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Death At The Excelsior by P. G. Wodehouse

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each story is listed in square brackets in the Table of Contents.]











The room was the typical bedroom of the typical boarding-house,
furnished, insofar as it could be said to be furnished at all, with a
severe simplicity. It contained two beds, a pine chest of drawers, a
strip of faded carpet, and a wash basin. But there was that on the
floor which set this room apart from a thousand rooms of the same kind.
Flat on his back, with his hands tightly clenched and one leg twisted
oddly under him and with his teeth gleaming through his grey beard in a
horrible grin, Captain John Gunner stared up at the ceiling with eyes
that saw nothing.

Until a moment before, he had had the little room all to himself. But
now two people were standing just inside the door, looking down at him.
One was a large policeman, who twisted his helmet nervously in his
hands. The other was a tall, gaunt old woman in a rusty black dress,
who gazed with pale eyes at the dead man. Her face was quite

The woman was Mrs. Pickett, owner of the Excelsior Boarding-House. The
policeman's name was Grogan. He was a genial giant, a terror to the
riotous element of the waterfront, but obviously ill at ease in the
presence of death. He drew in his breath, wiped his forehead, and
whispered: "Look at his eyes, ma'am!"

Mrs. Pickett had not spoken a word since she had brought the policeman
into the room, and she did not do so now. Constable Grogan looked at
her quickly. He was afraid of Mother Pickett, as was everybody else
along the waterfront. Her silence, her pale eyes, and the quiet
decisiveness of her personality cowed even the tough old salts who
patronized the Excelsior. She was a formidable influence in that little
community of sailormen.

"That's just how I found him," said Mrs. Pickett. She did not speak
loudly, but her voice made the policeman start.

He wiped his forehead again. "It might have been apoplexy," he

Mrs. Pickett said nothing. There was a sound of footsteps outside, and
a young man entered, carrying a black bag.

"Good morning, Mrs. Pickett. I was told that--Good Lord!" The young
doctor dropped to his knees beside the body and raised one of the arms.
After a moment he lowered it gently to the floor, and shook his head in
grim resignation.

"He's been dead for hours," he announced. "When did you find him?"

"Twenty minutes back," replied the old woman. "I guess he died last
night. He never would be called in the morning. Said he liked to sleep
on. Well, he's got his wish."

"What did he die of, sir?" asked the policeman.

"It's impossible to say without an examination," the doctor answered.
"It looks like a stroke, but I'm pretty sure it isn't. It might be a
coronary attack, but I happen to know his blood pressure was normal,
and his heart sound. He called in to see me only a week ago, and I
examined him thoroughly. But sometimes you can be deceived. The inquest
will tell us." He eyed the body almost resentfully. "I can't understand
it. The man had no right to drop dead like this. He was a tough old
sailor who ought to have been good for another twenty years. If you
want my honest opinion--though I can't possibly be certain until after
the inquest--I should say he had been poisoned."

"How would he be poisoned?" asked Mrs. Pickett quietly.

"That's more than I can tell you. There's no glass about that he could
have drunk it from. He might have got it in capsule form. But why
should he have done it? He was always a pretty cheerful sort of old
man, wasn't he?"

"Yes, sir," said the Constable. "He had the name of being a joker in
these parts. Kind of sarcastic, they tell me, though he never tried it
on me."

"He must have died quite early last night," said the doctor. He turned
to Mrs. Pickett. "What's become of Captain Muller? If he shares this
room he ought to be able to tell us something about it."

"Captain Muller spent the night with some friends at Portsmouth," said
Mrs. Pickett. "He left right after supper, and hasn't returned."

The doctor stared thoughtfully about the room, frowning.

"I don't like it. I can't understand it. If this had happened in India
I should have said the man had died from some form of snakebite. I was
out there two years, and I've seen a hundred cases of it. The poor
devils all looked just like this. But the thing's ridiculous. How could
a man be bitten by a snake in a Southampton waterfront boarding-house?
Was the door locked when you found him, Mrs. Pickett?"

Mrs. Pickett nodded. "I opened it with my own key. I had been calling
to him and he didn't answer, so I guessed something was wrong."

The Constable spoke: "You ain't touched anything, ma'am? They're always
very particular about that. If the doctor's right, and there's been
anything up, that's the first thing they'll ask."

"Everything's just as I found it."

"What's that on the floor beside him?" the doctor asked.

"Only his harmonica. He liked to play it of an evening in his room.
I've had some complaints about it from some of the gentlemen, but I
never saw any harm, so long as he didn't play it too late."

"Seems as if he was playing it when--it happened," Constable Grogan
said. "That don't look much like suicide, sir."

"I didn't say it was suicide."

Grogan whistled. "You don't think----"

"I'm not thinking anything--until after the inquest. All I say is that
it's queer."

Another aspect of the matter seemed to strike the policeman. "I guess
this ain't going to do the Excelsior any good, ma'am," he said

Mrs. Pickett shrugged her shoulders.

"I suppose I had better go and notify the coroner," said the doctor.

He went out, and after a momentary pause the policeman followed him.
Constable Grogan was not greatly troubled with nerves, but he felt a
decided desire to be somewhere where he could not see the dead man's
staring eyes.

Mrs. Pickett remained where she was, looking down at the still form on
the floor. Her face was expressionless, but inwardly she was tormented
and alarmed. It was the first time such a thing as this had happened at
the Excelsior, and, as Constable Grogan had hinted, it was not likely
to increase the attractiveness of the house in the eyes of possible
boarders. It was not the threatened pecuniary loss which was troubling
her. As far as money was concerned, she could have lived comfortably on
her savings, for she was richer than most of her friends supposed. It
was the blot on the escutcheon of the Excelsior--the stain on its
reputation--which was tormenting her.

The Excelsior was her life. Starting many years before, beyond the
memory of the oldest boarder, she had built up the model establishment,
the fame of which had been carried to every corner of the world. Men
spoke of it as a place where you were fed well, cleanly housed, and
where petty robbery was unknown.

Such was the chorus of praise that it is not likely that much harm
could come to the Excelsior from a single mysterious death but Mother
Pickett was not consoling herself with such reflections.

She looked at the dead man with pale, grim eyes. Out in the hallway the
doctor's voice further increased her despair. He was talking to the
police on the telephone, and she could distinctly hear his every word.


The offices of Mr. Paul Snyder's Detective Agency in New Oxford Street
had grown in the course of a dozen years from a single room to an
impressive suite bright with polished wood, clicking typewriters, and
other evidences of success. Where once Mr. Snyder had sat and waited
for clients and attended to them himself, he now sat in his private
office and directed eight assistants.

He had just accepted a case--a case that might be nothing at all or
something exceedingly big. It was on the latter possibility that he had
gambled. The fee offered was, judged by his present standards of
prosperity, small. But the bizarre facts, coupled with something in the
personality of the client, had won him over. He briskly touched the
bell and requested that Mr. Oakes should be sent in to him.

Elliot Oakes was a young man who both amused and interested Mr. Snyder,
for though he had only recently joined the staff, he made no secret of
his intention of revolutionizing the methods of the agency. Mr. Snyder
himself, in common with most of his assistants, relied for results on
hard work and plenty of common sense. He had never been a detective of
the showy type. Results had justified his methods, but he was perfectly
aware that young Mr. Oakes looked on him as a dull old man who had been
miraculously favored by luck.

Mr. Snyder had selected Oakes for the case in hand principally because
it was one where inexperience could do no harm, and where the brilliant
guesswork which Oakes preferred to call his inductive reasoning might
achieve an unexpected success.

Another motive actuated Mr. Snyder in his choice. He had a strong
suspicion that the conduct of this case was going to have the
beneficial result of lowering Oakes' self-esteem. If failure achieved
this end, Mr. Snyder felt that failure, though it would not help the
Agency, would not be an unmixed ill.

The door opened and Oakes entered tensely. He did everything tensely,
partly from a natural nervous energy, and partly as a pose. He was a
lean young man, with dark eyes and a thin-lipped mouth, and he looked
quite as much like a typical detective as Mr. Snyder looked like a
comfortable and prosperous stock broker.

"Sit down, Oakes," said Mr. Snyder. "I've got a job for you."

Oakes sank into a chair like a crouching leopard, and placed the tips
of his fingers together. He nodded curtly. It was part of his pose to
be keen and silent.

"I want you to go to this address"--Mr. Snyder handed him an
envelope--"and look around. The address on that envelope is of a
sailors' boarding-house down in Southampton. You know the sort of
place--retired sea captains and so on live there. All most respectable.
In all its history nothing more sensational has ever happened than a
case of suspected cheating at halfpenny nap. Well, a man had died

"Murdered?" Oakes asked.

"I don't know. That's for you to find out. The coroner left it open.
'Death by Misadventure' was the verdict, and I don't blame him. I don't
see how it could have been murder. The door was locked on the inside,
so nobody could have got in."

"The window?"

"The window was open, granted. But the room is on the second floor.
Anyway, you may dismiss the window. I remember the old lady saying
there was a bar across it, and that nobody could have squeezed

Oakes' eyes glistened. He was interested. "What was the cause of
death?" he asked.

Mr. Snyder coughed. "Snake bite," he said.

Oakes' careful calm deserted him. He uttered a cry of astonishment.
"Why, that's incredible!"

"It's the literal truth. The medical examination proved that the fellow
had been killed by snake poison--cobra, to be exact, which is found
principally in India."


