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Title: The Orpheusia
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100111.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: February 2011
Date most recently updated: February 2011

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

Title: The Orpheusia
Author: Fred M White

*

Published in the Western Mail (Perth W.A.), Saturday 19 December, 1903.

*


I.


"There's something very pleasant in a new sensation," the man in the fur
coat remarked. "You're in luck, sir. To be attacked by thieves in
Grosvenor Square before midnight is something to boast about."

"Not if you hadn't come up so suddenly--and silently," Sir Gordon Lane
replied.

The man with the fur coat smiled. The attempt at robbery had been an
impudent one. The would-be thieves had offered violence to their victim.
Lane had not called for assistance; he was not of that class of man. All
the same, the shade of odds had been against him. Then the man with the
fur-coat had turned up silently and scientifically, and the fight was
over. It had come and gone with the rapidity of a dissolving view.

"I always wear rubbers over my evening shoes," the new-comer said. "I am
a martyr to rheumatism, and I have got to be careful. These rubber
goloshes are light and not ungraceful. Moreover, they are useful on
occasions, as you have seen. But that is a nasty bump over your right
eye; if you'll come as far as my rooms in Mount-street, I'll doctor it
for you."

Sir Gordon murmured his thanks. A bit of a globe-trotter himself, he was
never very nice in the making of new acquaintances. Moreover, his
companion was a gentleman.

His air and manner, the cut of his clothes testified the fact. And the
lining of his coat was a modestly dark, but genuine, sable.

Lane's further conclusions were verified by a glance at Julius
Duckworth's sitting-room. There were prints of price in old frames, rare
bronzes, an antique oak sideboard bearing date 1579; the silver was
Jacobean. A Steinway grand piano filled a recess beyond a Gobelins
tapestry curtain.

"Musical, I see," Lane said, sketchily.

"My passion, sir," Duckworth exclaimed. "The piano, however, is the only
instrument I play. Once I sit down to that in an evening I forget
everything. I was coming back from Queen's Hall when I ran against you.
A cigarette?"

Lane nodded. His host produced whisky and soda and a flat tin box
hermetically sealed. The band of which he proceeded to peel off as one
removes the strip of tin from a high-class tobacco.

"There you are," he said. "I import my own cigarettes in small boxes,
sealed as you see. Each box holds ten. To my mind, directly the air
touches delicate tobacco, it begins to lose flavour. Hence the little
dodge of mine."

The cigarettes were poems, the whisky soft and mellow. Lane lay back in
a long armchair dreamily speculating as to the manner of man he had
found. An educated American probably. But Duckworth was not American. He
was a Duckworth of Anerley, and the last of his family. Hedley Duckworth
had emigrated to Australia, and the present deponent was his son. Lane
nodded again. He had known Hedley Duckworth as a small child.

"Funny thing," he said, "and shows how small a place the world is. I'll
get you to come and dine with me to-morrow night in Belgrave place. I
believe I'm just as musically mad as yourself and I fancy I can give you
a few yards start in the way of old plate and canvas."

"You've got me on a tender spot," Duckworth cried. "Eight o'clock? Just
cast your eye over this intaglio."

It was a fine piece of work in cornelian. Lane replaced it upon the
mantelpiece. Just below his elbow stood a photograph of his host taken
with another man, or, rather, with a reduplication of himself.

"Didn't you say you were the last of the family?" Lane asked.

"Well, yes," Duckworth admitted.

"Oh, that photograph. That fellow taken with me is the plague of my
life. He's my double. No relation, mind you. A cosmopolitan scoundrel
who lives on passing as me. I first heard of him eight years ago. Once
in Paris and twice in St. Petersburg he got me detained by the
authorities. If they had not caught the rascal the second time, hang me
if I don't think I should have found myself in Siberia. On that occasion
I compelled the fellow to be photographed with me, and now when I travel
I always carry that in my kit-bag. It's a proof that I have I got a
double, you see."

"A most amazing likeness," Lane murmured.

"And a most troublesome one," said Duckworth, with a look of annoyance
on his good-humoured face. "That chap copies my dress. Once when
suspected he contrived to get hold of one of my boxes of cigarettes. He
keeps them now for emergencies; so if you find me some night rifling
your Apostle spoons and Charles II. pepperpots, it won't be me, but the
other fellow."

The conversation fluttered butterfly-like from one subject to another
till it finally settled on music. Hereon Duckworth was with him. His
features glowed with a fine inspiration; he passed backwards and
forwards to the piano, playing a bar here and there with flattering
interest. He also was an enthusiast, but not an authority like his host.
Duckworth rattled off a heavily-scored work of Brahms brilliantly. The
whole world seemed to be flooded with the music.

"I hope the other people here are as keen," Lane said.

Duckworth smiled as he dropped into a chair and took a cigarette.

"I am the only lodger," he said. "My landlady, Mrs. Manly, runs a
high-class bonnet business and other feminine fripperies. She's quite a
lady, widow of an Indian colonel, or something of that kind, and says
she could listen to me playing all night, which is a great convenience,
as well as a compliment. Very good to me, too. When I get absorbed, I
hate to have anybody in the room; so if I don't ring my bell, the table
is not cleared till the morning. You won't get many people to cater for
a genius like that."

Lane admitted the virtues of this model landlady. He half rose to go,
but easily allowed himself to remain. There was a fascination about his
companion that attracted him. On the whole, he had never smoked
cigarettes with quite so exquisite a flavour, and the full mellowness of
the whisky was beyond praise. Moreover, Duckworth was familiar with many
lands that Lane knew.

"Really, I must be off," he said, as a quaint bracket clock struck
three. "I'm very glad to have met you, Duckworth; a pleasanter two hours
I've never spent. Come to 95a, Belgrave Place to-morrow at eight, and
we'll inspect my treasures. There's a complete set of Apostle
spoons----"

"The Rubini set," Duckworth said absently; "valued for probate at eleven
hundred and fifty pounds when your father died. I remember reading of it
in the 'Times.' Shall we be alone?"

"Oh, I'm not afraid of you," Lane laughed, "though I am living en garcon
just now, with a butler and two maidservants. I've got another man
coming, but he will be after your own heart. He also is ready for an all
night sitting on musical matters, though he can't play a note."

"A critic, eh? Do I know him?"

"By name probably. It's Hartley Mason, the novelist. Now I really must
be going. Good-night, and many thanks to you, old chap."



II.


Sir Gordon Lane's dinner was quite a little romance in its way. He held
that three was the ideal number for a bachelor dinner--a thoughtfulness
that Julius Duckworth thoroughly appreciated, specially as Hartley Mason
proved to be a brilliant and entertaining talker.

Dessert had been trifled with, there was a blue drift of cigarette smoke
across the dusky red-panelled walls of the small dining-room. Duckworth
lay back in his chair, thoughtfully sipping champagne and apollinaris
water. In a rapt way he contemplated the Rubini Apostle spoons. He
discoursed in a scholarly expert way on silver hall-marks. "I can only
look on and envy," Hartley Mason laughed. "I should like to live in an
atmosphere of Apostle spoons and Queen Anne teapots, if I could afford
it. I have to content myself with collecting specimens of humanity."

In the smoking-room the conversation drifted on to music. Once more the
agile little novice professed to speak as a novice. He was passionately
fond of all kinds of music, but he didn't know a note. He had heard of
some ingenious arrangement whereby it was possible to play the piano
without knowledge. Some good critics were quite enthusiastic about it.

"Mechanical," Lane snorted. "A thing call the Orpheusia. Sort of
superior barrel-organ. All rubbish."

"Not quite," Mason said, mildly. "Quite out of curiosity, you
know--well, I had quite half a mind to buy one. There are testimonials
from great pianists like----"

"Testimonials!--Your artist as a rule is the most good-natured man in
the world. Fancy having to listen for Salviati's Requiem, for instance,
filtered through a mechanical device attached to a piano!"

"I've done--I mean, I've heard it," Mason said stoutly, "and its
splendid."

Lane walked to his piano.

"Then you shall hear it again and confess yourself beaten," he said.

"Duckworth plays it perfectly, as testified by snatches last night. He
shall humble you to the dust, friend Mason. Come along, Duckworth."

Duckworth declined hastily and with some confusion. The novelist was
watching him through his eyeglasses keenly. It was the confusion of the
idle boaster who knows nothing of an art on which he has prated as an
expert. He coloured slightly. If a judge like Lane had not heard the
Anglo-Australian perform, Mason would have set him down without
hesitation as a vapouring liar.

"Fact is, I don't feel like it to-night," he said. "I'm afraid I've got
one of my ague fits coming on. My feet are like ice. Ring the bell, my
dear fellow, I really must get you to allow me to put my rubbers on."

