Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: The Cat's Eye (1923)
Author: R. Austin Freeman
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0700841.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: June 2007
Date most recently updated: November 2013

This eBook was produced by: Jon Jermey

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Cat's Eye (1923)
Author: R. Austin Freeman





PREFACE

By one of those coincidences which are quite inadmissible in fiction, but
of frequent occurrence in real life, an incident in the story of The
Cat's Eye has found an almost exact duplicate in an actual case which has
been reported in the Press.

The real case was concerned with a most alarming misadventure which
befell a distinguished police official of high rank. The fictitious
incident occurs in Chapter Ten of this book; and the reading of that
chapter will inevitably convey the impression that I have appropriated
the real case and incorporated it in my story; a proceeding that the
reader might properly consider to be in questionable taste.

It seems, therefore, desirable to explain that Chapter Ten was written
some months before the real tragedy occurred. Indeed, by that time, the
book was so nearly completed that it was impracticable to eliminate the
incident, which was an integral part of the plot.

The coincidence is to be regretted; but worse things might easily have
happened. But for the circumstance that I had to lay this book aside to
complete some other work, The Cat's Eye would have been in print when the
crime was committed; and it might then have been difficult for any
one--even for the author--to believe that the fictitious crime had not
furnished the suggestion for the real one.

RAF

Gravesend,

19th June 1923.



CONTENTS

1 In the Midst of Life
2 Sir Lawrence declares a Vendetta
3 Thorndyke takes up the Inquiry
4 The Lady of Shalott
5 Mr Halliburton's Mascot
6 Introduces an Ant-eater and a Detective
7 The Vanished Heirloom
8 A Jacobite Romance
9 Exit Moakey
10 A Timely Warning
11 The Blue Hair
12 From the Jaws of Death
13 Thorndyke states his Position
14 Beauchamp Blake
15 The Squire and the Sleuth-hound
16 Mr Brodribb's Embassy
17 The Secret Chamber
18 The Cat's Eye
19 A Relic of the '45
20 QED



CHAPTER ONE IN THE MIDST OF LIFE

I am not a superstitious man. Indeed superstition, which is inseparably
bound up with ignorance or disregard of evidence, would ill accord with
the silken gown of a King's Counsel. And still less am I tainted with
that particular form of superstition in which the fetishism of barbarous
and primitive man is incongruously revived in a population of, at least
nominally, educated persons, by the use of charms, amulets, mascots and
the like.

Had it been otherwise; had I been the subject of this curious atavistic
tendency, I should surely have been led to believe that from the simple
gem whose name I have used to give a title to this chronicle, some subtle
influence exhaled whereby the whole course of my life was directed into
new channels. But I do not believe anything of the kind; and therefore,
though it did actually happen that the appearance of the Cat's Eye was
coincident with a radical change in the course and manner of my life, and
even, as it seemed, with my very personality; and though with the Cat's
Eye the unfolding of the new life seemed constantly associated; still I
would have it understood that I use the name merely as a label to docket
together a succession of events that form a consistent and natural group.

The particular train of events with which this history deals began on a
certain evening near the end of the long vacation. It was a cloudy
evening, I remember, and very dark, for it was past eight o'clock and the
days were drawing in rapidly. I was returning across Hampstead Heath
towards my lodgings in the village, and was crossing the broken,
gorse-covered and wooded hollow to the west of the Spaniards Road, when I
heard the footsteps of someone running, and running swiftly, as I could
judge by the rapid rhythm of the footfalls and the sound of scattering
gravel. I halted to listen, noting that the rhythm of the footsteps was
slightly irregular, like the ticking of an ill-adjusted clock; and even
as I halted, I saw the runner. But only for a moment, and then but dimly.
The vague shape of a man came out of the gloom, passed swiftly across my
field of vision, and was gone. I could not see what he was like. The dim
shape appeared and vanished into the darkness, leaving me standing
motionless, listening with vague suspicion to the now faint footfalls and
wondering what I ought to do.

Suddenly the silence was rent by a piercing cry, the cry of a woman
calling for help. And, strangely enough, it came from the opposite
direction to that towards which the fugitive was running. In an instant I
turned and raced across the rugged hollow towards the spot from whence
the sound seemed to come, and as I scrambled up a gravelly hillock I saw,
faintly silhouetted on the murky skyline of some rising ground ahead, the
figures of a man and a woman struggling together; and I had just noted
that the man seemed to be trying to escape when I saw him deal the woman
a blow, on which she uttered a shriek and fell, while the man, having
wrenched himself free, darted down the farther slope and vanished into
the encompassing darkness.

When I reached the woman she was sitting up with her right hand pressed
to her side, and as I approached she called out sharply:

'Follow him! Follow that man! Never mind me!'

I stood for a moment irresolute, for on the hand that was pressed to her
side I had noticed a smear of blood. But as I hesitated, she repeated:
'Follow him! Don't let him escape! He has just committed a dreadful
murder!'

On this I ran down the slope in the direction that the man had taken and
stumbled on over the rugged, gravelly hillocks and hollows, among the
furze bushes and the birches and other small trees. But it was a hopeless
pursuit. The man had vanished utterly, and from the dark heath not a
sound came to give a hint as to the direction in which he had gone. There
was no definite path, nor was it likely that he would have followed one;
and as I ran forward, tripping over roots and sandy hummocks, the
futility of the pursuit became every moment more obvious, while I felt a
growing uneasiness as to the condition of the woman I had left sitting on
the ground and apparently bleeding from a wound. At length I gave up the
chase and began to retrace my steps, now full of anxiety lest I should be
unable to find the spot where I had left her, and speculating on the
possibility that the victim of the murder of which she had spoken might
yet be alive and in urgent need of help.

I returned as quickly as I could, watching the direction anxiously and
trying vainly to pick up landmarks. But the uneven, gorse-covered ground
was a mere formless expanse intersected in all directions by indistinct
tracks, confused by the numbers of birch-trees and stunted oaks, and shut
in on all sides by a wall of darkness. Presently I halted with a
despairing conviction that I had lost my way hopelessly, and at that
moment I discerned dimly through the gloom the shape of a piece of rising
ground lying away to the right. Instantly I hurried towards it, and as I
climbed the slope, I thought I recognised it as the place from which I
had started. A moment later, the identity of the place was confirmed
beyond all doubt, for I perceived lying on the ground a shawl or scarf
which I now remembered to have seen lying near the woman as she sat with
her hand pressed to her side, urging me to follow her assailant.

But the woman herself had disappeared. I picked up the shawl, and
throwing it over my arm, stood for a few moments, peering about me and
listening intently. Not a sound could I distinguish, however, nor could I
perceive any trace of the vanished woman. Then I noticed, a few yards
away, a defined path leading towards a patch of deeper darkness that
looked like a copse or plantation, and following this, I presently came
upon her, standing by a fence and clinging to it for support.

'The man has got away,' said I. 'There is no sign of him. But what about
you? Are you hurt much?'

'I don't think so,' she answered faintly. 'The wretch tried to stab me,
but I don't think--' Here her voice faded away, as she fell forward
against the fence and seemed about to collapse. I caught her, and lifting
her bodily, carried her along the path, which appeared to lead to a
house. Presently I came to an open gate, and entering the enclosed
grounds, saw before me an old-fashioned house, the door of which stood
ajar, showing a faint light from within. As I approached the door, a
telephone bell rang and a woman's voice, harsh and terrified, smote my
ear:

'Are you there? This is Rowan Lodge. Send to the police immediately! Mr
Drayton has been robbed and murdered! Yes, Mr Drayton. He is lying dead
in his room. I am his housekeeper. Send the police and a doctor!'

At this moment I pushed open the door and entered; and at my appearance,
with the insensible woman in my arms, the housekeeper shrieked aloud, and
dropping the receiver, started back with a gesture of wild terror.

'My God!' she exclaimed, 'What is this? Not another!'

'I hope not,' I replied, not, however, without misgivings. 'This lady
tried to hold the man as he was escaping and the villain stabbed her.
Where can I lay her down?'

The whimpering housekeeper flung open a door, and snatching a match-box
from the hall table, struck a match and preceded me into a room where, by
the light of the match that flickered in her shaking hand, I made out a
sofa and laid my burden on it, rolling up the shawl and placing it under
her head. Then the housekeeper lit the gas and came and stood by the
sofa, wringing her hands and gazing down with horrified pity at the
corpse-like figure.

'Poor dear!' she sobbed. 'Such a pretty creature, too, and quite a lady!
God help us! What can we do for her? She may be bleeding to death!'

The same thought was in my mind, and the same question, but as I answered
that we could do nothing until the doctor arrived, the woman--or rather
girl, for she was not more than twenty-six--opened her eyes and asked in
a faint voice: 'Is Mr Drayton dead?'

The housekeeper sobbed an indistinct affirmative and then added:

'But try not to think about it, my dear. Just keep yourself quite quiet
until the doctor comes.'

'Are you sure he is dead?' I asked in a low voice.

'I wish I were not,' she sobbed. Then, with an earnest look at the young
lady--who seemed now to be reviving somewhat--she added:

'Come with me and see; and do you lie quite still until I come back, my
dear.'

With this she led me out of the room, and turning from the hall into a
short corridor, passed quickly along it and stopped at a door. 'He is in
there,' she said in a shaky voice that was half a sob. She opened the
door softly, peered in, and then, with a shuddering cry, turned and ran
back to the room that we had just left.

When she had gone I entered the room half-reluctantly, for the atmosphere
of tragedy and horror was affecting me most profoundly. It was a smallish
room, almost unfurnished save for a range of cabinets such as insect
collectors use; and opposite one of these a man lay motionless on the
floor, looking, with his set, marble-white face and fixed, staring eyes,
like some horrible waxwork figure. I stooped over him to see if there
were any sign of life. But even to a layman's eye the fixity, the utter
immobility was unmistakable. The man was dead beyond all doubt. I
listened with my ear at his mouth and laid my finger on the chilly wrist.
But the first glance had told me all. The man was dead.

As I stood up, still with my eyes riveted on the face, set in that
ghastly stare, I became conscious of a certain dim sense of recognition.
It was a strong, resolute face, and even in death, the fixed expression
spoke rather of anger than of fear. Where had I seen that face? And then
in a flash I recalled the name that the housekeeper had called through
the telephone--Mr Drayton. Of course. This was the brother of my neighbour
in the Temple, Sir Lawrence Drayton, the famous Chancery lawyer. He had
spoken to me of a brother who lived at Hampstead, and there could be no
doubt that this was he. The likeness was unmistakable.

But, as I realised this, I realised also the certainty that this crime
would become my professional concern. Sir Lawrence would undoubtedly put
the case in the hands of my friend John Thorndyke--the highest
medico-legal authority and the greatest criminal lawyer of our time--and
my association with Thorndyke would make me a party to the investigation.
And that being so, it behoved me to gather what data I could before the
police arrived and took possession.

The mechanism of the crime was obvious enough, though there were one or
two mysterious features. Of the cabinet opposite which the body lay, one
drawer was pulled out, and its loose glass cover had been removed and lay
shattered on the floor beside the corpse. The contents of this drawer
explained the motive of the crime, for they consisted of specimens of
jewellery, all more or less antique, and many of them quite simple and
rustic in character, but still jewels. A number had evidently been taken,
to judge by the empty trays, but the greater part of the contents of the
drawer remained intact.

The rifled drawer was the second from the top. Having turned up the gas
and lit a second burner, I drew out the top drawer. The contents of this
were untouched, though the drawer appeared to have been opened, for the
cover-glass was marked by a number of rather conspicuous fingerprints. Of
course these were not necessarily the prints of the robber's fingers, but
they probably were, for their extreme distinctness suggested a dirty and
sweaty hand such as would naturally appertain to a professional thief in
a state of some bodily fear. Moreover the reason why this drawer should
have been passed over was quite obvious. Its contents were of no
intrinsic value, consisting chiefly of Buckinghamshire lace bobbins with
carved inscriptions and similar simple objects.

I next drew out the third drawer, which I found quite untouched, and the
absence of any fingerprints on the cover-glass confirmed the probable
identity of those on the glass of the top drawer. By way of further
settling this question, I picked up the fragments of the broken glass and
looked them over carefully; and when I found several of them marked with
similar distinct fingerprints, the probability that they were those of
the murderer became so great as nearly to amount to certainty.

I did not suppose that these fingerprints would be of much interest to
Thorndyke. They were rather the concern of the police and the Habitual
Criminals Registry. But still I knew that if he had been in my place he
would have secured specimens, on the chance of their being of use
hereafter, and I could do no less than take the opportunity that offered.
Looking over the broken fragments again, I selected two pieces, each
about four inches square, both of which bore several fingerprints. I
placed them carefully face to face in a large envelope from my pocket,
having first wrapped their corners in paper to prevent the surfaces from
touching.

I had just bestowed the envelope in my letter-case and slipped the latter
into my pocket when I heard a man's voice in the hall. I opened the door,
and walking along the corridor, found a police inspector and a sergeant
in earnest conversation with the housekeeper, while an elderly man, whom
I judged to be the doctor, stood behind, listening attentively.

'Well,' said the inspector 'we'd better see to the lady. Will you have a
look at her, doctor, and when you've attended to her, perhaps you will
let us know whether she is in a fit state to answer questions. But you
might just take a look at the body first.' Here he observed me and
inquired: 'Let me see, who is this gentleman?'

I explained briefly my connection with the case as we walked down the
corridor, and the inspector made no comment at the moment. We all entered
the room, and the doctor stooped over the body and made a rapid
inspection.

'Yes,' he said, rising and shaking his head, 'there's no doubt that he is
dead, poor fellow. A shocking affair. But I had better go and see to this
poor lady before I make any detailed examination.'

With this he bustled away, and the inspector and the sergeant knelt down
beside the corpse but refrained from touching it.

'Knife wound, apparently,' said the inspector, nodding gloomily at a
small pool of blood that appeared between the outstretched right arm and
the side. 'Seems to have been a left-handed man, too, unless he struck
from behind, which he pretty evidently did not.' He stood up, and once
more looking at me, somewhat inquisitively, said: 'I had better have your
name and address, sir.'

'My name is Anstey--Robert Anstey, KC, and my address is 8A Kings Bench
Walk, Inner Temple.'

'Oh, I know you, sir,' said the inspector with a sudden change of manner.
'You are Dr. Thorndyke's leading counsel. Well, well. What an odd thing
that you should happen to come upon this affair by mere chance. It's
quite in your own line.'

'I don't know about that,' said I. 'It looks to me rather more in yours.
If they have got these fingerprints in the files at Scotland Yard you
won't have much trouble in finding your man or getting a conviction.'

As I spoke, I drew his attention to the fingerprints on the broken glass,
saying nothing, however, about those on the upper drawer.

The two officers examined the incriminating marks with deep interest, and
the inspector proceeded carefully and skilfully to pack several of the
fragments for subsequent examination, remarking, as he laid them tenderly
on the top of a cabinet: 'This looks like a regular windfall, but it's
almost too good to be true. The professional crook, nowadays, knows too
much to go dabbing his trade-marks about in this fashion. These prints
and the knife rather suggest a casual or amateur of some kind. The fellow
not only didn't wear gloves, he didn't even trouble to wipe his hands.
And they wanted wiping pretty badly. Are all these cabinets full of
jewellery?'

'I really don't know what they contain, but they are pretty insecure if
their contents are valuable.'

'Yes,' he agreed. 'A single locked batten to each cabinet. One wrench of
a jemmy and the whole cabinet is open. Well, we'd better have a few words
with the housekeeper before we go over the room in detail. And she won't
want to talk to us in here.'

With this he led the way back to the hall, and I could not but admire the
diplomatic way in which he managed to get me away from the scene of his
intended investigation.

As we entered the hall, we met the doctor, who was repacking his
emergency bag at the door of the room.

'I think,' said he, 'my patient is well enough to give you a few
necessary particulars. But don't tire her with needless questions.'

'She is not seriously hurt, then?' said I, with considerable relief.

'No. But she has had a mighty narrow escape. The brute must have aimed
badly, for he struck viciously enough, but the point of the knife glanced
off a rib and came out farther back, just transfixing a fold of skin and
muscle. It is a nasty wound, but quite superficial and not at all
dangerous.'

'Well, I'm glad it's no worse than that,' said the inspector, and with
this he pushed open the door of the room and we all entered, though I
noticed that the sergeant regarded me with a somewhat dubious eye. And
now, for the first time, I observed the injured lady with some attention,
which I was able to do at my leisure while the examination was
proceeding. And a very remarkable-looking girl she was. Whether she would
have been considered beautiful by the majority of persons I cannot say;
she certainly appeared so to me. But I have always felt a great
admiration of the pictures of Burne-Jones and of the peculiar type of
womanhood that he loved to paint; and this girl, with her soft aureole of
reddish-gold hair, her earnest grey eyes, her clear, blonde skin--now
pale as marble--the characteristic mouth and cast of features, might have
been the model whose presentment gave those pictures, to me, their
peculiar charm. She seemed not of the common, everyday world, but like
some visitor from the regions of legend and romance. And the distinction
of her appearance was supported by her speech--by a singularly sweet
voice, an accent of notable refinement, and a manner at once gentle,
grave, and dignified.

'Do you feel able to tell us what you know of this terrible affair,
Madam?' the inspector asked.

'Oh yes,' she replied. 'I am quite recovered now.'

'Was Mr Drayton a friend of yours?'

'No. I never met him until this evening. But perhaps I had better tell
you how I came to be here and exactly what happened.'

'Yes,' the inspector agreed, 'that will be the shortest way.'

'Mr Drayton,' she began, 'was, as you probably know, the owner of a
collection of what he called "inscribed objects"--jewels, ornaments, and
small personal effects bearing inscriptions connecting them with some
person or event or period. I saw a description of the collection in the
Connoisseur a short time ago, and as I am greatly interested in inscribed
jewels, I wrote to Mr Drayton asking if I could be allowed to see the
collection; and I asked, since I am occupied all day, if he could make it
convenient to show me the collection one evening. I also asked him some
questions about the specimens of jewellery. In reply he wrote me a most
kind letter--I have it in my pocket if you would like to see
it--answering my questions and not only inviting me most cordially to
come and look at his treasures, but offering to meet me at the station
and show me the way to the house. Of course I accepted his very kind
offer and gave him a few particulars of my appearance so that he should
be able to identify me, and this evening he met me at the station and we
walked up here together. There was no one in the house when we
arrived--at least he thought there was not, for he mentioned to me that
his housekeeper had gone out for an hour or so. He let himself in with a
key and showed me into this room. Then he went away, leaving the door
ajar. I heard him walk down the corridor and I heard a door open. Almost
at the same moment, he called out loudly and angrily. Then I heard the
report of a pistol, followed immediately by a heavy fall.'

'A pistol!' exclaimed the inspector 'I thought it was a knife wound. But
I mustn't interrupt you.'

'When I heard the report I ran out into the hall and down the corridor.
As I went, I heard a sound as of a scuffle, and when I reached the door
of the museum, which was wide open, I saw Mr Drayton lying on the floor,
quite still, and a man climbing out of the window. I ran to the window to
try to stop him, but before I could get there he was gone. I waited an
instant to look at Mr Drayton, and noticed that he seemed to be already
dead and that the room was full of the reek from the pistol, then I ran
back to the hall and out through the garden and along the fence to where
I supposed the window to be. But for a few moments I could not see any
one. Then, suddenly, a man sprang over the fence and dropped quite near
me, and before he could recover his balance, I had run to him and seized
him by both wrists. He struggled violently, though he did not seem very
strong, but he dragged me quite a long way before he got free.'

'Did he say anything to you?' the inspector asked.

'Yes. He used most horrible language, and more than once he said:

"Let go, you fool. The man who did it has got away."

'That might possibly be true,' I interposed, 'for, just before I heard
this lady call for help, a man passed me at a little distance, running so
hard that I was half inclined to follow him.'

'Did you see what he was like?' the inspector demanded eagerly.

'No. I hardly saw him at all. He passed me at a distance of about thirty
yards and was gone in an instant. Then I heard this lady call out and, of
course, ran towards her.'

'Yes,' said the inspector,' naturally. But it's a pity you didn't see
what the man was like. 'Then, once more addressing the lady, he asked:

'Did this man stab you without warning, Miss--'

'Blake is my name,' she replied. 'No. He threatened several times to
"knife" me if I didn't let go. At last he managed to get his left hand
free. I think he was holding something in it, but he must have dropped
it, whatever it was, for the next moment I saw him draw a knife from
under his coat. Then I got hold of his arm again, and that is probably
the reason that he wounded me so slightly. But when he stabbed me I
suddenly went quite faint and fell down, and then he escaped.'

'He held the knife in his left hand, then?' the inspector asked. 'You are
sure of that?'

'Quite sure. Of course it happened to be the free hand, but-'

'But if he had been a right-handed man he would probably have got his
right hand free. Did you see which side he carried his knife?'

'Yes. He drew it from under his coat on the left side.'

'Can you give us any description of the man?'

'I am afraid I can't. I am sure I should recognise him if I were to see
him again, but I can't describe him. It was all very confused, and, of
course, it was very dark. I should say that he was a smallish man, rather
slightly built. He wore a cloth cap and his hair seemed rather short but
bushy. He had a thin face, with a very peculiar expression--but, of
course, he was extremely excited and furious--and large, staring eyes,
and a rather pronounced, curved nose.'

'Oh, come,' said the inspector approvingly, 'that isn't such a bad
description. Can you say whether he was dark or fair, clean shaved or
bearded?'

'He was clean shaved, and I should say decidedly dark.'

'And how was he dressed?'

'He wore a cloth cap, and, I think, a tweed suit. Oh, and he wore
gloves-thin, smooth gloves--very thin kid, I should say--'

'Gloves!' exclaimed the inspector. 'Then the fingerprints must be the
other man's. Are you sure he had gloves on both hands?'

'Yes, perfectly sure. I saw them and felt them.'

'Well,' said the inspector,' this is a facer. It looks as if the other
man had really done the job while this fellow kept watch outside. It's a
mysterious affair altogether. There's the extraordinary time they chose
to break into the house. Eight o'clock in the evening. It would almost
seem as if they had known about Mr Drayton's movements.'

'They must have done,' said the housekeeper. 'Mr Drayton went out
regularly every evening a little after seven. He went down to the village
to play chess at the club, and he usually came back between half-past
nine and ten. And I generally sat and worked in the kitchen on the other
side of the house from the museum.'

'And did he take no sort of precautions against robbery?'

'He used to lock the museum when he went out. That was all. He was not at
all a nervous man, and he used to say that there was no danger of robbery
because the things in the museum were not the kind of things that
burglars go for. They wouldn't be of any value to melt or sell.'

'We must just look over the museum presently and see what the collection
consists of,' said the inspector. 'And we must see how they got in and
what they have taken. I suppose there is a catalogue?'

'No, there isn't,' replied the housekeeper. 'I did suggest to Mr Drayton
that he ought to draw up a list of the things, but he said it was not a
public collection, and as he knew all the specimens himself, there was no
need to number them or keep a catalogue.'

That is unfortunate,' said the inspector. 'We shan't be able to find out
what is missing or circulate any descriptions unless you can remember
what was in the cabinets. By the way, did Mr Drayton ever show his
collection to visitors other than his personal friends?'

'Occasionally. After the Connoisseur article that Miss Blake was speaking
of, two or three strangers wrote to Mr Drayton asking to be allowed to
see the jewellery, and he invited them to come and showed them
everything.'

'Did Mr Drayton keep a visitors' book, or record of any kind?'

'No. I don't remember any of the visitors, excepting a Mr Halliburton,
who wrote from the Baltic Hotel in the Marylebone Road. I remember him
because Mr Drayton was so annoyed about him. He put himself to great
inconvenience to meet Mr Halliburton and show him the jewellery that he
had asked to see, and then, he told me, when he came, it was quite
obvious that he didn't know anything at all about jewellery, either
ancient or modern. He must have come just from idle curiosity.'

'I'm not so sure of that,' said the inspector. 'Looks a bit suspicious.
We shall have to make some inquiries at the Baltic. And now we had better
go and have a look at the museum, and perhaps, doctor, you would like to
make a preliminary examination of the body before it is moved.'

On this we all rose, and the inspector was just moving towards the hall
when there came a sharp sound of knocking at the outer door, followed by
a loud peal of the bell.



CHAPTER TWO - SIR LAWRENCE DECLARES A VENDETTA


At the first stroke of the knocker we all stood stock still, and so
remained until the harsh jangling of the bell gradually died away. There
was nothing abnormal in either sound, but I suppose we were all somewhat
overstrung, for there seemed in the clamorous summons, which shattered
the silence so abruptly, something ominous and threatening. Especially
did this appear in the case of the housekeeper, who threw up her hands
and whimpered audibly.

'Dear Lord!' she ejaculated. 'It is Sir Lawrence--his brother! I know his
knock. Who is to tell him?'

As no one answered, she crept reluctantly across the room, murmuring and
shaking her head, and went out into the hall. I heard the door open and
caught the sound of voices, though not very distinctly. Then the
housekeeper re-entered the room quickly, and a man who was following her
said in a brisk, somewhat bantering tone:

'You are very mysterious, Mrs Benham.' The next moment the speaker came
into view; and instantly he stopped dead and stood staring into the room
with a frown of stern surprise.

'What the devil is this?' he demanded, glaring first at the two officers
and then at me. 'What is going on, Anstey?'

For a few moments I was tongue-tied. But an appealing glance from the
housekeeper seemed to put the duty on me.

'A dreadful thing has happened, Drayton,' I replied. 'The house has been
broken into and your brother has been killed.'

Sir Lawrence turned deathly pale and his face set hard and rigid, until
it seemed the very counterpart of that white, set face that I had looked
on but a few minutes age. For a while he stared at me frowningly, neither
moving nor uttering a word. Then he asked gruffly: 'Where is he?'

'He is lying where he fell, in the museum,' I replied.

On this he turned abruptly and walked out of the room. I heard him pass
quickly down the corridor and then I heard the museum door shut. We all
looked at one another uncomfortably, but no one spoke. The housekeeper
sobbed almost inaudibly and now and again uttered a low moan. Miss Blake
wept silently, and the two officers and the doctor stood looking gloomily
at the floor.

Presently Sir Lawrence came back. He was still very pale. But though his
eyes were red, and indeed were still humid, there was no softness of
grief in his face. With its clenched jaw and frowning brows, it was grim
and stern and inexorable as Fate.

'Tell me,' he said, in a quiet voice, looking from me to the inspector,
'exactly how this happened.'

'I don't think any one knows yet,' I replied. 'This lady, Miss Blake, is
the only person who saw the murderer. She tried to detain him and held on
to him until he stabbed her.'

'Stabbed her!' he exclaimed, casting a glance of intense apprehension at
the recumbent figure on the sofa and stepping softly across the room.

'I am not really hurt,' Miss Blake hastened to assure him. 'It is only
quite a trifling wound.'

He bent over her with a strange softening of the grim face, touching her
hand with his and tenderly adjusting the rug that the housekeeper had
spread over her.

'I pray to God that it is as you say,' he replied. Then, turning to me,
he asked: 'Has this brave young lady been properly attended to?'

'Yes,' I answered. 'The doctor here--Dr--'

'Nichols,' said the medicus. 'I have examined the wound thoroughly and
dressed it, and I think I can assure you that no danger is to be
apprehended from it. But, having regard to the shock she has sustained, I
think she ought to be got home as soon as possible.'

'Yes,' Sir Lawrence agreed, 'and if she is fit to be moved, I will convey
her to her home. My car is waiting in the road. And I will ask you.
Anstey, to come with me, if you can.'

Of course I assented, and he continued, addressing the inspector:

'When I have taken this lady home I shall go straight to Dr Thorndyke and
ask him to assist the police in investigating this crime. Probably he
will return here with me at once, and I will ask you to see that
nothing--not even the body--is disturbed until he has made his
inspection.'

At this the officer looked a little dubious, but he answered courteously
enough: 'So far as I am concerned. Sir Lawrence, your wishes shall
certainly be attended to. But I notified Scotland Yard before I came on
here, and this case will probably be dealt with by the Criminal
Investigation Department, and, of course, I can enter into no
undertakings on their behalf.'

'No,' Sir Lawrence rejoined, 'of course you can't. I will deal with the
Scotland Yard people myself. And now we had better start. Is Miss Blake
able to walk to the car, Doctor? It is only a few yards to the road.'

'I am quite able to walk,' said Miss Blake; and as Dr Nichols assented,
we assisted her to rise, and Sir Lawrence carefully wrapped her in the
rug that Mrs Benham had thrown over her. Then I picked up the shawl, and
tucking it under my arm, followed her as she walked slowly out supported
by Sir Lawrence.

At the garden gate we turned to the left, and passing along the path,
came very shortly to a road on which two cars were standing, a large
closed car, which I recognised as Sir Lawrence's, and a smaller one,
presumably Dr Nichols'. Into the former Miss Blake was assisted, and when
the carriage rug had been wrapped around her, I entered and took the
opposite seat.

'What address shall I tell the driver, Miss Blake?' Sir Lawrence asked.

'Sixty-three Jacob Street, Hampstead Road,' she replied; and then, as
neither the driver nor either of us could locate the street, she added:

'It is two or three turnings past Mornington Crescent on the same side of
the road.'

Having given this direction to the driver, Sir Lawrence entered and took
the vacant seat and the car moved off smoothly, silently, and with
unperceived swiftness.

During the journey hardly a word was spoken. The darkness of the heath
gave place to the passing lights of the streets, the rural quiet to the
clamour of traffic. In a few minutes, as it seemed, we were at the wide
crossing by the Mother Red-Cap, and in a few more were turning into a
narrow, dingy, and rather sordid by-street. Up this the car travelled
slowly as the driver threw the light of a powerful lamp on the shabby
doors, and at length drew up opposite a wide, wooden gate on which the
number sixty-three was exhibited in large brass figures. I got out of the
car and approached the gate in no little surprise, for its appearance and
the paved truckway that led through it suggested the entrance to a
factory or builders yard. However, there was no doubt that it was the
right house, for the evidence of the number was confirmed by a small
brass plate at the side, legibly inscribed 'Miss Blake' and surmounted by
a bell-pull. At the latter I gave a vigorous tug and was immediately
aware of the far-away jangling of a large bell, which sounded as if it
were ringing in an open yard.

In a few moments I detected quick footsteps which seemed to be
approaching along a paved passage; then a wicket in the gate opened and a
boy of about twelve looked out.

'Whom did you want, please?' he asked in a pleasant, refined voice and
with a courteous, self-possessed manner which 'placed' him instantly in a
social sense. Before I had time to reply, he had looked past me and
observed Miss Blake, who, having been helped out of the car, was now
approaching the gate; on which he sprang through the wicket and ran to
meet her.

'You needn't be alarmed, Percy,' she said in a cheerful voice. 'I have
had a little accident and these gentlemen have very kindly brought me
home. But it is nothing to worry about.'

'You look awfully white and tired, Winnie,' he replied; and then,
addressing me, he asked: 'Is my sister hurt much, sir?'

'No,' I answered. 'The doctor who attended to her thought that she would
soon be quite well again, and I hope she will. Is there anything that we
can do for you, Miss Blake?'

'Thank you, no,' she replied. 'My brother and a friend will look after me
now, but I can't thank you enough for all your kindness.'

'It is I,' said Sir Lawrence, 'who am in your debt--deeply in your debt.
And I do pray that you may suffer no ill consequences from your heroism.
But we mustn't keep you standing here. Goodbye, dear Miss Blake, and God
bless you.'

He shook her hand warmly and her brother's with old-fashioned courtesy. I
handed the boy the folded shawl, and having shaken hands with both,
followed my friend to the car.

'Do you think Thorndyke will be at home?' he asked as the car turned
round and returned to the Hampstead Road.

'I expect so,' I replied. 'But I don't suppose there will be very much
for him to do. There were plenty of fingerprints in evidence. I should
think the police will be able to trace the man without difficulty.'

'Police be damned!' he retorted gruffly. 'I want Thorndyke. And as to
fingerprints, weren't you the leading counsel in that Hornby case?'

'Yes, but that was exceptional. You can't assume--'

'That case,' he interrupted, 'knocked the bottom out of fingerprint
evidence. And these fingerprints may not be on the files at the registry,
and if they are not, the police have no clue to this man's identity, and
are not likely to get any.'

It seemed to me that he was hardly doing the police justice, but there
was no use in discussing the matter, as we were, in fact, going to put
the case in Thorndyke's hands. I accordingly gave a colourless assent,
and for the rest of the short journey we sat in silence, each busy with
his own reflections.

At length the car drew up at the Inner Temple gate. Drayton sprang out,
and signing to the driver to wait, passed through the wicket and strode
swiftly down the narrow lane. As we came out at the end of Crown Office
Row, he looked eagerly across at King's Bench Walk.

'There's a light in Thorndyke's chambers,' he said, and quickening his
pace almost to a run, he crossed the wide space, and plunging into the
entry of number 5A, ascended the stairs two at a time. I followed, not
without effort, and as I reached the landing the door opened in response
to his peremptory knock and Thorndyke appeared in the opening.

'My dear Drayton!' he exclaimed, 'you really ought not, at your age--' he
stopped short, and looking anxiously at our friend, asked: 'Is anything
amiss?'

'Yes,' Drayton replied quietly, though breathlessly. 'My brother
Andrew--you remember him, I expect--has been murdered by some accursed
housebreaker. He is lying on the floor of his room now. I told them to
leave him there until you had seen him. Can you come?'

'I will come with you immediately,' was the reply; and as with grave face
and quick but unhurried movements, he made the necessary preparations, I
noticed that--characteristically--he asked no questions, but concentrated
his attention on providing for all contingencies. He had laid a small,
green, canvas-covered case upon the table, and opening it, was making a
rapid inspection of the apparatus that it contained, when suddenly I
bethought me of the pieces of glass in my pocket.

'Before we start,' said I, 'I had better give you these. The fingerprints
on them are almost certainly those of the murderer. 'As I spoke, I
carefully unwrapped the two pieces of glass and handed them to Thorndyke,
who took them from me, holding them daintily by their edges, and
scrutinising them closely.

'I am glad you brought these, Anstey,' he said. 'They make us to some
extent independent of the police. Do they know you have them?'

'No,' I replied. 'I took possession of them before the police arrived.'

'Then, in that case,' said he 'it will be as well to say nothing about
them.' He held the pieces of glass up against the light, examining them
closely and comparing them, first with the naked eye and then with the
aid of a lens. Finally he lifted the microscope from its shelf, and
placing it on the table, laid one of the pieces of glass on the stage and
examined it through the instrument. His inspection occupied only a few
seconds, then he rose, and turning to Drayton, who had been watching him
eagerly, said: 'It may be highly important for us to have these
fingerprints with us. But we can't produce the originals before the
police, and besides, they are too valuable to carry about at the risk of
spoiling them. But I could make rough, temporary photographs of them in
five minutes if you will consent to the delay.'

'I am in your hands, Thorndyke,' replied Drayton. 'Do whatever you think
is necessary.'

'Then let us go to the laboratory at once,' said Thorndyke; and taking
the two pieces of glass, he led the way across the landing and up the
stairs to the upper floor on which the laboratory and workshop were
situated. And as we went, I could not but appreciate Thorndyke's tact and
sympathy in taking Drayton up with him, so that the tedium of delay might
be relieved by the sense of purposeful action.

The laboratory and its methods were characteristic of Thorndyke.
Everything was ready and all procedure was prearranged. As we entered,
the assistant, Polton, put down the work on which he was engaged, and at
a word, took up the present task without either hesitation or hurry.
While Thorndyke fixed the pieces of glass in the copying frame of the
great standing camera, Polton arranged the light and the condensers and
produced a dark-slide loaded with bromide paper. In less than a minute
the exposure was made; in another three minutes the print had been
developed, roughly fixed, rinsed, squeegeed, soaked in spirit, cut in
two, and trimmed with scissors, and the damp but rapidly drying halves
attached with drawing pins to a small hinged board specially designed for
carrying wet prints in the pocket.

'Now,' said Thorndyke, slipping the folded board into his pocket and
taking from a shelf a powerful electric inspection lamp, 'I think we are
ready to start. These few minutes have not been wasted.'

We returned to the lower room, where Thorndyke, having bestowed the lamp
in the canvas-covered 'research-case,' put on his hat and overcoat and
took up the case, and we all set forth, walking quickly and in silence up
Inner Temple Lane to the gate, and taking our seats in the waiting car
when Drayton had given a few laconic instructions to the driver.

Up to this point Thorndyke had asked not a single question about the
crime. Now, as the car started, he said to Drayton: 'We had better be
ready to begin the investigation as soon as we arrive. Could you give me
a short account of what has happened?'

'Anstey knows more about it than I do,' was the reply. 'He was there
within a few minutes of the murder.'

The question being thus referred to me, I gave an account of all that I
had seen and heard, to which Thorndyke listened with deep attention,
interrupting me only once or twice to elucidate some point that was not
quite clear.

'I understand,' said he when I had finished, 'that there is no catalogue
or record of the collection and no written description of the specimens?'

'No,' replied Drayton. 'But I have looked over the cabinets a good many
times, and taken the pieces out to examine them, so I think I shall be
able to tell roughly what is missing, and give a working description of
the pieces. And I could certainly identify most of them if they should be
produced.'

'They are not very likely to be traced,' said Thorndyke. 'It is highly
improbable that the murderer will attempt to dispose of things stolen in
such circumstances. Still, the possibility of identifying them may be of
the greatest importance, for the folly of criminals is often beyond
belief.'



CHAPTER THREE - THORNDYKE TAKES UP THE INQUIRY


The outer door of the house was shut, although the lower rooms were all
lighted up, but at the first sound of the bell it was opened by a
uniformed constable who regarded us stolidly and inquired as to our
business. Before there was time to answer, however, a man whom I at once
recognised as Inspector Badger of the Criminal Investigation Department
came out into the hall and asked sharply: 'Who is that, Martin?'

'It is Sir Lawrence Drayton, Dr Thorndyke, and Mr Anstey,' I replied; and
as the constable backed out of the way we all entered.

'This is a terrible catastrophe, Sir Lawrence,' said Badger 'Dreadful,
dreadful. If sincere sympathy would be any consolation--'

'It wouldn't,' interrupted Drayton, 'though I thank you all the same. The
only thing that would console me--and that little enough--would be the
sight of the ruffian who did it dangling at the end of a rope. The local
officer told you, I suppose, that I was asking Dr Thorndyke to lend his
valuable aid in investigating the crime?'

'Yes, Sir Lawrence,' replied Badger, 'but I don't know that I am in a
position to authorise any unofficial--'

'Tut, tut, man!' Drayton broke in impatiently, 'I am not asking you to
authorise anything. I am the murdered man's sole executor and his only
brother. In the one capacity his entire estate is vested in me until it
has been disposed of in accordance with the will; in the other capacity,
the duty devolves on me of seeing that his murderer is brought to
account. I give you every liberty and facility to examine these premises,
but I am not going to surrender possession of them. Has any discovery
been made?'

'No, sir.' Badger replied a little sulkily. 'We have only been here a
few minutes. I was taking some particulars from the housekeeper.'

'Possibly I can give you some information while Dr Thorndyke is making
his inspection of my poor brother's body,' said Drayton. 'When he has
finished and the body has been laid decently in his bedroom, I will come
with you to the museum and we will see if anything is missing.'

Badger assented, with evident unwillingness, to this arrangement. He and
Drayton entered the drawing-room, from which the inspector had just come,
while I conducted Thorndyke to the museum.

The room was just as I had seen it last, excepting that the open drawer
had been closed. The stark, rigid figure still lay on the floor, the set,
white face still stared with stern fixity at the ceiling. As I looked,
the events of the interval faded from my mind and all the horror of the
sudden tragedy came back.

Just inside the door Thorndyke halted and slowly ran his eye round the
room, taking in its arrangement, and no doubt fixing it in his memory.
Presently he stepped over to where the body lay, and stood a while
looking down on the dead man. Then he stopped and closely examined a spot
on the right breast.

'Isn't there more bleeding than is usual in the case of a bullet-wound?'
I asked.

'Yes,' he replied, 'but that blood hasn't come from the wound in front.
There must be another at the back, possibly a wound of exit. 'As he
spoke, he stood up and again looked searchingly round the room, more
especially at the side in which the door opened. Suddenly his glance
became fixed and he strode quickly across to a cabinet that stood beside
the door; and as I followed him, I perceived a ragged hole in the front
of one of the drawers.

'Do you mean, Thorndyke,' I exclaimed, 'that the bullet passed right
through him?'

'That is what it looks like,' he replied. 'But we shall be able to judge
better when we get the drawer open--which we can't do until Badger comes.
But there is one thing that we had better do at once.' Stepping over to
the table on which he had placed the research-case, he opened the latter,
and taking from it a stick of blackboard chalk, went back to the body.
'We must assume,' said he, 'that he fell where he was standing when he
was struck, and if that is so he would have been standing here.' He
marked on the carpet two-rough outlines to indicate the position of the
feet when the murdered man fell, and having put the chalk back in the
case, continued: 'The next thing is to verify the existence of the wound
at the back. Will you help me to turn him over?'

We turned the body gently on to its right side, and immediately there
came into view a large, blood-stained patch under the left shoulder, and
at the centre of it a ragged burst in the fabric of the coat.

'That will do,' said Thorndyke. 'It is an unmistakable exit wound. The
bullet probably missed the ribs both in entering and emerging, and passed
through the heart or the great vessels. The appearances suggest almost
instantaneous death. The face is set, the eyes wide open, and both the
hands tightly clenched in a cadaveric spasm. And the right hand seems to
be grasping something, but we had better leave that until Badger has seen
it.'

At this moment footsteps became audible coming along the corridor, and
Badger entered the room accompanied by the local inspector. The two
officers looked inquiringly at Thorndyke, who proceeded at once to give
them a brief statement of the facts that he had observed.

'There can't be much doubt,' said Badger when he had examined the hole in
the drawer front, 'that this was made by a spent bullet. But we may as
well settle the question now. We shall want the keys in any case.'

He passed his hand over the dead man's clothes, and having located the
pocket which contained the keys, drew out a good-sized bunch, with which
he went over to the cabinet. A few trials with likely-looking keys
resulted in the discovery of the right one, and when this had been turned
and the hinged batten swung back, all the drawers of the cabinet were
released. The inspector pulled out the one with the damaged front and
looked in inquisitively. Its contents consisted principally of latten and
pewter spoons, now evidently disarranged and mingled with a litter of
splinters of wood; and in the bowl of a spoon near the back of the drawer
lay a distorted bullet, which Badger picked up and examined critically.

'Browning automatic, I should say,' was his comment, 'and if so we ought
to find the cartridge case somewhere on the floor. We must look for it
presently, but we'd better get the body moved first, if you have finished
your inspection, Doctor.'

'There is something grasped in the right hand,' said Thorndyke. 'It looks
like a wisp of hair. Perhaps we had better look at that before the body
is moved, in case it should fall out.'

We returned to the body, and the two officers stooped and watched eagerly
as Thorndyke, with some difficulty, opened the rigid hand sufficiently to
draw from it a small tuft of hair.

'The spasm is very marked,' he observed as he scrutinised the hair and
felt in his pocket for a lens; and when, with the aid of the latter, he
had made a further examination, he continued: 'The state of the
root-bulbs shows that the hair was actually plucked out--which, of course,
is what we should expect.'

'Can you form any opinion as to what sort of man he was?' Badger asked.

'No,' replied Thorndyke, 'excepting that he was not a recently released
convict. But the appearance of the hair agrees with Miss Blake's
description of the man who stabbed her. I understand that she described
him as a having rather short but bushy hair. This hair is rather short,
though we can't say whether it was bushy or not. Perhaps more complete
examination of it may tell us something further.'

'Possibly,' Badger agreed. 'I will have it thoroughly examined, and get a
report on it. Shall I take charge of it?' he added, holding out his hand.

'Yes, you had better,' replied Thorndyke, 'but I will take a small sample
for further examination, if you don't mind.'

'There is no need for that,' protested Badger. 'You can always have
access to what we've got if you want to refer to it.'

'I know,' said Thorndyke, 'and it is very good of you to offer. Still
this will save time and trouble.' And without more ado he separated a
third of the tuft and handed the remainder to the inspector, who wrapped
it in a sheet of note-paper that he had taken from his pocket and sourly
watched Thorndyke bestow his portion in a seed-envelope from his
pocket-book, and after writing on it a brief description, return it to
the latter receptacle.

'You were saying,' said Badger, 'that this hair agrees with Miss Blake's
description. But it was suggested that it was the other man who really
committed the murder. Isn't that rather a contradiction?'

'I don't think so,' replied Thorndyke. 'The probabilities seem to me to
point to the other man as the murderer.'

'But how can that be?' objected Badger. 'You say that this hair agrees
with Miss Blake's description of the man. But this hair is obviously the
hair of the murderer. And that man was left-handed and the wound is on
the right breast, suggesting that the murderer held his pistol in his
left hand.'

'Not at all,' said Thorndyke. 'I submit that this hair is obviously not
the hair of the murderer. Look at those chalk marks that I have made on
the floor. They mark the spot on which the deceased was standing when the
bullet struck him. Now go back to the cabinet and look at the chalk marks
and see what is in a direct line with them.'

The inspector did so. 'I see,' said he. 'You mean the window.'

'Yes, it was open, since the robber evidently came in by it, and the sill
is barely five feet from the ground. I suggest--but merely as a
probability, since the bullet may have been deflected--that the other man
was keeping guard outside, and that when he heard a noise from this room
he looked in through the window and saw his confederate on the point of
being captured by the deceased, that he then fired, and when he saw
deceased fall, he made his escape. That would account for the man who was
seen by Miss Blake making his appearance after the other man had gone. He
may have had to extricate himself from the dead man's grasp, and then he
had to climb out of the window. But the position of the empty
cartridge-case--if we find it--will settle the question. If the pistol was
fired into the room through the window, the cartridge-case will be on the
ground outside.'

He opened his research-case, and taking from it the electric lamp, walked
slowly to the window, throwing the bright light on the floor as he went.
The two officers followed, and all scrutinised the floor closely, but in
vain. Then Thorndyke leaned out of the window and threw the light of his
lamp on the ground outside, moving the bright beam slowly to and fro
while the inspector craned forward eagerly. Suddenly Badger uttered an
exclamation.

'There it is, Doctor! Don't move the light. Keep it there while I go out
and pick the case up.'

'One moment, Badger,' said Thorndyke. 'We mustn't be impetuous. There are
some other things out there more important than the cartridge-case. I can
see two distinct sets of footprints, and it is above all things necessary
that they should not be confused by being trodden into. Let us get the
body moved first. Then we can take some mats out and examine the
footprints systematically and recover the cartridge-case at the same
time. If we are careful we can leave the ground in such a condition that
it will be possible to go over it again by daylight.'

The wisdom of this suggestion was obvious, and the inspector proceeded at
once to act on it. The sergeant and the constable were sent for, and by
them the body of the murdered man was carried, under the inspector's
supervision, to the bedroom above. Then a couple of large mats were
procured from Mrs Benham and we all issued from the front door into the
garden. Here, however, a halt was called, and at Thorndyke's suggestion,
the party was separated into two, he and Badger to explore the grounds
inside the fence, while the local inspector and the others endeavoured to
follow the tracks outside.

I did not join either party, nor did Sir Lawrence. We both realised the
futility of any attempt to trace the fugitives, and recognised that the
suggestion was made by Thorndyke merely to get rid of the unwanted
supernumeraries. Accordingly we took up a position outside the fence,
which we could just look over, and watched the proceedings of Thorndyke
and Inspector Badger, as they passed slowly along the side of the house,
each with the light of his lantern thrown full on the ground.

They had gone but a few paces when they picked up on the soft, loamy path
the fairly clear impressions of two pairs of feet going towards the back
of the house. Both the investigators paused and stooped to examine them,
and Badger remarked: 'So they came in at the front gate-naturally, as it
was the easiest way. But they must have been pretty sure that there was
no one in the house to see them. And that suggests that they knew the
ways of the household and that they had lurked about to watch Mr Drayton
and Mrs Benham off the premises.'

'Is it possible to distinguish one man from the other?' Drayton asked.

'Yes, quite easily,' Badger replied. 'One of them is a biggish man--close
on six feet, I should say--while the other is quite a small man. That
will be the one that Miss Blake saw.'

They followed the tracks to the back of the house, and as we followed on
our side of the fence Thorndyke called out: 'Be careful, Anstey, not to
tread in the tracks where they came over the fence. We ought to get
specially clear prints of their feet where they jumped down. Could you
get a light?'

'I'll go and get one of the acetylene lamps from the car,' said Drayton.
'You stay where you are until I come back.'

He was but a short time absent, and when he returned he was provided with
a powerful lamp and a couple of small mats. 'I have brought these,' he
explained 'to lay on any particularly clear footprints to protect them
from chance injury. We mustn't lose the faintest shadow of a clue.'

With the aid of the brilliant light Drayton and I explored the ground at
the foot of the fence. Suddenly Sir Lawrence exclaimed:

'Why, these look like a woman's footprints!' and he pointed to a set of
rather indistinct impressions running parallel to the fence.

They will be Miss Blake's,' said I. 'She ran round this way. Yes, here is
the place where the man came over. What extraordinarily clear impressions
this ground takes. It shows the very brads in the heels.'

'Yes,' he agreed; 'this is the Hampstead sand, you know; one of the
finest foundry-sands in the country.'

He laid one of the mats carefully on the pair of footprints, and we
continued our explorations towards the back of the house. Here we saw
Thorndyke and the inspector, each kneeling on a mat, examining a confused
mass of footprints on the ground between the museum window and the fence.

'Have you found the cartridge-case?' I asked.

'Yes,' replied Thorndyke. 'Badger has it. It is a "Baby Browning." And I
think we have seen all there is to see here by this light. Can you see
where the big man came down from the fence? He went over where I am
throwing the light.'

We approached the spot cautiously, and at the place indicated perceived
the very clear and deep impression of a large right foot with a much less
distinct print of a left foot, both having the heels towards the fence;
and a short distance in front of them the soft, loamy earth bore a clear
impression of a left hand with the fingers spread out, and a fainter
print of a right hand.

I reported these facts to Thorndyke, who at once decided to come over and
examine the prints. Handing his lamp over a few paces farther along the
fence, he climbed up and dropped lightly by my side, followed almost
immediately by Inspector Badger.

'This,' said the inspector, gazing down at the foot and hand-prints,
'bears out what we saw from the inside. He wasn't any too active, this
chappie. Probably fat--a big, heavy, awkward man. Had to pull the garden
seat up to the fence to enable him to get over, though it was an easy
fence to climb with those big cross-rails; and here, you see, he comes
down all of a heap on his hands and knees. However, that doesn't help us
a great deal. He isn't the only fat man in the world. We had better go
indoors now and have a look at the room and see if we can find out what
has been taken.'

We turned to retrace our steps towards the gate, pausing on our way to
lift the mats and inspect the footprints of the smaller man; and as we
went Drayton asked if anything of interest had been discovered.

'No,' replied Badger. 'They got in without any difficulty by forcing back
the catch of the window--unless the window was open already. It isn't
quite clear whether they both got in. The big man walked part of the way
round the house and along the fence in both directions, and he pulled a
garden seat up to the fence to help himself up. The small man came out of
the window last, if they were both inside, and I expect it was he who
dropped this--must have had it in his hand when he climbed out'--and here
the inspector produced from his pocket a ring, set with a single round
stone, which he handed to Sir Lawrence.

'Ah,' said the latter, 'a posy-ring, one of the cat's eye series. There
were several of these and a set of moonstone rings in the same drawer.'

'You know the collection pretty well, then. Sir Lawrence?'

'Fairly well. I often used to look over the things with my poor brother.
But, of course, I can't remember all the specimens, though I think I can
show you the drawer that this came from.'

By this time we had entered the house and were making our way to the
museum. On entering the room, Drayton walked straight to the cabinet
which I remembered to have seen open, and pulled out the second drawer
from the top.

'This is the one,' said he. 'They have taken out the glass top--I suppose
those are the pieces of it on the floor.'

'Yes,' said Badger. 'We found it open, and it seems to be the only drawer
that has been tampered with.'

Drayton pulled out the top drawer, and having looked closely at the glass
cover, remarked: 'They have had this one open, too. There are distinct
fingerprints on the glass; and they have had the cover off for there are
finger-marks on the inside of the glass. I wonder why they did that.'

'I can't imagine.' said Badger. 'They don't seem to have taken
anything--there wasn't anything worth taking, for that matter. But they
could see that without lifting off the glass. However, it is all for the
best. We'll hand this glass cover to the Fingerprint Department and hope
they will be able to spot the man that the fingers belong to.'

As he spoke, he made as if he would lift off the cover, but he was
anticipated by Thorndyke, who carefully raised the glass by its leather
tab, and taking it up by the edges, held it against the light and
examined the fingerprints minutely both on the upper and under surfaces.

'The thumbs are on the upper surface,' he remarked, 'and the fingers
underneath; so the glass was lifted right out and held with both hands.'

He handed the glass to the inspector, who had been watching him uneasily,
and now took the cover from him with evident relief; and as Badger
proceeded to deposit it in a safe place, he pushed in the top drawer and
returned to the consideration of the second.

'There are evidently several pieces missing from this drawer,' said he,
'and it may be important to know what they are, though it is rather
unlikely that the thieves will try to dispose of them. Can you tell us
what they are, Drayton?'

'I can tell you roughly,' was the reply. 'This drawer contained the
collection of posy-rings, and most of them are there still, as you can
see. The front row were rings set with moonstone and cat's eye, and most
of those are gone. Then there was a group of moonstone and cat's eye
ornaments, mostly brooches and earrings, and one pendant. Those have all
disappeared. And there is another thing that was in this drawer that has
apparently been taken; a locket. It was shaped like a book and had a
Greek inscription on the front.'

'So far as you can see, Sir Lawrence,' said Badger, 'has anything of
value been taken--of real value, I mean?'

'Of negotiable value, you mean,' Drayton corrected. 'No. Most of the
things were of gold, though not all, but the stones were probably worth
no more than a few shillings each. The value was principally in the
associations and individual character of the pieces. All of them had
inscriptions, and several of them had recorded histories. But that would
be of no use to a thief.'

'Exactly,' said Badger. 'That was what was in my mind. There is something
rather amateurish about this robbery. It isn't quite like the work of a
regular hand. The time was foolish, and then all this shooting and
stabbing is more like the work of some stray foreign crooks than of a
regular tradesman; and as you say, the stuff wasn't worth the
risk--unless there's something else of more value. Perhaps we had better
go through the other cabinets.'

He produced the bunch of keys from his pocket and had just inserted one
into the lock of the next cabinet when Drayton interposed.

'There is no need for that, Inspector. If the cabinets are locked and
have not been broken open, their contents are intact; and I can tell you
that those contents are of no considerable intrinsic value.'

With this he drew the key from the lock and dropped the bunch in his
pocket, a proceeding whereat the inspector smiled sourly and remarked:
'Then in that case, I think I have finished for the present. I'll just
pack up this glass cover and see if those others were able to follow the
tracks of either of these men. And I'll wish you gentlemen goodnight.'

Sir Lawrence accompanied him to the drawing-room, and as I learned later,
provided the official party with refreshment, and when we were alone I
turned to Thorndyke.

'I suppose we have finished, too?'

'Not quite,' he replied. 'There are one or two little matters to be
attended to, but we will wait until the police are clear of the premises.
They will keep their own counsel and I propose to keep mine, unless I can
give them a straight lead.' He opened his research-case and was
thoughtfully looking over its contents when Drayton returned and
announced that the police had departed.

'Is there anything more that you want to do, Thorndyke?' he asked.

'Yes,' was the reply. 'For one thing, I should like to see if there are
any more fingerprints.' As he spoke, he pulled out the drawers of the
cabinet one after the other, and examined the glass covers. But
apparently they had not been touched. At any rate, there were no marks on
any of the glasses.

'They must have been disturbed soon after they got to work,' said Drayton
'as they opened only two drawers.'

'Probably,' Thorndyke agreed, taking from his case a little glass-jar
filled with a yellowish powder and fitted with two glass tubes and a
rubber bulb. With this apparatus he blew a cloud of the fine powder over
the woodwork of the rifled cabinet, and when a thin coating had settled
on the polished surface, he tapped the wood gently with the handle of his
pocket-knife. At each tap a portion of the coating of powder was jarred
on the surface, and then there appeared several oval spots to which it
still adhered. Then he gently blew away the rest of the powder, when the
oval spots were revealed as fingerprints, standing out white and distinct
against the dark wood. Thorndyke now produced from his pocket the hinged
board, and opening it, compared the photographs with these new
fingerprints, while Drayton and I looked over his shoulder.

'They are undoubtedly the same,' said I, a little surprised at the ease
with which I identified these curious markings. 'Absolutely the
same--which is rather odd, seeing that there are the marks of only two
digits of the left hand and four of the right. It almost looks as if
those particular fingers had got soiled with some greasy material and
that the other fingers were clean and had left no mark.'

'An admirable suggestion, Anstey,' said Thorndyke. 'The same idea had
occurred to me, for the prints of these particular fingers are certainly
abnormally distinct. Let us see if we can get any confirmation.' He blew
upon each of the fingerprints in turn until most of the powder was
dislodged and the markings had become almost invisible. Then, taking my
handkerchief, which was of soft silk, and rolling it into a ball, he
began to wipe the woodwork with a circular motion, at first very lightly
but gradually increasing the pressure until he was rubbing quite
vigorously. The result seemed to justify my suggestion, for as the
rubbing proceeded, I could see, by the light of Drayton's lamp, thrown on
at various angles, that the fingerprints seemed to have spread out into
oval, glistening patches, having a lustre somewhat different from that of
the polished wood.

Sir Lawrence looked on with keen interest, and as Thorndyke paused to
examine the woodwork, he asked: 'What is the exact purpose of this
experiment?'

'The point is,' replied Thorndyke, 'that whereas the fingerprint of the
mathematical theorists is a mere abstraction of form devoid of any other
properties, the actual or real fingerprint is a material thing which has
physical and chemical properties, and these properties may have
considerable evidential significance. These fingerprints, for instance,
contain some substance other than the natural secretions of the skin. The
questions then arise, What is that substance? How came it here? And is it
usually associated with any particular kind of person or activity? The
specimens that Anstey so judiciously captured may help us to answer the
first question, and our native wits may enable us to answer the others.
So we have some data for consideration. And that reminds me that there
are some other data that we must secure.'

'What are they?' Drayton asked eagerly.

'There are those impressions in the sand outside the fence. I must have
permanent records of them. Shall we go and do them now? I shall want a
jug of water and a light.'

While Drayton went to fetch the water Thorndyke and I took our way out
through the garden to the outside of the fence, he carrying his
research-case, and I bearing Drayton's lamp. At the spot where we had
laid down the mat we halted, and Thorndyke, having set down his case,
once more lifted the mat.

'They are small feet,' he remarked, glancing at the footprints before
stooping to open the case. 'A striking contrast to the other man's.'

He took from his case a tin of plaster of Paris, and dipping up a small
quantity in a spoon, proceeded very carefully to dust the footprints with
the fine, white powder until they were covered with a thin, even coating.
Then he produced a bottle of water fitted with a rubber ball-spray
diffuser, and with this blew a copious spray of water over the
footprints. As a result, the white powder gradually shrank until the
footprints looked as if they had received a thin coat of whitewash.

'Why not fill the footprints up with liquid plaster?' asked Drayton, who
came up at this moment carrying a large jug.

'It would probably disturb the sand,' was the reply, 'and moreover, the
water would soak in at once and leave the plaster a crumbling mass. But
when this thin layer has set it will be possible to fill up and get a
solid cast.'

He repeated the application of the spray once or twice, and then we went
on to the place where the other man had come over. Here the same process
was carried out, not only with the footprints but also with those of the
hands. Then we went back to the first place, and when Thorndyke had
gently touched the edge of the footprints and ascertained that the thin
coating of plaster had set into a solid shell, he produced a small rubber
basin, and having half filled it with water, added a quantity of plaster
and stirred it until it assumed the consistency of cream; when he
carefully poured it into the white-coated footprints until they were full
and slightly overflowing.

'You see the advantage of this?' said Thorndyke as he cleaned out the
basin and started to walk slowly back to the site of the second set of
prints.

'I do, indeed,' replied Drayton, 'and I am astonished that Badger did not
take a permanent record. These casts will enable you to put the actual
feet of the accused in evidence if need be.'

'Precisely; besides giving us the opportunity to study them at our
leisure, and refer to them if any fresh evidence should become
available.'

The second set of footprints and the impressions of the hands received
similar treatment, and when they had been filled, Thorndyke proceeded to
pack up his appliances.

'We ought to give the casts a good twenty minutes to set hard,' he said,
'though it is the best plaster and quite fresh and has a little powdered
alum mixed with it to accelerate setting and make the cast harder. But we
mustn't be impatient.'

'I am in no hurry,' said Drayton. 'I shall stay here tonight--one
couldn't leave Mrs Benham in the house all alone. The car can take you
back to your chambers and drop Anstey at his lodgings.

'Tomorrow we must make some arrangements of a more permanent kind. But the
great thing is to get on the track of these two villains. Nothing else
seems to matter. There is my poor brother's corpse, crying aloud to
Heaven for justice, and I shall never rest until his murderers have paid
their debt.'

'I sympathise with you most cordially, Drayton,' said Thorndyke, 'and it
is no mere verbal sympathy. I promise you that every resource at my
disposal shall be called in to aid, that no stone shall be left unturned.
It is not only the office of friendship; it is a public duty to ensure
that an inexcusable crime of this kind shall be visited with the most
complete retribution.'

'Thank you. Thorndyke,' Sir Lawrence said with gruff earnestness. And
then after a short pause, he continued: 'I suppose it is premature to ask
you, but do you see any glimmer of hope? Is there anything to lay hold
of? I can see for myself that it is a very difficult and obscure case.'

'It is,' Thorndyke agreed. 'Of course the fingerprints may dispose of the
whole difficulty, if they happen to be on the files at the Habitual
Criminals Registry. Otherwise there is very little evidence. Still, there
is some, and we may build up more by inference. I have seen more
unpromising cases come to a successful issue.'

By this time the stipulated twenty minutes had expired, and we proceeded
to the first set of footprints. The plaster, on being tested, was found
to be quite firm and hard, and Thorndyke was able, with great care, to
lift the two chalky-looking plates from their bed in the ground. And even
in the rather unfavourable light of the lamp their appearance was
somewhat startling, for, as Thorndyke turned them over, each cast
presented the semblance of a white foot, surprisingly complete in detail
so far as the sole was concerned.

But if the appearance of these casts was striking, much more so was that
of the second set; for the latter included casts of the handprints, the
aspect of which was positively uncanny, especially in the case of the
deeper impression, the effect of which was that of a snowy hand with
outspread, crooked, clutching fingers. And here again the fine loam had
yielded an unexpected amount of detail. The creases and markings of the
palm were all perfectly clear and distinct, and I even thought that I
could perceive a trace of the ridges of the fingertips.

Before leaving the spot we carefully removed all traces of piaster, for
it was certain that the footprints would be examined by daylight, and
Thorndyke considered it better that the existence of these casts should
be known only to ourselves. The footprints were left practically intact,
and it was open to the police to make casts if they saw fit.

'I think,' said Thorndyke when we had re-entered the house and were
inspecting the casts afresh as they lay on the table, 'it would be a wise
precaution to attach our signatures to each of them, in case it should be
necessary at any time to put them in evidence. Their genuineness would
then be attested beyond any possibility of dispute.'

To this Drayton and I agreed most emphatically, and accordingly each of
us wrote his name, with the date, on the smooth back of each cast. Then
the 'records' were carefully packed and bestowed in the research-case,
and Thorndyke and I shook our host's hand and went forth to the car.



CHAPTER FOUR - THE LADY OF SHALOTT


The modern London suburb seems to have an inherent incapacity for
attaining a decent old age. City streets and those of country towns
contrive to gather from the passing years some quality of mellowness that
does but add to their charm. But with suburbs it is otherwise. Whatever
charm they have appertains to their garish youth and shares its ephemeral
character. Cities and towns grow venerable with age, the suburb merely
grows shabby.

The above profound reflections were occasioned by my approach to the
vicinity of Jacob Street, Hampstead Road, and by a growing sense of the
drab--not to say sordid--atmosphere that enveloped it, and its
incongruity with the appearance and manner of the lady whose residence I
was approaching. However, I consoled myself with the consideration that
if 'Honesty lives in a poor house, like your fair pearl in your foul
oyster,' perhaps Beauty might make shift with no better lodging; and
these cogitations having brought me to the factory-like gateway, I gave a
brisk tug at the bell above the brass plate.

After a short interval the wicket was opened by my young acquaintance of
the previous night, who greeted me with a sedate smile of recognition.

'Good afternoon,' I said, holding out my hand. 'I have just called to
learn how your sister is. I hope she is not much the worse for her rather
terrifying experiences last night.'

'Thank you,' he replied with quaint politeness, 'she seems to be all
right today. But the doctor won't let her do any work. He's fixed her arm
in a sling. But won't you come in and see her, sir?'

I hesitated, dubious as to whether she would care to receive a stranger
of her own class in these rather mean surroundings, but when he added:
'She would like to see you, I am sure, sir,' my scruples gave way to my
very definite inclination and I stepped through the wicket.

My young friend--who wore a blue linen smock--conducted me down a paved
passage, the walls of which bore each a long shelf on which was a row of
plaster busts and statuettes, into an open yard in which a small, elderly
man was working with chisel and mallet on a somewhat ornate marble
tombstone, amidst a sort of miniature Avebury of blocks and slabs of
stone and marble. Across the yard rose a great barn-like building with
one enormous window high up the wall, a great double door, and a small
side door. Into the latter my conductor entered and held it open for me,
and as I passed in, I found myself in total darkness. Only for a moment,
however, for my young host, having shut the door, drew aside a heavy
curtain and gave me a view of huge, bare hall with lofty, whitewashed
walls, an open timber roof, and a plank floor relieved from absolute
nakedness by one or two rugs. A couple of studio easels stood opposite
the window, and in a corner I observed a spectral lay-figure shrouded in
what looked like a sheet. At the farther end, by a large, open fireplace,
Miss Blake sat in an easy-chair with a book in her hand. She looked up as
I entered, and then rose and advanced to meet me, holding out her left
hand.

'How kind of you, Mr Anstey, to come and see me!' she exclaimed. 'And how
good it was of you to take such care of me last night!'

'Not at all,' I replied. 'But I hope you are not very much the worse for
your adventures. Are you suffering much pain?'

'I have no pain at all,' she replied with a smile, 'and I don't believe
this sling is in the least necessary. But one must obey the doctor's
orders.'

'Yes,' interposed her brother, 'and that is what the sling is for. To
prevent you from getting into mischief, Winnie.'

'It prevents me from doing any work, if that is what you mean, Percy,'
said she, 'and I suppose the doctor is right in that.'

'I am sure he is,' said I. 'Rest is most essential to enable the wound to
heal quickly. What sort of night did you have?'

'I didn't sleep much,' she replied. 'It kept coming back to me, you
know--that awful moment when I went into the museum and saw that poor man
lying on the floor. It was a dreadful experience. So horribly sudden,
too. One moment I saw him go away, full of life and energy, and the next
I was looking on his corpse. Do you think those wretches will really
escape?'

'It is difficult to say. The police have the fingerprints of one of them,
and if that person is a regular criminal, they will be able to identify
him.'

'Will they really?' she exclaimed. 'It sounds very wonderful. How are
they able to do it?'

'It is really quite simple. When a man is convicted of a crime, a
complete set of his fingerprints is taken at the prison by pressing his
fingers on an inked slab and putting them down on a sheet of paper--there
is a special form for the purpose with a space for each finger. This form
is deposited, with photographs of the prisoner, in one of the files of
the Habitual Criminals Registry at Scotland Yard. Then, when a strange
fingerprint turns up, it is compared with those in the files, and if one
is found that is an exact facsimile, the name attached to it is the name
of the man who is wanted.'

'But how are they ever able to find the facsimile in such a huge
collection, for the numbers in the files must be enormous?'

'That also is more simple than it looks. The lines on fingertips form
very definite patterns-spirals, or whorls, closed loops like the end
grain of wood, open curves, or arches, and so on. Now each fingerprint is
filed under its particular heading--whorl, loop, arch, etc.--and also in
accordance with the particular finger that bears the pattern, so the
inquiry is narrowed down to a comparatively small number from the start.
Let us take an instance. Suppose we have found some fingerprints of which
the left little finger has a spiral pattern and the ring finger adjoining
has a closed loop. Then we look in the file which contains the spiral
left little fingers and in the file of looped left ring fingers, and we
glance through the lists of names. There will be certain names that will
appear in both lists, and one of those will be the name of the man that
we want. All that remains is to compare our prints with each of them in
turn until we come to the one that is an exact facsimile. The name
attached to that one is the name of our man. Of course, in practice, the
process is more elaborate, but that is the principle.'

'It is wonderfully ingenious,' said Miss Blake, 'and really simple, as
you say, and it sounds as if it were perfectly infallible.'

'That is the claim that the police make. But, as you see, the utility of
the system for the detection of crime is limited to the cases of those
criminals whose fingerprints have been registered. That is what our
chance depends on now. The man who murdered Mr Drayton left prints of his
fingers on the glass of the cabinet, and the police have taken the glass
away to examine. If they find facsimiles of those fingerprints in the
register, then they will know who murdered Mr Drayton. But if those
fingerprints are not in the register, they won't help us at all. And as
far as I know, there is no other clue to the identity of the murderer.'

Miss Blake appeared to reflect earnestly on what I had said, and in the
ensuing silence I continued my somewhat furtive observation of the great
studio and its occupants. Particularly did I notice a number of
paintings, apparently executed in tempera on huge sheets of brown paper,
pinned on the walls somewhat above the level of the eye; figure subjects
of an allegorical character, strongly recalling the manner of
Burne-Jones, and painted with something considerably beyond ordinary
competence. And from the paintings my eye strayed to the painter--as I
assumed and hoped her to be--and a very striking and picturesque figure
she appeared, with her waxen complexion, delicately tinged with pink, her
earnest grey eyes, a short, slightly retrousse nose, the soft mass of
red-gold hair and the lissom form, actually full and plump though with
the deceptive appearance of slimness that one notes in the figures of the
artist whose style she followed. I noted with pleasure--not wholly
aesthetic, I suspect--the graceful pose into which she seemed naturally to
fall, and when my roving eye took in a 'planchette' hanging on the wall
and a crystal ball reposing on a black velvet cushion on a little
altar-like table in a corner, I forbore to scoff inwardly as I should
have done in other circumstances, for somehow the hint of occultism, even
of superstition, seemed not out of character. She reminded me of the Lady
of Shalott, and the whispered suggestion of Merlinesque magic gave a note
of harmony that sounded pleasantly.

While we had been talking, her brother had been pursuing his own affairs
with silent concentration, though I had noticed that he had paused to
listen to my exposition on the subject of fingerprints. In the middle of
the studio floor was a massive stone slab--a relic of some former
sculptor tenant--and on this the boy was erecting, very methodically, a
model of some sort of building with toy bricks of a kind that I had not
seen before. I was watching him and noting the marked difference between
him and his sister--for he was a somewhat dark lad with a strong,
aquiline face--when Miss Blake spoke again.

'Did you find out what had been stolen?'

'Yes,' I answered, 'approximately. There was nothing missing of any
considerable value. Only a few pieces had been taken, and those were
mostly simple jewels set with moonstones or cat's eyes.'

'Cat's eyes!' she exclaimed.

'Yes, a few posy-rings, some earrings, and I think, one pendant.'

'Was the pendant stolen?'

'Yes, apparently. Sir Lawrence mentioned a cat's-eye pendant as one of
the things that he missed from the drawer. Does the pendant interest you
specially?'

'Yes.' she answered thoughtfully, 'it was this pendant that I went there
to see. It was illustrated in the Connoisseur article, and I wrote to
poor Mr Drayton because I wanted to examine it. And so,' she added in a
lower tone and with an expression of deep sadness, 'the pendant became,
through me, the cause of his death. But for it and me, he would not have
gone to the house at that time.'

'It is impossible to say whether he would or not,' said I, and then, to
change the subject, as this seemed to distress her, I continued: 'there
was another thing missing that was figured in the Connoisseur--a
locket--'

'Of course!' she exclaimed. 'How silly of me to forget it.' She rose
hastily, and stepping over to an old walnut bureau that stood under the
window, pulled out one of the little drawers and picked some small object
out of it.

'There,' she said, holding out her hand, in which lay a small gold
locket, 'this is the one. I recognised it instantly. And now see if you
can guess how it came into my possession.'

I was completely mystified, and said so, though I hazarded a guess that
it had in some way caught in her clothing.

'Yes,' said she, 'it was in my shawl. You remember I said that the man
whom I was trying to hold had something in his hand and that he must have
dropped it when he drew his knife. Now it happened that my shawl had just
then slipped off in the struggle and that he was standing on it. The
locket must have dropped on the shawl, and this little brass hook, which
some one has fastened to the ring of the locket, must have hooked itself
into the meshes of the shawl--which is of crocheted silk, you will
remember. Then you picked the shawl up and rolled it into a bundle, and
it was never unrolled until this morning. When I shook it out to hang it
up, the locket fell out, and most unfortunately, as it fell it opened and
the glass inside got broken. I am most vexed about it, for it is such an
extremely charming little thing. Don't you think so?'

I took the little bauble in my hand, and, to speak the literal truth, was
not deeply smitten with its appearance. But policy, and the desire to
make myself agreeable, bade me dissemble. 'It is a quaint and curious
little object,' I admitted.

'It is a perfectly fascinating little thing,' she exclaimed
enthusiastically. 'And so secret and mysterious, too. I am sure there is
some hidden meaning in those references inside, and then there is
something delightfully cabalistic and magical about that weird-looking
inscription on the front.'

'Yes,' I agreed, 'Greek capitals make picturesque inscriptions,
especially this uncial form of lettering, but there is nothing very
recondite in the matter; in fact it is rather hackneyed. "Life is short
but Art is long. "'

'So that is what it means. Percy couldn't quite make it out, and I don't
know any Greek at all. But it is a beautiful motto, though I am not sure
that I don't prefer the more usual form, "Art is long but Life is
short."'

'That is the Latin version, "Ars longa, Vita brevis". Yes, I think I
agree with you. The Latin form is rather more epigrammatic. But what
other inscription were you referring to?'

'There are some references to passages of Scripture inside. I have looked
them out, all but one. Shall I get my notes and let you see what the
references are?' She looked at me so expectantly and with such charming
animation that I assented eagerly. Not that I cared particularly what the
references were, but the occupation of looking them out promised to put
us on a delightfully companionable footing. And if I was not profoundly
interested in the locket, I found myself very deeply interested in the
Lady of Shalott.

While she was searching for her notes, I examined the little bauble more
closely. It was a simple trinket, well made and neatly finished. The
workmanship was plain, though very solid, and I judged it to be of some
considerable age, though not what one would call antique. It was
fashioned in the form of a tiny book with a hinge at the back and a
strong loop of gold on each half, the two loops forming a double
suspension ring. To one of the loops a small brass hook had been
attached, probably to hang it in a show-case. On the front was engraved
in bold Greek uncials 'O BIOC BPAXYO H AE TEXNH MAKPH' without any other
ornament, and on turning the locket over I found the back--or under-side
as a bookbinder would say--quite plain save for the hallmark near the top.
Then I opened the little volume. In the back half was a circular cell,
framed with a border of small pearls and containing a tiny plait of black
hair coiled into a close spiral. It had been enclosed by a glass cover,
but this was broken and only a few fragments remained. The interior of
the front half was covered with extremely minute engraved lettering
which, on close inspection, appeared to be references to certain passages
of Holy Scripture, the titles of the books being given in Latin.

I had just concluded these observations when Miss Blake returned with a
manuscript book, a Bible, and a small reading-glass.

'This,' she said, handing me the latter, 'will help you to make out the
tiny lettering. If you will read out the references one at a time, I will
read out the passages that they refer to. And if any of them suggest to
you any meaning beyond what is apparent, do, please, tell me, for I can
make nothing of them.'

I promised to do so, and focusing the glass on the microscopic writing,
read out the first reference: '"Leviticus 25. 41."'

'That verse,' she said, 'reads: "And then shall he depart from thee, both
he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and
unto the possession of his fathers shall he return."'

'The next reference,' said I, 'is "Psalms 121. 1"'

'The reading is: "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence
cometh my help." What do you make of that?'

'Nothing,' I replied, 'unless one can regard it as a pious exhortation,
and it is extraordinarily indefinite at that.'

'Yes, it does seem vague, but I feel convinced that it means more than it
seems to, if we could only fathom its significance.'

'It might easily do that,' said I, and as I spoke I caught the eye of her
brother, who had paused in his work and was watching us with an indulgent
smile, and I wondered egotistically if he was writing me down a
consummate ass.

'The next,' said I, 'is "Acts 10. 5."'

'The reading is: "And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon,
whose surname is Peter."'

'I begin to think you must be right,' said I, 'for that passage is sheer
nonsense unless it covers something in the nature of a code. Taken by
itself, it has not the faintest bearing on either doctrine or morals. Let
us try the next one, "Nehemiah 8. 4."'

'That one is just as cryptic as the others,' said she. 'It reads: "And
Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the
purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and
Urijali, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left
hand, Pedaiah, and Mishad, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana,
Zechariah, and Meshullam."'

At this point an audible snigger proceeding from the direction of the
builder revived my misgivings. There is something slightly alarming about
a schoolboy with an acute perception of the ridiculous.

'What is the joke, Percy?' his sister asked.

'Those fellows' names, Winnie. Do you suppose there really was a chap
called Hashed Banana?'

'Hashbadana, Percy,' she corrected.

'Very well. Hashed Badada then. But that only makes it worse. Sounds as
if you'd got a cold.'

'What an absurd boy you are, Percy,' exclaimed Miss Blake, regarding her
brother with a fond smile. Then, reverting to her notes, she said: 'The
next reference appears to be a mistake, at least I don't understand it.
It says "3 Kings 7. 41." Isn't that so?'

'Yes. "3 Lib. Regum 7. 41." But what is wrong with it?'

'Why, there are only two Books of Kings.'

'Oh, I see. But it isn't a mistake. In the Authorised Version the two
books of Samuel have the alternative title of the First and Second Books
of Kings, and the First Book of Kings has the subtitle "Commonly called
the Third Book of the Kings." But at the present day the books are
invariably referred to as the First and Second Books of Samuel and the
First and Second Books of Kings. Shall we look it up?'

She opened the Bible and turned over the leaves to the First Book of
Kings.

'Yes,' she said, 'it is as you say. How odd that I should never have
noticed it, or at any rate, not have remembered it. Then this reference
is really "1 Kings 7. 41." And yet it can't be. What sense can you possibly
make of this: "The two pillars, and the two bowls of the chapiters that
were on the top of the two pillars; and the two networks, to cover the
two bowls of the chapiters which were upon the top of the pillars." It
seems quite meaningless, separated from its context.'

'It certainly is rather enigmatical,' I agreed. 'This is an excerpt from
what was virtually an inventory of Solomon's Temple. If the purpose of
this collection of Scripture texts was to inculcate some religious or
moral truths, I don't see the bearing of this quotation at all. But we
may take it that these passages had some meaning to the original owner of
the locket.'

'They must have had,' she replied earnestly. 'Perhaps we may be able to
find the key to the riddle if we consider the whole series together.'

'Possibly,' I agreed, not very enthusiastically. 'The next reference is
"Psalms 31. 7."'

'The verse is: "I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast
considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities."'

'That doesn't throw much light on the subject,' said I. 'The last
reference is "2 Timothy 4. 13."'

'It reads: "The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest,
bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments."'

She laid down her notes, and looking at me with the most intense gravity,
exclaimed: 'Isn't that extraordinary? It is the most astonishing of them
all. You see, it is perfectly trivial, just a message from St Paul to
Timothy on a purely personal matter of no importance to anybody but
himself. But the whole collection of texts is very odd. They seem utterly
unconnected with one another, and, as you say, without any significance
in respect of either faith or morals. What is your opinion of them?'

'I don't know what to think,' I replied. 'They may have had some
significance to the original owner of the locket only, something personal
and reminiscent. Or they may have been addressed to some other person in
terms previously agreed on. That is to say, they may have formed
something in the nature of a code.'

'Exactly,' she agreed eagerly. 'That is what I think. And I am just
devoured by curiosity as to what the message was that they were meant to
convey. I shan't rest until I have solved the mystery.'

I smiled, and again my glance wandered to the planchette on the wall and
the crystal ball on the table. Evidently my new and charming friend was
an inveterate mystic, an enthusiastic explorer of the dubious regions of
the occult and the supernormal. And though my own matter-of-fact
temperament engendered little sympathy with such matters, I found in this
very mysticism an additional charm. It seemed entirely congruous with her
eminently picturesque personality.

But at this moment I became suddenly aware that I had made a most
outrageously long visit and rose with profuse apologies for my disregard
of time.

'There is no need to apologise,' she assured me cordially. 'It is most
kind of you to have given so much time to a mere counterfeit invalid. But
won't you stay and have tea with us? Can't you really? Well, I hope you
will come and see us again when you can spare an hour. Oh, and hadn't I
better give you this locket to hand to Sir Lawrence Drayton?'

'Certainly not,' I replied. 'You had better keep it until you see him,
and perhaps in the interval you may be able to extract its secret. But I
will tell him that it is in safe hands.' I shook her hand warmly, and
when I had made a brief inspection of Master Percy's building, that
promising architect piloted me across the yard and finally launched me,
with a hearty farewell and a cordial invitation to 'come again soon,'
into the desert expanse of Jacob Street.



CHAPTER FIVE - MR HALLIBURTON'S MASCOT


Emerging into the grey and cheerless street I sauntered towards the
Hampstead Road, and having reached that thoroughfare, halted at the
corner and looked at my watch. It was barely four o'clock, and as I had
arranged to meet Thorndyke at the Euston Road corner at half-past four, I
had half an hour in which to cover something less than half a mile. I
began to be regretful that I had refused the proffered tea, and when my
leisurely progress brought me to the door of an establishment in which
that beverage was dispensed, I entered and called for refreshment.

And as I sat by the shabby little marble-topped table, my thoughts
strayed back to the great bare studio in Jacob Street and the strange,
enigmatical but decidedly alluring personality of its tenant. To say that
I had been favourably impressed by her would be to understate the case. I
found myself considering her with a degree of interest and admiration
that no other woman had ever aroused in me. She was--or, at least, she
appeared to me--a strikingly beautiful girl, but that was not the whole,
or even the main, attraction. Her courage and strength of character, as
shown in the tragic circumstances of the previous night; her refinement
of manner and easy, well-bred courtesy, her intelligence and evident
amiability, and her frank friendliness, without any sacrifice of dignity,
had all combined to make her personality gracious and pleasant. Then
there were the paintings. If they were her work, she was an artist of
some talent. I had meant cautiously to inquire into that, but the
investigation of the locket had excluded everything else. And the thought
of the locket and the almost childish eagerness that she had shown to
extract its (assumed) secret, led naturally to the planchette and the
crystal globe. In general I was disposed to scoff at such things, but on
her the mysticism and occultism--I would not call it superstition--seemed
to settle naturally and to add a certain piquancy to her mediaeval grace.
And so reflecting, I suddenly bethought me of the cat's eye pendant. What
was the nature of her interest in that? At first I had assumed that she
was a connoisseur in jewels, and possibly I was right. But her curious
interest in the locket suggested other possibilities, and into these I
determined to inquire on my next visit--for I had already decided that
the friendly invitations should not find me unresponsive. In short, the
Lady of Shalott had awakened in me a very lively curiosity.

My speculations and reflections very effectively filled out the spare
half-hour and brought me on the stroke of half-past four to the corner of
the Euston Road; and I had barely arrived when I perceived the tall,
upright figure of my colleague swinging easily up Tottenham Court Road.
In a few moments he joined me, and we both turned our faces westward.

'We needn't hurry,' said he. 'I said I would be there at five.'

'I don't quite understand what you are going for,' said I. 'This man,
Halliburton, seems to have been no more than a chance stranger. What do
you expect to get out of him?'

'I have nothing definite in my mind,' he replied. 'The whole case is in
the air at present. The position is this: a murder has been committed and
the murderers have got away almost without leaving a trace. If the
fingerprint people cannot identify the one man, we may say that we have
no clue to the identity of either. But that murder had certain
antecedents. Halliburton's visit was one of them, though there was
probably no causal relation.'

'You don't suspect Halliburton?'

'My dear fellow, I suspect nobody. We haven't got as far as that. But we
have to investigate every thing, person, or circumstance that makes the
smallest contact with the crime. But here is our destination, and I need
not remark, Anstey, that our purpose is to acquire information, not to
give it.'

The 'Baltic' Hotel was a large private house not far from the Great
Central Station, distinguished from other private houses only by an open
street door and by the name inconspicuously inscribed on the fanlight. As
we ascended the steps and entered the hall, a short, pleasant-faced man
emerged from an office and looked inquiringly from one of us to the
other. 'Dr Thorndyke?' he asked.

'Yes,' replied my colleague, 'and I assume that you are the manager, Mr
Simpson. I must thank you for making the appointment and hope I am not
inconveniencing you.'

'Not at all,' rejoined the other. 'I know your name very well, sir, and
shall be delighted to give you any assistance that I can. I understand
that you want Mr Halliburton's address.'

'If you have no objection, I should like to have it. I want to write to
him.'

'I can give it to you off-hand,' said the manager. 'It is "Oscar
Halliburton, Esquire, Wimbledon."'

'That doesn't seem a very sufficient address,' remarked Thorndyke.

'It is not,' said the manager. 'I had occasion to write to him myself and
my letter was returned, marked "insufficiently addressed."'

'Then, in effect, you have not got his address?'

'That is what it amounts to. Would you like to see the visitors' book? If
you will step into my private office I will bring it to you.'

He showed us into his office, and in a few moments entered with the book,
which he laid on the table and opened at the page on which the signature
appeared.

'This does not appear to have been written with the hotel pen,' Thorndyke
remarked when he had glanced at the adjoining signatures.

'No,' the manager agreed. 'Apparently he used his own fountain pen.'

'I see that this entry is dated the 13th of September. How long did he
stay?'

'He left on the 16th of September--five days ago.'

'And he received at least one letter while he was here?'

'Yes, one only, I believe. It came on the morning of the 16th, I
remember, and he left in the evening.'

'Do you know if he went out much while he was here?'

'No, he stayed indoors nearly all day, and he spent most of his time in
the billiard-room practising fancy strokes.'

'What sort of man was he--in appearance, for instance?'

'Well,' said Simpson rather hesitatingly, 'I didn't see much of him, and
I see a good many people. I should say he was a biggish man, medium
colour and rather sunburnt.'

'Any beard or moustache?'

'No, clean shaved and a good deal of hair--rather long, wanted a crop.'

'Any distinctive accent or peculiarity of voice?'

'I didn't have much talk with him--nor did anybody else, I think. He was
a gruffish, taciturn man. Nothing peculiar about his voice, and as to his
accent, well, it was just ordinary, very ordinary, with perhaps just a
trace of the cockney, but only a trace. It wasn't exactly the accent of
an English gentleman.'

'And that is all that you remember about him?'

'That is all.'

'Would you have any objection to my taking a photograph of this
signature?'

The manager looked rather dubious. 'It would hardly do for it to be
known--' he began, when Thorndyke interrupted:

'I suggest, Mr Simpson, that whatever passes between us shall be regarded
as strictly confidential on both sides. The least said, the soonest
mended, you know.'

'There's a good deal of truth in that; said the manager with a smile,
'especially in the hotel business. Well, if that is understood, I don't
know that I have any objection to your taking a photograph. But how are
you going to manage it?'

'I have a camera; replied Thorndyke, 'and I see that your table lamp is a
sixty Watt. It won't take an unreasonably long exposure.'

He propped the book up in a suitable position, and having arranged the
lamp so as to illuminate the page obliquely, produced from his pocket a
small folding camera and a leather case of dark slides, at which Mr
Simpson gazed in astonishment. 'You'll never get a useful photograph with
a toy like that,' said he.

'Not such a toy as you think,' replied Thorndyke as he opened the little
instrument. 'This lens is specially constructed for close range work, and
will give me the signature the full size of the original.' He laid a
measuring tape on the table, and having adjusted the camera by its
engraved scale, inserted the dark slide, looked at his watch, and opened
the shutter.

'You were saying just now, Mr Simpson,' he resumed as we sat round the
table watching the camera, 'that you had occasion to write to Mr
Halliburton. Should I be indiscreet if I were to ask what the occasion
was?'

'Not at all,' replied the manager. 'It was a ridiculous affair. It seems
that Mr Halliburton had a sort of charm or mascot which he wore suspended
by a gold ring from a cord under his waistcoat; a silly little bone
thing, of no value whatever, though he appears to have set great store by
it. Well, after he had left the hotel he missed it. The ring had broken
and the thing had dropped off the cord--presumably, he supposed, when he
was undressing. So a couple of days later--on the eighteenth--back he
came in a rare twitter to know if it had been picked up. I asked the
chambermaids if any of them had found the mascot in his room or
elsewhere, but none of them had. Then he was frightfully upset and begged
me to ask them again and to say that he would give ten pounds to any one
who should have found it and would hand it to him. Ten pounds!' Mr
Simpson repeated with contemptuous emphasis. 'Just think of it! The price
of a gold watch for a thing that looked like a common rabbit bone! Why, a
man like that oughtn't to be at large.'

I could see that my colleague was deeply interested, though his impassive
face suggested nothing but close attention. He put away his watch, closed
the lens-shutter and the dark slide, and finally bestowed the little
apparatus in his pocket. Then he asked the manager: 'Can you give us
anything like a detailed description of this mascot?'

'I can show you the thing itself,' replied Simpson. 'That is the irony of
the affair. Mr Halliburton hadn't been out of the house half an hour
when the boy who looks after the billiard-room came bursting into my
office in the devil's own excitement. He had heard of the ten pounds
reward and had proceeded at once to take up all the rugs and mats in the
billiard-room, and there, under the edge of a strip of cocoa-nut matting,
he had found the precious thing. No doubt the ring had broken when
Halliburton was leaning over the table to make a long shot. So I took it
from the boy and put it in the safe, and I wrote forthwith to the address
given in the book to say that the mascot had come to light, but, as I
told you just now, the letter was returned marked "insufficiently
addressed." So there it is, and unless he calls again, or writes, he
won't get his mascot, and the boy won't get his ten pounds. Would you
like to see the treasure?'

'I should, very much,' replied Thorndyke; whereupon the manager stepped
over to a safe in the corner of the room, and having unlocked it, came
back to the table holding a small object in the palm of his hand.

'There it is,' said he, dropping it on the table before Thorndyke, 'and I
think you will agree with me that it is a mighty dear ten pounds' worth.'

I looked curiously at the little object as my colleague turned it about
in his hand. It was evidently a bone of some kind, roughly triangular in
shape and perforated by three holes, one large and two smaller. In
addition to these, a fourth hole had been drilled through near the apex
to take a gold suspension ring, and this was still in position, though it
was broken, having chafed quite thin with wear in one part and apparently
given way under some sudden strain. The surface of the bone was covered
with minute incised carving of a simple and rather barbaric type, and the
whole bone had been stained a deep, yellowish brown, which had worn
lighter in the parts most exposed to friction; and the entire surface had
that unmistakable polish and patina that comes with years of handling and
wear.

'What do you make of it, sir?' asked Mr Simpson.

'It is the neck bone of some small animal,' Thorndyke replied. 'But not a
rabbit. And, of course, the markings on it give it an individual
character.'

'Would you give ten pounds for it?' the manager asked with a grin.

'I am not sure that I wouldn't,' Thorndyke replied 'though not for its
intrinsic value. But yours is not a "firm offer." You are not a vendor.
But I should like very much to borrow it for a few hours.'

'I don't quite see how I could agree to that,' said Simpson. 'You see,
the thing isn't mine. I'm just a trustee. And Mr Halliburton might call
and ask for it at any moment.'

'I would give you a receipt for it and undertake to let you have it back
by ten o'clock tomorrow morning,' said Thorndyke.

'M'yes,' said Simpson reflectively and with evident signs of weakening.
'Of course, I could say I had deposited it at my bank. But is it of any
importance? Would you mind telling me why you want to borrow the thing?'

'I want to compare it carefully with some similar objects, the existence
of which is known to me. I could do that tonight, and, if necessary, send
the specimen back forthwith. As to the importance of the comparison, who
can say? If Halliburton should turn up and give a practicable address
there would be nothing in it. But if he should never reappear and it
should become necessary to trace him, the information gathered from an
exhaustive examination of this object might be of great value.'

'I see,' said Simpson. 'In a sense it is a matter of public policy. Of
course that puts a different complexion on the affair. And having regard
to your position and character, I don't see why I shouldn't agree to your
having a short loan of the thing. But I should like to have it back by
nine o'clock tomorrow morning, if you could manage it.'

'I promise you that it shall be delivered into your hand by a responsible
person not later than nine o'clock,' said Thorndyke. 'I will now give you
a receipt, which I will ask you to hand to my messenger in exchange for
your property; and again, Mr Simpson, I would suggest that we make no
confidences to anyone concerning this transaction.'

To this the manager assented with decided emphasis, and our business
being now concluded, we thanked Mr Simpson warmly for his courtesy and
his very helpful attitude and took our departure.

'You seem extraordinarily keen about that precious bone, Thorndyke,' I
remarked as we walked back along the Marylebone Road, 'but I'm hanged if
I see why. It won't tell you much about Halliburton. And if it would, I
don't quite see what you want to know. He is obviously a fool. You don't
need much investigation to ascertain that, and like most fools, he seems
easily parted from his money. What more do you want to know?'

'My learned friend,' replied Thorndyke, 'is not profiting sufficiently by
his legal experience. One of the most vital principles that years of
practice have impressed on me is that in the early stages of an inquiry,
no fact, relevant or irrelevant, that is in any way connected with the
subject of the inquiry should be neglected or ignored. Indeed, no such
fact can be regarded as irrelevant, since, until all the data are
assembled and collated, it is impossible to judge the bearing or value of
any one of them.

'Take the present case. Who is Mr Halliburton? We don't know. Why did he
want to examine Mr Drayton's collection? We don't know. What passed
between him and Mr Drayton when he made his visit? Again we don't know.
Perhaps there is nothing of any significance to know. The probability is
that Halliburton has no connection with this case at all. But there is no
denying that he is in the picture.'

'Yes, as a background figure. His name has been mentioned as one of the
visitors who had come to see the collection. There were other visitors,
you remember.'

'Yes, and if we knew who they were we should want to know something about
them, too. But Halliburton is the only one known to us. And your
presentation of his position in relation to what has happened does not
state the case fairly at all. The position is really this: Halliburton--a
complete stranger to Drayton--took considerable trouble to obtain an
opportunity to examine the collection. Why did he do this? You have
quoted Mrs Benham as saying that he apparently knew nothing about
jewellery, either ancient or modern. He was not a connoisseur. Then, why
did he want to see the collection? Again, he wrote for the appointment,
not from his own residence but from an hotel; and when we come to that
hotel we find that he has left no verifiable address, and the vague
locality that he gave may quite possibly be a false address. And further,
that this apparent concealment of his place of abode coincides with a
very excellent reason for giving a correct address, the fact that he has
lost--and lost in the hotel, as he believes--certain property on which he
sets a high value. And if you add to this the facts that within four days
of his visit to Drayton the collection was robbed; that the robbers
clearly knew exactly where it was kept and had some knowledge of the
inmates of the house and their habits, you must admit that Halliburton is
something more than a background figure in the picture.'

I was secretly impressed by the way in which Thorndyke had 'placed' Mr
Halliburton in respect of the inquiry, but, of course, it wouldn't do to
say so. It was necessary to assert my position.

'That,' I replied, 'is the case for the prosecution, and very
persuasively stated. On the other hand it might be said for the defence:
"Here is a gentleman who lives in the country and who comes up to spend a
few days in town--"'

'For the apparent purpose,' Thorndyke interrupted, 'of practising the art
of billiards, a sport peculiar to London.'

'Exactly. And while he is in London he takes the opportunity of
inspecting a collection which has been described in the Press. A few days
after his visit the collection is robbed by some persons who have
probably also seen the published description. There is no positive fact
of any kind that connects him with those persons, and I assert that the
assumption that any such connection exists is entirely gratuitous.'

Thorndyke smiled indulgently. 'It seems a pity,' he remarked, 'that my
learned friend should waste the sweetness of his jury flourishes on the
desert air of Marylebone Road. But we needn't fash ourselves, as I
believe they say in the North. There was a lady named Mrs Glasse whose
advice to cooks seems to be applicable to the present case. We had better
catch our hare before we proceed to jug him--the word "jug" being used
without any malicious intent to perpetrate a pun.'

'And do I understand that the capture is to be accomplished by the agency
of the rabbit-bone that my learned senior carries in his reverend
pocket?'

'If you do,' replied Thorndyke, 'your understanding is a good deal in
advance of mine. I am taking this little object to examine merely on the
remote chance that it may yield some information as to this man's
antecedents, habits, and perhaps even his identity. The chance is not so
remote as it looks. There are very few things which have been habitually
carried on a man's person which will not tell you something about the
person who has carried them. And this object, as you probably noticed, is
in many respects highly characteristic.'

'I can't say that I found the thing itself particularly characteristic.
The fact that the man should have carried it and have set such a
ridiculous value on it is illuminating. That writes him down a
superstitious ass. But superstitious asses form a fairly large class. In
what respects do you find this thing so highly characteristic, and what
kind of information do you expect to extract from it?'

'As to the latter question,' he replied, 'an investigator doesn't form
expectations in advance; and as to the former, you will have an
opportunity of examining the object for yourself and of forming your own
conclusions.'

I determined to make a minute and exhaustive inspection of our treasure
trove as soon as we arrived home. For obviously I had missed something.
It was clear to me that Thorndyke attached more importance to this object
than would have been warranted by anything that I had observed. There was
some point that I had overlooked and I meant to find out what it was.

But the opportunity did not offer immediately, for, on our arrival at his
chambers, Thorndyke proceeded straight up to the laboratory, where we
found his assistant, Polton, seated at a jeweller's bench, making some
structural alterations in a somewhat elaborate form of pedometer.

'I've got a job for you, Polton,' said Thorndyke, laying the mascot on
the bench. 'Quite a nice, delicate little job, after your own heart. I
want a replica of this thing--as perfect as you can make it. And I have
to return the original before nine o'clock tomorrow morning. And,' he
added, taking the camera and dark slides from his pocket, 'there is a
photograph to be developed, but there is no particular hurry for that.'

Polton picked the mascot up daintily, and laying it in the palm of his
hand, stuck a watchmaker's glass in his eye and inspected it minutely.

'It's a queer little thing, sir,' he remarked. 'Seems to have been made
out of a small cervical vertebra. I suppose you want the copy of the same
colour as this and as hard as possible?'

'I want as faithful a copy as you can make, similar in all respects,
excepting that the reproduction can scarcely be as hard as the original.
Will there be time to make a gelatine mould?'

'There'll have to be, sir. It couldn't be done any other way, with these
undercuttings. But I shan't lose any time on that. If I have to match the
colour I shall have to make some experiments, and I can do those while
the gelatine is setting.'

'Very well, Polton,' said Thorndyke. 'Then I'll leave the thing in your
hands and consider it as good as done. Of course the original must not be
damaged in any way.'

'Oh, certainly not, sir'; and forthwith the little man, having carefully
deposited the mascot in a small, glass-topped box on the bench, fell to
work on his preparations beaming with happiness. I have never seen a man
who enjoyed his work so thoroughly as Polton did.

'I am going round to the College of Surgeons now,' said Thorndyke. 'No
callers are expected, I think, but if any one should come and want to see
me, I shall be back in about an hour. Are you coming with me, Anstey?'

'Why not? I've nothing to do, and if I keep an eye on you I may pick up a
crumb or two of information.'

Here I caught Polton's eye, and a queer, crinkly smile overspread that
artificer's countenance. 'A good many people try to do that, sir,' he
remarked. 'I hope you will have better luck than most of them have.'

'It occurs to me' Thorndyke observed as we descended the stairs, 'that if
the scribe who wrote the Book of Genesis had happened to look in on
Polton he would have come to the conclusion that he had grossly
overestimated the curse of labour.'

'He was not much different from most other scribes,' said I. 'A bookish
man--like myself, for instance--constantly fails to appreciate the joy of
manual work. I find Polton an invaluable object lesson.'

'So do I,' said Thorndyke. 'He is a shining example of the social
virtues--industry, loyalty, integrity, and contentment--and as an artificer
he is a positive genius.' With this warm appreciation of his faithful
follower he swung round into Fleet Street and crossed towards the Law
Courts.



CHAPTER SIX - INTRODUCES AN ANT-EATER AND A DETECTIVE


As we entered the hall of the College of Surgeons Thorndyke glanced at
the board on which the names of the staff were painted and gave a little
grunt of satisfaction.

'I see,' he said, addressing the porter, 'that Mr Saltwood hasn't gone
yet.'

'No, sir,' was the reply. 'He is working up at the top tonight. Shall I
take you up to him?'

'If you please,' answered Thorndyke, and the porter accordingly took us
in charge and led the way to the lift. From the latter we emerged into a
region tenanted by great earthenware pans and jars and pervaded by a
curious aroma, half spirituous, half cadaveric, on which I commented
unfavourably.

'Yes,' said Thorndyke, sniffing appreciatively, 'the good old museum
bouquet. You smell it in all curators' rooms, and though, I suppose, it
is not physically agreeable, I find it by no means unpleasant. The
effects of odours are largely a matter of association.'

'The present odour,' said I, 'seems to suggest the association of a very
overripe Duke of Clarence and a butt of shockingly bad malmsey.'

Thorndyke smiled tolerantly as we ascended a flight of stairs that led to
a yet higher storey, and abandoned the discussion. At the top, we passed
through several long galleries, past ranges of tables piled up with
incredible numbers of bones, apparently awaiting disposal, until we were
finally led by our conductor to a room in which two men were working at a
long bench, on which were several partially articulated skeletons of
animals. They both looked up as we entered, and one of them, a
keen-faced, middle-aged man, exclaimed: 'Well, this is an unexpected
pleasure. I haven't seen you for donkey's years, Thorndyke. Thought you
had deserted the old shop. And I wonder what brings you here now.'

'The usual thing, Saltwood. Self-interest. I have come to negotiate a
loan. Have you got any loose bones of the Echidna?'

Saltwood stroked his chin and turned interrogatively to his assistant.
'Do you know if there are any, Robson?' he asked.

'There is a set waiting to be articulated, sir. Shall I fetch them?'

'If you would, please, Robson,' replied Saltwood. Then turning to my
colleague, he asked: 'What bones do you want, Thorndyke?'

'The middle cervical vertebrae--about the third or fourth,' was the
reply, at which I pricked up my ears.

In a few minutes Robson returned carrying a cardboard box on which was a
label inscribed 'Echidna hystrix.'

Saltwood lifted the lid, disclosing a collection of small bones,
including a queer little elongated skull.

'Here you are,' said he, picking out a sort of necklace formed of the
joints of the backbone; 'here is the whole vertebral column, minus the
tail, strung together. Will you take it as it is?'

'No,' replied Thorndyke, 'I will just take the three vertebrae that I
want--the third, fourth, and fifth cervical, and if I let you have them
back in the course of the week, will that do?'

'Perfectly. I wouldn't bother you to return them at all if it were not
for spoiling the set.' He separated the three little bones from the
string, and having wrapped them in tissue paper and handed them to
Thorndyke, asked; 'How is Jervis? I haven't seen him very lately,
either.'

'Jervis,' replied Thorndyke, 'is at present enjoying a sort of
professional holiday in New York. He is retained, in an advisory
capacity, in the Rosenbaum case, of which you may have read in the
papers. My friend Anstey here is very kindly filling his place during his
absence.'

'I'm glad to hear that I'm filling it,' said I, as Saltwood bowed and
shook hands. 'I was afraid I was only half filling it, being but a mere
lawyer destitute of medical knowledge.'

'Well,' said Saltwood, 'medical knowledge is important, of course, but
you've always got Thorndyke to help you out. Oh--and that reminds me,
Thorndyke, that I've got some new preparations that I should like you to
see, a series of tumours from wild animals. Will you come and have a look
at them? They are in the next room.'

Thorndyke assented with enthusiasm, and the two men went out of the room,
leaving me to the society of Robson and the box of bones. Into the latter
I peered curiously, again noting the odd shape of the skull; then I
proceeded to improve the occasion by a discreet question or two.

'What sort of beast in an Echidna?' I asked.

'Echidna hystrix,' replied Robson in a somewhat pompously didactic tone,
'is the zoological name of the porcupine ant-eater.'

'Indeed,' said I, and then tempted by his owlish solemnity to ask foolish
questions, I inquired: 'Does that mean that he is an eater of porcupine
ants?'

'No, sir,' he replied gravely (he was evidently a little slow in the
uptake). 'It is not the ants which are porcupines. It is the ant-eater.'

'But,' I objected, 'how can an ant-eater be a porcupine? It is a
contradiction in terms.'

This seemed to floor him for a moment, but he pulled himself together and
explained: 'The name signifies a porcupine which resembles an ant-eater,
or perhaps one should say, an ant-eater, which resembles a porcupine. It
is a very peculiar animal.'

'It must be,' I agreed. 'And what is there peculiar about its cervical
vertebrae?'

He pondered profoundly, and I judged that he did not know but was not
going to give himself away, a suspicion that his rather ambiguous
explanation tended to confirm.

'The cervical vertebrae,' he expounded, 'are very much alike in most
animals. There are exceptions, of course, as in the case of the porpoise,
which has no neck, and the giraffe, which has a good deal of neck. But in
general, cervical vertebrae seem to be turned out pretty much to one
pattern, whereas the tail vertebrae present great differences. Now, if
you look at this animal's tail--' here he fished a second necklace out of
the box and proceeded to expound the peculiarities of its constituent
bones, to which exposition I am afraid I turned an inattentive ear. The
Echidna's tail had no bearing on the identity of Mr Halliburton.

The rather windy discourse had just come to an end when my two friends
reappeared and Saltwood conducted us down to the hall. As we stepped out
of the lift he shook our hands heartily, and with a cheery adieu, pressed
the button and soared aloft like a stage fairy.

From the great portico of the College we turned eastward and walked
homewards across Lincoln's Inn, each of us wrapped in his own
reflections. Presently I asked:

'Supposing this mascot of Halliburton's to be the neck bone of an
Echidna, what is the significance of the fact?'

'Ah!' he replied. 'There you have me, Anstey. At present I am concerning
myself only with the fact, hoping that its significance may appear later.
To us it may have no significance at all. Of course there is some reason
why this particular bone should have been used rather than some other
kind of bone, but that set of circumstances may have--probably has--no
connection with our inquiry. It is quite probable that Halliburton
himself has no such connection. On the other hand, the circumstances
which determined the use of an Echidna's vertebra as a mascot may have an
important bearing on the case. So we can only secure the fact and wait
for time and further knowledge to show whether it is or is not a relevant
fact.'

'And do you mean to say that you are taking all this trouble on the mere
chance that this apparently trivial and meaningless circumstance may
possibly have some bearing?'

'That is so. But your question, Anstey, exhibits the difference between
the legal and the scientific outlook. The lawyer's investigations tend to
proceed along the line of information wanted: the scientists tend to
proceed along the line of information available. The business of the man
of science is impartially to acquire all the knowledge that is
obtainable; the lawyer tends to concern himself only with that which is
material to the issue.'

'Then the scientist must accumulate a vast number of irrelevant facts.'

'Every fact,' replied Thorndyke, 'is relevant to something, and if you
accumulate a great mass of facts, inspection of the mass shows that the
facts can be sorted out into related groups from which certain general
truths can be inferred. The difference between the lawyer and the
scientist is that one is seeking to establish some particular truth while
the other seeks to establish any truth that emerges from the available
facts.'

'But,' I objected 'surely even a scientist must select his facts to some
extent. Every science has its own province. The chemist, for instance, is
not concerned with the metamorphoses of insects.'

'That is true; he admitted. 'But then, are we not keeping within our own
province? We are not collecting facts indiscriminately, but are selecting
those facts which make some sort of contact with the circumstances of
this crime and which may therefore conceivably be relevant to our
inquiry. But methinks I perceive another collector. Isn't that our friend
Superintendent Miller crossing to King's Bench Walk and apparently
bearing down on our chambers?'

I looked at the tall figure, indistinctly seen by the light of a lamp,
and even as I looked, it ascended the steps and vanished into our entry;
and when, a couple of minutes later, we arrived on our landing, we found
Polton in the act of admitting the Superintendent.

'Well, gentlemen,' the officer said genially, as he subsided into an
armchair and selected a cigar from the box which Thorndyke handed to him
'I've just dropped in to give you the news--about this Drayton case, you
know. I thought you'd be interested to hear what our people are doing.
Well, I don't think you need trouble yourselves about it any more. We've
got one of the men, at any rate.'

'In custody?' asked Thorndyke.

'No, we haven't actually made the arrest, but there will be no difficulty
about that. We know who he is. I just passed those fingerprints in to Mr
Singleton and he gave me the name straight away. And who do you think it
is? It is our old friend, Moakey--Joe Hedges, you know.'

'Is it really!' said Thorndyke.

'Yes, Moakey it is. You're surprised. So was I. I really did think he had
learned a little sense at last, especially as he seemed to be taking some
reasonable precautions last time. But he always was a fool. Do you
remember the asinine thing that he did on that last job?'

'No,' replied Thorndyke, 'I don't remember that case.'

'It was a small country house job, and Moakey did it all on his own. And
it did look as if he had learned his lesson, for he undoubtedly wore
gloves. We found them in his bag and there was not a trace at the house.
But would you believe it, when he'd finished up, all neat and ship-shape,
he must stop somewhere in the grounds to repack the swag--after he had
taken his gloves off. Just then the alarm was raised and a dog let loose,
and away went Moakey, like a hare, for the place in the fence where he
had hidden his bicycle. He nipped over the fence, mounted his bike, and
got clear away, and all trace of him seemed to be lost. But in the
morning, when the local police came to search the grounds, they found a
silver tray that Moakey had evidently had to drop when he heard the dog,
with a most beautiful set of fingerprints on it. The police got a pair of
photographs at once--there happened to be a dark room and a set of
apparatus in the house--and sent a special messenger with them to
Scotland Yard. And then the murder was out. They were Moakey's prints,
and Moakey was arrested the same day with all the stuff in his
possession. He hadn't had time to go to a fence with it. So the
fingerprints didn't have to be put in evidence.'

'Did Moakey ever hear about the fingerprints?' Thorndyke asked.

'Yes. Some fool of a warder told him. And that's what makes this case so
odd; to think that after coming a cropper twice he should have gone
dabbing his trademarks over the furniture as he has, is perfectly
incredible. And that isn't the only queer feature in the case. There's
the stuff. I got Sir Lawrence to show it to me this morning, and I assure
you that when I saw what it was, you could have knocked me down with a
feather. To say nothing of the crockery and wineglasses and rubbish of
that sort and the pewter spoons and brass spoons and bone bobbins, the
jewellery was a fair knockout. There was only one cabinet of it, and
you'll hardly believe me. Doctor, when I tell you that the greater part
of it was silver, and even pinchbeck and brass--or latten, as Sir Lawrence
calls it--set with the sort of stones that you can buy in Poland Street
for ten bob a dozen. You never saw such trash!'

'Oh come. Miller,' Thorndyke protested, 'don't call it trash. It is one
of the most interesting and reasonable collections that I have ever
seen.'

'So it may be,' said the Superintendent, 'but I am looking at it from the
trade point of view. Why, there isn't a fence outside Bedlam who'd give a
fiver for the whole boiling. It's perfectly astonishing to me that an
experienced tradesman like Moakey should have wasted his time on it. He
might just as well have cracked an ironmonger's.'

'I expect,' said I, 'he embarked on the job under a mistake. Probably he
saw, or heard of, that article in the Connoisseur and thought that this
was a great collection of jewels.'

'That seems likely,' Miller agreed. 'And that may account for his having
worked with a chum this time instead of doing the job single-handed as he
usually does. But it doesn't account for his having used a pistol. That
wasn't his way at all. There has never been a charge of violence against
him before. I always took him for the good old-fashioned, sporting crook
who played the game with us and expected us to play the game with him.'

'Is it clear that it was Moakey who fired the shot?' asked Thorndyke.

'Well, no, I don't know that it is. But he'll have to stand the racket
unless he can prove that somebody else did it. And that won't be so very
easy, for even if he gives us the name of the other man--the small man--and
Miss Blake can identify him, still it will be difficult for Moakey to
prove that the other man fired the shot, and the other chap isn't likely
to be boastful about it.'

'No,' said Thorndyke, 'he will pretty certainly put it on to Moakey, But
between the two we may get at the truth as to what happened.'

'We will hope so,' said Miller, rising and picking up his hat. 'At any
rate, that is how the matter stands. I understand that Sir Lawrence wants
you to keep an eye on the case, but there's really no need. It isn't in
your line at all. We shall arrest Moakey and he will be committed for
trial. If he likes to make a statement we may get the other man, but in
any case there is nothing for you to do.'

For some minutes after the Superintendent's departure, Thorndyke sat
looking into the fire with an air of deep reflection. Presently he looked
up as if he had disposed of some question that he had been propounding to
himself and remarked: 'It's a curious affair, isn't it?'

'Very,' I agreed. 'It seems as if this man, Moakey, had thrown all
precaution to the winds. By the way, do you suppose those fingerprint
people ever make mistakes? They seem pretty cocksure.'

'They would be more than human if they never made a mistake,' Thorndyke
replied. 'But, on the other hand, the identification of a whole set of
fingerprints doesn't leave much room for error. You might get two prints
that were similar enough to admit of a mistake, but you would hardly get
two sets that could be mistaken for one another.'

'No, I suppose not. So the mystery remains unexplained.'

'It remains unexplained in any case,' said Thorndyke.

'How do you mean?' I asked. 'If they had made a mistake and these were
really the fingerprints of some unknown person, that person might be a
novice and there would be no mystery about his having taken no
precautions.'

'Yes, but that is not the mystery. The real mystery is the presence of a
third man who has left no other traces.'

'A third man!' I exclaimed. 'What evidence is there of the presence of a
third man?'

'It is very obvious,' replied Thorndyke. These fingerprints are not those
of the small man, because he wore gloves. And they are not the
fingerprints of the tall man.'

'How do you know that?' I asked.

Thorndyke rose, and opening a cabinet, took out the plaster cast of the
tall man's left hand, which he had made on the previous night, and the
pair of photographs.

'Now,' said he, 'look at the print of the left forefinger in the
photograph. You see that the pattern is quite clear and unbroken. Now
look at the cast of the forefinger. Do you see what I mean?'

'You mean that pit or dent in the bulb of the finger. But isn't that due
to an irregularity of the ground on which the finger was pressed?'

'No, it is the puckered scar of an old whitlow or deep wound of some
kind. It is quite characteristic. And the print of this finger would show
a blank white space in the middle of the pattern. So it is certain that
those fingerprints did not belong to either of these two men.'

'Then, really,' said I, 'the fact that these are Moakey's fingerprints
serves to explain this other mystery.'

'To some extent. But you see, Anstey, that it introduces a further
mystery. If there were three men in that room, or on the premises, how
comes it that there were only two sets of footprints?'

'Yes, that is rather extraordinary. Can you suggest any explanation?'

'The only explanation that occurs to me is that one of these men may have
let Moakey into the house by the front door, that he may have been in the
room when Miss Blake entered--he might, for instance, have been behind
the door--and have slipped out when she ran to the window. He could then
have to run into the drawing-room and waited until she rushed out of the
house, when it would be easy for him to slip out at the front door and
escape.'

'Yes,' I said dubiously, 'I suppose that is possible, but it doesn't
sound very probable.'

'It doesn't,' he agreed. 'But it is the only solution that I can think of
at the moment. Of course there must be some explanation, for there are
the facts. Inside the house are traces of three men. Outside are traces
of only two. Have you any suggestion to offer?'

I shook my head. 'It is beyond me, Thorndyke. Why didn't you ask Miller?'

'Because I am not proposing to take the police into my confidence until I
have evidence that they are prepared to do the same by me. They will
probably assume that the tall man was Moakey--he is about the same
height. The information that we obtain from the cast of that man's hand
is not, you must remember, in their possession.'

'No, I had forgotten that. And now I begin to appreciate my learned
senior's foresight in taking a permanent record of that handprint.'

'Yes,' said Thorndyke. 'A permanent record is invaluable. It allows of
reference at one's leisure and in connection with fresh evidence, as in
the present case. And, moreover, it allows of study under the most
favourable conditions. That scar on the finger was not noticeable in the
impression in the sand, especially by the imperfect light of the lamp.
But on the cast, which we can examine at our ease, by daylight if
necessary, it is plainly visible. And we have it here to compare with the
finger, if ever that finger should be forthcoming. I now make a rule of
securing a plaster cast of any object that I cannot retain in my
possession.'

Here, as if in illustration of this last statement, Polton entered the
room bearing a small tray lined with blotting paper, on which lay three
objects--a diminutive glass negative and two mascots. He laid the tray on
the table and invited us to inspect his works, tendering a watchmakers
eyeglass to assist the inspection.

Thorndyke picked up the two mascots and examined them separately through
the glass, then with a faint smile, but without remark, he passed the
tray to me. I stuck the glass in my eye and scrutinised first one and
then the other of the mascots, and finally looked up at Polton, who was
watching me with a smile that covered his face with wrinkles of
satisfaction.

'I suppose, Polton,' I said, 'You have some means of telling which is
which, but I'm hanged if I can see a particle of difference.'

'I can tell 'em by the feel, sir,' he replied 'but I took the precaution
to weigh the original in the chemical balance before I made the copy. I
think the colour matches pretty well.'

'It is a perfect reproduction, Polton,' said Thorndyke. 'If we were to
show it to Superintendent Miller he would want to take your fingerprints
right away. He would say that you were not a safe person to be at large.'

At this commendation Polton's countenance crinkled until he looked like a
species of human walnut, and when the photograph of the signature had
been examined and pronounced fit for the making of an enlargement, he
departed, chuckling audibly.

When he had gone, I picked up one of the mascots and again examined it
closely while Thorndyke made a similar inspection of its twin.

'Had you any definite purpose in your mind,' I asked 'when you instructed
Polton to make this indistinguishable copy?'

'No,' he replied. 'I thought it wise to preserve a record of the thing,
but, for my own information, a plain plaster cast would have answered
quite well. Still, as it would not take much more trouble to imitate the
colour and texture, I decided that there might be some advantage in
having a perfect replica. There are certain imaginable circumstances in
which it might be useful. I shall get Polton to make a cast of the
Echidna's vertebra, so that we may have the means of demonstrating the
nature of the object to others, if necessary; and by the way, we may as
well make the comparison now and confirm my opinion that the animal
really was an Echidna.'

He produced the little packet that Saltwood had given him, and laying the
little bones on the table, compared them carefully with the mascot.

'Yes,' he said at length, 'I was right. Mr Halliburton's treasure is the
third cervical vertebra of a young but full-grown Echidna.'

'How did you recognise this as an Echidna's vertebra?' I asked, recalling
Mr Robson's rather obscure exposition on the subject. 'Aren't neck
vertebrae a good deal alike in most animals?'

'In animals of the same class they are usually very much alike. But the
Echidna is a transitional form. Although it is a mammal, it has many
well-marked reptilian characters. This vertebra shows one of them. If you
look at those corner-pieces--the transverse processes--you will see that
they are separate from the rest of the bone, that they are joined to it
by a seam or suture. But in all other mammals, with a single exception,
the transverse processes are fused with the rest of the bone. There is no
separating line. That suture was the distinguishing feature which
attracted my attention.'

'And does the fact of its being an Echidna's bone suggest any particular
significance to your mind?'

'Well,' he replied, 'the Echidna is far from a common animal. And this
particular bone seems to have been worked on by some barbarian artist,
which suggests that it may have been originally a barbaric ornament or
charm or fetish, which again suggests personal connections and a
traceable history. You will notice that the two letters seem to have been
impressed on the ornament and have no connection with it, which suggests
that the bone was already covered with these decorations when it came
into the late owner's possession.'

I took up the glass and once more examined the mascot. The whole surface
of the little bone, on both sides, was covered with an intricate mass of
ornament consisting principally of scrolls or spirals, crude and barbaric
in design but very minutely and delicately executed. In the centre of the
solid part of the bone an extremely small 'o' had been indented on one
side and on the same spot on the reverse side an equally minute 'h'. And
through the glass I could see that the letters cut into the pattern,
whereas the hole for the suspension ring was part of the original work
and was incorporated into the design.

'I wonder why he used small letters for his initials instead of
capitals,' said I.

'For the reason, I imagine, that they were small letters. He wanted them
merely for identification, and no doubt wished them to be as
inconspicuous as possible. Any letters are a disfigurement when they are
not part of the design, and capitals would have been much worse than
small letters.'

'These seem to have been punched, on with printer's types.' I remarked.

'They have been punched, not cut, but not, I should say, with printer's
types. Type metal--even the hard variety which would be used for casting
these little "Pearl" or "Diamond" types--is comparatively soft, and the
harder varieties are brittle. It would scarcely be strong enough to bear
hammering into bone. I should say these letters were indented with steel
punches.'

'Well,' I said 'we have got a vast amount of entertainment out of Mr
Halliburton and his mascot. But it looks rather as if that were going to
be the end of it, for if Moakey is one of the robbers, we may take it
that the others are just professional crooks. And thereupon Mr
Halliburton recedes once more into the background. Isn't that the
position?'

'Apparently it is,' replied Thorndyke. 'But we shall see what happens at
the inquest. Possibly some further evidence may be forthcoming when the
witnesses give their accounts in detail. And possibly Moakey himself may
be able to throw some further light on the matter. They will probably
have him in custody within a day or two.'

'By the way,' I said, 'have you examined the hair that poor Drayton had
grasped in his hand?'

'Yes. There is nothing very characteristic about it. It is dark in colour
and the hairs are rather small in diameter. But there was one slightly
odd circumstance. Among the tuft of dark hairs there was one light
one--not white--a blonde hair. It had no root and no tip. It was just a
broken fragment. What do you make of that?'

'I don't know that I make anything of it. I understand that a man may
sometimes find a woman's hair sticking to his coat in the neighbourhood
of the shoulder or chest, though I have no personal experience of such
things. But if on the coat, why not on the head? My learned senior's
powerful constructive imagination might conceive circumstances in which
such a transfer of hair might occur. Or has he some more recondite
explanation?'

'There are other possible explanations,' Thorndyke replied. 'And as the
hour seems to preclude a return to Hampstead tonight, and seems to
suggest a temporary tenancy of Jervis's bedroom, I would recommend the
problem for my learned friend's consideration while awaiting the approach
of Morpheus or Hypnos, whichever deity he elects to patronize.'

This gentle hint, enforced by a glance at my watch, brought our
discussion to an end, and very shortly afterwards we betook ourselves to
our respective sleeping apartments.



CHAPTER SEVEN - THE VANISHED HEIRLOOM


The tragic events at 'The Rowans' had excited a considerable amount of
public interest, and naturally that interest was manifested in a
specially intense form by the residents in the locality. I realised this
when, in obedience to the summons which had been left at my lodgings, I
made my way to the premises adjoining the High Street in which the
inquest was to be held. As I approached the building I observed that
quite a considerable crowd had gathered round the doors awaiting their
opening, and noticed with some surprise the proportion of well-dressed
women composing it.

Observing that the crowd contained no one whom I knew, I began to suspect
that there was some other entrance reserved for authorised visitors, and
was just looking round in search of it when the doors were opened and the
crowd began to surge in; and at that moment I saw Miss Blake approaching.
I waited for her to arrive, and when we had exchanged greetings I
proceeded to pilot her through the crowd, which passed in with increasing
slowness, suggesting that the accommodation was already being somewhat
taxed.

I was not the only person who observed the symptoms of a 'full house.' A
woman whom I had already noticed making her way through the throng with
more skill and energy than politeness, came abreast of me just as I had
struggled to the door and made a determined effort to squeeze past.
Perhaps if she had been a different type of woman I might have accepted
the customary masculine defeat, but her bad manners, combined with her
unprepossessing appearance, banished any scruples of chivalry. She was a
kind of woman that I dislike most cordially; loudly dressed, flashy,
scented like a civet cat; with glaring golden hair--manifestly peroxided,
as was evident by her dark eyebrows--pencilled eyelids, and a coat of
powder that stared even through her spotted veil. My gorge rose at her,
and as she stuck her elbow in my ribs and made a final burst to get in
before me, I maintained a stolid resistance.

'You must excuse me,' I said, 'but I am a witness, and so is this lady.'

She cast a quick glance at me, and from me to Miss Blake; then--with a
bad enough grace and without replying--she withdrew to let us pass, and
ostentatiously turned her back on us.

The room was already crowded, but that was no concern of ours. We were
present, and when our names should be called, the coroner's officer would
do all that was necessary.

'I suppose,' said Miss Blake, 'we ought to have come in by another door.
I see Sir Lawrence and Mrs Benham are sitting by the table; and isn't
that Dr Thorndyke next to Sir Lawrence?'

'Yes,' I replied. 'I don't think he has been summoned, but, of course, he
would be here to watch the case. I see Inspector Badger, too. I wonder if
he is going to give evidence. Ah! You were right. There is another door.
Here come the coroner and the jury. They will probably call you first as
you are the principal witness, unless they begin with the medical
evidence or Sir Lawrence. I see Dr Nichols has just come in.'

As the coroner and the jury took their seats at the table, the loud hum
of conversation died away and an air of silent expectancy settled on the
closely-packed audience. The coroner looked over a sheaf of type-written
papers, and then opened the proceedings with a short address to the jury
in which he recited the general facts of the case.

'And now, gentlemen,' he said in conclusion, 'we will proceed to take the
evidence, and we had better begin with that of the medical witness.'

Hereupon Dr Nichols was called, and having been sworn, described the
circumstances under which he was summoned to 'The Rowans' on the night of
the 20th of September, and the result of his subsequent examination of
the body of the deceased. 'The cause of death,' he stated, 'was a
bullet-wound of the chest. The bullet entered on the right side between
the third and fourth ribs, and passed completely through the chest,
emerging on the left side of the back between the fourth and fifth ribs.
In its passage it perforated the aorta--the greater central artery--and
this injury might have produced almost instantaneous death.'

'Could the wound have been self-inflicted?' the coroner asked.

'Under the circumstances, it could not, for although death was
practically instantaneous, no weapon was discovered. If the injury had
been self-inflicted, the weapon would have been found either grasped in
the hand or lying by the body.'

'Was the weapon fired at close quarters?'

'Apparently not. At any rate there was no singeing of the clothes or any
other sign indicating a very close range.'

That was the sum of Dr Nichols' evidence, and on its conclusion the local
inspector was called. His evidence, however, was of merely formal
character, setting forth the time at which he received the alarm call
from Mrs Benham and the conditions existing when he arrived. When it was
finished there was a short pause. Then the next witness was called. This
was Sir Lawrence Drayton, who, after giving evidence as to the identity
of the deceased, answered a few questions respecting the collection and
his brother's manner of life, and the articles which had been stolen.

'The report, then,' said the coroner, 'that this was a collection of
valuable jewellery was erroneous?'

'Quite erroneous. Deceased never desired, nor could he afford, to
accumulate things of great intrinsic value.'

'Do you know if many strangers came to see the collection?'

'Very few. In fact I never heard of any excepting those who came after an
article on the collection had appeared in the Connoisseur.'

'Do you know how many came then?'

'There was a small party of Americans who came by appointment and were
introduced by one of the staff of the South Kensington Museum. And there
was a Mr Halliburton who wrote from some hotel for an appointment. All I
know about him is that he was apparently not specially interested in
anything in the collection excepting the pieces that were illustrated in
the magazine. I believe he wanted to buy one of those, but I don't
remember which it was.'

That was the substance of Drayton's evidence, and when he had returned to
his seat, the next witness was called.

'Winifred Blake.'

Miss Blake rose, and having made her way to the table, took the oath and
proceeded to give her evidence. After one or two preliminary questions,
the coroner allowed her to make her statement without interruption, while
the jury and the audience listened with absorbed interest to her clear
and vivid account of the events connected with the crime. When she had
finished her narration--which was substantially the same as that which I
had heard from her on the night of the tragedy--the coroner thanked her
for the very lucid manner in which she had given her evidence and then
proceeded to enlarge upon one or two points relating to the possible
antecedents of the tragedy.

'You have mentioned, Miss Blake, that you were led to communicate with
deceased by a certain article which appeared in the Connoisseur. Did that
article give you the impression that the collection described was an
important collection of valuable jewellery?'

'No. The article explicitly stated that the chief value of the pieces was
in their history and associations.'

'Are you an expert or connoisseur in jewellery?'

'No. As an artist I am, of course, interested in goldsmith's and
jewellers work, but I have no special knowledge of it. My interest in
this collection was purely personal. I wished to examine one of the
pieces that was illustrated.'

'Would you tell us exactly what you mean by a personal interest?'

'The Connoisseur article was illustrated with two photographs, one of a
locket and the other of a pendant. The pendant appeared to me to resemble
one which was an heirloom in my own family and which disappeared about a
hundred and fifty years ago and has never been seen since. I wanted to
examine that pendant and see if it really was the missing jewel.'

'Was the missing pendant of any considerable value?'

'No. It was a small, plain gold pendant set with a single cat's eye, and
the pendant shown in the photograph appeared to answer the description
exactly so far as I could judge. Its actual value would be quite small.'

'You say that the actual, or intrinsic, value of this jewel would be
trifling. Had it, so far as you know, any special value?'

'Yes. It appears to have been greatly prized in the family, and I believe
a good many efforts have been made to trace it. There was a tradition, or
superstition, connected with it which gave it its value to members of the
family.'

'Can you tell us what was the nature of that tradition?'

'It connected the possession of the jewel with the succession to the
estates. The custom had been for the head of the family to wear the
jewel, usually under the clothing, and the belief was that so long as he
wore the jewel, or at any rate had it in his possession, the estates
would remain in the possession of the branch of the family to which he
belonged; but if the jewel passed into the possession of a member of some
other branch of the family, then the estates would also pass into the
possession of that branch.'

The coroner smiled. 'Your ancestors,' he remarked, 'appear to have taken
small account of property law. But you say that efforts have been made to
trace this jewel and that a good deal of value was set on it. Now, do you
suppose that this tradition was taken at all seriously by any of the
members of your family?'

'I cannot say very positively, but I should suppose that any one who
might have a claim in the event of the failure of the existing line,
would be glad to have the jewel in his possession.'

'Is there, so far as you know, any probability of a change in the
succession to this property?'

'I believe that the present tenant is unmarried and that if he should die
there would be several claimants from other branches of the family.'

'And then,' said the coroner with a smile, 'the one who possessed the
cat's eye pendant would be the successful claimant. Is that the
position?'

'It is possible that some of them entertain that belief.'

'Have you any expectations yourself?'

'Personally I have not. But my brother Percival is, properly speaking,
the direct heir to this estate.'

'Then why is he not in possession? And what do you mean exactly by the
"direct heir"?'

'I mean that he is the direct descendant of the head of the senior branch
of the family. Our ancestor disappeared at the same time as the jewel--he
took it with him, in fact. The reason that my brother is not in
possession is that we cannot prove the legality of our ancestor's
marriage. But it is always possible that the documents may be
discovered--they are known to exist; and then, if a change in the
succession should occur, my brother's claim would certainly take
precedence of the others.'

'This is very interesting,' said the coroner, 'and not without importance
to this inquiry. Now tell us, Miss Blake, would you yourself attach any
significance to the possession of this jewel?'

Miss Blake coloured slightly as she replied: 'I don't suppose it would
affect the succession to the property, but I should like to know that the
jewel was in my brother's possession.'

'In case there might be some truth in the belief, h'm? Well, it's not
unnatural. And now, to return for a moment to the man whom you tried so
pluckily to detain. You have given us a very clear description of him. Do
you think you would be able to recognise him?'

'I feel no doubt that I could. As an artist with some experience as a
portrait painter I have been accustomed to study faces closely and
quickly and to remember them. I can form quite a clear mental picture of
this man's face.'

'Do you think you could make. I drawing of it from memory?'

'I don't think my drawing would be reliable for identification. It is
principally the man's expression that I remember so clearly. I might be
wrong as to the details of the features, but if I were to see the man
again I am sure I should know him.'

'I hope you will have an opportunity,' said the coroner. Then, turning to
the jury, he asked: 'Do you wish to ask this witness any questions,
gentlemen?' and on receiving a negative reply, he thanked Miss Blake and
dismissed her with a bow.

My own evidence was taken next, but I need not repeat it since it was
concerned only with those experiences which I have already related in
detail. I was followed by Mrs Benham, who, like the preceding witnesses,
was allowed to begin with a statement describing her experiences.

'How did it happen,' the coroner asked when she had finished her
statement, 'that there was no one in the house when the thieves broke
in?'

'I had to take a message for Mr Drayton to a gentleman who lives at North
End. It is quite a short distance, but I was detained there more than a
quarter of an hour.'

'Was the house often left?'

'No, very seldom. During the day I had a maid to help me. She went home
at six, and after that I hardly ever went out.'

'Were you alone in the house in the evenings when Mr Drayton was at the
club?'

'Yes. From about seven to between half-past nine and ten. Mr Drayton used
to lock the museum and take the key with him.'

'Did many persons know that deceased was away from the house every
evening?'

'A good many must have known, as he was a regular chess-player. And
anybody who cared to know could have seen him go out and come back.'

'On the night of the murder did he go out at his usual time?'

'Yes, a little after seven. But, unfortunately, he came back nearly two
hours earlier than usual. That was the cause of the disaster.'

'Exactly. And now, Mrs Benham, I want you to tell us all you know about
the visitors who came to see the collection after the article had
appeared in the Connoisseur. There were some Americans, I believe?'

'Yes. A small party--four or five--who came together in a large car. They
sent a letter of introduction, and I think Mr Drayton knew pretty well
who they were. Then about a week later Mr Halliburton wrote from the
Baltic Hotel to ask if he might look over the collection, and naming a
particular day--the sixteenth of this month--and Mr Drayton made the
appointment, although it was very inconvenient.'

'Was Mr Halliburton known to deceased?'

'No, he was a complete stranger.'

'And did he come and inspect the collection?'

'Yes; he came, and Mr Drayton spent a long time with him showing him all
the things and telling him all about them. I remember it very well
because Mr Drayton was so very vexed that he should have put himself to
so much inconvenience for nothing.'

'Why "for nothing"?' asked the coroner.

'He said that Mr Halliburton didn't seem to know anything about jewellery
nor to care about any of the things but the two that had been shown in
the photographs. He seemed to have come from mere idle curiosity. And
then he rather offended Mr Drayton by offering to buy one of the pieces.
He said that he wanted to give it for a wedding present.'

'Do you know which piece it was that he wanted to buy?'

'The pendant. The other piece--the locket--didn't seem to interest him at
all.'

'Did you see Mr Halliburton?'

'I only saw his back as he went out. Mr Drayton let him in and took him
to the museum. I could see that he was rather a big man, but I couldn't
see what he was like.'

'And are these the only strangers that have been to the house lately?'

'Yes; the only ones for quite a long time.'

The coroner reflected for a few moments, then, as the jury had no
questions to ask, he thanked the witness and dismissed her.

The next witness was Inspector Badger, and a very cautious witness he
was, and like his namesake, very unwilling to be drawn. To me, who knew
pretty well what information he held, his evasive manoeuvres and his
portentous secrecy were decidedly amusing, and the foxy glances that he
occasionally cast in Thorndyke's direction made me suspect that he was
unaware of Superintendent Miller's visit to our chambers. He began by
setting forth that, in consequence of a telephone message from the local
police, he proceeded on the evening of the twentieth instant to 'The
Rowans' to examine the premises and obtain particulars of the crime. He
had obtained a rough list of the stolen property from Sir Lawrence
Drayton. It included the pendant and the locket which had been
illustrated in the article referred to.

'Should you say there was any evidence of selection as to the articles
stolen?' the coroner asked.

'No. Only two drawers had been opened, and they were the two upper ones.
The top drawer contained nothing of any value, and I infer that the
thieves had only just got the second drawer open when they were
disturbed.'

'Did you ascertain how many men were on the premises?'

'There were two men. We found their footprints in the grounds, and
moreover, both of them were seen. And certain other traces were found.'

'Dr Nichols has mentioned that some hair was found grasped in the hand of
deceased. Has that been examined?'

'I believe it has, but hair isn't much use until you have got the man to
compare it with.'

'I suppose not. And with regard to the other traces. What were they?'

The inspector pursed up his lips and assumed a portentous expression.

'I hope, sir,' said he, 'that you will not press that question. It is not
desirable in the interests of justice that the information that is in our
possession should become public property.'

'I quite agree with you,' said the coroner. 'But may we take it that you
have some clue to the identity of these two men?'

'We have several very promising clues,' the inspector replied with some
disregard, I suspected, for the exact wording of the oath that he had
just taken.

'Well,' said the coroner, 'that is all that really concerns us'; and I
could not but reflect that it was all that really concerned Mr Joseph
Hedges, alias Moakey, and that the inspector's secrecy was somewhat
pointless when the cat had been let out of the bag to this extent. 'I
suppose,' he continued, 'it would be indiscreet to ask if any information
is available about the Mr Halliburton whose name has been mentioned.'

'I should rather not make any detailed statement on the subject,' replied
Badger, 'but I may say that our information is of a very definite kind
and points very clearly in a particular direction.'

'That is very satisfactory,' said the coroner. 'This is a peculiarly
atrocious crime, and I am sure that all law-abiding persons will be glad
to hear that there is a good prospect of the wrongdoers being brought to
justice. And I think if you have nothing more to tell us, Inspector, that
we need not trouble you any further.' He paused, and as Badger resumed
his seat, he took a final glance over his notes; then, turning to the
jury, he said: 'You have now, gentlemen, heard all the evidence,
excepting those details which the police have very properly reserved and
which really do not concern us. For I may remind you that this is not a
criminal court. It is not our object to fix the guilt on any particular
persons but to ascertain how this poor gentlemen met with his most
deplorable death; and I am sure that the evidence which you have heard
will be sufficient to enable you, without difficulty, to arrive at a
verdict.'

On the conclusion of the coroner's address, the jury rapidly conferred
for a few moments; then the foreman rose and announced that they had
agreed unanimously on a verdict of wilful murder committed by some person
or persons unknown, and they desired to express their deep sympathy with
the brother of the deceased, Sir Lawrence Drayton; and when the latter
had briefly thanked the jury, through the coroner, the proceedings
terminated and the court rose.

As the audience were slowly filing out, Sir Lawrence approached Miss
Blake, and having shaken hands cordially and inquired as to her
convalescence, said: 'That was a very remarkable story that you told in
your evidence; I mean the simultaneous disappearance of your ancestor and
this curious heirloom. As a Chancery barrister, unusual circumstances
affecting the devolution of landed property naturally interest me. In the
court in which I practise one sees, from time to time, some very odd
turns of the wheel of Fortune. May I ask if any claim has ever been
advanced by your branch of the family?'

'Yes. My father began some proceedings soon after my brother was born,
but his counsel advised him not to go on with the case. He considered
that without documentary evidence of my ancestor's marriage, it was
useless to take the case into court.'

'Probably he was right,' said Drayton. 'Still, as a matter of
professional interest--to say nothing of the interest that one naturally
feels in the welfare of one's friends--I should like to know more about
this quaint piece of family history. What do you think, Anstey?'

'I think it would be interesting to know just at what point the evidence
of the relationship breaks off, and how large the gap is.'

'Precisely,' said Drayton. 'And one would like to know how the other
parties are placed. What, for instance, would be the position if the
present tenant were to die without issue, who are the heirs, and so on.'

'If it would interest you,' said Miss Blake, 'I could give you fairly
full particulars of all that is known. My grandfather, who was a lawyer,
wrote out an abstract for the guidance of his descendants; quite a full
and very clear narrative. I could let you have that or a copy of it, if I
didn't feel ashamed to take up your time with it.'

'Let me have the copy,' said Drayton. 'I don't suppose anything will come
of it from your point of view, but it strikes me as an interesting case
which is at least worth elucidating. Do you know Dr Thorndyke?'

'We know one another by repute,' said Thorndyke. 'Miss Blake used to
board with Polton's sister. You were speaking of the curious
circumstances that Miss Blake mentioned in reference to the cat's eye
pendant.'

'Yes,' said Drayton. 'I was saying that it would be worth while to get
the facts of the case sorted out.'

'I quite agree with you,' said Thorndyke. 'The same idea had occurred to
me when Miss Blake was giving her evidence. Do I understand that there
are documents available?'

'I have a full resume of the facts relating to the change in the
succession,' said Miss Blake, 'and a copy which I am going to hand to Sir
Lawrence.'

'Then,' said Thorndyke, 'I shall crave your kind permission to look
through that copy. I am not much of an authority on property law, but--'

'Nihil quod tetigit non ornavit,' I murmured, quoting Johnson's famous
epitaph on the versatile 'Goldie.'

'Quite right, Anstey,' Drayton agreed warmly. 'All knowledge is
Thorndyke's province. Then you will let me have that copy at your
convenience, Miss Blake?'

'Thank you, yes, Sir Lawrence,' she replied. 'You shall have it by
tomorrow. Oh, and there is something else that I have to give you, and I
may as well give it to you now. Did Mr Anstey tell you that I had found
the missing locket? I have brought it tied round my neck for safety. Has
any one got a knife?' As she spoke she unfastened the top button of her
dress and drew out the little gold volume which was attached to a silken
cord.

'Don't cut the cord,' said Drayton. 'I want you to keep the locket as a
souvenir of my poor brother. Now don't raise objections. Anstey has told
me that the little bauble has found favour in your eyes, and I very much
wish you to have it. It was a great favourite of my brother's. He used to
call it "the little Sphinx" because it always seemed to be propounding a
riddle; and it will be a great satisfaction to me to feel that it has
passed into friendly and sympathetic hands instead of going to a museum
with the other things.'

'It is exceedingly kind of you, Sir Lawrence,' she began, but he
interrupted: 'It is nothing of the kind. I am doing myself a kindness in
finding a good home for poor Andrew's little favourite. Are you going by
train or tram?'

'I shall wait for the tram,' she replied.

'Then we part here. Dr Thorndyke and I are taking the train to Broad
Street. Goodbye! Don't forget to send me that copy of the documents.'

The two men swung off down the road to the station, and as a tram
appeared in the offing, a resolution which had been forming in my mind
took definite shape.

'I don't see,' said I, 'why I should be left out in the cold in regard to
this family romance of yours. Why shouldn't I come and collect the copy
to deliver to Sir Lawrence and have a surreptitious read at it myself?'

'It would be very nice of you if you could spare the time,' she replied.
'I will even offer special inducements. I will give you some tea, which
you must be wanting by this time, I should think, and I will show you not
only the copy but the original documents. One of them is quite curious.'

'That settles it then,' said I. 'Tea and documents, combined with your
society and that of your ingenious brother, form what the theatrical
people would call a galaxy of attractions. Here is our tram. Do we go
inside or outside?'

'Oh, outside, please. There is quite a crowd waiting.'

I was relieved at this decision, for I was hankering for a smoke; and as
soon as we had taken our places in a front seat on the roof, I began
secretly to feel in the pocket where the friendly pipe reposed and to
debate within myself whether I might crave permission to bring it forth.
At length the tobacco-hunger conquered my scruples and I ventured to make
the request.

'Oh, of course,' she replied. 'Do smoke. I love the smell of tobacco,
especially from a pipe.'

Thus encouraged, I joyfully produced the calumet and felt in my pocket
for my pouch. And then came a dreadful disappointment. The pouch was
there, sure enough, but its lean sides announced the hideous fact that it
was empty. There were not even a few grains wherewith to stave off
imminent starvation.

'How provoking!' my companion exclaimed tragically. 'I am sorry. But you
shan't be deprived for long. You must get down at a tobacconist's and
restock your pouch, and then after tea you shall smoke your pipe while I
show you the documents, as you call them.'

'Then I am comforted,' said I. 'The galaxy of attractions has received a
further addition.' Resignedly I put away the pipe and pouch, and
reverting to a question that had occurred to me while she was giving her
evidence, I said: 'There was one statement of yours that I did not quite
follow. It was with regard to the man whom you were trying to hold. You
said that you were quite confident that you would recognise him and that
you could call up quite a clear and vivid mental picture of his face, but
yet you thought that, if you were to draw a memory portrait of him, that
portrait might be misleading. How could that be? You would know whether
your portrait was like your recollection of the man, and if it was,
surely it would be like the man himself?'

'I suppose it would,' she replied thoughtfully. 'But there might be some
false details which wouldn't matter to me but which might mislead others
who might take those details for the essential characters.'

'But if the details were wrong, wouldn't that destroy the likeness?'

'Not necessarily, I think. Of course, a likeness is ultimately dependent
on the features, particularly on their proportion and the spaces between
them. But you must have noticed that when children and beginners draw
portraits, although they produce the most frightful caricatures--all
wrong and all out of drawing--yet those portraits are often unmistakable
likenesses.'

'Yes, I have noticed that. But don't you think the likeness is probably
due to the caricature? To the exaggeration of some one or two
characteristic peculiarities?'

'Very likely But that rather bears out what I said. For those
caricatures, though easily recognisable, are mostly false; and if one of
them got into the hands of a stranger who had never seen the subject of
the portrait, for purposes of identification, he would as probably as not
look for some one having those characteristics which had been quite
falsely represented.'

'Yes; and then he would be looking for the wrong kind of person
altogether.'

'Exactly. And then my drawing would probably be far from a correct
representation of my recollection of the face. It isn't as if one could
take a photograph of a mental image. So I am afraid that the idea of a
memory drawing for the purpose of identification must be abandoned.
Besides, it would be of no use unless we could get hold of the man.'

'No. But that is not impossible. The police have apparently identified
one of the men and expect to have him in custody at any moment. He may
give information as to the other, but even if he does not, the police may
be able to find out who his associates were, and in that case a memory
drawing which was far from accurate might help them to pick out the
particular man.'

'That is possible,' she agreed. 'But then if the police could get hold of
this man's associates and let me see them, I could pick out the
particular man with certainty and without any drawing at all. Isn't that
a tobacconist's shop that we are approaching?'

'It is. I think I will get off and make my purchase and then come along
to the studio.'

'Do,' she said, 'and I will run on ahead and see that the preparations
for tea are started.'

I ran down the steps and dropped off the tram without stopping it, but by
this time we had passed the shop by some little distance and I had to
walk back. I secured the new supply, and having stuffed it into my pouch,
came out of the shop just in time to see the tram stop nearly a quarter
of a mile ahead and Miss Blake get off, followed by a couple of other
passengers, and walk quickly into Jacob Street. I strode forward at a
brisk pace in the same direction, but when I reached the corner of the
street she had already disappeared. I was just about to cross to the side
on which the studio was situated when my attention was attracted by a
woman who was walking slowly up the street on my side. At the first
glance I was struck by something familiar in her appearance and a second
glance confirmed the impression. She was smartly--and something more than
smartly--dressed, and in particular I noted a rather large, elaborate, and
gaudy hat. In short, she was very singularly like the woman who had
jostled me in the doorway of the hall in which the inquest was held.

I slowed down to avoid overtaking her, and as I did so she crossed the
road and walked straight up to the gate of the studio. For an instant I
thought she was going to ring the bell, for after a glance at the number
on the gate she turned to the side and read the little nameplate, leaning
forward and putting her face close to it as if she were near-sighted. At
that moment the wicket opened and Master Percy stepped out on to the
threshold; whereupon the woman, after one swift, intense glance at the
boy, turned away and walked quickly up the street. I was half disposed to
follow her and confirm my suspicion as to her identity; but Master Percy
had already observed me, and it seemed, perhaps, more expedient to get
out of sight myself than to reveal my presence in attempting to verify a
suspicion of which I had practically no doubt, and which, even if
confirmed, had no obvious significance. Accordingly I crossed the road,
and having greeted my host, was by him conducted down the passage to the
studio.



CHAPTER EIGHT - A JACOBITE ROMANCE


In the minds of many of us, including myself, there appears to be a
natural association between the ideas of tea and tobacco. Whether it is
that both substances are exotic products, adopted from alien races, or
that each is connected with a confirmed and accepted drug habit, I am not
quite clear. But there seems to be no doubt that the association exists
and that the realisation of the one idea begets an imperative impulse to
realise the other. In conformity with which natural law, when the
tea-things had been, by the joint efforts of Miss Blake and her brother,
removed to the curtained repository--where also dwelt a gas ring and a
kettle--I proceeded complacently to bring forth my pipe and the bulging
tobacco-pouch and to transfer some of the contents of the latter to the
former.

'I am glad to see you smoking,' said Miss Blake as the first cloud of
incense ascended. 'It gives me the feeling that you are provided with an
antidote to the documents. I shall have less compunction about the
reading.'

'You think that the "tuneless pipe" is similar to the tuneful one in its
effects on the "savage breast." But I don't want any antidote. I am all
agog to hear your romance of a cat's eye, that is, if you are going to
read out the documents.'

'I thought I would read the copy aloud and get you to check it by the
originals. Then you can assure Sir Lawrence that it is a true copy.'

'Yes. I think that is quite a good plan. It is always well to have a copy
checked and certified correct.'

'Then I will get the books and we will begin at once. Do you want to hear
the reading, Percy, or are you going on with your building?'

'I should like to come and listen, if you don't mind, Winnie,' he
replied; and as his sister unlocked the cabinet under the window, he
seated himself on a chair by the now vacant table. Miss Blake took from
the cabinet three books, one of which--an ordinary school
exercise-book--she placed on the table by her chair.

'That,' she said, 'is the copy of both originals. This'--handing to me a
little leather-covered book, the pages of which were filled with small,
clearly-written, though faded, handwriting--'is the abstract of which I
spoke. This other little book is the fragmentary original which is
referred to in the abstract. If you are ready I will begin. We will take
the abstract first.'

I provided myself with a pencil with which to mark any errors, and having
opened the little book announced that I was ready.

'The abstract,' said she, 'was written in 1821, and reads as follows:

'"A SHORT HISTORY OF THE BLAKES OF BEAUCHAMP BLAKE NEAR WENDOVER IN THE
COUNTY OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, FROM THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1708."

'"This history has been written by me for the purpose of preserving a
record of certain events for the information of my descendants, to whom a
knowledge of those events may prove of great importance; and its writing
has become necessary by the circumstance that, whereas the only existing
written record has been reduced by Time and ill-usage to a collection of
disconnected fragments, the traditions passed on orally from generation
to generation become year by year more indistinct and unreliable.

'"I shall begin with the year 1708, at which time the estate of Beauchamp
Blake was held by Harold Blake. In this year was born Percival Blake, the
only son of Harold aforesaid. Seven years later occurred a rising in
favour of the Royal House of the Stuarts, in which act of rebellion the
said Harold Blake was suspected (but never accused) of having taken part.
In the year 1743, Harold Blake died and his only son, Percival, succeeded
to the property.

'"In or about the year 1742, Percival Blake married a lady named Judith
Weston (or Western). For some unknown reason this marriage took place
secretly, and was, for a time at least, kept secret. Possibly the
marriage would not have been acceptable to Percival's father, or the lady
may have been a Papist. This latter seems the more probable, inasmuch as
the marriage was solemnised, not at the church of St Margaret at
Beauchamp Blake, but at a little church in London near to Aldgate, called
St Peter by the Shambles, the rector of which, the Reverend Stephen
Rumbold, an intimate friend of Percival's, became subsequently not only a
Papist but a Jesuit. In the next year, 1743, a son was born and was
christened James. No entry of this birth appears in the registers of St
Margaret's, so it is probable that it was registered at the London
church. Unfortunately, this register is incomplete. Several pages have
been torn out, and as these missing pages belong to the years 1742 and
1743, it is to be presumed that they contained the records of the
marriage and the birth.

'"About the year 1725 Percival came to London to study medicine; and
about 1729 or 1730 he completed his studies and took his degree at
Cambridge, of which University he was already a Bachelor of Arts. From
this time onwards he appears to have practised in London as a physician,
and it was probably at this period that he made the acquaintance of
Judith Western and Stephen Rumbold. Even after the death of his father
and his own succession to the property, he continued to practise his
profession, making only occasional visits to his estate in
Buckinghamshire.

'"Like his father, Percival Blake was an ardent supporter of the
Stuarts, and it is believed that he took an active part in the various
Jacobite plots that were heard of about this time; and when, in 1745, the
great rising took place, Percival was one of those who hastened to join
the forces of the young Pretender, a disastrous act, to which all the
subsequent misfortunes of the family are due.

'"On the collapse of the Jacobite cause, Percival took immediate
measures to avert the consequences of his ill-judged action from his own
family; and in these he displayed a degree of foresight that might well
have been exhibited earlier. From Scotland he made his way to Beauchamp
Blake and there, in one of the numerous hiding-places of the old mansion,
concealed certain important documents connected with the property. It is
not quite clear what these documents were. Among them appear to have been
some of the title-deeds, and there is no doubt that they included
documents proving the validity of his marriage with Judith and the
legitimacy of his son James. Meanwhile, he had sent his wife and child,
with a servant named Jenifer Gray, to Hamburg, where they were to wait
until he joined them. He himself made his way to a port on the East
Coast, believed to have been King's Lynn, where he embarked, under a
false name, on a small vessel bound for Hamburg; but while he was waiting
for the vessel to sail, he circulated a very circumstantial account of
his own death by drowning while attempting to escape in an open boat.

'"This was at once a fortunate and unfortunate act; fortunate inasmuch as
it completely achieved his purpose of preventing the confiscation of the
property; unfortunate inasmuch as it effectually shut out his own
descendants from the succession. On the report of his death (unmarried,
as was believed, and so without issue) a distant cousin, of
unquestionable loyalty to the reigning house, took possession of the
estate without opposition and without any suggestion of confiscation.

'"One thing only, appertaining to the inheritance, Percival took with
him. Among the family heirlooms was a jewel consisting of a small pendant
set with a single cymophane (vulgarly known as a cat's eye) and bearing
an inscription, of which the actual words are unknown, but of which the
purport was that whosoever should possess the jewel should also possess
the Blake estate; a foolish statement that seems to have been generally
believed in the family and to which Percival evidently attached
incredible weight. For not only did he take the jewel with him but, as
will presently appear, he made careful provision for its disposal.

'"From this time onward the history becomes more and more vague. It seems
that Percival joined his wife and child at Hamburg, and thereafter
travelled about Germany, plying his profession as a physician. But soon
he was overtaken by a terrible misfortune. It appears that a robbery had
been committed by a woman who was said to be a foreigner, and suspicion
fell upon Judith. She was arrested, and on false evidence, convicted and
sent, as a punishment, to labour in the mines somewhere in the Harz
Mountains. Percival made unceasing efforts to obtain her release, but it
was three years before his efforts were crowned with success. But then,
alas, it was too late. The poor lady came back to him aged by privation
and broken by long-standing sickness, only to linger on a few months and
then to die in his arms. On her release he carried her away to France,
and there, at Paris, about the year 1751, she passed away and is believed
to have been buried in the cemetery of Pere Lachaise.

'"The death of his wife, to whom he seems to have been devotedly
attached, left Percival a broken man; and about eighteen months later,
he himself died, and is believed to have been buried beside Judith. But
in these sad months he occupied himself in making provision for the
recovery of the family inheritance by his posterity when circumstances
should have become more favourable. To this end he wrote a summary of the
events connected with and following the Jacobite rising and had it sewn
into a little illustrated Book of Hours, which, together with the
cymophane jewel, he gave into the keeping of Jenifer Gray, to be by her
given to the child James when he should be old enough to be trusted with
them. The exact contents of the little book we can only surmise from the
fragments that remain, but they seem to have been a short account of his
own actions and vicissitudes, and no doubt gave at least a clue to the
place in which the documents were hidden. Nor can we tell what the exact
form of the jewel was or the nature of the inscription, for Percival's
references to the latter as 'a guide' to his descendants are not clearly
understandable. At any rate, the jewel has disappeared and the written
record is reduced to a few fragments. Jenifer Gray (who seems to have
been an illiterate and foolish woman) apparently gave the little book to
the child to play with, for the few leaves that remain are covered with
childish scrawls; and she may have sold the jewel to buy the necessaries
of life, for she and the boy were evidently but poorly provided for.

'"On reaching the age of fourteen, James was apprenticed to a
cabinetmaker in Paris and apparently became very skilful workman. When he
was out of his time (Jenifer Gray having died in the meantime) he came to
England and settled in London, where, in time, he established an
excellent business.

'"Into this his son William (my father), was taken, first as an
apprentice, then as partner and finally as principal. By my father the
prosperity of the house was so well maintained that he was able to
article me to an attorney, to whom I am chief clerk at this time of
writing.

'"This record, together with what remains of Percival Blake's
manuscript, will, I trust, be preserved by my descendants in the hope
that it may be the instrument by which Providence may hereafter reinstate
them in the inheritance of their forefathers.

'"JOHN BLAKE.

'"16 SYMOND'S INN, LONDON,

'"20th June 1821."'

As she finished reading, Miss Blake let the book fall into her lap and
looked at me as if inviting criticism. I closed the little original, and
laying it on the table, remarked: 'A very singular and romantic history,
and a very valuable record. The detailed narrative presents a much more
convincing case than one would have expected from the bare statement that
you gave in your evidence. Your great-grandfather was a wise man to
commit the facts to writing while the memory of the events was
comparatively recent. How much is there left of Percival's manuscript?'

'Very little, I am sorry to say,' she replied, picking up the remaining
volume and handing it to me; 'but I have made a copy of these fragments,
too. It follows the copy of John Blake's abstract, and I will read it out
to you if you will check it by the original.'

I turned the little book over in my hand and examined it curiously. It
was a tiny volume, bound in gold-tooled calf, now rusty and worn and
badly broken at the joints. The title-page showed it to be a Book of
Hours--Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis--printed at Antwerp by Bakhasar Moretus
and dated 1634, and on turning over the leaves I perceived that it was
illustrated with a number of quaint but decorative woodcuts. The inside
of the cover seemed to have been used as a sort of unofficial birth
register. At the top, in very faded writing, was inscribed 'Judith
Weston,' and underneath a succession of names beginning with 'James, son
of Percival and Judith Blake, born 3 April 1743,' and ending with
Winifred and Percival, the daughter and son of Peter and Agnes Blake.
Between the cover and the title-page a number of fly-leaves of very thin
paper had been stitched in, and those that remained were covered with
minute writing of a pale, ghostly brown, largely defaced by spots,
smears, scribblings and childish drawings. But most of them had
disappeared, and the few that were left hung insecurely to the loosened
stitches.

When I had completed my inspection, I opened the book at the first
fly-leaf, and adjusting the reading-glass which Miss Blake had placed on
the table, announced that I was ready; whereupon she resumed her reading.

'The first page reads: "...to my cousin Leonard, who, as the heir-at-law,
would, I knew, be watching the course of events. Indeed, I doubt not that
if he had known of my marriage, he would have used his influence at the
Court to oust me. But the news of my death I felt sure would bring him
forward at once, and his loyalty to the German King would make him secure
to the succession. So he and his brood should keep the nest warm until
the clouds had passed and the present troubles should be forgotten. Only
to my own posterity, the true heirs, must be provided a key wherewith to
re-enter on their inheritance, and to this end I searched the muniment
chest and took therefrom all the--"'

This was the end of the page, and as she broke off. Miss Blake looked up.

'Isn't it exasperating?' said she. 'There seems to be only one page
missing in this place, but it is the one that contains the vital
information.'

'It is not very difficult to guess what he took,' said I. 'Evidently he
abstracted the title-deeds. But the question is, what did he do with
them?'

'Yes,' said Miss Blake, 'that is the important question, and
unfortunately we cannot answer it. That he hid them in a secure
hiding-place is evident from the next two pages. The first reads: "Will
Bateman, the plumber, made me a tall leaden jar like a black-jack to hold
the documents, with a close-fitting lid, which we luted on with wax when
we had put the documents into it. And this jar I set in the hiding-place,
and on top of it the great two-handled posset-pot that old Martin, the
potter, made for my mother when I was born; which I prize dearly and
would not have it fall into the hands of strangers. When all was ready,
we sent for the carpenter, who is a safe man and loyal to the Prince, and
bade him close the chamber, which he did so that no eye could detect the
opening. So the writings shall be safe until such time--"

'The next page reads: "...and the other documents which I obtained from
Mr Halford, the attorney. I had feared that their absence might be a bar
to the succession, but he assured me it was not so, but only that it
would hinder the sale of the property. So I am satisfied; and I am
confident that Leonard will never guess the hiding-place in which they
are bestowed, nor will he ever dream what that hiding-place conceals."

'"When I had done this I began forthwith to spread the report of my death
among strangers, both in the coffee-houses and at the inn whereat I
lodged while I was waiting for the ship to sail from--" There the page
ends, and there seems to be quite a lot missing, for the next one speaks
of the disaster as having already occurred.

'"Nor, indeed, would they listen to her protestations (spoken, as they
were, in a strange tongue), and still less to my entreaties. And so she
was borne away from my sight, brave, cheerful, and dignified to the last,
as befitted an English gentlewoman, though it seemed then as if we should
never look on one another again. So I left with the child and Jenifer and
must needs continue to live at Eisenach (that I might be near my darling,
though I could never see her) and must minister for my daily bread to the
wretches who people that accursed land--"

'There seems to be only one or two pages missing here, for the next page
runs: "...this joyful day (as I had hoped it would be) and set forth from
Eisenach with the child and Jenifer to meet my poor darling on the road.
A few miles out we saw the cart approaching, filled with the prisoners
released from the mines. I looked among them, but at first saw her not.
Then a haggard old woman held out her arms to me and I looked again. The
old woman was Judith, my wife! But, O God, what a wreck! She was wasted
to a very skeleton, her skin was like old parchment, her hair, that had
been like spun gold, was turned to a strange black and her whole
aspect--"' Miss Blake paused and said in a low voice: 'It is a dreadful
picture. Poor Judith! And poor Percival! And the rest of the story is
just as sad. The next page takes up the thread just after Judith's death.

'"And when it was over and I saw them shovel in the earth, I felt moved
to beg them not to fill the grave but to leave room for me. I went away
through the snow with Jenifer and the boy. But I was alone. Judith had
been all to me, and my heart was under the new-turned sods. Yet I
bethought me, if it should please God to take me, I must not go without
leaving some chart to guide my son back to our home, should such return
be possible in his lifetime, or to guide his children or his children's
children. Therefore, that same sad day I began to write this history on
the fly-leaves that my dear wife had had sewn into her little book of--"

'There seems to be only one page missing before the next, but it was an
important one, so far as we can judge. Indeed, it almost appears as if
all the most significant pages were lost. The next page reads:

"...gave me a string from his bass viol, which he says will be the best
of all. So that matter is as secure as care and judgement can make it.
This book and the precious bauble I purpose to hold until I feel the hand
of death upon me, and then I shall give both into the keeping of Jenifer,
bidding her guard them jealously as treasures beyond price, until my son
attains the age of fourteen. Then she shall give them to him, adjuring
him to preserve the book in a safe place and never to lend or show it to
any person whatsoever, and to wear the trinket hung around his neck under
his clothing so that none shall know-"

'That is the last complete page. There remains a half-page, which seems
to have been the concluding one. It reads: "...and that is all that I can
do, since one cannot look into the future. When the time is ripe, my son,
or his descendants, can go forward with open eyes. This history and the
trinket shall guide them. Wherefore I pray that both may be treasured by
them to whom I thus pass on the inheritance. "'

As Miss Blake finished her reading she closed the book and sat looking
thoughtfully at her brother, who had listened with rapt attention to the
pathetic story. Half-reluctantly I shut the little Book of Hours and laid
it on the table.

'It is a tragic little history,' I said, 'and these soiled and tattered
leaves and the faded writing and the old-fashioned phraseology make it
somehow very real and vivid. I wonder what became of the cat's eye
pendant. Is nothing at all known of the way in which it was lost?'

'Nothing,' she replied. 'The boy James was only seven years old when his
father died, so he would hardly have remembered, even if he knew of the
existence of the jewel. It may have been lost or stolen, or, more
probably, Jenifer sold it to buy the necessaries of life. She must have
been pretty hard pressed at times.'

'She must have been a duffer,' said Percy, 'if she sold it after what she
had been told. Couldn't she have popped it and kept up the interest?'

'You seem to know a good deal about these matters, Percy,' his sister
remarked with a smile.

'Well,' said he, 'I should think everybody knows how to raise the wind if
they are hard up. There's no need to sell things when you've got an
uncle.'

'We don't know that she did sell it,' said Miss Blake. 'She may even have
"popped" it, to use your elegant expression. All that we know is that it
disappeared. And now it has disappeared again, if this pendant that was
stolen was really the Blake pendant.'

'Is there any reason to suppose that it was?' I asked.

Only that it agreed with what little we know of the missing jewel, and
cat's eye pendants must be very rare. Unfortunately, the Connoisseur
article doesn't help us much. It gives a photograph, from which we could
identify the pendant if we knew exactly what it was like, but the
description fails just at the vital point. It doesn't say anything about
the inscription on the back. It was in order to find out what that
inscription was that I asked poor Mr Drayton to let me see the jewel.
Would you like to see the photograph?'

'I should, very much, if you have a copy.'

She fetched from the cabinet a copy of the Connoisseur, and having found
the article, handed the open magazine to me. There were two photographs
on the page, one of the little book-locket and the other of a simple,
lozenge-shaped pendant of somewhat plain design, set with a single,
rather large stone, smooth-cut and nearly circular. The letterpress gave
no particulars and did not even mention the inscription.

'I suppose,' said I, 'there is no doubt that this pendant did bear an
inscription of some kind. There is no reference to it here.'

'No particular reference, unfortunately. But this was a collection of
inscribed objects. Every specimen bore an inscription if it was only a
name and a date. The article, you will see, says so, and Mr Drayton told
me so himself.'

'You didn't ask him what was written on this pendant?'

'No; I didn't want to tell him about our family tradition unless I found
that it really was the Blake pendant. Perhaps I might not have told him
even then, for the inscription might have told us all we wanted to know;
though I must confess to a certain superstitious hankering to possess the
jewel, or, at least, to see it in Percy's possession.'

'You were telling Sir Lawrence that proceedings to establish a claim were
actually begun by your father.'

'Yes, but our solicitor was not at all hopeful, and the counsel whom he
retained very strongly advised my father not to go on. He thought that,
with the apparently well-founded belief in Percival's death and the
absence of any real evidence of his marriage and survival, we had no
case. So the action was settled out of court and the tenant at the time
agreed to pay most of the costs.'

'Do you remember who was the solicitor for the tenant?'

'Yes. His name was Brodribb, and my father thought he treated us very
fairly.'

'He probably did. I know Mr Brodribb very well, and I have the highest
opinion of him as a lawyer and as a man. I have often been retained by
him, and I have usually been very well satisfied to be associated with
him. Do you know what the position was when your father began his action?
I mean as to the possible heirs. Was the present tenant then in
possession?'

'No; he was a Mr Arnold Blake, a widower with no surviving children. But
he knew the present tenant, Arthur Blake, although they were not very
near relatives, and was prepared to contest the claim on his behalf.
Arthur Blake was then, I think, in Australia.'

'And I gather that you don't know much about him?'

'No, excepting that I understand that he is unmarried, which is all that
really matters to us.'

'And did Brodribb know about this little book and John Blake's abstract?'

'I think my father must have told him that we had some authentic details
of the family history, but I don't know whether he actually showed him
the originals.'

'And with regard to the pedigree since Percival. Have the marriages and
births all been proved?'

'Yes. My father had them investigated, and obtained certificates of all
of them, and I have those certificates, though I am afraid they are never
likely to be called for.'

'Well,' I said, 'as a lawyer, I shouldn't like to hold out any hopes even
if the death of the present tenant without issue should seem to create a
favourable situation. But, of course, if it should ever become possible
to prove the marriage of Percival and Judith and the birth of James, that
would alter the position very materially. And now I must tear myself
away. I have been most keenly interested in hearing your romance, and I
have no doubt that Sir Lawrence will be equally so. If you will give me
the copy, I will leave it at his chambers tonight or tomorrow morning.'

She gave me the manuscript book, which I slipped into my pocket, and then
she and Percy escorted me across the yard and let me out at the wicket.



CHAPTER NINE - EXIT MOAKEY


From Jacob Street I made my way to the Temple with the intention of
letting Thorndyke look through Miss Blake's manuscript--since he had
expressed a wish to see it--before delivering it to Drayton. And as I sat
on the omnibus roof I reflected on the events of the afternoon. In spite
of my legal training and experience the romance of the lost inheritance
had taken a strong hold on me. The two narratives, and especially the
older one, diffused an atmosphere of reality that was very convincing. It
was practically certain that the two manuscripts were genuine, and if
they were, there could be no doubt that my young friend Percy was the
direct descendant of the Jacobite fugitive, Percival Blake. Nor could
there be much reasonable doubt that the descent was legitimate. Percival
plainly referred to Judith as his wife and there seemed to be no reason
for supposing that the marriage had not taken place at the time stated in
John Blake's abstract. In short, I found myself wondering whether Mr
Peter Blake's counsel had not been a little over-cautious, or whether he
might not have been influenced by a possible financial straitness on the
part of the said Peter unfavourable to a warmly-contested action at law.

If he had been over-cautious, it was unfortunate, for he had missed an
opportunity. The death of Arnold Blake without a direct successor would
have made things comparatively easy for a new claimant with a good case,
whereas now, with Arthur Blake in possession, the difficulties would be
much greater. It is one thing to maintain a claim against other
claimants, but quite another to oust a tenant who has established a title
by actual possession. And, to judge by their surroundings and mode of
life, my friends were but poorly equipped for any action at all.

From the manuscripts and their story my thoughts strayed to the woman
whom I had seen examining Miss Blake's nameplate. I did not like that
incident at all. It might mean nothing. The woman might happen to live in
the neighbourhood and have made her inspection from mere idle curiosity.
But that was not what the appearances suggested. The woman had been at
the inquest, and from Hampstead she must have travelled in the same
tramcar that had conveyed Miss Blake and me. Then she had seemed to have
followed Miss Blake, at some distance, on the opposite side of the road.
There was a suggestion of purpose in the whole proceeding that I found
disquieting and rather sinister, and it was not made less so by the very
unprepossessing appearance of the woman herself.

When I let myself into our chambers with my key--or rather Jervis'--I
found the sitting-room vacant; but as an inspection of the hat-rack in
the lobby suggested that Thorndyke was somewhere on the premises, I went
up to the laboratory, and there I found him in company with Polton and an
uncanny-looking apparatus consisting of a microscope with an attachment
of miniature hot-water pipes.

'This is a new form of magic,' said I, 'at least it is new to me. What is
going on?'

'This is just a microscope with a warm stage,' Thorndyke explained. 'We
are making it a hot stage for the purposes of the present experiment.'

'And what is the experiment?' I asked with sudden curiosity, for I had
just observed that the object on the microscope stage was an
irregular-shaped piece of glass on which I could distinguish a very clear
fingerprint.

'The experiment is connected with the fingerprints on the piece of glass
that you so very fortunately secured at "The Rowans." This is a portion
of it which I have cut off with a glazier's diamond and which bears a
duplicate print. You remember my pointing out to you that a real
fingerprint--as distinguished from a statistical or mathematical
fingerprint--has chemical and physical properties. Well, we are
endeavouring to determine the chemical nature of the substance of which
this fingerprint is composed by inference from its physical properties.
We are now ascertaining its melting-point; in fact I may say that we have
ascertained it. It is fifty-three degrees centigrade. And this fact, in
conjunction with its other observed physical properties, tells us that it
is Japanese wax.'

'Indeed,' said I. 'Then that goes to show that the man who made these
fingerprints had been handling Japanese wax.'

'That is the obvious inference.'

'Does that throw any light on the man's personality or occupation? What
is Japanese wax used for?'

'For a variety of purposes. Very largely for the manufacture of wax
polishes for boots and furniture, for the preparation of foundry wax and
the various waxes used by jewellers, engravers, and lapidaries. It is
also used in pharmacy in the making of certain plasters and cerates.'

'Do you think,' I asked, 'that this man could have got it on his fingers
by touching the furniture?'

'No,' replied Thorndyke. 'The cabinets were French-polished, and I saw no
trace of wax polish on them. Besides, there is more wax than would have
been taken up in that way.'

'Does the presence of this wax suggest anything to you?'

'Well,' replied Thorndyke, 'of course there are possibilities. But one
mustn't expect to apply a fact as soon as it is discovered. We have
ascertained what this substance is. Let us put this item of knowledge in
its proper mental pigeon-hole and hope that we shall find a use for it
presently.'

'I have a strong suspicion, Thorndyke,' said I, 'that you have found a
use for it already. However, I won't press you. I know my place. The
mantle of Jervis is on me--and trailing a few yards along the ground. I
am not permitted to cross-examine my reverend senior.'

'There really isn't any need for you to do so,' said he. 'I have no
exclusive information. You are in possession of all the facts that are
known to me.'

That is not strictly true, you know, Thorndyke,' I objected. 'We share
the mere observed facts of this case, I admit; but you have a body of
general knowledge which I have not, and which gives many of these
observed facts a significance that is hidden from me. However, we will
let that pass. You are the investigating wizard, I am only a sort of
familiar demon. Which reminds me that I have been devilling for you this
afternoon. I think you said that you would like to look over the
documents relating to Miss Blake's claim.'

'Yes, I should be interested to see them.'

'Well, I've got a copy, which I have compared with the originals, and
which I am to hand over Drayton. Would you like to have it now?'

'Yes; I have finished up here. Let us go downstairs and look over the
documents together.'

'You had better take the copy down with you and run through it while I am
having a wash. Then I will come down and hear your reverend
pronouncements on the case.' I produced the manuscript book from my
pocket and having handed it to him, retired to the bedroom of which I was
tenant ex officio, while he descended to the sitting-room with the
manuscript in his hand.

When I came down after a leisurely wash and brush up, I found Thorndyke
sitting with the open book before him and a slip of paper and a pencil in
his hand. Apparently he had finished the reading and was jotting down a
few dates and other particulars.

'This is a singularly interesting story, Anstey,' said he, 'and
extraordinarily picturesque in its setting. It enables us to understand
Miss Blake's view as to her brother's claim, which sounded a little
extravagant when baldly stated in her evidence. And, in fact, it looks as
if that claim were a perfectly sound one. If it were only possible to
produce satisfactory evidence of the marriage of Percival and Judith
Blake and of the legitimacy of James, I should take the case into Court
with perfect confidence--under suitable conditions, of course.'

'You mean, if there were any question as to the succession.'

'Yes. And such a question may arise at any moment if the present tenant
is unmarried. It seems to me a matter of vital importance to find out as
much as possible about this present tenant, Arthur Blake; I mean as to
his heir, his relatives and connections generally, and the chances of his
marrying. Miss Blake's brother is but a child, and many things may happen
before he is a middle-aged man.'

'Yes,' I agreed. 'It would be a good deal more to the point than fussing
about this ridiculous cat's eye. Miss Blake's keenness about that is a
mystery to me.'

'Don't forget,' said Thorndyke, 'that the pendant is believed to bear an
inscription that might be helpful to the possessor, though it is
difficult to imagine in what way it could be.'

'Very difficult,' said I. 'But it isn't the inscription that she is so
keen on, it is the thing itself. She has a sort of half-belief in some
occult quality inherent in this jewel, in fact she is infected by the
family superstition. It is incomprehensible to me.'

'It is always difficult for one temperament to understand another,' said
he. 'But this state of mind is quite a common one. That absurd little
bone of Halliburton's is a case in point, and quite a representative
instance. It was obviously a mascot--that is to say, an object credited
with occult properties and the power to influence events; and how many
people are there who, openly or secretly, cherish similar charms or
fetishes. The Stock Exchange, the Stage, and the Sporting Clubs are full
of them.'

'Yes,' that is true,' I agreed; and then, suddenly remembering the
mysterious woman, I said: 'By the way, a rather queer thing happened this
afternoon. I accompanied Miss Blake home from Hampstead, but I got off
the tram to get some tobacco and let her go on ahead. She had gone
indoors before I arrived at the studio, and as I was approaching her
house, I saw a woman cross the road and go deliberately up to the door
and read the name on the plate.'

'Yes,' said Thorndyke, looking at me interrogatively.

'Well, the point is that that woman had followed us from Hampstead.'

'Indeed!' he exclaimed with sudden gravity. 'You are sure of that?'

'Yes. I recognised her before she crossed. You may have noticed her at
the inquest, a brassy-haired baggage with a spotted veil and a face
powdered like a clown's.'

'Yes, I noticed her. She was sitting near to you, by the door. I took
particular note of her because she stood up while Miss Blake was giving
her evidence, and seemed deeply interested in her and in you.'

'Well, that is the woman.'

'But this is very serious, Anstey. What a pity you didn't follow her and
find out where she went to!'

'I had half a mind to, but Master Percy--Miss Blake's brother--came to
the door at that moment and saw me, so it was hardly possible.'

'It is very unfortunate,' said Thorndyke. 'You see the importance of the
matter? Miss Blake stood up in open Court and swore that she was
confident she could identify the man who stabbed her. Now that man is not
only a robber. He is, at least, an accessory to the murder of Andrew
Drayton, and his apprehension would probably reveal the identity of the
actual murderer--if he is not the murderer himself--to say nothing of the
charge against him of wounding with intent. Of course, if the police are
right about those fingerprints, there is not so much in it. They will
arrest Moakey and probably get the other man as well. But if the police
clue should fail--and I should not be surprised if it does--Miss Blake
represents the whole of the evidence against these two men. Apart from
her, a conviction would be impossible unless the men were taken with the
stolen property in their possession, which they are not likely to be.
Even if the men were arrested they could not be identified, excepting by
her, and would have to be released. I consider that her position is one
of extreme danger. Did you tell her of this incident?'

'No; I thought there was no use in making her uneasy.'

'She ought to be warned, Anstey. And she ought to be most cautious about
exposing herself to the possibility of an attack of any kind. I am
expecting a visit from Superintendent Miller--he sent me a note asking
for an interview at seven o'clock, so he will be here in a few minutes.
When we have seen him, we shall know how the case stands, but the fact of
his wanting an interview suggests that the police bark has got into shoal
water.'

Punctually at seven o'clock the Superintendent's characteristic official
rat-tat announced his arrival, and as I let him in, a subtle something in
his manner seemed to confirm Thorndyke's surmises.

'I suppose,' said he as he took the armchair and lighted the customary
cigar, 'you've guessed what I wanted to talk to you about? It's this
Drayton case, you know.'

Thorndyke nodded. 'Any new developments?' he asked.

'Well, yes, there are. We've got a bit of a setback. It seems that the
fingerprint people made a mistake. Never known them to do such a thing
before, but I suppose nobody is infallible. It turns out that those
fingerprints are not Moakey's after all.'

As the Superintendent made this statement, he fixed a stony gaze on the
opposite wall. Glancing at Thorndyke, I noted that my colleague's
countenance had taken on that peculiar woodenness that I had learned to
associate with intense attention not unmingled with suspicion.

'I can't think how they came to make such a stupid mistake,' the
Superintendent continued, still staring fixedly at the wall. 'Might have
got us into a horrid mess.'

'I should have thought,' said Thorndyke, 'that mistakes might easily be
made with such multitudes of records. Whose fingerprints are they?'

'Ah!' said Miller, 'there you are. We don't know. They don't seem to have
'em at the registry. So our only clue is gone.'

'Haven't you opened up in any other direction?' Thorndyke asked.

'We've notified all the likely fences, of course, but that's no good.
These coveys are not likely to try to plant the stuff with a murder
charge hanging over them. Then we made some inquiries about that man
Halliburton. But they turned out a frost. The chap has disappeared and
left no address. We've got his signature, and we've got a dam silly
rabbit bone that some fool has taken the trouble to cut a pattern on,
that he left behind at the hotel; and as he seemed to value the thing, we
put an advertisement in the papers saying that it had been found. But
there are no answers up to the present, and not likely to be. And then
Halliburton probably had nothing to do with the affair. So we're rather
up a tree. And it's annoying, after thinking it was all plain sailing,
and letting the papers give out that we were in full cry. Of course, they
are all agog for the next act--and, by the way, one of them has got a
portrait of you--I think I've got it. Yes, here it is.'

He produced from his pocket a copy of the Evening Courier and opened it
out. On the front page was an excellent portrait of my colleague, with
the descriptive title: 'Dr John Thorndyke, the famous criminal expert,
whose services are being retained in the case.'

'That ought to help you, sir,' said the Superintendent with a grin. 'You
won't be a stranger to our friends if you should happen to meet them. It
is a pity their photographs can't be given, too.'

'Yes, it would be more to the point. But now, Miller, what is it that you
want me to do? I assume that you have come to suggest some sort of
co-operation?'

'Well,' said Miller, 'you are retained in the case, and I rather suspect
that Sir Lawrence would like you to carry on independently. But there is
no sense in our getting at cross-purposes.'

'Not the least,' Thorndyke agreed. 'It is a criminal case, and our
objects are identical--to secure the offenders and recover the property.
Do I understand that you are prepared to offer me facilities?'

'What facilities do you want?'

'At this moment I am not wanting any, excepting that I should like to
look at the fingerprints. There would be no objection to that. I
suppose?'

The Superintendent looked uncomfortable. 'I don't know why there should
be,' said he, 'but you know what Singleton and his crowd are. They don't
like unofficial investigators in their department. And,' Miller added
with a grin, 'they aren't very fond of you, and no wonder; they haven't
forgotten that Hornby case. But it wouldn't help you a bit if you did
look at the prints. You can take it from me that Moakey is not the man.
There's no mistake this time. They have checked the fingerprints quite
carefully, and you can rely on what they say. So it would be no use your
examining them--unless,' he added with a shrewd look at Thorndyke,
'you've got a fingerprint registry of your own.'

As a matter of fact it was known to me that Thorndyke had a collection in
a card-index file, but it was a mere appendix to the reports of cases
dealt with, which had no bearing on the present case.

'I daresay you are right,' Thorndyke agreed 'One doesn't learn much from
stray fingerprints. And you've nothing more to tell us?'

'Nothing,' was the reply. 'And you, sir? I suppose you haven't struck
anything that would give us a lead?'

'I have not begun to work at the case,' said Thorndyke. 'I have been
waiting for your report, to see if the case was as simple as it appeared.'

'Yes,' said Miller, 'it did look simple. Seemed as if there was nothing to
do but make the arrest. And now we have nothing to go on at all. Well,'
here he rose and began to move towards the door, 'if we can help you in
anyway I hope you will let us know, and, of course, if you can put us on
to anything we shall thank you kindly.'

As our visitor's footsteps died away on the stairs, Thorndyke softly
closed the door and moved to the window, where he stood meditatively
regarding the retreating officer as the latter crossed to Crown Office
Row.

'That was a queer interview,' said he.

'Yes,' I agreed 'I don't see why he made the appointment. He hadn't much
to tell us.'

'I am not quite sure of that,' said Thorndyke. 'I have a sort of feeling
that he came here to tell us something and didn't tell it--at least he
thinks he didn't.'

'It seemed to me that he told us nothing,' said I.

'It probably seemed so to him,' replied Thorndyke. 'Whereas, if I am not
mistaken, he has made us a free gift of a really valuable piece of
information.'

'Well, it may be so,' said I, 'but for my part, I can't see that he gave
us a particle of information excepting that the case against Moakey has
fallen through. Perhaps it is a technical point that is outside my
range.'

'Not at all,' he replied. 'It is just a matter of observation and
comparison. You were present when Miller called last time and you have
been present today. You have heard all that passed and have had the
privilege of observing the Superintendent's by no means unexpressive
countenance. Just recall the conversation and consider it by the light of
all the known circumstances and see if it does not yield a very
interesting suggestion.'

I recalled without difficulty the brief conversation and reflected on it
in connection with the Superintendent's rather aggressively nonchalant
air. But from that reflection nothing emerged but wonder at my
colleague's amazing power of rapid inference. Finally I resolved to write
down the conversation and think it over at my leisure.

'I take it,' said I, 'that you don't believe Miller is in such a fog as
he professes to be?'

'On the contrary,' Thorndyke replied, 'I think that he is not only in a
fog but hard aground. The fact that he meant to conceal and in effect
disclosed (as I believe) is a leading fact. But I don't think he realises
whither it leads. And, of course, it may not be a fact, after all. I may
have drawn an erroneous inference. Obviously, the first thing to do is to
test my hypothesis rigorously. In twenty-four hours I shall know whether
it is true or false, since the means of verification are quite simple.'

'I am glad of that,' I said sourly, 'for the fog in which you assume that
Miller is enveloped is clear daylight compared to that which surrounds
me.'

'I think you will find that the fog will clear up under the influence of
a little reflection,' said Thorndyke. 'But we are forgetting Miss Blake.
You see the bearing of Miller's tidings on her position. Moakey is out of
the case. The fingerprints are unknown, and therefore practically
valueless. The police evidently have no clue at all. Miss Blake
represents the only danger that threatens these men, and we may be pretty
sure that they know it. If she could be eliminated their position would
be absolutely secure. And, remember, these are desperate men to whom a
human life is of no account when set against their own safety. It is an
unseemly hour at which to call on a lady, but I think she ought to be
warned without delay.'

'I entirely agree with you,' said I. 'We can't stand on ceremony; and
after all, it is barely eight o'clock. A taxi will take us there in
quarter of an hour.'

'Then let us start at once,' said he, stepping into the lobby for his hat
and stick. Leaving a slip of paper on the table for Polton's information,
we set forth together and walked rapidly up Inner Temple Lane to the
gate. As we emerged, a taxi-cab drew up to deposit a passenger and we
hurried forward to secure the reversion when the present tenant should
give up possession. A few moments later we had taken our seats and were
bowling up Chancery Lane to the soft hum of the taxi's engine.



CHAPTER TEN - A TIMELY WARNING


As the cab rolled swiftly through the quietening streets I turned over
once more the two statements that had been made by Superintendent Miller
and compared them. Together they had yielded to the amazingly quick
intelligence of my friend Thorndyke something that the speaker had not
intended to convey. What was the something? The first statement had set
forth that the fingerprints were those of Joseph Hedges--or Moakey, as
his associates had nicknamed him; the second had set forth that the
fingerprints were not his but those of some person who had yet to be
identified. The two statements contradicted one another, of course, but
the first was admittedly based upon a mistake. What was the fact that
emerged from the contradiction?

I revolved the question again and again without seeing any glimmer of
light. And then, suddenly, the simple explanation burst upon me. Of
course! The prints were those of fingers smeared with Japanese wax. But
Japanese wax is used for making furniture polish. There was the solution
of this profound mystery. They were Mrs Benham's fingerprints--or perhaps
those of the murdered man--made in the process of applying furniture
polish to the cabinet. This, the only clue, evaporated into a myth and
left Miss Blake's identification the only link with the vanished
murderer.

'I think I have found the solution to the fingerprint problem,
Thorndyke,' said I.

'Ah!' said he, 'I thought you would if you reflected on it. What is it?'

'They are Mrs Benham's fingerprints, or else Drayton's. They were made in
the course of polishing the furniture.'

'An excellent suggestion, Anstey,' he replied, 'which doesn't seem to
have occurred to the police. I suspected it as soon as I saw the waxy
material of the fingerprints. It doesn't happen to be the correct
explanation, I am glad to say, for it would be a singularly
unilluminating one. I took the fingerprints both of Mrs. Benham and the
deceased this morning before the inquest, but I didn't think it necessary
to mention the matter to the police. It is quite clear to me that they
are not laying their cards on the table. In point of fact, they have only
one card, and my impression is that they are mistaking the back of that
for the face. But here we are at our destination.'

We sprang out of the cab, and having dismissed it, gave a pull at the
studio bell. The wicket was opened by Miss Blake herself, and I hastened
to make the necessary apologies.

'I have come back again, you see, Miss Blake, and with reinforcements. It
is an unholy time for making a call, but we have come on a matter of
business. Dr. Thorndyke thought it advisable that you should be told
something and given certain advice without delay.'

'Well,' she said graciously, 'you are both very welcome, business or no
business. Won't you come in?'

'Is Percy in the studio?'

'Yes. He has finished his home lessons and is doing a little building
before going to bed.'

'Then we had better say what we have to say here, or perhaps in the
passage.'

We stepped through the wicket and closed it, and as we stood in the dark
entry, Miss Blake remarked: This is very secret and portentous. You are
filling me with curiosity.'

'Then we will proceed to satisfy it. To begin with, do you remember a
woman who jostled us rather rudely at the door when we were going in to
the inquest?'

'Yes, I remember the incident, but I didn't notice the woman
particularly, except that she gave me a rather impertinent stare and that
she was a horrid-looking woman.'

'Well, she either lives about here or she followed us deliberately from
Hampstead. She must have come on the same car as we did; for when I
turned into Jacob Street I saw her prowling up the opposite side of the
road, and when she came opposite this house, she crossed and looked at
the number on the door--and the name on your plate.'

'That was very inquisitive of her,' said Miss Blake. 'But does it
matter?'

'It may be of no significance at all,' said Thorndyke. 'But under the
special circumstances it would be unwise to ignore the warning that it
may convey.'

'What are the special circumstances?' she asked.

'They are these,' he replied. 'You heard Inspector Badger say in his
evidence this morning that the police have a very promising clue? Well,
that clue has broken off short. I believe the police have now no clue at
all, and the murderers pretty certainly know it. But you stated publicly
that you are confident that you could identify the man whom you saw. That
statement is certain to be known, or to become known, to these men; and
they will consequently know that you are a serious menace to their
safety, and the only one; that your ability to recognise one of them is
the only circumstance that stands between them and absolute, perfect
security. But for this one fact they could walk abroad, safe from any
possible recognition. They could stand outside Scotland Yard and snap
their fingers at the police. Now, I don't want to be an alarmist. But it
is necessary to recognise a danger and take the necessary means to guard
against it. You see what I mean?'

'I think so. You mean that if I were out of the way these men would be
safe from any possibility of discovery, and that it is consequently to
their interest to put me out of the way.'

'Yes, stated bluntly, that is the position. And you know what the
characters of these men are.'

'They are certainly not persons who would stick at trifles. Yes, I must
admit that your view of the position seems a reasonable one, though I
hope things are not as bad as you fear. But what precautions could I
take?'

'I suggest that, for the present, you don't go out after dark--at any
rate, not alone; that you avoid going about alone as far as is possible,
that you especially shun all unfrequented places where you might be
suddenly attacked, and that, on all occasions, you bear this danger in
mind in considering any unusual circumstances.'

'All this sounds rather alarming,' she said uneasily.

'It is alarming,' Thorndyke agreed, 'and I am extremely sorry to have to
impress it on you. But I would further impress on you that you have
friends--two of them are now present--who are deeply concerned as to your
safety and who would consider it a privilege to be called upon at any
time for help or advice. I am always at your service, and I am sure Mr.
Anstey is too, as well as Sir Lawrence Drayton.'

'Then,' said Miss Blake, 'the compensations are greater than the evil for
which they compensate. I welcome the danger if it brings me such kind
friends. And now you really must come in for a little while, or Percy
will accuse me of gossiping with "followers" at the gate.'

She led the way down the paved passage and I steered Thorndyke with an
expert hand past the scattered monoliths and the unfinished tombstone
until we reached the door, where Miss Blake stopped to hold aside the
curtain. As we entered Percy looked up from his work and then, in his
quaint, self-possessed way came forward to welcome us.

'How do you like my tower now it's finished, Mr. Anstey?' he asked,
regarding his work complacently, with his head on one side.

We stood by him looking at the building--a model of a church tower some
three feet in height-and I observed with a sort of proprietary pride that
Thorndyke was deeply impressed.

'This is really a remarkable piece of work,' said he. 'Where do you get
your bricks?'

'I make them of clay,' replied Percy, 'and let them dry hard. I make one
as a model and make a plaster mould of it. Then all the rest are just
squeezes from the mould. So I can get any shaped bricks that I like, and
as many of them as I want. It's much cheaper than buying them, and
besides, the bought bricks are no use for serious work.'

'No,' Thorndyke agreed, 'you couldn't build a tower like that with
ready-made bricks, at least with none that I have ever seen. Are you
going to be an architect?'

'Yes,' the boy replied gravely, 'if we can afford it. If not I shall be a
mason. Mr Wingrave--out in the yard, you know--lets me do a bit of
stone-cutting sometimes. I shouldn't mind being a mason, but I should
like to work on buildings, not on tombstones. I love buildings.'

Thorndyke looked at the boy with keen and sympathetic interest. 'It is a
good thing,' said he, 'to know what you want and to have a definite bent
and purpose in life. I should think you ought to be a happy man and a
useful one if you keep up your enthusiasm. Don't you think so, Miss
Blake?'

'I do indeed,' she replied. 'Percy has a real passion for buildings and
he knows quite a lot about them. His copy of Parker is nearly worn out.
And I don't see why he shouldn't be an architect and make his hobby his
living.'

As she was speaking, I looked at her and noticed that she was wearing the
locket suspended from a bead necklace.

'I see you have taken your new acquisition into wear,' I remarked.

'Yes,' she replied. 'I have just hooked it to this necklace, but I must
get some more secure attachment. Have you seen this locket, Dr
Thorndyke?'

'No,' he answered, and as she unhooked it and gave it to him to inspect,
he continued: 'This is what poor Mr Drayton used to call his "little
Sphinx," isn't it?'

'Yes, because it seemed always to be propounding riddles. But the riddles
are inside.'

'One of them is outside,' said Thorndyke, 'though it is not a very
difficult one. I mean the peculiar construction and workmanship.'

'What is there unusual about that?' she asked eagerly.

'Well,' he replied, 'it is not ordinary jeweller's construction. The
normal way to make a locket is to build it up of sheet metal. The sides
would be made first by bending a stout strip into a hoop of the proper
shape--nearly square, in this case--and joining the ends with solder.
Then the back and front would be soldered on to the hoop and the latter
cut through vertically with a fine saw, dividing the locket into two
exactly similar halves. Then the hinge and the suspension ring would be
soldered on, and the flange fastened in with solder. But in this case the
method has been quite different. Each half of the locket was a single
casting, which included half a hinge and one suspension ring. Probably
both halves were cast from a single half-model and the superfluous part
of the hinge filed off. Then each half was worked on the stake and
pitch-block to harden the metal and the final finishing and fitting done
with the file and stone. The engraving must have been done after
everything but the hinge was finished.'

'It must have been very awkward to engrave that small writing inside,
with the edges projecting,' said Miss Blake.

Thorndyke opened the locket, and taking his Coddington lens from his
pocket, examined the writing closely. 'If you look at it through the
lens,' said he, 'you will see that it is not engraved. It is etched,
which would have disposed of the difficulty to a great extent.'

Miss Blake and I examined the minute writing, and through the lens it was
easy to see that the delicate lines were bitten, not engraved.

'You were saying,' said Miss Blake, as the locket and lens were passed to
Percy (who, having examined the inscription, extended his investigations
to his fingertips and various other objects before reluctantly
surrendering the lens) 'that the riddle of the construction is not a
difficult one. What is the answer to it?'

'I think,' he replied, 'the inscription inside supplies the answer. That
inscription was clearly put there for some purpose to which the original
owner attached some importance. It apparently conveyed some kind of
admonition or instruction which was hardly likely to be addressed to
himself. But if the message was of importance it was worth while to take
measures to ensure its permanence. And that is what has been done. There
are no loose or separable parts, no soldered joints to break away. Each
half of the locket is a single piece of solid metal, including the hinge
and suspension ring. And you notice that the hinge is unusually massive,
and that each half of the locket has its own suspension ring, so that if
the hinge should break, both halves would still be securely suspended.
And there was no loose ring to chafe through and break.'

'Don't you think,' she asked, 'that there was originally a loose ring
passing through both of the eyes?'

'No,' he answered. 'If you look carefully at the two eyes you will see
that the holes through them have been most carefully smoothed and
rounded. Evidently the locket was meant to be suspended by a cord or
thong, and the position of the eyes with a hole through from back to
front shows that the cord was intended to be tied in a single knot where
it passed through--a much more secure arrangement than a chain, any one
link of which may, unnoticed, wear thin and break at any unusual strain.'

'And you think that the message or whatever it was that the inscription
conveyed was really something of importance?' As she asked the question,
Miss Blake looked at Thorndyke with a suppressed eagerness at which I
inwardly smiled. The Lady of Shallot evidently had hopes of Merlin.

'That is what the precautions suggest,' was his reply. 'It appeared
important to the person who took the precautions.'

'And do you suppose that it would be possible to guess what the nature of
the message was?'

'One could judge better,' he replied 'if one knew what passages the
reader is referred to.'

'I can show you the passages,' she said. 'I have looked them up, and Mr
Anstey and I went over them together and could make nothing of them.'

'That doesn't sound very encouraging,' said Thorndyke as she ran to the
cabinet and brought out her book of notes. 'However, we shall see if a
further opinion is of any help.' He took the note-book from her and read
through the entries slowly and with close attention. Then he handed the
book back to her.

'One thing is fairly evident,' said he. 'The purpose of the writer was
not pious instruction. Whatever was intended to be conveyed did not lie
on the surface, for the individual passages are singularly barren of
meaning, while the collection as a whole is a mere jumble of quotations
without any apparent sequence or connection. The passages must have had
some meaning previously agreed on, or, more probably, they formed the key
of a code or cipher used for secret correspondence.'

'If they form the key of a cipher,' said Miss Blake, 'do you think it
would be possible to work out the cipher by studying them?'

'I suppose it would be possible,' he replied, 'since a cipher must work
by some sort of rule. But people who make ciphers do not take great pains
to make them easily decipherable to the uninitiated. And then we are only
guessing that they are the key to a cipher. They may be something quite
different; some form of cryptogram that would be utterly unintelligible
without some key or counterpart that we haven't got. Do you think of
trying to decipher them or extract the hidden meaning?'

'I am rather curious about them,' she admitted, 'and rather interested in
ciphers and cryptograms.'

'Well,' said Thorndyke, 'you may succeed. More probably you will draw a
blank--but in any case I think you will get a run for your money.'

Once more with his lens he examined the locket inside and out, not
omitting the hallmark on the back, on which he dwelt for some time. Then,
still holding the locket in his hand, he said: 'You ought to have this
cover-glass replaced. The hair is part of the relic and ought not to be
exposed to loss or injury.'

'Yes,' said she, 'I ought to get it done, but I don't much like trusting
it to an unknown jeweller.'

'Would you like Polton to do it for you?' Thorndyke asked. 'He is not a
stranger, and you know he is a first-class workman.'

'Oh, if Mr Polton would do it I should be delighted and most grateful. Do
you think he would?'

'I think he would be highly flattered at being asked,' said Thorndyke. 'I
will take it back with me if you like, and get him to put in the fresh
glass at once.'

Miss Blake accepted this offer joyfully, and taking the locket from
Thorndyke, she proceeded, with great care and a quantity of tissue paper,
to make it into a little packet. While she was thus engaged, the bell in
the yard rang loudly and Percy ran out to open the gate. In less than a
minute he re-entered the studio carrying a brown-paper parcel.

'Miss Winifred Blake,' he announced. 'Shall I see what's in it, Winnie?'

'I suppose you won't be happy till you do,' she replied, whereupon he
gleefully cut the string and removed the paper, exposing a cardboard box,
of which he lifted the lid.

'My eye, Winnie!' he exclaimed. 'It's tuck. I wonder who it's from. And
it's for us both. "To Winifred and Percival Blake, with love." Whose
love, I wonder. Can you spot the handwriting?' He passed a slip of paper
to his sister and exhibited a shallow box filled with large chocolate
sweets on which he gazed gloatingly.

Thorndyke, who had just received the little packet from Miss Blake and
was putting it into his pocket, watched the boy attentively, interested,
as I supposed, by the sudden descent from the heights of architectural
design to frank, boyish gluttony.

'I don't recognise the writing at all,' said Miss Blake, 'and I can't
imagine who can have sent this.'

'Well, it doesn't matter,' said Percy. 'Let's sample them.' He passed
the box to his sister--still closely watched by Thorndyke, I noticed--and
as she put out her hand to pick up one of the sweets, my colleague asked
in a significant tone: 'Are you sure that you don't know the
handwriting?'

The tone in which the question was asked was so emphatic that she looked
at him in surprise. 'No,' she answered, 'the writing is quite strange to
me.'

'Then,' said he, 'the writer is possibly a stranger.'

She looked at him with a puzzled expression, and I noticed that he was
gazing at her with a strange fixity. After a pause he continued:

'We were speaking just now of unusual circumstances. Would not a gift of
food from a stranger be an unusual circumstance?'

In an instant his meaning flashed upon me, and upon her too, for she took
the box quickly from her brother and her face became deathly pale.

'I think, Percy dear,' she said, 'if you don't mind very much, we won't
touch these tonight. Do you mind?'

'Of course I don't,' he replied, 'if you would rather keep 'em till
tomorrow.'

Nevertheless the boy looked curiously at his sister, and it was clear to
me that he saw that there was 'something in the wind'. But he asked no
questions and made no comment, sauntering back to his tower and looking
it over critically.

'It's really time you went to bed, Percy,' Miss Blake said after a pause.

'Is it?' he asked. 'What's the time?'

'It is getting on for ten, and you have to be up at half-past six.'

'It's always "getting on" for ten, you know,' said he. 'The question is,
how far has it got? But there! It's no good arguing. I suppose I shall
get chucked out if I don't go peaceably.' He offered a friendly hand to
me and Thorndyke in succession, and having given his sister a hug and a
kiss, took his departure. And again I thought I detected in his manner a
perception of something below the surface that accounted for his sudden
dismissal.

'I suspect Master Percy smells a fox,' said I, 'but is too polite to
mention it.'

'It is very likely,' said Miss Blake. 'He is wonderfully quick and
observant, and he is extraordinarily discreet. In most respects he is
quite a normal boy, but in others he is more like a man.'

'And a very well-bred man, too,' said I.

'Yes, he is nice boy and the best of brothers. But now, Dr Thorndyke,
about these sweets. Do you really think there is anything wrong with
them?'

'I don't say that,' replied Thorndyke, 'but, of course, when you have
swallowed one, it is too late to inquire. May I look at that paper?'

Miss Blake took the slip of paper from the box and handed it to him, and
once more the lens came into requisition.

'Yes,' he said, after somewhat prolonged examination of the writing,
'this is not reassuring. It is quite clear that this writing was traced
over a previous writing in lead pencil. A hard rubber has been used to
take out the pencil marks, but the ink has fixed them in several places.
If you look at the writing carefully through the lens you can see the
fine, dark pencil line forming a sort of core to the broader ink line.
And you can also distinguish several minute crumbs of blackened
rubber--little black rolls with pointed ends.'

'But why should it have been written first in pencil?' Miss Blake asked.

'For the purpose of disguising the handwriting,' replied Thorndyke. 'It
is a common practice. Of course, in the case of a forger copying a
signature, its purpose is obvious. He takes a pencil tracing of the
original signature, goes over it in ink and rubs out the pencil--if he
can. But it is used in producing feigned handwriting as well. It is
difficult to write direct with a pen in a hand which is quite different
from one's own. But if a preliminary trial sketch is done in pencil, and
touched up if necessary, and then traced over deliberately with the pen,
the result may be quite unlike one's own handwriting. But, in any case,
this underlying pencil writing is manifestly abnormal and therefore
suspicious. Shall we see if there is anything unusual in the appearance
of the sweets?'

She passed him the box, which he placed on the table under the gaslight
and looked over systematically. Then he turned the sweets, one after the
other, on their sides, and when they were all in this position, he again
looked them over.

'It seems hardly possible,' said I, 'that the woman--if it is she whom
you suspect--could have prepared a set of poisoned sweets in such a short
time. It was past four o'clock when she came and looked at the plate, and
it is not ten yet. There doesn't seem to have been time.'

'There has been about five hours,' said Thorndyke, 'and I see by the
postmark on the wrapper that the parcel was posted in this neighbourhood
barely two hours ago. That leaves three hours, which would have been
sufficient. But she might have had the things prepared in advance, and
merely waited for the inquest to get the name and particulars. And the
sender may not be this woman at all. And again, there may be no poison in
the sweets. We are only taking precautions against a possibility. But
looking at these things all together, there seems to me to be a
suggestion of their having been patched with liquid chocolate round the
sides. If that is so, they will have been cut open horizontally and the
halves fitted together again, and the purpose of the patching will have
been to hide the join. Here is a very well-marked specimen. I think we
will take it as a test case.'

He picked out the sweet, and with his pocket-knife, began very delicately
to scrape away the outer coat of chocolate all round the sides, while we
drew up our chairs and watched him anxiously. Presently he paused and
silently held the sweet towards us, indicating a spot with the point of
his knife; and looking at that spot where the outer coating had been
scraped away, I could clearly make out an indented line. He then resumed
his scraping, following the line, until he had worked round the whole
circumference. And now it was quite obvious that the sweet had been
divided into an upper and a lower half and the two parts rejoined.

'I am afraid it is a true bill, Thorndyke,' said I.

'I think so,' he agreed, 'but we shall soon see.' He inserted his knife
into the encircling crevice, and giving it a gentle turn, raised the top
half, which he then lifted off. At once I could see that the exposed
surfaces of the white interior of the sweet were coated with a glistening
white powder, worked into the soft material of the filling. Thorndyke
produced his lens, and through it examined the cut surface for a few
moments. Then he passed the half sweet and the lens to me.

'What do you suppose this stuff is, Thorndyke?' I asked, when I had
inspected the sweet, and then passed it and the lens to Miss Blake. 'It
looks like finely powdered china or white enamel.'

'It looks like--and I have no doubt is--arsenious acid, or white arsenic,
as it is commonly called; and I should say there is rather more than two
grains in this sweet. It is a heavy substance.'

'Is that a fatal dose?' I asked.

'Yes. And it is extremely unlikely that only one sweet would have been
eaten. Two or three would contain a dose that would produce death very
rapidly.'

We were silent for a few moments. Suddenly Miss Blake burst into tears
and buried her face in her hands, sobbing almost hysterically. Thorndyke
looked at her with a curious expression, stern and even wrathful, and yet
with a certain softness of compassion, but he said nothing. As to me, I
was filled with fury against the wretch who had done this unspeakable
thing, but, like Thorndyke, I could find no words that were adequate.

Presently Miss Blake recovered her self-possession somewhat, and as she
wiped her eyes, she apologised for her outburst.

'Pray forgive me!' she exclaimed. 'But it is horrible--horrible! Just
think! But for the infinitely unlikely chance of your coming in tonight
Percy would have eaten at least two or three of those sweets. By now he
would have been dead, or dying in agony, and I unable to help him! It is
a frightful thought. Nobody would have known anything until Mrs Wingrave
came in the morning and found our bodies! And the wretch may try again.'

'That won't matter much,' said Thorndyke. 'You are now on your guard. It
will be best to think as little of this episode as you can. It has been a
narrow escape, but it is past. You must fix your attention on the
future.'

'But what can we do?' she asked despairingly.

'You must walk warily and never for one moment forget this implacable,
ruthless enemy. No opportunity must be given. Do not go out after dark
without efficient protection, and avoid going abroad alone at any time.
You had better not to go to the gate after nightfall, neither you nor
Percy. Can you not arrange for some one to answer the bell for you?'

'I could ask Mrs Wingrave, the sculptor's wife. Their rooms open on the
yard. But what could I tell her?'

'You will have to tell her as much as is necessary. And, of course, Percy
must be told. It is very unfortunate, but we can take no risks. You must
impress upon him that under no circumstances whatever must he eat or
drink anything that is given or sent to him by strangers or of which he
does not know the antecedents. Does he go to school?'

'Yes. He goes to the Elizabeth Woodville Grammar School, near Regents
Park. He usually gets home about five o'clock. Sometimes I go and meet
him, but he has some school-fellows who live near here and who generally
walk home with him.'

'Then let him come home with them. There is no reason to suppose that he
is in any danger apart from you. And let me impress upon you again that
Mr Anstey and I are always at your service. While this danger lasts--I
hope it will soon pass--don't scruple to make any use of us that
circumstances may require. If you have to go anywhere at night, we can
always arrange for you to have an escort. At a pinch, we could secure the
help of the police, but we don't want to do that unless we are compelled.
And--it seems contradictory advice to give you--but having taken all
precautions, try not to think about this incident of tonight, or to dwell
on the danger more than is necessary to keep your attention on the alert.
And now we must wish you good night, Miss Blake. I will take these sweets
with me for more complete examination.'

'I can never thank you enough for all your kindness,' she said, as he
wrapped the box in its original paper, 'and I shall have no hesitation in
treating you as the good and generous friends that you have proved
tonight. I feel that Percy and I are in your hands, and we shouldn't wish
to be in better.' She walked out with us to the gate, and at the wicket
shook our hands warmly, and indeed with no little emotion. And when we
had seen the wicket safely closed on her, and taken a look up and down
the street, we turned westward and started on our way home.



CHAPTER ELEVEN - THE BLUE HAIR


'What are you going to do, Anstey?' Thorndyke asked as we reached the
corner of Jacob Street. 'Are you going to Hampstead or are you coming
home with me?'

'What are you going to do tonight?' I asked in return.

'I shall make a rough qualitative test of the substance in that sweet,'
he replied, 'just to settle definitely whether it is or is not arsenic.'

'Have you any doubt on the subject?' I asked.

'No,' he answered. 'But still it is not a matter of fact until it has
been verified by analysis. My own conviction on the subject is only a
state of mind, which is not transferable as evidence. A chemical
demonstration is a fact which can be deposed to in sworn testimony.'

'Then,' said I, 'I shall come home with you and hear the result of your
analysis, although your certainty would be good enough for me.'

We walked down to the bottom of Hampstead Road where we boarded an
omnibus bound for Charing Cross. For some time nothing more was said,
each of us being immersed in reflection on the events of the evening.

'It is a horrible affair,' I said at length, assuming that we were still
thinking on the same subject, 'and a terrible thing to reflect that the
world we live in should contain such wretches.'

'It is,' he agreed. 'But the mitigating circumstance is that these
wretches are nearly always fools. That is the reassuring element in the
present case.'

'In what way reassuring?' I asked.

'I mean,' said he, 'the palpable folly of the whole proceeding. We have
here no subtle, wary criminal who works with considered strategy under
secure cover, but just the common arsenic fool who delivers himself into
your hands by his own stupidity.'

'But what is the evidence of the stupidity?'

'My dear Anstey!' he exclaimed. 'Look at the crudity of method. The
discharge, broadcast, of a boxful of poisoned food under manifestly
suspicious circumstances, with the poison barely concealed; the faked
writing, which a common policeman would have detected, the absence of any
plausible origin of the gift, and the nature of the poison itself. That
alone is diagnostic. Arsenic is typically a fool's poison. No competent
poisoner would dream of using such a material.'

Why not?' I asked.

'Because its properties are exactly the reverse of those which would make
a poison safe to use. The fatal dose is relatively large--not less than
two grains and for security, considerably more. The effects are extremely
variable and uncertain, making necessary the use of really large doses.
The material is rather conspicuous, it is only slightly soluble in water
and still less so in tea or coffee; it is easily recognised by simple
chemical tests, even in the minutest quantities. It is practically
indestructible, and its strong preservative effects on the dead body make
it easy to demonstrate its presence years after death. A man who poisons
a person with arsenic creates a record of the fact which will last, at
least, for the term of his own lifetime.'

'That isn't much benefit to the person who has been poisoned,' I
remarked.

'No,' he admitted. 'But we are considering the poisoner's point of view.
It is not enough for him to succeed in killing his victim. He has to
avoid killing himself at the same time. A poisoner sets out to commit a
secret murder, and the secrecy is the test of his efficiency. If his
methods are easily detectable, and if he leaves a record which stands
against him in perpetuity, he is an inefficient poisoner. And that is the
case of the arsenic practitioner. He runs a great present risk, since the
symptoms of arsenic poisoning are conspicuous and fairly characteristic;
and he leaves traces of his crime which nothing but cremation will
destroy.'

Our discussion had brought us to our chambers, where Thorndyke proceeded
straight up to the laboratory, breaking in upon Polton, who was seated at
his bench, putting the finishing touches to the large and elaborate
pedometer.

'We need not disturb you, Polton,' said Thorndyke. 'I am just going to
make a rough qualitative test for arsenic.'

Polton instantly laid down his watchmaker's glass and unlocked a cupboard
on the chemical side of the laboratory. 'You will want a Marsh's
apparatus and the materials for Reinsch's test, I suppose, sir?' said he.

'Yes. But we will begin with the liquid tests. I shall want a glass
mortar and some hydrochloric acid.'

Polton put the necessary appliances on the bench and added a large bottle
labelled 'Distilled Water,' while I seated myself on a stool and watched
the analysis with a slightly vague though highly interested recognition
of the processes that I had so often expounded to juries. I saw Thorndyke
open the box, take from it the two halves of the divided sweet, and drop
them into the little glass mortar, and having poured on them some
distilled water and a little acid, rub them with the glass pestle until
they were reduced to a muddy-looking liquid. This liquid he carefully
filtered into a beaker, when it became clear and practically colourless,
like water, and this watery-looking fluid formed the material for the
succeeding tests.

Of these the first three were performed in test-tubes into each of which
a small quantity of the clear solution was poured, and then to each was
added a few drops of certain other clear liquids. The result was very
striking. In two of the tubes the clear liquid instantly turned to a
dense, opaque yellow, somewhat like yolk of egg, while in the third it
changed to a bright, opaque emerald green.

'What are those precipitates?' I asked.

'The two yellow ones,' he replied, 'are arsenite of silver and arsenic
sulphide. The green one is arsenite of copper. As there is sugar and some
other organic matter in this solution, I shall not carry these tests any
farther, but they are pretty conclusive. How are you getting on, Polton?'

'I think we are ready, sir,' was the reply; on which I crossed to the
bench on which he had been at work. Here on a tripod over a Bunsen
gas-burner, was a beaker containing a number of little pieces of copper
foil and a clear, watery liquid which was boiling briskly.

'This is Reinsch's test,' Thorndyke explained. 'You see that this
copper-foil remains bright in the dilute acid, showing that both the
metal and the acid are free from arsenic. I shall now introduce a few
drops of the suspected liquid, and if it contains arsenic the copper-foil
will become grey or black according to the amount of arsenic present.' As
he spoke, he took the beaker containing the filtered liquid from the
mortar and poured about a tablespoonful into that containing the
copper-foil. I watched eagerly for the result, and very soon a change
began to appear. The ruddy lustre of the copper gradually turned to a
steely grey and from that to a glistening black.

'You see,' said Thorndyke, 'that the reaction is very distinct. The
quantity of arsenic present is, in an analytical sense, quite large. And
now we will try the most definite and conclusive test of all--Marsh's.'
He turned to the other apparatus which Polton had made ready, which
consisted of a squat bottle with two short necks, through one of which
passed a tall glass funnel, and through the other a glass tube fitted
with a tap and terminating in a fine jet. The contents of the
bottle--lumps of zinc immersed in sulphuric acid--were effervescing
briskly, and the tap was turned on to allow the gas to escape through the
jet. To the latter Polton now applied a lighted match, and immediately
there appeared a little pale violet flame. Picking up a white tile which
had been placed in readiness, Thorndyke held it for a moment in the flame
and then looked at it.

'You see,' said he, 'that the tile is quite unsoiled. If there had been
the smallest trace of arsenic in the bottle, a dark spot would have
appeared on the tile. So we may take it that our chemicals are free from
arsenic. Now let us try the solution of the sweet.'

He took up the beaker containing the solution of the disintegrated
chocolate, and poured very slowly, drop by drop, about a teaspoonful into
the funnel of the bottle. Then, after having given it time to mix
thoroughly with the other contents, he once more picked up the tile and
held it for an instant in the flame. The result was, to me, most
striking. In the very moment when the tile touched the flame, there
appeared on the white surface a circular spot, black, lustrous, and
metallic.

'That,' said Thorndyke, 'might be either antimony or arsenic. By its
appearance it is obviously metallic arsenic, but still we will make the
differential test. If it is arsenic it will dissolve in a solution of
chlorinated lime; if it is antimony it will not.' He removed the stopper
from a bottle labelled 'Chlorinated Lime,' and poured a little pool of
the solution on the tile. Almost immediately the black spot began to fade
at the edges, and to grow smaller and fainter until at length it
disappeared altogether.

'That completes our inquiry,' said Thorndyke as he laid down the tile.
'For the purposes of evidence in a court of law, a more searching and
detailed analysis would be necessary. To produce conviction in the minds
of a jury we should have to be able to say exactly how much arsenic was
in each of the sweets. That, however, is no concern of ours. The criminal
intention is all that matters to us. And now, Anstey, I must leave you
for a while to entertain yourself with a book. I have to do some work in
the office on another case. But we will take this ill-omened box down and
put it in a safe place.'

He took the box of sweets, with its original wrapper, and when we
descended to the sitting-room, he closed it up, sealed it, and signed and
dated it; and having made a note of the particulars of the postmark,
deposited it in the safe. Then he retired to the office, where I assumed
that he had in hand some work of compilation or reference, for the
'office' was in fact rather a miniature law library, in which was stored
a singularly complete collection of works bearing upon our special branch
of legal practice.

When he had gone, I ran my eye vaguely along the book-shelves in search
of a likely volume with which to pass the time. But the box of poisoned
sweets haunted me and refused to be ejected from my thoughts. Eventually
I brought out Miss Blake's manuscript from the drawer in which I had put
it when Miller had arrived, and drawing an easy-chair up to the fire, sat
listlessly glancing over the well-remembered pages, but actually thinking
of the writer; of the brave, sweet-faced girl and the fine, manly boy to
whom she was at once sister and mother. What, I wondered uncomfortably,
was to be the end of this? Only by the merest hairbreadth had she and the
boy, this very night, escaped a dreadful death. Soon the wretches who had
contrived this diabolical crime would discover that their plot had
miscarried in some way. What would they do next? It was hardly likely
that they would try poison again, but there are plenty of other ways of
committing murder. It was all very well to say that they were fools. So
they might be. But they were unknown fools. That was the trouble. They
could make their preparations unwatched, and approach unsuspected within
striking distance. If your enemy is unknown it is almost impossible to be
on your guard against him. In one direction only safety lay--in detection.
In the moment when the identity of the criminals should become known, the
danger would be at an end.

But when would that moment arrive? So far as the position was known to
me, it was not even in sight. The police admitted that their clue had
broken off short and apparently they had no other; at least that was
Thorndyke's opinion. But what of Thorndyke himself? Had he any clue? My
feeling was that he had not. It seemed impossible that he could have, for
these two men had, as it were, dropped down out of the sky and then
vanished into space. No one knew who they were, whence they had come, or
whither they had gone. And they seemed to have left not a trace for the
imagination to work on.

On the other hand, Thorndyke was Thorndyke; an inscrutable man; silent,
self-contained, and even secretive, in spite of his genial exterior. I
thought of him, at this very moment, sitting calmly in the office with
all his faculties quietly transferred to a fresh case, unmoved by the
thrilling events of the evening, though it was he who had instantly seen
the danger, he who had immediately suspected the 'Greek Gift.' And as I
thought of him poring over his reports, and marvelled at his detachment,
I recalled the many instances of his wonderful power of inference from
almost invisible data, and found myself hoping that even now, when to me
all seemed dark, some glimmer of light was visible to him.

It had turned half-past eleven when I heard a light but deliberate step
ascending the stair. Instantly I stole on tiptoe to the office, and had
just opened the door when a tapping-apparently with the handle of a stick
or umbrella--on our 'oak' announced the arrival of a visitor.

'Shall I open the door, Thorndyke?' I whispered.

'Yes,' he answered. 'It is Brodribb. I know his knock. Tell him I shall
have finished in a few minutes. And you might run up and tell Polton that
he is here. He will know what to do.'

I accordingly went out and threw open the 'oak,' and there, sure enough,
was Mr Brodribb, looking with his fine, rich complexion, his silky white
hair, and his sumptuous, old-fashioned raiment, as if he had stepped out
of the frame of some Georgian portrait.

'Good evening, Anstey,' said he, 'might even say "good night." It's a
devil of a time to come stirring you up, but I saw a light in your
windows, and I rather particularly wanted to have a word or two with
Thorndyke. Is he in?'

'Yes. He is in the office surrounded by a sort of landslide of
reports--assizes, Central Criminal, and various assorted. He will have
finished in a few minutes. Meanwhile I will run up and let Polton know
you are here.'

At the mention of Polton's name methought his bright blue eye grew
brighter, and by the way in which he murmured 'Ha!' and smiled as he
subsided into an armchair, I judged that--as our American cousins would
say--he 'had been there before;' and this impression was confirmed when I
made my announcement in the laboratory, where I found Polton dancing his
pedometer up and down and listening ecstatically to its measured tick.

'Mr Brodribb,' said he. 'Let me see, it is the sixty-three that he
likes. Yes; and Lord, he does like it! It's a pleasure to see him drink
it!'

'Well, Polton,' said I, 'it is an altruistic pleasure, and if it would
add to your enjoyment to see me drink some, too, I am prepared to make an
effort.'

'You couldn't do it as Mr Brodribb does,' said Polton, 'and you haven't
got the complexion. Still--I'll bring it down in a minute or two, when
I've got it filtered into the decanter.'

On this I descended and rejoined Mr Brodribb, and having offered him a
cigar, which he declined--no doubt with a view to preserving his
gustatory sense unimpaired--sat down and filled my pipe.

'I looked in,' said Mr Brodribb, 'on my way home to ask Thorndyke a
question. I met Drayton today--only saw him for a few moments--and he said
something about wanting some information respecting Arthur Blake of
Beauchamp Blake. I understood him to say that the matter arose out of the
inquest on his brother; can't see how the devil it could, but that is
what I gathered. Now, before I tell him anything, I should like to know
what's in the wind. What's he after? Do you happen to know?'

'I think I do, to some extent,' said I, and I gave him a brief account of
the circumstances and a summary of Miss Blake's evidence.

'I see,' said he. 'Then this young lady will be Peter Blake's daughter.
But what does Drayton want to know? And why does he want to know it? He
said something about Thorndyke, too. Now, where does Thorndyke come in?'

As if in answer to the question, my colleague emerged at this moment from
the office, slipping a large note-book into his pocket. As he greeted our
visitor, I found myself speculating on the contents of that note-book and
wondering what kind of information he had been disinterring from those
piles of arid-looking reports of assizes, quarter-sessions, and the
Central Criminal Court. The greetings were hardly finished when Polton
entered with a tray on which were a decanter, three glasses, and a
biscuit jar; and having placed a small table adjacent to Mr Brodribb's
chair, deposited the tray thereon with a crinkly smile of satisfaction,
and departed after an instantaneous glance of profound significance in my
direction.

Thorndyke filled the three glasses, and drawing a chair nearer to the
fire, sat down and began to fill his pipe; while Brodribb lifted his
glass, looked at it reflectively, took an experimental sip, savoured it
with grave attention, and again looked at the glass.

'A noble wine, Thorndyke,' he pronounced solemnly. 'I don't deserve this
after coming and routing you out at close upon midnight. But I haven't
come for mere gossip. I've just been putting my case to Anstey,' and here
he repeated what he had told me of his interview with Sir Lawrence. 'Now,
what I want to know,' he concluded, 'is, what is Drayton after? He seems
disposed to interest himself in Peter Blake's daughter--and his son, too,
I suppose.'

'Yes,' said Thorndyke, 'and for that matter, I may say that I feel a
benevolent interest in the young people myself, and so, I think, does
Anstey.'

'Then,' said Brodribb, 'I'm going to ask you a plain question. Is there
any idea of contesting the title of the present tenant of the Blake
property--Arthur Blake?'

'I should say certainly not,' replied Thorndyke. 'Drayton's object is, I
think, to ascertain whether there is any prospect of circumstances
becoming favourable in the future for the revival of Peter Blake's
claim--or rather Percival Blake's, as it would now be. He wants to know
who the present heir is, what is his relation to the present tenant, and
he would like to know as much as possible about Arthur Blake himself,
particularly in regard to the probability of his marrying. And, as I
said, Anstey and I are not uninterested in the matter.'

'Well, if that is all,' said Brodribb, 'I can answer you without any
breach of confidence to my client. As to the heir, his name is Charles
Templeton, but what his relationship to Arthur Blake is, I can't say at
the moment. He is a pretty distant relative, I know. With regard to
Arthur Blake, I can tell you all about him, for I have made some
inquiries on my own account. And I can tell you something that will
interest you more than the probability of his marrying--he is trying to
sell the property.'

'The deuce he is!' exclaimed Thorndyke. 'I suppose I mustn't ask why he
wants to sell?'

'I don't know that there is any secret about it. His own explanation is
that he doesn't care for England and would like to get back to Australia,
where he has lived nearly all his life; and I daresay there is some truth
in that, for he is like a fish out of water--doesn't understand the ways
of an English landowner at all. But I don't think that's the whole of it.
He knows about this claim of Peter Blake's, and he knows that Peter
Blake's son is living; and then--you know about the title-deeds, I
suppose?'

'Yes,' said Thorndyke. 'Miss Blake has told us the whole story.'

'Well, I suspect that, with this claim in the air and the mystery of the
whereabouts of the title-deeds, he feels that his tenure of the property
is a little insecure. So he would like to sell it and clear off with the
money. And, mind you, he is not entirely wrong. Peter Blake's claim was a
bona fide claim. It broke down from the lack of documentary evidence. But
it is always possible for documents to reappear, and if these documents
ever should, the position would be very different. And, to tell the
honest truth, I shouldn't be particularly afflicted if they did
reappear.'

'Why wouldn't you?' I asked.

'Well,' Brodribb replied, 'you know, one gets a sort of sentimental
interest in a historic estate which one has known all one's life. I am
Arthur Blake's solicitor, it is true. But I feel that I have
responsibilities towards the whole family and the estate itself. I have
much more sentiment about the old house and its lands than Blake himself
has. I hate the idea of selling an old place like that, which has been in
one family since the time of Henry the Eighth, as if it were a mere
speculative builder's estate. Besides, it isn't playing the game. An
inherited estate belongs to the family, and a man who has received it
from his ancestors has no right to dispossess his posterity. I told him
so, and he didn't like it a bit.'

'What sort of man is he?' I asked.

'He's a colonial, and not a good type of colonial. Gruff and short and
none too well-mannered, and, of course, he doesn't know anybody in the
county. And I should think he is a confirmed bachelor, for he lives--when
he is at home--in the new part of the house, with three servants and his
man, as if he were in a bachelor flat.'

'How did you manage to dig him up?' Thorndyke asked.

'I began to make inquiries as soon as it was certain that he would be
Arnold Blake's successor. That was years ago. I ascertained his
whereabouts and got into touch with him pretty easily, but I really
never knew much about him until a few weeks back, when I came across
a man who had just retired from the Australian Police. He knew all about
Blake, so I took the opportunity to get a pretty full history of him
and make out a little dossier to keep by me. You never know when a trifle
of information may come in useful.'

'No,' Thorndyke agreed as he refilled our visitor's glass. 'Knowledge is
power.'

'Quite so,' said Brodribb, 'and it is well to know whom you are dealing
with. But, in fact, this fellow Blake is quite an interesting character.'

'So the police seem to have thought,' I remarked.

'Oh, I don't think there was anything against Blake,' said he, 'excepting
that he kept rather queer company at times. My friend first heard of him
at a mining camp, where the society was not exactly select, and where he
ran a saloon or liquor bar. But he gave that up and took to digging, and
he seems to have had quite good luck for a time. Then his claim petered
out and he moved off to a new district and started a sawmill with some of
his mining pals. There, I think, some of his partners had trouble with
the police--I don't know exactly what it was, but he moved off again and
rambled about doing all sorts of odd jobs--boat-building, farming,
working as deck hand on a coaster, carpentering--he seems to have been
able to turn his hand to anything--and finally he came across his last
partner, a man named Owen, a fellow of his own type, who seemed to be
able to do anything but stick to one kind of job. Owen was a colonial--he
was born at Hobart--and by trade he was a photo-engraver, but he had
worked a small type-foundry, run a local newspaper, and done some other
jobs that weren't quite so respectable. Blake ran across him at a new
town in a mining district, and the circumstances were characteristic of
the two men. Owen had started a pottery, but he had just met with an
accident and broken his knee-cap. Thereupon Blake took him in hand and
fixed his knee-cap up in splints, and as it happened to be the left knee,
so that Owen would not be able to work the potter's wheel for a long
time, Blake took over the job, worked the wheel, and turned out the pots
and pans, while a woman who was associated with Owen--I don't know what
their relations were--helped with the kiln and sold the stuff in the
town.'

'Why can't you work a potter's wheel with your right foot?' I asked.

'I don't know,' replied Brodribb, 'but I understand that you can't.'

'In an ordinary "kick-wheel,"' said Thorndyke, 'the "kick-bar," or
treadle, is on the left side, and has to be if the potter is
right-handed, to enable him to steady himself with the right foot.'

'I see,' said I. 'And how long did the pottery last?'

'Not long,' replied Brodribb. 'When Owen got about again, as he couldn't
work the wheel, it seems that he got restless and began to hanker for
something fresh. Then Blake got a tip from some prospector about some
traces of gold in the hills in an outlying district, so they sold the
pottery and the three of them went off prospecting; and I think they were
engaged in some tentative digging when Blake got my letter telling him
that Arnold Blake was dead and that he had come into the property. A
deuce of a time he was, too, in getting that letter, for, of course,
there was no post out there and they only rode into the town at long
intervals.'

'And now,' said Thorndyke, 'he wants to sell the property and get back to
his cronies. I should think they would be very glad to see him.'

'I don't know that he wants to join his pals again,' said Brodribb. 'As a
man of property, I should think he would keep clear of people of that
sort. But in any case, he couldn't. Owen is dead. He must have died soon
after Blake left; must have met with an accident when he was alone, for
his body was found only a few months ago at the foot of a cliff-just a
heap of more or less damaged bones that must have been lying there for
several years. The skeleton was found by the merest chance by another
prospector.'

'How did he know it was Owen's body?' I asked.

'Well, he knew that Owen had been there and had not been seen for a long
time, and he found a signet-ring--a rough affair that Owen had made
himself and engraved with a representation of a yew-tree. That was
recognised as his.'

'Why a yew-tree?' I asked.

'That was his private mark, a sort of rebus or pun on his Christian name,
Hugh.'

'But how was it,' Thorndyke asked, 'that the woman hadn't reported his
death?'

'Oh, she had left him quite soon after Blake's departure. The police had
an idea that she had gone off with Owen to the South Sea Islands on one
of the schooners. At any rate, she disappeared, and they weren't sorry to
see the last of her. She was a shady character--and so, apparently, was
Owen, for that matter.'

'What was there against her?' I asked.

'Well, I don't know that there was anything very definite, though there
may have been. But she turned up rather mysteriously at Melbourne on a
Russian tramp steamer, and the police surmised that she had left her
country for her country's good and her own. So they entered her
name--Laura Levinsky--on their books and kept an eye on her until she went.
But, God bless me, what a damned old chatterbox I am! Here am I babbling
away at past midnight, and giving you a lot of gossip that is no more
your business than it is mine.'

'I think,' said Thorndyke, 'we have all enjoyed the gossip, and as to its
irrelevancy, who can tell? At any rate, we gather that there is no
immediate prospect of Blake's marrying, which really does concern us.'

'No,' said Brodribb, 'nor of his selling the property, though he has put
it into the hands of Lee and Robey, the estate agents. But he won't sell
it. Of course there's no magic in title-deeds, and his title is good
enough, but no one would buy an important property like that with the
title-deeds missing and liable to turn up in the wrong hands. And now I
must really be off. You've squeezed me dry if you were out for
information, and I've squeezed you dry,' he added with a complacent
glance at the decanter, 'and a devilish good bottle of port it was. You
can pass on what I've told you to Drayton, and I'll see if I can let you
know what relation the heir, Charles Templeton, is to Arthur Blake. So
goodnight and good luck, and my best respects to your wine merchant.'

When Brodribb had gone, I stretched myself and yawned slightly.

'Well,' I said, 'I don't feel sleepy, but I think I will turn in. One
must go to bed some time.'

'I don't feel sleepy either,' said Thorndyke, 'and I shall not turn in. I
think I will just jot down a few notes of what Brodribb has told us and
then have another look at Miss Blake's manuscript before handing it over
to Drayton.'

'Old Brodribb enjoyed the wine, didn't he?' I remarked. 'And, by Jove, it
did set his old chin wagging. But he didn't tell us much, after all.
Excepting the proposed sale, it was just mere personal gossip.'

'Yes. But the sale question is really important. We shall have to think
over that. He mustn't be allowed to sell the property.'

'Can we prevent him?' I asked.

'I think,' replied Thorndyke, 'from what Brodribb said, that a threat to
apply for an injunction pending an investigation of the title would make
him draw in his horns. But we shall see. Goodnight, if you are off.'

By the time I had undressed, washed, and turned into bed, I began to
suspect that Thorndyke had taken the wiser course. And as I lay in the
dark, at first quietly but then with increasing restlessness, the
suspicion deepened. The disturbing--indeed, alarming--events of the
evening came crowding back into my mind and grew, minute by minute, more
vivid. The scene in the studio arose before me with fearful reality, and
worse still, the horrible catastrophe, barely averted by Thorndyke's
watchfulness and wonderful prevision, actually seemed to befall before
my eyes. The dreadful picture that Miss Blake had drawn in a few words,
painted itself in my consciousness with the most frightful realism. I
saw the sculptor's wife peering into the dim and silent studio in the
early morning, and heard her shriek of horror as her glance fell on the
brother and sister, lying there stark and dead, and Thorndyke's analysis
in the laboratory took on a new and fearful significance. At last, after
tossing in bed for over an hour, I could bear it no longer, and rose to
go down to the sitting-room for a book.

As I entered the room, Thorndyke looked up from the note-book in which he
was writing. 'You had better have stayed up a little longer,' he
remarked. 'Now you are going to read yourself to sleep, I suppose.'

'Yes, I hope so,' I replied, and turned to the book-shelves to search for
a work of a calm and cheerful tendency. The Compleat Angler appearing to
fulfil these requirements most perfectly, I picked it out and was just
about to move away when my glance lighted on the rather curious
collection of objects on the table. They had made their appearance since
I retired, and were presumably connected with some kind of investigation
which my colleague had been pursuing while I was wooing Hypnos in vain. I
looked at them curiously, and speculated on the nature of the inquiry.
There was a microscope, and beside it lay the locket, opened and showing
the broken glass, and a little, fat, greasy volume which examination
showed to be a Latin Vulgate Bible.

I laid down the volume and glanced at Thorndyke, whom I found watching me
with a faint smile. Then I peered through the microscope and perceived
what looked like a thread of blue glass.

'Is this a thread of silk, Thorndyke?' I asked.

'No,' he replied, 'it is a hair. Apparently a woman's hair.'

'But,' I expostulated, 'it is blue--bright blue! Where on earth did you
get it?'

'Out of the locket,' he replied.

I stared at him in amazement. 'What an extraordinary thing!' I exclaimed.
'A blue hair! I never heard of blue hair before.'

'Then,' said Thorndyke, 'my learned friend has made an addition to his
already vast store of knowledge.'

'I suppose it was dyed?' said I.

'I think,' he replied, 'we may assume that the blue colour is
adventitious.'

'But why, in the name of Fortune, should a woman dye her hair blue?' I
demanded.

He shook his head. 'A curious question that, Anstey, a very curious
question. I suggest that when my learned friend has satisfied himself as
to the correct method of "daping or doping with a grasshopper for the
chavender or chub," he might with advantage bring his colossal intellect
to bear on it.'

'You are an aggravating old devil, Thorndyke,' I said with conviction.
'You know perfectly well what this thing means, and yet, when you are
asked a civil question, you sit there wagging your exasperating old head
like some confounded secretive effigy. I'd like to paint your cranium with
Stephen's blue-black ink and then put it under the microscope.'

He shook the threatened head conclusively. 'It would be futile, Anstey,'
he replied 'As a method of producing blue hair it would be a complete
failure. The effect of the tannate of iron--on exposure to oxygen--would
entirely mask that of the indigo-carmine. No, my friend. Physical
experiment is outside the range of a King's Counsel. Reflection is your
proper province. And now take your book and go to bed. Consider the
chavender or chub and also the possible connection between a blue hair
and a gold locket; shun needless and inky strenuosities, and "be quiet
and go a-angling."'

With this he returned to his note-book, and there being evidently nothing
more to be got out of him, I picked up my book, and having shaken my fist
at the impassive figure by the table, once more betook myself to bed,
there to meditate fruitlessly upon this new and curious problem.



CHAPTER TWELVE - FROM THE JAWS OF DEATH


On the following morning it seemed natural that my steps should stray in
the direction of Jacob Street, not only that I might relieve my anxiety
as to my friend whom I had left overnight in so distressed a state, but
also to ascertain whether any services that I could render were at the
moment in request. As to the former, my mind was completely set at rest
as soon as I entered the studio (to which I was conducted by Mrs
Wingrave, who opened the wicket), for I found Miss Blake hard at work and
looking as cheerful and interested as if poisoned sweets and
brazen-haired Jezebels were things unheard of.

I explained, half-apologetically, the purpose of my visit, and was
preparing a strategic retreat when she interrupted me.

'Now, Mr Anstey, I will not have these formalities. We aren't strangers.
You have been, and are, the best and kindest of friends to me and Percy,
and we are not only grateful but we value your friendship very much
indeed. As to Percy, he loves you.'

'Does he?' said I, with an inward glow of satisfaction. 'I am proud to
know that. And Percy's sister--?'

She coloured very prettily and smilingly avoided the pitfall. 'Percy's
sister,' she replied, 'takes an indulgent view of her brother's
infatuation. But I am going to treat you as a friend. I am going on with
my work, because it has to be done, even if I didn't like doing it; but
it would be very nice and companionable if you would sit down and smoke a
pipe and talk to me, that is, of course, if you can spare the time.'

'If I could spare the time!' Why, the whole Appeal Court, with the House
of Lords thrown in, might have sat and twiddled their thumbs for all I
cared. But, in fact, I had nothing to do at all.

'You are sure I shan't hinder you?' I said, feeling for my pipe.

'Perfectly,' she answered. 'I have done all the troublesome part, you
see--posing and draping the model,' and she pointed with her pencil to a
lay figure (it was an elaborate, 'stuffed' figure with real hair and a
wax face and hands), dressed in the very height of fashion, which stood,
posed in what Lewis Carroll would have called an 'Anglo-Saxon attitude,'
simpering at us idiotically.

'That is a very magnificent costume,' I remarked. 'I suppose it is one of
your own? Or do you keep a wardrobe for the models?'

'It isn't costume at all,' she replied with a laugh. 'It is just dress
material draped on and tacked or pinned in position. You will see if you
go round to the other side.'

I went round to the 'off-side,' and having thus discovered the fraud,
asked: 'Is this a figure for a subject picture?'

She laughed softly. 'Bless your innocent heart, Mr Anstey, I don't paint
pictures. I draw fashion-plates. I have to earn a living, you know, and
give Percy a start.'

'What a horrid waste of talent!' I exclaimed. 'But I had no idea that
fashion-plate artists took all this trouble'; and I pointed to the smooth
card on her easel which bore a masterly, though rather attenuated, nude
figure--in the Anglo-Saxon attitude--lightly drawn in pencil, and looking
almost like a silver point.

'Most of them don't,' she replied, 'and perhaps it isn't really
necessary. But I like to make a finished pencil drawing, though it has
all to be rubbed out when the pen work has been done over it.'

'And the preliminary nude figure,' said I; 'you do that from a model, I
suppose?'

'No,' she answered. 'I can draw a nude figure well enough for this
purpose out of my head. You see, I worked from the model for a long time
at the Slade School, and I never threw away a drawing. I have them all
bound in books, and I have copied them and drawn them from memory over
and over again. In practice, one must be able to rough out a figure out
of one's head.'

As she talked, her pencil travelled easily and lightly over the smooth
fashion-plate board, gradually clothing the nude figure in transparent
habiliments, and I sat smoking with infinite contentment and watching
her. And a very dainty, picturesque figure she made in her long blue
pinafore, with her red-gold hair and waxen skin, as she stood gracefully
poised before her easel, hand on hip and the drawing arm flung out
straight and swinging easily from the shoulder. I contrasted her lithe
form, in which every curve was full of life and grace, with the absurd
rigidity of the lay-figure, her simple, dignified garments with the fussy
exuberance of the fashionable costume (though, to be sure, that costume
was her own creation), and was moved to comments on the effigy that might
have lacerated its feelings if it had had any.

'How long will this drawing take you?' I asked presently.

'I shall have it done by this evening,' she replied, 'and tomorrow
morning I shall take it to the office and deliver it to the Art editor.'

'Couldn't I take it for you?' said I.

'I am afraid not,' she answered. 'I must go myself to see that it is all
right and to get instructions for the next drawings. Besides, why should
you?'

'Didn't we agree that you were to keep indoors out of harm's way? Or at
least not to go abroad without an escort? If you must take the drawing
yourself, you had better let me come with you to see you safely there and
back. Do you mind?'

'Of course I should like your company, Mr Anstey,' she replied, 'but it
seems such a tax on you.'

'I wish all taxes were as acceptable,' said I. 'But I understand that you
agree; so, if you will fix a time, the escort will assemble at the gate
and the bugles will sound "fall in" with military punctuality.'

After a few more half-hearted protests she fixed the hour of half-past
ten for the following morning, and I then took my leave, very well
satisfied with the progress of this friendship that was becoming so dear
to me, and even sensible of a dawning hope that a yet closer intimacy
might some day become possible.

Punctually at the appointed time the Hampstead tram set me down at the
end of Jacob Street, when I proceeded to collect the convoy and make sail
for Bedford Street, Covent Garden, which was the abiding-place of the Art
editor to whom the drawing was consigned. But if the outward voyage was
characterised by business-like directness, it was quite otherwise with
the homeward; which was marked by so many circumnavigations and
interrupted by so many ports of call--including the National Gallery--that
it was well on in the afternoon when the convoy shortened sail at
sixty-three Jacob Street, and it became necessary for the escort to put
into port and take in stores in the form of tea and biscuits. And even
then, so satisfactory had the voyage turned out that (to pursue the
metaphor to a finish) the charter-party was renewed and further voyages
projected.

Expeditions abroad, however, could only be occasional, and even then on a
plausible business pretext, for my fair friend was a steady worker and
spent long days at her easel and drawing-desk; nor was I entirely without
occupation, though Thorndyke made but the smallest demands upon my
vacation leisure. In effect, not a day passed without a visit to Jacob
Street, and whether my time was spent placidly watching the growth of a
new drawing, in executing shopping commissions, or in escort duties, it
was all equally pleasant to me, and day by day more firmly established my
position as the indispensable friend of the little household.

Affairs had been on this footing for about a week when early on a certain
afternoon I set forth from the Temple for my daily call, but with a more
definite purpose than usual, for I bore with me the locket, in which
Polton had fixed a new glass. I rang the studio bell with the customary
pleasurable anticipation of the warm and evidently sincere welcome, and
listened complacently to Mrs Wingrave's footsteps as she came along the
paved passage, and as the wicket opened I prepared to step jauntily
through. But the first words that the worthy lady spoke scattered in an
instant all my pleasant thoughts and filled me with alarm.

'Miss Blake has just gone out,' she said. 'A most sad thing has happened.
Poor Master Percy has had an accident. He has broken his leg.'

'Where did this happen, and when?' I asked.

'It must have happened about an hour ago,' she replied. 'I don't know
where, but they have taken him into a house near Chalk Farm.'

'Who brought the news?' I demanded breathlessly; for, seeing that Percy
would be at school at the time mentioned, the story was, on the face of
it, highly suspicious.

'It was a lady who brought the message,' said Mrs Wingrave. 'She wouldn't
come in, but she handed me a note, written in pencil and marked "urgent".
Miss Blake showed it to me. It didn't give any particulars beyond what I
have told you, and the address of the house.'

'What was the lady like?' I asked.

'Well,' Mrs Wingrave replied, 'I call her a lady, but she was really
rather a common-looking woman; painted and powdered and very vulgarly
dressed.'

'Did you notice her hair?'

'Yes; you couldn't help noticing it. Brassy-looking, golden stuff,
frizzed out like a mop--and her eyebrows were as black as mine are.'

'Do you know where the note is?' I asked.

'I expect Miss Blake took it with her, but she may have left it in the
studio. Shall we go and see?'

We hurried together across the yard and into the studio, where for a
minute or so we searched the tables and the unfastened bureau. But there
was no sign of the note.

'She must have taken it with her,' said Mrs Wingrave. 'But I think I can
give you the address, if that is what you want. You don't think there's
anything wrong, do you?'

'I am extremely uneasy, Mrs Wingrave,' said I, producing my notebook and
a pencil, 'and I shall go straight to the house, if I can find it. What
is the address? For Heaven's sake don't give me a wrong one!'

'I remember it quite clearly,' she replied, 'and I think I know the
place. It is number twenty-nine Scoresby Terrace, a corner house; and the
terrace turns out of Sackett's Road on the left side going up from here.'

I wrote this down in my note-book and then asked: 'How long has Miss
Blake been gone?'

'She started less than ten minutes before you came,' was the reply. 'If
you hurry you may possibly over-take her.'

We came out of the studio, and as we crossed the yard she gave me very
full and clear directions as to how to find the place, some of which I
jotted down. Passing a marble tombstone on which her husband had been
working, I noticed a number of his tools lying on a sack, and among them
a long chisel, almost like a small crowbar. 'May I borrow this, Mrs
Wingrave?' I said, picking it up. 'Certainly, if you want to,' she
replied with a look of surprise.

'Thank you,' I said, slipping it up my sleeve. 'I may have to force a
door, you know,' and with this I let myself out at the wicket and strode
away swiftly up the street.

I am habitually a rapid walker, and now I covered the ground at a pace
that made other pedestrians stare. For Winifred, I felt sure, would have
flown to her brother on the wings of terror, and hurry as I might, I
should be hard put to it to overtake her. But her terror could have been
nothing compared with mine. As I raced along the shabby streets, swinging
the chisel openly in my hand--for its presence in my sleeve was a
sensible hindrance--the sinister possibilities--nay, probabilities--that,
unsought, suggested themselves one after another, kept me in a state of
sickening dread. Supposing I failed to find the place after all! It was
quite possible, for the neighbourhood was strange and rather intricate.
Or suppose I should lose time in searching for the house and arrive at
last, only to find--Here I set my teeth and fairly broke into a run,
regardless of the inquisitive stares of idlers at doors and street
corners. But, for all my terror and horrible forebodings, I kept my wits
and held my attention firmly to Mrs Wingrave's directions, and I derived
a faint encouragement from the fact that I had never lost touch of the
landmarks and that every hurried step was bringing me nearer to my goal.
At length, want of breath compelled me to drop into a walk, but a couple
of minutes later, with a gasp of relief, I reached the corner of
Sackett's Road; and even as I swung round into the long, straight, dreary
street, I caught a glimpse of a woman, at the far end, hurrying forward
in the same direction. It was only a momentary glimpse, for in the
instant when I saw her she turned swiftly into a by-street to the left.
But brief as was the vision, and far away as she was, no doubt was
possible to me. It was Winifred.

I drew a deep breath. Surely I should be in time. And perhaps my fears
might be groundless after all. The plot might be but the creation of my
own uneasy suspicion. At any rate, I was nearly there, and it was hardly
possible that in a few short minutes anything could happen--but here all
my terrors came crowding on me again, and, breathless as I was, I again
broke into a run.

As I reached the corner of Scoresby Terrace and looked at the corner
house, my heart seemed to stand still. A single glance showed that it was
an empty house, and the horrible desolation of its aspect was made more
dreadful by the silence and the total absence of any sign of life. I flew
across the road, and barely glancing at the number-twenty-nine-raced up
the garden path and tugged furiously at the bell.

Instantly the hollow shell reverberated with a hideous jangling that
sounded more ominous and dreadful from the vacancy that the discordant
echoes bespoke. But it slowly died away and was succeeded by no answering
sound. A deadly silence enveloped the ill-omened place. Not a creak upon
the stair, not a sign of life or movement could I detect, though I held
my breath to listen. Yet this was the house, and she was in it--and that
other! Again I wrenched at the bell, and again the horrible jangling
filled the place with echoes, like some infernal peal rung by a company
of ghouls. And still there was no answer.

In a frenzy of terror I rushed down the side passage, and bursting open
the flimsy gate, ran into the back garden and tried the back door. But it
was locked and bolted. Then I darted to the back parlour window, and
springing on the sill, shattered, with a stroke of the chisel, the pane
above the catch. Passing my hand in through the hole, I drew back the
catch and slid up the lower sash. I had noticed that the wooden shutters
were not quite closed, but at the moment that I slid up the window-sash,
the shutters closed and I heard the cross-bar snap into its socket.

For a moment I had a thought of running round to the front and breaking
in the street door. But only for a moment. Rescue, not capture, was my
purpose. A glance at the flimsy, decrepit shutters showed me the way in.
Thrusting the edge of the long, powerful chisel into the crack close to
the lower hinge, I gave a violent wrench, and forthwith the hinge came
away from the jamb, the screws drawing easily from the rotten woodwork.
Another thrust and another wrench at the upper hinge brought that away
too; at a push the whole shutter swung inward and I sprang down into the
room. And at that moment I heard the street door shut.

I ran across the room to the door. Of course it was locked and the key
was outside. But I was not a criminal lawyer for nothing. In a moment I
had the chisel driven in beside the lock, and pressing on the long
handle, drove the door back on its hinges, when the lock-bolt and latch
disengaged from the striking-plate and the door came open at once.

I ran out into the hall, unlocked the front room, and looked in, but it
was empty. Then I flew up the stairs and was about to unlock the door of
the first room that I came to, when I became aware of a soft, shuffling
sound proceeding apparently from the next room. Instantly I ran to that
door, and turning the key, flung it open.

The sight that met my eyes as I darted into the room was but the vision
of a moment, but in that moment it imprinted itself upon my memory for
ever. Even now, as I write, it rises before me, vivid and horrible, with
such dreadful remembrance that my hand falters as it guides the pen. In a
corner near the wall she lay--my sweet, gracious Winifred-lay huddled,
writhing feebly and fumbling with her hands at her throat. Her face was
of the colour of slate, her lips black, her eyes wide and protruding.

It was, I say, but the vision of a moment, a frightful, unforgettable
moment. The next, I was on my knees beside her, my open knife was in my
hand, its keen edge eating through the knot at the back of her neck that
secured the band that was strangling her. A moment of agonised impatience
and then the knot was divided and the band hastily unwound--it was a
narrow silken scarf--revealing a livid groove in the plump neck.

As I took away the scarf she drew a deep, gasping breath with a hoarse,
distressful sound like the breathing of a croup-stricken child. Again and
again it was repeated, growing quicker and more irregular, and with each
succeeding gasp the horrible purple of face and lips faded away, leaving
a pallor as of marble; the dreadfully protruding eyes sank back until
they looked almost normal, though wild and frightened.

I watched these changes with a sense of utter helplessness, though not
without relief--for they were clearly changes for the better. But I
longed to help her, to do something active to advance her recovery. If
only I had had Thorndyke's knowledge I might have been of some use. He
would have known what to do. But perhaps there was nothing to be done but
wait for her natural recovery. At any rate, that was all that I could do.
And so I remained kneeling by her side with her head resting on my arm,
holding her hand, and looking with infinite pity and affection into the
frightened, trustful eyes that sought my own with such pathetic appeal.

Presently, as her breathing grew easier, the gasps began to be mingled
with sobs; and then, suddenly, she burst into tears and wept
passionately, almost hysterically, with her face buried against my
shoulder. I was profoundly moved, indeed I was almost ready to weep
myself, so intense was the revulsion now that the danger was past. In the
tumult of my emotions I forgot everything but that she was saved, and
that I loved her. As I sought to comfort her, to coax away her terrors,
to soothe and reassure her, I cannot tell what words of tenderness I
murmured into her ear, by what endearing names I addressed her. Stirred
as I was to the very depths of my soul, I was aware of nothing but the
great realities. In the stress of terror but now barely past and the joy
and relief of the hardly hoped for recovery, the world of everyday was
forgotten. All I knew was that she was here, safe in my arms, and that
she was all in all to me.

By degrees her emotion expended its force and she grew calmer. Presently
she sat up, and having wiped her eyes, looked nervously about the empty
room.

'Let us go away from this dreadful place,' she said in a low, frightened
voice, laying her hand entreatingly on my arm.

'We will,' said I, 'if you are well enough yet to walk. Let us see.'

I stood up and lifted her to her feet, but she was very unsteady and
weak. I doubt if she could have stood without support, for I could feel
her trembling as she leaned on me heavily. Still, with my help, she
tottered to the door and crossed the landing, and then, very slowly, we
descended the stairs. At the open door of the room which I had entered,
we paused to adjust her hat and remove any traces of the struggle before
we should emerge into the street. I was still holding the silken scarf,
and now put it into my pocket to free my hands that I might assist her in
settling her hat and the crumpled collar of her dress. As I looked her
over to see that all was in order, I noticed three or four conspicuous
golden hairs sticking to her right sleeve. I picked them off and was in
the act of dropping them when it occurred to me that Thorndyke might be
able to extract some information from them, whereupon I brought out my
pocket-book and slipped them between the leaves.

'That is how I got into the house,' I said, pointing to the shattered
window and the hanging shutter.

She peered fearfully into the empty room and said: 'I heard the crash of
the glass. It was that which saved me, I think, for that brute heard it
too, and rushed away downstairs instantly. How did you break open the
shutter?'

'I did it with a chisel of Mr Wingrave's-and that reminds me that I have
left the chisel upstairs. I must take it back to him.'

I bounded up the stairs, and running into the room, snatched up the
chisel from the floor and ran out again. As I turned the corner of the
staircase, I met her beginning to ascend the stair, clinging to the
handrail and sobbing hysterically. I cursed myself for having left her,
even for a few moments, and putting my arm around her, led her back into
the hall.

'Oh, pray forgive me!' she sobbed. 'I am all unstrung. I couldn't bear to
be alone.'

'Of course you couldn't,' said I, drawing her head to my shoulder and
stroking her pale cheek. 'I oughtn't to have left you. But try, Winnie
dear, to realise that it is now over and gone. And let us get out of this
house.'

She wiped her eyes again, and as her sobs died away into an occasional
moan, I opened the street door. The sight of the open street and the
sunlight seemed to calm her at once. She put away her handkerchief, and
clinging to my arm, walked slowly and a little unsteadily by my side down
the garden path and out at the gate.

'I wonder where we can get a cab,' said I.

'There is a station not very far away, I believe,' said she. 'Perhaps
some one can direct us.'

We walked slowly down Sackett's Road, looking about that curiously
deserted thoroughfare for some likely person from whom to make inquiries,
when I saw a taxi-cab draw up at a house and discharge its passengers. I
managed to attract the notice of the driver, and a minute later we were
seated in the vehicle travelling swiftly homeward.

During the short journey hardly a word was exchanged. She was quite
composed now, but she was still deathly pale and lay back in her seat
with an air of intense fatigue and exhaustion. When we reached the studio
I helped her out of the cab, and having dismissed it, led her to the gate
and rang the bell.

Instantly I heard hurried steps in the passage, the wicket was flung
open, and Mrs Wingrave looked out eagerly. When she saw us, she burst
into tears.

'Thank God!' she exclaimed. 'I've been in an agony of suspense. Directly
Percy came home, I knew that Mr Anstey must be right--that the message
about him was a trap of some sort. What has happened?'

'I'll tell you later, Mrs Wingrave,' Winifred replied. 'I don't want to
talk about it now. Is Percy at home?'

'No. The two Wallingford boys were with him. He has gone home to tea with
them. I thought it best to say nothing, and let him go. They live quite
near here.'

'I am glad you did,' said Winifred, as we crossed the yard-where I
replaced the invaluable chisel. 'Perhaps we needn't tell him anything
about this.'

'It might be better not to,' said Mrs Wingrave. 'And now go and sit down
quietly in the studio and I will bring you some tea. You both look as if
you wanted some rest and refreshment.' She bustled away towards her own
residence and Winifred and I entered the studio.

As I held the curtain aside to let her pass, my companion halted and
looked round the great, bare hall with an air of deep reflection--almost
of curiosity. 'I never thought to look upon this place again,' she said
gravely; 'and I never should but for you. My life is your gift, Mr
Anstey.'

'It is a very precious life to me, Winifred,' said I. And then I added:
'I can't call you Miss Blake.'

'I am glad of that,' she said, looking at me with a smile. 'It would
sound very cool and formal now when you have held my life in your hands,
and my heart is bursting with gratitude to you.' She laid her hand on my
arm for a moment, and then, as if afraid of saying too much, returned
abruptly to the subject of her brother. 'It is fortunate Percy was not at
home. I don't think we need tell him, at least not just now. Do you think
so?'

'I don't see any necessity,' I replied. 'He knows the general position
and the precautions that have to be taken. Perhaps he can be told later.
And now you must just sit on the settee and rest quietly, for you are as
pale as a ghost still. I wonder you have not collapsed altogether.'

In a few minutes Mrs Wingrave brought in the tea and placed it on a table
by Winifred's settee. I drew up a chair and performed the presidential
functions in respect of the teapot, and under the influence of the homely
ceremony and the reviving stimulant my patient began to recover something
like her normal appearance and manner. I kept up a flow of more or less
commonplace talk, avoiding, for the present, any reference to the
terrible events of the afternoon, the details of which I decided to
elucidate later when the effect of the shock had passed off.

The postponement, however, was shorter than I had intended, for when we
had finished tea and I had carried the tray across the yard and restored
it to Mrs Wingrave, Winifred opened the subject herself.

'You haven't asked me how this thing happened,' she said, as I re-entered
the studio and sat down beside her in the vacant place on the settee.

'No. I thought you wouldn't want to talk about it just now.'

'I don't want to talk about it to Mrs Wingrave,' said she. 'But you are
my deliverer. I don't mind telling you--besides you ought to know. And I
want to know, too, by what extraordinary chance you came to be in that
place at that critical moment. When I saw you come into the room, it
seemed as if a miracle had happened.'

'There was nothing very miraculous about it,' said I, 'except that I
happened to arrive at the studio a little earlier than usual.' And here
I gave her an account of my arrival and my interview with Mrs Wingrave
and my efforts to overtake her.

'It was very clever of Mrs Wingrave to remember the address so clearly,'
said Winifred.

'It is a mercy that she did,' said I. 'If she had not--but there, we
won't think of that. What happened when you got to the house?'

'I rang the bell and a woman opened the door. I hardly saw her until I
had entered the hall and she had shut the door, and then--you know how
dark the hall was--I couldn't see her very distinctly. But I noticed that
she was a good deal powdered and that she had bright, unreal-looking
golden hair, though that didn't show much as she had a handkerchief tied
over her head and under her chin. And I also noticed that her face seemed
in some way familiar to me.

'As soon as she had shut the door the woman said in a rather peculiar
voice: "You must excuse the state of the house, we haven't properly moved
in yet. The little man is with the nurse on the first floor, the second
room you come to. Will you go up?"

'I ran up the stairs and she followed close behind me. When I came to the
second room, I asked: "Is this the one?" and when she answered "Yes," I
opened the door and stepped in. Then, of course, I saw it was an empty
room, and instantly I suspected that it was a trap. But at that moment
the woman threw the scarf over my head and pulled it tight. I turned
round quickly, but she dodged behind me and pulled me into the room, and
there we struggled and kept turning round and round for hours, as it
seemed to me, she trying to get behind me to tie the scarf, and I
struggling to keep her in front of me. She still held both ends of the
scarf, and though she was not able to pull it quite tight, it was tight
enough to make my breathing difficult and to prevent me from calling out.
At last I managed to turn quickly and seize her by the hair and the
handkerchief that was tied over her head. But the handkerchief came away
in my hand and the hair with it. It was a wig. And then, to my horror, I
saw that this was not a woman at all. It was a man! The man who stabbed
me that night at Hampstead! I recognised him instantly, and the shock was
so awful that I nearly fainted. For a moment I felt perfectly helpless,
and in that moment he got behind me and tied the scarf and pulled it
tight.

'Then there came a tremendous pealing of the bell. The man started
violently, and I could feel his hands trembling as he tried to finish
tying the knot while I struggled to get hold of his wrists. But, of
course, I could not struggle long, for the scarf was so tight that it
almost completely stopped my breathing, and the horror of the thing took
away all my strength. When the bell rang the second time, he broke into a
torrent of curses mixed with a curious sort of whimpering, and flung me
violently on the floor. He was just finishing the knot when I heard a
crash of glass down below, and at that he sprang to his feet, snatched up
the wig and handkerchief, and flew down the stairs.

'After this there seemed a long, long interval. Of course it was only a
matter of seconds, I suppose, but it was agonising--that horrible feeling
of suffocation. At last I heard a bursting sound down below. Then the
street door shut, and then--just as I seemed to be losing
consciousness--you came into the room, and I knew that I was saved.' She
paused, and then, laying her hand on mine, she continued: 'I haven't
thanked you for saving me from that horrible death. I can't. No words are
enough. Any talk of gratitude would be mere anticlimax.'

There is no question of gratitude, Winnie,' said I. 'Your life is more to
me than my own, so there is no virtue in my cherishing it. But I needn't
tell you that, for I suspect that my secret has slipped out unawares
already.'

'Your secret?' she repeated.

'That I love you, Winnie dearest. You must know it by now. I suppose I
ought not to speak of it just at this time. And yet--well, perhaps I
might ask you if you would take time to consider whether we might not,
some day, be more to one another than we are now.'

She looked down gravely though a little shyly, but she answered without
hesitation: 'I don't need to take time to consider. I can tell you at
once that I am proud to be loved by such a man as you. And it is not a
case of gratitude. I should have said the same if you had asked me
yesterday--or even longer ago than that.'

'Thank you for telling me that, Winnie,' said I. 'It would have been an
unworthy thing if I had seemed to presume on any small service--'

'It would have been an absurd thing to have any such idea, Mr Anstey.'

'Mr Anstey?' I repeated. 'May I humbly mention that I also have a
Christian name?'

'I always suspected that you had,' she retorted with a smile, 'and I must
confess to having speculated as to what it might be.'

'It takes the prosaic form of Robert, commonly perverted by my own family
to Robin.'

'And a very pretty name, too,' said she. 'But you are a foolish Robin to
speak in that way about yourself. The mistake you are making,' she
continued, holding up an admonitory forefinger, 'is that you don't
realise what an exceedingly nice person you are. But we realise it. Mrs
Wingrave is quite fond of you; Percy loves you; and as for Percy's
sister, well, she lost her heart longer ago than she is prepared to
admit. So let us hear no more ridiculous self-deprecations.'

'There shall be no more, sweetheart,' said I. 'You have taken away the
occasion and the excuse. A man who has won the heart of the sweetest and
loveliest girl in the whole world would be a fool to undervalue himself.
But it is a wonderful thing, Winnie. I can hardly believe in my good
fortune. When I saw you that night at Hampstead, I thought you were the
most beautiful girl I had ever seen. And now I know I was right. But how
little did I dream that that lovely girl would one day be my own!'

'I say again that you are a foolish Robin,' said she, resting her cheek
against my shoulder. 'You think your goose is a swan. But go on thinking
it, and she will be as near a swan as she can manage, or failing that, a
very faithful, affectionate goose.'

She looked up at me with a smile, half-shy but wholly endearing, and
noting how her marble-white cheeks had grown pink and rosy, I kissed her;
whereupon they grew pinker still.

It was all for our good that Percy lingered with his friends and left us
to the undisturbed possession of our new happiness. For me the golden
minutes supped away unnumbered--sullenly and relentlessly checked,
however, by my unconsulted watch--as we sat, side by side and hand
clasped in hand. We talked little; not that we were, as Rosalind would
say, 'Gravelled for lack of matter' (and even if we had been, Rosalind's
admirable expedient was always available). But perfect companionship is
independent of mere verbal converse. There is no need for speech when two
hearts are singing in unison.

At last there came the expected peal of the bell. I might, I suppose,
have gone out to open the wicket, but, in fact, I left that office to Mrs
Wingrave.

'I don't think Percy will notice anything unusual,' said I. 'You look
perfectly recovered now.'

'I suppose I do,' she answered with a smile. 'There have been
restoratives, you see.'

'So there have,' I agreed, and ex abundantia cautelae, as we lawyers say,
I added a sort of restorative codicil even as the quick footsteps
pattered across the yard.

Whether Percy observed anything unusual I cannot say with certainty. He
was a born diplomatist and a very model of discretion. But I have a
strong suspicion that he detected some new note in the harmony of our
little society. Particularly when I addressed his sister as Winnie did he
seem to cock an attentive ear; and when she addressed me as Robin he
cocked both ears. But he made no sign. He was a jewel of a boy. No lover
could have asked for anything more perfect in the way of a prospective
brother-in-law.

But my suspicion of that juvenile diplomat was confirmed--and my
admiration of his judgment reached a climax--when the time arrived for me
to go, and Winifred rose to accompany me to the gate. This had always
been Percy's office. But now he shook hands with me without turning a
hair and without even a glance at the studio door. It was a marvellous
instance of precocious intelligence.

We had left the studio and were just crossing the yard when suddenly I
bethought me of the locket which Thorndyke had entrusted to me for
delivery, and which I had, up to this moment, completely forgotten.

'Here is another narrow escape,' said I. 'The special errand which, to
the uninitiated, appeared to be the occasion of my visit here today, has
never been discharged. I was to give you your locket, which the ingenious
Polton has made as good as new, and had forgotten all about it. However,
it is not too late,' and here I took the little bauble from my pocket and
handed it to her.

'I am glad it came today, of all days,' she said as she took it from me.
'Now I can wear it as a sort of memento. If we had only known, Robin, we
could have got Mr Polton to engrave the date on the back.'

'He can do that later,' said I. 'It is engraved on my heart already. I
can never forget a single moment of this day. And what a wonderful day it
has been! What a day of wild extremes! Within a few hours I have suffered
the most intense misery and dread that I have ever experienced, and been
blessed with the greatest happiness that I have ever known. And as to
you, my poor darling--'

'Not a poor darling at all,' she interrupted, 'but a very rich and proud
and happy one. A day of storm and sunshine it has indeed been, but the
storm came first, and "in the evening there was light." And after all,
Robin dear, you can't have a rainbow without rain.'

By this tune we had reached the gate; and when I had taken her in my arms
and kissed her, I opened the wicket and passed out. As it closed behind
me I looked up and down the dreary street, but it was dreary to me no
longer. I don't know who Jacob was--I mean this particular Jacob--but as
I stopped to look back fondly at the factory-like gate, I felt that I was
in some sort under an obligation to him as the (presumptive) creator of
the sacred thoroughfare.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN - THORNDYKE STATES HIS POSITION


Recalling the events of the evening after leaving the studio, I am
sensible of a somewhat hazy interval between the moment when I turned the
corner of Jacob Street and my arrival at the familiar precincts of the
Temple. After the fashion of the aboriginal Londoner, I had simply set my
face in the desired direction and walked, unconscious of particular
streets, instinctively or subconsciously heading for my destination by
the shortest route. And meanwhile my mind was busy with the stirring
incidents of this most eventful day, with its swift alternations of storm
and sunshine, its terror, its despair, and its golden reward. So my
thoughts now alternated between joy at the attainment of a happiness
scarcely hoped for and apprehension of the dangers that lurked unseen,
ready to spring forth and wreck the life that was more to me than my own.

Thus meditating, I sped through by-streets innumerable and unnoted,
crossing quiet squares and traversing narrow courts and obscure passages,
but always shunning the main thoroughfares with their disturbing glare
and noise, until I came, as it were, to the surface at the end of
Chichester Rents, and turned into Chancery Lane. There the familiar
surroundings brought me back to my everyday world, and my thoughts took a
new direction. What would Thorndyke have to say to my news? Had he any
resources unknown to me for staving off this very imminent danger? And
would the terrible episode of the empty house convey any enlightenment to
him that I had missed?

Still revolving these questions, I dived down Middle Temple Lane and
presently became aware of a tall figure some little distance ahead,
walking in the same direction as my own. I had nearly overtaken him when
he turned at the entrance to Pump Court and looked back, whereupon a
mutual recognition brought us both to a halt.

'I expect we are bound for the same port, Anstey,' said he as we shook
hands. 'I am going to call on Thorndyke. You are still helping him,
aren't you?'

'He says I am, and I hope it is true. At any rate, Jervis has not come
back yet, if that is what you mean. I suppose, Drayton, you haven't any
fresh information for us?'

Sir Lawrence shook his head gloomily. 'No,' he answered, 'I have learned
nothing new, nor, I fear, are any of us likely to. Those brutes seem to
have got away without leaving a trace that it is possible to make
anything of. We can't expect impossibilities even of Thorndyke. But I am
not calling on him with reference to the murder case. I want him to come
down with me to Aylesbury to help me with an interview. A question of
survivorship has arisen, and he knows more about that subject than I do,
so I should like him to elicit the facts, if possible.'

As we walked through Pump Court and the Cloisters, I debated with myself
whether I should tell Drayton of the horror that this day had witnessed.
He was an interested party in more than one sense, for he had the warmest
regard for Winifred. But I knew that he would be profoundly shocked, and
as he continued to talk of the case on which he wanted Thorndyke's
advice, I said nothing for the present.

When I let myself and Drayton in with my latch-key, we found Thorndyke
seated at the table with a microscope and a tray of reagents and mounting
materials, preparing slides of animal hairs to add to his already
extensive collection.

'I am ashamed to disturb you at this hour,' Drayton began.

But Thorndyke interrupted him. 'You are not disturbing me at all. This
kind of work can be taken up and put down at any moment.'

'It is very good of you to say so,' said Drayton, 'and I will take you at
your word.' And thereupon he opened the matter of which he had spoken to
me.

'When do you want me to come down to Aylesbury?' Thorndyke asked.

'The day after tomorrow, if you can manage it.'

Thorndyke reflected for a few moments as he picked up with his forceps a
newly-cleaned cover-glass, and delicately dropped it on the specimen that
floated in its little pool of balsam.

'Yes,' he said at length, 'I think we can arrange that. There isn't very
much doing just now.'

'Very well,' said Sir Lawrence. 'Then I will call for you at ten o'clock,
and I needn't trouble you with any details now. We can talk the case over
on the way down.' He rose as if to depart, but as he turned towards the
door, he stopped and looked back at Thorndyke.

'I am afraid,' said he, 'that I have rather neglected our friend Miss
Blake. Has either of you seen her lately?'

Thorndyke gave me a quick look, and in the short interval before
replying, I could see that he was rapidly debating how much he should
tell Sir Lawrence. Apparently he reached the same conclusion as I had,
that we could hardly conceal material facts from him, for he replied:

'Yes, we have both seen her quite lately; in fact, I think Anstey has
just come from her studio. And I am sorry to say, we are both rather
anxious about her.'

'Indeed,' said Drayton, laying down his hat and seating himself. 'What is
amiss with her?'

