Tales of Terror
The Horror of the Heights
The Leather Funnel
The New Catacomb
The Case of Lady Sannox
The Terror of Blue John Gap
The Brazilian Cat
Tales of Mystery
The Lost Special
The Man with the Watches
The Japanned Box
The Black Doctor
The Jew's Breastplate
The Nightmare Room
Tales of Terror
The Horror of the Heights
The idea that the extraordinary narrative which has been called the
Joyce-Armstrong Fragment is an elaborate practical joke evolved by
some unknown person, cursed by a perverted and sinister sense of
humour, has now been abandoned by all who have examined the matter.
The most macabre and imaginative of plotters would hesitate
before linking his morbid fancies with the unquestioned and tragic
facts which reinforce the statement. Though the assertions
contained in it are amazing and even monstrous, it is none the less
forcing itself upon the general intelligence that they are true,
and that we must readjust our ideas to the new situation. This
world of ours appears to be separated by a slight and precarious
margin of safety from a most singular and unexpected danger. I
will endeavour in this narrative, which reproduces the original
document in its necessarily somewhat fragmentary form, to lay
before the reader the whole of the facts up to date, prefacing my
statement by saying that, if there be any who doubt the narrative
of Joyce-Armstrong, there can be no question at all as to the facts
concerning Lieutenant Myrtle, R. N., and Mr. Hay Connor, who
undoubtedly met their end in the manner described.
The Joyce-Armstrong Fragment was found in the field which is
called Lower Haycock, lying one mile to the westward of the village
of Withyham, upon the Kent and Sussex border. It was on the 15th
September last that an agricultural labourer, James Flynn, in the
employment of Mathew Dodd, farmer, of the Chauntry Farm, Withyham,
perceived a briar pipe lying near the footpath which skirts the
hedge in Lower Haycock. A few paces farther on he picked up a pair
of broken binocular glasses. Finally, among some nettles in the
ditch, he caught sight of a flat, canvas-backed book, which proved
to be a note-book with detachable leaves, some of which had
come loose and were fluttering along the base of the hedge. These
he collected, but some, including the first, were never recovered,
and leave a deplorable hiatus in this all-important statement. The
note-book was taken by the labourer to his master, who in turn
showed it to Dr. J. H. Atherton, of Hartfield. This gentleman at
once recognized the need for an expert examination, and the
manuscript was forwarded to the Aero Club in London, where it now
The first two pages of the manuscript are missing. There is
also one torn away at the end of the narrative, though none of
these affect the general coherence of the story. It is conjectured
that the missing opening is concerned with the record of Mr.
Joyce-Armstrong's qualifications as an aeronaut, which can be gathered
from other sources and are admitted to be unsurpassed among the
air-pilots of England. For many years he has been looked upon as
among the most daring and the most intellectual of flying men, a
combination which has enabled him to both invent and test several
new devices, including the common gyroscopic attachment which is
known by his name. The main body of the manuscript is written
neatly in ink, but the last few lines are in pencil and are so
ragged as to be hardly legible--exactly, in fact, as they might be
expected to appear if they were scribbled off hurriedly from the
seat of a moving aeroplane. There are, it may be added, several
stains, both on the last page and on the outside cover which have
been pronounced by the Home Office experts to be blood--probably
human and certainly mammalian. The fact that something closely
resembling the organism of malaria was discovered in this blood,
and that Joyce-Armstrong is known to have suffered from
intermittent fever, is a remarkable example of the new weapons
which modern science has placed in the hands of our detectives.
And now a word as to the personality of the author of this
epoch-making statement. Joyce-Armstrong, according to the few
friends who really knew something of the man, was a poet and a
dreamer, as well as a mechanic and an inventor. He was a man of
considerable wealth, much of which he had spent in the pursuit of
his aeronautical hobby. He had four private aeroplanes in his
hangars near Devizes, and is said to have made no fewer than one
hundred and seventy ascents in the course of last year. He was a
retiring man with dark moods, in which he would avoid the
society of his fellows. Captain Dangerfield, who knew him better
than anyone, says that there were times when his eccentricity
threatened to develop into something more serious. His habit of
carrying a shot-gun with him in his aeroplane was one manifestation
Another was the morbid effect which the fall of Lieutenant
Myrtle had upon his mind. Myrtle, who was attempting the height
record, fell from an altitude of something over thirty thousand
feet. Horrible to narrate, his head was entirely obliterated,
though his body and limbs preserved their configuration. At every
gathering of airmen, Joyce-Armstrong, according to Dangerfield,
would ask, with an enigmatic smile: "And where, pray, is Myrtle's
On another occasion after dinner, at the mess of the Flying
School on Salisbury Plain, he started a debate as to what will be
the most permanent danger which airmen will have to encounter.
Having listened to successive opinions as to air-pockets, faulty
construction, and over-banking, he ended by shrugging his shoulders
and refusing to put forward his own views, though he gave the
impression that they differed from any advanced by his companions.
It is worth remarking that after his own complete disappearance
it was found that his private affairs were arranged with a
precision which may show that he had a strong premonition of
disaster. With these essential explanations I will now give the
narrative exactly as it stands, beginning at page three of the
"Nevertheless, when I dined at Rheims with Coselli and Gustav
Raymond I found that neither of them was aware of any particular
danger in the higher layers of the atmosphere. I did not actually
say what was in my thoughts, but I got so near to it that if they
had any corresponding idea they could not have failed to express
it. But then they are two empty, vainglorious fellows with no
thought beyond seeing their silly names in the newspaper. It is
interesting to note that neither of them had ever been much beyond
the twenty-thousand-foot level. Of course, men have been higher
than this both in balloons and in the ascent of mountains. It
must be well above that point that the aeroplane enters the danger
zone--always presuming that my premonitions are correct.
"Aeroplaning has been with us now for more than twenty years,
and one might well ask: Why should this peril be only revealing
itself in our day? The answer is obvious. In the old days of weak
engines, when a hundred horse-power Gnome or Green was considered
ample for every need, the flights were very restricted. Now that
three hundred horse-power is the rule rather than the exception,
visits to the upper layers have become easier and more common.
Some of us can remember how, in our youth, Garros made a world-wide
reputation by attaining nineteen thousand feet, and it was
considered a remarkable achievement to fly over the Alps. Our
standard now has been immeasurably raised, and there are twenty
high flights for one in former years. Many of them have been
undertaken with impunity. The thirty-thousand-foot level has been
reached time after time with no discomfort beyond cold and asthma.
What does this prove? A visitor might descend upon this planet a
thousand times and never see a tiger. Yet tigers exist, and if he
chanced to come down into a jungle he might be devoured. There are
jungles of the upper air, and there are worse things than tigers
which inhabit them. I believe in time they will map these jungles
accurately out. Even at the present moment I could name two of
them. One of them lies over the Pau-Biarritz district of France.
Another is just over my head as I write here in my house in
Wiltshire. I rather think there is a third in the Homburg-Wiesbaden
"It was the disappearance of the airmen that first set me
thinking. Of course, everyone said that they had fallen into the
sea, but that did not satisfy me at all. First, there was Verrier
in France; his machine was found near Bayonne, but they never got
his body. There was the case of Baxter also, who vanished, though
his engine and some of the iron fixings were found in a wood in
Leicestershire. In that case, Dr. Middleton, of Amesbury, who was
watching the flight with a telescope, declares that just before the
clouds obscured the view he saw the machine, which was at an
enormous height, suddenly rise perpendicularly upwards in a
succession of jerks in a manner that he would have thought to
be impossible. That was the last seen of Baxter. There was a
correspondence in the papers, but it never led to anything. There
were several other similar cases, and then there was the death of
Hay Connor. What a cackle there was about an unsolved mystery of
the air, and what columns in the halfpenny papers, and yet how
little was ever done to get to the bottom of the business! He came
down in a tremendous vol-plane from an unknown height. He never
got off his machine and died in his pilot's seat. Died of what?
'Heart disease,' said the doctors. Rubbish! Hay Connor's heart
was as sound as mine is. What did Venables say? Venables was the
only man who was at his side when he died. He said that he was
shivering and looked like a man who had been badly scared. 'Died
of fright,' said Venables, but could not imagine what he was
frightened about. Only said one word to Venables, which sounded
like 'Monstrous.' They could make nothing of that at the inquest.
But I could make something of it. Monsters! That was the last
word of poor Harry Hay Connor. And he DID die of fright, just
as Venables thought.
"And then there was Myrtle's head. Do you really believe--does
anybody really believe--that a man's head could be driven clean
into his body by the force of a fall? Well, perhaps it may be
possible, but I, for one, have never believed that it was so with
Myrtle. And the grease upon his clothes--'all slimy with grease,'
said somebody at the inquest. Queer that nobody got thinking after
that! I did--but, then, I had been thinking for a good long time.
I've made three ascents--how Dangerfield used to chaff me about my
shot-gun--but I've never been high enough. Now, with this new,
light Paul Veroner machine and its one hundred and seventy-five
Robur, I should easily touch the thirty thousand tomorrow. I'll
have a shot at the record. Maybe I shall have a shot at something
else as well. Of course, it's dangerous. If a fellow wants to
avoid danger he had best keep out of flying altogether and subside
finally into flannel slippers and a dressing-gown. But I'll visit
the air-jungle tomorrow--and if there's anything there I shall know
it. If I return, I'll find myself a bit of a celebrity. If I
don't this note-book may explain what I am trying to do, and how I
lost my life in doing it. But no drivel about accidents or
mysteries, if YOU please.
"I chose my Paul Veroner monoplane for the job. There's
nothing like a monoplane when real work is to be done.
Beaumont found that out in very early days. For one thing it
doesn't mind damp, and the weather looks as if we should be in the
clouds all the time. It's a bonny little model and answers my hand
like a tender-mouthed horse. The engine is a ten-cylinder rotary
Robur working up to one hundred and seventy-five. It has all the
modern improvements--enclosed fuselage, high-curved landing skids,
brakes, gyroscopic steadiers, and three speeds, worked by an
alteration of the angle of the planes upon the Venetian-blind
principle. I took a shot-gun with me and a dozen cartridges filled
with buck-shot. You should have seen the face of Perkins, my old
mechanic, when I directed him to put them in. I was dressed like
an Arctic explorer, with two jerseys under my overalls, thick socks
inside my padded boots, a storm-cap with flaps, and my talc
goggles. It was stifling outside the hangars, but I was going for
the summit of the Himalayas, and had to dress for the part.
Perkins knew there was something on and implored me to take him
with me. Perhaps I should if I were using the biplane, but a
monoplane is a one-man show--if you want to get the last foot of
life out of it. Of course, I took an oxygen bag; the man who goes
for the altitude record without one will either be frozen or
"I had a good look at the planes, the rudder-bar, and the
elevating lever before I got in. Everything was in order so far as
I could see. Then I switched on my engine and found that she was
running sweetly. When they let her go she rose almost at once upon
the lowest speed. I circled my home field once or twice just to
warm her up, and then with a wave to Perkins and the others, I
flattened out my planes and put her on her highest. She skimmed
like a swallow down wind for eight or ten miles until I turned her
nose up a little and she began to climb in a great spiral for the
cloud-bank above me. It's all-important to rise slowly and adapt
yourself to the pressure as you go.
"It was a close, warm day for an English September, and there
was the hush and heaviness of impending rain. Now and then there
came sudden puffs of wind from the south-west--one of them so gusty
and unexpected that it caught me napping and turned me half-round
for an instant. I remember the time when gusts and whirls and air-pockets
used to be things of danger--before we learned to put
an overmastering power into our engines. Just as I reached the
cloud-banks, with the altimeter marking three thousand, down came
the rain. My word, how it poured! It drummed upon my wings and
lashed against my face, blurring my glasses so that I could hardly
see. I got down on to a low speed, for it was painful to travel
against it. As I got higher it became hail, and I had to turn tail
to it. One of my cylinders was out of action--a dirty plug, I
should imagine, but still I was rising steadily with plenty of
power. After a bit the trouble passed, whatever it was, and I
heard the full, deep-throated purr--the ten singing as one. That's
where the beauty of our modern silencers comes in. We can at last
control our engines by ear. How they squeal and squeak and sob
when they are in trouble! All those cries for help were wasted in
the old days, when every sound was swallowed up by the monstrous
racket of the machine. If only the early aviators could come back
to see the beauty and perfection of the mechanism which have been
bought at the cost of their lives!
"About nine-thirty I was nearing the clouds. Down below me,
all blurred and shadowed with rain, lay the vast expanse of
Salisbury Plain. Half a dozen flying machines were doing hackwork
at the thousand-foot level, looking like little black swallows
against the green background. I dare say they were wondering what
I was doing up in cloud-land. Suddenly a grey curtain drew across
beneath me and the wet folds of vapours were swirling round my
face. It was clammily cold and miserable. But I was above the
hail-storm, and that was something gained. The cloud was as dark
and thick as a London fog. In my anxiety to get clear, I cocked
her nose up until the automatic alarm-bell rang, and I actually
began to slide backwards. My sopped and dripping wings had made me
heavier than I thought, but presently I was in lighter cloud, and
soon had cleared the first layer. There was a second--opal-coloured
and fleecy--at a great height above my head, a white,
unbroken ceiling above, and a dark, unbroken floor below, with the
monoplane labouring upwards upon a vast spiral between them. It is
deadly lonely in these cloud-spaces. Once a great flight of some
small water-birds went past me, flying very fast to the westwards.
The quick whir of their wings and their musical cry were cheery to
my ear. I fancy that they were teal, but I am a wretched
zoologist. Now that we humans have become birds we must really
learn to know our brethren by sight.
"The wind down beneath me whirled and swayed the broad cloud-plain.
Once a great eddy formed in it, a whirlpool of vapour, and
through it, as down a funnel, I caught sight of the distant world.
A large white biplane was passing at a vast depth beneath me. I
fancy it was the morning mail service betwixt Bristol and London.
Then the drift swirled inwards again and the great solitude was
"Just after ten I touched the lower edge of the upper cloud-stratum.
It consisted of fine diaphanous vapour drifting swiftly
from the westwards. The wind had been steadily rising all this
time and it was now blowing a sharp breeze--twenty-eight an hour by
my gauge. Already it was very cold, though my altimeter only
marked nine thousand. The engines were working beautifully, and we
went droning steadily upwards. The cloud-bank was thicker than I
had expected, but at last it thinned out into a golden mist before
me, and then in an instant I had shot out from it, and there was an
unclouded sky and a brilliant sun above my head--all blue and gold
above, all shining silver below, one vast, glimmering plain as far
as my eyes could reach. It was a quarter past ten o'clock, and the
barograph needle pointed to twelve thousand eight hundred. Up I
went and up, my ears concentrated upon the deep purring of my
motor, my eyes busy always with the watch, the revolution
indicator, the petrol lever, and the oil pump. No wonder aviators
are said to be a fearless race. With so many things to think of
there is no time to trouble about oneself. About this time I noted
how unreliable is the compass when above a certain height from
earth. At fifteen thousand feet mine was pointing east and a point
south. The sun and the wind gave me my true bearings.
"I had hoped to reach an eternal stillness in these high
altitudes, but with every thousand feet of ascent the gale grew
stronger. My machine groaned and trembled in every joint and rivet
as she faced it, and swept away like a sheet of paper when I banked
her on the turn, skimming down wind at a greater pace, perhaps,
than ever mortal man has moved. Yet I had always to turn again and
tack up in the wind's eye, for it was not merely a height
record that I was after. By all my calculations it was above
little Wiltshire that my air-jungle lay, and all my labour might be
lost if I struck the outer layers at some farther point.
"When I reached the nineteen-thousand-foot level, which was
about midday, the wind was so severe that I looked with some
anxiety to the stays of my wings, expecting momentarily to see them
snap or slacken. I even cast loose the parachute behind me, and
fastened its hook into the ring of my leathern belt, so as to be
ready for the worst. Now was the time when a bit of scamped work
by the mechanic is paid for by the life of the aeronaut. But she
held together bravely. Every cord and strut was humming and
vibrating like so many harp-strings, but it was glorious to see
how, for all the beating and the buffeting, she was still the
conqueror of Nature and the mistress of the sky. There is surely
something divine in man himself that he should rise so superior to
the limitations which Creation seemed to impose--rise, too, by such
unselfish, heroic devotion as this air-conquest has shown. Talk of
human degeneration! When has such a story as this been written in
the annals of our race?
"These were the thoughts in my head as I climbed that
monstrous, inclined plane with the wind sometimes beating in my
face and sometimes whistling behind my ears, while the cloud-land
beneath me fell away to such a distance that the folds and hummocks
of silver had all smoothed out into one flat, shining plain. But
suddenly I had a horrible and unprecedented experience. I have
known before what it is to be in what our neighbours have called a
tourbillon, but never on such a scale as this. That huge,
sweeping river of wind of which I have spoken had, as it appears,
whirlpools within it which were as monstrous as itself. Without a
moment's warning I was dragged suddenly into the heart of one. I
spun round for a minute or two with such velocity that I almost
lost my senses, and then fell suddenly, left wing foremost, down
the vacuum funnel in the centre. I dropped like a stone, and lost
nearly a thousand feet. It was only my belt that kept me in my
seat, and the shock and breathlessness left me hanging half-insensible
over the side of the fuselage. But I am always capable
of a supreme effort--it is my one great merit as an aviator. I was
conscious that the descent was slower. The whirlpool was a cone
rather than a funnel, and I had come to the apex. With a
terrific wrench, throwing my weight all to one side, I levelled my
planes and brought her head away from the wind. In an instant I
had shot out of the eddies and was skimming down the sky. Then,
shaken but victorious, I turned her nose up and began once more my
steady grind on the upward spiral. I took a large sweep to avoid
the danger-spot of the whirlpool, and soon I was safely above it.
Just after one o'clock I was twenty-one thousand feet above the
sea-level. To my great joy I had topped the gale, and with every
hundred feet of ascent the air grew stiller. On the other hand, it
was very cold, and I was conscious of that peculiar nausea which
goes with rarefaction of the air. For the first time I unscrewed
the mouth of my oxygen bag and took an occasional whiff of the
glorious gas. I could feel it running like a cordial through my
veins, and I was exhilarated almost to the point of drunkenness.
I shouted and sang as I soared upwards into the cold, still outer
"It is very clear to me that the insensibility which came upon
Glaisher, and in a lesser degree upon Coxwell, when, in 1862, they
ascended in a balloon to the height of thirty thousand feet, was
due to the extreme speed with which a perpendicular ascent is made.
Doing it at an easy gradient and accustoming oneself to the
lessened barometric pressure by slow degrees, there are no such
dreadful symptoms. At the same great height I found that even
without my oxygen inhaler I could breathe without undue distress.
It was bitterly cold, however, and my thermometer was at zero,
Fahrenheit. At one-thirty I was nearly seven miles above the
surface of the earth, and still ascending steadily. I found,
however, that the rarefied air was giving markedly less support to
my planes, and that my angle of ascent had to be considerably
lowered in consequence. It was already clear that even with my
light weight and strong engine-power there was a point in front of
me where I should be held. To make matters worse, one of my
sparking-plugs was in trouble again and there was intermittent
misfiring in the engine. My heart was heavy with the fear of
"It was about that time that I had a most extraordinary
experience. Something whizzed past me in a trail of smoke and
exploded with a loud, hissing sound, sending forth a cloud of
steam. For the instant I could not imagine what had happened.
Then I remembered that the earth is for ever being bombarded by
meteor stones, and would be hardly inhabitable were they not in
nearly every case turned to vapour in the outer layers of the
atmosphere. Here is a new danger for the high-altitude man, for
two others passed me when I was nearing the forty-thousand-foot
mark. I cannot doubt that at the edge of the earth's envelope the
risk would be a very real one.
"My barograph needle marked forty-one thousand three hundred
when I became aware that I could go no farther. Physically, the
strain was not as yet greater than I could bear but my machine had
reached its limit. The attenuated air gave no firm support to the
wings, and the least tilt developed into side-slip, while she
seemed sluggish on her controls. Possibly, had the engine been at
its best, another thousand feet might have been within our
capacity, but it was still misfiring, and two out of the ten
cylinders appeared to be out of action. If I had not already
reached the zone for which I was searching then I should never see
it upon this journey. But was it not possible that I had attained
it? Soaring in circles like a monstrous hawk upon the forty-thousand-foot
level I let the monoplane guide herself, and with my Mannheim
glass I made a careful observation of my surroundings.
The heavens were perfectly clear; there was no indication of those
dangers which I had imagined.
"I have said that I was soaring in circles. It struck me
suddenly that I would do well to take a wider sweep and open up a
new airtract. If the hunter entered an earth-jungle he would drive
through it if he wished to find his game. My reasoning had led me
to believe that the air-jungle which I had imagined lay somewhere
over Wiltshire. This should be to the south and west of me. I
took my bearings from the sun, for the compass was hopeless and no
trace of earth was to be seen--nothing but the distant, silver
cloud-plain. However, I got my direction as best I might and kept
her head straight to the mark. I reckoned that my petrol supply
would not last for more than another hour or so, but I could afford
to use it to the last drop, since a single magnificent vol-plane
could at any time take me to the earth.
"Suddenly I was aware of something new. The air in front of me had lost
its crystal clearness. It was full of long, ragged wisps of something
which I can only compare to very fine cigarette smoke. It hung about in
wreaths and coils, turning and twisting slowly in the sunlight. As the
monoplane shot through it, I was aware of a faint taste of oil upon my
lips, and there was a greasy scum upon the woodwork of the machine. Some
infinitely fine organic matter appeared to be suspended in the
atmosphere. There was no life there. It was inchoate and diffuse,
extending for many square acres and then fringing off into the void. No,
it was not life. But might it not be the remains of life? Above all,
might it not be the food of life, of monstrous life, even as the humble
grease of the ocean is the food for the mighty whale? The thought was in
my mind when my eyes looked upwards and I saw the most wonderful vision
that ever man has seen. Can I hope to convey it to you even as I saw it
myself last Thursday?
"Conceive a jelly-fish such as sails in our summer seas, bell-shaped
and of enormous size--far larger, I should judge, than the
dome of St. Paul's. It was of a light pink colour veined with a
delicate green, but the whole huge fabric so tenuous that it was
but a fairy outline against the dark blue sky. It pulsated with a
delicate and regular rhythm. From it there depended two long,
drooping, green tentacles, which swayed slowly backwards and
forwards. This gorgeous vision passed gently with noiseless
dignity over my head, as light and fragile as a soap-bubble, and
drifted upon its stately way.
"I had half-turned my monoplane, that I might look after this
beautiful creature, when, in a moment, I found myself amidst a
perfect fleet of them, of all sizes, but none so large as the
first. Some were quite small, but the majority about as big as an
average balloon, and with much the same curvature at the top.
There was in them a delicacy of texture and colouring which
reminded me of the finest Venetian glass. Pale shades of pink and
green were the prevailing tints, but all had a lovely iridescence
where the sun shimmered through their dainty forms. Some hundreds
of them drifted past me, a wonderful fairy squadron of strange
unknown argosies of the sky--creatures whose forms and substance
were so attuned to these pure heights that one could not conceive
anything so delicate within actual sight or sound of earth.
"But soon my attention was drawn to a new phenomenon--the
serpents of the outer air. These were long, thin, fantastic coils
of vapour-like material, which turned and twisted with great speed,
flying round and round at such a pace that the eyes could
hardly follow them. Some of these ghost-like creatures were twenty
or thirty feet long, but it was difficult to tell their girth, for
their outline was so hazy that it seemed to fade away into the air
around them. These air-snakes were of a very light grey or smoke
colour, with some darker lines within, which gave the impression of
a definite organism. One of them whisked past my very face, and I
was conscious of a cold, clammy contact, but their composition was
so unsubstantial that I could not connect them with any thought of
physical danger, any more than the beautiful bell-like creatures
which had preceded them. There was no more solidity in their
frames than in the floating spume from a broken wave.
"But a more terrible experience was in store for me. Floating
downwards from a great height there came a purplish patch of
vapour, small as I saw it first, but rapidly enlarging as it
approached me, until it appeared to be hundreds of square feet in
size. Though fashioned of some transparent, jelly-like substance,
it was none the less of much more definite outline and solid
consistence than anything which I had seen before. There were more
traces, too, of a physical organization, especially two vast,
shadowy, circular plates upon either side, which may have been
eyes, and a perfectly solid white projection between them which was
as curved and cruel as the beak of a vulture.
"The whole aspect of this monster was formidable and
threatening, and it kept changing its colour from a very light
mauve to a dark, angry purple so thick that it cast a shadow as it
drifted between my monoplane and the sun. On the upper curve of
its huge body there were three great projections which I can only
describe as enormous bubbles, and I was convinced as I looked at
them that they were charged with some extremely light gas which
served to buoy up the misshapen and semi-solid mass in the rarefied
air. The creature moved swiftly along, keeping pace easily with
the monoplane, and for twenty miles or more it formed my horrible
escort, hovering over me like a bird of prey which is waiting to
pounce. Its method of progression--done so swiftly that it was not
easy to follow--was to throw out a long, glutinous streamer in
front of it, which in turn seemed to draw forward the rest of the
writhing body. So elastic and gelatinous was it that never for
two successive minutes was it the same shape, and yet each change
made it more threatening and loathsome than the last.
"I knew that it meant mischief. Every purple flush of its
hideous body told me so. The vague, goggling eyes which were
turned always upon me were cold and merciless in their viscid
hatred. I dipped the nose of my monoplane downwards to escape it.
As I did so, as quick as a flash there shot out a long tentacle
from this mass of floating blubber, and it fell as light and
sinuous as a whip-lash across the front of my machine. There was
a loud hiss as it lay for a moment across the hot engine, and it
whisked itself into the air again, while the huge, flat body drew
itself together as if in sudden pain. I dipped to a vol-pique, but
again a tentacle fell over the monoplane and was shorn off by the
propeller as easily as it might have cut through a smoke wreath.
A long, gliding, sticky, serpent-like coil came from behind and
caught me round the waist, dragging me out of the fuselage. I tore
at it, my fingers sinking into the smooth, glue-like surface, and
for an instant I disengaged myself, but only to be caught round the
boot by another coil, which gave me a jerk that tilted me almost on
to my back.
"As I fell over I blazed off both barrels of my gun, though,
indeed, it was like attacking an elephant with a pea-shooter to
imagine that any human weapon could cripple that mighty bulk. And
yet I aimed better than I knew, for, with a loud report, one of the
great blisters upon the creature's back exploded with the puncture
of the buck-shot. It was very clear that my conjecture was right,
and that these vast, clear bladders were distended with some
lifting gas, for in an instant the huge, cloud-like body turned
sideways, writhing desperately to find its balance, while the white
beak snapped and gaped in horrible fury. But already I had shot
away on the steepest glide that I dared to attempt, my engine still
full on, the flying propeller and the force of gravity shooting me
downwards like an aerolite. Far behind me I saw a dull, purplish
smudge growing swiftly smaller and merging into the blue sky behind
it. I was safe out of the deadly jungle of the outer air.
"Once out of danger I throttled my engine, for nothing tears a
machine to pieces quicker than running on full power from a height.
It was a glorious, spiral vol-plane from nearly eight miles of
altitude--first, to the level of the silver cloud-bank, then to
that of the storm-cloud beneath it, and finally, in beating rain,
to the surface of the earth. I saw the Bristol Channel beneath me
as I broke from the clouds, but, having still some petrol in my
tank, I got twenty miles inland before I found myself stranded in
a field half a mile from the village of Ashcombe. There I got
three tins of petrol from a passing motor-car, and at ten minutes
past six that evening I alighted gently in my own home meadow at
Devizes, after such a journey as no mortal upon earth has ever yet
taken and lived to tell the tale. I have seen the beauty and I
have seen the horror of the heights--and greater beauty or greater
horror than that is not within the ken of man.
"And now it is my plan to go once again before I give my
results to the world. My reason for this is that I must surely
have something to show by way of proof before I lay such a tale
before my fellow-men. It is true that others will soon follow and
will confirm what I have said, and yet I should wish to carry
conviction from the first. Those lovely iridescent bubbles of the
air should not be hard to capture. They drift slowly upon their
way, and the swift monoplane could intercept their leisurely
course. It is likely enough that they would dissolve in the
heavier layers of the atmosphere, and that some small heap of
amorphous jelly might be all that I should bring to earth with me.
And yet something there would surely be by which I could
substantiate my story. Yes, I will go, even if I run a risk by
doing so. These purple horrors would not seem to be numerous. It
is probable that I shall not see one. If I do I shall dive at
once. At the worst there is always the shot-gun and my knowledge
of . . ."
Here a page of the manuscript is unfortunately missing. On the
next page is written, in large, straggling writing:
"Forty-three thousand feet. I shall never see earth again.
They are beneath me, three of them. God help me; it is a dreadful
death to die!"
Such in its entirety is the Joyce-Armstrong Statement. Of the
man nothing has since been seen. Pieces of his shattered monoplane
have been picked up in the preserves of Mr. Budd-Lushington
upon the borders of Kent and Sussex, within a few miles of the spot
where the note-book was discovered. If the unfortunate aviator's
theory is correct that this air-jungle, as he called it, existed
only over the south-west of England, then it would seem that he had
fled from it at the full speed of his monoplane, but had been
overtaken and devoured by these horrible creatures at some spot in
the outer atmosphere above the place where the grim relics were
found. The picture of that monoplane skimming down the sky, with
the nameless terrors flying as swiftly beneath it and cutting it
off always from the earth while they gradually closed in upon their
victim, is one upon which a man who valued his sanity would prefer
not to dwell. There are many, as I am aware, who still jeer at the
facts which I have here set down, but even they must admit that
Joyce-Armstrong has disappeared, and I would commend to them his
own words: "This note-book may explain what I am trying to do, and
how I lost my life in doing it. But no drivel about accidents or
mysteries, if YOU please."
The Leather Funnel
My friend, Lionel Dacre, lived in the Avenue de Wagram, Paris.
His house was that small one, with the iron railings and grass
plot in front of it, on the left-hand side as you pass down from
the Arc de Triomphe. I fancy that it had been there long before
the avenue was constructed, for the grey tiles were stained with
lichens, and the walls were mildewed and discoloured with age. It
looked a small house from the street, five windows in front, if
I remember right, but it deepened into a single long chamber at
the back. It was here that Dacre had that singular library of
occult literature, and the fantastic curiosities which served as a
hobby for himself, and an amusement for his friends. A wealthy man
of refined and eccentric tastes, he had spent much of his life and
fortune in gathering together what was said to be a unique private
collection of Talmudic, cabalistic, and magical works, many of them
of great rarity and value. His tastes leaned toward the marvellous
and the monstrous, and I have heard that his experiments in the
direction of the unknown have passed all the bounds of civilization
and of decorum. To his English friends he never alluded to such
matters, and took the tone of the student and virtuoso; but a
Frenchman whose tastes were of the same nature has assured me that
the worst excesses of the black mass have been perpetrated in that
large and lofty hall, which is lined with the shelves of his books,
and the cases of his museum.
Dacre's appearance was enough to show that his deep interest in
these psychic matters was intellectual rather than spiritual.
There was no trace of asceticism upon his heavy face, but there was
much mental force in his huge, dome-like skull, which curved upward
from amongst his thinning locks, like a snowpeak above its fringe
of fir trees. His knowledge was greater than his wisdom, and his
powers were far superior to his character. The small bright eyes,
buried deeply in his fleshy face, twinkled with intelligence and an
unabated curiosity of life, but they were the eyes of a sensualist
and an egotist. Enough of the man, for he is dead now, poor devil,
dead at the very time that he had made sure that he had at last
discovered the elixir of life. It is not with his complex
character that I have to deal, but with the very strange and
inexplicable incident which had its rise in my visit to him in the
early spring of the year '82.
I had known Dacre in England, for my researches in the Assyrian
Room of the British Museum had been conducted at the time when he
was endeavouring to establish a mystic and esoteric meaning in the
Babylonian tablets, and this community of interests had brought us
together. Chance remarks had led to daily conversation, and that
to something verging upon friendship. I had promised him that on
my next visit to Paris I would call upon him. At the time when I
was able to fulfil my compact I was living in a cottage at
Fontainebleau, and as the evening trains were inconvenient, he
asked me to spend the night in his house.
"I have only that one spare couch," said he, pointing to a
broad sofa in his large salon; "I hope that you will manage to be
It was a singular bedroom, with its high walls of brown
volumes, but there could be no more agreeable furniture to a
bookworm like myself, and there is no scent so pleasant to my
nostrils as that faint, subtle reek which comes from an ancient
book. I assured him that I could desire no more charming chamber,
and no more congenial surroundings.
"If the fittings are neither convenient nor conventional, they
are at least costly," said he, looking round at his shelves. "I
have expended nearly a quarter of a million of money upon these
objects which surround you. Books, weapons, gems, carvings,
tapestries, images--there is hardly a thing here which has not its
history, and it is generally one worth telling."
He was seated as he spoke at one side of the open fire-place,
and I at the other. His reading-table was on his right, and the
strong lamp above it ringed it with a very vivid circle of golden
light. A half-rolled palimpsest lay in the centre, and around it
were many quaint articles of bric-a-brac. One of these was a large
funnel, such as is used for filling wine casks. It appeared to be
made of black wood, and to be rimmed with discoloured brass.
"That is a curious thing," I remarked. "What is the history of
"Ah!" said he, "it is the very question which I have had
occasion to ask myself. I would give a good deal to know. Take it
in your hands and examine it."
I did so, and found that what I had imagined to be wood was in
reality leather, though age had dried it into an extreme hardness.
It was a large funnel, and might hold a quart when full. The brass
rim encircled the wide end, but the narrow was also tipped with
"What do you make of it?" asked Dacre.
"I should imagine that it belonged to some vintner or maltster
in the Middle Ages," said I. "I have seen in England leathern
drinking flagons of the seventeenth century--'black jacks' as
they were called--which were of the same colour and hardness as
"I dare say the date would be about the same," said Dacre,
"and, no doubt, also, it was used for filling a vessel with liquid.
If my suspicions are correct, however, it was a queer vintner who
used it, and a very singular cask which was filled. Do you observe
nothing strange at the spout end of the funnel."
As I held it to the light I observed that at a spot some five
inches above the brass tip the narrow neck of the leather funnel
was all haggled and scored, as if someone had notched it round with
a blunt knife. Only at that point was there any roughening of the
dead black surface.
"Someone has tried to cut off the neck."
"Would you call it a cut?"
"It is torn and lacerated. It must have taken some strength to
leave these marks on such tough material, whatever the instrument
may have been. But what do you think of it? I can tell that you
know more than you say."
Dacre smiled, and his little eyes twinkled with knowledge.
"Have you included the psychology of dreams among your learned
studies?" he asked.
"I did not even know that there was such a psychology."
"My dear sir, that shelf above the gem case is filled with
volumes, from Albertus Magnus onward, which deal with no other
subject. It is a science in itself."
"A science of charlatans!"
"The charlatan is always the pioneer. From the astrologer came
the astronomer, from the alchemist the chemist, from the mesmerist
the experimental psychologist. The quack of yesterday is the
professor of tomorrow. Even such subtle and elusive things as
dreams will in time be reduced to system and order. When that time
comes the researches of our friends on the bookshelf yonder will no
longer be the amusement of the mystic, but the foundations of a
"Supposing that is so, what has the science of dreams to do
with a large, black, brass-rimmed funnel?"
"I will tell you. You know that I have an agent who is always
on the look-out for rarities and curiosities for my collection.
Some days ago he heard of a dealer upon one of the Quais who
had acquired some old rubbish found in a cupboard in an ancient
house at the back of the Rue Mathurin, in the Quartier Latin. The
dining-room of this old house is decorated with a coat of arms,
chevrons, and bars rouge upon a field argent, which prove, upon
inquiry, to be the shield of Nicholas de la Reynie, a high official
of King Louis XIV. There can be no doubt that the other articles
in the cupboard date back to the early days of that king. The
inference is, therefore, that they were all the property of this
Nicholas de la Reynie, who was, as I understand, the gentleman
specially concerned with the maintenance and execution of the
Draconic laws of that epoch."
"I would ask you now to take the funnel into your hands once
more and to examine the upper brass rim. Can you make out any
lettering upon it?"
There were certainly some scratches upon it, almost obliterated
by time. The general effect was of several letters, the last of
which bore some resemblance to a B.
"You make it a B?"
"Yes, I do."
"So do I. In fact, I have no doubt whatever that it is a B."
"But the nobleman you mentioned would have had R for his
"Exactly! That's the beauty of it. He owned this curious
object, and yet he had someone else's initials upon it. Why did he
"I can't imagine; can you?"
"Well, I might, perhaps, guess. Do you observe something drawn
a little farther along the rim?"
"I should say it was a crown."
"It is undoubtedly a crown; but if you examine it in a good
light, you will convince yourself that it is not an ordinary crown.
It is a heraldic crown--a badge of rank, and it consists of an
alternation of four pearls and strawberry leaves, the proper badge
of a marquis. We may infer, therefore, that the person whose
initials end in B was entitled to wear that coronet."
"Then this common leather filler belonged to a marquis?"
Dacre gave a peculiar smile.
"Or to some member of the family of a marquis," said he. "So
much we have clearly gathered from this engraved rim."
"But what has all this to do with dreams?" I do not know
whether it was from a look upon Dacre's face, or from some subtle
suggestion in his manner, but a feeling of repulsion, of
unreasoning horror, came upon me as I looked at the gnarled old
lump of leather.
"I have more than once received important information through
my dreams," said my companion in the didactic manner which he loved
to affect. "I make it a rule now when I am in doubt upon any
material point to place the article in question beside me as I
sleep, and to hope for some enlightenment. The process does not
appear to me to be very obscure, though it has not yet received the
blessing of orthodox science. According to my theory, any object
which has been intimately associated with any supreme paroxysm of
human emotion, whether it be joy or pain, will retain a certain
atmosphere or association which it is capable of communicating to
a sensitive mind. By a sensitive mind I do not mean an abnormal
one, but such a trained and educated mind as you or I possess."
"You mean, for example, that if I slept beside that old sword
upon the wall, I might dream of some bloody incident in which that
very sword took part?"
"An excellent example, for, as a matter of fact, that sword was
used in that fashion by me, and I saw in my sleep the death of its
owner, who perished in a brisk skirmish, which I have been unable
to identify, but which occurred at the time of the wars of the
Frondists. If you think of it, some of our popular observances
show that the fact has already been recognized by our ancestors,
although we, in our wisdom, have classed it among superstitions."
"Well, the placing of the bride's cake beneath the pillow in
order that the sleeper may have pleasant dreams. That is one of
several instances which you will find set forth in a small
brochure which I am myself writing upon the subject. But to
come back to the point, I slept one night with this funnel beside
me, and I had a dream which certainly throws a curious light upon
its use and origin."
"What did you dream?"
"I dreamed----" He paused, and an intent look of interest came
over his massive face. "By Jove, that's well thought of," said he.
"This really will be an exceedingly interesting experiment. You
are yourself a psychic subject--with nerves which respond readily
to any impression."
"I have never tested myself in that direction."
"Then we shall test you tonight. Might I ask you as a very
great favour, when you occupy that couch tonight, to sleep with
this old funnel placed by the side of your pillow?"
The request seemed to me a grotesque one; but I have myself, in
my complex nature, a hunger after all which is bizarre and
fantastic. I had not the faintest belief in Dacre's theory, nor
any hopes for success in such an experiment; yet it amused me that
the experiment should be made. Dacre, with great gravity, drew a
small stand to the head of my settee, and placed the funnel upon
it. Then, after a short conversation, he wished me good night and
I sat for some little time smoking by the smouldering fire,
and turning over in my mind the curious incident which had
occurred, and the strange experience which might lie before me.
Sceptical as I was, there was something impressive in the assurance
of Dacre's manner, and my extraordinary surroundings, the huge room
with the strange and often sinister objects which were hung round
it, struck solemnity into my soul. Finally I undressed, and
turning out the lamp, I lay down. After long tossing I fell
asleep. Let me try to describe as accurately as I can the scene
which came to me in my dreams. It stands out now in my memory more
clearly than anything which I have seen with my waking eyes. There
was a room which bore the appearance of a vault. Four spandrels
from the corners ran up to join a sharp, cup-shaped roof. The
architecture was rough, but very strong. It was evidently part of
a great building.
Three men in black, with curious, top-heavy, black velvet
hats, sat in a line upon a red-carpeted dais. Their faces were
very solemn and sad. On the left stood two long-gowned men with
port-folios in their hands, which seemed to be stuffed with papers.
Upon the right, looking toward me, was a small woman with
blonde hair and singular, light-blue eyes--the eyes of a child.
She was past her first youth, but could not yet be called middle-aged.
Her figure was inclined to stoutness and her bearing was
proud and confident. Her face was pale, but serene. It was a
curious face, comely and yet feline, with a subtle suggestion of
cruelty about the straight, strong little mouth and chubby jaw.
She was draped in some sort of loose, white gown. Beside her stood
a thin, eager priest, who whispered in her ear, and continually
raised a crucifix before her eyes. She turned her head and looked
fixedly past the crucifix at the three men in black, who were, I
felt, her judges.
As I gazed the three men stood up and said something, but I
could distinguish no words, though I was aware that it was the
central one who was speaking. They then swept out of the room,
followed by the two men with the papers. At the same instant
several rough-looking fellows in stout jerkins came bustling in and
removed first the red carpet, and then the boards which formed the
dais, so as to entirely clear the room. When this screen was
removed I saw some singular articles of furniture behind it. One
looked like a bed with wooden rollers at each end, and a winch
handle to regulate its length. Another was a wooden horse. There
were several other curious objects, and a number of swinging cords
which played over pulleys. It was not unlike a modern gymnasium.
When the room had been cleared there appeared a new figure upon
the scene. This was a tall, thin person clad in black, with a
gaunt and austere face. The aspect of the man made me shudder.
His clothes were all shining with grease and mottled with stains.
He bore himself with a slow and impressive dignity, as if he took
command of all things from the instant of his entrance. In spite
of his rude appearance and sordid dress, it was now his business,
his room, his to command. He carried a coil of light ropes over
his left forearm. The lady looked him up and down with a searching
glance, but her expression was unchanged. It was confident--even
defiant. But it was very different with the priest. His face was
ghastly white, and I saw the moisture glisten and run on his high,
sloping forehead. He threw up his hands in prayer and he stooped
continually to mutter frantic words in the lady's ear.
The man in black now advanced, and taking one of the cords from
his left arm, he bound the woman's hands together. She held them
meekly toward him as he did so. Then he took her arm with a rough
grip and led her toward the wooden horse, which was little higher
than her waist. On to this she was lifted and laid, with her back
upon it, and her face to the ceiling, while the priest, quivering
with horror, had rushed out of the room. The woman's lips were
moving rapidly, and though I could hear nothing I knew that she was
praying. Her feet hung down on either side of the horse, and I saw
that the rough varlets in attendance had fastened cords to her
ankles and secured the other ends to iron rings in the stone floor.
My heart sank within me as I saw these ominous preparations,
and yet I was held by the fascination of horror, and I could not
take my eyes from the strange spectacle. A man had entered the
room with a bucket of water in either hand. Another followed with
a third bucket. They were laid beside the wooden horse. The
second man had a wooden dipper--a bowl with a straight handle--in
his other hand. This he gave to the man in black. At the same
moment one of the varlets approached with a dark object in his
hand, which even in my dream filled me with a vague feeling of
familiarity. It was a leathern filler. With horrible energy he
thrust it--but I could stand no more. My hair stood on end with
horror. I writhed, I struggled, I broke through the bonds of
sleep, and I burst with a shriek into my own life, and found myself
lying shivering with terror in the huge library, with the moonlight
flooding through the window and throwing strange silver and black
traceries upon the opposite wall. Oh, what a blessed relief to
feel that I was back in the nineteenth century--back out of that
mediaeval vault into a world where men had human hearts within
their bosoms. I sat up on my couch, trembling in every limb, my
mind divided between thankfulness and horror. To think that such
things were ever done--that they could be done without God striking
the villains dead. Was it all a fantasy, or did it really stand
for something which had happened in the black, cruel days of the
world's history? I sank my throbbing head upon my shaking
hands. And then, suddenly, my heart seemed to stand still in my
bosom, and I could not even scream, so great was my terror.
Something was advancing toward me through the darkness of the room.
It is a horror coming upon a horror which breaks a man's
spirit. I could not reason, I could not pray; I could only sit
like a frozen image, and glare at the dark figure which was coming
down the great room. And then it moved out into the white lane of
moonlight, and I breathed once more. It was Dacre, and his face
showed that he was as frightened as myself.
"Was that you? For God's sake what's the matter?" he asked in
a husky voice.
"Oh, Dacre, I am glad to see you! I have been down into hell.
It was dreadful."
"Then it was you who screamed?"
"I dare say it was."
"It rang through the house. The servants are all terrified."
He struck a match and lit the lamp. "I think we may get the fire
to burn up again," he added, throwing some logs upon the embers.
"Good God, my dear chap, how white you are! You look as if you had
seen a ghost."
"So I have--several ghosts."
"The leather funnel has acted, then?"
"I wouldn't sleep near the infernal thing again for all the
money you could offer me."
"I expected that you would have a lively night of it," said he.
"You took it out of me in return, for that scream of yours wasn't
a very pleasant sound at two in the morning. I suppose from what
you say that you have seen the whole dreadful business."
"What dreadful business?"
"The torture of the water--the 'Extraordinary Question,' as it
was called in the genial days of 'Le Roi Soleil.' Did you stand it
out to the end?"
"No, thank God, I awoke before it really began."
"Ah! it is just as well for you. I held out till the third
bucket. Well, it is an old story, and they are all in their graves
now, anyhow, so what does it matter how they got there? I suppose
that you have no idea what it was that you have seen?"
"The torture of some criminal. She must have been a terrible
malefactor indeed if her crimes are in proportion to her penalty."
"Well, we have that small consolation," said Dacre, wrapping
his dressing-gown round him and crouching closer to the fire.
"They WERE in proportion to her penalty. That is to say, if I
am correct in the lady's identity."
"How could you possibly know her identity?"
For answer Dacre took down an old vellum-covered volume from
"Just listen to this," said he; "it is in the French of the
seventeenth century, but I will give a rough translation as I go.
You will judge for yourself whether I have solved the riddle or
"'The prisoner was brought before the Grand Chambers and
Tournelles of Parliament, sitting as a court of justice, charged
with the murder of Master Dreux d'Aubray, her father, and of her
two brothers, MM. d'Aubray, one being civil lieutenant, and the
other a counsellor of Parliament. In person it seemed hard to
believe that she had really done such wicked deeds, for she was of
a mild appearance, and of short stature, with a fair skin and blue
eyes. Yet the Court, having found her guilty, condemned her to the
ordinary and to the extraordinary question in order that she might
be forced to name her accomplices, after which she should be
carried in a cart to the Place de Greve, there to have her head cut
off, her body being afterwards burned and her ashes scattered to
"The date of this entry is July 16, 1676."
"It is interesting," said I, "but not convincing. How do you
prove the two women to be the same?"
"I am coming to that. The narrative goes on to tell of the
woman's behaviour when questioned. 'When the executioner
approached her she recognized him by the cords which he held in his
hands, and she at once held out her own hands to him, looking at
him from head to foot without uttering a word.' How's that?"
"Yes, it was so."
"'She gazed without wincing upon the wooden horse and rings
which had twisted so many limbs and caused so many shrieks of
agony. When her eyes fell upon the three pails of water, which
were all ready for her, she said with a smile, "All that water
must have been brought here for the purpose of drowning me,
Monsieur. You have no idea, I trust, of making a person of my
small stature swallow it all."' Shall I read the details of the
"No, for Heaven's sake, don't."
"Here is a sentence which must surely show you that what is
here recorded is the very scene which you have gazed upon tonight:
'The good Abbe Pirot, unable to contemplate the agonies which were
suffered by his penitent, had hurried from the room.' Does that
"It does entirely. There can be no question that it is indeed
the same event. But who, then, is this lady whose appearance was
so attractive and whose end was so horrible?"
For answer Dacre came across to me, and placed the small lamp
upon the table which stood by my bed. Lifting up the ill-omened
filler, he turned the brass rim so that the light fell full upon
it. Seen in this way the engraving seemed clearer than on the
"We have already agreed that this is the badge of a marquis or
of a marquise," said he. "We have also settled that the last
letter is B."
"It is undoubtedly so."
"I now suggest to you that the other letters from left to right
are, M, M, a small d, A, a small d, and then the final B."
"Yes, I am sure that you are right. I can make out the two
small d's quite plainly."
"What I have read to you tonight," said Dacre, "is the official
record of the trial of Marie Madeleine d'Aubray, Marquise de
Brinvilliers, one of the most famous poisoners and murderers of all
I sat in silence, overwhelmed at the extraordinary nature of
the incident, and at the completeness of the proof with which Dacre
had exposed its real meaning. In a vague way I remembered some
details of the woman's career, her unbridled debauchery, the cold-blooded
and protracted torture of her sick father, the murder of
her brothers for motives of petty gain. I recollected also that
the bravery of her end had done something to atone for the horror
of her life, and that all Paris had sympathized with her last
moments, and blessed her as a martyr within a few days of the
time when they had cursed her as a murderess. One objection, and
one only, occurred to my mind.
"How came her initials and her badge of rank upon the filler?
Surely they did not carry their mediaeval homage to the nobility to
the point of decorating instruments of torture with their titles?"
"I was puzzled with the same point," said Dacre, "but it admits
of a simple explanation. The case excited extraordinary interest
at the time, and nothing could be more natural than that La Reynie,
the head of the police, should retain this filler as a grim
souvenir. It was not often that a marchioness of France underwent
the extraordinary question. That he should engrave her initials
upon it for the information of others was surely a very ordinary
proceeding upon his part."
"And this?" I asked, pointing to the marks upon the leathern
"She was a cruel tigress," said Dacre, as he turned away. "I
think it is evident that like other tigresses her teeth were both
strong and sharp."
The New Catacomb
"Look here, Burger," said Kennedy, "I do wish that you would
confide in me."
The two famous students of Roman remains sat together in
Kennedy's comfortable room overlooking the Corso. The night
was cold, and they had both pulled up their chairs to the
unsatisfactory Italian stove which threw out a zone of stuffiness
rather than of warmth. Outside under the bright winter stars lay
the modern Rome, the long, double chain of the electric lamps, the
brilliantly lighted cafes, the rushing carriages, and the dense
throng upon the footpaths. But inside, in the sumptuous chamber of
the rich young English archaeologist, there was only old Rome to be
seen. Cracked and timeworn friezes hung upon the walls, grey old
busts of senators and soldiers with their fighting heads and their
hard, cruel faces peered out from the corners. On the centre
table, amidst a litter of inscriptions, fragments, and ornaments,
there stood the famous reconstruction by Kennedy of the Baths of
Caracalla, which excited such interest and admiration when it was
exhibited in Berlin. Amphorae hung from the ceiling, and a litter
of curiosities strewed the rich red Turkey carpet. And of them all
there was not one which was not of the most unimpeachable
authenticity, and of the utmost rarity and value; for Kennedy,
though little more than thirty, had a European reputation in this
particular branch of research, and was, moreover, provided with
that long purse which either proves to be a fatal handicap to the
student's energies, or, if his mind is still true to its purpose,
gives him an enormous advantage in the race for fame. Kennedy had
often been seduced by whim and pleasure from his studies, but his
mind was an incisive one, capable of long and concentrated efforts
which ended in sharp reactions of sensuous languor. His handsome
face, with its high, white forehead, its aggressive nose, and its
somewhat loose and sensual mouth, was a fair index of the
compromise between strength and weakness in his nature.
Of a very different type was his companion, Julius Burger. He
came of a curious blend, a German father and an Italian mother,
with the robust qualities of the North mingling strangely with the
softer graces of the South. Blue Teutonic eyes lightened his sun-browned
face, and above them rose a square, massive forehead, with
a fringe of close yellow curls lying round it. His strong, firm
jaw was clean-shaven, and his companion had frequently remarked how
much it suggested those old Roman busts which peered out from the
shadows in the corners of his chamber. Under its bluff German
strength there lay always a suggestion of Italian subtlety, but
the smile was so honest, and the eyes so frank, that one understood
that this was only an indication of his ancestry, with no actual
bearing upon his character. In age and in reputation, he was on
the same level as his English companion, but his life and his work
had both been far more arduous. Twelve years before, he had come
as a poor student to Rome, and had lived ever since upon some small
endowment for research which had been awarded to him by the
University of Bonn. Painfully, slowly, and doggedly, with
extraordinary tenacity and single-mindedness, he had climbed from
rung to rung of the ladder of fame, until now he was a member of
the Berlin Academy, and there was every reason to believe that he
would shortly be promoted to the Chair of the greatest of German
Universities. But the singleness of purpose which had brought him
to the same high level as the rich and brilliant Englishman, had
caused him in everything outside their work to stand infinitely
below him. He had never found a pause in his studies in which to
cultivate the social graces. It was only when he spoke of his own
subject that his face was filled with life and soul. At other
times he was silent and embarrassed, too conscious of his own
limitations in larger subjects, and impatient of that small talk
which is the conventional refuge of those who have no thoughts to
And yet for some years there had been an acquaintanceship which
appeared to be slowly ripening into a friendship between these two
very different rivals. The base and origin of this lay in the fact
that in their own studies each was the only one of the younger men
who had knowledge and enthusiasm enough to properly appreciate the
other. Their common interests and pursuits had brought them
together, and each had been attracted by the other's knowledge.
And then gradually something had been added to this. Kennedy had
been amused by the frankness and simplicity of his rival, while
Burger in turn had been fascinated by the brilliancy and vivacity
which had made Kennedy such a favourite in Roman society. I say
"had," because just at the moment the young Englishman was somewhat
under a cloud. A love-affair, the details of which had never quite
come out, had indicated a heartlessness and callousness upon his
part which shocked many of his friends. But in the bachelor
circles of students and artists in which he preferred to move
there is no very rigid code of honour in such matters, and though
a head might be shaken or a pair of shoulders shrugged over the
flight of two and the return of one, the general sentiment was
probably one of curiosity and perhaps of envy rather than of
"Look here, Burger," said Kennedy, looking hard at the placid
face of his companion, "I do wish that you would confide in me."
As he spoke he waved his hand in the direction of a rug which
lay upon the floor. On the rug stood a long, shallow fruit-basket
of the light wicker-work which is used in the Campagna, and this
was heaped with a litter of objects, inscribed tiles, broken
inscriptions, cracked mosaics, torn papyri, rusty metal ornaments,
which to the uninitiated might have seemed to have come straight
from a dustman's bin, but which a specialist would have speedily
recognized as unique of their kind. The pile of odds and ends in
the flat wicker-work basket supplied exactly one of those missing
links of social development which are of such interest to the
student. It was the German who had brought them in, and the
Englishman's eyes were hungry as he looked at them.
"I won't interfere with your treasure-trove, but I should very
much like to hear about it," he continued, while Burger very
deliberately lit a cigar. "It is evidently a discovery of the
first importance. These inscriptions will make a sensation
"For every one here there are a million there!" said the
German. "There are so many that a dozen savants might spend a
lifetime over them, and build up a reputation as solid as the
Castle of St. Angelo."
Kennedy sat thinking with his fine forehead wrinkled and his
fingers playing with his long, fair moustache.
"You have given yourself away, Burger!" said he at last. "Your
words can only apply to one thing. You have discovered a new
"I had no doubt that you had already come to that conclusion
from an examination of these objects."
"Well, they certainly appeared to indicate it, but your last
remarks make it certain. There is no place except a catacomb which
could contain so vast a store of relics as you describe."
"Quite so. There is no mystery about that. I HAVE
discovered a new catacomb."
"Ah, that is my secret, my dear Kennedy. Suffice it that it is
so situated that there is not one chance in a million of anyone
else coming upon it. Its date is different from that of any known
catacomb, and it has been reserved for the burial of the highest
Christians, so that the remains and the relics are quite different
from anything which has ever been seen before. If I was not aware
of your knowledge and of your energy, my friend, I would not
hesitate, under the pledge of secrecy, to tell you everything about
it. But as it is I think that I must certainly prepare my own
report of the matter before I expose myself to such formidable
Kennedy loved his subject with a love which was almost a
mania--a love which held him true to it, amidst all the
distractions which come to a wealthy and dissipated young man. He
had ambition, but his ambition was secondary to his mere abstract
joy and interest in everything which concerned the old life and
history of the city. He yearned to see this new underworld which
his companion had discovered.
"Look here, Burger," said he, earnestly, "I assure you that you
can trust me most implicitly in the matter. Nothing would induce
me to put pen to paper about anything which I see until I have your
express permission. I quite understand your feeling and I think it
is most natural, but you have really nothing whatever to fear from
me. On the other hand, if you don't tell me I shall make a
systematic search, and I shall most certainly discover it. In that
case, of course, I should make what use I liked of it, since I
should be under no obligation to you."
Burger smiled thoughtfully over his cigar.
"I have noticed, friend Kennedy," said he, "that when I want
information over any point you are not always so ready to supply
"When did you ever ask me anything that I did not tell you?
You remember, for example, my giving you the material for your
paper about the temple of the Vestals."
"Ah, well, that was not a matter of much importance. If I were
to question you upon some intimate thing would you give me an answer,
I wonder! This new catacomb is a very intimate thing to me,
and I should certainly expect some sign of confidence in return."
"What you are driving at I cannot imagine," said the
Englishman, "but if you mean that you will answer my question about
the catacomb if I answer any question which you may put to me I can
assure you that I will certainly do so."
"Well, then," said Burger, leaning luxuriously back in his
settee, and puffing a blue tree of cigar-smoke into the air, "tell
me all about your relations with Miss Mary Saunderson."
Kennedy sprang up in his chair and glared angrily at his
"What the devil do you mean?" he cried. "What sort of a
question is this? You may mean it as a joke, but you never made a
"No, I don't mean it as a joke," said Burger, simply. "I am
really rather interested in the details of the matter. I don't
know much about the world and women and social life and that sort
of thing, and such an incident has the fascination of the unknown
for me. I know you, and I knew her by sight--I had even spoken to
her once or twice. I should very much like to hear from your own
lips exactly what it was which occurred between you."
"I won't tell you a word."
"That's all right. It was only my whim to see if you would
give up a secret as easily as you expected me to give up my secret
of the new catacomb. You wouldn't, and I didn't expect you to.
But why should you expect otherwise of me? There's Saint John's
clock striking ten. It is quite time that I was going home."
"No; wait a bit, Burger," said Kennedy; "this is really a
ridiculous caprice of yours to wish to know about an old love-affair
which has burned out months ago. You know we look upon a
man who kisses and tells as the greatest coward and villain
"Certainly," said the German, gathering up his basket of
curiosities, "when he tells anything about a girl which is
previously unknown he must be so. But in this case, as you must be
aware, it was a public matter which was the common talk of Rome, so
that you are not really doing Miss Mary Saunderson any injury
by discussing her case with me. But still, I respect your
scruples; and so good night!"
"Wait a bit, Burger," said Kennedy, laying his hand upon the
other's arm; "I am very keen upon this catacomb business, and I
can't let it drop quite so easily. Would you mind asking me
something else in return--something not quite so eccentric this
"No, no; you have refused, and there is an end of it," said
Burger, with his basket on his arm. "No doubt you are quite right
not to answer, and no doubt I am quite right also--and so again, my
dear Kennedy, good night!"
The Englishman watched Burger cross the room, and he had his
hand on the handle of the door before his host sprang up with the
air of a man who is making the best of that which cannot be helped.
"Hold on, old fellow," said he; "I think you are behaving in a
most ridiculous fashion; but still; if this is your condition, I
suppose that I must submit to it. I hate saying anything about a
girl, but, as you say, it is all over Rome, and I don't suppose I
can tell you anything which you do not know already. What was it
you wanted to know?"
The German came back to the stove, and, laying down his basket,
he sank into his chair once more.
"May I have another cigar?" said he. "Thank you very much! I
never smoke when I work, but I enjoy a chat much more when I am
under the influence of tobacco. Now, as regards this young lady,
with whom you had this little adventure. What in the world has
become of her?"
"She is at home with her own people."
"Oh, really--in England?"
"What part of England--London?"
"You must excuse my curiosity, my dear Kennedy, and you must
put it down to my ignorance of the world. No doubt it is quite a
simple thing to persuade a young lady to go off with you for three
weeks or so, and then to hand her over to her own family at--what
did you call the place?"
"Quite so--at Twickenham. But it is something so entirely
outside my own experience that I cannot even imagine how you set
about it. For example, if you had loved this girl your love could
hardly disappear in three weeks, so I presume that you could not
have loved her at all. But if you did not love her why should you
make this great scandal which has damaged you and ruined her?"
Kennedy looked moodily into the red eye of the stove.
"That's a logical way of looking at it, certainly," said he.
"Love is a big word, and it represents a good many different shades
of feeling. I liked her, and--well, you say you've seen her--you
know how charming she could look. But still I am willing to admit,
looking back, that I could never have really loved her."
"Then, my dear Kennedy, why did you do it?"
"The adventure of the thing had a great deal to do with it."
"What! You are so fond of adventures!"
"Where would the variety of life be without them? It was for
an adventure that I first began to pay my attentions to her. I've
chased a good deal of game in my time, but there's no chase like
that of a pretty woman. There was the piquant difficulty of it
also, for, as she was the companion of Lady Emily Rood, it was
almost impossible to see her alone. On the top of all the other
obstacles which attracted me, I learned from her own lips very
early in the proceedings that she was engaged."
"Mein Gott! To whom?"
"She mentioned no names."
"I do not think that anyone knows that. So that made the
adventure more alluring, did it?"
"Well, it did certainly give a spice to it. Don't you think
"I tell you that I am very ignorant about these things."
"My dear fellow, you can remember that the apple you stole from
your neighbour's tree was always sweeter than that which fell from
your own. And then I found that she cared for me."
"Oh, no, it took about three months of sapping and mining. But
at last I won her over. She understood that my judicial separation
from my wife made it impossible for me to do the right thing by
her--but she came all the same, and we had a delightful time, as
long as it lasted."
"But how about the other man?"
Kennedy shrugged his shoulders.
"I suppose it is the survival of the fittest," said he. "If he
had been the better man she would not have deserted him. Let's
drop the subject, for I have had enough of it!"
"Only one other thing. How did you get rid of her in three
"Well, we had both cooled down a bit, you understand. She
absolutely refused, under any circumstances, to come back to face
the people she had known in Rome. Now, of course, Rome is
necessary to me, and I was already pining to be back at my work--so
there was one obvious cause of separation. Then, again, her old
father turned up at the hotel in London, and there was a scene, and
the whole thing became so unpleasant that really--though I missed
her dreadfully at first--I was very glad to slip out of it. Now,
I rely upon you not to repeat anything of what I have said."
"My dear Kennedy, I should not dream of repeating it. But all
that you say interests me very much, for it gives me an insight
into your way of looking at things, which is entirely different
from mine, for I have seen so little of life. And now you want to
know about my new catacomb. There's no use my trying to describe
it, for you would never find it by that. There is only one thing,
and that is for me to take you there."
"That would be splendid."
"When would you like to come?"
"The sooner the better. I am all impatience to see it."
"Well, it is a beautiful night--though a trifle cold. Suppose
we start in an hour. We must be very careful to keep the matter to
ourselves. If anyone saw us hunting in couples they would suspect
that there was something going on."
"We can't be too cautious," said Kennedy. "Is it far?"
"Not too far to walk?"
"Oh, no, we could walk there easily."
"We had better do so, then. A cabman's suspicions would be
aroused if he dropped us both at some lonely spot in the dead
of the night."
"Quite so. I think it would be best for us to meet at the Gate
of the Appian Way at midnight. I must go back to my lodgings for
the matches and candles and things."
"All right, Burger! I think it is very kind of you to let me
into this secret, and I promise you that I will write nothing about
it until you have published your report. Good-bye for the present!
You will find me at the Gate at twelve."
The cold, clear air was filled with the musical chimes from
that city of clocks as Burger, wrapped in an Italian overcoat, with
a lantern hanging from his hand, walked up to the rendezvous.
Kennedy stepped out of the shadow to meet him.
"You are ardent in work as well as in love!" said the German,
"Yes; I have been waiting here for nearly half an hour."
"I hope you left no clue as to where we were going."
"Not such a fool! By Jove, I am chilled to the bone! Come on,
Burger, let us warm ourselves by a spurt of hard walking."
Their footsteps sounded loud and crisp upon the rough stone
paving of the disappointing road which is all that is left of the
most famous highway of the world. A peasant or two going home from
the wine-shop, and a few carts of country produce coming up to
Rome, were the only things which they met. They swung along, with
the huge tombs looming up through the darkness upon each side of
them, until they had come as far as the Catacombs of St. Calistus,
and saw against a rising moon the great circular bastion of Cecilia
Metella in front of them. Then Burger stopped with his hand to his
"Your legs are longer than mine, and you are more accustomed to
walking," said he, laughing. "I think that the place where we turn
off is somewhere here. Yes, this is it, round the corner of the
trattoria. Now, it is a very narrow path, so perhaps I had better
go in front and you can follow."
He had lit his lantern, and by its light they were enabled to
follow a narrow and devious track which wound across the marshes of
the Campagna. The great Aqueduct of old Rome lay like a monstrous
caterpillar across the moonlit landscape, and their road led
them under one of its huge arches, and past the circle of crumbling
bricks which marks the old arena. At last Burger stopped at a
solitary wooden cow-house, and he drew a key from his pocket.
"Surely your catacomb is not inside a house!" cried Kennedy.
"The entrance to it is. That is just the safeguard which we
have against anyone else discovering it."
"Does the proprietor know of it?"
"Not he. He had found one or two objects which made me almost
certain that his house was built on the entrance to such a place.
So I rented it from him, and did my excavations for myself. Come
in, and shut the door behind you."
It was a long, empty building, with the mangers of the cows
along one wall. Burger put his lantern down on the ground, and
shaded its light in all directions save one by draping his overcoat
"It might excite remark if anyone saw a light in this lonely
place," said he. "Just help me to move this boarding."
The flooring was loose in the corner, and plank by plank the
two savants raised it and leaned it against the wall. Below there
was a square aperture and a stair of old stone steps which led away
down into the bowels of the earth.
"Be careful!" cried Burger, as Kennedy, in his impatience,
hurried down them. "It is a perfect rabbits'-warren below, and if
you were once to lose your way there the chances would be a hundred
to one against your ever coming out again. Wait until I bring the
"How do you find your own way if it is so complicated?"
"I had some very narrow escapes at first, but I have gradually
learned to go about. There is a certain system to it, but it is
one which a lost man, if he were in the dark, could not possibly
find out. Even now I always spin out a ball of string behind me
when I am going far into the catacomb. You can see for yourself
that it is difficult, but every one of these passages divides and
subdivides a dozen times before you go a hundred yards."
They had descended some twenty feet from the level of the byre,
and they were standing now in a square chamber cut out of the soft
tufa. The lantern cast a flickering light, bright below and
dim above, over the cracked brown walls. In every direction
were the black openings of passages which radiated from this common
"I want you to follow me closely, my friend," said Burger. "Do
not loiter to look at anything upon the way, for the place to which
I will take you contains all that you can see, and more. It will
save time for us to go there direct."
He led the way down one of the corridors, and the Englishman
followed closely at his heels. Every now and then the passage
bifurcated, but Burger was evidently following some secret marks of
his own, for he neither stopped nor hesitated. Everywhere along
the walls, packed like the berths upon an emigrant ship, lay the
Christians of old Rome. The yellow light flickered over the
shrivelled features of the mummies, and gleamed upon rounded skulls
and long, white armbones crossed over fleshless chests. And
everywhere as he passed Kennedy looked with wistful eyes upon
inscriptions, funeral vessels, pictures, vestments, utensils, all
lying as pious hands had placed them so many centuries ago. It was
apparent to him, even in those hurried, passing glances, that this
was the earliest and finest of the catacombs, containing such a
storehouse of Roman remains as had never before come at one time
under the observation of the student.
"What would happen if the light went out?" he asked, as they
"I have a spare candle and a box of matches in my pocket. By
the way, Kennedy, have you any matches?"
"No; you had better give me some."
"Oh, that is all right. There is no chance of our separating."
"How far are we going? It seems to me that we have walked at
least a quarter of a mile."
"More than that, I think. There is really no limit to the
tombs--at least, I have never been able to find any. This is a
very difficult place, so I think that I will use our ball of
He fastened one end of it to a projecting stone and he carried
the coil in the breast of his coat, paying it out as he advanced.
Kennedy saw that it was no unnecessary precaution, for the passages
had become more complex and tortuous than ever, with a perfect
network of intersecting corridors. But these all ended in one
large circular hall with a square pedestal of tufa topped with a
slab of marble at one end of it.
"By Jove!" cried Kennedy in an ecstasy, as Burger swung his
lantern over the marble. "It is a Christian altar--probably the
first one in existence. Here is the little consecration cross cut
upon the corner of it. No doubt this circular space was used as a
"Precisely," said Burger. "If I had more time I should like to
show you all the bodies which are buried in these niches upon the
walls, for they are the early popes and bishops of the Church, with
their mitres, their croziers, and full canonicals. Go over to that
one and look at it!"
Kennedy went across, and stared at the ghastly head which lay
loosely on the shredded and mouldering mitre.
"This is most interesting," said he, and his voice seemed to
boom against the concave vault. "As far as my experience goes, it
is unique. Bring the lantern over, Burger, for I want to see them
But the German had strolled away, and was standing in the
middle of a yellow circle of light at the other side of the hall.
"Do you know how many wrong turnings there are between this and
the stairs?" he asked. "There are over two thousand. No doubt it
was one of the means of protection which the Christians adopted.
The odds are two thousand to one against a man getting out, even if
he had a light; but if he were in the dark it would, of course, be
far more difficult."
"So I should think."
"And the darkness is something dreadful. I tried it once for
an experiment. Let us try it again!" He stooped to the lantern,
and in an instant it was as if an invisible hand was squeezed
tightly over each of Kennedy's eyes. Never had he known what such
darkness was. It seemed to press upon him and to smother him. It
was a solid obstacle against which the body shrank from advancing.
He put his hands out to push it back from him.
"That will do, Burger," said he, "let's have the light again."
But his companion began to laugh, and in that circular room the
sound seemed to come from every side at once.
"You seem uneasy, friend Kennedy," said he.
"Go on, man, light the candle!" said Kennedy impatiently.
"It's very strange, Kennedy, but I could not in the least tell
by the sound in which direction you stand. Could you tell where I
"No; you seem to be on every side of me."
"If it were not for this string which I hold in my hand I
should not have a notion which way to go."
"I dare say not. Strike a light, man, and have an end of this
"Well, Kennedy, there are two things which I understand that
you are very fond of. The one is an adventure, and the other is an
obstacle to surmount. The adventure must be the finding of your
way out of this catacomb. The obstacle will be the darkness and
the two thousand wrong turns which make the way a little difficult
to find. But you need not hurry, for you have plenty of time, and
when you halt for a rest now and then, I should like you just to
think of Miss Mary Saunderson, and whether you treated her quite
"You devil, what do you mean?" roared Kennedy. He was running
about in little circles and clasping at the solid blackness with
"Good-bye," said the mocking voice, and it was already at some
distance. "I really do not think, Kennedy, even by your own
showing that you did the right thing by that girl. There was only
one little thing which you appeared not to know, and I can supply
it. Miss Saunderson was engaged to a poor ungainly devil of a
student, and his name was Julius Burger."
There was a rustle somewhere, the vague sound of a foot
striking a stone, and then there fell silence upon that old
Christian church--a stagnant, heavy silence which closed round
Kennedy and shut him in like water round a drowning man.
Some two months afterwards the following paragraph made the
round of the European Press:
"One of the most interesting discoveries of recent years is
that of the new catacomb in Rome, which lies some distance to the
east of the well-known vaults of St. Calixtus. The finding of this
important burial-place, which is exceeding rich in most
interesting early Christian remains, is due to the energy and
sagacity of Dr. Julius Burger, the young German specialist, who is
rapidly taking the first place as an authority upon ancient Rome.
Although the first to publish his discovery, it appears that a less
fortunate adventurer had anticipated Dr. Burger. Some months ago
Mr. Kennedy, the well-known English student, disappeared suddenly
from his rooms in the Corso, and it was conjectured that his
association with a recent scandal had driven him to leave Rome. It
appears now that he had in reality fallen a victim to that fervid
love of archaeology which had raised him to a distinguished place
among living scholars. His body was discovered in the heart of the
new catacomb, and it was evident from the condition of his feet and
boots that he had tramped for days through the tortuous corridors
which make these subterranean tombs so dangerous to explorers. The
deceased gentleman had, with inexplicable rashness, made his way
into this labyrinth without, as far as can be discovered, taking
with him either candles or matches, so that his sad fate was the
natural result of his own temerity. What makes the matter more
painful is that Dr. Julius Burger was an intimate friend of the
deceased. His joy at the extraordinary find which he has been so
fortunate as to make has been greatly marred by the terrible fate
of his comrade and fellow-worker."
The Case of Lady Sannox
The relations between Douglas Stone and the notorious Lady Sannox
were very well known both among the fashionable circles of which
she was a brilliant member, and the scientific bodies which
numbered him among their most illustrious confreres. There
was naturally, therefore, a very widespread interest when it was
announced one morning that the lady had absolutely and for ever
taken the veil, and that the world would see her no more. When,
at the very tail of this rumour, there came the assurance that
the celebrated operating surgeon, the man of steel nerves, had
been found in the morning by his valet, seated on one side of his
bed, smiling pleasantly upon the universe, with both legs jammed
into one side of his breeches and his great brain about as
valuable as a cap full of porridge, the matter was strong enough
to give quite a little thrill of interest to folk who had never
hoped that their jaded nerves were capable of such a sensation.
Douglas Stone in his prime was one of the most remarkable men
in England. Indeed, he could hardly be said to have ever reached
his prime, for he was but nine-and-thirty at the time of this
little incident. Those who knew him best were aware that famous as
he was as a surgeon, he might have succeeded with even greater
rapidity in any of a dozen lines of life. He could have cut his
way to fame as a soldier, struggled to it as an explorer, bullied
for it in the courts, or built it out of stone and iron as an
engineer. He was born to be great, for he could plan what another
man dare not do, and he could do what another man dare not plan.
In surgery none could follow him. His nerve, his judgement, his
intuition, were things apart. Again and again his knife cut away
death, but grazed the very springs of life in doing it, until his
assistants were as white as the patient. His energy, his
audacity, his full-blooded self-confidence--does not the memory
of them still linger to the south of Marylebone Road and the north
of Oxford Street?
His vices were as magnificent as his virtues, and infinitely
more picturesque. Large as was his income, and it was the third
largest of all professional men in London, it was far beneath the
luxury of his living. Deep in his complex nature lay a rich vein
of sensualism, at the sport of which he placed all the prizes of
his life. The eye, the ear, the touch, the palate, all were his
masters. The bouquet of old vintages, the scent of rare exotics,
the curves and tints of the daintiest potteries of Europe, it was
to these that the quick-running stream of gold was transformed.
And then there came his sudden mad passion for Lady Sannox, when a
single interview with two challenging glances and a whispered word
set him ablaze. She was the loveliest woman in London and the only
one to him. He was one of the handsomest men in London, but not
the only one to her. She had a liking for new experiences, and was
gracious to most men who wooed her. It may have been cause or it
may have been effect that Lord Sannox looked fifty, though he was
He was a quiet, silent, neutral-tinted man, this lord, with
thin lips and heavy eyelids, much given to gardening, and full of
home-like habits. He had at one time been fond of acting, had even
rented a theatre in London, and on its boards had first seen Miss
Marion Dawson, to whom he had offered his hand, his title, and the
third of a county. Since his marriage his early hobby had become
distasteful to him. Even in private theatricals it was no longer
possible to persuade him to exercise the talent which he had often
showed that he possessed. He was happier with a spud and a
watering-can among his orchids and chrysanthemums.
It was quite an interesting problem whether he was absolutely
devoid of sense, or miserably wanting in spirit. Did he know his
lady's ways and condone them, or was he a mere blind, doting fool?
It was a point to be discussed over the teacups in snug little
drawing-rooms, or with the aid of a cigar in the bow windows of
clubs. Bitter and plain were the comments among men upon his
conduct. There was but one who had a good word to say for him, and
he was the most silent member in the smoking-room. He had seen
him break in a horse at the University, and it seemed to have left
an impression upon his mind.
But when Douglas Stone became the favourite all doubts as to
Lord Sannox's knowledge or ignorance were set for ever at rest.
There was no subterfuge about Stone. In his high-handed, impetuous
fashion, he set all caution and discretion at defiance. The
scandal became notorious. A learned body intimated that his name
had been struck from the list of its vice-presidents. Two friends
implored him to consider his professional credit. He cursed them
all three, and spent forty guineas on a bangle to take with him to
the lady. He was at her house every evening, and she drove in his
carriage in the afternoons. There was not an attempt on either
side to conceal their relations; but there came at last a little
incident to interrupt them.
It was a dismal winter's night, very cold and gusty, with the
wind whooping in the chimneys and blustering against the window-panes.
A thin spatter of rain tinkled on the glass with each fresh
sough of the gale, drowning for the instant the dull gurgle and
drip from the eaves. Douglas Stone had finished his dinner, and
sat by his fire in the study, a glass of rich port upon the
malachite table at his elbow. As he raised it to his lips, he held
it up against the lamplight, and watched with the eye of a
connoisseur the tiny scales of beeswing which floated in its rich
ruby depths. The fire, as it spurted up, threw fitful lights upon
his bald, clear-cut face, with its widely-opened grey eyes, its
thick and yet firm lips, and the deep, square jaw, which had
something Roman in its strength and its animalism. He smiled from
time to time as he nestled back in his luxurious chair. Indeed, he
had a right to feel well pleased, for, against the advice of six
colleagues, he had performed an operation that day of which only
two cases were on record, and the result had been brilliant beyond
all expectation. No other man in London would have had the daring
to plan, or the skill to execute, such a heroic measure.
But he had promised Lady Sannox to see her that evening and it
was already half-past eight. His hand was outstretched to the bell
to order the carriage when he heard the dull thud of the knocker.
An instant later there was the shuffling of feet in the hall, and
the sharp closing of a door.
"A patient to see you, sir, in the consulting room," said the
"No, sir; I think he wants you to go out."
"It is too late," cried Douglas Stone peevishly. "I won't go."
"This is his card, sir."
The butler presented it upon the gold salver which had been
given to his master by the wife of a Prime Minister.
"'Hamil Ali, Smyrna.' Hum! The fellow is a Turk, I suppose."
"Yes, sir. He seems as if he came from abroad, sir. And he's
in a terrible way."
"Tut, tut! I have an engagement. I must go somewhere else.
But I'll see him. Show him in here, Pim."
A few moments later the butler swung open the door and ushered
in a small and decrepit man, who walked with a bent back and with
the forward push of the face and blink of the eyes which goes with
extreme short sight. His face was swarthy, and his hair and beard
of the deepest black. In one hand he held a turban of white muslin
striped with red, in the other a small chamois-leather bag.
"Good evening," said Douglas Stone, when the butler had closed
the door. "You speak English, I presume?"
"Yes, sir. I am from Asia Minor, but I speak English when I
"You wanted me to go out, I understand?"
"Yes, sir. I wanted very much that you should see my wife."
"I could come in the morning, but I have an engagement which
prevents me from seeing your wife tonight."
The Turk's answer was a singular one. He pulled the string
which closed the mouth of the chamois-leather bag, and poured a
flood of gold on to the table.
"There are one hundred pounds there," said he, "and I promise
you that it will not take you an hour. I have a cab ready at the
Douglas Stone glanced at his watch. An hour would not make it
too late to visit Lady Sannox. He had been there later. And the
fee was an extraordinarily high one. He had been pressed by his
creditors lately, and he could not afford to let such a chance
pass. He would go.
"What is the case?" he asked.
"Oh, it is so sad a one! So sad a one! You have not, perhaps
heard of the daggers of the Almohades?"
"Ah, they are Eastern daggers of a great age and of a singular
shape, with the hilt like what you call a stirrup. I am a
curiosity dealer, you understand, and that is why I have come to
England from Smyrna, but next week I go back once more. Many
things I brought with me, and I have a few things left, but among
them, to my sorrow, is one of these daggers."
"You will remember that I have an appointment, sir," said the
surgeon, with some irritation; "pray confine yourself to the
"You will see that it is necessary. Today my wife fell down in
a faint in the room in which I keep my wares, and she cut her lower
lip upon this cursed dagger of Almohades."
"I see," said Douglas Stone, rising. "And you wish me to dress
"No, no, it is worse than that."
"These daggers are poisoned."
"Yes, and there is no man, East or West, who can tell now what
is the poison or what the cure. But all that is known I know, for
my father was in this trade before me, and we have had much to do
with these poisoned weapons."
"What are the symptoms?"
"Deep sleep, and death in thirty hours."
"And you say there is no cure. Why then should you pay me this
"No drug can cure, but the knife may."
"The poison is slow of absorption. It remains for hours in the
"Washing, then, might cleanse it?"
"No more than in a snake bite. It is too subtle and too
"Excision of the wound, then?"
"That is it. If it be on the finger, take the finger off. So
said my father always. But think of where this wound is, and that
it is my wife. It is dreadful!"
But familiarity with such grim matters may take the finer edge
from a man's sympathy. To Douglas Stone this was already an
interesting case, and he brushed aside as irrelevant the feeble
objections of the husband.
"It appears to be that or nothing," said he brusquely. "It is
better to lose a lip than a life."
"Ah, yes, I know that you are right. Well, well, it is kismet,
and it must be faced. I have the cab, and you will come with me
and do this thing."
Douglas Stone took his case of bistouries from a drawer, and
placed it with a roll of bandage and a compress of lint in his
pocket. He must waste no more time if he were to see Lady Sannox.
"I am ready," said he, pulling on his overcoat. "Will you take
a glass of wine before you go out into this cold air?"
His visitor shrank away, with a protesting hand upraised.
"You forget that I am a Mussulman, and a true follower of the
Prophet," said he. "But tell me what is the bottle of green glass
which you have placed in your pocket?"
"It is chloroform."
"Ah, that also is forbidden to us. It is a spirit, and we make
no use of such things."
"What! You would allow your wife to go through an operation
without an anaesthetic?"
"Ah! she will feel nothing, poor soul. The deep sleep has
already come on, which is the first working of the poison. And
then I have given her of our Smyrna opium. Come, sir, for already
an hour has passed."
As they stepped out into the darkness, a sheet of rain was
driven in upon their faces, and the hall lamp, which dangled from
the arm of a marble Caryatid, went out with a fluff. Pim, the
butler, pushed the heavy door to, straining hard with his shoulder
against the wind, while the two men groped their way towards the
yellow glare which showed where the cab was waiting. An instant
later they were rattling upon their journey.
"Is it far?" asked Douglas Stone.
"Oh, no. We have a very little quiet place off the Euston
The surgeon pressed the spring of his repeater and listened to
the little tings which told him the hour. It was a quarter past
nine. He calculated the distances, and the short time which it
would take him to perform so trivial an operation. He ought to
reach Lady Sannox by ten o'clock. Through the fogged windows he
saw the blurred gas lamps dancing past, with occasionally the
broader glare of a shop front. The rain was pelting and rattling
upon the leathern top of the carriage, and the wheels swashed as
they rolled through puddle and mud. Opposite to him the white
headgear of his companion gleamed faintly through the obscurity.
The surgeon felt in his pockets and arranged his needles, his
ligatures and his safety-pins, that no time might be wasted when
they arrived. He chafed with impatience and drummed his foot upon
But the cab slowed down at last and pulled up. In an instant
Douglas Stone was out, and the Smyrna merchant's toe was at his
"You can wait," said he to the driver.