"Just so. In a Southampton boarding-house, in a room with a locked
door, this man was stung by a cobra. To add a little mystification to
the limpid simplicity of the affair, when the door was opened there was
no sign of any cobra. It couldn't have got out through the door,
because the door was locked. It couldn't have got out of the window,
because the window was too high up, and snakes can't jump. And it
couldn't have gotten up the chimney, because there was no chimney. So
there you have it."

He looked at Oakes with a certain quiet satisfaction. It had come to
his ears that Oakes had been heard to complain of the infantile nature
and unworthiness of the last two cases to which he had been assigned.
He had even said that he hoped some day to be given a problem which
should be beyond the reasoning powers of a child of six. It seemed to
Mr. Snyder that Oakes was about to get his wish.

"I should like further details," said Oakes, a little breathlessly.

"You had better apply to Mrs. Pickett, who owns the boarding-house,"
Mr. Snyder said. "It was she who put the case in my hands. She is
convinced that it is murder. But, if we exclude ghosts, I don't see how
any third party could have taken a hand in the thing at all. However,
she wanted a man from this agency, and was prepared to pay for him, so
I promised her I would send one. It is not our policy to turn business

He smiled wryly. "In pursuance of that policy I want you to go and put
up at Mrs. Pickett's boarding house and do your best to enhance the
reputation of our agency. I would suggest that you pose as a ship's
chandler or something of that sort. You will have to be something
maritime or they'll be suspicious of you. And if your visit produces no
other results, it will, at least, enable you to make the acquaintance
of a very remarkable woman. I commend Mrs. Pickett to your notice. By
the way, she says she will help you in your investigations."

Oakes laughed shortly. The idea amused him.

"It's a mistake to scoff at amateur assistance, my boy," said Mr.
Snyder in the benevolently paternal manner which had made a score of
criminals refuse to believe him a detective until the moment when the
handcuffs snapped on their wrists. "Crime investigation isn't an exact
science. Success or failure depends in a large measure on applied
common sense, and the possession of a great deal of special
information. Mrs. Pickett knows certain things which neither you nor I
know, and it's just possible that she may have some stray piece of
information which will provide the key to the entire mystery."

Oakes laughed again. "It is very kind of Mrs. Pickett," he said, "but I
prefer to trust to my own methods." Oakes rose, his face purposeful.
"I'd better be starting at once," he said. "I'll send you reports from
time to time."

"Good. The more detailed the better," said Mr. Snyder genially. "I hope
your visit to the Excelsior will be pleasant. And cultivate Mrs.
Pickett. She's worth while."

The door closed, and Mr. Snyder lighted a fresh cigar. "Dashed young
fool," he murmured, as he turned his mind to other matters.


A day later Mr. Snyder sat in his office reading a typewritten report.
It appeared to be of a humorous nature, for, as he read, chuckles
escaped him. Finishing the last sheet he threw his head back and
laughed heartily. The manuscript had not been intended by its author
for a humorous effort. What Mr. Snyder had been reading was the first
of Elliott Oakes' reports from the Excelsior. It read as follows:

I am sorry to be unable to report any real progress. I have
formed several theories which I will put forward later, but at
present I cannot say that I am hopeful.

Directly I arrived here I sought out Mrs. Pickett, explained
who I was, and requested her to furnish me with any further
information which might be of service to me. She is a strange,
silent woman, who impressed me as having very little
intelligence. Your suggestion that I should avail myself of
her assistance seems more curious than ever, now that I have
seen her.

The whole affair seems to me at the moment of writing quite
inexplicable. Assuming that this Captain Gunner was murdered,
there appears to have been no motive for the crime whatsoever.
I have made careful inquiries about him, and find that he was
a man of fifty-five; had spent nearly forty years of his life
at sea, the last dozen in command of his own ship; was of a
somewhat overbearing disposition, though with a fund of rough
humour; had travelled all over the world, and had been an inmate
of the Excelsior for about ten months. He had a small annuity,
and no other money at all, which disposes of money as the motive
for the crime.

In my character of James Burton, a retired ship's chandler, I have
mixed with the other boarders, and have heard all they have to say
about the affair. I gather that the deceased was by no means
popular. He appears to have had a bitter tongue, and I have not
met one man who seems to regret his death. On the other hand, I
have heard nothing which would suggest that he had any active and
violent enemies. He was simply the unpopular boarder--there is
always one in every boarding-house--but nothing more.

I have seen a good deal of the man who shared his room--another
sea captain, named Muller. He is a big, silent person, and it is
not easy to get him to talk. As regards the death of Captain Gunner
he can tell me nothing. It seems that on the night of the tragedy
he was away at Portsmouth with some friends. All I have got from
him is some information as to Captain Gunner's habits, which leads
nowhere. The dead man seldom drank, except at night when he would
take some whisky. His head was not strong, and a little of the
spirit was enough to make him semi-intoxicated, when he would be
hilarious and often insulting. I gather that Muller found him a
difficult roommate, but he is one of those placid persons who can
put up with anything. He and Gunner were in the habit of playing
draughts together every night in their room, and Gunner had a
harmonica which he played frequently. Apparently, he was playing
it very soon before he died, which is significant, as seeming to
dispose of the idea of suicide.

As I say, I have one or two theories, but they are in a very
nebulous state. The most plausible is that on one of his visits
to India--I have ascertained that he made several voyages
there--Captain Gunner may in some way have fallen foul of
the natives. The fact that he certainly died of the poison of an
Indian snake supports this theory. I am making inquiries as to
the movements of several Indian sailors who were here in
their ships at the time of the tragedy.

I have another theory. Does Mrs. Pickett know more about
this affair than she appears to? I may be wrong in my estimate
of her mental qualities. Her apparent stupidity may be
cunning. But here again, the absence of motive brings me up
against a dead wall. I must confess that at present I do not see
my way clearly. However, I will write again shortly.

Mr. Snyder derived the utmost enjoyment from the report. He liked the
substance of it, and above all, he was tickled by the bitter tone of
frustration which characterized it. Oakes was baffled, and his knowledge
of Oakes told him that the sensation of being baffled was gall and
wormwood to that high-spirited young man. Whatever might be the result
of this investigation, it would teach him the virtue of patience.

He wrote his assistant a short note:

Dear Oakes,

Your report received. You certainly seem to have got the hard
case which, I hear, you were pining for. Don't build too much
on plausible motives in a case of this sort. Fauntleroy, the
London murderer, killed a woman for no other reason than that
she had thick ankles. Many years ago, I myself was on a case
where a man murdered an intimate friend because of a dispute
about a bet. My experience is that five murderers out of ten
act on the whim of the moment, without anything which, properly
speaking, you could call a motive at all.

Yours very cordially,
Paul Snyder

P. S. I don't think much of your Pickett theory. However, you're
in charge. I wish you luck.


Young Mr. Oakes was not enjoying himself. For the first time in his
life, the self-confidence which characterized all his actions seemed to
be failing him. The change had taken place almost overnight. The fact
that the case had the appearance of presenting the unusual had merely
stimulated him at first. But then doubts had crept in and the problem
had begun to appear insoluble.

True, he had only just taken it up, but something told him that, for
all the progress he was likely to make, he might just as well have been
working on it steadily for a month. He was completely baffled. And
every moment which he spent in the Excelsior Boarding-House made it
clearer to him that that infernal old woman with the pale eyes thought
him an incompetent fool. It was that, more than anything, which made
him acutely conscious of his lack of success. His nerves were being
sorely troubled by the quiet scorn of Mrs. Pickett's gaze. He began to
think that perhaps he had been a shade too self-confident and abrupt in
the short interview which he had had with her on his arrival.

As might have been expected, his first act, after his brief interview
with Mrs. Pickett, was to examine the room where the tragedy had taken
place. The body was gone, but otherwise nothing had been moved.

Oakes belonged to the magnifying-glass school of detection. The first
thing he did on entering the room was to make a careful examination of
the floor, the walls, the furniture, and the windowsill. He would have
hotly denied the assertion that he did this because it looked well, but
he would have been hard put to it to advance any other reason.

If he discovered anything, his discoveries were entirely negative, and
served only to deepen the mystery of the case. As Mr. Snyder had said,
there was no chimney, and nobody could have entered through the locked

There remained the window. It was small, and apprehensiveness, perhaps,
of the possibility of burglars, had caused the proprietress to make it
doubly secure with an iron bar. No human being could have squeezed his
way through it.

It was late that night that he wrote and dispatched to headquarters the
report which had amused Mr. Snyder.


Two days later Mr. Snyder sat at his desk, staring with wide, unbelieving
eyes at a telegram he had just received. It read as follows:


Mr. Snyder narrowed his eyes and rang the bell. "Send Mr. Oakes to me
directly he arrives," he said.

He was pained to find that his chief emotion was one of bitter
annoyance. The swift solution of such an apparently insoluble problem
would reflect the highest credit on the Agency, and there were
picturesque circumstances connected with the case which would make it
popular with the newspapers and lead to its being given a great deal of

Yet, in spite of all this, Mr. Snyder was annoyed. He realized now how
large a part the desire to reduce Oakes' self-esteem had played with
him. He further realized, looking at the thing honestly, that he had
been firmly convinced that the young man would not come within a mile
of a reasonable solution of the mystery. He had desired only that his
failure would prove a valuable educational experience for him. For he
believed that failure at this particular point in his career would make
Oakes a more valuable asset to the Agency. But now here Oakes was,
within a ridiculously short space of time, returning to the fold, not
humble and defeated, but triumphant. Mr. Snyder looked forward with
apprehension to the young man's probable demeanor under the
intoxicating influence of victory.

His apprehensions were well grounded. He had barely finished the third
of the series of cigars, which, like milestones, marked the progress of
his afternoon, when the door opened and young Oakes entered. Mr. Snyder
could not repress a faint moan at the sight of him. One glance was
enough to tell him that his worst fears were realised.

"I got your telegram," said Mr. Snyder.

Oakes nodded. "It surprised you, eh?" he asked.

Mr. Snyder resented the patronizing tone of the question, but he had
resigned himself to be patronized, and keep his anger in check.

"Yes," he replied, "I must say it did surprise me. I didn't gather from
your report that you had even found a clue. Was it the Indian theory
that turned the trick?"

Oakes laughed tolerantly. "Oh, I never really believed that
preposterous theory for one moment. I just put it in to round out my
report. I hadn't begun to think about the case then--not really think."

Mr. Snyder, nearly exploding with wrath, extended his cigar-case.
"Light up, and tell me all about it," he said, controlling his anger.

"Well, I won't say I haven't earned this," said Oakes, puffing away. He
let the ash of his cigar fall delicately to the floor--another action
which seemed significant to his employer. As a rule, his assistants,
unless particularly pleased with themselves, used the ashtray.

"My first act on arriving," Oakes said, "was to have a talk with Mrs.
Pickett. A very dull old woman."

"Curious. She struck me as rather intelligent."

"Not on your life. She gave me no assistance whatever. I then examined
the room where the death had taken place. It was exactly as you described
it. There was no chimney, the door had been locked on the inside, and
the one window was very high up. At first sight, it looked extremely
unpromising. Then I had a chat with some of the other boarders. They had
nothing of any importance to contribute. Most of them simply gibbered.
I then gave up trying to get help from the outside, and resolved to rely
on my own intelligence."

He smiled triumphantly. "It is a theory of mine, Mr. Snyder, which I
have found valuable that, in nine cases out of ten, remarkable things
don't happen."

"I don't quite follow you there," Mr. Snyder interrupted.

"I will put it another way, if you like. What I mean is that the simplest
explanation is nearly always the right one. Consider this case. It seemed
impossible that there should have been any reasonable explanation of the
man's death. Most men would have worn themselves out guessing at wild
theories. If I had started to do that, I should have been guessing now.
As it is--here I am. I trusted to my belief that nothing remarkable ever
happens, and I won out."

Mr. Snyder sighed softly. Oakes was entitled to a certain amount of
gloating, but there could be no doubt that his way of telling a story
was downright infuriating.

"I believe in the logical sequence of events. I refuse to accept
effects unless they are preceded by causes. In other words, with all
due respect to your possibly contrary opinions, Mr. Snyder, I simply
decline to believe in a murder unless there was a motive for it. The
first thing I set myself to ascertain was--what was the motive for the
murder of Captain Gunner? And, after thinking it over and making every
possible inquiry, I decided that there was no motive. Therefore, there
was no murder."

Mr. Snyder's mouth opened, and he obviously was about to protest. But
he appeared to think better of it and Oakes proceeded: "I then tested
the suicide theory. What motive was there for suicide? There was no
motive. Therefore, there was no suicide."

This time Mr. Snyder spoke. "You haven't been spending the last few
days in the wrong house by any chance, have you? You will be telling me
next that there wasn't any dead man."

Oakes smiled. "Not at all. Captain John Gunner was dead, all right. As
the medical evidence proved, he died of the bite of a cobra. It was a
small cobra which came from Java."

Mr. Snyder stared at him. "How do you know?"

"I do know, beyond any possibility of doubt."

"Did you see the snake?"

Oakes shook his head.

"Then, how in heaven's name----"

"I have enough evidence to make a jury convict Mr. Snake without
leaving the box."

"Then suppose you tell me this. How did your cobra from Java get out of
the room?"

"By the window," replied Oakes, impassively.

"How can you possibly explain that? You say yourself that the window
was high up."

"Nevertheless, it got out by the window. The logical sequence of events
is proof enough that it was in the room. It killed Captain Gunner
there, and left traces of its presence outside. Therefore, as the
window was the only exit, it must have escaped by that route. It may
have climbed or it may have jumped, but somehow it got out of that

"What do you mean--it left traces of its presence outside?"

"It killed a dog in the backyard behind the house," Oakes said. "The
window of Captain Gunner's room projects out over it. It is full of
boxes and litter and there are a few stunted shrubs scattered about. In
fact, there is enough cover to hide any small object like the body of a
dog. That's why it was not discovered at first. The maid at the
Excelsior came on it the morning after I sent you my report while she
was emptying a box of ashes in the yard. It was just an ordinary stray
dog without collar or license. The analyst examined the body, and found
that the dog had died of the bite of a cobra."

"But you didn't find the snake?"

"No. We cleaned out that yard till you could have eaten your breakfast
there, but the snake had gone. It must have escaped through the door of
the yard, which was standing ajar. That was a couple of days ago, and
there has been no further tragedy. In all likelihood it is dead. The
nights are pretty cold now, and it would probably have died of

"But, I just don't understand how a cobra got to Southampton," said the
amazed Mr. Snyder.

"Can't you guess it? I told you it came from Java."

"How did you know it did?"

"Captain Muller told me. Not directly, but I pieced it together from
what he said. It seems that an old shipmate of Captain Gunner's was
living in Java. They corresponded, and occasionally this man would send
the captain a present as a mark of his esteem. The last present he sent
was a crate of bananas. Unfortunately, the snake must have got in
unnoticed. That's why I told you the cobra was a small one. Well,
that's my case against Mr. Snake, and short of catching him with the
goods, I don't see how I could have made out a stronger one. Don't you

It went against the grain for Mr. Snyder to acknowledge defeat, but he
was a fair-minded man, and he was forced to admit that Oakes did
certainly seem to have solved the impossible.

"I congratulate you, my boy," he said as heartily as he could. "To be
completely frank, when you started out, I didn't think you could do it.
By the way, I suppose Mrs. Pickett was pleased?"

"If she was, she didn't show it. I'm pretty well convinced she hasn't
enough sense to be pleased at anything. However, she has invited me to
dinner with her tonight. I imagine she'll be as boring as usual, but
she made such a point of it, I had to accept."


For some time after Oakes had gone, Mr. Snyder sat smoking and
thinking, in embittered meditation. Suddenly there was brought the card
of Mrs. Pickett, who would be grateful if he could spare her a few
moments. Mr. Snyder was glad to see Mrs. Pickett. He was a student of
character, and she had interested him at their first meeting. There was
something about her which had seemed to him unique, and he welcomed
this second chance of studying her at close range.

She came in and sat down stiffly, balancing herself on the extreme edge
of the chair in which a short while before young Oakes had lounged so

"How are you, Mrs. Pickett?" said Mr. Snyder genially. "I'm very glad
that you could find time to pay me a visit. Well, so it wasn't murder
after all."


"I've just been talking to Mr. Oakes, whom you met as James Burton,"
said the detective. "He has told me all about it."

"He told _me_ all about it," said Mrs. Pickett dryly.

Mr. Snyder looked at her inquiringly. Her manner seemed more suggestive
than her words.

"A conceited, headstrong young fool," said Mrs. Pickett.

It was no new picture of his assistant that she had drawn. Mr. Snyder
had often drawn it himself, but at the present juncture it surprised
him. Oakes, in his hour of triumph, surely did not deserve this
sweeping condemnation.

"Did not Mr. Oakes' solution of the mystery satisfy you, Mrs. Pickett?"


"It struck me as logical and convincing," Mr. Snyder said.

"You may call it all the fancy names you please, Mr. Snyder. But Mr.
Oakes' solution was not the right one."

"Have you an alternative to offer?"

Mrs. Pickett tightened her lips.

"If you have, I should like to hear it."

"You will--at the proper time."

"What makes you so certain that Mr. Oakes is wrong?"

"He starts out with an impossible explanation, and rests his whole case
on it. There couldn't have been a snake in that room because it
couldn't have gotten out. The window was too high."

"But surely the evidence of the dead dog?"

Mrs. Pickett looked at him as if he had disappointed her. "I had always
heard _you_ spoken of as a man with common sense, Mr. Snyder."

"I have always tried to use common sense."

"Then why are you trying now to make yourself believe that something
happened which could not possibly have happened just because it fits in
with something which isn't easy to explain?"

"You mean that there is another explanation of the dead dog?" Mr.
Snyder asked.

"Not _another_. What Mr. Oakes takes for granted is not an
explanation. But there is a common sense explanation, and if he had not
been so headstrong and conceited he might have found it."

"You speak as if you had found it," chided Mr. Snyder.

"I have." Mrs. Pickett leaned forward as she spoke, and stared at him

Mr. Snyder started. "_You_ have?"


"What is it?"

"You will know before tomorrow. In the meantime try and think it out
for yourself. A successful and prosperous detective agency like yours,
Mr. Snyder, ought to do something in return for a fee."

There was something in her manner so reminiscent of the school teacher
reprimanding a recalcitrant pupil that Mr. Snyder's sense of humor came
to his rescue. "We do our best, Mrs. Pickett," he said. "But you
mustn't forget that we are only human and cannot guarantee results."

Mrs. Pickett did not pursue the subject. Instead, she proceeded to
astonish Mr. Snyder by asking him to swear out a warrant for the arrest
of a man known to them both on a charge of murder.

