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Title: Christopher Quarles - College Professor and Master Detective
Author: Brebner, Percy James, 1864-1922
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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produced from scanned images of public domain material


CHRISTOPHER QUARLES
College Professor and Master Detective

BY PERCY JAMES BREBNER

AUTHOR OF "PRINCESS MARITZA," "THE LITTLE GREY SHOE," ETC., ETC.

[Illustration]

NEW YORK
E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
681 FIFTH AVENUE
PUBLISHERS

COPYRIGHT, 1914, BY
E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY

Press of
J. J. Little & Ives Co.
New York



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                 PAGE
I.      THE AFFAIR OF THE IVORY BOXES                      1
II.     THE IDENTITY OF THE FINAL VICTIM                  17
III.    THE RIDDLE OF THE CIRCULAR COUNTERS               32
IV.     THE STRANGE CASE OF MICHAEL HALL                  48
V.      THE EVIDENCE OF THE CIGARETTE-END                 67
VI.     THE MYSTERY OF "OLD MRS. JARDINE"                 86
VII.    THE DEATH-TRAP IN THE TUDOR ROOM                 102
VIII.   THE MYSTERY OF CROSS ROADS FARM                  120
IX.     THE CONUNDRUM OF THE GOLF LINKS                  137
X.      THE DIAMOND NECKLACE SCANDAL                     156
XI.     THE DISAPPEARANCE OF DR. SMITH                   175
XII.    THE AFFAIR OF THE STOLEN GOLD                    195
XIII.   THE WILL OF THE ECCENTRIC MR. FRISBY             217
XIV.    THE CASE OF THE MURDERED FINANCIER               239
XV.     THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF THE FLORENTINE CHEST       258
XVI.    THE SEARCH FOR THE MISSING FORTUNE               280



CHRISTOPHER QUARLES



CHAPTER I

THE AFFAIR OF THE IVORY BOXES


There was a substantial aspect about Blenheim Square, not of that
monotonous type which characterizes so many London squares, but a
certain grace and consciousness of well-being.

The houses, though maintaining some uniformity, possessed
individuality, and in the season were gay with window-boxes and
flowers; the garden in the center was not too stereotyped in its
arrangement, and plenty of sunlight found its way into it. The
inhabitants were people of ample means, and the address was
undoubtedly a good one. There was no slum in close proximity, that
seamy background which so constantly lies behind a fair exterior of
life; it was seldom that any but respectable people were seen in the
square, for hawkers and itinerant musicians were forbidden; and,
beyond a wedding or a funeral at intervals, nothing exciting ever
seemed to happen there.

It looked particularly attractive when I entered it one spring morning
early and made my way to No. 12.

As I approached the house and noted that the square was still asleep,
an old gentleman, clad in a long and rather rusty overcoat, shuffled
toward me from the opposite direction. He wore round goggles behind
which his eyes looked unusually large, and a wide-awake hat was drawn
over his silver locks.

He stopped in front of me and, without a word, brought his hand from
his pocket and gave me a card.

"Christopher Quarles," I said, reading from the bit of pasteboard.

"My name. What is yours?"

"Murray Wigan," I answered, and the next instant was wondering why I
had told him.

"Ah, I do not fancy we have met before, Detective Wigan. Perhaps we
may help each other."

"You knew Mr. Ratcliffe?" I asked.

"No, but I have heard of him."

"I am afraid that----"

He laid two fingers of a lean hand on my arm.

"You had better. It will be wise."

A sharp retort came to my tongue, but remained unspoken. I can hardly
explain why, because in an ordinary way his manner would only have
increased my resentment and obstinacy.

I was young, only just over thirty, but success had brought me some
fame and unlimited self-confidence. I was an enthusiast, and have been
spoken of as a born detective, but the line of life I had chosen had
sadly disappointed my father. He had given me an excellent education,
and had looked forward to his son making a name for himself, but
certainly not as a mere policeman, which was his way of putting it.

Indeed, family relations were strained even at this time, a fact which
may have accounted for that hardness of character which people, even
my friends, seemed to find in me.

My nature and my pride in my profession were therefore assailed by the
old man's manner, yet the sharp answer remained unspoken.

"You will find that I am known to your people," he added while I
hesitated.

I did not believe him for a moment, but there was something so
compelling in the steady gaze from the large eyes behind the goggles
that I grudgingly allowed him to enter the house with me.

Early that morning, before the first milk-cart had rattled through
Blenheim Square, Constable Plowman had been called to No. 12 by the
cook-housekeeper, who had found her master, Mr. Ratcliffe, dead in his
study. Plowman had at once sent for a doctor and communicated with
Scotland Yard. The doctor had arrived before me, but nothing had been
moved by the constable, and the housekeeper declared that the room was
exactly as she had found it.

The study was at the back of the house, a small room lined with books.
In the center was a writing table, an electric lamp on it was still
burning, and, leaning back in his chair, his eyes fixed on vacancy,
sat Mr. Ratcliffe. The doctor said he had been dead some hours.

On the blotting-pad immediately in front of him was a large blue
stone--a sapphire--and arranged in a rough semicircle round the pad
were the various boxes of one of those Chinese curiosities in which
box is contained within box until the last is quite small.

They were of thin ivory, the largest being some three inches square,
the smallest not an inch, and they were arranged in order of size.
There was no confusion in the room, no sign of violence on the dead
man. Curtains were drawn across the window, which was open a little at
the top.

At first my attention was somewhat divided; the old man interested me
as well as the case.

He looked closely into the face of the dead man, then glanced at the
curtained window, and nodded his head in a sagacious way, as if he had
already fathomed the mystery. He looked at the sapphire and at the
semicircle of boxes, but he did not attempt to touch anything, nor did
he say a word.

Well, it is easy enough to look wise; it is when a man opens his mouth
that the test begins. I came to the conclusion that he was a venerable
fraud, and that I had been a fool to let him come in. I dismissed him
from my mind and commenced my own investigations.

On the window-sill there were marks which made it practically certain
that someone had entered the room that way, but neither then nor later
could I discover any footprints in the small garden which was some
eight feet below the window.

The housekeeper, who had been with Mr. Ratcliffe a dozen years,
explained that, on coming down that morning, she had gone into the
study to draw the curtains as usual. The room was exactly as we saw
it. Her master spent most of his time in his study when he was at
home, and seemed to enjoy his own company. He went little into
society, but a friend sometimes dined with him; indeed, his nephew,
Captain Ratcliffe, had dined with him last night.

She had gone to bed before the captain left, and did not hear him go.
She would not admit that her master was peculiar or eccentric in any
way, but said he had seemed worried and rather depressed lately. The
slightest noise in the house disturbed him, and she fancied he had got
into the habit of listening for noises, for once or twice she had come
upon him in a listening attitude. She knew nothing about the sapphire,
and had never seen the ivory boxes before.

The old man never asked a question; I do not think he said a single
word until we were leaving the house, and then he remarked in a casual
manner:

"A curious case, Detective Wigan."

"Some curious points in it," I said.

I was glad when the old fellow had shuffled off. He was a disturbing
influence. His eyes behind those goggles seemed to have a paralyzing
effect upon me. I could not think clearly.

Certainly there were many curious points in the case, and my inquiries
quickly added to the number.

Mr. Ratcliffe had traveled extensively, was a linguist, and a far
richer man than his neighbors had supposed. Collecting precious stones
had been his hobby, and in a case deposited with his bankers there
were many valuable, and some unique, gems. Probably he had others with
him in the house, but none were found except the sapphire lying on the
blotting-pad. Robbers might have taken them, the marks on the
window-sill were suggestive, but I was doubtful on this point. Even if
robbers had entered the room, how was Mr. Ratcliffe's death to be
accounted for? There was no mark upon the body, there was no trace of
poison. The doctors declared he was in a perfectly healthy condition.
There was no apparent reason for his death. Besides, if he had been
robbed of his jewels, why should the sapphire have been left?

It was only natural, perhaps, that suspicion should fall upon the dead
man's nephew. Might he not have left the house by the window? it was
asked. I had put the same question to myself.

Captain Ratcliffe's behavior, however, was not that of a guilty man,
although there were certain things which told against him.

He answered questions frankly and without hesitation. He was in a
line regiment, and was somewhat heavily in debt. It was close upon
midnight when he left his uncle, he said, and they had not gone into
the study at all. They had sat smoking and talking in the dining room,
and just before he left they had both had a little whisky. The empty
glasses and the cigar ends in the dining room went to confirm this
statement.

He knew about his uncle's hobby for stones, was surprised to find that
he was such a rich man, and declared that he had no idea he was his
heir. Mr. Ratcliffe had never helped him in any way; in fact, that
very night he had refused, not unkindly but quite frankly, to lend him
a sum of money he had asked for.

There had been no quarrel, and they had parted excellent friends.

I am convinced that a large section of the public wondered why Captain
Ratcliffe was not arrested, and possibly some detectives would have
considered there was sufficient evidence against him to take this
course. I did not, although I had him watched.

The fact was that Christopher Quarles lurked at the back of my mind. I
found that he had spoken the truth when he said that he was known at
Scotland Yard. He was a professor of philosophy, and some two years
ago had made what seemed a perfectly preposterous suggestion in a case
which had puzzled the police, with the result that he had been
instrumental in saving an innocent man from the gallows. A chance
success was the comment of the authorities; my own idea was that he
must have had knowledge which he ought not to possess. Now it might
prove useful to cultivate the acquaintance of this mysterious
professor, so I called upon him one morning in his house at West
Street, Chelsea, as keen upon a difficult trail as I had ever been in
my life.

The servant said the professor was at home and requested me to follow
her.

Through open doors I had a glimpse of taste and luxury--softly
carpeted rooms, old furniture, good pictures--and then the servant
opened a door at the extreme end of the hall and announced me.

Astonishment riveted me to the threshold for the moment. Except for a
cheap writing-table in the window, a big arm-chair by the fireplace,
and two or three common chairs against the wall, this room was empty.
There was no carpet on the floor, not a picture on the whitewashed
walls. The window had a blind, but no curtains; there were no books,
and the appointments of the writing-table were of the simplest kind
possible.

"Ah, I have been expecting you," said Quarles, crossing from the
window to welcome me.

A skull-cap covered his silver locks, but he wore no glasses, and
to-day there were few signs of age or deterioration of physical or
mental force about him. His shuffling gait when he had met me in
Blenheim Square that morning had evidently been assumed, and probably
he had worn glasses to conceal some of the expression of his face.

"You had been expecting me?" I said.

"Two days ago I gave the servant instructions to bring you in whenever
you came. Zena, my dear, this is Detective Wigan--my granddaughter who
often assists me in my work."

I bowed to the girl who had risen from the chair at the writing-table,
and for a moment forgot the professor--and, indeed, everything else in
the world. Since no woman had ever yet succeeded in touching any
sympathetic chord in me, it may be assumed that she was remarkable. In
that bare room she looked altogether out of place, and yet her
presence transformed it into a desirable spot.

"You are full of surprises, professor," I said, with a keen desire to
make myself agreeable. "I enter your house and have a glimpse of
luxury through open doors, yet I find you in--in an empty room; you
tell me I am expected, when until a few hours ago I had not determined
to call upon you; and now you further mystify me by saying this lady
is your helper."

"Philosophy is mysterious," he answered, "and I am interested in all
the ramifications of my profession. To understand one science
perfectly means having a considerable knowledge of all other
sciences."

"My grandfather exaggerates my usefulness," said the girl.

"I do not," he returned. "Your questions have constantly shown me the
right road to travel, and to have the right road pointed out is half
the battle. Sit down, Mr. Wigan--in the arm-chair--no, I prefer
sitting here myself. Zena and I were talking of Blenheim Square when
you came in. A coincidence? Perhaps, but it may be something more. In
these days we are loath to admit there are things we do not
understand. This case puzzles you?"

The detective in me was coming slowly uppermost again, and I
remembered the line I had decided to take with this curious old
gentleman.

"It does. From first to last I am puzzled. To begin with, how came you
to hear of the tragedy that you were able to be upon the scene so
promptly?"

"Are you here as a spy or to ask for help? Come, a plain answer,"
said Quarles hotly, as though he were resenting an insult.

"Dear!" said the girl soothingly.

"Zena considers you honest," said the old man, suddenly calm again.
"My helper, as I told you, and not always of my opinion. Let that
pass. You are a young man with much to learn. I am not a detective,
but a philosopher, and sometimes an investigator of human motives. If
a mystery interests me I endeavor to solve it for my own satisfaction,
but there it ends. I never give my opinion unless it is asked for, nor
should I interfere except to prevent a miscarriage of justice. If this
is clear to you, you may proceed and tell me what you have done, how
far you have gone in the unraveling of this case; if you are not
satisfied, I have nothing more to say to you except 'Good morning!'"

For a moment I hesitated, then shortly I told him what I had done, and
he listened attentively.

"I have always worked alone," I went on, "not without success, as you
may know. In this case I am beaten so far, and I come to you."

"Why?"

"For two reasons. First--you will forgive my mentioning it again--your
prompt arrival puzzled me; secondly, I believe in Captain Ratcliffe,
and am anxious to relieve him of the suspicion which undoubtedly rests
upon him."

The old man rubbed his head through his skull-cap.

"You would like to find some reason to be suspicious of me?"

"Mr. Wigan does not mean that, dear," said Zena.

The professor shook his head doubtfully.

"Crime as crime does not interest me. It is only when I am impelled to
study a case, against my will sometimes, that I become keen; and,
whenever this happens, the solution of the mystery is likely to be
unusual. My methods are not those of a detective. You argue from
facts; I am more inclined to form a theory, and then look for facts to
fit it. Not a scientific way, you may say, but a great many scientists
do it, although they would strenuously deny the fact. I can show you
how the facts support my theory, but I cannot always produce the
actual proof. In many cases I should be a hindrance rather than a help
to you."

"It is courteous of you to say so," I returned, wishing to be
pleasant.

"It is quite true, not a compliment," said the girl.

"First, the dead man," Quarles went on. "Quite a healthy man was the
medical opinion--but his eyes. Did you particularly notice his eyes?
You look into the brain through the eyes, see into it with great
penetration if you have accustomed yourself to such scrutiny as I have
done. Mr. Ratcliffe had not been dead long enough for his eyes to lose
that last impression received from the brain. They were still looking
at something, as it were, and they still had terror in them. Now he
was a traveler, one who must have faced danger scores of times; it
would take something very unusual to frighten him."

I acquiesced with a nod.

"We may take it, I think, that such a man would not be terrified by
burglars."

I admitted this assumption.

"He was looking at the curtains which were drawn across the
window--that is a point to remember," said the professor, marking off
this fact by holding up a finger. "Then the little boxes; did you
count them?"

"Yes, there were twenty-five."

"And the last one was unopened; did you open it?"

"Yes; it contained a minute head in ivory, wonderfully carved."

"I did not touch the box," said Quarles, "but if the toy was complete
it would naturally contain such a head. Did you notice the nineteenth
box?"

"Not particularly."

"Had you done so you would have noticed that it was discolored like
the first and largest one, not clean and white like the others--and
more, beginning from the nineteenth box the semi-circular arrangement
was broken, as though it had been completed in a hurry, and possibly
by different hands."

I did not make any comment.

"The largest box had become discolored because it was the outside one,
always exposed; I judged therefore that the nineteenth box was
discolored for the same reason. For some time it had been the outside
box of the last few boxes. In other words, the toy in Mr. Ratcliffe's
possession had not been a complete one. This led me to look at box
eighteen, the last in Mr. Ratcliffe's series; it was just the size to
contain the sapphire. This suggested that the sapphire was the central
point of the mystery."

"You think the thieves were disturbed?"

"No."

"Then why didn't they take the sapphire?"

"Exactly. By the way, is the stone still at Scotland Yard?"

"Yes."

"Has it been tested?"

"No."

"Have it examined by the most expert man you can find. I think you
will find it is paste, a wonderful imitation, capable of standing some
tests--but still paste."

"Then why did Mr. Ratcliffe--an expert in gems, remember--treasure it
so carefully?" I asked.

"He didn't," Quarles answered shortly. "It is obvious that a man who
possessed such stones as were found in that packet at the bank would
certainly not make such a mistake; yet he was apparently playing with
his treasure when he met his death. My theory had three points, you
see. First, the sapphire was the sole object of the robbery; secondly,
the thieves had substituted an exact duplicate for the real stone;
thirdly, the stone must have some special fascination for Mr.
Ratcliffe, or he would have put it in the bank for safety as he had
done with others."

"An interesting theory, I admit, but----"

"Wait, Mr. Wigan. I have said something about my methods. I began to
look for facts to support my theory. You remember the cook-housekeeper?"

"Perfectly."

"She spoke of her uncle's sensitiveness to noises; she had on one or
two occasions surprised him in a listening attitude. That gave me a
clew. What was he listening for? Mr. Ratcliffe had only given way to
this listening attitude recently; in fact, only since his return from
his last voyage. It would seem that since his return his mental
balance had become unstable. There was some constant irritation in his
brain which brought fear, and in his dead eyes there was terror. My
theory was complete; I had only to fit the facts into it. I suppose,
Mr. Wigan, you have found out all about the people living on either
side of Ratcliffe's house?"

"Both are families above suspicion," I answered. "I also tried Ossery
Road, the gardens of which run down to those on that side of Blenheim
Square. The house immediately behind No. 12 is occupied by a doctor."

"I know. I called upon him recently to put some scientific point to
him," said Quarles with a smile. "I came to the conclusion that he
could give me no information about Mr. Ratcliffe. Rather curiously, he
did not like Mr. Ratcliffe."

"So I discovered," I answered, and I was conscious of resenting the
professor's active interference in the case. There is no telling what
damage an amateur may do.

"His dislike was a solid fact," said Quarles. "I congratulate you on
not being put on a false scent by it. Many detectives would have been.
The gardens end on to each other--a doctor, a knowledge of subtle
poisons--oh, there were materials for an excellent case ready to
hand."

"We are getting away from the point, professor," I said, somewhat
tartly.

"No, I am coming to it. I concentrated my attention on the house two
doors further down the road. It would not be difficult to creep along
the garden wall even in the dark. Two Chinese gentlemen boarded there,
I was told. No one had noticed them very particularly in the
neighborhood. There are several boarding-houses in Ossery Road, and
many foreigners over here for study or upon business go to live in
them. I called, but the Chinese gentlemen were visiting in the
country, and were not expected back for another fortnight. As a fact,
they were not Chinamen at all, but Tibetans, and I do not fancy they
will come back."

"Tibetans. How do you know? You did not see them?"

"No, it is a guess; because on his last journey Mr. Ratcliffe wandered
in Tibet. I have correspondents in Northern India, and it was not very
difficult to get this information by cable. You do not know Tibet, Mr.
Wigan?"

"No."

"Nor I, except from travelers' tales and through my correspondents. A
curious people, given to fetish worship in peculiar forms. I can tell
you of one strange place, strange as Lhasa. Were you to go there
presently--it might be too soon yet, I cannot say for certain--but
presently, I am convinced you would witness a scene of rejoicing,
religious processions in the streets, men wearing hideous masks; and
in a temple there you would find an idol with two blue eyes--eyes of
sapphire."

"Two?"

"For some time there has been only one," said Quarles; "the other was
stolen. You would find also in this temple talismans, ivory boxes
fitting into each other, the smallest containing a little carved head
representing the head of the idol. Further, you would be told some
strange tales of this idol, of the psychic influence it possesses, and
how those who offend it remain always under that influence which
brings terror. Were you present at a festival in this temple, you
would hear the idol speak. First you would find the great assembly in
the attitude of listening, and then from the idol you would hear a
sound, half sigh, half groan. I suppose the priests produce it
mechanically--I do not know. It may be that----"

"If this be true the mystery is solved," I said.

"I think so," said Quarles. "The Tibetans followed Mr. Ratcliffe to
recover the lost eye, I have no doubt of that, and to be ready for any
emergency had supplied themselves with a paste duplicate of the stone.
Exactly how Mr. Ratcliffe died I can only conjecture. I remember that
his eyes evidently saw something, and I fancy terror killed him. The
Tibetans had undoubtedly watched him constantly, and had found out
that he had the stone hidden in the boxes. Probably they expected to
find it so hidden, having discovered that Mr. Ratcliffe had discarded
the inner boxes of the talisman at the time of the robbery. Having
made certain of this, I think that on the fatal night they made the
curious sound that the idol makes when speaking, expecting that he
would be listening for it, as their priests declared those who
offended the god always did, and as a curious fact Mr. Ratcliffe
actually was, remember; then possibly they thrust between the curtains
one of those hideous masks which figure in so many religious
ceremonies in Tibet. Mr. Ratcliffe was in a state of mind to give any
sudden terror an enormous power over him, and I think he died without
any violence being offered him. So the gem was recovered, the paste
sapphire and the remaining boxes being left as a sign that the god had
been avenged, a sign which I believe I have been able to read. There
are the theory and some facts; you must make further inquiries
yourself."

The professor rose abruptly from his chair. Evidently he had no
intention of answering questions, and he meant the interview to come
to an end.

"Thank you," I said. "I shall take steps at once to find out if you
are correct."

"For your own satisfaction, not mine," said Quarles; "I am certain.
You asked how it was I came to Blenheim Square that morning. Chance!
It is called that. I do not believe in chance. When I am impelled to
do a thing, I do it because I recognize a directing will I am forced
to obey. We live in a world girt with miracles, in an atmosphere of
mystery which is beyond our comprehension. We find names for what we
do not understand, psychic force, mind waves, telepathy, and the like,
but they are only names and do not help us much. Keep an open mind,
Mr. Wigan; you will be astonished what strange imaginings will enter
it--imaginings which you will discover are real truths. An empty mind
in an empty room, there you have the best receptacle for that great
will which guides and governs all thought and action. I speak as a
philosopher, and as an old man to a young one. Come to me if you like
when you are in a difficulty, and I will help you if I am allowed to.
Do you understand? Good-bye."

       *       *       *       *       *

Subsequent inquiries made by Scotland Yard through the authorities in
India established the fact that the sapphire eye of the image in Tibet
had been stolen; that Mr. Ratcliffe was in Tibet at the time; and that
not long after the tragedy in Blenheim Square the jewel was restored
to its place with much rejoicing and religious enthusiasm.

I was not disposed to like Professor Quarles nor to believe in him
altogether. I found it easy to see the charlatan in him, yet the fact
remained that he had solved the problem.

Certainly he was interesting, and, besides, there was his
granddaughter, Zena. If only for the sake of seeing her, I felt sure I
should have occasion to consult Christopher Quarles again.



CHAPTER II

THE IDENTITY OF THE FINAL VICTIM


I soon fell into the habit of going to see Professor Quarles. As an
excuse I talked over cases with him, but he seldom volunteered an
opinion, often was obviously uninterested. Truth to tell, I was not
there for his opinion, but to see his granddaughter. A detective in
love sounds something like an absurdity, but such was my case, and,
since Zena's manner did not suggest that she was particularly
interested in me, my love affair seemed rather a hopeless one.

My association with Christopher Quarles has, however, led to the
solution of some strange mysteries, and, since my own achievements are
sufficiently well known, I may confine myself to those cases which,
single-handed, I should have failed to solve. I know that in many of
them I was credited with having unraveled the mystery, but this was
only because Professor Quarles persisted in remaining in the
background. If I did the spade work, the deductions were his.

They were all cases with peculiar features in them, and it was never
as a detective that Quarles approached them. He was often as
astonished at my acumen in following a clew as I was at his marvelous
theories, which seemed so absurd to begin with yet proved correct in
the end.

Perhaps his curious power was never more noticeable than in the case
of the Withan murder.

A farmer returning from Medworth, the neighboring market town, one
night in January, was within a quarter of a mile of Withan village
when his horse suddenly shied and turned into the ditch.

During the afternoon there had been a fall of snow, sufficient to
cover the ground to a depth of an inch or so, and in places it had
drifted to a depth of two feet or more. By evening the clouds had
gone, the moon sailed in a clear sky, and, looking round to find the
cause of his horse's unusual behavior, the farmer saw a man lying on a
heap of snow under the opposite hedge.

He was dead--more, he was headless.

It was not until some days later that the case came into my hands, and
in the interval the local authorities had not been idle. It was noted
that the man was poorly dressed, that his hands proved he was used to
manual labor, but there was no mark either on his body or on his
clothing, nor any papers in his pockets to lead to his identification.
So far as could be ascertained, nobody was missing in Withan or
Medworth. It seemed probable that the murderer had come upon his
victim secretly, that the foul deed had been committed with horrible
expedition, otherwise the victim, although not a strong man, would
have made some struggle for his life, and apparently no struggle had
taken place.

Footprints, nearly obliterated, were traceable to a wood on the
opposite side of the road, but no one seemed to have left the wood in
any direction. From this fact it was argued that the murder had been
committed early in the afternoon, soon after the storm began, and that
snow had hidden the murderer's tracks from the wood. That snow had
drifted on to the dead body seemed to establish this theory.

Why had the murderer taken the head with him? There were many
fantastic answers to the question. Some of the country folk, easily
superstitious, suggested that it must be the work of the devil, others
put it down to an escaped lunatic, while others again thought it might
be the work of some doctor who wanted to study the brain.

The authorities believed that it had been removed to prevent
identification, and would be found buried in the wood. It was not
found, however, and the countryside was in a state bordering on panic.

For a few days the Withan murder seemed unique in atrocities, and then
came a communication from the French police. Some two years ago an
almost identical murder had been committed outside a village in
Normandy. In this case also the head was missing, and nothing had been
found upon the body to identify the victim. He was well dressed, and a
man who would be likely to carry papers with him, but nothing was
found, and the murder had remained a mystery.

These were the points known and conjectured when the case came into my
hands, and my investigations added little to them.

One point, however, impressed me. I felt convinced that the man's
clothes, which were shown to me, had not been made in England. They
were poor, worn almost threadbare, but they had once been fairly good,
and the cut was not English. That it was French I could not possibly
affirm, but it might be, and so I fashioned a fragile link with the
Normandy crime.

On this occasion I went to Quarles with the object of interesting him
in the Withan case, and he forestalled me by beginning to talk about
it the moment I entered the room.

Here I may mention a fact which I had not discovered at first.
Whenever he was interested in a case I was always taken into his empty
room; at other times we were in the dining-room or the drawing-room.
It was the empty room on this occasion, and Zena remained with us.

I went carefully through the case point by point, and he made no
comment until I had finished.

"The foreign cut of the clothes may be of importance," he said. "I am
not sure. Is this wood you mention of any great extent?"

"No, it runs beside the road for two or three hundred yards."

"Toward Withan?"

"No; it was near the Withan end of it that the dead man was found."

"Any traces that the head was carried to the wood?"

"The local authorities say, 'Yes,' and not a trace afterward. The
ground in the wood was searched at the time, and I have been over it
carefully since. Through one part of the wood there runs a ditch,
which is continued as a division between two fields which form part of
the farm land behind the wood. By walking along this the murderer
might have left the wood without leaving tracks behind him."

"A good point, Wigan. And where would that ditch lead him?"

"Eventually to the high road, which runs almost at right angles to the
Withan road."

"Much water in the ditch?" asked Quarles.

"Half a foot when I went there. It may have been less at the time of
the murder. The early part of January was dry, you will remember."

"There was a moon that night, wasn't there?"

"Full, or near it," I returned.

"And how soon was the alarm raised along the countryside?"

"That night. It was about eight o'clock when the body was found, and
after going to the village the farmer returned to Medworth for the
police."

"A man who had walked a considerable distance in a ditch would be wet
and muddy," said Zena, "and if he were met on the road carrying a bag
he would arrest attention."

"Why carrying a bag?" asked Quarles.

"With the head in it," she answered.

"That's another good point, Wigan," chuckled Quarles.

"Of course, the head may be buried in the wood," said Zena.

Quarles looked at me inquiringly.

"I searched the wood with that idea in my mind," I said. "One or two
doubtful places I had dug up. I think the murderer must have taken the
head with him."

"To bury somewhere else?" asked Quarles.

"Perhaps not," I answered.

"A mad doctor bent on brain experiments--is that your theory, Wigan?"

"Not necessarily a doctor, but some homicidal maniac who is also
responsible for the Normandy murder. The likeness between the two
crimes can hardly be a coincidence."

"What was the date of the French murder?"

"January the seventeenth."

"Nearly the same date as the English one," said Zena.

"Two years intervening," I returned.

"Wigan, it would be interesting to know if a similar murder occurred
anywhere in the intervening year at that date," said Quarles.

"You have a theory, professor?"

"An outlandish one which would make you laugh. No, no; I do not like
being laughed at. I never mention my theories until I have some facts
to support them. I am interested in this case. Perhaps I shall go to
Withan."

There was nothing more to be got out of the professor just then, and I
departed.

I took the trouble to make inquiry whether any similar crime had
happened in England in the January of the preceding year, and had the
same inquiry made in France. There was no record of any murder bearing
the slightest resemblance to the Withan tragedy.

A few days later Quarles telegraphed me to meet him at Kings Cross,
and we traveled North together.

"Wait," he said when I began to question him. "I am not sure yet. My
theory seems absurd. We are going to and out if it is."

We took rooms at a hotel in Medworth, Quarles explaining that our
investigations might take some days.

Next morning, instead of going to Withan as I had expected, he took me
to the police court, and seemed to find much amusement in listening to
some commonplace cases, and was not very complimentary in his remarks
about the bench of magistrates. The next afternoon he arranged a
drive. I thought we were going to Withan, but we turned away from the
village, and presently Quarles stopped the carriage.

"How far are we from Withan?" he asked the driver.

"Five or six miles. The road winds a lot. It's a deal nearer as the
crow flies."

"You need not wait for us, driver. My friend and I are going to walk
back."

The coachman pocketed his money and drove away.

"Couldn't keep him waiting all night, as we may have to do," said
Quarles. "Mind you, Wigan, I'm very doubtful about my theory; at
least, I am not certain that I shall find the facts I want. A few
hours will settle it one way or the other."

After walking along the road for about a mile Quarles scrambled
through a hedge into a wood by the roadside.

"We're trespassers, but we must take our chance. Should we meet
anyone, blame me. Say I am a doddering old fool who would walk under
the trees and you were obliged to come to see that I didn't get into
any mischief. Do you go armed?"

"Always," I answered.

"I do sometimes," he said, tapping his pocket. "We might come up
against danger if my theory is correct. If I tell you to shoot--shoot,
and quickly. Your life is likely to depend upon it. And keep your ears
open to make sure no one is following us."

He had become keen, like a dog on the trail, and, old as he was,
seemed incapable of fatigue. Whether he had studied the topography of
the neighborhood I cannot say, but he did not hesitate in his
direction until he reached a high knoll which was clear of the wood
and commanded a considerable view.

We were trespassers in a private park. To our right was a large house,
only partially seen through its screen of trees, but it was evidently
mellow with age. To our left, toward what was evidently the extremity
of the park, was hilly ground, which had been allowed to run wild.

To this Quarles pointed.

"That is our way," he said. "We'll use what cover we can."

We plunged into the wood again, and were soon in the wilderness,
forcing our way, sometimes with considerable difficulty, through the
undergrowth. Once or twice the professor gave me a warning gesture,
but he did not speak. He had evidently some definite goal, and I was
conscious of excitement as I followed him.

For an hour or more he turned this way and that, exploring every
little ravine he could discover, grunting his disappointment each time
he failed to find what he was looking for.

"I said I wasn't certain," he whispered when our path had led us into
a damp hollow which looked as if it had not been visited by man for
centuries. "My theory seems--and yet this is such a likely place.
There must be a way."

He was going forward again. The hollow was surrounded by perpendicular
walls of sand and chalk; it was a pit, in fact, which Nature had
filled with vegetation. The way we had come seemed the only way into
it.

"Ah! this looks promising," Quarles said suddenly.

In a corner of the wall, or, to be more precise, filling up a rent in
it, was a shed, roughly built, but with a door secured by a very
business-like lock.

"I think the shed is climbable," said Quarles. "Let's get on the roof.
I am not so young as I was, so help me up."

It was not much help he wanted. In a few moments we were on the roof.

"As I thought," he said. "Do you see?"

The shed, with its slanting roof, served to block a narrow, overgrown
path between two precipitous chalk walls.

"We'll go carefully," said Quarles. "There may be worse than poachers'
traps here."

Without help from me he dropped from the roof, and I followed him.

The natural passage was winding, and about fifty yards long, and
opened into another pit of some size. A pit I call it, but it was as
much a cave as a pit, part of it running deeply into the earth, and
only about a third of it being open to the sky. The cave part had a
rough, sandy floor, and here was a long shed of peculiar construction.
It was raised on piles, about eight feet high; the front part formed a
kind of open veranda, the back part being closed in. The roof was
thatched with bark and dried bracken, and against one end of the
veranda was a notched tree trunk, serving as a ladder.

"As I expected," said Quarles, with some excitement. "We must get onto
the veranda for a moment. I think we are alone here, but keep your
ears open."

The shed was evidently used sometimes. There was a stone slab which
had served as a fireplace, and from a beam above hung a short chain,
on which a pot could easily be fixed.

"We'll get away quickly," said Quarles. "Patience, Wigan. I believe we
are going to witness a wonderful thing."

"When?"

"In about thirty hours' time."

The professor's sense of direction was marvelous. Having reclimbed the
shed which blocked the entrance to this concealed pit, he made
practically a straight line for the place at which we had entered the
wood from the road.

"I daresay one would be allowed to see over the house, but perhaps it
is as well not to ask," he said. "We can do that later. I'm tired,
Wigan; but it was safer not to keep the carriage."

Try as I would, I could get no explanation out of him either that
night or next day. He was always as secret as the grave until he had
proved his theory, and then he seemed anxious to forget the whole
affair, and shrank from publicity. That is how it came about that I
obtained credit which I did not deserve.

"We go there again this evening," he said after lunch next day; "so a
restful afternoon will suit us."

It was getting dark when we set out, and again Quarles's unerring
sense of locality astonished me. He led the way without hesitation.
This time he took more precaution not to make a sound when climbing
over the shed into the narrow path.

"I think we are first, but great care is necessary," he whispered.

We crept forward and concealed ourselves among the scrub vegetation
which grew in that part of the pit which was open to the sky. It was
dark, the long shed barely discernible, but the professor was
particular about our position.

"We may have to creep a little nearer presently," he whispered. "From
here we can do so. Silence, Wigan, and don't be astonished at
anything."

The waiting seemed long. Moonlight was presently above us, throwing
the cave part of the pit into greater shadow than ever.

I cannot attempt to say how long we had waited in utter silence when
Quarles touched my arm. Someone was coming, and with no particular
stealth. Whoever it was seemed quite satisfied that the night was
empty of danger. I heard footsteps on the raised floor of the shed--a
man's step, and only one man's. I heard him moving about for some
time. I think he came down the ladder once and went up again. Then
there was a light and sudden tiny flames. In the dark he had evidently
got fuel, and had started a fire on the stone slab.

As the flames brightened I watched his restless figure. He was not a
young man. I caught a glimpse of white hair, but he took no position
in which I could see his face clearly. He was short, thick-set, and
quick in his movements.

From somewhere at the back of the shed he pushed forward a block of
wood, and, standing on this, he fixed something to the short chain I
had noted yesterday. When he got down again I saw that a bundle was
suspended over the fire, not a pot, and it was too high for the flames
or much of the heat to reach it, only the smoke curled about it.

Then the man moved the wooden block to the side of the fire and sat
down facing us, the flickering flames throwing a red glow over him.

"Wigan, do you see?" whispered Quarles.

"Not clearly."

"We'll go nearer. Carefully."

From our new point of view I looked again. The man's face was
familiar, but just then I could not remember who he was. It was the
bundle hanging over the fire which fascinated me.

Tied together, and secured in a network of string, were five or six
human heads, blackened, shriveled faces, which seemed to grin horribly
as they swung deeply from side to side, lit up by the flicker of the
flames.

"Do you see, Wigan?" Quarles asked again.

"Yes."

"And the man?"

"Who is he?"

"On the bench yesterday. Sir Henry Buckingham. Don't you remember?"

For an hour--two, three, I don't know how long--that horrible bundle
swung over the fire, and the man sat on his block of wood, staring
straight before him. I had a great desire to rush from my hiding-place
and seize him, and I waited, expecting some further revelation,
listening for other footsteps. None came. The fire flickered lower and
went out. The moon had set, and the cold of the early morning got into
my bones.

In the darkness before the dawn the man moved about the shed again,
and presently I heard him go.

"Patience!" whispered Quarles, as I started up to go after him. "He
will not run away."

His calmness almost exasperated me, but he would answer no questions
until we had returned to our hotel and had breakfast.

"My dear Wigan," he said, when at last he condescended to talk, "it
was Zena who first set me on the right road, when she remarked that a
man who had walked in a ditch carrying a bag would arrest attention.
Two points were suggested--first, that the man might not have far to
go to reach a place of safety; secondly, that he had come prepared to
take a head away with him. A mere speculation, you may say, but it set
me putting questions to myself. Why should a head be required? What
kind of man would be likely to want a head? A theory took shape in my
brain, and I hunted up the history of the well-to-do people who lived
in the neighborhood of Withan. My theory required a man who had
traveled, who was elderly, who could be connected with the case in
France two years ago. I found such a man in Sir Henry Buckingham. I
told you I was not certain of my theory. I was doubtful about it after
I had watched Sir Henry for a whole morning on the bench. I sought for
some peculiarity in his manner, and found none. Yet his history
coincided with my theory. You know nothing about him, I suppose?"

"Nothing."

"Rather an interesting career, but with an hereditary taint in it,"
Quarles went on. "His mother was eccentric. Her husband was rich
enough to have her looked after at home; had she been a poorer person
she would have died in a madhouse. Religious mania hers was, and her
son has inherited it in a curious fashion. In the year intervening
between the Normandy crime and this one Sir Henry was in Rome, where
he was very ill, delirious, and not expected to live, so there was no
similar crime that year. But he was in Normandy at the time of the
murder there, motoring, and usually alone."

"How have you learnt all this?"

"He is important enough to have some of his doings chronicled, and he
wrote some interesting articles for a country gentlemen's newspaper
about his Normandy tour--nature studies, and such like. Another point,
both these murders happened at the time of the full moon. I am not
absolutely sure, but I think you will find that for the last
half-dozen years Sir Henry has not been in England in January."

"You think----"

"I think there would have been other heads missing if he had been,"
Quarles answered. "He was sane enough to be somewhere where he was not
known when this time of the year came round. At the full moon he is
always queer--witness last night; but he is only dangerous in
January--dangerous, I mean, without provocation. To preserve his
secret, I have little doubt he would go to any length; that is why I
warned you to be ready to shoot when we went upon our journey of
discovery. Now this year he was in England; illness had kept him to
his house yonder, but he was well enough to get out at the fatal time,
and the insane desire proved irresistible. He was cunning too. He must
know everybody in the neighborhood, yet the man he killed was unknown.
We shall find presently, I have no doubt, that the victim was some
wanderer returning unexpectedly to friends in Withan. That would
account for the foreign cut of his clothes. Sir Henry, waiting in the
wood, perhaps for hours, may have allowed others to pass before this
man came. He realized that he was a stranger, and attacked him."

"But the head?"

"Was among those hanging over the fire. Sir Henry was for many years
in Borneo, Wigan, and for a large part of the time was up-country
helping to put down the head-hunting which still existed there, and
still does exist, according to all accounts, when the natives think
they can escape detection. The horrible custom proved too much for his
diseased brain, and fascinated him. You see how my theory grew. Then I
looked for the actual proof, which we found last night. The long shed
in that pit is built exactly as the Dyaks of Borneo build theirs--a
whole village living on communal terms under one roof. The stone slab
for the fire is the same, and over it the Dyaks hang the treasured
heads, just as we saw them last night. Now you had better go and see
the police, Wigan. Don't drag me into it. I am going back to London by
the midday train."

       *       *       *       *       *

The arrest of Sir Henry Buckingham caused an enormous sensation.

He was subsequently put into a lunatic asylum, where he died not many
months afterward. Fortunately he had no children to run the risk of
madness in their turn, and neither his wife nor any of the servants
knew anything of the concealed pit where he went to revel in his
insane delight.

Hidden under the long shed the heads were found--six of them, five so
hideously shriveled that identification was altogether impossible.

The sixth was less shriveled, was the only English one, and, perhaps,
had we shown it in Withan, some old person might have recognized a
lost son believed to be still wandering the world.

It was thought better not to do so, and the identity of Sir Henry's
last victim remains a mystery.



CHAPTER III

THE MYSTERY OF THE CIRCULAR COUNTERS


However obscure a mystery may be, there is always some point or
circumstance which, if rightly interpreted, will lead to its solution.
Even in those crimes which have never been elucidated this point
exists, only it has never been duly appreciated. It is this key-clew,
as I may call it, for which the detective first looks, and, since few
crimes, if any, are committed without some definite reason, it is most
frequently found in the motive.

His almost superhuman power of recognizing this key-clew was the
foundation of Christopher Quarles's success, and his solution of the
mysterious burglaries which caused such speculation for a time was not
the least of his achievements.

Sir Joseph Maynard, the eminent physician of Harley Street, had given
a small dinner party one evening. The guests left early, and soon
after midnight the household had retired.

Neither Sir Joseph nor Lady Maynard nor any of the servants were
disturbed during the night, but next morning it was found that
burglars had entered. They had got in by a passage window at the
back--not a very difficult matter--and had evidently gone to the
dining room and helped themselves to spirits from a tantalus which was
on the sideboard. Three glasses, with a little of the liquor left in
them, were on the table, and near them were some biscuit crumbs.
There were several silver articles on the sideboard, but these had not
been touched.

The burglars appeared to have given all their attention to Sir
Joseph's room, which was in a state of confusion. Two cupboards and
every drawer had been turned out and the contents thrown about in all
directions. A safe which stood in a corner had been broken open. It
was a large safe, but of an old-fashioned type, presenting little
difficulty to experts. In it, besides papers and about seventy pounds
in gold in a canvas bag, Sir Joseph had a considerable amount of
silver, presentations which had been made to him, and some unique
specimens of the Queen Anne period. All this silver was upon the
floor, also the bag of money intact.

So far as Sir Joseph could tell, not a thing had been taken. Half a
dozen cigarette-ends had been thrown down upon the carpet, and a small
box containing some round counters lay broken by the writing-table. It
looked as if the box had been knocked down and trodden on by mistake,
for the counters were in a little heap close to the broken fragments.
It appeared that the burglars must have been disturbed and had made
off without securing their booty.

This was the obvious explanation, but it did not satisfy me. I
questioned Sir Joseph about his papers. Had he any document which, for
private or public reasons, someone might be anxious to obtain? He said
he had not, was inclined to laugh at my question, and proceeded to
inform me that he had no family skeleton, had no part in any
Government secret, had never been in touch with any mysterious
society, and had no papers giving any valuable details of scientific
experiments upon which he was engaged.

Of course the thieves might have been disturbed, but there were
certain points against this idea. No one had moved about the house
during the night, so apparently there had been nothing to disturb
them. The silver on the floor was scattered, not gathered together
ready to take away as I should have expected to find it, and it looked
as if it had been thrown aside carelessly, as though it were not what
the thieves were in search of; and surely, had they left in a hurry,
the bag of money would have been taken. Moreover, the cigarette-ends
and the dirty glasses suggested a certain leisurely method of going to
work, and men of this kind would not be easily frightened.

The cigarette-ends puzzled me. They were of a cheap American brand,
had not been taken from Sir Joseph's box, which contained only Turkish
ones, and, although they had apparently been thrown down carelessly,
there was no ash upon the carpet nor anywhere else. They looked like
old ends rather than the remains of cigarettes smoked last night. If
my idea were correct, it would mean that they had been put there on
purpose to mislead.

I examined the three glasses on the dining-room table; there was the
stain of lips at the rim of one, but not of the other two. Only one
had been drunk out of, and probably a little of the liquid had been
emptied out of this into the other two. On inquiry, one of the
servants told me that only a very little of the spirit had been taken.
She also said there was only one biscuit left in the box last night,
and it was there now; therefore a few crumbs from the box must have
been purposely scattered on the tablecloth.

This was the story I told to Professor Quarles and his granddaughter.
I went to him at once, feeling that the case was just one of those in
which his theoretical method was likely to be useful. By doing so I
certainly saved one valuable life, possibly more than one.

That he was interested was shown by our adjournment to the empty room,
and he did not ask a question until I had finished my story.

"What is the opinion you have formed about it, Wigan?" he said.

"I think there was only one burglar, but for some reason he thought it
important that it should be believed there were more."

"A very important point, and a reasonable conclusion, I fancy," said
Quarles. "If you are right, it narrows the sphere of inquiry--narrows
it very much, taken with the other facts of the case."

"Exactly," I answered. "There is a suggestion to my mind of
amateurishness in the affair. I grant the safe was not a difficult one
to break open, but it had not been done in a very expert manner. The
cigarette-ends, the dirty glasses, and the biscuit crumbs seem to me
rather gratuitous deceptions, and----"

"Wait," said Quarles. "You assume a little too much. They would have
deceived nine men out of ten--you happen to be the tenth man. Amateur
or not, we have to deal with a very smart man, so don't underestimate
the enemy, Wigan. Assuming this to be the work of an amateur, to what
definite point does it lead you?"

"To this question," I replied. "Did Sir Joseph Maynard burgle his own
house?"

"Why should you think so?"

"His manner was curious. Then there is only his own statement that
nothing has been taken. But supposing he wished to get rid of papers,
or of something else which was in his possession and for which he was
responsible to others, a burglary would be an easy way out of the
difficulty."

"Would he not have robbed himself of something to make the affair more
plausible?" said Quarles.

"The amateur constantly overlooks the obvious," I answered.

The professor shook his head.

"Besides, Wigan, if he wanted to suggest that some important document
had been stolen, that is just the one thing he would mention."

"I think that would entirely depend on the man's temperament,
professor."

"That may be true, but we have also got to consider the man's
character. Sir Joseph's standing is very high."

"Sudden temptation or necessity may subvert the highest character," I
answered. "You know that as well as I do. When I questioned Sir
Joseph about his papers his manner seemed curious, as I have said. He
at once declared that he had no part in any Government secret or
mysterious society, gratuitous information, you understand, not in
answer to any direct question of mine, showing that the ideas were in
his mind. Why? The explanation would be simple if he were the burglar
of his own papers."

"I admit the argument is sound, Wigan, but it does not creep into my
brain with any compelling influence. There is a link missing in the
chain somewhere," and he looked at Zena.

His often-repeated statement that she helped him by her questions had
never impressed me very greatly. When a mystery was cleared up, it was
easy to say that Zena had put him on the right road, and I considered
it a whim of his more than anything else. Still I am bound to say that
her seemingly irrelevant questions often had a curious bearing on the
problem. It was so now.

"You do not seem interested in the broken box of counters?" she said,
turning toward her grandfather.

"I wonder, Wigan--is that the clew?" Quarles said quickly. "It creeps
into my brain."

"The counters were in a heap," I said.

