Part 1 out of 7
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THE CRIMSON BLIND
By FRED. M. WHITE
I. "WHO SPEAKS?"
II. THE CRIMSON BLIND
III. THE VOICE IN THE DARKNESS
IV. IN EXTREMIS
V. "RECEIVED WITH THANKS"
VI. A POLICY OF SILENCE
VII. No. 218, BRUNSWICK SQUARE
VIII. HATHERLY BELL
IX. THE BROKEN FIGURE
X. THE HOUSE OF THE SILENT SORROW
XI. AFTER REMBRANDT
XII. "THE CRIMSON BLIND"
XIII. "GOOD DOG!"
XIV. BEHIND THE BLIND
XV. A MEDICAL OPINION
XVI. MARGARET SEES A GHOST
XVII. THE PACE SLACKENS
XVIII. A COMMON ENEMY
XIX. ROLLO SHOWS HIS TEETH
XX. FRANK LITTIMER
XXI. A FIND
XXII. "THE LIGHT THAT FAILED"
XXIV. ENID LEARNS SOMETHING
XXV. LITTIMER CASTLE
XXIV. AN UNEXPECTED GUEST
XXVII. SLIGHTLY FARCICAL
XXVIII. A SQUIRE OF DAMES
XXIX. THE MAN WITH THE THUMB AGAIN
XXXI. BELL ARRIVES
XXXII. HOW THE SCHEME WORKED OUT
XXXIII. THE FRAME OF THE PICTURE
XXXIV. THE PUZZLING OF HENSON
XXXV. CHRIS HAS AN IDEA
XXXVL. A BRILLIANT IDEA
XXXVII. ANOTHER TELEPHONIC MESSAGE
XXXVIII. A LITTLE FICTION
XXXIX. THE FASCINATION OF JAMES MERRITT
XL. A USEFUL DISCOVERY
XLI. A DELICATE ERRAND
XLII. PRINCE RUPERT'S RING
XLIII. NEARING THE TRUTH
XLIV. ENID SPEAKS
XLV. ON THE TRAIL
XLVI. LITTIMER'S EYES ARE OPENED
XLVII. THE TRACK BROADENS
XLVIII. WHERE IS RAWLINS?
XLIX. A CHEVALIER OF FORTUNE
L. RAWLINS IS CANDID
LI. HERITAGE IS WILLING
LII. PUTTING THE LIGHT OUT
LIII. UNSEALED LIPS
LIV. WHERE IS THE RING?
LV. KICKED OUT
LVI. WHITE FANGS
LVII. HIDE AND SEEK
THE CRIMSON BLIND.
David Steel dropped his eyes from the mirror and shuddered as a man who
sees his own soul bared for the first time. And yet the mirror was in
itself a thing of artistic beauty--engraved Florentine glass in a frame
of deep old Flemish oak. The novelist had purchased it in Bruges, and now
it stood as a joy and a thing of beauty against the full red wall over
the fireplace. And Steel had glanced at himself therein and seen murder
in his eyes.
He dropped into a chair with a groan for his own helplessness. Men have
done that kind of thing before when the cartridges are all gone and the
bayonets are twisted and broken and the brown waves of the foe come
snarling over the breastworks. And then they die doggedly with the stones
in their hands, and cursing the tardy supports that brought this black
shame upon them.
But Steel's was ruin of another kind. The man was a fighter to his
finger-tips. He had dogged determination and splendid physical courage;
he had gradually thrust his way into the front rank of living novelists,
though the taste of poverty was still bitter in his mouth. And how good
success was now that it had come!
People envied him. Well, that was all in the sweets of the victory. They
praised his blue china, they lingered before his Oriental dishes and the
choice pictures on the panelled walls. The whole thing was still a
constant pleasure to Steel's artistic mind. The dark walls, the old oak
and silver, the red shades, and the high artistic fittings soothed him
and pleased him, and played upon his tender imagination. And behind there
was a study, filled with books and engravings, and beyond that again a
conservatory, filled with the choicest blossoms. Steel could work with
the passion flowers above his head and the tender grace of the tropical
ferns about him, and he could reach his left hand for his telephone and
call Fleet Street to his ear.
It was all unique, delightful, the dream of an artistic soul realised.
Three years before David Steel had worked in an attic at a bare deal
table, and his mother had £3 per week to pay for everything. Usually
there was balm in this recollection.
But not to-night, Heaven help him, not to-night! Little grinning demons
were dancing on the oak cornices, there were mocking lights gleaming from
Cellini tankards that Steel had given far too much money for. It had not
seemed to matter just at the time. If all this artistic beauty had
emptied Steel's purse there was a golden stream coming. What mattered it
that the local tradesmen were getting a little restless? The great
expense of the novelist's life was past. In two years he would be rich.
And the pathos of the thing was not lessened by the fact that it was
true. In two years' time Steel would be well off. He was terribly short
of ready money, but he had just finished a serial story for which he was
to be paid £500 within two months of the delivery of the copy; two novels
of his were respectively in their fourth and fifth editions. But these
novels of his he had more or less given away, and he ground his teeth as
he thought of it. Still, everything spelt prosperity. If he lived, David
Steel was bound to become a rich man.
And yet he was ruined. Within twenty-four hours everything would pass out
of his hands. To all practical purposes it had done so already. And all
for the want of £1,000! Steel had earned twice that amount during the
past twelve months, and the fruits of his labour were as balm to his soul
about him. Within the next twelve months he could pay the debt three
times over. He would cheerfully have taken the bill and doubled the
amount for six months' delay.
And all this because he had become surety for an absconding brother.
Steel had put his pride in his pocket and interviewed his creditor, a
little, polite, mild-eyed financier, who meant to have his money to the
uttermost farthing. At first he had been suave and sympathetic, until he
had discovered that Steel had debts elsewhere, and then--
Well, he had signed judgment, and to-morrow he could levy execution.
Within a few hours the bottom would fall out of the universe so far as
Steel was concerned. Within a few hours every butcher and baker and
candle-stick-maker would come abusively for his bill. Steel, who could
have faced a regiment, recoiled fearfully from that. Within a week his
oak and silver would have to be sold and the passion flower would wither
on the walls.
Steel had not told anybody yet; the strong man had grappled with his
trouble alone. Had he been a man of business he might have found some way
out of the difficulty. Even his mother didn't know. She was asleep
upstairs, perhaps dreaming of her son's greatness. What would the dear
old mater say when she knew? Well, she had been a good mother to him, and
it had been a labour of love to furnish the house for her as for himself.
Perhaps there would be a few tears in those gentle eyes, but no more.
Thank God, no reproaches there.
David lighted a cigarette and paced restlessly round the dining-room.
Never had he appreciated its quiet beauty more than he did now. There
were flowers, blood-red flowers, on the table under the graceful electric
stand that Steel had designed himself. He snapped off the light as if the
sight pained him, and strode into his study. For a time he stood moodily
gazing at his flowers and ferns. How every leaf there was pregnant with
association. There was the Moorish clock droning the midnight hour. When
Steel had brought that clock--
"Ting, ting, ting. Pring, pring, ping, pring. Ting, ting, ting, ting."
But Steel heard nothing. Everything seemed as silent as the grave. It was
only by a kind of inner consciousness that he knew the hour to be
midnight. Midnight meant the coming of the last day. After sunrise some
greasy lounger pregnant of cheap tobacco would come in and assume that he
represented the sheriff, bills would be hung like banners on the outward
walls, and then.--
"Pring, pring, pring. Ting, ting, ting, ting, ting, ting, ting, ting.
Pring, pring, pring."
Bells, somewhere. Like the bells in the valley where the old vicarage
used to stand. Steel vaguely wondered who now lived in the house where he
was born. He was staring in the most absent way at his telephone, utterly
unconscious of the shrill impatience of the little voice. He saw the
quick pulsation of the striker and he came back to earth again.
Jefferies of the _Weekly Messenger_, of course. Jefferies was fond of a
late chat on the telephone. Steel wondered grimly, if Jefferies would
lend him £1,000. He flung himself down in a deep lounge-chair and placed
the receiver to his ear. By the deep, hoarse clang of the wires, a
long-distance message, assuredly.
"From London, evidently. Halloa, London! Are you there?"
London responded that it was. A clear, soft voice spoke at length.
"Is that you, Mr. Steel? Are you quite alone? Under the circumstances you
are not busy to-night?"
Steel started. He had never heard the voice before. It was clear and
soft and commanding, and yet there was just a suspicion of mocking
irony in it.
"I'm not very busy to-night," Steel replied. "Who is speaking to me?"
"That for the present we need not go into," said the mocking voice. "As
certain old-fashioned contemporaries of yours would say, 'We meet as
strangers!' Stranger yet, you are quite alone!"
"I am quite alone. Indeed, I am the only one up in the house."
"Good. I have told the exchange people not to ring off till I have
finished with you. One advantage of telephoning at this hour is that one
is tolerably free from interruption. So your mother is asleep? Have you
told her what is likely to happen to you before many hours have elapsed?"
Steel made no reply for a moment. He was restless and ill at ease
to-night, and it seemed just possible that his imagination was playing
him strange tricks. But, no. The Moorish clock in its frame of
celebrities droned the quarter after twelve; the scent of the Dijon roses
floated in from the conservatory.
"I have told nobody as yet," Steel said, hoarsely. "Who in the name of
Heaven are you?"
"That in good time. But I did not think you were a coward."
"No man has ever told me so--face to face."
"Good again. I recognise the fighting ring in your voice. If you lack
certain phases of moral courage, you are a man of pluck and resource.
Now, somebody who is very dear to me is at present in Brighton, not
very far from your own house. She is in dire need of assistance. You
also are in dire need of assistance. We can be of mutual advantage to
"What do you mean by that?" Steel whispered.
"Let me put the matter on a business footing. I want you to help my
friend, and in return I will help you. Bear in mind that I am asking you
to do nothing wrong. If you will promise me to go to a certain address in
Brighton to night and see my friend, I promise that before you sleep the
sum of £1,000 in Bank of England notes shall be in your possession."
No reply came from Steel. He could not have spoken at that moment for the
fee-simple of Golconda. He could only hang gasping to the telephone. Many
a strange and weird plot came and went in that versatile brain, but never
one more wild than this. Apparently no reply was expected, for the
"I am asking you to do no wrong. You may naturally desire to know why my
friend does not come to you. That must remain my secret, our secret. We
are trusting you because we know you to be a gentleman, but we have
enemies who are ever on the watch. All you have to do is to go to a
certain place and give a certain woman information. You are thinking that
this is a strange mystery. Never was anything stranger dreamt of in your
philosophy. Are you agreeable?"
The mocking tone died out of the small, clear voice until it was
"You have taken me at a disadvantage," Steel said. "And you know--"
"Everything. I am trying to save you from ruin. Fortune has played you
into my hands. I am perfectly aware that if you were not on the verge of
social extinction you would refuse my request. It is in your hands to
decide. You know that Beckstein, your creditor, is absolutely merciless.
He will get his money back and more besides. This is his idea of
business. To-morrow you will be an outcast--for the time, at any rate.
Your local creditors will be insolent to you; people will pity you or
blame you, as their disposition lies. On the other hand, you have but to
say the word and you are saved. You can go and see the Brighton
representatives of Beckstein's lawyers, and pay them in paper of the Bank
"If I was assured of your bona-fides," Steel murmured.
A queer little laugh, a laugh of triumph, came over the wires.
"I have anticipated that question. Have you Greenwich time about you?"
Steel responded that he had. It was five-and-twenty minutes past twelve.
He had quite ceased to wonder at any questions put to him now. It was all
so like one of his brilliant little extravanganzas.
"You can hang up your receiver for five minutes," the voice said.
"Precisely at half-past twelve you go and look on your front doorstep.
Then come back and tell me what you have found. You need not fear that I
shall go away."
Steel hung up the receiver, feeling that he needed a little rest. His
cigarette was actually scorching his left thumb and forefinger, but he
was heedless of the fact. He flicked up the dining-room lights again and
rapidly made himself a sparklet soda, which he added to a small whisky.
He looked almost lovingly at the gleaming Cellini tankard, at the pools
of light on the fair damask. Was it possible that he was not going to
lose all this, after all?
The Moorish clock in the study droned the half-hour.
David gulped down his whisky and crept shakily to the front door with a
feeling on him that he was doing something stealthily. The bolts and
chain rattled under his trembling fingers. Outside, the whole world
seemed to be sleeping. Under the wide canopy of stars some black object
picked out with shining points lay on the white marble breadth of the top
step. A gun-metal cigar-case set in tiny diamonds.
The novelist fastened the front door and staggered to the study. A
pretty, artistic thing such as David had fully intended to purchase for
himself. He had seen one exactly like it in a jeweller's window in North
Street. He had pointed it out to his mother. Why, it was the very one! No
doubt whatever about it! David had had the case in his hands and had
reluctantly declined the purchase.
He pressed the spring, and the case lay open before him. Inside were
papers, soft, crackling papers; the case was crammed with them. They were
white and clean, and twenty-five of them in all. Twenty-five Bank of
England notes for £10 each--£250!
David fought the dreamy feeling off and took down the telephone receiver.
"Are you there?" he whispered, as if fearful of listeners. "I--I have
found your parcel."
"Containing the notes. So far so good. Yes, you are right, it is the
same cigar-case you admired so much in Lockhart's the other day. Well,
we have given you an instance of our bona-fides. But £250 is of no use
to you at present. Beckstein's people would not accept it on
account--they can make far more money by 'selling you up,' as the poetic
phrase goes. It is in your hands to procure the other £750 before you
sleep. You can take it as a gift, or, if you are too proud for that, you
may regard it as a loan. In which case you can bestow the money on such
charities as commend themselves to you. Now, are you going to place
yourself entirely in my hands?"
Steel hesitated no longer. Under the circumstances few men would, as he
had a definite assurance that there was nothing dishonourable to be
done. A little courage, a little danger, perhaps, and he could hold up
his head before the world; he could return to his desk to-morrow with
the passion flowers over his head and the scent groves sweet to his
nostrils. And the mater could dream happily, for there would be no
sadness or sorrow in the morning.
"I will do exactly what you tell me," he said.
"Spoken like a man," the voice cried. "Nobody will know you have left
the house--you can be home in an hour. You will not be missed. Come, time
is getting short, and I have my risks as well as others. Go at once to
Old Steine. Stand on the path close under the shadow of the statue of
George IV. and wait there. Somebody will say 'Come,' and you will follow.
Steel would have said more, but the tinkle of his own bell told him that
the stranger had rung off. He laid his cigar-case on the writing-table,
slipped his cigarette-case into his pocket, satisfied himself that he had
his latch-key, and put on a dark overcoat. Overhead the dear old mater
was sleeping peacefully. He closed the front door carefully behind him
and strode resolutely into the darkness.
THE CRIMSON BLIND
David walk swiftly along, his mind in a perfect whirl. Now that once he
had started he was eager to see the adventure through. It was strange,
but stranger things had happened. More than one correspondent with queer
personal experiences had taught him that. Nor was Steel in the least
afraid. He was horribly frightened of disgrace or humiliation, but
physical courage he had in a high degree. And was he not going to save
his home and his good name?
David had not the least doubt on the latter score. Of course he would
do nothing wrong, neither would he keep the money. This he preferred
to regard as a loan--a loan to be paid off before long. At any rate,
money or no money, he would have been sorry to have abandoned the
His spirits rose as he walked along, a great weight had fallen from his
shoulders. He smiled as he thought of his mother peacefully sleeping at
home. What would his mother think if she knew? But, then, nobody was to
know. That had been expressly settled in the bond.
Save for an occasional policeman the streets were deserted. It was a
little cold and raw for the time of year, and a fog like a pink blanket
was creeping in from the sea. Down in the Steine the big arc-lights
gleamed here and there like nebulous blue globes; it was hardly possible
to see across the road. In the half-shadow behind Steel the statue of the
First Gentleman in Europe glowed gigantic, ghost-like in the mist.
It was marvellously still there, so still that David could hear the
tinkle of the pebbles on the beach. He stood back by the gate of the
gardens watching the play of the leaf silhouettes on the pavement,
quaint patterns of fantastic designs thrown up in high relief by the
arc-light above. From the dark foggy throat of St. James's Street came
the tinkle of a cycle bell. On so still a night the noise seemed bizarre
and out of place. Then the cycle loomed in sight; the rider, muffled and
humped over the front wheel, might have been a man or a woman. As the
cyclist flashed by something white and gleaming dropped into the road,
and the single word "Come" seemed to cut like a knife through the fog.
That was all; the rider had looked neither to the right nor to the left,
but the word was distinctly uttered. At the same instant an arm dropped
and a long finger pointed to the gleaming white square in the road. It
was like an instantaneous photograph--a flash, and the figure had
vanished in the fog.
"This grows interesting," Steel muttered. "Evidently my shadowy friend
has dropped a book of rules in the road for me. The plot thickens."
It was only a plain white card that lay in the road. A few lines were
typed on the back of it. The words might have been curt, but they were to
"Go along the sea front and turn into Brunswick Square. Walk along the
right side of the square until you reach No. 219. You will read the
number over the fanlight. Open the door and it will yield to you; there
is no occasion to knock. The first door inside the hall leads to the
dining-room. Walk into there and wait. Drop this card down the gutter
just opposite you."
David read the directions once or twice carefully. He made a mental note
of 219. After that he dropped the card down the drain-trap nearest at
hand. A little way ahead of him he heard the cycle bell trilling as if in
approval of his action. But David had made up his mind to observe every
rule of the game. Besides, he might be rigidly watched.
The spirit of adventure was growing upon Steel now. He was no longer
holding the solid result before his eyes. He was ready to see the thing
through for its own sake. And as he hurried up North Street, along
Western Road, and finally down Preston Street, he could hear the purring
tinkle of the cycle bell before him. But not once did he catch sight of
the shadowy rider.
All the same his heart was beating a little faster as he turned into
Brunswick Square. All the houses were in pitchy darkness, as they
naturally would be at one o'clock in the morning, so it was only with
great difficulty that Steel could make out a number here and there. As he
walked slowly and hesitatingly along the cycle bell drummed impatiently
ahead of him.
"A hint to me," David muttered. "Stupid that I should have forgotten the
directions to read the number over the fanlight. Also it is logical to
suppose that I am going to find lights at No. 219. All right, my friend;
no need to swear at me with that bell of yours."
He quickened his pace again and finally stopped before one of the big
houses where lights were gleaming from the hall and dining-room windows.
They were electric lights by their great power, and, save for the hall
and dining-room, the rest of the house lay in utter darkness. The cycle
bell let off an approving staccato from behind the blankety fog as Steel
There was nothing abnormal about the house, nothing that struck the
adventurer's eye beyond the extraordinary vividness of the crimson
blind. The two side-windows of the big bay were evidently shuttered,
but the large centre gleamed like a flood of scarlet overlaid with a
silken sheen. Far across the pavement the ruby track struck into the
heart of the fog.
"Vivid note," Steel murmured. "I shall remember that impression."
He was destined never to forget it, but it was only one note in the gamut
of adventure now. With a firm step he walked up the marble flight and
turned the handle. It felt dirty and rusty to the touch. Evidently the
servants were neglectful, or they were employed by people who had small
regard for outward appearances.
The door opened noiselessly, and Steel closed it behind him. A Moorish
lantern cast a brilliant flood of light upon a crimson carpet, a chair,
and an empty oak umbrella-stand. Beyond this there was no atom of
furniture in the hall. It was impossible to see beyond the dining-room
door, for a heavy red velvet curtain was drawn across. David's first
impression was the amazing stillness of the place. It gave him a queer
feeling that a murder had been committed there, and that everybody had
fled, leaving the corpse behind. As David coughed away the lump in his
throat the cough sounded strangely hollow.
He passed into the dining-room and looked eagerly about him. The room was
handsomely furnished, if a little conventional--a big mahogany table in
the centre, rows of mahogany chairs upholstered in morocco, fine modern
prints, most of them artist's proofs, on the walls. A big marble clock,
flanked by a pair of vases, stood on the mantelshelf. There were a large
number of blue vases on the sideboard. The red distemper had faded to a
pale pink in places.
"Tottenham Court Road," Steel smiled to himself. "Modern, solid,
expensive, but decidedly inartistic. Ginger jars fourteen guineas a pair,
worth about as many pence. Moneyed people, solid and respectable, of the
middle class. What brings them playing at mystery like this?"
The room was most brilliantly lighted both from overhead and from the
walls. On the shining desert of the dining-table lay a small, flat parcel
addressed to David Steel, Esq. The novelist tore off the cover and
disclosed a heap of crackling white papers beneath. Rapidly he fluttered
the crisp sheets over--seventy-five Bank of England notes for £10 each.
It was the balance of the loan, the price paid for Steel's presence. All
he had to do now was to place the money in his pocket and walk out of the
house. A few steps and he would be free with nobody to say him nay. It
was a temptation, but Steel fought it down. He slipped the precious notes
into his pocket and buttoned his coat tightly over them. He had no fear
for the coming day now.
"And yet," he murmured, "what of the price I shall have to pay for this?"
Well, it was worth a ransom. And, so long as there was nothing
dishonourable attached to it, Steel was prepared to redeem his pledge. He
knew perfectly well from bitter experience that the poor man pays
usurious rates for fortune's favours. And he was not without a strange
sense of gratitude. If--
Click, click, click. Three electric switches were snapped off almost
simultaneously outside, and the dining-room was plunged into pitchy
darkness. Steel instantly caught up a chair. He was no coward, but he was
a novelist with a novelist's imagination. As he stood there the sweetest,
most musical laugh in the world broke on his ear. He caught the swish of
silken drapery and the subtle scent that suggested the fragrance of a
woman's hair. It was vague, undefined, yet soothing.
"Pray be seated, Mr. Steel," the silvery voice said. "Believe me, had
there been any other way, I would not have given you all this trouble.
You found the parcel addressed to you? It is an earnest of good faith. Is
not that a correct English expression?"
David murmured that it was. But what did the speaker mean? She asked the
question like a student of the English language, yet her accent and
phrasing were perfect. She laughed again noiselessly, and once more Steel
caught the subtle, entrancing perfume.
"I make no further apology for dragging you here at this time," the sweet
voice said. "We knew that you were in the habit of sitting up alone late
at night, hence the telephone message. You will perhaps wonder how we
came to know so much of your private affairs. Rest assured that we learnt
nothing in Brighton. Presently you may gather why I am so deeply
interested in you; I have been for the past fortnight. You see, we were
not quite certain that you would come to our assistance unless we could
find some means of coercing you. Then we go to one of the smartest
inquiry agents in the world and say: 'Tell us all about Mr. David Steel
without delay. Money is no object.' In less than a week we know all about
Beckstein. We leave matters till the last moment. If you only knew how
revolting it all was!"
"So your tone seems to imply, madam," Steel said, drily.
"Oh, but truly. You were in great trouble, and we found a way to get you
out. At a price; ah, yes. But your trouble is nothing compared with
mine--which brings me to business. A fortnight ago last Monday you posted
to Mr. Vanstone, editor of the _Piccadilly Magazine_, the synopsis of the
first four or five chapters of a proposed serial for the journal in
question. You open that story with a young and beautiful woman who is in
deadly peril. Is not that so?"
"Yes," Steel said, faintly. "It is just as you suggest. But how--"
"Never mind that, because I am not going to tell you. In common
parlance--is not that the word?--that woman is in a frightful fix.
There is nothing strained about your heroine's situation, because I
have heard of people being in a similar plight before. Mr. Steel, I
want you to tell me truthfully and candidly, can you see the way clear
to save your heroine? Oh, I don't mean by the long arm of coincidence
or other favourite ruses known to your craft. I mean by common sense,
logical methods, by brilliant ruses, by Machiavelian means. Tell me, do
you see a way?"
The question came eagerly, almost imploringly, from the darkness. David
could hear the quick gasps of his questioner, could catch the rustle of
the silken corsage as she breathed.
"Yes," he said, "I can see a brilliant way out that would satisfy the
strictest logician. But you--"
"Thank Heaven! Mr. Steel, I am your heroine. I am placed in exactly the
same position as the woman whose story you are going to write. The
setting is different, the local colouring is not the same, but the same
deadly peril menaces me. For the love of Heaven hold out your hand to
save a lonely and desperate woman whose only crime is that she is rich
and beautiful. Providence had placed in my hands the gist of your
heroine's story. Hence this masquerade; hence the fact that you are here
to-night. I have helped _you_--help _me_ in return."
It was some time before Steel spoke.
"It shall be as you wish," he said. "I will tell you how I propose to
save my heroine. Her sufferings are fiction; yours will be real. But if
you are to be saved by the same means, Heaven help you to bear the
troubles that are in front of you. Before God, it would be more merciful
for me to be silent and let you go your own way."
THE VOICE IN THE DARKNESS
David was silent for some little time. The strangeness of the situation
had shut down on him again, and he was thinking of nothing else for the
moment. In the dead stillness of the place he could hear the quick
breathing of his companion; the rustle of her dress seemed near to him
and then to be very far off. Nor did the pitchy darkness yield a jot to
his now accustomed eyes. He held a hand close to his eyes, but he could
"Well?" the sweet voice in the darkness said, impatiently. "Well?"
"Believe me, I will give you all the assistance possible. If you would
only turn up the light--"
"Oh, I dare not. I have given my word of honour not to violate the seal
of secrecy. You may say that we have been absurdly cautious in this
matter, but you would not think so if you knew everything. Even now the
wretch who holds me in his power may have guessed my strategy and be
laughing at me. Some day, perhaps--"
The speaker stopped, with something like a sob in her throat.
"We are wasting precious time," she went on, more calmly. "I had better
tell you my history. In _your_ story a woman commits a crime: she is
guilty of a serious breach of trust to save the life of a man she loves.
By doing so she places the future and the happiness of many people in the
hands of an abandoned scoundrel. If she can only manage to regain the
thing she has parted from the situation is saved. Is not that so?"
"So far you have stated the case correctly," David murmured.
"As I said before, I am in practically similar case. Only, in my
situation, I hastened everything and risked the happiness of many people
for the sake of a little child."
"Ah!" David cried. "Your own child? No! The child of one very near and
dear to you, then. From the mere novelist point of view, that is a far
more artistic idea than mine. I see that I shall have to amend my story
before it is published."
A rippling little laugh came like the song of a bird in the darkness.
"Dear Mr. Steel," the voice said, "I implore you to do nothing of the
kind. You are a man of fertile imagination--a plot more or less makes
no difference to you. If you publish that story you go far on the way
to ruin me."
"I am afraid that I am in the dark in more senses than one," David
"Then let me enlighten you. Daily your books are more widely read. My
enemy is a great novel reader. You publish that story, and what results?
You not only tell that enemy my story, but you show him my way out of the
difficulty, and show him how he can checkmate my every move. Perhaps,
after I have escaped from the net--"
"You are right," Steel said, promptly. "From a professional point of view
the story is abandoned. And now you want me to show you a rational and
logical, a _human_ way out."
"If you can do so you have my everlasting gratitude."
"Then you must tell me in detail what it is you want to recover. My
heroine parts with a document which the villain knows to be a forgery.
Money cannot buy it back because the villain can make as much money as he
likes by retaining it. He does as he likes with the family property; he
keeps my heroine's husband out of England by dangling the forgery and its
consequences over his head. What is to be done? How is the ruffian to be
bullied into a false sense of security by the one man who desires to
throw dust in his eyes?"
"Ah," the voice cried, "ah, if you could only tell me that! Let _my_
ruffian only imagine that I am dead; let him have proofs of it, and the
thing is done. I could reach him _then_; I could tear from him the letter
that--but I need not go into details. But he is cunning as the serpent.
Nothing but the most convincing proofs would satisfy him."
"A certificate of death signed by a physician beyond reproach?"
"Yes, that would do. But you couldn't get a medical man like that to
"No, but we could trick him into it," Steel exclaimed. "In my story a
fraud is perpetrated to blind the villain and to deprive him of his
weapons. It is a case of the end justifying the means. But it is one
thing, my dear lady, to commit fraud actually and to perpetrate it in a
novel. In the latter case you can defy the police, but unfortunately you
and I are dealing with real life. If I am to help you I must be a party
to a felony."
"But you will! You are not going to draw back now? Mr. Steel, I have
saved your home. You are a happy man compared to what you were two hours
ago. If the risk is great you have brains and imagination to get out of
danger. Show me how to do it, and the rest shall be mine. You have never
seen me, you know nothing, not even the name of the person who called you
over the telephone. You have only to keep your own counsel, and if I wade
in blood to my end you are safe. Tell me how I can die, disappear,
leaving that one man to believe I am no more. And don't make it too
ingenious. Don't forget that you promised to tell me a rational way out
of the difficulty. How can it be done?"
"In my pocket I have a cutting from the _Times_, which contains a
chapter from the history of a medical student who is alone in London. It
closely resembles my plot. He says he has no friends, and he deems it
prudent for reasons we need not discuss to let the world assume that he
is dead. The rest is tolerably easy. He disguises himself and goes to a
doctor of repute, whom he asks to come and see his brother--_i.e.,_
himself--who is dangerously ill. The doctor goes later in the day and
finds his patient in bed with severe internal inflammation. This is
brought about by a free use of albumen. I don't know what amount of
albumen one would take without extreme risk, but you could pump that
information out of any doctor. Well, our medical man calls again and yet
again, and finds his patient sinking. The next day the patient,
disguised, calls upon his doctor with the information that his 'brother'
is dead. The doctor is not in the least surprised, and without going to
view the body gives a certificate of death. Now, I admit that all this
sounds cheap and theatrical, but you can't get over facts. The thing
actually happened a little time ago in London, and there is no reason
why it shouldn't happen again."
