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Title: The Black Narcissus
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1200391.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
Date most recently updated: January 2012

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

Title: The Black Narcissus
Author: Fred M White

*

Published in The Windsor Magazine, December, 1901.

*



I.


Twisting the card in his fingers, Lancaster Vane stood, impatient. He
had all the novelist's scarring, lightning-flash passion for puerile
interruption.

"Didn't I tell you?" he growled. Then he paused, with the surging sense
of humour uppermost. The black-and-white starched parlour maid was
wilting before his scathing indignation. "Don't you know that I once
murdered a maid who disobeyed my orders like this? Show the man in."

The girl gurgled and vanished. Then followed a man with a gliding step
and a moist gray eye, that took the whole room and the trim garden
beyond and even the novelist in like the flash of a camera, and held the
picture on the mental gelatin for all time.

"I am afraid I am intruding upon you, sir," the stranger suggested.

"Oh, you are," Vane said quietly. "Don't let that trouble you, though. I
always work in the mornings, and I play golf all the afternoon. I make
this arrangement so that if people waste my time in the mornings I can
make up for it by sacrificing my pleasure after luncheon."

Inspector Darch, of Scotland Yard, ventured upon a smile.

"I come upon business of importance," he said.

"I guessed that from the card. Had you not been a policeman I should
have declined to see you. In search of copy I have spent a deal of time
in police and criminal courts, and I am bound to say I have a certain
affection for the average constable. He has imagination--the way he
generally gives his evidence shows that. He is a novelist in the nut."

Inspector Darch looked searchingly at the speaker. He was just a little
disappointing. He was not tall and pale, with flashing eyes and long
hair; on the contrary, his hair was that of the athlete, and he might
have passed for a pugilist of the better class. The sensitive mouth and
fine gray eyes saved the countenance from the commonplace. Thus it was
that, after a second searching gaze, Darch seemed to see a face
kaleidoscope from broad commonplace into the rugged suggestion of a
young Gladstone. Here was no ordinary man. But then everybody who had
studied Lancaster Vane's novels knew that.

"My complaint is, that we all lack imagination," the inspector said. "Of
course, what you so playfully allude to is inventiveness. Young
policeman always invent--they fancy that their first duty is to get a
conviction. But they have no imagination. I've got a name and a good
reputation, but no imagination."

"You have come to a deadlock in some case you have on hand?"

"That's it, sir. And I've made so bold as to come and ask for your
assistance."

"Come out into the garden and smoke a cigar, then," Vane said suddenly.

Darch complied willingly. Vane's thatched cottage was on the river--a
tiny place consisting of a large study, a smoking room, and a
dining-room, with quarters at the back for bachelor friends. Hither he
had come earlier in the season than usual, with the intention of
finishing a novel, before turning from "his beans and bacon," as he
phrased it, to the butterfly delights of the London season. For Vane's
books were satires for the most part, and he knew his world as well as
any man living. Audacity and insight were the jewels in the wheel of his
style. He had a marvellous faculty for seeing through a thing, a faculty
that made him both respected and feared.

The garden was a riotous delight of daffodils and tulips, primulas and
narcissus. There was no finer show of those pure spring flowers to be
seen anywhere. Vane had a perfect passion for flowers, especially the
spring varieties. He could name a bulb as a savant can locate the flint
or the sandstone. With an eye for detail, Darch did not fail to notice
that there were no less than 16 varieties of daffodils.

"Here I live for my work and my flowers," said Vane. "When down here, I
smoke a pipe and live more or less on fish and bacon. When I am in town,
I am nice over my wine and critical to rudeness over my friend's
cigarettes. You are fond of flowers, Mr. Darch?"

"At present I am deeply interested in them," Darch replied.

"And thereby hangs a tale," said Vane. "Go on."

"There! I knew you were the man for me," Darch said admiringly.

Vance smiled; for even a novelist is only a man in disguise.

"Heavens! If I'd only got that insight of yours! It's a murder case,
sir."

"You have a murder case on hand that utterly puzzles you?" Vane had
dropped into a rustic garden seat, where he was thoughtfully pulling at
his pipe. "And the matter is not remotely connected with flowers," he
concluded.

"Got it again, sir!" the delighted Darch exclaimed. "You see, it's like
this. I've read all your books--indeed, I have read most novels that
make the study of humanity, and I don't deny that I've learnt a lot that
way."

"Have you really?" Vane said quickly.

"I don't mind your little joke, sir. I've learnt that an innocent man
can show exactly the same terror as the guilty caught red-handed; I've
learnt--but no matter. And many a time it has struck me what a wonderful
detective a first class novelist would make. I don't mean in little
things, such as tracking criminals and the like--I mean in elucidating
big problems. When we exhaust every avenue, his imagination would find a
score of others, especially if he had a good psychological knowledge of
his man. Now, I've got a case on hand that I believe you can solve for
me, sir."

"Possibly," said Vane. "But where does my psychological knowledge come
in? Seeing that there is no suspect, and that the victim is a stranger
to me----"

"The victim is no stranger to you Mr. Vane; I've found that out. And
because you know him, and because of your novels, I am here today."

"This is getting interesting," Vane murmured. "The victim?"

"Ernst Van Noop. He was found dead in his cottage at Pinner last night,
and there is not the slightest trace of the murderer. Van Noop lived in
his house quite alone, and he seemed to have no hobby or occupation
beyond his little garden and greenhouses."

"Except when he was spouting sedition in Hyde Park on Sundays," said
Vane. "I'm sorry to hear about this. Really, Van Noop was a perfectly
harmless creature, and at heart as gentle as a child. A little
eccentric, but that was all."

Darch dissented mildly. He was bound to regard the doings of the dead
Dutchman with an official eye. The man had been an anarchist of the
worst type; his Sunday orations would never have been tolerated in any
other country; his doctrines were, to say the least, inflammatory.

"You are quite wrong," said Vane. "Poor Van Noop would not have injured
a fly. In his way the man was a genius, and genius must have an outlet,
or it is apt to become chargeable upon the rates. Anarchy was Van Noop's
safety valve. He and I came together over the common table of
flowers--bulbs especially. He could have worked wonders in the way of
hybrids and new varieties had he lived. Your dangerous character theory
won't hold water. I defy you to prove to me that the poor old Dutchman
consorted with notoriously dangerous characters."

"Then why did he ask for police protection?" Darch demanded. "What was he
afraid of? He had no money or valuables, he never went near any of the
Soho clubs; so far as we can tell, nobody suspicious ever went near him.
Yet for the last few days that man has been frightened out of his
life--afraid of being murdered, he said. At the same time he refused to
give any account of the party or parties who held him in terror, and he
point-blank declined to open his mouth as to the reason for any threats
or danger."

"You fancy he was a Nihilist who had fallen under the ban of the order?"

"I feel practically certain of it, sir," Darch replied. "He has been
murdered by those people, and they have left no trace behind. That is why
I am here."

Vane smiled in a manner calculated to annoy anybody but a detective.

"I don't fancy you are far wrong to appeal to the imagination of a
novelist," he said, "especially to a novelist who knows the victim. I
don't know the murderer, any more than you do, but I'll prophesy for
once. Within a week you shall have the assassin within your hands. Come,
isn't that assertion enough even for a writer of fiction?"

"You can put your hand upon the Nihilist?" Darch cried. "You know him?"

"I don't know him, and he isn't a Nihilist," Vane replied. "I haven't
the remotest idea who the murderer is, and yet I stick to my opinion. I
am going entirely on a theory, which theory is built upon some knowledge
of the dead man's past. You will, perhaps, be glad to hear that it is a
theory that would only occur to a novelist; therefore you were perfectly
right in the line of policy that brought you here. Now, perhaps you will
be so good as to tell me all the details."

"The details are nil, practically," Darch replied. "The policeman on
duty near Van Noop's cottage had certain special orders. He noticed that
the door was not open late in the afternoon, and he could not make
anybody hear. Then he burst open the door and found Van Noop lying dead
in the kitchen with a wound in his side. There were no signs of
violence; indeed, Van Noop must have been taken quite by surprise, for
just under his heel, as if he had slipped upon it, was a small smashed
onion."

"Onion!" Vane cried. "An onion! Great Scot!"