"No ceremony here, my dear chap," Lane laughed. "The servants have gone
to bed. You will find your goloshes in the hall."

Duckworth reappeared presently, avowing himself to be better.

"I popped into the dining-room for my spare box of cigarettes," he said.
"Your case of Apostles is still on the table. Isn't that tempting
Providence?"

"Lock 'em up before I go to bed," Lane said carelessly. "Now sit down
and make yourself comfortable, Mason, you're not going?"

"I am afraid I must," the little novelist said, with marked regret.
"There are some proofs I faithfully promised to deliver in the morning.
As it is I shan't be in bed before daylight."

It was shortly after midnight when Duckworth rose in his turn. Lane lay
deep down in his armchair with his feet near the fire. He protested
gently that the evening was being spoilt.

"Hang me if I'm going to get up." he said.

"My dear fellow, I should be sorry for you to do anything of the kind,"
Duckworth cried eagerly. "I can let myself out. Good-night."

He stole away noiselessly in his goloshes, the door opened and closed
with a dull sound. It occurred to Lane that the latch was up, but he did
not move. He lay there looking into the glowing core of the fire for an
hour or more. He should have secured the front door, he told himself
indolently. But still----

He sat up alert and vigorous. His wonderfully quick ear caught a sound
of somebody moving in the dining-room. He kicked off his slippers, and
with a bound was in the hall. The dining-room door was wide open.
Within, under the soft light of the shaded electrics stood Julius
Duckworth conveying the priceless Apostles to his pocket.

"You infernal scoundrel," Lane cried. "But I shall know how to deal with
you."

Duckworth never even started. There was a suggestion of gentle regret on
his face.

"I was too eager," he said. "And I forgot that quick ear of yours. When
I opened the door just a while ago I merely closed it again and waited.
And now----"

"And now I am going to send for a policeman, Mr. Duckworth."

The other man smiled. He sat down with an unopened tin of cigarettes in
his hand.

"In justice to my friend Duckworth," he said, deliberately, "I must
correct you. It matters nothing what my real name is, but I am not
Julius Duckworth."

"The point is too subtle for me," Lane said grimly.

"There is no point at all. I am the other man."

"The other man! What the deuce do you mean by that?"

"Precisely what I say. Nobody could remain long in Mr. Duckworth's
company, without hearing of the other man, the alter ego, who has so
frequently gotten him into trouble. I am that other man."

"You are nothing of the kind," Lane replied. "There is no other man. The
alter ego was evolved out of your ingenious brain for certain reasons of
your own. Seeing that I have you safe here, the scheme fails. Or perhaps
you would like the second Duckworth to be your bail."

"The likeness is wonderful," the other man said, cheerfully. "But I beg
to assure you most sincerely that the real Duckworth is at his rooms
this very moment. He had a touch of fever this afternoon, and he wrote
you that he couldn't dine with you to-night."

"Which letter I need not say I never got."

"But you will the first post in the morning. This afternoon I had
occasion to call on my twin brother, so to speak. I wore glasses and a
beard. For obvious reasons I was going to get Duckworth to advance me
money to go to Australia. He had done so once before to get rid of me."

"He was in his bedroom. On his table was a letter to you saying that he
was sorry the fever would keep him confined to his room. I knew you by
repute, and here was my chance. You would never detect the difference.
And I came with my goloshes and my choice cigarettes--commandeered this
afternoon, as a matter of fact--and I got your Apostles. If I had not
been quite so anxious I should have got clean away."

"But that does not explain the letter not coming."

"Ah! I had forgotten that. If the letter could be delayed I had nothing
to fear. On second thought I decided not to wait and see my other self.
Instead of that I hung about the house until the page boy came out with
the letters. I handed him a packet addressed in pencil to a house in
Brook-street, and offered him half-a-crown to deliver it for me in five
minutes. I also offered to post his letters. The guileless innocence of
youth saw nothing but half-a-crown and a benevolent stranger. The letter
to you I posted too late for the 9 o'clock delivery."

Lane listened, not quite sure whether he was awake or dreaming. The
story was glib and convincing. Duckworth had actually shown him the
photograph of his double, and yet when the rascal was face to face it
seemed impossible to believe that he was anyone but Duckworth. Still,
the speech was a little thicker; there was a certain furtiveness in the
eye----

"We'll go round to Mr. Duckworth's rooms and settle it," Lane said. "And
don't you try any tricks on with me, my friend."