Mr. Snyder's breath was not often taken away in his own office. As a
rule, he received his clients' communications calmly, strange as they
often were. But at her words he gasped. The thought crossed his mind
that Mrs. Pickett might well be mentally unbalanced. The details of the
case were fresh in his memory, and he distinctly recollected that the
person she mentioned had been away from the boarding house on the night
of Captain Gunner's death, and could, he imagined, produce witnesses to
prove it.

Mrs. Pickett was regarding him with an unfaltering stare. To all
outward appearances, she was the opposite of unbalanced.

"But you can't swear out a warrant without evidence," he told her.

"I have evidence," she replied firmly.

"Precisely what kind of evidence?" he demanded.

"If I told you now you would think that I was out of my mind."

"But, Mrs. Pickett, do you realize what you are asking me to do? I
cannot make this agency responsible for the arbitrary arrest of a man
on the strength of a single individual's suspicions. It might ruin me.
At the least it would make me a laughing stock."

"Mr. Snyder, you may use your own judgment whether or not to make the
arrest on that warrant. You will listen to what I have to say, and you
will see for yourself how the crime was committed. If after that you
feel that you cannot make the arrest I will accept your decision. I
know who killed Captain Gunner," she said. "I knew it from the
beginning. It was like a vision. But I had no proof. Now things have
come to light and everything is clear."

Against his judgment, Mr. Snyder was impressed. This woman had the
magnetism which makes for persuasiveness.

"It--it sounds incredible." Even as he spoke, he remembered that it had
long been a professional maxim of his that nothing was incredible, and
he weakened still further.

"Mr. Snyder, I ask you to swear out that warrant."

The detective gave in. "Very well," he said.

Mrs. Pickett rose. "If you will come and dine at my house to-night I
think I can prove to you that it will be needed. Will you come?"

"I'll come," promised Mr. Snyder.


When Mr. Snyder arrived at the Excelsior and shortly after he was shown
into the little private sitting room where he found Oakes, the third
guest of the evening unexpectedly arrived.

Mr. Snyder looked curiously at the newcomer. Captain Muller had a
peculiar fascination for him. It was not Mr. Snyder's habit to trust
overmuch to appearances. But he could not help admitting that there was
something about this man's aspect which brought Mrs. Pickett's charges
out of the realm of the fantastic into that of the possible. There was
something odd--an unnatural aspect of gloom--about the man. He bore
himself like one carrying a heavy burden. His eyes were dull, his face
haggard. The next moment the detective was reproaching himself with
allowing his imagination to run away with his calmer judgment.

The door opened, and Mrs. Pickett came in. She made no apology for her

To Mr. Snyder one of the most remarkable points about the dinner was
the peculiar metamorphosis of Mrs. Pickett from the brooding silent
woman he had known to the gracious and considerate hostess.

Oakes appeared also to be overcome with surprise, so much so that he
was unable to keep his astonishment to himself. He had come prepared to
endure a dull evening absorbed in grim silence, and he found himself
instead opposite a bottle of champagne of a brand and year which
commanded his utmost respect. What was even more incredible, his
hostess had transformed herself into a pleasant old lady whose only aim
seemed to be to make him feel at home.

Beside each of the guests' plates was a neat paper parcel. Oakes picked
his up, and stared at it in wonderment. "Why, this is more than a party
souvenir, Mrs. Pickett," he said. "It's the kind of mechanical marvel
I've always wanted to have on my desk."

"I'm glad you like it, Mr. Oakes," Mrs. Pickett said, smiling. "You
must not think of me simply as a tired old woman whom age has
completely defeated. I am an ambitious hostess. When I give these
little parties, I like to make them a success. I want each of you to
remember this dinner."

"I'm sure I will."

Mrs. Pickett smiled again. "I think you all will. You, Mr. Snyder." She
paused. "And you, Captain Muller."

To Mr. Snyder there was so much meaning in her voice as she said this
that he was amazed that it conveyed no warning to Muller. Captain
Muller, however, was already drinking heavily. He looked up when
addressed and uttered a sound which might have been taken for an
expression of polite acquiescence. Then he filled his glass again.

Mr. Snyder's parcel revealed a watch-charm fashioned in the shape of a
tiny, candid-eye camera. "That," said Mrs. Pickett, "is a compliment to
your profession." She leaned toward the captain. "Mr. Snyder is a
detective, Captain Muller."

He looked up. It seemed to Mr. Snyder that a look of fear lit up his
heavy eyes for an instant. It came and went, if indeed it came at all,
so swiftly that he could not be certain.

"So?" said Captain Muller. He spoke quite evenly, with just the amount
of interest which such an announcement would naturally produce.

"Now for yours, Captain," said Oakes. "I guess it's something special.
It's twice the size of mine, anyway."

It may have been something in the old woman's expression as she watched
Captain Muller slowly tearing the paper that sent a thrill of
excitement through Mr. Snyder. Something seemed to warn him of the
approach of a psychological moment. He bent forward eagerly.

There was a strangled gasp, a thump, and onto the table from the
captain's hands there fell a little harmonica. There was no mistaking
the look on Muller's face now. His cheeks were like wax, and his eyes,
so dull till then, blazed with a panic and horror which he could not
repress. The glasses on the table rocked as he clutched at the cloth.

Mrs. Pickett spoke. "Why, Captain Muller, has it upset you? I thought
that, as his best friend, the man who shared his room, you would value
a memento of Captain Gunner. How fond you must have been of him for the
sight of his harmonica to be such a shock."

The captain did not speak. He was staring fascinated at the thing on
the table. Mrs. Pickett turned to Mr. Snyder. Her eyes, as they met
his, held him entranced.

"Mr. Snyder, as a detective, you will be interested in a curious and
very tragic affair which happened in this house a few days ago. One of
my boarders, Captain Gunner, was found dead in his room. It was the
room which he shared with Captain Muller. I am very proud of the
reputation of my house, Mr. Snyder, and it was a blow to me that this
should have happened. I applied to an agency for a detective, and they
sent me a stupid boy, with nothing to recommend him except his belief
in himself. He said that Captain Gunner had died by accident, killed by
a snake which had come out of a crate of bananas. I knew better. I knew
that Captain Gunner had been murdered. Are you listening, Captain
Muller? This will interest you, as you were such a friend of his."

The captain did not answer. He was staring straight before him, as if
he saw something invisible in eyes forever closed in death.

"Yesterday we found the body of a dog. It had been killed, as Captain
Gunner had been, by the poison of a snake. The boy from the agency said
that this was conclusive. He said that the snake had escaped from the
room after killing Captain Gunner and had in turn killed the dog. I
knew that to be impossible, for, if there had been a snake in that room
it could not have made its escape."

Her eyes flashed, and became remorselessly accusing. "It was not a
snake that killed Captain Gunner. It was a cat. Captain Gunner had a
friend who hated him. One day, in opening a crate of bananas, this
friend found a snake. He killed it, and extracted the poison. He knew
Captain Gunner's habits. He knew that he played a harmonica. This man
also had a cat. He knew that cats hated the sound of a harmonica. He
had often seen this particular cat fly at Captain Gunner and scratch
him when he played. He took the cat and covered its claws with the
poison. And then he left it in the room with Captain Gunner. He knew
what would happen."

Oakes and Mr. Snyder were on their feet. Captain Muller had not moved.
He sat there, his fingers gripping the cloth. Mrs. Pickett rose and
went to a closet. She unlocked the door. "Kitty!" she called. "Kitty!

A black cat ran swiftly out into the room. With a clatter and a crash
of crockery and a ringing of glass the table heaved, rocked and
overturned as Muller staggered to his feet. He threw up his hands as if
to ward something off. A choking cry came from his lips. "Gott! Gott!"

Mrs. Pickett's voice rang through the room, cold and biting: "Captain
Muller, you murdered Captain Gunner!"

The captain shuddered. Then mechanically he replied: "Gott! Yes, I
killed him."

"You heard, Mr. Snyder," said Mrs. Pickett. "He has confessed before
witnesses. Take him away."

Muller allowed himself to be moved toward the door. His arm in Mr.
Snyder's grip felt limp. Mrs. Pickett stopped and took something from
the debris on the floor. She rose, holding the harmonica.

"You are forgetting your souvenir, Captain Muller," she said.


The profession of Mr. James ("Spider") Buffin was pocket-picking. His
hobby was revenge. James had no objection to letting the sun go down on
his wrath. Indeed, it was after dark that he corrected his numerous
enemies most satisfactorily. It was on a dark night, while he was
settling a small score against one Kelly, a mere acquaintance, that he
first fell foul of Constable Keating, whose beat took him through the
regions which James most frequented.

James, having "laid for" Mr. Kelly, met him in a murky side-street down
Clerkenwell way, and attended to his needs with a sand-bag.

It was here that Constable Keating first came prominently into his
life. Just as James, with the satisfying feeling that his duty had been
done, was preparing to depart, Officer Keating, who had been a distant
spectator of the affair, charged up and seized him.

It was intolerable that he should interfere in a purely private
falling-out between one gentleman and another, but there was nothing to
be done. The policeman weighed close upon fourteen stone, and could
have eaten Mr. Buffin. The latter, inwardly seething, went quietly, and
in due season was stowed away at the Government's expense for the space
of sixty days.