"As if they had fallen out of the box when it was broken?" asked
Quarles.

"No, that would have scattered them more. They were round, and might
have fallen over after having been put one upon another as one gathers
coppers together when counting a number of them. Sir Joseph picked
them up and put them on the writing-table while he was talking to me."

"Did that strike you as significant?" asked Quarles.

"I cannot say it did. The floor was covered with things, and I fancy
they happened to be in his way, that was all."

"They are significant, Wigan, but I cannot see yet in which direction
they lead us. We must wait; for the moment there is nothing to be
done."

I had become so accustomed to Quarles jumping to some sudden
conclusion that I was disappointed. I think I was prepared to find him
a failure in this case. Naturally I was not idle during the next few
days, but at the end of them I had learnt nothing.

Then the unexpected happened. On consecutive nights two doctors'
houses were burgled. The first was in Kensington. Dr. Wheatley had
taken some part in local politics which had made him unpopular with
certain people, and he was inclined to consider the burglary one of
revenge rather than intended robbery. Nothing had been stolen, but
everything in his room was in disorder, and a small and unique inlaid
cabinet with a secret spring lock had been smashed to pieces. Several
cigarette-ends were on the floor.

The second was at Dr. Wood's in Ebury Street, an eminent surgeon, and
the author of one or two textbooks. He had several cabinets in his
room containing specimens, and everything had been turned on to the
floor and damaged more or less. In fact, although nothing had been
taken, the damage was considerable. On the night of the burglary Dr.
Wood was away from home, only servants being in the house. The cook,
suffering from faceache, had been restless all night, but had heard
nothing. It seemed, however, that the burglar must have heard her
moving about and had been prepared to defend himself, for a revolver,
loaded in every chamber, was found on one of the cabinets. Apparently,
having put it ready for use, he had forgotten to take it away.

The doctor was furious at the wanton destruction of his specimens,
and, being irascible and suspicious, fancied the revolver was merely a
blind and that the culprit was some jealous medical man. Again there
were cigarette-ends among the débris.

As soon as possible I went to Quarles and was shown into the empty
room.

"The unexpected has happened," I said.

"No, no; the expected," he said impatiently, and he pointed to a heap
of newspapers. "I've read every report, but tell me yourself--every
detail."

I did so.

"The same brand of cigarettes?" he asked.

"No, but all cheap American ones."

"One man trying to give the impression that he is several. You still
think that? Nothing has happened to make you change that opinion?"

"No, I hold to the one man theory."

"And you are right," he snapped. "I admit I might not have got upon
the right track had you not made that discovery. It was clever,
Wigan."

"It did not seem to help you to a theory," I answered.

"True. But it made me ask myself a question. Had the thief found what
he was looking for? Much depended upon the answer. If he had, I saw
small chance of elucidating the mystery. I might have propounded a
theory, but I should have had no facts to support it.

"Indeed, had I theorized, then my theory would have been wrong. If the
thief had not found what he wanted, he would continue his search, I
argued. For some reason he connected Sir Joseph Maynard with the
object of his search, and, when he tried again, we stood a chance of
finding the link in the chain we wanted. It might implicate Sir
Joseph, it might not. That is why I said we must wait. The thief has
tried again--twice. Now, what is he looking for?"

"Presumably something a doctor is likely to have," I said.

"And not silver, nor money, nor papers, nor----"

"Nor counters, I suppose," I interrupted.

"Not precisely," said Quarles. "But those counters have inspired me.
They crept into my brain, Wigan, and remained there. Whatever it is
the thief is seeking for, he is desperately anxious to obtain
it--witness his two attempts on consecutive nights."

"You forget that days have elapsed since Sir Joseph's was broken
into."

"Forget? Nonsense!" said the professor sharply. "Should I be likely to
forget so important a point? It means that opportunity has been
lacking. More, it means that any doctor would not do, only certain
medical practitioners. And that is where the counters help me--or I
think they do."

"How?"

"Call for me to-morrow morning; we are going to pay a visit together.
We may be too late, but I hope not. That revolver left in Dr. Wood's
house rather frightens me."

"Why, particularly?"

"It proves that the thief will use violence if he is disturbed, and
that he is a desperate man. I should say he will grow more dangerous
with every failure."

It was like Christopher Quarles to raise my curiosity, and then to
leave it unsatisfied. It was his way of showing that he was my
superior--at least, it always impressed me like this. No man has ever
made me more angry than he has done. Yet I owe him much, and there is
no gainsaying his marvelous deductions.

He made me angry now, first by his refusal to tell me more, and then
by his patronizing air when I left the house.

"You are clever, Wigan, very clever. You have shown it in this case.
But you lack imagination to step out as far as you ought to do.
Cultivate imagination, and don't be too bound up by common sense.
Common sense is merely the knowledge with which fools on the dead
level are content. Imagination carries one to the hills, and shows
something of that truth which lies behind what we call truth."

I found him ready and waiting for me next morning, as eager to be on
the trail as a dog in leash.

"We are going to call on Dr. Tresman, in Montagu Street," he said,
stopping a taxi. "You will tell him that you have reason to believe
that his house is being watched, and will be burgled on the first
opportunity. If the opportunity is given, it may happen to-night,
which will suit us admirably, because we have got to keep watch every
night in his room until it is burgled. Of course, you will tell him
who you are, and get his permission. We don't want to have to commit
burglary ourselves in order to catch the thief."

"Why do you expect this particular doctor will be visited?" I asked.

"It is part of my theory," was all the explanation I could get out of
him.

Dr. Tresman was a man in the prime of life, and evidently believed
himself capable of dealing with any thieves who visited him. I told
him that the man we expected was no ordinary thief.

"A gang at work, eh? I have been out of town for a little while
holiday-making, and part of my holiday consists in not reading the
papers. Of course you may keep watch, and I shall be within call
should you want help."

"You had better leave it to us, doctor," said Quarles, who, for the
purpose of this interview, posed as my assistant.

"Come, now, if it means a rough-and-tumble, I should back myself
against you," laughed Tresman, drawing himself up to his full inches.

"No lack of muscle, I can see, doctor, but then there is my
experience."

"For all that, you may be glad of my muscle when it comes to the
point," was the answer.

At nine o'clock that night Quarles and I were concealed in the
doctor's room, Quarles behind a chesterfield sofa in a corner, while I
crouched close to the wall behind one of the window curtains.

We had decided that the most likely means of entry was by a window at
the end of the hall, and we expected our prey to enter the room by the
door. We had got the doctor to put a spirit tantalus on the sideboard,
also some biscuits and a box of cigarettes. We were anxious to
reproduce the circumstances of the burglary at Sir Joseph Maynard's as
nearly as possible, for Quarles declared it was impossible to say what
significance there might be in the man's every action.

So we waited--waited all night, in fact. Nothing happened.

"Something alarmed him," was all Quarles said when we left the house
in the morning.

He showed no disappointment, nor any sign that his theory had received
a shock.

The next night we were on the watch again, concealed as before.

By arrangement, the house retired to rest early. So slowly did time go
that half the night seemed to have passed when I heard a neighboring
church clock strike one, and almost directly afterward the door of the
room was opened stealthily and was shut again.

Until that moment I had not heard a sound in the house, and I was not
certain that anyone had entered the room even now, until I saw a tiny
disk, the end of a ray of light, on the wall. The disk moved, so the
man holding the lantern was moving. The next moment he almost trod
upon me. His first care was to see that the curtains covered the
windows securely, and it evidently never occurred to him that there
might be watchers in the room. It was discovery from without that he
was afraid of. The ray from his lantern swung about the room for a
moment, then he switched on the electric light.

As he had drawn the curtain closer across the window, I had arranged
the folds so that no scrap of my clothing should show beneath them.
Now I made a slit in the fabric with my penknife so that I could watch
him through it. He was middle-aged, well groomed, decently dressed.
Having glanced round the room, he placed a bag and the lantern on the
floor and went to the sideboard. He put a little spirit into one of
the tumblers and added a little water--a very modest dose,
indeed--and, having just sipped it, he poured some of the contents
into two other glasses, and placed the three glasses on a small table
near the door, so that no one could fail to see them on entering. Then
he broke off a piece of biscuit, crumbled it in his hands, and
scattered the crumbs beside the glasses. The cigarette box he did not
touch, but he took some cigarette-ends from his pocket and threw them
on the floor. These preliminaries seemed stereotyped ones, and he
appeared glad to be done with them.

There was a curious eagerness in his face as he bent down and opened
his bag, taking a thin chisel from it, and from his hip pocket he took
a revolver. His method was systematic. He began at one corner of the
room, and opened every drawer and box he could find. If a drawer were
locked, he pried it open. He laid the revolver ready to his hand upon
the piece of furniture he was examining. Every drawer he emptied on to
the floor. Some of the contents he hardly looked at. Indeed, most of
the contents did not interest him. But now and then his attention was
closer, and at intervals he seemed puzzled, standing quite still, his
hands raised, a finger touching his head, almost as a low comedian
does when he wishes the audience to realize that he is in deep
thought.

For some time I could not make out what kind of article it was to
which he gave special attention, but presently noticed that anything
in ivory or bone interested him, especially if it were circular. I
remembered the counters in Sir Joseph's room, and wished we had
thought to place some in here to see what he would have done with
them.

Watching him closely, I was aware that he became more irritable as he
proceeded. One small cabinet, which might possess a secret
hiding-place, he broke with the chisel, and I noticed that whenever a
drawer was locked his scrutiny of the contents was more careful. He
evidently expected that the man he was robbing would value the thing
he was looking for, and would be likely to hide it securely.

He had worked round half the room when he suddenly stopped, and, with
a quick movement, took up the revolver. I had not heard a sound in the
house, but he had. There was no sign of doubt in his attitude, which
was of a most uncompromising character. He did not make any movement
to switch off the light, he did not attempt to conceal himself. He
just raised his arm and pointed the revolver toward the door, on a
level at which the bullet would strike the head of a man of average
height.

The handle was turned, and the door began to open. The next five
seconds were full of happenings. For just a fraction of time I
realized that the burglar meant to shoot the intruder without a word
of warning, and for a moment I seemed unable to utter a sound. Then I
shouted:

"Back for your life!"

Immediately there was a sharp report. Quarles had fired from behind
the Chesterfield, and the burglar's arm dropped like a dead thing to
his side, his revolver falling to the floor.

"Quickly, Wigan!" Quarles cried.

I had dashed aside the curtain, and I threw myself upon the burglar
just in time to prevent his picking up his weapon with his left hand.
He struggled fiercely, and I was glad of Tresman's help in securing
him, although the doctor had come perilously near to losing his life
by his unexpected intrusion. But for Christopher Quarles he would have
been a dead man.

We called in the police, and, when our prisoner had been conveyed to
the station, the professor and I went back to Chelsea.

"Do you know what he was looking for, Wigan?" Quarles asked.

"Something in bone or ivory."

"Bone," answered Quarles. "Thank heaven that fool Tresman didn't come
sooner! We might have missed much that was interesting. You noted how
keen he was with every piece of bone he could find, how irritable he
was growing. The counters, Wigan, they were the clew. But I did not
understand their significance at first."

"I do not understand the case now," I confessed, "except that we have
caught a mad burglar."

"Yes, it's an asylum case, not a prison one," said Quarles. "What was
the man looking for? That was my first question, as I told you. If he
had not found it at Sir Joseph's he would look again. He did, and
visited two other doctors. Round counters--doctors. There was the
link. I daresay you know, Wigan, there is an annual published giving
particulars of all the hospitals, with the names of the medical staff,
consulting surgeons and physicians, and so forth. In the paragraph
concerning St. James's Hospital you will find that the first three
names mentioned are Sir Joseph Maynard, Dr. Wheatley, and Dr. Wood.
The fourth is Dr. Tresman. It could not be chance that the burglar had
visited these men in exact order, so I argued that he would next go to
Dr. Tresman. The man had had something to do with St. James's
Hospital, and, since he was acting like a madman, yet with method, I
judged he had been a patient who had undergone an operation, outwardly
successful, really a failure. He was looking for something of which a
doctor at this hospital had robbed him, as he imagined, and, not
knowing which doctor, looked at this annual and began at the first
name. I have no doubt he was conscious of the loss of some sense or
faculty, and believed that if he could get back the something that was
missing he would recover this sense. Moreover, he was exceedingly
anxious that no one should guess what he was looking for, so he
attempted to suggest that a gang was at work--the glasses, the crumbs,
the cigarette-ends, all placed where they would be certain to attract
notice. Did you see how he touched his head several times to-night?"

"Yes."

"That gives the explanation, I think," said Quarles. "To relieve some
injury to his head, he was trepanned at St. James's Hospital, and he
was looking for the bone which the little circular trephine had cut
from his head. I have no doubt he examined Sir Joseph's round counters
very carefully to make sure that what he wanted was not among them,
and he would naturally damage Dr. Wood's specimens. Probably the
original pressure was relieved by the operation, but in some other way
the brain was injured. We have seen the result."

Subsequent inquiry at St. James's Hospital proved that Quarles was
right. The man was a gentleman of small independent means, a bachelor,
and practically alone in the world. There was no one to watch his
goings and comings, no one to take note of his growing peculiarities.
His madness was intermittent, but the doctors said he would probably
become worse, as, indeed, he did, poor fellow!

"Ah, it is wonderful what surgery can do," said Quarles afterward.
"But there are limitations, Wigan, great limitations. And when we come
to the brain, great heavens! We are mere babies playing with a
mechanism of which we know practically nothing. No wonder we so often
make a mess of it."



CHAPTER IV

THE STRANGE CASE OF MICHAEL HALL


Quarles was professedly a theorist, and I admit that he often outraged
my practical mind. I believe the practical people govern the affairs
of the world, but occasionally one is brought face to face with such
strange occurrences that it is impossible not to speculate what would
happen had not the world its theorists and dreamers too.

Early one morning about a week after the mad burglar's case, I
received a wire from Zena Quarles, asking me to go to Chelsea as soon
as possible. A request from her was a command to me, and, dispensing
with breakfast, except for a hasty cup of coffee, I started at once.
She came to the door herself.

"Come in here for a minute," she said, leading the way into the
dining-room and closing the door. "Grandfather does not know I have
sent for you. I am troubled about him. For the last three days he has
not left his room. He will not let me go to him. His door is not
locked, but he commanded me, quite irritably, not to come until he
called for me. For three days he has not wanted my companionship, and
never before do I remember so long an isolation."

"What is he doing?" I asked.

She did not answer at once, and when she did the words came with some
hesitation.

"Of course, he is an extraordinary man, with powers which one cannot
exactly define, powers which--don't think me foolish--powers which
might prove dangerous. In a way, you and I understand him, but I think
there is a region beyond into which we are not able to follow him. I
admit there have been times when I have been tempted to think that
some of his philosophical reasonings and fantastic statements were
merely the eccentricities of a clever man--intentional mystifications,
a kind of deceptive paraphernalia."

"I have thought so too," I said.

"We are wrong," she said decisively. "He wanders into regions into
which we cannot follow--where he touches something which is outside
ordinary understanding, and when he is only dimly conscious of the
actualities about him. Don't you remember his saying once that we
ought to strive toward the heights, and see the truth which lies
behind what we call truth? He does climb there, I believe, and, in
order that he may do so, his empty room and isolation are necessary. I
wonder whether there is any peril in such a journey?"

I did not venture to answer. Being a practical man, a discussion on
these lines was beyond me.

As I went to the professor's room I framed a knotty, if unnecessary,
problem out of a case upon which I was engaged; but I was not to
propound it.

I was suddenly plunged into a mystery which led to one of the most
curious investigations I have ever undertaken, and showed a new phase
of the professor's powers.

Christopher Quarles was sitting limply in the arm-chair, but he
started as I entered, and looked at me with blinking eyes, as though
he did not recognize me.

Energy returned to him suddenly, and he sat up.

"Paper and pencil," he said, pointing to the writing-table. I handed
him a pencil and a writing-block.

By a gesture he intimated that he wanted me to watch him.

Quarles was no draughtsman. He had told me so--quite unnecessarily,
because I had often seen him make a rough sketch to illustrate some
argument, and he always had to explain what the various parts of the
drawing stood for. Yet, as I watched him now, he began to draw with
firm, determined fingers--a definite line here, another there,
sometimes pausing for a moment as if to remember the relative position
of a line or the exact curve in it.

For a time there seemed no connection between the lines, no meaning in
the design.

I have seen trick artists at a music-hall draw in this way, beginning
with what appeared to be the least essential parts, and then, with two
or three touches, causing all the rest to fall into proper perspective
and a complete picture. So it was with Quarles. Two or three quick
lines, and the puzzle became a man's head and shoulders. No one could
doubt that it was a portrait with certain characteristics exaggerated,
not into caricature, but enough to make it impossible not to recognize
the original from the picture. It was an attractive face, but set and
rather tragic in expression.

Quarles did not speak. He surveyed his work for a few moments,
slightly corrected the curve of the nostril, and then very swiftly
drew a rope round the neck, continuing it in an uncertain line almost
to the top of the paper. The sudden stoppage of the pencil give a
jagged end to the line. The rope looked as if it had been broken. The
effect was startling.

"Three times he has visited me," said Quarles. "First, just as the
dusk was falling he stood in the window there, little more than a dark
shadow against the light outside. The second time was when the lamp
was lighted. I looked up suddenly, and he was standing there by the
fireplace gazing at me intently. He was flesh and blood, real, not a
ghost, no shape of mist trailing into my vision. An hour ago, at least
it seems only an hour ago, he came again. The door opened, and he
entered. He stood there just in front of me, as clearly visible in the
daylight as you are, and as real. When you opened the door, I thought
my visitor had come a fourth time."

"And what is the meaning of this--this broken rope?" I said, pointing
to the drawing.

"Broken?" and he looked at the paper closely. "My hand stopped
involuntarily. It is a good sign--encouraging--but the rope is not
really broken yet. That is for us to accomplish."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that in one of His Majesty's prisons this man lies under
sentence of death, that he is innocent of the crime, that he has been
permitted to come to me for help."

"But----?"

Quarles sprang from his chair.

"Ah, leave questioning alone. I do not know how much time we have to
prevent injustice being done. Take this drawing, Wigan, find out where
the man is, work night and day to get the whole history, and then come
to me. We must not lose a moment. Providence must have sent you to
Chelsea this morning--another sign of encouragement."

I did not explain how I came to be there, nor say there was no
foundation for encouragement in my unexpected arrival. Indeed, but
for my talk with Zena that morning, I should have been inclined to
argue with him. As it was, I left Chelsea only half convinced that I
was not being misled by the fantastic dream of a man not in his usual
state of health.

I was soon convinced of my error.

Quarles's drawing was the portrait of a real man. He was lying under
sentence of death in Worcestershire, the case against him so clear
that there seemed to be no doubt about his guilt. The story was a
sordid one, had created no sensation, had presented no difficult
problem. But, under the peculiar circumstances, it was only natural
that I should work with feverish haste to learn all the details of the
crime, and I intimated to the authorities that facts had come to my
knowledge which threw a doubt on the justice of the sentence, and that
a postponement at least of the last penalty of the law would be
advisable. This advice was not the outcome of anything I discovered;
it was given entirely on my faith in Christopher Quarles.

Later I told the following story to the professor and Zena in the
empty room.

"Michael Hall, the condemned man, is an artist," I said. "The portrait
of him, Professor, is a good one. I have seen him, and he impresses
you at once as possessing the artistic temperament. Whether he has
anything beyond the temperament, I cannot judge, but the fact remains
that he has had little success. He is a gentleman, and there is
something convincing in the manner in which he protests his innocence.
Yet I am bound to say that every circumstance points to his guilt.
Possessed of two or three hundred pounds, and an unlimited faith in
himself, he married. There is one child, three years old. The money
dwindled rapidly, and a year ago, to cut down expenses, he went to
live at Thornfield, a village near Pershore, in Worcestershire. At
Thornfield he became acquainted with an elderly gentleman named
Parrish, a bookworm, something of a recluse, and an eccentric. For no
particular reason, and apparently without any foundation, Mr. Parrish
had the reputation of being a rich man. Generally speaking, the
inhabitants of Thornfield are humble people, and the fact that Parrish
had a little old silver may have given rise to the idea of his wealth.
He does not appear to have had even a banking account.

"The old gentleman welcomed a neighbor of his own class, and Hall was
constantly in his house. That Hall should come to Thornfield and live
in a tiny cottage might suggest to anyone that he was not overburdened
with this world's goods, but Hall declares that Parrish had no
knowledge of his circumstances. Only on one occasion was Parrish in
his cottage, and money was never mentioned between them. Yet Hall was
in difficulties. He pawned several things in Pershore--small articles
of jewelry belonging to his wife--giving his name as George Cross, and
an address in Pershore. One evening--a Sunday evening--Hall was with
Parrish. The housekeeper--Mrs. Ashworth, an elderly woman--the only
servant living in the house, said in her evidence that Hall came at
seven o'clock. The church clock struck as he came in. Her master
expected him to supper. Hall says that he left at half-past nine, but
Mrs. Ashworth said it was midnight when he went. She had gone to bed
at nine--early hours are the rule in Thornfield--and had been asleep.
She was always a light sleeper. She was roused by the stealthy closing
of the front door, and just then midnight struck. Early next
morning--they rise early in Thornfield--Mrs. Ashworth came down and
found her master upon the floor of his study--dead. He had been struck
down with a life-preserver, which was found in the room and belonged
to Hall. The housekeeper ran out into the village street, but it seems
there was nobody about, and some twenty minutes elapsed before anyone
came to whom she could give the alarm.

"Hall's arrest followed. From the first he protested his innocence,
but the only point in his favor appears to be the fact that he was
found at his cottage, and had not attempted to run away. Everything
else seems to point to his guilt. Although he says he left Parrish's
house at half-past nine, he did not arrive home until after midnight.
His wife innocently gave this information, and Hall, who had not
volunteered it, explained his late return by saying that he was
worried financially, and had gone for a lonely walk to think matters
over. He admits that the life-preserver belonged to him. Mr. Parrish
had spoken once or twice of the possibility of his being robbed, and
that evening Hall had made him a present of the weapon, but had not
told his wife that he was going to do so. The police discovered that
two days before the murder a valuable silver salver belonging to
Parrish had been pawned in Pershore in the name of M. Hall, and the
pawnbroker's assistant identified Hall. A search among Parrish's
papers after the murder resulted in the discovery of a recent will,
under which all the property was left to Hall. The condemned man
declared he was ignorant of this fact, but the prosecution suggested
that his knowledge of it and the straits he was in for money were the
motive for the crime. Except on the assumption that Hall is guilty
there appears to be no motive for the murder. Nothing but this silver
salver was missing."

Quarles had not interrupted me. He had listened to my narrative, his
features set, his eyes closed, the whole of his mind evidently
concentrated on the story. As I stopped I looked at Zena.

"I wonder the housekeeper did not look out of her bedroom window to
see that it was Michael Hall who left the house," Zena said slowly.

"She slept at the back of the house," I returned.

"I had not thought of that." And then, after a pause, during which her
grandfather's eyes remained fixed upon her as though he would compel
her to say more, she went on: "How was it, since they are early risers
in Thornfield, that Mrs. Ashworth had to wait twenty minutes before
anyone came? The house isn't isolated, is it?"

"No. I understand it is in the middle of the village street."

"There may be something in that question, Wigan," said Quarles,
becoming alert. "Tell me, are the house and its contents still
untouched?"

"I believe so. According to Mrs. Ashworth, Mr. Parrish appears to have
had only one relation living--a nephew, named Charles Eade. He lives
in Birmingham, and at the trial said he knew nothing whatever about
his uncle, and had not seen him for years."

"Any reason?"

"No; the family had drifted apart. I am simply stating what came out
in the evidence."

"About the will," said Quarles. "Was any provision made for Mrs.
Ashworth in it?"

"No; it leaves everything to Hall, and there is a recommendation to
sell the books in London, except a few which are specially mentioned
as being of no value intrinsically, and which Hall is advised to read.
According to Hall, the old gentleman talked much about literature, and
declared that the whole philosophy of life was contained in about a
score of books. I have a copy of the list given in the will."

"Who witnessed the signature to the will?" Quarles asked.

"A lawyer in Pershore and his clerk. This was the only business
transaction the lawyer had had with Mr. Parrish, and he knew little
about him."

"I think we must go to Birmingham," said Quarles. "Sometimes there is
only one particular standpoint from which the real facts can be seen,
and I fancy Birmingham represents that standpoint for us. I suppose
you can arrange for us to have access to Mr. Parrish's house at
Thornfield, Wigan?"

"I will see about that," I answered.

"Are you sure Michael Hall is not guilty?" asked Zena.

"Were he guilty I should not have seen him," answered Quarles
decidedly.

"His poor wife!" said Zena.

"Pray, dear, that we may carry sunlight to her again," said the
professor solemnly.

I thought that our journey to Birmingham was for the purpose of
interviewing Parrish's nephew, but it was not. Quarles got a list of
the leading secondhand booksellers there.

"A bookworm, Wigan, remains a bookworm to the end of his days.
Although nothing has been said about it, I warrant Mr. Parrish bought
books and had them sent to Thornfield."

"He might have bought them in London," I said.

"I think it was Birmingham," said Quarles.

So far he was right. It was the third place we visited. Baines and Son
was the firm, and we saw old Mr. Baines. He had constantly sold books
to Mr. Parrish, of Thornfield, who had been to his shop several times,
but their intercourse was chiefly by correspondence. Good books!
Certainly. Mr. Parrish knew what he was doing, and never bought
rubbish.

"His purchases might be expected to increase in value?" asked Quarles.

"Yes; but, forgive me, why these questions?"

"Ah! I supposed you would have heard. Mr. Parrish is dead."

"Indeed! I am very sorry to hear it."

"We are looking into his affairs," Quarles went on. "Is there any
money owing to you?"

"No."

"The fact is, Mr. Parrish was murdered."

"Murdered!" exclaimed Baines, starting from his chair. "Do you mean
for some treasured volume he possessed? Do you mean by some
bibliomaniac?"

"You think he may have had such a treasure, then?"

"I know he had many rare and valuable books," Baines answered.

"You don't happen to know a bibliomaniac who might commit murder?"
said Quarles.

"No."

"Such information would help us, because a young man has been
condemned for the murder, a man named Hall--Michael Hall."

"I never heard of him," said Baines. "I wonder I did not see the case
in the paper."

"It caused little sensation," said Quarles. "At present it seems one
of those crimes committed for small gain."

"Mr. Parrish must have been a man of considerable means," said the
bookseller; "considerable means, although he was eccentric about
money. He always sent me cash, or some check he had received, with a
request that I would return him the balance in cash. Indeed, I have
constantly acted as his banker. He has sent me checks and asked me to
send him notes for them."

"Where did those checks come from--I mean whose were they? Were they
for dividends?"

"Possibly, one or two of them, I do not remember; but I fancy he sold
books sometimes, and the checks represented the purchase money."

We thanked Mr. Baines, and then, just as we were leaving, Quarles
said:

"By the way, do you happen to know a Mr. Charles Eade?"

"A solicitor?" queried the bookseller.

"I didn't know he was a solicitor, but he is a relation of Mr.
Parrish's, I believe," Quarles answered.

"I was not aware of that," Baines returned. "Mr. Eade's office is in
West Street--No. 40, I think. He comes in here occasionally to make
small purchases."

"Not a bookworm like his uncle, eh?"

"Neither the taste nor the money, I should imagine," said Baines.

As soon as we were in the street the professor turned to me.

"That has been an interesting interview, Wigan. What do you think of
the bibliomaniac idea?"

"I suppose it goes to confirm your theory?" I said.

"On the contrary, it was a new idea to me. It would be an idea well
worth following if we found that one or two of Parrish's valuable
books were missing; but we'll try another trail first. I think we will
go to Pershore next."

"How about Charles Eade?"

"I expect he is in his office in West Street. I don't want to see him.
Do you?"

"We might call upon him so as to leave no stone unturned. I don't
think you quite appreciate the difficulty of this case. The man may be
innocent, but we have got to prove it."

"My dear Wigan, if Baines had said that Eade was a bibliomaniac I
should have gone to West Street at once. Since he is only a lawyer, I
am convinced we should get no useful information out of him. Besides,
he might very reasonably resent our interference in his uncle's
affairs. It will be time enough to communicate with him when we have
made some discovery which will help Michael Hall."

Next morning we journeyed to Pershore.

"Yesterday you suggested that I had a theory, Wigan," said Quarles,
who had been leaning back in the corner of the railway carriage
apparently asleep, but now became mentally energetic. "As a fact, my
theory went no further than this: A bookworm in all probability buys
books; to buy books requires money; therefore he must have money. In
Thornfield Mr. Parrish was considered a man of means; our friend
Baines confirms that belief. My theory is established."

"It doesn't carry us very far," I said.

"It provides another motive for the murder--robbery. The bookseller's
story suggests that Parrish must have kept a considerable sum of money
in the house. It is said nothing was taken, but a large amount in
notes may be stolen without leaving any noticeable space vacant. Just
one step forward we may take. If such a sum existed, as is probable,
remember Parrish might at times think of burglars, might have
mentioned his fears, without giving a reason, to Hall, and Hall,
having a life-preserver, might make a present of it to his friend."

I did not contradict him, but, personally, I was not at all convinced.

From the station we went straight to the pawnbroker's and had an
interview with the assistant who had identified Hall as the man who
pawned the salver. We arranged that I was a detective helping the
professor, who was interested in Hall, and could not believe that he
was guilty. It proved an excellent line to adopt, for it brought out
the young fellow's sympathy. I asked questions, after stating our
position, and for a time Quarles remained an interested listener. The
assistant described Hall fairly accurately.

"He had pawned things before, hadn't he?" I asked.

"Yes."

"You recognized Hall at once?"

"Yes----"

"There is one very curious point," I said: "so long as the articles
were his own, and he had a right to pawn them, he gave a false name;
yet, when he pawns an article he had stolen, he gave his own name."

"I think it seems more curious than it is," was the answer. "My
experience is that whenever an important article is pawned the correct
name is given. The affair becomes a financial transaction which there
is no reason to be ashamed of."

"I understood that Hall had pawned things of some value before this
salver," said Quarles; "jewelry belonging to his wife, for instance.
Why didn't he give his own name then?"

"It is rather the importance of the article which counts than its
actual value," said the assistant. "In this case I have no doubt the
prisoner would have said that he had temporarily borrowed the salver.
He must redeem it presently; it was an important matter, and by giving
his own name the transaction seemed almost honest."

Quarles nodded, as though this argument impressed him; then he said
suddenly:

"What is George Cross like?"

"That was the false name Hall used."

"Did you comment upon the fact when he pawned the salver in his own
name?"

"No."

"It would have been natural to do so, wouldn't it?"

"Perhaps; but we were busy at the time, and----"

"And it didn't occur to you," said Quarles. "Now I suggest that when
you picked out Hall you were really identifying the man you knew as
George Cross, and that the man who pawned the salver and gave the name
Hall was a different person altogether."

"No."

"Are you sure the salver was not pawned by a woman?"

"Certain."

"But you might reconsider your original statement if I produced
another man?"

"If such a person exists, why has it not been suggested to me, say, by
a photograph?"

The professor nodded and smiled, but I could get nothing out of him
that evening, not even whether he was hopeful or not.

Next morning we went to Thornfield. I had arranged that we should be
allowed to visit the house. For the time being, the local constable
had the keys, and we went to his house first. Quarles set him talking
about the crime at once.

"Is Mrs. Hall still in the village?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. That's her cottage yonder," and he pointed down the village
street. "Poor thing, we all sympathize with her."

"And Mrs. Ashworth, is she still here?"

"No, sir. She was willing, I believe, to remain in charge of Mr.
Parrish's house, but it was decided that I should have the keys and
look after it. She took a room in the village until after the trial;
then she left."

"How long had she been with Mr. Parrish, constable?"

"About a year, sir. You're not thinking she had anything to do with
the murder, are you? She wasn't equal to it. She is a little bit of a
woman, and it was a tremendous blow which killed Mr. Parrish."

"It was quite early in the morning when she discovered the dead man,
wasn't it?"

"Yes; before the village was awake."

"What do you know about Mr. Parrish's nephew?"

"I understand he claims the property as next-of-kin," said the
constable; "but he hasn't been near the place, so I don't suppose he
expects to be much richer for his uncle's death."

Quarles and I went through the village to Parrish's house, which was
the most important in the street, but was of no great size. The room
in which the dead man had been found was lined with books, and, with
some excitement manifest in his face, Quarles took several volumes
from the shelves and examined them.

"Value here, Wigan. The old gentleman knew what he was buying. These
shelves represent a lot of money, even if he had no other investments.
Have you the list of the books Hall was recommended to keep?"

I had. There were eighteen books in all, such classics as "Lamb's
Essays," "Reynold's Discourses," and "Pope's Homer." We found only ten
of them, and careful search convinced us that the others were not on
the shelves.

"If you are looking for a cryptogram--a key to the hiding place of a
fortune--the missing books spoil it," I said.

"I confess that something of the kind was in my mind," said Quarks
excitedly, "but the missing books are going to help us. The old
gentleman had not read these books himself. See, Wigan, uncut pages;
at least"--he took out a penknife--"not uncut, but carefully gummed
together. I hadn't thought of this."

He slit the pages apart, and from between them took a ten-pound note.
Other pages, when unfastened, yielded other notes--five pounds, twenty
pounds, and one was for fifty pounds.

"Enough, Wigan!" he exclaimed. "We've something better to do than find
bank-notes. You must see the constable at once, and tell him there is
treasure in this house which requires special protection. Then
communicate with the Birmingham police, and tell them not to lose
sight of Charles Eade, and let them also have a description of Mrs.
Ashworth. I expect she is lying low in Birmingham."

"I don't follow your line of reasoning, professor."

"I had no very definite theory beyond thinking that Mr. Parrish must
be a man of considerable means," said Quarles. "That fact once
established, we had a motive for the murder, which did not seem
applicable to Michael Hall. It was said that nothing beyond the salver
was missing. Only Mrs. Ashworth could establish that fact. You
remember Zena's question: 'How was it, since people were such early
risers in Thornfield, that Mrs. Ashworth had to wait so long before
anyone came?' There was one obvious answer. She was up much earlier
than usual that morning, perhaps had not been to bed that night. The
constable had said that the village was not awake. Again, it was Mrs.
Ashworth who gave information about the nephew in Birmingham. It is
possible Parrish may have mentioned him to his housekeeper, but, since
she had only been with him a year, and the old gentleman held no
communication with his nephew, it is unlikely. Once more, the
housekeeper was a little too definite about the time. She had a story
to tell. The precision might be the result of careful rehearsal. These
points were in my mind from the first, but they were too slight for
evidence. Now the missing volumes give us the link we want. Who could
have taken them? Either Mrs. Ashworth, or someone with her connivance.
I don't think it was Mrs. Ashworth. I believe it was the man who
murdered Mr. Parrish."

"His nephew?"

"Charles Eade; but I do not think he is his nephew. Let me reconstruct
the plot. Supposing Eade, either from Mr. Baines or from some
assistant in his shop, heard of Parrish and his eccentricities, he
would naturally assume that a lot of money was kept in this house.
When, a year ago, Mr. Parrish wanted a housekeeper the opportunity
came to establish a footing here; so Mrs. Ashworth, the accomplice,
came to Thornfield. A man like Parrish would be secretive, not easy
to watch; but in time the housekeeper would find out where he hid his
money, and would note the books. She would only be able to note those
used during the past year--the eight books which are missing, Wigan.
Now the robbery had to be carefully arranged, suspicion must be thrown
upon someone, and Hall was at hand. To emphasize his need of money,
the salver was pawned, I thought by Mrs. Ashworth, but doubtless Eade
did it himself, choosing a busy time. The scoundrels chose the night
when Hall was having supper with the old man, and whether the original
intention was robbery only or murder, everything worked in their
favor. Eade took the eight books away that night, and the housekeeper
stayed to give the alarm and tell her story. Now, mark what happens.
After the murder a will is found in which eighteen books are
mentioned, and immediately we hear through Mrs. Ashworth that Mr.
Parrish has a nephew living, who, as the constable tells us, had laid
claim to the property. The villains are greedy, and want the other ten
volumes."

"Is there any real evidence to support the story, professor?"

"Yes; those eight missing books, which will be found in the possession
of Charles Eade."

       *       *       *       *       *

Few men have received less sympathy than Charles Eade when he paid the
last penalty of the law. He was not only a murderer, but had intended
to let an innocent man suffer. The missing volumes were found, and
some of the money saved; and it was a satisfaction that Mrs. Ashworth,
who was sentenced to a long term of imprisonment, confessed. Her story
agreed with Quarles's theory in almost every particular, even to the
fact that Eade was no relation to the dead man.

Quarles and I visited the Halls afterward, and the professor very
simply told them of his experience, offering no explanation,
expressing no opinion.

But as we traveled back to London, he said to me:

"If men were ready to receive them, such manifestations of mercy would
be constant experiences. Is it not only natural they should be? Take a
child; he is only happy and secure because every moment of his life
his parents help him, protect him, think for him. Without such care
and thought, would he live to become a man? It is a marvelous thing
that, whereas a child learns to lean wholly on the wisdom of his
parents, man, as a rule, seems incapable of wholly trusting an
Almighty wisdom; and, when he is forced to realize it, calls it
miraculous. The miracle would be if these things did not happen."

I did not answer. We were both silent until the train ran into
Paddington.



CHAPTER V

THE EVIDENCE OF THE CIGARETTE-END


I suppose I have my fair share of self-confidence, but there have been
occasions when I have felt intuitively that the only chance of success
was to have Quarles with me from the beginning. The Kew mystery was a
case in point.

It was half-past nine when the telephone bell rang. At first the
inspector on duty at the station could only hear a buzzing sound,
followed by a murmur of voices, which might have come from the
exchange; then came the single word, "Police!" As soon as he had
answered in the affirmative the message came in quick gasps in a
woman's voice:

"Hambledon Road--fourteen--come--it's murder! Quick, I'm being----"

There was a faint cry, as though the woman had been suddenly dragged
from the instrument.

The inspector at once sent off a constable, who, with Constable Baker,
the man on the Hambledon Road beat at the time, went to No. 14. Their
knock was not answered very promptly. A servant came to the door,
still fidgeting with her cap and apron, as though she had put them on
hastily, and she gave a start when she saw the policeman. She said her
mistress--a Mrs. Fitzroy--was at home, but she seemed a little
reluctant to let the officers walk into the dining-room without a
preliminary announcement, which was only natural, perhaps. They
entered to find the room empty. Mrs. Fitzroy was not in the house. The
servant knew nothing about the telephone call. She said it was her
night out, that she had come in by the back door, as usual, and was
upstairs taking off her hat and jacket when the policeman knocked.

This was the outline of the mystery which I gave to Christopher
Quarles as we walked from Kew Gardens Railway Station to Hambledon
Road. The investigation had only been placed in my hands that morning,
and I knew no details myself.

"Shall we find Constable Baker at the house?" he asked presently.

"Yes; I have arranged that," I answered.

The house was a fair size, semi-detached, with half a dozen steps up
to the front door, and it had a basement. There was a small window on
the right of the door which gave light to a wide passage hall, and on
the other side was the large window of the dining-room.

Baker opened the door for us.

"No news of Mrs. Fitzroy?" I asked.

"None, sir." He was a smart man. I had worked with him before.

"What time was it when you entered the house last night?" asked
Quarles.

"Ten o'clock, sir. A clock struck while we were standing on the
steps."

"Was the light burning in the hall and in the dining-room?"

"Yes, sir; full on."

"And the dining-room door was shut?"

"Yes, sir."

"You searched the house for Mrs. Fitzroy?"

"We did. Have you just come from the police station?"

"No."

"I have reported one or two points," said Baker. "The gardens of these
houses all have a door opening onto a footpath, on the other side of
which there is a tennis club ground.

"The path ends in a blank wall at one end; the other end comes out
into Melbury Avenue, a road running at right angles to Hambledon Road.
I found the garden gate here unbolted, and the servant, Emma Lewis,
says she has never known it to be unfastened before. Also in Melbury
Avenue last evening I saw a taxi waiting. I saw it first at about
eight o'clock, and it was still there at a quarter past nine, when I
spoke to the driver. He said he had brought a gentleman down, who had
told him to wait there, and had then walked up Melbury Avenue. It was
not the first time he had driven him to the avenue, and the driver
supposed it was a clandestine love affair. After we found that Mrs.
Fitzroy was missing, I went to look for the taxi. It had gone. I had
noticed the number, however, and they are making inquiries at the
police station."

"Good," said Quarles. "Now let us look at the dining-room. Nothing has
been moved, I suppose."

"It's just as we found it last night," Baker returned.

It was a well-furnished room. An easy chair was close to the hearth,
and an ordinary chair was turned sideways to the table. A swivel-chair
was pushed back from the writing-table, which was in the window, and
the telephone, which evidently stood on this table as a rule, was
hanging over it, suspended by the cord, the receiver being upon its
hook. The telephone directory lay open on the blotting-pad. For some
time Quarles was interested in the telephone, the directory, and the
pad, then he turned to take in the general aspect of the room.

"Some man was here, evidently," I said, pointing to the ashes on the
tiled hearth, "and was smoking. It looks as if he had smoked at his
ease for some time."

"Seated in one of those chairs probably," said Quarles. "Some ash is
on the writing-table, too."

He took up a sheet of paper and scooped up a little of the ash from
the hearth and examined it under his lens; and, having done this, he
raked about in the cinders, but found nothing to interest him.

"I want a cigarette-end," he said, looking first in the coal-box, then
along the mantelpiece and in the little ornaments there, and, finally,
in the paper basket. "Ah, here is one. Thrown here, it suggests that
the smoker might have been seated at the table, doesn't it? We
progress, Wigan; we progress."

It was always impossible to tell whether the professor's remarks
expressed his real opinion, or whether they were merely careless words
spoken while his mind was busy in an altogether different direction. I
hardly saw where our progression came in. I examined the carpet. If
anyone had entered in a hurry to kidnap Mrs. Fitzroy he would not have
spent much time in wiping his boots. I found a little soil on the
hearthrug and by the writing-table. I pointed it out to the professor,
who was still looking at the cigarette which lay in the palm of his
hand.

"Yes, very interesting," said Quarles. "I expect the man came by way
of the garden and brought a little earth from that pathway with him.
What do you make of this cigarette?"

"A cheap kind. Perhaps the lady smokes."

"We'll ask the servant. By the way, Baker, do you happen to know Mrs.
Fitzroy?"

"I've seen a lady come out of this house on one or two occasions,"
answered the constable. "I described her to the servant, and have no
doubt it was Mrs. Fitzroy. She is rather good-looking, fifty or
thereabouts, but takes some pains to appear younger, I fancy."

"You are observant," Quarles remarked. "Shall we have the servant in,
Wigan?"

Emma Lewin told us that she had been with Mrs. Fitzroy for over three
years. Last night she had gone out as usual about six o'clock. She had
left by the back door and had taken the key with her. She always did
so. She returned just before ten, and had gone straight upstairs to
take off her hat and jacket. She always did this before going in to
see whether her mistress required anything.

"Was the dining-room door shut when you went upstairs?" I asked.

"Yes."

"You did not go by the garden gate last night?"

"No. I never go that way. The gate is never used."

"Did Mrs. Fitzroy have many visitors?"

"None to speak of. Not half a dozen people have called upon her since
I have been here. I believe she had no relations. Once or twice a week
she would be out all day, and occasionally she has been away for a
night or two."

"Where has she gone on these occasions?" I asked.

"I do not know."

"And her correspondence--was it large?"

"She received very few letters," the servant answered; "whether she
wrote many, I cannot say. I certainly didn't post them."

"Did she use the telephone much?"

"She gave orders to the tradesmen sometimes, and I have heard the bell
ringing occasionally. You see, the kitchen is a basement one, and the
bell might often ring without my hearing it."

"Did your mistress smoke?" Quarles asked suddenly.

"No, sir."

"How do you know she didn't?"

"I have heard her say she didn't agree with women smoking. Besides,
when doing the rooms I should have found cigarette-ends."

"That seems conclusive," said Quarles. "Yesterday was Wednesday, your
night out?"

"Yes, sir."

"Is Wednesday always your night out?"

"It is."

"From six to ten?"

"Yes; it is a standing arrangement; nothing ever interferes with it."

"Very interesting," said the professor. "Now, of course you know what
your mistress was wearing when you left her alone in the house last
night?"

"A brown dress with----"

"I don't want to know," Quarles interrupted. "But I want you to go to
your mistress's room and find out what hat and coat and what kind of
boots she put on last night. She wouldn't be likely to go out dressed
as you left her. You had better go with the young woman, Baker."

He spoke in rather a severe tone, and, when the girl had left the room
with the constable, I asked him if he suspected her of complicity in
the affair.

"My dear Wigan, as yet I am only gathering facts," he answered, "facts
to fit theories. We may take the following items as facts: Mrs.
Fitzroy did not smoke. She had few visitors. She received few letters.
Once or twice a week she was out all day. The servant's night out is
Wednesday. Yesterday, being Wednesday, a taxi waited for a
considerable time in Melbury Avenue. The driver has brought his fare
to Melbury Avenue on previous occasions."

"And the theory?" I asked.

"Theories," he corrected; "there are many. If the taxi came on
Wednesdays on the other occasions, the fare may have smoked this kind
of cigarette. If so, he may be the man who kidnapped Mrs. Fitzroy. He
may have been hurrying the lady down the narrow path while Baker and
his companion were standing on the front door step. Out of such
theories a score of others come naturally."

"By this time they may have heard of the driver at the police station.
Shall I telephone?"

"Not yet," said Quarles. "We will try and discover how Mrs. Fitzroy
was dressed first."

"And meanwhile we are giving our quarry time to escape," I said.

"We must risk something, and we haven't got enough facts to support
any theory yet. I wonder whether Mrs. Fitzroy did use the telephone
much?"

The speculation threw him into a reverie until Emma Lewin returned
with the information that her mistress must have gone out dressed just
as she had left her. No hat nor jacket nor wrap of any kind was
missing, and she had not changed her indoor shoes.

"Thank you; that helps us very much. I don't think you can help us any
more at present." And then, when the girl had gone, Quarles turned to
Baker. "I understand you searched the house last night for Mrs.
Fitzroy?"

"We did."

"Was it a thorough search--I mean did you look into every corner,
every drawer, every cupboard for some sign of her? Did you explore the
cellars, which, I expect, are large?"

"It was not quite as thorough as that," said Baker, trying to suppress
a smile at the idea of finding Mrs. Fitzroy in a drawer, I suppose.

"You expected to find the lady lying on the carpet here?"

"Well, sir, I thought it likely at first; but, with the garden gate
unfastened and the taxi in Melbury Avenue, I don't doubt the lady went
that way."

"After telephoning to the police that she was being murdered?" said
Quarles.

"I don't suggest that she went willingly," said Baker.

"But you do suggest that, being convinced she had gone, your search of
the house was not very thorough?"