It was a mean-looking house in a narrow and sordid street. The
surgeon, who knew his London well, cast a swift glance into the
shadows, but there was nothing distinctive--no shop, no movement,
nothing but a double line of dull, flat-faced houses, a double
stretch of wet flagstones which gleamed in the lamplight, and a
double rush of water in the gutters which swirled and gurgled
towards the sewer gratings. The door which faced them was blotched
and discoloured, and a faint light in the fan pane above, it served
to show the dust and the grime which covered it. Above in one of
the bedroom windows, there was a dull yellow glimmer. The merchant
knocked loudly, and, as he turned his dark face towards the light,
Douglas Stone could see that it was contracted with anxiety. A
bolt was drawn, and an elderly woman with a taper stood in the
doorway, shielding the thin flame with her gnarled hand.
"Is all well?" gasped the merchant.
"She is as you left her, sir."
"She has not spoken?"
"No, she is in a deep sleep."
The merchant closed the door, and Douglas Stone walked down the
narrow passage, glancing about him in some surprise as he did so.
There was no oil-cloth, no mat, no hat-rack. Deep grey dust and
heavy festoons of cobwebs met his eyes everywhere. Following
the old woman up the winding stair, his firm footfall echoed
harshly through the silent house. There was no carpet.
The bedroom was on the second landing. Douglas Stone followed
the old nurse into it, with the merchant at his heels. Here, at
least, there was furniture and to spare. The floor was littered
and the corners piled with Turkish cabinets, inlaid tables, coats
of chain mail, strange pipes, and grotesque weapons. A single
small lamp stood upon a bracket on the wall. Douglas Stone took it
down, and picking his way among the lumber, walked over to a couch
in the corner, on which lay a woman dressed in the Turkish fashion,
with yashmak and veil. The lower part of the face was exposed, and
the surgeon saw a jagged cut which zigzagged along the border of
the under lip.
"You will forgive the yashmak," said the Turk. "You know our
views about women in the East."
But the surgeon was not thinking about the yashmak. This was
no longer a woman to him. It was a case. He stooped and examined
the wound carefully.
"There are no signs of irritation," said he. "We might delay
the operation until local symptoms develop."
The husband wrung his hands in uncontrollable agitation.
"Oh! sir, sir," he cried. "Do not trifle. You do not know.
It is deadly. I know, and I give you my assurance that an
operation is absolutely necessary. Only the knife can save her."
"And yet I am inclined to wait," said Douglas Stone.
"That is enough," the Turk cried, angrily. "Every minute is of
importance, and I cannot stand here and see my wife allowed to
sink. It only remains for me to give you my thanks for having
come, and to call in some other surgeon before it is too late."
Douglas Stone hesitated. To refund that hundred pounds was no
pleasant matter. But of course if he left the case he must return
the money. And if the Turk were right and the woman died, his
position before a coroner might be an embarrassing one.
"You have had personal experience of this poison?" he asked.
"And you assure me that an operation is needful."
"I swear it by all that I hold sacred."
"The disfigurement will be frightful."
"I can understand that the mouth will not be a pretty one to
Douglas Stone turned fiercely upon the man. The speech was a
brutal one. But the Turk has his own fashion of talk and of
thought, and there was no time for wrangling. Douglas Stone drew
a bistoury from his case, opened it and felt the keen straight edge
with his forefinger. Then he held the lamp closer to the bed. Two
dark eyes were gazing up at him through the slit in the yashmak.
They were all iris, and the pupil was hardly to be seen.
"You have given her a very heavy dose of opium."
"Yes, she has had a good dose."
He glanced again at the dark eyes which looked straight at his
own. They were dull and lustreless, but, even as he gazed, a
little shifting sparkle came into them, and the lips quivered.
"She is not absolutely unconscious," said he.
"Would it not be well to use the knife while it will be
The same thought had crossed the surgeon's mind. He grasped
the wounded lip with his forceps, and with two swift cuts he took
out a broad V-shaped piece. The woman sprang up on the couch with
a dreadful gurgling scream. Her covering was torn from her face.
It was a face that he knew. In spite of that protruding upper lip
and that slobber of blood, it was a face that he knew, She kept on
putting her hand up to the gap and screaming. Douglas Stone sat
down at the foot of the couch with his knife and his forceps. The
room was whirling round, and he had felt something go like a
ripping seam behind his ear. A bystander would have said that his
face was the more ghastly of the two. As in a dream, or as if he
had been looking at something at the play, he was conscious that
the Turk's hair and beard lay upon the table, and that Lord Sannox
was leaning against the wall with his hand to his side, laughing
silently. The screams had died away now, and the dreadful head had
dropped back again upon the pillow, but Douglas Stone still sat
motionless, and Lord Sannox still chuckled quietly to himself.
"It was really very necessary for Marion, this operation," said
he, "not physically, but morally, you know, morally."
Douglas Stone stooped for yards and began to play with the
fringe of the coverlet. His knife tinkled down upon the ground,
but he still held the forceps and something more.
"I had long intended to make a little example," said Lord
Sannox, suavely. "Your note of Wednesday miscarried, and I have it
here in my pocket-book. I took some pains in carrying out my idea.
The wound, by the way, was from nothing more dangerous than my
He glanced keenly at his silent companion, and cocked the small
revolver which he held in his coat pocket. But Douglas Stone was
still picking at the coverlet.
"You see you have kept your appointment after all," said Lord
And at that Douglas Stone began to laugh. He laughed long and
loudly. But Lord Sannox did not laugh now. Something like fear
sharpened and hardened his features. He walked from the room, and
he walked on tiptoe. The old woman was waiting outside.
"Attend to your mistress when she awakes," said Lord Sannox.
Then he went down to the street. The cab was at the door, and
the driver raised his hand to his hat.
"John," said Lord Sannox, "you will take the doctor home first.
He will want leading downstairs, I think. Tell his butler that he
has been taken ill at a case."
"Very good, sir."
"Then you can take Lady Sannox home."
"And how about yourself, sir?"
"Oh, my address for the next few months will be Hotel di Roma,
Venice. Just see that the letters are sent on. And tell Stevens
to exhibit all the purple chrysanthemums next Monday, and to wire
me the result."
The Terror of Blue John Gap
The following narrative was found among the papers of Dr. James
Hardcastle, who died of phthisis on February 4th, 1908, at 36,
Upper Coventry Flats, South Kensington. Those who knew him best,
while refusing to express an opinion upon this particular
statement, are unanimous in asserting that he was a man of a sober
and scientific turn of mind, absolutely devoid of imagination, and
most unlikely to invent any abnormal series of events. The paper
was contained in an envelope, which was docketed, "A Short Account
of the Circumstances which occurred near Miss Allerton's Farm in
North-West Derbyshire in the Spring of Last Year." The envelope
was sealed, and on the other side was written in pencil--
"It may interest, and perhaps pain you, to know that the
incredulity with which you met my story has prevented me from ever
opening my mouth upon the subject again. I leave this record after
my death, and perhaps strangers may be found to have more
confidence in me than my friend."
Inquiry has failed to elicit who this Seaton may have been. I
may add that the visit of the deceased to Allerton's Farm, and the
general nature of the alarm there, apart from his particular
explanation, have been absolutely established. With this foreword
I append his account exactly as he left it. It is in the form of
a diary, some entries in which have been expanded, while a few have
April 17.--Already I feel the benefit of this wonderful
upland air. The farm of the Allertons lies fourteen hundred and
twenty feet above sea-level, so it may well be a bracing climate.
Beyond the usual morning cough I have very little discomfort, and,
what with the fresh milk and the home-grown mutton, I have
every chance of putting on weight. I think Saunderson will be
The two Miss Allertons are charmingly quaint and kind, two dear
little hard-working old maids, who are ready to lavish all the
heart which might have gone out to husband and to children upon an
invalid stranger. Truly, the old maid is a most useful person, one
of the reserve forces of the community. They talk of the
superfluous woman, but what would the poor superfluous man do
without her kindly presence? By the way, in their simplicity they
very quickly let out the reason why Saunderson recommended their
farm. The Professor rose from the ranks himself, and I believe
that in his youth he was not above scaring crows in these very
It is a most lonely spot, and the walks are picturesque in the
extreme. The farm consists of grazing land lying at the bottom of
an irregular valley. On each side are the fantastic limestone
hills, formed of rock so soft that you can break it away with your
hands. All this country is hollow. Could you strike it with some
gigantic hammer it would boom like a drum, or possibly cave in
altogether and expose some huge subterranean sea. A great sea
there must surely be, for on all sides the streams run into the
mountain itself, never to reappear. There are gaps everywhere amid
the rocks, and when you pass through them you find yourself in
great caverns, which wind down into the bowels of the earth. I
have a small bicycle lamp, and it is a perpetual joy to me to carry
it into these weird solitudes, and to see the wonderful silver and
black effect when I throw its light upon the stalactites which
drape the lofty roofs. Shut off the lamp, and you are in the
blackest darkness. Turn it on, and it is a scene from the Arabian
But there is one of these strange openings in the earth which
has a special interest, for it is the handiwork, not of nature, but
of man. I had never heard of Blue John when I came to these parts.
It is the name given to a peculiar mineral of a beautiful purple
shade, which is only found at one or two places in the world. It
is so rare that an ordinary vase of Blue John would be valued at a
great price. The Romans, with that extraordinary instinct of
theirs, discovered that it was to be found in this valley, and sank
a horizontal shaft deep into the mountain side. The opening of
their mine has been called Blue John Gap, a clean-cut arch in
the rock, the mouth all overgrown with bushes. It is a goodly
passage which the Roman miners have cut, and it intersects some of
the great water-worn caves, so that if you enter Blue John Gap you
would do well to mark your steps and to have a good store of
candles, or you may never make your way back to the daylight again.
I have not yet gone deeply into it, but this very day I stood at
the mouth of the arched tunnel, and peering down into the black
recesses beyond, I vowed that when my health returned I would
devote some holiday to exploring those mysterious depths and
finding out for myself how far the Roman had penetrated into the
Strange how superstitious these countrymen are! I should have
thought better of young Armitage, for he is a man of some education
and character, and a very fine fellow for his station in life. I
was standing at the Blue John Gap when he came across the field to
"Well, doctor," said he, "you're not afraid, anyhow."
"Afraid!" I answered. "Afraid of what?"
"Of it," said he, with a jerk of his thumb towards the black
vault, "of the Terror that lives in the Blue John Cave."
How absurdly easy it is for a legend to arise in a lonely
countryside! I examined him as to the reasons for his weird
belief. It seems that from time to time sheep have been missing
from the fields, carried bodily away, according to Armitage. That
they could have wandered away of their own accord and disappeared
among the mountains was an explanation to which he would not
listen. On one occasion a pool of blood had been found, and some
tufts of wool. That also, I pointed out, could be explained in a
perfectly natural way. Further, the nights upon which sheep
disappeared were invariably very dark, cloudy nights with no moon.
This I met with the obvious retort that those were the nights which
a commonplace sheep-stealer would naturally choose for his work.
On one occasion a gap had been made in a wall, and some of
the stones scattered for a considerable distance. Human agency
again, in my opinion. Finally, Armitage clinched all his arguments
by telling me that he had actually heard the Creature--indeed, that
anyone could hear it who remained long enough at the Gap. It was
a distant roaring of an immense volume. I could not but smile
at this, knowing, as I do, the strange reverberations which come
out of an underground water system running amid the chasms of a
limestone formation. My incredulity annoyed Armitage so that he
turned and left me with some abruptness.
And now comes the queer point about the whole business. I was
still standing near the mouth of the cave turning over in my mind
the various statements of Armitage, and reflecting how readily they
could be explained away, when suddenly, from the depth of the
tunnel beside me, there issued a most extraordinary sound. How
shall I describe it? First of all, it seemed to be a great
distance away, far down in the bowels of the earth. Secondly, in
spite of this suggestion of distance, it was very loud. Lastly, it
was not a boom, nor a crash, such as one would associate with
falling water or tumbling rock, but it was a high whine, tremulous
and vibrating, almost like the whinnying of a horse. It was
certainly a most remarkable experience, and one which for a moment,
I must admit, gave a new significance to Armitage's words. I
waited by the Blue John Gap for half an hour or more, but there was
no return of the sound, so at last I wandered back to the
farmhouse, rather mystified by what had occurred. Decidedly I
shall explore that cavern when my strength is restored. Of course,
Armitage's explanation is too absurd for discussion, and yet that
sound was certainly very strange. It still rings in my ears as I
April 20.--In the last three days I have made several
expeditions to the Blue John Gap, and have even penetrated some
short distance, but my bicycle lantern is so small and weak that I
dare not trust myself very far. I shall do the thing more
systematically. I have heard no sound at all, and could almost
believe that I had been the victim of some hallucination suggested,
perhaps, by Armitage's conversation. Of course, the whole idea is
absurd, and yet I must confess that those bushes at the entrance of
the cave do present an appearance as if some heavy creature had
forced its way through them. I begin to be keenly interested. I
have said nothing to the Miss Allertons, for they are quite
superstitious enough already, but I have bought some candles, and
mean to investigate for myself.
I observed this morning that among the numerous tufts of
sheep's wool which lay among the bushes near the cavern there
was one which was smeared with blood. Of course, my reason tells
me that if sheep wander into such rocky places they are likely to
injure themselves, and yet somehow that splash of crimson gave me
a sudden shock, and for a moment I found myself shrinking back in
horror from the old Roman arch. A fetid breath seemed to ooze from
the black depths into which I peered. Could it indeed be possible
that some nameless thing, some dreadful presence, was lurking down
yonder? I should have been incapable of such feelings in the days
of my strength, but one grows more nervous and fanciful when one's
health is shaken.
For the moment I weakened in my resolution, and was ready to
leave the secret of the old mine, if one exists, for ever unsolved.
But tonight my interest has returned and my nerves grown more
steady. Tomorrow I trust that I shall have gone more deeply into
April 22.--Let me try and set down as accurately as I can
my extraordinary experience of yesterday. I started in the
afternoon, and made my way to the Blue John Gap. I confess that my
misgivings returned as I gazed into its depths, and I wished that
I had brought a companion to share my exploration. Finally, with
a return of resolution, I lit my candle, pushed my way through the
briars, and descended into the rocky shaft.
It went down at an acute angle for some fifty feet, the floor
being covered with broken stone. Thence there extended a long,
straight passage cut in the solid rock. I am no geologist, but the
lining of this corridor was certainly of some harder material than
limestone, for there were points where I could actually see the
tool-marks which the old miners had left in their excavation, as
fresh as if they had been done yesterday. Down this strange, old-world
corridor I stumbled, my feeble flame throwing a dim circle of
light around me, which made the shadows beyond the more threatening
and obscure. Finally, I came to a spot where the Roman tunnel
opened into a water-worn cavern--a huge hall, hung with long white
icicles of lime deposit. From this central chamber I could dimly
perceive that a number of passages worn by the subterranean streams
wound away into the depths of the earth. I was standing there
wondering whether I had better return, or whether I dare venture
farther into this dangerous labyrinth, when my eyes fell upon
something at my feet which strongly arrested my attention.
The greater part of the floor of the cavern was covered with
boulders of rock or with hard incrustations of lime, but at this
particular point there had been a drip from the distant roof, which
had left a patch of soft mud. In the very centre of this there was
a huge mark--an ill-defined blotch, deep, broad and irregular, as
if a great boulder had fallen upon it. No loose stone lay near,
however, nor was there anything to account for the impression. It
was far too large to be caused by any possible animal, and besides,
there was only the one, and the patch of mud was of such a size
that no reasonable stride could have covered it. As I rose from
the examination of that singular mark and then looked round into
the black shadows which hemmed me in, I must confess that I felt
for a moment a most unpleasant sinking of my heart, and that, do
what I could, the candle trembled in my outstretched hand.
I soon recovered my nerve, however, when I reflected how absurd
it was to associate so huge and shapeless a mark with the track of
any known animal. Even an elephant could not have produced it. I
determined, therefore, that I would not be scared by vague and
senseless fears from carrying out my exploration. Before
proceeding, I took good note of a curious rock formation in the
wall by which I could recognize the entrance of the Roman tunnel.
The precaution was very necessary, for the great cave, so far as I
could see it, was intersected by passages. Having made sure of my
position, and reassured myself by examining my spare candles and my
matches, I advanced slowly over the rocky and uneven surface of the
And now I come to the point where I met with such sudden and
desperate disaster. A stream, some twenty feet broad, ran across
my path, and I walked for some little distance along the bank to
find a spot where I could cross dry-shod. Finally, I came to a
place where a single flat boulder lay near the centre, which I
could reach in a stride. As it chanced, however, the rock had been
cut away and made top-heavy by the rush of the stream, so that
it tilted over as I landed on it and shot me into the ice-cold
water. My candle went out, and I found myself floundering about in
utter and absolute darkness.
I staggered to my feet again, more amused than alarmed by my
adventure. The candle had fallen from my hand, and was lost in the
stream, but I had two others in my pocket, so that it was of no
importance. I got one of them ready, and drew out my box of
matches to light it. Only then did I realize my position. The box
had been soaked in my fall into the river. It was impossible to
strike the matches.
A cold hand seemed to close round my heart as I realized my
position. The darkness was opaque and horrible. It was so utter
one put one's hand up to one's face as if to press off something
solid. I stood still, and by an effort I steadied myself. I tried
to reconstruct in my mind a map of the floor of the cavern as I had
last seen it. Alas! the bearings which had impressed themselves
upon my mind were high on the wall, and not to be found by touch.
Still, I remembered in a general way how the sides were situated,
and I hoped that by groping my way along them I should at last come
to the opening of the Roman tunnel. Moving very slowly, and
continually striking against the rocks, I set out on this desperate
But I very soon realized how impossible it was. In that black,
velvety darkness one lost all one's bearings in an instant. Before
I had made a dozen paces, I was utterly bewildered as to my
whereabouts. The rippling of the stream, which was the one sound
audible, showed me where it lay, but the moment that I left its
bank I was utterly lost. The idea of finding my way back in
absolute darkness through that limestone labyrinth was clearly an
I sat down upon a boulder and reflected upon my unfortunate
plight. I had not told anyone that I proposed to come to the Blue
John mine, and it was unlikely that a search party would come after
me. Therefore I must trust to my own resources to get clear of the
danger. There was only one hope, and that was that the matches
might dry. When I fell into the river, only half of me had got
thoroughly wet. My left shoulder had remained above the water. I
took the box of matches, therefore, and put it into my left armpit.
The moist air of the cavern might possibly be counteracted by
the heat of my body, but even so, I knew that I could not hope to
get a light for many hours. Meanwhile there was nothing for it but
By good luck I had slipped several biscuits into my pocket
before I left the farm-house. These I now devoured, and washed
them down with a draught from that wretched stream which had been
the cause of all my misfortunes. Then I felt about for a
comfortable seat among the rocks, and, having discovered a place
where I could get a support for my back, I stretched out my legs
and settled myself down to wait. I was wretchedly damp and cold,
but I tried to cheer myself with the reflection that modern science
prescribed open windows and walks in all weather for my disease.
Gradually, lulled by the monotonous gurgle of the stream, and by
the absolute darkness, I sank into an uneasy slumber.
How long this lasted I cannot say. It may have been for an
hour, it may have been for several. Suddenly I sat up on my rock
couch, with every nerve thrilling and every sense acutely on the
alert. Beyond all doubt I had heard a sound--some sound very
distinct from the gurgling of the waters. It had passed, but the
reverberation of it still lingered in my ear. Was it a search
party? They would most certainly have shouted, and vague as this
sound was which had wakened me, it was very distinct from the human
voice. I sat palpitating and hardly daring to breathe. There it
was again! And again! Now it had become continuous. It was a
tread--yes, surely it was the tread of some living creature.
But what a tread it was! It gave one the impression of enormous
weight carried upon sponge-like feet, which gave forth a muffled
but ear-filling sound. The darkness was as complete as ever, but
the tread was regular and decisive. And it was coming beyond all
question in my direction.
My skin grew cold, and my hair stood on end as I listened to
that steady and ponderous footfall. There was some creature there,
and surely by the speed of its advance, it was one which could see
in the dark. I crouched low on my rock and tried to blend myself
into it. The steps grew nearer still, then stopped, and presently
I was aware of a loud lapping and gurgling. The creature was
drinking at the stream. Then again there was silence, broken by a
succession of long sniffs and snorts of tremendous volume and
energy. Had it caught the scent of me? My own nostrils were
filled by a low fetid odour, mephitic and abominable. Then I heard
the steps again. They were on my side of the stream now. The
stones rattled within a few yards of where I lay. Hardly daring to
breathe, I crouched upon my rock. Then the steps drew away. I
heard the splash as it returned across the river, and the sound
died away into the distance in the direction from which it had
For a long time I lay upon the rock, too much horrified to
move. I thought of the sound which I had heard coming from the
depths of the cave, of Armitage's fears, of the strange impression
in the mud, and now came this final and absolute proof that there
was indeed some inconceivable monster, something utterly unearthly
and dreadful, which lurked in the hollow of the mountain. Of its
nature or form I could frame no conception, save that it was both
light-footed and gigantic. The combat between my reason, which
told me that such things could not be, and my senses, which told me
that they were, raged within me as I lay. Finally, I was almost
ready to persuade myself that this experience had been part of some
evil dream, and that my abnormal condition might have conjured up
an hallucination. But there remained one final experience which
removed the last possibility of doubt from my mind.
I had taken my matches from my armpit and felt them. They
seemed perfectly hard and dry. Stooping down into a crevice of the
rocks, I tried one of them. To my delight it took fire at once.
I lit the candle, and, with a terrified backward glance into the
obscure depths of the cavern, I hurried in the direction of the
Roman passage. As I did so I passed the patch of mud on which I
had seen the huge imprint. Now I stood astonished before it, for
there were three similar imprints upon its surface, enormous in
size, irregular in outline, of a depth which indicated the
ponderous weight which had left them. Then a great terror surged
over me. Stooping and shading my candle with my hand, I ran in a
frenzy of fear to the rocky archway, hastened up it, and never
stopped until, with weary feet and panting lungs, I rushed up the
final slope of stones, broke through the tangle of briars, and
flung myself exhausted upon the soft grass under the peaceful light
of the stars. It was three in the morning when I reached the farm-house,
and today I am all unstrung and quivering after my
terrific adventure. As yet I have told no one. I must move warily
in the matter. What would the poor lonely women, or the uneducated
yokels here think of it if I were to tell them my experience? Let
me go to someone who can understand and advise.
April 25.--I was laid up in bed for two days after my
incredible adventure in the cavern. I use the adjective with a
very definite meaning, for I have had an experience since which has
shocked me almost as much as the other. I have said that I was
looking round for someone who could advise me. There is a Dr. Mark
Johnson who practices some few miles away, to whom I had a note of
recommendation from Professor Saunderson. To him I drove,
when I was strong enough to get about, and I recounted to him my
whole strange experience. He listened intently, and then carefully
examined me, paying special attention to my reflexes and to the
pupils of my eyes. When he had finished, he refused to discuss my
adventure, saying that it was entirely beyond him, but he gave me
the card of a Mr. Picton at Castleton, with the advice that I
should instantly go to him and tell him the story exactly as I had
done to himself. He was, according to my adviser, the very man who
was pre-eminently suited to help me. I went on to the station,
therefore, and made my way to the little town, which is some ten
miles away. Mr. Picton appeared to be a man of importance, as his
brass plate was displayed upon the door of a considerable building
on the outskirts of the town. I was about to ring his bell, when
some misgiving came into my mind, and, crossing to a neighbouring
shop, I asked the man behind the counter if he could tell me
anything of Mr. Picton. "Why," said he, "he is the best mad doctor
in Derbyshire, and yonder is his asylum." You can imagine that it
was not long before I had shaken the dust of Castleton from my feet
and returned to the farm, cursing all unimaginative pedants who
cannot conceive that there may be things in creation which have
never yet chanced to come across their mole's vision. After all,
now that I am cooler, I can afford to admit that I have been no
more sympathetic to Armitage than Dr. Johnson has been to me.
April 27. When I was a student I had the reputation of
being a man of courage and enterprise. I remember that when there
was a ghost-hunt at Coltbridge it was I who sat up in the
haunted house. Is it advancing years (after all, I am only thirty-five),
or is it this physical malady which has caused degeneration?
Certainly my heart quails when I think of that horrible cavern in
the hill, and the certainty that it has some monstrous occupant.
What shall I do? There is not an hour in the day that I do not
debate the question. If I say nothing, then the mystery remains
unsolved. If I do say anything, then I have the alternative of mad
alarm over the whole countryside, or of absolute incredulity which
may end in consigning me to an asylum. On the whole, I think that
my best course is to wait, and to prepare for some expedition which
shall be more deliberate and better thought out than the last. As
a first step I have been to Castleton and obtained a few
essentials--a large acetylene lantern for one thing, and a good
double-barrelled sporting rifle for another. The latter I have
hired, but I have bought a dozen heavy game cartridges, which would
bring down a rhinoceros. Now I am ready for my troglodyte friend.
Give me better health and a little spate of energy, and I shall try
conclusions with him yet. But who and what is he? Ah! there is
the question which stands between me and my sleep. How many
theories do I form, only to discard each in turn! It is all so
utterly unthinkable. And yet the cry, the footmark, the tread in
the cavern--no reasoning can get past these I think of the old-world
legends of dragons and of other monsters. Were they,
perhaps, not such fairy-tales as we have thought? Can it be that
there is some fact which underlies them, and am I, of all mortals,
the one who is chosen to expose it?
May 3.--For several days I have been laid up by the vagaries of an
English spring, and during those days there have been developments, the
true and sinister meaning of which no one can appreciate save myself. I
may say that we have had cloudy and moonless nights of late, which
according to my information were the seasons upon which sheep
disappeared. Well, sheep have disappeared. Two of Miss Allerton's, one
of old Pearson's of the Cat Walk, and one of Mrs. Moulton's. Four in all
during three nights. No trace is left of them at all, and the
countryside is buzzing with rumours of gipsies and of sheep-stealers.
But there is something more serious than that. Young Armitage
has disappeared also. He left his moorland cottage early on
Wednesday night and has never been heard of since. He was an
unattached man, so there is less sensation than would otherwise be
the case. The popular explanation is that he owes money, and has
found a situation in some other part of the country, whence he will
presently write for his belongings. But I have grave misgivings.
Is it not much more likely that the recent tragedy of the sheep has
caused him to take some steps which may have ended in his own
destruction? He may, for example, have lain in wait for the
creature and been carried off by it into the recesses of the
mountains. What an inconceivable fate for a civilized Englishman
of the twentieth century! And yet I feel that it is possible and
even probable. But in that case, how far am I answerable both for
his death and for any other mishap which may occur? Surely with
the knowledge I already possess it must be my duty to see that
something is done, or if necessary to do it myself. It must be the
latter, for this morning I went down to the local police-station
and told my story. The inspector entered it all in a large book
and bowed me out with commendable gravity, but I heard a burst of
laughter before I had got down his garden path. No doubt he was
recounting my adventure to his family.
June 10.--I am writing this, propped up in bed, six weeks
after my last entry in this journal. I have gone through a
terrible shock both to mind and body, arising from such an
experience as has seldom befallen a human being before. But I have
attained my end. The danger from the Terror which dwells in the
Blue John Gap has passed never to return. Thus much at least I, a
broken invalid, have done for the common good. Let me now recount
what occurred as clearly as I may.
The night of Friday, May 3rd, was dark and cloudy--the very
night for the monster to walk. About eleven o'clock I went from
the farm-house with my lantern and my rifle, having first left a
note upon the table of my bedroom in which I said that, if I were
missing, search should be made for me in the direction of the Gap.
I made my way to the mouth of the Roman shaft, and, having perched
myself among the rocks close to the opening, I shut off my lantern
and waited patiently with my loaded rifle ready to my hand.
It was a melancholy vigil. All down the winding valley I could
see the scattered lights of the farm-houses, and the church clock
of Chapel-le-Dale tolling the hours came faintly to my ears.
These tokens of my fellow-men served only to make my own position
seem the more lonely, and to call for a greater effort to overcome
the terror which tempted me continually to get back to the farm,
and abandon for ever this dangerous quest. And yet there lies deep
in every man a rooted self-respect which makes it hard for him to
turn back from that which he has once undertaken. This feeling of
personal pride was my salvation now, and it was that alone which
held me fast when every instinct of my nature was dragging me away.
I am glad now that I had the strength. In spite of all that is has
cost me, my manhood is at least above reproach.
Twelve o'clock struck in the distant church, then one, then
two. It was the darkest hour of the night. The clouds were
drifting low, and there was not a star in the sky. An owl was
hooting somewhere among the rocks, but no other sound, save the
gentle sough of the wind, came to my ears. And then suddenly I
heard it! From far away down the tunnel came those muffled steps,
so soft and yet so ponderous. I heard also the rattle of stones as
they gave way under that giant tread. They drew nearer. They were
close upon me. I heard the crashing of the bushes round the
entrance, and then dimly through the darkness I was conscious of
the loom of some enormous shape, some monstrous inchoate creature,
passing swiftly and very silently out from the tunnel. I was
paralysed with fear and amazement. Long as I had waited, now that
it had actually come I was unprepared for the shock. I lay
motionless and breathless, whilst the great dark mass whisked by me
and was swallowed up in the night.
But now I nerved myself for its return. No sound came from the
sleeping countryside to tell of the horror which was loose. In no
way could I judge how far off it was, what it was doing, or when it
might be back. But not a second time should my nerve fail me, not
a second time should it pass unchallenged. I swore it between my
clenched teeth as I laid my cocked rifle across the rock.
And yet it nearly happened. There was no warning of approach
now as the creature passed over the grass. Suddenly, like a dark,
drifting shadow, the huge bulk loomed up once more before me,
making for the entrance of the cave. Again came that paralysis of
volition which held my crooked forefinger impotent upon the
trigger. But with a desperate effort I shook it off. Even as the
brushwood rustled, and the monstrous beast blended with the shadow
of the Gap, I fired at the retreating form. In the blaze of the
gun I caught a glimpse of a great shaggy mass, something with rough
and bristling hair of a withered grey colour, fading away to white
in its lower parts, the huge body supported upon short, thick,
curving legs. I had just that glance, and then I heard the rattle
of the stones as the creature tore down into its burrow. In an
instant, with a triumphant revulsion of feeling, I had cast my
fears to the wind, and uncovering my powerful lantern, with my
rifle in my hand, I sprang down from my rock and rushed after the
monster down the old Roman shaft.
My splendid lamp cast a brilliant flood of vivid light in front
of me, very different from the yellow glimmer which had aided me
down the same passage only twelve days before. As I ran, I saw the
great beast lurching along before me, its huge bulk filling up the
whole space from wall to wall. Its hair looked like coarse faded
oakum, and hung down in long, dense masses which swayed as it
moved. It was like an enormous unclipped sheep in its fleece, but
in size it was far larger than the largest elephant, and its
breadth seemed to be nearly as great as its height. It fills me
with amazement now to think that I should have dared to follow such
a horror into the bowels of the earth, but when one's blood is up,
and when one's quarry seems to be flying, the old primeval hunting-spirit
awakes and prudence is cast to the wind. Rifle in hand, I
ran at the top of my speed upon the trail of the monster.
I had seen that the creature was swift. Now I was to find out
to my cost that it was also very cunning. I had imagined that it
was in panic flight, and that I had only to pursue it. The idea
that it might turn upon me never entered my excited brain. I have
already explained that the passage down which I was racing opened
into a great central cave. Into this I rushed, fearful lest I
should lose all trace of the beast. But he had turned upon his own
traces, and in a moment we were face to face.
That picture, seen in the brilliant white light of the lantern,
is etched for ever upon my brain. He had reared up on his hind
legs as a bear would do, and stood above me, enormous, menacing--such
a creature as no nightmare had ever brought to my imagination.
I have said that he reared like a bear, and there was something
bear-like--if one could conceive a bear which was ten-fold the bulk
of any bear seen upon earth--in his whole pose and attitude, in his
great crooked forelegs with their ivory-white claws, in his rugged
skin, and in his red, gaping mouth, fringed with monstrous fangs.
Only in one point did he differ from the bear, or from any other
creature which walks the earth, and even at that supreme moment a
shudder of horror passed over me as I observed that the eyes which
glistened in the glow of my lantern were huge, projecting bulbs,
white and sightless. For a moment his great paws swung over my
head. The next he fell forward upon me, I and my broken lantern
crashed to the earth, and I remember no more.
When I came to myself I was back in the farm-house of the
Allertons. Two days had passed since my terrible adventure in the
Blue John Gap. It seems that I had lain all night in the cave
insensible from concussion of the brain, with my left arm and two
ribs badly fractured. In the morning my note had been found, a
search party of a dozen farmers assembled, and I had been tracked
down and carried back to my bedroom, where I had lain in high
delirium ever since. There was, it seems, no sign of the creature,
and no bloodstain which would show that my bullet had found him as
he passed. Save for my own plight and the marks upon the mud,
there was nothing to prove that what I said was true.
Six weeks have now elapsed, and I am able to sit out once more
in the sunshine. Just opposite me is the steep hillside, grey with
shaly rock, and yonder on its flank is the dark cleft which marks
the opening of the Blue John Gap. But it is no longer a source of
terror. Never again through that ill-omened tunnel shall any
strange shape flit out into the world of men. The educated and the
scientific, the Dr. Johnsons and the like, may smile at my
narrative, but the poorer folk of the countryside had never a doubt
as to its truth. On the day after my recovering consciousness
they assembled in their hundreds round the Blue John Gap. As the
Castleton Courier said:
"It was useless for our correspondent, or for any of the
adventurous gentlemen who had come from Matlock, Buxton, and other
parts, to offer to descend, to explore the cave to the end, and to
finally test the extraordinary narrative of Dr. James Hardcastle.
The country people had taken the matter into their own hands, and
from an early hour of the morning they had worked hard in stopping
up the entrance of the tunnel. There is a sharp slope where the
shaft begins, and great boulders, rolled along by many willing
hands, were thrust down it until the Gap was absolutely sealed. So
ends the episode which has caused such excitement throughout the
country. Local opinion is fiercely divided upon the subject. On
the one hand are those who point to Dr. Hardcastle's impaired
health, and to the possibility of cerebral lesions of tubercular
origin giving rise to strange hallucinations. Some idee fixe,
according to these gentlemen, caused the doctor to wander down the
tunnel, and a fall among the rocks was sufficient to account for
his injuries. On the other hand, a legend of a strange creature in
the Gap has existed for some months back, and the farmers look upon
Dr. Hardcastle's narrative and his personal injuries as a final
corroboration. So the matter stands, and so the matter will
continue to stand, for no definite solution seems to us to be now
possible. It transcends human wit to give any scientific
explanation which could cover the alleged facts."
Perhaps before the Courier published these words they would
have been wise to send their representative to me. I have thought
the matter out, as no one else has occasion to do, and it is
possible that I might have removed some of the more obvious
difficulties of the narrative and brought it one degree nearer to
scientific acceptance. Let me then write down the only explanation
which seems to me to elucidate what I know to my cost to have been
a series of facts. My theory may seem to be wildly improbable, but
at least no one can venture to say that it is impossible.
My view is--and it was formed, as is shown by my diary, before
my personal adventure--that in this part of England there is a
vast subterranean lake or sea, which is fed by the great number of
streams which pass down through the limestone. Where there is a
large collection of water there must also be some evaporation,
mists or rain, and a possibility of vegetation. This in turn
suggests that there may be animal life, arising, as the vegetable
life would also do, from those seeds and types which had been
introduced at an early period of the world's history, when
communication with the outer air was more easy. This place had
then developed a fauna and flora of its own, including such
monsters as the one which I had seen, which may well have been the
old cave-bear, enormously enlarged and modified by its new
environment. For countless aeons the internal and the external
creation had kept apart, growing steadily away from each other.
Then there had come some rift in the depths of the mountain which
had enabled one creature to wander up and, by means of the Roman
tunnel, to reach the open air. Like all subterranean life, it had
lost the power of sight, but this had no doubt been compensated for
by nature in other directions. Certainly it had some means of
finding its way about, and of hunting down the sheep upon the
hillside. As to its choice of dark nights, it is part of my theory
that light was painful to those great white eyeballs, and that it
was only a pitch-black world which it could tolerate. Perhaps,
indeed, it was the glare of my lantern which saved my life at that
awful moment when we were face to face. So I read the riddle. I
leave these facts behind me, and if you can explain them, do so; or
if you choose to doubt them, do so. Neither your belief nor your
incredulity can alter them, nor affect one whose task is nearly
So ended the strange narrative of Dr. James Hardcastle.
The Brazilian Cat
It is hard luck on a young fellow to have expensive tastes, great
expectations, aristocratic connections, but no actual money in
his pocket, and no profession by which he may earn any. The fact
was that my father, a good, sanguine, easy-going man, had such
confidence in the wealth and benevolence of his bachelor elder
brother, Lord Southerton, that he took it for granted that I, his
only son, would never be called upon to earn a living for myself.
He imagined that if there were not a vacancy for me on the great
Southerton Estates, at least there would be found some post in
that diplomatic service which still remains the special preserve
of our privileged classes. He died too early to realize how
false his calculations had been. Neither my uncle nor the State
took the slightest notice of me, or showed any interest in my
career. An occasional brace of pheasants, or basket of hares,
was all that ever reached me to remind me that I was heir to
Otwell House and one of the richest estates in the country. In
the meantime, I found myself a bachelor and man about town,
living in a suite of apartments in Grosvenor Mansions, with no
occupation save that of pigeon-shooting and polo-playing at
Hurlingham. Month by month I realized that it was more and more
difficult to get the brokers to renew my bills, or to cash any
further post-obits upon an unentailed property. Ruin lay right
across my path, and every day I saw it clearer, nearer, and more
What made me feel my own poverty the more was that, apart from
the great wealth of Lord Southerton, all my other relations were
fairly well-to-do. The nearest of these was Everard King, my
father's nephew and my own first cousin, who had spent an
adventurous life in Brazil, and had now returned to this country to
settle down on his fortune. We never knew how he made his money,
but he appeared to have plenty of it, for he bought the estate of
Greylands, near Clipton-on-the-Marsh, in Suffolk. For the
first year of his residence in England he took no more notice of me
than my miserly uncle; but at last one summer morning, to my very
great relief and joy, I received a letter asking me to come down
that very day and spend a short visit at Greylands Court. I was
expecting a rather long visit to Bankruptcy Court at the time, and
this interruption seemed almost providential. If I could only get
on terms with this unknown relative of mine, I might pull through
yet. For the family credit he could not let me go entirely to the
wall. I ordered my valet to pack my valise, and I set off the same
evening for Clipton-on-the-Marsh.
After changing at Ipswich, a little local train deposited me at
a small, deserted station lying amidst a rolling grassy country,
with a sluggish and winding river curving in and out amidst the
valleys, between high, silted banks, which showed that we were
within reach of the tide. No carriage was awaiting me (I found
afterwards that my telegram had been delayed), so I hired a dogcart
at the local inn. The driver, an excellent fellow, was full of my
relative's praises, and I learned from him that Mr. Everard King
was already a name to conjure with in that part of the county. He
had entertained the school-children, he had thrown his grounds open
to visitors, he had subscribed to charities--in short, his
benevolence had been so universal that my driver could only account
for it on the supposition that he had parliamentary ambitions.
My attention was drawn away from my driver's panegyric by the
appearance of a very beautiful bird which settled on a telegraph-post
beside the road. At first I thought that it was a jay, but it
was larger, with a brighter plumage. The driver accounted for its
presence at once by saying that it belonged to the very man whom we
were about to visit. It seems that the acclimatization of foreign
creatures was one of his hobbies, and that he had brought with him
from Brazil a number of birds and beasts which he was endeavouring
to rear in England. When once we had passed the gates of Greylands
Park we had ample evidence of this taste of his. Some small
spotted deer, a curious wild pig known, I believe, as a peccary, a
gorgeously feathered oriole, some sort of armadillo, and a singular
lumbering in-toed beast like a very fat badger, were among the
creatures which I observed as we drove along the winding avenue.
Mr. Everard King, my unknown cousin, was standing in person
upon the steps of his house, for he had seen us in the distance,
and guessed that it was I. His appearance was very homely and
benevolent, short and stout, forty-five years old, perhaps, with a
round, good-humoured face, burned brown with the tropical sun, and
shot with a thousand wrinkles. He wore white linen clothes, in
true planter style, with a cigar between his lips, and a large
Panama hat upon the back of his head. It was such a figure as one
associates with a verandahed bungalow, and it looked curiously out
of place in front of this broad, stone English mansion, with its
solid wings and its Palladio pillars before the doorway.
"My dear!" he cried, glancing over his shoulder; "my dear, here
is our guest! Welcome, welcome to Greylands! I am delighted to
make your acquaintance, Cousin Marshall, and I take it as a great
compliment that you should honour this sleepy little country place
with your presence."
Nothing could be more hearty than his manner, and he set me at
my ease in an instant. But it needed all his cordiality to atone
for the frigidity and even rudeness of his wife, a tall, haggard
woman, who came forward at his summons. She was, I believe, of
Brazilian extraction, though she spoke excellent English, and I
excused her manners on the score of her ignorance of our customs.
She did not attempt to conceal, however, either then or afterwards,
that I was no very welcome visitor at Greylands Court. Her actual
words were, as a rule, courteous, but she was the possessor of a
pair of particularly expressive dark eyes, and I read in them very
clearly from the first that she heartily wished me back in London
However, my debts were too pressing and my designs upon my wealthy
relative were too vital for me to allow them to be upset by the
ill-temper of his wife, so I disregarded her coldness and reciprocated
the extreme cordiality of his welcome. No pains had been spared by him
to make me comfortable. My room was a charming one. He implored me to
tell him anything which could add to my happiness. It was on the tip of
my tongue to inform him that a blank cheque would materially help
towards that end, but I felt that it might be premature in the present
state of our acquaintance. The dinner was excellent, and as we sat
together afterwards over his Havanas and coffee, which later he told me
was specially prepared upon his own plantation, it seemed to me that all
my driver's eulogies were justified, and that I had never met a more
large-hearted and hospitable man.
But, in spite of his cheery good nature, he was a man with a
strong will and a fiery temper of his own. Of this I had an
example upon the following morning. The curious aversion which
Mrs. Everard King had conceived towards me was so strong, that her
manner at breakfast was almost offensive. But her meaning became
unmistakable when her husband had quitted the room.