"You suggest that I should do this thing?" the voice asked.
"Pardon me, I did nothing of the kind," Steel replied "You asked me to
show you how my heroine gets herself out of a terrible position, and I am
doing it. You are not without friends. The way I was called up tonight
and the way I was brought here prove that. With the aid of your friends
the thing is possible to you. You have only to find a lodging where
people are not too observant and a doctor who is too busy, or too
careless, to look after dead patients, and the thing is done. If you
desire to be looked upon as dead--especially by a powerful enemy--I
cannot recommend a more natural, rational way than this. As to the
details, they may be safely left to you. The clever manner in which you
have kept up the mystery to-night convinces me that I have nothing to
teach you in this direction. And if there is anything more I can do--"
"A thousand, thousand thanks," the voice cried, passionately. "To be
looked upon as 'dead,' to be near to the rascal who smiles to think that
I am in my grave.... And everything so dull and prosaic on the surface!
Yes, I have friends who will aid me in the business. Some day I may be
able to thank you face to face, to tell you how I managed to see your
plot. May I?"
The question came quite eagerly, almost imploringly. In the darkness
Steel felt a hand trembling on his breast, a cool, slim hand, with many
rings on the fingers. Steel took the hand and carried it to his lips.
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure," he said. "And may you be
"Good-night, and God bless you for a real gentleman and a true friend. I
will go out of the room first and put the lights up afterwards. You will
walk away and close the door behind you. The newspaper cutting! Thanks.
And once more good-night, but let us hope not good-bye."
She was gone. Steel could hear the distant dying swish of silk, the
rustling of the portière, and then, with a flick, the lights came up
again. Half-blinded by the sudden illumination Steel fumbled his way to
the door and into the street. As he did so Hove Town Hall clock chimed
two. With a cigarette between his teeth David made his way home.
He could not think it all out yet; he would wait until he was in his own
comfortable chair under the roses and palms leading from his study. A
fine night of adventure, truly, and a paying one. He pressed the precious
packet of notes to his side and his soul expanded.
He was home at last. But surely he had closed the door before he started?
He remembered distinctly trying the latch. And here the latch was back
and the door open. The quick snap of the electric light declared nobody
in the dining-room. Beyond, the study was in darkness. Nobody there,
A stain on the carpet; another by the conservatory door. Pots of flowers
scattered about, and a huddled mass like a litter of empty sacks in one
corner. Then the huddled mass resolved itself into the figure of a man
with a white face smeared with blood. Dead! Oh, yes, dead enough.
Steel flew to the telephone and rang furiously.
"Give me 52, Police Station," he cried. "Are you there? Send somebody at
once up here--15, Downend Terrace. There has been murder done here. For
Heaven's sake come quickly."
Steel dropped the receiver and stared with strained eyes at the dreadful
sight before him.
For some time--a minute, an hour--Steel stood over the dreadful thing
huddled upon the floor of his conservatory. Just then he was incapable of
His mind began to move at length. The more he thought of it the more
absolutely certain he was that he had fastened the door before leaving
the house. True, the latch was only an ordinary one, and a key might
easily have been made to fit it. As a matter of fact, David had two, one
in reserve in case of accidents. The other was usually kept in a
jewel-drawer of the dressing-table. Perhaps--
David went quietly upstairs. It was just possible that the murderer was
in the house. But the closest search brought nothing to light. He pulled
out the jewel-drawer in the dressing-table. The spare latchkey had gone!
Here was something to go upon.
Then there was a rumbling of an electric bell somewhere that set David's
heart beating like a drum. The hall light streamed on a policeman in
uniform and an inspector in a dark overcoat and a hard felt hat. On the
pavement was a long shallow tray, which David recognised mechanically as
"Something very serious, sir?" Inspector Marley asked, quietly. "I've
brought the doctor with me."
David nodded. Both the inspector and the doctor were acquaintances of
his. He closed the door and led the way into the study. Just inside the
conservatory and not far from the huddled figure lay David's new
cigar-case. Doubtless, without knowing it, the owner had whisked it off
the table when he had sprung the telephone.
"'Um," Marley muttered. "Is this a clue, or yours, sir?"
He lifted the case with its diamonds gleaming like stars on a dark night.
David had forgotten all about it for the time, had forgotten where it
came from, or that it contained £250 in bank-notes.
"Not mine," he said. "I mean to say, of course, it is mine. A recent
present. The shock of this discovery has deprived me of my senses
Marley laid the cigar-case on the table. It seemed strange to him, who
could follow a tragedy calmly, that a man should forget his own property.
Meanwhile Cross was bending over the body. David could see a face smooth
like that of a woman. A quick little exclamation came from the doctor.
"A drop of brandy here, and quick as possible," he commanded.
"You don't mean to say," Steel began; "you don't--"
Cross waved his arm, impatiently. The brandy was procured as speedily as
possible. Steel, watching intently, fancied that he detected a slight
flicker of the muscles of the white, stark face.
"Bring the ambulance here," Cross said, curtly. "If we can get this poor
chap to the hospital there is just a chance for him. Fortunately, we have
not many yards to go."
As far as elucidation went Marley naturally looked to Steel.
"I should like to have your explanation, sir," he said, gravely.
"Positively, I have no explanation to offer," David replied. "About
midnight I let myself out to go for a stroll, carefully closing the door
behind me. Naturally, the door was on the latch. When I came back an hour
or so later, to my horror and surprise I found those marks of a struggle
yonder and that poor fellow lying on the floor of the conservatory."
"'Um. Was the door fast on your return?"
"No, it was pulled to, but it was open all the same."
"You didn't happen to lose your latch-key during your midnight
"No, it was only when I put my key in the door that I discovered it to be
open. I have a spare latch-key which I keep for emergencies, but when I
went to look for it just now the key was not to be found. When I came
back the house was perfectly quiet."
"What family have you, sir? And what kind of servants?"
"There is only myself and my mother, with three maids. You may dismiss
any suspicion of the servants from your mind at once. My mother trained
them all in the old vicarage where I was born, and not one of the trio
has been with us less than twelve years."
"That simplifies matters somewhat," Marley said, thoughtfully.
"Apparently your latch-key was stolen by somebody who has made careful
study of your habits. Do you generally go for late walks after your
household has gone to bed, sir?"
David replied somewhat grudgingly that he had never done such a thing
before. He would like to have concealed the fact, but it was bound to
come out sooner or later. He had strolled along the front and round
Brunswick Square. Marley shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, it's a bit of a puzzle to me," he admitted. "You go out for a
midnight walk--a thing you have never done before--and when you come back
you find somebody has got into your house by means of a stolen latch-key
and murdered somebody else in your conservatory. According to that, two
people must have entered the house."
"That's logic," David admitted. "There can be no murder without the slain
_and_ the slayer. My impression is that somebody who knows the ways of
the house watched me depart. Then he lured his victim in here under
pretence that it was his own house--he had the purloined latch-key--and
murdered him. Audacious, but a far safer way than doing it out of doors."
But Marley's imagination refused to go so far. The theory was plausible
enough, he pointed out respectfully, if the assassin had been assured
that these midnight rambles were a matter of custom. The point was a
shrewd one, and Steel had to admit it. He almost wished now that he had
suggested that he often took these midnight rambles. He regretted the
fiction still more when Marley asked if he had had some appointment
"No," David said, promptly, "I hadn't."
He prevaricated without hesitation. His adventure in Brunswick Square
could not possibly have anything to do with the tragedy, and nothing
would be gained by betraying that trust.
"I'll run round to the hospital and come and see you again in the
morning, sir," Marley said. "Whatever was the nature of the crime, it
wasn't robbery, or the criminal wouldn't have left that cigar-case of
yours behind. Sir James Lythem had one stolen like that at the last
races, and he valued it at £80."
"I'll come as far as the hospital with you," said Steel.
At the bottom of the flight of steps they encountered Dr. Cross and the
policeman. The former handed over to Marley a pocket-book and some
papers, together with a watch and chain.
"Everything that we could find upon him," he explained.
"Is the poor fellow dead yet?" David asked.
"No," Cross replied. "He was stabbed twice in the back in the region of
the liver. I could not say for sure, but there is just a chance that he
may recover. But one thing is pretty certain--it will be a good long
time before he is in a position to say anything for himself. Good-night,
David went indoors thoughtfully, with a general feeling that something
like a hand had grasped his brain and was squeezing it like a sponge. He
was free from his carking anxiety now, but it seemed to him that he was
paying a heavy price for his liberty. Mechanically, he counted out the
bank-notes, and almost as mechanically he cut his initials on the
gun-metal inside the cigar-case. He was one of the kind of men who like
to have their initials everywhere.
He snapped the lights out and went to bed at last. But not to sleep. The
welcome dawn came at length and David took his bath gratefully. He would
have to tell his mother what had happened, suppressing all reference to
the Brunswick Square episode. It was not a pleasant story, but Mrs. Steel
assimilated it at length over her early tea and toast.
"It might have been you, my dear," she said, placidly. "And, indeed, it
is a dreadful business. But why not telephone to the hospital and ask how
the poor fellow is?"
The patient was better but was still in an unconscious condition.
"RECEIVED WITH THANKS."
Steel swallowed a hasty breakfast and hurried off town-wards. He had
£1,000 packed away in his cigar-case, and the sooner he was free from
Beckstein the better he would be pleased. He came at length to the
offices of Messrs. Mossa and Mack, whose brass-plate bore the legend that
the gentry in questions were solicitors, and that they also had a
business in London. As David strode into the offices of the senior
partner that individual looked up with a shade of anxiety in his deep,
"If you have come to offer terms," he said, nasally, "I am sorry--"
"To hear that I have come to pay you in full," David said, grimly; "£974
16s. 4d. up to yesterday, which I understand is every penny you can
rightfully claim. Here it is. Count it."