"I didn't mean to suggest that, either, sir," answered Baker, some
resentment in his tone.

"We want Zena here, Wigan, to ask one of her absurd questions,"
Quarles went on. "I'll ask one in her place. Why was the police
station rung up at all?"

"The woman rushed to the 'phone for help, and----"

"My dear Wigan, the directory is open at the page giving the number of
the police station. What was her assailant doing while she turned up
the number and rang up the exchange?"

"Probably he wasn't in the room, and her woman's wit----"

"Ah, you've been reading sensational fiction," he interrupted. "Let us
stick to facts. The call must have been a deliberate one and would
take time. There was evidently no desperate struggle in this room last
night. The position of the two chairs by the hearth suggests that two
persons at some time during the evening were sitting here
together--one of them a man, since the hearth shows that he smoked.
The time would be somewhere between six o'clock, when the servant went
out, and nine-thirty, when the telephone message was received. If
Baker can fix the time of the taxi's arrival in Melbury Avenue,
perhaps we can be even more accurate."

"The taxi wasn't there at half-past seven," said the constable.

"Then we may say between seven-thirty and nine-thirty," said Quarles.
"Now the only thing which suggests violence of any kind is the
instrument hanging over the table. Had the person using it been
forcibly dragged away, the instrument might have fallen in that
position, but it would have been a stupendous miracle if the receiver
had swung to its place on the hook. No, Wigan, the receiver was
replaced carefully to cut the connection, and the instrument was
probably hung as it is deliberately to attract attention. I come back
to my question, then: Why was the police station rung up at all?"

I did not answer, and Baker shook his head in sympathy.

"I do not attempt to suggest what occurred while the two sat here by
the fire," said Quarles, "but whatever it was, somebody wished it to
be known that something had happened. That is my answer to the
question. The message suggests murder. As the house has not yet been
thoroughly searched, murder may actually have taken place."

Baker started, and I looked at the professor in astonishment.

"You think Mrs. Fitzroy is lying dead somewhere in this house?" I
said.

"I have a theory which we may put to the test at once," returned
Quarles.

"In the cellars, I suppose?"

"No, Wigan; we'll look everywhere else first. I expect to find a body,
and not very securely hidden either; there wouldn't be much time; and,
besides, I believe it is meant to be found. Still I do not expect to
find Mrs. Fitzroy's body. I expect to find a dead man. Shall we go and
look?"

A man in my profession perforce gets used to coming in contact with
death in various forms, but there is always a certain thrill in doing
so, and in the present search there was something uncanny. The quest
was not a long one. In a small bedroom on the first floor, sparsely
furnished and evidently used chiefly as a box-room, we found the body
of a man under the bed. A cord had been thrown round his neck and he
had been strangled fiercely and with powerful hands at the work.

"Not a woman's doing," said Quarles as he knelt down to examine the
corpse.

There were no papers of any kind in the pockets, but there was money
and a cigar case.

"Time is precious now, Wigan," said the professor. "You might
telephone to the station and ask if they have found the driver of the
taxi. I want to know if this poor fellow is the man he drove to
Melbury Avenue last evening, also whether it has always been a
Wednesday when he has brought him into this neighborhood; and, of
course, you must ask him any questions which may lead to the
identification of the dead man. I don't suppose he will be able to
help you much in that direction. You will find, I fancy, that the
driver got tired of waiting for his fare last night and drove away."

"Or took another fare--the murderer," I suggested.

"I don't think so," said Quarles. "You might also ask the inspector at
the station whether he is prepared to swear that the first voice he
heard over the 'phone--the voice which said 'police'--was a woman's.
What time does it grow dark now, constable?"

"Early--half-past four, sir."

"I'll go, Wigan. I want to think the matter out before dark. Seven
o'clock to-night--meet me at the top of the road at that time, and
somewhere close have half a dozen plain clothes men ready for a raid.
Now that we know murder has been done, you couldn't suggest a house to
raid, I suppose, constable."

"I couldn't, sir."

"Nor can I at present. Seven o'clock to-night, Wigan."

The professor's manner, short, peremptory, self-sufficient, was at
times calculated to disturb the serenity of an archangel. I had been
on the point of quarreling with him more than once that morning, but
the sudden demonstration of what seemed to be the wildest theory left
me with nothing to say. Constable Baker had an idea of putting the
case adequately, I think, when he remarked: "He ain't human, that's
what he is."

The taxi driver had been found, and, when taken to Hambledon Road,
recognized the dead man as his fare. He had driven him to Melbury
Avenue on four occasions, and each time it had been a Wednesday. Of
course, the gentleman might have come more than four times, and on
other days besides Wednesdays for all he knew. On each occasion he had
been called off a rank in Trafalgar Square. His fare had paid him for
the down journey before walking up the avenue, and had never kept him
waiting so long before, so he gave up the job and went back to town.
He had not picked up another fare until he got to Kensington.

The inspector at the station was certain the message he had received
was in a woman's voice, but he was not sure that the word "police" was
in the same voice, or that it was a woman who spoke it.

At seven o'clock I was waiting for Quarles at the top of Hambledon
Road. He was punctual to the minute.

"You've got the men, Wigan?"

"They are hanging about in Melbury Avenue."

"It may be there is hot work in front of us," said Quarles, "and the
first move is yours. No. 6 Hambledon Road is the house we want, and
you will go to the front door and ask to see the master. I fancy a
maidservant will answer the door, but I am not sure. Whoever it is,
prevent an alarm being given, and get into the house with the two men
who will accompany you. That done, get the door into the garden open,
and I will join you with the rest of the men. If there is any attempt
at escape it will be by the garden, and we shall be waiting for them.
Utter silence; that is imperative. Of course, they may be prepared,
but probably they are not. If it is necessary to shoot, you must, and
we will force our way in as best we can and take our part in the
struggle. Come along, let's get the men together."

A few minutes later I had knocked at the door of No. 6; an elderly
woman-servant came to the door, and I saw suspicion in her eyes. Even
as I inquired for her master I seized her, and so successfully that
she hadn't an opportunity to utter a sound. I asked her no question,
certain that she would mislead me, and, leaving one of the men with
her in the hall, I hastened with the other two to the door leading
into the garden, fully expecting to be attacked. We saw no one, heard
no movement; either the professor had made a mistake or the
conspirators considered themselves secure.

Quarles and the men came in like shadows, so silent were they, and it
was evident that the professor had given his companions instructions,
for two of them quickly went toward the hall.

"The cellars, Wigan," he whispered. "I think it will be the cellars."

The house was a basement one, similar to No. 14, and from a stone
passage we found a door giving on to a dozen steep steps. It was pitch
dark below.

"Don't show a light," said Quarles as he pushed me gently to go
forward. I didn't know it at the time, but only one man came down with
us.

At the foot of the stairs a passage ran to right and left, and to the
left, which was toward the garden side of the house, a thin line of
light showed below a door. On tiptoe, ready for emergencies, and
hardly daring to breathe, we approached it, and with one accord the
professor and I put our ears to the door. For a while no sound came,
then a paper rustled and a foot scraped lightly on the stone floor. We
had chanced to arrive during a pause in the conversation, for
presently a voice, pitched low and monotonous in its tone, went on
with an argument:

"I can find no excuse for you in that, Bertha Capracci. It is not
admitted that your husband found death at the hands of his associates,
but, were it so, it is no more than just. There are papers here
proving beyond all doubt that he betrayed his friends."

"I have already said that is untrue," came the answer in a woman's
voice.

"There is no doubt," said another man.

"None," said a third.

Three men at least were sitting in judgment upon this woman, and it
was evident they were not English.

"Besides, I am not one of you," said the woman.

"In name, no; in reality, yes; since your husband must have let you
into many secrets," returned the first speaker. "Your woman's wit has
outplayed our spies until recently, but, once discovered, you have
been constantly watched. We cannot prove that the failure of some of
our plans, costing the lives of good comrades, has been due to your
interference, but we suspect it. We found you in constant
communication with this English Jew, Jacob Morrison, who is in the pay
of the Continental police. He is dead, a warning to others, killed in
your house, and busy eyes are now looking for you as his murderess.
You have hidden your identity so entirely that all inquiry must
speedily be baffled, and so you have played into our hands. Your
disappearance will hardly reach to a nine days' wonder, and who will
think to look for your body under the flags of this cellar? Death is
the sentence of the Society, and forthwith."

I waited to hear a cry of terror, but it did not come. Nor was there a
movement to suggest that the men had risen at once to the work, or,
in spite of the restraining hand the professor laid on my arm, I
should have been beating at the door to break it down.

"I offer you one chance of life," the man's voice droned on after a
pause. "Confess everything. Give me the names of all those to whom you
have given information concerning us, and you shall have your
miserable life."

"You have killed the only man who knew anything from me," she
answered.

"It's a lie," came the hissing reply. "Your cursed husband told you so
much about us, he may have explained some of the means we employ to
make unwilling tongues speak. I'll have the truth out of you."

One of the men must have sat close to her, for her sudden cry of fear
was instantly smothered, and there was the sound of struggle and rough
usage.

"Now--quickly," whispered Quarles; and the man who had followed us to
the cellars had struck with a stout piece of iron between the door and
its framework. The wood splintered immediately, and, almost before I
was prepared, we were facing our enemies, and Quarles was shouting for
the other men in the house to come to us.

"Hands up!" I cried.

They were unprepared, that was our salvation. Not one of the three had
any intention of surrender, that was evident in a moment, but they had
to get their hands on their weapons, and, fortunately, only one of
them had a revolver. The other two rushed upon us with knives.

I think Quarles was the first to fire, and he was not a thought too
soon. He said afterward that he meant to maim and not to kill, but his
bullet passed through the man's brain, and he dropped like a stone.
He was the one with the revolver, and, regardless of his own safety,
he meant to silence the woman for ever.

The weapon was at her head when the villain dropped, and I have
sometimes thought that, whatever his intention the moment before, in
the act of pressing the trigger the professor realized that only the
man's death could save the woman.

It was hot work for a moment. The man who had burst open the door got
a nasty knife thrust, and I had been obliged to fire at my assailant
before our comrades rushed to our aid. There is no enemy more
dangerous than a man armed with a knife when he knows how to use it,
and when the space to fight in is so confined that to use firearms is
to endanger your friends. Indeed, I thought the woman had been shot,
but she had only fainted, although it was quite impossible to question
her fully until next day.

"Those papers may be useful," said Quarles, when our captives had been
taken to the police station, pointing to the documents which had
fallen from a little table pushed aside in the struggle. "The ends of
a big affair are in our hands, I fancy, and, with the help of Mrs.
Fitzroy, we may get several more dangerous fanatics under lock and
key."

Late that night I was with the professor in Chelsea. He had gone
straight home from Hambledon Road, and, after a visit to the police
station and a long consultation with Scotland Yard over the 'phone, I
followed him. There were several questions I wanted to ask, for his
handling of this affair seemed to me so near to the marvelous that I
wondered whether he had had some knowledge of this gang before we had
heard of the house in Kew.

"No, Wigan, no," he said, in reply to my question. "I did not even
know there was such a place as Hambledon Road."

"I am altogether astonished."

"And not for the first time, eh, Wigan? Yet this case has been worked
upon facts chiefly. It was clear that the idea of the woman going
suddenly to the telephone to call for help was absurd, and, therefore,
it was at least possible that she had spoken that message under
compulsion. When the revolver was held to her head in the cellar
to-night, it was probably not for the first time. As I said this
morning, there was a desire to put the authorities on the scent. This
suggested a conspiracy. So much for theory, now for facts."

"But we did not know murder had been committed then," I said.

"Mrs. Fitzroy said so in her message," Quarles answered, "and it was
unlikely the police would have been called unless they were meant to
discover something. But we had facts to go upon. It was evident that
two persons had sat by the fire, the position of the chairs, the cigar
ash on the hearth----"

"Cigarette, you mean."

"It was a cigar ash on the hearth, and I looked for a cigar end among
the cinders and could not find one. It was cigarette ash on the
writing-table, and I found the cigarette end, you will remember. It
was possible, of course, that the same man had smoked a cigarette as
well as a cigar, but the different position of the ash was
significant. I concluded there were two men, one who had sat smoking a
cigar by the fire, one who, in leaning over to ring up the police, had
dropped ash from a cigarette on to the writing-table. I concluded
that the cigar smoker was the murdered man, and you will remember
there was a cigar case in the pocket of the man we found. I think we
shall discover that it was the cigarette smoker who killed him, and
then compelled Mrs. Fitzroy to send that message. No doubt he had a
companion with him, perhaps more than one, and I believe they have
been living at No. 6 for some time watching Mrs. Fitzroy. We have
heard to-night who Jacob Morrison was, and it was on Wednesday
evenings that he came to No. 14. Possibly the watchers had not become
aware of his visits until that evening; they may have kept watch in
the Hambledon Road, whereas Mrs. Fitzroy unbolted the gate at the
bottom of the garden for him as soon as the servant went out. You
remember the cigarette end?"

"Yes, it was a cheap kind."

"And foreign," said Quarles; "Spagnolette Nationale. You can buy them
done up in a gray paper case at any shop which sells tobacco in Italy,
trenta centesimi for ten, I believe, and you can get them at certain
places in Soho. You heard me ask Baker what time it grew dark. I had
something to do then, but much to do first. To begin with, I had to
find out what days the dust was collected, then to make judicious
inquiries about foreigners living in the neighborhood. You see, since
Mrs. Fitzroy had been taken away just as she was, and since Baker had
only seen that one taxi waiting, I concluded the lady had not been
taken far. The only house containing foreigners which seemed to suit
my purpose was No. 6, and, when it was dark, I went to examine the
dust-bin. There I found two or three of these cases of gray paper. You
see, Wigan, the case was comparatively an easy one."

"It is a marvel to me that Mrs. Fitzroy was not murdered before we
found her," I said.

"I knew there was a risk, but we were helpless," Quarles answered. "I
had heard of No. 6 and its inhabitants soon after one o'clock, but if
we had gone to the house in daylight we should only have hurried a
tragedy probably. Besides, I had a theory. These villainous societies
almost invariably have methods and rules. If a member is dispatched,
some semblance of justice is given to his sentence. I thought the men
who had done the kidnapping were not of the first importance, and that
Mrs. Fitzroy would not be done away with before she had been
confronted with some chief member of the gang. It was very necessary
they should wring a confession from her if they could."

Early next morning two houses in Soho were raided and a number of
arrests made; but, except for the two men we had taken in Hambledon
Road, I do not think we got hold of anybody of importance. The raid,
at any rate, did something to disturb a nest of anarchists, and, with
the information in the hands of the Continental police through Jacob
Morrison, and with what Mrs. Fitzroy could tell us, the society was
scattered, and their efforts are likely to be moribund for some time.
Mrs. Fitzroy was an Englishwoman married to an Italian, who had been a
member of the society and had been done to death by his associates
some four years ago. She said he was innocent and was determined to
avenge him. The man who had killed Morrison had been shot by Quarles.
He was the cigarette smoker. His two companions whom we had captured
got terms of imprisonment, and will be deported on their release. I
can only trust that Mrs. Fitzroy will keep out of their way then.



CHAPTER VI

THE MYSTERY OF "OLD MRS JARDINE"


My association with Professor Quarles undoubtedly had an effect upon
my method of going to work in the elucidation of mysteries, and not
always with a good result. His methods were his own, eminently
successful when he used them, but dangerous in the hands of others. In
attempting to theorize I am convinced I have sometimes lost sight of
facts.

I am not sure that this reflection applies to the case of old Mrs.
Jardine, but somehow my mind never seemed to get a firm grip of the
affair. I was conscious of being indefinite, and had an unpleasant
sensation that I had failed to see the obvious.

Old Mrs. Jardine lived at Wimbledon, in a house of some size standing
in a well-grown garden. She was an invalid, confined to the
house--indeed, to three or four rooms which opened into one another on
the first floor--and she must have been an absolute annuity to Dr.
Hawes, who visited her nearly every day. The household consisted of
old Mrs. Jardine, Mrs. Harrison, also an elderly lady, who was her
companion, Martha Wakeling, housekeeper and cook, who had been many
years in her service; and a housemaid named Sarah Paget.

Into this household, in which no one took any particular interest,
came tragedy, and the Wimbledon mystery developed into a sensation.

Early one morning Sarah Paget arrived at the doctor's, saying her
mistress had been taken suddenly ill, and would he come immediately.
She did not know what was the matter. The cook had sent her.

Three days before Dr. Hawes had gone away for a holiday, and his
practice was in the hands of a locum, a young doctor named Dolman. He
went at once. Mrs. Jardine was dead upon her bed. She had been found
in the morning by Martha Wakeling lying just as the doctor saw her.
She had been attacked in her sleep, Dolman thought, and her head had
been smashed with some heavy instrument; Mrs. Harrison, the companion,
had disappeared. Of course, the police were sent for at once, and the
case came into my hands that same day.

Dr. Dolman had seen his patient for the first time on the previous
afternoon. Dr. Hawes had told him that she was something of a crank,
could only walk a little, and suffered from indigestion and general
debility, which was hardly wonderful, since she would make no effort
to go out even for a drive. She seemed to enjoy being a confirmed
invalid under constant medical treatment, and would certainly resent
any neglect.

"She was sitting in an arm-chair when I saw her," Dolman told me, "and
was in good spirits; inclined to be facetious, in fact, and to enjoy
her little joke at my expense. She wanted to know what a young man
could possibly know about an old woman's ailments, and wondered that
Hawes was content to leave his patients in such inexperienced hands as
mine. I do not think she was as bad as she would have people believe."

Dolman had not spoken to Mrs. Harrison, but he had seen her. She was
sitting in the adjoining room doing some needlework. He had taken
little notice of her, and was doubtful if he would know her again.

Martha Wakeling said it was her custom to go into her mistress's room
on her way down in the morning, and she had found her dead on the bed.
She had heard no noise in the night. Mrs. Harrison occupied a room
opening out of Mrs. Jardine's, and it was empty that morning. The bed
had been slept in, but the companion had gone.

"Was she on good terms with Mrs. Jardine?" I asked.

"Yes, oh, yes."

"You say it rather doubtfully?"

"The mistress wasn't always easy to get on with, and I daresay she
tried Mrs. Harrison at times."

"And so Mrs. Harrison murdered her in a fit of anger," I suggested.

"I don't say that. She is not to be found; that's all I know for
certain."

"Where did Mrs. Harrison come from? Who was she?"

"I think she answered the mistress's advertisement."

"How long has she been here?" I asked.

"Just over a year. Mrs. Jardine didn't get on well with the last two
companions she had. They were younger women, and the place was too
dull for them. They wanted to go out more, and Mrs. Jardine wanted
someone who was content to live the kind of life she did. So she got
this elderly companion."

"Mrs. Harrison had friends, I suppose?"

"I never saw nor heard of any."

"But she received letters?"

"I can't call to mind that she ever did. I fancy she was one of the
lonely sort."

She was also uninteresting and commonplace in appearance, according to
Martha Wakeling's description. The word-picture I managed to draw up
for circulation had nothing distinctive about it. Nor did Martha know
much of her mistress's relations. Mrs. Jardine had not been on
friendly terms with them, and had not seen any of them in her time, as
far as she knew; the only one she had heard mentioned was a nephew, a
Mr. Thomas Jardine, who lived somewhere in London.

The upper floor of the house was unfurnished and locked up, and an
unfastened window on the ground floor, opening into the garden,
suggested the way Mrs. Harrison had left. I took immediate steps to
delay the publication of the news of the tragedy. There were points in
the case which might modify first suspicions considerably, and a few
hours of unhampered investigation might be of great value.

Even a perfunctory search among Mrs. Jardine's papers proved that if
she had not seen her nephew recently she had heard from him. I found
two letters asking for money, a whine in them, and at the same time an
underlying threat, as though the writer had it in his power to do
mischief. Apparently Mrs. Jardine had a past which might account for
her being a crank. A talk with her nephew should prove interesting.

I went to the address given in the letters--a flat in Hammersmith--but
it was not until next morning that I got an interview with Thomas
Jardine.

He was a big loose-limbed man, a gentleman come down in the world
through dissipation. I told him I had come on behalf of Mrs. Jardine,
and his first words showed that he was either an excellent actor or
that the news of his aunt's death had not yet reached him.

"If you are her business man and have brought me a check, you are
welcome," he said.

"I have not brought the check--at present."

"Come, there's a hopeful tone about you," he returned, "and I'm hard
up enough not to be particular or spiteful. Is the old girl willing to
come to terms?"

"I am in rather a difficult position," I answered, carefully feeling
my way. "I want to do the best I can for both sides, and, as you are
probably aware, Mrs. Jardine is not one to talk very fully, even to
her man of business."

"I warrant she has given you her version of the story."

"But not yours. I should like to hear yours."

"They won't agree; but the unvarnished truth is this. She was a Miss
Stuart, or called herself so, and my uncle met her on a sea trip. He
was in such a hurry to put his head in the noose that he married her
without knowing anything about her. He imagined he had caught an
angel; instead--well, to put it mildly, he had found an adventuress.
She had taken good care to discover she had got hold of a rich man,
and soon began her tricks. She alienated my uncle from his family, not
particular about the truth so long as she got her way. My father was
the kind of man who never succeeds at anything, and my uncle was
constantly helping him. This came to an end when Mrs. Jardine got hold
of the reins. She didn't spend money; she got it out of her husband
and hoarded it, no doubt conscious that her opportunity of doing so
might suddenly come to an end. It did. My father made it his business
to hunt up her past history. It wasn't edifying. A lot she denied, but
plenty remained which there was no denying. She had been a decoy for
Continental thieves, she had seen the inside of a prison, and it
would have been unsafe for her to travel in certain countries. She and
my uncle separated. You can imagine Mrs. Jardine's feelings toward my
father, but my uncle also seemed to hate him for having opened his
eyes. I believe he gave him a sum of money and told him he would have
nothing more to do with him. My uncle was a religious man, had strong
views of right and wrong--some stupid views, too. When he died, to
everybody's astonishment he had left his money to Mrs. Jardine for her
life. At her death it was to come to my father for his life, and
afterward to his son, without any restrictions whatever."

"To you?" I said.

"To me. My father has been dead some years, so as long as that old
woman lives I am being kept out of my own. That is my side of the
story."

I nodded, showing extreme interest--which, indeed, I felt. But for the
fact that the companion was missing, this man's position would be a
very unpleasant one. No one could have more interest in his aunt's
death than he had.

"I daresay the old woman has told you that her husband's accusations
were all false, and that by leaving such a will he repented before he
died," Jardine went on, "but I have told you the facts."

"And yet you have written to her for money," I said quietly.

"So she has shown you the letters, has she?"

"I have seen them. Why write to her when you could so easily raise
money on your expectations?"

"Raise money! Good heavens, I've raised every penny to be got from Jew
or Gentile. There are the letters which came this morning. I haven't
opened them yet, the outside is quite enough; money-lenders'
complaints, half of them, and the other half bills demanding immediate
payment. If you've ever had dealings with the fraternity, you can tell
what is inside by the look of the envelope."

I turned the letters over; he was probably right as to their contents.
There was one, however, in a woman's handwriting which interested me.
I almost passed it to him, and then thought better of it.

"It struck me that there was a threatening tone in your letters," I
said.

"Perhaps. I was not averse from frightening her a little if I could."

"Not very generous," I said.

"I don't feel generous. She'd have to come down very handsomely to
make me drink her health."

"If your story is the correct one, there may be a reason for your aunt
leading so secluded a life," I went on. "In marrying your uncle she
may have tricked her confederates."

"It is more than possible," Jardine answered.

"Do you know any of them who would be likely to do her an injury?" I
asked.

"You're thinking I would give the old woman away to them?" he laughed.
"No; I have worked on the shady side at times, but I am not so bad as
that."

"I wasn't thinking so."

"Then I don't understand your question. Is it likely I should have
acquaintances in a gang of Continental thieves?"

"The night before last Mrs. Jardine was murdered," I said quietly.

The man sprang from his chair.

"Murdered! Then--by heaven! you're--you're thinking that----"

"And her companion, a Mrs. Harrison, is not to be found," I added.

"Mrs. Jardine--dead! Then I come into my own. The night before
last--where was I? Drunk. I didn't get home."

"I know that. I called here yesterday."

"Are you thinking that I had a hand in it?"

"I am looking for her companion," I answered.

Had there been no missing companion I should have been very doubtful
about Thomas Jardine; as it was, the two became connected in my mind.
I left the Hammersmith flat, stopping outside to give instructions to
the man I had brought with me to keep a watch upon Jardine's
movements.

Then I went to Wimbledon to see Martha Wakeling again, but I did not
tell her I had seen Jardine.

"Do you think you could find me any of Mrs. Harrison's handwriting?" I
asked.

"I believe I can," she said, after a moment's thought. "She wrote a
store's order the other day which was not sent. I believe it's in this
drawer. Yes, here it is."

I glanced at it and put it in my pocket.

"I wonder whether this nephew has anything to do with the affair?" I
said contemplatively.

"No," she said with decision.

"Why are you so certain? You said you didn't know him."

"I don't."

"I have discovered one thing," I said carelessly. "By Mrs. Jardine's
death he comes into a lot of money."

"I've heard my mistress say something of the kind."

"You see, there would be a motive for the murder."

"The thing is to find Mrs. Harrison," she said. "A woman doesn't go
away in the middle of the night unless she has a good reason for doing
so."

Details of the crime, so far as they were known, were now published,
and the description of Mrs. Harrison was circulated in the press.

When the inquest was adjourned, no doubt most people were surprised.
Although I did not suppose the companion innocent, I was not satisfied
that she alone was responsible for the crime. I had wondered whether
the letter which I had seen in Jardine's flat had come from her, but
the store's order which Martha Wakeling had given me proved that I was
wrong. Possibly Mrs. Harrison was a member of the gang which Mrs.
Jardine had forsaken, and the murder was one of revenge; yet Thomas
Jardine profited so greatly that I could not dismiss him from my
calculations. Besides, the old lady's will was suggestive. Over her
husband's money she had no control, but she had saved a considerable
amount, and, as though to make restitution to her husband's family,
but with a curious reservation--only if she died a natural death.

Should she die by violence or accident, this money went to her
"faithful servant and friend, Martha Wakeling." It was evident she had
feared violence--apparently from her nephew--and it was significant
that her papers proved that, although Jardine knew he was her heir, he
was not aware of the condition.

Before the day fixed for the hearing of the adjourned inquest I went
to see Christopher Quarles.

I had nearly finished the story before he showed any interest, and
then we went to the empty room, with Zena with us, where I had to tell
the tale all over again. He had to have his own way, or there was
nothing to be got out of him at all.

"Was there no information to be had from Sarah Paget?" he asked, when
I had finished.

"None whatever."

"Did Mrs. Jardine keep much money in the house?"

"Martha Wakeling says not."

"Then the companion was likely to get little by murdering her
mistress," said Quarles.

"Either she did it in a fit of uncontrollable passion," I said, "or
the motive was revenge."

"Possible solutions," returned the professor, "but robbed of their
weight when we consider the motives which Thomas Jardine and Martha
Wakeling had."

"I think----"

"One moment, Wigan; I am not theorizing, I am using facts. By
murdering his aunt, Jardine lost her money----"

"He inherited three or four thousand a year," I interrupted.

"Which was mortgaged up to the hilt or over it; he told you so
himself. Mrs. Jardine's money would have been very useful to him, and
by killing her he would lose all chance of it."

"He did not know the condition," I said.

"So far as we know," Quarles answered. "I don't think we must consider
that point as proved. Now take Martha Wakeling's position. By the
violent death of her mistress she will come into this money. Was there
any provision for her in the will if Mrs. Jardine died a natural
death?"

"She got a legacy of a hundred pounds."

"You appreciate the enormous difference," said Quarles with that
exasperating smile he had when he thinks he has driven his opponent
into a corner.

"At any rate, we have no reason to suppose that Jardine did know the
condition," I returned. "I do not believe he committed the murder, but
I am inclined to think he and Mrs. Harrison are accomplices."

"A theory--my method, Wigan. Very good, but by the handwriting on that
envelope you have tried to establish a connection between Jardine and
Mrs. Harrison, and have failed."

"At present," I said irritably.

"It is a pity that some of the old superstitions do not hold good,"
said Quarles, "or at least are without significance in these practical
days. You might have confronted Jardine with his victim, and the
wounds might have given evidence by bleeding afresh. I suppose you
haven't done this?"

"No, Jardine has not seen his aunt," I answered, still irritably.

The professor looked at Zena.

"It is curious the tragedy should happen while Dr. Hawes was away,"
Zena said. "What kind of man is his locum, Mr. Wigan?"

"Quite above suspicion," I answered.

"Ah, your question sets me theorizing, Zena," said Quarles, "and we
have got to watch Martha Wakeling, Wigan. Yes, I am going to help you,
and we'll start to-morrow morning."

We returned to the dining-room, and after a pleasant hour, during
which we appeared to forget that such a place as Wimbledon existed, I
left, far more of a lover than a detective.

Next morning Quarles called for me.

"We'll go to the stores first," he said. "I have a fancy to look at
the items in the list sent. There might be some drug which would make
Mrs. Jardine sleep more soundly."

"The list was not sent. I have it here."

"I mean the one sent in place of that," said the professor. "Of course
one was sent. People who are not in the habit of having much money in
the house would see that the store cupboard was replenished."

He was right. A list was shown to us, and I had some difficulty in not
showing signs of excitement. The writing was the same as that on the
envelope in Jardine's flat. It was peculiar writing, and I could swear
to it.

"I think we shall find that Martha Wakeling wrote that," said Quarles.
"If so, we establish a link between her and Jardine which neither of
them has mentioned."

"But since she would profit by the crime, why should she communicate
with him?"

"We are going to find out," he answered. "I presume you have not been
keeping any particular watch upon Martha Wakeling?"

"No."

"Has she mentioned what she intends to do when this affair is over?"

"I think she said she would go back to her old village somewhere in
Essex."

"Quite a rich woman, eh?" laughed Quarles. "But I doubt the statement
about her old village. She is more likely to go where she is not
known."

"You will change your opinion when you have talked to her."

"I hope to know all about her before I talk to her," Quarles
returned. "We are going to Wimbledon, but not to an interview yet."

Arriving there, I went to the house to make sure that Martha Wakeling
was there, and then, taking care not to be seen, joined the professor
in the garden, where we hid in a shrubbery to watch anyone who came
from or went to the house. It was a long wait--indeed, Quarles was
rather doubtful whether anything would happen that day--but in the
afternoon Martha Wakeling came out and passed into the road.

"We have got to follow her and not be seen," said Quarles.

There was some difficulty in doing so, for she was evidently careful
not to be followed. She went to the station, and by District Railway
to Victoria, and to a house in the Buckingham Palace Road.

"We must find out whom it is she comes to visit here, Wigan," said
Quarles. "We will wait a few minutes, and then you must insure that we
are shown up without being announced. I do not fancy we shall meet
with any resistance."

The woman who opened the door to us showed no desire for secrecy. The
lady who had just come in did not live there, she explained. If I
wanted to see her, would I send in my name? It was not until I told
her that I was a detective that she led the way to the first floor,
and we entered the room unannounced.

In an armchair sat an elderly woman, and from a chair at her side
Martha Wakeling rose quickly. Quarles had entered the room first, and
she did not notice me in the doorway.

"What is the meaning of this intrusion?" she asked.

"It is a surprise to find you in London," I said, coming forward.

"You! Yes, my sister is----"

Quarles had crossed toward the woman in the arm-chair.

"I am glad to see the journey has not hurt you, Mrs. Jardine," he said
quietly.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a bow drawn at a venture, but Martha Wakeling's little cry of
consternation was enough to prove that Quarles was right.

       *       *       *       *       *

The arrest of Mrs. Jardine for the murder of her companion created a
sensation, and I am doubtful whether the plea of insanity which saved
her from the gallows and sent her to a criminal lunatic asylum was
altogether justified.

The method in her madness was so extraordinary that the result of the
trial would have been different, I fancy, had not Martha Wakeling's
courage and care of her mistress aroused everybody's sympathy.

Martha Wakeling knew little of her mistress's past, but she had always
known that she was not such an invalid as she pretended to be. If she
chose to live that kind of life, it was nobody's business but her own,
and the servant never suspected that she was afraid of being seen by
some of her former associates.

Martha's story made it clear that Mrs. Jardine had nursed a great
hatred for her husband's family, especially for her nephew, the son of
the man who had made the accusations against her. Her will, her every
action in the tragedy, pointed to premeditation. She chose the time
when Dr. Hawes was away, and, saying it would be an excellent joke to
mislead a young doctor, she arranged that Mrs. Harrison should take
her place when Dolman came. The companion could not refuse, very
possibly enjoyed the joke.

Martha Wakeling knew of this arrangement, thought it silly, but never
suspected any sinister intention.

In the middle of the night her mistress woke her up, and told her that
she had killed Mrs. Harrison. Mrs. Jardine was excited, and explained
that everyone would suppose that she herself had been murdered, and
that her will and papers, and her nephew's impecunious position, would
certainly bring the crime home to him. This was her revenge. She was
mad; Martha was convinced of that. Mrs. Jardine never seemed in doubt
that her servant, who was the only person who knew the truth, would
help her. Mrs. Jardine intended to go away that night, and when the
affair was over Martha would join her, and they could go and live
quietly somewhere. She did not want her husband's money--she had
enough of her own, and, since by her will it would come to Martha,
there was no difficulty. Martha refused to be a party to such a crime,
and succeeded in showing her mistress that she was in danger. Even if
the body was taken for Mrs. Jardine, it was Mrs. Harrison who would be
suspected, not Thomas Jardine. Poor Mrs. Harrison was dead, nothing
could alter that, and Martha schemed to protect her mistress. She so
far entered into her plan as to let it be supposed that the dead woman
was Mrs. Jardine. Since the companion would not be found, the hue and
cry would be after her. All that day her mistress was concealed in the
house, as much afraid now as she had been exultant before, and in the
evening Martha got her a lodging in Buckingham Palace Road.

Afterward she intended to take her away to some place where they were
not known and look after her. Three times she had been to see her,
fearful that her mistress might betray herself. And she had written
to Thomas Jardine to warn him that his aunt had made no secret of her
hatred, and that it might be said he had killed her. That
communication Thomas Jardine had thought wise to keep to himself--for
the present, at any rate--fully alive to the fact that, since he was
drunk and quite unable to prove an alibi on the fatal night, and that
it was not proved that the companion had committed a motiveless crime,
he was in danger of arrest.

       *       *       *       *       *

Zena had said it was curious the tragedy should happen while Dr. Hawes
was away, and the professor declared it was this remark which had led
him to believe that the dead woman was Mrs. Harrison and not Mrs.
Jardine. On this supposition the attitude of Martha Wakeling was
understandable. She might naturally wish to protect her mistress, and
she was the only person who could help her in the deception.

The fact that I had given her a reason to suppose that I suspected the
nephew would show her the necessity of warning him, and at the same
time she would attempt to throw all the suspicion on Mrs. Harrison,
who was past suffering.

This was Quarles's theory, and he had found the fact to support it in
the handwriting of the store's order.



CHAPTER VII

THE DEATH-TRAP IN THE TUDOR ROOM


I had not been to Chelsea for some weeks--indeed, I had not been in
town, business having kept me in the country--and I returned to find a
letter from Quarles which had been waiting for me for three days.

Several cases were in my hands just then--affairs of no great
difficulty nor any particular interest--and only in one case had I had
any worry. This trouble was due, not so much to the case itself as to
the fact that it had brought me in contact with another detective
named Baines, who would persist in treating me as a rival. He was as
irritating as Quarles himself could be on occasion, and was entirely
without the professor's genius. To be candid, I may admit Baines had
some excuse. Circumstances brought me into the affair at the eleventh
hour, and he was afraid I should reap where he had planted.

It was a strange business from first to last, and one I am never
likely to forget.

A man, riding across an open piece of country near Aylesbury early one
morning, came upon a motor cyclist lying near his machine on the
roadside. The machine had been reduced to scrap-iron. The man, who was
dressed in overalls, seemed to have been killed outright by a blow on
the head. Since the man still wore his goggles, and there was no sign
of a struggle, Baines argued, and reasonably, I think, that death was
not the result of foul play. That he had been run into by a motor car,
and that the people in the car had either not stopped to see what
damage was done, or, having seen it, feared to give information, was
perhaps giving too loose a rein to imagination.

However, this was Baines's idea; and he had succeeded in hearing of a
car with only one man in it which had been driven through Aylesbury at
a furious pace on the night when a second and similar tragedy
occurred, this time near Saffron Walden.

The man had been killed in the same fashion, he wore goggles and
overalls, and the machine was smashed, though not so completely.
Neither of the men had been identified. In the first case, there might
be a reason for this, as the man was a foreigner. In the second case,
the man was an Englishman. Both the machines were old patterns, and of
a cheap make, carried fictitious numbers, and Baines had been unable
to find out where they had been purchased.

He held to his theory of the car, but was now inclined to think that
the cyclists had been purposely driven into. Granted a certain shape
of bonnet--and the car driven through Aylesbury appeared to have this
shape--he contended that, in endeavoring to avoid the collision, a
cyclist would be struck in exactly the manner indicated by the
appearance of the head. He was therefore busy trying to trace a
devil-mad motorist.

The discovery of a dead chauffeur on a lonely road near Newbury now
brought me into the affair. He had apparently been killed in precisely
the same manner as the victims of the Aylesbury and Saffron Walden
tragedies; and so I was brought in contact with Baines. From the first
he scorned my arguments and suggestions. It seemed to me that this
third tragedy went to disprove his theory of a madly driven motor
car, but he insisted that it was only a further proof. Was it not
possible, he asked, that the mad owner of the car, believing that his
chauffeur knew the truth, had killed him to protect himself? I asked
him how he supposed the car had been driven at the chauffeur in order
to injure him, exactly as it had injured men on cycles. When Baines
answered that the chauffeur was probably on a cycle at the time, I
wanted to know why, in this case, the motorist had gathered up the
broken machine and taken it away. In short, we quarreled over the
affair, and Baines was furious when I was able to prove that in
neither case was the wrecked cycle a complete machine. True, in one
case, only some trivial pieces were missing which might have been
driven into the ground by the force of the fall; but in the other an
important part was wanting, without which the machine could not have
been driven.

I came to the conclusion that there had been foul play, that the
broken machines were a blind, and that the men had been brought to the
places where they were found after they were dead.

I returned to London to pursue inquiries in this direction, and found
the letter from Quarles asking me to go and see him as soon as
possible.

I went to Chelsea that evening, and was shown into the dining-room.
The professor looked a little old to-night, I thought.

"Very glad to see you, Wigan. I want your help."

"I shall be delighted to give it, you have helped me so often. Your
granddaughter is well, I trust?"

"Yes, she is away. She has taken a situation."

"A situation!" I exclaimed.

"The world hasn't much use for a professor of philosophy in these
days, and that leads to financial difficulty for the professor,"
Quarles answered. "You glance round at the luxury of this room, I
notice, and I can guess your thoughts. Selfish old brute, you are
saying to yourself. But it was the child's wish, and we bide our time.
She is made much of where she is. I think it is my loneliness which
deserves most pity. Besides, there is no disgrace in honest work,
either for man or woman."

Something of challenge was in his tone, and I hastened to agree with
him. In a sense, the information was not unpleasant to me. Life was
not to be all luxury for Zena Quarles. The social standing of a
detective, however successful he may be, is not very high, and the
necessity for her to work seemed to bring us nearer together. The
value of what I could offer her was increased, and a spirit of
hopefulness took possession of me.

"But I didn't ask you here to pity either Zena or myself," Quarles
went on, after a pause. "I daresay you have heard of Mrs. Barrymore?"

"I have."

"She advertised for a private secretary, and Zena answered the
advertisement. When a woman goes deeply into philanthropic work,
visits hospitals, rescue homes, and the like, she often does it to
fill a life which would otherwise be empty. Not to Mrs. Barrymore. She
is a society woman as well, is to be met here, there and everywhere.
She is a golfer, a yachtswoman, fond of sport generally, and withal a
charming hostess. It is no wonder she wants a secretary. You don't
suppose I should let Zena go anywhere to be treated as a kind of
housemaid, and in a way that no self-respecting servant would stand?"

"Of course not. I gather that you know Mrs. Barrymore personally?"

"I saw her once or twice when she was a child. I knew her mother."

I looked up quickly, struck by his tone.

"There is romance in every life, Wigan. Here you touch mine. Mrs.
Barrymore's mother married an American. She chose him rather than me,
and, although I afterwards married, I have never forgotten her.
Naturally, I feel an interest in her daughter, Mrs. Barrymore, and I
want your help."

"In what way?"

"I want your opinion of her."

"But I don't know her."

"You must get to know her. She puzzles me, and certain things which
Zena has told me make me think I might help her. I should like to do
so, if I can. We have been useful to each other, Wigan, because our
methods are different. I have formed a certain opinion of Mrs.
Barrymore, the result of theorizing. I shall not tell you what it is
because I want your unbiased view, arrived at by your method of going
to work."

"There is a mystery about her, then?"

"My dear Wigan, that is exactly what I want to find out."

"How am I to make her acquaintance?" I asked.

"Not as Murray Wigan, certainly," he said, and then he added, after a
pause: "Would you mind pretending to be Zena's lover? When I saw her a
few days ago I said I would suggest this way to her."

Mind? Pretend! The professor little knew how the proposal pleased me.
He was offering me a part I could play to perfection.

"It is a good idea," was all I said.

"We even thought of a name for you--George Hastings--and you are a
surveyor. Being in Richmond, you thought you might venture to call,
not having seen Zena for some time. Mrs. Barrymore lives at Lantern
House, Richmond. If you see Mrs. Barrymore, as I hope you will, and
make yourself agreeable, she may give you permission to come again. I
think it will work all right."

"Will to-morrow be too soon to go?" I asked.

"No."

"If I am given the chance, I will certainly go again when I can.
Unfortunately, I am very busy just now."

"Ah, I haven't asked you about your work. Anything interesting?"

"One case, or, rather, three cases in one." And I told him about the
cyclists and the chauffeur.

"Only wounds in the head? What kind of wounds?" he asked.

"I did not see the cyclists. I can only speak of the chauffeur from
direct knowledge. The forehead, just by the margin of the hair, was
bruised and the skin slightly abraded. At the base of the head behind,
under the hair, there was another bruise--round, the size of half a
crown. There was no swelling, no blood. I am told that the cyclists
were also bruised about the temples."

"What had the doctor to say?"

"Very little in the chauffeur's case. Some severe blow had been
delivered, but he could not say how. He was puzzled. When I suggested
the man might have been run down by a car--quoting Baines's idea--he
said it was a possible explanation. He said so, I fancy, merely
because he had no other suggestion to offer."

"And the man's face, Wigan?"

"If a man could see death in some horrible shape, and his features
become suddenly fixed with terror, he might look like the chauffeur
did," I answered.

"He has not been identified either?"

"Not yet, but I'm hoping to trace him."

"Have you thought of one point, Wigan?" said Quarles, with some
eagerness. "He may not have been a chauffeur, nor the others cyclists.
They may only have worn the clothes."

"It is possible," I returned. "His hands had done manual work, but not
of an arduous kind. There were curious marks on the body, a
discoloration under the arms, and the skin somewhat chafed. Also, on
the outer side of the arms, there were marks just above the
elbows--depressions rather than discolorations. A rope bound round the
body might have produced the latter."

"There would have been marks upon the chest and back as well," said
Quarles.

"I do not say it was a rope," I returned. "Have you any helpful
theory, professor?"

For a few moments he had seemed keen--I should not have been surprised
had he suggested our going to the empty room. Now he became apathetic,
loose-minded, a man incapable of concentration. I had never known
Quarles quite like this before.

"I will think of it. When I read the accounts in the papers, I thought
I should like to assist you," he said slowly. "But it is impossible
to-night. Zena is not here. I am an incomplete machine without her.
You must have realized that, Wigan, by this time."

I have intimated before that the empty room, the listening for
inspiration, and Quarles's faith in Zena's questions did not impress
me very much. His excuse now I took as an intimation that he wanted to
be alone.

"I will call at Mrs. Barrymore's to-morrow," I said as I rose to go.

"That's right; Lantern House, Richmond. And, by the way, Mr.
Hastings--that is your name, remember--my granddaughter does not call
herself Zena Quarles, but Mary Corbett. I have an old friend, Mrs.
Corbett, and she has lent her name and her address for letters. Mrs.
Barrymore may have heard of me from her mother, and mine is not a name
easily forgotten. Besides----"

"I understand. You would help Mrs. Barrymore without her knowing it."

"There may be another reason. One does not advertise his financial
difficulties if he can help it."

"Professor, we are friends," I said, with some hesitation. "If you
want----"

"No, no," he answered quickly, "I do not want to borrow yet. Thank you
all the same, Wigan. Good night. And don't forget you are in love with
Mary Corbett."

On the following afternoon I went to Richmond, having supplied myself
with some surveying instruments to support the part I was to play.
This was unnecessary, perhaps, but I like to be on the safe side. I
was excited. I was in love, there was no pretense about it, and if I
could contrive to let Zena see the reality through the pretense, so
much the better.

Lantern House, which had grounds running down to the river, was large,
rambling, and parts of it were very old, contemporaneous with the old
Palace of Richmond, it was said. A small cupola in the central
portion of the building, possibly once used for star gazing, may have
suggested the name.

Zena evidently expected me, for the servant, without making any
inquiry, showed me into a room opening on to the gardens at the back.
Zena rose hastily from a writing-table and hurried to meet me.

"George!" she exclaimed.

I caught both her outstretched hands in mine.

"Dearest!"

She turned quickly, a color in her cheeks, and then I saw that we were
not alone. A lady had risen from a chair at the end of the room, and
came forward.

"This is George Hastings, Mrs. Barrymore," Zena said.

"Well, Mr. Hastings, you may kiss her if you like. I shall not be
shocked," and she laughed good-humoredly. "Mary told me that you might
come, and I am interested in the man she honors. So many girls make
fools of themselves, and marry worthless specimens. Outwardly, I see
nothing to take exception to in you. Your character----"

"I think Mary is satisfied," I said.

"So it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, eh?"

I laughed a little awkwardly, playing my part well, I fancy, and
showing just sufficient anxiety to impress Mrs. Barrymore favorably.

She was a very handsome woman, tall, athletic, and evidently addicted
to sport. Yet there was nothing ungraceful about her. Her manner was
gracious and attractive, her dress was charming. It was a marvel she
had succeeded in remaining a widow.

"I will leave you," she said presently. "But I can only spare Mary for
a very short time to-day. You know, my dear, how busy we are with the
appeal for that rescue society. Don't look so disappointed, Mr.
Hastings. You may come to-morrow and have tea with Mary."

"Thank you so much."

"But remember, only a few minutes to-day."

As she went out of the room, Zena gave me a warning look. I was
evidently to play my part even when Mrs. Barrymore was not there.

"Was there any harm in my coming, Mary?" I asked.

"No, dear. Mrs. Barrymore is very kind to me. George, you haven't
kissed me yet."

