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Title: Dr Thorndyke Intervenes (1933)
Author: R Austin Freeman
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1000181.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: March 2010
Date most recently updated: March 2010

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

Title: Dr Thorndyke Intervenes (1933)
Author: R Austin Freeman



CONTENTS

I     OF A STRANGE TREASURE TROVE AND A DOUBLE LIFE
II    MR. BUFFHAM'S LEGAL FRIEND
III   MR. PIPPET GIVES EVIDENCE
IV    THE FINDING OF THE JURY
V     THE GREAT PLATINUM ROBBERY
VI    MR. BRODRIBB'S DILEMMA
VII   THE FINAL PREPARATIONS
VIII  THE OPENING OF THE CASE
IX    THE EVIDENCE OF CHRISTOPHER J. PIPPET
X     JOSIAH?
XI    PLUMBER'S ODDMENTS AND OTHER MATTERS
XII   THORNDYKE BECOMES INTERESTED
XIII  THE DENE HOLE
XIV   DR. THORNDYKE'S EVIDENCE
XV    A JOURNEY AND A DISCUSSION
XVI   THE STATEMENT OF FREDERICK BUNTER
XVII  THE UNCONSCIOUS RECEIVERS
XVIII THE END OF THE CASE AND OTHER MATTERS
XIX   JOSIAH?
XX    THORNDYKE RESOLVES A MYSTERY
XXI   JERVIS COMPLETES THE STORY





CHAPTER I--OF A STRANGE TREASURE TROVE AND A DOUBLE LIFE


The attendant at the cloak room at Fenchurch Street Station glanced at
the ticket which had just been handed to him by a tall, hawk-faced and
rather anxious-looking man, and ran an inquiring eye over the assemblage
of trunks, bags and other objects that crowded the floor of the room.

"Wooden, iron-bound case, you said?" he remarked.

"Yes. Name of Dobson on the label. That looks like the one," he added,
craning over the barrier and watching eagerly as the attendant threaded
his way among the litter of packages.

"Dobson it is," the man confirmed, stooping over the case, and, with an
obviously puzzled expression, comparing the ticket that had been pasted
on it with the counterfoil which he held in his hand. "Rum affair,
though," he added. "It seems to be your case but it has got the wrong
number on it. Will you come in and have a look at it and see that it is
all right?"

The presumptive owner offered no objection. On the contrary, he raised
the bar of the barrier with the greatest alacrity and took the shortest
route among the trunks and portmanteaux until he arrived at the place
where the case was standing. And then his expression became even more
puzzled than that of the attendant.

"This is very extraordinary," he exclaimed.

"What is?" demanded the attendant.

"Why!" the other explained, "it is the right name and the same sort of
case; but this is not the label that I wrote and I don't believe that it
is the same case."

The attendant regarded him with a surprised grin and again remarked that
"it was a rum affair," adding, after a reflective pause: "It rather
looks as if there had been some mistake, as there easily might be with
two cases exactly alike and the same name on both. Were the contents of
your case of any particular value?"

"They were, indeed!" the owner exclaimed in an agitated tone. "That case
contained property worth several thousand pounds."

The attendant whistled and apparently began to see things in a new
light, for he asked a little anxiously: "When do you say you deposited
the case?"

"Late on Saturday evening."

"Yes, I thought I remembered," said the attendant. "Then the muddle, if
there has been one, must have happened yesterday. I wasn't here then. It
was my Sunday off. But are you quite sure that this is really not your
case?"

"It certainly is not the label that I wrote," was the reply. "But I
won't swear that it is a different case; though I don't think that it is
the right one. But you see, as the name on the label is my name and the
address is my address, it can't be a matter of a simple mistake. It
looks like a case of deliberate substitution. And that seems to be borne
out by the fact that the change must have been made on a Sunday when the
regular attendant was not here."

"Yes," the other agreed, "there's no denying that it does look a bit
fishy. But look here, sir; if your name and address is on the label, you
are entitled to assume that this is your case. As you say, it is either
yours or it is a deliberate substitute, and, in either case, you have
the right to open it and see if your property is inside. That will
settle the question right away. I can lend you a screw-driver."

The presumptive owner caught eagerly at the suggestion and began
forthwith to untie the thick cord which surrounded the case. The
screw-driver was produced, and, while the official turned away to attend
to two other clients, it was plied vigorously on the eight long screws
by which the lid of the case was secured.

The two newcomers, of whom one appeared to be an American and the other
an Englishman, had come to claim a number of trunks and travelling-bags;
and as some of these, especially those belonging to the American
gentleman, were of imposing dimensions, the attendant prudently admitted
them that they might identify their packages and so save unnecessary
hauling about. While they were carrying out their search he returned to
Mr. Dobson and watched him as he extracted the last of the screws.

"Now we shall see whether there has been any jiggery pokery," he
remarked, when the screw had been laid down with the others, and Mr.
Dobson prepared to raise the lid. And in fact they did see; and a very
singular effect the sight had on them both. Mr. Dobson sprang back with
a gasp of horror and the attendant uttered the single word "Golly!"

After staring into the case incredulously for a couple of amazed
seconds, Dobson slammed down the lid and demanded, breathlessly, "Where
can I find a policeman?"

"You'll find one somewhere near the barrier or else just outside the
station. Or you could get on the phone and--"

Mr. Dobson did not wait to hear the conclusion of the sentence but
darted out towards the barrier and disappeared in the direction of the
main entrance. Meanwhile, the two strangers, who had apparently
overheard Mr. Dobson's question, abandoned for the time being the
inspection of their luggage and approached the case, on which the
attendant's eyes were still riveted.

"Anything amiss?" the Englishman asked.

The attendant made no reply but silently lifted the lid of the case,
held it up for a moment or two and then let it drop.

"Good Lord!" exclaimed the Englishman, "it looks like a man's head!"

"It _is_ a man's head," the attendant confirmed. And, in fact, there was
no doubt about it, though only a hairy crown was visible, through a
packing of clothes or rags.

"Who is the chappie who has just bolted out?" the Englishman inquired.
"He seemed mightily taken aback."

"So would you have been," the attendant retorted, "if you had come to
claim a package and found this in its place." He followed up this remark
with a brief summary of the circumstances.

"Well!" observed the American, "I have heard it said that exchange is no
robbery, but I guess that the party who made this exchange got the best
of the deal."

The Englishman grinned. "You are right there, Mr. Pippet," said he.
"I've heard of a good many artful dodges for disposing of a superfluous
corpse, but I have never heard of a murderer swapping it for a case of
jewellery or bullion."

The three men stood silently looking at the case and occasionally
glancing round in the direction of the entrance. Presently the American
inquired:

"Is there any particular scarcity of policemen in this city?"

The attendant looked round again anxiously towards the entrance.

"He _is_ a long time finding that policeman," said he in reply to the
implied comment.

"Yes," rejoined Mr. Pippet; "and I guess that policeman will be a long
time finding him."

The attendant turned on him with a distinctly startled expression.

"You don't think he has done a bunk, do you?" he asked uneasily.

"Well," replied Pippet, "he didn't waste any time in getting outside,
and he doesn't seem to have had much luck in what he went for. I reckon
one of us had better have a try. You know the place better than I do,
Buffham."

"Yes, sir, if you would," urged the attendant. "I can't leave the place
myself. But I think we ought to have a constable as soon as possible,
and it does rather look as if that gent had mizzled."

On this, Mr. Buffham turned and rapidly made his way through the litter
of trunks and packages and strode away towards the entrance through
which he vanished, while the attendant reluctantly tore himself away
from the mysterious case to hand out one or two rugs and suit-cases, and
Mr. Pippet resumed his salvage operations on his trunks and
portmanteaux. In less than three minutes Mr. Buffham was seen returning
with a constable, and the attendant raised the barrier to admit them.
Apparently, Mr. Buffham had given the officer a general sketch of the
circumstances as they had come along, for the latter remarked, as he
eyed the case:

"So this is the box of mystery, is it? And you say that there is a
person's head inside it?"

"You can see for yourself," said the attendant; and with this he raised
the lid, and, having peered in, he looked at the constable, who, after
an impassive and judicial survey, admitted that it did look like a man's
head, and produced from his pocket a portentous, black note book.

"The first question," said he, "is about this man who has absconded. Can
you give me a description of him?"

The three men consulted and between them evolved a description which
might have been illuminating to anyone who was intimately acquainted
with the absent stranger, but furnished indifferent material for the
identification of an unknown individual. They agreed, however, that he
was somewhat tall and dark, with a thin face, a Torpedo beard and
moustache, and a rather prominent nose; that he was dressed in
dark-coloured clothing and wore a soft felt hat. Mr. Pippet further
expressed the opinion that the man's hair and beard were dyed.

"Yes," said the constable, closing his note book, "he seems to have been
a good deal like other people. They usually are. That's the worst of it.
If people who commit crimes would only be a bit more striking in their
appearance and show a little originality in the way they dress, it would
make things so much more simple for us. But it's a queer affair. The
puzzle is what he came here for, and why, having come, he proceeded to
do a bolt. He couldn't have known what was in the case, or he wouldn't
have come. And, if the case wasn't his, I don't see why he should have
hopped it and put himself under suspicion. I had better take your names
and addresses, gentlemen, as you saw him, though you don't seem to have
much to tell. Then I think I will get on the phone to headquarters."

He re-opened the note book and, having taken down the names and
addresses of the two gentlemen, went out in search of the telephone.

As he departed, Mr. Pippet, apparently dismissing the mysterious case
from his mind as an affair finished and done with, reverted to the
practical business of sorting out his luggage, in which occupation he
was presently joined by Mr. Buffham.

"I am going to get a taxi," said the former, "to take me to my
hotel--the Pendennis in Great Russell Street. Can I put you down
anywhere? I see you're travelling pretty light."

Mr. Buffham cast a deprecating eye on the modest portmanteau which
contained his entire outfit and a questioning eye on the imposing array
of trunks and bags which appertained to his companion, and reflected for
a moment.

"The taxi-man will jib at your lot," said he, "without adding mine to
it."

"Yes," agreed Pippet, "I shall have to get two taxis in any case, so one
of them can't complain of an extra package. Where are you putting up?"

"I am staying for a few days at a boarding house in Woburn Place; not so
very far from you. But I was thinking that, when we have disposed of our
traps, you might come and have some dinner with me at a restaurant that
I know of. What do you say?"

"Why, the fact is," said Pippet, "that I was just about to make the very
same proposal, only I was going to suggest that we dine together at my
hotel. And, if you don't mind, I think it will be the better plan, as I
have got a suite of rooms that we can retire to after dinner for a quiet
yarn. Do you mind?"

Mr. Buffham did not mind. On the contrary, he accepted with something
approaching eagerness. For his own reasons, he had resolved to cultivate
the not very intimate acquaintanceship which had been established during
the voyage from New York to Tilbury, and he was better pleased to do so
at Mr. Pippet's expense than at his own; and the mention of the suite of
rooms had strongly confirmed him in his resolution. A man who chartered
a suite of rooms at a London hotel must be something more than
substantial. But Mr. Pippet's next observation gave him less
satisfaction.

"You are wondering, I suppose, what a solitary male like me can want
with a suite of rooms all to himself. The explanation is that I am not
all by myself. I am expecting my daughter and sister over from Paris
tomorrow, and I can't have them hanging about in the public rooms with
no corner to call their own. But, until they arrive, I am what they call
_en garçon_ over there."

Having thus made clear his position, Mr. Pippet went forth and shortly
returned accompanied by two taxi-men of dour aspect and taciturn habit,
who silently collected the baggage and bore it out to their respective
vehicles, which, in due course, set forth upon their journey.

Before following them, we may linger awhile to note the results of the
constable's mission. They were not very sensational. In the course of a
few minutes, an inspector arrived, and, having made a brief confirmatory
inspection, called for the screws and the screwdriver and proceeded in
an impassive but workmanlike manner to replace the former in their holes
and drive them home. Then he, in his turn, sent out for a taxi-man, by
whom the case with its gruesome contents was borne out unsuspectingly to
the waiting vehicle and spirited away to an unknown destination.

When Mr. Buffham's solitary portmanteau had been dumped down in the hall
of a somewhat seedy house in Woburn Place, the two taxis moved on to the
portals of the quiet but select hotel in Great Russell Street, where the
mountainous pile of baggage was handed over to the hotel porter with
brief directions as to its disposal. Then the two men, after the
necessary ablutions, made their way to the dining-room and selected a
table in a comparatively retired corner, where Mr. Buffham waited in
some anxiety as to the quality of the entertainment. His experience of
middle-aged American men had given him the impression that they were
not, as a class, enthusiastic feeders, and it was with sensible relief
that he discovered in his host the capacity to take a reasonable
interest in his food. In fact, the gastronomic arrangements were so much
to his satisfaction that, for a time, they engaged his entire attention;
for, if the whole truth must be told, this dinner was not an entirely
unforeseen contingency, and, as he had providently modified his diet
with that possibility in view, he was now in a condition to do complete
justice to the excellent fare provided. Presently, however, when the
razor-edge had been taken off his appetite, his attention reverted to
larger interests and he began cautiously to throw out feelers. Not that
an extreme amount of caution was really necessary, for Mr. Pippet was a
simple, straightforward, open-minded man; shrewd enough in the ordinary
business of life and gifted with a massive common-sense. But he was
quite devoid of cunning, and trustful of his fellow-creatures to an
extent that is somewhat unusual in citizens of the United States. He
was, in fact, the exact opposite in mental and moral type of the man who
faced him across the table.

"Well!" said Buffham, raising his newly-refilled glass, "here's to a
successful beano. I suppose you contemplate laying a delicate wash of
carmine over the British landscape. Or is it to be a full tint of
vermilion?"

"Now you are talking in tropes and metaphors," said Pippet, with an
indulgent smile, "but, as I interpret the idiom, you think we are going
to make things hum."

"I assume that you are over here to have a good time."

"We always like to have a good time if we can manage it, wherever we may
be," said Pippet, "and I hope to pass the time pleasantly while I am in
the Old Country. But I have come over with a more definite purpose than
that; and, if I should tell you what that purpose is, I should make you
smile."

"And a very pleasant result, too," said Buffham. "I like to be made to
smile. But, of course, I don't want to pry into your private affairs,
even for the sake of a smile."

"My private affairs will probably soon be public affairs," said Pippet,
"so I need not maintain any particular reticence about them; and, in any
case, there's nothing to be ashamed or secret about. If it interests you
to know, my visit to England is connected with a claim to an English
title and the estates that go with it."

Buffham was thunderstruck. But he did not smile. The affair was much too
serious for that. Instead, he demanded in a hushed voice: "Do you mean
that you are making a claim on your own behalf?"

Mr. Pippet chuckled. "Sounds incredible, doesn't it? But that is the
cold-drawn fact. I am setting up a claim to the Earldom of Winsborough
and to the lands and other property that appertain to it, all of which I
understand to be at present vacant and calling aloud for an owner."

Mr. Buffham pulled himself together. This looked like a good deal bigger
affair than he had anticipated. Indeed, he had not anticipated anything
in particular. His professional habits--if we may so designate them--led
him to cultivate the society of rich men of all kinds, and by preference
that of wealthy Americans making an European tour. Not that the
globe-trotting American is a peculiarly simple and trustful soul. But he
is in a holiday mood; he is in unaccustomed surroundings and usually has
money to spend and a strong inclination to spend it. Mr. Buffham's role
was to foster that inclination, and, as far as possible, to collaborate
in the associated activities. He had proposed to fasten upon Mr. Pippet,
if he could, in a Micawber-like hope that something profitable might
turn up. But the prospect opened up by Mr. Pippet's announcement was
beyond his wildest dreams.

"I suppose," Mr. Pippet continued after a brief pause, "you are
wondering what in creation a middle-aged American in comfortable
circumstances wants with an English title and estates?"

"I am not wondering anything of the kind," replied Buffham. "The
position of a great English nobleman is one that might well tempt the
ambition of an American if he were twenty times a millionaire. Think of
the august dignity of that position! Of the universal deference that it
commands! Think of the grand old mansions and the parks planted with
immemorial trees, the great town house and the seat in the House of
Lords, and--and--"

"Yes, I know," chuckled Pippet, "I've had all that rubbed into me, and,
to tell the bald truth, I wouldn't give a damn for the whole boiling if
I had only myself to consider. I don't want to have people calling me
'My Lord' and making me feel like a fool; and I've no use for baronial
mansions or ancestral halls. A good comfortable hotel where they know
how to cook answers all my requirements. But I've got to go in for this
business whether I like it or not. My womenfolk have got me fairly in
tow, especially my sister. She's just mad to be Lady Arminella--in fact,
if I hadn't put my foot down she'd have settled the matter in advance
and taken the title on account, so to speak."

"I suppose," said Buffham, "you have got your claim pretty well cut and
dried? Got all your evidence, I mean, and arranged with your lawyer as
to the plan of campaign?"

"Well, no!" replied Pippet, "at present things are rather in the air.
But, if we have finished, perhaps we might take our coffee up in my
sitting room. We can talk more freely there. But don't let me bore you.
After all, it isn't your funeral."

"My dear sir!" exclaimed Buffham, with genuine sincerity, "you are not
boring me. I assure you that I am profoundly interested. If you won't
consider me inquisitive, I should like to hear the whole story in as
much detail as you care to give."

Mr. Pippet nodded and smiled. "Good!" said he, as they ascended the
stairs to the private suite, "you shall have all the detail you want. I
shall enjoy giving it to you, as it will help to get the affair into my
own head a trifle more clearly. It's a queer story and I must admit that
it does not sound any too convincing. The whole claim rests upon a
tradition that I heard from my father."

Mr. Buffham was a little disappointed; but only a little. As his host
had said, it--the claim--was not his funeral. A wild cat claim might
answer his purpose as well as any other; perhaps even better.
Nevertheless, he remarked with an assumption of anxiety: "I hope there
is something to go on besides the tradition. You'll have to deal with a
court of law, you know."

"Yes, I realize that," replied Pippet, "and I may say that there is some
corroborative matter. I'll tell you about that presently. But there's
this much about the tradition; that it admits of being put to the test,
as you'll see when I give you the story. And I will do that right away.

"The tradition, then, as I had it from my father from time to time, in
rather disjointed fragments, was that _his_ father was a very remarkable
character; in fact, he was two characters rolled into one, for he led a
double life. As my father and mother knew him, he was Mr. Josiah Pippet,
the landlord of a house of call in the City of London known as 'The Fox
and Grapes.' But a persistent tradition had it that the name of Josiah
Pippet was an assumed name and that he was really the Earl of
Winsborough. It is known that he was in the habit of absenting himself
from his London premises from time to time and that when he did so he
disappeared completely, leaving no hint of his whereabouts. Now, it
seems that the Earl, who was a bachelor, was a somewhat eccentric
gentleman of similar habits. _He_ also was accustomed periodically to
absent himself from the Castle, and he also used to disappear, leaving
no clue to his whereabouts. And rumour had it that these disappearances
were, as the scientists would say, correlated; like the little figures
in those old-fashioned toy houses that foretold the weather. When the
old man came out, the old woman went in, and _vice versa._ So it was
said that when Josiah disappeared from 'The Fox and Grapes,' his
lordship made his appearance at Winsborough Castle; and when his
lordship disappeared from the Castle, Josiah popped up at 'The Fox and
Grapes.'"

"Is there any record of the movements of the two men?" Buffham asked.

"Well, there is a diary, along with a lot of letters and other stuff. I
have just glanced at some of it but I can't I say of my own observation
that there is a definite record. However, my sister has gone through the
whole lot and she says that it is all as plain as a pike-staff."

Buffham nodded with an air of satisfaction that was by no means assumed.
He began to see splendid possibilities in his host's case.

"Yes," said he, "this is much more hopeful. If you can show that these
disappearances coincided in time, that will be a very striking piece of
evidence. You have got these documents with you?"

"Yes, I have got them in a deed box in my bedroom. I have been intending
to make a serious attack on them and to go right through them."

"What would be much more to the point," said Buffham, "would be to hand
the box to your lawyer and let him go through them. He will be
accustomed to examining documents, and he will see the significance--the
legal significance, I mean--of little, inconspicuous facts that might
easily escape a non-professional eye. I think you said you had a
lawyer?"

"No. That's a matter that I shall have to attend to at once; and I don't
quite know how to go about it. I understand that they don't advertise in
this country."

"No," said Buffham, "certainly not. But I see your difficulty. You
naturally want to get a suitable man, and it _is_ most important. You
want to secure the services of a solicitor whose position and character
would command the respect and confidence of the court, and who has had
experience of cases of a similar kind. That is absolutely vital. I
recall a case which illustrates the danger of employing a lawyer of an
unsuitable kind. It was, like yours, a case of disputed succession.
There were two claimants whom we may call 'A' and 'B.' Now Mr. 'A' had
undoubtedly the better case. But unfortunately for him, he employed a
solicitor whose sole experience was concerned with commercial law. He
was an excellent man, but he knew practically nothing of the intricacies
of succession to landed property. Mr. 'B,' on the other hand, had the
good fortune to secure a lawyer whose practice had been very largely
concerned with these very cases. He knew all the ropes, you see; and the
result was that the case was decided in Mr. 'B's' favour. But it ought
not to have been. I had it, in confidence, from his lawyer (whom I
happened to know rather well) that if he had been acting for Mr. _'A,'_
instead of for Mr. 'B,' the decision would certainly have gone the other
way. 'A' had the better claim, but his lawyer had not realized it and
had failed to put it before the court in a sufficiently convincing
manner."

Having given this striking instance, Buffham looked anxiously at his
host, and was a trifle disappointed at its effect. Still more so was he
with that gentleman's comment.

"Seems to me," the latter remarked, "that that court wasn't particularly
on the spot if they let your lawyer friend bluff them into giving Mr.
'B' the property that properly belonged to Mr. _'A.'_ And I shouldn't
have thought that your friend would have found it a satisfactory deal.
At any rate, I am not wanting any lawyer to grab property for me that
belongs to somebody else. As long as I believe in this claim myself, I'm
going for it for all I am worth. But I am not going to drop my egg into
somebody else's rightful nest, like your Mr. B.'"

"Of course you are not!" Buffham hastened to reply, considerably
disconcerted by his host's unexpected attitude; so difficult is it for a
radically dishonest man to realize that his is not the usual and normal
state of mind. "But neither do you want to find yourself in the position
of Mr. 'A.'"

"No," Pippet admitted, "I don't. I just want a square deal, and I always
understood that you could get it in an English court."

"So you can," said Buffham. "But you must realize that a court can only
decide on the facts and arguments put before it. It is the business of
the lawyers to supply those facts and arguments. And I think you are
hardly just to my lawyer friend--his name, by the way, is Gimbler--a
most honourable and conscientious man. I must point out that a lawyer's
duty is to present his client's case in the most forcible and convincing
way that he can. He is not concerned with the other man's case. He
assumes--and so does the court--that the opposing lawyer will do the
same for his client; and then the court will have both cases completely
presented. It is the client's business to employ a lawyer who is
competent to put his case properly to the court."

Mr. Pippet nodded. "Yes," he said, reflectively, "I see the idea. But
the difficulty in the case of a stranger like myself is to find the
particular kind of lawyer who has the special knowledge and experience
that is required. Now, as to this friend of yours, Gimbler; you say that
he specializes in disputed claims to property."

"I didn't say that he specialized in them, but I know that he has had
considerable experience of them."

"Well, now, do you suppose that he would be willing to take up this
claim of mine?"

Mr. Buffham did not suppose at all. He knew. Nevertheless he replied
warily:

"It depends. He wouldn't want to embark on a case that was going to
result in a fiasco. He would want to hear an about the claim and what
evidence there is to support it. And especially he would want to go very
carefully through those documents of yours."

"Yes," said Pippet, "that seems to be the correct line, and that is what
I should want him to do. I'd like to have an expert opinion on the whole
affair before I begin to get busy. I am not out to exploit a mare's nest
and make a public fool of myself. But we didn't finish the story. We
only got to the Box and Cox business of Josiah and the Earl. It seems
that this went on for a number of years, and nothing seems to have been
thought of it at the time. But when Josiah's wife died and his son--my
father--was settled, he appears to have wearied of the complications of
his double life and made up his mind to put an end to them. And the
simplest and most conclusive way to write Finis on the affair seemed to
him to be to die and get buried. And that is what he did. According to
the story, he faked a last illness and engineered a sham death. I don't
know how he managed it. Seems to me pretty difficult. But the rumour had
it that he managed to get people to believe that he had died, and he had
a funeral with a dummy coffin, properly weighted with lumps of lead, and
that this was successfully planted in the family vault. I am bound to
admit that this part of the story does sound a trifle thin. But it seems
to have been firmly believed in the family."

It would have been a relief to Mr. Buffham to snigger aloud. But
sniggering was not his role. Still, he felt called on to make some kind
of criticism. Accordingly, he remarked judicially:

"There do certainly seem to be difficulties; the death certificate, for
instance. You would hardly expect a doctor to mistake a live, healthy
man for a corpse--unless Josiah made it worth his while. It would be
simple enough then."

"I understand," said Mr. Pippet, "that doctors often used to give a
certificate without viewing the body. But the lawyer will know that. At
any rate, it is obvious that someone must have been in the know; and
that is probably how the rumour got started."

"And when did the Earl die?"

"That I can't tell you, off hand. But it was some years after Josiah's
funeral."

"And who holds the title and estate now?"

"Nobody; at least, so I understand. The last--or present--Earl went away
to Africa or some other uncivilized place, big game shooting, and never
came back. As there was never any announcement of the Earl's death,
things seem to have drifted on as if he was alive. I have never heard of
any claimant."

"There couldn't be until the Earl's death was either proved or presumed
by the permission of the court. So the first thing that you will have to
do will be to take proceedings to have the death of the Earl presumed."

"Not the first thing," said Pippet. "There is one question that will
have to be settled before we definitely make the claim. The tradition
says that Josiah's death was a fake and that his coffin was a dummy
weighted with lead. Now, that is a statement of fact that admits of
proof or disproof. The first thing that we have got to do is to get that
coffin open. If we find Josiah inside, that will settle the whole
business, and I shan't care a hoot whether the Earl is alive or dead."

Once again Mr. Buffham was sensible of a slight feeling of
disappointment. In a man who was prepared to consider seriously such a
manifestly preposterous cock and bull story as this, he had not looked
for so reasonable a state of mind. Of course, Pippet was quite right
from his own idiotic point of view. The opening of the coffin was the
_experimentum crucis._ And when it was opened, there, of course, would
be the body, and the bubble would be most effectively burst. But Mr.
Buffham did not want the bubble burst. The plan which was shaping itself
vaguely in his mind was concerned with keeping that bubble in a healthy
state of inflation. And again, his crooked mind found it hard to
understand Pippet's simple, honest, straightforward outlook. If he had
been the claimant, his strongest efforts would have been devoted to
seeing that nobody meddled with that coffin. And he had a feeling that
his friend Gimbler would take the same view.

"Of course," he conceded, "you are perfectly correct; but there may be
difficulties that you don't quite realize. I don't know how it is in
America, but in this country you can't just dig up a coffin and open it
if you want to know who is inside. There are all sorts of formalities
before you can get permission; and I doubt whether faculty would be
granted until you had made out some sort of a case in the courts. So the
moral is that you must get as impressive a body of evidence together as
you can. Have you got any other facts besides what you have told me? For
instance, do you know what these two men--Josiah and the Earl--were
like? Do they appear to have resembled each other?"

Mr. Pippet grinned. "If Josiah and the Earl," said he, "were one and the
same person, they would naturally be a good deal alike. I understand
that they were. That is one of the strong points of the story. Both of
them were a bit out-size; well over six feet in height. Both were fair,
blue-eyed men with a shaved upper lip and long sandy side-whiskers."

"You can prove that, can you?"

"I can swear that I had information to that effect from my father, who
knew one and had seen the other. And there is one other point; only a
small one, but every little bit of corroboration helps. My father told
me on several occasions that his father--Josiah--had often told him that
he was born in Winsborough Castle."

"Ha!" exclaimed Buffham, "that's better. That establishes a definite
connexion. It's a pity, though, that he was not more explicit. And now,
with regard to these documents that you spoke of; what is the nature of
them?"

"To tell you the truth," replied Pippet, "I don't know much about them.
I've been used to an active life and I'm not a great reader, so I've not
done much more than glance over them. But, as I mentioned, my sister has
gone through them carefully and she reckons that they as good as prove
that Josiah and the Earl were one and the same person. Would you like to
have a look at them?"

A mere affirmative would have been inadequate to express Mr. Buffham's
ravenous desire to see whether there was or was not the making of a
possible legal case. Nevertheless, he replied in a tone of studied
indifference:

"My opinion is not much to the point, but I should certainly like to see
what sort of material you will be able to give your lawyer."

Thereupon Mr. Pippet retired to the bedroom, from which he presently
emerged carrying a good-sized deed box. This he placed on the table,
and, having gone deliberately through a large bunch of keys, eventually
selected one and carefully fitted it into the lock while Buffham watched
him hungrily. The box being opened, the two men drew their chairs up to
the table and peered into its interior; which was occupied by a
collection of bundles of papers, neatly tied up with red tape, each
bundle being distinguished by means of a label inscribed in an
old-fashioned feminine handwriting. In addition, there were seven small,
leather-bound volumes.

Buffham picked out the bundles, one after another, and read the labels.
"Letters from J.S. to his wife," "Letters from various persons to J.S.,"
"Copies of letters from J.S. to various persons," "Various tradesmen's
bills and accounts," and so on. Having asked his host's permission, he
untied one or two of the bundles and read samples of the letters and
tradesmen's bills with a feeling of stupefaction, mingled with
astonished speculations as to the mental peculiarities of his host's
sister.

"Yes," he said, gloomily replacing the last of them, "I dare say a
careful analysis of these letters may yield some relevant information,
but it will need the expert eye of the trained lawyer to detect the
relevancy of some of them. There is, for instance, a bill for two pounds
of pork sausages and a black pudding, which seems rather beside the
mark. But you never know. Important legal points may be involved in the
most unexpected matter. What are those little books? Are they the
diaries that you spoke of?"

Mr. Pippet nodded and handed one of them to him, which proved to be the
diary for the year 1833. He turned over the leaves and scanned the
entries with more interest but still with a feeling of bewilderment.
After examining a few sample pages, he handed the volume back to Pippet,
remarking a little wearily:

"The late Josiah didn't go into much detail. The entries are very dry
and brief and seem to be concerned chiefly with the trivial happenings
of his life from day to day and with money paid or received."

"Well, isn't that what diaries are usually filled with?"

Pippet protested, not unreasonably. "And don't you think that those
simple, commonplace entries are just the ones to give us the information
that we want? My sister said that she learned quite a lot about Josiah's
ways of life from those diaries."

"Did she?" said Buffham. "I am glad to hear it; because it suggests that
a trained lawyer, going through those diaries with the legal issues in
his mind, noting, collating and analyzing the entries, will probably
discover significances in the most unexpected places. Which brings us
back to the point that you ought to get competent legal assistance
without delay."

"Yes, I think you are right," agreed Pippet. "I've got to secure a
lawyer sooner or later, so I might as well start right away. Now, to
come down to brass tacks, what about this lawyer friend of yours? You
say that this case of mine would be in his customary line of business;
and you think he would be willing to take it on?"

Mr. Buffham had no doubts whatever, but he did not think it expedient to
say so. A retreating tendency on the part of the bait is apt to produce
a pursuing tendency on the part of the fish.

"Naturally," said he, "I can't answer for another man's views. He is a
busy man, and he might not be prepared to give time to what he might
regard as a somewhat speculative case. But we can easily find out. If
you like, I will call on him and put the case to him in as favourable a
light as possible, and, if he doesn't seem eager to take it up, I might
use a little gentle pressure. You see, I know him pretty well. Then, if
I am successful, I might arrange for you to have an interview, at which,
perhaps, it might be advisable for your sister to be present, as she
knows more about the affair than you do. Then he could tell you what he
thought of your chances and you could let him know what you are prepared
to do. What do you think of that plan?"

Mr. Pippet thought that it seemed to meet the case, provided that it
could be carried out without delay.

"You understand," said he, "that my sister and daughter will be arriving
here tomorrow, and they will be red-hot to get the business started,
especially my sister."

"And quite naturally, too," said Buffham. "I sympathize with her
impatience and I promise that there shall be no delay on my part. I will
call at Gimbler's office tomorrow morning the first thing, before he has
had time to begin his morning's work."

"It's very good of you," said Pippet, as his guest rose to take his
leave, "to interest yourself in this way in the affairs of a mere
stranger."

"Not at all," Buffham rejoined cheerily. "You are forgetting the romance
and dramatic interest of your case. Anyone would be delighted to lend
you a hand in your adventure. You may depend on hearing from me in the
course of tomorrow. Good night and good luck!"

Mr. Pippet, having provided his guest with a fresh cigar, accompanied
him down to the entrance and watched him with a meditative eye as he
walked away down the street. Apparently, the dwindling figure suggested
a train of thought, for he continued to stand looking out even after it
had disappeared. At length he turned with a faint sigh and thoughtfully
retraced his steps to his own domain.



CHAPTER II--MR. BUFFHAM'S LEGAL FRIEND


No amount of native shrewdness can entirely compensate for deficiency of
knowledge. If Mr. Christopher Pippet had been intimately acquainted with
English social customs, he would have known that the neighbourhood of
Kennington in general and Kennington Grove in particular, is hardly the
place in which to look for the professional premises of a solicitor
engaged in important Chancery practice. He did, indeed, survey the
rather suburban surroundings with a certain amount of surprise, noting
with intelligent interest the contrast between the ways of New York and
those of London. He even ventured to comment on the circumstance as he
halted at the iron gate of a small garden and read out the inscription
on a well-worn brass plate affixed to the gate aforesaid; which set
forth the name and professional vocation of Mr. Horatio Gimbler,
Solicitor and Advocate.

"Buffham didn't tell me that he was an advocate as well as a solicitor,"
Mr. Pippet remarked, as he pushed the gate open.

"He wouldn't," replied his companion, "but left you to find out for
yourself. Of course he knew you would, and then you would give him
credit for having understated his friend's merits. It's just vanity."

At the street door, which was closed and bore a duplicate plate, Mr.
Pippet pressed an electric bell-push, with the result that there arose
from within a sound like the "going off" of an alarm clock and
simultaneously the upper half of a face with a pair of beady black eyes
appeared for an instant above the wire blind of the adjacent window.
Then, after a brief interval, the door opened and revealed an extremely
alert youth of undeniably Hebraic aspect.

"Is Mr. Gimbler disengaged?" Mr. Pippet inquired.

"Have you got an appointment?" the youth demanded.

"Yes; eleven o'clock; and it's two minutes to the hour now. Shall I go
in here?"

He turned towards a door opening out of the hall and marked "Waiting
Room."

"No," the youth replied, hastily, emphatically and almost in a tone of
alarm. "That'th for clienth that haven't got an appointment. What name
thall I thay?"

"Mr. and Miss Pippet."

"Oh, yeth, I know. Jutht thtep thith way."

He opened an inner door leading into a small inner hall, which offered
to the visitors a prospect of a flight of shabbily carpeted stairs and a
strong odour of fried onions. Here he approached a door marked "Private
Office" and knocked softly, eliciting a responsive but inarticulate
roar; whereupon he opened the door and announced: "Mr. and Miss Pippet."

The opened door revealed a large man with a pair of folding pince-nez
insecurely balanced on the end of a short, fat nose, apparently writing
furiously. As the visitors entered, he looked round with an
interrogative frown as if impatient of being interrupted. Then,
appearing suddenly to realize who they were, he made a convulsive
grimace, which dislodged the eyeglasses and left them dangling free on
their broad black ribbon, and was succeeded by a wrinkly but affable
smile. Then he rose, and, holding out a large, rather fat hand,
exclaimed:

"Delighted to see you. I had no idea that it was so late. One gets so
engrossed in these--er--fascinating--"

"Naturally," said Mr. Pippet, "though I thought it was the documents
that got engrossed. However, here we are. Let me introduce you to my
sister, Miss Arminella Pippet."

Mr. Gimbler bowed, and, for a brief space there was a searching mutual
inspection. Miss Pippet saw a physically imposing man, large in all
dimensions--tall, broad, deep-chested and still more deep in the region
immediately below the chest; with a large, massive head, rather bald and
very closely cropped, a large, rather fat face, marked with wrinkles
suggestive of those on the edge of a pair of bellows, and singularly
small pale blue eyes, which tended to become still smaller, even to
total disappearance, when he smiled. Through those little blue eyes, Mr.
Gimbler saw a woman, shortish in stature but majestic in carriage and
conveying an impression of exuberant energy and vivacity. And this
impression was reinforced by the strong, mobile face with its firm mouth
set above the square, pugnacious chin and below a rather formidable
Roman nose, which latter gave to her a certain suggestive resemblance to
a bird, a resemblance accentuated by her quick movements. But the bird
suggested was not the dove. In short, Miss Arminella Pippet was a
somewhat remarkable-looking lady with a most unmistakeable "presence."
She might have been a dame of the old French noblesse; and Mr. Gimbler,
looking at her through his little blue eyes and bearing in mind the
peerage claim, decided that she looked the part. He also
decided--comparing her with her mild-faced brother--that the grey mare
was the better horse and must claim his chief attention. He was not the
first who had undervalued Mr. Christopher Pippet.

"I suppose," said the latter, sitting down with some care on a rather
infirm cane-bottomed chair (Miss Arminella occupied the only easy
chair), "Mr. Buffham has given you some idea of the matter on which we
have come to consult you?"

"He has done more than that," said Mr. Gimbler, "and would have done
more still if I had not stopped him. He is thrilled by your romantic
story and wildly optimistic. If we could only get a jury of Buffhams you
would walk into your inheritance without a breath of opposition."

"And what do you think of our chances with the kind of jury that we are
likely to get?"

Mr. Gimbler pursed up his lips and shook his massive head.

"We mustn't begin giving opinions at this stage," said he. "Remember
that I have only heard the story at second hand from Mr. Buffham; just a
sketch of the nature of the case. Let us begin at the beginning and
forget Mr. Buffham. You are claiming, I believe, to be the grandson of
the late Earl of Winsborough. Now, I should like to hear an outline of
the grounds of your claim before we go into any details."

As he spoke, he fixed an inquiring eye on Miss Pippet, who promptly
responded by opening her hand-bag and drawing therefrom a folded sheet
of foolscap paper.

"This," said she, "is a concise statement of the nature of the claim and
the known facts on which it is based. I thought it would save time if I
wrote it out, as I could then leave the paper with you for reference.
Will you read it or shall I?"

Mr. Gimbler looked at the document, and, observing that it was covered
with closely-spaced writing in a somewhat crabbed and angular hand,
elected to listen to the reading in order that he might make a few
notes. Accordingly Miss Pippet proceeded to read aloud from the paper
with something of the air of a herald reading a royal proclamation,
glancing from time to time at the lawyer to see what kind of impression
it was making on him. The result of these inspections must have been a
little disappointing, as Mr. Gimbler listened attentively with his eyes
shut, rousing only at intervals to scribble a few words on a slip of
paper.

When she had come to the end of the statement--which repeated
substantially, but in a more connected form, the story that her brother
had told to Buffham--she laid the paper on the table and regarded the
lawyer with an interrogative stare. Mr. Gimbler, having opened his eyes
to their normal extent, directed them to his notes.

"This," said he, "is a very singular and romantic story. Romantic and
strange, and yet not really incredible. But the important question is,
to what extent is this interesting tradition supported by provable
facts? For instance, it is stated that when Josiah Pippet used to
disappear from his usual places of resort, the Earl of Winsborough made
his appearance at Winsborough Castle. Now, is there any evidence that
the disappearance of Josiah coincided in time with the appearance of the
Earl at the Castle, and _vice versa?"_

"There is the diary," said Miss Pippet.

"Ha!" exclaimed Mr. Gimbler, genuinely surprised. "The diary makes that
quite plain, does it?"

"Perfectly," the lady replied. "Any way, it is quite clear to me.
Whenever Josiah was about to make one of his disappearances, he noted in
his diary quite unmistakably: 'Going away tomorrow for a little spell at
the old place.' Sometimes, instead of 'the old place,' he says plainly
'the Castle.' Then there is a blank space of more than half a page
before he records his arrival home at 'The Fox and Grapes.'''

"H'm, yes," said Mr. Gimbler, swinging his folded eyeglass on its ribbon
like a pendulum. "And you think that by the expression 'the old place'
or 'the Castle' he means Winsborough Castle?"

"I don't see how there can be any doubt of it. Obviously, 'the old
place' must have been Winsborough Castle, where he was born."

"It would seem probable," Mr. Gimbler admitted. "By the way, is there
any evidence that he _was_ born at the castle?"

"Well," Miss Pippet replied a little sharply, "he said he was; and I
suppose he knew."

"Naturally, naturally," the lawyer agreed. "And you can prove that he
did say so?"

"My brother and I have heard our father repeat the statement over and
over again. We can swear to that."

"And with regard to the Earl? Is there any evidence that, when Josiah
returned home to 'The Fox and Grapes,' his Lordship disappeared from the
Castle?"

"Evidence!" Miss Pippet exclaimed, slapping her hand-bag impatiently.
"What evidence do you want? The man couldn't be in two places at once!"

"Very true," said Mr. Gimbler, fixing a slightly perplexed eye on his
dangling glasses; "very true. He couldn't. And with regard to the sham
funeral. Naturally there wouldn't be any reference to it in the diary,
but is it possible to support the current rumour by any definite facts?"

"Don't you think the fact that my father--Josiah's own son--was
convinced of it is definite enough?" Miss Pippet demanded, a trifle
acidly.

"It is definite enough," Gimbler admitted, "but in courts of law there
is a slight prejudice against hearsay evidence. Direct, first-hand
evidence, if it is possible to produce it, has a good deal more weight."

"So it may," retorted Miss Pippet, "but you can't expect us to give
first-hand evidence of a funeral that took place before we were born. I
suppose even a court of law has a little common sense."

"Still," her brother interposed, "Mr. Gimbler has put his finger on the
really vital spot. The sham funeral is the kernel of the whole business.
If we can prove that, we shall have something solid to go on. And we
_can_ prove it--or else disprove it, as the case may be. But it need not
be left in the condition of what the late President Wilson would have
called a peradventure. If that funeral was a sham, there was nothing in
the coffin but some lumps of lead. Now, that coffin is still in
existence. It is lying in the family vault; and if we can yank it out
and open it, the Winsborough Peerage Claim will be as good as settled.
If we find Josiah at home to visitors, we can let the claim drop and go
for a holiday. But if we find the lumps of lead, according to our
program, we shall hang on to the claim until the courts are tired of us
and hand over the keys of the Castle. Mr. Gimbler is quite right. That
coffin is the point that we have got to concentrate on."

As Mr. Pippet developed his views, the lawyer's eyeglasses, dangling
from their ribbon, swung more and more violently, and their owner's eyes
opened to an unprecedented width. He had never had the slightest
intention of concentrating on the coffin. On the contrary, that obvious
means of exploding the delusion and toppling over the house of cards had
seemed to be the rock that had got to be safely circumnavigated at all
costs. In his view, the coffin was the fly in the ointment; and the
discovery that it was the apple of Mr. Pippet's eye gave him a severe
shock. And not this alone. He had assumed that the lady's invincible
optimism represented the state of mind of both his clients. Now he
realized that the man whom he had written down an amiable ass, and
perhaps a dishonest ass at that, combined in his person two qualities
most undesirable in the circumstances--hard common sense and transparent
honesty.

It was a serious complication; and as he sat with his eyes fixed on the
swinging eyeglasses, he endeavoured rapidly to shape a new course. At
length he replied:

"Of course you are quite right, Mr. Pippet. The obvious course would be
to examine the coffin as a preliminary measure. But English law does not
always take the obvious course. When once a person is consigned to the
tomb, the remains pass out of the control of the relatives and into that
of the State; and the State views with very jealous disapproval any
attempts to disturb those remains. In order to open a tomb or grave, and
especially to open a coffin, it is necessary to obtain a faculty from
the Home Secretary authorizing an exhumation. Now, before any such
faculty is granted, the Home Secretary requires the applicant to show
cause for the making of such an order."

"Well," said Mr. Pippet, "we can show cause. We want to know whether
Josiah is in that coffin or not."

"Quite so," said Mr. Gimbler. "A perfectly reasonable motive. But it
would not be accepted by the Home Office. They would demand a ruling
from a properly constituted court to the effect that the claim had been
investigated and a _prima facie_ case made out."

"What do you mean by a _prima facie_ case?" Miss Pippet inquired.

"The expression means that the claim has been stated in a court of law
and that sufficient evidence has been produced to establish a
probability that it is a just and reasonable claim."

"You mean to say," said Mr. Pippet, "that a judge and jury have got to
sit and examine at great length whether the claim may possibly be a true
claim before they will consent to examine a piece of evidence which will
settle the question with practical certainty in the course of an hour?"

"Yes," Mr. Gimbler admitted, "that, I am afraid is the rather
unreasonable position. We shall have to lay the facts, so far as they
are known to us, before the court and make out as good a case as we can.
Then, if the court is satisfied that we have a substantial case, it will
make an order for the exhumation, which the Home Office will confirm."

"For my part," said Miss Pippet, "I don't see why we need meddle with
the coffin at all. It seems a ghoulish proceeding."

"I entirely agree with you, Miss Pippet," said Mr. Gimbler (and there is
no possible doubt that he did). "It would be much better to deal with
the whole affair in court if that were possible. Perhaps it may be
possible to avoid the exhumation, after all. The court may not insist."

"It won't have to insist," said Mr. Pippet. "I make it a condition that
we ascertain beyond all doubt whether Josiah is or is not in that
coffin. I want to make sure that I am claiming what is my just due, and
I shan't be sure of that until that coffin has been opened. Isn't it
possible for you to make an application to the Home Secretary without
troubling the courts?"

"It would be possible to make the application," Mr. Gimbler replied
somewhat dryly. "But a refusal would be a foregone conclusion. Quite
properly so, if you consider the conditions. The purpose of the
exhumation is to establish the fact of the sham burial. But if that were
established, you would be no more forward, or, at least very little.
Your claim would still have to be stated and argued in a court of law.
Of course, the proof of the sham burial would be material evidence, but
still, your claim would stand or fall by the decision of the court.
Naturally, the Home Office, since it cannot consider evidence or give a
decision, is not going to give a permit until it is informed by the
proper authority that an exhumation is necessary for the purposes of
justice. Believe me, Mr. Pippet, we should only prejudice our case by
trying to go behind the courts; and, moreover, we should certainly fail
to get a permit."

"Very well," said Mr. Pippet. "You know best. Then I take it that there
is not much more to say at present. We have given you the facts, such as
they are, and we shall leave my sister's statement with you, and it will
be up to you to consider what is to be done next."

"Yes," agreed Gimbler. "But something was said about documents--some
letters and a diary. Are they available?"

"They are," replied Mr. Pippet. "I've got the whole boiling of them in
this box. My sister has been through them, as she mentioned to you just
now."

"And you?" Mr. Gimbler asked with a trace of anxiety, as he watched his
client's efforts to untie the parcel. "Have you examined them
thoroughly?"

"I can't truly say that I have," was the reply, as Mr. Pippet
deliberately opened a pocket knife and applied it to the string. "I had
intended to look through them before I handed them to you, but Mr.
Buffham assured me that it would be a waste of labour, as you would have
to study them in any case; so, as I am not what you would call a
studious man, and they look a pretty stodgy collection, I have saved
myself the trouble."

"I don't believe," said Miss Pippet, "that my brother cares two cents
whether we succeed or not."

The lady's suspicion was not entirely unshared by her legal adviser. But
he made no comment, as, at this moment, Mr. Pippet, having detached the
coverings of the parcel, and thereby disclosed the deed box which he had
shown to Buffham, inserted a key and unlocked it.

"There," said he, as he threw the lid open, "you can see that the things
are there. Those bundles of paper are the letters and the little volumes
are the diary. There is no need for you to look at them now. I guess you
will like to study them at your leisure."

"Quite so," agreed Mr. Gimbler. "It will be necessary for me to examine
them exhaustively and systematically and make a very careful précis of
their contents, with an analysis of those contents from an evidential
point of view. I shall have to do that before I can give any opinion on
the merits of the case, and certainly before I suggest taking any active
measures. You realize that those investigations will take some time?"

"Certainly," said Mr. Pippet; "and you will not find us impatient. We
don't want to urge you to act precipitately."

"Not precipitately," agreed Miss Pippet. "Still, you understand that we
don't want too much of the law's delay."

Mr. Gimbler understood that perfectly; and, to tell the whole truth,
looked with much more favour on the lady's hardly-veiled impatience than
on her brother's philosophic calm.

"There will be no delay at all," he replied, "but merely a most
necessary period of preparation. I need not point out to you, Madam," he
continued after a moment's pause, "that we must not enter the lists
unready. We must mature our plans in advance, so that when we take the
field--if we decide to do so--it will be with our weapons sharpened and
our armour bright."

"Certainly," said Miss Pippet. "We must be ready before we start. I
realize that; only I hope it won't take too long to get ready."

"That," replied Mr. Gimbler, "we shall be better able to judge when we
have made a preliminary inspection of the documentary material; but I
can assure you that no time will be wasted."

Here he paused to clear his throat and adjust his eyeglasses. Then he
proceeded: "There is just one other little matter that I should like to
be clear on. You realize that an action at law is apt to be a somewhat
expensive affair. Of course, in the present case, there is a
considerable set-off. If you are successful, the mere material gain in
valuable property, to say nothing of the title and the great social
advantages, will be enough to make the law costs appear a negligible
trifle. Still, I must warn you that the outlay will be very
considerable. There will be court fees, fees to counsel, costs of the
necessary investigations, and, of course, my own charges, which I shall
keep as low as possible. Now, the question is, are you prepared to
embark on this undoubtedly costly enterprise?"

He asked the question in a tone as impassive and judicial as he could
manage, but he awaited the answer with an anxiety that was difficult to
conceal. It was Miss Pippet who instantly dispelled that anxiety.

"We understand all about that," said she. "We never supposed that titles
and estates were to be picked up for the asking. You can take it that we
shall not complain of any expense in reason. But perhaps you were
thinking of our capacity to bear a heavy expense? If you were, I may
tell you that my own means would be amply sufficient to meet any likely
costs, even without my brother's support."

"That is so," Mr. Pippet confirmed. "But, as I am the actual claimant,
the costs will naturally fall on me. Could you give us any idea of our
probable liabilities?"

Mr. Gimbler reflected rapidly. He didn't wish to frighten his quarry,
but he did very much want to take soundings of the depth of their purse.
Eventually, he took his courage in both hands and made the trial cast.

"It is mere guess work," said he, "until we know how much there may be
to do. Supposing--to take an outside figure--the costs should mount to
ten thousand pounds. Of course, they won't. But I mention that sum as a
sort of basis to reckon from. How would that affect you?"

"Well," said Mr. Pippet, "it sounds a lot of money, but it wouldn't
break either of us. Only we look to you to see that the gamble is worth
while before we drop too much on it."

"You may be quite confident," Gimbler replied in a voice husky with
suppressed joy, "that I shall not allow you to embark on any proceedings
until I have ascertained beyond a doubt that you have at least a
reasonable chance of success. And that," he continued, rising as his
visitors rose to depart, "is all that is humanly possible."

He stuck his glasses on his nose to shake hands and to watch Mr. Pippet
as he detached the key of the deed box from his bunch. Then he opened
the door and escorted his visitors through an atmosphere of fried onions
to the street door, where he stood watching them reflectively as they
descended the steps and made their way along the flagged path to the
gate.

As Mr. Gimbler closed the street door, that of the waiting-room opened
softly, disclosing the figure of no less a person than Mr. Buffham. And,
naturally, the figure included the countenance; which was wreathed in
smiles. Looking cautiously towards the kitchen stairs, Mr. Buffham
murmured:

"Did I exaggerate, my little Gimblet? I think not. Methought I heard a
whisper of ten thousand pounds. An outside estimate, my dear sir; in
fact, a wild overestimate. Hey? What O!"

Mr. Gimbler did not reply. He only smiled. And when Mr. Gimbler
smiled--as we have mentioned--his eyes tended to disappear. They did on
this occasion. Especially the left one.



CHAPTER III--MR. PIPPET GIVES EVIDENCE


American visitors to London often attain to a quite remarkable
familiarity with many of its features. But their accomplishments in this
respect do not usually extend to an acquaintance with its intimate
geography. The reason is simple enough. He who would know London, or any
other great city, in the complete and intimate fashion characteristic of
the genuine Town Sparrow, must habituate himself to the use of that
old-fashioned conveyance known as "shanks's mare." For the humblest of
creatures has some distinctive excellence; even the mere pedestrian,
despised of the proud motorist (who classes him with the errant rabbit
or the crawling pismire) and ignored by the law, has at least one
virtue: he knows his London.

Now, the American visitor is not usually a pedestrian. As his time
appears to him more valuable than his money, he tends to cut the Gordian
knot of geographical difficulties by hailing a taxi; whereby he makes a
swift passage at the sacrifice of everything between his starting-point
and his destination.

This is what Mr. Pippet did on the afternoon of the day of his
conference with Mr. Gimbler. The hailing was done by the hotel porter,
and when the taxi was announced, Mr. Pippet came forth from the hall and
delivered to the driver an address in the neighbourhood of Great Saint
Helen's, wherever that might be, and held open the cab door to admit the
young lady who had followed him out; who thereupon slithered in with the
agility born of youthful flexibility, extensive practice and no clothing
to speak of.

"I am not sure, Jenny," said Mr. Pippet, as he took his seat and pulled
the door to, "that your aunt was not right. This is likely to be a
rather gruesome business, and the place doesn't seem a very suitable one
for young ladies."

Miss Jenny smiled a superior smile as she fished a gold cigarette case
out of her hand-bag and proceeded to select a cigarette. "That's all
bunk, you know, Dad," said she. "Auntie was just bursting to come
herself, but she thought she had to set me an example of self-restraint.
As if I wanted her examples. I am out to see all that there is to see.
Isn't that what we came to Europe for?"

"I thought we came to settle this peerage business," replied Mr. Pippet.

"That's part of the entertainment," she admitted, "but we may as well
take anything else that happens to be going. And here we have struck a
first-class mystery. I wouldn't have missed it for anything. Do you
think it will be on view?" she added, holding out the cigarette case.

