowledge to himself.

Brodski was a diamond merchant of considerable reputation, and in a
large way of business. He bought stones principally in the rough,
and of these he was a most excellent judge. His fancy was for stones
of somewhat unusual size and value, and it was well known to be his
custom, when he had accumulated a sufficient stock, to carry them
himself to Amsterdam and supervise the cutting of the rough stones.
Of this Hickler was aware, and he had no doubt that Brodski was now
starting on one of his periodical excursions; that somewhere in the
recesses of his rather shabby clothing was concealed a paper packet
possibly worth several thousand pounds.

Brodski sat by the table munching monotonously and talking little.
Hickler sat opposite him, talking nervously and rather wildly at times,
and watching his guest with a growing fascination. Precious stones, and
especially diamonds, were Hickler's specialty. "Hard stuff"--silver
plate--he avoided entirely; gold, excepting in the form of specie,
he seldom touched; but stones, of which he could carry off a whole
consignment in the heel of his boot and dispose of with absolute
safety, formed the staple of his industry. And here was a man sitting
opposite him with a parcel in his pocket containing the equivalent of a
dozen of his most successful "scoops;" stones worth perhaps--? Here he
pulled himself up short and began to talk rapidly, though without much
coherence. For, even as he talked, other Words, formed subconsciously,
seemed to insinuate themselves into the interstices of the sentences,
and to carry on a parallel train of thought.

"Gets chilly in the evenings now, doesn't it?" said Hickler.

"It does indeed," Brodski agreed, and then resumed his slow munching,
breathing audibly through his nose.

"Five thousand at least," the subconscious train of thought resumed;
"probably six or seven, perhaps ten." Silas fidgeted in his chair and
endeavoured to concentrate his ideas on some topic of interest. He was
growing disagreeably conscious of a new and unfamiliar state of mind.

"Do you take any interest in gardening?", he asked. Next to diamonds
and weekly "property," his besetting weakness was fuchsias.

Brodski chuckled sourly. "Hatton Garden is the nearest approach--?" He
broke off suddenly, and then added, "I am a Londoner, you know."

The abrupt break in the sentence was not unnoticed by Silas, nor had he
any difficulty in interpreting it. A man who carries untold wealth upon
his person must needs be wary in his speech.

"Yes," he answered absently, "it's hardly a Londoner's hobby." And
then, half consciously, he began a rapid calculation. Put it at five
thousand pounds. What would that represent in weekly property? His
last set of houses had cost two hundred and fifty pounds apiece, and
he had let them at ten shillings and sixpence a week. At that rate,
five thousand pounds represented twenty houses at ten and sixpence a
week--say ten pounds a week--one pound eight shillings a day--five
hundred and twenty pounds a year--for life. It was a competency. Added
to what he already had, it was wealth. With that income he could fling
the tools of his trade into the river and live out the remainder of his
life in comfort and security.

He glanced furtively at his guest across the table, and then looked
away quickly as he felt stirring within him an impulse the nature of
which he could not mistake. This must be put an end to. Crimes against
the person he had always looked upon as sheer insanity. There was, it
is true, that little affair of the Weybridge policeman, but that was
unforeseen and unavoidable, and it was the constable's doing after
all. And there was the old housekeeper at Epsom, too, but, of course,
if the old idiot would shriek in that insane fashion--well, it was an
accident, very regrettable, to be sure, and no one could be more sorry
for the mishap than himself. But deliberate homicide!--robbery from the
person! It was the act of a stark lunatic.

Of course, if he had happened to be that sort of person, here was
the opportunity of a lifetime. The immense booty, the empty house,
the solitary neighbourhood, away from the main road and from other
habitations; the time, the darkness--but, of course, there was the body
to be thought of; that was always the difficulty. What to do with the
body? Here he caught the shriek of the up express, rounding the curve
in the line that ran past the waste land at the back of the house.
The sound started a new train of thought, and, as he followed it out,
his eyes fixed themselves on the unconscious and taciturn Brodski, as
he sat thoughtfully sipping his whisky. At length, averting his gaze
with an effort, he rose suddenly from his chair and turned to look at
the clock on the mantelpiece, spreading out his hands before the dying
fire. A tumult of strange sensations warned him to leave the house. He
shivered slightly, though he was rather hot than chilly, and, turning
his head, looked at the door.

"Seems to be a confounded draught," he said, with another slight
shiver; "did I shut the door properly, I wonder?" He strode across
the room and, opening the door wide, looked out into the dark garden.
A desire, sudden and urgent, had come over him to get out into the
open air, to be on the road and have done with this madness that was
knocking at the door of his brain.

"I wonder if it is worth while to start yet," he said, with a yearning
glance at the murky, starless sky.

Brodski roused himself and looked round. "Is your clock right?" he
asked.

Silas reluctantly admitted that it was.

"How long will it take us to walk to the station?" inquired Brodski.

"Oh, about twenty-five minutes to half-an-hour," replied Silas,
unconsciously exaggerating the distance.

"Well," said Brodski, "we've got more than an hour yet, and it's more
comfortable here than hanging about the station. I don't see the use of
starting before we need."

"No; of course not," Silas agreed. A wave of strange emotion,
half-regretful, half-triumphant, surged through his brain. For some
moments he remained standing on the threshold, looking out dreamily
into the night. Then he softly closed the door; and, seemingly without
the exercise of his volition, the key turned noiselessly in the lock.

He returned to his chair and tried to open a conversation with the
taciturn Brodski, but the words came faltering and disjointed. He felt
his face growing hot, his brain full and intense, and there was a
faint, high-pitched singing in his ears. He was conscious of watching
his guest with a new and fearful interest, and, by sheer force of will,
turned away his eyes; only to find them a moment later involuntarily
returning to fix the unconscious man with yet more horrible intensity.
And ever through his mind walked, like a dreadful procession, the
thoughts of what that other man--the man of blood and violence--would
do in these circumstances. Detail by detail the hideous synthesis
fitted together the parts of the imagined crime, and arranged them
in due sequence until they formed a succession of events, rational,
connected and coherent.

He rose uneasily from his chair, with his eyes still riveted upon his
guest. He could not sit any longer opposite that man with his hidden
store of precious gems. The impulse that he recognized with fear and
wonder was growing more ungovernable from moment to moment. If he
stayed it would presently overpower him, and then? He shrank with
horror from the dreadful thought, but his fingers itched to handle the
diamonds. For Silas was, after all, a criminal by nature and habit.
He was a beast of prey. His livelihood had never been earned; it
had been taken by stealth or, if necessary, by force. His instincts
were predacious, and the proximity of unguarded valuables suggested
to him, as a logical consequence, their abstraction or seizure. His
unwillingness to let these diamonds go away beyond his reach was fast
becoming overwhelming.

But he would make one more effort to escape. He would keep out of
Brodski's actual presence until the moment for starting came.

"If you'll excuse me," he said, "I will go and put on a thicker pair of
boots. After all this dry weather we may get a change, and damp feet
are very uncomfortable when you are travelling."

"Yes; dangerous too," agreed Brodski.

Silas walked through into the adjoining kitchen, where, by the light of
the little lamp that was burning there, he had seen his stout, country
boots placed, cleaned and in readiness, and sat down upon a chair to
make the change. He did not, of course, intend to wear the country
boots, for the diamonds were concealed in those he had on. But he would
make the change and then alter his mind; it would all help to pass the
time. He took a deep breath. It was a relief, at any rate, to be out
of that room. Perhaps if he stayed away, the temptation would pass.
Brodski would go on his way--he wished that he was going alone--and
the danger would be over--at least--and the opportunity would have
gone--the diamonds--?

He looked up as he slowly unlaced his boot. From where he sat he could
see Brodski sitting by the table with his back towards the kitchen
door. He had finished eating, now, and was composedly rolling a
cigarette. Silas breathed heavily, and, slipping off his boot, sat for
a while motionless, gazing steadily at the other man's back. Then he
unlaced the other boot, still staring abstractedly at his unconscious
guest, drew it off, and laid it very quietly on the floor.

Brodski calmly finished rolling his cigarette, licked the paper, put
away his pouch, and, having dusted the crumbs of tobacco from his
knees, began to search his pockets for a match. Suddenly, yielding
to an uncontrollable impulse, Silas stood up and began stealthily to
creep along the passage to the sitting-room. Not a sound came from his
stockinged feet. Silently as a cat he stole forward, breathing softly
with parted lips, until he stood at the threshold of the room. His
face flushed duskily, his eyes, wide and staring, glittered in the
lamplight, and the racing blood hummed in his ears.

Brodski struck a match--Silas noted that it was a wooden vesta--lighted
his cigarette, blew out the match and flung it into the fender. Then he
replaced the box in his pocket and commenced to smoke.

Slowly and without a sound Silas crept forward into the room, step by
step, with catlike stealthiness, until he stood close behind Brodski's
chair--so close that he had to turn his head that his breath might not
stir the hair upon the other man's head. So, for half-a-minute, he
stood motionless, like a symbolical statue of Murder, glaring down with
horrible, glittering eyes upon the unconscious diamond merchant, while
his quick breath passed without a sound through his open mouth and his
fingers writhed slowly like the tentacles of a giant hydra. And then,
as noiselessly as ever, he backed away to the door, turned quickly and
walked back into the kitchen.

He drew a deep breath. It had been a near thing. Brodski's life
had hung upon a thread. For it had been so easy. Indeed, if he had
happened, as he stood behind the man's chair, to have a weapon--a
hammer, for instance, or even a stone?

He glanced round the kitchen and his eyes lighted on a bar that had
been left by the workmen who had put up the new greenhouse. It was an
odd piece cut off from a square, wrought-iron stanchion, and was about
a foot long and perhaps three-quarters of an inch thick. Now, if he had
had that in his hand a minute ago--

He picked the bar up, balanced it in his hand and swung it round his
head. A formidable weapon this: silent, too. And it fitted the plan
that had passed through his brain. Bah! He had better put the thing
down.

But he did not. He stepped over to the door and looked again at
Brodski, sitting, as before, meditatively smoking, with his back
towards the kitchen.

Suddenly a change came over Silas. His face flushed, the veins of his
neck stood out and a sullen scowl settled on his face. He drew out his
watch, glanced at it earnestly and replaced it. Then he strode swiftly
but silently along the passage into the sitting-room.

A pace away from his victim's chair he halted and took deliberate aim.
The bar swung aloft, but not without some faint rustle of movement, for
Brodski looked round quickly even as the iron whistled through the air.
The movement disturbed the murderer's aim, and the bar glanced off his
victim's head, making only a trifling wound. Brodski sprang up with a
tremulous, bleating cry, and clutched his assailant's arms with the
tenacity of mortal terror.

Then began a terrible struggle, as the two men, locked in a deadly
embrace, swayed to and fro and trampled backwards and forwards. The
chair was overturned, an empty glass swept from the table and, with
Brodski's spectacles, crushed beneath stamping feet. And thrice that
dreadful, pitiful, bleating cry rang out into the night, filling Silas,
despite his murderous frenzy, with terror lest some chance wayfarer
should hear it. Gathering his great strength for a final effort, he
forced his victim backwards onto the table and, snatching up a corner
of the tablecloth, thrust it into his face and crammed it into his
mouth as it opened to utter another shriek. And thus they remained for
a full two minutes, almost motionless, like some dreadful group of
tragic allegory. Then, when the last faint twitchings had died away,
Silas relaxed his grasp and let the limp body slip softly onto the
floor.

It was over. For good or for evil, the thing was done. Silas stood up,
breathing heavily, and, as he wiped the sweat from his face, he looked
at the clock. The hands stood at one minute to seven. The whole thing
had taken a little over three minutes. He had nearly an hour in which
to finish his task. The goods train that entered into his scheme came
by at twenty minutes past, and it was only three hundred yards to the
line. Still, he must not waste time. He was now quite composed, and
only disturbed by the thought that Brodski's cries might have been
heard. If no one had heard them it was all plain sailing.

He stooped, and, gently disengaging the table-cloth from the dead man's
teeth, began a careful search of his pockets. He was not long finding
what he sought, and, as he pinched the paper packet and felt the little
hard bodies grating on one another inside, his faint regrets for what
had happened were swallowed up in self-congratulations.

He now set about his task with business-like briskness and an
attentive eye on the clock. A few large drops of blood had fallen on
the table-cloth, and there was a small bloody smear on the carpet by
the dead man's head. Silas fetched from the kitchen some water, a
nail-brush and a dry cloth, and, having washed out the stains from
the table-cover--not forgetting the deal table-top underneath--and
cleaned away the smear from the carpet and rubbed the damp places dry,
he slipped a sheet of paper under the head of the corpse to prevent
further contamination. Then he set the tablecloth straight, stood the
chair upright, laid the broken spectacles on the table and picked up
the cigarette, which had been trodden flat in the struggle, and flung
it under the grate. Then there was the broken glass, which he swept up
into a dust-pan. Part of it was the remains of the shattered tumbler,
and the rest the fragments of the broken spectacles. He turned it out
onto a sheet of paper and looked it over carefully, picking out the
larger recognizable pieces of the spectacle-glasses and putting them
aside on a separate slip of paper, together with a sprinkling of the
minute fragments. The remainder he shot back into the dust-pan and,
having hurriedly put on his boots, carried it out to the rubbish-heap
at the back of the house.

It was now time to start. Hastily cutting off a length of string from
his string-box--for Silas was an orderly man and despised the oddments
of string with which many people make shift--he tied it to the dead
man's bag and umbrella and slung them from his shoulder. Then he folded
up the paper of broken glass, and, slipping it and the spectacles into
his pocket, picked up the body and threw it over his shoulder. Brodski
was a small, spare man, weighing not more than nine stone; not a very
formidable burden for a big, athletic man like Silas.

The night was intensely dark, and, when Silas looked out of the back
gate over the waste land that stretched from his house to the railway,
he could hardly see twenty yards ahead. After listening cautiously and
hearing no sound, he went out, shut the gate softly behind him and set
forth at a good pace, though carefully, over the broken ground. His
progress was not as silent as he could have wished, for though the
scanty turf that covered the gravelly land was thick enough to deaden
his footfalls, the swinging bag and umbrella made an irritating noise;
indeed, his movements were more hampered by them than by the weightier
burden.

The distance to the line was about three hundred yards. Ordinarily he
would have walked it in from three to four minutes, but now, going
cautiously with his burden and stopping now and again to listen, it
took him just six minutes to reach the three-bar fence that separated
the waste land from the railway. Arrived here he halted for a moment
and once more listened attentively, peering into the darkness on all
sides. Not a living creature was to be seen or heard in this desolate
spot, but far away, the shriek of an engine's whistle warned him to
hasten.

Lifting the corpse easily over the fence, he carried it a few yards
farther to a point where the line curved sharply.

Here he laid it face downwards, with the neck over the near rail.
Drawing out his pocket-knife, he cut through the knot that fastened
the umbrella to the string and also secured the bag; and when he had
flung the bag and umbrella on the track beside the body, he carefully
pocketed the string, excepting the little loop that had fallen to the
ground when the knot was cut.

The quick snort and clanking rumble of an approaching goods train began
now to be clearly audible. Rapidly, Silas; drew from his pockets the
battered spectacles and the packet of broken glass. The former he threw
down by the dead man's head, and then, emptying the packet into his
hand, sprinkled the fragments of glass around the spectacles.

He was none too soon. Already the quick, laboured puffing of the engine
sounded close at hand. His impulse was to stay and watch; to witness
the final catastrophe that should convert the murder into an accident
or suicide. But it was hardly safe: it would be better that he should
not be near lest he should not be able to get away without being seen.
Hastily he climbed back over the fence and strode away across the rough
fields, while the train came snorting and clattering towards the curve.

He had nearly reached his back gate when a sound from the line brought
him to a sudden halt; it was a prolonged whistle accompanied by the
groan of brakes and the loud clank of colliding trucks. The snorting
of the engine had ceased and was replaced by the penetrating hiss of
escaping steam.

The train had stopped!

For one brief moment Silas stood with bated breath and mouth agape
like one petrified; then he strode forward quickly to the gate, and,
letting himself in, silently slid the bolt. He was undeniably alarmed.
What could have happened on the line? It was practically certain that
the body had been seen; but what was happening now? and would they
come to the house? He entered the kitchen, and having paused again to
listen--for somebody might come and knock at the door at any moment--he
walked through the sitting-room and looked round. All seemed in order
there. There was the bar, though, lying where he had dropped it in the
scuffle. He picked it up and held it under the lamp. There was no blood
on it; only one or two hairs. Somewhat absently he wiped it with the
table-cover, and then, running out through the kitchen into the back
garden, dropped it over the wall into a bed of nettles. Not that there
was anything incriminating in the bar, but, since he had used it as a
weapon, it had somehow acquired a sinister aspect to his eye.

He now felt that it would be well to start for the station at once. It
was not time yet, for it was barely twenty-five minutes past seven;
but he did not wish to be found in the house if any one should come.
His soft hat was on the sofa with his bag, to which his umbrella was
strapped. He put on the hat, caught up the bag and stepped over to
the door; then he came back to turn down the lamp. And it was at this
moment, when he stood with his hand raised to the burner, that his
eyes, travelling by chance into the dim corner of the room, lighted on
Brodski's grey felt hat, reposing on the chair where the dead man had
placed it when he entered the house.

Silas stood for a few moments as if petrified, with the chilly sweat of
mortal fear standing in beads upon his forehead. Another instant and
he would have turned the lamp down and gone on his way; and then--?
He strode over to the chair, snatched up the hat and looked inside
it. Yes, there was the name, "Oscar Brodski," written plainly on the
lining. If he had gone away, leaving it to be discovered, he would
have been lost; indeed, even now, if a search-party should come to the
house, it was enough to send him to the gallows.

His limbs shook with horror at the thought, but in spite of his panic
he did not lose his self-possession. Darting through into the kitchen,
he grabbed up a handful of the dry brush-wood that was kept for
lighting fires and carried it to the sitting-room grate where he thrust
it on the extinct, but still hot, embers, and crumpling up the paper
that he had placed under Brodski's head--on which paper he now noticed,
for the first time, a minute bloody smear--he poked it in under the
wood, and striking a wax match, set light to it. As the wood flared up,
he hacked at the hat with his pocket knife and threw the ragged strips
into the blaze.

And all the while his heart was thumping and his hands a-tremble
with the dread of discovery. The fragments of felt were far from
inflammable, tending rather to fuse into cindery masses that smoked and
smouldered than to burn away into actual ash. Moreover, to his dismay,
they emitted a powerful resinous stench mixed with the odour of burning
hair, so that he had to open the kitchen window (since he dared not
unlock the front door) to disperse the reek. And still, as he fed the
fire with small cut fragments, he strained his ears to catch, above the
crackling of the wood, the sound of the dreaded footsteps, the knock on
the door that should be as the summons of Fate.

The time, too, was speeding on. Twenty-one minutes to eight! In a few
minutes more he must set out or he would miss the train. He dropped
the dismembered hat-brim on the blazing wood and ran upstairs to open
a window, since he must close that in the kitchen before he left. When
he came back, the brim had already curled up into a black, clinkery
mass that bubbled and hissed as the fat, pungent smoke rose from it
sluggishly to the chimney.

Nineteen minutes to eight! It was time to start. He took up the poker
and carefully beat the cinders into small particles, stirring them into
the glowing embers of the wood and coal. There was nothing unusual in
the appearance of the grate. It was his constant custom to burn letters
and other discarded articles in the sitting-room fire: his housekeeper
would notice nothing out of the common. Indeed, the cinders would
probably be reduced to ashes before she returned. He had been careful
to notice that there were no metallic fittings of any kind in the hat,
which might have escaped burning.

Once more he picked up his bag, took a last look round, turned down the
lamp and, unlocking the door, held it open for a few moments. Then he
went out, locked the door, pocketed the key (of which his housekeeper
had a duplicate) and set off at a brisk pace for the station.

He arrived in good time after all, and, having taken his ticket,
strolled through onto the platform. The train was not yet signalled,
but there seemed to be an unusual stir in the place. The passengers
were collected in a group at one end of the platform, and were all
looking in one direction down the line; and, even as he walked towards
them, with a certain tremulous, nauseating curiosity, two men emerged
from the darkness and ascended the slope to the platform, carrying
a stretcher covered with a tarpaulin. The passengers parted to let
the bearers pass, turning fascinated eyes upon the shape that showed
faintly through the rough pall; and, when the stretcher had been borne
into the lamp-room, they fixed their attention upon a porter who
followed carrying a hand-bag and an umbrella.

Suddenly one of the passengers started forward with an exclamation.

"Is that his umbrella?" he demanded.

"Yes, sir," answered the porter, stopping and holding it out for the
speaker's inspection.

"My God!" ejaculated the passenger; then, turning sharply to a tall
man who stood close by, he said excitedly: "That's Brodski's umbrella.
I could swear to it. You remember Brodski?" The tall man nodded, and
the passenger, turning once more to the porter, said: "I identify that
umbrella. It belongs to a gentleman named Brodski. If you look in his
hat you will see his name written in it. He always writes his name in
his hat."

"We haven't found his hat yet," said the porter; "but here is the
station-master coming up the line." He awaited the arrival of his
superior and then announced: "This gentleman, sir, has identified the
umbrella."

"Oh," said the station-master, "you recognize the umbrella, sir, do
you? Then perhaps you would step into the lamp-room and see if you can
identify the body."

"Is it--is he--very much injured?" the passenger asked tremulously.

"Well, yes," was the reply. "You see, the engine and six of the trucks
went over him before they could stop the train. Took his head clean
off, in fact."

"Shocking! shocking!" gasped the passenger. "I think, if you don't
mind--I'd--I'd rather not. You don't think it's necessary, doctor, do
you?"

"Yes, I do," replied the tall man. "Early identification may be of the
first importance."

"Then I suppose I must," said the passenger.

Very reluctantly he allowed himself to be conducted by the
station-master to the lamp-room, as the clang of the bell announced the
approaching train. Silas Hickler followed and took his stand with the
expectant crowd outside the closed door. In a few moments the passenger
burst out, pale and awe-stricken, and rushed up to his tall friend.
"It is!" he exclaimed breathlessly. "It's Brodski! Poor old Brodski!
Horrible! horrible! He was to have met me here and come on with me to
Amsterdam."

"Had he any--merchandize about him?" the tall man asked; and Silas
strained his ears to catch the reply.

"He had some stones, no doubt, but I don't know what. His clerk will
know, of course. By the way, doctor, could you watch the case for me?
Just to be sure it was really an accident or--you know what. We were
old friends, you know, fellow townsmen, too; we were both born in
Warsaw. I'd like you to give an eye to the case."

"Very well," said the other. "I will satisfy myself that there is
nothing more than appears, and let you have a report. Will that do?"

"Thank you. It's excessively good of you, doctor. Ah! here comes the
train. I hope it won't inconvenience you to stay and see to this
matter."

"Not in the least," replied the doctor. "We are not due at Warmington
until to-morrow afternoon, and I expect we can find out all that is
necessary to know before that."

Silas looked long and curiously at the tall, imposing man who was, as
it were, taking his seat at the chessboard, to play against him for
his life. A formidable antagonist he looked, with his keen, thoughtful
face, so resolute and calm. As Silas stepped into his carriage he
thought with deep discomfort of Brodski's hat, and hoped that he had
made no other oversight.


PART II. THE MECHANISM OF DETECTION


(Related by Christopher Jervis, M.D.)

The singular circumstances that attended the death of Mr. Oscar
Brodski, the well-known diamond merchant of Hatton Garden, illustrated
very forcibly the importance of one or two points in medico-legal
practice which Thorndyke was accustomed to insist were not sufficiently
appreciated. What those points were, I shall leave my friend and
teacher to state at the proper place; and meanwhile, as the case is in
the highest degree instructive, I shall record the incidents in the
order of their occurrence.

The dusk of an October evening was closing in as Thorndyke and I, the
sole occupants of a smoking compartment, found ourselves approaching
the little station of Ludham; and, as the train slowed down, we peered
out at the knot of country, people who were waiting on the platform.
Suddenly Thorndyke exclaimed in a tone of surprise: "Why, that is
surely Boscovitch!" and almost at the same moment a brisk, excitable
little man darted at the door of our compartment and literally tumbled
in.

"I hope I don't intrude on this learned conclave," he said, shaking
hands genially and banging his Gladstone with impulsive violence into
the rack; "but I saw your faces at the window, and naturally jumped at
the chance of such pleasant companionship."

"You are very flattering," said Thorndyke; "so flattering that you
leave us nothing to say. But what in the name of fortune are you doing
at--what's the name of the place--Ludham?"

"My brother has a little place a mile or so from here, and I have been
spending a couple of days with him," Mr. Boscovitch explained. "I shall
change at Badsham Junction and catch the boat train for Amsterdam. But
whither are you two bound? I see you have your mysterious little green
box up on the hat-rack, so I infer that you are on some romantic quest,
eh? Going to unravel some dark and intricate crime?"

"No," replied Thorndyke. "We are bound for Warmington on a quite
prosaic errand. I am instructed to watch the proceedings at an inquest
there to-morrow on behalf of the Griffin Life Insurance Office, and we
are travelling down to-night as it is rather a cross-country journey."

"But why the box of magic?" asked Boscovitch, glancing up at the
hat-rack.

"I never go away from home without it," answered Thorndyke. "One never
knows what may turn up; the trouble of carrying it is small when set
off against the comfort of having appliances at hand in an emergency."

Boscovitch continued to stare up at the little square case covered with
Willesden canvas. Presently he remarked: "I often used to wonder what
you had in it when you were down at Chelmsford in connection with that
bank murder--what an amazing case that was, by the way, and didn't
your methods of research astonish the police!" As he still looked up
wistfully at the case, Thorndyke good-naturedly lifted it down and
unlocked it. As a matter of fact he was rather proud of his "portable
laboratory," and certainly it was a triumph of condensation, for, small
as it was--only a foot square by four inches deep--it contained a
fairly complete outfit for a preliminary investigation.

"Wonderful!" exclaimed Boscovitch, when the case lay open before him,
displaying its rows of little re-agent bottles, tiny test-tubes,
diminutive spirit-lamp, dwarf microscope and assorted instruments on
the same Lilliputian scale; "it's like a doll's house--everything looks
as if it was seen through the wrong end of a telescope. But are these
tiny things really efficient? That microscope now--?"

"Perfectly efficient at low and moderate magnifications," said
Thorndyke. "It looks like a toy, but it isn't one; the lenses are
the best that can be had. Of course a full-sized instrument would be
infinitely more convenient--but I shouldn't have it with me, and should
have to make shift with a pocket-lens. And so with the rest of the
under-sized appliances; they are the alternative to no appliances."

Boscovitch pored over the case and its contents, fingering the
instruments delicately and asking questions innumerable about their
uses; indeed, his curiosity was but half appeased when, half-an-hour
later, the train began to slow down.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, starting up and seizing his bag, "here we are
at the junction already. You change here too, don't you?"

"Yes," replied Thorndyke. "We take the branch train on to Warmington."

As we stepped out onto the platform, we became aware that something
unusual was happening or had happened. All the passengers and most
of the porters and supernumeraries were gathered at one end of the
station, and all were looking intently into the darkness down the line.

"Anything wrong?" asked Mr. Boscovitch, addressing the
station-inspector.

"Yes, sir," the official replied; "a man has been run over by the goods
train about a mile down the line. The station-master has gone down with
a stretcher to bring him in, and I expect that is his lantern that you
see coming this way."

As we stood watching the dancing light grow momentarily brighter,
flashing fitful reflections from the burnished rails, a man came out of
the booking-office and joined the group of onlookers. He attracted my
attention, as I afterwards remembered, for two reasons: in the first
place his round, jolly face was excessively pale and bore a strained
and wild expression, and, in the second, though he stared into the
darkness with eager curiosity he asked no questions.

The swinging lantern continued to approach, and then suddenly two men
came into sight bearing a stretcher covered with a tarpaulin, through
which the shape of a human figure was dimly discernible. They ascended
the slope to the platform, and proceeded with their burden to the
lamp-room, when the inquisitive gaze of the passengers was transferred
to a porter who followed carrying a handbag and umbrella and to the
station-master who brought up the rear with his lantern.

As the porter passed, Mr. Boscovitch started forward with sudden
excitement.

"Is that his umbrella?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," answered the porter, stopping and holding it out for the
speaker's inspection.

"My God!" ejaculated Boscovitch; then, turning sharply to Thorndyke,
he exclaimed: "That's Brodski's umbrella. I could swear to it. You
remember Brodski?"

Thorndyke nodded, and Boscovitch, turning once more to the porter,
said: "I identify that umbrella. It belongs to a gentleman named
Brodski. If you look in his hat, you will see his name written in it.
He always writes his name in his hat."

"We haven't found his hat yet," said the porter; "but here is the
station-master." He turned to his superior and announced: "This
gentleman, sir, has identified the umbrella."

"Oh," said the station-master, "you recognize the umbrella, sir, do
you? Then perhaps you would step into the lamp-room and see if you can
identify the body."

Mr. Boscovitch recoiled with a look of alarm. "Is it? is he--very much
injured?" he asked nervously.

"Well, yes," was the reply. "You see, the engine and six of the trucks
went over him before they could stop the train. Took his head clean
off, in fact."

"Shocking! shocking!" gasped Boscovitch. "I think? if you don't
mind--I'd--I'd rather not. You don't think it necessary, doctor, do
you?"

"Yes, I do," replied Thorndyke. "Early identification may be of the
first importance."

"Then I suppose I must," said Boscovitch; and, with extreme reluctance,
he followed the station-master to the lamp-room, as the loud ringing of
the bell announced the approach of the boat train. His inspection must
have been of the briefest, for, in a few moments, he burst out, pale
and awe-stricken, and rushed up to Thorndyke.

"It is!" he exclaimed breathlessly. "It's Brodski! Poor old Brodski!
Horrible! horrible! He was to have met me here and come on with me to
Amsterdam."

"Had he any--merchandize about him?" Thorndyke asked; and, as he spoke,
the stranger whom I had previously noticed edged up closer as if to
catch the reply.

"He had some stones, no doubt," answered Boscovitch, "but I don't know
what they were. His clerk will know, of course. By the way, doctor,
could you watch the case for me? Just to be sure it was really an
accident or--you know what. We were old friends, you know, fellow
townsmen, too; we were both born in Warsaw. I'd like you to give an eye
to the case."

"Very well," said Thorndyke. "I will satisfy myself that there is
nothing more than appears, and let you have a report. Will that do?"

"Thank you," said Boscovitch. "It's excessively good of you, doctor.
Ah, here comes the train. I hope it won't inconvenience you to stay and
see to the matter."

"Not in the least," replied Thorndyke. "We are not due at Warmington
until to-morrow afternoon, and I expect we can find out all that is
necessary to know and still keep our appointment."

As Thorndyke spoke, the stranger, who had kept close to us with the
evident purpose of hearing what was said, bestowed on him a very
curious and attentive look; and it was only when the train had actually
come to rest by the platform that he hurried away to find a compartment.

No sooner had the train left the station than Thorndyke sought out
the station-master and informed him of the instructions that he had
received from Boscovitch. "Of course," he added, in conclusion, "we
must not move in the matter until the police arrive. I suppose they
have been informed?"

"Yes," replied the station-master; "I sent a message at once to the
Chief Constable, and I expect him or an inspector at any moment. In
fact, I think I will slip out to the approach and see if he is coming."
He evidently wished to have a word in private with the police officer
before committing himself to any statement.

As the official departed, Thorndyke and I began to pace the now empty
platform, and my friend, as was his wont, when entering on a new
inquiry, meditatively reviewed the features of the problem.

"In a case of this kind," he remarked, "we have to decide on one of
three possible explanations: accident, suicide or homicide; and our
decision will be determined by inferences from three sets of facts:
first, the general facts of the case; second, the special data obtained
by examination of the body, and, third, the special data obtained by
examining the spot on which the body was found. Now the only general
facts at present in our possession are that the deceased was a diamond
merchant making a journey for a specific purpose and probably having
on his person property of small bulk and great value. These facts are
somewhat against the hypothesis of suicide and somewhat favourable to
that of homicide. Facts relevant to the question of accident would be
the existence or otherwise of a level crossing, a road or path leading
to the line, an enclosing fence with or without a gate, and any other
facts rendering probable or otherwise the accidental presence of the
deceased at the spot where the body was found. As we do not possess
these facts, it is desirable that we extend our knowledge."

"Why not put a few discreet questions to the porter who brought in
the bag and umbrella?" I suggested. "He is at this moment in earnest
conversation with the ticket collector and would, no doubt, be glad of
a new listener."

"An excellent suggestion, Jervis," answered Thorndyke. "Let us see what
he has to tell us." We approached the porter and found him, as I had
anticipated, bursting to unburden himself of the tragic story.

"The way the thing happened, sir, was this," he said, in answer to
Thorndyke's question: "There's a sharpish bend in the road just at
that place, and the goods train was just rounding the curve when the
driver suddenly caught sight of something lying across the rails. As
the engine turned, the head-lights shone on it and then he saw it was
a man. He shut off steam at once, blew his whistle, and put the brakes
down hard, but, as you know, sir, a goods train takes some stopping;
before they could bring her up, the engine and half-a-dozen trucks had
gone over the poor beggar."

"Could the driver see how the man was lying?" Thorndyke asked.

"Yes, he could see him quite plain, because the headlights were full on
him. He was lying on his face with his neck over the near rail on the
downside. His head was in the four-foot and his body by the side of
the track. It looked as if he had laid himself out a-purpose."

"Is there a level crossing thereabouts?" asked Thorndyke.

"No, sir. No crossing, no road, no path, no nothing," said the porter,
ruthlessly sacrificing grammar to emphasis. "He must have come across
the fields and climbed over the fence to get onto the permanent way.
Deliberate suicide is what it looks like."

"How did you learn all this?" Thorndyke inquired.

"Why, the driver, you see, sir, when him and his mate had lifted the
body off the track, went on to the next signal-box and sent in his
report by telegram. The station-master told me all about it as we
walked down the line."

Thorndyke thanked the man for his information, and, as we strolled back
towards the lamp-room, discussed the bearing of these new facts.

"Our friend is unquestionably right in one respect," he said; "this
was not an accident. The man might, if he were near-sighted, deaf or
stupid, have climbed over the fence and got knocked down by the train.
But his position, lying across the rails, can only be explained by
one of two hypotheses: either it was, as the porter says, deliberate
suicide, or else the man was already dead or insensible. We must leave
it at that until we have seen the body, that is, if the police will
allow us to see it. But here comes the station-master and an officer
with him. Let us hear what they have to say."

The two officials had evidently made up their minds to decline any
outside assistance. The divisional surgeon would make the necessary
examination, and information could be obtained through the usual
channels. The production of Thorndyke's card, however, somewhat altered
the situation. The police inspector hummed and hawed irresolutely, with
the card in his hand, but finally agreed to allow us to view the body,
and we entered the lamp-room together, the station-master leading the
way to turn up the gas.

The stretcher stood on the floor by one wall, its grim burden still
hidden by the tarpaulin, and the hand-bag and umbrella lay on a large
box, together with the battered frame of a pair of spectacles from
which the glasses had fallen out.

"Were these spectacles found by the body?" Thorndyke inquired.

"Yes," replied the station-master. "They were close to the head and the
glass was scattered about on the ballast."

Thorndyke made a note in his pocket-book, and then, as the inspector
removed the tarpaulin, he glanced down on the corpse, lying limply on
the stretcher and looking grotesquely horrible with its displaced head
and distorted limbs. For fully a minute he remained silently stooping
over the uncanny object, on which the inspector was now throwing the
light of a large lantern; then he stood up and said quietly to me: "I
think we can eliminate two out of the three hypotheses."

The inspector looked at him quickly, and was about to ask a question,
when his attention was diverted by the travelling-case which Thorndyke
had laid on a shelf and now opened to abstract a couple of pairs of
dissecting forceps.

"We've no authority to make a post mortem, you know," said the
inspector.

"No, of course not," said Thorndyke. "I am merely going to look into
the mouth." With one pair of forceps he turned back the lip and, having
scrutinized its inner surface, closely examined the teeth.

"May I trouble you for your lens, Jervis?" he said; and, as I handed
him my doublet ready opened, the inspector brought the lantern close
to the dead face and leaned forward eagerly. In his usual systematic
fashion, Thorndyke slowly passed the lens along the whole range of
sharp, uneven teeth, and then, bringing it back to the centre, examined
with more minuteness the upper incisors. At length, very delicately, he
picked out with his forceps some minute object from between two of the
upper front teeth and held it in the focus of the lens. Anticipating
his next move, I took a labelled microscope-slide from the case
and handed it to him together with a dissecting needle, and, as he
transferred the object to the slide and spread it out with the needle,
I set up the little microscope on the shelf.

"A drop of Farrant and a cover-glass, please, Jervis," said Thorndyke.

I handed him the bottle, and, when he had let a drop of the mounting
fluid fall gently on the object and put on the cover-slip, he placed
the slide on the stage of the microscope and examined it attentively.

Happening to glance at the inspector, I observed on his countenance a
faint grin, which he politely strove to suppress when he caught my eye.

"I was thinking, sir," he said apologetically, "that it's a bit off
the track to be finding out what he had for dinner. He didn't die of
unwholesome feeding."

Thorndyke looked up with a smile. "It doesn't do, inspector, to assume
that anything is off the track in an inquiry of this kind. Every fact
must have some significance, you know."

"I don't see any significance in the diet of a man who has had his head
cut off," the inspector rejoined defiantly.


"Don't you?" said Thorndyke. "Is there no interest attaching to the
last meal of a man who has met a violent death? These crumbs, for
instance, that are scattered over the dead man's waistcoat. Can we
learn nothing from them?"

"I don't see what you can learn," was the dogged rejoinder.

Thorndyke picked off the crumbs, one by one, with his forceps, and
having deposited them on a slide, inspected them, first with the lens
and then through the microscope.

"I learn," said he, "that shortly before his death, the deceased
partook of some kind of whole-meal biscuits, apparently composed partly
of oatmeal."

"I call that nothing," said the inspector. "The question that we have
got to settle is not what refreshments had the deceased been taking,
but what was the cause of his death: did he commit suicide? was he
killed by accident? or was there any foul play?"

"I beg your pardon," said Thorndyke, "the questions that remain to be
settled are, who killed the deceased and with what motive? The others
are already answered as far as I am concerned."

The inspector stared in sheer amazement not unmixed with incredulity.

"You haven't been long coming to a conclusion, sir," he said.

"No, it was a pretty obvious case of murder," said Thorndyke. "As to
the motive, the deceased was a diamond merchant and is believed to have
had a quantity of stones about his person. I should suggest that you
search the body."

The inspector gave vent to an exclamation of disgust. "I see," he said.
"It was just a guess on your part. The dead man was a diamond merchant
and had valuable property about him; therefore he was murdered." He
drew himself up, and, regarding Thorndyke with stern reproach, added:
"But you must understand, sir, that this is a judicial inquiry, not a
prize competition in a penny paper. And, as to searching the body, why,
that is what I principally came for." He ostentatiously turned his back
on us and proceeded systematically to turn out the dead man's pockets,
laying the articles, as he removed them, on the box by the side of the
hand-bag and umbrella.

While he was thus occupied, Thorndyke looked over the body generally,
paying special attention to the soles of the boots, which, to the
inspector's undissembled amusement, he very thoroughly examined with
the lens.

"I should have thought, sir, that his feet were large enough to be seen
with the naked eye," was his comment; "but perhaps," he added, with a
sly glance at the station-master, "you're a little near-sighted."

Thorndyke chuckled good-humouredly, and, while the officer continued
his search, he looked over the articles that had already been laid on
the box. The purse and pocket-book he naturally left for the inspector
to open, but the reading-glasses, pocket-knife and card-case and
other small pocket articles were subjected to a searching scrutiny.
The inspector watched him out of the corner of his eye with furtive
amusement; saw him hold up the glasses to the light to estimate their
refractive power, peer into the tobacco pouch, open the cigarette book
and examine the watermark of the paper, and even inspect the contents
of the silver match-box.

"What might you have expected to find in his tobacco pouch?" the
officer asked, laying down a bunch of keys from the dead man's pocket.

"Tobacco," Thorndyke replied stolidly; "but I did not expect to find
fine-cut Latakia. I don't remember ever having seen pure Latakia smoked
in cigarettes."

"You do take an interest in things, sir," said the inspector, with a
side glance at the stolid station-master.

"I do," Thorndyke agreed; "and I note that there are no diamonds among
this collection."

"No, and we don't know that he had any about him; but there's a gold
watch and chain, a diamond scarf-pin, and a purse containing"--he
opened it and tipped out its contents into his hand--"twelve pounds in
gold. That doesn't look much like robbery, does it? What do you say to
the murder theory now?"

"My opinion is unchanged," said Thorndyke, "and I should like to
examine the spot where the body was found. Has the engine been
inspected?" he added, addressing the station-master.

"I telegraphed to Bradfield to have it examined," the official
answered. "The report has probably come in by now. I'd better see
before we start down the line."

We emerged from the lamp-room and, at the door, found the
station-inspector waiting with a telegram. He handed it to the
station-master, who read it aloud.

"The engine has been carefully examined by me. I find small smear of
blood on near leading wheel and smaller one on next wheel following.
No other marks." He glanced questioningly at Thorndyke, who nodded and
remarked: "It will be interesting to see if the line tells the same
tale."

The station-master looked puzzled and was apparently about to ask for
an explanation; but the inspector, who had carefully pocketed the dead
man's property, was impatient to start and, accordingly, when Thorndyke
had repacked his case and had, at his own request, been furnished with
a lantern, we set off down the permanent way, Thorndyke carrying the
light and I the indispensable green case.

"I am a little in the dark about this affair," I said, when we had
allowed the two officials to draw ahead out of earshot; "you came
to a conclusion remarkably quickly. What was it that so immediately
determined the opinion of murder as against suicide?"

"It was a small matter but very conclusive," replied Thorndyke. "You
noticed a small scalp-wound above the left temple? It was a glancing
wound, and might easily have been made by the engine. But the wound
had bled; and it had bled for an appreciable time. There were two
streams of blood from it, and in both the blood was firmly clotted and
partially dried. But the man had been decapitated; and this wound, if
inflicted by the engine, must have been made after the decapitation,
since it was on the side most distant from the engine as it approached.
Now, a decapitated head does not bleed. Therefore, this wound was
inflicted before the decapitation.

"But not only had the wound bled: the blood had trickled down in two
streams at right angles to one another. First, in the order of time
as shown by the appearance of the stream, it had trickled down the
side of the face and dropped on the collar. The second stream ran from
the wound to the back of the head. Now, you know, Jervis, there are
no exceptions to the law of gravity. If the blood ran down the face
towards the chin, the face must have been upright at the time; and if
the blood trickled from the front to the back of the head, the head
must have been horizontal and face upwards. But the man when he was
seen by the engine-driver, was lying face downwards. The only possible
inference is that when the wound was inflicted, the man was in the
upright position--standing or sitting; and that subsequently, and while
he was still alive, he lay on his back for a sufficiently long time for
the blood to have trickled to the back of his head."

"I see. I was a duffer not to have reasoned this out for myself," I
remarked contritely.

"Quick observation and rapid inference come by practice," replied
Thorndyke. "What did you notice about the face?"

"I thought there was a strong suggestion of asphyxia."

"Undoubtedly," said Thorndyke. "It was the face of a suffocated man.
You must have noticed, too, that the tongue was very distinctly swollen
and that on the inside of the upper lip were deep indentations made by
the teeth, as well as one or two slight wounds, obviously caused by
heavy pressure on the mouth. And now observe how completely these facts
and inferences agree with those from the scalp wound. If we knew that
the deceased had received a blow on the head, had struggled with his
assailant and been finally borne down and suffocated, we should look
for precisely those signs which we have found."

"By the way, what was it that you found wedged between the teeth? I did
not get a chance to look through the microscope."

"Ah!" said Thorndyke, "there we not only get confirmation, but we
carry our inferences a stage further. The object was a little tuft of
some textile fabric. Under the microscope I found it to consist of
several different fibres, differently dyed. The bulk of it consisted
of wool fibres dyed crimson, but there were also cotton fibres dyed
blue and a few which looked like jute, dyed yellow. It was obviously
a parti-coloured fabric and might have been part of a woman's dress,
though the presence of the jute is much more suggestive of a curtain or
rug of inferior quality."

"And its importance?"

"Is that, if it is not part of an article of clothing, then it must
have come from an article of furniture, and furniture suggests a
habitation."

"That doesn't seem very conclusive," I objected.


"It is not; but it is valuable corroboration."

"Of what?"

"Of the suggestion offered by the soles of the dead man's boots. I
examined them most minutely and could find no trace of sand, gravel or
earth, in spite of the fact that he must have crossed fields and rough
land to reach the place where he was found. What I did find was fine
tobacco ash, a charred mark as if a cigar or cigarette had been trodden
on, several crumbs of biscuit, and, on a projecting brad, some coloured
fibres, apparently from a carpet. The manifest suggestion is that the
man was killed in a house with a carpeted floor, and carried from
thence to the railway."

I was silent for some moments. Well as I knew Thorndyke, I was
completely taken by surprise; a sensation, indeed, that I experienced
anew every time that I accompanied him on one of his investigations.
His marvellous power of co-ordinating apparently insignificant facts,
of arranging them into an ordered sequence and making them tell a
coherent story, was a phenomenon that I never got used to; every
exhibition of it astonished me afresh.

"If your inferences are correct," I said, "the problem is practically
solved. There must be abundant traces inside the house. The only
question is, which house is it?"

"Quite so," replied Thorndyke; "that is the question, and a very
difficult question it is. A glance at that interior would doubtless
clear up the whole mystery. But how are we to get that glance? We
cannot enter houses speculatively to see if they present traces of a
murder. At present, our clue breaks off abruptly. The other end of it
is in some unknown house, and, if we cannot join up the two ends, our
problem remains unsolved. For the question is, you remember, Who killed
Oscar Brodski?"

"Then what do you propose to do?" I asked.

"The next stage of the inquiry is to connect some particular house with
this crime. To that end, I can only gather up all available facts and
consider each in all its possible bearings. If I cannot establish any
such connection, then the inquiry will have failed and we shall have
to make a fresh start--say, at Amsterdam, if it turns out that Brodski
really had diamonds on his person, as I have no doubt he had."

Here our conversation was interrupted by our arrival at the spot where
the body had been found. The station-master had halted, and he and
the inspector were now examining the near rail by the light of their
lanterns.

"There's remarkably little blood about," said the former. "I've seen
a good many accidents of this kind and there has always been a lot of
blood, both on the engine and on the road. It's very curious."

Thorndyke glanced at the rail with but slight attention: that question
had ceased to interest him. But the light of his lantern flashed onto
the ground at the side of the track--a loose, gravelly soil mixed with
fragments of chalk--and from thence to the soles of the inspector's
boots, which were displayed as he knelt by the rail.

"You observe, Jervis?" he said in a low voice, and I nodded. The
inspector's boot-soles were covered with adherent particles of gravel
and conspicuously marked by the chalk on which he had trodden.

"You haven't found the hat, I suppose?" Thorndyke asked, stooping to
pick up a short piece of string that lay on the ground at the side of
the track.

"No," replied the inspector, "but it can't be far off. You seem to have
found another clue, sir," he added, with a grin, glancing at the piece
of string.

"Who knows," said Thorndyke. "A short end of white twine with a green
strand in it. It may tell us something later. At any rate we'll keep
it," and, taking from his pocket a small tin box containing, among
other things, a number of seed envelopes, he slipped the string into
one of the latter and scribbled a note in pencil on the outside. The
inspector watched his proceedings with an indulgent smile, and then
returned to his examination of the track, in which Thorndyke now joined.

"I suppose the poor chap was near-sighted," the officer remarked,
indicating the remains of the shattered spectacles; "that might account
for his having strayed onto the line."

"Possibly," said Thorndyke. He had already noticed the fragments
scattered over a sleeper and the adjacent ballast, and now once
more produced his "collecting-box," from which he took another seed
envelope. "Would you hand me a pair of forceps, Jervis," he said; "and
perhaps you wouldn't mind taking a pair yourself and helping me to
gather up these fragments."

As I complied, the inspector looked up curiously.

"There isn't any doubt that these spectacles belonged to the deceased,
is there?" he asked. "He certainly wore spectacles, for I saw the mark
on his nose."

"Still, there is no harm in verifying the fact," said Thorndyke, and
he added to me in a lower tone, "Pick up every particle you can find,
Jervis. It may be most important."

"I don't quite see how," I said, groping amongst the shingle by the
light of the lantern in search of the tiny splinters of glass.

"Don't you?" returned Thorndyke. "Well, look at these fragments; some
of them are a fair size, but many of these on the sleeper are mere
grains. And consider their number. Obviously, the condition of the
glass does not agree with the circumstances in which we find it. These
are thick concave spectacle-lenses broken into a great number of minute
fragments. Now how were they broken? Not merely by falling, evidently:
such a lens, when it is dropped, breaks into a small number of large
pieces. Nor were they broken by the wheel passing over them, for they
would then have been reduced to fine powder, and that powder would have
been visible on the rail, which it is not. The spectacle-frames, you
may remember, presented the same incongruity: they were battered and
damaged more than they would have been by falling, but not nearly so
much as they would have been if the wheel had passed over them."

"What do you suggest, then?" I asked.

"The appearances suggest that the spectacles had been trodden on. But,
if the body was carried here the probability is that the spectacles
were carried here too, and that they were then already broken; for
it is more likely that they were trodden on during the struggle than
that the murderer trod on them after bringing them here. Hence the
importance of picking up every fragment."

"But why?" I inquired, rather foolishly, I must admit.

"Because, if, when we have picked up every fragment that we can find,
there still remains missing a larger portion of the lenses than we
could reasonably expect, that would tend to support our hypothesis and
we might find the missing remainder elsewhere. If, on the other hand,
we find as much of the lenses as we could expect to find, we must
conclude that they were broken on this spot."

While we were conducting our search, the two officials were circling
around with their lanterns in quest of the missing hat; and, when
we had at length picked up the last fragment, and a careful search,
even aided by a lens, failed to reveal any other, we could see their
lanterns moving, like will-o'-the-wisps, some distance down the line.

"We may as well see what we have got before our friends come back,"
said Thorndyke, glancing at the twinkling lights. "Lay the case down on
the grass by the fence; it will serve for a table."

I did so, and Thorndyke, taking a letter from his pocket, opened it,
spread it out flat on the case, securing it with a couple of heavy
stones, although the night was quite calm. Then he tipped the contents
of the seed envelope out on the paper, and carefully spreading out the
pieces of glass, looked at them for some moments in silence. And, as
he looked, there stole over his face a very curious expression; with
sudden eagerness he began picking out the large fragments and laying
them on two visiting-cards which he had taken from his card-case.
Rapidly and with wonderful deftness he fitted the pieces together,
and, as the reconstituted lenses began gradually to take shape on
their cards I looked on with growing excitement, for something in my
colleague's manner told me that we were on the verge of a discovery.

At length the two ovals of glass lay on their respective cards,
complete save for one or two small gaps; and the little heap that
remained consisted of fragments so minute as to render further
reconstruction impossible. Then Thorndyke leaned back and laughed
softly.

"This is certainly an unlooked-for result," said he.

"What is?" I asked.

"Don't you see, my dear fellow? There's too much glass. We have almost
completely built up the broken lenses, and the fragments that are left
over are considerably more than are required to fill up the gaps."

I looked at the little heap of small fragments and saw at once that it
was as he had said. There was a surplus of small pieces.

"This is very extraordinary," I said. "What do you think can be the
explanation?"

"The fragments will probably tell us," he replied, "if we ask them
intelligently."

He lifted the paper and the two cards carefully onto the ground,
and, opening the case, took out the little microscope, to which he
fitted the lowest-power objective and eye-piece--having a combined
magnification of only ten diameters. Then he transferred the minute
fragments of glass to a slide, and, having arranged the lantern as a
microscope-lamp, commenced his examination.

"Ha!" he exclaimed presently. "The plot thickens. There is too much
glass and yet too little; that is to say, there are only one or two
fragments here that belong to the spectacles; not nearly enough to
complete the building up of the lenses. The remainder consists of a
soft, uneven, moulded glass, easily distinguished from the clear, hard
optical glass. These foreign fragments are all curved, as if they
had formed part of a cylinder, and are, I should say, portions of a
wine-glass or tumbler." He moved the slide once or twice, and then
continued: "We are in luck, Jervis. Here is a fragment with two little
diverging lines etched on it, evidently the points of an eight-rayed
star--and here is another with three points--the ends of three rays.
This enables us to reconstruct the vessel perfectly. It was a clear,
thin glass--probably a tumbler--decorated with scattered stars; I dare
say you know the pattern. Sometimes there is an ornamented band in
addition, but generally the stars form the only decoration. Have a look
at the specimen."

I had just applied my eye to the microscope when the station-master and
the inspector came up. Our appearance, seated on the ground with the
microscope between us, was too much for the police officer's gravity,
and he laughed long and joyously.

"You must excuse me, gentlemen," he said apologetically, "but really,
you know, to an old hand, like myself, it does look a little--well--you
understand--I dare say a microscope is a very interesting and amusing
thing, but it doesn't get you much forwarder in a case like this, does
it?"

"Perhaps not," replied Thorndyke. "By the way, where did you find the
hat, after all?"

"We haven't found it," the inspector replied.

"Then we must help you to continue the search," said Thorndyke. "If
you will wait a few moments, we will come with you." He poured a few
drops of xylol balsam on the cards to fix the reconstituted lenses to
their supports and then, packing them and the microscope in the case,
announced that he was ready to start.

"Is there any village or hamlet near?" he asked the station-master.

"None nearer than Corfield. That is about half-a-mile from here."

"And where is the nearest road?"

"There is a half-made road that runs past a house about three hundred
yards from here. It belonged to a building estate that was never built.
There is a footpath from it to the station."

"Are there any other houses near?"

"No. That is the only house for half-a-mile round, and there is no
other road near here."

"Then the probability is that Brodski approached the railway from that
direction, as he was found on that side of the permanent way."

The inspector agreeing with this view, we all set off slowly towards
the house, piloted by the station-master and searching the ground
as we went. The waste land over which we passed was covered with
patches of docks and nettles, through each of which the inspector
kicked his way, searching with feet and lantern for the missing hat.
A walk of three hundred yards brought us to a low wall enclosing a
garden, beyond which we could see a small house; and here we halted
while the inspector waded into a large bed of nettles beside the wall
and kicked vigorously. Suddenly there came a clinking sound mingled
with objurgations, and the inspector hopped out holding one foot and
soliloquizing profanely.

"I wonder what sort of a fool put a thing like that into a bed of
nettles!" he exclaimed, stroking the injured foot. Thorndyke picked the
object up and held it in the light of the lantern, displaying a piece
of three-quarter inch rolled iron bar about a foot long. "It doesn't
seem to have been there very long," he observed, examining it closely,
"there is hardly any rust on it."

"It has been there long enough for me," growled the inspector, "and I'd
like to bang it on the head of the blighter that put it there."

Callously indifferent to the inspector's sufferings, Thorndyke
continued calmly to examine the bar. At length, resting his lantern
on the wall, he produced his pocket-lens, with which he resumed
his investigation, a proceeding that so exasperated the inspector
that that afflicted official limped off in dudgeon, followed by the
station-master, and we heard him, presently, rapping at the front door
of the house.

"Give me a slide, Jervis, with a drop of Farrant on it," said
Thorndyke. "There are some fibres sticking to this bar."

I prepared the slide, and, having handed it to him together with a
cover-glass, a pair of forceps and a needle, set up the microscope on
the wall.

"I'm sorry for the inspector," Thorndyke remarked, with his eye applied
to the little instrument, "but that was a lucky kick for us. Just take
a look at the specimen."

I did so, and, having moved the slide about until I had seen the whole
of the object, I gave my opinion. "Red wool fibres, blue cotton fibres
and some yellow vegetable fibres that look like jute."

"Yes," said Thorndyke; "the same combination of fibres as that which we
found on the dead man's teeth and probably from the same source. This
bar has probably been wiped on that very curtain or rug with which poor
Brodski was stifled. We will place it on the wall for future reference,
and meanwhile, by hook or by crook, we must get into that house. This
is much too plain a hint to be disregarded."

Hastily repacking the case, we hurried to the front of the house, where
we found the two officials looking rather vaguely up the unmade road.

"There's a light in the house," said the inspector, "but there's no one
at home. I have knocked a dozen times and got no answer. And I don't
see what we are hanging about here for at all. The hat is probably
close to where the body was found, and we shall find it in the morning."

Thorndyke made no reply, but, entering the garden, stepped up the path,
and having knocked gently at the door, stooped and listened attentively
at the key-hole.

"I tell you there's no one in the house, sir," said the inspector
irritably; and, as Thorndyke continued to listen, he walked away,
muttering angrily. As soon as he was gone, Thorndyke flashed his
lantern over the door, the threshold, the path and the small
flower-beds; and, from one of the latter, I presently saw him stoop and
pick something up.

"Here is a highly instructive object, Jervis," he said, coming out to
the gate, and displaying a cigarette of which only half-an-inch had
been smoked.

"How instructive?" I asked. "What do you learn from it?"

"Many things," he replied. "It has been lit and thrown away unsmoked;
that indicates a sudden change of purpose. It was thrown away at the
entrance to the house, almost certainly by someone entering it. That
person was probably a stranger, or he would have taken it in with him.
But he had not expected to enter the house, or he would not have lit
it. These are the general suggestions; now as to the particular ones.
The paper of the cigarette is of the kind known as the 'Zig-Zag' brand;
the very conspicuous water-mark is quite easy to see. Now Brodski's
cigarette book was a 'Zig-Zag' book--so called from the way in which
the papers pull out. But let us see what the tobacco is like." With a
pin from his coat, he hooked out from the unburned end a wisp of dark,
dirty brown tobacco, which he held out for my inspection.

"Fine-cut Latakia," I pronounced, without hesitation.

"Very well," said Thorndyke. "Here is a cigarette made of an unusual
tobacco similar to that in Brodski's pouch and wrapped in an unusual
paper similar to those in Brodski's cigarette book. With due regard
to the fourth rule of the syllogism, I suggest that this cigarette
was made by Oscar Brodski. But, nevertheless, we will look for
corroborative detail."

"What is that?" I asked.

"You may have noticed that Brodski's match-box contained round wooden
vestas--which are also rather unusual. As he must have lighted the
cigarette within a few steps of the gate, we ought to be able to find
the match with which he lighted it. Let us try up the road in the
direction from which he would probably have approached."

We walked very slowly up the road, searching the ground with the
lantern, and we had hardly gone a dozen paces when I espied a match
lying on the rough path and eagerly picked it up. It was a round wooden
vesta.

Thorndyke examined it with interest and having deposited it, with the
cigarette, in his "collecting-box," turned to retrace his steps. "There
is now, Jervis, no reasonable doubt that Brodski was murdered in that
house. We have succeeded in connecting that house with the crime, and
now we have got to force an entrance and join up the other clues." We
walked quickly back to the rear of the premises, where we found the
inspector conversing disconsolately with the station-master.

"I think, sir," said the former, "we had better go back now; in fact, I
don't see what we came here for, but--here! I say, sir, you mustn't do
that!" For Thorndyke, without a word of warning, had sprung up lightly
and thrown one of his long legs over the wall.

"I can't allow you to enter private premises, sir," continued the
inspector; but Thorndyke quietly dropped down on the inside and turned
to face the officer over the wall.


"Now, listen to me, inspector," said he. "I have good reasons for
believing that the dead man, Brodski, has been in this house, in
fact, I am prepared to swear an information to that effect. But time
is precious; we must follow the scent while it is hot. And I am not
proposing to break into the house off-hand. I merely wish to examine
the dust-bin."

"The dust-bin!" gasped the inspector. "Well, you really are a most
extraordinary gentleman! What do you expect to find in the dust-bin?"

"I am looking for a broken tumbler or wine-glass. It is a thin glass
vessel decorated with a pattern of small, eight-pointed stars. It may
be in the dust-bin or it may be inside the house."

The inspector hesitated, but Thorndyke's confident manner had evidently
impressed him.

"We can soon see what is in the dust-bin," he said, "though what in
creation a broken tumbler has to do with the case is more than I can
understand. However, here goes." He sprang up onto the wall, and, as he
dropped down into the garden, the station-master and I followed.

Thorndyke lingered a few moments by the gate examining the ground,
while the two officials hurried up the path. Finding nothing of
interest, however, he walked towards the house, looking keenly about
him as he went; but we were hardly half-way up the path when we heard
the voice of the inspector calling excitedly.

"Here you are, sir, this way," he sang out, and, as we hurried
forward, we suddenly came on the two officials standing over a small
rubbish-heap and looking the picture of astonishment. The glare of
their lanterns illuminated the heap, and showed us the scattered
fragments of a thin glass, star-pattern tumbler.

"I can't imagine how you guessed it was here, sir," said the inspector,
with a new-born respect in his tone, "nor what you're going to do with
it now you have found it."

"It is merely another link in the chain of evidence," said Thorndyke,
taking a pair of forceps from the case and stooping over the heap.
"Perhaps we shall find something else." He picked up several small
fragments of glass, looked at them closely and dropped them again.
Suddenly his eye caught a small splinter at the base of the heap.
Seizing it with the forceps, he held it close to his eye in the strong
lamplight, and, taking out his lens, examined it with minute attention.
"Yes," he said at length, "this is what I was looking for. Let me have
those two cards, Jervis."

I produced the two visiting-cards with the reconstructed lenses stuck
to them, and, laying them on the lid of the case, threw the light of
the lantern on them. Thorndyke looked at them intently for some time,
and from them to the fragment that he held. Then, turning to the
inspector, he said: "You saw me pick up this splinter of glass?"

"Yes, sir," replied the officer.

"And you saw where we found these spectacle-glasses and know whose they
were?"

"Yes, sir. They are the dead man's spectacles, and you found them where
the body had been."

"Very well," said Thorndyke; "now observe;" and, as the two officials
craned forward with parted lips, he laid the little splinter in a gap
in one of the lenses and then gave it a gentle push forward, when it
occupied the gap perfectly, joining edge to edge with the adjacent
fragments and rendering that portion of the lens complete.

"My God!" exclaimed the inspector. "How on earth did you know?"

"I must explain that later," said Thorndyke. "Meanwhile we had better
have a look inside the house. I expect to find there a cigarette--or
possibly a cigar--which has been trodden on, some whole-meal biscuits,
possibly a wooden vesta, and perhaps even the missing hat."

At the mention of the hat, the inspector stepped eagerly to the back
door, but, finding it bolted, he tried the window. This also was
securely fastened and, on Thorndyke's advice, we went round to the
front door.

"This door is locked too," said the inspector. "I'm afraid we shall
have to break in. It's a nuisance, though."

"Have a look at the window," suggested Thorndyke.

The officer did so, struggling vainly to undo the patent catch with his
pocket-knife.

"It's no go," he said, coming back to the door. "We shall have to--?"
He broke off with an astonished stare, for the door stood open and
Thorndyke was putting something in his pocket.

"Your friend doesn't waste much time--even in picking a lock," he
remarked to me, as we followed Thorndyke into the house; but his
reflections were soon merged in a new surprise. Thorndyke had preceded
us into a small sitting-room dimly lighted by a hanging lamp turned
down low.

As we entered he turned up the light and glanced about the room.
A whisky-bottle was on the table, with a siphon, a tumbler and a
biscuit-box. Pointing to the latter, Thorndyke said to the inspector:
"See what is in that box."

The inspector raised the lid and peeped in, the station-master peered
over his shoulder, and then both stared at Thorndyke.

"How in the name of goodness did you know that there were whole-meal
biscuits in the house, sir?" exclaimed the station-master.

"You'd be disappointed if I told you," replied Thorndyke. "But look at
this." He pointed to the hearth, where lay a flattened, half-smoked
cigarette and a round wooden vesta. The inspector gazed at these
objects in silent wonder, while, as to the station-master, he continued
to stare at Thorndyke with what I can only describe as superstitious
awe.

"You have the dead man's property with you, I believe?" said my
colleague.

"Yes," replied the inspector; "I put the things in my pocket for
safety."

"Then," said Thorndyke, picking up the flattened cigarette, "let us
have a look at his tobacco-pouch."

As the officer produced and opened the pouch, Thorndyke neatly cut open
the cigarette with his sharp pocket-knife. "Now," said he, "what kind
of tobacco is in the pouch?"

The inspector took out a pinch, looked at it and smelt it
distastefully. "It's one of those stinking tobaccos," he said, "that
they put in mixtures--Latakia, I think."

"And what is this?" asked Thorndyke, pointing to the open cigarette.

"Same stuff, undoubtedly," replied the inspector.

"And now let us see his cigarette papers," said Thorndyke.

The little book, or rather packet--for it consisted of separated
papers--was produced from the officer's pocket and a sample paper
abstracted. Thorndyke laid the half-burnt paper beside it, and the
inspector, having examined the two, held them up to the light.

"There isn't much chance of mistaking that 'Zig-Zag' watermark," he
said. "This cigarette was made by the deceased; there can't be the
shadow of a doubt."

"One more point," said Thorndyke, laying the burnt wooden vesta on the
table. "You have his match-box?"

The inspector brought forth the little silver casket, opened it and
compared the wooden vestas that it contained with the burnt end. Then
he shut the box with a snap.

"You've proved it up to the hilt," said he. "If we could only find the
hat, we should have a complete case."

"I'm not sure that we haven't found the hat," said Thorndyke. "You
notice that something besides coal has been burned in the grate."

The inspector ran eagerly to the fire-place and began with feverish
hands, to pick out the remains of the extinct fire. "The cinders are
still warm," he said, "and they are certainly not all coal cinders.
There has been wood burned here on top of the coal, and these little
black lumps are neither coal nor wood. They may quite possibly be the
remains of a burnt hat, but, lord! who can tell? You can put together
the pieces of broken spectacle-glasses, but you can't build up a hat
out of a few cinders." He held out a handful of little, black, spongy
cinders and looked ruefully at Thorndyke, who took them from him and
laid them out on a sheet of paper.

"We can't reconstitute the hat, certainly," my friend agreed, "but we
may be able to ascertain the origin of these remains. They may not be
cinders of a hat, after all." He lit a wax match and, taking up one of
the charred fragments, applied the flame to it. The cindery mass fused
at once with a crackling, seething sound, emitting a dense smoke, and
instantly the air became charged with a pungent, resinous odour mingled
with the smell of burning animal matter.

"Smells like varnish," the station-master remarked.

"Yes. Shellac," said Thorndyke; "so the first test gives a positive
result. The next test will take more time."

He opened the green case and took from it a little flask, fitted for
Marsh's arsenic test, with a safety funnel and escape tube, a small
folding tripod, a spirit lamp and a disc of asbestos to serve as a
sand-bath. Dropping into the flask several of the cindery masses,
selected after careful inspection, he filled it up with alcohol and
placed it on the disc, which he rested on the tripod. Then he lighted
the spirit lamp underneath and sat down to wait for the alcohol to boil.

"There is one little point that we may as well settle," he said
presently, as the bubbles began to rise in the flask. "Give me a slide
with a drop of Farrant on it, Jervis."

I prepared the slide while Thorndyke, with a pair of forceps, picked
out a tiny wisp from the table-cloth. "I fancy we have seen this fabric
before," he remarked, as he laid the little pinch of fluff in the
mounting fluid and slipped the slide onto the stage of the microscope.
"Yes," he continued, looking into the eye-piece, "here are our old
acquaintances, the red wool fibres, the blue cotton and the yellow
jute. We must label this at once or we may confuse it with the other
specimens."

"Have you any idea how the deceased met his death?" the inspector asked.

"Yes," replied Thorndyke. "I take it that the murderer enticed him into
this room and gave him some refreshments. The murderer sat in the chair
in which you are sitting, Brodski sat in that small arm-chair. Then I
imagine the murderer attacked him with that iron bar that you found
among the nettles, failed to kill him at the first stroke, struggled
with him and finally suffocated him with the table-cloth. By the way,
there is just one more point. You recognize this piece of string?" He
took from his "collecting-box" the little end of twine that had been
picked up by the line. The inspector nodded. "Look behind you, you will
see where it came from."

The officer turned sharply and his eye lighted on a string-box on
the mantelpiece. He lifted it down, and Thorndyke drew out from it a
length of white twine with one green strand, which he compared with the
piece in his hand. "The green strand in it makes the identification
fairly certain," he said. "Of course the string was used to secure the
umbrella and hand-bag. He could not have carried them in his hand,
encumbered as he was with the corpse. But I expect our other specimen
is ready now." He lifted the flask off the tripod, and, giving it a
vigorous shake, examined the contents through his lens. The alcohol had
now become dark-brown in colour, and was noticeably thicker and more
syrupy in consistence.

"I think we have enough here for a rough test," said he, selecting a
pipette and a slide from the case. He dipped the former into the flask
and, having sucked up a few drops of the alcohol from the bottom, held
the pipette over the slide on which he allowed the contained fluid to
drop.


Laying a cover-glass on the little pool of alcohol, he put the slide on
the microscope stage and examined it attentively, while we watched him
in expectant silence.

At length he looked up, and, addressing the inspector, asked: "Do you
know what felt hats are made of?"

"I can't say that I do, sir," replied the officer.

"Well, the better quality hats are made of rabbits' and hares'
wool--the soft under-fur, you know--cemented together with shellac.
Now there is very little doubt that these cinders contain shellac,
and with the microscope I find a number of small hairs of a rabbit. I
have, therefore, little hesitation in saying that these cinders are the
remains of a hard felt hat; and, as the hairs do not appear to be dyed,
I should say it was a grey hat."

At this moment our conclave was interrupted by hurried footsteps on the
garden path and, as we turned with one accord, an elderly woman burst
into the room.

She stood for a moment in mute astonishment, and then, looking from one
to the other, demanded: "Who are you? and what are you doing here?"

The inspector rose. "I am a police officer, madam," said he. "I can't
give you any further information just now, but, if you will excuse me
asking, who are you?"

"I am Mr. Hickler's housekeeper," she replied.

"And Mr. Hickler; are you expecting him home shortly?"

"No, I am not," was the curt reply. "Mr. Hickler is away from home just
now. He left this evening by the boat train."

"For Amsterdam?" asked Thorndyke.

"I believe so, though I don't see what business it is of yours," the
housekeeper answered.

"I thought he might, perhaps, be a diamond broker or merchant," said
Thorndyke. "A good many of them travel by that train."

"So he is," said the woman, "at least, he has something to do with
diamonds."

"Ah. Well, we must be going, Jervis," said Thorndyke, "we have finished
here, and we have to find an hotel or inn. Can I have a word with you,
inspector?"

The officer, now entirely humble and reverent, followed us out into the
garden to receive Thorndyke's parting advice.

"You had better take possession of the house at once, and get rid of
the housekeeper. Nothing must be removed. Preserve those cinders and
see that the rubbish-heap is not disturbed, and, above all, don't have
the room swept. An officer will be sent to relieve you."

With a friendly "good-night" we went on our way, guided by the
station-master; and here our connection with the case came to an end.
Hickler (whose Christian name turned out to be Silas) was, it is
true, arrested as he stepped ashore from the steamer, and a packet of
diamonds, subsequently identified as the property of Oscar Brodski,
found upon his person. But he was never brought to trial, for on the
return voyage he contrived to elude his guards for an instant as the
ship was approaching the English coast, and it was not until three
days later, when a hand-cuffed body was cast up on the lonely shore by
Orfordness, that the authorities knew the fate of Silas Hickler.

"An appropriate and dramatic end to a singular and yet typical case,"
said Thorndyke, as he put down the newspaper. "I hope it has enlarged
your knowledge, Jervis, and enabled you to form one or two useful
corollaries."

"I prefer to hear you sing the medico-legal doxology," I answered,
turning upon him like the proverbial worm and grinning derisively
(which the worm does not).

"I know you do," he retorted, with mock gravity, "and I lament
your lack of mental initiative. However, the points that this case
illustrates are these: First, the danger of delay; the vital importance
of instant action before that frail and fleeting thing that we call a
clue has time to evaporate. A delay of a few hours would have left us
with hardly a single datum. Second, the necessity of pursuing the most
trivial clue to an absolute finish, as illustrated by the spectacles.
Third, the urgent need of a trained scientist to aid the police; and,
last," he concluded, with a smile, "we learn never to go abroad without
the invaluable green case."



A CASE OF PREMEDITATION


PART I. THE ELIMINATION OF MR. PRATT


The wine merchant who should supply a consignment of petit vin to a
customer who had ordered, and paid for, a vintage wine, would render
himself subject to unambiguous comment. Nay! more; he would be liable
to certain legal penalties. And yet his conduct would be morally
indistinguishable from that of the railway company which, having
accepted a first-class fare, inflicts upon the passenger that kind of
company which he has paid to avoid. But the corporate conscience, as
Herbert Spencer was wont to explain, is an altogether inferior product
to that of the individual.

Such were the reflections of Mr. Rufus Pembury when, as the train was
about to move out of Maidstone (West) station, a coarse and burly man
(clearly a denizen of the third-class) was ushered into his compartment
by the guard. He had paid the higher fare, not for cushioned seats, but
for seclusion or, at least, select companionship. The man's entry had
deprived him of both, and he resented it.

But if the presence of this stranger involved a breach of contract,
his conduct was a positive affront--an indignity; for, no sooner had
the train started than he fixed upon Mr. Pembury a gaze of impertinent
intensity, and continued thereafter to regard him with a stare as
steady and unwinking as that of a Polynesian idol.

It was offensive to a degree, and highly disconcerting withal. Mr.
Pembury fidgeted in his seat with increasing discomfort and rising
temper. He looked into his pocket-book, read one or two letters and
sorted a collection of visiting-cards. He even thought of opening his
umbrella. Finally, his patience exhausted and his wrath mounting to
boiling-point, he turned to the stranger with frosty remonstrance.

"I imagine, sir, that you will have no difficulty in recognizing me,
should we ever meet again--which God forbid."

"I should recognize you among ten thousand," was the reply, so
unexpected as to leave Mr. Pembury speechless.

"You see," the stranger continued impressively, "I've got the gift of
faces. I never forget."

"That must be a great consolation," said Pembury.

"It's very useful to me," said the stranger, "at least, it used to
be, when I was a warder at Portland--you remember me, I dare say: my
name is Pratt. I was assistant-warder in your time. God-forsaken hole,
Portland, and mighty glad I was when they used to send me up to town
on reckernizing duty. Holloway was the house of detention then, you
remember; that was before they moved to Brixton."

Pratt paused in his reminiscences, and Pembury, pale and gasping with
astonishment, pulled himself together.

"I think," said he, "you must be mistaking me for someone else."

"I don't," replied Pratt. "You're Francis Dobbs, that's who you are.
Slipped away from Portland one evening about twelve years ago. Clothes
washed up on the Bill next day. No trace of fugitive. As neat a mizzle
as ever I heard of. But there are a couple of photographs and a set of
fingerprints at the Habitual Criminals Register. P'r'aps you'd like to
come and see 'em?"

"Why should I go to the Habitual Criminals Register?" Pembury demanded
faintly.

"Ah! Exactly. Why should you? When you are a man of means, and a little
judiciously invested capital would render it unnecessary?"

Pembury looked out of the window, and for a minute or more preserved a
stony silence. At length he turned suddenly to Pratt. "How much?" he
asked.

"I shouldn't think a couple of hundred a year would hurt you," was the
calm reply.

Pembury reflected awhile. "What makes you think I am a man of means?"
he asked presently.

Pratt smiled grimly. "Bless you, Mr. Pembury," said he, "I know all
about you. Why, for the last six months I have been living within
half-a-mile of your house."

"The devil you have!"

"Yes. When I retired from the service, General O'Gorman engaged me as a
sort of steward or caretaker of his little place at Baysford--he's very
seldom there himself--and the very day after I came down, I met you
and spotted you, but, naturally, I kept out of sight myself. Thought
I'd find out whether you were good for anything before I spoke, so
I've been keeping my ears open and I find you are good for a couple of
hundred."

There was an interval of silence, and then the ex-warder
resumed--"That's what comes of having a memory for faces. Now there's
Jack Ellis, on the other hand; he must have had you under his nose for
a couple of years, and yet he's never twigged--he never will either,"
added Pratt, already regretting the confidence into which his vanity
had led him.

"Who is Jack Ellis?" Pembury demanded sharply.

"Why, he's a sort of supernumerary at the Baysford Police Station; does
odd jobs; rural detective, helps in the office and that sort of thing.
He was in the Civil Guard at Portland, in your time, but he got his
left forefinger chopped off, so they pensioned him, and, as he was a
Baysford man, he got this billet. But he'll never reckernize you, don't
you fear."

"Unless you direct his attention to me," suggested Pembury.

"There's no fear of that," laughed Pratt. "You can trust me to sit
quiet on my own nest-egg. Besides, we're not very friendly. He came
nosing round our place after the parlourmaid--him a married man, mark
you! But I soon boosted him out, I can tell you; and Jack Ellis don't
like me now."

"I see," said Pembury reflectively; then, after a pause, he asked: "Who
is this General O'Gorman? I seem to know the name."

"I expect you do," said Pratt. "He was governor of Dartmoor when I was
there--that was my last billet--and, let me tell you, if he'd been at
Portland in your time, you'd never have got away."

"How is that?"

"Why, you see, the general is a great man on bloodhounds. He kept
a pack at Dartmoor and, you bet, those lags knew it. There were no
attempted escapes in those days. They wouldn't have had a chance."

"He has the pack still, hasn't he?" asked Pembury.

"Rather. Spends any amount of time on training 'em, too. He's always
hoping there'll be a burglary or a murder in the neighbourhood so as he
can try 'em, but he's never got a chance yet. P'r'aps the crooks have
heard about 'em. But, to come back to our little arrangement: what do
you say to a couple of hundred, paid quarterly, if you like?"

"I can't settle the matter off-hand," said Pembury. "You must give me
time to think it over."

"Very well," said Pratt. "I shall be back at Baysford to-morrow evening.
That will give you a clear day to think it over. Shall I look in at
your place to-morrow night?"

"No," replied Pembury; "you'd better not be seen at my house, nor I at
yours. If I meet you at some quiet spot, where we shan't be seen, we
can settle our business without any one knowing that we have met. It
won't take long, and we can't be too careful."

"That's true," agreed Pratt. "Well, I'll tell you what. There's an
avenue leading up to our house; you know it, I expect. There's no
lodge, and the gates are always ajar, excepting at night. Now I shall
be down by the six-thirty at Baysford. Our place is a quarter of an
hour from the station. Say you meet me in the avenue at a quarter to
seven."

"That will suit me," said Pembury; "that is, if you are sure the
bloodhounds won't be straying about the grounds."

"Lord bless you, no!" laughed Pratt. "D'you suppose the general lets
his precious hounds stray about for any casual crook to feed with
poisoned sausage? No, they're locked up safe in the kennels at the back
of the house. Hallo! This'll be Swanley, I expect. I'll change into a
smoker here and leave you time to turn the matter over in your mind.
So long. To-morrow evening in the avenue at a quarter to seven. And, I
say, Mr. Pembury, you might as well bring the first installment with
you--fifty, in small notes or gold."

"Very well," said Mr. Pembury. He spoke coldly enough, but there was a
flush on his cheeks and an angry light in his eyes, which, perhaps, the
ex-warder noticed; for when he had stepped out and shut the door, he
thrust his head in at the window and said threateningly:

"One more word, Mr. Pembury-Dobbs: no hanky-panky, you know. I'm an old
hand and pretty fly, I am. So don't you try any chickery-pokery on me.
That's all." He withdrew his head and disappeared, leaving Pembury to
his reflections.

The nature of those reflections--if some telepathist transferring his
attention for the moment from hidden courtyards or missing thimbles
to more practical matters--could have conveyed them into the mind of
Mr. Pratt, would have caused that quondam official some surprise and,
perhaps, a little disquiet. For long experience of the criminal, as he
appears when in durance, had produced some rather misleading ideas as
to his behaviour when at large. In fact, the ex-warder had considerably
under-estimated the ex-convict.

Rufus Pembury, to give his real name--for Dobbs was literally a nom
de guerre--was a man of strong character and intelligence. So much so
that, having tried the criminal career and found it not worth pursuing,
he had definitely abandoned it. When the cattle-boat that picked him up
off Portland Bill had landed him at an American port, he brought his
entire ability and energy to bear on legitimate commercial pursuits,
and with such success that, at the end of ten years, he was able to
return to England with a moderate competence. Then he had taken a
modest house near the little town of Baysford, where he had lived
quietly on his savings for the last two years, holding aloof without
much difficulty from the rather exclusive local society; and here he
might have lived out the rest of his life in peace but for the unlucky
chance that brought the man Pratt into the neighbourhood. With the
arrival of Pratt his security was utterly destroyed.

There is something eminently unsatisfactory about a blackmailer. No
arrangement with him has any permanent validity. No undertaking that he
gives is binding. The thing which he has sold remains in his possession
to sell over again. He pockets the price of emancipation, but retains
the key of the fetters. In short, the blackmailer is a totally
impossible person.

Such were the considerations that had passed through the mind of Rufus
Pembury, even while Pratt was making his proposals; and those proposals
he had never for an instant entertained. The ex-warder's advice to him
to "turn the matter over in his mind" was unnecessary. For his mind
was already made up. His decision was arrived at in the very moment
when Pratt had disclosed his identity. The conclusion was self-evident.
Before Pratt appeared he was living in peace and security. While Pratt
remained, his liberty was precarious from moment to moment. If Pratt
should disappear, his peace and security would return. Therefore Pratt
must be eliminated.

It was a logical consequence.

The profound meditations, therefore, in which Pembury remained immersed
for the remainder of the journey, had nothing whatever to do with
the quarterly allowance; they were concerned exclusively with the
elimination of ex-warder Pratt.

Now Rufus Pembury was not a ferocious man. He was not even cruel. But
he was gifted with a certain magnanimous cynicism which ignored the
trivialities of sentiment and regarded only the main issues. If a
wasp hummed over his tea-cup, he would crush that wasp; but not with
his bare hand. The wasp carried the means of aggression. That was the
wasp's look-out. His concern was to avoid being stung.

So it was with Pratt. The man had elected, for his own profit, to
threaten Pembury's liberty. Very well. He had done it at his own risk.
That risk was no concern of Pembury's. His concern was his own safety.

When Pembury alighted at Charing Cross, he directed his steps (after
having watched Pratt's departure from the station) to Buckingham
Street, Strand, where he entered a quiet private hotel. He was
apparently expected, for the manageress greeted him by his name as she
handed him his key.

"Are you staying in town, Mr. Pembury?" she asked.

"No," was the reply. "I go back to-morrow morning, but I may be coming
up again shortly. By the way, you used to have an encyclopaedia in one
of the rooms. Could I see it for a moment?"

"It is in the drawing-room," said the manageress. "Shall I show
you--but you know the way, don't you?"

Certainly Mr. Pembury knew the way. It was on the first floor; a
pleasant old-world room looking on the quiet old street; and on a
shelf, amidst a collection of novels, stood the sedate volumes of
Chambers's Encyclopaedia.

That a gentleman from the country should desire to look up the subject
of "hounds" would not, to a casual observer, have seemed unnatural. But
when from hounds the student proceeded to the article on blood, and
thence to one devoted to perfumes, the observer might reasonably have
felt some surprise; and this surprise might have been augmented if he
had followed Mr. Pembury's subsequent proceedings, and specially if he
had considered them as the actions of a man whose immediate aim was the
removal of a superfluous unit of the population.

Having deposited his bag and umbrella in his room, Pembury set forth
from the hotel as one with a definite purpose; and his footsteps
led, in the first place, to an umbrella shop on the Strand, where he
selected a thick rattan cane. There was nothing remarkable in this,
perhaps; but the cane was of an uncomely thickness and the salesman
protested. "I like a thick cane," said Pembury.

"Yes, sir; but for a gentleman of your height" (Pembury was a small,
slightly-built man) "I would venture to suggest--?"

"I like a thick cane," repeated Pembury. "Cut it down to the proper
length and don't rivet the ferrule on. I'll cement it on when I get
home."

His next investment would have seemed more to the purpose, though
suggestive of unexpected crudity of method. It was a large Norwegian
knife. But not content with this he went on forthwith to a second
cutler's and purchased a second knife, the exact duplicate of the
first. Now, for what purpose could he want two identically similar
knives? And why not have bought them both at the same shop? It was
highly mysterious.

Shopping appeared to be a positive mania with Rufus Pembury. In the
course of the next half-hour he acquired a cheap hand-bag, an artist's
black-japanned brush-case, a three-cornered file, a stick of elastic
glue and a pair of iron crucible-tongs. Still insatiable, he repaired
to an old-fashioned chemist's shop in a by-street, where he further
enriched himself with a packet of absorbent cotton-wool and an ounce of
permanganate of potash; and, as the chemist wrapped up these articles,
with the occult and necromantic air peculiar to chemists, Pembury
watched him impassively.

"I suppose you don't keep musk?" he asked carelessly.

The chemist paused in the act of heating a stick of sealing-wax, and
appeared as if about to mutter an incantation. But he merely replied:
"No, sir. Not the solid musk; it's so very costly. But I have the
essence."

"That isn't as strong as the pure stuff, I suppose?"

"No," replied the chemist, with a cryptic smile, "not so strong, but
strong enough. These animal perfumes are so very penetrating, you know;
and so lasting. Why, I venture to say that if you were to sprinkle a
table-spoonful of the essence in the middle of St. Paul's, the place
would smell of it six months hence."

"You don't say so!" said Pembury. "Well, that ought to be enough for
anybody. I'll take a small quantity, please, and, for goodness' sake,
see that there isn't any on the outside of the bottle. The stuff isn't
for myself, and I don't want to go about smelling like a civet cat."

"Naturally you don't, sir," agreed the chemist. He then produced an
ounce bottle, a small glass funnel and a stoppered bottle labelled
"Ess. Moschi," with which he proceeded to perform a few trifling feats
of legerdemain.

"There, sir," said he, when he had finished the performance, "there is
not a drop on the outside of the bottle, and, if I fit it with a rubber
cork, you will be quite secure."

Pembury's dislike of musk appeared to be excessive, for, when the
chemist had retired into a secret cubicle as if to hold converse with
some familiar spirit (but actually to change half-a-crown), he took
the brush-case from his bag, pulled off its lid, and then, with the
crucible-tongs, daintily lifted the bottle off the counter, slid it
softly into the brush-case, and, replacing the lid, returned the case
and tongs to the bag. The other two packets he took from the counter
and dropped into his pocket, and, when the presiding wizard, having
miraculously transformed a single half-crown into four pennies, handed
him the product, he left the shop and walked thoughtfully back towards
the Strand. Suddenly a new idea seemed to strike him. He halted,
considered for a few moments and then strode away northward to make the
oddest of all his purchases.

The transaction took place in a shop in the Seven Dials, whose strange
stock-in-trade ranged the whole zoological gamut, from water-snails to
Angora cats. Pembury looked at a cage of guinea-pigs in the window and
entered the shop.

"Do you happen to have a dead guinea-pig?" he asked.

"No; mine are all alive," replied the man, adding, with a sinister
grin: "But they're not immortal, you know."

Pembury looked at the man distastefully. There is an appreciable
difference between a guinea-pig and a blackmailer. "Any small mammal
would do," he said.

"There's a dead rat in that cage, if he's any good," said the man.
"Died this morning, so he's quite fresh."

"I'll take the rat," said Pembury; "he'll do quite well."

The little corpse was accordingly made into a parcel and deposited in
the bag, and Pembury, having tendered a complimentary fee, made his way
back to the hotel.

After a modest lunch he went forth and spent the remainder of the day
transacting the business which had originally brought him to town.
He dined at a restaurant and did not return to his hotel until ten
o'clock, when he took his key, and tucking under his arm a parcel
that he had brought in with him, retired for the night. But before
undressing--and after locking his door--he did a very strange and
unaccountable thing. Having pulled off the loose ferrule from his
newly-purchased cane, he bored a hole in the bottom of it with the
spike end of the file. Then, using the latter as a broach, he enlarged
the hole until only a narrow rim of the bottom was left. He next rolled
up a small ball of cottonwool and pushed it into the ferrule; and
having smeared the end of the cane with elastic glue, he replaced the
ferrule, warming it over the gas to make the glue stick.

When he had finished with the cane, he turned his attention to one of
the Norwegian knives. First, he carefully removed with the file most of
the bright, yellow varnish from the wooden case or handle.

Then he opened the knife, and, cutting the string of the parcel that
he had brought in, took from it the dead rat which he had bought at
the zoologist's. Laying the animal on a sheet of paper, he cut off its
head, and, holding it up by the tail, allowed the blood that oozed from
the neck to drop on the knife, spreading it over both sides of the
blade and handle with his finger.

Then he laid the knife on the paper and softly opened the window. From
the darkness below came the voice of a cat, apparently perfecting
itself in the execution of chromatic scales; and in that direction
Pembury flung the body and head of the rat, and closed the window.
Finally, having washed his hands and stuffed the paper from the parcel
into the fire-place, he went to bed.

But his proceedings in the morning were equally mysterious. Having
breakfasted betimes, he returned to his bedroom and locked himself
in. Then he tied his new cane, handle downwards, to the leg of the
dressing-table. Next, with the crucible-tongs, he drew the little
bottle of musk from the brush-case, and, having assured himself, by
sniffing at it, that the exterior was really free from odour, he
withdrew the rubber cork. Then, slowly and with infinite care, he
poured a few drops--perhaps half-a-teaspoonful--of the essence on the
cotton-wool that bulged through the hole in the ferrule, watching the
absorbent material narrowly as it soaked up the liquid. When it was
saturated he proceeded to treat the knife in the same fashion, letting
fall a drop of the essence on the wooden handle--which soaked it up
readily. This done, he slid up the window and looked out. Immediately
below was a tiny yard in which grew, or rather survived, a couple of
faded laurel bushes. The body of the rat was nowhere to be seen; it had
apparently been spirited away in the night. Holding out the bottle,
which he still held, he dropped it into the bushes, flinging the rubber
cork after it.

His next proceeding was to take a tube of vaseline from his
dressing-bag and squeeze a small quantity onto his fingers. With this
he thoroughly smeared the shoulder of the brush-case and the inside of
the lid, so as to ensure an air-tight joint. Having wiped his fingers,
he picked the knife up with the crucible-tongs, and, dropping it into
the brush-case, immediately pushed on the lid. Then he heated the tips
of the tongs in the gas flame to destroy the scent, packed the tongs
and brush-case in the bag, untied the cane--carefully avoiding contact
with the ferrule--and, taking up the two bags, went out, holding the
cane by its middle.

There was no difficulty in finding an empty compartment, for
first-class passengers were few at that time in the morning. Pembury
waited on the platform until the guard's whistle sounded, when he
stepped into the compartment, shut the door and laid the cane on the
seat with its ferrule projecting out of the off-side window, in which
position it remained until the train drew up in Baysford station.

Pembury left his dressing-bag at the cloak-room, and, still grasping
the cane by its middle, he sallied forth. The town of Baysford lay
some half-a-mile to the east of the station; his own house was a mile
along the road to the west; and half-way between his house and the
station was the residence of General O'Gorman. He knew the place well.
Originally a farmhouse, it stood on the edge of a great expanse of
flat meadows and communicated with the road by an avenue, nearly three
hundred yards long, of ancient trees. The avenue was shut off from
the road by a pair of iron gates, but these were merely ornamental,
for the place was unenclosed and accessible from the surrounding
meadows--indeed, an indistinct footpath crossed the meadows and
intersected the avenue about half-way up.

On this occasion Pembury, whose objective was the avenue, elected to
approach it by the latter route; and at each stile or fence that he
surmounted, he paused to survey the country. Presently the avenue arose
before him, lying athwart the narrow track, and, as he entered it
between two of the trees, he halted and looked about him.

He stood listening for a while. Beyond the faint rustle of leaves no
sound was to be heard. Evidently there was no one about, and, as Pratt
was at large, it was probable that the general was absent.

And now Pembury began to examine the adjacent trees with more than a
casual interest. The two between which he had entered were respectively
an elm and a great pollard oak, the latter being an immense tree whose
huge, warty bole divided about seven feet from the ground into three
limbs, each as large as a fair-sized tree, of which the largest swept
outward in a great curve half-way across the avenue. On this patriarch
Pembury bestowed especial attention, walking completely round it and
finally laying down his bag and cane (the latter resting on the bag
with the ferrule off the ground) that he might climb up, by the aid of
the warty outgrowths, to examine the crown; and he had just stepped
up into the space between the three limbs, when the creaking of the
iron gates was followed by a quick step in the avenue. Hastily he let
himself down from the tree, and, gathering up his possessions, stood
close behind the great bole.

"Just as well not to be seen," was his reflection, as he hugged the
tree closely and waited, peering cautiously round the trunk. Soon
a streak of moving shadow heralded the stranger's approach, and he
moved round to keep the trunk between himself and the intruder. On the
footsteps came, until the stranger was abreast of the tree; and when he
had passed Pembury peeped round at the retreating figure. It was only
the postman, but then the man knew him, and he was glad he had kept out
of sight.

Apparently the oak did not meet his requirements, for he stepped out
and looked up and down the avenue. Then, beyond the elm, he caught
sight of an ancient pollard hornbeam--a strange, fantastic tree whose
trunk widened out trumpet-like above into a broad crown, from the edge
of which multitudinous branches uprose like the limbs of some weird
hamadryad.

That tree he approved at a glance, but he lingered behind the oak until
the postman, returning with brisk step and cheerful whistle, passed
down the avenue and left him once more in solitude. Then he moved on
with a resolute air to the hornbeam.

The crown of the trunk was barely six feet from the ground. He could
reach it easily, as he found on trying. Standing the cane against the
tree--ferrule downwards, this time--he took the brush-case from the
bag, pulled off the lid, and, with the crucible-tongs, lifted out the
knife and laid it on the crown of the tree, just out of sight, leaving
the tongs also invisible--still grasping the knife. He was about to
replace the brush-case in the bag, when he appeared to alter his mind.
Sniffing at it, and finding it reeking with the sickly perfume, he
pushed the lid on again and threw the case up into the tree, where he
heard it roll down into the central hollow of the crown. Then he closed
the bag, and, taking the cane by its handle, moved slowly away in the
direction whence he had come, passing out of the avenue between the elm
and the oak.

His mode of progress was certainly peculiar. He walked with excessive
slowness, trailing the cane along the ground, and every few paces he
would stop and press the ferrule firmly against the earth, so that,
to any one who should have observed him, he would have appeared to be
wrapped in an absorbing reverie.

Thus he moved on across the fields, not, however, returning to the high
road, but crossing another stretch of fields until he emerged into a
narrow lane that led out into the High Street. Immediately opposite
to the lane was the police station, distinguished from the adjacent
cottages only by its lamp, its open door and the notices pasted up
outside. Straight across the road Pembury walked, still trailing the
cane, and halted at the station door to read the notices, resting his
cane on the doorstep as he did so. Through the open doorway he could
see a man writing at a desk. The man's back was towards him, but,
presently, a movement brought his left hand into view, and Pembury
noted that the forefinger was missing. This, then, was Jack Ellis, late
of the Civil Guard at Portland.

Even while he was looking the man turned his head, and Pembury
recognized him at once. He had frequently met him on the road between
Baysford and the adjoining village of Thorpe, and always at the same
time. Apparently Ellis paid a daily visit to Thorpe--perhaps to receive
a report from the rural constable--and he started between three and
four and returned between seven and a quarter past.

Pembury looked at his watch. It was a quarter past three. He moved away
thoughtfully (holding his cane, now, by the middle), and began to walk
slowly in the direction of Thorpe--westward.

For a while he was deeply meditative, and his face wore a puzzled
frown. Then, suddenly, his face cleared and he strode forward at a
brisker pace. Presently he passed through a gap in the hedge, and,
walking in a field parallel with the road, took out his purse--a small
pigskin pouch.

Having frugally emptied it of its contents, excepting a few shillings,
he thrust the ferrule of his cane into the small compartment ordinarily
reserved for gold or notes.

And thus he continued to walk on slowly, carrying the cane by the
middle and the purse jammed on the end.

At length he reached a sharp double curve in the road whence he could
see back for a considerable distance; and here opposite a small
opening, he sat down to wait. The hedge screened him effectually
from the gaze of passers-by--though these were few enough--without
interfering with his view.

A quarter of an hour passed. He began to be uneasy. Had he been
mistaken? Were Ellis's visits only occasional instead of daily, as he
had thought? That would be tiresome though not actually disastrous. But
at this point in his reflections a figure came into view, advancing
along the road with a steady swing. He recognized the figure. It was
Ellis.

But there was another figure advancing from the opposite direction:
a labourer, apparently. He prepared to shift his ground, but another
glance showed him that the labourer would pass first. He waited. The
labourer came on and, at length, passed the opening, and, as he did so,
Ellis disappeared for a moment in a bend of the road. Instantly Pembury
passed his cane through the opening in the hedge, shook off the purse
and pushed it into the middle of the foot-way. Then he crept forward,
behind the hedge, towards the approaching official, and again sat down
to wait. On came the steady tramp of the unconscious Ellis, and, as it
passed, Pembury drew aside an obstructing branch and peered out at the
retreating figure. The question now was, would Ellis see the purse? It
was not a very conspicuous object.

The footsteps stopped abruptly. Looking out, Pembury saw the police
official stoop, pick up the purse, examine its contents and finally
stow it in his trousers pocket. Pembury heaved a sigh of relief; and,
as the dwindling figure passed out of sight round a curve in the road,
he rose, stretched himself and strode away briskly.

Near the gap was a group of ricks, and, as he passed them, a fresh idea
suggested itself. Looking round quickly he passed to the farther side
of one and, thrusting his cane deeply into it, pushed it home with a
piece of stick that he picked up near the rick, until the handle was
lost among the straw. The bag was now all that was left, and it was
empty--for his other purchases were in the dressing-bag, which, by
the way, he must fetch from the station. He opened it and smelt the
interior, but, though he could detect no odour, he resolved to be rid
of it if possible.

As he emerged from the gap a wagon jogged slowly past. It was piled
high with sacks, and the tail-board was down. Stepping into the road,
he quickly overtook the wagon, and, having glanced round, laid the bag
lightly on the tail-board. Then he set off for the station.

On arriving home he went straight up to his bedroom, and, ringing for
his housekeeper, ordered a substantial meal. Then he took off his
clothes and deposited them, even to his shirt, socks and necktie,
in a trunk, wherein his summer clothing was stored with a plentiful
sprinkling of naphthol to preserve it from the moth. Taking the packet
of permanganate of potash from his dressing-bag, he passed into the
adjoining bathroom, and, tipping the crystals into the bath, turned on
the water. Soon the bath was filled with a pink solution of the salt,
and into this he plunged, immersing his entire body and thoroughly
soaking his hair. Then he emptied the bath and rinsed himself in clear
water, and, having dried himself, returned to the bedroom and dressed
himself in fresh clothing. Finally he took a hearty meal, and then
lay down on the sofa to rest until it should be time to start for the
rendezvous.

Half-past six found him lurking in the shadow by the station-approach,
within sight of the solitary lamp. He heard the train come in, saw
the stream of passengers emerge, and noted one figure detach itself
from the throng and turn on to the Thorpe road. It was Pratt, as the
lamplight showed him; Pratt, striding forward to the meeting-place with
an air of jaunty satisfaction and an uncommonly creaky pair of boots.

Pembury followed him at a safe distance, and rather by sound than
sight, until he was well past the stile at the entrance to the
footpath. Evidently he was going on to the gates. Then Pembury vaulted
over the stile and strode away swiftly across the dark meadows.

When he plunged into the deep gloom of the avenue, his first act was to
grope his way to the hornbeam and slip his hand up onto the crown and
satisfy himself that the tongs were as he had left them. Reassured by
the touch of his fingers on the iron loops, he turned and walked slowly
down the avenue. The duplicate knife--ready opened--was in his left
inside breast-pocket, and he fingered its handle as he walked.

Presently the iron gate squeaked mournfully, and then the rhythmical
creak of a pair of boots was audible, coming up the avenue. Pembury
walked forward slowly until a darker smear emerged from the surrounding
gloom, when he called out:

"Is that you, Pratt?"

"That's me," was the cheerful, if ungrammatical response, and, as he
drew nearer, the ex-warder asked: "Have you brought the rhino, old man?"

The insolent familiarity of the man's tone was agreeable to Pembury: it
strengthened his nerve and hardened his heart. "Of course," he replied;
"but we must have a definite understanding, you know."

"Look here," said Pratt, "I've got no time for jaw. The General will be
here presently; he's riding over from Bingfield with a friend. You hand
over the dibs and we'll talk some other time."

"That is all very well," said Pembury, "but you must understand--?" He
paused abruptly and stood still. They were now close to the hornbeam,
and, as he stood, he stared up into the dark mass of foliage.

"What's the matter?" demanded Pratt. "What are you staring at?" He,
too, had halted and stood gazing intently into the darkness.

Then, in an instant, Pembury whipped out the knife and drove it, with
all his strength, into the broad back of the ex-warder, below the left
shoulder-blade.

With a hideous yell Pratt turned and grappled with his assailant. A
powerful man and a competent wrestler, too, he was far more than a
match for Pembury unarmed, and, in a moment, he had him by the throat.
But Pembury clung to him tightly, and, as they trampled to and fro
and round and round, he stabbed again and again with the viciousness
of a scorpion, while Pratt's cries grew more gurgling and husky. Then
they fell heavily to the ground, Pembury underneath. But the struggle
was over. With a last bubbling groan, Pratt relaxed his hold and in a
moment grew limp and inert. Pembury pushed him off and rose, trembling
and breathing heavily.

But he wasted no time. There had been more noise than he had bargained
for. Quickly stepping up to the hornbeam, he reached up for the tongs.
His fingers slid into the looped handles; the tongs grasped the knife,
and he lifted it out from its hiding-place and carried it to where the
corpse lay, depositing it on the ground a few feet from the body. Then
he went back to the tree and carefully pushed the tongs over into the
hollow of the crown.

At this moment a woman's voice sounded shrilly from the top of the
avenue.

"Is that you, Mr. Pratt?" it called.

Pembury started and then stepped back quickly, on tiptoe, to the body.
For there was the duplicate knife. He must take that away at all costs.

The corpse was lying on its back. The knife was underneath it, driven
in to the very haft. He had to use both hands to lift the body, and
even then he had some difficulty in disengaging the weapon. And,
meanwhile, the voice, repeating its question, drew nearer.

At length he succeeded in drawing out the knife and thrust it into his
breast-pocket. The corpse fell back, and he stood up gasping.

"Mr. Pratt! Are you there?" The nearness of the voice startled Pembury,
and, turning sharply, he saw a light twinkling between the trees. And
then the gates creaked loudly and he heard the crunch of a horse's
hoofs on the gravel.

He stood for an instant bewildered--utterly taken by surprise. He had
not reckoned on a horse. His intended flight across the meadows towards
Thorpe was now impracticable. If he were overtaken he was lost, for
he knew there was blood on his clothes and his hands were wet and
slippery--to say nothing of the knife in his pocket.

But his confusion lasted only for an instant. He remembered the oak
tree; and, turning out of the avenue, he ran to it, and, touching it
as little as he could with his bloody hands, climbed quickly up into
the crown. The great horizontal limb was nearly three feet in diameter,
and, as he lay out on it, gathering his coat closely round him, he was
quite invisible from below.

He had hardly settled himself when the light which he had seen came
into full view, revealing a woman advancing with a stable lantern in
her hand. And, almost at the same moment, a streak of brighter light
burst from the opposite direction. The horseman was accompanied by a
man on a bicycle.

The two men came on apace, and the horseman, sighting the woman, called
out: "Anything the matter, Mrs. Parton?" But, at that moment, the light
of the bicycle lamp fell full on the prostrate corpse. The two men
uttered a simultaneous cry of horror; the woman shrieked aloud: and
then the horseman sprang from the saddle and ran forward to the body.

"Why," he exclaimed, stooping over it, "it's Pratt;" and, as the
cyclist came up and the glare of his lamp shone on a great pool of
blood, he added: "There's been foul play here, Hanford."

Hanford flashed his lamp around the body, lighting up the ground for
several yards.

"What is that behind you, O'Gorman?" he said suddenly; "isn't it a
knife?" He was moving quickly towards it when O'Gorman held up his hand.

"Don't touch it!" he exclaimed. "We'll put the hounds onto it. They'll
soon track the scoundrel, whoever he is. By God! Hanford, this fellow
has fairly delivered himself into our hands." He stood for a few
moments looking down at the knife with something uncommonly like
exultation, and then, turning quickly to his friend, said: "Look here,
Hanford; you ride off to the police station as hard as you can pelt. It
is only three-quarters of a mile; you'll do it in five minutes. Send or
bring an officer and I'll scour the meadows meanwhile. If I haven't got
the scoundrel when you come back, we'll put the hounds onto this knife
and run the beggar down."

"Right," replied Hanford, and without another word he wheeled his
machine about, mounted and rode away into the darkness.

"Mrs. Parton," said O'Gorman, "watch that knife. See that nobody
touches it while I go and examine the meadows."

"Is Mr. Pratt dead, sir?" whimpered Mrs. Parton.

"Gad! I hadn't thought of that," said the general. "You'd better have
a look at him; but mind! nobody is to touch that knife or they will
confuse the scent."

He scrambled into the saddle and galloped away across the meadows in
the direction of Thorpe; and, as Pembury listened to the diminuendo of
the horse's hoofs, he was glad that he had not attempted to escape; for
that was the direction in which he had meant to go, and he would surely
have been overtaken.