She was afraid that curious eyes might be upon us, and felt that the
parts we had assumed must be played thoroughly. I think the color
deepened in my own cheeks as I bent and touched her forehead with my
lips. I know hers did. For me it was a lover's kiss, the first I had
ever given.

"There is danger, but I am not sure what it is," she whispered, as we
stood close together. And then, drawing me to a chair, she said aloud:
"Tell me all you have been doing, George."

I concocted a story of my surveying work, and managed to be the lover
too. If we had an audience I fancy the deception was complete.

We were not left long together. Mrs. Barrymore came back with an
apology, and I departed, thinking a great deal more about Zena than of
any mystery there might be about her employer. Yet, from thinking of
her, I began to fear for her. What danger could there be at Lantern
House?

There was some mystery--the professor had said as much--but surely he
would not let his granddaughter run any risk? Still there was danger
enough for Zena to take precaution that our deception should not be
discovered, even to the extent of allowing me to kiss her. I passed a
restless night, and was in Richmond next day long before it was
possible for me to go to the house.

When I did go, I was at least an hour before my time.

I was shown into the same room as on the previous day. Mrs. Barrymore
was there alone.

"You are early," she said with a smile. "Lovers are ever impatient.
Did you meet Mary?"

"No. Is she out?"

"Oh, you need not go. She will be back to tea, and I am not sorry to
have a quiet talk with you, Mr. Hastings. I am interested in Mary
Corbett. She is nearly alone in the world, and my sympathy goes out to
such women. I have worked a great deal for societies dealing with
women's status and employment, and am most anxious to see a revision
of the laws which at present press too heavily on my sex. Come, tell
me all about yourself, your present position, your prospects--everything."

The story I told her would not have done discredit to a weaver of
romance, and she was so sympathetic a listener that I felt a little
ashamed of myself for practicing such deception.

"I think I am satisfied," she said at last, "and I judge you have a
soul above the mere commercial side of a surveyor's business--that the
beautiful has an appeal to you. Do you know anything about this
house?"

"I believe part of it is old," I said.

"Very old," she returned. "I like modern comforts, but I love the old
things too. We have a few minutes before tea and Mary's return. I will
show you the old part of Lantern House, if you like. I have tried to
give the rooms their original appearance, and am rather proud of my
achievement."

She was giving me an opportunity which I could hardly have expected, a
chance of seeing something which would give me a clew to the mystery
concerning her. I might have known better what to look for if only the
professor had been more explicit.

Talking pleasantly, calling my attention to a view from a window, or
to some unique piece of furniture, Mrs. Barrymore led me through
several rooms, the contents of which told of the wealth and taste of
the mistress of the house.

"I only use the old rooms on great occasions," she said, as we passed
from a small boudoir into a dim passage. "I have thought of letting
the public see them on certain days on payment of a small fee for the
benefit of some charity, but I have not quite made up my mind. It
would cut into my privacy a little, and in some ways I am selfish.
There are two steps down, Mr. Hastings."

She had opened a door and preceded me into a room, Tudor in its
construction, Tudor in its contents--at least, I suppose the contents
were all in keeping, but I had not sufficient knowledge to be quite
definite upon the point. The effect, if somewhat stiff and severe, was
pleasing.

"A Philistine friend of mine complains of the somberness," said Mrs.
Barrymore, "and wants me to have the electric light here as it is in
the rest of the house. Fancy Henry the Eighth wooing his many wives
under the electric light! Why, they would almost have seen what a
villain he was. Sit down for a moment, Mr. Hastings, and imagine
yourself back across the centuries. It was just such a chair as that
which the fat king used when he talked statecraft or divorce with
Wolsey."

She seated herself by the table, and I took the chair she indicated.
Never did blind man walk into a pit more unsuspectingly. The seat gave
under me, half a dozen inches, perhaps, setting the hidden mechanism
to quick work. My ankles were gripped, the arms closed across me,
pinning me securely just above the elbows, and a bar shot under my
chin, holding my head rigidly against the back of the chair.

Mrs. Barrymore got up quickly, went behind me, and, in a moment, had
passed a cloth of some thick material over my mouth. Then she came and
stood in front of me.

"Caught!" she said. "That chair holds you helpless and speechless. I
know just how you feel. I am going to tell you why. I daresay you know
I am an American--at least my father was, although my mother was
English. I married an Englishman, who was a genius, a crank, and a
devil. We lived in the States, where you know electrocution is the
death penalty, and my husband, a genius in all that had to do with
electricity, invented an improved method, using little current and
dangerous in one particular--it is impossible to tell how the victim
has died. He was so pleased with his invention he would not make it
public. He used it chiefly to terrify me. I was rich, my money was my
own, and to get money from me he has forced me into that chair, also
an invention of his, and sworn he would kill me. Mine was a life of
torture and terror. Then I played the siren with him. I asked him to
explain his devilish machine to me, and vowed to make over to him a
large sum of money in exchange for the secret. He agreed--the fool! I
kept my promise and paid the money, but one night when he was drunk, I
pushed him into that chair. He was the first victim of his own
invention, and to this day his death remains a mystery."

She laughed very quietly--not like a mad woman--and, going to a corner
of the room, she opened a panel near the floor and brought out a
curious contrivance, circular in shape, but not a complete
circle--something like a metal cap with a triangular piece missing at
the back. Wires were attached to it, and were also secured within the
cupboard. They uncoiled as she came across the room carrying the metal
cap in her hand.

"My husband was the type of brute who loves to torture women in some
form or other," she said. "There are thousands of such men, especially
in England, I think, or why are societies so necessary to protect
women, to help them, to relieve them? Such devils are better out of
the world, and I had the power to be something more than a
philanthropist. I had the knowledge and the money to be an active
agent. I came to England. I hate Englishmen because of my husband, and
I have made a beginning. It was easy among my charitable concerns to
hear of men who were brutes, and who would not be missed. In such a
man I took an interest, was kind to him, brought him here to Lantern
House to befriend him. He has sat in that chair as you are sitting, he
has worn this cap as you wear it. How to get rid of him afterward?
Underneath us is a basement where I have a car ready, a car I drive
myself, and of the existence of which nobody knows. An old house was
an advantage to me, you see. It is easy to put goggles and overalls on
a dead man. To contrive an iron frame which should keep him in a
sitting position was not difficult, and you are exactly over a trap
through which you can be lowered into the car. Then a drive in the
night, when I am dressed like a man, and have a companion with me who
sits upright beside me, then an unfrequented piece of country, and I
come home again--alone. Twice cyclists have been found--one of them a
foreigner--their broken machines beside them. It was easy to buy a
fifth rate motor machine, smash it, and carry it in the car. The cycle
confused investigation, and I was secure from detection. Then a
chauffeur was found. I did not take so much trouble with him, and I
wondered how his death would be explained."

She laughed again.

"You may say you are not one of these brutes--perhaps not. But do you
remember the day Lord Delmouth married Lady Evelyn Malling? Such a
wealth of wedding presents required careful watching, and a guest was
pointed out to me as Murray Wigan, the great detective. I never forget
a face, and I never underrate an enemy. I heard that Murray Wigan was
inquiring into the mysterious death of the chauffeur. I knew you the
moment you came into the house. Who the girl is, I do not care. Your
accomplice has nothing to fear--I do not war against women. I sent her
to London. When she returns she will learn that you have been and
gone. You will be found, Murray Wigan, sixty or seventy miles from
London, and since death by this method draws the features strangely,
it is doubtful if you will be identified. You were clever to get upon
my track, but you pay the penalty."

The perspiration stood out heavily upon me. Fear gripped me, and I was
helpless. Yet even in this supreme moment, even when this fiend of a
woman fitted that horrible metal cap upon my head, I remembered the
marks upon the dead chauffeur. He had been electrocuted as I was to
be. It was the frame holding him in a sitting posture which had marked
his body--it was this awful chair which had left those depressions on
his arms. I was glad to know the truth. It was the ruling passion,
strong in death.

The woman crossed to the cupboard quickly. There was a click, the
moving of the switch, and then--nothing. Thank God! Nothing. The cap
gripped my head, that was all.

The woman looked at me, and then rushed to the door, only to stagger
backward as Christopher Quarles and Zena met her on the threshold.
Their first thought was for me, and Mrs. Barrymore had the moment for
which she had always been prepared, doubtless. The poison pilule had
been concealed in a signet ring she wore, and in a few moments she was
lying dead in that horrible Tudor room.

That Mrs. Barrymore had invited me to come to tea on the following
day, when there was no reason why I should not have stayed then, had
aroused Zena's suspicions, and she had watched Mrs. Barrymore's every
movement. Until then she knew nothing of the secret of the Tudor room,
but she saw her employer go there and examine the cupboard.

In the night Zena went and examined it, and destroyed the current by
rendering the switch ineffective. Every day since Zena had been at
Lantern House Quarles had met her in the grounds. Of course she had
not gone to London that day, but had met her grandfather, and they had
entered the house together, unseen. They would have been in time to
prevent my going through that horrible ordeal had I not arrived an
hour before I was expected.

"You had no right to let Zena ran such a risk," I said to Quarles.
"You ought not to have sent her to Lantern House to test your
theories."

"She ran no risk," was his answer. "It was only against man Mrs.
Barrymore fought. I am sorry you had such an experience, Wigan. I
never supposed she would attempt your life, did not imagine she would
know who you were. Indeed, I was doubtful of my theory altogether.
When the first cyclist was found, I suspected electrocution in some
form, and the other two cases went to confirm the suspicion. I knew
something of Barrymore, a hateful brute but a genius, and I knew his
wonderful knowledge of electricity. His death must have been a relief
to his wife, and the manner of it made me suspicious of her. He was
found on a lonely road miles away from his home in Washington, and no
one could tell how he died. Was it remarkable I should wonder if Mrs.
Barrymore were responsible for the crimes here? And I would have saved
her if I could, for the sake of her mother. If I could have done that,
Wigan, you would have got no theory out of me in this case, and your
friend Baines might have gone on hunting for his mad motorist for the
rest of his days."

So I had touched the professor's romance, and now had one of my own. I
had pretended to be a lover, and I had found a moment to tell Zena
that it was no pretense with me. The color deepened in her cheeks as
it had done when I kissed her, but she did not stop my confession.

"My grandfather----"

"He can still remain with us," I said eagerly, seeing no difficulties.
"Say yes, Zena."

"It must not be yet."

"But some day?"

"Perhaps--some day."

And I was content.



CHAPTER VIII

THE MYSTERY OF CROSS ROADS FARM


We said nothing to the professor about the understanding we had come
to. In his presence--and I had little opportunity of seeing Zena at
any other time--we behaved toward each other as we had always done,
and I did not think he had any idea of our secret. Personally, I felt
the effects of my horrible experience in the Tudor room for some time,
which I think accounts for my not doing myself justice in the next
case I was called upon to undertake.

Let me recount the facts of this complex affair, which I take from the
evidence given at the trial of Richard Coleman.

Cross Roads Farm, lying about a mile outside the village of Hanley, in
Sussex, was owned by two brothers, Peter and Simon Judd.

They were twins, middle-aged, devoted to each other, and somewhat
eccentric. Peter was well known to everybody. He went to market, paid
the bills, and interviewed people when necessary. Simon seldom left
the farm, and was little known in the neighborhood. They lived simply,
had no servants in the house, and the villagers declared they must
have been saving money for years. Mrs. Gilson, a widow in the village,
went up to the farm daily, but was never there after eight o'clock.

At night the Judds were alone in the house. They never had visitors,
they retired early, and their only known recreation was a game of
chess before going to bed. No one, except Mrs. Gilson, and, on
occasion, her son Jim, who was an "innocent," had been known to take a
meal in their house. For Jim Gilson both brothers showed a pitying
affection, and he came and went much as he liked, earning a few
shillings by doing any odd job of which he was capable.

One evening in November Mrs. Gilson was returning from the farm
considerably earlier than usual, when she met a man, a stranger, an
unusual occurrence in a neighborhood where she knew everybody.

Next morning, on going to the farm, the blinds in the upper windows
were not drawn as usual, a thing she had never known to happen before.
The back door was generally standing open when she arrived; to-day it
was shut, but was on the latch, and she entered, to come face to face
with a tragedy.

In front of the fireplace in the sitting-room Peter Judd, clothed only
in his pajamas, was lying face downward--dead! A small table on which
the chessboard had stood was overturned, and the chessmen were
scattered about the floor. There was no sign of his brother, but,
wherever he was, it appeared that he too must be in his pajamas, for
his bed had been slept in and his clothes were on a chair.

The doctor said that during the night Peter Judd had been strangled,
marks of fingers being visible on his throat. Probably he had been
seized from behind, and the shock of the attack had possibly
accelerated his death, for he had apparently made little struggle to
defend himself.

Police investigation, however, soon proved that a struggle had taken
place in the house. On an upper landing the furniture was in
disorder, and a piece of torn material, which Mrs. Gilson identified
as belonging to pajamas which Simon Judd wore, was found. Another torn
shred was found in the kitchen, where the table had been pushed out of
its place. In the yard outside was a well-house. The door of this,
which was always locked, had been forced, and caught by a splinter of
wood was a third shred of the pajamas. On the floor of the shed was an
old slipper, also belonging to Simon Judd, Mrs. Gilson said.

The well was dragged, with no result, which hardly astonished the
neighborhood, for it was of immense depth, and tapped an underground
pit of water, according to common report.

Then came Mrs. Gilson's story of the man she had met on the previous
evening, and her description was so definite that within a few days a
ne'er-do-well, Richard Coleman, was traced, and subsequently arrested.
It was proved by more than one witness that he had been in Hanley that
day, apparently on the tramp, and with no money, yet two days after
the murder he was spending money freely in Guildford.

At first Coleman denied all knowledge of Cross Roads Farm, but
afterward admitted that he had been there. The Judds were his uncles.
He had not seen them for years, and had gone to ask for help. He
wasn't in the house an hour, he declared, and said that his uncles had
given him twenty pounds, for their dead sister's sake. They had also
given him a lecture on idleness, and sent him about his business.
There had been no quarrel, and he knew nothing about the tragedy.

That he was the Judds' nephew was true, but for the rest of his story,
no one believed it. The fact that he had denied all knowledge of Cross
Roads Farm was strong evidence against him. He was brought to trial,
and found guilty. His record was a bad one, yet the counsel's
eloquence so impressed the jury that he was recommended to mercy, with
the result that the death penalty was commuted to penal servitude for
life.

Of this tragedy I knew nothing when Cross Roads Farm became the scene
of a second mystery.

For five years--that is, since the death of the Judds--the house had
been shut up. Neither of the brothers had made a will apparently; they
had no solicitor, no banker. Either their wealth had been stolen by
Coleman, and safely concealed by him before his arrest, or it existed
only in the village imagination, or it remained hidden on the
premises. The last, being the most romantic idea, found the greatest
favor; but the possibility of treasure trove had not induced anyone to
take the farm. The gardens grew into a tangle, through which the upper
part of the house began to show signs of ruin. It was an uncanny spot,
which people passed with apprehension at night, and looked askance at
even in the daytime.

The only person who appeared to have no dread of the place was Jim
Gilson. During the last five years he had grown rather more incapable.
Physically he was a powerful man, mentally he was a baby; and whenever
he could elude his mother's watchfulness he ran off eagerly to the
farm and sat just inside the gate. Passers-by often saw him there, but
whether he ever penetrated further over the uncanny ground was not
known.

Sudden and unusual excitement on Jim's part led to the discovery of
the second tragedy. There was another dead man at Cross Roads Farm,
Jim declared, first to his mother and then to everyone he met. The
constable, with others, went there, and it was found that Gilson had
spoken the truth.

A tramp, dirty and unshaven, clothed in rags, lay face downward on the
sitting-room floor. The doctor who had been called to Peter Judd came
again. The tramp was lying in exactly the same position as Peter Judd
had lain, the limbs stretched almost identically as his had been, and
on his throat were similar finger-marks. The only difference the
doctor could suggest was that the tramp seemed to have been seized
from the front, whereas, he believed, Judd had been attacked from
behind. It was a suggestion more than a conviction.

It was natural, perhaps, that in Hanley people began to attribute both
deaths to supernatural agency. Certainly there were curious points in
the case, but it seemed to me that I had had harder problems to solve.

First, I made myself acquainted with the evidence which had been given
at Richard Coleman's trial. I know that to read evidence is not the
same thing as hearing it, but one or two points struck me forcibly.
Why had Coleman been recommended to mercy? True, his counsel's address
had been an eloquent one, but if the prisoner were guilty surely there
could be no extenuating circumstances in such a dastardly crime. The
evidence was strongly against Coleman, yet in spite of this the jury
had recommended him to mercy. Was there a doubt in their minds? Do we
not all know that subtle doubt which comes even hand in hand with what
we believe is conviction? There have been times with us all when we
have given judgment and immediately began to doubt that judgment.
Unless something of this sort had happened to this jury, I could not
understand the recommendation to mercy.

Again, I was not satisfied with the assumption that Simon Judd's dead
body had been thrown into the well. The well was certainly of immense
depth, and possibly tapped an underground cave full of water, which
might account for the futility of dragging operations; but the shred
of pajamas and the slipper found in the shed were not of themselves
sufficient evidence that the body had been got rid of in this way.
Even with the other signs of struggle in the house the evidence was
not conclusive. Simon Judd might be alive, in which case he might be
the murderer.

Such an hypothesis was, however, unlikely. The brothers were devoted
to each other, as twins often are; the overturned chessboard proved
that normal relations had existed between them that evening, that they
had played their usual game before retiring. If Simon Judd was dead,
and his body was not in the well, where was it? Hidden securely, at
any rate, and therefore, presumably, by someone who knew the farm
well, which Richard Coleman did not.

Again, why had the murderer troubled to hide only one body?

Another point which struck me as curious was the wonderful accuracy of
Mrs. Gilson's description of Richard Coleman. It was nearly dark when
she met him; in passing she could have little opportunity to examine
him closely, yet her description was sufficient to lead to his arrest.

These considerations set me speculating and, with more excitement than
was usual with me, I set to work to see how far my speculations were
supported by facts. To begin with, I had an interview with Richard
Coleman in prison. I did not tell him of the new tragedy at the farm;
I merely said that some new facts had come to light, and that if he
answered my questions it might be to his ultimate benefit.

"A man unjustly imprisoned does not easily believe that," he returned.

However, he told me his version of the story, exactly as he had told
it at his trial.

"Do you remember meeting Mrs. Gilson?" I asked.

"Not particularly."

"You didn't stop and ask her the way?"

"No. I met two or three people on the way to the farm. They didn't
interest me, and I had no reason to suppose that I interested them."

"Why did you deny knowing anything about Cross Roads Farm?"

"Well, one way and another there was a good deal against me at the
time. It was natural to deny a leading statement like that made by the
police, and I knew nothing about the murder then. You see, although I
was innocent of murder, I wasn't an innocent man. I was in a hole, and
attempted to lie myself out of it."

"Very foolish! It was a weighty argument against you. Did you see
anyone else at the farm beside your uncles?"

"It was true what I said at the trial, that one of the workmen had
just finished talking to my uncles at the door as I came in. The man
gave evidence, said he had parted with the Judds much as I described,
but that he had not seen me. I thought he said that to try and help me
a bit, because I'm certain he saw me."

"Do you think it was the same man?"

"I didn't doubt that it was, but I couldn't have sworn to him; I was
too much engaged in taking stock of the two men I had come to ask for
help."

"Did you ask for work?"

"No, money."

"Did you demand any special sum?"

"No; and I didn't demand it, I asked. I was playing the penitent game,
the prodigal anxious to reform. Had I demanded I should have got
nothing. I had sized up my men all right. I got twenty pounds, which
was far more than I expected. I hadn't had such a sum to my name for
years."

"Was the money given willingly?"

"Not exactly willingly. My Uncle Peter did most of the
talking--lecturing it was--but he seemed more impressed with my tale
than Uncle Simon did. Simon Judd had a good many reasons why I should
not have the money, but it was evident that Peter usually had the last
word and his own way. I should say he took the lead in most things."

"Did he actually give you the money?"

"Yes, counting it into my hand quid by quid, as if he'd been parting
with a fortune."

"Where did he get it from? Did he take it out of his pocket?"

"No; he went out of the room, leaving me with Simon, who didn't speak
a word the whole time. Peter Judd was away about ten minutes. He came
back with the money in his hand."

"And then you left the farm?"

"Yes; they didn't offer me anything to eat or drink. I have an idea
that Peter thought of doing so, but Simon made some remark about
throwing money away, and suggested my going at once."

"You didn't return to Hanley?"

"No, I went in the opposite direction."

Next day I was back at the farm, my attention concentrated on the
well. I had already heard that this well was not much used, there
being another under the scullery, to which a pump had been fixed, and
which supplied better water. The windlass over the well in the shed
substantiated this statement, for it was evident that it had stood
idle for a long time.

Peter Judd had left the room to get the money, and had been absent ten
minutes; and the door of this shed had been found forced on the
morning after the murder. Might the shed not be the treasure chamber?

The floor overlapped the mouth of the well considerably, and attached
to the under part of this floor, and close to the well wall, I found a
chain. Pulling this up, I raised a small but stout iron box fastened
to the lower end of it. The box had been wrenched open and was empty.
I had discovered the Judds' bank. No doubt it had been robbed on the
night of the murder. By whom? By someone who had watched Peter Judd go
there for the money. The answer came naturally to the question. That
person was not Richard Coleman, unless his story were false from
beginning to end, which was unlikely.

The next two days I devoted to a closer acquaintance with Mrs. Gilson.
I acted intentionally in a manner to make her think I had nearly
solved the mystery. I told her that I believed Richard Coleman was an
innocent man. The result was exactly what I expected. She became
nervous when I plied her with questions, and contradicted herself,
growing confused when I pressed home a point. Once I purposely
questioned her when her son was present, and her confusion became
fear. Jim Gilson said little, but at times looked wonderfully
intelligent. It was difficult to suppose that he did not perfectly
understand me.

"You don't go and sit inside the gateway at Cross Roads Farm now,
Jim," I said suddenly. Since this second discovery he had quite
forsaken his haunt.

"No," he answered.

"Why not?"

"No one else will come there now. They're afraid."

"Of what?"

"Spirits."

"And of you, Jim--eh?"

The suggestion pleased him. He came and stood close to me, and rolled
up his sleeve to show me how muscular his arms were.

"Splendid! Tell me, Jim, where is Simon Judd?"

"Buried!" he said, and slouched out of the room.

I looked at his mother. Poor woman! I pitied her.

"I didn't know--I didn't guess, not till afterward," she said. "Jim
told me next day that he had seen a man go to the farm, told me what
he was like, and I knew it was the man I had met. It was more Jim's
description than mine that I gave. But I thought this man was the
murderer, thought so for months, until Jim began to talk strange about
money and that well. It was not until then that I knew he had been at
the farm that night. And now this second murder! What will they do?"

"Release an innocent man."

"But to Jim?" she whispered.

"Find him not responsible for his actions, most likely. You ought to
have spoken, Mrs. Gilson. An innocent man is in prison. They are
likely to be severe with you."

"I don't care what happens to me; it's Jim I care about."

Later in the day I tried to get Jim to show me where Simon Judd was
buried. He only laughed.

"And the money, Jim--what has become of it?"

Still his only answer was a laugh.

"By sitting at the gate you kept watch over it, I suppose? Had it
somewhere close by, where you could get at it to play with; and when
this tramp came you thought he would rob you. Is that the story?"

"It's all right now," he said solemnly.

My course was clear. Jim Gilson must be arrested, and a court of
justice would have to say whether he was responsible for his actions
or not. Personally, I was not sure that he was as mad as he pretended
to be. The curious disposal of the shreds of pajamas showed cunning, a
desire to mislead, or it may be there had been a struggle. Perhaps
Simon Judd had fought desperately for his life, and the madman had
buried him, entirely forgetting the dead body of Peter Judd, who had
given him no trouble. Possibly he had left it with a purpose;
certainly it had helped to convict an innocent man. Who can explain
either the cunning or forgetfulness of a madman?

On the evening of the day following the arrest of Jim Gilson I
received a telegram from Christopher Quarles, asking me to go to him
without delay. He was in the empty room, his granddaughter with him.

"Wigan, this Sussex affair?" were the words with which he greeted me.

"All over. The murderer was arrested yesterday," I answered.

I had not seen Quarles for some days, and the case had not been
mentioned between us. His theories would probably have hindered rather
than helped me.

"You're wrong, all wrong," he said.

"My dear professor, nobody knows your ability better than I do, but
you haven't had anything to do with this affair. I assure you----"

"You may tell me the whole story, if you like, but you're wrong. You
haven't caught your man."

"Nonsense," I said angrily.

"Tell me the story."

"The newspaper résumé of the affair is quite correct," I said.

"I'd rather hear it from you."

And, in spite of my annoyance, I told it in answer to an appealing
glance from Zena. There was nothing I would not have done to please
her.

"I'll tell you the story in a different way," said Quarles, when I had
finished, "and you can pull me up if I go outside reason. At the
beginning of this mystery, four or five years ago, I felt no interest
in it; now I am impelled to interfere. True, I have taken no active
part in the affair, but with me that is not always necessary. Into my
empty brain something has come from outside."

I smiled. There was something of the charlatan in him.

"The body of Peter Judd is found," Quarles went on, "his brother's
isn't. Where is it? Down the well? You do not think so, yet by the
shred of pajamas and the slipper found there it is desired by someone
to suggest this solution. A well can be made to give up its secrets,
as a rule, but not this particular well. This is a point in Richard
Coleman's favor, since he would not be likely to have any knowledge of
local lore; and, if you like, it is against Gilson, who might have
such knowledge. But what possible object could he have in laying such
a misleading trail?"

"To implicate some other person--the man he had seen join the Judds as
he left them."

"I am not combating your theory that two men left the Judds in much
the same manner that night, and that the man who gave evidence at the
trial was not the one Coleman saw. No doubt Coleman saw Gilson; but do
you suggest it was a premeditated crime?"

"No. Gilson was curious about the visitor, and watched; and while he
waited Peter Judd went to the well, and Gilson saw the gold. Then
desire to possess came to him."

"So he murdered the two men who had been kind to him. Why?" asked
Quarles. "During the night he could have broken open the shed and
taken the gold. The Judds would undoubtedly have jumped to the
conclusion that their nephew had robbed them."

"I should say Gilson's idea was to get the key, hence the murder."

"And while he was strangling Peter, what was Simon doing? Since Peter
was found in the sitting-room in his pajamas, it is permissible to
suppose that something had aroused him. If it did not arouse Simon
too, Peter would be likely to do so, and at the very least he would
have called for help the moment he was attacked."

"You forget the doctor's evidence," I said. "He was killed by the
shock as much as by the man's fingers at his throat."

"A most important point," said Quarles; "we will come back to it in a
minute. Having murdered both the Judds, this imbecile breaks into the
shed, because he fails to find the key, I suppose; and having got the
money, is satisfied. He hides one body and leaves the other. He lays a
false trail for no earthly reason, I submit. For months he does not
let fall a word to disturb his mother, but he haunts the gate of the
farm."

"His mother knows he is guilty, professor; remember that."

"Did she see him do it? Has he shown her the money?"

"No."

"Then, I ask, what made Gilson haunt the farm? The right answer to
that question will put you on the right road. It was Zena who
propounded that question to me."

"In seeking for motives we must not be too precise in dealing with a
madman," I said. "I think his idea was to protect the money which he
had hidden somewhere close at hand."

"I don't," said Quarles. "He was watching for the man who murdered
Peter Judd."

"Rather a fantastic conclusion, isn't it?" I said.

"It might be were there no evidence to support it. Let me tell the
story as I imagine it. The twin brothers were much attached to each
other. Few people knew them well; they kept altogether to themselves.
From Coleman's statement it would seem that Peter took the lead. It
was he who went for the money. He appears to have managed all the
money transactions. It may have been merely a division of labor, but
there may have been another reason. Perhaps Simon's temperament was to
waste money, and to keep him out of temptation Peter kept the key of
the treasury."

"Still a little fantastic, I fancy," I said somewhat contemptuously.

"Quite true, and we will go a little farther on the same road. We will
assume that the sight of gold was not good for the moral welfare of
Simon Judd. So long as he did not see gold he was content to go on
his simple way, but the sight of it set him desiring possession. The
nephew came, and twenty sovereigns were fetched from the treasury
chest and displayed before Simon's gloating eyes. There was a sudden
desire to possess gold himself. Peter had the key, had a hiding-place
for it, probably; and on this night, thinking of his nephew, was not
careful enough to conceal that hiding-place from his brother, or it
may be he was forgetful, and left the key on the mantelshelf. In the
night he remembered it, or was aroused by some noise, and went down to
find Simon, who was fully dressed, taking the key. Some words may have
been spoken; Peter may have reasoned with him, but Simon was beyond
reason. He attacked his brother, and killed him. The shock of such a
thing may well have had something to do with Peter's death, as the
doctor suggests. Would shock have had such effect upon him, do you
suppose, had he been attacked by Gilson, an innocent imbecile?"

I did not answer.

"Simon at once realized his position. Suspicion must fall upon him
unless he was murdered too. So he laid the trail, shreds of his
pajamas here and there, and the old slipper. The well would be an
excellent grave for him. He remembered that Gilson saw Coleman arrive;
suspicion would fall upon Coleman. Conscience was dead now, he could
take the gold. So he left Cross Roads Farm, being careful to dress
himself in clothes that probably only his brother knew he possessed,
and left his ordinary clothes on the chair in his room."

"And Gilson?" I asked.

"No doubt he saw Peter Judd go to the shed, and was fascinated by the
sight of the gold; at any rate, he remained there. He would see
Coleman leave. That he saw the actual murder is unlikely, did not know
of it until the next day, I should conjecture; but he would see what
Simon Judd did, would see him take the money and go. When he knew
Peter Judd was dead, Gilson would guess who had killed him. He would
say nothing, because both men had been good to him; but knowing the
two brothers, being in touch, perhaps, since he is one of God's fools,
with a plane of thought which is above the normal man, he waited for
Simon Judd's return, and he has not been disappointed."

"Not disappointed!" I exclaimed.

"I imagine Simon spent his money riotously, every penny of it,
conscience troubling him at times, which trouble he drowned with drink
and drugs; but in the end he was irresistibly drawn back, a tramp,
dirty, unrecognizable, except to the eyes expecting him--Gilson's."

"And then?"

Quarles paused for a moment.

"If Gilson watched him closely, as he probably did, he may some day,
in a lucid interval, confirm my surmise. I think Simon Judd stood
before the lifted veil when he returned to Cross Roads Farm again;
that on the spot where so many familiar hours had been spent he saw
his brother once more, and remorse came to him. The gold had gone, you
see. Every detail of that tragic night was recalled in a moment of
time, and, terror seizing him, he clutched himself by the throat and
fell dead."

"I think you are right, dear," Zena said solemnly.

"But how is it no one knew him?" I asked.

"Few people did know him, and he had passed through five years of
debauchery. Find someone who knew of some peculiarity he had. Coleman
might help you here. Gilson knew him. Didn't he tell you Simon Judd
was buried? That would be a day or so after the tramp had been buried
in Hanley."

This case was certainly one of my failures, although I had to accept
praise when both Coleman and Gilson were released.

It happened, too, that Coleman knew that, as a young man, his Uncle
Simon had undergone an operation, the scar of which the doctor found
on the tramp's body.

Jim Gilson was never lucid enough to give a detailed account of what
happened when Simon Judd returned to the farm, but piecing together
statements he made at intervals there is little doubt that Quarles's
surmise was not very far from the truth.



CHAPTER IX

THE CONUNDRUM OF THE GOLF LINKS


I have wondered sometimes whether I have ever really liked Christopher
Quarles; at times I have certainly resented his treatment, and had he
been requested to make out a list of his friends, quite possibly my
name would not have figured in the list unless Zena had written it out
for him. Some remark of the professor's had annoyed me at this time,
and I had studiously kept away from Chelsea for some days, when one
morning I received a telegram:

      "If nothing better to do, join us here for a few
      days.--Quarles, Marine Hotel, Lingham."

I did not even know they were out of town, for Zena and I never wrote
to each other, and I had a strong suspicion the invitation meant that
the professor wanted my help in some case in which he was interested.
Still, there would be leisure hours, and I had visions of pleasant
rambles with Zena. If I could manage it, some of them should be when
the moon traced a pale gold path across the sleeping waters. I may say
at once that some moonlight walks were accomplished, though fewer than
I could have wished, and that, although there was no business behind
the professor's invitation, my visit to Lingham resulted in the
solution of a mystery which had begun some months before and had
baffled all inquiry ever since.

Lingham, as everybody knows, is a great yachting center, and as I
journeyed down to the East Coast I wondered if yachting interested
Quarles, and, if not, why he had chosen Lingham for a holiday.

The professor was a man of surprises. I have seen him looking so old
that a walk to the end of the short street in Chelsea might reasonably
be expected to try his capacity for exercise; and, again, I have seen
him look almost young; indeed, in these reminiscences I have shown
that at times he did not seem to know what fatigue meant. When he met
me in the vestibule of the Marine Hotel he looked no more than
middle-aged, and as physically fit as a man could be. He was dressed
in loose tweeds, and wore a pair of heavy boots which, even to look
at, almost made one feel tired.

"Welcome, my dear fellow!" he said. "But why bring such infernal
weather with you? It began to blow at the very time you must have been
leaving town, and has been increasing ever since. It has put a stop to
all racing."

"I didn't know you took an interest in yachting."

"I don't. Golf, Wigan! At golf I am an enthusiast. There's a good
sporting course here, that's why I came to Lingham. You've brought
your clubs, I see."

"Chance. You did not say anything about golf in your wire."

"Why should I? Useless waste of money. I remembered your telling me
once that you never went for your holiday without taking your clubs.
We shall have grand sport."

He laughed quite boisterously, and a man who was passing through the
hall looked at me and smiled. I recollected that smile afterward, but
took little notice of it just then, because Zena was coming down the
stairs.

Before dinner that evening it blew a gale, and from windows
overlooking the deserted parade we watched a sullen, angry sea
pounding the sandy shore and hissing into long lines of foam, which
the wind caught up and carried viciously inland.

"Isn't that a sail--a yacht?" said Zena suddenly, pointing out to sea,
over which darkness was gathering like a pall.

It was, and those on board of her must be having a bad time, not to
say a perilous one. She was certainly not built for such weather as
this, but she must be a stout little craft to stand it as she did, and
they were no fools who had the handling of her.

"Blown right out of her course, I should think," said Quarles. "The
yachts shelter in the creek to the south yonder. I should not wonder
if that boat hopes to make the creek which lies on the other side of
the golf course."

"She's more likely to come ashore," said a man standing behind us, and
he spoke with the air of an expert in such matters. "There's no
anchorage in that creek, and, besides, a bar of mud lies right across
the mouth of it."

As the curved line of the sea front presently hid the yacht from our
view the gong sounded for dinner--a very welcome sound, and I, for
one, thought no more about the yacht that night.

Before morning the gale had subsided, but the day was sullen and
cloudy, threatening rain, and we did not attempt golf until after
lunch.

It was an eighteen-hole course, and might be reckoned sporting, but it
was not ideal. There was too much loose sand, and a great quantity of
that rank grass which flourishes on sand dunes. It said much for the
management that the greens were as good as they were.

I had just played two holes with the professor before I remembered the
man who had smiled in the hall of the hotel yesterday. Certainly
Quarles was an enthusiast. In all the etiquette of the game he was
perfect, but as a player he was the very last word. He persisted in
driving with a full swing, usually with comic effect; he was provided
with a very full complement of clubs, and was precise in always using
the right one; but he seemed physically incapable of keeping his eye
on the ball, and constantly hit out, as if he were playing cricket;
yet the bigger ass he made of himself the greater seemed his
enjoyment. He never lost his temper. Other men would have emptied
themselves of the dregs of their vocabulary; Quarles only smiled,
cheerfully explaining how he had come to top a ball, or why he had
taken half a dozen shots to get out of a bunker. No wonder the man in
the hotel had laughed.

There was one particularly difficult hole. The bogey was six. It
required a good drive to get over a ridge of high ground; beyond was a
brassey shot, then an iron, and a mashie on to the green. To the left
lay a creek, a narrow water course between mud. My drive did not reach
the ridge, on the top of which was a direction post; and the professor
pulled his ball, which landed perilously near the mud. It took him
three shots to come up with me, and when at last we mounted the ridge
we saw there was a man on the distant green, which lay in a hollow
surrounded by bunkers, behind which was the bank of the curving creek.

"Fore!" shouted Quarles.

I almost laughed. It was certain the man would have ample time to get
off the green before the professor arrived there. Quarles waited for a
moment, but the man ahead took no notice, possibly had not heard him.

The professor took a fall swing with his brassey, and, for a wonder,
the ball went as straight and true as any golfer could desire.

"Ah! I am getting into form, Wigan," he exclaimed. "What is that fool
doing yonder? Fore!"

This time the man looked round and waved to us to come on, which we
did slowly, for Quarles's form was speedily out again.

The man on the green was a curiosity. Thirty-five or thereabouts, I
judged him to be; a thin man, but wiry, with a stiff figure and an
immobile face, which looked as if he had never been guilty of showing
an emotion. His eyes were beady, and fixed you; his mouth gave the
impression of being so seldom used for speech that it had become
partially atrophied. His costume, perhaps meant to be sporting, missed
the mark--looked as if he had borrowed the various articles from
different friends; and he was practicing putting with a thin-faced
mashie, very rusty in the head, and dilapidated in the shaft.

He stood aside and watched Quarles miss two short puts.

"Difficult," he remarked. "I'm practicing it."

Quarles looked at the speaker, then at the mashie.

"With that?"

"Why not?" asked the man.

"Why?" asked Quarles.

"If I can do it with this I can do it with anything," was the answer.

"That's true," said the professor, making for the next tee. There was
no arguing with a man of this type.

The tee was on the top of the creek bank.

"I was right," said Quarles. "Look, Wigan, they did make for this
haven last night."

It was almost low water. The bank on the golf course side was steep,
varying in height, but comparatively low near the tee, and an
irregular line of piles stuck up out of the mud below, the tops of
half a dozen of them rising higher than the bank. On the other side of
the creek the shore sloped up gradually from a wide stretch of mud.

In the narrow waterway was a yacht, about eighteen tons, I judged.
That she was the same we had seen laboring in the gale last night I
could not say, but certainly she was much weather-marked and looked
forlorn. She had not had a coat of paint recently, the brasswork on
her was green with neglect, and her ropes and sails looked old and
badly cared for. Yet her lines were dainty, and, straining at her
hawser, she reminded me of a disappointed woman fretting to free
herself from an undesirable position.

A yacht is always so sentient a thing, and seems so full of conscious
life.

Quarles appeared to understand my momentary preoccupation.

"Don't take any notice of her," he said. "We're out for golf. I always
manage a good drive from this tee."

This time was an exception, at any rate, and, in fact, for the
remainder of the round he played worse than before, if that were
possible. But he was perfectly satisfied with himself, and talked
nothing but golf as we walked back, until we were close to the hotel,
when he stopped suddenly.

"Queer chap, that, on the green."

"Very."

"Do you think he came from the yacht?"

"I was wondering whether he hadn't escaped from an asylum," I
answered.

"I wonder what he was doing on the green," Quarles went on. "I saw no
one else playing this afternoon, so he had the green to himself,
except for the little time we disturbed him. When I first saw him it
didn't seem to me that he was practicing putting, and I thought he
watched us rather curiously."

"A theory, professor?" I asked with a smile.

"No, no; just wonder. By the way, don't say anything to that expert
who was so certain that the yacht couldn't get into the creek. He
mightn't like to know he was mistaken."

After dinner that evening Zena and I went out. There was no moon;
indeed, it was not very pleasant weather, but it was a pleasant walk,
and entirely to my satisfaction.

When we returned I found Quarles in a corner of the smoking room
leaning back in an armchair with his eyes closed. He looked up
suddenly as I approached him.

"Cold out?" he asked.

"Nothing to speak of."

"Feel inclined to go a little way with me now?"

"Certainly."

"Good! Say in a quarter of an hour's time. I shall get out of this
dress and put on some warmer clothes. I should advise you to do the
same."

I took his advice, and I was not surprised when he turned to me as
soon as we had left the hotel and said:

"That yacht, Wigan; we'll go and have a look at her."

"It's too dark to see her."

"She may show a light," he chuckled. "Anyway, we will go and have a
look."

We started along the front in the direction of the golf course, but at
the end of the parade, instead of turning inland as I expected, to
cross the course to the creek, Quarles led the way on to the sands.
Here was a favorite bathing place, and there were many small tents
nestling under the sandhills, looking a little the worse for last
night's gale. At this hour the spot was quite deserted.

"Getting toward high water," said the professor, "and a smooth sea
to-night. Can you row, Wigan?"

"An oarsman would probably say I couldn't," I answered.

"There's a stout little boat hereabouts--takes swimmers out for a dive
into deep water. We'll borrow it, and see what you can do."

Always there was something in Quarles's way of going to work which had
the effect of giving one a thrill, of stringing up the nerves, and
making one eager to know all that was in his mind. You were satisfied
there was something more to learn, and felt it would be worth
learning. I asked no questions now as I helped to push a good-sized
dinghy into the water. Oars were in it, and a coil of rope.

"Anyone might go off with it," said Quarles. "I noticed the other day
that the boatman did not trouble to take the oars out. I suppose he
believes in the honesty of Lingham."

If I am no great stylist, I am not deficient in muscle, and, with the
set of the tide to help me, we were not long in making the mouth of
the creek.

"The yacht is some way up, Wigan, and maybe there are sharp ears on
her. Tie your handkerchief round that rowlock, and I'll tie mine round
this. You must pull gently and make no noise. The tide is still
running in, and will carry us up. By the way, when you're on holiday
do you still keep your hip pocket filled?"

"Yes, when I go on expeditions of this sort."

"Good! Keep under the bank as much as possible, and don't stick on the
mud."

I did little more than keep the boat straight, was careful not to make
any noise, and in the shadow of the bank we were not very likely to be
seen. A heavy, leaden sky made the night dark, and there was a sullen
rush in the water.

"Steady!" whispered Quarles.

We were abreast of the first of the piles which I had noticed in the
morning. Now it was standing out of water instead of mud.

"She shows no light," said Quarles. "We'll get alongside."

With the incoming tide the yacht had swung around, and was straining
at the hawser which held her, the water slapping at her bows with
fretful insistency. Quarles held on to her, bringing us with a slight
bump against her side. Keen ears would have heard the contact, but no
voice challenged.

We had come up on the side of the yacht which was nearest the golf
course.

"There's no boat fastened to her, Wigan," said Quarles. "Probably
there is no one on board. Let's go round to the other side."

There we found the steps used for boarding her.

"If there's anyone here, Wigan, we're two landlubbers who've got
benighted and have a bad attack of nerves," whispered Quarles. "Hitch
one end of that coil of rope to the painter, so that when we fasten
our boat to the stays on the other side of the yacht she'll float far
astern. When they return they are almost certain to come up on this
side to the steps, so will not be likely either to see the rope or our
boat in the dark."

I fastened the rope to the painter as Quarles suggested, and climbed
on to the yacht after him. Then I let the tide carry our boat astern,
and, crossing the deck, tied the other end of the rope securely to the
stays on the other side.

The sky seemed to have become heavier and more leaden; it was too dark
to see anything clearly. There was little wind, yet a subdued and
ghostly note sounded in the yacht's rigging, and the water swirling at
her bows seemed to emphasize her loneliness. So far as I could see,
she was in exactly the same condition as when I had seen her from the
golf course. No one was on deck, and no sound came from below.

"Queer feeling about her, don't you think?" said Quarles. "We're just
deadly afraid of the night and spooks, that's what we are if there is
anyone to question us."

I followed him down into the cabin. At the foot of the companion
Quarles flashed a pocket electric torch. It was only a momentary
flash, then darkness again as he gave a warning little hiss.

Three glasses on the table was all I had seen. I supposed the
professor had seen something more, but I was wrong.

After standing perfectly motionless for a minute or so, he flashed
the light again, and sent the ray round the cabin. The appointments
were faded, the covering of the long, fixed seats on either side of
the table was torn in places. One of these seats had evidently served
as a bunk, for a pillow and folded blanket were lying upon it. All the
paint work was dirty and scratched. Forward, there was a door into the
galley; aft, another door to another cabin.

"A crew of three," said Quarles. "Three glasses, plenty of liquor left
in the bottle in the rack yonder, a pipe and a pouch, and a
conundrum."

He let the light rest on a sheet of paper lying beside the glasses. On
it was written: "S. B. Piles--one with chain--9th link. N. B. Direct.
Mud--high water--90 and 4 feet."

"A conundrum, Wigan. What do you make of it?"

He held out the paper to me, a useless thing to do, since he allowed
the ray from the torch to wander slowly round the cabin again.

"We must look at the pile with the chain," he muttered in a
disconnected way, as though he were thinking of something quite
different.

"And at the ninth link of the chain," I said.

"Yes, at the ninth link. A conundrum, Wigan. A----"

He stopped. His eyes had suddenly become fixed upon some object behind
me. The electric ray fell slanting close by me, and when I turned I
saw that the end of it was under the cushioned seat on one side of the
table. The light fell upon a golf club--a rusty mashie.

"That man on the green was one of the crew, Wigan," said Quarles; and
then when I picked up the club we looked into each other's eyes.

"Did I not say the yacht had a queer feeling about her?" he said in a
whisper.

I knew what he meant. The mashie had something besides rust on it now,
something wet, moist and sticky.

Quarles glanced at the door of the galley as he put the paper on the
table, careful to place it in the exact position in which he had found
it; then he went quickly to the cabin aft.

On either side of a fixed washing cabinet there was a bunk, and in one
of them lay the man we had seen on the green. The wound upon his head
told to what a terrible use the club had been put since he had played
with it that afternoon. He had been fiercely struck from behind, and
then strong fingers had strangled out whatever life remained in him.
He was fully dressed, and there had been little or no struggle. His
would-be sportsmanlike attire was barely disarranged, and even in
death his pose was stiff, and his set face exhibited no emotion.
Quarles lifted up one of his hands and looked at the palm and at the
nails. He let the light rest upon the hand that I might see it. Then
he pointed to a straight mark across the forehead, just below the
hair, and nodded.

We were back in the saloon-cabin again when I touched the professor's
arm, and in an instant the torch was out. I had caught the sound of
splashing oars.

"Put the club back under the seat," said Quarles, and then, with
movements stealthy as a cat's, he led the way to the galley door. We
were in our hiding place not a moment too soon.

Two men came hurriedly down the companion. A match was struck, but
there was not a chink in the boarding through which we could see into
the cabin. It seemed certain they had not discovered our dinghy, and
had no suspicion that they were not alone upon the yacht.

"It's plain enough. There's no other meaning to it." The speaker had a
heavy voice, a gurgle in it, and I judged the heavier tread of the two
was his. "Ninety feet, it says, captain; and we measured that string
to exactly ninety feet."

"Feet might only refer to the four, and not to both figures," was the
answer in a sharp, incisive voice.

"He said it was both."

"And I'm not sure he lied," returned the man addressed as captain.
"The distance was originally paced out no doubt, and pacing out ninety
feet ain't the same as an exact measurement."

"We made allowances," growled the other.

"We'd been wiser to go on looking instead of coming back. You're too
previous, mate."

"You didn't trust him any more'n I did."

"No; but he had the name right enough," answered the captain, "and the
time--a year last February. I always put that job down to Glider.
Let's get back while the dark lasts."

"Come to think of it, it's strange Glider should have made a confidant
of him," said the other.

"Sized him up, and took his chance for the sake of the missus,"
returned the captain.

"I'm not going back until I've seen whether he's got other papers
about him."

"He chucked his clothes overboard," said the captain.

"He'd keep papers tied round him, maybe. I'll soon find out."

There was a heavy tread, and the opening of the door of the cabin
aft. There was the rending of cloth, and the man swore the whole time,
perhaps to keep up his courage for the horrible task.

"Nothing!" he said, coming back into the saloon-cabin. "Say, captain,
supposing it's all a plant--a trap!"

There was a pause and my hand went to my revolver. If the suggestion
should take root, would they not at once search the galley?

"He'd a mind to get the lot, that was his game," said the captain.

They went on deck, we could hear them stamping about overhead. Then
came an oath, and a quick movement. I thought they were coming down
again, but a moment later there was the soft swish of oars, followed
by silence.

"Carefully!" said Quarles, as I fumbled at the galley door. "One of
them may have remained to shoot us from the top of the companion."

He was wrong, but it was more than probable that such an idea had
occurred to them. They had discovered our dinghy! It had been cut
adrift, and the scoundrels had escaped, leaving us isolated on the
yacht. I snapped out a good round oath.

"Can you swim, Wigan?" asked the professor.

At full tide the creek was wide, and the sullen, rushing water had a
hungry and cruel sound.

"Not well enough to venture here, and in the dark," I said.

"And I cannot swim at all," said Quarles. "We are caught until morning
and low-water. It's cold, and beginning to rain. With all its defects
I prefer the cabin."

He went below and declared that he must get a little sleep. Whether
he did or not, I cannot say; I know that I never felt less inclined to
close my eyes. We had been trapped, that made me mad; and I could not
forget our gruesome companion behind the door of the aft cabin.

There was a glimmer of daylight when Quarles moved.

"This is nearly as good a place to think in as my empty room at
Chelsea, Wigan. What do you make of the mystery?"

"A trio of villains after buried treasure."

"Which they could not find; and two of them are scuttling away to save
their necks."

"So you think the dead man yonder fooled them?"

"No. I think there is some flaw in the conundrum. By the way, why is a
golf course called links?"

"It's a Scotch word for a sandy tract near the sea, isn't it?"

"But to an untutored mind, Wigan, especially if it were not Scotch,
there might be another meaning, one based on number, for instance. As
a chain consists of links, so a golf course, which has eighteen links.
It is a possible view, eh?"

"Perhaps."

"I see they have taken the paper," said Quarles; "but I dare say you
remember the wording. S. B., that means south bank; N. B., north bank.
I have no doubt there is a pile with a chain on it, whether with nine
or ninety links does not matter. It was on the green of the ninth hole
that the man was practicing. For the word "link" substitute "hole,"
and you get a particular pile connected with the ninth hole, which, of
course, has a flag, and so we get a particular direction indicated.
From the high-water line of mud on the north bank we continue this
ascertained direction for ninety feet, and then we dig down four
feet."

"And find nothing," I said.

"Exactly! There is a flaw somewhere, but the treasure is there," said
Quarles. "The rascals who have given us an uncomfortable night
evidently believed that the man they called Glider had told the truth;
more, they had already put the job down to him, you will remember.
Now, how was it Glider gave his secret away to the man in yonder
cabin? Obviously he couldn't come and get the treasure himself."

"A convict," I said, "who gave information to a fellow convict about
to be released."

"I don't think so," said Quarles. "As a convict, these men, who have
been convicts themselves, or will be, would have had sympathy with
him. They hadn't any. They were afraid of him. They felt it was
strange that Glider should have confided in him, and could only find
an explanation by supposing that Glider had sized him up and taken his
chance for the sake of the missus. We may assume, therefore, that
Glider had trusted a man no one would expect him to trust. This
suggests urgency, and I fancy a man, nicknamed Glider, has recently
died in one of His Majesty's prisons--Portland I should guess.
Probably our adventurers sailed from Weymouth. Now, Glider could not
have been in Portland long. A year last February he was free to do the
job with which this expedition is connected, and of which I should
imagine he is not suspected by the police. Probably he was taken for
some other crime soon after he had committed this one. He had no
opportunity to dig up the treasure he had buried, which he certainly
would have done as soon as possible. Yet Glider must have been long
enough in prison to size up the dead man yonder--a work of some time,
I fancy. You noticed his hands. Did they show any evidence of his
having worked as a convict? You saw the mark across the forehead. That
was made by a stiff cap worn constantly until a day or two ago. I
think we shall find there is a warder missing from Portland."

"A warder!"

The idea was startling, yet I could pick no hole in the professor's
argument.

"Even a warder is not free from temptation, and I take it this man was
tempted, and fell. Glider, no doubt, told him of the captain and his
mate. He had worked with them before, probably, and trusted them;
also, he might think they would be a check upon the warder. I
shouldn't be surprised if the warder were the only one of the three
who insisted that the widow should have her share, and so came by his
death. The flaw in the riddle keeps the treasure safe. Perhaps I shall
solve it during the day. By the way, Wigan, it must be getting near
low-water."

It was a beastly morning, persistent rain from a leaden sky. The tide
was out, only a thin strip of water separating the yacht from the mud.

"I fear there will be no golfers on the links to-day to whom we might
signal," said Quarles; "and I could not even swim that."

"I can," I answered.

"It would be better than spending another night here," said the
professor. "Send a boat round for me, and inform the police. I am
afraid the captain and his mate have got too long a start; but don't
leave Lingham until we have had another talk. While I am alone I may
read the riddle."

The ducking I did not mind, and the swim was no more than a few
vigorous strokes, but I had forgotten the mud. As I struggled through
it, squelching, knee-deep, Quarles called to me:

"They must have landed him at high-water yesterday, Wigan, and then
crossed over and taken the direction from him. I thought he was
feeling about with the flag when we first saw him on the green. No
doubt he made some sign to the others across the creek to lie low when
he saw us coming. They marked the place in daylight and went at night
to dig."

I sank at least ten inches deeper into the mud while he was speaking.
He got no answer out of me. I felt like hating my best friend just
then.

After changing my clothes at the hotel, where I accounted for my
condition by a story, original but not true, I told Zena shortly what
had happened, then sent a boat for the professor. I then told the
Lingham police, who wired to the police at Colchester, and I also
telegraphed to Scotland Yard and to Portland Prison.

I did not see Quarles again until the afternoon.

"Have you solved the riddle?" I asked.

"I think so. We'll go to that ninth hole at once. The police are
continuing the excavations begun by our friends. I've had a talk to
the professional at the golf club. They move the position of the holes
on a green from time to time, you know, Wigan; and with the
professional's help I think we shall be able to find out where it was
a year last February. He is a methodical fellow. That will give us a
different direction on the north bank of the creek. It was a natural
oversight on the convict's part. Were I not a golfer I might not have
thought of the solution."

We found the treasure a long way from where the other digging had
been done. It consisted of jewels which, in the early part of the
previous year, had been stolen from Fenton Hall, some two miles
inland. The theft, which had taken place when the house was full of
week-end visitors, had been quickly discovered, and the thief, finding
it impossible to get clear away with his spoil, had buried it on the
desolate bank of the creek, marking the spot by a mental line drawn
through the chained pile and the flag on the golf course. He must have
known the neighborhood, and knew this was the ninth hole, or link as
he called it, or as the warder had written it down. For Quarles was
right, a warder was missing from Portland, and was found dead in that
aft cabin.

The yacht was known at Weymouth, and belonged to a retired seaman, a
Captain Wells, who lived at a little hotel when he was in the town. He
was often away--sometimes in his yacht, sometimes in London--and there
was little doubt that his boat had often been used to take stolen
property across to the Continent. Neither the captain nor his mate
could be traced now, but it was some satisfaction that they had not
secured the jewels.

As I have said, I did manage to get some moonlight walks with Zena,
but not many, for a week after we had recovered the Fenton Hall jewels
I was called back to town to interview Lord Leconbridge.



CHAPTER X

THE DIAMOND NECKLACE SCANDAL


I never heard Lord Leconbridge address the House of Lords, but it has
been said that every sentence he uttered required half a dozen
marginal notes, that his speeches were the concentrated essence of his
vast knowledge, and, without annotation, were quite incomprehensible
to those who were less familiar with the subject. I understood the
truth of this when I was brought in contact with him over the affair
of the diamond necklace, a sensation which set fashionable London
gossiping all the season, and, according to some people, has never
been cleared up satisfactorily.

I can give the story Lord Leconbridge told me in a few lines:

With his wife and Mr. Rupert Lester, his son by his first marriage, he
attended a reception at the Duchess of Exmoor's, in Park Lane. Lady
Leconbridge was wearing the famous diamonds. He was about to present
Jacob Hartman, the banker, to his wife, when he noticed that the
necklace was gone. His wife was quite unconscious of the fact till
that moment. A search was instituted, but without result, and in the
few hours which had elapsed between the time of the loss and my
interview with him nothing had been heard of the jewels.

The story, as I told it three days later to Christopher Quarles, was
an edition with marginal notes, the result of investigation and
questions put to many people.

"I am interested in Lord Leconbridge," said the professor; "he is one
of the few men who count. Whether I shall get interested in his family
jewels is another matter. Still, we happen to be in the empty room,
and Zena is here to ask absurd questions; so tell your story, Wigan."

"When Lady Leconbridge came down to dinner that evening she was
wearing pearls. As she entered the drawing-room her husband admired
her appearance and her dress, but suggested that the diamonds would be
more suitable than the pearls. She questioned his taste, and appealed
to her stepson. This only appeared to make her husband more
determined, and Lady Leconbridge went upstairs and changed the pearls
for the diamonds. The jewels were certainly not lost on the way to
Park Lane, for the Duchess of Exmoor noticed them five minutes before
they were missing. The loss was discovered by Lord Leconbridge when he
was about to present Jacob Hartmann to his wife. The reception was a
semi-political one; a footman says he knew everyone who passed through
the hall; and I have ascertained that the known thieves, who might be
able to deal with such stones as these, were not at work that night. A
curious story comes from a housemaid. On the chance of catching a
glimpse of some of the guests, she was looking down from a dark corner
of the stairs on to a corridor which was only dimly lighted, not being
used much that evening, when she heard the low voices of a man and
woman talking eagerly. The woman was either afraid or angry, and the
man seemed excited. Then she saw a man come quickly along the
corridor, and the next moment there was the sound of broken glass.
She did not know who he was, and the woman she did not see at all. The
servant thought no more of the incident until she heard that the
diamonds were missing. The window of a small room opening out of this
corridor was found broken, and I find ample evidence that it was
broken from inside. A thief might have escaped that way, but it would
be a difficult task."

"Who first told you that Lady Leconbridge was wearing pearls when she
went down to dinner?" asked Quarles.

"Her maid."

"Lord Leconbridge did not mention this fact?"

"No; but later he corroborated the maid's story; as did also his wife
and his son."

"What is Lord Leconbridge's attitude?" asked Quarles.

"He is extremely irritated, rather at the annoyance caused to his wife
than at the loss of the jewels, I fancy."

"Were I Lady Leconbridge I should be something more than annoyed,"
Zena remarked.

"Ah! that's not the point, my dear," and the professor picked up an
evening paper. "At the end of a column of stuff dealing with this
robbery there is this paragraph: 'Before her marriage Lady Leconbridge
was Miss Helen Farrow, an actress, who was rapidly making a
reputation. Not long ago, it will be remembered, she played Lady
Teazle at a command performance of Sheridan's masterpiece. Her last
part was that of Mrs. Clare in Brickell's play, which was such a
success at the St. George's Theater, and her charming impersonation of
the heroine will be fresh in the public mind. Her marriage came as a
great surprise, both to the theatrical and social world.'

"A short paragraph," Quarles went on, "but with a sting in the tail of
it. People talked a great deal at the time of the marriage three years
ago. Leconbridge was called an old fool for going to the stage for a
second wife, and it was suggested that, if he must marry an actress,
he might have made a better choice. When this kind of thing is said
about a beautiful woman there are plenty of evil-minded persons to
make the worst of it. You see, Zena, there is some reason for Lord
Leconbridge's irritability."

"I do not believe there was the slightest foundation for the gossip,"
I said. "Lady Leconbridge is a most charming person."

"I know nothing about her," said Quarles, tapping the paper; "but I am
certain that this affair will revive the old gossip."

"I wonder why the duchess noticed the diamonds so particularly that
evening," said Zena.

"Probably because she had not seen them before," I answered. "Mr.
Lester told me they were seldom worn--suggested, indeed, that their
size and setting were so conspicuous as to make them rather vulgar."

"I did not know that famous family jewels could be considered vulgar,"
she returned; "but, if so, why was Lord Leconbridge so anxious that
his wife should wear them on this occasion?"

Quarles nodded and looked at me.

"A whim," I said; "hardening into a firm determination when his son
opposed him. Men are like that."

"Are father and son not on good terms, then?"

"It has been said that Lord Leconbridge worships his son," I returned.

"What age is Rupert Lester?" Zena asked.

"About twenty-five."

"And Lady Leconbridge?"

"Two or three years older."

"And Mr. Lester's support of Lady Leconbridge when she preferred the
pearls only made his father more determined that the diamonds should
be worn. I wonder----"

"Ah! that past gossip is having its effect upon your judgment," said
Quarles.

"You may put that idea out of your mind, Zena," I said. "Mr. Rupert
Lester is engaged to Miss Margery Dinneford. It is common knowledge
that old Dinneford had other views for his only daughter, but finally
allowed his opposition to be overruled. Margery Dinneford and Lady
Leconbridge are the greatest of friends."

"As a matter of fact, such an idea had not entered my mind," Zena
said. "I was wondering why Lord Leconbridge introduced Jacob Hartmann
to his wife."

"Hartmann is a very wealthy banker," I answered, "who has been
extremely useful to the Conservative Party. He is the first of his
family, so to speak, and is engaged in winning a big social position.
Since Lord Leconbridge is a very important member of the Conservative
Party, it is quite natural that such an introduction should take
place."

"Very interesting," said Quarles; "but are we really required to clear
Lady Leconbridge's character? Let us get back to the diamonds. They
were kept in the house, I presume?"

"In a safe in the wall in Lady Leconbridge's bedroom."

"The maid knew they were there?"

"Yes."

"It is a point to remember," said Quarles. "We may have to come back
to it if we find no other way out of the difficulty. The diamonds
were seldom worn, therefore we may assume that any question of suiting
the particular dress Lady Leconbridge had on that night is beside the
question. For some reason her husband wished her to wear the diamonds
on this occasion. Now, if he had reason to suppose that the jewels
were not in the safe, his determination is explained, also his
annoyance that his son should attempt to thwart him by agreeing with
Lady Leconbridge. However, the diamonds were forthcoming, and at a
certain moment the Duchess of Exmoor is able to say that Lady
Leconbridge was wearing them. Five minutes later they had disappeared.
You make a point of the fact that expert thieves were not at work that
night, Wigan. Do you imagine that an amateur could take the jewels
from the lady's neck without her knowing it?"

"You must not lay too much stress upon my point about the expert
thieves," I said. "Some gang we know nothing about may have been at
work. It certainly is possible to remove a necklace without the wearer
being aware of the fact, especially if her mind is fully occupied at
the time. In a few moments, no doubt, some movement of her body would
have caused Lady Leconbridge to discover the loss, but before this
happened her husband was beside her."

"With the banker," said Quarles. "It was at the moment that he brought
up Hartmann to present him to his wife that he noticed the diamonds
were missing. Is it not possible that Hartmann and the diamonds were
in some way connected in his mind?"

"Possible, of course, but----"

"Remember, Wigan, Lord Leconbridge did not mention the substitution of
the diamonds for the pearls to you--a curious omission. I have a
theory that the stones were to be a demonstration, a proof of
something, and that Lord Leconbridge's irritation arises from the fact
that he has not been able to give this proof."

"Proof of what?"

"Ah! that's the question, Wigan; and we have nothing at present to
help us to an answer."

"You don't suppose Hartmann was responsible for the jewels not being
there?"

"I have no fact to support such a theory."

"Do you suggest that Lady Leconbridge was as anxious that Hartmann
should not see the jewels as her husband was that he should?"

"I have not made such a suggestion. Since Leconbridge did not tell his
wife why he wanted her to wear the diamonds, he probably did not
prepare her for Hartmann's introduction. It is difficult to see what
time she would have to rob herself and conceal the spoil."

"Is Lord Leconbridge a poor man?" Zena asked.

"No," I answered; "although I dare say he has plenty of use for his
money."

"Perhaps he wanted to sell the diamonds."

"It is possible," said Quarles. "The stones were a means to some end.
Just hand me paper and a pencil, Wigan. My theory grows. Is Lady
Leconbridge still in town?"

"I believe she has gone to Grasslands, their seat in Worcestershire."

"Poor lady! The middle of the season, too. Read that, Wigan," and he
passed me the paper on which he had been scribbling. I read it aloud:

"If the person who took, or found, the diamond necklace lost on the
evening of Monday, the 14th inst., at the Duchess of Exmoor's house,
in Park Lane, will return the same to Lord Leconbridge, at 190 Hill
Street, the said person will save himself or herself all further
trouble."

"Get Lord Leconbridge's consent to insert that in the papers," said
Quarles. "If he presses you for a reason, you can say that an entirely
innocent person is likely to be saved from grave suspicion."

"If you think that Lady Leconbridge is----"

"I do not fancy I mention her name there," said Quarles sharply. "We
are after the truth; and, Wigan, when the diamonds are returned, tell
Lord Leconbridge not to mention the fact to anyone--anyone, mind,
until you have seen them. When you go to see them I want to go with
you. You must arrange that as best you can."

I had considerable difficulty in getting Lord Leconbridge to agree to
the insertion of this notice, and his reluctance certainly gave
support to part of the professor's theory. It looked as if he were
bent on concealing some point of importance.

However, he gave his consent, and the day following the appearance of
the advertisement I heard from him that the necklace had been
returned.

I had told him that when I came to see the stones it would be
necessary to bring a fellow officer with me, so there was no need to
explain Quarles's presence when we went to Hill Street.

The necklace had been packed in wadding in a small, flat, wooden box,
had come through the post, unregistered, and had been posted in
London. The writing on the brown paper covering was evidently
disguised, and might be either a man's or a woman's.

Quarles examined it with a lens, but made no comment.

"You did not expect to regain possession of the necklace so easily,
Lord Leconbridge," he said, looking at the stones.

"No."

"A curious robbery, and, since the jewels have been returned, a
curious reason for it exists, no doubt. I suppose you cannot give us
any helpful suggestion in that direction?"

"No."

"Of course, we have promised not to worry the person responsible any
further, but for our own satisfaction----" And then, after a pause, he
added: "I suppose it would be a satisfaction to you to get at the
exact truth?"

"I don't quite follow the drift of your question," said Leconbridge.

"You have the diamonds; the matter might be allowed to drop if you
have any reason to think that, by taking further steps, family affairs
might be disclosed which would cause scandal."

For a moment Leconbridge remained silent, his jaw very firmly set.

"I wish to know the exact truth," he said slowly, "but under no
circumstances must the person who has returned the diamonds suffer.
Our word is pledged."

"That is understood," Quarles said. "Let me ask one or two questions,
then--rather impertinent ones, but necessary. These stones have been
in your family a long while?"

"Three hundred years."

"They are not often worn, I believe?"

"Not often."

"And on this particular night you expressed a wish that they should be
worn?"

"I did."

"Quite natural at such an important reception," said Quarles, as
though the idea of there being a definite purpose behind the wish had
never entered his head. "Lady Leconbridge offered no objection, I
presume?"

"She preferred the pearls, but she changed them at my request."

"You were not in the habit of keeping the jewels at your banker's?"

"No; they were kept in a safe in my wife's room."

"Rather risky," said Quarles. "To an outsider it seems foolish to keep
such jewels constantly in the house, especially when they are so
seldom worn. Have you ever contemplated selling the diamonds?"

"Never."

"Has Lady Leconbridge at any time suggested that you should?"

"Certainly not!"

"You are prepared to swear that your wife wore this necklace at the
Duchess of Exmoor's reception?" said Quarles, holding up the jewels.

"I am."

"It only shows how risky it is to keep such valuables in the house.
These stones are not diamonds, but paste."

"What!"

Well might Lord Leconbridge start forward and look at the necklace. I
did the same myself.

"Very well executed, but paste," said Quarles.

"Do you suggest----"

"Pardon me, I have made no suggestion; I have merely stated a fact."

"It isn't true; it's absurd!"

"You may prove me right or wrong by showing the stones to an expert.
Why not show them to Jacob Hartmann?"

"Hartmann! Why to him?"

"Because I believe he knows more about precious stones than any man in
this country."

For the space of a minute Leconbridge and the professor stood looking
at each other in silence.

"I did not know that," said Leconbridge.

"I am a man of the world rather than a detective," said Quarles, his
manner suddenly changing, "and to some extent I can appreciate your
position. May I become a friendly adviser? Lock this necklace up, and
let no one know it has been returned. Take my word for it that the
stones are imitation, and leave the matter in my hands. I give you my
word that I believe, when the full explanation is forthcoming, you
will be perfectly satisfied with it. Will you trust me, Lord
Leconbridge?"

"Yes," came the firm answer, after a pause.

"It will be the work of a few hours, I hope," said Quarles, taking up
his hat; "and, of course, it is agreed that the person who returned
the jewels is not to suffer."

Quarles was thoughtful as we walked away from Hill Street, and well he
might be. He had promised a great deal, and how he was going to fulfil
that promise was beyond my comprehension.

"You expected to surprise Lord Leconbridge into an admission and were
disappointed?" I said.

"On the contrary, he told me rather more than I expected," was the
answer. "Evidently he had a purpose in wanting his wife to wear the
diamonds. It is fairly clear, I think, that he did not believe she
had parted with the necklace, therefore his purpose had to do with
some one who would be at the reception that night. Jacob Hartmann
seems to fit that part. It is wonderful, Wigan, what a lot of trouble
is caused when a person tells only half the truth."

"I can understand Lord Leconbridge's reticence," I said.

"Yes. As a fact, I wasn't thinking of Lord Leconbridge just at the
moment. My present difficulty is to decide which road to take. One is
easy, the other difficult. Let us get into this taxi. How true it is
that the longest way round is often the shortest road home."

He told the man to drive to Old Broad Street.

"A theory may lead to disaster, professor," I said.

"Ah! but we are going into the city to look for facts. I have noticed,
Wigan, that lately you have become strangely susceptible to beauty."

I wondered if he had guessed that I was in love with Zena.

"If you refer to Lady Leconbridge----"

"I don't. I speak in the abstract. Still, there exists a certain
amount of evidence against her, and your refusal to admit it has
warped your judgment in this case, I fancy. Do you know Jacob
Hartmann?"

"No."

"A very pleasant man, I am told. We are going to see him, so shall be
able to judge for ourselves. You must question; I am merely your
assistant. Your line is this: You have got Lord and Lady Leconbridge's
story, and you are not quite satisfied. You recognize that the affair
is a delicate one, but you are not going to wink at the compounding of
a felony to hush up a family scandal."

All the way to the city Quarles continued to coach me, giving me
certain points and questions which I was to lead up to gradually. I
understood why he had warned me against susceptibility to beauty, for
the whole trend of these questions was toward damning Lady
Leconbridge.

Mr. Hartmann received us in his private room, and, although reluctant
to talk about an affair which was no business of his, was willing to
give any help in his power. I repeated the story as Lord Leconbridge
had first told it to me, just the bare facts, and I dwelt upon the
delicacy of the affair.

"You did not actually see the necklace, I suppose?"

"No; and in the excitement I was not presented to Lady Leconbridge,"
Hartmann answered.

"Was she very much agitated?" I asked.

"She was curiously calm."

"I believe you know something about precious stones, Mr. Hartmann?"

"Gems are a hobby of mine," he said with a smile.

"I want your opinion. Do you think paste might deceive an expert?"

"At a casual glance--yes, if it were good paste."

"For instance," I said, "if Lady Leconbridge had been wearing the
necklace when you approached her would you have known had it been
paste?"

"I should," he answered, with a satisfied smile.

"But yours would have been only a casual glance. A man is more likely
to be interested in a woman's beauty than in the jewels she is
wearing. Besides, you would not expect Lady Leconbridge to be wearing
paste."

"I should have known," he said.

"You say Lady Leconbridge was not agitated by her loss?"

"I said she was curiously calm," he answered. "She was hiding her true
feelings, perhaps. At the moment the actress may have predominated.
You know, of course, that Lady Leconbridge was an actress before her
marriage?"

"Helen Farrow--yes. Wasn't there some gossip about her at the time of
her marriage?"

"There was."

"No truth in it, I suppose?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Evidently you think there was."

"So much smoke must have had some fire behind it, I am afraid," said
the banker. "You have hinted at the delicacy of this affair, so you
must ask me no more questions in that direction."

"Her past could hardly have any bearing on the loss of the diamonds,"
I said.

"I should have thought it might have," said Hartmann, "but then I am
not a detective."

Quarles shifted his position a little. From the moment he had sat down
he had been absorbed in the pattern of the carpet, apparently.

"You might be right, I think," I said. "One thing is certain, an
ordinary thief would have great difficulty in dealing with the
stones."

"I suppose so."

"He could only pass them to some one who could afford to bide his
time, receiving small payment for the risk he had run?"

"True."

"And it would be extremely awkward for the person in whose possession
the stones were found. That is the detective's point of view."

"Such a person might be able to prove that he was a legitimate
possessor."

"I was thinking of the Slade case," I answered. "Messrs. Bartrams, the
pawnbrokers, you know, came very badly out of that. They looked
uncommonly like receivers of property which they knew had been
stolen."

"Now I am out of my depth," said the banker, rising to bring the
interview to an end.

"Just one question," said Quarles, looking up suddenly. "Is the
necklace in one of your safes in the bank here?"

"Here! It is hardly a joking matter."

"It is not a joke, but curiosity," said Quarles. "I thought you would
keep the jewels at Messrs. Bartrams and not here at the bank. It is
rather awkward for you, Mr. Hartmann."

"What do you mean?"

"I am wondering how you will explain your possession of Lady
Leconbridge's stolen diamond necklace."

Hartmann stretched out his hand to the bell on his table.

"Ring if you want it to be known that Jacob Hartmann, the well-known
and much respected banker, is also Bartrams, who have a very bad name,
I can assure you."

"So you are here to trick me?" said Hartmann, thrusting his hands into
his pockets as though to prevent himself touching the bell.

"No; to warn you," Quarles answered. "I have not collected all the
details yet, but I think you know more of Miss Farrow than you have
admitted, and are inclined to be revengeful. You must not use the
weapon which chance has put into your hands."

"Must not?"

"It would be folly. The jewels will be applied for in due course, and
there the matter must end. A detrimental word concerning Lady
Leconbridge, and your position as sole owner of Bartrams would become
awkward, while your chance of getting a footing in the society you are
striving so hard to enter would be gone. Unfortunately for you, I know
too much. I am inclined to be generous."

"A poor argument," laughed Hartmann. "The interview is over."

"Generosity is at a discount," said Quarles. "By the first post
to-morrow Lord Leconbridge must receive from you an ample apology. You
must state emphatically that there is not a shadow of truth in the
hints you have dropped lately concerning his wife. You must also
confess that three years ago you were instrumental in spreading
utterly false reports about Helen Farrow. You may excuse yourself as
best pleases you."

"I shall send no apology."

"By the first post, please," said Quarles, "or by noon Scotland Yard
will be busy with the career of Mr. Jacob Hartmann. Good day to you."

It was not until we were in the empty room at Chelsea, Zena with us,
that the professor would discuss the case.

"The difficult way was the right one, Wigan," he said. "You are
convinced, I presume, that Hartmann has the diamonds?"

"Yes."

"Let me deal with the banker's part in the story first--some theory in
the solution, but with facts to support it. Since Leconbridge is an
important member of the Conservative Party, and Hartmann has for some
time supported the party, I asked myself why Hartmann had not met
Lady Leconbridge before. Lord Leconbridge was practically bound to
extend him hospitality; that he had not done so, in the only way
serviceable to the banker, pointed to the probability that Lady
Leconbridge would not know him. Why? Had he pestered her in her
theater days and, because she scorned him, had he been responsible for
the gossip three years ago? It was evident, I argued, that there was
some connection, in Lord Leconbridge's mind, between Hartmann and the
diamonds. The banker had done or said something to make Leconbridge
suspicious; had suggested possibly, among other things, that his wife
could not produce the diamonds were she asked to do so. The real
necklace had come into his hands, and he meant to take his revenge."

"But how did he get the jewels?" asked Zena.

"Let me clear up the banker first," said Quarles. "To-day, Wigan, he
gave himself away when he said he would know if Lady Leconbridge were
wearing paste. Of course he would know, because he had the real
stones. No doubt he would have pronounced them paste before the
assembled guests--a disclosure which might have proved disastrous to
Lady Leconbridge. Whether Hartmann knows the true story of the
necklace or not, I cannot say."

"What is the true story?" asked Zena.

"We may conjecture fairly confidently up to a certain point," said the
professor. "As Wigan told us the other day, Mr. Dinneford objected to
his daughter's engagement to Rupert Lester. Dinneford is a wealthy
man, fond of his money; Lester was a spendthrift, and in debt. Lord
Leconbridge came to the rescue and paid his debts, after a severe
interview with his son, no doubt. I will hazard a guess that the son
did not tell his father everything--sons, in these circumstances,
seldom do. The creditor left unpaid, some hireling of Hartmann's it
may be, began to press the young man--may have suggested, even, how
easily he could raise money on the diamonds, which were so seldom
worn."

"Do you mean that Lady Leconbridge helped him?" asked Zena.

"It may be," said Quarles. "Knowing how enraged her husband would be
with his son, she may have lent Lester the diamonds to pawn. The fact
that she appealed to him to support her in her choice of the pearls
lends weight to this view, but the housemaid's story of hearing an
angry woman's voice in the corridor leads me to think otherwise. I
fancy Lester must have heard his father speak to Hartmann at the
reception, and gathered that the diamonds were to be a proof of
something to the banker. Knowing Hartmann's knowledge of stones, he
went to Lady Leconbridge, took her into the corridor, where she learnt
for the first time that he had taken the real jewels, and that she was
wearing the imitation he had put in their place. She was angry,
refused to have anything to do with the deception, and then, partly to
help him, but chiefly to thwart her enemy, Hartmann, she consented to
lose the diamonds. Lester took the necklace, and, to give the idea
that a robbery had taken place, and the thief escaped, broke the
window of the small room. When he saw the advertisement he returned
the necklace, hoping the mystery would come to an end so far as the
outer world was concerned; and at the present time, I imagine, he is
either trying to raise money enough to redeem the jewels, or is
getting up his courage to confess to his father. He has probably
promised Lady Leconbridge that he will do one or the other before she
returns from Grasslands."

What Rupert Lester's confession meant to his father no one will ever
know probably. Practically, in every detail, he confirmed the
professor's theory, and possibly Quarles and I saw Lord Leconbridge
nearer the breaking point than anyone else.

Leconbridge showed us Hartmann's letter of apology.

"The snake's fangs are drawn," said Quarles. "Now you can let it be
known through the press that the necklace lost at the Duchess of
Exmoor's has been returned. It is the exact truth. The real diamonds
you may redeem as soon as you like, and I think this letter insures
that no lies will be told about your wife in future."

"But my son is----"

"He is your son, Lord Leconbridge, and our word is pledged not to make
the person who returned the necklace suffer."

Leconbridge held out his hand.

"May I give one other word of advice?" said Quarles. "This must have
been a terrible ordeal to Lady Leconbridge. If I were you I should go
to Grasslands to-day."

And the professor and I went out of the room, closing the door gently
behind us.



CHAPTER XI

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF DR. SMITH


Zena had been away visiting friends and on the very day of her return
I was obliged to leave London, much to my annoyance. The case came
into my hands only because the detective who would have done the work
in the ordinary way was ill. Had he been well, little might have been
heard of the affair; but through me it came under the notice of
Christopher Quarles, and it was he who suggested that there was a
mystery. Anyone who cares to turn up the files of the newspapers of
that date will find that the police methods, and some commercial
methods, too, came in for rather drastic criticism.

Dr. Richmond Smith had a house on the outskirts of Riversmouth, where
he looked after three or four weak-minded patients. One afternoon in
late September he went out, saying he would not be long. His wife was
able to fix the time at half-past four. By dinner time he had not
returned and she became alarmed. He was a man of methodical, even
eccentric, habits; he seldom went outside his own grounds--the fact
had caused people in the neighborhood to consider him peculiar--and
his wife had no reason to suppose he had gone outside the grounds on
this occasion. Dr. Smith's assistant, Patrick Evans, who was a male
attendant, not a medical man, said he searched the house and grounds,
expecting to find that the doctor had been taken suddenly ill; but
the doctor was nowhere to be found. Later in the evening Mrs. Smith
communicated with the police.

This man Evans was an intelligent fellow, and when I took up the case
I found him extremely useful. He wasn't too full of his own ideas, and
answered my questions definitely. So far as he knew, Dr. Smith had
nothing on his mind. He was not the kind of man to commit suicide.

"Having to deal constantly with weak-minded people might have an
effect upon him," I suggested.

"It might, of course," Evans answered; "but it hasn't had any effect
upon me, and, in a way, I should say the doctor was a more phlegmatic
person than I am. Nothing moved him very much."

"Had he enemies?"

"I have no reason to think so."

"No money worries?"

"He never said anything to suggest such a thing. Had there been any
lack of money, I should have expected to see a certain pinching
process in the house."

There was no sign of this. The arrangements for the patients were on
the side of luxury, and there was ample evidence of the kindest and
most considerate treatment. I judged that Mrs. Smith was a capable
manager. When I first saw her she had got over her excitement, and was
able to talk of her husband quite calmly. She admitted that he was
eccentric, and she believed an eccentric action had cost him his life.
She had some reason for this belief.

Dr. Smith had a small boat of five or six tons, old and shabby, but
perfectly seaworthy. This he kept moored in one of the small coves to
the east of Riversmouth. This boat had gone.

I examined these coves carefully. They were protected by a spur of
rock which ran out to sea. Many of them were only caves eaten out of
the cliffs, the depth of water in them varying considerably. At low
tide some of them were almost dry, while others, even at the greatest
ebb, still had deep water in them. They were great holes, in fact,
which the sea constantly replenished. That a boat had been moored in
one of them was evident, and there was some doubt at first whether it
had not been beached for the winter, as had been done in previous
years; but no one knew anything about it, and the boat was not to be
found.

Until quite the end of September the weather had been perfect; there
was no reason why the boat should not have been used with safety and
pleasure, and on the night of Dr. Smith's disappearance the sea was
perfectly calm. As a matter of fact, however, the doctor was never
known to use the boat. The Riversmouth people declared that they only
knew Smith by the occasional glimpse they had of him in his garden
when they passed; that they never met him either in the town or on the
way to the coves; and, indeed, the only person who had any knowledge
of him at all was Mr. Ferguson, a solicitor. On two occasions he had
seen him at his house on small matters of business, and once he had
met him in London to introduce him to an insurance company. Whether a
policy had been taken out or not he did not know, as Dr. Smith had
arranged to take the commission himself if he completed the policy.

Evans was not prepared to say that the doctor never used the boat. It
was true that he seldom went beyond the garden, but this was not to
say that he never did. People might have met him and not recognized
who he was. Once or twice during the summer Evans had been out in the
boat himself, at the doctor's suggestion. It was a good little boat,
and quite easy for one person to manage.

Mrs. Smith did not believe that her husband ever used the boat, and
had never understood why he kept it. He had bought it for practically
nothing, and she could only suppose that the fact of making a bargain
had appealed to him.

"Was he careless about money matters?" I asked.

"There was always plenty of money," she answered, "but I know very
little about his financial affairs. I think he was a little fearful
about the future, and some four years ago he talked about insuring his
life. Whether he did so or not, I cannot say."

A description of the missing man was circulated in the press; but we
could give no portrait; such a thing did not exist. The Riversmouth
people considered this publication futile. They were convinced that
the missing boat was proof enough that the doctor had disappeared,
and, while I searched for additional facts, I was inclined to agree
with them.

I was not long without a solid fact to deal with. I have said that it
was a calm night when the doctor disappeared, but since then the
weather had changed.

A southwesterly gale sent the great breakers foaming all along the
shore, until even the waters of the sheltered coves were troubled.
Between the east and the west cliffs was a stretch of shingle, and
here, early in the morning of the fourth day, some wreckage was cast
up by the swirling waters. There was no doubt that it was part of the
doctor's boat. A fisherman and Patrick Evans were able to identify it
even before a fragment bearing the name _Betty_ came ashore.

No body, however, was washed up, nor anything to suggest that the
doctor had been on his boat.

Certain inquiries necessitated my going to town next day, and I took
the opportunity of going to Chelsea, not really to see Quarles, but to
see Zena. I had no need of his help in the Riversmouth case, and, had
he not been so anxious to know what I had been doing during the last
few days, I should not have mentioned it.

As it was, I told him the story.

"It's a strange thing, Wigan, but I have had a presentiment for the
last forty-eight hours that a particularly difficult mystery was
coming to me. Have you any other case in hand or pending?"

"No."

"Then this may be the one."

"I don't think there is much mystery about it," I answered. "I expect
the body to come ashore presently."

"How about the insurance?" asked Quarles.

"The policy is in force with the Meteor Insurance Company for fifteen
thousand pounds. He has paid the premiums regularly, less commission."

"The premiums have been paid by check, I suppose?"

"Yes. The doctor had an account at the Capital and Provincial here in
London. It has never been a large account, but has been open for a
long while. The doctor did all his business by letter, and does not
appear to have been inside the bank for years."

"If he were in the boat, it is strange his body hasn't been washed up,
isn't it?" asked Zena.

"I think a body might take longer to come ashore than wreckage," I
answered. "Or it may have been caught in another current, and will be
thrown up farther along the coast."

Quarles nodded.

"Of course, there is the possibility that Dr. Smith is not dead," I
went on, "that he has disappeared intentionally, hoping to defraud the
insurance company. Were you thinking of that, Zena?"

"No; I was only wondering why the body had not been found."

"And you, professor?"

"Oh, I haven't developed a theory yet! If no body is found, I presume
the company will withhold the payment of the money for a time."

"Naturally, I didn't discuss that question with them," I returned. "I
imagine no very thorough search of the doctor's papers has yet been
made, for Mrs. Smith knew nothing definite about the insurance, and,
indeed, very little about her husband's affairs."

"Well, we must wait for the body," said the professor.

"You have the same opinion as I have, and expect it to come ashore."

"I have formed no opinion," he answered, "but, judging from your
account, I should think the body will be found presently. When it is I
should like to see it, Wigan. The case doesn't really interest me yet,
but my presentiment does. When I feel my particular corner of the web
of existence trembling I--but it is too late to get on my hobby
to-night. I'm tired, and I dare say you and Zena want to have a talk.
You're a lucky dog, Wigan, a very lucky dog."

He chuckled as he left the room, and Zena and I looked at each other
in astonishment. It was the first intimation he had given that he knew
our secret. He declared later that he had known it exactly as long as
we had, which was probably an exaggeration; but at any rate it made
things easier for us.

I returned to Riversmouth next day, and two days later the doctor's
body was found. As I had suggested to Zena, it had evidently been
caught by another current, and was discovered among the rocks in a
little bay about half a mile east of the coves. A lad saw it from the
top of the cliffs and gave information.

I telegraphed to Quarles at once, and he arrived in Riversmouth that
afternoon.

Mrs. Smith, Patrick Evans, and the solicitor, Ferguson, had already
identified the body when Quarles and I went to see it at the mortuary.

The professor spent a long time examining the dead man and his
clothing. He was particularly interested in the collar of his coat,
and in certain rents in the coat and trousers. I must confess he
seemed to be looking for a mystery where none existed. A silver watch
found in the dead man's pocket had the initials "R. S." on it, and a
signet ring on his finger also bore these initials. There could be no
doubt of the man's identity.

"What are you looking for?" I asked.

"Nothing----"

"That presentiment is misleading you."

"Maybe," said Quarles.

"There is no doubt that he was drowned, and there is not the slightest
indication that he was the victim of foul play before he was in the
water."

"I am inclined to agree with you."

"The only question is whether his death was the result of an accident
or whether he committed suicide."

"I shouldn't like to express an opinion," Quarles returned shortly.
"By the way, Wigan, who found the body?"

"A boy belonging to the town."

"I suppose we can get hold of him?"

"He is ready to talk to anyone about it."

"We'll go and find him," said Quarles. "I'm staying in Riversmouth
to-night; no, not with you. I don't want to be identified with the
case in any way. When is the inquest?"

"The day after to-morrow."

"Then to-morrow afternoon you might show me these coves."

"Certainly."

"Now for this boy."

The wind was blowing half a gale as we went through the town.

"It has been blowing like this ever since the night the doctor
disappeared, hasn't it?" asked Quarles.

"Worse than this part of the time. What's the theory, professor?"

"I'm wondering whether there is not some way of clearing up the
accident or suicide question."

We found the lad at his home, and Quarles listened attentively to his
graphic description of seeing the water playing with the corpse as it
lay caught on the rocks.

"Had you gone that way on purpose to see if it had come ashore?" asked
Quarles.

"I had and I hadn't. You don't know old Clay, I suppose. He's a
fisherman who thinks he knows everything, and he said it was
impossible for a body to be washed up on that side of the east cliff."

"And you knew better?"

"It wasn't that. There were several people standing round at the
time, and they laughed at old Clay for being so positive. He was
wrong, you see."

"Evidently. Do you remember who was there at the time?"

"I didn't notice. I was listening to what Clay was saying. I don't
suppose he'll talk so much after this."

Quarles made no comment on what the lad had said as we walked to the
end of the street together, and we parted after arranging our visit to
the coves on the following afternoon.

Next day about noon I walked up to see Mrs. Smith. The assistant,
Evans, came to me, bringing me her apologies. Unless it were anything
of the gravest importance, would I mind coming again?

"The fact is, she has been upset this morning," Evans went on. "A
gentleman unexpectedly turned up to see the doctor about a new patient
coming here. He had not heard of the doctor's tragic death, and Mrs.
Smith had to explain."

"Very trying for her," I said.

"And, to make it worse, the man was rather stupid," said Evans. "He
didn't seem to understand the position, nor why the doctor's death
should prevent arrangements being made. He appeared to have got it
into his head that we were unwilling to let him see how the house was
conducted. I was called in to the rescue, and I took him over the
house. If the weak-minded patient is a relative, I should think the
disease is hereditary."

"Why?"

"He could not understand any explanation," said Evans. "He even
selected a bedroom which happened to be mine, and would go into
details why it was exactly the room he desired. Of course, the house
is to be given up. I believe the relations of the three patients we
have already have been written to."

"I wanted to ask Mrs. Smith if the doctor's papers throw any light
upon his death."

"They do not. Mr. Ferguson was here nearly the whole of yesterday, and
he told me there was nothing to suggest that the doctor was in
difficulties, or that he contemplated taking his own life. His will
was found. He leaves everything to his wife, but Mr. Ferguson said
there was not much to leave beyond his life policy."

"That represents a large sum," I said.

"Does it? I'm glad for Mrs. Smith's sake. Mr. Ferguson didn't mention
the amount. I wish it had been large enough for the doctor to think of
leaving me a bit. At my age a man doesn't easily get another job."

In the afternoon I met Quarles, and we went to look at the coves. Even
at high water it was possible to walk round them by means of a fairly
wide ledge of rock. I showed him where the boat had been kept, pointed
out an oar and a boathook lying on the ledge, but he took only a
perfunctory interest, and spent much more time examining the adjoining
coves and the projecting spur of rock which ran out to sea. He
scrambled out to the end of this spur and seemed interested in the
waves breaking upon it; then he turned and surveyed the land, taking a
pair of glasses from his pocket to examine the general contour of the
coast more clearly.

"It would be under that point yonder where the body was found," he
said.

"Yes."

"It is possible to walk round the rocks to that point, I suppose?"

"Yes, but----"

"Oh, I am not going to do it," he answered. "I was only wondering why
old Clay was so certain that a body could not be washed ashore there.
Has anything further happened since we parted yesterday?"

I told him about Mrs. Smith's visitor.

"You didn't catch sight of him, Wigan?"

"He had gone before I arrived."

"I wonder if he knew anything about the doctor."

"Are you not yet satisfied that this is not the difficult case about
which you had a presentiment?" I asked.

"No," was the sharp answer as he replaced the glasses in his pocket.
"I'm going back to Chelsea to think about it. Found drowned; that will
be the verdict of the inquest to-morrow, but that won't prove
anything. Mrs. Smith is going to leave Riversmouth, you say?"

"So Evans told me."

"The moment she moves have her watched," said Quarles. "Put the best
man you have on to the job. It is likely to be a long business, and in
the meanwhile a hint might be given to the insurance company not to be
in too great a hurry to pay over the money."

"Would you have Patrick Evans watched, too?" I asked, a little sarcasm
in my tone, perhaps, for any suspicion of Mrs. Smith seemed to me
ridiculous.

"No. You can let him go where he likes; he is all right," and he
looked at me steadily for a moment.

I knew what was passing through his mind. Quite recently he had become
interested in a case which was in my hands. He had opposed my solution
of the difficulty with another which contradicted me at every point,
and we had almost quarreled about it, when a new fact came to light,
proving that he was altogether wrong. Even Christopher Quarles was not
infallible. Evidently he had noticed the sarcasm in my voice, and
would have me remember how often he had been right.

In the Riversmouth case, I argued, the professor was hampered by
circumstances. He had got it into his brain that he was called upon to
deal with a difficult problem, and very naturally he saw difficulties
where there were none. I knew from my own experience that for a
detective a preconceived idea is deadly. He can only see things from
one point of view. I was convinced this was Quarles's position, and
the straightforward evidence given at the inquest next day only
confirmed this conviction.

If doubt remained in anyone's mind as to the identity of the body, it
was settled beyond all question. A large sum of money being involved,
the insurance company sent down an official who had seen Dr. Smith
when he called about taking out a policy. He recognized the dead man
at once. Quarles was not even right as regards the verdict. The
doctor's evidence suggested that there were certain signs of a
struggle which one would not expect to find in a deliberate suicide,
but which were natural if a man tried to save himself from drowning.
This, and there being no reason why Dr. Smith should have taken his
own life, and the conviction of his wife and his assistant that he was
not the kind of man to do such a thing, so impressed the jury that
they returned a verdict of accidental death by drowning.

