Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: Finger Tips
Author: L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1800231.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: March 2018
Date last updated: April 2018

Produced by: Douglas Ethington

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

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

Title: Finger Tips
Author: L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace

First published in Pearson's Magazine, August 1902

The second of the Sensational Experiences of Diana Marburg, the Oracle of
Maddox Street.

* * *

I WAS sitting in my drawing-room late one afternoon in the end of a
sunny and hot July, when Miss Kate Trevor was announced.

My brother Rupert and I had just been carrying on a discussion as to
where we were to spend the holidays. We had come to no decision, and
Kate's appearance on the scene was very welcome.

"How nice to catch you at home, Di!" she exclaimed. "How do you do, Mr.
Marburg?" she continued, turning to my brother and shaking him heartily
by the hand. "I was afraid you had flown like the rest of the world."

"We have neither of us yet made up our minds where to go," he answered.
"The Continent does not appeal to us, and we have neither time nor
money to visit places further afield."

"Where are you going, Kate?" I asked. "You look as if you needed a
holiday too--you are quite thin and pale. Is anything the matter?"

She coloured slightly and glanced at Rupert.

"You want me to go away?" he said.

He rose lazily from his chair and left the room.

The moment he had closed the door behind him, Kate turned to me.

"With your usual penetration, Diana," she said, "you see below the
surface. There is something the matter, and I think--I do think that if
relief does not come soon, I shall lose my senses."

As she spoke, her dark, lovely eyes filled with tears; the colour
mounted into her cheeks, leaving them the next instant paler and more
wan than ever.

"You look quite ill," I said. "What can be the matter?"

"I can put the case in a nutshell," she replied. "My difficulty and my
misery are both common enough. I am on the eve of becoming engaged to
one man, while with all my heart I love another."

"You love Captain Cunnyngham," I said. "I know all about that,
remember. I have seen him, and I approve. You, as his wife, will be one
of the most envied women in the world."

As I spoke, I glanced at her with all the admiration I felt for so
beautiful a girl. Kate was a friend of mine, but I knew little or
nothing about her people or her belongings; but it was only necessary
to look into the depths of her soft black eyes to know that through
some ancestor she must hail from the sunny south. No other clime could
produce such raven locks and such a clear olive complexion. Her little
features were straight and perfect in their own way, her lips coral
red, her teeth a row of pearls.

Now the piquant little face was quite wan with suffering, and the coral
lips drooped with all the pain of indecision.

"You are engaged to Captain Cunnyngham," I said. "Have you ceased to
love him, that you speak of your engagement in such terms?"

"My engagement to Jim is broken off," she replied. "Not that I love him
less; on the contrary, I care more for him than I ever did before; but
circumstances are against us both, and even Jim himself has said that
we must not think of marriage for the present."

"Then what about your all but engagement to another man?" I asked.

"I am coming to that," she answered. "It is a long story, Diana, and
I can only give you its mere outline. I met six months ago a man well
known in London society, of the name of Sir Edward Granville. He fell
in love with me and asked me to marry him. I refused, but he would not
take my refusal. He asked me again, and I told him that I was engaged
to Jim.

"Three months afterwards poor Jim lost a lot of money on the Turf,
and on making inquiries I found that he had done this in Sir Edward
Granville's company. He was nearly distracted, and came to me himself
and suggested that as far as any tie between us existed, we were to be
absolutely free. The poor fellow was quite broken-hearted when he made
this proposal. I agreed to it, for there seemed no help for it; but
since then I have been sorry that I yielded.

"Immediately after my engagement with Jim was broken off, Sir
Edward brought fresh pressure to bear. My mother exercised all her
influence to induce me to accept so wealthy a man, and to give her the
gratification of knowing that I had made a brilliant match. My father,
who has lately been terribly short of money, added his intreaties to my
mother's. Still I was firm, although my life for the last six months
has been little short of misery.

"A week ago Sir Edward Granville called and asked to see me. I was
forced to see him, although I longed to refuse. But to my great relief
I found his attitude towards me considerably altered. He said quite
frankly that he had been thinking over matters. That he loved me as
much as ever, but on his honour as a gentleman he would no longer
persecute me. He asked me to trust him.

"I was surprised and grateful, and I said that I would. He then begged
for a proof of my trust. He said that he had taken a house on the river
at Goring for the season, that he was making up a house party, and that
Captain Cunnyngham was to be one of the guests. His special request was
that my mother and I should spend a week at Goring.

"I promised. I cannot say whether I was doing right or wrong, but I
promised. Mother and I go to Goring on the 1st--that is next Thursday.
And, Diana, now for your part in this comedy or tragedy, for Heaven
only knows which it will turn out. Sir Edward has sent you a special
invitation. It seems that he has met you in the house of a mutual
friend. Here is his invitation. You must accept it for my sake."

She tossed a letter into my lap. I opened and read it. It ran as
follows:

DEAR MISS MARBURG, Unless you have already made definite plans for
your holiday, will you do me the honour of joining my house party at
Goring on the 1st? Your friend, Miss Trevor, will be there. She is
bringing you this note, and I hope will persuade you to come.--Yours
truly, EDWARD GRANVILLE.

"It is very kind of Sir Edward," I said, "but I scarcely know him. What
can be want me for?"

"Never mind what he wants you for, Di. Just remember that I want
you--that you may be of the most enormous use to me. Come you must. You
dare not leave me alone in my present predicament."

"I don't like it," I said, rising and beginning to pace up and down the
room. "I wonder you arranged to go. You don't consider poor Captain
Cunnyngham, when you allow yourself to be made love to by another man
in his presence."

"Sir Edward has promised not to make love. Don't be nasty and spiteful,
Di. Say at once that you will come."

As she spoke, the beautiful girl put her arms round my neck, and looked
into my face with such pleading in her eyes that it was impossible to
resist her.

"Of course I'll come," I answered. "I like you far too well to leave
you in the lurch."

"I knew you would not fail me," she exclaimed. "Now I shall be quite
happy, and shall be equal to the occasion, whatever it may be."

A few moments later she left me, having arranged that she and her
mother would call for me on Thursday morning and drive me to Paddington.

When we were alone, I told Rupert where I intended to spend the first
few days of my holidays.

"Do as you like of course, Di," was his answer; "but I wish you were
not going."

"Why?" I asked.

"I would rather my sister did not stay in Sir Edward Granville's house."

"What do you mean?" I exclaimed.

"Only this," he said. "Granville is not the sort of man I care about,
though I have heard nothing defmite against him. Go now, however, as
you have promised, and tell me when you come back whether my intuitions
are correct or not."

Rupert's words gave me a vague sense of uneasiness; yet I was glad I
had promised not to desert Kate in this crisis in her affairs.

On the following Thursday, Mrs. Trevor, Kate and I went down to Goring.
Our host met us at the station and gave us all a most cordial welcome.
As we drove to the house I watched Sir Edward with considerable
curiosity. I had met him before, but until now I had no reason to feel
any special interest in him. He was a clean-shaven, spare-looking man,
with restless grey eyes and a hard mouth. It needed but a glance to
show me that his was the character to carry through his own wishes
regardless of pain to others.

Almost by second nature, as these thoughts coursed through my brain,
I glanced at his hands, which were ungloved. I noticed the long and
broad thumb of an iron will--the spatulate fingers of precision and
determination. The man who has these characteristics sticks at nothing
to obtain his ends. I have seen them in the hands of great generals
and also in the hands of great criminals. I looked from the baronet to
Kate, who was talking in her liveliest style and looking more sprightly
and bewitching than I had ever seen her.

As it was late in the day when we arrived, we were shown at once to
our respective rooms in order to dress for dinner. I had brought my
maid with me, and sat to rest for a few minutes while she unpacked
my things. In less than an hour I went down to one of the big
drawing-rooms, where from twenty to thirty guests were assembled.
Amongsx them I saw Kate, who, in a very simple white dress with a bunch
of lilies in her belt, looked fragile and lovely.

She had the gracious bearing and regal appearance of a young queen,
and as she turned to talk to a man who stood near I did not wonder at
Sir Edward's infatuation. For something had brought the final touch of
beauty to those delicate features, and there was an expression in her
eyes which only love itself could awaken. The softness joined to the
fire, the timidity joined to the strength, were enough to captivate any
man, and Sir Edward, not far off, saw this look directed to another
man. I watched him although he did not know it, and I saw him clench
one of his hands tightly, while his face turned livid.

Jim Cunnyngham was a young guardsman by profession. He was fair and
stalwart and squarely built. I knew him well, having met him before
on many occasions; but although at first sight he looked as well and
handsome as ever, I soon observed a change in him. Some suspicious
crow's feet were beginning to show round his merry blue eyes, his face
was thin, and when he was not looking at or talking to Kate, he had the
expression of one quite bowed down by care.

I sank into a seat, and my host came up and introduced me to one or two
people. Presently he brought Captain Cunnyngham to my side.

"Will you take Miss Marburg in to dinner, Cunnyngham?" he said.

The meal was announced, and we went through the library into the
spacious dining-room in a distant wing.

We were scarcely seated before Captain Cunnyngham bent towards me.

"I cannot tell you," he said, "how glad I am that you are here. Have
you come with any intention of reading our hands?"

"I have come for rest, not on business," was my reply.

"All the same, I shall beg of you to have a look at my hand," he said.
"Your curious profession interests me."

"But have you any real belief in my art, or do you treat it as an
amusing pastime?" I said.

"I cannot say that I absolutely believe in palmistry," he said, "but I
have sufficient faith in it to treat it with respect, and also to have
recourse to it. A fortnight back I had my character and future told me
by one of your craft in London, and am anxious to have an independent
opinion to see if the two correspond."

"To whom did you go?" I asked.

"Madame Sylvia, in Chester-street."

"May I ask whether she gave you a good character or the reverse?"

"I am quite willing to answer you," he replied, with a grim laugh; "her
prognostications were the reverse of pleasant. She said, too, that my
hands were most extraordinary; she photographed them and had casts
taken, and gave me a long written opinion. I went to see her with Sir
Edward. He, apparently, has the greatest faith in her."

Sir Edward must have overheard the last words, for he bent towards me
from his place at the head of the table.

"I take the deepest interest in palmistry, Miss Marburg," he said, "and
if you will honour me by looking at my hand by-and-by I shall be much
obliged."

I replied gladly in the affirmative--I was all too anxious to study Sir
Edward's palm.

He resumed his conversation with his right hand neighbour, and I turned
to Captain Cunnyngham.

"Have any of Madame Sylvia's predictions come to pass?" I asked.

"Yes, I am sorry to say," he replied; "I had a very bad time lately at
Goodwood with Sir Edward, and other things have also gone wrong," he
added.

"You mean that you have lost money?"

"Yes, far more than I could afford. I owe at the present moment between
twenty-five and thirty thousand pounds, and how I am to pay it, Heaven
only knows. I backed Sir Edward's horse for the Cup. He told me it
was a certainty. I have lost heavily also at _écarté_. You don't know,
perhaps, that our host is himself a confirmed gambler. But he is one of
the lucky ones."

Captain Cunnyngham sighed. After a moment he said again:

"Luck follows his footsteps as certainly as it eludes mine. He has
great wealth, and is always adding to his possessions. And the climax
of his good luck, Miss Marburg, is--"

"What?" I asked.

"The winning of Kate Trevor."

"You are mistaken," I said, "he has not won her."

"Watch her, and tell me that again," was his answer.

Sir Edward had been obliged to take a married lady into dinner, but
he had managed that Kate Trevor should sit on his other side. He was
looking at her now as he talked, and she was returning his glance.
Bright as stars were her eyes, and her merry laughter reached our ears.
Sir Edward was telling her about an ornament of great value which he
had in his possession, and I heard him say that he would show it to the
entire party after dinner.

When we returned to the drawing-room Kate made her way to my side.

"Now tell me exactly what Jim has been talking to you about," she said.

"He said that Sir Edward Granville is invariably lucky," was my answer,
"and that amongst all the treasures which fate and fortune have tumbled
into his lap, the greatest of all will soon be his."

She did not affect to misunderstand me--tears filled her eyes.

"Does Jim really think that?" she said.

"I am afraid he does," I replied.

She was silent, the pretty white hand which lay on her white dress
trembled--with a sudden nervous movement she broke off one of the
lilies at her belt, and began to pull it to pieces.

"I heard you and Sir Edward talking about a jewel," I interrupted--"a
jewel or an ornament?"

"An ornament," she said--"a curious thing of great value which Sir
Edward has inherited from a gipsy ancestor. He told me that since his
great-grandfather married a true Romany the luck of his house has been
proverbial. She brought the ornament into the family, and as long as
the head of the house holds it he obtains all he wishes in love, war,
or business."

"But if it goes?" I said.

"Then he dies, goes bankrupt, or morally ruined."

"And does he believe this nonsense?" I queried.

"As much as you believe in the lines on the human hand," she answered.
"But, come, here is Sir Ed ward, and he has brought the ornament with
him."

Our host now stood in the centre of the great hall and held what looked
like a Maltese Cross in his hand. The ornament measured six inches each
way, and was a perfect blaze of diamonds and rubie. None of the stones
were particularly large, but their number was bewildering.

Sir Edward looked around him, his eyes met mine, and he suddenly to my
surprise put the cross into my hand.

"You would like to examine it, Miss Marburg?" he said.

I looked carefully at the glittering and lovely thing.

"What is it worth?" I asked.

"Considerably over thirty thousand pounds," was his reply.

Then he added, dropping his voice, and speaking as if to me alone,
although Miss Trevor and Captain Cunningham heard every word he uttered.

"The miracle is that I have kept this cross so long, for it has a very
special market value. One big stone is generally safe, for a thief
cannot well dispose of it; but if this were stolen it could be easily
broken up and the diamonds and rubies, none of them specially large in
themselves, could be disposed of separately. Now I will return it to my
safe in the library--but pray wait for me, Miss Marburg, for I have a
special favour to ask of you."

He was absent for about two minutes--when he returned he came to my
side.

"Will you give us a short _séance_?" he asked. "I beg for this favour at
the request of my guests."

I paused for a moment, then I said quietly:

"I will do so on a special condition--will you allow me to read your
hand first of all?"

He coloured, and I saw a look of annoyance in his eyes, but his reply
came quickly.

"With pleasure. May I conduct you to the library?"

I seated myself in a chair at the head of the room, and one by one
those who wished to consult me entered. Sir Edward was the first. His
hand bore out all my ideas with regard to his character. There was
obstinacy, which could amount to cruelty; there was a passionate and
absorbing selfishness; and, what gave grim significance to those two
qualities an overmastering sense of superstition. I mumbled a few words
in praise of what small virtues he possessed, and as I saw that he was
all too anxious to get the ordeal over, quickly dismissed him.

One by one several of the visitors consulted me, and at last it
was Captain Cunnyngham's turn. I bent over his hand with great
interest. There was no question that the good qualities in it largely
predominated, but I was disappointed to perceive how a certain weakness
of character in his face was repeated in his hand. I gave him as fair
an estimate as I could of his better qualities, and he left me with a
smile of satisfaction on his face. Poor fellow! I pitied him from the
bottom of my heart. Beyond doubt he was in Sir Edward's power, and Sir
Edward could be cruel to gain his ends.

On the following morning but one I had an insight into the true motive
of this house party. Kate Trevor, Captain Cunnyngham, and I had not
been invited to meet together in Sir Edward's house without a very
definite reason.

The morning in question happened to be a glorious one, and I awoke
earlier than usual. I determined to get up and have a stroll by the
river's bank before breakfast. Accordingly I rang for my maid, Parker.
It was a few moments before she appeared. When she entered the room,
her usually placid face was blazing with excitement.

"Oh, miss!" she cried, "such a dreadful thing has happened in the
night."

"What do you mean?" I answered.

"The house has been broken into, miss, and Sir Edward Granville's
diamond and ruby cross has been stolen."

"Impossible!" I exclaimed. "Why, he keeps it in a safe, which is
supposed to be burglar-proof."

"Yes, miss, but the safe was opened in the night and the cross taken.
None of the other jewels or plate were touched. For that matter, Sir
Edward hadn't much down here. The cross is gone, however, and they say
it takes the family luck away with it--Sir Edward is almost off his
head."

"How was the theft discovered?"

"The butler thought he heard footsteps early this morning, miss, and he
went to arouse Sir Edward, but when they got to the library it was too
late, for Sir Edward's desk was broken open, and also the tin box where
he keeps the keys of the safe. The safe has been burgled and the thief
has escaped."

"Is it known how he got in?"

"That's the strange thing, miss, for neither doors nor windows, as far
as we can tell, have been touched. The notion is that someone in the
house has done it--but who, is the question. Sir Edward has telegraphed
for detectives to Scotland Yard. I never saw a gentleman in such a
state. Fit to tear his hair, he is; the local police are with him now."

I hastily dressed and went downstairs.

Several of the guests were standing about in differenc groups in the
hall. Our host was nowhere to be seen. The subject of the robbery was
the one topic on everyone's lips.

Who could have done it? and how was it done? were the problems which
riveted the attention of each of us at this moment. Presently a door to
our right opened, and Sir Edward, accompanied by a police inspector,
joined us.

"My dear friends," he said, "you must not let my loss make you all
miserable. Do go out and enjoy yourselves. Breakfast will be ready
presently."

"But what steps do you propose to take, Sir Edward?" said an elderly
gentleman now coming forward. His name was General Raglan.

"I have sent for detectives from Scotland Yard," was Sir Edward's
answer. "Until they arrive nothing can really be done."

"When do you expect them?"

"Probably between nine and ten o'clock."

"Then," said General Raglan, glancing round at us all, "I think I speak
in the names of everyone present. We should like to be in the house
when your detectives arrive--in order to give the police all the help
in our power towards the elucidation of this mystery."

"I am very much obliged to you, General Raglan," said Sir Edward, a
look of relief stealing over his face. "I did not like to ask you, but
it will be best for all of us to have the matter properly investigated."

"That is precisely what I have informed Sir Edward," said the police
inspector, now speaking for the first time.

Shortly before ten o'clock the London detective arrived, and at General
Raglan's suggestion we all assembled in the hall. We stood about there
in groups, and I found myself not far from Captain Cunnyngham. His face
was pale and he looked strangely nervous. Once he came close to me
and glanced at me as if about to say something, but the next instant
he turned aside, evidently unable to disclose what troubled him. His
depression was remarked by more than one person present, but strange to
say Kate Trevor did not seem to notice it.

Kate was in wonderfully good spirits. There were spots of vivid colour
on her cheeks caused by the excitement of the hour. She laughed and
talked merrily, and was eager in her conjectures with regard to the
nature of the burglary. I saw Captain Cunnyngham glance at her once or
twice in surprise, and I must own that her manner troubled me not a
little. But after watching her closely, I came to the conclusion that a
great deal of her riotous spirits was put on, and that in reality she
felt as strangely nervous as the rest of us.

In about half-an-hour Sir Edward joined us. He walked quickly through
the hall, and stood on a raised platform at one end. His face looked
hard and white, and I never liked his expression less.

"I am extremely sorry, ladies and gentlemen," he said, in a loud
voice, "that this most unfortunate affair has happened while you are
my guests. It is very kind of you to assemble here to listen to what I
have got to say. Inspector Fawcett from Scotland Yard has been with me
for the last half hour, and, with the aid of the local police, we have
gone most carefully into the matter.

"The inspector and the police have arrived at the unanimous conclusion
that the robbery has been effected by some person in the house, or
at least by some person in collusion with someone outside. This is
abundantly proved by the fact that no windows or doors have been
tampered with, that there are no footmarks on the soft grass outside,
that there is not the slightest sign of disturbance in any of these
directions.

"By a lucky chance Inspector Fawcett has discovered a clue, and this
clue he wishes to put to the test at once. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I
am put into a most unpleasant predicament. Inspector Fawcett cannot put
his clue to the test without your collaboration. But if you refuse to
help me I have not a word to say."

"We will help you," said General Raglan. "I speak, I am sure, in the
names of everyone present?"

"Certainly," echoed each voice in the hall.

Sir Edward bowed.

"Thank you," he said; "the matter is of great importance to me, and I
should like the clue so miraculously afforded to be brought to its just
conclusion."

"What is the clue?" asked General Raglan.

"I will tell you. Yesterday afternoon a painter came here to varnish a
cabinet in which I keep the billiard balls. This cabinet was put into
a cupboard in order not to be used until it was dry. To my certain
knowledge no one entered the cupboard between the time when the painter
returned me the key and the time of the burglary. At three o'clock this
morning my butler drew my attention to the cupboard door. I found that
the lock had been forced, and the thief, who had previously broken
open my desk and also the tin box where I keep the key of the safe,
had entered, opened the safe, and removed the diamond pendant. Having
committed the theft, he returned the key to the tin box, which he
locked, but he was unable to lock the desk or the door of the cupboard,
having no keys for the purpose.

"Now, pray listen. By a remarkable chance it has just been discovered
that the thief on entering the cupboard, must have bent down to open
the safe, and in doing this rested his hand upon one of the knobs
of the newly-varnished cabinet, and, the varnish not being dry, _an
impression of the palm of his hand_ has been left upon it."

An audible murmur of sensation ran through the group as Sir Edward made
this startling disclosure.

"I have had the knob removed," he continued, "it is now in the
possession of Inspector Fawcett. The request I have to make is that
each person will in turn go into the library and submit his or her
hand to Inspector Fawcett for comparison with the impression on the
knob. The same ordeal I shall ask my servants to submit to. I have one
thing further to say. Among my guests there is a lady who is specially
skilled in the marks of the hand. Miss Marburg, by Inspector Fawcett's
request, I have to ask you if you will kindly give your services in the
impending examination?"

"Certainly, Sir Edward," I replied.

"We will all gladly submit our hands for examination," said a gentleman
present.

The London detective now motioned me to follow him, and the three
police officers and I entered the library, and closed the door.

Inspector Fawcett showed me the newly-varnished wooden knob, holding it
carefully in his hand as I gazed at it.

The next moment I could have screamed aloud, for the impression of the
hand which I looked at I instantly recognised. I knew the markings of
the human hand too well to have the least doubt. I was gazing at the
reverse impression of the left hand of Captain Cunnyngham, which I had
studied so carefully two nights before.

"Do you recognise this impression, Miss Marburg?" said Inspector
Fawcett, looking me full in the face.

"I do," I replied instantly, "but if you proceed with the examination
you will quickly discover it for yourself."

"You will not say any more?"

"No," I answered, "nothing more at present."

He bowed to me, and then proceeded quickly with his examination.

One by one the visitors filed into the library, one by one their hands
were compared with the impression of the hand on the knob--they then
retired again. At last it was Captain Cunnyngham's turn. His face was
very white, but he entered the room with a firm and steady step. His
eyes met mine--something in the expression of my face must have put him
on his guard. He looked full at the detective.

"Before you put my hand to the test," he said, "I wish to tell you that
I know absolutely nothing of this matter."

Detective Fawcett gave him a quick glance, then looked at me, and then
went through the usual examination.

"Will you, Miss Marburg," he said, "give your careful attention?"

We both bent over the Captain's hand, looking carefully at the lines.
One by one they corresponded with those on the wooden knob.

"There is no question, sir, that the lines on the knob and the lines in
your hand correspond exactly," said the detective. "Is not that your
opinion, Miss Marburg?"

"I am sorry to say it is," I answered. "It is not within the bounds of
possibility that any other hand could have made the impression which
we are now looking at. Line for line, mount for mount, everything
precisely corresponds."

"It is enough evidence for my purpose," said the detective. "Captain
Cunnyngham, it is my painful duty to ask Sir Edward Granville to give
you in charge for breaking open this safe and stealing the diamond and
ruby pendant."

Captain Cunnyngham reeled against the wall as the man said these words.
It was just as if someone had struck him a physical blow. He did not
utter a word, nor attempt to defend himself.

The impression on the knob was horrible in its perfect clearness--the
palm of the hand was absolutely distinct.

Inspector Fawcett, who seemed intensely interested, now held the knob
in the same position in which it was when on the cabinet, in order
to see as far as possible how the thief had held it in order to get
the necessary impression. As he did so, the light fell full on the
cabinet and I started forward. I saw for the first time something else.
This was none other than the clear impression of four finger-tips
on the varnished surface of the cabinet just beyond the knob. These
finger-tips revealed the exact minutiae of the skin ridges.

I felt myself turning pale as I noticed them, for I saw that, by
leaving these marks of the finger-tips, poor Captain Cunnyngham had
doubly convicted himself of the crime; as surely, in fact, as if he
had confessed it fully. I remembered Professor Galton's well-known
and exhaustive researches on finger-prints, the fact which he has
abundantly proved being that no two persons in the world have the same
skin ridges, and also that these ridges never alter in the most remote
degree, except in growth, from babyhood to old age. The evidential
value of these skin ridges is so great that where they are brought into
requisition no escape is possible. Beyond doubt, the finger tips on the
varnish would settle the matter at once without further discussion, and
I felt forced to draw the detective's attention to them.

He smiled grimly.

"That is true," he said. "These marks will of course clinch the matter.
They are most important evidence."

"Well," I said, "for my own satisfaction will you kindly allow me to
take an impression of Captain Cunnyngham's finger tips and compare them
with those marked on the cabinet?"

"There is no objection," was the answer.

In a few moments I had melted a square bar of sealing-wax and taken an
impression of the finger tips of Jim Cunnyngham's left hand, the hand
in question.

"Give me one moment while I make a cursory exammation," I said, and,
taking out my lens, I began to focus first one finger tip and then the
other, and finally to examine the impression on the varnish.

The next instant I uttered a cry, and seizing Captain Cunnyngham by the
hand, began wringing it in an esctasy of delight, for I could not find
words to express myself coherently at the moment. Both the Captain and
Inspector Fawcett must have thought that I had suddenly gone mad.

"Cleared, acquitted, free!" I almost shouted. "The correspondence of
the palm is nothing when we have got this. By what means, or by what
hand that impression was made, it is absolutely certain that it is
not yours--certain beyond all possibility of doubt--and what is far
more important, we have a clue to the identity of the real man, to an
absolute certainty, for he has left on that cabinet a sign manual that
will differentiate him from every other human being at this moment
living on our planet."

As I uttered these words I looked up. Sir Edward Granville had entered
the room. He had evidently been startled by hearing my loud and excited
tones.

Inspector Fawcett was now closely comparing the finger prints.

"What is all this excitement about, Inspector?" asked Sir Edward.

"A very queer business, I am afraid, sir. There has been some deep game
played somewhere. The impression on this varnish corresponds exactly
with this gentleman's hand as far as the palm goes, but the finger tips
don't fit."

"The finger tips!" cried the baronet. "What do you mean, Miss Marburg?
What are you all talking about? There are no lines on the fmger tips."

"Oh, aren't there, Sir Edward?" I said, trembling with excitement as
a fantastic thought flashed through my brain. "Let me show, you." And
I held the sealing wax once more in the flame. "Kindly press the top
of your middle finger on the wax, Sir Edward, and I will explain it to
you."

"Nonsense!" he cried angrily, drawing back. "What does this mean? Are
you mad, Miss Marburg?"

"Mad or sane, I should like you to do it. Inspector Fawcett, will you
request Sir Edward to give us the impression of one of his finger tips
in this wax?"

"You had better do it, Sir Edward. What the young lady says is quite
true. It will be on these finger tips that the evidence will turn. They
are the important things, and I shall be obliged to get the impression
of all the finger tips of the people at present residing in this house."

"Please give us yours first, Sir Edward," I said, once more warming the
wax.

"It is necessary that it should be done, Sir Edward," said the
Inspector. "The lack of correspondence between the impression of the
palm and the finger tips on the varnish proves that either Captain
Cunnynham had someone else's finger tips, or that someone else had
Captain Cunnynham's palm. Now to counterfeit a palm is comparatively
easy by reproduction in india-rubber from a cast--to counterfeit the
skin ridges is next door to impossible. The deduction therefore is that
someone wished to have Captain Cunnyngham accused of the crime and has
counterfeited his palm knowing nothing of the infinitely more important
evidential value of finger tips."

"By the way," added the man, turning suddenly to Jim Cunnyngham, "have
you ever had a cast taken of your hand?"

"About a month ago in London," was the immediate answer.

"Ah! by whom?"

"Madame Sylvia of Bond Street."

The detective turned to Sir Edward.

"You may as well be the first to have your fingers printed, as you are
here," he said.

The baronet instantly obeyed, and as he made the impression on the wax,
I saw the three police officers exchange significant glances. They knew
quite as well as I did, that they were in the presence of the guilty
man.

"Now," said the detective, "we will proceed with the others."

He went to the door which led into the hall as he spoke, and asked
General Raglan to come forward. A few words were sufficient to put the
General in possession of the new and startling facts which were now
before us.

One by one the guests, in a state of great excitement, appeared, and
each and all submitted to the new test. Kate Trevor was the last to
have the impression of her fingers taken. The detective cleared his
throat and looked around him. He asked me to come forward and in
silence I looked at the different impressions.

The last of all to be examined was that of Sir Edward Granville, the
cores of whose finger tips corresponded exactly ridge by ridge even to
the most remote and minute particulars with the impression made on the
varnish.

I stood back in silence. The detective and I exchanged one glance.

"Will you explain?" he said to me.

I tried to speak, but no words would come.

"Then I will do it," he said. But before he could speak, Sir Edward
Granville came forward. He pushed the detective aside and stood facing
his guests.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "it is unnecessary for Inspector
Fawcett to explain himself. The news you have to learn can be
communicated in a few words. You see before you in the person of your
host the guilty man. Why I concocted so desperate a scheme, and why at
the last moment, by the most unlooked-for fatality, my guilt has been
proved beyond a shadow of doubt, is not for me now to explain, nor
will I enter into all my motives for this action. You will, doubtless,
none of you, wish any longer to be my guests; carriages will therefore
be ready to convey you to the railway station in an hour. I have now
but one thing to do, and that is to congratulate Miss Marburg on her
marvellous detective abilities."

As he spoke he bowed to me, and turning, without another word, left the
library.

Then Sir Edward's guests found their tongues. What they said, how much
they wondered is not for me to say.

But I have the happiness to relate that this story aroused such an
interest in the fortunes of Captain Cunnyngham that several members of
that strange house party put their heads together, and between them
managed to extricate the young guardsman from his difficulties. Early
in the following spring I had the happiness of seeing Kate Trevor
united to the man she loved.

THE END


This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia