Part 1 out of 4
Scanned by Georges Allaire
Etext prepared by Dianne Bean of Phoenix, Arizona.
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
By Gilbert K. Chesterton
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH:
I. THE FACE IN THE TARGET
II. THE VANISHING PRINCE
III. THE SOUL OF THE SCHOOLBOY
IV. THE BOTTOMLESS WELL
V. THE FAD OF THE FISHERMAN
VI. THE HOLE IN THE WALL
VII. THE TEMPLE OF SILENCE
VIII. THE VENGEANCE OF THE STATUE
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
I. THE FACE IN THE TARGET
Harold March, the rising reviewer and social critic, was walking
vigorously across a great tableland of moors and commons, the
horizon of which was fringed with the far-off woods of the famous
estate of Torwood Park. He was a good-looking young man in tweeds,
with very pale curly hair and pale clear eyes. Walking in wind and
sun in the very landscape of liberty, he was still young enough to
remember his politics and not merely try to forget them. For his
errand at Torwood Park was a political one; it was the place of
appointment named by no less a person than the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, Sir Howard Horne, then introducing his so-called
Socialist budget, and prepared to expound it in an interview with so
promising a penman. Harold March was the sort of man who knows
everything about politics, and nothing about politicians. He also
knew a great deal about art, letters, philosophy, and general
culture; about almost everything, indeed, except the world he was
Abruptly, in the middle of those sunny and windy flats, he came upon
a sort of cleft almost narrow enough to be called a crack in the
land. It was just large enough to be the water-course for a small
stream which vanished at intervals under green tunnels of
undergrowth, as if in a dwarfish forest. Indeed, he had an odd
feeling as if he were a giant looking over the valley of the
pygmies. When he dropped into the hollow, however, the impression
was lost; the rocky banks, though hardly above the height of a
cottage, hung over and had the profile of a precipice. As he began
to wander down the course of the stream, in idle but romantic
curiosity, and saw the water shining in short strips between the
great gray boulders and bushes as soft as great green mosses, he
fell into quite an opposite vein of fantasy. It was rather as if the
earth had opened and swallowed him into a sort of underworld of
dreams. And when he became conscious of a human figure dark against
the silver stream, sitting on a large boulder and looking rather
like a large bird, it was perhaps with some of the premonition's
proper to a man who meets the strangest friendship of his life.
The man was apparently fishing; or at least was fixed in a
fisherman's attitude with more than a fisherman's immobility. March
was able to examine the man almost as if he had been a statue for
some minutes before the statue spoke. He was a tall, fair man,
cadaverous, and a little lackadaisical, with heavy eyelids and a
highbridged nose. When his face was shaded with his wide white hat,
his light mustache and lithe figure gave him a look of youth. But
the Panama lay on the moss beside him; and the spectator could see
that his brow was prematurely bald; and this, combined with a
certain hollowness about the eyes, had an air of headwork and even
headache. But the most curious thing about him, realized after a
short scrutiny, was that, though he looked like a fisherman, he was
He was holding, instead of a rod, something that might have been a
landing-net which some fishermen use, but which was much more like
the ordinary toy net which children carry, and which they generally
use indifferently for shrimps or butterflies. He was dipping this
into the water at intervals, gravely regarding its harvest of weed
or mud, and emptying it out again.
"No, I haven't caught anything," he remarked, calmly, as if
answering an unspoken query. "When I do I have to throw it back
again; especially the big fish. But some of the little beasts
interest me when I get 'em."
"A scientific interest, I suppose?" observed March.
"Of a rather amateurish sort, I fear," answered the strange
fisherman. "I have a sort of hobby about what they call 'phenomena
of phosphorescence.' But it would be rather awkward to go about in
society carrying stinking fish."
"I suppose it would," said March, with a smile.
"Rather odd to enter a drawing-room carrying a large luminous cod,"
continued the stranger, in his listless way. "How quaint it would
be if one could carry it about like a lantern, or have little sprats
for candles. Some of the seabeasts would really be very pretty like
lampshades; the blue sea-snail that glitters all over like
starlight; and some of the red starfish really shine like red stars.
But, naturally, I'm not looking for them here."
March thought of asking him what he was looking for; but, feeling
unequal to a technical discussion at least as deep as the deep-sea
fishes, he returned to more ordinary topics.
"Delightful sort of hole this is," he said. "This little dell and
river here. It's like those places Stevenson talks about, where
something ought to happen."
"I know," answered the other. "I think it's because the place
itself, so to speak, seems to happen and not merely to exist.
Perhaps that's what old Picasso and some of the Cubists are trying
to express by angles and jagged lines. Look at that wall like low
cliffs that juts forward just at right angles to the slope of turf
sweeping up to it. That's like a silent collision. It's like a
breaker and the back-wash of a wave."