As soon as the general was gone, Mrs. Parton, with many a
terror-stricken glance over her shoulder, approached the corpse and
held the lantern close to the dead face. Suddenly she stood up,
trembling violently, for footsteps were audible coming down the avenue.
A familiar voice reassured her.

"Is anything wrong, Mrs. Parton?" The question proceeded from one of
the maids who had come in search of the elder woman, escorted by a
young man, and the pair now came out into the circle of light.

"Good God!" ejaculated the man. "Who's that?"

"It's Mr. Pratt," replied Mrs. Parton. "He's been murdered."

The girl screamed, and then the two domestics approached on tiptoe,
staring at the corpse with the fascination of horror.

"Don't touch that knife," said Mrs. Parton, for the man was about to
pick it up. "The general's going to put the bloodhounds onto it."

"Is the general here, then?" asked the man; and, as he spoke, the
drumming of hoofs, growing momentarily louder, answered him from the
meadow.

O'Gorman reined in his horse as he perceived the group of servants
gathered about the corpse. "Is he dead, Mrs. Parton?" he asked.

"I am afraid so, sir," was the reply.

"Ha! Somebody ought to go for the doctor; but not you, Bailey. I want
you to get the hounds ready and wait with them at the top of the avenue
until I call you."

He was off again into the Baysford meadows, and Bailey hurried away,
leaving the two women staring at the body and talking in whispers.

Pembury's position was cramped and uncomfortable. He dared not move,
hardly dared to breathe, for the women below him were not a dozen yards
away; and it was with mingled feelings of relief and apprehension
that he presently saw from his elevated station a group of lights
approaching rapidly along the road from Baysford. Presently they were
hidden by the trees, and then, after a brief interval, the whirr of
wheels sounded on the drive and streaks of light on the tree-trunks
announced the new arrivals. There were three bicycles, ridden
respectively by Mr. Hanford, a police inspector and a sergeant; and, as
they drew up, the general came thundering back into the avenue.

"Is Ellis with you?" he asked, as he pulled up.

"No, sir," was the reply. "He hadn't come in from Thorpe when we left.
He's rather late to-night."

"Have you sent for a doctor?"

"Yes, sir, I've sent for Dr. Hills," said the inspector, resting his
bicycle against the oak. Pembury could smell the reek of the lamp as he
crouched. "Is Pratt dead?"

"Seems to be," replied O'Gorman, "but we'd better leave that to the
doctor. There's the murderer's knife. Nobody has touched it. I'm going
to fetch the bloodhounds now."

"Ah! that's the thing," said the inspector. "The man can't be far
away." He rubbed his hands with a satisfied air as O'Gorman cantered
away up the avenue.

In less than a minute there came out from the darkness the deep baying
of a hound followed by quick footsteps on the gravel. Then into the
circle of light emerged three sinister shapes, loose-limbed and gaunt,
and two men advancing at a shambling trot.

"Here, inspector," shouted the general, "you take one; I can't hold 'em
both."

The inspector ran forward and seized one of the leashes, and the
general led his hound up to the knife, as it lay on the ground.
Pembury, peering cautiously round the bough, watched the great brute
with almost impersonal curiosity; noted its high poll, its wrinkled
forehead and melancholy face as it stooped to snuff suspiciously at the
prostrate knife.

For some moments the hound stood motionless, sniffing at the knife;
then it turned away and walked to and fro with its muzzle to the
ground. Suddenly it lifted its head, bayed loudly, lowered its muzzle
and started forward between the oak and the elm, dragging the general
after it at a run.

The inspector next brought his hound to the knife, and was soon
bounding away to the tug of the leash in the general's wake.

"They don't make no mistakes, they don't," said Bailey, addressing the
gratified sergeant, as he brought forward the third hound; "you'll
see--?" But his remark was cut short by a violent jerk of the leash,
and the next moment he was flying after the others, followed by Mr.
Hanford.

The sergeant daintily picked the knife up by its ring, wrapped it in
his handkerchief and bestowed it in his pocket. Then he ran off after
the hounds.

Pembury smiled grimly. His scheme was working out admirably in spite
of the unforeseen difficulties. If those confounded women would only
go away, he could come down and take himself off while the course was
clear. He listened to the baying of the hounds, gradually growing
fainter in the increasing distance, and cursed the dilatoriness of the
doctor. Confound the fellow! Didn't he realize that this was a case of
life or death?

Suddenly his ear caught the tinkle of a bicycle bell; a fresh light
appeared coming up the avenue and then a bicycle swept up swiftly to
the scene of the tragedy, and a small elderly man jumped down by the
side of the body. Giving his machine to Mrs. Parton, he stooped over
the dead man, felt the wrist, pushed back an eyelid, held a match to
the eye and then rose. "This is a shocking affair, Mrs. Parton," said
he. "The poor fellow is quite dead. You had better help me to carry him
to the house. If you two take the feet I will take the shoulders."

Pembury watched them raise the body and stagger away with it up the
avenue. He heard their shuffling steps die away and the door of the
house shut. And still he listened. From far away in the meadows came,
at intervals, the baying of the hounds. Other sounds there was none.
Presently the doctor would come back for his bicycle, but, for the
moment, the coast was clear. Pembury rose stiffly. His hands had stuck
to the tree where they had pressed against it, and they were still
sticky and damp. Quickly he let himself down to the ground, listened
again for a moment, and then, making a small circuit to avoid the
lamplight, softly crossed the avenue and stole away across the Thorpe
meadows.

The night was intensely dark, and not a soul was stirring in the
meadows. He strode forward quickly, peering into the darkness and
stopping now and again to listen; but no sound came to his ears, save
the now faint baying of the distant hounds. Not far from his house, he
remembered, was a deep ditch spanned by a wooden bridge, and towards
this he now made his way; for he knew that his appearance was such as
to convict him at a glance. Arrived at the ditch, he stooped to wash
his hands and wrists; and, as he bent forward, the knife fell from his
breast-pocket into the shallow water at the margin. He groped for it,
and, having found it, drove it deep into the mud as far out as he could
reach. Then he wiped his hands on some water-weed, crossed the bridge
and started homewards.

He approached his house from the rear, satisfied himself that
his housekeeper was in the kitchen, and, letting himself in very
quietly with his key, went quickly up to his bedroom. Here he washed
thoroughly--in the bath, so that he could get rid of the discoloured
water--changed his clothes and packed those that he took off in a
portmanteau.

By the time he had done this the gong sounded for supper. As he took
his seat at the table, spruce and fresh in appearance, quietly cheerful
in manner, he addressed his housekeeper. "I wasn't able to finish my
business in London," he said. "I shall have to go up again to-morrow."

"Shall you come home the same day?" asked the housekeeper.

"Perhaps," was the reply, "and perhaps not. It will depend on
circumstances."

He did not say what the circumstances might be, nor did the housekeeper
ask. Mr. Pembury was not addicted to confidences. He was an eminently
discreet man: and discreet men say little.


PART II. RIVAL SLEUTH-HOUNDS


(Related by Christopher Jervis, M.D.)

The half-hour that follows breakfast, when the fire has, so to speak,
got into its stride, and the morning pipe throws up its clouds of
incense, is, perhaps, the most agreeable in the whole day. Especially
so when a sombre sky, brooding over the town, hints at streets pervaded
by the chilly morning air, and hoots from protesting tugs upon the
river tell of lingering mists, the legacy of the lately-vanished night.

The autumn morning was raw; the fire burned jovially. I thrust
my slippered feet towards the blaze and meditated, on nothing in
particular, with cat-like enjoyment. Presently a disapproving grunt
from Thorndyke attracted my attention, and I looked round lazily. He
was extracting, with a pair of office shears, the readable portions
of the morning paper, and had paused with a small cutting between his
finger and thumb. "Bloodhounds again," said he. "We shall be hearing
presently of the revival of the ordeal by fire."

"And a deuced comfortable ordeal, too, on a morning like this," I said,
stroking my legs ecstatically. "What is the case?"

He was about to reply when a sharp rat-tat from the little brass
knocker announced a disturber of our peace. Thorndyke stepped over
to the door and admitted a police inspector in uniform, and I stood
up, and, presenting my dorsal aspect to the fire, prepared to combine
bodily comfort with attention to business.

"I believe I am speaking to Dr. Thorndyke," said the officer, and, as
Thorndyke nodded, he went on: "My name, sir, is Fox, Inspector Fox of
the Baysford Police. Perhaps you've seen the morning paper?"

Thorndyke held up the cutting, and, placing a chair by the fire, asked
the inspector if he had breakfasted.

"Thank you, sir, I have," replied Inspector Fox. "I came up to town
by the late train last night so as to be here early, and stayed at an
hotel. You see, from the paper, that we have had to arrest one of our
own men. That's rather awkward, you know, sir."

"Very," agreed Thorndyke.

"Yes; it's bad for the force and bad for the public too. But we had to
do it. There was no way out that we could see. Still, we should like
the accused to have every chance, both for our sake and his own, so the
chief constable thought he'd like to have your opinion on the case, and
he thought that, perhaps, you might be willing to act for the defence."

"Let us have the particulars," said Thorndyke, taking a writing-pad
from a drawer and dropping into his armchair. "Begin at the beginning,"
he added, "and tell us all you know."

"Well," said the inspector, after a preliminary cough, "to begin with
the murdered man: his name is Pratt. He was a retired prison warder,
and was employed as steward by General O'Gorman, who is a retired
prison governor--you may have heard of him in connection with his pack
of bloodhounds. Well, Pratt came down from London yesterday evening by
a train arriving at Baysford at six-thirty. He was seen by the guard,
the ticket collector and the outside porter. The porter saw him leave
the station at six-thirty-seven. General O'Gorman's house is about
half-a-mile from the station. At five minutes to seven the general and
a gentleman named Hanford and the general's housekeeper, a Mrs. Parton,
found Pratt lying dead in the avenue that leads up to the house. He
had apparently been stabbed, for there was a lot of blood about, and a
knife--a Norwegian knife--was lying on the ground near the body. Mrs.
Parton had thought she heard someone in the avenue calling out for
help, and, as Pratt was just due, she came out with a lantern. She met
the general and Mr. Hanford, and all three seem to have caught sight of
the body at the same moment. Mr. Hanford cycled down to us, at once,
with the news; we sent for a doctor, and I went back with Mr. Hanford
and took a sergeant with me. We arrived at twelve minutes past seven,
and then the general, who had galloped his horse over the meadows
each side of the avenue without having seen anybody, fetched out his
bloodhounds and led them up to the knife. All three hounds took up the
scent at once--I held the leash of one of them--and they took us across
the meadows without a pause or a falter, over stiles and fences, along
a lane, out into the town, and then, one after the other, they crossed
the road in a bee-line to the police station, bolted in at the door,
which stood open, and made straight for the desk, where a supernumerary
officer, named Ellis, was writing. They made a rare to-do, struggling
to get at him, and it was as much as we could manage to hold them back.
As for Ellis, he turned as pale as a ghost."

"Was any one else in the room?" asked Thorndyke.

"Oh, yes. There were two constables and a messenger. We led the hounds
up to them, but the brutes wouldn't take any notice of them. They
wanted Ellis."

"And what did you do?"

"Why, we arrested Ellis, of course. Couldn't do anything
else--especially with the general there."

"What had the general to do with it?" asked Thorndyke.

"He's a J.P. and a late governor of Dartmoor, and it was his hounds
that had run the man down. But we must have arrested Ellis in any case."

"Is there anything against the accused man?"

"Yes, there is. He and Pratt were on distinctly unfriendly terms. They
were old comrades, for Ellis was in the Civil Guard at Portland when
Pratt was warder there--he was pensioned off from the service because
he got his left forefinger chopped off--but lately they had had some
unpleasantness about a woman, a parlourmaid of the general's. It seems
that Ellis, who is a married man, paid the girl too much attention--or
Pratt thought he did--and Pratt warned Ellis off the premises. Since
then they had not been on speaking terms."

"And what sort of a man is Ellis?"

"A remarkably decent fellow he always seemed; quiet, steady,
good-natured; I should have said he wouldn't have hurt a fly. We all
liked him--better than we liked Pratt, in fact; poor Pratt was what
you'd call an old soldier--sly, you know, sir--and a bit of a sneak."

"You searched and examined Ellis, of course?"

"Yes. There was nothing suspicious about him except that he had
two purses. But he says he picked up one of them? a small, pigskin
pouch--on the footpath of the Thorpe road yesterday afternoon; and
there's no reason to disbelieve him. At any rate, the purse was not
Pratt's."

Thorndyke made a note on his pad, and then asked: "There were no
blood-stains or marks on his clothing?"

"No. His clothing was not marked or disarranged in any way."

"Any cuts, scratches or bruises on his person?"

"None whatever," replied the inspector.

"At what time did you arrest Ellis?"

"Half-past seven exactly."

"Have you ascertained what his movements were? Had he been near the
scene of the murder?"

"Yes; he had been to Thorpe and would pass the gates of the avenue on
his way back. And he was later than usual in returning, though not
later than he has often been before."

"And now, as to the murdered man: has the body been examined?"

"Yes; I had Dr. Hills's report before I left. There were no less than
seven deep knife-wounds, all on the left side of the back. There was a
great deal of blood on the ground, and Dr. Hills thinks Pratt must have
bled to death in a minute or two."

"Do the wounds correspond with the knife that was found?"

"I asked the doctor that, and he said 'Yes,' though he wasn't going
to swear to any particular knife. However, that point isn't of much
importance. The knife was covered with blood, and it was found close to
the body."

"What has been done with it, by the way?" asked Thorndyke.

"The sergeant who was with me picked it up and rolled it in his
handkerchief to carry in his pocket. I took it from him, just as it
was, and locked it in a dispatch-box."

"Has the knife been recognized as Ellis's property?"

"No, sir, it has not."

"Were there any recognizable footprints or marks of a struggle?"
Thorndyke asked.

The inspector grinned sheepishly. "I haven't examined the spot,
of course, sir," said he, "but, after the general's horse and the
bloodhounds and the general on foot and me and the gardener and the
sergeant and Mr. Hanford had been over it twice, going and returning,
why, you see, sir--?"

"Exactly, exactly," said Thorndyke. "Well, inspector, I shall be
pleased to act for the defence; it seems to me that the case against
Ellis is in some respects rather inconclusive."

The inspector was frankly amazed. "It certainly hadn't struck me in
that light, sir," he said.

"No? Well, that is my view; and I think the best plan will be for me to
come down with you and investigate matters on the spot."

The inspector assented cheerfully, and, when we had provided him with
a newspaper, we withdrew to the laboratory to consult time-tables and
prepare for the expedition.

"You are coming, I suppose, Jervis?" said Thorndyke.

"If I shall be of any use," I replied.

"Of course you will," said he. "Two heads are better than one, and, by
the look of things, I should say that ours will be the only ones with
any sense in them. We will take the research case, of course, and we
may as well have a camera with us. I see there is a train from Charing
Cross in twenty minutes."

For the first half-hour of the journey Thorndyke sat in his corner,
alternately conning over his notes and gazing with thoughtful eyes out
of the window. I could see that the case pleased him, and was careful
not to break in upon his train of thought. Presently, however, he put
away his notes and began to fill his pipe with a more companionable
air, and then the inspector, who had been wriggling with impatience,
opened fire.

"So you think, sir, that you see a way out for Ellis?"

"I think there is a case for the defence," replied Thorndyke. "In fact,
I call the evidence against him rather flimsy."

The inspector gasped. "But the knife, sir? What about the knife?"

"Well," said Thorndyke, "what about the knife? Whose knife was it? You
don't know. It was covered with blood. Whose blood? You don't know. Let
us assume, for the sake of argument, that it was the murderer's knife.
Then the blood on it was Pratt's blood. But if it was Pratt's blood,
when the hounds had smelt it they should have led you to Pratt's body,
for blood gives a very strong scent. But they did not. They ignored the
body. The inference seems to be that the blood on the knife was not
Pratt's blood."

The inspector took off his cap and gently scratched the back of his
head. "You're perfectly right, sir," he said. "I'd never thought of
that. None of us had."

"Then," pursued Thorndyke, "let us assume that the knife was Pratt's.
If so, it would seem to have been used in self-defence. But this was
a Norwegian knife, a clumsy tool--not a weapon at all--which takes
an appreciable time to open and requires the use of two free hands.
Now, had Pratt both hands free? Certainly not after the attack had
commenced. There were seven wounds, all on the left side of the back;
which indicates that he held the murderer locked in his arms and that
the murderer's arms were around him. Also, incidentally, that the
murderer is right-handed. But, still, let us assume that the knife
was Pratt's. Then the blood on it was that of the murderer. Then the
murderer must have been wounded. But Ellis was not wounded. Then Ellis
is not the murderer. The knife doesn't help us at all."

The inspector puffed out his cheeks and blew softly. "This is getting
out of my depth," he said. "Still, sir, you can't get over the
bloodhounds. They tell us distinctly that the knife is Ellis's knife
and I don't see any answer to that."

"There is no answer because there has been no statement. The
bloodhounds have told you nothing. You have drawn certain inferences
from their actions, but those inferences may be totally wrong and they
are certainly not evidence."

"You don't seem to have much opinion of bloodhounds," the inspector
remarked.

"As agents for the detection of crime," replied Thorndyke, "I regard
them as useless. You cannot put a bloodhound in the witness-box.
You can get no intelligible statement from it. If it possesses any
knowledge, it has no means of communicating it. The fact is," he
continued, "that the entire system of using bloodhounds for criminal
detection is based on a fallacy. In the American plantations these
animals were used with great success for tracking runaway slaves.
But the slave was a known individual. All that was required was to
ascertain his whereabouts. That is not the problem that is presented
in the detection of a crime. The detective is not concerned in
establishing the whereabouts of a known individual, but in discovering
the identity of an unknown individual. And for this purpose bloodhounds
are useless. They may discover such identity, but they cannot
communicate their knowledge. If the criminal is unknown, they cannot
identify him: if he is known, the police have no need of the bloodhound.

"To return to our present case," Thorndyke resumed, after a pause;
"we have employed certain agents--the hounds--with whom we are not
en rapport, as the spiritualists would say; and we have no 'medium.'
The hound possesses a special sense--the olfactory--which in man is
quite rudimentary. He thinks, so to speak, in terms of smell, and his
thoughts are untranslatable to beings in whom the sense of smell is
undeveloped. We have presented to the hound a knife, and he discovers
in it certain odorous properties; he discovers similar or related
odorous properties in a tract of land and a human individual--Ellis.
We cannot verify his discoveries or ascertain their nature. What
remains? All that we can say is that there appears to exist some
odorous relation between the knife and the man Ellis. But until we
can ascertain the nature of that relation, we cannot estimate its
evidential value or bearing. All the other 'evidence' is the product of
your imagination and that of the general. There is, at present, no case
against Ellis."

"He must have been pretty close to the place when the murder happened,"
said the inspector.

"So, probably, were many other people," answered Thorndyke; "but had he
time to wash and change? Because he would have needed it."

"I suppose he would," the inspector agreed dubiously.

"Undoubtedly. There were seven wounds which would have taken some time
to inflict. Now we can't suppose that Pratt stood passively while the
other man stabbed him. Indeed, as I have said, the position of the
wounds shows that he did not. There was a struggle. The two men were
locked together. One of the murderer's hands was against Pratt's back;
probably both hands were, one clasping and the other stabbing. There
must have been blood on one hand and probably on both. But you say
there was no blood on Ellis, and there doesn't seem to have been time
or opportunity for him to wash."

"Well, it's a mysterious affair," said the inspector; "but I don't see
how you are going to get over the bloodhounds."

Thorndyke shrugged his shoulders impatiently. "The bloodhounds are
an obsession," he said. "The whole problem really centres around
the knife. The questions are, Whose knife was it? and what was the
connection between it and Ellis? There is a problem, Jervis," he
continued, turning to me, "that I submit for your consideration. Some
of the possible solutions are exceedingly curious."

As we set out from Baysford station, Thorndyke looked at his watch and
noted the time. "You will take us the way that Pratt went," he said.

"As to that," said the inspector, "he may have gone by the road or by
the footpath; but there's very little difference in the distance."

Turning away from Baysford, we walked along the road westward, towards
the village of Thorpe, and presently passed on our right a stile at the
entrance to a footpath.

"That path," said the inspector, "crosses the avenue about half-way
up. But we'd better keep to the road." A quarter of a mile further on
we came to a pair of rusty iron gates one of which stood open, and,
entering, we found ourselves in a broad drive bordered by two rows of
trees, between the trunks of which a long stretch of pasture meadows
could be seen on either hand. It was a fine avenue, and, late in the
year as it was, the yellowing foliage clustered thickly overhead.

When we had walked about a hundred and fifty yards from the gates, the
inspector halted.

"This is the place," he said; and Thorndyke again noted the time.

"Nine minutes exactly," said he. "Then Pratt arrived here about
fourteen minutes to seven, and his body was found at five minutes to
seven--nine minutes after his arrival. The murderer couldn't have been
far away then."

"No, it was a pretty fresh scent," replied the inspector. "You'd like
to see the body first, I think you said, sir?"

"Yes; and the knife, if you please."

"I shall have to send down to the station for that. It's locked up in
the office."

He entered the house, and, having dispatched a messenger to the
police station, came out and conducted us to the outbuilding where
the corpse had been deposited. Thorndyke made a rapid examination of
the wounds and the holes in the clothing, neither of which presented
anything particularly suggestive. The weapon used had evidently been
a thick-backed, single-edged knife similar to the one described, and
the discolouration around the wounds indicated that the weapon had a
definite shoulder like that of a Norwegian knife, and that it had been
driven in with savage violence.

"Do you find anything that throws any light on the case?" the inspector
asked, when the examination was concluded.

"That is impossible to say until we have seen the knife," replied
Thorndyke; "but while we are waiting for it, we may as well go and look
at the scene of the tragedy. These are Pratt's boots, I think?" He
lifted a pair of stout laced boots from the table and turned them up to
inspect the soles.

"Yes, those are his boots," replied Fox, "and pretty easy they'd have
been to track, if the case had been the other way about. Those Blakey's
protectors are as good as a trademark."

"We'll take them, at any rate," said Thorndyke; and, the inspector
having taken the boots from him, we went out and retraced our steps
down the avenue.

The place where the murder had occurred was easily identified by a
large dark stain on the gravel at one side of the drive, half-way
between two trees--an ancient pollard hornbeam and an elm. Next to the
elm was a pollard oak with a squat, warty bole about seven feet high,
and three enormous limbs, of which one slanted half-way across the
avenue; and between these two trees the ground was covered with the
tracks of men and hounds superimposed upon the hoof-prints of a horse.

"Where was the knife found?" Thorndyke asked.

The inspector indicated a spot near the middle of the drive, almost
opposite the hornbeam and Thorndyke, picking up a large stone, laid it
on the spot. Then he surveyed the scene thoughtfully, looking up and
down the drive and at the trees that bordered it, and, finally, walked
slowly to the space between the elm and the oak, scanning the ground as
he went. "There is no dearth of footprints," he remarked grimly, as he
looked down at the trampled earth.

"No, but the question is, whose are they?" said the inspector.

"Yes, that is the question," agreed Thorndyke; "and we will begin the
solution by identifying those of Pratt."

"I don't see how that will help us," said the inspector. "We know he
was here."

Thorndyke looked at him in surprise, and I must confess that the
foolish remark astonished me too, accustomed as I was to the
quick-witted officers from Scotland Yard.

"The hue and cry procession," remarked Thorndyke, "seems to have
passed out between the elm and the oak; elsewhere the ground seems
pretty clear." He walked round the elm, still looking earnestly at the
ground, and presently continued: "Now here, in the soft earth bordering
the turf, are the prints of a pair of smallish feet wearing pointed
boots; a rather short man, evidently, by the size of foot and length
of stride, and he doesn't seem to have belonged to the procession. But
I don't see any of Pratt's; he doesn't seem to have come off the hard
gravel." He continued to walk slowly towards the hornbeam with his eyes
fixed on the ground. Suddenly he halted and stooped with an eager look
at the earth; and, as Fox and I approached, he stood up and pointed.
"Pratt's footprints--faint and fragmentary, but unmistakable. And now,
inspector, you see their importance. They furnish the time factor in
respect of the other footprints. Look at this one and then look at
that." He pointed from one to another of the faint impressions of the
dead man's foot.

"You mean that there are signs of a struggle?" said Fox.

"I mean more than that," replied Thorndyke. "Here is one of Pratt's
footprints treading into the print of a small, pointed foot; and there
at the edge of the gravel is another of Pratt's nearly obliterated by
the tread of a pointed foot. Obviously the first pointed footprint was
made before Pratt's, and the second one after his; and the necessary
inference is that the owner of the pointed foot was here at the same
time as Pratt."

"Then he must have been the murderer!" exclaimed Fox.

"Presumably," answered Thorndyke; "but let us see whither he went. You
notice, in the first place, that the man stood close to this tree"--he
indicated the hornbeam--"and that he went towards the elm. Let us
follow him. He passes the elm, you see, and you will observe that these
tracks form a regular series leading from the hornbeam and not mixed
up with the marks of the struggle. They were, therefore, probably made
after the murder had been perpetrated. You will also notice that they
pass along the backs of the trees--outside the avenue, that is; what
does that suggest to you?"

"It suggests to me," I said, when the inspector had shaken his head
hopelessly, "that there was possibly someone in the avenue when the man
was stealing off."

"Precisely," said Thorndyke. "The body was found not more than nine
minutes after Pratt arrived here. But the murder must have taken some
time. Then the housekeeper thought she heard someone calling and came
out with a lantern, and, at the same time, the general and Mr. Hanford
came up the drive. The suggestion is that the man sneaked along outside
the trees to avoid being seen. However, let us follow the tracks. They
pass the elm and they pass on behind the next tree; but wait! There is
something odd here." He passed behind the great pollard oak and looked
down at the soft earth by its roots. "Here is a pair of impressions
much deeper than the rest, and they are not a part of the track since
their toes point towards the tree. What do you make of that?" Without
waiting for an answer he began closely to scan the bole of the tree
and especially a large, warty protuberance about three feet from the
ground. On the bark above this was a vertical mark, as if something
had scraped down the tree, and from the wart itself a dead twig had
been newly broken off and lay upon the ground. Pointing to these marks
Thorndyke set his foot on the protuberance, and, springing up, brought
his eye above the level of the crown, whence the great boughs branched
off.

"Ah!" he exclaimed. "Here is something much more definite." With the
aid of another projection, he scrambled up into the crown of the tree,
and, having glanced quickly round, beckoned to us. I stepped up on
the projecting lump and, as my eyes rose above the crown, I perceived
the brown, shiny impression of a hand on the edge. Climbing into the
crown, I was quickly followed by the inspector, and we both stood up
by Thorndyke between the three boughs. From where we stood we looked
on the upper side of the great limb that swept out across the avenue;
and there on its lichen-covered surface, we saw the imprints in
reddish-brown of a pair of open hands.

"You notice," said Thorndyke, leaning out upon the bough, "that he is a
short man; I cannot conveniently place my hands so low. You also note
that he has both forefingers intact, and so is certainly not Ellis."

"If you mean to say, sir, that these marks were made by the murderer,"
said Fox, "I say it's impossible. Why, that would mean that he was here
looking down at us when we were searching for him with the hounds. The
presence of the hounds proves that this man could not have been the
murderer."

"On the contrary," said Thorndyke, "the presence of this man with
bloody hands confirms the other evidence, which all indicates that the
hounds were never on the murderer's trail at all. Come now, inspector,
I put it to you: Here is a murdered man; the murderer has almost
certainly blood upon his hands; and here is a man with bloody hands,
lurking in a tree within a few feet of the corpse and within a few
minutes of its discovery (as is shown by the footprints); what are the
reasonable probabilities?"

"But you are forgetting the bloodhounds, sir, and the murderer's
knife," urged the inspector.

"Tut, tut, man!" exclaimed Thorndyke; "those bloodhounds are a positive
obsession. But I see a sergeant coming up the drive, with the knife, I
hope. Perhaps that will solve the riddle for us."

The sergeant, who carried a small dispatch-box, halted opposite the
tree in some surprise while we descended, when he came forward with
a military salute and handed the box to the inspector, who forthwith
unlocked it, and, opening the lid, displayed an object wrapped in a
pocket-handkerchief.

"There is the knife, sir," said he, "just as I received it. The
handkerchief is the sergeant's."

Thorndyke unrolled the handkerchief and took from it a large-sized
Norwegian knife, which he looked at critically and then handed to me.
While I was inspecting the blade, he shook out the handkerchief and,
having looked it over on both sides, turned to the sergeant.

"At what time did you pick up this knife?" he asked.

"About seven-fifteen, sir; directly after the hounds had started. I was
careful to pick it up by the ring, and I wrapped it in the handkerchief
at once."

"Seven-fifteen," said Thorndyke. "Less than half-an-hour after the
murder. That is very singular. Do you observe the state of this
handkerchief? There is not a mark on it. Not a trace of any bloodstain;
which proves that when the knife was picked up, the blood on it
was already dry. But things dry slowly, if they dry at all, in the
saturated air of an autumn evening. The appearances seem to suggest
that the blood on the knife was dry when it was thrown down. By the
way, sergeant, what do you scent your handkerchief with?"

"Scent, sir!" exclaimed the astonished officer in indignant accents;
"me scent my handkerchief! No, sir, certainly not. Never used scent in
my life, sir."

Thorndyke held out the handkerchief, and the sergeant sniffed at it
incredulously. "It certainly does seem to smell of scent," he admitted,
"but it must be the knife." The same idea having occurred to me, I
applied the handle of the knife to my nose and instantly detected the
sickly-sweet odour of musk.

"The question is," said the inspector, when the two articles had been
tested by us all, "was it the knife that scented the handkerchief or
the handkerchief that scented the knife?"

"You heard what the sergeant said," replied Thorndyke. "There was
no scent on the handkerchief when the knife was wrapped in it. Do
you know, inspector, this scent seems to me to offer a very curious
suggestion. Consider the facts of the case: the distinct trail leading
straight to Ellis, who is, nevertheless, found to be without a scratch
or a spot of blood; the inconsistencies in the case that I pointed out
in the train, and now this knife, apparently dropped with dried blood
on it and scented with musk. To me it suggests a carefully-planned,
coolly-premeditated crime. The murderer knew about the general's
bloodhounds and made use of them as a blind. He planted this knife,
smeared with blood and tainted with musk, to furnish a scent. No doubt
some object, also scented with musk, would be drawn over the ground to
give the trail. It is only a suggestion, of course, but it is worth
considering."

"But, sir," the inspector objected eagerly, "if the murderer had
handled the knife, it would have scented him too."

"Exactly; so, as we are assuming that the man is not a fool, we
may assume that he did not handle it. He will have left it here in
readiness, hidden in some place whence he could knock it down, say,
with a stick, without touching it."

"Perhaps in this very tree, sir," suggested the sergeant, pointing to
the oak.


"No," said Thorndyke, "he would hardly have hidden in the tree where
the knife had been. The hounds might have scented the place instead of
following the trail at once. The most likely hiding-place for the knife
is the one nearest the spot where it was found." He walked over to the
stone that marked the spot, and looking round, continued: "You see,
that hornbeam is much the nearest, and its flat crown would be very
convenient for the purpose--easily reached even by a short man, as he
appears to be. Let us see if there are any traces of it. Perhaps you
will give me a 'back up', sergeant, as we haven't a ladder."

The sergeant assented with a faint grin, and stooping beside the tree
in an attitude suggesting the game of leapfrog, placed his hands firmly
on his knees. Grasping a stout branch, Thorndyke swung himself up on
the sergeant's broad back, whence he looked down into the crown of
the tree. Then, parting the branches, he stepped onto the ledge and
disappeared into the central hollow.

When he re-appeared he held in his hands two very singular objects:
a pair of iron crucible-tongs and an artist's brush-case of
black-japanned tin. The former article he handed down to me, but the
brush-case he held carefully by its wire handle as he dropped to the
ground.

"The significance of these things is, I think, obvious," he said. "The
tongs were used to handle the knife with and the case to carry it in,
so that it should not scent his clothes or bag. It was very carefully
planned."

"If that is so," said the inspector, "the inside of the case ought to
smell of musk."

"No doubt," said Thorndyke; "but before we open it, there is a rather
important matter to be attended to. Will you give me the Vitogen
powder, Jervis?"

I opened the canvas-covered "research case" and took from it an object
like a diminutive pepper-caster--an iodo-form dredger in fact--and
handed it to him. Grasping the brush-case by its wire handle, he
sprinkled the pale yellow powder from the dredger freely all round
the pull-off lid, tapping the top with his knuckles to make the fine
particles spread. Then he blew off the superfluous powder, and the two
police officers gave a simultaneous gasp of joy; for now, on the black
background, there stood out plainly a number of finger-prints, so clear
and distinct that the ridge-pattern could be made out with perfect ease.

"These will probably be his right hand," said Thorndyke. "Now for the
left." He treated the body of the case in the same way, and, when he
had blown off the powder, the entire surface was spotted with yellow,
oval impressions. "Now, Jervis," said he, "if you will put on a glove
and pull off the lid, we can test the inside."

There was no difficulty in getting the lid off, for the shoulder of the
case had been smeared with vaseline--apparently to produce an airtight
joint--and, as it separated with a hollow sound, a faint, musky odour
exhaled from its interior.

"The remainder of the inquiry," said Thorndyke, when I pushed the lid
on again, "will be best conducted at the police station, where, also,
we can photograph these fingerprints."

"The shortest way will be across the meadows," said Fox; "the way the
hounds went."

By this route we accordingly travelled, Thorndyke carrying the
brush-case tenderly by its handle.

"I don't quite see where Ellis comes in in this job," said the
inspector, as we walked along, "if the fellow had a grudge against
Pratt. They weren't chums."

"I think I do," said Thorndyke. "You say that both men were prison
officers at Portland at the same time. Now doesn't it seem likely that
this is the work of some old convict who had been identified--and
perhaps blackmailed--by Pratt, and possibly by Ellis too? That is where
the value of the finger-prints comes in. If he is an old 'lag' his
prints will be at Scotland Yard. Otherwise they are not of much value
as a clue."

"That's true, sir," said the inspector. "I suppose you want to see
Ellis."

"I want to see that purse that you spoke of, first," replied Thorndyke.
"That is probably the other end of the clue."

As soon as we arrived at the station, the inspector unlocked a safe
and brought out a parcel. "These are Ellis's things," said he, as he
unfastened it, "and that is the purse."

He handed Thorndyke a small pigskin pouch, which my colleague opened,
and having smelt the inside, passed to me. The odour of musk was
plainly perceptible, especially in the small compartment at the back.

"It has probably tainted the other contents of the parcel," said
Thorndyke, sniffing at each article in turn, "but my sense of smell is
not keen enough to detect any scent. They all seem odourless to me,
whereas the purse smells quite distinctly. Shall we have Ellis in now?"

The sergeant took a key from a locked drawer and departed for the
cells, whence he presently re-appeared accompanied by the prisoner--a
stout, burly man, in the last stage of dejection.

"Come, cheer up, Ellis," said the inspector. "Here's Dr. Thorndyke come
down to help us and he wants to ask you one or two questions."

Ellis looked piteously at Thorndyke, and exclaimed: "I know nothing
whatever about this affair, sir, I swear to God I don't."

"I never supposed you did," said Thorndyke. "But there are one or two
things that I want you to tell me. To begin with, that purse: where did
you find it?"

"On the Thorpe road, sir. It was lying in the middle of the footway."

"Had any one else passed the spot lately? Did you meet or pass any one?"

"Yes, sir, I met a labourer about a minute before I saw the purse. I
can't imagine why he didn't see it."

"Probably because it wasn't there," said Thorndyke. "Is there a hedge
there?"

"Yes, sir; a hedge on a low bank."

"Ha! Well, now, tell me: is there any one about here whom you knew
when you and Pratt were together at Portland? Any old lag--to put it
bluntly--whom you and Pratt have been putting the screw on."

"No, sir, I swear there isn't. But I wouldn't answer for Pratt. He had
a rare memory for faces."

Thorndyke reflected. "Were there any escapes from Portland in your
time?" he asked.

"Only one--a man named Dobbs. He made off to the sea in a sudden fog
and he was supposed to be drowned. His clothes washed up on the Bill,
but not his body. At any rate, he was never heard of again."

"Thank you, Ellis. Do you mind my taking your fingerprints?"

"Certainly not, sir," was the almost eager reply; and the office
inking-pad being requisitioned, a rough set of finger-prints was
produced; and when Thorndyke had compared them with those on the
brush-case and found no resemblance, Ellis returned to his cell in
quite buoyant spirits.

Having made several photographs of the strange fingerprints, we
returned to town that evening, taking the negatives with us; and while
we waited for our train, Thorndyke gave a few parting injunctions to
the inspector. "Remember," he said, "that the man must have washed
his hands before he could appear in public. Search the banks of every
pond, ditch and stream in the neighbourhood for footprints like those
in the avenue; and, if you find any, search the bottom of the water
thoroughly, for he is quite likely to have dropped the knife into the
mud."

The photographs, which we handed in at Scotland Yard that same
night, enabled the experts to identify the fingerprints as those
of Francis Dobbs, an escaped convict. The two photographs--profile
and full-face--which were attached to his record, were sent down to
Baysford with a description of the man, and were, in due course,
identified with a somewhat mysterious individual, who passed by the
name of Rufus Pembury and who had lived in the neighbourhood as a
private gentleman for some two years. But Rufus Pembury was not to be
found either at his genteel house or elsewhere. All that was known
was, that on the day after the murder, he had converted his entire
"personalty" into "bearer securities," and then vanished from mortal
ken. Nor has he ever been heard of to this day.

"And, between ourselves," said Thorndyke, when we were discussing the
case some time after, "he deserved to escape. It was clearly a case of
blackmail, and to kill a blackmailer--when you have no other defence
against him--is hardly murder. As to Ellis, he could never have been
convicted, and Dobbs, or Pembury, must have known it. But he would
have been committed to the Assizes, and that would have given time for
all traces to disappear. No, Dobbs was a man of courage, ingenuity
and resource; and, above all, he knocked the bottom out of the great
bloodhound superstition."



THE ECHO OF A MUTINY


PART I. DEATH ON THE GIRDLER


Popular belief ascribes to infants and the lower animals certain occult
powers of divining character denied to the reasoning faculties of the
human adult; and is apt to accept their judgment as finally overriding
the pronouncements of mere experience.

Whether this belief rests upon any foundation other than the universal
love of paradox it is unnecessary to inquire. It is very generally
entertained, especially by ladies of a certain social status; and by
Mrs. Thomas Solly it was loyally maintained as an article of faith.

"Yes," she moralized, "it's surprisin' how they know, the little
children and the dumb animals. But they do. There's no deceivin' them.
They can tell the gold from the dross in a moment, they can, and they
reads the human heart like a book. Wonderful, I call it. I suppose it's
instinct."

Having delivered herself of this priceless gem of philosophic thought,
she thrust her arms elbow-deep into the foaming wash-tub and glanced
admiringly at her lodger as he sat in the doorway, supporting on one
knee an obese infant of eighteen months and on the other a fine tabby
cat.

James Brown was an elderly seafaring man, small and slight in build
and in manner suave, insinuating and perhaps a trifle sly. But he had
all the sailor's love of children and animals, and the sailor's knack
of making himself acceptable to them, for, as he sat with an empty
pipe wobbling in the grasp of his toothless gums, the baby beamed with
humid smiles, and the cat, rolled into a fluffy ball and purring like a
stocking-loom, worked its fingers ecstatically as if it were trying on
a new pair of gloves.

"It must be mortal lonely out at the lighthouse," Mrs. Solly resumed.
"Only three men and never a neighbour to speak to; and, Lord! what a
muddle they must be in with no woman to look after them and keep 'em
tidy. But you won't be overworked, Mr. Brown, in these long days;
daylight till past nine o'clock. I don't know what you'll do to pass
the time."

"Oh, I shall find plenty to do, I expect," said Brown, "what with
cleanin' the lamps and glasses and paintin' up the ironwork. And that
reminds me," he added, looking round at the clock, "that time's getting
on. High water at half-past ten, and here it's gone eight o'clock."

Mrs. Solly, acting on the hint, began rapidly to fish out the washed
garments and wring them out into the form of short ropes. Then, having
dried her hands on her apron, she relieved Brown of the protesting baby.

"Your room will be ready for you, Mr. Brown," said she, "when your turn
comes for a spell ashore; and main glad me and Tom will be to see you
back."

"Thank you, Mrs. Solly, ma'am," answered Brown, tenderly placing the
cat on the floor; "you won't be more glad than what I will." He shook
hands warmly with his landlady, kissed the baby, chucked the cat under
the chin, and, picking up his little chest by its becket, swung it onto
his shoulder and strode out of the cottage.

His way lay across the marshes, and, like the ships in the offing,
he shaped his course by the twin towers of Reculver that stood up
grotesquely on the rim of the land; and as he trod the springy turf,
Tom Solly's fleecy charges looked up at him with vacant stares and
valedictory bleatings. Once, at a dyke-gate, he paused to look back at
the fair Kentish landscape: at the grey tower of St. Nicholas-at-Wade
peeping above the trees and the faraway mill at Sarre, whirling slowly
in the summer breeze; and, above all, at the solitary cottage where,
for a brief spell in his stormy life, he had known the homely joys of
domesticity and peace. Well, that was over for the present, and the
lighthouse loomed ahead. With a half-sigh he passed through the gate
and walked on towards Reculver.

Outside the whitewashed cottages with their official black chimneys
a petty-officer of the coast-guard was adjusting the halyards of the
flagstaff. He looked round as Brown approached, and hailed him cheerily.

"Here you are, then," said he, "all figged out in your new togs, too.
But we're in a bit of a difficulty, d'ye see. We've got to pull up to
Whitstable this morning, so I can't send a man out with you and I can't
spare a boat."

"Have I got to swim out, then?" asked Brown.

The coast-guard grinned. "Not in them new clothes, mate," he answered.
"No, but there's old Willett's boat; he isn't using her to-day; he's
going over to Minster to see his daughter, and he'll let us have
the loan of the boat. But there's no one to go with you, and I'm
responsible to Willett."

"Well, what about it?" asked Brown, with the deep-sea sailor's (usually
misplaced) confidence in his power to handle a sailing-boat. "D'ye
think I can't manage a tub of a boat? Me what's used the sea since I
was a kid of ten?"

"Yes," said the coast-guard; "but who's to bring her back?"

"Why, the man that I'm going to relieve," answered Brown. "He don't
want to swim no more than what I do."

The coast-guard reflected with his telescope pointed at a passing
barge. "Well, I suppose it'll be all right," he concluded; "but it's a
pity they couldn't send the tender round. However, if you undertake to
send the boat back, we'll get her afloat. It's time you were off."

He strolled away to the back of the cottages, whence he presently
returned with two of his mates, and the four men proceeded along the
shore to where Willett's boat lay just above high-water mark.

The Emily was a beamy craft of the type locally known as a "half-share
skiff," solidly built of oak, with varnished planking and fitted with
main and mizzen lugs. She was a good handful for four men, and, as she
slid over the soft chalk rocks with a hollow rumble, the coast-guards
debated the advisability of lifting out the bags of shingle with
which she was ballasted. However, she was at length dragged down,
ballast and all, to the water's edge, and then, while Brown stepped
the mainmast, the petty-officer gave him his directions. "What you've
got to do," said he, "is to make use of the flood-tide. Keep her nose
nor'-east, and with this trickle of nor'-westerly breeze you ought to
make the light-house in one board. Anyhow don't let her get east of the
lighthouse, or, when the ebb sets in, you'll be in a fix."

To these admonitions Brown listened with jaunty indifference as he
hoisted the sails and watched the incoming tide creep over the level
shore. Then the boat lifted on the gentle swell. Putting out an oar,
he gave a vigorous shove off that sent the boat, with a final scrape,
clear of the beach, and then, having dropped the rudder onto its
pintles, he seated himself and calmly belayed the main-sheet.

"There he goes," growled the coast-guard; "makin' fast his sheet. They
will do it" (he invariably did it himself), "and that's how accidents
happen. I hope old Willett'll see his boat back all right."

He stood for some time watching the dwindling boat as it sidled across
the smooth water; then he turned and followed his mates towards the
station.

Out on the south-western edge of the Girdler Sand, just inside the
two-fathom line, the spindle-shanked lighthouse stood a-straddle on its
long screw-piles like some uncouth red-bodied wading bird. It was now
nearly half flood tide. The highest shoals were long since covered,
and the lighthouse rose above the smooth sea as solitary as a slaver
becalmed in the "middle passage."

On the gallery outside the lantern were two men, the entire staff
of the building, of whom one sat huddled in a chair with his left
leg propped up with pillows on another, while his companion rested a
telescope on the rail and peered at the faint grey line of the distant
land and the two tiny points that marked the twin spires of Reculver.

"I don't see any signs of the boat, Harry," said he.

The other man groaned. "I shall lose the tide," he complained, "and
then there's another day gone."

"They can pull you down to Birchington and put you in the train," said
the first man.

"I don't want no trains," growled the invalid. "The boat'll be bad
enough. I suppose there's nothing coming our way, Tom?"

Tom turned his face eastward and shaded his eyes. "There's a brig
coming across the tide from the north," he said. "Looks like a
collier." He pointed his telescope at the approaching vessel, and
added: "She's got two new cloths in her upper fore top-sail, one on
each leech."

The other man sat up eagerly. "What's her trysail like, Tom?" he asked.

"Can't see it," replied Tom. "Yes, I can, now: it's tanned. Why,
that'll be the old Utopia, Harry; she's the only brig I know that's got
a tanned trysail."

"Look here, Tom," exclaimed the other, "If that's the Utopia, she's
going to my home and I'm going aboard of her. Captain Mockett'll give
me a passage, I know."

"You oughtn't to go until you're relieved, you know, Barnett," said Tom
doubtfully; "it's against regulations to leave your station."

"Regulations be blowed!" exclaimed Barnett. "My leg's more to me than
the regulations. I don't want to be a cripple all my life. Besides, I'm
no good here, and this new chap, Brown, will be coming out presently.
You run up the signal, Tom, like a good comrade, and hail the brig."

"Well, it's your look-out," said Tom, "and I don't mind saying that if
I was in your place I should cut off home and see a doctor, if I got
the chance." He sauntered off to the flag-locker, and, selecting the
two code-flags, deliberately toggled them onto the halyards. Then, as
the brig swept up within range, he hoisted the little balls of bunting
to the flagstaff-head and jerked the halyards, when the two flags blew
out making the signal "Need assistance."

Promptly a coal-soiled answering pennant soared to the brig's
main-truck; less promptly the collier went about, and, turning her nose
down stream, slowly drifted stern-forwards towards the lighthouse. Then
a boat slid out through her gangway, and a couple of men plied the oars
vigorously.

"Lighthouse ahoy!" roared one of them, as the boat came within hail.
"What's amiss?"

"Harry Barnett has broke his leg," shouted the lighthouse keeper,
"and he wants to know if Captain Mockett will give him a passage to
Whitstable."

The boat turned back to the brig, and after a brief and bellowed
consultation, once more pulled towards the lighthouse.

"Skipper says yus," roared the sailor, when he was within ear-shot,
"and he says look alive, 'cause he don't want to miss his tide."

The injured man heaved a sigh of relief. "That's good news," said he,
"though, how the blazes I'm going to get down the ladder is more than I
can tell. What do you say, Jeffreys?"

"I say you'd better let me lower you with the tackle," replied
Jeffreys. "You can sit in the bight of a rope and I'll give you a line
to steady yourself with."

"Ah, that'll do, Tom," said Barnett; "but, for the Lord's sake, pay out
the fall-rope gently."

The arrangements were made so quickly that by the time the boat was
fast alongside everything was in readiness, and a minute later the
injured man, dangling like a gigantic spider from the end of the
tackle, slowly descended, cursing volubly to the accompaniment of the
creaking of the blocks. His chest and kit-bag followed, and, as soon as
these were unhooked from the tackle, the boat pulled off to the brig,
which was now slowly creeping stern-foremost past the lighthouse. The
sick man was hoisted up the side, his chest handed up after him, and
then the brig was put on her course due south across the Kentish Flats.

Jeffreys stood on the gallery watching the receding vessel and
listening to the voices of her crew as they grew small and weak in the
increasing distance. Now that his gruff companion was gone, a strange
loneliness had fallen on the lighthouse. The last of the homeward-bound
ships had long since passed up the Princes Channel and left the calm
sea desolate and blank. The distant buoys, showing as tiny black dots
on the glassy surface, and the spindly shapes of the beacons which
stood up from invisible shoals, but emphasized the solitude of the
empty sea, and the tolling of the bell buoy on the Shivering Sand,
stealing faintly down the wind, sounded weird and mournful. The day's
work was already done. The lenses were polished, the lamps had been
trimmed, and the little motor that worked the foghorn had been cleaned
and oiled. There were several odd jobs, it is true, waiting to be
done, as there always are in a lighthouse; but, just now, Jeffreys
was not in a working humour. A new comrade was coming into his life
to-day, a stranger with whom he was to be shut up alone, night and
day, for a month on end, and whose temper and tastes and habits might
mean for him pleasant companionship or jangling and discord without
end. Who was this man Brown? What had he been? and what was he like?
These were the questions that passed, naturally enough, through the
lighthouse keeper's mind and distracted him from his usual thoughts and
occupations.

Presently a speck on the landward horizon caught his eye. He snatched
up the telescope eagerly to inspect it. Yes, it was a boat; but not the
coast-guard's cutter, for which he was looking. Evidently a fisherman's
boat and with only one man in it. He laid down the telescope with a
sigh of disappointment, and, filling his pipe, leaned on the rail with
a dreamy eye bent on the faint grey line of the land.

Three long years had he spent in this dreary solitude, so repugnant
to his active, restless nature: three blank, interminable years, with
nothing to look back on but the endless succession of summer calms,
stormy nights and the chilly fogs of winter, when the unseen steamers
hooted from the void and the fog-horn bellowed its hoarse warning.

Why had he come to this God-forsaken spot? and why did he stay, when
the wide world called to him? And then memory painted him a picture
on which his mind's eye had often looked before and which once again
arose before him, shutting out the vision of the calm sea and the
distant land. It was a brightly-coloured picture. It showed a cloudless
sky brooding over the deep blue tropic sea: and in the middle of the
picture, see-sawing gently on the quiet swell, a white-painted barque.

Her sails were clewed up untidily, her swinging yards jerked at
the slack braces and her untended wheel revolved to and fro to the
oscillations of the rudder.

She was not a derelict, for more than a dozen men were on her deck;
but the men were all drunk and mostly asleep, and there was never an
officer among them.

Then he saw the interior of one of her cabins. The chart-rack, the
tell-tale compass and the chronometers marked it as the captain's
cabin. In it were four men, and two of them lay dead on the deck. Of
the other two, one was a small, cunning-faced man, who was, at the
moment, kneeling beside one of the corpses to wipe a knife upon its
coat. The fourth man was himself.

Again, he saw the two murderers stealing off in a quarter-boat, as the
barque with her drunken crew drifted towards the spouting surf of a
river-bar. He saw the ship melt away in the surf like an icicle in the
sunshine; and, later, two shipwrecked mariners, picked up in an open
boat and set ashore at an American port.

That was why he was here. Because he was a murderer. The other
scoundrel, Amos Todd, had turned Queen's Evidence and denounced him,
and he had barely managed to escape. Since then he had hidden himself
from the great world, and here he must continue to hide, not from the
law--for his person was unknown now that his shipmates were dead--but
from the partner of his crime. It was the fear of Todd that had changed
him from Jeffrey Rorke to Tom Jeffreys and had sent him to the Girdler,
a prisoner for life. Todd might die--might even now be dead--but he
would never hear of it: would never hear the news of his release.

He roused himself and once more pointed his telescope at the distant
boat. She was considerably nearer now and seemed to be heading out
towards the lighthouse. Perhaps the man in her was bringing a message;
at any rate, there was no sign of the coast-guard's cutter.

He went in, and, betaking himself to the kitchen, busied himself with
a few simple preparations for dinner. But there was nothing to cook,
for there remained the cold meat from yesterday's cooking, which he
would make sufficient, with some biscuit in place of potatoes. He felt
restless and unstrung; the solitude irked him, and the everlasting wash
of the water among the piles jarred on his nerves.

When he went out again into the gallery the ebb-tide had set in
strongly and the boat was little more than a mile distant; and now,
through the glass, he could see that the man in her wore the uniform
cap of the Trinity House. Then the man must be his future comrade,
Brown; but this was very extraordinary. What were they to do with the
boat? There was no one to take her back.

The breeze was dying away. As he watched the boat, he saw the man
lower the sail and take to his oars; and something of hurry in the way
the man pulled over the gathering tide, caused Jeffreys to look round
the horizon. And then, for the first time, he noticed a bank of fog
creeping up from the east and already so near that the beacon on the
East Girdler had faded out of sight. He hastened in to start the little
motor that compressed the air for the fog-horn and waited awhile to see
that the mechanism was running properly. Then, as the deck vibrated to
the roar of the horn, he went out once more into the gallery.

The fog was now all round the lighthouse and the boat was hidden from
view. He listened intently. The enclosing wall of vapour seemed to have
shut out sound as well as vision. At intervals the horn bellowed its
note of warning, and then all was still save the murmur of the water
among the piles below, and, infinitely faint and far away, the mournful
tolling of the bell on the Shivering Sand.

At length there came to his ear the muffled sound of oars working in
the holes; then, at the very edge of the circle of grey water that was
visible, the boat appeared through the fog, pale and spectral, with
a shadowy figure pulling furiously. The horn emitted a hoarse growl;
the man looked round, perceived the lighthouse and altered his course
towards it.

Jeffreys descended the iron stairway, and, walking along the lower
gallery, stood at the head of the ladder earnestly watching the
approaching stranger. Already he was tired of being alone. The yearning
for human companionship had been growing ever since Barnett left. But
what sort of comrade was this stranger who was coming into his life?
And coming to occupy so dominant a place in it.

The boat swept down swiftly athwart the hurrying tide. Nearer it came
and yet nearer: and still Jeffreys could catch no glimpse of his new
comrade's face. At length it came fairly alongside and bumped against
the fender-posts; the stranger whisked in an oar and grabbed a rung
of the ladder, and Jeffreys dropped a coil of rope into the boat. And
still the man's face was hidden.

Jeffreys leaned out over the ladder and watched him anxiously, as he
made fast the rope, unhooked the sail from the traveller and unstepped
the mast. When he had set all in order, the stranger picked up a small
chest, and, swinging it over his shoulder, stepped onto the ladder.
Slowly, by reason of his encumbrance, he mounted, rung by rung, with
never an upward glance, and Jeffreys gazed down at the top of his
head with growing curiosity. At last he reached the top of the ladder
and Jeffreys stooped to lend him a hand. Then, for the first time, he
looked up, and Jeffreys started back with a blanched face.

"God Almighty!" he gasped. "It's Amos Todd!"

As the newcomer stepped on the gallery, the fog-horn emitted a roar
like that of some hungry monster. Jeffreys turned abruptly without
a word, and walked to the stairs, followed by Todd, and the two men
ascended with never a sound but the hollow clank of their footsteps on
the iron plates. Silently Jeffreys stalked into the living-room and,
as his companion followed, he turned and motioned to the latter to set
down his chest.

"You ain't much of a talker, mate," said Todd, looking round the room
in some surprise; "ain't you going to say 'good-morning'? We're going
to be good comrades, I hope. I'm Jim Brown, the new hand, I am; what
might your name be?"

Jeffreys turned on him suddenly and led him to the window. "Look at me
carefully, Amos Todd," he said sternly, "and then ask yourself what my
name is."

At the sound of his voice Todd looked up with a start and turned pale
as death. "It can't be," he whispered, "it can't be Jeff Rorke!"

The other man laughed harshly, and leaning forward, said in a low
voice: "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy!"

"Don't say that!" exclaimed Todd. "Don't call me your enemy, Jeff. Lord
knows but I'm glad to see you, though I'd never have known you without
your beard and with that grey hair. I've been to blame, Jeff, and I
know it; but it ain't no use raking up old grudges. Let bygones be
bygones, Jeff, and let us be pals as we used to be." He wiped his face
with his handkerchief and watched his companion apprehensively.

"Sit down," said Rorke, pointing to a shabby rep-covered arm-chair;
"sit down and tell me what you've done with all that money. You've
blued it all, I suppose, or you wouldn't be here."

"Robbed, Jeff," answered Todd; "robbed of every penny. Ah! that was an
unfortunate affair, that job on board the old Sea-flower. But it's over
and done with and we'd best forget it. They're all dead but us, Jeff,
so we're safe enough so long as we keep our mouths shut; all at the
bottom of the sea--and the best place for 'em too."

"Yes," Rorke replied fiercely, "that's the best place for your
shipmates when they know too much; at the bottom of the sea or swinging
at the end of a rope." He paced up and down the little room with rapid
strides, and each time that he approached Todd's chair the latter
shrank back with an expression of alarm.

"Don't sit there staring at me," said Rorke. "Why don't you smoke or do
something?"

Todd hastily produced a pipe from his pocket, and having filled it from
a moleskin pouch, stuck it in his mouth while he searched for a match.
Apparently he carried his matches loose in his pocket, for he presently
brought one forth--a red-headed match, which, when he struck it on
the wall, lighted with a pale-blue flame. He applied it to his pipe,
sucking in his cheeks while he kept his eyes fixed on his companion.
Rorke, meanwhile, halted in his walk to cut some shavings from a cake
of hard tobacco with a large clasp-knife; and, as he stood, he gazed
with frowning abstraction at Todd.

"This pipe's stopped," said the latter, sucking ineffectually at the
mouthpiece. "Have you got such a thing as a piece of wire, Jeff?"

"No, I haven't," replied Rorke; "not up here. I'll get a bit from the
store presently. Here, take this pipe till you can clean your own:
I've got another in the rack there." The sailor's natural hospitality
overcoming for the moment his animosity, he thrust the pipe that he had
just filled towards Todd, who took it with a mumbled "Thank you" and
an anxious eye on the open knife. On the wall beside the chair was a
roughly-carved pipe-rack containing several pipes, one of which Rorke
lifted out; and, as he leaned over the chair to reach it, Todd's face
went several shades paler.

"Well, Jeff," he said, after a pause, while Rorke cut a fresh "fill" of
tobacco, "are we going to be pals same as what we used to be?"

Rorke's animosity lighted up afresh. "Am I going to be pals with the
man that tried to swear away my life?" he said sternly; and after a
pause he added: "That wants thinking about, that does; and meantime I
must go and look at the engine."

When Rorke had gone the new hand sat, with the two pipes in his hands,
reflecting deeply. Abstractedly he stuck the fresh pipe into his mouth,
and, dropping the stopped one into the rack, felt for a match. Still
with an air of abstraction he lit the pipe, and having smoked for a
minute or two, rose from the chair and began softly to creep across the
room, looking about him and listening intently. At the door he paused
to look out into the fog, and then, having again listened attentively,
he stepped on tip-toe out onto the gallery and along towards the
stairway. Of a sudden the voice of Rorke brought him up with a start.

"Hallo, Todd! where are you off to?"

"I'm just going down to make the boat secure," was the reply.

"Never you mind about the boat," said Rorke. "I'll see to her."

"Right-o, Jeff," said Todd, still edging towards the stairway. "But, I
say, mate, where's the other man--the man that I'm to relieve?"

"There ain't any other man," replied Rorke; "he went off aboard a
collier."

Todd's face suddenly became grey and haggard. "Then there's no one here
but us two!" he gasped; and then, with an effort to conceal his fear,
he asked: "But who's going to take the boat back?"

"We'll see about that presently," replied Rorke; "you get along in and
unpack your chest."

He came out on the gallery as he spoke, with a lowering frown on his
face. Todd cast a terrified glance at him, and then turned and ran for
his life towards the stairway.

"Come back!" roared Rorke, springing forward along the gallery; but
Todd's feet were already clattering down the iron steps. By the time
Rorke reached the head of the stairs, the fugitive was near the bottom;
but here, in his haste, he stumbled, barely saving himself by the
handrail, and when he recovered his balance Rorke was upon him. Todd
darted to the head of the ladder, but, as he grasped the stanchion, his
pursuer seized him by the collar. In a moment he had turned with his
hand under his coat. There was a quick blow, a loud curse from Rorke,
an answering yell from Todd, and a knife fell spinning through the air
and dropped into the fore-peak of the boat below.

"You murderous little devil!" said Rorke in an ominously quiet voice,
with his bleeding hand gripping his captive by the throat. "Handy with
your knife as ever, eh? So you were off to give information, were you?"

"No, I wasn't Jeff," replied Todd in a choking voice; "I wasn't,
s'elp me, God. Let go, Jeff. I didn't mean no harm. I was only--" With
a sudden wrench he freed one hand and struck out frantically at his
captor's face. But Rorke warded off the blow, and, grasping the other
wrist, gave a violent push and let go. Todd staggered backward a few
paces along the staging, bringing up at the extreme edge; and here, for
a sensible time, he stood with wide-open mouth and starting eye-balls,
swaying and clutching wildly at the air. Then, with a shrill scream,
he toppled backwards and fell, striking a pile in his descent and
rebounding into the water.

In spite of the audible thump of his head on the pile, he was not
stunned, for when he rose to the surface, he struck out vigorously,
uttering short, stifled cries for help. Rorke watched him with set
teeth and quickened breath, but made no move. Smaller and still smaller
grew the head with its little circle of ripples, swept away on the
swift ebb-tide, and fainter the bubbling cries that came across the
smooth water. At length as the small black spot began to fade in the
fog, the drowning man, with a final effort, raised his head clear of
the surface and sent a last, despairing shriek towards the lighthouse.
The fog-horn sent back an answering bellow; the head sank below the
surface and was seen no more; and in the dreadful stillness that
settled down upon the sea there sounded faint and far away the muffled
tolling of a bell.

Rorke stood for some minutes immovable, wrapped in thought. Presently
the distant hoot of a steamer's whistle aroused him. The ebb-tide
shipping was beginning to come down and the fog might lift at any
moment; and there was the boat still alongside. She must be disposed of
at once. No one had seen her arrive and no one must see her made fast
to the lighthouse. Once get rid of the boat and all traces of Todd's
visit would be destroyed. He ran down the ladder and stepped into the
boat. It was simple. She was heavily ballasted, and would go down if
she filled.

He shifted some of the bags of shingle, and, lifting the bottom boards,
pulled out the plug. Instantly a large jet of water spouted up into
the bottom. Rorke looked at it critically, and, deciding that it would
fill her in a few minutes, replaced the bottom boards; and having
secured the mast and sail with a few turns of the sheet round a thwart,
to prevent them from floating away, he cast off the mooring-rope and
stepped on the ladder.

As the released boat began to move away on the tide, he ran up and
mounted to the upper gallery to watch her disappearance. Suddenly he
remembered Todd's chest. It was still in the room below. With a hurried
glance around into the fog, he ran down to the room, and snatching up
the chest, carried it out on the lower gallery. After another nervous
glance around to assure himself that no craft was in sight, he heaved
the chest over the handrail, and, when it fell with a loud splash into
the sea, he waited to watch it float away after its owner and the
sunken boat. But it never rose; and presently he returned to the upper
gallery.

The fog was thinning perceptibly now, and the boat remained plainly
visible as she drifted away. But she sank more slowly than he had
expected, and presently as she drifted farther away, he fetched
the telescope and peered at her with growing anxiety. It would be
unfortunate if any one saw her; if she should been picked up here, with
her plug out, it would be disastrous.

He was beginning to be really alarmed. Through the glass he could see
that the boat was now rolling in a sluggish, water-logged fashion, but
she still showed some inches of free-board, and the fog was thinning
every moment.

Presently the blast of a steamer's whistle sounded close at hand. He
looked round hurriedly and, seeing nothing, again pointed the telescope
eagerly at the dwindling boat. Suddenly he gave a gasp of relief. The
boat had rolled gunwale under; had staggered back for a moment and
then rolled again, slowly, finally, with the water pouring in over the
submerged gunwale.

In a few more seconds she had vanished. Rorke lowered the telescope
and took a deep breath. Now he was safe. The boat had sunk unseen. But
he was better than safe: he was free. His evil spirit, the standing
menace of his life, was gone, and the wide world, the world of life, of
action, of pleasure, called to him.

In a few minutes the fog lifted. The sun shone brightly on the
red-funnelled cattle-boat whose whistle had startled him just now, the
summer blue came back to sky and sea, and the land peeped once more
over the edge of the horizon.

He went in, whistling cheerfully, and stopped the motor; returned to
coil away the rope that he had thrown to Todd; and, when he had hoisted
a signal for assistance, he went in once more to eat his solitary meal
in peace and gladness.


PART II. "THE SINGING BONE"


(Related by Christopher Jervis, M.D.)

To every kind of scientific work a certain amount of manual labour
naturally appertains, labour that cannot be performed by the scientist
himself, since art is long but life is short. A chemical analysis
involves a laborious "clean up" of apparatus and laboratory, for which
the chemist has no time; the preparation of a skeleton--the maceration,
bleaching, "assembling," and riveting together of bones--must be
carried out by someone whose time is not too precious. And so with
other scientific activities. Behind the man of science with his outfit
of knowledge is the indispensable mechanic with his outfit of manual
skill.

Thorndyke's laboratory assistant, Polton, was a fine example of the
latter type, deft, resourceful, ingenious and untiring. He was somewhat
of an inventive genius, too; and it was one of his inventions that
connected us with the singular case that I am about to record.

Though by trade a watchmaker, Polton was, by choice, an optician.
Optical apparatus was the passion of his life; and when, one day,
he produced for our inspection an improved prism for increasing the
efficiency of gas-buoys, Thorndyke at once brought the invention to the
notice of a friend at the Trinity House.

As a consequence, we three--Thorndyke, Polton and I--found ourselves
early on a fine July morning making our way down Middle Temple Lane
bound for the Temple Pier. A small oil-launch lay alongside the
pontoon, and, as we made our appearance, a red-faced, white-whiskered
gentleman stood up in the cockpit.

"Here's a delightful morning, doctor," he sang out in a fine, brassy,
resonant, sea-faring voice; "sort of day for a trip to the lower river,
hey? Hallo, Polton! Coming down to take the bread out of our mouths,
are you? Ha, ha!" The cheery laugh rang out over the river and mingled
with the throb of the engine as the launch moved off from the pier.

Captain Grumpass was one of the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House.
Formerly a client of Thorndyke's he had subsided, as Thorndyke's
clients were apt to do, into the position of a personal friend, and his
hearty regard included our invaluable assistant.

"Nice state of things," continued the captain, with a chuckle, "when
a body of nautical experts have got to be taught their business by a
parcel of lawyers or doctors, what? I suppose trade's slack and 'Satan
findeth mischief still,' hey, Polton?"

"There isn't much doing on the civil side, sir," replied Polton, with a
quaint, crinkly smile, "but the criminals are still going strong."

"Ha! mystery department still flourishing, what? And, by Jove! talking
of mysteries, doctor, our people have got a queer problem to work out;
something quite in your line--quite. Yes, and, by the Lord Moses, since
I've got you here, why shouldn't I suck your brains?"

"Exactly," said Thorndyke. "Why shouldn't you?"

"Well, then, I will," said the captain, "so here goes. All hands to
the pump!" He lit a cigar, and, after a few preliminary puffs, began:
"The mystery, shortly stated, is this: one of our lighthousemen has
disappeared--vanished off the face of the earth and left no trace. He
may have bolted, he may have been drowned accidentally or he may have
been murdered. But I'd rather give you the particulars in order. At
the end of last week a barge brought into Ramsgate a letter from the
screw-pile lighthouse on the Girdler. There are only two men there, and
it seems that one of them, a man named Barnett, had broken his leg,
and he asked that the tender should be sent to bring him ashore. Well,
it happened that the local tender, the Warden, was up on the slip in
Ramsgate Harbour, having a scrape down, and wouldn't be available for
a day or two, so, as the case was urgent, the officer at Ramsgate sent
a letter to the lighthouse by one of the pleasure steamers saying that
the man should be relieved by boat on the following morning, which was
Saturday. He also wrote to a new hand who had just been taken on, a man
named James Brown, who was lodging near Reculver, waiting his turn,
telling him to go out on Saturday morning in the coast-guard's boat;
and he sent a third letter to the coast-guard at Reculver asking him
to take Brown out to the lighthouse and bring Barnett ashore. Well,
between them, they made a fine muddle of it. The coast-guard couldn't
spare either a boat or a man, so they borrowed a fisherman's boat, and
in this the man Brown started off alone, like an idiot, on the chance
that Barnett would be able to sail the boat back in spite of his broken
leg.

"Meanwhile Barnett, who is a Whitstable man, had signalled a collier
bound for his native town, and got taken off; so that the other keeper,
Thomas Jeffreys, was left alone until Brown should turn up.

"But Brown never did turn up. The coast-guard helped him to put off and
saw him well out to sea, and the keeper, Jeffreys, saw a sailing-boat
with one man in her making for the lighthouse. Then a bank of fog came
up and hid the boat, and when the fog cleared she was nowhere to be
seen. Man and boat had vanished and left no sign."

"He may have been run down," Thorndyke suggested.

"He may," agreed the captain, "but no accident has been reported. The
coast-guards think he may have capsized in a squall--they saw him make
the sheet fast. But there weren't any squalls; the weather was quite
calm."

"Was he all right and well when he put off?" inquired Thorndyke.

"Yes," replied the captain, "the coast-guards' report is highly
circumstantial; in fact, it's full of silly details that have no
bearing on anything. This is what they say." He pulled out an official
letter and read: "'When last seen, the missing man was seated in the
boat's stern to windward of the helm. He had belayed the sheet. He was
holding a pipe and tobacco-pouch in his hands and steering with his
elbow. He was filling the pipe from the tobacco-pouch.' There! 'He was
holding the pipe in his hand,' mark you! not with his toes; and he
was filling it from a tobacco-pouch, whereas you'd have expected him
to fill it from a coalscuttle or a feeding-bottle. Bah!" The captain
rammed the letter back in his pocket and puffed scornfully at his cigar.

"You are hardly fair to the coast-guard," said Thorndyke, laughing at
the captain's vehemence. "The duty of a witness is to give all the
facts, not a judicious selection."

"But, my dear sir," said Captain Grumpass, "what the deuce can it
matter what the poor devil filled his pipe from?"

"Who can say?" answered Thorndyke. "It may turn out to be a highly
material fact. One never knows beforehand. The value of a particular
fact depends on its relation to the rest of the evidence."

"I suppose it does," grunted the captain; and he continued to smoke in
reflective silence until we opened Black-wall Point, when he suddenly
stood up.

"There's a steam trawler alongside our wharf," he announced. "Now
what the deuce can she be doing there?" He scanned the little steamer
attentively, and continued:

"They seem to be landing something, too. Just pass me those glasses,
Polton. Why, hang me! it's a dead body! But why on earth are they
landing it on our wharf? They must have known you were coming, doctor."

As the launch swept alongside the wharf, the captain sprang up lightly
and approached the group gathered round the body. "What's this?" he
asked. "Why have they brought this thing here?"

The master of the trawler, who had superintended the landing, proceeded
to explain.

"It's one of your men, sir," said he. "We saw the body lying on the
edge of the South Shingles Sand, close to the beacon, as we passed at
low water, so we put off the boat and fetched it aboard. As there was
nothing to identify the man by, I had a look in his pockets and found
this letter."

He handed the captain an official envelope addressed to: "Mr. J. Brown,
co Mr. Solly, Shepherd, Reculver, Kent."

"Why, this is the man we were speaking about, doctor," exclaimed
Captain Grumpass. "What a very singular coincidence. But what are we to
do with the body?"

"You will have to write to the coroner," replied Thorndyke. "By the
way, did you turn out all the pockets?" he asked, turning to the
skipper of the trawler.

"No, sir," was the reply. "I found the letter in the first pocket that
I felt in, so I didn't examine any of the others. Is there anything
more that you want to know, sir?"

"Nothing but your name and address, for the coroner," replied
Thorndyke, and the skipper, having given this information and expressed
the hope that the coroner would not keep him "hanging about," returned
to his vessel and pursued his way to Billingsgate.

"I wonder if you would mind having a look at the body of this poor
devil, while Polton is showing us his contraptions," said Captain
Grumpass.

"I can't do much without a coroner's order," replied Thorndyke; "but if
it will give you any satisfaction, Jervis and I will make a preliminary
inspection with pleasure."

"I should be glad if you would," said the captain. "We should like to
know that the poor beggar met his end fairly."

The body was accordingly moved to a shed, and, as Polton was led away,
carrying the black bag that contained his precious model, we entered
the shed and commenced our investigation.

The deceased was a small, elderly man, decently dressed in a somewhat
nautical fashion. He appeared to have been dead only two or three days,
and the body, unlike the majority of sea-borne corpses, was uninjured
by fish or crabs. There were no fractured bones or other gross
injuries, and no wounds, excepting a rugged tear in the scalp at the
back of the head.

"The general appearance of the body," said Thorndyke, when he had noted
these particulars, "suggests death by drowning, though, of course, we
can't give a definite opinion until a post mortem has been made."

"You don't attach any significance to that scalp-wound, then?" I asked.

"As a cause of death? No. It was obviously inflicted during life, but
it seems to have been an oblique blow that spent its force on the
scalp, leaving the skull uninjured. But it is very significant in
another way."

"In what way?" I asked.

Thorndyke took out his pocket-case and extracted a pair of forceps.
"Consider the circumstances," said he. "This man put off from the shore
to go to the lighthouse, but never arrived there. The question is,
where did he arrive?" As he spoke he stooped over the corpse and turned
back the hair round the wound with the beak of the forceps. "Look at
those white objects among the hair, Jervis, and inside the wound. They
tell us something, I think."

I examined, through my lens, the chalky fragments to which he pointed.
"These seem to be bits of shells and the tubes of some marine worm," I
said.

"Yes," he answered; "the broken shells are evidently those of the
acorn barnacle, and the other fragments are mostly pieces of the tubes
of the common serpula. The inference that these objects suggest is
an important one. It is that this wound was produced by some body
encrusted by acorn barnacles and serpula; that is to say, by a body
that is periodically submerged. Now, what can that body be, and how can
the deceased have knocked his head against it?"

"It might be the stem of a ship that ran him down," I suggested.

"I don't think you would find many serpulae on the stem of a ship,"
said Thorndyke. "The combination rather suggests some stationary object
between tidemarks, such as a beacon. But one doesn't see how a man
could knock his head against a beacon, while, on the other hand, there
are no other stationary objects out in the estuary to knock against
except buoys, and a buoy presents a flat surface that could hardly have
produced this wound. By the way, we may as well see what there is in
his pockets, though it is not likely that robbery had anything to do
with his death."

"No," I agreed, "and I see his watch is in his pocket; quite a good
silver one," I added, taking it out. "It has stopped at 12.13."

"That may be important," said Thorndyke, making a note of the fact;
"but we had better examine the pockets one at a time, and put the
things back when we have looked at them."

The first pocket that we turned out was the left hip-pocket of the
monkey jacket. This was apparently the one that the skipper had rifled,
for we found in it two letters, both bearing the crest of the Trinity
House. These, of course, we returned without reading, and then passed
on to the right pocket. The contents of this were common-place enough,
consisting of a briar pipe, a moleskin pouch and a number of loose
matches.

"Rather a casual proceeding, this," I remarked, "to carry matches loose
in the pocket, and a pipe with them, too."

"Yes," agreed Thorndyke; "especially with these very inflammable
matches. You notice that the sticks had been coated at the upper end
with sulphur before the red phosphorous heads were put on. They would
light with a touch, and would be very difficult to extinguish; which,
no doubt, is the reason that this type of match is so popular among
seamen, who have to light their pipes in all sorts of weather." As he
spoke he picked up the pipe and looked at it reflectively, turning it
over in his hand and peering into the bowl. Suddenly he glanced from
the pipe to the dead man's face and then, with the forceps, turned back
the lips to look into the mouth.

"Let us see what tobacco he smokes," said he.

I opened the sodden pouch and displayed a mass of dark, fine-cut
tobacco. "It looks like shag," I said.

"Yes, it is shag," he replied; "and now we will see what is in the
pipe. It has been only half-smoked out." He dug out the "dottle" with
his pocket-knife onto a sheet of paper, and we both inspected it.
Clearly it was not shag, for it consisted of coarsely-cut shreds and
was nearly black.

"Shavings from a cake of 'hard,'" was my verdict, and Thorndyke agreed
as he shot the fragments back into the pipe.

The other pockets yielded nothing of interest, except a pocket-knife,
which Thorndyke opened and examined closely. There was not much money,
though as much as one would expect, and enough to exclude the idea of
robbery.

"Is there a sheath-knife on that strap?" Thorndyke asked, pointing to a
narrow leather belt. I turned back the jacket and looked.

"There is a sheath," I said, "but no knife. It must have dropped out."

"That is rather odd," said Thorndyke. "A sailor's sheath-knife takes a
deal of shaking out as a rule. It is intended to be used in working on
the rigging when the man is aloft, so that he can get it out with one
hand while he is holding on with the other. It has to be and usually is
very secure, for the sheath holds half the handle as well as the blade.
What makes one notice the matter in this case is that the man, as you
see, carried a pocket-knife; and, as this would serve all the ordinary
purposes of a knife, it seems to suggest that the sheath-knife was
carried for defensive purposes: as a weapon, in fact. However, we can't
get much further in the case without a post mortem, and here comes the
captain."

Captain Grumpass entered the shed and looked down commiseratingly at
the dead seaman.

"Is there anything, doctor, that throws any light on the man's
disappearance?" he asked.

"There are one or two curious features in the case," Thorndyke replied;
"but, oddly enough, the only really important point arises out of that
statement of the coastguard's, concerning which you were so scornful."

"You don't say so!" exclaimed the captain.

"Yes," said Thorndyke; "the coast-guard states that when last seen
deceased was filling his pipe from his tobacco-pouch. Now his pouch
contains shag; but the pipe in his pocket contains hard cut."

"Is there no cake tobacco in any of the pockets?"

"Not a fragment. Of course, it is possible that he might have had a
piece and used it up to fill the pipe; but there is no trace of any on
the blade of his pocket-knife, and you know how this juicy black cake
stains a knife-blade. His sheath-knife is missing, but he would hardly
have used that to shred tobacco when he had a pocket-knife."

"No," assented the captain; "but are you sure he hadn't a second pipe?"

"There was only one pipe," replied Thorndyke, "and that was not his
own."

"Not his own!" exclaimed the captain, halting by a huge, chequered
buoy, to stare at my colleague. "How do you know it was not his own?"

"By the appearance of the vulcanite mouthpiece," said Thorndyke. "It
showed deep tooth-marks; in fact, it was nearly bitten through. Now
a man who bites through his pipe usually presents certain definite
physical peculiarities, among which is, necessarily, a fairly good set
of teeth. But the dead man had not a tooth in his head."

The captain cogitated a while, and then remarked: "I don't quite see
the bearing of this."

"Don't you?" said Thorndyke. "It seems to me highly suggestive. Here
is a man who, when last seen, was filling his pipe with a particular
kind of tobacco. He is picked up dead, and his pipe contains a totally
different kind of tobacco. Where did that tobacco come from? The
obvious suggestion is that he had met someone."

"Yes, it does look like it," agreed the captain.

"Then," continued Thorndyke, "there is the fact that his sheath-knife
is missing. That may mean nothing, but we have to bear it in mind. And
there is another curious circumstance: there is a wound on the back of
the head caused by a heavy bump against some body that was covered with
acorn barnacles and marine worms. Now there are no piers or stages out
in the open estuary. The question is, what could he have struck?"

"Oh, there is nothing in that," said the captain. "When a body has been
washing about in a tide-way for close on three days--"

"But this is not a question of a body," Thorndyke interrupted. "The
wound was made during life."

"The deuce it was!" exclaimed the captain. "Well, all I can suggest
is that he must have fouled one of the beacons in the fog, stove in
his boat and bumped his head, though, I must admit, that's rather a
lame explanation." He stood for a minute gazing at his toes with a
cogitative frown and then looked up at Thorndyke.

"I have an idea," he said. "From what you say, this matter wants
looking into pretty carefully. Now, I am going down on the tender
to-day to make inquiries on the spot. What do you say to coming with
me as adviser--as a matter of business, of course--you and Dr. Jervis?
I shall start about eleven; we shall be at the lighthouse by three
o'clock, and you can get back to town to-night, if you want to. What do
you say?"

"There's nothing to hinder us," I put in eagerly, for even at Bugsby's
Hole the river looked very alluring on this summer morning.

"Very well," said Thorndyke, "we will come. Jervis is evidently
hankering for a sea-trip, and so am I, for that matter."

"It's a business engagement, you know," the captain stipulated.

"Nothing of the kind," said Thorndyke; "it's unmitigated pleasure; the
pleasure of the voyage and your high well-born society."

"I didn't mean that," grumbled the captain, "but, if you are coming
as guests, send your man for your nightgear and let us bring you back
to-morrow evening."

"We won't disturb Polton," said my colleague; "we can take the train
from Blackwall and fetch our things ourselves. Eleven o'clock, you
said?"

"Thereabouts," said Captain Grumpass; "but don't put yourselves out."

The means of communication in London have reached an almost undesirable
state of perfection. With the aid of the snorting train and the
tinkling, two-wheeled "gondola," we crossed and re-crossed the town
with such celerity that it was barely eleven when we re-appeared on
Trinity Wharf with a joint Gladstone and Thorndyke's little green case.

The tender had hauled out of Bow Creek, and now lay alongside the
wharf with a great striped can buoy dangling from her derrick, and
Captain Grumpass stood at the gangway, his jolly, red face beaming with
pleasure. The buoy was safely stowed forward, the derrick hauled up to
the mast, the loose shrouds rehooked to the screw-lanyards, and the
steamer, with four jubilant hoots, swung round and shoved her sharp
nose against the incoming tide.

For near upon four hours the ever-widening stream of the "London
River" unfolded its moving panorama. The smoke and smell of Woolwich
Reach gave place to lucid air made soft by the summer haze; the grey
huddle of factories fell away and green levels of cattle-spotted marsh
stretched away to the high land bordering the river valley. Venerable
training ships displayed their chequered hulls by the wooded shore,
and whispered of the days of oak and hemp, when the tall three-decker,
comely and majestic, with her soaring heights of canvas, like towers
of ivory, had not yet given place to the mud-coloured saucepans that
fly the white ensign now-a-days and devour the substance of the
British taxpayer: when a sailor was a sailor and not a mere seafaring
mechanic. Sturdily breasting the flood tide, the tender threaded her
way through the endless procession of shipping; barges, billy-boys,
schooners, brigs; lumpish Black-seamen, blue-funnelled China tramps,
rickety Baltic barques with twirling windmills, gigantic liners,
staggering under a mountain of top-hamper. Erith, Purfleet, Greenhithe,
Grays greeted us and passed astern. The chimneys of Northfleet, the
clustering roofs of Gravesend, the populous anchorage and the lurking
batteries, were left behind, and, as we swung out of the Lower Hope,
the wide expanse of sea reach spread out before us like a great sheet
of blue-shot satin.

About half-past twelve the ebb overtook us and helped us on our way, as
we could see by the speed with which the distant land slid past, and
the freshening of the air as we passed through it.

But sky and sea were hushed in a summer calm. Balls of fleecy cloud
hung aloft, motionless in the soft blue; the barges drifted on the tide
with drooping sails, and a big, striped bell buoy--surmounted by a
staff and cage and labelled, "Shivering Sand"--sat dreaming in the sun
above its motionless reflection, to rouse for a moment as it met our
wash, nod its cage drowsily, utter a solemn ding-dong, and fall asleep
again.

It was shortly after passing the buoy that the gaunt shape of a
screw-pile lighthouse began to loom up ahead, its dull-red paint turned
to vermilion by the early afternoon sun. As we drew nearer, the name
Girdler, painted in huge, white letters, became visible, and two men
could be seen in the gallery around the lantern, inspecting us through
a telescope.

"Shall you be long at the lighthouse, sir?" the master of the tender
inquired of Captain Grumpass; "because we're going down to the
North-East Pan Sand to fix this new buoy and take up the old one."

"Then you'd better put us off at the lighthouse and come back for us
when you've finished the job," was the reply. "I don't know how long we
shall be."

The tender was brought to, a boat lowered, and a couple of hands pulled
us across the intervening space of water.

"It will be a dirty climb for you in your shore-going clothes," the
captain remarked--he was as spruce as a new pin himself, "but the stuff
will all wipe off." We looked up at the skeleton shape. The falling
tide had exposed some fifteen feet of the piles, and piles and ladder
alike were swathed in sea-grass and encrusted with barnacles and
worm-tubes. But we were not such town-sparrows as the captain seemed to
think, for we both followed his lead without difficulty up the slippery
ladder, Thorndyke clinging tenaciously to his little green case, from
which he refused to be separated even for an instant.

"These gentlemen and I," said the captain, as we stepped on the stage
at the head of the ladder, "have come to make inquiries about the
missing man, James Brown. Which of you is Jeffreys?"

"I am, sir," replied a tall, powerful, square-jawed, beetle-browed man,
whose left hand was tied up in a rough bandage.

"What have you been doing to your hand?" asked the captain.

"I cut it while I was peeling some potatoes," was the reply. "It isn't
much of a cut, sir."

"Well, Jeffreys," said the captain, "Brown's body has been picked
up and I want particulars for the inquest. You'll be summoned as a
witness, I suppose, so come in and tell us all you know."

We entered the living-room and seated ourselves at the table. The
captain opened a massive pocket-book, while Thorndyke, in his
attentive, inquisitive fashion, looked about the odd, cabin-like room
as if making a mental inventory of its contents.

Jeffreys' statement added nothing to what we already knew. He had seen
a boat with one man in it making for the lighthouse. Then the fog had
drifted up and he had lost sight of the boat. He started the fog-horn
and kept a bright look-out, but the boat never arrived. And that was
all he knew. He supposed that the man must have missed the lighthouse
and been carried away on the ebb-tide, which was running strongly at
the time.

"What time was it when you last saw the boat?" Thorndyke asked.

"About half-past eleven," replied Jeffreys.

"What was the man like?" asked the captain.

"I don't know, sir; he was rowing, and his back was towards me."

"Had he any kit-bag or chest with him?" asked Thorndyke.

"He'd got his chest with him," said Jeffreys.

"What sort of chest was it?" inquired Thorndyke.

"A small chest, painted green, with rope beckets."

"Was it corded?"

"It had a single cord round, to hold the lid down."

"Where was it stowed?"

"In the stern-sheets, sir."

"How far off was the boat when you last saw it?"

"About half-a-mile."

"Half-a-mile!" exclaimed the captain. "Why, how the deuce could you see
that chest half-a-mile away?"

The man reddened and cast a look of angry suspicion at Thorndyke. "I
was watching the boat through the glass, sir," he replied sulkily.

"I see," said Captain Grumpass. "Well, that will do, Jeffreys. We shall
have to arrange for you to attend the inquest. Tell Smith I want to see
him."

The examination concluded, Thorndyke and I moved our chairs to the
window, which looked out over the sea to the east. But it was not the
sea or the passing ships that engaged my colleague's attention. On the
wall, beside the window, hung a rudely-carved pipe-rack containing five
pipes. Thorndyke had noted it when we entered the room, and now, as we
talked, I observed him regarding it from time to time with speculative
interest.

"You men seem to be inveterate smokers," he remarked to the keeper,
Smith, when the captain had concluded the arrangements for the "shift."

"Well, we do like our bit of 'baccy, sir, and that's a fact," answered
Smith. "You see, sir," he continued, "it's a lonely life, and tobacco's
cheap out here."

"How is that?" asked Thorndyke.

"Why, we get it given to us. The small craft from foreign, especially
the Dutchmen, generally heave us a cake or two when they pass close.
We're not ashore, you see, so there's no duty to pay."

"So you don't trouble the tobacconists much? Don't go in for cut
tobacco?"

"No, sir; we'd have to buy it, and then the cut stuff wouldn't keep.
No, it's hard-tack to eat out here and hard tobacco to smoke."

"I see you've got a pipe-rack, too, quite a stylish affair."

"Yes," said Smith, "I made it in my off-time. Keeps the place tidy and
looks more ship-shape than letting the pipes lay about anywhere."

"Someone seems to have neglected his pipe," said Thorndyke, pointing to
one at the end of the rack which was coated with green mildew.

"Yes; that's Parsons, my mate. He must have left it when he went off
near a month ago. Pipes do go mouldy in the damp air out here."

"How soon does a pipe go mouldy if it is left untouched?" Thorndyke
asked.

"It's according to the weather," said Smith. "When it's warm and damp
they'll begin to go in about a week. Now here's Barnett's pipe that
he's left behind--the man that broke his leg, you know, sir--it's just
beginning to spot a little. He couldn't have used it for a day or two
before he went."

"And are all these other pipes yours?"

"No, sir. This here one is mine. The end one is Jeffreys', and I
suppose the middle one is his too, but I don't know it."

"You're a demon for pipes, doctor," said the captain, strolling up at
this moment; "you seem to make a special study of them."

"'The proper study of mankind is man,'" replied Thorndyke, as the
keeper retired, "and 'man' includes those objects on which his
personality is impressed. Now a pipe is a very personal thing. Look at
that row in the rack. Each has its own physiognomy which, in a measure,
reflects the peculiarities of the owner. There is Jeffreys' pipe at the
end, for instance. The mouth-piece is nearly bitten through, the bowl
scraped to a shell and scored inside and the brim battered and chipped.
The whole thing speaks of rude strength and rough handling. He chews
the stem as he smokes, he scrapes the bowl violently, and he bangs the
ashes out with unnecessary force. And the man fits the pipe exactly:
powerful, square-jawed and, I should say, violent on occasion."

"Yes, he looks a tough customer, does Jeffreys," agreed the captain.

"Then," continued Thorndyke, "there is Smith's pipe, next to it;
'coked' up until the cavity is nearly filled and burnt all round the
edge; a talker's pipe, constantly going out and being relit. But the
one that interests me most is the middle one."

"Didn't Smith say that was Jeffreys' too?" I said.

"Yes," replied Thorndyke, "but he must be mistaken. It is the very
opposite of Jeffreys' pipe in every respect. To begin with, although
it is an old pipe, there is not a sign of any tooth-mark on the
mouth-piece. It is the only one in the rack that is quite unmarked.
Then the brim is quite uninjured: it has been handled gently, and the
silver band is jet-black, whereas the band on Jeffreys' pipe is quite
bright."

"I hadn't noticed that it had a band," said the captain. "What has made
it so black?"

Thorndyke lifted the pipe out of the rack and looked at it closely.
"Silver sulphide," said he, "the sulphur no doubt derived from
something carried in the pocket."

"I see," said Captain Grumpass, smothering a yawn and gazing out of the
window at the distant tender. "Incidentally it's full of tobacco. What
moral do you draw from that?"

Thorndyke turned the pipe over and looked closely at the mouth-piece.
"The moral is," he replied, "that you should see that your pipe is
clear before you fill it." He pointed to the mouth-piece, the bore of
which was completely stopped up with fine fluff.

"An excellent moral too," said the captain, rising with another yawn.
"If you'll excuse me a minute I'll just go and see what the tender is
up to. She seems to be crossing to the East Girdler." He reached the
telescope down from its brackets and went out onto the gallery.

As the captain retreated, Thorndyke opened his pocket-knife, and,
sticking the blade into the bowl of the pipe, turned the tobacco out
into his hand.

"Shag, by Jove!" I exclaimed.

"Yes," he answered, poking it back into the bowl. "Didn't you expect it
to be shag?"

"I don't know that I expected anything," I admitted. "The silver band
was occupying my attention."

"Yes, that is an interesting point," said Thorndyke, "but let us see
what the obstruction consists of." He opened the green case, and,
taking out a dissecting needle, neatly extracted a little ball of fluff
from the bore of the pipe. Laying this on a glass slide, he teased it
out in a drop of glycerine and put on a cover-glass while I set up the
microscope.

"Better put the pipe back in the rack," he said, as he laid the slide
on the stage of the instrument. I did so and then turned, with no
little excitement, to watch him as he examined the specimen. After a
brief inspection he rose and waved his hand towards the microscope.

"Take a look at it, Jervis," he said.

I applied my eye to the instrument, and, moving the slide about,
identified the constituents of the little mass of fluff. The ubiquitous
cotton fibre was, of course, in evidence, and a few fibres of wool, but
the most remarkable objects were two or three hairs--very minute hairs
of a definite zigzag shape and having a flat expansion near the free
end like the blade of a paddle.

"These are the hairs of some small animal," I said; "not a mouse or rat
or any rodent, I should say. Some small insectivorous animal, I fancy.
Yes! Of course! They are the hairs of a mole." I stood up, and, as the
importance of the discovery flashed on me, I looked at my colleague in
silence.

"Yes," he said, "they are unmistakable; and they furnish the keystone
of the argument."

"You think that this is really the dead man's pipe, then?" I said.

"According to the law of multiple evidence," he replied, "it is
practically a certainty. Consider the facts in sequence. Since there
is no sign of mildew on it, this pipe can have been here only a short
time, and must belong either to Barnett, Smith, Jeffreys or Brown.
It is an old pipe, but it has no tooth-marks on it. Therefore it has
been used by a man who has no teeth. But Barnett, Smith and Jeffreys
all have teeth and mark their pipes, whereas Brown has no teeth.
The tobacco in it is shag. But these three men do not smoke shag,
whereas Brown had shag in his pouch. The silver band is encrusted with
sulphide; and Brown carried sulphur-tipped matches loose in his pocket
with his pipe. We find hairs of a mole in the bore of the pipe; and
Brown carried a moleskin pouch in the pocket in which he appears to
have carried his pipe. Finally, Brown's pocket contained a pipe which
was obviously not his and which closely resembled that of Jeffreys; it
contained tobacco similar to that which Jeffreys smokes and different
from that in Brown's pouch. It appears to me quite conclusive,
especially when we add to this evidence the other items that are in our
possession."

"What items are they?" I asked.

"First there is the fact that the dead man had knocked his head
heavily against some periodically submerged body covered with acorn
barnacles and serpulae. Now the piles of this lighthouse answer to the
description exactly, and there are no other bodies in the neighbourhood
that do: for even the beacons are too large to have produced that kind
of wound. Then the dead man's sheath-knife is missing, and Jeffreys
has a knife-wound on his hand. You must admit that the circumstantial
evidence is overwhelming."

At this moment the captain bustled into the room with the telescope in
his hand. "The tender is coming up towing a strange boat," he said. "I
expect it's the missing one, and, if it is, we may learn something.
You'd better pack up your traps and get ready to go on board."

We packed the green case and went out into the gallery, where the two
keepers were watching the approaching tender; Smith frankly curious
and interested, Jeffreys restless, fidgety and noticeably pale. As
the steamer came opposite the lighthouse, three men dropped into the
boat and pulled across, and one of them--the mate of the tender--came
climbing up the ladder.

"Is that the missing boat?" the captain sang out.

"Yes, sir," answered the officer, stepping onto the staging and wiping
his hands on the reverse aspect of his trousers, "we saw her lying on
the dry patch of the East Girdler. There's been some hanky-panky in
this job, sir."

"Foul play, you think, hey?"

"Not a doubt of it, sir. The plug was out and lying loose in the
bottom, and we found a sheath-knife sticking into the kelson forward
among the coils of the painter. It was stuck in hard as if it had
dropped from a height."

"That's odd," said the captain. "As to the plug, it might have got out
by accident."

"But it hadn't sir," said the mate. "The ballast-bags had been shifted
along to get the bottom boards up. Besides, sir, a seaman wouldn't let
the boat fill; he'd have put the plug back and baled out."

"That's true," replied Captain Grumpass; "and certainly the presence of
the knife looks fishy. But where the deuce could it have dropped from,
out in the open sea? Knives don't drop from the clouds--fortunately.
What do you say, doctor?"

"I should say that it is Brown's own knife, and that it probably fell
from this staging."

Jeffreys turned swiftly, crimson with wrath. "What d'ye mean?" he
demanded. "Haven't I said that the boat never came here?"

"You have," replied Thorndyke; "but if that is so, how do you explain
the fact that your pipe was found in the dead man's pocket and that the
dead man's pipe is at this moment in your pipe-rack?"

The crimson flush on Jeffreys' face faded as quickly as it had come. "I
don't know what you're talking about," he faltered.

"I'll tell you," said Thorndyke. "I will relate what happened and you
shall check my statements. Brown brought his boat alongside and came up
into the living-room, bringing his chest with him. He filled his pipe
and tried to light it, but it was stopped and wouldn't draw. Then you
lent him a pipe of yours and filled it for him. Soon afterwards you
came out on this staging and quarrelled. Brown defended himself with
his knife, which dropped from his hand into the boat. You pushed him
off the staging and he fell, knocking his head on one of the piles.
Then you took the plug out of the boat and sent her adrift to sink, and
you flung the chest into the sea. This happened about ten minutes past
twelve. Am I right?"

Jeffreys stood staring at Thorndyke, the picture of amazement and
consternation; but he uttered no word in reply. "Am I right?" Thorndyke
repeated.

"Strike me blind!" muttered Jeffreys. "Was you here, then? You talk as
if you had been. Anyhow," he continued, recovering somewhat, "you seem
to know all about it. But you're wrong about one thing. There was no
quarrel. This chap, Brown, didn't take to me and he didn't mean to stay
out here. He was going to put off and go ashore again and I wouldn't
let him. Then he hit out at me with his knife and I knocked it out of
his hand and he staggered backwards and went overboard."

"And did you try to pick him up?" asked the captain.

"How could I," demanded Jeffreys, "with the tide racing down and me
alone on the station? I'd never have got back."

"But what about the boat, Jeffreys? Why did you scuttle her?"

"The fact is," replied Jeffreys, "I got in a funk, and I thought the
simplest plan was to send her to the cellar and know nothing about it.
But I never shoved him over. It was an accident, sir; I swear it!"

"Well, that sounds a reasonable explanation," said the captain. "What
do you say, doctor?"

"Perfectly reasonable," replied Thorndyke, "and, as to its truth, that
is no affair of ours."

"No. But I shall have to take you off, Jeffreys, and hand you over to
the police. You understand that?"

"Yes, sir, I understand," answered Jeffreys.

"That was a queer case, that affair on the Girdler," remarked Captain
Grumpass, when he was spending an evening with us some six months
later. "A pretty easy let off for Jeffreys, too--eighteen months,
wasn't it?"

"Yes, it was a very queer case indeed," said Thorndyke. "There was
something behind that 'accident,' I should say. Those men had probably
met before."

"So I thought," agreed the captain. "But the queerest part of it to me
was the way you nosed it all out. I've had a deep respect for briar
pipes since then. It was a remarkable case," he continued. "The way in
which you made that pipe tell the story of the murder seems to me like
sheer enchantment."

"Yes," said I, "it spoke like the magic pipe--only that wasn't a
tobacco-pipe--in the German folk-story of the 'Singing Bone.' Do you
remember it? A peasant found the bone of a murdered man and fashioned
it into a pipe. But when he tried to play on it, it burst into a song
of its own:

"'My brother slew me and buried my bones
Beneath the sand and under the stones.'"

"A pretty story," said Thorndyke, "and one with an excellent moral. The
inanimate things around us have each of them a song to sing to us if we
are but ready with attentive ears."



A WASTREL'S ROMANCE


PART I. THE SPINSTERS' GUEST


The lingering summer twilight was fast merging into night as a solitary
cyclist, whose evening-dress suit was thinly disguised by an overcoat,
rode slowly along a pleasant country road. From time to time he had
been overtaken and passed by a carriage, a car or a closed cab from
the adjacent town, and from the festive garb of the occupants he had
made shrewd guesses at their destination. His own objective was a large
house, standing in somewhat extensive grounds just off the road, and
the peculiar circumstances that surrounded his visit to it caused him
to ride more and more slowly as he approached his goal.

Willowdale--such was the name of the house--was, tonight, witnessing
a temporary revival of its past glories. For many months it had been
empty and a notice-board by the gate-keeper's lodge had silently
announced its forlorn state; but to-night, its rooms, their bare walls
clothed in flags and draperies, their floors waxed or carpeted, would
once more echo the sound of music and cheerful voices and vibrate to
the tread of many feet. For on this night the spinsters of Raynesford
were giving a dance; and chief amongst the spinsters was Miss
Halliwell, the owner of Willowdale.

It was a great occasion. The house was large and imposing; the
spinsters were many and their purses were long. The guests were
numerous and distinguished, and included no less a person than Mrs.
Jehu B. Chater. This was the crowning triumph of the function, for the
beautiful American widow was the lion (or should we say lioness?) of
the season. Her wealth was, if not beyond the dreams of avarice, at
least beyond the powers of common British arithmetic, and her diamonds
were, at once, the glory and the terror of her hostesses.

All these attractions notwithstanding, the cyclist approached the
vicinity of Willowdale with a slowness almost hinting at reluctance;
and when, at length, a curve of the road brought the gates into view,
he dismounted and halted irresolutely. He was about to do a rather
risky thing, and, though by no means a man of weak nerve, he hesitated
to make the plunge.

The fact is, he had not been invited.

Why, then, was he going? And how was he to gain admittance? To which
questions the answer involves a painful explanation.

Augustus Bailey lived by his wits. That is the common phrase, and a
stupid phrase it is. For do we not all live by our wits, if we have
any? And does it need any specially brilliant wits to be a common
rogue? However, such as his wits were, Augustus Bailey lived by them,
and he had not hitherto made a fortune.

The present venture arose out of a conversation overheard at a
restaurant table and an invitation-card carelessly laid down and
adroitly covered with the menu. Augustus had accepted the invitation
that he had not received (on a sheet of Hotel Cecil notepaper that
he had among his collection of stationery) in the name of Geoffrey
Harrington-Baillie; and the question that exercised his mind at the
moment was, would he or would he not be spotted? He had trusted to the
number of guests and the probable inexperience of the hostesses. He
knew that the cards need not be shown, though there was the awkward
ceremony of announcement.

But perhaps it wouldn't get as far as that. Probably not, if his
acceptance had been detected as emanating from an uninvited stranger.

He walked slowly towards the gates with growing discomfort. Added to
his nervousness as to the present were certain twinges of reminiscence.
He had once held a commission in a line regiment--not for long, indeed;
his "wits" had been too much for his brother officers--but there had
been a time when he would have come to such a gathering as this an
invited guest. Now, a common thief, he was sneaking in under a false
name, with a fair prospect of being ignominiously thrown out by the
servants.

As he stood hesitating, the sound of hoofs on the road was followed
by the aggressive bellow of a motor-horn. The modest twinkle of
carriage lamps appeared round the curve and then the glare of acetylene
headlights. A man came out of the lodge and drew open the gates; and
Mr. Bailey, taking his courage in both hands, boldly trundled his
machine up the drive.

Half-way up--it was quite a steep incline--the car whizzed by; a large
Napier filled with a bevy of young men who economized space by sitting
on the backs of the seats and on one another's knees. Bailey looked at
them and decided that this was his chance, and, pushing forward, he saw
his bicycle safely bestowed in the empty coach-house and then hurried
on to the cloak-room. The young men had arrived there before him and,
as he entered, were gaily peeling off their overcoats and flinging them
down on a table. Bailey followed their example, and, in his eagerness
to enter the reception-room with the crowd, let his attention wander
from the business of the moment, and, as he pocketed the ticket and
hurried away, he failed to notice that the bewildered attendant had put
his hat with another man's coat and affixed his duplicate to them both.

"Major Podbury, Captain Barker-Jones, Captain Sparker, Mr. Watson, Mr.
Goldsmith, Mr. Smart, Mr. Harrington-Baillie!"

As Augustus swaggered up the room, hugging the party of officers and
quaking inwardly, he was conscious that his hostesses glanced from one
man to another with more than common interest.

But at that moment the footman's voice rang out, sonorous and clear:

"Mrs. Chater, Colonel Grumpier!" and, as all eyes were turned towards
the new arrivals, Augustus made his bow and passed into the throng. His
little game of bluff had "come off," after all.

He withdrew modestly into the more crowded portion of the room, and
there took up a position where he would be shielded from the gaze of
his hostesses. Presently, he reflected, they would forget him, if they
had really thought about him at all, and then he would see what could
be done in the way of business. He was still rather shaky, and wondered
how soon it would be decent to steady his nerves with a "refresher."
Meanwhile he kept a sharp look-out over the shoulders of neighbouring
guests, until a movement in the crowd of guests disclosed Mrs. Chater
shaking hands with the presiding spinster. Then Augustus got a most
uncommon surprise.

He knew her at the first glance. He had a good memory for faces, and
Mrs. Chater's face was one to remember. Well did he recall the frank
and lovely American girl with whom he had danced at the regimental ball
years ago. That was in the old days when he was a subaltern, and before
that little affair of the pricked court-cards that brought his military
career to an end. They had taken a mutual liking, he remembered, that
sweet-faced Yankee maid and he had danced many dances and had sat out
others, to talk mystical nonsense which, in their innocence, they had
believed to be philosophy. He had never seen her since. She had come
into his life and gone out of it again, and he had forgotten her name,
if he had ever known it. But here she was, middle-aged now, it was
true, but still beautiful and a great personage withal. And, ye gods!
what diamonds! And here was he, too, a common rogue, lurking in the
crowd that he might, perchance, snatch a pendant or "pinch" a loose
brooch.

Perhaps she might recognize him. Why not? He had recognized her. But
that would never do. And thus reflecting, Mr. Bailey slipped out to
stroll on the lawn and smoke a cigarette. Another man, somewhat older
than himself, was pacing to and fro thoughtfully, glancing from time to
time through the open windows into the brilliantly-lighted rooms. When
they had passed once or twice, the stranger halted and addressed him.

"This is the best place on a night like this," he remarked; "it's
getting hot inside already. But perhaps you're keen on dancing."