Here would have been an end of the case had not the insurance company
raised difficulties and made all sorts of excuses to delay the payment
of the money. Criticism was aroused; letters appeared in the papers.
The company stated that they were acting on the advice of their
solicitors, and then someone suggested that solicitors of such
standing as the firm mentioned would hardly persevere in such advice
unless the police authorities were behind them. So police methods were
criticized by all kinds of people anxious to rush into print, and
since I was the immediate cause of the trouble, acting on Christopher
Quarles's advice, I grew a little anxious.

Mrs. Smith had come to London and was staying at a boarding house in
Bloomsbury, a most injured woman by common consent. From the moment
she had left Riversmouth I had had her watched, and nothing had
happened. Why had I set a spy upon her movements? Because I had
listened to Quarles in that empty room at Chelsea.

Two days after the inquest I went to see the professor. He had read
the account in the papers.

"You see it was not 'Found drowned,'" I said.

"I thought it would be," he returned. "A momentary ray of light
illumined those twelve good men, and they agreed that it could not be
suicide."

"Of course it might have been an accident," I said, "but I don't think
the evidence justified the verdict."

"A strange case, Wigan, and very difficult because it seems so easy.
There are one or two curious points to begin with. Practically no one
in Riversmouth knew Dr. Smith. He seldom went outside his own grounds.
It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that he was a peculiar man. He
bought a boat because it happened to be a bargain, his wife thinks,
suggesting that spending his money in this way to no purpose was a
hobby with him; yet we hear nothing of any other bargains to support
the idea. Until we have evidence to the contrary, then, we may assume
that some idea was in his mind when he bought the boat. He didn't
forget all about its existence, remember, because twice during the
summer he sent his assistant out in it, and the assistant pronounces
it a very good boat and easy to manage. Now, what possessed Dr. Smith
to go for a sail on that particular day and at that time of the day?
He was certainly not an ardent yachtsman."

"Since he was peculiar, it is naturally difficult to account for his
actions," I said.

"A possible explanation," Quarles returned.

"He may always have had the idea of suicide at the back of his brain,"
said Zena. "It may have been in his mind when he bought the boat. If
one lives near the sea and contemplates suicide, it would be natural
to choose drowning."

"There is much in that argument," said the professor.

"It was in my mind when I said it was curious no body was washed up
with the wreckage," said Zena.

"That remark of yours set me thinking," Quarles went on. "I wondered,
Wigan, whether the doctor was on board the boat when she capsized, or
whatever it was that happened to her. Now my wonder is increased. The
waves had battered the boat to pieces, but when the body is found,
caught on the rocks, it is comparatively uninjured."

"Doubtless it had been carried farther out to sea," I said.

"But it had to come ashore, and the weather was stormy the whole time.
It could hardly have escaped altogether. There was something else to
raise doubt. There were rents in the coat, rents which were all much
alike, and a curious bulge in the collar of the coat. These things
gave me a definite theory. The doctor was not in the boat, nor had he
committed suicide."

"Are you suggesting murder?"

"I am."

"At the inquest the doctor distinctly said that there were no marks on
the body to suggest he had been the victim of foul play. He was
drowned; he was not killed first and put in the water afterward."

"I quite agree with the doctor's evidence," said Quarles, "but he is
not a detective. Let me reconstruct what happened. Dr. Smith came to
the cove either with a companion or to meet someone. Possibly the
doctor had a drink, let us say from a bottle in the boat's locker. I
do not press this point, but it would make the work easier. The
companion pushed the doctor into the water, and with a boathook--there
was one lying on the rocky ledge--he held him under until he drowned.
Once the hook was fixed into the collar of the coat it would be
comparatively easy. Afterward a piece of rock tied to the body would
keep it under water. I suggest this could be done with least danger in
the cove next to the one where the boat was kept. It is deeper,
darker, and would not be likely to receive so much attention when it
became known that the doctor was missing. So the body would be
securely hidden.

"Then the boat, as soon as it was dark enough, was towed out to the
end of the spur and scuttled. The water is shallow there, and as soon
as the wind got up it was battered to pieces and presently the
wreckage came ashore. Why shouldn't the body have been left to come
ashore too? you may ask. Old Clay is learned in the currents of this
part of the coast, and he will tell you there is no certainty what
will happen to wreckage. During a southwesterly gale it may be thrown
up on the shingle; at any other time it may be carried out to sea.

"At the time of the murder it was quite calm, and it was necessary
that the body should be found. The murderer was in no hurry, and at
first too many people went round to look at the coves for it to be
safe for him to take any steps. But he got his opportunity probably on
the night you spent in London when you first mentioned the case to me,
you remember. He got up the body from its hiding-place, and with the
boathook pulled it partly through the water and partly over the rocks,
and fixed it in the place where it was found, the one place where Clay
is certain wreckage never comes ashore."

"I think the theory is fanciful, professor."

"I grant that only the brain of a master criminal could conceive such
a crime. There was my difficulty. Where was this master criminal to be
found?"

"And what was his motive?" I said. "There is the insurance money, but
that comes to the wife. She could not have carried out such a
fantastic crime, nor do I believe for a moment that she instigated
it."

"On both points I am with you," said Quarles. "Now let us consider
another question--the identity of the dead man."

"Surely there is no question about that? The official from the
insurance office----"

"Exactly, Wigan; you hit the weak spot in my theory. You will not deny
that under certain conditions--criminal conditions--the wife, the
assistant, and even the solicitor, Ferguson, might agree to a wrong
identification; the insurance official is outside any such suspicion.
He declares the dead man to be Dr. Smith. Now, Wigan, look at that
notice," and he handed me a cutting from a six months old newspaper.
"You see it is the obituary notice of a Dr. London, who was one of the
doctors of the Meteor Insurance Company, and I have ascertained that
it was he who medically examined Dr. Smith in connection with the life
policy. He passed him as a first-class life. I do not fancy any doctor
would have passed as a first-class life such a man as was washed up by
the sea. Dr. London's death, therefore, removed a valuable witness."

"I cannot see that there is any question about the identity," I said.

"For a moment let us consider facts," said Quarles. "Mrs. Smith
declares that she knows nothing about her husband's affairs, but she
does mention a life policy, adding that she does not know whether it
is in force or not. Nothing very significant in that; but, curiously
enough, the solicitor, Ferguson, volunteers the statement that he
introduced Smith to an office, but does not know whether the policy
was taken out, because Dr. Smith insisted he should have the benefit
of the commission himself. Ferguson is in a small way of business; it
is evident that he did not do much work for Dr. Smith, and one wonders
why he met him in town and took all this trouble when he was to get
nothing out of it. The assistant, Evans, knows nothing about a life
policy; in fact, intelligent as he is, he gives little information
whatever. Yet there is no doubt that he was a person of some
consequence in the household. When the man came to see Dr. Smith, and
Mrs. Smith had to explain that her husband was dead, Evans was sent
for, and he told you that he had had a trying time with the old
gentleman."

"He did."

"I was the old fool," said Quarles.

"You?"

"I wanted to see the house and its inhabitants. Mrs. Smith was upset;
she was, in fact, a little afraid of me, Wigan. I was an unexpected
element in the affair. Patrick Evans is intelligent--very much so; but
he did not give you quite a correct version of what happened. He was
not sent for; he came into the room with Mrs. Smith and he did most of
the talking."

"Did you make any discovery in the house?"

"Only that Patrick Evans was an important member in it. Now the fact
that only these three people had identified the body fitted my theory
exactly; but when the insurance official did so, I was puzzled. Still,
my belief is this, that the person taken to the insurance company by
Ferguson was not the same person who afterward went to Dr. London to
be examined."

"The difficulties your theory gets over, professor, are enormous."

"Look at it this way," said Quarles. "Dr. Smith, who was a man of no
importance, and had done little in his profession, took a weak-minded
patient into his house. Where he lived at the time we do not know.
This patient may have had friends who died; possibly he was left on
the doctor's hands without adequate payment. We will suppose, further,
that this patient had peculiarities--a love of being important, of
being somebody, of being flattered, and above all of loving a secret
to an abnormal degree. Except to those who knew him well, he appeared
a normal individual under ordinary circumstances. We get to facts when
we say that Smith had schemes in his head. He contemplated insuring
his life for a large sum, and we will assume that he meant to reap
the benefit himself. How did he go to work? He took a house at
Riversmouth, where he was unknown, and in due course arrived there
with his wife, who was privy to his scheme, and his one patient."

"It was not until he had settled in Riversmouth that he had patients,"
I said. "That fact is established."

"Let me get to my point, Wigan. It was necessary that the doctor
should have an assistant, so we get Evans at Riversmouth. The doctor,
by flattery, by pandering to his love of secrecy, suggested to his
patient that he should call himself Dr. Smith. So the scheme was
floated. It must necessarily be a work of time, during which the
doctor must live. He took three other patients, who were well cared
for and looked after, chiefly by Evans. Through Ferguson, who I
suggest became a partner in the scheme, the insurance was effected.
When the time was ripe, Dr. London being dead, this patient, who had
come to be known as Dr. Smith by the few people who had caught sight
of him, was murdered, drowned, in the way I have suggested, by the
doctor. The wife remained to claim the money. So we watch her, and
through her we shall presently catch her husband."

"And the assistant?" I asked.

"I grant, Wigan, that the facts supporting my theory are not so strong
as I could wish; that is why we cannot act, why we must wait. We have
a master criminal to deal with in Mr. Smith, who remains in hiding for
a time. What he calls himself now I cannot say, but we know him as
Patrick Evans."

We had to wait a long time. Mrs. Smith even had the temerity to
commence legal proceedings against the insurance company, and then,
probably for the purpose of getting coached upon some difficult
point, she had a secret meeting with Evans in a restaurant in Soho.
Husband and wife and the solicitor Ferguson were arrested. Mrs. Smith
and Ferguson were brought to trial and sentenced as accessories before
the fact, but the doctor succeeded in committing suicide in his cell.



CHAPTER XII

THE AFFAIR OF THE STOLEN GOLD


"So you have your wish, Wigan," said the professor, one evening a few
weeks later, discussing a sensational case which was almost without
parallel in the history of London.

During the winter months a remarkable series of safe robberies had
taken place in the metropolis. In each case the safe had been blown
open in the most scientific manner, and neither the public nor the
police doubted that an exceptionally expert gang was at work; but it
was a gang of which Scotland Yard had no knowledge, and a rumor had
got about--how, I cannot say--that the thieves were Americans.
Moreover, it was so evident that the thieves knew where and when they
were likely to obtain the greatest haul that in one or two instances
grave suspicions had fallen upon employees of the firms robbed, but
there was not sufficient evidence to warrant arrest.

As it happened, none of these cases had come into my hands, and I had
told Christopher Quarles that I was disappointed. He suggested that I
might fail, as others had done, which was possible, even probable, but
somehow I had a lust to try my strength against this gang, and there
was a conviction at the back of my mind that I should succeed. Well, I
had got my chance, at any rate, and before I had finished my narrative
the professor was just as keen as I was.

At some time between the early closing on Saturday afternoon and nine
o'clock on Sunday morning the head office of the City, Suburban and
Provincial Bank, in Lombard Street, had been robbed of an immense sum
in gold and valuables. The full amount of the loss had not yet been
ascertained, but it was soon apparent that the first estimate was
below the mark. Banks, as is well known, always keep a very large sum
in gold upon the premises in case of emergency, and, naturally,
extreme precaution is taken for its safety. At the City, Suburban and
Provincial Bank this gold reserve, in sealed bags, containing definite
sums, was in an inner strong-room. The steel doors of both the outer
and inner rooms had been blown open with an explosive of immense
strength but presumably making little noise. Several bags of gold had
been taken from the inner safe, and in the outer safe two or three
deed boxes belonging to clients had been forced open, and jewels
stolen from them.

On Saturday the night porter was a man named Coulsdon, who had been in
the service of the bank for many years. It was his duty to visit every
part of the premises at intervals during the night, and to register
the time of each visit by the telltale clocks provided for the
purpose. He was armed with a revolver, and by means of an electric
bell in the entrance-hall could communicate, if necessary, with the
porter who lived on the premises.

His vigil ended at nine o'clock on the Sunday morning, when two clerks
arrived to stay in the bank all Sunday. This was a special duty,
especially paid for, and, as a general rule, each pair of clerks had
the duty for four Sundays, when they were relieved by another pair. It
was the custom for the resident porter to admit the clerks at a side
door of the bank, opening into the narrow street turning at right
angles to Lombard Street.

Thomas, the resident porter, did this as usual on Sunday, but no
Coulsdon made his appearance. On glancing at one of the clocks, it was
found that no visit was registered since two o'clock, and it was
evident that something was wrong. The clerks, with Thomas, the porter,
went at once to the strong-rooms, and found the ruined door and
Coulsdon lying, gagged and unconscious, in the outer safe. Urgent
messages were at once dispatched to one of the directors and one of
the three general managers, who were known to be in town.

"And to-day is Wednesday," said Quarles, with a lift of his eyebrows.
"The thieves have a long start. Now for details, Wigan."

"The porter, Coulsdon, did not regain consciousness for some hours," I
said. "He can tell us little. To reach the strong-rooms you have to
descend half a dozen steps, and as he reached the foot of these he
received a blow out of the darkness, whether from a weapon or a fist
only he cannot say, but the effect was stunning, and he cannot swear
what happened afterward. He thinks something was thrown over his head,
but he really remembers nothing from the time he was struck to the
time he woke up."

"An old servant of the bank, you say?"

"Yes, but only recently moved to London. He has been porter at the
Leamington branch. There is a disposition to suspect Coulsdon," I went
on; "and not without reason, seeing that he is a big, hefty man, who
might be expected to give a good account of himself. But there is a
curious complication. About a month ago a clerk named Frederick Ewing
was summarily dismissed. He had been in the bank some years, had
risen in the service, and was trusted. He was in the securities
department, and had considerable knowledge of the methods used with
regard to the strong-rooms. It was discovered through a sudden and
unexpected inspection that certain small sums had been taken from the
petty cash of this department. Only Ewing had access to this money,
and, as a matter of fact, he confessed. He had only borrowed the money
temporarily, he said, and pleaded earnestly that drastic measures
should not be resorted to. However, since the integrity of a bank
official must be above suspicion, he was dismissed at a moment's
notice. He was not prosecuted."

"What has become of him?" asked Quarles.

"I can find no trace of him at all. He had lodgings in Hammersmith. He
returned there after his dismissal, remained there until the next day,
and then went out, saying he would be away for a couple of nights. He
has not returned; nor has a search in his rooms disclosed any clew. He
appears to have had no friends and received hardly any letters."

Quarles nodded his head thoughtfully for a few moments.

"How did the thieves get into the bank?" he asked.

"Through a window at the top of the buildings, which gives on to the
roof," I answered. "One of the bars to this window was wrenched out,
and the roof outside shows that men have stood there to accomplish the
work. The bank is not an isolated building. A journey from its roof to
the roofs of the adjacent buildings is not difficult, and I am working
on the hypothesis that the thieves entered the adjacent block of
offices and crossed the roof. There are two facts which seem to
support this idea. Quite recently some repairs to the roof of the
building became necessary, and two men were engaged upon it for three
days. They may have been members of the gang, and it is curious they
have left the employment of the firm which had the work in hand. So
far I have failed to trace them. Again, an office in this building,
occupied by a man named Bowman, calling himself a mortgage broker, has
remained closed since Saturday. Bowman has not been there very long,
but until now has been regular in his attendance. I am inclined to
think he will not be seen there again."

"How much do these bags of gold weigh?" asked Zena thoughtfully.

"They are very heavy," I answered.

"But how was the gold got away?" said Zena.

"I can only surmise as to that," I said with a smile. "The street
which runs beside the bank is somewhat dimly lighted, and almost
opposite to the private door of the bank there is an archway leading
to a small yard and the premises of Thorne & Co., wine merchants. The
archway is closed by a gate. The locked gate would present small
difficulty to a gang which had carefully prepared their scheme, and
very likely a motor car was driven under this archway ready to take
the spoil away."

"It is possible, but I should want to find out something more about
Frederick Ewing," said Zena.

"I am inclined to think that is a suggestion worth consideration,"
said Quarles. "This is a case in which one looks for negatives to a
series of propositions. We may ask first, whether a gang, however
expert, could have carried out such a robbery, knowing when and where
to go and what to take, without some help from within. The answer
seems to be, no. Was that information obtained merely through
somebody's indiscretion? Hardly! Only a few people would be capable of
giving the necessary information. Coulsdon, the porter, might give it.
Did he? The fact that he was knocked insensible does not exonerate
him; that might be part of a prearranged plan. On the whole, however,
Ewing appears to be a more likely person. He was dishonest, that we
know; he was in a position to give the information; he would be
smarting under the disgrace of his dismissal; an offer of a
substantial payment would, therefore, be tempting; and, moreover, he
is not to be found."

"I think it very probable that information was obtained from Ewing," I
said. "But it may have been given without any criminal intention. In
my opinion the planning of the robbery must have begun before Ewing's
dismissal. Besides, though I have failed to trace Ewing, I do not find
anything against him beyond this matter of the petty cash. There are
no debts worth mentioning, and no entanglements of any kind
apparently."

"So we get no definite answer regarding him," said the professor; "we
must, so to speak, put him aside for further consideration. Let us get
back to the gang for a moment. That money would require a lot of
moving, Wigan. Assuming Coulsdon to be honest, the door of the
strong-room was intact at two o'clock on Sunday morning. The tell-tale
clock is a witness to this, and seven hours later the alarm was given.
I do not say that a motor car might not have been loaded as you
suggest and driven out of the city without attracting the notice of
the police, but if you ask me whether it is likely I must decidedly
answer in the negative."

"The fact remains that the gold was got away," I answered. "You cannot
alter that."

"Our methods sometimes clash, Wigan. You make a theory to fit the
facts; I get a theory first, and then look for facts to fit it. I
grant yours is the more orthodox method; still, what is considered
orthodox has sometimes been shown to be wrong; and as for facts--well,
if I choose to think that this gold has not left the city, how can you
convince me beyond all dispute that it has? You can't. You do not
know. For instance, it might be concealed in this man Bowman's office.
Say you are able to prove that it isn't, there are still many other
offices in the building where it might be hidden, ready to be got rid
of gradually. At this stage of the inquiry, at any rate, we are not
prepared to guarantee the honesty of all the firms in the block of
buildings adjoining the bank."

"So that is your theory?" I said, somewhat impressed by it, I admit.

"No, it isn't," said Quarles. "I was merely showing how unstable was
your central fact. No, my theory is quite different."

"May I hear what it is?"

"I agree with Zena. Continue to hunt for Frederick Ewing. Get a dozen
men on to the business, if you like. Instruct them to pick up the most
trivial items of information concerning him. Run his companions to
earth, find out all about his debts, however small they may be; that's
the line along which you are likely to pick up the clew. If you can
manage to put another detective on the job with you, I am a candidate
for the post. I should like to see the strong-rooms and the window,
and to ask a few questions."

My suggestion that Christopher Quarles should be associated with me in
the inquiry met with some opposition. The officials of the bank seemed
a little nervous of too much publicity. The fact of the robbery, quite
apart from the actual loss, had injured the bank considerably.
However, all objections were overruled.

When Quarles and I went to the bank, we were requested to walk in and
see Mr. Wickstead, who was one of the three general managers, and he
very graciously apologized to the professor for the difficulties which
had been raised.

"I need not tell you that this is a very serious business for us," he
said. "The loss, large as it is, constitutes the least part of the
damage. Clients, naturally enough, are anxious about the security of
their own property, and already some nervous persons have removed
their deed boxes."

"I can quite see the necessity of precaution," said Quarles. "You may
rely on my discretion. May I ask whether the full amount of the loss
has yet been ascertained?"

"Yes, I think we have now got to the bottom of it."

"The securities--deeds, bonds, and such-like--have they been tampered
with?"

"No."

"The gang must have possessed wonderful knowledge," said Quarles.

"Marvelous."

"May I take it, Mr. Wickstead, that there is no suspicion of collusion
with officials in the bank?"

"You may. Of course, you are aware that we had to dismiss a clerk
recently?"

"Yes, who cannot be found. I understand that he would be in a position
to give the necessary information if he chose to do so?"

"That is true. He was in a position of some importance."

"With regard to this gold reserve, how often is it examined?" asked
Quarles.

"At intervals, not regular intervals. The unexpected inspection is
generally considered the best. We have a staff of inspectors for this
purpose."

"My point is this," said Quarles; "might the robbery of this gold
extend over a period of time, several weeks, let us say--a bag taken
to-day, for instance, replaced by a dummy one, perhaps, and another
bag taken in three days' time, and so on?"

Mr. Wickstead smiled.

"This reserve is kept in an inner strong-room. Three keys are
necessary to open the door, and these three keys are kept by three
different persons. I have one. Three of us have to go together to open
that inner room."

"Ewing would never be there alone, then?"

"Certainly not," Wickstead answered. "For my part, I do not believe
Frederick Ewing had anything to do with the affair at all. The
circumstances of his dismissal naturally make him suspect, but I think
that offense was the beginning and end of his dishonesty."

"Yet he has disappeared," said Quarles, "and it looks as if he had
taken extreme care to leave no clew behind him."

"He would feel the disgrace keenly, I imagine, and would wish to
efface himself," the general manager returned.

"There was no question of prosecuting him, I suppose?"

"One of the directors suggested that course, but it was decided not to
do so."

"Could Ewing possibly have heard that a prosecution was contemplated?"
asked Quarles. "That would account for his complete disappearance."

"He certainly could not have heard of it. I am sorry for Ewing;
indeed, I tried to get the directors to reconsider their decision and
give him another chance. It is a terrible thing for a man to have to
face poverty and degradation like that. All I achieved was to get
laughed at for my sentimentality."

"Then you would still trust Ewing?"

"I would," Mr. Wickstead answered with deliberation.

Quarles and I then went to examine the strong-rooms, which were empty
now, the securities having been removed to other rooms.

A constable was on duty in the passage leading to them, and materials
lying about showed that the work of fitting new doors was to commence
at once. Quarles put on a particularly heavy pair of spectacles and
produced a high-power pocket lens as well. He examined the locks and
hinges of the ruined doors, and the various bolts which were thrown by
the action of the turning keys. He carefully scanned the marks and the
ruin which the explosion had made, and also the steel-bound holes into
which the bolts fitted when the doors were fastened. Both the inner
and the outer strong-rooms were examined with the same close scrutiny,
and I pointed out to him the spot where the porter, Coulsdon, had been
found, and where the rifled deed boxes had stood.

"Had the boxes been blown open?"

"No; forced open," I answered.

"I am not sure what explosive was used upon the doors,
Wigan--gelignite or some similar preparation, I suppose--but it was
powerful and peculiar in its action. How about finger-prints?"

"There were none on the doors. Either the explosion destroyed all
trace or the men wore gloves."

"I suppose men of an expert gang would take that precaution?"

"They would be likely to think of everything."

"Yes; but since the gang is entirely unknown at Scotland Yard, that
might be considered an unnecessary precaution, eh?"

He turned his attention to the ruined doors of the inner room again,
picking out minute pieces of débris from the lock with a pair of tiny
forceps, and examining the pieces under the lens.

"I cannot be certain what explosive was used, Wigan, and the light
here is bad. I will examine some of this dust at home," and he emptied
the contents of the palm of his hand into a small envelope, which he
folded up carefully and placed in an inner pocket.

Then he examined the floor of the outer room, and the passage without,
picking up several bits of rubbish, but finding nothing of interest.

From the strong-rooms we went to the top of the building and examined
the window and the roof. The window was at the end of a passage.

"Where do you suppose the thieves came from to get to this window?"
Quarles asked, after he had examined it and the roof outside.

"The window yonder belongs to the adjoining block of offices," I
said, pointing across the roofs. "It is quite easy to reach."

We started to go to it, but had only gone a little way when Quarles
stopped.

"You may find it easy, Wigan, but my legs are not so young as they
were, and climbing a roof is outside their business."

"At any rate, you can see that it is an easy journey," I said.

"Oh, yes, for young legs; and it is not likely this gang is composed
of old crooks. By the way, I think they must have got out of this
window as well as in at it. Look at this scratch on the sill--a boot
heel, I should say, and the position would mean that the man was
getting out. It is not certain that the stuff was not carried across
the roof, Wigan. I wonder whether Mr. Bowman has returned to his
office yet?"

"I have a man watching for him," I answered.

"It's a curious case," said Quarles as we went downstairs. "I suppose
you have inquired among the staff whether anyone knew Frederick Ewing
intimately, visited him at Hammersmith, knew his private friends,
hobbies, and so forth."

"Yes. Nobody appears to have known anything about him outside the
office."

"I should like to have a look at the desk he occupied. I suppose that
can be managed."

Permission was given us. The man who used it now got up to allow us to
examine it, and Quarles again used his lens, going over the desk
without and within.

"Was Mr. Ewing rather an untidy person?" he asked, turning to the
clerk.

"No, I don't think so. I hardly knew him."

"Kept himself to himself a good deal, eh?"

"Yes; I believe that was the general impression."

"A bit of a dreamer, Wigan, I should say."

And then the professor thanked the clerk, and we left the bank.

"We've got to find Frederick Ewing," said Quarles decidedly. "He is
the keystone to the mystery. Without definite knowledge concerning him
we are powerless, I fancy. Even if we make an arrest, even if we
arrest a gang of men, we could prove nothing. They are not likely to
be found carrying any of the missing jewels, and there is precious
little evidence to be got out of a sovereign. Months must elapse
before the jewels, one or two at a time, filter into the market, and
no banknotes or bonds which might further us with a clew have been
taken. Ewing must be found."

In this direction I was up against a blank wall. I gave instruction
for every shop, every public-house in the neighborhood of Ewing's
lodgings, to be visited, and practically there was no result. A
tobacconist fancied he recognized a customer from the description
given of him, but that was all. Ewing had once belonged to a rowing
club at Hammersmith, but had gone in for little serious practice. And
the day after Quarles and I had visited the bank I drew another blank.
Bowman, the mortgage broker, returned to his office. Not only was it
quite certain that none of the gold was hidden there, but he explained
his absence so thoroughly that it was impossible to suppose he had
anything to do with the affair.

Two or three days slipped by, days of strenuous work, which seemed
absolutely useless, and then I got a wire from Quarles asking me to
meet him at Chiswick Station that evening, which I did.

"I must apologize, Wigan," was his greeting. "It's my temperament, I
suppose, but I cannot help keeping a line of argument to myself until
I find that it really leads somewhere. This was my theory with regard
to Ewing. Since he did not make friends, either in the bank or out of
it, he was likely to be something of a dreamer. Such men usually are,
unless they have some definite hobby to employ them. We heard of no
such hobby in Ewing's case, and the fact that his rise in the bank had
been rapid suggested a competent and conscientious worker. But he was
a dreamer, all the same--a man looking forward to the future, and a
man who dreams in this way usually looks forward to some definite
point. In the case of a young man--and Ewing is not old--that point
may be a woman. So I examined Ewing's desk. He was given to scribbling
on it and smearing out the writing. There were a quantity of ink
smudges, but some pen marks remained, figures for the most part, and I
found a name--Ursula. That rejoiced me; it might have been Mary, and
for one Ursula there are--well, a great many Marys in the world. I
looked for a second name, dreading to find Smith. I found Ursula
Ewing, that was his dream, Wigan; but I also found Ursula Yerbury. If
he were in love with Ursula Yerbury, which seemed probable, and she
with him, which of course was not certain, then I argued that she must
live in easy distance from Hammersmith. If not, he would have
constantly received letters from her, and we know that he received
very few letters. Also, if they were in love, he might have deceived
her regarding his dismissal, or she would keep his secret and shield
him. Inquiry for her must therefore be made carefully, and I set Zena
to work--a girl looking for a girl friend she had lost sight of. It
proved easier than it might have been. We found there was a man named
Yerbury living in Fulham; he was the third of the name Zena had tried,
and he had a niece, Ursula, living in lodgings here in Chiswick. She
is a typist, and should be home by this time in the evening. She is
expecting an old school friend--that was the vague message Zena left
with her landlady--she will see us."

"I congratulate you, professor; it looks as if you had got on Ewing's
track."

"We shall know better in an hour's time," he answered. "No. 10 Old
Cedar Lane is the address. Pleasant flavor in some of these Chiswick
names."

There was nothing particularly striking about Ursula Yerbury, but her
personality grew upon one. The moment we entered her small but
comfortable sitting-room it was apparent to me that she was on her
guard. She had expected some old school friend, and had been tricked.
Quarles came to the point at once. To clear up the mystery of the
sensational robbery in the city, he wanted to find Frederick Ewing.
Miss Yerbury knew him, of course, and could no doubt supply the
information.

"You have had your journey in vain," she answered.

"That is a pity," Quarles said, and in short, terse sentences he told
her the history of the robbery, so far as we knew it, speaking of
Ewing's dishonesty in a cold, matter-of-fact way, and giving reasons
why Ewing should be suspected of helping a gang.

"Now, my dear young lady, I'm an eccentric," he went on. "One petty
theft does not make a criminal, and I do not believe Frederick Ewing
is a criminal. But do not mistake me; if he cannot be found he will
certainly be branded as one."

"I do not know where he is," she answered firmly, though her lips
quivered.

"Still, you may know enough to help me to clear his name," said
Quarles.

"You mean--but he told me himself."

"Ah, that is what I mean," said Quarles. "You can tell me something.
Take my word for it, you will be doing Ewing a service by telling me
what you know."

The professor looked exceedingly benevolent, and his tone was
persuasive. It was so necessary to obtain information that the means
were justified--one cannot be sentimental in detective work--yet I
pitied the woman.

"You know that Mr. Ewing was dismissed from the bank--and why?" she
said.

Quarles nodded.

"He did not tell me at first. He wrote to me, saying he had been sent
out of town on business. I had no suspicion that anything was wrong.
Some days later I received a telegram asking me to meet him near
Victoria. It was then he told me of his dismissal. He had supposed
that he would not be prosecuted, but the bank had, after all, decided
to make an example of him. He had gone away to hide himself. A friend
was helping him to get out of the country, and----"

"Who was the friend?" asked Quarles.

"Frederick would not say. He had promised not to tell anyone who he
was; indeed, he had promised not to hold any communication with
anyone. The latter promise he had broken by meeting me. We were--we
are engaged. I would not take back my freedom. He will write to me
presently, and then I shall join him wherever he is."

"That was before the great robbery of the bank," said Quarles.

"Days before," she answered.

"And you do not know where he is now?"

"No."

I had pitied her, now I could not help admiring her. Of course, the
story was a fabrication. She had met Quarles on his own ground, and
beaten him. She had seen through his persuasive manner, and in a few
words had entirely dissociated her lover from the robbery, and shown
the futility of attempting to find him. The professor did not let her
see his disappointment.

"Most useful information, Miss Yerbury," he said. "I am sure you will
not regret having told me the truth."

He was silent for a little while, as we went back to the station, and
then he said suddenly:

"A queer story, Wigan."

"Clever!" I answered.

"Extremely clever. We have a curious rogue to deal with, the motive
obscure. There's a very strange mental twist somewhere."

"And we're no nearer a solution of the problem," I said.

"Anyway, we'll visit the bank again to-morrow. Eleven o'clock, Wigan.
Until then I want to be alone. Good night!"

We could not see Mr. Wickstead at once when we went to the bank next
day, and although the general manager apologized for keeping us
waiting, he was evidently very busy, and wanted to be rid of us as
quickly as possible.

"I'm afraid you don't make much progress," he said. "My directors are
beginning to say that the publicity is worse than the loss."

"We go slowly," I answered; "but for the general safety publicity is
necessary in an affair of this kind."

"We will not detain you," said Quarles. "I can see we have come at an
inconvenient time. Just one question. Had the locks of the strong-room
doors been repaired recently?"

"No. They were in excellent order."

"It has not even been necessary to have new keys made?"

"No."

Quarles rose, and thanked him; then, as he reached the door, he
paused.

"Oh, it may interest you to know that we have got on the track of
Frederick Ewing," he said.

"Then there has been some progress. I am glad. Still, I am afraid
Ewing will not be able to throw much light on this affair. Where is
he?"

"Abroad," Quarles answered. "We expect to have definite information
this afternoon. It is often easier to find criminals when they go
abroad than when they remain hidden in England."

When we were outside the bank Quarles began to chuckle.

"It doesn't do to let these fellows think we are doing nothing, Wigan;
and, in a sense, we have got on Ewing's track. We have found the
woman. Isn't that always considered the great point?"

"This seems to be one of the exceptions which are supposed to prove
the rule," I answered.

"We'll get back to Chelsea. I daresay Zena can give us some lunch."

From that moment until the three of us retired to the empty room
after lunch Quarles would not talk about the case, but when we were in
the empty room he began at once.

"Zena from the first suggested that we must find Frederick Ewing,"
said Quarles; "and her intuition was right. We know--at least I think
we may take it as an established fact--that a very expert gang has
been at work in London during the past few months, and it was
reasonable to assume that this robbery was their work, with the help
of someone connected with the bank. Practically speaking, it would
have been impossible without inside and absolutely accurate
information. A process of elimination left Ewing as the likely person
to give this help. We need not go over all the difficulties the gang
would have to contend with; they were many, not the least being the
successful removal of the spoil; but I asked myself whether this gang
was not a sort of obsession with us, whether the robbery might not
have been a one-man job. You will remember I questioned the general
manager on the possibility of Ewing being alone in the strong-rooms,
and whether the gold might not have been removed by degrees. He
laughed at the idea, but ridicule never yet made me give up a theory.
I looked for something to support my theory, and I found many things.
The action of the explosive had been peculiar. The manner of the
damage was not quite what one would have expected from gelignite, or
some equally powerful preparation. Further, why was Coulsdon found in
the outer safe? It is reasonable to suppose that he was rendered
insensible before the explosion took place, or he might have heard it.
Why, then, should he be dragged into the safe? A gang would not have
troubled to do this, but, if the job were a one-man affair, the thief
might reasonably want to keep his eye upon the porter in case he
should recover consciousness. Now, to come back to the explosion, it
seemed to me that so far as the door of the inner strong-room was
concerned it had not been locked, at any rate not fully locked, when
the explosion took place. Was there any support to this theory to be
found? Yes. I will show you presently the débris I picked out of the
lock. It contains portions--small, but quite recognizable--of a key,
not polished, as would be the case if used constantly, but rough. This
suggested that duplicate keys had been made. That key, Wigan, I
believe, was in the lock when the explosion took place. It was blown
to pieces by the explosion, but the burglar must have discovered his
mistake, and gathered up the pieces, for I could discover nothing
either on the strong-room floor or in the passage without. I found
another support to my theory in the window on the roof. Someone had
got out as well as in--got out, Wigan, to hide, and got in again when
the moment for action had come."

"But----"

"I haven't finished yet," said Quarles, interrupting me. "Obviously
one man couldn't remove all that gold and get it away from the city
that night. The robber, with the duplicate keys he had in his
possession, could go to that strong-room when he liked; all he had to
do was to take the precaution that he was not seen. A very few visits
sufficed, no doubt; but on each occasion he brought away some spoil
with him, which he concealed, I imagine, somewhere in the bank, where
he could easily get at it. The robbery extended over a period of time,
that is my point, and whether dummy bags were substituted for those
taken, or a bag was gradually emptied, does not matter."

"But, my dear professor, your ingenious theory overlooks the fact
that, if it were true, there would be no use for the final
catastrophe--for attacking the porter and blowing up the strong-room."

"Ah! that brings me to the mental attitude of the thief. I think we
shall find that an inspection of those strong-rooms was imminent, and
the thief was anxious, first, to make a last addition to his store,
and, secondly, to suggest the work of a gang, and so minimize all risk
to himself. Besides----"

The professor paused. There was a knock at the door, and the servant
brought in a telegram. Quarles opened it and read it.

"Besides, one has to consider the mental twist a man may have," he
went on. "We shall probably find in this case that at the back of the
robbery was an awful dread of the future, of the helplessness and
poverty that might come into it, an abnormal morbidness which so
constantly drives men to strange actions."

"But how could Ewing manage to conceal himself in the bank, or get
into it even? Everybody knew him, everybody probably knew of his
dismissal."

"How about the window in the roof?" said Quarles, handing me the
telegram, and I read: "Left early this afternoon; returned home."

"That refers to the general manager, Mr. Wickstead," said Quarles.
"Probably he does not intend to remain at home, but we may catch him
there. I have a man watching him. I thought my statement that we had
traced Ewing would frighten him. He is the thief, Wigan. He is also
the friend Ewing spoke about to Ursula Yerbury. Don't you see the
cleverness? He helped Ewing out of the country, after frightening him
by saying that a prosecution had been decided upon; sent him somewhere
where he was not likely to hear of the robbery, and tried to throw
dust in our eyes by expressing pity for him and a belief in his
innocence."

"If you are right, what a villain!" I exclaimed.

"An abnormal dread of the future, Wigan; I think we shall find that is
at the bottom of it, and we shall probably find also that the whole of
the spoil is intact. The law, of course, cannot enter into these
curious mental attitudes. Come! I think we shall provide a sensation
for the world of finance."

The arrest of Mr. Wickstead when he was on the point of bolting, and
his subsequent confession, certainly made a sensation; and, as Quarles
had surmised, the whole of the money and the jewels were found
concealed in Mr. Wickstead's house.

The manner of the robbery was much as Quarles had imagined it, and
there is little doubt that Wickstead was in an abnormal mental
condition. But he was not mad, and was sentenced to a long term of
imprisonment.

It was a sad case altogether, the only bright spot in it being the
marriage of Ursula Yerbury to the man she had trusted, in spite of his
lapse from the path of rectitude.



CHAPTER XIII

THE WILL OF THE ECCENTRIC MR. FRISBY


I have said that, owing to Quarles's dislike of publicity, I was
constantly receiving praise which I did not merit; but in the curious
affair of Mr. Frisby's will, although I received substantial benefits,
the professor was obliged to put up with the eulogy. The case was
never in my hands professionally; indeed, strictly speaking, there was
no case for the police to deal with. All I really did was to use my
position to clear away difficulties and give Quarles a clear field for
his investigations. He declared that he went into the thing for the
sake of the reward which was offered, but it was undoubtedly the
intricacy of the problem which attracted him.

I will tell Mr. Frisby's history as a connected narrative at once;
but, of course, the theory was not complete when Quarles decided to
attempt the solution of the difficulty. We got the outline from
newspaper paragraphs and comments; but some of the details, such as
the tenor of Mr. Frisby's letter to his nephew, were only filled in
after we had taken up the case seriously.

James Frisby, a native of Boston, in Lincolnshire, was apparently a
very ordinary young man indeed. He was a clerk in the office of a
solicitor in the town, named Giles, and in his leisure hours was
inclined to consort with the most undesirable companions, and to be a
too frequent visitor to the public-house bars. Without his doing
anything very outrageous, the position of black sheep of his family
was assigned to him, and a too puritanical spirit, perhaps, had judged
him to be well on the downward path, when a girl named Edith Turner,
the daughter of a small but prosperous farmer at Spilsby, came into
his circle. According to all accounts, she was the sort of girl any
man might fall in love with; exactly what she saw in James Frisby was
not so apparent. However, there was undoubtedly mutual affection; but
the girl's family strongly objected to the friendship, and the girl
herself was not to be persuaded to act in opposition to her father's
wishes. Frisby pleaded, made all sorts of promises for the future,
and, when these proved of no avail, he threw up his situation and went
to Australia.

There was evidently more in him than people gave him credit for. Some
twenty-five years afterward he returned to Boston an exceedingly
wealthy man, and an eccentric one. He immediately entered into
negotiations to purchase the Towers, a large house some three miles
out of Boston on the Spilsby Road. It had stood empty a long time, and
he spent an immense amount of money upon alterations and in furnishing
it, giving no information to anyone concerning himself or his
intentions.

Twenty-five years had brought many changes. The old town nestling, and
dozing a little perhaps, under the great church with its high tower, a
landmark far across the fen country and out to sea, was much the same;
but a new generation of people lived in it. Frisby's friends had gone,
were dead or scattered about the world, and he had only one relation
living, a nephew, the son of an elder sister. Frisby Morton was in
business in London, was married and doing fairly well, and had so lost
touch with his native place that he heard nothing about his uncle's
return until James Frisby had settled at the Towers.

Five or six years after Frisby had left Boston, Edith Turner had
become Edith Oglethorpe, the wife of a farmer. There was nothing to
show that she had grieved very much for her first lover, no suggestion
that she had not been a happy wife and mother. Both she and her
husband were dead when Frisby returned, and their later years had been
clouded with misfortune. Bad harvests and ill-luck had eaten up their
savings, and they had been able to do very little for their only son.
They appear to have had many ambitions for him, all of which remained
unfulfilled.

James Frisby found the lad, then between seventeen and eighteen, in a
grocer's shop in Wide Bargate, one of the main thoroughfares of the
town, and at once proposed to adopt him. It was natural that Frisby
should be interested in the son of the woman he had loved; it was
natural, too, that the boy should jump at the prospect which opened
out to him, but it was curious how quickly these two came to love each
other. For Frisby probably there was in the son something of what he
had loved in the mother; and the lad, no doubt, saw in the man all
those good and lovable qualities which Frisby took no trouble to
exhibit to the world.

A tutor came to the Towers; in due course young Oglethorpe went to
Cambridge, and came home to be the constant companion of his adopted
father. Such a life would have been bad for most young men, but Edward
Oglethorpe appeared to be an exception to the rule. He had everybody's
good word, not because of his wealthy position, but for his own sake.
That he would come into all Frisby's money no one doubted.

There are few who are not attracted by wealth, and it was only natural
that Frisby Morton should take an early opportunity of making himself
known to his uncle. He was his only kith and kin; he might reasonably
hope to reap some advantage from his wealthy relative. Whether he
approached his uncle in too open a manner, or whether James Frisby had
something against his sister or brother-in-law, some injury which he
had nursed all these years and had not forgiven, was not known. The
one thing certain was that Frisby disliked his nephew and took some
trouble to make his adopted son dislike him too. Morton persistently
paid flying visits to the Towers, getting small welcome, and on one
occasion there was a quarrel, entirely of his uncle's making, Morton
declared. That there was some truth in this seemed probable, for
shortly afterward James Frisby wrote to him. It may be he considered
the letter a sort of apology. He said frankly that he did not like
him, and that he didn't want to have anything more to do with him.

"It isn't your fault, and it isn't mine. It just happens," he wrote.
"Still, I do realize that you are my nephew, I do understand that you
have some reason for thinking that you have a claim upon me. That I am
a rich man is my attraction for you. I know it; you need not scruple
to admit it. My money will all go to my adopted son, Edward
Oglethorpe; but, as I have said, you are my nephew, and the enclosed
check recognizes the relationship, and pays for it. Please understand
that it is all you will ever get."

The ungracious tone of the letter lost some of its sting by reason of
the largeness of the check, which was for ten thousand pounds.
Morton's credit was none too strong, so it suited his purpose to make
no secret of the gift. To one or two persons in Boston he showed Mr.
Frisby's letter, which suggested that he realized the finality of the
transaction, and seemed content to drop his uncle's acquaintance.
Whether he really gave up all hope of further advantage was another
matter.

James Frisby's death, which occurred about ten years after his return
to England, caused a sensation not only in Lincolnshire, but
throughout the country. When he was taken ill it was not thought that
anything serious was the matter with him, but a stroke followed, and
the doctor pronounced his condition to be grave. Oglethorpe
immediately telegraphed to Morton. Apparently he had not troubled
either to like or dislike him, and thought it only right that the
nephew should know of his uncle's condition. That Morton had received
ten thousand pounds he was aware, but he knew nothing of the letter
which accompanied the gift, or he might have hesitated to send for
him. Morton came to the Towers and stayed there. His uncle had lost
all power of speech, hardly seemed to recognize those about him, yet
it was evident that something troubled him. They thought it was the
light in the room. They darkened it, and, that having no effect, they
increased it, but failed to satisfy the old man, who worked his hands
backward and forward as if he were wringing them at the inability of
those by his bedside to comprehend him. In this manner James Frisby
passed out of life.

The first note of sensation came quickly. No will could be found, and
it was soon rumored that no will had been made. Mr. Giles, the chief
solicitor in Boston, son of the Giles in whose office Mr. Frisby had
started life, had no will in his possession, nor had any other
solicitor in the town; and the advertisements which appeared in the
London and provincial papers failed to produce any solicitor who had.
Diligent search in the house was without result. Not only was there no
will, but there was not even a scrap of paper of any kind to indicate
what the old man's wishes were. Mr. Giles, with an eye to business in
the future, made himself agreeable to Frisby Morton, who, if no will
were forthcoming, would come into the property as next of kin. The
general opinion was that no will had been made, but a servant at the
Towers declared that he and another servant had witnessed their
master's signature to some document soon after Edward Oglethorpe had
come there to live. The other witness had recently left the Towers,
but was easily found in Lincoln. That they had witnessed the signature
to a will neither of them could affirm; their master had not said what
the document was, but they had supposed it was his will. They both
agreed as to what the paper was like. Moreover, the man who had taken
another situation in Lincoln gave an item of information which added
to the sensation. Some little time after he had witnessed the
signature, he chanced to meet Mr. Frisby Morton in Boston, and in the
course of conversation had mentioned what he had done. He could not
say that Mr. Morton was particularly interested, but he asked several
questions about Mr. Frisby and young Mr. Oglethorpe. Gossip in a
provincial town, especially when it concerns an affair which everyone
is talking about, is apt to become a serious matter. It did in this
case. It only required someone to say that Morton had been told of a
will for someone else to suggest that he might know where the will
was at the present moment. This gossip found its way into Mr. Giles's
office, and the solicitor gave immediate advice to his client. Frisby
Morton was furious. Rumors of libel actions were in the air, not one
but many, and Morton declared that the foul insinuation could only
have come from one source, and expressed his conviction that
Oglethorpe was responsible for it. Oglethorpe, in his turn, was
indignant at being considered capable of such a thing, and put himself
into the hands of Messrs. Lacey, a London firm of solicitors. It was
by their advice that a reward of a thousand pounds was offered to
anyone who should find the will, or should give such information as
would lead to its discovery.

It was the publication of this reward which attracted Quarles's
attention.

"A thousand pounds, Wigan," he remarked. "Shall we go for it?"

I laughed; I thought he was joking.

"You are not busy, are you; you could give the time?" he queried.

"It is hardly in my line, is it?"

"Money is in everybody's line," he returned. "A thousand divided by
three is three hundred and thirty-three pounds six shillings and eight
pence. Zena shall go with us. Let's get Bradshaw."

Two days later we were in Boston, comfortably housed at an
old-fashioned hostelry called the Heron. Before leaving London I had
got the outline of the case, and a few hours in Boston enabled me to
fill in the details of the story as I have set it down here.

We had a small sitting-room at the Heron, as crammed full of furniture
as the room in Chelsea was empty.

"Who could really think in a room like this?" said Quarles.

"I don't know whether it's the fault of the room," I answered, "but I
have no ideas at all about this affair."

Zena laughed.

"Oh! there are plenty of ideas to be had; the most obvious is that Mr.
Frisby never made a will. That would be my verdict but for one fact:
we have an eccentric to deal with."

Quarles looked at her fixedly.

"The man who could send ten thousand pounds to his nephew in the way
he did would hardly be likely to leave any chance open of his ever
getting a penny more," Zena said. "If he hadn't made a will before, I
think he would have sat down and made it the moment after drawing that
check."

"The room doesn't affect her, Wigan," said the professor. "There's
something in the argument, but I shall have to get a lonely walk
before I can see anything clearly. An eccentric; yes, I think that is
a point to bear in mind."

Quarles had his walk before breakfast next day, and afterward he and I
called upon Mr. Giles. The solicitor was evidently not pleased to see
us. Since the reward had been offered by Edward Oglethorpe he looked
upon us as antagonists; but as the professor argued, in his most suave
manner, the finding of the will, if it existed, must be a satisfaction
to everybody, and might save immense trouble in the future. Possibly
Mr. Giles did not perceive the cynicism in this argument.

"There is no will," he said with conviction.

"Do you imagine the servants' statement to be a fabrication, then?"

"No, but a man wants his signature witnessed to other documents
besides a will. The fact that servants witnessed this document,
whatever it was, suggests a careless and haphazard way of doing
business, a tendency to leave things to the last moment. I believe Mr.
Frisby was that kind of man, and he would be quite likely to put off
making his will until it was too late."

"It is possible," said Quarles.

"Probable, sir, almost a certainty. If there is a will I shall be more
surprised than I have been at anything in my professional career."

"Naturally, your conviction greatly impresses me," said Quarles.

"Why, sir, his manner on his deathbed confirms my view," the solicitor
went on. "He was speechless, practically unconscious, yet undoubtedly
troubled about something. He had left his will too late, sir; that was
the trouble, depend upon it."

"Your client--I think you act for Mr. Morton--will profit by the
omission. I suppose there is no doubt whatever that, if a will were
found, he would not be mentioned in it. He had already received his
money, I understand."

"I have grave doubts on the subject," Giles answered. "If Mr. Frisby
had ever sat down to make a will, I am inclined to think he would have
repented of the way in which he had treated his nephew. Personally, if
a will exists, I should not be surprised to find my client residuary
legatee."

"Our friend Giles has missed his vocation, Wigan," said Quarles, as he
walked back to the Heron, where he had ordered a carriage to drive us
over to the Towers; "he should have turned his hand to writing
romances instead of writing obscure English in legal documents."

"I have no doubt he will do exceedingly well if no will is found," I
answered.

"No doubt. A mean man, Wigan, one who cannot help resenting the
success of others. He does not forget that James Frisby was once a
clerk in his father's office."

"Still, it seems to me there is a great deal of force in what he
says," I remarked.

"It would interest me more to know what he really thinks," Quarles
returned.

The Towers, exteriorly, was a barrack of a place, deriving its name
from two square excrescences at either end of its long façade. Within
it was a treasure house. Furniture, pictures, china, silver, books,
all were good. The taste displayed was cosmopolitan, even bizarre. Not
in a single room was there any attempt at uniformity, nor any fixed
plan of decoration. Jacobean furniture, Georgian, examples of
Sheraton, Heppelwhite, and other English worthies in the art, rubbed
shoulders with the work of the master makers of Italy and France, and
were crowded together with marvelous specimens from the East, from
India and Japan. The paintings were of many schools; the china, as a
private collection, would be hard to beat; much of the silver was
unique, and rare books shared shelf room with the modern productions
of the printers' and binders' arts.

"An eccentric, Wigan," said Quarles, glancing rapidly around him.
"Zena was right in emphasizing that fact. We must bear it in mind."

Before leaving town I had taken the precaution of seeing Messrs.
Lacey, the solicitors, and in consequence Edward Oglethorpe was
prepared for our visit and welcomed it. His appearance went to confirm
the reports we had heard of him. He was an upstanding, straightforward
young Englishman of the best type, one with whom it seemed impossible
to associate any kind of meanness.

The professor came to the point at once.

"May I take it, Mr. Oglethorpe, you have no reason to suspect that
Frisby Morton has had anything to do with the disappearance of this
will?"

"The idea never suggested itself to me until he accused me of making
such a statement, then----"

"Quite naturally a doubt was raised in your mind," said Quarles. "Did
it ever occur to you that Mr. Frisby had treated his nephew badly?"

"No; I knew he did not care for him, but I also knew he had given him
ten thousand pounds. Only since his death have I known of the letter
he sent with that check. I was, therefore, not aware that he intended
to leave him out of his will."

"You feel confident there was a will?"

"Mr. Frisby told me I was his heir, and I took it for granted there
was a will. I never saw, I do not think he actually told me he had
made it. As it is, of course, I naturally have doubts whether it ever
was made."

Quarles nodded.

"I cannot explain what my adopted father was to me," Oglethorpe went
on, "nor how keenly I feel his death. The question of his wealth never
troubled me. I was too happy and contented with him to give a thought
to what my future would be without him. You can understand how hateful
this business, this quarreling about his money, is to me."

"I can, I can," said Quarles, with ready sympathy, and with a few
dexterous questions he set Oglethorpe talking about the dead man.
Never surely has a man had his virtues treated more lovingly or his
faults so little remembered. To illustrate some reminiscence of his
adopted father, Oglethorpe led us from room to room to show us some
cabinet or picture. It seemed to me, as I looked round, that there
were a thousand places where a will might be securely hidden, and my
sympathy went out to this young fellow who stood to lose what there
could be no doubt he was intended to possess.

We came presently to the old man's sanctum. Quarles had not asked to
see it. He had followed Oglethorpe, content to listen to him, and only
asking a short question at intervals. He seemed to grow keener in this
room.

"Was he here a great deal?" the professor asked, looking round.

"He did all his business here, and if he wanted to talk to me
seriously we came in here. He always put down the check for my college
expenses on this table with, 'There, my dear boy, don't spend it
foolishly and don't get into debt'--always the same words. I can hear
them now. It is a comfort to me to remember that I gave him no anxiety
on that score."

"Of course this room has been searched very thoroughly?"

"The whole house has been searched from garret to cellar, but you are
at liberty to look where you please."

"It would be superfluous labor, no doubt," Quarles answered. "Tell me,
Mr. Oglethorpe, during this search were there any surprises? It seems
certain that if a will exists it must be in an altogether unexpected
place. Now were things generally found in unexpected places? For
example, there is a safe in that corner, I see; did you by any chance
find a pair of old slippers securely locked up in it?"

"There was nothing so eccentric as that," said Oglethorpe, "but
certainly we did come across unexpected things. Some old pipes were
locked in a cabinet in the drawing-room. We found a mass of worthless
papers in that safe, while some valuable documents were under some old
clothes at the bottom of a drawer in his bedroom. In that chest by the
window, which a burglar would find difficult to pick, he had locked
some fragments of a worthless china vase, and in this table drawer,
which has no lock at all, he kept the few letters he had received from
my mother. He looked upon them as one of the greatest treasures he
possessed, yet anyone might have opened the drawer and read the
letters. Yes, the dear old man was a little eccentric in that way."

"Kept his old clothes, useless papers, broken fragments. He did not
like throwing things away."

"That is true."

"I suppose this room is much as he left it," said Quarles, picking up
the waste-paper basket and turning over the papers in it.

"Yes; practically nothing has been moved or altered in the whole
house. I had everything put back exactly where it was found. You
notice that even the paper basket has not been emptied."

"May I open one or two drawers?" asked Quarles.

"You may search wherever you like," said Oglethorpe.

For a few minutes Quarles wandered round the room, opening a drawer
here, a cabinet there, and apparently looking at the contents in a
casual manner.

"I should like to see the room where Mr. Frisby died, if I may," he
said presently.

We went upstairs, and with a slow glance round it, Quarles seemed to
take in every item it contained and every corner that was in it. Here,
too, he opened several drawers.

"He died in the evening, I understand," said the professor.

"Just before midnight," Oglethorpe returned.

"He was unconscious, wasn't he?"

"He could not speak, but I do not think he was altogether unconscious.
I believe he knew me."

"It has been suggested that he appeared to have something on his
mind," said Quarles.

"I think it was the light that troubled him, but whether he wanted
more or less in the room we could not determine. We tried both without
being able to satisfy him."

"Reviewing the circumstances of those last few hours, was there
anything which might point to the cause of this trouble?"

"I do not think so," Oglethorpe answered. "He moved his hands
continuously, but not in the least as if he were anxious to write.
Such an idea did not occur to any of us. It was only afterward that we
wondered whether he was troubled about his will."

"Who first started that idea?"

"I think it was Morton, but I am not sure."

"How did Mr. Frisby move his hands?"

"Like this, very slowly and feebly."

Oglethorpe held his hands before him an inch or two apart, the
knuckles uppermost. The left hand he tilted slowly forward and
downward; the right upward and backward.

"You are quite sure that those were the exact movements?" said Quarles
after watching him closely.

"Quite sure."

"They were the same the whole time? He did not vary them?"

"Not once."

Quarles turned and walked out of the room, and we followed him. He
paused to examine a bronze figure standing on a pedestal on the
landing.

"Do you intend to begin your search at once?" Oglethorpe asked.

The professor did not answer.

"You can do so when you like," Oglethorpe went on.

"No," said Quarles with a start. He was not really examining the
bronze, he was lost in thought. "No, not at once. I must think it out
first. To-morrow, perhaps. I cannot say for certain."

It was by no means a hopeful answer, and I wondered if Quarles had
already made some discovery which entirely destroyed his theory. His
questions and his insistency on certain points told me that he had
some theory.

We had kept our carriage waiting.

"I'm going to walk, Wigan," said the professor. "I must be alone. That
road looks pretty flat and uninteresting; I shall go that way. It's
impossible to think in that room at the Heron. I may be some hours. By
the way, you might try and find out if Frisby Morton is in Boston. I
might want to see him."

I drove back to the Heron, and in the afternoon I made inquiries about
Morton. I found that a rumor had already been circulated in the town
that a great detective had come to the Towers, and there was some
excitement as to the reason of his visit. Mr. Giles must surely have
mentioned our call, I thought. I also heard that Frisby Morton had
left for London by the mid-day train, and I wondered if there was any
significance in the fact of his departure coinciding with Quarles's
arrival.

The professor did not return to the Heron until late. He was tired and
hungry, and would neither talk nor listen to me until he had made a
square meal.

"I found a splendid spot to think in, Wigan," he said, when the three
of us were in our sitting-room. "A disused gravel-pit. I shared it
with a frog for a time, but he worried me so I took him by the leg and
threw him out. I looked for him afterward with the intention of
throwing him in again. I could not find him, but as I was turning
away, would you believe it, he hopped in again of his own accord."

I was not in the mood for an Æsop fable, and with some impatience I
told him the results of my inquiries that afternoon.

"Gone, has he? Business called him to town, I presume?"

"Perhaps his solicitor wanted him to be out of reach of questions," I
suggested.

"Our friend Giles is quite capable of it," Quarles returned. "He has
not impressed me; but to return to my frog. There were quite a number
of places near that gravel-pit which would have suited him equally
well; but no, he would get back to the pit. I cannot say he gave me an
idea, but he helped to confirm one. The mind, be it frog's or man's,
is certain to be biased by circumstances and environment. If you
watched a frog through a period of time, apart from his actions
necessary to life and well-being, you would find him doing certain
other things, doing them to-day because he did them yesterday. He
acquires a habit. Men do the same. The more curious these actions are,
the more eccentric the individual becomes. You remember Zena warned us
that we had to do with an eccentric in this affair, and therefore was
inclined to believe in the existence of a will."

Zena nodded.

"She based her belief on one point. When Mr. Frisby gave his nephew
such a large sum of money, disliking him as he did, he would take
special care that he should never touch another penny. A strong
argument. Besides, there was the testimony of the two servants who had
witnessed their master's signature to some document. On the other side
was the outstanding fact that no will was forthcoming. Men do not put
off making their wills until too late. A man like Mr. Frisby, it might
reasonably be argued, when making his will, would go to a solicitor.
He had a very large fortune to dispose of; he wished to benefit a
person who had no legal claim on him; he was particularly anxious that
his nephew should not get anything more. His early years in a lawyer's
office would have shown him something of the pitfalls which await the
amateur in legal matters. Further, there was the obvious distress of
the dying man which might mean that he had neglected to make a will.
On the whole, perhaps, the weight of evidence was against the
existence of a will."

"He was eccentric," murmured Zena.

"And more than that--he had made a fortune," said Quarles. "Now, to
make money a man usually requires to be business-like; and since he
was smart enough to make money, he would probably be smart enough to
see that it was disposed of as he wished. Rich and eccentric. In his
case these two facts meant much. I came to the conclusion, Wigan, that
there was a will. If I was right three possibilities existed. It might
have been destroyed, it might have been stolen, or it was concealed in
some unexpected place. That Mr. Frisby could destroy it by mistake was
hardly worth consideration, but he might destroy it purposely either,
as Giles hinted, because he felt he had treated his nephew badly, or
because he was dissatisfied with his adopted son. There is nothing to
suggest that his feelings toward either of these persons had changed
in the least. I think Oglethorpe's conversation to-day bears that out,
Wigan."

"Certainly," I answered.

"It might have been stolen. Such a theft could only profit one
person--Frisby Morton, and incidentally, of course, Mr. Giles, since
he would be able to run up a handsome bill of costs and secure a
wealthy client. We may not like Mr. Giles, but I do not think he would
do anything illegal. What we hear of Frisby Morton does not tend to
prepossess us in his favor. Having worried his uncle a great deal, he
was quickly upon the scene when he heard that no will had been found.
He knew of the signing of a document from one of the witnesses. There
is a possibility that his conversation with the servant might have
given him an idea where the document was placed afterward. Further,
Mr. Morton was almost suspiciously ready to resent all gossip
concerning himself, and at once attributed it to Edward Oglethorpe. At
the same time, it must be remembered that he was Mr. Frisby's only
living relative, that, in a sense, young Oglethorpe was an
interloper, that at least he might expect something substantial from
his uncle. He got it, and appears not to have troubled his uncle any
more. When Mr. Frisby died, apparently intestate, it was only natural
he should come forward; in his peculiar position it was natural he
should resent the gossip. Any man would. Oglethorpe was nothing to
him. From his point of view he had got more right to the fortune than
Oglethorpe, and if chance was to give him his rights so much the
better."

"But he would probably have acted in the same way if he had stolen the
will," I said.

"True, but I have not ended my argument," said Quarles. "What
opportunity had he for stealing it? He was an unwelcome visitor at the
Towers, and does not appear to have stayed there during his uncle's
lifetime. An accomplice is possible, but not probable. However, we
cannot altogether dismiss Frisby Morton from our calculations, that is
why I asked you to find out whether he was in Boston, Wigan."

"And he left when you came, perhaps because you came."

"At the instigation of friend Giles?" asked Quarles.

"Possibly."

"Let us examine the third proposition before we apply for a warrant,"
said Quarles. "The will may have been hidden. If so, it must be in an
unexpected place, all the likely places having been looked into. We
must try and look into the mind of an eccentric. For a moment let us
take any ordinary man, and you will find that he exhibits certain
peculiarities. He is a creature of sequences, and he goes on repeating
himself. He will continue to wear the same kind of clothes, even
though the fashion changes. He will always put certain things into a
certain pocket. He will arrange his papers, not in the best way, but
in the way he has always arranged them. He can only write on a certain
kind of paper with a particular make of pen. Such habits as these are
acquired by quite an ordinary man, and no one thinks much about them.
Now take a man not quite so ordinary. He gets a mania for storing up
useless odds and ends, dislikes destroying anything, touches every
second post he passes in his walks, lives on one meal a day, perhaps,
or becomes a vegetarian. We say of this man that he is rather
eccentric. In short, we notice him because he exaggerates our own
peculiarities. Man repeats himself, that is the point. He does a thing
his way, not yours. Now take a really eccentric man--Mr. Frisby. We
may speak of specific peculiarities in his case, Wigan. He accumulated
useless papers and locked them up. He left valuable papers in an open
drawer. Broken fragments he carefully concealed in a chest; letters
which he treasured he left where anyone might find them. Even if he
did destroy a paper he did not tear it up, he twisted it up. Some men
invariably tear paper across and across, others crumple it into a
ball. Mr. Frisby twisted it. You remember my looking into the paper
basket. There were no torn pieces in it, nor crumpled; they were all
twisted. A small thing, but significant. I looked into several
drawers, you remember. In one was a duster, not just thrown in as you
would do, but twisted up. In his bedroom an old alpaca coat had been
thrown into a drawer, twisted up. Twisting was a habit of his. How it
was acquired I cannot say, but I should guess that in Australia the
act of twisting or turning something was a necessary part of his day's
work. I have known many sailors acquire the habit. This habit, I
argued, might help us in our search. The will was not under lock and
key, Mr. Frisby did not keep his valuables like that; unless the
search was incomplete it was not lying in an unlocked drawer. Was it
twisted up somewhere?"

"His hands," I said excitedly, moving my own as I had seen Oglethorpe
move his.

"Exactly, Wigan, twisting, and more. You are making the motion
correctly, I was careful to ascertain that. It is the action of
unscrewing. The will was screwed into something, and the dying man was
trying to make them understand that something had to be unscrewed."

"What is that something, dear?" asked Zena.

"They thought it was the light that troubled him," Quarles went on.
"We'll go to the Towers to-morrow, Wigan, and I think we shall find
some candelabrum, or, more likely, some old silver candlestick which
unscrews. If we do not, I think we shall have to get an interview with
Frisby Morton somehow. That is why I wanted to know if he were in
Boston. You see, there was a riddle to read, and a bare possibility
exists that Morton has read it already."

I thought this most unlikely, but the fact that Quarles had conceived
the possibility showed how exceedingly careful he was of details. The
will, a very short one, leaving everything to Edward Oglethorpe, was
found in an old silver candlestick, which stood, as a rule, on a table
in Mr. Frisby's dressing-room.

It was a heavy candlestick which unscrewed just below the cup which
held the candle, and the will was in the hollow stem.

Christopher Quarles insisted on dividing the reward into three parts.
Zena certainly had had a definite conviction about the affair from the
first, so perhaps earned her share; but I am very sure I did nothing
to deserve mine.



CHAPTER XIV

THE CASE OF THE MURDERED FINANCIER


The division of the thousand-pound reward made the three of us
inclined for frivolity and pleasure. I happened to have little to do,
so we made several excursions and visited many theaters. Relaxation is
good, but one may have too much of it; certainly it was not the best
training for the next case I was called upon to investigate.

I remember a man of many convictions once telling me that he rather
enjoyed picking oakum, a proof that one may become used to anything.
In the course of my career I have become accustomed to ghastly sights,
yet when I entered that room in Hampstead a feeling of nausea seized
me which had something of fear in it. Without attempting any close
observation, I went out and sent a line to Christopher Quarles, asking
him to come to me at once.

It was chiefly my desire for companionship in my investigations which
made me do so, I think; still, it may be that subconsciously I
realized that this was a case for the professor. The force of
contrast, too, may have had something to do with my attitude. Two
nights ago, the professor, Zena, and I had been to the opera, mainly
to see a Hungarian dancer who had recently caused a sensation. She was
a very beautiful woman, and her dancing, which was illustrative of
abstract ideas, was impressive, if bizarre. Quarles had pointed out a
man in a box who seemed literally absorbed in the performance, and
said he was a wealthy German named Seligmann, who was financially
interested in the opera season.

This morning Seligmann was dead, lying limply in a deep arm-chair in
the study of his home in Hampstead. Owing to some misunderstanding I
had arrived before the doctor who had been sent for, and, as I have
said, the sight nauseated me. Downward, through his neck, a stiletto
had been driven, a death-dealing blow delivered from behind,
apparently, but besides this his face and throat were torn as though
some great bird had attacked him with powerful talons. The description
is inadequate, perhaps, but it was too terrible a sight to enlarge
upon.

Quarles and the doctor arrived at the same time, and the three of us
entered the room together. After looking at the dead man for a few
moments, Quarles stood apart while the doctor made his examination,
but I noticed that his eyes were particularly alive behind his round
goggles.

The doctor was puzzled.

"The stiletto killed him," he said, slowly, looking at me, "but these
other wounds--the sudden explosion of some vessel might have caused
them, but there are no fragments. It almost looks as if the flesh had
been torn by a rake. He has been dead some hours."

"Yesterday was Sunday," I replied, "and this room was not opened."

"That accounts for the time," he said. "The work of a madman, perhaps.
Murder, undoubtedly."

When the doctor had gone, after he had superintended the removal of
the dead man to a small room off the hall, Quarles moved to the
writing-table.

"Glad you sent for me, Wigan. What has the wife to say? He was
married, I suppose? There is a feminine note about the house."

"Mrs. Seligmann is away," I answered, "and as yet I have only
interviewed the man who found his master. He was inclined to be
hysterical. Two women-servants had a day off yesterday, and are not
expected back until this morning."

"Dead many hours," said Quarles; "was probably lying here yesterday,
and we saw him on Saturday. I don't think he left the house before the
fall of the curtain."

"No, I think not."

"He couldn't have got here before midnight, then," said Quarles. "That
helps us to the time of the murder. It would be a late hour for a
visitor, and I see no card lying about."

"My dear professor, visitors of this sort do not leave their cards."

"Look at this pen on the blotting-pad, Wigan; it might have been just
put down--put down, not dropped from paralyzed fingers, nor from a
hand raised in self-defense. It was used, probably, to make these
meaningless lines and curves upon the pad. A man engaged in a serious
conversation might draw them as he talked. That chair there was pushed
back by the doctor, but it was close to the table, just where a
visitor would sit to talk to a man seated at the table. Now mark, the
dead man is found in an arm-chair removed from the table, yet his
cigar was put carefully into the ash tray, half smoked, you see, and
the ash not knocked off. Oh, yes, Mr. Seligmann had a visitor of whom
he had no fear, and who might reasonably have left a card."

"He would be careful not to leave it lying about after the murder," I
said.

"It wasn't a man, I fancy, but a woman. Had it been a man, the glasses
on the tray yonder would probably have been used. Besides, if
criminals were always as careful as you suggest, there are few
detectives who would be able to hunt them down. The very essence of
your profession is looking for mistakes."

Quarles turned to examine the French window.

"The window was found closed," I said, "but there is little
significance in that. If pulled to from the outside it fastens itself.

"And cannot be opened from the outside, I observe," said Quarles. "How
about the garden door, yonder?"

The house was a corner one. There was a small square of garden, and in
the high wall was a door, an exit into a side road.

"It was locked," I answered.

"So, unless the retreating person had a key, he would have to climb
the wall," the professor remarked. "That would require some agility."

"The person who committed so savage a murder would be likely to have
sufficient strength for that," I said.

"Quite so," Quarles returned thoughtfully, crossing to a
leather-covered sofa and looking at it carefully.

"Shall we interview the servants?" he said, after a pause.

The man who had found his master that morning was calmer now, and told
us a coherent story. Mr. Seligmann had arrived home just before
midnight on Saturday. They had expected him earlier in the evening. As
he entered the study, he said he was returning to Maidenhead as soon
as he had looked through his letters. He had a cottage on the river,
where he and Mrs. Seligmann had been for the past two or three weeks,
and the master had paid these flying visits to Hampstead more than
once. The man had gone to bed after taking in the tray with the
glasses. It was his custom to put two or three glasses on the tray.
There was no one with Mr. Seligmann. The study had not been opened on
Sunday. When he entered it this morning his master was dead in the
chair, and the man had immediately sent for the police. He had also
telegraphed to Mrs. Seligmann.

"Was it usual not to open the room when Mr. Seligmann was away?" I
asked.

"On Sundays, yes. Other days it would be opened."

"It wasn't necessary for you to sit up until your master had gone?"

"No. He constantly left his motor in the side road and went out
through the garden. He had a key of the door."

"Was the electric light on in the hall on Sunday morning?"

"No; but I didn't switch it off on Saturday. I left it because two of
the servants were finishing some work in the kitchen--hat trimming.
They were having the Sunday off. They ought to be back directly."

"You supposed the motor was waiting in the side road ready to take
your master to Maidenhead," said Quarles. "Would it be in charge of a
chauffeur?"

"Yes, sir."

"When your master left by the garden was it not thought advisable to
see that the study window was securely fastened? I see there are
shutters."

"Yes, but I have never seen them closed. The master often sat up late
after we had all gone to bed, and he never shut them. I suppose he
considered the high garden wall sufficient protection."

"Did anyone come to see your master that night?"

"No."

In this particular the man was wrong. When, a few minutes later, the
two women servants returned, one of them--the housemaid--said she had
answered a ring at the bell after the man servant had gone to bed. It
was a young lady. She gave no name, but said that Mr. Seligmann was
expecting her. This was true, for the master had had her shown in at
once.

"He told me not to wait. He would show her out himself."

"What was the lady like?" I asked.

"Rather tall and well dressed. She wore a veil, so I could not see her
face very clearly."

"Was she alone?" asked Quarles.

"Yes."

"Quite alone?" the professor insisted. "She didn't turn to speak to
anyone as she entered the house?"

"No."

"Did you switch off the light in the hall?"

"I may have done. I do not remember."

"So late a visitor surprised you, of course?"

"Only because the master was to be in the house so short a time. He
has a great deal to do with professional people, so we often get late
visitors--after the theaters are over. The mistress----"

She stopped. There was the soft purring of a motor at the front door,
and a moment later the sharp ring of a bell.

"That is the mistress," she said.

The door was opened, and a woman came in swiftly, young, beautiful,
and, even in her agitated movements, full of grace.

"Tell me! Tell me!" she said, turning toward Quarles and myself, as if
a man's strength were necessary to her just then. Quarles told her
with a gentleness which I had not often seen in him.

"I must see him," she said.

We tried to dissuade her, but she insisted, so we went with her. The
dead man lay on a sofa, a handkerchief over his face. His wife lifted
the covering herself and for a moment stood motionless. Then she
swayed and would have fallen had I not caught her. My touch seemed to
strengthen her, and, with a low cry, she rushed out of the room.

From the moment she had entered the house I had been trying to
remember where I had seen her before. Perhaps it was some involuntary
movement as she left the room which made me remember. She was the
famous Hungarian dancer we had seen on Saturday at the opera.

"Did you know she was Seligmann's wife, professor?"

"No," he answered, almost as if his ignorance annoyed him.

"I'm going back to Chelsea. He had a visitor, you see, Wigan, and a
woman. There is nothing more to say at present. I dare say you will be
able to see Mrs. Seligmann presently; ask her two things: Did she
expect her husband to join her at Maidenhead in the small hours of
Sunday morning? Does she know of any woman, a singer possibly, who has
been worrying her husband to get her an engagement?"

The importance of finding the woman who had visited Seligmann was
obvious, but it seemed impossible that a woman could have
accomplished so savage a murder. Seligmann was a powerful man and
would not prove an easy victim. Evidently the professor did not
believe her solely responsible by the precise way in which he had
asked the housemaid whether the woman was alone.

In the afternoon I saw Mrs. Seligmann for a few moments. She told me
that she and her husband had come to town together on Saturday. He had
arranged to go to Hampstead after the opera, not to keep any
particular appointment as far as she knew, and she had expected him to
come on to Maidenhead afterward. She had gone back there after the
opera. People constantly asked him to help them, but she could not
conceive who her husband's visitor that night was.

In answer to my question how her husband intended to get to
Maidenhead, she said by taxi. He often did so after sending her off in
the motor.

When I left her I visited the nearest cab rank, and had confirmation
of her statement. A driver told me he had taken Mr. Seligmann to
Maidenhead once or twice. Seligmann would stop and tell him if he were
on the rank at a certain time there would be a good job for him. He
has also been to the house to call for him sometimes. On Saturday he
had not seen him, nor could I find any other driver who had. Of
course, he might have engaged a taxi elsewhere, but, as it was not his
habit to do so, the presumption was that he had not intended to go to
Maidenhead that night.

Quarles had talked about criminals' mistakes, but I did not expect a
murderer to be so careless as to hire a cab in the immediate
neighborhood. I found, however, that three drivers had been engaged by
solitary women that night. The description of the first woman did not
correspond with the housemaid's, the second was not late enough to be
Seligmann's visitor, but the third seemed worth attention. She had
been driven to Chelsea, to a block of flats called River Mansions,
and, interviewing the hall-porter later in the afternoon, I found that
a Miss Wickham, who shared a flat there with a lady named Ross, had
come home early on Sunday morning. She might be a singer, but the man
thought she was an actress.

"Is she in now?" I asked.

"No; both ladies went away on Sunday morning. They often go either
Saturday or Sunday, and come back some time on Monday. You might find
them later in the evening. There's nothing wrong, is there?" he added,
as though the respectability of the Mansions was a matter of concern
to him.

"Why should you think so?"

"I'm old-fashioned, I suppose, and I expect to hear queer things about
theatrical folk; besides, there's a friend of Miss Wickham's been here
three times to-day, and he seemed worried at not finding her."

"Oh, you mean Mr. Rowton," I said, and the porter fell into the trap.

"No, I don't know him. This was Mr. Marsh--the Honorable Percival
Marsh."

"He's been, has he?" I said, keeping up the deception to allay the
man's suspicions. "I must try and see him."

"He lives in Jermyn Street, you know."

"Yes; I shall go there."

But I did not go to Jermyn Street at once; I went to see Quarles.

"I'm perplexed, Wigan," said the professor before I could utter a
word. "I've seen a man with a stiletto driven into his neck, yet, as
soon as I begin to think of the murderer, something seems to tell me
it wasn't murder."

I smiled at his foolishness and told him what I had done.

"What time to-day did this Mr. Marsh first go to River Mansions?"
Quarles asked when I had finished.

"The porter didn't say."

"They're not expensive flats, are they?"

"No."

"You've got on the trail cleverly, but you haven't proved it murder
yet," he said. "The first question Zena asked me was whether I was
certain the stiletto wasn't a hatpin."

"There might be a pair, and so it would be a clew," explained Zena.

"It was too much of a weapon for a hatpin," I said.

"Exactly my answer," said Quarles, "and Zena went and fetched that
thing lying on the writing-table. That came from Norway and is a
hatpin, though you might not think it."

It was indeed a fearsome looking weapon, and a deadly stroke might be
dealt with it.

"I'm perplexed, Wigan," the professor went on. "I'm a man in a wood
and can't find my way out. That is literal rather than a figure of
speech. In my endeavor to get out and look for a murderer I seem to
keep on hurting myself against the trunks and branches of trees, and
out of the darkness about me wild animals seem to roar with laughter
at my idea of murder. What do you make of it?"

"You have been reading some ancient mythology, dear," said Zena, "and
I expect the great god Pan has got on your nerves. Didn't a solemn
voice from the Ionian Sea proclaim him to be dead? Perhaps he isn't."

Quarles looked at her and nodded.

"Come out of the wood, professor," I said, "and we'll go and interview
Marsh in Jermyn Street."

Knowing him as I did, I had no doubt that he had formed a theory, and,
until he had found whether there were any facts to support it, was
pleased to play the fool. I was rather angry, but showing annoyance
served no useful purpose with him. He was keen enough when we found
Percival Marsh at home.

There are scores like Percival Marsh in London; no great harm in them,
certainly no great good; chiefly idlers, always spendthrifts, who may
end by settling down into decent citizens or may go completely to the
devil. It was quite evident he took us for duns when we entered, but
there was no mistaking his concern when I told him we had come to talk
about Miss Wickham.

"I called upon her this afternoon," I said. "She was not at home. You
will not be surprised, since I hear you have been there several times
to-day."

"Why did you call upon her?"

"To ask why she went to see Mr. Seligmann, of Hampstead, on Saturday
night."

"Did she go there?"

"Your manner tells me that you know she did, and your anxiety about
her to-day convinces me that you have seen some account of the
Hampstead tragedy."

"I do not know that she went there, but she knew Seligmann. I think
that accounts for my anxiety."

"And for some reason you think it within the bounds of possibility
that Miss Wickham may have attacked him. I may tell you that I do not
believe she is responsible for the murder."

He did not answer.

Quarles, who had been gazing round the room, apparently uninterested
in the conversation, turned suddenly.

"Evidently you don't agree with my friend, Mr. Marsh. You are not
quite sure that Miss Wickham is innocent. It is a painful subject. May
I ask if you are engaged to Miss Wickham?"

"Really, you----"

"I quite understand," said Quarles. "I am man of the world enough to
understand the desirability of keeping such things secret. Family
reasons. Her position and yours are so different. It would be awkward
if such an engagement were to mean the stoppage of supplies. The head
of the family has to be thought of. Peers do not always go to the
stage for their wives."

"Sir, you overstep the limits of our short acquaintance," said Marsh
with some dignity.

"Let me tell you, sir, that you treat the affair far too cavalierly.
It looks as if Mr. Seligmann had been killed by a man rather than by a
woman. You couldn't have read of the murder till this afternoon, yet
you went to River Mansions this morning."

"What are you attempting to suggest?" Marsh asked, his face pale,
either with fear or anger.

"I suggest that you know why Miss Wickham went to Mr. Seligmann and
that it was upon some matter which concerned yourself."

"Do you know Seligmann?" Marsh asked.

"I know a great deal about him."

"Then you know that he was a different man, according to his company.
You may only have seen the decent side of him, but he was a
blood-sucker of the worst description."

"So he had you in his money-lending hands, had he?"

"He had. Morally, I had paid my debt, but a legal quibble kept me in
his power, and he refused to give up certain papers of mine."

"Which you had no right to part with, I presume," said Quarles.

"Miss Wickham said she had some influence with Seligmann," Marsh went
on, taking no notice of the professor's remark, "and said she would
try and get the papers back."

"What price was she to pay for them?"

"Price!"

"You didn't expect Seligmann to give them up for nothing?"

"He wanted her to go on tour, I believe, instead of bringing her out
in town, as he had half promised to do."

"It was natural perhaps that your future wife should be willing to
make a sacrifice for your sake."

"It was hardly a sacrifice. She is not good enough for the London
stage. Besides, I am not engaged to her. Friendship is----"

"I warrant she considers herself engaged to you."

"I cannot help that."

"Of course not," said the professor, "but you were glad enough to get
the papers. May I look at the envelope they came in?"

"I destroyed it," Marsh replied to my utter astonishment.

"That is a pity. If Miss Wickham says she did not get those papers,
it will be awkward for you. Could you swear the writing on the
envelope was hers?"

"They could have come from no one else."

"And you think she murdered Seligmann to get them?"

"I am not to be trapped into admitting anything of the sort."

"As you will, Mr. Marsh. For my part, I expect this affair will open
Miss Wickham's eyes to your--your true worth."

And Quarles took up his hat and walked out of the room. I followed
him. In the street he took off his glasses and put them in his pocket.
They were the same he had worn that morning--a pair he did not often
use.

"The Honorable Percival Marsh is a worm," he remarked.

"Now for Miss Wickham," said I.

"There is no necessity to see her," said Quarles. "I dare say it is
true what this worm says. She went to offer her talent cheap to
Seligmann on condition that he would give her the papers. I can guess
what happened. They talked over the bargain, but Seligmann refused to
do what she wanted, and was able, probably, to show her that Marsh was
a worthless scoundrel. Unless something of this sort had happened she
would have written to Marsh to tell him she had been unsuccessful. I
have little doubt Seligmann treated her in a fatherly manner, and then
let her out through the garden, perhaps because he found the light in
the hall was out. He returned to find--I am not sure yet what it was
he found in his study, but nothing to alarm him, I am sure. To-morrow
we will go to Maidenhead, Wigan, and see what servants are at the
cottage."

At noon next day we were in Maidenhead.

There was a yard and coach house somewhat removed from the house, and
a chauffeur was cleaning a car. In the corner of the yard lay a large
dog of the boar-hound type, but I have never seen one quite like it
before.

"Is that dog savage?" Quarles asked.

"He doesn't like strangers, as a rule," said the man, "but he's ill."

"Foreign breed of dog, eh?" said Quarles, entering the yard.

"Came from Russia."

The professor looked puzzled. It was evident that something interfered
with his theory.

"Sorry to disturb you," he went on, "but we've come to ask a few
questions about the awful circumstances of your master's death."

"You're right, it is awful," said the man. "The mistress will go mad,
that's what she'll do. I shouldn't have been surprised if she'd
chucked herself out of the car as we came down this morning."

"She has returned to the cottage, then? I suppose it was you who drove
her up yesterday?"

"Yes, and on Saturday I drove them both up as far as Colnbrook, and
then something went wrong with the car. They had to go on by train."

"How did she arrive home on Sunday morning, then?"

"In a taxi."

"And what did she do on Sunday?"

"Had out the punt and went up to Boulter's, where she would be certain
to meet a lot of friends. I dare say you know the mistress is a famous
dancer. That kind of people are a bit unconventional."

"Do you happen to know the Honorable Percival Marsh?" asked Quarles.

"Yes. He's been here, but not lately. The mistress lunches with him in
town sometimes. She seems to think more of him than I do. There's
nothing in it. I've heard her laugh at him with the master."

"Is that the only dog about the place?" said Quarles.

"Yes. He's a pet; usually goes up to the opera with the mistress. He
went on Saturday, and came back like that on Sunday. He snapped at her
in a frightened way when she came in here in the morning and got a
hiding for it. I was afraid he'd go for her."

Quarles gave a short exclamation underneath his breath, and then he
said in rather an agitated way: "Well go in and see Mrs. Seligmann,
Wigan." And as we left the yard he went on: "You must make the servant
show us in to her mistress without announcing us. We must take Mrs.
Seligmann unawares."

The servant proved difficult to persuade, and I had to explain who I
was before she yielded. Mrs. Seligmann sprang from the sofa as we
entered. She looked wild, almost mad, as the chauffeur had said, but
she recognized us and forced herself to welcome us.

"What are you here for?" she said, and I started. There was the
suggestion of a snarl in her voice.

"We believe your husband was murdered by Percival Marsh," said Quarles
quietly.

"It's a lie!" she shrieked.

"How comes it, then, that he has those papers which were in your
husband's possession?"

In a moment she had hurled herself upon the professor, and had snapped
at the hand which he threw out to protect himself. Her strength was
awful, and all the time we were struggling with her she fought with
her nails and teeth, and growled like an infuriated animal. Her
clothes were partly torn from her in the struggle, and--but it was too
ghastly to enlarge upon. She was an animal in the form of a beautiful
woman. The house was quickly roused, and we had to have the
chauffeur's help before we could bind her securely. Then I telephoned
to Maidenhead for the police.

"I thought a dog had helped, Wigan; that was my theory," said Quarles
as we went back to town. "I noted that a dog had trodden on the
polished skirting near the study sofa. Miss Wickham might have had a
dog, that is why I questioned the housemaid so closely to make sure
she entered the house quite alone. When we were brought in contact
with Marsh I suspected Mrs. Seligmann. Those glasses I wear sometimes
are curious, acting like opera-glasses, and they enabled me to see a
portrait of Mrs. Seligmann standing back on a corner table, and,
moreover, that it was signed. Marsh evidently knew her well; was in
love with her, perhaps, and she with him. My saying that he had first
been to River Mansions in the morning was guesswork, but by his not
denying it, the fact was established that the papers must have come
into his possession, or why should he have gone there? He must have
known that Miss Wickham usually went away on Saturday or Sunday and
did not return till late on Monday. I argued that Mrs. Seligmann might
have sent them, and that Marsh suspected this, hence his visit to Miss
Wickham to make certain. It may be true that he did not know she was
going to Seligmann on Saturday night, and if he heard from the porter
that she had left town on Saturday afternoon he would know that the
papers could not have come from her. He would hear from the porter
that she had returned in the small hours of Sunday morning, and when,
later in the day, he read of the murder he would not know what to
think. It is also possible, Wigan, that Seligmann expected his wife to
call for him that night. That their motor had broken down on the way
up to town makes it even probable. I went to Maidenhead to see if Mrs.
Seligmann had a dog, a savage brute who would attack at her command,
savage but small. The great brute in the yard did not fit my theory.
God knows I didn't suspect the real truth. Strange that I should have
felt that I was in a forest, stranger still that Zena should speak of
Pan. I don't explain, Wigan, I can't, but it has happened--a return of
the human to wild and awful atavism. She meant to kill, to rid herself
of the man who was in her way. The human in her used the stiletto or
hatpin, the animal in her used claws. She will be called mad, and so
she is in one sense, but not in another; nor was it murder in the true
sense of the word. The wild wolf does not murder; he kills because he
must. Even the dog recognized an enemy of whom he was afraid. The
beast was not ill, but cowed, and snapped at her as you heard the
chauffeur say. Had she had her way with me to-day, I should have
looked like poor Seligmann."

Arriving in town I found that Miss Wickham had communicated with the
police and had given an account of her visit to Hampstead, which
closely corresponded with Quarles's idea. She had gone at that hour
because she was anxious on Marsh's account, and it was the only time
Seligmann could see her unless she waited another week. He was very
kind, and had told her that Marsh was a scoundrel. He was attempting
to make love to his wife, he declared, who laughed at him, and was
quite in agreement with her husband when he said he would presently
punish him by using the papers he held. He was expecting his wife to
call for him that night in a taxi. She came, and killed him.

I am thankful to say that a fortnight after her arrest Mrs. Seligmann
died.



CHAPTER XV

THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF THE FLORENTINE CHEST


Only the other day, in a turning off Finsbury Pavement, there was
demolished one of those anachronisms which used to be met with more
frequently in London, an old house sandwiched in between immense
blocks of buildings, a relic of the past holding its own against the
commercial necessities and rush of modern civilization. It was
connected with a very strange case Quarles and I had to deal with not
long after the Seligmann affair.

The house looked absurdly small in the midst of its surroundings, but
had once been a desirable residence, probably standing in its own
gardens. Now it was almost flush with the street, dingy to look at,
yet substantial. The door, set back in a porch, had two windows on
either side of it, and there were four windows in the story above it.
A brass plate on the door had engraved upon it "Mr. Portman," and it
would appear that the bare fact of such a gentleman's existence was
considered sufficient information to give to the world, since there
was nothing to show what was his calling in life, nor what hours he
was prepared to transact business.

As a matter of fact, he not only did his business in the old house,
but lived there.

The room on the right of the hall was the living room. On the left was
a small apartment, with windows of frosted glass, which was occupied
during certain hours of the day by his only clerk, a cadaverous and
unintellectual looking youth, whose chief work in life seemed to be
the cutting of his initials into various parts of the cheap furniture
which the room contained. Behind this office, but not connected with
it, was Mr. Portman's business room, to which no one penetrated unless
conducted thither by the cadaverous youth. Behind the living room,
down a passage, was the kitchen, where Mrs. Eccles, the housekeeper,
passed her days. A girl occasionally came in to help her, otherwise
she was solely responsible for her master's comfort.

One November afternoon Mr. Portman returned to his house shortly after
four o'clock. He stood in the doorway of the small room for a few
moments, giving instructions to his clerk, and then went to his own
room, closing the door after him. A little later Mrs. Eccles took him
some tea on a tray, which she did every afternoon when he was at home.
He talked to her for some minutes about a friend who was coming to
dinner with him on the following evening, giving her such particular
orders that he evidently wished to entertain this friend particularly
well. Soon after five Mrs. Eccles returned to fetch the tray. The door
was locked then, and Mr. Portman called out to her that he was busy,
but was going out shortly, when she could have the tray.

It was nearly six when she went to the room again. Mr. Portman had
gone out, but evidently did not expect to be long, as he had left the
gas burning, only turning it low. She had not heard him go, but the
clerk said Mr. Portman had come out of his room at a quarter to six,
had paused in the passage outside to say, "I shall not be long, but
you needn't wait, good night," and had then gone out, closing the
front door quietly behind him.

He did not return that night. For five days Mrs. Eccles waited, and
then, growing alarmed, gave information to the police.

These were the bare facts of the case when it came into my hands, but
I was told that my investigations might possibly throw some light on
two or three cases which had puzzled the authorities in recent years.

Mr. Portman was a money-lender, and had so long called himself Portman
for business purposes that possibly he had almost forgotten his real
name himself. Since for years he had transacted his business
unmolested, it was probable that the evil reports which had been
circulated concerning him from time to time were grossly exaggerated;
but the fact remained that the police authorities had taken
considerable trouble to collect items concerning Portman's career, and
had kept an eye upon him. Complaints about him had reached them, but
those who borrow money are easily critical of those who lend, and
there had never been sufficient warrant for taking any action. If, as
happened at intervals, Portman had to appear in the witness-box, he
came through the ordeal fairly well. He might show that he was bent on
getting his pound of flesh, but he was always careful to have the law
on his side. He was legally honest--that was his attitude; he could
not afford to be generous when a large percentage of his clients would
certainly cheat him if they had the chance.

Portman's business room at the back of the house was large, but dark
and depressing, its two windows, which were heavily barred, looking on
to the blank wall of a warehouse. A large desk and a safe gave it a
business aspect, but the room was crowded with costly furniture which
fancy might suppose had once belonged to some unfortunate debtor who
had been unable to satisfy Mr. Portman's demands. Some good pictures
hung upon the walls, and in a recess opposite the door stood an old
chest heavily clamped with iron. The key, which might have hung at the
waist of a medieval jailer, so huge was it, was in the lock, which was
evidently out of order. When I turned the key the lid would not open.
Looking through the drawers in the desk, I found several letters which
showed that Mr. Portman's business was often with well-known
people--men one would not expect to find associated with him in any
way--and the sums involved were often so large that only a rich man
could deal with them.

Mrs. Eccles answered my questions without any hesitation. Whatever the
world might think of Mr. Portman, she appeared to have a genuine
affection for him. She had noticed no change in him recently; he had
appeared to her to be in his usual health and spirits.

"When you went for the tray and found the door locked, did you think
he had anyone with him?" I asked.

"I didn't hear anyone, but I can't say I listened. It was not the
first time I had found the door locked and been told to go back
presently for the tray."

"A friend was to dine with him on the following night. Did the friend
come?"

"No."

"What was his name?"

"Mr. Portman did not mention it."

"Did you prepare the dinner?"

"No."

"Why not?" I asked. "You did not communicate with the police until
five days later, so you must have been expecting your master to
return."

"It's difficult to say exactly what I expected," Mrs. Eccles answered,
"but I never thought about preparing the dinner. When he didn't return
I began to think something was wrong, because I've never known him to
be away even for a night without letting me know."

"Why didn't you give information sooner?"

"Sooner? Why, I keep on asking myself whether I've done right in
giving it at all. The master might walk in at any moment, and I don't
know what he'd say if he did."

The clerk seemed to think that Mr. Portman had been worried recently.
He had had several pieces of business which the youth said had not
progressed too smoothly. He knew practically nothing about these
various items of business, but he gave me the names of half a dozen
people who had called upon Mr. Portman during the past week or two.

"He was close, you know," the youth went on; "didn't give much away
about his doings."

"Then why do you think he has been worried recently?" I asked.

"He's been snappy with me," was the answer; "but by the way he spoke
the other night when he went out I thought everything must have come
right."

A further investigation of Mr. Portman's room resulted in a curious
find. Under a bookcase, which was raised a few inches from the floor,
I discovered a key--the key of the safe. How it had come there,
whether it was a duplicate or the one Mr. Portman carried, it was
impossible to decide.

Apparently the safe had not been opened, for a drawer therein
contained a large sum in gold and notes, and there was not the
slightest indication that any of the papers had been touched. It was
quite evident, however, that a number of people would profit by
Portman's death, especially if he should die suddenly and leave no one
to carry on his business; and this was precisely what had happened.
Not a relative or friend had come forward to lay claim to anything,
and many of his debtors were likely to go free. Among these was Lord
Stanford, one of the names the clerk had given me as recent visitors,
and I went to see him, only to find that he had left England the day
after Portman's disappearance. He had gone to Africa, and that was all
I could discover.

Another man who had called upon Portman recently, and whom I went to
see, was a Mr. Isaacson. From him I obtained an interesting piece of
information. He had seen Portman in Finsbury Pavement on the evening
of his disappearance. He must have met him some ten minutes after he
had left his house.

"I stopped to speak to him, but he was in a hurry, and did not stop,"
said Isaacson.

"I suppose you were not due to dine with him on the following
evening?" I said.

"Dine with him? No, I have never had that honor. I do not think you
quite appreciate Mr. Portman's position. I lend money in a small way,
there are many like me, and if, as occasionally happens, business
comes to us which is too large for us to deal with, we go to Mr.
Portman. The business is carried through in our names, but Mr. Portman
is the real creditor."

In his own way Mr. Portman was a man of importance, and a man of
mystery. There was nothing to suggest he was dead, and it was quite
possible that some crooked business had kept him from home
unexpectedly.

I chanced to go and see Christopher Quarles one evening when I got to
this point in my investigations, and he at once began to ask questions
about the Finsbury affair. I had not intended to enlist his help. I
was quite satisfied with the progress I had made, but he was so keen
about the mystery that I told the whole story to him and Zena.

"You seem very interested," I said, when I had finished.

"I am. Mr. Portman has been talked about before now, and I remember I
once had a theory about him."

"Does the present affair help to confirm that theory?" I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"It might be interesting to know why Lord Stanford has gone abroad,"
he said.

"That is exactly the line I am following," I returned.

"I should like to know something about the man who was coming to
dinner and did not come," said Zena. "It is curious that he should
have heard so quickly of Mr. Portman's death, and more curious still
that he should make no inquiries."

"Lord Stanford may be able to tell us something about him," I said.

"Zena makes a point, Wigan," said Quarles. "It is rather a complicated
puzzle. Of course, Portman may not be dead, but if he is alive why
should he run the risk of a police search among his papers? He would
know that such an investigation would be likely to do him harm. He
would hardly run such a risk. Since Mr. Isaacson saw him in Finsbury
Pavement he has vanished completely. He left the gas burning in his
room, therefore he did not expect to be out long. He was hurrying,
according to Mr. Isaacson, presumably to keep an appointment. Now, if
he is dead, it looks like a premeditated thing, because there is no
body. It is easy enough to murder; it is the most difficult thing in
the world to hide the victim successfully. If a sudden crime is
committed, and the murderer has his wits about him, the body will
probably be found under circumstances likely to throw suspicion on
anyone but the right man; but a premeditated crime usually means the
disappearance of the body if in any way it can be managed. So we get a
kind of theory which may carry us a long way, and the further we go we
shall be the more convinced, I fancy, that many other theories are
just as likely to be right."

"Portman may not be dead," I said.

"For the reasons I have given I think we may presume that he is,"
Quarles answered. "The difficulty of the case arises from the fact
that so many people stand to profit by his death."

"Stanford, for instance," said I.

"And Isaacson, perhaps," he returned, "and a score of others. As far
as Stanford is concerned, he is a young man with expectations, but
with little money at present. He is probably in the hands of other
money-lenders besides Portman; he is a fool no doubt, but one would
not expect him to be a murderer."

"Given certain conditions, you cannot tell what a man will do."

"True, Wigan, but I do not find the required conditions. Don't let me
influence you. Something may be learned from Stanford, but that would
not be my line of attack."

"What would yours be?"

"I should like to talk to Mrs. Eccles and the clerk."

When Quarles solved a case his explanation was usually so clear that
one could only marvel that the salient points had not been apparent to
everybody from the first; when he was considering the difficulties it
seemed impossible that the mystery could ever be solved. As I listened
to him I felt that his help was necessary in this affair.

"Why not come with me to Finsbury?" I said.

"I will to-morrow," he answered. "By the way, Wigan, wasn't it foggy
on the night of Portman's disappearance?"

"It was, dear," said Zena. "Don't you remember, I went to see some
people at Highgate that day and was late for dinner?"

Quarles nodded and changed the conversation; he had done with the
affair until to-morrow.

When I met him next morning, wrapped in a heavy cloak, for it was
cold, I could not help thinking that he looked the very last man in
the world to solve an intricate mystery. He was the kind of old
gentleman who would annoy everybody by asking foolish questions and
telling stories which had grown hoary with age.

"I'm a simple old fool, Wigan, that's my character," he said, guessing
my thoughts; "and, if you can look annoyed with me and show
irritability, so much the better. Where does Isaacson live? I should
like to see him first."

I found it quite easy to be irritable. When we called on Isaacson,
Quarles asked him the most ridiculous questions which certainly had
nothing whatever to do with Portman, but in a vague way concerned the
theory and honesty of money-lending.

"Was Mr. Portman a Jew?" he asked suddenly.

"Yes."

"I seem to remember seeing him without glasses," said Quarles. "I
thought Jews always wore glasses."

"We are usually short-sighted," said Isaacson, touching his
spectacles, "I am myself. Mr. Portman worked in glasses always, but if
you met him in the street you would probably see him without them."

"Ah, you are remembering that he did not wear them the night you met
him in Finsbury Pavement," said Quarles, "that is probably why he did
not see you."

"He happened to be wearing them that night," Isaacson returned. "I
believe he did see me, but was in too much of a hurry to stop."

"Rude, very rude," remarked Quarles.

"Small men have to put up with many things from big ones," said
Isaacson humbly.

The professor treated him to a short dissertation on the equality of
man, and then we left.

"Honest, I think, so far as he goes," said Quarles, "but he is
desperately afraid of being drawn too deeply into this affair. He
couldn't afford to be questioned too closely about his business,
Wigan."

It had been thought advisable to keep the clerk at his post for the
present, and he was quite ignorant of the fact that he was watched
both during his business and leisure hours. His own importance rather
impressed him at this time, and Quarles soon succeeded in making him
talkative, but, as far as I could see, very little of what he said was
worth particular note.

"I think Mr. Portman would have been wise if he had confided more in
you," said Quarles, after talking to him for some time.

"I think so, too," the youth answered.

"He never did, I suppose?"

"No--no, I cannot say he ever did."

"When he came in that afternoon he stood in the doorway there and
talked to you?"

"He was telling me about some papers he would want in the morning.
Very snappy he was, I can tell you."

"The weather, possibly. It was foggy and unpleasant."

"He was usually unpleasant, no matter what the weather was. He paid me
fairly well, or I shouldn't have stayed with him as I have done."

"Yet, when he went out later that evening, he stopped in the doorway
to say good night."

"He did, and you might have knocked me down with a feather," said the
youth. "I don't remember his ever doing such a thing before. I'd put
some letters which had come during the afternoon on his table, and the
news in them must have been good. He'd had some worrying business on
hand, I know."

"That would certainly account for his cordiality," said Quarles.
"Really, I sympathize with you. Practically, I suppose, you have
little to do but answer the door when the bell rings."

"If the office bell rings I pull this catch," the youth said, "and the
client walks in. The front door has a spring on it and closes itself.
Sometimes a fool will ring the office bell when it's Mrs. Eccles he
wants, and that's annoying."

"Very," laughed the professor. "Did any clients call that day?"

"No. A chap wanting to sell some patent office files came and wasted
my time for a quarter of an hour; swore that the governor had seen him
two or three months ago and told him to call. A rotten patent it was,
too."

"He showed them to you?"

"Had a bag full of them. Wanted me to buy the beastly things. I had to
be rude to him to get rid of him."

"Did you go to the door with him?"

"Not much!" the youth answered. "I just pulled this catch and told him
he would find the door open, and the sooner he got out of it the
better. He would have liked to borrow a bob or two, I fancy, but I
wasn't parting."

"Did you tell Mr. Portman he had called?"

"I never worried him with callers of that sort."

Then Quarles became impressive.

"I suppose you have no idea where Mr. Portman is? To your knowledge
nothing has happened which would account for his absence?"

"Nothing. If you want my opinion--I should say he's dead, had an
accident, most likely, and no papers on him to say who he was."

"One more question," said Quarles, "in strict confidence, mind. Is
Mrs. Eccles honest?"

"As daylight," was the prompt reply. "Would she have put the police on
this business if she hadn't been?"

"I never thought of that," said Quarles humbly. "Your brain is young
and mine is old."

"Makes a difference, no doubt," said the youth.

"And my memory is like a sieve," the professor went on. "I've already
forgotten whether this file seller was a clean-shaven chap or wore a
beard."

"Don't worry about that," said the youth, "because I didn't describe
him. He was an old chap with a gray beard, and had lost most of his
teeth, I should think, by the way he talked."

"Poor fellow. Poor fellow! I expect I should have been fool enough to
give him a bob."

"I expect you would," laughed the youth, in his superior wisdom.

With Mrs. Eccles Quarles's method was still foolish. For some time he
did not mention Mr. Portman, and so silly was he that I should not
have been surprised had the woman been less respectful in her manner.
But he set her talking as he had set the clerk talking, and she was
presently explaining that the guest her master was expecting to dine
with him must have been of considerable importance, because the
preparations were elaborate.

"He's never given such a dinner before," said Mrs. Eccles, "and I
suggested that with such preparation he might have asked other
guests."

"And the wine?" asked Quarles.

"He said he would look after that himself."

"Very natural," answered the professor. "You've been with Mr. Portman
many years, haven't you?"

"Fourteen or more."

"So long! I wonder if you remember a young friend of mine who used to
come here, I think. Ten or eleven years ago it must be. He squinted
and had red hair."

"I do remember him," said Mrs. Eccles. "He came here to dine once, I
recollect. I believe Mr. Portman said he was going abroad. I know he
dined here, and I do not think I saw him again."

Quarles nodded.

"I believe he did leave the country; some said in disgrace. I wonder
who it was that was going to dine with Mr. Portman that night."

"The master didn't say. All he said was an old friend."

"A young man might be called an old friend," said Quarles.

"Oh, he couldn't be young," said Mrs. Eccles, "because the master said
he had known him when he was a young man."

"That is interesting," said Quarles. "Shall we go and look at Mr.
Portman's room, Wigan?"

When we closed the door Quarles stood in the center of the room and
looked slowly round it.

"Was that screen standing there when you first entered the room,
Wigan?"

"Yes."

"Where did you find the safe key?"

"Under that bookshelf."

He went to the safe and walked slowly from it to the door, flicking
his hand as he went. Then he looked out of the windows.

"No exit or entrance that way," he said. "There is only the door. Is
that the chest that won't open?"

He turned the key and tried the lid. He could not lift it. He locked
the chest, then unlocked it again, and hammered upon the lid with his
fist.

"The bolts sound as if they worked properly," he said. "I think it's
only that the lid has caught somehow."

We tackled it together, and, after several efforts, we succeeded in
raising the lid. The chest was empty. Quarles examined it very closely
without and within. We could not move it, it was too heavy, but the
professor produced a magnifying glass and studied the marks on the
wood. He measured the length and depth of the chest, and shut it and
opened it several times.

"Opens quite easily now, Wigan," he remarked.

Very carefully he had put two newspapers into it, and some odd bits of
paper, which he took from his pocket.

"You see how I have placed them, Wigan, which way up the newspapers
are, and the scraps of writing on this piece of paper? We'll set a
trap," and he closed the chest and locked it. "This is an old house,
and there may be a way into this room which we know nothing about. We
shall see."

We left the room, but Quarles told me not to lock the door. He
beckoned me to follow him to the kitchen.

"Mrs. Eccles, how long has your master had that oaken chest in his
room?" he asked the housekeeper.

"It's been there all my time, sir."

"Well, I shouldn't be surprised if it is connected with your master's
disappearance."

Mrs. Eccles's mouth slowly opened in astonishment.

"We shall be back in two hours, and then--then we shall know."

We left her and went to the office. The youth was cutting an initial
on the corner of the table.

"Busy, I see," said Quarles. "I fancy Mr. Portman's disappearance has
something to do with that old chest in his room."

"How can that be?"

"I don't know yet. We are going to make an important inquiry and shall
be back in a couple of hours. We'll be careful to ring the office
bell, not the house one."

As we turned to the front door Quarles caught my arm. He opened the
door, letting it go so that it would close itself. For a few moments
we remained motionless, then, creeping toward the office door,
watched until the clerk's back was turned, and went quickly to
Portman's room.

"It is very easy, Wigan," whispered the professor; "if for us, then
also for others. You see why I did not want you to lock the door of
this room? Now we are in, we will lock it on the inside, and that
screen will hide us."

"There is no question that Mr. Portman left the house," I said.

"Oh, no. Isaacson was quite definite, but I am trying to fit facts to
my theory. I said we should be back in two hours, so we have about two
hours to wait."

There was plenty of room behind the screen, but those two hours went
slowly. I could not decide what theory the professor had got in his
mind, but concluded that he was not so satisfied with the honesty of
Mrs. Eccles and the cadaverous youth as I was. He had looked at his
watch when we went behind the screen, and he allowed a full two hours
to elapse before he would leave our hiding-place.

He walked straight to the chest and opened it. It was empty. All the
papers had gone.

"Well, Wigan?"

I stared into the chest and did not answer.

"It looks like another way into this room, doesn't it"--and then he
started--"or out of it. I hadn't thought of that. Wait."

He took an old envelope from his pocket, dropped it into the chest,
and locked it. He waited a moment, then opened the chest again. The
envelope had gone.

"I confess, Wigan, that this is a surprise," said Quarles. "I must go
home and think. I believe--yes, I believe we have the clew. You must
search Portman's papers for some reference to a business
acquaintance, probably a foreigner. Perhaps Portman knows
Italy--Florence. It might very likely be Florence. I fancy this chest
had its home there. If you find any reference to a friend who is a
Florentine, and can lay hands on him, you might question him closely
about his movements on the day of Portman's disappearance."

"The first thing is to get this chest moved," I said.

"Let that wait for forty-eight hours," said Quarles. "We may have a
more complete story by then. Give me until to-morrow night, then come
and see me."

When I went to Chelsea the following night I was taken at once to the
empty room. Zena was there. Quarles was standing by his table, on
which was a rough plan, evidently a production of his own, and quite
unintelligible without an explanation.

"Of course you have not discovered anything yet, Wigan?"

"There has not been time," I answered.

"No, quite so," he said, motioning me to a seat. "But we have a fairly
clear story, I think. Zena said, you remember, that she would like to
know something about the man who was coming to dine with Portman that
night. It was an important point, particularly so since the guest did
not put in an appearance. You saw the importance of it, Wigan, because
you asked Isaacson whether he was the expected guest. Now, Isaacson
had seen Portman after he had left his house that night, but had not
spoken to him. This fact suggested a question to my mind: was Isaacson
telling the truth? There were two possibilities. Isaacson might have
seen him, gone with him, and be responsible for his disappearance; or
he might have been mistaken. The man he saw might not have been
Portman. The second possibility was the one which appealed to me. The
fact remained, however, that Isaacson knew him well, therefore the man
he took to be Portman must have wished to be taken for Portman, I
argued. This would account for his hurrying on without speaking, since
a closer investigation might have betrayed him. I looked for some fact
to support this theory. I found it in Isaacson's statement that
Portman wore glasses in the street on this occasion, which was
unusual, so unusual, mark you, that Isaacson noticed it. Now, if my
theory were right, it seemed possible that after Mr. Portman entered
his room that afternoon he never left it. That he was there when Mrs.
Eccles took in the tea-tray there could be no doubt; but that it was
Mr. Portman who answered through the locked door was another matter.

"Such a fantastic theory required strong support," the professor went
on. "The clerk helped me. When he came into the house that afternoon
and gave his clerk instructions about certain papers Mr. Portman was
snappy, his usual self, in fact, and, incidentally, he proved that he
had no intention of being away from the office on the following day;
when he left the house he was quite different, genially wishing the
clerk good night. Wigan, a man slightly overplaying his part would be
likely to do that, especially as he wanted the clerk to be in a
position to say that his master had gone out at a certain hour. He was
bound to draw the clerk's attention to himself, so he did it with a
cordial good night. Knowing that Mr. Portman wore glasses, he would
also wear them, even in the street."

"But the clerk would have seen it was not Mr. Portman," I objected.

"That was a difficulty," said Quarles. "It was a foggy afternoon, we
know, and would be dark in the passage, but hardly dark enough to
deceive the clerk. Another difficulty was how a stranger could get
into the house without being seen. Both difficulties vanished when the
clerk told us of the man who called selling patent files. He had a
bag, Wigan, containing more than samples of files, I warrant--means of
disguise as well. We know how easy it is to let the front door slam
and remain in the house. I think the file seller practiced the same
trick we did. Even to going to Portman's room and hiding behind the
screen. You see, the office windows are frosted, so the clerk cannot
see whether anyone leaving the office passes into the street or not.
If there is something fantastic in this theory, let me pursue it to
the end. If I am right, one thing is certain: this file seller knew
Portman well. He must have come prepared to make himself up like him.
He was able to answer Mrs. Eccles when she knocked at the door and
deceive her. Granted that he knew Mr. Portman well, we may assume that
he was in some way associated with him in business. Only one man left
that room, therefore, as things stand, we may assume that these two
men were enemies who had once been friends. Here let me be imaginative
for a moment. Mr. Portman was expecting a friend to dine with him on
the following night, an important person, since the feast to be
prepared was, according to Mrs. Eccles, somewhat elaborate. The
sumptuousness of a feast may mean great friendship, but it may be used
to hide intense enmity. You read such things in the history of the
Medici of Florence. I believe, Wigan, that the feast was prepared for
this same file seller, that the wine, which Mr. Portman was looking
after himself, remember, would have proved unwholesome for the guest,
who, distrusting Portman, came a day earlier and removed his enemy."

"A little imaginative," I said.

"Imagination bridges the intervals between facts," Quarles answered.
"We get again to a fact--the iron-bound chest. It links the two men
together. I have no doubt the file seller knew of its peculiar
mechanism as well as Portman did. You could not open it, and, since
the key was in the lock, no mystery about it, you naturally did not
think it of much importance. When together we succeeded in opening it
I found on the floor of it a tiny stain. I thought it was a blood
stain, but I was not sure. At any rate, the measurements of the chest
were such that a body might be pressed in it. Frankly, I admit I
expected to see Portman's body when we raised the lid. For the sake of
some documents--it is impossible to say what they were--I believed
this file seller had murdered Portman, taken his key, opened the safe,
taken the papers he wanted, thrust the body into the chest, and had
then departed in the character of his victim, flinging the safe key
under the bookcase as he went. As there was no body I wondered whether
Mrs. Eccles or the clerk, or both, were accomplices of the murderer;
whether that chest might not conceal a secret entrance to the room.
The idea did not fit my theory very well, but I laid a trap, and you
know the result, Wigan. The action of shutting that chest opens the
bottom of it, so that whatever is placed in it falls out as soon as
the lid is closed and locked. I believe the body of Portman was in it
and had got caught somehow--that was why you could not open it, why we
could not open it until we had hammered it about, and by constant
working upon the lid had released the body. I feel certain that chest
had its home in Florence; that is why I suggest an Italian may be the
criminal. He may have been long resident in England, of course;
certainly he is a man who speaks English perfectly, or the clerk would
have described him as a foreigner."

"But the body--where is it?" I asked.

"I've been to the British Museum to-day," said Quarles, taking up the
rough sketch from his desk. "This is a copy of an old map of the
Finsbury district, and here I find was one of the old plague pits. I
believe Portman's house stands on this plot."

It was a very rough sketch, but, as I compared the place the professor
had indicated with the old landmarks and their modern equivalents
which he had marked, there could be little doubt that Quarles was
right.

"I do not suppose that Portman's is the first body that has passed
through that chest and slid down into some hole which was once a part
of this pit," he went on. "I asked Mrs. Eccles about a squinting
youth. He was a young fool with expectations, just such another as
Lord Stanford. He was robbed right and left, and it is quite certain
Portman, among others, made money out of him. He disappeared suddenly.
It is possible Lord Stanford might have disappeared in a similar way
had not his friends got him out of the country. Portman didn't have
that chest fixed to the floor of his room for nothing. You may find
the solution to more than one mystery, Wigan, when you move that
chest."

Portman's body and the remains of at least three other bodies were
found in the deep hole under the old house in Finsbury. How the hole
had come there, or how Portman had discovered it, it was impossible
to guess, but there could be little doubt that he had only been
treated as he had treated others. And some six months afterward a man
named Postini was knifed in Milan, and the inquiry into his murder
brought to light the fact that he had been closely connected with
Portman. They had worked together in London, in Paris, and in Rome. At
the time of Portman's death they had quarreled, and at that time
Postini was in London. Among Portman's papers I found none relating to
Postini; no doubt the Italian had taken them, for Portman's letter,
asking him to dine and to become true friends again, was found among
the Italian's papers.

There can be little doubt, I think, that Quarles was right. Portman
intended to rid himself of the Italian after giving him a sumptuous
feast, but Postini, wholly distrusting his former comrade, had come a
day before his time, and been the murderer instead of the victim.



CHAPTER XVI

THE SEARCH FOR THE MISSING FORTUNE


Whenever he had solved a case, if not to the world's satisfaction, to
his own, Quarles seldom mentioned it again. He professed to think
little of his achievement, a pose which I have no doubt concealed a
considerable amount of satisfaction and self-complacency. Of the
curious case connected with the Bryants, he was, however, rather
proud; and, since it resulted in making things easier for Zena and me,
I have every reason to be satisfied.

It began in a strange way. A simple looking old man, his clothes a
size too large for him, walked into a large pawnbroker's one day, and,
handing him a scarf-pin, asked how much could be given for it. The pin
was no use to him. He didn't want to pawn it, but to sell it. The
customer was requested to put a price upon his property, and, after
some hesitation, he asked whether twenty pounds would be too much. The
man in the shop went into a back room ostensibly to consult his
superior, in reality to send for the police. It happened that a
quantity of jewelry had been stolen from a well-known society lady a
few weeks before, and pawnbrokers had had special notice of the fact;
hence the firm's precaution. The simple old man had offered for twenty
pounds a diamond that was worth at least twenty times that amount.

Being interested in the jewel robbery, I was naturally keen to know
all that could be discovered about this simple old man, and I will
give the story as I told it to Christopher Quarles after I had made
the most minute inquiries.

The old man's name was Sims--James Sims--and for the last year he had
resided with a niece, who was married and living at Fulham. Until
twelve months ago he had been manservant to an old gentleman named
Ottershaw, living at Norbiton, who he said had given him the pin. Mr.
Ottershaw was a retired Indian servant, who chose to live a lonely
life, and was evidently an erratic individual.

Although there was no direct evidence on the point, nothing to show
that he had any income beyond his pension, nor any property beyond the
old house at Norbiton which he had bought, the idea got abroad that he
was an exceedingly wealthy man. Sims declared that he had never seen
any evidence of great wealth. His master was aware of what was said,
and used to chuckle about it, but he never in any way endorsed the
story. At the same time he didn't deny it, and, indeed, fostered the
idea to some extent by saying that he hoped to keep his anxious
relatives waiting until he was a hundred.

These relatives consisted of two nephews and a niece, the children of
Mr. Ottershaw's sister, who had been some years his senior. Both the
nephews--George and Charles Bryant--were married; the niece was a
spinster whose sole interest in life was foreign missions. The Bryants
had money, just sufficient to obviate the necessity to work, and, so
far as the two brothers were concerned, they were undoubtedly chiefly
concerned in waiting for a dead man's shoes. Miss Bryant hoped to
become rich for the sake of her missionary work. All of them were
convinced of their uncle's wealth.

The old gentleman did not attain his century. He caught a chill,
pneumonia set in, and in three days he was dead. Sims declared that
about a month before his death his master had given him the pin with
the remark: "You've been a good servant, Sims. This is a little gift
in recognition of the fact. It's worth a few pounds, and should you
outlive me and find yourself hard up, you can turn it into money."
Sims had not found himself hard up, he had saved enough to live
quietly upon, but his great-niece, of whom he was very fond, was going
to be married, and he thought he would turn the pin into money as a
nest egg for her.

Mr. Ottershaw's will was a curiosity. It began with a very
straightforward statement that the testator was aware that his
relatives had for long past been hoping for his death. No doubt they
would have come to live with him had he allowed it, to see that his
money did not go to strangers. "They have their reward," the will went
on. "I leave all I am possessed of to George, Charles, and Mary Bryant
in equal shares, without any restrictions whatever. But, since during
my lifetime my nephews and niece have undoubtedly speculated
concerning my wealth, I feel it would be a pity if my death were to
rob them suddenly of so pleasant an occupation. Frankly, I would take
what wealth I have with me if I could. This being impossible, I
suppose, I have placed it in a safe place, so that, in order to find
it, my relatives will still be able to speculate and exercise their
ingenuity. For their guidance I may say that I deposited it in this
place while alone in one of the rooms of my house at Norbiton, that I
did not send it out of the house, yet if the house is burnt down, or
pulled down brick by brick, it will not be found."

The will then went on to provide that the house should not be sold for
five years, nor anything taken out of it. During this period his
nephews and niece were to have free access to it whenever they wished,
or any person they might appoint could visit it. If they chose they
could let it furnished for five years. They could burn it or pull it
down if they liked, but if it were intact at the end of five years, it
was to be sold, and the proceeds equally divided.

"These are the only conditions," the will concluded; "but, as I am
doing so much for my relatives, I may just mention two things which I
should like done, but they are in no way commands. On the finding of
my wealth, if it is found, I should like ten per cent. of it given to
a society or societies for the feeble-minded. And, as I have explained
to my relatives more than once, I should like to be cremated, but I
leave the decision to them. If cremation is considered too expensive,
I must be buried in the usual way."

Although the house at Norbiton was still intact, I was told by George
Bryant that during the last twelve months every nook and cranny had
been searched without avail. He still believed that the wealth was
hidden somewhere, but he had begun to doubt whether it would ever be
found. Naturally, when he heard of Sims's attempt to sell a diamond
pin, his hopes revived. His brother Charles had always thought that
Sims knew something, but he himself had not thought so. Now the affair
was on an entirely different footing.

When I had told my story in the empty room at Chelsea I think we were
all three convinced that this was the toughest problem we had ever
tackled.

"Did the relatives respect the old man's wish and have the body
cremated?" Zena asked.

"No; he was buried in a cemetery at Kingston."

"Then they don't deserve to find the money, and I hope they won't."

"I do not like the relatives," I returned; "but in this matter there
is something to be said for them. They have always been opposed to
cremation, a fact which Mr. Ottershaw knew quite well, and,
recognizing the contemptuous tone of the will, not unreasonably, I
think, they decided that the wish was expressed only to annoy them,
and that their uncle had no real desire to be cremated."

"One of your absurd questions," said Quarles.

"It seems to me I have never asked a more natural or a more sensible
one," said Zena.

"I won't argue, my dear," Quarles returned. "I presume that paper you
have there, Wigan, is a copy of the wording of the will?"

"Yes," and I handed it to him.

"Of course, you do not think Sims has any connection with this jewel
robbery you have been engaged upon?"

"No; he would not be selling so valuable a stone for twenty pounds."

"And you have come to the conclusion that his story is a plain
statement of facts?"

"I think so."

"You are not sure?"

"Well, one cannot close one's eyes to the possibility that he may
dislike the Bryants as much as his master did, and may be keeping his
master's secret," I answered.

"Or he may have learned the secret by chance," said Zena.

"He may," said the professor. "You questioned him upon that point,
Wigan?"

"He says he knows nothing."

"What has become of the pin?"

"It is in the hands of the police at present, but will be handed back
to him. There is no evidence whatever that he is not the rightful
owner. The Bryants wanted to have him arrested."

Quarles spread out the paper, and began reading parts of the will in a
slow, thoughtful manner.

"'Frankly I would take what wealth I have with me if I could.'" And
Quarles repeated the sentence twice. "That might imply that there was
no wealth to speak of; and, following this idea for a moment, the
permission to burn the house or pull it down might suggest a hope in
the old man's mind that the frantic search for what did not exist
would result in the destruction of even that which did--the house and
furniture. The fact that he desires ten per cent. of the wealth, if it
is found, to go to imbeciles rather favors this notion; and his wish
to be cremated may be an attempt to make his relatives spend money
upon him from whom they were destined to receive nothing."

"It would be a grim joke," I said.

"A madman's humor, perhaps," said Zena.

"He goes on: 'This being impossible, I suppose,' and then says he has
hidden his wealth. He did not seem quite certain that he could not
take it with him, did he?"

"You think----"

"No, no," said Quarles, "I haven't got as far as thinking anything
definite yet. The will then explains in a riddle where the treasure
is hidden. He was alone in a room. He didn't send the treasure out of
the house. The statements are so deliberate that I am inclined to
believe in a treasure of some sort."

"So am I," I answered, "because of the valuable pin he gave to his
man."

"When was this will made?" asked Quarles.

"Nine years ago."

"Living as he did, he would hardly spend his pension," the professor
went on. "Money would accumulate in nine years, and, since there is no
evidence that he did anything else with it, we may assume that the
hoard was periodically added to, and, therefore, he must have placed
it where he could get at it without much difficulty."

For a moment Quarles studied the paper.

"I think we may take his statements literally," he went on; "so unless
the treasure was very small, small enough to be concealed inside a
brick, it seems obvious that it was not hidden in the walls of the
house, or it would have been found in the process of pulling down."

"If we are to be quite literal, we must remember that he says brick by
brick," I pointed out. "It might therefore be hidden in a brick."

"I have thought of that," Quarles returned; "but in pulling down
bricks would get broken, especially a hollow brick, as this would be.
I think we may take the words to mean only total demolition, and that
there is no special significance in the expression 'brick by brick.'
Burning does away with the idea that the treasure may be hidden in
woodwork."

"If he put it under a ground floor room or under a cellar neither
pulling down nor a fire would disclose it," said Zena.

"Every flag in the cellars has been taken up," I answered; "and all
the ground underneath the house has been dug up."

"Is there a well?" she asked.

"No; that was the first thing I looked for when I came there."

"He says in a room," Quarles went on. "I don't think that means a
cellar."

"Do you think the treasure was small in bulk and placed in his
coffin?" said Zena eagerly, leaning forward in her chair as she asked
the question.

"Certainly in that case he would be perfectly justified in saying that
he didn't send it out of the house," said Quarles.

"It is most improbable," I said. "To begin with, Mr. Ottershaw wished
to be cremated, so would hardly leave any such instructions. And,
further, Sims saw him placed in his coffin, and says nothing was
buried with the body."

"It is an interesting problem," said the professor; "but one does not
feel very much inclined to help the Bryants."

"Then you have a theory?" I asked.

"I haven't got so far as theory; I am only rather keen to try my wits.
There is a shadowy idea at the back of my brain which may be gone by
morning. If it hasn't, we'll go and see Sims."

Next morning when I went to Chelsea, as I had arranged to do, I found
Quarles waiting for me, and we went to Fulham together. Sims had two
rooms in his niece's house, but took his meals with the family. We
went into his sitting room and he was quite ready to talk about Mr.
Ottershaw. I told him that Quarles was a gentleman who thought he
could find the hidden money.

"I shall be very glad if he does," said Sims. "The Bryants will know
then that I had nothing to do with it. Mr. Charles has been the worst;
but since I tried to sell that pin Mr. George has been as bad."

"I take it you don't like the Bryants," said Quarles.

"I don't dislike them, only when they bother me."

"Your master didn't like them?"

"Didn't he? I never heard him say. He wasn't in the habit of saying
much to anybody, not even to me."

"You were fond of him?"

"Loved him. He wasn't what you would call a lovable character, but I
loved him, and he liked me. You see, him and me were born in the same
neighborhood, five miles out of Worcester; and when he came back from
India he came down there to see an old friend, since dead, and I
happened to be there at the time out of a job. That's how we came
together fifteen years ago."

"You didn't go at once to Norbiton?"

"Not until three years afterward."

"Where were you during those three years?"

"In several places, part of the time in Switzerland, and in Germany."

"Now about this treasure, Mr. Sims?"

"Bless you, sir, I don't believe in it."

"The will very distinctly mentions it."

"I know. I've heard such a lot about that will from the Bryants that I
know it almost by heart. It was a joke, that's what I think. Why, Mr.
Charles has asked me more than once whether I didn't slip it into his
coffin."

"Mr. Ottershaw gave you no such instructions, I suppose," said
Quarles.

"The only instructions he gave was that I was to lay him out, and to
see him put into his coffin if he was buried, and, whatever happened,
to see him decently carried out of the house. There was some talk of
his being cremated, and I suppose the master didn't know how they
would take him away then. No doubt he thought the Bryants would have a
woman to lay him out, so he left a letter for me to show them. The
master always did hate women."

"And you did this for him?"

"Gladly, and I helped the undertaker lift him into the coffin. I was
there when he was screwed down, so were Mr. George and Mr. Charles.
There was nothing but the body buried, nothing."

"The Bryants wouldn't have him cremated, I understand," said Quarles.

"And quite right, too," said Sims. "It's a heathenish custom, that's
what I think."

"And you don't believe there was any large sum of money?"

"No, I don't. I should have seen some sign of it."

"Your master gave you a very valuable pin," said Quarles; "I don't
suppose you had seen that before."

"It's true, I hadn't."

"There may have been other valuables where that came from."

"I don't think it," said Sims. "I don't believe the master himself
knew it was so valuable."

As we walked up the Fulham Road I asked the professor what he thought
of Sims.

"Simple--and honest, I fancy."

"You're not quite sure?"

"Not quite, but then I am not sure of anything in this affair yet. I
suggest we go and see Mr. George Bryant. I want his permission to go
over the house at Norbiton."

George Bryant lived at Wimbledon, and we found him at home. Much of
our conversation went over old ground, and need not be repeated here;
but the professor was evidently not very favorably impressed with
Bryant. Nor did Bryant appear to think much of Quarles. He smiled
contemptuously at some of his questions, and, when asked for
permission to visit the house at Norbiton, he said he must consult his
brother and sister.

"Except that I am keenly interested in the affair as a puzzle, I don't
care one way or the other," said Quarles. "Whether you handle the
money or not is immaterial to me, but I have a strong impression that
I can find it."

"In that case, of course----"

"There are conditions," said Quarles, "and one or two more questions."

"I am willing to answer any questions."

"Did you often visit your uncle?"

"Only twice in ten years, and on each occasion he was not very well--a
touch of gout, which was what made him so ill-tempered, I imagine. My
brother Charles was with me on one occasion; my sister, I believe,
never went there."

"Yet you all expected to profit by his death?"

"His letters certainly gave us to understand that we should, and so
far the will was no surprise to us."

"Has the clause in the will which forbids the removal of anything from
the house been observed?" Quarles asked.

"Most certainly."

"I mean with regard to trifling things."

"Nothing has been taken. Of course the will has been complied with."

"It wasn't with regard to Mr. Ottershaw's cremation."

"We did what we considered to be right, and I refuse to discuss that
question. For my own part, I believe if James Sims could be forced to
speak the mystery would be at an end. I cannot help feeling that the
police have failed in their duty by not having him arrested."

"I daresay that is a question my friend Detective Wigan will refuse to
discuss," said the professor. "Do you care to hear my conditions? You
can talk them over with your brother and sister when you consider
whether I shall be allowed to go over the house or not."

"I shall be glad to know your fee," said Bryant.

For a moment I thought that Quarles was going to lose his temper.

"I charge no fee," he said quietly, after a momentary pause; "but if
the money is found through me, you must give ten per cent. for the
benefit of imbeciles according to the wish of the deceased, and you
must pay me ten per cent. That will leave eighty per cent. for you to
divide."

"Preposterous!" Bryant exclaimed.

"As you like. Those are my conditions, and I must receive with the
permission to visit the house a properly witnessed document, showing
that the three of you agree to my terms."

"I am afraid you will wait in vain."

"It is your affair," said Quarles, with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Remember I can find the money, and I believe I am the only man who
can."

On our way back to town I asked Quarles whether he expected to get the
permission.

"Certainly I do. George Bryant is too greedy for money to miss such a
chance."

"And do you really mean that you can find the money?"

"At any rate, I mean the Bryants to pay heavily for it if I do."

Quarles was right. Three days later the permit and the required
document arrived, and we went to Norbiton.

As I had visited the house already, I was prepared to act as guide to
the professor, but he showed only a feeble interest in the house
itself. The only room he examined with any minuteness was the bedroom
Mr. Ottershaw had used, and he seemed mainly to be proving to his own
satisfaction that certain possibilities which had occurred to him were
not probabilities.

"There's a ten per cent. reward hanging to this, Wigan," he chuckled.
"We're out to make money on this occasion. Bryant seems to have spoken
the truth. The place appears to be much as Mr. Ottershaw left it."

He had opened a cupboard in the bedroom, and took up two or three
pairs of boots to look at.

"Large feet, hadn't he? Went in for comfort rather than elegance. I
never saw uglier boots. But they are well made, nothing cheap about
them."

"You don't expect to find the money in his boots, do you?"

"Never heard of hollow heels, Wigan?" he asked.

"You couldn't hide much money if every boot in the house had a hollow
heel."

"No, true. I wasn't thinking of hollow heels particularly."

Then he took up a stout walking-stick which was standing in the corner
of the cupboard, felt its weight, and walked across the room with it
to try it.

"Nothing hollow about this, at any rate," he said, after examining the
ferrule closely.

When we returned to the hall he was interested in the sticks in the
stand.

"He was fond of stout ones, Wigan," laughed Quarles. "Well, I don't
think there is much to interest us here."

Our inspection of the house had been of the most casual kind. We
hadn't even looked into some of the rooms, and the odd corners and
fireplaces to which I had given considerable attention on my former
visit hardly received a passing glance from Quarles.

"Have you looked at everything you want to see?" I asked in
astonishment.

"I think so. You said the cellars had been dug up, so they are of no
interest, and I warrant the Bryants have already searched in every
likely and unlikely place. What is the use of going over the same
ground, or in examining cabinets and drawers for false backs and false
bottoms, when others have done it for us?"

"What is your next move, then?"

"I think we may as well go back to Chelsea and talk about it."

I must admit that, in spite of my knowledge of Quarles, I thought he
was beaten this time, and that he was using bluff to hide his
disappointment. I thought he had gone to Norbiton with a fixed idea in
his mind, only to discover that he had made a mistake. He would not
discuss the affair on our way back to Chelsea; but when we reached the
house, he called for Zena, and the three of us retired to the empty
room.

"Well, dear, is the ten per cent. reward to make us rich beyond the
dreams of avarice?" asked Zena.

"It is impossible to say."

"Then you haven't found the money?"

"We haven't counted it yet," was the answer. "Let as consider the
points. The first is this: Nine years before his death Mr. Ottershaw
made his will, frankly expressing a wish that he could take his money
with him. Therefore, I think we may assume that he was not in love
with his relatives, and was not delighted that his death should profit
them. The next sentence in the will seems to express a doubt as to
whether the treasure could be taken or not, and I suggest that
something occurred about that time to make it appear feasible. So we
get a riddle, and if it is to be read literally, as I believe it is
meant to be, there can apparently be only one possible
hiding-place--somewhere in the ground underneath the house. This is so
obvious that one would hardly expect it to be the solution, and so
there is particular significance in his statement that he didn't send
it out of the house. He hid it, he says, when he was alone in one of
the rooms. Let us suppose it was his bedroom. From there he certainly
could not bury his treasure in the ground. We have decided that the
hiding-place could not be in any part of the brickwork or in the
woodwork, therefore we are driven to the conclusion that it was placed
in some piece of furniture or some receptacle made for the purpose.
Since I believe he thought it possible to take his wealth with him,
the latter supposition seems to me the more probable."

"In banknotes a large sum would only occupy a small space," I said.

"I don't think the treasure was in money," said Quarles. "The fact
that a diamond was given to Sims and not money suggests that the
treasure was in precious stones. If he spent everything he could in
this way, giving hard cash for a gem, and thus doing away with the
necessity for inquiry and references, the lack of evidence regarding
his wealth is partly explained. Great wealth can be sunk in a very
small parcel of gems, and if he hoped to take his wealth with him it
must be small in bulk."

"So that it could be placed in his coffin, you mean," said Zena.

"Sims declares nothing was placed in his coffin," said Quarles; "he is
most definite upon the point."

"And I have already pointed out that since he wished to be cremated
Mr. Ottershaw would hardly make any such arrangement," I said.

"He may have wished to be cremated, but he may not have expected to
be," said Quarles. "As a matter of fact, he left certain instructions
which point to a doubt. Sims was to lay him out and see that he was
decently cared for. So anxious was Mr. Ottershaw about this that he
left a letter for Sims to show to the Bryants. This is a most
significant fact."

"Then you suspect the man Sims," said Zena.

"We will go a step further before I answer that question. To-day,
Wigan, we have made a curious discovery. All Mr. Ottershaw's
walking-sticks were very stout ones, and that he really used them, not
merely carried them, the condition of the ferrules proves. Moreover,
there was a curious fact about his boots. They were large, the right
one being a little larger than the other, and the right boot in every
pair was the least trodden down--indeed, showed little wear either
inside or out. I wonder if Sims could explain this?"

Zena was leaning forward, her eyes fixed upon the professor, and I was
thinking of a boot with a hollow heel.

"Let's go back to the will for a moment," said Quarles. "Although Mr.
Ottershaw desired to be cremated, he did not put it in the form of a
condition, as he might reasonably have done. He even mentions the
expense, and, in fact, gives his relatives quite a good excuse for not
doing as he desires. It seems to me he didn't care much one way or the
other, and that his object was to make the relatives suffer for their
greed, and suffer all the more because he didn't actually leave the
money away from them. It was Zena's absurd question, Wigan, and her
anger that the Bryants had not carried out the old man's wish, which
gave me the germ of a theory. I believe if they had had him cremated
they would have found the treasure. He gave them a chance which they
lost by burying him."

"Then you believe Sims carried out his master's wishes?" I said.

"I do."

"And managed to have the treasure buried with him?"

"I do not believe Sims knows anything about a treasure," said Quarles;
"and I think he speaks the truth when he says that nothing but the
body was buried. But Sims knew more about his master than anyone else.
He could tell us something about their doings in Switzerland and
Germany, for instance. He was very fond of his master, and was trusted
by him."

"We want to know what happened just after Mr. Ottershaw's death," I
said. "To know what occurred abroad will not help us much."

"I think it will," Quarles returned. "Supposing Mr. Ottershaw had an
accident abroad which necessitated the amputation of his right leg,
and supposing, in Germany perhaps, he got the very best artificial
limb money could purchase?"

"A wooden leg!" I exclaimed.

"Yes, not of the old sort, but the very best the instrument makers
could devise. Mr. Ottershaw became proud of that leg and told no one
about it. Only his man knew. His right boot showed less sign of wear,
because he helped that leg with a stout stick. The wooden foot would
not stain the inside of a boot with moisture as a real foot does. When
the Bryants went to see him he complained of gout, an excuse for not
walking, and so giving them a chance of discovering the leg. Then came
the idea of secreting the treasure, and I suggest that it consists of
gems concealed in that wooden leg. He didn't want the leg removed
after his death, so Sims laid him out. Probably the leg is fitted with
a steel, fire-resisting receptacle which would have been found among
the débris had the body been cremated."

"Then the treasure is buried with him," said Zena. "Will they open the
grave?"

"I am not sure whether the old man succeeded in carrying his wealth
with him after all," said Quarles. "Sims was fond of and sentimental
about his master, and as we talked to him, Wigan, it seemed to me
there was something he had no intention of telling us. He was
particularly insistent that nothing but the body had been buried, and
appeared almost morbidly anxious to tell nothing but the exact truth.
To-morrow we will go to Fulham and ask him whether he removed the
wooden leg before the coffin was screwed down."

Quarles's conjecture proved to be right. Sims had been sentimental
about the leg because his master was so proud of it, and the night
before the coffin was fastened down had crept silently into the room
and taken it off, placing a thick shawl rolled up under the shroud, so
that the corpse would appear as it was before. It had not occurred to
him at the time that his master was so anxious that the leg should be
buried with him, but since that night he had wondered whether he had
done wrong. The wooden leg was hidden in his bedroom. When he was told
that it probably contained the treasure, his fear and amazement were
almost painful to witness. He was evidently quite innocent of any idea
of robbery.

Ingeniously concealed in the top part of the leg we found a steel
cylinder, full of gems. Mr. Ottershaw must have made a lot of money
while he was in India, for Quarles's ten per cent. of the value
obtained for the jewels came to over twelve thousand pounds.

"Half of it goes to Zena as a wedding present," he said on the day he
banked the money. "I shouldn't wait long if I were you, Wigan."

"But, grandfather, I----"

"My dear, I'm not always thinking only of myself. You have your life
before you and I want you to be happy. My only condition is that there
shall always be a place at your fireside for me."

The tears were in Zena's eyes as she kissed him, but she looked at me
and I knew my waiting time was nearly over.

"Now I shall rest on my laurels, Wigan, and trouble no more about
mysteries," said Quarles.

He meant it, but I very much doubt whether a ruling passion is so
easily controlled. We shall see.


THE END



Transcriber's Note: The following typographical errors present in the
original edition have been corrected.

In Chapter I, "It is obvivious that a man who possessed such stones"
was changed to "It is obvious that a man who possessed such stones",
and a period was changed to a comma after "several boarding-houses in
Ossery Road".

In Chapter VI, quotation marks were deleted after "far more of a lover
than a detective" and "I could swear to it".

In Chapter VII, a quotation mark was removed after "so much the
better".

In Chapter XII, "a disposition to suspect Couldson" was changed to "a
disposition to suspect Coulsdon".

In Chapter XIII, a quotation mark was added after "whether he was in
Boston, Wigan", and "I had seen Oglethorp move his" was changed to "I
had seen Oglethorpe move his".

In Chapter XIV, a period was added after "little significance in
that".

In Chapter XVI, a single quote (') was changed to a double quote (")
before "Well, one cannot close one's eyes", and "I haven't got as for
as thinking anything definite yet" was changed to "I haven't got as
far as thinking anything definite yet".





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