He opened the cigar-case and took the notes therefrom. Mr. Mossa
counted them very carefully indeed. The shade of disappointment was
still upon his aquiline features. He had hoped to put in execution
to-day and sell David up. In that way quite £200 might have been added
to his legitimate earnings.
"It appears to be all correct," Mossa said, dismally.
"So I imagined, sir. You will be so good as to indorse the receipt on the
back of the writ. Of course you are delighted to find that I am not
putting you to painful extremities. Any other firm of solicitors would
have given me time to pay this. But I am like the man who journeyed from
Jericho to Jerusalem--"
"And fell amongst thieves! You dare to call me a thief? You dare--"
"I didn't," David said, drily. "That fine, discriminating mind of yours
saved me the trouble. I have met some tolerably slimy scoundrels in my
time, but never any one of them more despicable than yourself. Faugh!
the mere sight of you sickens me. Let me get out of the place so that I
David strode out of the office with the remains of his small fortune
rammed into his pocket. In the wild, unreasoning rage that came over him
he had forgotten his cigar-case. And it was some little time before Mr.
Mossa was calm enough to see the diamonds winking at him.
"Our friend is in funds," he muttered. "Well, he shall have a dance for
his cigar-case. I'll send it up to the police-station and say that some
gentleman or other left it here by accident. And if that Steel comes back
we can say that there is no cigar-case here. And if Steel does not see
the police advertisement he will lose his pretty toy, and serve him
right. Yes, that is the way to serve him out."
Mr. Mossa proceeded to put his scheme into execution whilst David was
strolling along the sea front. He was too excited for work, though he
felt easier in his mind than he had done for months. He turned
mechanically on to the Palace Pier, at the head of which an Eastbourne
steamer was blaring and panting. The trip appealed to David in his
present frame of mind. Like most of his class, he was given to acting on
the spur of the moment.... It was getting dark as David let himself into
Downend Terrace with his latchkey.
How good it was to be back again! The eye of the artist rested fondly
upon the beautiful things around. And but for the sport of chance, the
whim of fate, these had all passed from him by this time. It was good to
look across the dining-table over venetian glass, to see the pools of
light cast by the shaded electric, to note the feathery fall of flowers,
and to see that placid, gentle face in its frame of white hair opposite
him. Mrs. Steel's simple, unaffected pride in her son was not the least
gratifying part of David's success.
"You have not suffered from the shock, mother?" he asked.
"Well, no," Mrs. Steel confessed, placidly. "You see, I never had what
people call nerves, my dear. And, after all, I saw nothing. Still, I am
very, very sorry for that poor young man, and I have sent to inquire
after him several times."
"He is no worse or I should have heard of it."
"No, and no better. And Inspector Marley has been here to see you
David pitied himself as much as a man could pity himself considering his
surroundings. It was rather annoying that this should have happened at a
time when he was so busy. And Marley would have all sorts of questions to
ask at all sorts of inconvenient seasons.
Steel passed into his study presently and lighted a cigarette. Despite
his determination to put the events of yesterday from his mind, he found
himself constantly returning to them. What a splendid dramatic story they
would make! And what a fascinating mystery could be woven round that
By the way, where was the cigar-case? On the whole it would be just as
well to lock the case away till he could discover some reasonable excuse
for its possession. His mother would be pretty sure to ask where it came
from, and David could not prevaricate so far as she was concerned. But
the cigar-case was not to be found, and David was forced to the
conclusion that he had left it in Mossa's office.
A little annoyed with himself he took up the evening _Argus_. There was
half a column devoted to the strange case at Downend Terrace, and just
over it a late advertisement to the effect that a gun-metal cigar-case
had been found and was in the hands of the police awaiting an owner.
David slipped from the house and caught a 'bus in St. George's Road.
At the police-station he learnt that Inspector Marley was still on the
premises. Marley came forward gravely. He had a few questions to ask, but
nothing to tell.
"And now perhaps you can give me some information?" David said, "You are
advertising in to-night's _Argus_ a gun-metal cigar-case set with
"Ah," Marley said, eagerly, "can you tell us anything about it?"
"Nothing beyond the fact that I hope to satisfy you that the case is
Marley stared open-mouthed at David for a moment, and then relapsed into
his sapless official manner. He might have been a detective
cross-examining a suspected criminal.
"Why this mystery?" David asked. "I have lost a gun-metal cigar-case set
with diamonds, and I see a similar article is noted as found by the
police. I lost it this morning, and I shrewdly suspect that I left it
behind me at the office of Mr. Mossa."
"The case was sent here by Mr. Mossa himself," Marley admitted.
"Then, of course, it is mine. I had to give Mr. Mossa my opinion of him
this morning, and by way of spiting me he sent that case here, hoping,
perhaps, that I should not recover it. You know the case Marley--it was
lying on the floor of my conservatory last night."
"I did notice a gun-metal case there," Marley said, cautiously.
"As a matter of fact, you called my attention to it and asked if it
"And you said at first that it wasn't, sir."
"Well, you must make allowances for my then frame of mind," David
laughed. "I rather gather from your manner that somebody else has been
after the case; if that is so, you are right to be reticent. Still, it is
in your hands to settle the matter on the spot. All you have to do is to
open the case, and if you fail to find my initials, D.S., scratched in
the left-hand top corner, then I have lost my property and the other
fellow has found his."
In the same reticent fashion Marley proceeded to unlock a safe in the
corner, and from thence he produced what appeared to be the identical
cause of all this talk. He pulled the electric table lamp over to him and
proceeded to examine the inside carefully.
"You are quite right," he said, at length. "Your initials are here."
"Not strange, seeing that I scratched them there last night," said David,
drily. "When? Oh, it was after you left my house last night."
"And it has been some time in your possession, sir?"
"Oh, confound it, no. It was--well, it was a present from a friend for a
little service rendered. So far as I understand, it was purchased at
Lockhart's, in North Street. No, I'll be hanged if I answer any more of
your questions, Marley. I'll be your Aunt Sally so far as you are
officially concerned. But as to yonder case, your queries are distinctly
Marley shook his head gravely, as one might over a promising but
"Do I understand that you decline to account for the case?" he asked.
"Certainly I do. It is connected with some friends of mine to whom I
rendered a service a little time back. The whole thing is and must remain
an absolute secret."
"You are placing yourself in a very delicate position, Mr. Steel."
David started at the gravity of the tone. That something was radically
wrong came upon him like a shock. And he could see pretty clearly that,
without betraying confidence, he could not logically account for the
possession of the cigar-case. In any case it was too much to expect
that the stolid police officer would listen to so extravagant a tale
for a moment.
"What on earth do you mean, man?" he cried.
"Well, it's this way, sir," Marley proceeded to explain. "When I pointed
out the case to you lying on the floor of your conservatory last night
you said it wasn't yours. You looked at it with the eyes of a stranger,
and then you said you were mistaken. From information given me last night
I have been making inquiries about the cigar-case. You took it to Mr.
Mossa's, and from it you produced notes to the value of nearly £1,000 to
pay off a debt. Within eight-and forty hours you had no more prospect of
paying that debt than I have at this moment. Of course, you will be able
to account for those notes. You can, of course?"
Marley looked eagerly at his visitor. A cold chill was playing up
and down Steel's spine. Not to save his life could he account for
"We will discuss that when the proper time comes," he said, with fine
"As you please, sir. From information also received I took the case to
Walen's, in West Street, and asked Mr. Walen if he had seen the case
before. Pressed to identify it, he handed me a glass and asked me to find
the figures (say) '1771. x 3,' in tiny characters on the edge. I did so
by the aid of the glass, and Mr. Walen further proceeded to show me an
entry in his purchasing ledger which proved that a cigar-case in
gun-metal and diamonds bearing that legend had been added to the stock
quite recently--a few weeks ago, in fact."
"Well, what of that?" David asked, impatiently. "For all I know, the case
might have come from Walen's. I said it came from a friend who must needs
be nameless for services equally nameless. I am not going to deny that
Walen was right."
"I have not quite finished," Marley said, quietly. "Pressed as to when
the case had been sold, Mr. Walen, without hesitation, said: 'Yesterday,
for £72 15s.' The purchaser was a stranger, whom Mr. Walen is prepared
to identify. Asked if a formal receipt had been given, Walen said that it
had. And now I come to the gist of the whole matter. You saw Dr. Cross
hand me a mass of papers, etc., taken from the person of the gentleman
who was nearly killed in your house?"
David nodded. His breath was coming a little faster. His quick mind had
run on ahead; he saw the gulf looming before him.
"Go on," said he, hoarsely, "go on. You mean to say that--"
"That amongst the papers found in the pocket of the unfortunate stranger
was a receipted bill for the very cigar-case that lies here on the table
A POLICY OF SILENCE
Steel dropped into a chair and gazed at Inspector Marley with mild
surprise. At the same time he was not in the least alarmed. Not that he
failed to recognise the gravity of the situation, only it appealed in the
first instance to the professional side of his character.
"Walen is quite sure?" he asked. "No possible doubt about that, eh?"
"Not in the least. You see, he recognised his private mark at once, and
Brighton is not so prosperous a place that a man could sell a £70
cigar-case and forget all about it--that is, a second case, I mean. It's
"Rather! Make a magnificent story, Marley."
"Very," Marley responded, drily. "It would take all your well-known
ingenuity to get your hero out of this trouble."
Steel nodded gravely. This personal twist brought him to the earth again.
He could clearly see the trap into which he had placed himself. There
before him lay the cigar-case which he had positively identified as his
own; inside, his initials bore testimony to the fact. And yet the same
case had been identified beyond question as one sold by a highly
respectable local tradesman to the mysterious individual now lying in the
Sussex County Hospital.
"May I smoke a cigarette?" David asked.