"Not so keen as I used to be," replied Bailey; and then, observing
the hungry look that the other man was bestowing on his cigarette, he
produced his case and offered it.

"Thanks awfully!" exclaimed the stranger, pouncing with avidity on
the open case. "Good Samaritan, by Jove. Left my case in my overcoat.
Hadn't the cheek to ask, though I was starving for a smoke." He inhaled
luxuriously, and, blowing out a cloud of smoke, resumed: "These chits
seem to be running the show pretty well, h'm? Wouldn't take it for an
empty house to look at it, would you?"

"I have hardly seen it," said Bailey; "only just come, you know."

"We'll have a look round, if you like," said the genial stranger, "when
we've finished our smoke, that is. Have a drink too; may cool us a bit.
Know many people here?"

"Not a soul," replied Bailey. "My hostess doesn't seem to have turned
up."

"Well, that's easily remedied," said the stranger. "My daughter's one
of the spinsters--Granby, my name; when we've had a drink, I'll make
her find you a partner--that is, if you care for the light fantastic."

"I should like a dance or two," said Bailey, "though I'm getting a bit
past it now, I suppose. Still, it doesn't do to chuck up the sponge
prematurely."

"Certainly not," Granby agreed jovially; "a man's as young as he feels.
Well, come and have a drink and then we'll hunt up my little girl." The
two men flung away the stumps of their cigarettes and headed for the
refreshments.

The spinsters' champagne was light, but it was well enough if taken in
sufficient quantity; a point to which Augustus? and Granby too--paid
judicious attention; and when he had supplemented the wine with a few
sandwiches, Mr. Bailey felt in notably better spirits. For, to tell the
truth, his diet, of late, had been somewhat meagre. Miss Granby, when
found, proved to be a blonde and guileless "flapper" of some seventeen
summers, childishly eager to play her part of hostess with due dignity;
and presently Bailey found himself gyrating through the eddying crowd
in company with a comely matron of thirty or thereabouts.

The sensations that this novel experience aroused rather took him by
surprise. For years past he had been living a precarious life of mean
and sordid shifts that oscillated between mere shabby trickery and
downright crime; now conducting a paltry swindle just inside the pale
of the law, and now, when hard pressed, descending to actual theft;
consorting with shady characters, swindlers and knaves and scurvy
rogues like himself; gambling, borrowing, cadging and, if need be,
stealing, and always slinking abroad with an apprehensive eye upon "the
man in blue."

And now, amidst the half-forgotten surroundings, once so familiar;
the gaily-decorated rooms, the rhythmic music, the twinkle of jewels,
the murmur of gliding feet and the rustle of costly gowns, the moving
vision of honest gentlemen and fair ladies; the shameful years seemed
to drop away and leave him to take up the thread of his life where it
had snapped so disastrously. After all, these were his own people. The
seedy knaves in whose steps he had walked of late were but aliens met
by the way.

He surrendered his partner, in due course, with regret--which was
mutual--to an inarticulate subaltern, and was meditating another
pilgrimage to the refreshment-room, when he felt a light touch upon
his arm. He turned swiftly. A touch on the arm meant more to him than
to some men. But it was no wooden-faced plain-clothes man that he
confronted; it was only a lady. In short, it was Mrs. Chater, smiling
nervously and a little abashed by her own boldness.

"I expect you've forgotten me," she began apologetically, but Augustus
interrupted her with an eager disclaimer.

"Of course I haven't," he said; "though I have forgotten your name,
but I remember that Portsmouth dance as well as if it were yesterday;
at least one incident in it--the only one that was worth remembering.
I've often hoped that I might meet you again, and now, at last, it has
happened."

"It's nice of you to remember," she rejoined. "I've often and often
thought of that evening and all the wonderful things that we talked
about. You were a nice boy then; I wonder what you are like now. What a
long time ago it is!"

"Yes," Augustus agreed gravely, "it is a long time. I know it myself;
but when I look at you, it seems as if it could only have been last
season."

"Oh, fie!" she exclaimed. "You are not simple as you used to be. You
didn't flatter then; but perhaps there wasn't the need." She spoke
with gentle reproach, but her pretty face flushed with pleasure
nevertheless, and there was a certain wistfulness in the tone of her
concluding sentence.

"I wasn't flattering," Augustus replied, quite sincerely; "I knew you
directly you entered the room and marvelled that Time had been so
gentle with you. He hasn't been as kind to me."

"No. You have gotten a few grey hairs, I see, but after all, what
are grey hairs to a man? Just the badges of rank, like the crown on
your collar or the lace on your cuffs, to mark the steps of your
promotion--for I guess you'll be a colonel by now."

"No," Augustus answered quickly, with a faint flush, "I left the army
some years ago."

"My! what a pity!" exclaimed Mrs. Chater. "You must tell me all about
it--but not now. My partner will be looking for me. We will sit out a
dance and have a real gossip. But I've forgotten your name--never could
recall it, in fact, though that didn't prevent me from remembering you;
but, as our dear W. S. remarks, 'What's in a name--'"

"Ah, indeed," said Mr. Harrington-Baillie; and apropos of that
sentiment, he added: "Mine is Rowland--Captain Rowland. You may
remember it now."

Mrs. Chater did not, however, and said so. "Will number six do?" she
asked, opening her programme; and, when Augustus had assented, she
entered his provisional name, remarking complacently: "We'll sit out
and have a right-down good talk, and you shall tell me all about
yourself and if you still think the same about free-will and personal
responsibility. You had very lofty ideals, I remember, in those days,
and I hope you have still. But one's ideals get rubbed down rather
faint in the friction of life. Don't you think so?"

"Yes, I am afraid you're right," Augustus assented gloomily. "The wear
and tear of life soon fetches the gilt off the gingerbread. Middle age
is apt to find us a bit patchy, not to say naked."

"Oh, don't be pessimistic," said Mrs. Chater; "that is the attitude of
the disappointed idealist, and I am sure you have no reason, really,
to be disappointed in yourself. But I must run away now. Think over
all the things you have to tell me, and don't forget that it is number
six." With a bright smile and a friendly nod she sailed away, a vision
of glittering splendour, compared with which Solomon in all his glory
was a mere matter of commonplace bullion.

The interview, evidently friendly and familiar, between the unknown
guest and the famous American widow had by no means passed unnoticed;
and in other circumstances, Bailey might have endeavoured to profit
by the reflected glory that enveloped him. But he was not in search
of notoriety; and the same evasive instinct that had led him to sink
Mr. Harrington-Baillie in Captain Rowland, now advised him to withdraw
his dual personality from the vulgar gaze. He had come here on very
definite business. For the hundredth time he was "stony-broke," and it
was the hope of picking up some "unconsidered trifles" that had brought
him. But, somehow, the atmosphere of the place had proved unfavourable.
Either opportunities were lacking or he failed to seize them. In any
case, the game pocket that formed an unconventional feature of his
dress-coat was still empty, and it looked as if a pleasant evening and
a good supper were all that he was likely to get. Nevertheless, be his
conduct never so blameless, the fact remained that he was an uninvited
guest, liable at any moment to be ejected as an impostor, and his
recognition by the widow had not rendered this possibility any the more
remote.

He strayed out onto the lawn, whence the grounds fell away on all
sides. But there were other guests there, cooling themselves after
the last dance, and the light from the rooms streamed through the
windows, illuminating their figures, and among them, that of the
too-companionable Granby. Augustus quickly drew away from the lighted
area, and, chancing upon a narrow path, strolled away along it in the
direction of a copse or shrubbery that he saw ahead. Presently he came
to an ivy-covered arch, lighted by one or two fairy lamps, and, passing
through this, he entered a winding path, bordered by trees and shrubs
and but faintly lighted by an occasional coloured lamp suspended from a
branch.

Already he was quite clear of the crowd; indeed, the deserted condition
of the pleasant retreat rather surprised him, until he reflected that
to couples desiring seclusion there were whole ranges of untenanted
rooms and galleries available in the empty house.

The path sloped gently downwards for some distance; then came a long
flight of rustic steps and, at the bottom, a seat between two trees.
In front of the seat the path extended in a straight line, forming
a narrow terrace; on the right the ground sloped up steeply towards
the lawn; on the left it fell away still more steeply towards the
encompassing wall of the grounds; and on both sides it was covered with
trees and shrubs.

Bailey sat down on the seat to think over the account of himself that
he should present to Mrs. Chater. It was a comfortable seat, built into
the trunk of an elm, which formed one end and part of the back. He
leaned against the tree, and, taking out his silver case, selected a
cigarette. But it remained unlighted between his fingers as he sat and
meditated upon his unsatisfactory past and the melancholy tale of what
might have been. Fresh from the atmosphere of refined opulence that
pervaded the dancing-rooms, the throng of well-groomed men and dainty
women, his mind travelled back to his sordid little flat in Bermondsey,
encompassed by poverty and squalor, jostled by lofty factories, grimy
with the smoke of the river and the reek from the great chimneys. It
was a hideous contrast. Verily the way of the transgressor was not
strewn with flowers.

At that point in his meditations he caught the sound of voices and
footsteps on the path above and rose to walk on along the path. He
did not wish to be seen wandering alone in the shrubbery. But now a
woman's laugh sounded from somewhere down the path. There were people
approaching that way too. He put the cigarette back in the case and
stepped round behind the seat, intending to retreat in that direction,
but here the path ended, and beyond was nothing but a rugged slope down
to the wall thickly covered with bushes. And while he was hesitating,
the sound of feet descending the steps and the rustle of a woman's
dress left him to choose between staying where he was or coming out to
confront the new-comers. He chose the former, drawing up close behind
the tree to wait until they should have passed on.

But they were not going to pass on. One of them--a woman--sat down on
the seat, and then a familiar voice smote on his ear.

"I guess I'll rest here quietly for a while; this tooth of mine
is aching terribly; and, see here, I want you to go and fetch me
something. Take this ticket to the cloak-room and tell the woman to
give you my little velvet bag. You'll find in it a bottle of chloroform
and a packet of cotton-wool."

"But I can't leave you here all alone, Mrs. Chater," her partner
expostulated.

"I'm not hankering for society just now," said Mrs. Chater. "I want
that chloroform. Just you hustle off and fetch it, like a good boy.
Here's the ticket."

The young officer's footsteps retreated rapidly, and the voices of the
couple advancing along the path grew louder. Bailey, cursing the chance
that had placed him in his ridiculous and uncomfortable position,
heard them approach and pass on up the steps; and then all was silent,
save for an occasional moan from Mrs. Chater and the measured creaking
of the seat as she rocked uneasily to and fro. But the young man was
uncommonly prompt in the discharge of his mission, and in a very few
minutes Bailey heard him approaching at a run along the path above and
then bounding down the steps.

"Now I call that real good of you," said the widow gratefully. "You
must have run like the wind. Cut the string of the packet and then
leave me to wrestle with this tooth."

"But I can't leave you here all--"

"Yes, you can," interrupted Mrs. Chater. "There won't be any one
about--the next dance is a waltz. Besides, you must go and find your
partners."

"Well, if you'd really rather be alone," the subaltern began; but Mrs.
Chater interrupted him.

"Of course I would, when I'm fixing up my teeth. Now go along, and a
thousand thanks for your kindness."

With mumbled protestations the young officer slowly retired, and Bailey
heard his reluctant feet ascending the steps. Then a deep silence fell
on the place in which the rustle of paper and the squeak of a withdrawn
cork seemed loud and palpable. Bailey had turned with his face towards
the tree, against which he leaned with his lips parted scarcely daring
to breathe. He cursed himself again and again for having thus entrapped
himself for no tangible reason, and longed to get away. But there was
no escape now without betraying himself. He must wait for the woman to
go.

Suddenly, beyond the edge of the tree, a hand appeared holding an open
packet of cotton-wool. It laid the wool down on the seat, and, pinching
off a fragment, rolled it into a tiny ball. The fingers of the hand
were encircled by rings, its wrist enclosed by a broad bracelet; and
from rings and bracelet the light of the solitary fairy-lamp, that
hung from a branch of the tree, was reflected in prismatic sparks. The
hand was withdrawn and Bailey stared dreamily at the square pad of
cotton-wool. Then the hand came again into view. This time it held a
small phial which it laid softly on the seat, setting the cork beside
it. And again the light flashed in many-coloured scintillations from
the encrusting gems.

Bailey's knees began to tremble, and a chilly moisture broke out upon
his forehead.

The hand drew back, but, as it vanished, Bailey moved his head silently
until his face emerged from behind the tree. The woman was leaning
back, her head resting against the trunk only a few inches away from
his face. The great stones of the tiara flashed in his very eyes.
Over her shoulder, he could even see the gorgeous pendant, rising and
falling on her bosom with ever-changing fires; and both her raised
hands were a mass of glitter and sparkle, only the deeper and richer
for the subdued light.

His heart throbbed with palpable blows that drummed aloud in his ears.
The sweat trickled clammily down his face, and he clenched his teeth
to keep them from chattering. An agony of horror--of deadly fear--was
creeping over him? a terror of the dreadful impulse that was stealing
away his reason and his will.

The silence was profound. The woman's soft breathing, the creak of her
bodice, were plainly--grossly--audible; and he checked his own breath
until he seemed on the verge of suffocation.

Of a sudden through the night air was borne faintly the dreamy music of
a waltz. The dance had begun. The distant sound but deepened the sense
of solitude in this deserted spot.

Bailey listened intently. He yearned to escape from the invisible force
that seemed to be clutching at his wrists, and dragging him forward
inexorably to his doom.

He gazed down at the woman with a horrid fascination. He struggled to
draw back out of sight--and struggled in vain.

Then, at last, with a horrible, stealthy deliberation, a clammy,
shaking hand crept forward towards the seat. Without a sound it grasped
the wool, and noiselessly, slowly drew back. Again it stole forth. The
fingers twined snakily around the phial, lifted it from the seat and
carried it back into the shadow.

After a few seconds it reappeared and softly replaced the bottle--now
half empty. There was a brief pause. The measured cadences of the waltz
stole softly through the quiet night and seemed to keep time with the
woman's breathing. Other sound there was none. The place was wrapped in
the silence of the grave.

Suddenly, from the hiding-place, Bailey leaned forward over the back of
the seat. The pad of cotton-wool was in his hand.

The woman was now leaning back as if dozing, and her hands rested in
her lap. There was a swift movement. The pad was pressed against her
face and her head dragged back against the chest of the invisible
assailant. A smothered gasp burst from her hidden lips as her hands
flew up to clutch at the murderous arm; and then came a frightful
struggle, made even more frightful by the gay and costly trappings of
the writhing victim. And still there was hardly a sound; only muffled
gasps, the rustle of silk, the creaking of the seat, the clink of the
falling bottle and, afar off, with dreadful irony, the dreamy murmur of
the waltz.

The struggle was but brief. Quite suddenly the jewelled hands dropped,
the head lay resistless on the crumpled shirt-front, and the body,
now limp and inert, began to slip forward off the seat. Bailey, still
grasping the passive head, climbed over the back of the seat and, as
the woman slid gently to the ground, he drew away the pad and stooped
over her. The struggle was over now; the mad fury of the moment was
passing swiftly into the chill of mortal fear.

He stared with incredulous horror into the swollen face, but now so
comely, the sightless eyes that but a little while since had smiled
into his with such kindly recognition.

He had done this! He, the sneaking wastrel, discarded of all the world,
to whom this sweet woman had held out the hand of friendship. She had
cherished his memory, when to all others he was sunk deep under the
waters of oblivion. And he had killed her--for to his ear no breath of
life seemed to issue from those purple lips.

A sudden hideous compunction for this irrevocable thing that he had
done surged through him, and he stood up clutching at his damp hair
with a hoarse cry that was like the cry of the damned.

The jewels passed straightaway out of his consciousness. Everything
was forgotten now but the horror of this unspeakable thing that he had
done. Remorse incurable and haunting fear were all that were left to
him.

The sound of voices far away along the path aroused him, and the vague
horror that possessed him materialized into abject bodily fear. He
lifted the limp body to the edge of the path and let it slip down the
steep declivity among the bushes. A soft, shuddering sigh came from the
parted lips as the body turned over, and he paused a moment to listen.
But there was no other sound of life. Doubtless that sigh was only the
result of the passive movement.

Again he stood for an instant as one in a dream, gazing at the huddled
shape half hidden by the bushes, before he climbed back to the path;
and even then he looked back once more, but now she was hidden from
sight. And, as the voices drew nearer, he turned, and ran up the rustic
steps.

As he came out on the edge of the lawn the music ceased, and, almost
immediately, a stream of people issued from the house. Shaken as he
was, Bailey yet had wits enough left to know that his clothes and hair
were disordered and that his appearance must be wild. Accordingly he
avoided the dancers, and, keeping to the margin of the lawn, made his
way to the cloak-room by the least frequented route. If he had dared,
he would have called in at the refreshment-room, for he was deadly
faint and his limbs shook as he walked. But a haunting fear pursued
him and, indeed, grew from moment to moment. He found himself already
listening for the rumour of the inevitable discovery.

He staggered into the cloak-room, and, flinging his ticket down on the
table, dragged out his watch. The attendant looked at him curiously
and, pausing with the ticket in his hand, asked sympathetically: "Not
feeling very well, sir?"

"No," said Bailey. "So beastly hot in there."

"You ought to have a glass of champagne, sir, before you start," said
the man.

"No time," replied Bailey, holding out a shaky hand for his coat.
"Shall lose my train if I'm not sharp."

At this hint the attendant reached down the coat and hat, holding up
the former for its owner to slip his arms into the sleeves. But Bailey
snatched it from him, and, flinging it over his arm, put on his hat and
hurried away to the coachhouse. Here, again, the attendant stared at
him in astonishment, which was not lessened when Bailey, declining his
offer to help him on with his coat, bundled the latter under his arm,
clicked the lever of the "variable" on to the ninety gear, sprang onto
the machine and whirled away down the steep drive, a grotesque vision
of flying coat-tails.

"You haven't lit your lamp, sir," roared the attendant; but Bailey's
ears were deaf to all save the clamour of the expected pursuit.

Fortunately the drive entered the road obliquely, or Bailey must have
been flung into the opposite hedge. As it was, the machine, rushing
down the slope, flew out into the road with terrific velocity; nor did
its speed diminish then, for its rider, impelled by mortal terror, trod
the pedals with the fury of a madman. And still, as the machine whizzed
along the dark and silent road, his ears were strained to catch the
clatter of hoofs or the throb of a motor from behind.

He knew the country well, in fact, as a precaution, he had cycled over
the district only the day before; and he was ready, at any suspicious
sound, to slip down any of the lanes or byways, secure of finding his
way. But still he sped on, and still no sound from the rear came to
tell him of the dread discovery.

When he had ridden about three miles, he came to the foot of a steep
hill. Here he had to dismount and push his machine up the incline,
which he did at such speed that he arrived at the top quite breathless.
Before mounting again he determined to put on his coat, for his
appearance was calculated to attract attention, if nothing more. It was
only half-past eleven, and presently he would pass through the streets
of a small town. Also he would light his lamp. It would be fatal to be
stopped by a patrol or rural constable.

Having lit his lamp and hastily put on his coat he once more listened
intently, looking back over the country that was darkly visible from
the summit of the hill. No moving lights were to be seen, no ringing
hoofs or throbbing engines to be heard, and, turning to mount, he
instinctively felt in his overcoat pocket for his gloves.

A pair of gloves came out in his hand, but he was instantly conscious
that they were not his. A silk muffler was there also; a white one. But
his muffler was black.

With a sudden shock of terror he thrust his hand into the
ticket-pocket, where he had put his latch-key. There was no key there;
only an amber cigar-holder, which he had never seen before. He stood
for a few moments in utter consternation. He had taken the wrong coat.
Then he had left his own coat behind. A cold sweat of fear broke out
afresh on his face as he realized this. His Yale latch-key was in its
pocket; not that that mattered very much. He had a duplicate at home,
and, as to getting in, well, he knew his own outside door and his
tool-bag contained one or two trifles not usually found in cyclists'
tool-bags. The question was whether that coat contained anything that
could disclose his identity. And then suddenly he remembered, with a
gasp of relief, that he had carefully turned the pockets out before
starting.

No; once let him attain the sanctuary of his grimy little flat, wedged
in as it was between the great factories by the river-side, and he
would be safe: safe from everything but the horror of himself, and
the haunting vision of a jewelled figure huddled up in a silken heap
beneath the bushes.

With a last look round he mounted his machine, and, driving it over the
brow of the hill, swept away into the darkness.


PART II. MUNERA PULVERIS


(Related by Christopher Jervis, M.D.)

It is one of the drawbacks of medicine as a profession that one is
never rid of one's responsibilities. The merchant, the lawyer, the
civil servant, each at the appointed time locks up his desk, puts on
his hat and goes forth a free man with an interval of uninterrupted
leisure before him. Not so the doctor. Whether at work or at play,
awake or asleep, he is the servant of humanity, at the instant disposal
of friend or stranger alike whose need may make the necessary claim.

When I agreed to accompany my wife to the spinsters' dance at
Raynesford, I imagined that, for that evening, at least, I was
definitely off duty; and in that belief I continued until the
conclusion of the eighth dance. To be quite truthful, I was not sorry
when the delusion was shattered. My last partner was a young lady of
a slanginess of speech that verged on the inarticulate. Now it is not
easy to exchange ideas in "pidgin" English; and the conversation of a
person to whom all things are either "ripping" or "rotten" is apt to
lack subtlety. In fact, I was frankly bored; and, reflecting on the
utility of the humble sandwich as an aid to conversation, I was about
to entice my partner to the refreshment-room when I felt someone pluck
at my sleeve. I turned quickly and looked into the anxious and rather
frightened face of my wife.

"Miss Halliwell is looking for you," she said. "A lady has been taken
ill. Will you come and see what is the matter?" She took my arm and,
when I had made my apologies to my partner, she hurried me on to the
lawn.

"It's a mysterious affair," my wife continued. "The sick lady is a
Mrs. Chater, a very wealthy American widow. Edith Halliwell and Major
Podbury found her lying in the shrubbery all alone and unable to give
any account of herself. Poor Edith is dreadfully upset. She doesn't
know what to think."

"What do you mean?" I began; but at this moment Miss Halliwell, who was
waiting by an ivy-covered rustic arch, espied us and ran forward.

"Oh, do hurry, please, Dr. Jervis," she exclaimed; "such a shocking
thing has happened. Has Juliet told you?" Without waiting for an
answer, she darted through the arch and preceded us along a narrow path
at the curious, flat-footed, shambling trot common to most adult women.
Presently we descended a flight of rustic steps which brought us to a
seat, from whence extended a straight path cut like a miniature terrace
on a steep slope, with a high bank rising to the right and declivity
falling away to the left. Down in the hollow, his head and shoulders
appearing above the bushes, was a man holding in his hand a fairy-lamp
that he had apparently taken down from a tree. I climbed down to him,
and, as I came round the bushes, I perceived a richly-dressed woman
lying huddled on the ground. She was not completely insensible, for
she moved slightly at my approach, muttering a few words in thick,
indistinct accents. I took the lamp from the man, whom I assumed to
be Major Podbury, and, as he delivered it to me with a significant
glance and a faint lift of the eyebrows, I understood Miss Halliwell's
agitation. Indeed, for one horrible moment I thought that she was
right--that the prostrate woman was intoxicated. But when I approached
nearer, the flickering light of the lamp made visible a square reddened
patch on her face, like the impression of a mustard plaster, covering
the nose and mouth; and then I scented mischief of a more serious kind.

"We had better carry her up to the seat," I said, handing the lamp to
Miss Halliwell. "Then we can consider moving her to the house." The
major and I lifted the helpless woman and, having climbed cautiously up
to the path, laid her on the seat.

"What is it, Dr. Jervis?" Miss Halliwell whispered.

"I can't say at the moment," I replied; "but it's not what you feared."

"Thank God for that!" was her fervent rejoinder. "It would have been a
shocking scandal."

I took the dim lamp and once more bent over the half-conscious woman.

Her appearance puzzled me not a little. She looked like a person
recovering from an anaesthetic, but the square red patch on her face,
recalling, as it did, the Burke murders, rather suggested suffocation.
As I was thus reflecting, the light of the lamp fell on a white object
lying on the ground behind the seat, and holding the lamp forward, I
saw that it was a square pad of cotton-wool. The coincidence of its
shape and size with that of the red patch on the woman's face instantly
struck me, and I stooped down to pick it up; and then I saw, lying
under the seat, a small bottle. This also I picked up and held in the
lamplight. It was a one-ounce phial, quite empty, and was labelled
"Methylated Chloroform." Here seemed to be a complete explanation of
the thick utterance and drunken aspect; but it was an explanation that
required, in its turn, to be explained. Obviously no robbery had been
committed, for the woman literally glittered with diamonds. Equally
obviously she had not administered the chloroform to herself.

There was nothing for it but to carry her indoors and await her further
recovery, so, with the major's help, we conveyed her through the
shrubbery and kitchen garden to a side door, and deposited her on a
sofa in a half-furnished room.

Here, under the influence of water dabbed on her face and the plentiful
use of smelling salts, she quickly revived, and was soon able to give
an intelligible account of herself.

The chloroform and cotton-wool were her own. She had used them for an
aching tooth; and she was sitting alone on the seat with the bottle
and the wool beside her when the incomprehensible thing had happened.
Without a moment's warning a hand had come from behind her and pressed
the pad of wool over her nose and mouth. The wool was saturated with
chloroform, and she had lost consciousness almost immediately.

"You didn't see the person, then?" I asked.

"No, but I know he was in evening dress, because I felt my head against
his shirt-front."

"Then," said I, "he is either here still or he has been to the
cloak-room. He couldn't have left the place without an overcoat."

"No, by Jove!" exclaimed the major; "that's true. I'll go and make
inquiries." He strode away all agog, and I, having satisfied myself
that Mrs. Chater could be left safely, followed him almost immediately.

I made my way straight to the cloak-room, and here I found the major
and one or two of his brother officers putting on their coats in a
flutter of gleeful excitement.

"He's gone," said Podbury, struggling frantically into his overcoat;
"went off nearly an hour ago on a bicycle. Seemed in a deuce of a stew,
the attendant says, and no wonder. We're goin' after him in our car.
Care to join the hunt?"

"No, thanks. I must stay with the patient. But how do you know you're
after the right man?"

"Isn't any other. Only one Johnnie's left. Besides--here, confound it!
you've given me the wrong coat!" He tore off the garment and handed it
back to the attendant, who regarded it with an expression of dismay.

"Are you sure, sir?" he asked.

"Perfectly," said the major. "Come, hurry up, my man."

"I'm afraid, sir," said the attendant, "that the gentleman who has
gone has taken your coat. They were on the same peg, I know. I am very
sorry, sir."

The major was speechless with wrath. What the devil was the good of
being sorry; and how the deuce was he to get his coat back--

"But," I interposed, "if the stranger has got your coat, then this coat
must be his."

"I know," said Podbury; "but I don't want his beastly coat."

"No," I replied, "but it may be useful for identification."

This appeared to afford the bereaved officer little consolation, but as
the car was now ready, he bustled away, and I, having directed the man
to put the coat away in a safe place, went back to my patient.

Mrs. Chater was by now fairly recovered, and had developed a highly
vindictive interest in her late assailant. She even went so far as to
regret that he had not taken at least some of her diamonds, so that
robbery might have been added to the charge of attempted murder, and
expressed the earnest hope that the officers would not be foolishly
gentle in their treatment of him when they caught him.

"By the way, Dr. Jervis," said Miss Halliwell, "I think I ought to
mention a rather curious thing that happened in connection with this
dance. We received an acceptance from a Mr. Harrington-Baillie, who
wrote from the Hotel Cecil. Now I am certain that no such name was
proposed by any of the spinsters."

"But didn't you ask them?" I inquired.

"Well, the fact is," she replied, "that one of them, Miss Waters, had
to go abroad suddenly, and we had not got her address; and as it was
possible that she might have invited him, I did not like to move in
the matter. I am very sorry I didn't now. We may have let in a regular
criminal--though why he should have wanted to murder Mrs. Chater I
cannot imagine."

It was certainly a mysterious affair, and the mystery was in no wise
dispelled by the return of the search party an hour later. It seemed
that the bicycle had been tracked for a couple of miles towards London,
but then, at the cross-roads, the tracks had become hopelessly mixed
with the impressions of other machines and the officers, after cruising
about vaguely for a while, had given up the hunt and returned.

"You see, Mrs. Chater," Major Podbury explained apologetically, "the
fellow must have had a good hour's start, and that would have brought
him pretty close to London."

"Do you mean to tell me," exclaimed Mrs. Chater, regarding the major
with hardly-concealed contempt, "that that villain has got off
scot-free?"

"Looks rather like it," replied Podbury, "but if I were you I should
get the man's description from the attendants who saw him and go up to
Scotland Yard to-morrow. They may know the Johnny there, and they may
even recognize the coat if you take it with you."

"That doesn't seem very likely," said Mrs. Chater, and it certainly did
not; but since no better plan could be suggested the lady decided to
adopt it; and I supposed that I had heard the last of the matter.

In this, however, I was mistaken. On the following day, just before
noon, as I was drowsily considering the points in a brief dealing with
a question of survivorship, while Thorndyke drafted his weekly lecture,
a smart rat-tat at the door of our chambers announced a visitor. I
rose wearily--I had had only four hours' sleep--and opened the door,
whereupon there sailed into the room no less a person than Mrs. Chater,
followed by Superintendent Miller, with a grin on his face and a
brown-paper parcel under his arm.

The lady was not in the best of tempers, though wonderfully lively and
alert considering the severe shock that she had suffered so recently,
and her disapproval of Miller was frankly obvious.

"Dr. Jervis has probably told you about the attempt to murder me last
night," she said, when I had introduced her to my colleague. "Well,
now, will you believe it? I have been to the police, I have given them
a description of the murderous villain, and I have even shown them the
very coat that he wore, and they tell me that nothing can be done.
That, in short, this scoundrel must be allowed to go his way free and
unmolested."

"You will observe, doctor," said Miller, "that this lady has given us
a description that would apply to fifty per cent. of the middle-class
men of the United Kingdom, and has shown us a coat without a single
identifying mark of any kind on it, and expects us to lay our hands on
the owner without a solitary clue to guide us. Now we are not sorcerers
at the Yard; we're only policemen. So I have taken the liberty of
referring Mrs. Chater to you." He grinned maliciously and laid the
parcel on the table.

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

"Why sir," said Miller, "there is a coat. In the pockets were a pair of
gloves, a muffler, a box of matches, a tram-ticket and a Yale key. Mrs.
Chater would like to know whose coat it is." He untied the parcel with
his eye cocked at our rather disconcerted client, and Thorndyke watched
him with a faint smile.

"This is very kind of you, Miller," said he, "but I think a clairvoyant
would be more to your purpose."

The superintendent instantly dropped his facetious manner.

"Seriously, sir," he said, "I should be glad if you would take a look
at the coat. We have absolutely nothing to go on, and yet we don't want
to give up the case. I have gone through it most thoroughly and can't
find any clue to guide us. Now I know that nothing escapes you, and
perhaps you might notice something that I have overlooked; something
that would give us a hint where to start on, our inquiry. Couldn't you
turn the microscope on it, for instance?" he added, with a deprecating
smile.

Thorndyke reflected, with an inquisitive eye on the coat. I saw that
the problem was not without its attractions to him; and when the lady
seconded Miller's request with persuasive eagerness, the inevitable
consequence followed.

"Very well," he said. "Leave the coat with me for an hour or so and
I will look it over. I am afraid there is not the remotest chance of
our learning anything from it, but even so, the examination will have
done no harm. Come back at two o'clock; I shall be ready to report my
failure by then."

He bowed our visitors out and, returning to the table, looked down
with a quizzical smile on the coat and the large official envelope
containing articles from the pockets.

"And what does my learned brother suggest?" he asked, looking up at me.

"I should look at the tram-ticket first," I replied, "and then--well,
Miller's suggestion wasn't such a bad one; to explore the surface with
the microscope."

"I think we will take the latter measure first," said he. "The
tram-ticket might create a misleading bias. A man may take a tram
anywhere, whereas the indoor dust on a man's coat appertains mostly to
a definite locality."

"Yes," I replied; "but the information that it yields is excessively
vague."

"That is true," he agreed, taking up the coat and envelope to carry
them to the laboratory, "and yet, you know, Jervis, as I have often
pointed out, the evidential value of dust is apt to be under-estimated.
The naked-eye appearances? which are the normal appearances--are
misleading. Gather the dust, say, from a table-top, and what have you?
A fine powder of a characterless grey, just like any other dust from
any other table-top. But, under the microscope, this grey powder is
resolved into recognizable fragments of definite substances, which
fragments may often be traced with certainty to the masses from which
they have been detached. But you know all this as well as I do."

"I quite appreciate the value of dust as evidence in certain
circumstances," I replied, "but surely the information that could be
gathered from dust on the coat of an unknown man must be too general to
be of any use in tracing the owner."

"I am afraid you are right," said Thorndyke, laying the coat on the
laboratory bench; "but we shall soon see, if Polton will let us have
his patent dust-extractor."

The little apparatus to which my colleague referred was the invention
of our ingenious laboratory assistant, and resembled in principle the
"vacuum cleaners" used for restoring carpets. It had, however, one
special feature: the receiver was made to admit a microscope-slide, and
on this the dust-laden air was delivered from a jet.

The "extractor" having been clamped to the bench by its proud inventor,
and a wetted slide introduced into the receiver, Thorndyke applied
the nozzle of the instrument to the collar of the coat while Polton
worked the pump. The slide was then removed and, another having been
substituted, the nozzle was applied to the right sleeve near the
shoulder, and the exhauster again worked by Polton. By repeating this
process, half-a-dozen slides were obtained charged with dust from
different parts of the garment, and then, setting up our respective
microscopes, we proceeded to examine the samples.

A very brief inspection showed me that this dust contained matter not
usually met with--at any rate, in appreciable quantities. There were,
of course, the usual fragments of wool, cotton and other fibres derived
from clothing and furniture, particles of straw, husk, hair, various
mineral particles and, in fact, the ordinary constituents of dust from
clothing. But, in addition to these, and in much greater quantity, were
a number of other bodies, mostly of vegetable origin and presenting
well-defined characters in considerable variety, and especially
abundant were various starch granules.

I glanced at Thorndyke and observed he was already busy with a pencil
and a slip of paper, apparently making a list of the objects visible in
the field of the microscope. I hastened to follow his example, and for
a time we worked on in silence. At length my colleague leaned back in
his chair and read over his list.

"This is a highly interesting collection, Jervis," he remarked. "What
do you find on your slides out of the ordinary?"

"I have quite a little museum here," I replied, referring to my list.
"There is, of course, chalk from the road at Raynesford. In addition to
this I find various starches, principally wheat and rice, especially
rice, fragments of the cortices of several seeds, several different
stone-cells, some yellow masses that look like turmeric, black pepper
resin-cells, one 'port wine' pimento cell, and one or two particles of
graphite."

"Graphite!" exclaimed Thorndyke. "I have found no graphite, but I
have found traces of cocoa--spiral vessels and starch grains--and of
hops--one fragment of leaf and several lupulin glands. May I see the
graphite?"

I passed him the slide and he examined it with keen interest. "Yes,"
he said, "this is undoubtedly graphite, and no less than six particles
of it. We had better go over the coat systematically. You see the
importance of this?"

"I see that this is evidently factory dust and that it may fix a
locality, but I don't see that it will carry us any farther."

"Don't forget that we have a touchstone," said he; and, as I raised my
eyebrows inquiringly, he added, "The Yale latchkey. If we can narrow
the locality down sufficiently, Miller can make a tour of the front
doors."

"But can we?" I asked incredulously. "I doubt it."

"We can try," answered Thorndyke. "Evidently some of the substances
are distributed over the entire coat, inside and out, while others,
such as the graphite, are present only on certain parts. We must locate
those parts exactly and then consider what this special distribution
means." He rapidly sketched out on a sheet of paper a rough diagram of
the coat, marking each part with a distinctive letter, and then, taking
a number of labelled slides, he wrote a single letter on each. The
samples of dust taken on the slides could thus be easily referred to
the exact spots whence they had been obtained.

Once more we set to work with the microscope, making, now and again,
an addition to our lists of discoveries, and, at the end of nearly an
hour's strenuous search, every slide had been examined and the lists
compared.

"The net result of the examination," said Thorndyke, "is this. The
entire coat, inside and out, is evenly powdered with the following
substances: Rice-starch in abundance, wheat-starch in less abundance,
and smaller quantities of the starches of ginger, pimento and cinnamon;
bast fibre of cinnamon, various seed cortices, stone-cells of pimento,
cinnamon, cassia and black pepper, with other fragments of similar
origin, such as resin-cells and ginger pigment--not turmeric. In
addition there are, on the right shoulder and sleeve, traces of
cocoa and hops, and on the back below the shoulders a few fragments
of graphite. Those are the data; and now, what are the inferences?
Remember this is not mere surface dust, but the accumulation of months,
beaten into the cloth by repeated brushing--dust that nothing but a
vacuum apparatus could extract."

"Evidently," I said, "the particles that are all over the coat
represent dust that is floating in the air of the place where the coat
habitually hangs. The graphite has obviously been picked up from a
seat and the cocoa and hops from some factories that the man passes
frequently, though I don't see why they are on the right side only."

"That is a question of time," said Thorndyke, "and incidentally throws
some light on our friend's habits. Going from home, he passes the
factories on his right; returning home, he passes them on his left, but
they have then stopped work. However, the first group of substances is
the more important as they indicate the locality of his dwelling--for
he is clearly not a workman or factory employee. Now rice-starch,
wheat-starch and a group of substances collectively designated 'spices'
suggest a rice-mill, a flour-mill and a spice factory. Polton, may I
trouble you for the Post Office Directory?"

He turned over the leaves of the "Trades" section and resumed: "I
see there are four rice-mills in London, of which the largest is
Carbutt's at Dockhead. Let us look at the spice-factories." He again
turned over the leaves and read down the list of names. "There are six
spice-grinders in London," said he. "One of them, Thomas Williams &
Co., is at Dockhead. None of the others is near any rice-mill. The next
question is as to the flour-mill. Let us see. Here are the names of
several flour millers, but none of them is near either a rice-mill or a
spice-grinder, with one exception: Seth Taylor's, St. Saviour's Flour
Mills, Dockhead."

"This is really becoming interesting," said I.

"It has become interesting," Thorndyke retorted. "You observe that
at Dockhead we find the peculiar combination of factories necessary
to produce the composite dust in which this coat has hung; and the
directory shows us that this particular combination exists nowhere
else in London. Then the graphite, the cocoa and the hops tend to
confirm the other suggestions. They all appertain to industries of the
locality. The trams which pass Dockhead, also, to my knowledge, pass
at no great distance from the black-lead works of Pearce Duff & Co. in
Rouel Road, and will probably collect a few particles of black-lead
on the seats in certain states of the wind. I see, too, that there
is a cocoa factory--Payne's--in Goat Street, Horsleydown, which lies
to the right of the tram line going west, and I have noticed several
hop warehouses on the right side of Southwark Street, going west. But
these are mere suggestions; the really important data are the rice and
flour mills and the spice-grinders, which seem to point unmistakably to
Dockhead."

"Are there any private houses at Dockhead?" I asked.

"We must look up the 'Street' list," he replied. "The Yale latch-key
rather suggests a flat, and a flat with a single occupant, and the
probable habits of our absent friend offer a similar suggestion." He
ran his eye down the list and presently turned to me with his finger on
the page.

"If the facts that we have elicited--the singular series of agreements
with the required conditions--are only a string of coincidences, here
is another. On the south side of Dockhead, actually next door to the
spice-grinders and opposite to Carbutt's rice-mills, is a block of
workmen's flats, Hanover Buildings. They fulfil the conditions exactly.
A coat hung in a room in those flats, with the windows open (as they
would probably be at this time of year), would be exposed to the air
containing a composite dust of precisely the character of that which we
have found. Of course, the same conditions obtain in other dwellings
in this part of Dockhead, but the probability is in favour of the
buildings. And that is all that we can say. It is no certainty. There
may be some radical fallacy in our reasoning. But, on the face of it,
the chances are a thousand to one that the door that that key will open
is in some part of Dockhead, and most probably in Hanover Buildings. We
must leave the verification to Miller."

"Wouldn't it be as well to look at the tram-ticket?" I asked.

"Dear me!" he exclaimed. "I had forgotten the ticket. Yes, by all
means." He opened the envelope and, turning its contents out on the
bench, picked up the dingy slip of paper. After a glance at it he
handed it to me. It was punched for the journey from Tooley Street to
Dockhead.

"Another coincidence," he remarked; "and by yet another, I think I hear
Miller knocking at our door."

It was the superintendent, and, as we let him into the room, the hum of
a motor-car entering from Tudor Street announced the arrival of Mrs.
Chater. We waited for her at the open door, and, as she entered, she
held out her hands impulsively.

"Say, now, Dr. Thorndyke," she exclaimed, "have you gotten something to
tell us?"

"I have a suggestion to make," replied Thorndyke. "I think that if
the superintendent will take this key to Hanover Buildings, Dockhead,
Bermondsey, he may possibly find a door that it will fit."

"The deuce!" exclaimed Miller. "I beg your pardon, madam; but I thought
I had gone through that coat pretty completely. What was it that I had
overlooked, sir? Was there a letter hidden in it, after all?"

"You overlooked the dust on it, Miller; that is all," said Thorndyke.

"Dust!" exclaimed the detective, staring round-eyed at my colleague.
Then he chuckled softly. "Well," said he, "as I said before, I'm not a
sorcerer; I'm only a policeman." He picked up the key and asked: "Are
you coming to see the end of it, sir?"

"Of course he is coming," said Mrs. Chater, "and Dr. Jervis too, to
identify the man. Now that we have gotten the villain we must leave him
no loophole for escape."

Thorndyke smiled dryly. "We will come if you wish it, Mrs. Chater," he
said, "but you mustn't look upon our quest as a certainty. We may have
made an entire miscalculation, and I am, in fact, rather curious to see
if the result works out correctly. But even if we run the man to earth,
I don't see that you have much evidence against him. The most that you
can prove is that he was at the house and that he left hurriedly."

Mrs. Chater regarded my colleague for a moment in scornful silence, and
then, gathering up her skirts, stalked out of the room. If there is
one thing that the average woman detests more than another, it is an
entirely reasonable man.

The big car whirled us rapidly over Blackfriars Bridge into the region
of the Borough, whence we presently turned down Tooley Street towards
Bermondsey.

As soon as Dockhead came into view, the detective, Thorndyke and I,
alighted and proceeded on foot, leaving our client, who was now closely
veiled, to follow at a little distance in the car. Opposite the head of
St. Saviour's Dock, Thorndyke halted and, looking over the wall, drew
my attention to the snowy powder that had lodged on every projection
on the backs of the tall buildings and on the decks of the barges that
were loading with the flour and ground rice. Then, crossing the road,
he pointed to the wooden lantern above the roof of the spice works, the
louvres of which were covered with greyish-buff dust.

"Thus," he moralized, "does commerce subserve the ends of justice--at
least, we hope it does," he added quickly, as Miller disappeared into
the semi-basement of the buildings.

We met the detective returning from his quest as we entered the
building.

"No go there," was his report. "We'll try the next floor."

This was the ground-floor, or it might be considered the first floor.
At any rate, it yielded nothing of interest, and, after a glance
at the doors that opened on the landing, he strode briskly up the
stone stairs. The next floor was equally unrewarding, for our eager
inspection disclosed nothing but the gaping keyhole associated with the
common type of night-latch.

"What name was you wanting?" inquired a dusty knight of industry who
emerged from one of the flats.

"Muggs," replied Miller, with admirable promptness.

"Don't know 'im," said the workman. "I expect it's farther up."

Farther up we accordingly went, but still from each door the artless
grin of the invariable keyhole saluted us with depressing monotony. I
began to grow uneasy, and when the fourth floor had been explored with
no better result, my anxiety became acute. A mare's nest may be an
interesting curiosity, but it brings no kudos to its discoverer.

"I suppose you haven't made any mistake, sir?" said Miller, stopping to
wipe his brow.

"It's quite likely that I have." replied Thorndyke, with unmoved
composure. "I only proposed this search as a tentative proceeding, you
know."

The superintendent grunted. He was accustomed--as was I too, for that
matter--to regard Thorndyke's "tentative suggestions" as equal to
another man's certainties.

"It will be an awful suck-in for Mrs. Chater if we don't find him after
all," he growled as we climbed up the last flight. "She's counted
her chickens to a feather." He paused at the head of the stairs and
stood for a few moments looking round the landing. Suddenly he turned
eagerly, and, laying his hand on Thorndyke's arm, pointed to a door in
the farthest corner.

"Yale lock!" he whispered impressively.

We followed him silently as he stole on tip-toe across the landing,
and watched him as he stood for an instant with the key in his land
looking gloatingly at the brass disc. We saw him softly apply the nose
of the fluted key-blade to the crooked slit in the cylinder, and, as
we watched, it slid noiselessly up to the shoulder. The detective
looked round with a grin of triumph, and, silently withdrawing the key,
stepped back to us.

"You've run him to earth, sir," he whispered, "but I don't think Mr.
Fox is at home. He can't have got back yet."

"Why not?" asked Thorndyke.

Miller waved his hand towards the door. "Nothing has been disturbed,"
he replied. "There's not a mark on the paint. Now he hadn't got the
key, and you can't pick a Yale lock. He'd have had to break in, and he
hasn't broken in."

Thorndyke stepped up to the door and softly pushed in the flap of the
letter-slit, through which he looked into the flat.

"There's no letter-box," said he. "My dear Miller, I would undertake to
open that door in five minutes with a foot of wire and a bit of resined
string."

Miller shook his head and grinned once more. "I am glad you're not on
the lay, sir; you'd be one too many for us. Shall we signal to the
lady?"

I went out onto the gallery and looked down at the waiting car. Mrs.
Chater was staring intently up at the building, and the little crowd
that the car had collected stared alternately at the lady and at
the object of her regard. I wiped my face with my handkerchief--the
signal agreed upon--and she instantly sprang out of the car, and in an
incredibly short time she appeared on the landing, purple and gasping,
but with the fire of battle flashing from her eyes.

"We've found his flat, madam," said Miller, "and we're going to enter.
You're not intending to offer any violence, I hope," he added, noting
with some uneasiness the lady's ferocious expression.

"Of course I'm not," replied Mrs. Chater. "In the States ladies don't
have to avenge insults themselves. If you were American men you'd hang
the ruffian from his own bedpost."

"We're not American men, madam," said the superintendent stiffly. "We
are law-abiding Englishmen, and, moreover, we are all officers of the
law. These gentlemen are barristers and I am a police officer."

With this preliminary caution, he once more inserted the key, and as
he turned it and pushed the door open, we all followed him into the
sitting-room.

"I told you so, sir," said Miller, softly shutting the door; "he hasn't
come back yet."

Apparently he was right. At any rate, there was no one in the flat, and
we proceeded unopposed on our tour of inspection. It was a miserable
spectacle, and, as we wandered from one squalid room to another,
a feeling of pity for the starving wretch into whose lair we were
intruding stole over me and began almost to mitigate the hideousness
of his crime. On all sides poverty--utter, grinding poverty--stared us
in the face. It looked at us hollow-eyed in the wretched sitting-room,
with its bare floor, its solitary chair and tiny deal table; its
unfurnished walls and windows destitute of blind or curtain. A piece
of Dutch cheese-rind on the table, scraped to the thinness of paper,
whispered of starvation; and famine lurked in the gaping cupboard, in
the empty bread-tin, in the tea-caddy with its pinch of dust at the
bottom, in the jam-jar, wiped clean, as a few crumbs testified, with
a crust of bread. There was not enough food in the place to furnish a
meal for a healthy mouse.

The bedroom told the same tale, but with a curious variation. A
miserable truckle-bed with a straw mattress and a cheap jute rug for
bed-clothes, an orange-case, stood on end, for a dressing-table, and
another, bearing a tin washing-bowl, formed the wretched furniture.
But the suit that hung from a couple of nails was well-cut and even
fashionable, though shabby; and another suit lay on the floor, neatly
folded and covered with a newspaper; and, most incongruous of all, a
silver cigarette-case reposed on the dressing-table.

"Why on earth does this fellow starve," I exclaimed, "when he has a
silver case to pawn?"

"Wouldn't do," said Miller. "A man doesn't pawn the implements of his
trade."

Mrs. Chater, who had been staring about her with the mute amazement of
a wealthy woman confronted, for the first time, with abject poverty,
turned suddenly to the superintendent. "This can't be the man!" she
exclaimed. "You have made some mistake. This poor creature could never
have made his way into a house like Willowdale."

Thorndyke lifted the newspaper. Beneath it was a dress suit with the
shirt, collar and tie all carefully smoothed out and folded. Thorndyke
unfolded the shirt and pointed to the curiously crumpled front.
Suddenly he brought it close to his eye and then, from the sham diamond
stud, he drew a single hair--a woman's hair.

"That is rather significant," said he, holding it up between his finger
and thumb; and Mrs. Chater evidently thought so too, for the pity
and compunction suddenly faded from her face, and once more her eyes
flashed with vindictive fire.

"I wish he would come," she exclaimed viciously. "Prison won't be much
hardship to him after this, but I want to see him in the dock all the
same."

"No," the detective agreed, "it won't hurt him much to swap this for
Portland. Listen!"

A key was being inserted into the outer door, and as we all stood like
statues, a man entered and closed the door after him. He passed the
door of the bedroom without seeing us, and with the dragging steps of
a weary, dispirited man. Almost immediately we heard him go to the
kitchen and draw water into some vessel. Then he went back to the
sitting-room.

"Come along," said Miller, stepping silently towards the door. We
followed closely, and as he threw the door open, we looked in over his
shoulder.

The man had seated himself at the table, on which now lay a hunk of
household bread resting on the paper in which he had brought it, and a
tumbler of water. He half rose as the door opened, and as if petrified
remained staring at Miller with a dreadful expression of terror upon
his livid face.

At this moment I felt a hand on my arm, and Mrs. Chater brusquely
pushed past me into the room. But at the threshold she stopped short;
and a singular change crept over the man's ghastly face, a change so
remarkable that I looked involuntarily from him to our client. She
had turned, in a moment, deadly pale, and her face had frozen into an
expression of incredulous horror.

The dramatic silence was broken by the matter-of-fact voice of the
detective.

"I am a police officer," said he, "and I arrest you for--?"

A peal of hysterical laughter from Mrs. Chater interrupted him, and
he looked at her in astonishment. "Stop, stop!" she cried in a shaky
voice. "I guess we've made a ridiculous mistake. This isn't the man.
This gentleman is Captain Rowland, an old friend of mine."

"I'm sorry he's a friend of yours," said Miller, "because I shall have
to ask you to appear against him."

"You can ask what you please," replied Mrs. Chater. "I tell you he's
not the man."

The superintendent rubbed his nose and looked hungrily at his quarry.
"Do I understand, madam," he asked stiffly, "that you refuse to
prosecute?"

"Prosecute!" she exclaimed. "Prosecute my friends for offences that I
know they have not committed? Certainly I refuse."

The superintendent looked at Thorndyke, but my colleague's countenance
had congealed into a state of absolute immobility and was as devoid of
expression as the face of a Dutch clock.

"Very well," said Miller, looking sourly at his watch. "Then we have
had our trouble for nothing. I wish you good afternoon, madam."

"I am sorry I troubled you, now," said Mrs. Chater.

"I am sorry you did," was the curt reply; and the superintendent,
flinging the key on the table, stalked out of the room.

As the outer door slammed the man sat down with an air of bewilderment;
and then, suddenly flinging his arms on the table, he dropped his head
on them and burst into a passion of sobbing.

It was very embarrassing. With one accord Thorndyke and I turned to
go, but Mrs. Chater motioned us to stay. Stepping over to the man, she
touched him lightly on the arm.

"Why did you do it?" she asked in a tone of gentle reproach.

The man sat up and flung out one arm in an eloquent gesture that
comprehended the miserable room and the yawning cupboard.

"It was the temptation of a moment," he said. "I was penniless, and
those accursed diamonds were thrust in my face; they were mine for the
taking. I was mad, I suppose."

"But why didn't you take them?" she said. "Why didn't you?"

"I don't know. The madness passed; and then--when I saw you lying
there----Oh, God! Why don't you give me up to the police?" He laid his
head down and sobbed afresh.

Mrs. Chater bent over him with tears standing in her pretty grey eyes.
"But tell me," she said, "why didn't you take the diamonds? You could
if you'd liked, I suppose?"

"What good were they to me?" he demanded passionately. "What did any
thing matter to me? I thought you were dead."

"Well, I'm not, you see," she said, with a rather tearful smile; "I'm
just as well as an old woman like me can expect to be. And I want your
address, so that I can write and give you some good advice."

The man sat up and produced a shabby cardcase from his pocket, and, as
he took out a number of cards and spread them out like the "hand" of a
whist player, I caught a twinkle in Thorndyke's eye.

"My name is Augustus Bailey," said the man. He selected the appropriate
card, and, having scribbled his address on it with a stump of lead
pencil, relapsed into his former position.

"Thank you," said Mrs. Chater, lingering for a moment by the table.
"Now we'll go. Good-bye, Mr. Bailey. I shall write to-morrow, and you
must attend seriously to the advice of an old friend."

I held open the door for her to pass out and looked back before I
turned to follow. Bailey still sat sobbing quietly, with his hand
resting on his arms; and a little pile of gold stood on the corner of
the table.

"I expect, doctor," said Mrs. Chater, as Thorndyke handed her into the
car, "you've written me down a sentimental fool."

Thorndyke looked at her with an unwonted softening of his rather severe
face and answered quietly, "It is written: Blessed are the Merciful."



THE OLD LAG


PART I. THE CHANGED IMMUTABLE


Among the minor and purely physical pleasures of life, I am disposed to
rank very highly that feeling of bodily comfort that one experiences
on passing from the outer darkness of a wet winter's night to a
cheerful interior made glad by mellow lamplight and blazing hearth.
And so I thought when, on a dreary November night, I let myself into
our chambers in the Temple and found my friend smoking his pipe in
slippered ease, by a roaring fire, and facing an empty arm-chair
evidently placed in readiness for me.

As I shed my damp overcoat, I glanced inquisitively at my colleague,
for he held in his hand an open letter, and I seemed to perceive in his
aspect something meditative and self-communing--something, in short,
suggestive of a new case.

"I was just considering," he said, in answer to my inquiring look,
"whether I am about to become an accessory after the fact. Read that
and give me your opinion."

He handed me the letter, which I read aloud.

"Dear sir,--I am in great danger and distress. A warrant has been
issued for my arrest on a charge of which I am entirely innocent. Can I
come and see you, and will you let me leave in safety? The bearer will
wait for a reply."

"I said 'Yes,' of course; there was nothing else to do," said
Thorndyke. "But if I let him go, as I have promised to do, I shall be
virtually conniving at his escape."

"Yes, you are taking a risk," I answered. "When is he coming?"

"He was due five minutes ago--and I rather think--yes, here he is."

A stealthy tread on the landing was followed by a soft tapping on the
outer door.

Thorndyke rose and, flinging open the inner door, unfastened the
massive "oak."

"Dr. Thorndyke?" inquired a breathless, quavering voice.

"Yes, come in. You sent me a letter by hand?"

"I did, sir," was the reply; and the speaker entered, but at the sight
of me he stopped short.

"This is my colleague, Dr. Jervis," Thorndyke explained. "You need have
no--?"

"Oh, I remember him," our visitor interrupted in a tone of relief. "I
have seen you both before, you know, and you have seen me too--though I
don't suppose you recognize me," he added, with: a sickly smile.

"Frank Belfield?" asked Thorndyke, smiling also.

Our visitor's jaw fell and he gazed at my colleague in sudden dismay.

"And I may remark," pursued Thorndyke, "that for a man in your perilous
position, you are running most unnecessary risks. That wig, that false
beard and those spectacles--through which you obviously cannot see--are
enough to bring the entire police force at your heels. It is not wise
for a man who is wanted by the police to make up as though he had just
escaped from a comic opera."

Mr. Belfield seated himself with a groan, and, taking off his
spectacles, stared stupidly from one of us to the other.

"And now tell us about your little affair," said Thorndyke. "You say
that you are innocent?"

"I swear it, doctor," replied Belfield; adding, with great earnestness,
"And you may take it from me, sir, that if I was not, I shouldn't be
here. It was you that convicted me last time, when I thought myself
quite safe, so I know your ways too well to try to gammon you."

"If you are innocent," rejoined Thorndyke, "I will do what I can for
you; and if you are not--well, you would have been wiser to stay away."

"I know that well enough," said Belfield, "and I am only afraid that
you won't believe what I am going to tell you."

"I shall keep an open mind, at any rate," replied Thorndyke.

"If you only will," groaned Belfield, "I shall have a look in, in spite
of them all. You know, sir, that I have been on the crook, but I have
paid in full. That job when you tripped me up was the last of it--it
was, sir, so help me. It was a woman that changed me--the best and
truest woman on God's earth. She said she would marry me when I came
out if I promised her to go straight and live an honest life. And she
kept her promise--and I have kept mine. She found me work as clerk in
a warehouse and I have stuck to it ever since, earning fair wages and
building up a good character as an honest, industrious man. I thought
all was going well, and that I was settled for life, when only this
very morning the whole thing comes tumbling about my ears like a house
of cards."

"What happened this morning, then?" asked Thorndyke.

"Why, I was on my way to work when, as I passed the police station, I
noticed a bill with the heading 'Wanted' and a photograph. I stopped
for a moment to look at it, and you may imagine my feelings when I
recognized my own portrait--taken at Holloway--and read my own name and
description. I did not stop to read the bill through, but ran back home
and told my wife, and she ran down to the station and read the bill
carefully. Good God, sir! What do you think I am wanted for?" He paused
for a moment, and then replied in breathless tones to his own question:
"The Camberwell murder!"

Thorndyke gave a low whistle.

"My wife knows I didn't do it," continued Belfield, "because I was at
home all the evening and night; but what use is a man's wife to prove
an alibi?"

"Not much, I fear," Thorndyke admitted; "and you have no other witness?"

"Not a soul. We were alone all the evening."

"However," said Thorndyke, "if you are innocent--as I am assuming--the
evidence against you must be entirely circumstantial and your alibi
may be quite sufficient. Have you any idea of the grounds of suspicion
against you?"

"Not the faintest. The papers said that the police had an excellent
clue, but they did not say what it was. Probably someone has given
false information for the--?"

A sharp rapping at the outer door cut short the explanation, and our
visitor rose, trembling and aghast, with beads of sweat standing upon
his livid face.

"You had better go into the office, Belfield, while we see who it is,"
said Thorndyke. "The key is on the inside."

The fugitive wanted no second bidding, but hurried into the empty
apartment, and, as the door closed, we heard the key turn in the lock.

As Thorndyke threw open the outer door, he cast a meaning glance at
me over his shoulder which I understood when the newcomer entered the
room; for it was none other than Superintendent Miller of Scotland Yard.

"I have just dropped in," said the superintendent, in his brisk,
cheerful way, "to ask you to do me a favour. Good-evening, Dr. Jervis.
I hear you are reading for the bar; learned counsel soon, sir, hey?
Medico-legal expert. Dr. Thorndyke's mantle going to fall on you, sir?"

"I hope Dr. Thorndyke's mantle will continue to drape his own majestic
form for many a long year yet," I answered; "though he is good enough
to spare me a corner--but what on earth have you got there?" For
during this dialogue the superintendent had been deftly unfastening a
brown-paper parcel, from which he now drew a linen shirt, once white,
but now of an unsavoury grey.

"I want to know what this is," said Miller, exhibiting a brownish-red
stain on one sleeve. "Just look at that, sir, and tell me if it is
blood, and, if so, is it human blood?"

"Really, Miller," said Thorndyke, with a smile, "you flatter me; but I
am not like the wise woman of Bagdad who could tell you how many stairs
the patient had tumbled down by merely looking at his tongue. I must
examine this very thoroughly. When do you want to know?"

"I should like to know to-night," replied the detective.

"Can I cut a piece out to put under the microscope?"

"I would rather you did not," was the reply.

"Very well; you shall have the information in about an hour."

"It's very good of you, doctor," said the detective; and he was taking
up his hat preparatory to departing, when Thorndyke said suddenly--"By
the way, there is a little matter that I was going to speak to you
about. It refers to this Camberwell murder case. I understand you have
a clue to the identity of the murderer?"

"Clue!" exclaimed the superintendent contemptuously. "We have spotted
our man all right, if we could only lay hands on him; but he has given
us the slip for the moment."

"Who is the man?" asked Thorndyke.

The detective looked doubtfully at Thorndyke for some seconds and then
said, with evident reluctance: "I suppose there is no harm in telling
you--especially as you probably know already"--this with a sly grin;
"it's an old crook named Belfield."

"And what is the evidence against him?"

Again the superintendent looked doubtful and again relented.

"Why, the case is as clear as--as cold Scotch," he said (here Thorndyke
in illustration of this figure of speech produced a decanter, a syphon
and a tumbler, which he pushed towards the officer). "You see, sir, the
silly fool went and stuck his sweaty hand on the window; and there we
found the marks--four fingers and a thumb, as beautiful prints as you
could wish to see. Of course we cut out the piece of glass and took it
up to the Finger-print Department; they turned up their files and out
came Mr. Belfield's record, with his finger-prints and photograph all
complete."

"And the finger-prints on the window-pane were identical with those on
the prison form?"

"Identical."

"H'm!" Thorndyke reflected for a while, and the superintendent watched
him foxily over the edge of his tumbler.

"I guess you are retained to defend Belfield," the latter observed
presently.

"To look into the case generally," replied Thorndyke.

"And I expect you know where the beggar is hiding," continued the
detective.

"Belfield's address has not yet been communicated to me," said
Thorndyke. "I am merely to investigate the case--and there is no
reason, Miller, why you and I should be at cross purposes. We are both
working at the case; you want to get a conviction and you want to
convict the right man."

"That's so--and Belfield's the right man--but what do you want of us,
doctor?"

"I should like to see the piece of glass with the finger-prints on it,
and the prison form, and take a photograph of each. And I should like
to examine the room in which the murder took place--you have it locked
up, I suppose?"

"Yes, we have the keys. Well, it's all rather irregular, letting you
see the things. Still, you've always played the game fairly with us, so
we might stretch a point. Yes, I will. I'll come back in an hour for
your report and bring the glass and the form. I can't let them go out
of my custody, you know. I'll be off now--no, thank you, not another
drop."

The superintendent caught up his hat and strode away, the
personification of mental alertness and bodily vigour.

No sooner had the door closed behind him than Thorndyke's stolid calm
changed instantaneously into feverish energy. Darting to the electric
bell that rang into the laboratories above, he pressed the button while
he gave me my directions.

"Have a look at that blood-stain, Jervis, while I am finishing with
Belfield. Don't wet it; scrape it into a drop of warm normal saline
solution."

I hastened to reach down the microscope and set out on the table the
necessary apparatus and reagents, and, as I was thus occupied, a
latch-key turned in the outer door and our invaluable helpmate, Polton,
entered the room in his habitual silent, unobtrusive fashion.

"Let me have the finger-print apparatus, please, Polton," said
Thorndyke; "and have the copying camera ready by nine o'clock. I am
expecting Mr. Miller with some documents."

As his laboratory assistant departed, Thorndyke rapped at the office
door.

"It's all clear, Belfield," he called; "you can come out."

The key turned and the prisoner emerged, looking ludicrously woebegone
in his ridiculous wig and beard.

"I am going to take your finger-prints, to compare with some that the
police found on the window."

"Finger-prints!" exclaimed Belfield, in a tone of dismay. "They don't
say they're my finger-prints, do they, sir?"

"They do indeed," replied Thorndyke, eyeing the man narrowly. "They
have compared them with those taken when you were at Holloway, and they
say that they are identical."

"Good God!" murmured Belfield, collapsing into a chair, faint and
trembling. "They must have made some awful mistake. But are mistakes
possible with finger-prints?"

"Now look here, Belfield," said Thorndyke. "Were you in that house that
night, or were you not? It is of no use for you to tell me any lies."

"I was not there, sir; I swear to God I was not."

"Then they cannot be your finger-prints, that is obvious." Here he
stepped to the door to intercept Polton, from whom he received a
substantial box, which he brought in and placed on the table.

"Tell me all you know about this case," he continued, as he set out the
contents of the box on the table.

"I know nothing about it whatever," replied Belfield; "nothing, at
least, except--?"

"Except what?" demanded Thorndyke, looking up sharply as he squeezed a
drop from a tube of finger-print ink onto a smooth copper plate.

"Except that the murdered man, Caldwell, was a retired fence."

"A fence, was he?" said Thorndyke in a tone of interest.

"Yes; and I suspect he was a 'nark' too. He knew more than was
wholesome for a good many."

"Did he know anything about you?"

"Yes; but nothing that the police don't know."

With a small roller Thorndyke spread the ink upon the plate into a
thin film. Then he laid on the edge of the table a smooth white card
and, taking Belfield's right hand, pressed the forefinger firmly but
quickly, first on the inked plate and then on the card, leaving on the
latter a clear print of the finger-tip. This process he repeated with
the other fingers and thumb, and then took several additional prints of
each.

"That was a nasty injury to your forefinger, Belfield," said Thorndyke,
holding the finger to the light and examining the tip carefully. "How
did you do it?"

"Stuck a tin-opener into it--a dirty one, too. It was bad for weeks; in
fact, Dr. Sampson thought at one time that he would have to amputate
the finger."

"How long ago was that?"

"Oh, nearly a year ago, sir."

Thorndyke wrote the date of the injury by the side of the finger-print
and then, having rolled up the inking plate afresh, laid on the table
several larger cards. "I am now going to take the prints of the four
fingers and the thumb all at once," he said.

"They only took the four fingers at once at the prison," said Belfield.
"They took the thumb separately."

"I know," replied Thorndyke; "but I am going to take the impression
just as it would appear on the window glass."

He took several impressions thus, and then, having looked at his watch,
he began to repack the apparatus in its box. While doing this, he
glanced, from time to time, in meditative fashion, at the suspected man
who sat, the living picture of misery and terror, wiping the greasy ink
from his trembling fingers with his handkerchief.

"Belfield," he said at length, "you have sworn to me that you are an
innocent man and are trying to live an honest life. I believe you; but
in a few minutes I shall know for certain."

"Thank God for that, sir," exclaimed Belfield, brightening up
wonderfully.

"And now," said Thorndyke, "you had better go back into the office, for
I am expecting Superintendent Miller, and he may be here at any moment."

Belfield hastily slunk back into the office, locking the door after
him, and Thorndyke, having returned the box to the laboratory and
deposited the cards bearing the finger-prints in a drawer, came round
to inspect my work. I had managed to detach a tiny fragment of dried
clot from the blood-stained garment, and this, in a drop of normal
saline solution, I now had under the microscope.

"What do you make out, Jervis?" my colleague asked.

"Oval corpuscles with distinct nuclei," I answered.

"Ah," said Thorndyke, "that will be good hearing for some poor devil.
Have you measured them?"

"Yes. Long diameter one twenty-one hundredth of an inch; short diameter
about one thirty-four hundredth of an inch."

Thorndyke reached down an indexed note-book from a shelf of reference
volumes and consulted a table of histological measurements.

"That would seem to be the blood of a pheasant, then, or it might,
more probably, be that of a common fowl." He applied his eye to the
microscope and, fitting in the eyepiece micrometer, verified my
measurements. He was thus employed when a sharp tap was heard on the
outer door, and rising to open it he admitted the superintendent.

"I see you are at work on my little problem, doctor," said the latter,
glancing at the microscope. "What do you make of that stain?"

"It is the blood of a bird--probably a pheasant, or perhaps a common
fowl."

The superintendent slapped his thigh. "Well, I'm hanged!" he exclaimed.
"You're a regular wizard, doctor, that's what you are. The fellow said
he got that stain through handling a wounded pheasant and here are you
able to tell us yes or no without a hint from us to help you. Well,
you've done my little job for me, sir, and I'm much obliged to you; now
I'll carry out my part of the bargain." He opened a hand-bag and drew
forth a wooden frame and a blue foolscap envelope and laid them with
extreme care on the table.

"There you are, sir," said he, pointing to the frame; "you will find
Mr. Belfield's trade-mark very neatly executed, and in the envelope is
the finger-print sheet for comparison."

Thorndyke took up the frame and examined it. It enclosed two sheets
of glass, one being the portion of the window-pane and the other a
cover-glass to protect the fingerprints. Laying a sheet of white paper
on the table, where the light was strongest, Thorndyke held the frame
over it and gazed at the glass in silence, but with that faint lighting
up of his impassive face which I knew so well and which meant so much
to me. I walked round, and looking over his shoulder saw upon the glass
the beautifully distinct imprints of four fingers and a thumb--the
finger-tips, in fact, of an open hand.

After regarding the frame attentively for some time, Thorndyke produced
from his pocket a little wash-leather bag, from which he extracted a
powerful doublet lens, and with the aid of this he again explored the
finger-prints, dwelling especially upon the print of the forefinger.

"I don't think you will find much amiss with those finger-prints,
doctor," said the superintendent, "they are as clear as if he made them
on purpose."

"They are indeed," replied Thorndyke, with an inscrutable smile,
"exactly as if he had made them on purpose. And how beautifully clean
the glass is--as if he had polished it before making the impression."

The superintendent glanced at Thorndyke with quick suspicion; but the
smile had faded and given place to a wooden immobility from which
nothing could be gleaned.

When he had examined the glass exhaustively, Thorndyke drew the
finger-print form from its envelope and scanned it quickly, glancing
repeatedly from the paper to the glass and from the glass to the paper.
At length he laid them both on the table, and turning to the detective
looked him steadily in the face.

"I think, Miller," said he, "that I can give you a hint."

"Indeed, sir? And what might that be?"

"It is this: you are after the wrong man."

The superintendent snorted--not a loud snort, for that would have been
rude, and no officer could be more polite than Superintendent Miller.
But it conveyed a protest which he speedily followed up in words.

"You don't mean to say that the prints on that glass are not the
finger-prints of Frank Belfield?"

"I say that those prints were not made by Frank Belfield," Thorndyke
replied firmly.

"Do you admit, sir, that the finger-prints on the official form were
made by him?"

"I have no doubt that they were."

"Well, sir, Mr. Singleton, of the Finger-print Department, has compared
the prints on the glass with those on the form and he says they are
identical; and I have examined them and I say they are identical."

"Exactly," said Thorndyke; "and I have examined them and I say they are
identical--and that therefore those on the glass cannot have been made
by Belfield."

The superintendent snorted again--somewhat louder this time--and gazed
at Thorndyke with wrinkled brows.

"You are not pulling my leg, I suppose, sir?" he asked, a little sourly.

"I should as soon think of tickling a porcupine," Thorndyke answered,
with a suave smile.

"Well," rejoined the bewildered detective, "if I didn't know you, sir,
I should say you were talking confounded nonsense. Perhaps you wouldn't
mind explaining what you mean."

"Supposing," said Thorndyke, "I make it clear to you that those prints
on the window-pane were not made by Belfield. Would you still execute
the warrant?"

"What do you think?" exclaimed Miller. "Do you suppose we should go
into court to have you come and knock the bottom out of our case, like
you did in that Hornby affair--by the way, that was a finger-print case
too, now I come to think of it," and the superintendent suddenly became
thoughtful.

"You have often complained," pursued Thorndyke, "that I have withheld
information from you and sprung unexpected evidence on you at the
trial. Now I am going to take you into my confidence, and when I have
proved to you that this clue of yours is a false one, I shall expect
you to let this poor devil Belfield go his way in peace."

The superintendent grunted--a form of utterance that committed him to
nothing.

"These prints," continued Thorndyke, taking up the frame once more,
"present several features of interest, one of which, at least, ought
not to have escaped you and Mr. Singleton, as it seems to have done.
Just look at that thumb."

The superintendent did so, and then pored over the official paper.

"Well," he said, "I don't see anything the matter with it. It's exactly
like the print on the paper."

"Of course it is," rejoined Thorndyke, "and that is just the point.
It ought not to be. The print of the thumb on the paper was taken
separately from the fingers. And why? Because it was impossible to
take it at the same time. The thumb is in a different plane from
the fingers; when the hand is laid flat on any surface--as this
window-pane, for instance--the palmar surfaces of the fingers touch
it, whereas it is the side of the thumb which comes in contact and not
the palmar surface. But in this"--he tapped the framed glass with his
finger--"the prints show the palmar surfaces of all the five digits in
contact at once, which is an impossibility. Just try to put your own
thumb in that position and you will see that it is so."

The detective spread out his hand on the table and immediately
perceived the truth of my colleague's statement.

"And what does that prove?" he asked.

"It proves that the thumb-print on the window-pane was not made at the
same time as the finger-prints--that it was added separately; and that
fact seems to prove that the prints were not made accidentally, but--as
you ingeniously suggested just now--were put there for a purpose."

"I don't quite see the drift of all this," said the superintendent,
rubbing the back of his head perplexedly; "and you said a while back
that the prints on the glass can't be Belfield's because they are
identical with the prints on the form. Now that seems to me sheer
nonsense, if you will excuse my saying so."

"And yet," replied Thorndyke, "it is the actual fact. Listen: these
prints"--here he took up the official sheet--"were taken at Holloway
six years ago. These"--pointing to the framed glass--"were made within
the present week. The one is, as regards the ridge-pattern, a perfect
duplicate of the other. Is that not so?"

"That is so, doctor," agreed the superintendent.

"Very well. Now suppose I were to tell you that within the last twelve
months something had happened to Belfield that made an appreciable
change in the ridge-pattern on one of his fingers?"

"But is such a thing possible?"

"It is not only possible but it has happened. I will show you."

He brought forth from the drawer the cards on which Belfield had made
his finger-prints, and laid them before the detective.

"Observe the prints of the forefinger," he said, indicating them;
"there are a dozen, in all, and you will notice in each a white line
crossing the ridges and dividing them. That line is caused by a scar,
which has destroyed a portion of the ridges, and is now an integral
part of Belfield's finger-print. And since no such blank line is to be
seen in this print on the glass--in which the ridges appear perfect, as
they were before the injury--it follows that that print could not have
been made by Belfield's finger."

"There is no doubt about the injury, I suppose?"

"None whatever. There is the scar to prove it, and I can produce the
surgeon who attended Belfield at the time."

The officer rubbed his head harder than before, and regarded Thorndyke
with puckered brows.

"This is a teaser," he growled, "it is indeed. What you say, sir,
seems perfectly sound, and yet--there are those finger-prints on the
window-glass. Now you can't get fingerprints without fingers, can you?"

"Undoubtedly you can," said Thorndyke.

"I should want to see that done before I could believe even you, sir,"
said Miller.

"You shall see it done now," was the calm rejoinder. "You have
evidently forgotten the Hornby case--the case of the Red Thumb-mark, as
the newspapers called it."

"I only heard part of it," replied Miller, "and I didn't really follow
the evidence in that."

"Well, I will show you a relic of that case," said Thorndyke. He
unlocked a cabinet and took from one of the shelves a small box
labelled "Hornby," which, being opened, was seen to contain a folded
paper, a little red-covered oblong book and what looked like a large
boxwood pawn.

"This little book," Thorndyke continued, "is a 'thumb-ograph'--a sort
of finger-print album--I dare say you know the kind of thing."

The superintendent nodded contemptuously at the little volume.

"Now while Dr. Jervis is finding us the print we want, I will run up to
the laboratory for an inked slab."

He handed me the little book and, as he left the room, I began to
turn over the leaves--not without emotion, for it was this very
"thumbograph" that first introduced me to my wife, as is related
elsewhere--glancing at the various prints above the familiar names
and marvelling afresh at the endless variations of pattern that they
displayed. At length I came upon two thumb-prints of which one--the
left--was marked by a longitudinal white line--evidently the trace of a
scar; and underneath them was written the signature "Reuben Hornby."

At this moment Thorndyke re-entered the room carrying the inked
slab, which he laid on the table, and seating himself between the
superintendent and me, addressed the former.

"Now, Miller, here are two thumb-prints made by a gentleman
named Reuben Hornby. Just glance at the left one; it is a highly
characteristic print."

"Yes," agreed Miller, "one could swear to that from memory, I should
think."

"Then look at this." Thorndyke took the paper from the box and,
unfolding it, handed it to the detective. It bore a pencilled
inscription, and on it were two blood-smears and a very distinct
thumb-print in blood. "What do you say to that thumb-print?"

"Why," answered Miller, "it's this one, of course; Reuben Hornby's left
thumb."

"Wrong, my friend," said Thorndyke. "It was made by an ingenious
gentleman named Walter Hornby (whom you followed from the Old Bailey
and lost on Ludgate Hill); but not with his thumb."

"How, then?" demanded the superintendent incredulously.

"In this way." Thorndyke took the boxwood "pawn" from its receptacle
and pressed its flat base onto the inked slab; then lifted it and
pressed it onto the back of a visiting-card, and again raised it; and
now the card was marked by a very distinct thumb-print.

"My God!" exclaimed the detective, picking up the card and viewing
it with a stare of dismay, "this is the very devil, sir. This fairly
knocks the bottom out of finger-print identification. May I ask, sir,
how you made that stamp--for I suppose you did make it?"

"Yes, we made it here, and the process we used was practically that
used by photo-engravers in making line blocks; that is to say, we
photographed one of Mr. Hornby's thumb-prints, printed it on a plate
of chrome-gelatine, developed the plate with hot water and this"--here
he touched the embossed surface of the stamp--"is what remained. But
we could have done it in various other ways; for instance, with common
transfer paper and lithographic stone; indeed, I assure you, Miller,
that there is nothing easier to forge than a finger-print, and it can
be done with such perfection that the forger himself cannot tell his
own forgery from a genuine original, even when they are placed side by
side."

"Well, I'm hanged," grunted the superintendent, "you've fairly knocked
me, this time, doctor." He rose gloomily and prepared to depart.
"I suppose," he added, "your interest in this case has lapsed, now
Belfield's out of it?"

"Professionally, yes; but I am disposed to finish the case for my own
satisfaction. I am quite curious as to who our too-ingenious friend may
be."

Miller's face brightened. "We shall give you every facility, you
know--and that reminds me that Singleton gave me these two photographs
for you, one of the official paper and one of the prints on the glass.
Is there anything more that we can do for you?"

"I should like to have a look at the room in which the murder took
place."

"You shall, doctor; to-morrow, if you like; I'll meet you there in the
morning at ten, if that will do."

It would do excellently, Thorndyke assured him, and with this the
superintendent took his departure in renewed spirits.

We had only just closed the door when there came a hurried and
urgent tapping upon it, whereupon I once more threw it open, and
a quietly-dressed woman in a thick veil, who was standing on the
threshold, stepped quickly past me into the room.

"Where is my husband?" she demanded, as I closed the door; and then,
catching sight of Thorndyke, she strode up to him with a threatening
air and a terrified but angry face.

"What have you done with my husband, sir?" she repeated. "Have you
betrayed him, after giving your word? I met a man who looked like a
police officer on the stairs."

"Your husband, Mrs. Belfield, is here and quite safe," replied
Thorndyke. "He has locked himself in that room," indicating the office.

Mrs. Belfield darted across and rapped smartly at the door. "Are you
there, Frank?" she called.

In immediate response the key turned, the door opened and Belfield
emerged looking very pale and worn.

"You have kept me a long time in there, sir," he said.

"It took me a long time to prove to Superintendent Miller that he was
after the wrong man. But I succeeded, and now, Belfield, you are free.
The charge against you is withdrawn."

Belfield stood for a while as one stupefied, while his wife, after a
moment of silent amazement, flung her arms round his neck and burst
into tears. "But how did you know I was innocent, sir?" demanded the
bewildered Belfield.

"Ah! how did I? Every man to his trade, you know. Well, I congratulate
you, and now go home and have a square meal and get a good night's
rest."

He shook hands with his clients--vainly endeavouring to prevent Mrs.
Belfield from kissing his hand--and stood at the open door listening
until the sound of their retreating footsteps died away.

"A noble little woman, Jervis," said he, as he closed the door. "In
another moment she would have scratched my face--and I mean to find out
the scoundrel who tried to wreck her happiness."


PART II. THE SHIP OF THE DESERT


The case which I am now about to describe has always appeared to me a
singularly instructive one, as illustrating the value and importance
of that fundamental rule in the carrying out of investigations which
Thorndyke had laid down so emphatically--the rule that all facts, in
any way relating to a case, should be collected impartially and without
reference to any theory, and each fact, no matter how trivial or
apparently irrelevant, carefully studied. But I must not anticipate the
remarks of my learned and talented friend on this subject which I have
to chronicle anon; rather let me proceed to the case itself.

I had slept at our chambers in King's Bench Walk--as I commonly did
two or three nights a week--and on coming down to the sitting-room,
found Thorndyke's man, Polton, putting the last touches to the
breakfast-table, while Thorndyke himself was poring over two
photographs of fingerprints, of which he seemed to be taking elaborate
measurements with a pair of hair-dividers. He greeted me with his
quiet, genial smile and, laying down the dividers, took his seat at the
breakfast-table.

"You are coming with me this morning, I suppose," said he; "the
Camberwell murder case, you know."

"Of course I am if you will have me, but I know practically nothing of
the case. Could you give me an outline of the facts that are known?"

Thorndyke looked at me solemnly, but with a mischievous twinkle.
"This," he said, "is the old story of the fox and the crow; you 'bid me
discourse,' and while I 'enchant thine ear,' you claw to windward with
the broiled ham. A deep-laid plot, my learned brother."

"And such," I exclaimed, "is the result of contact with the criminal
classes!"

"I am sorry that you regard yourself in that light," he retorted,
with a malicious smile. "However, with regard to this case. The facts
are briefly these: The murdered man, Caldwell, who seems to have been
formerly a receiver of stolen goods and probably a police spy as well,
lived a solitary life in a small house with only an elderly woman to
attend him.

"A week ago this woman went to visit a married daughter and stayed the
night with her, leaving Caldwell alone in the house. When she returned
on the following morning she found her master lying dead on the floor
of his office, or study, in a small pool of blood.

"The police surgeon found that he had been dead about twelve hours. He
had been killed by a single blow, struck from behind, with some heavy
implement, and a jemmy which lay on the floor beside him fitted the
wound exactly. The deceased wore a dressing-gown and no collar, and
a bedroom candlestick lay upside down on the floor, although gas was
laid on in the room; and as the window of the office appears to have
been forced with the jemmy that was found, and there were distinct
footprints on the flower-bed outside the window, the police think that
the deceased was undressing to go to bed when he was disturbed by the
noise of the opening window; that he went down to the office and, as
he entered, was struck down by the burglar who was lurking behind the
door. On the window-glass the police found the greasy impression of an
open right hand, and, as you know, the finger-prints were identified
by the experts as those of an old convict named Belfield. As you also
know, I proved that those finger-prints were, in reality, forgeries,
executed with rubber or gelatine stamps. That is an outline of the
case."

The close of this recital brought our meal to an end, and we
prepared for our visit to the scene of the crime. Thorndyke slipped
into his pocket his queer outfit--somewhat like that of a field
geologist--locked up the photographs, and we set forth by way of the
Embankment.

"The police have no clue, I suppose, to the identity of the murderer,
now that the finger-prints have failed?" I asked, as we strode along
together.

"I expect not," he replied, "though they might have if they examined
their material. I made out a rather interesting point this morning,
which is this: the man who made those sham finger-prints used two
stamps, one for the thumb and the other for the four fingers; and
the original from which those stamps were made was the official
finger-print form."

"How did you discover that?" I inquired.

"It was very simple. You remember that Mr. Singleton of the
Finger-print Department sent me, by Superintendent Miller, two
photographs, one of the prints on the window and one of the official
form with Belfield's finger-prints on it. Well, I have compared them
and made the most minute measurements of each, and they are obviously
duplicates. Not only are all the little imperfections on the form--due
to defective inking--reproduced faithfully on the window-pane, but
the relative positions of the four fingers on both cases agree to the
hundredth of an inch. Of course the thumb stamp was made by taking an
oval out of the rolled impression on the form."

"Then do you suggest that this murder was committed by someone
connected with the Finger-print Department at Scotland Yard?"

"Hardly. But someone has had access to the forms. There has been
leakage somewhere."

When we arrived at the little detached house in which the murdered man
had lived, the door was opened by an elderly woman, and our friend,
Superintendent Miller, greeted us in the hall.

"We are all ready for you, doctor," said he. "Of course, the things
have all been gone over once, but we are turning them out more
thoroughly now." He led the way into the small, barely-furnished office
in which the tragedy had occurred. A dark stain on the carpet and a
square hole in one of the window-panes furnished memorials of the
crime, which were supplemented by an odd assortment of objects laid
out on the newspaper-covered table. These included silver teaspoons,
watches, various articles of jewellery, from which the stones had been
removed--none of them of any considerable value--and a roughly-made
jemmy.

"I don't know why Caldwell should have kept all these odds and ends,"
said the detective superintendent. "There is stuff here, that I can
identify, from six different burglaries--and not a conviction among the
six."

Thorndyke looked over the collection with languid interest; he was
evidently disappointed at finding the room so completely turned out.

"Have you any idea what has been taken?" he asked.

"Not the least. We don't even know if the safe was opened. The keys
were on the writing-table, so I suppose he went through everything,
though I don't see why he left these things if he did. We found them
all in the safe."

"Have you powdered the jemmy?"

The superintendent turned very red. "Yes," he growled, "but some
half-dozen blithering idiots had handled the thing before I saw
it--been trying it on the window, the blighters--so, of course, it
showed nothing but the marks of their beastly paws."

"The window had not really been forced, I suppose?" said Thorndyke.

"No," replied Miller, with a glance of surprise at my colleague, "that
was a plant; so were the footprints. He must have put on a pair of
Caldwell's boots and gone out and made them--unless Caldwell made them
himself, which isn't likely."

"Have you found any letter or telegram?"

"A letter making an appointment for nine o'clock on the night of
the murder. No signature or address, and the handwriting evidently
disguised."

"Is there anything that furnishes any sort of clue?"

"Yes, sir, there is. There's this, which we found in the safe." He
produced a small parcel which he proceeded to unfasten, looking
somewhat queerly at Thorndyke the while. It contained various odds and
ends of jewellery, and a smaller parcel formed of a pocket-handkerchief
tied with tape. This the detective also unfastened, revealing
half-a-dozen silver teaspoons, all engraved with the same crest, two
salt-cellars and a gold locket bearing a monogram. There was also
a half-sheet of note-paper on which was written, in a manifestly
disguised hand: "These are the goods I told you about. F. B." But what
riveted Thorndyke's attention and mine was the handkerchief itself
(which was not a very clean one and was sullied by one or two small
blood-stains), for it was marked in one corner with the name "F.
Belfield," legibly printed in marking-ink with a rubber stamp.

Thorndyke and the superintendent looked at one another and both smiled.

"I know what you are thinking, sir," said the latter.

"I am sure you do," was the reply, "and it is useless to pretend that
you don't agree with me."

"Well, sir," said Miller doggedly, "if that handkerchief has been
put there as a plant, it's Belfield's business to prove it. You
see, doctor," he added persuasively, "it isn't this job only that's
affected. Those spoons, those salt-cellars and that locket are part of
the proceeds of the Winchmore Hill burglary, and we want the gentleman
who did that crack--we want him very badly."

"No doubt you do," replied Thorndyke, "but this handkerchief won't help
you. A sharp counsel--Mr. Anstey, for instance--would demolish it in
five minutes. I assure you, Miller, that handkerchief has no evidential
value whatever, whereas it might prove an invaluable instrument of
research. The best thing you can do is to hand it over to me and let me
see what I can learn from it."

The superintendent was obviously dissatisfied, but he eventually
agreed, with manifest reluctance, to Thorndyke's suggestion.

"Very well, doctor," he said; "you shall have it for a day or two. Do
you want the spoons and things as well?"

"No. Only the handkerchief and the paper that was in it."

The two articles were accordingly handed to him and deposited in a tin
box which he usually carried in his pocket, and, after a few more words
with the disconsolate detective, we took our departure.

"A very disappointing morning," was Thorndyke's comment as we walked
away. "Of course the room ought to have been examined by an expert
before anything was moved."

"Have you picked up anything in the way of information?" I asked.

"Very little excepting confirmation of my original theory. You see,
this man Caldwell was a receiver and evidently a police spy. He gave
useful information to the police, and they, in return, refrained
from inconvenient inquiries. But a spy, or 'nark,' is nearly always
a blackmailer too, and the probabilities in this case are that some
crook, on whom Caldwell was putting the screw rather too tightly, made
an appointment for a meeting when the house was empty, and just knocked
Caldwell on the head. The crime was evidently planned beforehand, and
the murderer came prepared to kill several birds with one stone. Thus
he brought with him the stamps to make the sham finger-prints on the
window, and I have no doubt that he also brought this handkerchief and
the various oddments of plate and jewellery from those burglaries that
Miller is so keen about, and planted them in the safe. You noticed,
I suppose, that none of the things were of any value, but all were
capable of easy identification?"

"Yes, I noticed that. His object, evidently, was to put those
burglaries as well as the murder onto poor Belfield."

"Exactly. And you see what Miller's attitude is; Belfield is the bird
in the hand, whereas the other man--if there is another--is still in
the bush; so Belfield is to be followed up and a conviction obtained if
possible. If he is innocent, that is his affair, and it is for him to
prove it."

"And what shall you do next?" I asked.

"I shall telegraph to Belfield to come and see us this evening. He may
be able to tell us something about this handkerchief that, with the
clue we already have, may put us on the right track. What time is your
consultation?"

"Twelve-thirty--and here comes my 'bus. I shall be in to lunch." I
sprang onto the footboard, and as I took my seat on the roof and
looked back at my friend striding along with an easy swing, I knew
that he was deep in thought, though automatically attentive to all
that was happening. My consultation--it was a lunacy case of some
importance--was over in time to allow of my return to our chambers
punctually at the luncheon hour; and as I entered, I was at once struck
by something new in Thorndyke's manner--a certain elation and gaiety
which I had learned to associate with a point scored successfully in
some intricate and puzzling case. He made no confidences, however, and
seemed, in fact, inclined to put away, for a time, all his professional
cares and business.

"Shall we have an afternoon off, Jervis?" he said gaily. "It is a fine
day and work is slack just now. What say you to the Zoo? They have
a splendid chimpanzee and several specimens of that remarkable fish
Periophthalmus Kolreuteri. Shall we go?"

"By all means," I replied; "and we will mount the elephant, if you
like, and throw buns to the grizzly bear and generally renew our youth
like the eagle."

But when, an hour later, we found ourselves in the gardens, I began to
suspect my friend of some ulterior purpose in this holiday jaunt; for
it was not the chimpanzee or even the wonderful fish that attracted his
attention. On the contrary, he hung about the vicinity of the lamas
and camels in a way that I could not fail to notice; and even there it
appeared to be the sheds and houses rather than the animals themselves
that interested him.

"Behold, Jervis," he said presently, as a saddled camel of seedy aspect
was led towards its house, "behold the ship of the desert, with raised
saloon-deck amidships, fitted internally with watertight compartments
and displaying the effects of rheumatoid arthritis in his starboard
hip-joint. Let us go and examine him before he hauls into dock." We
took a cross-path to intercept the camel on its way to its residence,
and Thorndyke moralized as we went.

"It is interesting," he remarked, "to note the way in which these
specialized animals, such as the horse, the reindeer and the camel,
have been appropriated by man, and their special character made to
subserve human needs. Think, for instance, of the part the camel has
played in history, in ancient commerce--and modern too, for that
matter--and in the diffusion of culture; and of the role he has enacted
in war and conquest from the Egyptian campaign of Cambyses down to
that of Kitchener. Yes, the camel is a very remarkable animal, though
it must be admitted that this particular specimen is a scurvy-looking
beast."

The camel seemed to be sensible of these disparaging remarks, for as
it approached it saluted Thorndyke with a supercilious grin and then
turned away its head.

"Your charge is not as young as he used to be," Thorndyke observed to
the man who was leading the animal.

"No, sir, he isn't; he's getting old, and that's the fact. He shows it
too."

"I suppose," said Thorndyke, strolling towards the house by the man's
side, "these beasts require a deal of attention?"

"You're right, sir; and nasty-tempered brutes they are."

"So I have heard; but they are interesting creatures, the camels and
lamas. Do you happen to know if complete sets of photographs of them
are to be had here?"

"You can get a good many at the lodge, sir," the man replied, "but not
all, I think. If you want a complete set, there's one of our men in the
camel-house that could let you have them; he takes the photos himself,
and very clever he is at it, too. But he isn't here just now."

"Perhaps you could give me his name so that I could write to him," said
Thorndyke.

"Yes, sir. His name is Woodthorpe--Joseph Woodthorpe. He'll do anything
for you to order. Thank you, sir; good-afternoon, sir;" and pocketing
an unexpected tip, the man led his charge towards its lair.

Thorndyke's absorbing interest in the camels seemed now suddenly to
become extinct, and he suffered me to lead him to any part of the
gardens that attracted me, showing an imperial interest in all the
inmates from the insects to the elephants, and enjoying his holiday--if
it was one--with the gaiety and high spirits of a schoolboy. Yet he
never let slip a chance of picking up a stray hair or feather, but
gathered up each with care, wrapped it in its separate paper, on which
was written its description, and deposited it in his tin collecting-box.

"You never know," he remarked, as we turned away from the ostrich
enclosure, "when a specimen for comparison may be of vital importance.
Here, for instance, is a small feather of a cassowary, and here the
hair of a wapiti deer; now the recognition of either of those might,
in certain circumstances, lead to the detection of a criminal or save
the life of an innocent man. The thing has happened repeatedly, and may
happen again to-morrow."

"You must have an enormous collection of hairs in your cabinet," I
remarked, as we walked home.

"I have," he replied, "probably the largest in the world. And as
to other microscopical objects of medico-legal interest, such as
dust and mud from different localities and from special industries
and manufactures, fibres, food-products and drugs, my collection is
certainly unique."

"And you have found your collection useful in your work?" I asked.

"Constantly. Over and over again I have obtained, by reference to my
specimens, the most unexpected evidence, and the longer I practise, the
more I become convinced that the microscope is the sheet-anchor of the
medical jurist."

"By the way," I said, "you spoke of sending a telegram to Belfield. Did
you send it?"

"Yes. I asked him to come to see me to-night at half-past eight, and,
if possible, bring his wife with him. I want to get to the bottom of
that handkerchief mystery."

"But do you think he will tell you the truth about it?"

"That is impossible to judge; he will be a fool if he does not. But I
think he will; he has a godly fear of me and my methods."

As soon as our dinner was finished and cleared away, Thorndyke produced
the "collecting-box" from his pocket, and began to sort out the day's
"catch," giving explicit directions to Polton for the disposal of
each specimen. The hairs and small feathers were to be mounted as
microscopic objects, while the larger feathers were to be placed, each
in its separate labelled envelope, in its appropriate box. While these
directions were being given, I stood by the window absently gazing
out as I listened, gathering many a useful hint in the technique of
preparation and preservation, and filled with admiration alike at my
colleague's exhaustive knowledge of practical detail and the perfect
manner in which he had trained his assistant. Suddenly I started, for
a well-known figure was crossing from Crown Office Row and evidently
bearing down on our chambers.

"My word, Thorndyke," I exclaimed, "here's a pretty mess!"

"What is the matter?" he asked, looking up anxiously.

"Superintendent Miller heading straight for our doorway. And it is now
twenty minutes past eight."

Thorndyke laughed. "It will be a quaint position," he remarked, "and
somewhat of a shock for Belfield. But it really doesn't matter; in
fact, I think, on the whole, I am rather pleased that he should have
come."

The superintendent's brisk knock was heard a few moments later, and
when he was admitted by Polton, he entered and looked round the room a
little, sheepishly.

"I am ashamed to come worrying you like this, sir," he began
apologetically.

"Not at all," replied Thorndyke, serenely slipping the cassowary's
feather into an envelope, and writing the name, date and locality on
the outside. "I am your servant in this case, you know. Polton, whisky
and soda for the superintendent."

"You see, sir," continued Miller, "our people are beginning to fuss
about this case, and they don't approve of my having handed that
handkerchief and the paper over to you as they will have to be put in
evidence."

"I thought they might object," remarked Thorndyke.

"So did I, sir; and they do. And, in short, they say that I have got to
get them back at once. I hope it won't put you out, sir."

"Not in the least," said Thorndyke. "I have asked Belfield to come here
to-night--I expect him in a few minutes--and when I have heard what he
has to say I shall have no further use for the handkerchief."

"You're not going to show it to him!" exclaimed the detective, aghast.

"Certainly I am."

"You mustn't do that, sir. I can't sanction it; I can't indeed."

"Now, look you here, Miller," said Thorndyke, shaking his forefinger at
the officer; "I am working for you in this case, as I have told you.
Leave the matter in my hands. Don't raise silly objections; and when
you leave here tonight you will take with you not only the handkerchief
and the paper, but probably also the name and address of the man who
committed this murder and those various burglaries that you are so keen
about."

"Is that really so, sir?" exclaimed the astonished detective. "Well,
you haven't let the grass grow under your feet. Ah!" as a gentle rap at
the door was heard, "here's Belfield, I suppose."

It was Belfield--accompanied by his wife--and mightily disturbed they
were when their eyes lighted on our visitor.

"You needn't be afraid of me, Belfield," said Miller, with ferocious
geniality; "I am not here after you." Which was not literally true,
though it served to reassure the affrighted ex-convict.

"The superintendent dropped in by chance," said Thorndyke; "but it is
just as well that he should hear what passes. I want you to look at
this handkerchief and tell me if it is yours. Don't be afraid, but just
tell us the simple truth."

He took the handkerchief out of a drawer and spread it on the table;
and I now observed that a small square had been cut out of one of the
bloodstains.

Belfield took the handkerchief in his trembling hands, and as his eye
fell on the stamped name in the corner he turned deadly pale.

"It looks like mine," he said huskily. "What do you say, Liz?" he
added, passing it to his wife.

Mrs. Belfield examined first the name and then the hem. "It's yours,
right enough, Frank," said she. "It's the one that got changed in the
wash. You see, sir," she continued, addressing Thorndyke, "I bought him
half-a-dozen new ones about six months ago, and I got a rubber stamp
made and marked them all. Well, one day when I was looking over his
things I noticed that one of his handkerchiefs had got no mark on it. I
spoke to the laundress about it, but she couldn't explain it, so as the
right one never came back, I marked the one that we got in exchange."

"How long ago was that?" asked Thorndyke.

"About two months ago I noticed it."

"And you know nothing more about it."

"Nothing whatever, sir. Nor you, Frank, do you?"

Her husband shook his head gloomily, and Thorndyke replaced the
handkerchief in the drawer.

"And now," said he, "I am going to ask you a question on another
subject. When you were at Holloway there was a warder--or assistant
warder--there, named Woodthorpe. Do you remember him?"

"Yes, sir, very well indeed; in fact, it was him that--?"

"I know," interrupted Thorndyke. "Have you seen him since you left
Holloway?"

"Yes, sir, once. It was last Easter Monday. I met him at the Zoo; he is
a keeper there now in the camel-house" (here a sudden light dawned upon
me and I chuckled aloud, to Belfield's great astonishment). "He gave my
little boy a ride on one of the camels and made himself very pleasant."

"Do you remember anything else happening?" Thorndyke inquired.

"Yes, sir. The camel had a little accident; he kicked out--he was
an ill-tempered beast--and his leg hit a post; there happened to be
a nail sticking out from that post, and it tore up a little flap of
skin. Then Woodthorpe got out his handkerchief to tie up the wound,
but as it was none of the cleanest, I said to him: 'Don't use that,
Woodthorpe; have mine,' which was quite a clean one. So he took it and
bound up the camel's leg, and he said to me: 'I'll have it washed and
send it to you if you give me your address.' But I told him there was
no need for that; I should be passing the camel-house on my way out and
I would look in for the handkerchief. And I did: I looked in about an
hour later, and Woodthorpe gave me my handkerchief, folded up but not
washed."

"Did you examine it to see if it was yours?" asked Thorndyke.

"No, sir. I just slipped it in my pocket as it was."

"And what became of it afterwards?"

"When I got home I dropped it into the dirty-linen basket."

"Is that all you know about it?"

"Yes, sir; that is all I know."

"Very well, Belfield, that will do. Now you have no reason to be
uneasy. You will soon know all about the Camberwell murder--that is, if
you read the papers."

The ex-convict and his wife were obviously relieved by this assurance
and departed in quite good spirits. When they were gone, Thorndyke
produced the handkerchief and the half-sheet of paper and handed them
to the superintendent, remarking--"This is highly satisfactory, Miller;
the whole case seems to join up very neatly indeed. Two months ago
the wife first noticed the substituted handkerchief, and last Easter
Monday--a little over two months ago--this very significant incident
took place in the Zoological Gardens."

"That is all very well, sir," objected the superintendent, "but we've
only their word for it, you know."

"Not so," replied Thorndyke. "We have excellent corroborative evidence.
You noticed that I had cut a small piece out of the blood-stained
portion of the handkerchief?"

"Yes; and I was sorry you had done it. Our people won't like that."

"Well, here it is, and we will ask Dr. Jervis to give us his opinion of
it."

From the drawer in which the handkerchief had been hidden he brought
forth a microscope slide, and setting the microscope on the table, laid
the slide on the stage.

"Now, Jervis," he said, "tell us what you see there."

I examined the edge of the little square of fabric (which had been
mounted in a fluid reagent) with a high-power objective, and was, for a
time, a little puzzled by the appearance of the blood that adhered to
it.

"It looks like bird's blood," I said presently, with some hesitation,
"but yet I can make out no nuclei." I looked again, and then, suddenly,
"By Jove!" I exclaimed, "I have it; of course! It's the blood of a
camel!"

"Is that so, doctor?" demanded the detective, leaning forward in his
excitement.

"That is so," replied Thorndyke. "I discovered it after I came home
this morning. You see," he explained, "it is quite unmistakable. The
rule is that the blood corpuscles of mammals are circular; the one
exception is the camel family, in which the corpuscles are elliptical."


"Why," exclaimed Miller, "that seems to connect Woodthorpe with this
Camberwell job."

"It connects him with it very conclusively," said Thorndyke. "You are
forgetting the finger-prints."

The detective looked puzzled. "What about them?" he asked.

"They were made with stamps--two stamps, as a matter of fact--and those
stamps were made by photographic process from the official finger-print
form. I can prove that beyond all doubt."

"Well, suppose they were. What then?"

Thorndyke opened a drawer and took out a photograph, which he handed
to Miller. "Here," he said, "is the photograph of the official
finger-print form which you were kind enough to bring me. What does it
say at the bottom there?" and he pointed with his finger.

The superintendent read aloud: "Impressions taken by Joseph Woodthorpe.
Rank, Warder; Prison, Holloway." He stared at the photograph for a
moment, and then exclaimed--"Well, I'm hanged! You have worked this out
neatly, doctor! and so quick too. We'll have Mr. Woodthorpe under lock
and key the first thing to-morrow morning. But how did he do it, do you
think?"

"He might have taken duplicate finger-prints and kept one form; the
prisoners would not know there was anything wrong; but he did not in
this case. He must have contrived to take a photograph of the form
before sending it in--it would take a skilful photographer only a
minute or two with a suitable hand-camera placed on a table at the
proper distance from the wall; and I have ascertained that he is a
skilful photographer. You will probably find the apparatus, and the
stamps too, when you search his rooms."

"Well, well. You do give us some surprises, doctor. But I must be off
now to see about this warrant. Good-night, sir, and many thanks for
your help."

When the superintendent had gone we sat for a while looking at one
another in silence. At length Thorndyke spoke. "Here is a case,
Jervis," he said, "which, simple as it is, teaches a most invaluable
lesson--a lesson which you should take well to heart. It is this: The
evidential value of any fact is an unknown quantity until the fact has
been examined. That seems a self-evident truth, but like many other
self-evident truths, it is constantly overlooked in practice. Take this
present case. When I left Caldwell's house this morning the facts in my
possession were these: (1) The man who murdered Caldwell was directly
or indirectly connected with the Finger-print Department. (2) He was
almost certainly a skilled photographer. (3) He probably committed
the Winchmore Hill and the other burglaries. (4) He was known to
Caldwell, had had professional dealings with him and was probably being
blackmailed. This was all; a very vague clue, as you see.

"There was the handkerchief, planted, as I had no doubt; but could not
prove; the name stamped on it was Belfield's, but any one can get a
rubber stamp made. Then it was stained with blood, as handkerchiefs
often are; that blood might or might not be human blood; it did not
seem to matter a straw whether it was or not. Nevertheless, I said
to myself: If it is human, or at least mammalian blood, that is a
fact; and if it is not human blood, that is also a fact. I will have
that fact, and then I shall know what its value is. I examined the
stain when I reached home, and behold! it was camel's blood; and
immediately this insignificant fact swelled up into evidence of primary
importance. The rest was obvious. I had seen Woodthorpe's name on the
form, and I knew several other officials. My business was to visit
all places in London where there were camels, to get the names of all
persons connected with them and to ascertain if any among them was a
photographer. Naturally I went first to the Zoo, and at the very first
cast hooked Joseph Woodthorpe. Wherefore I say again: Never call any
fact irrelevant until you have examined it."

The remarkable evidence given above was not heard at the trial, nor
did Thorndyke's name appear among the witnesses; for when the police
searched Woodthorpe's rooms, so many incriminating articles were
found (including a pair of fingerprint stamps which exactly answered
to Thorndyke's description of them, and a number of photographs of
finger-print forms) that his guilt was put beyond all doubt; and
society was shortly after relieved of a very undesirable member.

[Compiler's note: The next set of stories in the omnibus volume consist
of five taken from 'John Thorndyke's Cases'. There are an additional
three stories in 'John Thorndyke's Cases' which are not included in
the omnibus volume, but for the sake of completeness I have retained
them here. They are: 'The Man with the Nailed Shoes', 'The Mandarin's
Pearl', and 'A Message from the Deep Sea'.

The illustrations which should accompany these stories are available
from Project Gutenberg Australia as 'Thorndykepictures.zip']



THE MISSING MORTGAGEE


PART I


Early in the afternoon of a warm, humid November day, Thomas Elton
sauntered dejectedly along the Margate esplanade, casting an eye now
on the slate-coloured sea with its pall of slate-coloured sky, and now
on the harbour, where the ebb tide was just beginning to expose the
mud. It was a dreary prospect, and Elton varied it by observing the
few fishermen and fewer promenaders who walked foot to foot with their
distorted reflections in the wet pavement; and thus it was that his eye
fell on a smartly-dressed man who had just stepped into a shelter to
light a cigar.

A contemporary joker has classified the Scotsmen who abound in South
Africa into two groups: those, namely, who hail from Scotland, and
those who hail from Palestine. Now, something in the aspect of the
broad back that was presented to his view, in that of the curly, black
hair and the exuberant raiment, suggested to Elton a Scotsman of the
latter type. In fact, there was a suspicion of disagreeable familiarity
in the figure which caused him to watch it and slacken his pace. The
man backed out of the shelter, diffusing azure clouds, and, drawing an
envelope from his pocket, read something that was written on it. Then
he turned quickly--and so did Elton, but not quickly enough. For he was
a solitary figure on that bald and empty expanse, and the other had
seen him at the first glance. Elton walked away slowly, but he had not
gone a dozen paces when he felt the anticipated slap on the shoulder
and heard the too well-remembered voice.

"Blow me, if I don't believe you were trying to cut me, Tom," it said.

Elton looked round with ill-assumed surprise. "Hallo, Gordon! Who the
deuce would have thought of seeing you here?"

Gordon laughed thickly. "Not you, apparently; and you don't look as
pleased as you might now you have seen me. Whereas I'm delighted to see
you, and especially to see that things are going so well with you."

"What do you mean?" asked Elton.

"Taking your winter holiday by the sea, like a blooming duke."

"I'm not taking a holiday," said Elton. "I was so worn out that I had
to have some sort of change; but I've brought my work down with me, and
I put in a full seven hours every day."

"That's right," said Gordon. "'Consider the ant.' Nothing like steady
industry! I've brought my work down with me too; a little slip of paper
with a stamp on it. You know the article, Tom."

"I know. But it isn't due till to-morrow, is it?"

"Isn't it, by gum! It's due this very day, the twentieth of the month.
That's why I'm here. Knowing your little weakness in the matter of
dates, and having a small item to collect in Canterbury, I thought
I'd just come on, and save you the useless expense that results from
forgetfulness."

Elton understood the hint, and his face grew rigid.

"I can't do it, Gordon; I can't really. Haven't got it, and shan't have
it until I'm paid for the batch of drawings that I'm working on now."

"Oh, but what a pity!" exclaimed Gordon, taking the cigar from his
thick, pouting lips to utter the exclamation. "Here you are, blueing
your capital on seaside jaunts and reducing your income at a stroke by
a clear four pounds a year."

"How do you make that out?" demanded Elton.

"Tut, tut," protested Gordon, "what an unbusinesslike chap you are!
Here's a little matter of twenty pounds quarter's interest. If it's
paid now, it's twenty. If it isn't, it goes on to the principal and
there's another four pounds a year to be paid. Why don't you try to be
more economical, dear boy?"

Elton looked askance at the vampire by his side; at the plump
blue-shaven cheeks, the thick black eyebrows, the drooping nose,
and the full, red lips that embraced the cigar, and though he was a
mild tempered man he felt that he could have battered that sensual,
complacent face out of all human likeness, with something uncommonly
like enjoyment. But of these thoughts nothing appeared in his reply,
for a man cannot afford to say all he would wish to a creditor who
could ruin him with a word.

"You mustn't be too hard on me, Gordon," said he. "Give me a little
time. I'm doing all I can, you know. I earn every penny that I am able,
and I have kept my insurance paid up regularly. I shall be paid for
this work in a week or two and then we can settle up."

Gordon made no immediate reply, and the two men walked slowly eastward,
a curiously ill-assorted pair: the one prosperous, jaunty, overdressed;
the other pale and dejected, and, with his well-brushed but napless
clothes, his patched boots and shiny-brimmed hat, the very type of
decent, struggling poverty.

They had just passed the pier, and were coming to the base of the
jetty, when Gordon next spoke.

"Can't we get off this beastly wet pavement?" he asked, looking down
at his dainty and highly-polished boots. "What's it like down on the
sands?"

"Oh, it's very good walking," said Elton, "between here and Foreness,
and probably drier than the pavement."

"Then," said Gordon, "I vote we go down;" and accordingly they
descended the sloping way beyond the jetty. The stretch of sand left by
the retiring tide was as smooth and firm as a sheet of asphalt, and far
more pleasant to walk upon.

"We seem to have the place all to ourselves," remarked Gordon, "with
the exception of some half-dozen dukes like yourself."

As he spoke, he cast a cunning black eye furtively at the dejected man
by his side, considering how much further squeezing was possible, and
what would be the probable product of a further squeeze; but he quickly
averted his gaze as Elton turned on him a look eloquent of contempt
and dislike. There was another pause, for Elton made no reply to the
last observation; then Gordon changed over from one arm to the other
the heavy fur overcoat that he was carrying. "Needn't have brought this
beastly thing," he remarked, "if I'd known it was going to be so warm."

"Shall I carry it for you a little way?" asked the naturally polite
Elton.

"If you would, dear boy," replied Gordon. "It's difficult to manage an
overcoat, an umbrella and cigar all at once."

He handed over the coat with a sigh of relief, and having straightened
himself and expanded his chest, remarked: "I suppose you're beginning
to do quite well now, Tom?"

Elton shook his head gloomily. "No," he answered, "it's the same old
grind."

"But surely they're beginning to recognise your talents by this time,"
said Gordon, with the persuasive air of a counsel.

"That's just the trouble," said Elton. "You see, I haven't any,
and they recognised the fact long ago. I'm just a journeyman, and
journeyman's work is what I get given to me."

"You mean to say that the editors don't appreciate talent when they see
it."

"I don't know about that," said Elton, "but they're most infernally
appreciative of the lack of it."

Gordon blew out a great cloud of smoke, and raised his eyebrows
reflectively. "Do you think," he said after a brief pause, "you give
'em a fair chance? I've seen some of your stuff. It's blooming prim,
you know. Why don't you try something more lively? More skittish, you
know, old chap; something with legs, you know, and high shoes. See what
I mean, old chap? High with good full calves and not too fat in the
ankle. That ought to fetch 'em; don't you think so?"

Elton scowled. "You're thinking of the drawings in 'Hold Me Up,'" he
said scornfully, "but you're mistaken. Any fool can draw a champagne
bottle upside down with a French shoe at the end of it."

"No doubt, dear boy," said Gordon, "but I expect that sort of fool
knows what pays."

"A good many fools seem to know that much," retorted Elton; and then
he was sorry he had spoken, for Gordon was not really an amiable man,
and the expression of his face suggested that he had read a personal
application into the rejoinder. So, once more, the two men walked on in
silence.

Presently their footsteps led them to the margin of the weed-covered
rocks, and here, from under a high heap of bladder-wrack, a large green
shorecrab rushed out and menaced them with uplifted claws. Gordon
stopped and stared at the creature with Cockney surprise, prodding it
with his umbrella, and speculating aloud as to whether it was good to
eat. The crab, as if alarmed at the suggestion, suddenly darted away
and began to scuttle over the green-clad rocks, finally plunging into
a large, deep pool. Gordon pursued it, hobbling awkwardly over the
slippery rocks, until he came to the edge of the pool, over which he
stooped, raking inquisitively among the weedy fringe with his umbrella.
He was so much interested in his quarry that he failed to allow for
the slippery surface on which he stood. The result was disastrous.
Of a sudden, one foot began to slide forward, and when he tried to
recover his balance, was instantly followed by the other. For a moment
he struggled frantically to regain his footing, executing a sort of
splashing, stamping dance on the margin. Then, the circling sea birds
were startled by a yell of terror, an ivory-handled umbrella flew
across the rocks, and Mr. Solomon Gordon took a complete header into
the deepest part of the pool. What the crab thought of it history
does not relate. What Mr. Gordon thought of it is unsuitable for
publication; but, as he rose, like an extremely up-to-date merman, he
expressed his sentiments with a wealth of adjectives that brought Elton
in the verge of hysteria.

"It's a good job you brought your overcoat, after all," Elton remarked
for the sake of saying something, and thereby avoiding the risk of
exploding into undeniable laughter. The Hebrew made no reply--at least,
no reply that lends itself to verbatim report--but staggered towards
the hospitable overcoat, holding out his dripping arms. Having inducted
him into the garment and buttoned him up, Elton hurried off to recover
the umbrella (and, incidentally, to indulge himself in a broad grin),
and, having secured it, angled with it for the smart billycock which
was floating across the pool.

It was surprising what a change the last minute or two had wrought.
The positions of the two men were now quite reversed. Despite his
shabby clothing, Elton seemed to walk quite jauntily as compared with
his shuddering companion who trotted by his side with short miserable
steps, shrinking into the uttermost depths of his enveloping coat,
like an alarmed winkle into its shell, puffing out his cheeks and
anathematising the Universe in general as well as his chattering teeth
would let him.

For some time they hurried along towards the slope by the jetty without
exchanging any further remarks; then suddenly, Elton asked: "What are
you going to do, Gordon? You can't travel like that."

"Can't you lend me a change?" asked Gordon. Elton reflected. He had
another suit, his best suit, which he had been careful to preserve in
good condition for use on those occasions when a decent appearance was
indispensable. He looked askance at the man by his side and something
told him that the treasured suit would probably receive less careful
treatment than it was accustomed to. Still the man couldn't be allowed
to go about in wet clothes.

"I've got a spare suit," he said. "It isn't quite up to your style, and
may not be much of a fit, but I daresay you'll be able to put up with
it for an hour or two."

"It'll be dry anyhow," mumbled Gordon, "so we won't trouble about the
style. How far is it to your rooms?"

The plural number was superfluous. Elton's room was in a little ancient
flint house at the bottom of a narrow close in the old quarter of
the town. You reached it without any formal preliminaries of bell or
knocker by simply letting yourself in by a street door, crossing a
tiny room, opening the door of what looked like a narrow cupboard, and
squeezing up a diminutive flight of stairs, which was unexpectedly
exposed to view. By following this procedure, the two men reached
a small bed-sitting-room; that is to say, it was a bedroom, but by
sitting down on the bed, you converted it into a sitting-room.

Gordon puffed out his cheeks and looked round distastefully.

"You might just ring for some hot water, old chappie," he said.

Elton laughed aloud. "Ring!" he exclaimed. "Ring what? Your clothes are
the only things that are likely to get wrung."

"Well, then, sing out for the servant," said Gordon.

Elton laughed again. "My dear fellow," said he, "we don't go in for
servants. There is only my landlady and she never comes up here. She's
too fat to get up the stairs, and besides, she's got a game leg. I look
after my room myself. You'll be all right if you have a good rub down."

Gordon groaned, and emerged reluctantly from the depths of his
overcoat, while Elton brought forth from the chest of drawers the
promised suit and the necessary undergarments. One of these latter
Gordon held up with a sour smile, as he regarded it with extreme
disfavour.

"I shouldn't think," said he, "you need have been at the trouble of
marking them so plainly. No one's likely to want to run away with them."

The undergarments certainly contrasted very unfavourably with the
delicate garments which he was peeling off, excepting in one respect;
they were dry; and that had to console him for the ignominious change.

The clothes fitted quite fairly, notwithstanding the difference between
the figures of the two men; for while Gordon was a slender man grown
fat, Elton was a broad man grown thin; which, in a way, averaged their
superficial area.

Elton watched the process of investment and noted the caution with
which Gordon smuggled the various articles from his own pockets into
those of the borrowed garments without exposing them to view; heard
the jingle of money; saw the sumptuous gold watch and massive chain
transplanted and noted with interest the large leather wallet that came
forth from the breast pocket of the wet coat. He got a better view of
this from the fact that Gordon himself examined it narrowly, and even
opened it to inspect its contents.

"Lucky that wasn't an ordinary pocketbook." he remarked. "If it had
been, your receipt would have got wet, and so would one or two other
little articles that wouldn't have been improved by salt water. And,
talking of the receipt, Tom, shall I hand it over now?"

"You can if you like," said Elton; "but as I told you, I haven't got
the money;" on which Gordon muttered: "Pity, pity," and thrust the
wallet into his, or rather, Elton's breast pocket.

A few minutes later, the two men came out together into the gathering
darkness, and as they walked slowly up the close, Elton asked: "Are you
going up to town to-night, Gordon?"

"How can I?" was the reply. "I can't go without my clothes. No, I shall
run over to Broadstairs. A client of mine keeps a boarding-house there.
He'll have to put me up for the night, and if you can get my clothes
cleaned and dried I can come over for them to-morrow."

These arrangements having been settled, the two men adjourned, at
Gordon's suggestion, for tea at one of the restaurants on the Front;
and after that, again at Gordon's suggestion, they set forth together
along the cliff path that leads to Broadstairs by way of Kingsgate.

"You may as well walk with me into Broadstairs," said Gordon; "I'll
stand you the fare back by rail;" and to this Elton had agreed, not
because he was desirous of the other man's company, but because he
still had some lingering hopes of being able to adjust the little
difficulty respecting the instalment.

He did not, however, open the subject at once. Profoundly as he
loathed and despised the human spider whom necessity made his
associate for the moment, he exerted himself to keep up a current
of amusing conversation. It was not easy; for Gordon, like most men
whose attention is focussed on the mere acquirement of money, looked
with a dull eye on the ordinary interests of life. His tastes in art
he had already hinted at, and his other tastes lay much in the same
direction. Money first, for its own sake, and then those coarser and
more primitive gratifications that it was capable of purchasing. This
was the horizon that bounded Mr. Solomon Gordon's field of vision.

Nevertheless, they were well on their way before Elton alluded to the
subject that was uppermost in both their minds.

"Look here, Gordon," he said at length, "can't you manage to give me a
bit more time to pay up this instalment? It doesn't seem quite fair to
keep sending up the principal like this."

"Well, dear boy," replied Gordon, "it's your own fault, you know. If
you would only bear the dates in mind, it wouldn't happen."

"But," pleaded Elton, "just consider what I'm paying you. I originally
borrowed fifty pounds from you, and I'm now paying you eighty pounds a
year in addition to the insurance premium. That's close on a hundred a
year; just about half that I manage to earn by slaving like a nigger.
If you stick it up any farther you won't leave me enough to keep body
and soul together; which really means that I shan't be able to pay you
at all."

There was a brief pause; then Gordon said dryly: "You talk about not
paying, dear boy, as if you had forgotten about that promissory note."

Elton set his teeth. His temper was rising rapidly. But he restrained
himself.

"I should have a pretty poor memory if I had," he replied, "considering
the number of reminders you've given me."

"You've needed them, Tom," said the other. "I've never met a slacker
man in keeping to his engagements."

At this Elton lost his temper completely.

"That's a damned lie!" he exclaimed, "and you know it, you infernal,
dirty, blood-sucking parasite."

Gordon stopped dead.

"Look here, my friend," said he; "none of that. If I've any of your
damned sauce, I'll give you a sound good hammering."

"The deuce you will!" said Elton, whose fingers were itching, not for
the first time, to take some recompense for all that he had suffered
from the insatiable usurer. "Nothing's preventing you now, you know,
but I fancy cent. per cent. is more in your line than fighting."

"Give me any more sauce and you'll see," said Gordon.

"Very well," was the quiet rejoinder. "I have great pleasure in
informing you that you are a human maw-worm. How does that suit you?"

For reply, Gordon threw down his overcoat and umbrella on the grass at
the side of the path, and deliberately slapped Elton on the cheek.

The reply followed instantly in the form of a smart left-hander, which
took effect on the bridge of the Hebrew's rather prominent nose. Thus
the battle was fairly started, and it proceeded with all the fury of
accumulated hatred on the one side and sharp physical pain on the
other. What little science there was appertamed to Elton, in spite of
which, however, he had to give way to his heavier, better nourished and
more excitable opponent. Regardless of the punishment he received, the
infuriated Jew rushed at him and, by sheer weight of onslaught, drove
him backward across the little green.

Suddenly, Elton, who knew the place by daylight, called out in alarm.

"Look out, Gordon! Get back, you fool!"

But Gordon, blind with fury, and taking this as attempt to escape, only
pressed him harder. Elton's pugnacity died out instantly in mortal
terror. He shouted out another warning and as Gordon still pressed
him, battering furiously, he did the only thing that was possible: he
dropped to the ground. And then, in the twinkling of an eye came the
catastrophe. Borne forward by his own momentum, Gordon stumbled over
Elton's prostrate body, staggered forward a few paces, and fell. Elton
heard a muffled groan that faded quickly, and mingled with the sound of
falling earth and stones. He sprang to his feet and looked round and
saw that he was alone.

For some moments he was dazed by the suddenness of the awful thing that
had happened. He crept timorously towards the unseen edge of the cliff,
and listened.

There was no sound save the distant surge of the breakers, and the
scream of an invisible sea-bird. It was useless to try to look over.
Near as he was, he could not, even now, distinguish the edge of the
cliff from the dark beach below. Suddenly he bethought him of a narrow
cutting that led down from the cliff to the shore. Quickly crossing
the green, and mechanically stooping to pick up Gordon's overcoat and
umbrella, he made his way to the head of the cutting and ran down the
rough chalk roadway. At the bottom he turned to the right and, striding
hurriedly over the smooth sand, peered into the darkness at the foot of
the cliff.

Soon there loomed up against the murky sky the shadowy form of the
little headland on which he and Gordon had stood; and, almost at the
same moment, there grew out of the darkness of the beach a darker spot
amidst a constellation of smaller spots of white. As he drew nearer the
dark spot took shape; a horrid shape with sprawling limbs and a head
strangely awry. He stepped forward, trembling, and spoke the name that
the thing had borne. He grasped the flabby hand, and laid his fingers
on the wrist; but it only told him the same tale as did that strangely
misplaced head. The body lay face downwards, and he had not the courage
to turn it over; but that his enemy was dead he had not the faintest
doubt. He stood up amidst the litter of fallen chalk and earth and
looked down at the horrible, motionless thing, wondering numbly and
vaguely what he should do. Should he go and seek assistance? The answer
to that came in another question. How came that body to be lying on the
beach? And what answer should he give to the inevitable questions? And
swiftly there grew up in his mind, born of the horror of the thing that
was, a yet greater horror of the thing that might be.

A minute later, a panic-stricken man stole with stealthy swiftness up
the narrow cutting and set forth towards Margate, stopping anon to
listen, and stealing away off the path into the darkness, to enter the
town by the inland road.

Little sleep was there that night for Elton in his room in the old
flint house. The dead man's clothes, which greeted him on his arrival,
hanging limply on the towel-horse where he had left them, haunted
him through the night. In the darkness, the sour smell of damp cloth
assailed him with an endless reminder of their presence, and after each
brief doze, he would start up in alarm and hastily light his candle;
only to throw its flickering light on those dank, drowned-looking
vestments. His thoughts, half-controlled, as night thoughts are,
flitted erratically from the unhappy past to the unstable present, and
thence to the incalculable future. Once he lighted the candle specially
to look at his watch to see if the tide had yet crept up to that
solitary figure on the beach; nor could he rest again until the time
of high water was well past. And all through these wanderings of his
thoughts there came, recurring like a horrible refrain, the question
what would happen when the body was found? Could he be connected with
it and, if so, would he be charged with murder? At last he fell asleep
and slumbered on until the landlady thumped at the staircase door to
announce that she had brought his breakfast.

As soon as he was dressed he went out. Not, however, until he had
stuffed Gordon's still damp clothes and boots, the cumbrous overcoat
and the smart billy-cock hat into his trunk, and put the umbrella
into the darkest corner of the cupboard. Not that anyone ever came
up to the room, but that, already, he was possessed with the uneasy
secretiveness of the criminal. He went straight down to the beach; with
what purpose he could hardly have said, but an irresistible impulse
drove him thither to see if it was there. He went down by the jetty
and struck out eastward over the smooth sand, looking about him with
dreadful expectation for some small crowd or hurrying messenger. From
the foot of the cliffs, over the rocks to the distant line of breakers,
his eye roved with eager dread, and still he hurried eastward, always
drawing nearer to the place that he feared to look on. As he left the
town behind, so he left behind the one or two idlers on the beach, and
when he turned Foreness Point he lost sight of the last of them and
went forward alone. It was less than half an hour later that the fatal
headland opened out beyond Whiteness.

Not a soul had he met along that solitary beach, and though, once
or twice, he had started at the sight of some mass of drift wood or
heap of seaweed, the dreadful thing that he was seeking had not yet
appeared. He passed the opening of the cutting and approached the
headland, breathing fast and looking about him fearfully. Already he
could see the larger lumps of chalk that had fallen, and looking up, he
saw a clean, white patch at the summit of the cliff. But still there
was no sign of the corpse. He walked on more slowly now, considering
whether it could have drifted out to sea, or whether he should find
it in the next bay. And then, rounding the headland, he came in sight
of a black hole at the cliff foot, the entrance to a deep cave. He
approached yet more slowly, sweeping his eye round the little bay,
and looking apprehensively at the cavity before him. Suppose the
thing should have washed in there. It was quite possible. Many things
did wash into that cave, for he had once visited it and had been
astonished at the quantity of seaweed and jetsam that had accumulated
within it. But it was an uncomfortable thought. It would be doubly
horrible to meet the awful thing in the dim twilight of the cavern.
And yet, the black archway seemed to draw him on, step by step, until
he stood at the portal and looked in. It was an eerie place, chilly
and damp, the clammy walls and roof stained green and purple and black
with encrusting lichens. At one time, Elton had been told, it used to
be haunted by smugglers, and then communicated with an underground
passage; and the old smuggler's look-out still remained; a narrow
tunnel, high up the cliff, looking out into Kingsgate Bay; and even
some vestiges of the rude steps that led up to the look-out platform
could still be traced, and were not impossible to climb. Indeed, Elton
had, at his last visit, climbed to the platform and looked out through
the spy-hole. He recalled the circumstance now, as he stood, peering
nervously into the darkness, and straining his eyes to see what jetsam
the ocean had brought since then.

At first he could see nothing but the smooth sand near the opening;
then, as his eyes grew more accustomed to the gloom, he could make
out the great heap of seaweed on the floor of the cave. Insensibly,
he crept in, with his eyes riveted on the weedy mass and, as he left
the daylight behind him, so did the twilight of the cave grow clearer.
His feet left the firm sand and trod the springy mass of weed, and in
the silence of the cave he could now hear plainly the rain-like patter
of the leaping sand-hoppers. He stopped for a moment to listen to the
unfamiliar sound, and still the gloom of the cave grew lighter to his
more accustomed eyes.

And then, in an instant, he saw it. From a heap of weed, a few paces
ahead, projected a boot; his own boot; he recognised the patch on the
sole; and at the sight, his heart seemed to stand still. Though he had
somehow expected to find it here, its presence seemed to strike him
with a greater shock of horror from that very circumstance.

He was standing stock still, gazing with fearful fascination at the
boot and the swelling mound of weed, when, suddenly, there struck upon
his ear the voice of a woman, singing.

He started violently. His first impulse was to run out of the cave. But
a moment's reflection told him what madness this would be. And then the
voice drew nearer, and there broke out the high, rippling laughter of
a child. Elton looked in terror at the bright opening of the cavern's
mouth, expecting every moment to see it frame a group of figures. If
that happened, he was lost, for he would have been seen actually with
the body. Suddenly he bethought him of the spy-hole and the platform,
both of which were invisible from the entrance; and turning, he ran
quickly over the sodden weed till he came to the remains of the steps.
Climbing hurriedly up these, he reached the platform, which was
enclosed in a large niche, just as the reverberating sound of voices
told him that the strangers were within the mouth of the cave. He
strained his ears to catch what they were saying and to make out if
they were entering farther. It was a child's voice that he had first
heard, and very weird were the hollow echoes of the thin treble that
were flung back from the rugged walls. But he could not hear what the
child had said. The woman's voice, however, was quite distinct, and the
words seemed significant in more senses than one.

"No, dear," it said, "you had better not go in. It's cold and damp.
Come out into the sunshine."

Elton breathed more freely. But the woman was more right than she knew.
It was cold and damp, that thing under the black tangle of weed. Better
far to be out in the sunshine. He himself was already longing to escape
from the chill and gloom, of the cavern. But he could not escape yet.
Innocent as he actually was, his position was that of a murderer. He
must wait until the coast was clear, and then steal out, to hurry away
unobserved.

He crept up cautiously to the short tunnel and peered out through the
opening across the bay. And then his heart sank. Below him, on the
sunny beach, a small party of visitors had established themselves just
within view of the mouth of the cave; and even as he looked, a man
approached from the wooden stairway down the cliff, carrying a couple
of deck chairs. So, for the present his escape was hopelessly cut off.

He went back to the platform and sat down to wait for his release;
and, as he sat, his thoughts went back once more to the thing that
lay under the weed. How long would it lie there undiscovered? And
what would happen when it was found? What was there to connect him
with it? Of course, there was his name on the clothing, but there was
nothing incriminating in that, if he had only had the courage to give
information at once. But it was too late to think of that now. Besides,
it suddenly flashed upon him, there was the receipt in the wallet.
That receipt mentioned him by name and referred to a loan. Obviously,
its suggestion was most sinister, coupled with his silence. It was a
deadly item of evidence against him. But no sooner had he realised the
appalling significance of this document than he also realised that it
was still within his reach. Why should he leave it there to be brought
in evidence--in false evidence, too--against him?

Slowly he rose and, creeping down the tunnel, once more looked out. The
people were sitting quietly in their chairs, the man was reading, and
the child was digging in the sand. Elton looked across the bay to make
sure that no other person was approaching, and then, hastily climbing
down the steps, walked across the great bed of weed, driving an army
of sand-hoppers before him. He shuddered at the thought of what he was
going to do, and the clammy chill of the cave seemed to settle on him
in a cold sweat.

He came to the little mound from which the boot projected, and began,
shudderingly and with faltering hand, to lift the slimy, tangled
weed. As he drew aside the first bunch, be gave a gasp of horror and
quickly replaced it. The body was lying on its back, and, as he lifted
the weed he had uncovered--not the face, for the thing had no face.
It had struck either the cliff or a stone upon the beach and--but
there is no need to go into particulars: it had no face. When he had
recovered a little, Elton groped shudderingly among the weed until he
found the breast-pocket from which he quickly drew out the wallet,
now clammy, sodden and loathsome. He was rising with it in his hand
when an apparition, seen through the opening of the cave, arrested
his movement as if he had been suddenly turned into stone. A man,
apparently a fisherman or sailor, was sauntering past some thirty yards
from the mouth of the cave, and at his heels trotted a mongrel dog.
The dog stopped, and, lifting his nose, seemed to sniff the air; and
then he began to walk slowly and suspiciously towards the cave. The man
sauntered on and soon passed out of view; but the dog still came on
towards the cave, stopping now and again with upraised nose.

The catastrophe seemed inevitable. But just at that moment the man's
voice rose, loud and angry, evidently calling the dog. The animal
hesitated, looking wistfully from his master to the cave; but when the
summons was repeated, he turned reluctantly and trotted away.

Elton stood up and took a deep breath. The chilly sweat was running
down his face, his heart was thumping and his knees trembled, so that
he could hardly get back to the platform. What hideous peril had he
escaped and how narrowly! For there he had stood; and had the man
entered, he would have been caught in the very act of stealing the
incriminating document from the body. For that matter, he was little
better off now, with the dead man's property on his person, and he
resolved instantly to take out and destroy the receipt and put back
the wallet. But this was easier thought of than done. The receipt was
soaked with sea water, and refused utterly to light when he applied
a match to it. In the end, he tore it up into little fragments and
deliberately swallowed them, one by one.

But to restore the wallet was more than he was equal to just now. He
would wait until the people had gone home to lunch, and then he would
thrust it under the weed as he ran past. So he sat down again and once
more took up the endless thread of his thoughts.

The receipt was gone now, and with it the immediate suggestion of
motive. There remained only the clothes with their too legible
markings. They certainly connected him with the body, but they offered
no proof of his presence at the catastrophe. And then, suddenly,
another most startling idea occurred to him. Who could identify the
body--the body that had no face? There was the wallet, it was true, but
he could take that away with him, and there was a ring on the finger
and some articles in the pockets which might be identified. But--a
voice seemed to whisper to him--these things were removable, too. And
if he removed them, what then? Why, then, the body was that of Thomas
Elton, a friendless, poverty-stricken artist, about whom no one would
trouble to ask any questions.

He pondered on this new situation profoundly. It offered him a choice
of alternatives. Either he might choose the imminent risk of being
hanged for a murder that he had not committed, or he might surrender
his identity for ever and move away to a new environment.

He smiled faintly. His identity! What might that be worth to barter
against his life? Only yesterday he would gladly have surrendered it as
the bare price of emancipation from the vampire who had fastened on to
him.

He thrust the wallet into his pocket and buttoned his coat. Thomas
Elton was dead; and that other man, as yet unnamed, should go forth, as
the woman had said, into the sunshine.


PART II


(Related by Christopher Jervis, M.D.)

From various causes, the insurance business that passed through
Thorndyke's hands had, of late, considerably increased. The number of
societies which regularly employed him had grown larger, and, since the
remarkable case of Percival Bland, the Griffin had made it a routine
practice to send all inquest cases to us for report.

[Compiler's note: the Percival Bland case actually follows directly
after this one in the book: clearly the order of stories has been
transposed.]

It was in reference to one of these latter that Mr. Stalker, a senior
member of the staff of that office, called on us one afternoon in
December; and when he had laid his bag on the table and settled himself
comfortably before the fire, he opened the business without preamble.

"I've brought you another inquest case," said he; "a rather queer one,
quite interesting from your point of view. As far as we can see, it has
no particular interest for us excepting that it does rather look as if
our examining medical officer had been a little casual."

"What is the special interest of the case from our point of view?"
asked Thorndyke.

"I'll just give you a sketch of it," said Stalker, "and I think you
will agree that it's a case after your own heart.

"On the 24th of last month, some men who were collecting seaweed,
to use as manure, discovered in a cave at Kingsgate, in the Isle of
Thanet, the body of a man, lying under a mass of accumulated weed. As
the tide was rising, they put the body into their cart and conveyed it
to Margate, where, of course, an inquest was held, and the following
facts were elicited. The body was that of a man named Thomas Elton. It
was identified by the name-marks on the clothing, by the visiting-cards
and a couple of letters which were found in the pockets. From the
address on the letters it was seen that Elton had been staying in
Margate, and on inquiry at that address, it was learnt from the old
woman who let the lodgings, that he had been missing about four days.
The landlady was taken to the mortuary, and at once identified the body
as that of her lodger. It remained only to decide how the body came
into the cave; and this did not seem to present much difficulty; for
the neck had been broken by a tremendous blow, which had practically
destroyed the face, and there were distinct evidences of a breaking
away of a portion of the top of the cliff, only a few yards from the
position of the cave. There was apparently no doubt that Elton had
fallen sheer from the top of the overhanging cliff on to the beach.
Now, one would suppose with the evidence of this fall of about a
hundred and fifty feet, the smashed face and broken neck, there was not
much room for doubt as to the cause of death. I think you will agree
with me, Dr. Jervis?"

"Certainly," I replied; "it must be admitted that a broken neck is a
condition that tends to shorten life."

"Quite so," agreed Stalker; "but our friend, the local coroner, is a
gentleman who takes nothing for granted--a very Thomas Didymus, who
apparently agrees with Dr. Thorndyke that if there is no post mortem,
there is no inquest. So he ordered a post mortem, which would have
appeared to me an absurdly unnecessary proceeding, and I think that
even you will agree with me, Dr. Thorndyke."

But Thorndyke shook his head.

"Not at all," said he. "It might, for instance, be much more easy to
push a drugged or poisoned man over a cliff than to put over the same
man in his normal state. The appearance of violent accident is an
excellent mask for the less obvious forms of murder."

"That's perfectly true," said Stalker; "and I suppose that is what the
coroner thought. At any rate, he had the post-mortem made, and the
result was most curious; for it was found, on opening the body, that
the deceased had suffered from a smallish thoracic aneurism, which had
burst. Now, as the aneurism must obviously have burst during life, it
leaves the cause of death--so I understand--uncertain; at any rate,
the medical witness was unable to say whether the deceased fell over
the cliff in consequence of the bursting of the aneurism or burst
the aneurism in consequence of falling over the cliff. Of course, it
doesn't matter to us which way the thing happened; the only question
which interests us is, whether a comparatively recently insured man
ought to have had an aneurism at all."

"Have you paid the claim?" asked Thorndyke.

"No, certainly not. We never pay a claim until we have had your report.
But, as a matter of fact, there is another circumstance that is causing
delay. It seems that Elton had mortgaged his policy to a money lender,
named Gordon, and it is by him that the claim has been made, or rather,
by a clerk of his, named Hyams. Now, we have had a good many dealings
with this man Gordon, and hitherto he has always acted in person; and
as he is a somewhat slippery gentleman we have thought it desirable
to have the claim actually signed by him. And that is the difficulty.
For it seems that Mr. Gordon is abroad, and his whereabouts unknown
to Hyams; so, as we certainly couldn't take Hyams's receipt for
payment, the matter is in abeyance until Hyams can communicate with his
principal. And now, I must be running away. I have brought you, as you
will see, all the papers, including the policy and the mortgage deed."

As soon as he was gone, Thorndyke gathered up the bundle of papers and
sorted them out in what be apparently considered the order of their
importance. First he glanced quickly through the proposal form, and
then took up the copy of the coroner's depositions.

"The medical evidence," he remarked, "is very full and complete. Both
the coroner and the doctor seem to know their business."

"Seeing that the man apparently fell over a cliff," said I, "the
medical evidence would not seem to be of first importance. It would
seem to be more to the point to ascertain how he came to fall over."

"That's quite true," replied Thorndyke; "and yet, this report contains
some rather curious matter. The deceased had an aneurism of the
arch; that was probably rather recent. But he also had some slight,
old-standing aortic disease, with full compensatory hypertrophy. He
also had a nearly complete set of false teeth. Now, doesn't it strike
you, Jervis, as rather odd that a man who was passed only five years
ago as a first-class life, should, in that short interval, have become
actually uninsurable?"

"Yes, it certainly does look," said I, "as if the fellow had had rather
bad luck. What does the proposal form say?"

I took the document up and ran my eyes over it. On Thorndyke's advice,
medical examiners for the Griffin were instructed to make a somewhat
fuller report than is usual in some companies. In this case, the
ordinary answers to questions set forth that the heart was perfectly
healthy and the teeth rather exceptionally good, and then, in the
summary at the end, the examiner remarked: "the proposer seems to be
a completely sound and healthy man; he presents no physical defects
whatever, with the exception of a bony ankylosis of the first joint of
the third finger of the left hand, which he states to have been due to
an injury."

Thorndyke looked up quickly. "Which finger, did you say?" he asked.

"The third finger of the left hand," I replied.

Thorndyke looked thoughtfully at the paper that he was reading. "It's
very singular," said he, "for I see that the Margate doctor states
that the deceased wore a signet ring on the third finger of the left
hand. Now, of course, you couldn't get a ring on to a finger with bony
ankylosis of the joint."

"He must have mistaken the finger," said I, "or else the insurance
examiner did."

"That is quite possible," Thorndyke replied; "but, doesn't it strike
you as very singular that, whereas the insurance examiner mentions the
ankylosis, which was of no importance from an insurance point of view,
the very careful man who made the post-mortem should not have mentioned
it, though, owing to the unrecognisable condition of the face, it was
of vital importance for the purpose of identification?"

I admitted that it was very singular indeed, and we then resumed our
study of the respective papers. But presently I noticed that Thorndyke
had laid the report upon his knee, and was gazing speculatively into
the fire.

"I gather," said I, "that my learned friend finds some matter of
interest in this case."

For reply, he handed me the bundle of papers, recommending me to look
through them.

"Thank you," said I, rejecting them firmly, "but I think I can trust
you to have picked out all the plums."

Thorndyke smiled indulgently. "They're not plums, Jervis," said he;
"they're only currants, but they make quite a substantial little heap."

I disposed myself in a receptive attitude (somewhat after the fashion
of the juvenile pelican) and he continued: "If we take the small and
unimpressive items and add them together, you will see that a quite
considerable sum of discrepancy results, thus:

"In 1903, Thomas Elton, aged thirty-one, had a set of sound teeth. In
1908, at the age of thirty-six, he was more than half toothless. Again,
at the age of thirty-one, his heart was perfectly healthy. At the
age of thirty-six, he had old aortic disease, with fully established
compensation, and an aneurism that was possibly due to it. When he
was examined he had a noticeable incurable malformation; no such
malformation is mentioned in connection with the body.

"He appears to have fallen over a cliff; and he had also burst an
aneurism. Now, the bursting of the aneurism must obviously have
occurred during life; but it would occasion practically instantaneous
death. Therefore, if the fall was accidental, the rupture must have
occurred either as he stood at the edge of the cliff, as he was in the
act of falling, or on striking the beach.

"At the place where he apparently fell, the footpath is some thirty
yards distant from the edge of the cliff.

"It is not known how he came to that spot, or whether he was alone at
the time.

"Someone is claiming five hundred pounds as the immediate result of his
death.

"There, you see, Jervis, are seven propositions, none of them extremely
striking, but rather suggestive when taken together."

"You seem," said I, "to suggest a doubt as to the identity of the body."

"I do," he replied. "The identity was not clearly established."

"You don't think the clothing and the visiting-cards conclusive."

"They're not parts of the body," he replied. "Of course, substitution
is highly improbable. But it is not impossible."

"And the old woman--" I suggested, but he interrupted me.

"My dear Jervis," he exclaimed; "I'm surprised at you. How many times
has it happened within our knowledge that women have identified the
bodies of total strangers as those of their husbands, fathers or
brothers? The thing happens almost every year. As to this old woman,
she saw a body with an unrecognisable face, dressed in the clothes of
her missing lodger. Of course, it was the clothes that she identified."

"I suppose it was," I agreed; and then I said: "You seem to suggest the
possibility of foul play."

"Well," he replied, "if you consider those seven points, you will
agree with me that they present a cumulative discrepancy which it is
impossible to ignore. The whole significance of the case turns on the
question of identity; for, if this was not the body of Thomas Elton,
it would appear to have been deliberately prepared to counterfeit that
body. And such deliberate preparation would manifestly imply an attempt
to conceal the identity of some other body.

"Then," he continued, after a pause, "there is this deed. It looks
quite regular and is correctly stamped, but it seems to me that the
surface of the paper is slightly altered in one or two places and
if one holds the document up to the light, the paper looks a little
more transparent in those places." He examined the document for a few
seconds with his pocket lens, and then passing lens and document to me,
said: "Have a look at it, Jervis, and tell me what you think."

I scrutinised the paper closely, taking it over to the window to get
a better light; and to me, also, the paper appeared to be changed in
certain places.

"Are we agreed as to the position of the altered places?" Thorndyke
asked when I announced the fact.

"I only see three patches," I answered. "Two correspond to the name,
Thomas Elton, and the third to one of the figures in the policy number."

"Exactly," said Thorndyke, "and the significance is obvious. If the
paper has really been altered, it means that some other name has been
erased and Elton's substituted; by which arrangement, of course, the
correctly dated stamp would be secured. And this--the alteration of
an old document--is the only form of forgery that is possible with a
dated, impressed stamp."

"Wouldn't it be rather a stroke of luck," I asked, "for a forger to
happen to have in his possession a document needing only these two
alterations?"

"I see nothing remarkable in it," Thorndyke replied. "A moneylender
would have a number of documents of this kind in hand, and you observe
that be was not bound down to any particular date. Any date within a
year or so of the issue of the policy would answer his purpose. This
document is, in fact, dated, as you see, about six months after the
issue of the policy."

"I suppose," said I, "that you will draw Stalker's attention to this
matter."

"He will have to be informed, of course," Thorndyke replied; "but I
think it would be interesting in the first place to call on Mr. Hyams.
You will have noticed that there are some rather mysterious features in
this case, and Mr. Hyams's conduct, especially if this document should
turn out to be really a forgery, suggests that he may have some special
information on the subject." He glanced at his watch and, after a few
moments' reflection, added: "I don't see why we shouldn't make our
little ceremonial call at once. But it will be a delicate business, for
we have mighty little to go upon. Are you coming with me?"

If I had had any doubts, Thorndyke's last remark disposed of them; for
the interview promised to be quite a sporting event. Mr. Hyams was
presumably not quite newly-hatched, and Thorndyke, who utterly despised
bluff of any kind, and whose exact mind refused either to act or speak
one hair's breadth beyond his knowledge, was admittedly in somewhat of
a fog. The meeting promised to be really entertaining.

Mr. Hyams was "discovered," as the playwrights have it, in a small
office at the top of a high building in Queen Victoria Street. He was a
small gentleman, of sallow and greasy aspect, with heavy eyebrows and a
still heavier nose.

"Are you Mr. Gordon?" Thorndyke suavely inquired as we entered.

Mr. Hyams seemed to experience a momentary doubt on the subject, but
finally decided that he was not. "But perhaps," he added brightly, "I
can do your business for you as well."

"I daresay you can," Thorndyke agreed significantly; on which we were
conducted into an inner den, where I noticed Thorndyke's eye rest for
an instant on a large iron safe.

"Now," said Mr. Hyams, shutting the door ostentatiously, "what can I do
for you?"

"I want you," Thorndyke replied, "to answer one or two questions with
reference to the claim made by you on the Griffin Office in respect
of Thomas Elton."

Mr. Hyams's manner underwent a sudden change. He began rapidly to turn
over papers, and opened and shut the drawers of his desk, with an air
of restless preoccupation.

"Did the Griffin people send you here?" he demanded brusquely.

"They did not specially instruct me to call on you," replied Thorndyke.

"Then," said Hyams bouncing out of his chair, "I can't let you occupy
my time. I'm not here to answer conundrums from Tom, Dick or Harry."

Thorndyke rose from his chair. "Then I am to understand," he said, with
unruffled suavity, "that you would prefer me to communicate with the
Directors, and leave them to take any necessary action."

This gave Mr. Hyams pause. "What action do you refer to?" he asked.
"And, who are you?"

Thorndyke produced a card and laid it on the table. Mr. Hyams had
apparently seen the name before, for he suddenly grew rather pale and
very serious.

"What is the nature of the questions that you wished to ask?" he
inquired.

"They refer to this claim," replied Thorndyke. "The first question is,
where is Mr. Gordon?"

"I don't know," said Hyams.

"Where do you think he is?" asked Thorndyke.

"I don't think at all," replied Hyams, turning a shade paler and
looking everywhere but at Thorndyke.

"Very well," said the latter, "then the next question is, are you
satisfied that this claim is really payable?"

"I shouldn't have made it if I hadn't been," replied Hyams.

"Quite so," said Thorndyke; "and the third question is, are you
satisfied that the mortgage deed was executed as it purports to have
been?"

"I can't say anything about that," replied Hyams, who was growing every
moment paler and more fidgety, "it was done before my time."

"Thank you," said Thorndyke. "You will, of course, understand why I am
making these inquiries."

"I don't," said Hyams.

"Then," said Thorndyke, "perhaps I had better explain. We are dealing,
you observe, Mr. Hyams, with the case of a man who has met with a
violent death under somewhat mysterious circumstances. We are dealing,
also, with another man who has disappeared, leaving his affairs to take
care of themselves; and with a claim, put forward by a third party, on
behalf of the one man in respect of the other. When I say that the dead
man has been imperfectly identified, and that the document supporting
the claim presents certain peculiarities, you will see that the matter
calls for further inquiry."

There was an appreciable interval of silence. Mr. Hyams had turned a
tallowy white, and looked furtively about the room, as if anxious to
avoid the stony gaze that my colleague had fixed on him.

"Can you give us no assistance?" Thorndyke inquired, at length.

Mr. Hyams chewed a pen-holder ravenously, as he considered the
question. At length, he burst out in an agitated voice: "Look here,
sir, if I tell you what I know, will you treat the information as
confidential?

"I can't agree to that, Mr. Hyams," replied Thorndyke. "It might amount
to compounding a felony. But you will be wiser to tell me what you
know. The document is a side-issue, which my clients may never raise,
and my own concern is with the death of this man."

Hyams looked distinctly relieved. "If that's so," said he, "I'll tell
you all I know, which is precious little, and which just amounts to
this: Two days after Elton was killed, someone came to this office in
my absence and opened the safe. I discovered the fact the next morning.
Someone had been to the safe and rummaged over all the papers. It
wasn't Gordon, because he knew where to find everything; and it wasn't
an ordinary thief, because no cash or valuables had been taken. In
fact, the only thing that I missed was a promissory note, drawn by
Elton."

"You didn't miss a mortgage deed?" suggested Thorndyke, and Hyams,
having snatched a little further refreshment from the pen-holder, said
he did not.

"And the policy," suggested Thorndyke, "was apparently not taken?"

"No," replied Hyams "but it was looked for. Three bundles of policies
had been untied, but this one happened to be in a drawer of my desk and
I had the only key."

"And what do you infer from this visit?" Thorndyke asked.

"Well," replied Hyams, "the safe was opened with keys, and they were
Gordon's keys--or at any rate, they weren't mine--and the person who
opened it wasn't Gordon; and the things that were taken--at least the
thing, I mean--chiefly concerned Elton. Naturally I smelt a rat; and
when I read of the finding of the body, I smelt a fox."

"And have you formed any opinion about the body that was found?"

"Yes, I have," he replied. "My opinion is that it was Gordon's body:
that Gordon had been putting the screw on Elton, and Elton had just
pitched him over the cliff and gone down and changed clothes with the
body. Of course, that's only my opinion. I may be wrong; but I don't
think I am."

As a matter of fact, Mr. Hyams was not wrong. An exhumation, consequent
on Thorndyke's challenge of the identity of the deceased, showed that
the body was that of Solomon Gordon. A hundred pounds reward was
offered for information as to Elton's whereabouts. But no one ever
earned it. A letter, bearing the post mark of Marseilles, and addressed
by the missing man to Thorndyke, gave a plausible account of Gordon's
death; which was represented as having occurred accidentally at the
moment when Gordon chanced to be wearing a suit of Elton's clothes.

Of course, this account may have been correct, or again, it may have
been false; but whether it was true or false, Elton, from that moment,
vanished from our ken and has never since been heard of.



PERCIVAL BLAND'S PROXY


PART I


Mr. Percival Bland was a somewhat uncommon type of criminal. In the
first place he really had an appreciable amount of common-sense. If
he had only had a little more, he would not have been a criminal at
all. As it was, he had just sufficient judgment to perceive that the
consequences of unlawful acts accumulate as the acts are repeated; to
realise that the criminal's position must, at length, become untenable;
and to take what he considered fair precautions against the inevitable
catastrophe.

But in spite of these estimable traits of character and the precautions
aforesaid, Mr. Bland found himself in rather a tight place and with
a prospect of increasing tightness. The causes of this uncomfortable
tension do not concern us, and may be dismissed with the remark, that,
if one perseveringly distributes flash Bank of England notes among the
money-changers of the Continent, there will come a day of reckoning
when those notes are tendered to the exceedingly knowing old lady who
lives in Threadneedle Street.

Mr. Bland considered uneasily the approaching storm-cloud as he
raked over the "miscellaneous property" in the Sale-rooms of Messrs.
Plimpton. He was a confirmed frequenter of auctions, as was not
unnatural, for the criminal is essentially a gambler. And criminal and
gambler have one quality in common: each hopes to get something of
value without paying the market price for it.

So Percival turned over the dusty oddments and his own difficulties at
one and the same time. The vital questions were: When would the storm
burst? And would it pass by the harbour of refuge that he had been at
such pains to construct? Let us inspect that harbour of refuge.

A quiet flat in the pleasant neighbourhood of Battersea bore a
name-plate inscribed, Mr. Robert Lindsay; and the tenant was known
to the porter and the char woman who attended to the flat, as a
fair-haired gentleman who was engaged in the book trade as a
travelling agent, and was consequently a good deal away from home.
Now Mr. Robert Lindsay bore a distinct resemblance to Percival Bland;
which was not sur prising seeing that they were first cousins (or, at
any rate, they said they were; and we may presume that they knew). But
they were not very much alike. Mr. Lindsay had flaxen, or rather sandy,
hair; Mr. Bland's hair was black. Mr. Bland had a mole under his left
eye; Mr. Lindsay had no mole under his eye--but carried one in a small
box in his waistcoat pocket.

At somewhat rare intervals the Cousins called on one another; but they
had the very worst of luck, for neither of them ever seemed to find
the other at home. And what was even more odd was that whenever Mr.
Bland spent an evening at home in his lodgings over the oil shop in
Bloomsbury, Mr. Lindsay's flat was empty; and as sure as Mr. Lindsay
was at home in his flat so surely were Mr. Bland's lodgings vacant for
the time being. It was a queer coincidence, if anyone had noticed it;
but nobody ever did.

However, if Percival saw little of his cousin, it was not a case
of "out of sight, out of mind." On the contrary; so great was his
solicitude for the latter's welfare that he not only had made a will
constituting him his executor and sole legatee, but he had actually
insured his life for no less a sum than three thousand pounds; and this
will, together with the insurance policy, investment securities and
other necessary documents, he had placed in the custody of a highly
respectable solicitor. All of which did him great credit. It isn't
every man who is willing to take so much trouble for a mere cousin.

Mr. Bland continued his perambulations, pawing over the miscellaneous
raffle from sheer force of habit, reflecting on the coming crisis in
his own affairs, and on the provisions that he had made for his cousin
Robert. As for the latter, they were excellent as far as they went,
but they lacked definiteness and perfect completeness. There was the
contingency of a "stretch," for instance; say fourteen years' penal
servitude. The insurance policy did not cover that. And, meanwhile,
what was to become of the estimable Robert?

He had bruised his thumb somewhat severely in a screw-cutting lathe,
and had abstractedly turned the handle of a bird-organ until politely
requested by an attendant to desist, when he came upon a series of
boxes containing, according to the catalogue, "a collection of surgical
instruments the property of a lately deceased practitioner." To judge
by the appearance of the instruments, the practitioner must have
commenced practice in his early youth and died at a very advanced age.
They were an uncouth set of tools, of no value whatever excepting as
testimonials to the amazing tenacity of life of our ancestors; but
Percival fingered them over according to his wont, working the handle
of a complicated brass syringe and ejecting a drop of greenish fluid
on to the shirt of a dressy Hebrew (who requested him to "point the
dam' thing at thomeone elth nectht time"), opening musty leather cases,
clicking off spring scarifiers and feeling the edges of strange,
crooked, knives. Then he came upon a largish black box, which, when
he raised the lid, breathed out an ancient and fish-like aroma and
exhibited a collection of bones, yellow, greasy and spotted in places
with mildew. The catalogue described them as "a complete set of human
osteology" but they were not an ordinary "student's set," for the bones
of the hands and feet, instead of being strung together on cat-gut,
were united by their original ligaments and were of an unsavoury brown
colour.

"I thay, misther," expostulat the Hebrew, "shut that bocth. Thmellth
like a blooming inquetht."

But the contents of the black box seemed to have a fascination for
Percival. He looked in at those greasy remnants of mortality, at the
brown and mouldy hands and feet and the skull that peeped forth eerily
from the folds of a flannel wrapping; and they breathed out something
more than that stale and musty odour. A suggestion--vague and general
at first, but rapidly crystallising into distinct shape--seemed to
steal out of the black box into his consciousness; a suggestion that
somehow seemed to connect itself with his estimable cousin Robert.

For upwards of a minute he stood motionless, as one immersed in
reverie, the lid poised in his hand and a dreamy eye fixed on the half
skull. A stir in the room roused him. The sale was about to begin.
The members of the knock-out and other habitués seated themselves on
benches around a long, baize table; the attendants took possession
of the first lots and opened their catalogues as if about to sing an
introductory chorus; and a gentleman with a waxed moustache and a
striking resemblance to his late Majesty, the third Napoleon, having
ascended to the rostrum bespoke the attention of the assembly by a
premonitory tap with his hammer.

How odd are some of the effects of a guilty conscience! With what
absurd self-consciousness do we read into the minds of others our own
undeclared intentions, when those intentions are unlawful! Had Percival
Bland wanted a set of human bones for any legitimate purpose--such as
anatomical study--he would have bought it openly and unembarrassed.
Now, he found himself earnestly debating whether he should not bid for
some of the surgical instruments, just for the sake of appearances; and
there being little time in which to make up his mind--for the deceased
practitioner's effects came first in the catalogue--he was already the
richer by a set of cupping-glasses, a tooth-key, and an instrument of
unknown use and diabolical aspect, before the fateful lot was called.

At length the black box was laid on the table, an object of obscene
mirth to the knockers-out, and the auctioneer read the entry: "Lot
seventeen; a complete set of human osteology. A very useful and
valuable set of specimens, gentlemen."

He looked round at the assembly majestically, oblivious of sundry
inquiries as to the identity of the deceased and the verdict of the
coroner's jury, and finally suggested five shillings.

"Six," said Percival.

An attendant held the box open, and, chanting the mystic word
"Loddlemen!" (which, being interpreted, meant "Lot, gentlemen"), thrust
it under the rather bulbous nose of the smart Hebrew; who remarked that
"they 'ummed a bit too much to thoot him" and pushed it away.

"Going at six shillings," said the auctioneer, reproachfully; and as
nobody contradicted him, he smote the rostrum with his hammer and the
box was delivered into the hands of Percival on the payment of that
modest sum.

Having crammed the cupping-glasses, the tooth-key and the unknown
instrument into the box, Percival obtained from one of the attendants
a length of cord, with which he secured the lid. Then he carried his
treasure out into the street, and, chartering a four-wheeler, directed
the driver to proceed to Charing Cross Station. At the station he
booked the box in the cloak (in the name of Simpson) and left it for a
couple of hours; at the expiration of which he returned, and, employing
a different porters had it conveyed to a hansom, in which it was borne
to his lodgings over the oil-shop in Bloomsbury. There he, himself,
carried it, unobserved, up the stairs, and, depositing it in a large
cupboard, locked the door and pocketed the key.

And thus was the curtain rung down on the first act. The second act
opened only a couple of days later, the office of call-boy--to pursue
the metaphor to the bitter end--being discharged by a Belgian police
official who emerged from the main entrance to the Bank of England.
What should have led Percival Bland into so unsafe a neighbourhood it
is difficult to imagine, unless it was that strange fascination that
seems so frequently to lure the criminal to places associated with his
crime. But there he was within a dozen paces of the entrance when the
officer came forth, and mutual recognition was instant. Almost equally
instantaneous was the self-possessed Percival's decision to cross the
road.

It is not a nice road to cross. The old horse would condescend to shout
a warning to the indiscreet wayfarer. Not so the modern chauffeur,
who looks stonily before him and leaves you to get out of the way of
Juggernaut. He knows his "exonerating" coroner's jury. At the moment,
however, the procession of Juggernauts was at rest; but Percival had
seen the presiding policeman turn to move away and he darted across
the fronts of the vehicles even as they started. The foreign officer
followed. But in that moment the whole procession had got in motion.
A motor omnibus thundered past in front of him; another was bearing
down on him relentlessly. He hesitated, and sprang back; and then a
taxi-cab, darting out from behind, butted him heavily, sending him
sprawling in the road, whence he scrambled as best he could back on to
the pavement.

Percival, meanwhile, had swung himself lightly on to the footboard of
the first omnibus just as it was gathering speed. A few seconds saw him
safely across at the Mansion House, and in a few more, he was whirling
down Queen Victoria Street. The danger was practically over, though he
took the precaution to alight at St. Paul's, and, crossing to Newgate
Street, board another west-bound omnibus.

That night he sat in his lodgings turning over his late experience. It
had been a narrow shave. That sort of thing mustn't happen again. In
fact, seeing that the law was undoubtedly about to be set in motion,
it was high time that certain little plans of his should be set in
motion, too. Only, there was a difficulty; a serious difficulty. And as
Percival thought round and round that difficulty his brows wrinkled and
he hummed a soft refrain.

"Then is the time for disappearing,
Take a header--down you go--"

A tap at the door cut his song short. It was his landlady, Mrs.
Brattle; a civil woman, and particularly civil just now. For she had a
little request to make.

"It was about Christmas Night, Mr. Bland," said Mrs. Brattle. "My
husband and me thought of spending the evening with his brother at
Hornsey, and we were going to let the maid go home to her mother's for
the night, if it wouldn't put you out."

"Wouldn't put me out in the least, Mrs. Brattle," said Percival.

"You needn't sit up for us, you see," pursued Mrs. Brattle, "if you
just leave the side door unbolted. We shan't be home before two or
three; but we'll come in quiet not to disturb you."

"You won't disturb me," Percival replied with a genial laugh. "I'm a
sober man in general but 'Christmas comes but once a year'. When once
I'm tucked up in bed, I shall take a bit of waking on Christmas Night."

Mrs. Brattle smiled indulgently. "And you won't feel lonely, all alone
in the house?"

"Lonely!" exclaimed Percival. "Lonely! With a roaring fire, a jolly
book, a box of good cigars and a bottle of sound port--ah, and a second
bottle if need be. Not I."

Mrs. Brattle shook her head. "Ah," said she, "you bachelors! Well,
well. It's a good thing to be independent," and with this profound
reflection she smiled herself out of the room and descended the stairs.

As her footsteps died away Percival sprang from his chair and began
excitedly to pace the room. His eyes sparkled and his face was wreathed
with smiles. Presently he halted before the fireplace and, gazing into
the embers, laughed aloud.

"Damn funny!" said he. "Deuced rich! Neat! Very neat! Ha! Ha!" And here
he resumed his interrupted song: "When the sky above is clearing, When
the sky above is clearing, Bob up serenely, bob up serenely, Bob up
serenely from below!"

Which may be regarded as closing the first scene, of the second act.

During the few days that intervened before Christmas Percival went
abroad but little; and yet he was a busy man. He did a little
surreptitious shopping, venturing out as far as Charing Cross Road;
and his purchases were decidedly miscellaneous. A porridge saucepan,
a second-hand copy of "Gray's Anatomy," a rabbit skin, a large supply
of glue and upwards of ten pounds of shin of beef seems a rather
odd assortment; and it was a mercy that the weather was frosty, for
otherwise Percival's bedroom, in which these delicacies were deposited
under lock and key, would have yielded odorous traces of its wealth.

But it was in the long evenings that his industry was most conspicuous;
and then it was that the big cupboard with the excellent lever lock,
which he himself had fixed on, began to fill up with the fruits of
his labours. In those evenings the porridge saucepan would simmer on
the hob with a rich lading of good Scotch glue, the black box of the
deceased practitioner would be hauled forth from its hiding-place, and
the well-thumbed "Gray" laid open on the table.

It was an arduous business though; a stiffer task than he had bargained
for. The right and left bones were so confoundedly alike, and the bones
that joined were so difficult to fit together. However, the plates in
"Gray" were large and very clear, so it was only a question of taking
enough trouble.

His method of work was simple and practical. Having fished a bone out
of the box, he would compare it with the illustrations in the book
until he had identified it beyond all doubt, when he would tie on it
a paper label with its name and side--right or left. Then he would
search for the adjoining bone, and, having fitted the two together,
would secure them with a good daub of glue and lay them in the fender
to dry. It was a crude and horrible method of articulation that would
have made a museum curator shudder. But it seemed to answer Percival's
purpose--whatever that may have been--for gradually the loose "items"
came together into recognisable members such as arms and legs, the
vertebra--which were, fortunately, strung in their order on a thick
cord--were joined up into a solid backbone, and even the ribs, which
were the toughest job of all, fixed on in some semblance of a thorax.
It was a wretched performance. The bones were plastered with gouts of
glue and yet would have broken apart at a touch. But, as we have said,
Percival seemed satisfied, and as he was the only person concerned,
there was no more to be said.

In due course, Christmas Day arrived. Percival dined with the Brattles
at two, dozed after dinner, woke up for tea, and then, as Mrs. Brattle,
in purple and fine raiment, came in to remove the tea-tray, he spread
out on the table the materials for the night's carouse. A quarter of an
hour later, the side slammed, and, peering out of the window, he saw
the shopkeeper and his wife hurrying away up the gas-lit street towards
the nearest omnibus route.

Then Mr. Percival Bland began his evening's entertainment; and a most
remark entertainment it was, even for a solitary bachelor, left alone
in a house on Christmas Night. First, he took off his clothing and
dressed himself in a fresh suit. Then, from the cupboard he brought
forth the reconstituted "set of osteology" and, laying the various
members on the table, returned to the bedroom, whence he presently
reappeared with a large, savoury parcel which he had disinterred from
a trunk. The parcel being opened revealed his accumulated purchases in
the matter of shin of beef.

With a large knife, providently sharpened before hand, he cut the
beef into large, thin slices which he proceed to wrap around the
various bones that formed the "complete set;" whereby their nakedness
was certainly mitigated though their attractiveness was by no means
increased. Having thus "clothed the dry bones," he gathered up the
scraps of offal that were left, to be placed presently inside the
trunk. It was an extraordinary proceeding, but the next was more
extraordinary still.

Taking up the newly clothed members one by one, he began very carefully
to insinuate them into the garments that he had recently shed. It was a
ticklish business, for the glued joints were as brittle as glass. Very
cautiously the legs were separately inducted, first into underclothing
and then into trousers, the skeleton feet were fitted with the cast-off
socks and delicately persuaded into the boots. The arms, in like
manner, were gingerly pressed into their various sleeves and through
the arm-holes of the waistcoat; and then came the most difficult task
of all--to fit the garments on the trunk. For the skull and ribs,
secured to the back-bone with mere spots of glue, were ready to drop
off at a shake; and yet the garments had to be drawn over them with
the arms enclosed in the sleeves. But Percival managed it at last by
resting his "restoration" in the big, padded arm-chair and easing the
garments on inch by inch.

It now remained only to give the finishing touch; which was done by
cutting the rabbit-skin to the requisite shape and affixing it to the
skull with a thin coat of stiff glue; and when the skull had thus been
finished with a sort of crude, makeshift wig, its appearance was so
appalling as even to disturb the nerves of the matter-of-fact Percival.
However, this was no occasion for cherishing sentiment. A skull in an
extemporised wig or false scalp might be, and in fact was, a highly
unpleasant object; but so was a Belgian police officer.

Having finished the "restoration," Percival fetched the water-jug from
his bedroom, and, descending to the shop, the door of which had been
left unlocked, tried the taps of the various drums and barrels until
he came to the one which contained methylated spirit; and from this
he filled his jug and returned to the bedroom. Pouring the spirit out
into the basin, he tucked a towel round his neck and filling his sponge
with spirit proceeded very vigorously to wash his hair and eyebrows;
and as, by degrees, the spirit in the basin grew dark and turbid, so
did his hair and eyebrows grow lighter in colour until, after a final
energetic rub with a towel, they had acquired a golden or sandy hue
indistinguishable from that of the hair of his cousin Robert. Even the
mole under his eye was susceptible to the changing conditions, for when
he had wetted it thoroughly with spirit, he was able, with the blade
of a penknife to peel it off as neatly as if it had been stuck on with
spirit-gum. Having done which, he deposited it in a tiny box which he
carried in his waistcoat pocket.

The proceedings which followed were unmistakable as to their object.
First he carried the basin of spirit through into the sitting-room and
deliberately poured its contents on to the floor by the arm-chair.
Then, having returned the basin to the bedroom, he again went down
to the shop, where he selected a couple of galvanised buckets from
the stock, filled them with paraffin oil from one of the great drums
and carried them upstairs. The oil from one bucket he poured over the
armchair and its repulsive occupant; the other bucket he simply emptied
on the carpet, and then went down to the shop for a fresh supply.

When this proceeding had been repeated once or twice the entire floor
and all the furniture were saturated, and such a reek of paraffin
filled the air of the room that Percival thought it wise to turn out
the gas. Returning to the shop, be poured a bucketful of oil over the
stack of bundles of firewood, another over the counter and floor and
a third over the loose articles on the walls and hanging from the
ceiling. Looking up at the latter be now perceived a number of greasy
patches where the oil had soaked through from the floor above, and some
of these were beginning to drip on to the shop floor.

He now made his final preparations. Taking a bundle of "Wheel"
firelighters, he made a small pile against the stack of firewood. In
the midst of the firelighters he placed a ball of string saturated in
paraffin; and in the central hole of the ball he stuck a half-dozen
diminutive Christmas candles. This mine was now ready. Providing
himself with a stock of firelighters, a few balls of paraffined string
and a dozen or so of the little candles, he went upstairs to the
sitting-room, which was immediately above the shop. Here, by the glow
of the fire, he built up one or two piles of firelighters around and
partly under the arm-chair, placed the balls of string on the piles
and stuck two or three bundles in each ball. Everything was now ready.
Stepping into the bedroom, he took from the cupboard a spare overcoat,
a new hat and a new umbrella--for he must leave his old hats, coat
and umbrella in the hall. He put on the coat and hat, and, with the
umbrella in his hand, returned to the sitting-room.

Opposite the arm-chair he stood awhile, irresolute, and a pang of
horror shot through him. It was a terrible thing that he was going
to do; a thing the consequences of which no one could foresee. He
glanced furtively at the awful shape that sat huddled in the chair,
its horrible head all awry and its rigid limbs sprawling in hideous
grotesque deformity. It was but a dummy, a mere scarecrow; but yet,
in the dim firelight, the grisly face under that horrid wig seemed to
leer intelligently, to watch him with secret malice out of its shadowy
eye-sockets, until he looked away with clammy skin and a shiver of
half-superstitious terror.

But this would never do. The evening had run out, consumed by these
engrossing labours; it was nearly eleven o'clock, and high time for him
to be gone. For if the Brattles should return prematurely he was lost.
Pulling himself together with an effort, he struck a match and lit the
little candles one after the other. In a quarter of an hour or so, they
would have burned down to the balls of string, and then--He walked
quickly out of the room; but, at the door, he paused for a moment to
look back at the ghastly figure, seated rigidly in the chair with the
lighted candles at its feet, like some foul fiend appeased by votive
fires. The unsteady flames threw flickering shadows on its face that
made it seem to mow and gibber and grin in mockery of all his care and
caution. So he turned and tremblingly ran down the stairs--opening the
staircase window as he went. Running into the shop, he lit the candles
there and ran out again, shutting the door after him.

Secretly and guiltily he crept down the hall, and opening the door
a few inches peered out. A blast of icy wind poured in with a light
powdering of dry snow. He opened his umbrella, flung open the door,
looked up and down the empty street, stepped out, closed the door
softly and strode away over the whitening pavement.


PART II


(Related by Christopher Jervis, M.D.)

It was one of the axioms of medico-legal practice laid down by my
colleague, John Thorndyke, that the investigator should be constantly
on his guard against the effect of suggestion. Not only must all
prejudices and preconceptions be avoided, but when information is
received from outside, the actual, undeniable facts must be carefully
sifted from the inferences which usually accompany them. Of the
necessity for this precaution our insurance practice furnished an
excellent instance in the case of the fire at Mr. Brattle's oil-shop.

The case was brought to our notice by Mr. Stalker of the Griffin Fire
and Life Insurance Society a few days after Christmas. He dropped in,
ostensibly to wish us a Happy New Year, but a discreet pause in the
conversation on Thorndyke's part elicited a further purpose.

"Did you see the account of that fire in Bloomsbury?" Mr. Stalker asked.

"The oil-shop? Yes. But I didn't note any details, excepting that a
man was apparently burnt to death and that the affair happened on the
twenty-fifth of December."

"Yes, I know," said Mr. Stalker. "It seems uncharitable, but one can't
help looking a little askance at these quarter-day fires. And the date
isn't the only doubtful feature in this one; the Divisional Officer
of the Fire Brigade, who has looked over the ruins, tells me that
there are some appearances suggesting that the fire broke out in two
different places--the shop and the first-floor room over it. Mind you,
he doesn't say that it actually did. The place is so thoroughly gutted
that very little is to be learned from it; but that is his impression;
and it occurred to me that if you were to take a look at the ruins,
your radiographic eye might detect something that he had overlooked."

"It isn't very likely," said Thorndyke. "Every man to his trade. The
Divisional Officer looks at a burnt house with an expert eye, which I
do not. My evidence would not carry much weight if you were contesting
the claim."

"Perhaps not," replied Mr. Stalker, "and we are not anxious to contest
the claim unless there is manifest fraud. Arson is a serious matter."

"It is wilful murder in this case," remarked Thorndyke.

"I know," said Stalker. "And that reminds me that the man who was burnt
happens to have been insured in our office, too. So we stand a double
loss."

"How much?" asked Thorndyke.

"The dead man, Percival Bland, had insured his life for three thousand
pounds."

Thorndyke became thoughtful. The last statement had apparently made
more impression on him than the former ones.

"If you want me to look into the case for you," said he, "you had
better let me have all the papers connected with it, including the
proposal forms."

Mr. Stalker smiled. "I thought you would say that--I know you of old,
you see--so I slipped the papers in my pocket before coming here."

He laid the documents on the table and asked: "Is there anything that
you want to know about the case?"

"Yes," replied Thorndyke. "I want to know all that you can tell me."

"Which is mighty little," said Stalker; "but such as it is, you shall
have it.

"The oil-shop man's name is Brattle and the dead man, Bland, was his
lodger. Bland appears to have been a perfectly steady, sober man in
general; but it seems that he had announced his intention of spending
a jovial Christmas Night and giving himself a little extra indulgence.
He was last seen by Mrs. Brattle at about half-past six, sitting by
a blazing fire, with a couple of unopened bottles of port on the
table and a box of cigars. He had a book in his hand and two or three
newspapers lay on the floor by his chair. Shortly after this, Mr. and
Mrs. Brattle went out on a visit to Hornsey, leaving him alone in the
house."

"Was there no servant?" asked Thorndyke.

"The servant had the day and night off duty to go to her mother's.
That, by the way, looks a trifle fishy. However, to return to the
Brattles; they spent the evening at Hornsey and did not get home
until past three in the morning, by which time their house was a heap
of smoking ruins. Mrs. Brattle's idea is that Bland must have drunk
himself sleepy, and dropped one of the newspapers into the fender,
where a chance cinder may have started the blaze. Which may or may not
be the true explanation. Of course, an habitually sober man can get
pretty mimsey on two bottles of port."

"What time did the fire break out?" asked Thorndyke.

"It was noticed about half-past eleven that flames were issuing from
one of the chimneys, and the alarm was given at once. The first engine
arrived ten minutes later, but, by that time, the place was roaring
like a furnace. Then the water-plugs were found to be frozen hard,
which caused some delay; in fact, before the engines were able to get
to work the roof had fallen in, and the place was a mere shell. You
know what an oil-shop is, when once it gets a fair start."

"And Mr. Bland's body was found in the ruins, I suppose?"

"Body!" exclaimed Mr. Stalker; "there wasn't much body! Just a few
charred bones, which they dug out of the ashes next day."

"And the question of identity?"

"We shall leave that to the coroner. But there really isn't any
question. To begin with, there was no one else in the house; and then
the remains were found mixed up with the springs and castors of the
chair that Bland was sitting in when he was last seen. Moreover, there
were found, with the bones, a pocket knife, a bunch of keys and a set
of steel waistcoat buttons, all identified by Mrs. Brattle as belonging
to Bland. She noticed the cut steel buttons on his waistcoat when she
wished him 'good-night.'"

"By the way," said Thorndyke, "was Bland reading by the light of an oil
lamp?"

"No," replied Stalker. "There was a two-branch gasalier with a
porcelain shade to one burner, and he had that burner alight when Mrs.
Brattle left."

Thorndyke reflectively picked up the proposal form, and, having glanced
through it, remarked: "I see that Bland is described as unmarried. Do
you know why he insured his life for this large amount?"

"No; we assumed that it was probably in connection with some loan that
he had raised. I learn from the solicitor who notified us of the death,
that the whole of Bland's property is left to a cousin--a Mr. Lindsay,
I think. So the probability is that this cousin had lent him money. But
it is not the life claim that is interesting us. We must pay that in
any case. It is the fire claim that we want you to look into."

"Very well," said Thorndyke; "I will go round presently and look over
the ruins, and see if I can detect any substantial evidence of fraud."

"If you would," said Mr. Stalker, rising to take his departure, "we
should be very much obliged. Not that we shall probably contest the
claim in any case."

When he had gone, my colleague and I glanced through the papers, and
I ventured to remark: "It seems to me that Stalker doesn't quite
appreciate the possibilities of this case."

"No," Thorndyke agreed. "But, of course, it is an insurance company's
business to pay, and not to boggle at anything short of glaring fraud.
And we specialists too," he added with a smile, "must beware of seeing
too much. I suppose that, to a rhinologist, there is hardly such a
thing as a healthy nose--unless it is his own--and the uric acid
specialist is very apt to find the firmament studded with dumb-bell
crystals. We mustn't forget that normal cases do exist, after all."

"That is true," said I; "but, on the other hand, the rhinologist's
business is with the unhealthy nose, and our concern is with abnormal
cases."

Thorndyke laughed. "'A Daniel come to judgement,'" said he. "But my
learned friend is quite right. Our function is to pick holes. So let us
pocket the documents and wend Bloomsbury way. We can talk the case over
as we go."

We walked at an easy pace, for there was no hurry, and a little
preliminary thought was useful. After a while, as Thorndyke made no
remark, I reopened the subject.

"How does the case present itself to you?" I asked.

"Much as it does to you, I expect," he replied. "The circumstances
invite inquiry, and I do not find myself connecting them with the
shopkeeper. It is true that the fire occurred on quarter-day; but there
is nothing to show that the insurance will do more than cover the loss
of stock, chattels and the profits of trade. The other circumstances
are much more suggestive. Here is a house burned down and a man killed.
That man was insured for three thousand pounds, and, consequently, some
person stands to gain by his death to that amount. The whole set of
circumstances is highly favourable to the idea of homicide. The man was
alone in the house when he died; and the total destruction of both the
body and its surroundings seems to render investigation impossible. The
cause of death can only be inferred; it cannot be proved; and the most
glaring evidence of a crime will have vanished utterly. I think that
there is a quite strong prima facie suggestion of murder. Under the
known conditions, the perpetration of a murder would have been easy, it
would have been safe from detection, and there is an adequate motive.

"On the other hand, suicide is not impossible. The man might have set
fire to the house and then killed himself by poison or otherwise. But
it is intrinsically less probable that a man should kill him self for
another person's benefit than that he should kill another man for his
own benefit.

"Finally, there is the possibility that the fire and the man's death
were the result of accident; against which is the official opinion
that the fire started in two places. If this opinion is correct, it
establishes, in my opinion, a strong presumption of murder against some
person who may have obtained access to the house."

This point in the discussion brought us to the ruined house, which
stood at the corner of two small streets. One of the firemen in charge
admitted us, when we had shown our credentials, through a temporary
door and down a ladder into the basement, where we found a number of
men treading gingerly, ankle deep in white ash, among a litter of
charred wood-work, fused glass, warped and broken china, and more or
less recognisable metal objects.

"The coroner and the jury," the fireman explained; "come to view the
scene of the disaster." He introduced us to the former, who bowed
stiffly and continued his investigations.

"These," said the other fireman, "are the springs of the chair that the
deceased was sitting in. We found the body--or rather the bones--lying
among them under a heap of hot ashes; and we found the buttons of his
clothes and the things from his pockets among the ashes, too. You'll
see them in the mortuary with the remains."

"It must have been a terrific blaze," one of the jurymen remarked.
"Just look at this, sir," and he handed to Thorndyke what looked like
part of a gas-fitting, of which the greater part was melted into
shapeless lumps and the remainder encrusted into fused porcelain.

"That," said the fireman, "was the gasalier of the first-floor room,
where Mr. Bland was sitting. Ah! you won't turn that tap, sir;
nobody'll ever turn that tap again."

Thorndyke held the twisted mass of brass towards me in silence, and,
glancing up the blackened walls, remarked: "I think we shall have to
come here again with the Divisional Officer, but meanwhile, we had
better see the remains of the body. It is just possible that we may
learn something from them."

He applied to the coroner for the necessary authority to make the
inspection, and, having obtained a rather ungracious and grudging
permission to examine the remains when the jury had "viewed" them,
began to ascend the ladder.

"Our friend would have liked to refuse permission," he remarked when we
had emerged into the street, "but he knew that I could and should have
insisted."

"So I gathered from his manner," said I. "But what is he doing here?
This isn't his district."

"No; he is acting for Bettsford, who is laid up just now; and a very
poor substitute he is. A non-medical coroner is an absurdity in any
case, and a coroner who is hostile to the medical profession is a
public scandal. By the way, that gas-tap offers a curious problem. You
noticed that it was turned off?"

"Yes."

"And consequently that the deceased was sitting in the dark when
the fire broke out. I don't see the bearing of the fact, but it is
certainly rather odd. Here is the mortuary. We had better wait and let
the jury go in first."

We had not long to wait. In a couple of minutes or so the "twelve
good men and true" made their appearance with a small attendant crowd
of ragamuffins. We let them enter first, and then we followed. The
mortuary was a good-sized room, well lighted by a glass roof, and
having at its centre a long table on which lay the shell containing
the remains. There was also a sheet of paper on which had been laid
out a set of blackened steel waistcoat buttons, a bunch of keys, a
steel-handled pocket-knife, a steel-cased watch on a partly-fused
rolled-gold chain, and a pocket corkscrew. The coroner drew the
attention of the jury to these objects, and then took possession
of them, that they might be identified by witnesses. And meanwhile
the jurymen gathered round the shell and stared shudderingly at its
gruesome contents.

"I am sorry, gentlemen," said the coroner, "to have to subject you to
this painful ordeal. But duty is duty. We must hope, as I think we may,
that this poor creature met a painless if in some respects a rather
terrible death."

At this point, Thorndyke, who had drawn near to the table, cast a long
and steady glance down into the shell; and immediately his ordinarily
rather impassive face seemed to congeal; all expression faded from it,
leaving it as immovable and uncommunicative as the granite face of an
Egyptian statue. I knew the symptom of old and began to speculate on
its present significance.

"Are you taking any medical evidence?" he asked.

"Medical evidence!" the coroner repeated, scornfully. "Certainly not,
sir! I do not waste the public money by employing so-called experts to
tell the jury what each of them can see quite plainly for himself. I
imagine," he added, turning to the foreman, "that you will not require
a learned doctor to explain to you how that poor fellow mortal met his
death?"

And the foreman, glancing askance at the skull, replied, with a pallid
and sickly smile, that "he thought not."

"Do you, sir," the coroner continued, with a dramatic wave of the hand
towards the plain coffin, "suppose that we shall find any difficulty in
determining how that man came by his death?"

"I imagine," replied Thorndyke, without moving a muscle, or, indeed,
appearing to have any muscles to move, "I imagine you will find no
difficulty what ever."

"So do I," said the coroner.

"Then," retorted Thorndyke, with a faint, inscrutable smile, "we are,
for once, in complete agreement."

As the coroner and jury retired, leaving my colleague and me alone in
the mortuary, Thorndyke remarked: "I suppose this kind of farce will
be repeated periodically so long as these highly technical medical
inquiries continue to be conducted by lay persons."

I made no reply, for I had taken a long look into the shell, and was
lost in astonishment.

"But my dear Thorndyke!" I exclaimed; "what on earth does it mean? Are
we to suppose that a woman can have palmed herself off as a man on the
examining medical officer of a London Life Assurance Society?"

Thorndyke shook his head. "I think not," said he. "Our friend, Mr.
Bland, may conceivably have been a woman in disguise, but he certainly
was not a negress."

"A negress!" I gasped. "By Jove! So it is! I hadn't looked at the
skull. But that only makes the mystery more mysterious. Because, you
remember, the body was certainly dressed in Bland's clothes."

"Yes, there seems to be no doubt about that. And you may have noticed,
as I did," Thorndyke continued dryly, "the remarkably fire-proof
character of the waistcoat buttons, watch-case, knife-handle, and other
identifiable objects."

"But what a horrible affair!" I exclaimed. "The brute must have gone
out and enticed some poor devil of a negress into the house, have
murdered her in cold blood and then deliberately dressed the corpse in
his own clothes! It is perfectly frightful!"

Again Thorndyke shook his head. "It wasn't as bad as that, Jervis,"
said he, "though I must confess that I feel strongly tempted to let
your hypothesis stand. It would be quite amusing to put Mr. Bland
on trial for the murder of an unknown negress, and let him explain
the facts himself. But our reputation is at stake. Look at the bones
again and a little more critically. You very probably looked for the
sex first; then you looked for racial characters. Now carry your
investigations a step farther."

"There is the stature," said I. "But that is of no importance, as these
are not Bland's bones. The only other point that I notice is that the
fire seems to have acted very unequally on the different parts of the
body."

"Yes," agreed Thorndyke, "and that is the point. Some parts are more
burnt than others; and the parts which are burnt most are the wrong
parts. Look at the back-bone, for instance. The vertebrae are as white
as chalk. They are mere masses of bone ash. But, of all parts of the
skeleton, there is none so completely protected from fire as the
back-bone, with the great dorsal muscles behind, and the whole mass of
the viscera in front. Then look at the skull. Its appearance is quite
inconsistent with the suggested facts. The bones of the face are bare
and calcined and the orbits contain not a trace of the eyes or other
structures; and yet there is a charred mass of what may or may not be
scalp adhering to the crown. But the scalp, as the most exposed and the
thinnest covering, would be the first to be destroyed, while the last
to be consumed would be the structures about the jaws and the base, of
which, you see, not a vestige is left."

Here he lifted the skull carefully from the shell, and, peering in
through the great foramen at the base, handed it to me.

"Look in," he said, "through the Foramen Magnum--you will see better
if you hold the orbits towards the skylight--and notice an even more
extreme inconsistency with the supposed conditions. The brain and
membranes have vanished without leaving a trace. The inside of the
skull is as clean as if it had been macerated. But this is impossible.
The brain is not only protected from the fire; it is also protected
from contact with the air. But without access of oxygen, although it
might become carbonised, it could not be consumed. No, Jervis; it won't
do."

I replaced the skull in the coffin and looked at him in surprise. "What
is it that you are suggesting?" I asked.

"I suggest that this was not a body at all, but merely a dry skeleton."

"But," I objected, "what about those masses of what looks like charred
muscle adhering to the bones?"

"Yes," he replied, "I have been noticing them. They do, as you say,
look like masses of charred muscle. But they are quite shapeless and
structureless; I cannot identify a single muscle or muscular group;
and there is not a vestige of any of the tendons. Moreover, the
distribution is false. For instance, will you tell me what muscle you
think that is?"

He pointed to a thick, charred mass on the inner surface of the
left tibia or shin-bone. "Now this portion of the bone--as many a
hockey-player has had reason to realise--has no muscular covering at
all. It lies immediately under the skin."

"I think you are right, Thorndyke," said I. "That lump of muscle in
the wrong place gives the whole fraud away. But it was really a rather
smart dodge. This fellow Bland must be an ingenious rascal."

"Yes," agreed Thorndyke; "but an unscrupulous villain too. He might
have burned down half the street and killed a score of people. He'll
have to pay the piper for this little frolic."

"What shall you do now? Are you going to notify the coroner?"

"No; that is not my business. I think we will verify our conclusions
and then inform our clients and the police. We must measure the skull
as well as we can without callipers, but it is, fortunately, quite
typical. The short, broad, flat nasal bones, with the 'Simian groove,'
and those large, strong teeth, worn flat by hard and gritty food, are
highly characteristic." He once more lifted out the skull, and, with a
spring tape, made a few measurements, while I noted the lengths of the
principal long bones and the width across the hips.

"I make the cranial-nasal index 55," said he, as he replaced the skull,
"and the cranial index about 72, which are quite representative
numbers; and, as I see that your notes show the usual disproportionate
length of arm and the characteristic curve of the tibia, we may be
satisfied. But it is fortunate that the specimen is so typical. To the
experienced eye, racial types have a physiognomy which is unmistakable
on mere inspection. But you cannot transfer the experienced eye. You
can only express personal conviction and back it up with measurements.

"And now we will go and look in on Stalker, and inform him that his
office has saved three thousand pounds by employing us. After which
it will be Westward Ho! for Scotland Yard, to prepare an unpleasant
little surprise for Mr. Percival Bland."

There was joy among the journalists on the following day. Each of
the morning papers devoted an entire column to an unusually detailed
account of the inquest on the late Percival Bland--who, it appeared,
met his death by misadventure--and a verbatim report of the coroner's
eloquent remarks on the danger of solitary, fireside tippling, and
the stupefying effects of port wine. An adjacent column contained an
equally detailed account of the appearance of the deceased at Bow
Street Police Court to answer complicated charges of arson, fraud
and forgery; while a third collated the two accounts with gleeful
commentaries.

Mr. Percival Bland, alias Robert Lindsay, now resides on the breezy
uplands of Dartmoor, where, in his abundant leisure, he, no doubt,
regrets his misdirected ingenuity. But he has not laboured in vain. To
the Lord Chancellor he has furnished an admirable illustration of the
danger of appointing lay coroners; and to me an unforgettable warning
against the effects of suggestion.



ORIGINAL PREFACE TO 'JOHN THORNDYKE'S CASES'


The stories in this collection, inasmuch as they constitute a somewhat
new departure in this class of literature, require a few words of
introduction. The primary function of all fiction is to furnish
entertainment to the reader, and this fact has not been lost sight
of. But the interest of so-called 'detective' fiction is, I believe,
greatly enhanced by a careful adherence to the probable, and a strict
avoidance of physical impossibilities; and, in accordance with this
belief, I have been scrupulous in confining myself to authentic facts
and practicable methods. The stories have, for the most part, a
medico-legal motive, and the methods of solution described in them are
similar to those employed in actual practice by medical jurists. The
stories illustrate, in fact, the application to the detection of crime
of the ordinary methods of scientific research. I may add that the
experiments described have in all cases been performed by me, and that
the micro-photographs are, of course, from the actual specimens.

I take this opportunity of thanking those of my friends who have
in various ways assisted me, and especially the friend to whom I
have dedicated this book; by whom I have been relieved of the very
considerable labour of making the micro-photographs, and greatly
assisted in procuring and preparing specimens. I must also thank
Messrs. Pearson for kindly allowing me the use of Mr. H. M. Brock's
admirable and sympathetic drawings, and the artist himself for the care
with which he has maintained strict fidelity to the text.

R. A. F.

Gravesend, September 21, 1909.



THE MAN WITH THE NAILED SHOES


There are, I suppose, few places even on the East Coast of England more
lonely and remote than the village of Little Sundersley and the country
that surrounds it. Far from any railway, and some miles distant from
any considerable town, it remains an outpost of civilization, in which
primitive manners and customs and old-world tradition linger on into
an age that has elsewhere forgotten them. In the summer, it is true,
a small contingent of visitors, adventurous in spirit, though mostly
of sedate and solitary habits, make their appearance to swell its
meagre population, and impart to the wide stretches of smooth sand that
fringe its shores a fleeting air of life and sober gaiety; but in late
September--the season of the year in which I made its acquaintance--its
pasture-lands lie desolate, the rugged paths along the cliffs are
seldom trodden by human foot, and the sands are a desert waste on
which, for days together, no footprint appears save that left by some
passing sea-bird.

I had been assured by my medical agent, Mr. Turcival, that I should
find the practice of which I was now taking charge 'an exceedingly
soft billet, and suitable for a studious man;' and certainly he had
not misled me, for the patients were, in fact, so few that I was quite
concerned for my principal, and rather dull for want of work. Hence,
when my friend John Thorndyke, the well-known medico-legal expert,
proposed to come down and stay with me for a weekend and perhaps a few
days beyond, I hailed the proposal with delight, and welcomed him with
open arms.

"You certainly don't seem to be overworked, Jervis," he remarked, as
we turned out of the gate after tea, on the day of his arrival, for a
stroll on the shore. "Is this a new practice, or an old one in a state
of senile decay?"

"Why, the fact is," I answered, "there is virtually no practice.
Cooper--my principal--has been here about six years, and as he has
private means he has never made any serious effort to build one up;
and the other man, Dr. Burrows, being uncommonly keen, and the people
very conservative, Cooper has never really got his foot in. However, it
doesn't seem to trouble him."

"Well, if he is satisfied, I suppose you are," said Thorndyke, with a
smile. "You are getting a seaside holiday, and being paid for it. But I
didn't know you were as near to the sea as this."

We were entering, as he spoke, an artificial gap-way cut through the
low cliff, forming a steep cart-track down to the shore. It was locally
known as Sundersley Gap, and was used principally, when used at all, by
the farmers' carts which came down to gather seaweed after a gale.

"What a magnificent stretch of sand!" continued Thorndyke, as we
reached the bottom, and stood looking out seaward across the deserted
beach. "There is something very majestic and solemn in a great expanse
of sandy shore when the tide is out, and I know of nothing which is
capable of conveying the impression of solitude so completely. The
smooth, unbroken surface not only displays itself untenanted for the
moment, but it offers convincing testimony that it has lain thus
undisturbed through a considerable lapse of time. Here, for instance,
we have clear evidence that for several days only two pairs of feet
besides our own have trodden this gap."

"How do you arrive at the 'several days'?" I asked.

"In the simplest manner possible," he replied. "The moon is now in the
third quarter, and the tides are consequently neap-tides. You can see
quite plainly the two lines of seaweed and jetsam which indicate the
high-water marks of the spring-tides and the neap-tides respectively.
The strip of comparatively dry sand between them, over which the water
has not risen for several days, is, as you see, marked by only two sets
of footprints, and those footprints will not be completely obliterated
by the sea until the next spring-tide--nearly a week from to-day."

"Yes, I see now, and the thing appears obvious enough when one has
heard the explanation. But it is really rather odd that no one should
have passed through this gap for days, and then that four persons
should have come here within quite a short interval of one another."

"What makes you think they have done so?" Thorndyke asked.

"Well," I replied, "both of these sets of footprints appear to be quite
fresh, and to have been made about the same time."

"Not at the same time, Jervis," rejoined Thorndyke. "There is certainly
an interval of several hours between them, though precisely how many
hours we cannot judge, since there has been so little wind lately to
disturb them; but the fisherman unquestionably passed here not more
than three hours ago, and I should say probably within an hour; whereas
the other man--who seems to have come up from a boat to fetch something
of considerable weight--returned through the gap certainly not less,
and probably more, than four hours ago."

I gazed at my friend in blank astonishment, for these events befell
in the days before I had joined him as his assistant, and his special
knowledge and powers of inference were not then fully appreciated by me.

"It is clear, Thorndyke," I said, "that footprints have a very
different meaning to you from what they have for me. I don't see in the
least how you have reached any of these conclusions."

"I suppose not," was the reply; "but, you see, special knowledge of
this kind is the stock-in-trade of the medical jurist, and has to be
acquired by special study, though the present example is one of the
greatest simplicity. But let us consider it point by point; and first
we will take this set of footprints which I have inferred to be a
fisherman's. Note their enormous size. They should be the footprints
of a giant. But the length of the stride shows that they were made by
a rather short man. Then observe the massiveness of the soles, and the
fact that there are no nails in them. Note also the peculiar clumsy
tread--the deep toe and heel marks, as if the walker had wooden legs,
or fixed ankles and knees. From that character we can safely infer high
boots of thick, rigid leather, so that we can diagnose high boots,
massive and stiff, with nailless soles, and many sizes too large for
the wearer. But the only boot that answers this description is the
fisherman's thigh-boot--made of enormous size to enable him to wear
in the winter two or three pairs of thick knitted stockings, one over
the other. Now look at the other footprints; there is a double track,
you see, one set coming from the sea and one going towards it. As the
man (who was bow-legged and turned his toes in) has trodden in his
own footprints, it is obvious that he came from the sea, and returned
to it. But observe the difference in the two sets of prints; the
returning ones are much deeper than the others, and the stride much
shorter. Evidently he was carrying something when he returned, and that
something was very heavy. Moreover, we can see, by the greater depth of
the toe impressions, that he was stooping forward as he walked, and so
probably carried the weight on his back. Is that quite clear?"

"Perfectly," I replied. "But how do you arrive at the interval of time
between the visits of the two men?"

"That also is quite simple. The tide is now about halfway out; it is
thus about three hours since high water. Now, the fisherman walked just
about the neap-tide, high-water mark, sometimes above it and sometimes
below. But none of his footprints have been obliterated; therefore he
passed after high water--that is, less than three hours ago; and since
his footprints are all equally distinct, he could not have passed when
the sand was very wet. Therefore he probably passed less than an hour
ago. The other man's footprints, on the other hand, reach only to
the neap-tide, high-water mark, where they end abruptly. The sea has
washed over the remainder of the tracks and obliterated them. Therefore
he passed not less than three hours and not more than four days
ago--probably within twenty-four hours."

As Thorndyke concluded his demonstration the sound of voices was borne
to us from above, mingled with the tramping of feet, and immediately
afterwards a very singular party appeared at the head of the gap
descending towards the shore. First came a short burly fisherman
clad in oilskins and sou'-wester, clumping along awkwardly in his
great sea-boots, then the local police-sergeant in company with my
professional rival Dr. Burrows, while the rear of the procession was
brought up by two constables carrying a stretcher. As he reached the
bottom of the gap the fisherman, who was evidently acting as guide,
turned along the shore, retracing his own tracks, and the procession
followed in his wake.

"A surgeon, a stretcher, two constables, and a police-sergeant,"
observed Thorndyke. "What does that suggest to your mind, Jervis?"

"A fall from the cliff," I replied, "or a body washed up on the shore."

"Probably," he rejoined; "but we may as well walk in that direction."

We turned to follow the retreating procession, and as we strode along
the smooth surface left by the retiring tide Thorndyke resumed: "The
subject of footprints has always interested me deeply for two reasons.
First, the evidence furnished by footprints is constantly being brought
forward, and is often of cardinal importance; and, secondly, the whole
subject is capable of really systematic and scientific treatment. In
the main the data are anatomical, but age, sex, occupation, health, and
disease all give their various indications. Clearly, for instance, the
footprints of an old man will differ from those of a young man of the
same height, and I need not point out to you that those of a person
suffering from locomotor ataxia or paralysis agitans would be quite
unmistakable."

"Yes, I see that plainly enough," I said.

"Here, now," he continued, "is a case in point." He halted to point
with his stick at a row of footprints that appeared suddenly above
high-water mark, and having proceeded a short distance, crossed
the line again, and vanished where the waves had washed over them.
They were easily distinguished from any of the others by the clear
impressions of circular rubber heels.

"Do you see anything remarkable about them?" he asked.

"I notice that they are considerably deeper than our own," I answered.

"Yes, and the boots are about the same size as ours, whereas the stride
is considerably shorter--quite a short stride, in fact. Now there is a
pretty constant ratio between the length of the foot and the length of
the leg, between the length of leg and the height of the person, and
between the stature and the length of stride. A long foot means a long
leg, a tall man, and a long stride. But here we have a long foot and
a short stride. What do you make of that?" He laid down his stick--a
smooth partridge cane, one side of which was marked by small lines into
inches and feet--beside the footprints to demonstrate the discrepancy.

"The depth of the footprints shows that he was a much heavier man than
either of us," I suggested; "perhaps he was unusually fat."

"Yes," said Thorndyke, "that seems to be the explanation. The carrying
of a dead weight shortens the stride, and fat is practically a dead
weight. The conclusion is that he was about five feet ten inches high,
and excessively fat." He picked up his cane, and we resumed our walk,
keeping an eye on the procession ahead until it had disappeared round a
curve in the coast-line, when we mended our pace somewhat. Presently we
reached a small headland, and, turning the shoulder of cliff, came full
upon the party which had preceded us. The men had halted in a narrow
bay, and now stood looking down at a prostrate figure beside which the
surgeon was kneeling.

"We were wrong, you see," observed Thorndyke. "He has not fallen over
the cliff, nor has he been washed up by the sea. He is lying above
high-water mark, and those footprints that we have been examining
appear to be his."

As we approached, the sergeant turned and held up his hand.

"I'll ask you not to walk round the body just now, gentlemen," he said.
"There seems to have been foul play here, and I want to be clear about
the tracks before anyone crosses them."

Acknowledging this caution, we advanced to where the constables were
standing, and looked down with some curiosity at the dead man. He was a
tall, frail-looking man, thin to the point of emaciation, and appeared
to be about thirty-five years of age. He lay in an easy posture, with
half-closed eyes and a placid expression that contrasted strangely
enough with the tragic circumstances of his death.

"It is a clear case of murder," said Dr. Burrows, dusting the sand from
his knees as he stood up. "There is a deep knife-wound above the heart,
which must have caused death almost instantaneously."

"How long should you say he has been dead, Doctor?" asked the sergeant.

"Twelve hours at least," was the reply. "He is quite cold and stiff."

[Illustration: PLAN OF ST. BRIDGET'S BAY. + Position of body. D D
D, Tracks of Hearn's shoes. A, Top of Shepherd's Path. E, Tracks of
the nailed shoes. B, Overhanging cliff. F, Shepherd's Path ascending
shelving cliff. C, Footpath along edge of cliff.]

"Twelve hours, eh?" repeated the officer. "That would bring it to about
six o'clock this morning."

"I won't commit myself to a definite time," said Dr. Burrows hastily.
"I only say not less than twelve hours. It might have been considerably
more."

"Ah!" said the sergeant. "Well, he made a pretty good fight for his
life, to all appearances." He nodded at the sand, which for some feet
around the body bore the deeply indented marks of feet, as though a
furious struggle had taken place. "It's a mighty queer affair," pursued
the sergeant, addressing Dr. Burrows. "There seems to have been only
one man in it--there is only one set of footprints besides those of the
deceased--and we've got to find out who he is; and I reckon there won't
be much trouble about that, seeing the kind of trade-marks he has left
behind him."

"No," agreed the surgeon; "there ought not to be much trouble in
identifying those boots. He would seem to be a labourer, judging by the
hob-nails."

"No, sir; not a labourer," dissented the sergeant. "The foot is too
small, for one thing; and then the nails are not regular hob-nails.
They're a good deal smaller; and a labourer's boots would have the
nails all round the edges, and there would be iron tips on the heels,
and probably on the toes too. Now these have got no tips, and the nails
are arranged in a pattern on the soles and heels. They are probably
shooting-boots or sporting shoes of some kind." He strode to and fro
with his notebook in his hand, writing down hasty memoranda, and
stooping to scrutinize the impressions in the sand. The surgeon also
busied himself in noting down the facts concerning which he would have
to give evidence, while Thorndyke regarded in silence and with an air
of intense preoccupation the footprints around the body which remained
to testify to the circumstances of the crime.

"It is pretty clear, up to a certain point," the sergeant observed, as
he concluded his investigations, "how the affair happened, and it is
pretty clear, too, that the murder was premeditated. You see, Doctor,
the deceased gentleman, Mr. Hearn, was apparently walking home from
Port Marston; we saw his footprints along the shore--those rubber heels
make them easy to identify--and he didn't go down Sundersley Gap. He
probably meant to climb up the cliff by that little track that you see
there, which the people about here call the Shepherd's Path. Now the
murderer must have known that he was coming, and waited upon the cliff
to keep a lookout. When he saw Mr. Hearn enter the bay, he came down
the path and attacked him, and, after a tough struggle, succeeded in
stabbing him. Then he turned and went back up the path. You can see the
double track between the path and the place where the struggle took
place, and the footprints going to the path are on top of those coming
from it."

"If you follow the tracks," said Dr. Burrows, "you ought to be able to
see where the murderer went to."

"I'm afraid not," replied the sergeant. "There are no marks on the path
itself--the rock is too hard, and so is the ground above, I fear. But
I'll go over it carefully all the same."

The investigations being so far concluded, the body was lifted on to
the stretcher, and the cortege, consisting of the bearers, the Doctor,
and the fisherman, moved off towards the Gap, while the sergeant,
having civilly wished us "Good-evening," scrambled up the Shepherd's
Path, and vanished above.

"A very smart officer that," said Thorndyke. "I should like to know
what he wrote in his notebook."

"His account of the circumstances of the murder seemed a very
reasonable one," I said.

"Very. He noted the plain and essential facts, and drew the natural
conclusions from them. But there are some very singular features in
this case; so singular that I am disposed to make a few notes for my
own information."

He stooped over the place where the body had lain, and having narrowly
examined the sand there and in the place where the dead man's feet had
rested, drew out his notebook and made a memorandum. He next made a
rapid sketch-plan of the bay, marking the position of the body and the
various impressions in the sand, and then, following the double track
leading from and to the Shepherd's Path, scrutinized the footprints
with the deepest attention, making copious notes and sketches in his
book.

"We may as well go up by the Shepherd's Path," said Thorndyke. "I think
we are equal to the climb, and there may be visible traces of the
murderer after all. The rock is only a sandstone, and not a very hard
one either."

We approached the foot of the little rugged track which zigzagged up
the face of the cliff, and, stooping down among the stiff, dry herbage,
examined the surface. Here, at the bottom of the path, where the rock
was softened by the weather, there were several distinct impressions
on the crumbling surface of the murderer's nailed boots, though they
were somewhat confused by the tracks of the sergeant, whose boots
were heavily nailed. But as we ascended the marks became rather less
distinct, and at quite a short distance from the foot of the cliff we
lost them altogether, though we had no difficulty in following the more
recent traces of the sergeant's passage up the path.

When we reached the top of the cliff we paused to scan the path that
ran along its edge, but here, too, although the sergeant's heavy boots
had left quite visible impressions on the ground, there were no signs
of any other feet. At a little distance the sagacious officer himself
was pursuing his investigations, walking backwards and forwards with
his body bent double, and his eyes fixed on the ground.

"Not a trace of him anywhere," said he, straightening himself up as we
approached. "I was afraid there wouldn't be after all this dry weather.
I shall have to try a different tack. This is a small place, and if
those boots belong to anyone living here they'll be sure to be known."

"The deceased gentleman--Mr. Hearn, I think you called him," said
Thorndyke as we turned towards the village--"is he a native of the
locality?"

"Oh no, sir," replied the officer. "He is almost a stranger. He has
only been here about three weeks; but, you know, in a little place
like this a man soon gets to be known--and his business, too, for that
matter," he added, with a smile.

"What was his business, then?" asked Thorndyke.

"Pleasure, I believe. He was down here for a holiday, though it's a
good way past the season; but, then, he had a friend living here, and
that makes a difference. Mr. Draper up at the Poplars was an old friend
of his, I understand. I am going to call on him now."

We walked on along the footpath that led towards the village, but had
only proceeded two or three hundred yards when a loud hail drew our
attention to a man running across a field towards us from the direction
of the cliff.

"Why, here is Mr. Draper himself," exclaimed the sergeant, stopping
short and waving his hand. "I expect he has heard the news already."

Thorndyke and I also halted, and with some curiosity watched the
approach of this new party to the tragedy. As the stranger drew near we
saw that he was a tall, athletic-looking man of about forty, dressed in
a Norfolk knickerbocker suit, and having the appearance of an ordinary
country gentleman, excepting that he carried in his hand, in place of a
walking-stick, the staff of a butterfly-net, the folding ring and bag
of which partly projected from his pocket.

"Is it true, Sergeant?" he exclaimed as he came up to us, panting from
his exertions. "About Mr. Hearn, I mean. There is a rumour that he has
been found dead on the beach."

"It's quite true, sir, I am sorry to say; and, what is worse, he has
been murdered."

"My God! you don't say so!"

He turned towards us a face that must ordinarily have been jovial
enough, but was now white and scared and, after a brief pause, he
exclaimed:

"Murdered! Good God! Poor old Hearn! How did it happen, Sergeant? and
when? and is there any clue to the murderer?"

"We can't say for certain when it happened," replied the sergeant, "and
as to the question of clues, I was just coming up to call on you."

"On me!" exclaimed Draper, with a startled glance at the officer. "What
for?"

"Well, we should like to know something about Mr. Hearn--who he was,
and whether he had any enemies, and so forth; anything, in fact, that
would give as a hint where to look for the murderer. And you are the
only person in the place who knew him at all intimately."

Mr Draper's pallid face turned a shade paler, and he glanced about him
with an obviously embarrassed air.

"I'm afraid." he began in a hesitating manner, "I'm afraid I shan't be
able to help you much. I didn't know much about his affairs. You see he
was--well--only a casual acquaintance--"

"Well," interrupted the sergeant, "you can tell us who and what he was,
and where he lived, and so forth. We'll find out the rest if you give
us the start."

"I see," said Draper. "Yes, I expect you will." His eyes glanced
restlessly to and fro, and he added presently: "You must come up
to-morrow, and have a talk with me about him, and I'll see what I can
remember."

"I'd rather come this evening," said the sergeant firmly.

"Not this evening," pleaded Draper. "I'm feeling rather--this affair,
you know, has upset me. I couldn't give proper attention--"

His sentence petered out into a hesitating mumble, and the officer
looked at him in evident surprise at his nervous, embarrassed manner.
His own attitude, however, was perfectly firm, though polite.

"I don't like pressing you, sir," said he, "but time is precious--we'll
have to go single file here; this pond is a public nuisance. They ought
to bank it up at this end. After you, sir."