"The best train in the day is at twelve-fifteen," said she.
"But I was not thinking of going today," I answered, frankly--perhaps
even defiantly, for I was determined not to be driven out by this woman.
"Oh, if it rests with you--" said she, and stopped with a most
insolent expression in her eyes.
"I am sure," I answered, "that Mr. Everard King would tell me
if I were outstaying my welcome."
"What's this? What's this?" said a voice, and there he was in
the room. He had overheard my last words, and a glance at our
faces had told him the rest. In an instant his chubby, cheery face
set into an expression of absolute ferocity.
"Might I trouble you to walk outside, Marshall?" said he. (I
may mention that my own name is Marshall King.)
He closed the door behind me, and then, for an instant, I heard
him talking in a low voice of concentrated passion to his wife.
This gross breach of hospitality had evidently hit upon his
tenderest point. I am no eavesdropper, so I walked out on to the
lawn. Presently I heard a hurried step behind me, and there was
the lady, her face pale with excitement, and her eyes red with
"My husband has asked me to apologize to you, Mr. Marshall
King," said she, standing with downcast eyes before me.
"Please do not say another word, Mrs. King."
Her dark eyes suddenly blazed out at me.
"You fool!" she hissed, with frantic vehemence, and turning on
her heel swept back to the house.
The insult was so outrageous, so insufferable, that I could
only stand staring after her in bewilderment. I was still there
when my host joined me. He was his cheery, chubby self once more.
"I hope that my wife has apologized for her foolish remarks,"
"Oh, yes--yes, certainly!"
He put his hand through my arm and walked with me up and down
"You must not take it seriously," said he. "It would grieve me
inexpressibly if you curtailed your visit by one hour. The fact
is--there is no reason why there should be any concealment between
relatives--that my poor dear wife is incredibly jealous. She hates
that anyone--male or female--should for an instant come between us.
Her ideal is a desert island and an eternal tete-a-tete. That
gives you the clue to her actions, which are, I confess, upon this
particular point, not very far removed from mania. Tell me that
you will think no more of it."
"No, no; certainly not."
"Then light this cigar and come round with me and see my little
The whole afternoon was occupied by this inspection, which
included all the birds, beasts, and even reptiles which he had
imported. Some were free, some in cages, a few actually in the
house. He spoke with enthusiasm of his successes and his failures,
his births and his deaths, and he would cry out in his delight,
like a schoolboy, when, as we walked, some gaudy bird would flutter
up from the grass, or some curious beast slink into the cover.
Finally he led me down a corridor which extended from one wing of
the house. At the end of this there was a heavy door with a
sliding shutter in it, and beside it there projected from the wall
an iron handle attached to a wheel and a drum. A line of stout
bars extended across the passage.
"I am about to show you the jewel of my collection," said he.
"There is only one other specimen in Europe, now that the Rotterdam
cub is dead. It is a Brazilian cat."
"But how does that differ from any other cat?"
"You will soon see that," said he, laughing. "Will you kindly
draw that shutter and look through?"
I did so, and found that I was gazing into a large, empty room,
with stone flags, and small, barred windows upon the farther wall.
In the centre of this room, lying in the middle of a golden patch
of sunlight, there was stretched a huge creature, as large as a
tiger, but as black and sleek as ebony. It was simply a very
enormous and very well-kept black cat, and it cuddled up and basked
in that yellow pool of light exactly as a cat would do. It was so
graceful, so sinewy, and so gently and smoothly diabolical, that I
could not take my eyes from the opening.
"Isn't he splendid?" said my host, enthusiastically.
"Glorious! I never saw such a noble creature."
"Some people call it a black puma, but really it is not a puma
at all. That fellow is nearly eleven feet from tail to tip. Four
years ago he was a little ball of back fluff, with two yellow eyes
staring out of it. He was sold me as a new-born cub up in the wild
country at the head-waters of the Rio Negro. They speared his
mother to death after she had killed a dozen of them."
"They are ferocious, then?"
"The most absolutely treacherous and bloodthirsty creatures
upon earth. You talk about a Brazilian cat to an up-country
Indian, and see him get the jumps. They prefer humans to game.
This fellow has never tasted living blood yet, but when he does he
will be a terror. At present he won't stand anyone but me in his
den. Even Baldwin, the groom, dare not go near him. As to me, I
am his mother and father in one."
As he spoke he suddenly, to my astonishment, opened the door
and slipped in, closing it instantly behind him. At the sound of
his voice the huge, lithe creature rose, yawned and rubbed its
round, black head affectionately against his side, while he patted
and fondled it.
"Now, Tommy, into your cage!" said he.
The monstrous cat walked over to one side of the room and
coiled itself up under a grating. Everard King came out, and
taking the iron handle which I have mentioned, he began to turn it.
As he did so the line of bars in the corridor began to pass through
a slot in the wall and closed up the front of this grating, so as
to make an effective cage. When it was in position he opened the
door once more and invited me into the room, which was heavy with
the pungent, musty smell peculiar to the great carnivora.
"That's how we work it," said he. "We give him the run of the
room for exercise, and then at night we put him in his cage. You
can let him out by turning the handle from the passage, or you can,
as you have seen, coop him up in the same way. No, no, you should
not do that!"
I had put my hand between the bars to pat the glossy, heaving
flank. He pulled it back, with a serious face.
"I assure you that he is not safe. Don't imagine that because
I can take liberties with him anyone else can. He is very
exclusive in his friends--aren't you, Tommy? Ah, he hears his
lunch coming to him! Don't you, boy?"
A step sounded in the stone-flagged passage, and the creature
had sprung to his feet, and was pacing up and down the narrow cage,
his yellow eyes gleaming, and his scarlet tongue rippling and
quivering over the white line of his jagged teeth. A groom entered
with a coarse joint upon a tray, and thrust it through the bars to
him. He pounced lightly upon it, carried it off to the corner, and
there, holding it between his paws, tore and wrenched at it,
raising his bloody muzzle every now and then to look at us. It was
a malignant and yet fascinating sight.
"You can't wonder that I am fond of him, can you?" said my
host, as we left the room, "especially when you consider that I
have had the rearing of him. It was no joke bringing him over from
the centre of South America; but here he is safe and sound--and, as
I have said, far the most perfect specimen in Europe. The people
at the Zoo are dying to have him, but I really can't part with him.
Now, I think that I have inflicted my hobby upon you long enough,
so we cannot do better than follow Tommy's example, and go to our
My South American relative was so engrossed by his grounds and
their curious occupants, that I hardly gave him credit at first for
having any interests outside them. That he had some, and pressing
ones, was soon borne in upon me by the number of telegrams which he
received. They arrived at all hours, and were always opened by him
with the utmost eagerness and anxiety upon his face. Sometimes I
imagined that it must be the Turf, and sometimes the Stock
Exchange, but certainly he had some very urgent business going
forwards which was not transacted upon the Downs of Suffolk.
During the six days of my visit he had never fewer than three
or four telegrams a day, and sometimes as many as seven or eight.
I had occupied these six days so well, that by the end of them
I had succeeded in getting upon the most cordial terms with my
cousin. Every night we had sat up late in the billiard-room, he
telling me the most extraordinary stories of his adventures in
America--stories so desperate and reckless, that I could hardly
associate them with the brown little, chubby man before me. In
return, I ventured upon some of my own reminiscences of London
life, which interested him so much, that he vowed he would come up
to Grosvenor Mansions and stay with me. He was anxious to see the
faster side of city life, and certainly, though I say it, he could
not have chosen a more competent guide. It was not until the last
day of my visit that I ventured to approach that which was on my
mind. I told him frankly about my pecuniary difficulties and my
impending ruin, and I asked his advice--though I hoped for
something more solid. He listened attentively, puffing hard at his
"But surely," said he, "you are the heir of our relative, Lord
"I have every reason to believe so, but he would never make me
"No, no, I have heard of his miserly ways. My poor Marshall,
your position has been a very hard one. By the way, have you heard
any news of Lord Southerton's health lately?"
"He has always been in a critical condition ever since my
"Exactly--a creaking hinge, if ever there was one. Your
inheritance may be a long way off. Dear me, how awkwardly situated
"I had some hopes, sir, that you, knowing all the facts, might
be inclined to advance----"
"Don't say another word, my dear boy," he cried, with the
utmost cordiality; "we shall talk it over tonight, and I give you
my word that whatever is in my power shall be done."
I was not sorry that my visit was drawing to a close, for it is
unpleasant to feel that there is one person in the house who
eagerly desires your departure. Mrs. King's sallow face and
forbidding eyes had become more and more hateful to me. She was
no longer actively rude--her fear of her husband prevented
her--but she pushed her insane jealousy to the extent of ignoring
me, never addressing me, and in every way making my stay at
Greylands as uncomfortable as she could. So offensive was her
manner during that last day, that I should certainly have left had
it not been for that interview with my host in the evening which
would, I hoped, retrieve my broken fortunes.
It was very late when it occurred, for my relative, who had
been receiving even more telegrams than usual during the day, went
off to his study after dinner, and only emerged when the household
had retired to bed. I heard him go round locking the doors, as
custom was of a night, and finally he joined me in the billiard-room.
His stout figure was wrapped in a dressing-gown, and he wore
a pair of red Turkish slippers without any heels. Settling down
into an arm-chair, he brewed himself a glass of grog, in which I
could not help noticing that the whisky considerably predominated
over the water.
"My word!" said he, "what a night!"
It was, indeed. The wind was howling and screaming round the
house, and the latticed windows rattled and shook as if they were
coming in. The glow of the yellow lamps and the flavour of our
cigars seemed the brighter and more fragrant for the contrast.
"Now, my boy," said my host, "we have the house and the night
to ourselves. Let me have an idea of how your affairs stand, and
I will see what can be done to set them in order. I wish to hear
Thus encouraged, I entered into a long exposition, in which all
my tradesmen and creditors from my landlord to my valet, figured in
turn. I had notes in my pocket-book, and I marshalled my facts,
and gave, I flatter myself, a very businesslike statement of my own
unbusinesslike ways and lamentable position. I was depressed,
however, to notice that my companion's eyes were vacant and his
attention elsewhere. When he did occasionally throw out a remark
it was so entirely perfunctory and pointless, that I was sure he
had not in the least followed my remarks. Every now and then he
roused himself and put on some show of interest, asking me to
repeat or to explain more fully, but it was always to sink once
more into the same brown study. At last he rose and threw the end
of his cigar into the grate.
"I'll tell you what, my boy," said he. "I never had a head for
figures, so you will excuse me. You must jot it all down upon
paper, and let me have a note of the amount. I'll understand it
when I see it in black and white."
The proposal was encouraging. I promised to do so.
"And now it's time we were in bed. By Jove, there's one
o'clock striking in the hall."
The tingling of the chiming clock broke through the deep roar
of the gale. The wind was sweeping past with the rush of a great
"I must see my cat before I go to bed," said my host. "A high
wind excites him. Will you come?"
"Certainly," said I.
"Then tread softly and don't speak, for everyone is asleep."
We passed quietly down the lamp-lit Persian-rugged hall, and
through the door at the farther end. All was dark in the stone
corridor, but a stable lantern hung on a hook, and my host took it
down and lit it. There was no grating visible in the passage, so
I knew that the beast was in its cage.
"Come in!" said my relative, and opened the door.
A deep growling as we entered showed that the storm had really
excited the creature. In the flickering light of the lantern, we
saw it, a huge black mass coiled in the corner of its den and
throwing a squat, uncouth shadow upon the whitewashed wall. Its
tail switched angrily among the straw.
"Poor Tommy is not in the best of tempers," said Everard King,
holding up the lantern and looking in at him. "What a black devil
he looks, doesn't he? I must give him a little supper to put him
in a better humour. Would you mind holding the lantern for a
I took it from his hand and he stepped to the door.
"His larder is just outside here," said he. "You will excuse
me for an instant won't you?" He passed out, and the door shut
with a sharp metallic click behind him.
That hard crisp sound made my heart stand still. A sudden wave
of terror passed over me. A vague perception of some monstrous
treachery turned me cold. I sprang to the door, but there was no
handle upon the inner side.
"Here!" I cried. "Let me out!"
"All right! Don't make a row!" said my host from the passage.
"You've got the light all right."
"Yes, but I don't care about being locked in alone like this."
"Don't you?" I heard his hearty, chuckling laugh. "You won't
be alone long."
"Let me out, sir!" I repeated angrily. "I tell you I don't
allow practical jokes of this sort."
"Practical is the word," said he, with another hateful chuckle.
And then suddenly I heard, amidst the roar of the storm, the creak
and whine of the winch-handle turning and the rattle of the grating
as it passed through the slot. Great God, he was letting loose the
In the light of the lantern I saw the bars sliding slowly
before me. Already there was an opening a foot wide at the farther
end. With a scream I seized the last bar with my hands and pulled
with the strength of a madman. I WAS a madman with rage and
horror. For a minute or more I held the thing motionless. I knew
that he was straining with all his force upon the handle, and that
the leverage was sure to overcome me. I gave inch by inch, my feet
sliding along the stones, and all the time I begged and prayed this
inhuman monster to save me from this horrible death. I conjured
him by his kinship. I reminded him that I was his guest; I begged
to know what harm I had ever done him. His only answers were the
tugs and jerks upon the handle, each of which, in spite of all my
struggles, pulled another bar through the opening. Clinging and
clutching, I was dragged across the whole front of the cage, until
at last, with aching wrists and lacerated fingers, I gave up the
hopeless struggle. The grating clanged back as I released it, and
an instant later I heard the shuffle of the Turkish slippers in the
passage, and the slam of the distant door. Then everything was
The creature had never moved during this time. He lay still in
the corner, and his tail had ceased switching. This apparition of
a man adhering to his bars and dragged screaming across him had
apparently filled him with amazement. I saw his great eyes staring
steadily at me. I had dropped the lantern when I seized the
bars, but it still burned upon the floor, and I made a movement
to grasp it, with some idea that its light might protect me. But
the instant I moved, the beast gave a deep and menacing growl. I
stopped and stood still, quivering with fear in every limb. The
cat (if one may call so fearful a creature by so homely a name) was
not more than ten feet from me. The eyes glimmered like two disks
of phosphorus in the darkness. They appalled and yet fascinated
me. I could not take my own eyes from them. Nature plays strange
tricks with us at such moments of intensity, and those glimmering
lights waxed and waned with a steady rise and fall. Sometimes they
seemed to be tiny points of extreme brilliancy--little electric
sparks in the black obscurity--then they would widen and widen
until all that corner of the room was filled with their shifting
and sinister light. And then suddenly they went out altogether.
The beast had closed its eyes. I do not know whether there may
be any truth in the old idea of the dominance of the human gaze, or
whether the huge cat was simply drowsy, but the fact remains that,
far from showing any symptom of attacking me, it simply rested its
sleek, black head upon its huge forepaws and seemed to sleep. I
stood, fearing to move lest I should rouse it into malignant life
once more. But at least I was able to think clearly now that the
baleful eyes were off me. Here I was shut up for the night with
the ferocious beast. My own instincts, to say nothing of the words
of the plausible villain who laid this trap for me, warned me that
the animal was as savage as its master. How could I stave it off
until morning? The door was hopeless, and so were the narrow,
barred windows. There was no shelter anywhere in the bare, stone-flagged
room. To cry for assistance was absurd. I knew that this
den was an outhouse, and that the corridor which connected it with
the house was at least a hundred feet long. Besides, with the gale
thundering outside, my cries were not likely to be heard. I had
only my own courage and my own wits to trust to.
And then, with a fresh wave of horror, my eyes fell upon the lantern.
The candle had burned low, and was already beginning to gutter. In ten
minutes it would be out. I had only ten minutes then in which to do
something, for I felt that if I were once left in the dark with that
fearful beast I should be incapable of action. The very thought of it
paralysed me. I cast my despairing eyes round this chamber of death, and
they rested upon one spot which seemed to promise I will not say safety,
but less immediate and imminent danger than the open floor.
I have said that the cage had a top as well as a front, and
this top was left standing when the front was wound through the
slot in the wall. It consisted of bars at a few inches' interval,
with stout wire netting between, and it rested upon a strong
stanchion at each end. It stood now as a great barred canopy over
the crouching figure in the corner. The space between this iron
shelf and the roof may have been from two or three feet. If I
could only get up there, squeezed in between bars and ceiling, I
should have only one vulnerable side. I should be safe from below,
from behind, and from each side. Only on the open face of it could
I be attacked. There, it is true, I had no protection whatever;
but at least, I should be out of the brute's path when he began to
pace about his den. He would have to come out of his way to reach
me. It was now or never, for if once the light were out it would
be impossible. With a gulp in my throat I sprang up, seized the
iron edge of the top, and swung myself panting on to it. I writhed
in face downwards, and found myself looking straight into the
terrible eyes and yawning jaws of the cat. Its fetid breath came
up into my face like the steam from some foul pot.
It appeared, however, to be rather curious than angry. With a
sleek ripple of its long, black back it rose, stretched itself, and
then rearing itself on its hind legs, with one forepaw against the
wall, it raised the other, and drew its claws across the wire
meshes beneath me. One sharp, white hook tore through my
trousers--for I may mention that I was still in evening dress--and
dug a furrow in my knee. It was not meant as an attack, but rather
as an experiment, for upon my giving a sharp cry of pain he dropped
down again, and springing lightly into the room, he began walking
swiftly round it, looking up every now and again in my direction.
For my part I shuffled backwards until I lay with my back against
the wall, screwing myself into the smallest space possible. The
farther I got the more difficult it was for him to attack me.
He seemed more excited now that he had begun to move about, and
he ran swiftly and noiselessly round and round the den,
passing continually underneath the iron couch upon which I lay. It
was wonderful to see so great a bulk passing like a shadow, with
hardly the softest thudding of velvety pads. The candle was
burning low--so low that I could hardly see the creature. And
then, with a last flare and splutter it went out altogether. I was
alone with the cat in the dark!
It helps one to face a danger when one knows that one has done
all that possibly can be done. There is nothing for it then but to
quietly await the result. In this case, there was no chance of
safety anywhere except the precise spot where I was. I stretched
myself out, therefore, and lay silently, almost breathlessly,
hoping that the beast might forget my presence if I did nothing to
remind him. I reckoned that it must already be two o'clock. At
four it would be full dawn. I had not more than two hours to wait
Outside, the storm was still raging, and the rain lashed
continually against the little windows. Inside, the poisonous and
fetid air was overpowering. I could neither hear nor see the cat.
I tried to think about other things--but only one had power enough
to draw my mind from my terrible position. That was the
contemplation of my cousin's villainy, his unparalleled hypocrisy,
his malignant hatred of me. Beneath that cheerful face there
lurked the spirit of a mediaeval assassin. And as I thought of it
I saw more clearly how cunningly the thing had been arranged. He
had apparently gone to bed with the others. No doubt he had his
witness to prove it. Then, unknown to them, he had slipped down,
had lured me into his den and abandoned me. His story would be so
simple. He had left me to finish my cigar in the billiard-room.
I had gone down on my own account to have a last look at the cat.
I had entered the room without observing that the cage was opened,
and I had been caught. How could such a crime be brought home to
him? Suspicion, perhaps--but proof, never!
How slowly those dreadful two hours went by! Once I heard a
low, rasping sound, which I took to be the creature licking its own
fur. Several times those greenish eyes gleamed at me through the
darkness, but never in a fixed stare, and my hopes grew stronger
that my presence had been forgotten or ignored. At last the least
faint glimmer of light came through the windows--I first dimly
saw them as two grey squares upon the black wall, then grey turned
to white, and I could see my terrible companion once more. And he,
alas, could see me!
It was evident to me at once that he was in a much more
dangerous and aggressive mood than when I had seen him last. The
cold of the morning had irritated him, and he was hungry as well.
With a continual growl he paced swiftly up and down the side of the
room which was farthest from my refuge, his whiskers bristling
angrily, and his tail switching and lashing. As he turned at the
corners his savage eyes always looked upwards at me with a dreadful
menace. I knew then that he meant to kill me. Yet I found myself
even at that moment admiring the sinuous grace of the devilish
thing, its long, undulating, rippling movements, the gloss of its
beautiful flanks, the vivid, palpitating scarlet of the glistening
tongue which hung from the jet-black muzzle. And all the time that
deep, threatening growl was rising and rising in an unbroken
crescendo. I knew that the crisis was at hand.
It was a miserable hour to meet such a death--so cold, so
comfortless, shivering in my light dress clothes upon this gridiron
of torment upon which I was stretched. I tried to brace myself
to it, to raise my soul above it, and at the same time, with the
lucidity which comes to a perfectly desperate man, I cast round for
some possible means of escape. One thing was clear to me. If that
front of the cage was only back in its position once more, I could
find a sure refuge behind it. Could I possibly pull it back? I
hardly dared to move for fear of bringing the creature upon me.
Slowly, very slowly, I put my hand forward until it grasped the
edge of the front, the final bar which protruded through the wall.
To my surprise it came quite easily to my jerk. Of course the
difficulty of drawing it out arose from the fact that I was
clinging to it. I pulled again, and three inches of it came
through. It ran apparently on wheels. I pulled again . . . and
then the cat sprang!
It was so quick, so sudden, that I never saw it happen. I
simply heard the savage snarl, and in an instant afterwards the
blazing yellow eyes, the flattened black head with its red tongue
and flashing teeth, were within reach of me. The impact of the
creature shook the bars upon which I lay, until I thought (as far
as I could think of anything at such a moment) that they were
coming down. The cat swayed there for an instant, the head
and front paws quite close to me, the hind paws clawing to find a
grip upon the edge of the grating. I heard the claws rasping as
they clung to the wire-netting, and the breath of the beast made me
sick. But its bound had been miscalculated. It could not retain
its position. Slowly, grinning with rage, and scratching madly at
the bars, it swung backwards and dropped heavily upon the floor.
With a growl it instantly faced round to me and crouched for
I knew that the next few moments would decide my fate. The
creature had learned by experience. It would not miscalculate
again. I must act promptly, fearlessly, if I were to have a chance
for life. In an instant I had formed my plan. Pulling off my
dress-coat, I threw it down over the head of the beast. At the
same moment I dropped over the edge, seized the end of the front
grating, and pulled it frantically out of the wall.
It came more easily than I could have expected. I rushed
across the room, bearing it with me; but, as I rushed, the accident
of my position put me upon the outer side. Had it been the other
way, I might have come off scathless. As it was, there was a
moment's pause as I stopped it and tried to pass in through the
opening which I had left. That moment was enough to give time to
the creature to toss off the coat with which I had blinded him and
to spring upon me. I hurled myself through the gap and pulled the
rails to behind me, but he seized my leg before I could entirely
withdraw it. One stroke of that huge paw tore off my calf as a
shaving of wood curls off before a plane. The next moment,
bleeding and fainting, I was lying among the foul straw with a line
of friendly bars between me and the creature which ramped so
frantically against them.
Too wounded to move, and too faint to be conscious of fear, I
could only lie, more dead than alive, and watch it. It pressed its
broad, black chest against the bars and angled for me with its
crooked paws as I have seen a kitten do before a mouse-trap. It
ripped my clothes, but, stretch as it would, it could not quite
reach me. I have heard of the curious numbing effect produced by
wounds from the great carnivora, and now I was destined to
experience it, for I had lost all sense of personality, and was as
interested in the cat's failure or success as if it were some
game which I was watching. And then gradually my mind drifted away
into strange vague dreams, always with that black face and red
tongue coming back into them, and so I lost myself in the nirvana
of delirium, the blessed relief of those who are too sorely tried.
Tracing the course of events afterwards, I conclude that I must
have been insensible for about two hours. What roused me to
consciousness once more was that sharp metallic click which had
been the precursor of my terrible experience. It was the shooting
back of the spring lock. Then, before my senses were clear enough
to entirely apprehend what they saw, I was aware of the round,
benevolent face of my cousin peering in through the open door.
What he saw evidently amazed him. There was the cat crouching on
the floor. I was stretched upon my back in my shirt-sleeves within
the cage, my trousers torn to ribbons and a great pool of blood all
round me. I can see his amazed face now, with the morning sunlight
upon it. He peered at me, and peered again. Then he closed the
door behind him, and advanced to the cage to see if I were really
I cannot undertake to say what happened. I was not in a fit
state to witness or to chronicle such events. I can only say that
I was suddenly conscious that his face was away from me--that he
was looking towards the animal.
"Good old Tommy!" he cried. "Good old Tommy!"
Then he came near the bars, with his back still towards me.
"Down, you stupid beast!" he roared. "Down, sir! Don't you
know your master?"
Suddenly even in my bemuddled brain a remembrance came of those
words of his when he had said that the taste of blood would turn
the cat into a fiend. My blood had done it, but he was to pay the
"Get away!" he screamed. "Get away, you devil! Baldwin!
Baldwin! Oh, my God!"
And then I heard him fall, and rise, and fall again, with a sound like
the ripping of sacking. His screams grew fainter until they were lost in
the worrying snarl. And then, after I thought that he was dead, I saw,
as in a nightmare, a blinded, tattered, blood-soaked figure running
wildly round the room--and that was the last glimpse which I had of him
before I fainted once again.
I was many months in my recovery--in fact, I cannot say that I
have ever recovered, for to the end of my days I shall carry a
stick as a sign of my night with the Brazilian cat. Baldwin, the
groom, and the other servants could not tell what had occurred,
when, drawn by the death-cries of their master, they found me
behind the bars, and his remains--or what they afterwards
discovered to be his remains--in the clutch of the creature which
he had reared. They stalled him off with hot irons, and afterwards
shot him through the loophole of the door before they could finally
extricate me. I was carried to my bedroom, and there, under the
roof of my would-be murderer, I remained between life and death for
several weeks. They had sent for a surgeon from Clipton and a
nurse from London, and in a month I was able to be carried to the
station, and so conveyed back once more to Grosvenor Mansions.
I have one remembrance of that illness, which might have been
part of the ever-changing panorama conjured up by a delirious brain
were it not so definitely fixed in my memory. One night, when the
nurse was absent, the door of my chamber opened, and a tall woman
in blackest mourning slipped into the room. She came across to me,
and as she bent her sallow face I saw by the faint gleam of the
night-light that it was the Brazilian woman whom my cousin had
married. She stared intently into my face, and her expression was
more kindly than I had ever seen it.
"Are you conscious?" she asked.
I feebly nodded--for I was still very weak.
"Well; then, I only wished to say to you that you have yourself to
blame. Did I not do all I could for you? From the beginning I tried to
drive you from the house. By every means, short of betraying my husband,
I tried to save you from him. I knew that he had a reason for bringing
you here. I knew that he would never let you get away again. No one knew
him as I knew him, who had suffered from him so often. I did not dare to
tell you all this. He would have killed me. But I did my best for you.
As things have turned out, you have been the best friend that I have
ever had. You have set me free, and I fancied that nothing but death
would do that. I am sorry if you are hurt, but I cannot reproach myself.
I told you that you were a fool--and a fool you have been." She crept
out of the room, the bitter, singular woman, and I was never destined to
see her again. With what remained from her husband's property she went
back to her native land, and I have heard that she afterwards took the
veil at Pernambuco.
It was not until I had been back in London for some time that
the doctors pronounced me to be well enough to do business. It was
not a very welcome permission to me, for I feared that it would be
the signal for an inrush of creditors; but it was Summers, my
lawyer, who first took advantage of it.
"I am very glad to see that your lordship is so much better," said
he. "I have been waiting a long time to offer my congratulations."
"What do you mean, Summers? This is no time for joking."
"I mean what I say," he answered. "You have been Lord
Southerton for the last six weeks, but we feared that it would
retard your recovery if you were to learn it."
Lord Southerton! One of the richest peers in England! I could
not believe my ears. And then suddenly I thought of the time which
had elapsed, and how it coincided with my injuries.
"Then Lord Southerton must have died about the same time that
I was hurt?"
"His death occurred upon that very day." Summers looked hard
at me as I spoke, and I am convinced--for he was a very shrewd
fellow--that he had guessed the true state of the case. He paused
for a moment as if awaiting a confidence from me, but I could not
see what was to be gained by exposing such a family scandal.
"Yes, a very curious coincidence," he continued, with the same
knowing look. "Of course, you are aware that your cousin Everard
King was the next heir to the estates. Now, if it had been you
instead of him who had been torn to pieces by this tiger, or
whatever it was, then of course he would have been Lord Southerton
at the present moment."
"No doubt," said I.
"And he took such an interest in it," said Summers. "I happen
to know that the late Lord Southerton's valet was in his pay, and
that he used to have telegrams from him every few hours to tell him
how he was getting on. That would be about the time when you were
down there. Was it not strange that he should wish to be so well
informed, since he knew that he was not the direct heir?"
"Very strange," said I. "And now, Summers, if you will bring
me my bills and a new cheque-book, we will begin to get things into
Tales of Mystery
The Lost Special
The confession of Herbert de Lernac, now lying under sentence of
death at Marseilles, has thrown a light upon one of the most
inexplicable crimes of the century--an incident which is, I
believe, absolutely unprecedented in the criminal annals of any
country: Although there is a reluctance to discuss the matter in
official circles, and little information has been given to the
Press, there are still indications that the statement of this
arch-criminal is corroborated by the facts, and that we have at
last found a solution for a most astounding business. As the
matter is eight years old, and as its importance was somewhat
obscured by a political crisis which was engaging the public
attention at the time, it may be as well to state the facts as
far as we have been able to ascertain them. They are collated
from the Liverpool papers of that date, from the proceedings at
the inquest upon John Slater, the engine-driver, and from the
records of the London and West Coast Railway Company, which
have been courteously put at my disposal. Briefly, they are as
On the 3rd of June, 1890, a gentleman, who gave his name as
Monsieur Louis Caratal, desired an interview with Mr. James Bland,
the superintendent of the London and West Coast Central Station in
Liverpool. He was a small man, middle-aged and dark, with a stoop
which was so marked that it suggested some deformity of the spine.
He was accompanied by a friend, a man of imposing physique, whose
deferential manner and constant attention showed that his position
was one of dependence. This friend or companion, whose name did
not transpire, was certainly a foreigner, and probably from his
swarthy complexion, either a Spaniard or a South American. One
peculiarity was observed in him. He carried in his left hand a
small black, leather dispatch box, and it was noticed by a sharp-eyed
clerk in the Central office that this box was fastened to
his wrist by a strap. No importance was attached to the fact at
the time, but subsequent events endowed it with some significance.
Monsieur Caratal was shown up to Mr. Bland's office, while his
companion remained outside.
Monsieur Caratal's business was quickly dispatched. He had arrived that
afternoon from Central America. Affairs of the utmost importance
demanded that he should be in Paris without the loss of an unnecessary
hour. He had missed the London express. A special must be provided.
Money was of no importance. Time was everything. If the company would
speed him on his way, they might make their own terms.
Mr. Bland struck the electric bell, summoned Mr. Potter Hood,
the traffic manager, and had the matter arranged in five minutes.
The train would start in three-quarters of an hour. It would take
that time to insure that the line should be clear. The powerful
engine called Rochdale (No. 247 on the company's register) was
attached to two carriages, with a guard's van behind. The first
carriage was solely for the purpose of decreasing the inconvenience
arising from the oscillation. The second was divided, as usual,
into four compartments, a first-class, a first-class smoking, a
second-class, and a second-class smoking. The first compartment,
which was nearest to the engine, was the one allotted to the
travellers. The other three were empty. The guard of the special
train was James McPherson, who had been some years in the service
of the company. The stoker, William Smith, was a new hand.
Monsieur Caratal, upon leaving the superintendent's office,
rejoined his companion, and both of them manifested extreme
impatience to be off. Having paid the money asked, which amounted
to fifty pounds five shillings, at the usual special rate of five
shillings a mile, they demanded to be shown the carriage, and at
once took their seats in it, although they were assured that the
better part of an hour must elapse before the line could be
cleared. In the meantime a singular coincidence had occurred in
the office which Monsieur Caratal had just quitted.
A request for a special is not a very uncommon circumstance in
a rich commercial centre, but that two should be required upon the
same afternoon was most unusual. It so happened, however,
that Mr. Bland had hardly dismissed the first traveller before a
second entered with a similar request. This was a Mr. Horace
Moore, a gentlemanly man of military appearance, who alleged that
the sudden serious illness of his wife in London made it absolutely
imperative that he should not lose an instant in starting upon the
journey. His distress and anxiety were so evident that Mr. Bland
did all that was possible to meet his wishes. A second special was
out of the question, as the ordinary local service was already
somewhat deranged by the first. There was the alternative,
however, that Mr. Moore should share the expense of Monsieur
Caratal's train, and should travel in the other empty first-class
compartment, if Monsieur Caratal objected to having him in the one
which he occupied. It was difficult to see any objection to such
an arrangement, and yet Monsieur Caratal, upon the suggestion being
made to him by Mr. Potter Hood, absolutely refused to consider it
for an instant. The train was his, he said, and he would insist
upon the exclusive use of it. All argument failed to overcome his
ungracious objections, and finally the plan had to be abandoned.
Mr. Horace Moore left the station in great distress, after learning
that his only course was to take the ordinary slow train which
leaves Liverpool at six o'clock. At four thirty-one exactly by the
station clock the special train, containing the crippled Monsieur
Caratal and his gigantic companion, steamed out of the Liverpool
station. The line was at that time clear, and there should have
been no stoppage before Manchester.
The trains of the London and West Coast Railway run over the
lines of another company as far as this town, which should have
been reached by the special rather before six o'clock. At a
quarter after six considerable surprise and some consternation were
caused amongst the officials at Liverpool by the receipt of a
telegram from Manchester to say that it had not yet arrived. An
inquiry directed to St. Helens, which is a third of the way between
the two cities, elicited the following reply--
"To James Bland, Superintendent, Central L. & W. C.,
Liverpool.--Special passed here at 4:52, well up to time.--Dowster,
This telegram was received at six-forty. At six-fifty a second
message was received from Manchester--
"No sign of special as advised by you."
And then ten minutes later a third, more bewildering--
"Presume some mistake as to proposed running of special. Local
train from St. Helens timed to follow it has just arrived and has
seen nothing of it. Kindly wire advices.--Manchester."
The matter was assuming a most amazing aspect, although in some
respects the last telegram was a relief to the authorities at
Liverpool. If an accident had occurred to the special, it seemed
hardly possible that the local train could have passed down the
same line without observing it. And yet, what was the alternative?
Where could the train be? Had it possibly been sidetracked for
some reason in order to allow the slower train to go past? Such an
explanation was possible if some small repair had to be effected.
A telegram was dispatched to each of the stations between St.
Helens and Manchester, and the superintendent and traffic manager
waited in the utmost suspense at the instrument for the series of
replies which would enable them to say for certain what had become
of the missing train. The answers came back in the order of
questions, which was the order of the stations beginning at the St.
"Special passed here five o'clock.--Collins Green."
"Special passed here six past five.--Earlstown."
"Special passed here 5:10.--Newton."
"Special passed here 5:20.--Kenyon Junction."
"No special train has passed here.--Barton Moss."
The two officials stared at each other in amazement.
"This is unique in my thirty years of experience," said Mr.
"Absolutely unprecedented and inexplicable, sir. The special
has gone wrong between Kenyon Junction and Barton Moss."
"And yet there is no siding, so far as my memory serves me,
between the two stations. The special must have run off the
"But how could the four-fifty parliamentary pass over the same
line without observing it?"
"There's no alternative, Mr. Hood. It must be so. Possibly the local
train may have observed something which may throw some light upon the
matter. We will wire to Manchester for more information, and to Kenyon
Junction with instructions that the line be examined instantly as far as
Barton Moss." The answer from Manchester came within a few minutes.
"No news of missing special. Driver and guard of slow train
positive no accident between Kenyon Junction and Barton Moss.
Line quite clear, and no sign of anything unusual.--Manchester."
"That driver and guard will have to go," said Mr. Bland,
grimly. "There has been a wreck and they have missed it. The
special has obviously run off the metals without disturbing the
line--how it could have done so passes my comprehension--but so it
must be, and we shall have a wire from Kenyon or Barton Moss
presently to say that they have found her at the bottom of an
But Mr. Bland's prophecy was not destined to be fulfilled.
Half an hour passed, and then there arrived the following message
from the station-master of Kenyon Junction--
"There are no traces of the missing special. It is quite
certain that she passed here, and that she did not arrive at Barton
Moss. We have detached engine from goods train, and I have myself
ridden down the line, but all is clear, and there is no sign of any
Mr. Bland tore his hair in his perplexity.
"This is rank lunacy, Hood!" he cried. "Does a train vanish
into thin air in England in broad daylight? The thing is
preposterous. An engine, a tender, two carriages, a van, five
human beings--and all lost on a straight line of railway! Unless
we get something positive within the next hour I'll take Inspector
Collins, and go down myself."
And then at last something positive did occur. It took the
shape of another telegram from Kenyon Junction.
"Regret to report that the dead body of John Slater, driver of
the special train, has just been found among the gorse bushes at a
point two and a quarter miles from the Junction. Had fallen from
his engine, pitched down the embankment, and rolled among the
bushes. Injuries to his head, from the fall, appear to be cause of
death. Ground has now been carefully examined, and there is no
trace of the missing train."
The country was, as has already been stated, in the throes of a
political crisis, and the attention of the public was further distracted
by the important and sensational developments in Paris, where a huge
scandal threatened to destroy the Government and to wreck the
reputations of many of the leading men in France. The papers were full
of these events, and the singular disappearance of the special train
attracted less attention than would have been the case in more peaceful
times. The grotesque nature of the event helped to detract from its
importance, for the papers were disinclined to believe the facts as
reported to them. More than one of the London journals treated the
matter as an ingenious hoax, until the coroner's inquest upon the
unfortunate driver (an inquest which elicited nothing of importance)
convinced them of the tragedy of the incident.
Mr. Bland, accompanied by Inspector Collins, the senior
detective officer in the service of the company, went down to
Kenyon Junction the same evening, and their research lasted
throughout the following day, but was attended with purely negative
results. Not only was no trace found of the missing train, but no
conjecture could be put forward which could possibly explain the
facts. At the same time, Inspector Collins's official report
(which lies before me as I write) served to show that the
possibilities were more numerous than might have been expected.
"In the stretch of railway between these two points," said he,
"the country is dotted with ironworks and collieries. Of these,
some are being worked and some have been abandoned. There are no
fewer than twelve which have small-gauge lines which run trolly-cars
down to the main line. These can, of course, be disregarded.
Besides these, however, there are seven which have, or have had,
proper lines running down and connecting with points to the main
line, so as to convey their produce from the mouth of the mine to
the great centres of distribution. In every case these lines are
only a few miles in length. Out of the seven, four belong to
collieries which are worked out, or at least to shafts which are no
longer used. These are the Redgauntlet, Hero, Slough of Despond,
and Heartsease mines, the latter having ten years ago been one of
the principal mines in Lancashire. These four side lines may be
eliminated from our inquiry, for, to prevent possible accidents,
the rails nearest to the main line have been taken up, and
there is no longer any connection. There remain three other side
(a) To the Carnstock Iron Works;
(b) To the Big Ben Colliery;
(c) To the Perseverance Colliery.
"Of these the Big Ben line is not more than a quarter of a mile
long, and ends at a dead wall of coal waiting removal from the
mouth of the mine. Nothing had been seen or heard there of any
special. The Carnstock Iron Works line was blocked all day upon
the 3rd of June by sixteen truckloads of hematite. It is a single
line, and nothing could have passed. As to the Perseverance line,
it is a large double line, which does a considerable traffic, for
the output of the mine is very large. On the 3rd of June this
traffic proceeded as usual; hundreds of men including a gang of
railway platelayers were working along the two miles and a quarter
which constitute the total length of the line, and it is
inconceivable that an unexpected train could have come down there
without attracting universal attention. It may be remarked in
conclusion that this branch line is nearer to St. Helens than the
point at which the engine-driver was discovered, so that we have
every reason to believe that the train was past that point before
misfortune overtook her.
"As to John Slater, there is no clue to be gathered from his
appearance or injuries. We can only say that, so far as we can
see, he met his end by falling off his engine, though why he fell,
or what became of the engine after his fall, is a question upon
which I do not feel qualified to offer an opinion." In conclusion,
the inspector offered his resignation to the Board, being much
nettled by an accusation of incompetence in the London papers.
A month elapsed, during which both the police and the company
prosecuted their inquiries without the slightest success. A reward
was offered and a pardon promised in case of crime, but they were
both unclaimed. Every day the public opened their papers with the
conviction that so grotesque a mystery would at last be solved, but
week after week passed by, and a solution remained as far off as
ever. In broad daylight, upon a June afternoon in the most thickly
inhabited portion of England, a train with its occupants had
disappeared as completely as if some master of subtle chemistry had
volatilized it into gas. Indeed, among the various conjectures
which were put forward in the public Press, there were some which
seriously asserted that supernatural, or, at least, preternatural,
agencies had been at work, and that the deformed Monsieur Caratal
was probably a person who was better known under a less polite
name. Others fixed upon his swarthy companion as being the author
of the mischief, but what it was exactly which he had done could
never be clearly formulated in words.
Amongst the many suggestions put forward by various newspapers
or private individuals, there were one or two which were feasible
enough to attract the attention of the public. One which appeared
in The Times, over the signature of an amateur reasoner of some
celebrity at that date, attempted to deal with the matter in a
critical and semi-scientific manner. An extract must suffice,
although the curious can see the whole letter in the issue of the
3rd of July.
"It is one of the elementary principles of practical
reasoning," he remarked, "that when the impossible has been
eliminated the residuum, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must contain the
truth. It is certain that the train left Kenyon Junction. It is
certain that it did not reach Barton Moss. It is in the highest
degree unlikely, but still possible, that it may have taken one of
the seven available side lines. It is obviously impossible for a
train to run where there are no rails, and, therefore, we may
reduce our improbables to the three open lines, namely the
Carnstock Iron Works, the Big Ben, and the Perseverance. Is there
a secret society of colliers, an English Camorra, which is
capable of destroying both train and passengers? It is improbable,
but it is not impossible. I confess that I am unable to suggest
any other solution. I should certainly advise the company to
direct all their energies towards the observation of those three
lines, and of the workmen at the end of them. A careful
supervision of the pawnbrokers' shops of the district might
possibly bring some suggestive facts to light."