"I am not a fighter," the other man said. "Personally, I prefer finesse.
I am quite ready to accompany you to Mount-street. Do you know that you
very nearly found me out to-night? And I'm quite sure your astute friend
Mason suspected something. It was when you asked me to play that
Requiem. Now I know quite as much about old silver as Duckworth does. I
find that knowledge valuable. Also, to play Duckworth's part well, I
have rigged up the musical art patter. But I can't play a note. When you
asked me to play to-night I was taken off my guard, and was within an
ace of blurting out the fact. With that shrewd little beggar glaring at
me behind his glasses I very nearly turned tail and bolted. Have a
cigarette?"

"No thanks," Lane said curtly.

"Not one of my friend Duckworth's specials?" the other man asked
persuasively. "Well, let me have just one. By the way, here are your
spoons. It is with much regret that I am compelled to part with them."

He tumbled the precious Apostles out upon the table. Half suspecting
some trick, Lane locked the door before proceeding to count and
carefully examine his treasure. But they had not been changed, or
anything of that kind.

"All correct," said the other man, genially. Lane could hear the patent
tin band being peeled off the fresh box of cigarettes. There was a faint
perfume as the lid was raised, and the other man extracted, not a
cigarette, but a thick cotton pad soaked with something pungent. Then,
like a flash, a knee was inserted into Lane's back, his head was forced
over by a powerful grip, and before he knew what was happening, the pad
was pressed and held securely over his mouth and nostrils. Mechanically
he gave a quick gasping breath, and in a second, the darkness of night
closed in upon him, and he sank like an empty sack to the floor.

The other man surveyed his work with calm approval.

"On the whole, I'll take the spoons," he said. "Might as well be hanged
for a sheep as a lamb. How pleased Duckworth will be when our prostrate
friend calls upon him in the morning! And what a lot of convincing he'll
take! Bye bye, Lane."

Lane came to his senses at length. He had no feeling of anger in his
heart, nothing but a grim determination to get to the bottom of things.
At 8 o'clock the next morning he had pretty well planned out his line of
action.

"I'll go and call on Julius Duckworth," he said to himself, "and I'll
call before he's up. Pshaw! what nonsense! It's a plant from start to
finish. I shall find no Duckworth at Mount-street. And I think--egad,
hang me if I know what to think!"



III.


Sir Gordon repaired to Mount-street in a strange frame of mind. Like
most men of intellect, he was not in the habit of doubting the evidence
of his own senses. Morning had convinced him that he had come across in
Julius Duckworth a brilliant and original adventurer. When he reached
Mount-street he would hear that Mr. Duckworth had been suddenly called
abroad, or something of that kind. But the whole thing was bewildering.

Mr. Duckworth was dressing, a smart maid informed Lane. If the gentleman
liked to walk in, as his business seemed pressing, she would tell Mr.
Duckworth. The sitting-room fire was not yet lighted, but still----

Lane pushed his way resolutely, upwards. There might be some clue here.
The remains of a small dinner were still on the table, an ash tray on
the piano was filled with cigarette ends. A tall, pleasant-looking lady
appeared to be superintending domestic operations. Lane began to wish
that he had not come.

"I am Mrs. Manley," the lady said quite calmly. "I am sorry, but Mr.
Duckworth is to blame for all this confusion. Not being very well, he
dined at home last night. And when that happens, and Mr. Duckworth sits
down to his beloved piano afterwards, he hates to be disturbed."

"He promised to dine with me last night," Lane said.

"Oh! then you are Sir Gordon Lane. Mr. Duckworth wrote to you."

'"Unfortunately, I only received the letter this morning," Lane said
drily.

"That was my page boy's fault entirely," Mrs. Manley said. "Mr.
Duckworth was most anxious about that letter. The poor fellow was
shivering over the fire a few minutes before 8 last night wrapped up in
a quilted dressing-gown, and even then he asked about the letter."

Lane felt just a little queer. It looked as if the story of the alter
ego was true after all. Otherwise Duckworth would never have had the
audacity to stay coolly here after the events of last night. On the
piano lay the substantial score of Salviati's Requiem. It inspired a
question.

"Mr. Duckworth felt equal to his piano last night?" he asked.

"Oh, yes; he was playing all the evening. He went through that Requiem
twice. I enjoy the performances immensely; I believe I could listen to a
brilliant artist like Mr. Duckworth all night. I was an academy student
in my younger days. I tell Mr. Duckworth that if he had gone on the
concert platform he would have been a formidable rival to the great
performers."

