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Title: The Affair of the Corridor Express
Author: Victor L Whitechurch
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eBook No.: 0700331.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: March 2007
Date most recently updated: March 2007

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Title: The Affair of the Corridor Express
Author: Victor L Whitechurch

Thorpe Hazell stood in his study in his London flat. On the opposite wall
he had pinned a bit of paper, about an inch square, at the height of his
eye, and was now going through the most extraordinary contortions.

With his eyes fixed on the paper he was craning his neck as far as it
would reach and twisting his head about in all directions. This
necessitated a fearful rolling of the eyes in order to keep them on the
paper, and was supposed to be a means of strengthening the muscles of the
eye for angular sight.

Presently there came a tap at the door.

"Come in!" cried Hazell, still whirling his head round.

"A gentleman wishes to see you at once, sir!" said the servant, handing
him a card.

Hazell paused in his exercises, took it from the tray, and read:

"Mr F. W. Wingrave, M.A., B.Sc."

"Oh, show him in," said Hazell, rather impatiently, for he hated to be
interrupted when he was doing his "eye gymnastics"

There entered a young man of about five--and--twenty, with a look of keen
anxiety on his face.

"You are Mr Thorpe Hazell?" he asked.

"I am."

"You will have seen my name on my card--I am one of the masters at
Shillington School--I had heard your name, and they told me at the
station that it might be well to consult you--I hope you don't mind--I
know you're not an ordinary detective, but--"

"Sit down, Mr Wingrave," said Hazell. interrupting his nervous flow of
language. "You look quite ill and tired."

"I have just been through a very trying experience," replied Wingrave,
sinking into a seat. "A boy I was in charge of has just mysteriously
disappeared, and I want you to find him for me, and I want to ask your
opinion. They say you know all about railways, but--"

"Now, look here, my dear sir, you just have some hot toast and water
before you say another word. I conclude you want to consult me on some
railway matter. I'll do what I can, but I won't hear you till you've had
some refreshment. Perhaps you prefer whiskey--though I don't advise it."

Wingrave, however, chose the whiskey, and Hazell poured him out some,
adding soda--water.

"Thank you," he said. "I hope you'll be able to give me advice. I am
afraid the poor boy must be killed; the whole thing is a mystery, and

"Stop a bit, Mr Wingrave. I must ask you to tell me the story from the
very beginning. That's the best way."

"Quite right. The worry of it has made me incoherent, I fear. But I'll
try and do what you propose. First of all, do you know the name of

"Yes, I think so. Very rich, is he not?"

"A millionaire. He has only one child, a boy of about ten, whose mother
died at his birth. He is a small boy for his age, and idolized by his
father. About three months ago this young Horace Carr--Mathers was sent
to our school--Cragsbury House, just outside Shillington. It is not a
very large school, but exceedingly select, and the headmaster, Dr Spring,
is well known in high--class circles. I may tell you that we have the
sons of some of the leading nobility preparing for the public schools.
You will readily understand that in such an establishment as ours the
most scrupulous care is exercised over the boys, not only as regards
their moral and intellectual training, but also to guard against any
outside influences."

"Kidnapping, for example," interposed Hazell.

"Exactly. There have been such cases known, and Dr Spring has a very high
reputation to maintain. The slightest rumour against the school would go
ill with him--and with all of us masters.

"Well, this morning the headmaster received a telegram about Horace
Carr--Mathers, requesting that he should be sent up to town."

"Do you know the exact wording?" asked Hazell.

"I have it with me," replied Wingrave, drawing it from his pocket.

Hazell took it from him, and read as follows:

'Please grant Horace leave of absence for two days. Send him to London by
5.45 express from Shillington, in first--class carriage, giving guard
instructions to look after him. We will meet train in town--Carr-Mathers'

"Um," grunted Hazell, as he handed it back. "Well, he can afford

"Oh, he's always wiring about something or other," replied Wingrave; "he
seldom writes a letter. Well, when the doctor received this he called me
into his study.

"'I suppose I must let the boy go,' he said, 'but I'm not at all inclined
to allow him to travel by himself. If anything should happen to him his
father would hold us responsible as well as the railway company. So you
had better take him up to town, Mr Wingrave.'

"'Yes, sir.'

"'You need do no more than deliver him to his father. If Mr Carr--Mathers
is not at the terminus to meet him, take him with you in a cab to his
house in Portland Place. You'll probably be able to catch the last train
home, but, if not, you can get a bed at an hotel.'

"'Very good, sir.'

"So, shortly after half--past five, I found myself standing on the
platform at Shillington, waiting for the London express."

"Now, stop a moment," interrupted Hazell, sipping a glass of filtered
water which he had poured out for himself. "I want to get a clear notion
of this journey of yours from the beginning, for, I presume, you will
shortly be telling me that something strange happened during it. Was
there anything to be noticed before the train started?"

"Nothing at the time. But I remembered afterwards that two men seemed to
be watching me rather closely when I took the tickets and I heard one of
them say 'Confound,' beneath his breath. But my suspicions were not
aroused at the moment."

"I see. If there is anything in this it was probably because he was
disconcerted when he saw you were going to travel with the boy. Did these
two men get into the train?"

"I'm coming to that. The train was in sharp to time, and we took our
seats in a first--class compartment."

"Please describe the exact position."

"Our carriage was the third from the front. It was a corridor train, with
access from carriage to carriage all the way through. Horace and myself
were in a compartment alone. I had bought him some illustrated papers for
the journey, and for some time he sat quietly enough, looking through
them. After a bit he grew fidgety, as you know boys will."

"Wait a minute. I want to know if the corridor of your carriage was on
the left or on the right--supposing you to be seated facing the engine?"

"On the left."

"Very well, go on."

"The door leading into the corridor stood open. It was still daylight,
but dusk was setting in fast--I should say it was about half--past six,
or a little more. Horace had been looking out of the window on the right
side of the train when I drew his attention to Rutherham Castle, which we
were passing. It stands, as you know, on the left side of the line. In
order to get a better view of it he went out into the corridor and stood
there. I retained my seat on the right side of the compartment, glancing
at him from time to time. He seemed interested in the corridor itself,
looking about him, and once or twice shutting and opening the door of our
compartment. I can see now that I ought to have kept a sharper rye on
him, but I never dreamed that any accident could happen. I was reading a
paper myself, and became rather interested in a paragraph. It may have
been seven or eight minutes before I looked up. When I did so, Horace had

"I didn't think anything of it at first, but only concluded that he had
taken a walk along the corridor."

"You don't know which way he went?" inquired Hazell

"No. I couldn't say. I waited a minute or two, and then rose and looked
out into the corridor. There was no one there. Still my suspicions were
not aroused. It was possible that he had gone to the lavatory. So I sat
down again, and waited. Then I began to get a little anxious, and
determined to have a look for him. I walked to either end of the
corridor, and searched the lavatories, but they were both empty. Then I
looked in all the other compartments of the carriage, and asked their
occupants if they had seen him go by, but none of them had noticed him."

"Do you remember how these compartments were occupied?"

"Yes. In the first, which was reserved for ladies, there were five
ladies. The next was a smoker with three gentlemen in it. Ours came next.
Then, going towards the front of the train, were the two men I had
noticed at Shillington; the last compartment had a gentleman and lady and
their three children."

"Ah! how about those two men--what were they doing?"

"One of them was reading a book, and the other appeared to be asleep."

"Tell me. Was the door leading to the corridor from their compartment

"Yes, it was."

"I was in a most terrible fright, and I went back to my compartment and
pulled the electric communicator. In a few seconds the front guard came
along the corridor and asked me what I wanted. I told him I had lost my
charge. He suggested that the boy had walked through to another carriage,
and I asked him if he would mind my making a thorough search of the train
with him. To this he readily agreed. We went back to the first carriage
and began to do so. We examined every compartment from end to end of the
train; we looked under every seat, in spite of the protestations of some
of the passengers; we searched all the lavatories--every corner of the
train--and we found absolutely no trace of Horace Carr--Mathers. No one
had seen the boy anywhere."

"Had the train stopped?"

"Not for a second. It was going at full speed all the time. It only
slowed down after we had finished the search--but it never quite

"Ah! We'll come to that presently. I want to ask you some questions
first. Was it still daylight?"

"Dusk, but quite light enough to see plainly--besides which, the train
lamps were lit."

"Exactly. Those two men, now, in the next compartment to yours--tell me
precisely what happened when you visited them the second time with the

"They asked a lot of questions--like many of the other passengers--and
seemed very surprised."

"You looked underneath their seats?"


"On the luggage--racks? A small boy like that could be rolled up in a rug
and put on the rack."

"We examined every rack on the train."

Thorpe Hazell lit a cigarette and smoked furiously, motioning to his
companion to keep quiet. He was thinking out the situation. Suddenly he

"How about the window in those two men's compartment?"

"It was shut--I particularly noticed it."

"You are quite sure you searched the whole of the train?"

"Absolutely certain; so was the guard."

"Ah!" remarked Hazell, "even guards are mistaken sometimes. It--er--was
only the inside of the train you searched, eh?"

"Of course."

"Very well," replied Hazell, "now, before we go any further, I want to
ask you this. Would it have been to anyone's interest to have murdered
the boy?"

"I don't think so--from what I know. I don't see how it could be."

"Very well. We will take it as a pure case of kidnapping, and presume
that he is alive and well. This ought to console you to begin with."

"Do you think you can help me?"

"I don't know yet. But go on and tell me all that happened."

"Well, after we had searched the train I was at my wits' end--and so was
the guard. We both agreed, however, that nothing more could be done till
we reached London. Somehow, my strongest suspicions concerning those two
men were aroused, and I travelled in their compartment for the rest of
the journey."

"Oh! Did anything happen?"

"Nothing. They both wished me good--night, hoped I'd find the boy, got
out, and drove off in a hansom."

"And then?"

"I looked about for Mr Carr--Mathers, but he was nowhere to be seen. Then
I saw an inspector, and put the case before him. He promised to make
inquiries and to have the line searched on the part where I missed
Horace. I took a hansom to Portland Place, only to discover that Mr
Carr--Mathers is on the Continent and not expected home for a week. Then
I came on to you--the inspector  had advised me to do so. And that's the
whole story. It's a terrible thing for me, Mr Hazell. What do you think
of it?"

"Well," replied Hazell, "of course it's very clear that there is a
distinct plot. Someone sent that telegram, knowing Mr Carr--Mathers'
proclivities. The object was to kidnap the boy. It sounds absurd to talk
of brigands and ransoms in this country, but the thing is done over and
over again for all that. It is obvious that the boy was expected to
travel alone, and that the train was the place chosen for the kidnapping.
Hence the elaborate directions. I think you were quite right in
suspecting those two men, and it might have been better if you had
followed them up without coming to me."

"But they went off alone!"

"Exactly.. It's my belief they had originally intended doing so after
disposing of Horace, and that they carried out their original

"But what became of the boy?--how did they--"

"Stop a bit, I'm not at all clear in my own mind. But you mentioned that
while you were concluding your search with the guard the train slackened

"Yes. It almost came to a stop--and then went very slowly for a minute or
so. I asked the guard why, but I didn't understand his reply."

"What was it?"

"He said it was a P.W. operation."

Hazell laughed. "P.W. stands for permanent way," he explained, "I know
exactly what you mean now. There is a big job going on near
Longmoor--they are raising the level of the line, and the up--trains are
running on temporary rails. So they have to proceed very slowly. Now it
was after this that you went back to the two men whom you suspected?"


"Very well. Now let me think the thing over. Have some more whiskey? You
might also like to glance at the contents of my book--case. If you know
anything of first editions and bindings they will interest you."

Wingrave, it is to be feared, paid but small heed to the books, but
watched Hazell anxiously as the latter smoked cigarette after cigarette,
his brows knit in deep thought. After a bit he said slowly:

"You will understand that I am going to work upon the theory that the boy
has been kidnapped and that the original intention has been carried out,
in spite of the accident of your presence in the train. How the boy was
disposed of meanwhile is what baffles me; but that is a detail--though it
will be interesting to know how it was done. Now, I don't want to raise
any false hopes, because I may very likely be wrong, but we are going to
take action upon a very feasible assumption, and if I am at all correct,
I hope to put you definitely on the track. Mind, I don't promise to do
so, and, at best, I don't promise to do more than put you on a track. Let
me see--it's just after nine. We have plenty of time. We'll drive first
to Scotland Yard, for it will be as well to have a detective with us."

He filled a flask with milk, put some plasmon biscuits and a banana into
a sandwich case, and then ordered his servant to hail a cab.

An hour later, Hazell, Wingrave, and a man from Scotland Yard were
closeted together in one of the private offices of the Mid--Eastern
Railway with one of the chief officials of the line. The latter was
listening attentively to Hazell.

"But I can't understand the boy not being anywhere in the train, Mr
Hazell," he said.

"I can--partly," replied Hazell, "but first let me see if my theory is

"By all means. There's a down--train in a few minutes. I'll go with you,
for the matter is very interesting. Come along, gentlemen."

He walked forward to the engine and gave a few instructions to the
driver, and then they took their seats in the train. After a run of half
an hour or so they passed a station.

"That's Longmoor," said the official, "now we shall soon be on the spot.
It's about a mile down that the line is being raised."

Hazell put his head out of the window. Presently an ominous red light
showed itself. The train came almost to a stop, and then proceeded
slowly, the man who had shown the red light changing it to green. They
could see him as they passed, standing close to a little temporary hut.
It was his duty to warn all approaching drivers, and for this purpose he
was stationed some three hundred yards in front of the bit of line that
was being operated upon. Very soon they were passing this bit. Naphtha
lamps shed a weird light over a busy scene, for the work was being
continued night and day. A score or so of sturdy navvies were shovelling
and picking along the track.

Once more into the darkness. On the other side of the scene of
operations, at the same distance, was another little hut, with a guardian
for the up--train. Instead of increasing the speed in passing this hut,
which would have been usual, the driver brought the train almost to a
standstill. As he did so the four men got out of the carriage, jumping
from the footboard to the ground. On went the train, leaving them on the
left side of the down track, just opposite the little hut. They could see
the man standing outside, his back partly turned to them. There was a
fire in a brazier close by that dimly outlined his figure.

He started suddenly, as they crossed the line towards him.

"What are you doing here?" he cried. "You've no business here--you're

He was a big, strong--looking man, and he backed a little towards his hut
as he spoke.

"I am Mr Mills, the assistant--superintendent of the line," replied the
official, coming forward.

"Beg pardon, sir; but how was I to know that?" growled the man.

"Quite right. It's your duty to warn off strangers. How long have you
been stationed here?"

"I came on at five o'clock; I'm regular nightwatchman, sir."

"Ah! Pretty comfortable, eh?"

"Yes, thank you, sir," replied the man, wondering why the question was
asked, but thinking, not unnaturally, that the assistant--superintendent
had come down with a party of engineers to supervise things.

"Got the hut to yourself?"

"Yes, sir."

Without another word, Mr Mills walked to the door of the hut. The man,
his face suddenly growing pale, moved, and stood with his back to it.

"It's--it's private, sir!" he growled.

Hazell laughed. "All right, my man," he said. "I was right, I
think--hullo!--look out! Don't let him go!"

For the man had made a quick rush forward. But the Scotland Yard officer
and Hazell were on him in a moment, and a few seconds later the handcuffs
clicked on his wrists. Then they flung the door open, and there, lying in
the comer, gagged and bound, was Horace Carr--Mathers.

An exclamation of joy broke forth from Wingrave, as he opened his knife
to cut the cords. But Hazell stopped him.

"Just half a moment," he said: "I want to see how they've tied him up."

A peculiar method had been adopted in doing this. His wrists were
fastened behind his back, a stout cord was round his body just under the
armpits, and another cord above the knees. These were connected by a
slack bit of rope.

"All right!" went on Hazell; "let's gel the poor lad out of his
troubles--there, that's better. How do you feel, my boy?"

"Awfully stiff!" said Horace, "but I'm not hurt. I say, sir," he
continued to Wingrave, "how did you know I was here? I am glad you've

"The question is how did you get here?" replied Wingrave. "Mr Hazell,
here, seemed to know where you were, but it's a puzzle to me at present."

"If you'd come half an hour later you wouldn't have found him," growled
the man who was handcuffed. "I ain't so much to blame as them as employed

"Oh, is that how the land lies?" exclaimed Hazell. "I see. You shall tell
us presently, my boy, how it happened. Meanwhile. Mr Mills, I think we
can prepare a little trap--eh?"

In five minutes all was arranged. A couple of the navvies were brought up
from the line, one stationed outside to guard against trains, and with
certain other instructions, the other being inside the hut with the rest
of them. A third navvy was also dispatched for the police.

"How are they coming?" asked Hazell of the handcuffed man.

"They were going to take a train down from London to Rockhampstead on the
East--Northern, and drive over. It's about ten miles off."

"Good! they ought soon to be here," replied Hazell, as he munched some
biscuits and washed them down with a draught of milk, after which he
astonished them all by solemnly going through one of his "digestive

A little later they heard the sound of wheels on a road beside the line.
Then the man on watch said, in gruff tones:

"The boy's inside!"

But they found more than the boy inside, and an hour later all three
conspirators were safely lodged in Longmoor gaol.

"Oh, it was awfully nasty, I can tell you," said Horace Carr--Mathers, as
he explained matters afterwards. "I went into the corridor, you know, and
was looking about at things, when all of a sudden I felt my coat--collar
grasped behind, and a hand was laid over my mouth. I tried to kick and
shout, but it was no go. They got me into the compartment, stuffed a
handkerchief into my mouth, and tied it in. It was just beastly. Then
they bound me hand and foot, and opened the window on the right--hand
side--opposite the corridor. I was in a funk, for I thought they were
going to throw me out, but one of them told me to keep my pecker up, as
they weren't going to hurt me. Then they let me down out of the window by
that slack rope, and made it fast to the handle of the door outside. It
was pretty bad, There was I, hanging from the door--handle in a sort of
doubled--up position, my back resting on the foot--board of the carriage,
and the train rushing along like mad. I felt sick and awful, and I had to
shut my eyes. I seemed to hang there for ages."

"I told you you only examined the inside of the train," said Thorpe
Hazell to Wingrave. "I had my suspicions that he was somewhere on the
outside all the time, but I was puzzled to know where. It was a clever

"Well," went on the boy, "I heard the window open above me after a bit. I
looked up and saw one of the men taking the rope off the handle. The
train was just beginning to slow down. Then he hung out of the window,
dangling me with one hand. It was horrible. I was hanging below the
footboard now. Then the train came almost to a stop, and someone caught
me round the waist. I lost my senses for a minute or two, and then I
found myself lying in the hut."

"Well, Mr Hazell," said the assistant--superintendent, "you were
perfectly right, and we all owe you a debt of gratitude."

"Oh," said Hazell, "it was only a guess at the best. I presumed it was
simply kidnapping, and the problem to be solved was how and where the boy
was got off the train without injury. It was obvious that he had been
disposed of before the train reached London. There was only one other
inference. The man on duty was evidently the confederate, for, if not,
his presence would have stopped the whole plan of action. I'm very glad
to have been of any use. There are interesting points about the case, and
it has been a pleasure to me to undertake it."

A little while afterwards Mr Carr--Mathers himself called on Hazell to
thank him.

"I should like," he said, "to express my deep gratitude substantially;
but I understand you are not an ordinary detective. But is there any way
in which I can serve you, Mr Hazell?"

"Yes--two ways."

"Please name them."

"I should be sorry for Mr Wingrave to get into trouble through this
affair--or Dr Spring either."

"I understand you, Mr Hazell. They were both to blame, in a way. But I
will see that Dr Spring's reputation does not suffer, and that Wingrave
comes out of it harmlessly."

"Thank you very much."

"You said there was a second way in which I could serve you."

"So there is. At Dunn's sale last month you were the purchaser of two
first editions of 'The New Bath Guide.' If you cared to dispose of one,

"Say no more, Mr Hazell. I shall be glad to give you one for your

Hazell stiffened.

"You misunderstand me!" he exclaimed icily. "I was about to add that if
you cared to dispose of a copy I would write you out a cheque."

"Oh, certainly," replied Mr Carr-Mathers with a smile, "I shall be
extremely pleased."

Whereupon the transaction was concluded.


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