Mr. Pippet humbly picked out a cigarette and looked at her inquiringly.
"Do you mean the head?" he asked.

"Yes. That's what I want to see. You've seen it, you know."

"I don't know much about the ways of inquests in England," he replied,
"but I don't fancy that the remains are shown to anyone but the jury."

"That's real mean of them," she said. "I was hoping that it would be on
view, or that they would bring it in--on a charger, like John the
Baptist's."

Mr. Pippet smiled as he lit his cigarette. "The circumstances are not
quite the same, my dear," said he; "but, as I am only a witness, you'll
see as much as I shall, though, as you say, I have actually seen the
thing, or, at least, a part of it; and I have no wish to see any more."

"Still," persisted Jenny, "you can say that you have really and truly
seen it."

Mr. Pippet admitted that he enjoyed this inestimable privilege for what
it might be worth, and the conversation dropped for the moment. Miss
Jenny leaned back reposefully in her corner, taking occasional "pulls"
at the cigarette in its dainty amber holder, while her father regarded
her with a mixture of parental pride, affection and quiet amusement. And
it has to be admitted that Mr. Pippet's sentiments with regard to his
daughter were by no means unjustified. Miss Jenifer Pippet--to give her
her full and unabridged style and title--was a girl of whom any father
might have been proud. If--as Mr. Gimbler had very properly decided--the
majestic Arminella "looked the part" of an earl's sister (which is not
invariably the case with the genuine possessors of that title), Mistress
Jenifer would have sustained the character of the earl's daughter with
credit even on the stage, where the demands are a good deal more
exacting than in real life. In the typically "patrician" style of
features, with the fine Roman nose and the level brows and firm chin,
she resembled her redoubtable aunt; but she had the advantage of that
lady in the matter of stature, being, like her father, well above the
average height. And here it may be noted that, if the daughter reflected
credit on the father, the latter was well able to hold his position on
his own merits. Christopher J. Pippet was fully worthy of his
distinguished womenkind; a fine, upstanding gentleman with an undeniable
"presence."

It was probably the possession of these personal advantages that made
the way smooth for the two strangers on their arrival at the premises in
which the inquest was to be held. At any rate, as soon as Mr. Pippet had
made known his connexion with the case, the officiating police officer
conducted them to a place in the front row and provided them each with a
chair directly facing the table and nearly opposite the coroner's seat.
At the moment, this and the jurymen's seats were empty and the large
room was filled with the hum of conversation. For the sensational nature
of the case had attracted a number of spectators greatly in excess of
that usually found at an inquest; so much so that the accommodation was
somewhat strained, and our two visitors had reason to congratulate
themselves on their privileged position.

A few minutes after their arrival, a general stir among the audience and
an increase in the murmur of voices seemed to indicate that something
was happening. Then the nature of that something became apparent as the
jurymen filed into their places and the coroner took his place at the
head of the table. There was a brief interval as the jurymen settled
into their places and the coroner arranged some papers before him and
inspected his fountain pen. Then he looked up; and as the hum of
conversation died away and silence settled down on the room, he began
his opening address.

"The circumstances, gentlemen," said he, "which form the subject of this
inquiry are very unusual. Ordinarily the occasion of a coroner's inquest
is the discovery of the dead body of some person, known or unknown, or
the death of some person from causes which have not been ascertained or
certified, but whose body is available for examination. In the present
case, while there is indisputable evidence of the death of some person,
and certain evidence which may enable us to form some opinion as to the
probable cause of death, the complete body is not available for expert
examination. All that has been discovered, up to the present, is the
head; whereas it is probable that the physical evidence as to the exact
cause of death is to be found in the missing portion of the remains. I
need not to occupy your time with any account of the circumstances, all
of which will transpire in the evidence. All that I need say now is that
the efforts of the police to discover the identity of deceased have so
far proved fruitless. We are accordingly dealing with an entirely
unknown individual. The first witness whom I shall call is Thomas
Crump."

At the sound of his name, Mr. Crump made his way to the table, piloted
thither by the coroner's officer, and took his stand, under the latter's
direction, near to the coroner's chair. Having been sworn, he stated
that he was an attendant in the cloak room at Fenchurch Street Station.

"Were you on duty in the evening of Saturday the 19th of August?"

"Yes, sir, I was."

"Do you remember receiving a certain wooden case on that evening? A case
which there has been some question about since?"

"Yes. It was brought in about nine twenty; just after the nine fifteen
from Shoeburyness had come in."

"Was there anything on the case to show where it had come from?"

"No, there were no labels on it excepting one with what I took to be the
owner's name and address. I supposed that it had come by the
Shoeburyness train, but that was only a guess. If it did, it couldn't
have travelled in the luggage van. The guard wouldn't have had it
without a label."

"Who brought the case to the cloak room?"

"It was brought in by the gentleman who I took to be the owner. And a
rare job he must have had with it, for it weighed close on a
hundredweight, as near as I could tell. He staggered in with it,
carrying it by a cord that was tied round it."

"Can you give us any description of this man?"

"I didn't notice him very particularly, but I remember that he was
rather tall and had a long, thin face and a big, sharp nose. He looked a
bit on the thin side, but he must have been pretty strong to judge by
the way he handled that case."

"Did you notice how he was dressed?"

"So far as I remember, he had on a dark suit--I fancy it was blue serge
but I wouldn't be sure; but I remember that he was wearing a soft felt
hat."

"Had he any moustache or was he clean shaved?"

"He had a moustache and a smallish beard, cut to a point; what they call
a Torpedo beard. His beard and his hair were both dark."

"About what age would you say he was?"

"He might have been about forty or perhaps a trifle more."

"And with regard to the case, can you give us any description of that?"

"It was a wooden case, about fifteen inches square and perhaps eighteen
inches high. It was made of plain deal strongly put together and
strengthened at the corners with iron straps. The top was fitted with
hinges and held down by eight screws. The wood was a good deal stained
and rubbed, as if it had seen a fair amount of use. It had a label
fastened on with tacks; just a plain card with the owner's name on
it--at least, somebody's name--and an address. The name was Dobson, but
I wouldn't swear to the address."

"Well," the coroner pursued, "you took in the case. What happened next?"

"Nothing on that night. I gave the man his ticket and he took it and
said he would probably call for the case on Monday. Then he said 'Good
night' and went off."

"When did you see him again?"

"That was on Monday evening, about seven o'clock. It happened to be a
slack time and I had more time to attend to him. He came and handed me
his ticket and asked for the case. He pointed out one which he thought
was his, so I went over to it and looked at the label that had been
stuck on it, but it was the wrong number. However, he said that his name
was on the case--name of Dobson--and I saw that there was a private
label with that name on it, so I said he had better have a look at it
and see if it really was his case. So he came into the cloak room and
examined the case. And then he got into a rare state of excitement. He
said it was certainly his name that was on the case and his address, but
the label was not the same one that he wrote. But still he thought that
the case was his case.

"Then I asked him if the contents of his case were of any particular
value, and he said 'yes.' They were worth several thousand pounds. Now,
when he said that, I began to suspect that there was something wrong, so
I suggested that we had better open the case and see if his property was
inside.

"He jumped at the offer, so I got a screw-driver, and we took out the
screws and lifted the lid. And when we lifted it, the first thing that
we saw was the top of a man's head, packed in with a lot of rags. When
he saw it, he seemed to be struck all of a heap. Then he slammed down
the lid and asked me where he could find a policeman. I told him that he
would find one outside the station, and off he went as hard as he could
go."

Here the coroner held up a restraining hand as he scribbled furiously to
keep up with the witness. When he had finished the paragraph, he looked
up and nodded.

"Yes; he went out to look for a policeman. What happened next?"

"While we had been looking at the case, there were two gentlemen who had
come to collect their luggage and who heard what was going on. When Mr.
Dobson--if that was his name--went out, they came over to have a look at
the case; and we all waited for Mr. Dobson to come back. But he didn't
come back. So, after a time, one of the gentlemen went out and presently
came back with a constable. I showed the constable what was in the case,
and he then took possession of it."

"Yes," said the coroner, "that is all quite clear, so far. Do you think
you would recognize this man, Dobson, if you were to see him again?"

"Yes," replied Crump. "I feel pretty sure I should. He was the sort of
man that you would remember. And I did look at him pretty hard."

"Well," said the coroner, "I hope that you will have an opportunity of
identifying him. Does any gentleman wish to ask the witness any
questions? I think he has told us all that he has to tell. The other
witnesses will be able to fill in the details. No questions? Then we
will pass on to the next witness. William Harris."

Mr. Harris came forward with rather more diffidence than had been shown
by his colleague, which might have been due to his age--he was little
more than a youth--or to the story that he had to tell. But, ill at ease
as he obviously was, he gave his evidence in a quite clear and
straightforward fashion. When he had been sworn and given the usual
particulars, he stood, regarding the coroner with a look of
consternation, as he waited for the dread interrogation.

"You say," the coroner began impassively, "that you are an attendant in
the cloak room at Fenchurch Street Station. How long have you been
employed there?"

"Not quite three munce," the witness faltered.

"So you have not had much experience, I suppose?"

"No, sir, not very much."

"Were you on duty on Sunday, the twentieth of August?"

"Yes, sir."

"Who was on duty with you?"

"No one, sir. It was Mr. Crump's Sunday off, and, being a slack day, I
took the duty by myself."

"On that day, you received a certain wooden case. Do you remember the
circumstances connected with it?"

"Yes, sir. The case was brought in about half-past ten in the morning.
The man who brought it said that he would be calling for it about
tea-time."

"Did this man bring the case himself?"

"Yes, sir. He carried it by a thick cord that was tied round it, and he
brought it right in and put it down not far from another case of the
same kind."

"Did you examine these cases or read the labels that were on them?"

"No, sir, I can't say that I did. I just stuck the ticket on the case
that the man had brought in, but I didn't examine it. But I remember
that there was another case near it that looked like the same sort of
case."

"Did this man come back for the case?"

"Yes, sir. He came about four o'clock with another man who looked like a
taxi-driver. He handed me the ticket and I went with the two men and
found the case. Then the man who had brought it told the other man to
take it out and stow it in the taxi. Then he pulled a time-table out of
his pocket and asked me to look over it with him and see how the trains
ran to Loughton and Epping. So we spread out the time-table on the
luggage-counter and went through the list of Sunday trains; and while we
were looking at it, the taxi-man took up the case and went out of the
station. When we had finished with the time-table and the man had taken
one or two notes of the trains, he put the time-table back in his
pocket, thanked me for helping him and went away."

"Did it never occur to you to see whether he had taken the right case?"

"No, sir. My back was towards the taxi-man when he picked the case up. I
saw him carrying it out towards the entrance, but it looked just like
the right case, and it never occurred to me that he might have taken the
wrong one. And the one that was left looked like the right one and it
was in the right place."

"Yes," said the coroner, "it was very natural. Evidently, the exchange
had been carefully planned in advance, and very skilfully planned, too.
Now, with regard to these two cases: were you able to form any opinion
as to the weight of either or both of them?"

"I never felt either of them," the witness replied; "but the one that
the man brought in seemed rather heavy, by the way that he carried it.
He had hold of it by the cord that was tied round it. The other one
seemed a bit heavy, too. But when I saw the taxi-man going out with it,
he had got it on his shoulder and he didn't seem to have any difficulty
with it."

"And, with regard to these two men. Can you give us any description of
them?"

"I hardly saw the taxi-man, and I don't remember what he was like at
all, excepting that he was a big, strong-looking man. The other man was
rather small, but he looked pretty strong-built, too. When we were
looking at the time-tables, I noticed two things about him. One was that
he seemed to have a couple of gold teeth."

"Ah!" said the coroner, "presumably gold-filled teeth. Do you remember
which teeth they were?"

"They were the two middle front teeth at the top. He showed them a good
deal when he talked."

"Yes; and what was the other thing that you noticed?"

"I noticed, when he put his hand on the time-table, that his fingers
were stained all browny yellow, as if he was always smoking cigarettes;
and his hand was shaking, even when it was laying on the paper. I didn't
notice anything else."

"Can you tell us how he was dressed?"

"He had on an ordinary tweed suit; rather a shabby suit it was. And he
was wearing a cloth cap."

"Had he any moustache or beard?"

"No, sir; he was clean shaved--or, at least, not very clean, because he
had about a couple of days' growth, and as he was a dark man, it showed
pretty plainly."

"How did he strike you as to his station in life? Should you describe
him as a gentleman?"

"No, sir, I should not," the witness replied with considerable emphasis.
"He struck me as quite a common sort of man, and I got the idea that he
might have been a seaman or some kind of waterside character. We see a
good many of that sort on our line, so we get to recognize them."

"What sort of men are you referring to?" the coroner asked with evident
interest, "and where do they come from?"

"I mean sailors of all kinds from the London and the India Docks, and
fishermen and longshoremen from Leigh and Benfleet and Southend and the
sea-side places up that way."

"Yes," said the coroner, "this is quite interesting and may be
important. Fenchurch Street has always been a sailors' station. However,
that is for the police rather than for us. I think that is all that we
want to ask this witness, unless any of the gentlemen of the jury wish
to put any questions."

He glanced interrogatively at the jury, but none of them expressed any
curiosity. Accordingly, the witness was allowed to retire; which he did
with undisguised relief.

The next witness was the constable who had been called in to take charge
of the case, and, as his evidence amounted to little more than a
statement of that fact, he was soon disposed of and dismissed. Then the
coroner pronounced the name of Geoffrey Buffham, and that gentleman rose
from the extreme corner of the court and worked his way to the table,
casting a leer of recognition on Mr. Pippet as he passed. His evidence,
also, was chiefly formal; but, when he had finished his account of his
search for the constable, the coroner turned to the subject of
identification.

"You saw the man who had come to claim the case. Can you add any
particulars to those given by the attendant?"

"I am afraid I can't tell you very much about him. The light was not
very good, and, of course, until he had gone, there was nothing to make
one take any special notice of him. And then it was too late. All I can
say is that he was a tallish man with a rather dark beard and a
prominent nose."

The coroner wrote this down without comment, and then, apparently
judging Mr. Buffham to be worth no more powder and shot, glanced at the
jury for a moment and dismissed him. Then he pronounced the name of
Christopher J. Pippet, and the owner of that name rose and stepped over
to the place that had been occupied by the other witnesses. The coroner
looked up at the tall, dignified figure, apparently contrasting it with
its rather scrubby, raffish predecessor; and when the preliminaries had
been disposed of, he asked apologetically:

"It is of no particular importance, but would you tell us what the 'J'
in your name stands for? It is usual to give the full name."

Mr. Pippet smiled. "As I have just been sworn," said he, "I have got to
be careful in my statements. My impression is that the 'J' stands for
Josiah, but that is only an opinion. I have always been accustomed to
use the initial only."

"Then," said the coroner, "we will accept that as your recognized
personal designation. There is no need to be pedantic. Now, Mr. Pippet,
I don't think we need trouble you to go into details concerning the
discovery of this case, but it would be useful if you could give us some
further description of the man who came to claim the property. The
descriptions which have been given are very sketchy and indefinite; can
you amplify them in any way?"

Mr. Pippet reflected. "I took a pretty careful look at him," said he,
"and I have a fairly clear mental picture of the man."

"You say you took a pretty careful look at him," said the coroner. "What
made you look at him carefully?"

"Well, sir," Mr. Pippet replied, "the circumstances were rather
remarkable. From his conversation with the attendant it was clear that
something quite irregular had been happening; and when he mentioned the
value of the case, it began to look like a serious crime. Then when he
rushed out pell mell in search of a policeman, that struck me as a very
strange thing to do. What was the hurry about? His own case was gone,
and the one that was there wasn't going to run away. But I gathered that
there was something in it that oughtn't to have been there. So when he
came running out full pelt, I suspected that the cause of the hurry was
behind him, not in front, and, naturally, my attention was aroused."

"You suspected that he might be making off?"

"It seemed a possibility. Anyway, I have never seen a man look more
thoroughly scared."

"Then," said the coroner, "as you seem to have taken more notice of him
than anyone else, perhaps you can give us a rather more complete
description of him. Do you think you would recognize him if you should
see him again?"

"I feel pretty sure that I should," was the reply; "but that is not the
same as enabling other people to recognize him. I should describe him as
a tall man, about five feet eleven, lean but muscular and broad across
the shoulders. He had a long, thin face and a long, thin nose, curved on
the bridge and pointed at the end. His hair and beard were nearly black,
but his skin and eyes didn't seem to match them very well, for his skin
was distinctly fair and his eyes were a pale blue. I got the distinct
impression that his hair and beard were dyed."

"Was that merely an impression or had you any definite grounds for the
suspicion?"

"At first, it was just an impression. But as he was running out he got
between me and the electric light for a moment, and the light shone
through his beard. Then I caught a glint of that peculiar red that you
see in hair that is dyed black when the light shines through it, and
that you never see in natural hair; a red with a perceptible tinge of
purple in it."

"Yes," said the coroner, "it is very characteristic. But do you feel
quite sure that you actually saw this colour? It is a very important
point."

"I feel convinced in my own mind," replied Mr. Pippet, "but, of course,
I might have been mistaken. I can only say that, to the best of my
belief, the hair showed that peculiar colour."

"Well," said the coroner, "that is about as much as anyone could say,
under the circumstances. Did you notice anything of interest in regard
to the clothing? You heard Mr. Crump's evidence."

"Yes; and I don't think I can add much to it. The man was wearing a
well-used dark blue serge suit, a blue cotton shirt with a collar to
match, a soft felt hat and dark brown shoes. He had a wrist watch, but
he seemed to have a pocket watch as well Anyway, he had what looked like
a watch guard, made, apparently, of plaited twine."

"Is that all you can tell us about him, or is there anything else that
you are able to recall?"

"I think I have told you all that I noticed. There wasn't much
opportunity to examine him closely."

"No, there was not," the coroner agreed. "I can only compliment you on
the excellent use that you made of your eyes in the short time that was
available. And, if that is all that you have to tell us, I think that we
need not trouble you any further."

He glanced at the foreman of the jury, and as that gentleman bowed to
indicate that he was satisfied, Mr. Pippet was allowed to return to his
seat, where he received the whispered congratulations of his daughter.

"That," said the coroner, addressing the jury, "concludes the evidence
relating to the discovery of the remains. We shall now proceed to the
evidence afforded by the remains themselves; and we will begin with that
of the medical officer to whom the head was handed for expert
examination. Dr. Humphrey Smith."



CHAPTER IV--THE FINDING OF THE JURY


The new witness was a man of about thirty with a clean shaved, studious
face, garnished with a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles, and a somewhat
diffident, uneasy manner. Having advanced to the table and taken his
seat on the chair which had been placed for him close to that occupied
by the coroner, he produced from his pocket a note book which he held
unopened on his knee throughout the proceedings. In reply to the
preliminary questions, he stated that his name was Humphrey Smith, that
he was a bachelor of medicine, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons
and a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians.

"You are the Police Medical Officer of this district, I believe," the
coroner suggested.

"Temporarily, I hold that post," was the reply, "during the absence on
sick leave of the regular medical officer."

"Quite so," said the coroner; "for the purposes of this inquiry, you are
the Police Medical Officer."

The witness admitted that this was so, and the coroner proceeded: "You
have had submitted to you for examination a case containing a human
head. Will you give us an account of your examination and the
conclusions at which you arrived?"

The witness reflected a few moments and then began his statement.

"At ten fifteen on the morning of the twenty-second of August, Inspector
Budge called on me and asked me to come round to the police station to
examine the contents of a case, in which he said were certain human
remains. I went with him and was shown a wooden case, strengthened by
iron straps. It had a hinged lid which was further secured by eight
screws, which, however, had been extracted. On raising the lid, I saw
what looked like the top of a man's head, surrounded by rags and
articles of clothing which had been packed tightly round it. With the
Inspector's assistance I removed the packing material until it was
possible to lift out the head, which I then took to a table by the
window where I was able to make a thorough examination.

"The head appeared to be that of a man, although there was hardly any
visible beard or moustache and no signs of his having been shaved."

"You say that the head _appeared_ to be that of a man. Do you feel
confident that deceased _was_ a man, or do you think that the head may
possibly be that of a woman?"

"I think there is no doubt that deceased was a man. The general
appearance was masculine, and the hair was quite short and arranged like
a man's hair."

"That," remarked the coroner, "is not a very safe criterion in these
days. I have seen a good many women who would have passed well enough
for men excepting for their clothes."

"Yes, that is true," the witness admitted, "but I had the present
fashion in mind when I formed my opinion; and, although there was
extremely little hair on the face, there was more than one usually finds
on the face of a woman--a young woman, at any rate."

"Then, are we to understand that this head was that of a young person?"

"The exact age was rather difficult to determine, but I should say that
deceased was not much, if any, over thirty."

"What made it difficult to estimate the age of deceased?"

"There were two circumstances that made it difficult to judge the age.
One was the physical condition of the head, and the other was the
extraordinary facial character of this person."

"By the physical condition, do you mean that it had undergone
considerable putrefactive changes?"

"No, not at all. It was not in the least decomposed. It had been
thoroughly embalmed, or, at least, treated with preservative
substances--principally formalin, I think. There was quite a distinct
odour of formalin vapour."

"Then it would appear that it was in quite a good state of preservation,
which ought to have helped rather than hindered your examination."

"Yes, but the effect of the formalin was to produce a certain amount of
shrinkage of the tissues, which naturally resulted in some distortion of
the features. But it was not easy to be sure how much of the distortion
was due to the formalin and how much to the natural deformity."

"Was the shrinkage in any way due to drying of the tissues?"

"No. The tissues were not in the least dry. It appeared to me that the
formalin had been mixed with glycerine; and, as glycerine does not
evaporate, the head has remained perfectly moist, but without any
tendency to decompose."

"How long do you consider that deceased has been dead?"

"That," replied the doctor, "is a question upon which I could form no
opinion whatever. The head is so perfectly preserved that it will last
in its present condition for an almost indefinite time; and, of course,
what applies to the future applies equally to the past. One can estimate
the time that has elapsed since death only by the changes that have
occurred in the interval. But, if there are no changes, there is nothing
on which to form an opinion."

"Do you mean to say that deceased might have been dead for a year?"

"Yes, or even longer than that. A year ago the head would have looked
exactly as it looks now, and as it will look a year hence. The
preservatives have rendered it practically unchangeable."

"That is very remarkable," said the coroner, "and it introduces a
formidable difficulty into this inquiry. For we have to discover, if we
can, how, when and where this person met with his death. But it would
seem that the 'when' is undiscoverable. You could give no limit to the
time that has elapsed since death took place?"

"No. I could make no suggestion as to the time."

The coroner wrote this down and looked at what he had written with an
air of profound dissatisfaction. Then he turned to the witness and
opened a new subject.

"You spoke just now of the remarkable facial peculiarities of deceased.
Can you describe those peculiarities?"

"I will try. Deceased had a most extraordinary and perfectly hideous
face. The peculiar appearance was due principally to the overgrown
condition of the lower part, especially the lower jaw. In shape, the
face was like an egg with the small end upwards; and the jaw was not
only enormously broad, but the chin stuck out beyond the upper lip and
the lower teeth were spread out and projected considerably in front of
the upper ones. Then the nose was thick and coarse and the ears stood
out from the head; but they were not like ordinary outstanding ears,
which tend to be thin and membranous. They were thick and lumpy and
decidedly misshapen. Altogether, the appearance of the face was quite
abnormal."

"Should you regard this abnormality as a deformity, or do you think it
was connected with deceased's state of health?"

"I should hardly like to give an opinion without seeing the rest of the
body. There is no doubt about the deformity; but whether it was
congenital or due to disease, I should not like to say: There are
several rather rare diseases which tend to produce malformations of
different parts of the body."

"Well," said the coroner, "medical details of that kind are a little
outside the scope of this inquiry. The fact which interests us is that
deceased was a very unusual-looking person, so that there ought not to
be much difficulty in identifying him. To come to another question; from
your examination of this head, should you say that there is any evidence
of special skill or knowledge in the way in which the head has been
separated from the trunk?"

"I think that there is a suggestion of some skill and knowledge. Not
necessarily very much. But the separation was effected in accordance
with the anatomical relations, not in the way in which it would have
been done by an entirely ignorant and unskilful person. The head had
been separated from the spinal column--that is, from the top of the
backbone--by cutting through the ligaments that fasten the backbone to
the skull; whereas a quite ignorant person would almost certainly have
cut through the neck and through the joint between two of the neck
vertebrae."

"You think that it would not require much skill to take the head off in
the manner in which it was done?"

"No; it would be quite easy if one knew where to make the cut. But most
people do not."

"You think, then, that the person who cut off this head must have had
some anatomical knowledge?"

"Yes; but a very little knowledge of anatomy would suffice."

"Do you think that such knowledge as a butcher possesses would be
sufficient?"

"Certainly. A butcher doesn't know much anatomy, but he knows where to
find the joints."

"And now, to take another question; can you give us any information as
to the cause of death?"

"No," was the very definite reply. "I examined the head most carefully
with this question in view, but I could find no trace of any wound,
bruise, or mark of violence, or even of rough treatment. There was no
clue whatever to the cause or mode of death."

There was a brief pause while the coroner glanced through his notes.
Then, looking up at the jury, he said:

"Well, gentlemen, you have heard what the doctor has to tell us. It
doesn't get us on very far, but, of course, that is not the doctor's
fault. He can't make evidence. Would any of you like to ask him any
further questions? If not, I think we need not occupy any more of his
time."

Once more he paused with his eyes on the jury; then, as no one made any
sign, he thanked the witness and gave him his dismissal.

The next witness was a smart-looking uniformed inspector of the City
Police who stepped up to his post with the brisk, confident air of one
familiar with the procedure. He stated that his name was William Budge,
and, having rattled through the preliminaries, gave a precise and
business-like account of the circumstances in which he made the
acquaintance of the "remains" in the cloak room. From this he proceeded
to the examination of the case in collaboration with the medical
officer. His description of the case tallied with that given by Mr.
Crump, but he was able to supply a few further details.

"Mr. Crump referred in his evidence," said the coroner, "to a private
label on this case. You examined that, of course?"

"Yes. It was a piece of card--half of a stationer's postcard--fastened
to the lid of the case with four tacks. It had a name and address
written on it in plain block letters with a rather fine pen. The name
was J. Dobson and the address was 401 Argyle Square, King's Cross,
London."

"Four hundred and one!" exclaimed the coroner.

The witness smiled. "Yes, sir. Of course, there's no such number, but I
went there to make sure."

"You did not extract any other information from the label?"

"I did not make a particular examination of it. I took it off carefully
with the proper precautions and handed it to the superintendent."

"You did not test it for finger-prints?"

"No, sir. That would not be in my province."

"Exactly!" said the coroner, "and it is not really in ours." He paused
for a few moments and then asked:

"Have you any idea, Inspector, where this case might have come from, or
what its original contents might have been?"

"I should say," was the reply, "that it originally contained some kind
of provisions and that it formed part of a ship's stores. It is very
usual for firms who supply provisions to ships to send them out in cases
of this kind. The lids are screwed down for security in transit, but
furnished with hinges for convenience when they are in use on board.
There was no mark on the wood to indicate where the case came from. The
issuer's name and address was probably on a label which has been taken
off."

"Did you find anything that seemed to confirm your surmise that this
case had formed part of a ship's stores?"

"Yes. When the doctor had taken the head out, I took out the clothes and
rags that had been used for packing and went over them carefully. Most
of them seemed to be connected with a vessel of some sort. I made out a
list, which I have with me."

He produced an official-looking note book, and, at the coroner's
request, read out the list of items.

"At the top, immediately surrounding the head, was a very old, ragged
blue jersey, such as fishermen wear. There was no mark of any kind on
it, but there were some ends of thread that looked as if a linen tab had
been cut off. Next, there was a pair of brown canvas trousers, a good
deal worn and without any marks or any name on the buttons, and an old
brown canvas jumper. Then there were several worn-out cotton swabs such
as they use on board ship, three longish ends of inch-and-a-half manilla
rope, and, at the bottom of the case, a ragged oil-skin coat. So the
whole contents looked like the throw-outs collected from some ship's
fo'c'sle, or from the cabin of a barge or some other small craft."

"Do you associate these cast-off things with any particular kind of
vessel?"

"As far as the things themselves are concerned, I do not. But the case
rather suggests a deep-water craft. A barge or a coaster can pick up her
provisions at the various ports of call, and hardly needs the quantity
of stores that this case suggests."

"And what about the other case--the case that was stolen? Do you connect
it with the one that contained the head?"

The Inspector reflected. "There is not much information available at
present," said he, "and what there is you have had in Crump's evidence.
It appears that the two cases were exactly alike; and, if that is so,
they might have come from the same source. Evidently, the man who
brought in the case with the head in it knew all about the other case,
and what was in it."

"Which, I take it, is more than you do?"

The Inspector smiled and admitted that the unknown man had the advantage
of the police at present; and, with that admission his evidence came to
an end and he retired to his seat. There followed a pause, during which
the coroner once more looked over his notes and the jury exchanged
remarks in an undertone. At length, when he had run his eye over the
depositions, the coroner leaned back in his chair, and, taking a general
survey of the jury, began his summing-up.

"This inquiry, gentlemen," he began, "is a very remarkable one, and as
unsatisfactory as it is unusual in character. It is unsatisfactory in
several respects. We are inquiring into the circumstances surrounding
the death of a deceased person. But we are not in possession of the body
of that person but of only a part of it; and that part gives us no
information on either of the three headings of our inquiry--the time,
the place and the manner. We are seeking to discover:--first, When this
person died; second, In what place he died; and, third, In what manner
and by what means he came by his death. But, owing to the incomplete
nature of the remains, the strange circumstances in which they were
discovered, and the physical condition of the remains themselves, we can
answer none of these questions. We do not even know who the deceased is.
All that we can do is to consider the whole body of facts which are
known to us and draw what reasonable conclusions we can from them.

"Let us begin by taking a glance at the succession of events in the
order of their occurrence. First, on the Saturday night, comes a man
with a heavy case which, according to his subsequent admission, contains
property of great value. He leaves this case in the cloak room for the
week-end. Then, on the Sunday, comes another man with another case which
appears to be identically similar to the first. He very adroitly manages
to exchange this case for the one containing the valuable property.
Then, on the Monday, comes the first man to claim his property. He sees
that some substitution appears to have occurred, and, in order to make
sure, opens the case. Then he discovers the head of the deceased and is,
naturally enough, horrified. Instantly, he rushes out of the station,
ostensibly in search of a policeman, but actually, to make his escape,
as becomes evident when he does not return. That is the series of events
which are known to us, and which form, in effect, the whole sum of our
knowledge. Let us see what conclusions we can draw from them.

"The first question that we ask ourselves is:--Why did that man not come
back? The case which had been stolen contained, according to what was
probably a hasty, unguarded statement, property worth several thousand
pounds. Without committing ourselves to a legal opinion, we may say that
he could have made a claim on the railway company for the value of that
property. Yet, at the sight of that dead man's head, he rushed out and
disappeared. What are we to infer from that? There are several
inferences that suggest themselves. First, although it is evident that
the head in the case came to him as a complete surprise, it is possible
that, as soon as he saw it, he recognized it as something with which he
had a guilty association. That is one possibility. Then there is the
question as to what was in his own case. It was property of great value.
But whose property was it? There is in the behaviour of this man a
strong suggestion that the valuable contents of that case may have been
stolen property, of which he was not in a position to give any account.
That appears to be highly probable; but it does not greatly concern us,
excepting that it suggests a criminal element in the transaction as a
whole--a suggestion that is strengthened by the apparent connexion
between the two men.

"When we come to the second man, the criminal element is unmistakeable.
To say nothing of the theft which he undoubtedly committed, the fact
that he was going about with the head of a dead man in a box, definitely
puts upon him the responsibility for the mutilation of a human body, to
say the least. The question of any further guilt depends on the view
that is taken of that mutilation. And that brings us to the question as
to the manner in which the deceased came by his death.

"Now, we have to recognize that we have no direct evidence on this
point. The doctor's careful and expert examination failed to elicit any
information as to the cause of death; which was what might have been
expected from the very insufficient means at his disposal. But, if we
have no direct evidence as to the actual cause of death, we have very
important indirect evidence as to some of the circumstances surrounding
his death. We know, for instance, that the body had been mutilated, or
at least decapitated; and we know that some person was in possession of
the separated head--and, probably, of the mutilated remainder of the
corpse.

"But these are very material facts. What does our common sense, aided by
experience, suggest in the case of a corpse which has been mutilated and
a part packed in a box and planted in a railway cloak room? What is the
usual object of dismembering a corpse and of disposing of the
dismembered remains in this way? In all the numerous cases which have
occurred from time to time, the object has been the same; to get rid of
the body of a person who has been murdered, in order to cover up the
fact and the circumstances of the crime. No other reason is imaginable.
There could be no object in thus making away with the body of a person
who had died a natural death.

"That, however, is for you to consider in deciding on your verdict. The
other known facts do not seem to be helpful. The singular and rather
repulsive appearance of deceased does not concern us, although it may be
important to the police. As to the curious use of a preservative, the
object of that seems to be fairly obvious. Mutilated remains have been
commonly discovered by the putrefactive odour which they have exhaled.
If this head had not been preserved, it would have been impossible for
it to have been left in the cloak room for twenty-four hours without
arousing suspicion. But, as I have said, the fact, though curious, is
not material to our inquiry. The material facts are those which suggest
an answer to the question, How did deceased come by his death? Those
facts are in your possession; and I shall now leave you to consider your
verdict."

Thereupon, while the hum of conversation once more pervaded the court
room, the jury drew together and compared notes. But their conference
lasted only a very few minutes, at the end of which the foreman
signified to the coroner that they had agreed on their verdict.

"Well, gentlemen," said the latter, "what is your decision?"

"We find," was the reply, "that deceased was murdered by some person or
persons unknown."

"Yes," said the coroner, as he entered the verdict at the foot of the
depositions, "that is what common sense suggests. I don't see that you
could have arrived at any other decision. It remains only for me to
thank you for your attendance and the careful attention which you have
given to the evidence, and close the proceedings."

As the court rose, Mr. Buffham emerged hurriedly from the corner in
which he had been seated and elbowed his way towards Mr. Pippet and his
daughter.

"My dear sir," he exclaimed, effusively, "let me offer my most hearty
congratulations on the brilliant way in which you gave your evidence.
Your powers of observation positively staggered me."

The latter statement was no exaggeration. Mr. Buffham had been not only
staggered but slightly disconcerted by the discovery of his friend's
remarkable capacity for "keeping his weather eyelid lifted." In the
peculiar circumstances, it was a gift that he was disposed to view with
some disfavour; and he found himself wondering, a little uncomfortably,
whether Mr. Pippet happened to have observed any other facts which he
was not expected or desired to observe. But he did not allow these
misgivings to interfere with his suave and ingratiating manner. As Mr.
Pippet received his congratulations without obvious emotion, he bestowed
on Miss Jenny a leer which was intended to express admiring recognition
and then turned with an insinuating smile to her father.

"This charming young lady," said he, "is, I presume, the daughter of
whom I have heard you speak."

"You have guessed right the first time," Mr. Pippet replied. "This is
Mr. Buffham, my dear; but you know that, as you heard him give his
evidence."

Miss Jenny bowed, with a faint suggestion of stiffness. The ingratiating
smile did not seem to have produced the expected effect. The "charming
young lady" was not, in fact, at all favourably impressed by Mr.
Buffham's personality. Nevertheless she exchanged a few observations on
the incidents of the inquest, as the audience was clearing off, and the
three moved out together when the way was clear. Here, however, Mr.
Buffham suffered a slight disappointment. For when the taxi which Mr.
Pippet hailed drew up at the curb, the hoped-for invitation was not
forthcoming, and the cordial hand-shake and smiling farewell appeared an
unsatisfactory substitute.



CHAPTER V--THE GREAT PLATINUM ROBBERY


Thorndyke's rather free and easy custom of receiving professional
visitors at unconventional hours tended on certain occasions to result
in slightly embarrassing situations. It did, for instance, on an evening
in early October when the arrival of our old friend Mr. Brodribb, was
followed almost immediately by that of Mr. Superintendent Miller. Both
were ostensibly making a friendly call; but both, I felt sure, had their
particular fish to fry. Brodribb had almost certainly come for a
professional consultation, and Miller's informal chats invariably
developed a professional background.

I watched with amused curiosity to see what would happen. Each man would
probably give the other a chance to retire, and the question was, which
would be the first to abdicate? The event would probably be determined
by the relative urgency of their respective fish frying. But the
delicate balance of probabilities was upset by Polton, our invaluable
laboratory assistant, who happened to be in the room when they arrived;
who instantly proceeded to make the arrangements which immemorial custom
had associated with each of our visitors. The two cosiest armchairs were
drawn up to the fire and a small table placed by each. On one table
appeared, as if by magic, the whisky decanter, siphon and cigar box
which clearly appertained to Miller, and on the other, three port
glasses.

"This is your chair, sir," said Polton, shepherding the Superintendent
in the way he should go. "The other is for Mr. Brodribb"; and with this
he vanished, and we all knew whither he had gone.

"Well," said Brodribb with slight indecision, as he subsided into his
allotted chair and put his toes on the curb, while Thorndyke and I drew
up our chairs, "if I shan't be in the way, I'll just sit down and warm
myself for a few minutes."

His "defeatist" tone I judged to be due to the fact that Miller, in
ready response to my invitation, had mixed himself a stiff jorum, got a
cigar alight and apparently settled himself comfortably for the evening.
I think the old lawyer was disposed to give up the contest and retire in
favour of the Superintendent. But at that moment Polton returned,
bearing a decanter of port which he deposited on Mr. Brodribb's table;
whereupon the balance of probabilities was restored.

"Ha!" said Brodribb, as Thorndyke filled the three glasses, "it's all
very well to sentimentalize about the Last Rose of Summer, but the First
Fire of Winter makes more appeal to me."

"You can hardly call it winter at the beginning of October," Miller
objected.

"Can't you, by Jove!" exclaimed Brodribb. "Perhaps not by the calendar;
but when I came through the Carey Street gateway just now, the wind was
enough to nip the nose off a brass monkey. But I haven't got a fire yet.
It's only you medico-legal sybarites who can afford such luxuries."

He sipped his wine ecstatically, spread out his toes and blinked at the
fire with an air of enjoyment that suggested a particularly magnificent
old Tom cat. The superintendent made no rejoinder, and Thorndyke and I
filled our pipes and waited curiously for the situation to develop.

"I suppose," said Brodribb, after an interval of silence, "you haven't
got any forrarder with that Fenchurch Street mystery; I mean the box
with the gentleman's head in it?"

"Gentleman, indeed!" exclaimed Miller. "He was about the ugliest beggar
that I ever clapped eyes on. I don't wonder they cut his head off. He
must have been a lot better-looking without it."

"Still," said Brodribb, "you've got to admit that the man was murdered."

"No doubt," rejoined Miller; "and if you had seen him, you wouldn't have
been surprised. His face was an .outrage on humanity."

"So it may have been," retorted Brodribb, "but ugliness is not
provocation in a legal sense. You don't mean to say that you have
abandoned the case?"

"We never abandon a case at The Yard," replied Miller, "but it's no use
fussing about when you've nothing to go on. As a matter of fact, we
expect to approach the problem from another direction. For the moment,
we are letting that particular box rest while we give a little attention
to the other box--the one that was stolen."

"Ha!" said Brodribb. "Yes; very necessary, I should say. But what is
your idea about it? You don't think it possible that it contained the
body which belonged to the head?"

Miller shook his head. "No," said he. "I think you can rule that out. If
the original case had contained a headless corpse, Mr. Dobson would not
have been so ready to open the doubtful one in the presence of the
attendant. You see, until they got it open, it wasn't certain that it
was a different case."

"Then," said Brodribb, "I don't quite see the connexion. You said that
you were approaching the problem of the head from another
direction--through the stolen box, as I understood."

"That is so," replied Miller; "and you must see that there is evidently
some connexion between the two cases. To begin with, the second case,
which we may call the head case, was exactly similar to the first
one--the stolen case--and we may take it that the similarity was
purposely arranged. The head case was prepared as a counterfeit so that
it could be exchanged for the other. But from that it follows that the
person who prepared the head case must have known exactly what the other
case was like, even to what was written on the label; and as he was at a
good deal of trouble to steal the first case, we may take it that he
knew what that case contained. So there you have a clear connexion on
the one side. As to whether the man, Dobson, recognized the head or knew
anything about it, we can't be sure."

"The way in which he made himself scarce when he had seen it," said
Brodribb, "rather suggests that he did."

"Not necessarily," Miller objected. "The question is, What was in the
stolen case? He stated that the contents were worth several thousand
pounds, but in spite of that, he made no attempt at recovery or claim
for compensation. It looks as if he was not in a position to say what
_was_ in the case. But that suggests that the contents were not his
lawful property; in fact, that the case contained stolen
property--perhaps the loot from some robbery. Now, if that were so, he
would have to clear off in any event to avoid inquiries. Naturally,
then, when he came on that head, he would have realized that he was
fairly in the soup. The fact that he had been in possession of stolen
property wouldn't have been a bit helpful if he had been charged with
complicity in a murder. I'm not surprised that he bolted."

"Is there any clue to what has become of the stolen case?" Brodribb
asked.

"No," replied Miller; "but that is not the question which is interesting
us. What we want to know is, not where it went, but where it came from,
and what was in it."

"And that, I presume, you don't know at present," said Brodribb.

The Superintendent took a long draw at his cigar, blew out a cloud of
smoke and performed the operation that he would have described as
"wetting his whistle." Then he set down his glass and replied,
cautiously:

"As the Doctor is listening, I mustn't use the word 'know.' But we think
we've got a pretty good idea."

"Have you?" Brodribb exclaimed. "Now, I wonder what you have discovered.
But I suppose it isn't in order for an outsider like me to pry into the
secrets of Scotland Yard."

The Superintendent did not reply immediately, but from something in his
manner, I suspected that he had come expressly to discuss the matter
with us, but was "inhibited" by Brodribb's presence. At length,
Thorndyke broke the silence.

"We are all very much interested, Miller, and we are all very discreet."

"H'm yes," said Miller. "Three lawyers and a detective officer ought to
be able to produce a fair amount of discretion between them. And I don't
know that it's such a deadly secret, after all. Still, we are keeping
our own counsel, so you will understand that what I may mention mustn't
go any farther."

"You are perfectly safe, Miller," Thorndyke assured him. "You know
Jervis and me of old, and I can tell you that Mr. Brodribb is as close
as an oyster."

Thus reassured, Miller (who was really bursting to give us his news)
moistened his whistle afresh and began:

"You must understand that we are at present dealing with what the Doctor
calls hypothesis, though we have got a solid foundation of fact. As to
what was in that stolen case, we have no direct evidence; but we have
formed a pretty confident opinion. In fact, we think we know what that
case contained. What do you suppose it was?"

I ventured to suggest jewellery, or perhaps bullion. "You are not so far
out," said Miller. "We say that it was platinum."

"Platinum!" I exclaimed. "But there was a hundredweight of it! Why, at
the present price, it must have been worth a king's ransom!"

"I don't know how much that is," said Miller, "but we reckon the value
of the contents at between seventeen and eighteen thousand pounds. That
is only a rough estimate, of course. We think that the witness, Crump,
was mistaken about the weight, and it was only a guess, in any case. He
hadn't tested the weight of the package. At any rate, we can't account
for more than about half a hundredweight of platinum."

"You have some perfectly definite information, then?" said Thorndyke.

"Definite enough so far as it goes," replied Miller, "but it doesn't go
far enough. We are quite clear that a parcel of platinum weighing about
twenty-five kilograms--roughly, half a hundredweight--was stolen and has
disappeared. That is actual fact. The rest is inference, or, as the
Doctor would say, hypothesis. But I will give you a sketch of the
affair, leaving out the details that don't matter.

"Our information is that, about the end of last June, a quantity of
platinum was shipped by a Latvian firm at Riga. It was packed in small
wooden cases, each containing twenty-five kilos, and consigned to
various dealers in Germany, France and Italy. Well, the cases were all
duly delivered at their respective destinations, and everything seemed
to be in order excepting the contents of one of the Italian cases. That
happened to be the last one that was delivered, and, as the ship had
made a good many calls on her voyage, it wasn't delivered until the
beginning of August. When it was opened, it was found to contain,
instead of the platinum, an equal weight of lead.

"Obviously, there had been a robbery somewhere, but, owing to the time
which had elapsed, it was difficult to trace. One thing, however, was
clear; the job had been done by somebody who was in the know. That was
evident from the fact that the case was in all respects exactly like the
original case and all the other cases."

"Why shouldn't it have been the original case with the contents
changed?" I asked.

"That hardly seems possible. It would have been difficult enough to
steal the case; but to steal it, empty it, refill it and put it back,
looks like an impossibility. No, we can be pretty certain that the
thieves had the dummy case ready and just made a quick exchange. That
must have been the method, whoever did the job; but the puzzle was to
discover the time and place of the robbery. The stuff had made a long
journey to the port of delivery and the robbery might have taken place
anywhere along the route.

"Eventually, suspicion arose with regard to an English yacht, the
_Cormorant,_ which had berthed close to the _Kronstadt_--that was the
name of the ship which carried the stuff while she was taking in her
cargo at Riga. It was recalled that she had occupied the next berth to
the _Kronstadt_ at the time when the platinum was being shipped, and
someone remembered that, at that very time, the _Cormorant_ was taking
stores on board, including one or two big hampers. Accordingly, the
Latvian police made some inquiries on the spot, and, though they didn't
discover anything very sensational, the little that they did learn
seemed to favour the idea that the platinum might have been taken away
on the yacht. This is what it amounted to, together with what we have
picked up since.

"The _Cormorant_ is a sturdy little yawl-rigged vessel--she appears to
be a converted fishing lugger from Shoreham--of about thirty tons. She
turned up at Riga on the 21st. of June and took up her berth alongside
the quay where the _Kronstadt_ had just berthed. She went out from time
to time for a sail in the Gulf but always came back to the same berth.
Her crew consisted of four men, of whom three seemed to be regular
seamen of the fisherman type, while the fourth, the skipper, whose name
was Bassett, was a man of a superior class. The description of Bassett
agrees completely with that of the man whom we have called Dobson--the
man who deposited the case that was stolen from the cloak room; and the
description of one of the crew seems to tally with that of the man who
stole the case--the man whom we have called 'the head man.' Perhaps we
had better call him Mr. 'X' for convenience.

"Well, as I have said, at the time the platinum was shipped, the
_Cormorant_ was taking in stores; and her hampers and cases were on the
quay at the same time as the cases of platinum and quite close to them.
The platinum was unloaded from a closed van and dumped on the quay, and
the _Cormorant's_ stores were unloaded from a wagon and also dumped on
the quay. Then, as soon at the _Cormorant_ had got her stores on board,
she put out for a sail in the bay. But she was back in her berth again
in about a couple of hours; and there she remained, on and off, for the
next five days. It was not until the 26th. of June that she left Riga
for good."

"Doesn't the fact that she stayed there so long rather conflict with the
idea that she had the stolen platinum on board?" I suggested.

"Well," Miller replied, "on the face of it, it does seem to. But if you
bear all the circumstances in mind, I don't think it does. As soon as
all the platinum was on board the _Kronstadt,_ the danger of discovery
was over. Remember, there was the right number of cases. There was
nothing missing. It was practically certain that the robbery would not
be discovered until the dummy case was opened by the consignees. Bearing
that in mind, you see that it would be an excellent tactical plan to
stay on at Riga as if nothing had happened; whereas it might have looked
suspicious if the yacht had put to sea immediately after the shipment of
the platinum.

"The next thing we hear of the yacht is that she arrived at Southend on
the 17th. of August."

"Have you ascertained where she had been in the interval?" I asked.

"No" he replied, "because, you see, it doesn't particularly concern us,
as our theory is that she still had the platinum on board. But I must
admit that, apart from the cloak room incident, we can't get any
evidence that she had. At Southend she was boarded by the Customs
Officer, and, as she had just come from Rotterdam and had been cruising
up the Baltic and along the German and Dutch coasts, he made a pretty
rigorous search, especially for tobacco. He turned out every possible
place in which a few cigars or cakes of 'hard' could have been stowed,
and he even took up the trap in the cabin floor and squeezed down into
the little hold. But he didn't find anything beyond the few trifles that
had been declared. So his evidence is negative."

"It is rather more than negative," said I. "It amounts to positive
evidence that the platinum wasn't there."

"Well, in a way, it does," Miller admitted. "It certainly doesn't help
us. But there was one curious fact that we got from him. It seems that
there were still four men on board the yacht; but they were not the same
four men. One of them, at least, was different. The Customs man didn't
see anybody corresponding to the description of Mr. 'X.' On the other
hand, there was a tall, clean shaved, elderly man who didn't look like a
seaman--looked more like a lawyer or a doctor and spoke like a
gentleman, or, at least, an educated man, though with a slight foreign
accent, and didn't seem very anxious to speak at all; seemed more
disposed to keep himself to himself. But the interesting point to us is
the disappearance of Mr. 'X.' That seems to give us something like a
complete scheme of the whole affair, including the transaction at the
cloak room."

"Were you proposing to let us hear your scheme of the robbery?" I asked.

"Well," said Miller, "I don't see why not, as I have told you so much.
Of course, you will understand that it is very largely guess-work, but
still, it comes together into a consistent whole. I will just give you
an outline of what we believe to have been the course of events.

"We take it that this was a very carefully planned robbery, carried out
by a party of experienced criminals who must all have had a fair
knowledge of sea-faring. One of them, at least--probably the skipper,
Bassett--must have had some pretty exact information as to the time and
place at which the platinum was shipped and the size and character of
the cases that it was stowed in. They must have arrived at the selected
berth with a carefully prepared dummy case ready for use at the
psychological moment. Then, when the cases of platinum arrived--and they
must have known when to expect them--the dummy was smuggled up to the
quay, covered up in some way, and slipped in amongst the genuine cases.
Then they must have managed to cover up one of these, and they probably
waited until the whole consignment, including the dummy, had been put on
board and checked. There would have been the right number, you must
remember.

"Well, when all the platinum appeared to have been put on board, there
would have been no difficulty in taking the one that they had
pinched--still covered up--on to the yacht along with their own stores.
As soon as they had got it on board, they cast off and went for a sail
in the bay; and during that little trip, they would be able safely to
unload the case, break it up and burn it and stow the platinum in the
hiding-place that they had got prepared in advance. When they came back
to their berth, they had got the loot safely hidden and were ready to
submit to a search, if need be. And it must have been an uncommonly
cleverly devised hiding-place, for they made no difficulty about letting
the Customs officer at Southend rummage the vessel to his heart's
content."

"It must, as you say, have been a mighty perfect hiding-place," I
remarked, "to have eluded the Customs man. When one of those gentry
becomes really inquisitive, there isn't much that escapes him. He knows
all the ropes and is up to all the smugglers' dodges."

"You must bear in mind, Jervis," Thorndyke reminded me, "that he was not
looking for platinum. He was looking for tobacco. Do you know, Miller,
in what form the metal was shipped? Was it in ingots or bars or plates?"

"It was in plates; thin sheets, in fact, about a millimetre in thickness
and thirty centimetres--roughly twelve inches--square; a most convenient
form for stowing in a hiding-place, for you could roll up the plates or
cut them up with shears into little pieces."

"Yes," said Thorndyke, "and the plates themselves would take up very
little room. You say the Customs man squeezed down into the hold. Do you
know what the ballast was like? In a fishing vessel, it usually consists
of rough pigs of iron and square ends of old chain and miscellaneous
scrap, in which a few rolled-up plates of metal would not be noticed."

"Ah!" Miller replied, "the _Cormorant's_ ballast wasn't like that. It
was proper yacht's ballast; lead weights, properly cast to fit the
timbers and set in a neat row on each side of the kelson. So the hold
was perfectly clear and the Customs man was able to see all over it from
end to end.

"But to return to our scheme. When they had got the platinum safely
hidden, our friends decided to stay on in their berth for a few days for
the sake of appearances. Then they put to sea and proceeded in a
leisurely, yacht-like fashion to make their way home. But during the
voyage something seems to have happened. It looks rather as if the
rogues had fallen out. At any rate, Mr. 'X' seems to have left the ship,
and this stranger to have come on board in his place. I don't understand
the stranger at all. I can't fit him into the picture. But Mr. 'X'
apparently had a plan for grabbing the loot for himself, and, when he
went ashore, he must have left a confederate on board to keep him
informed as to when the cargo was going to be landed.

"As to the landing, there wouldn't have been any difficulty about that.
When the Customs man had made his search and found everything in order,
the papers would be made out and the ship would be passed as 'cleared.'
After that, the crew would be at liberty to take any of their goods
ashore unchallenged. And the arrangements for getting the platinum
landed were excellent. The yacht was brought up in Benfleet Creek, quite
close to the railway. Evidently, the case was carried up to the station,
and Bassett must have taken it into the carriage with him to avoid
having a label stuck on it and giving a clue to the cloak room
attendant.

"Why Bassett decided to plant it in the cloak room is not very clear. We
can only suppose that he hadn't any other place to put it at the moment,
and that he left it there while he was making arrangements for its
disposal. But it gave Mr. 'X' his chance. No doubt his pal on board made
it his business to find out what became of the case, and gave Mr. 'X'
the tip; which Mr. 'X' acted on very promptly and efficiently. And he
and his pal are at this moment some seventeen thousand pounds to the
good.

"That is the scheme of the affair that we suggest. Of course, it is only
a rough sketch, and you will say that it is all hypothesis from
beginning to end, and so it is. But it hangs together."

"Yes," I agreed, "it is a consistent story, but it is all absolutely in
the air. It is just a string of assumptions without a particle of
evidence at any point. You begin by assuming that the case which was
stolen from the cloak room contained the missing platinum. Then, from
that, you deduce that the case came from the yacht, and therefore the
man who deposited it must be Bassett, and the other man must be a member
of the crew. And you don't even refer to the trivial circumstance that a
box containing a man's head was left in exchange."

"I have already said," Miller rejoined a little impatiently, "that we
are letting the problem of the head rest for the moment, as we have
nothing to go on. But it is evidently connected in some way with the
stolen case, so we are following that up. If we can connect that with
the platinum robbery and lay our hands on Bassett and Mr. 'X,' we shall
soon know something more about that head. I don't think your criticism
is quite fair, Dr. Jervis. What do you say, Doctor?"

"I agree with you," said Thorndyke, "that Jervis's criticism overstates
the case. Your scheme is admittedly hypothetical, and there is no direct
evidence. So it may or may not be a true account of what happened. But I
think the balance of probabilities is in favour of its being
substantially true. You don't know anything about any of these men?"

"No; you see they are only names, and probably wrong names."

"You found no finger-prints on the address label of the 'head case'?"

"None that we could identify. Probably only those of chance strangers."

"And what has become of the yacht and the crew?"

"The yacht is still lying in Benfleet Creek. Bassett left her in charge
of a local boat builder as there is no one on board and the crew have
gone away. We got a search warrant and rummaged her thoroughly, but we
didn't find anything. So we sealed up the hatches and put on special
padlocks and left the keys with the local police."

"Do you know whom she belongs to?"

"She belongs to Bassett. He bought her from a man at Shoreham. And she
is now supposed to be for sale; but, as the owner's whereabouts are not
known, of course, she can't be sold. For practical purposes she is
abandoned, but we are paying the boat builder for keeping an eye on her,
pending the re-appearance of Mr. Bassett. Meanwhile we are keeping a
look-out for that gentleman and Mr. 'X,' and for the appearance on the
market of any platinum of uncertain origin. And that is about all that
we can do until we get some fresh information."

"I suppose it is," said Thorndyke; "and, by the way, to return to the
mysterious head; what has been done with it?"

"It has been buried in an air-tight case in Tower Hamlets Cemetery, with
a stone to mark the spot in case it should be wanted. But we've got a
stock of photographs of it which we have been circulating in the
provinces to the various police stations. Perhaps you would like me to
send you a set."

"Thank you, Miller," Thorndyke replied. "I should like a set to attach
to the report of the inquest, which I have filed for reference."

"On the chance that, sooner or later, the inquiry may come into your
hands?"

"Yes. There is always that possibility," Thorndyke replied. And this
brought the discussion to an end, at least so far as Miller was
concerned.



CHAPTER VI--MR. BRODRIBB'S DILEMMA


The silence which fell after Thorndyke's last rejoinder lasted for more
than a minute. At length it was broken by Brodribb who, after profound
meditation, launched a sort of broadcast question, addressed to no one
in particular.

"Does anyone know anything about a certain Mr. Horatio Gimbler?"

"Police court solicitor?" inquired Miller.

"That is what I assumed," replied Brodribb, "from his address, which
seemed to be an unlikely one for a solicitor in general practice. Then
you do, apparently, know him, at least by name."

"Yes," Miller admitted, "I have known him, more or less, for a good many
years."

"Then," said Brodribb, "you can probably tell me whether you would
consider him a particularly likely practitioner to have the conduct of a
claim to a peerage."

"A peerage!" gasped Miller, gazing at Brodribb in astonishment. "Holy
smoke! No. I--certainly--should--NOT!" He paused for a few moments to
recover from his amazement and then asked: "What sort of a claim is it,
and who is the claimant?"

"The claimant is an American and, at present, I don't know much about
him. I'll give you some of the particulars presently, but, first, I
should like to hear what you know about Mr. Gimbler."

Miller appeared to reflect rapidly, accompanying the process by the
emission of voluminous clouds of smoke. At length he replied,
cautiously:

"It is understood that what is said here is spoken in strict
confidence."

To this reasonable stipulation we all assented with one accord and
Miller continued: "This fellow, Gimbler, is a rather remarkable person.
He is a good lawyer, in a sense; at any rate, he has criminal law and
procedure at his finger ends. He knows all the ropes--some that he
oughtn't to know quite so well. He is up to all the tricks and dodges of
the professional crooks, and I should think that his acquaintance
includes practically all the crooks that are on the lay. If we could
only pump him, he would be a perfect mine of information. But we can't.
He's as secret as the grave. The criminal class provide his living, and
he makes it his business to study their interests."

"I don't see that you can complain of that," said Brodribb. "It is a
lawyer's duty to consider the interests of his clients, no matter who
they may be."

"That's perfectly true," replied Miller, "in respect of the individual
client; but it is not the duty even of a criminal lawyer to grease the
wheels of crime, so to speak. However, we are speaking of the man. Well,
I have told you what we know of him, and I may add that he is about the
downiest bird that I am acquainted with and as slippery as an eel. That
is what we _know."_

Here Miller paused significantly with the air of a man who expects to be
asked a question. Accordingly, Brodribb ventured to offer a suggestion.

"That is what you know. But I take it that you have certain opinions in
addition to your actual knowledge?"

Miller nodded. "Yes," said he. "We are very much interested in Mr.
Gimbler. Some of us have a feeling that there may possibly be something
behind his legal practice. You know, in the practice of crime there is a
fine opening for a clever and crooked brain. The professional crook,
himself, is usually an unmitigated donkey, who makes all sorts of
blunders in planning his jobs and carrying them out; and when you find
the perfect ass doing a job that seems right outside his ordinary
capabilities, you can't help wondering whether there may not be someone
of a different calibre behind the scenes, pulling the strings."

"Ah!" said Brodribb. "Do I understand that you suspect this legal
luminary of being the invisible operator of a sort of unlawful puppet
show?"

"I would hardly use the word 'suspect,'" replied Miller. "But some of
us--including myself--have entertained the idea. And not, mind you,
without any show of reason. There was a certain occasion on which we
really thought we had got our hands on him; but we hadn't. If he was
guilty--I don't say that he was, mind you--but if he was, he slipped out
of the net uncommonly neatly. It was a case of forgery; at least we
thought it was. But, if it was, it was so good that the experts wouldn't
swear to it, and the case wasn't clear enough to take into Court."

Mr. Brodribb pricked up his ears. "Forgery, you say; and a good forgery
at that? You don't remember the particulars, I suppose? Because the
question has a rather special interest for me."

"I only remember that it was a will case. The signature of the testator
and the two witnesses were disputed, but, as all three were dead, the
question had to be decided on the opinions of experts; and none of the
experts were certain enough to swear that the signatures might not be
genuine. So the will had to be accepted as a genuine document. I suppose
I mustn't ask how the question interests you?"

"Well," said Brodribb, "we are speaking in confidence, and I don't know
that the matter is one of any great secrecy. It concerns this peerage
claim that I was speaking about. I have had a copy of the pleadings, and
I see that the claimant relies on certain documents to prove the
identity of a very doubtful person. If you would care to hear an outline
of the case, I don't think there would be any harm in my giving you a
few of the particulars. I really came here to talk the case over with
Thorndyke."

"If the pleadings were drawn up by Mr. Gimbler," said Miller, "I should
like very much to hear an outline of the case. And you can take it that
I shall not breathe a word to any living soul."

"The pleadings," said Brodribb, "were drawn up by counsel, but, of
course, on Gimbler's instructions. The facts, or alleged facts, must
have been supplied by him. However, before I come to his part in the
business, there are certain other matters to consider; so it will be
better if I take the case as a whole and in the natural order of events.

"Let me begin by explaining that I am the Earl of Winsborough's man of
business. My father and grandfather both acted in the same capacity for
former holders of the title, so, naturally, all the relevant documents
on the one side are in my keeping. I am also the executor of the present
Earl's will, though there is not much in that, as practically everything
is left to the heir."

"You speak of the present Earl," said Thorndyke. "But, if there is a
present Earl, how comes it that a claim is being made to the earldom? Is
an attempt being made to oust the present holder of the title?"

"I spoke of the present Earl," replied Brodribb, "because that is the
legal position, and I, as his agent, am bound to accept it. But, as a
matter of fact, I do not believe that there is a present Earl of
Winsborough. I have no doubt that the Earl is dead. He went away on an
exploring and big game hunting expedition to South America nearly five
years ago, and has not been heard of for over four years. But, of
course, in a legal sense, he is still alive and will remain alive until
he is either proved or presumed to be dead. Hence these present
proceedings; which began with a proposal on the part of the heir
presumptive to apply to the Court for permission to presume death. The
heir presumptive is a young man, a son of the Earl's first cousin, who
has only recently come of age. As I had no doubt that he was the real
heir presumptive--there being, in fact, no other possible claimant known
to me--and very little doubt that the Earl was dead, I did not propose
to contest the application; but, as the Earl's agent, I could not very
well act for the applicant. Accordingly, I turned the business over to
my friend, Marchmont, and intended only to watch the case in the
interests of the estate. Then, suddenly, this new claimant appeared out
of the blue; and his appearance has complicated the affair most
infernally.

"You see the dilemma. Both claimants wish to apply for permission to
presume death. But neither of them is the admitted heir presumptive, and
consequently neither of them has the necessary _locus standi_ to make
the application."

"Couldn't they make a joint application?" Miller asked, "and fight out
the claim afterwards?"

"I doubt whether that could be done," replied Brodribb, "or whether they
would be prepared to act in concert. Each would probably be afraid of
seeming to concede the claim to the other. The alternative plan would be
for them to settle the question of heirship before applying for leave to
presume death. But there is the difficulty that, until death is
presumed, the present Earl is alive in a legal sense, and, that being
so, the Court might reasonably hold that the question of heirship does
not arise. And, as the Earl is a bachelor and there are no near
relatives, there is no one else to make the application."

"In any event," said I, "the new claimant's case would have to be dealt
with by a Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords. Isn't that so?"

"I don't think it is," replied Brodribb. "This is not a case of reviving
a dormant peerage. If the American's case, as stated in the pleadings,
is sound, he is unquestionably the heir presumptive."

"What does his case amount to?" Thorndyke asked.

"Put in a nutshell," replied Brodribb, "it amounts to this: The American
gentleman, whose name is Christopher Pippet, is the grandson of a
certain Josiah Pippet who was the keeper of a tavern somewhere in
London. But there is a persistent tradition in the family that the said
Josiah was living a double life under an assumed name, and that he was
really the Earl of Winsborough. It is stated that he was in the habit of
going away from his home and his usual places of resort and leaving no
address. It is further stated that during these periodical
absences--which often lasted for a month or two--he was actually in
residence at Winsborough Castle; that, when Josiah was absent from home,
the Earl was in residence at the Castle, and when Josiah was at the
tavern, the Earl was absent from the Castle."

"And did Josiah and the Earl die simultaneously and in the same place?"
I inquired.

"No," said Brodribb. "The double life was brought to an end by Josiah,
who is said, after the death of his wife and the marriage of his sons
and daughter, to have grown weary of it. He wound up the affair by a
simulated death, a mock funeral and the burial of a dummy coffin
weighted with lumps of lead, after which he went to the Castle and took
up his residence there for good. That is the substance of the story."

The Superintendent snorted contemptuously. "And you tell us, sir," said
he, "that this man, Gimbler, is actually going to spin that yarn in a
court of law. Why, the thing's grotesque--childish. He'd be howled out
of Court."

"I agree," said Brodribb, "that it sounds wild enough. But it is not
impossible. Few things are. It is just a question of what they can
prove. According to the pleadings, there are certain passages in a diary
of the late Josiah which prove incontestably that he and the Earl were
one and the same person."

"That diary," said Miller, "will be worth a pretty careful examination,
having regard to the circumstances that I mentioned."

"Undoubtedly," Brodribb agreed; "though it seems to me that it would be
extremely difficult to interpolate passages in a diary. There is usually
no space in which to put them."

"Does the claimant propose to produce the dummy coffin with the lumps of
lead in it?" I asked.

"Nothing has been said on that subject up to the present," Brodribb
answered. "It would certainly be highly relevant; but, of course, they
couldn't produce it without an exhumation order."

"I think you can take it," said Miller, "that they will leave that
coffin severely alone--if you let them."

"Probably you are right," said Brodribb. "But the difficulty that
confronts us at present is that it may be impossible to proceed with the
case. When it comes on for hearing, the Court may refuse to consider the
application until one of the applicants has established his _locus
standi_ as a person competent to make it; and it may refuse to hear
evidence as to the claim of either party to be the heir on the grounds
that, inasmuch as the Earl has been neither proved nor presumed to be
dead, he must be presumed to be alive, and that, therefore, in
accordance with the legal maxim, _Nemo est heres viventis,_ neither of
the applicants can be the heir."

"That," said Thorndyke, "is undoubtedly a possible contingency. But
judges are eminently reasonable men and it is not the modern practice to
favour legal hair-splittings. We may assume that the Court will not raise
any difficulties that are not unavoidable; and this is a case which
calls for some elasticity of procedure. For the difficulty which exists
today might conceivably still exist fifty years hence; and, meanwhile,
the title and the estates would be left derelict. What are the
proceedings that are actually in contemplation, and who is making the
first move?"

"The American claimant, Pippet, is making the first move. Gimbler has
briefed Rufus McGonnell, K.C. as his leader with Montague Klein as
junior. He is proposing to apply for permission to presume the death of
the Earl. I am contesting his application and challenging his claim to
be the heir presumptive. That, he thinks, will enable him to produce his
evidence and argue his claim as an issue preliminary to and forming part
of the main issue. But I doubt very much whether the Court will consent
to hear any evidence or any arguments that are not directly relevant to
the question of the probability of the Earl's death. It is a very
awkward situation. Pippet's claim looks like a rather grotesque affair;
and if he is depending on the entries in a diary, I shouldn't think he
has the ghost of a chance. Still, it ought to be settled one way or the
other for the sake of young Giles Engleheart, the real heir presumptive,
as I assume."

"Why shouldn't Engleheart proceed with his application?" said I.

"Because," replied Brodribb, "the same difficulty would arise. The other
claimant would challenge his competency to make the application. It is a
ridiculous dilemma. There are two issues, and each of them requires the
other to be settled before it can be decided. It is very difficult to
know what to do."

"The only thing that you can do," said Thorndyke, "is what you seem to
be doing; let things take their own course and wait upon events. Pippet
is making the first move. Well, let him make it; and, if the Court won't
hear him, it will be time for you to consider what you will do next.
Meanwhile, it would be wise for you to assume that the Court will allow
him to produce evidence of his competency to make the application. It is
quite possible; and if you are supporting Mr. Engleheart's claim, you
ought to be ready to contest the other claim."

"Yes," said Brodribb, "that is really what I came to talk to you about;
and the first question is, do you know anything about these two counsel,
McGonnell and Klein? I don't seem to remember either of them."

"You wouldn't," 'replied Thorndyke. "They are both almost exclusively
criminal practitioners. But, in their own line, they are men of first
class capabilities. You can take it that they will give you a run for
your money if they get the chance, in spite of their being rather off
their usual beat. Have you decided on your own counsel?"

"I have decided to secure your services, in any event. Would you be
prepared to take the brief?"

"I will take it if you wish me to," replied Thorndyke, "but I think you
would be better advised to employ Anstey. For this reason. If the case
comes into court, it is possible that certain questions may arise on
which you might wish me to give expert evidence. I think you would do
well to let me keep an eye on the technical aspects of the case and let
Anstey do the actual court work."

Brodribb looked sharply at Thorndyke but made no immediate reply; and,
in the ensuing silence, a low chuckle was heard to proceed from the
Superintendent.

"I like the delicate way the Doctor puts it," said he, by way of
explaining the chuckle. "The technical aspects of this case will call
for a good deal of watching; and I need not tell you, Mr. Brodribb,
that, if the Doctor's eye is on them, there won't be much that will pass
unobserved. In fact, I shouldn't be surprised to learn that the Doctor
has got one or two of them in his eye already."

"Neither should I," said Brodribb. "Nothing surprises me where Thorndyke
is concerned. At any rate I shall act on your advice, Thorndyke. One
couldn't ask for a better counsel that Anstey; and it is not necessary
for me to stipulate that you go over the pleadings with him and put him
up to any possible dodges on the part of our friend Mr. Gimbler.
Remember that I am retaining you, and that you do as you please about
pleading in court."

"I understand," said Thorndyke. "You will keep Anstey and me fully
instructed, and I shall give the case the most careful consideration in
regard to any contingencies that may arise. As Miller has hinted, there
are a good many possibilities, especially if Mr. Gimbler should think it
necessary to throw a little extra weight into the balance of
probabilities."

"Very well," said Brodribb, "then we will leave it at that. If you have
the case in hand, I shall feel that I can go ahead in confidence; and I
only hope that McGonnell will be able to persuade the Court to hear the
evidence on his client's claim. It would be a blessed thing if we could
get that question settled so that we could go straight ahead with the
other question--the presumption of death. I am getting a little worried
by the more or less derelict condition of the Winsborough estates and it
would be a relief to see a young man fairly settled in possession."

"You are rather taking it for granted that the American's claim will
fall through," I remarked.

"So I am," he admitted. "But you must allow that it does sound like a
cock and bull story, and none too straightforward at that. However, we
shall see. If I get nothing more out of it, I have had an extremely
pleasant evening and a devilish good bottle of wine, and now it's about
time that I took myself off and let you get to bed."

With this he rose and shook hands; and the Superintendent, taking the
rather broad hint conveyed in the concluding sentence, rose too, and the
pair took their departure together.



CHAPTER VII--THE FINAL PREPARATIONS


Most of us have wit enough to be wise after the event, and a few of us
have enough to be wise before. Thorndyke was one of these few, and I,
alas! was not. I am speaking in generalities, but I am thinking of a
particular case--the Winsborough Peerage Claim. That case I could not
bring myself to take seriously. The story appeared to me, as it had
appeared to Miller, merely grotesque. Its improbabilities were so
outrageous that I could not entertain it as a problem for serious
consideration. And then, such as it was, it was a purely legal case,
completely outside our ordinary line of practice. At least, that is how
it appeared to me.

Now, Thorndyke made no such mistake. Naturally, he could not foresee
developments in detail. But subsequent events showed that he had
foreseen, and very carefully considered, all the possible contingencies,
so that when they arose they found him prepared. And he also saw clearly
that the case might turn out to be very much in our line.

As I was unaware of his views--Thorndyke being the most uncommunicative
man whom I have ever known--I looked with some surprise on the obvious
interest that he took in the case. So great was that interest that he
actually adopted the extraordinary habit of spending week-ends at
Winsborough Castle. What he did there I was unable to make out. I heard
rumours of his having gone over the butler's accounts and some of the
old household books and papers with Brodribb, which seemed a not
unreasonable proceeding, though more in Brodribb's line than ours. But
most of his time he apparently spent rambling about the country with a
note book, a small camera and a set of six inch ordnance maps. And he
evidently covered a surprising amount of ground, as I could see by the
numbers of photographs that he brought home, and which he either
developed himself or handed to our invaluable laboratory assistant,
Polton, for development. Over those photographs, when they were printed,
I pored with a feeling of stupefaction. They included churches, both
inside and out, windmills, inns, churchyards, and quaint village
streets; all very interesting and many of them charming. But what had
they to do with the peerage case? I was completely mystified.

On one occasion I accompanied him, and a very pleasant jaunt it was. The
Castle was rather a delusion, though there were some mediaeval ruins of
a castellated building; but the mansion was a pleasant, homely brick
house of the late seventeenth century in the style of Wren's country
houses. But our ramblings about the house and the adjoining gardens and
park yielded no information--excepting as to the mental condition of a
former proprietor, as suggested by the costly and idiotic additions that
he had made to the mansion.

These were, I must admit, perfectly astounding. On a low hill in the
park near to the house was a stupendous brick tower--a regular Tower of
Babel--from the summit of which we could look across the sea to the
white cliffs of the coast of France. It stood quite alone and appeared
to have no purpose beyond the view from the top, but the cost of its
construction must have been enormous. But "George's Folly," to give the
tower its appropriate local name, was not the most astonishing of these
works. When we came down from the roof, Thorndyke produced a bunch of
large keys, which he had borrowed from the butler, and with one of them
opened a door in the basement. Then he switched on a portable electric
lamp, by the light of which I perceived a flight of stone steps
apparently descending into the bowels of the earth. Picking our way down
these, we reached an archway opening into a roomy brick-walled passage,
and making our way along this for fully a hundred yards, at length
reached another door which, being unlocked, gave entrance to a large
room, lighted by a brick shaft that opened on the surface. A moth-eaten
carpet still covered the floor and the mouldering furniture remained as
it had been left, presumably, by the eccentric builder.

It was a strange and desolate-looking apartment, and the final touch of
desolation was given by a multitude of bats which hung, head downwards,
from the ceiling ornaments or fluttered silently in circles in the dark
corners or in the dim light under the opening of the shaft.

"This is a weird place, Thorndyke," I exclaimed. "What do you think
could have been the object of building it?"

"So far as I know," he replied, "there was no particular object. It was
the noble lord's hobby to build towers and underground apartments. This
is not the only one. The door at the other end of the room opens into
another passage which leads to several other large rooms. We may as well
inspect them."

We did so. In all, there were five large rooms connected by several
hundred yards of passages, and three or four small rooms, all lighted by
shafts and all still containing their original furniture and fittings.

"But," I exclaimed, as we threaded our way along the interminable
passages back to the tower, "this man must have been a stark lunatic."

"He was certainly highly eccentric," said Thorndyke, "though we must
make some allowance for an idle rich man. But you see the significance
of this. Supposing that the peerage claim were to be tried by a jury,
and supposing that jury were brought here and shown these rooms and
passages. Do you think Mr. Pippet's story would appear to them so
particularly incredible? Don't you think that they would say that a man
who could busy himself in works of this kind would be capable of any
folly or eccentricity?"

"I think it very likely," I admitted; "but for my own part, I must say
that I cannot imagine his lordship as landlord of a London pub. Playing
the fool in your own park is a slightly different occupation from
drawing pints of beer for thirsty labourers. I wonder if the
Kenningtonian Gimbler knows about these works of imagination."

"He does," said Thorndyke. "A description of them was included in the
'material facts' set forth in the pleadings. And he has examined them
personally. He applied to Brodribb for permission to view the mansion,
and, naturally, Brodribb gave it."

"I don't see why 'naturally.' He was not called on to assist the claim
which he was opposing."

"He took the view--correctly, I think--that he ought not to hinder, in
any way, the ascertainment of the material facts; facts, you must
remember, that he does not dispute. And, really, he can afford to deal
with the American claimant in a generous and sporting spirit. Mere
evidence of eccentricity on the part of the late Earl will not do more
than establish a bare possibility. A positive case has to be made out.
The burden of proof is on Cousin Jonathan."

"That is, if the case ever comes into court. I doubt if, it will."

"Then you need doubt no longer," said he. "The case is down for hearing
next week."

"The deuce it is!" I exclaimed. "Do you know what form the proceedings
will take?"

"It is to be heard in the Probate Court. Ostensibly, it is an
application by Christopher Pippet for permission to presume the death of
Percy Engleheart, sixth Earl of Winsborough. Brodribb, acting in virtue
of a power of attorney, opposes the application and challenges the
_locus standi_ of the applicant. Of course, we cannot say how far the
case will be allowed to proceed; but I take it that it is proposed to
allow Pippet to produce evidence establishing his _locus standi_ as a
person having such an interest in the estate as would entitle him to
make the application. That is to say, he will be allowed to present the
case on which he bases his claim to be the heir presumptive to the Earl.
I certainly hope he will. There are all sorts of interesting
possibilities in the case."

"Interesting, no doubt, in a legal sense; but I don't see where we come
in."

"Perhaps we shan't come in at all," he replied with a faint smile. "But
I rather suspect that we shall. The special interest of the case to me
lies in the fact that Mr. Pippet's counsel will be instructed by Mr.
Horatio Gimbler."

Something in Thorndyke's manner, as he made this last statement, seemed
to suggest some special significance. But what that significance might
be I was unable to guess, beyond the fact that the said Gimbler, being
neither an infant nor a man of irreproachable reputation, might adopt
some slightly irregular tactics. But I suspected that there was
something more definite than this in my colleague's mind. However, the
conversation went no farther on this occasion, and I was left to turn
the problem over at my leisure.

Thorndyke's announcement had come to me as a complete surprise, for I
had never believed that this fantastic case would actually find its way
into the courts. But the case furnished a whole series of surprises, of
which the first was administered on the day when the proceedings opened,
and was connected with the personality and behaviour of the claimant. I
had assumed that Mr. Christopher Pippet was an American adventurer who
had come over to tell this cock and bull story in the hope of getting
possession of a valuable English estate. Probably the idea arose--not
quite unreasonably--from the fact that the claimant made his appearance
under the guidance of a slightly shady police-court solicitor. In my
mind I had written him down an impostor, and formed a picture of a
hustling, brazen vulgarian, suitable to the part and appropriate to his
company. The reality was surprisingly different.

On the morning of the hearing, Brodribb appeared at our chambers
accompanied by his clients, Mr. Giles Engleheart and his mother, to whom
he presented us in his old-fashioned, courtly manner.

"I thought it best," he explained, "that you should not meet in court as
strangers. I have introduced Anstey already, and I think he is going to
join us here. So we shall be able to make our descent on the Halls of
Justice in a united body and thereby impress the opposition."

"I suspect," said Mrs. Engleheart, "that the opposition is not so easily
impressed. But my boy and I will feel some encouragement if we arrive
escorted by our champions. Have we plenty of time?" she added, glancing
a little anxiously at her watch.

"We have," replied Brodribb, "if Anstey doesn't keep us waiting. Ah!
here he is"; and, as a quick footstep was heard on the stair, he strode
over to the door and threw it open, when our leading counsel entered
with an exaggerated pretence of haste, holding his watch in his hand.

"Come," he exclaimed, "this won't do. We ought to be starting."

"But," said Mrs. Engleheart, "we have been waiting for you, Mr. Anstey."

"Exactly," he retorted, "that is what I meant." Then, as the lady,
unaccustomed to his whimsicalities, looked at him in some perplexity, he
continued, briskly: "It is always desirable to be in court early on the
opening day. Are we all ready? Then let us go forth and make our Way to
the scene of conflict. But not too much like a procession. And I want to
have a few words with you, Thorndyke, _en route."_

With this, he took Thorndyke's arm and led the way out. Brodribb
followed with Mrs. Engleheart and I brought up the rear with her son.

As we walked at a leisurely pace--set by Anstey--across the precincts by
way of the Cloisters and Pump Court, I took the opportunity to consider
my companion as to his appearance and personality in general; and in all
respects I was very favourably impressed, as I had been by the gentle
dignity of his mother. Giles Engleheart was not only a fine, strapping,
handsome young man and very unmistakeably a gentleman, but--like his
mother--he conveyed the impression of a kindly, generous and amiable
disposition. But, unlike his mother, he seemed disposed to regard the
legal proceedings as a gigantic joke.

"Well, Mr. Engleheart," I said, by way of making conversation, "I think
we shall make pretty short work of your American rival."

"Do you?" said he. "I don't think Mr. Brodribb is so confident; and for
my part, I rather hope you won't make it too short. He ought to have a
run for his money--and he may give us a run for ours. After all, you
know, sir, his statements are pretty definite, and we've no right to
assume that he is a liar. And, if he isn't, his statements are probably
true. And, if they are true, we've got to imagine George Augustus,
fourth Earl of Winsborough, with his sleeves rolled up and a black linen
apron on his tummy, pulling at the handles of the beer engine in a
London pub. It's a quaint idea. I'm all agog to hear his counsel tell
the story and trot out his evidence."

"For my part," said I, "I can't bring myself to view the claim as
anything more than a gross and crude imposture, and I shouldn't be
surprised if the case ended in a charge of perjury."

"Do you mean against Mr. Pippet?" he asked.

"I don't know anything about Pippet," I replied, "but I look with
considerable suspicion on his solicitor."

Engleheart laughed cheerfully. "You are like Mr. Brodribb,"
said he. "The very mention of the name of Gimbler makes him
spit--metaphorically--whereas I never hear it without thinking of
Jabberwocky and the Slithy Toves."

"What is the connexion?" I asked, rather foolishly. "Don't you remember,
sir?" said he. "The Slithy Toves 'did gyre and gimble in the wabe.'
Therefore they were gimblers. Q.E.D."

"Perhaps," said I, laughing at his schoolboy joke, "Mr. Brodribb has
noticed the connexion and suspects our friend of an intention to 'gyre
and gimble' in a legal sense. And perhaps he is right. Time will show.
But here we are at what Anstey calls 'the scene of conflict.'"

Entering the great doorway, we followed our friends along the rather
gloomy passages until Anstey pushed open a heavy swing door and stood,
holding it open while Mrs. Engleheart and the rest of us passed through.
Then he and Thorndyke and I retired to the robing room and hastily
donned our wigs and gowns.

When we returned to the court, the clock showed that there was still a
quarter of an hour to spare, and, with the exception of one or two
reporters, a few spectators in the gallery, and a stray barrister, we
had the place to ourselves. But not for long. Even as the quarter was
chiming, the heavy and noisy swing doors were pushed open and a party of
strangers entered.

There was no doubt as to who they were, for, though I had not recognized
the name of Gimbler, I recognized the man, having seen him on several
occasions at the Central Criminal Court; a big, burly man with a large,
rather fat face, and small, furtive eyes; a sly-looking fellow, I
decided, and forthwith wrote him down a knave. But the other members of
the party gave me quite a little surprise. There were three of them--two
women and a man; and the out-standing fact which instantly impressed me
was their imposing appearance. It was not only that they were all well
above the average of good looks, though that was a fact worth noting;
but they all had the unmistakeable appearance and bearing of gentlefolk.

Of course, my surprise was quite unreasonable, being due to an entirely
gratuitous pre-conceived idea. But still more unreasonable was the
instant change in my state of mind in regard to the claim. Looking at
the claimant--as I assumed him to be, seeing that there was no other
man--I found myself talking a revised view of the case. Clearly, this
fine, upstanding gentleman with his clear-cut, strong, reposeful face,
was an entirely different creature from the raffish cosmopolitan
adventurer of my imagination, who had come over to "tell the tale" and
try to snatch a stray fortune.

The two parties--our own and "the opposition"--took an undissembled
interest in one another, and Mr. Giles conveyed his sentiments to me in
an undertone.

"Good-looking crowd, sir, aren't they? If that young lady is a fair
sample of an American girl, I am going to emigrate if we lose the case."

"And if you don't lose the case?" I asked.

"Well, sir," he replied, smilingly evading the question, "I shall be
able to pay my lawyer, which will be pleasant for us both."

Here my attention was diverted by what looked like a difference between
Mr. Gimbler and his client. The solicitor appeared distinctly annoyed
and I heard him say, almost angrily:

"I do certainly object. It would be entirely out of order."

"No doubt you are right, as a lawyer," was the calm reply; "but I am not
a lawyer"; and, with this, he turned away from his legal adviser, and,
to that gentleman's evident dismay, began to move across in our
direction. As he was obviously bearing down on us with intent, we all,
excepting Mrs. Engleheart, stood up, and I could hear Brodribb muttering
under his breath.

Having saluted us with a comprehensive bow, the stranger addressed
himself to our old friend.

"I believe you are Mr. Brodribb."

"At your service, sir," was the reply, accompanied by a bow of such
extreme stiffness that I seemed to hear him creak.

"I understand," said Mr. Pippet, "that I am committing a gross breach of
legal etiquette. But etiquette is made for man, especially for European
man, and I am venturing to take an aboriginal view of the matter. Would
it appear particularly shocking if I were to ask you to do me the honour
of presenting me to your clients?"

"I think," replied Brodribb, recovering himself somewhat, "that I should
survive the shock, and my clients, I am sure, will be delighted to make
your acquaintance."

With this he proceeded, with the air of a Gold-Stick-in-Waiting
approaching a royal personage, to present the American to Mrs.
Engleheart.

"This is most kind of you, Mr. Pippet," the lady exclaimed with a
gracious smile. "Mr. Brodribb is quite right. I am delighted to make
your acquaintance, and so, I am sure, will my son be. May I introduce
him?"

Here Giles stepped forward and the two men shook hands heartily.

"It is very good of you, sir, to make this friendly move," said he,
"seeing that our presence here is not exactly helpful to you."

"But," said Mr. Pippet, "that is just my point. All this talk of fights
and battles and contests that I have been hearing from my solicitor
makes me tired. I am not here to fight anybody, and neither, I take it,
are you. There are certain matters of alleged fact that I am submitting
for the consideration and judgment of the court. I don't know whether
they are true or not. That is for the court to find out. My lawyers will
argue that they are, and yours will argue that they are not. Let us
leave it to them. There's no need for us to have any unfriendly feeling
about it. Isn't that so, Mr. Brodribb?"

"There is no reason," Brodribb replied cautiously, "why opposing
litigants should not be personally friendly--without prejudice, of
course. But you are not forgetting that these proceedings involve
certain consequences. If the decision is in your favour, you obtain
possession of a title of nobility and property of great value, which Mr.
Engleheart thereby loses; and _vice versa."_

"Not quite _vice versa,_ Mr. Brodribb," Mr. Pippet corrected. "The cases
are not identical. If the court decides that my respected grandfather
was not the Earl of Winsborough, Mr. Engleheart steps into the late
Earl's shoes as soon as the death has been presumed, and I retire out of
the picture. But, if it is decided that my grandfather was the Earl,
then, as I have no male descendants, Mr. Engleheart has only to wait for
those shoes until I step out of them."

I could see that this statement made a considerable impression on both
Mr. Brodribb and Mrs. Engleheart; and it did certainly ease the
situation materially from their point of view. Brodribb, however, made
no comment, and it fell to Mrs. Engleheart to make the acknowledgments.

"Thank you, Mr. Pippet," said she, "for letting us know the position. I
won't pretend that I am not very much relieved to know that it is only a
question of postponement for my son. But, whichever way the decision
goes, I hope it will be a long time before a vacancy is declared in
those shoes. But you haven't completed the introductions. Is that very
charming girl your daughter?"

"She is, Madam," was the reply. "My only child; and, with the exception
of my sister, who is with her, my only kin in the world--unless it
should transpire that I have the honour to be related to you and your
son."

"Well," said Mrs. Engleheart, "if your kinsfolk are not very numerous,
you have reason to be proud of them, as I dare say you are. Do you think
they would care to know us?"

"I have their assurance that they would like very much to make your
acquaintance," Mr. Pippet replied; on which Mrs. Engleheart rose and was
requesting to be taken to them when they were seen to be moving in our
direction, apparently in response to some subtle telegraphic signals on
the part of Mr. Pippet. As they approached, I looked them over
critically and had to admit that their appearance was at least
equal to their pretensions. The elder lady--like the late Queen
Victoria--combined a markedly short stature with a most unmistakeable
"presence," aided not a little by the strong, resolute face and a
somewhat out-size Roman nose; while the younger was a tall, handsome
girl, noticeably like her father and her aunt both in features and in
the impression of dignity and character which she conveyed. And both
ladies had that un-selfconscious ease of manner that is usually
associated with the word "breeding."

The introductions were necessarily hurried, for the time for the opening
of the proceedings was drawing nigh. The clerk had taken his seat at his
desk, the reporters were in their places, the ushers had taken up their
posts, a few more spectators were drifting into the seats in the public
gallery and the counsel had established themselves in their respective
places and were now turning over the pages of their briefs--excepting
Thorndyke and myself, who had no briefs but were present merely in a
watching capacity. Mr. Pippet returned to the place where his solicitor
sat glumly by the solicitor's table, but the two ladies remained with
our party, Miss Pippet sitting by Mrs. Engleheart and the young lady
(who, I gathered, bore the picturesque old English name of Jenifer) by
Mr. Giles.

They had hardly settled themselves when the judge entered and took his
seat on the bench. Having laid some papers on his desk, he leaned back
in his seat and ran his eye with undissembled interest over the parties
to the proceedings.

"Now," Miss Jenifer remarked in a low tone to her companion, "we are
going to hear whether we are cousins or only friends."

"Or both," added Giles.

"Of course," said she. "That was what I meant. But we mustn't talk. The
play is going to begin; and that nice-looking old gentleman in that
quaint wig has got his eye on us."

Thereupon she subsided into silence, and Mr. McGonnell proceeded to open
the case.



CHAPTER VIII--THE OPENING OF THE CASE


"This, my lord," said Mr. McGonnell, rising and turning an ingratiating
eye on the bench, "is an application by Mr. Christopher Josiah Pippet, a
citizen of the United States, for permission to presume the death of
Percy Engleheart, sixth Earl of Winsborough, but there are certain
peculiar and unusual features in the case. The application is opposed by
the representatives of the Earl, who challenge the _locus standi_ of the
applicant on the ground that he is, as they allege, a stranger having no
legitimate interest or concern in the estate of the said Earl. The
applicant, on the other hand, affirms, and is prepared to prove, that he
is the direct descendant of the fourth Earl of Winsborough, and that he
is, in effect, the heir presumptive to the earldom and the settled
estate.

"Accordingly, the applicant petitions to be allowed to produce evidence
of his title to the estate and to obtain a decision on that issue as an
issue antecedent to the application for permission to presume death."

The judge looked keenly at the counsel during the making of this
statement and then he turned a slightly curious glance on Mr. Pippet and
from him to his solicitor.

"I must be perfectly clear," said he, "as to the scope of this further
application. There appears to be a claim to a title and to the settled
property associated with it. Now, I need not remind you that claims in
respect of titles of honour lie within the jurisdiction of the House of
Lords through a Committee of Privileges."

"We realize that, my lord," said Mr. McGonnell.

"But we are not seeking a final and conclusive decision in this court on
the question whether the applicant, Christopher Pippet, is or is not
entitled to succeed the present tenant, Earl Percy, but merely whether
he has such an interest in the estate as will give him the _locus
standi_ necessary to entitle him to make an application to presume the
death of the said Earl Percy."

"That application," said the judge, "implies certain further
proceedings, including, perhaps, a petition to the House of Lords."

"That is so, my lord," counsel agreed. "But we are in a difficulty, and
we ask your lordship to exercise a discretion in the matter of
procedure. Our difficulty is this: There is reason to believe that Earl
Percy is dead; but no direct evidence of his death exists. Consequently,
he is, in a legal sense, a living person; and, since no one can be the
heir of a living person, it is not possible for Mr. Pippet to initiate
proceedings in the House of Lords. Before any such proceedings could
become possible it would be necessary for the death of Earl Percy to be
either proved or presumed.

"Therefore, the applicant applies for the permission of the court to
presume the death. But his right to make this application is contested
on the grounds that I have mentioned. Thus he is in this dilemma: He
cannot prove his claim until death is presumed, and he cannot apply for
permission to presume death until he has proved his claim. But this
dilemma, it is submitted, is contrary to the interests of justice; and
we accordingly ask your lordship to hear such evidence as shall
establish the applicant's position as a person having such an interest
in the estate as renders him competent to make the application."

"It is not perfectly clear," said the judge, "that the fact of his
having this belief in his title to succeed does not constitute him an
interested party to that extent. But we need not go into that, as the
issue is not raised. What is the position of the Earl's representatives
in regard to the heir presumptive?"

"Our position, my lord," said Anstey, rising as the other counsel sat
down, "is that the heir presumptive is Mr. Giles Engleheart, the only
son of the late Charles Engleheart, Esquire, who was the Earl's first
cousin. Apart from Mr. Pippet's claim, there is no doubt whatever about
Mr. Engleheart's position. It is not contested. And I may say, if it is
permissible, that we are in full agreement with what my learned friend
has just said with regard to the applicant's claim. Since the question
has been raised, we submit that it is desirable that the applicant be
permitted to produce such evidence as may establish the existence or
non-existence of a _prima facie_ case. We agree with my learned friend
that the present impasse is against the interests of justice."

"Yes," said the judge, "there ought certainly to be some escape from the
dilemma which the learned counsel for the applicant has mentioned. The
actual claim will, no doubt, have to be decided in another place; but
there is no objection to such provisional proof as may be necessary for
the purposes of the present application. I am therefore prepared to hear
the evidence in support of the applicant's claim."

He looked at Mr. McGonnell, who thereupon rose and proceeded to open the
preliminary case, by a recital of the alleged facts in much the same
terms as the sketch which I had heard from Mr. Brodribb, but in somewhat
greater detail; and, as I listened, with my eyes on the judge's face, to
the unfolding of that incredible and ridiculous story, I was once more
astonished that anyone should have the confidence to tell it seriously
in a court of law. How it impressed the judge it was impossible to tell.
Judges, as a class, are not easily surprised, nor are they addicted to
giving facial expression to their emotions; and the present specimen was
a particularly wooden-faced old gentleman. All that I could gather from
my observations of his countenance was that he appeared to be listening
with close attention and placid interest.

"That, my lord," said Mr. McGonnell, when he came to the end of the
"story" with a description of the sham funeral, "is an outline of what
are alleged to be the facts of the applicant's case; and it would be
useless to deny that, taken at its face value, the whole story appears
wildly incredible. If it rested only on the family tradition, no one
would entertain it for a moment. But it does not rest only on that
tradition. It is supported by a considerable body of evidence, including
certain very significant entries in a diary kept by Josiah Pippet and
certain facts relating to the Earl, George Augustus, who, it is claimed,
was the _alter ego_ of the said Josiah. Perhaps it will be well to
glance at the latter first.

"The thesis on which Mr. Christopher Pippet's claim is based is that the
said Earl, George Augustus, was in the habit of leaving his mansion from
time to time and going to 'The Fox and Grapes' Inn, where he assumed the
name and style of Josiah Pippet and lived the life and carried out the
activities of an inn-keeper. Now, it will naturally be asked, 'Is it
credible that any man in the possession of his senses would conduct
himself in this manner?' And the answer obviously is that it is not. But
here the question arises, 'Was the said Earl in the possession of his
senses?' And the answer to that is that, apparently, he was not. At any
rate, his conduct in general was so strange, so unusual and erratic,
that it would be difficult to name any eccentricity of which he might
not have been capable. Let us see what manner of man this was.

"In the first place, he appears to have been a man who had no fixed
habits of life. He would live for months at his mansion, busying himself
in certain works which we shall consider presently, and then, apparently
without notice, he would disappear, leaving no clue to his whereabouts.
He would stay away from home for months--in some cases for more than a
year--and then would suddenly make his appearance at the mansion,
unannounced and unexpected, giving no account of himself or his doings
during his absence. And it is worth notice that his alleged double,
Josiah Pippet, had similar peculiarities of behaviour. He also was in
the habit of making mysterious disappearances and leaving no clue to his
whereabouts."

"Is it ascertained," the judge asked, "that the disappearances of the
two men coincided in time?"

"That is what is alleged, my lord," was the reply. "Naturally, after the
many years that have elapsed, it is difficult to recover the dates as
exactly as might be desired."

"No doubt," his lordship agreed; "but the point is highly material."

"Certainly, my lord," counsel admitted. "Its importance has been fully
realized and the point has been carefully examined. Such evidence as has
been available goes to prove that the disappearances synchronized.

"But these strange disappearances are not the only, or even the most
striking evidences of the Earl's eccentricity. Still more suggestive of
an unbalanced mind is the way in which he occupied himself in the
intervals of those disappearances, when he was in residence at the
mansion. Nothing in the traditional story which I have recited is more
incredible than the history of his doings when he was at home. For then,
it appears, he was in the habit of assembling an army of workmen, and,
at enormous expense, employing them in carrying out works on the most
gigantic scale and of the most preposterous character. In one part of
his grounds, he set up an immense and lofty tower, with no ascertainable
purpose except the view from the summit. From the base of this tower, a
flight of steps was constructed leading down into the bowels of the
earth, and communicating with a great range of subterranean passages of
an aggregate length of close upon a mile. Connected with these passages
were several large subterranean rooms, lighted from the surface by
shafts and elaborately furnished. No reason is known for the
construction of these rooms, though it appears that the Earl was
accustomed, from time to time, to retire to them with a stock of
provisions and pass a few days underground, hidden from the sight of
men. These strange burrows and the great tower are still in existence
and will be described in detail by a witness who, by the courtesy of the
Earl's representatives, was enabled to make a thorough examination of
them. But the slight description of them which I have given is
sufficient to demonstrate that the Earl George Augustus was a man who,
if not actually insane, was so strange and erratic in his behaviour that
there is hardly any eccentricity of which he might not have been
capable. The objection, therefore, to the traditional story, that it
postulates an unbelievable degree of eccentricity in the Earl George
Augustus, has no weight; since the said Earl did, in fact, give evidence
of an unbelievable degree of eccentricity.

"I will say no more on the subject of this strange man's personality,
though further details of his peculiarities will be given in evidence.
But, before finishing with him, it will be material to note the salient
facts of his life. George Augustus, fourth Earl of Winsborough, was born
on the 9th of August in the year 1794 and he died unmarried in 1871,
aged 77. He had no brothers. He was succeeded by his cousin, Francis
Engleheart, who died in 1893 and was succeeded by his only son--and only
child--then twenty-six years of age, the present Earl Percy.

"We now pass to the alleged double of the Earl George Augustus, Josiah
Pippet. Of his personal character we have less direct information, but,
on the other hand, we have an invaluable and unimpeachable source of
evidence in a diary which he kept for many years, and up to the date of
his death. From this, we, at least, gather one highly suggestive fact;
that he, like the Earl, was in the habit of disappearing at intervals
from his home and from his usual places of resort, of staying away for
months at a time, and on two occasions for over a year, and, so far as
we are able to discover, leaving no clue as to the place to which he had
gone or where he was living.

"When I say that he left no clue to his whereabouts, I mean that he gave
no information to his wife or family. Actually, the diary furnishes
quite a considerable number of clues; and it is a very striking fact
that these clues all refer to the same locality, and that the locality
referred to happens to be the very one in which Winsborough Castle is
situated. But not only is the locality referred to; there are actual
references to the Castle itself, and in such terms as to leave no doubt
that the writer was, at the time, in residence there. As the diary will
be put in evidence, I need not occupy the time of the court with
quotations at this stage, but will proceed to the few but important
facts that are known respecting Josiah Pippet.

"The first fact that I shall mention--and a very striking and suggestive
fact it is--is that, although the date of Josiah's birth is known, no
entry recording it appears in any known register. Exhaustive search has
been made at Somerset House and elsewhere, but, so far as can be
discovered, no record whatever exists of this man's birth. He seems to
have dropped from the skies.

"But, as I have said, the date of his birth is known, for it is stated
with great exactness on the vault in which his coffin was deposited.
Above the entrance to that vault is a marble tablet on which is carved
this brief but significant inscription: 'JOSIAH PIPPET, died the 12th
day of October 1843, aged 49 years, 2 months and 3 days.'

"Now here is a very exact, though rather roundabout statement, from
which we can compute the very day of his birth. And what was that day? A
simple calculation shows that it was the 9th of August 1794--the very
same day on which George Augustus, Fourth Earl of Winsborough, was born!

"If this is a coincidence, it is a most amazing one. The Earl and his
alleged double were born on the same day. And not only that. The birth
of the double is unrecorded. There is no evidence that it ever took
place. Which is precisely what we might expect in the case of a double.
The birth of the Earl duly appears in the register at Somerset House;
and I submit that it is a reasonable inference that that entry records
the birth, not only of George Augustus Engleheart, but also of Josiah
Pippet. That those two men were, in fact, one and the same person; or,
in other words, that Josiah Pippet was a purely imaginary and fictitious
person.

"But the mysterious circumstances connected with the birth of these two
persons--or these two aspects of the same person--are repeated in
connexion with their deaths. Just as only one of them is known, and can
be proved, to have been born, so only one of them can be proved to have
died. It is true that, in the case of Josiah, there was a funeral and a
coffin which was solemnly interred. But there was a current belief that
the funeral was a sham and that the coffin contained no human remains.
And that belief is supported by the fact that there was no medical
certificate. The death certificate was signed only by 'Walter Pippet,
the son of the alleged deceased, as was possible in those days, before
the passing of the Medical Act of 1858. There is nothing to show that
the alleged deceased was attended by any medical practitioner or that
there was anything to prevent the sham funeral from taking place with
the collusion of the said Walter Pippet. The circumstances of the death,
I repeat, like those of the birth, are fully compatible with the belief
that there were not two persons at all, but only one person enacting two
alternating parts. In other words, that Josiah Pippet was a mythical
personage, like John Doe, created for a specific purpose.

"Nevertheless, when we come to the matter of the applicant's ancestry
and descent, we must treat the said Josiah as a real person, since he is
the applicant's visible ancestor. And he has undeniably the qualities of
a real person inasmuch as, in the character of Josiah Pippet, he married
and had children. In the year 1822, in the church of St. Helen's,
Bishopsgate, he was married to Martha Bagshaw, spinster, he being then
28 years of age, and, according to the register, following the
occupation of a ship's steward. The exact date at which he became
landlord of the 'Fox and Grapes' is not certain, but he is so described
in the register where the birth of his eldest child is recorded.

"There were three children of this marriage; Walter, the eldest, born in
1824, Frederick William, born in 1826 and Susan, born in 1832. Susan
married and died in 1897. Walter carried on the 'Fox and Grapes' after
his father's real or fictitious death, and died unmarried in 1865.
Frederick William took to a sea-faring life and eventually settled, in
the year 1853, at the age of 27, in the United States, in the city of
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There he began business by opening a small
shop, which grew by degrees into a large and important department store.
In 1868 he married Miss Elizabeth Watson, the daughter of a well-to-do
merchant of Philadelphia, by whom he had two children, a son,
Christopher Josiah, the present applicant, and a daughter Arminella. He
lost his wife in 1891, and he died in 1905, leaving the bulk of his
large fortune to his daughter and the residue together with the business
to his son; who carried on the concern until 1921, when, having made a
further considerable fortune, he sold out and retired. It was then that,
for the first time, he began seriously to consider raising the claim to
what he believes--justly, as I submit--to be his legitimate heritage.

"Before proceeding to call witnesses, I venture, my lord, to
recapitulate briefly the points of the case which favour the belief that
Josiah Pippet and the Earl George Augustus, Fourth Earl of Winsborough,
were one and the same person.

"First, that the said Earl was a man of such wildly eccentric habits and
conduct that he might credibly have behaved in the manner alleged.

"That his habit of absenting himself from home for long periods and
disappearing from his known places of resort, would have rendered the
alleged impersonation easily possible.

"That the man called Josiah Pippet was in the same way addicted to
absences and disappearances.

"That the said Josiah is reported to have claimed to be the Earl.

"That, whereas both these persons were born on the same day, there is
evidence of the birth of one only.

"That, in like manner, there is evidence of the death of only one of
them, the circumstances being such as to support the rumour which was
current that the coffin which was interred contained no corpse.

"Those, my lord, are the facts on which the applicant's claim is based;
and I submit that if they can be proved--as they will be by the
testimony of the witnesses whom I shall call--they constitute a case
sufficiently convincing for the purpose of this application."

Here Mr. McGonnell paused and inspected his brief while the judge
shifted his position in his chair and the usher pronounced the name of
Christopher Josiah Pippet. Thereupon Mr. Pippet moved across to the
witness-box, and, having been sworn, gave his name and the usual
particulars. Then his counsel proceeded to open the examination in
chief.



CHAPTER IX--THE EVIDENCE OF CHRISTOPER J. PIPPET


"Can you remember, Mr. Pippet," the counsel asked, "when you first
became aware that you were possibly the direct descendant of the Earl of
Winsborough?"

"No, sir, I cannot," was the reply. "It must have been when I was quite
a small boy."

"From whom did you receive the information?"

"From my father, Frederick William Pippet."

"Did he refer to the matter on more than one occasion?"

"Yes; on a great many occasions. It was rather a favourite subject with
him."

"Did you gather that he believed in the truth of the tradition?"

"I didn't have to gather," replied the witness, with a dry smile. "He
said in perfectly unmistakable terms that he regarded it as pure
bunkum."

"Do you know what reasons he had for taking that view?"

"There were several reasons. In the first place, he didn't care a dime
whether it was true or not. He was a prosperous American citizen, and
that was good enough for him. But I think his beliefs were influenced by
the character and personality of his father, Josiah Pippet. Josiah was a
very peculiar man; very erratic in his behaviour, and, my father
thought, not particularly reliable in his statements. Then he was an
inveterate joker and much addicted to what is now called leg-pulling. I
gathered that my father regarded the whole story as a leg-pull. But he
did express surprise that Josiah should have kept the joke up so long
and that so many people seemed to have been taken in by it."

"What people was he referring to?"

"The people who were connected with the 'Fox and Grapes' and those who
frequented the place. He made a trip to England soon after the death of
his brother Walter to see to the disposal of the family property. He had
to go to the 'Fox and Grapes' to arrange about the sale of the good-will
and effects; and there he found a general belief among the staff and the
regular frequenters of the house that there was some mystery about
Josiah. It was then, too, that he heard the rumour of the bogus
funeral."

"Did he tell you what, exactly, it was that the staff and the other
people believed?"

"A good deal of it seemed to be rather vague, though they all agreed
that Josiah was not what he appeared to be--just an inn-keeper--but that
he was a member of some noble house, masquerading as a publican for some
unknown reasons. And they all appeared to believe that he was not really
dead, but that he had arranged a sham funeral in order to bring the
masquerade to an end without disclosing his real personality."

"But apart from these vague rumours, was there anything more definite?"

"Yes; there were some very definite statements, particularly those made
by Walter's manager, who succeeded him. He professed to have been on
terms of close intimacy with Josiah and to have received confidences
from him which were made to no one else. Among these was the categorical
statement that he, Josiah Pippet, was actually the Earl of Winsborough;
that he had been born in the Castle at Winsborough and that he intended,
if possible, to die there. And he, the manager, expressed himself as
quite certain that Josiah was not dead, giving as his reason a number of
reports which had reached him from time to time. One man, he stated, who
was a frequenter of the 'Fox and Grapes,' had seen Josiah coming out of
the town mansion in Cavendish Square and stepping into a carriage.
Another customer, a Channel pilot, had met Josiah riding along the road
across the sand-hills from Sandwich to Deal. He was perfectly certain
that the man was Josiah Pippet, having often been served by him with
liquor at the bar of the 'Fox and Grapes.' Another customer, who
occasionally had business at Sandwich in Kent, happened to walk out from
that town to Winsborough, and there he saw Josiah Pippet riding out of
the main gate of the Castle grounds, followed by a mounted groom. He
also was quite certain that the man he saw was really Josiah. And there
were several other instances of persons who had seen Josiah since his
alleged death which were mentioned by the manager, but my father could
not remember the particulars."

"And did not all these circumstantial statements make any impression on
your father?"

"No, none whatever. His opinion was that Josiah had amused himself by
throwing out mysterious hints and that these had been repeated over and
over again, growing with each repetition, until this story had taken
definite shape."

"And as to the reports that Josiah had actually been seen in the flesh?"

"His explanation of that was that Josiah and the Earl were probably a
good deal alike; and he suspected that Josiah's hints arose from that
circumstance. He remarked that Josiah certainly came from that part of
the country, and that he probably knew the Earl by sight."

"You do not, I presume," said the counsel, slightly disconcerted, I
thought, by the witness's tone, "take quite the same view as your
father."

"I am trying to keep an open mind," the witness replied, calmly, "but I
am telling you what my father thought, if his opinions have any bearings
on the case."

"It is not clear that they have," said the judge. "We are, I believe,
endeavouring to elicit facts."

"I would submit, my lord," the counsel replied, "that they have this
bearing; that the statements being those of an entirely unconvinced man,
they may be assumed to be quite free from any suspicion of exaggeration.
The speaker's bias was clearly against the truth of the reports and his
testimony has, accordingly, an added value."

The judge acknowledged this "submission" with a grave nod but made no
further comment, and the counsel resumed his examination.

"When your father used to speak to you about Josiah's story, did he give
you any particulars as to what Josiah had told him?"

"He did occasionally. But most of Josiah's talk on the subject took the
form of vague boastings to the effect that his real station was very
different from what it appeared. But now and again he let himself go
with a straight statement. For instance, on one occasion he said quite
definitely that Pippet was not his real name; that he had assumed it
because it seemed to be a good name for an inn-keeper. I don't know what
he meant by that."

"He gave no hint as to what his real name was?"

"No. The nearest approach to a disclosure of an identity other than that
of Josiah Pippet was in his parting words to my father when the latter
was starting on a long voyage a few months before Josiah's death. He
then said--I am quoting my father as well as I can remember his
words--'When you come back, you may not find me here. If you don't, you
can look for me down at Winsborough, near Sandwich in Kent, and you will
probably find me living at the Castle.' That was the last time that my
father saw him."

"You have referred to the alleged bogus funeral of your grandfather,
Josiah Pippet, and to a dummy coffin weighted with lead. In the accounts
which you received, was any mention made of the kind of lead
used--whether, for instance, it was lead pipe, or bars, or lead pig?"

"Most of the accounts referred simply to lead; but one--I forgot who
gave it--mentioned a roll of roofing-lead and some plumber's oddments,
left after some repairs. But I am not very clear about it. I can't quote
any particular account."

"Are there any other facts or statements known to you tending to prove
that the man known as Josiah Pippet was in fact the Earl of
Winsborough?"

"No. I think you have got them all except those contained in the diary."

"Then," said the counsel, "in that case, we will proceed to consider the
entries in the diary which seem relevant." With this, he produced seven
small, antique-looking, leather-bound volumes and passed them across to
the witness.

"What do you say these volumes are?" he asked. "To the best of my
belief," was the reply, "they are the diary kept by my grandfather,
Josiah Pippet."

"How did they come into your possession?"

"They were among the effects of my late father, Frederick William
Pippet. They were obtained by him, as he informed me, when he was
disposing of the effects of his deceased brother, Walter. He found them
in a deed box with a large number of letters, the whole being tied
together and docketed 'Diary and letters of Josiah Pippet, deceased.' As
the surviving son, he took possession of them and the letters."

"You have no doubt that these volumes are the authentic diary of Josiah
Pippet?"

"No, I have not. His name is written in each volume and my father always
referred to them as his father's diary, and I have no reason to doubt
that that is what they are."

"Are they, in all respects, in the same condition as when they came into
your possession?"

"They were up to the time that I handed them to my solicitor, and I have
no doubt that they are still. They were always kept in the deed box in
which my father found them, together with the letters. I handed the
whole collection in the deed box to my solicitor for him to examine."

"Would it be correct to say that it was the study of this diary that led
you seriously to entertain the possibility that Josiah Pippet was really
the Earl of Winsborough?"

"It would--with the proviso that the studying was not done by me. It was
my sister who used to study the diary, and she communicated her
discoveries to me."

"Since you have been in England, have you made any attempts to check the
accuracy of the entries in the diary?"

"I have, in the few cases in which it has been possible after all these
years."

"There is an entry dated the 3rd of September, 1839: 'Home on the brig
_Harmony._ Got aground on the Dyke, but off next tide.' Have you been
able to check that? As to the locality, I mean."

"Yes, I find that the Dyke is the name of a shoal by the side of a
navigation channel called The Old Cudd Channel, leading to Ramsgate
Harbour. I find that it is used almost exclusively by vessels entering
or leaving Ramsgate Harbour or Sandwich Haven. At Sandwich I was allowed
to examine the old books kept by the Port authorities, and, in the
register of shipping using the port I found, under the date 1st
September, 1839, a note that the brig _Harmony_ sailed out of the Haven
in ballast, bound for London."

"What significance do you attach to that entry?"

"As Sandwich is only a mile and a half from Winsborough, and is the
nearest port, the fact of his embarking there is consistent with the
supposition that Winsborough was the place in which he had been
staying."

"There is a previous entry dated the 12th of June, 1837: 'Broached an
anker of prime Dutch gin that I bought from the skipper of the
_Vriendschap_.'"

"I checked that at the same time in the same register. There was an
entry relating to a Dutch galliot named the _Vriendschap_ which
discharged a general cargo, including a quantity of gin. She arrived at
Sandwich on the 10th of April and cleared outward on the 25th of the
same month. At that time, the diary shows that Josiah was absent from
home."

"Is there anything to show where he was at that time?"

"There is an entry made just after he arrived home. I am not sure of the
date."

"Are you referring to the entry of the 6th of May, 1837: 'Home again.
Feel a little strange after the life at the Castle'?"

"Yes. Taking the two entries together, it seems clear that the castle
referred to was Winsborough Castle and that he was in residence there."

"I will take only one more passage from the diary--that of the 8th of
October, 1842: 'Back to the Fox. Exit G. A. and enter J. P., but not for
long.' What does that convey to you?"

"The meaning of it seems to me to be obvious. The initials are those of
the Earl, George Augustus, and himself, Josiah Pippet. It appears
plainly to indicate that George Augustus now retires from the stage and
gives place to Josiah Pippet. And, as the entry was made within ten
months of his alleged death, or final disappearance, the expression,
'not for long,' seems to refer to that final disappearance."

On receiving this answer, counsel paused and glanced over his brief.
Apparently finding no further matter for examination, he said: "I need
not ask you anything about the passages from the diary which I quoted in
my opening address. The diary is put in evidence and the passages speak
for themselves."

With this he sat down and Anstey rose to cross-examine.

"You have told us, Mr. Pippet," he began, "that you were led to
entertain the belief in the dual personality of your grandfather, Josiah
Pippet, by your study of certain passages in his diary."

"Not my study," was the reply. "I said that my sister studied the diary
and communicated her discoveries to me."

"Yes. Now, which of these passages was it that first led you to abandon
the scepticism which, I understand, you formerly felt in regard to the
story of the double life and the sham funeral?"

"I cannot remember distinctly, but my impression is that my sister was
strongly influenced by those passages which imply, or definitely state
that Josiah, when absent from his London home, was living at the
Castle."

"But what caused you to identify 'the Castle' as Winsborough Castle?
There is nothing in the diary to indicate any castle in particular. The
words used are simply 'The Castle.' How did you come to decide that, of
all the castles in England, the reference was to this particular
castle?"

"I take it that we were influenced by what we had both heard from our
father. The stories that he had been told referred explicitly to
Winsborough Castle. And the inquiries which I have made since I have
been in England--"

"Pardon me," interrupted Anstey, "but those inquiries are not relevant
to my question. We are speaking of your study of the diary when you were
at your home in America. I suggest that you then had very little
knowledge of the geography of the county of Kent."

"We had practically none."

"Then I suggest that, apart from what you had heard from your father,
there was nothing to indicate that the words, 'The Castle,' referred to
Winsborough Castle."

"That is so. We applied what my father had told us to the entries in the
diary."

"Then, since the connexion was simply guess-work, is it not rather
singular that the mere reference to The Castle should have made so deep
an impression on you?"

"Perhaps," the witness replied, with a faint smile, "my sister may have
been prepared to be impressed, and may have communicated her enthusiasm
to me."

To this answer Anstey made no rejoinder, but, after a short pause and a
glance at his brief, resumed:

"There is this entry of the 8th of October, 1842: 'Back to the Fox. Exit
G. A. and enter J. P., but not for long.' Did that passage influence you
strongly in your opinion of the truth of the story of Josiah's double
life?"

The witness did not answer immediately, and it seemed to me that he
looked a little worried. At length he replied:

"It is a remarkable fact, but I have no recollection of our ever having
discussed that entry. It would almost seem as if my sister had
overlooked it."

"Do you remember when your attention was first drawn to that entry?"

"Yes. It was at a consultation with my solicitor, Mr. Gimbler, when he
showed me a number of passages which he had extracted from the diary;
which he considered relevant to the case, and which he wished me to try
to verify if possible."

"Have you, since then, discussed this passage with your sister?"

"Yes; and she is as much surprised as I am that it did not attract her
attention when she was reading the diary."

"So far as you know, did she read the entire diary?"

"I understood that she read the whole seven volumes from cover to
cover."

"Has she ever made a definite statement to you to that effect?"

"Yes. A short time ago, I put the question to her explicitly and she
assured me that, to the best of her belief, she had read every word of
the diary."

"And you say that she had no recollection of having noticed this
particular entry?"

"That is what she told me."

Here the judge interposed with a question.

"I don't understand why we are taking this hearsay testimony from the
witness as to what his sister read or noticed. Is not the lady in
court?"

"Yes, my lord," replied Anstey; "but I understand that it is not
proposed to call Miss Pippet."

The judge turned and looked inquiringly at Mr. McGonnell, who rose and
explained:

"It was not considered necessary to call Miss Pippet as she is not in
possession of any facts other than those known to her brother."

With this he sat down. But, for some seconds, the judge continued to
look at him fixedly as if about to ask some further question, a
circumstance that seemed to occasion the learned counsel some
discomfort. But, if his lordship had intended to make any further
observations, he thought better of it, for he suddenly turned away, and,
leaning back in his chair, glanced at Anstey; who thereupon resumed his
cross-examination.

"Now, Mr. Pippet," said he, taking up the last volume of the diary (the
seven volumes had been passed to him at the conclusion of the
examination in chief) and opening it at a place near the end, "I will
ask you to look at this entry, dated the 8th of October, 1842." (Here
the open book was passed across to the witness.) "You will see that
there is a blank space between the last entry made before the writer
went away from home and this, the first entry made after his return. Is
that so?"

"It is," replied Mr. Pippet.

"And does it not appear to you that this entry is in a very conspicuous
position--in a position likely to catch the eye of any person glancing
over the page?"

"It does," the witness agreed.

"Then I put it to you, Mr. Pippet: Here is a diary which is being
searched by an intelligent and attentive reader for corroboration of the
story of Josiah's alleged double life. Here is an entry which seems to
afford such corroboration. It is in a conspicuous position, and not only
that; for, being the first entry after Josiah's return from his
mysterious absence, it is in the very position in which an intelligent
searcher would expect to find it. Now, I ask you, is it not an
astounding and almost incredible circumstance that this entry should
have been overlooked?"

"I have already said so," Mr. Pippet replied, a little wearily,
delivering the open diary to the usher, who handed it up to the judge.
There was a short pause while Anstey turned over the leaves of his brief
and the judge examined the diary; which he did with undissembled
interest and at considerable length. When he had finished with it, he
returned it to the usher, who brought it over to Anstey, by whom it was
forthwith delivered into the hands of Thorndyke.

I watched my colleague's proceedings with grim amusement. If, in
Anstey's cross-examination, certain hints were to be read between the
lines, there was no such reticence on Thorndyke's part. Openly and
undisguisedly, he scrutinized the entry in the diary, with the naked
eye, with his pocket-lens, and finally with a queer little squat,
double-barrelled microscope which he produced from a case at his side.
Nor was I the only observer. The proceeding was watched by his lordship,
with a sphinx-like face but a twinkling eye, by the two opposing
counsel, and especially Mr. Gimbler, who seemed to view it with
considerable disfavour. But my attention was diverted from Thorndyke's
activities by Anstey, who now resumed his cross examination.

"You have referred to the alleged bogus funeral of your grandfather,
Josiah Pippet, and to a dummy coffin weighted with lead. Now, so far as
you know, is that coffin still in existence?"

"I have no doubt that it is. I visited the cemetery, which is at a place
near Stratford in the east end of London, and examined the vault from
the outside. It appeared to be quite intact."

"Is the cemetery still in use?"

"No. It was closed many years ago by Act of Parliament and is now
disused and deserted."

"Had you any difficulty in obtaining admission?"

The witness smiled. "I can hardly say that I was admitted," said he.
"The place was locked up and there was nobody in charge; but the wall
was only about six feet high. I had no difficulty in getting over."

"Then," said Anstey, "we may assume that the coffin is still there. And
if it is, it contains either the body of Josiah Pippet or a roll of
sheet lead and some plumber's oddments. Has it never occurred to you
that it would be desirable to examine that coffin and see what it does
contain?"

"It has," the witness replied, emphatically. "When I came to England, my
intention was to get that coffin open right away and see whether Josiah
was in it or not. If I had found him there, I should have known that my
father was right and that the story was all bunk; and if I had found the
lead, I should have known that there was something solid to go on."

"What made you abandon that intention?"

"I was advised that, in England, it is impossible to open a coffin
without a special faculty from the Home Secretary, and that no such
faculty would be granted until the case had been heard in a court of
law."

"Then we may take it that it was your desire to have this coffin
examined as to its contents?"

"It was, and is," the witness replied, energetically. "I want to get at
the truth of this business; and it seems to me, being ignorant of law,
that it is against common sense to spend all this time arguing and
inferring when a few turns of a screw-driver would settle the whole
question in a matter of minutes."

The judge smiled approvingly. "A very sensible view," said he; "and not
such particularly bad law."

"So far as you know, Mr. Pippet," said Anstey, "have any measures been
taken to obtain authority to open the vault and examine the coffin?"

"I am not aware of any. I understood that, until the court had given
some decision on the case, any such measures would be premature."

"Are you aware that it is within the competency of this court to make an
order for the exhumation of this coffin and its examination as to its
contents?"

"I certainly was not," the witness answered.

Here the judge interposed with some signs of impatience.

"It seems necessary that this point should be cleared up. We are trying
a case involving a number of issues, all of which are subject to one
main issue. That issue is: Did Josiah Pippet die in the year 1843 and
was he buried in a normal manner? Or was his alleged death a fictitious
death and the funeral a sham funeral conducted with a dummy coffin
weighted with lead? Now, as Mr. Pippet has most reasonably remarked, it
seems a strange thing that we should be listening to a mass of evidence
of the most indirect kind--principally hearsay evidence at third or
fourth hand--when we actually have within our grasp the means of
settling this issue conclusively by evidence of the most direct and
convincing character. Has the learned counsel for the applicant any
instructions on this point?"

While the judge had been speaking, a hurried and anxious consultation
had been taking place between Mr. Gimbler and his leading counsel. The
latter now rose and replied:

"It was considered, my lord, that, as these proceedings were, in a
sense, preliminary to certain other proceedings possibly to be taken in
another place, it might be desirable to postpone the question of the
exhumation, especially as it seemed doubtful whether your lordship would
be willing to make the necessary order."

"That," said the judge, "could have been ascertained by making the
application; and I may say that I should certainly have complied with
the request."

"Then in that case," said Mr. McGonnell, "we gratefully adopt your
lordship's suggestion and make the application now."

"Very well," the judge rejoined, "then the order will be made, subject
to the consent of the Home Secretary, which we may assume will be
given."

As he concluded, he glanced at Anstey, but, as the latter remained
seated, and no re-examination followed, Mr. Pippet was released from the
witness-box.

Of the rest of the evidence I have but a dim recollection. The sudden
entry, like a whiff of fresh air, into this fog of surmise and rumour,
of a promise of real, undeniable evidence, made the testimony of the
remaining witnesses appear like mere trifling. There was an architect
and surveyor who described and produced plans of the old Earl's
underground chambers; and there was an aged woman whose grandfather had
been a potman at the "Fox and Grapes" and who gave a vague account of
the strange rumours of which she had heard him speak. But it was all
very shadowy and unreal. It merely left us speculating as to whether the
story of the bogus funeral might or might not possibly be true. And the
speculation was not worth while when we should presently be looking into
the open coffin and able to settle the question definitely, yes or no.

I think everyone was relieved when the sitting came to an end and the
further hearing was adjourned until the result of the exhumation should
be made known.



CHAPTER X--JOSIAH?


The last resting-place--real or fictitious--of the late Josiah Pippet
was a somewhat dismal spot. Not that it mattered. The landscape
qualities of a burial ground cannot be of much concern to the inmates.
And in Josiah's day, when he came here prospecting for an eligible
freehold, the aspect of the place was doubtless very different. Then it
must have been a rural burial ground adjoining some vanished hamlet (it
was designated on the Ordnance map "Garwell Burial Ground") hard by the
Romford Turnpike Road. Now, it was a little grimy wilderness, fronting
on a narrow street, flanked by decaying stable-yards and cart sheds, and
apparently utterly neglected and forgotten of men. The only means of
access was a rusty iron gate, set in the six-foot enclosing wall, and at
that gate Thorndyke and I arrived a full half-hour before the appointed
time, having walked thither from the nearest station--Maryland Point on
the Great Eastern. But early as we were, we were not early enough from
Thorndyke's point of view; for, not only did we find the rusty gate
unlocked (with a brand-new key sticking out of the corroded lock), but,
when we lifted the decayed latch and entered, we discovered two men in
the very act of wrenching open the door of a vault.

"This," said Thorndyke, regarding the two men with a disapproving eye,
"ought not to have been done until everyone was present and the unopened
door had been inspected."

"Well," I said, consolingly, "it will save time."

"No doubt," he admitted. "But that is not what we are here for." We
approached the operators, one of whom appeared to be a locksmith and the
other an official of some kind, to whom, at his request, we gave our
names and explained our business.

"I expect," said Thorndyke, "you had your work cut out, getting that
door unlocked."

"It was a bit of a job, sir," the locksmith replied. "Locks is like men.
Gets a bit stiff in the joints after eighty years. But it wasn't as bad
as I'd expected. I'd got a good strong skeleton key filed up and a tommy
to turn it with; and when I'd run in a drop of paraffin and oil, she
twisted round all right."

As he was speaking, I looked around me. The burial ground was roughly
square in shape, enclosed on three sides by a six-foot brick wall, while
the fourth side was occupied by a range of the so-called vaults; which
were not, strictly speaking, vaults at all, but sepulchral chambers
above ground. There were six of them, each provided with its own door,
and over each door was a stone tablet on which was inscribed brief
particulars of the inmates. Josiah alone had a chamber all to himself,
and, running my eye along the row of tablets and reading the dates, I
noted that he appeared to be the last of the tenants. At this moment,
the sound of a motor car in the street outside caused us to step back to
bring the gate within view; when, to my surprise--but not, apparently,
to Thorndyke's--our old friend, Mr. Superintendent Miller, was seen
entering. As he approached and greeted us, I exclaimed:

"This is an unexpected pleasure, Miller. What brings you here? I didn't
know that the police were interested in this case."

"They are not," he replied. "I am here on instructions from the Home
Office just to see that the formalities are complied with. That is all.
But it is a quaint business. What are we going to find in that coffin,
Doctor?"

"That," replied Thorndyke, "is an open question, at present."

"I know," said Miller. "But I expect you have considered the
probabilities. What do you say? Bones or lead?"

"Well, as a mere estimate of probabilities," replied Thorndyke, "I
should say lead."

"Should you really!" I exclaimed in astonishment. "I would have wagered
fifty to one on a body. The whole story of the bogus funeral sounded to
me like 'sheer bunk,' as Pippet would express it."

"That would certainly have been my view," said Miller, "but I expect we
are both wrong. We usually are when we disagree with the Doctor. And
there does seem to be a hint of something queer about that inscription.
'Josiah Pippet, died on the 12th day of October, 1843, aged 49 years, 2
months and 3 days.' If he was so blooming particular to a day, why
couldn't he have just given the date of his birth and have done with
it?"

While we had been talking, the official and his assistant had produced
two pairs of coffin trestles, which they set up side by side opposite
the open door of the vault; and they had hardly been placed in position
when the sound of two cars drawing up almost at the same moment
announced the arrival of the rest of the party.

"My eye!" exclaimed Miller, as the visitors filed in and the
official--beadle, or whatever he was--advanced to meet them and lock the
gate after them; "it's a regular congregation."

It did look a large party. First there was Mr. Pippet with his sister
and daughter and his solicitor and Mr. McGonnell; and then followed Mrs.
Engleheart and her son with Mr. Brodribb. But, once inside the burial
ground, the two groups tended to coalesce while mutual greetings were
exchanged, and then to sort themselves out. The two elder ladies decided
to wait at a distance while "the horrid business" was in progress, and
the rest of us gathered round the half-open door, the two young people
drawing together and seeming, as I thought, to be on uncommonly amicable
terms.

"I leave the conduct of this affair in your hands, Thorndyke," said Mr.
Brodribb, casting a wistful glance at the two ladies, who had retired to
the farther side of the enclosure. "Is there anything that you want to
do before the coffin is removed?"

"I should like, as a mere formality, to inspect the interior of the
vault," was the reply; "and perhaps the Superintendent, as a
disinterested witness, might also take a glance at it."

As he spoke, he looked inquiringly at Mr. Gimbler, and the latter,
accepting the suggestion, advanced with him and Miller and threw the
door wide open. There was nothing very sensational to see. The little
chamber was crossed by a thick stone shelf on which rested the coffin.
The latter had a very unattractive appearance, the dark, damp oak--from
which every vestige of varnish had disappeared--being covered with
patches of thick, green mildew and greasy-looking stains, over which was
a mantle of impalpably fine grey dust. A layer of similar dust covered
the shelf, the floor and every horizontal surface, but nowhere was there
the faintest sign of its having been disturbed. On coffin and shelf and
floor it presented a perfectly smooth, unbroken surface.

"Well, Doctor," said Miller, when he had cast a quick, searching glance
round the chamber, "are you satisfied? Looks all right."

"Yes," replied Thorndyke. "But we will just take a sample or two of the
dust for reference, if necessary."

As he spoke, he produced from his pockets a penknife and two of the
inevitable seed-envelopes which he always carried about him. With the
former he scraped up a little heap of dust on the coffin lid and
shovelled it into one envelope, and then took another sample from the
shelf; a proceeding which was observed with a sour smile by Mr Gimber
and with delighted amusement by the Superintendent.

"Nothing left to chance, you notice," chuckled the latter. "Thomas a
Didymus was a credulous man compared with the Doctor. Shall we have the
coffin out now?"

As Thorndyke assented, the beadle and his assistant approached and drew
the coffin forward on the shelf. Then they lifted the projecting end,
but forthwith set it down again and stood gazing at it blankly.

"Moses!" exclaimed the locksmith. "He don't seem to have lost much
weight in eighty years! This is a four-man job."

Thereupon, Miller and I stepped forward, and, as the two men lifted the
foot end of the coffin, we took the weight of the other end; and as we
staggered to the trestles with our ponderous burden, Miller whispered to
me:

"What's the betting now, Dr. Jervis?"

"There may be a lead shell," I suggested, but without much conviction.
However, there was no use in speculating, seeing that the locksmith had
already produced a screw-driver from his tool-bag and was preparing to
set to work. As he began, I watched him with some interest, expecting
that the screw would be rusted in immovably. But he was a skilful
workman and managed the extraction with very little difficulty, though
the screw, when at last he got it out and laid it on the coffin lid, was
thickly encrusted with rust. Thorndyke picked it up, and, having looked
it over, handed it to Miller with the whispered injunction:

"Take charge of the screws, Miller. They may have to be put in
evidence."

The Superintendent made no comment, though I could see that he was a
little puzzled; as also was I, for there appeared to be nothing unusual
or significant in the appearance of the screw. And I think the
transaction was observed--with some disfavour--by Mr. Gimbler, though he
took no notice, but kept a watchful and suspicious eye on Thorndyke;
who, during the extraction of the other screws, occupied himself with an
exhaustive examination of the exterior of the coffin, including the
blackened brass name-plate (the fastening-screws of which he inspected
through a lens) and the brass handles and their fastenings.

At length the last of the eight screws was extracted--and pocketed by
Miller--and the locksmith, inserting his screw-driver between the lid
and the side, looked round as if waiting for the word. We all gathered
round, making space, however, for Mr. Pippet, his daughter and Mr.
Giles.

"Now," said Mr. Pippet, "we are going to get the answer to the riddle.
Up with her."

The locksmith gave a single wrench and the lid rose. He lifted it clear
and laid it on the other trestles, and we all craned forward and peered
into the coffin. And then, at the first glance, we had the answer. For
what we saw was an untidy bundle of mouldy sacking. We could not see
what the bundle contained; but it certainly did not contain the late
Josiah Pippet.

The excitement now reached its climax and found expression in low-toned,
inarticulate murmurs, in the midst of which Mr. Pippet's calm,
matter-of-fact voice was heard directing the locksmith to "get that
bundle open and let's see what's inside." Accordingly, with much tugging
at the unsavoury sacking, the bundle was laid open and its contents
exposed to the light of day--a small roll of whitened sheet lead and
four hemispherical lumps of the same metal, apparently the remainders
from a plumber's melting-pot.

For some moments there was a complete silence as nine pairs of
fascinated eyes remained riveted on the objects that reposed on the
bottom of the coffin. It was broken, not quite harmoniously, by the
voice of Mr. Gimbler.

"A roll of sheet lead and some plumber's oddments."

As he spoke, he turned, with a fat, wrinkly and rather offensive smile
to Mr. Giles Engleheart.

"Yes," the latter agreed, "it fits the description to a T." He held out
his hand to Mr. Pippet and continued: "It's heads up for you, sir. I
congratulate you on a fair win, and I wish you a long life to enjoy what
you have won."

"Thank you, Giles," said Mr. Pippet, shaking his hand warmly. "I am glad
to have your congratulations first--even if they should turn out
premature. We mustn't be too previous, you know."

He spoke in a singularly calm, unemotional tone, without a trace of
triumph or even satisfaction. Indeed, I could not but be impressed (and
considerably surprised) by the total absence of any sign of elation on
the part either of the claimant or his daughter. It might have been
simply good manners and regard for the defeated rival. But it looked
uncommonly like indifference. Moreover, I could not but notice that, in
the midst of the congratulations, Mr. Pippet was keeping an attentive
eye on Thorndyke; and, indeed, my colleague's proceedings soon began to
attract more general notice.

When the leaden objects were first disclosed, he had viewed them
impassively with what had almost looked like a glance of recognition.
They were, in fact, as I knew, exactly what he had expected to see. But
after a general, searching glance, he proceeded to a closer inspection.
First, he lifted out the roll of sheet lead, and, having looked it over,
critically, laid it on the coffin-lid. Then he turned his attention to
the "oddments," of which there was one appreciably larger than the other
three, having apparently come from a bigger melting-pot. This mass,
which looked like the half of a metallic Dutch cheese, he lifted out
first, and, in spite of its great weight, he seemed to handle it without
any difficulty as he turned it about to examine its various parts. When
he had inspected it all over, he laid it on the coffin-lid beside the
roll of sheet lead, and then, dipping into the coffin once more, took up
one of the smaller "remainders."

And it was at this moment that I became aware that "something had
happened." How I knew it, I can hardly say, for Thorndyke was a
perfectly impossible subject for a thought-reader. But my long
association with him enabled me to detect subtle shades of expression
that were perceptible to no one else. And something of the kind I had
seen now. As he lifted the lump of lead, he had checked for a moment and
seemed to stiffen, and a sudden intensity of attention had flashed into
his eyes, to vanish in an instant, leaving his face as immobile and
impassive as a mask of stone.

What could it be? I could only watch and wait for developments. As he
turned the mass of lead over in his hands and pored over every inch of
its surface, I caught the twinkling eye of Superintendent Miller and a
low chuckle of appreciative amusement.

"Nothing taken for granted, you observe," he murmured.

But the others were less indulgent. As Thorndyke laid the last of the
leaden pot-leavings on the coffin-lid, Mr. McGonnell interposed, a
little stiffly.

"Is there anything more, Dr. Thorndyke? Because, if not, as we seem to
have done what we came here to do, I suggest that we may consider the
business as finished."

"That is," said Mr. Pippet, "if Dr. Thorndyke is satisfied. Are you
satisfied, Doctor?"

"No," replied Thorndyke. "I am not satisfied with this lead. It purports
to have been placed here in 1843, and part of it--the sheet lead--was
then old. It was said to have been old roofing-sheet. Now, I am not
satisfied that this lead is of that age. This sheet lead looks to me
like modern milled lead."

"And how do you propose to settle that question?" McGonnell asked.

"I propose that an assay of the lead should be made to determine, if
possible, its age."

McGonnell snorted. "This is Thomas Didymus, with a vengeance," he
exclaimed. "But I submit that it is mere hair-splitting; and I don't
believe that any assayist could give an opinion as to the age of the
lead, or that the court would pay any attention to him if he did. What
do you say, Gimbler?"

Mr. Gimbler smiled his queer, fat, wrinkly smile, to the entire
extinction of his little blue eyes, and swung his eye-glasses on their
ribbon like a pendulum.

"I say," he replied, oracularly, "that the proposal is inadmissible for
several reasons. First, the objection is frivolous. We came here to find
out whether this coffin contained a body or some lumps of lead. We find
that it contained lead. Now Dr. Thorndyke doubts whether it is the
original lead. He thinks it may be some other lead of a later vintage.
But if it is, how came it here? What does he suggest?"

"I suggest nothing," said Thorndyke. "My function in this case is the
purely scientific one of ascertaining facts."

"Still," persisted Gimbler, "there is a suggestion implied in the
objection. But I let that pass. Next, I assert that an assay would not
produce any evidence that the court would take seriously. The proposed
proceeding is merely vexatious and obstructive. It would occasion delay
and increase the costs to no useful purpose. And, finally, the order of
the court does not authorize us to make an assay of the lead. It merely
authorizes us to open the coffin and ascertain whether it contains a
body. We have done that and we find that it does not contain a body."

Here Mr. Brodribb, who had been showing signs of increasing discomfort,
intervened in the discussion.

"I am inclined, Thorndyke," said he, "to agree with Mr. Gimbler. Your
proposal to make an assay of the lead does seem to go beyond the powers
conferred by the judge's order. Of course, if it is necessary, we could
make a special application. But is it necessary? Do you say definitely
that this lead is not of the age that it is assumed to be?"

"No," replied Thorndyke, "I do not. I merely say that I am not satisfied
that it is."

"Then," said Brodribb, "I suggest that we waive the question of the
assay, at least for the present. I should much prefer to do so,
especially as there is no denying that your proposal does imply certain
suggestions which should not be lightly made."

Thorndyke reflected for a few moments, and I waited curiously for his
decision. Finally, he rejoined:

"Very well, Brodribb; I will not press the matter against your sense of
the legal proprieties. We will waive the assay--at any rate, for the
present."

"I think you are wise," said McGonnell. "It would have seemed an
extravagant piece of scepticism and couldn't have led to any result. And
now," he added, looking anxiously at his watch, "I suppose we have
finished our business. I hope so. Have we got to see to the re-placing
of the coffin?"

"No, sir," replied Miller. "That is my business, as official master of
the ceremonies. There is nothing to detain you."

"Thank goodness for that," said McGonnell, and began, forthwith, to move
towards the gate, while Mr. Pippet, the two solicitors and the two young
people advanced up the path to meet the two elder ladies and give them
the latest news of the discoveries. Then the beadle unlocked the gate,
and, as the procession moved towards it, we joined the party to exchange
polite greetings and see them into their cars (in which the opposing
litigants got mixed up in the most singular and amicable manner).

"Can I give you two a lift?" inquired Brodribb, as he held the door of
his car open.

"No, thank you," replied Thorndyke. "We have a little business to
transact with Miller."

Thereupon Brodribb wriggled, with some difficulty into his car; and we
re-entered the gate, which the beadle locked after us, and rejoined the
Superintendent.



CHAPTER XI--PLUMBER'S ODDMENTS AND OTHER MATTERS


As Thorndyke and I returned from the gate, the Superintendent met us
with a peculiarly knowing expression on his countenance.

"Well, Doctor," said he, "what about it?" And, as this slightly
ambiguous question elicited no reply beyond an indulgent smile, he
continued: "When I hear a gentleman of your intellect propose to assay a
lump of old lead to ascertain the exact vintage year, experience tells
me that that gentleman has got something up his sleeve. Now, Doctor,
let's hear what it is."

"To tell you the truth, Miller," Thorndyke replied, "I don't quite know,
myself. But you are wrong about the lead. The age of a piece of lead can
be judged fairly accurately by the silver content. If you find a piece
of sheet lead with a silver content of, say, ten ounces to the ton, you
can be pretty sure that it was made before Pattinson's process for the
desilverization of lead was invented. Still, you are right to the extent
that the question of age was not the only issue that I had in my mind.
There were other reasons why the assay should be made."

"But you have abandoned the assay," objected Miller, "and very surprised
I was to hear you give way so easily."

"I gave way in your favour," said Thorndyke, with a cryptic smile.
_"You_ are going to have the assay carried out."

"Oh, am I?" exclaimed the Superintendent. "It's as well to know these
things in advance." We turned into a side path to get a little farther
from the beadle and his mate, and Miller continued: "Now, look here,
Doctor; I want to be clear about this business. This is a civil case,
and it is no concern of mine, as a police officer. What's the game? You
seem to be dumping this blooming lead on me, and then there are these
screws. Why did you want me to take charge of them?" He drew out of his
pocket the rusty handful and looked at them disparagingly. "I don't see
anything special about them. They look to me like ordinary screws such
as you could buy at any ironmonger's."

Thorndyke chuckled. "They are common-looking screws, I must admit," said
he. "But don't despise them. Like many other common-looking things, they
have their value. I want you to put them into an envelope and seal it
with your official seal; and write on the envelope, 'Screws extracted in
my presence from the coffin of Josiah Pippet,' and sign it. Will you do
that?"

"Yes," replied Miller, "I don't see any objection to that, though I am
hanged if I can guess what you want them for. But with regard to this
lead. You want me to have it assayed on my own initiative, as a police
officer. But I must have something to go on. The judge's order doesn't
cover me. Now, I know quite well that you have got something perfectly
definite in your mind; and, knowing you as I do, I am pretty sure that
it is not a delusion Can't you tell me what it is?"

Thorndyke reflected _for_ a few moments. "The fact is," he said at
length, "I am in a difficulty. My position in this case is that of a
counsel instructed by Brodribb." Here Miller indulged in a broad grin,
but made no comment, beyond something like a wink directed towards me,
and Thorndyke continued: "You saw that Brodribb disliked the idea of the
assay. He is a very acute lawyer, but he is a most scrupulously
courteous old gentleman, and he was obviously unwilling to seem to throw
the slightest doubt on the good faith of the other side, even Gimbler.
Now, I could not act against Brodribb's wishes, and there was no need. I
had given the other side their chance, and they didn't choose to take
it."

"So now," said Miller, "you want, in effect, to run with the hare and
hunt with the hounds. And I am the hounds. Isn't that the position?"

Thorndyke regarded the Superintendent with an appreciative smile. "Very
neatly put, Miller," said he, "and I won't deny that it does seem to
state the position. Nevertheless, I am going to ask you to help me, and
to take on trust my assurance that, if you act on what I will call my
suggestions, you will, in your official capacity, 'learn something to
your advantage,' as the solicitors express it."

"Still," urged Miller, "if you don't care to let the cat out of the bag,
you might at least show us her head, or even her tail, so that we may
see what sort of animal is in the bag."

Once more, Thorndyke reflected for a few moments before replying. At
length he said: "I fully appreciate your difficulty, Miller. You can't,
as a detective officer, start an investigation in the air. But you have
known me long enough to feel certain that I should not send you off in
search of a mare's nest."

"I am quite clear on that point," Miller agreed, warmly. "I only want
reasonable cover."

"Very well," rejoined Thorndyke; "I can give you that, if you will take
my information on trust without the production of evidence."

"Let's hear the information," said Miller, cautiously.

"It is this," said Thorndyke; "and I am prepared to give you the
information in writing, if you want it."

"I don't," said Miller. "I only want a definite statement."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "I will give you one. I declare, positively,
that, if this is the original coffin, it has, at some time after the
date of the burial, as set forth on the tomb and on the coffin, been
opened and reclosed; and that the objects which we have found in it are
not its original contents. But I am of opinion that this is not the
original coffin, but a new coffin substituted with the intent to commit
a fraud. Will that do for you?"

"Yes," replied Miller. "That is good enough for a start; and not a bad
start, either. If there has been a fraudulent substitution for the
purpose of obtaining possession of valuable property, that brings the
matter fairly within my province. And, what is more, it seems to bring
Mr. Horatio Gimbler within reach of my claws. But I have a sort of
feeling that this faked coffin is not the whole of the business. How's
that for a guess?"

"I will say, as the children say in the game of Hot Boiled Beans, that
you are 'getting warm.' And I would rather not say any more. I want to
start you on an independent investigation and keep out of it, myself, as
counsel in this case. But I shall expect that, if you bring any facts to
light that have a bearing on that case, you will bring them to my
notice."

At this, Miller turned to me with a chuckle of delight.

"Just listen to him, Dr. Jervis!" he exclaimed, waggishly. "Isn't it as
good as a play? He stipulates that I shall bring the facts to his
notice; when you and I know perfectly well that he has got the whole
pack of cards up his sleeve at this very moment. I wouldn't use the word
'humbug' in connexion with a gentleman for whom I have such a profound
respect. But--well, what do you want me to do, Doctor?"

"The first thing," said Thorndyke, "is to get rid of those two men. We
don't want any witnesses. As this ground is closed for burials and is
not open to the public, there is no reason why you should not take
possession of the keys. You will want to seal the vault and to have
access to it in case any further inspection is necessary. The beadle
won't make any difficulty."

He did not. On the contrary, he accepted his release gratefully and gave
up the keys without a word. But, before dismissing the men, we replaced
the coffin on the shelf, and, for the sake of appearances, we returned
the lead to its interior and laid the lid on top.

"There is no need to screw it down," the Superintendent explained. "It
may have to be re-examined, and I am going to seal up the vault."

With this he sent the two men off with a small donation for the
provision of refreshments, accompanying them to the gate and watching
their disappearance down the street. Then they were out of sight, he
signalled to the driver of his car--a big, roomy, official vehicle--and,
when it had drawn up at the gate, he returned, and we began operations.

"I understand," said he, as we lifted off the coffin lid, "that we have
got to shift this stuff to some assayist's."

"I don't think we need take the sheet lead," said Thorndyke, "though
that would furnish the best evidence on the question of age."

"Then let's take the whole boiling," said Miller. "May as well do the
thing thoroughly."

Accordingly, he seized the roll of lead and carried it to the gate,
where he deposited it on the rear seat of the car. I followed with the
biggest of the pot-leavings. The driver of the car came back with
Miller, and he, Miller and Thorndyke took the other three leavings. The
whole collection took up a good deal of the accommodation; but Thorndyke
occupied the seat next to the driver, in order to give directions, and
Miller and I packed ourselves in amongst the lead as well as we could.

"I wish the Doctor wasn't so deuced secretive," Miller remarked, as the
car trundled away westward with a misleading leisurely air. "Of course,
it doesn't really matter as we shall know all about it presently; but I
am on tenterhooks of curiosity."

"So am I, for that matter," said I; "but I am used to it. To work with
Thorndyke is a fine training in restraint."

After what seemed an incredibly short journey, we drew up at a large
building in Bishopsgate. Here Thorndyke alighted and disappeared into
the entry; and the Superintendent's patience was subjected to a further
trial. At length, our friend re-appeared, accompanied by an
alert-looking elderly gentleman, while three workmen in white aprons
emerged from the doorway and lurked in the background. The elderly
gentleman, whom I recognized as a Mr. Daniels, a very eminent assayist
and metallurgist, approached, and, when he had been introduced to
Miller, stuck his head in at the window of the car and surveyed our
collection.

"So that's the stuff you want an opinion on," said he. "Queer-looking
lot. However, the first thing to do is to get it moved up to the
laboratory."

He made a sign to his three myrmidons, who forthwith came forward, and,
grabbing up the ponderous samples, tucked them under their arms as if
they had been lumps of cork and strolled off into the building. We
followed them through the weighing rooms on the ground floor to a
staircase and up to one of the great laboratories, flanked on one side
by a row of tall windows, and on the other by a long range of cupel
furnaces. Here, on a bench under the windows, our treasures had been
dumped down, and, once more, Mr. Daniels ran his eye over them.

"What's the problem with regard to this?" he asked, indicating the roll
of lead.

"It is merely a question of age," replied Thorndyke. "We can leave that
for the present."

"And what is this?" asked Daniels, lifting the large pot-remainder and
turning it over in his hands.

"It is supposed to be lead, eighty years old," said Thorndyke.

"Well, it may be," said Daniels, laying it down and giving it a tap with
a hammer and eliciting the dull sound characteristic of lead. "And what
are these other lumps supposed to be?"

"They are supposed to be lead, too," replied Thorndyke.

"Well, they are not," said Daniels. "Anyone can see that." He gave one
of them a tap with the hammer, and the peculiar sharp chink spoke at
once of a hard, brittle metal. On this, he laid down the hammer and took
the lump of metal in his hands. And then there came over him the very
change that I had noticed in the case of Thorndyke, though there was now
no disguise. As he lifted the mass of metal, he suddenly paused and
stood quite still with his eyes fixed on Thorndyke and his mouth
slightly open. Then he said: "You knew that this was not lead, Doctor."

"Yes," Thorndyke admitted.

"What do you suppose it is?"

"I don't suppose," said Thorndyke. "I have brought the Superintendent to
you in order that you may ascertain what it is and give him a
confidential report on the subject."

"What do _you_ suppose it is?" asked Miller.

"I don't suppose either," replied Daniels with a faint grin. "I am an
assayist, and it is my business to find out."

The Superintendent smiled sourly and looked at me. "These men of science
don't mean to give themselves away," he remarked.

"Well," said Daniels, "what is the use of guessing, and perhaps guessing
wrong, when you are going to make a test? We have our reputations to
consider. Now, what do you want me to do about this stuff?"

"The Superintendent," said Thorndyke, "wants you to make a trial assay,
just to let him know what the material is. You will report to him what
you find; and remember, this is a confidential matter, and the
Superintendent, acting for the Criminal Investigation Department, is
your employer."

"And what about you?" Daniels asked.

"If the matter concerns me in any way," Thorndyke replied, "I have no
doubt that the Superintendent will communicate the substance of your
report to me."

"Ah!" exclaimed Daniels, with a broad smile, "and what a surprise it
will be to you. Ha! Ha!"

"Yes," growled Miller; "the Doctor is a regular impostor. Of course, he
knows all about it, without either of us telling him. How long will this
job take?"

"It will take some little time," replied Daniels, "as you will want some
sort of rough estimate of quantities besides the mere qualitative test.
Will five o'clock do? And shall I report to you on the phone?"

Miller considered the question. "I am not fond of telephone messages on
confidential business," said he. "You never know who is at the other
end, or in the middle. I think I had better run across in the car. Then
we can go into the affair in more detail, and safe from eavesdroppers.
If I am here at five o'clock, I can depend on getting your report?"

"Yes; I shall have everything cut and dried by then," Daniels assured
him; and, the arrangements being thus concluded, we shook hands and took
our departure.

As we emerged into Bishopsgate, I noticed that Miller seemed to look a
little disparagingly at the big car that was drawn up at the curb, and,
instead of entering at once, he turned to Thorndyke and asked:

"What do you say, Doctor, to walking home? There are one or two matters
connected with this case that I should like to talk over with you, and
the car isn't very convenient; and then there is the driver. We could
talk more freely if we walked."

Naturally, Thorndyke, who was an inveterate pedestrian, agreed readily;
and, when Miller had informed the driver of our decision, we set forth,
shortening the distance and securing more quiet by striking "across
country" through the by-streets. As soon as we were clear of the main
thoroughfare with its bustle and din, Miller proceeded to open the
discussion.

"I suppose, Doctor, you are quite clear that there has been some faking
of that coffin? You've got something solid to go on?"

"Yes," was the reply, "I have no doubt on the subject, and I am prepared
to say so in the witness-box."

"That seems to settle it," said Miller. "But there are some queer
features in the case. You saw the dust in the vault? But I know you did,
for I spotted you taking samples of it. But it really did look as if it
had not been disturbed for the best part of a century. Was there
anything in that dust that looked to you suspicious, or did you take
those samples just as a routine precaution?"

"I should have taken a sample in any case," replied Thorndyke. "But in
this case, it was not merely a routine precaution. That dust did not
appear to me to agree with the conditions in which it was found. The
dust that would accumulate in the course of eighty years in a vault
above ground would be very miscellaneous in its origin. It would consist
of particles of all sorts of materials which were light enough to float
in the air, and in still air at that. They would he mostly minute
fragments of fibres derived from textiles, and these would naturally be
of all sorts of different colours. The result of such a miscellaneous
mixture of different-coloured particles, aided by the fading effect of
time, would be a dust of a completely neutral grey. But this dust was
not of a completely neutral grey. It had a recognizable colour; very
faint and very nearly neutral, but yet there was just a shadowy trace of
red. And this subtle, almost indistinguishable, tint of red pervaded the
whole mass. It was all alike. To what the colour may have been due, I
cannot judge until I have examined the sample under the microscope; but
the suggestion--the very strong suggestion--is that this dust was all
derived from the same source; which, as I have said, is irreconcilable
with the ostensible conditions."

Thorndyke's explanation seemed to furnish the Superintendent with
considerable food for thought, for he made no immediate answer, but
appeared to be wrapped in profound cogitation. At length, he remarked:

"You are a wonderful man, Doctor. Nothing seems to escape you, and you
let nothing pass without consideration and a confirmatory test. I wish,
now, that we had put you on that damned head--you know the one I
mean--the human head that was found in a case at Fenchurch Street
Station."

"I remember," said Thorndyke. "It was an odd affair, but I fancy that
the head was only a by-product. The purpose of the man who left it was
to get possession of the case containing property worth several thousand
pounds. He happened to have a human head on his hands, and he, very
wisely, took the opportunity to get rid of it and so kill two birds with
one stone."

"That may be," said Miller; "but I am not taking that head so calmly as
you are. It has been the bane of our lives at the Yard, with all the
newspaper men shouting 'unsolved mystery' and 'another undetected
murder' and asking perpetually what the police are doing. And it really
was a mysterious affair. I have been surprised to notice how little
interest you have taken in that head. I should have thought it would
have been a problem exactly in your line. But you medical jurists are a
cold-blooded lot. You were speaking just now of this man 'having a human
head on his hands' as if it were a worn-out umbrella or an old pair of
boots."

Thorndyke smiled indulgently. "I am not disparaging the head, Miller,"
said he. "It presented quite an interesting problem. But it was not my
problem. I was a mere disinterested onlooker."

"You don't usually take that sordid view," grumbled Miller. "I have
generally found you ready to take an interest in a curious problem for
its own sake."

To this Thorndyke made no rejoinder, and for some time we walked on in
silence. Suddenly, the Superintendent stopped short and stood gazing
across the road.

"By the immortal Jingo!" he exclaimed. "Talk of the Devil--"

He broke off and started to run across the road; and, following his
movements with my eyes, I saw, on the opposite pavement, a newspaper boy
bearing a poster on which was printed in enormous type:

HORRIBLE DISCOVERY. HEADLESS CORPSE BY ROADSIDE.

It was certainly curiously apropos of the subject of our conversation,
and I so far shared the Superintendent's excitement that I was about to
follow him when I saw that he had secured three copies of the paper and
was coming back to us with them in his hand. He distributed his gifts
rapidly, and then, backing into the wide entry of a draper's shop,
proceeded eagerly to devour the paragraph indicated by the "scare"
headlines. Following him into his retreat, I opened the paper and read:

"Some months ago the public was horrified by the discovery in the cloak
room at Fenchurch Street Station of a human head packed in a wooden
case. No solution of the mystery surrounding this terrible relic was
forthcoming at the inquest, nor were the police ever able to discover
any clue to its origin or the identity of the murderer. The matter was
allowed to lapse into oblivion, to be added to the long list of
undiscovered murders. But questions relating to this tragedy have been
revived by a strange and shocking discovery which was made this morning
by the side of the arterial road known as the Watling Street, which
passes from London through Dartford to Rochester. Between three and four
miles on the Rochester side of Dartford, the road passes through a deep
cutting, which was made to reduce the gradient of the hill, the sides of
which are in two stages, there being, about half-way up, a shelf several
feet wide. As this shelf is some thirty feet above the road, its surface
is entirely invisible to anyone passing along the latter, though it is,
of course, visible from above. But the hill through which the road is
cut is covered with dense woodland, seldom trodden by the foot of man.
Thus, for months at a time, this shelf remains unseen by any human eye.

"But this morning Fate guided the footsteps of an observer to this spot,
so remote and yet so near. A local archaeologist, a Mr. Elmhurst of
Gravesend, happened to be making a sketch-map of the features of the
wood when his wanderings took him to the edge of the cutting. Looking
down the cliff-like descent, he was horrified to observe, lying on the
shelf immediately below him, the headless and perfectly nude body of a
man. Its huddled attitude suggested that it had rolled down the steep
slope and been arrested by the shelf; and, even from the distance at
which he stood, it was evident that it had been lying exposed for a
considerable time.

"Mr. Elmhurst did not stay to make any further observations, but, taking
the shortest way to the road, hailed an approaching motorist, who very
obligingly conveyed him to Gravesend, where he notified the police of
his discovery. An ambulance was at once procured, and, guided by the
discoverer, proceeded to the spot, whence--after a careful examination
by the police--the body was conveyed to Dartford, where it now lies in
the mortuary awaiting an inquest.

"The body appears to be that of a youngish man, rather short and
exceptionally muscular; and the condition of the strong and well-shaped
hands suggests that the deceased was a skilled workman of some kind. The
inquest will be opened tomorrow."

As I reached the end of the account, I glanced at the Superintendent and
remarked:

"A very creditable piece of journalism. The reporter hasn't wasted much
time. What do you think of it, Miller?"

"Well, I'm very relieved," he replied. "I've been waiting for this for
months. I'm fairly sick of all the talk about the unsolved mystery, and
the undiscovered murder. Now, we may be able to get a move on, though I
must admit that it doesn't look like a very promising case. It's a long
time since the man was murdered, and there doesn't seem much to go on.
Still, it's better than a head in a box with no clue to the owner. What
do you think of it, Doctor? I suppose you've been expecting it, too?"

"I wouldn't say 'expecting,'" Thorndyke replied. "The possibility of
something of this kind had occurred to me. But you must bear in mind
that the head, being preserved and packed in a case, offered no
suggestions as to the time or place of death. As this body was
apparently not preserved, it will be possible to arrive at an
approximate date of death; and, as it was found in a particular place,
some idea of locality may be formed. But any conclusions as to the
locality in which the murder took place will have to be very cautiously
considered, having regard to the ease with which, in these days, bodies
can be carried away long distances from the scene of the crime. And,
again, the body is nude, so that there will be no help from the clothing
towards identification; and, as it appears to have been exposed in the
open for months, its own condition will make identification difficult. I
agree with you, Miller. It does not look a very promising case."

The Superintendent nodded and growled an inarticulate assent. But, in
spite of Thorndyke's rather cold comfort, he still seemed disposed to be
optimistic; and when we parted at the Inner Temple gate, he walked away
with a springy step and an almost jaunty air.



CHAPTER XII--THORNDYKE BECOMES INTERESTED


Miller's intense interest in the "horrible discovery" did not
surprise me at all. But Thorndyke's did. For what the Superintendent had
said was perfectly true. The mysterious "head in a box" had aroused in
him only the most languid curiosity. Which, again to quote Miller, was
entirely unlike him. It is true that he liked, if possible, to be
officially appointed to investigate an interesting case. But,
appointment or no appointment, from sheer professional enthusiasm, he
always kept himself informed on, and followed with the closest interest,
any criminal case that presented unusual or obscure features.

Now, the "head in the box" case had appeared to me eminently unusual and
obscure. It had seemed to imply an atrocious crime which combined with
its atrocity a remarkable degree of callous ingenuity. And the mystery
surrounding it was undeniable. Excepting some vague connexion with the
great platinum robbery (itself an unsolved mystery) it offered not a
single clue. Yet Thorndyke had seemed to dismiss it as a mere oddity. He
could not have been less moved if it had been a wax-work head--which it
certainly was not.

His own explanation did not seem to me to be entirely satisfactory. It
was true, as he had said, that there was a total lack of data; and "a
mere mystery, without a single leading fact is not, to a medical jurist,
worth powder and shot." The fact that the head was preserved and
practically imperishable excluded any inferences as to time or place. It
might, for any evidence to the contrary, have been the head of a person
who had died in Australia twenty years ago.

So he had dismissed it into the region of the unknowable; at least, so I
had understood; though I had never felt quite sure that he had not, in
his queer, secret fashion, just docketed it and packed it away in some
pigeon-hole of his inexhaustible memory, there to repose until such time
as the "leading fact" should come into view, unrecognized by anyone but
himself.

This faint suspicion now tended to revive. For though the headless body
looked as hopeless a mystery as the bodyless head, there was clearly no
question of dismissing it as "not worth powder and shot." That powder
and shot were already being expended, I ascertained that very evening,
when, returning to our chambers after a lengthy consultation, I found on
the table a six-inch Ordnance map, a boxwood scale, a pair of dividers
and a motor road-map.

The purpose of the latter was obvious on inspection. The Ordnance map
was dated 1910 and did not show the arterial road. The motor map showed
the new road--and mighty little else; but as much, no doubt, as
interested the average motorist. From the road-map, the new road had
been transferred in pencil to the Ordnance map, which was thus brought
up to date while retaining all the original topographical features; and
the locality shown left no doubt as to the nature of the investigation.

I was still looking at the maps and reflecting as above when the door
opened and my colleague entered.

"I thought you were out, Thorndyke," said I.

"No," he replied; "I have been up in the laboratory, having a chat with
Polton about a job that I want him to do. I see you have been inspecting
what the reporters will call 'the scene of the tragedy.'"