Lane's suspicions were fading. Here was a lady in the best sense of the
word who was prepared to testify to the fact that at a few minutes to 8
her lodger had been crouching over the fire quite unable to go out. He
had dined at home, as the table testified; he had smoked numerous
cigarettes, as the ashtray proved; he had played a long Requiem twice
over. When the musical mood was on him, Duckworth never allowed himself
to be disturbed. An adroit question elicited the fact that it was about
9 when Duckworth went to the piano. He had played Salviati's masterpiece
twice; in other words, he must have sat down to his piano till
practically midnight. There could be no suggestion of hiring an
accomplice here, for brilliant pianists are not found at every corner;
besides the whilom academy student, in the form of Mrs. Manley, would
have noticed the change of touch at once. No; Duckworth's 'double' story
was true. The latter's anxiety that the letter of regret should be
posted in time clenched it.

A minute or two later, Duckworth yawned into the room, cuddled up in a
bear skin and shiveringly cursing the vagaries of the English climate.

"I'm sorry about last night," he said; "but you got my letter. What a
fool I was ever to have sampled that infernal Mosquito Coast!"

"I didn't get your letter," Lane said pithily. "But I had the pleasure
of entertaining your double, who subsequently drugged me and levanted
with my Apostle spoons."

Duckworth was properly sympathetic and properly angry. He listened to
Lane's story with many outbreaks. At the same time he could not but
admire the audacity and neatness of the scheme. His evident concern
soothed Lane.

"But I was within an ace of spoiling the play," Duckworth cried. "Once
last night I felt so much better that I half dressed to come and see you
after dinner. But prudence prevailed. I wish I had followed my impulse."

"I wish you had, too," Lane said pathetically.

"It would have been splendid. Did you find the likeness amazing?"

"So amazing that I feel half inclined to doubt the evidence of my own
senses and a strong desire to ring for a policeman and give you in
custody."

Duckworth shook his head sadly. It was no laughing matter. Sooner or
later, he felt sure, that confounded double of his would get him into
serious trouble. He declared that he had no appetite for breakfast, but
if Lane would join him----

Lane declined. No, he would not put the matter in the hands of the
police; he rather inclined to consult a private detective. This would be
far more pleasant for all parties. Duckworth not only applauded the
decision, but he was in a position to furnish the address of the very
man.

Lane walked off at length, chewing the cud of mixed reflection. Perhaps
Hartley Mason would be able to make some suggestions. The wily brain of
the novelist might prick a way to a more or less satisfactory
conclusion.

Mason rose from his chair somewhat hurriedly and pulled a cloth over his
piano. He kept that instrument, he explained, for the benefit of his
friends. He gleamed with all the virtue and alertness of the man who has
done a lot of early work.

"I have come to give you the plot for a story," Lane said.

Mason nodded without enthusiasm. Most novelists suffer in that way from
their friends. But as the story unfolded his eyes gleamed. It was a
psychogical problem after his own heart. It was a long time before he
spoke.

"Julius Duckworth is your man, after all," he said.

"You mean to say that Duckworth is the real thief?" Lane demanded.

"Precisely," Mason said coolly. "The story of that amazing double is all
hanged nonsense. It was invented and patented in case of accidents."

"But, my dear chap, I have seen the two men taken on one photograph
plate."

"So you may imagine. But that can be easily faked. Why, years ago, in
one of the 'Bits' type of paper, I saw the photograph of one man telling
another story--a man telling himself a story, in fact. Photographers can
easily manage that."

"Well, suppose I grant your point. How do you get over the fact that
Duckworth actually wrote me a letter saying that he couldn't come, and
that he insisted upon the letter being posted so that I should get it in
time?"

"As a man, I cannot say. But, as a novelist, suppose a blank envelope
was addressed in some fugitive ink--the ink that conjurers and
spiritualists use and which entirely disappears in a few minutes.
There's the letter mystery solved for you. After you caught Duckworth
out he posted the real letter on his way home. That's why his so-called
'double' told you the story of the letter."

"Another score to you. Now let's go a little further. Duckworth was at
home playing his piano all the evening. An expert witness will swear to
his touch. At ten minutes to 8 he was huddled over the fire in his
dressing-gown."

"Having all his war paint on underneath," Mason said crisply. "As soon
as his dinner was up he slipped out of the room and house unobserved.
You see how carefully he guarded against anybody entering his room by
all that nonsense about the interruption of inspiration, and all the
rest of it. Am I right so far?"

"You may be, but what about the piano, my astute friend?"

A queer smile trembled on the lips of the pianist as he glanced in the
direction of his piano. He looked like the man who tries to conceal that
he is holding up the ace of trumps or a great coup.

"As a novelist," he said slowly, "I often have to scheme a way for a man
to be in two places at once. I wanted an original idea for a new alibi,
and your friend Duckworth has given me one. A little weakness of my own
has supplied the key. Now, didn't Duckworth say last night that
Halliwell the numismatist had asked him to dinner on Friday?"

"He did say so. And, as a matter of fact, I am going too."

"Don't. Write regretting at the very last moment. Then come round here a
little after nine and I will show you things, as the Americans say. Now,
I must turn you out. But I am going to solve your problem."

Lane retired somewhat ungratefully.

Mason crossed over and pulled the rug away that covered his piano. The
smile was not in deprecation of himself!

"Very neat," he murmured; "a plan to be in two places at the same time.
Splendid!"



IV.


"Now we are going to work up to the climax," said Mason, as he rose from
his seat before the fire. "We assume that Duckworth has gone to dine
with old Halliwell to-night."

"Which is doubtful," Lane interrupted. "Duckworth had a touch of ague
to-day."

Mason chuckled. He seemed to be pleased about something.

"A safeguard," he said. "Now you will be so good as to go as far as Hans
Place and call on Halliwell. You must make some excuse for calling--ask
if Fox is there, or something of that kind; but ascertain if Duckworth
has arrived. You can easily get all that from the footman who answers
the door. You will find that Duckworth is there. Then come back to see
me here."

Lane went off in a state of mystery and a hansom cab. He returned
presently with the information that Duckworth had arrived in due course,
and that at the present moment he was smoking a cigar with Clement
Halliwell, C.B., in his library. Mason chuckled in the previous
irritating manner, and began to smoke. At half-past 10 he rose and
donned his overcoat.

"Halliwell is an early bird," he said. "We must start now, unless we
want to lose our little bird, too. Come along. We are going to call and
see Duckworth."

"Who, as I told you, is not at home."

"What's that got to do with it? You'll see some fun presently; also your
Apostle spoons."

Arrived at Mount-street, Mason asked the sprucely-starched parlour-maid
for Mr. Duckworth. With mild amazement, Lane heard that Mr. Duckworth
was far from well; that he had dined at home and could see nobody. As a
matter of fact, he was playing the piano at the present moment. The
exquisite strains of Saviati's Requiem filled the house.

"We'll go up," Mason said casually. "Mr. Duckworth is expecting us. No,
you need not trouble to announce us. I'm afraid we're rather late."

Mason pushed his way upstairs followed by Lane mechanically. The latter
was utterly and entirely bewildered. Could Duckworth be in two places at
the same time? And how wonderfully well he was playing the Requiem!

Mason held the door of the sitting-room open for Lane and then closed it
behind him. The curtains over the alcove containing the piano were
drawn. The unseen musician appeared to have his soul in his work.

"What execution!" Lane murmured.

"What time! What brilliancy of touch! A little more soul, perhaps. But
still, there are not five pianists in Europe----"

He paused, utterly at a toss for words. With a dramatic gesture Mason
drew back the curtains, the wide end of the piano appeared in sight, but
where was the executant? The alcove was empty! Lane gasped. Nobody was
there, and yet the marvellous music went on. The room was flooded with
the slow, wailing melody.

"Explanations all in due course," said Mason. "The next thing is to
catch our hare. He won't come back until the house has gone to bed,
which won't be long now. That's what I call a neat dodge to establish an
alibi. Even if you take your criminal almost red-handed, and he can
wriggle back to his den here, he's pretty safe. Once that is done, and
the people here swear that he never left the house, he turns on the
artistic story of the double, and there you are. Bet you anything more
than one Continental police bureau is prepared to testify to the
double."

"But that wonderful plaything?" said Lane.

"Ah, we shall come to that presently. Musicians are very conservative.
On the whole, we had better step inside Duckworth's bedroom. He is sure
not to be long now, especially as I heard the servants going to bed.
Duckworth has his latch-key. Probably it is an understood thing that he
fastens the front door."

Half an hour passed, the wailing music gradually grew slower and then
stopped altogether. Then the sitting-room door opened, and Duckworth
crept in. There was a serene smile on his face as he slipped off his
great coat. From an inner pocket he took a small flat case, and laid it
on the table.

"The earlier Saxon coins," he murmured. "It will be a sad loss to
Halliwell. I fear he will be greatly cut up over it. These shall gladden
the heart of another collector, who may surmise where they come from,
but who will show them to nobody. Your born collector has no conscience.
I wonder----"

"A good Wulfric," Mason said, laying a gentle hand on the speaker's
shoulder, "and a remarkably fine specimen, I understand that there are
only two others in existence. But Mr. Halliwell is not going to lose his
coin this time."

Duckworth looked up swiftly. Just for a moment his eyes blazed. There
was a cruel snarl on his lips. Then he reached for a cigarette with a
steady hand.

"You are quite right to take it quietly," Mason said, "though I should
be very sorry to be alone with you. Where are Sir Gordon's spoons?"

"I'll get them for you," said Duckworth with smiling alacrity.

"You'll do nothing of the kind," Mason said crisply. "If you attempt to
rise, I shall lay you out with this life preserver. Your keys! The
spoons are in that big safe yonder? Very good. Lane will you get them
and see that they are correct? Good again. Also place that case of coins
in your pocket. That being successfully accomplished, what are we going
to do with the polished rascal?"

"Don't hit a man when he's down," said Duckworth, deliberately blowing a
spiral of smoke down his nostrils. Sir Gordon Lane suggested. "Our
interesting friend's same slightly feminine weakness. How did you find
me out?"

He lay back in his chair perfectly at ease. Like a true philosopher, he
recognised the inevitable. Perhaps it was not the first time.

"Might just as well say all about it," Lane suggested, "Our interesting
friend's double was a figment of his imagination, of course."

"It was part of an exceedingly ingenious scheme," said Mason. "I need
not go into the way it worked, seeing that it entirely deceived you.
When you told me about it the other night I felt pretty certain that
there was no double existing in the flesh. You told me all about the
piano playing and the story Mrs. Manley had to tell. Also you challenged
me to devise some scheme where, to all practical purposes, a man could
be in two places at the same time.

"Well, by a little bit of good fortune, I solved that problem. I am as
passionately fond of music as either of you, but I can't play a note. A
little time ago a friend showed me that marvellous invention the
Orpheusia. I was charmed with it. Paderewski says it exceeds anything
the most brilliant performer can accomplish. Other great musicians
bought one. I bought one. And I claim that I can, with the aid of it,
far exceed the efforts of either of you. I was a little ashamed to speak
of it when I was dining with you the other night because you were so
contemptuous of the Orpheusia. But you heard it here tonight."

"So that was the Orpheusia?" Lane cried. "Mason, I take it all back."

"I knew you would, conservative as you are. Well, my Orpheusia gave me
the first idea. Here was a way that Duckworth could be in two places at
once. Here was his ingenious alibi. He had an Orpheusia. I made
inquiries of the makers. Sure enough, one of these instruments was
delivered here a few weeks ago, packed ready to go abroad. It is behind
that curtain at this moment, plus an ingenious little arrangement for
working it mechanically, and to reverse the action so that a piece can
be played twice or three times over. Hence the selection of a long score
like Salviati's Requiem. There you have it in a nutshell. Any mechanical
affair like the Orpheusia could do this thing. And all the time the
people here deemed this clever fellow to be shooting his soul with a
sweet strain, he was elsewhere. The puzzle is solved. It looked
dreadfully difficult at first, but, like all things of the kind, it is
absolutely prosaic when you know how it's done."

Lane slipped behind the curtain for a moment. He found things pretty
much the same as Mason had prophesied that they would be. He had heard
of the wonderful possibilities of the Orpheusia, but he had scoffed at
the suggestion hitherto. Duckworth smiled with the air of a man whose
modest worth has been discovered.

"Simple and ingenious," he said. "The only time when I have known
artistic simplicity to fail. And now I suppose there is nothing for it
but to call a cab?"

"Out of the window," Mason said. "No going to the door. I have too much
respect for your ability to give you the ghost of a chance. If you open
the window and whistle. Lane, you are pretty sure of your catch."

"You little demon!" said Duckworth, with a flash of his white teeth. "I
was a bit afraid of you from the very first."

"On the score of phrasing," Mason said coolly, "your compliment is
crude. But of its sincerity there is not the shadow of a doubt."


THE END



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