"You may smoke a score if they will be of any assistance to you, sir,"
Marley replied. "I don't want to ask you any questions and I don't want
you--well, to commit yourself. But really, sir, you must admit--"
The inspector paused significantly. David nodded again.
"Pray proceed," he said: "speak from the brief you have before you."
"Well, you see it's this way," Marley said, not without hesitation. "You
call us up to your house, saying that a murder has been committed there;
we find a stranger almost at his last gasp in your conservatory with
every signs of a struggle having taken place. You tell us that the
injured man is a stranger to you; you go on to say that he must have
found his way into your house during a nocturnal ramble of yours. Well,
that sounds like common sense on the face of it. The criminal has studied
your habits and has taken advantage of them. Then I ask if you are in the
habit of taking these midnight strolls, and with some signs of hesitation
you say that you have never done such a thing before. Charles Dickens was
very fond of that kind of thing, and I naturally imagined that you had
the same fancy. But you had never done it before. And, the only time, a
man is nearly murdered in your house."
"Perfectly correct," David murmured. "Gaboriau could not have put it
better. You might have been a pupil of my remarkable acquaintance
"I am a pupil of Mr. Bell's," Marley said, quietly. "Seven years ago he
induced me to leave the Huddersfield police to go into his office, where
I stayed until Mr. Bell gave up business, when I applied for and gained
my present position. Curious you should mention Mr. Bell's name, seeing
that he was here so recently as this afternoon."
"Staying in Brighton?" Steel asked, eagerly. "What is his address?"
"No. 219, Brunswick Square."
It took all the nerve that David possessed to crush the cry that rose to
his lips. It was more than strange that the man he most desired to see at
this juncture should be staying in the very house where the novelist had
his great adventure. And in the mere fact might be the key to the problem
of the cigar-case.
"I'll certainly see Bell," he muttered. "Go on, Marley."
"Yes, sir. We now proceed to the cigar-case that lies before you. It was
also lying on the floor of your conservatory on the night in question. I
suggested that here we might have found a clue, taking the precaution at
the same time to ask if the article in question was your property. You
looked at the case as one does who examines an object for the first time,
and proceeded to declare that it was not yours. I am quite prepared to
admit that you instantly corrected yourself. But I ask, is it a usual
thing for a man to forget the ownership of a £70 cigar-case?"
"A nice point, and I congratulate you upon it," David said.
"Then we will take the matter a little farther. A day or two ago you were
in dire need of something like £1,000. Temporarily, at any rate, you were
practically at the end of your resources. If this money were not
forthcoming in a few hours you were a ruined man. In vulgar parlance, you
would have been sold up. Mossa and Mack had you in their grip, and they
were determined to make all they could out of you. The morning following
the outrage at your house you call upon Mr. Mossa and produce the
cigar-case lying on the table before you. From that case you produce
notes sufficient to discharge your debt--Bank of England notes, the
numbers of which, I need hardly say, are in my possession. The money is
produced from the case yonder, which case we _know_ was sold to the
injured man by Mr. Walen."
Marley made a long and significant pause. Steel nodded.
"There seems to be no way out of it," he said.
"I can see one," Marley suggested. "Of course, it would simplify matters
enormously if you merely told me in confidence whence came those notes.
You see, as I have the numbers, I could verify your statement beyond
Marley paused again and shrugged his shoulders. Despite his cold,
official manner, he was obviously prompted by a desire to serve his
companion. And yet, simple as the suggestion seemed, it was the very last
thing with which Steel could comply.
The novelist turned the matter over rapidly in his mind. His quick
perceptions flashed along the whole logical line instantaneously. He was
like a man who suddenly sees a midnight landscape by the glare of a
dazzling flash of lightning.
"I am sorry," he said, slowly, "very sorry, to disappoint you. Were our
situations reversed, I should take up your position exactly. But it so
happens that I cannot, dare not, tell you where I got those notes from.
So far as I am concerned they came honestly into my hands in payment for
special services rendered. It was part of my contract that I should
reveal the secret to nobody. If I told you the story you would decline to
believe it; you would say that it was a brilliant effort of a novelist's
imagination to get out of a dangerous position."
"I don't know that I should," Marley replied. "I have long since ceased
to wonder at anything that happens in or connected with Brighton."
"All the same I can't tell you, Marley," Steel said, as he rose. "My lips
are absolutely sealed. The point is: what are you going to do?"
"For the present, nothing," Marley replied. "So long as the man in the
hospital remains unconscious I can do no more than pursue what
Beaconsfield called 'a policy of masterly inactivity.' I have told you a
good deal more than I had any right to do, but I did so in the hope that
you could assist me. Perhaps in a day or two you will think better of it.
"Meanwhile I am in a tight place. Yes, I see that perfectly well. It is
just possible that I may scheme some way out of the difficulty, and if so
I shall be only too pleased to let you know. Good-night, Marley, and many
thanks to you."
But with all his ingenuity and fertility of imagination David could see
no way out of the trouble. He sat up far into the night scheming; there
was no flavour in his tobacco; his pictures and flowers, his silver and
china, jarred upon him. He wished with all his heart now that he had let
everything go. It need only have been a temporary matter, and there were
other Cellini tankards, and intaglios, and line engravings in the world
for the man with money in his purse.
He could see no way out of it at all. Was it not possible that the whole
thing had been deliberately planned so as to land him and his brains into
the hands of some clever gang of swindlers? Had he been tricked and
fooled so that he might become the tool of others? It seemed hard to
think so when he recalled the sweet voice in the darkness and its
passionate plea for help. And yet the very cigar-case that he had been
told was the one he admired at Lockhart's had proved beyond question to
be one purchased from Walen's!
If he decided to violate his promise and tell the whole story nobody
would believe him. The thing was altogether too wild and improbable for
that. And yet, he reflected, things almost as impossible happen in
Brighton every day. And what proof had he to offer?
Well, there was one thing certain. At least three-quarters of those
bank-notes--the portion he had collected at the house with the crimson
blind--could not possibly be traced to the injured man. And, again, it
was no fault of Steel's that Marley had obtained possession of the
numbers of the notes. If the detective chose to ferret out facts for
himself no blame could attach to Steel. If those people had only chosen
to leave out of the question that confounded cigar-case!
David's train of thought was broken as an idea came to him. It was not so
long since he had a facsimile cigar-case in his hand at Lockhart's, in
North Street. Somebody connected with the mystery must have seen him
admiring it and reluctantly declining the purchase, because the voice
from the telephone told him that the case was a present and that it had
come from the famous North Street establishment.
"By Jove!" David cried. "I'll go to Lockhart's tomorrow and see if the
case is still there. If so, I may be able to trace it."
Fairly early the next morning David was in North Street. For the time
being he had put his work aside altogether. He could not have written a
dozen consecutive lines to save the situation. The mere effort to
preserve a cheerful face before his mother was a torture. And at any time
he might find himself forced to meet a criminal charge.
The gentlemanly assistant at Lockhart's remembered Steel and the
cigar-case perfectly well, but he was afraid that the article had been
sold. No doubt it would be possible to obtain a facsimile in the course
of a few days.
"Only I required that particular one," Steel said. "Can you tell me when
it was sold and who purchased it?"
A junior partner did, and could give some kind of information. Several
people had admired the case, and it had been on the point of sale several
times. Finally, it had passed into the hands of an American gentleman
staying at the Metropole.
"Can you tell me his name?" David asked, "or describe him?"
"Well, I can't, sir," the junior partner said, frankly. "I haven't the
slightest recollection of the gentleman. He wrote from the Metropole on
the hotel paper describing the case and its price and inclosed the full
amount in ten-dollar notes and asked to have the case sent by post to the
hotel. When we ascertained that the notes were all right, we naturally
posted the case as desired, and there, so far as we are concerned, was an
end of the matter."
"You don't recollect his name?"
"Oh, yes. The name was John Smith. If there is anything wrong---"
David hastily gave the desired assurance. He wanted to arouse no
suspicion. All the same, he left Lockhart's with a plethora of suspicions
of his own. Doubtless the jewellers would be well and fairly satisfied so
long as the case had been paid for, but from the standpoint of David's
superior knowledge the whole transaction fairly bristled with suspicion.
Not for one moment did Steel believe in the American at the Metropole.
Somebody stayed there doubtless under the name of John Smith, and that
said somebody had paid for the cigar-case in dollar notes the tracing of
which might prove a task of years. Nor was it the slightest use to
inquire at the Metropole, where practically everybody is identified by a
number, and where scores come and go every day. John Smith would only
have to ask for his letters and then drop quietly into a sea of oblivion.
Well, David had got his information, and a lot of use it was likely to
prove to him. As he walked thoughtfully homewards he was debating in his
mind whether or not he might venture to call at or write to 219,
Brunswick Square, and lay his difficulties before the people there. At
any rate, he reflected, with grim bitterness, they would know that he was
not romancing. If nothing turned up in the meantime he would certainly
visit Brunswick Square.
He sat in his own room puzzling the matter out till his head ached and
the flowers before him reeled in a dazzling whirl of colour. He looked
round for inspiration, now desperately, as he frequently did when the
warp of his delicate fancy tangled. The smallest thing sometimes fed the
machine again--a patch of sunshine, the chip on a plate, the damaged edge
of a frame. Then his eye fell on the telephone and he jumped to his feet.
"What a fool I am!" he exclaimed. "If I had been plotting this business
out as a story. I should have thought of that long ago.... No, I don't
want any number, at least, not in that way. Two nights ago I was called
up by somebody from London who held the line for fully half an hour or
so. I've--I've forgotten the address of my correspondent, but if you can
ascertain the number ... yes, I shall be here if you will ring me up when
you have got it.... Thanks."
Half an hour passed before the bell trilled again. David listened
eagerly. At any rate, now he was going to know the number whence the
mysterious message came--0017, Kensington, was the number. David muttered
his thanks and flew to his big telephone directory. Yes, there it
was--"0017, 446, Prince's Gate, Gilead Gates."
The big volume dropped with a crash on the floor. David looked down at
the crumpled volume with dim, misty amazement.
"Gilead Gates," he murmured. "Quaker, millionaire, and philanthropist.
One of the most highly-esteemed and popular men in England. And from his
house came the message which has been the source of all the mischief. And
yet there are critics who say the plots of my novels are too fantastic!"
NO. 2l8, BRUNSWICK SQUARE
The emotion of surprise seemed to have left Steel altogether. After the
last discovery he was prepared to believe anything. Had anybody told him
that the whole Bench of Bishops was at the bottom of the mystery he would
have responded that the suggestion was highly probable.
"Still, it's what the inimitable Dick Swiveller would call a
staggerer," he muttered. "Gates, the millionaire, the one great
capitalist who has the profound respect of the labour world. No, a man
with a record like that couldn't have anything to do with it. Still, it
must have been from his house that the mysterious message came. The
post-office people working the telephone trunk line would know that--a
fact which probably escaped the party who called me up.... I'll go to
Brunswick Square and see that woman. Money or no money, I'll not lie
under an imputation like this."
There was one thing to be done beforehand, and that was to see Dr. Cross.
From the latter's manner he evidently knew nothing of the charge hanging
over Steel's head. Marley was evidently keeping that close to himself and
speaking to nobody.
"Oh, the man is better." Cross said, cheerfully. "He hasn't been
identified yet, though the Press has given us every assistance. I fancy
the poor fellow is going to recover, though I am afraid it will be a
"He hasn't recovered consciousness, then?"
"No, and neither will he for some time to come. There seems to be a
certain pressure on the brain which we are unable to locate, and we dare
not try the Röntgen rays yet. So on the whole you are likely to escape
with a charge of aggravated assault."
David smiled grimly as he went his way. He walked the whole distance to
Hove along North Street and the Western Road, finally turning down
Brunswick Square instead of _up_ it, as he had done on the night of the
great adventure. He wondered vaguely why he had been specially instructed
to approach the house that way.
Here it was at last, 219, Brunswick Square--220 above and, of course, 218
below the house. It looked pretty well the same in the daylight, the same
door, the same knocker, and the same crimson blind in the centre of the
big bay window. David knocked at the door with a vague feeling of
uncertainty as to what he was going to do next. A very staid,
old-fashioned footman answered his ring and inquired his business.
"Can--can I see your mistress?" David stammered.
The staid footman became, if possible, a little more reserved. If the
gentleman would send in his card he would see if Miss Ruth was
disengaged. David found himself vaguely wondering what Miss Ruth's
surname might be. The old Biblical name was a great favourite of his.
"I'm afraid I haven't a card," he said. "Will you say that Mr. Steel
would like to see--er--Miss Ruth for a few minutes? My business is
The staid footman led the way into the dining-room. Evidently this was no
frivolous house, where giddy butterflies came and went; such gaudy
insects would have been chilled by the solemn decorum of the place. David
followed into the dining-room in a dreamy kind of way, and with the
feeling that comes to us all at times, the sensation of having done and
seen the same thing before.
Nothing had been altered. The same plain, handsome, expensive furniture
was here, the same mahogany and engravings, the same dull red walls, with
the same light stain over the fire-place--a dull, prosperous,
square-toed-looking place. The electric fittings looked a little
different, but that might have been fancy. It was the identical room.
David had run his quarry to earth, and he began to feel his spirits
rising. Doubtless he could scheme some way out of the difficulty and
spare his phantom friends at the same time.
"You wanted to see me, sir? Will you be so good as to state your
David turned with a start. He saw before him a slight, graceful figure,
and a lovely, refined face in a frame of the most beautiful hair that he
had ever seen. The grey eyes were demure, with just a suggestion of mirth
in them; the lips were made for laughter. It was as if some dainty little
actress were masquerading in Salvation garb, only the dress was all
priceless lace that touched David's artistic perception. He could imagine
the girl as deeply in earnest as going through fire and water for her
convictions. Also he could imagine her as Puck or Ariel--there was
rippling laughter in every note of that voice of hers.
"I--I, eh, yes," Steel stammered. "You see, I--if I only knew whom I had
the pleasure of addressing?"
"I am Miss Ruth Gates, at your service. Still, you asked for me by name."
David made no reply for a moment. He was tripping over surprises again.
What a fool he had been not to look out the name of the occupant of 219
in the directory. It was pretty evident that Gilead Gates had a house in
Brighton as well as one in town. Not only had that telephone message
emanated from the millionaire's residence, but it had brought Steel to
the philanthropist's abode in Brighton. If Mr. Gates himself had strolled
into the room singing a comic song David would have expressed no emotion.
"Daughter of the famous Gilead Gates?" David asked, feebly.
"No, niece, and housekeeper. This is not my uncle's own house, he has
merely taken this for a time. But, Mr. Steel--"
"Mr. _David_, Steel--is my name familiar to you?"
David asked the question somewhat eagerly. As yet he was only feeling
his way and keenly on the lookout for anything in the way of a clue. He
saw the face of the girl grow white as the table-cover, he saw the
lurking laughter die in her eyes, and the purple black terror dilating
"I--I know you quite well by reputation," the girl gasped. Her little
hands were pressed to her left side as if to check some deadly pain
there. "Indeed, I may say I have read most of your stories. I--I hope
that there is nothing wrong."
Her self-possession and courage were coming back to her now. But the
spasm of fear that had shaken her to the soul was not lost upon Steel.
"I trust not," he said, gravely. "Did you know that I was here two
"Here!" the girl cried. "Impossible! In the house! The night before last!
Why, we were all in bed long before midnight."
"I am not aware that I said anything about midnight," David
An angry flush came sweeping over the face of the girl, annoyance at her
own folly, David thought. She added quickly that she and her uncle had
only been down in Brighton for three days.
"Nevertheless, I was in this room two nights ago," David replied. "If you
know all about it, I pray you to give me certain information of vital
importance to me; if not, I shall be compelled to keep my extraordinary
story to myself, for otherwise you would never believe it. Do you or do
you not know of my visit here?"
The girl bent her head till Steel could see nothing but the glorious
amber of her hair. He could see, too, the fine old lace round her throat
was tossing like a cork on a stream.
"I can tell you nothing," she said. "Nothing, nothing, nothing."
It was the voice of one who would have spoken had she dared. With
anybody else Steel would have been furiously angry. In the present case
he could only admire the deep, almost pathetic, loyalty to somebody who
"Are you sure you were in this house?" the girl asked, at length.
"Certain!" David exclaimed. "The walls, the pictures, the
furniture--all the same. I could swear to the place anywhere. Miss
Gates, if I cannot prove that I was here at the time I name, it is
likely to go very hard with me."
"You mean that a certain inconvenience--"
"Inconvenience! Do you call a charge of murder, or manslaughter at best,
inconvenient? Have you not seen the local papers? Don't you know that two
nights ago, during my absence from home, a strange man was practically
done to death in my conservatory? And during the time of the outrage, as
sure as Heaven is above us, I was in this room."
"I am sorry, but I am sure that you were not."
"Ah, you are going to disappoint me? And yet you know something. You
might have been the guiltiest of creatures yourself when I disclosed my
identity. No prisoner detected in some shameful crime ever looked more
guilty than you."
The girl stood there, saying nothing. Had she rang the bell and ordered
the footman to put him out of the house, Steel would have had no cause
for complaint. But she did nothing of the kind. She stood there torn by
"I can give you no information," she said, presently. "But I am as
positive one way as you are another that you have never been in this
house before. I may surmise things, but as I hope to be judged fairly I
can give you no information. I am only a poor, unhappy girl, who is doing
what she deems to be the best for all parties concerned. And I can tell
you nothing, nothing. Oh, won't you believe that I would do anything to
serve you if I were only free?"
She held out her hand with an imploring gesture, the red lips were
quivering, and her eyes were full of tears. David's warm heart went out
to her; he forgot all his own troubles and dangers in his sympathy for
the lovely creature in distress.
"Pray say no more about it," he cried. He caught the outstretched hand in
his and carried it to his lips. "I don't wish to hurry you; in fact,
haste is dangerous. And there is ample time. Nor am I going to press you.
Still, before long you may find some way to give me a clue without
sacrificing a jot of your fine loyalty to--well, others. I would not
distress you for the world, Miss Gates. Don't you think that this has
been the most extraordinary interview?"
The tears trembled like diamonds on the girl's long lashes and a smile
flashed over her face. The sudden transformation was wonderfully
"What you might call an impossible interview," she laughed. "And all the
more impossible because it was quite impossible that you could ever have
been here before."
"When I was in this room two nights ago," David protested, "I saw---"
"Did you see me, for instance? If not, you couldn't have been here."
A small, misshapen figure, with the face of a Byron--Apollo on the bust
of a Satyr--came in from behind the folding doors at the back of the
dining-room carrying some letters in his hand. The stranger's dark,
piercing eyes were fixed inquiringly upon Steel.
"Bell," the latter cried; "Hatherly Bell! you have been listening!"
The little man with the godlike head admitted the fact, coolly. He
had been writing letters in the back room and escape had been
impossible for him.
"Funny enough, I was going to look you up to-day," he said. "You did me
a great service once, and I am longing to repay you. I came down here to
give my friend Gates the benefit of my advice and assistance over a
large philanthropic scheme he has just evolved. And, writing letters
yonder on that subject, I heard your extraordinary conversation. Can I
help you, Steel?"
"My dear fellow," David cried, "if you offered me every intellect in
Europe I should not choose one of them so gladly as yours."
"Then let us shake hands on the bargain. And now I am going to stagger
you; I heard you state positively that two nights ago you were in this
"I am prepared to testify the fact on oath anywhere, my dear Bell."
"Very well; will you be good enough to state the hour?"
"Certainly. I was here from one o'clock--say between one and two."
"And I was here also. From eleven o'clock till two I was in this very
room working out some calculations at this very table by the aid of my
reading-lamp, no other light being in the room, or even in the house, as
far as I know. It is one of my fads--as fools call them--to work in a
large, dark room with one brilliant light only. Therefore you could not
possibly have been in the house, to say nothing of this room, on the
night in question."