The suggestion coming from a recognized authority upon such
matters created considerable interest, and a fierce opposition from
those who considered such a statement to be a preposterous
libel upon an honest and deserving set of men. The only
answer to this criticism was a challenge to the objectors to lay
any more feasible explanations before the public. In reply to this
two others were forthcoming (Times, July 7th and 9th). The
first suggested that the train might have run off the metals and be
lying submerged in the Lancashire and Staffordshire Canal, which
runs parallel to the railway for some hundred of yards. This
suggestion was thrown out of court by the published depth of the
canal, which was entirely insufficient to conceal so large an
object. The second correspondent wrote calling attention to the
bag which appeared to be the sole luggage which the travellers had
brought with them, and suggesting that some novel explosive of
immense and pulverizing power might have been concealed in it. The
obvious absurdity, however, of supposing that the whole train might
be blown to dust while the metals remained uninjured reduced any
such explanation to a farce. The investigation had drifted into
this hopeless position when a new and most unexpected incident
This was nothing less than the receipt by Mrs. McPherson of a
letter from her husband, James McPherson, who had been the guard on
the missing train. The letter, which was dated July 5th, 1890, was
posted from New York and came to hand upon July 14th. Some doubts
were expressed as to its genuine character but Mrs. McPherson was
positive as to the writing, and the fact that it contained a
remittance of a hundred dollars in five-dollar notes was enough in
itself to discount the idea of a hoax. No address was given in the
letter, which ran in this way:
MY DEAR WIFE,--
"I have been thinking a great deal, and I find it very hard to
give you up. The same with Lizzie. I try to fight against it, but
it will always come back to me. I send you some money which will
change into twenty English pounds. This should be enough to bring
both Lizzie and you across the Atlantic, and you will find the
Hamburg boats which stop at Southampton very good boats, and
cheaper than Liverpool. If you could come here and stop at the
Johnston House I would try and send you word how to meet, but
things are very difficult with me at present, and I am not
very happy, finding it hard to give you both up. So no more at
present, from your loving husband,
For a time it was confidently anticipated that this letter
would lead to the clearing up of the whole matter, the more so as
it was ascertained that a passenger who bore a close resemblance to
the missing guard had travelled from Southampton under the name of
Summers in the Hamburg and New York liner Vistula, which
started upon the 7th of June. Mrs. McPherson and her sister Lizzie
Dolton went across to New York as directed and stayed for three
weeks at the Johnston House, without hearing anything from the
missing man. It is probable that some injudicious comments in the
Press may have warned him that the police were using them as a
bait. However, this may be, it is certain that he neither wrote
nor came, and the women were eventually compelled to return to
And so the matter stood, and has continued to stand up to the
present year of 1898. Incredible as it may seem, nothing has
transpired during these eight years which has shed the least light
upon the extraordinary disappearance of the special train which
contained Monsieur Caratal and his companion. Careful inquiries
into the antecedents of the two travellers have only established
the fact that Monsieur Caratal was well known as a financier and
political agent in Central America, and that during his voyage to
Europe he had betrayed extraordinary anxiety to reach Paris. His
companion, whose name was entered upon the passenger lists as
Eduardo Gomez, was a man whose record was a violent one, and whose
reputation was that of a bravo and a bully. There was evidence to
show, however, that he was honestly devoted to the interests of
Monsieur Caratal, and that the latter, being a man of puny
physique, employed the other as a guard and protector. It may be
added that no information came from Paris as to what the objects of
Monsieur Caratal's hurried journey may have been. This comprises
all the facts of the case up to the publication in the Marseilles
papers of the recent confession of Herbert de Lernac, now under
sentence of death for the murder of a merchant named Bonvalot.
This statement may be literally translated as follows:
"It is not out of mere pride or boasting that I give this
information, for, if that were my object, I could tell a dozen
actions of mine which are quite as splendid; but I do it in order
that certain gentlemen in Paris may understand that I, who am able
here to tell about the fate of Monsieur Caratal, can also tell in
whose interest and at whose request the deed was done, unless the
reprieve which I am awaiting comes to me very quickly. Take
warning, messieurs, before it is too late! You know Herbert de
Lernac, and you are aware that his deeds are as ready as his words.
Hasten then, or you are lost!
"At present I shall mention no names--if you only heard the
names, what would you not think!--but I shall merely tell you how
cleverly I did it. I was true to my employers then, and no doubt
they will be true to me now. I hope so, and until I am convinced
that they have betrayed me, these names, which would convulse
Europe, shall not be divulged. But on that day . . . well, I say
"In a word, then, there was a famous trial in Paris, in the
year 1890, in connection with a monstrous scandal in politics and
finance. How monstrous that scandal was can never be known save by
such confidential agents as myself. The honour and careers of many
of the chief men in France were at stake. You have seen a group of
ninepins standing, all so rigid, and prim, and unbending. Then
there comes the ball from far away and pop, pop, pop--there are
your ninepins on the floor. Well, imagine some of the greatest men
in France as these ninepins and then this Monsieur Caratal was the
ball which could be seen coming from far away. If he arrived, then
it was pop, pop, pop for all of them. It was determined that he
should not arrive.
"I do not accuse them all of being conscious of what was to
happen. There were, as I have said, great financial as well as
political interests at stake, and a syndicate was formed to manage
the business. Some subscribed to the syndicate who hardly
understood what were its objects. But others understood very well,
and they can rely upon it that I have not forgotten their names.
They had ample warning that Monsieur Caratal was coming long before
he left South America, and they knew that the evidence which he
held would certainly mean ruin to all of them. The syndicate had
the command of an unlimited amount of money--absolutely
unlimited, you understand. They looked round for an agent who was
capable of wielding this gigantic power. The man chosen must be
inventive, resolute, adaptive--a man in a million. They chose
Herbert de Lernac, and I admit that they were right.
"My duties were to choose my subordinates, to use freely the
power which money gives, and to make certain that Monsieur Caratal
should never arrive in Paris. With characteristic energy I set
about my commission within an hour of receiving my instructions,
and the steps which I took were the very best for the purpose which
could possibly be devised.
"A man whom I could trust was dispatched instantly to South
America to travel home with Monsieur Caratal. Had he arrived in
time the ship would never have reached Liverpool; but alas! it had
already started before my agent could reach it. I fitted out a
small armed brig to intercept it, but again I was unfortunate.
Like all great organizers I was, however, prepared for failure, and
had a series of alternatives prepared, one or the other of which
must succeed. You must not underrate the difficulties of my
undertaking, or imagine that a mere commonplace assassination would
meet the case. We must destroy not only Monsieur Caratal, but
Monsieur Caratal's documents, and Monsieur Caratal's companions
also, if we had reason to believe that he had communicated his
secrets to them. And you must remember that they were on the
alert, and keenly suspicious of any such attempt. It was a task
which was in every way worthy of me, for I am always most masterful
where another would be appalled.
"I was all ready for Monsieur Caratal's reception in Liverpool,
and I was the more eager because I had reason to believe that he
had made arrangements by which he would have a considerable guard
from the moment that he arrived in London. Anything which was to
be done must be done between the moment of his setting foot upon
the Liverpool quay and that of his arrival at the London and West
Coast terminus in London. We prepared six plans, each more
elaborate than the last; which plan would be used would depend upon
his own movements. Do what he would, we were ready for him. If he
had stayed in Liverpool, we were ready. If he took an ordinary
train, an express, or a special, all was ready. Everything had
been foreseen and provided for.
"You may imagine that I could not do all this myself. What
could I know of the English railway lines? But money can
procure willing agents all the world over, and I soon had one of
the acutest brains in England to assist me. I will mention no
names, but it would be unjust to claim all the credit for myself.
My English ally was worthy of such an alliance. He knew the London
and West Coast line thoroughly, and he had the command of a band of
workers who were trustworthy and intelligent. The idea was his,
and my own judgement was only required in the details. We bought
over several officials, amongst whom the most important was James
McPherson, whom we had ascertained to be the guard most likely to
be employed upon a special train. Smith, the stoker, was also in
our employ. John Slater, the engine-driver, had been approached,
but had been found to be obstinate and dangerous, so we desisted.
We had no certainty that Monsieur Caratal would take a special, but
we thought it very probable, for it was of the utmost importance to
him that he should reach Paris without delay. It was for this
contingency, therefore, that we made special preparations--preparations
which were complete down to the last detail long before his steamer
had sighted the shores of England. You will be amused to learn that
there was one of my agents in the pilot-boat which brought that steamer
to its moorings.
"The moment that Caratal arrived in Liverpool we knew that he
suspected danger and was on his guard. He had brought with him as
an escort a dangerous fellow, named Gomez, a man who carried
weapons, and was prepared to use them. This fellow carried
Caratal's confidential papers for him, and was ready to protect
either them or his master. The probability was that Caratal had
taken him into his counsel, and that to remove Caratal without
removing Gomez would be a mere waste of energy. It was necessary
that they should be involved in a common fate, and our plans to
that end were much facilitated by their request for a special
train. On that special train you will understand that two out of
the three servants of the company were really in our employ, at a
price which would make them independent for a lifetime. I do not
go so far as to say that the English are more honest than any other
nation, but I have found them more expensive to buy.
"I have already spoken of my English agent--who is a man
with a considerable future before him, unless some complaint
of the throat carries him off before his time. He had charge of
all arrangements at Liverpool, whilst I was stationed at the inn at
Kenyon, where I awaited a cipher signal to act. When the special
was arranged for, my agent instantly telegraphed to me and warned
me how soon I should have everything ready. He himself under the
name of Horace Moore applied immediately for a special also, in the
hope that he would be sent down with Monsieur Caratal, which might
under certain circumstances have been helpful to us. If, for
example, our great coup had failed, it would then have become the
duty of my agent to have shot them both and destroyed their papers.
Caratal was on his guard, however, and refused to admit any other
traveller. My agent then left the station, returned by another
entrance, entered the guard's van on the side farthest from the
platform, and travelled down with McPherson the guard.
"In the meantime you will be interested to know what my
movements were. Everything had been prepared for days before, and
only the finishing touches were needed. The side line which we had
chosen had once joined the main line, but it had been disconnected.
We had only to replace a few rails to connect it once more. These
rails had been laid down as far as could be done without danger of
attracting attention, and now it was merely a case of completing a
juncture with the line, and arranging the points as they had been
before. The sleepers had never been removed, and the rails, fish-plates
and rivets were all ready, for we had taken them from a
siding on the abandoned portion of the line. With my small but
competent band of workers, we had everything ready long before the
special arrived. When it did arrive, it ran off upon the small
side line so easily that the jolting of the points appears to have
been entirely unnoticed by the two travellers.
"Our plan had been that Smith, the stoker, should chloroform
John Slater, the driver, so that he should vanish with the others.
In this respect, and in this respect only, our plans miscarried--I
except the criminal folly of McPherson in writing home to his wife.
Our stoker did his business so clumsily that Slater in his
struggles fell off the engine, and though fortune was with us so
far that he broke his neck in the fall, still he remained as a blot
upon that which would otherwise have been one of those complete
masterpieces which are only to be contemplated in silent
admiration. The criminal expert will find in John Slater the one
flaw in all our admirable combinations. A man who has had as many
triumphs as I can afford to be frank, and I therefore lay my finger
upon John Slater, and I proclaim him to be a flaw.
"But now I have got our special train upon the small line two
kilometres, or rather more than one mile, in length, which leads,
or rather used to lead, to the abandoned Heartsease mine, once one
of the largest coal mines in England. You will ask how it is that
no one saw the train upon this unused line. I answer that along
its entire length it runs through a deep cutting, and that, unless
someone had been on the edge of that cutting, he could not have
seen it. There WAS someone on the edge of that cutting. I was
there. And now I will tell you what I saw.
"My assistant had remained at the points in order that he might
superintend the switching off of the train. He had four armed men
with him, so that if the train ran off the line--we thought it
probable, because the points were very rusty--we might still have
resources to fall back upon. Having once seen it safely on the
side line, he handed over the responsibility to me. I was waiting
at a point which overlooks the mouth of the mine, and I was also
armed, as were my two companions. Come what might, you see, I was
"The moment that the train was fairly on the side line, Smith,
the stoker, slowed-down the engine, and then, having turned it on
to the fullest speed again, he and McPherson, with my English
lieutenant, sprang off before it was too late. It may be that it
was this slowing-down which first attracted the attention of the
travellers, but the train was running at full speed again before
their heads appeared at the open window. It makes me smile to
think how bewildered they must have been. Picture to yourself your
own feelings if, on looking out of your luxurious carriage, you
suddenly perceived that the lines upon which you ran were rusted
and corroded, red and yellow with disuse and decay! What a catch
must have come in their breath as in a second it flashed upon them
that it was not Manchester but Death which was waiting for them at
the end of that sinister line. But the train was running with
frantic speed, rolling and rocking over the rotten line, while
the wheels made a frightful screaming sound upon the rusted
surface. I was close to them, and could see their faces. Caratal
was praying, I think--there was something like a rosary dangling
out of his hand. The other roared like a bull who smells the blood
of the slaughter-house. He saw us standing on the bank, and he
beckoned to us like a madman. Then he tore at his wrist and threw
his dispatch-box out of the window in our direction. Of course,
his meaning was obvious. Here was the evidence, and they would
promise to be silent if their lives were spared. It would have
been very agreeable if we could have done so, but business is
business. Besides, the train was now as much beyond our controls
"He ceased howling when the train rattled round the curve and
they saw the black mouth of the mine yawning before them. We had
removed the boards which had covered it, and we had cleared the
square entrance. The rails had formerly run very close to the
shaft for the convenience of loading the coal, and we had only to
add two or three lengths of rail in order to lead to the very brink
of the shaft. In fact, as the lengths would not quite fit, our
line projected about three feet over the edge. We saw the two
heads at the window: Caratal below, Gomez above; but they had both
been struck silent by what they saw. And yet they could not
withdraw their heads. The sight seemed to have paralysed them.
"I had wondered how the train running at a great speed would
take the pit into which I had guided it, and I was much interested
in watching it. One of my colleagues thought that it would
actually jump it, and indeed it was not very far from doing so.
Fortunately, however, it fell short, and the buffers of the engine
struck the other lip of the shaft with a tremendous crash. The
funnel flew off into the air. The tender, carriages, and van were
all smashed up into one jumble, which, with the remains of the
engine, choked for a minute or so the mouth of the pit. Then
something gave way in the middle, and the whole mass of green iron,
smoking coals, brass fittings, wheels, wood-work, and cushions all
crumbled together and crashed down into the mine. We heard the
rattle, rattle, rattle, as the debris struck against the walls, and
then, quite a long time afterwards, there came a deep roar as the
remains of the train struck the bottom. The boiler may have
burst, for a sharp crash came after the roar, and then a dense
cloud of steam and smoke swirled up out of the black depths,
falling in a spray as thick as rain all round us. Then the vapour
shredded off into thin wisps, which floated away in the summer
sunshine, and all was quiet again in the Heartsease mine.
"And now, having carried out our plans so successfully, it only
remained to leave no trace behind us. Our little band of workers
at the other end had already ripped up the rails and disconnected
the side line, replacing everything as it had been before. We were
equally busy at the mine. The funnel and other fragments were
thrown in, the shaft was planked over as it used to be, and the
lines which led to it were torn up and taken away. Then, without
flurry, but without delay, we all made our way out of the country,
most of us to Paris, my English colleague to Manchester, and
McPherson to Southampton, whence he emigrated to America. Let the
English papers of that date tell how throughly we had done our
work, and how completely we had thrown the cleverest of their
detectives off our track.
"You will remember that Gomez threw his bag of papers out of
the window, and I need not say that I secured that bag and brought
them to my employers. It may interest my employers now, however,
to learn that out of that bag I took one or two little papers as a
souvenir of the occasion. I have no wish to publish these papers;
but, still, it is every man for himself in this world, and what
else can I do if my friends will not come to my aid when I want
them? Messieurs, you may believe that Herbert de Lernac is quite
as formidable when he is against you as when he is with you, and
that he is not a man to go to the guillotine until he has seen that
every one of you is en route for New Caledonia. For your own
sake, if not for mine, make haste, Monsieur de ----, and
General ----, and Baron ---- (you can fill up the blanks for
yourselves as you read this). I promise you that in the next
edition there will be no blanks to fill.
"P.S.--As I look over my statement there is only one omission
which I can see. It concerns the unfortunate man McPherson, who
was foolish enough to write to his wife and to make an appointment
with her in New York. It can be imagined that when interests like
ours were at stake, we could not leave them to the chance of
whether a man in that class of life would or would not give
away his secrets to a woman. Having once broken his oath by
writing to his wife, we could not trust him any more. We took
steps therefore to insure that he should not see his wife. I have
sometimes thought that it would be a kindness to write to her and
to assure her that there is no impediment to her marrying again."
A curious experience? said the Doctor. Yes, my friends, I have
had one very curious experience. I never expect to have another,
for it is against all doctrines of chances that two such events
would befall any one man in a single lifetime. You may believe
me or not, but the thing happened exactly as I tell it.
I had just become a medical man, but I had not started in
practice, and I lived in rooms in Gower Street. The street has
been renumbered since then, but it was in the only house which has
a bow-window, upon the left-hand side as you go down from the
Metropolitan Station. A widow named Murchison kept the house at
that time, and she had three medical students and one engineer as
lodgers. I occupied the top room, which was the cheapest, but
cheap as it was it was more than I could afford. My small
resources were dwindling away, and every week it became more
necessary that I should find something to do. Yet I was very
unwilling to go into general practice, for my tastes were all in
the direction of science, and especially of zoology, towards which
I had always a strong leaning. I had almost given the fight up and
resigned myself to being a medical drudge for life, when the
turning-point of my struggles came in a very extraordinary way.
One morning I had picked up the Standard and was glancing
over its contents. There was a complete absence of news, and I was
about to toss the paper down again, when my eyes were caught by an
advertisement at the head of the personal column. It was worded in
"Wanted for one or more days the services of a medical man. It
is essential that he should be a man of strong physique, of steady
nerves, and of a resolute nature. Must be an entomologist--coleopterist
preferred. Apply, in person, at 77B, Brook Street. Application must
be made before twelve o'clock today."
Now, I have already said that I was devoted to zoology. Of all
branches of zoology, the study of insects was the most attractive
to me, and of all insects beetles were the species with which I
was most familiar. Butterfly collectors are numerous, but
beetles are far more varied, and more accessible in these islands
than are butterflies. It was this fact which had attracted my
attention to them, and I had myself made a collection which
numbered some hundred varieties. As to the other requisites of the
advertisement, I knew that my nerves could be depended upon, and I
had won the weight-throwing competition at the inter-hospital
sports. Clearly, I was the very man for the vacancy. Within five
minutes of my having read the advertisement I was in a cab and on
my was to Brook Street.
As I drove, I kept turning the matter over in my head and
trying to make a guess as to what sort of employment it could be
which needed such curious qualifications. A strong physique, a
resolute nature, a medical training, and a knowledge of beetles--what
connection could there be between these various requisites?
And then there was the disheartening fact that the situation was
not a permanent one, but terminable from day to day, according to
the terms of the advertisement. The more I pondered over it the
more unintelligible did it become; but at the end of my meditations
I always came back to the ground fact that, come what might, I had
nothing to lose, that I was completely at the end of my resources,
and that I was ready for any adventure, however desperate, which
would put a few honest sovereigns into my pocket. The man fears to
fail who has to pay for his failure, but there was no penalty which
Fortune could exact from me. I was like the gambler with empty
pockets, who is still allowed to try his luck with the others.
No. 77B, Brook Street, was one of those dingy and yet imposing
houses, dun-coloured and flat-faced, with the intensely respectable
and solid air which marks the Georgian builder. As I alighted from
the cab, a young man came out of the door and walked swiftly down
the street. In passing me, I noticed that he cast an inquisitive
and somewhat malevolent glance at me, and I took the incident as a
good omen, for his appearance was that of a rejected candidate, and
if he resented my application it meant that the vacancy was not yet
filled up. Full of hope, I ascended the broad steps and rapped
with the heavy knocker.
A footman in powder and livery opened the door. Clearly I was
in touch with the people of wealth and fashion.
"Yes, sir?" said the footman.
"I came in answer to----"
"Quite so, sir," said the footman. "Lord Linchmere will see
you at once in the library."
Lord Linchmere! I had vaguely heard the name, but could not
for the instant recall anything about him. Following the footman,
I was shown into a large, book-lined room in which there was seated
behind a writing-desk a small man with a pleasant, clean-shaven,
mobile face, and long hair shot with grey, brushed back from his
forehead. He looked me up and down with a very shrewd, penetrating
glance, holding the card which the footman had given him in his
right hand. Then he smiled pleasantly, and I felt that externally
at any rate I possessed the qualifications which he desired.
"You have come in answer to my advertisement, Dr. Hamilton?" he
"Do you fulfil the conditions which are there laid down?"
"I believe that I do."
"You are a powerful man, or so I should judge from your
"I think that I am fairly strong."
"I believe so."
"Have you ever known what it was to be exposed to imminent
"No, I don't know that I ever have."
"But you think you would be prompt and cool at such a time?"
"I hope so."
"Well, I believe that you would. I have the more confidence in
you because you do not pretend to be certain as to what you would
do in a position that was new to you. My impression is that, so
far as personal qualities go, you are the very man of whom I am in
search. That being settled, we may pass on to the next point."
"To talk to me about beetles."
I looked across to see if he was joking, but, on the contrary,
he was leaning eagerly forward across his desk, and there was
an expression of something like anxiety in his eyes.
"I am afraid that you do not know about beetles," he cried.
"On the contrary, sir, it is the one scientific subject about
which I feel that I really do know something."
"I am overjoyed to hear it. Please talk to me about beetles."
I talked. I do not profess to have said anything original upon
the subject, but I gave a short sketch of the characteristics of
the beetle, and ran over the more common species, with some
allusions to the specimens in my own little collection and to the
article upon "Burying Beetles" which I had contributed to the
Journal of Entomological Science.
"What! not a collector?" cried Lord Linchmere. "You don't mean
that you are yourself a collector?" His eyes danced with pleasure
at the thought.
"You are certainly the very man in London for my purpose. I
thought that among five millions of people there must be such a
man, but the difficulty is to lay one's hands upon him. I have
been extraordinarily fortunate in finding you."
He rang a gong upon the table, and the footman entered.
"Ask Lady Rossiter to have the goodness to step this way," said
his lordship, and a few moments later the lady was ushered into the
room. She was a small, middle-aged woman, very like Lord Linchmere
in appearance, with the same quick, alert features and grey-black
hair. The expression of anxiety, however, which I had observed
upon his face was very much more marked upon hers. Some great
grief seemed to have cast its shadow over her features. As Lord
Linchmere presented me she turned her face full upon me, and I was
shocked to observe a half-healed scar extending for two inches over
her right eyebrow. It was partly concealed by plaster, but none
the less I could see that it had been a serious wound and not long
"Dr. Hamilton is the very man for our purpose, Evelyn," said
Lord Linchmere. "He is actually a collector of beetles, and he has
written articles upon the subject."
"Really!" said Lady Rossiter. "Then you must have heard of my
husband. Everyone who knows anything about beetles must have heard
of Sir Thomas Rossiter."
For the first time a thin little ray of light began to break into the
obscure business. Here, at last, was a connection between these people
and beetles. Sir Thomas Rossiter--he was the greatest authority upon the
subject in the world. He had made it his lifelong study, and had written
a most exhaustive work upon it. I hastened to assure her that I had read
and appreciated it.
"Have you met my husband?" she asked.
"No, I have not."
"But you shall," said Lord Linchmere, with decision.
The lady was standing beside the desk, and she put her hand
upon his shoulder. It was obvious to me as I saw their faces
together that they were brother and sister.
"Are you really prepared for this, Charles? It is noble of
you, but you fill me with fears." Her voice quavered with
apprehension, and he appeared to me to be equally moved, though he
was making strong efforts to conceal his agitation.
"Yes, yes, dear; it is all settled, it is all decided; in fact,
there is no other possible way, that I can see."
"There is one obvious way."
"No, no, Evelyn, I shall never abandon you--never. It will
come right--depend upon it; it will come right, and surely it looks
like the interference of Providence that so perfect an instrument
should be put into our hands."
My position was embarrassing, for I felt that for the instant
they had forgotten my presence. But Lord Linchmere came back
suddenly to me and to my engagement.
"The business for which I want you, Dr. Hamilton, is that you
should put yourself absolutely at my disposal. I wish you to come
for a short journey with me, to remain always at my side, and to
promise to do without question whatever I may ask you, however
unreasonable it may appear to you to be."
"That is a good deal to ask," said I.
"Unfortunately I cannot put it more plainly, for I do not
myself know what turn matters may take. You may be sure, however,
that you will not be asked to do anything which your conscience
does not approve; and I promise you that, when all is over, you
will be proud to have been concerned in so good a work."
"If it ends happily," said the lady.
"Exactly; if it ends happily," his lordship repeated.
"And terms?" I asked.
"Twenty pounds a day."
I was amazed at the sum, and must have showed my surprise upon
"It is a rare combination of qualities, as must have struck you
when you first read the advertisement," said Lord Linchmere; "such
varied gifts may well command a high return, and I do not conceal
from you that your duties might be arduous or even dangerous.
Besides, it is possible that one or two days may bring the matter
to an end."
"Please God!" sighed his sister.
"So now, Dr. Hamilton, may I rely upon your aid?"
"Most undoubtedly," said I. "You have only to tell me what my
"Your first duty will be to return to your home. You will pack
up whatever you may need for a short visit to the country. We
start together from Paddington Station at 3:40 this afternoon."
"Do we go far?"
"As far as Pangbourne. Meet me at the bookstall at 3:30. I
shall have the tickets. Goodbye, Dr. Hamilton! And, by the way,
there are two things which I should be very glad if you would bring
with you, in case you have them. One is your case for collecting
beetles, and the other is a stick, and the thicker and heavier the
You may imagine that I had plenty to think of from the time
that I left Brook Street until I set out to meet Lord Linchmere at
Paddington. The whole fantastic business kept arranging and
rearranging itself in kaleidoscopic forms inside my brain, until I
had thought out a dozen explanations, each of them more grotesquely
improbable than the last. And yet I felt that the truth must be
something grotesquely improbable also. At last I gave up all
attempts at finding a solution, and contented myself with exactly
carrying out the instructions which I had received. With a hand
valise, specimen-case, and a loaded cane, I was waiting at the
Paddington bookstall when Lord Linchmere arrived. He was an even
smaller man than I had thought--frail and peaky, with a manner
which was more nervous than it had been in the morning. He wore a
long, thick travelling ulster, and I observed that he carried a
heavy blackthorn cudgel in his hand.
"I have the tickets," said he, leading the way up the platform.
"This is our train. I have engaged a carriage, for I am
particularly anxious to impress one or two things upon you while we
And yet all that he had to impress upon me might have been said
in a sentence, for it was that I was to remember that I was there
as a protection to himself, and that I was not on any consideration
to leave him for an instant. This he repeated again and again as
our journey drew to a close, with an insistence which showed that
his nerves were thoroughly shaken.
"Yes," he said at last, in answer to my looks rather than to my
words, "I AM nervous, Dr. Hamilton. I have always been a timid
man, and my timidity depends upon my frail physical health. But my
soul is firm, and I can bring myself up to face a danger which a
less-nervous man might shrink from. What I am doing now is done
from no compulsion, but entirely from a sense of duty, and yet it
is, beyond doubt, a desperate risk. If things should go wrong, I
will have some claims to the title of martyr."
This eternal reading of riddles was too much for me. I felt
that I must put a term to it.
"I think it would very much better, sir, if you were to trust
me entirely," said I. "It is impossible for me to act effectively,
when I do not know what are the objects which we have in view, or
even where we are going."
"Oh, as to where we are going, there need be no mystery about
that," said he; "we are going to Delamere Court, the residence of
Sir Thomas Rossiter, with whose work you are so conversant. As to
the exact object of our visit, I do not know that at this stage of
the proceedings anything would be gained, Dr. Hamilton, by taking
you into my complete confidence. I may tell you that we are
acting--I say 'we,' because my sister, Lady Rossiter, takes the
same view as myself--with the one object of preventing anything in
the nature of a family scandal. That being so, you can understand
that I am loath to give any explanations which are not absolutely
necessary. It would be a different matter, Dr. Hamilton, if I were
asking your advice. As matters stand, it is only your active
help which I need, and I will indicate to you from time to time how
you can best give it."
There was nothing more to be said, and a poor man can put up
with a good deal for twenty pounds a day, but I felt none the less
that Lord Linchmere was acting rather scurvily towards me. He
wished to convert me into a passive tool, like the blackthorn in
his hand. With his sensitive disposition I could imagine, however,
that scandal would be abhorrent to him, and I realized that he
would not take me into his confidence until no other course was
open to him. I must trust to my own eyes and ears to solve the
mystery, but I had every confidence that I should not trust to them
Delamere Court lies a good five miles from Pangbourne Station,
and we drove for that distance in an open fly. Lord Linchmere sat
in deep thought during the time, and he never opened his mouth
until we were close to our destination. When he did speak it was
to give me a piece of information which surprised me.
"Perhaps you are not aware," said he, "that I am a medical man
"No, sir, I did not know it."
"Yes, I qualified in my younger days, when there were several
lives between me and the peerage. I have not had occasion to
practise, but I have found it a useful education, all the same. I
never regretted the years which I devoted to medical study. These
are the gates of Delamere Court."
We had come to two high pillars crowned with heraldic monsters
which flanked the opening of a winding avenue. Over the laurel
bushes and rhododendrons, I could see a long, many-gabled mansion,
girdled with ivy, and toned to the warm, cheery, mellow glow of old
brick-work. My eyes were still fixed in admiration upon this
delightful house when my companion plucked nervously at my sleeve.
"Here's Sir Thomas," he whispered. "Please talk beetle all you
A tall, thin figure, curiously angular and bony, had emerged
through a gap in the hedge of laurels. In his hand he held a spud,
and he wore gauntleted gardener's gloves. A broad-brimmed, grey
hat cast his face into shadow, but it struck me as exceedingly
austere, with an ill-nourished beard and harsh, irregular features.
The fly pulled up and Lord Linchmere sprang out.
"My dear Thomas, how are you?" said he, heartily.
But the heartiness was by no means reciprocal. The owner of
the grounds glared at me over his brother-in-law's shoulder, and I
caught broken scraps of sentences--"well-known wishes . . . hatred
of strangers . . . unjustifiable intrusion . . . perfectly
inexcusable." Then there was a muttered explanation, and the two
of them came over together to the side of the fly.
"Let me present you to Sir Thomas Rossiter, Dr. Hamilton," said
Lord Linchmere. "You will find that you have a strong community of
I bowed. Sir Thomas stood very stiffly, looking at me severely
from under the broad brim of his hat.
"Lord Linchmere tells me that you know something about
beetles," said he. "What do you know about beetles?"
"I know what I have learned from your work upon the coleoptera,
Sir Thomas," I answered.
"Give me the names of the better-known species of the British
scarabaei," said he.
I had not expected an examination, but fortunately I was ready
for one. My answers seemed to please him, for his stern features
"You appear to have read my book with some profit, sir," said
he. "It is a rare thing for me to meet anyone who takes an
intelligent interest in such matters. People can find time for
such trivialities as sport or society, and yet the beetles are
overlooked. I can assure you that the greater part of the idiots
in this part of the country are unaware that I have ever written a
book at all--I, the first man who ever described the true function
of the elytra. I am glad to see you, sir, and I have no doubt that
I can show you some specimens which will interest you." He stepped
into the fly and drove up with us to the house, expounding to me as
we went some recent researches which he had made into the anatomy
of the lady-bird.
I have said that Sir Thomas Rossiter wore a large hat drawn
down over his brows. As he entered the hall he uncovered himself,
and I was at once aware of a singular characteristic which the hat
had concealed. His forehead, which was naturally high, and
higher still on account of receding hair, was in a continual state
of movement. Some nervous weakness kept the muscles in a constant
spasm, which sometimes produced a mere twitching and sometimes a
curious rotary movement unlike anything which I had ever seen
before. It was strikingly visible as he turned towards us after
entering the study, and seemed the more singular from the contrast
with the hard, steady, grey eyes which looked out from underneath
those palpitating brows.
"I am sorry," said he, "that Lady Rossiter is not here to help
me to welcome you. By the way, Charles, did Evelyn say anything
about the date of her return?"
"She wished to stay in town for a few more days," said Lord
Linchmere. "You know how ladies' social duties accumulate if they
have been for some time in the country. My sister has many old
friends in London at present."
"Well, she is her own mistress, and I should not wish to alter
her plans, but I shall be glad when I see her again. It is very
lonely here without her company."
"I was afraid that you might find it so, and that was partly
why I ran down. My young friend, Dr. Hamilton, is so much
interested in the subject which you have made your own, that I
thought you would not mind his accompanying me."
"I lead a retired life, Dr. Hamilton, and my aversion to
strangers grows upon me," said our host. "I have sometimes thought
that my nerves are not so good as they were. My travels in search
of beetles in my younger days took me into many malarious and
unhealthy places. But a brother coleopterist like yourself is
always a welcome guest, and I shall be delighted if you will look
over my collection, which I think that I may without exaggeration
describe as the best in Europe."
And so no doubt it was. He had a huge, oaken cabinet arranged
in shallow drawers, and here, neatly ticketed and classified, were
beetles from every corner of the earth, black, brown, blue, green,
and mottled. Every now and then as he swept his hand over the
lines and lines of impaled insects he would catch up some rare
specimen, and, handling it with as much delicacy and reverence as
if it were a precious relic, he would hold forth upon its
peculiarities and the circumstances under which it came into his
possession. It was evidently an unusual thing for him to meet
with a sympathetic listener, and he talked and talked until the
spring evening had deepened into night, and the gong announced that
it was time to dress for dinner. All the time Lord Linchmere said
nothing, but he stood at his brother-in-law's elbow, and I caught
him continually shooting curious little, questioning glances into
his face. And his own features expressed some strong emotion,
apprehension, sympathy, expectation: I seemed to read them all.
I was sure that Lord Linchmere was fearing something and awaiting
something, but what that something might be I could not imagine.
The evening passed quietly but pleasantly, and I should have
been entirely at my ease if it had not been for that continual
sense of tension upon the part of Lord Linchmere. As to our host,
I found that he improved upon acquaintance. He spoke constantly
with affection of his absent wife, and also of his little son, who
had recently been sent to school. The house, he said, was not the
same without them. If it were not for his scientific studies, he
did not know how he could get through the days. After dinner we
smoked for some time in the billiard-room, and finally went early
And then it was that, for the first time, the suspicion that
Lord Linchmere was a lunatic crossed my mind. He followed me into
my bedroom, when our host had retired.
"Doctor," said he, speaking in a low, hurried voice, "you must
come with me. You must spend the night in my bedroom."
"What do you mean?"
"I prefer not to explain. But this is part of your duties. My
room is close by, and you can return to your own before the servant
calls you in the morning."
"But why?" I asked.
"Because I am nervous of being alone," said he. "That's the
reason, since you must have a reason."
It seemed rank lunacy, but the argument of those twenty pounds
would overcome many objections. I followed him to his room.
"Well," said I, "there's only room for one in that bed."
"Only one shall occupy it," said he.
"And the other?"
"Must remain on watch."
"Why?" said I. "One would think you expected to be attacked."
"Perhaps I do."
"In that case, why not lock your door?"
"Perhaps I WANT to be attacked."
It looked more and more like lunacy. However, there was
nothing for it but to submit. I shrugged my shoulders and sat down
in the arm-chair beside the empty fireplace.
"I am to remain on watch, then?" said I, ruefully.
"We will divide the night. If you will watch until two, I will
watch the remainder."
"Call me at two o'clock, then."
"I will do so."
"Keep your ears open, and if you hear any sounds wake me
instantly--instantly, you hear?"
"You can rely upon it." I tried to look as solemn as he did.
"And for God's sake don't go to sleep," said he, and so, taking
off only his coat, he threw the coverlet over him and settled down
for the night.
"It was a melancholy vigil, and made more so by my own sense of
its folly. Supposing that by any chance Lord Linchmere had cause
to suspect that he was subject to danger in the house of Sir Thomas
Rossiter, why on earth could he not lock his door and so protect
himself?" His own answer that he might wish to be attacked was
absurd. Why should he possibly wish to be attacked? And who would
wish to attack him? Clearly, Lord Linchmere was suffering from
some singular delusion, and the result was that on an imbecile
pretext I was to be deprived of my night's rest. Still, however
absurd, I was determined to carry out his injunctions to the letter
as long as I was in his employment. I sat, therefore, beside the
empty fireplace, and listened to a sonorous chiming clock somewhere
down the passage which gurgled and struck every quarter of an hour.
It was an endless vigil. Save for that single clock, an absolute
silence reigned throughout the great house. A small lamp stood on
the table at my elbow, throwing a circle of light round my chair,
but leaving the corners of the room draped in shadow. On the bed
Lord Linchmere was breathing peacefully. I envied him his quiet
sleep, and again and again my own eyelids drooped, but every
time my sense of duty came to my help, and I sat up, rubbing my
eyes and pinching myself with a determination to see my irrational
watch to an end.
And I did so. From down the passage came the chimes of two
o'clock, and I laid my hand upon the shoulder of the sleeper.
Instantly he was sitting up, with an expression of the keenest
interest upon his face.
"You have heard something?"
"No, sir. It is two o'clock."
"Very good. I will watch. You can go to sleep."
I lay down under the coverlet as he had done and was soon
unconscious. My last recollection was of that circle of lamplight,
and of the small, hunched-up figure and strained, anxious face of
Lord Linchmere in the centre of it.
How long I slept I do not know; but I was suddenly aroused by
a sharp tug at my sleeve. The room was in darkness, but a hot
smell of oil told me that the lamp had only that instant been
"Quick! Quick!" said Lord Linchmere's voice in my ear.
I sprang out of bed, he still dragging at my arm.
"Over here!" he whispered, and pulled me into a corner of the
room. "Hush! Listen!"
In the silence of the night I could distinctly hear that
someone was coming down the corridor. It was a stealthy step,
faint and intermittent, as of a man who paused cautiously after
every stride. Sometimes for half a minute there was no sound, and
then came the shuffle and creak which told of a fresh advance. My
companion was trembling with excitement. His hand, which still
held my sleeve, twitched like a branch in the wind.
"What is it?" I whispered.
"What does he want?"
"Hush! Do nothing until I tell you."
I was conscious now that someone was trying the door. There
was the faintest little rattle from the handle, and then I dimly
saw a thin slit of subdued light. There was a lamp burning
somewhere far down the passage, and it just sufficed to make the
outside visible from the darkness of our room. The greyish slit
grew broader and broader, very gradually, very gently, and then
outlined against it I saw the dark figure of a man. He was squat
and crouching, with the silhouette of a bulky and misshapen dwarf.
Slowly the door swung open with this ominous shape framed in the
centre of it. And then, in an instant, the crouching figure shot
up, there was a tiger spring across the room and thud, thud, thud,
came three tremendous blows from some heavy object upon the bed.
I was so paralysed with amazement that I stood motionless and
staring until I was aroused by a yell for help from my companion.
The open door shed enough light for me to see the outline of
things, and there was little Lord Linchmere with his arms round the
neck of his brother-in-law, holding bravely on to him like a game
bull-terrier with its teeth into a gaunt deerhound. The tall, bony
man dashed himself about, writhing round and round to get a grip
upon his assailant; but the other, clutching on from behind, still
kept his hold, though his shrill, frightened cries showed how
unequal he felt the contest to be. I sprang to the rescue, and the
two of us managed to throw Sir Thomas to the ground, though he made
his teeth meet in my shoulder. With all my youth and weight and
strength, it was a desperate struggle before we could master his
frenzied struggles; but at last we secured his arms with the waist-cord
of the dressing-gown which he was wearing. I was holding his
legs while Lord Linchmere was endeavouring to relight the lamp,
when there came the pattering of many feet in the passage, and the
butler and two footmen, who had been alarmed by the cries, rushed
into the room. With their aid we had no further difficulty in
securing our prisoner, who lay foaming and glaring upon the ground.
One glance at his face was enough to prove that he was a dangerous
maniac, while the short, heavy hammer which lay beside the bed
showed how murderous had been his intentions.
"Do not use any violence!" said Lord Linchmere, as we raised
the struggling man to his feet. "He will have a period of stupor
after this excitement. I believe that it is coming on already."
As he spoke the convulsions became less violent, and the madman's
head fell forward upon his breast, as if he were overcome by
sleep. We led him down the passage and stretched him upon his own
bed, where he lay unconscious, breathing heavily.
"Two of you will watch him," said Lord Linchmere. "And now,
Dr. Hamilton, if you will return with me to my room, I will give
you the explanation which my horror of scandal has perhaps caused
me to delay too long. Come what may, you will never have cause to
regret your share in this night's work.
"The case may be made clear in a very few words," he continued,
when we were alone. "My poor brother-in-law is one of the best
fellows upon earth, a loving husband and an estimable father, but
he comes from a stock which is deeply tainted with insanity. He
has more than once had homicidal outbreaks, which are the more
painful because his inclination is always to attack the very person
to whom he is most attached. His son was sent away to school to
avoid this danger, and then came an attempt upon my sister, his
wife, from which she escaped with injuries that you may have
observed when you met her in London. You understand that he knows
nothing of the matter when he is in his sound senses, and would
ridicule the suggestion that he could under any circumstances
injure those whom he loves so dearly. It is often, as you know, a
characteristic of such maladies that it is absolutely impossible to
convince the man who suffers from them of their existence.
"Our great object was, of course, to get him under restraint
before he could stain his hands with blood, but the matter was full
of difficulty. He is a recluse in his habits, and would not see
any medical man. Besides, it was necessary for our purpose that
the medical man should convince himself of his insanity; and he is
sane as you or I, save on these very rare occasions. But,
fortunately, before he has these attacks he always shows certain
premonitory symptoms, which are providential danger-signals,
warning us to be upon our guard. The chief of these is that
nervous contortion of the forehead which you must have observed.
This is a phenomenon which always appears from three to four days
before his attacks of frenzy. The moment it showed itself his wife
came into town on some pretext, and took refuge in my house in
"It remained for me to convince a medical man of Sir Thomas's
insanity, without which it was impossible to put him where he could
do no harm. The first problem was how to get a medical man into
his house. I bethought me of his interest in beetles, and his love
for anyone who shared his tastes. I advertised, therefore, and was
fortunate enough to find in you the very man I wanted. A stout
companion was necessary, for I knew that the lunacy could only be
proved by a murderous assault, and I had every reason to believe
that that assault would be made upon myself, since he had the
warmest regard for me in his moments of sanity. I think your
intelligence will supply all the rest. I did not know that the
attack would come by night, but I thought it very probable, for the
crises of such cases usually do occur in the early hours of the
morning. I am a very nervous man myself, but I saw no other way in
which I could remove this terrible danger from my sister's life.
I need not ask you whether you are willing to sign the lunacy
"Undoubtedly. But TWO signatures are necessary."
"You forget that I am myself a holder of a medical degree. I
have the papers on a side-table here, so if you will be good enough
to sign them now, we can have the patient removed in the morning."
So that was my visit to Sir Thomas Rossiter, the famous beetle-hunter,
and that was also my first step upon the ladder of success,
for Lady Rossiter and Lord Linchmere have proved to be staunch
friends, and they have never forgotten my association with them in
the time of their need. Sir Thomas is out and said to be cured,
but I still think that if I spent another night at Delamere Court,
I should be inclined to lock my door upon the inside.
The Man with the Watches
There are many who will still bear in mind the singular
circumstances which, under the heading of the Rugby Mystery,
filled many columns of the daily Press in the spring of the year
1892. Coming as it did at a period of exceptional dullness, it
attracted perhaps rather more attention than it deserved, but it
offered to the public that mixture of the whimsical and the
tragic which is most stimulating to the popular imagination.
Interest drooped, however, when, after weeks of fruitless
investigation, it was found that no final explanation of the
facts was forthcoming, and the tragedy seemed from that time to
the present to have finally taken its place in the dark catalogue
of inexplicable and unexpiated crimes. A recent communication
(the authenticity of which appears to be above question) has,
however, thrown some new and clear light upon the matter. Before
laying it before the public it would be as well, perhaps, that I
should refresh their memories as to the singular facts upon which
this commentary is founded. These facts were briefly as follows:
At five o'clock on the evening of the 18th of March in the year
already mentioned a train left Euston Station for Manchester. It
was a rainy, squally day, which grew wilder as it progressed, so it
was by no means the weather in which anyone would travel who was
not driven to do so by necessity. The train, however, is a
favourite one among Manchester business men who are returning from
town, for it does the journey in four hours and twenty minutes,
with only three stoppages upon the way. In spite of the inclement
evening it was, therefore, fairly well filled upon the occasion of
which I speak. The guard of the train was a tried servant of the
company--a man who had worked for twenty-two years without a
blemish or complaint. His name was John Palmer.
The station clock was upon the stroke of five, and the guard
was about to give the customary signal to the engine-driver when he
observed two belated passengers hurrying down the platform. The
one was an exceptionally tall man, dressed in a long black overcoat
with astrakhan collar and cuffs. I have already said that the
evening was an inclement one, and the tall traveller had the high,
warm collar turned up to protect his throat against the bitter
March wind. He appeared, as far as the guard could judge by so
hurried an inspection, to be a man between fifty and sixty years of
age, who had retained a good deal of the vigour and activity of his
youth. In one hand he carried a brown leather Gladstone bag. His
companion was a lady, tall and erect, walking with a vigorous step
which outpaced the gentleman beside her. She wore a long, fawn-coloured
dust-cloak, a black, close-fitting toque, and a dark veil
which concealed the greater part of her face. The two might very
well have passed as father and daughter. They walked swiftly down
the line of carriages, glancing in at the windows, until the guard,
John Palmer, overtook them.
"Now then, sir, look sharp, the train is going," said he.
"First-class," the man answered.
The guard turned the handle of the nearest door. In the
carriage which he had opened, there sat a small man with a cigar in
his mouth. His appearance seems to have impressed itself upon the
guard's memory, for he was prepared, afterwards, to describe or to
identify him. He was a man of thirty-four or thirty-five years of
age, dressed in some grey material, sharp-nosed, alert, with a
ruddy, weather-beaten face, and a small, closely cropped, black
beard. He glanced up as the door was opened. The tall man paused
with his foot upon the step.
"This is a smoking compartment. The lady dislikes smoke," said
he, looking round at the guard.
"All right! Here you are, sir!" said John Palmer. He slammed the door of
the smoking carriage, opened that of the next one, which was empty, and
thrust the two travellers in. At the same moment he sounded his whistle
and the wheels of the train began to move. The man with the cigar was at
the window of his carriage, and said something to the guard as he rolled
past him, but the words were lost in the bustle of the departure. Palmer
stepped into the guard's van, as it came up to him, and thought no more
of the incident.
Twelve minutes after its departure the train reached Willesden
Junction, where it stopped for a very short interval. An
examination of the tickets has made it certain that no one either
joined or left it at this time, and no passenger was seen to alight
upon the platform. At 5:14 the journey to Manchester was resumed,
and Rugby was reached at 6:50, the express being five minutes late.
At Rugby the attention of the station officials was drawn to
the fact that the door of one of the first-class carriages was
open. An examination of that compartment, and of its neighbour,
disclosed a remarkable state of affairs.
The smoking carriage in which the short, red-faced man with the
black beard had been seen was now empty. Save for a half-smoked
cigar, there was no trace whatever of its recent occupant. The
door of this carriage was fastened. In the next compartment, to
which attention had been originally drawn, there was no sign either
of the gentleman with the astrakhan collar or of the young lady who
accompanied him. All three passengers had disappeared. On the
other hand, there was found upon the floor of this carriage--the
one in which the tall traveller and the lady had been--a young man
fashionably dressed and of elegant appearance. He lay with his
knees drawn up, and his head resting against the farther door, an
elbow upon either seat. A bullet had penetrated his heart and his
death must have been instantaneous. No one had seen such a man
enter the train, and no railway ticket was found in his pocket,
neither were there any markings upon his linen, nor papers nor
personal property which might help to identify him. Who he was,
whence he had come, and how he had met his end were each as great
a mystery as what had occurred to the three people who had started
an hour and a half before from Willesden in those two compartments.
I have said that there was no personal property which might
help to identify him, but it is true that there was one peculiarity
about this unknown young man which was much commented upon at the
time. In his pockets were found no fewer than six valuable gold
watches, three in the various pockets of his waist-coat, one in his
ticket-pocket, one in his breast-pocket, and one small one set
in a leather strap and fastened round his left wrist. The obvious
explanation that the man was a pickpocket, and that this was his
plunder, was discounted by the fact that all six were of American
make and of a type which is rare in England. Three of them bore
the mark of the Rochester Watchmaking Company; one was by Mason, of
Elmira; one was unmarked; and the small one, which was highly
jewelled and ornamented, was from Tiffany, of New York. The other
contents of his pocket consisted of an ivory knife with a corkscrew
by Rodgers, of Sheffield; a small, circular mirror, one inch in
diameter; a readmission slip to the Lyceum Theatre; a silver box
full of vesta matches, and a brown leather cigar-case containing
two cheroots--also two pounds fourteen shillings in money. It was
clear, then, that whatever motives may have led to his death,
robbery was not among them. As already mentioned, there were no
markings upon the man's linen, which appeared to be new, and no
tailor's name upon his coat. In appearance he was young, short,
smooth-cheeked, and delicately featured. One of his front teeth
was conspicuously stopped with gold.
On the discovery of the tragedy an examination was instantly
made of the tickets of all passengers, and the number of the
passengers themselves was counted. It was found that only three
tickets were unaccounted for, corresponding to the three travellers
who were missing. The express was then allowed to proceed, but a
new guard was sent with it, and John Palmer was detained as a
witness at Rugby. The carriage which included the two compartments
in question was uncoupled and side-tracked. Then, on the arrival
of Inspector Vane, of Scotland Yard, and of Mr. Henderson, a
detective in the service of the railway company, an exhaustive
inquiry was made into all the circumstances.
That crime had been committed was certain. The bullet, which appeared to
have come from a small pistol or revolver, had been fired from some
little distance, as there was no scorching of the clothes. No weapon was
found in the compartment (which finally disposed of the theory of
suicide), nor was there any sign of the brown leather bag which the
guard had seen in the hand of the tall gentleman. A lady's parasol was
found upon the rack, but no other trace was to be seen of the travellers
in either of the sections. Apart from the crime, the question of how or
why three passengers (one of them a lady) could get out of the train,
and one other get in during the unbroken run between Willesden and
Rugby, was one which excited the utmost curiosity among the general
public, and gave rise to much speculation in the London Press.
John Palmer, the guard was able at the inquest to give some
evidence which threw a little light upon the matter. There was a
spot between Tring and Cheddington, according to his statement,
where, on account of some repairs to the line, the train had for a
few minutes slowed down to a pace not exceeding eight or ten miles
an hour. At that place it might be possible for a man, or even for
an exceptionally active woman, to have left the train without
serious injury. It was true that a gang of platelayers was there,
and that they had seen nothing, but it was their custom to stand in
the middle between the metals, and the open carriage door was upon
the far side, so that it was conceivable that someone might have
alighted unseen, as the darkness would by that time be drawing in.
A steep embankment would instantly screen anyone who sprang out
from the observation of the navvies.
The guard also deposed that there was a good deal of movement
upon the platform at Willesden Junction, and that though it was
certain that no one had either joined or left the train there, it
was still quite possible that some of the passengers might have
changed unseen from one compartment to another. It was by no means
uncommon for a gentleman to finish his cigar in a smoking carriage
and then to change to a clearer atmosphere. Supposing that the man
with the black beard had done so at Willesden (and the half-smoked
cigar upon the floor seemed to favour the supposition), he would
naturally go into the nearest section, which would bring him into
the company of the two other actors in this drama. Thus the first
stage of the affair might be surmised without any great breach of
probability. But what the second stage had been, or how the final
one had been arrived at, neither the guard nor the experienced
detective officers could suggest.
A careful examination of the line between Willesden and Rugby
resulted in one discovery which might or might not have a bearing
upon the tragedy. Near Tring, at the very place where the train
slowed down, there was found at the bottom of the embankment a
small pocket Testament, very shabby and worn. It was printed
by the Bible Society of London, and bore an inscription: "From
John to Alice. Jan. 13th, 1856," upon the fly-leaf. Underneath
was written: "James. July 4th, 1859," and beneath that again:
"Edward. Nov. 1st, 1869," all the entries being in the same
handwriting. This was the only clue, if it could be called a clue,
which the police obtained, and the coroner's verdict of "Murder by
a person or persons unknown" was the unsatisfactory ending of a
singular case. Advertisement, rewards, and inquiries proved
equally fruitless, and nothing could be found which was solid
enough to form the basis for a profitable investigation.
It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that no theories
were formed to account for the facts. On the contrary, the Press,
both in England and in America, teemed with suggestions and
suppositions, most of which were obviously absurd. The fact that
the watches were of American make, and some peculiarities in
connection with the gold stopping of his front tooth, appeared to
indicate that the deceased was a citizen of the United States,
though his linen, clothes and boots were undoubtedly of British
manufacture. It was surmised, by some, that he was concealed under
the seat, and that, being discovered, he was for some reason,
possibly because he had overheard their guilty secrets, put to
death by his fellow-passengers. When coupled with generalities as
to the ferocity and cunning of anarchical and other secret
societies, this theory sounded as plausible as any.
The fact that he should be without a ticket would be consistent
with the idea of concealment, and it was well known that women
played a prominent part in the Nihilistic propaganda. On the other
hand, it was clear, from the guard's statement, that the man must
have been hidden there BEFORE the others arrived, and how
unlikely the coincidence that conspirators should stray exactly
into the very compartment in which a spy was already concealed!
Besides, this explanation ignored the man in the smoking carriage,
and gave no reason at all for his simultaneous disappearance. The
police had little difficulty in showing that such a theory would
not cover the facts, but they were unprepared in the absence of
evidence to advance any alternative explanation.
There was a letter in the Daily Gazette, over the signature of a
well-known criminal investigator, which gave rise to considerable
discussion at the time. He had formed a hypothesis which had at least
ingenuity to recommend it, and I cannot do better than append it in his
"Whatever may be the truth," said he, "it must depend upon some
bizarre and rare combination of events, so we need have no
hesitation in postulating such events in our explanation. In the
absence of data we must abandon the analytic or scientific method
of investigation, and must approach it in the synthetic fashion.
In a word, instead of taking known events and deducing from them
what has occurred, we must build up a fanciful explanation if it
will only be consistent with known events. We can then test this
explanation by any fresh facts which may arise. If they all fit
into their places, the probability is that we are upon the right
track, and with each fresh fact this probability increases in a
geometrical progression until the evidence becomes final and
"Now, there is one most remarkable and suggestive fact which
has not met with the attention which it deserves. There is a local
train running through Harrow and King's Langley, which is timed in
such a way that the express must have overtaken it at or about the
period when it eased down its speed to eight miles an hour on
account of the repairs of the line. The two trains would at that
time be travelling in the same direction at a similar rate of speed
and upon parallel lines. It is within every one's experience how,
under such circumstances, the occupant of each carriage can see
very plainly the passengers in the other carriages opposite to him.
The lamps of the express had been lit at Willesden, so that each
compartment was brightly illuminated, and most visible to an
observer from outside.
"Now, the sequence of events as I reconstruct them would be
after this fashion. This young man with the abnormal number of
watches was alone in the carriage of the slow train. His ticket,
with his papers and gloves and other things, was, we will suppose,
on the seat beside him. He was probably an American, and also
probably a man of weak intellect. The excessive wearing of
jewellery is an early symptom in some forms of mania.
"As he sat watching the carriages of the express which were
(on account of the state of the line) going at the same pace as
himself, he suddenly saw some people in it whom he knew. We will
suppose for the sake of our theory that these people were a
woman whom he loved and a man whom he hated--and who in return
hated him. The young man was excitable and impulsive. He opened
the door of his carriage, stepped from the footboard of the local
train to the footboard of the express, opened the other door, and
made his way into the presence of these two people. The feat (on
the supposition that the trains were going at the same pace) is by
no means so perilous as it might appear.
"Having now got our young man, without his ticket, into the
carriage in which the elder man and the young woman are travelling,
it is not difficult to imagine that a violent scene ensued. It is
possible that the pair were also Americans, which is the more
probable as the man carried a weapon--an unusual thing in England.
If our supposition of incipient mania is correct, the young man is
likely to have assaulted the other. As the upshot of the quarrel
the elder man shot the intruder, and then made his escape from the
carriage, taking the young lady with him. We will suppose that all
this happened very rapidly, and that the train was still going at
so slow a pace that it was not difficult for them to leave it. A
woman might leave a train going at eight miles an hour. As a
matter of fact, we know that this woman DID do so.
"And now we have to fit in the man in the smoking carriage. Presuming
that we have, up to this point, reconstructed the tragedy correctly, we
shall find nothing in this other man to cause us to reconsider our
conclusions. According to my theory, this man saw the young fellow cross
from one train to the other, saw him open the door, heard the
pistol-shot, saw the two fugitives spring out on to the line, realized
that murder had been done, and sprang out himself in pursuit. Why he has
never been heard of since--whether he met his own death in the pursuit,
or whether, as is more likely, he was made to realize that it was not a
case for his interference--is a detail which we have at present no means
of explaining. I acknowledge that there are some difficulties in the
way. At first sight, it might seem improbable that at such a moment a
murderer would burden himself in his flight with a brown leather bag. My
answer is that he was well aware that if the bag were found his identity
would be established. It was absolutely necessary for him to take it
with him. My theory stands or falls upon one point, and I call upon the
railway company to make strict inquiry as to whether a ticket was found
unclaimed in the local train through Harrow and King's Langley upon the
18th of March. If such a ticket were found my case is proved. If not, my
theory may still be the correct one, for it is conceivable either that
he travelled without a ticket or that his ticket was lost."
To this elaborate and plausible hypothesis the answer of the
police and of the company was, first, that no such ticket was
found; secondly, that the slow train would never run parallel to
the express; and, thirdly, that the local train had been stationary
in King's Langley Station when the express, going at fifty miles an
hour, had flashed past it. So perished the only satisfying
explanation, and five years have elapsed without supplying a new
one. Now, at last, there comes a statement which covers all the
facts, and which must be regarded as authentic. It took the shape
of a letter dated from New York, and addressed to the same criminal
investigator whose theory I have quoted. It is given here in
extenso, with the exception of the two opening paragraphs, which
are personal in their nature:
"You'll excuse me if I'm not very free with names. There's
less reason now than there was five years ago when mother was still
living. But for all that, I had rather cover up our tracks all I
can. But I owe you an explanation, for if your idea of it was
wrong, it was a mighty ingenious one all the same. I'll have to go
back a little so as you may understand all about it.
"My people came from Bucks, England, and emigrated to the
States in the early fifties. They settled in Rochester, in the
State of New York, where my father ran a large dry goods store.
There were only two sons: myself, James, and my brother, Edward.
I was ten years older than my brother, and after my father died I
sort of took the place of a father to him, as an elder brother
would. He was a bright, spirited boy, and just one of the most
beautiful creatures that ever lived. But there was always a soft
spot in him, and it was like mould in cheese, for it spread and
spread, and nothing that you could do would stop it. Mother saw it
just as clearly as I did, but she went on spoiling him all the
same, for he had such a way with him that you could refuse him
nothing. I did all I could to hold him in, and he hated me for my
"At last he fairly got his head, and nothing that we could do
would stop him. He got off into New York, and went rapidly
from bad to worse. At first he was only fast, and then he was
criminal; and then, at the end of a year or two, he was one of the
most notorious young crooks in the city. He had formed a
friendship with Sparrow MacCoy, who was at the head of his
profession as a bunco-steerer, green goodsman and general rascal.
They took to card-sharping, and frequented some of the best hotels
in New York. My brother was an excellent actor (he might have made
an honest name for himself if he had chosen), and he would take the
parts of a young Englishman of title, of a simple lad from the
West, or of a college undergraduate, whichever suited Sparrow
MacCoy's purpose. And then one day he dressed himself as a girl,
and he carried it off so well, and made himself such a valuable
decoy, that it was their favourite game afterwards. They had made
it right with Tammany and with the police, so it seemed as if
nothing could ever stop them, for those were in the days before the
Lexow Commission, and if you only had a pull, you could do pretty
nearly everything you wanted.
"And nothing would have stopped them if they had only stuck to
cards and New York, but they must needs come up Rochester way, and
forge a name upon a cheque. It was my brother that did it, though
everyone knew that it was under the influence of Sparrow MacCoy.
I bought up that cheque, and a pretty sum it cost me. Then I went
to my brother, laid it before him on the table, and swore to him
that I would prosecute if he did not clear out of the country. At
first he simply laughed. I could not prosecute, he said, without
breaking our mother's heart, and he knew that I would not do that.
I made him understand, however, that our mother's heart was being
broken in any case, and that I had set firm on the point that I
would rather see him in Rochester gaol than in a New York hotel.
So at last he gave in, and he made me a solemn promise that he
would see Sparrow MacCoy no more, that he would go to Europe, and
that he would turn his hand to any honest trade that I helped him
to get. I took him down right away to an old family friend, Joe
Willson, who is an exporter of American watches and clocks, and I
got him to give Edward an agency in London, with a small salary and
a 15 per cent commission on all business. His manner and
appearance were so good that he won the old man over at once,
and within a week he was sent off to London with a case full
"It seemed to me that this business of the cheque had really
given my brother a fright, and that there was some chance of his
settling down into an honest line of life. My mother had spoken
with him, and what she said had touched him, for she had always
been the best of mothers to him and he had been the great sorrow of
her life. But I knew that this man Sparrow MacCoy had a great
influence over Edward and my chance of keeping the lad straight lay
in breaking the connection between them. I had a friend in the New
York detective force, and through him I kept a watch upon MacCoy.
When, within a fortnight of my brother's sailing, I heard that
MacCoy had taken a berth in the Etruria, I was as certain as if
he had told me that he was going over to England for the purpose of
coaxing Edward back again into the ways that he had left. In an
instant I had resolved to go also, and to pit my influence against
MacCoy's. I knew it was a losing fight, but I thought, and my
mother thought, that it was my duty. We passed the last night
together in prayer for my success, and she gave me her own
Testament that my father had given her on the day of their marriage
in the Old Country, so that I might always wear it next my heart.
"I was a fellow-traveller, on the steamship, with Sparrow
MacCoy, and at least I had the satisfaction of spoiling his little
game for the voyage. The very first night I went into the smoking-room,
and found him at the head of a card-table, with a half a
dozen young fellows who were carrying their full purses and their
empty skulls over to Europe. He was settling down for his harvest,
and a rich one it would have been. But I soon changed all that.
"'Gentlemen,' said I, 'are you aware whom you are playing
"'What's that to you? You mind your own business!' said he,
with an oath.
"'Who is it, anyway?' asked one of the dudes.
"'He's Sparrow MacCoy, the most notorious card-sharper in the
"Up he jumped with a bottle in his hand, but he remembered
that he was under the flag of the effete Old Country, where
law and order run, and Tammany has no pull. Gaol and the gallows
wait for violence and murder, and there's no slipping out by the
back door on board an ocean liner.
"'Prove your words, you ----!' said he.
"'I will!' said I. 'If you will turn up your right shirt-sleeve
to the shoulder, I will either prove my words or I will eat them.'
"He turned white and said not a word. You see, I knew
something of his ways, and I was aware of that part of the
mechanism which he and all such sharpers use consists of an elastic
down the arm with a clip just above the wrist. It is by means of
this clip that they withdraw from their hands the cards which they
do not want, while they substitute other cards from another hiding
place. I reckoned on it being there, and it was. He cursed me,
slunk out of the saloon, and was hardly seen again during the
voyage. For once, at any rate, I got level with Mister Sparrow
"But he soon had his revenge upon me, for when it came to
influencing my brother he outweighed me every time. Edward had
kept himself straight in London for the first few weeks, and had
done some business with his American watches, until this villain
came across his path once more. I did my best, but the best was
little enough. The next thing I heard there had been a scandal at
one of the Northumberland Avenue hotels: a traveller had been
fleeced of a large sum by two confederate card-sharpers, and the
matter was in the hands of Scotland Yard. The first I learned of
it was in the evening paper, and I was at once certain that my
brother and MacCoy were back at their old games. I hurried at once
to Edward's lodgings. They told me that he and a tall gentleman
(whom I recognized as MacCoy) had gone off together, and that he
had left the lodgings and taken his things with him. The landlady
had heard them give several directions to the cabman, ending with
Euston Station, and she had accidentally overheard the tall
gentleman saying something about Manchester. She believed that
that was their destination.
"A glance at the time-table showed me that the most likely
train was at five, though there was another at 4:35 which they
might have caught. I had only time to get the later one, but found
no sign of them either at the depot or in the train. They
must have gone on by the earlier one, so I determined to
follow them to Manchester and search for them in the hotels there.
One last appeal to my brother by all that he owed to my mother
might even now be the salvation of him. My nerves were overstrung,
and I lit a cigar to steady them. At that moment, just as the
train was moving off, the door of my compartment was flung open,
and there were MacCoy and my brother on the platform.
"They were both disguised, and with good reason, for they knew
that the London police were after them. MacCoy had a great
astrakhan collar drawn up, so that only his eyes and nose were
showing. My brother was dressed like a woman, with a black veil
half down his face, but of course it did not deceive me for an
instant, nor would it have done so even if I had not known that he
had often used such a dress before. I started up, and as I did so
MacCoy recognized me. He said something, the conductor slammed the
door, and they were shown into the next compartment. I tried to
stop the train so as to follow them, but the wheels were already
moving, and it was too late.
"When we stopped at Willesden, I instantly changed my carriage.
It appears that I was not seen to do so, which is not surprising,
as the station was crowded with people. MacCoy, of course, was
expecting me, and he had spent the time between Euston and
Willesden in saying all he could to harden my brother's heart and
set him against me. That is what I fancy, for I had never found
him so impossible to soften or to move. I tried this way and I
tried that; I pictured his future in an English gaol; I described
the sorrow of his mother when I came back with the news; I said
everything to touch his heart, but all to no purpose. He sat there
with a fixed sneer upon his handsome face, while every now and then
Sparrow MacCoy would throw in a taunt at me, or some word of
encouragement to hold my brother to his resolutions.
"'Why don't you run a Sunday-school?' he would say to me, and
then, in the same breath: 'He thinks you have no will of your own.
He thinks you are just the baby brother and that he can lead you
where he likes. He's only just finding out that you are a man as
well as he.'
"It was those words of his which set me talking bitterly. We
had left Willesden, you understand, for all this took some time.
My temper got the better of me, and for the first time in my
life I let my brother see the rough side of me. Perhaps it would
have been better had I done so earlier and more often.
"'A man!' said I. 'Well, I'm glad to have your friend's
assurance of it, for no one would suspect it to see you like a
boarding-school missy. I don't suppose in all this country there
is a more contemptible-looking creature than you are as you sit
there with that Dolly pinafore upon you.' He coloured up at that,
for he was a vain man, and he winced from ridicule.
"'It's only a dust-cloak,' said he, and he slipped it off.
'One has to throw the coppers off one's scent, and I had no other
way to do it.' He took his toque off with the veil attached, and
he put both it and the cloak into his brown bag. 'Anyway, I don't
need to wear it until the conductor comes round,' said he.
"'Nor then, either,' said I, and taking the bag I slung it with
all my force out of the window. 'Now,' said I, 'you'll never make
a Mary Jane of yourself while I can help it. If nothing but that
disguise stands between you and a gaol, then to gaol you shall go.'
"That was the way to manage him. I felt my advantage at once.
His supple nature was one which yielded to roughness far more
readily than to entreaty. He flushed with shame, and his eyes
filled with tears. But MacCoy saw my advantage also, and was
determined that I should not pursue it.
"'He's my pard, and you shall not bully him,' he cried.
"'He's my brother, and you shall not ruin him,' said I. 'I
believe a spell of prison is the very best way of keeping you
apart, and you shall have it, or it will be no fault of mine.'
"'Oh, you would squeal, would you?' he cried, and in an instant
he whipped out his revolver. I sprang for his hand, but saw that
I was too late, and jumped aside. At the same instant he fired,
and the bullet which would have struck me passed through the heart
of my unfortunate brother.
"He dropped without a groan upon the floor of the compartment,
and MacCoy and I, equally horrified, knelt at each side of him,
trying to bring back some signs of life. MacCoy still held the
loaded revolver in his hand, but his anger against me and my
resentment towards him had both for the moment been swallowed up in
this sudden tragedy. It was he who first realized the situation.
The train was for some reason going very slowly at the moment,
and he saw his opportunity for escape. In an instant he had the
door open, but I was as quick as he, and jumping upon him the two
of us fell off the footboard and rolled in each other's arms down
a steep embankment. At the bottom I struck my head against a
stone, and I remembered nothing more. When I came to myself I was
lying among some low bushes, not far from the railroad track, and
somebody was bathing my head with a wet handkerchief. It was
"'I guess I couldn't leave you,' said he. 'I didn't want to
have the blood of two of you on my hands in one day. You loved
your brother, I've no doubt; but you didn't love him a cent more
than I loved him, though you'll say that I took a queer way to show
it. Anyhow, it seems a mighty empty world now that he is gone, and
I don't care a continental whether you give me over to the hangman
"He had turned his ankle in the fall, and there we sat, he with
his useless foot, and I with my throbbing head, and we talked and
talked until gradually my bitterness began to soften and to turn
into something like sympathy. What was the use of revenging his
death upon a man who was as much stricken by that death as I was?
And then, as my wits gradually returned, I began to realize also
that I could do nothing against MacCoy which would not recoil upon
my mother and myself. How could we convict him without a full
account of my brother's career being made public--the very thing
which of all others we wished to avoid? It was really as much our
interest as his to cover the matter up, and from being an avenger
of crime I found myself changed to a conspirator against Justice.
The place in which we found ourselves was one of those pheasant
preserves which are so common in the Old Country, and as we groped
our way through it I found myself consulting the slayer of my
brother as to how far it would be possible to hush it up.
"I soon realized from what he said that unless there were some
papers of which we knew nothing in my brother's pockets, there was
really no possible means by which the police could identify him or
learn how he had got there. His ticket was in MacCoy's pocket, and
so was the ticket for some baggage which they had left at the
depot. Like most Americans, he had found it cheaper and easier to
buy an outfit in London than to bring one from New York, so
that all his linen and clothes were new and unmarked. The bag,
containing the dust-cloak, which I had thrown out of the window,
may have fallen among some bramble patch where it is still
concealed, or may have been carried off by some tramp, or may have
come into the possession of the police, who kept the incident to
themselves. Anyhow, I have seen nothing about it in the London
papers. As to the watches, they were a selection from those which
had been intrusted to him for business purposes. It may have been
for the same business purposes that he was taking them to
Manchester, but--well, it's too late to enter into that.
"I don't blame the police for being at fault. I don't see how
it could have been otherwise. There was just one little clue that
they might have followed up, but it was a small one. I mean that
small, circular mirror which was found in my brother's pocket. It
isn't a very common thing for a young man to carry about with him,
is it? But a gambler might have told you what such a mirror may
mean to a card-sharper. If you sit back a little from the table,
and lay the mirror, face upwards, upon your lap, you can see, as
you deal, every card that you give to your adversary. It is not
hard to say whether you see a man or raise him when you know his
cards as well as your own. It was as much a part of a sharper's
outfit as the elastic clip upon Sparrow MacCoy's arm. Taking that,
in connection with the recent frauds at the hotels, the police
might have got hold of one end of the string.
"I don't think there is much more for me to explain. We got to
a village called Amersham that night in the character of two
gentlemen upon a walking tour, and afterwards we made our way
quietly to London, whence MacCoy went on to Cairo and I returned to
New York. My mother died six months afterwards, and I am glad to
say that to the day of her death she never knew what happened. She
was always under the delusion that Edward was earning an honest
living in London, and I never had the heart to tell her the truth.
He never wrote; but, then, he never did write at any time, so that
made no difference. His name was the last upon her lips.
"There's just one other thing that I have to ask you, sir, and
I should take it as a kind return for all this explanation, if you
could do it for me. You remember that Testament that was
picked up. I always carried it in my inside pocket, and it
must have come out in my fall. I value it very highly, for it was
the family book with my birth and my brother's marked by my father
in the beginning of it. I wish you would apply at the proper place
and have it sent to me. It can be of no possible value to anyone
else. If you address it to X, Bassano's Library, Broadway, New
York, it is sure to come to hand."
The Japanned Box
It WAS a curious thing, said the private tutor; one of those
grotesque and whimsical incidents which occur to one as one goes
through life. I lost the best situation which I am ever likely
to have through it. But I am glad that I went to Thorpe Place,
for I gained--well, as I tell you the story you will learn what I
I don't know whether you are familiar with that part of the
Midlands which is drained by the Avon. It is the most English part
of England. Shakespeare, the flower of the whole race, was born
right in the middle of it. It is a land of rolling pastures,
rising in higher folds to the westwards, until they swell into the
Malvern Hills. There are no towns, but numerous villages, each
with its grey Norman church. You have left the brick of the
southern and eastern counties behind you, and everything is stone--stone
for the walls, and lichened slabs of stone for the roofs. It is all grim
and solid and massive, as befits the heart of a great nation.
It was in the middle of this country, not very far from
Evesham, that Sir John Bollamore lived in the old ancestral home of
Thorpe Place, and thither it was that I came to teach his two
little sons. Sir John was a widower--his wife had died three years
before--and he had been left with these two lads aged eight and
ten, and one dear little girl of seven. Miss Witherton, who is now
my wife, was governess to this little girl. I was tutor to the two
boys. Could there be a more obvious prelude to an engagement? She
governs me now, and I tutor two little boys of our own. But,
there--I have already revealed what it was which I gained in Thorpe
It was a very, very old house, incredibly old--pre-Norman, some
of it--and the Bollamores claimed to have lived in that situation
since long before the Conquest. It struck a chill to my heart when
first I came there, those enormously thick grey walls, the rude
crumbling stones, the smell as from a sick animal which exhaled
from the rotting plaster of the aged building. But the modern wing
was bright and the garden was well kept. No house could be dismal
which had a pretty girl inside it and such a show of roses in
Apart from a very complete staff of servants there were only
four of us in the household. These were Miss Witherton, who was at
that time four-and-twenty and as pretty--well, as pretty as Mrs.
Colmore is now--myself, Frank Colmore, aged thirty, Mrs. Stevens,
the housekeeper, a dry, silent woman, and Mr. Richards, a tall
military-looking man, who acted as steward to the Bollamore
estates. We four always had our meals together, but Sir John had
his usually alone in the library. Sometimes he joined us at
dinner, but on the whole we were just as glad when he did not.
For he was a very formidable person. Imagine a man six feet
three inches in height, majestically built, with a high-nosed,
aristocratic face, brindled hair, shaggy eyebrows, a small, pointed
Mephistophelian beard, and lines upon his brow and round his eyes
as deep as if they had been carved with a penknife. He had grey
eyes, weary, hopeless-looking eyes, proud and yet pathetic, eyes
which claimed your pity and yet dared you to show it. His back was
rounded with study, but otherwise he was as fine a looking man of
his age--five-and-fifty perhaps--as any woman would wish to look
But his presence was not a cheerful one. He was always
courteous, always refined, but singularly silent and retiring. I
have never lived so long with any man and known so little of him.
If he were indoors he spent his time either in his own small study
in the Eastern Tower, or in the library in the modern wing. So
regular was his routine that one could always say at any hour
exactly where he would be. Twice in the day he would visit his
study, once after breakfast, and once about ten at night. You
might set your watch by the slam of the heavy door. For the rest
of the day he would be in his library--save that for an hour or two
in the afternoon he would take a walk or a ride, which was solitary
like the rest of his existence. He loved his children, and was
keenly interested in the progress of their studies, but they were
a little awed by the silent, shaggy-browed figure, and they avoided
him as much as they could. Indeed, we all did that.
It was some time before I came to know anything about the
circumstances of Sir John Bollamore's life, for Mrs. Stevens, the
housekeeper, and Mr. Richards, the land-steward, were too loyal to
talk easily of their employer's affairs. As to the governess, she
knew no more than I did, and our common interest was one of the
causes which drew us together. At last, however, an incident
occurred which led to a closer acquaintance with Mr. Richards and
a fuller knowledge of the life of the man whom I served.
The immediate cause of this was no less than the falling of
Master Percy, the youngest of my pupils, into the mill-race, with
imminent danger both to his life and to mine, since I had to risk
myself in order to save him. Dripping and exhausted--for I
was far more spent than the child--I was making for my room when
Sir John, who had heard the hubbub, opened the door of his little
study and asked me what was the matter. I told him of the
accident, but assured him that his child was in no danger, while he
listened with a rugged, immobile face, which expressed in its
intense eyes and tightened lips all the emotion which he tried to
"One moment! Step in here! Let me have the details!" said he,
turning back through the open door.
And so I found myself within that little sanctum, inside which,
as I afterwards learned, no other foot had for three years been set
save that of the old servant who cleaned it out. It was a round
room, conforming to the shape of the tower in which it was
situated, with a low ceiling, a single narrow, ivy-wreathed window,
and the simplest of furniture. An old carpet, a single chair, a
deal table, and a small shelf of books made up the whole contents.
On the table stood a full-length photograph of a woman--I took no
particular notice of the features, but I remember, that a certain
gracious gentleness was the prevailing impression. Beside it were
a large black japanned box and one or two bundles of letters or
papers fastened together with elastic bands.
Our interview was a short one, for Sir John Bollamore perceived
that I was soaked, and that I should change without delay. The
incident led, however, to an instructive talk with Richards, the
agent, who had never penetrated into the chamber which chance had
opened to me. That very afternoon he came to me, all curiosity,
and walked up and down the garden path with me, while my two
charges played tennis upon the lawn beside us.
"You hardly realize the exception which has been made in your
favour," said he. "That room has been kept such a mystery, and Sir
John's visits to it have been so regular and consistent, that an
almost superstitious feeling has arisen about it in the household.
I assure you that if I were to repeat to you the tales which are
flying about, tales of mysterious visitors there, and of voices
overheard by the servants, you might suspect that Sir John had
relapsed into his old ways."
"Why do you say relapsed?" I asked.
He looked at me in surprise.
"Is it possible," said he, "that Sir John Bollamore's previous
history is unknown to you?"
"You astound me. I thought that every man in England knew
something of his antecedents. I should not mention the matter if
it were not that you are now one of ourselves, and that the facts
might come to your ears in some harsher form if I were silent upon
them. I always took it for granted that you knew that you were in
the service of 'Devil' Bollamore."
"But why 'Devil'?" I asked.
"Ah, you are young and the world moves fast, but twenty
years ago the name of 'Devil' Bollamore was one of the best
known in London. He was the leader of the fastest set, bruiser,
driver, gambler, drunkard--a survival of the old type, and as bad
as the worst of them."
I stared at him in amazement.
"What!" I cried, "that quiet, studious, sad-faced man?"
"The greatest rip and debauchee in England! All between
ourselves, Colmore. But you understand now what I mean when I say
that a woman's voice in his room might even now give rise to
"But what can have changed him so?"
"Little Beryl Clare, when she took the risk of becoming his
wife. That was the turning point. He had got so far that his own
fast set had thrown him over. There is a world of difference, you
know, between a man who drinks and a drunkard. They all drink, but
they taboo a drunkard. He had become a slave to it--hopeless and
helpless. Then she stepped in, saw the possibilities of a fine man
in the wreck, took her chance in marrying him though she might have
had the pick of a dozen, and, by devoting her life to it, brought
him back to manhood and decency. You have observed that no liquor
is ever kept in the house. There never has been any since her foot
crossed its threshold. A drop of it would be like blood to a tiger
"Then her influence still holds him?"
"That is the wonder of it. When she died three years ago, we
all expected and feared that he would fall back into his old ways.
She feared it herself, and the thought gave a terror to death, for
she was like a guardian angel to that man, and lived only for
the one purpose. By the way, did you see a black japanned box in
"I fancy it contains her letters. If ever he has occasion to
be away, if only for a single night, he invariably takes his black
japanned box with him. Well, well, Colmore, perhaps I have told
you rather more than I should, but I shall expect you to
reciprocate if anything of interest should come to your knowledge."
I could see that the worthy man was consumed with curiosity and
just a little piqued that I, the newcomer, should have been the
first to penetrate into the untrodden chamber. But the fact raised
me in his esteem, and from that time onwards I found myself upon
more confidential terms with him.
And now the silent and majestic figure of my employer became an
object of greater interest to me. I began to understand that
strangely human look in his eyes, those deep lines upon his care-worn
face. He was a man who was fighting a ceaseless battle,
holding at arm's length, from morning till night, a horrible
adversary who was forever trying to close with him--an adversary
which would destroy him body and soul could it but fix its claws
once more upon him. As I watched the grim, round-backed figure
pacing the corridor or walking in the garden, this imminent danger
seemed to take bodily shape, and I could almost fancy that I saw
this most loathsome and dangerous of all the fiends crouching
closely in his very shadow, like a half-cowed beast which slinks
beside its keeper, ready at any unguarded moment to spring at his
throat. And the dead woman, the woman who had spent her life in
warding off this danger, took shape also to my imagination, and I
saw her as a shadowy but beautiful presence which intervened for
ever with arms uplifted to screen the man whom she loved.
In some subtle way he divined the sympathy which I had for him,
and he showed in his own silent fashion that he appreciated it. He
even invited me once to share his afternoon walk, and although no
word passed between us on this occasion, it was a mark of
confidence which he had never shown to anyone before. He asked me
also to index his library (it was one of the best private libraries
in England), and I spent many hours in the evening in his
presence, if not in his society, he reading at his desk and I
sitting in a recess by the window reducing to order the chaos which
existed among his books. In spite of these close relations I was
never again asked to enter the chamber in the turret.
And then came my revulsion of feeling. A single incident
changed all my sympathy to loathing, and made me realize that my
employer still remained all that he had ever been, with the
additional vice of hypocrisy. What happened was as follows.
One evening Miss Witherton had gone down to Broadway, the
neighbouring village, to sing at a concert for some charity, and I,
according to my promise, had walked over to escort her back. The
drive sweeps round under the eastern turret, and I observed as I
passed that the light was lit in the circular room. It was a
summer evening, and the window, which was a little higher than our
heads, was open. We were, as it happened, engrossed in our own
conversation at the moment and we had paused upon the lawn which
skirts the old turret, when suddenly something broke in upon our
talk and turned our thoughts away from our own affairs.
It was a voice--the voice undoubtedly of a woman. It was low--so
low that it was only in that still night air that we could have
heard it, but, hushed as it was, there was no mistaking its
feminine timbre. It spoke hurriedly, gaspingly for a few
sentences, and then was silent--a piteous, breathless, imploring
sort of voice. Miss Witherton and I stood for an instant staring
at each other. Then we walked quickly in the direction of the
"It came through the window," I said.
"We must not play the part of eavesdroppers," she answered.
"We must forget that we have ever heard it."
There was an absence of surprise in her manner which suggested
a new idea to me.
"You have heard it before," I cried.
"I could not help it. My own room is higher up on the same
turret. It has happened frequently."
"Who can the woman be?"
"I have no idea. I had rather not discuss it."
Her voice was enough to show me what she thought. But granting
that our employer led a double and dubious life, who could she be,
this mysterious woman who kept him company in the old tower?
I knew from my own inspection how bleak and bare a room it was.
She certainly did not live there. But in that case where did she
come from? It could not be anyone of the household. They were all
under the vigilant eyes of Mrs. Stevens. The visitor must come
from without. But how?
And then suddenly I remembered how ancient this building was,
and how probable that some mediaeval passage existed in it. There
is hardly an old castle without one. The mysterious room was the
basement of the turret, so that if there were anything of the sort
it would open through the floor. There were numerous cottages in
the immediate vicinity. The other end of the secret passage might
lie among some tangle of bramble in the neighbouring copse. I said
nothing to anyone, but I felt that the secret of my employer lay
within my power.