Physically, there is no doubt that his detention did him good. The
regular hours and the substitution of bread and water for his wonted
diet improved his health thirty per cent. It was mentally that he
suffered. His was one of those just-as-good cheap-substitute minds,
incapable of harbouring more than one idea at a time, and during those
sixty days of quiet seclusion it was filled with an ever-growing
resentment against Officer Keating. Every day, as he moved about his
appointed tasks, he brooded on his wrongs. Every night was to him but
the end of another day that kept him from settling down to the serious
business of Revenge. To be haled to prison for correcting a private
enemy with a sand-bag--that was what stung. In the privacy of his cell
he dwelt unceasingly on the necessity for revenge. The thing began to
take on to him the aspect almost of a Holy Mission, a sort of Crusade.

* * * * *

The days slipped by, bringing winter to Clerkenwell, and with it Mr.
Buffin. He returned to his old haunts one Friday night, thin but in
excellent condition. One of the first acquaintances he met was Officer
Keating. The policeman, who had a good memory for faces, recognised
him, and stopped.

"So you're out, young feller?" he said genially. When not in the active
discharge of his professional duties the policeman was a kindly man. He
bore Mr. Buffin no grudge.

"Um," said Mr. Buffin.

"Feeling fine, eh?"


"Goin' round to see some of the chaps and pass them the time of day, I
shouldn't wonder?"


"Well, you keep clear of that lot down in Frith Street, young feller.
They're no good. And if you get mixed up with them, first thing you
know, you'll be in trouble again. And you want to keep out of that


"If you never get into trouble," said the policeman sententiously,
"you'll never have to get out of it."

"Um," said Mr. Buffin. If he had a fault as a conversationalist, it was
a certain tendency to monotony, a certain lack of sparkle and variety
in his small-talk.

Constable Keating, with a dignified but friendly wave of the hand, as
one should say, "You have our leave to depart," went on his way; while
Mr. Buffin, raging, shuffled off in the opposite direction, thinking as
hard as his limited mental equipment would allow him.

His thoughts, which were many and confused, finally composed themselves
into some order. He arrived at a definite conclusion, which was that if
the great settlement was to be carried through successfully it must be
done when the policeman was off duty. Till then he had pictured himself
catching Officer Keating in an unguarded moment on his beat. This, he
now saw, was out of the question. On his beat the policeman had no
unguarded moments. There was a quiet alertness in his poise, a
danger-signal in itself.

There was only one thing for Mr. Buffin to do. Greatly as it would go
against the grain, he must foregather with the man, win his confidence,
put himself in a position where he would be able to find out what he
did with himself when off duty.

The policeman offered no obstacle to the move. A supreme
self-confidence was his leading characteristic. Few London policemen
are diffident, and Mr. Keating was no exception. It never occurred to
him that there could be an ulterior motive behind Mr. Buffin's
advances. He regarded Mr. Buffin much as one regards a dog which one
has had to chastise. One does not expect the dog to lie in wait and
bite. Officer Keating did not expect Mr. Buffin to lie in wait and

So every day, as he strolled on his beat, there sidled up to him
the meagre form of Spider Buffin. Every day there greeted him the
Spider's "Good-morning, Mr. Keating," till the sight of Officer Keating
walking solidly along the pavement with Spider Buffin shuffling along
at his side, listening with rapt interest to his views on Life and his
hints on Deportment, became a familiar spectacle in Clerkenwell.

* * * * *

Mr. Buffin played his part well. In fact, too well. It was on the
seventh day that, sidling along in the direction of his favourite place
of refreshment, he found himself tapped on the shoulder. At the same
moment an arm, linking itself in his, brought him gently to a halt.
Beside him were standing two of the most eminent of the great Frith
Street Gang, Otto the Sausage and Rabbit Butler. It was the finger of
the Rabbit that had tapped his shoulder. The arm tucked in his was the
arm of Otto the Sausage.

"Hi, Spider," said Mr. Butler, "Sid wants to see you a minute."

The Spider's legs felt boneless. There was nothing in the words to
alarm a man, but his practised ear had seemed to detect a certain
unpleasant dryness in the speaker's tone. Sid Marks, the all-powerful
leader of the Frith Street Gang, was a youth whose company the Spider
had always avoided with some care.

The great Sid, seated in state at a neighbouring hostelry, fixed his
visitor with a cold and questioning eye. Mr. Buffin looked nervous and
interrogative. Mr. Marks spoke.

"Your pal Keating pinched Porky Binns this mornin'," said Sid.

The Spider's heart turned to water.

"You and that slop," observed Sid dreamily, "have been bloomin' thick
these days."

Mr. Buffin did not affect to misunderstand. Sid Marks was looking at
him in that nasty way. Otto the Sausage was looking at him in that
nasty way. Rabbit Butler was looking at him in that nasty way. This was
an occasion where manly frankness was the quality most to be aimed at.
To be misunderstood in the circles in which Mr. Buffin moved meant
something more than the mere risk of being treated with cold

He began to explain with feverish eagerness.

"Strike me, Sid," he stammered, "it ain't like that. It's all right.
Blimey, you don't fink I'm a nark?"

Mr. Marks chewed a straw in silence.

"I'm layin' for him, Sid," babbled Mr. Buffin. "That's true. Strike me
if it ain't. I'm just tryin' to find out where he goes when he's off
duty. He pinched me, so I'm layin' for him."

Mr. Marks perpended. Rabbit Butler respectfully gave it as his opinion
that it would be well to put Mr. Buffin through it. There was nothing
like being on the safe side. By putting Mr. Buffin through it, argued
Rabbit Butler, they would stand to win either way. If he _had_
"smitched" to Officer Keating about Porky Binns he would deserve it. If
he had not--well, it would prevent him doing so on some future
occasion. Play for safety, was Mr. Butler's advice, seconded by Otto
the Sausage. Mr. Buffin, pale to the lips, thought he had never met two
more unpleasant persons.

The Great Sid, having chewed his straw for a while in silence,
delivered judgment. The prisoner should have the benefit of the doubt
this time. His story, however unplausible, might possibly be true.
Officer Keating undoubtedly had pinched him. That was in his favour.

"You can hop it this time," he said, "but if you ever do start
smitchin', Spider, yer knows what'll happen."

Mr. Buffin withdrew, quaking.

Matters had now come to a head. Unless he very speedily gave proof
of his pure and noble intentions, life would become extremely unsafe
for him. He must act at once. The thought of what would happen should
another of the Frith Streeters be pinched before he, Mr. Buffin, could
prove himself innocent of the crime of friendliness with Officer Keating,
turned him cold.

Fate played into his hands. On the very next morning Mr. Keating, all
unsuspecting, asked him to go to his home with a message for his wife.

"Tell her," said Mr. Keating, "a newspaper gent has given me seats for
the play to-night, and I'll be home at a quarter to seven."

Mr. Buffin felt as Cromwell must have felt at Dunbar when the Scots
left their stronghold on the hills and came down to the open plain.

The winter had set in with some severity that year, and Mr. Buffin's
toes, as he stood in the shadows close to the entrance of the villa
where Officer Keating lived when off duty, were soon thoroughly frozen.
He did not dare to stamp his feet, for at any moment now the victim
might arrive. And when the victim weighs fourteen stone, against the
high priest's eight and a half, it behooves the latter to be
circumspect, if the sacrifice is to be anything like a success. So Mr.
Buffin waited and froze in silence. It was a painful process, and he
added it to the black score which already stood against Officer
Keating. Never had his thirst for revenge been more tormenting. It is
doubtful if a strictly logical and impartial judge would have held Mr.
Keating to blame for the fact that Sid Marks' suspicions (and all that
those suspicions entailed) had fallen upon Mr. Buffin; but the Spider
did so. He felt fiercely resentful against the policeman for placing
him in such an unpleasant and dangerous position. As his thoughts ran
on the matter, he twisted his fingers tighter round his stick.

As he did so there came from down the road the brisk tramp of feet and
a cheerful whistling of "The Wearing of the Green." It is a lugubrious
song as a rule, but, as rendered by Officer Keating returning home with
theatre tickets, it had all the joyousness of a march-tune.

Every muscle in Mr. Buffin's body stiffened. He gripped his stick and
waited. The road was deserted. In another moment....

And then, from nowhere, dark indistinct forms darted out like rats. The
whistling stopped in the middle of a bar. A deep-chested oath rang out,
and then a confused medley of sound, the rasping of feet, a growling
almost canine, a sharp yelp, gasps, and over all the vast voice of
Officer Keating threatening slaughter.

For a moment Mr. Buffin stood incapable of motion. The thing had been
so sudden, so unexpected. And then, as he realised what was happening,
there swept over him in a wave a sense of intolerable injustice. It is
not easy to describe his emotions, but they resembled most nearly those
of an inventor whose patent has been infringed, or an author whose idea
has been stolen. For weeks--and weeks that had seemed like years--he
had marked down Officer Keating for his prey. For weeks he had tortured
a mind all unused to thinking into providing him with schemes for
accomplishing his end. He had outraged his nature by being civil to a
policeman. He had risked his life by incurring the suspicions of Sid
Marks. He had bought a stick. And he had waited in the cold till his
face was blue and his feet blocks of ice. And now ... _now_ ...
after all this ... a crowd of irresponsible strangers, with no rights
in the man whatsoever probably, if the truth were known, filled with
mere ignoble desire for his small change, had dared to rush in and jump
his claim before his very eyes.

With one passionate cry, Mr. Buffin, forgetting his frozen feet, lifted
his stick, and galloped down the road to protect his property....