The pond to which the sergeant alluded had evidently extended at one
time right across the path, but now, thanks to the dry weather, a
narrow isthmus of half-dried mud traversed the morass, and along this
Mr. Draper proceeded to pick his way. The sergeant was about to follow,
when suddenly he stopped short with his eyes riveted upon the muddy
track. A single glance showed me the cause of his surprise, for on the
stiff, putty-like surface, standing out with the sharp distinctness of
a wax mould, were the fresh footprints of the man who had just passed,
each footprint displaying on its sole the impression of stud-nails
arranged in a diamond-shaped pattern, and on its heel a group of
similar nails arranged in a cross.

The sergeant hesitated for only a moment, in which he turned a quick
startled glance upon us; then he followed, walking gingerly along
the edge of the path as if to avoid treading in his predecessor's
footprints. Instinctively we did the same, following closely, and
anxiously awaiting the next development of the tragedy. For a minute or
two we all proceeded in silence, the sergeant being evidently at a loss
how to act, and Mr. Draper busy with his own thoughts. At length the
former spoke.

"You think, Mr. Draper, you would rather that I looked in on you
to-morrow about this affair?"

"Much rather, if you wouldn't mind," was the eager reply.

"Then, in that case," said the sergeant, looking at his watch, "as I've
got a good deal to see to this evening, I'll leave you here, and make
my way to the station."

With a farewell flourish of his hand he climbed over a stile, and when,
a few moments later, I caught a glimpse of him through an opening in
the hedge, he was running across the meadow like a hare.

The departure of the police-officer was apparently a great relief to
Mr. Draper, who at once fell back and began to talk with us.

"You are Dr. Jervis, I think," said he. "I saw you coming out of Dr.
Cooper's house yesterday. We know everything that is happening in the
village, you see." He laughed nervously, and added: "But I don't know
your friend."

I introduced Thorndyke, at the mention of whose name our new
acquaintance knitted his brows, and glanced inquisitively at my friend.

"Thorndyke," he repeated; "the name seems familiar to me. Are you in
the Law, sir?"

Thorndyke admitted the impeachment, and our companion, having again
bestowed on him a look full of curiosity, continued: "This horrible
affair will interest you, no doubt, from a professional point of view.
You were present when my poor friend's body was found, I think?"

"No," replied Thorndyke; "we came up afterwards, when they were
removing it."

Our companion then proceeded to question as about the murder, but
received from Thorndyke only the most general and ambiguous replies.
Nor was there time to go into the matter at length, for the footpath
presently emerged on to the road close to Mr. Draper's house.

"You will excuse my not asking you in to-night," said he, "but you will
understand that I am not in much form for visitors just now."

We assured him that we fully understood, and, having wished him
"Good-evening," pursued our way towards the village.

"The sergeant is off to get a warrant, I suppose," I observed.

"Yes; and mighty anxious lest his man should be off before he can
execute it. But he is fishing in deeper waters than he thinks, Jervis.
This is a very singular and complicated case; one of the strangest, in
fact, that I have ever met. I shall follow its development with deep
interest."

"The sergeant seems pretty cocksure, all the same," I said.

"He is not to blame for that," replied Thorndyke. "He is acting on
the obvious appearances, which is the proper thing to do in the first
place. Perhaps his notebook contains more than I think it does. But we
shall see."

When we entered the village I stopped to settle some business with the
chemist, who acted as Dr. Cooper's dispenser, suggesting to Thorndyke
that he should walk on to the house; but when I emerged from the
shop some ten minutes later he was waiting outside, with a smallish
brown-paper parcel under each arm. Of one of these parcels I insisted
on relieving him, in spite of his protests, but when he at length
handed it to me its weight completely took me by surprise.

"I should have let them send this home on a barrow," I remarked.

"So I should have done," he replied, "only I did not wish to draw
attention to my purchase, or give my address."

Accepting this hint I refrained from making any inquiries as to the
nature of the contents (although I must confess to considerable
curiosity on the subject), and on arriving home I assisted him to
deposit the two mysterious parcels in his room.

When I came downstairs a disagreeable surprise awaited me. Hitherto
the long evenings had been spent by me in solitary and undisturbed
enjoyment of Dr. Cooper's excellent library, but to-night a perverse
fate decreed that I must wander abroad, because, forsooth, a
preposterous farmer, who resided in a hamlet five miles distant, had
chosen the evening of my guest's arrival to dislocate his bucolic
elbow. I half hoped that Thorndyke would offer to accompany me, but he
made no such suggestion, and in fact seemed by no means afflicted at
the prospect of my absence.

"I have plenty to occupy me while you are away," he said cheerfully;
and with this assurance to comfort me I mounted my bicycle and rode off
somewhat sulkily along the dark road.

My visit occupied in all a trifle under two hours, and when I reached
home, ravenously hungry and heated by my ride, half-past nine had
struck, and the village had begun to settle down for the night.

"Sergeant Payne is a-waiting in the surgery, sir," the housemaid
announced as I entered the hall.

"Confound Sergeant Payne!" I exclaimed. "Is Dr. Thorndyke with him?"

"No, sir," replied the grinning damsel. "Dr. Thorndyke is hout."

"Hout!" I repeated (my surprise leading to unintentional mimicry).

"Yes, sir. He went hout soon after you, sir, on his bicycle. He had a
basket strapped on to it--leastways a hamper--and he borrowed a basin
and a kitchen-spoon from the cook."

I stared at the girl in astonishment. The ways of John Thorndyke were,
indeed, beyond all understanding.

"Well, let me have some dinner or supper at once," I said, "and I will
see what the sergeant wants."

The officer rose as I entered the surgery, and, laying his helmet on
the table, approached me with an air of secrecy and importance.

"Well, sir," said he, "the fat's in the fire. I've arrested Mr. Draper,
and I've got him locked up in the court-house. But I wish it had been
someone else."

"So does he, I expect," I remarked.

"You see, sir," continued the sergeant, "we all like Mr. Draper. He's
been among us a matter of seven years, and he's like one of ourselves.
However, what I've come about is this; it seems the gentleman who was
with you this evening is Dr. Thorndyke, the great expert. Now Mr.
Draper seems to have heard about him, as most of us have, and he is
very anxious for him to take up the defence. Do you think he would
consent?"

"I expect so," I answered, remembering Thorndyke's keen interest in the
case; "but I will ask him when he comes in."

"Thank you, sir," said the sergeant. "And perhaps you wouldn't mind
stepping round to the court-house presently yourself. He looks uncommon
queer, does Mr. Draper, and no wonder, so I'd like you to take a look
at him, and if you could bring Dr. Thorndyke with you, he'd like it,
and so should I, for, I assure you, sir, that although a conviction
would mean a step up the ladder for me, I'd be glad enough to find that
I'd made a mistake."

I was just showing my visitor out when a bicycle swept in through the
open gate, and Thorndyke dismounted at the door, revealing a square
hamper--evidently abstracted from the surgery--strapped on to a carrier
at the back. I conveyed the sergeant's request to him at once, and
asked if he was willing to take up the case.

"As to taking up the defence," he replied, "I will consider the matter;
but in any case I will come up and see the prisoner."

With this the sergeant departed, and Thorndyke, having unstrapped the
hamper with as much care as if it contained a collection of priceless
porcelain, bore it tenderly up to his bedroom; whence he appeared,
after a considerable interval, smilingly apologetic for the delay.

"I thought you were dressing for dinner," I grumbled as he took his
seat at the table.

"No," he replied. "I have been considering this murder. Really it is a
most singular case, and promises to be uncommonly complicated, too."

"Then I assume that you will undertake the defence?"

"I shall if Draper gives a reasonably straightforward account of
himself."

It appeared that this condition was likely to be fulfilled, for when
we arrived at the court-house (where the prisoner was accommodated in
a spare office, under rather free-and-easy conditions considering the
nature of the charge) we found Mr. Draper in an eminently communicative
frame of mind.

"I want you, Dr. Thorndyke, to undertake my defence in this terrible
affair, because I feel confident that you will be able to clear me. And
I promise you that there shall be no reservation or concealment on my
part of anything that you ought to know."

"Very well," said Thorndyke. "By the way, I see you have changed your
shoes."

"Yes, the sergeant took possession of those I was wearing. He said
something about comparing them with some footprints, but there can't be
any footprints like those shoes here in Sundersley. The nails are fixed
in the soles in quite a peculiar pattern. I had them made in Edinburgh."

"Have you more than one pair?"

"No. I have no other nailed boots."

"That is important," said Thorndyke. "And now I judge that you have
something to tell us that bears on this crime. Am I right?"

"Yes. There is something that I am afraid it is necessary for you to
know, although it is very painful to me to revive memories of my past
that I had hoped were buried for ever. But perhaps, after all, it may
not be necessary for these confidences to be revealed to anyone but
yourself."

"I hope not," said Thorndyke; "and if it is not necessary you may rely
upon me not to allow any of your secrets to leak out. But you are wise
to tell me everything that may in any way bear upon the case."

At this juncture, seeing that confidential matters were about to be
discussed, I rose and prepared to withdraw; but Draper waved me back
into my chair.

"You need not go away, Dr. Jervis," he said. "It is through you that I
have the benefit of Dr. Thorndyke's help, and I know that you doctors
can be trusted to keep your own counsel and your clients' secrets. And
now for some confessions of mine. In the first place, it is my painful
duty to tell you that I am a discharged convict--an 'old lag,' as the
cant phrase has it."

He coloured a dusky red as he made this statement, and glanced
furtively at Thorndyke to observe its effect. But he might as well
have looked at a wooden figure-head or a stone mask as at my friend's
immovable visage; and when his communication had been acknowledged by a
slight nod, he proceeded:

"The history of my wrong-doing is the history of hundreds of others.
I was a clerk in a bank, and getting on as well as I could expect in
that not very progressive avocation, when I had the misfortune to make
four very undesirable acquaintances. They were all young men, though
rather older than myself, and were close friends, forming a sort of
little community or club. They were not what is usually described as
'fast.' They were quite sober and decently-behaved young follows, but
they were very decidedly addicted to gambling in a small way, and they
soon infected me. Before long I was the keenest gambler of them all.
Cards, billiards, pool, and various forms of betting began to be the
chief pleasures of my life, and not only was the bulk of my scanty
salary often consumed in the inevitable losses, but presently I found
myself considerably in debt, without any visible means of discharging
my liabilities. It is true that my four friends were my chief--in fact,
almost my only--creditors, but still, the debts existed, and had to be
paid.

"Now these four friends of mine--named respectively Leach, Pitford,
Hearn, and Jezzard--were uncommonly clever men, though the full extent
of their cleverness was not appreciated by me until too late. And I,
too, was clever in my way, and a most undesirable way it was, for
I possessed the fatal gift of imitating handwriting and signatures
with the most remarkable accuracy. So perfect were my copies that the
writers themselves were frequently unable to distinguish their own
signatures from my imitations, and many a time was my skill invoked by
some of my companions to play off practical jokes upon the others. But
these jests were strictly confined to our own little set, for my four
friends were most careful and anxious that my dangerous accomplishment
should not become known to outsiders.

"And now follows the consequence which you have no doubt foreseen.
My debts, though small, were accumulating, and I saw no prospect of
being able to pay them. Then, one night, Jezzard made a proposition.
We had been playing bridge at his rooms, and once more my ill luck had
caused me to increase my debt. I scribbled out an IOU, and pushed it
across the table to Jezzard, who picked it up with a very wry face, and
pocketed it.

"'Look here, Ted,' he said presently, 'this paper is all very well,
but, you know, I can't pay my debts with it. My creditors demand hard
cash.'

"'I'm very sorry,' I replied, 'but I can't help it.'

"'Yes, you can,' said he, 'and I'll tell you how.' He then propounded
a scheme which I at first rejected with indignation, but which, when
the others backed him up, I at last allowed myself to be talked into,
and actually put into execution. I contrived, by taking advantage of
the carelessness of some of my superiors at the bank, to get possession
of some blank cheque forms, which I filled up with small amounts--not
more than two or three pounds--and signed with careful imitations of
the signatures of some of our clients. Jezzard got some stamps made for
stamping on the account numbers, and when this had been done I handed
over to him the whole collection of forged cheques in settlement of my
debts to all of my four companions.

"The cheques were duly presented--by whom I do not know; and although,
to my dismay, the modest sums for which I had drawn them had been
skilfully altered into quite considerable amounts, they were all
paid without demur excepting one. That one, which had been altered
from three pounds to thirty-nine, was drawn upon an account which
was already slightly overdrawn. The cashier became suspicious; the
cheque was impounded, and the client communicated with. Then, of
course, the mine exploded. Not only was this particular forgery
detected, but inquiries were set afoot which soon brought to light
the others. Presently circumstances, which I need not describe, threw
some suspicion on me. I at once lost my nerve, and finally made a full
confession.

"The inevitable prosecution followed. It was not conducted
vindictively. Still, I had actually committed the forgeries, and though
I endeavoured to cast a part of the blame on to the shoulders of my
treacherous confederates, I did not succeed. Jezzard, it is true, was
arrested, but was discharged for lack of evidence, and, consequently,
the whole burden of the forgery fell upon me. The jury, of course,
convicted me, and I was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude.

"During the time that I was in prison an uncle of mine died in Canada,
and by the provisions of his will I inherited the whole of his very
considerable property, so that when the time arrived for my release, I
came out of prison, not only free, but comparatively rich. I at once
dropped my own name, and, assuming that of Alfred Draper, began to look
about for some quiet spot in which I might spend the rest of my days in
peace, and with little chance of my identity being discovered. Such a
place I found in Sundersley, and here I have lived for the last seven
years, liked and respected, I think, by my neighbours, who have little
suspected that they were harbouring in their midst a convicted felon.

"All this time I had neither seen nor heard anything of my four
confederates, and I hoped and believed that they had passed completely
out of my life. But they had not. Only a month ago I met them once
more, to my sorrow, and from the day of that meeting all the peace
and security of my quiet existence at Sundersley have vanished. Like
evil spirits they have stolen into my life, changing my happiness into
bitter misery, filling my days with dark forebodings and my nights with
terror."

Here Mr. Draper paused, and seemed to sink into a gloomy reverie.

"Under what circumstances did you meet these men?" Thorndyke asked.

"Ah!" exclaimed Draper, arousing with sudden excitement, "the
circumstances were very singular and suspicious. I had gone over to
Eastwich for the day to do some shopping. About eleven o'clock in the
forenoon I was making some purchases in a shop when I noticed two men
looking in the window, or rather pretending to do so, whilst they
conversed earnestly. They were smartly dressed, in a horsy fashion,
and looked like well-to-do farmers, as they might very naturally have
been since it was market-day. But it seemed to me that their faces were
familiar to me. I looked at them more attentively, and then it suddenly
dawned upon me, most unpleasantly, that they resembled Leach and
Jezzard. And yet they were not quite like. The resemblance was there,
but the differences were greater than the lapse of time would account
for. Moreover, the man who resembled Jezzard had a rather large mole on
the left cheek just under the eye, while the other man had an eyeglass
stuck in one eye, and wore a waxed moustache, whereas Leach had always
been clean-shaven, and had never used an eyeglass.

"As I was speculating upon the resemblance they looked up, and caught
my intent and inquisitive eye, whereupon they moved away from the
window; and when, having completed my purchases, I came out into the
street, they were nowhere to be seen.

"That evening, as I was walking by the river outside the town before
returning to the station, I overtook a yacht which was being towed
down-stream. Three men were walking ahead on the bank with a long
tow-line, and one man stood in the cockpit steering. As I approached,
and was reading the name Otter on the stern, the man at the helm looked
round, and with a start of surprise I recognized my old acquaintance
Hearn. The recognition, however, was not mutual, for I had grown a
beard in the interval, and I passed on without appearing to notice
him; but when I overtook the other three men, and recognized, as I had
feared, the other three members of the gang, I must have looked rather
hard at Jezzard, for he suddenly halted, and exclaimed: 'Why, it's our
old friend Ted! Our long-lost and lamented brother!' He held out his
hand with effusive cordiality, and began to make inquiries as to my
welfare; but I cut him short with the remark that I was not proposing
to renew the acquaintance, and, turning off on to a footpath that led
away from the river, strode off without looking back.

"Naturally this meeting exercised my mind a good deal, and when
I thought of the two men whom I had seen in the town, I could
hardly believe that their likeness to my quondam friends was a mere
coincidence. And yet when I had met Leach and Jezzard by the river,
I had found them little altered, and had particularly noticed that
Jezzard had no mole on his face, and that Leach was clean-shaven as of
old.

"But a day or two later all my doubts were resolved by a paragraph in
the local paper. It appeared that on the day of my visit to Eastwich a
number of forged cheques had been cashed at the three banks. They had
been presented by three well-dressed, horsy-looking men who looked like
well-to-do farmers. One of them had a mole on the left cheek, another
was distinguished by a waxed moustache and a single eyeglass, while
the description of the third I did not recognize. None of the cheques
had been drawn for large amounts, though the total sum obtained by
the forgers was nearly four hundred pounds; but the most interesting
point was that the cheque-forms had been manufactured by photographic
process, and the water-mark skilfully, though not quite perfectly,
imitated. Evidently the swindlers were clever and careful men, and
willing to take a good deal of trouble for the sake of security, and
the result of their precautions was that the police could make no guess
as to their identity.

"The very next day, happening to walk over to Port Marston, I came upon
the Otter lying moored alongside the quay in the harbour. As soon as I
recognized the yacht, I turned quickly and walked away, but a minute
later I ran into Leach and Jezzard, who were returning to their craft.
Jezzard greeted me with an air of surprise. 'What! Still hanging about
here, Ted--' he exclaimed. 'That is not discreet of you, dear boy. I
should earnestly advise you to clear out.'

"'What do you mean--' I asked.

"'Tut, tut!' said he. 'We read the papers like other people, and we
know now what business took you to Eastwich. But it's foolish of you to
hang about the neighbourhood where you might be spotted at any moment.'

"The implied accusation took me aback so completely that I stood
staring at him in speechless astonishment, and at that unlucky moment a
tradesman, from whom I had ordered some house-linen, passed along the
quay. Seeing me, he stopped and touched his hat.

"'Beg pardon, Mr. Draper,' said he, 'but I shall be sending my cart up
to Sundersley to-morrow morning if that will do for you.'

"I said that it would, and as the man turned away, Jezzard's face broke
out into a cunning smile.

"So you are Mr. Draper, of Sundersley, now, are you--' said he. 'Well,
I hope you won't be too proud to come and look in on your old friends.
We shall be staying here for some time.'

"That same night Hearn made his appearance at my house. He had come
as an emissary from the gang, to ask me to do some work for them--to
execute some forgeries, in fact. Of course I refused, and pretty
bluntly, too, whereupon Hearn began to throw out vague hints as to
what might happen if I made enemies of the gang, and to utter veiled,
but quite intelligible, threats. You will say that I was an idiot
not to send him packing, and threaten to hand over the whole gang to
the police; but I was never a man of strong nerve, and I don't mind
admitting that I was mortally afraid of that cunning devil, Jezzard.

"The next thing that happened was that Hearn came and took lodgings
in Sundersley, and, in spite of my efforts to avoid him, he haunted
me continually. The yacht, too, had evidently settled down for some
time at a berth in the harbour, for I heard that a local smack-boy had
been engaged as a deck-hand; and I frequently encountered Jezzard and
the other members of the gang, who all professed to believe that I had
committed the Eastwich forgeries. One day I was foolish enough to allow
myself to be lured on to the yacht for a few minutes, and when I would
have gone ashore, I found that the shore ropes had been cast off, and
that the vessel was already moving out of the harbour. At first I was
furious, but the three scoundrels were so jovial and good-natured,
and so delighted with the joke of taking me for a sail against my
will, that I presently cooled down, and having changed into a pair of
rubber-soled shoes (so that I should not make dents in the smooth deck
with my hobnails), bore a hand at sailing the yacht, and spent quite a
pleasant day.

"From that time I found myself gradually drifting back into a state
of intimacy with these agreeable scoundrels, and daily becoming more
and more afraid of them. In a moment of imbecility I mentioned what I
had seen from the shop-window at Eastwich, and, though they passed the
matter off with a joke, I could see that they were mightily disturbed
by it. Their efforts to induce me to join them were redoubled, and
Hearn took to calling almost daily at my house--usually with documents
and signatures which he tried to persuade me to copy.

"A few evenings ago he made a new and startling proposition. We were
walking in my garden, and he had been urging me once more to rejoin the
gang--unsuccessfully, I need not say. Presently he sat down on a seat
against a yew-hedge at the bottom of the garden, and, after an interval
of silence, said suddenly:

"'Then you absolutely refuse to go in with us--'

"'Of course I do,' I replied. 'Why should I mix myself up with a gang
of crooks when I have ample means and a decent position--'

"'Of course,' he agreed, 'you'd be a fool if you did. But, you see, you
know all about this Eastwich job, to say nothing of our other little
exploits, and you gave us away once before. Consequently, you can take
it from me that, now Jezzard has run you to earth, he won't leave you
in peace until you have given us some kind of a hold on you. You know
too much, you see, and as long as you have a clean sheet you are a
standing menace to us. That is the position. You know it, and Jezzard
knows it, and he is a desperate man, and as cunning as the devil.'

"'I know that,' I said gloomily.

"'Very well,' continued Hearn. 'Now I'm going to make you an offer.
Promise me a small annuity--you can easily afford it--or pay me a
substantial sum down, and I will set you free for ever from Jezzard and
the others.'

"'How will you do that--' I asked.

"'Very simply,' he replied. 'I am sick of them all, and sick of this
risky, uncertain mode of life. Now I am ready to clean off my own
slate and set you free at the same time; but I must have some means of
livelihood in view.'

"'You mean that you will turn King's evidence--' I asked.

"'Yes, if you will pay me a couple of hundred a year, or, say, two
thousand down on the conviction of the gang.'

"I was so taken aback that for some time I made no reply, and as I sat
considering this amazing proposition, the silence was suddenly broken
by a suppressed sneeze from the other side of the hedge.

"Hearn and I started to our feet. Immediately hurried footsteps were
heard in the lane outside the hedge. We raced up the garden to the
gate and out through a side alley, but when we reached the lane there
was not a soul in sight. We made a brief and fruitless search in the
immediate neighbourhood, and then turned back to the house. Hearn was
deathly pale and very agitated, and I must confess that I was a good
deal upset by the incident.

"'This is devilish awkward,' said Hearn.

"'It is rather,' I admitted; 'but I expect it was only some inquisitive
yokel.'

"'I don't feel so sure of that,' said he. 'At any rate, we were stark
lunatics to sit up against a hedge to talk secrets.'

"He paced the garden with me for some time in gloomy silence, and
presently, after a brief request that I would think over his proposal,
took himself off.

"I did not see him again until I met him last night on the yacht.
Pitford called on me in the morning, and invited me to come and dine
with them. I at first declined, for my housekeeper was going to spend
the evening with her sister at Eastwich, and stay there for the night,
and I did not much like leaving the house empty. However, I agreed
eventually, stipulating that I should be allowed to come home early,
and I accordingly went. Hearn and Pitford were waiting in the boat by
the steps--for the yacht had been moved out to a buoy--and we went
on board and spent a very pleasant and lively evening. Pitford put
me ashore at ten o'clock, and I walked straight home, and went to
bed. Hearn would have come with me, but the others insisted on his
remaining, saying that they had some matters of business to discuss."

"Which way did you walk home?" asked Thorndyke.

"I came through the town, and along the main road."

"And that is all you know about this affair?"

"Absolutely all," replied Draper. "I have now admitted you to secrets
of my past life that I had hoped never to have to reveal to any human
creature, and I still have some faint hope that it may not be necessary
for you to divulge what I have told you."

"Your secrets shall not be revealed unless it is absolutely
indispensable that they should be," said Thorndyke; "but you are
placing your life in my hands, and you must leave me perfectly free to
act as I think best."

With this he gathered his notes together, and we took our departure.

"A very singular history, this, Jervis," he said, when, having wished
the sergeant "Good-night," we stepped out on to the dark road. "What do
you think of it?"

"I hardly know what to think," I answered, "but, on the whole, it seems
rather against Draper than otherwise. He admits that he is an old
criminal, and it appears that he was being persecuted and blackmailed
by the man Hearn. It is true that he represents Jezzard as being the
leading spirit and prime mover in the persecution, but we have only
his word for that. Hearn was in lodgings near him, and was undoubtedly
taking the most active part in the business, and it is quite possible,
and indeed probable, that Hearn was the actual deus ex machina."

Thorndyke nodded. "Yes," he said, "that is certainly the line the
prosecution will take if we allow the story to become known. Ha! what
is this? We are going to have some rain."

"Yes, and wind too. We are in for an autumn gale, I think."

"And that," said Thorndyke, "may turn out to be an important factor in
our case."

"How can the weather affect your case?" I asked in some surprise. But,
as the rain suddenly descended in a pelting shower, my companion broke
into a run, leaving my question unanswered.

On the following morning, which was fair and sunny after the stormy
night, Dr. Burrows called for my friend. He was on his way to the
extemporized mortuary to make the post-mortem examination of the
murdered man's body. Thorndyke, having notified the coroner that he
was watching the case on behalf of the accused, had been authorized to
be present at the autopsy; but the authorization did not include me,
and, as Dr. Burrows did not issue any invitation, I was not able to be
present. I met them, however, as they were returning, and it seemed to
me that Dr. Burrows appeared a little huffy.

"Your friend," said he, in a rather injured tone, "is really the most
outrageous stickler for forms and ceremonies that I have ever met."

Thorndyke looked at him with an amused twinkle, and chuckled
indulgently.

"Here was a body," Dr. Burrows continued irritably, "found under
circumstances clearly indicative of murder, and bearing a knife-wound
that nearly divided the arch of the aorta; in spite of which, I assure
you that Dr. Thorndyke insisted on weighing the body, and examining
every organ--lungs, liver, stomach, and brain--yes, actually the
brain!--as if there had been no clue whatever to the cause of death.
And then, as a climax, he insisted on sending the contents of the
stomach in a jar, sealed with our respective seals, in charge of a
special messenger, to Professor Copland, for analysis and report.
I thought he was going to demand an examination for the tubercle
bacillus, but he didn't; which," concluded Dr. Burrows, suddenly
becoming sourly facetious, "was an oversight, for, after all, the
fellow may have died of consumption."

Thorndyke chuckled again, and I murmured that the precautions appeared
to have been somewhat excessive.

"Not at all," was the smiling response. "You are losing sight of our
function. We are the expert and impartial umpires, and it is our
business to ascertain, with scientific accuracy, the cause of death.
The prima facie appearances in this case suggest that the deceased was
murdered by Draper, and that is the hypothesis advanced. But that is
no concern of ours. It is not our function to confirm an hypothesis
suggested by outside circumstances, but rather, on the contrary, to
make certain that no other explanation is possible. And that is my
invariable practice. No matter how glaringly obvious the appearances
may be, I refuse to take anything for granted."

Dr. Burrows received this statement with a grunt of dissent, but the
arrival of his dogcart put a stop to further discussion.

Thorndyke was not subpoenaed for the inquest. Dr. Burrows and the
sergeant having been present immediately after the finding of the body,
his evidence was not considered necessary, and, moreover, he was known
to be watching the case in the interests of the accused. Like myself,
therefore, he was present as a spectator, but as a highly interested
one, for he took very complete shorthand notes of the whole of the
evidence and the coroner's comments.

I shall not describe the proceedings in detail. The jury, having been
taken to view the body, trooped into the room on tiptoe, looking pale
and awe-stricken, and took their seats; and thereafter, from time to
time, directed glances of furtive curiosity at Draper as he stood,
pallid and haggard, confronting the court, with a burly rural constable
on either side.

The medical evidence was taken first. Dr. Burrows, having been sworn,
began, with sarcastic emphasis, to describe the condition of the lungs
and liver, until he was interrupted by the coroner.

"Is all this necessary?" the latter inquired. "I mean, is it material
to the subject of the inquiry?"

"I should say not," replied Dr. Burrows. "It appears to me to be
quite irrelevant, but Dr. Thorndyke, who is watching the case for the
defence, thought it necessary."

"I think," said the coroner, "you had better give us only the facts
that are material. The jury want you to tell them what you consider to
have been the cause of death. They don't want a lecture on pathology."

"The cause of death," said Dr. Burrows, "was a penetrating wound of
the chest, apparently inflicted with a large knife. The weapon entered
between the second and third ribs on the left side close to the sternum
or breast-bone. It wounded the left lung, and partially divided both
the pulmonary artery and the aorta--the two principal arteries of the
body."

"Was this injury alone sufficient to cause death?" the coroner asked.

"Yes," was the reply; "and death from injury to these great vessels
would be practically instantaneous."

"Could the injury have been self-inflicted?"

"So far as the position and nature of the wound are concerned," replied
the witness, "self-infliction would be quite possible. But since death
would follow in a few seconds at the most, the weapon would be found
either in the wound, or grasped in the hand, or, at least, quite close
to the body. But in this case no weapon was found at all, and the wound
must therefore certainly have been homicidal."

"Did you see the body before it was moved?"

"Yes. It was lying on its back, with the arms extended and the legs
nearly straight; and the sand in the neighbourhood of the body was
trampled as if a furious struggle had taken place."

"Did you notice anything remarkable about the footprints in the sand?"

"I did," replied Dr. Burrows. "They were the footprints of two persons
only. One of these was evidently the deceased, whose footmarks could be
easily identified by the circular rubber heels. The other footprints
were those of a person--apparently a man--who wore shoes, or boots, the
soles of which were studded with nails; and these nails were arranged
in a very peculiar and unusual manner, for those on the soles formed
a lozenge or diamond shape, and those on the heel were set out in the
form of a cross."

"Have you ever seen shoes or boots with the nails arranged in this
manner?"

"Yes. I have seen a pair of shoes which I am informed belong to the
accused; the nails in them are arranged as I have described."

"Would you say that the footprints of which you have spoken were made
by those shoes?"

"No; I could not say that. I can only say that, to the best of my
belief, the pattern on the shoes is similar to that in the footprints."

This was the sum of Dr. Burrows' evidence, and to all of it Thorndyke
listened with an immovable countenance, though with the closest
attention. Equally attentive was the accused man, though not equally
impassive; indeed, so great was his agitation that presently one of the
constables asked permission to get him a chair.

The next witness was Arthur Jezzard. He testified that he had viewed
the body, and identified it as that of Charles Hearn; that he had been
acquainted with deceased for some years, but knew practically nothing
of his affairs. At the time of his death deceased was lodging in the
village.

"Why did he leave the yacht?" the coroner inquired. "Was there any kind
of disagreement!"

"Not in the least," replied Jezzard. "He grew tired of the confinement
of the yacht, and came to live ashore for a change. But we were the
best of friends, and he intended to come with us when we sailed."

"When did you see him last?"

"On the night before the body was found--that is, last Monday. He
had been dining on the yacht, and we put him ashore about midnight.
He said as we were rowing him ashore that he intended to walk home
along the sands us the tide was out. He went up the stone steps by the
watch-house, and turned at the top to wish us good-night. That was the
last time I saw him alive."

"Do you know anything of the relations between the accused and the
deceased?" the coroner asked.

"Very little," replied Jezzard. "Mr. Draper was introduced to us by
the deceased about a month ago. I believe they had been acquainted
some years, and they appeared to be on excellent terms. There was no
indication of any quarrel or disagreement between them."

"What time did the accused leave the yacht on the night of the murder?"

"About ten o'clock. He said that he wanted to get home early, as his
housekeeper was away and he did not like the house to be left with no
one in it."

This was the whole of Jezzard's evidence, and was confirmed by that
of Leach and Pitford. Then, when the fisherman had deposed to the
discovery of the body, the sergeant was called, and stepped forward,
grasping a carpet-bag, and looking as uncomfortable as if he had been
the accused instead of a witness. He described the circumstances under
which he saw the body, giving the exact time and place with official
precision.

"You have heard Dr. Burrows' description of the footprints?" the
coroner inquired.

"Yes. There were two sets. One set were evidently made by deceased.
They showed that he entered St. Bridget's Bay from the direction of
Port Marston. He had been walking along the shore just about high-water
mark, sometimes above and sometimes below. Where he had walked below
high-water mark the footprints had of course been washed away by the
sea."

"How far back did you trace the footprints of deceased?"

"About two-thirds of the way to Sundersley Gap. Then they disappeared
below high-water mark. Later in the evening I walked from the Gap into
Port Marston, but could not find any further traces of deceased. He
must have walked between the tide-marks all the way from Port Marston
to beyond Sundersley. When these footprints entered St. Bridget's Bay
they became mixed up with the footprints of another man, and the shore
was trampled for a space of a dozen yards as if a furious struggle had
taken place. The strange man's tracks came down from the Shepherd's
Path, and went up it again; but, owing to the hardness of the ground
from the dry weather, the tracks disappeared a short distance up the
path, and I could not find them again."

"What were these strange footprints like?" inquired the coroner.

"They were very peculiar," replied the sergeant. "They were made
by shoes armed with smallish hob-nails, which were arranged in a
diamond-shaped pattern on the holes and in a cross on the heels. I
measured the footprints carefully, and made a drawing of each foot
at the time." Here the sergeant produced a long notebook of funereal
aspect, and, having opened it at a marked place, handed it to the
coroner, who examined it attentively, and then passed it on to the
jury. From the jury it was presently transferred to Thorndyke, and,
looking over his shoulder, I saw a very workmanlike sketch of a pair of
footprints with the principal dimensions inserted.

Thorndyke surveyed the drawing critically, jotted down a few brief
notes, and returned the sergeant's notebook to the coroner, who, as he
took it, turned once more to the officer.

"Have you any clue, sergeant, to the person who made these footprints?"
he asked.

By way of reply the sergeant opened his carpet-bag, and, extracting
therefrom a pair of smart but stoutly made shoes, laid them on the
table.

"Those shoes," he said, "are the property of the accused; he was
wearing them when I arrested him. They appear to correspond exactly to
the footprints of the murderer. The measurements are the same, and the
nails with which they are studded are arranged in a similar pattern."

[Illustration: The Sergeant's Sketch. Extreme length, 11 and
three-quarter inches. Width at A, 4 and a half inches. Length of heel,
3 and one quarter inches Width of heel at cross, 3 inches.]

"Would you swear that the footprints were made with these shoes?" asked
the coroner.

"No, sir, I would not," was the decided answer. "I would only swear to
the similarity of size and pattern."

"Had you ever seen these shoes before you made the drawing?"

"No, sir," replied the sergeant; and he then related the incident of
the footprints in the soft earth by the pond which led him to make the
arrest.

The coroner gazed reflectively at the shoes which he held in his hand,
and from them to the drawing; then, passing them to the foreman of the
jury, he remarked:

"Well, gentlemen, it is not for me to tell you whether these shoes
answer to the description given by Dr. Burrows and the sergeant, or
whether they resemble the drawing which, as you have heard, was made
by the officer on the spot and before he had seen the shoes; that is
a matter for you to decide. Meanwhile, there is another question that
we must consider." He turned to the sergeant and asked: "Have you made
any inquiries as to the movements of the accused on the night of the
murder?"

"I have," replied the sergeant, "and I find that, on that night, the
accused was alone in the house, his housekeeper having gone over to
Eastwich. Two men saw him in the town about ten o'clock, apparently
walking in the direction of Sundersley."

This concluded the sergeant's evidence, and when one or two more
witnesses had been examined without eliciting any fresh facts, the
coroner briefly recapitulated the evidence, and requested the jury to
consider their verdict. Thereupon a solemn hush fell upon the court,
broken only by the whispers of the jurymen, as they consulted together;
and the spectators gazed in awed expectancy from the accused to the
whispering jury. I glanced at Draper, sitting huddled in his chair, his
clammy face as pale as that of the corpse in the mortuary hard by, his
hands tremulous and restless; and, scoundrel as I believed him to be,
I could not but pity the abject misery that was written large all over
him, from his damp hair to his incessantly shifting feet.

The jury took but a short time to consider their verdict. At the end
of five minutes the foreman announced that they were agreed, and, in
answer to the coroner's formal inquiry, stood up and replied:

"We find that the deceased met his death by being stabbed in the chest
by the accused man, Alfred Draper."

"That is a verdict of wilful murder," said the coroner, and he entered
it accordingly in his notes. The Court now rose. The spectators
reluctantly trooped out, the jurymen stood up and stretched themselves,
and the two constables, under the guidance of the sergeant, carried
the wretched Draper in a fainting condition to a closed fly that was
waiting outside.

"I was not greatly impressed by the activity of the defence," I
remarked maliciously as we walked home.

Thorndyke smiled. "You surely did not expect me to cast my pearls of
forensic learning before a coroner's jury," said he.

"I expected that you would have something to say on behalf of your
client," I replied. "As it was, his accusers had it all their own way."

"And why not?" he asked. "Of what concern to us is the verdict of the
coroner's jury?"

"It would have seemed more decent to make some sort of defence," I
replied.

"My dear Jervis," he rejoined, "you do not seem to appreciate the great
virtue of what Lord Beaconsfield so felicitously called 'a policy of
masterly inactivity'; and yet that is one of the great lessons that a
medical training impresses on the student."

"That may be so," said I. "But the result, up to the present, of your
masterly policy is that a verdict of wilful murder stands against your
client, and I don't see what other verdict the jury could have found."

"Neither do I," said Thorndyke.

I had written to my principal, Dr. Cooper, describing the stirring
events that were taking place in the village, and had received a reply
from him instructing me to place the house at Thorndyke's disposal,
and to give him every facility for his work. In accordance with
which edict my colleague took possession of a well-lighted, disused
stable-loft, and announced his intention of moving his things into it.
Now, as these "things" included the mysterious contents of the hamper
that the housemaid had seen, I was possessed with a consuming desire
to be present at the "flitting," and I do not mind confessing that I
purposely lurked about the stairs in the hopes of thus picking up a few
crumbs of information.

But Thorndyke was one too many for me. A misbegotten infant in the
village having been seized with inopportune convulsions, I was
compelled, most reluctantly, to hasten to its relief; and I returned
only in time to find Thorndyke in the act of locking the door of the
loft.

"A nice light, roomy place to work in," he remarked, as he descended
the steps, slipping the key into his pocket.

"Yes," I replied, and added boldly: "What do you intend to do up there?"

"Work up the case for the defence," he replied, "and, as I have now
heard all that the prosecution have to say, I shall be able to forge
ahead."

This was vague enough, but I consoled myself with the reflection that
in a very few days I should, in common with the rest of the world, be
in possession of the results of his mysterious proceedings. For, in
view of the approaching assizes, preparations were being made to push
the case through the magistrate's court as quickly as possible in order
to obtain a committal in time for the ensuing sessions. Draper had, of
course, been already charged before a justice of the peace and evidence
of arrest taken, and it was expected that the adjourned hearing would
commence before the local magistrates on the fifth day after the
inquest.

The events of these five days kept me in a positive ferment
of curiosity. In the first place an inspector of the Criminal
Investigation Department came down and browsed about the place in
company with the sergeant. Then Mr. Bashfield, who was to conduct the
prosecution, came and took up his abode at the "Cat and Chicken." But
the most surprising visitor was Thorndyke's laboratory assistant,
Polton, who appeared one evening with a large trunk and a sailor's
hammock, and announced that he was going to take up his quarters in the
loft.

As to Thorndyke himself, his proceedings were beyond speculation. From
time to time he made mysterious appearances at the windows of the
loft, usually arrayed in what looked suspiciously like a nightshirt.
Sometimes I would see him holding a negative up to the light, at others
manipulating a photographic printing-frame; and once I observed him
with a paintbrush and a large gallipot; on which I turned away in
despair, and nearly collided with the inspector.

"Dr. Thorndyke is staying with you, I hear," said the latter, gazing
earnestly at my colleague's back, which was presented for his
inspection at the window.

"Yes," I answered. "Those are his temporary premises."

"That is where he does his bedevilments, I suppose?" the officer
suggested.

"He conducts his experiments there," I corrected haughtily.

"That's what I mean," said the inspector; and, as Thorndyke at this
moment turned and opened the window, our visitor began to ascend the
steps.

"I've just called to ask if I could have a few words with you, Doctor,"
said the inspector, as he reached the door.

"Certainly," Thorndyke replied blandly. "If you will go down and wait
with Dr. Jervis, I will be with you in five minutes."

The officer came down the steps grinning, and I thought I heard him
murmur "Sold!" But this may have been an illusion. However, Thorndyke
presently emerged, and he and the officer strode away into the
shrubbery. What the inspector's business was, or whether he had any
business at all, I never learned; but the incident seemed to throw
some light on the presence of Polton and the sailor's hammock. And
this reference to Polton reminds me of a very singular change that
took place about this time in the habits of this usually staid and
sedate little man; who, abandoning the somewhat clerical style of dress
that he ordinarily affected, broke out into a semi-nautical costume,
in which he would sally forth every morning in the direction of Port
Marston. And there, on more than one occasion, I saw him leaning
against a post by the harbour, or lounging outside a waterside tavern
in earnest and amicable conversation with sundry nautical characters.

On the afternoon of the day before the opening of the proceedings we
had two new visitors. One of them, a grey-haired spectacled man, was
a stranger to me, and for some reason I failed to recall his name,
Copland, though I was sure I had heard it before. The other was Anstey,
the barrister who usually worked with Thorndyke in cases that went into
Court. I saw very little of either of them, however, for they retired
almost immediately to the loft, where, with short intervals for meals,
they remained for the rest of the day, and, I believe, far into the
night. Thorndyke requested me not to mention the names of his visitors
to anyone, and at the same time apologized for the secrecy of his
proceedings.

"But you are a doctor, Jervis," he concluded, "and you know what
professional confidences are; and you will understand how greatly it is
in our favour that we know exactly what the prosecution can do, while
they are absolutely in the dark as to our line of defence."

I assured him that I fully understood his position, and with this
assurance he retired, evidently relieved, to the council chamber.

The proceedings, which opened on the following day, and at which I was
present throughout, need not be described in detail. The evidence for
the prosecution was, of course, mainly a repetition of that given at
the inquest. Mr. Bashfield's opening statement, however, I shall give
at length, inasmuch as it summarized very clearly the whole of the case
against the prisoner.

"The case that is now before the Court," said the counsel, "involves
a charge of wilful murder against the prisoner Alfred Draper, and the
facts, in so far as they are known, are briefly these: On the night of
Monday, the 27th of September, the deceased, Charles Hearn, dined with
some friends on board the yacht Otter. About midnight he came ashore,
and proceeded to walk towards Sundersley along the beach. As he entered
St. Bridget's Bay, a man, who appears to have been lying in wait, and
who came down the Shepherd's Path, met him, and a deadly struggle seems
to have taken place. The deceased received a wound of a kind calculated
to cause almost instantaneous death, and apparently fell down dead.

"And now, what was the motive of this terrible crime? It was not
robbery, for nothing appears to have been taken from the corpse. Money
and valuables were found, as far as is known, intact. Nor, clearly,
was it a case of a casual affray. We are, consequently, driven to the
conclusion that the motive was a personal one, a motive of interest
or revenge, and with this view the time, the place, and the evident
deliberateness of the murder are in full agreement.

"So much for the motive. The next question is, Who was the perpetrator
of this shocking crime? And the answer to that question is given
in a very singular and dramatic circumstance, a circumstance that
illustrates once more the amazing lack of precaution shown by persons
who commit such crimes. The murderer was wearing a very remarkable
pair of shoes, and those shoes left very remarkable footprints in the
smooth sand, and those footprints were seen and examined by a very
acute and painstaking police-officer, Sergeant Payne, whose evidence
you will hear presently. The sergeant not only examined the footprints,
he made careful drawings of them on the spot--on the spot, mind you,
not from memory--and he made very exact measurements of them, which he
duly noted down. And from those drawings and those measurements, those
tell-tale shoes have been identified, and are here for your inspection.

"And now, who is the owner of those very singular, those almost unique
shoes? I have said that the motive of this murder must have been a
personal one, and, behold! the owner of those shoes happens to be
the one person in the whole of this district who could have had a
motive for compassing the murdered man's death. Those shoes belong
to, and were taken from the foot of, the prisoner, Alfred Draper,
and the prisoner, Alfred Draper, is the only person living in this
neighbourhood who was acquainted with the deceased.

"It has been stated in evidence at the inquest that the relations of
these two men, the prisoner and the deceased, were entirely friendly;
but I shall prove to you that they were not so friendly as has been
supposed. I shall prove to you, by the evidence of the prisoner's
housekeeper, that the deceased was often an unwelcome visitor at the
house, that the prisoner often denied himself when he was really at
home and disengaged, and, in short, that he appeared constantly to shun
and avoid the deceased.

"One more question and I have finished. Where was the prisoner on the
night of the murder? The answer is that he was in a house little more
than half a mile from the scene of the crime. And who was with him in
that house? Who was there to observe and testify to his going forth and
his coming home? No one. He was alone in the house. On that night, of
all nights, he was alone. Not a soul was there to rouse at the creak of
a door or the tread of a shoe--to tell as whether he slept or whether
he stole forth in the dead of the night.

"Such are the facts of this case. I believe that they are not disputed,
and I assert that, taken together, they are susceptible of only one
explanation, which is that the prisoner, Alfred Draper, is the man who
murdered the deceased, Charles Hearn."

Immediately on the conclusion of this address, the witnesses were
called, and the evidence given was identical with that at the inquest.
The only new witness for the prosecution was Draper's housekeeper, and
her evidence fully bore out Mr. Bashfield's statement. The sergeant's
account of the footprints was listened to with breathless interest,
and at its conclusion the presiding magistrate--a retired solicitor,
once well known in criminal practice--put a question which interested
me as showing how clearly Thorndyke had foreseen the course of events,
recalling, as it did, his remark on the night when we were caught in
the rain.

"Did you," the magistrate asked, "take these shoes down to the beach
and compare them with the actual footprints?"

"I obtained the shoes at night," replied the sergeant, "and I took them
down to the shore at daybreak the next morning. But, unfortunately,
there had been a storm in the night, and the footprints were almost
obliterated by the wind and rain."

When the sergeant had stepped down, Mr. Bashfield announced that that
was the case for the prosecution. He then resumed his seat, turning an
inquisitive eye on Anstey and Thorndyke.

The former immediately rose and opened the case for the defence with a
brief statement.

"The learned counsel for the prosecution," said he, "has told us
that the facts now in the possession of the Court admit of but one
explanation--that of the guilt of the accused. That may or may not
be; but I shall now proceed to lay before the Court certain fresh
facts--facts, I may say, of the most singular and startling character,
which will, I think, lead to a very different conclusion. I shall say
no more, but call the witnesses forthwith, and let the evidence speak
for itself."

The first witness for the defence was Thorndyke; and as he entered the
box I observed Polton take up a position close behind him with a large
wicker trunk. Having been sworn, and requested by Anstey to tell the
Court what he knew about the case, he commenced without preamble:

"About half-past four in the afternoon of the 28th of September I
walked down Sundersley Gap with Dr. Jervis. Our attention was attracted
by certain footprints in the sand, particularly those of a man who had
landed from a boat, had walked up the Gap, and presently returned,
apparently to the boat.

"As we were standing there Sergeant Payne and Dr. Burrows passed down
the Gap with two constables carrying a stretcher. We followed at a
distance, and as we walked along the shore we encountered another set
of footprints--those which the sergeant has described as the footprints
of the deceased. We examined these carefully, and endeavoured to frame
a description of the person by whom they had been made."

"And did your description agree with the characters of the deceased?"
the magistrate asked.

"Not in the least," replied Thorndyke, whereupon the magistrate, the
inspector, and Mr. Bashfield laughed long and heartily.

"When we turned into St. Bridget's Bay, I saw the body of deceased
lying on the sand close to the cliff. The sand all round was covered
with footprints, as if a prolonged, fierce struggle had taken place.
There were two sets of footprints, one set being apparently those
of the deceased and the other those of a man with nailed shoes of a
very peculiar and conspicuous pattern. The incredible folly that the
wearing of such shoes indicated caused me to look more closely at the
footprints, and then I made the surprising discovery that there had in
reality been no struggle; that, in fact, the two sets of footprints had
been made at different times."

"At different times!" the magistrate exclaimed in astonishment.

"Yes. The interval between them may have been one of hours or one only
of seconds, but the undoubted fact is that the two sets of footprints
were made, not simultaneously, but in succession."

"But how did you arrive at that fact?" the magistrate asked.

"It was very obvious when one looked," said Thorndyke. "The marks
of the deceased man's shoes showed that he repeatedly trod in his
own footprints; but never in a single instance did he tread in the
footprints of the other man, although they covered the same area.
The man with the nailed shoes, on the contrary, not only trod in his
own footprints, but with equal frequency in those of the deceased.
Moreover, when the body was removed, I observed that the footprints in
the sand on which it was lying were exclusively those of the deceased.
There was not a sign of any nail-marked footprint under the corpse,
although there were many close around it. It was evident, therefore,
that the footprints of the deceased were made first and those of the
nailed shoes afterwards."

As Thorndyke paused the magistrate rubbed his nose thoughtfully, and
the inspector gazed at the witness with a puzzled frown.

"The singularity of this fact," my colleague resumed, "made me look at
the footprints yet more critically, and then I made another discovery.
There was a double track of the nailed shoes, leading apparently from
and back to the Shepherd's Path. But on examining these tracks more
closely, I was astonished to find that the man who had made them had
been walking backwards; that, in fact, he had walked backwards from the
body to the Shepherd's Path, had ascended it for a short distance, had
turned round, and returned, still walking backwards, to the face of
the cliff near the corpse, and there the tracks vanished altogether.
On the sand at this spot were some small, inconspicuous marks which
might have been made by the end of a rope, and there were also a few
small fragments which had fallen from the cliff above. Observing these,
I examined the surface of the cliff, and at one spot, about six feet
above the beach, I found a freshly rubbed spot on which were parallel
scratches such as might have been made by the nailed sole of a boot. I
then ascended the Shepherd's Path, and examined the cliff from above,
and here I found on the extreme edge a rather deep indentation, such as
would be made by a taut rope, and, on lying down and looking over, I
could see, some five feet from the top, another rubbed spot with very
distinct parallel scratches."

"You appear to infer," said the chairman, "that this man performed
these astonishing evolutions and was then hauled up the cliff?"

"That is what the appearances suggested," replied Thorndyke.

The chairman pursed up his lips, raised his eyebrows, and glanced
doubtfully at his brother magistrates. Then, with a resigned air, he
bowed to the witness to indicate that he was listening.

"That same night," Thorndyke resumed, "I cycled down to the shore,
through the Gap, with a supply of plaster of Paris, and proceeded to
take plaster moulds of the more important of the footprints." (Here the
magistrates, the inspector, and Mr. Bashfield with one accord sat up
at attention; Sergeant Payne swore quite audibly; and I experienced a
sudden illumination respecting a certain basin and kitchen spoon which
had so puzzled me on the night of Thorndyke's arrival.) "As I thought
that liquid plaster might confuse or even obliterate the prints in
sand, I filled up the respective footprints with dry plaster, pressed
it down lightly, and then cautiously poured water on to it. The moulds,
which are excellent impressions, of course show the appearance of the
boots which made the footprints, and from these moulds I have prepared
casts which reproduce the footprints themselves.

"The first mould that I made was that of one of the tracks from the
boat up to the Gap, and of this I shall speak presently. I next made a
mould of one of the footprints which have been described as those of
the deceased."

"Have been described!" exclaimed the chairman. "The deceased was
certainly there, and there were no other footprints, so, if they were
not his, he must have flown to where he was found."

"I will call them the footprints of the deceased," replied Thorndyke
imperturbably. "I took a mould of one of them, and with it, on the same
mould, one of my own footprints. Here is the mould, and here is a cast
from it." (He turned and took them from the triumphant Polton, who had
tenderly lifted them out of the trunk in readiness.) "On looking at
the cast, it will be seen that the appearances are not such as would
be expected. The deceased was five feet nine inches high, but was very
thin and light, weighing only nine stone six pounds, as I ascertained
by weighing the body, whereas I am five feet eleven and weigh nearly
thirteen stone. But yet the footprint of the deceased is nearly twice
as deep as mine--that is to say, the lighter man has sunk into the sand
nearly twice as deeply as the heavier man."

The magistrates were now deeply attentive. They were no longer simply
listening to the despised utterances of a mere scientific expert. The
cast lay before them with the two footprints side by side; the evidence
appealed to their own senses and was proportionately convincing.

"This is very singular," said the chairman; "but perhaps you can
explain the discrepancy?"

"I think I can," replied Thorndyke; "but I should prefer to place all
the facts before you first."

"Undoubtedly that would be better," the chairman agreed. "Pray proceed."

"There was another remarkable peculiarity about these footprints,"
Thorndyke continued, "and that was their distance apart--the length of
the stride, in fact. I measured the steps carefully from heel to heel,
and found them only nineteen and a half inches. But a man of Hearn's
height would have an ordinary stride of about thirty-six inches--more
if he was walking fast. Walking with a stride of nineteen and a half
inches he would look as if his legs were tied together.

"I next proceeded to the Bay, and took two moulds from the footprints
of the man with the nailed shoes, a right and a left. Here is a cast
from the mould, and it shows very clearly that the man was walking
backwards."

"How does it show that?" asked the magistrate.

"There are several distinctive points. For instance, the absence of
the usual 'kick off' at the toe, the slight drag behind the heel,
showing the direction in which the foot was lifted, and the undisturbed
impression of the sole."

"You have spoken of moulds and casts. What is the difference between
them?"

"A mould is a direct, and therefore reversed, impression. A cast is
the impression of a mould, and therefore a facsimile of the object. If
I pour liquid plaster on a coin, when it sets I have a mould, a sunk
impression, of the coin. If I pour melted wax into the mould I obtain
a cast, a facsimile of the coin. A footprint is a mould of the foot. A
mould of the footprint is a cast of the foot, and a cast from the mould
reproduces the footprint."

"Thank you," said the magistrate. "Then your moulds from these two
footprints are really facsimiles of the murderer's shoes, and can be
compared with these shoes which have been put in evidence?"

"Yes, and when we compare them they demonstrate a very important fact."

"What is that?"

"It is that the prisoner's shoes were not the shoes that made those
footprints." A buzz of astonishment ran through the court, but
Thorndyke continued stolidly: "The prisoner's shoes were not in my
possession, so I went on to Barker's pond, on the clay margin of which
I had seen footprints actually made by the prisoner. I took moulds of
those footprints, and compared them with these from the sand. There are
several important differences, which you will see if you compare them.
To facilitate the comparison I have made transparent photographs of
both sets of moulds to the same scale. Now, if we put the photograph
of the mould of the prisoner's right shoe over that of the murderer's
right shoe, and hold the two superposed photographs up to the light,
we cannot make the two pictures coincide. They are exactly of the same
length, but the shoes are of different shape. Moreover, if we put one
of the nails in one photograph over the corresponding nail in the other
photograph, we cannot make the rest of the nails coincide. But the most
conclusive fact of all--from which there is no possible escape--is
that the number of nails in the two shoes is not the same. In the sole
of the prisoner's right shoe there are forty nails; in that of the
murderer there are forty-one. The murderer has one nail too many."


There was a deathly silence in the court as the magistrates and Mr.
Bashfield pored over the moulds and the prisoner's shoes, and examined
the photographs against the light. Then the chairman asked: "Are these
all the facts, or have you something more to tell us?" He was evidently
anxious to get the key to this riddle.

"There is more evidence, your Worship," said Anstey. "The witness
examined the body of deceased." Then, turning to Thorndyke, he asked:

"You were present at the post-mortem examination?"

"I was."

"Did you form any opinion as to the cause of death?"

"Yes. I came to the conclusion that death was occasioned by an overdose
of morphia."

A universal gasp of amazement greeted this statement. Then the
presiding magistrate protested breathlessly:

"But there was a wound, which we have been told was capable of causing
instantaneous death. Was that not the case?"

"There was undoubtedly such a wound," replied Thorndyke. "But when that
wound was inflicted the deceased had already been dead from a quarter
to half an hour."

"This is incredible!" exclaimed the magistrate. "But, no doubt, you can
give us your reasons for this amazing conclusion?"

"My opinion," said Thorndyke, "was based on several facts. In the first
place, a wound inflicted on a living body gapes rather widely, owing
to the retraction of the living skin. The skin of a dead body does not
retract, and the wound, consequently, does not gape. This wound gaped
very slightly, showing that death was recent, I should say, within half
an hour. Then a wound on the living body becomes filled with blood, and
blood is shed freely on the clothing. But the wound on the deceased
contained only a little blood-clot. There was hardly any blood on the
clothing, and I had already noticed that there was none on the sand
where the body had lain."

"And you consider this quite conclusive?" the magistrate asked
doubtfully.

"I do," answered Thorndyke. "But there was other evidence which
was beyond all question. The weapon had partially divided both the
aorta and the pulmonary artery--the main arteries of the body. Now,
during life, these great vessels are full of blood at a high internal
pressure, whereas after death they become almost empty. It follows
that, if this wound had been inflicted during life, the cavity in which
those vessels lie would have become filled with blood. As a matter of
fact, it contained practically no blood, only the merest oozing from
some small veins, so that it is certain that the wound was inflicted
after death. The presence and nature of the poison I ascertained by
analyzing certain secretions from the body, and the analysis enabled me
to judge that the quantity of the poison was large; but the contents of
the stomach were sent to Professor Copland for more exact examination."

"Is the result of Professor Copland's analysis known?" the magistrate
asked Anstey.

"The professor is here, your Worship," replied Anstey, "and is prepared
to swear to having obtained over one grain of morphia from the contents
of the stomach; and as this, which is in itself a poisonous dose, is
only the unabsorbed residue of what was actually swallowed, the total
quantity taken must have been very large indeed."

"Thank you," said the magistrate. "And now, Dr. Thorndyke, if you have
given us all the facts, perhaps you will tell us what conclusions you
have drawn from them."

"The facts which I have stated," said Thorndyke, "appear to me to
indicate the following sequence of events. The deceased died about
midnight on September 27, from the effects of a poisonous dose of
morphia, how or by whom administered I offer no opinion. I think that
his body was conveyed in a boat to Sundersley Gap. The boat probably
contained three men, of whom one remained in charge of it, one walked
up the Gap and along the cliff towards St. Bridget's Bay, and the
third, having put on the shoes of the deceased, carried the body along
the shore to the Bay. This would account for the great depth and short
stride of the tracks that have been spoken of as those of the deceased.
Having reached the Bay, I believe that this man laid the corpse down on
his tracks, and then trampled the sand in the neighbourhood. He next
took off deceased's shoes and put them on the corpse; then he put on a
pair of boots or shoes which he had been carrying--perhaps hung round
his neck--and which had been prepared with nails to imitate Draper's
shoes. In these shoes he again trampled over the area near the corpse.
Then he walked backwards to the Shepherd's Path, and from it again,
still backwards, to the face of the cliff. Here his accomplice had
lowered a rope, by which he climbed up to the top. At the top he took
off the nailed shoes, and the two men walked back to the Gap, where
the man who had carried the rope took his confederate on his back, and
carried him down to the boat to avoid leaving the tracks of stockinged
feet. The tracks that I saw at the Gap certainly indicated that the man
was carrying something very heavy when he returned to the boat."

"But why should the man have climbed a rope up the cliff when he could
have walked up the Shepherd's Path?" the magistrate asked.

"Because," replied Thorndyke, "there would then have been a set
of tracks leading out of the Bay without a corresponding set
leading into it; and this would have instantly suggested to a smart
police-officer--such as Sergeant Payne--a landing from a boat."

"Your explanation is highly ingenious," said the magistrate, "and
appears to cover all the very remarkable facts. Have you anything more
to tell us?"

"No, your Worship," was the reply, "excepting" (here he took from
Polton the last pair of moulds and passed them up to the magistrate)
"that you will probably find these moulds of importance presently."

As Thorndyke stepped from the box--for there was no
cross-examination--the magistrates scrutinized the moulds with an air
of perplexity; but they were too discreet to make any remark.

When the evidence of Professor Copland (which showed that an
unquestionably lethal dose of morphia must have been swallowed) had
been taken, the clerk called out the--to me--unfamiliar name of Jacob
Gummer. Thereupon an enormous pair of brown dreadnought trousers, from
the upper end of which a smack-boy's head and shoulders protruded,
walked into the witness-box.

Jacob admitted at the outset that he was a smack-master's apprentice,
and that he had been "hired out" by his master to one Mr. Jezzard as
deck-hand and cabin-boy of the yacht Otter.

"Now, Gummer," said Anstey, "do you remember the prisoner coming on
board the yacht?"

"Yes. He has been on board twice. The first time was about a month ago.
He went for a sail with us then. The second time was on the night when
Mr. Hearn was murdered."

"Do you remember what sort of boots the prisoner was wearing the first
time he came?"

"Yes. They were shoes with a lot of nails in the soles. I remember them
because Mr. Jezzard made him take them off and put on a canvas pair."

"What was done with the nailed shoes?"

"Mr. Jezzard took 'em below to the cabin."

"And did Mr. Jezzard come up on deck again directly?"

"No. He stayed down in the cabin about ten minutes."

"Do you remember a parcel being delivered on board from a London
boot-maker?"

"Yes. The postman brought it about four or five days after Mr. Draper
had been on board. It was labelled 'Walker Bros., Boot and Shoe Makers,
London.' Mr. Jezzard took a pair of shoes from it, for I saw them on
the locker in the cabin the same day."

"Did you ever see him wear them?"

"No. I never see 'em again."

"Have you ever heard sounds of hammering on the yacht?"

"Yes. The night after the parcel came I was on the quay alongside, and
I heard someone a-hammering in the cabin."

"What did the hammering sound like?"

"It sounded like a cobbler a-hammering in nails."

"Have you over seen any boot-nails on the yacht?"

"Yes. When I was a-clearin' up the cabin the next mornin', I found a
hobnail on the floor in a corner by the locker."

"Were you on board on the night when Mr. Hearn died?"

"Yes. I'd been ashore, but I came aboard about half-past nine."

"Did you see Mr. Hearn go ashore?"

"I see him leave the yacht. I had turned into my bunk and gone to
sleep, when Mr. Jezzard calls down to me: 'We're putting Mr. Hearn
ashore,' says he; 'and then,' he says, 'we're a-going for an hour's
fishing. You needn't sit up,' he says, and with that he shuts the
scuttle. Then I got up and slid back the scuttle and put my head out,
and I see Mr. Jezzard and Mr. Leach a-helpin' Mr. Hearn acrost the
deck. Mr. Hearn he looked as if he was drunk. They got him into the
boat--and a rare job they had--and Mr. Pitford, what was in the boat
already, he pushed off. And then I popped my head in again, 'cause I
didn't want them to see me."

"Did they row to the steps?"

"No. I put my head out again when they were gone, and I heard 'em row
round the yacht, and then pull out towards the mouth of the harbour. I
couldn't see the boat, 'cause it was a very dark night."

"Very well. Now I am going to ask you about another matter. Do you know
anyone of the name of Polton?"

"Yes," replied Gummer, turning a dusky red. "I've just found out his
real name. I thought he was called Simmons."

"Tell us what you know about him," said Anstey, with a mischievous
smile.


"Well," said the boy, with a ferocious scowl at the bland and smiling
Polton, "one day he come down to the yacht when the gentlemen had gone
ashore. I believe he'd seen 'em go. And he offers me ten shillin' to
let him see all the boots and shoes we'd got on board. I didn't see no
harm, so I turns out the whole lot in the cabin for him to look at.
While he was lookin' at 'em he asks me to fetch a pair of mine from the
fo'c'sle, so I fetches 'em. When I come back he was pitchin' the boots
and shoes back into the locker. Then, presently, he nips off, and when
he was gone I looked over the shoes, and then I found there was a pair
missing. They was an old pair of Mr. Jezzard's, and what made him nick
'em is more than I can understand."

"Would you know those shoes if you saw them!"

"Yes, I should," replied the lad.

"Are these the pair?" Anstey handed the boy a pair of dilapidated
canvas shoes, which he seized eagerly.

"Yes, these is the ones what he stole!" he exclaimed.

Anstey took them back from the boy's reluctant hands, and passed them
up to the magistrate's desk. "I think," said he, "that if your Worship
will compare these shoes with the last pair of moulds, you will have no
doubt that these are the shoes which made the footprints from the sea
to Sundersley Gap and back again."

The magistrates together compared the shoes and the moulds amidst a
breathless silence. At length the chairman laid them down on the desk.

"It is impossible to doubt it," said he. "The broken heel and the tear
in the rubber sole, with the remains of the chequered pattern, make the
identity practically certain."

As the chairman made this statement I involuntarily glanced round to
the place where Jezzard was sitting. But he was not there; neither he,
nor Pitford, nor Leach. Taking advantage of the preoccupation of the
Court, they had quietly slipped out of the door. But I was not the only
person who had noted their absence. The inspector and the sergeant
were already in earnest consultation, and a minute later they, too,
hurriedly departed.

The proceedings now speedily came to an end. After a brief discussion
with his brother-magistrates, the chairman addressed the Court.

"The remarkable and I may say startling evidence, which has been heard
in this court to-day, if it has not fixed the guilt of this crime on
any individual, has, at any rate, made it clear to our satisfaction
that the prisoner is not the guilty person, and he is accordingly
discharged. Mr. Draper, I have great pleasure in informing you that you
are at liberty to leave the court, and that you do so entirely clear of
all suspicion; and I congratulate you very heartily on the skill and
ingenuity of your legal advisers, but for which the decision of the
Court would, I am afraid, have been very different."

That evening, lawyers, witnesses, and the jubilant and grateful client
gathered round a truly festive board to dine, and fight over again the
battle of the day. But we were scarcely halfway through our meal when,
to the indignation of the servants, Sergeant Payne burst breathlessly
into the room.

"They've gone, sir!" he exclaimed, addressing Thorndyke. "They've given
us the slip for good."

"Why, how can that be?" asked Thorndyke.

"They're dead, sir! All three of them!"

"Dead!" we all exclaimed.

"Yes. They made a burst for the yacht when they left the court, and
they got on board and put out to sea at once, hoping, no doubt, to get
clear as the light was just failing. But they were in such a hurry that
they did not see a steam trawler that was entering, and was hidden by
the pier. Then, just at the entrance, as the yacht was creeping out,
the trawler hit her amidships, and fairly cut her in two. The three men
were in the water in an instant, and were swept away in the eddy behind
the north pier; and before any boat could put out to them they had all
gone under. Jezzard's body came up on the beach just as I was coming
away."

We were all silent and a little awed, but if any of us felt regret at
the catastrophe, it was at the thought that three such cold-blooded
villains should have made so easy an exit; and to one of us, at least,
the news came as a blessed relief.



THE STRANGER'S LATCHKEY


The contrariety of human nature is a subject that has given a
surprising amount of occupation to makers of proverbs and to those
moral philosophers who make it their province to discover and expound
the glaringly obvious; and especially have they been concerned to
enlarge upon that form of perverseness which engenders dislike of
things offered under compulsion, and arouses desire of them as soon as
their attainment becomes difficult or impossible. They assure us that
a man who has had a given thing within his reach and put it by, will,
as soon as it is beyond his reach, find it the one thing necessary and
desirable; even as the domestic cat which has turned disdainfully from
the preferred saucer, may presently be seen with her head jammed hard
in the milk-jug, or, secretly and with horrible relish, slaking her
thirst at the scullery sink.

To this peculiarity of the human mind was due, no doubt, the fact
that no sooner had I abandoned the clinical side of my profession in
favour of the legal, and taken up my abode in the chambers of my friend
Thorndyke, the famous medico-legal expert, to act as his assistant or
junior, than my former mode of life--that of a locum tenens, or minder
of other men's practices--which had, when I was following it, seemed
intolerably irksome, now appeared to possess many desirable features;
and I found myself occasionally hankering to sit once more by the
bedside, to puzzle out the perplexing train of symptoms, and to wield
that power--the greatest, after all, possessed by man--the power to
banish suffering and ward off the approach of death itself.

Hence it was that on a certain morning of the long vacation I found
myself installed at The Larches, Burling, in full charge of the
practice of my old friend Dr. Hanshaw, who was taking a fishing holiday
in Norway. I was not left desolate, however, for Mrs. Hanshaw remained
at her post, and the roomy, old-fashioned house accommodated three
visitors in addition. One of these was Dr. Hanshaw's sister, a Mrs.
Haldean, the widow of a wealthy Manchester cotton factor; the second
was her niece by marriage, Miss Lucy Haldean, a very handsome and
charming girl of twenty-three; while the third was no less a person
than Master Fred, the only child of Mrs. Haldean, and a strapping boy
of six.

"It is quite like old times--and very pleasant old times, too--to see
you sitting at our breakfast-table, Dr. Jervis." With these gracious
words and a friendly smile, Mrs. Hanshaw handed me my tea-cup.

I bowed. "The highest pleasure of the altruist," I replied, "is in
contemplating the good fortune of others."

Mrs. Haldean laughed. "Thank you," she said. "You are quite unchanged,
I perceive. Still as suave and as--shall I say oleaginous?"

"No, please don't!" I exclaimed in a tone of alarm.

"Then I won't. But what does Dr. Thorndyke say to this backsliding on
your part? How does he regard this relapse from medical jurisprudence
to common general practice?"

"Thorndyke," said I, "is unmoved by any catastrophe; and he not
only regards the 'Decline and Fall-off of the Medical Jurist' with
philosophic calm, but he even favours the relapse, as you call it. He
thinks it may be useful to me to study the application of medico-legal
methods to general practice."

"That sounds rather unpleasant--for the patients, I mean," remarked
Miss Haldean.

"Very," agreed her aunt. "Most cold-blooded. What sort of man is Dr.
Thorndyke? I feel quite curious about him. Is he at all human, for
instance?"

"He is entirely human," I replied; "the accepted tests of humanity
being, as I understand, the habitual adoption of the erect posture in
locomotion, and the relative position of the end of the thumb--"

"I don't mean that," interrupted Mrs. Haldean. "I mean human in things
that matter."

"I think those things matter," I rejoined. "Consider, Mrs. Haldean,
what would happen if my learned colleague were to be seen in wig and
gown, walking towards the Law Courts in any posture other than the
erect. It would be a public scandal."

"Don't talk to him, Mabel," said Mrs. Hanshaw; "he is incorrigible.
What are you doing with yourself this morning, Lucy?"

Miss Haldean (who had hastily set down her cup to laugh at my imaginary
picture of Dr. Thorndyke in the character of a quadruped) considered a
moment.

"I think I shall sketch that group of birches at the edge of Bradham
Wood," she said.

"Then, in that case," said I, "I can carry your traps for you, for I
have to see a patient in Bradham."

"He is making the most of his time," remarked Mrs. Haldean maliciously
to my hostess. "He knows that when Mr. Winter arrives he will retire
into the extreme background."

Douglas Winter, whose arrival was expected in the course of the
week, was Miss Haldean's fiance. Their engagement had been somewhat
protracted, and was likely to be more so, unless one of them received
some unexpected accession of means; for Douglas was a subaltern in the
Royal Engineers, living, with great difficulty, on his pay, while Lucy
Haldean subsisted on an almost invisible allowance left her by an uncle.

I was about to reply to Mrs. Haldean when a patient was announced, and,
as I had finished my breakfast, I made my excuses and left the table.

Half an hour later, when I started along the road to the village of
Bradham, I had two companions. Master Freddy had joined the party,
and he disputed with me the privilege of carrying the "traps," with
the result that a compromise was effected, by which he carried the
camp-stool, leaving me in possession of the easel, the bag, and a large
bound sketching-block.

"Where are you going to work this morning?" I asked, when we had
trudged on some distance.

"Just off the road to the left there, at the edge of the wood. Not
very far from the house of the mysterious stranger." She glanced at me
mischievously as she made this reply, and chuckled with delight when I
rose at the bait.

"What house do you mean?" I inquired.

"Ha!" she exclaimed, "the investigator of mysteries is aroused. He
saith, 'Ha! ha!' amidst the trumpets; he smelleth the battle afar off."

"Explain instantly," I commanded, "or I drop your sketch-block into the
very next puddle."

"You terrify me," said she. "But I will explain, only there isn't
any mystery except to the bucolic mind. The house is called Lavender
Cottage, and it stands alone in the fields behind the wood. A fortnight
ago it was let furnished to a stranger named Whitelock, who has taken
it for the purpose of studying the botany of the district; and the only
really mysterious thing about him is that no one has seen him. All
arrangements with the house-agent were made by letter, and, as far as I
can make out, none of the local tradespeople supply him, so he must get
his things from a distance--even his bread, which really is rather odd.
Now say I am an inquisitive, gossiping country bumpkin."

"I was going to," I answered, "but it is no use now."

She relieved me of her sketching appliances with pretended indignation,
and crossed into the meadow, leaving me to pursue my way alone; and
when I presently looked back, she was setting up her easel and stool,
gravely assisted by Freddy.

My "round," though not a long one, took up more time than I had
anticipated, and it was already past the luncheon hour when I passed
the place where I had left Miss Haldean. She was gone, as I had
expected, and I hurried homewards, anxious to be as nearly punctual as
possible. When I entered the dining-room, I found Mrs. Haldean and our
hostess seated at the table, and both looked up at me expectantly.

"Have you seen Lucy?" the former inquired.

"No," I answered. "Hasn't she come back? I expected to find her here.
She had left the wood when I passed just now."

Mrs. Haldean knitted her brows anxiously. "It is very strange," she
said, "and very thoughtless of her. Freddy will be famished."

I hurried over my lunch, for two fresh messages had come in from
outlying hamlets, effectually dispelling my visions of a quiet
afternoon; and as the minutes passed without bringing any signs of the
absentees, Mrs. Haldean became more and more restless and anxious. At
length her suspense became unbearable; she rose suddenly, announcing
her intention of cycling up the road to look for the defaulters, but
as she was moving towards the door, it burst open, and Lucy Haldean
staggered into the room.

Her appearance filled us with alarm. She was deadly pale, breathless,
and wild-eyed; her dress was draggled and torn, and she trembled from
head to foot.

"Good God, Lucy!" gasped Mrs. Haldean. "What has happened? And where is
Freddy?" she added in a sterner tone.

"He is lost!" replied Miss Haldean in a faint voice, and with a catch
in her breath. "He strayed away while I was painting. I have searched
the wood through, and called to him, and looked in all the meadows.
Oh! where can he have gone?" Her sketching "kit," with which she was
loaded, slipped from her grasp and rattled on to the floor, and she
buried her face in her hands and sobbed hysterically.

"And you have dared to come back without him?" exclaimed Mrs. Haldean.

"I was getting exhausted. I came back for help," was the faint reply.

"Of course she was exhausted," said Mrs. Hanshaw. "Come, Lucy: come,
Mabel; don't make mountains out of molehills. The little man is safe
enough. We shall find him presently, or he will come home by himself.
Come and have some food, Lucy."

Miss Haldean shook her head. "I can't, Mrs. Hanshaw--really I can't,"
she said; and, seeing that she was in a state of utter exhaustion, I
poured out a glass of wine and made her drink it.

Mrs. Haldean darted from the room, and returned immediately, putting on
her hat. "You have got to come with me and show me where you lost him,"
she said.

"She can't do that, you know," I said rather brusquely. "She will have
to lie down for the present. But I know the place, and will cycle up
with you."

"Very well," replied Mrs. Haldean, "that will do. What time was it,"
she asked, turning to her niece, "when you lost the child? and which
way--"

She paused abruptly, and I looked at her in surprise. She had suddenly
turned ashen and ghastly; her face had set like a mask of stone, with
parted lips and staring eyes that were fixed in horror on her niece.

There was a deathly silence for a few seconds. Then, in a terrible
voice, she demanded: "What is that on your dress, Lucy?" And, after a
pause, her voice rose into a shriek. "What have you done to my boy?"


I glanced in astonishment at the dazed and terrified girl, and then I
saw what her aunt had seen--a good-sized blood-stain halfway down the
front of her skirt, and another smaller one on her right sleeve. The
girl herself looked down at the sinister patch of red and then up at
her aunt. "It looks like--like blood," she stammered. "Yes, it is--I
think--of course it is. He struck his nose--and it bled--"

"Come," interrupted Mrs. Haldean, "let us go," and she rushed from the
room, leaving me to follow.

I lifted Miss Haldean, who was half fainting with fatigue and
agitation, on to the sofa, and, whispering a few words of encouragement
into her ear, turned to Mrs. Hanshaw.

"I can't stay with Mrs. Haldean," I said. "There are two visits to be
made at Rebworth. Will you send the dogcart up the road with somebody
to take my place?"

"Yes," she answered. "I will send Giles, or come myself if Lucy is fit
to be left."

I ran to the stables for my bicycle, and as I pedalled out into the
road I could see Mrs. Haldean already far ahead, driving her machine
at frantic speed. I followed at a rapid pace, but it was not until we
approached the commencement of the wood, when she slowed down somewhat,
that I overtook her.

"This is the place," I said, as we reached the spot where I had parted
from Miss Haldean. We dismounted and wheeled our bicycles through the
gate, and laying them down beside the hedge, crossed the meadow and
entered the wood.

It was a terrible experience, and one that I shall never forget--the
white-faced, distracted woman, tramping in her flimsy house-shoes over
the rough ground, bursting through the bushes, regardless of the thorny
branches that dragged at skin and hair and dainty clothing, and sending
forth from time to time a tremulous cry, so dreadfully pathetic in its
mingling of terror and coaxing softness, that a lump rose in my throat,
and I could barely keep my self-control.

"Freddy! Freddy-boy! Mummy's here, darling!" The wailing cry sounded
through the leafy solitude; but no answer came save the whirr of
wings or the chatter of startled birds. But even more shocking
than that terrible cry--more disturbing and eloquent with dreadful
suggestion--was the way in which she peered, furtively, but with
fearful expectation, among the roots of the bushes, or halted to gaze
upon every molehill and hummock, every depression or disturbance of the
ground.

So we stumbled on for a while, with never a word spoken, until we came
to a beaten track or footpath leading across the wood. Here I paused
to examine the footprints, of which several were visible in the soft
earth, though none seemed very recent; but, proceeding a little way
down the track, I perceived, crossing it, a set of fresh imprints,
which I recognized at once as Miss Haldean's. She was wearing, as I
knew, a pair of brown golf-boots, with rubber pads in the leather
soles, and the prints made by them were unmistakable.

"Miss Haldean crossed the path here," I said, pointing to the
footprints.

"Don't speak of her before me!" exclaimed Mrs. Haldean; but she gazed
eagerly at the footprints, nevertheless, and immediately plunged into
the wood to follow the tracks.

"You are very unjust to your niece, Mrs. Haldean," I ventured to
protest.

She halted, and faced me with an angry frown.

"You don't understand!" she exclaimed. "You don't know, perhaps, that
if my poor child is really dead, Lucy Haldean will be a rich woman, and
may marry to-morrow if she chooses?"

"I did not know that," I answered, "but if I had, I should have said
the same."

"Of course you would," she retorted bitterly. "A pretty face can muddle
any man's judgment."

She turned away abruptly to resume her pursuit, and I followed in
silence. The trail which we were following zigzagged through the
thickest part of the wood, but its devious windings eventually brought
us out on to an open space on the farther side. Here we at once
perceived traces of another kind. A litter of dirty rags, pieces of
paper, scraps of stale bread, bones and feathers, with hoof-marks,
wheel ruts, and the ashes of a large wood fire, pointed clearly to a
gipsy encampment recently broken up. I laid my hand on the heap of
ashes, and found it still warm, and on scattering it with my foot a
layer of glowing cinders appeared at the bottom.

"These people have only been gone an hour or two," I said. "It would be
well to have them followed without delay."

A gleam of hope shone on the drawn, white face as the bereaved mother
caught eagerly at my suggestion.

"Yes," she exclaimed breathlessly; "she may have bribed them to take
him away. Let us see which way they went."

We followed the wheel tracks down to the road, and found that they
turned towards London. At the same time I perceived the dogcart in the
distance, with Mrs. Hanshaw standing beside it; and, as the coachman
observed me, he whipped up his horse and approached.

"I shall have to go," I said, "but Mrs. Hanshaw will help you to
continue the search."

"And you will make inquiries about the gipsies, won't you?" she said.

I promised to do so, and as the dogcart now came up, I climbed to the
seat, and drove off briskly up the London Road.

The extent of a country doctor's round is always an unknown quantity.
On the present occasion I picked up three additional patients, and as
one of them was a case of incipient pleurisy, which required to have
the chest strapped, and another was a neglected dislocation of the
shoulder, a great deal of time was taken up. Moreover, the gipsies,
whom I ran to earth on Rebworth Common, delayed me considerably, though
I had to leave the rural constable to carry out the actual search, and,
as a result, the clock of Burling Church was striking six as I drove
through the village on my way home.

I got down at the front gate, leaving the coachman to take the dogcart
round, and walked up the drive; and my astonishment may be imagined
when, on turning the corner, I came suddenly upon the inspector of the
local police in earnest conversation with no less a person than John
Thorndyke.

"What on earth has brought you here?" I exclaimed, my surprise getting
the better of my manners.

"The ultimate motive-force," he replied, "was an impulsive lady named
Mrs. Haldean. She telegraphed for me--in your name."

"She oughtn't to have done that," I said.

"Perhaps not. But the ethics of an agitated woman are not worth
discussing, and she has done something much worse--she has applied to
the local J.P. (a retired Major-General), and our gallant and unlearned
friend has issued a warrant for the arrest of Lucy Haldean on the
charge of murder."

"But there has been no murder!" I exclaimed.

"That," said Thorndyke, "is a legal subtlety that he does not
appreciate. He has learned his law in the orderly-room, where the
qualifications to practise are an irritable temper and a loud voice.
However, the practical point is, inspector, that the warrant is
irregular. You can't arrest people for hypothetical crimes."

The officer drew a deep breath of relief. He knew all about the
irregularity, and now joyfully took refuge behind Thorndyke's great
reputation.

When he had departed--with a brief note from my colleague to the
General--Thorndyke slipped his arm through mine, and we strolled
towards the house.

"This is a grim business, Jervis," said he. "That boy has got to be
found for everybody's sake. Can you come with me when you have had some
food?"

"Of course I can. I have been saving myself all the afternoon with a
view to continuing the search."

"Good," said Thorndyke. "Then come in and feed."

A nondescript meal, half tea and half dinner, was already prepared, and
Mrs. Hanshaw, grave but self-possessed, presided at the table.

"Mabel is still out with Giles, searching for the boy," she said. "You
have heard what she has done!"

I nodded.

"It was dreadful of her," continued Mrs. Hanshaw, "but she is half mad,
poor thing. You might run up and say a few kind words to poor Lucy
while I make the tea."

I went up at once and knocked at Miss Haldean's door, and, being
bidden to enter, found her lying on the sofa, red-eyed and pale, the
very ghost of the merry, laughing girl who had gone out with me in the
morning. I drew up a chair, and sat down by her side, and as I took the
hand she held out to me, she said:

"It is good of you to come and see a miserable wretch like me. And
Jane has been so sweet to me, Dr. Jervis; but Aunt Mabel thinks I have
killed Freddy--you know she does--and it was really my fault that he
was lost. I shall never forgive myself!"

She burst into a passion of sobbing, and I proceeded to chide her
gently.

"You are a silly little woman," I said, "to take this nonsense to heart
as you are doing. Your aunt is not responsible just now, as you must
know; but when we bring the boy home she shall make you a handsome
apology. I will see to that."

She pressed my hand gratefully, and as the bell now rang for tea, I
bade her have courage and went downstairs.

"You need not trouble about the practice," said Mrs. Hanshaw, as I
concluded my lightning repast, and Thorndyke went off to get our
bicycles. "Dr. Symons has heard of our trouble, and has called to say
that he will take anything that turns up; so we shall expect you when
we see you."

"How do you like Thorndyke?" I asked.

"He is quite charming," she replied enthusiastically; "so tactful and
kind, and so handsome, too. You didn't tell us that. But here he is.
Good-bye, and good luck."

She pressed my hand, and I went out into the drive, where Thorndyke and
the coachman were standing with three bicycles.

"I see you have brought your outfit," I said as we turned into the
road; for Thorndyke's machine bore a large canvas-covered case strapped
on to a strong bracket.

"Yes; there are many things that we may want on a quest of this kind.
How did you find Miss Haldean?"

"Very miserable, poor girl. By the way, have you heard anything about
her pecuniary interest in the child's death?"

"Yes," said Thorndyke. "It appears that the late Mr. Haldean used up
all his brains on his business, and had none left for the making of his
will--as often happens. He left almost the whole of his property--about
eighty thousand pounds--to his son, the widow to have a life-interest
in it. He also left to his late brother's daughter, Lucy, fifty pounds
a year, and to his surviving brother Percy, who seems to have been
a good-for-nothing, a hundred a year for life. But--and here is the
utter folly of the thing--if the son should die, the property was to be
equally divided between the brother and the niece, with the exception
of five hundred a year for life to the widow. It was an insane
arrangement."

"Quite," I agreed, "and a very dangerous one for Lucy Haldean, as
things are at present."

"Very; especially if anything should have happened to the child."

"What are you going to do now?" I inquired, seeing that Thorndyke rode
on as if with a definite purpose.

"There is a footpath through the wood," he replied. "I want to examine
that. And there is a house behind the wood which I should like to see."

"The house of the mysterious stranger," I suggested.

"Precisely. Mysterious and solitary strangers invite inquiry."

We drew up at the entrance to the footpath, leaving Willett the
coachman in charge of the three machines, and proceeded up the narrow
track. As we went, Thorndyke looked back at the prints of our feet, and
nodded approvingly.

"This soft loam," he remarked, "yields beautifully clear impressions,
and yesterday's rain has made it perfect."

We had not gone far when we perceived a set of footprints which
I recognized, as did Thorndyke also, for he remarked: "Miss
Haldean--running, and alone." Presently we met them again, crossing
in the opposite direction, together with the prints of small shoes
with very high heels. "Mrs. Haldean on the track of her niece," was
Thorndyke's comment; and a minute later we encountered them both again,
accompanied by my own footprints.

"The boy does not seem to have crossed the path at all," I remarked
as we walked on, keeping off the track itself to avoid confusing the
footprints.

"We shall know when we have examined the whole length," replied
Thorndyke, plodding on with his eyes on the ground. "Ha! here is
something new," he added, stopping short and stooping down eagerly--"a
man with a thick stick--a smallish man, rather lame. Notice the
difference between the two feet, and the peculiar way in which he uses
his stick. Yes, Jervis, there is a great deal to interest us in these
footprints. Do you notice anything very suggestive about them?"

"Nothing but what you have mentioned," I replied. "What do you mean?"

"Well, first there is the very singular character of the prints
themselves, which we will consider presently. You observe that this man
came down the path, and at this point turned off into the wood; then he
returned from the wood and went up the path again. The imposition of
the prints makes that clear. But now look at the two sets of prints,
and compare them. Do you notice any difference?"

"The returning footprints seem more distinct--better impressions."

"Yes; they are noticeably deeper. But there is something else."
He produced a spring tape from his pocket, and took half a dozen
measurements. "You see," he said, "the first set of footprints have a
stride of twenty-one inches from heel to heel--a short stride; but he
is a smallish man, and lame; the returning ones have a stride of only
nineteen and a half inches; hence the returning footprints are deeper
than the others, and the steps are shorter. What do you make of that?"

"It would suggest that he was carrying a burden when he returned," I
replied.

"Yes; and a heavy one, to make that difference in the depth. I think I
will get you to go and fetch Willett and the bicycles."

I strode off down the path to the entrance, and, taking possession
of Thorndyke's machine, with its precious case of instruments, bade
Willett follow with the other two.

When I returned, my colleague was standing with his hands behind him,
gazing with intense preoccupation at the footprints. He looked up
sharply as we approached, and called out to us to keep off the path if
possible.

"Stay here with the machines, Willett," said he. "You and I, Jervis,
must go and see where our friend went to when he left the path, and
what was the burden that he picked up."

We struck off into the wood, where last year's dead leaves made the
footprints almost indistinguishable, and followed the faint double
track for a long distance between the dense clumps of bushes. Suddenly
my eye caught, beside the double trail, a third row of tracks, smaller
in size and closer together. Thorndyke had seen them, too, and already
his measuring-tape was in his hand.

"Eleven and a half inches to the stride," said he. "That will be the
boy, Jervis. But the light is getting weak. We must press on quickly,
or we shall lose it."

Some fifty yards farther on, the man's tracks ceased abruptly, but the
small ones continued alone; and we followed them as rapidly as we could
in the fading light.

"There can be no reasonable doubt that these are the child's tracks,"
said Thorndyke; "but I should like to find a definite footprint to make
the identification absolutely certain."

A few seconds later he halted with an exclamation, and stooped on one
knee. A little heap of fresh earth from the surface-burrow of a mole
had been thrown up over the dead leaves; and fairly planted on it was
the clean and sharp impression of a diminutive foot, with a rubber heel
showing a central star. Thorndyke drew from his pocket a tiny shoe, and
pressed it on the soft earth beside the footprint; and when he raised
it the second impression was identical with the first.

"The boy had two pairs of shoes exactly alike," he said, "so I borrowed
one of the duplicate pair."

He turned, and began to retrace his steps rapidly, following our own
fresh tracks, and stopping only once to point out the place where the
unknown man had picked the child up. When we regained the path we
proceeded without delay until we emerged from the wood within a hundred
yards of the cottage.

"I see Mrs. Haldean has been here with Giles," remarked Thorndyke, as
he pushed open the garden-gate. "I wonder if they saw anybody."

He advanced to the door, and having first rapped with his knuckles and
then kicked at it vigorously, tried the handle.

"Locked," he observed, "but I see the key is in the lock, so we can get
in if we want to. Let us try the back."

The back door was locked, too, but the key had been removed.

"He came out this way, evidently," said Thorndyke, "though he went in
at the front, as I suppose you noticed. Let us see where he went."

The back garden was a small, fenced patch of ground, with an earth path
leading down to the back gate. A little way beyond the gate was a small
barn or outhouse.

"We are in luck," Thorndyke remarked, with a glance at the path.
"Yesterday's rain has cleared away all old footprints, and prepared
the surface for new ones. You see there are three sets of excellent
impressions--two leading away from the house, and one set towards
it. Now, you notice that both of the sets leading from the house are
characterized by deep impressions and short steps, while the set
leading to the house has lighter impressions and longer steps. The
obvious inference is that he went down the path with a heavy burden,
came back empty-handed, and went down again--and finally--with another
heavy burden. You observe, too, that he walked with his stick on each
occasion."

By this time we had reached the bottom of the garden. Opening the
gate, we followed the tracks towards the outhouse, which stood beside
a cart-track; but as we came round the corner we both stopped short
and looked at one another. On the soft earth were the very distinct
impressions of the tyres of a motor-car leading from the wide door of
the outhouse. Finding that the door was unfastened, Thorndyke opened
it, and looked in, to satisfy himself that the place was empty. Then he
fell to studying the tracks.

"The course of events is pretty plain," he observed. "First the
fellow brought down his luggage, started the engine, and got the car
out--you can see where it stood, both by the little pool of oil, and
by the widening and blurring of the wheel-tracks from the vibration of
the free engine; then he went back and fetched the boy--carried him
pick-a-back, I should say, judging by the depth of the toe-marks in the
last set of footprints. That was a tactical mistake. He should have
taken the boy straight into the shed."

He pointed as he spoke to one of the footprints beside the
wheel-tracks, from the toe of which projected a small segment of the
print of a little rubber heel.

We now made our way back to the house, where we found Willett pensively
rapping at the front door with a cycle-spanner. Thorndyke took a last
glance, with his hand in his pocket, at an open window above, and then,
to the coachman's intense delight, brought forth what looked uncommonly
like a small bunch of skeleton keys. One of these he inserted into the
keyhole, and as he gave it a turn, the lock clicked, and the door stood
open.

The little sitting-room, which we now entered, was furnished with the
barest necessaries. Its centre was occupied by an oilcloth-covered
table, on which I observed with surprise a dismembered "Bee" clock
(the works of which had been taken apart with a tin-opener that lay
beside them) and a box-wood bird-call. At these objects Thorndyke
glanced and nodded, as though they fitted into some theory that he had
formed; examined carefully the oilcloth around the litter of wheels and
pinions, and then proceeded on a tour of inspection round the room,
peering inquisitively into the kitchen and store-cupboard.

"Nothing very distinctive or personal here," he remarked. "Let us go
upstairs."

There were three bedrooms on the upper floor, of which two were
evidently disused, though the windows were wide open. The third bedroom
showed manifest traces of occupation, though it was as bare as the
others, for the water still stood in the wash-hand basin, and the bed
was unmade. To the latter Thorndyke advanced, and, having turned back
the bedclothes, examined the interior attentively, especially at the
foot and the pillow. The latter was soiled--not to say grimy--though
the rest of the bed-linen was quite clean.

"Hair-dye," remarked Thorndyke, noting my glance at it; then he turned
and looked out of the open window. "Can you see the place where Miss
Haldean was sitting to sketch?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied; "there is the place well in view, and you can see
right up the road. I had no idea this house stood so high. From the
three upper windows you can see all over the country excepting through
the wood."

"Yes," Thorndyke rejoined, "and he has probably been in the habit of
keeping watch up here with a telescope or a pair of field-glasses.
Well, there is not much of interest in this room. He kept his effects
in a cabin trunk which stood there under the window. He shaved
this morning. He has a white beard, to judge by the stubble on the
shaving-paper, and that is all. Wait, though. There is a key hanging
on that nail. He must have overlooked that, for it evidently does not
belong to this house. It is an ordinary town latchkey."

He took the key down, and having laid a sheet of notepaper, from his
pocket, on the dressing-table, produced a pin, with which he began
carefully to probe the interior of the key-barrel. Presently there came
forth, with much coaxing, a large ball of grey fluff, which Thorndyke
folded up in the paper with infinite care.

"I suppose we mustn't take away the key," he said, "but I think we will
take a wax mould of it."

He hurried downstairs, and, unstrapping the case from his bicycle,
brought it in and placed it on the table. As it was now getting dark,
he detached the powerful acetylene lamp from his machine, and, having
lighted it, proceeded to open the mysterious case. First he took from
it a small insufflator, or powder-blower, with which he blew a cloud of
light yellow powder over the table around the remains of the clock. The
powder settled on the table in an even coating, but when he blew at it
smartly with his breath, it cleared off, leaving, however, a number of
smeary impressions which stood out in strong yellow against the black
oilcloth. To one of these impressions he pointed significantly. It was
the print of a child's hand.

He next produced a small, portable microscope and some glass slides and
cover-slips, and having opened the paper and tipped the ball of fluff
from the key-barrel on to a slide, set to work with a pair of mounted
needles to tease it out into its component parts. Then he turned the
light of the lamp on to the microscope mirror and proceeded to examine
the specimen.

"A curious and instructive assortment this, Jervis," he remarked, with
his eye at the microscope: "woollen fibres--no cotton or linen; he is
careful of his health to have woollen pockets--and two hairs; very
curious ones, too. Just look at them, and observe the root bulbs."

I applied my eye to the microscope, and saw, among other things, two
hairs--originally white, but encrusted with a black, opaque, glistening
stain. The root bulbs, I noticed, were shrivelled and atrophied.

"But how on earth," I exclaimed, "did the hairs get into his pocket?"

"I think the hairs themselves answer that question," he replied, "when
considered with the other curios. The stain is obviously lead sulphide;
but what else do you see?"

"I see some particles of metal--a white metal apparently--and a number
of fragments of woody fibre and starch granules, but I don't recognize
the starch. It is not wheat-starch, nor rice, nor potato. Do you make
out what it is?"

Thorndyke chuckled. "Experientia does it," said he. "You will have,
Jervis, to study the minute properties of dust and dirt. Their
evidential value is immense. Let us have another look at that starch;
it is all alike, I suppose."

It was; and Thorndyke had just ascertained the fact when the door burst
open and Mrs. Haldean entered the room, followed by Mrs. Hanshaw and
the police inspector. The former lady regarded my colleague with a
glance of extreme disfavour.

"We heard that you had come here, sir," said she, "and we supposed
you were engaged in searching for my poor child. But it seems we were
mistaken, since we find you here amusing yourselves fiddling with these
nonsensical instruments."

"Perhaps, Mabel," said Mrs. Hanshaw stiffly, "it would be wiser, and
infinitely more polite, to ask if Dr. Thorndyke has any news for us."

"That is undoubtedly so, madam," agreed the inspector, who had
apparently suffered also from Mrs. Haldean's impulsiveness.

"Then perhaps," the latter lady suggested, "you will inform us if you
have discovered anything."

"I will tell you." replied Thorndyke, "all that we know. The child was
abducted by the man who occupied this house, and who appears to have
watched him from an upper window, probably through a glass. This man
lured the child into the wood by blowing this bird-call; he met him in
the wood, and induced him--by some promises, no doubt--to come with
him. He picked the child up and carried him--on his back, I think--up
to the house, and brought him in through the front door, which he
locked after him. He gave the boy this clock and the bird-call to amuse
him while he went upstairs and packed his trunk. He took the trunk out
through the back door and down the garden to the shed there, in which
he had a motor-car. He got the car out and came back for the boy, whom
he carried down to the car, locking the back door after him. Then he
drove away."

"You know he has gone," cried Mrs. Haldean, "and yet you stay here
playing with these ridiculous toys. Why are you not following him?"

"We have just finished ascertaining the facts," Thorndyke replied
calmly, "and should by now be on the road if you had not come."

Here the inspector interposed anxiously. "Of course, sir, you can't
give any description of the man. You have no clue to his identity, I
suppose?"

"We have only his footprints," Thorndyke answered, "and this fluff
which I raked out of the barrel of his latchkey, and have just been
examining. From these data I conclude that he is a rather short and
thin man, and somewhat lame. He walks with the aid of a thick stick,
which has a knob, not a crook, at the top, and which he carries in
his left hand. I think that his left leg has been amputated above the
knee, and that he wears an artificial limb. He is elderly, he shaves
his beard, has white hair dyed a greyish black, is partly bald, and
probably combs a wisp of hair over the bald place; he takes snuff, and
carries a leaden comb in his pocket."

As Thorndyke's description proceeded, the inspector's mouth gradually
opened wider and wider, until he appeared the very type and symbol of
astonishment. But its effect on Mrs. Haldean was much more remarkable.
Rising from her chair, she leaned on the table and stared at Thorndyke
with an expression of awe--even of terror; and as he finished she sank
back into her chair, with her hands clasped, and turned to Mrs. Hanshaw.

"Jane!" she gasped, "it is Percy--my brother-in-law! He has described
him exactly, even to his stick and his pocket-comb. But I thought he
was in Chicago."

"If that is so," said Thorndyke, hastily repacking his case, "we had
better start at once."

"We have the dogcart in the road," said Mrs. Hanshaw.

"Thank you," replied Thorndyke. "We will ride on our bicycles, and
the inspector can borrow Willett's. We go out at the back by the
cart-track, which joins the road farther on."

"Then we will follow in the dogcart," said Mrs. Haldean. "Come, Jane."

The two ladies departed down the path, while we made ready our bicycles
and lit our lamps.

"With your permission, inspector," said Thorndyke, "we will take the
key with us."

"It's hardly legal, sir," objected the officer. "We have no authority."

"It is quite illegal," answered Thorndyke; "but it is necessary; and
necessity--like your military J.P.--knows no law."

The inspector grinned and went out, regarding me with a quivering
eyelid as Thorndyke locked the door with his skeleton key. As we turned
into the road, I saw the light of the dogcart behind us, and we pushed
forward at a swift pace, picking up the trail easily on the soft, moist
road.

"What beats me," said the inspector confidentially, as we rode along,
"is how he knew the man was bald. Was it the footprints or the
latchkey? And that comb, too, that was a regular knock-out."

These points were, by now, pretty clear to me. I had seen the hairs
with their atrophied bulbs--such as one finds at the margin of a bald
patch; and the comb was used, evidently, for the double purpose of
keeping the bald patch covered and blackening the sulphur-charged hair.
But the knobbed stick and the artificial limb puzzled me so completely
that I presently overtook Thorndyke to demand an explanation.

"The stick," said he, "is perfectly simple. The ferrule of a knobbed
stick wears evenly all round; that of a crooked stick wears on one
side--the side opposite the crook. The impressions showed that the
ferrule of this one was evenly convex; therefore it had no crook. The
other matter is more complicated. To begin with, an artificial foot
makes a very characteristic impression, owing to its purely passive
elasticity, as I will show you to-morrow. But an artificial leg fitted
below the knee is quite secure, whereas one fitted above the knee--that
is, with an artificial knee-joint worked by a spring--is much less
reliable. Now, this man had an artificial foot, and he evidently
distrusted his knee-joint, as is shown by his steadying it with his
stick on the same side. If he had merely had a weak leg, he would have
used the stick with his right hand--with the natural swing of the arm,
in fact--unless he had been very lame, which he evidently was not.
Still, it was only a question of probability, though the probability
was very great. Of course, you understand that those particles of woody
fibre and starch granules were disintegrated snuff-grains."

This explanation, like the others, was quite simple when one had heard
it, though it gave me material for much thought as we pedalled on along
the dark road, with Thorndyke's light flickering in front, and the
dogcart pattering in our wake. But there was ample time for reflection;
for our pace rather precluded conversation, and we rode on, mile after
mile, until my legs ached with fatigue. On and on we went through
village after village, now losing the trail in some frequented street,
but picking it up again unfailingly as we emerged on to the country
road, until at last, in the paved High Street of the little town of
Horsefield, we lost it for good. We rode on through the town out on to
the country road; but although there were several tracks of motors,
Thorndyke shook his head at them all. "I have been studying those tyres
until I know them by heart," he said. "No; either he is in the town, or
he has left it by a side road."

There was nothing for it but to put up the horse and the machines at
the hotel, while we walked round to reconnoitre; and this we did,
tramping up one street and down another, with eyes bent on the ground,
fruitlessly searching for a trace of the missing car.

Suddenly, at the door of a blacksmith's shop, Thorndyke halted. The
shop had been kept open late for the shoeing of a carriage horse, which
was just being led away, and the smith had come to the door for a
breath of air. Thorndyke accosted him genially.

"Good-evening. You are just the man I wanted to see. I have mislaid
the address of a friend of mine, who, I think, called on you this
afternoon--a lame gentleman who walks with a stick. I expect he wanted
you to pick a lock or make him a key."

"Oh, I remember him!" said the man. "Yes, he had lost his latchkey, and
wanted the lock picked before he could get into his house. Had to leave
his motor-car outside while he came here. But I took some keys round
with me, and fitted one to his latch."

He then directed us to a house at the end of a street close by, and,
having thanked him, we went off in high spirits.

"How did you know he had been there?" I asked.

"I didn't; but there was the mark of a stick and part of a left foot
on the soft earth inside the doorway, and the thing was inherently
probable, so I risked a false shot."

The house stood alone at the far end of a straggling street, and was
enclosed by a high wall, in which, on the side facing the street, was a
door and a wide carriage-gate. Advancing to the former, Thorndyke took
from his pocket the purloined key, and tried it in the lock. It fitted
perfectly, and when he had turned it and pushed open the door, we
entered a small courtyard. Crossing this, we came to the front door of
the house, the latch of which fortunately fitted the same key; and this
having been opened by Thorndyke, we trooped into the hall. Immediately
we heard the sound of an opening door above, and a reedy, nasal voice
sang out:

"Hello, there! Who's that below?"

The voice was followed by the appearance of a head projecting over the
baluster rail.

"You are Mr. Percy Haldean, I think," said the inspector.

At the mention of this name, the head was withdrawn, and a quick tread
was heard, accompanied by the tapping of a stick on the floor. We
started to ascend the stairs, the inspector leading, as the authorized
official; but we had only gone up a few steps, when a fierce, wiry
little man danced out on to the landing, with a thick stick in one hand
and a very large revolver in the other.

"Move another step, either of you," he shouted, pointing the weapon at
the inspector, "and I let fly; and mind you, when I shoot I hit."

He looked as if he meant it, and we accordingly halted with remarkable
suddenness, while the inspector proceeded to parley.

"Now, what's the good of this, Mr. Haldean?" said he. "The game's up,
and you know it."

"You clear out of my house, and clear out sharp," was the inhospitable
rejoinder, "or you'll give me the trouble of burying you in the garden."

I looked round to consult with Thorndyke, when, to my amazement, I
found that he had vanished--apparently through the open hall-door. I
was admiring his discretion when the inspector endeavoured to reopen
negotiations, but was cut short abruptly.

"I am going to count fifty," said Mr. Haldean, "and if you aren't gone
then, I shall shoot."

He began to count deliberately, and the inspector looked round at me in
complete bewilderment. The flight of stairs was a long one, and well
lighted by gas, so that to rush it was an impossibility. Suddenly my
heart gave a bound and I held my breath, for out of an open door behind
our quarry, a figure emerged slowly and noiselessly on to the landing.
It was Thorndyke, shoeless, and in his shirt-sleeves.

Slowly and with cat-like stealthiness, he crept across the landing
until he was within a yard of the unconscious fugitive, and still the
nasal voice droned on, monotonously counting out the allotted seconds.

"Forty-one, forty-two, forty-three--"

There was a lightning-like movement--a shout--a flash--a bang--a shower
of falling plaster, and then the revolver came clattering down the
stairs. The inspector and I rushed up, and in a moment the sharp click
of the handcuffs told Mr. Percy Haldean that the game was really up.

Five minutes later Freddy-boy, half asleep, but wholly cheerful, was
borne on Thorndyke's shoulders into the private sitting-room of the
Black Horse Hotel. A shriek of joy saluted his entrance, and a shower
of maternal kisses brought him to the verge of suffocation. Finally,
the impulsive Mrs. Haldean, turning suddenly to Thorndyke, seized
both his hands, and for a moment I hoped that she was going to kiss
him, too. But he was spared, and I have not yet recovered from the
disappointment.



