THE TRAGEDY AT BROOKBEND COTTAGE
THE MYSTERY OF THE POISONED DISH OF MUSHROOMS
THE LAST EXPLOIT OF HARRY THE ACTOR
THE KNIGHT'S CROSS SIGNAL PROBLEM
THE INGENIOUS MR. SPINOLA
THE GHOST AT MASSINGHAM MANSIONS
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MARIE SEVERE
THE TRAGEDY AT BROOKBEND COTTAGE
[NOTE: as written here, no distinction made between hyphen and em dash--I have added the second mark to form each em, but I have not closed up spaces between words and marks--this needs to be done for just about all of them, as there is a space before and after each]
"Max," said Mr. Carlyle, when Parkinson had closed the door behind him,
"this is Lieutenant Hollyer, whom you consented to see."
"To hear," corrected Carrados, smiling straight into the healthy and
rather embarrassed face of the stranger before him. "Mr. Hollyer knows
of my disability?"
"Mr. Carlyle told me," said the young man, "but, as a matter of fact, I
had heard of you before, Mr. Carrados, from one of our men. It was in
connection with the foundering of the Ivan Saratoy."
Carrados wagged his head in good - humoured resignation.
"And the owners were sworn to inviolable secrecy!" he exclaimed. "Well,
it is inevitable, I suppose. Not another scuttling case, Mr. Hollyer ?"
"No, mine is quite a private matter," replied the lieutenant. "My
sister, Mrs. Creake -- but Mr. Carlyle would tell you better than I can.
He knows all about it."
"No, no; Carlyle is a professional. Let me have it in the rough, Mr.
Hollyer. My ears are my eyes, you know."
"Very well, sir. I can tell you what there is to tell, right enough, but
I feel that when all's said and done it must sound very little to
another, although it seems important to me."
"We have occasionally found trifles of significance ourselves," said
Carrados encouragingly. "Don't let that deter you."
This was the essence of Lieutenant Hollyer's narrative: "I have a
sister, Millicent, who is married to a man called Creake. She is about
twenty - eight now and he is at least fifteen years older. Neither my
mother (who has since died) nor I cared very much about Creake. We had
nothing particular against him, except, perhaps, the moderate disparity
of age, but none of us appeared to have anything in common. He was a
dark, taciturn man, and his moody silence froze up conversation. As a
result, of course, we didn't see much of each other."
"This, you must understand, was four or five years ago, Max," interposed
Mr. Carlyle officiously.
Carrados maintained an uncompromising silence. Mr. Carlyle blew his nose
and contrived to impart a hurt significance into the operation. Then
Lieutenant Hollyer continued:
"Millicent married Creake after a very short engagement. It was a
frightfully subdued wedding -- more like a funeral to me. The man
professed to have no relations and apparently he had scarcely any
friends or business acquaintances. He was an agent for something or
other and had an office off Holborn. I suppose he made a living out of
it then, although we knew practically nothing of his private affairs,
but I gather that it has been going down since, and I suspect that for
the past few years they have been getting along almost entirely on
Millicent's little income. You would like the particulars of that?"
"Please," assented Carrados.
"When our father died about seven years ago, he left three thousand
pounds. It was invested in Canadian stock and brought in a little over a
hundred a year. By his will my mother was to have the income of that for
life and on her death it was to pass to Millicent, subject to the
payment of a lump sum of five hundred pounds to me. But my father
privately suggested to me that if I should have no particular use for
the money at the time, he would propose my letting Millicent have the
income of it until I did want it, as she would not be particularly well
off. You see, Mr. Carrados, a great deal more had been spent on my
education and advancement than on her; I had my pay, and, of course, I
could look out for myself better than a girl could."
"Quite so," agreed Carrados.
"Therefore I did nothing about that," continued the lieutenant. "Three
years ago I was over again but I did not see much of them. They were
living in lodgings. That was the only time since the marriage that I
have seen them until last week. In the meanwhile our mother had died and
Millicent had been receiving her income. She wrote me several letters at
the time. Otherwise we did not correspond much, but about a year ago she
sent me their new address -- Brookbend Cottage, Mulling Common -- a house
that they had taken When I got two months' leave I invited myself there
as a matter of course, fully expecting to stay most of my time with
them, but I made an excuse to get away after a week. The place was
dismal and unendurable, the whole life and atmosphere indescribably
depressing." He looked round with an instinct of caution, leaned forward
earnestly, and dropped his voice. "Mr. Carrados, it is my absolute
conviction that Creake is only waiting for a favourable opportunity to
"Go on," said Carrados quietly. "A week of the depressing surroundings
of Brookbend Cottage would not alone convince you of that, Mr. Hollyer."
"I am not so sure," declared Hollyer doubtfully. "There was a feeling of
suspicion and -- before me -- polite hatred that would have gone a good
way towards it. All the same there was something more definite.
Millicent told me this the day after I went there. There is no doubt
that a few months ago Creake deliberately planned to poison her with
some weed - killer. She told me the circumstances in a rather distressed
moment, but afterwards she refused to speak of it again -- even weakly
denied it -- and, as a matter of fact, it was with the greatest of
difficulty that I could get her at any time to talk about her husband or
his affairs. The gist of it was that she had the strongest suspicion
that Creake doctored a bottle of stout which he expected she would drink
for her supper when she was alone. The weed - killer, properly labelled,
but also in a beer bottle, was kept with other miscellaneous liquids in
the same cupboard as the beer but on a high shelf. When he found that it
had miscarried he poured away the mixture, washed out the bottle and put
in the dregs from another. There is no doubt in my mind that if he had
come back and found Millicent dead or dying he would have contrived it
to appear that she had made a mistake in the dark and drunk some of the
poison before she found out."
"Yes," assented Carrados. "The open way; the safe way."
"You must understand that they live in a very small style, Mr. Carrados,
and Millicent is almost entirely in the man's power. The only servant
they have is a woman who comes in for a few hours every day. The house
is lonely and secluded. Creake is sometimes away for days and nights at
a time, and Millicent, either through pride or indifference, seems to
have dropped off all her old friends and to have made no others. He
might poison her, bury the body in the garden, and be a thousand miles
away before anyone began even to inquire about her. What am I to do, Mr.
"He is less likely to try poison than some other means now," pondered
Carrados. "That having failed, his wife will always be on her guard. He
may know, or at least suspect, that others know. No. The common - sense
precaution would be for your sister to leave the man, Mr. Hollyer. She
"No," admitted Hollyer, "she will not. I at once urged that." The young
man struggled with some hesitation for a moment and then blurted out:
"The fact is, Mr. Carrados, I don't understand Millicent. She is not the
girl she was. She hates Creake and treats him with a silent contempt
that eats into their lives like acid, and yet she is so jealous of him
that she will let nothing short of death part them. It is a horrible
life they lead. I stood it for a week and I must say, much as I dislike
my brother - in - law, that he has something to put up with. If only he
got into a passion like a man and killed her it wouldn't be altogether
"That does not concern us," said Carrados. "In a game of this kind one
has to take sides and we have taken ours. It remains for us to see that
our side wins. You mentioned jealousy, Mr. Hollyer. Have you any idea
whether Mrs. Creake has real ground for it?"
"I should have told you that," replied Lieutenant Hollyer. "I happened
to strike up with a newspaper man whose office is in the same block as
Creake's. When I mentioned the name he grinned. 'Creake,' he said, 'oh,
he's the man with the romantic typist, isn't he?' 'Well, he's my brother
- in - law,' I replied. 'What about the typist?' Then the chap shut up
like a knife. 'No, no,' he said, 'I didn't know he was married. I don't
want to get mixed up in anything of that sort. I only said that he had a
typist. Well, what of that? So have we; so has everyone.' There was
nothing more to be got out of him, but the remark and the grin meant -
well, about as usual, Mr. Carrados."
Carrados turned to his friend.
"I suppose you know all about the typist by now, Louis?"
"We have had her under efficient observation, Max," replied Mr. Carlyle
with severe dignity.
"Is she unmarried?"
"Yes; so far as ordinary repute goes, she is."
"That is all that is essential for the moment. Mr. Hollyer opens up
three excellent reasons why this man might wish to dispose of his wife.
If we accept the suggestion of poisoning -- though we have only a jealous
woman's suspicion for it -- we add to the wish the determination. Well,
we will go forward on that. Have you got a photograph of Mr. Creake?"
The lieutenant took out his pocket - book.
"Mr. Carlyle asked me for one. Here is the best I could get."
Carrados rang the bell.
"This, Parkinson," he said, when the man appeared, "is a photograph of a
Mr. What first name, by the way?"
"Austin," put in Hollyer, who was following everything with a boyish
mixture of excitement and subdued importance.
" -- of a Mr. Austin Creake. I may require you to recognize him."
Parkinson glanced at the print and returned it to his master's hand.
"May I inquire if it is a recent photograph of the gentleman, sir?" he
"About six years ago," said the lieutenant, taking in this new actor in
the drama with frank curiosity. "But he is very little changed."
"Thank you, sir. I will endeavour to remember Mr. Creake, sir."
Lieutenant Hollyer stood up as Parkinson left the room.. The interview
seemed to be at an end.
"Oh, there's one other matter," he remarked. "I am afraid that I did
rather an unfortunate thing while I was at Brookbend. It seemed to me
that as all Millicent's money would probably pass into Creake's hands
sooner or later I might as well have my five hundred pounds, if only to
help her with afterwards. So I broached the subject and said that I
should like to have it now as I had an opportunity for investing."
"And you think?"
"It may possibly influence Creake to act sooner than he otherwise might
have done. He may have got possession of the principal even and find it
very awkward to replace it."
"So much the better. If your sister is going to be murdered it may as
well be done next week as next year so far as I am concerned. Excuse my
brutality, Mr. Hollyer, but this is simply a case to me and I regard it
strategically. Now Mr. Carlyle's organization can look after Mrs. Creake
for a few weeks, but it cannot look after her for ever. By increasing
the immediate risk we diminish the permanent risk."
"I see," agreed Hollyer. "I'm awfully uneasy but I'm entirely in your
"Then we will give Mr. Creake every inducement and every opportunity to
get to work. Where are you staying now?"
"Just now with some friends at St. Albans."
"That is too far." The inscrutable eyes retained their tranquil depth
but a new quality of quickening interest in the voice made Mr. Carlyle
forget the weight and burden of his ruffled dignity. "Give me a few
minutes, please. The cigarettes are behind you, Mr. Hollyer." The blind
man walked to the window and seemed to look out over the cypress -
shaded lawn. The lieutenant lit a cigarette and Mr. Carlyle picked up
Punch. Then Carrados turned round again.
"You are prepared to put your own arrangements aside?" he demanded of
"Very well. I want you to go down now -- straight from here -- to
Brookbend Cottage. Tell your sister that your leave is unexpectedly cut
short and that you sail to - morrow."
"No, no; the Martian doesn't sail. Look up the movements on your way
there and pick out a boat that does. Say you are transferred. Add that
you expect to be away only two or three months and that you really want
the five hundred pounds by the time of your return. Don't stay in the
house long, please."
"I understand, sir."
"St. Albans is too far. Make your excuse and get away from there to -
day. Put up somewhere in town, where you will be in reach of the
telephone. Let Mr. Carlyle and myself know where you are. Keep out of
Creake's way. I don't want actually to tie you down to the house, but we
may require your services. We will let you know at the first sign of
anything doing and if there is nothing to be done we must release you."
"I don't mind that. Is there nothing more that I can do now?"
"Nothing. In going to Mr. Carlyle you have done the best thing possible;
you have put your sister into the care of the shrewdest man in London."
Whereat the object of this quite unexpected eulogy found himself
becoming covered with modest confusion.
"Well, Max?" remarked Mr. Carlyle tentatively when they were alone.
"Of course it wasn't worth while rubbing it in before young Hollyer,
but, as a matter of fact, every single man carries the life of any other
man -- only one, mind you -- in his hands, do what you will."
"Provided he doesn't bungle," acquiesced Carrados.
"And also that he is absolutely reckless of the consequences."
"Two rather large provisos. Creake is obviously susceptible to both.
Have you seen him?"
"No. As I told you, I put a man on to report his habits in town. Then,
two days ago, as the case seemed to promise some interest -- for he
certainly is deeply involved with the typist, Max, and the thing might
take a sensational turn at any time -- I went down to Mulling Common
myself. Although the house is lonely it is on the electric tram route.
You know the sort of market garden rurality that about a dozen miles out
of London offers -- alternate bricks and cabbages. It was easy enough to
get to know about Creake locally. He mixes with no one there, goes into
town at irregular times but generally every day, and is reputed to be
devilish hard to get money out of. Finally I made the acquaintance of an
old fellow who used to do a day's gardening at Brookbend occasionally.
He has a cottage and a garden of his own with a greenhouse, and the
business cost me the price of a pound of tomatoes."
"Was it -- a profitable investment?"
"As tomatoes, yes; as information, no. The old fellow had the fatal
disadvantage from our point of view of labouring under a grievance. A
few weeks ago Creake told him that he would not require him again as he
was going to do his own gardening in future."
"That is something, Louis."
"If only Creake was going to poison his wife with hyoscyamine and bury
her, instead of blowing her up with a dynamite cartridge and claiming
that it came in among the coal."
"True, true. Still -- "
"However, the chatty old soul had a simple explanation for everything
that Creake did. Creake was mad. He had even seen him flying a kite in
his garden where it was found to get wrecked among the trees. A lad of
ten would have known better, he declared. And certainly the kite did get
wrecked, for I saw it hanging over the road myself. But that a sane man
should spend his time 'playing with a toy' was beyond him."
"A good many men have been flying kites of various kinds lately," said
Carrados. "Is he interested in aviation?"
"I dare say. He appears to have some knowledge of scientific subjects.
Now what do you want me to do, Max?"
"Will you do it?"
"Implicitly -- subject to the usual reservations."
"Keep your man on Creake in town and let me have his reports after you
have seen them. Lunch with me here now. 'Phone up to your office that
you are detained on unpleasant business and then give the deserving
Parkinson an afternoon off by looking after me while we take a motor run
round Mulling Common. If we have time we might go on to Brighton, feed
at the 'Ship,' and come back in the cool."
"Amiable and thrice lucky mortal," sighed Mr. Carlyle, his glance
wandering round the room.
But, as it happened, Brighton did not figure in that day's itinerary. It
had been Carrados's intention merely to pass Brookbend Cottage on this
occasion, relying on his highly developed faculties, aided by Mr.
Carlyle's description, to inform him of the surroundings. A hundred
yards before they reached the house he had given an order to his
chauffeur to drop into the lowest speed and they were leisurely drawing
past when a discovery by Mr. Carlyle modified their plans.
"By Jupiter!" that gentleman suddenly exclaimed, "there's a board up,
Max. The place is to be let."
Carrados picked up the tube again. A couple of sentences passed and the
car stopped by the roadside, a score of paces past the limit of the
garden. Mr. Carlyle took out his notebook and wrote down the address of
a firm of house agents.
"You might raise the bonnet and have a look at the engines, Harris,"
said Carrados. "We want to be occupied here for a few minutes."
"This is sudden; Hollyer knew nothing of their leaving," remarked Mr.
"Probably not for three months yet. All the same, Louis, we will go on
to the agents and get a card to view whether we use it to - day or not."
A thick hedge, in its summer dress effectively screening the house
beyond from public view, lay between the garden and the road. Above the
hedge showed an occasional shrub; at the corner nearest to the car a
chestnut flourished. The wooden gate, once white, which they had passed,
was grimed and rickety. The road itself was still the unpretentious
country lane that the advent of the electric car had found it. When
Carrados had taken in these details there seemed little else to notice.
He was on the point of giving Harris the order to go on when his ear
caught a trivial sound.
"Someone is coming out of the house, Louis," he warned his friend. "It
may be Hollyer, but he ought to have gone by this time."
"I don't hear anyone," replied the other, but as he spoke a door banged
noisily and Mr. Carlyle slipped into and the seat and ensconced himself
behind a copy of The Globe.
"Creake himself," he whispered across the car, as a man appeared at the
gate. "Hollyer was right; he is hardly changed. Waiting for a car, I
But a car very soon swung past them from the direction in which Mr.
Creake was looking and it did not interest him. For a minute or two
longer he continued to look expectantly along the road. Then he walked
slowly up the drive back to the house.
"We will give him five or ten minutes," decided Carrados. "Harris is
behaving very naturally."
Before even the shorter period had run out they were repaid. A telegraph
- boy cycled leisurely along the road, and, leaving his machine at the
gate, went up to the cottage. Evidently there was no reply, for in less
than a minute he was trundling past them back again. Round the bend an
approaching tram clanged its bell noisily, and, quickened by the warning
sound, Mr. Creake again appeared, this time with a small portmanteau in
his hand. With a backward glance he hurried on towards the next stopping
- place, and, boarding the car as it slackened down, he was carried out
of their knowledge.
"Very convenient of Mr. Creake," remarked Carrados, with quiet
satisfaction. "We will now get the order and go over the house in his
absence. It might be useful to have a look at the wire as well."
"It might, Max," acquiesced Mr. Carlyle a little dryly. "But if it is,
as it probably is in Creake's pocket, how do you propose to get it?"
"By going to the post office, Louis."
"Quite so. Have you ever tried to see a copy of a telegram addressed to
"I don't think I have ever had occasion yet," admitted Carrados. "Have
"In one or two cases I have perhaps been an accessory to the act. It is
generally a matter either of extreme delicacy or considerable
"Then for Hollyer's sake we will hope for the former here." And Mr.