And the more convinced I was of this the more I marvelled at
the manner in which he concealed his true nature. Often as I
watched his austere figure, I asked myself if it were indeed
possible that such a man should be living this double life, and I
tried to persuade myself that my suspicions might after all prove
to be ill-founded. But there was the female voice, there was the
secret nightly rendezvous in the turret-chamber--how could such
facts admit of an innocent interpretation. I conceived a horror of
the man. I was filled with loathing at his deep, consistent
Only once during all those months did I ever see him without
that sad but impassive mask which he usually presented towards his
fellow-man. For an instant I caught a glimpse of those volcanic
fires which he had damped down so long. The occasion was an
unworthy one, for the object of his wrath was none other than the
aged charwoman whom I have already mentioned as being the one
person who was allowed within his mysterious chamber. I was
passing the corridor which led to the turret--for my own room lay
in that direction--when I heard a sudden, startled scream, and
merged in it the husky, growling note of a man who is inarticulate
with passion. It was the snarl of a furious wild beast. Then I
heard his voice thrilling with anger. "You would dare!" he cried.
"You would dare to disobey my directions!" An instant later the
charwoman passed me, flying down the passage, white-faced and
tremulous, while the terrible voice thundered behind her. "Go to
Mrs. Stevens for your money! Never set foot in Thorpe Place
again!" Consumed with curiosity, I could not help following the
woman, and found her round the corner leaning against the wall and
palpitating like a frightened rabbit.
"What is the matter, Mrs. Brown?" I asked.
"It's master!" she gasped. "Oh, 'ow 'e frightened me! If you
had seen 'is eyes, Mr. Colmore, sir. I thought 'e would 'ave been
the death of me."
"But what had you done?"
"Done, sir! Nothing. At least nothing to make so much of.
Just laid my 'and on that black box of 'is--'adn't even opened it,
when in 'e came and you 'eard the way 'e went on. I've lost my
place, and glad I am of it, for I would never trust myself within
reach of 'im again."
So it was the japanned box which was the cause of this
outburst--the box from which he would never permit himself to be
separated. What was the connection, or was there any connection
between this and the secret visits of the lady whose voice I had
overheard? Sir John Bollamore's wrath was enduring as well as
fiery, for from that day Mrs. Brown, the charwoman, vanished from
our ken, and Thorpe Place knew her no more.
And now I wish to tell you the singular chance which solved all
these strange questions and put my employer's secret in my
possession. The story may leave you with some lingering doubts as
to whether my curiosity did not get the better of my honour, and
whether I did not condescend to play the spy. If you choose to
think so I cannot help it, but can only assure you that, improbable
as it may appear, the matter came about exactly as I describe it.
The first stage in this denouement was that the small room
in the turret became uninhabitable. This occurred through the fall
of the worm-eaten oaken beam which supported the ceiling. Rotten
with age, it snapped in the middle one morning, and brought down a
quantity of plaster with it. Fortunately Sir John was not in the
room at the time. His precious box was rescued from amongst the
debris and brought into the library, where, henceforward, it was
locked within his bureau. Sir John took no steps to repair the
damage, and I never had an opportunity of searching for that secret
passage, the existence of which I had surmised. As to the lady, I
had thought that this would have brought her visits to an end, had
I not one evening heard Mr. Richards asking Mrs. Stevens who the
woman was whom he had overheard talking to Sir John in the library.
I could not catch her reply, but I saw from her manner that it was
not the first time that she had had to answer or avoid the same
"You've heard the voice, Colmore?" said the agent.
I confessed that I had.
"And what do YOU think of it?"
I shrugged my shoulders, and remarked that it was no business
"Come, come, you are just as curious as any of us. Is it a
woman or not?"
"It is certainly a woman."
"Which room did you hear it from?"
"From the turret-room, before the ceiling fell."
"But I heard it from the library only last night. I passed the
doors as I was going to bed, and I heard something wailing and
praying just as plainly as I hear you. It may be a woman----"
"Why, what else COULD it be?"
He looked at me hard.
"There are more things in heaven and earth," said he. "If it
is a woman, how does she get there?"
"I don't know."
"No, nor I. But if it is the other thing--but there, for a
practical business man at the end of the nineteenth century this is
rather a ridiculous line of conversation." He turned away, but I
saw that he felt even more than he had said. To all the old ghost
stories of Thorpe Place a new one was being added before our very
eyes. It may by this time have taken its permanent place, for
though an explanation came to me, it never reached the others.
And my explanation came in this way. I had suffered a
sleepless night from neuralgia, and about midday I had taken a
heavy dose of chlorodyne to alleviate the pain. At that time I was
finishing the indexing of Sir John Bollamore's library, and it was
my custom to work there from five till seven. On this particular
day I struggled against the double effect of my bad night and the
narcotic. I have already mentioned that there was a recess in the
library, and in this it was my habit to work. I settled down
steadily to my task, but my weariness overcame me and, falling
back upon the settee, I dropped into a heavy sleep.
How long I slept I do not know, but it was quite dark when I
awoke. Confused by the chlorodyne which I had taken, I lay
motionless in a semi-conscious state. The great room with its high
walls covered with books loomed darkly all round me. A dim
radiance from the moonlight came through the farther window, and
against this lighter background I saw that Sir John Bollamore was
sitting at his study table. His well-set head and clearly cut
profile were sharply outlined against the glimmering square behind
him. He bent as I watched him, and I heard the sharp turning of a
key and the rasping of metal upon metal. As if in a dream I was
vaguely conscious that this was the japanned box which stood in
front of him, and that he had drawn something out of it, something
squat and uncouth, which now lay before him upon the table. I
never realized--it never occurred to my bemuddled and torpid brain
that I was intruding upon his privacy, that he imagined himself to
be alone in the room. And then, just as it rushed upon my
horrified perceptions, and I had half risen to announce my
presence, I heard a strange, crisp, metallic clicking, and then the
Yes, it was a woman's voice; there could not be a doubt of it.
But a voice so charged with entreaty and with yearning love, that
it will ring for ever in my ears. It came with a curious faraway
tinkle, but every word was clear, though faint--very faint, for
they were the last words of a dying woman.
"I am not really gone, John," said the thin, gasping voice. "I
am here at your very elbow, and shall be until we meet once more.
I die happy to think that morning and night you will hear my voice.
Oh, John, be strong, be strong, until we meet again."
I say that I had risen in order to announce my presence, but I
could not do so while the voice was sounding. I could only remain
half lying, half sitting, paralysed, astounded, listening to those
yearning distant musical words. And he--he was so absorbed that
even if I had spoken he might not have heard me. But with the
silence of the voice came my half articulated apologies and
explanations. He sprang across the room, switched on the electric
light, and in its white glare I saw him, his eyes gleaming
with anger, his face twisted with passion, as the hapless
charwoman may have seen him weeks before.
"Mr. Colmore!" he cried. "You here! What is the meaning of
With halting words I explained it all, my neuralgia, the
narcotic, my luckless sleep and singular awakening. As he listened
the glow of anger faded from his face, and the sad, impassive mask
closed once more over his features.
"My secret is yours, Mr. Colmore," said he. "I have only
myself to blame for relaxing my precautions. Half confidences are
worse than no confidences, and so you may know all since you know
so much. The story may go where you will when I have passed away,
but until then I rely upon your sense of honour that no human soul
shall hear it from your lips. I am proud still--God help me!--or,
at least, I am proud enough to resent that pity which this story
would draw upon me. I have smiled at envy, and disregarded hatred,
but pity is more than I can tolerate.
"You have heard the source from which the voice comes--that
voice which has, as I understand, excited so much curiosity in my
household. I am aware of the rumours to which it has given rise.
These speculations, whether scandalous or superstitious, are such
as I can disregard and forgive. What I should never forgive would
be a disloyal spying and eavesdropping in order to satisfy an
illicit curiosity. But of that, Mr. Colmore, I acquit you.
"When I was a young man, sir, many years younger than you are
now, I was launched upon town without a friend or adviser, and with
a purse which brought only too many false friends and false
advisers to my side. I drank deeply of the wine of life--if there
is a man living who has drunk more deeply he is not a man whom I
envy. My purse suffered, my character suffered, my constitution
suffered, stimulants became a necessity to me, I was a creature
from whom my memory recoils. And it was at that time, the time of
my blackest degradation, that God sent into my life the gentlest,
sweetest spirit that ever descended as a ministering angel from
above. She loved me, broken as I was, loved me, and spent her life
in making a man once more of that which had degraded itself to the
level of the beasts.
"But a fell disease struck her, and she withered away before
my eyes. In the hour of her agony it was never of herself, of
her own sufferings and her own death that she thought. It was all
of me. The one pang which her fate brought to her was the fear
that when her influence was removed I should revert to that which
I had been. It was in vain that I made oath to her that no drop of
wine would ever cross my lips. She knew only too well the hold
that the devil had upon me--she who had striven so to loosen it--and
it haunted her night and day the thought that my soul might
again be within his grip.
"It was from some friend's gossip of the sick room that she
heard of this invention--this phonograph--and with the quick
insight of a loving woman she saw how she might use it for her
ends. She sent me to London to procure the best which money could
buy. With her dying breath she gasped into it the words which have
held me straight ever since. Lonely and broken, what else have I
in all the world to uphold me? But it is enough. Please God, I
shall face her without shame when He is pleased to reunite us!
That is my secret, Mr. Colmore, and whilst I live I leave it in
The Black Doctor
Bishop's Crossing is a small village lying ten miles in a south-westerly
direction from Liverpool. Here in the early seventies there settled
a doctor named Aloysius Lana. Nothing was known locally either of
his antecedents or of the reasons which had prompted him to come to
this Lancashire hamlet. Two facts only were certain about him; the
one that he had gained his medical qualification with some distinction
at Glasgow; the other that he came undoubtedly of a tropical race,
and was so dark that he might almost have had a strain of the Indian
in his composition. His predominant features were, however, European, and
he possessed a stately courtesy and carriage which suggested a
Spanish extraction. A swarthy skin, raven-black hair, and dark,
sparkling eyes under a pair of heavily-tufted brows made a
strange contrast to the flaxen or chestnut rustics of England,
and the newcomer was soon known as "The Black Doctor of Bishop's
Crossing." At first it was a term of ridicule and reproach; as
the years went on it became a title of honour which was familiar
to the whole countryside, and extended far beyond the narrow
confines of the village.
For the newcomer proved himself to be a capable surgeon and an
accomplished physician. The practice of that district had been in
the hands of Edward Rowe, the son of Sir William Rowe, the
Liverpool consultant, but he had not inherited the talents of his
father, and Dr. Lana, with his advantages of presence and of
manner, soon beat him out of the field. Dr. Lana's social success
was as rapid as his professional. A remarkable surgical cure in
the case of the Hon. James Lowry, the second son of Lord Belton,
was the means of introducing him to county society, where he became
a favourite through the charm of his conversation and the elegance
of his manners. An absence of antecedents and of relatives is
sometimes an aid rather than an impediment to social advancement,
and the distinguished individuality of the handsome doctor was its
His patients had one fault--and one fault only--to find with
him. He appeared to be a confirmed bachelor. This was the more
remarkable since the house which he occupied was a large one, and
it was known that his success in practice had enabled him to save
considerable sums. At first the local matchmakers were continually
coupling his name with one or other of the eligible ladies, but as
years passed and Dr. Lana remained unmarried, it came to be
generally understood that for some reason he must remain a
bachelor. Some even went so far as to assert that he was already
married, and that it was in order to escape the consequence of an
early misalliance that he had buried himself at Bishop's Crossing.
And, then, just as the matchmakers had finally given him up in
despair, his engagement was suddenly announced to Miss Frances
Morton, of Leigh Hall.
Miss Morton was a young lady who was well known upon the
country-side, her father, James Haldane Morton, having been the
Squire of Bishop's Crossing. Both her parents were, however, dead,
and she lived with her only brother, Arthur Morton, who had
inherited the family estate. In person Miss Morton was tall and
stately, and she was famous for her quick, impetuous nature and for
her strength of character. She met Dr. Lana at a garden-party, and
a friendship, which quickly ripened into love, sprang up between
them. Nothing could exceed their devotion to each other. There
was some discrepancy in age, he being thirty-seven, and she twenty-four;
but, save in that one respect, there was no possible
objection to be found with the match. The engagement was in
February, and it was arranged that the marriage should take place
Upon the 3rd of June Dr. Lana received a letter from abroad.
In a small village the postmaster is also in a position to be the
gossip-master, and Mr. Bankley, of Bishop's Crossing, had many of
the secrets of his neighbours in his possession. Of this
particular letter he remarked only that it was in a curious
envelope, that it was in a man's handwriting, that the postscript
was Buenos Ayres, and the stamp of the Argentine Republic. It was
the first letter which he had ever known Dr. Lana to have from
abroad and this was the reason why his attention was particularly
called to it before he handed it to the local postman. It was
delivered by the evening delivery of that date.
Next morning--that is, upon the 4th of June--Dr. Lana called
upon Miss Morton, and a long interview followed, from which he was
observed to return in a state of great agitation. Miss Morton
remained in her room all that day, and her maid found her several
times in tears. In the course of a week it was an open secret to
the whole village that the engagement was at an end, that Dr. Lana
had behaved shamefully to the young lady, and that Arthur Morton,
her brother, was talking of horse-whipping him. In what particular
respect the doctor had behaved badly was unknown--some surmised one
thing and some another; but it was observed, and taken as the
obvious sign of a guilty conscience, that he would go for miles
round rather than pass the windows of Leigh Hall, and that he gave
up attending morning service upon Sundays where he might have met
the young lady. There was an advertisement also in the Lancet
as to the sale of a practice which mentioned no names, but which
was thought by some to refer to Bishop's Crossing, and to mean that
Dr. Lana was thinking of abandoning the scene of his success. Such
was the position of affairs when, upon the evening of Monday, June
21st, there came a fresh development which changed what had been a
mere village scandal into a tragedy which arrested the attention of
the whole nation. Some detail is necessary to cause the facts of
that evening to present their full significance.
The sole occupants of the doctor's house were his housekeeper,
an elderly and most respectable woman, named Martha Woods, and a
young servant--Mary Pilling. The coachman and the surgery-boy
slept out. It was the custom of the doctor to sit at night in his
study, which was next the surgery in the wing of the house which
was farthest from the servants' quarters. This side of the house
had a door of its own for the convenience of patients, so that it
was possible for the doctor to admit and receive a visitor there
without the knowledge of anyone. As a matter of fact, when
patients came late it was quite usual for him to let them in and
out by the surgery entrance, for the maid and the housekeeper were
in the habit of retiring early.
On this particular night Martha Woods went into the doctor's
study at half-past nine, and found him writing at his desk. She
bade him good night, sent the maid to bed, and then occupied
herself until a quarter to eleven in household matters. It was
striking eleven upon the hall clock when she went to her own room.
She had been there about a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes
when she heard a cry or call, which appeared to come from within
the house. She waited some time, but it was not repeated. Much
alarmed, for the sound was loud and urgent, she put on a dressing-gown,
and ran at the top of her speed to the doctor's study.
"Who's there?" cried a voice, as she tapped at the door.
"I am here, sir--Mrs. Woods."
"I beg that you will leave me in peace. Go back to your room
this instant!" cried the voice, which was, to the best of her
belief, that of her master. The tone was so harsh and so unlike
her master's usual manner, that she was surprised and hurt.
"I thought I heard you calling, sir," she explained, but no
answer was given to her. Mrs. Woods looked at the clock as she
returned to her room, and it was then half-past eleven.
At some period between eleven and twelve (she could not be
positive as to the exact hour) a patient called upon the doctor and
was unable to get any reply from him. This late visitor was Mrs.
Madding, the wife of the village grocer, who was dangerously ill of
typhoid fever. Dr. Lana had asked her to look in the last thing
and let him know how her husband was progressing. She observed
that the light was burning in the study, but having knocked several
times at the surgery door without response, she concluded that the
doctor had been called out, and so returned home.
There is a short, winding drive with a lamp at the end of it
leading down from the house to the road. As Mrs. Madding emerged
from the gate a man was coming along the footpath. Thinking that
it might be Dr. Lana returning from some professional visit, she
waited for him, and was surprised to see that it was Mr. Arthur
Morton, the young squire. In the light of the lamp she observed
that his manner was excited, and that he carried in his hand a
heavy hunting-crop. He was turning in at the gate when she
"The doctor is not in, sir," said she.
"How do you know that?" he asked harshly.
"I have been to the surgery door, sir."
"I see a light," said the young squire, looking up the drive.
"That is in his study, is it not?"
"Yes, sir; but I am sure that he is out."
"Well, he must come in again," said young Morton, and passed
through the gate while Mrs. Madding went upon her homeward way.
At three o'clock that morning her husband suffered a sharp
relapse, and she was so alarmed by his symptoms that she determined
to call the doctor without delay. As she passed through the gate
she was surprised to see someone lurking among the laurel bushes.
It was certainly a man, and to the best of her belief Mr. Arthur
Morton. Preoccupied with her own troubles, she gave no particular
attention to the incident, but hurried on upon her errand.
When she reached the house she perceived to her surprise that
the light was still burning in the study. She therefore tapped at
the surgery door. There was no answer. She repeated the knocking
several times without effect. It appeared to her to be unlikely
that the doctor would either go to bed or go out leaving so
brilliant a light behind him, and it struck Mrs. Madding that it
was possible that he might have dropped asleep in his chair. She
tapped at the study window, therefore, but without result. Then,
finding that there was an opening between the curtain and the
woodwork, she looked through.
The small room was brilliantly lighted from a large lamp on the
central table, which was littered with the doctor's books and
instruments. No one was visible, nor did she see anything unusual,
except that in the farther shadow thrown by the table a dingy white
glove was lying upon the carpet. And then suddenly, as her eyes
became more accustomed to the light, a boot emerged from the other
end of the shadow, and she realized, with a thrill of horror, that
what she had taken to be a glove was the hand of a man, who was
prostrate upon the floor. Understanding that something terrible
had occurred, she rang at the front door, roused Mrs. Woods, the
housekeeper, and the two women made their way into the study,
having first dispatched the maidservant to the police-station.
At the side of the table, away from the window, Dr. Lana was
discovered stretched upon his back and quite dead. It was
evident that he had been subjected to violence, for one of his eyes
was blackened and there were marks of bruises about his face and
neck. A slight thickening and swelling of his features appeared to
suggest that the cause of his death had been strangulation. He was
dressed in his usual professional clothes, but wore cloth slippers,
the soles of which were perfectly clean. The carpet was marked all
over, especially on the side of the door, with traces of dirty
boots, which were presumably left by the murderer. It was evident
that someone had entered by the surgery door, had killed the
doctor, and had then made his escape unseen. That the assailant
was a man was certain, from the size of the footprints and from the
nature of the injuries. But beyond that point the police found it
very difficult to go.
There were no signs of robbery, and the doctor's gold watch was
safe in his pocket. He kept a heavy cash-box in the room, and this
was discovered to be locked but empty. Mrs. Woods had an
impression that a large sum was usually kept there, but the doctor
had paid a heavy corn bill in cash only that very day, and it was
conjectured that it was to this and not to a robber that the
emptiness of the box was due. One thing in the room was missing--but
that one thing was suggestive. The portrait of Miss Morton,
which had always stood upon the side-table, had been taken from its
frame, and carried off. Mrs. Woods had observed it there when she
waited upon her employer that evening, and now it was gone. On the
other hand, there was picked up from the floor a green eye-patch,
which the housekeeper could not remember to have seen before. Such
a patch might, however, be in the possession of a doctor, and there
was nothing to indicate that it was in any way connected with the
Suspicion could only turn in one direction, and Arthur Morton, the young
squire, was immediately arrested. The evidence against him was
circumstantial, but damning. He was devoted to his sister, and it was
shown that since the rupture between her and Dr. Lana he had been heard
again and again to express himself in the most vindictive terms towards
her former lover. He had, as stated, been seen somewhere about eleven
o'clock entering the doctor's drive with a hunting-crop in his hand. He
had then, according to the theory of the police, broken in upon the
doctor, whose exclamation of fear or of anger had been loud enough to
attract the attention of Mrs. Woods. When Mrs. Woods descended, Dr. Lana
had made up his mind to talk it over with his visitor, and had,
therefore, sent his housekeeper back to her room. This conversation had
lasted a long time, had become more and more fiery, and had ended by a
personal struggle, in which the doctor lost his life. The fact, revealed
by a post-mortem, that his heart was much diseased--an ailment quite
unsuspected during his life--would make it possible that death might in
his case ensue from injuries which would not be fatal to a healthy man.
Arthur Morton had then removed his sister's photograph, and had made his
way homeward, stepping aside into the laurel bushes to avoid Mrs.
Madding at the gate. This was the theory of the prosecution, and the
case which they presented was a formidable one.
On the other hand, there were some strong points for the
defence. Morton was high-spirited and impetuous, like his sister,
but he was respected and liked by everyone, and his frank and
honest nature seemed to be incapable of such a crime. His own
explanation was that he was anxious to have a conversation with Dr.
Lana about some urgent family matters (from first to last he
refused even to mention the name of his sister). He did not
attempt to deny that this conversation would probably have been of
an unpleasant nature. He had heard from a patient that the doctor
was out, and he therefore waited until about three in the morning
for his return, but as he had seen nothing of him up to that hour,
he had given it up and had returned home. As to his death, he knew
no more about it than the constable who arrested him. He had
formerly been an intimate friend of the deceased man; but
circumstances, which he would prefer not to mention, had brought
about a change in his sentiments.
There were several facts which supported his innocence. It was
certain that Dr. Lana was alive and in his study at half-past
eleven o'clock. Mrs. Woods was prepared to swear that it was at
that hour that she had heard his voice. The friends of the
prisoner contended that it was probable that at that time Dr. Lana
was not alone. The sound which had originally attracted the
attention of the housekeeper, and her master's unusual impatience
that she should leave him in peace, seemed to point to that. If
this were so then it appeared to be probable that he had met
his end between the moment when the housekeeper heard his voice and
the time when Mrs. Madding made her first call and found it
impossible to attract his attention. But if this were the time of
his death, then it was certain that Mr. Arthur Morton could not be
guilty, as it was AFTER this that she had met the young squire
at the gate.
If this hypothesis were correct, and someone was with Dr. Lana
before Mrs. Madding met Mr. Arthur Morton, then who was this
someone, and what motives had he for wishing evil to the doctor?
It was universally admitted that if the friends of the accused
could throw light upon this, they would have gone a long way
towards establishing his innocence. But in the meanwhile it was
open to the public to say--as they did say--that there was no proof
that anyone had been there at all except the young squire; while,
on the other hand, there was ample proof that his motives in going
were of a sinister kind. When Mrs. Madding called, the doctor
might have retired to his room, or he might, as she thought at the
time, have gone out and returned afterwards to find Mr. Arthur
Morton waiting for him. Some of the supporters of the accused laid
stress upon the fact that the photograph of his sister Frances,
which had been removed from the doctor's room, had not been found
in her brother's possession. This argument, however, did not count
for much, as he had ample time before his arrest to burn it or to
destroy it. As to the only positive evidence in the case--the
muddy footmarks upon the floor--they were so blurred by the
softness of the carpet that it was impossible to make any
trustworthy deduction from them. The most that could be said was
that their appearance was not inconsistent with the theory that
they were made by the accused, and it was further shown that his
boots were very muddy upon that night. There had been a heavy
shower in the afternoon, and all boots were probably in the same
Such is a bald statement of the singular and romantic series of
events which centred public attention upon this Lancashire tragedy.
The unknown origin of the doctor, his curious and distinguished
personality, the position of the man who was accused of the murder,
and the love affair which had preceded the crimes all combined to
make the affair one of those dramas which absorb the whole
interest of a nation. Throughout the three kingdoms men discussed
the case of the Black Doctor of Bishop's Crossing, and many were
the theories put forward to explain the facts; but it may safely be
said that among them all there was not one which prepared the minds
of the public for the extraordinary sequel, which caused so much
excitement upon the first day of the trial, and came to a climax
upon the second. The long files of the Lancaster Weekly with
their report of the case lie before me as I write, but I must
content myself with a synopsis of the case up to the point when,
upon the evening of the first day, the evidence of Miss Frances
Morton threw a singular light upon the case.
Mr. Porlock Carr, the counsel for the prosecution, had
marshalled his facts with his usual skill, and as the day wore on,
it became more and more evident how difficult was the task which
Mr. Humphrey, who had been retained for the defence, had before
him. Several witnesses were put up to swear to the intemperate
expressions which the young squire had been heard to utter about
the doctor, and the fiery manner in which he resented the alleged
ill-treatment of his sister. Mrs. Madding repeated her evidence as
to the visit which had been paid late at night by the prisoner to
the deceased, and it was shown by another witness that the prisoner
was aware that the doctor was in the habit of sitting up alone in
this isolated wing of the house, and that he had chosen this very
late hour to call because he knew that his victim would then be at
his mercy. A servant at the squire's house was compelled to admit
that he had heard his master return about three that morning, which
corroborated Mrs. Madding's statement that she had seen him among
the laurel bushes near the gate upon the occasion of her second
visit. The muddy boots and an alleged similarity in the footprints
were duly dwelt upon, and it was felt when the case for the
prosecution had been presented that, however circumstantial it
might be, it was none the less so complete and so convincing, that
the fate of the prisoner was sealed, unless something quite
unexpected should be disclosed by the defence. It was three
o'clock when the prosecution closed. At half-past four, when the
court rose, a new and unlooked-for development had occurred. I
extract the incident, or part of it, from the journal which I have
already mentioned, omitting the preliminary observations of the
Considerable sensation was caused in the crowded court when the
first witness called for the defence proved to be Miss Frances
Morton, the sister of the prisoner. Our readers will remember that
the young lady had been engaged to Dr. Lana, and that it was his
anger over the sudden termination of this engagement which was
thought to have driven her brother to the perpetration of this
crime. Miss Morton had not, however, been directly implicated in
the case in any way, either at the inquest or at the police-court
proceedings, and her appearance as the leading witness for the
defence came as a surprise upon the public.
Miss Frances Morton, who was a tall and handsome brunette, gave
her evidence in a low but clear voice, though it was evident
throughout that she was suffering from extreme emotion. She
alluded to her engagement to the doctor, touched briefly upon its
termination, which was due, she said, to personal matters connected
with his family, and surprised the court by asserting that she had
always considered her brother's resentment to be unreasonable and
intemperate. In answer to a direct question from her counsel, she
replied that she did not feel that she had any grievance whatever
against Dr. Lana, and that in her opinion he had acted in a
perfectly honourable manner. Her brother, on an insufficient
knowledge of the facts, had taken another view, and she was
compelled to acknowledge that, in spite of her entreaties, he had
uttered threats of personal violence against the doctor, and had,
upon the evening of the tragedy, announced his intention of "having
it out with him." She had done her best to bring him to a more
reasonable frame of mind, but he was very headstrong where his
emotions or prejudices were concerned.
Up to this point the young lady's evidence had appeared to make
against the prisoner rather than in his favour. The questions of
her counsel, however, soon put a very different light upon the
matter, and disclosed an unexpected line of defence.
Mr. Humphrey: Do you believe your brother to be guilty of this
The Judge: I cannot permit that question, Mr. Humphrey. We
are here to decide upon questions of fact--not of belief.
Mr. Humphrey: Do you know that your brother is not guilty of
the death of Doctor Lana?
Miss Morton: Yes.
Mr. Humphrey: How do you know it?
Miss Morton: Because Dr. Lana is not dead.
There followed a prolonged sensation in court, which
interrupted the examination of the witness.
Mr. Humphrey: And how do you know, Miss Morton, that Dr. Lana
is not dead?
Miss Morton: Because I have received a letter from him since
the date of his supposed death.
Mr. Humphrey: Have you this letter?
Miss Morton: Yes, but I should prefer not to show it.
Mr. Humphrey: Have you the envelope?
Miss Morton: Yes, it is here.
Mr. Humphrey: What is the post-mark?
Miss Morton: Liverpool.
Mr. Humphrey: And the date?
Miss Morton: June the 22nd.
Mr. Humphrey: That being the day after his alleged death. Are
you prepared to swear to this handwriting, Miss Morton?
Miss Morton: Certainly.
Mr. Humphrey: I am prepared to call six other witnesses, my
lord, to testify that this letter is in the writing of Doctor Lana.
The Judge: Then you must call them tomorrow.
Mr. Porlock Carr (counsel for the prosecution): In the
meantime, my lord, we claim possession of this document, so that we
may obtain expert evidence as to how far it is an imitation of the
handwriting of the gentleman whom we still confidently assert to be
deceased. I need not point out that the theory so unexpectedly
sprung upon us may prove to be a very obvious device adopted by the
friends of the prisoner in order to divert this inquiry. I would
draw attention to the fact that the young lady must, according to
her own account, have possessed this letter during the proceedings
at the inquest and at the police-court. She desires us to believe
that she permitted these to proceed, although she held in her
pocket evidence which would at any moment have brought them to an
Mr. Humphrey. Can you explain this, Miss Morton?
Miss Morton: Dr. Lana desired his secret to be preserved.
Mr. Porlock Carr: Then why have you made this public?
Miss Morton: To save my brother.
A murmur of sympathy broke out in court, which was instantly
suppressed by the Judge.
The Judge: Admitting this line of defence, it lies with you,
Mr. Humphrey, to throw a light upon who this man is whose body has
been recognized by so many friends and patients of Dr. Lana as
being that of the doctor himself.
A Juryman: Has anyone up to now expressed any doubt about the
Mr. Porlock Carr: Not to my knowledge.
Mr. Humphrey: We hope to make the matter clear.
The Judge: Then the court adjourns until tomorrow.
This new development of the case excited the utmost interest
among the general public. Press comment was prevented by the fact
that the trial was still undecided, but the question was everywhere
argued as to how far there could be truth in Miss Morton's
declaration, and how far it might be a daring ruse for the purpose
of saving her brother. The obvious dilemma in which the missing
doctor stood was that if by any extraordinary chance he was not
dead, then he must be held responsible for the death of this
unknown man, who resembled him so exactly, and who was found in his
study. This letter which Miss Morton refused to produce was
possibly a confession of guilt, and she might find herself in the
terrible position of only being able to save her brother from the
gallows by the sacrifice of her former lover. The court next
morning was crammed to overflowing, and a murmur of excitement
passed over it when Mr. Humphrey was observed to enter in a state
of emotion, which even his trained nerves could not conceal, and to
confer with the opposing counsel. A few hurried words--words which
left a look of amazement upon Mr. Porlock Carr's face--passed
between them, and then the counsel for the defence, addressing the
Judge, announced that, with the consent of the prosecution, the
young lady who had given evidence upon the sitting before would not
The Judge: But you appear, Mr. Humphrey, to have left matters
in a very unsatisfactory state.
Mr. Humphrey: Perhaps, my lord, my next witness may help to
clear them up.
The Judge: Then call your next witness.
Mr. Humphrey: I call Dr. Aloysius Lana.
The learned counsel has made many telling remarks in his day,
but he has certainly never produced such a sensation with so short
a sentence. The court was simply stunned with amazement as the
very man whose fate had been the subject of so much contention
appeared bodily before them in the witness-box. Those among the
spectators who had known him at Bishop's Crossing saw him now,
gaunt and thin, with deep lines of care upon his face. But in
spite of his melancholy bearing and despondent expression, there
were few who could say that they had ever seen a man of more
distinguished presence. Bowing to the judge, he asked if he might
be allowed to make a statement, and having been duly informed that
whatever he said might be used against him, he bowed once more, and
"My wish," said he, "is to hold nothing back, but to tell with
perfect frankness all that occurred upon the night of the 21st of
June. Had I known that the innocent had suffered, and that so much
trouble had been brought upon those whom I love best in the world,
I should have come forward long ago; but there were reasons which
prevented these things from coming to my ears. It was my desire
that an unhappy man should vanish from the world which had known
him, but I had not foreseen that others would be affected by my
actions. Let me to the best of my ability repair the evil which I
"To anyone who is acquainted with the history of the Argentine
Republic the name of Lana is well known. My father, who came of
the best blood of old Spain, filled all the highest offices of the
State, and would have been President but for his death in the riots
of San Juan. A brilliant career might have been open to my twin
brother Ernest and myself had it not been for financial losses
which made it necessary that we should earn our own living. I
apologize, sir, if these details appear to be irrelevant, but they
are a necessary introduction to that which is to follow.
"I had, as I have said, a twin brother named Ernest, whose resemblance
to me was so great that even when we were together people could see no
difference between us. Down to the smallest detail we were exactly the
same. As we grew older this likeness became less marked because our
expression was not the same, but with our features in repose the points
of difference were very slight.
"It does not become me to say too much of one who is dead, the
more so as he is my only brother, but I leave his character to
those who knew him best. I will only say--for I HAVE to say
it--that in my early manhood I conceived a horror of him, and that
I had good reason for the aversion which filled me. My own
reputation suffered from his actions, for our close resemblance
caused me to be credited with many of them. Eventually, in a
peculiarly disgraceful business, he contrived to throw the whole
odium upon me in such a way that I was forced to leave the
Argentine for ever, and to seek a career in Europe. The freedom
from his hated presence more than compensated me for the loss of my
native land. I had enough money to defray my medical studies at
Glasgow, and I finally settled in practice at Bishop's Crossing, in
the firm conviction that in that remote Lancashire hamlet I should
never hear of him again.
"For years my hopes were fulfilled, and then at last he
discovered me. Some Liverpool man who visited Buenos Ayres put him
upon my track. He had lost all his money, and he thought that he
would come over and share mine. Knowing my horror of him, he
rightly thought that I would be willing to buy him off. I received
a letter from him saying that he was coming. It was at a crisis in
my own affairs, and his arrival might conceivably bring trouble,
and even disgrace, upon some whom I was especially bound to shield
from anything of the kind. I took steps to insure that any evil
which might come should fall on me only, and that"--here he turned
and looked at the prisoner--"was the cause of conduct upon my part
which has been too harshly judged. My only motive was to screen
those who were dear to me from any possible connection with scandal
or disgrace. That scandal and disgrace would come with my brother
was only to say that what had been would be again.
"My brother arrived himself one night not very long after my
receipt of the letter. I was sitting in my study after the
servants had gone to bed, when I heard a footstep upon the gravel
outside, and an instant later I saw his face looking in at me
through the window. He was a clean-shaven man like myself,
and the resemblance between us was still so great that, for an
instant, I thought it was my own reflection in the glass. He had
a dark patch over his eye, but our features were absolutely the
same. Then he smiled in a sardonic way which had been a trick of
his from his boyhood, and I knew that he was the same brother who
had driven me from my native land, and brought disgrace upon what
had been an honourable name. I went to the door and I admitted
him. That would be about ten o'clock that night.
"When he came into the glare of the lamp, I saw at once that he
had fallen upon very evil days. He had walked from Liverpool, and
he was tired and ill. I was quite shocked by the expression upon
his face. My medical knowledge told me that there was some serious
internal malady. He had been drinking also, and his face was
bruised as the result of a scuffle which he had had with some
sailors. It was to cover his injured eye that he wore this patch,
which he removed when he entered the room. He was himself dressed
in a pea-jacket and flannel shirt, and his feet were bursting
through his boots. But his poverty had only made him more savagely
vindictive towards me. His hatred rose to the height of a mania.
I had been rolling in money in England, according to his account,
while he had been starving in South America. I cannot describe to
you the threats which he uttered or the insults which he poured
upon me. My impression is, that hardships and debauchery had
unhinged his reason. He paced about the room like a wild beast,
demanding drink, demanding money, and all in the foulest language.
I am a hot-tempered man, but I thank God that I am able to say that
I remained master of myself, and that I never raised a hand against
him. My coolness only irritated him the more. He raved, he
cursed, he shook his fists in my face, and then suddenly a horrible
spasm passed over his features, he clapped his hand to his side,
and with a loud cry he fell in a heap at my feet. I raised him up
and stretched him upon the sofa, but no answer came to my
exclamations, and the hand which I held in mine was cold and
clammy. His diseased heart had broken down. His own violence had
"For a long time I sat as if I were in some dreadful dream,
staring at the body of my brother. I was aroused by the knocking
of Mrs. Woods, who had been disturbed by that dying cry. I sent
her away to bed. Shortly afterwards a patient tapped at the
surgery door, but as I took no notice, he or she went off again.
Slowly and gradually as I sat there a plan was forming itself in my
head in the curious automatic way in which plans do form. When I
rose from my chair my future movements were finally decided upon
without my having been conscious of any process of thought. It was
an instinct which irresistibly inclined me towards one course.
"Ever since that change in my affairs to which I have alluded,
Bishop's Crossing had become hateful to me. My plans of life had
been ruined, and I had met with hasty judgments and unkind
treatment where I had expected sympathy. It is true that any
danger of scandal from my brother had passed away with his life;
but still, I was sore about the past, and felt that things could
never be as they had been. It may be that I was unduly sensitive,
and that I had not made sufficient allowance for others, but my
feelings were as I describe. Any chance of getting away from
Bishop's Crossing and of everyone in it would be most welcome to
me. And here was such a chance as I could never have dared to hope
for, a chance which would enable me to make a clean break with the
"There was this dead man lying upon the sofa, so like me that
save for some little thickness and coarseness of the features there
was no difference at all. No one had seen him come and no one
would miss him. We were both clean-shaven, and his hair was about
the same length as my own. If I changed clothes with him, then Dr.
Aloysius Lana would be found lying dead in his study, and there
would be an end of an unfortunate fellow, and of a blighted career.
There was plenty of ready money in the room, and this I could carry
away with me to help me to start once more in some other land. In
my brother's clothes I could walk by night unobserved as far as
Liverpool, and in that great seaport I would soon find some means
of leaving the country. After my lost hopes, the humblest
existence where I was unknown was far preferable, in my estimation,
to a practice, however successful, in Bishop's Crossing, where at
any moment I might come face to face with those whom I should wish,
if it were possible, to forget. I determined to effect the change.
"And I did so. I will not go into particulars, for the
recollection is as painful as the experience; but in an hour
my brother lay, dressed down to the smallest detail in my clothes,
while I slunk out by the surgery door, and taking the back path
which led across some fields, I started off to make the best of my
way to Liverpool, where I arrived the same night. My bag of money
and a certain portrait were all I carried out of the house, and I
left behind me in my hurry the shade which my brother had been
wearing over his eye. Everything else of his I took with me.
"I give you my word, sir, that never for one instant did the
idea occur to me that people might think that I had been murdered,
nor did I imagine that anyone might be caused serious danger
through this stratagem by which I endeavoured to gain a fresh start
in the world. On the contrary, it was the thought of relieving
others from the burden of my presence which was always uppermost in
my mind. A sailing vessel was leaving Liverpool that very day for
Corunna, and in this I took my passage, thinking that the voyage
would give me time to recover my balance, and to consider the
future. But before I left my resolution softened. I bethought me
that there was one person in the world to whom I would not cause an
hour of sadness. She would mourn me in her heart, however harsh
and unsympathetic her relatives might be. She understood and
appreciated the motives upon which I had acted, and if the rest of
her family condemned me, she, at least, would not forget. And so
I sent her a note under the seal of secrecy to save her from a
baseless grief. If under the pressure of events she broke that
seal, she has my entire sympathy and forgiveness.
"It was only last night that I returned to England, and during
all this time I have heard nothing of the sensation which my
supposed death had caused, nor of the accusation that Mr. Arthur
Morton had been concerned in it. It was in a late evening paper
that I read an account of the proceedings of yesterday, and I have
come this morning as fast as an express train could bring me to
testify to the truth."
Such was the remarkable statement of Dr. Aloysius Lana which
brought the trial to a sudden termination. A subsequent
investigation corroborated it to the extent of finding out the
vessel in which his brother Ernest Lana had come over from South
America. The ship's doctor was able to testify that he had
complained of a weak heart during the voyage, and that his symptoms
were consistent with such a death as was described.
As to Dr. Aloysius Lana, he returned to the village from which
he had made so dramatic a disappearance, and a complete
reconciliation was effected between him and the young squire, the
latter having acknowledged that he had entirely misunderstood the
other's motives in withdrawing from his engagement. That another
reconciliation followed may be judged from a notice extracted from
a prominent column in the Morning Post:
"A marriage was solemnized upon September 19th, by the Rev.
Stephen Johnson, at the parish church of Bishop's Crossing, between
Aloysius Xavier Lana, son of Don Alfredo Lana, formerly Foreign
Minister of the Argentine Republic, and Frances Morton, only
daughter of the late James Morton, J.P., of Leigh Hall, Bishop's
The Jew's Breastplate
My particular friend, Ward Mortimer, was one of the best men of
his day at everything connected with Oriental archaeology. He
had written largely upon the subject, he had lived two years in a
tomb at Thebes, while he excavated in the Valley of the Kings,
and finally he had created a considerable sensation by his
exhumation of the alleged mummy of Cleopatra in the inner room of
the Temple of Horus, at Philae. With such a record at the age of
thirty-one, it was felt that a considerable career lay before
him, and no one was surprised when he was elected to the
curatorship of the Belmore Street Museum, which carries with it
the lectureship at the Oriental College, and an income which has
sunk with the fall in land, but which still remains at that ideal
sum which is large enough to encourage an investigator, but not
so large as to enervate him.
There was only one reason which made Ward Mortimer's position
a little difficult at the Belmore Street Museum, and that was the
extreme eminence of the man whom he had to succeed. Professor
Andreas was a profound scholar and a man of European reputation.
His lectures were frequented by students from every part of the
world, and his admirable management of the collection intrusted to
his care was a commonplace in all learned societies. There was,
therefore, considerable surprise when, at the age of fifty-five, he
suddenly resigned his position and retired from those duties which
had been both his livelihood and his pleasure. He and his daughter
left the comfortable suite of rooms which had formed his official
residence in connection with the museum, and my friend, Mortimer,
who was a bachelor, took up his quarters there.
On hearing of Mortimer's appointment Professor Andreas had
written him a very kindly and flattering congratulatory letter. I
was actually present at their first meeting, and I went with
Mortimer round the museum when the Professor showed us the
admirable collection which he had cherished so long. The
Professor's beautiful daughter and a young man, Captain Wilson, who
was, as I understood, soon to be her husband, accompanied us in our
inspection. There were fifteen rooms, but the Babylonian, the
Syrian, and the central hall, which contained the Jewish and
Egyptian collection, were the finest of all. Professor Andreas was
a quiet, dry, elderly man, with a clean-shaven face and an
impassive manner, but his dark eyes sparkled and his features
quickened into enthusiastic life as he pointed out to us the rarity
and the beauty of some of his specimens. His hand lingered so
fondly over them, that one could read his pride in them and the
grief in his heart now that they were passing from his care into
that of another.
He had shown us in turn his mummies, his papyri, his rare
scarabs, his inscriptions, his Jewish relics, and his duplication
of the famous seven-branched candlestick of the Temple, which was
brought to Rome by Titus, and which is supposed by some to be lying
at this instant in the bed of the Tiber. Then he approached a case
which stood in the very centre of the hall, and he looked down
through the glass with reverence in his attitude and manner.
"This is no novelty to an expert like yourself, Mr. Mortimer,"
said he; "but I daresay that your friend, Mr. Jackson, will be
interested to see it."
Leaning over the case I saw an object, some five inches square,
which consisted of twelve precious stones in a framework of gold,
with golden hooks at two of the corners. The stones were all
varying in sort and colour, but they were of the same size. Their
shapes, arrangement, and gradation of tint made me think of a box
of water-colour paints. Each stone had some hieroglyphic scratched
upon its surface.
"You have heard, Mr. Jackson, of the urim and thummim?"
I had heard the term, but my idea of its meaning was
"The urim and thummim was a name given to the jewelled plate
which lay upon the breast of the high priest of the Jews. They had
a very special feeling of reverence for it--something of the
feeling which an ancient Roman might have for the Sibylline
books in the Capitol. There are, as you see, twelve magnificent
stones, inscribed with mystical characters. Counting from the
left-hand top corner, the stones are carnelian, peridot, emerald,
ruby, lapis lazuli, onyx, sapphire, agate, amethyst, topaz, beryl,
I was amazed at the variety and beauty of the stones.
"Has the breastplate any particular history?" I asked.
"It is of great age and of immense value," said Professor
Andreas. "Without being able to make an absolute assertion, we
have many reasons to think that it is possible that it may be the
original urim and thummim of Solomon's Temple. There is certainly
nothing so fine in any collection in Europe. My friend, Captain
Wilson, here, is a practical authority upon precious stones, and he
would tell you how pure these are."
Captain Wilson, a man with a dark, hard, incisive face, was
standing beside his fiancee at the other side of the case.
"Yes," said he, curtly, "I have never seen finer stones."
"And the gold-work is also worthy of attention. The ancients
excelled in----"--he was apparently about to indicate the setting
of the stones, when Captain Wilson interrupted him.
"You will see a finer example of their gold-work in this
candlestick," said he, turning to another table, and we all joined
him in his admiration of its embossed stem and delicately
ornamented branches. Altogether it was an interesting and a novel
experience to have objects of such rarity explained by so great an
expert; and when, finally, Professor Andreas finished our
inspection by formally handing over the precious collection to the
care of my friend, I could not help pitying him and envying his
successor whose life was to pass in so pleasant a duty. Within a
week, Ward Mortimer was duly installed in his new set of rooms, and
had become the autocrat of the Belmore Street Museum.
About a fortnight afterwards my friend gave a small dinner to
half a dozen bachelor friends to celebrate his promotion. When his
guests were departing he pulled my sleeve and signalled to me that
he wished me to remain.
"You have only a few hundred yards to go," said he--I was
living in chambers in the Albany. "You may as well stay and have
a quiet cigar with me. I very much want your advice."
I relapsed into an arm-chair and lit one of his excellent
Matronas. When he had returned from seeing the last of his
guests out, he drew a letter from his dress-jacket and sat down
opposite to me.
"This is an anonymous letter which I received this morning,"
said he. "I want to read it to you and to have your advice."
"You are very welcome to it for what it is worth."
"This is how the note runs: 'Sir,--I should strongly advise
you to keep a very careful watch over the many valuable things
which are committed to your charge. I do not think that the
present system of a single watchman is sufficient. Be upon your
guard, or an irreparable misfortune may occur.'"
"Is that all?"
"Yes, that is all."
"Well," said I, "it is at least obvious that it was written by
one of the limited number of people who are aware that you have
only one watchman at night."
Ward Mortimer handed me the note, with a curious smile. "Have you an eye
for handwriting?" said he. "Now, look at this!" He put another letter in
front of me. "Look at the c in 'congratulate' and the c in 'committed.'
Look at the capital I. Look at the trick of putting in a dash instead of
"They are undoubtedly from the same hand--with some attempt at
disguise in the case of this first one."
"The second," said Ward Mortimer, "is the letter of
congratulation which was written to me by Professor Andreas upon my
obtaining my appointment."
I stared at him in amazement. Then I turned over the letter in
my hand, and there, sure enough, was "Martin Andreas" signed upon
the other side. There could be no doubt, in the mind of anyone who
had the slightest knowledge of the science of graphology, that the
Professor had written an anonymous letter, warning his successor
against thieves. It was inexplicable, but it was certain.
"Why should he do it?" I asked.
"Precisely what I should wish to ask you. If he had any such
misgivings, why could he not come and tell me direct?"
"Will you speak to him about it?"
"There again I am in doubt. He might choose to deny that he
"At any rate," said I, "this warning is meant in a friendly
spirit, and I should certainly act upon it. Are the present
precautions enough to insure you against robbery?"
"I should have thought so. The public are only admitted from
ten till five, and there is a guardian to every two rooms. He
stands at the door between them, and so commands them both."
"But at night?"
"When the public are gone, we at once put up the great iron
shutters, which are absolutely burglar-proof. The watchman is a
capable fellow. He sits in the lodge, but he walks round every
three hours. We keep one electric light burning in each room all
"It is difficult to suggest anything more--short of keeping
your day watches all night."
"We could not afford that."
"At least, I should communicate with the police, and have a
special constable put on outside in Belmore Street," said I. "As
to the letter, if the writer wishes to be anonymous, I think he has
a right to remain so. We must trust to the future to show some
reason for the curious course which he has adopted."
So we dismissed the subject, but all that night after my return
to my chambers I was puzzling my brain as to what possible motive
Professor Andreas could have for writing an anonymous warning
letter to his successor--for that the writing was his was as
certain to me as if I had seen him actually doing it. He foresaw
some danger to the collection. Was it because he foresaw it that
he abandoned his charge of it? But if so, why should he hesitate
to warn Mortimer in his own name? I puzzled and puzzled until at
last I fell into a troubled sleep, which carried me beyond my usual
hour of rising.
I was aroused in a singular and effective method, for about
nine o'clock my friend Mortimer rushed into my room with an
expression of consternation upon his face. He was usually one of
the most tidy men of my acquaintance, but now his collar was undone
at one end, his tie was flying, and his hat at the back of his
head. I read his whole story in his frantic eyes.
"The museum has been robbed!" I cried, springing up in bed.
"I fear so! Those jewels! The jewels of the urim and
thummim!" he gasped, for he was out of breath with running. "I'm
going on to the police-station. Come to the museum as soon as
you can, Jackson! Good-bye!" He rushed distractedly out of the
room, and I heard him clatter down the stairs.
I was not long in following his directions, but I found when I
arrived that he had already returned with a police inspector, and
another elderly gentleman, who proved to be Mr. Purvis, one of the
partners of Morson and Company, the well-known diamond merchants.
As an expert in stones he was always prepared to advise the police.
They were grouped round the case in which the breastplate of the
Jewish priest had been exposed. The plate had been taken out and
laid upon the glass top of the case, and the three heads were bent
"It is obvious that it has been tampered with," said Mortimer.
"It caught my eye the moment that I passed through the room this
morning. I examined it yesterday evening, so that it is certain
that this has happened during the night."
It was, as he had said, obvious that someone had been at work
upon it. The settings of the uppermost row of four stones--the
carnelian, peridot, emerald, and ruby--were rough and jagged as if
someone had scraped all round them. The stones were in their
places, but the beautiful gold-work which we had admired only a few
days before had been very clumsily pulled about.
"It looks to me," said the police inspector, "as if someone had
been trying to take out the stones."
"My fear is," said Mortimer, "that he not only tried, but
succeeded. I believe these four stones to be skilful imitations
which have been put in the place of the originals."
The same suspicion had evidently been in the mind of the
expert, for he had been carefully examining the four stones with
the aid of a lens. He now submitted them to several tests, and
finally turned cheerfully to Mortimer.
"I congratulate you, sir," said he, heartily. "I will pledge
my reputation that all four of these stones are genuine, and of a
most unusual degree of purity."
The colour began to come back to my poor friend's frightened
face, and he drew a long breath of relief.
"Thank God!" he cried. "Then what in the world did the thief
"Probably he meant to take the stones, but was interrupted."
"In that case one would expect him to take them out one at a
time, but the setting of each of these has been loosened, and yet
the stones are all here."
"It is certainly most extraordinary," said the inspector. "I
never remember a case like it. Let us see the watchman."
The commissionaire was called--a soldierly, honest-faced man,
who seemed as concerned as Ward Mortimer at the incident.
"No, sir, I never heard a sound," he answered, in reply to the
questions of the inspector. "I made my rounds four times, as
usual, but I saw nothing suspicious. I've been in my position ten
years, but nothing of the kind has ever occurred before."
"No thief could have come through the windows?"
"Or passed you at the door?"
"No, sir; I never left my post except when I walked my rounds."
"What other openings are there in the museum?"
"There is the door into Mr. Ward Mortimer's private rooms."
"That is locked at night," my friend explained, "and in order
to reach it anyone from the street would have to open the outside
door as well."
"Their quarters are entirely separate."
"Well, well," said the inspector, "this is certainly very
obscure. However, there has been no harm done, according to Mr.
"I will swear that those stones are genuine."
"So that the case appears to be merely one of malicious damage.
But none the less, I should be very glad to go carefully round the
premises, and to see if we can find any trace to show us who your
visitor may have been."
His investigation, which lasted all the morning, was careful
and intelligent, but it led in the end to nothing. He pointed out
to us that there were two possible entrances to the museum which we
had not considered. The one was from the cellars by a trap-door
opening in the passage. The other through a skylight from the
lumber-room, overlooking that very chamber to which the intruder
had penetrated. As neither the cellar nor the lumber-room could be
entered unless the thief was already within the locked doors,
the matter was not of any practical importance, and the dust of
cellar and attic assured us that no one had used either one or the
other. Finally, we ended as we began, without the slightest clue
as to how, why, or by whom the setting of these four jewels had
been tampered with.
There remained one course for Mortimer to take, and he took it.
Leaving the police to continue their fruitless researches, he asked
me to accompany him that afternoon in a visit to Professor Andreas.
He took with him the two letters, and it was his intention to
openly tax his predecessor with having written the anonymous
warning, and to ask him to explain the fact that he should have
anticipated so exactly that which had actually occurred. The
Professor was living in a small villa in Upper Norwood, but we were
informed by the servant that he was away from home. Seeing our
disappointment, she asked us if we should like to see Miss Andreas,
and showed us into the modest drawing-room.
I have mentioned incidentally that the Professor's daughter was
a very beautiful girl. She was a blonde, tall and graceful, with
a skin of that delicate tint which the French call "mat," the
colour of old ivory, or of the lighter petals of the sulphur rose.
I was shocked, however, as she entered the room to see how much she
had changed in the last fortnight. Her young face was haggard and
her bright eyes heavy with trouble.
"Father has gone to Scotland," she said. "He seems to be
tired, and has had a good deal to worry him. He only left us
"You look a little tired yourself, Miss Andreas," said my
"I have been so anxious about father."
"Can you give me his Scotch address?"
"Yes, he is with his brother, the Rev. David Andreas, 1, Arran
Ward Mortimer made a note of the address, and we left without
saying anything as to the object of our visit. We found ourselves
in Belmore Street in the evening in exactly the same position in
which we had been in the morning. Our only clue was the
Professor's letter, and my friend had made up his mind to start for
Ardrossan next day, and to get to the bottom of the anonymous
letter, when a new development came to alter our plans.
Very early on the following morning I was aroused from my sleep
by a tap upon my bedroom door. It was a messenger with a note from
"Do come round," it said; "the matter is becoming more and more
When I obeyed his summons I found him pacing excitedly up and
down the central room, while the old soldier who guarded the
premises stood with military stiffness in a corner.
"My dear Jackson," he cried, "I am so delighted that you have
come, for this is a most inexplicable business."
"What has happened, then?"
He waved his hand towards the case which contained the
"Look at it," said he.
I did so, and could not restrain a cry of surprise. The
setting of the middle row of precious stones had been profaned in
the same manner as the upper ones. Of the twelve jewels eight had
been now tampered with in this singular fashion. The setting of
the lower four was neat and smooth. The others jagged and
"Have the stones been altered?" I asked.
"No, I am certain that these upper four are the same which the
expert pronounced to be genuine, for I observed yesterday that
little discoloration on the edge of the emerald. Since they have
not extracted the upper stones, there is no reason to think the
lower have been transposed. You say that you heard nothing,
"No, sir," the commissionaire answered. "But when I made my
round after daylight I had a special look at these stones, and I
saw at once that someone had been meddling with them. Then I
called you, sir, and told you. I was backwards and forwards all
night, and I never saw a soul or heard a sound."
"Come up and have some breakfast with me," said Mortimer, and
he took me into his own chambers.--"Now, what DO you think of
this, Jackson?" he asked.
"It is the most objectless, futile, idiotic business that ever
I heard of. It can only be the work of a monomaniac."
"Can you put forward any theory?"
A curious idea came into my head. "This object is a Jewish
relic of great antiquity and sanctity," said I. "How about the
anti-Semitic movement? Could one conceive that a fanatic of that
way of thinking might desecrate----"
"No, no, no!" cried Mortimer. "That will never do! Such a man
might push his lunacy to the length of destroying a Jewish relic,
but why on earth should he nibble round every stone so carefully
that he can only do four stones in a night? We must have a better
solution than that, and we must find it for ourselves, for I do not
think that our inspector is likely to help us. First of all, what
do you think of Simpson, the porter?"
"Have you any reason to suspect him?"
"Only that he is the one person on the premises."
"But why should he indulge in such wanton destruction? Nothing
has been taken away. He has no motive."
"No, I will swear to his sanity."
"Have you any other theory?"
"Well, yourself, for example. You are not a somnambulist, by
"Nothing of the sort, I assure you."
"Then I give it up."
"But I don't--and I have a plan by which we will make it all
"To visit Professor Andreas?"
"No, we shall find our solution nearer than Scotland. I will
tell you what we shall do. You know that skylight which overlooks
the central hall? We will leave the electric lights in the hall,
and we will keep watch in the lumber-room, you and I, and solve the
mystery for ourselves. If our mysterious visitor is doing four
stones at a time, he has four still to do, and there is every
reason to think that he will return tonight and complete the job."
"Excellent!" I cried.
"We will keep our own secret, and say nothing either to the
police or to Simpson. Will you join me?"
"With the utmost pleasure," said I; and so it was agreed.
It was ten o'clock that night when I returned to the Belmore
Street Museum. Mortimer was, as I could see, in a state of
suppressed nervous excitement, but it was still too early to
begin our vigil, so we remained for an hour or so in his chambers,
discussing all the possibilities of the singular business which we
had met to solve. At last the roaring stream of hansom cabs and
the rush of hurrying feet became lower and more intermittent as the
pleasure-seekers passed on their way to their stations or their
homes. It was nearly twelve when Mortimer led the way to the
lumber-room which overlooked the central hall of the museum.
He had visited it during the day, and had spread some sacking
so that we could lie at our ease, and look straight down into the
museum. The skylight was of unfrosted glass, but was so covered
with dust that it would be impossible for anyone looking up from
below to detect that he was overlooked. We cleared a small piece
at each corner, which gave us a complete view of the room beneath
us. In the cold white light of the electric lamps everything stood
out hard and clear, and I could see the smallest detail of the
contents of the various cases.
Such a vigil is an excellent lesson, since one has no choice
but to look hard at those objects which we usually pass with such
half-hearted interest. Through my little peep hole I employed the
hours in studying every specimen, from the huge mummy-case which
leaned against the wall to those very jewels which had brought us
there, gleaming and sparkling in their glass case immediately
beneath us. There was much precious gold-work and many valuable
stones scattered through the numerous cases, but those wonderful
twelve which made up the urim and thummim glowed and burned with a
radiance which far eclipsed the others. I studied in turn the
tomb-pictures of Sicara, the friezes from Karnak, the statues of
Memphis, and the inscriptions of Thebes, but my eyes would always
come back to that wonderful Jewish relic, and my mind to the
singular mystery which surrounded it. I was lost in the thought of
it when my companion suddenly drew his breath sharply in, and
seized my arm in a convulsive grip. At the same instant I saw what
it was which had excited him.
I have said that against the wall--on the right-hand side of
the doorway (the right-hand side as we looked at it, but the left
as one entered)--there stood a large mummy-case. To our
unutterable amazement it was slowly opening. Gradually, gradually
the lid was swinging back, and the black slit which marked the
opening was becoming wider and wider. So gently and carefully was
it done that the movement was almost imperceptible. Then, as we
breathlessly watched it, a white thin hand appeared at the opening,
pushing back the painted lid, then another hand, and finally a
face--a face which was familiar to us both, that of Professor
Andreas. Stealthily he slunk out of the mummy-case, like a fox
stealing from its burrow, his head turning incessantly to left and
to right, stepping, then pausing, then stepping again, the very
image of craft and of caution. Once some sound in the street
struck him motionless, and he stood listening, with his ear turned,
ready to dart back to the shelter behind him. Then he crept
onwards again upon tiptoe, very, very softly and slowly, until he
had reached the case in the centre of the room. There he took a
bunch of keys from his pocket, unlocked the case, took out the
Jewish breastplate, and, laying it upon the glass in front of him,
began to work upon it with some sort of small, glistening tool. He
was so directly underneath us that his bent head covered his work,
but we could guess from the movement of his hand that he was
engaged in finishing the strange disfigurement which he had begun.
I could realize from the heavy breathing of my companion, and
the twitchings of the hand which still clutched my wrist, the
furious indignation which filled his heart as he saw this vandalism
in the quarter of all others where he could least have expected it.
He, the very man who a fortnight before had reverently bent over
this unique relic, and who had impressed its antiquity and its
sanctity upon us, was now engaged in this outrageous profanation.
It was impossible, unthinkable--and yet there, in the white glare
of the electric light beneath us, was that dark figure with the
bent grey head, and the twitching elbow. What inhuman hypocrisy,
what hateful depth of malice against his successor must underlie
these sinister nocturnal labours. It was painful to think of and
dreadful to watch. Even I, who had none of the acute feelings of
a virtuoso, could not bear to look on and see this deliberate
mutilation of so ancient a relic. It was a relief to me when my
companion tugged at my sleeve as a signal that I was to follow him
as he softly crept out of the room. It was not until we were
within his own quarters that he opened his lips, and then I saw by
his agitated face how deep was his consternation.
"The abominable Goth!" he cried. "Could you have believed it?"
"It is amazing."
"He is a villain or a lunatic--one or the other. We shall very
soon see which. Come with me, Jackson, and we shall get to the
bottom of this black business."
A door opened out of the passage which was the private entrance
from his rooms into the museum. This he opened softly with his
key, having first kicked off his shoes, an example which I
followed. We crept together through room after room, until the
large hall lay before us, with that dark figure still stooping and
working at the central case. With an advance as cautious as his
own we closed in upon him, but softly as we went we could not take
him entirely unawares. We were still a dozen yards from him when
he looked round with a start, and uttering a husky cry of terror,
ran frantically down the museum.
"Simpson! Simpson!" roared Mortimer, and far away down the
vista of electric lighted doors we saw the stiff figure of the old
soldier suddenly appear. Professor Andreas saw him also, and
stopped running, with a gesture of despair. At the same instant we
each laid a hand upon his shoulder.
"Yes, yes, gentlemen," he panted, "I will come with you. To
your room, Mr. Ward Mortimer, if you please! I feel that I owe you
My companion's indignation was so great that I could see that
he dared not trust himself to reply. We walked on each side of the
old Professor, the astonished commissionaire bringing up the rear.
When we reached the violated case, Mortimer stopped and examined
the breastplate. Already one of the stones of the lower row had
had its setting turned back in the same manner as the others. My
friend held it up and glanced furiously at his prisoner.
"How could you!" he cried. "How could you!"
"It is horrible--horrible!" said the Professor. "I don't
wonder at your feelings. Take me to your room."
"But this shall not be left exposed!" cried Mortimer. He
picked the breastplate up and carried it tenderly in his hand,
while I walked beside the Professor, like a policeman with a
malefactor. We passed into Mortimer's chambers, leaving the amazed
old soldier to understand matters as best he could. The Professor
sat down in Mortimer's arm-chair, and turned so ghastly a colour
that for the instant all our resentment was changed to concern. A
stiff glass of brandy brought the life back to him once more.
"There, I am better now!" said he. "These last few days have
been too much for me. I am convinced that I could not stand it any
longer. It is a nightmare--a horrible nightmare--that I should be
arrested as a burglar in what has been for so long my own museum.
And yet I cannot blame you. You could not have done otherwise. My
hope always was that I should get it all over before I was
detected. This would have been my last night's work."
"How did you get in?" asked Mortimer.
"By taking a very great liberty with your private door. But
the object justified it. The object justified everything. You
will not be angry when you know everything--at least, you will not
be angry with me. I had a key to your side door and also to the
museum door. I did not give them up when I left. And so you see
it was not difficult for me to let myself into the museum. I used
to come in early before the crowd had cleared from the street.
Then I hid myself in the mummy-case, and took refuge there whenever
Simpson came round. I could always hear him coming. I used to
leave in the same way as I came."
"You ran a risk."
"I had to."
"But why? What on earth was your object--YOU to do a thing
like that!" Mortimer pointed reproachfully at the plate which lay
before him on the table.
"I could devise no other means. I thought and thought, but
there was no alternate except a hideous public scandal, and a
private sorrow which would have clouded our lives. I acted for the
best, incredible as it may seem to you, and I only ask your
attention to enable me to prove it."
"I will hear what you have to say before I take any further
steps," said Mortimer, grimly.
"I am determined to hold back nothing, and to take you both
completely into my confidence. I will leave it to your own
generosity how far you will use the facts with which I supply you."
"We have the essential facts already."
"And yet you understand nothing. Let me go back to what passed
a few weeks ago, and I will make it all clear to you. Believe me
that what I say is the absolute and exact truth.
"You have met the person who calls himself Captain Wilson. I
say 'calls himself' because I have reason now to believe that it is
not his correct name. It would take me too long if I were to
describe all the means by which he obtained an introduction to me
and ingratiated himself into my friendship and the affection of my
daughter. He brought letters from foreign colleagues which
compelled me to show him some attention. And then, by his own
attainments, which are considerable, he succeeded in making himself
a very welcome visitor at my rooms. When I learned that my
daughter's affections had been gained by him, I may have thought it
premature, but I certainly was not surprised, for he had a charm of
manner and of conversation which would have made him conspicuous in
"He was much interested in Oriental antiquities, and his
knowledge of the subject justified his interest. Often when he
spent the evening with us he would ask permission to go down into
the museum and have an opportunity of privately inspecting the
various specimens. You can imagine that I, as an enthusiast, was
in sympathy with such a request, and that I felt no surprise at the
constancy of his visits. After his actual engagement to Elise,
there was hardly an evening which he did not pass with us, and an
hour or two were generally devoted to the museum. He had the free
run of the place, and when I have been away for the evening I had
no objection to his doing whatever he wished here. This state of
things was only terminated by the fact of my resignation of my
official duties and my retirement to Norwood, where I hoped to have
the leisure to write a considerable work which I had planned.
"It was immediately after this--within a week or so--that I
first realized the true nature and character of the man whom I had
so imprudently introduced into my family. The discovery came to me
through letters from my friends abroad, which showed me that
his introductions to me had been forgeries. Aghast at the
revelation, I asked myself what motive this man could originally
have had in practising this elaborate deception upon me. I was too
poor a man for any fortune-hunter to have marked me down. Why,
then, had he come? I remembered that some of the most precious
gems in Europe had been under my charge, and I remembered also the
ingenious excuses by which this man had made himself familiar with
the cases in which they were kept. He was a rascal who was
planning some gigantic robbery. How could I, without striking my
own daughter, who was infatuated about him, prevent him from
carrying out any plan which he might have formed? My device was a
clumsy one, and yet I could think of nothing more effective. If I
had written a letter under my own name, you would naturally have
turned to me for details which I did not wish to give. I resorted
to an anonymous letter, begging you to be upon your guard.
"I may tell you that my change from Belmore Street to Norwood
had not affected the visits of this man, who had, I believe, a real
and overpowering affection for my daughter. As to her, I could not
have believed that any woman could be so completely under the
influence of a man as she was. His stronger nature seemed to
entirely dominate her. I had not realized how far this was the
case, or the extent of the confidence which existed between them,
until that very evening when his true character for the first time
was made clear to me. I had given orders that when he called he
should be shown into my study instead of to the drawing-room.
There I told him bluntly that I knew all about him, that I had
taken steps to defeat his designs, and that neither I nor my
daughter desired ever to see him again. I added that I thanked God
that I had found him out before he had time to harm those precious
objects which it had been the work of my life-time to protect.
"He was certainly a man of iron nerve. He took my remarks
without a sign either of surprise or of defiance, but listened
gravely and attentively until I had finished. Then he walked
across the room without a word and struck the bell.
"'Ask Miss Andreas to be so kind as to step this way,' said he
to the servant.
"My daughter entered, and the man closed the door behind her.
Then he took her hand in his.
"'Elise,' said he, 'your father has just discovered that I am
a villain. He knows now what you knew before.'
"She stood in silence, listening.
"'He says that we are to part for ever,' said he.
"She did not withdraw her hand.
"'Will you be true to me, or will you remove the last good
influence which is ever likely to come into my life?'
"'John,' she cried, passionately. 'I will never abandon you!
Never, never, not if the whole world were against you.'
"In vain I argued and pleaded with her. It was absolutely
useless. Her whole life was bound up in this man before me. My
daughter, gentlemen, is all that I have left to love, and it filled
me with agony when I saw how powerless I was to save her from her
ruin. My helplessness seemed to touch this man who was the cause
of my trouble.
"'It may not be as bad as you think, sir,' said he, in his
quiet, inflexible way. 'I love Elise with a love which is strong
enough to rescue even one who has such a record as I have. It was
but yesterday that I promised her that never again in my whole life
would I do a thing of which she should be ashamed. I have made up
my mind to it, and never yet did I make up my mind to a thing which
I did not do.'
"He spoke with an air which carried conviction with it. As he
concluded he put his hand into his pocket and he drew out a small
"'I am about to give you a proof of my determination,' said he.
'This, Elise, shall be the first-fruits of your redeeming influence
over me. You are right, sir, in thinking that I had designs upon
the jewels in your possession. Such ventures have had a charm for
me, which depended as much upon the risk run as upon the value of
the prize. Those famous and antique stones of the Jewish priest
were a challenge to my daring and my ingenuity. I determined to
"'I guessed as much.'
"'There was only one thing that you did not guess.'
"'And what is that?'
"'That I got them. They are in this box.'
"He opened the box, and tilted out the contents upon the corner
of my desk. My hair rose and my flesh grew cold as I looked.
There were twelve magnificent square stones engraved with mystical
characters. There could be no doubt that they were the jewels of
the urim and thummim.
"'Good God!' I cried. 'How have you escaped discovery?'
"'By the substitution of twelve others, made especially to my
order, in which the originals are so carefully imitated that I defy
the eye to detect the difference.'
"'Then the present stones are false?' I cried.
"'They have been for some weeks.'
"We all stood in silence, my daughter white with emotion, but
still holding this man by the hand.
"'You see what I am capable of, Elise,' said he.
"'I see that you are capable of repentance and restitution,'
"'Yes, thanks to your influence! I leave the stones in your
hands, sir. Do what you like about it. But remember that whatever
you do against me, is done against the future husband of your only
daughter. You will hear from me soon again, Elise. It is the last
time that I will ever cause pain to your tender heart,' and with
these words he left both the room and the house.
"My position was a dreadful one. Here I was with these
precious relics in my possession, and how could I return them
without a scandal and an exposure? I knew the depth of my
daughter's nature too well to suppose that I would ever be able to
detach her from this man now that she had entirely given him her
heart. I was not even sure how far it was right to detach her if
she had such an ameliorating influence over him. How could I
expose him without injuring her--and how far was I justified in
exposing him when he had voluntarily put himself into my power? I
thought and thought until at last I formed a resolution which may
seem to you to be a foolish one, and yet, if I had to do it again,
I believe it would be the best course open to me.
"My idea was to return the stones without anyone being the
wiser. With my keys I could get into the museum at any time, and
I was confident that I could avoid Simpson, whose hours and methods
were familiar to me. I determined to take no one into my
confidence--not even my daughter--whom I told that I was about to
visit my brother in Scotland. I wanted a free hand for a few
nights, without inquiry as to my comings and goings. To this end
I took a room in Harding Street that very night, with an intimation
that I was a Pressman, and that I should keep very late hours.
"That night I made my way into the museum, and I replaced four
of the stones. It was hard work, and took me all night. When
Simpson came round I always heard his footsteps, and concealed
myself in the mummy-case. I had some knowledge of gold-work, but
was far less skilful than the thief had been. He had replaced the
setting so exactly that I defy anyone to see the difference. My
work was rude and clumsy. However, I hoped that the plate might
not be carefully examined, or the roughness of the setting
observed, until my task was done. Next night I replaced four more
stones. And tonight I should have finished my task had it not been
for the unfortunate circumstance which has caused me to reveal so
much which I should have wished to keep concealed. I appeal to
you, gentlemen, to your sense of honour and of compassion, whether
what I have told you should go any farther or not. My own
happiness, my daughter's future, the hopes of this man's
regeneration, all depend upon your decision.
"Which is," said my friend, "that all is well that ends well
and that the whole matter ends here and at once. Tomorrow the
loose settings shall be tightened by an expert goldsmith, and so
passes the greatest danger to which, since the destruction of the
Temple, the urim and thummim has been exposed. Here is my hand,
Professor Andreas, and I can only hope that under such difficult
circumstances I should have carried myself as unselfishly and as well."
Just one footnote to this narrative. Within a month Elise
Andreas was married to a man whose name, had I the indiscretion to
mention it, would appeal to my readers as one who is now widely and
deservedly honoured. But if the truth were known that honour is
due not to him, but to the gentle girl who plucked him back when he
had gone so far down that dark road along which few return.
The Nightmare Room
The sitting-room of the Masons was a very singular apartment. At one end
it was furnished with considerable luxury. The deep sofas, the low,
luxurious chairs, the voluptuous statuettes, and the rich curtains
hanging from deep and ornamental screens of metal-work made a fitting
frame for the lovely woman who was the mistress of the establishment.
Mason, a young but wealthy man of affairs, had clearly spared no pains
and no expense to meet every want and every whim of his beautiful wife.
It was natural that he should do so, for she had given up much for his
sake. The most famous dancer in France, the heroine of a dozen
extraordinary romances, she had resigned her life of glittering pleasure
in order to share the fate of the young American, whose austere ways
differed so widely from her own. In all that wealth could buy he tried
to make amends for what she had lost. Some might perhaps have thought it
in better taste had he not proclaimed this fact--had he not even allowed
it to be printed--but save for some personal peculiarities of the sort,
his conduct was that of a husband who has never for an instant ceased to
be a lover. Even the presence of spectators would not prevent the public
exhibition of his overpowering affection.
But the room was singular. At first it seemed familiar, and yet a longer
acquaintance made one realise its sinister peculiarities. It was
silent--very silent. No footfall could be heard upon those rich carpets
and heavy rugs. A struggle--even the fall of a body--would make no
sound. It was strangely colourless also, in a light which seemed always
subdued. Nor was it all furnished in equal taste. One would have said
that when the young banker had lavished thousands upon this boudoir,
this inner jewel-case for his precious possession, he had failed to
count the cost and had suddenly been arrested by a threat to his own
solvency. It was luxurious where it looked out upon the busy street
below. At the farther side it was bare, spartan, and reflected rather
the taste of a most ascetic man than of a pleasure-loving woman. Perhaps
that was why she only came there for a few hours, sometimes two,
sometimes four, in the day, but while she was there she lived intensely,
and within this nightmare room Lucille Mason was a very different and a
more dangerous woman than elsewhere.
Dangerous--that was the word. Who could doubt it who saw her delicate
figure stretched upon the great bearskin which draped the sofa. She was
leaning upon her right elbow, her delicate but determined chin resting
upon her hand, while her eyes, large and languishing, adorable but
inexorable, stared out in front of her with a fixed intensity which had
in it something vaguely terrible. It was a lovely face--a child's face,
and yet Nature had placed there some subtle mark, some indefinable
expression, which told that a devil lurked within. It had been noticed
that dogs shrank from her, and that children screamed and ran from her
caresses. There are instincts which are deeper than reason.
Upon this particular afternoon something had greatly moved her. A letter
was in her hand, which she read and re-read with a tightening of those
delicate little eyebrows and a grim setting of those delicious lips.
Suddenly she started, and a shadow of fear softened the feline menace of
her features. She raised herself upon her arm, and her eyes were fixed
eagerly upon the door. She was listening intently--listening for
something which she dreaded. For a moment a smile of relief played over
her expressive face. Then with a look of horror she stuffed her letter
into her dress. She had hardly done so before the door opened, and a
young man came briskly into the room. It was Archie Mason, her
husband--the man whom she had loved, the man for whom she had sacrificed
her European fame, the man whom now she regarded as the one obstacle to
a new and wonderful experience.
The American was a man about thirty, clean-shaven, athletic, dressed to
perfection in a closely-cut suit, which outlined his perfect figure. He
stood at the door with his arms folded, looking intently at his wife,
with a face which might have been a handsome, sun-tinted mask save for
those vivid eyes. She still leaned upon her elbow, but her eyes were
fixed on his. There was something terrible in the silent exchange. Each
interrogated the other, and each conveyed the thought that the answer to
their question was vital. He might have been asking, "What have you
done?" She in her turn seemed to be saying, "What do you know?"
Finally, he walked forward, sat down upon the bearskin beside her, and
taking her delicate ear gently between his fingers, turned her face
"Lucille," he said, "are you poisoning me?"
She sprang back from his touch with horror in her face and protests upon
her lips. Too moved to speak, her surprise and her anger showed
themselves rather in her darting hands and her convulsed features. She
tried to rise, but his grasp tightened upon her wrist. Again he asked a
question, but this time it had deepened in its terrible significance.
"Lucille, why are you poisoning me?"
"You are mad, Archie! Mad!" she gasped.
His answer froze her blood. With pale parted lips and blanched cheeks
she could only stare at him in helpless silence, whilst he drew a small
bottle from his pocket and held it before her eyes.
"It is from your jewel-case!" he cried.
Twice she tried to speak and failed. At last the words came slowly one
by one from her contorted lips:--
"At least I never used it."
Again his hand sought his pocket. From it he drew a sheet of paper,
which he unfolded and held before her.
"It is the certificate of Dr. Angus. It shows the presence of twelve
grains of antimony. I have also the evidence of Du Val, the chemist who
Her face was terrible to look at. There was nothing to say. She could
only lie with that fixed hopeless stare like some fierce creature in a
"Well?" he asked.
There was no answer save a movement of desperation and appeal.
"Why?" he said. "I want to know why." As he spoke his eye caught the
edge of the letter which she had thrust into her bosom. In an instant he
had snatched it. With a cry of despair she tried to regain it, but he
held her off with one hand while his eyes raced over it.
"Campbell!" he gasped. "It was Campbell!"
She had found her courage again. There was nothing more to conceal. Her
face set hard and firm. Her eyes were deadly as daggers.
"Yes," she said, "it is Campbell."
"My God! Campbell of all men!"
He rose and walked swiftly about the room. Campbell, the grandest man
that he had ever known, a man whose whole life had been one long record
of self-denial, of courage, of every quality which marks the chosen man.
And yet, he, too, had fallen a victim to this siren, and had been
dragged down to such a level that he had betrayed, in intention if not
in actual deed, the man whose hand he shook in friendship. It was
incredible--and yet here was the passionate, pleading letter imploring
his wife to fly and share the fate of a penniless man. Every word of the
letter showed that Campbell had at least no thought of Mason's death,
which would have removed all difficulties. That devilish solution was
the outcome of the deep and wicked brain which brooded within that
Mason was a man in a million, a philosopher, a thinker, with a broad and
tender sympathy for others. For an instant his soul had been submerged
in his bitterness. He could for that brief period have slain both his
wife and Campbell, and gone to his own death with the serene mind of a
man who has done his plain duty. But already, as he paced the room,
milder thoughts had begun to prevail. How could he blame Campbell? He
knew the absolute witchery of this woman. It was not only her wonderful
physical beauty. She had a unique power of seeming to take an interest
in a man, in writhing into his inmost conscience, in penetrating those
parts of his nature which were too sacred for the world, and in seeming
to stimulate him towards ambition and even towards virtue. It was just
there that the deadly cleverness of her net was shown. He remembered how
it had been in his own case. She was free then--or so he thought--and
he had been able to marry her. But suppose she had not been free.
Suppose she had been married. And suppose she had taken possession of
his soul in the same way. Would he have stopped there? Would he have been
able to draw off with his unfulfilled longings? He was bound to admit
that with all his New England strength he could not have done so. Why,
then, should he feel so bitter with his unfortunate friend who was in
the same position? It was pity and sympathy which filled his mind as he
thought of Campbell.
And she? There she lay upon the sofa, a poor broken butterfly, her dreams
dispersed, her plot detected, her future dark and perilous. Even for
her, poisoner as she was, his heart relented. He knew something of her
history. He knew her as a spoiled child from birth, untamed, unchecked,
sweeping everything easily before her from her cleverness, her beauty,
and her charm. She had never known an obstacle. And now one had risen
across her path, and she had madly and wickedly tried to remove it. But
if she had wished to remove it, was not that in itself a sign that he
had been found wanting--that he was not the man who could bring her
peace of mind and contentment of heart? He was too stern and
self-contained for that sunny volatile nature. He was of the North, and
she of the South, drawn strongly together for a time by the law of
opposites, but impossible for permanent union. He should have seen to
this--he should have understood it. It was on him, with his superior
brain, that the responsibility for the situation lay. His heart softened
towards her as it would to a little child which was in helpless trouble.
For a time he had paced the room in silence, his lips compressed, his
hands clenched till his nails had marked his palms. Now with a sudden
movement he sat beside her and took her cold and inert hand in his. One
thought beat in his brain. "Is it chivalry, or is it weakness?" The
question sounded in his ears, it framed itself before his eyes, he could
almost fancy that it materialised itself and that he saw it in letters
which all the world could read.
It had been a hard struggle, but he had conquered.
"You shall choose between us, dear," he said. "If really you are
sure--sure, you understand--that Campbell could make you happy as a
husband, I will not be the obstacle."
"A divorce!" she gasped.
His hand closed upon the bottle of poison. "You can call it that," said
A new strange light shone in her eyes as she looked at him. This was a
man who had been unknown to her. The hard, practical American had
vanished. In his place she seemed to have a glimpse of a hero, and a
saint, a man who could rise to an inhuman height of unselfish virtue.
Both her hands were round that which held the fatal phial.
"Archie," she cried, "you could forgive me even that!"
He smiled at her. "You are only a little wayward kiddie after all."
Her arms were outstretched to him when there was a tap at the door, and
the maid entered in the strange silent fashion in which all things moved
in that nightmare room. There was a card on the tray. She glanced at it.
"Captain Campbell! I will not see him."
Mason sprang to his feet.
"On the contrary, he is most welcome. Show him up this instant."
A few minutes later a tall, sun-burned young soldier had been ushered
into the room. He came forward with a smile upon his pleasant features,
but as the door closed behind him, and the faces before him resumed
their natural expressions, he paused irresolutely and glanced from one
to the other.
"Well?" he asked.
Mason stepped forward and laid his hand upon his shoulder.
"I bear no ill-will," he said.
"Yes, I know all. But I might have done the same myself had the position
Campbell stepped back and looked a question at the lady. She nodded and
shrugged her graceful shoulders. Mason smiled.
"You need not fear that it is a trap for a confession. We have had a
frank talk upon the matter. See, Jack, you were always a sportsman.
Here's a' bottle. Never mind how it came here. If one or other of us
drink it, it would clear the' situation." His manner was wild, almost
delirious. "Lucille, which shall it be?"
There had been a strange force at work in the nightmare room. A third
man was there, though not one of the three who had stood in the crisis
of their life's drama had time or thought for him. How long he had been
there--how much he' had heard--none could say. In the corner farthest
from the little group he lay crouched against the wall, a sinister
snake-like figure, silent and scarcely moving save for a nervous
twitching of his clenched right hand. He was concealed from view by a
square case and by a dark cloth drawn cunningly above it, so as to
screen his features. Intent, watching eagerly every new phase of the
drama, the moment had almost come for his intervention. But the three
thought little of that. Absorbed in the interplay of their own emotions
they had lost sight of a force stronger than themselves--a force which
might at any moment dominate the scene.
"Are you game, Jack?" asked Mason.
The soldier nodded.
"No!--for God's sake, no!" cried the woman.
Mason had uncorked the bottle, and turning to the side table he drew out
a pack of cards. Cards and bottle stood together.
"We can't put the responsibility on her," he said. "Come, Jack, the best
The soldier approached the table. He fingered the fatal cards. The
woman, leaning upon her hand, bent her face forward and stared with
Then and only then the bolt fell.
The stranger had risen, pale and grave.
All three were suddenly aware of his presence. They faced him with eager
inquiry in their eyes. He looked at them coldly, sadly, with something
of the master in his bearing.
"How is it?" they asked, all together.
"Rotten!" he answered. "Rotten! We'll take the whole reel once more
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