'The trouble is,' replied Thorndyke, 'that she is the sole witness to the
identity of the murderers, and they realise it, and they have determined,
accordingly, to get rid of her.' And here he gave Sir Lawrence an
account of the incident of the poisoned chocolates and the circumstances
that had led up to it.

Drayton was thunderstruck. As he listened to Thorndyke's vivid and
precise narration, he sat motionless, with parted lips and his hands on
his knees, the very picture of amazement and horror.

'But, good God!' he exclaimed, when Thorndyke had finished 'this is
perfectly frightful! It is a horrible state of things. Something must be
done, you know. It is practically certain that they will make some
further attempt.'

'They have already,' said I. And as the two men turned to me with looks
of startled inquiry, I recounted--not without discomfort in recalling
them--the terrible events of that afternoon.

My two friends listened with rapt attention as I told the hideous story,
and on each it produced characteristic effects. Sir Lawrence glared at me
with a scowl of suppressed fury, while Thorndyke's face settled into a
rigid immobility like that of a stone mask.

When I had concluded, Drayton sprang to his feet and began to pace the
room in uncontrollable agitation, muttering and cursing under his breath.
Suddenly he halted opposite Thorndyke, and gazing frowningly into his set
face, demanded: 'Is it not possible to do something? Something radical
and effective, I mean? I don't know what cards you hold, Thorndyke, and I
am not going to embarrass you by asking for details, but are you in a
position to make any kind of move?'

Thorndyke, who had also risen, and now stood with his back to the fire,
looked down reflectively for a few moments. At length he replied:

'The difficulty is, Drayton, that if we move prematurely, we run a
serious risk of failing, and we can't afford to fail.'

'Do I understand, then, that you are in a position to take action?'

'Yes. But it would be extremely unsafe, for if we fail once we fail
finally. It would be a gamble, and we should quite probably lose.
Whereas, if we can wait, we shall have these men to a certainty. We have
taken their measure and we know now exactly what kind of persons we are
dealing with. You see, Drayton,' he continued after a brief pause,
'secret crime most commonly comes to light through the efforts of the
criminal to cover his tracks. That is so in the present case. All that I
know as to the identity of these men I have learned from their struggles
to conceal it. But for their multitudinous precautions I should have
known nothing about them. And you see for yourself that they are
criminals of the usual kind who will not let well alone. They keep making
fresh efforts to secure their safety, and each time they make a move we
learn something more about them. If only we can wait, they will surely
deliver themselves into our hands.'

There was a brief silence. Then Sir Lawrence gave utterance to the
thought that was in my own mind.

'That is all very well, Thorndyke, and as a lawyer I fully understand
your desire to get a conclusive case before making a move. But can we
afford to wait? Are we justified in using this poor young lady as a bait
to enable us to catch these villains?'

'If that were the position,' replied Thorndyke, 'there could be but one
answer. But we must remember that the capture of these men is the
condition on which her safety depends. If we fail, we fail for her as
well as for ourselves.'

'Then,' asked Drayton, 'what do you suggest? You don't propose to stand
by passively until they make some fresh attempt to murder her?'

'No. I suggest that more complete precautions be taken to secure Miss
Blake's safety, and meanwhile I hope to fill in one or two blanks in my
collection of evidential facts and perhaps induce these men to make a
move in a new direction. I think I can promise to bring the affair to a
climax in one way or another, and that pretty soon.'

'Very well,' said Drayton, once more taking up his hat. 'But who is going
to look after Miss Blake?'

'Anstey has taken that duty on himself,' replied Thorndyke, 'and I don't
think any one could do it better. If he wants assistance or advice, he
has only to call upon us.'

With this arrangement Drayton appeared to be satisfied, though he still
appeared uneasy--as, indeed, we all were. But he made no further
suggestion, and very shortly took his leave.

For some time after his departure not a word was spoken. The conversation
that had just taken place had given me abundant food for reflection,
while Thorndyke, who still stood with his back to the fire, maintained a
grim silence. Evidently he was thinking hard, and a glance at his
face--stern, rigid, inexorable--assured me that his cogitations boded ill
for those who had aroused his righteous anger. At length he looked up and
asked:

'What measures can you suggest for Miss Blake's protection?'

'I have told her that, for the present, she must not go out of doors on
any occasion whatever unless accompanied by me--or, of course, by you or
Drayton. She has promised to abide absolutely by that rule and to make no
exception to it. She has also promised to keep the studio door locked and
to inspect any visitors from the window of the bedroom adjoining before
unlocking it.'

'If she keeps to those rules she should be quite safe,' said Thorndyke.
'They are not likely to try to break in. There is a man living on the
premises, I think?'

'Yes. Mr Wingrave is about the place at his work most of the day, and, of
course, he is always there at night.'

'Then, I think we may feel reasonably secure for the present; and I am
glad you have made such complete arrangements, for I was going to suggest
that you come down with us to Aylesbury.'

'With what object?' I asked. 'Drayton won't want me at the conference.'

'No. But it just occurred to me that, as we shall be within a mile or two
of Beauchamp Blake and can easily take it on our way back, we might go
and have a look at the place and see if we can pick up any information on
the spot. I believe the question of the sale of the property is more or
less in abeyance, but it would be just as well to make a few inquiries
locally.'

I received the suggestion with some surprise but no enthusiasm.

'Doesn't it seem rather inopportune,' I said, 'with these imminent
dangers impending, to be occupying ourselves in prosecuting this shadowy
claim? Surely this is no time for building castles in the air. The chance
of young Percival's ever coming into this property is infinitely remote,
and we can attend to it when we have done with more urgent matters.'

'If we attend to it at all,' he replied 'we must do so when we have the
opportunity. Should the property be sold, Percy's chance will be gone for
good. And the conflict between our two purposes is only in your mind. The
fact of our keeping an eye on Percy's interests will not hinder our
pursuit of the wretches who murdered poor Drayton and would now murder
Percy's sister. You can trust me for that.'

'No, I suppose it won't,' I admitted. 'And you seem to take Percy's claim
to this estate quite seriously.'

'It is impossible to do otherwise,' said he. 'It may be impossible to
prove it, even if an opportunity should arise. But it is a real claim,
and what little chance he has ought to be preserved. It mustn't be lost
by our negligence.'

I was not keen on the expedition, but I knew what Winifred's sentiments
would have been, and loyalty to her bade me assent, though in my own
mind, I felt it to be a fruitless and somewhat foolish errand.
Accordingly I agreed to form one of the party on the day after the
morrow, a decision which Thorndyke received with more satisfaction than
the occasion seemed to warrant.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN - BEAUCHAMP BLAKE


'Can there be any more pleasant place of human habitation than an English
country town?' I asked myself the question as I strolled round the market
square of the little town of Aylesbury, gazing about me with a Londoner's
pleasure in the restful, old-world aspect of the place I had still more
than half an hour to wait, but I had no feeling of impatience. I could
spend that time agreeably enough, sauntering around, wrapped in
pleasurable idleness provocative of reflection, looking at the handsome
market-place with its clock-tower and its statues immortalising in bronze
the worthies of more stirring times, or at the carriers' carts that
rested unhorsed in the square and told of villages and hamlets nestling
amidst their trees but a few miles away down the leafy lanes.

Presently my leisurely perambulations brought me opposite a shop of more
than common smartness, and here--perhaps because the crowd of market folk
was a little more dense--I paused and gazed somewhat absently into the
window. I have no idea why I looked into that particular shop window. The
wares exposed in it--ladies' hats--have no special attraction to the
masculine eye--at least in the state in which they are presented by the
milliner, bereft of the principal ornament which should be found
underneath them. Nevertheless, I was not the only male observer. Another
man had stopped and stood, nearer to the window than I, inspecting the
gaily-flowered and feathered headgear with undeniable interest.

The incongruity of this eager scrutiny of things so characteristically
feminine struck me with amused curiosity, and I watched the man with a
half-suppressed smile. He was a small, slight man, neatly dressed in a
suit of tweeds and a tweed hat, and the trouser-clips at his ankles
suggested that he had cycled in from the country. I could not see his
face, as I was standing nearly behind him, but apparently he became
aware, after a time, of my presence--perhaps he saw my reflection in the
window--and of the fact that I was observing him somewhat curiously, for
he turned away with some suddenness, glancing up at me as he passed and
then half pausing to look at me again before he bustled away and
disappeared up an alley.

There was something very odd in that second look. The first had been a
mere casual glance, but the second--quick, searching, even
startled--suggested recognition, and something more than recognition.
What could it have been? And who could he be? The face--a clean-shaved,
thin, sallow face, not very young, seen only for a moment, left a clear
mental image that still remained. And as I visualised it afresh I was
conscious of a faint sense of familiarity. I had seen this man before.
Where had I seen him; and who was he? And why did he look at me with that
singular expression?

I stood where he had left me, cudgelling my brains for an answer to these
questions. And even as I stood there, a cyclist passed swiftly across the
end of the square and disappeared in the direction of the London Road. He
was too far off for his face to be clearly recognisable: but he was a
small man, he wore a tweed suit and hat, and trouser-clips, and I had no
doubt that he was the same man.

Now who was he? The more I recalled the face, the more convinced I was
that I had seen it before. But the identity of its owner eluded me
completely. I couldn't place the fellow at all. Probably it didn't matter
in the least who he was. But still it was exasperating to be baffled in
this way. Unconsciously, I turned and stared into the milliner's window.
And then, in a flash it came. The middle of the window was occupied by an
enormous hat--a huge, bloated, fungous structure overrun with counterfeit
vegetation and bristling with feathers; such a hat as might have adorned
the cranium of a Hottentot queen. A glance at that grisly head-dress
supplied the missing link in the chain of association. The face that had
looked into mine was the face of the woman who had shadowed Winifred and
me from Hampstead; who had lured her to the empty house, and had there
revealed herself as a man in disguise. In short, this was the murderer of
poor Drayton, and the would-be murderer of Winifred!

And I had held this wretch in the hollow of my hand and I had let him go!
It was an infuriating thought. If my quickness of observation had only
been equal to his, I should have had him by now safely under lock and
key. No wonder he had looked startled. But he must have a remarkably good
memory for faces to have recognised me in that instantaneous glance. For
he had seen me only once--at the inquest at Hampstead--and then but for a
moment. Unless he had got a glimpse of me at the empty house, or--which
seemed more probable--had shadowed and watched me when I had been acting
as Winifred's escort. At any rate he knew me, better than I knew him, and
had managed very adroitly to slip through my fingers.

But what on earth was he doing at Aylesbury? Was it possible that he
lived in this neighbourhood? If so, a description given to the police
might even yet secure his arrest. I was turning over this possibility
when the chiming of a clock recalled my appointment. I glanced up at the
dial on the clock-tower and had just noted that the appointed hour had
struck when I observed Thorndyke ascending the steps to the platform at
the base. This was our rendezvous, and I forthwith hurried across the
cobbled square and presented myself, bursting with my news and
discharging them in a volley as soon as I arrived.

Thorndyke was deeply interested, but yet I found in his manner something
slightly disappointing. He was an impassive man, difficult to surprise or
move to any outward manifestation of emotion. Still, knowing this, I was
a little chilled by the almost academic view that he took of the
incident, and especially by his firm rejection of my plan for invoking
the aid of the police.

'It sounds tempting,' he admitted, 'to swoop down on this man and put an
end forthwith to all our dangers and complications, but it would be a bad
move. Quite probably the police would decline to take any action. And
then what sort of description could you give them? For the purposes of a
search it is far too general, and a change of clothing would make it
entirely inapplicable. And we must admit the possibility of your being
mistaken. And finally, if we gave this information, we should almost
certainly lose one man--whom none of us has ever seen, but who is
probably the principal. We should have let the cat out of the bag, and
all our carefully-laid plans would come to nought.'

'I didn't know that we had any carefully-laid plans,' said I.

'You know that we are engaged in investigating a murder; that our aim is
to secure the two or more murderers and to elucidate the causes and
circumstances of the crime, and that we have accumulated a certain number
of data to that end.'

'You have,' I objected. 'I have practically no data at all. May I ask if
you know who this sallow-faced little devil is?'

'I have a strong suspicion,' he replied. 'But suspicion isn't quite what
one wants to take into a court of law. I want to verify my suspicions and
turn them into conclusive evidence. So that when I play my card it shall
be a trump card.'

To this I had no reply to make. I knew Thorndyke's methods. For years I
had acted as his leading counsel, and always when I had gone into court I
had taken with me a case complete to the last detail. Now, for the first
time, I was realising the amount of patience and self-restraint that went
to the making of a case of unassailable conclusiveness, and I found
myself with difficulty overcoming the temptation to make a premature
move.

While we had been talking, we had been making our way at an easy pace out
of the town on to the London Road, and now Thorndyke, with the one-inch
ordnance map in his hand, indicated our route.

'Beauchamp Blake,' said he, 'lies just off the Lower Icknield Way, on the
left of the London Road. But there is no need for us to take the shortest
way. The by-road through Stoke Mandeville looks more entertaining than
the main road, and we can pick up the Lower Icknield Way at the
crossroads below the village.'

Our route being thus settled, we set forth, turning off presently into
the quiet, shady by-road. And as we swung along between the thinning
hedgerows, with the majestic elms--now sprinkled with yellow--towering
above us and casting athwart the road streaks of cool shadow, we chatted
sporadically with long intervals of silence, for we were Londoners on
holiday to whom the beauty of this fair countryside was reinforced by a
certain pleasant strangeness.

'I have wondered from time to time,' I said, after one of the long
pauses, 'what can be the significance--if it has any--of that blue-dyed
hair that you extracted from Winifred's locket' (I had confided to
Thorndyke the new relations that had grown up between our fair client and
me).

'Ah,' he replied. 'A very interesting problem, Anstey.'

'I have also wondered what made you take the hair out of the locket to
examine it under the microscope.'

'The answer to that question is perfectly simple,' said he. 'I took it
out to see if it was blue. In the mass the hair looked black.'

'But do I understand that you thought it might be blue?'

'I expected to find it blue. The examination was a measure of
verification.'

'But why, in the name of Fortune, should you expect to find blue hair in
a locket? I had no idea that hair ever was dyed blue--except,' I added
with a sudden flash of recollection, 'in the case of ancient Egyptian
wigs, and I had an idea that they were not hair at all.'

'Some of them, I believe, were not. However, this was not ancient
Egyptian hair. It was modern.'

'Then, will you tell me what it was that made you expect to find the hair
in the locket dyed blue?'

'The expectation,' he replied, 'arose out of an inspection of the locket
itself.'

'Do you mean those mysterious and obscure Biblical references engraved
inside?'

'No; I mean the external characters, the peculiar construction, the motto
engraved on the front, and the hallmark on the back.'

'But what,' I asked, 'was the connection between those external
characters and this most extraordinary peculiarity of the hair inside?'

He looked at me with the exasperating smile that I knew so well (and was,
in fact, expecting).

'Now, you know, Anstey,' said he, 'you are trying to pump me; to suck my
brains instead of using your own. I am not going to encourage you in any
such mental indolence. The proper satisfaction of a discovery is in
having made it yourself. You have seen and handled the locket, you have
heard my comments on it, and you have access to it for further
examination. Try to recall what it is like, and if necessary, examine it
afresh. Consider its peculiarities one by one and then in relation to one
another. If you do this attentively and thoughtfully you will find that
those peculiarities will yield some most curious and interesting
suggestions, including the suggestion that the hair inside is probably
blue.'

'I shan't find anything of the kind, you old devil,' I exclaimed
wrathfully, 'and you know perfectly well that I shan't. Still, I will
take an early opportunity to put the "little Sphinx" under
cross-examination.'

While we had been talking we had passed through the village of Stoke
Mandeville, and we now arrived at the crossroads, where we turned to the
left into the ancient Icknield Way.

'A mile and a half farther on,' said Thorndyke, again consulting the map,
'we cross the London Road. Then we turn out of the Icknield Way into this
lane, leaving Weston Turville on our left. I note there is an inn
opposite the gates of Beauchamp Blake. Does that topographical feature
interest you?'

'I think,' said I, 'that after another couple of miles, we shall be ready
for what the British workman calls a "breaver." But it is probably only a
wayside beerhouse.'

Another half-hour's walking brought us to the London Road, crossing which
we followed a side road--apparently part of the Icknield Way--which
skirted the lake-like reservoir and presently gave off as a branch a
pleasant, elm-bordered lane on the right-hand side of which was a tall
oak paling.

'This,' said Thorndyke, whose stature enabled him easily to look over the
fence, 'is the little park of Beauchamp Blake. I don't see the house, but
I see the roof of a gatekeeper's lodge. And here is the inn.'

A turn of the lane had brought into view a gatekeeper's lodge by the main
gates of the park, and nearly opposite, the looked-for hostelry. And a
very remarkable-looking hostelry it was, considering its secluded
position; an antique, half-timbered house with a high, crinkly roof in
which was a row of dormer windows, and a larger, overhanging gabled bay
supported below by an immense carved corner-post. But the most singular
feature of the house was the sign, which swung at the top of a tall post
by a horse-trough in the little forecourt, on which was the head of a
gentleman wearing a crown and a full-bottomed wig, apparently suspended
in mid-air over a brown stone pitcher.

'It seems to me,' said I, as we approached the inn, 'that the sign needs
an explanatory inscription. The association of a king and a brown jug may
be natural enough, but it is unusual as an inn-sign.'

'Now, Anstey,' Thorndyke exclaimed protestingly, 'don't tell me that that
ancient joke has missed its mark on your superlative intellect. The
inscription on the parlour window tells us that the sign is the King's
Head, and the pitcher under that portrait explains that the king is James
the Second or Third--His Majesty over the water. This is evidently a
Jacobite house. Does the sedition shock you? Or shall we enter and
refresh? If the landlord's ale is as old as his politics we ought to find
quite exceptional entertainment within, and perhaps pick up a trifle of
local gossip that may interest us.'

I assented readily, secretly denouncing my slowness in the 'uptake'.
Thorndyke's explanations were always so ridiculously simple--when you had
heard them.

The landlord, who looked like a retired butler, received us with
old-fashioned deference and inducted us into the parlour, drawing a
couple of Wycombe armchairs up to the table.

'What can I do for you, gentlemen?' he inquired.

'Well, what can you do for us?' asked Thorndyke. 'Is it to be bread and
cheese and beer?'

'I can let you have a cold fowl and a cut of boiled bacon,' said the
landlord with the air of one who lays down the ace of trumps.

'Can you really!' exclaimed Thorndyke. 'That is a repast fit for a
king--even for the king over the water.'

The landlord smiled slyly. 'Ah, you're alluding to my old sign, sir,'
said he. 'T'wouldn't have done to have had him swingin' up there time
back. Some others would have been swingin' too. In those days he used to
hang in this room over the fireplace, only there was a portrait of King
George fixed over him with concealed hinges. When strangers came to the
house there was King George--God bless him!--the same as the sign that
used to hang outside; but when the villagers or the people from the Hall
opposite sat in the room, then George was swung back on his hinges to
bring James into view and a pitcher of water was put on the table to
drink the toasts over. This was a thriving house in those days. They say
that Percival Blake--he was the last of the old family and a rare plotter
by all accounts--used to meet some of his political cronies in this very
room, and I've no doubt a lot of business was plotted here that never
came to anything.'

'Who has the place now?' asked Thorndyke.

'The present squire is Mr Arthur Blake, and a queerish sort of squire he
is.'

'In what way queer?' I asked.

'Well, you see, sir, he's a Colonial--lived in Australia all his life, I
understand. And he looks it--a big, roughish-looking man, and very short
spoken. But he can ride, I'll say that for him. There isn't a better
horseman in the county. Mounts from the off-side, too. I suppose that's
their way out there, though it don't suit our rule of the road.'

As the landlord gave these particulars, he proceeded, with swift
dexterity, to lay the table and furnish it with the materials for the
feast, aided and abetted by an unseen female who lurked in the
background. When he had put the final touch with a 'foam-crowned jug of
nut-brown,' he showed a tendency to withdraw and leave us to our meal;
but Thorndyke was in a conversational mood and induced him, without
difficulty, to fetch another tumbler and proceed with his output of local
lore.

'Is it true that the place is going to be sold?' Thorndyke inquired.

'So they say,' replied the landlord. 'And the best thing the squire could
do if the lawyers will let him. The place is no good to him.'

'Why not?'

'Well, sir, he's a bachelor, and like to remain one it seems. Then he's a
stranger to the place and don't appear to take to English ways. He keeps
no company and he makes no visits; he don't know any of his neighbours
and doesn't seem to want to. He has only kept on one or two of the
servants, and he lives with his man--foreign-looking chap named Meyer--in
a corner of the house and never uses the rest. He'd be more comfortable
in a little farm house.'

'And how does he spend his time?' asked Thorndyke.

'I don't know, sir,' was the answer. 'Mostly loafing about, I should say.
He takes photographs, I hear; quite clever at it, too, it seems. And he
goes out for a ride every afternoon--you'll see him come out of the gate
at three o'clock almost to the minute--and sometimes he goes out in the
morning, too.'

'And as to visitors? Are strangers allowed to look over the house?'

'No, sir. The squire won't have any strangers about the place at all. I
fancy what made him so particular was a burglary that occurred there
about a couple of years ago. Not that there was much in it, for they got
all the things back and they caught the burglar the very next day.'

'That was smart work,' I remarked.

'Yes,' our friend agreed, 'they did the thief very neatly. It was a
one-man job and the burglar seems to have been a downy bird, for he
worked in gloves so that he shouldn't leave any marks behind. But he took
those gloves off a bit too soon, for, when they heard him making off and
let the dogs loose, he had to do a bolt, and he dropped one of the things
in the park--a silver salver it was, I think--and the police found it the
next morning and found some finger-marks on it. They wanted to take the
salver up to Scotland Yard to have it examined, but the squire wouldn't
have that. He took a photograph of the fingermarks and gave it to the
police, and they took it up to Scotland Yard, and the people there were
able to tell them at once whose fingermarks they were, and they got the
burglar that very evening with all the stolen goods in his possession.
Wonderful smart, I call it.'

'Do you think,' Thorndyke asked, 'that we should be able to get a look at
the house? Just the outside, I mean?'

'I'll see what can be done, sir,' the landlord replied 'I'll have a few
words with the lodge-keeper. I was butler to the last squire but one, so
they know me pretty well. I'll just run across while you are finishing
your lunch. But you'd better wait until the squire has gone out, because,
if he sees you on the drive, like as not he'll order you out, and that
wouldn't be pleasant for gentlemen like you.'

'I think we'll take the risk,' said Thorndyke. 'If he tells us to go, we
can go, but I don't like sneaking in behind his back.'

'No, sir, perhaps you are right,' the landlord agreed, a little
dubiously, and departed on his errand, leaving us to finish our
lunch--which, in fact, we had practically done already.

In this long conversation I had taken no part. But I had been an
interested listener. Not that I cared two straws for the small beer that
our host had been retailing. What had interested, and a good deal puzzled
me was Thorndyke's amazing inquisitiveness respecting the private and
domestic affairs of a man whom neither of us knew and with whom we really
had no concern. For the question of the succession to the property was a
purely legal one--and pretty shadowy at that--on which the personal
qualities and habits of the present tenant had no bearing whatever. And
yet my experience of Thorndyke told me that he certainly had not been
asking these trivial and impertinent questions without some reasonable
motive. No man was less inquisitive about things that did not concern
him.

But the discrepancy between his character and his conduct did not end
here. As soon as the landlord had gone and we had filled and lit our
pipes, he began to explore his waistcoat pockets and presently produced
therefrom Polton's reproduction of Mr Halliburton's ridiculous mascot,
which he laid on the table and regarded fondly.

'Do you usually carry that thing in your pocket, Thorndyke?' I asked.

'Not usually,' he replied, 'but this is a special occasion. We are on
holiday, and moreover, we are seeking our fortune, or at least, hoping
that something may turn up.'

'Are we?' I said. 'I am not conscious of any such hope, and I don't know
what you expect.'

'Neither do I,' he replied. 'But I feel in an optimistic mood. Perhaps it
is the beer,' and with this he picked up the mascot, and opening the
split gold ring with a knife-blade, attached it to his watch-chain,
closing the ring with a squeeze of his finger and thumb.

It was a singular proceeding. What made it especially so was Thorndyke's
openly-expressed contempt of the superstition which finds expression in
the use of charms, mascots and other fetishistic objects and practices.
However, we were on holiday, as he had said, and perhaps it was
admissible to mark the occasion by playing the fool a little.

In a few minutes the landlord returned and announced that he had secured
the consent of the lodge-keeper to our making an inspection of the house,
with the proviso that we were not to go more than a couple of hundred
yards down the drive. 'I'll just step across with you,' he added, 'so
that he can see that you are the right parties.'

Accordingly, when we had paid the modest reckoning, we picked up our hats
and sticks and as our host held open the parlour door, we passed out into
the courtyard, glancing up with renewed interest at the historic sign
which creaked in the breeze. Crossing the road, we passed through the
wicket of the closed gate, under the detached observation of the
lodge-keeper; and here our host wished us adieu and returned to the inn.

A short walk down the drive brought us to a turn of the road where we
came in sight of the house across a stretch of meadows in which a small
herd of cows made spots of vivid colour. It was not a large mansion, but
what it lacked in size it made up for in character and interest. The two
parts were clearly distinct, the newer portion being a Jacobean brick
building with stone dressings and quaint corbie-step gables, while the
older part--not later than the sixteenth century--was a comparatively low
structure showing massive timbers with pargetted plaster fillings, a high
roof with wide-spreading eaves and a long row of picturesque dormer
windows and large, clustered chimneys.

'It is a grand old house,' I said. 'What a pity it is that Blake is such
a curmudgeon. The inside ought to be even more interesting than the
outside.'

'Yes,' Thorndyke agreed, 'it is a splendid specimen of domestic
architecture, and absolutely thrown away, if our host was not
exaggerating. One could wish for a more appreciative tenant--such as our
young friend Percy, for instance.'

I glanced at Thorndyke, surprised, not for the first time, at the way in
which he tended to harp on this very unresonant string. To me, Percy's
claim to this estate was simply a romantic instance of the
might-have-been, and none too clear at that. His chance of ever
inheriting Beauchamp Blake was a wild dream that I found myself unable to
take seriously. But this was apparently not Thorndyke's view, for it was
evident that he had considered the matter worth inquiring into, and his
last words showed that it still hovered in his mind. I was on the point
of reopening the discussion when two men appeared round the corner of the
house, each leading a saddled horse. Opposite the main doorway they
halted and one of them proceeded to mount--from the off-side, as I
noticed. Then they apparently became aware of our presence, for they both
looked in our direction; indeed they continued to stare at us with
extraordinary attention, and by their movements appeared to be discussing
us anxiously.

Thorndyke chuckled softly. 'There must be something uncommonly suspicious
in your appearance, Anstey,' he remarked. 'They seem to be in a deuce of
a twitter about you.'

'Why my appearance?' I demanded. 'They are looking at us both. In fact I
think it is you who are the real object of suspicion. I expect they think
you have come back for that silver plate.'

As we spoke, the discussion came to an end. The one man remained, holding
his horse and still looking at us, while the other turned and advanced up
the drive at a brisk trot, sitting his mount with that unconscious ease
that distinguishes the lifelong, habitual equestrian. As he approached,
he looked at us inquisitively and with undissembled disapproval, but
seemed as if he were going to pass without further notice. Suddenly,
however, his attention became more intense. He slowed down to a walk, and
as he drew near to us he pulled up and dismounted. And again I noticed
that he dismounted from the off-side.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN - THE SQUIRE AND THE SLEUTH-HOUND


As Mr Blake approached with the evident intention of addressing us, it
was not unnatural that I should look at him with some interest. Not that
such interest was in any way justified by his appearance, which was quite
commonplace. He was a tall man, strongly built, and apparently active and
muscular. His features were somewhat coarse, but his expression was
resolute and energetic, though not suggestive of more than average
intelligence. But at the moment, as he bore down on us, leading his horse
by the bridle-rein, with his eyes fixed on Thorndyke's face, suspicion
and a certain dim suggestion of surprise were what I principally gathered
from his countenance.

'May I ask what your business is?' he demanded somewhat brusquely, but
not rudely, addressing Thorndyke and looking at him with something more
than common attention.

'We really haven't any business at all,' my colleague replied. 'We were
walking through the district and thought we should like to have a glance
at your very picturesque and interesting house. That is all.'

'Is there anything in particular that you want to know about the house?'
Mr Blake asked, still addressing Thorndyke.

'No,' the latter replied. 'Our interest in the place is merely
antiquarian, and not very profound at that.'

'I see,' said Mr Blake. He appeared to reflect for a few moments and
seemed to be on the point of moving away when he stopped suddenly and a
quick change passed over his face. At the same moment I noticed that his
eyes were fixed intently on Thorndyke's ridiculous mascot.

'I take it,' said he,' that you had the lodge-keeper's permission to come
inside the gates?'

'Yes,' Thorndyke replied. 'He gave us permission--through the inn-keeper,
who asked him--to come in far enough to see the house. As far as we have
come, in fact.'

Mr Blake nodded, and again his eyes wandered to the object attached to
Thorndyke's watch-chain.

'You are looking at my mascot,' the latter said genially. 'It is a
curious thing, isn't it?'

'Very,' Blake agreed gruffly, 'What is it?'

Thorndyke pulled the soft wire ring open, and detaching it from his
chain, handed the little object to the other, who examined it curiously
and remarked:

'It seems to be made out of a bone.'

'Yes; the bone of a porcupine ant-eater.'

'Ha. You got it somewhere abroad. I suppose?'

'No; replied Thorndyke. 'I found it in London, and, of course, it isn't
really mine. It belongs to a man named Halliburton. But I don't happen to
have his address at the moment, so I can't return it.'

Mr Blake listened to this explanation with a sort of puzzled frown,
wondering, perhaps, at my colleague's uncalled-for expansiveness to an
utter stranger. But his wonder was nothing to mine, as I heard the
usually secretive Thorndyke babbling in this garrulously confidential
fashion.

When he had examined the mascot, Mr Blake handed it back to Thorndyke
with an inarticulate grunt, and as my colleague hooked the ring on his
watch-chain, he turned away, walked round his horse to the off-side,
mounted lightly to the saddle and started the horse forward at a trot. As
he disappeared round a bend of the tree-bordered road, I glanced at
Thorndyke, who was once more gazing calmly at the house.

'Mine host was right; I observed. 'Squire Blake is a pretty considerable
boor.'

'His manners are certainly not engaging,' Thorndyke agreed.

'I didn't notice that he had any manners,' said I, 'and it seemed to me
that you were most unnecessarily civil, not to say confidential.'

'Well, you know,' he replied, 'we are on his premises, and not only
uninvited, but contrary to his expressed wishes. We could hardly be
otherwise than civil. And after all, he didn't eject us. But I suppose we
may as well retire now.'

'Yes,' I agreed, 'he is probably waiting to see us off his confounded
land, and possibly speaking his mind to the lodge-keeper.'

Both these surmises appeared to be correct, for when we came round the
clump of trees at the turn of the road, I saw the squire in earnest
conversation with the keeper, who was standing at attention, holding the
gate open, and, I thought, looking somewhat abashed. We passed out
through the wicket, which was still unfastened, but though the
lodge-keeper looked at us attentively, and even a little curiously, Blake
gave no sign of being aware of our existence.

'Well,' said I, 'he is an unmannerly hog. But he has one redeeming
feature. He is a man of taste. He did admire you, Thorndyke. While you
were talking he couldn't keep his eyes off you.'

'Possibly he was trying to memorise my features in case I should turn out
to be a swell cracksman.'

I laughed at the idea of even such a barbarian as this mistaking my
distinguished-looking colleague for a member of the swell mob. But it was
not impossible. And certainly the squire had scrutinised my friend's
features with an intensity that nothing but suspicion could justify.

'Perhaps,' said I, 'he suffers from an obsession on the subject of
burglars. Our host's remarks seemed to suggest something of the kind. I
wonder what he was saying to the lodge-keeper. It looked to me as if the
custodian was receiving a slight dressing-down on our account.'

'Probably he was,' replied Thorndyke. 'But I think that, if my learned
friend had happened to be furnished with eyes in the back of his head--'

'As my learned senior appears to be,' I interjected.

'--he would already have formed a more definite opinion as to what took
place. In the absence of the retrocephalic arrangement, I suggest that we
slip through this opening in the hedge and sit down under the bank.'

Stooping to avoid the thick upper foliage, he dived through the opening
and I followed, with no small curiosity as to what it was that my
extraordinarily observant colleague had seen. Presumably some one was
following us, and if so, as the opening occurred at a sharp bend of the
road, our disappearance would have been unobserved.

'It is my belief, Thorndyke,' I said, as we sat down under the bank,
'that your optical arrangements are like those of the giraffe. I believe
you can see all round the horizon at once.'

Thorndyke laughed softly. 'The human field of vision, Anstey,' said he,
'as measured by the perimeter, is well over a hundred and eighty degrees.
It doesn't take much lateral movement of the head to convert it into
three hundred and sixty. The really important factor is not optical but
mental. That earnest conversation with the gatekeeper suggested a
possibility, though a rather remote one. Ordinary human eyesight, used
with the necessary attention, was quite sufficient to show that the
improbable had happened, as it often does. Hush! Look through that chink
in the hedge.'

As he concluded in a whisper, rapid footfalls became audible. Nearer and
nearer they approached, and then, through my spy-hole, I saw a man in
cord breeches and leggings and a velveteen coat walk swiftly past. The
gatekeeper had been dressed thus, and presumably the man was he, though I
had not observed him closely enough to be able to recognise him with
certainty.

'Now, why is he following us?' I asked, taking the identity for granted.

'We mustn't assume that he is following us at all with a definite intent,
though I suspect he is. But he may be merely going the same way. He may
have business in Wendover.'

'It would be rather amusing to dodge him once or twice and see what his
game is,' I said with the schoolboy instinct that lingers on, if
atavistically, in the adult male.

'It would be highly amusing,' Thorndyke agreed, 'but it wouldn't serve our
purpose, which is to ascertain his purpose and keep our knowledge to
ourselves. We had better move on now if he is out of sight.'

He was out of sight, having reached and turned down the Tring Road. We
followed at a sharp walk, and as we came out into the Tring Road, behold
him standing in the footway a couple of hundred yards towards Wendover,
looking about him with a rather foolish air of bewilderment. As soon as
he saw us, he lifted his foot to the bank and proceeded to attend to his
bootlace.

'We won't notice him,' said Thorndyke. 'He is evidently an artless soul
and probably believes that he has not been recognised. Let us encourage
that eminently desirable belief.'

We passed him with an almost aggressive appearance of unconsciousness on
both sides, and pursued our way along the undulating road.

'I don't think there is much doubt now that he is following us,' said I,
'and the question is, why is he doing it?'

'Yes,' said Thorndyke, 'that is the question. He may have had
instructions to see us safely out of the district, or he may have had
further instructions. We shall see when we get to the station. Meanwhile
I am tempted to try a new invention of Polton's. It is slightly
fantastic, but he made me promise to carry it in my pocket and try it
when I had a chance. Now, here is the chance, and here is the
instrument.'

He took from his pocket a leather case from which he extracted a rather
solidly-made pair of spectacles. 'You see,' he said, 'Polton has long had
the idea that I ought to be provided with some means of observing what is
going on behind me, and he has devised this apparatus for the purpose.
Like all Polton's inventions, it is quite simple and practicable. As you
see, it consists of a rigid spectacle-frame fitted with dummy
glasses--clear, plain glass--at the outer edge of which is fixed a little
disc of speculum-metal worked to an optically true plane surface and set
at a minute angle to the glass. As the disc is quite close to the eye, it
enables the wearer, by the very slightest turn of the head, to get a
clear view directly behind him. Would you like to try it?'

I took the spectacles from him and put them on, and was amazed at their
efficiency. Although the discs were hardly bigger than split peas, they
gave me a perfectly clear view along the road behind us--as if I had been
looking through a small, round hole--and this with a scarcely appreciable
turn of the head. Viewed from behind, I must have appeared to be looking
straight before me.

'But,' I exclaimed, 'it seems a most practical device, and I shall insist
on Polton making me a pair.'

'That will please him,' said Thorndyke, and he added, reflectively 'if
only there were a few thousand more Poltons--men who found their
satisfaction in being useful and giving pleasure to their fellows--what a
delightful place this world would be!'

I continued to wear the magic spectacles all the way to Wendover, finding
a childish pleasure in watching the unconscious gatekeeper who was
dogging our footsteps and taking ludicrous precautions to keep--as he
thought--out of sight. Only as we descended the long hill into the
beautiful little town did I take them off, the better to enjoy the charm
of the picturesque approach with its row of thatched cottages and the
modest clock-turret, standing up against the background of the wooded
heights that soared above Ellesborough. At the station we had the good
fortune to find a train due and already signalled, but we delayed taking
our tickets until our follower arrived, which he did, in evident haste, a
couple of minutes later, being, no doubt, acquainted with the times of
the trains. As soon as he appeared, Thorndyke sauntered to the
booking-office wicket and gave him time to approach before demanding in
clear, audible tones, two firsts to Marylebone. The gatekeeper followed,
and thrusting his head and shoulders deep into the opening, as if he were
about to crawl through, made his demand in a muffled undertone.

'We need not trouble ourselves about him any more,' said Thorndyke,
'until we get to London. Then we shall know whether he is or is not
trying to shadow us.'

When we had settled ourselves in an empty compartment and began to charge
our pipes as the train moved off, I returned to the question of our
tactics.

'What do you propose to do, Thorndyke, if this fellow tries to follow us
home? Shall we let him run us to earth, or shall we lose him?'

'I see no reason why we should make a secret of who we are and where we
live. That is apparently what Blake wants to know--that is, if this man
is really shadowing us.'

'But,' I urged, 'isn't it generally wiser to withhold information until
you know what use is going to be made of it?'

'As a rule, it is,' he admitted. 'But it may happen that the use made of
information by one party may be highly illuminating to the other. We may
assume that Blake wants to know who we are simply because he suffers from
an obsession of suspicion and thinks that we were in his grounds for some
unlawful purpose. But he may have some other object, and if he has, I
should like to know what it is; and the best way to find out is to let
him have our names and address.'

To this I assented, though I was a little mystified. The man Blake was no
concern of ours, and it did not seem to matter in the least what
suspicions of us had got into his thick head. However Thorndyke probably
knew his own business--and meanwhile the presence of this sleuth-hound
provided an element of comedy of which I was far from unappreciative, and
which my sedate colleague enjoyed without disguise.

When we alighted at Marylebone, we walked quickly to the barrier, but
having passed through, we sauntered slowly to the main exit.

'Do you think Polton's spectacles would be very conspicuous?' I asked.

My colleague smiled indulgently. 'The new toy has caught on,' said he,
'and it would be undeniably useful at the present moment. No, put the
spectacles on. The discs are hardly noticeable to a casual observer.'

Accordingly I slipped the appliance on as we strolled out into the
Marylebone Road and was able, almost immediately, to report progress.

'He is watching us from the exit. Which way are we going?'

'I think,' replied Thorndyke, 'as he is a country cousin, we will make
things easy for him and give him a little exercise after the confinement
of the train. The Euston Road route is less crowded than Oxford Street.'

We turned eastward and started at an easy pace along the Marylebone Road
and Euston Road, keeping on the less-frequented side of the street. I was
a little self-conscious in regard to the spectacles, but apparently no
one noticed them; and by their aid I was able to watch with astonishing
ease our artless follower and to amuse myself by noting his conflicting
anxieties to keep us in view and himself out of sight. We turned down
Woburn Place, crossed Queen Square to Great Ormond Street and proceeding
by Lamb's-Conduit Street, Red Lion Street, Great Turnstile, Lincoln's
Inn, and Chancery Lane, crossed Fleet Street to Middle Temple Lane. Here
we slowed down, lest the sleuth-hound should lose us, and as we were now
in our own neighbourhood, I removed the spectacles and restored them to
their owner.

At the entrance to Pump Court we separated, Thorndyke proceeding at a
leisurely pace towards Crown Office Row while I hurried through the
court; and having halted in the Cloisters to make sure that the sleuth
was not pursuing me, I darted through Fig-Tree Court and across King's
Bench Walk to our chambers, where I found Polton laying a sort of hybrid
tea and supper.

To our trusty assistant I rapidly communicated the state of affairs
(including the triumphant success of the magic spectacles, at which his
face became a positive labyrinth of ecstatic wrinkles); and having
provided ourselves with field-glasses, we stationed ourselves at the
laboratory window, from whence we had the gratification of watching
Thorndyke emerge majestically from Crown Office Row, followed shortly by
the man in the velveteen coat, whose efforts to make himself invisible
brought Polton to the verge of apoplexy.

'Hadn't I better follow him and see where he goes to, sir?' the latter
suggested.

The suggestion was put to Thorndyke when he entered, but was rejected.

'I don't think we want to know where he goes from here,' said he. 'But
still, seeing that he has come so far, it might be kind of you, Polton,
to go down and give him a chance of obtaining any information that he
wants.'

Polton needed no second bidding. Clapping on his hat, he set forth
gleefully down the stairs. But in a minute or two he was back again,
somewhat crestfallen.

'It's no go, sir,' he reported. 'I found him copying the names on the
door-post in the entry, and I think he must have got them all down, for
when he saw me, he was off like a lamplighter.'

Thorndyke chuckled. 'And to think,' said he, 'that our friend, the
squire, could have got all the information he wanted by the simple
expedient of asking for our cards. Verily, suspicious folk give
themselves a deal of unnecessary trouble.'



CHAPTER SIXTEEN - MR BRODRIBB'S EMBASSY


There is a certain psychological phenomenon known to those financial
navigators who have business on the deep and perilous waters of the Stock
Exchange as 'jobbing backwards.' It is not their monopoly, however. To
ordinary mortals--who describe it as 'prophesying after the event'--it
has been familiar from time immemorial, and has always been associated
with a degree of wisdom and certainty strangely lacking in prophecy of a
more hasty and premature kind.

Reviewing the curious case of which this narrative is the record, I am
tempted to embark on this eminently satisfying form of mental exercise.
But when I do so, I am disposed to look with some surprise at the very
conspicuous deficiency in the power of 'jobbing forward' which I
displayed while the events which I am chronicling were in progress. Now,
I can see that all the striking and significant facts (only they then
appeared neither striking nor significant) which enabled Thorndyke, from
the very first, to pursue a steady advance along a visible trail, were in
my possession as much as they were in his. But, whereas in his hands they
became connected so as to form a continuous clue, in mine they remained
separate, and apparently unrelated fragments. At the time, I thought that
Thorndyke was hiding from me what material evidence he had. Now it is
obvious to me (as also to the acute reader, who has, no doubt, already
pieced the evidence together) that he not only concealed nothing, but
actually gave me several of the very broadest hints.

So, despite the knowledge that I really possessed, if I had only realised
it, I remained utterly in the dark. All that I knew for certain was that
Winifred was encompassed by dangers; that human wolves prowled about her
habitation and dogged her footsteps when she went abroad.

But even these perils had their compensations, for they gave an
appearance of necessity to the constant companionship that my
inclinations prompted. It was not a mere pilgrim of love that wended his
way daily to Jacob Street, but an appointed guardian with duties to
discharge. In the personally-conducted tours through the town, on
business connected with the drawings that Winifred continued to produce
with unabated industry, I was carrying out an indispensable function,
since she was not permitted to go abroad without an efficient escort; and
thus duty marched with pleasure.

Intimate, however, as my relations with Winifred had become, and
recognised now even by Percy, I abstained from any confidences on the
subject of our investigation of the murder. That was Thorndyke's affair,
and although he had made no stipulation on the subject, I had the feeling
that he expected me to keep my own counsel, as he certainly did himself.
Accordingly, in describing our visit to Beauchamp Blake--in which both
she and Percy were intensely interested--I said nothing about the man
whom I had seen in Aylesbury.

One exception I had nearly made, but thought better of it. The occasion
arose one afternoon when we were examining and criticising her latest
drawing. As we stood before the easel, a shaft of sunlight, coming in
through the great window, struck a part of the drawing and totally
altered the character of the colouring. I remarked on the change of
colour produced by the more intense illumination.

'Yes,' said she, 'and that reminds me of a very odd discovery that I made
the other day and that I meant to tell you about.' She unfastened the
silken cord by which she wore the mysterious locket suspended from her
neck, and opening the little gold volume, held it in the sunbeam so that
the light fell upon the coil of hair that it enclosed.

'Do you see?' she asked, looking at me expectantly.

'Yes,' I answered. 'In the sunlight the hair seems to have quite a
distinct blue tint.'

'Exactly!' she exclaimed. 'Now isn't that very remarkable? I have often
heard of blue-black hair, but I thought it was just a phrase expressing
intense blackness without any tinge of brown. But this is really blue,
quite a clear, rich blue, like the colour of deeply-toned stained glass.
Do you suppose it is natural? It can hardly be a dye.'

It was then that I had nearly told her of Thorndyke's discovery and his
strange and cryptic utterances on the subject. But a principle is a
principle. The fact had been communicated to me by him, and I did not
feel at liberty to disclose it without his sanction, though, to be sure,
there was nothing confidential about it. His examination of the locket
had been, apparently, a matter of mere curiosity. For Thorndyke was so
constituted that he could not bring himself willingly to leave a problem
unsolved, even though its solution promised no useful result. To him the
solution was an end in itself, undertaken for the pleasure of the mental
exercise. And this locket evidently held a secret. To what extent he had
mastered that secret, I could not guess. Nor did I particularly care. It
was not my secret, and I had no taste for working out irrelevant puzzles.

'I should hardly think the blue colour can be natural,' said I, and then,
by way of compromise, I added: 'but I expect Thorndyke could tell you.
When you come to see us again you had better show it to him and hear what
he says about it.'

I took the locket from her hand and looked it over with half-impatient
curiosity, remembering Thorndyke's exasperating advice, and recalling his
reference to the hallmark on the back, I turned it over and scrutinised
the minute device.

'You are looking at the hallmark, or the goldsmith's "touch," or whatever
it is,' said Winifred. 'It is rather curious. I have never seen one like
it before. It certainly is not an ordinary English hallmark. Let me get
you a magnifying-glass.'

She fetched a strong reading-glass, and through this I examined the mark
more minutely. But I could make nothing of it. It consisted of four
punch-marks, of which the first was a capital A surmounted by a small
crown and bearing two palm-leaves, the second a kind of escutcheon
bearing the initials AH surmounted by a crown, and over that a
fleur-de-lis; the third bore simply a capital L, and the fourth the head
of some animal which looked like a horse.

'It is a curious and unusual mark,' said I, handing back to her the
locket and the glass, 'but it conveys no information to me beyond the
suggestion that the locket is apparently of foreign workmanship, probably
French or Italian, But,' I added, with a malicious hope of seeing my
reverend senior cornered, 'you had better ask Thorndyke about it when you
come. He is sure to be able to tell you all about it.'

'He seems to be a sort of human encyclopaedia,' Winifred remarked as she
refastened the locket. 'I shall adopt your advice and consult him about
that hair, but I shan't be able to come this week. There is quite a big
batch of drawings to be done, and that means some long working days.
Perhaps you can arrange an afternoon in the latter part of next week for
the oracular tea-party.'

I promised to ascertain my colleague's arrangements and to fix a day, but
the promise was left unredeemed and the 'oracular tea-party' was thrust
into the background by new and more stirring events, which began to cast
their shadows before them that very evening. For, when I entered our
chambers, behold Mr Brodribb and Sir Lawrence Drayton settled in
armchairs by the fire, in company with the small table and the inevitable
decanter. Evidently some kind of conference was in progress.

'Ha!' said Brodribb. 'Here is the fourth conspirator. Now we are
complete. I have been devilling for your respected senior, Anstey, and I
have called to report progress. Also, as you see, I have captured Sir
Lawrence and brought him along as he seemed to be an interested party.'

'He is a somewhat mystified party at present,' said Drayton, 'but
probably some explanations are contemplated.'

'They are going to begin as soon as Anstey has filled his glass,' said
Brodribb, bearing in mind, no doubt, the laws of conviviality as
expounded by Mrs Gamp; and as the stipulated condition was complied with,
he proceeded: 'It was suggested to me by Thorndyke a short time ago that
the tenure of the Beauchamp Blake property would be put on a more
satisfactory footing if the missing title-deeds could be recovered.'

'More satisfactory to the present tenant, you mean,' said Drayton.

'More satisfactory to everybody,' said Brodribb.

'That would depend on the nature of the documents recovered,' Sir
Lawrence remarked. 'But let us hear the rest of the suggestion.'

'The suggestion of our learned and Machiavellian friend was that, since
the documents are believed to be hidden somewhere in the house, it would
be a good plan to have a systematic survey of the premises carried out by
some person who has an expert knowledge of secret chambers and
hiding-places.'

'Do you know of any such person?' Drayton asked.

Brodribb smiled a fat smile and replenished his glass. 'I do,' he replied
'and so do you. Thorndyke himself is quite an authority on the subject;
and, of course, the suggestion was that the survey should be made and the
search conducted by him. Naturally. You can guess why, I suppose?'

'I can't,' said Drayton, 'if you are suggesting any reason other than the
one you have given.'

'My dear Drayton,' chuckled Brodribb, 'can you imagine Thorndyke
embarking on a search of this kind without some definite leading facts?
No, no. Our friend has got something up his sleeve. I've no doubt that he
knows exactly where to put his hand on those documents before he begins.'

'Do you, Thorndyke?' Sir Lawrence asked, with an inquisitive glance at my
colleague.

'Now,' the latter replied, 'I put it to you, Drayton, whether it is
likely that I, who have never been in this house in my life, have never
seen a plan of it, and have no knowledge whatever of its internal
construction or arrangement, can possibly know where these documents are
hidden.'

'It certainly doesn't seem very probable,' Drayton admitted, and it
certainly did not. But still I noted that Thorndyke's answer contained no
specific denial, a circumstance that apparently did not escape Brodribb's
observation, for that astute practitioner received the reply with an
unabashed wink and wagged his head knowingly as he savoured his wine.

'You can think what you like,' said he, 'and so can I. However, to
proceed: the suggestion was that I should put the proposal to the present
tenant, Arthur Blake, and expound its advantages, but, of course, say
nothing as to the source of the inspiration. Well, I did so. I wrote to
him, pointing out the desirability of getting possession of the deeds,
and suggesting that he should call at my office and talk the matter
over.'

'And how did he take it?' asked Drayton.

'Very calmly--at first. He called at my office yesterday and opened the
subject. But he didn't seem at all keen on it; thought it sounded rather
like a wild-goose chase--until I mentioned Thorndyke. Then his interest
woke up at once. The mention of a real, tangible expert put the matter on
a different plane; gave it an air of reality. And he had heard of
Thorndyke--read about him in the papers, I suppose--and, of course, I
cracked him up. So in the end he became as keen as mustard and anxious to
get a start made as soon as possible. And not only keen on his own
account. To my surprise, he raised the question of the other claimant,
Peter Blake's son. Of course he knew about Peter Blake's claim, although
it was before his time, and it seems that he read the newspaper report of
the curious statement that Miss Blake--Peter's daughter--made at the
inquest on Sir Lawrence's brother. Well, in effect, he suggested--very
properly, as I thought--that Miss Blake might like to be present when
the search was made.'

'I certainly think,' said Drayton, 'she should be, if not actually
present, at least represented. There might be some documents affecting
her brother directly.'

'That was his point, and he authorised me to invite her to be present and
to make all necessary arrangements. So the question is, Thorndyke, when
can you go down and find the documents?'

'I am prepared to begin the search the day after tomorrow.'

'And with regard to Miss Blake? You are acquainted with her, I think?'

'Yes,' replied Thorndyke. 'We can communicate with her. But my feeling is
that it would hardly be desirable for her to be present while the actual
survey is being made. It may be a tedious affair, and we shall get on
with it better without spectators. Of course I shall know if anything is
found and shall probably ascertain its nature; and in that case she can
be informed.'

Drayton nodded, but he did not seem quite satisfied. 'I suppose that will
do,' said he, 'though I would rather that she were directly represented.
You see, Thorndyke, you are acting for Blake, and if Anstey goes with
you, he is your coadjutor. I wonder if Blake would object to my looking
in later in the day. I could, as I have to go down to Aylesbury the day
after tomorrow. What do you say, Brodribb?'

'I see no objection,' was the reply, 'in fact, I will take the
responsibility of inviting you to call and see what progress has been
made.'

'Very well, then,' said Drayton, 'I will come about four. I shall go down
by car, and when I have finished with my client, I can easily take
Beauchamp Blake on my way home. And for that matter,' he added, 'I don't
see why Miss Blake shouldn't come with me. My client's wife could
entertain her while I am transacting the business, and then she could
come on with me to the house. How does that strike you, Thorndyke?'

'It seems quite an admirable arrangement,' my colleague replied. 'She
will be saved the tedium of waiting about and she will have the advantage
of your advice if any delicate inquiries have to be made.'

Drayton's suggestion was accordingly adopted, subject to Winifred's
consent--which I did not doubt she would give readily, notwithstanding
the pressure of her work--and shortly afterwards our two friends took
their departure, leaving me a little puzzled as to the origin and purpose
of the conference and the projected expedition.

It had been a rather curious transaction. There were several points that
I failed to understand. In the first place, what interest had Thorndyke
in these title-deeds? Assuming him to take Percy's rather indefinite
claim seriously--which he apparently did--was the establishment of the
title desirable from his point of view? I should have thought not. It had
appeared that Blake was anxious to sell the property and had been
restrained only by the insecurity of the title. But if the title were
made secure, he would almost certainly sell the estate, which was the
last thing that Percy's advisers could wish. Then could it be that our
shrewd old friend Brodribb was right? That Thorndyke had actually
ascertained or inferred the whereabouts of the missing deeds? In the case
of any other person the supposition would have seemed ridiculous. But
Thorndyke's power of reasoning from apparently unilluminating facts was
so extraordinary that the possibility had to be admitted, and his evasive
reply to Drayton's direct question seemed to make it even probable.

'I don't see,' said I, with a faint hope of extracting some trifle of
information from Thorndyke, 'why you are so keen on these title-deeds.'

'That,' he replied, 'is because you persist in thinking in sections. If
you would take a larger view of the subject this proposed search would
appear to you in a rather different light.'

'I wonder if there is really going to be a search,' I said craftily, 'or
whether old Brodribb was right. I am inclined to suspect that he was.'

'I commend your respect for Brodribb's opinions,' he replied. 'Our friend
is an uncommonly wide-awake old gentleman. But he was only guessing.
Whatever we find at Beauchamp Blake--if we find anything--will be
discovered by bonafide research and experiment. And that raises another
question. Are you going down with Drayton or did you propose to come with
me?'

'I don't want to be in your way,' I replied, a little piqued at the
question. 'Otherwise I should, of course, have liked to come with you.

'Your help would be very valuable,' said he, 'if you are willing to
sacrifice the other attractions. But if you are going to help me, we had
better take a little preliminary practice together. There is a set of
empty chambers next door. Tomorrow I will get the keys from the
treasurer's office, and we can put in some spare time making careful
measured plans. The whole art of discovering secret chambers is in the
making of plans so exact as to account for every inch of space, and
showing accurately the precise thickness of every wall and floor. And a
little practice in the art of opening locked doors without the aid of
keys will not be amiss.'

This programme was duly carried out. On the morrow we conveyed into the
empty chambers a plane table covered with drawing-paper, a surveyor's
tape, and a measuring-rod; and with these appliances, I proceeded, under
Thorndyke's direction, to make a scaled plan of the set of rooms, showing
the exact thickness of all the walls and the spaces occupied by chimneys,
cupboards, and all kinds of projections and irregularities. It was a
longer business than I had expected; indeed I did not get it completed
until the evening was closing in, and when at last I had filled in the
final details and took the completed plan to our chambers for Thorndyke's
inspection, I found my colleague busily engaged in preparations for the
morrow's adventure.

'Well!' I exclaimed, when my plan had been examined and replaced by a
fresh sheet of paper, 'this is an extraordinary outfit! I hope we shan't
have to carry this case home after dark.'

It was certainly a most sinister collection of appliances that Thorndyke
had assembled in the suitcase. There was a brace and bits, and auger, a
bunch of skeleton keys, an electric lantern, a pair of telescopic
jemmies, and two automatic pistols.

'What on earth are the pistols for?' I demanded.

'Those,' he replied, 'are just an extra precaution. Many of these
hiding-holes are fitted with snap locks, and it is quite possible to find
oneself caught in a trap. Then, if there should be no room to use a
jemmy, it might be necessary to blow the lock to pieces.'

'Well,' I remarked, 'it is as well to take all necessary precautions, but
if Blake sees those pistols they will need a good deal of explaining,
especially as he will certainly recognise us as the two suspicious
visitors.'

'We need not exhibit them ostentatiously,' said Thorndyke. 'We can carry
them in our pockets, and the jemmies as well. Then if the necessity to
use them arises, they will explain themselves.'

The rest of the evening we spent in a course of instruction in the
arrangement and design of the various kinds of secret chambers,
hiding-holes, aumbries, and receptacles for documents, sacred vessels,
and other objects that, in times of political upheaval, might need to be
concealed. On this subject Thorndyke was a mine of information, and he
produced a note-book filled with descriptions, plans, sections, and
photographs of most of the examples that had been examined, which we went
over together and studied in the minutest detail. By the end of the
evening, I had not only acquired an immense amount of knowledge on an
obscure out-of-the-way subject, but I had become in so far infected with
Thorndyke's enthusiasm that I found myself looking forward almost eagerly
to the romantic quest on which the following day was to see us launched.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - THE SECRET CHAMBER


It was close on half-past eleven when our train drew up in Wendover
Station. We had just finished our rather premature lunch and had packed
up the luncheon baskets and placed them on the seats; and now, lifting
down the suitcase and the plane table with its folding tripod, stepped
out on to the platform.

'I wonder,' said I, 'if Blake has sent any kind of conveyance for us. I
don't suppose he has.'

My surmise turned out to be correct. When we went out into the station
approach, the only vehicle in sight was a closed fly, which we decided to
charter; and having stowed our impedimenta on the front seat and given
the driver the necessary directions, we entered and took possession of
the back seat. The coachman climbed to the box and started the horse at a
quiet jog-trot, turning into the Aylesbury, or London Road to avoid the
steep hill down which we had come to the station on the last occasion. As
we passed the fine, brick-towered windmill and came out on the country
road, Thorndyke leaned forward and opened the suitcase.

'We had better put the more suspicious-looking objects in our pockets,'
said he. 'We may not want them at all, and then they won't have been
seen, whereas if they are wanted, the necessity will explain our having
provided ourselves with them.'

He took out the bunch of skeleton keys and slipped them into his coat
pocket, and then picked out the two telescopic jemmies, one of which he
handed to me while he bestowed the other in some kind of interior
pocket--into which, I noticed, it disappeared with singular completeness,
suggesting a suspicious suitability of the receptacle. Finally he took
out the two automatic pistols, and having pocketed one, handed me the
other after a careful and detailed explanation of its mechanism and the
proper way to hold and fire it. I took the weapon from him and stowed it
in my hip-pocket, very gingerly and with some reluctance, for I detest
firearms; and as I placed it carefully with the muzzle pointed as far as
possible away from my own person, I reflected once more with dim surprise
on the circumstance that Thorndyke, whose dislike of these weapons was as
great as my own, should have adopted this clumsy and dangerous means of
dealing with a somewhat remote contingency. It seemed an excessive
precaution, and I found creeping into my mind a faint suspicion that my
colleague might possibly have had something more in his mind than he had
disclosed, though that was even more incomprehensible, considering the
very peaceful nature of our quest.

I was still turning these matters over in my mind when the fly reached
the crossroads and entered the lane. Here the appearance of the inn just
ahead recalled me to our immediate business, and old Brodribb's
observation recurred to me.

'How are you going to start, Thorndyke?' I asked. 'I presume you have got
some definite programme?'

'I shall be guided by what Blake has to tell us,' he replied. 'He may
have a good plan of the house, and it is possible that he has made some
explorations of his own which will give us a start. There is our old
friend, the lodge-keeper, mightily surprised to see us.'

I caught a passing glimpse of the sleuth, staring at us in undisguised
astonishment; then we swung round into the drive, and the old house came
into view. We were evidently expected, for as we approached the house a
man came out of the main entrance and stood on the wide threshold
awaiting our arrival. Just as the fly was about to draw up opposite the
portico, Thorndyke said in a low voice:

'If we are offered any refreshments, Anstey, we had better decline them.
We have had lunch, you know.'

I glanced at him in amazement. It was a most astonishing remark. But
there was no time to ask for any explanation, for at that moment the fly
drew up, the driver jumped down from his seat, and the squire came
forward to receive us.

'We have met before, I think,' said the latter as we shook hands. 'If I
had known who you were I should have invited you to look at the house
then. However, it isn't too late. I see you have brought your traps with
you,' he added, with a glance at the plane table and its tripod.

'Yes,' said Thorndyke, 'we are prepared to make a regular survey, if
necessary. But perhaps you have a plan of the house?'

'There is a plan,' replied Blake, 'though I fancy it is not very exact. I
will show it to you. Probably it will give you a hint where to begin.'

As I had now settled with the fly-man, we entered the house, and Blake
conducted us into a large room, furnished as a library and containing a
considerable collection of books. On a table by one of the windows was a
plan spread out and held open by paperweights.

'You see,' said Blake, 'this is an architect's plan, made, I think, when
some repairs were contemplated. It is little more than a sketch, and
doesn't give much detail. But it will help you to take a preliminary look
round before lunch.'

'We have had lunch,' said Thorndyke. 'We got that over in the train so
that we should have a clear day before us. Time is precious, and we ought
to get to work at once. I suppose you have not made any sort of
investigation on your own account?'

As Thorndyke mentioned our premature meal, the squire gave him a quick
glance and seemed to look a little resentful. But he made no comment
beyond answering the question.

'I have not made any regular examination of the house, but I have poked
about a little in the old part and I have found one secret chamber, which
I have utilised as a photographic dark-room. Perhaps you would like to
see that first. There may be some other hiding-places connected with it
which I have overlooked. There is a tall cupboard in it which I have used
to store my chemicals.'

'We may have to empty that cupboard to see if there is anything behind
it,' said Thorndyke. 'At any rate, we had better begin by overhauling
it.'

He opened the suitcase and took from it the surveyor's tape, which he put
in his pocket.

'Hadn't we better take the lamp?' said I.

'You won't want that,' said Blake. 'There is a portable lamp in the
room.'

I was half-inclined to take it, nevertheless, but as Thorndyke shut the
suitcase and prepared to follow our host, I let the matter rest.

From the library we passed out into a long gallery, one side of which was
hung with portraits, presumably of members of the family, and some of
them of considerable antiquity, to judge by the style of the painting and
the ancient costumes. Then we crossed several rooms--fine, stately
apartments with florid, moulded ceilings and walls of oaken panelling, on
which I noticed a very respectable display of pictures. The rooms were
fully furnished--very largely, I noticed, with the oak and walnut
furniture that must have been put in when the new wing was built. But
they were all pervaded by a sense of desolation and neglect; they were
dusty and looked faded, unused, and forgotten. Nowhere was there a sign
of human occupation, nor, I noticed, did we meet, in the whole course of
our journey across this part of the house, a single servant or retainer,
or, indeed, any living creature whatever.

A door at the end of a short passage, on being unlocked and opened,
revealed a short flight of wooden stairs, and when we had descended these
we found ourselves in a totally different atmosphere. This was the old
timber house, and as we crossed its deserted rooms and trod its
uncarpeted oaken floors, our footsteps resounded with dismal echoes among
the empty chambers and corridors, conveying a singular sense of
remoteness and desolation. The gloomy old rooms with their dirt-encrusted
casements, the massive beams in their ceilings, the blackened
wainscoting, rich with carved ornament but shrouded with the dust and
grime of years of neglect, the gouty-legged Elizabethan tables and
ponderous oaken chairs and settles; all these dusty and forgotten
appurtenances of a vanished generation of men seemed to have died with
their long-departed human associates and to be silently awaiting their
final decay and dissolution. It was an eerie place, dead and desolate as
an Egyptian tomb.

And yet, strangely enough, it was here that I saw the one solitary sign
of human life. We were passing along a narrow gallery or corridor when I
noticed, high up in the panelled wall, one of those small interior
windows which one sees in old houses, placed opposite an exterior window
to light an inner chamber. Looking up at this little window, I saw the
face of some person looking down on us. It was the merest glimpse that I
caught, for the window was coated with dust and the room behind it in
darkness. But there was the face of some human creature, man, woman, or
child, and its appearance in this remote, sepulchral place, so far from
the domain of the living household, smote upon me strangely and seemed to
make even more intense the uncanny solitude of the empty mansion.

I was still speculating curiously on who this watcher might be, when our
host halted by the wall of a smallish room.

'This is the place,' said he, pointing to the wall. 'I wonder if you can
find the door.'

The wainscoting in this room was nearly plain, the only ornament being a
range of very flat pilasters and a dado moulding, enriched by a row of
hemispherical bosses. Thorndyke ran his eye over the wainscoting, noting
more particularly the way in which the pilasters were joined to the
intervening panels.

'I suppose,' said he, 'we had better try the most obvious probabilities
first. The natural thing would be to use one of these bosses to cover the
release of the lock.'

Blake assented (or dissented) with an inarticulate grunt, and Thorndyke
then proceeded to pass along the row of bosses, pressing each one firmly
in turn. After about a dozen trials, he came to one in the middle of a
pilaster which yielded to the pressure of his thumb, sinking in some two
inches, in the fashion of a large electric-bell push. Holding the 'push'
in with his thumb, he pressed vigorously against the adjoining panel,
first on one side of the pilaster and then on the other, but in neither
case was there any sign of the panel moving, though I added my weight to
his.

'You haven't quite hit it off yet,' Blake informed us.

Thorndyke reflected for a few seconds. Then, keeping the boss pressed in,
he put his other thumb on the next one of the series, which was at the
edge of the panel, and gave a sharp push, whereupon this boss also sank
in with an audible click and then the whole panel swung inward,
disclosing a narrow and wonderfully well-concealed doorway.

'Good,' said Blake. 'You've solved the problem more quickly than I did.
Just hold the door open a moment. It has rather a strong spring, and I
generally prop it open with this block.' As he spoke he fetched a small
block of wood from under an adjacent table and set it against the foot of
the door.

'I had better go first,' said he, 'as I know where to find the lamp.'
With this he entered before us, striking a wax match and shading it with
his hand. The dim illumination showed a narrow, passage-like room,
apparently a good deal more lofty than the low-ceiled room from which we
had entered it, and dimly revealed a very high cupboard near the farther
end. We had groped our way after him a few paces when he turned
suddenly. 'How stupid of me!' he exclaimed. 'I had forgotten that I had
left the lamp in the next room. Excuse me one moment.'

He slipped past us, and kicking the block away, ran out, pulling the door
sharply after him, when it slammed to with a loud click of the latch.

'What the deuce did he kick that block away for,' I exclaimed, 'and leave
us all in the dark?'

'We shall probably find out presently,' replied Thorndyke. 'Meanwhile,
stand perfectly still. Don't move hand or foot.'

'Why do you say that?' I demanded with something like a thrill of alarm,
for there was something rather disturbing in the tone of Thorndyke's
sharply-spoken command. And standing there in the pitchy darkness, locked
in a secret chamber in the very heart of this great, empty mansion, there
came to me a flash of sudden suspicion. I recalled Thorndyke's mysterious
warning to take no food in this house; I remembered the loaded pistol
that he had put into my hand, and I saw again that unaccountable face at
the window, watching us as Blake led us--whither? 'You don't think Blake
is up to any mischief, do you?' I asked.

'I can't say,' he replied. 'Perhaps he will come with the lamp presently.
But we may as well see where we are while we are waiting.'

I heard a rustling as if he were searching his pockets. Then, suddenly,
there broke out a bright light that flooded the little room and rendered
all the objects in it plainly visible.

It was a queer-looking room, almost more like a rather irregularly-shaped
passage, for none of the walls were straight, and the ceiling sloped up
from a height of about eight feet at one end to nearly twelve at the
other. Near the farther end was a very high wall-cupboard, and at the
extreme end, facing us, was a small door, about three feet above the
floor level and approached by a flight of five wooden stairs.

The appearance of the light was reassuring, and still more so was the
evidence that it afforded of Thorndyke's foresight in having provided
himself with this supplementary lamp. But much less reassuring was his
next observation after having flashed his light all over the room.

'I suspect we have seen the last of our host--for the present, at any
rate. Look at the top of the cupboard, Anstey.'

I looked at the cupboard. It was between eight and nine feet high, and
was fitted with folding doors, of which the leaf nearest to us was half
open; and on the top of the half-open door, near the free corner, a
little board had been placed with one end resting on the door and the
other insecurely supported by the moulding at the top of the cupboard;
and on the board, delicately balanced over the door, was a large chemical
flask, filled with what looked like water and fitted with a cork.

'What do you make of it?' Thorndyke asked, keeping his powerful
inspection-lamp focused on the flask as I gazed at it.

'It looks like some sort of booby-trap,' said I. 'It is a wonder that
flask wasn't shaken down when Blake slammed the door.'

'He probably expected that it would be, and it very nearly was, for you
can see that it has jarred to the extreme edge. But failing the slam of
the door, he no doubt assumes that we, being as he imagines in total
darkness, shall grope our way along the wall until we come to the
cupboard. Then, the instant we touch the door, down will come the flask.
It is quite an ingenious plan.'

'But what is the purpose of it?' I demanded. 'It can't be a practical
joke.'

'It isn't,' said he. 'Far from it. I should say it is very deadly
earnest. Unless I am mistaken, that flask is filled with some volatile
poison. The instant that it falls and breaks, this room will become a
lethal chamber.'

At these words, uttered by Thorndyke in tones as calm and emotionless as
if he were giving a demonstration to his students, a chill of horror
crept over me. My very hair seemed to stir. It was an appalling
situation. I stared in dismay and terror at the flask, poised aloft and
ready, as it seemed, at the slightest movement, or even a loudly-spoken
word, to come crashing down and stifle us with its deadly fumes.

'Great God!' I gasped. 'Then we are in a trap! But is there nothing that
we can do? The flask is too high up for us to reach it.'

'It would be sheer insanity to go near it; said Thorndyke. 'But I don't
think we need be very disturbed. There must be some way of getting out of
this chamber. Let us go and reconnoitre the door, though I daresay our
friend has attended to that.'

We tiptoed cautiously back to the door and examined its construction. The
mechanism was very simple, but like most old locksmith's work, extremely
massive. The two bosses outside evidently were the ends of two sliding
bars and bolts of wood. The one which Thorndyke had pressed first
apparently had a slot which, when it was brought opposite the massive
latch, allowed the latter to rise. That at least was what Thorndyke
inferred, for, as the latch was in the thickness of the great oaken
doorpost (which had a slot to let it escape, when raised) the actual
mechanism could not be seen. The second sliding bar, when pushed in,
raised the latch itself by means of an inclined plane. Both the sliding
bars had been provided with knobs on their inner ends, so that they could
be pulled in from inside as well as pushed in from without; but whereas
the knob still remained on the bar which raised the latch, that of the
bar which released the latch and allowed it to rise had been removed. The
end of the bar could be seen, nearly flush with the surface of the
doorpost, and in it a small hole in which the knob had evidently been
screwed.

'Would it be possible to hook anything, such as a skeleton key, into that
hole?' I asked when we had examined it thoroughly.

'I think we can do better than that,' said he, hooking the bulls-eye of
his inspection-lamp in a button-hole of his coat and feeling in his
pocket. 'This is a more workmanlike appliance.'

He exhibited an appliance that looked like a kind of clasp-knife, but was
actually a pocket set of screw-taps, such as are carried by engineers and
plumbers. Drawing out the smallest tap, he tried it in the hole, but the
latter was too small to admit it. Then, from the same appliance, he drew
out a taper reamer, and on trying this in the hole he found that the
point entered easily. He accordingly drove it in lightly, rotating it as
he pressed, and continued to turn it until the sharp-cutting tool had
broached out the hole to a size that would admit the nose of the tap,
when he withdrew the reamer, and inserting the tap, gave it a few
vigorous turns. Now, on pulling gently at the handle of the tap, it was
seen to be fast in the hole, and the sliding bar began to move forward.

'I wonder if our host is hanging about outside,' said he.

'What does it matter whether he is or not?' I asked.

'Because I want to try whether we can open the door, and I don't want him
to hear.'

'But, confound it,' said I, 'he will see us when we come out.'

'We are not going to come out that way if we can find any other.'

'Why not?' I demanded. 'We want to get clear of that infernal flask, and
the sooner we are out the better.'

'Not at all,' said Thorndyke. 'If we come out and show ourselves, the
game is up, and there will probably be trouble. Whereas if we can get out
another way, we shall put him in a very pretty dilemma. Hearing no sound
from us, he will probably assume that his plan has succeeded. And if
Drayton should arrive before he has taken the risk of verifying our
decease, his explanations should be rather interesting. At any rate, I
should like to see what his next move will be, but we must make our
retreat secure in case of accidents. I think we can raise the latch
without making any noticeable sound. You observe that the pivot has been
oiled--and also that the door-spring is new and has apparently been fixed
on quite recently.'

In my heart I cursed his inquiring spirit, for I wanted to get out of
this horrible trap. But I offered no objection, standing by sullenly
while he proceeded with calm interest to complete his experiment.
Grasping the tap-handle with one hand and the knob with the other, he
pulled steadily at the former until the sliding bar was drawn inwards to
its full extent, and then at the knob, which came in with similar ease
and silence. But when I saw the latch rise and the door begin to swing
inwards, I could hardly restrain myself from dragging it open and making
a burst for freedom.

The next moment the opportunity was gone. With the same silent care
Thorndyke reclosed the door, let the latch down, and slid back the
release bar.

'Now,' said he, turning away but leaving the tap jammed in the hole, 'we
can pursue our investigations at our ease. If there is no other exit, we
can come out this way, and we have got a clear retreat in case of
accidents. What does the appearance of this place suggest to you? I mean
as to an exit.'

'Well,' I answered, 'there is a door at the top of those steps.
Presumably its function is the ordinary function of a door.'

'I doubt it,' said he. 'It is too blatantly innocent. More probably its
function was to occupy pursuers while the fugitive was gaining a start.
Still, we will have a thorough look at it, as I expect our host has
already done. We had better go one at time, and for Heaven's sake step
lightly, and remember that if that flask should come down, you make a
bee-line for the door and get outside instantly.'

Lighted by Thorndyke's lamp, I crept cautiously along the room with my
eyes riveted on the flask and my heart in my mouth. Then Thorndyke
followed, and together we ascended the steps to the door, and proceeded
to examine it minutely. It was provided with plainly visible hinges but
had no ostensible latch or lock. Around it were a number of projecting
ends of tree-nails, but pressure on them, one after the other, produced
no result, nor did the door itself show any sign of yielding; indeed, the
form of the hinges suggested that it opened inwards--towards the room--if
it would open at all.

'We are wasting time, Anstey,' Thorndyke said at length. 'The thing is a
dummy, as we might have expected. Let us try something more likely. Now,
from what I know of these secret chambers, I should say that the most
probable exits are the cupboard and the stairs. Both, you notice, seem to
be functionless. There is no reason for that great cupboard having been
built in here, and these stairs simply lead to a dummy door. And
cupboards with sliding shelves and concealed doors in the back, and
stairs with movable treads were very favourite devices. The cupboard is
unfortunately not practicable while that flask is balanced overhead, so
we had better give our attention to the stairs. I suspect that there are
two exits, in different directions, but either will do for us.'

We stole softly down the stairs, and stooping on hands and knees, brought
the light to bear on the joints of the treads and risers; but the dirt of
ages had settled on them and filled up any tell-tale cracks that might
have been visible. To my eye, the steps looked all alike, and all seemed
to be solid oak planks immovably fixed in their positions.

Suddenly Thorndyke dived into his inner pocket and brought forth the
telescopic jemmy, which he pulled out to its full length. Then, laying
the chisel end on the tread of the bottom stair, he drove its edge
forcibly against the angle where the tread and the riser met. To my
surprise, the edge entered fully half an inch into the joint, which the
dirt had filled and concealed.

'Get your jemmy, Anstey, and push it in by the side of mine,' said he.

I produced the tool from my breast pocket, where it had been reposing to
my great discomfort, and opening it out, I inserted its edge close to
that of Thorndyke's.

'Now,' said he, 'both together. Push!'

We both bore heavily on the ends of the jemmies, and the sharp chisel
ends entered fully an inch; and simultaneously a visible crack appeared
along the foot of the riser. We now withdrew the jemmies and reinserted
them at the two ends of the tread. Again we drove in together, and the
crack widened perceptibly. On this, Thorndyke rose and closely examined
the angle of the step above and then that of the third, and here, as he
brought the bulls-eye close to the surface of the step, I could see that
a narrow crack had opened between the step and the riser.

'It looks,' said I, 'as if the two steps had shifted.'

'Yes,' he agreed, 'and apparently the pivot, if there is one, is above.
Let us get to work again.'

We reinserted the jemmies several times in different places, thrusting
together and as forcibly as we dared with that horrible flask insecurely
balanced above our heads; and at each thrust there was an appreciable
widening of the crack, which had now opened fully a quarter of an inch,
making it evident that the stairs were really movable.

'Now,' said Thorndyke, 'I think we might venture to prise.'

He reversed his jemmy and inserted the 'crow' end into the crack near one
extremity, while I inserted mine near the opposite end. Then, at a word
from him, we bore on the ends of the levers, and with a protesting groan,
the step rose another inch. Thorndyke now laid aside his jemmy, and
standing on the bottom step, thrust his fingers into the gaping crack; I
did the same, and when we had got a fair grasp, he gave the word.

'Now, both together. Up she comes!'

We both heaved steadily but not too violently. There was a grinding creak
as the long-disused joint moved; then suddenly the two steps swung up and
stood nearly upright on their pivot, disclosing a yawning hole in which
the light showed a narrow flight of brick steps.

Thorndyke immediately stepped in through the opening, and descending a
few steps, turned and held the light for me, when I followed.

The steps fell away steeply down a kind of well with walls of brickwork,
which was thickly encrusted with slimy growths of algae and fungi, and
the steps themselves were slippery with a similar coating and were almost
hidden, in places, by great fungous masses which sprouted from the joints
of the brickwork. After descending about eight feet, we reached a level
floor and proceeded along a narrow brick tunnel, stooping to clear the
slime-covered roof. This extended some fifteen yards and ended in what at
first looked like a blank wall. On coming close, however, and throwing on
it the light of the lantern, I perceived an oblong space of planking
about five feet long by three high and three feet above the floor,
forming a rude door, very massive and clumsy and furnished with a simple,
roughly-fashioned iron latch.

'I don't see any hinges,' observed Thorndyke, 'so there is probably an
internal pivot. Let us prise up the latch first and then see how the door
moves.'

He slipped the end of his jemmy under the latch, taking a bearing on the
brickwork, and levered the great latch up without much difficulty in
spite of the rust that had locked it in position. Then, inserting the
chisel end into the crack between the door and the jamb, he gave a
tentative wrench, when the door moved perceptibly, inwards at one end and
outwards at the other.

'It is evidently pivoted in the middle,' said he. 'If you will prise the
other end while I work at this, we shall get it open easily.'

We accordingly inserted our jemmies at the respective ends and gave a
steady thrust; on which the door, with a deep groan and a loud screech
from the rusty pivots, swung round on its centre, letting in a flood of
cheerful daylight and fresh air, which I inhaled with profound relief. A
vigorous pull on the edge brought the door fully open and disclosed a
mass of foliage which blocked the view from within and no doubt concealed
the door from outside. But in any case it would have been very
inconspicuous, for we could now see that the solid planking was covered
externally with counterfeit brickwork, very convincingly executed with
slices of brick.

Thorndyke reached out and pulled aside a branch of the tree that obscured
the view 'This door,' said he, 'seems to open on the edge of the moat, so
it was probably made at a time when the moat was full of water. However,
we have found our way out, and it is a better one than the cupboard would
have given us, for, if that has an exit in the back, it probably leads up
to the garrets or the chimneys. Now all we have to do is to remove our
traces from the chamber above and make our way out. But there is no need
for you to come up.'

'I am coming up all the same,' said I, and as he turned to re-enter the
tunnel, I followed, though I admit, with infinite reluctance. But I did
not actually re-enter the chamber. I stood with my head out of the
opening and a terrified eye on the accursed flask, while Thorndyke
tiptoed across the room to the door. Here he withdrew the tap from the
hole, and folding it, dropped it into his pocket. Then he stooped and
blew away the wood-dust that had fallen from the reamer on to the floor,
and having thus removed every trace (excepting the broached-out hole in
the sliding bar), he stepped lightly back and re-entered the opening.

'The problem now,' said he, 'is to get these stairs back in their place
without shaking down the flask.'

'Does it matter,' I asked, 'now that we have a means of escape?'

'Not very much,' he answered, 'but I would rather leave it there in
evidence.'

The movable stairs were furnished with a rough wooden handle on the
underside to enable a fugitive to replace them from below. This Thorndyke
grasped, and with a steady pull, drew the stairs down into their original
position, giving a final tug to bring the joints close together. Then
once more we began to descend the slippery steps.

We were about half-way down when Thorndyke stopped.

'Listen, Anstey,' said he, switching off the light. And as he spoke, I
caught the sound of footsteps somewhere overhead. Then I heard the door
of the secret chamber open slowly--I could recognise it by the sound of
the door-spring--and after a little interval, Blake's voice called out:

'Dr Thorndyke! Mr Anstey! Where are you?'

Again there was a short pause. The door slowly opened a little farther,
the floor above creaked under a stealthy tread, and then I seemed to
catch faintly another voice, apparently more distant.

'They are not here,' said Blake. 'They seem to have got out somehow.
Here, catch hold of the lamp. Mind the door! Mind the--'

The door-spring creaked. There was a heavy thud, and an instant later the
sound of shattering glass, followed by a startled shout and a hurried
trampling of feet.

'The knob! The knob! Quick!' a high-pitched voice shrieked; and at that
the very marrow in my bones seemed to creep. For the knob was useless
now. Thorndyke's reamer had destroyed the screw-hole.

With the sweat streaming down my face and my heart thumping with
sickening violence, I listened to the torrent of curses, rising to yells
of terror and anguish and mingled with strange, whimpering cries. I could
see it all with horrible distinctness: the two trapped wretches above,
frantically turning the knob in the broached-out hole while the poisonous
fumes rose remorselessly and encompassed them.

The cries grew thicker and more muffled, and mingled with dreadful coughs
and gasps. Then there was a sound of a heavy body falling on the floor
and a horrible husky screech broke out, whereat I felt the hair of my
scalp stir like the fur of a frightened cat. Three times that appalling
screech came through the floor to our pitch-dark lurking-place, the last
time dying away into a hideous, quavering wail. Then, once more, there
was the thud of a heavy body falling on the floor, and after that an
awful silence.

'God Almighty!' I gasped. 'Can't we do anything, Thorndyke?'

'Yes,' he replied, 'we can get out of this. It is time we did.'

Even as he spoke I became aware of a faint odour of bitter almonds which
seemed every moment to grow more distinct. It was undoubtedly time for us
to be gone; and when, once more, the light of his lamp flashed down the
stairway, I responded readily to a gentle push and began to descend the
steps as rapidly as my trembling knees would let me.

The faint, sinister odour pursued us even to the tunnel and it was with a
sigh of relief that I reached the open doorway and looked again on the
sky-lit foliage and breathed the wholesome air. We crept out together
through the long, low doorway, and grasping the branches of the trees and
bushes outside, scrambled down the sloping bank to the dry floor of the
moat.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - THE CAT'S EYE


When we stood up at the bottom of the bank, I turned to Thorndyke and
asked:

'What are we going to do now? We must make some effort to let those poor
devils out.'

That,' he replied, 'is an impossibility. In the first place they are
certainly dead by now, and in the second it would be certain death to
attempt to open that door. The chamber is full of the vapour of
hydrocyanic acid.'

'But,' I expostulated, 'we ought to do something. Humanity demands that
we should, at least, make a show of trying to save them.'

'I don't see why,' he replied coldly. 'They are certainly dead, and if
they were not, I would not risk a single hair of my head to save their
lives. Still, if you have any feeling on the matter, we can go and
reconnoitre. But we must look to our own safety.'

He struck out along the floor of the moat at a brisk pace, and I kept up
with him as well as my trembling knees would let me, for I was horribly
shaken by the shocking experiences of the last few minutes, and still
felt sick and faint. Thorndyke, on the other hand, was perfectly unmoved,
and as he strode along at my side, I glanced at his calm face and found
in his quiet, unconcerned manner something inhuman and repelling. It is
true that those two wretches who now lay stark and dead on the floor of
that dreadful chamber deserved no sympathy. They had digged a pit for us
and fallen into it themselves. But still, they were human beings, and
their lives were human lives, but Thorndyke seemed to value them no more
than if they had been a couple of rats.

About a hundred yards farther along the moat, we came to a cross path, at
each end of which was a flight of rough steps up the bank. We ascended
the steps on the house side, and these brought us to a small door with a
Tudor arch in the head. A modern night-latch had been added to the
ancient lock, but it was a simple affair which Thorndyke's picklock
opened in a few moments, and the door then yielded to a push. It opened
into a corridor which I recognised as the one which we had passed through
and where I had seen the face at the window--a dead face it was now, I
suspected. We turned and walked along it in the direction in which Blake
had led us, and as we neared the end I began to be sensible of a faint
odour in the musty air; an attenuated scent of bitter almonds.

'We must go warily,' said Thorndyke. 'The next room, I think, is the one
out of which the secret chamber opens.'

He paused and stood looking dubiously at the door; and as he stood
hesitating, I pushed past him, and seizing the handle, flung the door
open and looked into the room. But it was only an instantaneous glance,
showing me the uninterrupted wall, the wooden block lying where Blake had
kicked it, and close by, a dead rat. The sight of that little corpse and
the sickening smell of bitter almonds that suddenly grew strong in the
air as the door opened, produced an instant revulsion. My concern for our
would-be murderers was extinguished by a thrill of alarm for my own
safety. I drew the door to hurriedly and followed Thorndyke, who was
walking quickly away.

'It is no use, Anstey,' he said, a little impatiently. 'It is mere
sentiment, and a silly one at that. All we can do is to open these
windows and clear off until the gas has diffused out. It won't take so
very long with all the gaping joints in this old woodwork.'

'And what are we going to do meanwhile?'

'We must find the housekeeper, if there is one, and let her know the
state of affairs. Then we must send information to the police at
Aylesbury, and before they arrive, I think it would be well to prepare a
written statement, which we can sign in their presence and which should
contain all that we are prepared to say about the matter before the
inquest.'

'Yes,' I agreed 'that seems to be the best course'; and with this we
proceeded to open the rusty casements of the corridor and then made our
way back to the new wing of the house.

The inn-keeper had certainly been right. Squire Blake had been very far
from lavish in the matter of retainers. One after another of the great,
dusty rooms we crossed or peered into without encountering a single
serving-man or maid. The house seemed to be utterly deserted. At last we
came to the entrance hall, and here, as we stood commenting on this
extraordinary solitude, a door opened and a faded and shabby elderly
woman, looking like a rather superior charwoman, emerged. She looked at
us curiously and then asked:

'Can you tell me, sir, if Mr Blake is ready for lunch?'

'I am sorry to say,' replied Thorndyke, 'that Mr Blake has met with a
mishap. He has locked himself in his dark room and has poisoned himself
accidentally with some chemicals.'

'Oh dear!' exclaimed the woman, looking at Thorndyke with a sort of
stupefied dismay. 'Hadn't some one better go and fetch him out?'

'That is not possible at present,' said Thorndyke. 'The room is full of
poison gas.'

'But,' the woman protested, 'he may die if no one goes to his
assistance.'

'He is dead already,' said Thorndyke, 'and there is another person in the
room with him, who is also dead'.

'That will be Mr Meyer, his valet,' said the woman, staring at Thorndyke
with a sort of bewildered horror, puzzled, no doubt, by the incongruity
between his tragic tidings and his calm, matter-of-fact demeanour. 'And
you say they have both killed themselves! Lord! Lord! What a dreadful
thing!' She clasped her hands, and gazing helplessly from one of us to
the other, asked: 'What are we to do? Oh! what are we to do?'

'Is there any one whom we could send into Aylesbury?' asked Thorndyke,
'We ought to let the police know of the accident, and we ought to get a
doctor.'

There is only the lodge-keeper,' she whimpered shakily 'He could go on Mr
Meyer's bicycle. Dear, dear! what an awful thing it is!'

'If you will have the bicycle brought to the door,' said Thorndyke, 'I
will write a note and take it up to the lodge-keeper myself. There are
writing materials in the library I suppose?'

She supposed there were, and showed us into the room, where we found some
notepaper and envelopes. Then she departed, wringing her hands and
muttering, to fetch the bicycle.

'I shall not give any details in this note,' Thorndyke said as he sat
down at the table and uncapped his fountain pen, 'I shall just tell them
that Mr Blake and his valet have met their deaths--presumably--by
poisoning, that it is a police case, and that the Divisional Surgeon had
better accompany the police officer.'

With this he wrote the note, addressing it to the Superintendent or Chief
Constable, and he had just closed and sealed it when the woman reappeared
to announce the arrival of the bicycle, which had been brought to the
door by a young woman, apparently a housemaid. Thorndyke mounted the
machine and rode away swiftly up the drive, and I turned back into the
house, followed by the two women, who, now that the first shock had spent
itself, were devoured by curiosity and eager to extract information.

Their efforts in this direction, however, were not very successful, for,
although the facts must very soon become public property, it seemed
desirable at present to say as little as possible, while, as for any
explanation of this extraordinary affair, I was as much in the dark as
they were. So I maintained a discreet, though difficult, reticence until
Thorndyke reappeared, when the two women retired and left us in
possession of the room.

'I sent our friend off with the note,' said my colleague 'and I told him
enough to make sure that he will put on the pace. It is only about four
miles, and as the police probably have a car, we may expect them pretty
soon. I will just draft out a statement of the actual occurrences, and
you had better write, on the same paper, a confirmatory declaration. We
can read them to the officer and sign them in his presence.'

He proceeded to write out a concise, but fairly full, narrative of what
had befallen us in this house, with a brief statement of the nature of
our business here, and when I had read it through, I wrote at the foot a
paragraph confirming the statement and accepting it as my own. This
occupied some considerable time, and we had not long finished when there
was a somewhat peremptory ring at the bell, and a minute later, the
elderly woman--whom I assumed to be the housekeeper--entered, accompanied
by a police officer and a gentleman in civilian clothes. The former
introduced himself briefly and got to business without preamble.

'Concerning this note, sir,' said he, 'you have given no particulars. I
suppose there is no doubt that Mr Blake and his valet are really dead?'

'I should say there is no doubt at all,' replied Thorndyke. 'But I have
written out a statement of the particulars, from which you will be able
to judge. Shall I read it to you?'

'I think the doctor had better see the bodies first,' was the reply.

'Certainly,' agreed the doctor. 'We don't want to waste precious time on
statements. Where are they?'

'I will take you to them,' said Thorndyke, 'but I must tell you that they
are shut in a room which is filled with the vapour of hydrocyanic acid.'

The two men gave a startled look at Thorndyke, and as he led the way out
into the hall and across the new wing, they followed, talking together
earnestly but in low tones. Presently they overtook us, and the officer
remarked:

'This is a very extraordinary affair, sir. Has no attempt been made to
get these men out of that room?'

'No,' replied Thorndyke.

'But why not?'

'I think you will see when you get there.'

'But,' exclaimed the doctor, 'surely some effort ought to have been made
to save them! You don't mean to say that you have left them in that
poisoned air and made no attempt even to open the doors and windows?'

'We have opened some of the neighbouring windows,' said Thorndyke; and he
proceeded to give a description of the secret chamber and its
surroundings, to which the doctor listened with pursed-up lips.

'Well,' he remarked dryly, 'you seem to have been very careful. Is it
much farther?'

'It opens out of the next room but one,' replied Thorndyke, and as he
spoke I detected in the air a very faint odour of bitter almonds. I fancy
the doctor noticed it, too, but he made no remark, and when we reached
the end of the corridor and Thorndyke indicated the door that gave access
to the room, both men hurried forward. The doctor turned the handle and
flung the door open, and he and the officer stepped briskly across the
threshold. And then they both stopped short, and I guessed that they had
seen the dead rat. The next moment they both backed out hastily and the
doctor slammed the door behind him and followed us to the discreet
distance at which we had halted.

'The vapour is as you say,' said the latter, visibly crestfallen, 'in an
extreme state of concentration.'

'Yes,' agreed Thorndyke, 'but it is much less than it was. If you will go
a little farther away, I will throw the door open and we can then retire
and let the vapour diffuse out.'

'Do you think it safe, sir?' queried the officer. 'There's a fearful reek
in there'; then, as Thorndyke approached the door, he and the doctor (and
I) walked away quickly up the corridor; and looking back, I saw my
colleague, pinching his nostrils together, fling the door wide open and
hurry after us.

When we had retired to a safe distance, the officer halted and said:

'You were saying something about a statement, sir. Shall we have it now?
I don't understand this affair in the least.'

Thorndyke produced the statement from his pocket and proceeded to read it
aloud; and as he read, the two men listened with growing astonishment and
not very completely concealed incredulity. When he had finished, I read
out my statement, and then we both signed the document, the officer
adding his signature as the witness.

'Well.' he said, as he put the paper in his pocket-book, 'this is a most
extraordinary story. Can you give any kind of explanation?'

'At the moment,' replied Thorndyke, 'I am not proposing to go beyond the
actual occurrence--certainly not until I have seen the bodies.'

The officer looked dissatisfied, and naturally enough. On the facts
presented, he would have been quite justified in arresting us both on a
suspicion of murder; and indeed, but for Thorndyke's eminent position and
my own status as a King's Counsel, he would probably have done so. As it
was, he contented himself with the expression of a hope that we should
presently be able to throw some light on the mystery, on which remark my
colleague offered no comment.

When about half an hour had passed, Thorndyke suggested that the vapour
had probably cleared off from the room out of which the secret chamber
opened and that it might now be possible to open the door of the chamber
itself. Our friends were somewhat dubious, however. The sight of the dead
rat had effectually dissipated the doctor's enthusiasm and engendered a
very wholesome caution.

'Perhaps,' said Thorndyke, 'as my friend and I know where to find the
concealed fastenings of the door, we could open it more safely. What do
you say, Anstey?'

I was not much more eager than the doctor, but as Thorndyke would
certainly have gone alone if I had refused, I assented with assumed
readiness, and we started down the corridor, followed at a little
distance by the other two. On entering the room, in which the odour of
the poison had now become quite faint, Thorndyke opened both the
casements wide and then slid the block of wood close up to the foot of
the door.

'Now,' said he, 'when I say "ready," take a deep breath, close your
mouth, pinch your nostrils, and then push in the right-hand boss. I will
press the other one and open and fix the door. Ready!'

I pushed in the boss, and immediately afterwards Thorndyke pressed in the
other one. The door yielded, and as we pushed it wide open, he thrust the
block in after it. Glancing in, I had a momentary glimpse of the dark
chamber with the two dead men lying huddled on the floor and an
extinguished lantern by the side of the nearer one. It was but the vision
of an instant, for almost as the door opened, I turned with Thorndyke and
ran out of the room; but in that instant it was imprinted on my memory
for ever. Even as I write, I can see with horrible vividness that dark,
gloomy hold and the two sprawling corpses stretched towards the door that
had cut them off in the moment of their crime from the land of the
living.

The first breath that I took, as I came out of the room, made me aware
that the poisonous vapour was pouring out of the chamber of death. Our
two friends had also noticed it and were already in full retreat, and we
all made our way out of the old wing back to the library, there to wait
until the poison should have become dissipated. The officer made one or
two ineffectual efforts to extract from Thorndyke some explanation of the
amazing events set forth in his statement, and then we settled down to a
somewhat desultory conversation on subjects criminal and medical.

We had been in the library rather more than half an hour and were
beginning to discuss the possibility of removing the bodies, when the
doorbell rang, and a few moments later the housekeeper entered, followed
by Sir Lawrence Drayton, Winifred, and Mr Brodribb, The latter came in
with a genial and knowing smile, which faded with remarkable suddenness
as his eye lighted on the police officer.

'Why, what the deuce is the matter?' exclaimed Sir Lawrence as he also
observed the officer.

'The matter is,' replied Thorndyke, 'that there has been a tragedy. Mr
Blake is dead.'

'Dead!' exclaimed Drayton and Brodribb in unison.

'And what.' asked the former, 'do you mean by a tragedy?'

'Perhaps,' said Thorndyke, 'the officer would allow me to read you the
written statement that I have given him. I may say,' he added, addressing
the officer 'that this lady and these gentlemen are interested parties
and that they will all be called as witnesses at the inquest.'

This latter statement, utterly incomprehensible to me, seemed to be
equally so to every one else present. Sir Lawrence and Brodribb stared in
astonishment at Thorndyke, while the officer, with a frown of perplexity,
slowly took the statement from his pocket-book and handed it to my
colleague without a word. Thereupon the latter, having waited for the
housekeeper to withdraw, read the statement aloud, and I watched the
amazement growing on the faces of the listeners as he read.

'But, my dear Thorndyke!' Sir Lawrence exclaimed, when he had finished,
'this is a most astounding affair. It looks as if this search had been a
mere pretext to get you here and murder you!'

'That, I have no doubt, is the case,' said Thorndyke, 'and that I
suspected to be the object when Brodribb conveyed the invitation to me.'

'The devil you did!' said Brodribb. 'But why should you suspect that
Blake wanted to murder you?'

'I think,' replied Thorndyke, 'that when we have seen the bodies you will
be able to answer that question yourself. And I should say,' he added,
turning to the doctor, 'that it would now be possible to get the bodies
out. Most of the fumes will have blown away by this time.'

'Yes,' the doctor agreed, evidently all agog to see and hear the
explanation of this mystery. 'We had better get a sheet from the
housekeeper and then go and see if we can get those poor wretches out.'

He set forth in company with the officer, and as soon as the two
strangers had left the room, Brodribb attacked my colleague.

'You are a most inscrutable fellow, Thorndyke. Do you mean to tell me
that when you proposed this search, you were just planning to give this
man, Blake, an opportunity to murder you?'

'To try to murder me,' Thorndyke corrected.

'And me,' I added. 'It begins to dawn on me that the post of junior to
Thorndyke is no sinecure.'

Brodribb smiled appreciatively, and Sir Lawrence remarked:

'We seem to be navigating in deep waters. I must confess that I am
completely out of my depth, but I suppose it is useless to make any
appeal.'

'I should rather say nothing more at present,' Thorndyke replied. 'In a
few minutes I shall be able to make the crucial test which I expect will
render explanations unnecessary.'

I speculated on the meaning of this statement, but could make nothing of
it, and I gathered from the perplexed expressions of the two lawyers that
they were in a similar condition. But there was not much time to turn the
matter over, for, very shortly, the police officer reappeared to announce
that the bodies had been removed from the chamber and were ready for
inspection and identification.

'It will not be necessary, I suppose,' said Drayton, as we rose to
accompany the officer, 'for Miss Blake to come with us?'

'I think,' answered Thorndyke, 'that it is desirable and, in fact,
necessary, that Miss Blake should see the bodies. I am sorry,' he added,
'that she should be subjected to the unpleasantness, but the matter is
really important.'

'I can't imagine in what respect,' said Drayton, 'but if you say that it
is, that settles the matter.'

On this we set forth, Thorndyke and the officer leading the way, and as
we crossed the great, desolate rooms I talked to Winifred about the old
house and the secret chamber to divert her attention from our rather
gruesome errand. At the end of the long corridor, as we entered the large
room, we saw the doctor standing by two shrouded figures that lay on the
floor near a window, with their feet towards us. We halted beside them in
solemn silence, and the doctor stooped, and taking the two corners of the
sheet, drew it away, with his eyes fixed on Thorndyke.

For a moment we all stood looking down on the two still and ghastly
figures without speaking a word; but suddenly Winifred uttered a cry of
horror and started back, clutching my arm.

'What is it?' demanded Drayton.

The man!' she exclaimed breathlessly, pointing to the body of the valet,
which I had already recognised. 'The man who tried to murder me in the
empty house!'

'And who stabbed you that night at Hampstead?' said Thorndyke.

'Yes, yes,' she gasped. 'It is he, I am certain of it.'

Sir Lawrence turned a look of eager inquiry on my colleague.

'This is an amazing thing,' he exclaimed. 'How on earth did this fellow
come to be associated with Mr Blake?'

Thorndyke stooped over the dead squire, and unfastening the collar and
neckband, drew the shirt open at the throat. There came into sight a
stout, silken cord encircling the neck, which Thorndyke gently pulled up,
when I saw that there was suspended from it a small gold pendant with a
single large stone. As the little jewel was drawn out from its
hiding-place, Winifred stooped forward eagerly.

'It is the Cat's Eye!' she exclaimed.

'Impossible!' Sir Lawrence ejaculated. 'Let me look at it.'

Thorndyke cut the cord and handed the pendant to Drayton, who turned it
over in his hand, gazing at it with an expression of amazement and
incredulity.

'It is,' he said at length. 'This is certainly the pendant that was
stolen from my poor brother's house. I recognise it without doubt by the
shape and colour of the stone, and there is the inscription on the back,
"Dulce Domum," which I remember now. It is unquestionably the stolen
pendant. But what does it mean, Thorndyke? You seemed to know that this
man was wearing it.'

'The meaning of it is, Sir Lawrence,' replied Thorndyke, 'that this
man'--he pointed down at the dead squire--'is the man who murdered your
brother. It was he who fired the pistol.'

Sir Lawrence looked down at the dead man with a frown of disgust.

'Do you mean to tell me, Thorndyke,' said he, 'that this man murdered
poor Andrew just to get possession of this trumpery toy?'

'I do,' replied Thorndyke, 'though, of course, the murder was not a part
of the original plan. But he carried the pistol with him to use if
necessary.'

'He has got a pistol in his pocket now,' said the officer. 'I felt it as
I was dragging him out of the secret room.'

He plunged his hand into the dead man's coat pocket and drew out a small
automatic pistol, which he handed to Thorndyke.

This seems to be the very weapon,' said the latter; 'a Baby Browning. You
remember that we identified the pattern from the empty cartridge-case.'

I had noticed a peculiar expression of perplexity gathering on Mr
Brodribb's face. Now the old solicitor turned to Thorndyke and said:

'This is a very unaccountable affair, Thorndyke. We didn't know a great
deal about Arthur Blake, but it always appeared that he was quite a
decent sort of man, whereas this robbery and murder that he actually did
commit, and the murder that he was attempting when he met his death, are
cases of sheer ruffianism. I don't understand it.'

Thorndyke turned to the doctor. 'Would you mind telling us,' said he, 'if
there is anything abnormal in the condition of this man's left knee-cap?'

The doctor stared at Thorndyke in astonishment. 'Have you any reason to
suppose that there is?' he asked.

'I have an impression,' was the reply, 'that there is an old fracture
with imperfect ligamentous union.'

The doctor stooped, and drawing up the trouser on the left side, placed
his hand on the knee.

'You are quite right,' he said, looking up at Thorndyke with an
expression of surprise. There is a transverse fracture with a gap of
fully two inches between the fragments.'

Suddenly Mr Brodribb broke out eagerly with a look of intense curiosity
at my colleague: 'It can't be! What is it that you are suggesting,
Thorndyke?'

'I am suggesting that this man was not Arthur Blake. I suggest that he
was an Australian adventurer named Hugh Owen.'

'But,' objected Brodribb, 'Owen was reported to have died some years ago.
His body was found and identified.'

'A mutilated skeleton was found,' retorted Thorndyke, 'and was identified
as that of Hugh Owen by means of a ring which was known to have belonged
to Owen. I suggest that the remains were those of Arthur Blake; that he
had been murdered by Owen, and that the ring had been put on the body for
the purpose of ensuring a false identification.'

That is perfectly possible,' Brodribb admitted. Then who do you suggest
that this other man is?'

'I suggest that this other person is a woman named Laura Levinsky.'

'Well,' said Brodribb, 'that need not be left a matter of guesswork. I
don't think I mentioned it to you, but that Australian police official
told me that Levinsky had a tattoo-mark on the right forearm--the letters
H and L with a heart between. Let us see if this person has such a mark.'

The police officer bent down over the dead valet, and unfastening the
right wristband, drew the sleeve up above the elbow.

'Ha!' exclaimed Brodribb as there were revealed, standing out on the
greenish-white skin as if painted in blue ink, the letters H and L with a
small, misshapen heart between them, 'you are right, Thorndyke, as you
always are. And I suppose she was a party to the murder?'

'I take it,' said Thorndyke, 'that these two wretches murdered Arthur
Blake, removed all identifiable objects from the corpse, put Owen's ring
on its finger, and tumbled it over the cliff, shooting down a mass of
rocks and stones on top of it. Then they took possession of all Blake's
papers and money and separated, coming to England on different ships. I
assume that no measures were ever taken to verify Blake's identity?'

'No,' replied Brodribb. There was no one who could identify him. He sent
a letter, in answer to mine, saying when he would arrive. He arrived
about the date mentioned, and presented all the necessary credentials.
The question of identity was never raised.'

For some moments we all stood looking down on the bodies of the two
adventures in silence. Presently Drayton asked, holding out the pendant:

'What is to be done with this? It was stolen from my brother, but it
seems that, as it is an heirloom, it should be handed to Miss Blake.'

'For the present,' said Thorndyke 'it must remain in the custody of the
police, as it will have to be put in evidence at the inquest. We will
take a receipt for it. But as to its being the missing heirloom, I doubt
that very much. It does not agree with the description, and I should
suppose that the original jewel will have been hidden with the
title-deeds.'

'That could hardly be,' said Winifred, 'though I agree with you that the
inscription "Dulce domum" doesn't seem to be the right one. But you will
remember that Percival's manuscript distinctly says that the jewel was
taken away and given to Jenifer to keep for the child James.'

'That is not my reading of the manuscript,' said Thorndyke. 'But we can
discuss that on another occasion. If we give our respective names and
addresses to the officer, we shall have concluded our business here.'

At this hint, the officer produced a large, official notebook in which he
entered the names and addresses of all the witnesses in the case, and
when the doctor had once more covered the corpses with the sheet, we
turned to retrace our steps to the library. As I walked along the
corridor at Winifred's side, I glanced at her a little anxiously, for it
had been a rather terrible experience. She met my glance, and resting her
hand on my arm for a moment, she said in a low voice:

'It was a gruesome sight, Robin, that poor little wretch lying there with
that awful, fixed stare of horror on her face. But I couldn't feel sorry
for her, nor even for the man, though there was something very
dreadful--almost pitiful--in the way in which his dead hand clutched that
little brass knob. It must have been a frightful moment when he found
that the knob was useless and that he and his companion were caught in
their own hideous trap. But I can't be sorry for them. I can only think
of the relief to know that you are safe and that I am free.'

'Yes,' said I, 'it is an unspeakable relief to feel that you can now go
abroad in safety--that that continual menace is a thing of the past,
thanks to Thorndyke's uncanny power of seeing through a stone wall.'

'I am not sure 'said she 'that I am not disposed to quarrel with Dr
Thorndyke for calmly walking you into this murderer's den.'

'I don't think there was ever any real danger,' I replied. 'They couldn't
have murdered us by overt methods, and as to the other methods, I have no
doubt that Thorndyke had got them all calculated out in advance and
provided for. He seems to foresee everything.'

When we reached the library, and Thorndyke and I had replaced our pistols
and jemmies in the suitcase (a proceeding which the police officer
watched with bulging eyes and open mouth), Drayton asked:

'Have you two got any sort of conveyance? Because, if you haven't, and
you don't mind a pretty tight squeeze, I can give you a lift to the
station.'

We accepted the offer gladly; and having made our adieux to the officer
and the doctor, we went out and packed ourselves and our impedimenta into
the car as soon as the lawful occupants had taken their seats. As we
moved off, I observed the housekeeper and two other women watching us
with concentrated interest; and at the gate, as we swept past the lodge,
I had an instantaneous glimpse of the keeper's face at the window, with
another countenance that seemed reminiscent of the 'Kings Head.'

The swiftly-gliding car devoured the mile or two of road to the station
in a few minutes. We drew up in the station yard, and while the chauffeur
was handing out our luggage, Drayton stood up, and laying his hand on
Thorndyke's shoulder, said earnestly:

'I have spoken no word of thanks to you, Thorndyke, for what you have
done, but I hope you understand that I am your debtor for life. Your
management of this case is beyond my wildest expectations, and how you
did it, I cannot imagine. Some day you must give me the intellectual
satisfaction of hearing how the investigation was carried out. Now I can
only congratulate you on your brilliant success.'

'I should like to second that,' said Brodribb; 'and talking of success, I
suppose you didn't find those deeds after all?'

'No,' replied Thorndyke. 'They are not there.'

'Oh, aren't they?' Brodribb. 'Then, if you are so certain where they are
not, you probably know where they are?'

'That seems a sound inference,' replied Thorndyke. 'But we can't discuss
the matter here. If you care to come to my chambers tomorrow, at two
o'clock, we might go into it further, and, in fact, conduct an
exploration.'

'Does that invitation include me?' Winifred asked.

'Most undoubtedly,' he replied. 'You are the principal party to the
transaction. And perhaps you might bring the Book of Hours with you.'

'I believe he has got the deeds stowed away in his chambers,' said
Brodribb; and although my colleague shook his head, I felt no certainty
that the old lawyer was not right.

When the car had moved off, we carried our cases into the station and
were relieved to find that we had but a few minutes to wait for a train.
I postponed my attack on my secretive colleague until we were snugly
established in a compartment by ourselves. Not that I had any
expectations. Thorndyke's reticence had conveyed to me the impression
that the time for explanations had not yet come; and so it turned out
when I proceeded to put my questions.

'Wait till we have finished the case, Anstey,' said he. 'Then, if you
have not worked out the scheme of the investigation in the interval, we
can review and discuss it.'

'But surely,' said I, 'we have finished with the case of the murder of
Andrew Drayton?'

'Not entirely,' he replied. 'What you have never realised, I think, is
the connection between the problem of the murder and the problem of the
missing documents. This is a very curious and interesting case, and those
two problems have a very strange connection. But for Owen's determination
to possess the cat's eye pendant at all costs, those documents might have
lain in their hiding-place, unsuspected, for centuries.'

This statement, while it explained Thorndyke's hitherto unaccountable
interest in Percy Blake's claim, only plunged the other problem into
deeper obscurity. During the remainder of the journey I tried to
reconstitute the train of events to see if I could trace the alleged
connection between the two problems. But not a glimmer of light could I
see in any direction; and in the end I gave it up, consoling myself with
the reflection that the morrow would probably see the last act played out
and that then I might hope for a final elucidation.



CHAPTER NINETEEN - A RELIC OF THE '45


At two o'clock punctually, on the following afternoon, our visitors made
their appearance; and at the very moment when the last of them--Mr
Brodribb--emerged from Crown Office Row, I observed from the window two
taxi-cabs, which had entered successively by the Tudor Street gate, draw
up before our door. I hailed their arrival with deep satisfaction, for
the strange events of the previous day, together with Thorndyke's rather
mysterious observations thereon, had made me impatient to see the end of
this intricate case and intensely curious to hear how my inscrutable
colleague had managed to fit together the apparently unrelated fragments
of this extraordinarily complex puzzle. Throughout the morning--while
Thorndyke was absent, and, as I suspected, arranging details of the
afternoon's adventure--I had turned over the facts again and again, but
always with the same result. There were the pieces of the puzzle, and no
doubt a complete set; but separate pieces they remained, and obstinately
refused to join up into anything resembling an intelligible whole.

'I see, Thorndyke,' said Mr Brodribb as he entered, smiling, rosy, and
looking as if he had just come out of a bandbox, 'that I did you an
injustice. You have not been sitting on the deeds. The chariots are at
the door waiting, I suppose, for the band or the stavebearers. We shall
be quite an imposing procession.'

'We won't wait for the band.' said Thorndyke. 'As we are all here, we may
as well start. Will you conduct Miss Blake down, Anstey?'

'Do I give any directions to the driver?' I asked.

'Yes. You can tell him to put you down at the north-east corner of the
Minories.'

Accordingly I led the way with Winifred, and having given the destination
to the driver, bestowed my charge and myself in the cab. The driver
started the engine, and as the cab made a sweep round to the Tudor Street
gate, I heard the door of the other cab slam.

'Have you any idea where we are going, Robin?' Winifred asked as the cab
whirled round into New Bridge Street.

'None beyond what I have communicated to the driver,' I replied.
'Apparently we are going to explore the Minories or Aldgate or
Whitechapel. It is an ancient neighbourhood, and in the days of Percival
Blake it was somewhat more aristocratic than it is now. There are good
many old houses still standing about there. You may have seen that
picturesque group of timber houses looking on Whitechapel High Street.
They are nearly all butchers' shops, and have been, at least, since the
days of Charles the Second; in fact, the group is known as Butcher Row,
though I think there is an old tavern among them.'

'Perhaps we are going to the tavern,' said Winifred. 'It is quite likely.
Many of the old inns had secret hiding-places and must have been the
favourite rendezvous of the conspirators of those times.'

She continued to speculate on the possibilities of the ancient tavern,
which had evidently captured her romantic fancy, and as I looked at
her-pink-cheeked, bright-eyed, and full of pleasurable excitement over
our adventurous quest--I once more breathed a sigh of thankfulness that
the dark days of ever-impending peril were over.

It seemed but a few minutes before the cab drew up at the corner of the
Minories; and we had hardly alighted when the other vehicle arrived and
disgorged its occupants at our side. The drivers having been paid (and
having thereafter compared notes and settled themselves to watch our
further proceedings), Thorndyke turned his face eastward and we started
together along Whitechapel High Street. I noticed that, now, no one asked
any questions. Probably each of us was busy with his own speculations;
and in any case, Thorndyke maintained a sphinx-like reticence.

'Are those delightful old houses the ones you were speaking of?' Winifred
asked as the ancient, plaster-fronted buildings came in sight.

'Yes,' I answered. 'That is Butcher Row.

'Or,' said Thorndyke, 'to give it what is, I believe, its official title,
"The Shambles", though the shambles proper are at the back.'

'The Shambles!' exclaimed Winifred, looking at Thorndyke with a startled
expression. She appeared to be about to ask him some question, but at
this moment he turned sharply into a narrow alley, into which we followed
him. I glanced up at the name as we entered and read it aloud--'Harrow
Alley.'

'Yes,' said Thorndyke, 'quite a historic little thoroughfare. Defoe gives
a very vivid description of its appearance during the Plague, with the
dead-cart waiting at the entrance and the procession of bearers carrying
the corpses down the narrow court. Here is the old "Star and Still"
tavern, and round the corner there are the shambles, very little changed
since the seventeenth century.'

He turned the corner towards the shambles, and then, crossing the narrow
road, dived through an archway into a narrow paved court, along which we
had to go in single file. This court presently opened into a
squalid-looking little square, surrounded on three sides by tall,
ancient, timber and plaster houses, the fourth side being occupied by a
rather mean, but quaint little church with a low brick tower. Thorndyke
made his way directly to the west door of the church, and taking from his
pocket a key of portentous size, inserted it into the lock. As he did so
I glanced at the board that was fixed beside the doorway, from which I
learned that this was the church of St Peter by the Minories.

As the door swung open Thorndyke motioned to us to enter. We filed in,
and then he drew the door to after us and locked it from the inside. We
stood for a few moments in the dim porch under the tower, looking in
through the half-opened inner door; and as we stood there, Winifred
grasped my arm nervously, and I could feel that her hand was trembling.
But there was no time for speech, for as Thorndyke locked the door and
withdrew the key, the inner door opened wide and two men--one tall and
one short--appeared silhouetted against the east window.

These are my friends, of whom I spoke to you,' said Thorndyke. 'Miss
Blake, Sir Lawrence Drayton, Mr Brodribb, Mr Anstey--the Reverend James
Yersbury. I think you have met this other gentleman.'

We came out into the body of the church, and having made my bow to the
clergyman, I turned to the smaller man.

'Why, it's Mr Polton!' exclaimed Winifred, shaking hands heartily with my
colleague's familiar; who greeted us with a smile of such ecstatic
crinkliness, that I instantly suspected him of preparing some necromantic
surprise for us.

'This is quite a remarkable building,' said Sir Lawrence, looking about
him with lively interest, 'and it appears the more striking by contrast
with the shabby, commonplace exterior.'

'Yes,' agreed the clergyman, 'that is rather characteristic of old London
churches. But this is rather an ancient structure; it was only partially
destroyed by the Great Fire and was almost immediately rebuilt, at the
personal cost, it is said, of the Duke of York, afterwards James the
Second. Perhaps that accounts for the strong Jacobite leanings of some of
the later clergy, such as this good gentleman, for instance.'

He led us to a space between two of the windows where a good-sized tablet
of alabaster had been let into the wall.

'That tablet,' said he, 'encloses a cavity which is filled with bones
piously collected from the field of Culloden, and the inscription leaves
one in no doubt as to the sentiments of the collector. But I believe it
was covered with plaster soon after it was put up, to preserve it from
destruction, by the authorities, and it was only discovered about fifty
years ago.'

I read the brief inscription with growing curiosity:

PRO PATRIA--PRO REGE 1745

'This Tablet was raised to the Memory of the Faithful by Stephen Rumbold,
sometime Rector of this Church.'

'But,' said Winifred, 'I thought Stephen Rumbold was rector of St Peter
by the Shambles.'

'This is St Peter by the Shambles,' replied Mr Yersbury. 'The name has
only been changed within the last forty years.'

Winifred faced me and looked with eager delight into my eyes, and I knew
that the same thought was in both our minds. Here, during all the
slowly-passing years, the missing deeds had rested, securely hidden with
the bones of those patriots at whose side Percival Blake had fought on
the fatal field of Culloden. I looked round at Thorndyke, expecting to
see some preparations to open this curious little burial-place. But he
had already turned away and was moving towards the east end of the
church. We followed him slowly until he halted before the pulpit, where
he stood for a few moments looking at it reflectively. It was a very
remarkable pulpit. I have never seen another at all resembling it. In
shape it was an elongated octagon, the panels and mouldings of deep brown
oak enriched with magnificent carving. But the most singular feature was
the manner in which it was supported. The oblong super-structure rested
on twin pillars of oak, each pillar being furnished with a handsome,
floridly-ornamented bronze capital and a bronze base of somewhat similar
character. But fine as the workmanship was, the design was more unusual
than pleasing. The oblong body and the twin pillars had, in fact, a
rather ungainly appearance.

'Here,' said Thorndyke, pointing to the pulpit, 'is another relic of the
Reverend Stephen Rumbold, and one of more personal interest to us than
the other. You notice these twin pillars. Aesthetically, they are not all
that might be desired, but they serve a useful purpose besides supporting
the upper structure, for each of them forms an aumbry, originally
designed, no doubt, to conceal the sacred vessels and other objects used
in celebrating Mass or Vespers or in administering Communion in
accordance with the rites of the Church of Rome. One of them is still
discharging this function. This pillar'--here he tapped the northern one
of the pair--'contains a chalice and paten, a thurible and a small pyx.
This other pillar contains--well, Polton will show us what it contains,
so I need not go into particulars.'

'Do I understand,' Drayton asked, 'that you have opened the aumbries
already and verified the existence and nature of the contents?'

'We have not yet opened the aumbries,' Thorndyke replied, 'but we have
ascertained that the things are there untouched. Polton and I made an
examination some days ago with an X-ray apparatus and a fluorescent
screen. It was then that we discovered the plate in the second pillar. I
wished Miss Blake to be present at the actual opening.'

At these words, like an actor taking up a cue, Polton appeared from
somewhere behind the pulpit bearing a good-sized leather handbag. This he
deposited on the floor, and as we gathered round, he took from it a
small, rounded mallet, apparently of lead, covered with leather, and a
tool of hard wood, somewhat, in shape, like a caulking chisel.

'Which pillar shall I begin on, sir?' he inquired, looking round with a
sly smile. 'The one with church plate or--'

'Oh, hang the church plate!' interposed Brodribb, adding hastily: 'I beg
your pardon, Mr Yersbury, but you know--'

'Exactly,' interrupted the clergyman, 'I quite agree with you. The church
plate will keep for another half hour.'

Thereupon Polton fell to work, and we crowded up close to watch. The
capitals of the pillars presented each two parts, a lower member, covered
with ornament, and above this a plain, cylindrical space extending up to
the abacus. It was to the lower part that Polton directed his attention.
Having mounted on a chair, he placed the edge of the hardwood chisel
against the lower edge of the ornamented member and struck it gently with
the leaden mallet. Then he shifted the chisel half an inch to the right
and struck another blow, and in this way he continued, moving the chisel
half an inch after each stroke, until he had travelled a third of the way
round the pillar, when Thorndyke placed another chair for him to step on.

'Have you oiled the surface?' my colleague asked.

'Yes, sir,' replied Polton, tapping away like Old Mortality; 'I flooded
it with a mixture of paraffin and clock oil, and it is moving all right.'

We were soon able to verify this statement, for when Polton had made a
complete circuit of the pillar, the plain space above had grown
perceptibly narrower and a ring of lighter-coloured wood began to appear
below. Still, the leaden mallet continued to deliver its dull sounding
taps, and still Polton continued to creep round the pillar.

By the time the second circuit was completed, the sliding part of the
capital had risen half-way to the top of the plain space, as was shown by
the width of paler, newly-uncovered wood below. And now the sliding
member was evidently moving more freely, for there was a perceptible
upward movement at each stroke, so that, by the end of the third circuit,
the upper, plain space had disappeared altogether and a narrow ring of
metal appeared below; and in this ring I perceived a notch about half an
inch wide.

'I think she's all clear now, sir,' said Polton.

'Very well,' said Thorndyke. 'We are all ready.'

He relieved Polton of the mallet and chisel and handed him a tool which
looked somewhat like a rather slender jemmy with a long, narrow beak.
This beak Polton inserted carefully into the notch, when it evidently
entered a cavity in the top of the woodwork. Then he began cautiously to
prise at the end of the lever.

For a moment or two nothing happened. Suddenly there was a grating sound;
the end of the lever rose, and at the same instant about a quarter of the
pillar began to separate from the rest and come forward, showing a joint
which had been cunningly hidden by the deep fluting. Polton grasped the
top of the loose panel, and with a sharp pull, drew it right out and
lifted it clear, but as he was in front of the opening, none of us could
see what was within. Then he stepped down from the chair, and Winifred
uttered a little cry and clasped her hands.

It was certainly a dramatic moment, especially to those of us who had
read the manuscript in the little Book of Hours. The pillar was a great
shell enclosing a considerable cavity, and in this cavity, standing on
the floor, was a tall leaden jar with a close-fitting, flat lid; and on
the lid stood a great, two-handled posset-pot. It was all exactly as
Percival Blake had described it, and to us, who had formed a mental
picture from that description, there was something very moving in being
thus confronted with those strangely familiar objects, which had been
waiting in their hiding-place for more than a century and a half-waiting
for the visit of Percival's dispossessed posterity.

For some time we stood looking at them in silence. At length Thorndyke
said: 'You notice, Miss Blake, that there is an inscription on the jar.'

I had not observed it, nor had Winifred; but we now advanced, and looking
closely at the jar, made out with some difficulty on the whitened surface
an inscription which had apparently been punched into the metal letter by
letter, and which read:

'The Contents hereof are the Property of Percival Blake, MD of Beauchamp
Blake in Buckinghamshire, or the Heirs of his Body AD 1746.'

'That,' said Sir Lawrence, as Winifred read the inscription aloud,
'settles the ownership of the documents. You can take possession of the
jar and its contents with perfect confidence. And now perhaps it would be
as well to see what is inside the jar.'

Polton, who had apparently been waiting for this cue, now lit a small
spirit blow-pipe. The posset-pot was tenderly lifted out by Winifred and
deposited on a pew-bench, and Polton, having hoisted out the jar and
placed it on a chair, began cautiously to let the flame of the blow-pipe
play on the joint of the lid, which had been thickly coated with wax.
When the wax began to liquefy, he introduced the edge of the jemmy into
the joint, and with a deft turn of the wrist, raised the lid, which he
then took off.

Winifred peered into the jar and announced: 'It seems to be full of
rolled-up parchments; a statement which we all verified in turn.

'I would suggest; said Mr Yersbury, 'that we carry the jar into the
vestry. There is a good-sized table there, which will be a convenience if
you are going to examine the documents.'

This suggestion was instantly agreed to. Polton took up the rather
ponderous jar and made his way to the vestry under the guidance of the
clergyman, and the rest of us followed, Winifred carrying-the precious
posset-pot. Arrived at the vestry, Polton set down the jar on the table,
and Sir Lawrence proceeded at once to extract the roll of stiff and
yellow parchment and vellum documents. Unrolling them carefully--for they
were set into a rigid cylinder--he glanced over them quickly with the air
of one looking for some particular thing.

'These are undoubtedly the title-deeds,' he said, still turning over the
pages quickly with but a cursory glance at their contents, 'but--ha! Yes.
These are what we really wanted. I had hoped that we should find them
here.'

He drew out from between the leaves of the deeds two small squares of
parchment which he exhibited triumphantly and then read aloud:

'I hereby certify and declare that on the thirteenth day of June in the
Year of Our Lord seventeen hundred and forty-two, at the church of St
Peter by the Shambles, near by Aldgate, the following persons were by me
joined together in Holy Matrimony to wit PERCIVAL BLAKE of Beauchamp
Blake in the County of Buckinghamshire, Bachelor and JUDITH WESTERN of
Cricklewood in the County of Middlesex, Spinster.

'STEPHEN RUMBOLD, MA, Rector of the said Church of St Peter by the
Shambles. 20th May 1746.'

'That,' said Sir Lawrence, 'is what principally matters, but this second
certificate clenches the proof. I will read it out:

'I hereby certify and declare that James the Son of Percival and Judith
Blake of Beauchamp Blake in the County of Buckinghamshire was baptized by
me according to the rites of Holy Church on the thirtieth of May in the
Year of Our Lord seventeen hundred and forty-three at the Church of St
Peter by the Shambles near by Aldgate.

STEPHEN RUMBOLD, MA, Rector of the said Church of St Peter by the
Shambles. 20th May 1746.'

'That,' continued Drayton, 'with the other certificates, which I
understand you have, establishes a direct descent. And seeing that the
estate is at present without an owner, this is a peculiarly opportune
moment for putting forward a claim. What do you say, Brodribb?'

'I should like,' said Brodribb, 'to have fuller particulars before giving
a definite opinion.'

'Oh, come, Brodribb,' Sir Lawrence protested, 'you needn't be so
infernally cautious. We're all friends, you know. Would you be prepared
to act for Miss Blake?'

'I don't see why not,' replied Brodribb. 'I am not committed to any other
claimant. Yes, I should be very happy to act for her.'

'Then,' said Drayton, 'we must arrange a consultation and find out
exactly how we stand. I will call at your office for a preliminary talk
tomorrow, if that will suit you.'

'Very well,' agreed Brodribb, 'come in at one o'clock, and we can lunch
together and talk over the preliminaries.'

While this conversation was proceeding, I had observed Thorndyke peering
inquisitively into the now empty jar. From this he transferred his
attention to the posset-pot which Winifred was guarding jealously. It was
a fine specimen of its kind, a comparatively large vessel of
many-coloured slip-ware. On the front was a sort of escutcheon, on which
was a heart surmounted by a B with the letters H and M on either side and
the date 1708 below. Just under the rim was a broad band bearing the
following quaint inscription:

'Here is the Gest of the Barly Korne, Glad Ham I the child is Borne.--JM'

'Isn't it a lovely old thing?' murmured Winifred. 'So human and personal
and so charming too.'

'Yes,' Thorndyke agreed 'it is a fine piece of work. Old Martin was
something more than a common village potter. Have you looked inside it?'

'No,' replied Winifred. She took the knob in her fingers and delicately
lifted off the cover; and then she uttered a cry of surprise.

'Why,' she exclaimed, 'it is the Cat's Eye-the real cat's eye this time.
And what a beauty!'

She lifted out of the pot a small pendant, curiously like the other
one--so much so, in fact, as to suggest that the latter had been a copy.
But, whereas the stone in the counterfeit had been a rather dull grey,
this one was of a beautiful deep yellow with a brilliant streak of golden
light. Attached to the pendant was a slender gold chain and a clasp,
which, like the pendant itself, was smooth and rounded with years of
wear. After gazing for a while at the flashing stone, Winifred turned the
pendant over and looked at the back. The inscription was half-obliterated
by wear, but we read without difficulty:

'God's Providence is Mine Inheritance.'

'It is extremely appropriate,' she commented when she had read it aloud,
'though it isn't quite what one expected. But what I don't understand is
how it comes to be here. Percival distinctly says that he had the jewel
and that he intended to give it to Jenifer to keep for the child.'

'Not the jewel,' Thorndyke corrected. 'He speaks of "the bauble" and "the
trinket," never of "the jewel."'

'You think he was referring to some other trinket?'

'Obviously,' replied Thorndyke. And then, looking at Winifred with a
smile, he exclaimed: 'O blind generation! Don't you see. Miss Blake, that
events have shaped themselves precisely as Percival designed? Here is his
descendant, the child of his children's children, coming to the
hiding-place wearing the precious bauble around her neck and guided by it
to the possessions of her fathers. Could anything be more complete?'

Winifred was thunderstruck. For a while she sat, motionless as a statue,
gazing at Thorndyke in speechless amazement. At length she exclaimed:
'But this is astounding, Dr Thorndyke! Do you mean that this little
locket is the trinket that was given to Jenifer and which she lost?'

'Undoubtedly,' he replied, 'and the really strange and romantic
circumstance is that it was given into your hand by the very impostor who
was seeking to rob you for ever of your inheritance.'

'Then,' exclaimed Sir Lawrence, who was almost as overcome as Winifred
herself, 'it was actually poor Andrew's "little Sphinx" that gave you the
clue to this hiding-place?'

'Yes,' replied Thorndyke, 'only the sphinx was really an oracle, just
waiting for the question to be asked.'

Winifred's eyes filled. Impulsively she grasped my colleague's hand,
murmuring shakily: 'What can I say to you, Dr Thorndyke? How can I ever
thank you for all that you have done for my brother and me?'

'You need say nothing,' he replied 'but that which is written on the back
of the cat's eye.'

Our business being now concluded, Sir Lawrence carefully returned the
precious documents to the jar and replaced the cover. From without, a
dull tapping that had been audible for some time past, had told us that
Polton was at work on the second pillar. But that was no concern of ours.

'What are we going to do now?' asked Sir Lawrence. 'It seems as if we
should mark the occasion in some way.'

'I agree with you, Drayton,' said Thorndyke, 'and I have, in fact,
arranged a little festival at my chambers; just a simple tavern dinner,
since Polton was otherwise engaged. Will that satisfy the requirements?'

'It will satisfy mine,' replied Drayton, 'and I think I can answer for
Brodribb.'

'Then,' said Thorndyke, 'if Miss Blake will consent to combine the
function of hostess with that of principal guest, we will capture Polton
and betake ourselves to the Temple.'

We strolled out into the church, where Polton and the rector were
gloatingly examining the newly-recovered sacred vessels, and having
thanked the friendly clergyman and bidden him a warm farewell, we went
forth in search of conveyances. Polton heading the procession with the
heavy jar under his arm, and Winifred tenderly carrying the posset-pot
swathed in her silken shawl.

In Whitechapel High Street we had the unexpected good fortune to
encounter an unoccupied taxi-cab, which was by universal consent assigned
to Winifred, Polton, and me. In this we bestowed ourselves and were
forthwith spirited away, leaving our companions to follow as best they
could. But they were not far behind, for we had barely arrived in the
chambers and disposed of our treasure-trove, when a second cab drew up in
King's Bench Walk and our three friends made their appearance at the
rendezvous.



CHAPTER TWENTY - QED


To an enthusiastic and truly efficient gourmet it might be difficult to
assess the respective merits of the different stages of a really good
dinner; to compare the satisfactions yielded, for instance, by the first
tentative approaches--the little affairs of outposts--with the voracious
joy of the grand onslaught on tangible and manducable solids; or again
with the placid diminuendo, the half-hearted rear-guard actions,
concerned with the unsubstantial trifles on which defeated appetite
delivers its expiring kick. For my own part, I can offer no opinion--at
any rate, without refreshing my memory as to the successive sensations;
but I recall that as our dinner drew to a close, signs of expectancy
began to manifest themselves (in Mr Brodribb's case they seemed to be
associated with the advent of the port decanter), and when Polton had
evacuated the casualties to an aid-post established in the adjacent
office, Sir Lawrence gave expression to the prevailing state of mind.

'I suppose, Thorndyke, you know what is expected of you?'

Thorndyke turned an impassive face towards his guest. 'On these triumphal
occasions,' said he, 'I usually smoke a Trichinopoly cigar. On this
occasion, I presume, I am expected to refrain.'

'Not at all,' replied Drayton. 'I think we can endure the Trichy with
reasonable fortitude; what we can't endure is the agony of curiosity. We
demand enlightenment.'

'You want to know how the "little Sphinx" answered its own riddle. Is
that your demand?'

'I understood you to say,' said I, 'that the problem of the crime and
that of the missing deeds were one and the same.'

'I said that they were closely connected. But if you want an exposition
of the unravelment, it will be more convenient to take them separately
and in the order in which they were presented. In which case we begin
with the crime.'

He paused, and I saw him glance with an indulgent smile towards the
office door which was incompletely closed, and from which issued faint
sounds of furtive movement which informed us that Polton had elected to
take his dinner within earshot of the exposition.

'We had better begin,' he proceeded, 'with the facts presented to us on
the night of the tragedy. First as to the criminals. There were traces of
two men, and only two. One of these was a tall man, as shown by the size
of his feet. He appeared to suffer from some weakness of the left leg.
The sound of his footsteps, as heard by Anstey, suggested a slightly lame
man, but as he ran away rapidly he could not have been very lame. Yet
there was some distinct disability, since he had to draw up a garden seat
to enable him to get over a fence which we climbed easily; and the faint
impression of the left foot under the fence showed that, when he jumped
down, the weight was taken principally by the right. Examination of the
cast of his left hand showed a depressed scar on the tip of the
forefinger. We also gathered that he carried a Baby Browning pistol and
appeared to be a skilful pistol shot.

'Of the other man we learned less. He was noticeably small and slight; he
was left-handed; he had dark hair, and at the time of the robbery he was
wearing gloves, apparently of kid or thin leather. But later, when
examining the tuft of his hair that was found grasped by the deceased, we
made an important discovery. Among those dark hairs was a single blonde
hair--not white, but golden--which could not have come from his own head.
Of its presence there seemed to be only two possible explanations: either
it had been rubbed off, or had fallen from the head of some other person,
or it had become detached from the inside of a wig. But the first
explanation was ruled out--'

'How?' demanded Brodribb.

'By its appearance under the microscope. When you find an alien hair, on
your coat-sleeve, for instance--'

'I don't,' said Brodribb, 'at my time of life.'

'--If you examine it under the microscope, or even with a strong lens,
you will invariably find it to be a dead hair--a hair which has completed
its growth and dropped out of its sheath. You can identify it by the
presence of the complete bulb and the absence of the inner root-sheath
(which would be adherent to it if it had been pulled out while growing).
Well, this blonde hair had no bulb. It had both ends broken, which
suggested unusual brittleness, as if it had been treated with some
bleach, such as chlorine or hydrogen peroxide. But the hair of wigs shows
absence of bulbs and is commonly so treated and is usually somewhat
brittle. Thus the probability was that this man had recently worn a wig
of artificially bleached hair.

'These were our initial data concerning these two men. There were also
some fingerprints, but we will consider those separately. The initial
data included the character of the things stolen. These were of
insignificant intrinsic value and were very easily identifiable. They
were thus quite unacceptable to the ordinary professional thief, yet the
evidence (of the suspicious visitor) suggested that they knew what they
were stealing. One of the things stolen--the cat's eye pendant--was known
to have an extrinsic value and to have been eagerly sought by other
persons, and there was thus the bare suggestion that this pendant might
have been the object of the robbery.

'We now come to the fingerprints. These presented some very remarkable
anomalies. In the first place, they were not the fingerprints of either
of the robbers. That was certain. The small man wore gloves, so they
could not have been his; and the tall man had a depressed scar on the tip
of his left forefinger, whereas there was no trace of any such scar on
the corresponding fingerprint. But if they were not the fingerprints of
either of the robbers, whose fingerprints were they? There was no trace
of any third person, and it was practically certain that no third person
was present.

'But there was another striking anomaly. Although there were numerous
impressions, only six digits were represented--the forefinger and thumb
of the left hand and the thumb and the first three fingers of the right.
Every impression of the right hand showed the same four digits, every
impression of the left showed the same two.

'Now what could be the explanation of this curious repetition? Anstey's
very reasonable suggestion was that the man had soiled these particular
digits with some foreign substance and that, consequently, the soiled
digits alone had made prints. This suggestion received a certain amount
of support from the fact that a foreign substance actually was
present--it proved, on examination, to be Japanese wax. But though the
presence of the wax accounted for the distinctness of the fingerprints
that were there, it did not explain why the other fingers had made no
mark at all. I examined the glass which bore the fingerprints with the
utmost minuteness, but in no case was there the faintest trace of the
other fingers. Yet those fingers, if they had existed, must have touched
the glass, and if they had touched it they would have made marks. The
only explanation seemed to be that there were no other fingers; that the
prints were not real fingerprints at all, but counterfeits made by means
of facsimile stamps of rubber, roller-composition, or--more
probably--chrome gelatine.

'It seemed a far-fetched hypothesis. But it fitted all the facts, and
there seemed to be no other explanation. Thus the use of a set of stamps
would explain the existence of a set of fingerprints which were not those
of either of the parties present; it would explain the repetition of the
same group of digits (on the assumption that only six stamps were
available which might easily be the case if these stamps were copies of a
particular group of fingerprints); and lastly, it would explain the
presence of the Japanese wax.'

'How would it?' I asked.

'Well, some foreign substance would be necessary. In a real
fingerprint--on glass, for instance--the mark is produced by the natural
grease of the fingers. But a rubber or gelatine stamp has no natural
grease. It is quite dry, and would make no mark at all unless it were
charged with some sticky or greasy material. Now Japanese wax is an ideal
material for the purpose. It is markedly sticky and would consequently
develop up splendidly with dusting powder; it has no tendency to spread
or run, so that it gives very clear impressions; and it might easily be
mistaken for natural skin-grease.

'The counterfeit fingerprints hypothesis was, therefore, the only one
that explained the facts, and I adopted it provisionally, assuming that
the stamps were probably thin plates of rubber or gelatine cemented on
the finger tips of the gloves worn by the short man.

'A few days later I received a visit from Detective-Superintendent Miller
who informed me that the fingerprints had been identified at the registry
as those of a well-known "habitual" named Hedges, more commonly known as
Moakey. Of course this did not alter the position since there was no
evidence that Moakey had ever been on the premises. However, I decided to
wait until he was arrested and hear what he had to say. But he never was
arrested. A day or two later, the Superintendent called on me again, and
this time he settled the matter finally. My impression was, and is, that
he came intending to make a clean breast of the matter, but that at the
last moment he shied at the responsibility of giving away official
secrets. What he actually said was that there had been a mistake; that
the fingerprints were not Moakey's after all.

'Of course this was absurd. A mistake might occur with a single
fingerprint, but with a set of six it was incredible. What had happened
appeared to me quite obvious. The fingerprints had been submitted to the
experts, who had at once identified them as Moakey's. Then the executive
had set out to arrest Moakey--and had discovered that he was in prison.
If that was really what had happened, it furnished conclusive proof that
the fingerprints were forgeries.

'At once I set to work to ascertain if it were so. I searched the lists
of convictions at assizes, quarter-sessions, and so forth, and eventually
ran Moakey to earth. He had been convicted six months previously and
sentenced to two years' imprisonment with hard labour. So, at the date of
the murder, he had been in prison about six months.

'We were now on solid ground. We knew that the fingerprints were
forgeries. But we knew more than this. The forgery of a fingerprint,
unlike that of a signature, is a purely mechanical operation, carried out
either by photography or by some other reproductive process. The forged
print is necessarily a mechanical copy of an existing real print. Whence
it follows that the existence of a forgery is evidence of the existence
of an original. And more than that, it is evidence that the forger had
access to that original. Now these forgeries were copies of Moakey's
fingerprints. It followed that we had to look for somebody who had had
access to Moakey's fingerprints.

'Fortunately we had not far to look. At the first interview the
Superintendent had referred to a previous exploit of Moakey's; a burglary
at a country house, when that artist was apprehended and convicted on the
evidence of his fingerprints, which were found on a silver salver. A
photograph of these fingerprints was immediately taken by the owner of
the house and given to the police, who took them straight to Scotland
Yard. I looked up the report of that case and had the good fortune to
find that the fingerprints were described. There were six of them, the
thumb and first three fingers of the right hand, and the forefinger and
thumb of the left hand.

'This was extremely interesting. But still more so was the fact that the
house which was broken into was Beauchamp Blake, and the further fact
that the owner who photographed the fingerprints was Mr Arthur Blake.

'I need not point out the importance of the discovery. It told us that
Arthur Blake had had, and presumably still had, in his possession, a set
of negatives with which it was possible to make the stamps of these very
fingerprints. It did not, however, follow that he had made the stamps,
for that would demand an amount of technical knowledge and skill far
beyond that of an ordinary photographer; knowledge ordinarily possessed
only by professional photo-engravers. He might have such knowledge or he
might have employed some one else. At any rate, he had the negatives and
had made them himself.

'But Blake was not only associated with the fingerprints. He was also
associated with the stolen property. Of all the persons known to us, he
was the most likely to wish to acquire the cat's eye pendant. So, you
see, the investigation, which started with a certain connection with
Beauchamp Blake, led us straight to Beauchamp Blake again. And there we
will leave it for the moment and approach the problem from one or two
different directions.

'First we will consider the mysterious woman who came into view on the
day of the inquest and who presumably sent the poisoned chocolates. Who
was she? And what was her connection with the case? Now, the first thing
that struck me in the description of her was her hair. It was of that
brassy, golden tint that one associates with bleaches such as hydrogen
peroxide. I recalled the stray hair from the small man's head which had
suggested that he had worn a wig of precisely this character. The obvious
suggestion was that this woman and that small man were one and the same
person. They appeared to be similar in stature, there were good reasons
why they should be the same, and no reasons why they should not. But,
assuming them to be the same (it was afterwards proved that they were)
the question arose, is this woman a disguised man or was that man a
disguised woman? The latter view was clearly the more probable, for
whereas a woman, if she cuts her hair short, will pass easily for a
clean-shaved man, a clean-shaved man does not pass so easily for a woman,
especially if he is dark, as this person was. It seemed probable,
therefore, that this was really a woman--a dark woman wearing a fair wig.
But who she was, and what--if any--was her relation to Blake, remained
for the present a mystery.

'We now come to the man Halliburton. Obviously he was an object of deep
suspicion. His only known address was an hotel. He visited Andrew Drayton
without any reasonable purpose. He tried unsuccessfully to purchase the
cat's eye pendant, and within four days of his failure the jewel was
stolen. Then he disappeared, leaving no trace.

'Anstey and I called at his hotel to make enquiries about him. There we
obtained a photograph of his signature, which we have not used, but which
will be produced at the inquest, and we acquired some information which
has been invaluable. He had lost, and left behind, a mascot which he
valued so highly that he offered ten pounds reward for its recovery. We
got the loan of it, and Polton made this indistinguishable facsimile.'
Here Thorndyke passed round Polton's masterpiece for inspection. 'Now,'
he continued, 'in connection with this mascot, two very important facts
emerged. One was that, as Anstey expressed it, this man was a
superstitious ass, a man who believed in the occult properties of mascots
and charms. The importance of that becomes evident when we remember that
the cat's eye was, in effect, a mascot--an object credited with occult
powers affecting the fortunes of its owner. It enables us to understand
his anxiety to possess the cat's eye.

'The other important fact emerges from the nature of the thing itself. It
is a neck vertebra of an Echidna, or porcupine ant-eater, decorated with
aboriginal ornament. The Echidna is an animal peculiar to Tasmania and
Australia, and the ornament is distinctive of the locality. This mascot,
therefore, established some connection between Halliburton and
Australasia. But Blake had lived most of his adult life in Australia.
There was, however, a difficulty. Punched on the mascot--apparently with
typefounder's steel punches--were the letters o and h. The name signed
in the hotel register was Oscar Halliburton, and these letters seemed to
be his initials. But if that was so, Oscar Halliburton would appear to be
a real person and consequently could not be Arthur Blake.

'Thus, at this stage of the inquiry, on the hypothesis that the robbery
had been committed by Blake, we had two persons whom we could not account
for--the unknown woman (possibly a man) and Mr Oscar Halliburton.

'But just as we appeared to have reached an impasse, Mr Brodribb threw a
flood of light on the problem. For different reasons, Sir Lawrence and I
were anxious to obtain some particulars of Arthur Blake and his affairs,
and these particulars Mr Brodribb was fortunately in a position to supply.
The information that he furnished amounted to this:

'Arthur Blake appeared to be a decent, industrious man with nothing
against him but the rather queer company that he had kept. He had been
associated in Australia with a man named Hugh Owen, who was a person of
shady antecedents, and who, on his side, was associated with a woman
named Laura Levinsky who appeared to be definitely a bad character, and
who, like Owen, was under police observation. These two persons seem to
have separated immediately after Blake's departure for England, and both
disappeared. Levinsky was lost sight of for good, but Owen's body--or
rather unrecognisable remains--came to light some years later and was
identified by a ring which was known to have belonged to Owen.

'Certain particulars that Mr Brodribb gave concerning Owen made a
considerable impression on me. For instance, it appeared that Owen was
originally a photo-engraver by trade and that he had later owned a small
type-foundry. Also that he had fractured his left kneecap and that this
injury was certainly never completely repaired. But the first thing that
struck me on looking at this party of three was that whereas Blake
appears to have been a respectable man and most unlikely to have
committed an atrocious crime such as the one we were investigating, the
same could not be said of his two companions, and inevitably I found the
question creeping into my mind: Is it certain that those remains were
really the remains of Owen? Or may it have been that they were those of
Arthur Blake? That these two criminals had murdered Blake when Brodribb's
letter arrived: that Owen had taken the papers and credentials and come
to England personating Blake, and that Levinsky had come by another
route?

'It seemed, perhaps, a rather violent supposition; but it was quite
possible; and the instant it was adopted as a working hypothesis, all the
difficulties of the case vanished as if by magic. We could now account
for the mysterious woman. We could also account for Halliburton, for the
letters on the mascot could be read either way-o h for Oscar Halliburton
or h o for Hugh Owen; and Owen had possessed and used in his type-foundry
steel punches exactly like those with which the letters had been made;
and further, Owen was a native of Tasmania and had lived many years in
Australia. He fitted the mascot perfectly.

'Then Owen had been a photo-engraver; that is to say, he possessed the
very kind of knowledge and skill that was necessary to make the stamps
for the fingerprints; and he agreed with the taller of the two criminals
in that he had a marked weakness of the left leg. In short, the
agreements were so striking as to leave little doubt in my mind that our
two criminals were Owen and Levinsky, and that the former was in
possession of Beauchamp Blake, personating the murdered owner.

'One point only remained to be verified in order to complete this aspect
of the case. We had to ascertain whether the man who was posing as Arthur
Blake had, in fact, fractured a knee-cap. I was casting about for some
means of getting this information when the third attempt was made on Miss
Blake's life, and it became evident that the danger to her was too great
to admit of further delay. Just then Sir Lawrence asked me to go down
with him to Aylesbury, and that proposal suggested to me the plan of
visiting Beauchamp Blake and making an unmistakable demonstration. I had
learned from Mr Brodribb something of the squire's habits, and I got
further details from the landlord of the "King's Head." With the help of
the latter I obtained access to the park at the time when the squire
would be coming out, and I planted myself, with Anstey, where we were
bound to be noticed.

'My object was twofold. First, I wanted to ascertain, if possible,
whether the squire had any abnormal condition of the left leg, and if so,
whether that condition was probably due to a fractured knee-cap, and
secondly, I proposed to make such a demonstration as would convince him
(if he were really Owen) that it was useless to murder Miss Blake until
he had settled with me, and that it would be highly unsafe to make any
further attempts. To this latter end I attached Polton's facsimile of the
mascot to my watch-guard, where it could hardly fail to be seen, and
then, as I have said, I planted myself on the road leading to the gate.

'Both purposes were achieved. I was able to verify with my own eyes the
landlord's statement that the squire habitually mounted his horse from
the off-side, a most inconvenient method of mounting, but one that would
be rendered absolutely necessary by a fractured left knee-cap. Then, as I
had expected, he recognised me instantly--no doubt from the portrait
published in the newspapers--and dismounted to examine me more closely;
and when he came near, he saw the mascot and it was obvious that he
recognised it. I detached it and handed it to him, giving him such
details as must have made clear to him that I knew its history and knew
of his connection with it. His manner left me in no doubt that he fully
understood the hint and that he accepted my challenge, and further proof
was furnished by the fact that he sent a man to shadow us home and
ascertain for certain who we were. So that matters were now on a
perfectly definite footing, and I may add that further verification, if
it had been needed, was supplied by the circumstance that, on this very
day, Anstey caught a glimpse of Levinsky, disguised as a man, in the
market square at Aylesbury. The rest of the story I think you all know.'

'Yes,' said Drayton, 'we gathered that from your written statement. But
what is not clear to me is why you considered it necessary to thrust your
head into the lion's jaws. You seem to have had a complete case against
these two wretches. Why couldn't you have lodged an information and had
them arrested?'

'I was afraid to take the risk,' replied Thorndyke. 'To us the case looks
complete. But how would it have looked to the police? or to a possibly
unimaginative magistrate? or, especially to a jury of ordinary, and
perhaps thick-headed, tradesmen and artisans? Juries like direct
evidence, and that was what I was trying to produce. I had no doubt that
these two persons would try to murder me and Anstey, and that we should
prevent them from succeeding. Then we could charge them with the attempt
and prove it by direct evidence, after which we could have proceeded
confidently with the second charge of the murder of Andrew Drayton.'

'I think Thorndyke was right,' said I, seeing that Sir Lawrence still
looked doubtful. 'From my large experience of juries in criminal cases, I
feel that this intricate train of inferential evidence would have been
rather unconvincing by itself, but that it would have been quite
effective if it had come after a charge supported by the testimony of
eye-witnesses, such as we should have been.'

'Well,' said Drayton, 'we will agree that the circumstances justified the
risk, and certainly the unravelment of this case by means of such almost
invisible data is a most remarkable achievement. This exposition has
whetted my appetite for the explanation of the other mystery.'

'Yes,' said Winifred. 'I am on tenterhooks to hear how you made the
"little Sphinx" answer its own riddle. Shall I hand you the locket?'

'If you please; and the Book of Hours. And if we can get Polton to put
the microscope on the table with the slide that is on the stage, we shall
have all that we want for the demonstration.'

At this Polton emerged unblushingly from the office, and having put the
microscope on the table, carefully adjusted the mirror and then, with
brazen effrontery, took a long and intent look through the instrument,
under the pretence of seeing that the specimen was properly lighted.

'There is no need for you to go back to the office, Polton,' my colleague
said with a smile at his familiar. 'We shall want your help with the
microscope presently. Draw up a chair for yourself.'

Polton seated himself opposite the instrument with a smile of intense
gratification, and Thorndyke then resumed:

'This investigation was a much simpler affair than the other. You may
remember, Miss Blake, showing me the locket that night when I called with
Anstey at your studio, and you will remember that we noted the very
unusual construction; the evident purpose of the maker to render it as
strong and durable as workmanship could make it. This curious
construction--which I pointed out at the time--caused me to examine it
rather closely. And then I made a rather strange discovery.'

Winifred leaned forward and gazed at him with breathless expectancy.

'It was concerned with the hallmark,' he continued. 'There are, as you
see, four punch-marks. The first is a capital A with two palm-leaves
surmounted by a crown. The second is an escutcheon or shape with the
initials AH surmounted by a crown and over that a fleur-de-lis. The third
is a capital L, and the fourth is the head of an animal which looks like
a horse. This grouping shows that the piece is French. The first mark is
the town mark, the second the maker's mark, the third is the date letter,
and the fourth is the mark of the Farmer of the Duty. Now, I happened to
have had occasion to give some attention to the marks on old French
plate, and I happened to have read, only an hour or two previously, the
fragmentary narrative of Percival Blake. Accordingly, when I examined the
hallmark and learned from it that this locket had been made in Paris in
the year 1751, that fact at once arrested my attention.'

'How did you learn that from the hallmark?' Winifred asked.

'It is the function of the hallmark to give that information,' he
replied. 'The town-mark of Paris is a capital A surmounted by a crown,
but it varies in style from year to year. This one is a Roman capital
with two palm-leaves and a very small crown. That is the form used in the
middle of the eighteenth century, but the date is definitely fixed by the
date-letter--in this case a capital L, which indicates the year 1751.

'It was, of course, a very remarkable coincidence that this locket should
have been made at the place and in the year of Judith Blake's death, and
it naturally caused me to look at the little trinket more narrowly.
Hitherto I had assumed, as you did, that the object that Percival
referred to was the cat's eye pendant. But I now recalled that he had not
specifically mentioned the pendant, and that he had spoken of it as "the
bauble" or "the trinket," never as "the jewel." It was thus just barely
conceivable that this mysterious little object might be the one to which
he was referring; and the instant the question was raised, the evidence
supporting it began to run together like drops of water.

'First, there was the inscription, "O BIOC BPAXYO H AE TEXNH MAKPH,"
"Life is short but Art is long." It was the motto of the practitioner of
some art or craft. But artists and craftsmen almost invariably use the
Latin form, "Ars longa, Vita brevis--Art is long. Life is short." But
there is one body of craftsmen who use the Greek form. It is the motto of
the London College of Physicians, and moreover it is written by them in
the same uncial characters, with the round, C-shaped sigma. Now Percival
was a physician and a fellow of this very college, and he was an
enthusiast who originally practised his profession for love and not from
necessity or for a livelihood. What more natural than that he should use
the motto of his own college?

'Then there was the construction of the locket--everything sacrificed to
permanence and durability. It fitted the circumstances perfectly. And
there were the unusual suspension rings, specially adapted to take a cord
or thong. I recalled the enigmatic words "gave me a string from his bass
viol, which he says will be the best of all." Remembering that the bass
viol would be a viol da gamba or violoncello, not a double-bass, we see
that this was true; the stout gut string would last for a century or
more.

'Then again there were the scripture references which you showed me. The
first was "And then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children
with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession
of his fathers shall he return." That was a most striking passage. It
was an exact statement of Percival's aim--incidentally illustrating the
way in which the other passages were to be treated; and when I noted that
the principal word in the last reference was "parchments," I felt that a
prima facie case had been made out. I had little doubt that this locket
was the "precious bauble" that was handed to--and presumably lost
by--Jenifer.

'But after all this was only guesswork. We had to get down to
certainties. And, fortunately, there was available an excellent and
conclusive test. If the locket was Percival's, the hair in it was almost
certainly Judith's. Now there was something very unusual about Judith's
hair. During her imprisonment it had undergone a most extraordinary
change. Percival tells us that when she was released, "her hair, that had
been like spun gold, was turned to a strange black." This was very
remarkable. Judith was evidently a true blonde, and when she was
arrested, she must have been getting on for thirty years of age. But the
hair of a blonde adult does not turn black from ill-health and grief. It
tends rather to turn white. What could be the explanation of the change?

'It is a very curious one. Judith had been labouring in the mines in the
Harz Mountains. These mines yield a number of different metals, and some
of them are extremely poisonous. They are ancient mines, and in the
Middle Ages, when the properties of metals were less understood, the
terrible condition to which persons who worked in them were reduced by
chronic poisoning was put down to the influence of a race of malignant
gnomes who were believed to inhabit the mines and who were known as
kobolds. In particular, the influence of the kobolds came to be
associated with a particular, uncanny ore from which no metal could
be--in those days--extracted, and in the end this ore came to be known by
the name of these mine-gnomes or kobolds, and that name it bears this
day, in the slightly altered form of cobalt.

'Now, the metal, cobalt, has one or two very distinctive properties. One
is that of imparting a powerful and beautiful blue colour to substances
with which it combines. This was the value of the ore, and for this it
has been prized from quite ancient times. We find it in use everywhere.
The blue of all the Chinese porcelain is cobalt. The blue of the old
Delft pottery is cobalt. The blue in all the old stained-glass
windows--and modern ones too--is cobalt.

'Then this metal has another curious property which it shares with
arsenic and one or two other metals. It is capable of being absorbed into
the body and producing poisonous effects, and when so absorbed, it
becomes deposited in the skin, or, more correctly speaking, in the
epidermis and its appendages--the fingernails and the hair. But whereas
the outer skin and the nails wear away and are cast off, the
hair--especially a woman's hair--remains attached for long periods.
Consequently, in chronic cobalt poisoning, the hair becomes charged with
a cobalt compound--probably an oxide--and is stained blue.

'Bearing these facts in mind, we can now understand what had happened to
Judith. She had been sent to labour in a mine which yielded cobalt, and
probably nickel. Her hair had not turned black, it had turned blue,
though, in the mass, it would appear black--a strange, unnatural black,
as Percival tells us. Thus, if the hair in this locket was the hair of
Judith Blake, it would appear blue when properly examined. I took an
opportunity to get possession of the locket, and that very night I
removed the remains of the cover-glass and picked out a single hair,
which I mounted in Canada balsam and examined under the microscope. That
hair is on the stage of the microscope now. Polton will bring it round
and let you see it.'

Our assistant tenderly carried the microscope round and set it before
Winifred, and having adjusted the light and the focus, stepped back to
watch the effect.

'But how extraordinary!' she exclaimed as she looked into the eyepiece.
'It looks like a thread of blue glass! And how strange and romantic!'

Brodribb and Drayton rose from their chairs and came round, all agog to
see this prodigy. In succession they gazed at it with murmurs of
astonishment and then went back to their seats, still muttering.

'The appearance of that hair,' Thorndyke resumed, 'settled the question
conclusively. This was Percival's trinket beyond a doubt, and all that
remained was to read the message inside. As we now knew what to look for,
this presented no difficulty at all. It was no cipher or cryptogram. It
was simply a collection of texts, from each of which, as the first one
showed, the instructed reader would have no difficulty in picking out the
significant word or phrase. We may as well just run through them and see
what they tell us.

'Number one, Leviticus 25. 41, we have already considered. It is the
preamble which indicates the purport of the remainder. I see you have
your notebook. Will you read us out the next?'

'Number two,' said Winifred, 'is Psalms 121, 1: "I will lift up mine eyes
unto the hills, from whence cometh my help!" That is the passage, but it
doesn't convey any intelligible meaning to me.'

'No,' said Thorndyke, 'it doesn't, because you have got the wrong Psalm.
You looked up your reference in the English Authorised Version,
overlooking the fact that Percival was probably a Catholic and certainly
a resident in France, and also that the references were given with Latin
titles, suggesting that he used the Latin Vulgate. This happens to be
matter of vital importance in this case, as the Psalms are not numbered
quite alike in the two Bibles. Psalm 121 in the Vulgate is 122 in the
Authorised Version. Here is the Douay Bible, which is the official
translation of the Vulgate, and if we refer to Psalm 121.1 in it, we find
"I rejoiced at the things that were said to me; We shall go into the
house of the Lord." That is quite illuminating. It tells us that we are
concerned with a church, and the next reference tells us what church. It
is Actus Apostolorum 10.5'

'Yes,' said Winifred,' "And now send men to Joppa, and call for one
Simon, whose surname is Peter."'

'That,' said Thorndyke, 'gives us the church of St Peter. The next,' he
continued, glancing at the notebook which Winifred had handed to him, 'is
Nehemias 8. 4. "And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood"--we need
not complete the passage. The pulpit of wood is obviously the significant
part. Then we come to 3 Lib. Regum 7. 41--by the way, that third book of
Kings might have given you a hint that you were not dealing with the
Authorised Version. It reads: "The two pillars, and the two bowls of the
chapiters that were on the top of the two pillars," etc. The meaning of
this passage was not very clear. It had some connection with the pulpit
of St Peters Church, but what the connection was, it was not easy to
guess. Of course, directly one saw the pulpit, the meaning was obvious.

'The next reference is to Psalm 31. 7, and again you have taken the
Authorised Version and got the wrong Psalm. Psalm 31 in the Vulgate is
Psalm 32 in the Authorised Version. Your reading is "I will be glad and
rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast
known my soul in adversities." This, as you say, seems quite irrelevant,
but if you had turned forward to Psalm 32. 7, you would have read: "Thou
art my hiding-place" or "refuge," as the Vulgate has it, which is very
relevant indeed. The last reference is 2 Epist. ad Tim. "The cloak that I
left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the
books, but especially the parchments."

'Thus, taking the references together, they suggest to us the ideas of
parchments, a hiding-place, and the two pillars (and their capitals) of
the wooden pulpit of the church of St Peter. It was perfectly plain and
simple to a reader who knew the kind of information that was being given
and who knew of the existence of this particular church. To a stranger,
on the other hand, it was perfectly meaningless and undecipherable.'

'It certainly looks very simple now that we have heard the explanation,'
said Winifred, 'but it didn't seem so when I was trying to work it out
myself. There didn't seem to be anything to go on.'

'No,' agreed Sir Lawrence, 'there didn't seem to be anything to go on in
either case. The clues were perfectly invisible, and I don't believe any
one but our friend would have discovered a particle of evidence.'

Brodribb chuckled and reached out for the decanter. 'I agree with you,
Drayton,' said he. 'Thorndyke reminds me of that, probably fabulous, kind
of Indian juggler who throws a rope into the air and proceeds to climb up
it and pull it up after him. He can work without any visible means of
support. However, he has conducted our various affairs to a highly
satisfactory conclusion, and I propose that we charge our glasses in his
honour and invite him to light the Trichinopoly, which, I believe, is his
disgusting habit on occasions of this kind.'

Accordingly the glasses were filled, the toast pledged, and the virulent
little cheroot duly lighted; with which mystical rite the case of the
Cat's Eye was formally closed and dismissed into the domain of memory.

There is little more to tell. I am finishing this narrative in a
pleasant, panelled room in the old mansion of Beauchamp Blake, one of a
suite assigned by Percy to Winifred and me, in which we commonly spend
our weekends--for our normal abiding-place is still the Temple. Percy is
growing apace, and like his ancestor and namesake, refuses to abandon his
professional ambitions. At present he is engaged, under the direction of
a famous architect, in restoring the old house to its former comeliness,
and only this morning I saw them together superintending the replacement
of a perished fascia with a sturdy oaken plank, enriched with fine
carving and bearing in raised letters the legend: 'God's Providence is
Mine Inheritance.'



THE END




This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia