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Title: The Eyes of Max Carrados
Author: Ernest Bramah (1867-1942)
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  1302121.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted: May 2013
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Title:      The Eyes of Max Carrados
Author:     Ernest Bramah (1867-1942)

First Published 1923

*

CONTENTS

The Disappearance Of Marie Severe
The Ghost At Massingham Mansions
The Ingenious Mr. Spinola
The Mystery Of The Poisoned Dish Of Mushrooms
The Eastern Mystery
The Kingsmouth Spy Case
The Missing Actress Sensation
The Secret Of Dunstan's Tower
The Virginiola Fraud

*



THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MARIE SEVERE


"I wonder if you might happen to be interested in this case of Marie
Severe, Mr. Carrados?"

If Carrados's eyes had been in the habit of expressing emotion they
would doubtless have twinkled as Inspector Beedel thus casually
introduced the subject of the Swanstead on Thames schoolgirl whose
inexplicable disappearance two weeks earlier had filled column upon
column of every newspaper with excited speculation until the sheer
impossibility of keeping the sensation going without a shred of actual
fact had relegated Marie Severe to the obscurity of an occasional
paragraph.

"If you are concerned with it, I am sure that I shall be interested,
Inspector," said the blind man encouragingly. "It is still being
followed, then?"

"Why, yes, sir, I have it in hand, but as for following it--well,
'following' is perhaps scarcely the word now."

"Ah," commented Carrados. "There was very little to follow; I remember."

"I don't think that I've ever known a case of the kind with less, sir.
For all the trace she left, the girl might have melted out of existence,
and from that day to this, with the exception of that printed
communication received by her mother--you remember that, Mr.
Carrados?--there hasn't been a clue worth wasting so much as shoe
leather on."

"You have had plenty of hints all the same, I suppose?"

Inspector Beedel threw out a gesture of mild despair. It conveyed the
patient exasperation of the conscientious and long-suffering man.

"I should say that the case 'took on' remarkably, Mr. Carrados. I doubt
if there has been a more popular sensation of its kind for years. Mind
you, I'm all in favour of publicity in the circumstances the photographs
and description may bring important facts to light, but sometimes it's a
bit trying for those who have to do the work at our end. 'Seen in
Northampton,' 'seen in Ealing,' 'heard of in West Croydon,' 'girl
answering to the description observed in the waiting-room at Charing
Cross,' 'suspicious-looking man with likely girl noticed about the
Victoria Dock, Hull,' 'seen and spoken to near Chorley, Lancs,' 'caught
sight of apparently struggling in a luxurious motor car on the
Portsmouth Road,' 'believed to have visited a Watford picture
palace'--they've all been gone into as carefully as though we believed
that each one was the real thing at last."

"And you haven't, eh?"

The Inspector looked round. He knew well enough that they were alone in
the study at The Turrets, but the action had become something of a
mannerism with him.

"I don't mind admitting to you, sir, that I've never had any other
opinion than that the father of the little girl went down that day and
got her away. Where she is now, and whether dead or alive, I can't
pretend to say, but that he's at the bottom of it I'm firmly convinced.
And what's more," he added with slow significance, "I hope so."

"Why in particular?" inquired the other.

Beedel felt in his breast--pocket, took out a formidable wallet, and
from among its multitudinous contents selected a cabinet photograph
sheathed in its protecting envelope of glazed transparent paper.

"If you could make out anything of what this portrait shows, you'd
understand better what I mean, Mr. Carrados," he replied delicately.

Carrados shook his head but nevertheless held out his hand for the
photograph.

"No good, I'm afraid," he confessed before he took it. "A print of this
sort is one of the few things that afford no graduation to the sense of
touch. No, no"--as he passed his finger-tips over the paper--"a
gelatino-chloride surface of mathematical uniformity, Inspector, and
nothing more. Now had it been the negative--"

"I am sure that that could be procured if you wished to have it, Mr.
Carrados. Anyway, I dare say that you've seen in some of the papers what
this young girl is like. She is ten years old and big--at least tall--for
her age. This picture is the last taken--some time this year--and
I am told that it is just like her."

"How should you describe it, Inspector?"

"I am not much good at that sort of thing," said the large man with a
shy awkwardness, "but it makes as sweet a picture as ever I've seen. She
is very straight-set, and yet with a sort of gracefulness such as a
young wild animal might have. It's a full-faced position, and she is
looking straight out at you with an expression that is partly serious
and partly amused, and as noble and gracious with it all as a young
princess might be. I have children of my own, Mr. Carrados, and of
course I think they're very nice and pretty, but this--this is quite a
different thing. Her hair is curly without being in separate curls, and
the description calls it black. Eyes dark brown with straight eyebrows,
complexion a sort of glowing brown, small regular teeth. Of course we
have a full description of what she was wearing and so forth."

"Yes, yes," assented Carrados idly. "The Van Brown Studio,
Photographers, eh? These people are quite well off, then?"

"Oh yes; very nice house and good position--Mrs. Severe, that is to
say. You will remember that she obtained a divorce from her husband four
or five years ago. I've turned up the particulars and it wasn't what
you'd call a bad case as things go, but the lady seemed determined, and
in the end Severe didn't defend. She had five or six hundred a year of
her own, but he had nothing beyond his salary, and he threw his position
up then, and ever since he has been going steadily down. He's almost on
the last rung now and picks up his living casual."

"What's the case against him?"

"Well, it scarcely amounts to a case as yet because there is no evidence
of his being seen with the child, nor is there anything to connect him
with her after the disappearance. Still, it is a working hypothesis. If
it was the act of a tramp or a maniac, experience goes to show that we
should have found her, dead or alive, by now. Mrs. Severe is all for it
being her husband. Of course the decree gave her the custody of Marie.
Severe asked to be allowed to see her occasionally, and at first a
servant took the child to have tea with him once a month. That was at
his rooms. Then he asked to be met in one of the parks or at a gallery.
He hadn't got so much as a room then, you see, sir. At last the servant
reported that he had grown so shabby as to shame her that the child
should be seen with him, though she did say that he was always sober and
very kind to Marie, bringing her a little toy or something even when he
didn't seem to have sixpence for himself. After that the visits were
stopped altogether. Then about a month ago these two, husband and wife,
met accidentally in the street. Severe said that he hoped to be doing a
bit better soon, and asked for the visits to be continued. How it would
have gone I cannot say, but Mrs. Severe happened to have a friend with
her, an American lady called Miss Julp, who seems to be living with her
now, and the middle-aged female--she's a hard sister, that Cornelia
Julp, I should say--pushed her way into the conversation and gave her
views on his conduct until Severe must have had some trouble with his
hands. Finally Mrs. Severe had an unfortunate impulse to end the
discussion by giving her husband a bank-note. She says she got the
most awful look she ever saw on any face. Then Severe very deliberately
tore up the note, dropped the pieces down a gutter grid that they were
standing near, dusted his fingers on his handkerchief, raised his hat
and walked away without another word. That was the last she saw of him,
but she professes to have been afraid of something happening ever
since."

"Then something happens, and so, of course, it must be Severe?"
suggested Carrados.

"It does look a bit like that so far, I must admit, sir," assented the
Inspector. "Still, Mrs. Severe's opinions aren't quite all. Severe's
account of his movements on the afternoon in question--say between
twelve-thirty and four in particular--are not satisfactory. Latterly
he has been occupying a miserable room off Red Lion Street. He went out
at twelve and returned about five--that he doesn't deny. Says he spent
the time walking about the streets and in the Holborn news-room, but
can mention no one who saw him during those five hours. On the other
hand, a porter at Swanstead station identifies him as a passenger who
alighted there from the 1.17 that afternoon."

"From a newspaper likeness?"

"In the first instance, Mr. Carrados. Afterwards in person."

"Did they speak, or is it merely visual?"

"Only from what he saw of him."

"Struck, I suppose, by the remarkable fact that the passenger wore a hat
and a tie--as shown in the picture, or inspired to notice him closely
by something indescribably suggestive in the passenger's way of giving
up his ticket? It may be all right, Beedel, I admit, but I heartily
distrust the weight of importance that these casual identifications are
being given on vital points nowadays. Are you satisfied with this
yourself?"

"Only as corroborative, sir. Until we find the girl or some trace of her
we're bound to make casts in the hope of picking up a line. Well, then
there's the letter Mrs. Severe received."

"Have you that with you?"

The Inspector took up the wallet that he had not yet returned to his
pocket and selected another enclosure.

"It's a very unusual form," he commented as he handed the envelope to
Mr. Carrados and waited for his opinion.

The blind man passed his finger-tips across the paper and at once
understood the point of singularity. The lines were printed, but not in
consecutive form, every letter being on a little separate square of
paper. It was evident that they had been cut out from some other sheet
and then pasted on the envelope to form the address.

"London, E. C., 5.30 p.m., 15th May," read Carrados from the postmark.

"The day of the kidnapping. There is a train from Swanstead arriving at
Lambeth Bridge at 4.47," remarked Beedel.

"What was your porter doing when that left?"

"He was off duty, sir."

Carrados took out the enclosure and read it off as he had already done
the envelope, but with a more deliberative touch, for the print was
smaller. The type and the paper were suggestive of a newspaper origin.
In most cases whole words had been found available.

"Do not be alarmed," ran the patchwork message. "The girl is in good
hands. Only risk lies in pressing search. Wait and she will return
uninjured."

"You have identified the newspaper?"

"Yes; it is all cut from The Times of May the 13th. The printing on the
back of the words fixes it absolutely. Premeditated, Mr. Carrados."

"The whole incident points to that. The date of the newspaper means
little, but the deliberate selection of words, the careful way they have
been cut out and aligned, taken in conjunction with the time the child
disappeared and the time that this was posted--yes, I think you may
assume premeditation, Inspector."

"Stationery of the commonest description; immediate return to London,
and the method of a man who used this print because he feared that under
any disguise his handwriting might be recognised."

Carrados nodded.

"Severe cannot hope to retain the child, of course," he remarked
casually. "What motive do you infer?"

"Mrs. Severe is convinced that it is to distress her, out of revenge."

"And this letter is to reassure her?"

The Inspector bit his lip as he smiled at the quiet thrust.

"It might also be to influence her towards suspending search," he
suggested.

"At all events I dare say that it has reassured her?"

"In a certain way, yes, it has. It has enabled us to establish that the
act is not one of casual lust or vagabondage. There is an alternative
that we naturally did not suggest to her."

"And that is?"

"Another Thelby Wood case, Mr. Carrados. The maniacal infatuation of
someone who would be the last to be suspected. Some man of good
position, a friend and neighbour possibly, who sees this beautiful young
creature--the school friend of his own daughters or sitting before him
in church it may be--and becomes the slave of his diseased imagination
until he is prepared to risk everything for that one overpowering
object. A primitive man for the time, one may say, or, even worse, a
satyr or a gorilla."

"I wonder," observed Carrados thoughtfully, "if you also have ever felt
that you would like to drop it and become a monk, Inspector. Or a
Stylites on a pole."

Beedel laughed softly and then rubbed his chin in the same contemplative
spirit.

"I think I know what you mean, sir," he admitted. "It's a black page.
But," he added with wholesome philosophy, "after all, it is only a page
in a longish book. And if I was in a monastery there'd be one or two
more things done that I've helped to keep undone."

"Including the cracking of my head, Inspector? Very true. We must take
the world as we find it and ourselves as we are. And I wish that I could
agree with you about Severe. It would be a more endurable outlook: spite
and revenge are at least decent human motives. Unfortunately, the only
hint I can offer is a negative one." He indicated the printed cuttings
on the sheet that Beedel had submitted to him. "This photo-mountant
costs about sixpence a pot, but you can buy a bottle of gum for a penny.

"Well, sir," said Beedel, "I did think of having that examined, but I
waited for you to see the letter as it stood. After all, it didn't
strike me as a point one could put much reliance on."

"Quite right," assented Mr. Carrados, "there is nothing personal or
definite in it. It may suggest a photographer, amateur or professional,
but it would be preposterous to assume so much from this alone. Severe,
even, may have--. There are hundreds of chances. I should disregard it
for the moment."

"There is nothing more to be got from the letter?"

"There may be, but it is rather elusive at present. What has been done
with it?"

"I received it from Mrs. Severe and it has been in my possession ever
since."

"You haven't submitted it to a chemist for any purpose?"

"No, sir. I gave a copy of the wording to some newspaper gentlemen, but
no one but myself has handled it."

"Very good. Now if you care to leave it with me for a few days."

Inspector Beedel expressed his immediate willingness and would have
added his tribute of obligation for Mr. Carrados's service, but the
blind man cut him short.

"Don't rely on anything, Inspector," he warned him. "I am afraid that
this resolves itself into a game of chance. Just one touch of luck may
give us a winning point, or it may go the other way. In any case there
is no reason why I should not motor round by Swanstead one of these days
when I am out. If anything fresh turns up before you hear from me you
had better telephone me. Now exactly where did this happen?"

The actual facts surrounding the disappearance of Marie Severe
constituted the real mystery of the case. Arling Avenue, Swanstead, was
one of those leisurely suburban roads where it is impossible to imagine
anything happening hurriedly from the delivery of an occasional telegram
to the activity of the local builder. Houses, detached houses each
surrounded by its rood or more of garden, had been built here and there
along its length at one time or another, but even the most modern one
had now become matured, and the vacant plots between them had reverted
from the condition of "eligible sites" into very passable fields of
buttercups and daisies again, so that Arling Avenue remained a pleasant
and exclusive thoroughfare. One side of the road was entirely unbuilt on
and afforded the prospect of a level meadow where hay was made and real
animals grazed in due season. The inhabitants of Arling Avenue never
failed to point out to visitors this evidence of undeniable rurality. It
even figured in the prospectus of Homewood, the Arling Avenue day school
for girls and little boys which the Misses Chibwell had carried on with
equal success and inconspicuousness until the Severe affair suddenly
brought them into the glare of a terrifying publicity.

Mrs. Severe's house, The Hollies, was the first in the road, as the road
was generally regarded--that is to say, from the direction of the
station. Beedel picked up a loose sheet of paper and scored it heavily
with a plan of the neighbourhood as he explained the position with some
minuteness. Next to The Hollies came Arling Lodge. After Arling Lodge
there was one of the vacant plots of ground before the next house was
reached, but between the Lodge and the vacant plot was a broad grassy
opening, unfenced towards the road, and here the Inspector's pencil
underlined the deepest significance, culminating in an ominous X about
the centre of the space. Originally the opening had doubtless marked the
projection of another road, but the scheme had come to nothing.
Occasionally a little band of exploring children with the fictitious
optimism of youth pecked among its rank and tangled growth in the
affectation of hoping to find blackberries there; once in a while a
passing chair-mender or travelling tinker regarded it favourably for
the scene of his midday siesta, but its only legitimate use seemed to be
that of affording access to the side door of Arling Lodge garden. The
Inspector pencilled in the garden door as an afterthought, with the
parenthesis that it was seldom used and always kept locked. Then he
followed out the Avenue as far as the school, indicating all the houses
and other features. The whole distance traversed did not exceed two
hundred yards.

A few minutes before two o'clock on the afternoon of her disappearance
Marie Severe set out as usual for Miss Chibwell's school. Since the
incident of the unfortunate encounter with her former husband Mrs.
Severe had considered it necessary to exercise a peculiar vigilance over
her only child. Thenceforward Marie never went out alone; never, with
the exception of the short walk to school and back, that is to say, for
in that quiet straight road, in the full light of day, it was ridiculous
to imagine that anything could happen. It was ridiculous, but all the
same the vaguely uneasy woman generally walked to the garden gate with
the little girl and watched her until the diminished figure passed, with
a last gay wave of hand or satchel, out of her sight into the school
yard.

"That's how it would have been on this occasion," narrated Beedel, "only
just as they got to the garden gate a tradesman whom Mrs. Severe wanted
to speak with drove up and passed in by the back way. The lady looked
along the avenue, and as it happened at that moment Miss Chibwell was
standing in the road by her gate. No one else was in sight, so it isn't
to be wondered at that Mrs. Severe went back to the house immediately
without another thought.

"That was the last that has been seen of Marie. As a matter of fact,
Miss Chibwell turned back into her garden almost as soon as Mrs. Severe
did. When the child did not appear for the afternoon school the mistress
thought nothing of it. She is a little short-sighted and although she
had seen the two at their gate she concluded that they were going out
together somewhere. Consequently it was not until four o'clock, when
Marie did not return home, that the alarm was raised."

Continuous narration was not congenial to Inspector Beedel's mental
attitude. He made frequent pauses as though to invite cross-examination.
Sometimes Carrados ignored the opening, at others he found
it more convenient to comply.

"The inference is that someone was waiting in this space just beyond
Arling Lodge?" he now contributed.

"I think it is reasonable to assume that, sir. Premeditated, we both
admit. Doubtless a favourable opportunity was being looked for and there
it was. At all events there"--he tapped the X as the paper lay beneath
Carrados's hand--"there is the very last trace that we can rely on."

"The scent, you mean?"

"Yes, Mr. Carrados. We got one of our dogs down the next morning and put
him on the trail. We gave him the scent of a boot and from the gate he
brought us without a pause to where I have marked this X. There the line
ended. There can be no doubt that from that point the girl had been
picked up and carried. That is a very remarkable thing. It could
scarcely have been done openly past the houses. The fences on all sides
are of such a nature that it is incredible for any man to have got an
unwilling or insensible burden of that sort over without at least laying
it down in the process. If our dog is to be trusted, it wasn't laid
down. Some sort of a vehicle remains. We find no recent wheel-marks
and no one seems to have seen anything that would answer about at that
time.

"You are determined to mystify me, Inspector," smiled Carrados.

"I'm that way myself, sir," said the detective.

"And I know you too well to ask if you have done this and that--"

"I've done everything," admitted Beedel modestly.

"Is this X spot commanded by any of the houses? Here is Arling Lodge
There is one window overlooking, but now the trees are too much out for
anything to be seen. Besides, it's only a passage window. Dr. Ellerslie
took me up there himself to settle the point."

"Ellerslie--Dr. Ellerslie?"

"The gentleman who lives there. At least he doesn't live altogether
there, as I understand that he has it for a week-end place. Boating, I
believe, sir. His regular practice is in town."

"Harley Street? Prescott Ellerslie, do you know?"

"That is the same, Mr. Carrados."

"Oh, a very well-known man. He has a great reputation as an operator
for peritonitis. Nothing less than fifty guineas a time, Inspector."
Perhaps the fee did not greatly impress Mr. Carrados, but doubtless he
judged that it would interest Inspector Beedel. "And this house on the
other side--Lyncote?"

"A retired Indian army colonel lives there--Colonel Doige."

"I mean as regards overlooking the spot."

"No; it is quite cut off from there. It cannot be seen."

Carrados's interpreting finger stopped lightly over a detail of the plan
that it was again exploring. The Inspector's pencil had now added a line
of dots leading from The Hollies gate to the X.

"The line the dog took," Beedel explained, following the other's
movement. "You notice that the girl turned sharply out of the avenue
into this opening at right angles."

"I was just considering that."

"Something took her attention suddenly or someone called her there--I
wonder what, Mr. Carrados."

"I wonder," echoed the blind man, raising the anonymous letter to his
face again.

Mr. Carrados frequently professed to find inspiration in the
surroundings of light and brilliance to which his physical sense was
dead, but when he wished to go about his work with everyone else at a
notable disadvantage he not unnaturally chose the dark. It was therefore
night when, in accordance with his promise to Beedel, he motored round
by Swanstead, or, more exactly, it was morning, for the clock in the
square ivied tower of the parish church struck two as the car
switch-backed over the humped bridge from Middlesex into Surrey.

"This will do, Harris; wait here," he said a little later. He knew that
there were trees above and wide open spaces on both sides. The station
lay just beyond, and from the station to Arling Avenue was a negligible
step. Even at that hour Arling Avenue might have been awake to the
intrusion of an alien car of rather noticeable proportions. The
adaptable Harris picked out Mr. Carrados's most substantial rug and went
to sleep, to dream of a wayside cycle shop and tearooms where he could
devote himself to pedigree Wyandottes. With Parkinson at his elbow
Carrados walked slowly on to Arling Avenue. What was lacking on Beedel's
plan Parkinson's eyes supplied; on a subtler plane, in the moist, warm
night, full of quiet sounds and earthy odours, other details were filled
in like the work of a lightning cartoonist before the blind man's
understanding.

They walked the length of the avenue once and then returned to the
grassy opening where the last trace of Marie Severe had evaporated.

"I will stay here. You walk on back to the highroad and wait for me. I
may be some time. If I want you, you will hear the whistle."

"Very good, sir." Parkinson knew of old that there were times when his
master would have no human eye upon him as he went about his work, and
with a magnificent stolidity the man had not a particle of curiosity. It
did not even occur to him to wonder. But for nearly half-an-hour the
more inquiring creatures of the night looked down--or up, according to
their natures--to observe the strange attitudes and quiet persistence
of the disturber of the solitude as he crossed and recrossed their
little domain, studied its boundaries, and explored every corner of its
miniature thickets. A single petal picked up near the locked door to the
garden of Arling Lodge seemed a small return for such perseverance, but
it is to be presumed that the patient search had not been in vain, for
it was immediately after the discovery that Carrados left the opening,
and with the cool effrontery that marked his methods he opened the front
gate of Dr. Ellerslie's garden and made his way with slow but unerring
insight along the boundary wall.

"A blind man," he had once replied to Mr. Carlyle's nervous
remonstrance--"a blind man carries on his face a sufficient excuse for
every indiscretion."

It was nearly three o'clock when, by the light of the street lamp at the
corner of the avenue and the highroad, Parkinson saw his master
approaching. But to the patient and excellent servitor's disappointment
Carrados at that moment turned back and retraced his steps in the same
leisurely manner. As a matter of fact, a new consideration had occurred
to the blind man and he continued to pace up and down the footpath as he
considered it.

"Oh, sir!"

He stopped at once, but betraying no surprise, without the start which
few can restrain when addressed suddenly in the dark. It was always dark
to him, but was it ever sudden? Was he indeed ignorant of the obscure
figure that had appeared at the gate during his perambulation?

"I have seen you walking up and down at this hour and I wondered--I
wondered whether you had any news."

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I am Mrs. Severe. My little girl Marie disappeared from here two weeks
ago. You must surely know about it; everybody does."

"Yes, I know," he admitted. "Inspector Beedel told me."

"Oh, Inspector Beedel!" There was obvious disappointment in her voice.
"He is very kind and promises--but nothing comes of it, and the days go
on, the days go on," she repeated tragically.

"Ida! Ida!" Someone was calling from one of the upper windows, but
Carrados was speaking also and Mrs. Severe merely waved her hand back
towards the house without responding.

"Your little girl was very fond of flowers?"

"Oh yes, indeed." The pleasant recollection dwarfed the poor lady's
present sense of calamity and for a moment she was quite bright. "She
loved them. She would bury her face in a bunch of flowers and drink
their scent. She almost lived in the garden. They were more to her than
toys or dolls, I am sure. But how do you know?"

"I only guessed."

"Ida! Ida!" The rather insistent, nasally querulous voice was raised
again and this time Mrs. Severe replied.

"Yes, dear, immediately," she called back, still lingering, however, to
discover whether she had anything to hope from this outlandish visitant.

"Had Marie been ill recently?" Carrados detained her with the question.

"Ill! Oh no." The reply was instant and emphatic. It was almost--if one
could credit a mother's pride in her child's health being carried to
such a length--it was almost resentful.

"Nothing that required the services of a doctor?"

"Marie never requires the services of a doctor." The tone, distant and
constrained, made it clear that Mrs. Severe had given up any
expectations in this quarter. "My child, I am glad to say, does not know
what illness means," she added deliberately.

"Ida! Oh, here you are." The very unromantically accoutred form of a
keen-visaged, middle-aged female, padding heavily in bedroom
slippers along the garden walk, gave its quietus to the situation.

"What a scare you gave me, dearie. Why, whoever--"

"Good-night," said Mrs. Severe, turning from the gate.

Carrados raised his hat and resumed his interrupted stroll. He had not
sought the interview and he made no effort to prolong it, for there was
little to be got from that source.

"A strange flare of maternal pride," he remarked in his usual detached
fashion as he rejoined Parkinson.

About five o'clock on the same day--five o'clock in the afternoon, let
it be understood--Inspector Beedel was called to the telephone.

"Oh, nothing fresh so far, Mr. Carrados," he reported when he identified
his caller. "I shan't forget to let you know whenever there--"

"But I think that possibly there is," replied Mr. Carrados. "Or at least
there might be if you went down to Arling Lodge and insisted on seeing
the child who slept there last night."

"Arling Lodge? Dr. Ellerslie's? You don't mean to say, sir--"

"That is for you to satisfy yourself. Dr. Ellerslie is a widower with no
children. Marie Severe was drugged by phronolal on some flowers which
she was given. Phronolal is a new anaesthetic which is practically
unknown outside medical circles. She was carried into the garden of
Arling Lodge and into the house. The bunch of flowers was thrown down
temporarily inside the wall, probably while the door was relocked. The
girl's hair caught on a raspberry cane six yards from the back door
along the path leading there. Ellerslie had previously sent away the
two people who look after the place--a housekeeper and her husband who
sees to the garden. That letter, by the way, was associable with
phronolal. Now you have all that I know, Inspector, and I hope to
goodness that I am clear of it."

"But, good heavens, Mr. Carrados, this is really terrible!" protested
Beedel, moved to emotion in spite of his rich experience of questionable
humanity. "A man in his position! Is he a maniac?"

"I don't know. To tell you frankly, Inspector, I haven't gone an inch
further than I was compelled to go in order to be sure. Make use of the
information as you like, but I don't want to have anything more to do
with the case. It isn't a pleasant thing to have pulled down a man like
Ellerslie--a callous, exacting machine in the operating-room, one
hears, but a man who was doing fine work--saving useful lives every
day. I'm sick of it, Beedel, that's all."

"I understand, sir. Still, there's the other side, isn't there, after
all? Of course I'll keep your name out of it as you wish, but I shall be
given a good deal of credit that I oughtn't to accept. If you don't do
anything for a few weeks the papers are always more complimentary when
you do do it."

"I'm afraid that you will have to put up with that," replied Carrados
drily.

There was an acquiescent laugh from the other end and a reference to the
speaker's indebtedness. Then: "Well, I'll get the necessary authority
and go down at once, sir."

"Yes. Good-bye," said Carrados. He hung up the receiver with the
only satisfaction that he had experienced since he had fixed on
Ellerslie--satisfaction to have done with it. The thing was unpalatable
enough in itself, and to add another element of distaste, through one
or two circumstances that had come his way in the past, he had an actual
regard for the surgeon whom some called brutal, but who was universally
admitted to be splendidly efficient. It would have been a much more
congenial business to the blind man to clear him than to implicate. He
betook himself to a tray of Sicilian coins of the autonomous period to
get the taste out of his mouth and swore that he would not read a word
of any stage of the proceedings.

"A Mr. Severe wishes to see you, sir."

So it happened that about an hour after he had definitely shelved his
interest in the case Max Carrados was again drawn into its
complications. Had Severe been merely a well-to-do suppliant,
perhaps ... but the blind man had enough of the vagabond spirit to
ensure his sympathy towards one whom he knew, on the contrary, to be
extremely ill-to-do. In a flash of imagination he saw the outcast
walking from Red Lion Street to Richmond, and, denied admission, from
Richmond back to Red Lion Street again, because he hadn't sixpence to
squander, the man who always bought a little toy...

"It is nearly seven, isn't it, Parkinson? Mr. Severe will stay and dine
with me," were almost the first words the visitor heard.

"Very well, sir."

"I? Dine?" interposed Severe quickly. "No, no. I really--"

"If you will be so good as to keep me company," said Carrados with suave
determination. Parkinson retired, knowing that the thing was settled. "I
am quite alone, Mr. Severe, and my selfishness takes that form. If a man
calls on me about breakfast-time he must stay to breakfast, at lunch-time
to lunch, and so on."

"Your friends, doubtless," suggested Severe with latent bitterness.
"Well, I am inclined to describe anyone who will lighten my darkness for
an hour as a friend. You would yourself in the circumstances, you know."
And then, quite unconsciously, under this treatment the years of
degradation slipped from Severe and he found himself accepting the
invitation in the conventional phrases and talking to his host just as
though they were two men of the same world in the old times. Guessing
what had brought him, and knowing that it mattered little or nothing
then, Carrados kept his guest clear of the subject of the disappearance
until they were alone again after dinner. Then, to be denied no longer,
Severe tackled it with a blunt inquiry:

"Scotland Yard has been consulting you about Marie, Mr. Carrados?"

"Surely that is not in the papers?"

"I don't know," replied Severe, "but they aren't my authority. Among the
people I have mostly to do with many shrewd bits of information
circulate that never get into the Press. Sometimes they are mere
headwork, of course, but quite often they have ground. Just at present I
am something of a celebrity in my usual haunts--I am 'Jones' in town,
by the way, but my identity has come out--and everything to do with
the notorious Severe affair comes round to me. I hear that Inspector
Beedel, who has the case in hand, has just been to see you. Your
co-operation is inferred."

"And if so?" queried Carrados.

"If so," continued his visitor, "I have a word to say. Beedel got it
into his thick, unimaginative skull that I must be the kidnapper
because, on the orthodox 'motive' lines, he couldn't fix on anyone else.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Carrados, I have rather too much affection for
my little daughter to have taken her out of a comfortable home. My
unfortunate wife may have her faults--I don't mind admitting that she
has--serious faults and a great many of them, but she would at least
give Marie decent surroundings. When I heard of the child's
disappearance--it was in the early evening papers the next morning--I
was distracted. I dreaded every edition to see a placard announcing that
the body had been found and to read the usual horrible details of insane
or bestial outrage. I searched my pockets and found a shilling and a few
coppers. Without any clear idea of what I expected to do, I tore off to
the station and spent my money on a third single to Swanstead."

"Oh," interposed Carrados, "the 1.17 arrival?"

Severe laughed contemptuously.

"The station porter, you mean?" he said. "Yes; that bright youth merely
predated his experience by twenty-four hours when he saw that there
was bunce in it a few days later. Oh, I dare say he really thought it
then. As for me, before I had got to Swanstead I had realised my
mistake. What could I do in any case? Nothing that the least efficient
local bobby could not do much better. Least of all did I wish to meet
Ida--Mrs. Severe. No I walked out of the station, turned to the right
instead of the left and padded back to town."

"And you have come now, a fortnight or more later, to tell me this, Mr.
Severe?"

"Well, I have come to have small hopes of Beedel. At first I didn't care
two straws what they thought, expecting every hour to hear the worst.
But that may not have happened. Two weeks have passed without anything
being found, so that the child may be alive somewhere. If you are taking
it up there is a chance--provided only that you don't let them obsess
you with the idea that I have had anything to do with it."

"I don't imagine that you have had anything to do with it, Mr. Severe,
and I believe that Marie is still alive."

"Thank God for that," said Severe with sudden intensity. "I am very,
very glad to hear you express that opinion, Mr. Carrados. I don't
suppose that I shall see much of the girl as time goes on or that she
will be taught to regard the Fifth Commandment very seriously. All the
same, the relief of hearing that makes me your debtor for
ever...Anxious as I am, I will be content with that. I won't worry
you for your clues or your ideas...but I will tell you one thing.
It may amuse you. My notion, a few days ago, of what might have
happened--"

"Yes?" encouraged his host.

"It shows you the wild ideas one gets in such circumstances. My former
wife is, if I may be permitted to say so, the most amiable and devoted
creature in the world. Subject to that, I will readily concede that a
more self-opinionated, credulous, dogmatically wrong-headed and
crank-ridden woman does not exist. There isn't a silly fad that she
hasn't taken up--and what's more tragic, absolutely believed in for the
time--from ozonised milk to rhythmic yawning. Some time ago she was
swept into Christian Science. An atrocious harpy called Julp--a
professional 'healer'--fastened on her and has dominated her ever
since. Well, fantastic as it seems now, I was actually prepared to
believe that Marie had been ill and under their really sincere but
grotesque 'healing' had died. Then to hide the failure of their creed or
because they got panic-stricken--"

Then Carrados interrupted, an incivility he rarely committed.

"Yes, yes, I see," he said quickly. "But your daughter never is ill?"

"Never ill? Marie? Oh, isn't she! In the past six months I've--"

"But Mrs. Severe deliberately said--her words--that Marie 'does not
know what illness means.'"

"That's their jargon. They hold that illness does not exist and so it
has no meaning. But I should describe Marie as a delicate child on the
whole--bilious attacks and so on."

"Christian Scientists...gastric trouble...Prescott Ellerslie?
Good heavens! This comes of half doing a thing," muttered Carrados.

"Nothing wrong, I hope?" ventured the visitor.

"Wait." Severe wondered what the deuce turn the business was taking, but
there being no incentive to do anything else, he waited. Coffee, rather
more fragrant that that purveyed at the nocturnal stall, and fat
Egyptian cigarettes of a subtle aroma somehow failed nevertheless to
make the time pass quickly. Yet five minutes would have covered
Carrados's absence.

"Nothing wrong, but an unfortunate oversight," he remarked when he
returned. "I was too late to catch Beedel, so we must try to mend
matters at the other end if we can. I shall have to ask you to go with
me. I have ordered the car and I can tell you how we stand on the way."

"I shall be glad if you can make any use of me," said Severe.

"I hope that I may. And as for anything being wrong," added Carrados
with deliberation, "so far as Marie is concerned I think we may find
that the one thing necessary for her future welfare has been achieved."

"That's all I ask," said Severe.

"But it isn't all that I ask," retorted the blind man almost sharply;
This time there was nothing clandestine about the visit to Arling
Avenue. On the contrary, the pace they kept up made it necessary that
the horn should give pretty continuous notice of their presence.

If it was a race, however, they had the satisfaction of being
successful.

The manner--more suggestive of the trained nurse than the domestic
servant--of the maid who came to the door of Arling Lodge made it clear
to Carrados, apart from any other indication, that the catastrophe of
Beedel's arrival had not yet been launched. When the young person at the
door began conscientiously, but with obvious inexperience, to
prevaricate with the truth, the caller merely accepted her statements
and wrote a few words on his card.

"When Dr. Ellerslie does return, will you please give him this at once?"
he said. "I will wait."

It is to be inferred that the great specialist's return had been
providentially timed, for Carrados was scarcely seated when Prescott
Ellerslie hurried into the room with the visiting-card in his hand.

"Mr. Carrados?" he postulated. "Will you please explain this rather
unusually worded request for an interview?"

"Certainly I will," replied Carrados. "The wording is prompted by the
necessity of compelling your immediate attention. The interview is the
outcome of my desire to be of use to you."

"Thank you," said Ellerslie with non-committal courtesy. "And the
occasion?"

"The occasion is the impending visit of Inspector Beedel from Scotland
Yard, not, this time, to look out of your landing window, but to demand
the surrender of the missing Marie Severe and, if you deny any knowledge
of her, armed with authority to search your house."

"Oh," replied the doctor with astonishing composure. "And if the
situation develops on the lines which you have so pointedly indicated,
how do you propose to help me?"

"That depends a little on your explanation of the circumstances."

"Surely between Mr. Carrados and Scotland Yard there is nothing that
remains to be explained!"

"Mr. Carrados can only speak for himself," replied the blind man with
unmoved good humour. "And in his case there are several things to be
explained. There is probably not a great deal of time before the
Inspector's arrival, but there may be enough if you are disposed--"

"Very well," acquiesced Ellerslie. "You are quite right in assuming
Marie Severe to be in this house. I had her brought here...out of
revenge, to redress an old and very grievous injury. Perhaps you had
guessed that?"

"Not in those terms," said Carrados mildly.

"Yet so it was. Ten years ago a very sweet and precious little child, my
only daughter, was wantonly done to death by an ignorant and credulous
woman who had charge of her, in the tenets of her faith. It is called
Christian Science. The opportunity was put before me and to-day I
stand convicted of having outraged every social and legal form by
snatching Marie Severe from just that same fate."

Carrados nodded gravely.

"Yes," he assented. "That is the thing I missed."

"I used to see her on her way to school, whenever I was here," went on
the doctor wistfully, "and soon I came to watch for her and to know the
times at which she ought to pass. She was of all living creatures the
gayest and the most vivid, glowing and vibrant with the compelling joy
of life, a little being of wonderful grace, delicacy and charm. She has,
I found when I came to know her somewhat, that distinction of manner
which one is prone to associate unreasonably only with the children of
the great and wealthy--a young nobility. In much the reminded me
constantly of my own lost child; in other ways she attracted me by her
diversity. Such, Mr. Carrados, was the nature of my interest in Marie
Severe.

"I don't know the Severes and I have never even spoken to the mother. I
believe that she has only lived here about a year, and in any case I
have no concern in the social life of Swanstead. But a few months ago my
worthy old housekeeper struck up an acquaintance with one of Mrs.
Severe's servants, a staid, middle-aged person who had gone into the
family as Marie's nurse. The friendship begun down our respective
gardens--they adjoin--developed to the stage of these two dames taking
tea occasionally with one another. My Mrs. Glass is a garrulous old
woman. Hitherto my difficulty had often been to keep her quiet. Now I
let her talk and deftly steered the conversation. I learned that my
neighbours were Christian Scientists and had a so--called 'healer'
living with them. The information struck me with a sudden dread."

'I suppose they are never ill, then?' I inquired carelessly.

"Mrs. Severe had not been ill since she had embraced Christian Science,
and Miss Julp was described in a phrase obviously of her own importing
as being 'all selvage.' The servants were allowed to see a doctor if
they wished, although they were strongly pressed to have done with such
'trickery' in dispelling a mere 'illusion.'"

'And isn't there a child?' I asked.

"Marie, it appeared, had from time to time suffered from the 'illusion'
that she had not felt well--had suffered pain. Under Miss Julp's
spiritual treatment the 'hallucination' had been dispelled. Mrs. Glass
had laughed, looked very knowing and then given her friend away in her
appreciation of the joke. The faithful nurse had accepted the situation
and as soon as her mistress's back was turned had doctored Marie
according to her own simple notions. Under this double influence the
child had always picked up again, but the two women had ominously
speculated what would happen if she fell 'really ill.' I led her on to
details of the sicknesses--their symptoms, frequency and so on. It was
a congenial topic between the motherly old creature and the nurse and I
could not have had a better medium. I learned a good deal from her
chatter. It did not reassure me.

"From that time, without allowing my interest to appear, I sought better
opportunities to see the child. I inspired Mrs. Glass to suggest to the
nurse that Miss Marie might come and explore the garden here--it is a
large and tangled place, such as an adventuring child would love to roam
in, and this one, as I found, was passionately fond of flowers and
growing things and birds and little animals. I got a pair of tame
squirrels and turned them loose here. You can guess her enchantment when
she discovered them. I went out with nuts for her to give them and we
were friends at once. All the time I was examining her without her
knowledge. I don't suppose it ever occurred to her that I might be a
doctor. The result practically confirmed the growing suspicion that
everything I had heard pointed to. And the tragic irony of the situation
was that it had been appendicitis that my child--my child--had
perished from!"

"Oh, so this was appendicitis, then?"

"Yes. It was appendicitis of that insidious and misleading type to which
children are particularly liable. These apparently negligible turns at
intervals of weeks were really inflammation of the appendix and the
condition was inevitably passing into one of general suppurative
peritonitis. Very soon there would come another 'illusion' according to
the mother and Miss Julp, another 'bilious turn' according to the nurse,
similar to those already experienced, but apparently more obstinate. The
Christian Scientists would argue with it, Hannah would surreptitiously
dose it. This time, however, it would hang on. Still there would be no
really very alarming symptoms to wring the natural affection of the
mother, nothing severe enough to have the nurse into mutiny. The pulse
running at about 140 would be the last thing they would notice."

"And then?" Ellerslie was pacing the room in savage indignation, but
Carrados had Beedel's impending visit continually before him.

"Then she would be dead. Quite suddenly and unceremoniously this fair
young life, which in ten minutes I could render immune from this danger
for all the future, would go clean out--extinguished to demonstrate
that appendicitis does not exist and that Mind is All in All. If my
diagnosis was correct there could be no appeal, no shockful realisation
of the true position to give the mother a chance. It would be
inevitable, but it would be quite unlooked for.

"What was I to do, should you say, Mr. Carrados, in this emergency? I
had dealt with these fanatics before and I knew that if I took so
unusual a course as to go to Mrs. Severe I should at the best be met by
polite incredulity and a text from Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy's immortal work.
And by doing that I should have made any other line of action risky, if
not impossible. You, I believe, are a humane man. What was I to do?"

"What you did do," said his visitor, "was about the most dangerous thing
that a doctor could be mixed up in."

"Oh; no," replied Ellerslie, "he does a much more dangerous thing
whenever he operates on a septiferous subject, whenever he enters a
fever-stricken house. To career and reputation, you would say; but
believe me, Mr. Carrados, life is quite as important as livelihood, and
every doctor does that sort of thing every day. Well, like many very
ordinary men whom you may meet, I am something of a maniac and something
of a mystic. Incredible as it will doubtless seem to the world to-morrow,
I found that, at the risk of my professional career, at the
risk, possibly, of a criminal conviction, the greatest thing that I
should ever do would be to save this one exquisite young life. Elsewhere
other men just as good could take my place, but here it was I and I
alone."

"Well, you did it?" prompted Carrados. "I must remind you that the time
presses and I want to know the facts."

"Yes I did it. I won't delay with the precautions I had taken in
securing the child or with the scheme that I had worked out for
returning her. I believed that I had a very good chance of coming
through undiscovered and I infer that I have to thank you that I did
not. Marie has not the slightest idea where she is and when I go into
the room I am sufficiently disguised. She thinks that she has had an
accident."

"Of course you must have had assistance?"

"I have had the devoted help of an assistant and two nurses, but the
whole responsibility is mine. I managed to send off Mrs. Glass and her
husband for a holiday so as to keep them out of it. That was after I had
decided upon the operation. To justify what I was about to do there had
to be no mistake about the necessity. I contrived a final test.

"Less than three weeks ago I saw Hannah and the little girl come to the
house one afternoon. Shortly afterwards Mrs. Glass knocked at my door.
Could she ask Hannah to tea and, as Mrs. Severe and her friend were
being out until late, might Miss Marie also stay? There was, as she
knew, no need for her to ask me, but my housekeeper is primitive in her
ideas of duty. Of course I readily assented, but I suggested that Marie
should have tea with me; and so it was arranged.

"Before tea she amused herself about the garden. I told her to gather me
a bunch of flowers and when she came in with them I noticed that she had
scratched her arm with a thorn. I hurried through the meal, for I had
then determined what to do. When we had finished, without ringing the
bell, I gave her a chair in front of the fire and sat down opposite her.
There was a true story about a clever goose that I had promised her.

"'But you are going to sleep, Marie,' I said, looking at her fixedly.
'It is the heat of the fire.'

"'I think I must be,' she admitted drowsily. 'Oh, how silly. I can
scarcely keep my eyes open.'

"'You are going to sleep,' I repeated. 'You are very, very tired.' I
raised my hand and moved it slowly before her face. 'You can hardly see
my hand now. Your eyes are closed. When I stop speaking you will be
asleep.' I dropped my hand and she was fast asleep.

"I had made my arrangements and had everything ready. From her arm,
where the puncture of the needle was masked by the scratch, I secured a
few drops of blood. Then I applied a simple styptic to the place and
verified by a more leisurely examination some of the symptoms I had
already looked for. When I woke her, a few minutes later, she had no
inkling of what had passed.

"'Why,' I was saying as she awakened, 'I don't believe that you have
heard a word about old Solomon!'

"I applied the various laboratory tests to the blood which I had
obtained without delay. The result, taken in conjunction with the other
symptoms, was conclusive. I was resolved upon my course from that
moment. The operation itself was simple and completely successful. The
condition demonstrated the pressing necessity for what I did. Marie
Severe will probably outlive her mother now--especially if the lady
remains faithful to Christian Science. As for the sequel...I am
sorry, but I don't regret."

* * * * *

"A surprise, eh, Inspector?"

Inspector Beedel, accompanied by Mrs. Severe and--if the comparative
degree may be used to indicate her relative importance--even more
accompanied by Miss Julp, had arrived at Arling Lodge and been given
immediate admission. It was Carrados who thus greeted him.

Beedel looked at his friend and then at Dr. Ellerslie. With unconscious
habit he even noticed the proportions of the room, the position of the
door and window, and the chief articles of furniture. His mind moved
rather slowly, but always logically, and in cases where "sound
intelligence" sufficed he was rarely unsuccessful. He had brought Mrs.
Severe to identify Marie, whom he had never seen, and his men remained
outside within whistle-call in case of any emergency. He now saw that
he might have to shift his ground and he at once proceeded cautiously.

"Well, sir," he admitted, "I did not expect to see you here."

"Nor did I anticipate coming. Mrs. Severe"--he bowed to her--"I think
that we have already met informally. Your friend, Miss Julp, unless I am
mistaken? It is a good thing that we are all here."

"That is my name, sir," struck in the recalcitrant Cornelia, "but I am
not aware--"

"At the gate early--very early--this morning, Miss Julp. I recognise
your step. But accept my assurance, my dear lady"--for Miss Julp had
given a start of maidenly confusion at the recollection--"that
although I heard, I did not see you. Well, Inspector, I have since found
that I misled you. The mistake was mine--a fundamental error. You were
right. Mrs. Severe was right. Dr. Ellerslie is unassailably right. I
speak for him because it was I who fastened an unsupportable motive on
his actions. Marie Severe is in this house, but she was received here by
Dr. Ellerslie in his professional capacity and strictly in the relation
of doctor and patient...Mr. Severe has at length admitted that he
alone is to blame. You see, you were right after all."

"Arthur! Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Severe, deeply moved.

"But why," demanded the other lady hostilely, "why should the man want
her here?"

"Mr. Severe was apprehensive on account of his daughter's health,"
replied Carrados gravely. "His story is that, fearing something serious,
he submitted her to this eminent specialist, who found a dangerous--a
critical--condition that could only be removed by immediate operation.
Dr. Ellerslie has saved your daughter's life, Mrs. Severe."

"Fiddlesticks!" shouted Miss Julp excitedly. "It's an outrage--a
criminal outrage. An operation! There was no danger--there couldn't be
with me at hand. You've done it this time, Doctor Ellerslie. My gosh,
but this will be a case!"

Mrs. Severe sank into a chair, pale and trembling.

"I can scarcely believe it," she managed to say. "It is a crime. Dr.
Ellerslie--no doctor had the right. Mr. Severe has no authority
whatever. The court gave me sole control of Marie."

"Excuse me," put in Carrados with the blandness of perfect self-control
and cognisance of his point, "excuse me, but have you ever
informed Dr. Ellerslie of that ruling?"

"No," admitted Mrs. Severe with faint surprise. "No. Why should I?"

"Quite so. Why should you? But have you any knowledge that Dr. Ellerslie
is acquainted with the details of your unhappy domestic differences?"

"I do not know at all. What do these things matter?"

"Only this: Why should Dr. Ellerslie question the authority of a parent
who brings his child? It shows at least that he is the one who is
concerned about her welfare. For all Dr. Ellerslie knew, you might be
the unauthorised one, Mrs. Severe. A doctor can scarcely be expected to
withhold a critical operation while he investigates the family affairs
of his patients."

"But all this time--this dreadful suspense. He must have known."
Carrados shrugged his shoulders and seemed to glance across the room to
where their host had so far stood immovable.

"I did know, Mrs. Severe. I could not help knowing. But I knew something
else, and to a doctor the interests of his patient must overrule every
ordinary consideration. Should the occasion arise, I shall be prepared
at any time to justify my silence."

"Oh, the occasion will arise and pretty sharp, don't you fear," chimed
in the irrepressible Miss Julp. "There's a sight more in this business,
Ida, than we've got at yet. A mighty cute idea putting up Severe now. I
never did believe that he was in it. He's a piece too mean-spirited to
have the nerve. And where is Arthur Severe now? Gone, of course; quit
the country and at someone else's expense."

"Not at all," said Carrados very obligingly. "Since you ask, Miss Julp"--he
raised his voice--"Mr. Severe!"

The door opened and Severe strolled into the room with great sang-froid.
He bowed distantly to his wife and nodded familiarly to the police
official.

"Well, Inspector," he remarked, "you've cornered me at last, you see."

"I'm not so sure of that," retorted Beedel shortly.

"Oh, come now; you are too modest. My unconvincing alibi that you broke
down. The printed letter so conclusively from my hand. And Grigson--your
irrefutable, steadfast witness from the station here, Inspector.
There's no getting round Grigson now, you know."

Beedel rubbed his chin helpfully but made no answer. Things seemed to
have reached a momentary impasse.

"Perhaps we may at least all sit down," suggested Ellerslie, to break
the silence. "There are rather a lot of us, but I think the chairs will
go round."

"If I wasn't just dead tired I would sooner drop than sit down in the
house of a man calling himself a doctor," declared Miss Julp. Then she
sat down rather heavily. Sharp on the action came a piercing yell, a
deep--wrung "Yag!" of pain and alarm, and the lady was seen bounding to
her feet, to turn and look suspiciously at the place she had just
vacated.

"It was a needle, Cornelia," said Mrs. Severe, who sat next to her.
"See, here it is;"

"Dear me, how unfortunate," exclaimed Ellerslie, following the action;
"one of my surgical needles. I do hope that it has been properly
sterilised since the last operation."

"What's that?" demanded Miss Julp sharply.

"Well," explained the doctor slowly, "I mean that there is such a thing
as blood-poisoning. At least," he amended, "for me there is such a
thing as blood-poisoning. For you, fortunately, it does not exist. Any
more than pain does," he added thoughtfully.

"Do you mean," demanded Miss Julp with slow precision, "that through
your carelessness, your criminal carelessness, I run any risk of
blood-poisoning?"

"Cornelia!" exclaimed Mrs. Severe in pale incredulity.

"Of course not," retorted the surgeon. "How can you if such a thing does
not exist?"

"I don't care whether it exists or not--"

"Cornelia !" repeated her faithful disciple in horror.

"Be quiet, Ida. This is my business. It isn't like an ordinary illness.
I've always had a horror of blood-poisoning. I have nightmares about
it. My father died of it. He had to have glass tubes put in his veins,
and the night he died. Oh, I tell you I can't stand the thought of it.
There's nothing else I believe in, but blood-poisoning--"

She shuddered. "I tell you, doctor," she declared with a sudden descent
to the practical, "if I get laid up from this you'll have to stand the
racket, and pretty considerable damages as well."

"But at the worst this is a very simple matter," protested Ellerslie.
"If you will let me dress the place--"

Miss Julp went as red as a swarthy-complexioned lady of forty-five
could be expected to go.

"How can I let you dress the place?" she snapped. "It is--"

"Oh, Cornelia, Cornelia!" exclaimed Mrs. Severe reproachfully, through
her disillusioned tears, "would you really be so false to the great
principles which you have taught me?"

"I have a trained nurse here," suggested the doctor. "She would do it as
well as I could."

"Are you really going?" demanded Mrs. Severe, for there was no doubt
that Miss Julp was going and going with alacrity.

"I don't abate one iota of my principles, Ida," she remarked. "But one
has to discriminate. There are natural illnesses and there are unnatural
illnesses. We say with truth that there can be no death, but no one will
deny that Christian Scientists do, as a matter of fact, in the ordinary
sense, die. Perhaps this is rather beyond you yet, dear, but I hope that
some day you will see it in the light of its deeper mystery."

"Do you?" replied Mrs. Severe with cold disdain. "At present I only see
that there is one law of indulgence for yourself and another for your
dupes."

"After all," interposed Ellerslie, "this embarrassing discussion need
never have arisen. I now see that the offending implement is only one of
Mrs. Glass's darning needles. How careless of her! You need have no
fear, Miss Julp."

"Oh, you coward!" exclaimed Miss Julp breathlessly. "You coward! I won't
stay here a moment longer. I will go home."

"I won't detain you," said Mrs. Severe as Cornelia passed her. "Your
home is in Chicago, I believe? Ann will help you to pack."

Carrados rose and touched Beedel on the arm.

"You and I are not wanted here, Inspector," he whispered. "The bottom's
dropped out of the case," and they slipped away together.

Mrs. Severe looked across the room towards her late husband, hesitated
and then slowly walked up to him.

"There is a great deal here that I do not understand," she said, "but is
not this so, that you were willing to go to prison to shield this man
who has been good to Marie?"

Severe flushed a little. Then he dropped his deliberate reply.

"I am willing to go to hell for this man for his goodness to Marie," he
said curtly.

"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Severe with a little cry. "I wish you never said
that you would go to hell for me!"

The outcast stared. Then a curious look, a twisted smile of tenderness
and half-mocking humour crossed his features.

"My dear," he responded gravely, "perhaps not. But I often thought it!"

Dr. Ellerslie, who had followed out the last two of his departing
guests, looked in at the door.

"Marie is awake, I hear," he said. "Will you go up now, Mrs. Severe ?"

With a shy smile the lady held out her hand towards the shabby man.

"You must go with me, Arthur," she stipulated.

The Holloway Flat Tragedy

A good many years ago, when chance brought Max Carrados and Louis
Carlyle together again and they renewed the friendship of their youth,
the blind man's first inquiry had been a jesting, "Do you unearth many
murders, Louis?" and the private detective's reply a wholly serious,
"No; our business lies mostly on the conventional lines among
defalcation and divorce." Since that day Carlyle's business had
increased beyond the fondest dreams of its creator, but "defalcation and
divorce" still constituted the bulwarks of his prosperity. Yet from time
to time a more sensational happening or a more romantic course raised a
case above the commonplace, but none, it is safe to say, ever rivalled
in public interest the remarkable crime which was destined to become
labelled in the current Press as "The Holloway Flat Tragedy."

It was Mr. Carlyle's rule to see all callers who sought his aid, for the
very nature of their business precluded clients from willingly
unbosoming themselves to members of his office staff. Afterwards, they
might accept the discreet attention of tactful subordinates, but for the
first impression Carlyle well knew the value of his sympathetic
handshake, his crisply reassuring voice, his--if need be--humanly
condoning eye, and his impeccably prosperous person and surroundings.
Men and women, guilty and innocent alike, pouring out their stories felt
that at last they were really "understood," and, to give Louis Carlyle
his due, the deduction was generally fully justified.

To the quiet Bampton Street establishment one September afternoon there
came a new client who gave the name of Poleash and wished to see Mr.
Carlyle in person. There was, as usual, no difficulty about that, and,
looking up from his desk, Louis registered the impression of an
inconspicuous man, somewhere in the thirties. He used spectacles, wore a
moustache, and his clothes were a lounge suit of dark material, cut on
the simple lines affected by the prudent man who reflects that he may be
wearing that selfsame garment two or three seasons hence. There was a
slight air of untidiness--or rather, perhaps, an absence of spruceness
in any detail--about his general appearance, and the experienced
observer put him down as a middle-class worker in any of the clerical,
lower professional, or non-manual walks of life.

"Now, Mr. Poleash, sit down and tell me what I can do for you," said
Carlyle when they had shaken hands--a rite to which the astute
gentleman attached no slight importance and invariably offered. "Some
trouble or little difficulty, I suppose, umph? But first let me get your
name right and have your address for reference. You can rely on this,
Mr. Poleash"--the inclination of Mr. Carlyle's head and the arrest of
his lifted pen were undeniably impressive--"every word you utter is
strictly confidential."

"Oh, that'll be all right, I'm sure," said the visitor carelessly. "It
is rather out-of-the-way all the same, and at first--"

"The name?" insinuated Mr. Carlyle persuasively.

"Albert Henry Poleash: P--o--l--e--a--s--h--twelve Meridon House,
Sturgrove Road, Holloway."

"Thank you. Now, if you will."

"Of course I could tell you in a dozen words, but I expect you'd need to
know the circumstances, so perhaps I may as well begin where I think
you'll understand it best from."

"By all means," assented Mr. Carlyle heartily; "by all means. In your
own words and exactly as it occurs to you. I'm entirely at your service,
so don't feel hurried. Do you care--" The production of a plain gold
case completed the inquiry.

"To begin with," said Mr. Poleash, after contributing a match to their
common purpose, "I may say that I'm a married man, living with my wife
at that address--a smallish flat which suits us very well as we have no
children. Neither of us has any near relations either and we keep
ourselves pretty much to ourselves. Our only servant is a daily woman,
who seems able to do everything that we require--"

"One moment, if you please," interposed Mr. Carlyle briskly. "I don't
want you to do anything but tell your story in your own way, Mr.
Poleash, but if you would indicate by a single word the nature of the
event that concerns us it would enable me to judge which points are
likely to be most vital to our purpose. Theft--divorce--blackmail--"

"No--murder," replied Mr. Poleash with literal directness.

"Murder!" exclaimed the startled professional. "Do you mean that a
murder has been committed?"

"No, not yet. I am coming to that. For ordinary purposes I generally
describe myself as a rent-collector, but that is because official
Jacks-in-office seem to have a morbid suspicion of anyone who is
obviously not a millionaire calling himself independent. As a matter of
fact, I have quite enough private income to serve my purpose. Most of it
comes from small house property scattered about London. I see to the
management of this myself and personally collect the rents. It takes a
few days a week, gives me an interest, keeps me in exercise, and pays as
well as anything else I could be doing in the time."

"Quite so," encouraged the listener.

"That's always there," went on Mr. Poleash, continuing his leisurely
narrative with no indication of needing any encouragement, "but now and
then I take up other work if it suits me--certain kinds of special
canvassing; sometimes research. I don't want to slave making more money
than we have the need of, and I don't want ever to find that we haven't
enough money for anything we may require.

"Ideal," contributed Mr. Carlyle. "You are a true philosopher."

"My wife also has no need to be dependent on anyone either," continued
Mr. Poleash, without paying the least attention to the suave compliment.
"As a costume designer and fashion artist she is fully qualified to earn
her living, and in fact up to a couple of years ago she did work of that
kind regularly. Then she had a long illness that made a great change in
her. This brings me to one of the considerations that affect whatever I
may wish to do: the illness left her a nervous wreck--jumpy, excitable,
not altogether reasonable."

"Neurasthenia," was Mr. Carlyle's seasonable comment. "The symptom of
the age."

"Very likely. It doesn't affect me--at least it doesn't affect me
directly. Living in the same house with Mrs. Poleash, it's bound to
affect me, because I have to consider how every blessed thing I do will
affect her. And just lately something very lively indeed has come along.

"There is a girl in a shop that I got friendly with--no, I don't want
you to put her name down yet. It began a year or eighteen months--

"But I don't suppose that matters. The only thing I really think that
I'm to blame about is that I never told her I was married. As first
there was no reason why I should; afterwards--well, there was a certain
amount of reason why I shouldn't. Anyhow, I suppose that it was bound to
come out sooner or later, and it did, a few weeks ago. She said, quite
nicely, that she thought we ought to get married as things were, and
then, of course, I had to explain that we couldn't.

"I really hadn't the ghost of an idea that she'd take it so terribly to
heart as she did. There's nothing of the Don Juan about me, as you can
see it a glance. The thing had simply come about--one step leading to
another. But she fainted clean away, and when she came to again she was
like a solid block of ice to everything I said. And then to cap matters
who should appear at that moment but a fellow she'd been half engaged to
before I came along. She'd frequently spoken about this man--his
jealousy and temper and so on--and begged me never to let him pick a
quarrel with me. 'Peter' was the only name I ever heard him called by,
but he was a foreign--looking fellow--an Italian; I think."

"'Pietro,' perhaps?" suggested Mr. Carlyle.

"No; 'Peter' she called him. 'Please take me back home, Peter,' was all
she said, and off they went together without a word from either to me.
Whenever I've seen her since it's been the same. 'Will I please leave
her as there is nothing to be said?' and I've been trying to think of
all manner of arrangements to put things right."

"The only arrangement that would seem likely to do that is the one
that's out of your power to make," said Mr. Carlyle.

"I suppose so. However, this Peter evidently had a different idea. This
is what happened two nights ago. I woke up in the dark--it was about
three o'clock I found afterwards--with one of those feelings you get
that you've forgotten to do something. It was a letter that I should
have posted: it was important that it got delivered some time the next
day--the same day by then--and there it was in my breast pocket. I
knew if I left it that I should never be up in time for the first
morning dispatch, so I determined to slip out then and make sure of it.

"It would only be a matter of twenty minutes or so. There is a pillar-box
nearer, but that isn't cleared early. I pulled on a few things and
prepared to tiptoe out when a fresh thought struck me.

"Mrs. Poleash is a very uncertain sleeper nowadays, and if she is
disturbed it's ten to one if she gets off again, and for that reason we
use different rooms. I knew better than wake her up to tell her I was
going out, but at the same time there was just the possibility that she
might wake and, hearing some noise, look in at my door to see if I was
all right. If she found me gone she would nearly have a fit. On the spur
of the moment I pushed the bolster down the bed and rucked up my
dressing gown--it was lying about--above it. In the poor light it
served very well for a sleeping man, and I knew that she would not
disturb me.

"In less time than I'd given myself I had done my business and was back
again at the building. I was entering--my hand was on the knob of the
outer door in fact--when the door was pulled sharply open from the
other side and another man and I came face to face on the step. We both
fell back a bit, I think, but the next moment he had pushed past me and
was hurrying down the street. There was just enough light from the lamp
across the way for me to be certain of him; it was Peter, and I'm pretty
sure that he was equally sharp in recognising me.

"Of course I went up the stairs in double quick time after that. The
door of the flat was as I had left it--simply on the handle as I had
put up the latch catch, never dreaming of anyone coming along in that
time--and all was quiet and undisturbed inside. But one thing was
different in my room, although it took me a few minutes to discover it.
There was a clean cut through my dressing gown, through the sheet,
through the bolster. Someone, Mr. Carlyle, had driven a knife well home
before he discovered his mistake."

"But that was plain evidence of an attempt to murder," declared Mr.
Carlyle feelingly--he disliked crimes of violence from every point of
view. "Your business is obviously to inform the police."

"No," replied the visitor slowly; "no. Of course I thought of that, but
I soon had to let it slide. What would it mean? Visits, inquiries,
cross-examinations, explanations. Everything must come out. After a
sufficient exhibition of nerve-storm Mrs. Poleash would set about
getting a divorce and I should have to go through that. Then I suppose I
should have to marry the other one, and, when all's said and done,
that's the last thing I really want. In any case, my home would be
broken up and my whole life spoiled. No, if it comes to that I might
just as well be dead."

"Then what do you propose doing, may I ask? Calmly waiting to be
assassinated?"

"That's exactly what I came to see you about. You know my position, my
difficulty. I understand that you are a man of wide experience. Putting
aside the police and certain publicity, what should you advise?"

"Well, well," admitted the expert, "it's rather a formidable handicap,
but we will do the best for you that is to be done. Can you indicate
exactly what you want?"

"I can easily indicate exactly what I don't want. I don't want to be
murdered or molested and I don't want Mrs. Poleash to get wind of what's
been going on."

"Why not go away for a time? Meanwhile we could find out who your man is
and keep him under observation."

"I might do that--unless Kitty took it into her head that she didn't
want to go, and then, of course, I couldn't leave her alone in the flat
just now. After Tuesday night's business--this is what concerns me
most--should you think it likely that the fellow would come again or not?"

Mr. Carlyle pondered wisely. The longer he took over an opinion, he had
discovered--providing he kept up the right expression--the greater
weight attached to his pronouncement.

"No," he replied with due authority. "I should say not--not in anything
like the same way. Of course he will naturally assume that you will now
take due precautions--probably imagine that the police are after him.
What sort of fastenings have you to your doors and windows?"

"Nothing out of the way. They are old flats and not in very good repair.
The outer door is never kept locked, night or day. The front door of our
flat has a handle, a latch lock, and a mortice lock. During the day it
is simply kept on the latch; at night we fasten the other lock, but do
not secure the latch, so that the woman can let herself in when she
comes--she has one set of keys, I another, and Mrs. Poleash the third."

"But when you were out on Tuesday night there was no lock fastened, I
understand?"

"That is so. Simply the handle to turn. I purposely fastened the latch
lock out of action as I found at the door that I hadn't the keys with me
and I didn't want to go back to the room again."

"And the inner doors?"

"They have locks, but few now work--either the key is lost or the lock
broken. We never trouble about them--except Kitty's room. She has
scrupulously locked that at night, since she has had burglars among
other nerve fancies."

Mr. Carlyle shook his head.

"You ought at the very least to have the locks put right at once.
Practically all windows are fitted with catches that a child can push
back with a table-knife."

"That's all very well, but, you see, if I get a locksmith in I shall
have to make up some cock-and-bull story about house-breaking to
Mrs. Poleash, and that will set her off. And, anyway, we are on the
third story up."

"If you are going to consider your wife's nerves at every turn, my dear
sir," remarked Mr. Carlyle with some contempt, from the security of his
single state, "you will begin to find yourself in rather a tight fix, I
am afraid. How are you going to account for the cut linen, for
instance?"

"Oh, I've arranged all that," replied Mr. Poleash, nodding sagaciously.
"My dressing gown she will never notice. The sheet and bolster case--it
was a hot night so there was only a single sheet fortunately--I have
hidden away in a drawer for the present and put others in their place. I
shall buy another of each and burn or lose these soon--Kitty doesn't
keep a very close check on things. The bolster itself I can sew up well
enough before it's noticed."

"You may be able to keep it up," was Mr. Carlyle's dubious admission.
"At all events," he continued, "as I understand it, you want me to
advise you on the lines of taking no direct action against the man you
call Peter and at the same time adopting no precautions that would
strike Mrs. Poleash as being unusual?"

"Nothing that would suggest burglars or murder to her just now,"
assented Poleash. "Yes; that's about what it comes to. You may be able
to give me a useful tip or two. If not--well, I know it's a tough
proposition and I don't grudge the outlay."

"At least let us see," replied the professional man, never failing on
the side of lack of self-confidence. "Now as regards--"

It redounds to Louis Carlyle's credit as an inquiry agent that in an
exacting world no serious voice ever accused him of taking unearned
money; for so long as there was anything to be learned he plied his
novel client with questions, explored surmises and bestowed advice. Even
when they had come to the end of useful conversation and the prolific
notebook had been closed Carlyle lingered on the topic.

"It's an abnormal situation, Mr. Poleash, and full of professional
interest. I shall keep it in mind, you may be sure, and if anything
further occurs to me, why, I will let you know."

"Please don't write on any account," begged Mr. Poleash with sudden
earnestness. "In fact, I'd ask you to put a line to that effect across
my address. You see, I'm liable to be out at any post time, and if my
wife should happen to get curious about a strange letter, why, that, in
the language of the kerb, would blow the gaff."

"I see," assented Mr. Carlyle. "Very well; it shall be just as you
like."

"And if I can settle with you now," continued Poleash; "for of course I
don't want to have an account sent. Then some day--say next week--I
might look in to report and to hear if you have anything further to
suggest."

"You might, in the meanwhile, consider the most practical course--that
of having your man kept under observation."

"I will," promised the other. "But so far I'm all in favour of letting
sleeping dogs lie."

Not unnaturally Mr. Carlyle had heard that line before and had countered
it.

"True, but it is as well to know when they wake up again," he replied.
With just the necessary touch of dignity and graciousness he named and
received the single guinea at which he assessed the interview and began
to conduct Mr. Poleash towards the door--not the one by which he had
entered from the waiting--room but another leading directly down into
the street. "Have you lost something?"

"Only my hat and things--I left them in your ante-room." He held up
his gloved left hand as though it required a word of explanation. "I
keep this on because I am short of a finger, and I've noticed that some
people don't like to see it."

"We'll go out that way instead then--it's all the same," remarked
Carlyle, as he crossed to the other door.

Two later callers were sitting in the waiting-room, and at the sight
of them Mr. Carlyle's somewhat cherubic face at once assumed an
expression of the heartiest welcome. But beyond an unusually mellifluent
"Good afternoon!" he said nothing until his departing client was out of
hearing. Names were not paraded in those precincts. With a muttered
apology Mr. Poleash recovered his belongings from among the illustrated
papers and hurried away.

"And why in the world have you been waiting here, Max, instead of
sending in to me?" demanded the hospitable Carlyle with a show of
indignation.

"Business," replied Mr. Carrados tersely. "Your business, understand.
Your chief minion was eager to blow a message through to you but 'No,' I
said, 'we'll take our proper turn.' Why should I interrupt the Bogus
Company Promoter's confession or cut short the Guilty Husband's plea?"

"Joking apart, that fellow who just went brought a very remarkable
story," said Mr. Carlyle. "I should be glad to know what you would have
had to say to him when we have time to go into it." (Do not be too ready
to condemn the gentleman as an arrant humbug and this a gross breach of
confidence: Max Carrados had been appointed Honorary Consultant to the
firm, so that what would have otherwise been grave indiscretions were
strictly business discussions.)

"In the meantime the suggestion is that you haven't taken a half-day
off lately and that Monday morning is a convenient time."

"Generous man! What is happening on Monday morning then?"

"Something rather surprising in wireless at the Imperial Salon--ten to
twelve-thirty. I know it's the sort of thing you'll be interested in,
and I have two tickets and want someone fairly intelligent to go with."

"An ideal chain of circumstances," rippled Mr. Carlyle. "I shall
endeavour to earn the price of my--"

"I am sure you will succeed," retorted Carrados. "By the way, it's
free."

To a strain of this intellectual horseplay the arrangements for their
meeting were made, and that having been the only reason for the call,
Mr. Carrados departed under Parkinson's watchful escort. In due course
the wireless demonstration took place, but (although an invention then
for the first time shown bore no small part in one of the blind man's
subsequent cases) it is unnecessary to accompany them inside the hall,
for with the enigma centring in Mr. Poleash that event had no
connection. It is only touched upon as bringing Carrados and his friend
together at that hour, for as they walked along Pall Mall after lunching
Mr. Carlyle suddenly gave a whistle of misgiving and surprise and
stopped a hurrying newsboy.

"Holloway Flat Tragedy," he read from the bill as he investigated sundry
pockets for the exact coin. "By gad, if that should happen to be--"

"Poleash! My God, it is!" he exclaimed as soon as his eye had found the
paragraph concerned--a mere inch in the "Stop Press" news. "Poor
beggar! Tshk! Tshk!"--his clicking tongue expressed disapproval and
regret. "He ought to have known better after what had happened. It was
madness. I wonder what he actually did--"

"Your remarkable caller of last Thursday, Louis?"

"Yes; but how do you come to know?"

"A trifling indiscretion on his part. With a carelessness that must be
rare among your clients I should say, Mr. Poleash dropped one of his
cards under the table in your waiting-room, where the conscientious
Parkinson discovered it."

"Well, the unfortunate chap doesn't need cards now. Listen, Max.

"NORTH LONDON TRAGEDY

"Early this morning a charwoman going to a flat in Meridon House,
Holloway, made a gruesome discovery. Becoming suspicious at the
untouched milk and newspapers, she looked into a bedroom and there found
the occupier, a Mr. Poleash, dead in bed. He had received shocking
injuries, and everything points to deliberate murder. Mrs. Poleash is
understood to be away on a holiday in Devonshire."

"Of course Scotland Yard takes it up now, but I must put my information
at their service. They're devilish lucky, too. I can practically hand
over the miscreant to them and they will scoop the credit."

"I was to hear about that," Carrados reminded him. "Suppose we walk
across to Scotland Yard, and you can tell me on the way."

At the corner of Derby Street they encountered two men who had just
turned out of the Yard. The elder had the appearance of being a shrewd
farmer, showing his likely son the sights of London and keeping a wide
awake eye for its notorious pitfalls. To pursue appearances a step
farther they might even have been calling to recover the impressive
umbrella that the senior carried.

"Beedel," dropped Mr. Carlyle beneath his breath, but his friend was
already smiling recognition.

"The very man," said Carrados genially. "I'll wager you can tell us
something about the Poleash arrangements, inspector."

The two plain-clothes men exchanged amused glances.

"I can tell you this much, Mr. Carrados," replied Inspector Beedel, in
unusually good spirits, "my nephew George here is going to do the work
and I'm going to look after the bouquets at the finish. We're on our way
there now."

"Couldn't be better," said the blind man. "Perhaps you wouldn't mind us
going up there with you?"

"Very pleased," replied Beedel. "We were making for the station."

"You may as well help to fill our taxi," suggested Carrados. "Mr.
Carlyle may have something to tell you on the way."

On the whole Mr. Carlyle would have preferred to make his disclosure to
head-quarters, but the convenience of the arrangement was not to be
denied, and with a keen appreciation of the astonishing piece of luck
Beedel and George heard the story of the inquiry agent's client.

"It looks like being simply a matter of finding this girl, if the
conditions up there bear out this tale," remarked George, between
satisfaction at so veritable a clue and a doubt whether he would not
have preferred a more complicated case. "Did you happen to get her name
and address, sir?"

"No," admitted Mr. Carlyle with a slight aloofness, "it did not arise.
Poleash was naturally reluctant to bring in the lady more than he need
and I did not press him."

"Makes no odds," conceded George generously. "Shop-girl--kept company
with a foreigner--known as Peter. Even without anything else there
ought to be no difficulty in finding her."

Sturgrove Road was not deserted, and there was a rapid concentration
about the door of Meridon House "to see the 'tecs arrive." On the whole,
public opinion was disappointed in their appearance, but the action of
George in looking up at the frontage of the building and then glancing
sharply right and left along the road was favourably commented on. The
policeman stationed at the outer door admitted them at once.

A sergeant and a constable of the local division were in possession of
No.12, and the scared daily woman, temporarily sustained by their
impression of absolute immobility, was waiting in the kitchen to
indicate whatever was required. Greetings on a slightly technical plane
passed between the four members of the force.

"Mrs. Poleash has been sent for, I suppose?" asked Mr. Carlyle.

"We telephoned from our office to Torquay some hours ago," replied the
sergeant. "They'll send an officer to the place she's staying at and
break it to her as well as possible. That's the course we usually
follow." He took out a weighty presentation watch and considered it.
"Torquay. I don't suppose she could be here yet."

"Not even if she was in first go," amplified his subordinate.

"Well," suggested George, "suppose we look round?"

The bedroom was the first spot visited. There was nothing unusual to be
seen, apart from the outline of the bed, its secret now hidden beneath a
decorous covering--nothing beyond the rather untidy details of the
occupant's daily round. All these would in due course receive a careful
scrutiny, but at the moment one point drew every eye.

"Hold one another's hands," advised the sergeant, as he prepared to turn
down the sheet. The hovering charwoman gave a scream and fled.

"That's a wild beast been at work," said Inspector Beedel, coolly
drawing nearer to appreciate the details.

"My word, yes!" agreed George, following a little reluctantly.

"Shocking! Shocking!" Mr. Carlyle made no pretence about turning away.

"Killed at the first blow," continued the sergeant, indicating, "though
it's not the only one. Then his face slashed about like a fancy loaf
till his own mother wouldn't know him. Something dreadful, isn't it?
Finger gone? Oh, that's an old affair. What're you to make of it all?"

"Revenge--revenge and rage and sheer bloodthirstiness," summed up Mr.
Carlyle. "Was anything taken?"

"Nothing disturbed so far as we can see, and the old party there"--a
comprehensive nod in the direction of the absent charlady--"says that
all the things she knows of seem to be right."

"What time do they put it at?" asked Beedel.

"Dr. Meadows has been here. Midnight Saturday to early Sunday morning,
he said. That agrees with the people at the flat opposite hearing the
door locked at about ten on Saturday night and the Sunday morning milk
and paper not being touched."

"Milk-can on the doorstep all day, I suppose?" suggested someone.

"Yes; people opposite noticed it, but thought nothing of it. They knew
Mrs. Poleash was going away on Saturday and thought that he might have
gone with her. Mrs. Jones, she doesn't come on Sundays, so nothing was
found out till this morning."

"May as well hear what she has to say now," said Beedel. "No need to
keep her about that I know of."

"Just one minute, please, if you don't mind," put in Mr. Carlyle, not so
much asking anyone's permission as directing the affair. The sight of a
wardrobe had reminded him of the dead man's story, and he was now
handling the clothes that hung there with keen anticipation. "There is
something that I really came especially to see. This is his dressing
gown, and, yes, by Jupiter, it's here!"

He pointed to a clean cut through the material as they gathered round
him.

"What's that?" inquired the sergeant, looking from one face to another.

"Previous attempt," replied Beedel shortly.

"There ought to be a sheet and bolster-case somewhere about,"
continued the eager gentleman, now thoroughly intrigued, and under the
impulse of his zeal drawers and cupboards were opened and their contents
gingerly displaced.

"Something of the sort here among the shirts," announced George.

"Have them out then. Not likely to be any others put away there." The
hidden things were unfolded and displayed and here also the tragic
evidence lay clear before them.

"By gad, you know, I half thought he might have dreamt it until this
came," confessed Mr. Carlyle to the room at large. "Tshk! Tshk! How on
earth the fellow could have gone--" He remembered the quiet figure
lying within earshot and finished with a tolerant shrug.

"Let's get on," said Beedel. These details could very well have waited,
had been his thought all along.

"I'll fold the things," volunteered Mr. Carrados. All the others had
satisfied their curiosity by glance or scrutiny and he was free to take
his time. He took up the loose bundle in his arms and with the strange
impulse towards light that so often moved him he turned away from them
and sought the window.

"Now, missis, come along and tell us all about it," called out the young
constable.

"No," interposed the inspector kindly, "the poor creature's upset enough
already without bringing her in here again. Stay where you are, Mrs.
Jones, we're coming there," he announced from the door, and they filed
along the skimpy passage into the dingy kitchen. "Now can you just tell
us quietly what you know about this bad business?"

Mrs. Jones's testimony, given on the frequently expressed understanding
that she was quite prepared to be struck dead at any point of it if she
deviated from the strictest line of truth, did not disclose any new
feature, while its frequent references to the lives and opinions of
friends not concerned in the progress of the drama threatened now and
then to stifle the narrative with a surfeit of pronouns. But she was
listened to with patience and complimented on her nerve. Mrs. Jones
sadly shook her antique black bonnet and disclaimed the quality.

"I could do nothing but stand and scream," she confessed wistfully,
reliving to the first dreadful moment at the bedroom door.

"I stood and screamed three times before I could get myself away. The
poor gentleman! What harm was he, for to be done in like that!"

There was a string of questions from one or another of the company
before she was finally dismissed--generally from Beedel or George with
Mr. Carlyle's courteously assertive voice intervening once or twice: the
Poleashes had few visitors that she had ever seen--she was only there
from eight to six--and she had never known of anyone staying with them;
no one had knocked at the door for anything on Saturday; she had not
noticed anyone whom she could call to mind as "a foreigner" loitering
about or at the door recently (a foreign family lived at No. 5, but they
were well spoken of); neither Mr. or Mrs. Poleash had talked to her of
anything uncommon of late--the gentleman was mostly out and "she"
wasn't one of the friendly sort; the couple seemed to get on together
"as well as most," and she had never heard a "real" quarrel; Mrs.
Poleash had gone off for a week (she understood) about noon on Saturday,
and Mr. Poleash had accompanied her to Paddington (as he had mentioned
on his return for tea); she had last seen him at about five o'clock on
Saturday, when she left, a little earlier than usual; she knew nothing
of the ashes in the kitchen grate, not having had a fire there for weeks
past; the picture post card (passed round) from Mrs. Poleash, announcing
her arrival at Torquay, she had found on the hall floor together with
the Sunday paper; she was to go on just the same while Mrs. Poleash was
away, coming daily to "do up," and so on; it was a regular arrangement
"week in and week out."

"That seems to be about all?" summed up Inspector Beedel, looking round.
"We have your address, Mrs. Jones, and you're sure to hear from us about
something pretty soon."

"Before you go," said a matter-of-fact voice from the door, "do you
happen to remember what you were doing last Thursday afternoon?" It was
the first question that Mr. Carrados had put, and they had scarcely
noticed whether he had re-joined them yet or not.

"Last Thursday afternoon?" repeated Mrs. Jones helplessly. "Oh, Lor',
sir, my head's in that whirl--"

"Yes, but it isn't so difficult if you think--early closing day, you
know."

This stimulus proved effective and the charwoman remembered. She had
something special to remember by. On Thursday morning Mrs. Poleash had
passed on to her a single ticket for that afternoon's performance at the
Parkhurst Theatre, and told her that she could go after she had washed
up the dinner things.

"So that you were not here at all on Thursday afternoon? Just one more
thing, Mrs. Jones. Sooner or later a photograph of your master will be
wanted. Is there one anywhere about?"

"The only one I know of stands on the sideboard in the little room.
There may be others put away, but not being what you might call curious,
sir--"

"I'm sure you're not," agreed Carrados. "Now, as you go you shall point
it out to us so that there can be no mistake."

"You couldn't make no mistake because there's only that and one of her
stands there," explained Mrs. Jones, but she proceeded to comply. "There
it--"

"Yes?" said the blind man, close upon her.

"I'm sorry, sir, indeed. I must have made a mistake--"

"I don't think you made any mistake," he urged. "I don't think you
really think so either."

"I'm that mithered I don't rightly know what to think," she declared.
"That isn't him."

"Is it the frame? No, don't touch it--that might be unlucky, you know--but
you can remember that."

"It's the frame, right enough. I ought to know, the times I've dusted
it."

"Then the photograph has been changed: there's nothing unlikely in that.
When was the last time that you noticed the other one there?"

Quite recently, it would seem, but taking refuge behind her whirling
head Mrs. Jones held out against precision. It might have been Friday or
it might have been Saturday. Carrados forbore to press her more exactly,
and she departed, sustained by the advice of Authority that she should
have nothing to say to nobody, under the excuse, if need be, that she
had answered enough questions already for one day.

"While we are here," said the sergeant--they were still in the "little
room," the only one that looked out on the front--"you might as well
see where he got in." He went to the window and indicated certain marks
on the wood--and stone--work. "We found the lower sash still a few
inches up when we came."

"Went the same way as he came, I suppose," suggested George.

"Must have done. All the keys are accounted for, and Mrs. Jones found
the front door locked as usual. And why not; why shouldn't he? There's
the balcony, and you hardly have to lean out to see the stairway window
not a yard away. Why, it's as easy as ring-a-roses. Might have been
made for it."

"Tshk! Tshk!" fumed Mr. Carlyle unhappily. "After what I said. And not
one of the locks has been seen to."

"Locks?" echoed the young policeman, appearing that moment at the door.
"Why, here is a chap with tools, says he's come to repair and fit the
locks!"

"Well; if this isn't the fair ne plus ultra!" articulated the sergeant.
"However, show him in, lad."

The locksmith, looking scarcely less alarmed than if he had fallen into
a den of thieves, had a very short and simple tale to tell. His shop was
in the Seven Sisters Road, and on Friday afternoon a gentleman had
called there and arranged with him to come on Monday and repair some
locks. He had given the name of Poleash and that address. The man knew
nothing of what had taken place and had come as fixed.

"It's a pity you didn't happen to make it Saturday, Mr. Hipwaite," said
Inspector Beedel, as he took a note of this new evidence. "It might--I
don't say it would, but it might--have prevented murder being done."

"But that's the very thing I was not to do," declared Hipwaite, with
some warmth. "'Don't come on Saturday because the wife is very nervous,
and if she thinks burglars are about she'll have a fit,' he said--those
very words. 'She'll be away on Monday, and then by the time she comes
back she mayn't notice.' Was I likely to come on Saturday?"

Plainly he was not. "That's all right," it was conceded, "but there's
nothing in your line doing to-day." So Mr. Hipwaite departed, more
than half persuaded that he had been hardly used and not in the least
mollified by being concerned in so notable a tragedy.

"Before I go," resumed the sergeant, leading the way back to the
kitchen, "there's one other thing I must hand over. You heard what Mrs.
Jones said about the fire--that there hadn't been one for weeks as they
always used the stove?"

"That's what I asked her," George reminded him. "Someone has had a fire
here."

"Correct," continued the officer imperturbably. "It's also what I asked
her a couple of hours before you came. Someone's had a fire here. Who
and what for? Well, I've had the cinders out to see and now I'll make
over to you what there was."

"Glove fasteners," commented the inspector. "All the metal there was
about them. Millions of the pattern, I suppose."

"Burned his gloves after the job--they must have been in a fair mess,"
said George. "'Audubon Freres' they're stamped--foreign make."

"That reminds me--there's one thing more." It was produced from the
sergeant's pocket-book, a folded fragment of paper, charred along its
edge. "It's from the hearth; evidently a bit that fell out when the fire
was made. Foreign newspaper, you will see; Italian it looks to me."

Mr. Carlyle, Inspector Beedel, and George exchanged appreciative
glances. Upon this atmosphere of quiet satisfaction there fell something
almost like a chuckle.

"Did anyone happen to notice if he had written 'Si parla Italiano' in
red on the wall over the bed?" inquired the guileless voice.

The young constable, chancing to be the nearest person to the door, rose
to this mendacious suggestion by offering to go and see. The others
stared at the blind man in various stages of uncertainty.

"No, no," called out Mr. Carlyle feelingly. "There is no need to look,
thank you. When you know Mr. Carrados as well as I do you will
understand that although there is always something in what he says it is
not always the something you think it is. Now, Max, pray enlighten the
Company. Why should the murderer write 'Italian spoken' over the bed?"

"Obviously to make sure that you shouldn't miss it," replied Mr.
Carrados.

"Well," remarked the sergeant, demonstrating one or two simple exercises
in physical drill as a suitable preparation, "I may as well be going. I
don't understand Italian myself. Nor Dutch either," he added
cryptically.

Mr. Carlyle also had nothing more to stay for. "If you have done here,
Max--" he began, and turned only to find that Carrados was no longer
there.

"Your friend has just gone to the front room, sir," said the constable,
catching the words as he passed. "Funny to see a blind man getting about
so." But a sudden crash of glass from the direction referred to cut short
the impending compliment.

It was, as Carrados explained, entirely his own preposterous fault.

Nothing but curiosity about the size of the room had impelled him to
touch the walls, and the picture, having a weak cord or an insecure
nail...had it not brought something else down in its fall?

"Only the two frames from the sideboard, so far as I can see," replied
Carlyle. "All the glass is shattered. But I don't suppose that Mrs.
Poleash will be in a condition to worry about trifles. Jolly good thing
you aren't hurt, that's all."

"Of course I should like to replace the damage," said the delinquent.

Inspector Beedel said nothing, but as he looked on he recalled one or
two other mischances in the past, and being of an introspective nature
he continued to massage his chin thoughtfully.

* * * * *

Three days later the inquest on the body of Albert Henry Poleash was
opened. It was of the merest formal description, proof of identity and a
bare statement of the cause of death being the only evidence put
forward. An adjournment for a week was then declared.

At the resumed inquiry the story of Poleash's death was taken forward,
and the newspaper reader for the first time was encouraged to see in it
the promise of a first-class popular sensation. Louis Carlyle related
the episode of his unexpected client. Corroboration of that wildly
romantic story was forthcoming from many sides. Mr. Hipwaite carried the
drama two days later by describing the dead man's visit to his shop, the
order to repair the locks, and his own futile journey to the flat. Mrs.
Jones, skilfully piloted among dates and details, was in evidence as the
discoverer of the body. Two doctors--a private practitioner called
hurriedly in at the first alarm and the divisional surgeon--agreed on
all essential points, and the police efficiently bridged the narration
at one stage and another and contrived to present a faithful survey of
the tragedy.

But the most arresting figure of the day, though her evidence was of
very slight account and mainly negative, was the unhappy widow. As she
moved into the witness-box, a wan, graceful creature in her
unaccustomed, but, it may be said, not unattractive crepe, a rustle of
compassion stirred the court and Mr. Carlyle, who had come prejudiced
against her, as an automatic reflex of his client's fate, chirruped
sympathy.

Mrs. Poleash gave her testimony in a low voice, not particularly
attractive in its tone, and she looked straight before her with eyes
neither downcast nor wandering. Her name, she said, was Katherine
Poleash, her age twenty-nine. She knew nothing of the tragedy, having
been in Torquay at the time. She had gone there on the Saturday
afternoon, her husband seeing her off from Paddington. Their
relationship was perfectly friendly, but not demonstrative. Her husband
was a considerate but rather reserved man with no especial interests. Up
to two years ago she had been accustomed to earn her own living, but a
nervous breakdown had interfered with her capacity for work. It was on
account of that illness that she had generally occupied a separate
bedroom; it had left her nervous in many ways, but she was surprised to
hear that she should have been described as exacting or ill-tempered.

"'Not wholly reasonable and excitable,' were the precise terms used, I
think," put in Mr. Carlyle gallantly.

"It's much the same," she replied apathetically.

Continuing, she had no knowledge at all of any intrigue between her
husband and a shop-girl, such as had been referred to, nor had she
ever heard of the man Peter, either by name or as an Italian. She could
not suggesting what quarter of London the shop in question was likely to
be as the deceased was accustomed to go about a good deal. The police
already had a list of the various properties he owned. At the conclusion
of her evidence, Mrs. Poleash seemed to be on the point of fainting and
had to be assisted out.

There was nothing to be gained by a further adjournment. The cause of
death--the real issue before that court--was reasonably clear. The
jury brought in a verdict of "Wilful Murder against Some Person or
Persons Unknown." Before the reporters left the police asked that the
Press should circulate a request for anyone having knowledge of a
shop-assistant who had been friendly with a foreigner known as Peter or
Pietro, or with a man answering to Mr. Poleash's description, to
communicate with them either at New Scotland Yard or to any local
station. The Press promised to comply and offered to publish photographs
of Mr. Poleash as a means toward that end, only to learn that no
photograph possessing identification value could be found. So began the
memorable paperchase for an extremely nebulous shop-assistant and a
foreigner whose description began and ended with the sobriquet "Peter
the Italian."

* * * * *

"I was wondering if you or Inspector Beedel would come round one day to
see me," said Mr. Carrados as George was shown into the study at The
Turrets. Two full weeks had elapsed since the conclusion of the inquest
and the newspaper value of the Holloway Flat Tragedy had sunk from a
column opposite leader page to a six line fill-up beneath "Home and
General."

"Your uncle used often to drop in to entertain me with the
progress of his cases."

"That wasn't his way of looking at it, Mr. Carrados. He used to say that
when it came to seeing through a brick wall you were--well, hell!"

"Curious," remarked Mr. Carrados. "I don't remember ever hearing
Inspector Beedel make use of that precise expression."

George went a trifle red and laughed to demonstrate his self-possession.

"Well, perhaps I dropped a word of my own in by accident," he said. "But
that was what he meant--in a complimentary sense, of course. As a
matter of fact, it was on his advice that I ventured to trouble you
now."

"Not 'trouble,'" protested the blind man, ever responsive to the least
touch of diffidence. "That's another word the inspector wouldn't use
about me, I'm sure."

"You're very kind," said George, accepting a cigarette, "and as I had to
come this way to see another--oh, my Lord, another !--shop-girl, why, I
thought--"

"Ah; how is the case going?"

"It's no go, Mr. Carrados. We've seen thousands of shop-girls and
hundreds of Italian Peters. I'm beginning to think," said the visitor,
watching Mr. Carrados's face as he propounded the astonishing heresy,
"that there is no such person."

"Yes?" replied Carrados unmoved. "It is always as well to look beyond
the obvious, isn't it? What does the inspector say?"

"He says, 'I should like to know what Mr. Carrados really meant by
"Italian spoken," and what he really did when he smashed that picture.'"

Carrados laughed his appreciation as he seemed actually to watch the
blue smoke curling upwards.

"How easy it is to give a straightforward answer when a plain question
is asked," he replied. "By 'Si parla Italiano' I ventured to insinuate
my own private opinion that there was no Italian Peter; when I broke the
picture I tried to obtain some definite evidence of someone there was."

George waited in the hope of this theme developing, but his host seemed
to consider that he had said all that was necessary, and it is difficult
to lead on a man into disclosures when you cannot fix him with your eye.

"Poleash may have been mistaken himself," he continued tentatively; "or
he may have purposely misled Mr. Carlyle on details, with the idea of
getting his advice but not entirely trusting him to the full extent."

"He may," admitted the placid smoker.

"One thing I can't understand is how ever the man set about keeping
company with a girl without spending more on her than he seems to have
done. We found a small pocket diary that he entered his current expenses
in, and there isn't a single item for chocolates, flowers, theatres, or
anything of that sort."

"A diary?"

"Oh, he didn't keep a diary; only entered cash, and rents received, and
so on. Here it is, if you care to--examine it."

"Thank you, I should. I wonder what our friend Carlyle charged for the
consultation?"

"I don't remember seeing that," admitted George, referring to the pages.
"Thursday, the 3rd, wasn't it? No, curiously enough, that doesn't
appear....I wonder if he never put down any of these what you might
call questionable items for fear of Mrs. Poleash seeing?"

"Not unnaturally," agreed Carrados. "You found nothing else of interest
then--no addresses or new names?"

"Nothing at all. Oh, that page you've got is only his memorandum of
sizes and numbers and so on."

"Yes; quite a useful habit, isn't it?" The long, vibrant fingers touched
off line after line without a pause or stumble. "When he made this handy
list Albert Henry Poleash little thought Boots, size 9; hat, size 7 1/8;
collars, size 16; gloves, size 8 3/4; watch, No.31903; weight, 11st
8lbs. There we have the man: Ex pede Herculem, as the motto has it--only
in this case of course the hat and gloves are more useful."

"Very true, sir," said George, whose instinct was to keep a knowing
front on all occasions.

When Parkinson was summoned to the room some time later he found his
master there alone. Every light was blazing on, and, sitting at his
desk, Mr. Carrados confronted a single sheet of paper. With his trained
acuteness for the minutiae of every new condition Parkinson immediately
took mental photographs of the sheet of paper with its slim written
column, of the position and appearance of the chair George had used, of
the number and placing of cigarette ends and matches, of all the details
connected with the tray and contents, and of a few other matters. It was
his routine.

"Close the door and come in," said Carrados. "I want you to carry your
mind back about four weeks to the last occasion when we called at Mr.
Carlyle's office together. As we sat in the waiting-room I asked you
if the things left there belonged to anyone we knew."

"I remember the circumstance perfectly, sir.

"I want the articles described. The gloves?"

"There was only one glove--that for the right hand. It was a dark grey
suede, moderately used, and not of the best cut. The fastening was a
press button stamped 'Audubon Freres.' The only marking inside the glove
was the size, 7 1/2."

Carrados made a note on the sheet before him. "The hat?" he said. "What
size was that?"

"The size of the hat, printed on an octagonal white ticket, was 6 3/4,
sir."

"Excellent, so far, When the caller passed through you saw him for a
moment. Apart from clothes, which do not matter just now, was there any
physical peculiarity that would identify him?"

"He had a small dark mole beneath the left eye. The lobe of his right
ear was appreciably less than the other. The nail of the middle finger
of the right hand was corrugated from an injury at some time."

Carrados made a final note on the paper before him.

"Very good indeed, Parkinson," he remarked. "That is all I wanted."

* * * * *

A month passed and nothing happened. Occasionally a newspaper, pressed
for a subject, commented on the disquieting frequency with which
undetected murder could be done, and among other instances mentioned the
Holloway Flat Tragedy and deplored the ease with which Peter the Italian
had remained at large. The name by that time struck the reader as
distantly familiar.

Then one evening early in November, Beedel rang Mr. Carrados up. The
blind man happened to take the call himself, and at the first words he
knew that the dull, patient shadowing of weeks was about to fructify.

"Yes, Inspector Beedel himself, sir," said the voice at the other end.
"I'm speaking from Beak Street. The two you know of have just gone to
the Restaurant X in Warsaw Street. The lady has booked two seats at the
Alhambra for to-night, so we expect them to be there for the best part
of an hour."

"I'll come at once," replied Carrados. "What about Carlyle?"

"He's been notified. Back entrance in Boulton Court," said the
inspector. "I'm off there now myself."

It was the first time that the two the blind man "knew of" had met since
the watch was set, and their correspondence had been singularly
innocuous. Yet not a breath of suspicion had been raised and the same
elaborate care that had prompted Mr. Carrados to bring down a picture to
cover the abstraction of a small square of glass had been maintained
throughout.

"Nice private little room upstairs, saire," insinuated the proprietor as
"the two" looked round. He guessed that they shunned publicity, and he
was right, although not entirely so. With a curt nod the man led the way
up the narrow stairway to the equivocal little den on the first floor.
The general room below had not been crowded, but this one was wholly
empty.

"Quite like old times," said the woman with an unmusical laugh as she
threw off her cloak--there was little indication of the sorrowing widow
now, "I thought we had better fight shy of the 'Toledo' for the future."

"Mmm, yes," replied her companion slowly, looking dubiously about him--he
no longer wore glasses or moustache, nor was his left hand; the
glove now removed, deficient of a finger. "The only thing is whether it
isn't too soon for us to be about together at all."

"Pha!" she snapped expressively. "They've gone to sleep again. There
isn't a thing--no not a single detail--gone wrong. The most that could
happen would be a raid here to look for Peter the Italian!"

"For God's sake don't keep on that," he urged in a low voice. "Your
husband was a brute to you by what you say, and I'm not sorry now it's
done, but I want to forget it all. You had your way: I've done
everything you planned. Now you are free and decently well off and as
soon as it's safe we can really marry--if you still will."

"If I still will," she repeated, looking at him meaningly. "Do you know,
Dick, I think it may become desirable sooner even than I thought."

"Sssh!" he warned; "here comes someone. You order, Kitty--you always
have done! Anything will suit me." He turned to arrange his overcoat
across an empty chair and reassured his hand among the contents of the
nearest pocket.

Downstairs, in his nondescript living-room, the proprietor of the
Restaurant X was being very quickly and efficiently made to understand
just so much of the situation as turned on his immediate and complete
acceptance of it. In the presence of authority so vigorously expressed
the stout gentleman bowed profusely, lowered his voice, and from time to
time placed a knowing finger on his lips in agreement.

"Hallo," said the man called "Dick" as a different attendant brought a
dish. "Where has our other waiter got to?"

"Party of regular customers as always has him just come in," explained
the new one. "'Ope you don't mind, sir."

"Not a brass button."

"It's all right, inspector," reported the "waiter."

"He has the three marks you said--mole, ear, nail."

"Certain of the woman?"

"Mrs. Poleash, sure as snow."

"Any reference to it?"

"Don't think so while I'm about. Drama just now. Has his little gun
handy."

"Take this in now. Leave the door open and see if you can make him talk
up....If you two gentlemen will step just across there I think
you'll be able to hear."

Carrados smiled as he proceeded to comply.

"I have already heard," he said. "It is the voice of the man who called
on Mr. Carlyle on September the third."

"I think it is the voice," admitted Mr. Carlyle when he had tiptoed back
again. "I really think so, but after two months I should not be prepared
to swear."

"He is the man," repeated Carrados deliberately.

Inspector Beedel, clinking something quietly in his pocket, nodded to
his waiter.

"Morgan follows you in with the coffee," he said. "Put it down on the
table, Morgan, and stand beside the woman. Call me as soon as you have
him."

It was the sweet that the first waiter was to take, and with it there
was a sauce. It was not exactly overturned, but there was an awkward
movement and a few drops were splashed. With a clumsy apology the
waiter, napkin in hand, leaned across the customer to remove a spot that
marked his coat-sleeve.

"Here!" exclaimed the startled man. "What the devil are you up to?"

It was too late. Speech was the only thing left to him then. His wrists
were already held in a trained, relentless grasp; he was pressed
helplessly back into his chair at the first movement of resistance.
Kitty Poleash rose from her seat with a dreadful coldness round her
heart, felt a hand upon her shoulder, cast one fearful glance around,
and sank down upon her chair again. Before another word was spoken
Inspector Beedel had appeared, and the grip of bone and muscle on the
straining wrists was changed to one of steel. Less than thirty seconds
bridged the whole astonishing transformation.

"Richard Crispinge, you are charged with the murder of this woman's
husband. Katherine Poleash, you are held as an accessory." The usual
caution followed. "Get a taxi to the back entrance, Morgan."

Half a dozen emotions met on Crispinge's face as he shot a glance at his
companion and then faced the accuser again.

"You're crazy," he panted, still labouring from the effort. "I've never
even seen the man."

"I shouldn't say anything now, if I were you," advised Beedel, on a
quite human note. "You may find out later that we know more than you
might think."

What followed could not have been charged against human foresight, for
at a later stage it was shown that a certain cable failed and in a trice
one side of Warsaw Street was involved in darkness. What happened in
that darkness--where they had severally stood and after--who moved or
spoke--whose hand was raised--were all matters of dispute, but
suddenly the black was stabbed by a streak of red, a little
crack--scarcely more than the sharp bursting of a paper bag--nearly
caught up to it, and almost slowly to the waiting ears came the
sound of strain and the long crash of falling glass and china.

"A lamp from down there!" snapped Beedel's sorely-tried voice, as the
ray of an electric torch whirled like a pygmy searchlight and then
centred on a tumbled thing lying beyond the table. "Look alive!"

"They say there is gas somewhere," announced Mr. Carlyle, striking a
match as he ran in. "Ah, here it it."

No need to ask then what had happened, though how it had happened could
never be set quite finally at rest; for if Kitty Poleash was standing
now, whereas before she had sat, the weapon lay beyond her reach close
to the shackled hands. A curious apathy seemed to fall upon the room as
though the tang of the drifting wisp of smoke dulled their alertness,
and when the woman moved slowly towards her lover Beedel merely picked
the pistol up and waited. With a terrible calmness she knelt by the
huddled form and raised the inert head.

"Good-bye, my dear," she said quietly, kissing the dead lips for the
last time; "it's over." And with a strange tragic fitness she added, in
the words of another fatal schemer, "We fail!"

She seemed to be the only one who had any business there; Beedel was
abstracted; Carlyle and Carrados felt like spectators walking on a stage
when the play is over. In the street below the summoned taxi throbbed
unheeded; they were waiting for another equipage now. When that had
moved off with its burden Kitty Poleash would follow her captors
submissively, like a dog without a home.

"It isn't a feather in our caps to have a man slip away like that,"
remarked the inspector moodily as the two joined him for a word before
they left; "but, of course, as far as they are both concerned, it's the
very best that could have happened."

"In what way do you mean the best?" demanded Mr. Carlyle with a
professional keenness for the explicit.

"Why, look at what will happen now. He's saved all the trouble and
thought of being hanged, which it was bound to be in the end, and has
got it over without a moment's worry. She will get the full benefit of
it as well, because her counsel will now be able to pile it all up
against the fellow and claim that he exercised an irresistible influence
over her. Personally, I should say that it's twelve of one and thirteen
of the other, and I don't know that she isn't the thirteen, but she is
about as likely to be hanged as I am to be made superintendent
tomorrow."

* * * * *

"Max," said Mr. Carlyle, as they sat smoking together the same night,
"when you think of the elaboration of that plot it was appalling."

"Curious," replied Carrados thoughtfully. "To me it seems absolutely
simple and inevitable. Perhaps that is because I should have done
it--fundamentally, that is--just the same way myself."

"And got caught the same way?"

"There were mistakes made. If you decide to kill a man you must do it
either secretly or openly. If you do it secretly and it comes to light
you are done for: If you do it openly there is the chance of putting
another appearance on the crime.

"These two--Crispinge and Mrs. Poleash--knew that in the ordinary way
the killing of the husband would immediately attract suspicion to the
wife. Under the fierce scrutiny it could not long be hidden that the
woman had a lover, and the disclosure would be fatal. Indeed, if Poleash
had lived, that fact must shortly have come to light, and it was the
sordid determination to secure his income for themselves before he
discovered the intrigue and divorced his wife that sealed his fate and
forced an early issue.

"If you intend to commit a murder, Louis, and know that suspicion will
automatically fall on you, what is the first thing that you would wish
to effect? Obviously that it should fall on someone else more strongly.
But as the arrest of that someone else would upset the plan, you would
naturally make his identity such that he would have the best chance of
remaining at large. The most difficult person to find is one who does
not exist.

"There you have the whole strategy of the sorry business. Everything
hinged on that, and when you once possess that clue you not only see why
everything happened as it did but you can confidently forecast exactly
what will happen. To go on believing that you had talked with the real
Poleash it was necessary that you should never actually see the man as
he was. Hence the disfigurement. What assailant would act in that way?
Only one maddened by a jealous fury. The Southern people are popularly
the most jealous and revengeful, so we must have a native of Italy or
Spain, and the Italian is the more credible of the two. Similarly, Mr.
Hipwaite is brought in to add another touch of corroboration to your
tale. But why Mr. Hipwaite from a mile away? There is a locksmith quite
near at hand; I made it my business to call on him, and I learned that,
as I expected, he knew Poleash by sight. Plainly he would never have
served the purpose."

"Perhaps I ought to have been more sceptical of the fellow's tale,"
conceded Mr. Carlyle; "but, you know, Max, I have a dozen fresh people
call on me every month with queer stories, and it's not once in a
million times that this would happen. I, at any rate, saw nothing to
rouse suspicion. You say he made mistakes?"

"Crispinge, among divers other things he's failed in, has been an actor,
and with Mrs. Poleash's coaching on facts there is no doubt that he
carried the part all right. Being wise after the event, we may say that
he overstressed the need of secrecy. The idea of the previous attack,
designed, of course, to throw irrefutable evidence into the scales, was
too pronounced. Something slighter would have served better. Personally,
I think it was excess of caution to send Mrs. Jones out on the Thursday
afternoon. She could have been relied upon to be too 'mithered' for her
recollections to carry any weight. It was necessary to destroy the only
reliable photograph of Poleash, but the risk ought to have been taken of
burning it before she went off to establish her unassailable alibi, and
not leaving it for her accomplice to do. In the event, by handling the
frame after he had burned his gloves, Crispinge furnished us with the
solitary fingerprint that linked up his identity."

"He had been convicted then?"

"Blackmail, six years ago, and other things before. A mixture of
weakness and violence, he has always gravitated towards women for
support. But the great mistake--the vital oversight--the alarm signal
to my perceptions--"

"Yes?"

"Well, I should really hardly like to mention it to anyone but you. The
sheet and the bolster-case that so convincingly turned up to clinch
your client's tale once and for all demolished it. They had never been
on Poleash's bed, believe me, Louis. What a natural thing for the woman
to take them from her own, and yet how fatal! I sensed that damning fact
as soon as I had them in my hands, and in a trice the whole fabric of
deception, so ingeniously contrived, came down in ruins.
Nothing--nothing--could ever retrieve that simple, deadly blunder."



THE GHOST AT MASSINGHAM MANSIONS


"Do you believe in ghosts, Max?" inquired Mr. Carlyle.

"Only as ghosts," replied Carrados with decision.

"Quite so," assented the private detective with the air of acquiescence
with which he was wont to cloak his moments of obfuscation. Then he
added cautiously: "And how don't you believe in them, pray?"

"As public nuisances--or private ones for that matter," replied his
friend. "So long as they are content to behave as ghosts I am with them.
When they begin to meddle with a state of existence that is outside
their province--to interfere in business matters and depreciate
property--to rattle chains, bang doors, ring bells, predict winners and
to edit magazines and to attract attention instead of shunning it, I
cease to believe. My sympathies are entirely with the sensible old
fellow who was awakened in the middle of the night to find a shadowy
form standing by the side of his bed and silently regarding him. For a
few minutes the disturbed man waited patiently, expecting some awful
communication, but the same profound silence was maintained. 'Well,' he
remarked at length, 'if you have nothing to do, I have,' and turning
over went to sleep again."

"I have been asked to take up a ghost," Carlyle began to explain.

"Then I don't believe in it," declared Carrados.

"Why not?"

"Because it is a pushful, notoriety-loving ghost, or it would not have
gone so far. Probably it wants to get into The Daily Mail. The other
people, whoever they are, don't believe in it either, Louis, or they
wouldn't have called you in. They would have gone to Sir Oliver Lodge
for an explanation, or to the nearest priest for a stoup of holy water."

"I admit that I shall direct my researches towards the forces of this
world before I begin to investigate any other," conceded Louis Carlyle.
"And I don't doubt," he added, with his usual bland complacence, "that I
shall hale up some mischievous or aggrieved individual before the ghost
is many days older. Now that you have brought me so far, do you care to
go on round to the place with me, Max, to hear what they have to say
about it?"

Carrados agreed with his usual good nature. He rarely met his friend
without hearing the details of some new case, for Carlyle's practice had
increased vastly since the night when chance had led him into the blind
man's study. They discussed the cases according to their interest, and
there the matter generally ended so far as Max Carrados was concerned,
until he casually heard the result subsequently from Carlyle's lips or
learned the sequel from the newspaper. But these pages are primarily a
record of the methods of the one man whose name they bear and therefore
for the occasional case that Carrados completed for his friend there
must be assumed the unchronicled scores which the inquiry agent dealt
capably with himself. This reminder is perhaps necessary to dissipate
the impression that Louis Carlyle was a pretentious humbug. He was, as a
matter of fact, in spite of his amiable foibles and the self-assurance
that was, after all, merely an asset of his trade, a shrewd and capable
business man of his world, and behind his office manner nothing
concerned him more than to pocket fees for which he felt that he had
failed to render value.

Massingham Mansions proved to be a single block of residential flats
overlooking a recreation ground. It was, as they afterwards found, an
adjunct to a larger estate of similar property situated down another
road. A porter, residing in the basement, looked after the interests of
Massingham Mansions; the business office was placed among the other
flats. On that morning it presented the appearance of a well-kept,
prosperous enough place, a little dull, a little unfurnished, a little
depressing perhaps; in fact faintly reminiscent of the superfluous
mansions that stand among broad, weedy roads on the outskirts of
overgrown seaside resorts; but it was persistently raining at the time
when Mr. Carlyle had his first view of it.

"It is early to judge," he remarked, after stopping the car in order to
verify the name on the brass plate, "but, upon my word, Max, I really
think that our ghost might have discovered more appropriate quarters."

At the office, to which the porter had directed them, they found a
managing clerk and two coltish youths in charge. Mr. Carlyle's name
produced an appreciable flutter.

"The governor isn't here just now, but I have this matter in hand," said
the clerk with an easy air of responsibility--an effect unfortunately
marred by a sudden irrepressible giggle from the least overawed of the
colts. "Will you kindly step into our private room?" He turned at the
door of the inner office and dropped a freezing eye on the offender.
"Get those letters copied before you go out to lunch, Binns," he
remarked in a sufficiently loud voice. Then he closed the door quickly,
before Binns could find a suitable retort.

So far it had been plain sailing, but now, brought face to face with the
necessity of explaining, the clerk began to develop some hesitancy in
beginning.

"It's a funny sort of business," he remarked, skirting the difficulty.
"Perhaps," admitted Mr. Carlyle; "but that will not embarrass us. Many
of the cases that pass through my hands are what you would call 'funny
sorts of business.'"

"I suppose so," responded the young man, "but not through ours. Well,
this is at No. 11 Massingham. A few nights ago--I suppose it must be
more than a week now--Willett, the estate porter, was taking up some
luggage to No. 75 Northanger for the people there when he noticed a
light in one of the rooms at 11 Massingham. The backs face, though about
twenty or thirty yards away. It struck him as curious, because 11
Massingham is empty and locked up. Naturally he thought at first that
the porter at Massingham or one of us from the office had gone up for
something. Still it was so unusual--being late at night--that it was
his business to look into it. On his way round--you know where
Massingham Mansions are?--he had to pass here. It was dark, for we'd
all been gone hours, but Willett has duplicate keys and he let himself
in. Then he began to think that something must be wrong, for here,
hanging up against their number on the board, were the only two keys of
11 Massingham that there are supposed to be. He put the keys in his
pocket and went on to Massingham. Green, the resident porter there, told
him that he hadn't been into No. 11 for a week. What was more, no one
had passed the outer door, in or out, for a good half--hour. He knew
that, because the door 'springs' with a noise when it is opened, no
matter how carefully. So the two of them went up. The door of No. 11 was
locked and inside everything was as it should be. There was no light
then, and after looking well round with the lanterns that they carried
they were satisfied that no one was concealed there."

"You say lanterns," interrupted Mr. Carlyle. "I suppose they lit the
gas, or whatever it is there, as well?"

"It is gas, but they could not light it because it was cut off at the
meter. We always cut it off when a flat becomes vacant."

"What sort of a light was it, then, that Willett saw?"

"It was gas, Mr. Carlyle. It is possible to see the bracket in that room
from 75 Northanger. He saw it burning."

"Then the meter had been put on again?"

"It is in a locked cupboard in the basement. Only the office and the
porters have keys. They tried the gas in the room and it was dead out;
they looked at the meter in the basement afterwards and it was dead
off."

"Very good," observed Mr. Carlyle, noting the facts in his pocketbook.
"What next?"

"The next," continued the clerk, "was something that had really happened
before. When they got down again--Green and Willett--Green was rather
chipping Willett about seeing the light, you know, when he stopped
suddenly. He'd remembered something. The day before the servant at 12
Massingham had asked him who it was that was using the bathroom at No.
11--she of course knowing that it was empty. He told her that no one
used the bathroom. 'Well,' she said, 'we hear the water running and
splashing almost every night and it's funny with no one there.' He had
thought nothing of it at the time, concluding--as he told her--that it
must be the water in the bathroom of one of the underneath flats that
they heard. Of course he told Willett then and they went up again and
examined the bathroom more closely. Water had certainly been run there,
for the sides of the bath were still wet. They tried the taps and not a
drop came. When a flat is empty we cut off the water like the gas."

"At the same place--the cupboard in the basement?" inquired Carlyle.

"No; at the cistern in the roof. The trap is at the top of the stairs
and you need a longish ladder to get there. The next morning Willett
reported what he'd seen and the governor told me to look into it. We
didn't think much of it so far. That night I happened to be seeing some
friends to the station here--I live not so far off--and I thought I
might as well take a turn round here on my way home. I knew that if a
light was burning I should be able to see the window lit up from the
yard at the back, although the gas itself would be out of sight. And,
sure enough, there was the light blazing out of one of the windows of
No. 11. I won't say that I didn't feel a bit homesick then, but I'd made
up my mind to go up."

"Good man," murmured Mr. Carlyle approvingly.

"Wait a bit," recommended the clerk, with a shame-faced laugh. "So far
I had only had to make my mind up. It was then close on midnight and not
a soul about. I came here for the keys, and I also had the luck to
remember an old revolver that had been lying about in a drawer of the
office for years. It wasn't loaded, but it didn't seem quite so lonely
with it. I put it in my pocket and went on to Massingham, taking another
turn into the yard to see that the light was still on. Then I went up
the stairs as quietly as I could and let myself into No. 11."

"You didn't take Willett or Green with you?"

The clerk gave Mr. Carlyle a knowing look, as of one smart man who will
be appreciated by another.

"Willett's a very trustworthy chap," he replied, "and we have every
confidence in him. Green also, although he has not been with us so long.
But I thought it just as well to do it on my own, you understand, Mr.
Carlyle. You didn't look in at Massingham on your way? Well, if you had
you would have seen that there is a pane of glass above every door,
frosted glass to the hall doors and plain over each of those inside.
It's to light the halls and passages, you know. Each flat has a small
square hall and a longish passage leading off it. As soon as I opened
the door I could tell that one of the rooms down the passage was lit up,
though I could not see the door of it from there. Then I crept very
quietly through the hall into the passage. A regular stream of light was
shining from above the end door on the left. The room, I knew, was the
smallest in the flat--it's generally used for a servant's bedroom or
sometimes for a box-room. It was a bit thick, you'll admit--right at
the end of a long passage and midnight, and after what the others had
said."

"Yes, yes," assented the inquiry agent. "But you went on?"

"I went on, tiptoeing without a sound. I got to the door, took out my
pistol, put my hand almost on the handle and then--"

"Well, well," prompted Mr. Carlyle, as the narrator paused provokingly,
with the dramatic instinct of an expert raconteur, "what then?"

"Then the light went out. While my hand was within an inch of the handle
the light went out, as clean as if I had been watched all along and the
thing timed. It went out all at once, without any warning and without
the slightest sound from the beastly room beyond. And then it was as
black as hell in the passage and something seemed to be going to
happen."

"What did you do?"

"I did a slope," acknowledged the clerk frankly. "I broke all the
records down that passage, I bet you. You'll laugh, I dare say, and
think you would have stood, but you don't know what it was like. I'd
been screwing myself up, wondering what I should see in that lighted
room when I opened the door, and then the light went out like a knife,
and for all I knew the next second the door would open on me in the dark
and Christ only knows what come out."

"Probably I should have run also," conceded Mr. Carlyle tactfully. "And
you, Max?"

"You see, I always feel at home in the dark," apologised the blind man.
"At all events, you got safely away, Mr.----?"

"My name's Elliott," responded the clerk. "Yes, you may bet I did.
Whether the door opened and anybody or anything came out or not I can't
say. I didn't look. I certainly did get an idea that I heard the bath
water running and swishing as I snatched at the hall door, but I didn't
stop to consider that either, and if it was, the noise was lost in the
slam of the door and my clatter as I took about twelve flights of stairs
six steps at a time. Then when I was safely out I did venture to go
round to look up again, and there was that damned light full on again."

"Really?" commented Mr. Carlyle. "That was very audacious of him."

"Him? Oh, well, yes, I suppose so. That's what the governor insists, but
he hasn't been up there himself in the dark."

"Is that as far as you have got?"

"It's as far as we can get. The bally thing goes on just as it likes.
The very next day we tied up the taps of the gas--meter and the water
cistern and sealed the string. Bless you, it didn't make a ha'peth of
difference. Scarcely a night passes without the light showing, and
there's no doubt that the water runs. We've put copying ink on the door
handles and the taps and got into it ourselves until there isn't a man
about the place that you couldn't implicate."

"Has anyone watched up there?"

"Willett and Green together did one night. They shut themselves up in
the room opposite from ten till twelve and nothing happened. I was
watching the window with a pair of opera-glasses from an empty flat
here--85 Northanger. Then they chucked it, and before they could have
been down the steps the light was there--I could see the gas as plain
as I can see this ink-stand. I ran down and met them coming to tell me
that nothing had happened. The three of us sprinted up again and the
light was out and the flat as deserted as a churchyard. What do you make
of that?"

"It certainly requires looking into," replied Mr. Carlyle diplomatically.

"Looking into! Well, you're welcome to look all day and all night too,
Mr. Carlyle. It isn't as though it was an old baronial mansion, you see,
with sliding panels and secret passages. The place has the date over the
front door, 1882--1882 and haunted, by gosh! It was built for what it
is, and there isn't an inch unaccounted for between the slates and the
foundation."

"These two things--the light and the water running--are the only
indications there have been?" asked Mr. Carlyle.

"So far as we ourselves have seen or heard. I ought perhaps to tell you
of something else, however. When this business first started I made a
few casual inquiries here and there among the tenants. Among others I
saw Mr. Belting, who occupies No. 9 Massingham--the flat directly
beneath No. 11. It didn't seem any good making up a cock-and-bull
story, so I put it to him plainly--had he been annoyed by anything
unusual going on at the empty flat above?

"'If you mean your confounded ghost up there, I have not been
particularly annoyed,' he said at once, 'but Mrs. Belting has, and I
should advise you to keep out of her way, at least until she gets
another servant.' Then he told me that their girl, who slept in the
bedroom underneath the little one at No. 11, had been going on about
noises in the room above--footsteps and tramping and a bump on the
floor--for some time before we heard anything of it. Then one day she
suddenly said that she'd had enough of it and bolted. That was just
before Willett first saw the light."

"It is being talked about, then--among the tenants?"

"You bet!" assented Mr. Elliott pungently. "That's what gets the
governor. He wouldn't give a continental if no one knew, but you can't
tell where it will end. The people at Northanger don't half like it
either. All the children are scared out of their little wits and none of
the slaveys will run errands after dark. It'll give the estate a bad
name for the next three years if it isn't stopped."

"It shall be stopped," declared Mr. Carlyle impressively. "Of course we
have our methods for dealing with this sort of thing, but in order to
make a clean sweep it is desirable to put our hands on the offender in
flagranti delicto. Tell your--er--principal not to have any further
concern in the matter. One of my people will call here for any further
details that he may require during the day. Just leave everything as it
is in the meanwhile. Good-morning, Mr. Elliott, good-morning..."

"A fairly obvious game, I imagine, Max," he commented as they got into
the car, "although the details are original and the motive not disclosed
as yet. I wonder how many of them are in it?"

"Let me know when you find out," said Carrados, and Mr. Carlyle
promised.

Nearly a week passed and the expected revelation failed to make its
appearance. Then, instead, quite a different note arrived:

"My dear Max,--I wonder if you formed any conclusion of that Massingham
Mansions affair from Mr. Elliott's refined narrative of the
circumstances?

"I begin to suspect that Trigget, whom I put on, is somewhat of an ass,
though a very remarkable circumstance has come to light which might--if
it wasn't a matter of business--offer an explanation of the whole
business by stamping it as inexplicable.

"You know how I value your suggestions. If you happen to be in the
neighbourhood--not otherwise, Max, I protest--I should be glad if you
would drop in for a chat.

"Yours sincerely,

"Louis Carlyle."

Carrados smiled at the ingenuous transparency of the note. He had
thought several times of the case since the interview with Elliott,
chiefly because he was struck by certain details of the manifestation
that divided it from the ordinary methods of the bogy-raiser, an
aspect that had apparently made no particular impression on his friend.
He was sufficiently interested not to let the day pass without
"happening" to be in the neighbourhood of Bampton Street.

"Max," exclaimed Mr. Carlyle, raising an accusing forefinger, "you have
come on purpose."

"If I have," replied the visitor, "you can reward me with a cup of that
excellent beverage that you were able to conjure up from somewhere down
in the basement on a former occasion. As a matter of fact, I have."

Mr. Carlyle transmitted the order and then demanded his friend's serious
attention.

"That ghost at Massingham Mansions--"

"I still don't believe in that particular ghost, Louis," commented
Carrados in mild speculation.

"I never did, of course," replied Carlyle, "but, upon my word, Max, I
shall have to very soon as a precautionary measure. Trigget has been
able to do nothing and now he has as good as gone on strike."

"Downed--now what on earth can an inquiry man down to go on strike,
Louis? Notebooks? So Trigget has got a chill, like our candid friend
Eliott, Eh?"

"He started all right--said that he didn't mind spending a night or a
week in a haunted flat, and, to do him justice, I don't believe he did
at first. Then he came across a very curious piece of forgotten local
history, a very remarkable--er--coincidence in the circumstances,
Max."

"I was wondering," said Carrados, "when we should come up against that
story, Louis."

"Then you know of it?" exclaimed the inquiry agent in surprise.

"Not at all. Only I guessed it must exist. Here you have the manifestation
associated with two things which in themselves are neither usual nor
awe-inspiring--the gas and the water. It requires some association to
connect them up, to give them point and force. That is the story."

"Yes," assented his friend, "that is the story, and, upon my soul, in
the circumstances--well, you shall hear it. It comes partly from the
newspapers of many years ago, but only partly, for the circumstances
were successfully hushed up in a large measure and it required the
stimulated memories of ancient scandal-mongers to fill in the details.
Oh yes, it was a scandal, Max, and would have been a great sensation
too, I do not doubt, only they had no proper pictorial press in those
days, poor beggars. It was very soon after Massingham Mansions had been
erected--they were called Enderby House in those days, by the way, for
the name was changed on account of this very business. The household at
No. 11 consisted of a comfortable, middle-aged married couple and one
servant, a quiet and attractive young creature, one is led to
understand. As a matter of fact, I think they were the first tenants of
that flat."

"The first occupants give the soul to a new house," remarked the blind
man gravely. "That is why empty houses have their different characters."

"I don't doubt it for a moment," assented Mr. Carlyle in his incisive
way, "but none of our authorities on this case made any reference to the
fact. They did say, however, that the man held a good and responsible
position--a position for which high personal character and strict
morality were essential. He was also well known and regarded in quiet
but substantial local circles where serious views prevailed. He was, in
short, a man of notorious 'respectability.'

"The first chapter of the tragedy opened with the painful death of the
prepossessing handmaiden--suicide, poor creature. She didn't appear one
morning and the flat was full of the reek of gas. With great promptitude
the master threw all the windows open and called up the porter. They
burst open the door of the little bedroom at the end of the passage, and
there was the thing as clear as daylight for any coroner's jury to see.
The door was locked on the inside and the extinguished gas was turned
full on. It was only a tiny room, with no fireplace, and the ventilation
of a closed well--fitting door and window was negligible in the
circumstances. At all events the girl was proved to have been dead for
several hours when they reached her, and the doctor who conducted the
autopsy crowned the convincing fabric of circumstances when he mentioned
as delicately as possible that the girl had a very pressing reason for
dreading an inevitable misfortune that would shortly overtake her. The
jury returned the obvious verdict.

"There have been a great many undiscovered crimes in the history of
mankind, Max, but it is by no means every ingenious plot that carries.
After the inquest, at which our gentleman doubtless cut a very proper
and impressive figure, the barbed whisper began to insinuate and to grow
in freedom. It is sheerly impossible to judge how these things start,
but we know that when once they have been begun they gather material
like an avalanche. It was remembered by someone at the flat underneath
that late on the fatal night a window in the principal bedroom above had
been heard to open, top and bottom, very quietly. Certain other sounds
of movement in the night did not tally with the tale of sleep-wrapped
innocence. Sceptical busybodies were anxious to demonstrate practically
to those who differed from them on this question that it was quite easy
to extinguish a gas-jet in one room by blowing down the gas-pipe in
another; and in this connection there was evidence that the lady of the
flat had spoken to her friends more than once of her sentimental young
servant's extravagant habit of reading herself to sleep occasionally
with the light full on. Why was nothing heard at the inquest, they
demanded, of the curious fact that an open novelette lay on the
counterpane when the room was broken into? A hundred trifling
circumstances were adduced--arrangements that the girl had been making
for the future down to the last evening of her life--interpretable
hints that she had dropped to her acquaintances--her views on suicide
and the best means to that end: a favourite topic, it would seem, among
her class--her possession of certain comparatively expensive trinkets
on a salary of a very few shillings a week, and so on. Finally, some
rather more definite and important piece of evidence must have been
conveyed to the authorities, for we know now that one fine day a warrant
was issued. Somehow rumour preceded its execution. The eminently
respectable gentleman with whom it was concerned did not wait to argue
out the merits of the case. He locked himself in the bathroom, and when
the police arrived they found that instead of an arrest they had to
arrange the details for another inquest."

"A very convincing episode," conceded Carrados in response to his
friend's expectant air. "And now her spirit passes the long winter
evenings turning the gas on and off, and the one amusement of his
consists in doing the same with the bath-water--or the other way, the
other way about, Louis. Truly, one half the world knows not how the
other half lives!"

"All your cheap humour won't induce Trigget to spend another night in
that flat, Max," retorted Mr. Carlyle. "Nor, I am afraid, will it help
me through this business in any other way."

"Then I'll give you a hint that may," said Carrados. "Try your
respectable gentleman's way of settling difficulties."

"What is that?" demanded his friend.

"Blow down the pipes, Louis."

"Blow down the pipes?" repeated Carlyle.

"At all events try it. I infer that Mr. Trigget has not experimented in
that direction."

"But what will it do, Max?"

"Possibly it will demonstrate where the other end goes to."

"But the other end goes to the meter."

"I suggest not--not without some interference with its progress. I have
already met your Mr. Trigget, you know, Louis. An excellent and reliable
man within his limits, but he is at his best posted outside the door of
a hotel waiting to see the co-respondent go in. He hasn't enough
imagination for this case--not enough to carry him away from what would
be his own obvious method of doing it to what is someone else's equally
obvious but quite different method. Unless I am doing him an injustice,
he will have spent most of his time trying to catch someone getting into
the flat to turn the gas and water on and off, whereas I conjecture that
no one does go into the flat because it is perfectly simple--ingenious
but simple--to produce these phenomena without. Then when Mr. Trigget
has satisfied himself that it is physically impossible for anyone to be
going in and out, and when, on the top of it, he comes across this
romantic tragedy--a tale that might psychologically explain the ghost,
simply because the ghost is moulded on the tragedy--then, of course,
Mr. Trigget's mental process is swept away from its moorings and his
feet begin to get cold."

"This is very curious and suggestive," said Mr. Carlyle. "I certainly
assumed--But shall we have Trigget up and question him on the point? I
think he ought to be here now--if he isn't detained at the Bull."

Carrados assented, and in a few minutes Mr. Trigget presented himself at
the door of the private office. He was a melancholy-looking middle-aged
 little man, with an ineradicable air of being exactly what he was,
and the searcher for deeper or subtler indications of character would
only be rewarded by a latent pessimism grounded on the depressing
probability that he would never be anything else.

"Come in, Trigget," called out Mr. Carlyle when his employee diffidently
appeared. "Come in. Mr. Carrados would like to hear some of the details
of the Massingham Mansions case."

"Not the first time I have availed myself of the benefit of your
inquiries, Mr. Trigget," nodded the blind man. "Good-afternoon."

"Good-afternoon, sir," replied Trigget with gloomy deference. "It's
very handsome of you to put it in that way, Mr. Carrados, sir. But this
isn't another Tarporley-Templeton case, if I may say so, sir. That was
as plain as a pikestaff after all, sir."

"When we saw the pikestaff, Mr. Trigget; yes, it was," admitted
Carrados, with a smile. "But this is insoluble? Ah, well. When I was a
boy I used to be extraordinarily fond of ghost stories, I remember, but
even while reading them I always had an uneasy suspicion that when it
came to the necessary detail of explaining the mystery I should be
defrauded with some subterfuge as 'by an ingenious arrangement of hidden
wires the artful Muggles had contrived,' etc., or 'an optical illusion
effected by means of concealed mirrors revealed the modus operandi of
the apparition.' I thought that I had been swindled. I think so still. I
hope there are no ingenious wires or concealed mirrors here, Mr.
Trigget?"

Mr. Trigget looked mildly sagacious but hopelessly puzzled. It was his
misfortune that in him the necessities of his business and the
proclivities of his nature were at variance, so that he ordinarily
presented the curious anomaly of looking equally alert and tired.

"Wires, sir?" he began, with faint amusement.

"Not only wires, but anything that might account for what is going on,"
interposed Mr. Carlyle. "Mr. Carrados means this, Trigget: you have
reported that it is impossible for anyone to be concealed in the flat or
to have secret access to it--"

"I have tested every inch of space in all the rooms, Mr. Carrados, sir,"
protested the hurt Trigget. "I have examined every board and, you may
say, every nail in the floor, the skirting-boards, the window frames
and in fact wherever a board or a nail exists. There are no secret ways
in or out. Then I have taken the most elaborate precautions against the
doors and windows being used for surreptitious ingress and egress. They
have not been used, sir. For the past week I am the only person who has
been in and out of the flat, Mr. Carrados, and yet night after night the
gas that is cut off at the meter is lit and turned out again, and the
water that is cut off at the cistern splashes about in the bath up to
the second I let myself in. Then it's as quiet as the grave and
everything is exactly as I left it. It isn't human, Mr. Carrados, sir,
and flesh and blood can't stand it--not in the middle of the night,
that is to say."

"You see nothing further, Mr. Trigget?"

"I don't indeed, Mr. Carrados. I would suggest doing away with the gas
in that room altogether. As a box-room it wouldn't need one."

"And the bathroom?"

"That might be turned into a small bedroom and all the water fittings
removed. Then to provide a bathroom--"

"Yes, yes," interrupted Mr. Carlyle impatiently, "but we are retained
to discover who in causing this annoyance and to detect the means, not
to suggest structural alterations in the flat, Trigget. The fact is that
after having put in a week on this job you have failed to bring us an
inch nearer its solution. Now Mr. Carrados has suggested"--Mr.
Carlyle was not usually detained among the finer shades of humour, but
some appreciation of the grotesqueness of the advice required him to
control his voice as he put the matter in its baldest form--"Mr.
Carrados has suggested that instead of spending the time measuring the
chimneys and listening to the wall-paper, if you had simply blown down
the gas-pipe--"

Carrados was inclined to laugh, although he thought it rather too bad of
Louis.

"Not quite in those terms, Mr. Trigget," he interposed.

"Blow down the gas-pipe, sir?" repeated the amazed man. "What for?"

"To ascertain where the other end comes out," replied Carlyle.

"But don't you see, sir, that that is a detail until you ascertain how
it is being done? The pipe may be tapped between the bath and the
cistern. Naturally, I considered that. As a matter of fact, the water-pipe
isn't tapped. It goes straight up from the bath to the cistern in
the attic above, a distance of only a few feet, and I have examined it
The gas-pipe, it is true, passes through a number of flats, and
without pulling up all the floors it isn't practicable to trace it. But
how does that help us, Mr. Carrados? The gas-tap has to be turned on
and off; you can't do that with these hidden wires. It has to be lit.
I've never heard of lighting gas by optical illusions, sir. Somebody
must get in and out of the flat or else it isn't human. I've spent a
week, a very trying week, sir, in endeavouring to ascertain how it could
be done. I haven't shirked cold and wet and solitude, sir, in the
discharge of my duty. I've freely placed my poor gifts of observation
and intelligence, such as they are, at the service--"

"Not 'freely,' Trigget," interposed his employer with decision.

"I am speaking under a deep sense of injury, Mr. Carlyle," retorted Mr.
Trigget, who, having had time to think it over, had now come to the
conclusion that he was not appreciated. "I am alluding to a moral
attitude such as we all possess. I am very grieved by what has been
suggested. I didn't expect it of you, Mr. Carlyle, sir; indeed I did
not. For a week I have done everything that it has been possible to do,
everything that a long experience could suggest, and now, as I
understand it, sir, you complain that I didn't blow down the gas-pipe,
sir. It's hard, sir; it's very hard."

"Oh, well, for heaven's sake don't cry about it, Trigget," exclaimed Mr.
Carlyle. "You're always sobbing about the place over something or other.
We know you did your best--God help you!" he added aside.

"I did, Mr. Carlyle; indeed I did, sir. And I thank you for that
appreciative tribute to my services. I value it highly, very highly
indeed, sir." A tremulous note in the rather impassioned delivery made
it increasingly plain that Mr. Trigget's regimen had not been confined
entirely to solid food that day. His wrongs were forgotten and he
approached Mr. Carrados with an engaging air of secrecy.

"What is this tip about blowing down the gas-pipe, sir?" he whispered
confidentially. "The old dog's always willing to learn something new."

"Max," said Mr. Carlyle curtly, "is there anything more that we need
detain Trigget for?"

"Just this," replied Carrados after a moment's thought. "The
gas-bracket--it has a mantle attachment on?"

"Oh no, Mr. Carrados," confided the old dog with the affectation of
imparting rather valuable information, "not a mantle on. Oh, certainly
no mantle. Indeed--indeed, not a mantle at all."

Mr. Carlyle looked at his friend curiously. It was half evident that
something might have miscarried. Furthermore, it was obvious that the
warmth of the room and the stress of emotion were beginning to have a
disastrous effect on the level of Mr. Trigget's ideas and speech.

"A globe?" suggested Carrados.

"A globe? No sir, not even a globe, in the strict sense of the word. No
globe, that is to say, Mr. Carrados. In fact nothing like a globe."

"What is there, then?" demanded the blind man without any break in his
unruffled patience. "There may be another way--but surely--surely
there must be some attachment?"

"No," said Mr. Trigget with precision, "no attachment at all; nothing at
all; nothing whatsoever. Just the ordinary or common or penny plain
gas-jet, and above it the what you may call it thingamabob."

"The shade--gas consumer--of course!" exclaimed Carrados. "That is
it."

"The tin thingamabob," insisted Mr. Trigget with slow dignity. "Call it
what you will. Its purpose is self-evident. It acts as a dispirator--a
distributor, that is to say--"

"Louis," struck in Carrados joyously, "are you good for settling it
to-night?"

"Certainly, my dear fellow, if you can really give the time."

"Good; it's years since I last tackled a ghost. What about?" His look
indicated the other member of the council.

"Would he be of any assistance?"

"Perhaps--then."

"What time?"

"Say eleven-thirty."

"Trigget," rapped out his employer sharply, "meet us at the corner of
Middlewood and Enderby Roads at half-past eleven sharp tonight. If you
can't manage it I shall not require your services again."

"Certainly, sir; I shall not fail to be punctual," replied Trigget
without a tremor. The appearance of an almost incredible sobriety had
possessed him in the face of warning, and both in speech and manner he
was again exactly the man as he had entered the room. "I regard it as a
great honour, Mr. Carrados, to be associated with you in this business,
sir."

"In the meanwhile," remarked Carrados, "if you find the time hang heavy
on your hands you might look up the subject of 'platinum black.' It may
be the new tip you want."

"Certainly, sir. But do you mind giving me a hint as to what 'platinum
black' is?"

"It is a chemical that has the remarkable property of igniting hydrogen
or coal gas by mere contact," replied Carrados. "Think how useful that
may be if you haven't got a match!"

To mark the happy occasion Mr. Carlyle had insisted on taking his friend
off to witness a popular musical comedy. Carrados had a few preparations
to make, a few accessories to procure for the night's work, but the
whole business had come within the compass of an hour and the theatre
spanned the interval between dinner at the Palm Tree and the time when
they left the car at the appointed meeting-place. Mr. Trigget was
already there, in an irreproachable state of normal dejection. Parkinson
accompanied the party, bringing with him the baggage of the expedition.

"Anything going on, Trigget?" inquired Mr. Carlyle.

"I've made a turn round the place, sir, and the light was on," was the
reply. "I didn't go up for fear of disturbing the conditions before you
saw them. That was about ten minutes ago. Are you going into the yard to
look again? I have all the keys, of course."

"Do we, Max?" queried Mr. Carlyle.

"Mr. Trigget might. We need not all go. He can catch us up again."

He caught them up again before they had reached the outer door.

"It's still on, sir," he reported.

"Do we use any special caution, Max?" asked Carlyle.

"Oh no. Just as though we were friends of the ghost, calling in the
ordinary way."

Trigget, who retained the keys, preceded the party up the stairs till
the top was reached. He stood a moment at the door of No. 11 examining,
by the light of the electric lamp he carried, his private marks there
and pointing out to the others in a whisper that they had not been
tampered with. All at once a most dismal wail, lingering, piercing and
ending in something like a sob that died away because the life that gave
it utterance had died with it, drawled forebodingly through the echoing
emptiness of the deserted flat. Trigget had just snapped off his light
and in the darkness a startled exclamation sprang from Mr. Carlyle's
lips.

"It's all right, sir," said the little man, with a private satisfaction
that he had the diplomacy to conceal. "Bit creepy, isn't it? especially
when you hear it by yourself up here for the first time. It's only the
end of the bath-water running out."

He had opened the door and was conducting them to the room at the end of
the passage. A faint aurora had been visible from that direction when
they first entered the hall, but it was cut off before they could
identify its source.

"That's what happens," muttered Trigget.

He threw open the bedroom door without waiting to examine his marks
there and they crowded into the tiny chamber. Under the beams of the
lamps they carried it was brilliantly though erratically illuminated.
All turned towards the central object of their quest, a tarnished
gas-bracket of the plainest description. A few inches above it hung the
metal disc that Trigget had alluded to, for the ceiling was low and at
that point it was brought even nearer to the gas by corresponding with
the slant of the roof outside.

With the prescience so habitual with him that it had ceased to cause
remark among his associates Carrados walked straight to the gas-bracketand
touched the burner.

"Still warm," he remarked. "And so are we getting now. A thoroughly
material ghost, you perceive, Louis."

"But still turned off, don't you see, Mr. Carrados, sir," put in Trigget
eagerly. "And yet no one's passed out."

"Still turned off--and still turned on," commented the blind man.

"What do you mean, Max?"

"The small screwdriver, Parkinson," requested Carrados.

"Well, upon my word!" dropped Mr. Carlyle expressively. For in no longer
time than it takes to record the fact Max Carrados had removed a screw
and then knocked out the tap. He held it up towards them and they all at
once saw that so much of the metal had been filed away that the gas
passed through no matter how the tap stood. "How on earth did you know
of that?"

"Because it wasn't practicable to do the thing in any other way. Now
unhook the shade, Parkinson--carefully."

The warning was not altogether unnecessary, for the man had to stand on
tiptoes before he could comply. Carrados received the dingy metal cone
and lightly touched its inner surface.

"Ah, here, at the apex, to be sure," he remarked. "The gas is bound to
get there. And there, Louis, you have an ever-lit and yet a truly
'safety' match--so far as gas is concerned. You can buy the thing for a
shilling, I believe."

Mr. Carlyle was examining the tiny apparatus with interest. So small
that it might have passed for the mummy of a midget hanging from a
cobweb, it appeared to consist of an insignificant black pellet and an
inch of the finest wire.

"Um, I've never heard of it. And this will really light the gas?"

"As often as you like. That is the whole bag of tricks."

Mr. Carlyle turned a censorious eye upon his lieutenant, but Trigget was
equal to the occasion and met it without embarrassment.

"I hadn't heard of it either, sir," he remarked conversationally.
"Gracious, what won't they be getting out next, Mr. Carlyle!"

"Now for the mystery of the water." Carrados was finding his way to the
bathroom and they followed him down the passage and across the hall. "In
its way I think that this is really more ingenious than the gas, for, as
Mr. Trigget has proved for us, the water does not come from the cistern.
The taps, you perceive, are absolutely dry."

"It is forced up?" suggested Mr. Carlyle, nodding towards the outlet.

"That is the obvious alternative. We will test it presently." The blind
man was down on his hands and knees following the lines of the different
pipes. "Two degrees more cold are not conclusive, because in any case
the water had gone out that way. Mr. Trigget, you know the ropes, will
you be so obliging as to go up to the cistern and turn the water on."

"I shall need a ladder, sir."

"Parkinson."

"We have a folding ladder out here," said Parkinson, touching Mr.
Trigget's arm.

"One moment," interposed Carrados, rising from his investigation among
the pipes; "this requires some care. I want you to do it without making
a sound or showing a light, if that is possible. Parkinson will help
you. Wait until you hear us raising a diversion at the other end of the
flat. Come, Louis."

The diversion took the form of tapping the wall and skirting-board in
the other haunted room. When Trigget presented himself to report that
the water was now on Carrados put him to continue the singular exercise
with Mr. Carlyle while he himself slipped back to the bathroom.

"The pump, Parkinson," he commanded in a brisk whisper to his man, who
was waiting in the hall.

The appliance was not unlike a powerful tyre pump with some
modifications. One tube from it was quickly fitted to the outlet pipe of
the bath, another trailed a loose end into the bath itself, ready to
take up the water. There were a few other details, the work of moments.
Then Carrados turned on the tap, silencing the inflow by the attachment
of a short length of rubber tube. When the water had risen a few inches
he slipped off to the other room, told his rather mystified confederates
there that he wanted a little more noise and bustle put into their
performance, and was back again in the bathroom.

"Now, Parkinson," he directed, and turned off the tap. There was about a
foot of water in the bath.

Parkinson stood on the broad base of the pump and tried to drive down
the handle. It scarcely moved.

"Harder," urged Carrados, interpreting every detail of sound with
perfect accuracy.

Parkinson set his teeth and lunged again. Again he seemed to come up
against a solid wall of resistance.

"Keep trying; something must give," said his master encouragingly.
"Here, let me--" He threw his weight into the balance and for a moment
they hung like a group poised before action. Then, somewhere, something
did give and the sheathing plunger "drew."

"Now like blazes till the bath is empty. Then you can tell the others to
stop hammering." Parkinson, looking round to acquiesce, found himself
alone, for with silent step and quickened senses Carrados was already
passing down the dark flights of the broad stone stairway.

It was perhaps three minutes later when an excited gentleman in the
state of disrobement that is tacitly regarded as falling upon the
punctum coecum in times of fire, flood and nocturnal emergency shot out
of the door of No.7 and bounding up the intervening flights of steps
pounded with the knocker on the door of No. 9. As someone did not appear
with the instantaneity of a jack-in-the-box, he proceeded to
repeat the summons, interspersing it with an occasional "I say!" shouted
through the letter-box.

The light above the door made it unconvincing to affect that no one was
at home. The gentleman at the door trumpeted the fact through his
channel of communication and demanded instant attention. So immersed was
he with his own grievance, in fact, that he failed to notice the
approach of someone on the other side, and the sudden opening of the
door, when it did take place, surprised him on his knees at his
neighbour's doorstep, a large and consequential-looking personage as
revealed in the light from the hall, wearing the silk hat that he had
instinctively snatched up, but with his braces hanging down.

"Mr. Tupworthy of No.7, isn't it?" quickly interposed the new man before
his visitor could speak. "But why this--homage? Permit me to raise you,
sir."

"Confound it all," snorted Mr. Tupworthy indignantly, "you're flooding
my flat. The water's coming through my bathroom ceiling in bucketfuls.
The plaster'll fall next. Can't you stop it? Has a pipe burst or
something?"

"Something, I imagine," replied No. 9 with serene detachment. "At all
events it appears to be over now."

"So I should hope," was the irate retort. "It's bad enough as it is. I
shall go round to the office and complain. I'll tell you what it is, Mr.
Belting: these mansions are becoming a pandemonium, sir, a veritable
pandemonium."

"Capital idea; we'll go together and complain: two will be more
effective," suggested Mr. Belting. "But not to-night, Mr. Tupworthy.
We should not find anyone there. The office will be closed. Say
to-morrow--"

"I had no intention of anything so preposterous as going there to-night.
I am in no condition to go. If I don't get my feet into hot water
at once I shall be laid up with a severe cold. Doubtless you haven't
noticed it, but I am wet through to the skin, saturated, sir." Mr.
Belting shook his head sagely.

"Always a mistake to try to stop water coming through the ceiling," he
remarked. "It will come, you know. Finds its own level and all that."

"I did not try to stop it--at least not voluntarily. A temporary
emergency necessitated a slight rearrangement of our accommodation.
I--I tell you this in confidence--I was sleeping in the bathroom."

At the revelation of so notable a catastrophe Mr. Belting actually
seemed to stagger. Possibly his eyes filled with tears; certainly he had
to turn and wipe away his emotion before he could proceed.

"Not--not right under it?" he whispered.

"I imagine so," replied Mr. Tupworthy. "I do not conceive that I could
have been placed more centrally. I received the full cataract in the
region of the ear. Well, if I may rely on you that it has stopped, I
will terminate our interview for the present."

"Good-night," responded the still tremulous Belting. "Good-night--or
good-morning, to be exact." He waited with the door open to light
the first flight of stairs for Mr. Tupworthy's descent. Before the door
was closed another figure stepped down quietly from the obscurity of the
steps leading upwards.

"Mr. Belting, I believe?" said the stranger. "My name is Carrados. I
have been looking over the flat above. Can you spare me a few minutes?"

"What, Mr. Max Carrados?"

"The same," smiled the owner of the name.

"Come in, Mr. Carrados," exclaimed Belting, not only without
embarrassment, but with positive affection in his voice. "Come in by all
means. I've heard of you more than once. Delighted to meet you. This
way. I know--I know." He put a hand on his guest's arm and insisted on
steering his course until he deposited him in an easy-chair before a
fire. "This looks like being a great night. What will you have?"

Carrados put the suggestion aside and raised a corner of the situation.

"I'm afraid that I don't come altogether as a friend," he hinted.

"It's no good," replied his host. "I can't regard you in any other light
after this. You heard Tupworthy? But you haven't seen the man, Mr.
Carrados. I know--I've heard--but no wealth of the imagination can
ever really quite reconstruct Tupworthy, the shoddy magnifico, in his
immense porcine complacency, his monumental self-importance. And
sleeping right underneath! Gods, but we have lived to-night! Why--why
ever did you stop?"

"You associate me with this business?"

"Associate you! My dear Mr. Carrados, I give you the full glorious
credit for the one entirely successful piece of low-comedy humour in
real life that I have ever encountered. Indeed, in a legal and pecuniary
sense, I hold you absolutely responsible."

"Oh!" exclaimed Carrados, beginning to laugh quietly. Then he continued:
"I think that I shall come through that all right. I shall refer you to
Mr. Carlyle, the private inquiry agent, and he will doubtless pass you
on to your landlord, for whom he is acting; and I imagine that he in
turn will throw all the responsibility on the ingenious gentleman who
has put them to so much trouble. Can you guess the result of my
investigation in the flat above?"

"Guess, Mr. Carrados? I don't need to guess: I know. You don't suppose I
thought for a moment that such transparent devices as two intercepted
pipes and an automatic gas-lighter would impose on a man of
intelligence? They were only contrived to mystify the credulous
imagination of clerks and porters."

"You admit it, then?"

"Admit! Good gracious, of course I admit it, Mr. Carrados. What's the
use of denying it?"

"Precisely. I am glad you see that. And yet you seem far from being a
mere practical joker. Does your confidence extend to the length of
letting me into your object?"

"Between ourselves," replied Mr. Belting, "I haven't the least
objection. But I wish that you would have--say a cup of coffee. Mrs.
Belting is still up, I believe. She would be charmed to have the
opportunity No? Well, just as you like. Now, my object? You must
understand, Mr. Carrados, that I am a man of sufficient leisure and
adequate means for the small position we maintain. But I am not
unoccupied--not idle. On the contrary, I am always busy. I don't
approve of any man passing his time aimlessly. I have a number of
interests in life--hobbies, if you like. You should appreciate that, as
you are a private criminologist. I am--among other things which don't
concern us now--a private retributionist. On every side people are
becoming far too careless and negligent. An era of irresponsibility has
set in. Nobody troubles to keep his word, to carry out literally his
undertakings. In my small way I try to set that right by showing them
the logical development of their ways. I am, in fact, the sworn enemy of
anything approaching sloppiness. You smile at that?"

"It is a point of view," replied Carrados. "I was wondering how the
phrase at this moment would convey itself, say, to Mr. Tupworthy's ear."

Mr. Belting doubled up.

"But don't remind me of Tupworthy or I can't get on," he said. "In my
method I follow the system of Herbert Spencer towards children. Of
course you are familiar with his treatise on 'Education'? If a rough boy
persists, after warnings, in tearing or soiling all his clothes, don't
scold him for what, after all, is only a natural and healthy instinct
overdone. But equally, of course, don't punish yourself by buying him
other clothes. When the time comes for the children to be taken to an
entertainment little Tommy cannot go with them. It would not be seemly,
and he is too ashamed, to go in rags. He begins to see the force of
practical logic. Very well. If a tradesman promises--promises
explicitly--delivery of his goods by a certain time and he fails, he
finds that he is then unable to leave them. I pay on delivery, by the
way. If a man undertakes to make me an article like another--I am
painstaking, Mr. Carrados: I out at the time how exactly like I want
it--and it is (as it generally is) on completion something quite
different, I decline to be easy-going and to be put off with it. I
take the simplest and most obvious instances; I could multiply
indefinitely. It is, of course, frequently inconvenient to me, but it
establishes a standard."

"I see that you are a dangerous man, Mr. Belting," remarked Carrados.
"If most men were like you our national character would be undermined.
People would have to behave properly."

"If most men were like me we should constitute an intolerable nuisance,"
replied Belting seriously. "A necessary reaction towards sloppiness
would set in and find me at its head. I am always with minorities."

"And the case in point?"

"The present trouble centres round the kitchen sink. It is cracked and
leaks. A trivial cause for so elaborate an outcome, you may say, but you
will doubtless remember that two men quarrelling once at a spring as to
who should use it first involved half Europe in a war, and the whole
tragedy of Lear sprang from a silly business round a word. I hadn't
noticed the sink when we took this flat, but the landlord had solemnly
sworn to do everything that was necessary. Is a new sink necessary to
replace a cracked one? Obviously. Well, you know what landlords are:
possibly you are one yourself. They promise you heaven until you have
signed the agreement and then they tell you to go to hell. Suggested
that we'd probably broken the sink ourselves and would certainly be
looked to to replace it. An excellent servant caught a cold standing in
the drip and left. Was I to be driven into paying for a new sink myself?
Very well, I thought, if the reasonable complaint of one tenant is
nothing to you, see how you like the unreasonable complaints of fifty.
The method served a useful purpose too. When Mrs. Belting heard that old
tale about the tragedy at No. 11 she was terribly upset; vowed that she
couldn't stay alone in here at night on any consideration.

"'My dear,' I said, 'don't worry yourself about ghosts. I'll make as
good a one as ever lived, and then when you see how it takes other
people in, just remember next time you hear of another that someone's
pulling the string.' And I really don't think that she'll ever be afraid
of ghosts again."

"Thank you," said Carrados, rising. "Altogether I have spent a very
entertaining evening, Mr. Belting. I hope your retaliatory method won't
get you into serious trouble this time."

"Why should it?" demanded Belting quickly.

"Oh, well, tenants are complaining, the property is being depreciated.
The landlord may think that he has legal redress against you."

"But surely I am at liberty to light the gas or use the bath in my own
flat when and how I like?"

A curious look had come into Mr. Belting's smiling face; a curious note
must have sounded in his voice. Carrados was warned and, being warned,
guessed.

"You are a wonderful man," he said with upraised hand. "I capitulate.
Tell me how it is, won't you?"

"I knew the man at 11. His tenancy isn't really up till March, but he
got an appointment in the north and had to go. His two unexpired months
weren't worth troubling about, so I got him to sublet the flat to me--all
quite regularly--for a nominal consideration, and not to mention
it."

"But he gave up the keys?"

"No. He left them in the door and the porter took them away. Very
unwarrantable of him; surely I can keep my keys where I like? However,
as I had another...Really, Mr. Carrados, you hardly imagine that
unless I had an absolute right to be there I should penetrate into a
flat, tamper with the gas and water, knock the place about, tramp up and
down--"

"I go," said Carrados, "to get our people out in haste. Good-night."

"Good-night, Mr. Carrados. It's been a great privilege to meet you.
Sorry I can't persuade you..."



THE INGENIOUS MR. SPINOLA


"You seem troubled, Parkinson. Have you been reading the Money Article
again?"

Parkinson, who had been lingering a little aimlessly about the room,
exhibited symptoms of embarrassed guilt. Since an unfortunate day, when
it had been convincingly shown to the excellent fellow that to leave his
accumulated savings on deposit at the bank was merely an uninviting mode
of throwing money away, it is not too much to say that his few hundreds
had led Parkinson a sorry life. Inspired by a natural patriotism and an
appreciation of the advantage of 4 1/2 over 1 1/4 per cent., he had at
once invested in consols. A very short time later a terrible line in a
financial daily--"Consols weak"--caught his agitated eye. Consols were
precipitately abandoned and a "sound industrial" took their place. Then
came the rumours of an impending strike and the Conservative press
voiced gloomy forebodings for the future of industrial capital. An
urgent selling order, bearing Mr. Parkinson's signature, was the
immediate outcome.

In the next twelve months Parkinson's few hundreds wandered through many
lands and in a modest way went to support monarchies and republics, to
carry on municipal enterprise and to spread the benefits of commerce.
And, through all, they contrived to exist. They even assisted in
establishing a rubber plantation in Madagascar and exploiting an oil
discovery in Peru and yet survived. If everything could have been lost
by one dire reverse Parkinson would have been content--even relieved;
but with her proverbial inconsequence Fortune began by smiling and
continued to smile--faintly, it is true, but appreciably--on her
timorous votary. In spite of his profound ignorance of finance each of
Parkinson's qualms and tremors resulted in a slight pecuniary margin to
his credit. At the end of twelve months he had drawn a respectable
interest, was somewhat to the good in capital, and as a waste product
had acquired an abiding reputation among a small but choice coterie as a
very "knowing one."

"Thank you, sir, but I am sorry if I seemed engrossed in my own
affairs," he apologised in answer to Mr. Carrados's inquiry. "As a
matter of fact," he added, "I hoped that I had finished with Stock
Exchange transactions for the future."

"Ah, to be sure," assented Carrados. "A block of cottages Acton way,
wasn't it to be?"

"I did at one time consider the investment, but on reflection I decided
against property of that description. The association with houses
occupied by the artisan class would not have been congenial, sir.

"Still, it might have been profitable."

"Possibly, sir. I have, however, taken up a mortgage on a detached house
standing in its own grounds at Highgate. It was strongly recommended by
your own estate agents--by Mr. Lethbridge himself, sir."

"I hope it will prove satisfactory, Parkinson."

"I hope so, sir, but I do not feel altogether reassured now, after
seeing it."

"After seeing it? But you saw it before you took it up, surely?"

"As a matter of fact, no, sir. It was pointed out to me that the
security was ample, and as I had no practical knowledge of
house-valuing there was nothing to be gained by inspecting it. At the same
time I was given the opportunity, I must admit; but as we were rather
busy then--it was just before we went to Rome, sir--I never went
there."

"Well, after all," admitted Carrados, "I hold a fair number of mortgage
securities on railways and other property that I have never been within
a thousand miles of. I am not in a position to criticise you, Parkinson.
And this house--I suppose that it does really exist?"

"Oh yes, sir. I spent yesterday afternoon in the neighbourhood. Now that
the trees are out there is not a great deal that can be actually seen
from the road, but I satisfied myself that in the winter the house must
be distinctly visible from several points."

"That is very satisfactory," said Carrados with equal seriousness. "But,
after all, the title is the chief thing."

"So I am given to understand. Doubtless it would not be sound business,
sir, but I think that if the title had been a little worse, and the
appearance of the grounds a little better, I should have felt more
secure. But what really concerned me is that the house is being talked
about."

"Talked about?"

"Yes. It is in a secluded position, but there are some old-fashioned
cottages near and these people notice things, sir. It is not difficult
to induce them to talk. Refreshments are procurable at one of the
cottages and I had tea there. I have since thought, from a remark made
to me on leaving, that the idea may have got about that I was connected
with the Scotland Yard authorities. I had no apprehension at the time of
creating such an impression, sir, but I wished to make a few casual
inquiries."

Carrados nodded. "Quite so," he murmured encouragingly.

"It was then that I discovered what I have alluded to. These people,
having become suspicious, watch all that is to be seen at Strathblane
Lodge--as it is called--and talk. They do not know what goes on
there."

"That must be very disheartening for them."

"Well, sir, they find it trying. Up to less than a year ago the house
was occupied by a commercial gentleman and everything was quite regular.
But with the new people they don't know which are the family and who are
the servants. Two or three men having the appearance of mechanics seem
to be there continually, and sometimes, generally in the evening, there
are visitors of a class whom one would not associate with the
unpretentious nature of the establishment. Gentlemen for the most part,
but occasionally ladies, I was told, coming in taxis or private motor
cars and generally in evening dress."

"That ought to reassure these neighbours--the private cars and evening
dress."

"I cannot say that it does, sir. And what I heard made me a little
nervous also."

Something was evidently on the ingenuous creature's mind. The blind
man's face wore a faintly amused smile, but he gauged the real measure
of his servant's apprehension.

"Nervous of what, Parkinson?" he inquired kindly.

"Some thought that it might be a gambling-house, but others said it
looked as if a worse business was carried on there. I should not like
there to be any scandal or exposure, sir, and perhaps the mortgage
forfeited in consequence."

"But, good heavens, man! you don't imagine that a mortgage is like a
public-house licence, to be revoked in consequence of a rowdy tenant,
surely?"

Parkinson's dubious silence made it increasingly plain that he had,
indeed, associated his security with some such contingency, a conviction
based, it appeared, when he admitted his fears, on a settled belief in
the predatory intentions of a Government with whom he was not in
sympathy.

"Don't give the thing another thought," counselled his employer. "If
Lethbridge recommended the investment you may be sure that it is all
right. As for what goes on there--that doesn't matter two straws to
you, and in any case it is probably idle chatter."

"Thank you, sir. It is a relief to have your assurance. I see now that I
ought to have paid no attention to such conversation, but being
anxious--and seeing Sir Fergus Copling go there--"

"Sir Fergus Copling? You saw him there?"

"Yes, sir. I thought that I remembered a car that was waiting for the
gate to be opened. Then I recognised Sir Fergus: it was the small dark
blue car that he has come here in. And just after what I had been
hearing--"

"But Sir Fergus Copling! He's a testimonial of propriety. Do you know
what you are talking about, Parkinson?"

The excellent man looked even more deeply troubled than he had been
about his money.

"Not in that sense, sir," he protested. "I only understood that he was a
gentleman of position and a very large income, and after just listening
to what was being said Carrados's scepticism was intelligible. Copling
was the last man to be associated with a scandal of fast life. He had
come into his baronetcy quite unexpectedly a few years previously while
engaged in the drab but apparently congenial business of teaching
arithmetic at a public school. The chief advantage of the change of
fortune, as it appeared to the recipient, was that it enabled him to
transfer his attention from the lower to the higher mathematics. Without
going out of his way to flout the conventions, he set himself a
comparatively simple standard of living. He was too old and fixed, he
said, to change much--forty and a bachelor--and the most optimistic
spinster in town had reluctantly come to acquiesce."

Carrados had not forgotten this conversation when next he encountered
Sir Fergus a week or so later. He knew the man well enough to be able to
lead up to the subject and when an identifiable footstep fell on his ear
in the hall of the Metaphysical (the dullest club in Europe, it was
generally admitted) he called across to the baronet, who, as a matter of
fact, had been too abstracted to notice him or anyone else.

"You aren't a member, are you?" asked Copling when they had shaken
hands. "I didn't know that you went in for this sort of thing." The
motion of his head indicated the monumental library which he had just
quitted, but it might possibly be taken as indicating the general
atmosphere of profound somnolence that enveloped the Metaphysical.

"I am not a member," admitted Carrados. "I only came to gather some
material."

"Statistics?" queried Copling with interest. "We have a very useful
range of works." He suddenly remembered his acquaintance's affliction.
"By the way, can I be of any use to you?"

"Yes, if you will," said Carrados. "Let me go to lunch with you. There
is an appalling bore hanging about and he'll nab me if I don't get past
under protection."

Copling assented readily enough and took the blind man's arm.

"Where, though?" he asked at the door. "I generally"--he hesitated,
with a shy laugh--"I generally go to an A.B.C. tea-shop myself. It
doesn't waste so much time. But, of course--"

"Of course, a tea-shop by all means," assented Carrados.

"You are sure that you don't mind?" persisted the baronet anxiously.

"Mind? Why, I'm a shareholder!" chuckled Carrados.

"This suits me very well," remarked the ex-schoolmaster when they were
seated in a remote corner of a seething general room. "Fellows used to
do their best to get me into the way of going to swell places, but I
always seem to drift back here. I don't mind the prices, Carrados, but
hang me if I like to pay the prices simply to be inconvenienced. Yes,
hot milk, please."

Carrados endorsed this reasonable philosophy. Carlton or Coffeehouse,
the Ritz or the tea-shop, it was all the same to him--life, and very
enjoyable life at that. He sat and, like the spider, drew from within
himself the fabric of the universe by which he was surrounded. In that
inexhaustible faculty he found perfect content: he never required "to be
amused."

"No, not statistics," he said presently, returning to the unfinished
conversation of the club hall. "Scarcely that. More in the nature of
topography, perhaps. Have you considered, Copling, how everything is
specialised nowadays? Does anyone read the old-fashioned unpretentious
Guide-book to London still? One would hardly think so to see how the
subject is cut up. We have 'Famous London Blind-alleys,' 'Historical
West-Central Door-Knockers,' 'Footsteps of Dr. Johnson between Gough
Square and John Street, Adelphi,' 'The Thames from Hungerford Bridge to
Charing Cross Pier,' 'Oxford Street Paving Stones on which De Quincey
sat,' and so on."

"They are not familiar to me," said Sir Fergus simply.

"Nor to me; yet they sound familiar. Well, I touched journalism myself
once, years ago. What do you say to 'Mysterious Double-fronted Houses
of the outer Northern Suburbs'? Too comprehensive?"

"I don't know. The subject must be limited. But do you seriously
contemplate such a work?"

"If I did," replied Carrados, "what could you tell me about Strathblane
Lodge, Highgate?"

"Oh!" A slow smile broke on Copling's face. "That is rather
extraordinary, isn't it? Do you know old Spinola? Have you been there?"

"So far I don't know the venerable Mr. Spinola and I have not been
there. What is the peculiarity?"

"But you know of the automatic card-player?"

The words brought a certain amount of enlightenment. Carrados had heard
more than once casual allusions to a wonderful mechanical contrivance
that played cards with discrimination. He had not thought anything more
of it, classing it with Kempelen's famous imposture which had for a time
mystified and duped the chess world more than a century ago. So far,
also, some reticence appeared to be observed about the modern
contrivance, as though its inventor had no desire to have it turned into
a popular show: at all events not a word about it had appeared in the
Press.

"I have heard something, but not much, and I certainly have not seen it.
What is it--a fraud, surely?"

Copling replied with measured consideration between the process of
investigating his lightly boiled egg. It was plain that the automaton
had impressed him.

"I naturally approached the subject with scepticism," he admitted, "but
at the end of several demonstrations I am converted to a position of
passive acquiescence. Spinola, at all events, is no charlatan. His
knowledge of mathematics is profound. As you know, Carrados, the subject
is my own and I am not likely to be imposed on in that particular. It
was purely the scientific aspect of the invention that attracted me, for
I am not a gambler in the ordinary sense. Spinola's explanation of the
principles of the contrivance, when he found that I was capable of
following them, was lucid and convincing. Of course he does not disclose
all the details of the mechanism, but he shows enough."

"It is a gamble, then, not a mere demonstration?"

"He has spent many years on the automaton, and it must have cost
thousands of pounds in experiment and construction. He makes no secret
of hoping to reimburse his outlay."

"What do you play?"

"Piquet--rubicon piquet. The figure could, he claims, be set to play
any game by changing or elaborating the mechanism. He had to construct
it for one definite set of chances and he selected piquet as a suitable
medium."

"It wins?"

"Against me invariably in the end."

"Why should it win, Copling? In a game that is nine-tenths chance, why
should it win?"

"I am an indifferent player. If the tactics of the game have been
reduced to machinery and the combinations are controlled by a
dispassionate automaton, the one-tenth would constitute a winning
factor."

"And against expert players?"

Sir Fergus admitted that to the best of his knowledge the figure still
had the advantage. In answer to Carrados's further inquiry he estimated
his losses at two or three hundred pounds. The stakes were whatever the
visitor suggested--Spinola was something of a grandee, one inferred--and
at half-crown points Sir Fergus had found the game quite expensive
enough.

"Why do people go if they invariably lose?" asked the blind man. "My
dear fellow, why do they go to Monte Carlo?" was the retort, accompanied
by a tolerant shrug. "Besides, I don't positively say that they always
lose. One hears of people winning, though I have never seen it happen.
Then I fancy that the novelty has taken with a certain set. It is a
thing at the moment to go up there and have the rather bizarre
experience. There is an element of the creep in it, you know--sitting
and playing against that serene and unimpressionable contrivance."

"What do the others do? There is quite a company, I gather."

"Oh yes, sometimes. Occasionally one may find oneself alone. Well, the
others often watch the play. Sometimes sets play bridge on their own.
Then there is coffee and wine. Nothing formal, I assure you."

"Rowdy ever?"

"Oh no. The old man has a presence; I doubt if anyone would feel
encouraged to go too far under Spinola's eye. Yet practically nothing
seems to be known of him, not even his nationality. I have heard
half-a-dozen different tales from as many cocksure men--he is a South
American Spaniard ruined by a revolution; a Jesuit expelled from France
through politics; an Irishman of good family settled in Warsaw, where he
stole the plans from a broken-down Polish inventor; a Virginia
military man, who suddenly found that he was dying from cancer and is
doing this to provide a fortune for an only and beautiful daughter, and
so on."

"Is there a beautiful daughter?"

"Not that I have ever seen. No, the man just cropped up, as odd people
do in great capitals. Nobody really knows anything about him, but his
queer salon has caught on to a certain extent."

Now any novel phase of life attracted Carrados. The mixed company that
Spinola's enterprise was able to draw to an out-of-the-way suburb--the
peculiar blend of science and society--was not much in itself.
The various constituents could be met elsewhere to more advantage, but
the assemblage might engender piquancy. And the man himself and his
machine? In any case they should repay attention.

"How does one procure the entree?" he inquired.

Copling raised a quizzical eyebrow.

"You also?" he replied. "Oh, I see; you think--Well, if you are going
to discover any sleight-of-hand about the business I don't mind--"

"Yes?" prompted Carrados, for Sir Fergus had pulled up on an obvious
afterthought.

"I did not intend going up again," said Copling slowly. "As a matter of
fact, I have seen all that interests me. And--I suppose I may as well
tell you, Carrados--I made someone a sort of promise to have nothing to
do with gambling. She feels very strongly on the subject."

"She is very wise," commented the blind man.

Elation mingled with something faintly apologetic in the abrupt bestowal
of the baronet's unexpected confidence.

"It was really quite a sudden and romantic happening," he continued, led
on by the imperceptible encouragement of his companion's attitude. "She
is called Mercia. She does not know who I am--not that that's
anything," he added modestly. "She is an orphan and earns her own
living. I was able to be of some slight service to her in the science
galleries at South Kensington, where she was collecting material for her
employer. Then we met there again and had lunch together, and so on."

"At tea-shops?"

"Oh yes. Her tastes are very simple. She doesn't like shows and society
and all that."

"I congratulate you. When is it to be?"

"It? Oh! Well, we haven't settled anything like that yet. Of course this
is all in confidence, Carrados."

"Absolutely--though the lady has done me rather an ill turn."

"How?"

"Well, weren't you going to introduce me to Mr. Spinola?"

"True," assented Sir Fergus. "And I don't see why I shouldn't," he added
valiantly. "I need not play, and if there is any bunkum about the thing
I should certainly like to see how it is done. What evening will suit
you?"

An early date had suited both, and shortly after eight o'clock--an hour
at which they were likely to find few guests before them--Carrados's
car drew up at Strathbane Lodge. By arrangement he had picked up
Copling, who lived--"of all places in the world," as people had said
when they heard of it--in an unknown street near Euston. Parkinson, out
of regard for the worthy man's feelings, had been left behind on the
occasion and in ignorance of his master's destination.

The appearance of the place was certainly not calculated to reassure a
nervous investor. The entirely neglected garden seemed to convey a hint
that the tenant might be contemplating a short occupation and a hasty
flight. Nor did the exterior of the house do much to remove the
unfortunate impression. Only a philosopher or an habitual defaulter
would live in such a state.

The venerable Mr. Spinola received them in the salon set apart for the
display of the automaton and for cards in general. It was a room of fair
proportions--doubtless the largest in the house--and quite passably
furnished, though in a rather odd and incongruous style. But probably
any furniture on earth would have seemed incongruous to the strange,
idol-like presence which the inventor had thought fit to adapt to the
uses of his mechanism. The figure was placed on a low pedestal,
sufficiently raised from the carpet on four plain wooden legs for all
the space underneath to be clearly visible. The body was a squat,
cross-legged conception, typical of an Indian deity, the head singularly
life-like through the heavy gilding with which the face was covered,
and behind the merely contemplative expression that dominated the golden
mask the carver had by chance or intention lined a faint suggestion of
cynical contempt.

"You have come to see my little figure--Aurelius, as we call him among
ourselves?" said the bland old gentleman benignly. "That is right; that
is right." He shook hands with them both, and received Mr. Carrados, on
Sir Fergus's introduction, as though he was a very dear friend from whom
he had long been parted. It was difficult indeed for Max to disengage
himself from the effusive Spinola's affection without a wrench.

"Mr. Carrados happens to be blind, Mr. Spinola," interposed Copling,
seeing that their host was so far in ignorance of the fact.

"Impossible! Impossible!" exclaimed Spinola, riveting his own very
bright eyes on his guest's insentient ones. "Yet," he added, "one would
not jest."

"It is quite true," was the matter-of-fact corroboration. "My hands must
be my eyes, Mr. Spinola. In place of seeing, will you permit me to
touch your wonderful creation?"

The old man's assent was immediate and cordial. They moved across the
room towards the figure, the inventor modestly protesting:

"You flatter me, my dear sir. After all, it is but a toy in large;
nothing but a toy."

A weary-looking youth, the only other occupant of the room, threw down
the illustrated weekly that he had picked up on the new arrivals'
entrance and detained Copling.

"Yes, I had been toying a little before you arrived," he remarked
flippantly. "I came early to cut Dora Lascelle off from the idle crowd
and the silly little rabbit isn't coming, it appears. I didn't want to
play, because, for a fact, I have no money, but the old thing bored me
to hysterics. Good God! how he can talk so little on anything really
entertaining, like The Giddy Flappers or Trixie Fluffs divorce, and so
much about strange, unearthly things that no other living creature has
ever seen even in a dream, baffles my imagination. What's an 'integral
calculus,' Copling? No, don't tell me, after all. Let me forget the
benumbing episode as soon as possible."

"Do you wish for a game, Sir Fergus?" broke in Spinola's soft voice from
across the room. "Doubtless Mr. Carrados might like to follow someone
else's play before he makes the experiment."

Copling hesitated. He had not come to play, as he had already told his
friend, but Max gave no sign of coming to his assistance.

"Perhaps you, Crediton?" said the mathematician; but young Crediton
shook his head and smiled wisely. Copling was too easygoing to stand
out. He crossed the room and sat down at the automaton's table.

"And the stake?"

"Suppose we merely have a guinea on the game?" suggested the visitor.

Spinola acquiesced with the air of one to whom a three-penny bit or a
kingdom would have been equally indifferent. The deal fell to Copling
and the automaton therefore had the first "elder hand," with the
advantage of a discard of five cards against its opponent's three.

Carrados had already been shown the theory of the contrivance. He now
followed Spinola's operations as the game proceeded. The old man picked
up the twelve cards dealt to the automaton and carefully arranged them
in their proper places on a square shield that was connected with the
front of the figure. As each fell into its slot it registered its
presence on the delicate mechanism that the figure contained.

"The discard," remarked Spinola, and moved a small lever. The left hand
of the automaton was raised, came over the shield which hid its cards
from the opponent, touched one with an extended finger, and affixing it
by suction, lifted the selected card from the slot and dropped it face
downwards on the table.

"A little slow, a little cumbersome," apologised the inventor as the
motions were repeated until five cards had been thrown out. "The left
hand is used for the discard alone, as a different movement is
necessary." He picked up the five new cards from the stock and arranged
them as he had done the hand. "Now we proceed to the play."

Crediton strolled across to watch the game. He stood behind.

Copling, while Carrados remained near the automaton. Spinola opened the
movements.

"Aurelius has no voice, of course," he said, studying the display of
cards, "so I--point of five."

"Good," conceded the opponent.

Spinola registered the detail on one of an elaborate set of dials that
produced a further development in the machinery.

"Spades," he announced, declaring the suit that he had won the "points"
on. "Tierce major."

"Quart to the queen-hearts," claimed Copling, and Spinola moved
another dial to register the opponent's advantage.

"Three kings."

"Good," was the reply.

"Three tens," added the senior player, as his three kings, being good
against the other hand, enabled him to count the lower trio also. "Five
for the point and two trios--eleven." Every detail of the scoring and
of the ensuing play was registered as the other things had been.

This finished the preliminaries and the play of the hands began. The
automaton, in response to the release of the machinery, moved its right
arm with the same deliberation that had marked its former action and
laid a card face upwards on the table. For the blind man's benefit each
card was named as it was played. At the end of the hand Copling had won
"the cards"--a matter of ten extra points with seven tricks to five and
the score stood to his advantage at 27-17.

"Not bad for the junior hand," commented Crediton. "Do you know"--he
addressed the inventor--"there is a sort of 'average,' as they call it,
that you are supposed to play up to? I forget how it goes, but 27 is
jolly high for the minor hand, I know."

"I have heard of it," replied Spinola politely. Crediton could not make
out why the other two men smiled broadly.

The succeeding hands developed no particular points of interest. The
scoring ruled low and in the end Copling won by 129 to 87. Spinola
purred congratulation.

"I am always delighted to see Aurelius lose," he declared, paying out
his guinea with a princely air.

"Why?" demanded Crediton.

"Because it shows that I have succeeded beyond expectation, my dear
young sir: I have made him almost human. Now, Mr. Carrados."

"With pleasure," assented the blind man. "Though I am afraid that I
shall not afford you the delight of losing, Mr. Spinola."

"One never knows, one never knows," beamed the old man. "Shall we say
half-crown points for variety?"

"Very good. Ah, our deal." He dealt the hands and proceeded to dispose
the twelve that fell to the automaton on the shield. There was a moment
of indecision. "Pray, Mr. Carrados, do you not arrange your cards?"

"I have done so." He had, in fact, merely spread out his hand in the
usual fan formation and run an identifying finger once round the upper
edges. The cards remained as they had been dealt, face downwards.

"Wonderful! And that enables you to distinguish them?"

"The ink and the impression on a plain surface--oh yes." He threw out
the full discard as he spoke and took in the upper five of the stock.

"You overwhelm us; you accentuate the tiresome deliberation of poor
Aurelius." Spinola was hovering about the external fittings of the
figure with unusual fussiness. When at length he released the left hand
it seemed for an almost perceptible moment that the action hung. Then
the arm descended and carried out the discard.

"Point of five," said Carrados.

"Good."

"In spades. Quint major in spades also, tierce to the knave in clubs,
fourteen aces"--i.e. four aces; "fourteen" in the language of piquet as
they score that number. He did not wait for his opponent to assent to
each count, knowing, after the point had passed, that the other calls
were good against anything that could possibly be held. "Five, twenty,
twenty-three, ninety-seven." Having reached thirty before his
opponent scored, and without a card having so far been played, his score
automatically advanced by sixty. That is the "repique."

"By Jove!" exclaimed Crediton, "that's the first time I've ever known
Aurelius repiqued."

"Oh, it has happened," retorted Spinola almost testily.

The play of the hand was bound to go in Carrados's favour--he held
eight certain tricks. He won "the cards" with two tricks to spare and
the round closed at 119-5.

"You look like being delighted again, Mr. Spinola," remarked Crediton a
little critically.

"Suppose you make yourself useful by dealing for me," interposed
Carrados. "Of course," he reminded his host, "it does not do for me to
handle any cards but my own."

"I had not thought of that," replied Spinola, looking at him shrewdly.
"If you had no conscience you would be a dangerous opponent, Mr.
Carrados."

"The same might be said of any man," was the reply. "That is why it is
so satisfactory to play an automaton."

"Oh, Aurelius has no conscience, you know," chimed in Crediton
sapiently. "Mr. Spinola couldn't find room for it among the wheels."

The second hand was not eventful. Each player had to be content to make
about the "average" which Crediton had ingenuously discovered. It raised
the scores to 33-130. Two hands followed in the same prudent spirit;
the fifth--Carrados's "elder"--found the position 169-67.

"Only two this time," remarked Carrados, taking in.

"Jupiter!" murmured Crediton. It is unusual for the senior hand to leave
even one of the five cards to which he is entitled. It indicated an
unusually strong hand. The automaton evidently thought so too. It
availed itself of all the six alternative cards and, as the play
disclosed, completely cut up its own hand to save the repique by beating
Carrados on the point. It won the point, to find that its opponent only
held a low quart, a tierce and three kings. As a result Carrados won
"the cards" and the score stood 199-79. The discard was, in fact, an
experiment in bluff. Carrados might have held a quint and fourteen kings
for all the opposing hand disclosed.

"What on earth did you do that for?" demanded Copling. He himself played
an eminently straightforward game--and generally lost.

"I'll bet I know," put in Crediton. "You are getting rather close, Mr.
Spinola--the last hand and you need twenty-one to save the rubicon."
The "rubicon" means that instead of the loser's score being deducted
from the winner's in arriving at the latter's total, it is added to it--a
possible difference of nearly 200 points.

"We shall see; we shall see," muttered Spinola with a little less than
his usual suavity.

Whatever concern he had, however, was groundless, for the game ended
tamely enough. Carrados ought to have won the point and divided tricks,
leaving his opponent a minor quart and a solitary trio--about 15 on the
hand. By a careless discard he threw away both chances and the final
score stood at 205-112. Copling, who had come to regard his friend's
play as rather excellent, was silent. Crediton almost shrieked his
disapproval and seizing the cards demonstrated to his heart's content.

"Ninety-three and the hundred for the game--twenty-four pounds and
one half-crown," said the loser, counting out notes and coin to the
amount. "It has been an experience for both of us--Aurelius and
myself."

"And certainly for me," added Carrados.

"Look here," interposed Crediton, "Aurelius seems off his play. If you
don't mind taking my paper, Mr. Spinola, I should like another go."

"As you please," assented the old man. "Your undertaking is, of course--"
The gesture suggested "quite equal to that of the cashier of the Bank
of England." The venerable person had, in fact, regained his lofty
pecuniary indifference. "The same point?"

"Right-o," cheerfully assented the youth.

"I will go and think over my shortcomings," said Carrados. He started to
cross the room to a seat and ran into a couch. With a gasp Copling
hastened to his assistance. Then he found his arm detained and heard the
whisper. "Sit down with me."

Across the room the play had begun again and with a little care they
could converse without the possibility of a word being overheard.

"What is it?" asked Sir Fergus.

"The golden one will win. It is only when the cards are not exposed that
you play on equal terms."

"But I won?"

"Because it is well to lose sometimes and, by choice, when the stake is
low. That witless youth will have to pay for both of us."

"But how-how on earth do you suggest that it is done?"

"Look round cautiously. What eyes overlook Crediton's hand as he sits
there?"

"What eyes? Good gracious! is there anything in that?"

"What is it?"

"There is a trophy of Japanese arms high up on the wall. An iron mask
surmounts it. It has glass eyes. I have never seen anything like that
before."

"Any others round the walls?"

"There is a stuffed tiger's head on our right and a puma's or something
of that sort on the left."

"In case a suspicious player asks to have the places changed or holds
his cards awkwardly. Working the automaton from other positions is
probably also arranged for."

"But how can a knowledge of the opponent's cards affect the automaton?
The dials--"

"The dials are all bunkum. While you were playing I took the liberty of
altering them and for a whole hand the dials indicated that you must
inevitably be holding eight clubs and four spades. All the time you were
leading out hearts and diamonds and the automaton serenely followed
suit. The only effective machinery is that indicating the display of
cards on the shield and controlling the hands, and that is worked by a
keyboard and electric current from the room below. The watcher behind
the mask telephones the opposing hand, the discard and the take-in.
The automaton's hand has already been indicated below. You see the
enormous advantage the hidden player has? When he is the minor hand he
knows everything that is to be known before he discards. When he is the
elder he knows almost everything. By concentrating on one detail he can
practically always balk the pique, the repique and the kapot, if it is
necessary to play for safety. You remember what Crediton said--that he
had never known Aurelius repiqued before. The leisurely manipulation of
the dials gives plenty of time. An even ordinary player in that position
can do the rest."

Copling scarcely knew whether to believe or not. It sounded plausible,
but it reflected monstrously.

"You speak of a telephone," he said. "How can you definitely say that
such a thing is being used? You have never been in the room before and
we've scarcely been here an hour. It--it may be awfully serious, you
know."

Carrados smiled.

"Can you hear the kitchen door being opened at this moment or detect the
exact aroma of our host's mocha?" he demanded.

"Not in the least," admitted Copling.

"Then of course it is hopeless to expect you to pick up the whisper of a
man behind a mask a score of feet away. How fearfully in the dark you
seeing folk must be!"

"Can you possibly do that?" Even as he was speaking the door opened and
a servant entered, bringing coffee and an assortment of viands
sufficiently exotic to maintain the rather Oriental nature of
entertainment.

"Stroll across and see how the game is going," suggested Carrados. "Have
a look at Crediton's discard and then come back."

Sir Fergus did not quite follow the purpose, but he nodded and proceeded
to comply with his usual amiable spirit.

"It stands at 137 to 75 against Crediton and they are playing the last
hand. Our young friend looks like losing thirty or forty pounds."

"And his discard?"

"Oh--seven and nine of clubs and the knave of hearts."

Carrados held out a slip of paper on which he had already pencilled a
few words. The baronet took it, looked and whistled softly. He had read:
"Clubs, seven, nine. Hearts, knave."

"Conjuring?" he interrogated.

"Quite as simple--listening."

"I suppose I must accept it. What staggers me is that you can pick out a
whisper when the room is full of other louder sounds. Now if there had
been absolute stillness--"

"Merely use. There's nothing more in it than in seeing a mouse and a
mountain, or a candle and the sun, at the same time. Well, what are we
going to do about it?"

Copling began to look acutely unhappy.

"I suppose we must do something," he ruminated, "but I must say that I
wish we needn't. I mean, I wish we hadn't dropped on this. You know,
Carrados, whatever is going on, Spinola is no charlatan. He does
understand mathematics."

"That makes him all the more dangerous. But I should like to produce
more definite proof before we do anything. Does he ever leave us in
the room?"

"I have never known it. No, he hovers round his Aurelius."

"Never mind. Ah, the game is finished."

The game was finished and it needed no inquiry to learn how it had gone.
Mr. Crediton was handing the venerable Spinola a memorandum of
indebtedness. His words and attitude did not convey the impression of a
graceful loser.

"I wish you two men would give me the tip for beating this purgatorial
image," he grumbled as they came up. "I thought that he'd struck a
losing line after your experience and this is the result." He indicated
the spectacle of their amiable host folding up his I.O.U. preparatory to
dropping it carelessly into a letter-rack, and shrugged his shoulders
with keen disgust.

"I'll tell you if you like," suggested Sir Fergus. "Hold the better
cards."

"And play them better," added Carrados. "Good heavens !"

A very untoward thing had happened. They had all been standing together
round the table, Spinola purring appreciatively, Crediton fuming his
ill-restrained annoyance, and the other two mildly satirical at his
expense. Carrados held a cup of coffee in his hand. He reached towards
the table with it, seemed to imagine that he was a full foot nearer than
he was, and before anyone had divined his mistake, cup, saucer and the
entire contents had dropped neatly upon Mr. Spinola's startled feet,
saturating his lower extremities to the skin.

"Good heavens! What on earth have I done?"

Crediton shrieked out his ill-humour in gratified amusement; Sir
Fergus reddened deeply with embarrassment at his friend's mishap. Victim
and culprit stood the ordeal best.

"My unfortunate defect!" murmured Carrados with feeling. "How ever can I--"

"I who have eyes ought to have looked after my guest better," replied
Spinola with antique courtliness. He reduced Crediton with a glance of
quiet dignity and declined Carrados's handkerchief with a reassuring
touch on the blind man's arm. "No, no, my dear sir, if you will excuse
me for a few minutes. It is really nothing, really nothing, I do assure
you."

He withdrew from the room to change. Copling began to prepare a
reassuring phrase to meet Carrados's self-reproaches when they should
break forth again. But the blind man's tone had altered; he was no
longer apologetic.

"Play them better," he repeated to Crediton, as if there had been no
interruption, "and play under conditions that are equal. For instance,
it might be worth while making sure that a Japanese mask does not
conceal a pair of human eyes. If I were a loser I should be inclined to
have a look."

Not until then did it occur to Sir Fergus that his friend's clumsiness
had been a calculated ruse to force Spinola to withdraw for a few
minutes. Later on he might be able to admire the simple ingenuity of the
trick, but at that moment he almost hated Carrados for the cool
effrontery with which he had duped all their feelings.

No such subtleties, however, concerned Crediton. He stared at the blind
man, followed the indication of his gesture and all at once grasped the
significance of the hint.

"By George, I shouldn't wonder if you aren't right!" he exclaimed.
"There are one or two things--" Without further consideration he rushed a
table against the wall, swung up a chair on to it, and mounting the
structure began to wrench the details of the trophy from side to side
and up and down in his excited efforts to displace them.

"Hurry up," urged Copling, more nervous than excited. "He won't be
long."

"Hurry up?" Crediton paused, panting from his furious efforts, and found
time to look down upon his accomplices. "I don't think that it's for us
to concern ourselves, by George!" he retorted. "Spinola had better hurry
up and bolt for it, I should say. There's light behind here--a hole
through the wall. I believe the place is a regular swindling hell."

His eyes went to the group of weapons again and the sight gave him a new
idea.

"Aha, what price this?" he cried, and pulling a short sword out of its
sheath he drove it in between mask and wall and levered the shell away,
nails and all. "By God, if the eyes aren't a pair of opera-glasses!
And there's a regular paraphernalia here--"

"So," interrupted a quiet voice behind them, "you have been too clever
for an old man, Mr. Carrados?"

Spinola had returned unheard and was regarding the work of detection
with the utmost benignness. Copling looked and felt ridiculously guilty;
the blind man betrayed no emotion at all and both were momentarily
silent. It fell to Crediton to voice retort.

"My I.O.U., if you don't mind, Mr. Spinola," he demanded, tumbling down
from his perch and holding out an insistent hand.

"With great pleasure," replied Spinola, picking it out from the contents
of the letter-rack. "Also," he continued, referring to the contents of
his pocket-book, while his guest tore up the memorandum into very
small pieces and strewed them about the carpet, "also the sum of
fifty-seven pounds, thirteen shillings which I feel myself compelled to
return to you in spite of your invariable grace in losing. I have already
rung; you will find the front door waiting open for you, Mr. Crediton."

"'Compelled' is good," sneered Crediton. "You will probably find a train
waiting for you at Charing Cross, Mr. Spinola. I advise you to catch it
before the police arrive." He nodded to the other two men and departed,
to spread the astounding news in the most interested quarters.

Spinola continued to beam irrepressible benevolence.

"You are equally censorious, if more polite than Mr. Crediton in
expressing it, eh, my dear young friends?" he said.

"I thought that you were a genuine mathematician--I vouched for it,"
replied Sir Fergus with more regret than anything else. "And the extent
of your achievement has been to contrive a vulgar imposture--in the
guise of an ingenious inventor to swindle society by a sham automaton
that doesn't even work."

"You thought that--you still think that?"

"What else is there to think? We have seen with our own eyes."

"And"--turning to his other guest--"Mr. Carrados, who does not see?"

"I am waiting to hear," replied the blind man.

"But you, Sir Fergus, you who are also--in an elementary way--a
mathematician, and one with whom I have conversed freely, you regard me
as a common swindler and think that this--this tawdry piece of
buffoonery that is only designed to appeal to the vapid craze for
novelty of your foolish friends--this is, as you say, the extent of my
achievement?"

Copling gave a warning cry and sprang forward, but it was too late to
avert what he saw coming. In his petulant annoyance at the comparison
Spinola had laid an emphasising hand upon Aurelius and half
unconsciously had given the figure a contemptuous push. It swayed,
seemed to poise for a second, and then toppling irretrievably forward
crashed to the floor with an impact that snapped the golden head from
off its shoulders and shook the room and the very house itself.

"There, there," muttered the old man, as though he was doing no more
than regretting a broken tea-cup; "let it lie, let it lie. We have
finished our work together, Aurelius and I. Now let the whole world--"

It would have been too much to expect the remainder of the mysterious
household, whoever its members were, to ignore the tempestuous course of
events taking place within their midst. The door was opened suddenly and
a young lady, with consternation charged on every feature of her
attractive face, burst into the room. For the moment her eyes took in
only two figures of the curious group the aged Spinola and his fallen
handiwork.

"Granda!" she cried, "whatever's happened? What is it all? Oh, are you
hurt?"

"It is nothing, nothing at all; a mere contretemps of no importance," he
reassured her quickly. Then, with a recurrence of his most grandiloquent
manner, he recalled her to the situation. "Mercia, our guests--Sir
Fergus Copling, Mr. Carrados. Sir Fergus, Mr. Carrados--Miss Dugard."

"Then it is Mercia!" articulated the bewildered baronet. "Mercia, you
here! What does it mean? What are you doing?"

"What are you doing, Sir Fergus?" retorted the girl in cold reproach.
"Is this the way you generally keep your promises? Gambling!"

"Well, really," stammered the abashed gentleman, "I--I only--"

"Sir Fergus only played a game for a mere nominal stake, to demonstrate
the working to his friend," interposed Spinola with a shrewd glance--a
curious blend of serpentine innocence and dove-like cunning--at the
estranged young people.

"And won," added Sir Fergus sotto voce, as if that fact condoned his
offence.

"Won indeed!" flashed out Miss Dugard. "Of course you won--I let you.
Do you think that we wished to take money from you now?"

"You--you let me!" muttered Sir Fergus helplessly. "Good heavens!"

"I am grateful that your consideration also extends to your friend's
friend," put in Carrados pleasantly.

Miss Dugard smiled darkly at the suavely-given thrust and showed her
pretty little teeth almost as though she would like to use them.

"There, there, that will do, my child," said the old man indulgently.
"Sir Fergus and Mr. Carrados are entitled to an explanation and they
shall have it. The moment is opportune; the work of a lifetime is
complete. You have seen, Sir Fergus, the sums that Aurelius--assisted,
as we will now admit, by a little external manipulation--has gathered
into our domestic exchequer. Where have they gone, these hundreds and
thousands that you may estimate? In lavish living and a costly
establishment? Observe this very ordinary apartment--the best the house
possesses. Recall the grounds through which you entered. Sum up the
simple hospitality of which you have partaken. In expensive personal
tastes and habits? I assure you, Sir Fergus, that I am a man of the most
frugal life; my granddaughter inherits the propensity. In what, then? In
advancing science, in benefitting humanity, in furthering human
progress. I am going to prove to you that I have perfected one of the
greatest mechanical inventions of all ages, and I ask you to credit the
plain statement that all my private fortune and all the winnings that
you have seen upon this table--with the exception of a bare margin for
the necessities of life have been spent in perfecting it."

He paused with a senile air of triumph and seemed to challenge comment.

"But surely," ventured Copling, "surely on the strength of this you
would have had no difficulty in obtaining direct financial support.
Well, I myself--"

Spinola smiled a peculiar smile, shaking his head sagely.

"Take care, my generous young friend, take care. You may not quite
comprehend what you are saying."

"Why?"

Still swayed by his own gentle amusement, the old man crossed the room
to a desk, selected a letter from a bulky pile and handed it to his
guest without a word.

Copling glanced at the heading and signature, then read the contents and
frowned annoyance.

"This is from my secretary," he commented lamely.

"That is what a secretary is for, is it not--to save his employer
trouble?" insinuated Spinola. "He took me for a crank or a begging-letter
imposter, of course." Then came the pathetic whisper. "They all
took me for that."

Sir Fergus folded the letter and handed it back again.

"I am very sorry," he said simply.

"It was natural, perhaps. Still, something had to be done. My work was
all arrested. I could no longer pay my two skilled mechanics. Time was
pressing. I am a very old man--I am more than a hundred years old--"

The girl shot a sudden, half-frightened, pleading glance at her lover,
then at Mr. Carrados. It checked the exclamation that would have come
from Copling; the blind man passed the monstrous claim without betraying
astonishment.

"--a very old man and my work was yet incomplete. So I contrived
Aurelius. I could, of course, have perfected a model that would have
done all that has been claimed for this--mere child's play to me--but
what would have been the good? Such a mechanical player would have lost
as often as he would have won. Hence our little subterfuge, a means
amply justified by so glorious an end."

He was smiling happily--the weeks of elaborate deception were, at the
worst, an innocent ruse to him--and concluded with an emphasising nod
to each in turn, to Mercia, who regarded him with implicit faith and
veneration, to Copling, who at that moment surely had ample
justification for declaring to himself that he was dashed if he knew
what to think, and to Carrados, whose sightless look agreed to
everything and gave nothing in reply. Then the old man stood up and
produced his keys.

"Come, my friends," he continued; "the moment has arrived. I am going to
show you now what no other eye has yet been privileged to see. My
mechanics worked on the parts under my instruction, but in ignorance of
the end. Even Mercia--a good girl, a very clever girl--has never
yet passed this door." He had led them through the house and brought
them to a brick-built, windowless shed, isolated in the garden at the
back. "I little thought that the first demonstration But things have
fallen so, things have fallen, and one never knows. Perhaps it is for
the best." An iron door had yielded to his patent key. He entered,
turned on a bunch of electric lights and stood aside. "Behold!"

The room was a workshop, fitted with the highly finished devices of
metal-working and littered with the scraps and debris of their use. In
the middle stood a more elaborate contrivance--the finished product of
brass and steel--a cube scarcely larger than a packing-case, but
seemingly filled with wheels and rods, relay upon relay, and row after
row, all giving the impression of exquisite precision in workmanship and
astonishing intricacy of detail.

"Why, it's a calculating machine," exclaimed Sir Fergus, going forward
with immense interest.

"It is an analytical engine, or, to use the more common term, a
calculating machine, as you say," assented the inventor. "I need hardly
remind you, of course, that one does not spend a lifetime and a fortune
in contriving a machine to do single calculations, however involved, but
for the more useful and practical purpose of working out involved series
with absolute precision. Still, for the purpose of a trial demonstration
we will begin with an ordinary proposition, if you, Sir Fergus, will
kindly set one. My engine now is constructed to work to fifty places of
figures and twelve orders of difference."

"If you have accomplished that," remarked Copling, accepting the pencil
and the slip of paper offered him, "you have surpassed the dreams of
Babbage, Mr. Spinola."

There was a sudden gasp from Mercia, but it passed unheeded in the keen
excitement of the great occasion. Spinola received the paper with its
row of signs and figures and turned to operate his engine. He paused to
look back gleefully.

"So you never guessed, Sir Fergus?" he chuckled cunningly. "We kept the
secret well, but it doesn't matter now. I am Charles Babbage!"

The noise of wheel and connecting-rod cut off the chance of a reply,
even if anyone had been prepared to make one. But no one, in that
bewildering moment, was.

"The solution," announced Spinola with a flourish, and he passed a
little slip of metal stamped with a row of figures into Sir Fergus's
hand. Then, with a curious indifference to their verdict, he turned away
from the group and applied himself to the machine again.

"What is it? Is it not correct?" demanded Mercia in an agonised whisper.
She had not looked at the solution, but at her lover's face, and her
hand suddenly gripped his arm.

"It is incomprehensible," replied Sir Fergus, dropping his voice so that
the old man could not overhear. "It isn't a matter of right or wrong--it
is a mere farrago of nonsense."

"But harmless nonsense--quite harmless," interposed Carrados softly
from behind them. "Come, we can safely leave him here; you will always
be able to leave him safely here. Help Miss Dugard out, Copling. It is
better, believe me, to leave him now."

Spinola did not turn. He was bending over the machine to which he had
given life, brain and fortune, touching its wheels and sliding rods with
loving fingers. They passed silently from his presence and crept back to
the deserted salon, where the deposed head of Aurelius leered cynically
at them from the floor.



THE MYSTERY OF THE POISONED DISH OF MUSHROOMS


Some time during November of a recent year, newspaper readers who are in
the habit of being attracted by curious items of quite negligible
importance might have followed the account of the tragedy of a St.
Abbots schoolboy which appeared in the Press under the headings, "Fatal
Dish of Mushrooms," "Are Toadstools Distinguishable?" or some similarly
alluring title.

The facts relating to the death of Charlie Winpole were simple and
straightforward and the jury sworn to the business of investigating the
cause had no hesitation in bringing in a verdict in accordance with the
medical evidence. The witnesses who had anything really material to
contribute were only two in number, Mrs. Dupreen and Robert Wilberforce
Slark, M. D. A couple of hours would easily have disposed of every
detail of an inquiry that was generally admitted to have been a pure
formality, had not the contention of an interested person delayed the
inevitable conclusion by forcing the necessity of an adjournment.

Irene Dupreen testified that she was the widow of a physician and lived
at Hazlehurst, Chesset Avenue, St. Abbots, with her brother. The
deceased was their nephew, an only child and an orphan, and was aged
twelve. He was a ward of Chancery and the Court had appointed her as
guardian, with an adequate provision for the expenses of his bringing up
and education. That allowance would, of course, cease with her nephew's
death.

Coming to the particulars of the case, Mrs. Dupreen explained that for a
few days the boy had been suffering from a rather severe cold. She had
not thought it necessary to call in a doctor, recognising it as a mild
form of influenza. She had kept him from school and restricted him to
his bedroom. On the previous Wednesday, the day before his death, he was
quite convalescent, with a good pulse and a normal temperature, but as
the weather was cold she decided still to keep him in bed as a measure
of precaution. He had a fair appetite, but did not care for the lunch
they had, and so she had asked him, before going out in the afternoon,
if there was anything that he would especially fancy for his dinner. He
had thereupon expressed a partiality for mushrooms, of which he was
always very fond.

"I laughed and pulled his ear," continued the witness, much affected at
her recollection, "and asked him if that was his idea of a suitable dish
for an invalid. But I didn't think that it really mattered in the least
then, so I went to several shops about them. They all said that
mushrooms were over, but finally I found a few at Lackington's, the
greengrocer in Park Road. I bought only half-a-pound; no one but
Charlie among us cared for them and I thought that they were already
very dry and rather dear."

The connection between the mushrooms and the unfortunate boy's death
seemed inevitable. When Mrs. Dupreen went upstairs after dinner she
found Charlie apparently asleep and breathing soundly. She quietly
removed the tray and without disturbing him turned out the gas and
closed the door. In the middle of the night she was suddenly and
startlingly awakened by something. For a moment she remained confused,
listening. Then a curious sound coming from the direction of the boy's
bedroom drew her there. On opening the door she was horrified to see her
nephew lying on the floor in a convulsed attitude. His eyes were open
and widely dilated; one hand clutched some bed-clothes which he had
dragged down with him, and the other still grasped the empty
water-bottle that had been by his side. She called loudly for help and
her brother and then the servant appeared. She sent the latter to a
medicine cabinet for mustard leaves and told her brother to get in the
nearest available doctor. She had already lifted Charlie on to the bed
again. Before the doctor arrived, which was in about half-an-hour, the
boy was dead.

In answer to a question the witness stated that she had not seen her
nephew between the time she removed the tray and when she found him ill.
The only other person who had seen him within a few hours of his death
had been her brother, Philip Loudham, who had taken up Charlie's dinner.
When he came down again he had made the remark: "The youngster seems
lively enough now."

Dr. Slark was the next witness. His evidence was to the effect that
about three-fifteen on the Thursday morning he was hurriedly called to
Hazlehurst by a gentleman whom he now knew to be Mr. Philip Loudham. He
understood that the case was one of convulsions and went provided for
that contingency, but on his arrival he found the patient already dead.
From his own examination and from what he was told he had no hesitation
in diagnosing the case as one of agaric poisoning. He saw no reason to
suspect any of the food except the mushrooms, and all the symptoms
pointed to bhurine, the deadly principle of Amanita Bhuroides, or the
Black Cap, as it was popularly called, from its fancied resemblance to
the head-dress assumed by a judge in passing death sentence, coupled
with its sinister and well-merited reputation. It was always fatal.

Continuing his evidence, Dr. Slark explained that only after maturity
did the Black Cap develop its distinctive appearance. Up to that stage
it had many of the characteristics of Agaricus campestris, or common
mushroom. It was true that the gills were paler than one would expect to
find, and there were other slight differences of a technical kind, but
all might easily be overlooked in the superficial glance of the
gatherer. The whole subject of edible and noxious fungi was a difficult
one and at present very imperfectly understood. He, personally, very
much doubted if true mushrooms were ever responsible for the cases of
poisoning which one occasionally saw attributed to them. Under
scientific examination he was satisfied that all would resolve
themselves into poisoning by one or other of the many noxious fungi that
could easily be mistaken for the edible varieties. It was possible to
prepare an artificial bed, plant it with proper spawn and be rewarded by
a crop of mushroom-like growth of undoubted virulence. On the other
hand, the injurious constituents of many poisonous fungi passed off in
the process of cooking. There was no handy way of discriminating between
the good and the bad except by the absolute identification of species.
The salt test and the silver-spoon test were all nonsense and the
sooner they were forgotten the better. Apparent mushrooms that were
found in woods or growing in the vicinity of trees or hedges should
always be regarded with the utmost suspicion.

Dr. Slark's evidence concluded the case so far as the subpoenaed
witnesses were concerned, but before addressing the jury the coroner
announced that another person had expressed a desire to be heard. There
was no reason why they should not accept any evidence that was tendered,
and as the applicant's name had been mentioned in the case it was only
right that he should have the opportunity of replying publicly.

Mr. Lackington thereupon entered the witness-box and was sworn. He
stated that he was a fruiterer and greengrocer, carrying on a business
in Park Road, St. Abbots. He remembered Mrs. Dupreen coming to his shop
two days before. The basket of mushrooms from which she was supplied
consisted of a small lot of about six pounds, brought in by a farmer
from a neighbouring village, with whom he had frequent dealings. All had
been disposed of and in no other case had illness resulted. It was a
serious matter to him as a tradesman to have his name associated with a
case of this kind. That was why he had come forward. Not only with
regard to mushrooms, but as a general result, people would become shy of
dealing with him if it was stated that he sold unwholesome goods.

The coroner, intervening at this point, remarked that he might as well
say that he would direct the jury that, in the event of their finding
the deceased to have died from the effects of the mushrooms or anything
contained among them, there was no evidence other than that the
occurrence was one of pure mischance.

Mr. Lackington expressed his thanks for the assurance, but said that a
bad impression would still remain. He had been in business in St. Abbots
for twenty-seven years and during that time he had handled some tons
of mushrooms without a single complaint before. He admitted, in answer
to the interrogation, that he had not actually examined every mushroom
of the half-pound sold to Mrs. Dupreen, but he weighed them, and he
was confident that if a toadstool had been among them he would have
detected it. Might it not be a cooking utensil that was the cause?

Dr. Slark shook his head and was understood to say that he could not
accept the suggestion.

Continuing, Mr. Lackington then asked whether it was not possible that
the deceased, doubtless an inquiring, adventurous boy and as mischievous
as most of his kind, feeling quite well again and being confined to the
house, had got up in his aunt's absence and taken something that would
explain this sad affair? They had heard of a medicine cabinet. What
about tablets of trional or veronal or something of that sort that might
perhaps look like sweets? It was all very well for Dr. Slark to laugh,
but this matter was a serious one for the witness.

Dr. Slark apologised for smiling--he had not laughed--and gravely
remarked that the matter was a serious one for all concerned in the
inquiry. He admitted that the reference to trional and veronal in this
connection had, for the moment, caused him to forget the surroundings.
He would suggest that in the circumstances perhaps the coroner would
think it desirable to order a more detailed examination of the body to
be made.

After some further discussion the coroner, while remarking that in most
cases an analysis was quite unnecessary, decided that in view of what
had transpired it would be more satisfactory to have a complete autopsy
carried out. The inquest was accordingly adjourned.

A week later most of those who had taken part in the first inquiry
assembled again in the room of the St. Abbots Town Hall which did duty
for the Coroner's Court. Only one witness was heard and his evidence was
brief and conclusive.

Dr. Herbert Ingpenny, consulting pathologist to St. Martin's Hospital,
stated that he had made an examination of the contents of the stomach
and viscera of the deceased. He found evidence of the presence of the
poison bhurine in sufficient quantity to account for the boy's death,
and the symptoms, as described by Dr. Slark and Mrs. Dupreen in the
course of the previous hearing, were consistent with bhurine poisoning.
Bhurine did not occur naturally except as a constituent of Amanita
Bhuroides. One-fifth of a grain would be fatal to an adult; in other
words, a single fungus in the dish might poison three people. A child,
especially if experiencing the effects of a weakening illness, would be
even more susceptible. No other harmful substance was present.

Dr. Ingpenny concluded by saying that he endorsed his colleague's
general remarks on the subject of mushrooms and other fungi, and the
jury, after a plain direction from the coroner, forthwith brought in a
verdict in accordance with the medical evidence.

It was a foregone conclusion with anyone who knew the facts or had
followed the evidence. Yet five days later Philip Loudham was arrested
suddenly and charged with the astounding crime of having murdered his
nephew.

It is at this point that Max Carrados makes his first appearance in the
Winpole tragedy.

A few days after the arrest, being in a particularly urbane frame of
mind himself, and having several hours with no demands on them that
could not be fitly transferred to his subordinates, Mr. Carlyle looked
round for some social entertainment and with a benevolent condescension
very opportunely remembered the existence of his niece living at Groat's
Heath.

"Elsie will be delighted," he assented to the suggestion. "She is rather
out of the world up there, I imagine. Now if I get there at four, put in
a couple of hours."

Mrs. Bellmark was certainly pleased, but she appeared to be still more
surprised, and behind that lay an effervescence of excitement that even
to Mr. Carlyle's complacent self-esteem seemed out of proportion to
the occasion. The reason could not be long withheld.

"Did you meet anyone, Uncle Louis?" was almost her first inquiry. "Did I
meet anyone?" repeated Mr. Carlyle with his usual precision. "Um, no, I
cannot say that I met anyone particular. Of course--"

"I've had a visitor and he's coming back again for tea. Guess who it is?
But you never will. Mr. Carrados."

"Max Carrados!" exclaimed her uncle in astonishment. "You don't say so.
Why, bless my soul, Elsie, I'd almost forgotten that you knew him. It
seems years ago What on earth is Max doing in Groat's Heath?"

"That is the extraordinary thing about it," replied Mrs. Bellmark. "He
said that he had come up here to look for mushrooms."

"Mushrooms?"

"Yes; that was what he said. He asked me if I knew of any woods about
here that he could go into and I told him of the one down Stonecut
Lane."

"But don't you know, my dear child," exclaimed Mr. Carlyle, "that
mushrooms growing in woods or even near trees are always to be regarded
with suspicion? They may look like mushrooms, but they are probably
poisonous."

"I didn't know," admitted Mrs. Bellmark; "but if they are, I imagine Mr.
Carrados will know."

"It scarcely sounds like it--going to a wood, you know. As it happens,
I have been looking up the subject lately. But, in any case, you say
that he is coming back here?"

"He asked me if he might call on his way home for a cup of tea, and of
course I said, 'Of course."'

"Of course," also said Mr. Carlyle. "Motoring, I suppose."

"Yes, a big grey car. He had Mr. Parkinson with him."

Mr. Caryle was slightly puzzled, as he frequently was by his friend's
proceedings, but it was not his custom to dwell on any topic that
involved an admission of inadequacy. The subject of Carrados and his
eccentric quest was therefore dismissed until the sound of a formidable
motor car dominating the atmosphere of the quiet suburban road was
almost immediately followed by the entrance of the blind amateur. With a
knowing look towards his niece Carlyle had taken up a position at the
farther end of the room, where he remained in almost breathless silence.

Carrados acknowledged the hostess's smiling greeting and then nodded
familiarly in the direction of the playful guest.

"Well, Louis," he remarked, "we've caught each other."

Mrs. Bellmark was perceptibly startled, but rippled musically at the
failure of the conspiracy.

"Extraordinary," admitted Mr. Carlyle, coming forward.

"Not so very," was the dry reply. "Your friendly little maid"--to Mrs.
Bellmark--"mentioned your visitor as she brought me in."

"Is it a fact, Max," demanded Mr. Carlyle, "that you have been
to--er--Stonecut Wood to get mushrooms?"

"Mrs. Bellmark told you?"

"Yes. And did you succeed?"

"Parkinson found something that he assured me looked just like
mushrooms."

Mr. Carlyle bestowed a triumphant glance on his niece.

"I should very much like to see these so-called mushrooms. Do you
know, it may be rather a good thing for you that I met you."

"It is always a good thing for me to meet you," replied Carrados. "You
shall see them. They are in the car. Perhaps I shall be able to take you
back to town?"

"If you are going very soon. No, no, Elsie "-in response to Mrs.
Bellmark's protesting "Oh !"-"I don't want to influence Max, but I
really must tear myself away the moment after tea. I still have to clear
up some work on a rather important case I am just completing. It is
quite appropriate to the occasion, too. Do you know all about the
Winpole business, Max?"

"No," admitted Carrados, without any appreciable show of interest. "Do
you, Louis?"

"Yes," responded Mr. Carlyle with crisp assurance, "yes, I think that I
may claim I do. In fact it was I who obtained the evidence that induced
the authorities to take up the case against Loudham."

"Oh, do tell us all about it," exclaimed Elsie. "I have only seen
something in the Indicator."

Mr. Carlyle shook his head, hemmed and looked wise, and then gave in.

"But not a word of this outside, Elsie," he stipulated. "Some of the
evidence won't be given until next week and it might be serious."

"Not a syllable," assented the lady. "How exciting! Go on."

"Well, you know, of course, that the coroner's jury--very rightly,
according to the evidence before them--brought in a verdict of
accidental death. In the circumstances it was a reflection on the
business methods or the care or the knowledge or whatever one may decide
of the man who sold the mushrooms, a greengrocer called Lackington. I
have seen Lackington, and with a rather remarkable pertinacity in the
face of the evidence he insists that he could not have made this fatal
blunder--that in weighing so small a quantity as half-a-pound, at
any rate, he would at once have spotted anything that wasn't quite all
right."

"But the doctor said, Uncle Louis--"

"Yes, my dear Elsie, we know what the doctor said, but, rightly or
wrongly, Lackington backs his experience and practical knowledge against
theoretical generalities. In ordinary circumstances nothing more would
have come of it, but it happens that Lackington has for a lodger a young
man on the staff of the local paper, and for a neighbour a
pharmaceutical chemist. These three men talked things over more than
once--Lackington restive under the damage that had been done to his
reputation, the journalist stimulating and keen for a newspaper
sensation, the chemist contributing his quota of practical knowledge. At
the end of a few days a fabric of circumstance had been woven which
might be serious or innocent according to the further development of the
suggestion and the manner in which it could be met. These were the chief
points of the attack:

"Mrs. Dupreen's allowance for the care and maintenance of Charlie
Winpole ceased with his death, as she had told the jury. What she did
not mention was that the deceased boy would have come into an
inheritance of some fifteen thousand pounds at age and that this fortune
now fell in equal shares to the lot of his two nearest relatives--Mrs.
Dupreen and her brother, Philip.

"Mrs. Dupreen was by no means in easy circumstances. Philip Loudham was
equally poor and had no assured income. He had tried several forms of
business and now, at about thirty-five, was spending his time chiefly
in writing poems and painting watercolours, none of which brought him
any money so far as one could learn.

"Philip Loudham, it was admitted, took up the food round which the
tragedy centred.

"Philip Loudham was shown to be in debt and urgently in need of money.
There was supposed to be a lady in the case--I hope I need say no more,
Elsie."

"Who is she?" asked Mrs. Bellmark with poignant interest.

"We do not know yet. A married woman, it is rumoured, I regret to say.
It scarcely matters--certainly not to you, Elsie. To continue:

"Mrs. Dupreen got back from her shopping in the afternoon before her
nephew's death at about three o'clock. In less than half-an-hour
Loudham left the house and going to the station took a return ticket to
Euston. He went by the 3:41 and was back in St. Abbots at 5:43. That
would give him barely an hour in town for whatever business he
transacted. What was that business?

"The chemist next door supplied the information that although bhurine
only occurs in nature in this one form, it can be isolated from the
other constituents of the fungus and dealt with like any other liquid
poison. But it was a very exceptional commodity, having no commercial
uses and probably not half-a-dozen retail chemists in London had it
on their shelves. He himself had never stocked it and never been asked
for it.

"With this suggestive but by no means convincing evidence," continued
Mr. Carlyle, "the young journalist went to the editor of The Morning
Indicator, to which he acted as St. Abbots correspondent, and asked him
whether he cared to take up the inquiry as a 'scoop.' The local trio had
carried it as far as they were able. The editor of the Indicator decided
to look into it and asked me to go on with the case. This is how my
connection with it arose."

"Oh, that's how newspapers get to know things?" commented Mrs. Bellmark.
"I often wondered."

"It is one way," assented her uncle.

"An American development," contributed Carrados. "It is a little
overdone there."

"It must be awful," said the hostess. "And the police methods! In the
plays that come from the States--" The entrance of the friendly
hand-maiden, bringing tea, was responsible for the platitudinous wave. The
conversation, in deference to Mr. Carlyle's scruples, marked time until
the door closed on her departure.

"My first business," continued the inquiry agent, after making himself
useful at the table, "was naturally to discover among the chemists in
London whether a sale of bhurine coincided with Philip Loudham's hasty
visit. If this line failed, the very foundation of the edifice of
hypothetical guilt gave way; if it succeeded...Well, it did succeed.
In a street off Caistor Square, Tottenham Court Road-Trenion Street we
found a man called Lightcraft, who at once remembered making such a
sale. As bhurine is a specified poison, the transaction would have to be
entered, and Lightcraft's book contained this unassailable piece of
evidence. On Wednesday, the sixth of this month, a man signing his name
as 'J. D. Williams,' and giving '25 Chalcott Place' as the address,
purchased four drachms of bhurine. Lightcraft fixed the time as about
half-past four. I went to 25 Chalcott Place and found it to be a small
boarding-house. No one of the name of Williams was known there."

If Mr. Caryle's tone of finality went for anything, Philip Loudham was
as good as pinioned. Mrs. Bellmark supplied the expected note of
admiration.

"Just fancy!" was the form it took.

"Under the Act the purchaser must be known to the chemist?" suggested
Carrados.

"Yes," agreed Mr. Carlyle; "and there our friend Lightcraft may have let
himself in for a little trouble. But, as he says--and we must admit
that there is something in it--who is to define what 'known to'
actually means? A hundred people are known to him as regular or
occasional customers and he has never heard their names; a score of
names and addresses represent to him regular or occasional customers
whom he has never seen. This 'J. D. Williams' came in with an easy air
and appeared at all events to know Lightcraft. The face seemed not
unfamiliar and Lightcraft was perhaps a little too facile in assuming
that he did know him. Well, well, Max, I can understand the
circumstances. Competition is keen--especially against the private
chemist--and one may give offence and lose a customer. We must all
live."

"Except Charlie Winpole," occurred to Max Carrados, but he left the
retort unspoken. "Did you happen to come across any inquiry for bhurine
at other shops?" he asked instead.

"No," replied Carlyle, "no, I did not. It would have been an indication
then, of course, but after finding the actual place the others would
have no significance. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, nothing. Only don't you think that he was rather lucky to get it
first shot if our St. Abbots authority was right?"

"Yes, yes; perhaps he was. But that is of no interest to us now. The
great thing is that a peculiarly sinister and deliberate murder is
brought home to its perpetrator. When you consider the circumstances,
upon my soul, I don't know that I have ever unmasked a more ingenious
and cold-blooded ruffian."

"Then he has confessed, uncle?"

"Confessed, my dear Elsie," said Mr. Carlyle, with a tolerant smile,
"no, he has not confessed--men of that type never do. On the contrary,
he asserted his outraged innocence with a considerable show of
indignation. What else was he to do? Then he was asked to account for
his movements between 4.15 and 5 o'clock on that afternoon. Egad, the
fellow was so cocksure of the safety of his plans that he hadn't even
taken the trouble to think that out. First he denied that he had been
away from St. Abbots at all. Then he remembered. He had run down to town
in the afternoon for a few things.--What things?--Well, chiefly
stationery.--Where had he bought it?--At a shop in Oxford Street; he
did not know the name.--Would he be able to point it out?--He thought
so.--Could he identify the attendant?--No, he could not remember him
in the least.--Had he the bill?--No, he never kept small bills.--How
much was the amount?--About three or four shillings.--And the return
fare to Euston was three-and-eightpence. Was it not rather an
extravagant journey?--He could only say that he did so.--Three or four
shillings' worth of stationery would be a moderate parcel. Did he have
it sent?--No, he took it with him.--Three or four shillings' worth of
stationery in his pocket?--No, it was in a parcel.--Too large to go in
his pocket?--Yes.--Two independent witnesses would testify that he
carried no parcel. They were townsmen of St. Abbots who had travelled.
down in the same carriage with him. Did he still persist that he had
been engaged in buying stationery? Then he declined to say anything
further--about the best thing he could do."

"And Lightcraft identifies him?"

"Um, well, not quite so positively as we might wish. You see, a
fortnight has elapsed. The man who bought the poison wore a
moustache--put on, of course--but Lightcraft will say that there
is a resemblance and the type of the two men the same."

"I foresee that Mr. Lightcraft's accommodating memory for faces will
come in for rather severe handling in cross-examination," said
Carrados, as though he rather enjoyed the prospect.

"It will balance Mr. Philip Loudham's unfortunate forgetfulness for
localities, Max," rejoined Mr. Carlyle, delivering the thrust with his
own inimitable aplomb.

Carrados rose with smiling acquiescence to the shrewdness of the
riposte.

"I will be quite generous, Mrs. Bellmark," he observed. "I will take him
away now, with the memory of that lingering in your ears--all my
crushing retorts unspoken."

"Five-thirty, egad!" exclaimed Mr. Carlyle, displaying his imposing
gold watch. "We must--or, at all events, I must. You can think of them
in the car, Max."

"I do hope you won't come to blows," murmured the lady. Then she added:
"When will the real trial come on, Uncle Louis?"

"The Sessions? Oh, early in January."

"I must remember to look out for it." Possibly she had some faint idea
of Uncle Louis taking a leading part in the proceedings. At any rate Mr.
Carlyle looked pleased, but when adieux had been taken and the door was
closed Mrs. Bellmark was left wondering what the enigma of Max
Carrados's departing smile had been.

Before they had covered many furlongs Mr. Carlyle suddenly remembered
the suspected mushrooms and demanded to see them. A very moderate
collection was produced for his inspection. He turned them over
sceptically.

"The gills are too pale for true mushrooms, Max," he declared sapiently.
"Don't take any risk. Let me drop them out of the window?"

"No." Carrados's hand quietly arrested the threatened action. "No; I
have a use for them, Louis, but it is not culinary. You are quite right;
they are rank poison. I only want to study them for--a case I am
interested in."

"A case! You don't mean to say that there is another mushroom poisoner
going?"

"No; it is the same."

"But--but you said--"

"That I did not know all about it? Quite true. Nor do I yet. But I know
rather more than I did then."

"Do you mean that Scotland Yard--"

"No, Louis." Mr. Carrados appeared to find something rather amusing in
the situation. "I am for the other side."

"The other side! And you let me babble out the whole case for the
prosecution! Well, really, Max!"

"But you are out of it now? The Public Prosecutor has taken it up?"

"True, true. But, for all that, I feel devilishly bad."

"Then I will give you all the whole case for the defence and so we shall
be quits. In fact I am relying on you to help me with it."

"With the defence? I--after supplying the evidence that the Public
Prosecutor is acting on?"

"Why not? You don't want to hang Philip Loudham--specially if he
happens to be innocent--do you?"

"I don't want to hang anyone," protested Mr. Carlyle. "At least--not--as
a private individual."

"Quite so. Well, suppose you and I between ourselves find out the actual
facts of the case and decide what is to be done. The more usual course
is for the prosecution to exaggerate all that tells against the accused
and to contradict everything in his favour; for the defence to advance
fictitious evidence of innocence and to lie roundly on everything that
endangers his client; while on both sides witnesses are piled up to
bemuse the jury into accepting the desired version. That does not always
make for impartiality or for justice....Now you and I are two
reasonable men, Louis--"

"I hope so," admitted Mr. Carlyle. "I hope so."

"You can give away the case for the prosecution and I will expose the
weakness of the defence, so, between us, we may arrive at the truth."

"It strikes me as a deuced irregular proceeding. But I am curious to
hear the defence all the same."

"You are welcome to all of it that there yet is. An alibi, of course."

"Ah!" commented Mr. Carlyle with expression.

"So recently as yesterday a lady came hurriedly, and with a certain
amount of secrecy, to see me. She came on the strength of the
introduction afforded by a mutual acquaintanceship with Fromow, the
Greek professor. When we were alone she asked me, besought me, in fact,
to tell her what to do. A few hours before Mrs. Dupreen had rushed
across London to her with the tale of young Loudham's arrest. Then out
came the whole story. This woman--well, her name is Guestling,
Louis--lives a little way down in Surrey and is married. Her husband,
according to her own account--and I have certainly heard a hint about it
elsewhere--leads her a studiedly outrageous existence; an admired
silken-mannered gentleman in society, a tolerable polecat at home, one
infers. About a year ago Mrs. Guestling made the acquaintance of
Loudham, who was staying in that neighbourhood painting his pretty
unsaleable country lanes and golden sunsets. The inevitable, or, to
accept the lady's protestations, half the inevitable, followed.
Guestling, who adds an insatiable jealousy to his other domestic
virtues, vetoed the new acquaintance and thenceforward the two met
hurriedly and furtively in town. Had either of them any money they might
have snatched their destinies from the hands of Fate and gone off
together, but she has nothing and he has nothing and both, I suppose,
are poor weak mortals when it comes to doing anything courageous and
outright in this censorious world. So they drifted, drifting but not yet
wholly wrecked."

"A formidable incentive for a weak and desperate man to secure a fortune
by hook or crook, Max," said Carlyle drily.

"That is the motive that I wish to make you a present of. But, as you
will insist on your side, it is also a motive for a weak and foolish
couple to steal every brief opportunity of a secret meeting. On
Wednesday, the sixth, the lady was returning home from a visit to some
friends in the Midlands. She saw in the occasion an opportunity and on
the morning of the sixth a message appeared in the personal column of
The Daily Telegraph--their usual channel of communication--making an
assignation. That much can be established by the irrefutable evidence of
the newspaper. Philip Loudham kept the appointment and for half-an-hour
this miserably happy pair sat holding each other's hands in a
dreary deserted waiting-room of Bishop's Road Station. That half-hour
was from 4.14 to 4.45. Then Loudham saw Mrs. Guestling into Praed
Street Station for Victoria, returned to Euston and just caught the 5.7
St. Abbots."

"Can this be corroborated--especially as regards the precise time they
were together?"

"Not a word of it. They chose the waiting-room at Bishop's Road for
seclusion and apparently they got it. Not a soul even looked in while
they were there."

"Then, by Jupiter, Max," exclaimed Mr. Carlyle with emotion, "you have
hanged your client!"

Carrados could not restrain a smile at his friend's tragic note of
triumph.

"Well, let us examine the rope," he said with his usual
imperturbability.

"Here it is." It was a trivial enough shred of evidence that the inquiry
agent took from his pocket-book and put into the expectant hand; in
point of fact, the salmon-coloured ticket of a "London General" motor
omnibus.

"Royal Oak--the stage nearest Paddington--to Tottenham Court Road--the
point nearest Trenion Street," he added significantly.

"Yes," acquiesced Carrados, taking it.

"The man who bought the bhurine dropped that ticket on the floor of the
shop. He left the door open and Lightcraft followed him to close it.
That is how he came to pick the ticket up, and he remembers that it was
not there before. Then he threw it into a wastepaper basket underneath
the counter, and that is where we found it when I called on him."

"Mr. Lightcraft's memory fascinates me, Louis;" was the blind man's
unruffled comment. "Let us drop in and have a chat with him?"

"Do you really think that there is anything more to be got in that
quarter?" queried Carlyle dubiously. "I have turned him inside out, you
may be sure."

"True; but we approach Mr. Lightcraft from different angles. You were
looking for evidence to prove young Loudham guilty. I am looking for
evidence to prove him innocent."

"Very well, Max," acquiesced his companion. "Only don't blame me if it
turns out as deuced awkward for your man as Mrs. G. has done. Shall I
tell you what a counsel may be expected to put to the jury as the
explanation of that lady's evidence?"

"No, thanks," said Carrados half sleepily from his corner. "I know. I
told her so."

"Oh, very well. I needn't inform you, then," and debarred of that
satisfaction Mr. Carlyle withdrew himself into his own corner, where he
nursed an indulgent annoyance against the occasional perversity of Max
Carrados until the stopping of the car and the variegated attractions
displayed in a shop window told him where they were.

Mr. Lightcraft made no pretence of being glad to see his visitors. For
some time he declined to open his mouth at all on the subject that had
brought them there, repeating with parrot-like obstinacy to every
remark on their part, "The matter is sub judice. I am unable to say
anything further," until Mr. Carlyle longed to box his ears and bring
him to his senses. The ears happened to be rather prominent, for they
glowed with sensitiveness, and the chemist was otherwise a lank and
pallid man, whose transparent ivory skin and well-defined moustache
gave him something of the appearance of a waxwork.

"At all events," interposed Carrados, when his friend turned from the
maddening reiteration in despair, "you don't mind telling me a few
things about bhurine--apart from this particular connection?"

"I am very busy," and Mr. Lightcraft, with his back towards the shop,
did something superfluous among the bottles on a shelf.

"I imagine that the time of Mr. Max Carrados, of whom even you may
possibly have heard, is as valuable as yours, my good friend," put in
Mr. Carlyle with scandalised dignity.

"Mr. Carrados?" Lightcraft turned and regarded the blind man with
interest. "I did not know. But you must recognise the unenviable
position in which I am put by this gentleman's interference."

"It is his profession, you know," said Carrados mildly, "and, in any
case, it would certainly have been someone. Why not help me to get you
out of the position?"

"How is that possible?"

"If the case against Philip Loudham breaks down and he is discharged at
the next hearing you would not be called upon further."

"That would certainly be a mitigation. But why should it break down?"

"Suppose you let me try the taste of bhurine," suggested Carrados. "You
have some left?"

"Max, Max!" cried Mr. Carlyle's warning voice, "aren't you aware that
the stuff is a deadly poison? One-fifth of a grain--"

"Mr. Lightcraft will know how to administer it." Apparently Mr.
Lightcraft did. He filled a graduated measure with cold water, dipped a
slender glass rod into a bottle that was not kept on the shelves, and
with it stirred the water. Then into another vessel of water he dropped
a single spot of the dilution.

"One in a hundred and twenty-five thousand, Mr. Carrados," he said,
offering him the mixture.

Carrados just touched the liquid with his lips, considered the
impression and then wiped his mouth.

"Now for the smell."

The unstoppered bottle was handed to him and he took in its exhalation.

"Stewed mushrooms!" was his comment. "What is it used for, Mr.
Lightcraft?"

"Nothing that I know of."

"But your customer must have stated an application."

The pallid chemist flushed a little at the recollection of that
incident.

"Yes," he conceded. "There is a good deal about the whole business that
is still a mystery to me. The man came in shortly after I had lit up and
nodded familiarly as he said: 'Good-evening, Mr. Lightcraft.' I
naturally assumed that he was someone whom I could not quite place. 'I
want another half-pound of nitre,' he said, and I served him. Had he
bought nitre before, I have since tried to recall and I cannot. It is a
common enough article and I sell it every day. I have a poor memory for
faces I am willing to admit. It has hampered me in business many a time.
We chatted about nothing in particular as I did up the parcel. After he
had paid and turned to go he looked back again. 'By the way, do you
happen to have any bhurine?' he inquired. Unfortunately I had a few
ounces. 'Of course you know its nature?' I cautioned him. 'May I ask
what you require it for?' He nodded and held up the parcel of nitre he
had in his hand. 'The same thing,' he replied, 'taxidermy.' Then I
supplied him with half-an-ounce."

"As a matter of fact, is it used in taxidermy?"

"It does not seem to be. I have made inquiry and no one knows of it.
Nitre is largely used, and some of the dangerous poisons--arsenic and
mercuric chloride, for instance--but not this. No, it was a
subterfuge."

"Now the poison book, if you please."

Mr. Lightcraft produced it without demur and the blind man ran his
finger along the indicated line.

"Yes; this is quite satisfactory. Is it a fact, Mr. Lightcraft, that not
half-a-dozen chemists in London stock this particular substance? We
are told that"

"I can quite believe it. I certainly don't know of another."

"Strangely enough, your customer of the sixth seems to have come
straight here. Do you issue a price-list?"

"Only a localised one of certain photographic goods. Bhurine is not
included."

"You can suggest no reason why Mr. Phillip Laudham should be inspired to
presume that he would be able to procure this unusual drug from you? You
have never corresponded with him nor come across his name or address
before?"

"No. As far as I can recollect, I know nothing whatever of him."

"Then as yet you must assume that it was pure chance. By the way, Mr.
Lightcraft, how does it come that you stock this rare poison, which has
no commercial use and for which there is no demand?"

The chemist permitted himself to smile at the blunt terms of the
inquiry.

"In the ordinary way I don't stock it," he replied. "This is a small
quantity which I had over from my own use."

"Your own use? Oh, then it has a use after all?"

"No, scarcely that. Some time ago it leaked out in a corner of the
photographic world that a great revolution in colour photography was on
the point of realisation by the use of bhurine in one of the processes.
I, among others, at once took it up. Unfortunately it was another
instance of a discovery that is correct in theory breaking down in
practice. Nothing came of it."

"Dear, dear me," said Carrados softly, with sympathetic understanding in
his voice; "what a pity. You are interested in photography, Mr.
Lightcraft?"

"It is the hobby of my life, sir. Of course most chemists dabble in it
as a part of their business, but I devote all my spare time to
experimenting. Colour photography in particular."

"Colour photography; yes. It has a great future. This bhurine process--I
suppose it would have been of considerable financial value if it had
worked?"

Mr. Lightcraft laughed quietly and rubbed his hands together. For the
moment he had forgotten Loudham and the annoying case and lived in his
enthusiasm.

"I should rather say it would, Mr. Carrados," he replied. "It would have
been the most epoch-marking thing since Gaudin produced the first dry
plate in '54. Consider it--the elaborate processes of Dyndale, Eiloff
and Jupp reduced to the simplicity of a single contact print giving the
entire range of chromatic variation. Financially it will scarcely bear
thinking about by artificial light."

"Was it widely taken up?" asked Carrados.

"The bhurine idea?"

"Yes. You spoke of the secret leaking out. Were many in the know?"

"Not at all. The group of initiates was only a small one and I should
imagine that, on reflection, every man kept it to himself. It certainly
never became public. Then when the theory was definitely exploded, of
course no one took any further interest in it."

"Were all who were working on the same lines known to you, Mr.
Lightcraft?"

"Well, yes; more or less I suppose they would be," said the chemist
thoughtfully. "You see, the man who stumbled on the formula was a member
of the Iris--a society of those interested in this subject, of which I
was the secretary--and I don't think it ever got beyond the committee."

"How long ago was this?"

"A year--eighteen months. It led to unpleasantness and broke up the
society."

"Suppose it happened to come to your knowledge that one of the original
circle was quietly pursuing his experiments on the same lines with
bhurine--what should you infer from it?"

Mr. Lightcraft considered. Then he regarded Carrados with a sharp,
almost a startled, glance and then he fell to biting his nails in
perplexed uncertainty.

"It would depend on who it was," he replied.

"Was there by any chance one who was unknown to you by sight but whose
address you were familiar with?"

"Paulden!" exclaimed Mr. Lightcraft. "Paulden, by heaven! I do believe
you're right. He was the ablest of the lot and he never came to the
meetings--a corresponding member. Southem, the original man who struck
the idea, knew Paulden and told him of it. Southem was an impractical
genius who would never be able to make anything work. Paulden--yes,
Paulden it was who finally persuaded Southem that there was nothing in
it. He sent a report to the same effect to be read at one of the
meetings. So Paulden is taking up bhurine again--"

"Where does he live?" inquired Carrados.

"Ivor House, Wilmington Lane, Enstead. As secretary I have written there
a score of times."

"It is on the Great Western-Paddington," commented the blind man.
"Still, can you get out the addresses of the others in the know, Mr.
Lightcraft?"

"Certainly, certainly. I have the book of membership. But I am convinced
now that Paulden was the man. I believe that I did actually see him once
some years ago, but he has grown a moustache since."

"If you had been convinced of that a few days ago it would have saved us
some awkwardness," volunteered Mr. Carlyle with a little dignified
asperity.

"When you came before, Mr. Carlyle, you were so convinced yourself of it
being Mr. Loudham that you wouldn't hear of me thinking of anyone else,"
retorted the chemist. "You will bear me out so that I never positively
identified him as my customer. Now here is the book. Southem, Potter's
Bar. Voynich, Islington. Crawford, Streatham Hill. Brown, Southampton
Row. Vickers, Clapham Common. Tidey, Fulham. All those I knew quite
well--associated with them week after week. Williams I didn't know so
closely. He is dead. Bigwood has gone to Canada. I don't think anyone
else was in the bhurine craze--as we called it afterwards."

"But now? What would you call it now?" queried Carrados.

"Now? Well, I hope that you will get me out of having to turn up at
court and that sort of thing, Mr. Carrados. If Paulden is going on
experimenting with bhurine again on the sly, I shall want all my spare
time to do the same myself!"

A few hours later the two investigators rang the bell of a substantial
detached house in Enstead, the little country town twenty miles out in
Berkshire, and asked to see Mr. Paulden.

"It is no good taking Lightcraft to identify the man," Carrados had
decided. "If Paulden denied it, our friend's obliging record in that
line would put him out of court."

"I maintain an open mind on the subject," Carlyle had replied.
"Lightcraft is admittedly a very bending reed, but there is no reason
why he should not have been right before and wrong to-day."

They were shown into a ceremonial reception-room to wait. Mr. Carlyle
diagnosed snug circumstances and the tastes of an indoors, comfort-loving
man in the surroundings.

The door opened, but it was to admit a middle-aged matronly lady with
good-humour and domestic capability proclaimed by every detail of her
smiling face and easy manner.

"You wished to see my husband?" she asked with friendly courtesy.

"Mr. Paulden? Yes, we should like to," replied Carlyle, with his most
responsive urbanity. "It is a matter that need not occupy more than a
few minutes."

"He is very busy just now. If it has to do with the election"--a local
contest was at its height--"he is not interested in politics and
scarcely ever votes." Her manner was not curious, but merely reflected a
business-like desire to save trouble all round.

"Very sensible too, very sensible indeed," almost warbled Mr. Carlyle
with instinctive cajolery. "After all," he continued, mendaciously
appropriating as his own an aphorism at which he had laughed heartily a
few days before in the theatre, "after all, what does an election do but
change the colour of the necktie of the man who picks our pockets? No,
no, Mrs. Paulden, it is merely a--um--quite personal matter."

The lady looked from one to the other with smiling amiability.

"Some little mystery," her expression seemed to say. "All right; I don't
mind, only perhaps I could help you if I knew."

"Mr. Paulden is in his dark-room now," was what she actually did say.
"I am afraid, I am really afraid that I shan't be able to persuade him
to come out unless I can take a definite message."

"One understands the difficulty of tempting an enthusiast from his
work," suggested Carrados, speaking for the first time. "Would it be
permissible to take us to the door of the dark-room, Mrs. Paulden, and
let us speak to your husband through it?"

"We can try that way," she acquiesced readily, "if it is really so
important."

"I think so," he replied.

The dark-room lay across the hall. Mrs. Paulden conducted them to the
door, waited a moment and then knocked quietly.

"Yes?" sang out a voice, rather irritably one might judge, from inside.

"Two gentlemen have called to see you about something, Lance--"

"I cannot see anyone when I am in here," interrupted the voice with
rising sharpness. "You know that, Clara--"

"Yes, dear," she said soothingly; "but listen. They are at the door here
and if you can spare the time just to come and speak you will know
without much trouble if their business is as important as they think."

"Wait a minute," came the reply after a moment's pause, and then they
heard someone approach the door from the other side.

It was a little difficult to know exactly how it happened in the obscure
light of the corner of the hall. Carrados had stepped nearer to the door
to speak. Possibly he trod on Mr. Carlyle's toe, for there was a
confused movement; certainly he put out his hand hastily to recover
himself. The next moment the door of the dark-room jerked open, the
light was let in and the warm odours of a mixed and vitiated atmosphere
rolled out. Secure in the well-ordered discipline of his excellent
household, Mr. Paulden had neglected the precaution of locking himself
in.

"Confound it all," shouted the incensed experimenter in a towering rage,
"confound it all, you've spoiled the whole thing now!"

"Dear me," apologised Carrados penitently, "I am so sorry. I think it
must have been my fault, do you know. Does it really matter?"

"Matter!" stormed Mr. Paulden, recklessly flinging open the door fully
now to come face to face with his disturbers--"matter letting a flood
of light into a darkroom in the middle of a delicate experiment!"

"Surely it was very little," persisted Carrados.

"Pshaw," snarled the angry gentleman; "it was enough. You know the
difference between light and dark, I suppose?" Mr. Carlyle suddenly
found himself holding his breath, wondering how on earth Max had
conjured that opportune challenge to the surface.

"No," was the mild and deprecating reply--the appeal ad misericordiam
that had never failed him yet--"no, unfortunately I don't, for I am
blind. That is why I am so awkward."

Out of the shocked silence Mrs. Paulden gave a little croon of pity. The
moment before she had been speechless with indignation on her husband's
behalf. Paulden felt as though he had struck a suffering animal. He
stammered an apology and turned away to close the unfortunate door. Then
he began to walk slowly down the hall.

"You wished to see me about something?" he remarked, with matter-of-fact
civility. "Perhaps we had better go in here." He indicated the
reception-room where they had waited and followed them in. The admirable
Mrs. Paulden gave no indication of wishing to join the party.

Carrados came to the point at once.

"Mr. Carlyle," he said, indicating his friend, "has recently been acting
for the prosecution in a case of alleged poisoning that the Public
Prosecutor has now taken up. I am interested in the defence. Both sides
are thus before you, Mr. Paulden."

"How does this concern me?" asked Paulden with obvious surprise.

"You are experimenting with bhurine. The victim of this alleged crime
undoubtedly lost his life by bhurine poisoning. Do you mind telling us
when and where you acquired your stock of this scarce substance?"

"I have had--"

"No--a moment, Mr. Paulden, before you reply," struck in Carrados with
arresting hand. "You must understand that nothing so grotesque as to
connect you with a crime is contemplated. But a man is under arrest and
the chief point against him is the half-ounce of bhurine that
Lightcraft of Trenion Street sold to someone at half-past five last
Wednesday fortnight. Before you commit yourself to any statement that it
may possibly be difficult to recede from, you should realise that this
inquiry will be pushed to the very end."

"How do you know that I am using bhurine?"

"That," parried Carrados, "is a blind man's secret."

"Oh, well. And you say that someone has been arrested through this
fact?"

"Yes. Possibly you have read something of the St. Abbots mushroom
poisoning case?"

"I have no interest in the sensational ephemera of the Press. Very well;
it was I who bought the bhurine from Lightcraft that Wednesday
afternoon. I gave a false name and address, I must admit. I had a
sufficient private reason for so doing."

"This knocks what is vulgarly termed 'the stuffing' out of the case for
the prosecution," observed Carlyle, who had been taking a note. "It may
also involve you in some trouble yourself, Mr. Paulden."

"I don't think that you need regard that very seriously in the
circumstances," said Carrados reassuringly.

"They must find some scapegoat, you know," persisted Mr. Carlyle.
"Loudham will raise Cain over it."

"I don't think so. Loudham, as the prosecution will roundly tell him,
has only himself to thank for not giving a satisfactory account of his
movements. Loudham will be lectured, Lightcraft will be fined the
minimum, and Mr. Paulden will, I imagine, be told not to do it again."

The man before them laughed bitterly.

"There will be no occasion to do it again," he remarked. "Do you know
anything of the circumstances?"

"Lightcraft told us something connected with colour photography. You
distrust Mr. Lightcraft, I infer?"

Mr. Paulden came down to the heart-easing medium of the street.

"I've had some once, thanks," was what he said with terse expression.
"Let me tell you. About eighteen months ago I was on the edge of a great
discovery in colour photography. It was my discovery, whatever you may
have heard. Bhurine was the medium, and not being then so cautious or
suspicious as I have reason to be now, and finding it difficult--really
impossible--to procure this substance casually, I sent in an order to
Lightcraft to procure me a stock. Unfortunately, in a moment of
enthusiasm I had hinted at the anticipated results to a man who was then
my friend--a weakling called Southem. Comparing notes with Lightcraft
they put two and two together and in a trice most of the secret boiled
over.

"If you have ever been within an ace of a monumental discovery you will
understand the torment of anxiety and self-reproach that possessed me.
For months the result must have trembled in the balance, but even as it
evaded me, so it evaded the others. And at last I was able to spread
conviction that the bhurine process was a failure. I breathed again.

"You don't want to hear of the various things that conspired to baffle
me. I proceeded with extreme caution and therefore slowly. About two
weeks ago I had another foretaste of success and immediately on it a
veritable disaster. By some diabolical mischance I contrived to upset my
stock bottle of bhurine. It rolled down, smashed to atoms on a
developing dish filled with another chemical, and the precious lot was
irretrievably lost. To arrest the experiments at that stage for a day
was to lose a month. In one place and one alone could I hope to
replenish the stock temporarily at such short notice and to do it openly
after my last experience filled me with dismay. Well, you know what
happened, and now, I suppose, it will all come out."

* * * * *

A week after his arrest Philip Loudham and his sister were sitting
together in the drawing-room at Hazlehurst, nervous and expectant.
Loudham had been discharged scarcely six hours before, with such
vindication of his character as the frigid intimation that there was no
evidence against him afforded. On his arrival home he had found a letter
from Max Carrados--a name with which he was now familiar--awaiting
him. There had been other notes and telegrams--messages of sympathy and
congratulation, but the man who had brought about his liberation did not
include these conventionalities. He merely stated that he proposed
calling upon Mr. Loudham at nine o'clock that evening and that he hoped
it would be convenient for him and all other members of the household to
be at home.

"He can scarcely be coming to be thanked," speculated Loudham, breaking
the silence that had fallen on them as the hour approached. "I should
have called on him myself to-morrow."

Mrs. Dupreen assented absent-mindedly. Both were dressed in black, and
both at that moment had the same thought: that they were dreaming this.

"I suppose you won't go on living here, Irene?" continued the brother,
speaking to make the minutes seem tolerable.

This at least had the effect of bringing Mrs. Dupreen back into the
present with a rush.

"Of course not," she replied almost sharply and looking at him direct.
"Why should I, now?"

"Oh, all right," he agreed. "I didn't suppose you would." Then, as the
front-door bell was heard to ring: "Thank heaven!"

"Won't you go to meet him in the hall and bring him in?" suggested Mrs.
Dupreen. "He is blind, you know."

Carrados was carrying a small leather case which he allowed Loudham to
relieve him of, together with his hat and gloves. The introduction to
Mrs. Dupreen was made, the blind man put in touch with a chair, and then
Philip Loudham began to rattle off the acknowledgment of gratitude of
which he had been framing and rejecting openings for the last half-hour.

"I'm afraid it's no good attempting to thank you for the extraordinary
service that you've rendered me, Mr. Carrados," he began, "and, above
all, I appreciate the fact that, owing to you, it has been possible to
keep Mrs. Guestling's name entirely out of the case. Of course you know
all about that, and my sister knows, so it isn't worth while beating
about the bush. Well, now that I shall have something like a decent
income of my own, I shall urge Kitty--Mrs. Guestling--to apply for the
divorce that she is richly entitled to, and when that is all settled we
shall marry at once and try to forget the experiences on both sides that
have led up to it. I hope," he added tamely, "that you don't consider us
really much to blame?"

Carrados shook his head in mild deprecation.

"That is an ethical point that has lain outside the scope of my
inquiry," he replied. "You would hardly imagine that I should disturb
you at such a time merely to claim your thanks. Has it occurred to you
why I should have come?"

Brother and sister exchanged looks and by their silence gave reply.

"We have still to find who poisoned Charlie Winpole."

Loudham stared at their guest in frank bewilderment. Mrs. Dupreen almost
closed her eyes. When she spoke it was in a pained whisper.

"Is there anything more to be gained by pursuing that idea, Mr.
Carrados?" she asked pleadingly. "We have passed through a week of
anguish, coming upon a week of grief and great distress. Surely all has
been done that can be done?"

"But you would have justice for your nephew if there has been foul
play?" Mrs. Dupreen made a weary gesture of resignation. It was Loudham
who took up the question.

"Do you really mean, Mr. Carrados, that there is any doubt about the
cause?"

"Will you give me my case, please? Thank you." He opened it and produced
a small paper bag. "Now a newspaper, if you will." He opened the bag and
poured out the contents. "You remember stating at the inquest, Mrs.
Dupreen, that the mushrooms you bought looked rather dry? They were dry,
there is no doubt, for they had then been gathered four days. Here are
some more under precisely the same conditions. They looked, in point of
fact, like these?"

"Yes," admitted the lady, beginning to regard Carrados with a new and
curious interest.

"Dr. Slark further stated that the only fungus containing the poison
bhurine--the Amanita called the Black Cap, and also by the country folk
the Devil's Scent Bottle--did not assume its forbidding appearance
until maturity. He was wrong in one sense there, for experiment proved
that if the Black Cap is gathered in its young and deceptive stage and
kept, it assumes precisely the same appearance as it withers as if it
was ripening naturally. You observe." He opened a second bag and,
shaking out the contents, displayed another little heap by the side of
the first. "Gathered four days ago," he explained.

"Why, they are as black as ink," commented Loudham. "And the, phew!
aroma!"

"One would hardly have got through without you seeing it, Mrs. Dupreen?"

"I certainly hardly think so," she admitted.

"With due allowance for Lackington's biased opinion I also think that
his claim might be allowed. Finally, it is incredible that whoever
peeled the mushrooms should have passed one of these. Who was the cook
on that occasion, Mrs. Dupreen?"

"My maid Hilda. She does all the cooking."

"The one who admitted me?"

"Yes; she is the only servant I have, Mr. Carrados."

"I should like to have her in, if you don't mind."

"Certainly, if you wish it. She is"--Mrs. Dupreen felt that she must
put in a favourable word before this inexorable man pronounced
judgment--"she is a very good, straightforward girl."

"So much the better."

"I will--" Mrs. Dupreen rose and began to cross the room. "Ring for
her? Thank you," and whatever her intention had been the lady rang
the bell.

"Yes, ma'am?"

A neat, modest-mannered girl, simple and nervous, with a face as full,
as clear and as honest as an English apple. "A pity," thought Mrs.
Dupreen, "that this confident, suspicious man cannot see her now."

"Come in, Hilda. This gentleman wants to ask you something."

"Yes, ma' am." The round, blue eyes went appealingly to Carrados, fell
upon the fungi spread out before her, and then circled the room with an
instinct of escape.

"You remember the night poor Charlie died, Hilda," said Carrados in his
suavest tones, "you cooked some mushrooms for his supper, didn't you?"

"No, sir," came the glib reply.

"'No,' Hilda!" exclaimed Mrs. Dupreen in wonderment. "You mean 'yes,'
surely, child. Of course you cooked them. Don't you remember?"

"Yes, ma'am," dutifully replied Hilda.

"That is all right," said the blind man reassuringly. "Nervous witnesses
very often answer at random at first. You have nothing to be afraid of,
my good girl, if you will tell the truth. I suppose you know a mushroom
when you see it?"

"Yes, sir," was the rather hesitating reply.

"There was nothing like this among them?" He held up one of the
poisonous sort.

"No, sir; indeed there wasn't, sir. I should have known then."

"You would have known then? You were not called at the inquest, Hilda?"

"No, sir."

"If you had been, what would you have told them about these mushrooms
that you cooked?"

"I--I don't know, sir."

"Come, come, Hilda. What could you have told them--something that we do
not know? The truth, girl, if you want to save yourself?" Then with a
sudden, terrible directness the question cleft her trembling,
guilt-stricken little brain: "Where did you get the other mushrooms from
that you put with those that your mistress brought?"

The eyes that had been mostly riveted to the floor leapt to Carrados for
a single frightened glance, from Carrados to her mistress, to Philip
Loudham, and to the floor again. In a moment her face changed and she
was in a burst of sobbing.

"Oho, oho, oho!" she wailed. "I didn't know; I didn't know. I meant no
harm; indeed I didn't, ma'am."

"Hilda! Hilda!" exclaimed Mrs. Dupreen in bewilderment. "What is it
you're saying? What have you done?"

"It was his own fault. Oho, oho, oho!" Every word was punctuated by a
gasp. "He always was a little pig and making himself ill with food. You
know he was, ma'am, although you were so fond of him. I'm sure I'm not
to blame."

"But what was it? What have you done?" besought her mistress. "It was
after you went out on that afternoon. He put on his things and slipped
down into the kitchen without the master knowing. He said what you were
getting for his dinner, ma'am, and that you never got enough of them.
Then he told me not to tell about his being down, because he'd seen some
white things from his bedroom window growing by the hedge at the bottom
of the garden and he was going to get them. He brought in four or five
and said they were mushrooms and asked me to cook them with the others
and not say anything because you'd say too many were not good for him.
And I didn't know any difference. Indeed I'm telling you the truth,
ma'am."

"Oh, Hilda, Hilda!" was torn reproachfully from Mrs. Dupreen. "You know
what we've gone through. Why didn't you tell us this before?"

"I was afraid. I was afraid of what they'd do. And no one ever guessed
until I thought I was safe. Indeed I meant no harm to anyone, but I was
afraid that they'd punish me instead." Carrados had risen and was
picking up his things.

"Yes," he said, half musing to himself, "I knew it must exist: the one
explanation that accounts for everything and cannot be assailed. We have
reached the bed-rock of truth at last."



THE EASTERN MYSTERY

No record of prior publication found


IT could scarcely be called Harris's fault, whatever the
driver next behind might say in the momentary bitterness of his heart. In the
two-fifths of a second of grace at his disposal Mr Carrados's chauffeur had
done all that was possible and the dent that his radiator gave the
stair-guard of the London General in front was insignificant. Then a Railway
Express Delivery skated on its dead weight into his luggage platform and a
Pickford, turning adroitly out of the mêlée, slewed a stationary Gearless
round by its hand-rail stanchion to spread terror among the other line of
traffic.

The most unconcerned person, to all appearance, was the driver of the
London General, the vehicle whose sudden stoppage had initiated the riot of
confusion. He had seen a man, engrossed to the absolute exclusion of his
surroundings by something that took his eye on the opposite footpath, dash
into the road and then, brought up suddenly by a realisation of his position,
attempt to retrace his steps. He had pulled up so expertly that the man
escaped, so smoothly that not a passenger was jarred, and now he sat with a
dazed and vacant expression on his face, leaning forward on his steering
wheel, while caustic inquiry and retort winged unheeded up and down the line
behind him.

It was not until the indispensable ceremony of everyone taking everyone
else's name and number had been observed under the authority of the tutelary
constable that the single occupant of the private car stirred to show any
interest in the proceedings.

"Parkinson," he called quietly, summoning his attendant to the window.
"Ask Mr Tulloch if he will come round here when he has finished with the
policeman."

"Mr Tulloch, sir?"

"Yes; you remember Dr Tulloch of Netherhempsfield? He is on in front
there."

A moment later Jim Tulloch, as genial as of old, but his exuberance
temporarily damped by the cross-bickering in which he had just been involved,
thrust his head and arm through the sash.

"Lord, lord, it really is you then, Wynn, old man?" he cried. "When your
Parkinson came up I couldn't believe it for a minute, simply couldn't believe
it. The world grows smaller, I declare."

"At all events this car does," responded Carrados, wringing the hearty,
outstretched hand. "They've got us two inches less than the makers ever
intended. Is it really your doing, Jim?"

"Did ever you hear such a thing?" protested Tulloch. "And yet that
wall-eyed atrocity yonder has kidded the copper that if he hadn't stopped
dead--well, I should."

"Was it a near thing?" asked Carrados confidentially.

"Well, strictly between ourselves, I don't mind admitting that it might
have been something of a shave," confessed Tulloch, with a cheerful grin.
"But, lord bless you, Wynn, the streets of London are paved with 'em
nowadays, paved with them. You don't merely take your life in your hands if
you want to get about; you carry it on each foot."

"Look here," said Carrados. "You never let me know that you were up in
town, Tulloch. What are you doing to-day?"

"I beg your pardon, sir," interrupted Parkinson's respectful voice, "but
the policeman wishes to speak with you, sir."

"With me?" queried Tulloch restlessly. "Oh, good lord! have we to go into
all that again?"

"It's only the bus-driver, sir," apologised the constable with the tactful
deference that the circumstances seemed to demand. "As you are a
doctor--I think there's something the matter with him."

"I'm sure there is," assented Tulloch. "All right, I'm coming. Are you in
a hurry, Wynn?"

"I'll wait," was the reply.

The doctor found his patient propped up on a doorstep. Having, as he
expressed it afterwards, "run the rule over him," he prescribed a glass of
water and an hour's rest. The man was shaken, that was all.

"Nerves, Wynn," he announced when he returned to his friend. "I don't
quite understand his emotion, but the shock of not having run over me seems
to have upset the poor fellow."

"I was asking you whether you were doing anything to-day," said Carrados.
"Can you come back with me to Richmond?"

"I'm not doing anything as far as that goes," admitted Tulloch. "In fact,"
he added ruefully, "that's the plague of it. I'm waiting to hear from a man
who's waiting to hear from another man, and he's depending on something that
may or mayn't, you understand."

"Then you can come along now anyway. Get in."

"If it's dinner you mean, I can't come straight away, you know," protested
Tulloch. "Look at me togs"-he stood back to display a serviceable Norfolk
suit-"all right for the six-thirty sharp of a Bloomsbury boarding-house,
but--eh, what?"

"Don't be an ass, Jim," said the blind man amiably. "I can't see your
silly togs."

"No ladies or any of your tony friends?"

"Not a soul."

"The fact is," confided Tulloch, taking his place in the car, "I've been
out of things for a bit, Wynn, and I'm finding civilisation a shade cast-iron
now. I've been down in the wilds since you were with me."

"I wondered where you were. I wrote to you about six months ago and the
letter came back."

"Did it actually? Now that must have been almighty careless of someone,
Wynn. I'm sorry; I'm a bit of a rolling stone, I suppose. When Darrish came
back to Netherhempsfield my job was done there. I felt uncommonly restless. I
hadn't much chance of buying a practice or dropping into a partnership worth
having and I jibbed at setting up in some God-forsaken backwater and slipping
into middle age 'building up a connection.' Lord, lord, Carrados, the tragic
monotony of your elderly professional nonentity! I've known men who've
whispered to me between the pulls at confidential pipes that they've come to
hate the streets and the houses and the same old everlasting silly faces that
they met day after day until they began to think very queer thoughts of how
they might get away from it all."

"Yes," said Carrados.

"Anyway, 'Not yet,' I promised myself, and when I got the chance of a
temporary thing on a Red Cable liner I took it like a shot. That was
something. If there was a mighty sameness about it after a bit, it wasn't the
sameness I'd been accustomed to. Then, as luck of one sort or another would
have it, I got laid out with a broken ankle on a Bombay quay."

Carrados voiced commiseration.

"But you made a very good mend of it," he said. "It's the left, of course.
I don't suppose anyone ever notices it."

"I took care of that," replied Tulloch. "But it was a slow business and
threw all my plans out. I was on a very loose end when one day, outside the
Secretariat, as they call it, I ran up against a man called Fraser whom I'd
known building a viaduct or something of that sort in the Black Country.

"'What on earth are you, doing here?' we naturally both said at once, and
he was the first to reply.

"'I'm just off to repair an irrigation "bund" a thousand miles more or
less away, and I'm looking for a doctor who can speak six words of
Hindustani, and doesn't mind things as they are, to physic the camp. What are
you doing?'

"'Good lord! old man,' I said, 'I was looking for you!'"

It only required an occasional word to keep Tulloch going, and Carrados
supplied it. He heard much that did not interest him--of the journey
inland, of the face of the country, the surprising weather, the great work of
irrigation and the other impressive wonders of man and nature. These things
could be got from books, but among the weightier cargo Tulloch now and again
touched off some inimitable phase of life or told an uninventable anecdote of
native character that lived. Yet the buoyant doctor had something on his
mind, for several times he stopped abruptly on the edge of a reminiscence, as
though he was doubtful, if not of the matter, at least of the manner in which
he should begin. These indications were not lost on his friend, but Carrados
made no attempt to press him, being very well assured that sooner or later
the ingenuous Jim would find himself beyond retreat. The occasion came with
the cigarettes after dinner. There had been a reference to the language.

"I often wished that I was a better stick at it," said Tulloch. "I'd
picked up a bit in Bombay and of course I threw myself into it when Fraser
got me the post. I managed pretty well with the coolies in the camp, but
w"hen I tried to have a word with the ryots living round--little
twopenny ha'penny farmers, you know--I could make no show of it. A lot
of queer fish you come across out there, in one way or another, you take my
word. You never know whether a man's a professional saint of extreme holiness
or a hereditary body-snatcher whose shadow would make a begging leper
consider himself unclean until he had walked seventy miles to drink a cupful
of filthy water out of a stinking pond that a pock-marked ascetic had been
sitting in for three years in order to contemplate quietly."

"Possibly he really was unclean--in consequence or otherwise,"
suggested Carrados.

"Help!" exclaimed Tulloch tragically. "There are things that have to be
seen. But then so was the sanctified image, so that there's nothing for an
outsider to go by. And lien all the different little lots with their own
particular little heavens and their own one exclusive way of getting there,
and their social frills and furbelows--Jats and Jains and Thugs and
Mairs and Gonds and Bhills and Toms, Dicks and Harrys--suburban society
is nothing to it, Wynn, nothing at all. There was a strange old joker I've
had in mind to tell you about, though it was no joke for him in the end. God
alone knows where he came from, but he was in the camp one evening juggling
for stray coppers in a bowl. Pretty good juggling too it seemed to be, of the
usual Indian kind--growing a plant out of a pumpkin seed, turning a
stick into a live snake, and the old sword and basket trick that every
Eastern conjurer keeps up his sleeve; but all done out in the open, with
people squatting round and a simplicity of appliance that would have taken
all the curl out of one of your music-hall magicians. With him he had a boy,
his son, a misshapen, monkey-like anatomy of about ten, but there was no
doubt that the man was desperately fond of his unattractive offspring.

"That night this ungainly urchin, taking a cooler in one of the big
irrigation canals, got laid hold of by an alligator and raised the most
unearthly screech anything human--if he really was human--ever got
out. I seemed to have had something prominent to do with the damp job of
getting as much of him away from the creature as we could, and old
Calico--that's what we anglicised the juggler's name into--had some
sort of idea of being grateful in consequence. Although I don't doubt that
he'd have put much more faith in a local wizard if one had been available, he
let us take the boy into the hospital tent and do what we could for him. It
wasn't much, and I told my assistant to break it to poor old Calico that he
must be prepared for the worst. A handy man, that assistant, Wynn. He was a
half-bred 'Portugoose,' as they say in Bombay, with the name of Vasque
d'Almeydo, and I understood that he'd had some training. When we got out
there he said that it was all the same to him, but he admitted quite blandly
that he was really a cook and nothing more. What about his excellent
testimonials? I asked him, and he replied with cheerful impenitence that he
had hired them in the open market for one rupee eight, adding feelingly that
he would willingly have given twice as much to qualify for my honourable
service. In the end he did pretty much as he liked, and as he could speak
five languages and scramble through seven dialects I was glad to have him
about on any terms. I don't quite know how he broke it, but when I saw him
later he said that Calico was a 'great dam fool.' He was a conjurer and knew
how tricks were done and yet he had set out at once for some place thirty
miles away-to procure a charm of some sort, the Portuguese would swear from a
hint he had got. Vasque--of course by this time he'd become Valasquez to
us--laughed pleasantly as he commented on native credulity. He was a
Roman Catholic himself, so that he could afford it. The next day the boy died
and an hour later poor Calico came reeling in. He'd got a nasty cut over the
eye and a map of the route drawn over him in thorns and blisters and
sand-burns, but he'd got something wrapped away in a bit of rag carried in
the left armpit, and I felt for the poor old heathen. When he understood, he
borrowed a spade and, taking up the child just as he was, he went off into
the pagan solitude to bury him. I'd got used to these simple ways by that
time.

"I thought that I'd seen the end of the incident, but late that night I
heard the sentry outside challenge someone--we'd had so many tools and
things looted by 'friendlies' that they'd lent us half a company of Sikhs
from Kharikhas--and a moment later Calico was salaaming at the tent
door. As it happened, Valasquez was away at a thing they called a village
trafficking for some ducks, and I had to grapple with the conversation as
best I could--no joke, I may tell you, for the juggler's grasp on
conventional Urdu was about as slender as my own. And the first thing he did
was to put his paws on to my astonished feet, then up to his forehead, and to
prostrate himself to the ground.

"'Sahib,' he protested earnestly, 'I am thy slave and docile elephant for
that which thou hast done for the man-child of my house.'

"Now you know, Carrados, I simply can't stand that sort of thing. It makes
me feel such a colossal ass. So I tried, ungraciously enough I dare swear, to
cut him short. But it couldn't be done. Poor old Calico had come to discharge
what weighed on him as a formidable obligation and my 'Don't mention it, old
chap,' style was quite out of the picture. Finally, from some obscure fold of
his outfit, he produced a little screw of cloth and began to unwrap it.

"'Take it, O sahib, and treasure it as you would a cup of water in the
desert, for it has great virtue of the hidden kind. Condescend to accept it,
for it is all I have worthy of so great a burden.'

"'I couldn't think-of it, Khaligar,' I said, trying to give his name a
romantic twist, for the other sounded like guying him. 'I've done nothing,
you know, and in any case this is much more likely to work with you than with
me--an unbeliever. What is it, anyway?'

"'It is the sacred tooth of the ape-god Hanuman and its protects from
harm,' he replied, reverently displaying what looked to me like an old rusty
nail. 'Had I but been able to touch so much as the hem of the garment of my
manlet with it before the hour of his outgoing he would assuredly have
recovered.'

"'Then keep it for your own protection, ' I urged. 'I expect that you run
more risks that I do.'

"'When the flame has been extinguished from a candle the smoke lingers but
a moment before it also fades away,' he replied. 'Thy mean servant has no
wish to live now that the light of his eyes has gone out, nor does he seek to
avert by magic that which is written on his forehead.'

"?'Then it is witchcraft?' I said, pointing to the amulet.

"'I know not, my lord,' he answered; 'but if it be witchcraft it is of the
honourable sort and not the goety of Sahitan. For this cause it is only of
avail to one who acquires it without treachery or guile. Take it, sahib, but
'do 'not suffer it to become known even to those of your own table.'

"'Why not?' I asked.

"'Who should boast of pearls in a camp of armed bandits?' he replied
evasively. 'A word spoken in a locked closet becomes a beacon on the hill-top
for men to see. Yet have no fear; harm cannot come to you, for your hand is
free from complicity.'

"I hadn't wanted the thing before, but that settled me. I very much
doubted how the conjurer had got possession of it and I had no wish to be
mixed up in an affair of any sort. I told him definitely that while I
appreciated his motives I shouldn't deprive him of so great a treasure. He
seemed really concerned, and Fraser told me afterwards that for one of that
tribe to be under what he regarded as an unrequited obligation was a
dishonour. I should probably have had some trouble to get him off, only just
then we heard Valasquez returning. Calico hastily wrapped up the relic,
stowed it away among his wardrobe and, with his most ceremonious salaam,
disappeared.

"'Do you know anything about the tooth of the ape-god Hanuman, Valasquez?'
I asked him some time later. The 'Portugoose' seemed to know a little about
everything and in consequence of my dependence on him he strayed into a
rather more free and easy manner than might have passed under other
conditions. But I'm not ceremonious, you know, Wynn." And Carrados laughed
and agreed.

"'The sacred tooth of Sira Hanuman, sir?' said Valasquez. 'Oh, that's all
great tom dam foolery. There are a hundred million of them. The most notable
one was worshipped at the Mountain of Adam in Ceylon until it was captured by
my ancestor, the illustrious Admiral d'Almeydo, who sent it with much pomp
and circumstance to Goa. Then the Princes of Malabar offered a ransom of
rupees, forty lakhs, for it, which the Bishop of Goa refused, like a dam
great fool!'

"'What became of it?' I asked, but Valasquez didn't know. He was somewhat
of a liar, in fact, and I dare say that he'd made it all up to show off his
knowledge."

"No," objected Carrados; "I think that Baldseus, the Dutch historian, has
a similar tale. What happened to Calico?"

"That was the worst of it. Some of our men found his body lying among the
tamarisk scrub two days later. There was no doubt that he'd been murdered,
and not content with that, the ghouls had mutilated him shamefully
afterwards. Even his cheeks were slashed open. So, you see, the tooth of
Hanuman had not protected him."

"No," assented Carrados, "it had certainly net protected him. Was anything
done--anyone arrested?"

"I don't think so. You know what the natives are in a case like that: no
one knows anything, even if they have been looking on at the time. I suppose
a report would be sent up, but I never heard anything more. I always had a
suspicion that Calico, with his blend of simple faith and gipsy blood, had
violated a temple, or looted a shrine, to save his son's life, and that the
guardians of the relic tracked him and revenged the outrage. Anyway, I was
glad that I hadn't accepted it after that, for I had enough excitement
without."

"What was that, Jim?"

"Oh, I don't know, but I always seemed to be running up against something
about that time. Twice my tent was turned inside out in my absence, once my
clothes were spirited away while I was bathing, and the night before we broke
up the camp I was within an ace of being murdered."

"You bear a charmed life," said Carrados suggestively, but Tulloch did not
rise to the suggestion.

"It was a bit of luck. Those dacoits are as quiet as death, but for some
reason I woke suddenly with the idea that devilment was brewing. I slipped on
the first few things that came to hand and went to reconnoitre. As I passed
through the canvas I came face to face with a native, and two others were
only a few yards behind. Without any ceremony the near man let drive at my
throat with one of those beastly wavy daggers they go in for. I suppose I
managed to dodge in the fraction of a second, for he missed me. I gave a yell
for assistance, landed the leader one in the eye and backed into my tent for
a weapon. By the time I was out again our fellows were running up, but the
precious trio had disappeared."

"That was the last you saw of them?" asked Carrados tentatively.

"No, queerly enough. The day I sailed I encountered the one whose eye I
had touched up. It was down by the water--the Apollo Bander--at
Bombay, and I was so taken aback, never thinking but that the fellow was
hundreds of miles away, that I did nothing but stare. But I promised myself
that in the unlikely event of ever seeing him again I would follow him up
pretty sharply."

"Not under the wheels of a London General again, I hope!"

Tulloch's brown fist came down upon the table with a crash.

"The devil, Carrados!" he exclaimed. "How did you know?"

"Parkinson was just describing to me a rather exotic figure. Then the rest
followed."

"Well, you were right. There was the man in Holborn, and of all the
fantastic things in the world for a bloodthirsty thug from the back wilds of
Hindustan, I believe that he was selling picture post cards!"

"Possibly a very natural thing to be doing in the circumstances."

"What circumstances, Wynn?"

"Those you are telling me of. Go on."

"That's about all there is. When I saw the man I was so excited, I
suppose, that I started to dash across without another thought. You know the
result. Of course he had vanished by the time I could look round."

"You are quite sure he is the same?"

"There's always the possibility of a mistake, I admit," considered
Tulloch, "but, speaking in ordinary terms, I should say that it's a moral
certainty. On the first occasion it was bright moonlight and the sensational
attack left a very vivid photograph on my mind. In Bombay I had no suspicion
of doubt about the man, and he was still carrying traces of my fist. Here, it
is true, I had less chance of observing him, but recognition was equally
instantaneous and complete. Then consider that each time he has slipped away
at once. No, I am not mistaken. What is he after, Carrados?"

"I am very much afraid that he is after you, my friend," replied Carrados,
with some concern lurking behind the half-amused level of his voice.

"After me!" exclaimed Tulloch with righteous indignation. "Why, confound
his nerve, Wynn, it ought to be the other way about. What's he after me
for?"

"India is a conservative land. The gods do not change. A relic that was
apprised at seven hundred thousand ducats in the days of Queen Elizabeth is
worth following up to-day--apart, of course, from the merit thereby
acquired by a devotee."

"You mean that Calico's charm was the real original thing that Valasquez
spoke of?"

"It is quite possible; or it may be claimed for it even if it is not. Goa
has passed through many vicissitudes; its churches and palaces are now in
ruins. What is more credible--"

"But in any case I haven't got the thing. Surely the old ass needn't
murder me to find out that." The face he appealed to betrayed nothing of the
thoughts behind it. But Carrados's mind was busy with every detail of the
story he had heard, and the more he looked into it the less he felt at ease
for his impetuous friend's safety.

"On the contrary," he replied, "from the pious believer's point of view,
the simplest and most effective way of ascertaining it was to try to murder
you, and your providential escape has only convinced them that you are now
the holder of the charm."

"The deuce!" said Tulloch ruefully. "Then I have dropped into an imbroglio
after all. What's to be done?"

"I wonder," mused the blind man speculatively, "I wonder what really
became of the thing."

"You mean after Calico's death?"

"No, before that. I don't imagine that your entertaining friend had it at
the end. He had nothing to look forward to, you remember; he did not wish to
live. His assassins were those who were concerned in the recovery of the
relic, for why else was he mutilated but in order to discover whether he had
concealed it with more than superficial craft--perhaps even swallowed
it? They found nothing or you would not have engaged their attention. As it
was, they were baffled and had to investigate further. Then they doubtless
learned that you had put this man under an undying obligation, possibly they
even knew that he had visited you the last thing before he left the camp. The
rest has been the natural sequence."

"It seems likely enough in an incredible sort of way," admitted the
doctor. "But I don't see why this old sport should be occupying himself as he
is in the streets of London."

"That remains to be looked into. It may be some propitiatory form of
self-abasement that is so potent in the Oriental system. But it may equally
well be something quite different. If this man is of high priestly authority
there are hundreds of his co-religionists here at hand whose lives he could
command in such a service. He may be in communication with some, or be
contriving to make himself readily accessible. Are there any Indians at your
boarding-house?"

"I have certainly seen a couple recently."

"Recently! Then they came after you did?"

"I don't know about that. I haven't had much to do with the place."

"I don't like it, Jim," said Carrados, with more gravity than he was
accustomed to put into the consideration of his own risks. "I don't like the
hang of it at all."

"Well, for that matter, I'm not exactly pining for trouble," replied his
friend. "But I can take care of myself anyway."

"But you can't," retorted Carrados. "That's just the danger. If you were
blind it would be all right, but your credulous, self-opinionated eyes will
land you in some mess. . . . To-morrow, at all events, Carlyle shall put a
watch on this enterprising Hindu and we shall at least find out what his
movements are." Tulloch would have declined the attention, but Carrados was
insistent.

"You must let me have my way in such an emergency, Tulloch," he declared.
"Of course you would say that it's out of your power to prevent me; but among
friends like you and I one acquiesces to a certain code. I say this because I
may even find it necessary to put a man on you as well. This business
attracts me resistlessly. There's something more in it than we have got at
yet, something that lies beyond the senses and strives to communicate itself
through the unknown dimension that we have all stood just upon the threshold
of, only to find that we have lost the key. It's more elusive than Macbeth's
dagger: 'I have thee not and yet I see thee still'--always just out of
reach. What is it, Jim; can't you help us? Don't you feel something
portentous in the air, or is it only my blind eyes that can see beyond?"

"Not a bit of it," laughed Tulloch cheerfully. "I only feel that a
blighted old heathen is leading himself a rotten dance through his pig-headed
obstinacy. Well, Wynn, why can't he be rounded up and have it explained that
he's on the wrong tack? I don't mind crying quits. I did get in a sweet one
on the eye, and he's had a long journey for nothing. Eh, what?"

"He would not believe." Carrados was pacing the room in one of his rare
periods of mental tension. Instinct, judgment, experience and a subtler
prescience that enveloped reason seemed at variance in his mind. Then he
swung round and faced his visitor.

"Look here, Tulloch, stay with me for the present," he urged. "You can go
there for your things to-morrow and I can fix you up in the meantime. It's
safer; I feel it will be safer."

"Safer! Good lord! what could you have safer than a stodgy second-rate
boarding-house in Hapsburg Square? The place drones respectability. Miss
Vole, the landlady, is related to an arch-deacon and nearly all the people
there are on half-pay. The two Indians are tame baboos. Besides, if I get
this thing I told you of, I shall be off to South America in a few days, and
that ought to shake off this old man of the tooth."

"Of course it won't; nothing will shake him off if he's made the vow.
Well, have your own way. One can't expect a doctor of robust habit to take
any reasonable precautions, I know. How is your room situated?"

"Pretty high up. Next to the attics, I imagine. It must be, because there
is a little trap-door in the ceiling leading there."

"A trap-door leading to the attics! Well, at all events there can't be an
oubliette, I suppose? Nor a four-post bed with a canopy that slides up and
down, Jim; nor a revolving wardrobe before a secret passage in the oak
panels?"

"Get on with you," retorted Tulloch. "It's just the ordinary contrivance
that you find somewhere in every roof when the attics aren't made into rooms.
There's nothing in it."

"Possibly; but there may be some time. Anyway, drive a tack in and hang up
a tin can or something that must clatter down if the door is raised an inch.
You have a weapon, I suppose?"

"Now you're talking, Wynn. I do put some faith in that. I have a grand
little revolver in my bag and I can sleep like a feather when I want."

"Little? What size does it take?"

"Oh, well, it's a .320, if it comes to that. I prefer a moderate bore
myself."

Carrados opened a drawer of his desk and picked up half-a-dozen brass
cartridges.

"When you get back, throw out the old ones and reload with these to oblige
me," he said. "Don't forget."

"Right," assented Tulloch, examining them with interest; "but they look
just like mine. What are they?--something new?"

"Not at all; but we know that they are charged and you can rely on them
going off if they are fired."

"What a chap you are," declared Tulloch with something of the admiring
pity that summed up the general attitude towards Max Carrados. "Well, for
that matter, I must be going off myself, old man. I'm hoping for a letter
about that little job and if it comes I want to answer it to-night. You've
given me a fine time and we've had a great talk."

"I'm glad we met. And if you go away suddenly don't leave it to chance the
next time you are back." He did not seek to detain his guest, for he knew
that Tulloch was building somewhat on the South American appointment. "Shall
Harris run you home?"

"Not a bit of it. I'll enjoy a walk to the station, and these Tubes of
yours'll land me within me loose-box by eleven. It's a fine place, this
London, after all." They had reached the front door, opened it and were
standing for a moment looking towards the yellow cloud that arched the west
end of the city like the mirage of a dawn.

"Well, good-bye, old man," said Tulloch heartily, and they shook hands. At
the touch an extraordinary impulse swept over Carrados to drag his friend
back into the house, to implore him to remain the night at all events, or to
do something to upset the arranged order of things for the next few hours.
With the cessation of physical contact the vehemence of the possession
dwindled away, but the experience, short as it was, left him white and
shaken. He could not trust himself to speak; he waved his hand and, turning
quickly, went back to the room where they had sat together to analyse the
situation and to determine how to act. Presently he rang for his man.

"Some notes were taken after that little touch in Holborn this afternoon,
Parkinson," he said. "Have you the address of the leading motor-bus driver
among them?"

"The London General, sir?"

"Yes; the man who was the first to stop." Parkinson produced his
memorandum book and referred to the latest of its entries.

"He gave his private residence as 14 Cogg's Lane, Brentford, sir."

"Brentford! That is fortunate. I am going to see him to-night if possible.
You will come with me, Parkinson. Tell Harris to get out the car that is the
most convenient. What is the time?"

"Ten-seventeen, sir."

"We will start in fifteen minutes. In the meanwhile just reach me down
that large book labelled 'Xavier' from the top shelf there."

"Yes, sir. Very well, sir. I will convey your instructions to Harris,
sir."

It was perhaps rather late for a casual evening call, but not, apparently,
too late for Cogg's Lane, Brentford. Mr Fitzwilliam--Parkinson had
infused a faint note of protest into his voice when he mentioned the
bus-driver's name--Mr Fitzwilliam was out, but Mrs Fitzwilliam received
the visitor with conspicuous felicity and explained the circumstances.
Fitzwilliam was of a genial, even playful, disposition, but he had come home
brooding and depressed. Mrs Fitzwilliam had not taken any notice of
it--she put it down to his feet-but by cajolery and innuendo she had
persuaded him to go to the picture palace to be cheered up, and as it was now
on the turn of eleven he might be expected back at any moment. In the
meantime the lady had a favourite niece who was suffering--as the doctor
himself confessed--from a very severe and unusual form of adenoids.
Carrados disclosed the fact that the subject of adenoids was one that
interested him deeply. He knew, indeed, of a case that was thought by the
patient's parents to be something out of the way, but even it, he admitted,
was commonplace by the side of the favourite niece. The minutes winged.

"That's Fred," said Mrs Fitzwilliam as the iron gate beyond the little
plot of beaten earth that had once been a garden gave its individual note.
"Seems strange that they should be so ignorant at a hospital, doesn't
it?"

"Hallo, what now?" demanded Mr Fitzwilliam, entering.

Mrs Fitzwilliam made a sufficient introduction and waited for the interest
to develop. So far the point of Carrados's visit had not appeared.

"I believe that you know something about motors?" inquired the blind
man.

"Well, what if I do?" retorted the bus-driver. His attitude was protective
rather than intentionally offensive.

"If you do, I should be glad if you would look at the engine of my car. It
got shaken, I fancy, in a slight accident that we had in Holborn this
afternoon."

"Oh!" The driver looked hard at Mr Carrados, but failed to get behind an
expression of mild urbanity. "Why didn't you say so at first?" he grumbled.
"All right; I'll trot round with you. Shan't be long, missis." He led the way
out and closed the door behind them, not ceasing to regard his visitor with a
distrustful curiosity. At the gate he stopped, having by that time brought
his mind round to the requirements of the situation, and faced Carrados.

"Look here," he said, "what's up? You don't want me to look at no bloomin'
engine, you know. I don't half like the whole bally business, let me tell
you. What's the gaime?"

"It's a very simple game for you if you play it straightforwardly,"
answered Carrados. "I want to know just how much you had to do with saving
that man's life in Holborn to-day."

Fitzwilliam instinctively fell back a step and his gaze on Carrados
quickened in its tensity.

"What d'yer mean?" he demanded with a quality of apprehension in his
voice.

"That is complicating the game," replied Carrados mildly. "You know
exactly what I mean."

"And what if I do?" demanded the driver. "What have you got to do with it,
may I ask?"

"That is very reasonable. I happened to be in the car following you. We
were scraped, but I am not making any claim for paint whatever happened. I am
satisfied that you did very well indeed in the circumstances, and if a letter
to your people--I know one of the directors--saying as much would
be of any use to you--"

"Now we're getting on, sir," was the mollified admission. "You mustn't
mind a bit of freshness, so to speak. You took me by surprise, that's what it
was, and I've been wound up ever since that happened." He hesitated, and then
flung out the question almost with a passionate directness: "What was it,
sir; in God's name, what was it?"

"What was it?" repeated the blind man's level voice persuasively.

"It wasn't me. I couldn't have done nothing. I didn't see the man, not in
time to have an earthly. Then we stopped. Good Gawd, I've never felt a stop
like that before. It was as though a rubber band had tightened and pulled us
up against ten yards squoze into one, so that you didn't hardly know it. I
hadn't nothing to do with it. Not a brake was on, and the throttle open and
the engine running. There we were. And me half silly."

"You did very well," said Carrados soothingly.

"I did nothing. If it had been left to me there'd have been a inquest. You
seem to have noticed something, sir. How do you work it out?" Carrados
parried the question with a disingenuous allusion to the laws of chance. He
had not yet worked it out, but he was not disposed to lay his astonishing
conclusions, so far as they went, before the bus-driver's crude
discrimination. He had learned what he wanted. With a liberal acknowledgment
of the service and a reiteration of his promise to write, he bade Mr
Fitzwilliam good-night and returned to his waiting car.

"Back home, Harris," he directed. He had gone out with some intention of
including Hapsburg Square in his peregrination. He was now assured that his
anxiety was groundless.

But the next morning all his confidence was shattered in a moment. It was
his custom before and during breakfast to read by touch the headings of the
various items in the newspapers and to mark for Greatorex's later reading
such paragraphs as claimed his interest. Generally he could, with some
inconvenience, distinguish even the ordinary type by the same faculty, but
sometimes the inequality of pressure made .this a laborious process. There
was no difficulty about the larger types, however, and with a terrible
misgiving finger-tip and brain had at once grasped the significance of a
prominent heading:

FATAL GAS EXPLOSION
HAPSBURG SQUARE BOARDING-HOUSE IN FLAMES

"Are you there, Parkinson?" he asked. Parkinson could scarcely believe his
well-ordered ears. Not since the early days of his affliction had Carrados
found it necessary to ask such a question.

"Yes, sir, I'm here," he almost stammered in reply.

"I hope you are not unwell, sir?"

"I'm all right, thanks," responded his master dryly--unable even
then not to discover some amusement in having for once scared Parkinson out
of his irreproachable decorum. "I was mentally elsewhere. I want you to read
me this paragraph."

"The one about Dr Tulloch, sir?" The name had caught the man's eye at
once. "Dear, dear me, sir."

"Yes; go on," said Carrados, with his nearest approach to impatience.

"'During the early hours of this morning,'" read Parkinson, "'52 Hapsburg
Square was the scene of a gas explosion which was unhappily attended by loss
of life. Shortly after midnight the neighbourhood was alarmed by the noise of
a considerable explosion which appeared to blow out the window and front wall
of one of the upper bedrooms, but as the part in question was almost
immediately involved in flames it is uncertain what really happened. The
residents of the house, which is a boarding establishment carried on by Miss
Vole (a relative, we are informed, of Arch-deacon Vole of Worpsley), were
quickly made aware of their danger and escaped. The engines arrived within a
few minutes of the alarm and soon averted any danger of the fire spreading.
When it was possible to penetrate into the upper part of the house it was
discovered that the occupant of the bedroom where the explosion took place, a
Dr Tulloch who had only recently returned to this country from India, had
perished. Owing to the charred state of the body it is impossible to judge
how he died, but in all probability he was mercifully killed or at least
rendered unconscious by the force of the explosion.' That is all, sir."

"I ought to have kept him," muttered Carrados reproachfully. "I ought to
have insisted. The thing has been full of mistakes." He could discover very
little further interest in his breakfast and turned to the other papers for
possible enlargement of the details.

"We shall have to go down," he remarked casually. "Say in half-an-hour.
Tell Harris."

"Very well, sir."

Greatorex, just arrived for the day, and diffusing an atmosphere of easy
competence and inoffensively general familiarity, put his head in at the
door.

"Morning, sir," he nodded. "Tulloch's here and wants to see you. Came in
with me. Hullo, Parkinson, seen a ghost?"

"He hasn't yet," volunteered his master. "But we both expect to. Yes, send
him in here. Only one mistake the more, you see," he added to his servant,
"And one the less," he added to himself.

"I might just as well have stayed, you know," was Tulloch's greeting. He
included the still qualmish Parkinson in his genial domination of the room,
and going across to his friend he dropped a weighty hand upon his
shoulder.

"'There are more things in heaven and earth than in your philosophy,
Horatio,'" he barbarously misquoted with significance. "There, you see, Wynn,
I can apply Shakespeare to the situation as well as you."

"Quite so," assented Carrados. "In the meanwhile will you have some
breakfast?"

"It's what I came in the hopes of," admitted the doctor. "That and being
burned out of hearth and home. I thought that I might as well quarter myself
on you for a couple of days. You've seen the papers?" His friend indicated
the still open sheet.

"Ah, that one. _The Morning Reporter_ gave me a better obituary. I
often had a sort of morbid fancy to know what they'd say about me afterwards.
It seemed unattainable, but, like most things, it's a sad disappointment when
it comes. Six lines is the longest, Wynn, and they've got me degree
wrong."

"Whose was the body?" asked Carrados.

Gravity descended upon Tulloch at the question. He looked round to make
sure that Parkinson had left the room.

"No one will ever know, I'm hoping," he replied. "He was charred beyond
recognition. But you know, Wynn, and I know and we can hold our tongues."

"The Indian avenger, of course?"

"Yes. I went round there early this morning expecting nothing and found
the. place a wreck. One can only guess now what happened, but the gas-bracket
is just beneath that trap-door I told you of and there's a light kept burning
in the passage outside. One of the half-pay men brought me a nasty wavy
dagger that had been picked up in the road. 'One of your Indian curiosities,
I suppose, Dr Tulloch?' he remarked. I let it pass at that, for I was
becoming cautious among so much devilment. 'I'm afraid that there's nothing
else of yours left,' he went on, 'and there wouldn't have been this if it
hadn't been blown through the window.' He was quite right. I haven't a thing
left in the world but this now celebrated Norfolk suit that I stand up in,
and, as matters are, I'm jolly well glad you didn't give me time to change
yesterday."

"Ah," assented Carrados thoughtfully. "Still the Norfolk suit, of course.
Tell me, Jim--you had it in India?"

"To be sure I had. It was new then. You know, one doesn't always go about
there in white drill and a cork helmet, as your artists here seem to imagine.
It's cold sometimes, I can tell you. This coat is warm; I got very fond of
it. You can't understand one getting fond of a mere suit, you with your fifty
changes of fine raiment."

"Of course I can. I have a favourite jacket that I would not part from for
rubies, and it's considerably more of an antique than yours. That's still a
serviceable suit, Jim. Come and let me have a look at it."

"What d'ye mean?" said Tulloch, complying half reluctantly. "You're making
fun of me little suit and it's the only thing in the world that stands
between me and the entire."

"Come here," repeated Carrados. "I am not in the least guying. I'm far too
serious. I am more serious, I think, than I have ever been in my life
before." He placed the wondering doctor before him and proceeded to run a
light hand about the details of his garments, turning him round until the
process was complete.

"You wore these clothes when the native you call Calico came to you that
night?"

"It's more than likely. The nights were cold." Carrados seemed strangely
moved. He got up, walked to the window, as his custom was, for enlightenment,
and then, after wandering about the room, touching here and there an object
indecisively, he unlocked a cabinet and slid out a tray of silver coins.

"You've never seen these, have you?" he asked with scanty interest.

"No, what are they?" responded Tulloch, looking on.

"Pagan art at its highest. The worship of the strong and beautiful."

"Worth a bit?" suggested Tulloch knowingly.

"Not what they cost." Carrados shot back the tray and paced the room
again. "You haven't told me yet how you were preserved."

"How ?"

"Last night. You know that you escaped death again."

"I suppose I did. Yes. . . . And do you know why I have been hesitating to
tell you?"

"Why?"

"Because you won't believe me."

Carrados permitted himself to smile a shade.

"Try," he said laconically.

"Well, of course, I quite intended to. ... The sober truth is, Wynn, that
I forgot the address and could not get there. It was the silliest and the
simplest thing in the world. I walked to the station here, booked for Russell
Square and took a train. When I got out there I started off and then suddenly
pulled up. Where was I going? My mind, I found, on that one point had
developed a perfect blank. All the facts had vanished. Drum my encephalon how
I might, I could not recall Miss Vole, 52, or Hapsburg Square. Mark you, it
wasn't loss of memory in the ordinary sense. I remembered everything else; I
knew who I was and what I wanted well enough. Of course the first thing I did
was to turn out my pockets. I had letters, certainly, but none to that
address and nothing else to help me. 'Very well,' I said, 'it's a silly game,
but I'll walk round till I find it.' Had again! I walked for half-an-hour,
but I saw nothing the faintest degree familiar. Then I saw 'London Directory
Taken Here' in a pub. window. 'Good,' I thought. 'When I see the name it will
all come back again.' I went in, had something and looked through the
'Streets' section from beginning to end." He shook his head shrewdly. "It
didn't work."

"Did it occur to you to ring me up? You'd given me the address."

"It did; and then I thought, 'No, it's midnight now'--it was by
then--'and he may have turned in early and be asleep.' Well, things had
got to such a pass that it seemed the simplest move to walk into the first
moderate hotel I came to, pay for my bed and tell them to wake me at six, and
that's what I did. Now what do you make of that?"

"That depends," replied Carrados slowly. "The scientist would perhaps hint
at a telepathic premonition operating subconsciously through receptive nerve
centres. The sceptic would call it a lucky coincidence. The
Catholic--the devout Catholic--would claim another miracle."

"Oh, come now!" protested Tulloch.

"Yes, come now," struck in Carrados, rising with decision and moving
towards the door. "Come to my room and then you shall judge for yourself.
It's too much for any one man to contemplate alone. Come on." He walked
quickly across the hall to his study, dismissing Greatorex elsewhere with a
word, and motioned the mystified doctor to a chair. Then he locked the door
and sat down himself.

"I want you to carry your mind back to that night in your tent when the
native Khaligar, towards whom you had done an imperishable service, presented
himself before you. By the inexorable ruling of his class he was your
bondsman in service until he had repaid you in kind. This, Jim, you failed to
understand as it stood vitally to him, for the whole world, two pantheons and
perhaps ten thousand years formed a great gulf between your mind and his. You
would not be repaid, and yet he wished to die."

The doctor nodded. "I dare say it comes to that," he said.

"He could not die with this debt undischarged. And so, in the obscurity of
your tent, beneath your unsuspecting eyes, this conjurer did, as he was
satisfied, requite you. You thought you saw him wrap the relic in its
covering. You did not. You thought he put it back among his dress. He did
not. Instead, he slipped it dexterously between the lining and the cloth of
your own coat at the thick part of a band. You had seen him do much cleverer
things even in the open sunlight."

"You don't say," exclaimed Tulloch, springing to his feet, "that even
now--"

"Wait!" cried the blind man warningly. "Don't seek it yet. You have to
face a more stupendous problem first."

"What is that?"

"Three times at least your life has been--as we may
say--miraculously preserved. It was not your doing, your expertness, my
friend. . . . What is this sacred relic that once was in its jewelled shrine
on the high altar of the great cathedral at Goa, that opulent arch-bishopric
of the East to which Catholic Portugal in the sixteenth century sent all that
was most effective of treasure, brain and muscle to conquer the body and soul
of India?"

"You suggested that it might be the original relic to which Valasquez had
referred."

"Not now; only that the natives may have thought so. What would be more
natural than that an ignorant despoiler should assume the thing which he
found the most closely guarded and the most richly casketed to be the object
for which he himself would have the deepest veneration?"

"Then I don't follow you," said Tulloch.

"Because I have the advantage of having turned to the local and historical
records bearing on the circumstances since you first started me," Carrados
replied. "For instance, in the year 1582 Akbar, who was a philosopher and a
humorist as well as a model ruler, sent an invitation to the 'wise men among
the Franks' at Goa to journey to Agra, there to meet in public controversy
before him a picked band of Mohammedan mullas and prove the superiority of
their faith. The challenge was accepted. Abu-l-Fazl records the curious
business and adds a very significant detail. These Catholic priests, to cut
the matter short in the spirit of the age, offered to walk through a fiery
furnace in the defence of their belief. It came to nothing, because the other
side backed out, but the challenge is suggestive because, however fond the
priesthood of those times was of putting other people to the ordeal of fire
and water, its members were singularly modest about submitting to such tests
themselves. What mystery was there here, Tulloch? What had those priests of
Goa that made them so self-confident?"

"This relic, you suggest?"

"Yes, I do. But, now, what is that relic? A monkey's or an ape-god's
tooth, an iron-stained belemnite, the fragment of a pagan idol--you and
I can smile at that. We are Christians. No matter how unorthodox, no matter
how non-committal our attitude may have grown, there is upon us the
unconscious and hereditary influence of century after century of blind and
implicit faith. To you and to me, no less than to every member of the more
credent Church of Rome, to everyone who has listened to the story as a little
child, it is only conceivable that if miraculous virtues reside in anything
inanimate it must pre-eminently be in the close accessories of that great
world's tragedy, when, as even secular and unfriendly historians have been
driven to admit, something out of the order of nature did shake the
heavens."

"But this," articulated Tulloch with dry throat, leaning instinctively
forward from the pressure of his coat, "this--what is it, then?"

"You described it as looking like a nail," responded Carrados. "It is a
nail. Rusty, you said, and it could not well be otherwise than red with rust.
And old. Nearly nineteen hundred years old; quite, perhaps."

Tulloch came unsteadily to his feet and slowly slipping off his coat he
put it gently away on a table apart from where they sat.

"Is it possible?" he asked in an awe-struck whisper. "Wynn, is it--is
it really possible?"

"It is not only possible," he heard the blind man's more composed voice
replying, "but in one aspect it is even very natural. Physically, we are
dealing with an historical fact. Somewhere on the face of the earth these
things must be enduring; scattered, buried, lost perhaps, but still existent.
And among the thousands of relics that the different churches have made claim
to it would be remarkable indeed if some at least were not authentic. That is
the material aspect."

"Yes," assented Tulloch anxiously, "yes; that is simple, natural. But the
other side, Carrados--the things that we know have happened--what
of that?"

"That," replied Carrados, "is for each man to judge according to his
light."

"But you?" persisted Tulloch. "Are you convinced?"

"I am offered a solution that explains everything when no other theory
will," replied the blind man evasively. Then on the top of Tulloch's
unsatisfied "Ah!" he added: "But there is something else that confronts you.
What are you going to do?" and his face was towards the table across the
room.

"Have you thought of that?"

"It has occurred to me. I wondered how you would act."

It was some time before either spoke again. Then Tulloch broke the
silence.

"You can lend me some things?" he asked.

"Of course."

"Then I will decide," he announced with resolution.

"Whatever we may think, whatever might be urged, I cannot touch this
thing; I dare not even look on it. It has become too solemn, too awful, in my
mind, to be seen by any man again. To display it, to submit it to the test of
what would be called 'scientific proof,' to have it photographed and 'written
up'--impossible, incredible! On the other hand, to keep it safely to
myself--no, I cannot do that either. You feel that with me?"

The blind man nodded.

"There is another seemly, reverent way. The opportunity offers. I found a
letter at the house this morning. I meant to tell you of it. I have got the
appointment that I told you of and in three days I start for South America. I
will take the coat just as it is, weight it beyond the possibility of
recovery and sink it out of the world in the deepest part of the Atlantic;
beyond controversy, and safe from falling to any ignoble use. You can supply
me with a box and lead. You approve of that?"

"I will help you," said Carrados, rising.



THE KINGSMOUTH SPY CASE

Serialised in _The News Of The World_, Nov 30-Dec 7, 1913


NOT guilty, my lord!" There was a general laugh in the
lounge of the Rose and Plumes, the comfortable old Cliffhurst hotel that
upheld the ancient traditions unaffected by the flaunting rivalry of Grand or
Metropole. The jest hidden in the retort was a small one, but it was at the
expense of a pompous, pretentious bore, and the speaker was a congenial wag
who had contrived in the course of a few weeks to win a facile popularity on
all sides.

Across the room one of the later arrivals--"the blind gentleman," as
he was sympathetically alluded to, for few had occasion to learn his
name--turned slightly towards the direction of the voice and added a
pleasantly appreciative smile to the common tribute. Then his attention again
settled on the writing-table at which he sat, and for the next few minutes
his pencil travelled smoothly, with an occasional pause for consideration,
over the block of telegraphic forms that he had picked out. At the end of ten
minutes he rang for a waiter and directed that his own man should be sent to
him.

"Here are three telegrams to go off, Parkinson," he said in the suave,
agreeable voice that scarcely ever varied, no matter what the occasion might
be. "You will take them yourself at once. After that I shall not require you
again to-night."

The attendant thanked him and withdrew. The blind man closed his
letter-case, retired from the writing-table to the obscurity of a sequestered
corner and sat unnoticed with his sightless eyes, that always seemed to be
quietly smiling, looking placidly into illimitable space as he visualised the
scene before him, and the laughter, the conversation and the occasional
whisper went on unchecked around.

* * * * *

Max Carrados had journeyed down to Cliffhurst a few days
previously, good-naturedly, but without any enthusiasm. Indeed it had needed
all Mr Carlyle's persuasive eloquence to move him.

"The Home Office, Max," urged the inquiry agent, "one of the premier
departments of the State! Consider the distinction! Surely you will not
refuse a commission of that nature direct from the Government?" Carrados,
looking a little deeper than a Melton overcoat and a glossy silk hat, had
once declared his friend to be the most incurably romantic of idealists. He
now took a malicious pleasure in reducing the situation to its crudest
terms.

"Why can't the local police arrest a solitary inoffensive German spy
themselves?" he inquired.

"To tell the truth, Max, I believe that there are two or three fingers in
that pie at the present moment," replied Mr Carlyle confidentially. "It
doesn't concern the Home Office alone. And after that Guitry Bay fiasco and
the unmerciful chaffing that we got in the German papers--with rather a
nasty rap or two over the knuckles from the _Kölnische
Zeitung_--both Whitehall and Downing Street are in a blue funk lest
they should do the wrong thing, either let the man slip away with the papers
or arrest him without them."

"Contingencies with which I am sure you could grapple successfully,
Louis."

Mr Carlyle's bland complacency did not suggest that he, at any rate, had
any doubt on that score.

"But, you know, Max, I am pledged to carry through the Vandeeming affair
here in town. And--um--well, the Secretary did make a point of you
being the man they relied on."

"Oh! someone there must read the papers, Louis. But I wonder . . . why
they did not communicate with me direct."

Mr Carlyle contrived to look extremely ingenuous. Even he occasionally
forgot that looks went for nothing with Carrados.

"I imagine that they thought that a friendly intermediary--or
something of that sort."

"Possibly Inspector Beedel hinted to the Commissioner that you would have
more influence with me than a whole Government Department?" smiled Carrados.
"And so you have, Louis; so you have. If it's your ambition to get the
Government on your books you can tell your clients that I'll take on their
job!"

"By Jupiter, Max, you are a good fellow if ever there was one!" exclaimed
Mr Carlyle with gentlemanly emotion. "But I owe too much to you already."

"This won't make it any more, then. I have another reason, quite
different, for going."

"Of course you have," assented the visitor heartily. "You are not one to
talk about patriotism, and all that, but you can't hoodwink me with your
dilettantish pose, Max, and I know that deep down in your nature there is a
passionate devotion to your country--"

"Thank you, Louis," interrupted Carrados. "It is very nice to learn that.
But I am really going to Kingsmouth because there's a man there--a
curate--who has the second best private collection in Europe of
autonomous coins of Thessaly."

For a few seconds Mr Carlyle looked his unutterable feelings. When he did
speak it was with crushing deliberation.

"'Mrs Carrados,' I shall say--if ever there is a Mrs Carrados,
Max--'Mrs Carrados, two things are necessary for your domestic
happiness. In the first place, pack up your husband's tetradrachms in a
brown-paper parcel and send them with your compliments to the British Museum.
In the second, at the earliest possible opportunity, exact from him an oath
that he will never touch another Greek coin as long as you both
live.'--"

"If ever there is a Mrs Carrados," was the quick retort, "I shall probably
be independent of the consolation of Greek coins as, also, Louis, of the
distraction of criminal investigation. In the meantime, what are you going to
tell me about this case?" Mr Carlyle at once became alert. He would have
become absolutely professional had not Carrados tactfully obtruded the cigar-
box. The digression, and the pleasant aroma that followed it, brought him
back again to the merely human.

"It began, like a good many other cases, with an anonymous letter." He
took a slip of paper from his pocket-book and handed it to Carrados. "Here is
a copy."

"A copy!" The blind man ran his finger lightly along the lines and read
aloud what he found there:

"A friend warns you that an attempt is being successfully made on behalf
of another Power to obtain naval information of vital importance. You have a
traitor within your gates."

Then he crumpled up the paper and dropped it half-
contemptuously into the waste-paper basket. "A copy is no use to us, Louis,"
he remarked. "Indeed it is worse than useless; it is misleading."

"That is all they had here. The original was addressed to the Admiral-
Superintendent at the Kingsmouth Dockyard. This was sent up with the report.
But I am assured that the other contained no clue to the writer's
identity."

"Not even a watermark, 'Jones, stationer, High Street, Kingsmouth'!" said
Carrados dryly. "Really, Louis! Every piece of paper contains at least four
palpable clues."

"And what are they, pray?"

"A smell, a taste, an appearance and a texture. This one, in addition,
bears ink, and with it all the characteristics of an individual
handwriting."

"In capitals, Max," Mr Carlyle reminded him. "Our anonymous friend is up
to that."

"Yes; I wonder who first started that venerable illusion."

"Illusion?"

"Certainly an illusion. Capitals, or 'printed handwriting' as one sees
them called, are just as idiomorphic as a cursive form."

"But much less available for comparison. How are you going to obtain a
specimen of anyone's printed handwriting for comparison?"

Carrados reflected silently for a moment.

"I think I should ask anyone I suspected to do one for me," he
replied.

Carlyle resisted the temptation to laugh outright, but mordacity lurked in
his voice.

"And you imagine that the writer of this, who evidently has good reason
for anonymity, will be simple enough to comply?"

"I think so; if I ask him nicely."

"Look here, Max, I will bet you a box of any cigars you care to
name--"

"Yes, Louis?"

Mr Carlyle had hesitated. He was recalling one or two things from the
past, and on those occasions his friend's unemotional face had looked just as
devoid of guile as it did now.

"No, Max, I won't bet this time, but I should like to send across a small
box of Monterey Coronas for Parkinson to pack among your things. Well, so
much for the letter."

"Not quite all," interposed Carrados. "I must have the original."

The visitor made a note in his pocket diary.

"It shall be sent to you at once. I stipulated an absolutely free hand for
you. Oh, I took a tolerably high tone! I can assure you, Max. You will find
everything at Kingsmouth very pleasant, and there, of course, you will learn
all the details. Here they don't seem to know very much. I was not informed
whether the Dockyard authorities had already had their suspicions aroused or
whether the letter was the first hint. At all events they acted with
tolerable promptness. The letter, you will see, is undated, but it was
delivered on the seventeenth--last Thursday. On Friday they put their
hands on a man in the construction department--a fellow called Brown. He
made no fight of it when he was cornered, but although he owned up to the
charge of betraying information, there was one important link that he could
not supply and one that he would not. He could not tell them who the spy
collecting the information was, because there was an intermediary; and he
would not betray the intermediary on any terms. And, by gad! I for one can't
help respecting the beggar for that remnant of loyalty."

"A woman?" suggested Carrados.

"Even that, I believe, is not known, but very likely you have hit the
mark. A woman would explain the element of chivalry that prompts Brown's
attitude. He is under open arrest now--nobody outside is supposed to
know, but of course he can't buy an evening paper without it being noted.
They are in hope of something more definite turning up. At present they have
pitched their suspicions on a German visitor staying at Cliffhurst."

"Why?"

"I don't know, Max. They must fix on someone, you know. It's expected. All
the same they are deucedly nervous at this end about the outcome."

"Did they say what Brown had given away?"

"Yes, egad! Do you know anything of the Croxton-Delahey torpedo?"

"A little," admitted Carrados.

"What does it do?" asked Mr Carlyle, with the rather sublime air of casual
interest which he attached to any subject outside his own knowledge.

"It's rather an ingenious contrivance. It is fired like any other
uncontrolled torpedo. At the end of a straight run--anything up to ten
thousand yards at 55 knots with the superheated system--the diabolical
creature stops and begins deliberately to slash a zigzag course over any area
you have set it for. If in its roving it comes within two hundred feet of any
considerable mass of iron it promptly makes for it, cuts its way through
torpedo netting if any bars its progress, explodes its three hundredweight of
gun-cotton and finishes its existence by firing a 24-pound thorite shell
through the breach it has made."

"'Um," mused Mr Carlyle, "I don't like the weapon, Max, but I would rather
that we kept it to ourselves. Well, Mr Brown has given away the plans."
Carrados disposed of the end of his cigar and crossed the room to his open
desk. From its appointed place he took a book inscribed "Engagements,"
touched a few pages and scribbled a line of comment here and there. Then he
turned to his guest again.

"All right. I'll go down to Kingsmouth by the 12.17 to-morrow morning," he
said. "Now I want you to look up the following points for me and let me have
the particulars before I go."

Mr Carlyle again took out his pocket diary and beamed approvingly.

* * * * *

As a matter of fact the tenor of the replies he received
influenced Carrados to make some change in his plans. Accompanied by
Parkinson he left London by the appointed train on the next day, but instead
of proceeding to Kingsmouth he alighted at Cliffhurst, the pretty little
seaside resort some five miles east of the great dock-port. After securing
rooms at the Rose and Plumes--an easy enough matter in October--he
directed his attendant to take him to a sheltered seat on the winding paths
below the promenade and there leave him for an hour.

"Very nicely kept, these walks and shrubberies, sir," remarked an affable
voice from the other end of the bench. A leisurely pedestrian whose clothes
and manner proclaimed him to be an aimless holiday-maker had sauntered along
and, after a moment's hesitation, had sat down on the same form.

"Yes, Inspector," replied Carrados genially. "Almost up to the standard of
our own Embankment Gardens, are they not?"

Detective-Inspector Tapling, of New Scotland Yard, went rather red and
then laughed quietly.

"I wasn't quite sure at first if it was you, Mr Carrados," he apologised,
moving nearer and lowering his voice. "I was to report to you here, sir, and
to give you any information and assistance you might require."

"How are you getting on?" inquired Carrados.

"We think that we have got hold of the right man, sir; but for reasons
that you can guess the Chief is very anxious to have no mistake this
time."

"Muller?"

"Yes, sir. He has a furnished villa here in Cliffhurst and is very
open-handed. The time he came fits in, so far as we can tell, with the
beginning of the inquiries in Kingsmouth. Then, whatever his real name is, it
isn't Muller."

"He is a German?"

"Oh yes; he's German right enough, sir. We've looked up telegrams to him
from Lübeck--nothing important though--and he has changed German
notes in Kingsmouth. He spends a lot of time over there--says the
fishing is better, but that's all my eye, only the Kingsmouth boatmen get
hold of the dockyard talk and know more of the movements than the men about
here. Then there's a lady."

"The intermediary?"

"That's further than we can go at the moment, but there is a lady at the
furnished villa. She's not exactly Mrs Muller, we believe, but she lives
there, if you understand what I mean, sir."

"Perfectly," acquiesced Carrados in the same modest spirit.

"So that all the necessary conditions can be shown to exist," concluded
Tapling.

"But so far you have not a single positive fact connecting Muller with
Brown?"

The Inspector admitted that he had not, but added hopefully that he was in
immediate expectation of information that would enable him to link up the
detached surmises into a conclusive chain of direct evidence.

"And if I might ask the favour of you, sir," he continued, "you would be
doing us a great service if you would allow us to continue our investigation
for another twenty-four hours. I think that by then we shall be able to show
something solid. And if you certify what we have done, that's all to our
credit, whereas if you take it out of our hands now You see what I mean, Mr
Carrados, but of course it lies entirely with you."

Carrados assented with his usual good nature. His actual business was only
to examine the evidence before the arrest was made and to guarantee that the
Home Office should not be involved in another spy-scare fiasco. He knew
Tapling to be a reliable officer, and he did not doubt that the line he was
working was the correct one. Least of all did he wish to deprive the man of
his due credit.

"I can very well put in a day on my own account," he accordingly replied.
"And so long as Muller is here there does not appear to be any special
urgency. I suppose the odds are that the papers have been got away before you
began to watch?"

"There is just a chance yet, we believe, sir; and the Admiralty is very
keen on recovering those torpedo plans if it's to be done. Some of these
foreign spies like to keep the thing as much as possible in their own hands.
There's more credit to it, and more cash, too, at headquarters if they do.
Then if it comes to a matter of touch-and-go, a letter, and especially a
letter from abroad, may be stopped on the way. You will say that a man may
be, for that matter, but there's been another reason against posting valuable
papers about here for the past week."

"Of course," assented Carrados with enlightenment.

"The Suffragettes down here are out."

"I never thought to have any of that lot helping me," said the Inspector,
absent-mindedly stroking his right shin; "but they may have turned the scale
for us this time. There isn't a posting place from a rural pillar-box to the
head office at Kingsmouth that has been really safe from them. They've even
got at the registered letters in the sorting-rooms somehow. That's why I
think there's a chance still." Parkinson's approaching figure announced that
an hour had passed. Carrados and the Inspector rose to walk away in different
directions, but before they parted the blind man put a question that had
confronted him several times, although he had as yet given only a glancing
attention to the case.

"Now that Muller has got the plans of the torpedo, Inspector, why is he
remaining here?"

It was a simple and an obvious inquiry, but before he replied Inspector
Tapling looked round suspiciously. Then he further reduced the distance
between them and dropped his voice to a whisper.

* * * * *

St Ethelburga's boasted the most tin-potty bell and the highest ritual of
any church in Kingsmouth. Outside it resembled a brick barn, inside a marble
palace, and its ministration overworked a vicar and two enthusiastic curates.
It stood at the corner of Jubilee Street and Lower Dock Approach, a
conjunction that should render further description of the neighbourhood
superfluous.

The Rev Byam Hosier, the senior curate, whose magnetic eloquence filled St
Ethelburga's from chancel steps to porch, lodged in Jubilee Street, and there
Mr Carrados found him at ten o'clock on the following morning. The curate had
just finished his breakfast, and the simultaneous correction of a batch of
exercise books. He apologised for the disorder without justifying himself by
explaining the cause, for instead of being a laggard Mr Hosier had already
taken an early celebration, and afterwards allowed himself to be intercepted
on his way back to attend to a domestic quarrel, a lost cat, and the
arrangements for a funeral.

"I got your note last night, Mr Carrados," he said, after guiding his
guest to a seat, for Parkinson had been dismissed to make himself agreeable
elsewhere. "I am glad to show you my small collection, and still more so to
have an opportunity of thanking you for the help you have given me from time
to time."

Carrados lightly disclaimed the obligation. It was the first time the two
had met, though, as the outcome of a review article, they had frequently
corresponded. The clergyman went to his single cabinet, took out the top tray
and put it down before his visitor on the now available table.

"Pherae," he said.

"May I touch the surfaces?" asked the blind man.

"Oh, certainly. Pray do. I am sorry " He did not quite know what to say
before the spectacle of the blind expert, with his eyes fixed elsewhere,
passing a critical touch over the details that he himself loved to gaze
upon.

In this one thing the Rev. Byam was fastidious. His clothes were generally
bordering on the shabby, and he allowed himself to wear boots that shocked or
amused the feminine element in the first half-dozen pews of St Ethelburga's.
He might--as he frequently did, indeed--make a breakfast of weak
tea, bread and butter and marmalade without any sense of deficiency, but in
the matter of Greek coins his taste was exacting and his standard exact. His
one small mahogany cabinet was pierced for five hundred specimens, and it was
far from full, but every coin was the exquisite production of the golden era
of the world's creative art. It did not take Carrados three minutes to learn
this. Occasionally he dropped a word of comment or inquiry, but for the most
part tray succeeded tray in fascinated silence.

"Still Larissa," announced the clergyman, sliding out the last tray.

Under each coin was a circular ticket with written particulars of the
specimen accompanying it. For some time Carrados took little interest in
these commentaries, but presently Hosier noticed that his guest was
submitting many of them to a close but quiet scrutiny.

"Excuse my asking, Mr Carrados," he said at length, "but are you quite
blind?"

"Quite," was the unconcerned reply. "Why?"

"Because I noticed that you held some of the labels close to your eyes and
I fancied that perhaps--"

"It is my way."

"Forgive my curiosity."

"I can assure you, Mr Hosier, that other people are much more touchy about
my blindness than I am. Now will you do me a kindness? I should like a copy
of the inscriptions on half-a-dozen of these gems."

"With pleasure." The curate discovered pen and ink and paper and
waited.

"This didrachm of the nymph Larissa wearing earrings; this of Artemis and
the stag; this, and this, and this." The trays had been left displayed upon
the table and Carrados's hand selected from them with unerring precision.

Hosier took the chosen coins and noted down the legends in their bold
Greek capitals. "Shall I describe the type of each as well?" he asked.

"Thank you," assented his visitor. "If you don't mind writing that also in
capitals and not blotting I shall read it so much the easier."

He accepted the sheet of paper and delicately touched the lettering along
each line.

"I have a friend who will be equally interested in this," he remarked,
taking out his pocket-book.

The clergyman had turned to remove a tray from the table when a sheet of
paper, fluttering to the ground, caught his eye. He picked it up and was
returning it into the blind man's hand when he stopped in a sudden arrest of
every movement.

"Good heavens, Mr Carrados!" he exclaimed in an agitated voice, "how does
this come in your possession?"

"Your note?"

"You know that it is mine?"

"Yes--now," replied Carrados quietly. "It was sent to me by the
Admiral-Superintendent of the Yard here. He wished to communicate with the
writer."

"I am bewildered at the suddenness of this," protested the poor young man
in some distress. "Let me tell you the circumstances--such at least as
do not violate my promise."

He procured himself a glass of water from the sideboard, drank half of it
and began to pace the room nervously as he talked.

"On Wednesday last, after taking Evensong at the church, I was leaving the
vestry when a lady stepped forward and asked if she might speak to me
privately. It is a request which a clergyman cannot refuse, Mr Carrados, but
I endeavoured first to find out what she required, because people frequently
come to one or another of us on business that really has to do with the
clerk, or the organist, or something of that sort.

"She assured me that it was a personal matter and that no other official
would do.

"The lights had by this time been extinguished in the church, and
doubtless the apparitor had left. I gave her my address here and asked her if
she would call in ten or twenty minutes. I preferred that she should present
herself in the ordinary way.

"There is no need to go into extraneous details. The unhappy lady wished
to unburden her conscience by making explicit confession, and she had come to
me in consequence of a sermon which she had heard me preach on the Sunday
before.

"It is not expedient to weigh considerations of time or circumstance in
such a case. I allowed her to proceed, and she made her confession under the
seal of inviolable confidence. It involved other persons besides herself. I
besought her to undo as far as possible the great harm she had done by making
a full statement to the authorities, but this she was too weak--too
terrified--to do. This clumsy warning of mine"--he pointed to the
paper now lying on the table between them--"was the utmost concession
that I could wring from her."

He stopped and looked at his visitor with a troubled face that seemed to
demand some sort of assent to the dilemma.

"You are an Englishman, Mr Hosier, and you know what this might mean in a
conflict--you know that one of our most formidable weapons has been
annexed."

"My dear sir!" rapped out the distressed curate, "don't you think that I
haven't worried about that? But behind the Englishman stands something more
primitive, more just--the man. I gave my assurance as a man, and the
Admiralty can go hang!"

"Besides," he added, in petulant reaction, "the poor woman is dying, and
then everyone can know. Of course it may be too late."

"Do you mind telling me if the lady gave you the names of her
accomplices?"

"How can I tell you, Mr Carrados? It may identify her in some way. I am
too confounded by your unexpected appearance in the affair to know what is
important and what is not."

"It will not implicate her. I have no concern there."

"Then, yes, she did. She gave me every detail."

"I ask because a man is suspected and on the point of arrest. He may be
innocent. I have no deeper motive, but if the one for whom she is working is
not a German called, or passing as, Muller, you might have some satisfaction
in exonerating him."

The curate reflected a moment.

"He is not, Mr Carrados," he replied decidedly.

"But please don't ask me anything more."

"Very well, I won't," said Carrados, rising. "Our numismatic conversation
has taken a strange turn, Mr Hosier. There is a text for you--Money at
the root of everything! By the way, I can do you one trifling service." He
picked up the anonymous letter, tore it across and held it out. "You have
done all you could. Burn this and then you are clear of the matter."

"Thanks, thanks. But won't it get you into trouble with the
Admiralty?"

"I make my own terms," replied Carrados. "Now Mr Hosier, I have been an
ill-omened bird, but I had no suspicion of this when I came. The 'long arm'
has landed us this time. Will you come and dine with me one day this week,
and I promise you not a single reference to this troublesome business?"

"You are very good," assented Hosier.

"I am at Cliffhurst."

"Cliffhurst?" was Hosier's quick exclamation.

"Yes, at the Rose and Plumes."

"I--I am very sorry, Mr Carrados," stammered the curate, "but, after
all, I am afraid that I must cry off. This week--"

"If the distance takes up too much of your time, may I send a car?"

"No, no, it isn't that--at least, of course, one has to consider time
and work. Thank you, Mr Carrados; you are very kind, but, really, if you
don't mind--"

Carrados courteously accepted the refusal without further pressure. He
turned the momentary embarrassment by hoping that Hosier would not fail to
call on him when next in London, and the curate availed himself of the
compromise to protest the pleasure that it would afford him. Parkinson was
summoned and the strangely developed visit came to an end. Parkinson
doubtless found his master a dull companion on the way back. Carrados had to
rearrange his ideas from the preconception which he had so far tentatively
based on Inspector Tapling's report, and he was faced by the necessity of
discovering whose presence made the Rose and Plumes Hotel inexplicably
distasteful to Mr Hosier just then. Only two flashes of conversation broke
the journey, both of which may be taken as showing the trend of Max
Carrados's mind, and demonstrating the sound common sense exhibited by his
henchman.

"It is a mistake they often make, Parkinson, to begin looking with a fixed
idea of what they are going to find."

"Yes, sir."

And, ten minutes later:

"But I don't know that it would be safe yet to ignore the obvious
altogether."

"No, sir," replied Parkinson.

* * * * *

"Not guilty, my lord!"

That was the link for which Carrados had been waiting patiently each day
since his visit to Kingsmouth; or, more exactly, since the sound of a voice
heard in the hotel on his return had stirred a memory that he could not
materialise. Parkinson had described the man with photographic exactness and
still recognition was balked.

Tapling, who found himself at a deadlock before the furnished villa, both
by reason of his want of progress and at Carrados's recommendation,
contributed his observation, which was guardedly negative. Everyone about
knew Mr Slater--"a pleasant, open-handed gentleman, with a word and a
joke for all"--but no one knew anything of him, as, indeed, who should
know of a leisurely bird of passage staying for a little time at a seaside
hotel?

Then across the lounge rang the mock-serious repartee, and enlightenment
cut into the patient listener's brain like a flash of inspiration.

These were the three telegrams which immediately came into existence as a
result of that ray, deciphered here from their code obscurity:

"TO GREATOREX, TURRETS, RICHMOND, SURREY. "EXTRACT
TIMES FULL REPORT TRIAL HENRY FRANKWORTH, CONVICTED EMBEZZLEMENT EARLY 1906,
AND FORWARD EXPRESS.--CARRADOS."

"TO WRATTESLEY, HOME OFFICE, WHITEHALL, S.W. "WILL
YOU PLEASE HAVE LINCOLN AUTHORITIES INSTRUCTED TO SEND ME CONFIDENTIAL REPORT
ANTECEDENTS HENRY FRANKWORTH, EMBEZZLER, NATIVE TRUDSTONE THAT COUNTY.
URGENT.--WYNN CARRADOS."

"TO CARLYLE, 72A BAMPTON ST., W.C. "MY DEAR
LOU1S,--WHY NOT COME DOWN WEEK-END TALK THINGS OVER? MEANWHILE MAKE
EVERY EFFORT DISCOVER SUBSEQUENT HISTORY HENRY FRANKWORTH CONVICTED
EMBEZZLEMENT CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT EARLY 1906. BEEDEL WILL FURNISH POLICE
RECORDS. PRESSING.--MAX."

On his way upstairs a few hours later Carrados looked in at the reception
office to inquire if there were any letters.

"By the by," he remarked, after he had turned to leave, "I wonder if you
happen to have a room a little--just a little--farther away from
the drawingroom?"

"Certainly, sir," replied the clerk. "Does the playing annoy you? They do
keep it up rather late sometimes, don't they?"

"No, it doesn't annoy me," admitted Carrados; "on the contrary, I am
passionately fond of it. But it tempts me into lying awake listening when I
ought to be asleep."

The young lady laughed pleasantly. It was her business to be
agreeable.

"You are considerate!" she rippled. "Well, there's the further corridor;
or, of course, a floor above--"

"The floor above would do nicely. Not on the front if possible. The sea is
rather noisy."

"Second floor, west corridor." She glanced at her keyboard. "No. 15?"

"Is that the side overlooking the ?"

"The High Street," she prompted.

"I am such a poor sleeper," he apologised.

"No. 21 on the other side, overlooking the gardens?" she suggested.

"I am sure that will do admirably," he said, with the gratitude that is
always so touching from the blind. "Thank you for taking so much trouble to
pick it for me. Good-night."

"I will have your things transferred to-morrow," she nodded after him.

An hour later Mr Slater, generally the last man to leave the lounge,
strolled across to the office for his key.

"No. 22, sir, isn't it?" she hazarded, unhooking it without waiting for
the number.

"Good little girl," he assented approving. "What a brain beneath that
fascinating aureola. _Eh bien, au revoir, petite_! You ought to be about
snuffing the candle yourself, my dear."

The young lady laughed just as pleasantly. It was her business to be
equally agreeable to all.

* * * * *

Mr Carrados was sitting in an alcove of the lounge on the
following morning when Parkinson brought him a letter. It proved to be the
extract from _The Times_, written on the special typewriter. The day was
bright and inviting and the room was deserted. On his master's instruction
Parkinson sat down and waited while the blind man rapidly deciphered the
half-dozen sheets of typewriting.

"You have been with me to the Old Bailey several times," remarked
Carrados, as he slowly replaced the document. "Do you remember an occasion in
February 1906?"

Parkinson looked unnecessarily wise, but was unable to acquiesce. Carrados
gave him another guide.

"A man named Frankworth was sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment for
an ingenious system of theft. He had also fraudulently disposed of
information to trade rivals of his employer."

"I apprehend the circumstances now, sir."

"Can you recall the appearance of the prisoner?" Parkinson thought that he
could, but he did not rise to the suggestion and Carrados was obliged to
follow the direct line.

"Have you seen anyone lately--here in the hotel--who might be
Frankworth?"

"I can't say that I have, sir."

"Take Mr Slater now. Shave off his beard and moustache."

Parkinson began to look respectfully uncomfortable.

"Do you mean, sir--?"

"By an effort of the imagination, Parkinson. Close your eyes and picture
Mr Slater as a clean-shaven man, some years younger, standing in the
dock--"

"Yes, sir. There is a distinct resemblance."

With this Max Carrados had to be satisfied for the time. Long memory was
not Parkinson's strong point, but he had his own pre-eminent gift, and of
this his master was to have an immediate example that outweighed every
possible deficiency.

"Speaking of Mr Slater, sir, I noticed a curious thing that I intended to
mention, as you told me to be particularly observant."

Carrados nodded encouragingly.

"I was talking to Herbert early this morning as he cleaned the boots. He
is a very bigoted Free Trader, sir, and is thinking of becoming a Mormon, and
I was speaking to him about it. Presently he came to No. 22's--Mr
Slater's. They were muddy, for Mr Slater went out for a walk last
night--I saw him as he returned. But the boots that Mr Slater put out to
be cleaned last night were not the boots that he went out in and got wet,
although they were exactly the same make."

"That is certainly curious," admitted Carrados slowly. "There was only one
pair put out?"

"That is all, sir; and they were not the boots that Mr Slater has worn
every day since I began to notice him particularly. He always does wear the
same pair, morning, noon and night."

"Wait," said Carrados briskly. An idea bordering on the fantastic flashed
between a sentence in the report which he had just been reading and
Parkinson's discovery. He took out the sheets, ran his finger along the lines
and again read--"stated that the prisoner was the son of a respectable
bootmaker, and had followed the occupation himself." "I know how accurate you
are, Parkinson, but this may be of superlative importance. You see that?"

"I had not contemplated it in that light, sir."

"But what did the incident suggest to you?"

"I inferred, sir, that Mr Slater must have had some reason for going out
again after the hotel was closed."

"Yes, that might explain half; but what if he did not?" persisted
Carrados.

Parkinson wisely dismissed the intellectual problem as outside his
sphere.

"Then I am unable to suggest why the gentleman cleaned his muddy boots
himself and muddied his clean boots, sir."

"Yes, that is what it comes to. He is wearing the same pair again this
morning?"

"Yes, sir. The boots that were dirty at ten o'clock last night."

"Pay particular attention to Mr Slater's boots in future. I have
transferred to No. 21, so you will have every opportunity. Talk to Herbert
about Tariff Reform to-morrow morning. In the meanwhile--Are they any
particular make?"

"'Moorland hand-made waterproof,' a heavy shooting boot, sir. Size 7.
Rossiter, of Kingsmouth, is the maker."

"In the meanwhile go to Kingsmouth and buy an identical pair. Before you
go cut the sole off one of your oldest boots and bring me a piece about three
inches square. Buy yourself another pair. Here is a note. Do you know which
chamber-maid has charge of No. 21?"

"I could ascertain, sir."

"It would be as well. You might buy her a bangle out of the
change--if you have no personal objection to the young lady's society.
And, Parkinson--"

"Yes, sir?"

"I know you to be discreet and reliable. The work we are engaged on here
is exceptionally important and equally honourable. A mistake might ruin it.
That is all."

"Thank you, sir." Parkinson marched away with his head a little higher for
the guarded compliment. It was the essence of the man's extraordinary value
to his master that while on some subjects he thought deeply, on others he did
not think at all; and he contrived automatically to separate everything into
its proper compartment.

"Here is what you require, sir," he said, returning with the square of
leather.

"Come across to the fireplace," said Carrados. "There is still no one else
in the lounge?"

"No, sir."

"Who would be the last servant to see to this room at night--to leave
the fire safe and the windows fastened?"

"The hall porter, sir."

"Where is he now?"

"In the outer hall."

Carrados bent towards the fire. "It's a million-to-one chance," he
thought, "but it's worth trying." He dropped the leather on to the red coals,
waited until it began to smoke fiercely, and then, lifting it out with the
tongs, he allowed the pungent aromatic odour to diffuse into the air for a
few seconds. A minute later the charred fragment had lost its identity among
the embers.

"Go now, and on your way tell the hall porter that I want to speak to
him."

The hall porter came, a magnificent being, but full of affable
condescension.

"You sent for me, sir?"

Carrados was sitting at a table near the fire.

"Yes. I am a little nervous. Do you smell anything burning?"

The porter sniffed the air--superfluously but loudly, so that the
blind gentleman should hear that he was not failing in his duty. Then he
looked comprehensively around.

"There certainly is a sort of hottish smell somewhere, sir," he
admitted.

"It isn't any woodwork about the fireplace scorching? We blind are so
helpless."

"That's all right, sir." He laid a broad hand on the mantelpiece and then
rapped it reassuringly. "Solid marble that, sir. You needn't be afraid; I'll
give a look across now and then."

"Thank you, if you will," said Carrados, with relief in his voice. "And,
by the way, will you ring for Maurice as you go?"

A distant bell churred. Across the room, like a strangely balancing bird,
skimmed a waiter.

"Sair?"

"Oh, is that you, Maurice? I want By the way, what's that burning?"

"Burning, sair?"

"Yes; don't you smell anything?"

"There is an odour of smell," admitted Maurice sagely, "but it is nothing
to see."

"You don't know the smell?"

The waiter shook his head and looked vague. Carrados divined
perplexity.

"Oh, I dare say it's nothing," he declared carelessly. "Will you get me a
sherry and khoosh?"

The million-to-one chance had failed.

"Sherry and bittaire, sair." Maurice deposited the glass with great
precision, regarded it sadly and then moved it three inches to the right.

"I 'ave recollect this odour, sair," he remarked, "although I cannot give
actuality. I 'ave met him here before, but--less--less
forcefully."

"When?"

"Oh, one week since, perhaps."

"Something in the coals?" suggested Carrados.

"I imagine yes," pondered Maurice conscientiously.

"I was 'brightening up,' you say, for the night, and the fire was low
down. I squash it with the poker still more for safety."

"Oh, then the lounge would be empty?"

"Yes--of people. Only Mr Slataire already departing."

Carrados indicated that he did not want the change and dismissed the
subject.

"So long as nothing's on fire," he said with indifference.

"Thank you, sair."

The million-to-one chance had come off after all.

* * * * *

Two days later, walking beyond the usual limit of the
conventional promenade, Carrados reached a rough wooden hut such as
contractors erect during the progress of their work. Having accompanied his
master to the door, Parkinson returned towards the promenade and sat down to
admire the seascape from the nearest bench.

Inside the hut three men had been waiting. One of the trio, a tall,
military-looking man with the air of a personage, had been sitting on a
whitewash-splashed trestle reading _The Times_. Of the others, one was
Inspector Tapling, and the third a dwarfish, wizened creature with the air of
a converted ostler. He had passed the time by watching the Cliffhurst side
through a knot-hole in a plank. With the entrance of Carrados the tall man
folded his newspaper and a period of expectancy seemed to have come to an
end.

"Good-morning, Colonel, Inspector and you there, Bob."

"You found your way, Mr Carrados?" remarked the Colonel.

"Yes; it is not really I who am late. I had a letter this morning from
Wrattesley holding me up for a wire at 10.30. It did not arrive till
10.45."

"Ah, it did come! Then we may regard everything as settled?"

"No, Colonel. On the contrary, we must accept everything as upset."

"What, sir?"

Carrados took out the slim pocket-book, extracted a telegram and held it
out.

"What is this?" demanded the Colonel, peering through his glasses in the
indifferent light. "'Laburnum edifice plaster dark dark late herald same dome
aurora dark vitiate camp encase.' I don't know the code."

"Oh, it's Westneath's arrangement," explained Carrados. "'The individual
with whom we are concerned must not be arrested on charge, but it is of the
gravest importance that the papers in question be recovered. There must be no
public proceedings even if conviction assured.'"

There was a moment of stupefaction.

"This--this is a bombshell!" exclaimed the Colonel. "What does it
mean?"

"Politics," replied Carrados tersely.

"Ah!" soliloquised Tapling, walking to the door and looking
sympathetically out at the gloomy prospect of sea and sky.

"But I've had no notification," protested the Colonel. "Surely, Mr
Carrados--"

"The wire is probably at the station."

"True; you said 10.45. Well, what do you propose doing now?"

"Scrapping all our arrangements and recovering the papers without
arresting Slater."

"In what way?"

"At the moment I have not the faintest idea."

The Inspector left the door and came back moodily to his old position.

"We have reason to think that he is becoming suspicious, Mr Carrados," he
remarked. "He may decide to go any hour."

"Then the sooner we act the better."

The stunted pygmy in the background had been listening to the conversation
with rapt attention, fastening his eyes unwinkingly on each face in turn. He
now glided forward.

"Listen to me, gents," he said, throwing round a cunning leer; "how does
this sound? This afternoon . . ."

* * * * *

That afternoon Mr Slater had been for what he termed "a blow
of the briny," as his custom was on a fine day. He was returning in the dusk
and had crossed the spacious promenade when, at a corner, he almost ran into
the broad figure of a policeman who stood talking to a woman on the path.

"That's the man!" exclaimed the woman with almost vicious certainty.

Mr Slater fell back a step in momentary alarm; then, recovering his
self-control, he went forward with admirable composure.

"Beg pardon, sir," explained the constable, "but this young lady has just
lost her purse. She says she was sitting next to you on a seat--"

"And the minute after he had gone--the very minute--my bag was
open like you see it now and my purse vanished," interposed the lady
volubly.

"On the seat by the lifeboat where I passed you, sir," amplified the
constable.

"This is ridiculous," said Mr Slater with a breath of relief. "I am a
gentleman and I have no need to steal purses. My name is Slater, and I am
staying at the Rose and Plumes."

"Yes, sir," assented the policeman respectfully. "I know you by sight,
sir, and have seen you go there. You hear what the gentleman says, miss?"

"Gentleman or no gentleman, I know my purse has gone," snapped the girl.
"If he hasn't got it why did it vanish--where is it now? That's all I
ask--where is it now?"

"You've seen nothing of it, I take it, sir?"

"No, of course I haven't," retorted the gentleman contemptuously. "I was
sitting on a seat. The woman may have sat next to me--someone reading
certainly did. Then I got up, walked once or twice up and down and came
across. That's all."

"What was in the purse, miss?," inquired the constable.

"A postal order for a sovereign--and, thank the Lord, I've got the
tag of it--a half-crown, two shillings and a few coppers, a Kruger
sixpence with a hole through, a gold gipsy ring with pearls, the return half
of my ticket, some hairpins and a few recipes, a book of powder papers, a
pocket mirror--"

"That ought to be enough to identify it by," said the constable, catching
Mr Slater's eye in humorous sympathy. "Well, miss, you'd better come to the
station and report the loss. Perhaps you'll look in as well, sir?"

"Does that mean," demanded Mr Slater with a dark gleam, "that I am to be
charged with theft?"

"Bless you, no, sir," was the easy reassurance. "We couldn't take a charge
in the circumstances--not with a gentleman of respectable position and
known address. But it might save you some inquiry and bother later, and if it
was myself I should like to get it done with while it was red-hot, so to
speak."

"I will go now," decided Mr Slater. "Do I walk with ?"

"Just as you like, sir. You can go before or follow on. It's only just
down Bank Street."

The two went on and the gentleman followed at a few yards' interval. Three
minutes and a blue lamp indicated their destination. No other pedestrian was
in sight; the door stood hospitably open and Mr Slater walked in.

The station Inspector was seated at a desk when they entered and a couple
of other officials stood about the room. The policeman explained the
circumstances of the loss, the Inspector noting the details in the
record-book.

"This gentleman voluntarily accompanied us as he had been brought into the
case," concluded the policeman.

"Here is my card, Superintendent," said Mr Slater with some importance. He
had determined to be agreeable, but dignified, and to enlist the Inspector on
his side. "I am staying at the Rose and Plumes. It's deuced unpleasant, you
know, for a gentleman in my position to have to answer to a charge like this.
That's why I came at once to clear the matter up."

"Quite so, sir," replied the Inspector; "but there is no charge at
present." He turned to the girl. "You understand that if you sign the
charge-sheet and it turns out that you are mistaken it may be a serious
matter?"

"I only want my purse and money back," replied the young woman
mulishly.

"We will try to find it for you; but there is nothing beyond your
suspicion that this gentleman has ever seen it. Probably, sir, you don't
possess a sovereign postal order, or a Kruger coin, or any of the other
articles, even of your own?"

"I don't," replied Mr Slater. "Except, of course, some silver and copper.
If it will satisfy you I will turn out my pockets."

The Inspector looked at the complainant.

"You hear that, miss?"

"Oh, very well," she retorted. "If he really hasn't got it I shall be the
one to look silly, shan't I?"

On this encouragement Mr Slater made a display of his various possessions,
turning out each pocket as he emptied it. The contents were laid before the
Inspector, who satisfied himself by a glance of their innocent nature.

"I should warn you that I am going to bring out a loaded revolver," said
Mr Slater when he came to his hip-pocket. "I travel a good deal abroad and
often in wild parts, where it is necessary to carry a pistol for
protection."

The Inspector nodded and examined the weapon with a knowing touch. The
last pocket was displayed.

"That's not what I mean," objected the girl with a dogged air, as everyone
began to regard her in varying degrees of inquiry. "You don't suppose that
anyone would keep the things in their pocket, do you? I thought you meant
properly."

The Inspector addressed himself to Mr Slater again in a matter-of-fact,
business manner.

"Perhaps you would like one of my men to put his hand over you to settle
the matter, sir?" he asked. For just a couple of seconds there was the pause
of hesitation.

"If nothing is found you withdraw all imputation against this gentleman?"
demanded the Inspector of the girl.

"Suppose I must," she admitted with an admirable pose of sulky
acquiescence. In less exciting moments the young lady was a valued member of
the Kingsmouth Amateur Dramatic Society.

"Oh, all right," assented Mr Slater. "Only get it over."

"You quite understand that the search is entirely voluntary on your part,
sir. Hilldick!" One of the other policemen came forward.

"You can stand where you are, sir," he directed. With the practised skill
of, say, a Custom House officer from Kingsmouth, he used his fingers
dexterously about the gentleman's clothing. "Now, sir, will you sit down and
remove your boots for a moment?"

"My boots!" The man's eyes narrowed and his mouth took another line. He
glanced at the Inspector.

"Is it really necessary ?"

"That's it!" came from the girl in a fiercely exultant whisper. "He's
slipped them in his boots!"

"Idiot!" commented Mr Slater. He sat down and slowly drew slack the
laces.

"Thank you," said Hilldick. He picked up both boots and with them turned
to the table underneath the light. The next moment there was a sound like the
main-spring of a clock going wrong and the sole and the upper of one boot
came violently apart.

"You scoundrel!" screamed Slater, leaping from the chair.

But the grouping of the room had undergone a quiet change. Two men closed
in on his right and left, and Mr Slater sat down again. The Inspector opened
the desk, dropped.in the revolver and turned the key. Then all eyes went
again to Hilldick and saw--nothing.

"The other boot," came in a quiet voice from the doorway to the inner
room. "But just let me have it for a second."

It was put into his hands, and Carrados examined it in unmoved composure,
while unpresentable words flowed in a blistering stream from Slater's
lips.

"Yes, it is very good workmanship, Mr Frankworth," remarked the blind man.
"You haven't forgotten your early training. All right, Hilldick."

The tool cut and rasped again and the stitches flew. But this time from
the opening, snugly lying in a space cut out among the leathers, a flat
packet slid down to the ground.

Someone tore open the oiled silk covering and spread out the contents. Six
sheets of fine tracing paper, each covered with signs and drawings, were
disclosed. The finality of the discovery acted on the culprit like a douche
of water. He ceased to revile, and a white and deadly calm came over him.

"I don't know who is responsible for this atrocious outrage," he said
between his clenched teeth, "but everyone concerned shall pay dearly for it.
I am a naturalised Frenchman, and my adopted country will demand immediate
satisfaction."

"Your adopted country is welcome to you, and it's going to have you back
again," said the Inspector grimly. "Here is a pair of boots exactly like your
own--we only retain the papers, which do not belong to you. You are
allowed twenty-four hours to be clear of the country. If you have not sailed
by this time tomorrow you will be arrested as Henry Frankworth for failing to
report yourself when on licence and sent to serve the unexpired portion of
your sentence. If you return at any time the same course will be followed.
Inspector Tapling, here is the warrant. You will keep Frankworth under
observation and act as the circumstances demand."

Henry Frankworth glared round the room vindictively, drew himself up and
clenched his fists. Then his figure drooped, and he turned and walked dully
out into the darkening night.

* * * * *

"So you let the German spy slip through your fingers after
all," protested Mr Carlyle warmly. "I know that it was on instructions, and
not your doing, Max; but why, why on earth, why?"

Carrados smiled and pointed to the heading of a column in an evening paper
that he picked up from his side.

"There is your answer, Louis," he replied.

"' Position of the Entente. What Does France
Mean?'" read the gentleman. "What has that got to do with it?"

"Your German spy was a French spy, Louis, and just at this moment a
certain section of the public, led by a certain gang of politicians and aided
by a certain interest in the Press, is doing its best to imperil the Entente.
The Government has no desire to have the Entente imperilled. Hence your wail.
If the dear old emotional, pig-headed, Rule-Britannia! public had got it that
French spies were stalking through the land at this crisis, then, indeed, the
fat would have been in the fire!"

"But, upon my soul, Max Well, well; I hope that I am the last man to be
led by newspaper clap-trap, but I think that it's a deuced queer proceeding
all the same. Why should our ally want our secret plans?"

"Why not, if he can get them?" demanded Max Carrados philosophically. "One
never knows what may happen next We ought to have plans and knowledge of all
the French strategic positions as well as of the German. I hope that we have,
but I doubt it. It would be a guarantee of peace and good relations."

"There are times, Max," declared Mr Carlyle severely, "when I suspect you
of being--er--paradoxical."

"Can you imagine, Louis, an Archbishop of Canterbury, or a Poet Laureate,
or a Chancellor of the Exchequer being friendly--perhaps even
dining--with the editor of _The Times_?"

"Certainly; why not?"

"Yet in the editor's office, drawn up by his orders, there is probably a
three-column obituary notice of each of those impersonalities. Does it mean
that the editor wishes them to die--much less has any intention of
poisoning their wine? Ridiculous! He merely, as a prudent man, prepares for
an eventuality, so as not to be caught unready by a misfortune which he
sincerely hopes will never take place--in his time, that is to say."

"Well, well," said Mr Carlyle benignantly--they were lunching
together at Vitet's, on Carrados's return--"I am glad that we got the
papers. One thing I cannot understand. Why didn't the fellow get clear as
soon as he had the plans?"

"Ah," admitted the blind man, "why not, indeed? Even Inspector Tapling
bated his breath when he suggested the reason to me."

"And what was that?" inquired Carlyle with intense interest.

Mr Carrados looked extremely mysterious and half-reluctant for a moment.
Then he spoke.

"Do you know, Louis, of any great secret military camp where a surprise
fleet of dirigibles and flying machines of a new and terrible pattern is
being formed by a far-seeing Government as a reserve against the day of
Armageddon?"

"No," admitted Mr Carlyle, with staring eyes, "I don't."

"Nor do I," contributed Carrados.



THE MISSING ACTRESS SENSATION

First published in _The News Of The World_, Dec 14, 1913


FIRST NIGHTS are not what they were, even within the memory
of playgoers who would be startled to hear anyone else refer to them as
"elderly." But there are yet occasions of exception, and the production of
Call a Spade at the Argosy Theatre was marked by at least one feature of
note. The play itself was "sound," though not epoch-making. The performance
of the leading lady was satisfactory and exactly what was to be expected from
her. The leading gentleman was equally effective in a part which--as
eight out of twelve dramatic critics happily phrased it on the
morrow--"fitted him like a glove"; and on the same preponderance of
opinion the character actor "contrived to extract every ounce of humour from
the material at his disposal." In other words, _Call a Spade_ might so
far be relied upon to run an attenuating course for about fifty nights and
then to be discreetly dropped, "pending the continuance of its triumphal
progress at another West End house--should a suitable habitation become
available."

But a very different note came into the reviews when the writers passed to
the achievement of another member of the company--a young actress
described on the programme as Miss Una Roscastle. Miss Roscastle was unknown
to London critics and London audiences. She had come from Dublin with no very
great dramatic reputation, but it is to be presumed that the quite secondary
part which she had been given on her first metropolitan appearance was
peculiarly suited to her talent. No one was more surprised than the author at
the remarkable characterisation that "Mary Ryan" assumed in Miss Roscastle's
hands. He was the more surprised because he had failed to notice anything of
the kind at rehearsals. Dimly he suspected that the young lady had got more
out of the part than he had ever put into it, and while outwardly loud in his
expression of delight, he was secretly uncertain whether to be pleased or
annoyed. The leading lady also went out of her way to congratulate the young
neophyte effusively on her triumph--and then slapped her unfortunate
dresser on very insufficient provocation; but the lessee manager spoke of his
latest acquisition with a curious air of restraint. At the end of the second
act Miss Roscastle took four calls. After that she was only required for the
first few minutes of the last act, and many among the audience noted with
surprise that she did not appear with the company at the fall of the
curtain--she had, in fact, already left the house. All the same the
success of the piece constituted a personal triumph for herself. Thenceforth,
instead of, "Oh yes, you might do worse than book seats at the Argosy," the
people who had been, said, "Now don't forget; you positively _must_ see
Miss Roscastle in _Call a Spade_," and as the Press had said very much
the same, the difference to the box-office was something, but to the actress
it was everything. Miss Roscastle, indeed, had achieved that rare distinction
of "waking to find herself famous." Nothing could have seemed more assured
and roseate than her professional future.

About a week later Max Carrados was interrupted one afternoon in the
middle of composing an article on Sicilian numismatics by a telephone call
from Mr Carlyle. The blind man smiled as he returned his friend's greeting,
for Louis Carlyle's voice was wonderfully suggestive in its phases of the
varying aspects of the speaker himself, and at that moment it conveyed a
portrait of Mr Carlyle in his very best early-morning business
manner--spruce and debonair, a little obtuse to things beyond his
experience and impervious to criticism, but self-confident, trenchant and
within his limits capable. In its crisp yet benign complacency Carrados could
almost have sworn to resplendent patent boots, the current shade in suede
gloves and a carefully selected picotee.

"If you are doing nothing better to-night, Max," continued the inquiry
agent, "would you join me at the Argosy Theatre? I have a box, and we might
go on to the Savoy afterwards. Now don't say you are engaged, there's a good
fellow," he urged. "You haven't given me the chance of playing host for a
month or more."

"The fact is," confessed Carrados, "I was there for the first night only a
week ago."

"How unfortunate," exclaimed the other. "But don't you think that you
could put up with it again?"

"I am sure I can," agreed Carrados. "Yes, I will join you there with
pleasure."

"Delightful," crowed Mr Carlyle. "Let us say--"

The essential details were settled in a trice, but the "call" had not yet
expired and the sociable gentleman still held the wire. "Were you interested
in Miss Roscastle, Max?"

"Decidedly."

"That is fortunate. My choice of a theatre is not unconnected with a case
I have on hand. I may be able to tell you something about the lady."

"Possibly we shall not be alone?" suggested Carrados.

"Well, no; not absolutely," admitted Carlyle. "Charming young fellow,
though. I'm sure you'll like him, Max. Trevor Enniscorthy, a younger son of
old Lord Sleys."

"Conventional rotter, between ourselves?" inquired Max.

"Not a bit of it," declared Mr Carlyle loyally. "A young fellow of five
and twenty is none the worse for being enamoured of a fascinating creature
who happens to be on the stage. He is Oh, very well. Goodbye, Max.
Eight-fifteen, remember."

They were all punctual. In fact, "If Mr Enniscorthy could have got me
along we should have been here before the doors opened," declared Mr Carlyle
when the blind man joined them. "Now why are there no programmes about here,
I wonder?"

"I hardly fancy they anticipate their box-holders arriving twenty minutes
before the curtain rises," suggested Carrados.

"There are some," exclaimed Mr Enniscorthy, dashing out as an attendant
crossed the circle. He was back in a moment, and standing in the obscurity of
the box eagerly tore open the programme. "Still in," he muttered, coming
forward and throwing the paper down for the others to refer to. "Oh, excuse
my impatience," he apologised, colouring. "I am rather--"

He left them to supply the rest.

"Mr Enniscorthy has given me permission to explain his position, Max,"
began Mr Carlyle, but the young man abruptly cut short the proposition stated
in this vein of deference.

"I'd rather put it that if Mr Carrados would help me with his advice I
should be most awfully grateful," he said in a very clear, rather highly
pitched voice. "I suppose it's inevitable to feel no end of an ass over this
sort of thing, but I'm desperately in earnest and I must go through with
it."

"Admirable!" beamed Mr Carlyle's inextinguishable eye, and he murmured:
"Very natural, I am sure," in the voice of a man who has just been told to go
up higher.

"Perhaps you know that there is a Miss Roscastle put down as appearing in
this piece?" went on Enniscorthy. "Well, I knew Miss Roscastle rather well in
Ireland. I came to London because I followed her here."

"Engaged?" dropped quietly from Carrados's lips.

"I cannot say that we were actually engaged," was the admission, "but
it--well, you know how these things stand. At all events she knew what I
felt towards her and she did not discourage my hopes."

"Did your people know of this, Mr Enniscorthy?"

"I had not spoken to my father or to my stepmother, but they might easily
have heard something of it," replied the young man. "Miss Roscastle, although
she did not go about much, was received by the very best people in Dublin. Of
course for many things I did not like her being on the stage; in fact I
detested it, but she had taken the step before I knew her, and how could I
object? Then she got the offer of this London engagement. She was ambitious
to get on in her profession, and took it. In a very short time I found it
impossible to exist there without seeing her, so I made an excuse to get away
and followed."

"Let me see," put in Mr Carlyle ingenuously; "I forget the exact
dates."

"Miss Roscastle came on Monday, October the 4th," said Enniscorthy. "The
piece opened on the following Thursday week--the 14th. I left Kingstown
by the early boat yesterday. At this end we were nearly an hour late, and
after going to my hotel, changing and dining, I had just time to come on here
and bag the last stall. I thought that I would send a note round after the
first act and ask Una to give me a few minutes afterwards. But it never came
to that. Instead I got a very large surprise. 'Mary Ryan' came on, and I
looked--and looked again. I didn't need glasses, but I got a pair out of
the automatic box in front of me and had another level stare. Well, it wasn't
Miss Roscastle. This girl was like her. I suppose to most people they would
be wonderfully alike, and her voice--although it wasn't really
Irish--yes, her voice was similar. But to me there were miles of
difference. I saw at once that she was an understudy, although 'Miss Una
Roscastle' was still down in the programme, and I began to quake at the
thought of something having happened to her.

"I slipped out into the corridor--I had an end seat--and got
hold of a programme girl.

"'Do you know why Miss Roscastle is out of the cast to-night?' I asked
her. 'Is she indisposed?'

"She took the programme out of my hand and pointed to a name in it.

"'She's in all right,' she replied--stupidly, I thought. 'There's her
name.'

"'Yes, she is on the programme,' I replied, 'but not on the stage. Look
through the glass there. That is not Miss Roscastle.'

"She glanced through the glazed door and then turned away as though she
suspected me of chaffing her.

"'It's the only Miss Roscastle I've ever seen here,' she said as she
went.

"I wandered about and interrogated one or two other attendants. They all
gave me the same answer. I began to get frightened.

"'They must be misled by the resemblance,' I assured myself. 'It really is
wonderful.' I went back to my seat and then remembered that I had got no
further with my original inquiry, which was to find out whether Una was ill
or not. I couldn't remain. I kept my eyes fixed on 'Mary Ryan' every time she
was on the stage, and every time I became more and more convinced. Finally I
got up again and going round sent in my card to the manager."

"Stokesey?" asked Carrados.

"Yes. I didn't know who was technically the right man, but he, at any
rate, had engaged Miss Roscastle. He saw me at once.

"'I have come across from Dublin to see Miss Roscastle,' I told him, 'and
I am very disappointed to find her out of the cast. Can you tell me why she
is away?'

"'Surely you are mistaken,' he replied, opening a programme that lay
before him. 'Do you know Miss Roscastle by sight?'

"'Very well indeed,' I retorted. 'Better than your staff do. The "Mary
Ryan" to-night is not Miss Roscastle.'

"'I will inquire,' he said, walking to the door. 'Please wait a
minute.'

"He was rigidly courteous, but instinct was telling me all the time that
it was sheer bluff. He had nothing to inquire. In a moment he was back
again.

"'I am informed that the programme is correct,' he said with the same
smooth insincerity, standing in the middle of the room for me to leave. 'Miss
Roscastle is on the stage at this moment. The make-up must have deceived you,
Mr Enniscorthy.'

"I had nothing to reply, because I did not even know what to think. I
simply proceeded to walk out.

"'One moment.' I had reached the door when Mr Stokesey spoke. 'You are a
friend of Miss Roscastle, I suppose?'

"'Yes,' I replied. 'I think I may claim that.'

"'Then I would merely suggest to you that to start a rumour crediting her
with being out of the piece is a service she would fail to appreciate.
Good-evening.'

"I left the theatre because I despaired of getting any real information
after that, and it occurred to me that I could do better elsewhere. Although
Una and I did not correspond, I had begged her, before she left, to let me
know that she arrived safely, and she had sent me just half-a-dozen lines. I
now took a taxi and drove off to the address she had given--a sort of
private hotel or large boarding-house near Holborn.

"'Can you tell me if Miss Roscastle is in?' I asked at the office.

"'Roscastle?' said the fellow there. 'Oh, the young lady from the theatre.
Why, she left us more than a week ago--nearer two, I should say.'

"This was another facer.

"'Can you give me the address she went to?' I asked.

"'Couldn't; against our rule,' he replied. 'Any letters for her were to be
sent to the theatre.'

"I didn't think it would be successful to offer him a bribe, so I thanked
him and walked away. As the hall porter opened the door for me I dropped him
a word. In two minutes he came out to where I was waiting.

"'A Miss Roscastle left here a week or two ago,' I said. 'They won't give
me her address, but you can get it. Here's a Bradbury. I'll be here again in
half-an-hour and if you've got the address--the house, not the
theatre--there'll be another for you when I've verified it.'

"He looked a bit doubtful. Evidently a decent fellow, I thought.

"'It's quite all right,' I assured him. 'We are engaged, but I've only
just come over.'

"He was waiting for me when I returned. The first thing he did was to
tender me the note back again--a a piece of superfluous honesty that
prepared me for the worst.

"'I'm sorry, sir, but it's no go,' he explained. 'The young lady left no
address beyond the theatre.'

"'You called a cab for her when she went?' I suggested.

"'Yes, sir, but she gave the directions while I was bringing out her
things. I never heard where it was to go.'"

"And that is as far as we have got up to this moment, Max," struck in Mr
Carlyle briskly.

"I'm afraid it is," corroborated Enniscorthy. "I got round to the stage
door here in time to see most of the people leave, but neither Miss Roscastle
nor the girl like her were among them."

"She is off half-an-hour before the piece finishes," explained Carrados.
"And of course she might not leave by the stage door."

"In any case it is an extraordinary enough business, is it not, Mr
Carrados?" said Enniscorthy, rather anxious not to be set down a blundering
young idiot for his pains. "What does it mean?"

"So far I would describe it as--curious," admitted Carrados
guardedly. "Investigation may justify a stronger term. In the meanwhile we
need not miss the play."

By this time the theatre had practically filled and the orchestra was
tuning up for the overture. With nothing to occupy his attention, Mr
Enniscorthy began to manifest an unhappy restlessness that increased until
the play had been proceeding for some few minutes. Then Carrados heard Mr
Carlyle murmur, "Charming! Charming!" in a tone of mature connoisseurship;
there was a spontaneous round of applause and "Mary Ryan" was on the
scene.

"The understudy again," Enniscorthy whispered to his companions.

"Well," remarked Mr Carlyle when the curtain descended for the first
interval, "you are still equally convinced, Mr Enniscorthy?"

"There isn't the shadow of a doubt," he replied. Carrados had been writing
a few lines on one of his cards. He now summoned an attendant.

"Mr Stokesey is in the house?" he asked. "Then give him this,
please--when you next go that way." Before the curtain rose the girl
came round to the box again.

"Mr Carrados?" she inquired. "Mr Stokesey told me to say that he would
save you the trouble by looking in here during the next interval."

"Shall I remain?" asked Enniscorthy.

"Oh yes. Stokesey is a most amiable man to do with. I know him slightly.
His attitude to you was evidently the outcome of the circumstances. We shall
all get along very nicely."

The second act was the occasion of "Mary Ryan's" great opportunity and
again she carried the enthusiasm of the audience. After the curtain the young
actress had to respond to an insistent call. In the darkness Mr Stokesey
entered the box and stood waiting at the back.

"Glad to see you here again, Mr Carrados," he remarked, shaking hands with
the blind man as soon as the lights were up. Then he looked at the other
occupants. "My word, I have put my head into the lion's den!" he continued,
his smile deepening into a good-natured grin. "Don't shoot, Mr Enniscorthy; I
will climb down without. I see that the game is up."

"What are you going to tell us?" asked Carrados.

"Everything I know. The lady who has just gone off is not Miss Roscastle.
Mr Enniscorthy was quite right; she wasn't here last night either."

"Then why is her name still in the programme, and why do you and your
people keep up the fiction?" demanded Enniscorthy.

"Because I hoped that Miss Roscastle might have returned to the cast
to-night, and, failing to-night, I hope that she will return to-morrow.
Because we happen to have a substitute in Miss Linknorth so extraordinarily
like the original lady in appearance and voice that no one--excluding
yourself--will have noticed the difference, and because I have a not
unreasonable objection to announcing that the chief attraction of my theatre
is out of the cast. Is there anything very unaccountable in that?"

Mr Carlyle nodded acquiescence to this moderate proposition; Enniscorthy
seemed to admit it reluctantly; it remained for Carrados to accept the
challenge.

"Only one thing," he replied with some reluctance.

"And what is that?"

"That Miss Roscastle will not return to the cast and that you are well
aware why she never can return to it."

"I--what?" demanded the astonished manager.

"Miss Roscastle cannot _return_ to the cast because she has never
been in it."

Stokesey wavered, burst into a roar of laughter and sat down.

"I give in," he exclaimed heartily. "That's my last ditch. Now you really
do know everything that I do."

"But why has she not been in?" demanded Enniscorthy.

"Better ask the lady herself. I cannot even guess."

"I will when I can find her." Not for the first time the young man was
assailed by a horrid fear that he might have been making a fool of himself.
"Where in the meantime is she?"

"The Lord alone knows," retorted Mr Stokesey feelingly. "Don't annihilate
me, Mr Enniscorthy; I don't mean a member of the peerage. But, I'll tell you,
the lady put me in a very deuced fix."

"Won't you take us into your confidence?" suggested Carrados.

"I will, Mr Carrados, because I want a consideration from you in return. I
can put it into a very few words. Twenty minutes before the curtain went up
on the first night a note was sent in to Miss Roscastle. She read it, put on
her hat and coat and went out hurriedly by the stage door."

"Well?" said Carlyle encouragingly.

"That is all. That is the last we saw of her--heard of her. She never
returned."

"But--but " stammered Enniscorthy, and came up short before the
abysmal nature of the prospect confronting him.

"There are a good many 'buts' to be taken into consideration, Mr
Enniscorthy," said the manager, with a rather cryptic look. "Fortunately we
had Miss Linknorth, and the first costume, as you know, is immaterial. Up to
the last possible moment we hung on to Miss Roscastle's return. Then the
other had to go on."

"With not very serious consequences to the success of the play,
apparently," remarked Carrados.

"That's the devilment of it," exclaimed Stokesey warmly. "Don't you see
the hole it has put me into? If 'Mary Ryan' had remained a negligible
quantity it wouldn't have mattered two straws. But for her own diabolical
vanity Miss Linknorth made a confounded success of the part. Of course it was
too late to have any alteration printed on the first night and now Miss
Roscastle is the draw of the piece. People come to see Miss Roscastle. Miss
Roscastle is the piece."

"But if you explained that Miss Linknorth was really the creator of the
part " suggested Mr Carlyle. Stokesey rattled a provocative laugh at the back
of his throat.

"You run a theatre for a few seasons, my dear fellow, and then talk," he
retorted. "You can't explain; you can't do anything; you can only just sit
there. People cease to be rational beings when they set out for a theatre. If
you breathe on a howling success it goes out. If you move a gold mine of a
piece from one theatre to another, next door, everyone promptly decides to
stay away. Don't ask me the reasons; there are none. It isn't a business; it
ought to come under the Gaming Act."

"Mr Stokesey is also faced by the alternative that after he had announced
Miss Linknorth, Miss Roscastle might appear any time and claim her place."
The manager nodded. "That's another consideration," he said.

"But could she?" inquired Mr Carlyle. "After absenting herself in this
way?"

"Oh, goodness knows; I dare say she could--agreements are no good
when it comes to anything happening. At any rate here am I with an element of
success after a procession of distinct non-stops. If we get well set,
whatever happens will matter less. Now I haven't gone to any Machiavellian
lengths in arranging this, but I have taken the chance as it came along. I've
told you everything I know. Is there any reason why you shouldn't do us all a
good turn by keeping it strictly to yourselves?"

"I don't know that I particularly owe you any consideration, Mr Stokesey,
or that you owe me any," announced Mr Enniscorthy. "Just now I am only
concerned in discovering what has become of Miss Roscastle. You know her
address?"

"In Kensington?"

"Well, yes."

"74 Westphalia Mansions."

"You sent there of course?"

"Heavens, yes! The various forms of messages must be six inches deep all
over the hall by now. Last Friday I had a man sitting practically all day on
her doorstep."

"But she has someone there--a housekeeper or maid?"

"I don't think so. She told me that she was taking a little furnished
flat--asked me if the neighbourhood was a suitable one. I imagine there
was something about a daily woman until she found how she liked it. We've had
no one from there anyway."

"Then it comes to this, that for a week there has been absolutely no trace
of Miss Roscastle's existence! Do you quite realise your responsibility, Mr
Stokesey?" demanded Enniscorthy with increased misgivings.

The manager, who had turned to go, caught Mr Carlyle's eye over the
concerned young man's shoulder.

"I don't think that Miss Roscastle's friends need have any anxiety about
her personal safety," he replied with expression. "At all events I've done
everything I can for you; I hope that you will not fail to meet my views. If
there's anything else that occurs to you, Mr Carrados, I shall be in my
office. Good-night."

"Callous brute!" muttered Mr Enniscorthy. "He ought to have put it in the
hands of the police a week ago."

Mr Carlyle glanced at Carrados, who had transferred his interest to the
rendering of the last musical item of the interval.

"Possibly Miss Roscastle would prefer a less public investigation if she
had a voice in the matter," said the professional man.

"If she happens to be shut up in some beastly underground cellar I imagine
she would prefer whatever gets her out the soonest. I dare say it sounds
fantastic, but such things really do happen now and then, you know, and why
not?"

"You don't know of any threats or blackmailing letters?"

"No," admitted the young man; "but I do know this, that if Una was at
liberty she would never allow another actress to take her place and use her
name in this way."

"A very significant suggestion," put in Carrados from his detached
attitude. "Mr Enniscorthy has given you a really valuable hint, Louis."

"I don't mean that Miss Roscastle is really out-of-the-way jealous,"
Enniscorthy hastened to add, "but in her profession--"

"Oh, most natural, most natural," agreed the urbane Carlyle. "Everyone has
to look after his own interest. Now--"

"I don't suppose that you are particularly keen on this act," interposed
the blind man. "Are you, Mr Enniscorthy?"

"I'd much rather be doing something," was the reply.

"I was going to suggest that you might go round to Westphalia Mansions,
just to make sure that there is no one there now. Then if you would find your
way to our table at the Savoy we could hear your report."

"Yes, certainly. I shall be glad to think that I can be of some assistance
by going." Mr Carlyle's optimistic temper was almost incapable of satire, but
he could not refrain from, "You can--poor beggar!" on Enniscorthy's
departure. "I suppose," he continued, turning to his friend, "I suppose you
think that Stokesey may ? Eh?"

"I fancy that in the absence of our young friend he may be induced to
become more confidential. He may have some good ground for believing that the
missing lady will not upset his ingenious plan. He, at all events, discounts
the 'underground cellar.' "

"Oh, that!" commented Carlyle with an indulgent smile. "But, after all,
what is the answer, Max? Enniscorthy is a thoroughly eligible young fellow
and this was the first chance of her career. What is the inducement?"

"That much we can safely emphasise. What, in a word, would induce an
ambitious young lady to throw up a good engagement, Louis?"

"A better?" suggested Mr Carlyle.

"Exactly," agreed Carrados; "a better."

It is unnecessary to follow the course of Mr Carlyle's inquiry on the
facts already disclosed, for, less than twenty-four hours later, the whole
situation was changed and Mr Stokesey's discreet prevarication had been torn
into shreds. The manager had calculated in vain--if he had calculated
and not just accepted the chance that presented itself. At all events the
fiction proved too elaborate to be maintained and late in the afternoon of
the following day all the evening papers blazed out with the

"SENSATIONAL DISAPPEARANCE
OF POPULAR LONDON ACTRESS"

The event was particularly suited to the art of the contents bill, for
when the news came to be analysed there was little else to be learned beyond
the name of the missing actress and the fact that "at the theatre a policy of
questionable reticence is being maintained towards all inquiry." That phrase
caused two men at least to smile as they realised the embarrassment of Mr
Stokesey's dubious position.

The conditions being favourable, the Missing Actress sensation caught on
at once and effectually asphyxiated public interest in all the other
sensations that up to that moment had been satisfying the mental requirements
of the nation--a "Mysterious Submarine," an

"Eloping Dean" (three wives), and an "Are We Becoming Too Intellectual?"
correspondence. Supply followed demand, and it very soon became difficult to
decide, not where Miss Roscastle was, but where she was not. Public opinion
wavered between Genoa, on the authority of a retired lime and slate merchant
of Hull who had had a presentiment while directing a breathless lady to the
docks, when a Wilson liner was on the point of sailing; Leatherhead, the
suggestion of a booking-office clerk who had been struck by the peculiar look
in a veiled lady's eyes as she asked for a third-class return to Cheam; and
Accrington, where a young lady with a marked Irish accent and a theatrical
manner had inquired about lodgings at three different houses and then
abruptly left, saying that she would come back if she thought any more about
it.

Before the novelty was two days old Scotland Yard had been stirred into
recognising its existence. A London clue was forthcoming, apparently the
wildest and most circumstantial of them all. A plain-clothes constable of the
A Division reported that an hour after midnight three days before he had
noticed a shabby-genteel man, who seemed to be waiting for someone, loitering
on the Embankment near the Boadicea statue. There was nothing in the
circumstance to interest him, but when he repassed the spot ten minutes later
the man had been joined by a woman. The sharp eyes of the constable told him
that the woman was well and even fashionably dressed, although she had made
some precaution to conceal it, and the fact quickened his observation. As he
shambled past--an Embankment dead-beat for the occasion--he heard
the name "Roscastle" spoken by one of the two. He could not distinguish by
which, nor the sense in which the word was used, but his notebook, with the
name written down under the correct date, corroborated so much. On neither
occasion had he seen the face of the man distinctly--the threadbare
individual had sought the shadows--but he was able to describe that of
the woman in some detail. He was shown half-a-dozen photographs and at once
identified that of Miss Roscastle. The crowning touch requisite to make this
story entirely popular was supplied by an inspector of river police.
According to the newspaper account, the patrol boat was off the Embankment
near Westminster Bridge between one and a quarter-past on the night in
question when a distinct splash was heard. The crew made for the spot,
flashed the lights about and drifted up and down several times, but without
finding a trace of any human presence. At once the public voice demanded that
the river should be dragged from Chelsea to The Pool, and, pending the
result, every shabby wastrel who appeared on the Embankment arrested.

In his private office Mr Carlyle threw down the last of his morning papers
with an expression that began as a knowing smile but ended rather dubiously.
For his own part he would have much preferred that the disappearance of Miss
Roscastle had not leaked out--that he had been left to pursue his course
unaided, but, in the circumstances, he carefully read everything on the
chance of a useful hint. The Embankment story both amused and puzzled
him.

He dismissed the subject to its proper mental pigeonhole and had turned to
deal with his most confidential correspondence when something very like an
altercation breaking the chaste decorum of his outer office caused him to
stop and frown. The next moment there was a hurrying step outside, the door
was snatched open and Mr Enniscorthy, pale and distracted, stumbled into the
room. Behind him appeared the indignant face of Mr Carlyle's chief clerk.
Then the visitor extinguished the outraged vision by flinging back the door
as he went forward.

"Have you seen the papers?" he demanded. "Is there anything dreadful in
them?"

"I have seen the papers, yes," replied the puzzled agent. "I am not
aware--"

"I mean the evening papers--just out. No, I see you haven't. Here,
read that and tell me. I haven't--I dare not look."

Mr Carlyle took the journal that Enniscorthy thrust under his
eyes--it was the earliest Star--glanced into his visitor's face a
little severely and then focussed the the column.

"Good heavens!" he exclaimed, "what is this! Missing
Actress. Embankment Clue. Body Found!'"

"Ah!" groaned Enniscorthy. "That was on the bills. Is it ?"

"It's all right, it's all right, my dear sir," reported Mr Carlyle,
glancing along the lines. "This is the body of a man . . . the man who was
seen . . . most extraordinary . . ."

"My God!" was wrung from the distressed young man as he dropped into a
chair. "Oh, my God! I thought--" He took out his handkerchief, wiped and
fanned his face, and for the next few minutes looked rather languidly on
things.

"Very distressing," commiserated Mr Carlyle when he had come to the end of
the report. "Can I get you anything--brandy, a glass of water--?
The mere act sipping, I am medically informed, has a beneficial effect in
case of faintness. I have--"

"Nothing, thanks. I shall be all right now. Sorry to have made an ass of
myself. You have heard--anything?"

"Nothing definite so far," was the admission. "But there may be something
worth following in this story after all. I shall go down to the mortuary
shortly. Do you care to accompany me?"

"No, thanks," replied the visitor. "I have had enough of that particular
form of excitement for one morning. . . . Unless, of course, there is
anything--"

He was assured that there was nothing to be effected by his presence and
half-an-hour later Mr Carlyle made his way alone to the obscure mortuary
where the unclaimed dead hold their grim reception.

An inspector of the headquarters investigation staff who had been put on
to the case was standing by the side of one of the shells when Carlyle
entered. He was a man whom the private agent had more than once
good-naturedly obliged in small matters that had come within his reach. He
now greeted Mr Carlyle with consideration and stood aside to allow him to
approach the body.

"The Embankment case, I suppose, sir?" he remarked. "Not very attractive,
but I've seen many worse in here." He jerked off the upper part of the rough
coverlet and exposed a visage that caused Mr Carlyle to turn away with a
"Teh, tch!" of emotion. Then a sense of duty drew him round again and he
proceeded to note the descriptive points of the dead man in his
pocket-book.

"No marks of violence, I suppose?" he asked.

"Nothing beyond the usual abrasions that we always find. A clear case of
drowning--suicide--it seems to be."

"And the things?"

The inspector nodded towards a seedy suit laid out for identification and
an overcoat, once rakish of its fashion and now frayed and mouldering, put
with it.

"Fur collar too, Mr Carlyle," pointed out his guide. "'Velvet and rags,'
isn't it? 'Where moth and rust doth corrupt.' A sermon could be made out of
this."

"Very true; very true indeed," replied Mr Carlyle, who always responded to
the sentimentally obvious. "It is a sermon, inspector. But what have we
here?"

Beside the garments had been collected together a heap of metal
discs--quite a considerable heap, numbering some hundreds. Carlyle took
up a few and examined them. They were all alike--flat, perfectly round
and somewhat under an inch in diameter. They were quite plain and apparently
of lead.

"H'm, curious," he commented. "In his pockets?"

"Yes; both overcoat pockets. Very determined, wasn't he? They would have
kept him down till the Day of Judgment. I've counted them--just five
hundred."

"Any money?"

The inspector smiled his tragi-comic appreciation--the coin
embellished the moral of his unwritten sermon--and pointed.

"A halfpenny!" he replied.

"Poor fellow!" said Mr Carlyle. "Well, well; perhaps it is better as it
is. You might pull up the cloth again now, please. . . . There are no letters
or papers, I see."

The detective hesitated a moment and then recalled the obligation he was
under.

"There is a scrap of paper that I have kept from the Press so far," he
admitted. "It was tightly clenched in the man's right hand--so tight
that we had to use a screw-driver to get it out, and the water had barely
reached it." He was extracting a slip of paper from his notebook as he spoke
and he now unfolded it. "You won't put it about, will you, Mr Carlyle? I
don't know that there's anything tangible in it, but--well, see for
yourself."

"Extraordinary!" admitted the gentleman. He read the words a second time:
"'Fool! What does it matter now?' Why, it might almost--"

"It might be addressed to the coroner, or to anyone who tries to find out
who he is or what it means, you would say. Well, so it might, sir. Anyhow,
that is all."

"By the way, I suppose he is the man your fellow saw?"

"Everything tallies, Mr Carlyle--length of immersion, place, and so
on. Our man thinks he is the same, but you may remember that he didn't claim
to be very positive on this point."

There seemed nothing else to be learned and Mr Carlyle took his departure.
His acquaintance had also finished and their ways lay together as far as
Trafalgar Square. Before they parted the inspector had promised to
communicate with Mr Carlyle as soon as the dead man was identified.

"And if he has a room anywhere he probably will be, with all this talk
about Miss Roscastle. Then we may find something there that will help us," he
predicted. "If he is purely casual the chances are we shall never hear."

His experience was justified and he kept his promise.

Two days later Carlyle heard that the unknown had been identified as the
occupant of a single room in a Lambeth lodging-house. He had only occupied it
for a few weeks and he was known there as Mr Hay. Tenement gossip described
him as a foreigner and credited him with having seen better days--an
easy enough surmise in the circumstances. Mr Carlyle had been on the point of
turning his attention to a Monte Carlo Miss Roscastle when this information
reached him. He set off at once for Lambeth, but at Tubb's Grove
disappointment met him at the door. The landlady of the ramshackle
establishment--a female with a fluent if rather monotonous
delivery--was still smarting from the unappreciated honour of the police
officials' visit and the fierce light of publicity that it had thrown upon
her house. All Mr Carlyle's bland cajolery was futile and in the end he had
to disburse a sum that bore an appreciable relation to a week's rent before
he was allowed to inspect the room and to command conversation that was not
purely argumentative.

Then the barrenness of the land was revealed. Mr Hay had been irregular
with his rent at the best, and when he disappeared he was a week in arrears.
After two days' absence, with the easy casuistry of her circumstances, the
lady had decided that he was not returning and had proceeded to "do out" the
room for the next tenant. The lodger's "few things" she had bundled together
into a cupboard, whence they had been retrieved by the police, in spite of
her indignant protest. But the lodger's "papers and such-like rubbish" she
confessed to burning, to get them out of the way. Mr Carlyle spent a
profitless half-hour and then returned, calling at Scotland Yard on his way
back. His friend the inspector shook his head; there was nothing among the
seized property that afforded any clue.

It was at this point that Mr Carlyle's ingenuous mind suggested looking up
Carrados, whom he had not seen since the visit to the theatre.

"Max was interested in this case from the first; I am sure he will be
expecting to hear from me about it," was the form in which the proposal
conveyed itself to him.

The same evening he ran down to Richmond for an hour, after ascertaining
that his friend was at home and disengaged.

"You might have brought Enniscorthy with you," remarked Carrados when the
subject had been started.

"Nice, genuine young fellow. Evidently deeply in love with the girl, but
he is young enough to take the attack safely. What have you told him?"

"He is back in Ireland just now--got an idea that he might learn
something from some people there, and rushed off. What I have told
him--well"--experience endowed Mr Carlyle with sudden
caution--"what would you have told him, Max?"

Carrados smiled at the innocent guile of the invitation.

"To answer that I should have to know just what you know," he replied. "I
suppose you have gone into this Embankment development?"

"Yes." He had come intending to make some show of his progress and to
sound Carrados discreetly, but once again in the familiar room and under the
sway of the clear-visioned blind man's virile personality he suddenly found
himself submitting quite naturally to the suave, dominating influence. "Yes;
but I must confess, Max, that I am unable to explain much of that incident.
It suggests blackmail at the bottom, and if the plain-clothes man was correct
and saw Miss Roscastle there last Thursday--"

"It was blackmail; but the plain-clothes man was not correct, though he
had every excuse for making the mistake. There is one quiet, retiring
personage in this drama who has been signally overlooked in all the
clamour."

"You mean ?"

"I suggest that if Miss Linknorth had been subpoenaed for the inquest and
asked to account for her movements after leaving the theatre on Thursday last
it might have turned public speculation into another channel--though
probably a wrong one."

"Miss Linknorth!" The idea certainly turned Mr Carlyle's thoughts into a
new channel.

"Has it occurred to you what an extraordinary act of self-effacement it
must have been on the part of this young unknown actress to allow her
well-earned success to be credited to another? As Enniscorthy reminded us,
ladies of the profession are rather keen on their chances."

"Yes; but Stokesey, you remember, insisted on keeping it dark."

"I am not overlooking that. But although it was to Stokesey's interest to
keep up the fiction, and also to the interest of everyone else about the
theatre--people who were merely concerned in the run of the
piece--it would have richly paid the Linknorth to have her identity
established while the iron was hot, whatever the outcome. A paragraph to the
Press the next day would have done it. There wasn't a hint. I am not
overlooking the fact that Miss Linknorth's name now appears on the programme,
but that is an unforeseen development so far as she is concerned, and her
golden opportunity has gone by. With the exception of the first row of the
pit and of the gallery you won't find that one per cent, of the house now
really knows who created 'Mary Ryan' or regards the Linknorth as anything but
a makeshift."

"Then what was the incentive?"

"Suppose it has been made worth Miss Linknorth's while? It is not
necessarily a crude question of money. Friendship might make it worth her
while, or ambition in some quarter we have not looked for, or a dozen other
considerations--anything but the box-office of the Argosy Theatre, which
certainly did not make it worth her while."

"Yes, that is feasible enough, Max, but how does it help us?"

"Do you ever have toothache, Louis?" demanded Carrados inconsequently.

"No, I am glad to say," admitted Mr Carlyle. "Have you got a turn now, old
man? Never mind this confounded 'shop.' I'll go and then you can--"

"Not at all," interposed Carrados, smiling benignly at his friend's
consideration; "and don't be too ready to condemn toothache indiscriminately.
I have sometimes found it very stimulating. The only way to cure it is to
concentrate the mind so terrifically that you forget the ache. Then it stops.
I imagine that a mathematician could succeed by working out a monumental
problem. I have frequently done it by 'discovering' a hoard of Greek coins of
the highest art period on one of the islands and classifying the find. On
Monday night I thought that I was in for a devil of a time. I at once, set
myself to discover a workable theory for everyone's conduct in this affair,
one, of course, that would stand the test of every objection based on fact.
The correct hypothesis must, indeed, be strengthened by every new
circumstance that came out. At twelve o'clock, after two hours' mental
sudation, I began to see light--excuse the phrase. By this time the
toothache had gone, but I was so taken up with the idea that I called out
Harris and drove to Scotland Yard then and there on the chance of finding
Beedel or one of the others I know. . . . Why on earth didn't you let me have
that 'Fool!' message, Louis?"

"My dear fellow," protested Mr Carlyle, "I can't beat up for advice on
every day of my life."

"At all events it might have saved me an hour's strenuous thinking."

"Well, you know, Max, perhaps that would have left you in the middle of
the toothache. Now the message ?"

"The message? Oh, that settled it. You may take it as assured, Louis, that
although Miss Roscastle's departure from the theatre was hurried, in order to
allow her to catch the boat-train from Charing Cross, she had enough time to
think out the situation and to secure Miss Linknorth's allegiance. Whether
Stokesey knows any more than he admits, we need not inquire. The great thing
is that Miss Roscastle had some reason--some fairly strong
reason--for not wanting her absence from the cast to become public. We
agreed, Louis, that a better engagement would alone satisfactorily explain
her defection. What better engagement would you suggest--it could
scarcely be a theatrical one?"

"A brilliant marriage?"

"Our minds positively ident, Louis. 'A brilliant marriage'--my exact
expression. One, moreover, that suddenly becomes possible and cannot be
delayed. One--here we are on difficult ground--one that may be
jeopardised if at that early stage Miss Roscastle's identity in it comes to
light, or if, possibly, her absence from London is discovered. That
sign-post," said Carrados, with his unseeing eyes fixed on the lengthening
vistas that rose before his mind, "points in a good many directions."

"The blackmailer?" hazarded Carlyle.

"I gave a good deal of attention to every phase of that gentleman's
presence," replied Carrados. "It corroborates, but it does not entirely
explain. I would say that he merely intervened. In my view, Miss Roscastle
would have acted precisely as she did if there had been no Mr Hay. At all
events he did intervene and had to be dealt with."

"It had occurred to me, Max, whether it was Miss Linknorth's job to
impersonate the other?"

"It may have been originally. If so, it failed, for Hay proceeded with his
demand. His price was five hundred pounds in English or French gold--an
interesting phase of your ordinary blackmailer's antipathy to
paper--merely an hors d'oeuvre to the solid things to come, of course.
But he was not dealing with a fool. Whether Miss Roscastle frankly had not
five hundred pounds just then, or whether she was better advised, we cannot
say. She temporised, the Linknorth being the intermediary. Then the dummy
pieces? Hay was a menace and had to be held off. At one point there may well
have been the pretence of handing over the cash and then at the last moment
some specious difficulty, necessitating a short delay, is raised. That would
account for the otherwise unnecessary detail of the lead counterfeits, for
there is no need of them on Thursday. Then, when the danger is past, when the
tricked scoundrel has lost his sting, then there is no attempt at evasion or
'Compromise. ' Fool! What does it matter now ?' is the contemptuously
unguarded message and the five hundred doits are pressed upon him to complete
his humiliation. Why doesn't it matter, Louis? Is there any other answer than
that Miss Roscastle is safely married?"

"It certainly looks like it," agreed Mr Carlyle. "But if there was
anything so serious as to have compromised the marriage, surely Hay could
still have held it over her, as against her husband?"

"If it was as against the husband before--yes, perhaps. But suppose
the chink in the armour was the good grace of some third person whose consent
was necessary? This brilliant marriage . . . Well, I don't commit myself any
further. At any rate, in the lady's estimation she is safe, and if she had
deliberately sought to goad Hay into suicide she couldn't have done better.
He read the single line that shattered his greedy dreams and its disdainful
triumph struck him like a whip. He had spent literally his last penny on
pressing his unworthy persecution, and now he stood, beggared and beaten, on
the Embankment at midnight--'he, a gentleman.' ... It doesn't matter how
he took it. He went over, and the muddy waters of the Thames closed over the
last page of his rotten history."

"Max!" exclaimed Mr Carlyle with feeling. "Remember the poor beggar, with
all his failings, is dead now. Not that I should mind," he added cheerfully,
"but I saw him afterwards, you know. Enniscorthy had the sense to keep away.
And, by Gad! Max, that reminds me that this is rather rough on my confiding
young client--running up a bill to have a successful rival sprung upon
his hopes. Have you any idea who he is?"

"Yes," admitted Carrados, "I have an idea, but today it is nothing more
than that. When does Enniscorthy return?"

"He ought to be back in London on Friday morning."

"By then I should know something definite. If you will make an appointment
with him for Friday at half-past eleven I will look in on my way through
town."

"Certainly, Max, certainly." There was a note of faithful expectation in
Mr Carlyle's voice that caused his friend to smile. He crossed the room to
his most-used desk and opened one of the smaller drawers.

"For this simple demonstration, Louis, I require only two appliances,
neither of which, as you will see, is a rabbit or a handkerchief. In other
and saner words, there are only two exhibits. That is from The Morning Mail;
this is from the Westminster street refuse tip."

"This" was a small brown canvas bag. Traces of red sealing-wax still
marked the neck and across it were stamped the words:


Banque de l'Union
Clairvaux


Mr Carlyle looked inside. It was empty, but a few specks of dull grey
metal still lodged among the cloth. He turned to the other object, as
Carrados had indicated an extract from the daily Press. It was a mere slip of
paper and consisted of the following paragraph:

"From Clairvaux, in the Pas de Calais, France, where he purchased a
country estate when he was driven into exile, it is reported that ex-King
Constantine of Villalyia has been lying dangerously ill for the past
week."

"Quite so, quite so," murmured Carlyle, quietly turning over the cutting
to satisfy himself that he was reading the right side.

* * * * *

"I see that you haven't anything very hopeful to report,"
said Mr Enniscorthy--he and Max Carrados had entered Mr Carlyle's office
within a minute of each other two days later--"but let me have it
out."

"It isn't quite a matter of being hopeful or the reverse," replied the
blind man. "It is merely final to your ambition. You know Prince Ulric of
Villalyia?"

"I have been presented. He hunted in Ireland last season."

"He knew Miss Roscastle?"

"They were acquainted, she has told me."

"It went deeper than you imagined. Miss Roscastle is Princess Ulric of
Villalyia to-day."

"Una! Oh," cried Enniscorthy, "but--but that is impossible! You don't
mean that she--"

"I mean exactly what I say. They were married within a week of her
disappearance from London."

Enniscorthy's pained gaze went from face to face. The fatal presentiment
that had always just robbed him of the heroic--the fear that he might be
making an ass of himself--again assailed him.

"But isn't Ulric in the line of succession? They couldn't be really
married without the king's consent. Of course Villalyia is a republic now,
but--"

"But it may not be to-morrow if the expected war breaks out? Quite true,
Mr Enniscorthy. And in the meanwhile the forms and ceremonies are maintained
at the exile Court of Clairvaux. Yet the -king gave his consent."

"Gave his consent! For his son to marry an actress?"

"Ah, there was a little sleight of hand there. He only knew Miss Roscastle
as Miss Eileen O'Rourke, the last representative of a line of Irish kings.
She was a Miss O'Rourke?"

"Yes. Roscastle was only her stage name. The O'Rourkes were a very old but
impoverished family."

"Royal, we may assume. This business was the outcome of one of the
interminable domestic squabbles that the Villalyia Petrosteins seemed to wage
in order to supply the Continental comic papers with material. Ex-King
Constantine recently quarrelled simultaneously and irrevocably with his
eldest son Robert and his first cousin Michael. Robert, who lives in Paris,
has respectably married a robust minor princess who has presented him with
six unattractive daughters and now, by all report, stopped finally. Hating
both son and cousin almost equally, old Constantine, who had fumed himself
into a fever, sent off for his other son, Ulric, and demanded that he should
at once marry and found a.prolific line of sons to embitter Robert and cut
out the posterity of Michael. Prince Ulric merely replied that there was only
one woman whom he wished to marry and she was not of sufficiently exalted
station, and as she refused to marry him morganatically--yes, Mr
Enniscorthy--there was no prospect of his ever marrying at all. The king
suddenly found that he was very ill. Ulric was obdurate. The constitution
allowed the reigning monarch to sanction such an alliance, provided there
were no religious difficulties, and I understand that Miss Roscastle is a
Catholic. Constantine recognised that if he was to gratify his whim he must
consent, and that at once, as he was certainly dying. As things were, Ulric
would probably renounce and marry ignominiously or die unmarried and the
hated Michaels would step in, for, once king, the conventional Robert would
never give his consent to such an alliance. Besides, it would be a 'damned
slap in the face' to half the remaining royalty of Europe, and Constantine
had always posed as a democratic sovereign--that was why his people ran
him out. He coughed himself faint and then commanded the lady to be sent
for."

"If only Una had confided in me I would--yes, I would willingly have
flown to serve her."

"I think that Miss Roscastle was well qualified to serve herself,"
responded Carrados dryly. "Now you can put together the whole story, Mr
Enniscorthy. Many pages of it are necessarily obscure. What the man Hay knew
and threatened--whether it was with him in view or the emissaries of the
hostile Robert and Michael that she took the sudden chance of concealing her
absence and cloaking her identity--what other wheels there were, what
other influences at work--these are only superfluities. The essential
thing is that, in spite of cross-currents, everything went well--for
her, and perhaps for you; the lady's married and there's an end of it."

"I hope that she will be as happy as I should have tried to make her,"
said Enniscorthy rather shakily.

"I shall always think of her. Mr Carrados, I will write to thank you when
I am better able to express myself. Mr Carlyle, you know my address.
Good-morning."

"A very manly way of taking it and very properly expressed--very well
indeed," declared Mr. Carlyle with warm approval as the door closed. "Max,
that is the outcome of good blood--blood and breeding."

"Nonsense, you romantic old humbug," said Carrados with affectionate
contempt. "I have heard exactly the same words in similar circumstances once
before and they were spoken by a Canning Town bricklayer's labourer."

One incident only remains to be added. A month later Mr Carlyle was
passing the Kemble Club when he became conscious of someone trying to avoid
him. With a not unnatural impulse he made for his acquaintance and insisted
on being recognised.

"Ah, Mr Stokesey," he exclaimed, "_Call a Spade_ is still going
strong, I see."

"Mr Carlyle, to be sure," said the manager. "Bother me if I didn't mistake
you for a deadhead who always strikes me for a pass. Good heavens! yes; they
come in droves and companies to see the part that the romantic Princess Ulric
of Villalyia didn't create! I've had three summonses for my pit queue. Didn't
I tell you it was a gamble? When I have to find a successor--when,
mind, I say--I'm going to put on _You Never Can Tell_! What?"



THE SECRET OF DUNSTAN'S TOWER

Serialised in _The News Of The World_, Nov 2-9, 1913


IT was a peculiarity of Mr Carrados that he could drop the
most absorbing occupation of his daily life at a moment's notice if need be,
apply himself exclusively to the solution of some criminological problem,
possibly a matter of several days, and at the end of the time return and take
up the thread of his private business exactly where he had left it.

On the morning of the 3rd of September he was dictating to his secretary a
monograph to which he had given the attractive title, "The Portrait of
Alexander the Great, as Jupiter Ammon, on an unedited octadrachm of
Macedonia," when a telegram was brought in. Greatorex, the secretary, dealt
with such communications as a matter of course, and, taking the envelope from
Parkinson's salver, he cut it open in the pause between a couple of
sentences.

"This is a private matter of yours, sir," he remarked, after glancing at
the message. "Handed in at Netherhempsfield, 10.48 A.M. Repeated. One step
higher. Quite baffled. Tulloch."

"Oh yes; that's all right," said Carrados. "No reply, Parkinson. Have you
got down 'the Roman supremacy'?"

"'. . . the type of workmanship that still enshrined the memory of Spartan
influence down to the era of Roman supremacy,'" read the secretary.

"That will do. How are the trains for Netherhempsfield?"

Greatorex put down the notebook and took up an "ABC."

"Waterloo departure 11--" He cocked an eye towards the desk clock.
"Oh, that's no good. 12.17, 2.11, 5.9, 7.25."

"The 5.9 should do," interposed Carrados. "Arrival?"

"6.48."

"Now what has the gazeteer to say about the place?"

The yellow railway guide gave place to a weightier volume, and the
secretary read out the following details:

"Netherhempsfield, parish and village, pop. 732,
South Downshire. 2728 acres land and 27 water; soil rich loam, occupied as
arable, pasture, orchard and woodland; subsoil various. The church of St
Dunstan (restored 1740) is Saxon and Early English. It possesses an oak roof
with curious grotesque bosses, and contains brasses and other memorials
(earliest 13th century) of the Aynosforde family. In the 'Swinefield,' 1½
miles south-west of the village, are 15 large stones, known locally as the
Judge and Jury, which constitute the remains of a Druidical circle and
temple. Dunstan's Tower, a moated residence built in the baronial style, and
probably dating from the 14th century, is the seat of the
Aynosfordes."

"I can give three days easily," mused Carrados.

"Yes, I'll go down by the 5.9."

"Do I accompany you, sir?" inquired Greatorex.

"Not this time, I think. Have three days off yourself. Just pick up the
correspondence and take things easy. Send on anything to me, care of Dr
Tulloch. If I don't write, expect me back on Friday."

"Very well, Mr Carrados. What books shall I put out for Parkinson to
pack?"

"Say...Gessner's _Thesaurus_ and--yes, you may as well add Hilarion's
_Celtic Mythology_."

Six hours later Carrados was on his way to Netherhempsfield. In his pocket
was the following letter, which may be taken as offering the only explanation
why he should suddenly decide to visit a place of which he had never even
heard until that morning:--

" Dear Mr Carrados ('Old Wynn,'
it used to be),--Do you remember a fellow at St Michael's who used to
own insects and the name of Tulloch--'Earwigs,' they called him? Well,
you will find it at the end of this epistle, if you have the patience to get
there. I ran across Jarvis about six months ago on Euston platform
--you'll recall him by his red hair and great feet--and we had a
rapid and comprehensive pow-wow. He told me who you were, having heard of you
from Lessing, who seems to be editing a high-class review. He always was a
trifle eccentric, Lessing.

"As for yours t., well, at the moment I'm local demon in a
G-f-s little place that you'd hardly find on anything less than a 4-inch
ordnance. But I won't altogether say it mightn't be worse, for there's trout
in the stream, and after half-a-decade of Cinder Moor, in the Black Country,
a great and holy peace broods on the smiling land.

"But you will guess that I wouldn't be taking up the time of
a busy man of importance unless I had something to say, and you'd be right.
It may interest you, or it may not, but here it is.

"Living about two miles out of the village, at a sort of
mediaeval stronghold known as Dunstan's Tower, there is an ancient county
family called Aynosforde. And, for the matter of that, they are about all
there is here, for the whole place seems to belong to them, and their
authority runs from the power to charge you two-pence if you sell a pig
between Friday night and Monday morning to the right to demand an exchange of
scabbards with the reigning sovereign whenever he comes within seven bowshot
flights of the highest battlement of Dunstan's Tower. (I don't gather that
any reigning sovereign ever has come, but that isn't the Aynosfordes' fault.)
But, levity apart, these Aynosfordes, without being particularly rich, or
having any title, are accorded an extraordinary position. I am told that
scarcely a living duchess could hold out against the moral influence old dame
Aynosforde could bring to bear on social matters, and yet she scarcely ever
goes beyond Netherhempsfield now.

"My connection with these high-and-mighties ought to be
purely professional, and so, in a manner, it is, but on the top of it I find
myself drawn into a full-blooded, old haunted house mystery that takes me
clean out of my depth.

"Darrish, the man whose place I'm taking for three months,
had a sort of arrangement that once a week he should go up to the Tower and
amuse old Mrs Aynosforde for a couple of hours under the pretence of feeling
her pulse. I found that I was let in for continuing this. Fortunately the old
dame was quite amiable at close quarters. I have no social qualifications
whatever, and we got on very well together on those terms. I have heard that
she considers me 'thoroughly responsible.'

"For five or six weeks everything went on swimmingly. I had
just enough to do to keep me from doing nothing; people have a delightful
habit of not being taken ill in the night, and there is a comfortable cob to
trot round on.

"Tuesday is my Dunstan's Tower day. Last Tuesday I went as
usual. I recall now that the servants about the place seemed rather wild and
the old lady did not keep me quite as long as usual, but these things were
not sufficiently noticeable to make any impression on me at the time. On
Friday a groom rode over with a note from Swarbrick, the butler. Would I go
up that afternoon and see Mrs Aynosforde? He had taken the liberty of asking
me on his own responsibility as he thought that she ought to be seen. Deuced
queer it struck me, but of course I went.

"Swarbrick was evidently on the look-out. He is a regular
family retainer, taciturn and morose rather than bland. I saw at once that
the old fellow had something on his mind, and I told him that I should like a
word with him. We went into the morning-room.

"'Now, Swarbrick,' I said, 'you sent for me. What is the
matter with your mistress since Tuesday?'"He looked at me dourly, as though
he was still in two minds about opening his mouth. Then he said slowly:

"It isn't since Tuesday, sir. It was on that morning.'

'"What was'? I asked.

"'The beginning of it, Dr Tulloch. Mrs Aynosforde slipped at
the foot of the stairs on coming down to breakfast.'

"'She did?' I said. 'Well, it couldn't have been very
serious at the time. She never mentioned it to me.'

"'No, sir,' the old monument assented, with an appalling
surface of sublime pride, 'she would not.'

"'Why wouldn't she if she was hurt?' I demanded. 'People do
mention these things to their medical men, in strict confidence.'

"'The circumstances are unusual, sir,' he replied, without a
ruffle of his imperturbable respect. 'Mrs Aynosforde was not hurt, sir. She
did not actually fall, but she slipped--on a pool of blood.'

"'That's unpleasant,' I admitted, looking at him sharply,
for an owl could have seen that there was something behind all this. 'How did
it come there? Whose was it?'

"'Sir Philip Bellmont's, sir.'

"I did not know the name. 'Is he a visitor here?' I
asked.

"'Not at present, sir. He stayed with us in 1662. He died
here, sir, under rather unpleasant circumstances.'

"There you have it, Wynn. That is the keystone of the whole
business. But if I keep to my conversation with the still reluctant Swarbrick
I shall run out of foolscap and into midnight. Briefly, then, the 'unpleasant
circumstances' were as follows:--Just about two and a half centuries
ago, when Charles II. was back, and things in England were rather gay, a
certain Sir Philip Bellmont was a guest at Dunstan's Tower. There were dice,
and there was a lady--probably a dozen, but the particular one was the
Aynosforde's young wife. One night there was a flare-up. Bellmont was run
through with a rapier, and an ugly doubt turned on whether the point came out
under the shoulder-blade, or went in there. Dripping on to every stair, the
unfortunate man was carried up to his room. He died within a few hours,
convinced, from the circumstances, of treachery all round, and with his last
breath he left an anathema on every male and female Aynosforde as the day of
their death approached. There are fourteen steps in the flight that Bellmont
was carried up, and when the pool appears in the hall some Aynosforde has
just two weeks to live. Each succeeding morning the stain may be found one
stair higher. When it reaches the top there is a death in the family. "This
was the gist of the story. As far as you and I are concerned, it is, of
course, merely a matter as to what form our scepticism takes, but my attitude
is complicated by the fact that my nominal patient has become a real one. She
is seventy-two and built to be a nonagenarian, but she has gone to bed with
the intention of dying on Tuesday week. And I firmly believe she will.

"'How does she know that she is the one?' I asked. There
aren't many Aynosfordes, but I knew that there were some others.

"To this Swarbrick maintained a discreet ambiguity. It was
not for him to say, he replied, but I can see that he, like most of the
natives round here, is obsessed with Aynosfordism.

"'And for that matter,' I objected, 'your mistress is
scarcely entitled to the distinction. She will not really be an Aynosforde at
all--only one by marriage.'"'No, sir,' he replied readily, 'Mrs
Aynosforde was also a Miss Aynosforde, sir--one of the Dorset
Aynosfordes. Mr Aynosforde married his cousin.'

"'Oh,' I said, ' do the Aynosfordes often marry
cousins?'

"'Very frequently, sir. You see, it is difficult otherwise
for them to find eligible partners.'"Well, I saw the lady, explaining that I
had not been altogether satisfied with her condition on the Tuesday. It
passed, but I was not able to allude to the real business. Swarbrick, in his
respectful, cast-iron way, had impressed on me that Sir Philip Bellmont must
not be mentioned, assuring me that even Darrish would not venture to do so.
Mrs Aynosforde was certainly a little feverish, but there was nothing the
matter with her. I left, arranging to call again on the Sunday. "When I came
to think it over, the first form it took was: Now who is playing a silly
practical joke, or working a deliberate piece of mischief? But I could not
get any further on those lines, because I do not know enough of the
circumstances. Darrish might know, but Darrish is cruising off Spitsbergen,
suffering from a nervous breakdown. The people here are amiable enough
superficially, but they plainly regard me as an outsider.

"It was then that I thought of you. From what Jarvis had
told me I gathered that you were keen on a mystery for its own sake.
Furthermore, though I understand that you are now something of a dook, you
might not be averse to a quiet week in the country, jogging along the lanes,
smoking a peaceful pipe of an evening and yarning over old times. But I was
not going to lure you down and then have the thing turn out to be a
ridiculous and transparent hoax, no matter how serious its consequences. I
owed it to you to make some reasonable investigation myself. This I have now
done.

"On Sunday when I went there Swarbrick, with a very long
face, reported that on each morning he had found the stain one step higher.
The patient, needless to say, was appreciably worse. When I came down I had
made up my mind.

"'Look here, Swarbrick,' I said, 'there is only one thing
for it. I must sit up here to-night and see what happens.'

"He was very dubious at first, but I believe the fellow is
genuine in his attachment to the house. His final scruple melted when he
learned that I should not require him to sit up with me. I enjoined absolute
secrecy, and this, in a large rambling place like the Tower, is not difficult
to maintain. All the maidservants had fled. The only people sleeping within
the walls now, beyond those I have mentioned, are two of Mrs Aynosforde's
grandchildren (a girl and a young man whom I merely know by sight), the
housekeeper and a footman. All these had retired long before the butler
admitted me by an obscure little door, about half-an-hour after midnight.

"The staircase with which we are concerned goes up from the
dining hall. A much finer, more modern way ascends from the entrance hall.
This earlier one, however, only gives access now to three rooms, a lovely
oak-panelled chamber occupied by my patient and two small rooms, turned
nowadays into a boudoir and a bathroom. When Swarbrick had left me in an
easy-chair, wrapped in a couple of rugs, in a corner of the dark dining hall,
I waited for half-an-hour and then proceeded to make my own preparations.
Moving very quietly, I crept up the stairs, and at the top drove one
drawing-pin into the lintel about a foot up, another at the same height into
the baluster opposite, and across the stairs fastened a black thread, with a
small bell hanging over the edge. A touch and the bell would ring, whether
the thread broke or not. At the foot of the stairs I made another attachment
and hung another bell.

"'I think, my unknown friend,' I said, as I went back to the
chair, 'you are cut off above and below now.'

"I won't say that I didn't close my eyes for a minute
through the whole night, but if I did sleep it was only as a watchdog sleeps.
A whisper or a creak of a board would have found me alert. As it was,
however, nothing happened. At six o'clock Swarbrick appeared, respectfully
solicitous about my vigil.

"'We've done it this time, Swarbrick,' I said in modest
elation. 'Not the ghost of a ghost has appeared. The spell is broken.'

"He had crossed the hall and was looking rather strangely at
the stairs. With a very queer foreboding I joined him and followed his
glance. By heavens, Wynn, there, on the sixth step up, was a bright red
patch! I am not squeamish; I cleared four steps at a stride, and stooping
down I dipped my finger into the stuff and felt its slippery viscidity
against my thumb. There could be no doubt about it; it was the genuine thing.
In my baffled amazement I looked in every direction for a possible clue to
human agency. Above, more than twenty feet above, were the massive rafters
and boarding of the roof itself. By my side reared a solid stone wall, and
beneath was simply the room we stood in, for the space below the stairway was
not en?closed.

"I pointed to my arrangement of bells.

"'Nobody has gone up or down, I'll swear,' I said a little
warmly. Between ourselves, I felt a bit of an ass for my pains, before the
monumental Swarbrick.

"'No, sir,' he agreed. 'I had a similar experience myself on
Saturday night.'

"'The deuce you did,' I exclaimed. 'Did you sit up
then?'

"'Not exactly, sir,' he replied, 'but after making all
secure at night I hung a pair of irreplaceable Dresden china cups in a
similar way. They were both still intact in the morning, sir.'

"Well, there you are. I have nothing more to say on the
subject. 'Hope not,' you'll be muttering. If the thing doesn't tempt you, say
no more about it. If it does, just wire a time and I'll be at the station.
Welcome isn't the word.--Yours as of yore,

"J1m Tulloch.

"P.S.--Can put your man up all right. J.T."

Carrados had "wired a time," and he was seized on the platform by the
awaiting and exuberant Tulloch and guided with elaborate carefulness to the
doctor's cart, which was, as its temporary owner explained, "knocking about
somewhere in the lane outside."

"Splendid little horse," he declared. "Give him a hedge to nibble at and
you can leave him to look after himself for hours. Motors? He laughs at them,
Wynn, merely laughs."

Parkinson and the luggage found room behind, and the splendid little horse
shook his shaggy head and launched out for home. For a mile the conversation
was a string of, "Do you ever come across Brown now?" "You know Sugden was
killed flying?" "Heard of Marling only last week; he's gone on the stage."
"By the way, that appalling ass Sanders married a girl with a pot of money
and runs horses now," and doubtless it would have continued in a similar
strain to the end of the journey if an encounter with a farmer's country trap
had not interrupted its tenor. The lane was very narrow at that point and the
driver of the trap drew into the hedge and stopped to allow the doctor to
pass. There was a mutual greeting, and Tulloch pulled.up also when their hubs
were clear.

"No more sheep killed, I hope?" he called back.

"No, sir; I can't complain that we have," said the driver cheerfully. "But
I do hear that Mr Stone, over at Daneswood, lost one last night."

"In the same way, do you mean?"

"So I heard. It's a queer business, doctor."

"It's a blackguardly business. It's a marvel what the fellow thinks he's
doing."

"He'll get nabbed, never fear, sir. He'll do it once too often."

"Hope so," said the doctor. "Good-day." He shook the reins and turned to
his visitor. "One of our local 'Farmer Jarges.' It's part of the business to
pass the time o' day with them all .and ask after the cow or the pig, if no
other member of the family happens to be on the sick list."

"What is the blackguardly business?" asked Carrados.

"Well, that is a bit out of the common, I'll admit. About a week ago this
man, Bailey, found one of his sheep dead in the field. It had been
deliberately killed--head cut half off. It hadn't been done for meat,
because none was taken. But, curiously enough, something else had been taken.
The animal had been opened and the heart and intestines were gone. What do
you think of that, Wynn?"

"Revenge, possibly."

"Bailey declares that he hasn't got the shadow of an enemy in the world.
His three or four labourers are quite content. Of course a thing like that
makes a tremendous sensation in a place like this. You may see as many as
five men talking together almost any day now. And here, on the top if it,
comes another case at Stone's. It looks like one of those outbreaks that crop
up from time to time for no obvious reason and then die out again."

"No reason, Jim?"

"Well, if it isn't revenge, and if it isn't food, what is there to be got
by it?"

"What is there to be got when an animal is killed?" Tulloch stared without
enlightenment.

"What is there that I am here to trace?"

"Godfrey Dan'l, Wynn! You don't mean to say that there is any connection
between ?"

"I don't say it," declared Carrados promptly. "But there is very strong
reason why we should consider it. It solves a very obvious question that
faces us. A pricked thumb does not produce a pool. Did you microscope
it?"

"Yes, I did. I can only say that it's mammalian. My limited experience
doesn't carry me beyond that. Then what about the entrails, Wynn? Why take
those?"

"That raises a variety of interesting speculations certainly."

"It may to you. The only thing that occurs to me is that it might be a
blind."

"A very unfortunate one, if so. A blind is intended to allay
curiosity--to suggest an obvious but fictitious motive. This, on the
contrary, arouses curiosity. The abstraction of a haunch of mutton would be
an excellent blind. Whereas now, as you say, what about the entrails?"

Tulloch shook his head.

"I've had my shot," he answered. "Can you suggest anything?"

"Frankly, I can't," admitted Carrados.

"On the face of it, I don't suppose anyone short of an oracle could. Pity
our local shrine has got rusty in the joints." He levelled his whip and
pointed to a distant silhouette that showed against the last few red streaks
in the western sky a mile away. "You see that solitary old outpost of
paganism--"

The splendid little horse leapt forward in indignant surprise as the
extended whip fell sharply across his shoulders. Tulloch's ingenuous face
seemed to have caught the rubicundity of the distant sunset.

"I'm beastly sorry, Wynn, old man," he muttered. "I ought to have
remembered."

"My blindness?" contributed Carrados. "My dear chap, everyone makes a
point of forgetting that. It's quite a recognised form of compliment among
friends. If it were baldness I probably should be touchy on the subject; as
it's only blindness I'm not."

"I'm very glad you take it so well," said Tulloch.

"I was referring to a stone circle that we have here. Perhaps you have
heard of it?"

"The Druids' altar!" exclaimed Carrados with an inspiration. "Jim, to my
everlasting shame, I had forgotten it."

"Oh, well, it isn't much to look at," confessed the practical doctor. "Now
in the church there are a few decent monuments--all Aynosfordes, of
course."

"Aynosfordes--naturally. Do you know how far that remarkable race
goes back?"

"A bit beyond Adam I should fancy," laughed Tulloch. "Well, Darrish told
me that they really can trace to somewhere before the Conquest. Some
antiquarian Johnny has claimed that the foundations of Dunstan's Tower cover
a Celtic stronghold. Are you interested in that sort of thing?"

"Intensely," replied Carrados; "but we must not neglect other things. This
gentleman who owned the unfortunate sheep, the second victim, now? How far is
Daneswood away?"

"About a mile--mile and a half at the most." Carrados turned towards
the back seat.

"Do you think that in seven minutes' time you would be able to distinguish
the details of a red mark on the grass, Parkinson?"

Parkinson took the effect of three objects, the sky above, the herbage by
the roadside, and the back of his hand, and then spoke regretfully.

"I'm afraid not, sir; not with any certainty," he replied.

"Then we need not trouble Mr Stone to-night," said Carrados
philosophically.

After dinner there was the peaceful pipe that Tulloch had forecast, and
mutual reminiscences until the long clock in the corner, striking the
smallest hour of the morning, prompted Tulloch to suggest retirement.

"I hope you have everything," he remarked tentatively, when he had
escorted the guest to his bedroom. "Mrs Jones does for me very well, but you
are an unknown quantity to her as yet."

"I shall be quite all right, you may be sure," replied Carrados, with his
engagingly grateful smile. "Parkinson will already have seen to everything.
We have a complete system, and I know exactly where to find anything I
require."

Tulloch gave a final glance round.

"Perhaps you would prefer the window closed?" he suggested.

"Indeed I should not. It is south-west, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"And a south-westerly breeze to bring the news. I shall sit here for a
little time." He put his hand on the top rail of a chair with unhesitating
precision and drew it to the open casement. "There are a thousand sounds that
you in your arrogance of sight ignore, a thousand individual scents of hedge
and orchard that come to me up here. I suppose it is quite dark to you now,
Jim? What a lot you seeing people must miss!"

Tulloch guffawed, with his hand on the door knob. "Well, don't let your
passion for nocturnal nature study lead you to miss breakfast at eight. My
eyes won't, I promise you. Ta-ta."

He jigged off to his own room and in ten minutes was soundly asleep. But
the oak clock in the room beneath marked the quarters one by one until the
next hour struck, and then round the face again until the little finger stood
at three, and still the blind man sat by the open window that looked out over
the south-west, interpreting the multitudinous signs of the quiet life that
still went on under the dark cover of the warm summer night.

"The word lies with you, Wynn," remarked Tulloch at breakfast the next
morning--he was twelve minutes late, by the way, and found his guest
interested in the titles of Dr Darrish's excellent working library. "I am
supposed to be on view here from nine to ten, and after that I am due at
Abbot's Farm somewhere about noon. With those reservations, I am at your
disposal for the day."

"Do you happen to go anywhere near the 'Swinefield' on your way to Abbot's
Farm?" asked Carrados.

"The 'Swinefield'? Oh, the Druids' circle. Yes, one way--and it's as
good as any other--passes the wheel-track that leads up to it."

"Then I should certainly like to inspect the site."

"There's really nothing to see, you know," apologised the doctor. "Only a
few big rocks on end. They aren't even chiselled smooth."

"I am curious," volunteered Carrados, "to discover why fifteen stones
should be called 'The Judge and Jury.'"

"Oh, I can explain that for you," declared Tulloch. "Two of them are near
together with a third block across the tops. That's the Judge. The twelve
jurymen are scattered here and there. But we'll go, by all means."

"There is a public right of way, I suppose?" asked Carrados, when, in due
course, the trap turned from the highway into a field track.

"I don't know about a right," said Tulloch, "but I imagine that anyone
goes across who wants to. Of course it's not a Stonehenge, and we have very
few visitors, or the Aynosfordes might put some restrictions. As for the
natives, there isn't a man who wouldn't sooner walk ten miles to see a
five-legged calf than cross the road to look at a Phidias. And for that
matter," he added thoughtfully, "this is the first time I've been really up
to the place myself."

"It's on Aynosforde property, then?"

"Oh yes. Most of the parish is, I believe. But this 'Swinefield' is part
of the park. There is an oak plantation across there or Dunstan's Tower would
be in sight."

They had reached the gate of the enclosure. The doctor got down to open
it, as he had done the former ones.

"This is locked," he said, coming back to the step, "but we can climb over
easy enough. You can get down all right?"

"Thanks," replied Carrados. He descended and followed Tulloch, stopping to
pat the little horse's neck.

"He'll be all right," remarked the doctor with a backward nod. "I fancy
Tommy's impressionable years must have been spent between the shafts of a
butcher's cart. Now, Wynn, how do we proceed?"

"I should like to have your arm over this rough ground. Then if you will
take me from stone to stone--"

They paced the broken circle leisurely, Carrados judging the appearance of
the remains by touch and by the answers to the innumerable questions that he
put. They were approaching the most important monument the Judge--when
Tulloch gave a shout of delight.

"Oh, the beauty!" he cried with enthusiasm. "I must see you closer. Wynn,
do you mind--a minute--"

"Lady, Jim?" murmured Carrados. "Certainly not. I'll stand like
Tommy."

Tulloch shot off with a laugh and Carrados heard him racing across the
grass in the direction of the trilithon. He was still amused when he
returned, after a very short interval.

"No, Wynn, not a lady, but it occurred to me that you might have been
farther off. A beautiful airy creature very brightly clad. A Purple Emperor,
in fact. I haven't netted a butterfly for years, but the sight gave me all
the old excitement of the chase."

"Tolerably rare, too, aren't they?"

"Generally speaking, they are. I remember waiting in an oak grove with a
twenty-foot net for a whole day once, and not a solitary Emperor crossed my
path."

"An oak grove; yes, you said there was an oak plantation here."

"I didn't know the trick then. You needn't go to that trouble. His Majesty
has rather peculiar tastes for so elegant a being. You just hang a piece of
decidedly ripe meat anywhere near."

"Yes, Jim?"

"Do you notice anything?" demanded the doctor, with his face up to the
wind.

"Several things," replied Carrados.

"Apropos of high meat? Do you know, Wynn, I lost that Purple Emperor here,
round the blocks. I thought it must have soared, as I couldn't quite fathom
its disappearance. This used to be the Druids' altar, they say. I don't know
if you follow me, but it would be a devilish rum go if--eh?"

Carrados accepted the suggestion of following Jim's idea with impenetrable
gravity.

"I haven't the least doubt that you are right," he assented. "Can you get
up?"

"It's about ten feet high," reported Tulloch, "and not an inch of crevice
to get a foothold on. If only we could bring the trap in here--"

"I'll give you a back," said Carrados, taking a position against one of
the pillars. "You can manage with that?"

"Sure you can stand it?"

"Only be as quick as you can."

"Wait a minute," said Tulloch with indecision. "I think someone is
coming."

"I know there is," admitted Carrados, "but it is only a matter of seconds.
Make a dash for it."

"No," decided Tulloch. "One looks ridiculous. I believe it is Miss
Aynosforde. We'd better wait."

A young girl with a long thin face, light hair and the palest blue eyes
that it would be possible to imagine had come from the wood and was
approaching them hurriedly. She might have been eighteen, but she was
"dressed young," and when she spoke she expressed the ideas of a child.

"You ought not to come in here," was her greeting. "It belongs to us."

"I am sorry if we are trespassing," apologised Tulloch, colouring with
chagrin and surprise. "I was under the impression that Mrs Aynosforde allowed
visitors to inspect these ruins. I am Dr Tulloch." "I don't know anything
about that," said the girl vaguely. "But Dunstan will be very cross if he
sees you here. He is always cross if he finds that anyone has been here. He
will scold me afterwards. And he makes faces in the night."

"We will go," said Tulloch quietly. "I am sorry that we should have
unconsciously intruded." He raised his hat and turned to walk away, but Miss
Aynosforde detained him.

"You must not let Dunstan know that I spoke to you about it," she implored
him. "That would be as bad. Indeed," she added plaintively, "whatever I do
always makes him cruel to me."

"We will not mention it, you may be sure," replied the doctor.
"Good-morning."

"Oh, it is no good!" suddenly screamed the girl. "He has seen us; he is
coming!"

Tulloch looked round in the direction that Miss Aynosforde's frightened
gaze indicated. A young man whom he knew by sight as her brother had left the
cover of the wood and was strolling leisurely towards them. Without waiting
to encounter him the girl turned and fled, to hide herself behind the
farthest pillar, running with ungainly movements of her long, wispish arms
and uttering a low cry as she went. As young Aynosforde approached he
courteously raised his hat to the two elder men. He appeared to be a few
years older than his sister, and in him her colourless ovine features were
moulded to a firmer cast.

"I am afraid that we are trespassing," said the doctor, awkward between
his promise to the girl and the necessity of glossing over the situation. "My
friend is interested in antiquities--"

"My unfortunate sister!" broke in Aynosforde quietly, with a sad smile. "I
can guess what she has been saying. You are Dr Tulloch, are you not?"

"Yes."

"Our grandmother has a foolish but amiable weakness that she can keep poor
Edith's infirmity dark. I cannot pretend to maintain that appearance before a
doctor . . . and I am sure that we can rely on the discretion of your
friend?"

"Oh, certainly," volunteered Tulloch. "He is--"

"Merely an amateur," put in Carrados, suavely, but with the incisiveness
of a scalpel.

"You must, of course, have seen that Edith is a little unusual in her
conversation," continued the young man. "Fortunately, it is nothing worse
than that. She is not helpless, and she is never violent. I have some hope,
indeed, that she will outgrow her delusions. I suppose"--he laughed a
little as he suggested it--"I suppose she warned you of my displeasure
if I saw you here?"

"There was something of the sort," admitted Tulloch, judging that the
circumstances nullified his promise. Aynosforde shook his head slowly.

"I am sorry that you have had the experience," he remarked. "Let me assure
you that you are welcome to stay as long as you like under the shadows of
these obsolete fossils, and to come as often as you please. It is a very
small courtesy; the place has always been accessible to visitors."

"I am relieved to find that I was not mistaken," said the doctor.

"When I have read up the subject I should like to come again," interposed
Carrados. "For the present we have gone all over the ground." He took
Tulloch's arm, and under the insistent pressure the doctor turned towards the
gate. "Good-morning, Mr Aynosforde."

"What a thing to come across!" murmured Tulloch when they were out of
earshot. "I remember Darrish making the remark that the girl was simple for
her years or something of that sort, but I only took it that she was
backward. I wonder if the old ass knew more than he told me!"

They were walking without concern across the turf and had almost reached
the gate when Carrados gave a sharp, involuntary cry of pain and wrenched his
arm free. As he did so a stone of dangerous edge and size fell to the ground
between them.

"Damnation!" cried Tulloch, his face darkening with resentment. "Are you
hurt, old man?"

"Come on," curtly replied Carrados between his set teeth.

"Not until I've given that young cub something to remember," cried the
outraged doctor truculently. "It was Aynosforde, Wynn. I wouldn't have
believed it, but I just caught sight of him in time. He laughed and ran
behind a pillar when you were hit."

"Come on," reiterated Carrados, seizing his friend's arm and compelling
him towards the gate. "It was only the funny bone, fortunately. Would you
stop to box the village idiot's ears because he puts out his tongue at
you?"

"Village idiot!" exclaimed Tulloch. "I may only be a thick-skulled,
third-rate general practitioner of no social pretension whatever, but I'm
blistered if I'll have my guests insulted by a long-eared pedigree blighter
without putting up a few plain words about it. An Aynosforde or not, he must
take the consequences; he's no village idiot."

"No," was Carrados's grim retort; "he is something much more
dangerous--the castle maniac."

Tulloch would have stopped in sheer amazement, but the recovered arm
dragged him relentlessly on.

"Aynosforde! Mad!"

"The girl is on the borderline of imbecility; the man has passed beyond
the limit of a more serious phase. The ground has been preparing for
generations; doubtless in him the seed has quietly germinated for years. Now
his time has come."

"I heard that he was a nice, quiet young fellow, studious and interested
in science. He has a workshop and a laboratory."

"Yes, anything- to occupy his mind. Well, in future he will have a padded
room and a keeper."

"But the sheep killed by night and the parts exposed on the Druids' altar?
What does it mean, Wynn?"

"It means madness, nothing more and nothing less. He is the receptacle for
the last dregs of a rotten and decrepit stock that has dwindled down to
mental atrophy. I don't believe that there is any method in his midnight
orgies. The Aynosfordes are certainly a venerable line, and it is faintly
possible that its remote ancestors were Druid priests who sacrificed and
practised haruspicy on the very spot that we have left. I have no doubt that
on that questionable foundation you would find advocates of a more romantic
theory."

"Moral atavism?" suggested the doctor shrewdly.

"Yes--reincarnation. I prefer the simpler alternative. Aynosforde has
been so fed up with pride of family and traditions of his ancient race that
his mania takes this natural trend. You know what became of his father and
mother?"

"No, I have never heard them mentioned."

"The father is in a private madhouse. The mother--another cousin, by
the way--died at twenty-five."

"And the blood stains on the stairs? Is that his work?"

"Short of actual proof, I should say yes. It is the realisation of another
family legend, you see. Aynosforde may have an insane grudge against his
grandmother, or it may be simply apeish malignity, put into his mind by the
sight of blood."

"What do you propose doing, then? We can't leave the man at large."

"We have nothing yet to commit him on. You would not sign for a reception
order on the strength of seeing him throw a stone? We must contrive to catch
him in the act to-night, if possible." Tulloch woke up the little horse with
a sympathetic touch--they were ambling along the highroad again by this
time--and permitted himself to smile.

"And how do you propose to do that, Excellency?" he asked.

"By sprinkling the ninth step with iodide of nitrogen. A warm night ... it
will dry in half-an-hour."

"Well, do you know, I never thought of that," admitted the doctor.
"Certainly that would give us the alarm if a feather brushed it. But we don't
possess a chemist's shop, and I very much doubt if I can put my hand on any
iodine."

"I brought a couple of ounces," said Carrados with diffidence. "Also a
bottle of 4880 ammonia to be on the safe side."

"You really are a bit of a sine qua non, Wynn," declared Tulloch
expressively.

"It was such an obvious thing," apologised the blind man. "I suppose Brook
Ashfield is too far for one of us to get over to this afternoon?"

"In Dorset?"

"Yes. Colonel Eustace Aynosforde is the responsible head of the family
now, and he should be en the spot if possible. Then we ought to get a couple
of men from the county lunatic asylum. We don't know what may be before
us."

"If it can't be done by train we must wire or perhaps Colonel Aynosforde
is on the telephone. We can go into that as soon as we get back. We are
almost at Abbot's Farm now. I will cut it down to fifteen minutes at the
outside. You don't mind waiting here?"

"Don't hurry," replied Carrados. "Few cases are matters of minutes.
Besides, I told Parkinson to come on here from Daneswood on the chance of our
picking him up."

"Oh, it's Parkinson, to be sure," said the doctor. "Thought I knew the
figure crossing the field. Well, I'll leave you to him."

He hastened along the rutty approach to the farmhouse, and Tommy, under
the pretext of being driven there by certain pertinacious flies,
imperceptibly edged his way towards the long grass by the roadside. In a few
minutes Parkinson announced his presence at the step of the vehicle.

"I found what you described, sir," he reported. "These are the
shapes."

Tulloch kept to his time. In less than a quarter of an hour he was back
again and gathering up the reins.

"That little job is soon worked off," he remarked with mild satisfaction.
"Home now, I suppose, Wynn?"

"Yes," assented Carrados. "And I think that the other little job is
morally worked off." He held up a small piece of note-paper, cut to a neat
octagon, with two long sides and six short ones. "What familiar object would
just about cover that plan, Jim?"

"If it isn't implicating myself in any devilment, I should say that one of
our four-ounce bottles would be about the ticket," replied Tulloch.

"It very likely does implicate you to the extent of being one of your
four-ounce bottles, then," said Carrados. "The man who killed Stone's sheep
had occasion to use what we will infer to be a four-ounce bottle. It does not
tax the imagination to suggest the use he put it to, nor need we wonder that
he found it desirable to wash it afterwards--this small, flat bottle
that goes conveniently into a waistcoat pocket. On one side of the
field--the side remote from the road, Jim, but in the direct line for
Dunstan's Tower--there is a stream. There he first washed his hands,
carefully placing the little bottle on the grass while he did so. That
indiscretion has put us in possession of a ground plan, so to speak, of the
vessel."

"Pity it wasn't of the man instead."

"Of the man also. In the field the earth is baked and unimpressionable,
but down by the water-side the conditions are quite favourable, and Parkinson
got perfect reproductions of the footprints. Soon, perhaps, we may have an
opportunity of making a comparison." The doctor glanced at the neat lines to
which the papers Carrados held out had been cut.

"It's a moral," he admitted. "There's nothing of the hobnailed about those
boots, Wynn."

* * * * *

Swarbrick had been duly warned and obedience to his instructions had been
ensured by the note that conveyed them bearing the signature of Colonel
Aynosforde. Between eleven and twelve o'clock a light in a certain position
gave the intelligence that Dunstan Aynosforde was in his bedroom and the
coast quite clear. A little group of silent men approached the Tower, and
four, crossing one of the two bridges that spanned the moat, melted
spectrally away in a dark angle of the walls.

Every detail had been arranged. There was no occasion for whispered
colloquies about the passages, and with the exception of the butler's sad and
respectful greeting of an Aynosforde, scarcely a word was spoken. Carrados,
the colonel and Parkinson took up their positions in the great dining hall,
where Dr Tulloch had waited on the occasion of his vigil. A screen concealed
them from the stairs and the chairs on which they sat did not creak--all
the blind man asked for. The doctor, who had carried a small quantity of some
damp powder wrapped in a saturated sheet of blotting-paper, occupied himself
for five minutes distributing it minutely over the surface of the ninth
stair. When this was accomplished he disappeared and the silence of a
sleeping house settled upon the ancient Tower. A party, however, is only as
quiet as its most restless member, and the colonel soon discovered a growing
inability to do nothing at all and to do it in absolute silence. After an
exemplary hour he began to breathe whispered comments on the situation into
his neighbour's ear, and it required all Carrados's tact and good humour to
repress his impatience. Two o'clock passed and still nothing had
happened.

"I began to feel uncommonly dubious, you know," whispered the colonel,
after listening to the third clock strike the hour. "We stand to get
devilishly chaffed if this gets about. Suppose nothing happens?"

"Then your aunt will probably get up again," replied Carrados.

"True, true. We shall have broken the continuity. But, you know, Mr
Carrados, there are some things about this portent, visitation--call it
what you will--that even I don't fully understand down to this day.
There is no doubt that my grandfather, Oscar Aynosforde, who died in 1817,
did receive a similar omen, or summons, or whatever it may be. We have it on
the authority--"

Carrados clicked an almost inaudible sound of warning and laid an
admonishing hand on the colonel's arm. "Something going on," he breathed.

The soldier came to the alert like a terrier at a word, but his straining
ears could not distinguish a sound beyond the laboured ticking of the hall
clock beyond.

"I hear nothing," he muttered to himself. He had not long to wait.
Half-way up the stairs something snapped off like the miniature report of a
toy pistol. Before the sound could translate itself to the human brain
another louder discharge had swallowed it up and out of its echo a crackling
fusillade again marked the dying effects of the scattered explosive.

At the first crack Carrados had swept aside the screen. "Light,
Parkinson!" he cried.

An electric lantern flashed out and centred its circle of brilliance on
the stairs opposite. Its radiance pierced the nebulous balloon of violet
smoke that was rising to the roof and brought out every detail of the wall
beyond.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Colonel Aynosforde, "there is a stone out. I
knew nothing of this." As he spoke the solid block of masonry slid back into
its place and the wall became as blankly impenetrable as before.

"Colonel Aynosforde," said Carrados, after a hurried word with Parkinson,
"you know the house. Will you take my man and get round to Dunstan's
work-room at once? A good deal depends upon securing him immediately."

"Am I to leave you here without any protection, sir?" inquired Parkinson
in mild rebellion.

"Not without any protection, thank you, Parkinson. I shall be in the dark,
remember."

They had scarcely gone when Dr Tulloch came stumbling in from the hall and
the main stairs beyond, calling on Carrados as he bumped his way past a
succession of inopportune pieces of furniture.

"Are you there, Wynn?" he demanded, in high-strung irritation. "What the
devil's happening? Aynosforde hasn't left his room, we'll swear, but hasn't
the iodide gone off?"

"The iodide has gone off and Aynosforde has left his room, though not by
the door. Possibly he is back in it by now."

"The deuce 1" exclaimed Tulloch blankly. "What am I to do?"

"Return " began Carrados, but before he could say more there was a
confused noise and a shout outside the window.

"We are saved further uncertainty," said the blind man. "He has thrown
himself down into the moat."

"He will be drowned!"

"Not if Swarbrick put the drag-rake where he was instructed, and if those
keepers are even passably expert," replied Carrados imperturbably. "After
all, drowning . . . But perhaps you had better go and see, Jim."

In a few minutes men began to return to the dining hall as though where
the blind man was constituted their headquarters. Colonel Aynosforde and
Parkinson were the first, and immediately afterwards Swarbrick entered from
the opposite side, bringing a light.

"They've got him out," exclaimed the colonel. "Upon my word, I don't know
whether it's for the best or the worst, Mr Carrados." He turned to the
butler, who was lighting one after another of the candles of the great
hanging centre-pieces. "Did you know anything of a secret passage giving
access to these stairs, Swarbrick?" he inquired.

"Not personally, sir," replied Swarbrick, "but we always understood that
formerly there was a passage and hiding chamber somewhere, though the
positions had been lost. We last had occasion to use it when we were defeated
at Naseby, sir."

Carrados had walked to the stairs and was examining the wall.

"This would be the principal stairway, then?" he asked.

"Yes, sir, until we removed the Elizabethan gallery when we restored in
1712."

"It is on the same plan as the 'Priest's Chamber' at Lapwood. If you
investigate in the daylight, Colonel Aynosforde, you will find that you
command a view of both bridges when the stone is open. Very convenient
sometimes, I dare say."

"Very, very," assented the colonel absently. "Every moment," he explained,
"I am dreading that Aunt Eleanor will make her appearance. She must have been
disturbed."

"Oh, I took that into account," said Tulloch, catching the remark as he
put his head in at the door and looked round. "I recommended a sleeping
draught when I was here last--no, this evening. We have got our man in
all right now," he continued, "and if we can have a dry suit--"

"I will accompany you, sir," said Swarbrick.

"Is he--violent?" asked the colonel, dropping his voice.

"Violent? Well," admitted Tulloch, holding out two dripping objects that
he had been carrying, "we thought it just as well to cut his boots off." He
threw them down in a corner and followed the butler out of the room.

Carrados took two pieces of shaped white paper from his pocket and ran his
fingers round the outlines. Then he picked up Dunstan Aynosforde's boots and
submitted them to a similar scrutiny.

"Very exact, Parkinson," he remarked approvingly.

"Thank you, sir," replied Parkinson with modest pride.



I.--THE VIRGINIOLA FRAUD

First published in _The News Of The World_, Dec 21, 1913


IF there was one thing more than another about Max Carrados
that came as a continual surprise, even a mild shock, to his acquaintances,
it was the wide and unrestricted scope of his amusements. Had the blind man
displayed a pensive interest in chamber music, starred by an occasional visit
to the opera, taken a daily walk in the park on his attendant's arm, and
found his normal recreation in chess or in being read to, the routine would
have seemed an eminently fit and proper one. But to call at The Turrets and
learn that Carrados was out on the river punting, or to find him in his
gymnasium, probably with the gloves on, outraged one's sense of values. The
only extraordinary thing in fact about his recreations was their
ordinariness. He frequently spent an afternoon at Lord's when there was the
prospect of a good game being put up; he played golf, bowls, croquet and
cards; fished in all waters, and admitted that he had never missed the
University Boat Race since the great finish of '91. When he walked about the
streets anywhere within two miles of his house he was quite independent of
any guidance, and on one occasion he had saved a mesmerised girl's life on
Richmond Bridge by dragging her into one of the recesses just in time to
escape an uncontrollable dray that had jumped the kerb.

This prelude is by way of explaining the attitude of a certain Mr Marrable
whom Carrados knew, as he knew a hundred strange and useful people. Marrable
had chambers in the neighbourhood of Piccadilly which he furnished and
decorated on a lavish and expensive scale. His bric-à-brac, pictures, books
and appointments, indeed, constituted the man's means of living, for he was
one of the best all-round judges of art and the antique in London, and with a
nonchalant air of indifference he very pleasantly and profitably lounged his
way through life on the honey extracted from-one facile transaction after
another. Living on his wits in a strictly legitimate sense, he enjoyed all
the advantages of being a dealer without the necessity of maintaining a place
of business. It was not even necessary for him to find "bargains" in the
general sense, for buying in the ordinary market and selling in a very
special and restricted one disclosed a substantial margin. This commercial
system, less rare than one might imagine, involved no misrepresentation: his
wealthy and exclusive clients were quite willing to pay the difference for
the _cachet_ of Mr Marrable's connoisseurship and also, perhaps, for the
amiable reluctance with which he carried on his operations.

The business that took Carrados to the amateur dealer's rooms one day in
April has nothing to do with this particular incident. It was quite friendly
and satisfactory on both sides, but it was not until Carrados rose to leave
that the tangent of the visit touched the circle of the
_Virginiola_.

"I am due at Gurnard's at about three-thirty," remarked Marrable, glancing
at a Louis XVI. ormolu clock for which he had marked off a certain musical
comedy countess at two hundred and fifty guineas. "Your way at all?"

"Gurnard & Lane's--the auctioneers?"

"Yes. They have a book sale on this afternoon."

"I hope I haven't been keeping you," apologised Carrados.

"Oh, not at all. There is nothing I want among the earlier lots." He
picked up a catalogue from a satinwood desk in which Mademoiselle Mars had
once kept her play-bills and glanced down the pages. "No. 191 is the first I
have marked: _An Account of the Newly Discovered Islands of Sir George
Sommers, called 'Virginiola.'_ You aren't a competitor, by the way?"

"No," replied Carrados; "but if you don't mind I should like to go with
you."

Marrable looked at him with slightly suspicious curiosity.

"You'd find it uncommonly dull, surely, seeing nothing," he remarked.

"I generally contrive to extract some interest from what is going on,"
said Carrados modestly. "And as I have never yet been at a book
sale--"

"Oh, come, by all means," interposed the other. "I shall be very glad of
your company. Only I was surprised for the moment at the idea. I should warn
you, however, that it isn't anything great in the way of a dispersal--no
Caxtons or first-folio Shakespeares. Consequently there will be an absence of
ducal bibliophiles and literary Cabinet ministers, and we shall have a crowd
of more or less frowsy dealers."

They had walked down into the street as they conversed. Marrable held up a
finger to the nearest taxicab on an adjacent rank, opened the door for
Carrados, and gave the driver the address of the auction rooms of which he
had spoken.

"I don't expect to get very much," he speculated, turning over the later
pages of the catalogue, which he still carried in his hand. "I've marked a
dozen lots, but I'm not particularly keen on half of them. But I should
certainly like to land the _Virginiola_."

"It is rare, I suppose?" inquired Carrados. Indifferent to books from the
bibliophile's standpoint, he was able to feel the interest that one collector
is generally willing to extend to the tastes of another.

"Yes," assented Marrable with weighty consideration. "Yes. In a way it is
extremely rare. But this copy is faulty--the Dedication and Address
pages are missing. That will bring down the bidding enormously, and yet it is
just the defect that makes it attractive to me."

For a moment he was torn between the secretiveness bred of his position
and a human desire to expound his shrewdness. The weakness triumphed.

"A few months ago," he continued, "I came cross another copy of the
_Virginiola_ among the lumber of a Bristol second-hand book-dealer's
stock. It was altogether a rotten specimen--both covers gone, scores of
pages ripped away, and most of those that remained appallingly torn and
dirty. It was a fragment in fact, and I was not tempted even at the nominal
guinea that was put upon it. But now--"

"Quite so," agreed Carrados.

"The first few pages were just the scrap that was presentable. I have a
wonderful memory for details like that. The pages I want were discoloured,
but they were sound. Sunshine or a chloride of lime bath will restore them to
condition. If I get this _Virginiola_ I shall run down to Bristol
to-morrow."

"I congratulate you," said Carrados. "Unless, of course, your Bristol
friend runs up to London to-day!" Mr. Marrable started rather violently. Then
he shook his head with a knowing look.

"No; he won't do that. He is only a little backstreet huckster. True, if
he found out that a _Virginiola_ short of the pages he possesses was
being sold he might have written to a London dealer, but he won't find out.
For some reason they have overlooked the defect in cataloguing. Of course
every expert will spot the omission at once, as I did this morning, and the
book will be sold as faulty, but if my Bristol friend, as you call him, did
happen to see a catalogue there would be nothing to suggest any profitable
opening to him."

"Splendid," admitted the blind man. "What would a perfect
_Virginiola_ be worth?"

"Auction price? Oh, about five hundred guineas."

"And to-day's copy?"

"Ah, that's more difficult ground. You see, every perfect copy is alike,
but every imperfect copy is different. Well, say anything from a hundred and
fifty to three hundred, according to who wants it. I shall be very content to
take it half-way."

"Two hundred and twenty-five? Yes, I suppose so.

Five hundred, less two twenty-five plus one leaves two hundred and
seventy-four guineas to the good. You shall certainly pay for the taxi!"

"Oh, I don't mind standing the taxi," declared Mr Marrable magniloquently;
"but don't pin me down to five hundred--that's the auction price. I
should want a trifle above--if I decided to let the book go out of my
own library, that is to say. Probably I should keep it. Well, here we
are."

The cab had drawn to the kerb opposite the door of Messrs Gurnard's
unpretentious frontage. Mr Marrable piloted his friend into the sale-room and
to a vacant chair by the wall, and then went off to watch the fray at closer
quarters. Carrados heard the smooth-tongued auctioneer referring to an item
as No. 142, and for the next fifty lots he followed the strangely unexciting
progress of the sale with his own peculiar speculative interest.

"Lot 191," announced the easy, untiring voice. "_An Account of the Newly
Discovered Islands, etc._" At last the atmosphere pulsed to a faint thrill
of expectation. "Unfortunately we had not the book before us when the
catalogue was drawn up. Lot 191 is imperfect and is sold not subject to
return; a very desirable volume all the same. What may I say for Lot 191,
please? _An Account, etc._, in original leather, faulty, and not subject
to return."

As Mr Marrable had indicated, the defective _Virginiola_ occupied a
rather special position. Did anyone else want it? was in several minds; and
if so, how much did he want it? Everyone waited until at last the question
seemed to fine down into: Did anyone want it?

"May I say two hundred guineas?" suggested the auctioneer
persuasively.

A large, heavy-faced man, who might have been a cattle-dealer from the
North by every indication that his appearance gave, opened the bidding. He,
at any rate, could have dissipated the uncertainty and saved the room the
waiting. Holding, as he did, two commissions, he was bound to make the price
a point above the lower of the orders.

"A hundred and twenty-one pounds."

"Guineas," came back like a slap from across the tables.

"A hundred and twenty-eight pounds."

"Guineas."

"A hundred and thirty-five."

"Guineas."

"A hundred and fifty."

"Guineas."

The duel began to resemble the efforts of some unwieldy pachyderm to shake
off the attack of a nimble carnivore by fruitless twists and plunges. But now
other voices, nods and uplifted eyebrows joined in, complicating a direct
issue, and the forked arithmetic played hi among pounds and guineas with
bewildering iteration. Then, as suddenly as it had grown, the fusilade
shrivelled away, leaving the two original antagonists like two doughty
champions emerging from a melee.

"Two hundred and thirty."

"Guineas."

"Two hundred and fifty."

"Guineas."

"Two hundred and seventy."

There was no response. The large man in the heavy ulster and pot-hat was
to survive the attack after all, apparently: the elephant to outlast the
jaguar.

"Two hundred and seventy pounds?" The auctioneer swept a comprehensive
inquiry at every participant in the fray and raised his hammer., "It's
against you, sir. No advance? At two hundred and seventy pounds . . . ?"

The hammer began to fall. A score of pencils wrote

"£270" against Lot 191.

"And eighty!"

The voice of the new bidder cut in crisp and businesslike. Without
ostentation it conveyed the cheerful message: "Now we are just beginning. I
feel uncommonly fit." It caught the hammer in mid-air and arrested it. It
made the large man feel tired and discouraged. He pushed back his hat, shook
his head slowly, with his eyes fixed on his catalogue, and remained in stolid
meditation. Carrados smiled inwardly at the restraint and strategy of his
friend.

"Two hundred and eighty. Thank you, sir. Two hundred and eighty pounds . .
. ?" He knew by intuition that the price was final and the hammer fell
decisively. "Mr. Marrable. . . . Lot 192, _History and Antiquities of the
County, etc._ Put it in the bidding, please. One pound . . . ?" ,

After the sale Mr Marrable came round to Carrados's chair in very good
spirits. Certainly he had had to give a not insignificant price for the
_Virginiola_, but the attendant circumstances had elated him. Then he
had secured the greater part of the other lots he wanted, and at quite
moderate valuations.

"I've paid my cheque and got my delivery note," he explained. "I shall
send my men round for the books when I get back. What do you think of the
business?"

"Vastly entertaining," replied Carrados. "I have enjoyed myself
thoroughly."

"Oh, well . . . But they were out for the _Virginiola_, weren't
they?"

"Yes," admitted Carrados. "I feel that it is my turn to stand a taxi. Can
I drop you?"

Mr Marrable assented graciously and they set out again.

"Look here," said that gentleman as they approached his door, "I think
that I can put my hand on the Rimini cameo I told you about, if you don't
mind coming up again. Do you care to, now that you are here?"

"Certainly," replied Carrados. "I should like to handle it."

"May as well turn off the taxi then. There is a stand quite near."

The cameo proved interesting and led to the display of one or two other
articles of bijouterie. The host rang for tea and easily prevailed on
Carrados--who could be entertained by anyone except the rare individual
who had no special knowledge on any subject whatever--to remain. Thus it
came about that the blind man was still there when the servant arrived with
the books.

"I say, Carrados," called out Mr Marrable. He had crossed the room to
speak with his man, who had come up immediately on his return. The servant
continued to explain, and it was evident that something annoying had
happened. "Here's a devilish fine thing," continued Mr Marrable, dividing his
attention between the two. "Felix has just been to Gurnard's and they tell
him that the _Virginiola_ cannot be found!" "'Mislaid for the moment,'
the gentleman said," amplified Felix.

"They send me back my cheque pending the book's recovery, but did you ever
hear of such a thing? I was going down to Bristol by an early train
to-morrow. Now I don't know what the deuce to do."

"Why not go back and find out what has really happened?" suggested
Carrados. "They will tell you more than they would tell your man. If the book
is stolen you may as well put off your journey. If it is mislaid--taken
off by someone else in mistake, I expect they mean--it may be on its way
back by now."

"Yes; I suppose I'd better go. You've had enough of it, I suppose?"

"On the contrary I was going to ask you to let me accompany you. It may be
getting interesting."

"I hope not," retorted Marrable. "Come if you can spare the time, but the
very tamest ending will suit me the best."

Felix had called up another cab by the time they reached the door, and for
the second time that afternoon they spun through the West End streets with
the auction rooms for their destination.

"Your turn to pay again, I think," proposed Carrados when they arrived.
"You take the odd numbers and I'll take the even!"

Inside, most of the staff were obviously distracted by the strain of the
untoward event and it was very evident that barbed words had been on the
wing. In the private office to which Mr Marrable's card gained them immediate
admittance they found all those actually concerned in the loss engaged in
saying the same things over to each other for the hundredth time.

"The book isn't on the shelves now and there's the number in the delivery
note; that's all I know about it," a saleroom porter was reiterating with the
air of an extremely reasonable martyr.

"Yes, yes," admitted the auctioneer who had conducted the sale, "no one
Oh, I'm glad you are here, Mr Marrable. You've heard of
our--er--eh--"

"My man came back with something about the book--the
_Virginiola_--being mislaid," replied Mr Marrable.

"That is all I know so far."

"Well, it's very regrettable, of course, and we must ask your indulgence;
but what has happened is simple enough and I hope it isn't serious."

"What concerns me," interposed Mr Marrable, "is merely this: Am I to have
the book, and when?"

"We hope to deliver it into your hands--well, in a very short time.
As I was saying, what has happened is this: Another purchaser bought certain
lots. Among them was Lot 91. My sale clerk, in the stress of his duties,
inadvertently filled in the delivery note as Lot 191." A gesture of
despairing protest from the unfortunate young man referred to passed
unheeded.

"Consequently, as this gentleman took away his purchases at the end of the
sale, he carried off the _Virginiola_ among them. When he comes to look
into the parcel he will at once discover the substitution and--er
--of course return the volume."

"I see," assented Mr Marrable. "That seems straightforward enough, but the
delay is unfortunate for me. Have you sent after the purchaser, by the
way?"

"We haven't sent after the purchaser because he happens to live in
Derbyshire," was the reply. "Here is his card. We are writing at once, but
the probability is that he is staying in London overnight at least."

"You might wire."

"We will, of course, wire if you ask us to do so, Mr Marrable, but it
seems to indicate an attitude of distrust towards Mr--er--Mr
Dillworthy of Cullington Grange that I see no reason to entertain."

"Assuming the whole incident to be accidental, I think you are doing quite
right. But in order to save time mayn't it perhaps be worth while
anticipating that something else may have been at work?" They all looked at
Mr Carrados, who advanced this suggestion diffidently. The young man in the
background breathed an involuntary "Ah!" of agreement and came a little more
to the front.

"Do you suggest that Mr Dillworthy of Cullington Grange would actually
deny possession of the book?" inquired the auctioneer a little cuttingly.

"Pardon me," replied Carrados blandly, "but do you know Mr Dillworthy of
Cullington Grange?"

"No, certainly, I--"

"Nor, of course, the purchaser of Lot 91? That naturally follows. Then for
the purpose of our hypothesis I would suggest that we eliminate Mr
Dillworthy, who quite reasonably may not have been within a hundred miles of
Charing Cross to-day. What remains? His visiting-card, that would cost about
a crown at the outside to reproduce, or might much more cheaply be picked up
from a hundred halls or office tables."

The auctioneer smiled.

"An elaborate plant, eh? Have you any practical knowledge, sir, of the
difficulty, the impossibility, that would attend the disposal of this
imperfect copy the moment our loss is notified?"

"But suppose it should become a perfect copy in the meantime? That might
throw dust in their eyes. Eh, Marrable?"

"I say!" exclaimed the virtuoso, with his ideas forcibly directed into a
new channel. "Yes, there is that, you know, Mr Trenchard."

"Even in that very unlikely event the _Virginiola_ remains a white
elephant. It cannot be got off to-day nor yet to-morrow. Any bookseller would
require time in which to collate the volume; it dare not be offered by
auction. It is like a Gainsborough or a Leonardo illegally come by--so
much unprofitable lumber after it is stolen."

"Then," hazarded Carrados, "there is the alternative, which might suggest
itself to a really intelligent artist, of selling it before it is stolen."
The conditions were getting a little beyond Mr Trenchard's easy access. "Sell
it before it is stolen?" he repeated. "Why?"

"Because of the extreme difficulty, as you have proved, of selling it
after."

"But how, I mean?"

"I think," interposed a quiet voice from the doorway, "that we had better
accept Mr Carrados's advice, if he does us the great service of offering it,
without discussion, Leonard. I have the pleasure of speaking to Mr Max
Carrados, have I not?" continued a white-haired old gentleman, advancing into
the room. "My young friend Trenchard, in his jealousy for the firm's
reputation, starts with the conviction that it is impossible for us to be
victimised. You and I know better, Mr Carrados. Now will you tell me--I
am Mr Ing, by the way--will you tell me what has really happened?"

"I wish I could," admitted Carrados frankly. "Unfortunately I know less of
the circumstances than you do, and although I was certainly present during a
part of the sale, I never even 'saw' the book"--he spread out the
fingers of a hand to illustrate--"and probably I was not within several
yards of it or its present holder."

"But you have some idea of the method adopted--some theory,"
persisted Mr Ing. "You can tell us what to do."

"Even there I can only put two and two together and suggest investigation
on common-sense lines."

"It is necessary to go to an expert even for that sometimes," submitted
the old gentleman with a very comical look. "Now, Mr Carrados, pray enlighten
us."

"May I put a few questions then?"

"By all means."

"Do you require me, sir?" inquired Mr Trenchard distantly.

"Not if you will kindly leave the sale-book and papers, I think, thank
you," replied Carrados. "This young gentleman, though." The sale clerk came
forward eagerly. "You have the delivery note there? No, I don't want it. This
gentleman, whom we will refer to as Mr Dillworthy--91 is the first thing
he bought?"

"Yes, sir."

"The price?"

"Three pounds fifteen."

"Is that a good price or a bargain?"

The clerk looked towards Mr Ing.

"It's Coulthorp's _Marvellous Recoveries_, sir; the edition of 1674,"
he explained.

"A fair price," commented the old gentleman. "Yes, quite a good auction
figure."

"The _Virginiola_ is folio, I believe. What size is _Marvellous
Recoveries_?"

"It is folio also."

"What was the next lot that Dr Dillworthy bought?"

"Lot 198."

"Any others?"

"Yes, sir. Lots 211, 217 and 234."

"And the prices of these four lots?"

"Lot 198, a guinea; 211, twelve-and-six; 217, fifteen shillings; 234,
twenty-three shillings."

"Those must be very low prices?"

"They are books in no great demand. At every sale from mixed sources there
are a certain number of make-weight lots."

"We find, then, that Mr Dillworthy bought 91 at a good price. After that
he did nothing until 191 had passed. Then he at once secured four lots of
cheap books. This gives a certain colour to suspicion, but it may be pure
coincidence. Now," he continued, addressing himself to the clerk again,
"after the delivery slip had been made out, did Mr Dillworthy borrow a pen
from you?"

The youth's ingenuous face suddenly flashed to a recollection.

"Suffering Moses!" he exclaimed irrepressibly.

"Well "

"Then he did?" demanded Mr Ing, too keenly interested to stop to reprove
the manner.

"Not exactly, sir. He didn't borrow a pen, but I lent him one."

"Ah!" remarked Carrados, "that sounds even better. How did it come
about?"

"His bill was six pounds twelve and six. He gave me seven pounds and I
made out the delivery form and gave it to him with the change. Then he said:
'Could you do with a fiver instead of five ones, by the way? I may run short
of change,' and he held out a banknote. 'Certainly, if you will kindly write
your name and address on the back,' I replied, and I gave him a pen."

"The one you had been using?"

"Yes; it was in my hand. He turned away and I thought that he was doing
what I asked, but before he would have had time to do that he handed me the
pen back and said: 'Thanks; after all, I'll leave it as it is.'"

"Who sent in the book for sale?"

"Described as 'the property of a gentleman,'" contributed Mr Marrable. "I
wondered."

"If you will excuse me for a moment," said Mr Ing, "I will find out."

He returned from another office smiling amiably but shaking his head.

"'The property of a gentleman,'" he repeated with senile deliberateness.
"I find that the owner expressed a definite wish for the transaction to be
treated confidentially. It is no unusual thing for a client to desire that.
On certain points of etiquette, Mr Carrados, I am just as jealous for the
firm as Trenchard could be, so that until we can obtain consent I am afraid
that the gentleman must remain anonymous."

"The question is," volunteered Mr Marrable, "where has the volume got to,
rather than where has it come from?"

"Sometimes," remarked the blind man, "after looking in many unlikely
places one finds the key in the lock itself. At all events we seem to have
come to the end of our usefulness here. Unless one of your people happens to
come forward with a real clue, Mr Ing, I venture to predict that you will
find more profit in investigating farther afield."

"But what are we to do?" exclaimed the old gentleman rather blankly, when
he saw that Carrados was preparing to go. "We are absolute babes at this sort
of thing--at least I know that I am."

"The remedy for that is quite simple. Put the case into the hands of the
police."

"True, true; but it is not so absolutely simple to us. We have various
interests and, yes, let us say, old-fashioned prejudices to consider. I
suppose"--he became quite touchingly wistful--"I suppose that you
could not be persuaded, Mr Carrados?"

"I'm afraid not," replied Carrados. "I have other irons in the fire just
now. But before you do call in the police, by the way, there is Mr
Trenchard's view to be considered."

"You mean?"

"I mean that it would be as well to make sure that the _Virginiola_
has been stolen."

"By wiring to Cullington Grange?"

"Assuming that there is a Cullington Grange. Then there is a harmless
experiment in collateral proof that you might like to make in the meantime if
the reply is delayed, as it reasonably may be through a dozen causes."

"And what is that, Mr Carrados?"

"Send up Charing Cross Road and find out among the second-hand shops
whether the other books Mr Dillworthy took away with him were sold there
immediately after the sale. They were only bought to round off the operation.
They would be a dangerous incubus to keep, but if our man is a cool hand he
may contrive to realise a pound or so for them before anything is known. You
might even learn something else in the process."

"Aye, aye, to be sure," acquiesced Mr Ing. "We'll do that at once. And
then, Mr Carrados, just a parting hint. If you were taking up the case what
would you do then?"

The temptation to be oracular was irresistible. Carrados smiled
inwardly.

"I should try to find a tall, short-sighted, Welsh book-dealer who smokes
perique tobacco, suffers from a weak chest, wears thick-soled boots and
always carries an umbrella," he replied with impressive gravity. Mr Ing, the
saleroom porter, the young clerk and Mr Marrable all looked at each other and
then began to repeat the varied attributes of the required individual.

"There's that--what's his name?--old chap with a red waistcoat
who's always here," hopefully suggested the porter in an aside. "He wears
specs, and I've never seen him without an umbrella."

"He's a Scotchman and stands about five feet three, fathead!" whispered
the clerk. "Isn't Mr Powis Welsh, sir?"

"To be sure. Powis of Redmayne Street is the man," assented Mr Ing. "Isn't
that correct, Mr Carrados?"

"I don't know," replied Carrados, "but if he answers to the description it
probably is."

"And then?"

"Then I think I should call and encourage him to talk to me--about
Shakespeare."

"Why, dash it, Carrados," cried Mr Marrable, "you said that you knew
nothing of book-collecting and yet you seem to be aware that Powis
specialises Shakespeariana and to know that the _Virginiola_ would
interest him. I wonder how much you have been getting at me!"

"Oh, I suppose that I'm beginning to pick up a thing or two," admitted the
blind man diffidently.

In the course of his experience of crime, fragments of many mysteries had
been brought to Carrados's notice--detached chapters of chequered human
lives to which the opening and the finis had never been supplied. Some had
fascinated him and yet remained impenetrable to the end, yet the theft of the
_Virginiola_, a mere coup of cool effrontery in which he felt no great
interest after he had pierced the method, was destined to unfold itself
before his mind without an effort on his part.

The sale at Gurnard's had taken place on a Wednesday. Friday brought
Carrados a reminder of the stone that he had set rolling in the appearance of
a visiting-card bearing the name and address of Mr Powis of Redmayne Street.
Mr Powis was shown in and proved to be a tall, mild-looking man with a
chronic cough. He carried a moderate parcel in one hand and, despite the
bright, settled condition of the weather, an umbrella in the other.

"I'm an antiquarian bookseller, Mr Carrados," he remarked by way of
introduction. "I haven't the honour of your custom that I know of, but I dare
say you can guess what brings me here."

"You might tell me," replied Carrados.

"Oh yes, Mr Carrados, I will tell you. Certainly I will tell you,"
retorted Mr Powis, in a rather louder voice than was absolutely necessary.
"Mr Ing looked in at my place of pizzness yesterday. He said that he was
'just passing'--'just passing,' you understand."

Mr Powis emphasised the futility of the subterfuge by laughing
sardonically.

"A charming old gentleman," remarked Carrados pleasantly. "I don't suppose
that he would deceive a rabbit."

"I don't suppose that he could," asserted Mr Powis. "'By the way,' he
said, 'did you see the _Virginiola_ we sold yesterday?' 'By the way!'
Yes, that was it."

Carrados nodded his smiling appreciation.

"'Oh-ho,' I thought, 'the _Virginiola_!' 'Yes, Mr Ing,' I said, 'it
was a nice copy parring the defect, but a week ago I could have shown you a
nicer and a perfect one to poot.'

"'You've got one too, have you?' he asked.

"'Certainly I have,' I replied, 'or I should not say so. At least I had,
but it may be sold now. It has gone to a gentleman in Rutland.'

"'Rutland; that's a little place,' he remarked thoughtfully. 'Have you any
objection to mentioning your customer's name?'

"'Not in the least, Mr Ing,' I told him. 'Why should I have? It has taken
me five and twenty years to make my connection, but let all the trade have
it. Sir Roland Chargrave of Densmore Hall is the gentleman.'

"Now, look you, Mr Carrados, I could see by the way Mr Ing gasped when I
told him that things are not all right. It seems to be your doing that I am
brought into it and I want to know where I stand."

"Have you any misgivings as to where you stand?" inquired Carrados.

"No, Mr Carrados, I have not," exclaimed the visitor indignantly. "I
pought my _Virginiola_ three or four weeks ago and I paid a goot price
for it."

"Then you certainly have nothing to trouble about."

"Put I have a goot deal to trouble about," vociferated Mr Powis. "I have a
copy of the _Virginiola_ to dispose of "

"Oh, you still have it, then?"

"Yes, Mr Carrados, I have. Thanks to what is peing said pehind my pack,
the pook was returned to me this morning. My name has been connected with a
stolen copy and puyers are very shy, look you, when they hear that. And word,
it travels; oh yes. You may not know how, but to-day they will be saying in
Wales: 'Have you heard what is peing said of Mr Powis of London?' And
to-morrow in Scotland it will be: 'That old tamn rascal Powis has been caught
at last!'"

In spite of Mr Powis's desperate seriousness Carrados could not restrain a
laugh at the forcefulness of the recital. "Come, come, Mr Powis," he said
soothingly, "it isn't as bad as that, you know. In any case you have only to
display your receipt."

"Oh, very goot, very goot indeed!" retorted the Welshman in an extremity
of satire. "Show a buyer my receipt! Excellent! That would be a capital way
to carry on the antiquarian pook pizzness! Besides," he added, rather lamely,
"in this case it happens that I do not possess a receipt."

"Isn't that--rather an oversight?" suggested Carrados.

"No doubt I could easily procure one. Let me tell you the circumstances,
Mr Carrados. I only want to convince you that I have nothing to conceal."

With this laudable intention Mr Powis's attitude became more and more
amiable and his manner much less Welsh. He had, in fact, used up all the
indignation that he had generated in anticipation of a wordy conflict--a
species of protective mimicry common to mild-tempered men.

"I bought this book from the Rev. Mr Winch, the vicar of Fordridge, in
Leicestershire. A few weeks ago I received a registered parcel from Fordridge
containing a fine copy of the _Virginiola_. The same post brought me a
letter from Mr Winch. I dare say I have it here. . . . No, never mind; it was
to the effect that the book had been in the writer's family for many
generations. Being something of a collector, he had never wished to sell it,
but an unexpected misfortune now obliged him to raise a sum of money. He had
contracted blood-poisoning in his hand and he had to come up to London for an
operation. After that he would have to take a long sea voyage. He went on to
say that he had heard of me as a likely buyer and would call on me in a day
or two. In the meantime he sent the book to give me full opportunity of
examining it.

"Nothing could be more straightforward, Mr Carrados. Two days later Mr
Winch walked into my place. We discussed the price, and finally we agreed
upon--well, a certain figure."

"You can rely upon my discretion, Mr Powis."

"I paid him £2 60."

"That would be a fair price in the circumstances?"

"I thought so, Mr Carrados. I don't say that it wasn't a bargain, but it
wasn't an outrageous bargain."

"You have occasionally done better?" smiled Carrados.

"Frequently. If I buy a book for threepence and sell it again for a
shilling I do better, although it doesn't sound so well. Of course I am a
dealer and I have to live on my profits and to pay for my bad bargains with
my good bargains. Now if I had had an immediate customer in view the book
might have been worth a good deal more to me. I may say that Wednesday's
price at Gurnard's surprised me. Prices have certainly been going up, but
only five years ago it would have required a practically perfect copy to make
that."

"At all events, Mr Winch accepted?"

"I think I may say that he was perfectly satisfied," amended Mr Powis.
"You see, Mr Carrados, he wanted the money at once, and, apart from the
uncertainty and expense, he could not have waited for an auction. I was
making out a cheque when he reminded me that his right hand was useless and
asked me to initial it to 'bearer.' That is why I come to have no
receipt."

"Yes," assented Carrados. "Yes, that is it. How was the letter
signed?"

"It was typewritten, like the rest of it. You remember that his hand was
bad when he wrote."

"True. Did you notice the postmark--was it Fordridge?"

"Yes; you should understand that Mr Winch posted on the book before he
left Fordridge for London." It seemed to the visitor that Mr Carrados was
rather slow even for a blind man.

"I think I am beginning to grasp the position," said Carrados mildly. "Of
course you had no occasion to write to him at Fordridge?"

"Nothing whatever. Besides, he was coming to London almost immediately. If
I wrote it was to be to the Fitzalan Hotel, off the Strand. Now here is the
book, Mr Carrados. You saw--you examined, that is, the auction
_Virginiola_?"

"No, unfortunately I did not."

"I am sorry. You would now have recognised how immeasurably superior my
copy is, even apart from the missing pages."

"I can quite believe it." He was turning over the leaves of the book,
which Mr Powis had passed to him.

"But this writing on the dedication page?"

"Oh, that," said the dealer carelessly. "Some former owner has written his
name there."

"I suppose it constitutes a blot?"

"Why, yes, in a small way it does," admitted Mr Powis. "Had it been 'Wm.
Shakespeare,' it would have added a thousand guineas; as it's only 'Wm.
Shoelack,' it knocks two or three off."

"Possibly," suggested Carrados, "it was this blemish that decided Sir
Roland Chargrave against the book?"

"No, no," insisted Mr Powis. "Someone has hinted something to him. I don't
say that you are to blame, Mr Carrados, but a suspicion has been created; it
has got about."

"But Sir Roland is the one man whom it could not affect," pointed out
Carrados. "He, at any rate, would know that this copy is unimpeachable,
because when the other was being stolen this was actually in his hands and
had been for--for how long?"

"Five or six days; he kept it for about a week. And that no doubt is true
as a specific case; but a malicious rumour is wide, Mr Carrados. So-and-so is
unreliable; he deals in questionable property; better be careful. It is
enough. No, no; Mr Chatton said nothing about any objection to the book,
merely that Sir Roland had decided not to retain it."

"Mr Chatton?"

"He is the secretary or the librarian there. I have frequently done
business with him in the old baronet's time. This man is a nephew who
succeeded only a few months ago. Well, Mr Carrados, I hope I have convinced
you that I came by this _Virginiola_ in a legitimate manner?"

"Scarcely that."

"I haven't!" exclaimed Mr Powis in blank astonishment.

"I never doubted it. At the sale I happened to hear you remark to a friend
that you had recently bought a copy. My suggestion to Mr Ing was merely to
hint that, with your exceptional knowledge, your unique experience, you would
probably be able to put them on the right line as to the disposal of the
stolen copy and so on. An unfortunate misunderstanding."

Mr Powis stared and then nodded several times with an expression of acute
resignation.

"That old man is past work," he remarked feelingly. "I might have saved
myself a journey. Well, I'll go now, Mr Carrados."

"Not yet," declared Carrados hospitably; "I am going to persuade you to
stay and lunch with me, Mr Powis. I want"--he was still fingering the
early pages of the _Virginiola_ with curious persistence--"I want
you to explain to me the way in which these interesting old books were
bound."

With the departure of Mr Powis a few hours later Carrados might reasonably
conclude that he had heard the last of the _Virginiola_ theft, for he
was now satisfied that it would never reach publicity as a police court case.
But, willy-nilly, the thing pursued him. Mr Carlyle was to have dined with
him one evening in the following week. It was a definite engagement, but
during the day the inquiry agent telephoned his friend' to know what he
should do. A young gentleman who had been giving him some assistance in a
case was thrown on his hands for the evening.

"You are the most amiable of men, Max," chirruped Mr Carlyle; "but,
really, I don't like to ask "

"Bring him by all means," assented the most amiable of men. "I expect two
or three others to turn up tonight." So Mr Carlyle brought him.

"Mr Chatton, Max."

An unobtrusive young man, whose face wore a perpetual expression of docile
willingness, shook hands with Carrados. Anything less like the sleek,
competent self-assurance of the conventional private secretary it would be
difficult to imagine. Mr Chatton's manner was that of a well-meaning man who
habitually blundered from a too conscientious sense of duty, knew it all
along, and was pained at the inevitableness of the recurring catastrophe.

"I have just taken up a case that might interest you, Max," said Mr
Carlyle, as the three of them stood together. "Simple enough, but it involves
a valuable old book that has been stolen. Gurnard's called me in"--and
he proceeded to outline the particulars of the missing _Virginiola_.

"And you went down yourself to Gurnard's to look into it, Mr Chatton?"
said Carrados, masking the species of admiration that he felt for his new
acquaintance.

"Well, I don't know about looking into it," confessed Mr Chatton. "You
see, it doesn't really concern Sir Roland at all now. But I thought that I
ought to offer them any information--a description or something of that
sort might be wanted--when I heard of their loss. Of course," he added,
with a deepening of his habitual look of rueful perturbation, "we can't help
it, but it's very distressing to think of them losing so much money over our
affair."

"Not a bit of it, not a bit of it," cried Mr Carlyle heartily. "It's all
in the way of business and Gurnard's won't feel a touch like that. Very good
of you to take all the .trouble you have, I say." He turned his beaming,
self-confident eye towards his host to explain. "I happened to meet Mr
Chatton there this morning and ever since he has been helping me to put about
inquiries in likely quarters and so on. I haven't any doubt of pulling our
man up in a week or two, unless it's the work of a secret bibliomaniac, and
Gurnard's don't entertain that."

"Wednesday last, you say," pondered Carrados.

"Aren't they rather late in turning it over to you?"

"Just what I complained of. Then it came out that they had been pinning
their faith to the advice of some officious idiot who happened to be present
at the sale. Nothing came of it, of course."

"They did not happen to mention the idiot's name?" inquired Max
tentatively.

"No. The old gentleman--Mr Ing--said that he had already got
into hot water once through doing that." Mr Carlyle began to laugh in his
hearty way over a recollection of the incident. "Do you know what this
genius's brilliant idea was? He put them on the track of a copy of this book
that had been recently sold to a dealer, assuming that it must necessarily be
the stolen copy. And so it had been recently sold, Max, but it happened to be
before the other was stolen!"

"Very amusing," agreed Carrados.

"Do you know, I can't help thinking that I was somehow to blame for that,"
confessed Mr Chatton in a troubled voice. "You remember, I told you "

"No, no," protested Mr Carlyle encouragingly.

"How could it be your fault?"

"Well, it's very good of you to reassure me," continued the young man,
relieved but not convinced. "But I really think I may have introduced a
confusing element. I should like Mr Carrados to judge. . . . When I learned
from Sir Roland that he intended sending this _Virginiola_ to Gurnard's,
knowing that it was a valuable book, I saw the necessity of going over it
carefully with another copy--'collating' it is called--to find out
whether anything was missing. The British Museum doesn't possess an example,
and in any case I could not well spare a day just then to come to London for
the purpose. So I wrote to a few dealers, rather, I am afraid, giving them
the impression that we wished to buy a copy. In this way I got what I wanted
sent up on approval and I was able to go through the two thoroughly. At the
moment I argued that my duty to my employer justified the subterfuge, but I
don't know, I don't know; I really question whether it was quite
legitimate."

"Oh, nonsense," remonstrated Mr Carlyle, to whom the subtleties did not
appeal. "Rather a smart way of getting what you wanted in the circumstances,
don't you think, Max?"

Carrados paid a willing if equivocal tribute to the wider problem of Mr
Chatton's brooding conscientiousness.

"Very ingenious altogether," he admitted.

* * * * *

Mr. Carlyle did not pull his man up in a few weeks; in fact
he never reached him at all. For the key to the disappearance of the
_Virginiola_ he had to wait two years. He was at The Turrets one day
when his host was called away for a short time to see a man who had come on
business.

Carlyle had picked up a newspaper, when Carrados came back from the door
and opening one of the inner drawers of his desk threw out a long
envelope.

"There," he remarked as he went on again, "is something that may interest
you more."

He was quite right. The inquiry agent cut open the envelope that was
addressed to himself and read the following narrative:--

In the year 1609 a seafaring gentleman called
Somers--Sir George Somers--was wrecked on an island in the
Atlantic. This island--one of a group--although destitute of human
inhabitants, was overrun by pigs. During the first part of their enforced
residence there the shipwrecked mariners were much concerned by unearthly
shrieks and wailings that filled the night. With the simple piety of the time
these were attributed to the activity of witches, imps and demons. In fact,
in addition to the varied appellations of _Virginiola_, Bermoothes,
Somers Islands, etc., the place was enticingly called "The He of Divels."

In due course the castaways were rescued and returned to
England. In due course, also, there appeared a variety of printed accounts of
their adventures. (We are prone to think that the tendency is modern, Louis,
but it is not.) One of these coming into the hands of a cynical, middle-aged
playwright on the look-out for a new plot to annex, was at once pressed into
his scheme. Doubtless he saw behind the shadowy "divels" the substantial
outlines of the noisy "hogges." However, the idea was good enough for a
background. He wrote his play and called it _The Tempest_. This is the
explanation offered to me of the high and increasing value of rare early
works on Bermuda. They can be classed among the Shakespeariana. There is also
another reason: they can be classed among the Americana.

About three hundred years later a certain young gentleman
who combined fairly expensive tastes with good commercial ability succeeded
to a title and its appendages. Among the latter were a mansion in
Rutlandshire, which he determined was too expensive, a library in which he
was not vastly interested, and a private secretary whose services he
continued to retain. One day about six months after his succession Sir Roland
Chargrave called in his secretary to receive instructions.

"Look here, Chatton," he said, "I have decided to let this
place furnished for a time. See Turvey about the value and then advertise it
for something more than he advises. It ought to bring in a decent rental.
Then there are some valuable things here that are no earthly good to me. I'll
start with the library."

"You intend to dispose of the library, Sir Roland?" faltered
the secretary.

"No. The library gives a certain distinction to a fellow and
the Chargraves have always had one. I'll keep the library, but I'll weed out
all the old stuff that will make high prices. Uncle Vernon left a valuation
list which appears to have been made out about ten years ago. One book
alone--_An Account of Virginiola_--he puts down at £300. Then
there are a dozen others that ought to bring another £200 among them. I
require £500 just now. Here is a list of the books I have picked out. Send
them off to Gurnard's to be sold as soon as possible. Don't have my name
catalogued. I don't want it to be known that I'm selling anything. That's
all."

The secretary withdrew with an accentuation of his unhappy
manner. It was very distressing to him, this dispersal of the family
heirlooms. It was also extremely inconvenient personally, because he had
already sold the _Virginiola_ himself only a week before. For he also
had expenses. Perhaps he had fallen into the hands of the Jews; perhaps it
was the Jewesses. At all events, like Sir Roland, he required money, and
again like Sir Roland, the _Virginiola_ had seemed the most suitable
method. He had quietly withdrawn the book about the time of his former
master's death, and thus saved the new baronet quite an item in duty. He had
secured Sir Vernon's valuation list and after six months had concluded that
he was safe. He had taken extraordinary pains to cover his identity in
selling the book and the old dotard appeared to have made two lists and to
have deposited one elsewhere!

Like a wise man Mr Chatton set about discovering how he
could retrieve himself. He had had charge of the library and he knew that it
was too late to report the book as lost. In any case he would be dismissed;
if inquiry was made at that stage he would be prosecuted. From the depths of
his brooding melancholy Mr Chatton evolved a scheme.

The first thing was to get back the _Virginiola_ a
little before the sale. By that time he had sent in the list, but not the
books. Doubtless he still had some of the illicit funds in hand. Now the
_Virginiola_ had been valued at £300 by old Sir Vernon, but if at the
sale it was discovered to be imperfect in an important detail then it might
realise only a fraction of that sum. There was also another consideration. A
name had been indelibly written on one of the early pages, and if Mr Powis
was not to recognise his property that page must be temporarily removed.

I think it was Chatton's undoubted intention to buy back the
book if possible and run no further risk with it. What he had not taken into
account was the enormous rise in the value of this class of work. What had
been reasonably worth £300 ten years before, the market now apprised at
nearly double. Even the imperfect copy reached nearly the original estimate
and thereby Chatton's first string failed.

But this painstakingly conscientious young man had not been
content to risk all on a single chance. What form his second venture took it
will be unnecessary to recall to you. He calculated on the chances of the
saleroom, and he succeeded. The _Virginiola_ was recovered; the
abstracted sheet was cunningly replaced, probably certain erasable marks that
had been put in for fuller disguise were removed, and Mr Powis received back
his property with formal regrets.

I anticipate an indignant question rising to your lips. I
did not tell you this before, Louis, because of one curious fact. The story
is entirely speculative on my part so far as demonstrable proof is concerned.
Chatton, who is rather a remarkable young man, did not leave behind him one
solitary shread of evidence that would stand before a jury. Time and Mr
Chatton's future career can alone bring my justification, but some day if we
have the opportunity (I am committing this to paper in case we should not) we
will go over the evidence together. In the meanwhile Gurnard's can, as you
said, stand the loss.


Here the typewritten account ended, but at the foot of the last page
Carrados had pasted a newspaper cutting. From it Mr Carlyle learned that
"Vernon Howard, alias Digby Skeffington, etc., etc., whose real name was said
to be Chatton, well connected," had, the week before, been convicted, chiefly
on the King's evidence of a female accomplice, of obtaining valuable
jewellery under false pretences. Sentence had been deferred, pending further
inquiries.



THE END


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