Carlyle smiled darkly and hinted that he was content to wait for a
A little later, having left the car at the beginning of the straggling
High Street, the two men called at the village post office. They had
already visited the house agent and obtained an order to view Brookbend
Cottage, declining with some difficulty the clerk's persistent offer to
accompany them. The reason was soon forthcoming. "As a matter of fact,"
explained the young man, "the present tenant is under our notice to
"Unsatisfactory, eh?" said Carrados encouragingly.
"He's a corker," admitted the clerk, responding to the friendly tone.
"Fifteen months and not a doit of rent have we had. That's why I should
have liked -- "
"We will make every allowance," replied Carrados.
The post office occupied one side of a stationer's shop. It was not
without some inward trepidation that Mr. Carlyle found himself committed
to the adventure. Carrados, on the other hand, was the personification
of bland unconcern.
"You have just sent a telegram to Brookbend Cottage," he said young lady
behind the brasswork lattice. "We think it may have come inaccurately
and should like a repeat." He took out his purse. "What is the fee?"
The request was evidently not a common one. "Oh," said the girl
uncertainly, "wait a minute, please." She turned to a pile of telegram
duplicates behind the desk and ran a doubtful finger along the upper
sheets. "I think this is all right. You want it repeated?"
"Please." Just a tinge of questioning surprise gave point to the
"It will be four pence. If there is an error the amount will be
Carrados put down his coin and received his change.
"Will it take long?" he inquired carelessly, as he pulled on his glove.
"You will most likely get it within a quarter of an hour," she replied.
"Now you've done it," commented Mr. Carlyle as they walked back to their
car. "How do you propose to get that telegram, Max?"
"Ask for it," was the laconic explanation.
And, stripping the artifice of any elaboration, he simply asked for it
and got it. The car, posted at a convenient bend in the road, gave him a
warning note as the telegraph - boy approached. Then Carrados took up a
convincing attitude with his hand on the gate while Mr. Carlyle lent
himself to the semblance of a departing friend. That was the inevitable
impression when the boy rode up.
"Creake, Brookbend Cottage?" inquired Carrados, holding out his hand,
and without a second thought the boy gave him the envelope and rode away
on the assurance that there would be no reply.
"Some day, my friend," remarked Mr. Carlyle, looking nervously toward
the unseen house, "your ingenuity will get you into a tight corner."
"Then my ingenuity must get me out again," was the retort. "Let us have
our 'view' now. The telegram can wait."
An untidy workwoman took their order and left them standing at the door.
Presently a lady whom they both knew to be Mrs. Creake appeared.
"You wish to see over the house?" she said, in a voice that was utterly
devoid of any interest. Then, without waiting for a reply, she turned to
the nearest door and threw it open.
"This is the drawing - room," she said, standing aside.
They walked into a sparsely furnished, damp - smelling room and made a
pretence of looking round, while Mrs. Creake remained silent and aloof.
"The dining - room," she continued, crossing the narrow hall and opening
Mr. Carlyle ventured a genial commonplace in the hope of inducing
conversation. The result was not encouraging. Doubtless they would have
gone through the house under the same frigid guidance had not Carrados
been at fault in a way that Mr. Carlyle had never known him fail before.
In crossing the hall he stumbled over a mat and almost fell.
"Pardon my clumsiness," he said to the lady; "I am, unfortunately, quite
blind. But," he added, with a smile, to turn off the mishap, "even a
blind man must have a house."
The man who had eyes was surprised to see a flood of colour rush into
Mrs. Creake's face.
"Blind!" she exclaimed, "oh, I beg your pardon. Why did you not tell me?
You might have fallen."
"I generally manage fairly well," he replied. "But, of course, in a
strange house.” She put her hand on his arm very lightly.
"You must let me guide you, just a little," she said.
The house, without being large, was full of passages and inconvenient
turnings. Carrados asked an occasional question and found Mrs. Creake
quite amiable without effusion. Mr. Carlyle followed them from room to
room in the hope, though scarcely the expectation, of learning something
that might be useful.
"This is the last one. It is the largest bedroom," said their guide.
Only two of the upper rooms were fully furnished and Mr. Carlyle at once
saw, as Carrados knew without seeing, that this was the one which the
"A very pleasant outlook," declared Mr. Carlyle.
"Oh, I suppose so," admitted the lady vaguely. The room, in fact, looked
over the leafy garden and the road beyond. It had a French window
opening on to a small balcony, and to this, under the strange influence
that always attracted him to light, Carrados walked.
"I expect that there is a certain amount of repair needed?" he said,
after standing there a moment.
"I am afraid there would be," she confessed.
"I ask because there is a sheet of metal on the floor here," he
continued. "Now that, in an old house, spells dry rot to the wary
"My husband said that the rain, which comes in a little under the
window, was rotting the boards there," she replied. "He put that down
recently. I had not noticed anything, myself."
It was the first time she had mentioned her husband; Mr. Carlyle pricked
up his ears.
"Ah, that is a less serious matter," said Carrados. "May I step out on
to the balcony?"
"Oh yes, if you like to." Then, as he appeared to be fumbling at the
catch, "Let me open it for you."
But the window was already open, and Carrados, facing the various points
of the compass, took in the bearings.
"A sunny, sheltered corner," he remarked. "An ideal spot for a deck -
chair and a book."
She shrugged her shoulders half contemptuously.
"I dare say," she replied, "but I never use it."
"Sometimes, surely," he persisted mildly. "It would be my favourite
retreat. But then -- "
"I was going to say that I had never even been out on it, but that would
not be quite true. It has two uses for me, both equally romantic; I
occasionally shake a duster from it, and when my husband returns late
without his latchkey he wakes me up and I come out here and drop him
Further revelation of Mr. Creake's nocturnal habits was cut off, greatly
to Mr. Carlyle's annoyance, by a cough of unmistakable significance from
the foot of the stairs. They had heard a trade cart drive up to the
gate, a knock at the door, and the heavy - footed woman tramp along the
"Excuse me a minute, please," said Mrs. Creake.
"Louis," said Carrados, in a sharp whisper, the moment they were alone,
"stand against the door."
With extreme plausibility Mr. Carlyle began to admire a picture so
situated that while he was there it was impossible to open the door more
than a few inches. From that position he observed his confederate go
through the curious procedure of kneeling down on the bedroom floor and
for a full minute pressing his ear to the sheet of metal that had
already engaged his attention. Then he rose to his feet, nodded, dusted
his trousers, and Mr. Carlyle moved to a less equivocal position.
"What a beautiful rose - tree grows up your balcony," remarked Carrados,
stepping into the room as Mrs. Creake returned. "I suppose you are very
fond of gardening?"
"I detest it," she replied.
"But this Gloire, so carefully trained -- ?"
"Is it?" she replied. "I think my husband was nailing it up recently."
By some strange fatality Carrados's most aimless remarks seemed to
involve the absent Mr. Creake. "Do you care to see the garden?"
The garden proved to be extensive and neglected. Behind the house was
chiefly orchard. In front, some semblance of order had been kept up;
here it was lawn and shrubbery, and the drive they had walked along. Two
things interested Carrados: the soil at the foot of the balcony, which
he declared on examination to be particularly suitable for roses, and
the fine chestnut - tree in the corner by the road.
As they walked back to the car Mr. Carlyle lamented that they had
learned so little of Creake's movements.
"Perhaps the telegram will tell us something," suggested Carrados. "Read
Mr. Carlyle cut open the envelope, glanced at the enclosure, and in
spite of his disappointment could not restrain a chuckle.
"My poor Max," he explained, "you have put yourself to an amount of
ingenious trouble for nothing. Creake is evidently taking a few days'
holiday and prudently availed himself of the Meteorological Office
forecast before going. Listen: 'Immediate prospect for London warm and
settled. Further outlook cooler but fine.' Well, well; I did get a pound
of tomatoes for my fourpence."
"You certainly scored there, Louis," admitted Carrados, with humorous
appreciation. "I wonder," he added speculatively, "whether it is
Creake's peculiar taste usually to spend his week - end holiday in
"Eh?" exclaimed Mr. Carlyle, looking at the words again, "by gad, that's
rum, Max. They go to Weston - super - Mare. Why on earth should he want
to know about London?"
"I can make a guess, but before we are satisfied I must come here again.
Take another look at that kite, Louis. Are there a few yards of string
hanging loose from it?"
"Yes, there are."
"Rather thick string -- unusually thick for the purpose?"
"Yes, but how do you know?"
As they drove home again Carrados explained, and Mr. Carlyle sat aghast,
saying incredulously: "Good God, Max, is it possible?"
An hour later he was satisfied that it was possible. In reply to his
inquiry someone in his office telephoned him the information that "they"
had left Paddington by the four - thirty for Weston.
It was more than a week after his introduction to Carrados that
Lieutenant Hollyer had a summons to present himself at The Turrets
again. He found Mr. Carlyle already there and the two friends were
awaiting his arrival.
"I stayed in all day after hearing from you this morning, Mr. Carrados,"
he said, shaking hands. "When I got your second message I was all ready
to walk straight out of the house. That's how I did it in the time. I
hope everything is all right?"
"Excellent," replied Carrados. "You'd better have something before we
start. We probably have a long and perhaps an exciting night before us."
"And certainly a wet one," assented the lieutenant. "It was thundering
over Mulling way as I came along."
"That is why you are here," said his host. "We are waiting for a certain
message before we start, and in the meantime you may as well understand
what we expect to happen. As you saw, there is a thunderstorm coming on.
The Meteorological Office morning forecast predicted it for the whole of
London if the conditions remained. That is why I kept you in readiness.
Within an hour it is now inevitable that we shall experience a deluge.
Here and there damage will be done to trees and buildings; here and
there a person will probably be struck and killed."
"It is Mr. Creake's intention that his wife should be among the
"I don't exactly follow," said Hollyer, looking from one man to the
other. "I quite admit that Creake would be immensely relieved if such a
thing did happen, but the chance is surely an absurdly remote one."
"Yet unless we intervene it is precisely what a coroner's jury will
decide has happened. Do you know whether your brother - in - law has any
practical knowledge of electricity, Mr. Hollyer?"
"I cannot say. He was so reserved, and we really knew so little of him --
"Yet in 1896 an Austin Creake contributed an article on 'Alternating
Currents' to the American Scientific World. That would argue a fairly
"But do you mean that he is going to direct a flash of lightning?"
"Only into the minds of the doctor who conducts the postmortem, and the
coroner. This storm, the opportunity for which he has been waiting for
weeks, is merely the cloak to his act. The weapon which he has planned
to use -- scarcely less powerful than lightning but much more tractable --
is the high voltage current of electricity that flows along the tram
wire at his gate."
"Oh!" exclaimed Lieutenant Hollyer, as the sudden revelation struck him.
"Some time between eleven o'clock to - night -- about the hour when your
sister goes to bed -- and one thirty in the morning -- the time up to
which he can rely on the current -- Creake will throw a stone up at the
balcony window. Most of his preparation has long been made; it only
remains for him to connect up a short length to the window handle and a
longer one at the other end to tap the live wire. That done, he will
wake his wife in the way I have said. The moment she moves the catch of
the window -- and he has carefully filed its parts to ensure perfect
contact -- she will be electrocuted as effectually as if she sat in the
executioner's chair in Sing Sing prison."
"But what are we doing here!" exclaimed Hollyer, starting to his feet,
pale and horrified. "It is past ten now and anything may happen."
"Quite natural, Mr. Hollyer," said Carrados reassuringly, "but you need
have no anxiety. Creake is being watched, the house is being watched,
and your sister is as safe as if she slept to - night in Windsor Castle.
Be assured that whatever happens he will not be allowed to complete his
scheme; but it is desirable to let him implicate himself to the fullest
limit. Your brother - in - law, Mr. Hollyer, is a man with a peculiar
capacity for taking pains."
"He is a damned cold - blooded scoundrel!" exclaimed the young officer
fiercely. "When I think of Millicent five years ago -- "
"Well, for that matter, an enlightened nation has decided that
electrocution is the most humane way of removing its superfluous citizen
is," suggested Carrados mildly. "He is certainly an ingenious - minded
gentleman. It is his misfortune that in Mr. Carlyle he was fated to be
opposed by an even subtler brain -- "
"No, no! Really, Max!" protested the embarrassed gentleman.
"Mr. Hollyer will be able to judge for himself when I tell him that it
was Mr. Carlyle who first drew attention to the significance of the
abandoned kite," insisted Carrados firmly. "Then, of course, its object
became plain to me -- as indeed to anyone. For ten minutes, perhaps, a
wire must be carried from the overhead line to the chestnut - tree.
Creake has everything in his favour, but it is just within possibility
that the driver of an inopportune train might notice the appendage. What
of that? Why, for more than a week he has seen a derelict kite with its
yards of trailing string hanging in the tree. A very calculating mind,
Mr. Hollyer. It would be interesting to know what line of action Mr.
Creake has mapped out for himself afterwards. I expect he has half - a -
dozen artistic little touches up his sleeve. Possibly he would merely
singe his wife's hair, burn her feet with a red - hot poker, shiver the
glass of the French window, and be content with that to let well alone.
You see, lightning is so varied in its effects that whatever he did or
did not do would be right. He is in the impregnable position of the body
showing all the symptoms of death by lightning shock and nothing else
but lightning to account for it -- a dilated eye, heart contracted in
systole, bloodless lungs shrunk to a third the normal weight, and all
the rest of it. When he has removed a few outward traces of his work
Creake might quite safely 'discover' his dead wife and rush off for the
nearest doctor. Or he may have decided to arrange a convincing alibi,
and creep away, leaving the discovery to another. We shall never know;
he will make no confession."
"I wish it was well over," admitted Hollyer, "I'm not particularly
jumpy, but this gives me a touch of the creeps."
"Three more hours at the worst, lieutenant," said Carrados cheerfully.
"Ah - ha, something is coming through now."
He went to the telephone and received a message from one quarter; then
made another connection and talked for a few minutes with someone else.
"Everything working smoothly," he remarked between times over his
shoulder. "Your sister has gone to bed, Mr. Hollyer."
Then he turned to the house telephone and distributed his orders.
"So we," he concluded, "must get up."
By the time they were ready a large closed motor car was waiting. The
lieutenant thought he recognised Parkinson in the well - swathed form
beside the driver, but there was no temptation to linger for a second on
the steps. Already the stinging rain had lashed the drive into the
semblance of a frothy estuary; all round the lightning jagged its course
through the incessant tremulous glow of more distant lightning, while
the thunder only ceased its muttering to turn at close quarters and
"One of the few things I regret missing," remarked Carrados tranquilly;
"but I hear a good deal of colour in it."
The car slushed its way down to the gate, lurched a little heavily
across the dip into the road, and, steadying as it came upon the
straight, began to hum contentedly along the deserted highway.
"We are not going direct?" suddenly inquired Hollyer, after they had
travelled perhaps half - a - dozen miles. The night was bewildering
enough but he had the sailor's gift for location.
"No; through Hunscott Green and then by a field - path to the orchard at
the back," replied Carrados. "Keep a sharp look out for the man with the
lantern about here, Harris," he called through the tube.
"Something flashing just ahead, sir," came the reply, and the car slowed
down and stopped.
Carrados dropped the near window as a man in glistening waterproof
stepped from the shelter of a lich - gate and approached.
"Inspector Beedel, sir," said the stranger, looking into the car.
"Quite right, Inspector," said Carrados. "Get in."
"I have a man with me, sir."
"We can find room for him as well."
"We are very wet."
"So shall we all be soon."
The lieutenant changed his seat and the two burly forms took places side
by side. In less than five minutes the car stopped again, this time in a
grassy country lane.
"Now we have to face it," announced Carrados. "The inspector will show
us the way."
The car slid round and disappeared into the night, while Beedel led the
party to a stile in the hedge. A couple of fields brought them to the
Brookbend boundary. There a figure stood out of the black foliage,
exchanged a few words with their guide and piloted them along the
shadows of the orchard to the back door of the house.
"You will find a broken pane near the catch of the scullery window,"
said the blind man.
"Right, sir," replied the inspector. "I have it. Now who goes through?"
"Mr. Hollyer will open the door for us. I'm afraid you must take off
your boots and all wet things, Lieutenant. We cannot risk a single spot
They waited until the back door opened, then each one divested himself
in a similar manner and passed into the kitchen, where the remains of a
fire still burned. The man from the orchard gathered together the
discarded garments and disappeared again.
Carrados turned to the lieutenant.
"A rather delicate job for you now, Mr. Hollyer. I want you to go up to
your sister, wake her, and get her into another room with as little fuss
as possible. Tell her as much as you think fit and let her understand
that her very life depends on absolute stillness when she is alone.
Don't be unduly hurried, but not a glimmer of a light, please."
Ten minutes passed by the measure of the battered old alarum on the
dresser shelf before the young man returned.
"I've had rather a time of it," he reported, with a nervous laugh, "but
I think it will be all right now. She is in the spare room."
"Then we will take our places. You and Parkinson come with me to the
bedroom. Inspector, you have your own arrangements. Mr. Carlyle will be
They dispersed silently about the house. Hollyer glanced apprehensively
at the door of the spare room as they passed it, but within was as quiet
as the grave. Their room lay at the other end of the passage.
"You may as well take your place in the bed now, Hollyer," directed
Carrados when they were inside and the door closed. "Keep well down
among the clothes. Creake has to get up on the balcony, you know, and he
will probably peep through the window, but he dare come no farther. Then
when he begins to throw up stones slip on this dressing - gown of your
sister's. I'll tell you what to do after."
The next sixty minutes drew out into the longest hour that the
lieutenant had ever known. Occasionally he heard a whisper pass between
the two men who stood behind the window curtains, but he could see
nothing. Then Carrados threw a guarded remark in his direction.
"He is in the garden now."
Something scraped slightly against the outer wall. But the night was
full of wilder sounds, and in the house the furniture and the boards
creaked and sprung between the yawling of the wind among the chimneys,
the rattle of the thunder and the pelting of the rain. It was a time to
quicken the steadiest pulse, and when the crucial moment came, when a
pebble suddenly rang against the pane with a sound that the tense
waiting magnified into a shivering crash, Hollyer leapt from the bed on
"Easy, easy," warned Carrados feelingly. "We will wait for another
knock." He passed something across. "Here is a rubber glove. I have cut
the wire but you had better put it on. Stand just for a moment at the
window, move the catch so that it can blow open a little, and drop
Another stone had rattled against the glass. For Hollyer to go through
his part was the work merely of seconds, and with a few touches Carrados
spread the dressing - gown to more effective disguise about the extended
form. But an unforeseen and in the circumstances rather horrible
interval followed, for Creake, in accordance with some detail of his
never - revealed plan, continued to shower missile after missile against
the panes until even the unimpressionable Parkinson shivered.
"The last act," whispered Carrados, a moment after the throwing had
ceased. "He has gone round to the back. Keep as you are. We take cover
now." He pressed behind the arras of an extemporized wardrobe, and the
spirit of emptiness and desolation seemed once more to reign over the
From half - a - dozen places of concealment ears were straining to catch
the first guiding sound. He moved very stealthily, burdened, perhaps, by
some strange scruple in the presence of the tragedy that he had not
feared to connive, paused for a moment at the bedroom door, then opened
it very quietly, and in the fickle light read the consummation of his
"At last!" they heard the sharp whisper drawn from his relief. "At
He took another step and two shadows seemed to fall upon him from
behind, one on either side. With primitive instinct a cry of terror and
surprise escaped him as he made a desperate movement to wrench himself
free, and for a short second he almost succeeded in dragging one hand
into a pocket. Then his wrists slowly came together and the handcuffs
"I am Inspector Beedel," said the man on his right side. "You are
charged with the attempted murder of your wife, Millicent Creake."
"You are mad," retorted the miserable creature, falling into a desperate
calmness. "She has been struck by lightning."
"No, you blackguard, she hasn't," wrathfully exclaimed his brother - in
- law, jumping up. "Would you like to see her?"
"I also have to warn you," continued the inspector impassively, "that
anything you say may be used as evidence against you."
A startled cry from the farther end of the passage arrested their
"Mr. Carrados," called Hollyer, "oh, come at once."
At the open door of the other bedroom stood the lieutenant, his eyes
still turned towards something in the room beyond, a little empty bottle
in his hand.
"Dead!" he exclaimed tragically, with a sob, "with this beside her. Dead
just when she would have been free of the brute."
The blind man passed into the room, sniffed the air, and laid a gentle
hand on the pulseless heart.
"Yes," he replied. "That, Hollyer, does not always appeal to the woman,
strange to say."
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
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
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
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
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
It is at this point that Max Carrados makes his first appearance in the
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
"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."
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
"Just fancy!" was the form it took.
"Under the Act the purchaser must be known to the chemist?" suggested
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Can this be corroborated -- especially as regards the precise time they
"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
"Well, let us examine the rope," he said with his usual
"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
"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.
"Nothing that I know of."
"But your customer must have stated an application."
The pallid chemist flushed a little at the recollection of that
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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.
"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
Mr. Lightcraft laughed quietly and rubbed his hands together. For the
moment he had forgotten Loudham and the annoying case and lived in his
"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.
"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
"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
"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.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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 td 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
"Yes. Possibly you have read something of the St. Abbots mushroom
"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
"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 -
"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
"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
"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!
"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
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
"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?"
"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
"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,
"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 LAST EXPLOIT OF HARRY THE ACTOR
The one insignificant fact upon which turned the following incident in
the joint experiences of Mr. Carlyle and Max Carrados was merely this:
that having called upon his friend just at the moment when the private
detective was on the point of leaving his office to go to the safe
deposit in Lucas Street, Piccadilly, the blind amateur accompanied him,
and for ten minutes amused himself by sitting quite quietly among the
palms in the centre of the circular hall while Mr. Carlyle was occupied
with his deed - box in one of the little compartments provided for the
The Lucas Street depository was then (it has since been converted into a
picture palace) generally accepted as being one of the strongest places
in London. The front of the building was constructed to represent a
gigantic safe door, and under the colloquial designation of "The Safe"
the place had passed into a synonym for all that was secure and
impregnable. Half of the marketable securities in the west of London
were popularly reported to have seen the inside of its coffers at one
time or another, together with the same generous proportion of family
jewels. However exaggerated an estimate this might be, the substratum of
truth was solid and auriferous enough to dazzle the imagination. When
ordinary safes were being carried bodily away with impunity or
ingeniously fused open by the scientifically equipped cracksman, nervous
bond - holders turned with relief to the attractions of an establishment
whose modest claim was summed up in its telegraphic address:
"Impregnable." To it went also the jewel - case between the lady's
social engagements, and when in due course "the family" journeyed north
-- or south, east or west -- whenever, in short, the London house was
closed, its capacious storerooms received the plate - chest as an
established custom. Not a few traders also -- jewellers, financiers,
dealers in pictures, antiques and costly bijouterie, for instance --
constantly used its facilities for any stock that they did not require
immediately to hand.
There was only one entrance to the place, an exaggerated keyhole, to
carry out the similitude of the safe - door alluded to. The ground floor
was occupied by the ordinary offices of the company; all the strong -
rooms and safes lay in the steel - cased basement. This was reached both
by a lift and by a flight of steps. In either case the visitor found
before him a grille of massive proportions. Behind its bars stood a
formidable commissionaire who never left his post, his sole duty being
to open and close the grille to arriving and departing clients. Beyond
this, a short passage led into the round central hall where Carrados was
waiting. From this part, other passages radiated off to the vaults and
strong - rooms, each one barred from the hall by a grille scarcely less
ponderous than the first one. The doors of the various private rooms put
at the disposal of the company's clients, and that of the manager's
office, filled the wall - space between the radiating passages.
Everything was very quiet, everything looked very bright, and everything
seemed hopelessly impregnable.
"But I wonder?" ran Carrados's dubious reflection as he reached this
"Sorry to have kept you so long, my dear Max," broke in Mr. Carlyle's
crisp voice. He had emerged from his compartment and was crossing the
hall, deed - box in hand. "Another minute and I will be with you."
Carrados smiled and nodded and resumed his former expression, which was
merely that of an uninterested gentleman waiting patiently for another.
It is something of an attainment to watch closely without betraying
undue curiosity, but others of the senses -- hearing and smelling, for
instance -- can be keenly engaged while the observer possibly has the
appearance of falling asleep.
"Now," announced Mr. Carlyle, returning briskly to his friend's chair,
and drawing on his grey suede gloves.
"You are in no particular hurry?"
"No," admitted the professional man, with the slowness of mild surprise.
"Not at all. What do you propose?"
"It is very pleasant here," replied Carrados tranquilly. "Very cool and
restful with this armoured steel between us and the dust and scurry of
the hot July afternoon above. I propose remaining here for a few minutes
"Certainly," agreed Mr. Carlyle, taking the nearest chair and eyeing
Carrados as though he had a shrewd suspicion of something more than met
the ear. "I believe some very interesting people rent safes here. We may
encounter a bishop, or a winning jockey, or even a musical comedy
actress. Unfortunately it seems to be rather a slack time."
"Two men came down while you were in your cubicle," remarked Carrados
casually. "The first took the lift. I imagine that he was a middle -
aged, rather portly man. He carried a stick, wore a silk hat, and used
spectacles for close sight. The other came by the stairway. I infer that
he arrived at the top immediately after the lift had gone. He ran down
the steps, so that the two were admitted at the same time, but the
second man, though the more active of the pair, hung back for a moment
in the passage and the portly one was the first to go to his safe."
Mr. Carlyle's knowing look expressed: "Go on, my friend; you are coming
to something." But he merely contributed an encouraging "Yes?"
"When you emerged just now our second man quietly opened the door of his
pen a fraction. Doubtless he looked out. Then he closed it as quietly
again. You were not his man, Louis."
"I am grateful," said Mr. Carlyle expressively. "What next, Max?"
"That is all; they are still closeted."
Both were silent for a moment. Mr. Carlyle's feeling was one of
unconfessed perplexity. So far the incident was utterly trivial in his
eyes; but he knew that the trifles which appeared significant to Max had
a way of standing out like signposts when the time came to look back
over an episode. Carrados's sightless faculties seemed indeed to keep
him just a move ahead as the game progressed.
"Is there really anything in it, Max?" he asked at length.
"Who can say?" replied Carrados. "At least we may wait to see them go.
Those tin deed - boxes now. There is one to each safe, I think?"
"Yes, so I imagine. The practice is to carry the box to your private
lair and there unlock it and do your business. Then you lock it up again
and take it back to your safe."
"Steady! our first man," whispered Carrados hurriedly. "Here, look at
this with me." He opened a paper -- a prospectus -- which he pulled from
his pocket, and they affected to study its contents together.
"You were about right, my friend," muttered Mr. Carlyle, pointing to a
paragraph of assumed interest. "Hat, stick and spectacles.
He is a clean - shaven, pink - faced old boy. I believe -- yes, I know
the man by sight. He is a bookmaker in a large way, I am told."
"Here comes the other," whispered Carrados.
The bookmaker passed across the hall, joined on his way by the manager
whose duty it was to counterlock the safe, and disappeared along one of
the passages. The second man sauntered up and down, waiting his turn.
Mr. Carlyle reported his movements in an undertone and described him. He
was a younger man than the other, of medium height, and passably well
dressed in a quiet lounge suit, green Alpine hat and brown shoes. By the
time the detective had reached his wavy chestnut hair, large and rather
ragged moustache, and sandy, freckled complexion, the first man had
completed his business and was leaving the place.
"It isn't an exchange lay, at all events," said Mr. Carlyle. "His inner
case is only half the size of the other and couldn't possibly be
"Come up now," said Carrados, rising. "There is nothing more to be
learned down here."
They requisitioned the lift, and on the steps outside the gigantic
keyhole stood for a few minutes discussing an investment as a couple of
trustees or a lawyer and a client who were parting there might do. Fifty
yards away, a very large silk hat with a very curly brim marked the
progress of the bookmaker towards Piccadilly.
The lift in the hall behind them swirled up again and the gate clashed.
The second man walked leisurely out and sauntered away without a
"He has gone in the opposite direction," exclaimed Mr. Carlyle, rather
blankly. "It isn't the 'lame goat' nor the 'follow - me - on,' nor even
the homely but efficacious sand - bag."
"What colour were his eyes?" asked Carrados.
"Upon my word, I never noticed," admitted the other.
"Parkinson would have noticed," was the severe comment.
"I am not Parkinson," retorted Mr. Carlyle, with asperity, "and,
strictly as one dear friend to another, Max, permit me to add, that
while cherishing an unbounded admiration for your remarkable gifts, I
have the strongest suspicion that the whole incident is a ridiculous
mare's nest, bred in the fantastic imagination of an enthusiastic
Mr. Carrados received this outburst with the utmost benignity.
"Come and have a coffee, Louis," he suggested. "Mehmed's is only a
Mehmed proved to be a cosmopolitan gentleman from Mocha whose shop
resembled a house from the outside and an Oriental divan when one was
within. A turbaned Arab placed cigarettes and cups of coffee spiced with
saffron before the customers, gave salaam and withdrew.
"You know, my dear chap," continued Mr. Carlyle, sipping his black
coffee and wondering privately whether it was really very good or very
bad, "speaking quite seriously, the one fishy detail our ginger friend's
watching for the other to leave -- may be open to a dozen very innocent
"So innocent that to - morrow I intend taking a safe myself."
"You think that everything is all right?"
"On the contrary, I am convinced that something is very wrong."
"I shall keep nothing there, but it will give me the entree. I should ad
- advise you, Louis, in the first place to empty your safe with all
possible speed, and in the second to leave your business card on the
Mr. Carlyle pushed his cup away, convinced now that the coffee was
really very bad.
"But, my dear Max, the place -- 'The Safe' -- is impregnable!"
"When I was in the States, three years ago, the head porter at one hotel
took pains to impress on me that the building was absolutely fireproof.
I at once had my things taken off to another hotel. Two weeks later the
first place was burnt out. It was fireproof, I believe, but of course
the furniture and the fittings were not and the walls gave way."
"Very ingenious," admitted Mr. Carlyle, "but why did you really go? You
know you can't humbug me with your superhuman sixth sense, my friend."
Carrados smiled pleasantly, thereby encouraging the watchful attendant
to draw near and replenish their tiny cups.
"Perhaps," replied the blind man, "because so many careless people were
satisfied that it was fireproof."
"Ah - ha, there you are -- the greater the confidence the greater the
risk. But only if your self - confidence results in carelessness. Now do
you know how this place is secured, Max?"
"I am told that they lock the door at night," replied Carrados, with
"And hide the key under the mat to be ready for the first arrival in the
morning," crowed Mr. Carlyle, in the same playful spirit. "Dear old
chap! Well, let me tell you -- "
"That force is out of the question. Quite so," admitted his friend.
"That simplifies the argument. Let us consider fraud. There again the
precautions are so rigid that many people pronounce the forms a
nuisance. I confess that I do not. I regard them as a means of
protecting my own property and I cheerfully sign my name and give my
password, which the manager compares with his record - book before he
releases the first lock of my safe. The signature is burned before my
eyes in a sort of crucible there, the password is of my own choosing and
is written only in a book that no one but the manager ever sees, and my
key is the sole one in existence."
"No duplicate or master - key?"
"Neither. If a key is lost it takes a skilful mechanic half - a - day to
cut his way in. Then you must remember that clients of a safe - deposit
are not multitudinous. All are known more or less by sight to the
officials there, and a stranger would receive close attention. Now, Max,
by what combination of circumstances is a rogue to know my password, to
be able to forge my signature, to possess himself of my key, and to
resemble me personally? And, finally, how is he possibly to determine
beforehand whether there is anything in my safe to repay so elaborate a
plant?" Mr. Carlyle concluded in triumph and was so carried away by the
strength of his position that he drank off the contents of his second
cup before he realized what he was doing.
"At the hotel I just spoke of;" replied Carrados, "there was an
attendant whose one duty in case of alarm was to secure three iron
doors. On the night of the fire he had a bad attack of toothache and
slipped away for just a quarter of an hour to have the thing out. There
was a most up - to - date system of automatic fire alarm; it had been
tested only the day before and the electrician, finding some part not
absolutely to his satisfaction, had taken it away and not had time to
replace it. The night watchman, it turned out, had received leave to
present himself a couple of hours later on that particular night, and
the hotel fireman, whose duties he took over, had missed being notified.
Lastly, there was a big riverside blaze at the same time and all the
engines were down at the other end of the city."
Mr. Carlyle committed himself to a dubious monosyllable. Carrados leaned
forward a little.
"All these circumstances formed a coincidence of pure chance. Is it not
conceivable, Louis, that an even more remarkable series might be brought
about by design?."
"Our tawny friend?"
"Possibly. Only he was not really tawny." Mr. Carlyle's easy attitude
suddenly stiffened into rigid attention. "He wore a false moustache."
"He wore a false moustache!" repeated the amazed gentleman. "And you
cannot see! No, really, Max, this is beyond the limit!"
"If only you would not trust your dear, blundering old eyes so
implicitly you would get nearer that limit yourself," retorted Carrados.
"The man carried a five - yard aura of spirit gum, emphasized by a warm,
perspiring skin. That inevitably suggested one thing. I looked for
further evidence of making - up and found it -- these preparations all
smell. The hair you described was characteristically that of a wig --
worn long to hide the joining and made wavy to minimize the length. All
these things are trifles. As yet we have not gone beyond the initial
stage of suspicion. I will tell you another trifle. When this man
retired to a compartment with his deed - box, he never even opened it.
Possibly it contains a brick and a newspaper. He is only watching."
"Watching the bookmaker."
"True, but it may go far wider than that. Everything points to a plot of
careful elaboration. Still, if you are satisfied -- "
"I am quite satisfied," replied Mr. Carlyle gallantly. "I regard 'The
Safe' almost as a national institution, and as such I have an implicit
faith in its precautions against every kind of force or fraud." So far
Mr. Carlyle's attitude had been suggestive of a rock, but at this point
he took out his watch, hummed a little to pass the time, consulted his
watch again, and continued: "I am afraid that there were one or two
papers which I overlooked. It would perhaps save me coming again to -
morrow if I went back now -- "
"Quite so," acquiesced Carrados, with perfect gravity. "I will wait for
For twenty minutes he sat there, drinking an occasional tiny cup of
boiled coffee and to all appearance placidly enjoying the quaint
atmosphere which Mr. Mehmed had contrived to transplant from the shores
of the Persian Gulf.
At the end of that period Carlyle returned, politely effusive about the
time he had kept his friend waiting but otherwise bland and
unassailable. Anyone with eyes might have noticed that he carried a
parcel of about the same size and dimensions as the deed - box that
fitted his safe.
The next day Carrados presented himself at the safe - deposit as an
intending renter. The manager showed him over the vaults and strong -
rooms, explaining the various precautions taken to render the guile or
force of man impotent: the strength of the chilled - steel walls, the
casing of electricity - resisting concrete, the stupendous isolation of
the whole inner fabric on metal pillars so that the watchman, while
inside the building, could walk above, below, and all round the outer
walls of what was really -- although it bore no actual relationship to
the advertising device of the front -- a monstrous safe; and, finally,
the arrangement which would enable the basement to be flooded with steam
within three minutes of an alarm. These details were public property.
"The Safe" was a showplace and its directors held that no harm could
come of displaying a strong hand.
Accompanied by the observant eyes of Parkinson, Carrados gave an
adventurous but not a hopeful attention to these particulars. Submitting
the problem of the tawny man to his own ingenuity, he was constantly
putting before himself the question: How shall I set about robbing this
place? and he had already dismissed force as impracticable. Nor, when it
came to the consideration of fraud, did the simple but effective
safeguards which Mr. Carlyle had specified seem to offer any loophole.
"As I am blind I may as well sign in the book," he suggested, when the
manager passed him a gummed slip for the purpose. The precaution against
one acquiring particulars of another client might well be deemed
superfluous in his case.
But the manager did not fall into the trap.
"It is our invariable rule in all cases, sir," he replied courteously.
"What word will you take?" Parkinson, it may be said, had been left in
"Suppose I happen to forget it? How do we proceed?"
"In that case I am afraid that I might have to trouble you to establish
your identity," the manager explained. "It rarely happens."
"Then we will say 'Conspiracy.'"
The word was written down and the book closed.
"Here is your key, sir. If you will allow me -- your key - ring -- "
A week went by and Carrados was no nearer the absolute solution of the
problem he had set himself. He had, indeed, evolved several ways by
which the contents of the safes might be reached, some simple and
desperate, hanging on the razor - edge of chance to fall this way or
that; others more elaborate, safer on the whole, but more liable to
break down at some point of their ingenious intricacy. And setting
aside complicity on the part of the manager -- a condition that Carrados
had satisfied himself did not exist -- they all depended on a relaxation
of the forms by which security was assured. Carrados continued to have
several occasions to visit the safe during the week, and he "watched"
with a quiet persistence that was deadly in its scope. But from
beginning to end there was no indication of slackness in the business -
like methods of the place; nor during any of his visits did the "tawny
man" appear in that or any other disguise. Another week passed; Mr.
Carlyle was becoming inexpressibly waggish, and Carrados himself,
although he did not abate a jot of his conviction, was compelled to bend
to the realities of the situation. The manager, with the obstinacy of a
conscientious man who had become obsessed with the pervading note of
security, excused himself from discussing abstract methods of fraud.
Carrados was not in a position to formulate a detailed charge; he
withdrew from active investigation, content to await his time.
It came, to be precise, on a certain Friday morning, seventeen days
after his first visit to "The Safe." Returning late on the Thursday
night, he was informed that a man giving the name of Draycott had called
to see him. Apparently the matter had been of some importance to the
visitor for he had returned three hours later on the chance of finding
Mr. Carrados in. Disappointed in this, he had left a note. Carrados cut
open the envelope and ran a finger along the following words: --
"Dear Sir, -- I have to - day consulted Mr. Louis Carlyle, who thinks
that you would like to see me. I will call again in the morning, say at
nine o'clock. If this is too soon or otherwise inconvenient I entreat
you to leave a message fixing as early an hour as possible.
"Yours faithfully, Herbert Draycott.
"P. S. -- I should add that I am the renter of a safe at the Lucas Street
A description of Mr. Draycott made it clear that he was not the West -
End bookmaker. The caller, the servant explained, was a thin, wiry, keen
- faced man. Carrados felt agreeably interested in this development,
which seemed to justify his suspicion of a plot.
At five minutes to nine the next morning Mr. Draycott again presented
"Very good of you to see me so soon, sir," he apologized, on Carrados at
once receiving him. "I don't know much of English ways -- I'm an
Australian -- and I was afraid it might be too early."
"You could have made it a couple of hours earlier as far as I am
concerned," replied Carrados. "Or you either for that matter, I
imagine," he added, "for I don't think that you slept much last night."
"I didn't sleep at all last night," corrected Mr. Draycott. "But it's
strange that you should have seen that. I understood from Mr. Carlyle
that you -- excuse me if I am mistaken, sir -- but I understood that you
Carrados laughed his admission lightly.
"Oh yes," he said. "But never mind that. What is the trouble?"
"I'm afraid it means more than just trouble for me, Mr. Carrados." The
man had steady, half - closed eyes, with the suggestion of depth which
one notices in the eyes of those whose business it is to look out over
great expanses of land or water; they were turned towards Carrados's
face with quiet resignation in their frankness now. "I'm afraid it
spells disaster. I am a working engineer from the Mount Magdalena
district of Coolgardie. I don't want to take up your time with outside
details, so I will only say that about two years ago I had an
opportunity of acquiring a share in a very promising claim -- gold, you
understand, both reef and alluvial. As the work went on I put more and
more into the undertaking -- you couldn't call it a venture by that time.
The results were good, better than we had dared to expect, but from one
cause and another the expenses were terrible. We saw that it was a
bigger thing than we had bargained for and we admitted that we must get
So far Mr. Draycott's narrative had proceeded smoothly enough under the
influence of the quiet despair that had come over the man. But at this
point a sudden recollection of his position swept him into a frenzy of
"Oh, what the blazes is the good of going over all this again!" he broke
out. "What can you or anyone else do anyhow? I've been robbed, rooked,
cleared out of everything I possess," and tormented by recollections and
by the impotence of his rage the unfortunate engineer beat the oak table
with the back of his hand until his knuckles bled.
Carrados waited until the fury had passed.
"Continue, if you please, Mr. Draycott," he said. "Just what you thought
it best to tell me is just what I want to know."
"I'm sorry, sir," apologized the man, colouring under his tanned skin.
"I ought to be able to control myself better. But this business has
shaken me. Three times last night I looked down the barrel of my
revolver, and three times I threw it away. . . . Well, we arranged that
I should come to London to interest some financiers in the property. We
might have done it locally or in Perth, to be sure, but then, don't you
see, they would have wanted to get control. Six weeks ago I landed here.
I brought with me specimens of the quartz and good samples of extracted
gold, dust and nuggets, the clearing up of several weeks' working, about
two hundred and forty ounces in all. That includes the Magdalena
Lodestar, our lucky nugget, a lump weighing just under seven pounds of
"I had seen an advertisement of this Lucas Street safe - deposit and it
seemed just the thing I wanted. Besides the gold, I had all the papers
to do with the claims -- plans, reports, receipts, licences and so on.
Then when I cashed my letter of credit I had about one hundred and fifty
pounds in notes. Of course I could have left everything at a bank, but
it was more convenient to have it, as it were, in my own safe, to get at
any time, and to have a private room that I could take any gentlemen to.
I hadn't a suspicion that anything could be wrong. Negotiations hung on
in several quarters -- it's a bad time to do business here, I find. Then,
yesterday, I wanted something. I went to Lucas Street, as I had done
half - a - dozen times before, opened my safe, and had the inner case
carried to a room.... Mr. Carrados, it was empty!"
"No." He laughed bitterly. "At the bottom was a sheet of wrapper paper.
I recognized it as a piece I had left there in case I wanted to make up
a parcel. But for that I should have been convinced that I had somehow
opened the wrong safe. That was my first idea."
"It cannot be done."
"So I understand, sir. And, then, there was the paper with my name
written on it in the empty tin. I was dazed; it seemed impossible. I
think I stood there without moving for minutes -- it was more like hours.
Then I closed the tin box again, took it back, locked up the safe and
"Without notifying anything wrong?"
"Yes, Mr. Carrados." The steady blue eyes regarded him with pained
thoughtfulness. "You see, I reckoned it out in that time that it must be
someone about the place who had done it."
"You were wrong," said Carrados.
"So Mr. Carlyle seemed to think. I only knew that the key had never been
out of my possession and I had told no one of the password. Well, it did
come over me rather like cold water down the neck, that there was I
alone in the strongest dungeon in London and not a living soul knew
where I was."
"Possibly a sort of up - to - date Sweeney Todd's?"
"I'd heard of such things in London," admitted Draycott. "Any - way, I
got out. It was a mistake; I see it now. Who is to believe me as it is --
it sounds a sort of unlikely tale. And how do they come to pick on me?
to know what I had? I don't drink, or open my mouth, or hell round. It
"They didn't pick on you -- you picked on them," replied Carrados. "Never
mind how; you'll be believed all right. But as for getting anything back
-- " The unfinished sentence confirmed Mr. Draycott in his gloomiest
"I have the numbers of the notes," he suggested, with an attempt at
hopefulness. "They can be stopped, I take it?"
"Stopped? Yes," admitted Carrados. "And what does that amount to? The
banks and the police stations will be notified and every little public --
house between here and Land's End will change one for the scribbling of
'John Jones' across the back. No, Mr. Draycott, it's awkward, I dare
say, but you must make up your mind to wait until you can get fresh
supplies from home. Where are you staying?"
"I have been at the Abbotsford, in Bloomsbury, up to now," he said, with
some embarrassment. "The fact is, Mr. Carrados, I think I ought to have
told you how I was placed before consulting you, because I -- I see no
prospect of being able to pay my way. Knowing that I had plenty in the
safe, I had run it rather close. I went chiefly yesterday to get some
notes. I have a week's hotel bill in my pocket, and" -- he glanced down
at his trousers -- "I've ordered one or two other things unfortunately."
"That will be a matter of time, doubtless," suggested the other
Instead of replying Draycott suddenly dropped his arms on to the table
and buried his face between them. A minute passed in silence.
"It's no good, Mr. Carrados," he said, when he was able to speak. "I
can't meet it. Say what you like, I simply can't tell those chaps that
I've lost everything we had and ask them to send me more. They couldn't
do it if I did. Understand sir. The mine is a valuable one; we have the
greatest faith in it, but it has gone beyond our depth. The three of us
have put everything we own into it. While I am here they are doing
labourers' work for a wage, just to keep going . . . waiting, oh, my
God! waiting for good news from me!"
Carrados walked round the table to his desk and wrote. Then, without a
word, he held out a paper to his visitor.
"What's this?" demanded Draycott, in bewilderment. "It's -- it's a cheque
for a hundred pounds."
"It will carry you on," explained Carrados imperturbably. "A man like
you isn't going to throw up the sponge for this set - back. Cable to
your partners that you require copies of all the papers at once. They'll
manage it, never fear. The gold . . . must go. Write fully by the next
mail. Tell them everything and add that in spite of all you feel that
you are nearer success than ever."
Mr. Draycott folded the cheque with thoughtful deliberation and put it
carefully away in his pocket - book.
"I don't know whether you've guessed as much, sir," he said in a queer
voice, "but I think that you've saved a man's life to - day. It's not
the money, it's the encouragement . . . and faith. If you could see
you'd know better than I can say how I feel about it."
Carrados laughed quietly. It always amused him to have people explain
how much more he would learn if he had eyes.
"Then we'll go on to Lucas Street and give the manager the shock of his
life," was all he said. "Come, Mr. Draycott, I have already rung up the
But, as it happened, another instrument had been destined to apply that
stimulating experience to the manager. As they stepped out of the car
opposite "The Safe" a taxicab drew up and Mr. Carlyle's alert and cheery
voice hailed them.
"A moment, Max," he called, turning to settle with his driver, a
transaction that he invested with an air of dignified urbanity which
almost made up for any small pecuniary disappointment that 'nay have
accompanied it. "This is indeed fortunate. Let us compare notes for a
moment. I have just received an almost imploring message from the
manager to come at once. I assumed that it was the affair of our
colonial friend here, but he went on to mention Professor Holmfast
Bulge. Can it really be possible that he also has made a similar
"What did the manager say?" asked Carrados.
"He was practically incoherent, but I really think it must be so. What
have you done?"
"Nothing," replied Carrados. He turned his back on "The Safe" and
appeared to be regarding the other side of the street. "There is a
tobacconist's shop directly opposite?"
"What do they sell on the first floor?"
"Possibly they sell 'Rubbo.' I hazard the suggestion from the legend
'Rub in Rubbo for Everything' which embellishes each window."
"The windows are frosted?"
"They are, to half - way up, mysterious man."
Carrados walked back to his motor - car.
"While we are away, Parkinson, go across and buy a tin, bottle, box or
packet of 'Rubbo.'"
"What is 'Rubbo,' Max?" chirped Mr. Carlyle with insatiable curiosity.
"So far we do not know. When Parkinson gets some, Louis, you shall be
the one to try it."
They descended into the basement and were passed in by the grille -
keeper, whose manner betrayed a discreet consciousness of something in
the air. It was unnecessary to speculate why. In the distance, muffled
by the armoured passages, an authoritative voice boomed like a sonorous
bell heard under water.
"What, however, are the facts?" it was demanding, with the causticity of
baffled helplessness. "I am assured that there is no other key in
existence; yet my safe has been unlocked. I am given to understand that
without the password it would be impossible for an unauthorized person
to tamper with my property. My password, deliberately chosen, is
'anthropophaginian,' sir. Is it one that is familiarly on the lips of
the criminal classes? But my safe is empty! What is the explanation?
Who are the guilty persons? What is being done? Where are the police?"
"If you consider that the proper course to adopt is to stand on the
doorstep and beckon in the first constable who happens to pass, permit
me to say, sir, that I differ from you," retorted the distracted
manager. "You may rely on everything possible being done to clear up the
mystery. As I told you, I have already telephoned for a capable private
detective and for one of my directors."
"But that is not enough," insisted the professor angrily. "Will one mere
private detective restore my £6ooo Japanese 4 1/2 per cent bearer bonds?
Is the return of my irreplaceable notes on 'Polyphyletic Bridal Customs
among the mid - Pleistocene Cave Men' to depend on a solitary director?
I demand that the police shall be called in -- as many as are available.
Let Scotland Yard be set in motion. A searching inquiry must be made. I
have only been a user of your precious establishment for six months, and
this is the result."
"There you hold the key of the mystery, Professor Bulge," interposed
"Who is this, sir?" demanded the exasperated professor at large. "Permit
me," explained Mr. Carlyle, with bland assurance. "I am Louis Carlyle,
of Bampton Street. This gentleman is Mr. Max Carrados, the eminent
amateur specialist in crime.”
"I shall be thankful for any assistance towards elucidating this
appalling business," condescended the professor sonorously. "Let me put
you in possession of the facts -- "
"Perhaps if we went into your room," suggested Carrados to the manager,
"we should be less liable to interruption."
"Quite so; quite so," boomed the professor, accepting the proposal on
everyone else's behalf. "The facts, sir, are these: I am the unfortunate
possessor of a safe here, in which, a few months ago, I deposited --
among less important matter -- sixty bearer bonds of the Japanese
Imperial Loan -- the bulk of my small fortune -- and the manuscript of an
important projected work on 'Polyphyletic Bridal Customs among the mid -
Pleistocene Cave Men.' Today I came to detach the coupons which fall due
on the fifteenth, to pay them into my bank a week in advance, in
accordance with my custom. What do I find? I find the safe locked and
apparently intact, as when I last saw it a month ago. But it is far from
being intact, sir. It has been opened, ransacked, cleared out. Not a
single bond, not a scrap of paper remains."
It was obvious that the manager's temperature had been rising during the
latter part of this speech and now he boiled over.
"Pardon my flatly contradicting you, Professor Bulge. You have again
referred to your visit here a month ago as your last. You will bear
witness of that, gentlemen. When I inform you that the professor had
access to his safe as recently as on Monday last you will recognize the
importance that the statement may assume."
The professor glared across the room like an infuriated animal, a
comparison heightened by his notoriously hircine appearance.
"How dare you contradict me, sir!" he cried, slapping the table sharply
with his open hand. "I was not here on Monday."
The manager shrugged his shoulders coldly.
"You forget that the attendants also saw you," he remarked. "Cannot we
trust our own eyes?"
"A common assumption, yet not always a strictly reliable one,"
insinuated Carrados softly.
"I cannot be mistaken."
"Then can you tell me, without looking, what colour Professor Bulge's
There was a curious and expectant silence for a minute. The professor
turned his back on the manager and the manager passed from
thoughtfulness to embarrassment.
"I really do not know, Mr. Carrados," he declared loftily at last. "I do
not refer to mere trifles like that."
"Then you can be mistaken," replied Carrados mildly yet with decision.
"But the ample hair, the venerable flowing beard, the prominent nose and
heavy eyebrows -- "
"These are just the striking points that are most easily counterfeited.
They 'take the eye.' If you would ensure yourself against deception,
learn rather to observe the eye itself, and particularly the spots on
it, the shape of the finger - nails, the set of the ears. These things
cannot be simulated."
"You seriously suggest that the man was not Professor Bulge -- that he
was an impostor?"
"The conclusion is inevitable. Where were you on Monday, Professor?"
"I was on a short lecturing tour in the Midlands. On Saturday I was in
Nottingham. On Monday in Birmingham. I did not return to London until
Carrados turned to the manager again and indicated Draycott, who so far
had remained in the background.
"And this gentleman? Did he by any chance come here on Monday?"
"He did not, Mr. Carrados. But I gave him access to his safe on Tuesday
afternoon and again yesterday."
Draycott shook his head sadly.
"Yesterday I found it empty," he said. "And all Tuesday afternoon I was
at Brighton, trying to see a gentleman on business."
The manager sat down very suddenly.
"Good God, another--!" he exclaimed faintly.
"I am afraid the list is only beginning," said Carrados. "We must go
through your renters' book."
The manager roused himself to protest.
"That cannot be done. No one but myself or my deputy ever sees the book.
It would be -- unprecedented."
"The circumstances are unprecedented," replied Carrados.
"If any difficulties are placed in the way of these gentlemen's
investigations, I shall make it my duty to bring the facts before the
Home Secretary," announced the professor, speaking up to the ceiling
with the voice of a brazen trumpet.
Carrados raised a deprecating hand.
"May I make a suggestion?" he remarked. "Now, I am blind. If, therefore
"Very well," acquiesced the manager. "But I must request the others to
For five minutes Carrados followed the list of safe - renters as the
manager read them to him. Sometimes he stopped the catalogue to reflect
a moment; now and then he brushed a finger - tip over a written
signature and compared it with another. Occasionally a password
interested him. But when the list came to an end he continued to look
into space without any sign of enlightenment.
"So much is perfectly clear and yet so much is incredible," he mused.
"You insist that you alone have been in charge for the last six months?"
"I have not been away a day this year."
"I have my lunch sent in."
"And this room could not be entered without your knowledge while you
were about the place?"
"It is impossible. The door is fitted with a powerful spring and a
feather - touch self - acting lock. It cannot be left unlocked unless
you deliberately prop it open."
"And, with your knowledge, no one has had an opportunity of having
access to this book?"
"No," was the reply.
Carrados stood up and began to put on his gloves.
"Then I must decline to pursue my investigation any further," he said
"Why?" stammered the manager.
"Because I have positive reason for believing that you are deceiving
"Pray sit down, Mr. Carrados. It is quite true that when you put the
last question to me a circumstance rushed into my mind which so far as
the strict letter was concerned -- might seem to demand 'Yes' instead of
'No.' But not in the spirit of your inquiry. It would be absurd to
attach any importance to the incident I refer to."
"That would be for me to judge."
"You shall do so, Mr. Carrados. I live at Windermere Mansions with my
sister. A few months ago she got to know a married couple who had
recently come to the opposite flat. The husband was a middle - aged,
scholarly man who spent most of his time in the British Museum. His
wife's tastes were different; she was much younger, brighter, gayer; a
mere girl in fact, one of the most charming and unaffected I have ever
met. My sister Amelia does not readily -- "
"Stop!" exclaimed Carrados. "A studious middle - aged man and a charming
young wife! Be as brief as possible. If there is any chance it may turn
on a matter of minutes at the ports. She came here, of course?"
"Accompanied by her husband," replied the manager stiffly. "Mrs. Scott
had travelled and she had a hobby of taking photographs wherever she
went. When my position accidentally came out one evening she was carried
away by the novel idea of adding views of a safe deposit to her
collection -- as enthusiastic as a child. There was no reason why she
should not; the place has often been taken for advertising purposes."
"She came, and brought her camera -- under your very nose!"
"I do not know what you mean by 'under my very nose.' She came with her
husband one evening just about closing time. She brought her camera, of
course -- quite a small affair."
"And contrived to be in here alone?"
"I take exception to the word 'contrived.' It -- it happened. I sent out
for some tea, and in the course - "
"How long was she alone in here?"
"Two or three minutes at the most. When I returned she was seated at my
desk. That was what I referred to. The little rogue had put on my
glasses and had got hold of a big book. We were great chums, and she
delighted to mock me. I confess that I was startled -- merely
instinctively -- to see that she had taken up this book, but the next
moment I saw that she had it upside down."
"Clever! She couldn't get it away in time. And the camera, with half - a
- dozen of its specially sensitized films already snapped over the last
few pages, by her side!"
"Yes. She is twenty - seven and has kicked hats off tall men's heads in
every capital from Petersburg to Buenos Ayres! Get through to Scotland
Yard and ask if Inspector Beedel can come up."
The manager breathed heavily through his nose.
"To call in the police and publish everything would ruin this
establishment - confidence would be gone. I cannot do it without further
"Then the professor certainly will."
"Before you came I rang up the only director who is at present in town
and gave him the facts as they then stood. Possibly he has arrived by
this. If you will accompany me to the boardroom we will see."
They went up to the floor above, Mr. Carlyle joining them on the way.
"Excuse me a moment," said the manager.
Parkinson, who had been having an improving conversation with the hall
porter on the subject of land values, approached.
"I am sorry, sir," he reported, "but I was unable to procure any
'Rubbo.' The place appears to be shut up."
"That is a pity; Mr. Carlyle had set his heart on it."
"Will you come this way, please?" said the manager, reappearing. In the
boardroom they found a white - haired old gentleman who had obeyed the
manager's behest from a sense of duty, and then remained in a distant
corner of the empty room in the hope that he might be over - looked. He
was amiably helpless and appeared to be deeply aware of it.
"This is a very sad business, gentlemen," he said, in a whispering,
confiding voice. "I am informed that you recommend calling in the
Scotland Yard authorities. That would be a disastrous course for an
institution that depends on the implicit confidence of the public."
"It is the only course," replied Carrados.
"The name of Mr. Carrados is well known to us in connection with a
delicate case. Could you not carry this one through?"
"It is impossible. A wide inquiry must be made. Every port will have to
be watched. The police alone can do that." He threw a little
significance into the next sentence. "I alone can put the police in the
right way of doing it."
"And you will do that, Mr. Carrados?"
Carrados smiled engagingly. He knew exactly what constituted the great
attraction of his services.
"My position is this," he explained. "So far my work has been entirely
amateur. In that capacity I have averted one or two crimes, remedied an
occasional injustice, and now and then been of service to my
professional friend, Louis Carlyle. But there is no reason at all why I
should serve a commercial firm in an ordinary affair of business for
nothing. For any information I should require a fee, a quite nominal fee
of, say, one hundred pounds."
The director looked as though his faith in human nature had received a
"A hundred pounds would be a very large initial fee for a small firm
like this, Mr. Carrados," he remarked in a pained voice.
"And that, of course, would be independent of Mr. Carlyle's professional
charges," added Carrados.
"Is that sum contingent on any specific performance?" inquired the
"I do not mind making it conditional on my procuring for you, for the
police to act on, a photograph and a description of the thief."
The two officials conferred apart for a moment. Then the manager
"We will agree, Mr. Carrados, on the understanding that these things are
to be in our hands within two days. Failing that -- "
"No, no!" cried Mr. Carlyle indignantly, but Carrados good - humouredly
put him aside.
"I will accept the condition in the same sporting spirit that inspires
it. Within forty - eight hours or no pay. The cheque, of course, to be
given immediately the goods are delivered?"
"You may rely on that."
Carrados took out his pocket - book, produced an envelope bearing an
American stamp, and from it extracted an unmounted print.
"Here is the photograph," he announced. "The man is called Ulysses K.
Groom, but he is better known as 'Harry the Actor.' You will find the
description written on the back."
Five minutes later, when they were alone, Mr. Carlyle expressed his
opinion of the transaction.
"You are an unmitigated humbug, Max," he said, "though an amiable one, I
admit. But purely for your own private amusement you spring these things
"On the contrary," replied Carrados, "people spring these things on me."
"Now this photograph. Why have I heard nothing of it before?"
Carrados took out his watch and touched the fingers.
"It is now three minutes to eleven. I received the photograph at twenty
"Even then, an hour ago you assured me that you had done nothing."
"Nor had I -- so far as result went. Until the keystone of the edifice
was wrung from the manager in his room, I was as far away from
demonstrable certainty as ever."
"So am I -- as yet," hinted Mr. Carlyle.
"I am coining to that, Louis. I turn over the whole thing to you. The
man has got two clear days' start and the chances are nine to one
against catching him. We know everything, and the case has no further
interest for me. But it is your business. Here is your material.
"On that one occasion when the 'tawny' man crossed our path, I took from
the first a rather more serious view of his scope and intention than you
did. The same day I sent a cipher cable to Pierson of the New York
service. I asked for news of any man of such and such a description --
merely negative -- who was known to have left the States; an educated
man, expert in the use of disguises, audacious in his Operations, and a
specialist in 'dry' work among banks and strong - rooms."
"Why the States, Max?"
"That was a sighting shot on my part. I argued that he must be an
English - speaking man. The smart and inventive turn of the modern Yank
has made him a specialist in ingenious devices, straight or crooked.
Unpickable locks and invincible lock - pickers, burglar - proof safes
and safe - specializing burglars, come equally from the States. So I
tried a very simple test. As we talked that day and the man walked past
us, I dropped the words 'New York' -- or, rather, 'Noo Y'rk' -- in his
"I know you did. He neither turned nor stopped."
"He was that much on his guard; but into his step there came -- though
your poor old eyes could not see it, Louis -- the 'psychological pause,'
an absolute arrest of perhaps a fifth of a second; just as it would have
done with you if the word 'London' had fallen on your ear in a distant
land. However, the whys and the wherefores don't matter. Here is the
"Eighteen months ago 'Harry the Actor' successfully looted the office
safe of M'Kenkie, J. F. Higgs Co., of Cleveland, Ohio. He had just
married a smart but very facile third - rate vaudeville actress - -
English by origin -- and wanted money for the honeymoon. He got about
five hundred pounds, and with that they came to Europe and stayed in
London for some months. That period is marked by the Congreave Square
post office burglary, you may remember. While studying such of the
British institutions as most appealed to him, the 'Actor's' attention
became fixed on this safe - deposit. Possibly the implied challenge
contained in its telegraphic address grew on him until it became a point
of professional honour with him to despoil it; at all events he was
presumedly attracted by an undertaking that promised not only glory but
very solid profit. The first part of the plot was, to the most skilful
criminal 'impersonator' in the States, mere skittles. Spreading over
those months he appeared at 'The Safe' in twelve different characters
and rented twelve safes of different sizes. At the same time he made a
thorough study of the methods of the place. As soon as possible he got
the keys back again into legitimate use, having made duplicates for his
own private ends, of course. Five he seems to have returned during his
first stay; one was received later, with profuse apologies, by
registered post; one was returned through a leading Berlin bank. Six
months ago he made a flying visit here, purely to work off two more. One
he kept from first to last, and the remaining couple he got in at the
beginning of his second long residence here, three or four months ago.
"This brings us to the serious part of the cool enterprise. He had funds
from the Atlantic and South - Central Mail - car coup when he arrived
here last April. He appears to have set up three establishments; a home,
in the guise of an elderly scholar with a young wife, which, of course,
was next door to our friend the manager; an observation point, over
which he plastered the inscription 'Rub in Rubbo for Everything' as a
reason for being; and, somewhere else, a dressing - room with essential
conditions of two doors into different streets.
"About six weeks ago he entered the last stage. Mrs. Harry, with quite
ridiculous ease, got photographs of the necessary page or two of the
record - book. I don't doubt that for weeks before then everyone who
entered the place had been observed, but the photographs linked them up
with the actual men into whose hands the 'Actor's' old keys had passed --
gave their names and addresses, the numbers of their safes, their
passwords and signatures. The rest was easy."
"Yes, by Jupiter; mere play for a man like that," agreed Mr. Carlyle,
with professional admiration. "He could contrive a dozen different
occasions for studying the voice and manner and appearance of his
victims. How much has he cleared?"
"We can only speculate as yet. I have put my hand on seven doubtful
callers on Monday and Tuesday last. Two others he had ignored for some
reason the remaining two safes had not been allotted. There is one point
that raises an interesting speculation."
"What is that, Max?"
"The 'Actor' has one associate, a man known as 'Billy the Fondant,' but
beyond that -- with the exception of his wife, of course -- he does not
usually trust anyone. It is plain, however, that at least seven men must
latterly have been kept under close observation. It has occurred to me --
"I have wondered whether Harry has enlisted the innocent services of one
or other of our private inquiry offices."
"Scarcely," smiled the professional. "It would hardly pass muster."
"Oh, I don't know. Mrs. Harry, in the character of a jealous wife or a
suspicious sweetheart, might reasonably -- "
Mr. Carlyle's smile suddenly faded.
"By Jupiter!" he exclaimed. "I remember -- "
"Yes, Louis?" prompted Carrados, with laughter in his voice.
"I remember that I must telephone to a client before Beedel comes,"
concluded Mr. Carlyle, rising in some haste.
At the door he almost ran into the subdued director, who was wringing
his hands in helpless protest at a new stroke of calamity.
"Mr. Carrados," wailed the poor old gentleman in a tremulous bleat, "Mr.
Carrados, there is another now -- Sir Benjamin Gump. He insists on seeing
me. You will not -- you will not desert us?"
"I should have to stay a week," replied Carrados briskly, "and I'm just
off now. There will be a procession. Mr. Carlyle will support you, I am
He nodded "Good - morning" straight into the eyes of each and found his
way out with the astonishing certainty of movement that made so many
forget his infirmity. Possibly he was not desirous of encountering
Draycott's embarrassed gratitude again, for in less than a minute they
heard the swirl of his departing car.
"Never mind, my dear sir," Mr. Carlyle assured his client, with
impenetrable complacency. "Never mind. I will remain instead. Perhaps I
had better make myself known to Sir Benjamin at once."
The director turned on him the pleading, trustful look of a cornered
"He is in the basement," he whispered. "I shall be in the boardroom - -
Mr. Carlyle had no difficulty in discovering the centre of interest in
the basement. Sir Benjamin was expansive and reserved, bewildered and
decisive, long - winded and short - tempered, each in turn and more or
less all at once. He had already demanded the attention of the manager,
Professor Bulge, Draycott and two underlings to his case and they were
now involved in a babel of inutile reiteration. The inquiry agent was at
once drawn into a circle of interrogation that he did his best to
satisfy impressively while himself learning the new facts.
The latest development was sufficiently astonishing. Less than an hour
before Sir Benjamin had received a parcel by district messenger. It
contained a jewel - case which ought at that moment to have been
securely reposing in one of the deposit safes. Hastily snatching it
open, the recipient's incredible forebodings were realized. It was empty
-- empty of jewels, that is to say, for, as if to add a sting to the
blow, a neatly inscribed card had been placed inside, and on it the
agitated baronet read the appropriate but at the moment rather
gratuitous maxim: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth -- "
The card was passed round and all eyes demanded the expert's
"' -- where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through
and steal.' H'm," read Mr. Carlyle with weight. "This is a most
important clue, Sir Benjamin -- "
"Hey, what? What's that?" exclaimed a voice from the other side of the
hall. "Why, damme if I don't believe you've got another! Look at that,
gentlemen; look at that. What's on, I say? Here now, come; give me my
safe. I want to know where I am."
It was the bookmaker who strode tempestuously in among them, flourishing
before their faces a replica of the card that was in Mr. Carlyle's hand.
"Well, upon my soul this is most extraordinary," exclaimed that
gentleman, comparing the two. "You have just received this, Mr. -- Mr.
Berge, isn't it?"
"That's right, Berge -- 'Iceberg' on the course. Thank the Lord Harry, I
can take my losses coolly enough, but this -- this is a facer. Put into
my hand half - an - hour ago inside an envelope that ought to be here
and as safe as in the Bank of England. What's the game, I say? Here,
Johnny, hurry and let me into my safe."
Discipline and method had for the moment gone by the board. There was no
suggestion of the boasted safeguards of the establishment. The manager
added his voice to that of the client, and when the attendant did not at
once appear he called again.
"John, come and give Mr. Berge access to his safe at once."
"All right, sir," pleaded the harassed key - attendant, hurrying up with
the burden of his own distraction. "There's a silly fathead got in what
thinks this is a left - luggage office, so far as I can make out -- a
"Never mind that now," replied the manager severely, "Mr. Berge's safe:
The attendant and Mr. Berge went off together down one of the brilliant
colonnaded vistas. One or two of the others who had caught the words
glanced across and became aware of a strange figure that was drifting
indecisively towards them. He was obviously an elderly German tourist of
pronounced type -- long - haired, spectacled, outrageously garbed and
involved in the mental abstraction of his philosophical race. One hand
was occupied with the manipulation of a pipe, as markedly Teutonic as
its owner; the other grasped a carpet - bag that would have ensured an
opening laugh to any low comedian.
Quite impervious to the preoccupation of the group, the German made his
way up to them and picked out the manager.
"This was a safety deposit, nicht wahr?"
"Quite so," acquiesced the manager loftily, "but just now -- "
"Your fellow was dense of comprehension." The eyes behind the clumsy
glasses wrinkled to a ponderous humour. "He forgot his own business. Now
this goot bag -- "
Brought into fuller prominence, the carpet - bag revealed further
details of its overburdened proportions. At one end a flannel shirt cuff
protruded in limp dejection; at the other an ancient collar, with the
grotesque attachment known as a "dickey," asserted its presence. No
wonder the manager frowned his annoyance. "The Safe" was in low enough
repute among its patrons at that moment without any burlesque interlude
to its tragic hour.
"Yes, yes," he whispered, attempting to lead the would - be depositor
away, "but you are under a mistake. This is not -- "
"It was a safety deposit? Goot. Mine bag -- I would deposit him in safety
till the time of mine train. Ja?"
"Nein, nein!" almost hissed the agonized official. "Go away, sir, go
away! It isn't a cloakroom. John, let this gentleman out."
The attendant and Mr. Berge were returning from their quest. The inner
box had been opened and there was no need to ask the result. The
bookmaker was shaking his head like a baffled bull.
"Gone, no effects," he shouted across the hall. "Lifted from 'The Safe,'
To those who knew nothing of the method and operation of the fraud it
seemed as if the financial security of the Capital was tottering. An
amazed silence fell, and in it they heard the great grille door of the
basement clang on the inopportune foreigner's departure. But, as if it
was impossible to stand still on that morning of dire happenings, he was
immediately succeeded by a dapper, keen - faced man in severe clerical
attire who had been let in as the intruder passed out.
"Canon Petersham!" exclaimed the professor, going forward to greet him.
"By dear Professor Bulge!" reciprocated the canon. "You here! A most
disquieting thing has happened to me. I must have my safe at once." He
divided his attention between the manager and the professor as he
monopolized them both. "A most disquieting and -- and outrageous
circumstance. My safe, please -- yes, yes, Rev. Henry Noakes Petersham. I
have just received by hand a box, a small box of no value but one that I
thought, yes, I am convinced that it was the one, a box that was used to
contain certain valuables of family interest which should at this moment
be in my safe here. No. 7436? Very likely, very likely. Yes, here is my
key. But not content with the disconcerting effect of that, professor,
the box contained -- and I protest that it's a most unseemly thing to
quote any text from the Bible in this way to a clergyman of my position
-- well, here it is. 'Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth -- '
Why, I have a dozen sermons of my own in my desk now on that very verse.
I'm particularly partial to the very needful lesson that it teaches. And
to apply it to me! It's monstrous!"
"No. 7436, John," ordered the manager, with weary resignation. The
attendant again led the way towards another armour - plated aisle.
Smartly turning a corner, he stumbled over something, bit a profane
exclamation in two, and looked back.
"It's that bloomin' foreigner's old bag again," he explained across the
place in aggrieved apology. "He left it here after all."
"Take it upstairs and throw it out when you've finished," said the
"Here, wait a minute," pondered John, in absent - minded familiarity.
"Wait a minute. This is a funny go. There's a label on that wasn't here
before. 'Why not look inside?'"
"'Why not look inside?'" repeated someone.
"That's what it says."
There was another puzzled silence. All were arrested by some intangible
suggestion of a deeper mystery than they had yet touched. One by one
they began to cross the hall with the conscious air of men who were not
curious but thought that they might as well see.
"Why, curse my crumpet," suddenly exploded Mr. Berge, "if that ain't the
same writing as these texts!"
"By gad, but I believe you are right," assented Mr. Carlyle. "Well, why
not look inside?"
The attendant, from his stooping posture, took the verdict of the ring
of faces and in a trice tugged open the two buckles. The central
fastening was not locked, and yielded to a touch. The flannel shirt, the
weird collar and a few other garments in the nature of a "top -
dressing" were flung out and John's hand plunged deeper.
Harry the Actor had lived up to his dramatic instinct. Nothing was
wrapped up; nay, the rich booty had been deliberately opened out and
displayed, as it were, so that the overturning of the bag, when John the
keybearer in an access of riotous extravagance lifted it up and strewed
its contents broadcast on the floor, was like the looting of a
smuggler's den, or the realization of a speculator's dream, or the
bursting of an Aladdin's cave, or something incredibly lavish and
bizarre. Bank - notes fluttered down and lay about in all directions,
relays of sovereigns rolled away like so much dross, bonds and scrip for
thousands and tens of thousands clogged the down - pouring stream of
jewellery and unset gems. A yellow stone the size of a four - pound
weight and twice as heavy dropped plump upon the canon's toes and sent
him hopping and grimacing to the wall. A ruby - hilted kris cut across
the manager's wrist as he strove to arrest the splendid rout. Still the
miraculous cornucopia deluged the ground, with its pattering, ringing,
bumping, crinkling, rolling, fluttering produce until, like the final
tableau of some spectacular ballet, it ended with a golden rain that
masked the details of the heap beneath a glittering veil of yellow sand.
"My dust!" gasped Draycott.
"My fivers, by golly!" ejaculated the bookmaker, initiating a plunge
among the spoil.
"My Japanese bonds, coupons and all, and -- yes, even the manuscript of
my work on 'Polyphyletic Bridal Customs among the mid - Pleistocene Cave
Men.' Hah!" Something approaching a cachinnation of delight closed the
professor's contribution to the pandemonium, and eyewitnesses afterwards
declared that for a moment the dignified scientist stood on one foot in
the opening movement of a can - can.
"My wife's diamonds, thank heaven!" cried Sir Benjamin, with the air of
a schoolboy who was very well out of a swishing.
"But what does it mean?" demanded the bewildered canon. "Here are my
family heirlooms -- a few decent pearls, my grandfather's collection of
came and other trifles -- but who -- ?"
"Perhaps this offers some explanation," suggested Mr. Carlyle, unpinning
an envelope that had been secured to the lining of the bag. "It is
addressed 'To Seven Rich Sinners.' Shall I read it for you ?"
For some reason the response was not unanimous, but it was sufficient.
Mr. Carlyle cut open the envelope.
"My dear Friends, -- Aren't you glad? Aren't you happy at this moment?
Ah yes; but not with the true joy of regeneration that alone can bring
lightness to the afflicted soul. Pause while there is yet time. Cast off
the burden of your sinful lusts, for what shall it profit a man if he
shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? (Mark, chap. viii,
"Oh, my friends, you have had an all - fired narrow squeak. Up till the
Friday in last week I held your wealth in the hollow of my ungodly hand
and rejoiced in my nefarious cunning, but on that day as I with my
guilty female accomplice stood listening with worldly amusement to the
testimony of a converted brother at a meeting of the Salvation Army on
Clapham Common, the gospel light suddenly shone into our rebellious
souls and then and there we found salvation. Hallelujah!
"What we have done to complete the unrighteous scheme upon which we had
laboured for months has only been for your own good, dear friends that
you are, though as yet divided from us by your carnal lusts. Let this be
a lesson to you. Sell all you have and give it to the poor -- through the
organization of the Salvation Army by preference -- and thereby lay up
for yourselves treasures where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and
where thieves do not break through and steal. (Matthew, chap. vi, v.20.)
"Yours in good works, "Private Henry, the Salvationist.
"P. S. (in haste). -- I may as well inform you that no crib is really
uncrackable, though the Cyrus J. Coy Co.'s Safe Deposit on West 24th
Street, N.Y., comes nearest the kernel. And even that I could work to
the bare rock if I took hold of the job with both hands -- that is to say
I could have done in my sinful days. As for you, I should recommend you
to change your T.A. to 'Peanut.' U.K.G."
"There sounds a streak of the old Adam in that postscript, Mr. Carlyle,"
whispered Inspector Beedel, who had just arrived in time to hear the
THE KNIGHT'S CROSS SIGNAL PROBLEM
"Louis," exclaimed Mr. Carrados, with the air of genial gaiety that
Carlyle had found so incongruous to his conception of a blind man, "you
have a mystery somewhere about you! I know it by your step."
Nearly a month had passed since the incident of the false Dionysius had
led to the two men meeting. It was now December. Whatever Mr. Carlyle's
step might indicate to the inner eye it betokened to the casual observer
the manner of a crisp, alert, self - possessed man of business. Carlyle,
in truth, betrayed nothing of the pessimism and despondency that had
marked him on the earlier occasion.
"You have only yourself to thank that it is a very poor one," he
retorted. "If you hadn't held me to a hasty promise -- "
"To give me an option on the next case that baffled you, no matter what
it was -- "
"Just so. The consequence is that you get a very unsatisfactory affair
that has no special interest to an amateur and is only baffling because
it is -- well -- "
"Exactly, Max. Your would - be jest has discovered the proverbial truth.
I need hardly tell you that it is only the insoluble that is finally
baffling and this is very probably insoluble. You remember the awful
smash on the Central and Suburban at Knight's Cross Station a few weeks
"Yes," replied Carrados, with interest. "I read the whole ghastly
details at the time."
"You read?" exclaimed his friend suspiciously.
"I still use the familiar phrases," explained Carrados, with a smile.
"As a matter of fact, my secretary reads to me. I mark what I want to
hear and when he comes at ten o'clock we clear off the morning papers in
"And how do you know what to mark?" demanded Mr. Carlyle cunningly.
Carrados's right hand, lying idly on the table, moved to a newspaper
near. He ran his finger along a column heading, his eyes still turned
towards his visitor.
"'The Money Market. Continued from page 2. British Railways,'" he
"Extraordinary," murmured Carlyle.
"Not very," said Carrados. "If someone dipped a stick in treacle and
wrote 'Rats' across a marble slab you would probably be able to
distinguish what was there, blindfold."
"Probably," admitted Mr. Carlyle. "At all events we will not test the
"The difference to you of treacle on a marble background is scarcely
greater than that of printers' ink on newspaper to me. But anything
smaller than pica I do not read with comfort, and below long primer I
cannot read at all. Hence the secretary. Now the accident, Louis."
"The accident: well, you remember all about that. An ordinary Central
and Suburban passenger train, non - stop at Knight's Cross, ran past the
signal and crashed into a crowded electric train that was just beginning
to move out. It was like sending a garden roller down a row of
handlights. Two carriages of the electric train were flattened out of
existence; the next two were broken up. For the first time on an English
railway there was a good stand - up smash between a heavy steam - engine
and a train of light cars, and it was 'bad for the coo.'"
"Twenty - seven killed, forty something injured, eight died since,"
"That was bad for the Co.," said Carlyle. "Well, the main fact was plain
enough. The heavy train was in the wrong. But was the engine - driver
responsible? He claimed, and he claimed vehemently from the first, and
he never varied one iota, that he had a 'clear' signal - - that is to
say, the green light, it being dark. The signalman concerned was equally
dogged that he never pulled off the signal -- that it was at 'danger'
when the accident happened and that it had been for five minutes before.
Obviously, they could not both be right."
"Why, Louis?" asked Mr. Carrados smoothly.
"The signal must either have been up or down -- red or green."
"Did you ever notice the signals on the Great Northern Railway, Louis?"
"Not particularly, Why?"
"One winterly day, about the year when you and I were concerned in being
born, the engine - driver of a Scotch express received the 'clear' from
a signal near a little Huntingdon station called Abbots Ripton. He went
on and crashed into a goods train and into the thick of the smash a down
express mowed its way. Thirteen killed and the usual tale of injured. He
was positive that the signal gave him a 'clear'; the signalman was
equally confident that he had never pulled it off the 'danger.' Both
were right, and yet the signal was in working order. As I said, it was a
winterly day; it had been snowing hard and the snow froze and
accumulated on the upper edge of the signal arm until its weight bore it
down. That is a fact that no fiction writer dare have invented, but to
this day every signal on the Great Northern pivots from the centre of
the arm instead of from the end, in memory of that snowstorm."
"That came out at the inquest, I presume?" said Mr. Carlyle. "We have
had the Board of Trade inquiry and the inquest here and no explanation
is forthcoming. Everything was in perfect order. It rests between the
word of the signalman and the word of the engine - driver -- not a jot of
direct evidence either way. Which is right?"
"That is what you are going to find out, Louis?" suggested Carrados.
"It is what I am being paid for finding out," admitted Mr. Carlyle
frankly. "But so far we are just where the inquest left it, and, between
ourselves, I candidly can't see an inch in front of my face in the
"Nor can I," said the blind man, with a rather wry smile. "Never mind.
The engine - driver is your client, of course?"
"Yes," admitted Carlyle. "But how the deuce did you know?"
"Let us say that your sympathies are enlisted on his behalf. The jury
were inclined to exonerate the signalman, weren't they? What has the
company done with your man?"
"Both are suspended. Hutchins, the driver, hears that he may probably be
given charge of a lavatory at one of the stations. He is a decent,
bluff, short - spoken old chap, with his heart in his work. Just now
you'll find him at his worst -- bitter and suspicious. The thought of
swabbing down a lavatory and taking pennies all day is poisoning him."
"Naturally. Well, there we have honest Hutchins: taciturn, a little
touchy perhaps, grown grey in the service of the company, and
manifesting quite a bulldog - like devotion to his favourite 538."
"Why, that actually was the number of his engine -- how do you know it?"
demanded Carlyle sharply.
"It was mentioned two or three times at the inquest, Louis," replied
"And you remembered -- with no reason to?"
"You can generally trust a blind man's memory, especially if he has
taken the trouble to develop it."
"Then you will remember that Hutchins did not make a very good
impression at the time. He was surly and irritable under the ordeal. I
want you to see the case from all sides."
"He called the signalman -- Mead -- a 'lying young dog,' across the room,
I believe. Now, Mead, what is he like? You have seen him, of course?"
"Yes. He does not impress me favourably. He is glib, ingratiating, and
distinctly 'greasy.' He has a ready answer for everything almost before
the question is out of your mouth. He has thought of everything."
"And now you are going to tell me something, Louis," said Carrados
Mr. Carlyle laughed a little to cover an involuntary movement of
"There is a suggestive line that was not touched at the inquiries," he
admitted. "Hutchins has been a saving man all his life, and he has
received good wages. Among his class he is regarded as wealthy. I
daresay that he has five hundred pounds in the bank. He is a widower
with one daughter, a very nice - mannered girl of about twenty. Mead is
a young man, and he and the girl are sweethearts -- have been informally
engaged for some time. But old Hutchins would not hear of it; he seems
to have taken a dislike to the signalman from the first, and latterly he
had forbidden him to come to his house or his daughter to speak to him."
"Excellent, Louis," cried Carrados in great delight. "We shall clear
your man in a blaze of red and green lights yet and hang the glib,
'greasy' signalman from his own signal - post."
"It is a significant fact, seriously?"
"It is absolutely convincing."
"It may have been a slip, a mental lapse on Mead's part which he
discovered the moment it was too late, and then, being too cowardly to
admit his fault, and having so much at stake, he took care to make
detection impossible. It may have been that, but my idea is rather that
probably it was neither quite pure accident nor pure design. I can
imagine Mead meanly pluming himself over the fact that the life of this
man who stands in his way, and whom he must cordially dislike, lies in
his power. I can imagine the idea becoming an obsession as he dwells on
it. A dozen times with his hand on the lever he lets his mind explore
the possibilities of a moment's defection. Then one day he pulls the
signal off in sheer bravado -- and hastily puts it at danger again. He
may have done it once or he may have done it oftener before he was
caught in a fatal moment of irresolution. The chances are about even
that the engine - driver would be killed. In any case he would be
disgraced, for it is easier on the face of it to believe that a man
might run past a danger signal in absentmindedness, without noticing it,
than that a man should pull off a signal and replace it without being
conscious of his actions."
"The fireman was killed. Does your theory involve the certainty of the
fireman being killed, Louis?"
"No," said Carlyle. "The fireman is a difficulty, but looking at it from
Mead's point of view -- whether he has been guilty of an error or a crime
-- it resolves itself into this: First, the fireman may be killed.
Second, he may not notice the signal at all. Third, in any case he will
loyally corroborate his driver and the good old jury will discount
Carrados smoked thoughtfully, his open, sightless eyes merely appearing
to be set in a tranquil gaze across the room.
"It would not be an improbable explanation," he said presently. "Ninety
- nine men out of a hundred would say: 'People do not do these things.'
But you and I, who have in our different ways studied criminology, know
that they sometimes do, or else there would be no curious crimes. What
have you done on that line?"
To anyone who could see, Mr. Carlyle's expression conveyed an answer.
"You are behind the scenes, Max. What was there for me to do? Still I
must do something for my money. Well, I have had a very close inquiry
made confidentially among the men. There might be a whisper of one of
them knowing more than had come out -- a man restrained by friendship, or
enmity, or even grade jealousy. Nothing came of that. Then there was the
remote chance that some private person had noticed the signal without
attaching any importance to it then, one who would be able to identify
it still by something associated with the time. I went over the line
myself. Opposite the signal the line on one side is shut in by a high
blank wall; on the other side are houses, but coming below the butt -
end of a scullery the signal does not happen to be visible from any road
or from any window."
"My poor Louis!" said Carrados, in friendly ridicule. "You were at the
end of your tether?"
"I was," admitted Carlyle. "And now that you know the sort of job it is
I don't suppose that you are keen on wasting your time over it."
"That would hardly be fair, would it?" said Carrados reasonably. "No,
Louis, I will take over your honest old driver and your greasy young
signalman and your fatal signal that cannot be seen from anywhere."
"But it is an important point for you to remember, Max, that although
the signal cannot be seen from the box, if the mechanism had gone wrong,
or anyone tampered with the arm, the automatic indicator would at once
have told Mead that the green light was showing. Oh, I have gone very
thoroughly into the technical points, I assure you."
"I must do so too," commented Mr. Carrados gravely.
"For that matter, if there is anything you want to know, I dare say that
I can tell you," suggested his visitor. "It might save your time."
"True," acquiesced Carrados. "I should like to know whether anyone
belonging to the houses that bound the line there came of age or got
married on the twenty - sixth of November."
Mr. Carlyle looked across curiously at his host.
"I really do not know, Max," he replied, in his crisp, precise way.
"What on earth has that got to do with it, may I inquire?"
"The only explanation of the Pont St. Lin swing - bridge disaster of '75
was the reflection of a green bengal light on a cottage window."
Mr. Carlyle smiled his indulgence privately.
"My dear chap, you mustn't let your retentive memory of obscure
happenings run away with you," he remarked wisely. "In nine cases out of
ten the obvious explanation is the true one. The difficulty, as here,
lies in proving it. Now, you would like to see these men?"
"I expect so; in any case, I will see Hutchins first."
"Both live in Holloway. Shall I ask Hutchins to come here to see you --
say to - morrow? He is doing nothing."
"No," replied Carrados. "To - morrow I must call on my brokers and my
time may be filled up."
"Quite right; you mustn't neglect your own affairs for this --
experiment," assented Carlyle.
"Besides, I should prefer to drop in on Hutchins at his own home. Now,
Louis, enough of the honest old man for one night. I have a lovely thing
by Eumenes that I want to show you. To - day is -- Tuesday. Come to
dinner on Sunday and pour the vials of your ridicule on my want of
"That's an amiable way of putting it," replied Carlyle. "All right, I
Two hours later Carrados was again in his study, apparently, for a
wonder, sitting idle. Sometimes he smiled to himself, and once or twice
he laughed a little, but for the most part his pleasant, impassive face
reflected no emotion and he sat with his useless eyes tranquilly fixed
on an unseen distance. It was a fantastic caprice of the man to mock his
sightlessness by a parade of light, and under the soft brilliance of a
dozen electric brackets the room was as bright as day. At length he
stood up and rang the bell.
“I suppose Mr. Greatorex isn't still here by any chance, Parkinson?" he
asked, referring to his secretary.
"I think not, sir, but I will ascertain," replied the man.
"Never mind. Go to his room and bring me the last two files of The
Times. Now" -- when he returned -- "turn to the earliest you have there.
"November the second."
"That will do. Find the Money Market; it will be in the Supplement. Now
look down the columns until you come to British Railways."
"I have it, sir."
"Central and Suburban. Read the closing price and the change."
"Central and Suburban Ordinary, 66 1/2 - 67 1/2, fall 1/8. Preferred
Ordinary, 81 - 81 1/2, no change. Deferred Ordinary, 27 1/2 - - 27 3/4,
fall 1/4. That is all, sir."
"Now take a paper about a week on. Read the Deferred only."
"27 - 27 1/4, no change."
"29 1/4 - 30, rise 5/8."
"31 1/2 - 32 1/2, rise 1."
"Very good. Now on Tuesday the twenty - seventh November."
"31 7/8 - 32 3/4 rise 1/2."
"Yes. The next day."
"24 1/2 - 23 1/2, fall 9."
"Quite so, Parkinson. There had been an accident, you see."
"Yes, sir. Very unpleasant accident. Jane knows a person whose sister's
young man has a cousin who had his arm torn off in it -- torn off at the
socket she says, sir. It seems to bring it home to one, sir."
"That is all. Stay -- in the paper you have, look down the first money
column and see if there is any reference to the Central and Suburban."
"Yes, sir. 'City and Suburbans, which after their late depression on the
projected extension of the motor bus service, had been steadily creeping
up on the abandonment of the scheme, and as a result of their own
excellent traffic returns, suffered a heavy slump through the lamentable
accident of Thursday night. The Deferred in particular at one time fell
eleven points as it was felt that the possible dividend, with which
rumour has of late been busy, was now out of the question.'"
"Yes; that is all. Now you can take the papers back. And let it be a
warning to you, Parkinson, not to invest your savings in speculative
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir, I will endeavour to remember." He lingered
for a moment as he shook the file of papers level. "I may say, sir, that
I have my eye on a small block of cottage property at Acton. But even
cottage property scarcely seems safe from legislative depredation now,
The next day Mr. Carrados called on his brokers in the city. It is to be
presumed that he got through his private business quicker than he
expected, for after leaving Austin Friars he continued his journey to
Holloway, where he found Hutchins at home and sitting morosely before
his kitchen fire. Rightly assuming that his luxuriant car would involve
him in a certain amount of public attention in Klondyke Street, the
blind man dismissed it some distance from the house, and walked the rest
of the way, guided by the almost imperceptible touch of Parkinson's arm.
"Here is a gentleman to see you, father," explained Miss Hutchins, who
had come to the door. She divined the relative positions of the two
visitors at a glance.
"Then why don't you take him into the parlour?" grumbled the ex -
driver. His face was a testimonial of hard work and general sobriety but
at the moment one might hazard from his voice and manner that he had
been drinking earlier in the day.
"I don't think that the gentleman would be impressed by the difference
between our parlour and our kitchen," replied the girl quaintly, "and it
is warmer here."
"What's the matter with the parlour now?" demanded her father sourly.
"It was good enough for your mother and me. It used to be good enough
"There is nothing the matter with it, nor with the kitchen either." She
turned impassively to the two who had followed her along the narrow
passage. "Will you go in, -- "
"I don't want to see no gentleman," cried Hutchins noisily. "Unless" --
his manner suddenly changed to one of pitiable anxiety -- "unless you're
from the Company sir, to -- to -- "
"No; I have come on Mr. Carlyle's behalf," replied Carrados, walking to
a chair as though he moved by a kind of instinct.
Hutchins laughed his wry contempt.
"Mr. Carlyle!" he reiterated; "Mr. Carlyle! Fat lot of good he's been.
Why don't he do something for his money?"
"He has," replied Carrados, with imperturbable good - humour; "he has
sent me. Now, I want to ask you a few questions."
"A few questions!" roared the irate man. "Why, blast it, I have done
nothing else but answer questions for a month. I didn't pay Mr. Carlyle
to ask me questions; I can get enough of that for nixes. Why don't you
go and ask Mr. Herbert Ananias Mead your few questions -- then you might
find out something."
There was a slight movement by the door and Carrados knew that the girl
had quietly left the room.
"You saw that, sir?" demanded the father, diverted to a new line of
bitterness. "You saw that girl -- my own daughter, that I've worked for
all her life?"
"No," replied Carrados.
"The girl that's just gone out -- she's my daughter," explained Hutchins.
"I know, but I did not see her. I see nothing. I am blind."
"Blind!" exclaimed the old fellow, sitting up in startled wonderment.
"You mean it, sir? You walk all right and you look at me as if you saw
me. You're kidding surely."
"No," smiled Carrados. "It's quite right."
"Then it's a funny business, sir -- you what are blind expecting to find
something that those with their eyes couldn't," ruminated Hutchins
"There are things that you can't see with your eyes, Hutchins."
"Perhaps you are right, sir. Well, what is it you want to know?"
"Light a cigar first," said the blind man, holding out his case and
waiting until the various sounds told him that his host was smoking
contentedly. "The train you were driving at the time of the accident was
the six - twenty - seven from Notcliff. It stopped everywhere until it
reached Lambeth Bridge, the chief London station on your line. There it
became something of an express, and leaving Lambeth Bridge at seven -
eleven, should not stop again until it fetched Swanstead on Thames,
eleven miles out, at seven - thirty - four. Then it stopped on and off
from Swanstead to Ingerfield, the terminus of that branch, which it
reached at eight - five."
Hutchins nodded, and then, remembering, said: "That's right, sir."
"That was your business all day -- running between Notcliff and
"Yes, sir. Three journeys up and three down mostly."
"With the same stops on all the down journeys?"
"No. The seven - eleven is the only one that does a run from the Bridge
to Swanstead. You see, it is just on the close of the evening rush, as
they call it. A good many late business gentlemen living at Swanstead
use the seven - eleven regular. The other journeys we stop at every
station to Lambeth Bridge, and then here and there beyond."
"There are, of course, other trains doing exactly the same journey -- a
service, in fact?"
"Yes, sir. About six."
"And do any of those -- say, during the rush -- do any of those run non -
stop from Lambeth to Swanstead?"
Hutchins reflected a moment. All the choler and restlessness had melted
out of the man's face. He was again the excellent artisan, slow but
capable and self - reliant.
"That I couldn't definitely say, sir. Very few short - distance trains
pass the junction, but some of those may. A guide would show us in a
minute but I haven't got one."
"Never mind. You said at the inquest that it was no uncommon thing for
you to be pulled up at the 'stop' signal east of Knight's Cross Station.
How often would that happen -- only with the seven - eleven, mind."
"Perhaps three times a week; perhaps twice.”
"The accident was on a Thursday. Have you noticed that you were pulled
up oftener on a Thursday than on any other day?"
A smile crossed the driver's face at the question.
"You don't happen to live at Swanstead yourself, sir?" he asked in
"No," admitted Carrados. "Why?"
"Well, sir, we were always pulled up on Thursday; practically always,
you may say. It got to be quite a saying among those who used the train
regular; they used to look out for it."
Carrados's sightless eyes had the one quality of concealing emotion
supremely. "Oh," he commented softly, "always; and it was quite a
saying, was it? And why was it always so on Thursday?"
"It had to do with the early closing, I'm told. The suburban traffic was
a bit different. By rights we ought to have been set back two minutes
for that day, but I suppose it wasn't thought worth while to alter us in
the time - table so we most always had to wait outside Three Deep tunnel
for a west - bound electric to make good."
"You were prepared for it then?"
"Yes, sir, I was," said Hutchins, reddening at some recollection, "and
very down about it was one of the jury over that. But, mayhap once in
three months, I did get through even on a Thursday, and it's not for me
to question whether things are right or wrong just because they are not
what I may expect. The signals are my orders, sir -- stop! go on! and
it's for me to obey, as you would a general on the field of battle. What
would happen otherwise! It was nonsense what they said about going
cautious; and the man who stated it was a barbet who didn't know the
difference between a 'distance' and a 'stop' signal down to the minute
they gave their verdict. My orders, sir, given me by that signal, was
'Go right ahead and keep to your running time!'“
Carrados nodded a soothing assent. "That is all, I think," he remarked.
"All!" exclaimed Hutchins in surprise. "Why, sir, you can't have got
much idea of it yet."
"Quite enough. And I know it isn't pleasant for you to be taken along
the same ground over and over again."
The man moved awkwardly in his chair and pulled nervously at his
"You mustn't take any notice of what I said just now, sir," he
apologized. "You somehow make me feel that something may come of it; but
I've been badgered about and accused and cross - examined from one to
another of them these weeks till it's fairly made me bitter against
everything. And now they talk of putting me in a lavatory -- me that has
been with the company for five and forty years and on the foot - plate
thirty - two -- a man suspected of running past a danger signal."
"You have had a rough time, Hutchins; you will have to exercise your
patience a little longer yet," said Carrados sympathetically.
"You think something may come of it, sir? You think you will be able to
clear me? Believe me, sir, if you could give me something to look
forward to it might save me from -- " He pulled himself up and shook his
head sorrowfully. "I've been near it," he added simply.
Carrados reflected and took his resolution.
"To - day is Wednesday. I think you may hope to hear something from your
general manager towards the middle of next week."
"Good God, sir! You really mean that?"
"In the interval show your good sense by behaving reasonably. Keep
civilly to yourself and don't talk. Above all" -- he nodded towards a
quart jug that stood on the table between them, an incident that filled
the simple - minded engineer with boundless wonder when he recalled it
afterwards -- "above all, leave that alone."
Hutchins snatched up the vessel and brought it crashing down on the
hearthstone, his face shining with a set resolution.
"I've done with it, sir. It was the bitterness and despair that drove me
to that. Now I can do without it."
The door was hastily opened and Miss Hutchins looked anxiously from her
father to the visitors and back again.
"Oh, whatever is the matter?" she exclaimed. "I heard a great crash."
"This gentleman is going to clear me, Meg, my dear," blurted out the old
man irrepressibly. "And I've done with the drink for ever."
"Hutchins! Hutchins!" said Carrados warningly.
"My daughter, sir; you wouldn't have her not know?" pleaded Hutchins,
rather crest - fallen. "It won't go any further."
Carrados laughed quietly to himself as he felt Margaret Hutchins's
startled and questioning eyes attempting to read his mind. He shook
hands with the engine - driver without further comment, however, and
walked out into the commonplace little street under Parkinson's
"Very nice of Miss Hutchins to go into half - mourning, Parkinson," he
remarked as they went along. "Thoughtful, and yet not ostentatious."'
"Yes, sir," agreed Parkinson, who had long ceased to wonder at his
"The Romans, Parkinson, had a saying to the effect that gold carries no
smell. That is a pity sometimes. What jewellery did Miss Hutchins wear?"
"Very little, sir. A plain gold brooch representing a merry - thought -
the merry - thought of a sparrow, I should say, sir. The only other
article was a smooth - backed gun - metal watch, suspended from a gun -
"Nothing showy or expensive, eh?"
"Oh dear no, sir. Quite appropriate for a young person of her position."
"Just what I should have expected." He slackened his pace. "We are
passing a hoarding, are we not?"
"We will stand here a moment. Read me the letter - press of the poster
"This 'Oxo' one, sir?"
Carrados was convulsed with silent laughter. Parkinson had infinitely
more dignity and conceded merely a tolerant recognition of the
"That was a bad shot, Parkinson," remarked his master when he could
speak. "We will try another."
For three minutes, with scrupulous conscientiousness on the part of the
reader and every appearance of keen interest on the part of the hearer,
there were set forth the particulars of a sale by auction of superfluous
timber and builders' material.
"That will do," said Carrados, when the last detail had been reached.
"We can be seen from the door of No. 107 still?"
"No indication of anyone coming to us from there?"
"No, sir.” Carrados walked thoughtfully on again. In the Holloway Road
they rejoined the waiting motor - car.
"Lambeth Bridge Station" was the order the driver received. From the
station the car was sent on home and Parkinson was instructed to take
two first - class singles for Richmond, which could be reached by
changing at Stafford Road. The "evening rush" had not yet commenced and
they had no difficulty in finding an empty carriage when the train came
Parkinson was kept busy that journey describing what he saw at various
points between Lambeth Bridge and Knight's Cross. For a quarter of a
mile Carrados's demands on the eyes and the memory of his remarkable
servant were wide and incessant. Then his questions ceased. They had
passed the "stop" signal, east of Knight's Cross Station.
The following afternoon they made the return journey as far as Knight's
Cross. This time, however, the surroundings failed to interest Carrados.
"We are going to look at some rooms," was the information he offered on
the subject, and an imperturbable "Yes, sir" had been the extent of
Parkinson's comment on the unusual proceeding. After leaving the station
they turned sharply along a road that ran parallel with the line, a dull
thoroughfare of substantial, elderly houses that were beginning to sink
into decrepitude. Here and there a corner residence displayed the brass
plate of a professional occupant, but for the most part they were given
up to the various branches of second - rate apartment letting.
"The third house after the one with the flagstaff." said Carrados.
Parkinson rang the bell, which was answered by a young servant, who took
an early opportunity of assuring them that she was not tidy as it was
rather early in the afternoon. She informed Carrados, in reply to his
inquiry, that Miss Chubb was at home, and showed them into a melancholy
little sitting - room to await her appearance.
"I shall be 'almost' blind here, Parkinson," remarked Carrados, walking
about the room. "It saves explanation."
"Very good, sir," replied Parkinson.
Five minutes later, an interval suggesting that Miss Chubb also found it
rather early in the afternoon, Carrados was arranging to take rooms for
his attendant and himself for the short time that he would be in London,
seeing an oculist.
"One bedroom, mine, must face north," he stipulated. "It has to do with
Miss Chubb replied that she quite understood. Some gentlemen, she added,
had their requirements, others their fancies. She endeavoured to suit
all. The bedroom she had in view from the first did face north. She
would not have known, only the last gentleman, curiously enough, had
made the same request.
"A sufferer like myself?" inquired Carrados affably.
Miss Chubb did not think so. In his case she regarded it merely as a
fancy. He had said that he could not sleep on any other side. She had
had to turn out of her own room to accommodate him, but if one kept an
apartment - house one had to be adaptable; and Mr. Ghoosh was certainly
very liberal in his ideas.
"Ghoosh? An Indian gentleman, I presume?" hazarded Carrados. It appeared
that Mr. Ghoosh was an Indian. Miss Chubb confided that at first she had
been rather perturbed at the idea of taking in "a black man," as she
confessed to regarding him. She reiterated, however, that Mr. Ghoosh
proved to be "quite the gentleman." Five minutes of affability put
Carrados in full possession of Mr. Ghoosh's manner of life and movements
-- the dates of his arrival and departure, his solitariness and his daily
"This would be the best bedroom," said Miss Chubb.
It was a fair - sized room on the first floor. The window looked out on
to the roof of an outbuilding; beyond, the deep cutting of the railway
line. Opposite stood the dead wall that Mr. Carlyle had spoken of.
Carrados "looked" round the room with the discriminating glance that
sometimes proved so embarrassing to those who knew him.
"I have to take a little daily exercise," he remarked, walking to the
window and running his hand up the woodwork. "You will not mind my
fixing a 'developer' here, Miss Chubb -- a few small screws?"
Miss Chubb thought not. Then she was sure not. Finally she ridiculed the
idea of minding with scorn.
"If there is width enough," mused Carrados, spanning the upright
critically. "Do you happen to have a wooden foot - rule convenient?"
"Well, to be sure!" exclaimed Miss Chubb, opening a rapid succession of
drawers until she produced the required article. "When we did out this
room after Mr. Ghoosh, there was this very ruler among the things that
he hadn't thought worth taking. This is what you require, sir?"
"Yes," replied Carrados, accepting it, "I think this is exactly what I
require." It was a common new white - wood rule, such as one might buy
at any small stationer's for a penny. He carelessly took off the width
of the upright, reading the figures with a touch; and then continued to
run a finger - tip delicately up and down the edges of the instrument.
"Four and seven - eighths," was his unspoken conclusion.
"I hope it will do sir."
"Admirably," replied Carrados. "But I haven't reached the end of my
requirements yet, Miss Chubb."
"No, sir?" said the landlady, feeling that it would be a pleasure to
oblige so agreeable a gentleman, "what else might there be?"
"Although I can see very little I like to have a light, but not any kind
of light. Gas I cannot do with. Do you think that you would be able to
find me an oil lamp?"
"Certainly, sir. I got out a very nice brass lamp that I have specially
for Mr. Ghoosh. He read a good deal of an evening and he preferred a
"That is very convenient. I suppose it is large enough to burn for a
"Yes, indeed. And very particular he was always to have it filled every
"A lamp without oil is not very useful," smiled Carrados, following her
towards another room, and absent - mindedly slipping the foot - rule
into his pocket.
Whatever Parkinson thought of the arrangement of going into second -
rate apartments in an obscure street it is to be inferred that his
devotion to his master was sufficient to overcome his private emotions
as a self - respecting "man." At all events, as they were approaching
the station he asked, and without a trace of feeling, whether there were
any orders for him with reference to the proposed migration.
"None, Parkinson," replied his master. "We must be satisfied with our
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Parkinson, with some constraint. "I
understand that you had taken the rooms for a week certain."
"I am afraid that Miss Chubb will be under the same impression.
Unforeseen circumstances will prevent our going, however. Mr. Greatorex
must write to - morrow, enclosing a cheque, with my regrets, and adding
a penny for this ruler which I seem to have brought away with me. It, at
least, is something for the money."
Parkinson may be excused for not attempting to understand the course of
"Here is your train coming in, sir," he merely said.
"We will let it go and wait for another. Is there a signal at either end
of the platform?"
"Yes, sir; at the further end."
"Let us walk towards it. Are there any of the porters or officials about
"No, sir; none."
"Take this ruler. I want you to go up the steps -- there are steps up the
signal, by the way?"
"I want you to measure the glass of the lamp. Do not go up any higher
than is necessary, but if you have to stretch be careful not to mark off
the measurement with your nail, although the impulse is a natural one.
That has been done already."
Parkinson looked apprehensively round and about. Fortunately the part
was a dark and unfrequented spot and everyone else was moving towards
the exit at the other end of the platform. Fortunately, also, the signal
was not a high one.
"As near as I can judge on the rounded surface, the glass is four and
seven - eighths across," reported Parkinson.
"Thank you," replied Carrados, returning the measure to his pocket,
"four and seven - eighths is quite near enough. Now we will take the
next train back."
Sunday evening came, and with it Mr. Carlyle to The Turrets at the
appointed hour. He brought to the situation a mind poised for any
eventuality and a trenchant eye. As the time went on and the
impenetrable Carrados made no illusion to the case, Carlyle's manner
inclined to a waggish commiseration of his host's position. Actually, he
said little, but the crisp precision of his voice when the path lay open
to a remark of any significance left little to be said.
It was not until they had finished dinner and returned to the library
that Carrados gave the slightest hint of anything unusual being in the
air. His first indication of coming events was to remove the key from
the outside to the inside of the door.
"What are you doing, Max?" demanded Mr. Carlyle, his curiosity
overcoming the indirect attitude.
"You have been very entertaining, Louis," replied his friend, "but
Parkinson should be back very soon now and it is as well to be prepared.
Do you happen to carry a revolver?"
"Not when I come to dine with you, Max," replied Carlyle, with all the
aplomb he could muster. "Is it usual?"
Carrados smiled affectionately at his guest's agile recovery and touched
the secret spring of a drawer in an antique bureau by his side. The
little hidden receptacle shot smoothly out, disclosing a pair of dull -
"To - night, at all events, it might be prudent," he replied, handing
one to Carlyle and putting the other into his own pocket. "Our man may
be here at any minute, and we do not know in what temper he will come."
"Our man!" exclaimed Carlyle, craning forward in excitement. "Max! you
don't mean to say that you have got Mead to admit it?"
"No one has admitted it," said Carrados. "And it is not Mead."
"Not Mead... Do you mean that Hutchins -- ?"
"Neither Mead nor Hutchins. The man who tampered with the signal -- for
Hutchins was right and a green light was exhibited -- is a young Indian
from Bengal. His name is Drishna and he lives at Swanstead."
Mr. Carlyle stared at his friend between sheer surprise and blank
"You really mean this, Carrados?" he said.
"My fatal reputation for humour!" smiled Carrados. "If I am wrong,
Louis, the next hour will expose it."
"But why -- why -- why? The colossal villainy, the unparalleled audacity!"
Mr. Carlyle lost himself among incredulous superlatives and could only
"Chiefly to get himself out of a disastrous speculation," replied
Carrados, answering the question. "If there was another motive -- or at
least an incentive -- which I suspect, doubtless we shall hear of it."
"All the same, Max, I don't think that you have treated me quite
fairly," protested Carlyle, getting over his first surprise and passing
to a sense of injury. "Here we are and I know nothing, absolutely
nothing, of the whole affair."
"We both have our ideas of pleasantry, Louis," replied Carrados
genially. "But I dare say you are right and perhaps there is still time
to atone." In the fewest possible words he outlined the course of his
investigations. "And now you know all that is to be known until Drishna
"But will he come?" questioned Carlyle doubtfully. "He may be
"Yes, he will be suspicious."
"Then he will not come."
"On the contrary, Louis, he will come because my letter will make him
suspicious. He is coming; otherwise Parkinson would have telephoned me
at once and we should have had to take other measures."
"What did you say, Max?" asked Carlyle curiously.
"I wrote that I was anxious to discuss an Indo - Scythian inscription
with him, and sent my car in the hope that he would be able to oblige
"But is he interested in Indo - Scythian inscriptions?"
"I haven't the faintest idea," admitted Carrados, and Mr. Carlyle was
throwing up his hands in despair when the sound of a motorcar wheels
softly kissing the gravel surface of the drive outside brought him to
"By Gad, you are right, Max!" he exclaimed, peeping through the
curtains. "There is a man inside."
"Mr. Drishna," announced Parkinson a minute later.
The visitor came into the room with leisurely self - possession that
might have been real or a desperate assumption. He was a slightly built
young man of about twenty - five, with black hair and eyes, a small,
carefully trained moustache, and a dark olive skin. His physiognomy was
not displeasing, but his expression had a harsh and supercilious tinge.
In attire he erred towards the immaculately spruce.
"Mr. Carrados?" he said inquiringly.
Carrados, who had risen, bowed slightly without offering his hand. "This
gentleman," he said, indicating his friend, "is Mr. Carlyle, the
celebrated private detective."
The Indian shot a very sharp glance at the object of this description.
Then he sat down.
"You wrote me a letter, Mr. Carrados," he remarked, in English that
scarcely betrayed any foreign origin, "a rather curious letter, I may
say. You asked me about an ancient inscription. I know nothing of
antiquities; but I thought, as you had sent, that it would be more
courteous if I came and explained this to you."
"That was the object of my letter," replied Carrados.
"You wished to see me?" said Drishna, unable to stand the ordeal of the
silence that Carrados imposed after his remark.
"When you left Miss Chubb's house you left a ruler behind." One lay on
the desk by Carrados and he took it up as he spoke.
"I don't understand what you are talking about," said Drishna guardedly.
"You are making some mistake."
"The ruler was marked at four and seven - eighths inches -- the measure
of the glass of the signal lamp outside."
The unfortunate young man was unable to repress a start. His face lost
its healthy tone. Then, with a sudden impulse, he made a step forward
and snatched the object from Carrados's hand.
"If it is mine I have a right to it," he exclaimed, snapping the ruler
in two and throwing it on to the back of the blazing fire. "It is
"Pardon me, I did not say that the one you have so impetuously disposed
of was yours. As a matter of fact, it was mine. Yours is -- elsewhere."
"Wherever it is you have no right to it if it is mine," panted Drishna,
with rising excitement. "You are a thief, Mr. Carrados. I will not stay
any longer here."
He jumped up and turned towards the door. Carlyle made a step forward,
but the precaution was unnecessary.
"One moment, Mr. Drishna," interposed Carrados, in his smoothest tones.
"It is a pity, after you have come so far, to leave without hearing of
my investigations in the neighbourhood of Shaftesbury Avenue."
Drishna sat down again.
"As you like," he muttered. "It does not interest me."
"I wanted to obtain a lamp of a certain pattern," continued Carrados.
"It seemed to me that the simplest explanation would be to say that I
wanted it for a motor - car. Naturally I went to Long Acre. At the first
shop l said: 'Wasn't it here that a friend of mine, an Indian gentleman,
recently had a lamp made with a green glass that was nearly five inches
across?' No, it was not there but they could make me one. At the next
shop the same; at the third, and fourth, and so on. Finally my
persistence was rewarded. I found the place where the lamp had been
made, and at the cost of ordering another I obtained all the details I
wanted. It was news to them, the shopman informed me, that in some parts
of India green was the danger colour and therefore tail lamps had to
show a green light. The incident made some impression on him and he
would be able to identify their customer -- who paid in advance and gave
no address -- among a thousand of his countrymen. Do I succeed in
interesting you, Mr. Drishna?"
"Do you?" replied Drishna, with a languid yawn. "Do I look interested?"
"You must make allowance for my unfortunate blindness," apologized
Carrados, with grim irony.
"Blindness!" exclaimed Drishna, dropping his affectation of unconcern as
though electrified by the word, "do you mean -- really blind -- that you
do not see me?"
"Alas, no," admitted Carrados.
The Indian withdrew his right hand from his coat pocket and with a
tragic gesture flung a heavy revolver down on the table between them.
"I have had you covered all the time, Mr. Carrados, and if I had wished
to go and you or your friend had raised a hand to stop me, it would have
been at the peril of your lives," he said, in a voice of melancholy
triumph. "But what is the use of defying fate, and who successfully
evades his destiny? A month ago I went to see one of our people who
reads the future and sought to know the course of certain events. 'You
need fear no human eye,' was the message given to me. Then she added:
'But when the sightless sees the unseen, make your peace with Yama.' And
I thought she spoke of the Great Hereafter!"
"This amounts to an admission of your guilt," exclaimed Mr. Carlyle
"I bow to the decree of fate," replied Drishna. "And it is fitting to
the universal irony of existence that a blind man should be the
instrument. I don't imagine, Mr. Carlyle," he added maliciously, "that
you, with your eyes, would ever have brought that result about."
"You are a very cold - blooded young scoundrel, sir!" retorted Mr.
Carlyle. "Good heavens! do you realize that you are responsible for the
death of scores of innocent men and women?"
"Do you realize, Mr. Carlyle, that you and your Government and your
soldiers are responsible for the death of thousands of innocent men and
women in my country every day? If England was occupied by the Germans
who quartered an army and an administration with their wives and their
families and all their expensive paraphernalia on the unfortunate
country until the whole nation was reduced to the verge of famine, and
the appointment of every new official meant the callous death sentence
on a thousand men and women to pay his salary, then if you went to
Berlin and wrecked a train you would be hailed a patriot. What Boadicea
did and -- and Samson, so have I. If they were heroes, so am I."
"Well, upon my word!" cried the highly scandalized Carlyle, "what next!
Boadicea was a -- er -- semi - legendary person, whom we may possibly
admire at a distance. Personally, I do not profess to express an
opinion. But Samson, I would remind you, is a Biblical character. Samson
was mocked as an enemy. You, I do not doubt, have been entertained as a
"And haven't I been mocked and despised and sneered at every day of my
life here by your supercilious, superior, empty - headed men?" flashed
back Drishna, his eyes leaping into malignity and his voice trembling
with sudden passion. "Oh! how I hated them as I passed them in the
street and recognized by a thousand petty insults their lordly English
contempt for me as an inferior being -- a nigger. How I longed with
Caligula that a nation had a single neck that I might destroy it at one
blow. I loathe you in your complacent hypocrisy, Mr. Carlyle, despise
and utterly abominate you from an eminence of superiority that you can
never even understand."
"I think we are getting rather away from the point, Mr. Drishna,"
interposed Carrados, with the impartiality of a judge. "Unless I am
misinformed, you are not so ungallant as to include everyone you have
met here in your execration?"
"Ah, no," admitted Drishna, descending into a quite ingenuous frankness.
"Much as I hate your men I love your women. How is it possible that a
nation should be so divided -- its men so dull - witted and offensive,
its women so quick, sympathetic and capable of appreciating?"
"But a little expensive, too, at times?" suggested Carrados.
Drishna sighed heavily.
"Yes; it is incredible. It is the generosity of their large nature. My
allowance, though what most of you would call noble, has proved quite
inadequate. I was compelled to borrow money and the interest became
overwhelming. Bankruptcy was impracticable because I should have then
been recalled by my people, and much as I detest England a certain
reason made the thought of leaving it unbearable."
"Connected with the Arcady Theatre?"
"You know? Well, do not let us introduce the lady's name. In order to
restore myself I speculated on the Stock Exchange. My credit was good
through my father's position and the standing of the firm to which I am
attached. l heard on reliable authority, and very early, that the
Central and Suburban, and the Deferred especially, was safe to fall
heavily, through a motor bus amalgamation that as then a secret. I
opened a bear account and sold largely. The shares fell, but only
fractionally, and I waited. Then, unfortunately, they began to go up.
Adverse forces were at work and rumours were put about. I could not
stand the settlement, and in order to carry over an account I was
literally compelled to deal temporarily with some securities that were
not technically my own property."
"Embezzlement, sir," commented Mr. Carlyle icily. "But what is
embezzlement on the top of wholesale murder!"
"That is what it is called. In my case, however, it was only to be
temporary. Unfortunately, the rise continued. Then, at the height of my
despair, I chanced to be returning to Swanstead rather earlier than
usual one evening, and the train was stopped at a certain signal to let
another pass. There was conversation in the carriage and I learned
certain details. One said that there would be an accident some day, and
so forth. In a flash -- as by an inspiration -- I saw how the circumstance
might be turned to account. A bad accident and the shares would
certainly fall and my position would be retrieved. I think Mr. Carrados
has somehow learned the rest."
"Max," said Mr. Carlyle, with emotion, "is there any reason why you
should not send your man for a police officer and have this monster
arrested on his own confession without further delay?"
"Pray do so, Mr. Carrados," acquiesced Drishna. "I shall certainly be
hanged, but the speech I shall prepare will ring from one end of India
to the other; my memory will be venerated as that of a martyr; and the
emancipation of my motherland will be hastened by my sacrifice."
"In other words," commented Carrados, "there will be disturbances at
half - a - dozen disaffected places, a few unfortunate police will be
clubbed to death, and possibly worse things may happen. That does not
suit us, Mr. Drishna."
"And how do you propose to prevent it?" asked Drishna, with cool
"It is very unpleasant being hanged on a dark winter morning; very cold,
very friendless, very inhuman. The long trial, the solitude and the
confinement, the thoughts of the long sleepless night before, the
hangman and the pinioning and the noosing of the rope, are apt to prey
on the imagination. Only a very stupid man can take hanging easily."
"What do you want me to do instead, Mr. Carrados?" asked Drishna
Carrados's hand closed on the weapon that still lay on the table between
them. Without a word he pushed it across.
"I see," commented Drishna, with a short laugh and a gleaming eye.
"Shoot myself and hush it up to suit your purpose. Withhold my message
to save the exposures of a trial, and keep the flame from the torch of
"Also," interposed Carrados mildly, "to save your worthy people a good
deal of shame, and to save the lady who is nameless the unpleasant
necessity of relinquishing the house and the income which you have just
settled on her. She certainly would not then venerate your memory."
"What is that?"
"The transaction which you carried through was based on a felony and
could not be upheld. The firm you dealt with will go to the courts, and
the money, being directly traceable, will be held forfeit as no good
"Max!" cried Mr. Carlyle hotly, "you are not going to let this scoundrel
cheat the gallows after all?"
"The best use you can make of the gallows is to cheat it, Louis,"
replied Carrados. "Have you ever reflected what human beings will think
of us a hundred years hence?"
"Oh, of course I'm not really in favour of hanging," admitted Mr.
"Nobody really is. But we go on hanging. Mr. Drishna is a dangerous
animal who for the sake of pacific animals must cease to exist. Let his
barbarous exploit pass into oblivion with him. The disadvantages of
spreading it broadcast immeasurably outweigh the benefits."
"I have considered," announced Drishna. "I will do as you wish."
"Very well," said Carrados. "Here is some plain notepaper. You had
better write a letter to someone saying that the financial difficulties
in which you are involved make life unbearable."
"But there are no financial difficulties -- now."
"That does not matter in the least. it will be put down to an
hallucination and taken as showing the state of your mind."
"But what guarantee have we that he will not escape?" whispered Mr.
"He cannot escape," replied Carrados tranquilly. "His identity is too
"I have no intention of trying to escape," put in Drishna, as he wrote.
"You hardly imagine that I have not considered this eventuality, do
"All the same," murmured the ex - lawyer, "I should like to have a jury
behind me. It is one thing to execute a man morally; it is another to do
it almost literally."
"Is that all right?" asked Drishna, passing across the letter he had
Carrados smiled at this tribute to his perception.
"Quite excellent," he replied courteously. "There is a train at nine -
forty. Will that suit you?"
Drishna nodded and stood up. Mr. Carlyle had a very uneasy feeling that
he ought to do something but could not suggest to himself what.
The next moment he heard his friend heartily thanking the visitor for
the assistance he had been in the matter of the Indo - Scythian
inscription, as they walked across the hall together. Then a door
"I believe that there is something positively uncanny about Max at
times," murmured the perturbed gentleman to himself.
THE INGENIOUS MR. SPINOLA
"You seem troubled, Parkinson. Have you been reading the Money Article
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"I cannot say that it does, sir. And what I heard made me a little
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,
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"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."
"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
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
"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
"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.
"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
"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.
"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
"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
"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.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"Granda!" she cried, "whatever's happened? What is it all? Oh, are you
"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
"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."
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
"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
" -- 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 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.
"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
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
"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
"Very good," observed Mr. Carlyle, noting the facts in his pocketbook.
"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
"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
"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 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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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,
"I was wondering," said Carrados, "when we should come up against that
"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
"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
"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.
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
Carrados was inclined to laugh, although he thought it rather too bad of
"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
"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?"
"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,
"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
"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
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
"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
"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."
"We have a folding ladder out here," said Parkinson, touching Mr.
"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
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,
"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, 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
"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-
"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,
"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
"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
"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 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
"If you are concerned with it, I am sure that I shall be interested,
Inspector," said the blind man encouragingly. "It is still being
"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
"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
"Then something happens, and so, of course, it must be Severe?"
"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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"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
"There is nothing more to be got from the letter?"
"There may be, but it is rather elusive at present. What has been done
"I received it from Mrs. Severe and it has been in my possession ever
"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
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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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.
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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,
"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
"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
"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
"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.
"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
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
"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
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
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
* * * * *
"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
"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-
"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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"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,
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"He is the man," repeated Carrados deliberately.
Inspector Beedel, clinking something quietly in his pocket, nodded to
"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
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
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
* * * * *
"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
"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--"
"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."
Labels: good reads