The mention of that homely yet pungent vegetable seemed to have the
strangest effect upon the novelist. He glanced at Darch with mingled
contempt and pity, a great agitation possessed him as he restlessly
strode to and fro. Then he dropped into his seat again, and his
shoulders shook in a fit of uncontrollable laughter.

"You will pardon me," he said, after a pause; "but your apparently
commonplace words swept all the strings of emotion at once. And yet you
say there is no clue. Now, could you have any clue stronger than an
onion?"

"You are slightly too subtle for me, sir," Darch said, not without heat.

"I beg your pardon," Vane said contritely. "But I should very much like
to see that onion."

Darch replied that the request might be complied with. He would have
permitted himself the luxury of satire with anybody else but Vane over
the matter. But then Vane had made him a cold, concrete promise that he
should handle the quarry within seven days. From a novelist who had
consistently refused to be interviewed, the promise carried weight.

"Was there anything else?" Vane asked.

"Nothing so prominent as the onion," Darch replied. "I, of course, made
a close examination of the body, and in the right hand I found a flower.
It looks to me like a periwinkle. Of course, it is much faded, and
perhaps you may attach some importance to it. Being an ordinary man, it
conveys nothing to me?"

Vane's eyes were gleaming. The lines of his sensitive mouth twitched. If
he was moved to laughter anymore, he laughed inside.

"I don't suppose it would," he said thoughtfully, "seeing that Van Noop
was a lover of flowers. He might have been looking at the bloom at the
moment when the fatal blow was struck. It would be quite natural for him
to keep the flower in his grasp. You have it, of course?"

"Yes, sir," said Darch. "One never quite knows. Didn't some great man
once say that there are no such things as small details?"

"Details are the cogwheels of great actions," Vane said sententiously.
"Give me the flower."

Darch took the withered bloom from his pocketbook. It was wilted and
lank, with a grass green stem and some dank velvet tassels hanging
forlornly to the head. Had it been some precious treasure of the storied
ages Vane could not have examined it more tenderly.

"What do you make of it?" Darch asked carelessly.

Vane shook his head. "The bloom is too far gone at present," he said.
"It might be possible to revive it by plunging the whole in tepid water,
with a little salt added." And yet, in spite of his assumed
indifference, Vane's voice shook a little when he spoke.

"You had better leave this with me," he said. "In any case, it will be
quite safe in my hands, and as the inquest on Van Noop's body is over,
you will not need it for the present. At the same time, I am quite in
earnest over my prophecy. If you will come here this day week at 6 P.M.,
I will go with you and assist you, if necessary, in arresting the
murderer."

Darch departed, somewhat dazed at the result of his interview. But there
was no smile on the face of the novelist, nothing but eager, palpitating
curiosity, as he proceeded to plunge the wilted flower into water, to
which a little salt was added.

"I'll go for a long pull on the river," he murmured. "I can't stay here
by that thing. I should get an attack of nerves watching it expand. I
wonder if it is possible that----"

He came back at length, two hours later, and proceeded to the study.
Then he drew the flower from the water, and, behold! a glorious and
pleasing transformation. The dead, crepe-like petals had filled out to a
velvety, glossy softness, black as night and lustrous as ebony. There
were five of these black petals, and in the centre a calyx of deep
purple with a heart of gold. Vane's hand shook as if with wine as he
examined the perfect flowers, his eyes were glowing with admiration.

He flicked the water from it and dried it carefully. Then he held it
where the sun might play upon the velvety lustre and shine upon the
perfect dead blackness. Vane's eyes were like those of a mother gazing
at a child back from the gates of death.

"Now I know what Van Noop was hinting at," he said. "He said he had a
fortune in his pocket, and he was right. And I am the only living man
who has been as yet permitted to look upon a black narcissus."




II.


It was characteristic of Lancaster Vane that he should throw himself
heart and soul into his undertaking. It had occurred to him more than
once that the typical detective officer was lacking in imagination, and
crime in the abstract interested him, as it must interest all writers of
fiction; and more than once he had found his theories of some great case
not only at variance with the police, but absolutely right when they had
been as absolutely wrong.

That marvelous audacity and insight had rarely failed Vane when dealing
with living, breathing humanity. And he had no fear of failure here.

All the same, Inspector Darch began to grow uneasy when the sixth day
came and nothing had transpired--at least, nothing of a tangible nature.
He came down to the cottage late in the evening with a sufficiently
flimsy excuse for seeing the man of letters.

Vane was seated in his study, reading by the light of a shaded lamp. The
vivid blood-red line of the fringed silk was but one crimson spot in a
dim, shimmering blackness. The novelist half sighed, and then smiled as
he laid down his book.

"I had forgotten all about you, Darch," he said.

"You don't mean to say you have done nothing, sir?" the inspector cried.

"On the contrary, I have done a great deal, my friend," Vane replied. "I
meant that I had forgotten you for a moment. I am reading a novel here
which in my humble opinion is the best that Dumas ever wrote."

"Monte Cristo?" Darch murmured. "Hear, hear!"

"No, it is not Monte Cristo," Vane replied. "I am alluding to 'The Black
Tulip.' Later on you will appreciate the value of the work. Imagination
and education do a great deal for a man, but a judicious system of
novel-reading does more. Some day our prophet shall arise and tell the
world what an influence for good the best novels have wielded. Do you
know the book?"

Darch admitted having skimmed it. He had found the characterisation
feeble--at least, from a detective's point of view. Vane smiled.

"I shall change your opinion presently," he said. "Have you discovered
anything?"

"As to Van Noop, you mean? No, sir. Have you?"

"No," Vane replied. "I am still quite as much in the dark as yourself."

"But you promised me that within a week----"

"I would show you the man. Well, I am going to do so. I haven't the
remotest idea who he is yet, but I am going to meet him tomorrow
afternoon. When I have done so, I shall send you a telegram to Scotland
Yard giving you the man's address and the hour you are to meet me there.
Does that satisfy you?"

Darch expressed his thanks but feebly. All this was very irregular.
Also, though it had an element of gasconade about it, it was impossible
to look into Vane's strong, grave face and doubt that he believed every
word that he uttered. If this were detective's work, why, then, it
amounted to genius. And thus Darch departed, with a strong feeling of
uncertainty.

It was a little after 12:00 the next day that Vane set out to walk from
Pinner Station on the Metropolitan to the cottage recently inhabited by
the unhappy Van Noop. Nearing his destination he felt in his pocketbook
for certain news cuttings and a printed circular he had there. And this
printed circular was to the effect that on this same date the whole of
the garden produce, plants, flowers, bulbs, and apparatus generally
belonging to the late Ernst Van Noop, were to be sold by auction, by
order of the landlord, under a distress for rent. By the time Vane came
to the cottage a free sprinkling of gardeners and florists had arrived,
for, though the sale was a small one, Van Noop had been fairly well
known amongst the brotherhood, and there was just the chance of picking
up an odd parcel or so of hybrid bulbs which might become worth their
weight in gold later on.

A lover of flowers and a man keen on anything new in that direction,
Vane was respectfully recognised. Most of the dealers present were
gathered in the kitchen of the cottage where the bulbs were set out in
little coarse blue paper bags. Most of them were properly labeled and
catalogued, but there were three packets, of four bulbs each, to which
the most trained florist present would have found it hard to give a
name.

Vane pushed his way through a little knot of dealers. One of them
touched his hat.

"Anything new here, Harris?" he asked.

"Well, sir," was the reply. "Van Noop was a close sort of party. I did
hear something--in fact, I read it in the 'Garden Herald' today--as Van
Noop had some wonderful black bulbs here, but maybe it's all nonsense. I
can't make head or tail of those little packets yonder, and I should be
sorry to risk a sovereign on the chance of them turning out anything
beyond the common. The other bulbs look good, but we could all show as
fine a variety."

"I'll speculate," said Vane. "There's a commission for you, Harris. You
can go up to five pounds each for those particular packets, but not a
penny beyond. Of course, it will be throwing money away, but nothing
venture, nothing win. And it may be possible that the 'Garden Herald'
was right, and Van Noop had invented the black tulip, after all."

Vane had spoken loud enough for everybody to hear. Then he left the
cottage and strode down with the air of a man who has important business
before him. He came back later and lounged into the cottage
unconcernedly with a pipe in his mouth. The small knot of buyers were
still lingering there. Vane came up to Harris languidly.

"Well," he asked. "Do you want my cheque for those mysterious bulbs?"

"No, sir," Harris replied, "and in my opinion you're quite well out of
it. I bid up to five pounds, and then a stranger raised a sovereign a
bag, and I dropped it, of course. There he is, sir. You don't often get
a chance to see the amateur enthusiast at his best; but he's only a
foreigner."

This with the finest insular contempt. Vane glanced carelessly at the
slight, stooping figure and thin, pinched features of the man who had
incurred the florist's displeasure. The eyes he could not see, for they
were behind glasses.

"Evidently an enthusiast, like myself," Vane said. "We all have our
philosopher's stone, Harris."

"I dare say we do," Harris replied sententiously.

Vane smiled again. He passed over to the auctioneer and, after a few
minutes with that worthy, scribbled out a telegram in pencil. When he
looked round again, the foreign connoisseur had disappeared. Harris was
busily engaged in directing the package of his own small purchase.

"I am coming over tomorrow to see that salmon auricula of yours," said
Vane. "I am sorry to say that mine are doing indifferently. Not enough
shade, perhaps.'

"That's it, sir," Harris responded. "Aristocratic flower, naturally, is
the auricula. Put 'em in an old garden along the borders under apple
trees, and you can grow 'em like peonies. It's only county people who
can grow auriculas."

"I'll put a coat-of-arms over mine," Vane laughed. "By the way, as you
are passing a station, will you be good enough to send this telegram for
me?"

The telegram merely contained an address, followed by a single figure,
and was directed to Darch's registered address at Scotland Yard. To the
casual reader it conveyed nothing. Then Vane made his way into the road.

He walked on for a mile or more until he came, at length, to a pretty
little cottage, a double-fronted one-story affair, covered with
creepers. There was a long garden in front, a garden deep sunken between
trim, thick hedges, the black soil of which was studded with thousands
of flowers--hyacinths, tulips, narcissus, nothing was wanting.

Vane's artistic eye reveled in the lovely sight.

He stood thus feasting his soul on the mass of beautiful colors before
him. The more important mission was forgotten for the moment. There was
something of envy in Vane's glance, too, for with all his lavish outlay
he could not produce blooms like these. And the owner of the place was
obviously a poor man.

"A better soil, perhaps," Vane muttered, "or perhaps it's because these
beauties get the whole attention of the grower. Flowers want more
attention than most women. When those gladiolus come into bloom----"

Vane paused in his ruminations as the owner of the cottage came out. He
had a black skullcap on the back of his head, around which gray hairs
straggled like a thatch. As he stood in the path of the setting sun Vane
noticed the long, slender hands and a heavy signet ring on the right
little finger. They were not the hands of the toiler or workman, and yet
to Vane they indicated both strength and resolution.

"I am admiring your flowers," he said. "They are absolutely perfect. I
am an enthusiast myself, but I have nothing like this."

"Nothing so perfect?" the old man said. "Won't you come in, sir?"

The question was asked with a certain mixture of humility and high
courtesy that seemed to take Vane back over the bridge of the centuries.
The man before him was bent and shaken by the palsy of old age, and yet
his eyes were full of fire and determination. His English was thin and
foreign, yet he spoke with the easy fluency of the scholar. Again Vane
forgot his mission. An hour or more passed, the sun had flamed down
behind the fragrant hawthorn, and Vane was still listening.

He had met a man with an enthusiasm greater than his own. Vane was
standing in the presence of a master, and he knew it. The man was
talking excitedly.

"I was a rich man once," he said. "The Van Eykes were a power in Holland
at one time. And I have ruined myself over flowers as Orientals ruin
themselves over their harems, and as the visionary in seeking for the
elixir of life. Flowers have ever been my mistress--I have given my all
for them, my life to the study of the secrets of nature. If I could only
go down to posterity as the inventor of something new----"

"A black tulip, for instance," Vane suggested.

The dark eyes behind the glasses flashed. Vane looked at his watch.

"Oh, yes!" Van Eyke cried. "It was that fascinating romance that first
set me thinking. Perhaps you, too, have had your dreams, sir?"

"I confess it," Vane smiled. "You see, I am a novelist as well as a
florist. I am still sanguine of seeing a black, a velvety black, flower.
It will be soft-stemmed when it comes, and, as you know, it will be a
bulbous plant."

"Perhaps I shall be able to show it to you."

Van Eyke spoke quietly, yet with a thrill in his voice. His hand
trembled with something more than the weight of years. His glance
wandered toward the house.

"I had it almost within my grasp five years ago," he said. "I was living
near Amsterdam then. You should have seen my hybrids--black, and white,
and patches, and the black pre-dominating. Heavens! how I longed and
waited for the next springtime!"

"You are speaking of tulips, of course?" Vane asked carelessly.

"Oh, no," said Van Eyke. He paused in confusion, the red thread of his
lips paled. "Yes, yes, of course I meant tulips. The black tulip. Ah,
ah!"

His gaiety was not a pleasant thing. It was too suggestive of the
butterfly on the skeleton.

"Oh! I waited for the springtime," he went on. "Aye, I waited as a
prisoner for freedom. And they all came pink! My children had been
stolen! Sir, you are a novelist. You can understand the frame of mind in
which one commits murder."

"Did you track the man who had robbed you?" Vane asked.

"After a time I did; but it was years. Sir, I am talking nonsense."

"You may have said too much in the excitement of the moment," Vane said
coolly, "But certainly you are not talking nonsense. You tracked your
man, and you killed him. Why?"

Van Eyke's hands went up with an almost mechanical gesture. At the same
moment a step was heard, crunching the gravel outside, and Darch
appeared. Vane made a motion with his hand in the direction of Van
Eyke's bent, quivering figure.

"You have come in time," he said. "This is Mr. Darch, of Scotland Yard.
And this is Mr. Van Eyke, the man who killed Van Noop a few days ago."

Darch was too astonished to speak for a moment. The dramatic force of
the situation had almost overpowered him. For crime as a rule is sordid
enough, and the heroic in the life of a detective is only for the pages
of fiction.

"This is a poor return for all my courtesy," Van Eyke said, not without
dignity. "I have never even heard of the gentleman you mention."

Darch looked helplessly at Vane. The suggestion that he was about to be
fooled was painful. Never had the mantle of the majesty of the law lain
more awkwardly on his shoulders.

"It is quite possible," Vane said, "that you never heard of Van Noop by
that name. But assuredly you knew all about the man at Pinner, the man
who was murdered, and some of whose bulbs today fetched over five pounds
a packet, or nearly two pounds per bulb."

"I have not heard of that," said Van Eyke.

"Strange, seeing that you purchased them," Vane went on. "This is
nonsense, Mr. Van Eyke. I saw you at the sale, and I am surprised that
you did not see me. However, all this is beside the point. You bought
those bulbs at an extravagant price because you believed that they were
the bulbs of the black----"

"There is not a black--a black tulip in the world."

"Who said anything about a black tulip?" Vane retorted. "What you were
after was a black narcissus. Perhaps you will deny the existence of
that?"

"I should like to see it, above all things."

The sneer passed over Vane's head. He stepped close to Van Eyke and
opened his overcoat. In the lapel of his coat, the stem carefully
preserved in water, he wore Van Noop's black narcissus. The flower was
slightly ragged at the edges, but it was all there, like a lovely woman
past her prime.

The effect was staggering. Van Eyke fell, as if some unseen power had
beaten him to his knees.

"Where did you get it?" he asked hoarsely. "Where did you get it?"

"Surely you need not ask the question," said Vane. "It was the one Van
Noop was holding in his hand at the time you murdered him."

Van Eyke rose slowly to his feet. He made no further denial of the grave
charge, he seemed to be absolutely unconscious of the danger hanging
over his head. He had only eyes for the flower in Vane's coat. Darch
watched the scene with lively admiration.

"Let me see it, let me hold it," said Van Eyke. He spoke like a man in a
dream. "I don't care what you do, I don't care what happens to me, so
long as I can hold that flower in my hand. You need not be afraid. I
will not injure it. Injure it? Bah! Would a mother injure her firstborn?
I have sold my soul for it, as Faust sold his for Marguerite."

His eyes had grown soft and pleading. It seemed impossible to believe
that the gentle, quivering creature could have the blood of a fellow
creature on his hands. Vane passed the flower over, in spite of a glance
of disapproval from Darch. It seemed like madness to hand over to the
prisoner's custody the strongest link of evidence against him and how
frail that link was!

Van Eyke bent over the flower and pressed it to his lips.

"This is mine," he said, "Mine! For 20 years I have labored to attain
this result. Another hand grew it, another hand feuded it and fostered
it, but the child is mine. Van Noop stole my black and white hybrids two
years ago, and from them he has developed this. He has been no more that
the clod who has made the frame and varnished the canvas, for the
picture is mine. And I killed him."

The confession was out a last. Darch stepped forward. The man was merged
in the official. For the moment he forget to admire Vane and the
wonderful way in which he had elucidated the mystery. He became a mere
detective again.

"I must warn you," he said, "that all you say will be taken in evidence
against you."

Van Eyke smiled. Then he handed the black narcissus back to Vane. "What
does it matter?" he said. "What does anything matter? I have seen all
the fond hopes of years gratified, and I can die happy. I care nothing
whatever whether Van Noop or myself gets the credit for the black
narcissus, so long as it is there. He robbed me--I found him--and I
killed him--killed him with the very thing I coveted in his hand. He
died with it in his hand, and I never knew it."

"It is two years since I tracked Van Noop to England, after he robbed
me. Then I settled down in this cottage, waiting my time, and for two
years he lived within a mile of me, and I never knew it--never found it
out. A month last Sunday I was in London. I was passing through Hyde
Park when I heard an anarchist addressing a mob. Something in his voice
impelled me to draw near. It was my man, the man who had robbed me of
the best part of my life.

"I followed him home. I found where he lived, and I waited my
opportunity. It came. I slipped into the cottage when the door was open,
and there he was, bending over a pot with a flower growing in it. I made
a noise, and he turned and saw me. I fancied that it was his fear that
caused him to break off the flower in the pot, but I had only eyes for
my foe. Then with a knife I struck him to the heart, and he died without
a murmur. For an hour I remained there, searching the house, but I could
not find what I was searching for. I was looking for the black
narcissus. Gentlemen, that is all."

"One question," said Vane. "Had you been hanging about Van Noop's
cottage?"

"For three or four weeks, yes," Van Eyke replied. "I was seeking for my
opportunity."

"Is it possible that he might have discovered this?"

"Oh, it is possible, all these things are possible. Why?"

"I was merely asking for my own information," said Vane. "There was a
point to be cleared up, and you have done it for us. I am sorry for
this, very sorry. It seems a pity that so fine and innocent and
beautiful a place should be mixed up in a sordid crime like this."

Van Eyke shrugged his shoulders. There was no trace of fear in his eyes
now; indeed, it seemed to Vane that those eyes were blazing with a fire
beyond the bright glow of reason.

"Most of the brightest jewels in the world are stained with blood," Van
Eyke said, "and if the orchids in your millionaires' houses could speak,
what tragedies they might tell! Sir, I am in your hands. Sir, I wish you
good night."

The Dutchman turned from Darch to Vane with a stately courtesy. He might
have been a lordly host bowing out two objectionable visitors. A little
later, and the prisoner found himself with a stolid policeman in the back
of a dog cart. Darch lingered a moment before he took his seat.

"Mr. Vane," he said, "this is really wonderful."

"It is exceedingly painful and squalid to me," Vane replied. "But I see
you are puzzled. You have seen the problem finished, and naturally you
are anxious to have the moves all explained. If you will come to the
Lotus Club after dinner tomorrow night, I will make everything clear.
Say nine o'clock."

"Mr. Vane," Darch said emphatically, "I will be there."




III.


"And now, Darch," said Vane, as he finished his coffee daintily, "I am
going to be egotistical. I am going to talk about myself to the extent
of some one thousand words. As a rule, I get some 20 guineas per
thousand for my words--but that is another story.

"The other night you came to me with a story of an anarchist--he had
done something wrong in the eyes of other Nihilists, and feared for his
life. You came to me, in the first place, to obtain inspiration from a
novelist, and, secondly, because the victim was, like myself, an ardent
lover of flowers.