"That's the stuff," said a voice. "Pour some more into him, Jerry."

Mr. Buffin opened his eyes. A familiar taste was in his mouth. Somebody
of liberal ideas seemed to be pouring whisky down his throat. Could
this be Heaven? He raised his head, and a sharp pain shot through it.
And with the pain came recollection. He remembered now, dimly, as if it
had all happened in another life, the mad rush down the road, the
momentary pause in the conflict, and then its noisy renewal on a more
impressive scale. He remembered striking out left and right with his
stick. He remembered the cries of the wounded, the pain of his frozen
feet, and finally the crash of something hard and heavy on his head.

He sat up, and found himself the centre of a little crowd. There was
Officer Keating, dishevelled but intact; three other policemen, one of
whom was kneeling by his side with a small bottle in his hand; and, in
the grip of the two were standing two youths.

One was Otto the Sausage; the other was Rabbit Butler.

The kneeling policeman was proffering the bottle once more. Mr. Buffin
snatched at it. He felt that it was just what at that moment he needed

* * * * *

He did what he could. The magistrate asked for his evidence. He said he
had none. He said he thought there must be some mistake. With a twisted
smile in the direction of the prisoners, he said that he did not
remember having seen either of them at the combat. He didn't believe
they were there at all. He didn't believe they were capable of such a
thing. If there was one man who was less likely to assault a policeman
than Otto the Sausage, it was Rabbit Butler. The Bench reminded him
that both these innocents had actually been discovered in Officer
Keating's grasp. Mr. Buffin smiled a harassed smile, and wiped a drop
of perspiration from his brow.

Officer Keating was enthusiastic. He described the affair from start to
finish. But for Mr. Buffin he would have been killed. But for Mr.
Buffin there would have been no prisoners in court that day. The world
was full of men with more or less golden hearts, but there was only one
Mr. Buffin. Might he shake hands with Mr. Buffin?

The magistrate ruled that he might. More, he would shake hands with him
himself. Summoning Mr. Buffin behind his desk, he proceeded to do so.
If there were more men like Mr. Buffin, London would be a better place.
It was the occasional discovery in our midst of ethereal natures like
that of Mr. Buffin which made one so confident for the future of the

The paragon shuffled out. It was bright and sunny in the street, but in
Mr. Buffin's heart there was no sunlight. He was not a quick thinker,
but he had come quite swiftly to the conclusion that London was no
longer the place for him. Sid Marks had been in court chewing a straw
and listening with grave attention to the evidence, and for one moment
Mr. Buffin had happened to catch his eye. No medical testimony as to
the unhealthiness of London could have moved him more.

Once round the corner, he ran. It hurt his head to run, but there were
things behind him that could hurt his head more than running.

* * * * *

At the entrance to the Tube he stopped. To leave the locality he must
have money. He felt in his pockets. Slowly, one by one, he pulled forth
his little valuables. His knife ... his revolver ... the magistrate's
gold watch ... He inspected them sadly. They must all go.

He went into a pawnbroker's shop at the corner of the street. A few
moments later, with money in his pockets, he dived into the Tube.


Eve Hendrie sat up in bed. For two hours she had been trying to get to
sleep, but without success. Never in her life had she felt more

There were two reasons for this. Her mind was disturbed, and she was
very hungry. Neither sensation was novel to her. Since first she had
become paid companion to Mrs. Rastall-Retford there had hardly been a
moment when she had not been hungry. Some time before Mrs.
Rastall-Retford's doctor had recommended to that lady a Spartan diet,
and in this Eve, as companion, had unwillingly to share. It was not
pleasant for either of them, but at least Mrs. Rastall-Retford had the
knowledge that she had earned it by years of honest self-indulgence.
Eve had not that consolation.

Meagre fare, moreover, had the effect of accentuating Mrs.
Rastall-Retford's always rather pronounced irritability. She was a
massive lady, with a prominent forehead, some half-dozen chins, and a
manner towards those in her employment which would have been resented
in a second mate by the crew of a Western ocean tramp. Even at her best
she was no ray of sunshine about the house. And since the beginning of
the self-denying ordinance she had been at her worst.

But it was not depression induced by her employer that was disturbing
Eve. That was a permanent evil. What was agitating her so extremely
to-night was the unexpected arrival of Peter Rayner.

It was Eve's practice to tell herself several times a day that she had
no sentiment for Peter Rayner but dislike. She did not attempt to
defend her attitude logically, but nevertheless she clung to it, and
to-night, when he entered the drawing-room, she had endeavoured to
convey by her manner that it was only with the greatest difficulty that
she remembered him at all, and that, having accomplished that feat, she
now intended to forget him again immediately. And he had grinned a
cheerful, affectionate grin, and beamed on her without a break till

Before coming as companion to Mrs. Rastall-Retford Eve had been
governess to Hildebrand, aged six, the son of a Mrs. Elphinstone. It
had been, on the whole, a comfortable situation. She had not liked Mrs.
Elphinstone, but Hildebrand had been docile, and altogether life was
quite smooth and pleasant until Mrs. Elphinstone's brother came for a
visit. Peter Rayner was that brother.

There is a type of man who makes love with the secrecy and sheepish
reserve of a cowboy shooting up a Wild West saloon. To this class Peter
belonged. He fell in love with Eve at sight, and if, at the end of the
first day, there was anyone in the house who was not aware of it, it
was only Hildebrand, aged six. And even Hildebrand must have had his

Mrs. Elphinstone was among the first to become aware of it. For two
days, frostily silent and gimlet-like as to the eye, she observed
Peter's hurricane wooing from afar; then she acted. Peter she sent to
London, pacifying him with an invitation to return to the house in the
following week. This done, she proceeded to eliminate Eve. In the
course of the parting interview she expressed herself perhaps a little
less guardedly than was either just or considerate; and Eve, flushed
and at war with the whole race of Rayners, departed that afternoon to
seek a situation elsewhere. She had found it at the house of Mrs.

And now this evening, as she sat in the drawing-room playing the piano
to her employer, in had walked the latter's son, a tall, nervous young
man, perpetually clearing his throat and fiddling with a pair of
gold-rimmed glasses, with the announcement that he had brought his
friend, Mr. Rayner, to spend a few days in the old home.

Eve could still see the look on Peter's face as, having shaken hands
with his hostess, he turned to her. It was the look of the cowboy who,
his weary ride over, sees through the dusk the friendly gleam of the
saloon windows, and with a happy sigh reaches for his revolver. There
could be no two meanings to that look. It said, as clearly as if he had
shouted it, that this was no accidental meeting; that he had tracked
her down and proposed to resume matters at the point where they had
left off.

Eve was indignant. It was abominable that he should pursue her in this
way. She sat thinking how abominable it was for five minutes; and then
it suddenly struck her that she was hungrier than ever. She had
forgotten her material troubles for the moment. It seemed to her now
that she was quite faint with hunger.

A cuckoo clock outside the door struck one. And, as it did so, it came
to Eve that on the sideboard in the dining-room there were biscuits.

A moment later she was creeping softly down the stairs.

* * * * *

It was dark and ghostly on the stairs. The house was full of noises.
She was glad when she reached the dining-room. It would be pleasant to
switch on the light. She pushed open the door, and uttered a cry. The
light was already switched on, and at the table, his back to her, was a

There was no time for flight. He must have heard the door open. In
another moment he would turn and spring.

She spoke tremulously.

"Don't--don't move. I'm pointing a pistol at you."

The man did not move.

"Foolish child!" he said, indulgently. "Suppose it went off!"

She uttered an exclamation of surprise.

"You! What are you doing here, Mr. Rayner?"

She moved into the room, and her relief changed swiftly into
indignation. On the table were half a chicken, a loaf, some cold
potatoes, and a bottle of beer.

"I'm eating, thank goodness!" said Peter, helping himself to a cold
potato. "I had begun to think I never should again."


"Eating. I know a man of sensibility and refinement ought to shrink
from raiding his hostess's larder in the small hours, but hunger's
death to the finer feelings. It's the solar plexus punch which puts
one's better self down and out for the count of ten. I am a large and
healthy young man, and, believe me, I need this little snack. I need it
badly. May I cut you a slice of chicken?"

She could hardly bear to look at it, but pride gave her strength.

"No," she snapped.

"You're sure? Poor little thing; I know you're half starved."

Eve stamped.

"How dare you speak to me like that, Mr. Rayner?"

He drank bottled beer thoughtfully.

"What made you come down? I suppose you heard a noise and thought it
was burglars?" he said.

"Yes," said Eve, thankfully accepting the idea. At all costs she must
conceal the biscuit motive.

"That was very plucky of you. Won't you sit down?"

"No, I'm going back to bed."

"Not just yet. I've several things to talk to you about. Sit down.
That's right. Now cover up your poor little pink ankles, or you'll be

She started up.

"Mr. Rayner!"

"Sit down."

She looked at him defiantly, then, wondering at herself for doing it,
sat down.

"Now," said Peter, "what do you mean by it? What do you mean by dashing
off from my sister's house without leaving a word for me as to where
you were going? You knew I loved you."

"Good night, Mr. Rayner."

"Sit down. You've given me a great deal of trouble. Do you know it cost
me a sovereign in tips to find out your address? I couldn't get it out
of my sister, and I had to apply to the butler. I've a good mind to
knock it off your first week's pin-money."

"I shall not stay here listening----"

"You knew perfectly well I wanted to marry you. But you fly off without
a word and bury yourself in this benighted place with a gorgon who nags
and bullies you----"

"A nice way to speak of your hostess," said Eve, scornfully.

"A very soothing way. I don't think I ever took such a dislike to a
woman at first sight before. And when she started to bullyrag you, it
was all I could do--But it won't last long now. You must come away at
once. We'll be married after Christmas, and in the meantime you can go
and live with my sister----"

Eve listened speechlessly. She had so much to say that the difficulty
of selection rendered her dumb.

"When can you start? I mean, do you have to give a month's notice or

Eve got up with a short laugh.

"Good night, Mr. Rayner," she said. "You have been very amusing, but I
am getting tired."

"I'm glad it's all settled," said Peter. "Good night."

Eve stopped. She could not go tamely away without saying a single one
of the things that crowded in her mind.

"Do you imagine," she said, "that I intend to marry you? Do you
suppose, for one moment----"

"Rather!" said Peter. "You shall have a splendid time from now on, to
make up for all you've gone through. I'm going to be awfully good to
you, Eve. You sha'n't ever have any more worries, poor old thing." He
looked at her affectionately. "I wonder why it is that large men always
fall in love with little women. There are you, a fragile, fairy-like,
ethereal wisp of a little creature; and here am I----"

"A great, big, greedy pig!" burst out Eve, "who thinks about nothing
but eating and drinking."

"I wasn't going to have put it quite like that," said Peter,

"I hate a greedy man," said Eve, between her teeth.

"I have a healthy appetite," protested Peter. "Nothing more. It runs in
the family. At the time of the Civil War the Rayner of the period, who
was King Charles's right-hand man, would frequently eat despatches to
prevent them falling into the hands of the enemy. He was noted for it."

Eve reached the door and turned.

"I despise you," she said.

"Good night," said Peter, tenderly. "To-morrow morning we'll go for a

His prediction proved absolutely correct. He was smoking a cigarette
after breakfast when Eve came to him. Her face was pink and mutinous,
but there was a gleam in her eye.

"Are you ready to come out, Mr. Rayner?" she said. "Mrs.
Rastall-Retford says I'm to take you to see the view from the golf

"You'll like that," said Peter.

"I shall not like it," snapped Eve. "But Mrs. Rastall-Retford is paying
me a salary to do what she tells me, and I have to earn it."

Conversation during the walk consisted mainly of a monologue on the
part of Peter. It was a crisp and exhilarating morning, and he appeared
to be feeling a universal benevolence towards all created things. He
even softened slightly on the subject of Mrs. Rastall-Retford, and
advanced the theory that her peculiar manner might be due to her having
been ill-treated as a child.

Eve listened in silence. It was not till they were nearing home on
their return journey that she spoke.

"Mr. Rayner," she said.

"Yes?" said Peter.

"I was talking to Mrs. Rastall-Retford after breakfast," said Eve, "and
I told her something about you."

"My conscience is clear."

"Oh, nothing bad. Some people would say it was very much to your
credit." She looked away across the fields. "I told her you were a
vegetarian," she added, carelessly.

There was a long silence. Then Peter spoke three words, straight from
the heart.

"You little devil!"

Eve turned and looked at him, her eyes sparkling wickedly.

"You see!" she said. "Now perhaps you will go."

"Without you?" said Peter, stoutly. "Never!"

"In London you will be able to eat all day--anything you like. You will
be able to creep about your club gnawing cold chicken all night. But if
you stay here----"

"You have got a wrong idea of the London clubman's life," said Peter.
"If I crept about my club gnawing cold chicken I should have the
committee after me. No, I shall stay here and look after you. After
all, what is food?"

"I'll tell you what yours will be, if you like. Or would you rather
wait and let it be a surprise? Well, for lunch you will have some
boiled potatoes and cabbage and a sweet--a sort of light _souffle_
thing. And for dinner----"

"Yes, but one moment," said Peter. "If I'm a vegetarian, how did you
account for my taking all the chicken I could get at dinner last night,
and looking as if I wanted more?"

"Oh, that was your considerateness. You didn't want to give trouble,
even if you had to sacrifice your principles. But it's all right now.
You are going to have your vegetables."

Peter drew a deep breath--the breath of the man who braces himself up
and thanks whatever gods there be for his unconquerable soul.

"I don't care," he said. "'A book of verses underneath the bough, a jug
of wine, and thou----'"

"Oh, and I forgot," interrupted Eve. "I told her you were a teetotaller
as well."

There was another silence, longer than the first.

"The best train," said Eve, at last, "is the ten-fifty."

He looked at her inquiringly.

"The best train?"

"For London."

"What makes you think that I am interested in trains to London?"

Eve bit her lip.

"Mr. Rayner," she said, after a pause, "do you remember at lunch one
day at Mrs. Elphinstone's refusing parsnips? You said that, so far as
you were concerned, parsnips were first by a mile, and that prussic
acid and strychnine also ran."

"Well?" said Peter.

"Oh, nothing," said Eve. "Only I made a stupid mistake. I told the cook
you were devoted to parsnips. I'm sorry."

Peter looked at her gravely. "I'm putting up with a lot for your sake,"
he said.

"You needn't. Why don't you go away?"

"And leave you chained to the rock, Andromeda? Not for Perseus! I've
only been here one night, but I've seen enough to know that I've got to
take you away from this place. Honestly, it's killing you. I was
watching you last night. You're scared if that infernal old woman
starts to open her mouth. She's crushing the life out of you. I'm going
to stay on here till you say you'll marry me, or till they throw me

"There are parsnips for dinner to-night," said Eve, softly.

"I shall get to like them. They are an acquired taste, I expect.
Perhaps I am, too. Perhaps I am the human parsnip, and you will have to
learn to love me."

"You are the human burr," said Eve, shortly. "I shouldn't have thought
it possible for a man to behave as you are doing."

* * * * *

In spite of herself, there were moments during the next few days when
Eve felt twinges of remorse. It was only by telling herself that he had
no right to have followed her to this house, and that he was at perfect
liberty to leave whenever he wished, that she could harden her heart
again. And even this reflection was not entirely satisfactory, for it
made her feel how fond he must be of her to endure these evils for her

And there was no doubt about there being evils. It was a dreary house
in which to spend winter days. There were no books that one could
possibly read. The nearest railway station was five miles away. There
was not even a dog to talk to. Generally it rained. Though Eve saw
little of Peter, except at meals and in the drawing-room after
dinner--for Mrs. Rastall-Retford spent most of the day in her own
sitting-room and required Eve to be at her side--she could picture his
sufferings, and, try as she would, she could not keep herself from
softening a little. Her pride was weakening. Constant attendance on her
employer was beginning to have a bad effect on her nerves. Association
in a subordinate capacity with Mrs. Rastall-Retford did not encourage a
proud and spirited outlook on life.

Her imagination had not exaggerated Peter's sufferings. Many people
consider that Dante has spoken the last word on the post-mortem housing
of the criminal classes. Peter, after the first week of his visit,
could have given him a few new ideas.

* * * * *

It is unpleasant to be half starved. It is unpleasant to be cooped up
in a country-house in winter with nothing to do. It is unpleasant to
have to sit at meals and listen to the only girl you have ever really
loved being bullyragged by an old lady with six chins. And all these
unpleasantnesses were occurring to Peter simultaneously. It is highly
creditable to him that the last should completely have outweighed the

He was generally alone. Mr. Rastall-Retford, who would have been better
than nothing as a companion, was a man who enjoyed solitude. He was a
confirmed vanisher. He would be present at one moment, the next he
would have glided silently away. And, even on the rare occasions when
he decided not to vanish, he seldom did much more than clear his throat
nervously and juggle with his pince-nez.

Peter, in his boyhood, had been thrilled once by a narrative of a man
who got stuck in the Sargasso Sea. It seemed to him now that the
monotony of the Sargasso Sea had been greatly exaggerated.

Nemesis was certainly giving Peter his due. He had wormed his way into
the Rastall-Retford home-circle by grossly deceitful means. The moment
he heard that Eve had gone to live with Mrs. Rastall-Retford, and had
ascertained that the Rastall-Retford with whom he had been at Cambridge
and whom he still met occasionally at his club when he did not see him
first, was this lady's son, he had set himself to court young Mr.
Rastall-Retford. He had cornered him at the club and begun to talk
about the dear old 'Varsity days, ignoring the embarrassment of the
latter, whose only clear recollection of the dear old 'Varsity days as
linking Peter and himself was of a certain bump-supper night, when
sundry of the festive, led and inspired by Peter, had completely
wrecked his rooms and shaved off half a growing moustache. He conveyed
to young Mr. Rastall-Retford the impression that, in the dear old
'Varsity days, they had shared each other's joys and sorrows, and,
generally, had made Damon and Pythias look like a pair of cross-talk
knockabouts at one of the rowdier music-halls. Not to invite so old a
friend to stay at his home, if he ever happened to be down that way,
would, he hinted, be grossly churlish. Mr. Rastall-Retford, impressed,
issued the invitation. And now Peter was being punished for his deceit.
Nemesis may not be an Alfred Shrubb, but give her time and she gets

* * * * *

It was towards the middle of the second week of his visit that Eve,
coming into the drawing-room before dinner, found Peter standing in
front of the fire. They had not been alone together for several days.

"Well?" said he.

Eve went to the fire and warmed her hands.

"Well?" she said, dispiritedly.

She was feeling nervous and ill. Mrs. Rastall-Retford had been in one
of her more truculent moods all day, and for the first time Eve had the
sensation of being thoroughly beaten. She dreaded the long hours to
bedtime. The thought that there might be bridge after dinner made her
feel physically ill. She felt she could not struggle through a bridge

On the occasions when she was in one of her dangerous moods, Mrs.
Rastall-Retford sometimes chose rest as a cure, sometimes relaxation.
Rest meant that she retired to her room immediately after dinner, and
expended her venom on her maid; relaxation meant bridge, and bridge
seemed to bring out all her worst points. They played the game for
counters at her house, and there had been occasions in Eve's experience
when the loss of a hundred or so of these useful little adjuncts to Fun
in the Home had lashed her almost into a frenzy. She was one of those
bridge players who keep up a running quarrel with Fate during the game,
and when she was not abusing Fate she was generally reproaching her
partner. Eve was always her partner; and to-night she devoutly hoped
that her employer would elect to rest. She always played badly with
Mrs. Rastall-Retford, through sheer nervousness. Once she had revoked,
and there had been a terrible moment and much subsequent recrimination.

Peter looked at her curiously.

"You're pale to-night," he said.

"I have a headache."

"H'm! How is our hostess? Fair? Or stormy?"

"As I was passing her door I heard her bullying her maid, so I suppose

"That means a bad time for you?" he said, sympathetically.

"I suppose so. If we play bridge. But she may go to bed directly after

She tried to keep her voice level, but he detected the break.

"Eve," he said, quickly, "won't you let me take you away from here?
You've no business in this sort of game. You're not tough enough.
You've got to be loved and made a fuss of and----"

She laughed shakily.

"Perhaps you can give me the address of some lady who wants a companion
to love and make a fuss of?"

"I can give you the address of a man."

She rested an arm on the mantelpiece and stood looking into the blaze,
without replying.

Before he could speak again there was a step outside the door, and Mrs.
Rastall-Retford rustled into the room.

Eve had not misread the storm-signals. Her employer's mood was still as
it had been earlier in the day. Dinner passed in almost complete
silence. Mrs. Rastall-Retford sat brooding dumbly. Her eye was cold and
menacing, and Peter, working his way through his vegetables, shuddered
for Eve. He had understood her allusion to bridge, having been
privileged several times during his stay to see his hostess play that
game, and he hoped that there would be no bridge to-night.

And this was unselfish of him, for bridge meant sandwiches. Punctually
at nine o'clock on bridge nights the butler would deposit on a
side-table a plate of chicken sandwiches and (in deference to Peter's
vegetarian views) a smaller plate of cheese sandwiches. At the close of
play Mrs. Rastall-Retford would take one sandwich from each plate,
drink a thimbleful of weak whisky and water, and retire.

Peter could always do with a sandwich or two these days. But he was
prepared to abandon them joyfully if his hostess would waive bridge for
this particular evening.

It was not to be. In the drawing-room Mrs. Rastall-Retford came out of
her trance and called imperiously for the cards. Peter, when he saw his
hand after the first deal, had a presentiment that if all his hands
were to be as good as this, the evening was going to be a trying one.
On the other occasions when they had played he had found it an
extremely difficult task, even with moderate cards, to bring it about
that his hostess should always win the odd rubber, for he was an
excellent player, and, like most good players, had an artistic
conscience which made it painful to him to play a deliberately bad
game, even from the best motives. If all his hands were going to be as
strong as this first one he saw that there was disaster ahead. He could
not help winning.

Mrs. Rastall-Retford, who had dealt the first hand, made a most
improper diamond declaration. Her son unfilially doubled, and, Eve
having chicane--a tragedy which her partner evidently seemed to
consider could have been avoided by the exercise of ordinary common
sense--Peter and his partner, despite Peter's best efforts, won the
game handsomely.

The son of the house dealt the next hand. Eve sorted her cards
listlessly. She was feeling curiously tired. Her brain seemed dulled.

This hand, as the first had done, went all in favour of the two men.
Mr. Rastall-Retford won five tricks in succession, and, judging from
the glitter in his mild eye, was evidently going to win as many more as
he possibly could. Mrs. Rastall-Retford glowered silently. There was
electricity in the air.

The son of the house led a club. Eve played a card mechanically.

"Have you no clubs, Miss Hendrie?"

Eve started, and looked at her hand.

"No," she said.

Mrs. Rastall-Retford grunted suspiciously.

Not long ago, in Westport, Connecticut, U.S.A., a young man named
Harold Sperry, a telephone worker, was boring a hole in the wall of a
house with a view to passing a wire through it. He whistled joyously as
he worked. He did not know that he had selected for purposes of
perforation the exact spot where there lay, nestling in the brickwork,
a large leaden water-pipe. The first intimation he had of that fact was
when a jet of water suddenly knocked him fifteen feet into a rosebush.

As Harold felt then, so did Eve now, when, examining her hand once more
to make certain that she had no clubs, she discovered the ace of that
ilk peeping coyly out from behind the seven of spades.

Her face turned quite white. It is never pleasant to revoke at bridge,
but to Eve just then it seemed a disaster beyond words. She looked
across at her partner. Her imagination pictured the scene there would
be ere long, unless----

It happens every now and then that the human brain shows in a crisis an
unwonted flash of speed. Eve's did at this juncture. To her in her
trouble there came a sudden idea.

She looked round the table. Mr. Rastall-Retford, having taken the last
trick, had gathered it up in the introspective manner of one planning
big _coups_, and was brooding tensely, with knit brows. His mother
was frowning over her cards. She was unobserved.

She seized the opportunity. She rose from her seat, moved quickly to
the side-table, and, turning her back, slipped the fatal card
dexterously into the interior of a cheese sandwich.

Mrs. Rastall-Retford, absorbed, did not notice for an instant. Then she
gave tongue.

"What are you doing, Miss Hendrie?"

Eve was breathing quickly.

"I--I thought that Mr. Rayner might like a sandwich."

She was at his elbow with the plate. It trembled in her hand.

"A sandwich! Kindly do not be so officious, Miss Hendrie. The idea--in
the middle of a hand----" Her voice died away in a resentful mumble.

Peter started. He had been allowing his thoughts to wander. He looked
from the sandwich to Eve and then at the sandwich again. He was
puzzled. This had the aspect of being an olive-branch--could it be?
Could she be meaning----? Or was it a subtle insult? Who could say? At
any rate it was a sandwich, and he seized it, without prejudice.

"I hope at least you have had the sense to remember that Mr. Rayner is
a vegetarian, Miss Hendrie," said Mrs. Rastall-Retford. "That is not a
chicken sandwich?"

"No," said Eve; "it is not a chicken sandwich."

Peter beamed gratefully. He raised the olive-branch, and bit into it
with the energy of a starving man. And as he did so he caught Eve's

"Miss Hendrie!" cried Mrs. Rastall-Retford.

Eve started violently.

"Miss Hendrie, will you be good enough to play? The king of clubs to
beat. I can't think what's the matter with you to-night."

"I'm very sorry," said Eve, and put down the nine of spades.

Mrs. Rastall-Retford glared.

"This is absurd," she cried. "You _must_ have the ace of clubs. If
you have not got it, who has? Look through your hand again. Is it


"Then where can it be?"

"Where can it be?" echoed Peter, taking another bite.

"Why--why," said Eve, crimson, "I--I--have only five cards. I ought to
have six."

"Five?" said Mrs. Rastall-Retford "Nonsense! Count again. Have you
dropped it on the floor?"

Mr. Rastall-Retford stooped and looked under the table.

"It is not on the floor," he said. "I suppose it must have been missing
from the pack before I dealt."

Mrs. Rastall-Retford threw down her cards and rose ponderously. It
offended her vaguely that there seemed to be nobody to blame. "I shall
go to bed," she said.

* * * * *

Peter stood before the fire and surveyed Eve as she sat on the sofa.
They were alone in the room, Mr. Rastall-Retford having drifted
silently away in the wake of his mother. Suddenly Eve began to laugh

He shook his head at her.

"This is considerably sharper than a serpent's tooth," he said. "You
should be fawning gratefully upon me, not laughing. Do you suppose King
Charles laughed at my ancestor when he ate the despatches? However, for
the first time since I have been in this house I feel as if I had had a
square meal."

Eve became suddenly serious. The smile left her face.

"Mr. Rayner, please don't think I'm ungrateful. I couldn't help
laughing, but I can't tell you how grateful I am. You don't know what
it would have been like if she had found out that I had revoked. I did
it once before, and she kept on about it for days and days. It was
awful." She shivered. "I think you must be right, and my nerves
_are_ going."

He nodded.

"So are you--to-morrow, by the first train. I wonder how soon we can
get married. Do you know anything about special licenses?"

She looked at him curiously.

"You're very obstinate," she said.

"Firm," he corrected. "Firm. Could you pack to-night, do you think, and
be ready for that ten-fifty to-morrow morning?"

She began to trace an intricate pattern on the floor with the point of
her shoe.

"I can't imagine why you are fond of me!" she said. "I've been very
horrid to you."

"Nonsense. You've been all that's sweet and womanly."

"And I want to tell you why," she went on. "Your--your sister----"

"Ah, I thought as much!"

"She--she saw that you seemed to be getting fond of me, and she----"

"She would!"

"Said some rather horrid things that--hurt," said Eve, in a low voice.

Peter crossed over to where she sat and took her hand.

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