THE ANTHROPOLOGIST AT LARGE


Thorndyke was not a newspaper reader. He viewed with extreme disfavour
all scrappy and miscellaneous forms of literature, which, by presenting
a disorderly series of unrelated items of information, tended, as he
considered, to destroy the habit of consecutive mental effort.

"It is most important," he once remarked to me, "habitually to pursue
a definite train of thought, and to pursue it to a finish, instead
of flitting indolently from one uncompleted topic to another, as the
newspaper reader is so apt to do. Still, there is no harm in a daily
paper--so long as you don't read it."

Accordingly, he patronized a morning paper, and his method of dealing
with it was characteristic. The paper was laid on the table after
breakfast, together with a blue pencil and a pair of office shears.
A preliminary glance through the sheets enabled him to mark with the
pencil those paragraphs that were to be read, and these were presently
cut out and looked through, after which they were either thrown away or
set aside to be pasted in an indexed book.

The whole proceeding occupied, on an average, a quarter of an hour.

On the morning of which I am now speaking he was thus engaged. The
pencil had done its work, and the snick of the shears announced the
final stage. Presently he paused with a newly-excised cutting between
his fingers, and, after glancing at it for a moment, he handed it to me.

"Another art robbery," he remarked. "Mysterious affairs, these--as to
motive, I mean. You can't melt down a picture or an ivory carving, and
you can't put them on the market as they stand. The very qualities that
give them their value make them totally unnegotiable."

"Yet I suppose," said I, "the really inveterate collector--the pottery
or stamp maniac, for instance--will buy these contraband goods even
though he dare not show them."

"Probably. No doubt the cupiditas habendi, the mere desire to possess,
is the motive force rather than any intelligent purpose--"

The discussion was at this point interrupted by a knock at the door,
and a moment later my colleague admitted two gentlemen. One of
these I recognized as a Mr. Marchmont, a solicitor, for whom we had
occasionally acted; the other was a stranger--a typical Hebrew of the
blonde type--good-looking, faultlessly dressed, carrying a bandbox, and
obviously in a state of the most extreme agitation.

"Good-morning to you, gentlemen," said Mr. Marchmont, shaking hands
cordially. "I have brought a client of mine to see you, and when I tell
you that his name is Solomon Loewe, it will be unnecessary for me to
say what our business is."

"Oddly enough," replied Thorndyke, "we were, at the very moment when
you knocked, discussing the bearings of his case."

"It is a horrible affair!" burst in Mr. Loewe. "I am distracted! I am
ruined! I am in despair!"

He banged the bandbox down on the table, and flinging himself into a
chair, buried his face in his hands.

"Come, come," remonstrated Marchmont, "we must be brave, we must be
composed. Tell Dr. Thorndyke your story, and let us hear what he thinks
of it."

He leaned back in his chair, and looked at his client with that air of
patient fortitude that comes to us all so easily when we contemplate
the misfortunes of other people.

"You must help us, sir," exclaimed Loewe, starting up again--"you must,
indeed, or I shall go mad. But I shall tell you what has happened, and
then you must act at once. Spare no effort and no expense. Money is no
object--at least, not in reason," he added, with native caution. He sat
down once more, and in perfect English, though with a slight German
accent, proceeded volubly: "My brother Isaac is probably known to you
by name."

Thorndyke nodded.

"He is a great collector, and to some extent a dealer--that is to say,
he makes his hobby a profitable hobby."

"What does he collect?" asked Thorndyke.

"Everything," replied our visitor, flinging his hands apart
with a comprehensive gesture--"everything that is precious and
beautiful--pictures, ivories, jewels, watches, objects of art and
vertu--everything. He is a Jew, and he has that passion for things that
are rich and costly that has distinguished our race from the time of my
namesake Solomon onwards. His house in Howard Street, Piccadilly, is
at once a museum and an art gallery. The rooms are filled with cases
of gems, of antique jewellery, of coins and historic relics--some of
priceless value--and the walls are covered with paintings, every one of
which is a masterpiece. There is a fine collection of ancient weapons
and armour, both European and Oriental; rare books, manuscripts,
papyri, and valuable antiquities from Egypt, Assyria, Cyprus, and
elsewhere. You see, his taste is quite catholic, and his knowledge of
rare and curious things is probably greater than that of any other
living man. He is never mistaken. No forgery deceives him, and hence
the great prices that he obtains; for a work of art purchased from
Isaac Loewe is a work certified as genuine beyond all cavil."

He paused to mop his face with a silk handkerchief, and then, with the
same plaintive volubility, continued:

"My brother is unmarried. He lives for his collection, and he lives
with it. The house is not a very large one, and the collection takes up
most of it; but he keeps a suite of rooms for his own occupation, and
has two servants--a man and wife--to look after him. The man, who is a
retired police sergeant, acts as caretaker and watchman; the woman as
housekeeper and cook, if required, but my brother lives largely at his
club. And now I come to this present catastrophe."

He ran his fingers through his hair, took a deep breath, and continued:

"Yesterday morning Isaac started for Florence by way of Paris, but
his route was not certain, and he intended to break his journey at
various points as circumstances determined. Before leaving, he put his
collection in my charge, and it was arranged that I should occupy his
rooms in his absence. Accordingly, I sent my things round and took
possession.

"Now, Dr. Thorndyke, I am closely connected with the drama, and it is
my custom to spend my evenings at my club, of which most of the members
are actors. Consequently, I am rather late in my habits; but last night
I was earlier than usual in leaving my club, for I started for my
brother's house before half-past twelve. I felt, as you may suppose,
the responsibility of the great charge I had undertaken; and you may,
therefore, imagine my horror, my consternation, my despair, when, on
letting myself in with my latchkey, I found a police-inspector, a
sergeant, and a constable in the hall. There had been a robbery, sir,
in my brief absence, and the account that the inspector gave of the
affair was briefly this:

"While taking the round of his district, he had noticed an empty
hansom proceeding in leisurely fashion along Howard Street. There was
nothing remarkable in this, but when, about ten minutes later, he
was returning, and met a hansom, which he believed to be the same,
proceeding along the same street in the same direction, and at the same
easy pace, the circumstance struck him as odd, and he made a note of
the number of the cab in his pocket-book. It was 72,863, and the time
was 11.35.

"At 11.45 a constable coming up Howard Street noticed a hansom standing
opposite the door of my brother's house, and, while he was looking
at it, a man came out of the house carrying something, which he put
in the cab. On this the constable quickened his pace, and when the
man returned to the house and reappeared carrying what looked like a
portmanteau, and closing the door softly behind him, the policeman's
suspicions were aroused, and he hurried forward, hailing the cabman to
stop.

"The man put his burden into the cab, and sprang in himself. The cabman
lashed his horse, which started off at a gallop, and the policeman
broke into a run, blowing his whistle and flashing his lantern on to
the cab. He followed it round the two turnings into Albemarle Street,
and was just in time to see it turn into Piccadilly, where, of course,
it was lost. However, he managed to note the number of the cab, which
was 72,863, and he describes the man as short and thick-set, and thinks
he was not wearing any hat.

"As he was returning, he met the inspector and the sergeant, who had
heard the whistle, and on his report the three officers hurried to the
house, where they knocked and rang for some minutes without any result.
Being now more than suspicious, they went to the back of the house,
through the mews, where, with great difficulty, they managed to force a
window and effect an entrance into the house.

"Here their suspicions were soon changed to certainty, for, on reaching
the first-floor, they heard strange muffled groans proceeding from one
of the rooms, the door of which was locked, though the key had not
been removed. They opened the door, and found the caretaker and his
wife sitting on the floor, with their backs against the wall. Both
were bound hand and foot, and the head of each was enveloped in a
green-baize bag; and when the bags were taken off, each was found to be
lightly but effectively gagged.

"Each told the same story. The caretaker, fancying he heard a noise,
armed himself with a truncheon, and came downstairs to the first-floor,
where he found the door of one of the rooms open, and a light burning
inside. He stepped on tiptoe to the open door, and was peering in,
when he was seized from behind, half suffocated by a pad held over his
mouth, pinioned, gagged, and blindfolded with the bag.

"His assailant--whom he never saw--was amazingly strong and skilful,
and handled him with perfect ease, although he--the caretaker--is a
powerful man, and a good boxer and wrestler. The same thing happened to
the wife, who had come down to look for her husband. She walked into
the same trap, and was gagged, pinioned, and blindfolded without ever
having soon the robber. So the only description that we have of this
villain is that furnished by the constable."

"And the caretaker had no chance of using his truncheon?" said
Thorndyke.

"Well, he got in one backhanded blow over his right shoulder, which he
thinks caught the burglar in the face; but the fellow caught him by the
elbow, and gave his arm such a twist that he dropped the truncheon on
the floor."

"Is the robbery a very extensive one?"

"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Loewe, "that is just what we cannot say. But I fear
it is. It seems that my brother had quite recently drawn out of his
bank four thousand pounds in notes and gold. These little transactions
are often carried out in cash rather than by cheque"--here I caught a
twinkle in Thorndyke's eye--"and the caretaker says that a few days ago
Isaac brought home several parcels, which were put away temporarily
in a strong cupboard. He seemed to be very pleased with his new
acquisitions, and gave the caretaker to understand that they were of
extraordinary rarity and value.

"Now, this cupboard has been cleared out. Not a vestige is left in it
but the wrappings of the parcels, so, although nothing else has been
touched, it is pretty clear that goods to the value of four thousand
pounds have been taken; but when we consider what an excellent buyer
my brother is, it becomes highly probable that the actual value of
those things is two or three times that amount, or even more. It is a
dreadful, dreadful business, and Isaac will hold me responsible for it
all."

"Is there no further clue?" asked Thorndyke. "What about the cab, for
instance?"

"Oh, the cab," groaned Loewe--"that clue failed. The police must have
mistaken the number. They telephoned immediately to all the police
stations, and a watch was set, with the result that number 72,863 was
stopped as it was going home for the night. But it then turned out that
the cab had not been off the rank since eleven o'clock, and the driver
had been in the shelter all the time with several other men. But there
is a clue; I have it here."

Mr. Loewe's face brightened for once as he reached out for the bandbox.

"The houses in Howard Street," he explained, as he untied the
fastening, "have small balconies to the first-floor windows at the
back. Now, the thief entered by one of these windows, having climbed
up a rain-water pipe to the balcony. It was a gusty night, as you will
remember, and this morning, as I was leaving the house, the butler
next door called to me and gave me this; he had found it lying in the
balcony of his house."

He opened the bandbox with a flourish, and brought forth a rather
shabby billycock hat.

"I understand," said he, "that by examining a hat it is possible to
deduce from it, not only the bodily characteristics of the wearer, but
also his mental and moral qualities, his state of health, his pecuniary
position, his past history, and even his domestic relations and the
peculiarities of his place of abode. Am I right in this supposition?"

The ghost of a smile flitted across Thorndyke's face as he laid the hat
upon the remains of the newspaper. "We must not expect too much," he
observed. "Hats, as you know, have a way of changing owners. Your own
hat, for instance" (a very spruce, hard felt), "is a new one, I think."

"Got it last week," said Mr. Loewe.

"Exactly. It is an expensive hat, by Lincoln and Bennett, and I see
you have judiciously written your name in indelible marking-ink on the
lining. Now, a new hat suggests a discarded predecessor. What do you do
with your old hats?"

"My man has them, but they don't fit him. I suppose he sells them or
gives them away."

"Very well. Now, a good hat like yours has a long life, and remains
serviceable long after it has become shabby; and the probability is
that many of your hats pass from owner to owner; from you to the
shabby-genteel, and from them to the shabby ungenteel. And it is a
fair assumption that there are, at this moment, an appreciable number
of tramps and casuals wearing hats by Lincoln and Bennett, marked in
indelible ink with the name S. Loewe; and anyone who should examine
those hats, as you suggest, might draw some very misleading deductions
as to the personal habits of S. Loewe."

Mr. Marchmont chuckled audibly, and then, remembering the gravity of
the occasion, suddenly became portentously solemn.

"So you think that the hat is of no use, after all?" said Mr. Loewe, in
a tone of deep disappointment.

"I won't say that," replied Thorndyke. "We may learn something from it.
Leave it with me, at any rate; but you must let the police know that I
have it. They will want to see it, of course."

"And you will try to get those things, won't you?" pleaded Loewe.

"I will think over the case. But you understand, or Mr. Marchmont does,
that this is hardly in my province. I am a medical jurist, and this is
not a medico-legal case."

"Just what I told him," said Marchmont. "But you will do me a great
kindness if you will look into the matter. Make it a medico-legal
case," he added persuasively.

Thorndyke repeated his promise, and the two men took their departure.

For some time after they had left, my colleague remained silent,
regarding the hat with a quizzical smile. "It is like a game of
forfeits," he remarked at length, "and we have to find the owner of
'this very pretty thing.'" He lifted it with a pair of forceps into a
better light, and began to look at it more closely.

"Perhaps," said he, "we have done Mr. Loewe an injustice, after all.
This is certainly a very remarkable hat."

"It is as round as a basin," I exclaimed. "Why, the fellow's head must
have been turned in a lathe!"

Thorndyke laughed. "The point," said he, "is this. This is a hard hat,
and so must have fitted fairly, or it could not have been worn; and it
was a cheap hat, and so was not made to measure. But a man with a head
that shape has got to come to a clear understanding with his hat. No
ordinary hat would go on at all.

"Now, you see what he has done--no doubt on the advice of some friendly
hatter. He has bought a hat of a suitable size, and he has made it
hot--probably steamed it. Then he has jammed it, while still hot and
soft, on to his head, and allowed it to cool and set before removing
it. That is evident from the distortion of the brim. The important
corollary is, that this hat fits his head exactly--is, in fact, a
perfect mould of it; and this fact, together with the cheap quality of
the hat, furnishes the further corollary that it has probably only had
a single owner.

"And now let us turn it over and look at the outside. You notice at
once the absence of old dust. Allowing for the circumstance that it had
been out all night, it is decidedly clean. Its owner has been in the
habit of brushing it, and is therefore presumably a decent, orderly
man. But if you look at it in a good light, you see a kind of bloom on
the felt, and through this lens you can make out particles of a fine
white powder which has worked into the surface."

He handed me his lens, through which I could distinctly see the
particles to which he referred.

"Then," he continued, "under the curl of the brim and in the folds of
the hatband, where the brush has not been able to reach it, the powder
has collected quite thickly, and we can see that it is a very fine
powder, and very white, like flour. What do you make of that?"

"I should say that it is connected with some industry. He may be
engaged in some factory or works, or, at any rate, may live near a
factory, and have to pass it frequently."

"Yes; and I think we can distinguish between the two possibilities.
For, if he only passes the factory, the dust will be on the outside of
the hat only; the inside will be protected by his head. But if he is
engaged in the works, the dust will be inside, too, as the hat will
hang on a peg in the dust-laden atmosphere, and his head will also be
powdered, and so convey the dust to the inside."

He turned the hat over once more, and as I brought the powerful lens
to bear upon the dark lining, I could clearly distinguish a number of
white particles in the interstices of the fabric.

"The powder is on the inside, too," I said.

He took the lens from me, and, having verified my statement,
proceeded with the examination. "You notice," he said, "that the
leather head-lining is stained with grease, and this staining is more
pronounced at the sides and back. His hair, therefore, is naturally
greasy, or he greases it artificially; for if the staining were caused
by perspiration, it would be most marked opposite the forehead."

He peered anxiously into the interior of the hat, and eventually turned
down the head-lining; and immediately there broke out upon his face a
gleam of satisfaction.

"Ha!" he exclaimed. "This is a stroke of luck. I was afraid our neat
and orderly friend had defeated us with his brush. Pass me the small
dissecting forceps, Jervis."

I handed him the instrument, and he proceeded to pick out daintily
from the space behind the head-lining some half a dozen short pieces
of hair, which he laid, with infinite tenderness, on a sheet of white
paper.

"There are several more on the other side," I said, pointing them out
to him.

"Yes, but we must leave some for the police," he answered, with a
smile. "They must have the same chance as ourselves, you know."

"But surely," I said, as I bent down over the paper, "these are pieces
of horsehair!"

"I think not," he replied; "but the microscope will show. At any rate,
this is the kind of hair I should expect to find with a head of that
shape."

"Well, it is extraordinarily coarse," said I, "and two of the hairs are
nearly white."

"Yes; black hairs beginning to turn grey. And now, as our preliminary
survey has given such encouraging results, we will proceed to more
exact methods; and we must waste no time, for we shall have the police
here presently to rob us of our treasure."

He folded up carefully the paper containing the hairs, and taking the
hat in both hands, as though it were some sacred vessel, ascended with
me to the laboratory on the next floor.

"Now, Polton," he said to his laboratory assistant, "we have here a
specimen for examination, and time is precious. First of all, we want
your patent dust-extractor."

The little man bustled to a cupboard and brought forth a singular
appliance, of his own manufacture, somewhat like a miniature vacuum
cleaner. It had been made from a bicycle foot-pump, by reversing the
piston-valve, and was fitted with a glass nozzle and a small detachable
glass receiver for collecting the dust, at the end of a flexible metal
tube.

"We will sample the dust from the outside first," said Thorndyke,
laying the hat upon the work-bench. "Are you ready, Polton?"

The assistant slipped his foot into the stirrup of the pump and worked
the handle vigorously, while Thorndyke drew the glass nozzle slowly
along the hat-brim under the curled edge. And as the nozzle passed
along, the white coating vanished as if by magic, leaving the felt
absolutely clean and black, and simultaneously the glass receiver
became clouded over with a white deposit.

"We will leave the other side for the police," said Thorndyke, and as
Polton ceased pumping he detached the receiver, and laid it on a sheet
of paper, on which he wrote in pencil, "Outside," and covered it with
a small bell-glass. A fresh receiver having been fitted on, the nozzle
was now drawn over the silk lining of the hat, and then through the
space behind the leather head-lining on one side; and now the dust that
collected in the receiver was much of the usual grey colour and fluffy
texture, and included two more hairs.

"And now," said Thorndyke, when the second receiver had been detached
and set aside, "we want a mould of the inside of the hat, and we must
make it by the quickest method; there is no time to make a paper
mould. It is a most astonishing head," he added, reaching down from a
nail a pair of large callipers, which he applied to the inside of the
hat; "six inches and nine-tenths long by six and six-tenths broad,
which gives us"--he made a rapid calculation on a scrap of paper--"the
extraordinarily high cephalic index of 95.6."

Polton now took possession of the hat, and, having stuck a band of wet
tissue-paper round the inside, mixed a small bowl of plaster-of-Paris,
and very dexterously ran a stream of the thick liquid on to the
tissue-paper, where it quickly solidified. A second and third
application resulted in a broad ring of solid plaster an inch thick,
forming a perfect mould of the inside of the hat, and in a few minutes
the slight contraction of the plaster in setting rendered the mould
sufficiently loose to allow of its being slipped out on to a board to
dry.

We were none too soon, for even as Polton was removing the mould, the
electric bell, which I had switched on to the laboratory, announced a
visitor, and when I went down I found a police-sergeant waiting with a
note from Superintendent Miller, requesting the immediate transfer of
the hat.

"The next thing to be done," said Thorndyke, when the sergeant had
departed with the bandbox, "is to measure the thickness of the hairs,
and make a transverse section of one, and examine the dust. The section
we will leave to Polton--as time is an object, Polton, you had better
imbed the hair in thick gum and freeze it hard on the microtome, and be
very careful to cut the section at right angles to the length of the
hair--meanwhile, we will get to work with the microscope."

The hairs proved on measurement to have the surprisingly large diameter
of one one-hundred-and-thirty-fifth of an inch--fully double that of
ordinary hairs, although they were unquestionably human. As to the
white dust, it presented a problem that even Thorndyke was unable to
solve. The application of reagents showed it to be carbonate of lime,
but its source for a time remained a mystery.

"The larger particles," said Thorndyke, with his eye applied to the
microscope, "appear to be transparent, crystalline, and distinctly
laminated in structure. It is not chalk, it is not whiting, it is not
any kind of cement. What can it be?"

"Could it be any kind of shell?" I suggested. "For instance--"

"Of course!" he exclaimed, starting up; "you have hit it, Jervis, as
you always do. It must be mother-of-pearl. Polton, give me a pearl
shirt-button out of your oddments box."

The button was duly produced by the thrifty Polton, dropped into an
agate mortar, and speedily reduced to powder, a tiny pinch of which
Thorndyke placed under the microscope.

"This powder," said he, "is, naturally, much coarser than our specimen,
but the identity of character is unmistakable. Jervis, you are a
treasure. Just look at it."

I glanced down the microscope, and then pulled out my watch. "Yes," I
said, "there is no doubt about it, I think; but I must be off. Anstey
urged me to be in court by 11.30 at the latest."

With infinite reluctance I collected my notes and papers and departed,
leaving Thorndyke diligently copying addresses out of the Post Office
Directory.

My business at the court detained me the whole of the day, and it was
near upon dinner-time when I reached our chambers. Thorndyke had not
yet come in, but he arrived half an hour later, tired and hungry, and
not very communicative.

"What have I done?" he repeated, in answer to my inquiries. "I have
walked miles of dirty pavement, and I have visited every pearl-shell
cutter's in London, with one exception, and I have not found what I was
looking for. The one mother-of-pearl factory that remains, however,
is the most likely, and I propose to look in there to-morrow morning.
Meanwhile, we have completed our data, with Polton's assistance.
Here is a tracing of our friend's skull taken from the mould; you
see it is an extreme type of brachycephalic skull, and markedly
unsymmetrical. Here is a transverse section of his hair, which is
quite circular--unlike yours or mine, which would be oval. We have the
mother-of-pearl dust from the outside of the hat, and from the inside
similar dust mixed with various fibres and a few granules of rice
starch. Those are our data."

"Supposing the hat should not be that of the burglar after all?" I
suggested.

"That would be annoying. But I think it is his, and I think I can guess
at the nature of the art treasures that were stolen."

"And you don't intend to enlighten me?"

"My dear fellow," he replied, "you have all the data. Enlighten
yourself by the exercise of your own brilliant faculties. Don't give
way to mental indolence."

I endeavoured, from the facts in my possession, to construct the
personality of the mysterious burglar, and failed utterly; nor was I
more successful in my endeavour to guess at the nature of the stolen
property; and it was not until the following morning, when we had set
out on our quest and were approaching Limehouse, that Thorndyke would
revert to the subject.

"We are now," he said, "going to the factory of Badcomb and Martin,
shell importers and cutters, in the West India Dock Road. If I don't
find my man there, I shall hand the facts over to the police, and waste
no more time over the case."

"What is your man like?" I asked.

"I am looking for an elderly Japanese, wearing a new hat or, more
probably, a cap, and having a bruise on his right cheek or temple. I am
also looking for a cab-yard; but here we are at the works, and as it is
now close on the dinner-hour, we will wait and see the hands come out
before making any inquiries."

We walked slowly past the tall, blank-faced building, and were just
turning to re-pass it when a steam whistle sounded, a wicket opened in
the main gate, and a stream of workmen--each powdered with white, like
a miller--emerged into the street. We halted to watch the men as they
came out, one by one, through the wicket, and turned to the right or
left towards their homes or some adjacent coffee-shop; but none of them
answered to the description that my friend had given.

The outcoming stream grew thinner, and at length ceased; the wicket
was shut with a bang, and once more Thorndyke's quest appeared to have
failed.

"Is that all of them, I wonder?" he said, with a shade of
disappointment in his tone; but even as he spoke the wicket opened
again, and a leg protruded. The leg was followed by a back and a
curious globular head, covered with iron-grey hair, and surmounted by a
cloth cap, the whole appertaining to a short, very thick-set man, who
remained thus, evidently talking to someone inside.

Suddenly he turned his head to look across the street; and immediately
I recognized, by the pallid yellow complexion and narrow eye-slits, the
physiognomy of a typical Japanese. The man remained talking for nearly
another minute; then, drawing out his other leg, he turned towards us;
and now I perceived that the right side of his face, over the prominent
cheekbone, was discoloured as though by a severe bruise.

"Ha!" said Thorndyke, turning round sharply as the man approached,
"either this is our man or it is an incredible coincidence." He walked
away at a moderate pace, allowing the Japanese to overtake us slowly,
and when the man had at length passed us, he increased his speed
somewhat, so as to maintain the distance.

Our friend stepped along briskly, and presently turned up a side
street, whither we followed at a respectful distance, Thorndyke
holding open his pocket-book, and appearing to engage me in an earnest
discussion, but keeping a sharp eye on his quarry.

"There he goes!" said my colleague, as the man suddenly
disappeared--"the house with the green window-sashes. That will be
number thirteen."

It was; and, having verified the fact, we passed on, and took the next
turning that would lead us back to the main road.

Some twenty minutes later, as we were strolling past the door of a
coffee-shop, a man came out, and began to fill his pipe with an air of
leisurely satisfaction. His hat and clothes were powdered with white
like those of the workmen whom we had seen come out of the factory.
Thorndyke accosted him.

"Is that a flour-mill up the road there?"

"No, sir; pearl-shell. I work there myself."

"Pearl-shell, eh?" said Thorndyke. "I suppose that will be an industry
that will tend to attract the aliens. Do you find it so?"

"No, sir; not at all. The work's too hard. We've only got one foreigner
in the place, and he ain't an alien--he's a Jap."

"A Jap!" exclaimed Thorndyke. "Really. Now, I wonder if that would
chance to be our old friend Kotei--you remember Kotei?" he added,
turning to me.

"No, sir; this man's name is Futashima. There was another Jap in the
works, a chap named Itu, a pal of Futashima's, but he's left."

"Ah! I don't know either of them. By the way, usen't there to be a
cab-yard just about here?"

"There's a yard up Rankin Street where they keep vans and one or two
cabs. That chap Itu works there now. Taken to horseflesh. Drives a van
sometimes. Queer start for a Jap."

"Very." Thorndyke thanked the man for his information, and we sauntered
on towards Rankin Street. The yard was at this time nearly deserted,
being occupied only by an ancient and crazy four-wheeler and a very
shabby hansom.

"Curious old houses, these that back on to the yard," said Thorndyke,
strolling into the enclosure. "That timber gable, now," pointing to a
house, from a window of which a man was watching us suspiciously, "is
quite an interesting survival."

"What's your business, mister?" demanded the man in a gruff tone.

"We are just having a look at these quaint old houses," replied
Thorndyke, edging towards the back of the hansom, and opening his
pocket-book, as though to make a sketch.

"Well, you can see 'em from outside," said the man.

"So we can," said Thorndyke suavely, "but not so well, you know."

At this moment the pocket-book slipped from his hand and fell,
scattering a number of loose papers about the ground under the hansom,
and our friend at the window laughed joyously.

"No hurry," murmured Thorndyke, as I stooped to help him to gather
up the papers--which he did in the most surprisingly slow and clumsy
manner. "It is fortunate that the ground is dry." He stood up with the
rescued papers in his hand, and, having scribbled down a brief note,
slipped the book in his pocket.

"Now you'd better mizzle," observed the man at the window.

"Thank you," replied Thorndyke, "I think we had;" and, with a pleasant
nod at the custodian, he proceeded to adopt the hospitable suggestion.

"Mr. Marchmont has been here, sir, with Inspector Badger and another
gentleman," said Polton, as we entered our chambers. "They said they
would call again about five."

"Then," replied Thorndyke, "as it is now a quarter to five, there
is just time for us to have a wash while you get the tea ready. The
particles that float in the atmosphere of Limehouse are not all
mother-of-pearl."

Our visitors arrived punctually, the third gentleman being, as we
had supposed, Mr. Solomon Loewe. Inspector Badger I had not seen
before, and he now impressed me as showing a tendency to invert the
significance of his own name by endeavouring to "draw" Thorndyke; in
which, however, he was not brilliantly successful.

"I hope you are not going to disappoint Mr. Loewe, sir," he commenced
facetiously. "You have had a good look at that hat--we saw your marks
on it--and he expects that you will be able to point us out the man,
name and address all complete." He grinned patronizingly at our
unfortunate client, who was looking even more haggard and worn than he
had been on the previous morning.

"Have you--have you made any--discovery?" Mr Loewe asked with pathetic
eagerness.

"We examined the hat very carefully, and I think we have established a
few facts of some interest."

"Did your examination of the hat furnish any information as to the
nature of the stolen property, sir?" inquired the humorous inspector.

Thorndyke turned to the officer with a face as expressionless as a
wooden mask.

"We thought it possible," said he, "that it might consist of works of
Japanese art, such as netsukes, paintings, and such like."

Mr. Loewe uttered an exclamation of delighted astonishment, and the
facetiousness faded rather suddenly from the inspector's countenance.

"I don't know how you can have found out," said he. "We have only known
it half an hour ourselves, and the wire came direct from Florence to
Scotland Yard."

"Perhaps you can describe the thief to us," said Mr. Loewe, in the same
eager tone.

"I dare say the inspector can do that," replied Thorndyke.

"Yes, I think so," replied the officer. "He is a short strong man, with
a dark complexion and hair turning grey. He has a very round head, and
he is probably a workman engaged at some whiting or cement works. That
is all we know; if you can tell us any more, sir, we shall be very glad
to hear it."

"I can only offer a few suggestions," said Thorndyke, "but perhaps you
may find them useful. For instance, at 13, Birket Street, Limehouse,
there is living a Japanese gentleman named Futashima, who works at
Badcomb and Martin's mother-of-pearl factory. I think that if you were
to call on him, and let him try on the hat that you have, it would
probably fit him."

The inspector scribbled ravenously in his notebook, and Mr.
Marchmont--an old admirer of Thorndyke's--leaned back in his chair,
chuckling softly and rubbing his hands.

"Then," continued my colleague, "there is in Rankin Street, Limehouse,
a cab-yard, where another Japanese gentleman named Itu is employed. You
might find out where Itu was the night before last; and if you should
chance to see a hansom cab there--number 22,481--have a good look at
it. In the frame of the number-plate you will find six small holes.
Those holes may have held brads, and the brads may have held a false
number card. At any rate, you might ascertain where that cab was at
11.30 the night before last. That is all I have to suggest."

Mr. Loewe leaped from his chair. "Let us go--now--at once--there is no
time to be lost. A thousand thanks to you, doctor--a thousand million
thanks. Come!"

He seized the inspector by the arm and forcibly dragged him towards the
door, and a few moments later we heard the footsteps of our visitors
clattering down the stairs.

"It was not worth while to enter into explanations with them," said
Thorndyke, as the footsteps died away--"nor perhaps with you?"

"On the contrary," I replied, "I am waiting to be fully enlightened."

"Well, then, my inferences in this case were perfectly simple ones,
drawn from well-known anthropological facts. The human race, as you
know, is roughly divided into three groups--the black, the white, and
the yellow races. But apart from the variable quality of colour, these
races have certain fixed characteristics associated especially with the
shape of the skull, of the eye-sockets, and the hair.

"Thus in the black races the skull is long and narrow, the eye-sockets
are long and narrow, and the hair is flat and ribbon-like, and usually
coiled up like a watch-spring. In the white races the skull is oval,
the eye-sockets are oval, and the hair is slightly flattened or oval in
section, and tends to be wavy; while in the yellow or Mongol races, the
skull is short and round, the eye-sockets are short and round, and the
hair is straight and circular in section. So that we have, in the black
races, long skull, long orbits, flat hair; in the white races, oval
skull, oval orbits, oval hair; and in the yellow races, round skull,
round orbits, round hair.

"Now, in this case we had to deal with a very short round skull.
But you cannot argue from races to individuals; there are many
short-skulled Englishmen. But when I found, associated with that skull,
hairs which were circular in section, it became practically certain
that the individual was a Mongol of some kind. The mother-of-pearl dust
and the granules of rice starch from the inside of the hat favoured
this view, for the pearl-shell industry is specially connected with
China and Japan, while starch granules from the hat of an Englishman
would probably be wheat starch.

"Then as to the hair: it was, as I mentioned to you, circular in
section, and of very large diameter. Now, I have examined many
thousands of hairs, and the thickest that I have ever seen came from
the heads of Japanese; but the hairs from this hat were as thick as any
of them. But the hypothesis that the burglar was a Japanese received
confirmation in various ways. Thus, he was short, though strong and
active, and the Japanese are the shortest of the Mongol races, and very
strong and active.

"Then his remarkable skill in handling the powerful caretaker--a
retired police-sergeant--suggested the Japanese art of ju-jitsu, while
the nature of the robbery was consistent with the value set by the
Japanese on works of art. Finally, the fact that only a particular
collection was taken, suggested a special, and probably national,
character in the things stolen, while their portability--you will
remember that goods of the value of from eight to twelve thousand
pounds were taken away in two hand-packages--was much more consistent
with Japanese than Chinese works, of which the latter tend rather to be
bulky and ponderous. Still, it was nothing but a bare hypothesis until
we had seen Futashima--and, indeed, is no more now. I may, after all,
be entirely mistaken."

He was not, however; and at this moment there reposes in my
drawing-room an ancient netsuke, which came as a thank-offering from
Mr. Isaac Loewe on the recovery of the booty from a back room in No.
13, Birket Street, Limehouse. The treasure, of course, was given in
the first place to Thorndyke, but transferred by him to my wife on the
pretence that but for my suggestion of shell-dust the robber would
never have been traced. Which is, on the face of it, preposterous.



THE BLUE SEQUIN


Thorndyke stood looking up and down the platform with anxiety that
increased as the time drew near for the departure of the train.

"This is very unfortunate," he said, reluctantly stepping into an empty
smoking compartment as the guard executed a flourish with his green
flag. "I am afraid we have missed our friend." He closed the door, and,
as the train began to move, thrust his head out of the window.

"Now I wonder if that will be he," he continued. "If so, he has caught
the train by the skin of his teeth, and is now in one of the rear
compartments."

The subject of Thorndyke's speculations was Mr. Edward Stopford, of the
firm of Stopford and Myers, of Portugal Street, solicitors, and his
connection with us at present arose out of a telegram that had reached
our chambers on the preceding evening. It was reply-paid, and ran thus:

"Can you come here to-morrow to direct defence? Important case. All
costs undertaken by us.--STOPFORD AND MYERS."

Thorndyke's reply had been in the affirmative, and early on this
present morning a further telegram--evidently posted overnight--had
been delivered: "Shall leave for Woldhurst by 8.25 from Charing Cross.
Will call for you if possible. EDWARD STOPFORD."

He had not called, however, and, since he was unknown personally to
us both, we could not judge whether or not he had been among the
passengers on the platform.

"It is most unfortunate," Thorndyke repeated, "for it deprives us of
that preliminary consideration of the case which is so invaluable." He
filled his pipe thoughtfully, and, having made a fruitless inspection
of the platform at London Bridge, took up the paper that he had bought
at the bookstall, and began to turn over the leaves, running his eye
quickly down the columns, unmindful of the journalistic baits in
paragraph or article.

"It is a great disadvantage," he observed, while still glancing through
the paper, "to come plump into an inquiry without preparation--to be
confronted with the details before one has a chance of considering the
case in general terms. For instance--"

He paused, leaving the sentence unfinished, and as I looked up
inquiringly I saw that he had turned over another page, and was now
reading attentively.

"This looks like our case, Jervis," he said presently, handing me the
paper and indicating a paragraph at the top of the page. It was quite
brief, and was headed "Terrible Murder in Kent," the account being as
follows:

"A shocking crime was discovered yesterday morning at the little town
of Woldhurst, which lies on the branch line from Halbury Junction. The
discovery was made by a porter who was inspecting the carriages of the
train which had just come in. On opening the door of a first-class
compartment, he was horrified to find the body of a fashionably-dressed
woman stretched upon the floor. Medical aid was immediately summoned,
and on the arrival of the divisional surgeon, Dr. Morton, it was
ascertained that the woman had not been dead more than a few minutes.

"The state of the corpse leaves no doubt that a murder of a most brutal
kind has been perpetrated, the cause of death being a penetrating wound
of the head, inflicted with some pointed implement, which must have
been used with terrible violence, since it has perforated the skull and
entered the brain. That robbery was not the motive of the crime is made
clear by the fact that an expensively fitted dressing-bag was found
on the rack, and that the dead woman's jewellery, including several
valuable diamond rings, was untouched. It is rumoured that an arrest
has been made by the local police."

"A gruesome affair," I remarked, as I handed back the paper, "but the
report does not give us much information."

"It does not," Thorndyke agreed, "and yet it gives us something to
consider. Here is a perforating wound of the skull, inflicted with
some pointed implement--that is, assuming that it is not a bullet
wound. Now, what kind of implement would be capable of inflicting
such an injury? How would such an implement be used in the confined
space of a railway-carriage, and what sort of person would be in
possession of such an implement? These are preliminary questions that
are worth considering, and I commend them to you, together with the
further problems of the possible motive--excluding robbery--and any
circumstances other than murder which might account for the injury."

"The choice of suitable implements is not very great," I observed.

"It is very limited, and most of them, such as a plasterer's pick or a
geological hammer, are associated with certain definite occupations.
You have a notebook?"

I had, and, accepting the hint, I produced it and pursued my further
reflections in silence, while my companion, with his notebook also
on his knee, gazed steadily out of the window. And thus he remained,
wrapped in thought, jotting down an entry now and again in his book,
until the train slowed down at Halbury Junction, where we had to change
on to a branch line.

As we stepped out, I noticed a well-dressed man hurrying up the
platform from the rear and eagerly scanning the faces of the few
passengers who had alighted. Soon he espied us, and, approaching
quickly, asked, as he looked from one of us to the other:

"Dr. Thorndyke?"

"Yes," replied my colleague, adding: "And you, I presume, are Mr.
Edward Stopford?"

The solicitor bowed. "This is a dreadful affair," he said, in an
agitated manner. "I see you have the paper. A most shocking affair. I
am immensely relieved to find you here. Nearly missed the train, and
feared I should miss you."

"There appears to have been an arrest," Thorndyke began.

"Yes--my brother. Terrible business. Let us walk up the platform; our
train won't start for a quarter of an hour yet."

We deposited our joint Gladstone and Thorndyke's travelling-case in an
empty first-class compartment, and then, with the solicitor between us,
strolled up to the unfrequented end of the platform.

"My brother's position," said Mr. Stopford, "fills me with dismay--but
let me give you the facts in order, and you shall judge for yourself.
This poor creature who has been murdered so brutally was a Miss Edith
Grant. She was formerly an artist's model, and as such was a good deal
employed by my brother, who is a painter--Harold Stopford, you know,
A.R.A. now--"

"I know his work very well, and charming work it is."

"I think so, too. Well, in those days he was quite a youngster--about
twenty--and he became very intimate with Miss Grant, in quite an
innocent way, though not very discreet; but she was a nice respectable
girl, as most English models are, and no one thought any harm. However,
a good many letters passed between them, and some little presents,
amongst which was a beaded chain carrying a locket, and in this he
was fool enough to put his portrait and the inscription, 'Edith, from
Harold.'

"Later on Miss Grant, who had a rather good voice, went on the stage,
in the comic opera line, and, in consequence, her habits and associates
changed somewhat; and, as Harold had meanwhile become engaged, he was
naturally anxious to get his letters back, and especially to exchange
the locket for some less compromising gift. The letters she eventually
sent him, but refused absolutely to part with the locket.

"Now, for the last month Harold has been staying at Halbury, making
sketching excursions into the surrounding country, and yesterday
morning he took the train to Shinglehurst, the third station from here,
and the one before Woldhurst.

"On the platform here he met Miss Grant, who had come down from London,
and was going on to Worthing. They entered the branch train together,
having a first-class compartment to themselves. It seems she was
wearing his locket at the time, and he made another appeal to her to
make an exchange, which she refused, as before. The discussion appears
to have become rather heated and angry on both sides, for the guard and
a porter at Munsden both noticed that they seemed to be quarrelling;
but the upshot of the affair was that the lady snapped the chain, and
tossed it together with the locket to my brother, and they parted quite
amiably at Shinglehurst, where Harold got out. He was then carrying his
full sketching kit, including a large holland umbrella, the lower joint
of which is an ash staff fitted with a powerful steel spike for driving
into the ground.

"It was about half-past ten when he got out at Shinglehurst; by eleven
he had reached his pitch and got to work, and he painted steadily for
three hours. Then he packed up his traps, and was just starting on his
way back to the station, when he was met by the police and arrested.

"And now, observe the accumulation of circumstantial evidence against
him. He was the last person seen in company with the murdered
woman--for no one seems to have seen her after they left Munsden; he
appeared to be quarrelling with her when she was last seen alive, he
had a reason for possibly wishing for her death, he was provided with
an implement--a spiked staff--capable of inflicting the injury which
caused her death, and, when he was searched, there was found in his
possession the locket and broken chain, apparently removed from her
person with violence.

"Against all this is, of course, his known character--he is the
gentlest and most amiable of men--and his subsequent conduct--imbecile
to the last degree if he had been guilty; but, as a lawyer, I can't
help seeing that appearances are almost hopelessly against him."

"We won't say 'hopelessly,'" replied Thorndyke, as we took our places
in the carriage, "though I expect the police are pretty cocksure. When
does the inquest open?"

"To-day at four. I have obtained an order from the coroner for you to
examine the body and be present at the post-mortem."

"Do you happen to know the exact position of the wound?"

"Yes; it is a little above and behind the left ear--a horrible round
hole, with a ragged cut or tear running from it to the side of the
forehead."

"And how was the body lying?"

"Right along the floor, with the feet close to the off-side door."

"Was the wound on the head the only one?"

"No; there was a long cut or bruise on the right cheek--a contused
wound the police surgeon called it, which he believes to have been
inflicted with a heavy and rather blunt weapon. I have not heard of any
other wounds or bruises."

"Did anyone enter the train yesterday at Shinglehurst?" Thorndyke asked.

"No one entered the train after it left Halbury."

Thorndyke considered these statements in silence, and presently fell
into a brown study, from which he roused only as the train moved out of
Shinglehurst station.

"It would be about here that the murder was committed," said Mr.
Stopford; "at least, between here and Woldhurst."

Thorndyke nodded rather abstractedly, being engaged at the moment in
observing with great attention the objects that were visible from the
windows.

"I notice," he remarked presently, "a number of chips scattered about
between the rails, and some of the chair-wedges look new. Have there
been any platelayers at work lately?"

"Yes," answered Stopford, "they are on the line now, I believe--at
least, I saw a gang working near Woldhurst yesterday, and they are said
to have set a rick on fire; I saw it smoking when I came down."

"Indeed; and this middle line of rails is, I suppose, a sort of siding?"

"Yes; they shunt the goods trains and empty trucks on to it. There are
the remains of the rick--still smouldering, you see."

Thorndyke gazed absently at the blackened heap until an empty
cattle-truck on the middle track hid it from view. This was succeeded
by a line of goods-waggons, and these by a passenger coach, one
compartment of which--a first-class--was closed up and sealed. The
train now began to slow down rather suddenly, and a couple of minutes
later we brought up in Woldhurst station.

It was evident that rumours of Thorndyke's advent had preceded
us, for the entire staff--two porters, an inspector, and the
station-master--were waiting expectantly on the platform, and the
latter came forward, regardless of his dignity, to help us with our
luggage.

"Do you think I could see the carriage?" Thorndyke asked the solicitor.

"Not the inside, sir," said the station-master, on being appealed to.
"The police have sealed it up. You would have to ask the inspector."

"Well, I can have a look at the outside, I suppose?" said Thorndyke,
and to this the station-master readily agreed, and offered to accompany
us.

"What other first-class passengers were there?" Thorndyke asked.

"None, sir. There was only one first-class coach, and the deceased was
the only person in it. It has given us all a dreadful turn, this affair
has," he continued, as we set off up the line. "I was on the platform
when the train came in. We were watching a rick that was burning up
the line, and a rare blaze it made, too; and I was just saying that
we should have to move the cattle-truck that was on the mid-track,
because, you see, sir, the smoke and sparks were blowing across, and I
thought it would frighten the poor beasts. And Mr. Felton he don't like
his beasts handled roughly. He says it spoils the meat."

"No doubt he is right," said Thorndyke. "But now, tell me, do you
think it is possible for any person to board or leave the train on the
off-side unobserved? Could a man, for instance, enter a compartment on
the off-side at one station and drop off as the train was slowing down
at the next, without being seen?"

"I doubt it," replied the station-master. "Still, I wouldn't say it is
impossible."

"Thank you. Oh, and there's another question. You have a gang of men at
work on the line, I see. Now, do those men belong to the district?"

"No, sir; they are strangers, every one, and pretty rough diamonds some
of 'em are. But I shouldn't say there was any real harm in 'em. If you
was suspecting any of 'em of being mixed up in this--"

"I am not," interrupted Thorndyke rather shortly. "I suspect nobody;
but I wish to get all the facts of the case at the outset."

"Naturally, sir," replied the abashed official; and we pursued our way
in silence.

"Do you remember, by the way," said Thorndyke, as we approached the
empty coach, "whether the off-side door of the compartment was closed
and locked when the body was discovered?"

"It was closed, sir, but not locked. Why, sir, did you think--?"

"Nothing, nothing. The sealed compartment is the one, of course?"

Without waiting for a reply, he commenced his survey of the coach,
while I gently restrained our two companions from shadowing him, as
they were disposed to do. The off-side footboard occupied his attention
specially, and when he had scrutinized minutely the part opposite the
fatal compartment, he walked slowly from end to end with his eyes but a
few inches from its surface, as though he was searching for something.

Near what had been the rear end he stopped, and drew from his pocket a
piece of paper; then, with a moistened finger-tip he picked up from the
footboard some evidently minute object, which he carefully transferred
to the paper, folding the latter and placing it in his pocket-book.

He next mounted the footboard, and, having peered in through the window
of the sealed compartment, produced from his pocket a small insufflator
or powder-blower, with which he blew a stream of impalpable smoke-like
powder on to the edges of the middle window, bestowing the closest
attention on the irregular dusty patches in which it settled, and
even measuring one on the jamb of the window with a pocket-rule. At
length he stepped down, and, having carefully looked over the near-side
footboard, announced that he had finished for the present.

As we were returning down the line, we passed a working man, who seemed
to be viewing the chairs and sleepers with more than casual interest.

"That, I suppose, is one of the plate-layers?" Thorndyke suggested to
the station-master.

"Yes, the foreman of the gang," was the reply.

"I'll just step back and have a word with him, if you will walk on
slowly." And my colleague turned back briskly and overtook the man,
with whom he remained in conversation for some minutes.

"I think I see the police inspector on the platform," remarked
Thorndyke, as we approached the station.

"Yes, there he is," said our guide. "Come down to see what you are
after, sir, I expect." Which was doubtless the case, although the
officer professed to be there by the merest chance.

"You would like to see the weapon, sir, I suppose?" he remarked, when
he had introduced himself.

"The umbrella-spike," Thorndyke corrected. "Yes, if I may. We are going
to the mortuary now."

"Then you'll pass the station on the way; so, if you care to look in, I
will walk up with you."

This proposition being agreed to, we all proceeded to the
police-station, including the station-master, who was on the very
tiptoe of curiosity.

"There you are, sir," said the inspector, unlocking his office, and
ushering us in. "Don't say we haven't given every facility to the
defence. There are all the effects of the accused, including the very
weapon the deed was done with."

"Come, come," protested Thorndyke; "we mustn't be premature." He
took the stout ash staff from the officer, and, having examined
the formidable spike through a lens, drew from his pocket a steel
calliper-gauge, with which he carefully measured the diameter of the
spike, and the staff to which it was fixed. "And now," he said, when
he had made a note of the measurements in his book, "we will look at
the colour-box and the sketch. Ha! a very orderly man, your brother,
Mr. Stopford. Tubes all in their places, palette-knives wiped clean,
palette cleaned off and rubbed bright, brushes wiped--they ought to hed
before they stiffen--all this is very significant." He unstrapped the
sketch from the blank canvas to which it was pinned, and, standing it
on a chair in a good light, stepped back to look at it.

"And you tell me that that is only three hours' work!" he exclaimed,
looking at the lawyer. "It is really a marvellous achievement."

"My brother is a very rapid worker," replied Stopford dejectedly.

"Yes, but this is not only amazingly rapid; it is in his very happiest
vein--full of spirit and feeling. But we mustn't stay to look at it
longer." He replaced the canvas on its pins, and having glanced at
the locket and some other articles that lay in a drawer, thanked the
inspector for his courtesy and withdrew.

"That sketch and the colour-box appear very suggestive to me," he
remarked, as we walked up the street.

"To me also," said Stopford gloomily, "for they are under lock and key,
like their owner, poor old fellow."

He sighed heavily, and we walked on in silence.

The mortuary-keeper had evidently heard of our arrival, for he was
waiting at the door with the key in his hand, and, on being shown the
coroner's order, unlocked the door, and we entered together; but, after
a momentary glance at the ghostly, shrouded figure lying upon the slate
table, Stopford turned pale and retreated, saying that he would wait
for us outside with the mortuary-keeper.

As soon as the door was closed and locked on the inside, Thorndyke
glanced curiously round the bare, whitewashed building. A stream of
sunlight poured in through the skylight, and fell upon the silent form
that lay so still under its covering-sheet, and one stray beam glanced
into a corner by the door, where, on a row of pegs and a deal table,
the dead woman's clothing was displayed.

"There is something unspeakably sad in these poor relics, Jervis,"
said Thorndyke, as we stood before them. "To me they are more tragic,
more full of pathetic suggestion, than the corpse itself. See the
smart, jaunty hat, and the costly skirts hanging there, so desolate
and forlorn; the dainty lingerie on the table, neatly folded--by the
mortuary-man's wife, I hope--the little French shoes and open-work silk
stockings. How pathetically eloquent they are of harmless, womanly
vanity, and the gay, careless life, snapped short in the twinkling of
an eye. But we must not give way to sentiment. There is another life
threatened, and it is in our keeping."

He lifted the hat from its peg, and turned it over in his hand. It was,
I think, what is called a "picture-hat"--a huge, flat, shapeless mass
of gauze and ribbon and feather, spangled over freely with dark-blue
sequins. In one part of the brim was a ragged hole, and from this the
glittering sequins dropped off in little showers when the hat was moved.

"This will have been worn tilted over on the left side," said
Thorndyke, "judging by the general shape and the position of the hole."

"Yes," I agreed. "Like that of the Duchess of Devonshire in
Gainsborough's portrait."

"Exactly."

He shook a few of the sequins into the palm of his hand, and, replacing
the hat on its peg, dropped the little discs into an envelope, on
which he wrote, "From the hat," and slipped it into his pocket. Then,
stepping over to the table, he drew back the sheet reverently and even
tenderly from the dead woman's face, and looked down at it with grave
pity. It was a comely face, white as marble, serene and peaceful in
expression, with half-closed eyes, and framed with a mass of brassy,
yellow hair; but its beauty was marred by a long linear wound, half
cut, half bruise, running down the right cheek from the eye to the chin.

"A handsome girl," Thorndyke commented--"a dark-haired blonde. What
a sin to have disfigured herself so with that horrible peroxide." He
smoothed the hair back from her forehead, and added: "She seems to have
applied the stuff last about ten days ago. There is about a quarter of
an inch of dark hair at the roots. What do you make of that wound on
the cheek?"

"It looks as if she had struck some sharp angle in falling, though, as
the seats are padded in first-class carriages, I don't see what she
could have struck."

"No. And now let us look at the other wound. Will you note down the
description?" He handed me his notebook, and I wrote down as he
dictated: "A clean-punched circular hole in skull, an inch behind and
above margin of left ear--diameter, an inch and seven-sixteenths;
starred fracture of parietal bone; membranes perforated, and brain
entered deeply; ragged scalp-wound, extending forward to margin of left
orbit; fragments of gauze and sequins in edges of wound. That will do
for the present. Dr. Morton will give us further details if we want
them."

He pocketed his callipers and rule, drew from the bruised scalp one or
two loose hairs, which he placed in the envelope with the sequins, and,
having looked over the body for other wounds or bruises (of which there
were none), replaced the sheet, and prepared to depart.

As we walked away from the mortuary, Thorndyke was silent and deeply
thoughtful, and I gathered that he was piecing together the facts that
he had acquired. At length Mr. Stopford, who had several times looked
at him curiously, said:

"The post-mortem will take place at three, and it is now only half-past
eleven. What would you like to do next?"

Thorndyke, who, in spite of his mental preoccupation, had been looking
about him in his usual keen, attentive way, halted suddenly.

"Your reference to the post-mortem," said he, "reminds me that I forgot
to put the ox-gall into my case."

"Ox-gall!" I exclaimed, endeavouring vainly to connect this substance
with the technique of the pathologist. "What were you going to do
with--"

But here I broke off, remembering my friend's dislike of any discussion
of his methods before strangers.

"I suppose," he continued, "there would hardly be an artist's colourman
in a place of this size?"

"I should think not," said Stopford. "But couldn't you get the stuff
from a butcher? There's a shop just across the road."

"So there is," agreed Thorndyke, who had already observed the shop.
"The gall ought, of course, to be prepared, but we can filter it
ourselves--that is, if the butcher has any. We will try him, at any
rate."

He crossed the road towards the shop, over which the name "Felton"
appeared in gilt lettering, and, addressing himself to the proprietor,
who stood at the door, introduced himself and explained his wants.

"Ox-gall?" said the butcher. "No, sir, I haven't any just now; but I am
having a beast killed this afternoon, and I can let you have some then.
In fact," he added, after a pause, "as the matter is of importance, I
can have one killed at once if you wish it."

"That is very kind of you," said Thorndyke, "and it would greatly
oblige me. Is the beast perfectly healthy?"

"They're in splendid condition, sir. I picked them out of the herd
myself. But you shall see them--ay, and choose the one that you'd like
killed."

"You are really very good," said Thorndyke warmly. "I will just run
into the chemist's next door, and get a suitable bottle, and then I
will avail myself of your exceedingly kind offer."

He hurried into the chemist's shop, from which he presently emerged,
carrying a white paper parcel; and we then followed the butcher down a
narrow lane by the side of his shop. It led to an enclosure containing
a small pen, in which were confined three handsome steers, whose
glossy, black coats contrasted in a very striking manner with their
long, greyish-white, nearly straight horns.

"These are certainly very fine beasts, Mr. Felton," said Thorndyke, as
we drew up beside the pen, "and in excellent condition, too."

He leaned over the pen and examined the beasts critically, especially
as to their eyes and horns; then, approaching the nearest one, he
raised his stick and bestowed a smart tap on the under-side of the
right horn, following it by a similar tap on the left one, a proceeding
that the beast viewed with stolid surprise.

"The state of the horns," explained Thorndyke, as he moved on to the
next steer, "enables one to judge, to some extent, of the beast's
health."

"Lord bless you, sir," laughed Mr. Felton, "they haven't got no feeling
in their horns, else what good 'ud their horns be to 'em?"

Apparently he was right, for the second steer was as indifferent to a
sounding rap on either horn as the first. Nevertheless, when Thorndyke
approached the third steer, I unconsciously drew nearer to watch; and
I noticed that, as the stick struck the horn, the beast drew back
in evident alarm, and that when the blow was repeated, it became
manifestly uneasy.

"He don't seem to like that," said the butcher. "Seems as if--Hullo,
that's queer!"

Thorndyke had just brought his stick up against the left horn, and
immediately the beast had winced and started back, shaking his head and
moaning. There was not, however, room for him to back out of reach, and
Thorndyke, by leaning into the pen, was able to inspect the sensitive
horn, which he did with the closest attention, while the butcher looked
on with obvious perturbation.

"You don't think there's anything wrong with this beast, sir, I hope,"
said he.

"I can't say without a further examination," replied Thorndyke. "It may
be the horn only that is affected. If you will have it sawn off close
to the head, and sent up to me at the hotel, I will look at it and tell
you. And, by way of preventing any mistakes, I will mark it and cover
it up, to protect it from injury in the slaughter-house."

He opened his parcel and produced from it a wide-mouthed bottle
labelled "Ox-gall," a sheet of gutta-percha tissue, a roller bandage,
and a stick of sealing-wax. Handing the bottle to Mr. Felton, he
encased the distal half of the horn in a covering by means of the
tissue and the bandage, which he fixed securely with the sealing-wax.

"I'll saw the horn off and bring it up to the hotel myself, with the
ox-gall," said Mr. Felton. "You shall have them in half an hour."

He was as good as his word, for in half an hour Thorndyke was seated at
a small table by the window of our private sitting-room in the Black
Bull Hotel. The table was covered with newspaper, and on it lay the
long grey horn and Thorndyke's travelling-case, now open and displaying
a small microscope and its accessories. The butcher was seated solidly
in an armchair waiting, with a half-suspicious eye on Thorndyke for the
report; and I was endeavouring by cheerful talk to keep Mr. Stopford
from sinking into utter despondency, though I, too, kept a furtive
watch on my colleague's rather mysterious proceedings.

I saw him unwind the bandage and apply the horn to his ear, bending it
slightly to and fro. I watched him, as he scanned the surface closely
through a lens, and observed him as he scraped some substance from
the pointed end on to a glass slide, and, having applied a drop of
some reagent, began to tease out the scraping with a pair of mounted
needles. Presently he placed the slide under the microscope, and,
having observed it attentively for a minute or two, turned round
sharply.

"Come and look at this, Jervis," said he.

I wanted no second bidding, being on tenterhooks of curiosity, but came
over and applied my eye to the instrument.

"Well, what is it?" he asked.

"A multipolar nerve corpuscle--very shrivelled, but unmistakable."

"And this?"

He moved the slide to a fresh spot.

"Two pyramidal nerve corpuscles and some portions of fibres."

"And what do you say the tissue is?"

"Cortical brain substance, I should say, without a doubt."

"I entirely agree with you. And that being so," he added, turning to
Mr. Stopford, "we may say that the case for the defence is practically
complete."

"What, in Heaven's name, do you mean?" exclaimed Stopford, starting up.

"I mean that we can now prove when and where and how Miss Grant met
her death. Come and sit down here, and I will explain. No, you needn't
go away, Mr. Felton. We shall have to subpoena you. Perhaps," he
continued, "we had better go over the facts and see what they suggest.
And first we note the position of the body, lying with the feet close
to the off-side door, showing that, when she fell, the deceased was
sitting, or more probably standing, close to that door. Next there
is this." He drew from his pocket a folded paper, which he opened,
displaying a tiny blue disc. "It is one of the sequins with which her
hat was trimmed, and I have in this envelope several more which I took
from the hat itself.

"This single sequin I picked up on the rear end of the off side
footboard, and its presence there makes it nearly certain that at some
time Miss Grant had put her head out of the window on that side.

"The next item of evidence I obtained by dusting the margins of the
off-side window with a light powder, which made visible a greasy
impression three and a quarter inches long on the sharp corner of the
right-hand jamb (right-hand from the inside, I mean).

"And now as to the evidence furnished by the body. The wound in
the skull is behind and above the left ear, is roughly circular,
and measures one inch and seven-sixteenths at most, and a ragged
scalp-wound runs from it towards the left eye. On the right cheek is
a linear contused wound three and a quarter inches long. There are no
other injuries.

"Our next facts are furnished by this." He took up the horn and tapped
it with his finger, while the solicitor and Mr. Felton stared at him
in speechless wonder. "You notice it is a left horn, and you remember
that it was highly sensitive. If you put your ear to it while I strain
it, you will hear the grating of a fracture in the bony core. Now look
at the pointed end, and you will see several deep scratches running
lengthwise, and where those scratches end the diameter of the horn
is, as you see by this calliper-gauge, one inch and seven-sixteenths.
Covering the scratches is a dry blood-stain, and at the extreme tip is
a small mass of a dried substance which Dr. Jervis and I have examined
with the microscope and are satisfied is brain tissue."

"Good God!" exclaimed Stopford eagerly. "Do you mean to say--"

"Let us finish with the facts, Mr. Stopford," Thorndyke interrupted.
"Now, if you look closely at that blood-stain, you will see a short
piece of hair stuck to the horn, and through this lens you can make
out the root-bulb. It is a golden hair, you notice, but near the root
it is black, and our calliper-gauge shows us that the black portion is
fourteen sixty-fourths of an inch long. Now, in this envelope are some
hairs that I removed from the dead woman's head. They also are golden
hairs, black at the roots, and when I measure the black portion I find
it to be fourteen sixty-fourths of an inch long. Then, finally, there
is this."

He turned the horn over, and pointed to a small patch of dried blood.
Embedded in it was a blue sequin.

Mr. Stopford and the butcher both gazed at the horn in silent
amazement; then the former drew a deep breath and looked up at
Thorndyke.

"No doubt," said he, "you can explain this mystery, but for my part I
am utterly bewildered, though you are filling me with hope."

"And yet the matter is quite simple," returned Thorndyke, "even with
these few facts before us, which are only a selection from the body of
evidence in our possession. But I will state my theory, and you shall
judge." He rapidly sketched a rough plan on a sheet of paper, and
continued: "These were the conditions when the train was approaching
Woldhurst: Here was the passenger-coach, here was the burning rick,
and here was a cattle-truck. This steer was in that truck. Now my
hypothesis is that at that time Miss Grant was standing with her head
out of the off-side window, watching the burning rick. Her wide hat,
worn on the left side, hid from her view the cattle-truck which she was
approaching, and then this is what happened." He sketched another plan
to a larger scale. "One of the steers--this one--had thrust its long
horn out through the bars. The point of that horn struck the deceased's
head, driving her face violently against the corner of the window, and
then, in disengaging, ploughed its way through the scalp, and suffered
a fracture of its core from the violence of the wrench. This hypothesis
is inherently probable, it fits all the facts, and those facts admit of
no other explanation."

The solicitor sat for a moment as though dazed; then he rose
impulsively and seized Thorndyke's hands. "I don't know what to say to
you," he exclaimed huskily, "except that you have saved my brother's
life, and for that may God reward you!"

The butcher rose from his chair with a slow grin.

"It seems to me," said he, "as if that ox-gall was what you might call
a blind, eh, sir?"

And Thorndyke smiled an inscrutable smile.

When we returned to town on the following day we were a party of
four, which included Mr. Harold Stopford. The verdict of "Death by
misadventure," promptly returned by the coroner's jury, had been
shortly followed by his release from custody, and he now sat with his
brother and me, listening with rapt attention to Thorndyke's analysis
of the case.

"So, you see," the latter concluded, "I had six possible theories of
the cause of death worked out before I reached Halbury, and it only
remained to select the one that fitted the facts. And when I had seen
the cattle-truck, had picked up that sequin, had heard the description
of the steers, and had seen the hat and the wounds, there was nothing
left to do but the filling in of details."

"And you never doubted my innocence?" asked Harold Stopford.

Thorndyke smiled at his quondam client.

"Not after I had seen your colour-box and your sketch," said he, "to
say nothing of the spike."



THE MOABITE CIPHER


[Illustrations to this and other Thorndyke stories can be found in a
ZIPped file at http://gutenberg.net.au/plusfifty-a-m.html#letterF]

A large and motley crowd lined the pavements of Oxford Street as
Thorndyke and I made our way leisurely eastward. Floral decorations and
drooping bunting announced one of those functions inaugurated from time
to time by a benevolent Government for the entertainment of fashionable
loungers and the relief of distressed pickpockets. For a Russian Grand
Duke, who had torn himself away, amidst valedictory explosions, from a
loving if too demonstrative people, was to pass anon on his way to the
Guildhall; and a British Prince, heroically indiscreet, was expected to
occupy a seat in the ducal carriage.

Near Rathbone Place Thorndyke halted and drew my attention to a
smart-looking man who stood lounging in a doorway, cigarette in hand.

"Our old friend Inspector Badger," said Thorndyke. "He seems mightily
interested in that gentleman in the light overcoat. How d'ye do,
Badger?" for at this moment the detective caught his eye and bowed.
"Who is your friend?"

"That's what I want to know, sir," replied the inspector. "I've been
shadowing him for the last half-hour, but I can't make him out, though
I believe I've seen him somewhere. He don't look like a foreigner, but
he has got something bulky in his pocket, so I must keep him in sight
until the Duke is safely past. I wish," he added gloomily, "these
beastly Russians would stop at home. They give us no end of trouble."

"Are you expecting any--occurrences, then?" asked Thorndyke.

"Bless you, sir," exclaimed Badger, "the whole route is lined with
plain-clothes men. You see, it is known that several desperate
characters followed the Duke to England, and there are a good many
exiles living here who would like to have a rap at him. Hallo! What's
he up to now?"

The man in the light overcoat had suddenly caught the inspector's
too inquiring eye, and forthwith dived into the crowd at the edge
of the pavement. In his haste he trod heavily on the foot of a big,
rough-looking man, by whom he was in a moment hustled out into the road
with such violence that he fell sprawling face downwards. It was an
unlucky moment. A mounted constable was just then backing in upon the
crowd, and before he could gather the meaning of the shout that arose
from the bystanders, his horse had set down one hind-hoof firmly on the
prostrate man's back.

The inspector signalled to a constable, who forthwith made a way for us
through the crowd; but even as we approached the injured man, he rose
stiffly and looked round with a pale, vacant face.

"Are you hurt?" Thorndyke asked gently, with an earnest look into the
frightened, wondering eyes.

"No, sir," was the reply; "only I feel queer--sinking--just here."

He laid a trembling hand on his chest, and Thorndyke, still eyeing him
anxiously, said in a low voice to the inspector: "Cab or ambulance, as
quickly as you can."

A cab was led round from Newman Street, and the injured man put into
it. Thorndyke, Badger, and I entered, and we drove off up Rathbone
Place. As we proceeded, our patient's face grew more and more ashen,
drawn, and anxious; his breathing was shallow and uneven, and his
teeth chattered slightly. The cab swung round into Goodge Street,
and then--suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye--there came a change.
The eyelids and jaw relaxed, the eyes became filmy, and the whole
form subsided into the corner in a shrunken heap, with the strange
gelatinous limpness of a body that is dead as a whole, while its
tissues are still alive.

"God save us! The man's dead!" exclaimed the inspector in a shocked
voice--for even policemen have their feelings. He sat staring at the
corpse, as it nodded gently with the jolting of the cab, until we drew
up inside the courtyard of the Middlesex Hospital, when he got out
briskly, with suddenly renewed cheerfulness, to help the porter to
place the body on the wheeled couch.

"We shall know who he is now, at any rate," said he, as we followed the
couch to the casualty-room. Thorndyke nodded unsympathetically. The
medical instinct in him was for the moment stronger than the legal.

The house-surgeon leaned over the couch, and made a rapid examination
as he listened to our account of the accident. Then he straightened
himself up and looked at Thorndyke.

"Internal haemorrhage, I expect," said he. "At any rate, he's dead,
poor beggar!--as dead as Nebuchadnezzar. Ah! here comes a bobby; it's
his affair now."

A sergeant came into the room, breathing quickly, and looked in
surprise from the corpse to the inspector. But the latter, without loss
of time, proceeded to turn out the dead man's pockets, commencing with
the bulky object that had first attracted his attention; which proved
to be a brown-paper parcel tied up with red tape.

"Pork-pie, begad!" he exclaimed with a crestfallen air as he cut the
tape and opened the package. "You had better go through his other
pockets, sergeant."

The small heap of odds and ends that resulted from this process tended,
with a single exception, to throw little light on the man's identity;
the exception being a letter, sealed, but not stamped, addressed in an
exceedingly illiterate hand to Mr. Adolf Schoenberg, 213, Greek Street,
Soho.

"He was going to leave it by hand, I expect," observed the inspector,
with a wistful glance at the sealed envelope. "I think I'll take it
round myself, and you had better come with me, sergeant."

He slipped the letter into his pocket, and, leaving the sergeant to
take possession of the other effects, made his way out of the building.

"I suppose, Doctor," said he, as we crossed into Berners Street, "you
are not coming our way! Don't want to see Mr. Schoenberg, h'm?"

Thorndyke reflected for a moment. "Well, it isn't very far, and we may
as well see the end of the incident. Yes; let us go together."

No. 213, Greek Street, was one of those houses that irresistibly
suggest to the observer the idea of a church organ, either jamb of the
doorway being adorned with a row of brass bell-handles corresponding to
the stop-knobs.

These the sergeant examined with the air of an expert musician, and
having, as it were, gauged the capacity of the instrument, selected the
middle knob on the right-hand side and pulled it briskly; whereupon a
first-floor window was thrown up and a head protruded. But it afforded
us a momentary glimpse only, for, having caught the sergeant's upturned
eye, it retired with surprising precipitancy, and before we had time
to speculate on the apparition, the street-door was opened and a man
emerged. He was about to close the door after him when the inspector
interposed.

"Does Mr. Adolf Schoenberg live here?"

The new-comer, a very typical Jew of the red-haired type, surveyed us
thoughtfully through his gold-rimmed spectacles as he repeated the name.

"Schoenberg--Schoenberg? Ah, yes! I know. He lives on the third-floor.
I saw him go up a short time ago. Third-floor back;" and indicating the
open door with a wave of the hand, he raised his hat and passed into
the street.

"I suppose we had better go up," said the inspector, with a dubious
glance at the row of bell-pulls. He accordingly started up the stairs,
and we all followed in his wake.

There were two doors at the back on the third-floor, but as the one was
open, displaying an unoccupied bedroom, the inspector rapped smartly on
the other. It flew open almost immediately, and a fierce-looking little
man confronted us with a hostile stare.

"Well?" said he.

"Mr. Adolf Schoenberg?" inquired the inspector.

"Well? What about him?" snapped our new acquaintance.

"I wished to have a few words with him," said Badger.

"Then what the deuce do you come banging at my door for?" demanded the
other.

"Why, doesn't he live here?"

"No. First-floor front," replied our friend, preparing to close the
door.

"Pardon me," said Thorndyke, "but what is Mr. Schoenberg like? I mean--"

"Like?" interrupted the resident. "He's like a blooming Sheeny, with
a carroty beard and gold gig-lamps!" and, having presented this
impressionist sketch, he brought the interview to a definite close by
slamming the door and turning the key.

With a wrathful exclamation, the inspector turned towards the stairs,
down which the sergeant was already clattering in hot haste, and made
his way back to the ground-floor, followed, as before, by Thorndyke and
me. On the doorstep we found the sergeant breathlessly interrogating
a smartly-dressed youth, whom I had seen alight from a hansom as we
entered the house, and who now stood with a notebook tucked under his
arm, sharpening a pencil with deliberate care.

"Mr. James saw him come out, sir," said the sergeant. "He turned up
towards the Square."

"Did he seem to hurry?" asked the inspector.

"Rather," replied the reporter. "As soon as you were inside, he went
off like a lamplighter. You won't catch him now."


"We don't want to catch him," the detective rejoined gruffly; then,
backing out of earshot of the eager pressman, he said in a lower tone:
"That was Mr. Schoenberg, beyond a doubt, and it is clear that he has
some reason for making himself scarce; so I shall consider myself
justified in opening that note."

He suited the action to the word, and, having cut the envelope open
with official neatness, drew out the enclosure.

"My hat!" he exclaimed, as his eye fell upon the contents. "What in
creation is this? It isn't shorthand, but what the deuce is it?"

He handed the document to Thorndyke, who, having held it up to the
light and felt the paper critically, proceeded to examine it with keen
interest. It consisted of a single half-sheet of thin notepaper, both
sides of which were covered with strange, crabbed characters, written
with a brownish-black ink in continuous lines, without any spaces to
indicate the divisions into words; and, but for the modern material
which bore the writing, it might have been a portion of some ancient
manuscript or forgotten codex.

"What do you make of it, Doctor?" inquired the inspector anxiously,
after a pause, during which Thorndyke had scrutinized the strange
writing with knitted brows.

"Not a great deal," replied Thorndyke. "The character is the Moabite or
Phoenician--primitive Semitic, in fact--and reads from right to left.
The language I take to be Hebrew. At any rate, I can find no Greek
words, and I see here a group of letters which may form one of the few
Hebrew words that I know--the word badim, 'lies.' But you had better
get it deciphered by an expert."

"If it is Hebrew," said Badger, "we can manage it all right. There are
plenty of Jews at our disposal."

"You had much better take the paper to the British Museum," said
Thorndyke, "and submit it to the keeper of the Phoenician antiquities
for decipherment."

Inspector Badger smiled a foxy smile as he deposited the paper in his
pocket-book. "We'll see what we can make of it ourselves first," he
said; "but many thanks for your advice, all the same, Doctor. No, Mr.
James, I can't give you any information just at present; you had better
apply at the hospital."

"I suspect," said Thorndyke, as we took our way homewards, "that Mr.
James has collected enough material for his purpose already. He must
have followed us from the hospital, and I have no doubt that he has his
report, with 'full details,' mentally arranged at this moment. And I am
not sure that he didn't get a peep at the mysterious paper, in spite of
the inspector's precautions."

"By the way," I said, "what do you make of the document?"

"A cipher, most probably," he replied. "It is written in the primitive
Semitic alphabet, which, as you know, is practically identical with
primitive Greek. It is written from right to left, like the Phoenician,
Hebrew, and Moabite, as well as the earliest Greek, inscriptions. The
paper is common cream-laid notepaper, and the ink is ordinary indelible
Chinese ink, such as is used by draughtsmen. Those are the facts, and
without further study of the document itself, they don't carry us very
far."

"Why do you think it is a cipher rather than a document in
straightforward Hebrew?"

"Because it is obviously a secret message of some kind. Now, every
educated Jew knows more or less Hebrew, and, although he is able to
read and write only the modern square Hebrew character, it is so
easy to transpose one alphabet into another that the mere language
would afford no security. Therefore, I expect that, when the experts
translate this document, the translation or transliteration will be
a mere farrago of unintelligible nonsense. But we shall see, and
meanwhile the facts that we have offer several interesting suggestions
which are well worth consideration."

"As, for instance--?"

"Now, my dear Jervis," said Thorndyke, shaking an admonitory forefinger
at me, "don't, I pray you, give way to mental indolence. You have
these few facts that I have mentioned. Consider them separately and
collectively, and in their relation to the circumstances. Don't attempt
to suck my brain when you have an excellent brain of your own to suck."

On the following morning the papers fully justified my colleague's
opinion of Mr. James. All the events which had occurred, as well as a
number that had not, were given in the fullest and most vivid detail, a
lengthy reference being made to the paper "found on the person of the
dead anarchist," and "written in a private shorthand or cryptogram."

The report concluded with the gratifying--though untrue--statement that
"in this intricate and important case, the police have wisely secured
the assistance of Dr. John Thorndyke, to whose acute intellect and vast
experience the portentous cryptogram will doubtless soon deliver up its
secret."

"Very flattering," laughed Thorndyke, to whom I read the extract on
his return from the hospital, "but a little awkward if it should
induce our friends to deposit a few trifling mementoes in the form of
nitro-compounds on our main staircase or in the cellars. By the way, I
met Superintendent Miller on London Bridge. The 'cryptogram,' as Mr.
James calls it, has set Scotland Yard in a mighty ferment."

"Naturally. What have they done in the matter?"

"They adopted my suggestion, after all, finding that they could make
nothing of it themselves, and took it to the British Museum. The Museum
people referred them to Professor Poppelbaum, the great palaeographer,
to whom they accordingly submitted it."

"Did he express any opinion about it?"

"Yes, provisionally. After a brief examination, he found it to consist
of a number of Hebrew words sandwiched between apparently meaningless
groups of letters. He furnished the Superintendent off-hand with a
translation of the words, and Miller forthwith struck off a number of
hectograph copies of it, which he has distributed among the senior
officials of his department; so that at present"--here Thorndyke gave
vent to a soft chuckle--"Scotland Yard is engaged in a sort of missing
word--or, rather, missing sense--competition. Miller invited me to join
in the sport, and to that end presented me with one of the hectograph
copies on which to exercise my wits, together with a photograph of the
document."

"And shall you?" I asked.

"Not I," he replied, laughing. "In the first place, I have not been
formally consulted, and consequently am a passive, though interested,
spectator. In the second place, I have a theory of my own which I shall
test if the occasion arises. But if you would like to take part in
the competition, I am authorized to show you the photograph and the
translation. I will pass them on to you, and I wish you joy of them."

He handed me the photograph and a sheet of paper that he had just taken
from his pocket-book, and watched me with grim amusement as I read out
the first few lines.

[Illustration: THE CIPHER.]

"Woe, city, lies, robbery, prey, noise, whip, rattling, wheel, horse,
chariot, day, darkness, gloominess, clouds, darkness, morning,
mountain, people, strong, fire, them, flame."

"It doesn't look very promising at first sight," I remarked. "What is
the Professor's theory?"

"His theory--provisionally, of course--is that the words form the
message, and the groups of letters represent mere filled-up spaces
between the words."

"But surely," I protested, "that would be a very transparent device."

Thorndyke laughed. "There is a childlike simplicity about it," said he,
"that is highly attractive--but discouraging. It is much more probable
that the words are dummies, and that the letters contain the message.
Or, again, the solution may lie in an entirely different direction. But
listen! Is that cab coming here?"

It was. It drew up opposite our chambers, and a few moments later a
brisk step ascending the stairs heralded a smart rat-tat at our door.
Flinging open the latter, I found myself confronted by a well-dressed
stranger, who, after a quick glance at me, peered inquisitively over my
shoulder into the room.

"I am relieved, Dr. Jervis," said he, "to find you and Dr. Thorndyke
at home, as I have come on somewhat urgent professional business. My
name," he continued, entering in response to my invitation, "is Barton,
but you don't know me, though I know you both by sight. I have come to
ask you if one of you--or, better still, both--could come to-night and
see my brother."

"That," said Thorndyke, "depends on the circumstances and on the
whereabouts of your brother."

"The circumstances," said Mr. Barton, "are, in my opinion, highly
suspicious, and I will place them before you--of course, in strict
confidence."

Thorndyke nodded and indicated a chair.

"My brother," continued Mr. Barton, taking the proffered seat, "has
recently married for the second time. His age is fifty-five, and that
of his wife twenty-six, and I may say that the marriage has been--well,
by no means a success. Now, within the last fortnight, my brother
has been attacked by a mysterious and extremely painful affliction
of the stomach, to which his doctor seems unable to give a name. It
has resisted all treatment hitherto. Day by day the pain and distress
increase, and I feel that, unless something decisive is done, the end
cannot be far off."

"Is the pain worse after taking food?" inquired Thorndyke.

"That's just it!" exclaimed our visitor. "I see what is in your mind,
and it has been in mine, too; so much so that I have tried repeatedly
to obtain samples of the food that he is taking. And this morning I
succeeded." Here he took from his pocket a wide-mouthed bottle, which,
disengaging from its paper wrappings, he laid on the table. "When I
called, he was taking his breakfast of arrowroot, which he complained
had a gritty taste, supposed by his wife to be due to the sugar. Now I
had provided myself with this bottle, and, during the absence of his
wife, I managed unobserved to convey a portion of the arrowroot that he
had left into it, and I should be greatly obliged if you would examine
it and tell me if this arrowroot contains anything that it should not."

He pushed the bottle across to Thorndyke, who carried it to the window,
and, extracting a small quantity of the contents with a glass rod,
examined the pasty mass with the aid of a lens; then, lifting the
bell-glass cover from the microscope, which stood on its table by the
window, he smeared a small quantity of the suspected matter on to a
glass slip, and placed it on the stage of the instrument.

"I observe a number of crystalline particles in this," he said, after a
brief inspection, "which have the appearance of arsenious acid."

"Ah!" ejaculated Mr. Barton, "just what I feared. But are you certain?"

"No," replied Thorndyke; "but the matter is easily tested."

He pressed the button of the bell that communicated with the
laboratory, a summons that brought the laboratory assistant from his
lair with characteristic promptitude.

"Will you please prepare a Marsh's apparatus, Polton," said Thorndyke.

"I have a couple ready, sir," replied Polton.

"Then pour the acid into one and bring it to me, with a tile."

As his familiar vanished silently, Thorndyke turned to Mr. Barton.

"Supposing we find arsenic in this arrowroot, as we probably shall,
what do you want us to do?"

"I want you to come and see my brother," replied our client.

"Why not take a note from me to his doctor?"

"No, no; I want you to come--I should like you both to come--and put a
stop at once to this dreadful business. Consider! It's a matter of life
and death. You won't refuse! I beg you not to refuse me your help in
these terrible circumstances."

"Well," said Thorndyke, as his assistant reappeared, "let us first see
what the test has to tell us."

Polton advanced to the table, on which he deposited a small flask, the
contents of which were in a state of brisk effervescence, a bottle
labelled "calcium hypochlorite," and a white porcelain tile. The flask
was fitted with a safety-funnel and a glass tube drawn out to a fine
jet, to which Polton cautiously applied a lighted match. Instantly
there sprang from the jet a tiny, pale violet flame. Thorndyke now
took the tile, and held it in the flame for a few seconds, when the
appearance of the surface remained unchanged save for a small circle
of condensed moisture. His next proceeding was to thin the arrowroot
with distilled water until it was quite fluid, and then pour a small
quantity into the funnel. It ran slowly down the tube into the flask,
with the bubbling contents of which it became speedily mixed. Almost
immediately a change began to appear in the character of the flame,
which from a pale violet turned gradually to a sickly blue, while above
it hung a faint cloud of white smoke. Once more Thorndyke held the tile
above the jet, but this time, no sooner had the pallid flame touched
the cold surface of the porcelain, than there appeared on the latter a
glistening black stain.

"That is pretty conclusive," observed Thorndyke, lifting the stopper
out of the reagent bottle, "but we will apply the final test." He
dropped a few drops of the hypochlorite solution on to the tile, and
immediately the black stain faded away and vanished. "We can now answer
your question, Mr. Barton," said he, replacing the stopper as he turned
to our client. "The specimen that you brought us certainly contains
arsenic, and in very considerable quantities."

"Then," exclaimed Mr. Barton, starting from his chair, "you will come
and help me to rescue my brother from this dreadful peril. Don't refuse
me, Dr. Thorndyke, for mercy's sake, don't refuse."

Thorndyke reflected for a moment.

"Before we decide," said he, "we must see what engagements we have."

With a quick, significant glance at me, he walked into the office,
whither I followed in some bewilderment, for I knew that we had no
engagements for the evening.

"Now, Jervis," said Thorndyke, as he closed the office door, "what are
we to do?"

"We must go, I suppose," I replied. "It seems a pretty urgent case."

"It does," he agreed. "Of course, the man may be telling the truth,
after all."

"You don't think he is, then?"

"No. It is a plausible tale, but there is too much arsenic in that
arrowroot. Still, I think I ought to go. It is an ordinary professional
risk. But there is no reason why you should put your head into the
noose."

"Thank you," said I, somewhat huffily. "I don't see what risk there is,
but if any exists I claim the right to share it."

"Very well," he answered with a smile, "we will both go. I think we can
take care of ourselves."

He re-entered the sitting-room, and announced his decision to Mr.
Barton, whose relief and gratitude were quite pathetic.


"But," said Thorndyke, "you have not yet told us where your brother
lives."

"Rexford," was the reply--"Rexford, in Essex. It is an out-of-the-way
place, but if we catch the seven-fifteen train from Liverpool Street,
we shall be there in an hour and a half."

"And as to the return? You know the trains, I suppose?"

"Oh yes," replied our client; "I will see that you don't miss your
train back."

"Then I will be with you in a minute," said Thorndyke; and, taking the
still-bubbling flask, he retired to the laboratory, whence he returned
in a few minutes carrying his hat and overcoat.

The cab which had brought our client was still waiting, and we were
soon rattling through the streets towards the station, where we arrived
in time to furnish ourselves with dinner-baskets and select our
compartment at leisure.

During the early part of the journey our companion was in excellent
spirits. He despatched the cold fowl from the basket and quaffed the
rather indifferent claret with as much relish as if he had not had a
single relation in the world, and after dinner he became genial to the
verge of hilarity. But, as time went on, there crept into his manner
a certain anxious restlessness. He became silent and preoccupied, and
several times furtively consulted his watch.

"The train is confoundedly late!" he exclaimed irritably. "Seven
minutes behind time already!"

"A few minutes more or less are not of much consequence," said
Thorndyke.

"No, of course not; but still--Ah, thank Heaven, here we are!"

He thrust his head out of the off-side window, and gazed eagerly down
the line; then, leaping to his feet, he bustled out on to the platform
while the train was still moving.

Even as we alighted a warning bell rang furiously on the up-platform,
and as Mr. Barton hurried us through the empty booking-office to the
outside of the station, the rumble of the approaching train could be
heard above the noise made by our own train moving off.

"My carriage doesn't seem to have arrived yet," exclaimed Mr. Barton,
looking anxiously up the station approach. "If you will wait here a
moment, I will go and make inquiries."

He darted back into the booking-office and through it on to the
platform, just as the up-train roared into the station. Thorndyke
followed him with quick but stealthy steps, and, peering out of the
booking-office door, watched his proceedings; then he turned and
beckoned to me.

"There he goes," said he, pointing to an iron footbridge that spanned
the line; and, as I looked, I saw, clearly defined against the dim
night sky, a flying figure racing towards the "up" side.

It was hardly two-thirds across when the guard's whistle sang out its
shrill warning.

"Quick, Jervis," exclaimed Thorndyke; "she's off!"

He leaped down on to the line, whither I followed instantly, and,
crossing the rails, we clambered up together on to the foot-board
opposite an empty first-class compartment. Thorndyke's magazine knife,
containing, among other implements, a railway-key, was already in his
hand. The door was speedily unlocked, and, as we entered, Thorndyke ran
through and looked out on to the platform.

"Just in time!" he exclaimed. "He is in one of the forward
compartments."

He relocked the door, and, seating himself, proceeded to fill his pipe.

"And now," said I, as the train moved out of the station, "perhaps you
will explain this little comedy."

"With pleasure," he replied, "if it needs any explanation. But you can
hardly have forgotten Mr. James's flattering remarks in his report
of the Greek Street incident, clearly giving the impression that the
mysterious document was in my possession. When I read that, I knew I
must look out for some attempt to recover it, though I hardly expected
such promptness. Still, when Mr. Barton called without credentials
or appointment, I viewed him with some suspicion. That suspicion
deepened when he wanted us both to come. It deepened further when I
found an impossible quantity of arsenic in his sample, and it gave
place to certainty when, having allowed him to select the trains by
which we were to travel, I went up to the laboratory and examined
the time-table; for I then found that the last train for London left
Rexford ten minutes after we were due to arrive. Obviously this was
a plan to get us both safely out of the way while he and some of his
friends ransacked our chambers for the missing document."

"I see; and that accounts for his extraordinary anxiety at the lateness
of the train. But why did you come, if you knew it was a 'plant'?"

"My dear fellow," said Thorndyke, "I never miss an interesting
experience if I can help it. There are possibilities in this, too,
don't you see?"

"But supposing his friends have broken into our chambers already?"

"That contingency has been provided for; but I think they will wait for
Mr. Barton--and us."

Our train, being the last one up, stopped at every station, and crawled
slothfully in the intervals, so that it was past eleven o'clock when
we reached Liverpool Street. Here we got out cautiously, and, mingling
with the crowd, followed the unconscious Barton up the platform,
through the barrier, and out into the street. He seemed in no special
hurry, for, after pausing to light a cigar, he set off at an easy pace
up New Broad Street.

Thorndyke hailed a hansom, and, motioning me to enter, directed the
cabman to drive to Clifford's Inn Passage.

"Sit well back," said he, as we rattled away up New Broad Street.
"We shall be passing our gay deceiver presently--in fact, there he
is, a living, walking illustration of the folly of underrating the
intelligence of one's adversary."

At Clifford's Inn Passage we dismissed the cab, and, retiring into the
shadow of the dark, narrow alley, kept an eye on the gate of Inner
Temple Lane. In about twenty minutes we observed our friend approaching
on the south side of Fleet Street. He halted at the gate, plied the
knocker, and after a brief parley with the night-porter vanished
through the wicket. We waited yet five minutes more, and then, having
given him time to get clear of the entrance, we crossed the road.

The porter looked at us with some surprise.

"There's a gentleman just gone down to your chambers, sir," said he.
"He told me you were expecting him."

"Quite right," said Thorndyke, with a dry smile, "I was. Good-night."

We slunk down the lane, past the church, and through the gloomy
cloisters, giving a wide berth to all lamps and lighted entries, until,
emerging into Paper Buildings, we crossed at the darkest part to King's
Bench Walk, where Thorndyke made straight for the chambers of our
friend Anstey, which were two doors above our own.

"Why are we coming here?" I asked, as we ascended the stairs.

But the question needed no answer when we reached the landing, for
through the open door of our friend's chambers I could see in the
darkened room Anstey himself with two uniformed constables and a couple
of plain-clothes men.

"There has been no signal yet, sir," said one of the latter, whom I
recognized as a detective-sergeant of our division.

"No," said Thorndyke, "but the M.C. has arrived. He came in five
minutes before us."

"Then," exclaimed Anstey, "the ball will open shortly, ladies and
gents. The boards are waxed, the fiddlers are tuning up, and--"

"Not quite so loud, if you please, sir," said the sergeant. "I think
there is somebody coming up Crown Office Row."

The ball had, in fact, opened. As we peered cautiously out of the open
window, keeping well back in the darkened room, a stealthy figure crept
out of the shadow, crossed the road, and stole noiselessly into the
entry of Thorndyke's chambers. It was quickly followed by a second
figure, and then by a third, in which I recognized our elusive client.

"Now listen for the signal," said Thorndyke. "They won't waste time.
Confound that clock!"

The soft-voiced bell of the Inner Temple clock, mingling with the
harsher tones of St. Dunstan's and the Law Courts, slowly tolled out
the hour of midnight; and as the last reverberations were dying away,
some metallic object, apparently a coin, dropped with a sharp clink on
to the pavement under our window.

At the sound the watchers simultaneously sprang to their feet.

"You two go first," said the sergeant, addressing the uniformed men,
who thereupon stole noiselessly, in their rubber-soled boots, down the
stone stairs and along the pavement. The rest of us followed, with less
attention to silence, and as we ran up to Thorndyke's chambers, we were
aware of quick but stealthy footsteps on the stairs above.

"They've been at work, you see," whispered one of the constables,
flashing his lantern on to the iron-bound outer door of our
sitting-room, on which the marks of a large jemmy were plainly visible.

The sergeant nodded grimly, and, bidding the constables to remain on
the landing, led the way upwards.

As we ascended, faint rustlings continued to be audible from above,
and on the second-floor landing we met a man descending briskly, but
without hurry, from the third. It was Mr. Barton, and I could not but
admire the composure with which he passed the two detectives. But
suddenly his glance fell on Thorndyke, and his composure vanished. With
a wild stare of incredulous horror, he halted as if petrified; then he
broke away and raced furiously down the stairs, and a moment later a
muffled shout and the sound of a scuffle told us that he had received
a check. On the next flight we met two more men, who, more hurried and
less self-possessed, endeavoured to push past; but the sergeant barred
the way.

"Why, bless me!" exclaimed the latter, "it's Moakey; and isn't that Tom
Harris?"

"It's all right, sergeant," said Moakey plaintively, striving to escape
from the officer's grip. "We've come to the wrong house, that's all."

The sergeant smiled indulgently. "I know," he replied. "But you're
always coming to the wrong house, Moakey; and now you're just coming
along with me to the right house."

He slipped his hand inside his captive's coat, and adroitly fished out
a large, folding jemmy; whereupon the discomforted burglar abandoned
all further protest.

On our return to the first-floor, we found Mr. Barton sulkily awaiting
us, handcuffed to one of the constables, and watched by Polton with
pensive disapproval.

"I needn't trouble you to-night, Doctor," said the sergeant, as he
marshalled his little troop of captors and captives. "You'll hear from
us in the morning. Good-night, sir."

The melancholy procession moved off down the stairs, and we retired
into our chambers with Anstey to smoke a last pipe.

"A capable man, that Barton," observed Thorndyke--"ready, plausible,
and ingenious, but spoilt by prolonged contact with fools. I wonder if
the police will perceive the significance of this little affair."

"They will be more acute than I am if they do," said I.

"Naturally," interposed Anstey, who loved to "cheek" his revered
senior, "because there isn't any. It's only Thorndyke's bounce. He is
really in a deuce of a fog himself."

However this may have been, the police were a good deal puzzled by the
incident, for, on the following morning, we received a visit from no
less a person than Superintendent Miller, of Scotland Yard.

"This is a queer business," said he, coming to the point at once--"this
burglary, I mean. Why should they want to crack your place, right here
in the Temple, too? You've got nothing of value here, have you? No
'hard stuff,' as they call it, for instance?"

"Not so much as a silver teaspoon," replied Thorndyke, who had a
conscientious objection to plate of all kinds.

"It's odd," said the superintendent, "deuced odd. When we got your
note, we thought these anarchist idiots had mixed you up with the
case--you saw the papers, I suppose--and wanted to go through your
rooms for some reason. We thought we had our hands on the gang, instead
of which we find a party of common crooks that we're sick of the sight
of. I tell you, sir, it's annoying when you think you've hooked a
salmon, to bring up a blooming eel."

"It must be a great disappointment," Thorndyke agreed, suppressing a
smile.

"It is," said the detective. "Not but what we're glad enough to get
these beggars, especially Halkett, or Barton, as he calls himself--a
mighty slippery customer is Halkett, and mischievous, too--but we're
not wanting any disappointments just now. There was that big jewel job
in Piccadilly, Taplin and Horne's; I don't mind telling you that we've
not got the ghost of a clue. Then there's this anarchist affair. We're
all in the dark there, too."

"But what about the cipher?" asked Thorndyke.

"Oh, hang the cipher!" exclaimed the detective irritably. "This
Professor Poppelbaum may be a very learned man, but he doesn't help
us much. He says the document is in Hebrew, and he has translated it
into Double Dutch. Just listen to this!" He dragged out of his pocket a
bundle of papers, and, dabbing down a photograph of the document before
Thorndyke, commenced to read the Professor's report. "'The document is
written in the characters of the well-known inscription of Mesha, King
of Moab' (who the devil's he? Never heard of him. Well known, indeed!)
'The language is Hebrew, and the words are separated by groups of
letters, which are meaningless, and obviously introduced to mislead and
confuse the reader. The words themselves are not strictly consecutive,
but, by the interpellation of certain other words, a series of
intelligible sentences is obtained, the meaning of which is not very
clear, but is no doubt allegorical. The method of decipherment is shown
in the accompanying tables, and the full rendering suggested on the
enclosed sheet. It is to be noted that the writer of this document was
apparently quite unacquainted with the Hebrew language, as appears from
the absence of any grammatical construction.' That's the Professor's
report, Doctor, and here are the tables showing how he worked it out.
It makes my head spin to look at 'em."

He handed to Thorndyke a bundle of ruled sheets, which my colleague
examined attentively for a while, and then passed on to me.

"This is very systematic and thorough," said he. "But now let us see
the final result at which he arrives."

"It may be all very systematic," growled the superintendent, sorting
out his papers, "but I tell you, sir, it's all BOSH!" The latter word
he jerked out viciously, as he slapped down on the table the final
product of the Professor's labours. "There," he continued, "that's what
he calls the 'full rendering,' and I reckon it'll make your hair curl.
It might be a message from Bedlam."

Thorndyke took up the first sheet, and as he compared the constructed
renderings with the literal translation, the ghost of a smile stole
across his usually immovable countenance.

"The meaning is certainly a little obscure," he observed, "though
the reconstruction is highly ingenious; and, moreover, I think the
Professor is probably right. That is to say, the words which he has
supplied are probably the omitted parts of the passages from which the
words of the cryptogram were taken. What do you think, Jervis?"

[Illustration: THE PROFESSOR'S ANALYSIS. Handwritten: Analysis of
the cipher with translation into modern square Hebrew characters + a
translation into English. N.B. The cipher reads from right to left.]

He handed me the two papers, of which one gave the actual words of the
cryptogram, and the other a suggested reconstruction, with omitted
words supplied. The first read:

"Woe city lies robbery prey noise whip rattling wheel horse chariot day
darkness gloominess cloud darkness morning mountain people strong fire
them flame."

Turning to the second paper, I read out the suggested rendering: "'Woe
to the bloody city! It is full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth
not. The noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels,
and of the prancing horses, and of the jumping chariots.

"'A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds, and of thick
darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains, a great people and
a strong.

"'A fire devoureth before them, and behind them a flame burneth.'"

Here the first sheet ended, and, as I laid it down, Thorndyke looked at
me inquiringly.

"There is a good deal of reconstruction in proportion to the original
matter," I objected. "The Professor has 'supplied' more than
three-quarters of the final rendering."

"Exactly," burst in the superintendent; "it's all Professor and no
cryptogram."

"Still, I think the reading is correct," said Thorndyke. "As far as it
goes, that is."

"Good Lord!" exclaimed the dismayed detective. "Do you mean to tell me,
sir, that that balderdash is the real meaning of the thing?"

"I don't say that," replied Thorndyke. "I say it is correct as far as
it goes; but I doubt its being the solution of the cryptogram."

"Have you been studying that photograph that I gave you?" demanded
Miller, with sudden eagerness.

"I have looked at it," said Thorndyke evasively, "but I should like to
examine the original if you have it with you."

"I have," said the detective. "Professor Poppelbaum sent it back with
the solution. You can have a look at it, though I can't leave it with
you without special authority."

He drew the document from his pocket-book and handed it to Thorndyke,
who took it over to the window and scrutinized it closely. From the
window he drifted into the adjacent office, closing the door after
him; and presently the sound of a faint explosion told me that he had
lighted the gas-fire.

"Of course," said Miller, taking up the translation again, "this
gibberish is the sort of stuff you might expect from a parcel of
crack-brained anarchists; but it doesn't seem to mean anything."

"Not to us," I agreed; "but the phrases may have some pre-arranged
significance. And then there are the letters between the words. It is
possible that they may really form a cipher."

"I suggested that to the Professor," said Miller, "but he wouldn't hear
of it. He is sure they are only dummies."

"I think he is probably mistaken, and so, I fancy, does my colleague.
But we shall hear what he has to say presently."

"Oh, I know what he will say," growled Miller. "He will put the thing
under the microscope, and tell us who made the paper, and what the
ink is composed of, and then we shall be just where we were." The
superintendent was evidently deeply depressed.

We sat for some time pondering in silence on the vague sentences of
the Professor's translation, until, at length, Thorndyke reappeared,
holding the document in his hand. He laid it quietly on the table by
the officer, and then inquired: "Is this an official consultation?"

"Certainly," replied Miller. "I was authorized to consult you
respecting the translation, but nothing was said about the original.
Still, if you want it for further study, I will get it for you."

"No, thank you," said Thorndyke. "I have finished with it. My theory
turned out to be correct."

"Your theory!" exclaimed the superintendent, eagerly. "Do you mean to
say--?"

"And, as you are consulting me officially, I may as well give you this."

He held out a sheet of paper, which the detective took from him and
began to read.

"What is this?" he asked, looking up at Thorndyke with a puzzled frown.
"Where did it come from?"

"It is the solution of the cryptogram," replied Thorndyke.

The detective re-read the contents of the paper, and, with the frown of
perplexity deepening, once more gazed at my colleague.

"This is a joke, sir; you are fooling me," he said sulkily.

"Nothing of the kind," answered Thorndyke. "That is the genuine
solution."

"But it's impossible!" exclaimed Miller. "Just look at it, Dr. Jervis."

I took the paper from his hand, and, as I glanced at it, I had no
difficulty in understanding his surprise. It bore a short inscription
in printed Roman capitals, thus:

"THE PICKERDILLEY STUF IS UP THE CHIMBLY 416 WARDOUR ST 2ND FLOUR BACK
IT WAS HID BECOS OF OLD MOAKEYS JOOD MOAKEY IS A BLITER."

"Then that fellow wasn't an anarchist at all?" I exclaimed.

"No," said Miller. "He was one of Moakey's gang. We suspected Moakey of
being mixed up with that job, but we couldn't fix it on him. By Jove!"
he added, slapping his thigh, "if this is right, and I can lay my hands
on the loot! Can you lend me a bag, doctor? I'm off to Wardour Street
this very moment."

We furnished him with an empty suit-case, and, from the window, watched
him making for Mitre Court at a smart double.

"I wonder if he will find the booty," said Thorndyke. "It just depends
on whether the hiding-place was known to more than one of the gang.
Well, it has been a quaint case, and instructive, too. I suspect our
friend Barton and the evasive Schoenberg were the collaborators who
produced that curiosity of literature."

"May I ask how you deciphered the thing?" I said. "It didn't appear to
take long."

"It didn't. It was merely a matter of testing a hypothesis; and you
ought not to have to ask that question," he added, with mock severity,
"seeing that you had what turn out to have been all the necessary
facts, two days ago. But I will prepare a document and demonstrate to
you to-morrow morning."

"So Miller was successful in his quest," said Thorndyke, as we smoked
our morning pipes after breakfast. "The 'entire swag,' as he calls it,
was 'up the chimbly,' undisturbed."

He handed me a note which had been left, with the empty suit-case, by a
messenger, shortly before, and I was about to read it when an agitated
knock was heard at our door. The visitor, whom I admitted, was a rather
haggard and dishevelled elderly gentleman, who, as he entered, peered
inquisitively through his concave spectacles from one of us to the
other.

"Allow me to introduce myself, gentlemen," said he. "I am Professor
Poppelbaum."

Thorndyke bowed and offered a chair.

"I called yesterday afternoon," our visitor continued, "at Scotland
Yard, where I heard of your remarkable decipherment and of the
convincing proof of its correctness. Thereupon I borrowed the
cryptogram, and have spent the entire night in studying it, but I
cannot connect your solution with any of the characters. I wonder if
you would do me the great favour of enlightening me as to your method
of decipherment, and so save me further sleepless nights? You may rely
on my discretion."

"Have you the document with you?" asked Thorndyke.

The Professor produced it from his pocket-book, and passed it to my
colleague.


"You observe, Professor," said the latter, "that this is a laid paper,
and has no water-mark?"

"Yes, I noticed that."

"And that the writing is in indelible Chinese ink?"

"Yes, yes," said the savant impatiently; "but it is the inscription
that interests me, not the paper and ink."

"Precisely," said Thorndyke. "Now, it was the ink that interested
me when I caught a glimpse of the document three days ago. 'Why,' I
asked myself, 'should anyone use this troublesome medium'--for this
appears to be stick ink--'when good writing ink is to be had?' What
advantages has Chinese ink over writing ink? It has several advantages
as a drawing ink, but for writing purposes it has only one: it is quite
unaffected by wet. The obvious inference, then, was that this document
was, for some reason, likely to be exposed to wet. But this inference
instantly suggested another, which I was yesterday able to put to the
test--thus."

He filled a tumbler with water, and, rolling up the document, dropped
it in. Immediately there began to appear on it a new set of characters
of a curious grey colour. In a few seconds Thorndyke lifted out the
wet paper, and held it up to the light, and now there was plainly
visible an inscription in transparent lettering, like a very distinct
water-mark. It was in printed Roman capitals, written across the other
writing, and read:

"THE PICKERDILLEY STUF IS UP THE CHIMBLY 416 WARDOUR ST 2ND FLOUR BACK
IT WAS HID BECOS OF OLD MOAKEYS JOOD MOAKEY IS A BLITER."

The Professor regarded the inscription with profound disfavour.

"How do you suppose this was done?" he asked gloomily.

"I will show you," said Thorndyke. "I have prepared a piece of paper to
demonstrate the process to Dr. Jervis. It is exceedingly simple."

He fetched from the office a small plate of glass, and a photographic
dish in which a piece of thin notepaper was soaking in water.

"This paper," said Thorndyke, lifting it out and laying it on the
glass, "has been soaking all night, and is now quite pulpy."

He spread a dry sheet of paper over the wet one, and on the former
wrote heavily with a hard pencil, "Moakey is a bliter." On lifting the
upper sheet, the writing was seen to be transferred in a deep grey
to the wet paper, and when the latter was held up to the light the
inscription stood out clear and transparent as if written with oil.

"When this dries," said Thorndyke, "the writing will completely
disappear, but it will reappear whenever the paper is again wetted."

The Professor nodded.

"Very ingenious," said he--"a sort of artificial palimpsest, in fact.
But I do not understand how that illiterate man could have written in
the difficult Moabite script."

"He did not," said Thorndyke. "The 'cryptogram' was probably written by
one of the leaders of the gang, who, no doubt, supplied copies to the
other members to use instead of blank paper for secret communications.
The object of the Moabite writing was evidently to divert attention
from the paper itself, in case the communication fell into the wrong
hands, and I must say it seems to have answered its purpose very well."

The Professor started, stung by the sudden recollection of his labours.

"Yes," he snorted; "but I am a scholar, sir, not a policeman. Every man
to his trade."

He snatched up his hat, and with a curt "Good-morning," flung out of
the room in dudgeon.

Thorndyke laughed softly.

"Poor Professor!" he murmured. "Our playful friend Barton has much to
answer for."



THE MANDARIN'S PEARL


Mr. Brodribb stretched out his toes on the kerb before the blazing fire
with the air of a man who is by no means insensible to physical comfort.

"You are really an extraordinarily polite fellow, Thorndyke," said he.

He was an elderly man, rosy-gilled, portly, and convivial, to whom a
mass of bushy, white hair, an expansive double chin, and a certain
prim sumptuousness of dress imparted an air of old-world distinction.
Indeed, as he dipped an amethystine nose into his wine-glass, and gazed
thoughtfully at the glowing end of his cigar, he looked the very type
of the well-to-do lawyer of an older generation.

"You are really an extraordinarily polite fellow, Thorndyke," said Mr.
Brodribb.

"I know," replied Thorndyke. "But why this reference to an admitted
fact?"

"The truth has just dawned on me," said the solicitor. "Here am
I, dropping in on you, uninvited and unannounced, sitting in your
own armchair before your fire, smoking your cigars, drinking your
Burgundy--and deuced good Burgundy, too, let me add--and you have not
dropped a single hint of curiosity as to what has brought me here."

"I take the gifts of the gods, you see, and ask no questions," said
Thorndyke.