March looked at the low-browed crag overhanging the green slope and
nodded. He was interested in a man who turned so easily from the
technicalities of science to those of art; and asked him if he
admired the new angular artists.
"As I feel it, the Cubists are not Cubist enough," replied the
stranger. "I mean they're not thick enough. By making things
mathematical they make them thin. Take the living lines out of that
landscape, simplify it to a right angle, and you flatten it out to a
mere diagram on paper. Diagrams have their own beauty; but it is of
just the other sort. They stand for the unalterable things; the
calm, eternal, mathematical sort of truths; what somebody calls the
'white radiance of'--"
He stopped, and before the next word came something had happened
almost too quickly and completely to be realized. From behind the
overhanging rock came a noise and rush like that of a railway train;
and a great motor car appeared. It topped the crest of cliff, black
against the sun, like a battle-chariot rushing to destruction in
some wild epic. March automatically put out his hand in one futile
gesture, as if to catch a falling tea-cup in a drawing-room.
For the fraction of a flash it seemed to leave the ledge of rock
like a flying ship; then the very sky seemed to turn over like a
wheel, and it lay a ruin amid the tall grasses below, a line of gray
smoke going up slowly from it into the silent air. A little lower
the figure of a man with gray hair lay tumbled down the steep green
slope, his limbs lying all at random, and his face turned away.
The eccentric fisherman dropped his net and walked swiftly toward
the spot, his new acquaintance following him. As they drew near
there seemed a sort of monstrous irony in the fact that the dead
machine was still throbbing and thundering as busily as a factory,
while the man lay so still.
He was unquestionably dead. The blood flowed in the grass from a
hopelessly fatal fracture at the back of the skull; but the face,
which was turned to the sun, was uninjured and strangely arresting
in itself. It was one of those cases of a strange face so
unmistakable as to feel familiar. We feel, somehow, that we ought to
recognize it, even though we do not. It was of the broad, square
sort with great jaws, almost like that of a highly intellectual ape;
the wide mouth shut so tight as to be traced by a mere line; the
nose short with the sort of nostrils that seem to gape with an
appetite for the air. The oddest thing about the face was that one
of the eyebrows was cocked up at a much sharper angle than the
other. March thought he had never seen a face so naturally alive as
that dead one. And its ugly energy seemed all the stranger for its
halo of hoary hair. Some papers lay half fallen out of the pocket,
and from among them March extracted a card-case. He read the name on
the card aloud.
"Sir Humphrey Turnbull. I'm sure I've heard that name somewhere."
His companion only gave a sort of a little sigh and was silent for a
moment, as if ruminating, then he merely said, "The poor fellow is
quite gone," and added some scientific terms in which his auditor
once more found himself out of his depth.
"As things are," continued the same curiously well-informed person,
"it will be more legal for us to leave the body as it is until the
police are informed. In fact, I think it will be well if nobody
except the police is informed. Don't be surprised if I seem to be
keeping it dark from some of our neighbors round here." Then, as if
prompted to regularize his rather abrupt confidence, he said: "I've
come down to see my cousin at Torwood; my name is Horne Fisher.
Might be a pun on my pottering about here, mightn't it?"
"Is Sir Howard Horne your cousin?" asked March. "I'm going to
Torwood Park to see him myself; only about his public work, of
course, and the wonderful stand he is making for his principles. I
think this Budget is the greatest thing in English history. If it
fails, it will be the most heroic failure in English history. Are
you an admirer of your great kinsman, Mr. Fisher?"
"Rather," said Mr. Fisher. "He's the best shot I know."
Then, as if sincerely repentant of his nonchalance, he added, with a
sort of enthusiasm:
"No, but really, he's a _beautiful_ shot."
As if fired by his own words, he took a sort of leap at the ledges
of the rock above him, and scaled them with a sudden agility in
startling contrast to his general lassitude. He had stood for some
seconds on the headland above, with his aquiline profile under the
Panama hat relieved against the sky and peering over the countryside
before his companion had collected himself sufficiently to scramble
up after him.
The level above was a stretch of common turf on which the tracks of
the fated car were plowed plainly enough; but the brink of it was
broken as with rocky teeth; broken boulders of all shapes and sizes
lay near the edge; it was almost incredible that any one could have
deliberately driven into such a death trap, especially in broad
"I can't make head or tail of it," said March. "Was he blind? Or
"Neither, by the look of him," replied the other.
"Then it was suicide."
"It doesn't seem a cozy way of doing it," remarked the man called
Fisher. "Besides, I don't fancy poor old Puggy would commit suicide,
"Poor old who?" inquired the wondering journalist. "Did you know
this unfortunate man?"