"Now, in the first place, permit me to correct a wrong impression of
yours. From your point of view I should never make a good detective. I
decline to believe in the theory of obvious deduction. Dupin and
Sherlock Holmes were steeped to the lips in it. My word! What blunders
they would have made had they reduced those theories to practice! Holmes
takes a watch, and from a keyhole, by the scratches, deduces that the
owner is a man of dissipated habits. But suppose he had been partially
blind or suffering, from paralysis, eh? No, that's no good, save in
fiction.

"Now, I knew Van Noop. I knew him to be incapable of injuring a fly. His
socialism was merely a safety valve. The man might have been a visionary,
but what he didn't know about flowers wasn't worth knowing. And more
than once he had hinted to me that he was on the verge of a great
discovery. As bulbs were his hobby, and as he was a Dutchman, also, as
he was a great admirer of Dumas, I guessed he was after a black flower.
They are all after it. And it was not to be a tulip, because Van Noop
didn't care much for tulips.

"Then you came to me and told me he had been murdered. You told me about
the mysterious way in which he had asked for police protection, and
instantly it flashed across my mind that somebody had discovered his
secret and was trying to get it from him. When you brought me that
withered flower, I was sure of my argument; and when you spoke of that
smashed onion, I was positive. You made me laugh over that onion, you
remember. That probably was a bulb of the black narcissus, though as a
layman you were quite justified in taking it for that succulent
vegetable.

"After you were gone I developed that black narcissus. There before me
was a motive for the murder. It seemed to me that there had been a
struggle for it, and that Van Noop had destroyed the flower and crushed
the bulb just before he was killed. Then, as a natural sequence to this
important discovery, the story of 'The Black Tulip' came into my mind. I
had to find the man who committed the crime for the sake of the
narcissus. And this is where the novelist comes in. It was not a case
for obvious deduction, it was a case of introspection. You would have
gone blundering your head against Nihilist revenge and the like. I
simply had to weave a romance round that flower, a romance with blood in
it. And gradually my art and my imagination led me to the true and only
possible solution of the mystery. Van Noop had been murdered for the
sake of the black narcissus beyond question, and the assassin must be an
enthusiast and a madman, like himself. You will call this intuition.

"Then I had to draw my man. I found out when the sale was coming off,
and a man who knows the address of every amateur gardener in London
posted a special circular I had printed hinting that Van Noop's
collection held rare things to buyers. When I reached Van Noop's cottage
on the day of the sale I had no idea who the murderer was, but I felt
absolutely certain that he would be present, whether he had my circular
or not. Then, in a stage whisper, I asked a florist to purchase a parcel
or two of bulbs for me at a fancy price. As I expected, on my return I
found they had been bought over my head by somebody else. And then, my
dear Darch, I knew the man who had murdered Van Noop. I had only to go
over to the auctioneer and obtain the address of the man who had given a
large sum for a parcel of bulbs which he fondly hoped contained the
black narcissus. I obtained that address and followed Van Eyke to his
cottage."

"Wonderful!" Darch cried. "I should never have thought of it."

"Of course you wouldn't," Vane replied. "Crime for crime's sake would be
the only motive that appealed to you. And why? Because it is impossible
for the detective trained in the ordinary way to appreciate or
understand the poetic side of crime. And yet I defy you to find anything
sordid in the case. The whole thing is absolutely medieval. In this
prosaic age it seems extraordinary that a man should commit murder for
the sake of a flower. And yet in Van Eyke you have a man who would not
have shed a drop of blood for all the mines of Golconda."

"You are right, sir," said Darch thoughtfully; "and I was right also. I
knew that a man of imagination would be required here, and I found him.
And I don't mind confessing that I should never have dreamt of
connecting that crime with a simple flower."

"You might," Vane replied. "When everything else failed, you would
probably have started to look out for the owner of the flower, going on
the theory that the dead man had snatched it from the coat of the
murderer. Another time, perhaps, I may show you how my detective theory
can be worked out in another fashion. And the next time you find an
onion, be quite sure it is an onion, and not a priceless bulb worth a
king's ransom."



THE END



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