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Title: The Sixteenth Chapter
Author: Fred. M. White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1201731.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: April 2012
Date most recently updated: April 2012

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

Title: The Sixteenth Chapter
Author: Fred. M. White

*

Published in The Daily News, Perth, W.A., Wednesday 9 August, 1911.

*


The evidence had been dead against the prisoner all day. He sat in the
dock listening to the damning testimony like a man in a dream. To all
practical purposes he was a man in a dream. The whole thing was a
hideous nightmare from which he would awake, presently, sweating and
trembling as one does on these occasions. It was all terribly real and
grimly true to life, but still----

Otherwise--well, otherwise he was the victim of some insidious form of
madness. He was suffering from the same kind of mania that impels
law-abiding citizens secure in the affections of wife and family to rise
up suddenly with uplifted weapon and red tragedy whispering in his ear.
Perhaps he had been mad during the last few days. Perhaps he had forged
that cheque for 2,000 and got Markwick to cash it in Liverpool. It was
possible, after all, that the evidence of the doctor was true.

"I think we will adjourn on this point," the magistrate said. "Bail? As
a matter of public duty, I ought to refuse bail. After listening to Dr.
Swayland's evidence--yes, I quite recognise the state of the prisoner's
health. But simply because he happens to be a morphiamaniac, I cannot
see----"

The inspector in charge of the case did not oppose bail. Masters fumbled
his way out of the dock and thence into the street. He did not fail to
notice the grave look on his lawyer's face. The evidence had been
terribly strong.

"You're lucky," the lawyer said. "Now the case is adjourned till Monday.
That gives us two clear days to prepare our defence. But you will have
to be more candid with me, Masters. You told me distinctly that you had
not been to Liverpool----"

"I told you the truth," Masters said doggedly. "I have not been in
Liverpool. I have not been out of London for the last three months."

The lawyer shrugged his shoulders. He was a little annoyed, too.

"How long have you been taking that infernal drug?" he asked. "I'm told
that morphia plays all sorts of tricks with a man's memory, produces
hallucinations, and so on. You may honestly believe that you have not
been to Liverpool, and yet----"

"I've thought of all that," Masters smiled bitterly. "I'm either
hopelessly mad or I am the victim of the vilest conspiracy ever
invented. Consciously, I've never taken a grain of morphia in my life."

"But you heard what that Liverpool doctor said? Man of the highest
standing, too. He swore to-day that he was called in to attend you in
Liverpool on the evening of the day on which the forged cheque was
cashed there. He found you in a state of coma induced by a heavy dose of
morphia. Everything pointed to the fact that you were habitually given
to the drug. Swayland swore to you in the most positive manner. So did
the landlady of the house in Liverpool where you stayed."

Masters locked his hands together. He trembled with a sudden gust of
passion.

"I give it up," he said. "I swear before heaven that I know nothing
about it. Never in my life have I touched a drug. I have been before the
magistrates every day this week; I have gone home at night, to my lonely
quarters. Come and stay with me if you like; lock me in a room and see
what happens. If I were a drug-fiend I should go mad before morning. But
what is the use of talking about it? I want sleep--a good long night's
rest to get my head right. I tell you those few days were all of a blank
to me. I am still suffering from that infernal drug, but I never
administered it to myself. Perhaps to-morrow I shall be able to
recollect something."

Pannett, the lawyer, was fain to let it go at that. Masters had better
come and see him to-morrow morning; meanwhile he would be wise to retire
to his lodgings and keep as quiet as possible. With this resolution
uppermost in his mind, Masters made his way home. He was an ambitious
young man, with a fine prospect before him, and he was saving money with
a view to getting married. The big farm where he was engaged had a
warehouse out Marylebone way, and in one of the upper rooms there
Masters had established himself. There was no rent to pay, which was a
consideration, and the furniture would go presently to garnish the house
he had in his eye when the right time came. An aged caretaker dusted the
rooms and made the bed, and as to his meals, Masters got them all
outside. There was no meanness on his part; it was merely prudence. Some
of these days he was pretty certain to be asked to join his firm, and
the more money he could bring in the better for his future prospects.
The money was not quite what it had been, for Masters had been dabbling
on the stock market, coming in at the wrong time for him, unfortunately.
His shares would be all right presently, but just now they were
depressed, and could only have been disposed of at a great sacrifice.

Masters came moodily into his room. There was nothing inviting about the
place to-day, though usually he was rather proud of it. The furniture
was frankly after the pattern which is spoken of as Tottenham Court
Road, the carpet a 'Turkey,' the engravings on the walls after Sant and
others of the same school. The paper was a self-colored green, with just
a suggestion of art about it. The bed was folded away in a recess behind
a curtain. Clearly in this respect Masters had a good deal to learn from
an artistic point of view.

His moody face cleared as he saw who it was seated there in the
saddle-back armchair. The atmosphere was flavored with cigarette smoke.

"Now this is really kind of you, Roscoe," Masters exclaimed. "I was just
telling myself that I hadn't a friend in the world. I don't say I had
quite given you up----"

"I owe to you too much for that," Roscoe replied. "You helped me when my
trouble came, and I have not forgotten it. Had it not been for you, I
should still be slaving at a desk instead of being a free man with a
decent reputation as a writer."

"You mean a distinguished novelist," Masters smiled faintly. "You need
not shake your head. Your last book, the 'Primrose Path,' has
established your reputation. By the way, I have to thank you for getting
your publishers to send me the book on the day of publication. I got it
on Monday week. After that strange fainting fit of mine on the Wednesday
before, my people insisted upon my taking a few days' holiday. They
wanted me to go away, but really I could not afford it. I read your book
for three evenings instead. I can't say how much I liked it."

"Despite the missing chapter?" Roscoe asked.

"What missing chapter?" Masters inquired. "My copy was complete."

"Indeed, it wasn't, if you got it from my publishers on Monday. As a
matter of fact, a whole sheet of type was missing. There was an
extraordinary blunder on the part of the binders which was discovered
early on the aforesaid Monday. Only about six copies were despatched,
and yours must have been one of them. It was Wednesday afternoon or
Wednesday night that the bulk of the copies left my publishers. I am
perfectly clear on this point. Your copy was incomplete, and it's very
strange that so careful a reader as yourself should have overlooked the
fact."

Masters shook his head obstinately.

"I didn't," he said. "Now, tell me what really was missing."

"Well, perhaps the most important chapter in the book. It was a very
long chapter, and the whole story turns on it. It is where the hero
meets 'Abergoyne,' and he tells him that the engagements to 'Nancy'
cannot possibly----"

"But I remember that," Masters cried. "Your heroine overhears the
conversation, and decides that it is her bounden duty to stand aside
and----"

"But all that was not in your copy," Roscoe shouted.

"If it wasn't, then how did I manage to read it?" Masters retorted.
"Let's clear up this mystery, at any rate. I have enough one way and
another to madden me. There is my copy of your book on the shelf yonder.
See for yourself."

Roscoe took down the volume eagerly. His restless fingers fluttered over
the pages. He turned with an air of triumph to his companion.

"What did I tell you?" he demanded. "Pages from 120 to 152 are missing.
You have only to look at the numbers and see that for yourself."

Masters appeared to give up the unequal contest.

"I am mad!" he said. "Either that, or I am the only sane man now left on
the earth! The pages are clearly missing, and yet I have read them
despite the fact that they are not in the book! Now, will you kindly
explain how such a thing could possibly happen? After my illness, I
slept all day on Monday and woke in the evening feeling better. I took
up your book and read some ninety pages before going to bed. All Tuesday
I was more or less in a state of coma, and again I came to in the
evening, and ate some food that my old charwoman had apparently laid out
for me, and I went on with your book. I have the most vivid recollection
of this missing chapter sixteen, because to my mind it is by far the
best part of the story. And yet you prove to me absolutely beyond a
demonstration that I couldn't have read it, because it wasn't there! I
haven't seen you for months, so there is no question of our having
discussed your plot. And I don't for one moment believe that there is
anything occult in this business. I am quite sure that it is capable of
a plain explanation. Now, you are a man with a vivid imagination. Let us
go over the thing from the start. You know the charges against me."

"Of course I do," Roscoe said. "You are accused of forging a cheque on
the Liverpool bankers of your firm for 2,000. You went secretly to
Liverpool when you were supposed to be lying ill here, and got Markwick,
the cashier of your Liverpool office, to negotiate the cheque. It was an
idiotic thing to do, because the forgery was bound to come out almost at
once. It did come out, and one or two of the notes received, in change
for the cheque were found here. You swore point blank that for the first
three days of last week you were here in London, and that you had not
left your rooms. On the other hand, Markwick swears that you called upon
him at that time in Liverpool and got him to change the cheque. A
respectable woman swears that you had her rooms for a day or two, and a
doctor of repute who attended you proved your identity beyond question."

"Did you hear all the evidence today then?"

"Certainly I did. I attended the Court on purpose. I have been away for
some weeks in Wales, and only heard of your trouble last night. In all
the course of my experience I never heard anything so profoundly
interesting. I have been turning it over in my mind ever since. I could
not make head nor tail of it, and I was still absolutely in the dark
when I came here. But I begin to see a little light now."

"Do you?" Masters sneered. "To me it is blacker than ever. This business
of the missing chapter fairly dazes me."

"Well, so it did me for the moment," Roscoe said candidly. "But it fired
my imagination, and I begin to see my way. I'm working the thing out as
I should work out the plot of a story. What sort of a chap is Markwick?"

"Markwick? Oh, well, not particularly fascinating, suspicious and
moody."

"Jealous of any change. Likely to benefit by your, er, trouble?"

"Probably. We are rivals, you understand. I got the post he expected to
have. He did not like being moved to Liverpool."

"Oh, oh," Roscoe purred softly. He moved about the room restlessly, his
eyes gleaming. "Two thousand pounds is a deal of money. If a man could
possess himself of that and get rid of his most dangerous rival at the
same time, it would be worth a little risk. And the thing could be done
without a confederate. Upon my word, Masters, I begin to see my way. I
want to be certain of one thing first; but there's little doubt about
it."

"And what might that particular thing be?" Masters asked.

"Why, that you were in Liverpool on that eventful Tuesday. And you were.
I have no more doubt of that than I have of my own identity."

Masters spread out his hands with a gesture of despair.

"Have it your own way," he said resignedly. "I am entirely at your
disposal. You will go on to tell me presently that I am a
morphiamaniac--say that my moral nature has been totally undermined by
the drug and that I have committed forgery unconsciously."

"My boy," Roscoe said solemnly; "you did not commit the forgery at all.
Now you have two clear days before you in which to make inquiries. That
should be ample time. Let us go to Liverpool together this evening.
You'd better let the police know that you are going, or they may be
disposed to make trouble. Liverpool is a port, remember! We will go and
see Dr. Swayland in the first place and ascertain from him the address
where he called to see you. Then, we will go to that address and
interview the landlady there. We may have some little trouble after
that, but every criminal is a fool in some matters, and I don't suppose
that we shall find our man any wiser than the rest. I have studied this
subject pretty carefully, and I always find that your criminal commits
some act of amazing folly. Even the most brilliant of them is tripped up
by some puerile stupidity that the average schoolboy would have
foreseen. It's the sanguine temperament that does it. And now what do
you say to my suggestion?"

Masters caught at it eagerly enough. Anything was better than eating his
heart out in the seclusion of his room. It was ten o'clock on the
Saturday morning that Masters found himself face to face with Dr.
Swayland. Roscoe had asked for a few words in private beforehand, and to
this suggestion the doctor had agreed. Much to Masters's surprise, he
came forward with extended hand.

"I am glad to see you again," he said. "You must believe me when I say
that this is not the first time we have met, Mr. Masters. The evidence I
gave against you yesterday was true in every detail. Frankly, I deemed
you guilty. But Mr. Roscoe has propounded a theory so extraordinary and
so ingenious that I began to have my doubts. Naturally, I took you for a
morphiamaniac, and when I was called in you were suffering from that
drug. Allow me to see your tongue--your pulse. Now if I may be permitted
to look at the inside of your eyelids. No signs of a drug victim here.
Somebody must have been administering some pretty severe doses to you
surreptitiously. And yet they were careful not to give you more than
your system could stand. When did it begin?"

"On the Friday before I was supposed to be in Liverpool," Masters
explained. "I had gone back to the office after a light luncheon, and I
collapsed at my desk. On the Sunday I was all right; but for the next
three days I was unconscious till nightfall."

"You will please make a note of that, doctor," Roscoe said. "Till
nightfall!"

"I did not call in a doctor because I hoped to get better," Masters went
on. "I felt so much better up till bedtime. I think that is about all."

"Enough for the present," said Roscoe. "Now, doctor, will you please
give me the address where you found my friend here on that eventful
night. We will come back later in the day, and report progress. Let us
be moving, Masters."

They came presently to the address given by Swayland, a small
respectable house, the door of which was opened by a neat-looking,
elderly woman of the housekeeper class. She started as she caught sight
of Masters, and seemed inclined to close the door.

"You must really allow us to come inside," Roscoe said. "We particularly
desire to see the room occupied by my friend here last week."

"Oh, well, there is no harm in that," the woman said grudgingly. "The
room belonged to a lodger of mine who has gone away. He was only here
for a little time, and, as the work took him about the country, he
allowed me to make a few shillings when I got the chance of letting his
apartment."

"Did he furnish the room himself?" Roscoe asked.

"Well, he did, sir," the landlady replied. "He was rather particular. It
was a bed-sitting room and when he brought his own things here I stored
my bits of sticks elsewhere. Mr. Claytor promised to have his stuff
taken away, but he hasn't done it yet."

Roscoe's eyes sparkled. He stepped briskly along the passage.

"I'm glad to hear that," he said. "Come along, Masters. We need not
trouble you my good woman. You need not be afraid that we shall steal
anything. My dear Masters, we are very near to the end of your trouble.
The amazing carelessness of the criminal, however clever he is, comes to
our assistance. The ruffians have gained their end, and they have not
troubled to take away the apparatus. Look at this."

Masters stood in the little sitting-room with a puzzled expression on
his face. Roscoe stepped across to a book case on the wall, and took
down a copy of the 'Primrose Path.' With an air of triumph he handed it
to Masters.

"There is one mystery explained," he said. "You began my story in London
with the incomplete copy, and you finished it here, with the amended
edition of the book. Those cunning rascals foresaw everything. They knew
that you would look for the book, and perhaps seek it outside the room.
If you had done that you would have discovered that you were not in
London, as you imagined, but in Liverpool. By Tuesday evening, they
would have procured a proper copy of my story here, and that is the copy
that you hold in your hand."

"I begin to see," Masters murmured. "But look at this room. It is the
exact copy of mine in London! Pull down the blinds and light the gas,
and it is the same room!"

"Precisely," Roscoe smiled. "By some cunning means yet to be discovered,
you were dosed with morphia every morning early. For three night's you
woke up with the impression that you were in your own room. You had food
to eat, and you thought that your landlady had provided you with it.
Besides, you were so dull and stupid with the drug that you had not the
energy to ask anything. Of course, it was that business of the missing
chapter that first set me on the right track. It would be so easy to get
strong evidence against you by calling the doctor in. That was a stroke
of genius. When we come to inquire we shall find that you were brought
here by some stranger in a motor, and that the said motor conveyed you
from here to London. You can see for yourself how careless the knaves
have been. They got the money, and no doubt they intended to remove
their goods and pictures, but probably they are too busy enjoying
themselves instead. They fancy that the rope is round your neck,
especially as some of the notes the cheque was exchanged for were found
in your room. In your lonely quarters it was so easy to get at you, to
convey you here, and take you back to London again. Of course Markwick
is at the bottom of it--he and somebody called Claytor. The latter was
the genius who furnished these rooms like yours. Now give me the address
of your firm here, and I'll wire Markwick in the name of Claytor to meet
us here at once. It is long odds that Claytor is away spending his share
of the plunder, and, naturally, Markwick will be in a fright lest
anything is wrong. Let's have the address."

An hour later the door of the room opened, and Markwick came in. He gave
one glance at Masters, and another round the familiar apartment, and
retracted his steps. His dark face grew pale and moist as Roscoe tackled
him.

"No, you don't," he said. "You'll just stay here until I have finished
talking to you. Now listen carefully to my story, Mr. Markwick, and
correct me when I am wrong. I shall not be wrong very often, because I'm
rather good at telling stories."

Markwick dropped sullenly into a chair. He nodded his head from time to
time, but on the whole he had few corrections to make.

"What's the good of going on?" he muttered sullenly.

Roscoe smiled as he rang the bell.

"Not the least," he said. "Sorry to trouble you, my good woman but will
you kindly call in a policeman. This gentleman needs his services."



THE END


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