"Devilish handsome of you, Thorndyke--unsociable beggar like you, too,"
rejoined Mr. Brodribb, a fan of wrinkles spreading out genially from
the corners of his eyes; "but the fact is I have come, in a sense, on
business--always glad of a pretext to look you up, as you know--but I
want to take your opinion on a rather queer case. It is about young
Calverley. You remember Horace Calverley? Well, this is his son. Horace
and I were schoolmates, you know, and after his death the boy, Fred,
hung on to me rather. We're near neighbours down at Weybridge, and very
good friends. I like Fred. He's a good fellow, though cranky, like all
his people."

"What has happened to Fred Calverley?" Thorndyke asked, as the
solicitor paused.

"Why, the fact is," said Mr. Brodribb, "just lately he seems to be
going a bit queer--not mad, mind you--at least, I think not--but
undoubtedly queer. Now, there is a good deal of property, and a good
many highly interested relatives, and, as a natural consequence,
there is some talk of getting him certified. They're afraid he may do
something involving the estate or develop homicidal tendencies, and
they talk of possible suicide--you remember his father's death--but I
say that's all bunkum. The fellow is just a bit cranky, and nothing
more."

"What are his symptoms?" asked Thorndyke.

"Oh, he thinks he is being followed about and watched, and he has
delusions; sees himself in the glass with the wrong face, and that sort
of thing, you know."

"You are not highly circumstantial," Thorndyke remarked.

Mr. Brodribb looked at me with a genial smile.

"What a glutton for facts this fellow is, Jervis. But you're right,
Thorndyke; I'm vague. However, Fred will be here presently. We travel
down together, and I took the liberty of asking him to call for me.
We'll get him to tell you about his delusions, if you don't mind. He's
not shy about them. And meanwhile I'll give you a few preliminary
facts. The trouble began about a year ago. He was in a railway
accident, and that knocked him all to pieces. Then he went for a voyage
to recruit, and the ship broke her propeller-shaft in a storm and
became helpless. That didn't improve the state of his nerves. Then he
went down the Mediterranean, and after a month or two, back he came, no
better than when he started. But here he is, I expect."

He went over to the door and admitted a tall, frail young man
whom Thorndyke welcomed with quiet geniality, and settled in a
chair by the fire. I looked curiously at our visitor. He was a
typical neurotic--slender, fragile, eager. Wide-open blue eyes
with broad pupils, in which I could plainly see the characteristic
"hippus"--that incessant change of size that marks the unstable nervous
equilibrium--parted lips, and wandering taper fingers, were as the
stigmata of his disorder. He was of the stuff out of which prophets and
devotees, martyrs, reformers, and third-rate poets are made.

"I have been telling Dr. Thorndyke about these nervous troubles of
yours," said Mr. Brodribb presently. "I hope you don't mind. He is an
old friend, you know, and he is very much interested."

"It is very good of him," said Calverley. Then he flushed deeply, and
added: "But they are not really nervous, you know. They can't be merely
subjective."

"You think they can't be?" said Thorndyke.

"No, I am sure they are not." He flushed again like a girl, and looked
earnestly at Thorndyke with his big, dreamy eyes. "But you doctors," he
said, "are so dreadfully sceptical of all spiritual phenomena. You are
such materialists."

"Yes," said Mr. Brodribb; "the doctors are not hot on the supernatural,
and that's the fact."

"Supposing you tell us about your experiences," said Thorndyke
persuasively. "Give us a chance to believe, if we can't explain away."

Calverley reflected for a few moments; then, looking earnestly at
Thorndyke, he said: "Very well; if it won't bore you, I will. It is a
curious story."

"I have told Dr. Thorndyke about your voyage and your trip down the
Mediterranean," said Mr. Brodribb.

"Then," said Calverley, "I will begin with the events that are actually
connected with these strange visitations. The first of these occurred
in Marseilles. I was in a curio-shop there, looking over some Algerian
and Moorish tilings, when my attention was attracted by a sort of
charm or pendant that hung in a glass case. It was not particularly
beautiful, but its appearance was quaint and curious, and took my
fancy. It consisted of an oblong block of ebony in which was set a
single pear-shaped pearl more than three-quarters of an inch long.
The sides of the ebony block were lacquered--probably to conceal a
joint--and bore a number of Chinese characters, and at the top was a
little gold image with a hole through it, presumably for a string to
suspend it by. Excepting for the pearl, the whole thing was uncommonly
like one of those ornamental tablets of Chinese ink.

"Now, I had taken a fancy to the thing, and I can afford to indulge my
fancies in moderation. The man wanted five pounds for it; he assured me
that the pearl was a genuine one of fine quality, and obviously did not
believe it himself. To me, however, it looked like a real pearl, and I
determined to take the risk; so I paid the money, and he bowed me out
with a smile--I may almost say a grin--of satisfaction. He would not
have been so well pleased if he had followed me to a jeweller's to whom
I took it for an expert opinion; for the jeweller pronounced the pearl
to be undoubtedly genuine, and worth anything up to a thousand pounds.

"A day or two later, I happened to show my new purchase to some men
whom I knew, who had dropped in at Marseilles in their yacht. They were
highly amused at my having bought the thing, and when I told them what
I had paid for it, they positively howled with derision.

"'Why, you silly guffin,' said one of them, a man named Halliwell, 'I
could have had it ten days ago for half a sovereign, or probably five
shillings. I wish now I had bought it; then I could have sold it to
you.'

"It seemed that a sailor had been hawking the pendant round the
harbour, and had been on board the yacht with it.

"'Deuced anxious the beggar was to get rid of it, too,' said Halliwell,
grinning at the recollection. 'Swore it was a genuine pearl of
priceless value, and was willing to deprive himself of it for the
trifling sum of half a jimmy. But we'd heard that sort of thing before.
However, the curio-man seems to have speculated on the chance of
meeting with a greenhorn, and he seems to have pulled it off. Lucky
curio man!'

"I listened patiently to their gibes, and when they had talked
themselves out I told them about the jeweller. They were most
frightfully sick; and when we had taken the pendant to a dealer in
gems who happened to be staying in the town, and he had offered me
five hundred pounds for it, their language wasn't fit for a divinity
students' debating club. Naturally the story got noised abroad, and
when I left, it was the talk of the place. The general opinion was that
the sailor, who was traced to a tea-ship that had put into the harbour,
had stolen it from some Chinese passenger; and no less than seventeen
different Chinamen came forward to claim it as their stolen property.

"Soon after this I returned to England, and, as my nerves were still
in a very shaky state, I came to live with my cousin Alfred, who has
a large house at Weybridge. At this time he had a friend staying with
him, a certain Captain Raggerton, and the two men appeared to be on
very intimate terms. I did not take to Raggerton at all. He was a
good-looking man, pleasant in his manners, and remarkably plausible.
But the fact is--I am speaking in strict confidence, of course--he was
a bad egg. He had been in the Guards, and I don't quite know why he
left; but I do know that he played bridge and baccarat pretty heavily
at several clubs, and that he had a reputation for being a rather
uncomfortably lucky player. He did a good deal at the race-meetings,
too, and was in general such an obvious undesirable that I could never
understand my cousin's intimacy with him, though I must say that
Alfred's habits had changed somewhat for the worse since I had left
England.

"The fame of my purchase seems to have preceded me, for when, one day,
I produced the pendant to show them, I found that they knew all about
it. Raggerton had heard the story from a naval man, and I gathered
vaguely that he had heard something that I had not, and that he did
not care to tell me; for when my cousin and he talked about the pearl,
which they did pretty often, certain significant looks passed between
them, and certain veiled references were made which I could not fail to
notice.

"One day I happened to be telling them of a curious incident that
occurred on my way home. I had travelled to England on one of Holt's
big China boats, not liking the crowd and bustle of the regular
passenger-lines. Now, one afternoon, when we had been at sea a couple
of days, I took a book down to my berth, intending to have a quiet read
till tea-time. Soon, however, I dropped off into a doze, and must have
remained asleep for over an hour. I awoke suddenly, and as I opened my
eyes, I perceived that the door of the state-room was half-open, and
a well-dressed Chinaman, in native costume, was looking in at me. He
closed the door immediately, and I remained for a few moments paralyzed
by the start that he had given me. Then I leaped from my bunk, opened
the door, and looked out. But the alley-way was empty. The Chinaman had
vanished as if by magic.

"This little occurrence made me quite nervous for a day or two, which
was very foolish of me; but my nerves were all on edge--and I am afraid
they are still."

"Yes," said Thorndyke. "There was nothing mysterious about the affair.
These boats carry a Chinese crew, and the man you saw was probably a
Serang, or whatever they call the gang-captains on these vessels. Or he
may have been a native passenger who had strayed into the wrong part of
the ship."

"Exactly," agreed our client. "But to return to Raggerton. He listened
with quite extraordinary interest as I was telling this story, and when
I had finished he looked very queerly at my cousin.

"'A deuced odd thing, this, Calverley,' said he. 'Of course, it may be
only a coincidence, but it really does look as if there was something,
after all, in that--'

"'Shut up, Raggerton,' said my cousin. 'We don't want any of that rot.'

"'What is he talking about?" I asked.

"'Oh, it's only a rotten, silly yarn that he has picked up somewhere.
You're not to tell him, Raggerton.'

"'I don't see why I am not to be told,' I said, rather sulkily. 'I'm
not a baby.'

"'No,' said Alfred, 'but you're an invalid. You don't want any horrors.'

"In effect, he refused to go into the matter any further, and I was
left on tenter-hooks of curiosity.

"However, the very next day I got Raggerton alone in the smoking-room,
and had a little talk with him. He had just dropped a hundred pounds
on a double event that hadn't come off, and I expected to find him
pliable. Nor was I disappointed, for, when we had negotiated a little
loan, he was entirely at my service, and willing to tell me everything,
on my promising not to give him away to Alfred.

"'Now, you understand,' he said, 'that this yarn about your pearl
is nothing but a damn silly fable that's been going the round in
Marseilles. I don't know where it came from, or what sort of demented
rotter invented it; I had it from a Johnnie in the Mediterranean
Squadron, and you can have a copy of his letter if you want it.'

"I said that I did want it. Accordingly, that same evening he handed
me a copy of the narrative extracted from his friend's letter, the
substance of which was this:


"About four months ago there was lying in Canton Harbour a large
English barque. Her name is not mentioned, but that is not material
to the story. She had got her cargo stowed and her crew signed
on, and was only waiting for certain official formalities to be
completed before putting to sea on her homeward voyage. Just
ahead of her, at the same quay, was a Danish ship that had been in
collision outside, and was now laid up pending the decision of the
Admiralty Court. She had been unloaded, and her crew paid off, with the
exception of one elderly man, who remained on board as ship-keeper.
Now, a considerable part of the cargo of the English barque was the
property of a certain wealthy mandarin, and this person had been about
the vessel a good deal while she was taking in her lading.

"One day, when the mandarin was on board the barque, it happened that
three of the seamen were sitting in the galley smoking and chatting
with the cook--an elderly Chinaman named Wo-li--and the latter,
pointing out the mandarin to the sailors, expatiated on his enormous
wealth, assuring them that he was commonly believed to carry on his
person articles of sufficient value to buy up the entire lading of a
ship.

"Now, unfortunately for the mandarin, it chanced that these three
sailors were about the greatest rascals on board; which is saying a
good deal when one considers the ordinary moral standard that prevails
in the forecastle of a sailing-ship. Nor was Wo-li himself an angel; in
fact, he was a consummate villain, and seems to have been the actual
originator of the plot which was presently devised to rob the mandarin.

"This plot was as remarkable for its simplicity as for its cold-blooded
barbarity. On the evening before the barque sailed, the three seamen,
Nilsson, Foucault, and Parratt, proceeded to the Danish ship with a
supply of whisky, made the ship-keeper royally drunk, and locked him
up in an empty berth. Meanwhile Wo-li made a secret communication to
the mandarin to the effect that certain stolen property, believed to
be his, had been secreted in the hold of the empty ship. Thereupon
the mandarin came down hot-foot to the quay-side, and was received on
board by the three seamen, who had got the covers off the after-hatch
in readiness. Parratt now ran down the iron ladder to show the way, and
the mandarin followed; but when they reached the lower deck, and looked
down the hatch into the black darkness of the lower hold, he seems to
have taken fright, and begun to climb up again. Meanwhile Nilsson had
made a running bowline in the end of a loose halyard that was rove
through a block aloft, and had been used for hoisting out the cargo. As
the mandarin came up, he leaned over the coaming of the hatch, dropped
the noose over the Chinaman's head, jerked it tight, and then he and
Foucault hove on the fall of the rope. The unfortunate Chinaman was
dragged from the ladder, and, as he swung clear, the two rascals let
go the rope, allowing him to drop through the hatches into the lower
hold. Then they belayed the rope, and went down below. Parratt had
already lighted a slush-lamp, by the glimmer of which they could see
the mandarin swinging to and fro like a pendulum within a few feet of
the ballast, and still quivering and twitching in his death-throes.
They were now joined by Wo-li, who had watched the proceedings from
the quay, and the four villains proceeded, without loss of time, to
rifle the body as it hung. To their surprise and disgust, they found
nothing of value excepting an ebony pendant set with a single large
pearl; but Wo-li, though evidently disappointed at the nature of the
booty, assured his comrades that this alone was well worth the hazard,
pointing out the great size and exceptional beauty of the pearl. As to
this, the seamen know nothing about pearls, but the thing was done, and
had to be made the best of; so they made the rope fast to the lower
deck-beams, cut off the remainder and unrove it from the block, and
went back to their ship.

"It was twenty-four hours before the ship-keeper was sufficiently sober
to break out of the berth in which he had been locked, by which time
the barque was well out to sea; and it was another three days before
the body of the mandarin was found. An active search was then made for
the murderers, but as they were strangers to the ship-keeper, no clues
to their whereabouts could be discovered.

"Meanwhile, the four murderers were a good deal exercised as to the
disposal of the booty. Since it could not be divided, it was evident
that it must be entrusted to the keeping of one of them. The choice
in the first place fell upon Wo-li, in whose chest the pendant was
deposited as soon as the party came on board, it being arranged
that the Chinaman should produce the jewel for inspection by his
confederates whenever called upon.

"For six weeks nothing out of the common occurred; but then a very
singular event befell. The four conspirators were sitting outside the
galley one evening, when suddenly the cook uttered a cry of amazement
and horror. The other three turned to see what it was that had so
disturbed their comrade, and then they, too, were struck dumb with
consternation; for, standing at the door of the companion-hatch--the
barque was a flush-decked vessel--was the mandarin whom they had left
for dead. He stood quietly regarding them for fully a minute, while
they stared at him transfixed with terror. Then he beckoned to them,
and went below.

"So petrified were they with astonishment and mortal fear that they
remained for a long time motionless and dumb. At last they plucked up
courage, and began to make furtive inquiries among the crew; but no
one--not even the steward--knew anything of any passengers, or, indeed,
of any Chinaman, on board the ship, excepting Wo-li.

"At day-break the next morning, when the cook's mate went to the
galley to fill the coppers, he found Wo-li hanging from a hook in the
ceiling. The cook's body was stiff and cold, and had evidently been
hanging several hours. The report of the tragedy quickly spread through
the ship, and the three conspirators hurried off to remove the pearl
from the dead man's chest before the officers should come to examine
it. The cheap lock was easily picked with a bent wire, and the jewel
abstracted; but now the question arose as to who should take charge of
it. The eagerness to be the actual custodian of the precious bauble,
which had been at first displayed, now gave place to equally strong
reluctance. But someone had to take charge of it, and after a long and
angry discussion Nilsson was prevailed upon to stow it in his chest.

"A fortnight passed. The three conspirators went about their duties
soberly, like men burdened with some secret anxiety, and in their
leisure moments they would sit and talk with bated breath of the
apparition at the companion-hatch, and the mysterious death of their
late comrade.

"At last the blow fell.

"It was at the end of the second dog-watch that the hands were gathered
on the forecastle, preparing to make sail after a spell of bad weather.
Suddenly Nilsson gave a husky shout, and rushed at Parratt, holding out
the key of his chest.

"'Here you, Parratt,' he exclaimed, 'go below and take that accursed
thing out of my chest.'

"'What for--' demanded Parratt; and then he and Foucault, who was
standing close by, looked aft to see what Nilsson was staring at.

"Instantly they both turned white as ghosts, and fell trembling so that
they could hardly stand; for there was the mandarin, standing calmly by
the companion, returning with a steady, impassive gaze their looks of
horror. And even as they looked he beckoned and went below.

"'D'ye hear, Parratt--' gasped Nilsson; 'take my key and do what I say,
or else--'

"But at this moment the order was given to go aloft and set all plain
sail; the three men went off to their respective posts, Nilsson going
up the fore-topmast rigging, and the other two to the main-top. Having
finished their work aloft, Foucault and Parratt who were both in the
port watch, came down on deck, and then, it being their watch below,
they went and turned in.

"When they turned out with their watch at midnight, they looked about
for Nilsson, who was in the starboard watch, but he was nowhere to be
seen. Thinking he might have slipped below unobserved, they made no
remark, though they were very uneasy about him; but when the starboard
watch came on deck at four o'clock, and Nilsson did not appear with his
mates, the two men became alarmed, and made inquiries about him. It
was now discovered that no one had seen him since eight o'clock on the
previous evening, and, this being reported to the officer of the watch,
the latter ordered all hands to be called. But still Nilsson did not
appear. A thorough search was now instituted, both below and aloft, and
as there was still no sign of the missing man, it was concluded that he
had fallen overboard.

"But at eight o'clock two men were sent aloft to shake out the
fore-royal. They reached the yard almost simultaneously, and were just
stepping on to the foot-ropes when one of them gave a shout; then the
pair came sliding down a backstay, with faces as white as tallow. As
soon as they reached the deck, they took the officer of the watch
forward, and, standing on the heel of the bowsprit, pointed aloft.
Several of the hands, including Foucault and Parratt, had followed,
and all looked up; and there they saw the body of Nilsson, hanging on
the front of the fore-topgallant sail. He was dangling at the end of a
gasket, and bouncing up and down on the taut belly of the sail as the
ship rose and fell to the scend of the sea.

"The two survivors were now in some doubt about having anything
further to do with the pearl. But the great value of the jewel, and
the consideration that it was now to be divided between two instead of
four, tempted them. They abstracted it from Nilsson's chest, and then,
as they could not come to an agreement in any other way, they decided
to settle who should take charge of it by tossing a coin. The coin was
accordingly spun, and the pearl went to Foucault's chest.

"From this moment Foucault lived in a state of continual apprehension.
When on deck, his eyes were for ever wandering towards the companion
hatch, and during his watch below, when not asleep, he would sit
moodily on his chest, lost in gloomy reflection. But a fortnight
passed, then three weeks, and still nothing happened. Land was sighted,
the Straits of Gibraltar passed, and the end of the voyage was but a
matter of days. And still the dreaded mandarin made no sign.

"At length the ship was within twenty-four hours of Marseilles, to
which port a large part of the cargo was consigned. Active preparations
were being made for entering the port, and among other things the
shore tackle was being overhauled. A share in this latter work
fell to Foucault and Parratt, and about the middle of the second
dog-watch--seven o'clock in the evening--they were sitting on the deck
working an eye-splice in the end of a large rope. Suddenly Foucault,
who was facing forward, saw his companion turn pale and stare aft
with an expression of terror. He immediately turned and looked over
his shoulder to see what Parratt was staring at. It was the mandarin,
standing by the companion, gravely watching them; and as Foucault
turned and met his gaze, the Chinaman beckoned and went below.

"For the rest of that day Parratt kept close to his terrified comrade,
and during their watch below he endeavoured to remain awake, that he
might keep his friend in view. Nothing happened through the night, and
the following morning, when they came on deck for the forenoon watch,
their port was well in sight. The two men now separated for the first
time, Parratt going aft to take his trick at the wheel, and Foucault
being set to help in getting ready the ground tackle.

"Half an hour later Parratt saw the mate stand on the rail and lean
outboard, holding on to the mizzen-shrouds while he stared along
the ship's side. Then he jumped on to the deck and shouted angrily:
'Forward, there! What the deuce is that man up to under the starboard
cat-head--'

"The men on the forecastle rushed to the side and looked over; two of
them leaned over the rail with the bight of a rope between them, and a
third came running aft to the mate. 'It's Foucault, sir,' Parratt heard
him say. 'He's hanged hisself from the cat-head.'

"As soon as he was off duty, Parratt made his way to his dead comrade's
chest, and, opening it with his pick-lock, took out the pearl. It was
now his sole property, and, as the ship was within an hour or two of
her destination, he thought he had little to fear from its murdered
owner. As soon as the vessel was alongside the wharf, he would slip
ashore and get rid of the jewel, even if he sold it at a comparatively
low price. The thing looked perfectly simple.

"In actual practice, however, it turned out quite otherwise. He began
by accosting a well-dressed stranger and offering the pendant for
fifty pounds; but the only reply that he got was a knowing smile and
a shake of the head. When this experience had been repeated a dozen
times or more, and he had been followed up and down the streets for
nearly an hour by a suspicious gendarme, he began to grow anxious.
He visited quite a number of ships and yachts in the harbour, and at
each refusal the price of his treasure came down, until he was eager
to sell it for a few francs. But still no one would have it. Everyone
took it for granted that the pearl was a sham, and most of the persons
whom he accosted assumed that it had been stolen. The position was
getting desperate. Evening was approaching--the time of the dreaded
dog-watches--and still the pearl was in his possession. Gladly would
he now have given it away for nothing, but he dared not try, for this
would lay him open to the strongest suspicion.

"At last, in a by-street, he came upon the shop of a curio-dealer.
Putting on a careless and cheerful manner, he entered and offered the
pendant for ten francs. The dealer looked at it, shook his head, and
handed it back.

"'What will you give me for it--' demanded Parratt, breaking out into a
cold sweat at the prospect of a final refusal.

"The dealer felt in his pocket, drew out a couple of francs, and held
them out.

"'Very well,' said Parratt. He took the money as calmly as he could,
and marched out of the shop, with a gasp of relief, leaving the pendant
in the dealer's hand.

"The jewel was hung up in a glass case, and nothing more was thought
about it until some ten days later, when an English tourist, who came
into the shop, noticed it and took a liking to it. Thereupon the dealer
offered it to him for five pounds, assuring him that it was a genuine
pearl, a statement that, to his amazement, the stranger evidently
believed. He was then deeply afflicted at not having asked a higher
price, but the bargain had been struck, and the Englishman went off
with his purchase.

"This was the story told by Captain Raggerton's friend, and I have
given it to you in full detail, having read the manuscript over many
times since it was given to me. No doubt you will regard it as a mere
traveller's tale, and consider me a superstitious idiot for giving any
credence to it."


"It certainly seems more remarkable for picturesqueness than for
credibility," Thorndyke agreed. "May I ask," he continued, "whether
Captain Raggerton's friend gave any explanation as to how this singular
story came to his knowledge, or to that of anybody else?"

"Oh yes," replied Calverley; "I forgot to mention that the seaman,
Parratt, very shortly after he had sold the pearl, fell down the hatch
into the hold as the ship was unloading, and was very badly injured. He
was taken to the hospital, where he died on the following day; and it
was while he was lying there in a dying condition that he confessed to
the murder, and gave this circumstantial account of it."

"I see," said Thorndyke; "and I understand that you accept the story as
literally true?"

"Undoubtedly." Calverley flushed defiantly as he returned Thorndyke's
look, and continued: "You see, I am not a man of science: therefore my
beliefs are not limited to things that can be weighed and measured.
There are things, Dr. Thorndyke, which are outside the range of our
puny intellects; things that science, with its arrogant materialism,
puts aside and ignores with close-shut eyes. I prefer to believe in
things which obviously exist, even though I cannot explain them. It is
the humbler and, I think, the wiser attitude."

"But, my dear Fred," protested Mr. Brodribb, "this is a rank
fairy-tale."

Calverley turned upon the solicitor. "If you had seen what I have seen,
you would not only believe: you would know."

"Tell us what you have seen, then," said Mr. Brodribb.

"I will, if you wish to hear it," said Calverley. "I will continue the
strange history of the Mandarin's Pearl."

He lit a fresh cigarette and continued:

"The night I came to Beechhurst--that is my cousin's house, you
know--a rather absurd thing happened, which I mention on account of
its connection with what has followed. I had gone to my room early,
and sat for some time writing letters before getting ready for bed.
When I had finished my letters, I started on a tour of inspection of
my room. I was then, you must remember, in a very nervous state, and
it had become my habit to examine the room in which I was to sleep
before undressing, looking under the bed, and in any cupboards and
closets that there happened to be. Now, on looking round my new room,
I perceived that there was a second door, and I at once proceeded to
open it to see where it led to. As soon as I opened the door, I got a
terrible start. I found myself looking into a narrow closet or passage,
lined with pegs, on which the servant had hung some of my clothes; at
the farther end was another door, and, as I stood looking into the
closet, I observed, with startled amazement, a man standing holding the
door half-open, and silently regarding me. I stood for a moment staring
at him, with my heart thumping and my limbs all of a tremble; then I
slammed the door and ran off to look for my cousin.

"He was in the billiard-room with Raggerton, and the pair looked up
sharply as I entered.

"'Alfred,' I said, 'where does that passage lead to out of my room--'

"'Lead to--' said he. 'Why, it doesn't lead anywhere. It used to open
into a cross corridor, but when the house was altered, the corridor was
done away with, and this passage closed up. It is only a cupboard now.'

"'Well, there's a man in it--or there was just now.'

"'Nonsense!' he exclaimed; 'impossible! Let us go and look at the
place.'

"He and Raggerton rose, and we went together to my room. As we flung
open the door of the closet and looked in, we all three burst into a
laugh. There were three men now looking at us from the open door at the
other end, and the mystery was solved. A large mirror had been placed
at the end of the closet to cover the partition which cut it off from
the cross corridor.

"This incident naturally exposed me to a good deal of chaff from my
cousin and Captain Raggerton; but I often wished that the mirror had
not been placed there, for it happened over and over again that, going
to the cupboard hurriedly, and not thinking of the mirror, I got quite
a bad shock on being confronted by a figure apparently coming straight
at me through an open door. In fact, it annoyed me so much, in my
nervous state, that I even thought of asking my cousin to give me a
different room; but, happening to refer to the matter when talking to
Raggerton, I found the Captain so scornful of my cowardice that my
pride was touched, and I let the affair drop.

"And now I come to a very strange occurrence, which I shall relate
quite frankly, although I know beforehand that you will set me down
as a liar or a lunatic. I had been away from home for a fortnight,
and as I returned rather late at night, I went straight to my room.
Having partly undressed, I took my clothes in one hand and a candle in
the other, and opened the cupboard door. I stood for a moment looking
nervously at my double, standing, candle in hand, looking at me through
the open door at the other end of the passage; then I entered, and,
setting the candle on a shelf, proceeded to hang up my clothes. I had
hung them up, and had just reached up for the candle, when my eye was
caught by something strange in the mirror. It no longer reflected the
candle in my hand, but instead of it, a large coloured paper lantern. I
stood petrified with astonishment, and gazed into the mirror; and then
I saw that my own reflection was changed, too; that, in place of my own
figure, was that of an elderly Chinaman, who stood regarding me with
stony calm.

"I must have stood for near upon a minute, unable to move and scarce
able to breathe, face to face with that awful figure. At length I
turned to escape, and, as I turned, he turned also, and I could see
him, over my shoulder, hurrying away. As I reached the door, I halted
for a moment, looking back with the door in my hand, holding the candle
above my head; and even so he halted, looking back at me, with his hand
upon the door and his lantern held above his head.

"I was so much upset that I could not go to bed for some hours, but
continued to pace the room, in spite of my fatigue. Now and again I was
impelled, irresistibly, to peer into the cupboard, but nothing was to
be seen in the mirror save my own figure, candle in hand, peeping in at
me through the half-open door. And each time that I looked into my own
white, horror-stricken face, I shut the door hastily and turned away
with a shudder; for the pegs, with the clothes hanging on them, seemed
to call to me. I went to bed at last, and before I fell asleep I formed
the resolution that, if I was spared until the next day, I would write
to the British Consul at Canton, and offer to restore the pearl to the
relatives of the murdered mandarin.

"On the following day I wrote and despatched the letter, after
which I felt more composed, though I was haunted continually by the
recollection of that stony, impassive figure; and from time to time
I felt an irresistible impulse to go and look in at the door of the
closet, at the mirror and the pegs with the clothes hanging from them.
I told my cousin of the visitation that I had received, but he merely
laughed, and was frankly incredulous; while the Captain bluntly advised
me not to be a superstitious donkey.

"For some days after this I was left in peace, and began to hope that
my letter had appeased the spirit of the murdered man; but on the
fifth day, about six o'clock in the evening, happening to want some
papers that I had left in the pocket of a coat which was hanging in
the closet, I went in to get them. I took in no candle, as it was not
yet dark, but left the door wide open to light me. The coat that I
wanted was near the end of the closet, not more than four paces from
the mirror, and as I went towards it I watched my reflection rather
nervously as it advanced to meet me. I found my coat, and as I felt
for the papers, I still kept a suspicious eye on my double. And, even
as I looked, a most strange phenomenon appeared: the mirror seemed for
an instant to darken or cloud over, and then, as it cleared again, I
saw, standing dark against the light of the open door behind him, the
figure of the mandarin. After a single glance, I ran out of the closet,
shaking with agitation; but as I turned to shut the door, I noticed
that it was my own figure that was reflected in the glass. The Chinaman
had vanished in an instant.

"It now became evident that my letter had not served its purpose, and
I was plunged in despair; the more so since, on this day, I felt again
the dreadful impulse to go and look at the pegs on the walls of the
closet. There was no mistaking the meaning of that impulse, and each
time that I went, I dragged myself away reluctantly, though shivering
with horror. One circumstance, indeed, encouraged me a little; the
mandarin had not, on either occasion, beckoned to me as he had done to
the sailors, so that perhaps some way of escape yet lay open to me.

"During the next few days I considered very earnestly what measures I
could take to avert the doom that seemed to be hanging over me. The
simplest plan, that of passing the pearl on to some other person,
was out of the question; it would be nothing short of murder. On the
other hand, I could not wait for an answer to my letter; for even if I
remained alive, I felt that my reason would have given way long before
the reply reached me. But while I was debating what I should do, the
mandarin appeared to me again; and then, after an interval of only two
days, he came to me once more. That was last night. I remained gazing
at him, fascinated, with my flesh creeping, as he stood, lantern in
hand, looking steadily in my face. At last he held out his hand to me,
as if asking me to give him the pearl; then the mirror darkened, and he
vanished in a flash; and in the place where he had stood there was my
own reflection looking at me out of the glass.

"That last visitation decided me. When I left home this morning the
pearl was in my pocket, and as I came over Waterloo Bridge, I leaned
over the parapet and flung the thing into the water. After that I felt
quite relieved for a time; I had shaken the accursed thing off without
involving anyone in the curse that it carried. But presently I began
to feel fresh misgivings, and the conviction has been growing upon me
all day that I have done the wrong thing. I have only placed it for
ever beyond the reach of its owner, whereas I ought to have burnt it,
after the Chinese fashion, so that its non-material essence could have
joined the spiritual body of him to whom it had belonged when both were
clothed with material substance.

"But it can't be altered now. For good or for evil, the thing is done,
and God alone knows what the end of it will be."

As he concluded, Calverley uttered a deep sigh, and covered his face
with his slender, delicate hands. For a space we were all silent and,
I think, deeply moved; for, grotesquely unreal as the whole thing was,
there was a pathos, and even a tragedy, in it that we all felt to be
very real indeed.

Suddenly Mr. Brodribb started and looked at his watch.

"Good gracious, Calverley, we shall lose our train."

The young man pulled himself together and stood up. "We shall just
do it if we go at once," said he. "Good-bye," he added, shaking
Thorndyke's hand and mine. "You have been very patient, and I have been
rather prosy, I am afraid. Come along, Mr. Brodribb."

Thorndyke and I followed them out on to the landing, and I heard my
colleague say to the solicitor in a low tone, but very earnestly: "Get
him away from that house, Brodribb, and don't let him out of your sight
for a moment."

I did not catch the solicitor's reply, if he made any, but when we were
back in our room I noticed that Thorndyke was more agitated than I had
ever seen him.

"I ought not to have let them go," he exclaimed. "Confound me! If I had
had a grain of wit, I should have made them lose their train."

He lit his pipe and fell to pacing the room with long strides, his
eyes bent on the floor with an expression sternly reflective. At last,
finding him hopelessly taciturn, I knocked out my pipe and went to bed.

As I was dressing on the following morning, Thorndyke entered my room.
His face was grave even to sternness, and he held a telegram in his
hand.

"I am going to Weybridge this morning," he said shortly, holding the
"flimsy" out to me. "Shall you come?"

I took the paper from him, and read:

"Come, for God's sake! F. C. is dead. You will understand.--BRODRIBB."

I handed him back the telegram, too much shocked for a moment to
speak. The whole dreadful tragedy summed up in that curt message rose
before me in an instant, and a wave of deep pity swept over me at this
miserable end to the sad, empty life.

"What an awful thing, Thorndyke!" I exclaimed at length. "To be killed
by a mere grotesque delusion."

"Do you think so?" he asked dryly. "Well, we shall see; but you will
come?"

"Yes," I replied; and as he retired, I proceeded hurriedly to finish
dressing.

Half an hour later, as we rose from a rapid breakfast, Polton came
into the room, carrying a small roll-up case of tools and a bunch of
skeleton keys.

"Will you have them in a bag, sir?" he asked.

"No," replied Thorndyke; "in my overcoat pocket. Oh, and here is a
note, Polton, which I want you to take round to Scotland Yard. It is to
the Assistant Commissioner, and you are to make sure that it is in the
right hands before you leave. And here is a telegram to Mr. Brodribb."

He dropped the keys and the tool-case into his pocket, and we went down
together to the waiting hansom.

At Weybridge Station we found Mr. Brodribb pacing the platform in a
state of extreme dejection. He brightened up somewhat when he saw us,
and wrung our hands with emotional heartiness.

"It was very good of you both to come at a moment's notice," he said
warmly, "and I feel your kindness very much. You understood, of course,
Thorndyke?"

"Yes," Thorndyke replied. "I suppose the mandarin beckoned to him."

Mr. Brodribb turned with a look of surprise. "How did you guess
that?" he asked; and then, without waiting for a reply, he took
from his pocket a note, which he handed to my colleague. "The poor
old fellow left this for me," he said. "The servant found it on his
dressing-table."

Thorndyke glanced through the note and passed it to me. It consisted of
but a few words, hurriedly written in a tremulous hand.

"He has beckoned to me, and I must go. Good-bye, dear old friend."

"How does his cousin take the matter?" asked Thorndyke.

"He doesn't know of it yet," replied the lawyer. "Alfred and Raggerton
went out after an early breakfast, to cycle over to Guildford on some
business or other, and they have not returned yet. The catastrophe was
discovered soon after they left. The maid went to his room with a cup
of tea, and was astonished to find that his bed had not been slept in.
She ran down in alarm and reported to the butler, who went up at once
and searched the room; but he could find no trace of the missing one,
except my note, until it occurred to him to look in the cupboard. As he
opened the door he got rather a start from his own reflection in the
mirror; and then he saw poor Fred hanging from one of the pegs near the
end of the closet, close to the glass. It's a melancholy affair--but
here is the house, and here is the butler waiting for us. Mr. Alfred is
not back yet, then, Stevens?"

"No, sir." The white-faced, frightened-looking man had evidently been
waiting at the gate some distance from the house, and he now walked
back with manifest relief at our arrival. When we entered the house, he
ushered us without remark up on to the first-floor, and, preceding us
along a corridor, halted near the end. "That's the room, sir," said he;
and without another word he turned and went down the stairs.

We entered the room, and Mr. Brodribb followed on tiptoe, looking about
him fearfully, and casting awe-struck glances at the shrouded form on
the bed. To the latter Thorndyke advanced, and gently drew back the
sheet.

"You'd better not look, Brodribb," said he, as he bent over the corpse.
He felt the limbs and examined the cord, which still remained round the
neck, its raggedly-severed end testifying to the terror of the servants
who had cut down the body. Then he replaced the sheet and looked at his
watch. "It happened at about three o'clock in the morning," said he.
"He must have struggled with the impulse for some time, poor fellow!
Now let us look at the cupboard."

We went together to a door in the corner of the room, and, as we opened
it, we were confronted by three figures, apparently looking in at us
through an open door at the other end.

"It is really rather startling," said the lawyer, in a subdued voice,
looking almost apprehensively at the three figures that advanced to
meet us. "The poor lad ought never to have been here."

It was certainly an eerie place, and I could not but feel, as we walked
down the dark, narrow passage, with those other three dimly-seen
figures silently coming towards us, and mimicking our every gesture,
that it was no place for a nervous, superstitious man like poor Fred
Calverley. Close to the end of the long row of pegs was one from which
hung an end of stout box-cord, and to this Mr. Brodribb pointed with
an awe-struck gesture. But Thorndyke gave it only a brief glance, and
then walked up to the mirror, which he proceeded to examine minutely.
It was a very large glass, nearly seven feet high, extending the full
width of the closet, and reaching to within a foot of the floor; and
it seemed to have been let into the partition from behind, for, both
above and below, the woodwork was in front of it. While I was making
these observations, I watched Thorndyke with no little curiosity. First
he rapped his knuckles on the glass; then he lighted a wax match, and,
holding it close to the mirror, carefully watched the reflection of the
flame. Finally, laying his cheek on the glass, he held the match at
arm's length, still close to the mirror, and looked at the reflection
along the surface. Then he blew out the match and walked back into the
room, shutting the cupboard door as we emerged.

"I think," said he, "that as we shall all undoubtedly be subpoenaed by
the coroner, it would be well to put together a few notes of the facts.
I see there is a writing-table by the window, and I would propose that
you, Brodribb, just jot down a precis of the statement that you heard
last night, while Jervis notes down the exact condition of the body.
While you are doing this, I will take a look round."

"We might find a more cheerful place to write in," grumbled Mr.
Brodribb; "however--"

Without finishing the sentence, he sat down at the table, and, having
found some sermon paper, dipped a pen in the ink by way of encouraging
his thoughts. At this moment Thorndyke quietly slipped out of the room,
and I proceeded to make a detailed examination of the body: in which
occupation I was interrupted at intervals by requests from the lawyer
that I should refresh his memory.

We had been occupied thus for about a quarter of an hour, when a quick
step was heard outside, the door was opened abruptly, and a man burst
into the room. Brodribb rose and held out his hand.

"This is a sad home-coming for you, Alfred," said he.

"Yes, my God!" the newcomer exclaimed. "It's awful."

He looked askance at the corpse on the bed, and wiped his forehead with
his handkerchief. Alfred Calverley was not extremely prepossessing.
Like his cousin, he was obviously neurotic, but there were signs
of dissipation in his face, which, just now, was pale and ghastly,
and wore an expression of abject fear. Moreover, his entrance was
accompanied by that of a perceptible odour of brandy.

He had walked over, without noticing me, to the writing-table, and as
he stood there, talking in subdued tones with the lawyer, I suddenly
found Thorndyke at my side. He had stolen in noiselessly through the
door that Calverley had left open.

"Show him Brodribb's note," he whispered, "and then make him go in and
look at the peg."

With this mysterious request, he slipped out of the room as silently as
he had come, unperceived either by Calverley or the lawyer.

"Has Captain Raggerton returned with you?" Brodribb was inquiring.

"No, he has gone into the town," was the reply; "but he won't be long.
This will be a frightful shock to him."

At this point I stepped forward. "Have you shown Mr. Calverley the
extraordinary letter that the deceased left for you?" I asked.

"What letter was that?" demanded Calverley, with a start.

Mr. Brodribb drew forth the note and handed it to him. As he read it
through, Calverley turned white to the lips, and the paper trembled in
his hand.

"'He has beckoned to me, and I must go,'" he read. Then, with a furtive
glance at the lawyer: "Who had beckoned? What did he mean?"

Mr. Brodribb briefly explained the meaning of the allusion, adding: "I
thought you knew all about it."

"Yes, yes," said Calverley, with some confusion; "I remember the matter
now you mention it. But it's all so dreadful and bewildering."

At this point I again interposed. "There is a question," I said, "that
may be of some importance. It refers to the cord with which the poor
fellow hanged himself. Can you identify that cord, Mr. Calverley?"

"I!" he exclaimed, staring at me, and wiping the sweat from his white
face; "how should I? Where is the cord?"

"Part of it is still hanging from the peg in the closet. Would you mind
looking at it?"

"If you would very kindly fetch it--you know I--er--naturally--have a--"

"It must not be disturbed before the inquest," said I; "but surely you
are not afraid--"

"I didn't say I was afraid," he retorted angrily. "Why should I be?"

With a strange, tremulous swagger, he strode across to the closet,
flung open the door, and plunged in.

A moment later we heard a shout of horror, and he rushed out, livid and
gasping.

"What is it, Calverley?" exclaimed Mr. Brodribb, starting up in alarm.

But Calverley was incapable of speech. Dropping limply into a chair, he
gazed at us for a while in silent terror; then he fell back uttering a
wild shriek of laughter.

Mr. Brodribb looked at him in amazement. "What is it, Calverley?" he
asked again.

As no answer was forthcoming, he stepped across to the open door of the
closet and entered, peering curiously before him. Then he, too, uttered
a startled exclamation, and backed out hurriedly, looking pale and
flurried.

"Bless my soul!" he ejaculated. "Is the place bewitched?"

He sat down heavily and stared at Calverley, who was still shaking with
hysteric laughter; while I, now consumed with curiosity, walked over
to the closet to discover the cause of their singular behaviour. As I
flung open the door, which the lawyer had closed, I must confess to
being very considerably startled; for though the reflection of the open
door was plain enough in the mirror, my own reflection was replaced by
that of a Chinaman. After a momentary pause of astonishment, I entered
the closet and walked towards the mirror; and simultaneously the figure
of the Chinaman entered and walked towards me. I had advanced more than
halfway down the closet when suddenly the mirror darkened; there was a
whirling flash, the Chinaman vanished in an instant, and, as I reached
the glass, my own reflection faced me.

I turned back into the room pretty completely enlightened, and looked
at Calverley with a new-born distaste. He still sat facing the
bewildered lawyer, one moment sobbing convulsively, the next yelping
with hysteric laughter. He was not an agreeable spectacle, and when, a
few moments later, Thorndyke entered the room, and halted by the door
with a stare of disgust, I was moved to join him. But at this juncture
a man pushed past Thorndyke, and, striding up to Calverley, shook him
roughly by the arm.

"Stop that row!" he exclaimed furiously. "Do you hear? Stop it!"

"I can't help it, Raggerton," gasped Calverley. "He gave me such a
turn--the mandarin, you know."

"What!" ejaculated Raggerton.

He dashed across to the closet, looked in, and turned upon Calverley
with a snarl. Then he walked out of the room.

"Brodribb," said Thorndyke, "I should like to have a word with you and
Jervis outside." Then, as we followed him out on to the landing, he
continued: "I have something rather interesting to show you. It is in
here."

He softly opened an adjoining door, and we looked into a small
unfurnished room. A projecting closet occupied one side of it, and at
the door of the closet stood Captain Raggerton, with his hand upon
the key. He turned upon us fiercely, though with a look of alarm, and
demanded:

"What is the meaning of this intrusion? And who the deuce are you? Do
you know that this is my private room?"

"I suspected that it was," Thorndyke replied quietly. "Those will be
your properties in the closet, then?"

Raggerton turned pale, but continued to bluster. "Do I understand that
you have dared to break into my private closet?" he demanded.

"I have inspected it," replied Thorndyke, "and I may remark that it is
useless to wrench at that key, because I have hampered the lock."

"The devil you have!" shouted Raggerton.

"Yes; you see, I am expecting a police-officer with a search warrant,
so I wished to keep everything intact."

Raggerton turned livid with mingled fear and rage. He stalked up to
Thorndyke with a threatening air, but, suddenly altering his mind,
exclaimed, "I must see to this!" and flung out of the room.

Thorndyke took a key from his pocket, and, having locked the door,
turned to the closet. Having taken out the key to unhamper the lock
with a stout wire, he reinserted it and unlocked the door. As we
entered, we found ourselves in a narrow closet, similar to the one in
the other room, but darker, owing to the absence of a mirror. A few
clothes hung from the pegs, and when Thorndyke had lit a candle that
stood on a shelf, we could see more of the details.

"Here are some of the properties," said Thorndyke. He pointed to a peg
from which hung a long, blue silk gown of Chinese make, a mandarin's
cap, with a pigtail attached to it, and a beautifully-made papier-mache
mask. "Observe," said Thorndyke, taking the latter down and exhibiting
a label on the inside, marked 'Renouard a Paris,' "no trouble has been
spared."

He took off his coat, slipped on the gown, the mask, and the cap, and
was, in a moment, in that dim light, transformed into the perfect
semblance of a Chinaman.

"By taking a little more time," he remarked, pointing to a pair of
Chinese shoes and a large paper lantern, "the make-up could be rendered
more complete; but this seems to have answered for our friend Alfred."

"But," said Mr. Brodribb, as Thorndyke shed the disguise, "still, I
don't understand--"

"I will make it clear to you in a moment," said Thorndyke. He walked to
the end of the closet, and, tapping the right-hand wall, said: "This is
the back of the mirror. You see that it is hung on massive well-oiled
hinges, and is supported on this large, rubber-tyred castor, which
evidently has ball bearings. You observe three black cords running
along the wall, and passing through those pulleys above. Now, when I
pull this cord, notice what happens."

He pulled one cord firmly, and immediately the mirror swung noiselessly
inwards on its great castor, until it stood diagonally across the
closet, where it was stopped by a rubber buffer.

"Bless my soul!" exclaimed Mr. Brodribb. "What an extraordinary thing!"

The effect was certainly very strange, for, the mirror being now
exactly diagonal to the two closets they appeared to be a single,
continuous passage, with a door at either end. On going up to the
mirror, we found that the opening which it had occupied was filled by a
sheet of plain glass, evidently placed there as a precaution to prevent
any person from walking through from one closet into the other, and so
discovering the trick.

"It's all very puzzling," said Mr. Brodribb; "I don't clearly
understand it now."

"Let us finish here," replied Thorndyke, "and then I will explain.
Notice this black curtain. When I pull the second cord, it slides
across the closet and cuts off the light. The mirror now reflects
nothing into the other closet; it simply appears dark. And now I pull
the third cord."

He did so, and the mirror swung noiselessly back into its place.

"There is only one other thing to observe before we go out," said
Thorndyke, "and that is this other mirror standing with its face to
the wall. This, of course, is the one that Fred Calverley originally
saw at the end of the closet; it has since been removed, and the
larger swinging glass put in its place. And now," he continued, when
we came out into the room, "let me explain the mechanism in detail. It
was obvious to me, when I heard poor Fred Calverley's story, that the
mirror was 'faked,' and I drew a diagram of the probable arrangement,
which turns out to be correct. Here it is." He took a sheet of paper
from his pocket and handed it to the lawyer. "There are two sketches.
Sketch 1 shows the mirror in its ordinary position, closing the end
of the closet. A person standing at A, of course, sees his reflection
facing him at, apparently, A 1. Sketch 2 shows the mirror swung across.
Now a person standing at A does not see his own reflection at all; but
if some other person is standing in the other closet at B, A sees the
reflection of B apparently at B 1--that is, in the identical position
that his own reflection occupied when the mirror was straight across."


"I see now," said Brodribb; "but who set up this apparatus, and why was
it done?"

"Let me ask you a question," said Thorndyke. "Is Alfred Calverley the
next-of-kin?"

"No; there is Fred's younger brother. But I may say that Fred has made
a will quite recently very much in Alfred's favour."

"There is the explanation, then," said Thorndyke. "These two scoundrels
have conspired to drive the poor fellow to suicide, and Raggerton was
clearly the leading spirit. He was evidently concocting some story
with which to work on poor Fred's superstitions when the mention of
the Chinaman on the steamer gave him his cue. He then invented the
very picturesque story of the murdered mandarin and the stolen pearl.
You remember that these 'visitations' did not begin until after that
story had been told, and Fred had been absent from the house on a
visit. Evidently, during his absence, Raggerton took down the original
mirror, and substituted this swinging arrangement; and at the same time
procured the Chinaman's dress and mask from the theatrical property
dealers. No doubt he reckoned on being able quietly to remove the
swinging glass and other properties and replace the original mirror
before the inquest."

"By God!" exclaimed Mr. Brodribb, "it's the most infamous, cowardly
plot I have ever heard of. They shall go to gaol for it, the villains,
as sure as I am alive."

But in this Mr. Brodribb was mistaken; for immediately on finding
themselves detected, the two conspirators had left the house, and by
nightfall were safely across the Channel; and the only satisfaction
that the lawyer obtained was the setting aside of the will on facts
disclosed at the inquest.

As to Thorndyke, he has never to this day forgiven himself for having
allowed Fred Calverley to go home to his death.



THE ALUMINIUM DAGGER


[Illustrations to this and other Thorndyke stories can be found in a
ZIPped file at http://gutenberg.net.au/plusfifty-a-m.html#letterF]

The "urgent call"--the instant, peremptory summons to professional
duty--is an experience that appertains to the medical rather than the
legal practitioner, and I had supposed, when I abandoned the clinical
side of my profession in favour of the forensic, that henceforth I
should know it no more; that the interrupted meal, the broken leisure,
and the jangle of the night-bell, were things of the past; but in
practice it was otherwise. The medical jurist is, so to speak, on the
borderland of the two professions, and exposed to the vicissitudes
of each calling, and so it happened from time to time that the
professional services of my colleague or myself were demanded at a
moment's notice. And thus it was in the case that I am about to relate.

The sacred rite of the "tub" had been duly performed, and the
freshly-dried person of the present narrator was about to be insinuated
into the first instalment of clothing, when a hurried step was heard
upon the stair, and the voice of our laboratory assistant, Polton,
arose at my colleague's door.

"There's a gentleman downstairs, sir, who says he must see you
instantly on most urgent business. He seems to be in a rare twitter,
sir--"

Polton was proceeding to descriptive particulars, when a second and
more hurried step became audible, and a strange voice addressed
Thorndyke.

"I have come to beg your immediate assistance, sir; a most dreadful
thing has happened. A horrible murder has been committed. Can you come
with me now?"

"I will be with you almost immediately," said Thorndyke. "Is the victim
quite dead?"

"Quite. Cold and stiff. The police think--"

"Do the police know that you have come for me?" interrupted Thorndyke.

"Yes. Nothing is to be done until you arrive."

"Very well. I will be ready in a few minutes."

"And if you would wait downstairs, sir," Polton added persuasively, "I
could help the doctor to get ready."

With this crafty appeal, he lured the intruder back to the
sitting-room, and shortly after stole softly up the stairs with a
small breakfast tray, the contents of which he deposited firmly in our
respective rooms, with a few timely words on the folly of "undertaking
murders on an empty stomach." Thorndyke and I had meanwhile clothed
ourselves with a celerity known only to medical practitioners and
quick-change artists, and in a few minutes descended the stairs
together, calling in at the laboratory for a few appliances that
Thorndyke usually took with him on a visit of investigation.

As we entered the sitting-room, our visitor, who was feverishly pacing
up and down, seized his hat with a gasp of relief. "You are ready to
come?" he asked. "My carriage is at the door;" and, without waiting for
an answer, he hurried out, and rapidly preceded us down the stairs.

The carriage was a roomy brougham, which fortunately accommodated the
three of us, and as soon as we had entered and shut the door, the
coachman whipped up his horse and drove off at a smart trot.

"I had better give you some account of the circumstances, as we go,"
said our agitated friend. "In the first place, my name is Curtis, Henry
Curtis; here is my card. Ah! and here is another card, which I should
have given you before. My solicitor, Mr. Marchmont, was with me when I
made this dreadful discovery, and he sent me to you. He remained in the
rooms to see that nothing is disturbed until you arrive."

"That was wise of him," said Thorndyke. "But now tell us exactly what
has occurred."

"I will," said Mr. Curtis. "The murdered man was my brother-in-law,
Alfred Hartridge, and I am sorry to say he was--well, he was a bad man.
It grieves me to speak of him thus--de mortuis, you know--but, still,
we must deal with the facts, even though they be painful."

"Undoubtedly," agreed Thorndyke.

"I have had a great deal of very unpleasant correspondence with
him--Marchmont will tell you about that--and yesterday I left a note
for him, asking for an interview, to settle the business, naming eight
o'clock this morning as the hour, because I had to leave town before
noon. He replied, in a very singular letter, that he would see me at
that hour, and Mr. Marchmont very kindly consented to accompany me.
Accordingly, we went to his chambers together this morning, arriving
punctually at eight o'clock. We rang the bell several times, and
knocked loudly at the door, but as there was no response, we went
down and spoke to the hall-porter. This man, it seems, had already
noticed, from the courtyard, that the electric lights were full on in
Mr. Hartridge's sitting-room, as they had been all night, according to
the statement of the night-porter; so now, suspecting that something
was wrong, he came up with us, and rang the bell and battered at the
door. Then, as there was still no sign of life within, he inserted his
duplicate key and tried to open the door--unsuccessfully, however, as
it proved to be bolted on the inside. Thereupon the porter fetched a
constable, and, after a consultation, we decided that we were justified
in breaking open the door; the porter produced a crowbar, and by our
unified efforts the door was eventually burst open. We entered, and--my
God! Dr. Thorndyke, what a terrible sight it was that met our eyes!
My brother-in-law was lying dead on the floor of the sitting-room. He
had been stabbed--stabbed to death; and the dagger had not even been
withdrawn. It was still sticking out of his back."

He mopped his face with his handkerchief, and was about to continue
his account of the catastrophe when the carriage entered a quiet
side-street between Westminster and Victoria, and drew up before a
block of tall, new, red-brick buildings. A flurried hall-porter ran out
to open the door, and we alighted opposite the main entrance.

"My brother-in-law's chambers are on the second-floor," said Mr.
Curtis. "We can go up in the lift."

The porter had hurried before us, and already stood with his hand upon
the rope. We entered the lift, and in a few seconds were discharged
on to the second floor, the porter, with furtive curiosity, following
us down the corridor. At the end of the passage was a half-open door,
considerably battered and bruised. Above the door, painted in white
lettering, was the inscription, "Mr. Hartridge;" and through the
doorway protruded the rather foxy countenance of Inspector Badger.

"I am glad you have come, sir," said he, as he recognized my colleague.
"Mr. Marchmont is sitting inside like a watch-dog, and he growls if any
of us even walks across the room."

The words formed a complaint, but there was a certain geniality in
the speaker's manner which made me suspect that Inspector Badger was
already navigating his craft on a lee shore.

We entered a small lobby or hall, and from thence passed into the
sitting-room, where we found Mr. Marchmont keeping his vigil, in
company with a constable and a uniformed inspector. The three rose
softly as we entered, and greeted us in a whisper; and then, with
one accord, we all looked towards the other end of the room, and so
remained for a time without speaking.

There was, in the entire aspect of the room, something very grim
and dreadful. An atmosphere of tragic mystery enveloped the most
commonplace objects; and sinister suggestions lurked in the most
familiar appearances. Especially impressive was the air of suspense--of
ordinary, every-day life suddenly arrested--cut short in the twinkling
of an eye. The electric lamps, still burning dim and red, though the
summer sunshine streamed in through the windows; the half-emptied
tumbler and open book by the empty chair, had each its whispered
message of swift and sudden disaster, as had the hushed voices and
stealthy movements of the waiting men, and, above all, an awesome shape
that was but a few hours since a living man, and that now sprawled,
prone and motionless, on the floor.

"This is a mysterious affair," observed Inspector Badger, breaking the
silence at length, "though it is clear enough up to a certain point.
The body tells its own story."

We stepped across and looked down at the corpse. It was that of a
somewhat elderly man, and lay, on an open space of floor before the
fireplace, face downwards, with the arms extended. The slender hilt of
a dagger projected from the back below the left shoulder, and, with
the exception of a trace of blood upon the lips, this was the only
indication of the mode of death. A little way from the body a clock-key
lay on the carpet, and, glancing up at the clock on the mantelpiece, I
perceived that the glass front was open.

"You see," pursued the inspector, noting my glance, "he was standing
in front of the fireplace, winding the clock. Then the murderer stole
up behind him--the noise of the turning key must have covered his
movements--and stabbed him. And you see, from the position of the
dagger on the left side of the back, that the murderer must have been
left-handed. That is all clear enough. What is not clear is how he got
in, and how he got out again."

"The body has not been moved, I suppose," said Thorndyke.

"No. We sent for Dr. Egerton, the police-surgeon, and he certified that
the man was dead. He will be back presently to see you and arrange
about the post-mortem."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "we will not disturb the body till he comes,
except to take the temperature and dust the dagger-hilt."

He took from his bag a long, registering chemical thermometer and an
insufflator or powder-blower. The former he introduced under the dead
man's clothing against the abdomen, and with the latter blew a stream
of fine yellow powder on to the black leather handle of the dagger.
Inspector Badger stooped eagerly to examine the handle, as Thorndyke
blew away the powder that had settled evenly on the surface.

"No finger-prints," said he, in a disappointed tone. "He must have worn
gloves. But that inscription gives a pretty broad hint."

He pointed, as he spoke, to the metal guard of the dagger, on which was
engraved, in clumsy lettering, the single word, "TRADITORE."

"That's the Italian for 'traitor,'" continued the inspector, "and I got
some information from the porter that fits in with that suggestion.
We'll have him in presently, and you shall hear."

"Meanwhile," said Thorndyke, "as the position of the body may be of
importance in the inquiry, I will take one or two photographs and make
a rough plan to scale. Nothing has been moved, you say? Who opened the
windows?"

"They were open when we came in," said Mr. Marchmont. "Last night was
very hot, you remember. Nothing whatever has been moved."

Thorndyke produced from his bag a small folding camera, a telescopic
tripod, a surveyor's measuring-tape, a boxwood scale, and a
sketch-block. He set up the camera in a corner, and exposed a plate,
taking a general view of the room, and including the corpse. Then he
moved to the door and made a second exposure.

"Will you stand in front of the clock, Jervis," he said, "and raise
your hand as if winding it? Thanks; keep like that while I expose a
plate."

I remained thus, in the position that the dead man was assumed to have
occupied at the moment of the murder, while the plate was exposed, and
then, before I moved, Thorndyke marked the position of my feet with a
blackboard chalk. He next set up the tripod over the chalk marks, and
took two photographs from that position, and finally photographed the
body itself.

The photographic operations being concluded, he next proceeded, with
remarkable skill and rapidity, to lay out on the sketch-block a
ground-plan of the room, showing the exact position of the various
objects, on a scale of a quarter of an inch to the foot--a process that
the inspector was inclined to view with some impatience.

"You don't spare trouble, Doctor," he remarked; "nor time either," he
added, with a significant glance at his watch.

"No," answered Thorndyke, as he detached the finished sketch from the
block; "I try to collect all the facts that may bear on a case. They
may prove worthless, or they may turn out of vital importance; one
never knows beforehand, so I collect them all. But here, I think, is
Dr. Egerton."

The police-surgeon greeted Thorndyke with respectful cordiality, and
we proceeded at once to the examination of the body. Drawing out the
thermometer, my colleague noted the reading, and passed the instrument
to Dr. Egerton.

"Dead about ten hours," remarked the latter, after a glance at it.
"This was a very determined and mysterious murder."

"Very," said Thorndyke. "Feel that dagger, Jervis."

I touched the hilt, and felt the characteristic grating of bone.

"It is through the edge of a rib!" I exclaimed.

"Yes; it must have been used with extraordinary force. And you
notice that the clothing is screwed up slightly, as if the blade had
been rotated as it was driven in. That is a very peculiar feature,
especially when taken together with the violence of the blow."

"It is singular, certainly," said Dr. Egerton, "though I don't know
that it helps us much. Shall we withdraw the dagger before moving the
body?"

"Certainly," replied Thorndyke, "or the movement may produce fresh
injuries. But wait." He took a piece of string from his pocket, and,
having drawn the dagger out a couple of inches, stretched the string
in a line parallel to the flat of the blade. Then, giving me the ends
to hold, he drew the weapon out completely. As the blade emerged, the
twist in the clothing disappeared. "Observe," said he, "that the string
gives the direction of the wound, and that the cut in the clothing no
longer coincides with it. There is quite a considerable angle, which is
the measure of the rotation of the blade."

"Yes, it is odd," said Dr. Egerton, "though, as I said, I doubt that it
helps us."

"At present," Thorndyke rejoined dryly, "we are noting the facts."

"Quite so," agreed the other, reddening slightly; "and perhaps we had
better move the body to the bedroom, and make a preliminary inspection
of the wound."

We carried the corpse into the bedroom, and, having examined the wound
without eliciting anything new, covered the remains with a sheet, and
returned to the sitting-room.

"Well, gentlemen," said the inspector, "you have examined the body and
the wound, and you have measured the floor and the furniture, and taken
photographs, and made a plan, but we don't seem much more forward.
Here's a man murdered in his rooms. There is only one entrance to the
flat, and that was bolted on the inside at the time of the murder. The
windows are some forty feet from the ground; there is no rain-pipe near
any of them; they are set flush in the wall, and there isn't a foothold
for a fly on any part of that wall. The grates are modern, and there
isn't room for a good-sized cat to crawl up any of the chimneys. Now,
the question is, How did the murderer get in, and how did he get out
again?"

"Still," said Mr. Marchmont, "the fact is that he did get in, and that
he is not here now; and therefore he must have got out; and therefore
it must have been possible for him to get out. And, further, it must be
possible to discover how he got out."

The inspector smiled sourly, but made no reply.

"The circumstances," said Thorndyke, "appear to have been these: The
deceased seems to have been alone; there is no trace of a second
occupant of the room, and only one half-emptied tumbler on the table.
He was sitting reading when apparently he noticed that the clock had
stopped--at ten minutes to twelve; he laid his book, face downwards, on
the table, and rose to wind the clock, and as he was winding it he met
his death."

"By a stab dealt by a left-handed man, who crept up behind him on
tiptoe," added the inspector.

Thorndyke nodded. "That would seem to be so," he said. "But now let us
call in the porter, and hear what he has to tell us."

The custodian was not difficult to find, being, in fact, engaged
at that moment in a survey of the premises through the slit of the
letter-box.

"Do you know what persons visited these rooms last night?" Thorndyke
asked him, when he entered looking somewhat sheepish.

"A good many were in and out of the building," was the answer, "but I
can't say if any of them came to this flat. I saw Miss Curtis pass in
about nine."

"My daughter!" exclaimed Mr. Curtis, with a start. "I didn't know that."

"She left about nine-thirty," the porter added.

"Do you know what she came about?" asked the inspector.

"I can guess," replied Mr. Curtis.

"Then don't say," interrupted Mr. Marchmont. "Answer no questions."

"You're very close, Mr. Marchmont," said the inspector; "we are not
suspecting the young lady. We don't ask, for instance, if she is
left-handed."

He glanced craftily at Mr. Curtis as he made this remark, and I noticed
that our client suddenly turned deathly pale, whereupon the inspector
looked away again quickly, as though he had not observed the change.

"Tell us about those Italians again," he said, addressing the porter.
"When did the first of them come here?"

"About a week ago," was the reply. "He was a common-looking man--looked
like an organ-grinder--and he brought a note to my lodge. It was in a
dirty envelope, and was addressed 'Mr. Hartridge, Esq., Brackenhurst
Mansions,' in a very bad handwriting. The man gave me the note and
asked me to give it to Mr. Hartridge; then he went away, and I took the
note up and dropped it into the letter-box."

"What happened next?"

"Why, the very next day an old hag of an Italian woman--one of them
fortune-telling swines with a cage of birds on a stand--came and set up
just by the main doorway. I soon sent her packing, but, bless you! she
was back again in ten minutes, birds and all. I sent her off again--I
kept on sending her off, and she kept on coming back, until I was
reg'lar wore to a thread."

"You seem to have picked up a bit since then," remarked the inspector
with a grin and a glance at the sufferer's very pronounced bow-window.

"Perhaps I have," the custodian replied haughtily. "Well, the next day
there was a ice-cream man--a reg'lar waster, he was. Stuck outside as
if he was froze to the pavement. Kept giving the errand-boys tasters,
and when I tried to move him on, he told me not to obstruct his
business. Business, indeed! Well, there them boys stuck, one after the
other, wiping their tongues round the bottoms of them glasses, until I
was fit to bust with aggravation. And he kept me going all day.

"Then, the day after that there was a barrel-organ, with a
mangy-looking monkey on it. He was the worst of all. Profane, too, he
was. Kept mixing up sacred tunes and comic songs: 'Rock of Ages,' 'Bill
Bailey,' 'Cujus Animal,' and 'Over the Garden Wall.' And when I tried
to move him on, that little blighter of a monkey made a run at my leg;
and then the man grinned and started playing, 'Wait till the Clouds
roll by.' I tell you, it was fair sickening."

He wiped his brow at the recollection, and the inspector smiled
appreciatively.

"And that was the last of them?" said the latter; and as the porter
nodded sulkily, he asked: "Should you recognize the note that the
Italian gave you?"

"I should," answered the porter with frosty dignity.

The inspector bustled out of the room, and returned a minute later with
a letter-case in his hand.

"This was in his breast-pocket," said he, laying the bulging case on
the table, and drawing up a chair. "Now, here are three letters tied
together. Ah! this will be the one." He untied the tape, and held out
a dirty envelope addressed in a sprawling, illiterate hand to 'Mr.
Hartridge, Esq.' "Is that the note the Italian gave you?"

The porter examined it critically. "Yes," said he; "that is the one."

The inspector drew the letter out of the envelope, and, as he opened
it, his eyebrows went up.

"What do you make of that, Doctor?" he said, handing the sheet to
Thorndyke.

Thorndyke regarded it for a while in silence, with deep attention. Then
he carried it to the window, and, taking his lens from his pocket,
examined the paper closely, first with the low power, and then with the
highly magnifying Coddington attachment.

"I should have thought you could see that with the naked eye," said the
inspector, with a sly grin at me. "It's a pretty bold design."

"Yes," replied Thorndyke; "a very interesting production. What do you
say, Mr. Marchmont?"

The solicitor took the note, and I looked over his shoulder. It was
certainly a curious production. Written in red ink, on the commonest
notepaper, and in the same sprawling hand as the address, was the
following message: "You are given six days to do what is just. By the
sign above, know what to expect if you fail." The sign referred to was
a skull and crossbones, very neatly, but rather unskilfully, drawn at
the top of the paper.

"This," said Mr. Marchmont, handing the document to Mr. Curtis,
"explains the singular letter that he wrote yesterday. You have it with
you, I think?"

"Yes," replied Mr. Curtis; "here it is."

He produced a letter from his pocket, and read aloud: "'Yes: come if
you like, though it is an ungodly hour. Your threatening letters have
caused me great amusement. They are worthy of Sadler's Wells in its
prime.

"'ALFRED HARTRIDGE.'"

"Was Mr. Hartridge ever in Italy?" asked Inspector Badger.

"Oh yes," replied Mr. Curtis. "He stayed at Capri nearly the whole of
last year."

"Why, then, that gives us our clue. Look here. Here are these two other
letters; E.C. postmark--Saffron Hill is E.C. And just look at that!"

He spread out the last of the mysterious letters, and we saw that,
besides the memento mori, it contained only three words: "Beware!
Remember Capri!"

"If you have finished, Doctor, I'll be off and have a look round Little
Italy. Those four Italians oughtn't to be difficult to find, and we've
got the porter here to identify them."

"Before you go," said Thorndyke, "there are two little matters that
I should like to settle. One is the dagger: it is in your pocket, I
think. May I have a look at it?"

The inspector rather reluctantly produced the dagger and handed it to
my colleague.

"A very singular weapon, this," said Thorndyke, regarding the dagger
thoughtfully, and turning it about to view its different parts.
"Singular both in shape and material. I have never seen an aluminium
hilt before, and bookbinder's morocco is a little unusual."

"The aluminium was for lightness," explained the inspector, "and it was
made narrow to carry up the sleeve, I expect."

"Perhaps so," said Thorndyke.

He continued his examination, and presently, to the inspector's
delight, brought forth his pocket lens.

"I never saw such a man!" exclaimed the jocose detective. "His motto
ought to be, 'We magnify thee.' I suppose he'll measure it next."

The inspector was not mistaken. Having made a rough sketch of the
weapon on his block, Thorndyke produced from his bag a folding rule and
a delicate calliper-gauge. With these instruments he proceeded, with
extraordinary care and precision, to take the dimensions of the various
parts of the dagger, entering each measurement in its place on the
sketch, with a few brief, descriptive details.

"The other matter," said he at length, handing the dagger back to the
inspector, "refers to the houses opposite."

He walked to the window, and looked out at the backs of a row of tall
buildings similar to the one we were in. They were about thirty yards
distant, and were separated from us by a piece of ground, planted with
shrubs and intersected by gravel paths.

"If any of those rooms were occupied last night," continued Thorndyke,
"we might obtain an actual eyewitness of the crime. This room was
brilliantly lighted, and all the blinds were up, so that an observer
at any of those windows could see right into the room, and very
distinctly, too. It might be worth inquiring into."

"Yes, that's true," said the inspector; "though I expect, if any of
them have seen anything, they will come forward quick enough when they
read the report in the papers. But I must be off now, and I shall have
to lock you out of the rooms."

As we went down the stairs, Mr. Marchmont announced his intention
of calling on us in the evening, "unless," he added, "you want any
information from me now."

"I do," said Thorndyke. "I want to know who is interested in this man's
death."

"That," replied Marchmont, "is rather a queer story. Let us take a turn
in that garden that we saw from the window. We shall be quite private
there."

He beckoned to Mr. Curtis, and, when the inspector had departed with
the police-surgeon, we induced the porter to let us into the garden.

"The question that you asked," Mr. Marchmont began, looking up
curiously at the tall houses opposite, "is very simply answered. The
only person immediately interested in the death of Alfred Hartridge
is his executor and sole legatee, a man named Leonard Wolfe. He is no
relation of the deceased, merely a friend, but he inherits the entire
estate--about twenty thousand pounds. The circumstances are these:
Alfred Hartridge was the elder of two brothers, of whom the younger,
Charles, died before his father, leaving a widow and three children.
Fifteen years ago the father died, leaving the whole of his property
to Alfred, with the understanding that he should support his brother's
family and make the children his heirs."

"Was there no will?" asked Thorndyke.

"Under great pressure from the friends of his son's widow, the old man
made a will shortly before he died; but he was then very old and rather
childish, so the will was contested by Alfred, on the grounds of undue
influence, and was ultimately set aside. Since then Alfred Hartridge
has not paid a penny towards the support of his brother's family. If
it had not been for my client, Mr. Curtis, they might have starved;
the whole burden of the support of the widow and the education of the
children has fallen upon him.

"Well, just lately the matter has assumed an acute form, for two
reasons. The first is that Charles's eldest son, Edmund, has come of
age. Mr. Curtis had him articled to a solicitor, and, as he is now
fully qualified, and a most advantageous proposal for a partnership
has been made, we have been putting pressure on Alfred to supply the
necessary capital in accordance with his father's wishes. This he had
refused to do, and it was with reference to this matter that we were
calling on him this morning. The second reason involves a curious and
disgraceful story. There is a certain Leonard Wolfe, who has been
an intimate friend of the deceased. He is, I may say, a man of bad
character, and their association has been of a kind creditable to
neither. There is also a certain woman named Hester Greene, who had
certain claims upon the deceased, which we need not go into at present.
Now, Leonard Wolfe and the deceased, Alfred Hartridge, entered into an
agreement, the terms of which were these: (1) Wolfe was to marry Hester
Greene, and in consideration of this service (2) Alfred Hartridge was
to assign to Wolfe the whole of his property, absolutely, the actual
transfer to take place on the death of Hartridge."

"And has this transaction been completed?" asked Thorndyke.

"Yes, it has, unfortunately. But we wished to see if anything could
be done for the widow and the children during Hartridge's lifetime.
No doubt, my client's daughter, Miss Curtis, called last night on a
similar mission--very indiscreetly, since the matter was in our hands;
but, you know, she is engaged to Edmund Hartridge--and I expect the
interview was a pretty stormy one."

Thorndyke remained silent for a while, pacing slowly along the gravel
path, with his eyes bent on the ground: not abstractedly, however, but
with a searching, attentive glance that roved amongst the shrubs and
bushes, as though he were looking for something.

"What sort of man," he asked presently, "is this Leonard Wolfe?
Obviously he is a low scoundrel, but what is he like in other respects?
Is he a fool, for instance?"

"Not at all, I should say," said Mr. Curtis. "He was formerly an
engineer, and, I believe, a very capable mechanician. Latterly he has
lived on some property that came to him, and has spent both his time
and his money in gambling and dissipation. Consequently, I expect he is
pretty short of funds at present."

"And in appearance?"

"I only saw him once," replied Mr. Curtis, "and all I can remember of
him is that he is rather short, fair, thin, and clean-shaven, and that
he has lost the middle finger of his left hand."

"And he lives at?"

"Eltham, in Kent. Morton Grange, Eltham," said Mr. Marchmont. "And now,
if you have all the information that you require, I must really be off,
and so must Mr. Curtis."

The two men shook our hands and hurried away, leaving Thorndyke gazing
meditatively at the dingy flower-beds.

"A strange and interesting case, this, Jervis," said he, stooping
to peer under a laurel-bush. "The inspector is on a hot scent--a
most palpable red herring on a most obvious string; but that is his
business. Ah, here comes the porter, intent, no doubt, on pumping us,
whereas--" He smiled genially at the approaching custodian, and asked:
"Where did you say those houses fronted?"

"Cotman Street, sir," answered the porter. "They are nearly all
offices."

"And the numbers? That open second-floor window, for instance?"

"That is number six; but the house opposite Mr. Hartridge's rooms is
number eight."

"Thank you."

Thorndyke was moving away, but suddenly turned again to the porter.

"By the way," said he, "I dropped something out of the window just
now--a small flat piece of metal, like this." He made on the back of
his visiting card a neat sketch of a circular disc, with a hexagonal
hole through it, and handed the card to the porter. "I can't say where
it fell," he continued; "these flat things scale about so; but you
might ask the gardener to look for it. I will give him a sovereign if
he brings it to my chambers, for, although it is of no value to anyone
else, it is of considerable value to me."

The porter touched his hat briskly, and as we turned out at the gate, I
looked back and saw him already wading among the shrubs.

The object of the porter's quest gave me considerable mental
occupation. I had not seen Thorndyke drop anything, and it was not his
way to finger carelessly any object of value. I was about to question
him on the subject, when, turning sharply round into Cotman Street, he
drew up at the doorway of number six, and began attentively to read the
names of the occupants.

"'Third-floor,'" he read out, "'Mr. Thomas Barlow, Commission Agent.'
Hum! I think we will look in on Mr. Barlow."

He stepped quickly up the stone stairs, and I followed, until we
arrived, somewhat out of breath, on the third-floor. Outside the
Commission Agent's door he paused for a moment, and we both listened
curiously to an irregular sound of shuffling feet from within. Then he
softly opened the door and looked into the room. After remaining thus
for nearly a minute, he looked round at me with a broad smile, and
noiselessly set the door wide open. Inside, a lanky youth of fourteen
was practising, with no mean skill, the manipulation of an appliance
known by the appropriate name of diabolo; and so absorbed was he in his
occupation that we entered and shut the door without being observed. At
length the shuttle missed the string and flew into a large waste-paper
basket; the boy turned and confronted us, and was instantly covered
with confusion.

"Allow me," said Thorndyke, rooting rather unnecessarily in the
waste-paper basket, and handing the toy to its owner. "I need not ask
if Mr. Barlow is in," he added, "nor if he is likely to return shortly."

"He won't be back to-day," said the boy, perspiring with embarrassment;
"he left before I came. I was rather late."

"I see," said Thorndyke. "The early bird catches the worm, but the late
bird catches the diabolo. How did you know he would not be back?"

"He left a note. Here it is."

He exhibited the document, which was neatly written in red ink.
Thorndyke examined it attentively, and then asked:

"Did you break the inkstand yesterday?"

The boy stared at him in amazement. "Yes, I did," he answered. "How did
you know?"

"I didn't, or I should not have asked. But I see that he has used his
stylo to write this note."

The boy regarded Thorndyke distrustfully, as he continued:

"I really called to see if your Mr. Barlow was a gentleman whom I used
to know; but I expect you can tell me. My friend was tall and thin,
dark, and clean-shaved."

"This ain't him, then," said the boy. "He's thin, but he ain't tall or
dark. He's got a sandy beard, and he wears spectacles and a wig. I know
a wig when I see one," he added cunningly, "'cause my father wears one.
He puts it on a peg to comb it, and he swears at me when I larf."

"My friend had injured his left hand," pursued Thorndyke.

"I dunno about that," said the youth. "Mr. Barlow nearly always wears
gloves; he always wears one on his left hand, anyhow."

"Ah well! I'll just write him a note on the chance, if you will give me
a piece of notepaper. Have you any ink?"

"There's some in the bottle. I'll dip the pen in for you."

He produced, from the cupboard, an opened packet of cheap notepaper
and a packet of similar envelopes, and, having dipped the pen to the
bottom of the ink-bottle, handed it to Thorndyke, who sat down and
hastily scribbled a short note. He had folded the paper, and was about
to address the envelope, when he appeared suddenly to alter his mind.

"I don't think I will leave it, after all," he said, slipping the
folded paper into his pocket. "No. Tell him I called--Mr. Horace
Budge--and say I will look in again in a day or two."

The youth watched our exit with an air of perplexity, and he even came
out on to the landing, the better to observe us over the balusters;
until, unexpectedly catching Thorndyke's eye, he withdrew his head with
remarkable suddenness, and retired in disorder.

To tell the truth, I was now little less perplexed than the office-boy
by Thorndyke's proceedings; in which I could discover no relevancy to
the investigation that I presumed he was engaged upon: and the last
straw was laid upon the burden of my curiosity when he stopped at a
staircase window, drew the note out of his pocket, examined it with his
lens, held it up to the light, and chuckled aloud.

"Luck," he observed, "though no substitute for care and intelligence,
is a very pleasant addition. Really, my learned brother, we are doing
uncommonly well."

When we reached the hall, Thorndyke stopped at the housekeeper's box,
and looked in with a genial nod.

"I have just been up to see Mr. Barlow," said he. "He seems to have
left quite early."

"Yes, sir," the man replied. "He went away about half-past eight."

"That was very early; and presumably he came earlier still?"

"I suppose so," the man assented, with a grin; "but I had only just
come on when he left."

"Had he any luggage with him?"

"Yes, sir. There was two cases, a square one and a long, narrow one,
about five foot long. I helped him to carry them down to the cab."

"Which was a four-wheeler, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir."

"Mr. Barlow hasn't been here very long, has he?" Thorndyke inquired.

"No. He only came in last quarter-day--about six weeks ago."

"Ah well! I must call another day. Good-morning;" and Thorndyke
strode out of the building, and made directly for the cab-rank in the
adjoining street. Here he stopped for a minute or two to parley with
the driver of a four-wheeled cab, whom he finally commissioned to
convey us to a shop in New Oxford Street. Having dismissed the cabman
with his blessing and a half-sovereign, he vanished into the shop,
leaving me to gaze at the lathes, drills, and bars of metal displayed
in the window. Presently he emerged with a small parcel, and explained,
in answer to my inquiring look: "A strip of tool steel and a block of
metal for Polton."

His next purchase was rather more eccentric. We were proceeding along
Holborn when his attention was suddenly arrested by the window of a
furniture shop, in which was displayed a collection of obsolete French
small-arms--relics of the tragedy of 1870--which were being sold for
decorative purposes. After a brief inspection, he entered the shop, and
shortly reappeared carrying a long sword-bayonet and an old Chassepot
rifle.

"What may be the meaning of this martial display?" I asked, as we
turned down Fetter Lane.

"House protection," he replied promptly. "You will agree that a
discharge of musketry, followed by a bayonet charge, would disconcert
the boldest of burglars."

I laughed at the absurd picture thus drawn of the strenuous
house-protector, but nevertheless continued to speculate on the meaning
of my friend's eccentric proceedings, which I felt sure were in some
way related to the murder in Brackenhurst Chambers, though I could not
trace the connection.

After a late lunch, I hurried out to transact such of my business as
had been interrupted by the stirring events of the morning, leaving
Thorndyke busy with a drawing-board, squares, scale, and compasses,
making accurate, scaled drawings from his rough sketches; while Polton,
with the brown-paper parcel in his hand, looked on at him with an air
of anxious expectation.

As I was returning homeward in the evening by way of Mitre Court, I
overtook Mr. Marchmont, who was also bound for our chambers, and we
walked on together.

"I had a note from Thorndyke," he explained, "asking for a specimen of
handwriting, so I thought I would bring it along myself, and hear if he
has any news."

When we entered the chambers, we found Thorndyke in earnest
consultation with Polton, and on the table before them I observed, to
my great surprise, the dagger with which the murder had been committed.

"I have got you the specimen that you asked for," said Marchmont. "I
didn't think I should be able to, but, by a lucky chance, Curtis kept
the only letter he ever received from the party in question."

He drew the letter from his wallet, and handed it to Thorndyke, who
looked at it attentively and with evident satisfaction.

"By the way," said Marchmont, taking up the dagger, "I thought the
inspector took this away with him."

"He took the original," replied Thorndyke. "This is a duplicate, which
Polton has made, for experimental purposes, from my drawings."

"Really!" exclaimed Marchmont, with a glance of respectful admiration
at Polton; "it is a perfect replica--and you have made it so quickly,
too."

"It was quite easy to make," said Polton, "to a man accustomed to work
in metal."

"Which," added Thorndyke, "is a fact of some evidential value."

At this moment a hansom drew up outside. A moment later flying
footsteps were heard on the stairs. There was a furious battering at
the door, and, as Polton threw it open, Mr. Curtis burst wildly into
the room.

"Here is a frightful thing, Marchmont!" he gasped. "Edith--my
daughter--arrested for the murder. Inspector Badger came to our house
and took her. My God! I shall go mad!"

Thorndyke laid his hand on the excited man's shoulder. "Don't distress
yourself, Mr. Curtis," said he. "There is no occasion, I assure you. I
suppose," he added, "your daughter is left-handed?"

"Yes, she is, by a most disastrous coincidence. But what are we
to do? Good God! Dr. Thorndyke, they have taken her to prison--to
prison--think of it! My poor Edith!"

"We'll soon have her out," said Thorndyke. "But listen; there is
someone at the door."

A brisk rat-tat confirmed his statement; and when I rose to open the
door, I found myself confronted by Inspector Badger. There was a moment
of extreme awkwardness, and then both the detective and Mr. Curtis
proposed to retire in favour of the other.

"Don't go, inspector," said Thorndyke; "I want to have a word with you.
Perhaps Mr. Curtis would look in again, say, in an hour. Will you? We
shall have news for you by then, I hope."

Mr. Curtis agreed hastily, and dashed out of the room with his
characteristic impetuosity. When he had gone, Thorndyke turned to the
detective, and remarked dryly:

"You seem to have been busy, inspector?"

"Yes," replied Badger; "I haven't let the grass grow under my feet; and
I've got a pretty strong case against Miss Curtis already. You see,
she was the last person seen in the company of the deceased; she had a
grievance against him; she is left-handed, and you remember that the
murder was committed by a left-handed person."

"Anything else?"

"Yes. I have seen those Italians, and the whole thing was a put-up job.
A woman, in a widow's dress and veil, paid them to go and play the fool
outside the building, and she gave them the letter that was left with
the porter. They haven't identified her yet, but she seems to agree in
size with Miss Curtis."

"And how did she get out of the chambers, with the door bolted on the
inside?"

"Ah, there you are! That's a mystery at present--unless you can give
us an explanation." The inspector made this qualification with a faint
grin, and added: "As there was no one in the place when we broke into
it, the murderer must have got out somehow. You can't deny that."

"I do deny it, nevertheless," said Thorndyke. "You look surprised," he
continued (which was undoubtedly true), "but yet the whole thing is
exceedingly obvious. The explanation struck me directly I looked at
the body. There was evidently no practicable exit from the flat, and
there was certainly no one in it when you entered. Clearly, then, the
murderer had never been in the place at all."

"I don't follow you in the least," said the inspector.

"Well," said Thorndyke, "as I have finished with the case, and am
handing it over to you, I will put the evidence before you seriatim.
Now, I think we are agreed that, at the moment when the blow was
struck, the deceased was standing before the fireplace, winding the
clock. The dagger entered obliquely from the left, and, if you recall
its position, you will remember that its hilt pointed directly towards
an open window."

"Which was forty feet from the ground."

"Yes. And now we will consider the very peculiar character of the
weapon with which the crime was committed."

He had placed his hand upon the knob of a drawer, when we were
interrupted by a knock at the door. I sprang up, and, opening it,
admitted no less a person than the porter of Brackenhurst Chambers. The
man looked somewhat surprised on recognizing our visitors, but advanced
to Thorndyke, drawing a folded paper from his pocket.

"I've found the article you were looking for, sir," said he, "and a
rare hunt I had for it. It had stuck in the leaves of one of them
shrubs."

Thorndyke opened the packet, and, having glanced inside, laid it on the
table.

"Thank you," said he, pushing a sovereign across to the gratified
official. "The inspector has your name, I think?"

"He have, sir," replied the porter; and, pocketing his fee, he
departed, beaming.

"To return to the dagger," said Thorndyke, opening the drawer.
"It was a very peculiar one, as I have said, and as you will see
from this model, which is an exact duplicate." Here he exhibited
Polton's production to the astonished detective. "You see that it is
extraordinarily slender, and free from projections, and of unusual
materials. You also see that it was obviously not made by an ordinary
dagger-maker; that, in spite of the Italian word scrawled on it, there
is plainly written all over it 'British mechanic.' The blade is made
from a strip of common three-quarter-inch tool steel; the hilt is
turned from an aluminium rod; and there is not a line of engraving on
it that could not be produced in a lathe by any engineer's apprentice.
Even the boss at the top is mechanical, for it is just like an ordinary
hexagon nut. Then, notice the dimensions, as shown on my drawing. The
parts A and B, which just project beyond the blade, are exactly similar
in diameter--and such exactness could hardly be accidental. They
are each parts of a circle having a diameter of 10.9 millimetres--a
dimension which happens, by a singular coincidence, to be exactly the
calibre of the old Chassepot rifle, specimens of which are now on sale
at several shops in London. Here is one, for instance."

He fetched the rifle that he had bought, from the corner in which it
was standing, and, lifting the dagger by its point, slipped the hilt
into the muzzle. When he let go, the dagger slid quietly down the
barrel, until its hilt appeared in the open breech.

"Good God!" exclaimed Marchmont. "You don't suggest that the dagger was
shot from a gun?"

"I do, indeed; and you now see the reason for the aluminium hilt--to
diminish the weight of the already heavy projectile--and also for this
hexagonal boss on the end?"

"No, I do not," said the inspector; "but I say that you are suggesting
an impossibility."

"Then," replied Thorndyke, "I must explain and demonstrate. To begin
with, this projectile had to travel point foremost; therefore it had
to be made to spin--and it certainly was spinning when it entered the
body, as the clothing and the wound showed us. Now, to make it spin, it
had to be fired from a rifled barrel; but as the hilt would not engage
in the rifling, it had to be fitted with something that would. That
something was evidently a soft metal washer, which fitted on to this
hexagon, and which would be pressed into the grooves of the rifling,
and so spin the dagger, but would drop off as soon as the weapon left
the barrel. Here is such a washer, which Polton has made for us."

He laid on the table a metal disc, with a hexagonal hole through it.

"This is all very ingenious," said the inspector, "but I say it is
impossible and fantastic."

"It certainly sounds rather improbable," Marchmont agreed.

"We will see," said Thorndyke. "Here is a makeshift cartridge of
Polton's manufacture, containing an eighth charge of smokeless powder
for a 20-bore gun."

He fitted the washer on to the boss of the dagger in the open breech
of the rifle, pushed it into the barrel, inserted the cartridge, and
closed the breech. Then, opening the office-door, he displayed a target
of padded strawboard against the wall.

"The length of the two rooms," said he, "gives us a distance of
thirty-two feet. Will you shut the windows, Jervis?"

I complied, and he then pointed the rifle at the target. There was a
dull report--much less loud than I had expected--and when we looked at
the target, we saw the dagger driven in up to its hilt at the margin of
the bull's-eye.

"You see," said Thorndyke, laying down the rifle, "that the thing
is practicable. Now for the evidence as to the actual occurrence.
First, on the original dagger there are linear scratches which exactly
correspond with the grooves of the rifling. Then there is the fact that
the dagger was certainly spinning from left to right--in the direction
of the rifling, that is--when it entered the body. And then there is
this, which, as you heard, the porter found in the garden."

He opened the paper packet. In it lay a metal disc, perforated by a
hexagonal hole. Stepping into the office, he picked up from the floor
the washer that he had put on the dagger, and laid it on the paper
beside the other. The two discs were identical in size, and the margin
of each was indented with identical markings, corresponding to the
rifling of the barrel.

The inspector gazed at the two discs in silence for a while; then,
looking up at Thorndyke, he said:

"I give in, Doctor. You're right, beyond all doubt; but how you came to
think of it beats me into fits. The only question now is, Who fired the
gun, and why wasn't the report heard?"

"As to the latter," said Thorndyke, "it is probable that he used a
compressed-air attachment, not only to diminish the noise, but also to
prevent any traces of the explosive from being left on the dagger. As
to the former, I think I can give you the murderer's name; but we had
better take the evidence in order. You may remember," he continued,
"that when Dr. Jervis stood as if winding the clock, I chalked a mark
on the floor where he stood. Now, standing on that marked spot, and
looking out of the open window, I could see two of the windows of a
house nearly opposite. They were the second-and third-floor windows
of No. 6, Cotman Street. The second-floor is occupied by a firm of
architects; the third-floor by a commission agent named Thomas Barlow.
I called on Mr. Barlow, but before describing my visit, I will refer
to another matter. You haven't those threatening letters about you, I
suppose?"

"Yes, I have," said the inspector; and he drew forth a wallet from his
breast-pocket.

"Let us take the first one, then," said Thorndyke. "You see that
the paper and envelope are of the very commonest, and the writing
illiterate. But the ink does not agree with this. Illiterate people
usually buy their ink in penny bottles. Now, this envelope is addressed
with Draper's dichroic ink--a superior office ink, sold only in large
bottles--and the red ink in which the note is written is an unfixed,
scarlet ink, such as is used by draughtsmen, and has been used, as
you can see, in a stylographic pen. But the most interesting thing
about this letter is the design drawn at the top. In an artistic
sense, the man could not draw, and the anatomical details of the
skull are ridiculous. Yet the drawing is very neat. It has the clean,
wiry line of a machine drawing, and is done with a steady, practised
hand. It is also perfectly symmetrical; the skull, for instance, is
exactly in the centre, and, when we examine it through a lens, we
see why it is so, for we discover traces of a pencilled centre-line
and ruled cross-lines. Moreover, the lens reveals a tiny particle of
draughtsman's soft, red, rubber, with which the pencil lines were taken
out; and all these facts, taken together, suggest that the drawing was
made by someone accustomed to making accurate mechanical drawings.
And now we will return to Mr. Barlow. He was out when I called, but
I took the liberty of glancing round the office, and this is what I
saw. On the mantelshelf was a twelve-inch flat boxwood rule, such as
engineers use, a piece of soft, red rubber, and a stone bottle of
Draper's dichroic ink. I obtained, by a simple ruse, a specimen of the
office notepaper and the ink. We will examine it presently. I found
that Mr. Barlow is a new tenant, that he is rather short, wears a wig
and spectacles, and always wears a glove on his left hand. He left the
office at 8.30 this morning, and no one saw him arrive. He had with
him a square case, and a narrow, oblong one about five feet in length;
and he took a cab to Victoria, and apparently caught the 8.51 train to
Chatham."

"Ah!" exclaimed the inspector.

"But," continued Thorndyke, "now examine those three letters, and
compare them with this note that I wrote in Mr. Barlow's office. You
see that the paper is of the same make, with the same water-mark, but
that is of no great significance. What is of crucial importance is
this: You see, in each of these letters, two tiny indentations near
the bottom corner. Somebody has used compasses or drawing-pins over
the packet of notepaper, and the points have made little indentations,
which have marked several of the sheets. Now, notepaper is cut to its
size after it is folded, and if you stick a pin into the top sheet of
a section, the indentations on all the underlying sheets will be at
exactly similar distances from the edges and corners of the sheet.
But you see that these little dents are all at the same distance
from the edges and the corner." He demonstrated the fact with a pair
of compasses. "And now look at this sheet, which I obtained at Mr.
Barlow's office. There are two little indentations--rather faint, but
quite visible--near the bottom corner, and when we measure them with
the compasses, we find that they are exactly the same distance apart as
the others, and the same distance from the edges and the bottom corner.
The irresistible conclusion is that these four sheets came from the
same packet."

The inspector started up from his chair, and faced Thorndyke. "Who is
this Mr. Barlow?" he asked.

"That," replied Thorndyke, "is for you to determine; but I can give
you a useful hint. There is only one person who benefits by the death
of Alfred Hartridge, but he benefits to the extent of twenty thousand
pounds. His name is Leonard Wolfe, and I learn from Mr. Marchmont that
he is a man of indifferent character--a gambler and a spendthrift.
By profession he is an engineer, and he is a capable mechanician. In
appearance he is thin, short, fair, and clean-shaven, and he has lost
the middle finger of his left hand. Mr. Barlow is also short, thin,
and fair, but wears a wig, a board, and spectacles, and always wears
a glove on his left hand. I have seen the handwriting of both these
gentlemen, and should say that it would be difficult to distinguish one
from the other."

"That's good enough for me," said the inspector. "Give me his address,
and I'll have Miss Curtis released at once."

* * * * *

The same night Leonard Wolfe was arrested at Eltham, in the very act
of burying in his garden a large and powerful compressed-air rifle. He
was never brought to trial, however, for he had in his pocket a more
portable weapon--a large-bore Derringer pistol--with which he managed
to terminate an exceedingly ill-spent life.

"And, after all," was Thorndyke's comment, when he heard of the event,
"he had his uses. He has relieved society of two very bad men, and he
has given us a most instructive case. He has shown us how a clever and
ingenious criminal may take endless pains to mislead and delude the
police, and yet, by inattention to trivial details, may scatter clues
broadcast. We can only say to the criminal class generally, in both
respects, 'Go thou and do likewise.'"



A MESSAGE FROM THE DEEP SEA


The Whitechapel Road, though redeemed by scattered relics of a more
picturesque past from the utter desolation of its neighbour the
Commercial Road, is hardly a gay thoroughfare. Especially at its
eastern end, where its sordid modernity seems to reflect the colourless
lives of its inhabitants, does its grey and dreary length depress the
spirits of the wayfarer. But the longest and dullest road can be made
delightful by sprightly discourse seasoned with wit and wisdom, and
so it was that, as I walked westward by the side of my friend John
Thorndyke, the long, monotonous road seemed all too short.

We had been to the London Hospital to see a remarkable case of
acromegaly, and, as we returned, we discussed this curious affection,
and the allied condition of gigantism, in all their bearings, from the
origin of the "Gibson chin" to the physique of Og, King of Bashan.

"It would have been interesting," Thorndyke remarked as we passed up
Aldgate High Street, "to have put one's finger into His Majesty's
pituitary fossa--after his decease, of course. By the way, here is
Harrow Alley; you remember Defoe's description of the dead-cart waiting
out here, and the ghastly procession coming down the alley." He took my
arm and led me up the narrow thoroughfare as far as the sharp turn by
the "Star and Still" public-house, where we turned to look back.

"I never pass this place," he said musingly, "but I seem to hear the
clang of the bell and the dismal cry of the carter--"

He broke off abruptly. Two figures had suddenly appeared framed in the
archway, and now advanced at headlong speed. One, who led, was a stout,
middle-aged Jewess, very breathless and dishevelled; the other was a
well-dressed young man, hardly less agitated than his companion. As
they approached, the young man suddenly recognized my colleague, and
accosted him in agitated tones.

"I've just been sent for to a case of murder or suicide. Would you
mind looking at it for me, sir? It's my first case, and I feel rather
nervous."

Here the woman darted back, and plucked the young doctor by the arm.

"Hurry! hurry!" she exclaimed, "don't stop to talk." Her face was as
white as lard, and shiny with sweat; her lips twitched, her hands
shook, and she stared with the eyes of a frightened child.

"Of course I will come, Hart," said Thorndyke; and, turning back,
we followed the woman as she elbowed her way frantically among the
foot-passengers.

"Have you started in practice here?" Thorndyke asked as we hurried
along.

"No, sir," replied Dr. Hart; "I am an assistant. My principal is the
police-surgeon, but he is out just now. It's very good of you to come
with me, sir."

"Tut, tut," rejoined Thorndyke. "I am just coming to see that you do
credit to my teaching. That looks like the house."

We had followed our guide into a side street, halfway down which we
could see a knot of people clustered round a doorway. They watched us
as we approached, and drew aside to let us enter. The woman whom we
were following rushed into the passage with the same headlong haste
with which she had traversed the streets, and so up the stairs. But as
she neared the top of the flight she slowed down suddenly, and began to
creep up on tiptoe with noiseless and hesitating steps. On the landing
she turned to face us, and pointing a shaking forefinger at the door of
the back room, whispered almost inaudibly, "She's in there," and then
sank half-fainting on the bottom stair of the next flight.

I laid my hand on the knob of the door, and looked back at Thorndyke.
He was coming slowly up the stairs, closely scrutinizing floor, walls,
and handrail as he came. When he reached the landing, I turned the
handle, and we entered the room together, closing the door after us.
The blind was still down, and in the dim, uncertain light nothing
out of the common was, at first, to be seen. The shabby little room
looked trim and orderly enough, save for a heap of cast-off feminine
clothing piled upon a chair. The bed appeared undisturbed except by the
half-seen shape of its occupant, and the quiet face, dimly visible in
its shadowy corner, might have been that of a sleeper but for its utter
stillness and for a dark stain on the pillow by its side.

Dr. Hart stole on tiptoe to the bedside, while Thorndyke drew up the
blind; and as the garish daylight poured into the room, the young
surgeon fell back with a gasp of horror.

"Good God!" he exclaimed; "poor creature! But this is a frightful
thing, sir!"

The light streamed down upon the white face of a handsome girl of
twenty-five, a face peaceful, placid, and beautiful with the austere
and almost unearthly beauty of the youthful dead. The lips were
slightly parted, the eyes half closed and drowsy, shaded with sweeping
lashes; and a wealth of dark hair in massive plaits served as a foil to
the translucent skin.

Our friend had drawn back the bedclothes a few inches, and now there
was revealed, beneath the comely face, so serene and inscrutable, and
yet so dreadful in its fixity and waxen pallor, a horrible, yawning
wound that almost divided the shapely neck.

Thorndyke looked down with stern pity at the plump white face.

"It was savagely done," said he, "and yet mercifully, by reason of its
very savagery. She must have died without waking."

"The brute!" exclaimed Hart, clenching his fists and turning crimson
with wrath. "The infernal cowardly beast! He shall hang! By God, he
shall hang!" In his fury the young fellow shook his fists in the air,
even as the moisture welled up into his eyes.

Thorndyke touched him on the shoulder. "That is what we are here for,
Hart," said he. "Get out your notebook;" and with this he bent down
over the dead girl.

At the friendly reproof the young surgeon pulled himself together,
and, with open notebook, commenced his investigation, while I, at
Thorndyke's request, occupied myself in making a plan of the room,
with a description of its contents and their arrangements. But this
occupation did not prevent me from keeping an eye on Thorndyke's
movements, and presently I suspended my labours to watch him as, with
his pocket-knife, he scraped together some objects that he had found on
the pillow.

"What do you make of this?" he asked, as I stepped over to his side.
He pointed with the blade to a tiny heap of what looked like silver
sand, and, as I looked more closely, I saw that similar particles were
sprinkled on other parts of the pillow.

"Silver sand!" I exclaimed. "I don't understand at all how it can have
got there. Do you?"

Thorndyke shook his head. "We will consider the explanation later,"
was his reply. He had produced from his pocket a small metal box which
he always carried, and which contained such requisites as cover-slips,
capillary tubes, moulding wax, and other "diagnostic materials." He now
took from it a seed-envelope, into which he neatly shovelled the little
pinch of sand with his knife. He had closed the envelope, and was
writing a pencilled description on the outside, when we were startled
by a cry from Hart.

"Good God, sir! Look at this! It was done by a woman!"

He had drawn back the bedclothes, and was staring aghast at the dead
girl's left hand. It held a thin tress of long, red hair.

Thorndyke hastily pocketed his specimen, and, stepping round the little
bedside table, bent over the hand with knitted brows. It was closed,
though not tightly clenched, and when an attempt was made gently to
separate the fingers, they were found to be as rigid as the fingers of
a wooden hand. Thorndyke stooped yet more closely, and, taking out his
lens, scrutinized the wisp of hair throughout its entire length.

"There is more here than meets the eye at the first glance," he
remarked. "What say you, Hart?" He held out his lens to his quondam
pupil, who was about to take it from him when the door opened, and
three men entered. One was a police-inspector, the second appeared
to be a plain-clothes officer, while the third was evidently the
divisional surgeon.

"Friends of yours, Hart?" inquired the latter, regarding us with some
disfavour.

Thorndyke gave a brief explanation of our presence to which the
newcomer rejoined:

"Well, sir, your locus standi here is a matter for the inspector. My
assistant was not authorized to call in outsiders. You needn't wait,
Hart."

With this he proceeded to his inspection, while Thorndyke withdrew the
pocket-thermometer that he had slipped under the body, and took the
reading.

The inspector, however, was not disposed to exercise the prerogative at
which the surgeon had hinted; for an expert has his uses.

"How long should you say she'd been dead, sir?" he asked affably.

"About ten hours," replied Thorndyke.

The inspector and the detective simultaneously looked at their watches.
"That fixes it at two o'clock this morning," said the former. "What's
that, sir?"

The surgeon was pointing to the wisp of hair in the dead girl's hand.

"My word!" exclaimed the inspector. "A woman, eh? She must be a tough
customer. This looks like a soft job for you, sergeant."

"Yes," said the detective. "That accounts for that box with the hassock
on it at the head of the bed. She had to stand on them to reach over.
But she couldn't have been very tall."

"She must have been mighty strong, though," said the inspector; "why,
she has nearly cut the poor wench's head off." He moved round to
the head of the bed, and, stooping over, peered down at the gaping
wound. Suddenly he began to draw his hand over the pillow, and then
rub his fingers together. "Why," he exclaimed, "there's sand on the
pillow--silver sand! Now, how can that have come there?"

The surgeon and the detective both came round to verify this discovery,
and an earnest consultation took place as to its meaning.

"Did you notice it, sir?" the inspector asked Thorndyke.

"Yes," replied the latter; "it's an unaccountable thing, isn't it?"

"I don't know that it is, either," said the detective, he ran over to
the washstand, and then uttered a grunt of satisfaction. "It's quite a
simple matter, after all, you see," he said, glancing complacently at
my colleague. "There's a ball of sand-soap on the washstand, and the
basin is full of blood-stained water. You see, she must have washed the
blood off her hands, and off the knife, too--a pretty cool customer she
must be--and she used the sand-soap. Then, while she was drying her
hands, she must have stood over the head of the bed, and let the sand
fall on to the pillow. I think that's clear enough."

"Admirably clear," said Thorndyke; "and what do you suppose was the
sequence of events?"

The gratified detective glanced round the room. "I take it," said he,
"that the deceased read herself to sleep. There is a book on the table
by the bed, and a candlestick with nothing in it but a bit of burnt
wick at the bottom of the socket. I imagine that the woman came in
quietly, lit the gas, put the box and the hassock at the bedhead, stood
on them, and cut her victim's throat. Deceased must have waked up and
clutched the murderess's hair--though there doesn't seem to have been
much of a struggle; but no doubt she died almost at once. Then the
murderess washed her hands, cleaned the knife, tidied up the bed a bit,
and went away. That's about how things happened, I think, but how she
got in without anyone hearing, and how she got out, and where she went
to, are the things that we've got to find out."

"Perhaps," said the surgeon, drawing the bedclothes over the corpse,
"we had better have the landlady in and make a few inquiries." He
glanced significantly at Thorndyke, and the inspector coughed behind
his hand. My colleague, however, chose to be obtuse to these hints:
opening the door, he turned the key backwards and forwards several
times, drew it out, examined it narrowly, and replaced it.

"The landlady is outside on the landing," he remarked, holding the door
open.

Thereupon the inspector went out, and we all followed to hear the
result of his inquiries.

"Now, Mrs. Goldstein," said the officer, opening his notebook, "I want
you to tell us all that you know about this affair, and about the girl
herself. What was her name?"

The landlady, who had been joined by a white-faced, tremulous man,
wiped her eyes, and replied in a shaky voice: "Her name, poor child,
was Minna Adler. She was a German. She came from Bremen about two
years ago. She had no friends in England--no relatives, I mean. She
was a waitress at a restaurant in Fenchurch Street, and a good, quiet,
hard-working girl."

"When did you discover what had happened?"

"About eleven o'clock. I thought she had gone to work as usual, but my
husband noticed from the back yard that her blind was still down. So I
went up and knocked, and when I got no answer, I opened the door and
went in, and then I saw--" Here the poor soul, overcome by the dreadful
recollection, burst into hysterical sobs.

"Her door was unlocked, then; did she usually lock it?"

"I think so," sobbed Mrs. Goldstein. "The key was always inside."

"And the street door; was that secure when you came down this morning?"

"It was shut. We don't bolt it because some of the lodgers come home
rather late."

"And now tell us, had she any enemies? Was there anyone who had a
grudge against her?"

"No, no, poor child! Why should anyone have a grudge against her? No,
she had no quarrel--no real quarrel--with anyone; not even with Miriam."

"Miriam!" inquired the inspector. "Who is she?"

"That was nothing," interposed the man hastily. "That was not a
quarrel."

"Just a little unpleasantness, I suppose, Mr. Goldstein?" suggested the
inspector.

"Just a little foolishness about a young man," said Mr. Goldstein.
"That was all. Miriam was a little jealous. But it was nothing."

"No, no. Of course. We all know that young women are apt to--"

A soft footstep had been for some time audible, slowly descending the
stair above, and at this moment a turn of the staircase brought the
newcomer into view. And at that vision the inspector stopped short as
if petrified, and a tense, startled silence fell upon us all. Down the
remaining stairs there advanced towards us a young woman, powerful
though short, wild-eyed, dishevelled, horror-stricken, and of a ghastly
pallor: and her hair was a fiery red.

Stock still and speechless we all stood as this apparition came slowly
towards us; but suddenly the detective slipped back into the room,
closing the door after him, to reappear a few moments later holding a
small paper packet, which, after a quick glance at the inspector, he
placed in his breast pocket.

"This is my daughter Miriam that we spoke about, gentlemen," said Mr.
Goldstein. "Miriam, those are the doctors and the police."

The girl looked at us from one to the other. "You have seen her, then,"
she said in a strange, muffled voice, and added: "She isn't dead, is
she? Not really dead?" The question was asked in a tone at once coaxing
and despairing, such as a distracted mother might use over the corpse
of her child. It filled me with vague discomfort, and, unconsciously, I
looked round towards Thorndyke.

To my surprise he had vanished.

Noiselessly backing towards the head of the stairs, where I could
command a view of the hall, or passage, I looked down, and saw him in
the act of reaching up to a shelf behind the street door. He caught my
eye, and beckoned, whereupon I crept away unnoticed by the party on
the landing. When I reached the hall, he was wrapping up three small
objects, each in a separate cigarette-paper; and I noticed that he
handled them with more than ordinary tenderness.

"We didn't want to see that poor devil of a girl arrested," said he, as
he deposited the three little packets gingerly in his pocket-box. "Let
us be off." He opened the door noiselessly, and stood for a moment,
turning the latch backwards and forwards, and closely examining its
bolt.

I glanced up at the shelf behind the door. On it were two flat china
candlesticks, in one of which I had happened to notice, as we came in,
a short end of candle lying in the tray, and I now looked to see if
that was what Thorndyke had annexed; but it was still there.

I followed my colleague out into the street, and for some time we
walked on without speaking. "You guessed what the sergeant had in that
paper, of course," said Thorndyke at length.

"Yes. It was the hair from the dead woman's hand; and I thought that he
had much better have left it there."

"Undoubtedly. But that is the way in which well-meaning policemen
destroy valuable evidence. Not that it matters much in this particular
instance; but it might have been a fatal mistake."

"Do you intend to take any active part in this case?" I asked.

"That depends on circumstances. I have collected some evidence, but
what it is worth I don't yet know. Neither do I know whether the police
have observed the same set of facts; but I need not say that I shall
do anything that seems necessary to assist the authorities. That is a
matter of common citizenship."

The inroads made upon our time by the morning's adventures made it
necessary that we should go each about his respective business without
delay; so, after a perfunctory lunch at a tea-shop, we separated, and I
did not see my colleague again until the day's work was finished, and I
turned into our chambers just before dinner-time.

Here I found Thorndyke seated at the table, and evidently full of
business. A microscope stood close by, with a condenser throwing a
spot of light on to a pinch of powder that had been sprinkled on to
the slide; his collecting-box lay open before him, and he was engaged,
rather mysteriously, in squeezing a thick white cement from a tube on
to three little pieces of moulding-wax.

"Useful stuff, this Fortafix," he remarked; "it makes excellent
casts, and saves the trouble and mess of mixing plaster, which is a
consideration for small work like this. By the way, if you want to
know what was on that poor girl's pillow, just take a peep through the
microscope. It is rather a pretty specimen."

I stepped across, and applied my eye to the instrument. The specimen
was, indeed, pretty in more than a technical sense. Mingled with
crystalline grains of quartz, glassy spicules, and water-worn fragments
of coral, were a number of lovely little shells, some of the texture of
fine porcelain, others like blown Venetian glass.

"These are Foraminifera!" I exclaimed.

"Yes."

"Then it is not silver sand, after all?"

"Certainly not."

"But what is it, then?"


Thorndyke smiled. "It is a message to us from the deep sea, Jervis;
from the floor of the Eastern Mediterranean."

"And can you read the message?"

"I think I can," he replied, "but I shall know soon, I hope."

I looked down the microscope again, and wondered what message these
tiny shells had conveyed to my friend. Deep-sea sand on a dead woman's
pillow! What could be more incongruous? What possible connection could
there be between this sordid crime in the east of London and the deep
bed of the "tideless sea"?

Meanwhile Thorndyke squeezed out more cement on to the three little
pieces of moulding-wax (which I suspected to be the objects that I had
seen him wrapping up with such care in the hall of the Goldsteins'
house); then, laying one of them down on a glass slide, with its
cemented side uppermost, he stood the other two upright on either
side of it. Finally he squeezed out a fresh load of the thick cement,
apparently to bind the three objects together, and carried the slide
very carefully to a cupboard, where he deposited it, together with
the envelope containing the sand and the slide from the stage of the
microscope.

He was just locking the cupboard when a sharp rat-tat on our knocker
sent him hurriedly to the door. A messenger-boy, standing on the
threshold, held out a dirty envelope.

"Mr. Goldstein kept me a awful long time, sir," said he; "I haven't
been a-loitering."

Thorndyke took the envelope over to the gas-light, and, opening it,
drew forth a sheet of paper, which he scanned quickly and almost
eagerly; and, though his face remained as inscrutable as a mask of
stone, I felt a conviction that the paper had told him something that
he wished to know.

The boy having been sent on his way rejoicing, Thorndyke turned to the
bookshelves, along which he ran his eye thoughtfully until it alighted
on a shabbily-bound volume near one end. This he reached down, and
as he laid it open on the table, I glanced at it, and was surprised
to observe that it was a bi-lingual work, the opposite pages being
apparently in Russian and Hebrew.

"The Old Testament in Russian and Yiddish," he remarked, noting my
surprise. "I am going to get Polton to photograph a couple of specimen
pages--is that the postman or a visitor?"

It turned out to be the postman, and as Thorndyke extracted from the
letter-box a blue official envelope, he glanced significantly at me.

"This answers your question, I think, Jervis," said he. "Yes; coroner's
subpoena and a very civil letter: 'sorry to trouble you, but I had no
choice under the circumstances'--of course he hadn't--'Dr. Davidson has
arranged to make the autopsy to-morrow at 4 p.m., and I should be glad
if you could be present. The mortuary is in Barker Street, next to the
school.' Well, we must go, I suppose, though Davidson will probably
resent it." He took up the Testament, and went off with it to the
laboratory.

We lunched at our chambers on the following day, and, after the meal,
drew up our chairs to the fire and lit our pipes. Thorndyke was
evidently preoccupied, for he laid his open notebook on his knee, and,
gazing meditatively into the fire, made occasional entries with his
pencil as though he were arranging the points of an argument. Assuming
that the Aldgate murder was the subject of his cogitations, I ventured
to ask:

"Have you any material evidence to offer the coroner?"

He closed his notebook and put it away. "The evidence that I have,"
he said, "is material and important; but it is disjointed and rather
inconclusive. If I can join it up into a coherent whole, as I hope to
do before I reach the court, it will be very important indeed--but
here is my invaluable familiar, with the instruments of research." He
turned with a smile towards Polton, who had just entered the room, and
master and man exchanged a friendly glance of mutual appreciation. The
relations of Thorndyke and his assistant were a constant delight to me:
on the one side, service, loyal and whole-hearted; on the other, frank
and full recognition.

"I should think those will do, sir," said Polton, handing his principal
a small cardboard box such as playing-cards are carried in. Thorndyke
pulled off the lid, and I then saw that the box was fitted internally
with grooves for plates, and contained two mounted photographs. The
latter were very singular productions indeed; they were copies each of
a page of the Testament, one Russian and the other Yiddish; but the
lettering appeared white on a black ground, of which it occupied only
quite a small space in the middle, leaving a broad black margin. Each
photograph was mounted on a stiff card, and each card had a duplicate
photograph pasted on the back.

Thorndyke exhibited them to me with a provoking smile, holding them
daintily by their edges, before he slid them back into the grooves of
their box.

"We are making a little digression into philology, you see," he
remarked, as he pocketed the box. "But we must be off now, or we shall
keep Davidson waiting. Thank you, Polton."

The District Railway carried us swiftly eastward, and we emerged from
Aldgate Station a full half-hour before we were due. Nevertheless,
Thorndyke stepped out briskly, but instead of making directly for the
mortuary, he strayed off unaccountably into Mansell Street, scanning
the numbers of the houses as he went. A row of old houses, picturesque
but grimy, on our right seemed specially to attract him, and he slowed
down as we approached them.

"There is a quaint survival, Jervis," he remarked, pointing to a
crudely painted, wooden effigy of an Indian standing on a bracket at
the door of a small old-fashioned tobacconist's shop. We halted to look
at the little image, and at that moment the side door opened, and a
woman came out on to the doorstop, where she stood gazing up and down
the street.

Thorndyke immediately crossed the pavement, and addressed her,
apparently with some question, for I heard her answer presently: "A
quarter-past six is his time, sir, and he is generally punctual to the
minute."

"Thank you," said Thorndyke; "I'll bear that in mind;" and, lifting his
hat, he walked on briskly, turning presently up a side-street which
brought us out into Aldgate. It was now but five minutes to four, so
we strode off quickly to keep our tryst at the mortuary; but although
we arrived at the gate as the hour was striking, when we entered the
building we found Dr. Davidson hanging up his apron and preparing to
depart.

"Sorry I couldn't wait for you," he said, with no great show of
sincerity, "but a post-mortem is a mere farce in a case like this; you
have seen all that there was to see. However, there is the body; Hart
hasn't closed it up yet."

With this and a curt "good-afternoon" he departed.

"I must apologize for Dr. Davidson, sir," said Hart, looking up with a
vexed face from the desk at which he was writing out his notes.

"You needn't," said Thorndyke; "you didn't supply him with manners; and
don't let me disturb you. I only want to verify one or two points."

Accepting the hint, Hart and I remained at the desk, while Thorndyke,
removing his hat, advanced to the long slate table, and bent over
its burden of pitiful tragedy. For some time he remained motionless,
running his eye gravely over the corpse, in search, no doubt, of
bruises and indications of a struggle. Then he stooped and narrowly
examined the wound, especially at its commencement and end. Suddenly
he drew nearer, peering intently as if something had attracted his
attention, and having taken out his lens, fetched a small sponge,
with which he dried an exposed process of the spine. Holding his lens
before the dried spot, he again scrutinized it closely, and then,
with a scalpel and forceps, detached some object, which he carefully
washed, and then once more examined through his lens as it lay in
the palm of his hand. Finally, as I expected, he brought forth his
"collecting-box," took from it a seed-envelope, into which he dropped
the object--evidently something quite small--closed up the envelope,
wrote on the outside of it, and replaced it in the box.

"I think I have seen all that I wanted to see," he said, as he pocketed
the box and took up his hat. "We shall meet to-morrow morning at the
inquest." He shook hands with Hart, and we went out into the relatively
pure air.

On one pretext or another, Thorndyke lingered about the neighbourhood
of Aldgate until a church bell struck six, when he bent his steps
towards Harrow Alley. Through the narrow, winding passage he walked,
slowly and with a thoughtful mien, along Little Somerset Street and
out into Mansell Street, until just on the stroke of a quarter-past we
found ourselves opposite the little tobacconist's shop.

Thorndyke glanced at his watch and halted, looking keenly up the
street. A moment later he hastily took from his pocket the cardboard
box, from which he extracted the two mounted photographs which had
puzzled me so much. They now seemed to puzzle Thorndyke equally,
to judge by his expression, for he held them close to his eyes,
scrutinizing them with an anxious frown, and backing by degrees into
the doorway at the side of the tobacconist's. At this moment I became
aware of a man who, as he approached, seemed to eye my friend with some
curiosity and more disfavour; a very short, burly young man, apparently
a foreign Jew, whose face, naturally sinister and unprepossessing, was
further disfigured by the marks of smallpox.

"Excuse me," he said brusquely, pushing past Thorndyke; "I live here."

"I am sorry," responded Thorndyke. He moved aside, and then suddenly
asked: "By the way, I suppose you do not by any chance understand
Yiddish?"

"Why do you ask?" the newcomer demanded gruffly.

"Because I have just had these two photographs of lettering given to
me. One is in Greek, I think, and one in Yiddish, but I have forgotten
which is which." He held out the two cards to the stranger, who took
them from him, and looked at them with scowling curiosity.

"This one is Yiddish," said he, raising his right hand, "and this other
is Russian, not Greek." He held out the two cards to Thorndyke, who
took them from him, holding them carefully by the edges as before.

"I am greatly obliged to you for your kind assistance," said Thorndyke;
but before he had time to finish his thanks, the man had entered, by
means of his latchkey, and slammed the door.

Thorndyke carefully slid the photographs back into their grooves,
replaced the box in his pocket, and made an entry in his notebook.

"That," said he, "finishes my labours, with the exception of a small
experiment which I can perform at home. By the way, I picked up a
morsel of evidence that Davidson had overlooked. He will be annoyed,
and I am not very fond of scoring off a colleague; but he is too
uncivil for me to communicate with."

* * * * *

The coroner's subpoena had named ten o'clock as the hour at which
Thorndyke was to attend to give evidence, but a consultation with a
well-known solicitor so far interfered with his plans that we were a
quarter of an hour late in starting from the Temple. My friend was
evidently in excellent spirits, though silent and preoccupied, from
which I inferred that he was satisfied with the results of his labours;
but, as I sat by his side in the hansom, I forbore to question him,
not from mere unselfishness, but rather from the desire to hear his
evidence for the first time in conjunction with that of the other
witnesses.

The room in which the inquest was held formed part of a school
adjoining the mortuary. Its vacant bareness was on this occasion
enlivened by a long, baize-covered table, at the head of which sat
the coroner, while one side was occupied by the jury; and I was glad
to observe that the latter consisted, for the most part, of genuine
working men, instead of the stolid-faced, truculent "professional
jurymen" who so often grace these tribunals.

A row of chairs accommodated the witnesses, a corner of the table was
allotted to the accused woman's solicitor, a smart dapper gentleman in
gold pince-nez, a portion of one side to the reporters, and several
ranks of benches were occupied by a miscellaneous assembly representing
the public.

There were one or two persons present whom I was somewhat surprised to
see. There was, for instance, our pock-marked acquaintance of Mansell
Street, who greeted us with a stare of hostile surprise; and there was
Superintendent Miller of Scotland Yard, in whose manner I seemed to
detect some kind of private understanding with Thorndyke. But I had
little time to look about me, for when we arrived, the proceedings had
already commenced. Mrs. Goldstein, the first witness, was finishing
her recital of the circumstances under which the crime was discovered,
and, as she retired, weeping hysterically, she was followed by looks of
commiseration from the sympathetic jurymen.

The next witness was a young woman named Kate Silver. As she stepped
forward to be sworn she flung a glance of hatred and defiance at Miriam
Goldstein, who, white-faced and wild of aspect, with her red hair
streaming in dishevelled masses on to her shoulders, stood apart in
custody of two policemen, staring about her as if in a dream.

"You were intimately acquainted with the deceased, I believe?" said the
coroner.

"I was. We worked at the same place for a long time--the Empire
Restaurant in Fenchurch Street--and we lived in the same house. She was
my most intimate friend."

"Had she, as far as you know, any friends or relations in England?"

"No. She came to England from Bremen about three years ago. It was then
that I made her acquaintance. All her relations were in Germany, but
she had many friends here, because she was a very lively, amiable girl."

"Had she, as far as you know, any enemies--any persons, I mean, who
bore any grudge against her and were likely to do her an injury?"

"Yes. Miriam Goldstein was her enemy. She hated her."

"You say Miriam Goldstein hated the deceased. How do you know that?"

"She made no secret of it. They had had a violent quarrel about a
young man named Moses Cohen. He was formerly Miriam's sweetheart, and
I think they were very fond of one another until Minna Adler came to
lodge at the Goldsteins' house about three months ago. Then Moses took
a fancy to Minna, and she encouraged him, although she had a sweetheart
of her own, a young man named Paul Petrofsky, who also lodged in the
Goldsteins' house. At last Moses broke off with Miriam, and engaged
himself to Minna. Then Miriam was furious, and complained to Minna
about what she called her perfidious conduct; but Minna only laughed,
and told her she could have Petrofsky instead."

"And what did Minna say to that?" asked the coroner.

"She was still more angry, because Moses Cohen is a smart, good-looking
young man, while Petrofsky is not much to look at. Besides, Miriam
did not like Petrofsky; he had been rude to her, and she had made her
father send him away from the house. So they were not friends, and it
was just after that that the trouble came."

"The trouble?"

"I mean about Moses Cohen. Miriam is a very passionate girl, and she
was furiously jealous of Minna, so when Petrofsky annoyed her by
taunting her about Moses Cohen and Minna, she lost her temper, and said
dreadful things about both of them."

"As, for instance--?"

"She said that she would kill them both, and that she would like to cut
Minna's throat."

"When was this?"

"It was the day before the murder."

"Who heard her say these things besides you?"

"Another lodger named Edith Bryant and Petrofsky. We were all standing
in the hall at the time."

"But I thought you said Petrofsky had been turned away from the house."

"So he had, a week before; but he had left a box in his room, and on
this day he had come to fetch it. That was what started the trouble.
Miriam had taken his room for her bedroom, and turned her old one into
a workroom. She said he should not go to her room to fetch his box."

"And did he?"

"I think so. Miriam and Edith and I went out, leaving him in the hall.
When we came back the box was gone, and, as Mrs. Goldstein was in the
kitchen and there was nobody else in the house, he must have taken it."

"You spoke of Miriam's workroom. What work did she do?"

"She cut stencils for a firm of decorators."

Here the coroner took a peculiarly shaped knife from the table before
him, and handed it to the witness.

"Have you ever seen that knife before?" he asked.

"Yes. It belongs to Miriam Goldstein. It is a stencil-knife that she
used in her work."

This concluded the evidence of Kate Silver, and when the name of the
next witness, Paul Petrofsky, was called, our Mansell Street friend
came forward to be sworn. His evidence was quite brief, and merely
corroborative of that of Kate Silver, as was that of the next witness,
Edith Bryant. When these had been disposed of, the coroner announced:

"Before taking the medical evidence, gentlemen, I propose to hear that
of the police-officers, and first we will call Detective-sergeant
Alfred Bates."

The sergeant stepped forward briskly, and proceeded to give his
evidence with official readiness and precision.

"I was called by Constable Simmonds at eleven-forty-nine, and reached
the house at two minutes to twelve in company with Inspector Harris and
Divisional Surgeon Davidson. When I arrived Dr. Hart, Dr. Thorndyke,
and Dr. Jervis were already in the room. I found the deceased woman,
Minna Adler, lying in bed with her throat cut. She was dead and cold.
There were no signs of a struggle, and the bed did not appear to have
been disturbed. There was a table by the bedside on which was a book
and an empty candlestick. The candle had apparently burnt out, for
there was only a piece of charred wick at the bottom of the socket. A
box had been placed on the floor at the head of the bed and a hassock
stood on it. Apparently the murderer had stood on the hassock and
leaned over the head of the bed to commit the murder. This was rendered
necessary by the position of the table, which could not have been moved
without making some noise and perhaps disturbing the deceased. I infer
from the presence of the box and hassock that the murderer is a short
person."

"Was there anything else that seemed to fix the identity of the
murderer?"

"Yes. A tress of a woman's red hair was grasped in the left hand of the
deceased."

As the detective uttered this statement, a simultaneous shriek of
horror burst from the accused woman and her mother. Mrs. Goldstein sank
half-fainting on to a bench, while Miriam, pale as death, stood as one
petrified, fixing the detective with a stare of terror, as he drew from
his pocket two small paper packets, which he opened and handed to the
coroner.

"The hair in the packet marked A," said he, "is that which was found in
the hand of the deceased; that in the packet marked B is the hair of
Miriam Goldstein."

Here the accused woman's solicitor rose. "Where did you obtain the hair
in the packet marked B?" he demanded.

"I took it from a bag of combings that hung on the wall of Miriam
Goldstein's bedroom," answered the detective.

"I object to this," said the solicitor. "There is no evidence that the
hair from that bag was the hair of Miriam Goldstein at all."

Thorndyke chuckled softly. "The lawyer is as dense as the policeman,"
he remarked to me in an undertone. "Neither of them seems to see the
significance of that bag in the least."

"Did you know about the bag, then?" I asked in surprise.

"No. I thought it was the hair-brush."

I gazed at my colleague in amazement, and was about to ask for some
elucidation of this cryptic reply, when he held up his finger and
turned again to listen.

"Very well, Mr. Horwitz," the coroner was saying, "I will make a note
of your objection, but I shall allow the sergeant to continue his
evidence."

The solicitor sat down, and the detective resumed his statement.

"I have examined and compared the two samples of hair, and it is my
opinion that they are from the head of the same person. The only other
observation that I made in the room was that there was a small quantity
of silver sand sprinkled on the pillow around the deceased woman's
head."

"Silver sand!" exclaimed the coroner. "Surely that is a very singular
material to find on a woman's pillow?"

"I think it is easily explained," replied the sergeant. "The wash-hand
basin was full of bloodstained water, showing that the murderer had
washed his--or her--hands, and probably the knife, too, after the
crime. On the washstand was a ball of sand-soap, and I imagine that
the murderer used this to cleanse his--or her--hands, and, while
drying them, must have stood over the head of the bed and let the sand
sprinkle down on to the pillow."

"A simple but highly ingenious explanation," commented the coroner
approvingly, and the jurymen exchanged admiring nods and nudges.

"I searched the rooms occupied by the accused woman, Miriam Goldstein,
and found there a knife of the kind used by stencil cutters, but
larger than usual. There were stains of blood on it which the accused
explained by saying that she cut her finger some days ago. She admitted
that the knife was hers."

This concluded the sergeant's evidence, and he was about to sit down
when the solicitor rose.

"I should like to ask this witness one or two questions," said he, and
the coroner having nodded assent, he proceeded: "Has the finger of the
accused been examined since her arrest?"

"I believe not," replied the sergeant. "Not to my knowledge, at any
rate."

The solicitor noted the reply, and then asked: "With reference to the
silver sand, did you find any at the bottom of the wash-hand basin?"

The sergeant's face reddened. "I did not examine the wash-hand basin,"
he answered.

"Did anybody examine it?"

"I think not."

"Thank you." Mr. Horwitz sat down, and the triumphant squeak of his
quill pen was heard above the muttered disapproval of the jury.

"We shall now take the evidence of the doctors, gentlemen," said the
coroner, "and we will begin with that of the divisional surgeon. You
saw the deceased, I believe, Doctor," he continued, when Dr. Davidson
had been sworn, "soon after the discovery of the murder, and you have
since then made an examination of the body?"

"Yes. I found the body of the deceased lying in her bed, which had
apparently not been disturbed. She had been dead about ten hours,
and rigidity was complete in the limbs but not in the trunk. The
cause of death was a deep wound extending right across the throat and
dividing all the structures down to the spine. It had been inflicted
with a single sweep of a knife while deceased was lying down, and
was evidently homicidal. It was not possible for the deceased to
have inflicted the wound herself. It was made with a single-edged
knife, drawn from left to right; the assailant stood on a hassock
placed on a box at the head of the bed and leaned over to strike the
blow. The murderer is probably quite a short person, very muscular,
and right-handed. There was no sign of a struggle, and, judging
by the nature of the injuries, I should say that death was almost
instantaneous. In the left hand of the deceased was a small tress of a
woman's red hair. I have compared that hair with that of the accused,
and am of opinion that it is her hair."

"You were shown a knife belonging to the accused?"

"Yes; a stencil-knife. There were stains of dried blood on it which
I have examined and find to be mammalian blood. It is probably human
blood, but I cannot say with certainty that it is."

"Could the wound have been inflicted with this knife?"

"Yes, though it is a small knife to produce so deep a wound. Still, it
is quite possible."

The coroner glanced at Mr. Horwitz. "Do you wish to ask this witness
any questions?" he inquired.

"If you please, sir," was the reply. The solicitor rose, and,
having glanced through his notes, commenced: "You have described
certain blood-stains on this knife. But we have heard that there was
blood-stained water in the wash-hand basin, and it is suggested, most
reasonably, that the murderer washed his hands and the knife. But if
the knife was washed, how do you account for the bloodstains on it?"

"Apparently the knife was not washed, only the hands."

"But is not that highly improbable?"

"No, I think not."

"You say that there was no struggle, and that death was practically
instantaneous, but yet the deceased had torn out a lock of the
murderess's hair. Are not those two statements inconsistent with one
another?"

"No. The hair was probably grasped convulsively at the moment of death.
At any rate, the hair was undoubtedly in the dead woman's hand."

"Is it possible to identify positively the hair of any individual?"

"No. Not with certainty. But this is very peculiar hair."

The solicitor sat down, and, Dr. Hart having been called, and having
briefly confirmed the evidence of his principal, the coroner announced:
"The next witness, gentleman, is Dr. Thorndyke, who was present almost
accidentally, but was actually the first on the scene of the murder. He
has since made an examination of the body, and will, no doubt, be able
to throw some further light on this horrible crime."

Thorndyke stood up, and, having been sworn, laid on the table a small
box with a leather handle. Then, in answer to the coroner's questions,
he described himself as the lecturer on Medical Jurisprudence at St.
Margaret's Hospital, and briefly explained his connection with the
case. At this point the foreman of the jury interrupted to ask that his
opinion might be taken on the hair and the knife, as these were matters
of contention, and the objects in question were accordingly handed to
him.

"Is the hair in the packet marked A in your opinion from the same
person as that in the packet marked B?" the coroner asked.

"I have no doubt that they are from the same person," was the reply.

"Will you examine this knife and tell us if the wound on the deceased
might have been inflicted with it?"

Thorndyke examined the blade attentively, and then handed the knife
back to the coroner.

"The wound might have been inflicted with this knife," said he, "but I
am quite sure it was not."

"Can you give us your reasons for that very definite opinion?"

"I think," said Thorndyke, "that it will save time if I give you
the facts in a connected order." The coroner bowed assent, and he
proceeded: "I will not waste your time by reiterating facts already
stated. Sergeant Bates has fully described the state of the room, and
I have nothing to add on that subject. Dr. Davidson's description of
the body covers all the facts: the woman had been dead about ten hours,
the wound was unquestionably homicidal, and was inflicted in the manner
that he has described. Death was apparently instantaneous, and I should
say that the deceased never awakened from her sleep."

"But," objected the coroner, "the deceased held a lock of hair in her
hand."

"That hair," replied Thorndyke, "was not the hair of the murderer. It
was placed in the hand of the corpse for an obvious purpose; and the
fact that the murderer had brought it with him shows that the crime was
premeditated, and that it was committed by someone who had had access
to the house and was acquainted with its inmates."

As Thorndyke made this statement, coroner, jurymen, and spectators
alike gazed at him in open-mouthed amazement. There was an interval of
intense silence, broken by a wild, hysteric laugh from Mrs. Goldstein,
and then the coroner asked:

"How did you know that the hair in the hand of the corpse was not that
of the murderer?"

"The inference was very obvious. At the first glance the peculiar and
conspicuous colour of the hair struck me as suspicious. But there were
three facts, each of which was in itself sufficient to prove that the
hair was probably not that of the murderer.

"In the first place there was the condition of the hand. When a person,
at the moment of death, grasps any object firmly, there is set up a
condition known as cadaveric spasm. The muscular contraction passes
immediately into rigor mortis, or death-stiffening, and the object
remains grasped by the dead hand until the rigidity passes off. In this
case the hand was perfectly rigid, but it did not grasp the hair at
all. The little tress lay in the palm quite loosely and the hand was
only partially closed. Obviously the hair had been placed in it after
death. The other two facts had reference to the condition of the hair
itself. Now, when a lock of hair is torn from the head, it is evident
that all the roots will be found at the same end of the lock. But in
the present instance this was not the case; the lock of hair which
lay in the dead woman's hand had roots at both ends, and so could not
have been torn from the head of the murderer. But the third fact that
I observed was still more conclusive. The hairs of which that little
tress was composed had not been pulled out at all. They had fallen out
spontaneously. They were, in fact, shed hairs--probably combings. Let
me explain the difference. When a hair is shed naturally, it drops out
of the little tube in the skin called the root sheath, having been
pushed out by the young hair growing up underneath; the root end of
such a shed hair shows nothing but a small bulbous enlargement--the
root bulb. But when a hair is forcibly pulled out, its root drags out
the root sheath with it, and this can be plainly seen as a glistening
mass on the end of the hair. If Miriam Goldstein will pull out a hair
and pass it to me, I will show you the great difference between hair
which is pulled out and hair which is shed."

The unfortunate Miriam needed no pressing. In a twinkling she had
tweaked out a dozen hairs, which a constable handed across to
Thorndyke, by whom they were at once fixed in a paper-clip. A second
clip being produced from the box, half a dozen hairs taken from the
tress which had been found in the dead woman's hand were fixed in it.
Then Thorndyke handed the two clips, together with a lens, to the
coroner.

"Remarkable!" exclaimed the latter, "and most conclusive." He passed
the objects on to the foreman, and there was an interval of silence
while the jury examined them with breathless interest and much facial
contortion.

"The next question," resumed Thorndyke, "was, Whence did the murderer
obtain these hairs? I assumed that they had been taken from Miriam
Goldstein's hair-brush; but the sergeant's evidence makes it pretty
clear that they were obtained from the very bag of combings from which
he took a sample for comparison."

"I think, Doctor," remarked the coroner, "you have disposed of the hair
clue pretty completely. May I ask if you found anything that might
throw any light on the identity of the murderer?"

"Yes," replied Thorndyke, "I observed certain things which determine
the identity of the murderer quite conclusively." He turned a
significant glance on Superintendent Miller, who immediately rose,
stepped quietly to the door, and then returned, putting something into
his pocket. "When I entered the hall," Thorndyke continued, "I noted
the following facts: Behind the door was a shelf on which were two
china candlesticks. Each was fitted with a candle, and in one was a
short candle-end, about an inch long, lying in the tray. On the floor,
close to the mat, was a spot of candle-wax and some faint marks of
muddy feet. The oil-cloth on the stairs also bore faint footmarks,
made by wet goloshes. They were ascending the stairs, and grew fainter
towards the top. There were two more spots of candle-wax on the stairs,
and one on the handrail; a burnt end of a wax match halfway up the
stairs, and another on the landing. There were no descending footmarks,
but one of the spots of wax close to the balusters had been trodden
on while warm and soft, and bore the mark of the front of the heel of
a golosh descending the stairs. The lock of the street door had been
recently oiled, as had also that of the bedroom door, and the latter
had been unlocked from outside with a bent wire, which had made a mark
on the key. Inside the room I made two further observations. One was
that the dead woman's pillow was lightly sprinkled with sand, somewhat
like silver sand, but greyer and less gritty. I shall return to this
presently.

"The other was that the candlestick on the bedside table was empty. It
was a peculiar candlestick, having a skeleton socket formed of eight
flat strips of metal. The charred wick of a burnt-out candle was at
the bottom of the socket, but a little fragment of wax on the top edge
showed that another candle had been stuck in it and had been taken out,
for otherwise that fragment would have been melted. I at once thought
of the candle-end in the hall, and when I went down again I took that
end from the tray and examined it. On it I found eight distinct marks
corresponding to the eight bars of the candlestick in the bedroom.
It had been carried in the right hand of some person, for the warm,
soft wax had taken beautifully clear impressions of a right thumb and
forefinger. I took three moulds of the candle-end in moulding wax, and
from these moulds have made this cement cast, which shows both the
fingerprints and the marks of the candlestick." He took from his box a
small white object, which he handed to the coroner.

"And what do you gather from these facts?" asked the coroner.

"I gather that at about a quarter to two on the morning of the crime, a
man (who had, on the previous day visited the house to obtain the tress
of hair and oil the locks) entered the house by means of a latchkey.
We can fix the time by the fact that it rained on that morning from
half-past one to a quarter to two, this being the only rain that has
fallen for a fortnight, and the murder was committed at about two
o'clock. The man lit a wax match in the hall and another halfway up
the stairs. He found the bedroom door locked, and turned the key from
outside with a bent wire. He entered, lit the candle, placed the box
and hassock, murdered his victim, washed his hands and knife, took the
candle-end from the socket and went downstairs, where he blew out the
candle and dropped it into the tray.

"The next clue is furnished by the sand on the pillow. I took a little
of it, and examined it under the microscope, when it turned out to be
deep-sea sand from the Eastern Mediterranean. It was full of the minute
shells called 'Foraminifera,' and as one of these happened to belong
to a species which is found only in the Levant, I was able to fix the
locality."

"But this is very remarkable," said the coroner. "How on earth could
deep-sea sand have got on to this woman's pillow?"

"The explanation," replied Thorndyke, "is really quite simple. Sand of
this kind is contained in considerable quantities in Turkey sponges.
The warehouses in which the sponges are unpacked are often strewn with
it ankle deep; the men who unpack the cases become dusted over with
it, their clothes saturated and their pockets filled with it. If such
a person, with his clothes and pockets full of sand, had committed
this murder, it is pretty certain that in leaning over the head of the
bed in a partly inverted position he would have let fall a certain
quantity of the sand from his pockets and the interstices of his
clothing. Now, as soon as I had examined this sand and ascertained its
nature, I sent a message to Mr. Goldstein asking him for a list of the
persons who were acquainted with the deceased, with their addresses
and occupations. He sent me the list by return, and among the persons
mentioned was a man who was engaged as a packer in a wholesale sponge
warehouse in the Minories. I further ascertained that the new season's
crop of Turkey sponges had arrived a few days before the murder.

"The question that now arose was, whether this sponge-packer was the
person whose fingerprints I had found on the candle-end. To settle this
point, I prepared two mounted photographs, and having contrived to meet
the man at his door on his return from work, I induced him to look at
them and compare them. He took them from me, holding each one between
a forefinger and thumb. When he returned them to me, I took them
home and carefully dusted each on both sides with a certain surgical
dusting-powder. The powder adhered to the places where his fingers and
thumbs had pressed against the photographs, showing the fingerprints
very distinctly. Those of the right hand were identical with the prints
on the candle, as you will see if you compare them with the cast." He
produced from the box the photograph of the Yiddish lettering, on the
black margin of which there now stood out with startling distinctness a
yellowish-white print of a thumb.

Thorndyke had just handed the card to the coroner when a very singular
disturbance arose. While my friend had been giving the latter part of
his evidence, I had observed the man Petrofsky rise from his seat and
walk stealthily across to the door. He turned the handle softly and
pulled, at first gently, and then with more force. But the door was
locked. As he realized this, Petrofsky seized the handle with both
hands and tore at it furiously, shaking it to and fro with the violence
of a madman, and his shaking limbs, his starting eyes, glaring insanely
at the astonished spectators, his ugly face, dead white, running with
sweat and hideous with terror, made a picture that was truly shocking.

Suddenly he let go the handle, and with a horrible cry thrust his
hand under the skirt of his coat and rushed at Thorndyke. But the
superintendent was ready for this. There was a shout and a scuffle,
and then Petrofsky was born down, kicking and biting like a maniac,
while Miller hung on to his right hand and the formidable knife that it
grasped.

"I will ask you to hand that knife to the coroner," said Thorndyke,
when Petrofsky had been secured and handcuffed, and the superintendent
had readjusted his collar. "Will you kindly examine it, sir," he
continued, "and tell me if there is a notch in the edge, near to the
point--a triangular notch about an eighth of an inch long?"

The coroner looked at the knife, and then said in a tone of surprise:
"Yes, there is. You have seen this knife before, then?"

"No, I have not," replied Thorndyke. "But perhaps I had better continue
my statement. There is no need for me to tell you that the fingerprints
on the card and on the candle are those of Paul Petrofsky; I will
proceed to the evidence furnished by the body.

"In accordance with your order, I went to the mortuary and examined
the corpse of the deceased. The wound has been fully and accurately
described by Dr. Davidson, but I observed one fact which I presume
he had overlooked. Embedded in the bone of the spine--in the left
transverse process of the fourth vertebra--I discovered a small
particle of steel, which I carefully extracted."

He drew his collecting-box from his pocket, and taking from it a
seed-envelope, handed the latter to the coroner. "That fragment of
steel is in this envelope," he said, "and it is possible that it may
correspond to the notch in the knife-blade."

Amidst an intense silence the coroner opened the little envelope, and
let the fragment of steel drop on to a sheet of paper. Laying the knife
on the paper, he gently pushed the fragment towards the notch. Then he
looked up at Thorndyke.

"It fits exactly," said he.

There was a heavy thud at the other end of the room and we all looked
round.

Petrofsky had fallen on to the floor insensible.

* * * * *

"An instructive case, Jervis," remarked Thorndyke, as we walked
homewards--"a case that reiterates the lesson that the authorities
still refuse to learn."

"What is that?" I asked.

"It is this. When it is discovered that a murder has been committed,
the scene of that murder should instantly become as the Palace of the
Sleeping Beauty. Not a grain of dust should be moved, not a soul should
be allowed to approach it, until the scientific observer has seen
everything in situ and absolutely undisturbed. No tramplings of excited
constables, no rummaging by detectives, no scrambling to and fro of
bloodhounds. Consider what would have happened in this case if we had
arrived a few hours later. The corpse would have been in the mortuary,
the hair in the sergeant's pocket, the bed rummaged and the sand
scattered abroad, the candle probably removed, and the stairs covered
with fresh tracks.

"There would not have been the vestige of a clue."

"And," I added, "the deep sea would have uttered its message in vain."



THE MAGIC CASKET


It was in the near neighbourhood of King's Road, Chelsea, that chance,
aided by Thorndyke's sharp and observant eyes, introduced us to the
dramatic story of the Magic Casket. Not that there was anything
strikingly dramatic in the opening phase of the affair, nor even in the
story of the casket itself. It was Thorndyke who added the dramatic
touch, and most of the magic, too; and I record the affair principally
as an illustration of his extraordinary capacity for producing odd
items of out-of-the-way knowledge and instantly applying them in the
most unexpected manner.

Eight o'clock had struck on a misty November night when we turned out
of the main road, and, leaving behind the glare of the shop windows,
plunged into the maze of dark and narrow streets to the north. The
abrupt change impressed us both, and Thorndyke proceeded to moralise on
it in his pleasant, reflective fashion.

"London is an inexhaustible place," he mused. "Its variety is infinite.
A minute ago we walked in a glare of light, jostled by a multitude. And
now look at this little street. It is as dim as a tunnel, and we have
got it absolutely to ourselves. Anything might happen in a place like
this."

Suddenly he stopped. We were, at the moment, passing a small church or
chapel, the west door of which was enclosed in an open porch; and as my
observant friend stepped into the latter and stooped, I perceived in
the deep shadow against the wall, the object which had evidently caught
his eye.

"What is it?" I asked, following him in.

"It is a handbag," he replied; "and the question is, what is it doing
here?"

He tried the church door, which was obviously locked, and coming out,
looked at the windows.

"There are no lights in the church." said he; "the place is locked up,
and there is nobody in sight. Apparently the bag is derelict. Shall we
have a look at it?"

Without waiting for an answer, he picked it up and brought it out into
the mitigated darkness of the street, where we proceeded to inspect it.
But at the first glance it told its own tale; for it had evidently been
locked, and it bore unmistakable traces of having been forced open.

"It isn't empty," said Thorndyke. "I think we had better see what is in
it. Just catch hold while I get a light."

He handed me the bag while he felt in his pocket for the tiny electric
lamp which he made a habit of carrying, and an excellent habit it is. I
held the mouth of the bag open while he illuminated the interior, which
we then saw to be occupied by several objects neatly wrapped in brown
paper. One of these Thorndyke lifted out, and untying the string and
removing the paper, displayed a Chinese stoneware jar. Attached to it
was a label, bearing the stamp of the Victoria and Albert Museum, on
which was written:

"Miss MABEL BONNET,
168 Willow Walk,
Fulham Road, W."

"That tells us all that we want to know," said Thorndyke, re-wrapping
the jar and tenderly replacing it in the bag. "We can't do wrong in
delivering the things to their owner, especially as the bag itself is
evidently her property, too," and he pointed to the gilt initials, "M.
B.," stamped on the morocco.

It took us but a few minutes to reach the Fulham Road, but we then
had to walk nearly a mile along that thoroughfare before we arrived
at Willow Walk--to which an obliging shopkeeper had directed us--and,
naturally, No. 168 was at the farther end.

As we turned into the quiet street we almost collided with two men,
who were walking at a rapid pace, but both looking back over their
shoulders. I noticed that they were both Japanese--well-dressed,
gentlemanly-looking men--but I gave them little attention, being
interested, rather, in what they were looking at. This was a taxicab
which was dimly visible by the light of a street lamp at the farther
end of the "Walk," and from which four persons had just alighted.
Two of these had hurried ahead to knock at a door, while the other
two walked very slowly across the pavement and up the steps to the
threshold. Almost immediately the door was opened; two of the shadowy
figures entered, and the other two returned slowly to the cab and as we
came nearer, I could see that these latter were policemen in uniform.
I had just time to note this fact when they both got into the cab and
were forthwith spirited away.

"Looks like a street accident of some kind," I remarked; and then, as
I glanced at the number of the house we were passing, I added: "Now,
I wonder if that house happens to be--yes, by Jove! it is. It is 168!
Things have been happening, and this bag of ours is one of the dramatis
personae."

The response to our knock was by no means prompt. I was, in fact, in
the act of raising my hand to the knocker to repeat the summons when
the door opened and revealed an elderly servant-maid, who regarded us
inquiringly, and, as I thought, with something approaching alarm.

"Does Miss Mabel Bonney live here?" Thorndyke asked.

"Yes, sir," was the reply; "but I am afraid you can't see her just now,
unless it is something urgent. She is rather upset, and particularly
engaged at present."

"There is no occasion whatever to disturb her," said Thorndyke. "We
have merely called to restore this bag, which seemed to have been
lost;" and with this he held it out towards her. She grasped it eagerly
with a cry of surprise, and as the mouth fell open, she peered into it.

"Why," she exclaimed, "they don't seem to have taken anything, after
all. Where did you find it, sir?"

"In the porch of a church in Spelton Street," Thorndyke replied, and
was turning away when the servant said earnestly: "Would you kindly
give me your name and address, sir? Miss Bonney will wish to write and
thank you."

"There is really no need," said he; but she interrupted anxiously:
"If you would be so kind, sir. Miss Bonney will be so vexed if she
is unable to thank you; and besides, she may want to ask you some
questions about it."

"That is true," said Thorndyke (who was restrained only by good
manners from asking one or two questions, himself). He produced his
card-case, and having handed one of his cards to the maid, wished her
"good-evening" and retired.

"That bag had evidently been pinched," I remarked, as we walked back
towards the Fulham Road.

"Evidently," he agreed, and was about to enlarge on the matter when
our attention was attracted to a taxi, which was approaching from the
direction of the main road. A man's head was thrust out of the window,
and as the vehicle passed a street lamp, I observed that the head
appertained to an elderly gentleman with very white hair and a very
fresh face.

"Did you see who that was?" Thorndyke asked.

"It looked like old Brodribb," I replied.

"It did; very much. I wonder where he is off to."

He turned and followed, with a speculative eye, the receding taxi,
which presently swept alongside the kerb and stopped, apparently
opposite the house from where we had just come. As the vehicle came to
rest, the door flew open and the passenger shot out like an elderly,
but agile, Jack-in-the-box, and bounced up the steps.

"That is Brodribb's knock, sure enough," said I, as the old-fashioned
flourish reverberated up the quiet street. "I have heard it too often
on our own knocker to mistake it. But we had better not let him see us
watching him."

As we went once more on our way, I took a sly glance, now and again,
at my friend, noting with a certain malicious enjoyment his profoundly
cogitative air. I knew quite well what was happening in his mind
for his mind reacted to observed facts in an invariable manner. And
here was a group of related facts: the bag, stolen, but deposited
intact; the museum label; the injured or sick person--probably Miss
Bonney, herself--brought home under police escort; and the arrival,
post-haste, of the old lawyer; a significant group of facts. And there
was Thorndyke, under my amused and attentive observation, fitting
them together in various combinations to see what general conclusion
emerged. Apparently my own mental state was equally clear to him, for
he remarked, presently, as if response to an unspoken comment: "Well,
I expect we shall know all about it before many days have passed if
Brodribb sees my card, as he most probably will. Here comes an omnibus
that will suit us. Shall we hop on?"

He stood at the kerb and raised his stick; and as the accommodation
on the omnibus was such that our seats were separated, there was no
opportunity to pursue the subject further, even if there had been
anything to discuss.

But Thorndyke's prediction was justified sooner than I had expected.
For we had not long finished our supper, and had not yet closed the
"oak," when there was heard a mighty flourish on the knocker of our
inner door.

"Brodribb, by Jingo!" I exclaimed, and hurried across the room to let
him in.

"No, Jervis," he said as I invited him to enter, "I am not coming in.
Don't want to disturb you at this time of night. I've just called to
make an appointment for to-morrow with a client."

"Is the client's name Bonney?" I asked.

He started and gazed at me in astonishment. "Gad, Jervis!" he
exclaimed, "you are getting as bad as Thorndyke. How the deuce did you
know that she was my client?"

"Never mind how I know. It is our business to know everything in these
chambers. But if your appointment concerns Miss Mabel Bonney, for the
Lord's sake come in and give Thorndyke a chance of a night's rest. At
present, he is on broken bottles, as Mr. Bumble would express it."

On this persuasion, Mr. Brodribb entered, nothing loath--very much the
reverse, in fact--and having bestowed a jovial greeting on Thorndyke,
glanced approvingly round the room.

"Ha!" said he, "you look very cosy. If you are really sure I am not--"

I cut him short by propelling him gently towards the fire, beside which
I deposited him in an easy chair, while Thorndyke pressed the electric
bell which rang up in the laboratory.

"Well," said Brodribb, spreading himself out comfortably before the
fire like a handsome old Tom-cat, "if you are going to let me give you
a few particulars--but perhaps you would rather that I should not talk
shop?"

"Now you know perfectly well, Brodribb," said Thorndyke, "that 'shop'
is the breath of life to us all. Let us have those particulars."

Brodribb sighed contentedly and placed his toes on the fender (and at
this moment the door opened softly and Polton looked into the room.
He took a single, understanding glance at our visitor, and withdrew,
shutting the door without a sound).

"I am glad," pursued Brodribb, "to have this opportunity of a
preliminary chat, because there are certain things that one can say
better when the client is not present; and I am deeply interested in
Bonney's affairs. The crisis in those affairs which has brought me
here is of quite recent date--in fact, it dates from this evening.
But I know your partiality for having events related in their proper
sequence, so I will leave today's happenings for the moment and tell
you the story--the whole of which is material to the case--from the
beginning."

Here there was a slight interruption, due to Polton's noiseless entry
with a tray on which was a decanter, a biscuit box, and three port
glasses. This he deposited, on a small table, which he placed within
convenient reach of our guest. Then, with a glance of altruistic
satisfaction at our old friend, he stole out like a benevolent ghost.

"Dear, dear!" exclaimed Brodribb, beaming on the decanter, "this is
really too bad. You ought not to indulge me in this way."

"My dear Brodribb," replied Thorndyke, "you are a benefactor to us. You
give us a pretext for taking a glass of port. We can't drink alone, you
know."

"I should, if I had a cellar like yours," chuckled Brodribb, sniffing
ecstatically at his glass. He took a sip, with his eyes closed,
savoured it solemnly, shook his head, and set the glass down on the
table.

"To return to our case," he resumed; "Miss Bonney is the daughter of
a solicitor, Harold Bonney--you may remember him. He had offices in
Bedford Row; and there, one morning, a client came to him and asked him
to take care of some property while he, the said client, ran over to
Paris, where he had some urgent business. The property in question was
a collection of pearls of most unusual size and value, forming a great
necklace, which had been unstrung for the sake of portability. It is
not clear where they came from, but as the transaction occurred soon
after the Russian Revolution, we may make a guess. At any rate, there
they were, packed loosely in a leather bag, the string of which was
sealed with the owner's seal.

"Bonney seems to have been rather casual about the affair. He gave
the client a receipt for the bag, stating the nature of the contents,
which he had not seen, and deposited it, in the client's presence,
in the safe in his private office. Perhaps he intended to take it to
the bank or transfer it to his strong-room, but it is evident that he
did neither; for his managing clerk, who kept the second key of the
strong-room--without which the room could not be opened--knew nothing
of the transaction. When he went home at about seven o'clock, he left
Bonney hard at work in his office, and there is no doubt that the
pearls were still in the safe.

"That night, at about a quarter to nine, it happened that a couple of
C.I.D. officers were walking up Bedford Row when they saw three men
come out of one of the houses. Two of them turned up towards Theobald's
Road, but the third came south, towards them. As he passed them, they
both recognised him as a Japanese named Uyenishi, who was believed to
be a member of a cosmopolitan gang and whom the police were keeping
under observation. Naturally, their suspicions were aroused. The first
two men had hurried round the corner and were out of sight; and when
they turned to look after Uyenishi, he had mended his pace considerably
and was looking back at them. Thereupon one of the officers, named
Barker, decided to follow the Jap, while the other, Holt, reconnoitred
the premises.

"Now, as soon as Barker turned, the Japanese broke into a run. It
was just such a night as this dark and, slightly foggy. In order to
keep his man in sight, he had to run, too; and he found that he had a
sprinter to deal with. From the bottom of Bedford Row, Uyenishi darted
across and shot down Hand Court like a lamp-lighter. Barker followed,
but at the Holborn end his man was nowhere to be seen. However, he
presently learned from a man at a shop door that the fugitive had run
past and turned up Brownlow Street, so off he went again in pursuit.
But when he got to the top of the street, back in Bedford Row, he was
done. There was no sign of the man, and no one about from whom he could
make inquiries. All he could do was to cross the road and walk up
Bedford Row to see if Holt had made any discoveries.

"As he was trying to identify the house, his colleague came out on to
the doorstep and beckoned him in and this was the story that he told.
He had recognised the house by the big lamp-standard; and as the place
was all dark, he had gone into the entry and tried the office door.
Finding it unlocked, he had entered the clerks' office, lit the gas,
and tried the door of the private office, but found it locked. He
knocked at it, but getting no answer, had a good look round the clerk's
office; and there, presently, on the floor in a dark corner, he found
a key. This he tried in the door of the private office, and finding
that it fitted, turned it and opened the door. As he did so, the light
from the outer office fell on the body of a man lying on the floor just
inside.

"A moment's inspection showed that the man had been murdered--first
knocked on the head and then finished with a knife. Examination of the
pockets showed that the dead man was Harold Bonney, and also that no
robbery from the person seemed to have been committed. Nor was there
any sign of any other kind of robbery. Nothing seemed to have been
disturbed, and the safe had not been broken into, though that was not
very conclusive, as the safe key was in the dead man's pocket. However,
a murder had been committed, and obviously Uyenishi was either the
murderer or an accessory; so Holt had, at once, rung up Scotland Yard
on the office telephone, giving all the particulars.

"I may say at once that Uyenishi disappeared completely and at once.
He never went to his lodgings at Limehouse, for the police were there
before he could have arrived. A lively hue and cry was kept up.
Photographs of the wanted man were posted outside every police-station,
and a watch was set at all the ports. But he was never found. He must
have got away at once on some outward-bound tramp from the Thames. And
there we will leave him for the moment.

"At first it was thought that nothing had been stolen, since the
managing clerk could not discover that anything was missing. But a few
days later the client returned from Paris, and presenting his receipt,
asked for his pearls. But the pearls had vanished. Clearly they had
been the object of the crime. The robbers must have known about them
and traced them to the office. Of course the safe had been opened with
its own key, which was then replaced in the dead man's pocket.

"Now, I was poor Bonney's executor, and in that capacity I denied
his liability in respect of the pearls on the ground that he was a
gratuitous bailee--there being no evidence that any consideration
had been demanded--and that being murdered cannot be construed as
negligence. But Miss Mabel, who was practically the sole legatee,
insisted on accepting liability. She said that the pearls could have
been secured in the bank or the strong-room, and that she was morally,
if not legally, liable for their loss; and she insisted on handing to
the owner the full amount at which he valued them. It was a wildly
foolish proceeding, for he would certainly have accepted half the
sum. But still I take my hat off to a person--man or woman--who can
accept poverty in preference to a broken covenant;" and here Brodribb,
being in fact that sort of person himself, had to be consoled with a
replenished glass.

"And mind you," he resumed, "when I speak of poverty, I wish to be
taken literally. The estimated value of those pearls was fifty thousand
pounds--if you can imagine anyone out of Bedlam giving such a sum for a
parcel of trash like that; and when poor Mabel Bonney had paid it, she
was left with the prospect of having to spread her butter mighty thin
for the rest of her life. As a matter of fact, she has had to sell one
after another of her little treasures to pay just her current expenses,
and I'm hanged if I can see how she is going to carry on when she has
sold the last of them. But there, I mustn't take up your time with her
private troubles. Let us return to our muttons.

"First, as to the pearls They were never traced, and it seems probable
that they were never disposed of. For, you see, pearls are different
from any other kind of gems. You can cut up a big diamond, but you
can't cut up a big pearl. And the great value of this necklace was due
not only to the size, the perfect shape and 'orient' of the separate
pearls, but to the fact that the whole set was perfectly matched. To
break up the necklace was to destroy a good part of its value.

"And now as to our friend Uyenishi. He disappeared, as I have said;
but he reappeared at Los Angeles, in custody of the police, charged
with robbery and murder. He was taken red-handed and was duly convicted
and sentenced to death; but for some reason--or more probably, for no
reason, as we should think--the sentence was commuted to imprisonment
for life. Under these circumstances, the English police naturally took
no action, especially as they really had no evidence against him.

"Now Uyenishi was, by trade, a metal-worker; a maker of those pretty
trifles that are so dear to the artistic Japanese, and when he was in
prison he was allowed to set up a little workshop and practise his
trade on a small scale. Among other things that he made was a little
casket in the form of a seated figure, which he said he wanted to give
to his brother as a keepsake. I don't know whether any permission was
granted for him to make this gift, but that is of no consequence; for
Uyenishi got influenza and was carried off in a few days by pneumonia;
and the prison authorities learned that his brother had been killed, a
week or two previously, in a shooting affair at San Francisco. So the
casket remained on their hands.

"About this time, Miss Bonney was invited to accompany an American
lady on a visit to California, and accepted gratefully. While she was
there she paid a visit to the prison to inquire whether Uyenishi had
ever made any kind of statement concerning the missing pearls. Here she
heard of Uyenishi's recent death; and the governor of the prison, as
he could not give her any information, handed over to her the casket
as a sort of memento. This transaction came to the knowledge of the
press, and--well, you know what the Californian press is like. There
were 'some comments,' as they would say, and quite an assortment of
Japanese, of shady antecedents, applied to the prison to have the
casket 'restored' to them as Uyenishi's heirs. Then Miss Bonney's rooms
at the hotel were raided by burglars--but the casket was in the hotel
strong-room--and Miss Bonney and her hostess were shadowed by various
undesirables in such a disturbing fashion that the two ladies became
alarmed and secretly made their way to New York. But there another
burglary occurred, with the same unsuccessful result, and the shadowing
began again. Finally, Miss Bonney, feeling that her presence was a
danger to her friend, decided to return to England, and managed to get
on board the ship without letting her departure be known in advance.

"But even in England she has not been left in peace. She has had an
uncomfortable feeling of being watched and attended, and has seemed to
be constantly meeting Japanese men in the streets, especially in the
vicinity of her house. Of course, all the fuss is about this infernal
casket; and when she told me what was happening, I promptly popped
the thing in my pocket and took it, to my office, where I stowed it
in the strong-room. And there, of course, it ought to have remained.
but it didn't. One day Miss Bonney told me that she was sending some
small things to a loan exhibition of oriental works of art at the South
Kensington Museum, and she wished to include the casket. I urged her
strongly to do nothing of the kind, but she persisted; and the end of
it was that we went to the museum together, with her pottery and stuff
in a handbag and the casket in my pocket.

"It was a most imprudent thing to do, for there the beastly casket was,
for several months, exposed in a glass case for anyone to see, with her
name on the label; and what was worse, full particulars of the origin
of the thing. However, nothing happened while it was there--the museum
is not an easy place to steal from--and all went well until it was time
to remove the things after the close of the exhibition. Now, to-day was
the appointed day, and, as on the previous occasion, she and I went to
the museum together. But the unfortunate thing is that we didn't come
away together. Her other exhibits were all pottery, and these were
dealt with first, so that she had her handbag packed and was ready to
go before they had begun on the metal work cases. As we were not going
the same way, it didn't seem necessary for her to wait; so she went off
with her bag and I stayed behind until the casket was released, when I
put it in my pocket and went home, where I locked the thing up again in
the strong-room.

"It was about seven when I got home. A little after eight I heard
the telephone ring down in the office, and down I went, cursing the
untimely ringer, who turned out to be a policeman at St. George's
Hospital. He said he had found Miss Bonney lying unconscious in the
street and had taken her to the hospital, where she had been detained
for a while, but she was now recovered and he was taking her home.
She would like me, if possible, to go and see her at once. Well, of
course, I set off forthwith and got to her house a few minutes after
her arrival, and just after you had left.

"She was a good deal upset, so I didn't worry her with many questions,
but she gave me a short account of her misadventure, which amounted to
this: She had started to walk home from the museum along the Brompton
Road, and she was passing down a quiet street between that and Fulham
Road when she heard soft footsteps behind her. The next moment, a scarf
or shawl was thrown over her head and drawn tightly round her neck. At
the same moment, the bag was snatched from her hand. That is all that
she remembers, for she was so terrified that she fainted, and knew
no more until she found herself in a cab with two policemen who were
taking her to the hospital.

"Now it is obvious that her assailants were in search of that damned
casket, for the bag had been broken open and searched, but nothing
taken or damaged; which suggests the Japanese again, for a British
thief would have smashed the crockery. I found your card there, and I
put it to Miss Bonney that we had better ask you to help us--I told her
all about you--and she agreed emphatically. So that is why I am here,
drinking your port and robbing you of your night's rest."

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

"Whatever you think best," was the cheerful reply. "In the first place,
this nuisance must be put a stop to--this shadowing and hanging about.
But apart from that, you must see that there is something queer about
this accursed casket. The beastly thing is of no intrinsic value.
The museum man turned up his nose at it. But it evidently has some
extrinsic value, and no small value either. If it is good enough for
these devils to follow it all the way from the States, as they seem
to have done, it is good enough for us to try to find out what its
value is. That is where you come in. I propose to bring Miss Bonney
to see you to-morrow, and I will bring the infernal casket, too. Then
you will ask her a few questions, take a look at the casket--through
the microscope, if necessary--and tell us all about it in your usual
necromantic way."

Thorndyke laughed as he refilled our friend's glass. "If faith will
move mountains, Brodribb," said he, "you ought to have been a civil
engineer. But it is certainly a rather intriguing problem."

"Ha!" exclaimed the old solicitor; "then it's all right. I've known you
a good many years, but I've never known you to be stumped; and you are
not going to be stumped now. What time shall I bring her? Afternoon or
evening would suit her best."

"Very well," replied Thorndyke; "bring her to tea--say, five o'clock.
How will that do?"

"Excellently; and here's good luck to the adventure." He drained his
glass, and the decanter being now empty, he rose, shook our hands
warmly, and took his departure in high spirits.

It was with a very lively interest that I looked forward to the
prospective visit. Like Thorndyke, I found the case rather intriguing.
For it was quite clear, as our shrewd old friend had said, that there
was something more than met the eye in the matter of this casket.

Hence, on the following afternoon, when, on the stroke of five,
footsteps became audible on our stairs, I awaited the arrival of our
new client with keen curiosity, both as to herself and her mysterious
property.

To tell the truth, the lady was better worth looking at than the
casket. At the first glance, I was strongly prepossessed in her
favour, and so, I think, was Thorndyke. Not that she was a beauty,
though comely enough. But she was an example of a type that seems
to be growing rarer; quiet, gentle, soft-spoken, and a lady to her
finger-tips; a little sad-faced and care worn, with a streak or two of
white in her prettily-disposed black hair, though she could not have
been much over thirty-five. Altogether a very gracious and winning
personality.

When we had been presented to her by Brodribb--who treated her as if
she had been a royal personage--and had enthroned her in the most
comfortable easy-chair, we inquired as to her health, and were duly
thanked for the salvage of the bag. Then Polton brought in the tray,
with an air that seemed to demand an escort of choristers; the tea was
poured out, and the informal proceedings began.

She had not, however, much to tell; for she had not seen her
assailants, and the essential facts of the case had been fully
presented in Brodribb's excellent summary. After a very few questions,
therefore, we came to the next stage; which was introduced by
Brodribb's taking from his pocket a small parcel which he proceeded to
open.

"There," said he, "that is the fons et origo mali. Not much to look
at, I think you will agree." He set the object down on the table and
glared at it malevolently, while Thorndyke and I regarded it with a
more impersonal interest. It was not much to look at. Just an ordinary
Japanese casket in the form of a squat, shapeless figure with a silly
little grinning face, of which the head and shoulders opened on a
hinge; a pleasant enough object, with its quiet, warm colouring, but
certainly not a masterpiece of art.

Thorndyke picked it up and turned it over slowly for preliminary
inspection; then he went on to examine it detail by detail, watched
closely, in his turn, by Brodribb and me. Slowly and methodically, his
eye--fortified by a watchmaker's eyeglass--travelled over every part
of the exterior. Then he opened it, and I having examined the inside
of the lid, scrutinised the bottom from within, long and attentively.
Finally, he turned the casket upside down and examined the bottom from
without, giving to it the longest and most rigorous inspection of
all--which puzzled me somewhat, for the bottom was absolutely plain At
length, he passed the casket and the eyeglass to me without comment.

"Well," said Brodribb, "what is the verdict?"

"It is of no value as a work of art," replied Thorndyke. "The body
and lid are just castings of common white metal--an antimony alloy, I
should say. The bronze colour is lacquer."

"So the museum man remarked," said Brodribb.

"But," continued Thorndyke, "there is one very odd thing about it. The
only piece of fine metal in it is in the part which matters least.
The bottom is a separate plate of the alloy known to the Japanese as
Shakudo--an alloy of copper and gold."

"Yes," said Brodribb, "the museum man noted that, too, and couldn't
make out why it had been put there."

"Then," Thorndyke continued, "there is another anomalous feature; the
inside of the bottom is covered with elaborate decoration--just the
place where decoration is most inappropriate, since it would be covered
up by the contents of the casket. And, again, this decoration is
etched; not engraved or chased. But etching is a very unusual process
for this purpose, if it is ever used at all by Japanese metal-workers.
My impression is that it is not; for it is most unsuitable for
decorative purposes. That is all that I observe, so far."

"And what do you infer from your observations?" Brodribb asked.

"I should like to think the matter over," was the reply. "There is an
obvious anomaly, which must have some significance. But I won't embark
on speculative opinions at this stage. I should like, however, to take
one or two photographs of the casket, for reference; but that will
occupy some time. You will hardly want to wait so long."

"No," said Brodribb. "But Miss Bonney is coming with me to my office
to go over some documents and discuss a little business. When we have
finished, I will come back and fetch the confounded thing."

"There is no need for that," replied Thorndyke. "As soon as I have done
what is necessary, I will bring it up to your place."

To this arrangement Brodribb agreed readily, and he and his client
prepared to depart. I rose, too, and as I happened to have a call to
make in Old Square, Lincoln's Inn, I asked permission to walk with them.

As we came out into King's Bench Walk I noticed a smallish,
gentlemanly-looking man who had just passed our entry and now turned
in at the one next door; and by the light of the lamp in the entry
he looked to me like a Japanese. I thought Miss Bonney had observed
him, too, but she made no remark, and neither did I. But, passing up
Inner Temple Lane, we nearly overtook two other men, who--though I
got but a back view of them and the light was feeble enough--aroused
my suspicions by their neat, small figures. As we approached, they
quickened their pace, and one of them looked back over his shoulder;
and then my suspicions were confirmed, for it was an unmistakable
Japanese face that looked round at us. Miss Bonney saw that I had
observed the men, for she remarked, as they turned sharply at the
Cloisters and entered Pump Court: "You see, I am still haunted by
Japanese."

"I noticed them," said Brodribb. "They are probably law students. But
we may as well be cornpanionable;" and with this, he, too, headed for
Pump Court.

We followed our oriental friends across the Lane into Fountain Court,
and through that and Devereux Court out to Temple Bar, where we parted
from them; they turning westward and we crossing to Bell Yard, up
which we walked, entering New Square by the Carey Street gate. At
Brodribb's doorway we halted and looked back, but no one was in sight.
I accordingly went my way, promising to return anon to hear Thorndyke's
report, and the lawyer and his client disappeared through the portal.

My business occupied me longer than I had expected, but nevertheless,
when I arrived at Brodribb's premises--where he lived in chambers over
his office--Thorndyke had not yet made his appearance. A quarter of
an hour later, however, we heard his brisk step on the stairs, and as
Brodribb threw the door open, he entered and produced the casket from
his pocket.

"Well," said Brodribb, taking it from him and locking it, for the time
being, in a drawer, "has the oracle Spoken; and if so, what did he say?"

"Oracles," replied Thorndyke, "have a way of being more concise than
explicit. Before I attempt to interpret the message, I should like to
view the scene of the escape; to see if there was any intelligible
reason why this man Uyenishi should have returned up Brownlow Street
into what must have been the danger zone. I think that is a material
question."

"Then," said Brodribb, with evident eagerness, "let us all walk up and
have a look at the confounded place. It is quite close by."

We all agreed instantly, two of us, at least, being on the tip-toe of
expectation. For Thorndyke, who habitually understated his results,
had virtually admitted that the casket had told him something; and as
we walked up the Square to the gate in Lincoln's Inn Fields, I watched
him furtively, trying to gather from his impassive face a hint as to
what the something amounted to, and wondering how the movements of the
fugitive bore on the solution of the mystery. Brodribb was similarly
occupied, and as we crossed from Great Turnstile and took our way
up Brownlow Street, I could see that his excitement was approaching
bursting-point.

At the top of the street Thorndyke paused and looked up and down the
rather dismal thoroughfare which forms a continuation of Bedford Row
and bears its name. Then he crossed to the paved island surrounding the
pump which stands in the middle of the road, and from thence surveyed
the entrances to Brownlow Street and Hand Court; and then he turned and
looked thoughtfully at the pump.

"A quaint old survivor, this," he remarked, tapping the iron shell
with his knuckles. "There is a similar one, you may remember, in Queen
Square, and another at Aldgate. But that is still in use."

"Yes," Brodribb assented, almost dancing with im patience and inwardly
damning the pump, as I could see, "I've noticed it."

"I suppose," Thorndyke proceeded, in a reflective tone, "they had to
remove the handle. But it was rather a pity."

"Perhaps it was," growled Brodribb, whose complexion was rapidly
developing affinities to that of a pickled cabbage, "but what the d--"

Here he broke off short and glared silently at Thorndyke, who had
raised his arm and squeezed his hand into the opening once occupied
by the handle. He groped in the interior with an expression of placid
interest, and presently reported: "The barrel is still there, and so,
apparently, is the plunger"--(Here I heard Brodribb mutter huskily,
"Damn the barrel and the plunger too!")--"but my hand is rather large
for the exploration. Would you, Miss Bonney, mind slipping your hand in
and telling me if I am right?"

We all gazed at Thorndyke in dismay, but in a moment Miss Bonney
recovered from her astonishment, and with a deprecating smile, half
shy, half amused, she slipped off her glove, and reaching up--it was
rather high for her--inserted her hand into the narrow slit. Brodribb
glared at her and gobbled like a turkey-cock, and I watched her with
a sudden suspicion that something was going to happen. Nor was I
mistaken. For, as I looked, the shy, puzzled smile faded from her
face and was succeeded by an expression of incredulous astonishment.
Slowly she withdrew her hand, and as it came out of the slit it dragged
something after it. I started forward, and by the light of the lamp
above the pump I could see that the object was a leather bag secured by
a string from which hung a broken seal.

"It can't be!" she gasped as, with trembling fingers, she untied the
string. Then, as she peered into the open mouth, she uttered a little
cry. "It is! It is! It is the necklace!"

Brodribb was speechless with amazement. So was I; and I was still
gazing open-mouthed at the bag in Miss Bonney's hands when I felt
Thorndyke touch my arm. I turned quickly and found him offering me an
automatic pistol. "Stand by, Jervis," he said quietly, looking towards
Gray's Inn.

I looked in the same direction, and then perceived three men stealing
round the corner from Jockey's Fields. Brodribb saw them, too, and
snatching the bag of pearls from his client's hands, buttoned it into
his breast pocket and placed himself before its owner, grasping his
stick with a war-like air. The three men filed along the pavement until
they were opposite us, when they turned simultaneously and bore down on
the pump, each man, as I noticed, holding his right hand behind him. In
a moment, Thorndyke's hand, grasping a pistol, flew up--as did mine,
also--and he called out sharply: "Stop! If any man moves a hand, I
fire."

The challenge brought them up short, evidently unprepared for this kind
of reception. What would have happened next it is impossible to guess.
But at this moment a police whistle sounded and two constables ran out
from Hand Court. The whistle was instantly echoed from the direction of
Warwick Court, whence two more constabulary figures appeared through
the postern gate of Gray's Inn. Our three attendants hesitated but for
an instant. Then, with one accord, they turned tail and flew like the
wind round into Jockey's Fields, with the whole posse of constables
close on their heels.

"Remarkable coincidence," said Brodribb, "that those policemen should
happen to be on the look-out. Or isn't it a coincidence?"

"I telephoned to the station superintendent before I started," replied
Thorndyke, "warning him of a possible breach of the peace at this spot."

Brodribb chuckled. "You're a wonderful man, Thorndyke. You think of
everything. I wonder if the police will catch those fellows."

"It is no concern of ours," replied Thorndyke. "We've got the pearls,
and that finishes the business. There will be no more shadowing, in any
case."

Miss Bonney heaved a comfortable little sigh and glanced gratefully at
Thorndyke. "You can have no idea what a relief that is!" she exclaimed;
"to say nothing of the treasure-trove."

We waited some time, but as neither the fugitives nor the constables
reappeared, we presently made our way back down Brownlow Street. And
there it was that Brodribb had an inspiration.

"I'll tell you what," said be. "I will just pop these things in my
strong-room--they will be perfectly safe there until the bank opens
to-morrow--and then we'll go and have a nice little dinner. I'll pay
the piper."

"Indeed you won't!" exclaimed Miss Bonney. "This is my thanksgiving
festival, and the benevolent wizard shall be the guest of the evening."

"Very well, my dear," agreed Brodribb. "I will pay and charge it to
the estate. But I stipulate that the benevolent wizard shall tell us
exactly what the oracle said. That is essential to the preservation of
my sanity."

"You shall have his ipsissima verba," Thorndyke promised; and the
resolution was carried, nem. con.

An hour and a half later we were seated around a table in a private
room of a café to which Mr. Brodribb had conducted us. I may not
divulge its whereabouts, though I may, perhaps, hint that we approached
it by way of Wardour Street. At any rate, we had dined, even to the
fulfilment of Brodribb's ideal, and coffee and liqueurs furnished
a sort of gastronomic doxology. Brodribb had lighted a cigar and
Thorndyke had produced a vicious-looking little black cheroot, which he
regarded fondly and then returned to its abiding-place as unsuited to
the present company.

"Now," said Brodribb, watching Thorndyke fill his pipe (as understudy
of the cheroot aforesaid), "we are waiting to hear the words of the
oracle."

"You shall hear them," Thorndyke replied. "There were only five of
them. But first, there are certain introductory matters to be disposed
of. The solution of this problem is based on two well-known physical
facts, one metallurgical and the other optical."

"Ha!" said Brodribb. "But you must temper the wind to the shorn lamb,
you know, Thorndyke. Miss Bonney and I are not scientists."

"I will put the matter quite simply, but you must have the facts. The
first relates to the properties of malleable metals--excepting iron
and steel--and especially of copper and its alloys. If a plate of such
metal or alloy--say, bronze, for instance--is made red-hot and quenched
in water, it becomes quite soft and flexible--the reverse of what
happens in the case of iron. Now, if such a plate of softened metal be
placed on a steel anvil and hammered, it becomes extremely hard and
brittle."

"I follow that," said Brodribb.

"Then see what follows. If, instead of hammering the soft plate, you
put on it the edge of a blunt chisel and strike on that chisel a sharp
blow, you produce an indented line. Now the plate remains soft; but the
metal forming the indented line has been hammered and has become hard.
There is now a line of hard metal on the soft plate. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly," replied Brodribb; and Thorndyke accordingly continued:
"The second fact is this: If a beam of light falls on a polished
surface which reflects it, and if that surface is turned through a
given angle, the beam of light is deflected through double that angle."

"H'm!" grunted Brodribb. "Yes. No doubt. I hope we are not going to get
into any deeper waters, Thorndyke."

"We are not," replied the latter, smiling urbanely. "We are now going
to consider the application of these facts. Have you ever seen a
Japanese magic mirror?

"Never; nor even heard of such a thing."

"They are bronze mirrors, just like the ancient Greek or Etruscan
mirrors--which are probably 'magic' mirrors, too. A typical specimen
consists of a circular or oval plate of bronze, highly polished on the
face and decorated on the back with chased ornament--commonly a dragon
or some such device--and furnished with a handle. The ornament is, as
I have said, chased; that is to say, it is executed in indented lines
made with chasing tools, which are, in effect, small chisels, more or
less blunt, which are struck with a chasing-hammer.

"Now these mirrors have a very singular property. Although the face is
perfectly plain, as a mirror should be, yet, if a beam of sunlight is
caught on it and reflected, say, on to a white wall, the round or oval
patch of light on the wall is not a plain light patch. It shows quite
clearly the ornament on the back of the mirror."

"But how extraordinary!" exclaimed Miss Bonney.

"It sounds quite incredible." I said.

"It does," Thorndyke agreed. "And yet the explanation is quite simple.
Professor Sylvanus Thompson pointed it out years ago. It is based on
the facts which I have just stated to you. The artist who makes one of
these mirrors begins, naturally, by annealing the metal until it is
quite soft. Then he chases the design on the back, and this design then
shows slightly on the face. But he now grinds the face perfectly flat
with fine emery and water so that the traces of the design are complete
obliterated. Finally, he polishes the face with rouge on a soft buff.

"But now observe that wherever the chasing-tool has made a line, the
metal is hardened right through, so that the design is in hard metal on
a soft matrix. But the hardened metal resists the wear of the polishing
buffer more than the soft metal does. The result is that the act of
polishing causes the design to appear in faint relief on the face. Its
projection is infinitesimal--less than the hundred-thousandth of an
inch--and totally invisible to the eye. But, minute as it is, owing
to the optical law which I mentioned--which, in effect, doubles the
projection--it is enough to influence the reflection of light. As a
consequence, every chased line appears on the patch of light as a dark
line with a bright border, and so the whole design is visible. I think
that is quite clear."

"Perfectly clear," Miss Bonney and Brodribb agreed.

"But now," pursued Thorndyke, "before we come to the casket, there is
a very curious corollary which I must mention. Supposing our artist,
having finished the mirror, should proceed with a scraper to erase the
design from the back; and on the blank, scraped surface to etch a new
design. The process of etching does not harden the metal, so the new
design does not appear on the reflection. But the old design would.
For although it was invisible on the face and had been erased from the
back, it would still exist in the substance of the metal and continue
to influence the reflection. The odd result would be that the design
which would be visible in the patch of light on the wall would be a
different one from that on the back of the mirror.

"No doubt, you see what I am leading up to. But I will take the
investigation of the casket as it actually occurred. It was obvious, at
once, that the value of the thing was extrinsic. It had no intrinsic
value, either in material or workmanship. What could that value be? The
clear suggestion was that the casket was the vehicle of some secret
message or information. It had been made by Uyenishi, who had almost
certainly had possession of the missing pearls, and who had been so
closely pursued that be never had an opportunity to communicate with
his confederates. It was to be given to a man who was almost certainly
one of those confederates; and, since the pearls had never been traced,
there was a distinct probability that the (presumed) message referred
to some hiding-place in which Uyenishi had concealed them during his
flight, and where they were probably still hidden.

"With these considerations in my mind, I examined the casket, and this
was what I found. The thing, itself, was a common white-metal casting,
made presentable by means of lacquer. But the white metal bottom had
been cut out and replaced by a plate of fine bronze--Shakudo. The
inside of this was covered with an etched design, which immediately
aroused my suspicions. Turning it over, I saw that the outside of the
bottom was not only smooth and polished; it was a true mirror. It gave
a perfectly undistorted reflection of my face. At once, I suspected
that the mirror held the secret; that the message, whatever it was,
had been chased on the back, had then been scraped away and an etched
design worked on it to hide the traces of the scraper.

"As soon as you were gone, I took the casket up to the laboratory and
threw a strong beam of parallel light from a condenser on the bottom,
catching the reflection on a sheet of white paper. The result was
just what I had expected. On the bright oval patch on the paper could
be seen the shadowy, but quite distinct, forms of five words in the
Japanese character.

"I was in somewhat of a dilemma, for I have no knowledge of Japanese,
whereas the circumstances were such as to make it rather unsafe to
employ a translator. However, as I do just know the Japanese characters
and possess a Japanese dictionary, I determined to make an attempt
to fudge out the words myself. If I failed, I could then look for a
discreet translator.

"However, it proved to be easier than I had expected, for the words
were detached; they did not form a sentence, and so involved no
questions of grammar. I spelt out the first word and then looked it up
in the dictionary. The translation was 'pearls.' This looked hopeful,
and I went on to the next, of which the translation was 'pump.' The
third word floored me. It seemed to be 'jokkis,' or 'jokkish,' but
there was no such word in the dictionary; so I turned to the next word,
hoping that it would explain its predecessor. And it did. The fourth
word was 'fields,' and the last word was evidently 'London.' So the
entire group read 'Pearls, Pump, Jokkis, Fields, London.'

"Now, there is no pump, so far as I know, in Jockey Fields, but there
is one in Bedford Row close to the corner of the Fields, and exactly
opposite the end of Brownlow Street And by Mr. Brodribb's account,
Uyenishi, in his flight, ran down Hand Court and returned up Brownlow
Street, as if he were making for the pump. As the latter is disused and
the handle-hole is high up, well out of the way of children, it offers
quite a good temporary hiding-place, and I had no doubt that the bag
of pearls had been poked into it and was probably there still. I was
tempted to go at once and explore; but I was anxious that the discovery
should be made by Miss Bonney, herself, and I did not dare to make a
preliminary exploration for fear of being shadowed. If I had found the
treasure I should have had to take it and give it to her; which would
have been a flat ending to the adventure. So I had to dissemble and be
the occasion of much smothered objurgation on the part of my friend
Brodribb. And that is the whole story of my interview with the oracle."

Our mantelpiece is becoming a veritable museum of trophies of victory,
the gifts of grateful clients. Among them is a squat, shapeless figure
of a Japanese gentleman of the old school, with a silly grinning little
face--The Magic Casket. But its possession is no longer a menace. Its
sting has been drawn; its magic is exploded; its secret is exposed, and
its glory departed.



THE CONTENTS OF A MARE'S NEST


"IT is very unsatisfactory," said Mr. Stalker, of the Griffin Life
Assurance Company, at the close of a consultation on a doubtful claim.
"I suppose we shall have to pay up."

"I am sure you will," said Thorndyke. "The death was properly
certified, the deceased is buried, and you have not a single fact with
which to support an application for further inquiry."

"No," Stalker agreed. "But I am not satisfied. I don't believe that
doctor really knew what she died from. I wish cremation were more
usual."

"So, I have no doubt, has many a poisoner," Thorndyke remarked dryly.

Stalker laughed, but stuck to his point. "I know you don't agree," said
he, "but from our point of view it is much more satisfactory to know
that the extra precautions have been taken. In a cremation case, you
have not to depend on the mere death certificate; you have the cause of
death verified by an independent authority, and it is difficult to see
how any miscarriage can occur."

Thorndyke shook his head. "It is a delusion, Stalker. You can't provide
in advance for unknown contingencies. In practice, your special
precautions degenerate into mere formalities. If the circumstances of
a death appear normal, the independent authority will certify; if they
appear abnormal, you won't get a certificate at all. And if suspicion
arises only after the cremation has taken place, it can neither be
confirmed nor rebutted."

"My point is," said Stalker, "that the searching examination would lead
to discovery of a crime before cremation."

"That is the intention," Thorndyke admitted. "But no examination, short
of an exhaustive post-mortem, would make it safe to destroy a body so
that no reconsideration of the cause of death would be possible."

Stalker smiled as he picked up his hat. "Well," he said, "to a cobbler
there is nothing like leather, and I suppose that to a toxicologist
there is nothing like an exhumation," and with this parting shot he
took his leave.

We had not seen the last of him, however. In the course of the same
week he looked in to consult us on a fresh matter.

"A rather queer case has turned up," said he. "I don't know that we
are deeply concerned in it, but we should like to have your opinion
as to how we stand. The position is this: Eighteen months ago, a man
named Ingle insured with us for fifteen hundred pounds, and he was then
accepted as a first-class life. He has recently died--apparently from
heart failure, the heart being described as fatty and dilated--and his
wife, Sibyl, who is the sole legatee and executrix, has claimed payment.

"But just as we were making arrangements to pay, a caveat has been
entered by a certain Margaret Ingle, who declares that she is the wife
of the deceased and claims the estate as next-of-kin. She states that
the alleged wife, Sibyl, is a widow named Huggard who contracted a
bigamous marriage with the deceased, knowing that he had a wife living."

"An interesting situation," commented Thorndyke, "but, as you say, it
doesn't particularly concern you. It is a matter for the Probate Court."

"Yes," agreed Stalker. "But that is not all. Margaret Ingle not only
charges the other woman with bigamy; she accuses her of having made
away with the deceased."

"On what grounds?"

"Well, the reasons she gives are rather shadowy. She states
that Sibyl's husband, James Huggard, died under suspicious
circumstances--there seems to have been some suspicion that he had been
poisoned--and she asserts that Ingle was a healthy, sound man and could
not have died from the causes alleged."

"There is some reason in that," said Thorndyke, "if he was really a
first-class life only eighteen months ago. As to the first husband,
Huggard, we should want some particulars: as to whether there was an
inquest what was the alleged cause of death, and what grounds there
were for suspecting that he had been poisoned. If there really were any
suspicious circumstances, it would be advisable to apply to the Home
Office for an order to exhume the body of Ingle and verify the cause of
death."

Stalker smiled somewhat sheepishly. "Unfortunately," said he, "that is
not possible. Ingle was cremated."

"Ah!" said Thorndyke, "that is, as you say, unfortunate. It clearly
increases the suspicion of poisoning, but destroys the means of
verifying that suspicion."

"I should tell you," said Stalker, "that the cremation was in
accordance with the provisions of the will."

"That is not very material," replied Thorndyke. "In fact, it rather
accentuates the suspicious aspect of the case; for the knowledge that
the death of the deceased would be followed by cremation might act as
a further inducement to get rid of him by poison. There were two death
certificates, of course?"

"Yes. The confirmatory certificate was given by Dr. Halbury, of Wimpole
Street. The medical attendant was a Dr. Barber, of Howland Street. The
deceased lived in Stock-Orchard Crescent, Holloway."

"A good distance from Howland Street," Thorndyke remarked. "Do you know
if Halbury made a post-mortem? I don't suppose he did."

"No, he didn't," replied Stalker.

"Then," said Thorndyke, "his certificate is worthless. You can't tell
whether a man has died from heart failure by looking at his dead body.
He must have just accepted the opinion of the medical attendant. Do I
understand that you want me to look into this case?"

"If you will. It is not really our concern whether or not the man was
poisoned, though I suppose we should have a claim on the estate of the
murderer. But we should like you to investigate the case; though how
the deuce you are going to do it I don't quite see."

"Neither do I," said Thorndyke. "However, we must get into touch with
the doctors who signed the certificates, and possibly they may be able
to clear the whole matter up."

"Of course," said I, "there is the other body--that of Huggard--which
might be exhumed--unless he was cremated, too."

"Yes," agreed Thorndyke; "and for the purposes of the criminal law,
evidence of poisoning in that case would be sufficient. But it would
hardly help the Griffin Company, which is concerned exclusively with
Ingle deceased. Can you let us have a précis of the facts relating to
this case, Stalker?"

"I have brought one with me," was the reply; "a short statement, giving
names, addresses, dates, and other particulars. Here it is;" and he
handed Thorndyke a sheet of paper bearing a tabulated statement.

When Stalker had gone Thorndyke glanced rapidly through the précis and
then looked at his watch. "If we make our way to Wimpole Street at
once," said he, "we ought to catch Halbury. That is obviously the first
thing to do. He signed the 'C' certificate, and we shall be able to
judge from what he tells us whether there is any possibility of foul
play. Shall we start now?"

As I assented, he slipped the précis in his pocket and we set forth.
At the top of Middle Temple Lane we chartered a taxi by which we were
shortly deposited at Dr. Halbury's door and a few minutes later were
ushered into his consulting room, and found him shovelling a pile of
letters into the waste-paper basket.

"How d'ye do?" he said briskly, holding out his hand. "I'm up to my
eyes in arrears, you see. Just back from my holiday. What can I do for
you?"

"We have called," said Thorndyke, "about a man named Ingle."

"Ingle--Ingle," repeated Halbury. "Now, let me see--"

"Stock-Orchard Crescent, Holloway," Thorndyke explained.

"Oh, yes. I remember him. Well, how is he?"

"He's dead," replied Thorndyke.

"Is he really?" exclaimed Halbury. "Now that shows how careful
one should be in one's judgments. I half suspected that fellow of
malingering. He was supposed to have a dilated heart, but I couldn't
make out any appreciable dilatation. There was excited, irregular
action. That was all. I had a suspicion that he had been dosing himself
with trinitrine. Reminded me of the cases of cordite chewing that I
used to meet with in South Africa. So he's dead, after all. Well, it's
queer. Do you know what the exact cause of death was?"

"Failure of a dilated heart is the cause stated on the
certificates--the body was cremated; and the 'C' Certificate was signed
by you."

"By me!" exclaimed the physician. "Nonsense! It's a mistake. I signed
a certificate for a Friendly Society. Ingle brought it here for me to
sign--but I didn't even know he was dead. Besides, I went away for my
holiday a few days after I saw the man and only came back yesterday.
What makes you think I signed the death certificate?"

Thorndyke produced Stalker's précis and handed it to Halbury, who
read out his own name and address with a puzzled frown. "This is an
extraordinary affair," said he. "It will have to be looked into."

"It will, indeed," assented Thorndyke; "especially as a suspicion of
poisoning has been raised."

"Ha!" exclaimed Halbury. "Then it was trinitrine, you may depend.
But I suspected him unjustly. It was somebody else who was dosing
him; perhaps that sly-looking baggage of a wife of his. Is anyone in
particular suspected?

"Yes. The accusation, such as it is, is against the wife."

"H'm. Probably a true bill. But she's done us. Artful devil. You can't
get much evidence out of an urnful of ashes. Still, somebody has forged
my signature. I suppose that is what the hussy wanted that certificate
for--to get a specimen of my handwriting. I see the 'B' certificate was
signed by a man named Meeking. Who's he? It was Barber who called me in
for an opinion."

"I must find out who he is," replied Thorndyke. "Possibly Dr. Barber
will know. I shall go and call on him now."

"Yes," said Dr. Halbury, shaking hands as we rose to depart, "you ought
to see Barber. He knows the history of the case, at any rate."

From Wimpole Street we steered a course for Howland Street, and here
we had the good fortune to arrive just as Dr. Barber's car drew up at
the door. Thorndyke introduced himself and me, and then introduced the
subject of his visit, but said nothing, at first, about our call on Dr.
Halbury.

"Ingle," repeated Dr. Barber. "Oh, yes, I remember him. And you say he
is dead. Well, I'm rather surprised. I didn't regard his condition as
serious."

"Was his heart dilated?" Thorndyke asked.

"Not appreciably. I found nothing organic; no valvular disease. It was
more like a tobacco heart. But it's odd that Meeking didn't mention the
matter to me--he was my locum, you know. I handed the case over to him
when I went on my holiday. And you say he signed the death certificate?"

"Yes; and the 'B' certificate for cremation, too."

"Very odd," said Dr. Barber. "Just come in and let us have a look at
the day book."

We followed him into the consulting room, and there, while he was
turning over the leaves of the day book, I ran my eye along the shelf
over the writing-table from which he had taken it; on which I observed
the usual collection of case books and books of certificates and
notification forms, including the book of death certificates.

"Yes;" said Dr. Barber, "here we are; 'Ingle, Mr., Stock-Orchard
Crescent.' The last visit was on the 4th of September, and Meeking
seems to have given some sort of certificate. Wonder if he used a
printed form." He took down two of the books and turned over the
counterfoils.

"Here we are," he said presently; "'Ingle, Jonathan, 4 September. Now
recovered and able to resume duties.' That doesn't look like dying,
does it? Still, we may as well make sure."

He reached down the book of death certificates and began to glance
through the most recent entries.

"No," he said, turning over the leaves, "there doesn't seem to
be--Hullo! What's this? Two blank counterfoils; and about the date,
too; between the 2nd and 13th of September. Extraordinary! Meeking is
such a careful, reliable man."

He turned back to the day book and read through the fortnight's
entries. Then he looked up with an anxious frown.

"I can't make this out," he said. "There is no record of any patient
having died in that period."

"Where is Dr. Meeking at present?" I asked.

"Somewhere in the South Atlantic," replied Barber. "He left here three
weeks ago to take up a post on a Royal Mail Boat. So he couldn't have
signed the certificate in any case."

That was all that Dr. Barber had to tell us, and a few minutes later we
took our departure.

"This case looks pretty fishy," I remarked, as we turned down Tottenham
Court Road.

"Yes," Thorndyke agreed. "There is evidently something radically wrong.
And what strikes me especially is the cleverness of the fraud; the
knowledge and judgment and foresight that are displayed."

"She took pretty considerable risks," I observed.

"Yes, but only the risks that were unavoidable. Everything that could
be foreseen has been provided for. All the formalities have been
complied with--in appearance. And you must notice, Jervis, that the
scheme did actually succeed. The cremation has taken place. Nothing but
the incalculable accident of the appearance of the real Mrs. Ingle, and
her vague and apparently groundless suspicions, prevented the success
from being final. If she had not come on the scene, no questions would
ever have been asked."

"No," I agreed. "The discovery of the plot is a matter of sheer bad
luck. But what do you suppose has really happened?"

Thorndyke shook his head.

"It is very difficult to say. The mechanism of the affair is obvious
enough, but the motives and purpose are rather incomprehensible.
The illness was apparently a sham, the symptoms being produced by
nitro-glycerine or some similar heart poison. The doctors were called
in, partly for the sake of appearances and partly to get specimens of
their handwriting. The fact that both the doctors happened to be away
from home and one of them at sea at the time when verbal questions
might have been asked--by the undertaker, for instance--suggests that
this had been ascertained in advance. The death certificate forms
were pretty certainly stolen by the woman when she was left alone in
Barber's consulting-room, and, of course, the cremation certificates
could be obtained on application to the crematorium authorities. That
is all plain sailing. The mystery is, what is it all about? Barber or
Meeking would almost certainly have given a death certificate, although
the death was unexpected, and I don't suppose Halbury would have
refused to confirm it. They would have assumed that their diagnosis had
been at fault."

"Do you think it could have been suicide, or an in advertent overdose
of trinitrine?"

"Hardly. If it was suicide, it was deliberate, for the purpose of
getting the insurance money for the woman, unless there was some
further motive behind. And the cremation, with all its fuss and
formalities, is against suicide; while the careful preparation seems to
exclude inadvertent poisoning. Then, what was the motive for the sham
illness except as a preparation for an abnormal death?"

"That is true," said I. "But if you reject suicide, isn't it rather
remarkable that the victim should have provided for his own cremation?"

"We don't know that he did," replied Thorndyke. "There is a suggestion
of a capable forger in this business. It is quite possible that the
will itself is a forgery."

"So it is!" I exclaimed. "I hadn't thought of that."

"You see," continued Thorndyke, "the appearances suggest that cremation
was a necessary part of the programme; otherwise these extraordinary
risks would not have been taken. The woman was sole executrix and could
have ignored the cremation clause. But if the cremation was necessary,
why was it necessary? The suggestion is that there was something
suspicious in the appearance of the body; something that the doctors,
would certainly have observed or that would have been discovered if an
exhumation had taken place."

"You mean some injury or visible signs of poisoning?"

"I mean something discoverable by examination even after burial."

"But what about the undertaker? Wouldn't he have noticed anything
palpably abnormal?"

"An excellent suggestion, Jervis. We must see the undertaker. We have
his address: Kentish Town Road--a long way from deceased's house, by
the way. We had better get on a bus and go there now."

A yellow omnibus was approaching as he spoke. We hailed it and sprang
on, continuing our discussion as we were borne northward.

Mr. Burrell, the undertaker, was a pensive-looking, profoundly civil
man who was evidently in a small way, for he combined with his funeral
functions general carpentry and cabinet making. He was perfectly
willing to give any required information, but he seemed to have very
little to give.

"I never really saw the deceased gentleman," he said in reply to
Thorndyke's cautious inquiries. "When I took the measurements, the
corpse was covered with a sheet; and as Mrs. Ingle was in the room, I
made the business as short as possible."

"You didn't put the body in the coffin, then?"

"No. I left the coffin at the house, but Mrs. Ingle said that she and
the deceased gentleman's brother would lay the body in it."

"But didn't you see the corpse when you screwed the coffin-lid down?"

"I didn't screw it down. When I got there it was screwed down already.
Mrs. Ingle said they had to close up the coffin, and I dare say it was
necessary. The weather was rather warm; and I noticed a strong smell of
formalin."

"Well," I said, as we walked back down the Kentish Town Road, "we
haven't got much more forward."

"I wouldn't say that," replied Thorndyke. "We have a further instance
of the extraordinary adroitness with which this scheme was carried out;
and we have confirmation of our suspicion that there was something
unusual in the appearance of the body. It is evident that this woman
did not dare to let even the undertaker see it. But one can hardly help
admiring the combination of daring and caution, the boldness with which
these risks were taken, and the care and judgment with which they were
provided against. And again I point out that the risks were justified
by the result. The secret of that man's death appears to have been made
secure for all time."

It certainly looked as if the mystery with which we were concerned
were beyond the reach of investigation. Of course, the woman could be
prosecuted for having forged the death certificates, to say nothing of
the charge of bigamy. But that was no concern of ours or Stalker's.
Jonathan Ingle was dead, and no one could say how he died.

On our arrival at our chambers we found a telegram that had just
arrived, announcing that Stalker would call on us in the evening; and
as this seemed to suggest that he had some fresh information we looked
forward to his visit with considerable interest. Punctually at six
o'clock he made his appearance and at once opened the subject.

"There are some new developments in this Ingle case," said he. "In
the first place, the woman, Huggard, has bolted. I went to the house
to make a few inquiries and found the police in possession. They had
come to arrest her on the bigamy charge, but she had got wind of their
intentions and cleared out. They made a search of the premises, but I
don't think they found anything of interest except a number of rifle
cartridges; and I don't know that they are of much interest either, for
she could hardly have shot him with a rifle."

"What kind of cartridges were they?" Thorndyke asked.

Stalker put his hand in his pocket.

"The inspector let me have one to show you," said he; and he laid on
the table a military cartridge of the pattern of some twenty years
ago. Thorndyke picked it up, and taking from a drawer a pair of pliers
drew the bullet out of the case and inserted into the latter a pair of
dissecting forceps. When he withdrew the forceps, their points grasped
one or two short strings of what looked like cat-gut.

"Cordite!" said I. "So Halbury was probably right, and this is how she
got her supply." Then, as Stalker looked at me inquiringly, I gave him
a short account of the results of our investigations.

"Ha!" he exclaimed, "the plot thickens. This juggling with the death
certificates seems to connect itself with another kind of juggling
that I came to tell you about. You know that Ingle was Secretary and
Treasurer to a company that bought and sold land for building estates.
Well, I called at their office after I left you and had a little talk
with the chairman. From him I learned that Ingle had practically
complete control of the financial affairs of the company, that he
received and paid all moneys and kept the books. Of late, however, some
of the directors have had a suspicion that all was not well with the
finances, and at last it was decided to have the affairs of the company
thoroughly overhauled by a firm of chartered accountants. This decision
was communicated to Ingle, and a couple of days later a letter arrived
from his wife saying that he had had a severe heart attack and asking
that the audit of the books might be postponed until he recovered and
was able to attend at the office."

"And was it postponed?" I asked.

"No," replied Stalker. "The accountants were asked to get to work at
once, which they did; with the result that they discovered a number of
discrepancies in the books and a sum of about three thousand pounds
unaccounted for. It isn't quite obvious how the frauds were carried
out, but it is suspected that some of the returned cheques are fakes
with forged endorsements."

"Did the company communicate with Ingle on the subject?" asked
Thorndyke.

"No. They had a further letter from Mrs. Ingle--that is,
Huggard--saying that Ingle's condition was very serious; so they
decided to wait until he had recovered. Then, of course, came the
announcement of his death, on which the matter was postponed pending
the probate of the will. I suppose a claim will be made on the estate,
but as the executrix has absconded, the affair has become rather
complicated."

"You were saying," said Thorndyke, "that the fraudulent death
certificates seem to be connected with these frauds on the company.
What kind of connection do you assume?"

"I assume--or at least, suggest," replied Stalker, "that this was a
case of suicide. The man, Ingle, saw that his frauds were discovered,
or were going to be, and that he was in for a long term of penal
servitude, so he just made away with himself. And I think that if the
murder charge could be dropped, Mrs. Huggard might be induced to come
forward and give evidence as to the suicide."

Thorndyke shook his head.

"The murder charge couldn't be dropped," said he, "if it was suicide,
Huggard was certainly an accessory; and in law, an accessory to suicide
is an accessory to murder. But, in fact, no official charge of murder
has been made, and at present there are no means of sustaining such a
charge. The identity of the ashes might be assumed to be that stated in
the cremation order, but the difficulty is the cause of death. Ingle
was admittedly ill. He was attended for heart disease by three doctors.
There is no evidence that he did not die from that illness."

"But the illness was due to cordite poisoning," said I, "That is what
we believe. But no one could swear to it. And we certainly could not
swear that he died from cordite poisoning."

"Then," said Stalker, "apparently there is no means of finding out
whether his death was due to natural causes, suicide, or murder?"

"There is only one chance," replied Thorndyke. "It is just barely
possible that the cause of death might be ascertainable by an
examination of the ashes."

"That doesn't seem very hopeful," said I. "Cordite poisoning would
certainly leave no trace."

"We mustn't assume that he died from cordite poisoning," said
Thorndyke. "Probably he did not. That may have masked the action of
a less obvious poison, or death might have been produced by some new
agent."

"But," I objected, "how many poisons are there that could be detected
in the ashes? No organic poison would leave any traces, nor would
metallic poisons such as mercury, antimony, or arsenic."

"No," Thorndyke agreed. "But there are other metallic poisons which
could be easily recovered from the ashes; lead, tin, gold, and silver,
for instance. But it is useless to discuss speculative probabilities.
The only chance that we have of obtaining any new facts is by an
examination of the ashes. It seems infinitely improbable that we shall
learn anything from it, but there is the bare possibility and we ought
not to leave it untried."

Neither Stalker nor I made any further remark, but I could see that the
same thought was in both our minds. It was not often that Thorndyke was
"gravelled;" but apparently the resourceful Mrs. Huggard had set him a
problem that was beyond even his powers. When an investigator of crime
is reduced to the necessity of examining a potful of ashes in the wild
hope of ascertaining from them how the deceased met his death, one may
assume that he is at the very end of his tether. It is a forlorn hope
indeed.

Nevertheless, Thorndyke seemed to view the matter quite cheerfully, his
only anxiety being lest the Home Secretary should refuse to make the
order authorising the examination. And this anxiety was dispelled a day
or two later by the arrival of a letter giving the necessary authority,
and informing him that a Dr. Hemming--known to us both as an expert
pathologist--had been deputed to be present at the examination and to
confer with him as to the necessity for a chemical analysis.

On the appointed day Dr. Hemming called at our chambers and we set
forth together for Liverpool Street; and as we drove thither it became
evident to me that his view of our mission was very similar to my own.
For, though he talked freely enough, and on professional topics, he
maintained a most discreet silence on the subject of the forthcoming
inspection; indeed, the first reference to the subject was made by
Thorndyke himself just as the train was approaching Corfield, where the
crematorium was situated.

"I presume," said he, "you have made all necessary arrangements,
Hemming?"

"Yes," was the reply. "The superintendent will meet us and will conduct
us to the catacombs, and there, in our presence, will take the casket
from its niche in the columbarium and have it conveyed to the office,
where the examination will be made. I thought it best to use these
formalities, though, as the casket is sealed and bears the name of the
deceased, there is not much point in them."

"No," said Thorndyke, "but I think you were right. It would be easy to
challenge the identity of a mass of ashes if all precautions were not
taken, seeing that the ashes themselves are unidentifiable."

"That was what I felt," said Hemming; and then, as the train slowed
down, he added: "This is our station, and that gentleman on the
platform, I suspect, is the superintendent."

The surmise turned out to be correct; but the cemetery official was
not the only one present bearing that title; for as we were mutually
introducing ourselves, a familiar tall figure approached up the
platform from the rear of the train--our old friend Superintendent
Miller of the Criminal Investigation Department.

"I don't wish to intrude," said he, as he joined the group and was
presented by Thorndyke to the strangers, "but we were notified by the
Home Office that an investigation was to be made, so I thought I would
be on the spot to pick up any crumbs of information that you may drop.
Of course, I am not asking to be present at the examination."

"You may as well be present as an additional witness to the removal
of the urn," said Thorndyke; and Miller accordingly joined the party,
which now made its way from the station to the cemetery.

The catacombs were in a long, low arcaded building at the end of
the pleasantly-wooded grounds, and on our way thither we passed
the crematorium, a smallish, church-like edifice with a perforated
chimney-shaft partly concealed by the low spire. Entering the
catacombs, we were conducted to the "columbarium," the walls of which
were occupied by a multitude of niches or pigeon-holes, each niche
accommodating a terra-cotta urn or casket. The superintendent proceeded
to near the end of the gallery, where he halted, and opening the
register, which he had brought with him, read out a number and the name
"Jonathan Ingle," and then led us to a niche bearing that number and
name, in which reposed a square casket, on which was inscribed the name
and date of death. When we had verified these particulars, the casket
was tenderly lifted from its place by two attendants, who carried it to
a well-lighted room at the end of the building, where a large table by
a window had been covered with white paper. Having placed the casket on
the table, the attendants retired, and the superintendent then broke
the seals and removed the cover.

For a while we all stood looking in at the contents of the casket
without speaking; and I found myself contrasting them with what would
have been revealed by the lifting of a coffin-lid. Truly corruption
had put on incorruption. The mass of snow-white, coral-like fragments,
delicate, fragile, and lace-like in texture, so far from being
repulsive in aspect, were almost attractive. I ran my eye, with an
anatomist's curiosity, over these dazzling remnants of what had lately
been a man, half-unconsciously seeking to identify and give a name
to particular fragments, and a little surprised at the difficulty of
determining that this or that irregularly-shaped white object was
a part of any one of the bones with which I had thought myself so
familiar.

Presently Hemming looked up at Thorndyke and asked: "Do you observe
anything abnormal in the appearance of these ashes? I don't."

"Perhaps," replied Thorndyke, "we had better turn them out on to the
table, so that we can see the whole of them."

This was done very gently, and then Thorndyke proceeded to spread out
the heap, touching the fragments with the utmost delicacy--for they
were extremely fragile and brittle--until the whole collection was
visible.

"Well," said Hemming, when we had once more looked them over
critically, "what do you say? I can see no trace of any foreign
substance. Can you?"

"No," replied Thorndyke. "And there are some other things that I can't
see. For instance, the medical referee reported that the proposer had
a good set of sound teeth. Where are they? I have not seen a single
fragment of a tooth. Yet teeth are far more resistant to fire than
bones, especially the enamel caps."

Hemming ran a searching glance over the mass of fragments and looked up
with a perplexed frown.

"I certainly can't see any sign of teeth," he admitted, "and it is
rather curious, as you say. Does the fact suggest any particular
significance to you?"

By way of reply, Thorndyke delicately picked up a flat fragment and
silently held it out towards us. I looked at it and said nothing; for a
very strange suspicion was beginning to creep into my mind.

"A piece of a rib," said Hemming. "Very odd that it should have broken
across so cleanly. It might have been cut with a saw."

Thorndyke laid it down and picked up another, larger fragment, which I
had already noticed.

"Here is another example," said he, handing it to our colleague.

"Yes," agreed Hemming. "It is really rather extraordinary. It looks
exactly as if it had been sawn across."

"It does," agreed Thorndyke. "What bone should you say it is?"

"That is what I was just asking myself," replied Hemming, looking at
the fragment with a sort of half-vexed smile. "It seems ridiculous that
a competent anatomist