"I see that you have," I retorted, "and have been speculating on your
change of front. The 'head in the box' apparently left you cold, but you
seem to be developing quite a keen interest in this problem. Why this
inconsistency?"

"My dear fellow," he replied, "there is no inconsistency. The case is
entirely altered. We have now a number of facts from which to start an
inquiry. From the state of the body, we can form an approximate judgment
as to the date about which death occurred. Perhaps the cause of death
many transpire at the inquest. We knew where the body was found; and
even if it may have been conveyed thither from a distance, the selection
of the place where it was deposited suggests some local knowledge. The
spot was extremely well-chosen, as events have proved."

"Yes; but it was a queer idea to dump it there. A sort of ghastly
practical joke. Just think of it, Thorndyke. Think of that great
procession of traffic of all kinds--cars, motor coaches, lorries,
cyclists--streaming along that road by the thousand, day after day,
month after month; and all the time, within a biscuit-toss of them, that
gruesome thing lying there open to the sky."

"Yes," he agreed, "there is certainly an element of the macabre in the
setting of this crime, though I don't suppose it was intentional."

"Neither do I. Nor do I suppose that the horrible picturesqueness of the
setting is what is attracting you. I wonder what is."

Thorndyke did not reply immediately but sat regarding me with a sort of
appraising expression (which I recognized, and had come by experience,
to associate with some special exhibition of thick-headedness on my
part). At length he replied:

"I don't see why you should. The problem of this headless body abounds
in elements of interest. All sorts of questions arise out of it. There
is that embalmed head for instance. That seems to have an obvious
connexion with this body."

"Very obvious indeed," said I, with a grin; "and the connexion was still
closer when the head was on the body."

He smiled indulgently and continued: "Disregarding the suggested
anatomical connexion, there is the connexion of action and motive. What,
for instance, is the connexion of the man who deposited the head in the
cloak-room with this body? We don't know how he came by that head. The
fact that he had it in his possession is an incriminating fact, but it
is not evidence of murder. It is not even certain that he knew what was
in the case. But whether he did or not, he is obviously involved in a
complex of circumstances which includes this body. However, it is
premature to discuss the case until we have the additional facts that
will probably transpire at the inquest. Meanwhile," he concluded, with
an exasperating smile, "I recommend my learned friend to go carefully
over all the facts in his possession, relating both to the embalmed head
and the headless body. Let him consider those facts critically as to
their separate value and in relation to one another. If he does this, I
think he will find that some extremely interesting conclusions will
emerge."

It is unnecessary to say his opinion was not justified by results. I
did, indeed, chew the cud of the few, unilluminating facts that were
known to me. But the only conclusion that emerged was that, in some
obscure way of which I could make nothing, this headless corpse was
connected with the mystery of the stolen platinum. But this, I felt
sure, was not the conclusion that was in Thorndyke's mind. And at that,
I had to leave it.

On the following morning, Thorndyke went forth to attend at the inquest.
I was not able to go with him, nor did I particularly wish to, as I knew
that I should get full information from him as to the facts elicited. He
started, as I thought, unnecessarily early and he came back unexpectedly
late. But this latter circumstance was presently explained by the
appearance on the Ordnance map of a pencilled cross at the roadside,
indicating the spot on which the body had been lying when it was first
seen. Later in the evening, when giving me particulars of the inquest,
he mentioned that he had visited the site of the discovery and "gone
over the ground, roughly," having taken his bicycle down by train for
that purpose.

"Did you pick up anything of interest at the inquest?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied, "it was quite a good inquest. The coroner was a
careful man who knew his business and kept to it, and the medical
witness had made a thorough examination and gave his evidence clearly
and concisely. As to the facts, they were simple enough, though
important. The body was, of course, a good deal the worse for exposure
to the weather. As to the date of death, the doctor wisely declined to
make a definite statement, but he estimated it at not less than three
months ago. The body appeared to be that of a man between thirty and
forty years of age, five feet, six inches in height, broad-shouldered
and muscular, with rather small, well-shaped hands, which showed a
definite, but not considerable, thickening of the skin on the palms;
from which, and from the dirty and ill-kept finger-nails, the doctor
inferred that deceased was a workman of some kind, but not a labourer.

"The head had been separated from the spinal column with a knife,
leaving the atlas intact, and, to this extent, the separation had been
effected skilfully."

"Yes," said I. "That point was made, I remember, at the inquest on the
head. It would require some skill and the knowledge as to where the
joint was to be found. By the way, was the question of the head raised?"

"Yes. Naturally a juryman wanted to question the doctor on the subject,
but the witness very properly replied that his evidence dealt only with
facts observed by himself, and the coroner supported him. Then the
question was raised whether the head should not be produced for
comparison with the body; but the doctor refused to go into the matter,
and the coroner pointed out that the head had already been examined
medically and that all the facts were available in the depositions of
the witnesses. He did, however, read out some of the depositions from
the previous inquest and asked the doctor whether the facts set forth in
them were consistent with the belief that the head and the headless body
were parts of one and the same person; to which the doctor replied that
the mode of separation was the same in both and that the parts which
were missing in the one were present in the other, but beyond that he
would give no opinion."

"Did he give any opinion as to the cause of death?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," replied Thorndyke. "There was no mystery about that. There
was a knife-wound in the back, near the angle of the left scapula,
penetrating deeply and transfixing the heart. It appeared to have been
inflicted with a large, single-edged knife of the 'Green River' type,
and obviously with great force. The witness stated, confidently, that it
could not have been self-inflicted."

"That seems to be pretty obvious, too," said I. "At any rate, the man
could not have cut his own head off."

"A very capable detective sergeant gave evidence," Thorndyke resumed,
dismissing--to my secret amusement--the trivial and uninteresting detail
of the manner in which this unfortunate creature had been done to death.
"He stated that the wood had been searched for the dead man's clothing.
But I suspect that it was a very perfunctory search, as he was evidently
convinced that it was not there; remarking, plausibly enough, that,
since the clothing must have been stripped off to prevent
identification, it would not be reasonable to expect to find it in the
vicinity. He was of opinion that the body had been brought from a
distance in a car or van, and that, probably, two or more persons were
concerned in the affair."

"It seems likely," I said, "having regard to the remoteness of the
place. But it is only a guess."

"Exactly," Thorndyke agreed. "There was a good deal of guessing and not
many facts; and the few facts that were really significant do not seem
to have been understood."

"What are the facts that you regard as really significant?" I asked. Not
that I had the slightest expectation that he would tell me. And he did
not. His inevitable reply was:

"You know what the known facts are, Jervis, and you will see for
yourself, if you consider them critically, which are the significant
ones. But, to return to the inquest. The coroner's summing-up was
excellent, having regard to the evidence that had been given. I took
shorthand notes of some of it, and I will read them to you. With
reference to the embalmed head he remarked:

"It has been suggested that the head which was found at Fenchurch Street
Station ought to have been brought here for comparison. But to what
purpose? What kind of comparison is possible? If the head is broken off
a china figure and the two parts are lost and subsequently found in
different places, the question as to whether they are parts of the same
figure can be settled by putting them together and seeing whether the
fractured surfaces fit each other. But with a detached human
head--especially after the lapse of months--this is not possible. If the
preserved head had been exhumed and brought here, we could have learned
nothing more from it than we can learn from the depositions of the
medical witness, which I have read to you. Accordingly, we must fall
back on our common sense; and I think we shall find that enough for our
purpose.

"Let us look at the facts. A headless body has been found in one place,
and a body-less head in another. The doctor has told us that they might
be--though he doesn't say that they are--the head and body of one and
the same person. They agree in the peculiar and unusual mode of
separation. The parts which are absent in the one are present in the
other. There is no part missing, and no part redundant. If that head had
been cut off this, body, the appearances would be exactly what they are.

"'Now, gentlemen, if headless human bodies and body-less human heads
were quite common objects, we might have to search further. But,
fortunately, they are so rare and unusual that we may almost regard
these remains as unique. And if they are not parts of the same person,
then there must be, somewhere, an undiscovered body belonging to the
head, and, somewhere else, an undiscovered head belonging to this body.
But, I submit, gentlemen, that common sense rejects such enormous
improbabilities and compels us to adopt the obvious and simple
explanation that the head and the body are those of one and the same
person.

"'As to the cause of death, you have heard the doctor's evidence.
Deceased was killed by a knife-wound, which he could not have inflicted
himself, and which was therefore inflicted by some other person. And
with that I leave you to consider your verdict.'"

"An excellent summing-up," said I, "and very well argued. The verdict
was Wilful Murder, of course?"

"Yes. 'By some person or persons unknown.' And the jury could hardly
have come to any other conclusion. But, as you see, the case is, from
the police point of view, left in the air."

"Yes," I agreed. "If Miller is taking up the case, as I assume that he
is, he has got his work cut out. I don't see that this body was such a
wind-fall as he seemed to think. Scotland Yard may catch some more
trouble from the Press if something fresh does not turn up."

"Well," Thorndyke rejoined, by way of winding up the conversation, "we
must hope, like medico-legal Micawbers, that something will turn up."

For the next few days, however, the case remained "in the air." But it
was not alone in this respect. Presently I began to be conscious that
there were other matters in the air. For instance, our invaluable
assistant, Polton, suddenly developed a curious, stealthy,
conspiratorial manner of going about, or locking himself in the
laboratory, which experience had taught me to associate with secret
activities foreshadowing some important and dramatic "move" on
Thorndyke's part. Then, on the fourth day after the inquest, I detected
my colleague in the suspicious act of pacing the pavement at the lower,
and more secluded, end of King's Bench Walk, in earnest conversation
with Mr. Superintendent Miller. And the _prima facie_ suspiciousness of
the proceeding was confirmed by the eagerness and excitement that were
evident in the face and manner of our friend, and even more by the way
in which he suddenly shut up, like a snapped snuff-box, as I approached.

And, that very evening, Thorndyke exploded the mine.

"We have got an expedition on, tomorrow," he announced.

"Who are we?" I asked.

"You and I, Miller and Polton. I know you have got the day free."

"Where are we going to?" I demanded.

"To Swanscombe Wood," was the reply.

"What for?"

"To collect some further facts relating to the headless body," he
replied.

As a mere statement, it did not sound very sensational. But to one who
knew Thorndyke as I knew him, it had certain implications that gave it a
special significance. In the first place, Thorndyke tended habitually to
under-statement; and, in the second, he took no one into his confidence
while his investigations were at the tentative stage. As Miller
expressed it, "The Doctor would never show a card until he was ready to
take the trick." Whence there naturally arose in my mind a strong
suspicion that the "further facts" which we were to collect were already
in Thorndyke's possession.

And events proved that I was not so very far wrong.



CHAPTER XIII--THE DENE HOLE


The products of Polton's labours impressed me as disappointing and
hardly worthy of his mechanical ingenuity, consisting of nothing more
subtle than an immense coil of rope, rove through two double blocks and
forming a long and powerful tackle, a tripod formed of three very stout
iron-shod seven-foot poles, and a strong basket such as builders use,
furnished with strong rope slings. There was one further item, which was
more worthy of its producer; a large electric lamp, fitted with
adjustable lenses, and, to judge by the suspension arrangements,
designed to throw a powerful beam of parallel rays vertically downwards.

But if Polton's productions were of an unexpected kind, the vehicle in
which the Superintendent drove up to our entry was even more so. For,
though it bore no outward distinguishing marks, it was an undeniable
motor ambulance. However, if less dignified and imposing than the
official car, it was a good deal more convenient. The unwieldy tripod,
tackle and basket were easily disposed of in its roomy interior, still
leaving ample accommodation for me and Polton and the detective sergeant
whom Miller had brought as an additional assistant. The Superintendent,
himself, was at the steering wheel, and Thorndyke took the seat beside
him to give directions as we approached our destination.

I asked no questions. The character of our outfit told me pretty plainly
what kind of job we had in hand; and I felt a malicious satisfaction in
tantalizing Polton, who was, so to speak, bursting with silence and
secrecy and the desire to be questioned. So, little was said--and
nothing to the point--while the ambulance trundled out at the Tudor
Street gate, crossed Blackfriars Bridge, threaded its way through the
traffic of the South London streets, and presently came out upon the
Dover Road. A few minutes later, as we mounted a steep rise, the
sergeant, who, hitherto, had uttered not a word, removed his pipe from
his mouth, remarked, "Shooter's Hill" and replaced it as if it were a
stopper.

The ambulance bowled smoothly along the straight line of the old Roman
road. Welling, Crayford and Dartford were entered and left behind. A few
minutes after leaving Dartford, the road began a long ascent and then,
after a short run on the level, fell away somewhat steeply. At this
point, the sergeant once more removed his pipe, nodded at the side
window, and, having affirmed, stolidly, "That's the place," reinserted
the stopper.

The ambulance now began to slow down, and, a minute or two later, drew
in by the side of the road and halted. Then, as Thorndyke and the
Superintendent alighted, we also got out, and the sergeant proceeded to
occupy the driver's seat.

"You and Polton had better stay here for the present," said Thorndyke.
"The Superintendent and I are going to locate the spot. When we have
found it, he will remain there while I come back and help you to carry
the gear."

He produced from his pocket a marching-compass and a card, on one side
of which a sketch-plan had been drawn while a number of bearings were
written on the other. After a glance at the latter, he set the direction
line of the compass and started off along a rough foot-path, followed by
the Superintendent. We watched their receding figures as they ascended
the hill and approached the wood by which it was covered. At the margin
of the latter, Thorndyke paused and "turned to take a last, fond look"
at his starting-point and check his compass bearings. Then he faced
about, and, in a few seconds, he and the Superintendent disappeared into
the wood.

Waiting is usually a tedious business, and is still more so when the
waiter is on the tip-toe of expectation and curiosity. Vainly, I
endeavoured to repress a tendency to useless and futile speculation as
to what Thorndyke was seeking (or, more probably, had already found and
was now about to disclose). As for Polton, if he could have been
furnished with an emotional pressure-gauge, it would certainly have
burst. Even the stolid sergeant was fain to come off his perch and pace
up and down by the roadside; and once he actually went so far as to take
out the stopper and remark that "it seemed as if the Doctor had made
some sort of discovery."

Anon our sufferings were somewhat alleviated by the arrival of a police
patrol, who came free-wheeling down the hill from the direction of
Dartford. As he approached us, he slowed down more and more and
eventually dismounted to make a circuit of our vehicle, with the manner
of a dog sniffing at a suspicious stranger. Apparently, it appearance
did not satisfy him, and he proceeded to interrogate.

"What's going on?" he asked, not uncivilly. "This looks like an
ambulance but I see you have got some lifting gear inside."

Here the sergeant interposed with a brief and unlucid explanation of our
business, at the same time producing his credentials; at the sight
whereof the patrol officer was visibly impressed, and showed an
unmistakeable tendency to linger, which the sergeant by no means sought
to discourage.

"Can I give any assistance?" the patrol man asked, a little wistfully.

"Well," the sergeant replied, promptly, "if you could spare the time to
give an eye to this car, that would release me to lend the
Superintendent a hand."

It was obvious that the patrol man would have preferred to transpose
these functions, but, nevertheless, he agreed readily; and at this
moment Thorndyke reappeared from the wood and came striding swiftly
towards us along the foot-path. As he came up, the sergeant explained
the new arrangements with some anxiety as to whether they would be
approved. To his evident relief, Thorndyke accepted them readily.

"We shall be none the worse for an extra hand," said he. "Now we shall
be able to carry the whole kit up in one journey."

Accordingly, we proceeded to get the gear out of the ambulance and
distribute the items among the party. Thorndyke and I took the tripod on
our shoulders--and a deuce of a weight it was. The sergeant got the
great coil of rope on to his back with the aid of a spare sling; and
Polton brought up the rear with the basket, in which was stowed the
lamp, while the patrol man kept a look-out with a view to heading off
any inquisitive strangers who might be attracted by the queer aspect of
our procession.

Appreciation of the beauties of the countryside is not favoured by the
presence on one's shoulder of three massive ash poles with heavy iron
fittings. The character of the ground was what chiefly occupied my
attention, particularly after we had entered the wood; where I got the
impression that some ingenious sylvan devil had collected all the
brambles from miles around and arranged them in an interminable series
of entanglements, compared with which the barbed-wire defences of a
German trench were but feeble and amateurish imitations. But we tramped
on, crashing through the yellow and russet leafage, Thorndyke leading
with his compass in his unoccupied hand and trudging forward in silence,
save for an occasional soft chuckle at my lurid comments on the
landscape.

Suddenly, I heard Miller's voice informing us that "here we were," and
we nearly collided with him at the edge of a small opening. Here we set
down the tripod, opening it enough to enable it to stand upright.

"You didn't have to blow your whistle," said Thorndyke. "I suppose you
heard us coming?"

"Heard you coming!" exclaimed Miller. "It was like a troop of blooming
elephants--to say nothing of Dr. Jervis's language. Hallo, Sergeant! I
thought I told you to stay with the car."

The sergeant hastily explained the arrangements, adding that "The
Doctor" had concurred; on which the Superintendent, having also
approved, set him to work at getting the gear ready.

A glance around the little opening in which we were gathered showed me
that my diagnosis of the purpose of the expedition had been correct.
Near the middle of the opening, half concealed by the rank undergrowth,
yawned the mouth of one of those mysterious pits known as dene holes
which are scattered in such numbers over this part of Kent. Cautiously,
I approached the brink and peered down into the black depths.

"Horrible, dangerous things, these dene holes are," said Miller. "Ought
to be fenced in. How deep do you say this pit is, Doctor?"

"This one is just about sixty feet, but many of them are deeper. Seventy
feet is about the average."

"Sixty feet!" exclaimed Polton, with a fascinated eye on the yawning
hole. "And anyone coming along here in the dark might step into it
without a moment's warning. Horrible! Did I understand you, sir, to say
that it was dug a very long time ago?"

"It has been there as you see it," replied Thorndyke, "for thousands of
years. How many thousands we can't say. But there seems to be no doubt
that these dene holes were excavated by the men of the Old Stone Age."

"Dear me!" exclaimed Polton. "Thousands of years! I should have thought
that, by this time, they would have been full to the brim of the people
who had tumbled into them."

While these exclamations and comments were passing, the preparations
were in progress for the exploration. The tripod was set up over the
hole (which was some three feet in diameter and roughly circular, like
the mouth of a well), the tackle securely hooked on and the lamp
suspended in position. The Superintendent switched on the light by means
of a push at the end of a cord, and, grasping the tripod, leaned over
the hole and peered down the well-like shaft.

"I can't make out very much," he remarked. "I seem to see what looks
like a boot, and that's about all."

"It is a long way down," said Thorndyke, "and it doesn't matter much
what we can see from above. We shall soon know exactly what there is
down there."

As he spoke, he switched off the lamp and hooked the basket on to the
tackle by means of a pair of clip-hooks, provided with a safety catch.
Then he produced a candle from his pocket and proceeded to light it.

"I don't like the idea of your going down, Doctor," said the
Superintendent. "It's really our job."

"Not at all," replied Thorndyke, drawing the basket to the edge of the
hole and stepping into it. "I proposed the exploration and undertook to
carry it out. Besides, I want to see what the bottom of this dene hole
is like."

"Don't you think, sir," Polton interposed, earnestly, "that it would be
better for me to go down? I am so much lighter and should put less
strain on the tackle."

"My dear Polton," said Thorndyke, regarding his devoted henchman with an
appreciative smile, "this tackle would bear a couple of tons, easily.
There isn't any strain. But I will ask you to pay out the rope as
steadily as you can, and keep an eye on this candle. If it goes out, you
had better haul up at once without waiting for a signal, as you will
know that I have dropped into foul air. Now, I am ready if you are."

He steadied himself by lightly grasping two of the tackle-ropes and I
took a turn round the trunk of a birch tree with the "fall" by passing
the big coil round. Then Miller and the sergeant hauled on the rope
while I gathered in the slack; the tackle grew taut, the basket began to
rise from the ground and swung directly over the black hole.

"Now, pay out steadily and not too fast," said Thorndyke; and as we
began to ease out the rope, he slowly sank, like a stage demon, and
disappeared into the bowels of the earth, while Polton, grasping the
tripod and leaning over the hole, watched his descent with starting eyes
and an expression of horror.

Owing to the great power of the tackle, the weight on the fall was quite
trifling. I could, alone, have paid it out easily with the aid of the
turn round the tree. So we were able, in turn, to leave it to satisfy
our curiosity and relieve our anxiety by a glance down the shaft; which
now looked even more alarming than when we had looked into the mere,
impenetrable blackness of the hole. For now, as we peered down the
well-like shaft, at our friend--already grown small in the
distance-faintly illuminated by the glimmer of the candle, we were able
to realize the horrible depth to which this strange memorial of a
forgotten race sank into the earth.

But the unfailing glimmer of the candle-light--though it had now
dwindled to a mere distant spark--reassured us; for, apart from the
possibility of "choke damp," there was really no appreciable danger.
Notwithstanding which, Polton was fain, from time to time, to relieve
his overwrought feelings by hailing the now invisible explorer with the
inquiry, "All right, sir?" to which a strange, sepulchral, but
surprisingly loud voice replied: "All right, Polton."

After an almost interminable paying-out, the diminishing remainder of
rope warned us that Thorndyke must have nearly reached the bottom, and
then a sudden relaxation of the tension informed us that he had already
done so. Immediately afterwards, that uncanny, megaphonic voice
announced the fact and directed us to switch on the light and throw down
the spare sling. I at once complied with the first order and was about
to carry out the other when it occurred to me that a stout rope sling
might fall with unpleasant force after a drop of sixty feet.
Accordingly, I coiled it loosely round the tackle-ropes, and, securing
the ends with a hitch, let go; when I saw it slide smoothly down the
ropes to the bottom.

"I wonder what he wants with that sling," Miller speculated, grasping
the tripod and leaning over to peer down. But, as the only result was to
obscure the light of the lamp and throw the shaft into shadow, he
withdrew and waited for events to enlighten him. Then the voice came
reverberating up the shaft, commanding us to hoist.

If the paying-out had been a long business, the hauling up was longer.
There seemed to be no end to that rope; and as I hauled and hauled, I
found myself wishing that Thorndyke had been a little less cautious and
contented himself with a less powerful but quicker tackle. From time to
time, Miller was impelled by the intensity of his curiosity to thrust
his head over the hole to see what was coming up; but, as his head cut
off the light of the lamp and rendered the ascending object invisible,
he retired each time, defeated and muttering. At length, as the
accumulating coils of rope told us that our freight must be nearing the
surface, he succeeded in catching a glimpse of the object. But so far
was that glimpse from allaying his curiosity that it reduced him to a
frenzy of excitement.

"It looks like a body!" he exclaimed. "A man's body. But it can't be!"

It was, however. As we hauled in the last few feet of the rope and made
fast to the tree, there arose out of the hole the body of a tall,
well-dressed man which had been suspended from the hook of the tackle by
the sling, passed round the chest under the arms. Miller helped me to
haul it away from the hole, when we unfastened the sling and let the
body fall on the ground.

"Well," said the Superintendent, surveying it gloomily, "this is a
disappointment. We have come all this way and taken all this trouble
just to salve the body of a poor devil who has stumbled into this
infernal pit by accident and who is no concern of ours at all. Of
course, it is not the Doctor's fault. He discovered that there was
something down there and he drew the very natural conclusion, though it
happened to be the wrong one. Let the damn tackle down again as fast as
you can and get the Doctor up. I expect he is as sick as I am."

The lowering of the tackle was a slow and tedious business, for, as
there was now no weight to pull it down, it had to be "overhauled."
Fortunately, Polton had oiled the sheaves so that they turned smoothly
and easily; but it was a long time before the voice from below notified
us that the lower block had reached the bottom. Its reverberations had
hardly died away when the order came up to hoist, and we straightway
began to haul, while Polton coiled down the rope as it was gathered in.
Presently I noticed a puzzled expression on the Superintendant's face,
and, as I looked at him inquiringly, he exclaimed:

"This can't be the Doctor. He's a bigger man than that poor beggar, but
there doesn't seem to be any weight on the rope at all."

I had noticed this, myself, and now suggested that we might take
advantage of the light weight by hauling up more quickly; which we did
with such a will that Miller's opinion was presently confirmed by the
appearance of the basket at the mouth of the pit. As it came into view,
the Superintendent gazed at it in astonishment.

"Why, it's the clothes, after all!" he exclaimed, seizing the basket and
turning its contents out on to the ground, "and the right ones, too, by
the look of them. A complete outfit; suit, shirt, underclothing, socks,
boots--everything but the hat. He must have had a hat, and so must the
other fellow. Perhaps the Doctor will bring them up with him."

Having emptied the basket, we sent it down again; and now being able to
judge the distance, we let it run down by its own weight, only checking
it as it neared the bottom. After a very brief interval, the hollow
voice from below directed us to haul up, and once again we began to
gather in the rope and coil it down.

"This is queer," said Miller, as he took his turn at the rope. "It is no
heavier than it was last time. I wonder what he is sending up now."

In his impatience to solve this new mystery, he hauled with such energy
that beads of sweat began to appear on his forehead. But it is difficult
to hurry a four-fold tackle and it was a long time before the basket
came into view. When, at last, it became visible a few feet down, its
appearance evidently disappointed him, for he exclaimed, in a tone of
disgust:

"Hats. Two hats. I should have thought he might have brought them up
with him and saved a journey."

"There is something in it besides the hats," said I, as the basket rose
out of the mouth of the pit and I drew it aside on to the ground, while
the others gathered round. I seized the two hats and lifted them out;
and then I stood as if petrified, with the hats in my hands, too
astounded to utter a sound.

"My God!" Miller exclaimed, huskily. "A man's head! Now what the blazes
can be the meaning of this?"

He stood, staring in amazement--as, indeed, we all did--at the horrible
relic that lay at the bottom of the basket. Suddenly he seized the
latter and turned it upside down, when the head rolled out on the
ground. Then he flung the basket into the hole and gruffly ordered us to
"let go."

There was no interval this time, for, almost as the rope slackened,
informing us that the basket had settled on the bottom, the hollow voice
from below commanded us to haul up. And as soon as we had taken in the
slack, we knew by the weight that Thorndyke was at the other end of the
tackle. Accordingly, I once more took a turn round the tree to prevent
the chance of a slip or jerk and the others hauled steadily and evenly.
Even now, the weight seemed comparatively trifling, but what we gained
from the tackle in lifting power we lost in speed. In mechanics as in
other things you can't have it both ways. However, at long last, Polton,
grasping the tripod and craning over the hole, was able to announce that
"the Doctor" was nearly up; and after another couple of minutes he
appeared rising slowly above ground, when Polton carefully drew the
basket on to the solid earth and helped him to step out.

"Well, Doctor," said Miller, "you've given us a bit of a surprise, as
you generally do. But," he added, pointing to the head, which lay with
its shrunken, discoloured face turned up to the sky, "what are we to
make of that? We've got a head too many."

"Too many for what?" asked Thorndyke.

"For what we were inquiring into," Miller replied testily. "See what you
have done for us. We find a head in a box at Fenchurch Street Station.
Then we keep a look-out for the body belonging to it, and at last it
turns up. Then you bring us here and produce another head; which puts us
back where we started. We've still got a spare head that we can't
account for."

Thorndyke smiled grimly. "I am not under a contract," said he, "to
supply facts that will fit your theory of a crime. We must take the
facts as they come; and I think there can be no doubt that this head
belongs to the body that was found on the shelf a few yards from here."

"Then what about the other head?" demanded Miller. "Where is the body
belonging to that?"

Thorndyke shook his head. "That is another story," said he. "But the
immediate problem is how these remains are to be disposed of. We can't
carry them and the gear down to the ambulance without assistance."

Here the sergeant interposed with a suggestion.

"There is a big electric station a little farther down the road. If I
were to run the patrol man down there, he could get on the phone to his
head-quarters, and perhaps, meanwhile, they could lend us one or two men
from the works. We've got a folding stretcher in the car."

"Good," said Miller. "That will do to a T, Sergeant. You cut along as
fast as you can, and perhaps Mr. Polton might go with you to take charge
of the patrol man's bicycle."

As Polton and the sergeant retired along the now plainly visible track,
Miller turned to Thorndyke with a puzzled and questioning air.

"I can't quite make this out, Doctor," said he. "You brought us here, as
I understood, in the expectation of probably finding that poor devil's
clothes. Had you any expectation of finding anything else?"

"I thought it probable," replied Thorndyke, "that if we found the
clothes, we should probably find the head with them. But I certainly did
not expect to find that body. That came as quite a surprise."

"Naturally," said Miller. "A queer coincidence that he should have
happened to tumble in, just about the same time. Still, he isn't in the
picture."

"There," said Thorndyke, "I think you are mistaken I should say that he
is very much in the picture. My very strong impression is that he is
none other than the murderer."

"The murderer!" exclaimed Miller. "What makes you think that? Or are you
just guessing?"

"I am considering the obvious probabilities," Thorndyke replied. As he
spoke, he stooped over the dead man and drew up first the jacket and
then the waistcoat. As the latter garment rose, there came into view,
projecting up from within the waist-band of the trousers, the haft of an
undeniable Green River knife. Thorndyke drew the weapon out of its
leather sheath, glanced at it and silently held it out for our
inspection. No expert eye was needed to read its message. The streaks of
blackened rust on the blade were distinctive enough, but much more so
was the shiny black deposit at the junction of the steel and the wooden
handle.

"Yes," said Miller, as Thorndyke replaced the knife in its sheath, "that
tells the tale pretty well. And exactly the kind of knife that the
doctor described at the inquest." He cogitated profoundly for a few
moments and then asked: "How do you suppose this fellow came to fall
into the pit?"

"I should say," Thorndyke replied, "that the affair happened somewhat in
this way: The murderer either enticed his victim into this wood, or he
murdered him elsewhere and brought his body here. We shall probably
never know which, and it really doesn't matter. Obviously, the murderer
knew this place pretty well, as we can judge by his acquaintance with
the dene hole. Having committed the murder, or deposited the body, near
the edge of the wood close to the road, he stripped the corpse and
carried the clothes through the wood to the hole and dropped them down.
And when we bear in mind that this must, almost certainly, have been
done at night, we must conclude that, not only must the murderer have
been familiar with the locality, but he had probably planned the crime
in advance and reconnoitred the ground.

"Having dropped the clothes down the pit, he returned to the corpse. And
now he had the most difficult part of his task to do. He had to detach
the head; and he had to detach it in a particular way--and in the dark,
too."

"Why did he have to?" Miller asked.

"Let us leave that question for the moment. It was part of the plan, as
the case presents itself to me. Well, having detached the head, he
dragged the nude and headless corpse the short distance to the edge of
the cutting and pushed it over, knowing that it would roll down only as
far as the shelf. Then he carried the head to the dene hole.

"Now, we may assume that he was a man of pretty strong nerves, but, by
the time he had murdered this man, stripped the corpse and cut off the
head--in a public place, mind you, in which discovery was possible at
any moment--he must have been considerably shaken. He was walking in the
dark with the dead man's head in his hands, over ground which, as Jervis
can testify, is a mass of traps and entanglements. In his terror and
agitation he probably hurried to get rid of his dreadful burden, and,
just as he approached the hole, he must have caught his foot in a
bramble and fallen, sprawling, right into the pit. That is how I picture
the course of events."

"Yes," said I, "it sounds pretty convincing as to what probably did
happen, though I am in the same difficulty as Miller. I don't quite see
why he did it. Why, for instance, he didn't throw the body, itself, down
the pit."

"We must go into that question on another occasion," said Thorndyke;
"but you will notice that--but for this investigation of ours--he did
actually secure a false identification of the body."

"Yes," agreed Miller, "he had us there. We had fairly fixed the body on
to that Fenchurch Street head."

Once more the Superintendent fell into a train of cogitation, with a
speculative eye on the body that lay on the ground at his feet.
Suddenly, he roused, and, turning to Thorndyke, asked:

"Have you any idea, Doctor, who these two people are?"

"I have formed an opinion," was the reply, "and I think it is probably a
correct opinion. I should say that this," indicating the dead man, "is
the person known as Bassett, or Dobson, the man who deposited the case
of stolen platinum at the cloak room; and this man," pointing to the
head, "is the one who stole the case and left the embalmed head in
exchange."

Thorndyke's answer, delivered in calm, matter-of-fact tones, fairly
took my breath away. I was too astonished to make any comment. And the
Superintendent was equally taken by surprise, for he, too, stood for a
while gazing at my colleague without speaking. At length he
said--voicing my sentiments as well as his own:

"This is a knock-out, Doctor! I wasn't aware that you knew anything
about this case, or were taking any interest in it. Yet you seem to have
it all cut and dried. Knowing you, I assume that this isn't just a
guess. You've got something to go on?"

"In respect of the identification? Certainly. Without going into any
other matters, there is the appearance of these remains. In both cases
it corresponds exactly with the description given at the inquest. The
man who stole the case--"

"And left the box with the human head in it," interpolated Miller. "You
are ignoring that trivial detail."

"Yes," Thorndyke admitted. "We are dealing with the robbery, in which
they were both concerned. Well, that man was described by the attendant
as dark, clean-shaved, and having conspicuous gold fillings in both
central incisors. If you look at that head, you can see the gold
fillings plainly enough, as well as the other, less distinctive
characteristics.

"In the case of this other man the correspondence is much more striking.
Here is the long, thin face with the long, thin, pointed nose, curved on
the bridge, and the dark, nearly black hair. The fair complexion and
pale blue eye colour are not now clearly distinguishable. But there is
one very impressive correspondence. You remember that the witness, Mr.
Pippet, was strongly of opinion that the hair and beard were dyed. Now,
if you take my lens and examine the roots of the hair and beard, you
will see plainly that it is light brown hair dyed black."

Miller and I took the lens in turn and made the examination; with the
result that the condition was established beyond any possible doubt.

"Yes," Miller agreed handing back the lens, "that is dyed hair, right
enough, and it seems to settle the identification."

"But we needn't leave it at that," pursued Thorndyke. "The very clothing
agrees perfectly. There is the blue serge suit, the brown shoes, the
wrist watch, and the additional pocket watch with its guard of plaited
twine."

He took hold of the latter and drew out of the pocket a large silver
watch of the kind used by navigators as a "hack watch."

"Yes," said Miller. "It's a true bill. You are right, Doctor, as you
always are. These are the two men to a moral certainty."

"Isn't it rather strange," said I, "that this man should have gone about
with his dyed hair and beard and the very clothes that had been
described at the inquest? He must have known that there would be a hue
and cry raised after him."

"I think," said Thorndyke, "that the explanation is that this affair
must have taken place within a day or two of the discovery at the
station."

Miller nodded, emphatically. "I'm pretty certain you are right, Doctor,"
said he. "And that would account for the fact that no trace of these men
was ever found. We had their descriptions circulated and the police
looking for them everywhere, but nobody ever got a single glimpse of
either of them. Naturally enough, as we can see now. They were lying at
the bottom of this pit."

At this moment, sounds of trampling through the wood became audible and
rapidly grew more distinct. At length, the sergeant and Polton emerged
into the opening, followed by the patrol man and four athletic figures
in blue dungaree suits, of whom two carried a folded stretcher.

"I've made all the arrangements, sir," said the sergeant, saluting as he
addressed the Superintendent. "We can take the remains and the clothing
in the ambulance and hand them over to the police at Dartford; and the
manager of the works has kindly lent us a car to take you and the
doctors to Dartford Station."

"As to me," said Miller, "I shall go on to Dartford with the ambulance.
There are two suits of clothes to be examined. I want to go through them
thoroughly before I return to town. What do you say, Doctor? Are you
interested in the clothes?"

"I am interested," Thorndyke replied, "but I don't think I want to take
part in the examination. I dare say you will let me know if anything of
importance comes to light."

"You can trust me for that," said Miller. "Then I take it that you will
go on to Dartford Station."

With this, we parted; Miller remaining to superintend the removal of the
remains and the gear, while Thorndyke, Polton and I retraced our way
along the well-trodden track down to the road where the manager's car
was waiting.



CHAPTER XIV--DR. THORNDYKE'S EVIDENCE


The adjourned hearing in the Probate Court opened in an atmosphere which
the reporters would have described as "tense." The judge had not yet
learned the result of the exhumation (or he pretended that he hadn't)
and when Mr. Gimbler took his place in the witness-box, his lordship
regarded him with very evident interest and curiosity. The examination
in chief was conducted by Mr. McGonnell's junior, this being the first
chance that he had got of displaying his forensic skill--and a mighty
small chance at that. For Gimbler's evidence amounted to no more than a
recital of facts which were known to us all (excepting, perhaps, the
judge) with certain inevitable inferences.

"You were present at the opening of the vault containing the coffin of
Josiah Pippet, deceased?"

"I was."

"What other persons were present?"

Mr. Gimbler enumerated the persons present and glanced at a list to make
sure that he had omitted none.

"When the vault was opened, what was the appearance of the interior?"

"The whole interior and everything in it was covered with a thick
coating of dust."

"Was there any sign indicating that that dust had ever been disturbed?"

"No. The surface of the dust was perfectly smooth and even, without any
mark or trace of disturbance."

"What happened when the vault had been opened?"

"The coffin was brought out and placed upon trestles. Then the screws
were extracted and the lid was removed in the presence of the persons
whom I have named."

"Was the body of deceased in the coffin?"

"No. There was no body in the coffin."

"What did the coffin contain?"

"It contained a roll of sheet lead and certain plumber's oddments; to
wit, four lumps of lead of a hemispherical shape, such as are formed
when molten lead sets in a plumber's melting-pot."

"Do those contents correspond with the traditional description of this
coffin?"

"Yes. It was stated in evidence by Mr. Christopher Pippet that the
traditional story told to him by his father was to the effect that the
coffin was weighted with a roll of sheet lead and some plumber's
oddments."

Having elicited this convincing statement, Mr. Klein sat down; and, as
Anstey made no sign of a wish to cross-examine the witness, Mr. Gimbler
stepped down from the witness-box with a hardly-disguised smirk, and
McGonnell rose.

"That is our case, my lord," said he, and forthwith resumed his seat.
There was a brief pause. Then Anstey rose and announced:

"I call witnesses, my lord," a statement that was almost immediately
followed by the usher's voice, pronouncing the name,

"Dr. John Thorndyke."

As my colleague stepped into the witness-box with a small portfolio
under his arm, I noticed that his appearance was viewed with obvious
interest by more than one person. The judge seemed to settle himself
into a position of increased attention, and Mr. McGonnell regarded the
new witness critically, and, I thought, with slight uneasiness; while
Mr. Gimbler, swinging his eyeglass pendulum-wise, made a show of being
unaware of the witness's existence. But I had observed that he had taken
in, with one swift glance, the fact that the usher had deposited the
seven volumes of Josiah's diary, at Anstey's request, on the latter's
desk. Remembering the double-barrelled microscope, I viewed those
volumes with sudden interest; which was heightened when Anstey picked up
one of them, and, opening it, sought a particular page and handed the
open volume to Thorndyke.

"This," said he, "is a volume of the diary which has been identified in
evidence as the diary of Josiah Pippet. Will you kindly examine the
entry dated the 8th of October, 1842."

"Yes. It reads: 'Back to the Fox. Exit G. A. and enter J. P., but not
for long.'"

"Have you previously examined that entry?"

"Yes. I examined it at the last hearing very carefully with the naked
eye and also with the Comparison Microscope invented by Albert S. Osborn
of New York."

"Had you any reason for making so critical an examination of this
passage in the diary?"

"Yes. As this is the only passage in the diary in which the identity of
the Earl, George Augustus, with Josiah Pippet is explicitly stated, it
seemed necessary to make sure that it was really a genuine entry."

"Had you any further reason?"

"Yes. The position of this entry, after a blank space, made it
physically possible that it might have been interpolated."

"And what opinion did you form as a result of your examination?"

"I formed the opinion that this entry is not part of the original diary,
but has been interpolated at some later date."

"Can you give us your reasons for forming that opinion?"

"My principal reason is that there is a slight difference in colour
between this entry and the rest of the writing on this page, either
preceding it or following it. The difference is hardly perceptible to
the naked eye. It is more perceptible when the writing is looked at
through a magnifying lens, and it is fairly distinct when examined with
the differential microscope."

"Can you explain, quite briefly, the action of the differential, or
Comparison Microscope?"

"In effect, this instrument is a pair of microscopes with a single
eyepiece which is common to both. The two microscopes can be brought to
bear on two different letters or words on different parts of a page and
the two magnified images will appear in the field of the eyepiece side
by side and can be so compared that very delicate differences of form
and colour can be distinguished."

"Was your opinion based exclusively on the Comparison Microscope?"

"No. On observing this difference in colour, I applied for, and received
the permission of the court to have a photograph of this page made by
the official photographer. This was done, and I have here two sets of
the photographs, one set being direct prints from the negative, and the
other enlargements. In both, but especially in the enlargements, the
difference in colour is perfectly obvious."

Here Thorndyke produced from his portfolio two sets of photographs which
he delivered to the usher, who passed one pair up to the judge and
handed the remainder to Mr. McGonnell and the other interested parties,
including myself. The judge examined the two photographs for some
moments with profound attention. Then he turned to Thorndyke and asked:

"Can you explain to us why differences of colour which are hardly
distinguishable by the eye appear quite distinct in a photograph?"

"The reason, my lord," replied Thorndyke, "is that the eye and the
photographic plate are affected by different rays; the eye by the
luminous rays and the plate by the chemical rays. But these two kinds of
rays do not vary in the same proportions in different colours. Yellow,
for instance, which is very luminous, gives off only feeble chemical
rays, while blue, which is less luminous, gives off very powerful
chemical rays. So that a yellow device on a rather deep blue ground
appears to the eye light upon dark, whereas, in a photograph, it appears
dark upon light."

The judge nodded. "Yes," said he, "that makes the matter quite clear."

"In what way," Anstey resumed, "does this difference in colour support
your opinion that this passage has been interpolated?"

"It shows that this passage was written with a different ink from the
rest of the page."

"Is there any reason why Josiah Pippet should not have used a different
ink in writing this particular passage?"

"Yes. In l842, the date of this entry, there was only one kind of black
ink in use, excepting the Chinese, or Indian, ink used by draughtsmen,
which this is obviously not. The common writing ink was made with galls
and copperas--sulphate of iron--without any of the blue colouring which
is used in modern blue-black ink. This iron-gall ink may have varied
slightly in colour according to whether it was freshly made or had been
exposed to the air in an ink-pot. But these differences would disappear
in the course of years, as the black tannate and gallate of iron changed
into the reddish-brown oxide; and, there being no difference in
composition, there would be no difference in the photographic reaction.
In my opinion, the difference shown in the photographs indicates a
difference in composition in the two inks. But a difference in
composition is irreconcilable with identity in the date of this passage
and the rest of the page."

"Would the difference of composition be demonstrable by a chemical
test?"

"Probably, but not certainly."

"You do not question the character of the handwriting?"

"I prefer to offer no opinion on that. I detected no discrepancy that I
could demonstrate."

"And now, coming from matters of opinion to demonstrable fact, what are
you prepared to swear to concerning this entry in the diary?"

"That it was written with a different ink from that used in writing the
rest of the page."

Having received and noted down this answer, Anstey turned over a leaf of
his brief and resumed his examination.

"We will now," said he, "pass on to an entirely different subject. I
believe that you have made certain investigations in the neighbourhood
of Winsborough. Is that so?"

"It is."

"Perhaps, before giving us your results, it might be well if you were to
tell us, in a general way, what was the object of those investigations
and what led you to undertake them."

"It appeared to me," Thorndyke replied, "when I considered the story of
the double life of Josiah Pippet and the Earl, George Augustus, that,
although it was not impossible that it might be true, it was highly
improbable. But it also seemed highly improbable that this story should
have been invented by Josiah out of his inner consciousness with nothing
to suggest it or give it a start. It seemed more probable that the story
had its origin in some peculiar set of circumstances the nature of which
might, at some later time, be entirely misunderstood. On further
consideration, I found it possible to imagine a set of circumstances
such as might have given rise to this kind of misunderstanding.
Thereupon, I decided to go down to Winsborough and see if I could
ascertain, by investigation on the spot, whether such circumstances had,
in fact, existed."

"When you went to Winsborough you had certain specific objects in view?"

"Yes. I sought to ascertain whether there existed any evidence of the
birth of Josiah Pippet, as a separate individual, and whether he was, in
fact, born at the Castle, as alleged. Further, as subsidiary question, I
proposed to find out, if possible, whether there was, in the
neighbourhood, any ancient inn of which the sign had been changed within
the last eighty years."

As Thorndyke gave this last answer, the judge looked at him with a
slightly puzzled expression. Then a slow smile spread over his face and
he settled himself comfortably in his chair to listen with renewed
attention.

"Did your investigations lead to any discoveries?" Anstey asked.

"They did," Thorndyke replied. "First, with regard to the inns. There
are two inns in the village, both of considerable age. One has the sign
of the Rose and Crown, which is probably the original sign. The other
has the sign of the Earl of Beaconsfield; but, as this house bears the
date, 1602, and was evidently built for an inn, and, as Benjamin
Disraeli was created Earl of Beaconsfield only in 1876, it follows that
the sign must have been altered since that date. But I could find nobody
who knew what the sign had formerly been.

"I next turned my attention to the church register, and first I looked
up the entry of the 9th of August 1794. On that day there were born in
this small village no less than three persons. One was George Augustus,
the son of the Earl of Winsborough, born at Winsborough Castle. The
second was Elizabeth Blunt, daughter of Thomas Blunt, carpenter, and
third was Josiah Bird, son of Isabella Bird, spinster, serving-maid to
Mr. Nathaniel Pippet of this parish; and there was a note to the effect
that the said Josiah was born in the house of the said Nathaniel Pippet.

"I followed the entries in the register in search of further information
concerning these persons. Three years later, on the 6th of June, 1797,
there was a record of the marriage of Nathaniel Pippet, widower, and
Isabella Bird, spinster. Two months later, on the 14th of August, 1797,
there was recorded the death of Nathaniel Pippet of this parish,
inn-keeper; and three months after this, on the 8th of November, 1797,
was an entry recording the birth of Susan Pippet, the posthumous
daughter of Nathaniel Pippet deceased. This child lived only four days,
as her death is recorded in an entry dated the 12th of November, 1797.

"As none of these entries gave any particulars as to the residence of
Nathaniel Pippet, I proceeded to explore the churchyard. There I found a
tombstone the inscription on which set forth that 'Here lieth the body
of Nathaniel Pippet, late keeper of the Castle Inn in this parish, who
departed this life the 14th day of August, 1797.' As there was no other
entry in the register, this must have been the Nathaniel Pippet referred
to in the entry which I have mentioned. I took a photograph of this
tombstone and I produced enlarged copies of that photograph."

As he spoke, Thorndyke opened his portfolio and took out a number of
mounted enlargements which he delivered to the usher, who handed one to
the judge and passed the others round to the various interested parties.
Looking round the court, I was amused to note the expressions with which
the different parties regarded the photograph. The judge inspected it
with deep interest and an obvious effort to maintain a becoming gravity.
So also with Brodribb, whose struggles to suppress his feelings produced
a conspicuous heightening of his naturally florid complexion. Mrs.
Engleheart viewed the photograph with polite and unsmiling indifference;
the young people, Mr. Giles and Miss Jenifer (who, for some reason,
known only to the usher, had a single copy between them), giggled
frankly; Mr. Gimbler and his two counsel examined the exhibit with
wooden-faced attention. The only person who made no attempt to "conceal
or cloak" his amusement was Mr. Christopher Pippet; who inspected the
photograph through horn-rimmed spectacles and laughed joyously.

When the photograph reached me the cause of his hilarity became
apparent. It happens often enough that the designs on ancient rural
tombstones are such as tend "to produce in the sinful a smile." But it
was not the work of the artless village mason that was the cause of Mr.
Pippet's amusement. The joke was in the inscription, which ran thus:


"Here lyeth ye Bodey of NATHANIEL PIPPET late Keeper of The
CASTLE INN in this Parish who Departed this
Life ye 14th Day of August in ye Year of Our Lord
1797 Aged 58 years.

"He was an Honest Man and a good Inn Keeper who sold no Ale but the Best.

"He that buys Land buys Stones
He that buys Meate buys Bones
He that buys Egges buys Many Shelles
But He that buys Good Beer buys Nothing Ellse."


The verses were certainly unconventional and tended to engender the
suspicion that the jovial Nathaniel might have embodied them in certain
testamentary dispositions. But, however that may have been, the
inscription was profoundly significant.

Having given time for the inspection of the photographs, Anstey resumed
his examination.

"What inferences do you deduce from these facts which you have
discovered?" he asked. But, at this point, Mr. McGonnell rose and
objected that the witness's inferences were not evidence.

"The learned counsel is technically correct," said the judge, "and I
must allow his objection if he insists; though, in the case of an expert
witness, where an investigation has been made ad _hoc,_ it is customary
to allow the witness to explain the bearing of the facts which he has
elicited."

The learned counsel was, however, disposed to insist and the question
was accordingly ruled out.

"Apart from any inferences," said Anstey, "what facts have your
investigations disclosed?"

"They have disclosed the fact," replied Thorndyke, "that on the 9th of
August, 1794, the day on which the Earl, George Augustus was born at
Winsborough Castle, there was born at 'The Castle' at Winsborough an
individual named Josiah whose mother subsequently married Nathaniel
Pippet."

"That fact is the sum of what you discovered?"

"Yes."

"And what relation does that bear to the imaginary set of circumstances
of which you have told us?"

"The circumstances that thus came to light were substantially identical
with those which I had postulated theoretically."

Anstey noted down this answer and then proceeded:

"You were present at the exhumation of the coffin of Josiah Pippet with
the other persons who have been mentioned?"

"I was."

"Did the appearances which you observed seem to you to agree with the
conditions which were assumed to exist--that this coffin had lain
undisturbed in this vault for eighty years?"

"No. In my opinion, the appearances were not reconcilable with that
assumption."

"In what respect did the appearances disagree with the ostensible
conditions?"

"There were three respects in which the appearances disagreed with the
conditions which were assumed to exist. The disagreements were concerned
with the dust in the vault, the coffin, and the contents of the coffin."

"Let us take those disagreements in order. First, as to the dust. Do you
say that there were signs that it had been disturbed?"

"No. The dust that was there had not been disturbed since it was
deposited. But it had not the characteristics of ancient dust, or of any
dust which might have become deposited in a vault above ground which was
situated in an open burial ground, remote from any dwelling house."

"What are the distinguishing peculiarities of such ancient dust?"

"The dust which would be deposited in a vault over a period of eighty
years would consist of very light and minute particles of matter, such
as would be capable of floating in still air. There would be no mineral
particles excepting excessively minute particles of the lighter
minerals, and very few of these. Practically the whole of the dust would
consist of tiny fragments of organic matter, of which a large part would
be derived from textiles. As these fragments would be of all sorts of
colours, the resulting dust would be of no colour at all; that is to
say, of a perfectly neutral grey. But this dust was not of a perfectly
neutral grey. It had a very faint tinge of red; and this extremely faint
tinge of colour was distinguishable in the whole of the dust, not only
in one part. I accordingly took two samples for examination, one from
the coffin and one from the shelf on which it rested; and I have since
made a microscopical examination of each of these samples separately."

"And what conclusion did you arrive at as a result of your examination?"

"I came to the conclusion that the whole of this dust had been derived
from a single room. That room was covered with a carpet which had a red
ground with a pattern principally of green and blue with a little black.
There was also in this room a cotton drapery of some kind--either a
table-cloth or curtains--dyed a darkish blue."

"Those are your conclusions. Can you give us the actual facts which you
observed?"

"On examining the dust through the microscope, I observed that it
consisted chiefly of woollen fibres dyed a bright red. There were also
woollen fibres dyed green and blue, but smaller in number than the red,
and a still smaller number of woollen fibres dyed black, together with a
few cotton fibres dyed a darkish blue. In addition to the fibres there
were rather numerous particles of coal and some other minerals, very
small in size, but much too large to float in still air. I have here two
samples of the dust mounted and arranged in small hand microscopes. On
holding the microscopes up to the light, it is quite easy to see the
fibres which I have described and also one or two particles of coal."

He handed the two little instruments (in which I recognized the
handiwork of the ingenious and indefatigable Polton) to the usher, who
passed them up to the judge. His lordship examined each of them with
deep interest and then returned them to the usher, by whom they were
handed, first to McGonnell and then to the other parties to the case.
Eventually, they came to me; and I was surprised to see how efficiently
these little instruments served their purpose. On turning them towards
the window, the coloured fibres were visible with brilliant
distinctness, in spite of the low magnification. And their appearance,
corresponding exactly with Thorndyke's description, was absolutely
convincing, as I gathered from the decidedly glum expression that began
to spread over Mr. McGonnell's countenance.

When the dust had been inspected, Anstey resumed his examination.

"Can you account for the presence of this dust in the vault?"

"Only in general terms. Since it was obviously not derived from anything
in the vault, itself, or the immediate neighbourhood of the vault, it
must have been brought there from some other place."

"Can you suggest a method of procedure which would have produced the
appearances which you observed?"

"A possible method, and the one which I have no doubt was employed,
would be this: First, the sweepings from the room, or more probably the
accumulations from the receiver of a vacuum-cleaner, would be collected
and conveyed to the vault. There, the dust could be blown into the air
of the upper part of the vault by means of a vacuum-cleaner with the
valve reversed, or more conveniently by means of a common pair of
bellows, the dust being fed into the valve-hole. If it were blown up
towards the roof, it would float in the air and settle down slowly,
falling eventually in a perfectly even manner on the coffin, the shelf,
and the floor, producing exactly the appearance that was seen."

"You are not prepared to swear that this was the method actually
employed?"

"No; but it would be a possible method, and I cannot think of any
other."

"Well," said Anstey, "the method is not important. We will let it go and
come to another matter.

"You referred to three discrepancies in the appearances; the dust, the
coffin, and the contents of the latter. In what way did the coffin
disagree with the ostensible conditions?"

"The coffin was assumed to have been lying undisturbed in the vault for
eighty years. That was not the case. If this was the original coffin, it
had certainly been opened and re-closed since the year 1854."

"How are you able to fix the date so exactly?"

"By the screws with which the lid was fastened down. These screws are in
the possession of Detective-Superintendent Miller, who is now in
court."

Here the Superintendent rose, and, producing an envelope, handed it to
the usher, who passed it up to the judge. He then evicted Thorndyke from
the witness-box, and, taking his place, was duly sworn, and, in reply to
a question from Anstey, declared that the screws in the envelope were
the screws which had been extracted in his presence from the coffin of
Josiah Pippet.

The judge opened the envelope and tipped the screws out into the palm of
his hand. Then he remarked--in almost the very words that I had heard
the Superintendent use--that he did not see anything at all unusual
about them. "To my unsophisticated eye," he concluded, "they look like
the kind of screws that one could buy at any ironmonger's."

"That, my lord," said Thorndyke--who had, in his turn, evicted the
Superintendent and resumed his place in the witness-box--"is exactly
what they are, and that is the fact which gives them their evidential
importance. This coffin was supposed to have been screwed down in the
year 1843. But in that year you could _not_ have bought screws like
these at any ironmonger's. There were no such screws in existence. At
that time, wood screws were like metal screws, excepting as to their
threads. They were flat-ended, so that, in order to drive them in, it
was necessary to bore a hole as deep as the screw was long. But, about
1850, an American inventor devised and patented a sharp-pointed, or
gimlet-ended screw, which would find its own way through wood,
regardless of the depth of the hole. Later, he came to England to
dispose of his patent rights, and in 1854 he sold them to Chamberlain
and Nettlefolds, who thereupon acquired the virtual monopoly of the
manufacture of wood screws; for, owing to the great superiority of the
sharp-pointed screw, the old, blunt-ended screw went completely out of
use. I am able, by the kindness of the Master of the Worshipful Company
of Ironmongers, to show a set of the old type of screws, the date of
manufacture being 1845."

Here he produced a wooden tablet to which were secured six screws of
various sizes with blunt, flattened ends like the screws still used by
metal workers. The tablet was passed up to the judge, who inspected it
curiously and compared the screws on it with those from the envelope.

"It is always easy," he moralized, "to be wise after the event; but it
does really seem astonishing that mankind should have had to wait until
1854 for so obvious an improvement."

With this he returned the coffin screws to the envelope and handed the
latter and the museum tablet to the usher, who proceeded to pass them
round for inspection. I watched their progress with considerable
interest, noting their effect on the different parties to the case.
Particularly interested was I to observe the expression on Mr.
McGonnell's face as he compared the two exhibits. There was no question
as to his recognition of their significance; and, by the flush that rose
to his face, and the unmistakeable expression of anger, I judged that
Mr. Gimbler had not taken him into his confidence and that these
revelations were coming to him as a very disagreeable surprise.

When the screws had been inspected by the principal parties, Anstey
resumed his examination.

"When you stated the latest date at which this coffin could have been
screwed down, you used the qualification, 'If this _was_ the original
coffin.' Did you mean to express a doubt that this was the original
coffin?"

"Yes. My opinion is that it is not the original coffin, but a new one to
which the brass name plate and other metal 'furniture' from the original
coffin have been screwed. The plate and handles appeared to me to be the
original ones, and they appeared to be fastened on with the original
brass screws. The slots of those screws showed clear indications of
their having been unscrewed quite recently."

"What were your reasons for believing that this was a new coffin rather
than the old one, opened and reclosed?"

"There were several reasons. First, there were the screws. These were
modern screws, apparently artificially rusted. At any rate, they were
rusty. But if the original coffin had been opened and re-closed, it
would be natural for the screws which had been extracted to be used to
fasten down the lid. There would be no object in obtaining rusty screws
to use in their place. Then the coffin did not look old. It was much
discoloured; but the discolouration did not look like the effect of age
but rather like that of staining. Further, the coffin was covered, both
inside and out with a thick coating of mildew. But there was nothing to
account for this mildew. The wood was not damp, and it had the character
of new wood. The mildew had the appearance of having been produced
artificially by coating the surface with some substance such as size,
mixed with sugar or glycerine. Moreover, on the assumption that some
substitution had been made--which all the appearances indicated--it
would obviously be more convenient to use a new coffin than to open and
remove the contents of the old, particularly if the old one should have
happened to contain a body. But that is a matter of inference. Taking
only the appearances observed, I consider that they indicated that this
was a new coffin."

"Then," said Anstey, "we now come to the third set of disagreements, the
contents of the coffin. What have you to tell us about those?"

"The contents of the coffin," Thorndyke replied, "were, according to the
traditional account, a roll of sheet lead and some plumber's oddments,
which had been left over from some repairs. Now, sheet lead, removed in
l843, or earlier, from the roof of a house, would, even then, be old
lead. It would certainly be cast sheet--cast upon a sand casting table;
and it would certainly contain a considerable proportion of silver. But
the sheet of lead which was found in the coffin was the ordinary milled
sheet which has, in recent times, replaced the old cast sheet. As to the
amount of silver that it contained, I could form no opinion. I therefore
suggested that an assay should be made to ascertain the silver content.
This proposal was contested by Mr. Gimbler on the ground that we had no
authority to make an assay, and by Mr. McGonnell on the ground that the
evidence was of a kind that would not be taken seriously by the court.
And Mr. Brodribb objected, apparently on the ground that the proceeding
would seem to throw doubt on the good faith of the applicant.
Accordingly, I did not press my proposal, but I made a careful
examination of the contents of the coffin, with very surprising results.
in addition to the sheet lead, the coffin contained four hemispherical
lumps of metal which had apparently solidified in a plumber's melting
pot, which we may call pot-leavings. There were four of these; one large
and three smaller. The large one had the appearance and all the visible
and palpable properties of lead, and I had no doubt that it was lead.
The other three were evidently not lead, but had the appearance and
properties of an alloy of lead and some other metal."

"Bid you form any opinion as to the nature of the other metal?"

"I did, but with the reservation that the inference seemed so incredible
that I was doubtful about accepting it."

"What was the opinion that you formed as to the nature of these lumps of
lead alloy?"

"I was forced to the conclusion that they were composed of an alloy of
lead and platinum."

"Platinum!" exclaimed the judge. "But is not platinum a very rare and
precious metal?"

"It is always a precious metal," Thorndyke replied, "and since the war
it has become extremely scarce and its value has gone up to an
extravagant extent. At present, it is several times more valuable than
gold."

"And how much platinum did you consider to be present in these lumps of
alloy?" the judge asked.

"I estimated the weight of the three lumps together at about a
hundredweight, and, about half that weight appeared to be platinum."

"Half a hundredweight of platinum!" exclaimed the judge. "It does
indeed seem incredible. Why, it is a fortune. What do you suppose the
value of that amount would be?"

"At the present inflated prices," replied Thorndyke, "I should put it at
anything from fifteen to seventeen thousand pounds."

"It is beyond belief," said the judge. "However, we shall see," and with
this he sat back in his chair and glanced at Anstey.

"As this opinion seems to be so utterly incredible, even to yourself,"
said Anstey, resuming his examination, "perhaps you might explain to us
how you arrived at it."

"It was principally a question of weight," Thorndyke replied.

"But," said Anstey, "have you had sufficient experience to be able to
detect platinum in an alloy by the sense of weight to the hand?"

"No," Thorndyke answered, "but it was not a case of absolute weight, or
I should have been still less confident. There was a term of comparison.
When I picked up the big lump, it felt just as I should expect a lump of
lead of that size to feel. But when I then picked up the first of the
smaller ones, I received a shock; for, though it was little more than
half the size of the big one, it was nearly as heavy. Now, there are not
many metals that are much heavier than lead. For practical purposes,
ignoring the rare metals, there are only two--gold and platinum. This
did not look like gold, but it might have been; a mass of gold, for
instance, with a lead casing. On the other hand, its colour--a faint,
purplish grey--was exactly that of a lead-platinum alloy. So there
seemed to be no escape from the conclusion that that was what it was."

While this evidence was being given, I kept my eyes on Mr. Gimbler and
his leading counsel. The latter listened in undisguised astonishment and
little less disguised displeasure. Obviously, he had begun to smell a
rat; and, as it was not his rat, he naturally resented its presence. But
even Gimbler failed to maintain the aspect of wooden indifference that
he had preserved hitherto. This disclosure had evidently sprung on him a
complete surprise; and, as I looked at him and noted the dismay which he
struggled in vain to conceal, I found myself wondering whether, by any
chance, the expression of consternation on his face might have some
significance other than mere surprise. But my speculations were cut
short by Anstey, who was continuing his examination.

"Have you anything more to tell us about the contents of this coffin?"

"No," was the reply. "That is all the information that I have to give."

On receiving this reply, Anstey sat down and McGonnell was rising to
cross-examine when the judge interposed.

"Before we pass on to other matters," said he, "we ought to be a little
more clear about the nature of this metal which was found in the coffin.
That is a question which is highly relevant to the issues which are
before the court. But it is also relevant to certain other issues
concerned with public policy. Dr. Thorndyke is not prepared to say
definitely that this is actually platinum; but he is evidently
convinced--and on apparently sufficient grounds--that it is. But the
question cannot be left at that. It can be settled with certainty, and
it should be. Do I understand that this metal, worth, possibly, many
thousands of pounds, is still lying in that coffin?"

This question was addressed to Thorndyke, who accordingly replied:

"No, my lord. As my proposal of an assay was rejected, and in view of
the questions of public policy to which your lordship has referred, I
informed Mr. Superintendent Miller that, in my opinion, an examination
of the pot-leavings would yield information of great importance to the
police. The Superintendent thereupon took possession of the whole of the
contents of the coffin and conveyed them to the premises of Mr. Daniels,
the eminent assayist, and left them there for an assay to be made."

"And has an assay been made?" the judge asked.

"I believe it has, my lord, but I have no information as to the result.
Mr. Superintendent Miller is now in court."

Here the Superintendent rose and approached the solicitor's table
carrying a small but obviously heavy box, which he laid on the table.

"I think," said the judge, "that what the Superintendent has to tell us
should go in evidence."

Accordingly, Miller once more evicted Thorndyke from the witness-box,
and the judge continued: "You have already been sworn, Superintendent.
Will you now give the _facts,_ so far as they are known to you,
concerning the contents of this coffin?"

The Superintendent stood at "attention" and delivered himself of his
evidence with a readiness born of long practice.

"In consequence of certain information communicated by Dr. Thorndyke, I
took possession of the contents of the coffin alleged to be that of
Josiah Pippet deceased and conveyed them forthwith to the premises of
Mr. Daniels in Bishopsgate and delivered them to him with instructions
to make a trial assay and report to me what he found. On the same
evening, I received a report from him in which he informed me that he
had ascertained the following facts:--the roll of sheet lead was
practically pure lead almost completely free from silver, and was
probably of recent manufacture. The large pot-leaving was also pure
lead of the modern silver-free type. The three smaller pot-leavings were
composed of a lead-platinum alloy, of which about half by weight was
platinum. On receiving this report, I directed Mr. Daniels to recover
the whole of the platinum in a pure state and deliver it to me. He did
this, and I have here, in the box on the table, the platinum which I
received from him and which he assured me is practically the whole of
the platinum which was contained in the pot-leavings. It amounts,
roughly, to just under half a hundredweight."

As he concluded, he stepped down from the witness-box, and, approaching
the table, unlocked a small padlock of the Yale type by which the hasp
of the box was secured and opened the lid. Then, from the interior, he
lifted out, one after another, eight little bright, silvery-looking
bars, or ingots, and laid them in a row on the table. Picking up the end
one, he handed it up to the judge; who weighed it in the palm of his
hand, looking at it with a faint smile of amusement. When he received it
back from the judge, Miller carried it round the court and allowed each
of the interested parties to take it in his hand; and, when it came to
my turn, and the Superintendent handed it to me (with something
exceedingly like a wink, and a sly glance at Thorndyke), I understood
the judge's smile. There was something ridiculous in the monstrous
disproportion between the size of the little bar and its weight; for,
small as it was, it had the weight of a good-sized iron dumbell.

When Miller had returned the bars to the box and locked the padlock, he
went back to the witness-box to await further questions or
cross-examination; but, as neither of the counsel made any sign, the
judge dismissed him and then announced the adjournment of the hearing.
"I regret," he added, "that, in consequence of other and more urgent
business, it will have to be adjourned for a week. The delay is
unfortunate; but," here he glanced at McGonnell with a faint smile, "it
will have the advantage that learned counsel will have time to consider
their cross-examination of Dr. Thorndyke."

Hereupon the court rose and we all prepared to take our departure.
Glancing at "the other side," I observed Mr. Pippet looking a little
wistfully in our direction as if he would have liked to come and speak
to us. But apparently his native wisdom and good sense told him that the
occasion was inopportune, and, after a momentary hesitation, he turned
away with a somewhat troubled face and followed his legal
representatives out of the court.



CHAPTER XV--A JOURNEY AND A DISCUSSION


"This adjournment," remarked the Superintendent as he attached a strong
leather rug-strap to his precious box, "is a piece of luck for me--at
least I am hoping that it is. You'll have tomorrow free I suppose,
Doctor?"

"I have got plenty to do tomorrow," Thorndyke answered, "but I haven't
any appointments, as I expected to be here. Why do you ask?"

"Because," replied Miller, "I have had a bit of luck of another sort. I
told you that the suspected yacht was laid up in Benfleet Creek with her
hatches sealed and a local boat-builder told off to keep an eye on her.
Well, it seems that this man--his name is Jaff--spotted some Johnnie
trying to break into her in the cool of the evening, about eleven p.m.
So Mr. Jaff collared the said Johnnie after a bit of a tussle, and
handed him over to the local police.

"Then the police had a brain-wave--quite a good one too. They phoned
down to Southend for the Customs officers who had rummaged the yacht
when she arrived from her voyage. So the Preventive men--there were two
of them--hopped into the train and came over to have a look at the
chappie who had been nabbed; and they both recognized him, at once, as
one of the three men they had seen on board the yacht when they rummaged
her. And one of them remembered his name--Bunter; and when it was
mentioned, he didn't deny it, though he had given a false name, as the
police had already assumed, when he said it was John Smith. Of course,
there are people in the world named John Smith. Plenty of them. But the
crook is apt to exaggerate the number.

"Well, when we got notice of the capture, we thought at first of having
him sent up to the Yard to see if we could get a statement from him. But
then I thought it would be better for me to go down and have a talk with
him on the spot and just have a look at the yacht at the same time. And
that's where you come in; at least I hope you do, as you seem to be like
one of those blooming spiders that I've heard about that have got eyes
all over them. What do you say? I think you would find it an interesting
little jaunt."

Thorndyke appeared to think so, too, for he accepted the invitation at
once and included me in the acceptance, as I also had the day at my
disposal. Accordingly, we settled the program, much to the
Superintendent's satisfaction, and, having arranged to meet on the
following morning at Fenchurch Street Station, we escorted Miller, with
his precious burden, to his car and bade him _au revoir_.

"I agree with Miller," said I, as, having achieved the perilous crossing
of the Strand, we strolled towards the Temple Gate. "This is a bit of
luck. A nice little trip to the seaside instead of a day in that stuffy
court. And it will probably be quite amusing."

"I hope it will be more than amusing," said Thorndyke. "We ought to be
able to pick up some useful facts. We want them badly enough, f or there
are a lot of gaps that we have to fill up."

"What gaps are you referring to?" I asked.

"Well," he replied, "look at our case as it stands. It is a mere
collection of disconnected facts. And yet we know that those facts must
be connected, and that we have got to establish the connexion. Take this
platinum, for instance. It disappears from the cloak room and is lost to
view utterly. Then it reappears in the coffin; and the problem is, how
did it get there, where has it been in the interval, and what is
Gimbler's connexion with it?"

"Aren't we rather guessing about that platinum?" I objected. "We all
seem to be assuming that this platinum is the platinum that was stolen."

"And reasonably so, I think," said Thorndyke. "Consider the
probabilities, Jervis. If it had been a case of an ounce, or even a
pound, there might have been room for doubt. But half a hundredweight,
at a time when every grain of platinum is precious and worth many times
its weight of gold, and at a time when that very weight of platinum has
been stolen and is still missing--well, we may be mistaken, but we are
justified in accepting the overwhelming probabilities. And, after all,
it is only a working hypothesis."

"Yes," I admitted, "I suppose you are right; and we shall soon know if
you are on the wrong track. But you are also assuming that Gimbler has
some connexion with it. You haven't much to go on."

Thorndyke laughed. "You are a regular Devil's advocate, Jervis," said
he. "But you are right, so far. We haven't much to go on. Still, I
suppose you will agree that we have fair grounds for assuming that
Gimbler has some connexion with that bogus coffin."

"Yes," I was forced to admit, "I will concede that much, as the coffin
appears to have been planted there to furnish evidence in support of his
case. But I am not so clear as to the connexion between Gimbler and that
platinum. He seemed mighty surprised when you mentioned it."

"He did," Thorndyke agreed; "and there is certainly something extremely
odd about the whole affair. But you see the position. Gimbler arranges
for a dummy coffin to be planted, and that dummy coffin is found to
contain the proceeds of a robbery. There is thus established a connexion
of some sort between Gimbler and this stolen property. We cannot guess
the nature of the connexion. It may be of the most indirect kind.
Apparently, Gimbler had no suspicion of the nature of the metal in the
coffin. But some kind of connexion between that loot and Mr. Gimbler
there must be. And it is not impossible that the platinum may eventually
be the means of pointing the way to some unguarded spot in Gimbler's
defences; for I take it that there will be considerable difficulty in
getting direct evidence of his part in the planting of the coffin."

His conclusion brought us to our doorstep, at which point the discussion
lapsed. But I felt that it was only an adjournment; for something in the
Superintendent's manner had suggested to me that he, also, had certain
questions to propound.

And so it turned out. On our arrival on the platform at Fenchurch
Street, I perceived the Superintendent doing "sentry-go" before the door
of an empty first-class smoking compartment, and I suspected that he
had made certain private arrangements with the guard. At any rate, we
had the compartment to ourselves, and when we had passed the first few
stations in safety, he proceeded to fire his first shot.

"I've been puzzling my brains, Doctor, about those pot-leavings."

"Indeed?" said Thorndyke. "What is the difficulty?"

"The difficulty is how the deuce they became pot-leavings. I have
always understood that platinum was almost impossible to melt. Isn't
that so?"

"Platinum is very difficult to melt," Thorndyke agreed. "It has the
highest melting-point of all metals, excepting one or two of the rare
metals. The melting-point is 1710 Centigrade."

"And what is the melting-point of cast iron?"

"1505 Centigrade," Thorndyke answered.

"Then," exclaimed Miller, "if it takes about two hundred degrees more to
melt platinum than it does to melt iron, how the devil was it possible
to melt the platinum in a common plumber's melting-pot which is made of
cast iron? It would seem as if the pot should melt before the platinum."

"So it would, of course, if the metal had been pure," Thorndyke replied
with a smile that suggested to me that he had been expecting the
question, and that something of importance turned on it. "But it was not
pure. It was an alloy; and alloys exhibit all kinds of queer anomalies
in respect to their melting-points. However, with your permission, we
will postpone the discussion of this point, as we shall have to consider
it in connexion with certain other matters that we have to discuss. You
have not told us whether those clothes from the two dead men yielded any
information."

"They gave us the means of identifying the two men, as you will have
learned from the reports of the inquest; and the names were apparently
their real names, or at least their usual aliases. The murderer,
Bassett, the skipper of the yacht, was a local man, as you guessed. He
lived at Swanscombe, and seems to have been a Swanscombe man, which
accounts, as you suggested, for his knowledge of the dene hole. The man
he killed, Wicks, was living at Woolwich at the time, but he seemed to
be a bird of passage. That is all that I got out of the clothes
excepting the name and address of a man called Samuels, who describes
himself as a gold refiner and bullion dealer, but who may be a fence.
We know him by name, but we haven't anything against him, though we bear
him in mind. These small bullion dealers have to be kept in view, as
they have so many facilities for getting rid of stolen jewellery and
plate."

"Yes," Thorndyke agreed; "and, in the special circumstances, any refiner
and bullion dealer is of interest to us. It seems likely that Bassett
intended to approach this man, Samuels, on the object of the disposal of
the platinum, if he hadn't already made some arrangements with him.
You'll have to continue to keep Mr. Samuels in view. But now tell us a
little more about this present business."

"There isn't much more to tell you," said Miller. "It seems that Mr.
Jaff, the boat-builder gent, was cruising about Benfleet Creek in his
dinghy--he lives afloat, himself--when he saw our friend, Bunter, trying
to prise open the yacht's fore scuttle; whereupon, having a natural
prejudice against people who break into yachts, he pulled alongside,
stepped on board, and, creeping silently along the deck in his rubber
mud-boots, grabbed Bunter and hauled him into his dinghy, where they
seem to have had a mighty scrap until another mariner came along and
lent a hand. Then they got him ashore and handed him over to the local
police as I have told you."

"What do you suppose could have been his object in trying to break into
the vessel?" I asked. "There wasn't anything of value left on board, was
there?"

"There was not supposed to be," said Miller, with a knowing look, "but I
have an idea that there may have been. My notion is that there may have
been more platinum than we thought, and that he had come to snap up what
was left. What do you say, Doctor?"

Thorndyke shook his head. "I don't think so, Miller," he replied. "You
have recovered practically all the platinum that was said to have been
stolen. My impression is that, as our friend Mr. Pippet might express
it, you are barking up the wrong tree."

"Am I?" said Miller. "Then if you will point out the right tree, I'll
bark up that. What do you think was his object in trying to break in?"

"My idea is," Thorndyke replied, "that he supposed that the whole of the
platinum was still on board."

"But," protested Miller, "how could he? He knew that Bassett had carted
the bulk of it away."

Thorndyke chuckled. "My impression is, Miller," said he, "that it was at
this point that the chapter of accidents began; and it is here that the
answer to the question that you raised just now comes in."

"About the melting-pot?" demanded Miller.

"Yes. I have a theory that the whole mystery of the murder and the
appearance of the platinum in the coffin hinges on that question.
Perhaps, as we have some time at our disposal, there would be no harm in
my giving the reins to my fancy and sketching out my hypothetical scheme
of the events as I believe they occurred."

"Do, by all means," Miller exclaimed, eagerly, "for, if your imaginary
scheme satisfies you, it is likely to satisfy me."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "I will begin with what I believe to have been
the hiding-place in which the platinum was concealed on the yacht."

"But, good Lord, Doctor" Miller exclaimed, "you've never seen the
yacht!"

"It wasn't necessary," Thorndyke replied. "I had your description of the
yacht and of the search made by the Customs officer, and they seemed to
me to indicate an excellent hiding-place. When you described how that
officer crept down into the hold and found it all perfectly clear and
empty with the exception of the lead ballast-weights, it occurred to me
that it was quite possible that the platinum was staring him in the face
all the time. Remember that he was not looking for platinum but for
tobacco."

"Do you suggest that the platinum was hidden in the ballast-weights?"
Miller demanded.

"That is exactly what I do suggest," replied Thorndyke; "and I will
describe to you what I believe to have been the method used in
concealing it. You will remember that these weights were proper yacht's
ballast; lead weights cast to a correct shape to fit the timbers and
sits comfortably along the kelson. Each would probably weight about half
a hundredweight, that being the usual and most convenient weight. Now,
my theory is that our friends took with them a mould of the
ballast-weights--an ordinary sand-flask would do, though a fireclay
mould would be more convenient--so that they could cast new weights
whenever they might want them. Possibly they also took some spare lead
with them.

"Now, as soon as they had got possession of the platinum--which, you
will remember, was in thin sheets--they cut it up into suitably sized
pieces, or rolled or folded it up to a size that would go easily into
the mould. They put the pieces into the mould, probably propping them up
a little with some pieces of lead to keep them off the bottom, so that
the platinum should not be visible on the surface. Then they melted some
spare lead, or one of the ballast-weights and poured the molten lead
into the mould. When the lead set solid, there would be a quite
ordinary-looking ballast-weight. Then they did the same with the rest of
the platinum, producing a second ballast-weight; and the two could be
laid down with the rest of the weights alongside the keel. If there was
any lead left over, that would be thrown overboard together with the
mould."

"Yes," said Miller, "that sounds quite convincing. Deuced ingenious,
too. Uncommonly neat. That's how they were able to walk past the customs
in the way they did. But where does the chapter of accidents come in?"

"It came in at that point," said Thorndyke. "Somebody had made a
trifling miscalculation. I don't say that Bassett made the mistake,
though I suspect that he did. But someone did. You know, Miller, as well
as I do that people who embark on a fake of any kind need to have a good
deal of knowledge. And usually they haven't. Our friend, Gimbler, didn't
know enough about dust; and the craftsman who made the bogus coffin
didn't know enough about screws. And I suspect that the downy bird who
invented the ballast-weight dodge didn't know enough about platinum.

"The rock, I think, on which these gentry split was this: most people
know, as you know, that platinum is one of the most infusible of metals.
It cannot be melted in any ordinary furnace. Only a very special
furnace, or the most powerful type of blowpipe will melt it. Now, to a
person who knew that, and no more, it would naturally seem that
platinum, put into a mould and then covered up with melted lead, would
simply be imbedded in lead. And, since lead is very easily fusible--it
melts at the comparatively low temperature of 325° Centigrade--it would
naturally seem that, when it was required to recover the platinum, all
that would be necessary would be to melt the lead weight and pick out
the platinum."

"Yes," agreed Miller; "that seems perfectly feasible. What's the snag?"

"The snag is," replied Thorndyke, "that platinum has one most singular
property. Everyone knows that you can melt lead in an iron ladle or pot;
and it would be quite natural to infer that, since platinum is more
difficult to melt than iron, it would be equally easy to melt lead in a
platinum ladle or pot. But the inference would be quite wrong. If you
were to try to melt lead in a platinum pot, the bottom of the pot would
drop out. In spite of its enormously high melting-point, platinum
dissolves freely in melted lead."

"The deuce it does!" exclaimed Miller. "That is most extraordinary."

"It is," Thorndyke agreed; "and it is a property of the metal that would
be totally unexpected by anyone who did not happen to know it. And now
you will see how this curious fact affects our problem. Supposing the
platinum to have been put into the mould as I have described, and the
melted lead poured in on top of it; and supposing the thieves--or some
of them--to be unacquainted with this property of the metal. They would
expect, as I have said, that when they wanted to recover the platinum,
all they would have to do would be to melt the lead weight and pick out
the platinum with tongs.

"Now our friend Wicks, who made the exchange at the cloak room was
evidently 'in the know.' He knew what was in the case that he stole; and
he had come to get that case. The relic that he left in exchange was, I
feel sure, merely a by-product. It may even have furnished the means or
the suggestion for the exchange. Obviously, he had the thing on his
hands, and it was the kind of thing that he would naturally wish to get
rid of; and, if he was able to get a suitable case, as he evidently was,
the exchange was a quite masterly tactical plan. But I think we may take
it that it was the case--worth fifteen thousand pounds--that he had
come for.

"We will assume that he knew the platinum to be concealed in the lead
weights. It is practically certain that he did. He was one of the
yacht's crew, or gang, and the thing must have been known to all of
them. Probably he had seen the job carried out; but, at any rate, he
knew what had been done. Accordingly, as soon as he had got his booty
into a safe place, he proceeded to melt down the lead weights to get at
the platinum.

"And then it was, I suggest, that the fatal mistake occurred. As the
weights melted, he looked for the platinum to appear. Apparently, he
fished for it with a ladle and then transferred the molten metal by
degrees to some empty pots. But when he had ladled the whole of it into
the other pots, there was still no sign of the platinum. To his eye, the
pots contained nothing but melted lead.

"Now, what would he be likely to think, under the circumstances? He
might have thought that Bassett had made a mistake and put the wrong
weights into the case; but more probably (seeing that he had tried to
rob the gang and snatch the whole of the booty for himself and the
confederate who had helped him to carry off the case) he would think
that he had been suspected and that 'the boss' had deliberately laid a
booby-trap for him by planting a couple of the plain lead weights in the
case. At any rate, he had, apparently, got nothing but a quantity of
lead. What did he do with that lead? We have no means of judging. He may
have thrown it away in disgust or he may have sold it to a plumber for a
few pence. But, if we accept this hypothetical construction of the
course of events, we can see how these lumps of lead-platinum alloy came
into being."

"Yes," Miller agreed, "it all fits the facts perfectly, even to the
murder of Wicks. For, of course, each of these two rascals, Wicks and
Bassett, thought the other had nobbled the whole of the swag. My eye!
What a lark it is!" He laughed grimly and then added: "But I begin to
have an inkling of the way you dropped on that dene hole so readily.
You'd been keeping an account of the case all along. I wonder if you can
make any suggestion as to how that stuff got into the coffin, and who
put it there."

"I am afraid not, Miller," Thorndyke replied. "You see that the
hypothetical sketch that I have given you is based on known facts and
fair probabilities. But the facts that we have do not carry us much
farther. Still, there is one fact that we must not overlook."

"What is that?" Miller demanded, eagerly.

"You will admit, I think," said Thorndyke, "that the faking of that
coffin must have been carried out on the initiative and under the
direction of Gimbler. There is really no reasonable alternative."

"Unless Mr. Pippet did the job himself; which doesn't seem at all
likely, though he may have been a party to it. But I agree with you.
Gimbler must have been the moving spirit, and probably Pippet knows
nothing about it."

"That is my own view," said Thorndyke. "Tippet impresses me as a
perfectly honest man, and I have no doubt that the planting of the
coffin was exclusively Gimbler's scheme, carried out by certain agents.
But one of these agents must have had these lumps of alloy in his
possession--unconscious, of course, of their nature. But that agent must
have been in touch, directly or indirectly, with Wicks. Now, it ought
not to be impossible to discover who that agent was. There are several
ways of approach to the problem. One of them, perhaps, is Mr. Bunter.
Since Wicks was not on board the yacht when Bassett took away the case
of platinum, he must have had a confederate who was. Now, there were
only two men left when Bassett had gone--not counting the man whom the
Customs officer saw, who seems to have been a stranger who had probably
taken a passage on the yacht and is not really in the picture at all. As
Bunter was one of those two, there is, at least, an even chance that he
was Wicks's confederate; and, when you come to have a talk with him, you
must bear in mind that he, also, may be assumed to be unaware of the
change that the platinum would undergo when the melted lead was poured
on to it."

"Yes, by Jove!" Miller agreed. "I begin to hope that we may get
something really useful out of Mr. Bunter, if we deal with him
tactfully. But Lord! What a stroke of luck it was for me that you were
able to come with me on this jaunt. If it hadn't been for what you have
just told us, I might have missed the whole point of his story, even if
he was prepared to tell one. I shouldn't have known any more about it
than he did."

As Miller concluded this frank and generous acknowledgment, the train
began to slow down and presently drew up at Benfleet Station. A sergeant
of the local police was waiting on the platform; and, when we had
introduced ourselves, he took us in charge and conducted us out of the
station. A few steps took us to the waterside, where we halted to survey
the interminable levels of Canvey Island and the winding creek, now full
of water, with its amazing assemblage of house boats and floating shacks
of all kinds.

"That's the _Cormorant,"_ said the sergeant, pointing to a
sturdy-looking, yawl-rigged yacht that was moored some distance down the
creek. "I suppose you will not be wanting to go on board her?"

"Not at present," replied Miller, "and probably not at all. But we will
hear what Bunter has to say."

"I'm afraid, sir," said the sergeant, "you'll find that he hasn't very
much to say. We haven't found him particularly ready to talk. But
perhaps he'll let himself go a bit more with you."

We turned away from the water, and, under the sergeant's guidance,
entered the little town, or village, and headed towards the police
station.


CHAPTER XVI--THE STATEMENT OF FREDERICK BUNTER


"Well, Bunter," the Superintendent remarked, cheerfully, as the prisoner
was brought into the little office and given a seat at the table, "here
you are."

"Yes," Bunter agreed, gloomily, "here I am. But I don't see why they
wanted to run me in. I wasn't doing no harm."

"You were trying to break into a yacht," Miller ventured to remind him.
"That isn't quite according to Cocker, you know."

"I was trying to get on board," said Bunter, "and I'm not denying it.
But you seem to be forgetting that I was a member of the crew of that
yacht. All I wanted was to get some of my kit what I had left behind.
I've told the sergeant so."

"That's right, sir," the sergeant confirmed. "He said he had left his
pocket-knife behind; and we did find a pocket-knife on board--a big
knife with a cork-screw and a marlin-spike in it, such as he had
described. But he could have got it from us without breaking into the
vessel."

"Yes," said Miller, "that's so. Still, it's a point in his favour.
However, it isn't the burglary that we are interested in. If everything
else was satisfactory we might let that pass, as he didn't actually
break in and he has some sort of explanation. But you know, Bunter, what
the real business is, and what we want to ask you about. It's that
platinum job."

"What platinum job?" demanded Bunter. "I don't know nothing about any
platinum."

"Now, Bunter," the Superintendent remonstrated, "don't be silly. We know
all about that job, and we know that you were in it with Bassett and
Wicks and the other man."

As he spoke, he drew a packet of cigarettes from his pocket, and, taking
one out, pushed it across the table with a box of matches. Bunter
accepted the gift with a grunt of acknowledgment but maintained his
unaccommodating attitude.

"If you know all about it," said he, "there ain't no need for you to ask
me no questions."

"Oh, yes, there is," said Miller. "We know enough for the purpose of the
prosecution. But there are certain matters that we should like to clear
up for other reasons. Still, you are not obliged to say anything if you
don't want to. I suppose you have been cautioned. If you haven't, I
caution you now that anything you say will be taken down in writing and
may be used in evidence at the trial. But I don't want you to say
anything that might make the case any worse against you. I want some
particulars, as I told you, for other reasons. What you may tell us
won't do your two pals any harm, as they are both dead. And I think I
may say that we are not inclined to be vindictive to you as no very
great harm has been done to anybody, seeing that we have recovered the
swag."

At the moment when Miller made this last statement, the prisoner was in
the act of striking a match to light his cigarette. But, as the words
were spoken, the action became arrested and he sat with his mouth open
and the unheeded match burning--until the flame reached his finger, when
he dropped it with an appropriate observation. "Did you say," he
demanded, speaking slowly and in a tone of the utmost amazement, "that
you had recovered the swag?"

"I did," Miller replied, calmly, proceeding to fill his pipe.

"Do you mean the platinum?" Bunter persisted, gazing at the
Superintendent with the same expression of amazed incredulity.

"I do," replied Miller. "Pass the matches when you have lit up."

Bunter lit his cigarette perfunctorily and pushed the match-box across
the table.

"How did you get hold of it?" he asked.

"We got it," Miller replied, with a twinkle of enjoyment, "from someone
who had it from Wicks."

"Get out!" exclaimed Bunter. "You couldn't. Wicks never had it. You are
fooling me. I don't believe you've got it at all."

"Look here, Bunter," the Superintendent said, stiffly, "I am not bound
to tell you anything. But, if I do tell you anything, you can take it
that it's the truth. I'm not in the habit of making false statements to
prisoners, nor is any other police officer. I tell you that we have got
all that platinum back, so you can take that as a fact and steer your
course accordingly."

"But," persisted Bunter, "you couldn't have got it from Wicks. I tell
you he never had it."

"Nonsense, Bunter," said Miller. "Didn't he pinch that case from the
cloak room at Fenchurch Street? You know he did."

"Yes, I know all about that," rejoined Bunter, "and I know that he
thought the stuff was in that case. But it wasn't."

"That's what he told you," said Miller, hardly able to conceal his
enjoyment of this contest of wits, and the consciousness that he had the
trumps securely up his sleeve. "But it was he that was doing the
fooling. He meant to keep the whole of the swag for himself."

"Now that's where you're mistaken," said Bunter. "You think I am going
on what he told me. But I ain't. I _know_ the stuff wasn't in that
case."

"How do you know?" demanded Miller.

"That's my business, that is," was the reply.

"Well," said Miller, "I don't know that it matters so very much. We have
got the stuff back, which is the important thing. But, of course, we
like to fill in the details if we can."

Bunter re-lit his cigarette and reflected. No one likes a
misunderstanding or cross-purposes, and Bunter evidently felt that he
was being misunderstood. Furthermore, he was intensely curious as to how
the platinum could possibly have been recovered. At length, he said.

"Supposing I was to tell you the whole story, would you let the
prosecution drop?"

The Superintendent shook his head, "No, Bunter," he replied promptly. "I
can't make any promises. The man who makes a promise which he doesn't
mean to keep is a liar, which is what no police officer ought to be; and
the man who keeps a promise that he oughtn't to have made, in a case
like this, is guilty of bribery. The English law is dead against
compounding felonies or any other crimes. But you know quite well that,
if you choose to help us, you won't do yourself any harm."

Bunter took a little more time for reflection, and eventually reached a
conclusion.

"Very well," he said, "I will tell you the whole blooming story, so far
as it is known to me; and I look to you not to take advantage of me from
what I have told you."

"I think you are wise, Bunter," said the Superintendent, obviously much
relieved at the prisoner's decision. "By the way, Sergeant, what time
did Bunter have his breakfast?"

"About seven o'clock, sir," was the reply.

"Then," said Miller, "if he is going to make a longish statement, he
won't be the worse for a little refreshment. What do you say, Bunter?"

Mr. Bunter grinned and admitted that "he could do with a beaver."

"Very well," said Miller, "perhaps we could all do with a beaver--say, a
snack of bread and cheese and a glass of beer. Can you manage that,
Sergeant?"

The sergeant could, and, being provided with the wherewith in the form
of a ten-shilling note, went forth to dispatch an underling in search of
the materials for the said "beaver." Meanwhile, Bunter, having been
furnished with a fresh cigarette, lighted it and began his narrative.

"You must understand," said he, "that this job was run by Bassett. The
rest of us carried out orders, and we didn't know much more about the
job than what he told us; and he didn't tell us any more than we was
bound to find out for ourselves. We didn't even know that the stuff was
platinum until Wicks spotted it by its weight. All that we knew was that
we were going to lift some stuff that was pretty valuable; and I doubt
if the fourth man, Park, knew even that."

"How did you come to know Bassett?" the Superintendent asked.

"He came to my house--leastways my brother-in-law's house at
Walworth--and said he had been recommended to me by a gentleman; but he
wouldn't say who the gentleman was. Whoever he was, he must have known
something about me, because he knew that I had been to sea on a sailing
barge, and he knew about a little trouble that I had got into over some
snide money that some fool gave me for a joke."

"Ah!" said Miller, "and how did that trouble end?"

"Charge dismissed," Bunter replied, triumphantly. "No evidence of any
dishonest intent. Of course there wasn't."

"Certainly not," Miller agreed. "Of course you explained about the
practical joke?"

"Rather--at least my lawyer did. He talked to the beak like a father, I
can tell you."

"Yes," said Miller, "I can imagine it. These Jew advocates are
uncommonly persuasive."

"He wasn't a Jew," Bunter exclaimed, indignantly. "No blooming sheenies
for me. He was an English gentleman."

"Oh!" said Miller. "I thought all the police court solicitors were Jews.
What was this gentleman's name?"

"His name," Bunter replied, haughtily, "was Gimbler; and a first-class
man at his business he was. Knew all the ropes like an A.B."

"Yes," said Miller. "But to return to Bassett; had Wicks known him
previously?"

"No. Bassett called on him, too. Got his address from a gentleman who
knew him. Same gentleman, I expect, as Bassett wouldn't say who he was.
But he knew that Wicks had been brought up as a waterman, and I think he
knew a bit more about him--more than I did, for Wicks was a stranger to
me, and he didn't let on much as to what he did for a living. So there
was four of us on the yacht; Bassett, Wicks, me and a bloke named Park,
but he wasn't really in the swim. He was a bawleyman out of Leigh; a
simple sort of cove, but a rare good seaman. He wasn't told nothing
about the job, and I fancy he thought it was some sort of smuggling
racket--nothing for a honest man to mind."

"And what was the arrangement as to pay, or shares?"

"We all got monthly pay at the ordinary yachtman's rate, and there was
to be a bonus at the end of the voyage. Park was to have fifty pounds,
and me and Wicks was to have two hundred each if we brought the job off
and landed the swag."

Here the "beaver" arrived, and Bunter was allowed to refresh himself
with a glass of beer; which he did with uncommon gusto. But the
narrative proceeded without interruption, excepting such as was due to
slight impairment of articulation when the narrator took an extra
liberal mouthful; which we shall venture to ignore.

"I can't tell you exactly how the actual job was done at Riga, as I was
down below at the time. Bassett and Wicks did the sleight of hand on the
quay, but I think it was done something like this: We had been in the
habit of getting our provisions on board in a big hamper, and this used
to be left about on the quay so as to get the people there used to
seeing it. Now, on the day when the job was done, Bassett put into the
hamper the little dummy case that he had got ready with half a
hundredweight of lead in it. I don't know how he got the particulars for
making up the case, but I reckon he must have had a pal on the spot who
gave him the tip. Anyway, he made up the dummy case and put it in the
hamper wrapped up in a waterproof sheet. Then it was took up and dumped
down on the quay close to where the cases of platinum was being dumped
down by the men who brought them out of the van. Then, I understand,
someone gave an alarm of fire; and, while everyone was looking at the
place where the fire was supposed to be, the dummy was put out on the
quay and the waterproof sheet flicked off the dummy and over one of the
real cases, and the dummy was shoved nearer to the other cases. Then
Bassett sat down on the case that he had covered with the sheet and lit
his pipe. Then they waited until all the cases, dummy and all, had been
put on board the ship. Then they lifted the case, still covered with the
waterproof sheet, into the hamper and brought it on board the yacht.

"As soon as it was on board, Park and me was told to cast off the shore
ropes and get the yacht out of her berth and put out into the bay; which
we did, though, as it was nearly a dead calm, she crept out mighty
slowly. When we had got the sails set, I left Park at the helm and went
below to lend a hand; and then it was that I found out how the swag was
to be disposed of--and a mighty clever wheeze it was, and it worked out
to a T.

"You must know that our inside ballast was a lot of lead weights, all
cast to the same size--about half a hundredweight each and forty of
them, all told. Now, as soon as we was fairly under way, Bassett and
Wicks lighted a big Primus stove and set a large melting-pot on it; and
into the pot they put one of the lead weights from the hold. Then
Bassett brought out of the lazarette a fireclay mould like the one that
the weights had been cast in. It was an open mould what you just poured
the lead in; and when it had set, you turned it over and the weight
dropped out with the top surface rough as it had set.

"While the lead was melting, me and Bassett and Wicks opened the case
and took out the platinum, which was in thin sheets about a foot square.
We cut the sheets up with tinman's snips into narrow strips what would
go snugly into the mould. Then Bassett put a bit of cold lead into the
mould for the strips of platinum to rest on, and then we laid the strips
in the mould, fitting them in carefully so as to get as many in as
possible. Then, when we had got them in and the lead in the pot was
melted, Bassett takes a ladle, dips it into the pot and pours it into
the mould. He had made the lead a bit extra hot, so that it should not
be cooled by the cold platinum. Well, when we had filled up the mould
and covered up the platinum, we had to wait while it was setting; and
Bassett put another ballast-weight in the pot to melt. When the lead in
the mould was set, we turned it out, and there was an ordinary-looking
ballast weight what you wouldn't have known from any other
ballast-weight.

"We did the same with the rest of the platinum, and that just made up
another weight. Then we marked the numbers on them with punches--all the
ballast-weights were numbered and laid in their regular order, 1 to 40.
These two weights were numbered 22 and 25; and when we had marked them,
we laid them down in their proper places in the hold. Then we cleaned
up. The lead what was left over we chucked overboard, and the fireclay
mould went after it. The case what the platinum had come in, we broke up
and shoved the pieces in the galley fire; so now there was no trace left
of this little job, and we didn't mind if the police came on board and
rummaged the ship. There wasn't nothing for them to find. So we sailed
back to our berth and made fast; and there we stayed for five days to
give them a chance to come on board and rummage if they wanted to. But
they never came. Naturally. Because nothing had been found out. So, on
the sixth day, we put to sea for the voyage home.

"But we didn't come straight home. We kept up the appearances of a
cruising yacht. You won't want particulars of the voyage, but there is
one little incident that I must mention. It was at Rotterdam, our last
port of call, on the morning when we started for home. We had got the
sails loosed and was just about to cast off, when a cove appeared on the
quay and hailed Bassett, who was on deck giving orders. Bassett replied
as if he had expected this bloke, and reached up and took the man's
luggage--a small suit-case and a brown-paper parcel with a rug-strap
fastened to it--and helped the covey down the ladder. Then we cast off
and put out to sea; so we could see that this stranger had arranged with
Bassett for a passage to England.

"Shortly after we had started, Bassett sends me to the fore peak for one
of the empty cases what our provisions had been stowed it. I took it to
the cabin, but I didn't know what it was wanted for until I saw the
passenger stowing it in the locker what belonged to his berth. Later, I
found the brown paper from the parcel and a big bit of oiled silk which
seemed a bit damp and had a nasty smell; so I chucked it overboard. I
don't know whether Bassett knew what was in that parcel, but none of us
ever guessed.

"Now, when we was about abreast of the Swin Middle light-ship, we met a
stumpy barge what was bound, as it turned out, from London to
Colchester. Bassett hailed her, and, when we was near enough, he asked
the skipper if he would take a passenger. The skipper wanted further
particulars, so Wicks and Park went off to the barge in the boat, taking
the passenger's case with them. Apparently it was all right, for Wicks
waved his hand and Park started to row back to the yacht."

"Had Wicks or Bassett told you anything about this business?" the
Superintendent asked.

"No. Not a word was said at the time; but Wicks told me all about it
afterwards, and I may as well tell you now. It seems that the
passenger--his name was Sanders--had got Bassett's permission to make an
arrangement with Wicks to smuggle the case ashore and take it to
Fenchurch Street Station and leave it in the cloak room. He gave Wicks
ten pounds for the job and a pound for the barge skipper; and a rare mug
he must have been to pay Wicks in advance. Well, the skipper took Wicks
with him up the Colne and put him ashore, after dark, somewhere between
Rowhedge and Colchester; and Wicks took a walk inland with his case and
picked up a motor bus that took him into Colchester. He stayed there a
day or two, having a bit of a beano, because he wasn't due to dump the
case in the cloak room until the following Monday, so that it shouldn't
be waiting there too long. But on Saturday evening he took the train to
London and went straight to the house of my brother-in-law, Bert
Wallis, where I was in the habit of living."

"Why did he go there?" asked Miller.

"Ah!" said Bunter, "that's another story, and I may as well tell you
that now. You must know that, after Wicks found out about the platinum,
he got very discontented. He reckoned that the swag might be worth
anything from ten to twenty thousand pounds; and he said we'd been done
in the eye. Two hundred pounds apiece, he said, wasn't anything like a
fair share, seeing that we'd taken a equal share of the risk. And he was
very suspicious of Bassett. He doubted whether he was a perfectly honest
man."

"What a horrible suspicion!" Miller exclaimed with a grin.

"Yes," agreed Bunter. "But I believe he was right. He suspected that
Bassett meant to clear off with the whole of the swag and not pay us
anything. And so did I; so we arranged that I should keep an eye on
Bassett and see that he didn't get away with it.

"Now, when we had done with the Customs at Southend--of course they
didn't twig nothing--we ran up into Benfleet Creek and took up moorings.
Then, on Saturday, Bassett said he was going to take the stuff up to a
dealer what he knew of and wouldn't be back for a day or two. So, in the
evening, I helped him to carry the case, with the two doctored weights
in it, up to the station and saw him into a first-class carriage and
shut him in. But I didn't go back to the yacht. I'd taken the precaution
to get a ticket in advance, and given Park the tip that I mightn't be
back that night; so, when I left Bassett, I went to the rear of the
train and got in. I travelled up to town in that train, and I followed
Bassett and saw him stow the case in the cloak room. Then, when I had
seen him out of the station, I nipped straight off home to Bert Wallis's
place at Walworth.

"It happened that I got there only a few minutes after Wicks had turned
up. I told him what had happened, and we talked over what we should do
to keep our eyes on the case of platinum. But, at the moment, Wicks was
all agog to know what was in Mr. Sanders's case. I pointed out to him
that it was no business of his, but he said if it was worth all the
money and trouble that had been spent on it, there must be something of
value inside, and he was going to see what that something _was,_ and
whether it was worth while to take it to the cloak room at all.

"Well, I got him a screwdriver and he had the screws out in a twinkling
and pulled up the lid. And then he fairly hollered with surprise and I
was a bit took aback, myself. You know what was inside--a man's head,
packed in some of our old duds. I tell you, Wicks slammed the lid down
and ran the screws in faster than he took them out. Then I asks him what
he was going to do about it. 'Do!' says he. 'I'm going to plant the damn
thing in the cloak room tomorrow morning and get clear of it; and I'll
send the ticket on to Sanders at Benfleet Post Office as I promised.
I've been paid, and I'm going to carry out my contract like a honest
man.'

"But the sight of that man's head seemed to have given him something to
think about, for he was mighty thoughtful for a while. Then, all of a
sudden, something seemed to strike him, for he turns to me and asks:
What sort of case did Bassett pack them two weights in?' 'Why,' I says,
'one of the provision cases; same sort as that head is packed in.'
'Then, by gum,' says he, 'we are going to steal a march on that
dishonest blighter, Bassett, if we can manage it. Do you know what marks
there were on that case?' Now, it happened that I did; for I had taken
the precaution to make a copy of the label. I showed it to Wicks and he
got a card like the one I had seen on Bassett's case and wrote the name
and address on it from my copy and tacked it on to Sanders's case.

"'And now,' says he, 'the question is how we are going to get that case
here from the station. We might take a taxi, but that wouldn't be very
safe. We don't want to leave no tracks.' Then I thought of Joe Wallis,
Bert Wallis's brother, what had a shop a couple of doors off and kept a
motor van for carting timber about."

"What is his trade?" Miller asked.

"He is a carpenter what does work for some small builders. He served his
time as a undertaker, but he give that up. Said it wasn't cheerful
enough. He didn't mind the coffins, but he couldn't stick the corpses.
Well, the end of it was that Wicks persuaded Joe to take on the job. I
don't know what story he told him, Of course, Joe didn't know what was
in either of the cases, but he is a big, strong chap and Wicks made it
worth his while. Being Sunday, he put on a leather coat and a cap like a
taxi-driver, for the sake of appearances.

"Well, Wicks got rid of Sanders's case all right and posted the ticket
off to Benfleet; and then, in the afternoon, he set off to do the more
ticklish job of swapping Sanders's case for Bassett's. But he brought it
off all right and got the right case safely to Bert's crib. Being
Sunday, Bert wasn't doing nothing, so we had the run of his workshop to
do our little job in."

"What is Bert's trade?" the Superintendent asked.

"He is a plumber," replied Bunter. "That's what he is."

"Oh!" said Miller, with a sly look. "Doesn't do anything in the pewter
and plaster mould line, I suppose?"

"I said he was a plumber," Bunter replied, haughtily; "and,
consequentially, he'd got a workshop with a big gas ring and some
melting-pots; which was just what we wanted.

"Well, we opened Bassett's case and there, sure enough, was the two lead
weights. And they seemed to be the right ones, by the punch marks on
them--22 and 25. So we took the biggest melting-pot, which was half full
of lead, and, when we had tipped the lump of lead out on the floor, we
put the pot on the ring and lighted up; and then we shoved one of the
lead weights in it.

"'Now,' says Wicks, 'we are going to make our fortunes. But we shall
have some difficulty in getting rid of this stuff. We shall have to go
slow.' So he sat on a chair by the gas ring and watched the weight and
made all sorts of plans for getting rid of the platinum. The weight was
a long time before it showed any signs of melting; but, at last it began
to slip down the pot, and me and Wicks leaned over the pot and watched
for the bits of platinum to stick out. But we couldn't see no sign of
them. We watched the weight as it slipped down further and further until
it had crumpled up and was all melted. But still we couldn't see nothing
of the platinum. Then Wicks got a iron rod and raked about in the melted
lead to see if he could feel the bits of platinum. But he couldn't. Then
he got a ladle and tried to fish out the bits that he couldn't see; and,
I tell you, he was fair sweating with anxiety, and so was I for that
matter. For nothing came up in the ladle but melted lead.

"Then I suggested that we should ladle out the whole of the lead, a
little at a time, into another pot, and I got three small empty pots and
set them alongside the big one; and Wicks ladled out the lead from the
big one into the little ones. But still we didn't come to the platinum.
And at last we come to the bottom of the pot; and then we could see that
there wasn't no platinum there.

"By this time Wicks was nearly blue with rage and disappointment, and I
was pretty sick, myself. However, we emptied the last drop of lead out
of the big pot and started to melt the other weight. But it was the same
story with that one. We ladled the lead out into the small pots, and, by
way of doing the thing thoroughly, took the big pot up by its handle and
drained the very last drop of lead out of it into the small pots. And
there wasn't a grain of platinum to be seen anywhere.

"My eye! You ought to have seen Wicks's face when he had done with the
second weight and tried it right out. His language was something awful,
And no wonder. For you see it wasn't no mistake. The numbers on the
weights was all right. It was a fair do. Bassett had deliberately sold
us a pup. He'd got a pair of the plain lead weights, hammered the
numbers out, and punched fresh numbers on them. It was a dirty trick,
but I suppose he must have suspected Wicks and got this plant ready for
him. At any rate, Wicks saw red, and he swore he would do Bassett in.
We'd got Bassett's address at Swanscombe, because we had got to go there
for the money that was owing to us when the swag should have been
disposed of; and, on the Tuesday, Wicks went off to see if Bassett was
at home, and, if he was, to have a few words with him. And that was the
last I ever saw of Wicks. When he didn't come home, I supposed he had
made himself scarce on account of the hue and cry about the head in the
case. Now I know that he must have tried to do Bassett in, and Bassett
must have got his whack in first. And that's all I know about the
business."

"Good," said Miller. "You've made a very straightforward statement, and
I can tell you that you have not done yourself any harm and what you
have told us will probably be quite helpful to us. I'll write it out
presently from my notes and you can read it, and, if you are satisfied
with it, I'll get you to sign it. In the meantime, I want to ask you one
or two questions. First of all, about this man Sanders; can you give us
any description of him?"

"He was a tall man," replied Bunter; "a good six foot if he had stood up
straight--which he didn't, having a stoop at the shoulders. I should put
his age at about fifty. He had dark hair and beard and he wore
spectacles."

"What kind of spectacles?" Thorndyke asked.

"I dunno," replied Bunter. "Spectacles is spectacles. I ain't a
optician."