David nodded feebly. There was no combating Bell's statement.
"I presume that this is No. 219?" he asked.
"Certainly it is," Miss Gates replied. "We are all agreed about _that_."
"Because I read the number over the fanlight," Steel went on. "And I came
here by arrangement. And there was everything as I see it now. Bell, you
must either cure me of this delusion, or you must prove logically to me
that I have made a mistake. So far as I am concerned, I am like a child
struggling with the alphabet."
"We'll start now," said Bell. "Come along."
Steel rose none too willingly. He would fain have lingered with Ruth. She
held out her hand; there was a warm, glad smile on her face.
"May you be successful," she whispered. "Come and see me again, because I
shall be very, very anxious to know. And I am not without guilt.... If
you only knew!"
"And I may come again?" David said, eagerly.
A further smile and a warm pressure of the hand were the only reply.
Presently Steel was standing outside in the road with Bell. The latter
was glancing at the house on either side of 219. The higher house was
let; the one nearest the sea--218--was empty. A bill in the window gave
the information that the property was in the hands of Messrs. Wallace and
Brown, Station Quadrant, where keys could be obtained.
"We'll make a start straightaway," said Bell. "Come along."
"Where are you going to at that pace?" Steel asked.
"Going to interview Messrs. Wallace and Brown. At the present moment I am
a gentleman who is in search of a house of residence, and I have a
weakness for Brunswick Square in particular, especially for No. 218.
Unless I am greatly mistaken I am going to show you something that will
startle even the most callous novelist."
The queer, misshapen figure striding along by Steel's side would have
attracted attention anywhere; indeed, Hatherly Bell had been an
attractive personality from his schooldays. A strange mixture of vanity
and brilliant mental qualities, Bell had almost as many enemies as
friends. He was morbidly miserable over the score of his personal
appearance despite the extraordinary beauty of his face--to be pitied or
even sympathised with almost maddened him. Yet there were many women who
would gladly have shared the lot of Hatherly Bell.
For there was strength in the perfectly moulded face, as well as beauty.
It was the face of a man possessed of marvellous intellectual powers, and
none the less attractive because, while the skin was as fair as a woman's
and the eyes as clear as a child's, the wavy hair was absolutely white.
The face of a man who had suffered fiercely and long. A face hiding a
Time was when Bell had promised to stand in the front rank of operative
physicians. In brain troubles and mental disorders he had distinguished
himself. He had a marvellous faculty for psychological research; indeed,
he had gone so far as to declare that insanity was merely a disease and
capable of cure the same as any ordinary malady. "If Bell goes on as he
has started," a great German specialist once declared, "he will
inevitably prove to be the greatest benefactor to mankind since the
beginning of the world." Bell was to be the man of his time.
And then suddenly he had faded out as a star drops from the zenith. There
had been dark rumours of a terrible scandal, a prosecution burked by
strong personal influence, mysterious paragraphs in the papers, and the
disappearance of the name of Hatherly Bell from the rank of great medical
jurists. Nobody seemed to know anything about it, but Bell was ignored by
all except a few old friends, and henceforth he devoted his attention to
criminology and the evolution of crime. It was Bell's boast that he could
take a dozen men at haphazard and give you their vices and virtures
point-blank. He had a marvellous gift that way.
A few people stuck to him, Gilead Gates amongst the number. The
millionaire philanthropist had need of someone to pick the sheep from the
goats, and Bell made no mistakes. David Steel had been able to do the
specialist some slight service a year or two before, and Bell had been
pleased to magnify this into a great favour.
"You are a fast walker," David said, presently.
"That's because I am thinking fast," Bell replied. "Steel, you are in
"It needs no brilliant effort on your part to see that," David said,
bitterly. "Besides, you heard a great deal just now when you--you--"
"Listened," Bell said, coolly. "Of course I had no intention of playing
eavesdropper; and I had no idea who the Mr. Steel was who wanted to see
Miss Gates. They come day by day, my dear fellow, garbed in the garb of
Pall Mall or Petticoat Lane as the case may be, but they all come for
money. Sometimes it is a shilling, sometimes £100. But I did not gather
from your chat with Miss Gates what your trouble was."
"Perhaps not, but Miss Gates knew perfectly well."
Bell patted his companion, approvingly.
"It is a pleasure to help a lucid-minded man like yourself," he said.
"You go straight to the root of the sore and cut all the superfluous
matter away. I was deeply interested in the conversation which I
overheard just now. You are in great trouble, and that trouble is
connected with 219, Brunswick Square--a house where you have never
"My dear chap, I was in that dining-room two nights ago. Nothing will
convince me to the--"
"There you are wrong, because I am going to convince you to the
contrary. You may smile and shake your head, but before an hour has
passed I am going to convince you beyond all question that you were
never inside No. 219."
"Brave words," David muttered. "Still, an hour is not a long time to
"No. But you must enlighten me if I am to assist you. I am profoundly
interested. You come to the house of my friend on a desperate errand.
Miss Gates is a perfect stranger to you, and yet the mere discovery of
your identity fills her with the most painful agitation. Therefore,
though you have never been in 219 before, you are pretty certain, and I
am pretty certain, that Ruth Gates knows a deal about the thing that is
touching you. On the contrary, I know nothing on that head. Won't you let
me into the secret?"
"I'll tell you part," Steel replied. "And I'll put it pithily. For mere
argument we assume that I am selected to assist a damsel in distress who
lives at No. 219, Brunswick Square. We will assume that the conversation
leading up to the flattering selection took place over the telephone. As
a matter of fact, it did take place over the telephone. The thing was
involved with so much secrecy that I naturally hesitated. I was offered
£1,000 for my services; also I was reminded by my unseen messenger that I
was in dire need of that money."
"And were you?"
"My dear fellow, I don't fancy that I should have hesitated at burglary
to get it. And all I had to do was to meet a lady secretly in the dead of
night at No. 219, and tell her how to get out of a certain difficulty. It
all resolved itself round the synopsis of a proposed new story of mine.
But I had better go into details."
David proceeded to do so. Bell, with his arm crooked through that of his
companion, followed the story with an intelligent and nattering interest.
"Very strange and very fascinating," he said, presently. "I'll think it
out presently. Nobody could possibly think of anything but their toes in
Western Road. Go on."
"Now I am coming to the point. I had the money, I had that lovely
cigar-case, and subsequently I had that battered and bleeding specimen of
humanity dumped down in the most amazing manner in my conservatory. The
cigar-case lay on the conservatory floor, remember--swept off the table
when I clutched for the telephone bell to call for the police. When
Marley came he asked if the cigar-case was mine. At first I said no,
because, you see--"
"I see quite plainly. Pray go on."
"Well, I lose that cigar-case; I leave it in the offices of Mossa, to
whom I pay nearly £1,000. Mossa, to spite me, takes or sends the case to
the police, who advertise it not knowing that it is mine. You will see
why they advertise it presently--"
"Because it belonged to the injured man, eh?"
David pulled up and regarded his companion with amazement.
"How on earth--" he gasped. "Do you mean to say that you know--"
"Nothing at present, I assure you," Bell said, coolly. "Call it
intuition, if you like. I prefer to call it the result of logical mental
process. I'm right, of course?"
"Of course you are. I'd claimed that case for my own. I had cut my
initials inside, as I showed Marley when I went to the police-station.
And then Marley tells me how I paid Mossa nearly £1,000; how the money
must have come into my hands in the nick of time. That was pretty bad
when I couldn't for the life of me give a lucid reason for the possession
of those notes; but there was worse to come. In the pocket of the injured
man was a receipt for a diamond-studded gun-metal cigar-case, purchased
the day of the outrage. And Walen, the jeweller, proved beyond a doubt
that the case I claimed was purchased at his shop."
Bell nodded gravely.
"Which places you in an exceedingly awkward position," he said.
"A mild way of putting it," David replied. "If that fellow dies the
police have enough evidence to hang me. And what is my defence? The story
of my visit to No. 219. And who would believe that cock-and-bull story?
Fancy a drama like that being played out in the house of such a pillar of
respectability as Gilead Gates."
"It isn't his house," said Bell. "He only takes it furnished."
"In anybody else your remark would be puerile," David said, irritably.
"It's a deeper remark than you are aware of at present," Bell replied. "I
quite see your position. Nobody would believe you, of course. But why not
go to the post-office and ask the number of the telephone that called you
up from London?"
The question seemed to amuse David slightly. Then his lips were drawn
"When my logical formula came back I thought of that," he said. "On
inquiring as to who it was rang me up on that fateful occasion I learnt
that the number was 0017 Kensington and that--"
"Gates's own number at Prince's Gate," Bell exclaimed. "The plot
"It does, indeed," David said, grimly. "It is Wilkie Collins gone mad,
Gaboriau _in extremis_, Du Boisgobey suffering from _delirium tremens_.
I go to Gates's house here, and am solemnly told in the midst of
surroundings that I can swear to that I have never been there before;
the whole mad expedition is launched by the turning of the handle of a
telephone in the house of a distinguished, trusted, if prosaic,
citizen. Somebody gets hold of the synopsis of a story of mine, Heaven
"That is fairly easy. The synopsis was short, I suppose?"
"Only a few lines, say 1,000 words, a sheet of paper. My writing is very
small. It was tucked into a half-penny open envelope--a mazagine office
envelope, marked 'Proof, urgent.' There were the proofs of a short story
in the buff envelope."
"Which reached its destination in due course?"
"So I hear this morning. But how on earth--"
"Easily enough. The whole thing gets slipped into a larger open envelope,
the kind of big-mouthed affair that enterprising firms send out circulars
and patterns with. This falls into the hands of the woman who is at the
bottom of this and every other case, and she reads the synopsis from
sheer curiosity. The case fits her case, and there you are. Mind you, I
don't say that this is how the thing actually happened, but how it might
have done so. When did you post the letter?"