"Some spectacles are large," said Thorndyke, "and some are small. Some
are round and some are oval, and some have a line across as if they had
been cracked. Would his fit any of those descriptions?"

"Why, yes, now you come to mention it. They was big, round spectacles
with a sort of crack across them. But it couldn't have been a crack
because it was the same in both eyes. I'd forgotten them until you
spoke."

I noticed that Miller had cast a quick look at Thorndyke and was now
eagerly writing down the description. Evidently, he "smelt a fox," and
so did I. For, though Thorndyke had not really put a "leading question,"
he had mentioned a very uncommon kind of spectacles--the old-fashioned
type of bi-focal, which is hardly ever made now, having been superseded
by the cemented or ground lunette. I had no doubt, nor, I think, had
Miller, that he was describing a particular pair of spectacles; and this
suspicion was strengthened by his next questions.

"Bid you notice anything peculiar in his voice or manner of speaking?"

"Nothing extraordinary," replied Bunter. "He'd got a squeaky voice, and
there's no denying it. And he didn't speak quite proper English, like
you and me. Seemed to speak a bit like a Dutchman."

I surmised that Mr. Bunter used the word "Dutchman" in a nautical sense,
meaning any sort of foreigner who was not a "Dago"; and so, apparently,
Thorndyke interpreted it, for he said:

"He spoke with a foreign accent? Was it a strong accent, or only
slight?"

"Oh, it was nothing to notice. You'd hardly have taken him for a
foreigner."

"Did you notice his nose?"

"You couldn't help noticing it. Lord! It was some boko. Reminded me of a
parrot. And it had got a pretty strong list to starboard."

"You would say that he had a large, curved, or hook nose, which was bent
towards the right. Is that so?"

"That's what I said."

"Then, Superintendent," said Thorndyke, "I think we have a working
description of Mr. Sanders. Shall we take a note of Mr. Bert Wallis's
address?"

"I don't see what you want with that," Bunter objected. "He didn't have
nothing to do with the job. We used his work-shop, but he didn't know
what we wanted it for."

"We realize that," said Thorndyke, "and we have nothing whatever against
him. But he may be able to give us some information on some other
matters. By the way, speaking of that lead that you ladled out of the
pot; what did you do with it?"

"Nothing. It wasn't no good to us. We just left it in the pots for Bert,
in case he had any use for it."

"And Bert's address is--?"

"Sixty-four Little Bolter Street, Walworth. But don't you go worrying
him. He don't know nothing what he didn't ought to."

"You needn't be afraid of our giving him any trouble," said Miller. "We
may not have to call on him at all, but, in any case it will only be a
matter of a few questions which he won't mind answering. And now,
perhaps you'd like another fag to smoke while I am writing up your
statement."

Mr. Bunter accepted the "fag" readily and even hinted that the making of
statements was dry work; on which Miller directed the sergeant to
provide him with a further half-pint. Meanwhile, Thorndyke and I, having
no concern with the formalities of the statement, went forth to stretch
our legs and take a more detailed survey of the waterside. When we
returned, the statement had been transcribed and duly signed by Mr.
Frederick Bunter. And this brought to an end a very satisfactory day's
work.



CHAPTER XVII--THE UNCONSCIOUS RECEIVERS


During the return journey, the Superintendent showed a natural
disposition to discuss the bearings of what we had learned from Bunter
and reckon up his gains in the matter of evidence.

"It was a pleasant surprise to me," said he, "to hear Bunter let himself
go in the way he did. I was afraid, from what the sergeant said, that we
shouldn't get much out of him."

"Yes," said I, "he was rather unexpectedly expansive. I think what
started him was your insistence that Wicks had got possession of the
platinum, when he knew, as he supposed, that Bassett had planted the
wrong weights. He was mightily staggered when you told him that the swag
had been recovered. Still, we've a good deal more to learn yet before we
shall know exactly what did happen."

"That is true," agreed Miller. "We've learned a lot from Bunter, but
there is a lot more that we don't know, and that Bunter doesn't know.
The question is, how much do we know? What do you say, Doctor? I should
like to hear you sum up what we have gained by this statement, and tell
us exactly how you think we stand."

"My feeling," said Thorndyke, "is that we have advanced our knowledge
considerably. We have shortened the gap between the two parts of the
problem which are known to us. When we came down, our knowledge of the
platinum ceased with its disappearance from the cloak room and began
again with its reappearance in the coffin. That was a big gap. But, as I
have said, that gap is now to a great extent filled up. The problem that
remains is to trace those lumps of alloy from Bert Wallis's workshop to
the false coffin; and I don't think that we shall have much difficulty
in doing it. But, before we proceed to count up our gains, we had better
consider what it is that we want to know.

"Now, I remind you that there are two distinct problems, which we had
better keep quite separate: the platinum robbery and the substituted
coffin. Bunter's statement bears on both, but we must not get them
confused. Let us take the robbery first. My impression is that we now
know all that we are likely to know about it. We all have probably
formed certain suspicions; but suspicions are of no use unless there is
some prospect of confirming them. And I do not think that there is. But,
after all, is there any object in pursuing the matter? The two visible
principals in the robbery are dead. As to poor Bunter, he was a mere
spectator. He never knew any of the details."

"He was, at least, an accessory after the fact," said Miller.

"True. But is he worth powder and shot? Remember, this robbery was
committed outside British jurisdiction. It will be an extradition case,
unless you charge Bunter with complicity in the theft from the cloak
room. It will be for the Latvian police to make the first move, which
they probably will not, as the property has been recovered and the
principal offenders are dead."

Miller reluctantly admitted the cogency of this argument.

"Still," he insisted, "there is more in it than that. Didn't it strike
you that certain parts of Bunter's statement seemed to suggest the
possibility that the robbery had been planned and engineered by our
friend, Gimbler?"

"It did," Thorndyke admitted. "That was what I meant when I spoke of
certain suspicions that we have formed. It would be possible, from
Bunter's statement, to build up quite a plausible argument to prove that
Gimbler was probably the moving spirit in that robbery. But it would be
a mere academic exercise; very entertaining, but quite unprofitable,
since the principals are dead and Bunter knows less than we do. There
are no means by which our suspicions could be put to the proof or our
knowledge enlarged."

"I expect you are right," Miller agreed, gloomily; "but I should like to
hear the argument, all the same."

"It will be a waste of time," said Thorndyke. "However, our time is not
very valuable just now, and there will be no harm in assembling the
relevant facts. Let us take them in order.

"1. Bunter had been defended on a criminal charge by Gimbler.

"2. Bunter was introduced to Bassett by 'a gentleman,' who must have,
therefore, known them both.

"3. A gentleman--apparently the same gentleman--introduced Wicks to
Bassett, and, therefore, knew Wicks.

"4. The said gentleman--assuming him to be the same in both cases--was,
therefore, acquainted with three persons who are known to us as having
been engaged in crime.

"5. One of these three persons--Bunter--was acquainted with Gimbler.

"6. The unknown 'gentleman,' who was acquainted with three criminals,
took an active and helpful part in the robbery inasmuch as he introduced
Bassett to persons who would be likely to agree to assist in the
carrying out of a criminal enterprise."

Those are the principal facts; and now as to their application. The
appearance of this mysterious 'gentleman,' acquainted with criminals and
apparently acting, at least as an accessory, strongly suggests someone
in the background directing, and possibly planning, this robbery. This
suggestion is reinforced by the fact that someone connected with the
robbery must have had a substantial amount of capital available. The
yacht, even if bought quite cheap, must have cost not less than a
hundred pounds; and then there were the considerable out-goings in
respect of the provisioning and fitting-out for the cruise, and the
payments of wages which seem to have been made, apart from the final
'bonus,' which might have been paid out of the proceeds of the robbery.
Of course, Bassett may have had the money; but it is not probable.
Persons who get their livelihood by crime are not usually capitalists.
There is a strong suggestion that the 'gentleman' was behind the robbery
in a financial sense as well as furnishing the brains and management.
This is all reasonable inference--though of no evidential value. But
when we try to give a name to this mysterious 'gentleman,' our
inferences become highly speculative. However, let us speculate. Let us
propose the hypothesis that the hidden hand behind this robbery was the
hand of Mr. Horatio Gimbler, What is there to support that hypothesis?

"First, there is the coffin. It contained the proceeds of this robbery.
Gimbler was not aware of the fact; but the circumstance that it was
there establishes the fact of some sort of contact between Gimbler and
the persons who were concerned in the robbery. The persons whom he dealt
with in the preparation of the coffin had dealings with the persons who
carried out the robbery."

"There isn't much in that," I objected. "It might have been pure
chance."

"So it might," he agreed, "and there is very little in it, as you say.
But circumstantial evidence is made up of little things. I merely assert
that some sort of connexion is established.

"The next point is that, of the three criminals engaged in this robbery,
the only one known to us--Bunter--was acquainted with Gimbler. But
Bunter was also acquainted with the unknown gentleman. There isn't much
in that, taken alone; but it points in the same direction as the other
facts.

"And now let us consider how Gimbler fits the character of the
hypothetical person who may have directed and financed the robbery.

"First, this hypothetical person must have had a somewhat extensive
acquaintance with members of the criminal class in order to be able to
select suitable persons to carry out this rather peculiar and
specialized piece of work. Criminals with a practical knowledge of
seamanship cannot be very common. But Gimbler has a very extensive
acquaintance with the criminal class.

"The next point is that this hypothetical person must have had a modest
amount of capital at his disposal, say two or three hundred pounds. We
do not know much of Gimbler's circumstances, but it would be very
remarkable if he were not able to produce that amount to finance a
scheme which was likely to yield a profit of thousands. But, as there
must be innumerable persons in the same financial position, this
argument has no significance. It is merely an argument.

"Finally, our hypothetical person must have combined considerable
ingenuity with extreme dishonesty. Here there is undoubted agreement;
but, unfortunately, Gimbler is in this respect far from unique.

"That is the argument; and, as you see, though it is enough to allow of
our entertaining a suspicion of Gimbler, it is not enough to establish
the most flimsy _prima facie_ case. If Gimbler was the hidden director
of this crime, he was extremely well hidden, and I think he will remain
hidden. Probably, Bassett was the only person who knew the whole of the
facts."

"Yes," Miller agreed, glumly, "I'm afraid you are right. Unless the
Latvian police raise an outcry, it will probably be best to let the
matter drop. After all, the robbery failed and we have got the stuff
back. Still, I feel in my bones that Gimbler engineered the job, and I
should have liked to lay my hands on him. But, as you say, he kept out
of sight and is out of sight still. He always does keep out of sight,
damn him!"

"Not always," said Thorndyke. "You are forgetting the other case--the
counterfeit coffin. That is an entirely different matter. There he is
already in full view. A manifest fraud has been committed, and there are
only two persons who could possibly be suspected of having committed
it--Gimbler and Pippet. Actually, I suppose, no one suspects Pippet. But
he is the claimant in whose interest--ostensibly--the fraud was
perpetrated, and it is certain that Gimbler will try to put it on him,
If it were not for Pippet, you could arrest Gimbler tomorrow and be
confident of a conviction. As it is, direct evidence against Gimbler is
a necessity, and it is for you, Miller, to secure that evidence. I think
you will not have much difficulty, with the facts now in our
possession."

"No," said Miller, "we seem to have got a pretty good lead from Bunter;
but, all the same, I should like to hear your views on the evidence that
we have."

"Well," said Thorndyke, "let us approach the problem from both ends. At
one end we have four lumps of metal, one lead and three alloy, in the
workshop of a plumber, Bert Wallis. At the other we have the same four
lumps of metal in a coffin; and the problem is to bridge the interval
between the two appearances.

"Now, the fact that those four lumps appeared together in the coffin is
evidence that the interval was quite short. There were no intermediate
wanderings during which they might have become separated. We may be sure
that the passage from the workshop to the coffin was pretty direct; in
effect, we may assume that the man who prepared the coffin got his lead
from Bert Wallis. The next inference is very obvious, though it may be
erroneous. But when we consider that a couple of doors from Bert
Wallis's premises were those of a man who had served his time as an
undertaker, and who was, therefore, capable of making a perfectly
correct and workmanlike coffin; who had a motor van and who was Bert
Wallis's brother; it is impossible to ignore the probability that the
coffin was made by Joe Wallis. He had all the means of carrying out the
substitution--you will remember that there was a cart shed adjoining the
wall of the burial ground, in which a van could be conveniently hidden,
and from which the coffin could be easily passed over the wall--and, if
he had done the job, he would presumably have got his lead from his
brother whose premises were close by. The only weak place in the
argument is that we are accusing a man, who may be a perfectly honest
and reputable tradesman, of being concerned in a crime."

"I don't think you need worry yourself about that," said Miller. "You
heard what I said to Bunter on the subject of pewter and plaster moulds.
He knew what I meant. There had been some suspicion that Mr. Bert Wallis
occasionally turned his hand to the manufacture of counterfeit coin. It
was never brought home to him; but the fact that Bunter--who lives with
him when he is at home--had been charged with issuing counterfeit money
(which I had not heard of before) gives colour to the suspicion. And
Bunter, himself, as we know, is a decidedly shady customer. I don't
think we need have any scruples of delicacy in giving Mr. Joseph Wallis
a little attention. I'll call and have a friendly talk with him."

"I shouldn't do that," said Thorndyke; "at least, not in the first
place. It would be much better to make the initial attack on Bert.
There, you have something definite to go on. You know that the metal was
in his workshop. And, if he has not heard of the facts disclosed in the
Probate Court, or has not connected them with the metal that he had, you
will have a good opening for an inquiry as to what has become of certain
valuable property which is known to have been in his possession. When he
learns what the value of that metal was, I fancy you may look for an
explosion which may give you the leading facts before he has realized
the position. Besides, there is the possibility that he gave away or
sold the metal without any knowledge of its origin."

"So there is," agreed Miller, leaning back to laugh with more comfort,
"in fact, it is quite probable. My eye! What a lark it will be! I shall
go straight on from Fenchurch Street. Couldn't I persuade you to come
with me and do some of the talking?"

Thorndyke required no persuading, nor did I, for the interview promised
to be highly entertaining. Accordingly, the arrangement was made and the
plan of campaign settled; and, on our arrival at the terminus, after a
brief halt at the buffet for a sandwich and a glass of beer, we made our
way to the tube railway, by which we were conveyed to the "Elephant and
Castle."

"By the way," said I, as Miller struck out towards the Walworth Road, "I
suppose you have got the address?"

"Yes," was the reply, "I got it from Bunter when he signed the
statement. It's in East Street. I made a note of the number."

He brought out his note-book and glanced at it as we threaded our way
through the multitude that thronged the pavement. Presently he turned to
the left down a side street and walked on with his eyes on the numbers
of the houses.

"This is the show," he said, at length, halting before a seedy-looking
plumber's shop, the façade of which bore the inscription, 'A. Wallis.'
"Shop looks as if it was open."

It was, technically, although the door was closed; but it yielded to a
push, announcing the fact by the jangling of a bell, which brought a man
out of the parlour at the back. Apparently, we had disturbed him at a
meal, for his jaws were working as he came out, and he looked at us
inquiringly without speaking. Perhaps "inquiringly" hardly expresses the
kind of look that he gave us. It was a mere coincidence, but it happened
that we were, all three, over six feet in height, and Miller, at least,
looked a good deal like what he was.

The Superintendent opened the ball. "You are Mr. Bert Wallis, I think?"

Mr. Wallis nodded, chewing frantically. Finally, he bolted his mouthful
and replied: "Yes, that's who I am. What about it?

"My friend here, Br. Thorndyke, who is a lawyer, wants to make a few
inquiries of you."

Mr. Wallis turned to Thorndyke but made no comment, having, apparently,
some slight arrears to dispose of in the matter of chewing.

"My inquiries," said Thorndyke, "have reference to certain valuable
property which came into your possession some time ago."

"Valuable property in my possession," said Wallis. "It's the first I
have heard of it. What property are you talking about?"

"It is a quantity of metal," replied Thorndyke. "You had it from two men
named Wicks and Bunter."

Wallis stared at Thorndyke for a few seconds; and, gradually, the look
of apprehension faded from his countenance and gave place to one of
amusement. His mouth extended laterally until it exhibited an undeniable
grin.

"I know what you are talking about, now," he chuckled; "but you've got
hold of the wrong end of the stick altogether. I'll tell you how it
happened. Them two silly fools, Wicks and Bunter, thought they had got
hold of some valuable stuff. I don't know what they thought it was, but
they asked me to let them melt it down in my workshop. I didn't much
like the idea of it, because I didn't know what stuff it was or how they
had got it; but, as Bunter is my wife's brother and I knew Wicks, I
didn't quite like to refuse. So I let them have the run of my workshop
on a Sunday night when I was out, and they did the job. They melted down
this here valuable stuff; and what do you suppose it turned out to be,
after all?"

Thorndyke shook his head and waited for the answer.

"It was _lead!"_ Wallis exclaimed with a triumphant giggle. "Just think
of it! These two silly asses had put theirselves to no end of trouble
and expense to get hold of this stuff--I don't know how they did get
hold of it--and when they come to melt it down, it was just lead, worth
about twopence a pound! But, my aunt! Wasn't they blooming sick! You
ought to have heard the language that Wicks used!"

The recollection of this anticlimax amused him so much that he laughed
aloud and had perforce to wipe his eyes with a handkerchief which might
once have been clean.

"And what became of this lead?" asked Thorndyke. "Did they take it away
with them?"

"No," replied Wallis. "It wasn't no good to them. They just left it in
the pots."

"And is it in your workshop still?" asked Thorndyke.

"No, it ain't. I sold it to a builder for five bob, which paid for the
gas that they had used and left a bit over."

"Do you know what the builder wanted it for?"

"Said he wanted some lead for to fix some iron railings in their
sockets."

"Did he take the whole of it?"

"Yes; he took the whole boiling of it, and a small roll of sheet lead as
well. But the sheet wasn't included in the five bob."

"Do you mind telling us the name of this builder?" Thorndyke asked.

Wallis looked rather hard at Thorndyke, and the slightly apprehensive
expression reappeared on his face.

"I don't see as his name is neither here nor there," said he. "What's
all the fuss about? You was speaking of valuable property. Lead ain't
valuable property."

"For legal reasons," said Thorndyke, "I wish to trace that lead and see
where it went to. And there is no reason for you to be secret about it.
The transaction between you and the builder was a perfectly lawful
transaction; but I should like to ascertain from the builder exactly
what he did with the lead."

The plumber was evidently still a little uneasy, but the question was so
simple and straightforward that he could hardly refuse to answer.

"Well," he replied, grudgingly, "if you must know, the builder what I
sold the lead to was my brother, Joe Wallis, what lives a couple of
doors further up the street."

"Thank you," said Thorndyke. Then, turning to Miller, he said: "That is
all I wanted to know. Probably Mr. Joe Wallis will be able to help us a
stage further. Is there anything that you want to ask?"

"No," replied Miller; "that seems to be all plain sailing. I don't think
we need trouble Mr. Wallis any further."

With this, Thorndyke thanked the plumber for the assistance
that he had given and we took our departure. As soon as we
were outside, the Superintendent broke out into low-voiced
self-congratulations--low-voiced--by reason of the fact that
Mr. Wallis had taken his post at the shop door to observe our further
movements.

"It was just as well," said Miller, "that you were able to get the
information without letting the cat out of the bag. It has saved a lot
of chin-wagging. But I expect we shan't have such an easy job with our
friend Joseph. Bert had nothing to conceal; but Joseph must have been in
the swim to some extent. This is his house."

The premises, which bore the superscription, "J. Wallis, Builder and
Decorator," were divided into two parts, a carpenter's shop and an
office. We entered the latter, and, as it was at the moment unoccupied,
the Superintendent thumped on the counter with his stick; which brought
out from some inner lair a very large youth of about eighteen who
saluted us with an amiable grin.

"Dad in?" inquired Miller, making a chance shot; which was justified by
the result, as the youth replied:

"Yes. What's it about?"

"This gentleman, Dr. Thorndyke, wants to see him on important legal
business," Miller replied; whereupon the youth grinned again and
retired. In about a minute he returned and requested us to "walk this
way," indicating the direction by walking in advance. We followed him
across a hail and up a flight of stairs to a door, which he opened, and,
having seen us enter, once more departed.

The room was quite an interesting survival--a typical example of a
Victorian tradesman's drawing room, with the typical close, musty smell.
As we entered, I noticed that Thorndyke cast his eyes down and then took
a quick glance at the window. But there was no time for detailed
observation, for we were almost immediately followed by a man whom I
judged from his stature and a certain family resemblance to be "Dad."
But the resemblance did not extend to the amiable grin, On the contrary,
the newcomer viewed us with an expression compounded of a sort of foxy
curiosity and a perceptible tinge of hostility.

"Which of you is Dr. Thorndyke?" he inquired.

My colleague introduced himself, and the inevitable question followed.

"And who are these other two gentlemen?"

"This," replied Miller, indicating me, "is Dr. Jervis, also a lawyer;
and"--here he produced a professional card and pushed it across an
'occasional table,' "that's who I am."

Mr. Wallis studied the card for a few moments, and the hostility of his
expression became more pronounced. Nevertheless, he said with gruff
civility: "Well, you may as well sit down," and gave us a lead by
sitting down, himself, in an arm-chair.

"Now," said he, "what's this important legal business?"

"It is concerned," said Thorndyke, "with certain property which came
into your hands and which you had from your brother, Albert Wallis."

"Property what I had from my brother Albert Wallis!" our friend repeated
in obviously genuine surprise. "I haven't had no property from him. What
do you mean?"

"I am referring to certain pieces of metal which you bought from him
about three months ago."

Mr. Joseph continued to stare at Thorndyke for some seconds.

"Pieces of metal!" he repeated, at length. "I haven't bought no pieces
of metal from him, You've made a mistake."

"The metal that I am referring to," said Thorndyke, "consisted of a roll
of sheet lead and some remainders from melting-pots."

"Gawd!" exclaimed Joseph, contemptuously, "you don't call that property,
do you? I gave him five bob for the lot, and that was more than it was
worth."

"So I understood," said Thorndyke. "But we have reasons for wishing to
trace that metal. We have managed to trace it to you, and we should be
greatly obliged if you would tell us what has become of it, supposing it
not to be still in your possession."

At this persistence on Thorndyke's part, the hostility expressed in
Joseph's countenance became tinged with unmistakeable uneasiness.
Nevertheless, he answered truculently enough:

"I don't see what business it is of yours what I do with the material
that I buy. But, if you must know, I used that sheet lead for making a
damp-course, and the other stuff for fixing some iron railings in a
stone kerb."

"Then," said Miller, "somebody has got some pretty valuable iron
railings."

Wallis looked at him inquiringly, and from him to Thorndyke.

"Perhaps," said the latter, "I had better explain. Some time ago, two
men, one of whom was named Wicks, stole a case containing a quantity of
platinum from the cloak room at Fenchurch Street. They took it to the
house of your brother Albert, who, not knowing what it was, or anything
about it, allowed them to melt it down in his workshop. But, when they
had melted it down, they did not recognize it. They thought it was lead,
and that they had taken the wrong case. So they left the lumps in the
melting-pots for your brother to do what he pleased with. But he, also,
did not recognize the metal. He, also, thought that it was lead; and he
sold the whole consignment to you for five shillings. And I take it that
you, like the others, mistook it for lead."

Mr. Wallis had suddenly become attentive and interested.

"Certainly, I took it for lead," said he. "And you say it was platinum.
That's rather expensive stuff, isn't it?"

"The little lot," said Miller, "that you bought for five shillings has
been valued at just under eighteen thousand pounds."

That "knocked him," as they say in the Old Kent Road, For some seconds
he sat speechless, clutching the arms of his chair and staring at Miller
as if he had been some dreadful apparition.

"Eighteen thousand pounds!" he exclaimed, at length, in something
approaching a screech. "Eighteen--thousand--pounds! And to think--"

"Yes," said Miller, "to think of those iron railings. We shall have to
see that you don't go rooting them up."

Mr. Wallis made no reply. As with the dying gladiator, "his thoughts
were far away," and I had little doubt whither they had strayed. I do
not profess to be a thought-reader; but the expression on Joseph's face
conveyed clearly to me that he had, in that moment, decided, as soon as
the night fell, to make a bee-line for Josiah Pippet's vault. His
reverie was interrupted by Thorndyke.

"So, Mr. Wallis," said he, "you will understand our natural anxiety to
find out where this metal went to."

"But I've told you," said Wallis, rousing himself from dreams of sudden
opulence, "so far as I can recollect, that I used the stuff to plant
some iron railings."

As we seemed to have got into a blind alley, the Superintendent abruptly
changed his tone.

"Never mind about those iron railings," he said, sharply. "We want to
know what you did with that stuff. Are you going to tell us?"

"I have told you," Wallis replied doggedly. "You can't expect me to
remember what I did with every bit of lead that I bought."

"Very well," said Miller, "then perhaps it might help your memory if we
were to do a bit of supposing. What do you say?"

"You can if you like," Joseph replied, sulkily, "so long as you don't
ask me to help you."

"Now, Wallis," said Miller, "you've got to bear this in mind. Those two
fools didn't know this stuff when they had got it in their hands, and
neither did you or Bert. But there were other people who knew what was
in that case. Bassett, the man who murdered Wicks, knew, because he put
the stuff in the Case. And there was another man, a very artful
gentleman, who kept out of sight but who knew all about it. We mustn't
mention names, so we will just call him Mr. Rumbler, because he rumbled
what had happened.

"Now, supposing this Mr. Rumbler, knowing where the stuff had been left
by those two gabeys, had a bright idea for getting hold of it without
showing his hand. Supposing he went to a certain undertaker whose place
was close to Bert's and pitched him a yarn about wanting a dummy coffin
weighted with lead. Supposing he employed him to make that coffin,
knowing that he would be certain to get his lead from Bert, and plant it
in a nice convenient vault in a disused burial ground--say, somewhere
out Stratford way--where he could get at it easily with a big skeleton
key and a tommy to turn it with. How's that? Mind you, I am only
supposing."

As Miller recited his fable, a cloud fell on Mr. Wallis's countenance.
The dream of sudden opulence was dissipated. The resurrection job was
obviously "off." But, glum as the expression of Joseph's face became,
the effect produced was not quite the one on which Miller had based his
calculations.

"If you know where the coffin is," was the natural comment, "why don't
you go and open it and take the stuff out?"

"Because," Miller replied, impressively, "the stuff isn't there.
Somebody has had the coffin open and taken it out."

Even this did not answer. Wallis looked sulky enough, but he had not
gorged the bait.

"I don't believe there is any coffin," said he. "You've just invented it
to try to get me to say something."

I detected an expression of grim amusement on Thorndyke's face. Perhaps
he was contrasting--as I was--Miller's present proceedings with the
lofty standard of veracity among police officers that he had presented
to Bunter. But I was also aware of some signs of impatience. As a matter
of fact, all these artful probings on Miller's part were getting us
nowhere. Moreover, we had really ascertained nearly all that we wanted
to know.

"Perhaps," said Thorndyke, "as I am not a police officer, I may venture
to be a little more explicit with Mr. Wallis. We are not interested in
the present whereabouts of this platinum. We know where it is; but we
want to know exactly how it got there. As to the coffin, we have
evidence that it was made by you, Mr. Wallis, and planted by you in the
vault. But this coffin was made to some person's order, and we want to
know with certainty who that person is. At present, our information is
to the effect that it was made to the order of a Mr. Gimbler, a
solicitor who resides in the neighbourhood of Kennington. But Mr.
Gimbler has managed to keep, to some extent, out of sight and put the
whole responsibility on you. Even the dust that was found in the vault
was your dust. It came from this very room."

At this latter statement, Wallis started visibly, and so did Miller.

"Yes, by Jove!" the latter exclaimed, after a glance at the floor and
another at the window, "here is the identical carpet that you described
in court, and there are the blue cotton curtains."

"So you see, Mr. Wallis," Thorndyke continued, "you have nothing to
conceal respecting the coffin. The facts are known to us. The question
is, are you prepared to tell us the name of the person to whose order
this coffin was made?"

"If you know his name," was the reply, "you don't want me to tell you."

"Your evidence," said Thorndyke, "would save us a good deal of trouble,
and perhaps it might save you some trouble, too. Are you prepared to
tell us who this person was?"

"No," was the dogged reply. "I'm not going to tell you nothing. The
least said the soonest mended. I don't know nothing about any coffin,
and I don't believe there ever was any coffin."

At this reply Miller's face hardened, and I think he was about to pursue
the matter farther; but Thorndyke calmly and civilly brought the
interview to a close.

"Well, Mr. Wallis," said he, "you must do as you think best. I feel that
you would have been wiser to have been more open with us; but we cannot
compel you to give us information which you choose to withhold."

With this, he rose, and Miller reluctantly followed suit, looking
distinctly sulky. But nothing further was said until, shepherded by our
host, we had descended to the office and had been thence launched into
the street. Then Miller made his protest.

"I think, Doctor," said he, "that it is a pity you didn't let me play
him a little longer. I believe he would have let on if we had kept
rubbing into him that he had been used as a cat's paw by Gimbler to get
hold of that platinum."

"I don't think he would," said Thorndyke. "He is an obstinate man, and
he evidently doesn't like the idea of turning upon his employer; and we
can hardly blame him for that. But, after all, Miller, what would have
been the use of going on with him? We have got a complete train of
evidence. We have got Bunter's written and signed statement that he left
the platinum in Bert Wallis's workshop. We have got Bert Wallis's
statement, made before witnesses, that he sold the stuff to his brother
Joe Wallis. We have got Joe Wallis's statement, made before witnesses,
that he bought the stuff from Bert. We know that Joe is a coffin maker,
and that the stuff was found in a coffin, together with certain dust
which came from a room which was identical in character with Joe
Wallis's drawing room. The agreement is complete, even without the
dust."

"So it is," Miller agreed; "but it proves the wrong thing. We can fix
this job on Joseph all right. But it isn't Joseph that we want. He is
only the jackal; but we want the lion--Gimbler. And if Joseph won't
talk, we've got no direct evidence against Gimbler."

Thorndyke shook his head. "You are magnifying the difficulties, Miller,"
said he. "I don't know what you, or the Public Prosecutor, may propose
to do; but I can tell you what I am going to do, if you don't. I am
going to lay a sworn information charging Gimbler with having conspired
with Joseph Wallis to commit certain fraudulent acts including the
manufacture of false evidence, calculated and intended to defeat the
ends of justice. We have enough evidence to convict him without any
assistance from Wallis; but I think you will find that Joseph, when he
discovers that he is involved in a fraud of which he knew nothing, will
be far from willing to share the burden of that fraud with Gimbler. I
think you can take it that Joseph will tell all that he knows (and
perhaps a little more) when we begin to turn the screw. At any rate, I
am quite satisfied with my case against Gimbler."

"Well, Doctor," said Miller in a less gloomy tone, "if you see your way
to a conviction, I have nothing more to say. It's all I want."

Here the subject dropped; and the effect of the sandwiches having by
this time worn off, we agreed with one accord to seek some reputable
place of entertainment to make up the arrears in the matter of
nourishment. As those arrears were somewhat considerable, the settling
of them occupied our whole attention for a time; and it was not until
our cravings had been satisfied and the stage of coffee and pipes had
been reached that Miller suddenly raised a question which I had been
expecting, and which I had secretly decided to raise, myself, at the
first opportunity.

"By the way, Doctor," said he, "what about that head in the box? All
these alarums and excursions in chase of that blooming platinum had
driven it out of my head. But, now that we have done with the metal, at
least for the present, supposing we have a word about the box. From the
questions that you put to Bunter, it is clear to me that you have given
the matter more attention than I had supposed; and it is obvious that
you know something. I wonder how much you know."

"Not very much," replied Thorndyke; "but I shall probably know more when
I have made a few inquiries. You are so far right that I have given the
affair some attention, though not a great deal. But when I heard of the
discovery in the cloak room, and afterwards read the account of the
inquest, I formed certain opinions--quite speculatively, of course--as
to what the incident probably meant; and I even formed a still more
speculative opinion as to the identity of one, at least, of the persons
who might be concerned in the affair. Bunter's account of the passenger
with the parcel seemed to agree with my hypothesis, and his answers to
my questions seemed to support my identification of the person. That is
all. Of actual, definite knowledge I have none."

"And your opinions," said Miller, a trifle sourly, "I suppose you are
going to keep to yourself."

"For the present, I propose to," Thorndyke replied, suavely. "You can
see, from what Bunter said, that the affair is of no importance to you.
If a crime has been committed, it has not been committed within your
jurisdiction. But leave the matter in my hands for a little longer. I
believe that I shall be able to elucidate it; and you know that you can
depend on me to keep nothing from you that ought, as a matter of public
policy, to be communicated to you."

"Yes, I know that," Miller admitted, grudgingly, "and I see that the
case is not what we supposed it to be. Very well, Doctor. Have it your
own way, but let us have the information as soon as it is available."

Thorndyke made the required promise; and, if the Superintendent was not
as satisfied as he professed to be, it was only because, like me, he was
devoured with curiosity as to what the solution of the mystery might be.



CHAPTER XVIII--THE END OF THE CASE AND OTHER MATTERS


The proceedings in the Probate Court at the third hearing of the
Winsborough Peerage Case were brief but somewhat dramatic. As soon as
the judge had taken his seat, Mr. McGonnell rose and addressed him to
the following effect:

"I have, this morning, my lord, to bring to your lordship's notice
certain facts which would seem to make it unnecessary to proceed with
the case which has been before the court. That case was an application
by Mr. Christopher Pippet for permission to presume the death of Percy
Engleheart, Sixth Earl of Winsborough. Now, in the interval since the
last hearing, information has reached the Earl's representatives that
the said Earl Percy died about three years ago."

"You say 'about' three years ago," said the judge.

"The exact date, my lord, has not been ascertained, and is not,
apparently, ascertainable, but it is believed that the Earl's death took
place some time in March, 1918. The uncertainty, however, relates only
to the time when the death occurred; of the fact that it did occur there
appears to be no doubt at all. I understand that the body has been
recovered and identified and is being sent to England. These facts were
communicated to me by Mr. Brodribb; and perhaps the Earl's
representatives might more properly inform your lordship as to the exact
circumstances in which the Earl's death occurred."

Here McGonnell sat down and Anstey took up the tale.

"The tidings of the Earl's death, my lord, were conveyed to us in a
letter written by a certain Major Pitt at Pará and dated the 13th of
last October. The facts set forth in that letter were briefly these:

"In the latter part of 1917 and the beginning of 1918, Major Pitt and
the Earl were travelling together in the neighbourhood of the River
Amazon, shooting, collecting and exploring. About the middle of January,
1918, the Earl announced his intention to explore the tract of country
inhabited by the Munderucu Indians; and, as Major Pitt had planned a
journey along the main stream of the Amazon, they separated and went
their respective ways. That was the last time that Major Pitt saw the
Earl alive, and for three years he had no knowledge of the Earl's
whereabouts or what he was doing. The Major, himself, made a long
journey and was several times laid up for long periods with severe
attacks of fever. It was not until the spring of the present year that
he, at last, got tidings as to what had befallen his friend. Then,
taking the Munderucu country on his way back to the coast, he learned
from some natives that a white man had come to the country some three
years previously and had died from fever soon after his arrival, which
would be about March, 1918.

"On this, Major Pitt made more particular inquiries, the result of which
was to leave no doubt that the man who had died could be none other than
the Earl Percy. However, the Major, realizing the importance of accurate
information, not only assembled the dead man's effects--a considerable
part of which he was able to recover, and which he was, of course, able
to identify--but he went so far as to cause the body to be disinterred.
Naturally, it was, in the ordinary sense, unrecognizable; but by the
stature and by certain characters, particularly the teeth, some of which
had been filled with gold, he was able to identify it with certainty as
the body of Earl Percy.

"But, to make assurance doubly sure, he commissioned the natives--who
have great skill in preserving bodies--to preserve this corpse, in so
far as there was anything to preserve, so that it could be sent to
England for further examination if such examination should seem
necessary or expedient. But the Major's description of the body, the
clothing, the weapons, scientific instruments and other effects,
together with the natives' description of the man, the time of his
arrival, and all the other circumstances, leave no doubt whatever that
this man was really the Earl Percy."

"In that case," said the judge, "if the fact of the Earl's death is to
be accepted as proved, the application for permission to presume death
necessarily lapses, automatically. And the applicant's claim to be the
heir presumptive also lapses. He will now claim to be the heir; and that
claim will have to be preferred in another place."

"I understand, my lord," said McGonnell, "that it is not proposed to
proceed with the claim. That is what I am informed by Mr. Pippet."

The judge glanced at the vacant solicitors' table and then asked:

"Was that decision reached on the advice of his solicitor?"

"No, my lord. Mr. Gimbler is not in court, and, I believe, is absent
from his residence. I understand that he has been unexpectedly called
away from home."

The judge received this piece of information with an inscrutable face.

"It is not for me to express an opinion," he remarked, "as to whether
Mr. Pippet is well or ill advised to abandon his claim; but I may point
out that the crucial question is still in suspense. According to the
evidence which we have heard, the coffin which was examined was not the
coffin of Josiah Pippet, and, consequently, the question whether the
funeral was a real or a sham funeral has not been settled, It is
unfortunate that that important issue should have been confused by what
look like highly irregular proceedings; concerning which I may say that
they will call for further investigation and that I shall consider it my
duty to hand the papers in this case to the Director of Public
Prosecutions."

This rather ominous observation brought the proceedings to an end; and,
as we were no longer litigants, the whole party trooped out of the court
to gather in the great hail for more or less friendly, unofficial
discussion. Mr. Pippet was the first to speak.

"His lordship," he remarked, "was extremely delicate in his language. I
should call the proceedings in regard to that coffin something more than
irregular."

"His lordship," McGonnell remarked, "was probably bearing in mind that
all the facts are not known. He, no doubt, has his suspicions as to what
has happened and who is responsible; but, until the suspicions have been
verified, it is as well not to be too explicit in assigning
responsibility to individuals."

Mr. Pippet smiled grimly. "It is well for you to say that, Mr.
McGonnell," said he, "seeing that both you and I are involved in those
suspicions. But I am not inclined to take this business lying down, if
you are. Gimbler was acting as my agent and I suppose I am responsible
for whatever he chose to do, ostensibly in my interests. But I presume I
have some remedy. Is it possible for me to prosecute him? You are my
legal adviser. I put the question to you. What remedy have I for being
involved in this discreditable affair?"

Mr. McGonnell looked uncomfortable, as well he might, for he was in an
unpleasant position in more than one respect. After a few moments'
reflection, he replied:

"I have as little reason as you have to be pleased with the turn of
events. If a fraud has been committed in this case, that will not
enhance my professional reputation. But I must again remind you that we
have not got all the facts. It does certainly appear as if that coffin
had been tampered with; and if it had, the responsibility lies between
you and me and Mr. Gimbler. Evidently, the suspicion lies principally on
Gimbler. But, having regard to the fact that a quantity of stolen
property--which was certainly not his--was found in the coffin, there
is a clear possibility that the coffin may have been tampered with by
some persons for their own purposes and without his knowledge. We have
to bear that in mind before we make any direct accusations."

"That is a very ingenious suggestion," said Mr. Pippet, "but it doesn't
seem to commend itself to me. I should leave it to him to prove, if he
can."

McGonnell shook his head. "That is not the position, at all, Mr.
Pippet," said he. "If you assert that Gimbler planted a sham coffin in
the vault, it will be for you to prove that he did, not for him to prove
that he did not. But I think that you had better take the advice of a
solicitor on the subject, or, at any rate, of some lawyer other than me.
You will understand that I shall naturally be reluctant to be the first
to set up a hue and cry after a man who has been my colleague in this
case. If he has committed a fraud, I hope that he will receive the
punishment that he will have deserved; but I should rather that some
hand other than mine delivered the blow."

"I understand and respect your point of view," said Pippet, "but it
leaves me high and dry without any legal guidance."

Here Thorndyke interposed. "If I might venture to offer you a word of
advice, Mr. Pippet," said he, "it would be that you do nothing at all.
If any offence against the law has been committed, you may rely on the
proper authorities to take the necessary measures."

"But suppose they regard me as the offender?"

"When you are accused, it will be time to take measures of defence. At
present, no one is accusing you--at least, I think I may say so. Am I
right, Superintendent?" he asked, turning to Miller, who had been
unostentatiously listening to the conversation.

The Superintendent was guarded in his reply. "Speaking personally," said
he, "I am certainly not accusing Mr. Pippet of any complicity in this
fraud, if there has really been a fraud. Later, I may have to apply to
him for some information as to his relations with Mr. Gimbler; but that
is in the future. For the present, your advice to him is the best. Just
wait and see what happens."

"And meanwhile," said Thorndyke, "if it appears that Mr. Gimbler has
withdrawn himself from among us permanently, I am sure that Mr. Brodribb
will consent to take charge of your affairs so far as recovery of
documents and other winding up details are concerned."

To this, Brodribb agreed readily, to Mr. Pippet's evident relief.

"Then," said the latter, "as we have disposed of business matters, I am
going to propose that we make up a little luncheon party to celebrate
the end of the Winsborough Peerage Case. I'd like to have the whole
crowd, but I suspect that there are one or two who will cry off."

His suspicions were confirmed on particular inquiry. McGonnell had
business at the Central Criminal Court; Mrs. Engleheart and Miss Pippet
had some secret mission, the nature of which they refused to divulge,
and Anstey had other legal fish to fry.

"Am I to have the pleasure of your lordship's company at lunch?" Pippet
inquired, fixing a twinkling eye on Mr. Giles, and obviously convinced
that he was not.

Giles laughed, knowingly. "I should have been delighted," said he, "to
lunch with my noble cousin, or uncle, or whatever he is, but I have an
engagement with another noble cousin. I am taking Jenny to the Zoo to
show her the new chimpanzee, and we shall get our lunch on the way."

Mr. Pippet shook his head resignedly and turned to the faithful few,
consisting of Thorndyke, Brodribb Miller and myself, and suggested an
immediate adjournment. Thorndyke and I retired to the robing room to
divest ourselves of our legal war-paint, and, on emerging, rejoined the
party at the main gate, where two taxis were already waiting, and were
forthwith conveyed to Mr. Pippet's hotel.

Throughout these proceedings and those of the subsequent luncheon, I was
aware of a rather curious feeling of pleased surprise at our host's
attitude and apparent state of mind. Especially did I admire the
sporting spirit in which he accepted his defeat. He was not in the least
cast down; and, apart from the discreditable incidents in the conduct of
the case, he appeared perfectly satisfied with the result. But the
oddest thing to me was his friendly and even deferential attitude
towards Thorndyke. A stranger, unacquainted with the circumstances,
might have supposed my colleague to be the leading counsel who had
achieved a notable victory for Mr. Pippet, instead of an expert witness
who had, vulgarly speaking, "put the kybosh" on Mr. Pippet's case. Any
pique that he might, quite naturally, have felt seemed to be swallowed
up by a keen sporting interest in the manner in which he had been
defeated; and I was not surprised when, as the luncheon approached the
coffee and cigar stage, he began to put out feelers for more detailed
information.

"This trial," said he, "has been to me an education and an
entertainment. I've enjoyed every bit of it, and I'm only sorry that we
missed the judge's summing-up and reasoned decision. But the real
tit-bit of the entertainment was Dr. Thorndyke's evidence. What
delighted me was the instantaneous way in which every move in the game
was spotted and countered. Those screws, now; it was all obvious enough
when it was explained. But the astonishing thing was that, not only was
the character of those screws observed, but the significance of that
character appreciated in a moment. I want you to tell me, Doctor, how
you manage to keep your eyes perpetually skinned, and your brain skinned
at the same time."

Thorndyke smiled appreciatively as he thoughtfully filled his pipe.

"You are giving me more credit than is due, Mr. Pippet," said he. "You
are assuming that certain reactions were instantaneous which were, in
fact, quite deliberate, and that certain deceptive appearances were
exhibited to unprepared eyes whereas they had been carefully considered
in advance. I have no doubt that the person who prepared the evidence
made a similar mistake."

"But," objected Mr. Pippet, "I don't see how you could consider in
advance things that you didn't know were going to happen."

"It is possible to consider in advance," Thorndyke replied, "those
circumstances which may conceivably arise as well as those which will
certainly arise. You seem to think that the little surprise packets
which the manipulator of evidence devised for our undoing found us all
unprepared. That was certainly the intention of the manipulator; but it
was very far from what actually happened."

"Why call him 'the manipulator'?" Mr. Pippet protested. "His name is
Horatio Gimbler, and we all know it."

"Very well," said Thorndyke, "then we will throw legal caution to the
winds and call him Gimbler. Now, as I said, Gimbler made his little
arrangements, expecting that they would come on us with all the charm of
novelty and find us unprepared to give them that exhaustive
consideration which would be necessary to ascertain their real nature,
but which would be impossible in the course of proceedings in court. He
would assume that, whatever vague suspicions we might have, there would
be neither the time nor the opportunity to test the visible facts
presented. What he had overlooked was the possibility that the other
players might try the moves over in advance. But this is exactly what I
did. Would it interest you to have some details of my procedure?"

"It would interest me very much," Brodribb interposed, "for, as you
know, I sat on the bird-lime like a lamb--if you will pardon the mixed
metaphor. Perhaps I might say 'like a fool' and be nearer the mark."

"I hope you won't, Mr. Brodribb," said Pippet, "because the description
would include the lot of us, except the Doctor. But I am sure we should
all like to hear how that rascal, Gimbler, was unmasked."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "let us begin by noting what our position was.
This was a claim advanced by an unknown person to a title and some
extremely valuable property. The claimant was an American, but there was
nothing significant in that. All Americans of English origin have, of
course, English ancestors. What was significant was the fact that this
stranger had elected to employ a police court solicitor to conduct his
case. Taking all the circumstances together, there was quite a fair
probability that the claim was a false claim; and if that were so, we
should have to be on the look-out for false evidence.

"That was my function in the case; to watch the evidence, particularly
in regard to the physical characteristics of any objects produced as
'exhibits' or put in evidence. The purely legal business was in the
hands of Mr. Brodribb and Mr. Anstey, whereas I was a sort of Devil's
Advocate, in an inverted sense, concerned, not with the legal issues,
but with illegal attempts to tamper with the evidence. Now, in the
criminal department of my practice, I have been in the habit, from the
first, of using what I may call a synthetic method. In investigating a
known or suspected crime, my custom has been to put myself in the
criminal's place and ask myself what are the possible methods of
committing that crime, and, of the possible methods, which would be the
best; how, in fact, I should go about committing that crime, myself.
Having worked out in detail the most suitable procedure, I then change
over from the synthetic to the analytic method and consider all the
inherent weaknesses and defects of the method, and the means by which it
would be possible to detect the crime.

"That is what I did in the present case. I began by assuming that
wherever the evidence was insufficient or adverse, that evidence would
be falsified."

"Sounds a bit uncharitable," Mr. Pippet remarked, with a smile.

"Not at all," retorted Thorndyke. "There was no accusation. It was
merely a working hypothesis which I communicated to nobody. If there had
been no falsification, nothing would ever have been said and nobody
would ever have known that the possibility had been entertained. But
supposing falsification to be attempted, what form would it take? Apart
from mere oral tradition and rumour, the value of which the judge would
be able to assess, there was very little evidence. Of real, demonstrable
evidence there were only two items--the diary and the coffin. Let us
take the diary first. In what respects was falsification of the diary
possible?

"There were two possibilities. The entire diary might be a fabrication.
This was extremely unlikely. There were seven volumes, extending over a
great number of years. The fabrication of such a diary would be a
gigantic and very difficult task. Still, it was possible; but if the
diary was in fact a fabrication from beginning to end, the falsification
would almost certainly have been the work of the claimant, himself. But
when one considers that the latest volume of this dairy was alleged to
have been written eighty years ago, it is obvious that the difficulties
surrounding the production of a new work which could possibly be passed
off as genuine would be practically insurmountable. I need not consider
those difficulties or the means by which the fraud could be detected,
since the case did not arise. On inspection, it was obvious that the
diary was a genuine document.

"The second possibility was the insertion of a false entry; and this was
not only quite practicable but, in the known circumstances, not very
improbable. The question was, therefore, supposing a false entry to be
inserted, would that entry have any special characteristics for which
one could be on the look-out? And the answer was that it almost
certainly would.

"As to the forgery, itself; it would certainly be a good forgery. For,
if it had been executed by the claimant, it would have to be good enough
to satisfy Mr. Gimbler. That gentleman was too experienced a lawyer to
attempt to pass off an indifferent forgery in a court of law. But if it
were not the work of the claimant, it would have to be produced either
by Gimbler, himself, or under his superintendence. In either case it
would certainly be a first-class forgery; and, as the passage would
probably be quite short--possibly only a few words--it would be almost
impossible to detect by mere examination of the written characters. In a
short passage, the forger's attention need never flag, and no effects of
fatigue would become apparent. The forger could try it over and over
again until he could execute it perfectly. But in such a case, even the
greatest experts--such as Osborn, in America, or Mitchell or Lucas in
this country--could give no more than a guarded opinion. For, however
eminent an expert may be, he cannot detect differences that do not
exist.

"But if the imitation of the hand-writing were too good for detection to
be possible, were there any other, extrinsic, characters that we could
be on the look-out for? Evidently, by the nature of the case, there must
be three. First, if a passage were inserted, it would have to be
inserted where insertion was possible; that is to say, in a blank space.
Accordingly, we should have to keep a look-out for blank spaces. And, if
those blank spaces were of any considerable size, we should look for the
interpolated passage or passages either at the beginning or end of the
blank space or spaces.

"The second character of an interpolated passage would be the matter
contained in it. It would contain some matter of high evidential value
which was not contained in any of the genuine entries; for, if it did
not, there would be no object in inserting it. As to the nature of this
matter; since the crucial issue in this case was whether the two
persons, Josiah and the Earl, were one and the same person, an
interpolated passage would almost certainly contain matter supporting
the belief that they were.

"The third character would be an unavoidable difference between the ink
used for the forgery and that used by the writer of the genuine entries.
They could not be the same unless the writer of the diary had elected to
use carbon ink; which was infinitely improbable, and, in fact was not
the case. If he used ordinary writing ink--the iron-gall ink of the
period--that ink would have become changed in the course of over eighty
years. The original black tannate or gallate of iron would have become
converted into the faint reddish-brown of the oxide of iron. Now, the
forged writing would have to imitate the colour of this old writing. But
a new ink of the same colour as the old would necessarily be of a
different chemical composition. Probably it would contain no iron, but
would be one of the modern brown drawing inks, treated to match the
colour exactly.

"In this difference of chemical composition would lie the means of
detecting and exposing the forgery. A chemical test would probably be
objected to, though it could be insisted on if the forgery were
definitely challenged. But, for the reasons that I gave in my evidence,
a photograph would be nearly certain to demonstrate the difference in
the chemical composition of the ink. And to a photograph there could be
no objection.

"Thus, you see, the whole matter had been examined in advance, so that,
if a forgery should be offered in evidence, we knew exactly what it
would be like. And when it did appear, it corresponded perfectly with
the hypothetical forgery. We heard McGonnell read out, in his opening
statement, a number of quotations from the diary, all very vague and
unconvincing; and then, at the end, a single short entry of an entirely
different character, explicitly implying the identity of the two
persons, Josiah and the Earl. Here was one of the characters of the
possible forgery; and when Anstey had elicited in cross-examination that
neither you nor your sister had seen it before the book went into the
hands of Mr. Gimbler, it became a probable forgery. Then, on inspection,
it was seen to have another of the postulated characters; it was at the
end of a blank space. Finally, on closer examination, it was found to
have the third character; it was written in an ink which was different
from that used in the rest of the diary.

"So much for the forgery. In the case of the coffin a similar method was
used. I put myself in Gimbler's place and considered the best way in
which to carry out the substitution."

"But," objected Mr. Pippet, "Gimbler had never suggested any examination
of the coffin. On the contrary he had decided to avoid any reference to
an examination until the case went to the House of Lords. I thought he
was giving that coffin as wide a berth as he could."

"Exactly," said Thorndyke. "That was the impression that he managed to
convey to us all. And it was that which made me suspect strongly that a
substitution was intended. It looked to me like a very subtle and
admirable tactical manoeuvre. For, you see, the examination could not be
avoided. It was impossible to burke the coffin, and Gimbler knew it. Not
only was it the one piece of definite and undeniable evidence in the
case; it contained the means of settling conclusively the whole issue
that was before the court. If Gimbler did not produce the coffin,
himself, it would certainly be demanded by the other side or by the
judge.

"But now observe the subtlety of Gimbler's tactics. The crude thing to
do would have been to make the substitution and then apply for an order
of the court to have the coffin examined. But in that case, the coffin
would have been approached by the other side with a certain amount of
suspicion, and minutely scrutinized. But when Gimbler seemed to have
been taken by surprise, and to agree reluctantly to the examination of
the coffin, the suspicion that he had got it all ready and prepared for
the examination would be unlikely to arise. 'The other side' would be
caught off their guard."

"Yes, by Jove!" chuckled Brodribb, "and so they were. I was quite
shocked and embarrassed when I saw you sniffing round that coffin and
openly showing that you suspected a fraud; and McGonnell was really and
genuinely indignant."

"Yes," said Pippet, "he very much resented the implied doubt as to his
good faith, and I must admit that I thought the Doctor a trifle
over-sceptical. But don't let me interrupt. I want to hear how you
anticipated so exactly what Gimbler would do."

"As I said," Thorndyke resumed, "it was by putting myself in Gimbler's
place and considering how I should go about making this substitution.
There were two possible methods. One was to open the old coffin and take
out the body, if there was one there; the other was to prepare a new
coffin to look like an old one. The first method was much the better if
it could have been properly carried out. But there were one or two
serious difficulties. In the first place, there would, presumably, have
been a corpse to dispose of, and the operators might have objected to
handling it. But the most serious objection was the possibility of a
mishap in opening the coffin. It was an old coffin, and the wood might
be extensively decayed. If, in the process of opening it, the lid should
have broken or some other damage should have been done, the fraud would
have been hopelessly exposed. For no repair would be possible. But in
any case, an ancient coffin could not have been opened without leaving
some plainly visible traces.

"The second plan had several advantages. The new coffin could be
prepared at leisure and thoroughly examined, and the proceedings on the
spot could be quite short. You remember that there is, adjoining the
burial ground, a stable yard with an empty cart shed in which a van
could be housed while the substitution was being made. There would be
little more to do than drive into the yard, exchange the coffins and
drive away again. I considered both plans in detail and eventually
decided that the second one was the one that would be more probably
adopted.

"Now, suppose that it was; what would the exact procedure be, and what
pit-falls lay in wait for the operators? What would they have to do, and
what mistakes would they probably make in doing it? In the first place,
the coffin would pretty certainly be made by a regular coffin-maker; and
the chances were a hundred to one, or more, that he would use modern
screws and try to produce the appearance of age by rusting them. If he
did, the coffin would be definitely labelled as a fabrication beyond any
possible dispute.

"Then there was the sheet-lead. What he would put in would most probably
be modern, silver-free milled lead, whereas the original would almost
certainly have been cast sheet. Still, he might have got some old sheet
lead; and in any case the discrepancy would not have been conclusive or
very convincing to the judge. We could not have given a definite date,
as in the case of the screws.

"The next pit-fall would be the dust. In that vault, everything would be
covered with a mantle of dust of eighty years' growth. But if once that
dust were disturbed--as it necessarily would be in moving the
coffin--there would be no possibility of obliterating the marks of
disturbance. There would be nothing for it but to sweep the vault out
clean and blow in a fresh supply of dust which would settle down in a
smooth and even layer. And there one could confidently expect that a
serious mistake would be made. To most persons, dust is just simply
dust; a material quite devoid of individual character. Few people
realize consciously that dust is merely a collection of particles
detached from larger bodies, and that when those particles are magnified
by the microscope, they reveal themselves as recognizable fragments of
those bodies. If our friends blew dust into the vault, it would be dust
that had been collected _ad hoc_ and would be demonstrably the wrong
sort of dust.

"That was how I reasoned the matter out in advance; and you will see
that, when I came to the vault, all that I had to do was to note whether
the appearances were normal or whether they corresponded to the false
appearances which were already in my mind. As soon as I saw the screws,
the question was answered. It remained only to look for additional
details of evidence such as the dust and anything that might be
distinctive in the character of the lead."

"The platinum, I take it," said Pippet, "had not been included in your
forecast?"

"No," replied Thorndyke. "That was a free gift of Providence. It came as
a complete surprise; and I might easily have missed it but for the rule
that I have made to let nothing pass without examination. In accordance
with this routine procedure, I took up each piece of lead and inspected
it to see if it showed any peculiarities by which it would be possible
to date it. As soon as I lifted the first lump of platinum alloy, I
realized that Providence had delivered the gay deceiver into our hands."

"Yes," said Pippet, "that was a stroke of pure luck. But it wasn't
necessary. I can see that your method of playing a trial game over in
advance--of ascertaining what your adversary may do, instead of waiting
to see what he does do--brings you to the table with all the trumps up
your sleeve, ready to be produced if the chance occurs."

He reflected awhile, stirring his coffee thoughtfully, and, apparently
turning something over in his mind. At length, he looked up at Thorndyke
and disclosed the subject of his cogitations.

"You have told us, Doctor," said he, "that you got this vanishing coffin
stunt worked out in advance in all its details. But there is one little
matter that you have not referred to, and it happens to be one which
interests me a good deal. I am wondering what has become of Josiah. It
may seem only a matter of sentiment; but he was my grandfather, and I
feel that it is up to me to see him put back in his proper residence in
accordance with his wishes and the arrangements which he made during his
life. Now, did the advance scheme that you drew up include any plans for
disposing of Josiah?"

"Certainly," replied Thorndyke, "Assuming a new coffin to be used, the
disposal of the old one was an important part of the problem; important
to those who had to carry out the proceedings, and to us who had to
prove that they had been carried out. The recovery and production of the
old coffin would be conclusive evidence for the prosecution."

"Well, now," said Pippet, "tell us how you proposed to dispose of Josiah
and how you intend to go about getting him back."

"There were two possible methods," said Thorndyke, "of getting rid of
the old coffin. First, since a van or cart must have been used to bring
the new coffin to the vault, it would have been available to take the
old one away. This would have been a bad method, both for the plotters
and for us; for it would have left them with the coffin on their hands,
and us with the task of finding out where it had been hidden. So we will
leave it until we have dealt with the more obvious and reasonable plan.
I did not propose to bring the coffin away at all."

"You don't mean that you proposed to bury it?" said Pippet.

"No," replied Thorndyke. "There was no need to. You have forgotten the
arrangement of the place. There were six vaults, each secured only by a
large, simple lock. Now, our friends must have had a big, strong
skeleton key to open Josiah's vault. With the same key they could have
opened any of the other vaults; and there was a perfectly excellent and
convenient hiding-place."

"Gee!" chuckled Mr. Pippet. "That's a quaint idea! To think that, while
we were poring over that dummy coffin, Josiah, himself, was quietly
reposing next door! But I guess you are right, Doctor; and the question
is, what are you going to do about it?"

Thorndyke looked at the Superintendent.

"It is your move, Miller," said he. "You have got the skeleton key, and
you have the Home Office authority."

"That is all very well," Miller replied, cautiously, "but the judge's
order doesn't authorize us to break into any of the other vaults."

"The judge's order," said Thorndyke, "doesn't say anything about a
particular vault. It authorizes and directs you to open and examine the
coffin of Josiah Pippet. But you haven't done anything of the sort. You
opened the wrong coffin. You have not complied with the judge's order,
and it is your duty to do so without delay."

Miller grinned and glanced knowingly at Mr. Pippet.

"That's the sort of hair-pin the Doctor is," he said, admiringly.
"Thomas a Didymus combined with a casuist of the deepest dye. He could
argue the hind leg off a donkey; and that donkey would have nothing for
it but to get a wooden leg."

Here Mr. Brodribb intervened with some warmth. "You are doing Dr.
Thorndyke an injustice, Superintendent," said he. "There is nothing
casuistical in his argument. He has stated the legal position quite
correctly, not only in the letter but in the spirit. The judge made an
order for the examination of the coffin of Josiah Pippet for the
declared purpose of ascertaining the nature of its contents. But we have
not examined that coffin, and we still do not know the nature of its
contents. You will remember that the judge, himself, pointed that out at
this morning's proceedings."

Miller was visibly impressed by these observations from the very correct
and experienced old lawyer; and I could see that he was quite willing to
be impressed, for he was as keen on the examination as any of us. But he
was a police officer, and, as such, Josiah Pippet was not his pigeon.
Civil cases were not in his province.

Thorndyke evidently saw the difficulty, and proceeded adroitly to turn
his flank.

"Besides, Miller," he said, "you seem to be overlooking the importance
of this matter in relation to a possible prosecution. A police officer
of your experience is lawyer enough to realize the great difference in
value between positive and negative evidence. Now, at present, all that
we can do is to show cause for the belief that the coffin that we found
in the vault was not Josiah's coffin. But suppose that we are able to
produce the actual coffin of Josiah Pippet. That would leave the defence
nothing to say. And, in any case, for the sake of your own reputation
and that of the C.I.D., that coffin has got to be found; and common
sense suggests that we begin the search in the most likely place."

This argument disposed effectually of Miller's difficulties.

"You are quite right, Doctor," he agreed. "We shall be expected to
produce that coffin, or, at least, to prove its existence and its
whereabouts; and I certainly agree with you that the vault is the most
likely place in which to look for it. I hope we are both right, for, if
it isn't there, we may be let in for a mighty long chase before we get
hold of it."

Agreement on the principle having been reached, it remained only to
settle the details. Mr. Pippet, with characteristic American eagerness
to "get on with it," would have started forthwith for the burial ground;
but, as Miller, naturally, had not got the keys about him, and as
Thorndyke had certain preparations to make, it was arranged that the
parties to the expedition should meet at the latter's chambers at ten
o'clock on the following morning.



CHAPTER XIX--JOSIAH?


There was something distinctly furtive and conspiratorial in the
appearance and bearing of the party of six which filed into the burial
ground under the guidance of Superintendent Miller. At least, so it
seemed to me, though the impression may have been due to Polton; who
carried a small suit-case with a secretive and burglarious air,
persisted in walking on tip-toe, and generally surrounded himself with
the atmosphere of a veritable Guy Fawkes.

As soon as we were all in, the Superintendent closed the gate and locked
it from the inside, putting the key in his pocket. Then he followed us
to the neighbourhood of the vaults, where we were screened from the gaze
of possible onlookers.

"Well," he remarked, stating an undeniable truth, "here we are, and here
are the vaults. We've got five to choose from, and the chances are that
we shall open four wrong ones before we come to the right one--if there
is a right one. What do you say, Doctor? Any choice?"

"On general grounds," said Thorndyke, "it would seem that one is as
likely as another; but on psychological grounds, I should say that there
is a slight probability in favour of the sixth vault."

"Why?" demanded Miller.

"Because," replied Thorndyke, "although, as a hiding-place, any one
vault would be as good as any other, I think there would be a tendency
to get as far as possible from the vault in which the dummy coffin had
been planted. It is merely a guess; but, as we have nothing else to
guide us, I would suggest that we begin with number six."

''While the brief discussion had been taking place, Polton had been
peering into the keyholes with the aid of a small electric lamp and
inspecting the edges of the respective doors. He now reported the
results of his observations. "I think you are right, sir," said he.
"There seems to be a trace of grease in the inside of the lock of the
last door, and there is something that looks rather like the mark of a
jemmy on the jamb of the door. Perhaps Mr. Miller might take a look at
it."

Mr. Miller, as an expert on jemmy-marks, accordingly did take a look at
it, and was inclined to confirm our artificer's opinion; on which it was
decided to begin operations on number six. The big skeleton key was
produced from the Superintendent's pocket and handed to Polton, by whom
it was tenderly anointed with oil. Then a dressing of oil was applied to
the rusty wards of the lock by means of a feather poked in through the
keyhole, and the key inserted. As it refused to turn, in spite of the
oil, Polton produced from his case a "tommy"--a steel bar about a foot
long--which he passed through the bow of the key and worked gently
backwards and forwards to distribute the oil and avoid the risk of
wrenching off the bow. After a few trials, the key made a complete turn,
and we heard the rusty bolt grate back into the lock.

"I expect we shall have to prise the door open," said Polton, after one
or two vigorous tugs at the key, using the tommy as a handle. He threw
back the lid of his suit-case, which was lying on the ground at his
side, and looked into it--as, also, did the Superintendent.

"Well, I'm sure, Mr. Polton!" the latter exclaimed. "Are you aware that
it is a misdemeanour to go abroad with housebreaking implements in your
possession?"

Polton regarded him with a cunning and crinkly smile.

"May I ask, Mr. Miller," he demanded, "what you would use to force open
a jammed door? Would you use a corkscrew or a sardine opener?"

Miller chuckled, appreciatively. "Well," he said, as Polton selected a
powerful telescopic jemmy from his outfit, "I suppose the end justifies
the means."

"You can take it, sir," said Polton, sententiously, "that people whose
business it is to open doors have found out the best tools to do it
with."

Having delivered himself of this profound truth, he inserted the beak of
the jemmy between the door and the jamb, gave it one or two tweaks at
different levels, and then, grasping the key and the tommy, pulled the
complaining door wide open.

The first glance into the mouldy and dusty interior showed that
Thorndyke's selection had been correct. There were two names on the
stone slab above the vault, but there were three coffins; two lying in
orderly fashion on the stone shelf, and a third flung untidily across
them. That the latter was the coffin which we were seeking was at once
suggested by the fact that the handles and name-plate were missing,
though the spaces which they had occupied and the holes for the screws
were conspicuously visible.

"That is Josiah's coffin right enough," said Mr. Pippet, pointing to
these marks. "There can't be a shadow of doubt."

"No," agreed Thorndyke, "but we mustn't leave it at that. We must put
the two coffins side by side and make an exact comparison which can be
described in evidence in terms of actual measurement. I noticed that the
beadle had not taken away the trestles. We had better set them up and
put this coffin on them. The other one can be put on the ground
alongside."

We fetched the trestles, and, having set them up, the four tallest of us
proceeded to hoist out the coffin.

"He's a mighty weight," Mr. Pippet remarked, as he lowered his end
carefully to the trestles.

"Probably there is a lead shell," said Miller. "There usually was in the
better class coffins. I'm surprised they didn't put one in the dummy to
make it a bit more convincing."

While the removal was being effected, Polton, armed with the skeleton
key--the jemmy was not required--had got the door of the other vault
open. Thither we now proceeded, and, lifting out the empty and
comparatively light dummy, carried it across and laid it on the ground
beside the trestles.

"The first thing," said Thorndyke, "will be to take off the name-plate
and try it on the old coffin. An actual trial will be more convincing to
a judge or jury than the most careful measurements."

"Is it of any great importance," Mr. Pippet asked, "to prove that the
dummy was faked by using the old coffin furniture?"

"It is absolutely vital," Thorndyke replied. "How else are we to prove
that this is the coffin of Josiah Pippet? There is no mark on it by
which it could be identified, and we find it in a vault which is not
Josiah's. Moreover, in the vault which is his, there is a coffin bearing
his name-plate which is alleged to be his coffin, and which we are
trying to prove is not his coffin."

"I thought you had done that pretty effectually already," said Pippet.

"We can't have too much evidence," Thorndyke rejoined; "and in any case,
we have got to produce positive evidence of the identity of this coffin.
At present we are only guessing, though I have no doubt that we are
guessing right. But if we can prove that the nameplate on that coffin
was removed from and belonged to this one, we shall have proved the
identity of this one and the fraudulent character of the other."

While Thorndyke had been arguing this rather obvious point, Polton had
been engaged in carefully and methodically extracting, with a
clock-maker's screw-driver, the six screws with which the name-plate was
attached to the dummy coffin-lid. He now held one of them up for his
employer's inspection, remarking:

"You see, sir, that they used the original brass screws--the old,
flat-ended sort; which will be better for testing purposes, as they
won't go into a hole that wasn't properly bored for them."

While the screw was being passed round and examined, he proceeded with
the testing operations. First, he lifted the plate from its bed,
whereupon there was disclosed an oblong patch of new, unstained wood,
which he regarded with a contemptuous crinkle.

"Well!" he exclaimed, "if I had been faking a coffin, I'd at least have
finished the faking before I screwed on the plate and not have given the
show away like this."

With this, he picked up the plate and laid it on the old coffin-lid in
the vacant space, which it fitted exactly. Then, with a fine awl, he
felt through one of the corner holes of the plate for the corresponding
hole in the wood, and, having found it, dropped in one of the screws and
ran it lightly home. Next, in the same manner, he probed the hole in the
opposite corner of the plate, dropped in the screw and drove it home.
Then, discarding the awl, he dropped in the other four screws, all of
which ran in quite smoothly.

"There, Mr. Pippet," said Thorndyke, "that establishes the identity of
the coffin. The six holes in the brass plate coincide exactly with the
six holes in the wood; for, as Polton points out, the screws, being
blunt-ended, would not enter the wood if the holes were not precisely in
the right place. So you can now take it as an established fact that this
is really the coffin of your grandfather, Josiah Pippet. Does that
satisfy you? Or is there anything else that you wish to have done?"

Pippet looked at him in surprise. "Why!" he exclaimed, "we've only just
begun! I thought we came here to find out exactly what is in that
coffin. That is what I came for. I had made up my mind before I came to
England that the first thing that I would do would be to find out
whether Josiah was or was not in that coffin. Then I should have known
whether to haul off or go ahead."

"Exactly," said Thorndyke; "but are you sure that you still want to
know?"

I looked quickly at Thorndyke, and so did Mr. Pippet. The question was
asked in the quietest and most matter-of-fact tone; and yet I had the
feeling that it carried a significance beyond either the tone or the
words. And this, I think, was noticed also by our American friend, for
he paused a few moments with his eyes fixed on Thorndyke before he
replied:

"It doesn't matter so much now, as I've dropped the claim. But, still,
if it doesn't seem irreverent, I think I should like to have a look at
Josiah. I hate to leave a job unfinished."

"Very well," said Thorndyke; "it's your funeral in a literal as well as
allegorical sense. You would like to have the coffin opened?"

"I should, though I don't quite see how you are going to manage it.
There don't seem to be any screws."

"The screws are plugged," Thorndyke explained, "as they usually are in
well-finished coffins. They are sunk in little pits and the pits are
filled up with plugs of wood, which are planed off clean so as to show
an uninterrupted surface. Possibly those plugs were the deciding factor
in the question as to whether the old coffin should be opened and faked,
or a new one made. You can see that it would be impossible to get those
plugs out and replace them without leaving very visible traces."

This statement was illustrated by Polton's proceedings. From the
inexhaustible suit-case he produced a cabinet-maker's scraper, with
which he set to work at the edge of the lid, scraping off the old
surface, thereby bringing into view the little circular inlays which
marked the position of the screws, of which there were eight. When they
were all visible, he attacked them with a nose bit set in a brace, and
quickly exposed the heads of the screws. But then came the tug of war.
For the rust of eighty years seemed to have fixed the screws immovably;
and by the time that he had managed, with the aid of a driver bit in his
brace, to get them out, his crinkly countenance was streaming with
perspiration.

"All right this time," said Mr. Pippet, picking up one of the screws and
inspecting its blunt end. "I guess I'll take these screws to keep as a
memento. Ah! You were right, Doctor," he added, as Polton prised up the
lid and lifted it clear. "It was the lead shell that made it so blamed
ponderous."

Here Mr. Brodribb, casting a slightly apprehensive glance at the leaden
inner coffin, announced, as he selected a cigar from his case,

"If you are going to open the shell, Thorndyke, I think I will take a
little stroll and survey the landscape. I haven't got a medical jurist's
stomach."

Thorndyke smiled, unsympathetically, but, nevertheless, offered him a
light; and as he moved away, exhaling fragrant clouds, Polton approached
the coffin with a formidable hooked knife and a pair of tinman's shears.

"Do you want to see the whole of him, sir?" he asked, bestowing a
crinkly smile on Mr. Pippet, "or do you think his head will be enough?"

"Well, Mr. Polton," was the guarded reply, "perhaps his head will be
enough--to begin with, anyway."

Thereupon, Polton, with a few gentle taps of a hammer, drove the point
of the knife through the soft lead and began to cut a line in a U shape
round the head end of the shell. When he had extended it sufficiently,
he prised up the end of the tongue-shaped piece enclosed by the incision
and turned it back like a flap. We stood aside respectfully to allow Mr.
Pippet to be the first to look upon the long-forgotten face of his
ancestor; and he accordingly advanced and bent down over the dark
opening. For an appreciable time he remained looking silently into the
cavity, apparently overcome by the emotions natural to the occasion. But
I must confess that I was somewhat startled when he gave expression to
those emotions. For what he said--and he said it slowly and with the
strongest emphasis--was:

"Well--I'm--damned!"

Now, when a gentleman so scrupulously correct in speech as was Mr.
Pippet, makes use of such an expression, it is reasonable to assume that
something unusual has occurred. As he withdrew his head from the
opening, mine and Thorndyke's met over it (and I am afraid mine was the
harder). But in spite of the collision, I saw enough in a single glance
to account for Mr. Pip pet's exclamation. For what met that glance was
no shrivelled, mummified human face, but the end of a slender roll of
canvas embedded in time-discoloured sawdust.

"Now," commented Miller, when he had made his inspection, "isn't that
just like a blinking crook! They are all fools, no matter how artful
they may be. And they can't imagine the possibility of anyone else being
honest. Of course, Gimbler thought that the coffin story was all bunkum,
so he pitched the old coffin away without troubling to open it and see
what was really in it. If he had only left it alone, Mr. Pippet's claim
would have been as good as established."

"It would certainly have been important evidence," said I. "But, for
that matter, it is still. The story of the bogus funeral is now proved
beyond any possible doubt to be true. And, though the claim has lapsed
for the moment, it lapsed only on a technical point. What do you say,
Brodribb?" I asked as that gentleman, in the course of his
perambulations, passed the vault at a respectful distance.

"What do I say to what?" he demanded, reasonably enough.

"We have opened the shell and we find that it does not contain a body."

"What does it contain?" he asked.

"Something wrapped in canvas and packed in sawdust," I replied.

"That is not a very complete account," he objected, approaching
cautiously to take a peep into the interior of the shell. "It certainly
does not look like a body," he admitted after a very brief inspection,
"but it might be. A very small one."

"It would be a very small one, indeed," said Thorndyke. "But I agree
with you Brodribb. We ought to ascertain exactly what the contents of
the coffin are."

On this, Polton re-inserted the hooked knife and prolonged the incision
on one side to the foot of the shell and carried it across. Then he
raised the long flap and turned it back, exposing the whole of the mass
of sawdust and the long roll of canvas which was embedded in it. The
latter, being lifted out and laid on the coffin-lid, was seen to be
secured with three strands of twine or spun-yarn. These Polton carefully
untied--they were fastened with reef-knots--and, having thus released
the canvas, unrolled it and displayed its contents; which consisted of a
small roll of sheet lead, a portion of a battered rain head and a
flattened section of leaden stack-pipe.

"This is interesting," said Brodribb. "It corresponds with the
description more closely than I should have expected."

"And you notice, sir," Polton pointed out, "that the sheet lead is
proper cast sheet, as the Doctor said it would be."

"I take your word for it, Polton," said Brodribb. "And that is a further
agreement; which, I may add--since we are all friends--is not without
its evidential significance."

"That is the point that we were discussing," said I. "The bearing of
this discovery on Mr. Pippet's claim."

"I beg your pardon, Dr. Jervis," Mr. Pippet interposed, "but there isn't
any claim. My sister and I agreed some time ago to drop the claim if we
got a chance. And Dr. Thorndyke gave us a very fair chance, and we are
very much obliged to him."

"I am glad to hear that," said Brodribb, "because this discovery does
really confuse the issues rather badly. On this new evidence it would be
possible to start a long and complicated law-suit."

"That," said Mr. Pippet, "is, I guess, what the Doctor meant when he
asked me if I still wanted to know what was in the coffin. But a nod is
as good as a wink to a blind horse; and I was that blind horse. I rather
wish I had left that durned coffin alone and taken it for granted that
Josiah was inside. Still, we have got the monopoly of the information.
is there any reason why we should not keep it to ourselves? What do you
say, Superintendent?"

"The fact," replied Miller, "that there was no body in the coffin is of
no importance to the prosecution, but I don't see how it can be burked.
We shall have to produce the original coffin--or prove its existence. We
needn't say that we have opened it; but the question might be asked in
cross-examination, and we should have to answer it. But what is the
objection to the fact being known? You have dropped the claim, and you
don't intend to re-open it. Nobody will be any the worse."

"But I am afraid somebody may be," Mr. Pippet rejoined. He reflected a
few moments and then continued: "We are all friends, as Mr. Brodribb has
remarked, so I needn't mind letting you see how the land lies--from my
point of view. You see, I embarked on this claim under the impression
that the estates were going begging. I knew nothing of any other
claimant. But when my sister and I saw Mr. Giles and his mother, we were
a little sorry that we had started the ball. However, we had started it,
and, after all, there was my girl to consider. So we went on. But very
soon it became evident that our two young people were uncommonly taken
with each other; and then my sister and I were still more sorry, and we
began to hope that our case might fall through. While matters were in
suspense, however, Giles made no formal advances though there was no
concealment of his feelings towards my girl. But in the evening of the
day when the Doctor obligingly knocked the bottom right out of my case,
and showed us who the genuine heir-presumptive was, Giles asked my
daughter to marry him, and, naturally she said 'yes.'

"And now you will see my point. Giles, with proper, manly pride, waited
until he had something to offer besides his own very desirable person.
He didn't want to come as a suitor with empty hands. When the prize was
practically his, he asked Jenifer to share it with him. And I should
have liked to leave it at that. And that was why I wanted that coffin
opened. I had taken it as a cinch that Josiah was inside; and if he had
been, that would have settled the question for good. Instead of which I
have only confused the issues, as Mr. Brodribb says.

"Now, see here. I want this affair kept dark if it possibly can be. I
want Giles to feel that the title and estates that he asked Jenny to
share with him are his own by right, and not by anyone's favour. But
that would be all spoiled if he got to know about this damned lead. For
then he might reasonably suspect that I had voluntarily surrendered this
claim for his benefit when I could, if I had pleased, have carried it to
a successful issue. Of course, I couldn't have done anything of the
kind. But that is what he might think. And he mustn't. There must be no
fly in his ointment; and I look to you all to keep it out."

It is needless to say that we all listened with the greatest sympathy to
Mr. Pippet's explanation, and we promised, so far as was possible, to
suppress the fact that the coffin had been opened; which we were able to
do with a clear conscience, since that fact was neither material nor
even relevant to the charge of fraud against Gimbler.

"Naturally," said Mr. Pippet, when he had thanked us, "you will say that
I ought to have thought of all this before I asked to have the coffin
opened, but I am not so long-sighted as the Doctor. If you would like to
call me a fool I shan't contradict you."

"Thank you," laughed Thorndyke; "but I don't think I will avail myself
of the permission. Still, I will remark that you allowed yourself to
entertain a complete fallacy. You have spoken of my having knocked the
bottom out of your case by my exposure of Gimbler's fraud. But that was
not the position at all. The coffin which Gimbler produced as Josiah's
coffin was not Josiah's coffin. Therefore it had no relevance to the
issue. It proved nothing, one way or the other, as to the condition of
the real coffin. The effect of my evidence was purely negative. It
simply rebutted Gimbler's evidence and thus restored the _status quo
ante._ The judge, if you remember, drew your attention to this fact when
he reminded you that Josiah's coffin had not been examined, and that the
bogus funeral had been neither proved nor disproved."

"Well," said Mr. Pippet, "it has been proved now; and what I should like
to know, just as a matter of curiosity, is what it really and truly
means. Is it possible that the whole story was true, or was this just
one of Josiah's little jokes?"

"I am afraid you will never know now," said Thorndyke.

"No," Pippet agreed. "Josiah has got us guessing. Of course, it doesn't
matter now whether he was an earl or an inn-keeper, but if you have any
opinion on the subject, I should like to hear it."

"Mere speculative opinions," said Thorndyke, "formed in the absence of
real evidence, are not of much value. I really have nothing that one
could call an opinion. All I can say is that, though the balance of
probabilities for and against the truth of the story is nearly even,
there seems to be a slight preponderance against, since, added to the
general improbability of the story, is the very striking coincidence of
Nathaniel Pippet of _The Castle_ at Winsborough. But I am afraid we
shall have to return an open verdict."

"And keep it to ourselves," added Pippet. "And now the practical
question arises, what are we to do with this coffin?"

"I suggest," said Thorndyke, "that Polton closes it up as neatly as
possible and that we then put it, with Gimbler's masterpiece, in the
vault to which it properly belongs. We may hope that it may not be
necessary to disturb that vault again; in which case no one need ever
know that the coffin has been opened."

This suggestion being generally approved, was duly carried out. The two
coffins were placed, side by side, on the shelf, and then Miller locked
the door and dropped the key into his pocket. This done, the procession
moved out of the burial ground; and the incident was formally closed
when Miller slammed the outer gate and turned the key in the rusty lock.

We went back in the same order as that in which we had come. Mr. Pippet
and Brodribb travelled in the former's car, and the rest of us occupied
the roomy police car, Polton, at his own request, occupying the seat
next to the driver where he could observe the mechanical arrangements
and the operator's methods.



CHAPTER XX--THORNDYKE RESOLVES A MYSTERY


Modern transport appliances have certain undeniable advantages,
particularly to those who are principally concerned with rapidity of
transit. But these advantages, like most of the gifts of "progress,"
have to be purchased by the sacrifice of certain other advantages. The
Superintendent's car was, in respect of speed, incomparably superior to
a horse carriage; but in the opportunity that it afforded for sustained
conversation it compared very unfavourably with that obsolete type of
vehicle. Thorndyke, however, not yet, perhaps, emancipated from the
hansom cab habit, chose to disregard the inevitable interruption, and,
as the car trundled smoothly westward, remarked to Miller:

"The subject of coffins, with which our minds are at present occupied,
suggests, by an obvious analogy, that of a head in a box. I promised, a
little while ago, to pass on to you any facts that I might unearth
respecting the history of that head. I have looked into the matter and I
think I now have all the material facts; and I may say that the affair
turns out to be, in effect, what I had, almost from the first, supposed
it to be."

"I didn't know," said Miller, "that you supposed it to be anything. I
thought you were quite uninterested in the incident."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "you were mistaken. I watched the developments
with the keenest interest. At first, when the head was discovered in the
cloak room, I naturally assumed, as everyone did, that it was a case of
murder and mutilation. But when I read the account of the inquest I
began to suspect strongly that it was something quite different, and
when I saw that photograph that you were so kind as to send me, I had
very little doubt of it. You remember that photograph, Jervis?"

"Indeed I do," I replied. "A most extraordinary and abnormal mug that
fellow had. There seemed to me to be a suggestion of acromegaly."

"A suggestion!" Thorndyke exclaimed. "It was a perfect type. That
photograph might have been used as the frontispiece of a monograph of
acromegaly. Its appearance, together with the physical and anatomical
facts disclosed at the inquest, seemed to me quite distinctive. I came
to the conclusion that this head was no relic of a crime, but simply a
museum specimen which had gone astray."

"Good Lord!" exclaimed Miller, gazing at Thorndyke in amazement. I did
not share his surprise, but merely felt an urgent desire to kick myself.
For the thing was so ridiculously obvious--as soon as it was stated. But
that was always the way with Thorndyke. He had the uncanny gift of
seeing all the obvious things that everyone else overlooked.

"But," Miller continued, after a pause, "you might have given us the
tip."

"My dear Miller," Thorndyke protested, "I had no tip to give. It was
merely an opinion, and it might have been a wrong opinion. However, as I
said, I watched developments most attentively, for there were at least
two possibilities which might be foreseen; one by no means unlikely, the
other almost fantastically improbable. The first was that some person
might be accused of a murder which had never been committed; the other
was that some real murderer might take advantage of the extraordinary
opportunity that the circumstances offered. Curiously enough, it was the
wildly improbable possibility that was actually realized."

"What was the opportunity that was offered?" Miller asked.

"It was the opportunity to commit a murder with almost perfect security
from detection; with a whole set of false clues ready made; with the
equivalent in time of a nearly watertight alibi."

"A murderer's chief difficulty," said Miller, "is usually in getting rid
of the body. I don't see that the circumstances helped him in that."

"They helped him to the extent that he had no need to get rid of the
body," Thorndyke replied. "Why does a murderer have to conceal the body?
Because if it is found it will be recognized as the body of a particular
person. Then the relations of the murderer to that person will be
examined, with possibly fatal results. But supposing that a murderer
could render the body of his victim totally unrecognizable. Then it
would be the body of an unknown person; and all the persons related to
it would be equally unknown. If he could go a step further and not only
render the body unrecognizable but give it a false identity, he would be
absolutely Secure; for the body would now be related to a set of
circumstances with which he had no connexion.

"This is the kind of opportunity that was offered by the discovery of
this head. Let us study the conditions in the light of what actually
happened. On a certain day in August, Wicks deposited in the cloak room
a human head. Now, obviously, since it was brought there by Wicks, it
could not be Wicks's head. Equally obviously, it must have been the head
of some person who had died while Wicks was still alive. Thus the death
of that person was clearly dated in one direction; and since the head
had been treated with preservatives, the date of death must have been
some time anterior to that of its deposition in the cloak room. Again,
obviously, there must be somewhere a headless body corresponding to this
body-less head.

"Now, Bassett evidently intended to murder Wicks, for, as we saw, the
murder was clearly premeditated. See, then, what a perfect opportunity
was presented to him. If he could contrive to murder Wicks, to strip and
decapitate the body and deposit it in a place where it would probably
remain undiscovered for some time; when it was discovered, it would,
quite naturally, be assumed to be the body belonging to the embalmed
head. In other words, it would be assumed to be the body of some person
who could not possibly be Wicks, and who had been murdered at some time
when he, Bassett, was on the high seas. No slightest breath of suspicion
could possibly fall on Bassett.

"But, as so constantly happens in the case of carefully planned crimes,
one little point had been overlooked, or, rather, was unknown to the
intending murderer. Strangely enough, it seems also to have been
overlooked by everyone else, with the result that Bassett's scheme was
within a hair's-breadth of working out exactly according to plan."

"As he was at the bottom of the dene-hole," remarked Miller, "it didn't
matter much to him whether it did or not."

"Very true," Thorndyke agreed. "But we are considering the plan of the
crime. Now, when I read the report of the finding of the headless body,
I realized that the fantastic possibility that I had hardly ventured to
entertain had actually come to pass."

"You assumed that the headless body was a fake," said Miller, "and not
the body belonging to the cloak room head. Now, I wonder why you assumed
that."

"I did not," replied Thorndyke. "There was no assumption. The excellent
newspaper report made it perfectly clear that the body found by the
Watling Street could not possibly be the body belonging to the embalmed
head. That head, let me remind you, was the head of a person who
suffered from acromegaly. The body of that person would have been
distinguished by atrophied muscles and enormous, mis-shapen hands and
feet. But our admirable reporter specially noted that the body was that
of a muscular man with strong, well-shaped hands. Then he certainly was
not suffering from acromegaly.

"You see what followed from this. If this body did not belong to the
cloak room head, it must belong to some other head. And that head was
probably not far away. For, as no one suspected its existence, there was
no need for any elaborate measures to hide it. As I happened to be aware
of the existence of a number of dene-holes in the immediate
neighbourhood, it occurred to me that one of them probably contained the
head and the clothes. Accordingly, I examined the six-inch map of the
district, on which the dene-holes are shown, and there I found that one
of them was within four hundred yards of the place where the body was
discovered. To that dene-hole I paid a visit after attending the
inquest, having provided myself with a compass, a suitable lamp and a
pair of night-glasses. I was not able to see very much, but I saw enough
to justify our expedition. You know the rest of that story."

"Yes," replied Miller, "and a very interesting story it is. And now I
should like to hear about these new facts that you have unearthed."

"You shall have them all," said Thorndyke, "though it is only a case of
filling in details. I have told you what I decided--correctly, as it
turns out--as to the nature of the mysterious head; that it was simply a
pathological specimen illustrating the rare disease known as acromegaly,
which had got into the wrong hands.

"Now, when one thinks of acromegaly, the name of Septimus Bernstein
almost inevitably comes into one's mind. Dr. Bernstein is a world-famous
authority on giantism, dwarfism, acromegaly and other affections and
anomalies of growth connected with disorder of the pituitary body. He is
an enthusiast in his subject and gives his whole time and energy to its
study. But what was still more important to me was the fact that he has
a private museum devoted to the illustration of these diseases and
anomalies. I have seen that museum, and a very remarkable collection it
is; but, when I visited it, although it contained several gigantic and
acromegalous skulls, there was no specimen of a head in its complete
state.

"Naturally, then, I was disposed to suspect some connexion between this
stray specimen and Dr. Bernstein. But this was pure hypothesis until I
heard Bunter's statement. That brought my hypothesis concerning the head
into the region of fact. For Bunter's description of the passenger on
the yacht was a fairly exact description of Dr. Bernstein; and, on the
strength of it I was in a position to take the necessary measures to
clear the matter up.

"Accordingly I called on Bernstein. I did not, in the first place, ask
him any questions. I simply informed him that a preserved human head
which he had imported, apparently from Holland, had been causing the
police a good deal of trouble, and that it was for him to give a full
and candid explanation of all the circumstances connected with it. The
alternative was for the police to charge him with being in unlawful
possession of certain human remains.

"My statement seemed to give him a severe shock--he is a nervous and
rather timid man--but, though greatly alarmed, he seemed, in a way,
relieved to have an opportunity to explain matters. Evidently, the
affair had kept him in a state of constant apprehension and expectation
of some new and horrible development, and he consented almost eagerly to
make a full statement as to what had really happened. This is what his
story amounts to:

"He had for years been trying to get possession of the head of some
person who had suffered from acromegaly; partly for the purpose of
studying the pituitary body more thoroughly and partly for the
enrichment of his museum with a specimen which completely illustrated
the effects of the disease. What he especially wanted to do was to
remove the pituitary body without injuring the head and mount it in a
specimen jar to accompany the jar containing the head, so that the
abnormal condition of the pituitary and its effects on the structure of
the face could be studied together."

"By the way," Miller asked, "what is the pituitary body?"

"It is a small body," Thorndyke explained, "situated at the base of the
brain and lodged in a cavity in the base of the skull. Its interest--for
our present purpose--lies in the fact that it is one of the so-called
ductless glands and produces certain internal secretions which contain
substances called hormones which are absorbed into the blood and seem to
control the processes of growth. If the pituitary--or, at least, its
anterior part--becomes overgrown, it appears that it produces an excess
of secretion, with the result that either the whole body becomes
overgrown and the sufferer develops into a giant, or certain parts only
of the body, particularly the face and the extremities, become gigantic
while the rest of the body remains of its normal size. That is a very
rough account of it, just enough to make the matter intelligible."

"I think I have taken in the idea," said Miller, "and I'm glad you
explained it. Now, I am able to feel a bit more sympathetic towards Dr.
Bernstein. He isn't such an unmitigated cannibal as I thought he was.
But let us hear the rest of the story."

"Well," Thorndyke resumed, "a short time ago, Bernstein heard from a
Dutch doctor of a set of specimens, the very description of which made
his mouth water. It appeared that an unclaimed body had been delivered
for dissection at a medical school in a certain town in Holland.
Bernstein asked to be excused from giving the name of the town, and I
did not press him. But, of course, if it is essential, he is prepared to
disclose the further particulars. On examining this body, it was found
to present the typical characters of acromegaly; whereupon the
pathologist decided to annex the head and extremities for the hospital
museum and return the remainder in the coffin. At the time when the
information reached Bernstein, the specimens had not been put in the
museum but were in the curator's laboratory in course of preparation.

"Thereupon, Bernstein started off, hot-foot, to see if he could persuade
the pathologist to let him have the head. And his mission was obviously
successful. What methods of persuasion he used, and what was the nature
of the deal, he preferred not to say; and I did not insist, as it is no
particular concern of ours. It would seem as if it must have been
slightly irregular. However, he obtained the head, and, having got it,
embarked on the series of foolish proceedings about which Bunter told
us. A bolder and more self-confident man would probably have had no
serious difficulty. He would have travelled by an ordinary passenger
ship and simply declared the head at the Customs as a pathological
specimen. The Customs people might have communicated with the police,
and there might have been some inquiries. But if there had been no
secrecy there would have been no trouble."

"No," Miller agreed. "Secrecy was the stupidest thing possible under the
circumstances, Why the deuce didn't he notify us, when the thing was
found in the cloak room? It would have saved us a world of trouble."

"Of course that is what he ought to have done," said Thorndyke; "but the
discovery took him unawares, and, when he suddenly found himself
involved in a murder mystery, he got in a panic and made things worse by
trying to keep out of sight. He is in a mighty twitter now, I can assure
you."

"I expect he is," said Miller; "and the question is, what is to be done?
It's a queer case, in a legal sense. Have you any suggestion to make?"

"Well," said Thorndyke, "I think you should first consider what the
legal position really is. You will admit that no crime has been
committed."

"Apparently not," Miller agreed; "at any rate, not in British
jurisdiction."

"Furthermore," pursued Thorndyke, "it is not clear to me that any
offence against the law has been committed. Admittedly, Bernstein evaded
the Customs; but, as a human head is not a customable commodity, there
was no offence against the Revenue. And so with the rest of his
proceedings; they were very improper, but they do not appear to amount
to any definite legal offence."

"So I take it," said Miller, "that you think we might as well let the
matter drop. I don't quite like that, after all the fuss and outcry
there has been."

"I was hardly suggesting that," said Thorndyke. "I certainly think that,
for the credit of the Force, the mystery ought to be cleared up in a
more or less public manner. But, since you invite me to make a
suggestion, I will make one. Perhaps it may surprise you a little. But
what I think would be the best way to bring the case to a satisfactory
conclusion would be for you to disinter the specimen--which I believe
was buried temporarily, in the case in which it was found, in the Tower
Hamlets Cemetery--have it examined and reported on by some authorized
persons, verify Bernstein's statements so far as may be necessary, and,
if you find everything correct, hand the specimen back to Bernstein."

"My eye!" exclaimed Miller, "that's a pretty large order! But how could
we? The head is no lawfully his property. No one is entitled to the
possession of human remains."

"I am not sure that I can agree to that," Thorndyke dissented; "not, at
any rate, without certain reservations. The legal status of anatomical
and pathological specimens in museums is rather obscure; and perhaps it
has been wisely kept obscure. It is not covered by the Anatomy Act,
which merely legalizes the temporary possession of a human body for the
purpose of dissection. As you say, no one can establish a title to the
possession of a human body, or part of one, as an ordinary chattel. But
you know as well as I do, Miller, that sensible people turn a blind eye
to this question on suitable occasions. Take the case of the Hunterian
Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. There, the anatomical and
pathological collections are filled with human remains, all of which
must have been acquired by methods which are not strictly legal. There
are even the remains of entire individuals, some of whom are actually
known by name. Now, if they were challenged, what title to the
possession of those remains could the Council of the College establish?
In practice, they are not challenged. Reasonable people tacitly assume a
title.

"And that is what you would do, yourself. Supposing that someone was to
steal the skeleton of the late Corporal Byrne, or O'Brian, the Irish
Giant, which is in that museum, and supposing you were able to recover
it; what would you do? Why, of course, you would hand it back to the
museum, title or no title."

"Yes," Miller admitted, "that is so. But Bernstein's case is not quite
the same. His is a private museum, and he wants this head as a personal
chattel."

"The principle is the same," Thorndyke rejoined. "Bernstein is a proper
person to possess this head; he wants it for a legitimate purpose--for
the advancement of medical knowledge, which is for the benefit of all. I
insist, Miller, that, as a matter of public policy, this specimen ought
to be given back to Bernstein."

Miller looked at me with an undissembled grin. "The Doctor can be mighty
persuasive on occasion," he remarked.

"Still," I urged, "it is a perfectly reasonable proposition. You are
concerned, primarily, with crime, but ultimately with the public
welfare. Now, there hasn't been any crime, or any criminal intent; and
it is against the public welfare to put obstacles in the way of
legitimate and useful medical research."

"Well," Miller rejoined, "the decision doesn't rest with me. I must see
what the Commissioner has to say. I will give him the facts, and you can
depend on me to tell him what you say and to put your case as strongly
as I can. He is not out to make unnecessary trouble any more than I am.
So we must leave it at that. I will let you know what he says. If he
falls in with your view, he will probably want your assistance in fixing
up the details of the examination and the inspection of the specimen.
You may as well give me Bernstein's address."

Thorndyke wrote the name and address down on one of his own cards and
handed it to the Superintendent. And this brought the business to an
end. The latter part of the conversation had been carried on in the
stationary car, which had been drawn up in King's Bench Walk opposite
our chambers. We now shook hands with Miller and got out; and, as the
car turned away towards Crown Office Row, we entered the wide doorway
and ascended the stairs to our own domain.



CHAPTER XXI--JERVIS COMPLETES THE STORY


The time has come for us to gather up the threads of this somewhat
discursive history. They are but ends, and short ones at that; for, in
effect, my tale is told. But even as the weaver's work is judged by the
quality of the selvedge, so the historian's is apt to be judged by its
freedom from loose ends and uncompleted episodes.

But since the mere bald narration of the few outstanding incidents would
be but a dull affair, I shall venture (on the principle that the greater
includes the less) to present an account of them all under cover of that
which most definitely marked the completion of our labours; the
establishment of the young Earl and his Countess in firm possession of
the ancestral domain. For, however thrilling may have been the alarums
and excursions that befell by the way, they were but by-products and
side issues of the Winsborough Peerage Case. With the settlement of that
case we could fairly say that our work was done; and, if disposed to
tags or aphorisms, could take our choice between _Nunc dimittis_ and
_Finis coronat opus._

It was a brilliant morning in that most joyous season of the year when
late spring is merging into early summer; and the place was the spot
upon the earth's surface where that season develops its most perfect
loveliness--the south-east corner of Kent; or, to be more precise, the
great lawn at the rear of the unpretentious mansion "known as and being"
Winsborough Castle. Thither Thorndyke and my wife and I, together with
Brodribb (who came also in his official capacity) had been invited to
the house-warming on the return of the young Earl and Countess from
their prolonged honeymoon. But we had not come as mere visitors, or even
friends. The warm-hearted Jenifer had formally adopted us as members of
the family, and as no one could ask for more delightful relatives, we
had accepted the position gratefully.

As we strolled together across the sun-lit lawn, I glanced from time to
time at the young couple with that sober pleasure which a middle-aged
man feels in contemplating the too-rare spectacle of a pair of entirely
satisfactory human beings. They were both far beyond the average in good
looks; of splendid physique, gay and sprightly in temperament and gifted
with the faultless manners that spring from natural kindliness and
generosity coupled with quick intelligence. Looking at them, one could
not but reflect pensively on the might-have-been; and think what a
pleasant place the world would be if it could be peopled with their
like.

"I wonder," said Jenny, "what has become of Pap and Uncle John." ("Uncle
John" was Thorndyke)

"I don't," said Giles, "because I know, I saw them sneaking off together
towards the churchyard. My impression is that they are trying to make a
complete and exhaustive collection of ancestral Pippets."

Jenny laughed delightedly. "Inquisitive old things!" she exclaimed. "But
I don't see why they need fuss themselves. There are no particular
points about the ancestral Pippets. They never did anything worth
speaking of excepting that they sold good beer--and, incidentally, they
produced me."

"Not incidentally," Giles objected. "It was their crowning achievement.
And I don't know what more you would have. I call it a deuced good
effort."

The girl glanced at me with sparkling eyes. "Conceited young feller,
isn't he, Uncle Kit? He will persist in thinking that his goose is a
swan."

"He knows that she is," retorted Giles. "But, I say, Jenny. You'll have
to keep an eye on Dad. What do you think he has done?"

She looked at him in mock alarm. "Break it gently," she pleaded.

"To my certain knowledge," said Giles, "he has taken over the lease of
the _Earl of Beaconsfield_ and he is having the sign changed back to
_The Castle Arms._ What do you make of that?"

"My prophetic soul!" she exclaimed. "I see it all. He's going to have
'by C. Pippet' written underneath the sign. If we don't mind our eyes,
we shall have him behind the bar before we can say 'knife.' 'What's bred
in the bone,' you know."

Giles laughed in his delightful school-boy fashion.

"My word, yes!" he agreed. "We shall have to take a strong hand. We are
not going to spend our lives under the Upas shadow of the _Fox & Grapes.
_ But I must hook off. Mr. Brodribb has got the bailiff chappie
here--Mr. Solly--and they are going to rub my nose on all the things
that they say a land-owner ought to understand. Brodribb insists that
there is no eye like the master's eye, and I expect he is right, though
I fancy I know an eye that is better still; to wit, the eye that adorns
the countenance of the master's Pa-in-law. What are you going to do?"

"I," replied Jenny, "am going to extract a statement from Uncle Kit on
the subject of the various happenings since we had Mr. Brodribb's
summary. I want to know how it all ended."

"Good!" said Giles; "and when you have wormed all the facts out of him,
you can pass them on to me. Now I'm off."

With a flourish of his hat and a mock-ceremonial bow, he turned and
strode away across the turf towards the old brick porch, the very type
and embodiment of healthy, virile youth. Jenny followed him with her
eyes until he disappeared into the porch; then she opened her
cross-examination.

"Now, Uncle K., you've got to tell me all you know about everything."

"Yes," I agreed, "that seems to offer some scope for conversation. Would
you like to begin anywhere in particular?"

"I want, first of all, to know just exactly what has happened to poor
Mr. Gimbler."

"Poor Mr. Gimbler!" I exclaimed. "You needn't waste your sympathy on a
rascal like that."

"I know," said she. "Of course he is a rascal. But he did manage things
so bee-yutifully."

Her tone jarred upon me slightly, and I think she must have observed
something in my expression, for she continued:

"You think I am taking a purely selfish view of the case, and I must
admit that, as events have turned out, I am the greatest gainer by what
Giles calls 'Mr. Gimbler's gimblings.' But I assure you, Uncle Kit, that
Mr. Gimbler did the very best for us all. Pap loves him. He says he is
going to give him a pension when he comes out of chokee--if that is
where he is, I suppose it is."

"Yes," I replied. "Chokee is his present address,"

"I was afraid it _was,"_ said she. "The benefactor of humanity is
languishing in a dungeon, and you don't care a hoot. You seem even to
feel a callous satisfaction in his misfortunes. But see here, now, Uncle
K., I want you to understand the benefits that he has showered on us.
And, first of all, you've got to understand my father's position. You
have got to realize that he never wanted the earldom at all. Pap is a
thorough-bred American. He had no use for titles of nobility; and he was
very clear that he didn't want to stand in the way of anyone else who
had.

"But Auntie Arminella and I didn't take that view at all. We were as
keen as mustard on an English title and a beautiful English estate, and
Auntie started to stir my father up. He didn't take much stirring up. As
soon as he realized that I wanted 'this toy,' as he called it, and had
ascertained, as he thought, that the title and estates were lying
derelict and unclaimed, he decided to go for them all out. And when Pap
makes a decision, he usually gets a move on, right away.

"Now, the first shock that he got was when he discovered that there was
another claimant. Then he met Giles and his mother, and he fell in love
with them both at first sight, as Auntie and I did. He didn't know how
poor Giles was--he was actually working in a stockbroker's office, if
you will believe me--but he realized that the decision of the court
meant a lot more to Giles than it did to him, and he would have liked to
back out of the claim."

"Why didn't he?" I asked.

"He couldn't. When once the claim had been raised, it had got to be
settled. Giles didn't want the earldom as a gift, and Mr. Brodribb
wouldn't have let the case drop, with the chance of its being re-opened
in the future. So it had to go on. And now see what Mr. Gimbler did for
us. Supposing he hadn't changed the coffins; and supposing the real one
had been found to be stuffed with lead. It might have been. That would
have gone a long way towards establishing my father's claim. Supposing
the decision had gone in his favour. Then he would have been the Earl of
Winsborough. And he would have hated it. Supposing I had married
Giles--and I guess I should have had to ask him, myself, as he was a
poor man and as proud as Lucifer--what would Pap's position have been?
He would have defeated his own plans. He would have got the title for
himself, and he would have kept his daughter and her husband out of it
during his lifetime. But now, thanks to Mr. Gimbler, we have all got
what we wanted. Pap has escaped the title, and he has the satisfaction
of seeing his girl Countess of Winsborough."

I smiled at her quaint and somewhat wrong-headed Way of looking at the
case. But I refrained from pointing out that "Mr. Gimbler's gimblings"
might easily have produced the undesired results but for Thorndyke's
intervention. It was a dangerous topic, with my secret knowledge of what
was in the real coffin, So I held my peace; or rather, led the
conversation away from possible shoals and quicksands.

"By the way," I said, "if Giles had no money, who was going to pay his
costs if he had lost the case?"

"I don't know," she replied. "We suspect dear old Brodribb. He told
Giles and his mother that 'there were funds available,' but he wouldn't
say what they were. Of course, it is all right now. But you haven't told
me what happened to Mr. Gimbler."

"You will be relieved to hear that he was let off quite lightly. Three
years. It might easily have been seven, or even fourteen. Probably it
would have been if we had included the forgery in the charges against
him."

"I suppose it really was a forgery?"

"Yes, it was undoubtedly. For your father's satisfaction, we tested it
chemically--but not until after the conviction. The ink was a modern
synthetic drawing-ink. But it was a wonderfully skilful forgery."

"Pity," Jenny commented. "He is a really clever and ingenious man. Why
couldn't he have run straight? But now tell me about the other people.
There was an undertaker man, who made the coffin. What happened to him?"

"Joseph Wallis was his name. He also had better luck than he deserved,
for he got only three months. It was originally proposed to charge him
and Gimbler together with conspiracy. But there is this awkward
peculiarity about an indictment for conspiracy in which only two persons
are involved; if one of them is acquitted, the other is acquitted
automatically. For a conspiracy is like a quarrel; it can't be a
single-handed job. A man can't conspire with himself. So if, of two
alleged conspirators, one is found innocent, it follows that there was
no conspiracy, and the other man must be innocent, too.

"Now, Joseph pleaded that he had no knowledge of the purpose for which
the coffin was required; thought it was a practical joke or a wager. And
this plea was supported by Gimbler, who, in a statement to the police,
declared that he never told Joseph what the coffin was really wanted
for. Which seems likely enough. So the conspiracy charge against Joseph
was dropped; and, of course, it had also to be dropped in respect to
Gimbler."

"I am glad," said Jenny, "that The Slithy Tove, as Giles calls him, was
man enough to clear his confederate."

"Yes, it is something in his favour; though we must bear in mind that
the Tove was a criminal lawyer--in more senses than one--and knew all
about the law of conspiracy. Is there anything else that you want to
know?"

"There was a man named Bunter; but I don't think he was much concern of
ours, was he?"

"He was an invaluable link in the chain of evidence," I replied, "though
he seems rather outside the picture. However, I can report favourably on
his case, for he got off altogether. Nobody wanted his blood. The police
accepted his explanation of his attempt to break into the yacht,
_Cormorant,_ for, though it was probably untrue, it was quite plausible.
There remained only his complicity in the platinum robbery. But that had
been committed outside British jurisdiction; and, as the platinum had
been recovered and restored to its lawful owners, and as the principal
robbers were dead, no one was inclined to move in the matter.
Accordingly, Mr. Frederick Bunter was released and went on his way
rejoicing, with only one or two slight stains on his otherwise spotless
character. And I think that completes the list, unless you can think of
anything more."

"No," she answered, "I think that finishes up the history of the
Winsborough Peerage Case. A queer story it is, looking back on it, with
its ups and downs, its hopes and anxieties, to say nothing of one or two
ugly passages."

"Yes," I agreed, "there have been some anxious moments. But all's well
that ends well."

"Very true," said she. "And it has ended very well indeed; for me and
for Giles, for our parents and for Arminella. We have all got what we
wanted most, we are all happy and contented, and we are all tremendously
pleased with one another. It couldn't have ended better. And to think
that we owe it all to poor Mr. Gimbler!"

I smiled, but I didn't contradict her. It was a harmless delusion.
Perhaps it was not a delusion at all. At any rate, one might fairly say
of Mr. Horatio Gimbler that he builded better than he knew.



THE END



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