"Nobody knew him exactly," replied Fisher, with some vagueness. "But
one _knew_ him, of course. He'd been a terror in his time, in
Parliament and the courts, and so on; especially in that row about
the aliens who were deported as undesirables, when he wanted one of
'em hanged for murder. He was so sick about it that he retired from
the bench. Since then he mostly motored about by himself; but he was
coming to Torwood, too, for the week-end; and I don't see why he
should deliberately break his neck almost at the very door. I
believe Hoggs--I mean my cousin Howard--was coming down specially to
"Torwood Park doesn't belong to your cousin?" inquired March.
"No; it used to belong to the Winthrops, you know," replied the
other. "Now a new man's got it; a man from Montreal named Jenkins.
Hoggs comes for the shooting; I told you he was a lovely shot."
This repeated eulogy on the great social statesman affected Harold
March as if somebody had defined Napoleon as a distinguished player
of nap. But he had another half-formed impression struggling in this
flood of unfamiliar things, and he brought it to the surface before
it could vanish.
"Jenkins," he repeated. "Surely you don't mean Jefferson Jenkins,
the social reformer? I mean the man who's fighting for the new
cottage-estate scheme. It would be as interesting to meet him as any
Cabinet Minister in the world, if you'll excuse my saying so."
"Yes; Hoggs told him it would have to be cottages," said Fisher.
"He said the breed of cattle had improved too often, and people were
beginning to laugh. And, of course, you must hang a peerage on to
something; though the poor chap hasn't got it yet. Hullo, here's
They had started walking in the tracks of the car, leaving it behind
them in the hollow, still humming horribly like a huge insect that
had killed a man. The tracks took them to the corner of the road,
one arm of which went on in the same line toward the distant gates
of the park. It was clear that the car had been driven down the long
straight road, and then, instead of turning with the road to the
left, had gone straight on over the turf to its doom. But it was not
this discovery that had riveted Fisher's eye, but something even
more solid. At the angle of the white road a dark and solitary
figure was standing almost as still as a finger post. It was that of
a big man in rough shooting-clothes, bareheaded, and with tousled
curly hair that gave him a rather wild look. On a nearer approach
this first more fantastic impression faded; in a full light the
figure took on more conventional colors, as of an ordinary gentleman
who happened to have come out without a hat and without very
studiously brushing his hair. But the massive stature remained, and
something deep and even cavernous about the setting of the eyes
redeemed his animal good looks from the commonplace. But March had
no time to study the man more closely, for, much to his
astonishment, his guide merely observed, "Hullo, Jack!" and walked
past him as if he had indeed been a signpost, and without attempting
to inform him of the catastrophe beyond the rocks. It was relatively
a small thing, but it was only the first in a string of singular
antics on which his new and eccentric friend was leading him.
The man they had passed looked after them in rather a suspicious
fashion, but Fisher continued serenely on his way along the straight
road that ran past the gates of the great estate.
"That's John Burke, the traveler," he condescended to explain. "I
expect you've heard of him; shoots big game and all that. Sorry I
couldn't stop to introduce you, but I dare say you'll meet him later
"I know his book, of course," said March, with renewed interest.
"That is certainly a fine piece of description, about their being
only conscious of the closeness of the elephant when the colossal
head blocked out the moon."
"Yes, young Halkett writes jolly well, I think. What? Didn't you
know Halkett wrote Burke's book for him? Burke can't use anything
except a gun; and you can't write with that. Oh, he's genuine enough
in his way, you know, as brave as a lion, or a good deal braver by
"You seem to know all about him," observed March, with a rather
bewildered laugh, "and about a good many other people."
Fisher's bald brow became abruptly corrugated, and a curious
expression came into his eyes.
"I know too much," he said. "That's what's the matter with me.
That's what's the matter with all of us, and the whole show; we know
too much. Too much about one another; too much about ourselves.
That's why I'm really interested, just now, about one thing that I
"And that is?" inquired the other.
"Why that poor fellow is dead."
They had walked along the straight road for nearly a mile,
conversing at intervals in this fashion; and March had a singular
sense of the whole world being turned inside out. Mr. Horne Fisher
did not especially abuse his friends and relatives in fashionable
society; of some of them he spoke with affection. But they seemed to
be an entirely new set of men and women, who happened to have the
same nerves as the men and women mentioned most often in the
newspapers. Yet no fury of revolt could have seemed to him more
utterly revolutionary than this cold familiarity. It was like
daylight on the other side of stage scenery.
They reached the great lodge gates of the park, and, to March's
surprise, passed them and continued along the interminable white,
straight road. But he was himself too early for his appointment with
Sir Howard, and was not disinclined to see the end of his new
friend's experiment, whatever it might be. They had long left the
moorland behind them, and half the white road was gray in the great
shadow of the Torwood pine forests, themselves like gray bars
shuttered against the sunshine and within, amid that clear noon,
manufacturing their own midnight. Soon, however, rifts began to
appear in them like gleams of colored windows; the trees thinned and
fell away as the road went forward, showing the wild, irregular
copses in which, as Fisher said, the house-party had been blazing
away all day. And about two hundred yards farther on they came to
the first turn of the road.
At the corner stood a sort of decayed inn with the dingy sign of The
Grapes. The signboard was dark and indecipherable by now, and hung
black against the sky and the gray moorland beyond, about as
inviting as a gallows. March remarked that it looked like a tavern
for vinegar instead of wine.
"A good phrase," said Fisher, "and so it would be if you were silly
enough to drink wine in it. But the beer is very good, and so is the
March followed him to the bar parlor with some wonder, and his dim
sense of repugnance was not dismissed by the first sight of the
innkeeper, who was widely different from the genial innkeepers of
romance, a bony man, very silent behind a black mustache, but with
black, restless eyes. Taciturn as he was, the investigator succeeded
at last in extracting a scrap of information from him, by dint of
ordering beer and talking to him persistently and minutely on the
subject of motor cars. He evidently regarded the innkeeper as in
some singular way an authority on motor cars; as being deep in the
secrets of the mechanism, management, and mismanagement of motor
cars; holding the man all the time with a glittering eye like the
Ancient Mariner. Out of all this rather mysterious conversation
there did emerge at last a sort of admission that one particular
motor car, of a given description, had stopped before the inn about
an hour before, and that an elderly man had alighted, requiring some
mechanical assistance. Asked if the visitor required any other
assistance, the innkeeper said shortly that the old gentleman had
filled his flask and taken a packet of sandwiches. And with these
words the somewhat inhospitable host had walked hastily out of the
bar, and they heard him banging doors in the dark interior.
Fisher's weary eye wandered round the dusty and dreary inn parlor
and rested dreamily on a glass case containing a stuffed bird, with
a gun hung on hooks above it, which seemed to be its only ornament.
"Puggy was a humorist," he observed, "at least in his own rather
grim style. But it seems rather too grim a joke for a man to buy a
packet of sandwiches when he is just going to commit suicide."
"If you come to that," answered March, "it isn't very usual for a
man to buy a packet of sandwiches when he's just outside the door of
a grand house he's going to stop at."
"No . . . no," repeated Fisher, almost mechanically; and then
suddenly cocked his eye at his interlocutor with a much livelier
"By Jove! that's an idea. You're perfectly right. And that suggests
a very queer idea, doesn't it?"
There was a silence, and then March started with irrational
nervousness as the door of the inn was flung open and another man
walked rapidly to the counter. He had struck it with a coin and
called out for brandy before he saw the other two guests, who were
sitting at a bare wooden table under the window. When he turned
about with a rather wild stare, March had yet another unexpected
emotion, for his guide hailed the man as Hoggs and introduced him as
Sir Howard Horne.
He looked rather older than his boyish portraits in the illustrated
papers, as is the way of politicians; his flat, fair hair was
touched with gray, but his face was almost comically round, with a
Roman nose which, when combined with his quick, bright eyes, raised
a vague reminiscence of a parrot. He had a cap rather at the back of
his head and a gun under his arm. Harold March had imagined many
things about his meeting with the great political reformer, but he
had never pictured him with a gun under his arm, drinking brandy in
a public house.
"So you're stopping at Jink's, too," said Fisher. "Everybody seems
to be at Jink's."
"Yes," replied the Chancellor of the Exchequer. "Jolly good
shooting. At least all of it that isn't Jink's shooting. I never
knew a chap with such good shooting that was such a bad shot. Mind
you, he's a jolly good fellow and all that; I don't say a word
against him. But he never learned to hold a gun when he was packing
pork or whatever he did. They say he shot the cockade off his own
servant's hat; just like him to have cockades, of course. He shot
the weathercock off his own ridiculous gilded summerhouse. It's the
only cock he'll ever kill, I should think. Are you coming up there
Fisher said, rather vaguely, that he was following soon, when he had
fixed something up; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer left the
inn. March fancied he had been a little upset or impatient when he
called for the brandy; but he had talked himself back into a
satisfactory state, if the talk had not been quite what his literary
visitor had expected. Fisher, a few minutes afterward, slowly led
the way out of the tavern and stood in the middle of the road,
looking down in the direction from which they had traveled. Then he
walked back about two hundred yards in that direction and stood
"I should think this is about the place," he said.
"What place?" asked his companion.
"The place where the poor fellow was killed," said Fisher, sadly.
"What do you mean?" demanded March.
"He was smashed up on the rocks a mile and a half from here."
"No, he wasn't," replied Fisher. "He didn't fall on the rocks at
all. Didn't you notice that he only fell on the slope of soft grass
underneath? But I saw that he had a bullet in him already."
Then after a pause he added:
"He was alive at the inn, but he was dead long before he came to the
rocks. So he was shot as he drove his car down this strip of
straight road, and I should think somewhere about here. After that,
of course, the car went straight on with nobody to stop or turn it.
It's really a very cunning dodge in its way; for the body would be
found far away, and most people would say, as you do, that it was an
accident to a motorist. The murderer must have been a clever brute."
"But wouldn't the shot be heard at the inn or somewhere?" asked
"It would be heard. But it would not be noticed. That," continued
the investigator, "is where he was clever again. Shooting was going
on all over the place all day; very likely he timed his shot so as
to drown it in a number of others. Certainly he was a first-class
criminal. And he was something else as well."
"What do you mean?" asked his companion, with a creepy premonition
of something coming, he knew not why.
"He was a first-class shot," said Fisher. He had turned his back
abruptly and was walking down a narrow, grassy lane, little more
than a cart track, which lay opposite the inn and marked the end of
the great estate and the beginning of the open moors. March plodded
after him with the same idle perseverance, and found him staring
through a gap in giant weeds and thorns at the flat face of a
painted paling. From behind the paling rose the great gray columns
of a row of poplars, which filled the heavens above them with
dark-green shadow and shook faintly in a wind which had sunk slowly
into a breeze. The afternoon was already deepening into evening, and
the titanic shadows of the poplars lengthened over a third of the
"Are you a first-class criminal?" asked Fisher, in a friendly tone.
"I'm afraid I'm not. But I think I can manage to be a sort of
And before his companion could reply he had managed to swing himself
up and over the fence; March followed without much bodily effort,
but with considerable mental disturbance. The poplars grew so close
against the fence that they had some difficulty in slipping past
them, and beyond the poplars they could see only a high hedge of
laurel, green and lustrous in the level sun. Something in this
limitation by a series of living walls made him feel as if he were
really entering a shattered house instead of an open field. It was
as if he came in by a disused door or window and found the way
blocked by furniture. When they had circumvented the laurel hedge,
they came out on a sort of terrace of turf, which fell by one green
step to an oblong lawn like a bowling green. Beyond this was the
only building in sight, a low conservatory, which seemed far away
from anywhere, like a glass cottage standing in its own fields in
fairyland. Fisher knew that lonely look of the outlying parts of a
great house well enough. He realized that it is more of a satire on
aristocracy than if it were choked with weeds and littered with
ruins. For it is not neglected and yet it is deserted; at any rate,
it is disused. It is regularly swept and garnished for a master who
Looking over the lawn, however, he saw one object which he had not
apparently expected. It was a sort of tripod supporting a large disk
like the round top of a table tipped sideways, and it was not until
they had dropped on to the lawn and walked across to look at it that
March realized that it was a target. It was worn and weatherstained;
the gay colors of its concentric rings were faded; possibly it had
been set up in those far-off Victorian days when there was a fashion
of archery. March had one of his vague visions of ladies in cloudy
crinolines and gentlemen in outlandish hats and whiskers revisiting
that lost garden like ghosts.
Fisher, who was peering more closely at the target, startled him by
"Hullo!" he said. "Somebody has been peppering this thing with
shot, after all, and quite lately, too. Why, I believe old Jink's
been trying to improve his bad shooting here."
"Yes, and it looks as if it still wanted improving," answered March,
laughing. "Not one of these shots is anywhere near the bull's-eye;
they seem just scattered about in the wildest way."
"In the wildest way," repeated Fisher, still peering intently at the
target. He seemed merely to assent, but March fancied his eye was
shining under its sleepy lid and that he straightened his stooping
figure with a strange effort.
"Excuse me a moment," he said, feeling in his pockets. "I think I've
got some of my chemicals; and after that we'll go up to the house."
And he stooped again over the target, putting something with his
finger over each of the shot-holes, so far as March could see merely
a dull-gray smear. Then they went through the gathering twilight up
the long green avenues to the great house.
Here again, however, the eccentric investigator did not enter by the
front door. He walked round the house until he found a window open,
and, leaping into it, introduced his friend to what appeared to be
the gun-room. Rows of the regular instruments for bringing down
birds stood against the walls; but across a table in the window lay
one or two weapons of a heavier and more formidable pattern.
"Hullo! these are Burke's big-game rifles," said Fisher. "I never
knew he kept them here." He lifted one of them, examined it briefly,
and put it down again, frowning heavily. Almost as he did so a
strange young man came hurriedly into the room. He was dark and
sturdy, with a bumpy forehead and a bulldog jaw, and he spoke with a
"I left Major Burke's guns here," he said, "and he wants them packed
up. He's going away to-night."
And he carried off the two rifles without casting a glance at the
stranger; through the open window they could see his short, dark
figure walking away across the glimmering garden. Fisher got out of
the window again and stood looking after him.
"That's Halkett, whom I told you about," he said. "I knew he was a
sort of secretary and had to do with Burke's papers; but I never
knew he had anything to do with his guns. But he's just the sort of
silent, sensible little devil who might be very good at anything;
the sort of man you know for years before you find he's a chess
He had begun to walk in the direction of the disappearing secretary,
and they soon came within sight of the rest of the house-party
talking and laughing on the lawn. They could see the tall figure and
loose mane of the lion-hunter dominating the little group.
"By the way," observed Fisher, "when we were talking about Burke and
Halkett, I said that a man couldn't very well write with a gun.
Well, I'm not so sure now. Did you ever hear of an artist so clever
that he could draw with a gun? There's a wonderful chap loose about
Sir Howard hailed Fisher and his friend the journalist with almost
boisterous amiability. The latter was presented to Major Burke and
Mr. Halkett and also (by way of a parenthesis) to his host, Mr.
Jenkins, a commonplace little man in loud tweeds, whom everybody
else seemed to treat with a sort of affection, as if he were a baby.
The irrepressible Chancellor of the Exchequer was still talking
about the birds he had brought down, the birds that Burke and
Halkett had brought down, and the birds that Jenkins, their host,
had failed to bring down. It seemed to be a sort of sociable
"You and your big game," he ejaculated, aggressively, to Burke.
"Why, anybody could shoot big game. You want to be a shot to shoot
"Quite so," interposed Horne Fisher. "Now if only a hippopotamus
could fly up in the air out of that bush, or you preserved flying
elephants on the estate, why, then--"
"Why even Jink might hit that sort of bird," cried Sir Howard,
hilariously slapping his host on the back. "Even he might hit a
haystack or a hippopotamus."
"Look here, you fellows," said Fisher. "I want you to come along
with me for a minute and shoot at something else. Not a
hippopotamus. Another kind of queer animal I've found on the estate.
It's an animal with three legs and one eye, and it's all the colors
of the rainbow."
"What the deuce are you talking about?" asked Burke.
"You come along and see," replied Fisher, cheerfully.
Such people seldom reject anything nonsensical, for they are always
seeking for something new. They gravely rearmed themselves from the
gun-room and trooped along at the tail of their guide, Sir Howard
only pausing, in a sort of ecstasy, to point out the celebrated gilt
summerhouse on which the gilt weathercock still stood crooked. It
was dusk turning to dark by the time they reached the remote green
by the poplars and accepted the new and aimless game of shooting at
the old mark.
The last light seemed to fade from the lawn, and the poplars against
the sunset were like great plumes upon a purple hearse, when the
futile procession finally curved round, and came out in front of the
target. Sir Howard again slapped his host on the shoulder, shoving
him playfully forward to take the first shot. The shoulder and arm
he touched seemed unnaturally stiff and angular. Mr. Jenkins was
holding his gun in an attitude more awkward than any that his
satiric friends had seen or expected.
At the same instant a horrible scream seemed to come from nowhere.
It was so unnatural and so unsuited to the scene that it might have
been made by some inhuman thing flying on wings above them or
eavesdropping in the dark woods beyond. But Fisher knew that it had
started and stopped on the pale lips of Jefferson Jenkins, of
Montreal, and no one at that moment catching sight of Jefferson
Jenkins's face would have complained that it was commonplace. The
next moment a torrent of guttural but good-humored oaths came from
Major Burke as he and the two other men saw what was in front of
them. The target stood up in the dim grass like a dark goblin
grinning at them, and it was literally grinning. It had two eyes
like stars, and in similar livid points of light were picked out the
two upturned and open nostrils and the two ends of the wide and
tight mouth. A few white dots above each eye indicated the hoary
eyebrows; and one of them ran upward almost erect. It was a
brilliant caricature done in bright botted lines and March knew of
whom. It shone in the shadowy grass, smeared with sea fire as if one
of the submarine monsters had crawled into the twilight garden; but
it had the head of a dead man.
"It's only luminous paint," said Burke. "Old Fisher's been having a
joke with that phosphorescent stuff of his."
"Seems to be meant for old Puggy"' observed Sir Howard. "Hits him
off very well."
With that they all laughed, except Jenkins. When they had all done,
he made a noise like the first effort of an animal to laugh, and
Horne Fisher suddenly strode across to him and said:
"Mr. Jenkins, I must speak to you at once in private."
It was by the little watercourse in the moors, on the slope under
the hanging rock, that March met his new friend Fisher, by
appointment, shortly after the ugly and almost grotesque scene that
had broken up the group in the garden.
"It was a monkey-trick of mine," observed Fisher, gloomily, "putting
phosphorus on the target; but the only chance to make him jump was
to give him the horrors suddenly. And when he saw the face he'd shot
at shining on the target he practiced on, all lit up with an
infernal light, he did jump. Quite enough for my own intellectual
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand even now," said March, "exactly
what he did or why he did it."
"You ought to," replied Fisher, with his rather dreary smile, "for
you gave me the first suggestion yourself. Oh yes, you did; and it
was a very shrewd one. You said a man wouldn't take sandwiches with
him to dine at a great house. It was quite true; and the inference
was that, though he was going there, he didn't mean to dine there.
Or, at any rate, that he might not be dining there. It occurred to
me at once that he probably expected the visit to be unpleasant, or
the reception doubtful, or something that would prevent his
accepting hospitality. Then it struck me that Turnbull was a terror
to certain shady characters in the past, and that he had come down
to identify and denounce one of them. The chances at the start
pointed to the host--that is, Jenkins. I'm morally certain now that
Jenkins was the undesirable alien Turnbull wanted to convict in
another shooting-affair, but you see the shooting gentleman had
another shot in his locker."
"But you said he would have to be a very good shot," protested
"Jenkins is a very good shot," said Fisher. "A very good shot who
can pretend to be a very bad shot. Shall I tell you the second hint
I hit on, after yours, to make me think it was Jenkins? It was my
cousin's account of his bad shooting. He'd shot a cockade off a hat
and a weathercock off a building. Now, in fact, a man must shoot
very well indeed to shoot so badly as that. He must shoot very
neatly to hit the cockade and not the head, or even the hat. If the
shots had really gone at random, the chances are a thousand to one
that they would not have hit such prominent and picturesque objects.
They were chosen because they were prominent and picturesque
objects. They make a story to go the round of society. He keeps the
crooked weathercock in the summerhouse to perpetuate the story of a
legend. And then he lay in wait with his evil eye and wicked gun,
safely ambushed behind the legend of his own incompetence.
"But there is more than that. There is the summerhouse itself. I
mean there is the whole thing. There's all that Jenkins gets chaffed
about, the gilding and the gaudy colors and all the vulgarity that's
supposed to stamp him as an upstart. Now, as a matter of fact,
upstarts generally don't do this. God knows there's enough of 'em in
society; and one knows 'em well enough. And this is the very last
thing they do. They're generally only too keen to know the right
thing and do it; and they instantly put themselves body and soul
into the hands of art decorators and art experts, who do the whole
thing for them. There's hardly another millionaire alive who has the
moral courage to have a gilt monogram on a chair like that one in
the gun-room. For that matter, there's the name as well as the
monogram. Names like Tompkins and Jenkins and Jinks are funny
without being vulgar; I mean they are vulgar without being common.
If you prefer it, they are commonplace without being common. They
are just the names to be chosen to _look_ ordinary, but they're
really rather extraordinary. Do you know many people called
Tompkins? It's a good deal rarer than Talbot. It's pretty much the
same with the comic clothes of the parvenu. Jenkins dresses like a
character in Punch. But that's because he is a character in Punch. I
mean he's a fictitious character. He's a fabulous animal. He doesn't
"Have you ever considered what it must be like to be a man who
doesn't exist? I mean to be a man with a fictitious character that
he has to keep up at the expense not merely of personal talents: To
be a new kind of hypocrite hiding a talent in a new kind of napkin.
This man has chosen his hypocrisy very ingeniously; it was really a
new one. A subtle villain has dressed up as a dashing gentleman and
a worthy business man and a philanthropist and a saint; but the loud
checks of a comical little cad were really rather a new disguise.
But the disguise must be very irksome to a man who can really do
things. This is a dexterous little cosmopolitan guttersnipe who can
do scores of things, not only shoot, but draw and paint, and
probably play the fiddle. Now a man like that may find the hiding of
his talents useful; but he could never help wanting to use them
where they were useless. If he can draw, he will draw absent-mindedly
on blotting paper. I suspect this rascal has often drawn poor old
Puggy's face on blotting paper. Probably he began doing it in blots
as he afterward did it in dots, or rather shots. It was the same
sort of thing; he found a disused target in a deserted yard and
couldn't resist indulging in a little secret shooting, like secret
drinking. You thought the shots all scattered and irregular, and so
they were; but not accidental. No two distances were alike; but the
different points were exactly where he wanted to put them. There's
nothing needs such mathematical precision as a wild caricature. I've
dabbled a little in drawing myself, and I assure you that to put one
dot where you want it is a marvel with a pen close to a piece of
paper. It was a miracle to do it across a garden with a gun. But a
man who can work those miracles will always itch to work them, if
it's only in the dark."
After a pause March observed, thoughtfully, "But he couldn't have
brought him down like a bird with one of those little guns."
"No; that was why I went into the gun-room," replied Fisher. "He
did it with one of Burke's rifles, and Burke thought he knew the
sound of it. That's why he rushed out without a hat, looking so
wild. He saw nothing but a car passing quickly, which he followed
for a little way, and then concluded he'd made a mistake."
There was another silence, during which Fisher sat on a great stone
as motionless as on their first meeting, and watched the gray and
silver river eddying past under the bushes. Then March said,
abruptly, "Of course he knows the truth now."
"Nobody knows the truth but you and I," answered Fisher, with a
certain softening in his voice. "And I don't think you and I will
"What do you mean?" asked March, in an altered accent. "What have
you done about it?"
Horne Fisher continued to gaze steadily at the eddying stream. At
last he said, "The police have proved it was a motor accident."
"But you know it was not."
"I told you that I know too much," replied Fisher, with his eye on
the river. "I know that, and I know a great many other things. I
know the atmosphere and the way the whole thing works. I know this
fellow has succeeded in making himself something incurably
commonplace and comic. I know you can't get up a persecution of old
Toole or Little Tich. If I were to tell Hoggs or Halkett that old
Jink was an assassin, they would almost die of laughter before my
eyes. Oh, I don't say their laughter's quite innocent, though it's
genuine in its way. They want old Jink, and they couldn't do without
him. I don't say I'm quite innocent. I like Hoggs; I don't want him
to be down and out; and he'd be done for if Jink can't pay for his
coronet. They were devilish near the line at the last election. But
the only real objection to it is that it's impossible. Nobody would
believe it; it's not in the picture. The crooked weathercock would
always turn it into a joke."
"Don't you think this is infamous?" asked March, quietly.
"I think a good many things," replied the other. "If you people
ever happen to blow the whole tangle of society to hell with
dynamite, I don't know that the human race will be much the worse.
But don't be too hard on me merely because I know what society is.
That's why I moon away my time over things like stinking fish."
There was a pause as he settled himself down again by the stream;
and then he added:
"I told you before I had to throw back the big fish."
II. THE VANISHING PRINCE
This tale begins among a tangle of tales round a name that is at
once recent and legendary. The name is that of Michael O'Neill,
popularly called Prince Michael, partly because he claimed descent
from ancient Fenian princes, and partly because he was credited with
a plan to make himself prince president of Ireland, as the last
Napoleon did of France. He was undoubtedly a gentleman of honorable
pedigree and of many accomplishments, but two of his accomplishments
emerged from all the rest. He had a talent for appearing when he was
not wanted and a talent for disappearing when he was wanted,
especially when he was wanted by the police. It may be added that
his disappearances were more dangerous than his appearances. In the
latter he seldom went beyond the sensational--pasting up seditious
placards, tearing down official placards, making flamboyant
speeches, or unfurling forbidden flags. But in order to effect the
former he would sometimes fight for his freedom with startling
energy, from which men were sometimes lucky to escape with a broken
head instead of a broken neck. His most famous feats of escape,
however, were due to dexterity and not to violence. On a cloudless
summer morning he had come down a country road white with dust, and,
pausing outside a farmhouse, had told the farmer's daughter, with
elegant indifference, that the local police were in pursuit of him.
The girl's name was Bridget Royce, a somber and even sullen type of
beauty, and she looked at him darkly, as if in doubt, and said, "Do
you want me to hide you?" Upon which he only laughed, leaped lightly
over the stone wall, and strode toward the farm, merely throwing
over his shoulder the remark, "Thank you, I have generally been
quite capable of hiding myself." In which proceeding he acted with a
tragic ignorance of the nature of women; and there fell on his path
in that sunshine a shadow of doom.
While he disappeared through the farmhouse the girl remained for a
few moments looking up the road, and two perspiring policemen came
plowing up to the door where she stood. Though still angry, she was
still silent, and a quarter of an hour later the officers had
searched the house and were already inspecting the kitchen garden
and cornfield behind it. In the ugly reaction of her mood she might
have been tempted even to point out the fugitive, but for a small
difficulty that she had no more notion than the policemen had of
where he could possibly have gone. The kitchen garden was inclosed
by a very low wall, and the cornfield beyond lay aslant like a
square patch on a great green hill on which he could still have been
seen even as a dot in the distance. Everything stood solid in its
familiar place; the apple tree was too small to support or hide a
climber; the only shed stood open and obviously empty; there was no
sound save the droning of summer flies and the occasional flutter of
a bird unfamiliar enough to be surprised by the scarecrow in the
field; there was scarcely a shadow save a few blue lines that fell
from the thin tree; every detail was picked out by the brilliant day
light as if in a microscope. The girl described the scene later,
with all the passionate realism of her race, and, whether or no the
policemen had a similar eye for the picturesque, they had at least
an eye for the facts of the case, and were compelled to give up the
chase and retire from the scene. Bridget Royce remained as if in a
trance, staring at the sunlit garden in which a man had just
vanished like a fairy. She was still in a sinister mood, and the
miracle took in her mind a character of unfriendliness and fear, as
if the fairy were decidedly a bad fairy. The sun upon the glittering
garden depressed her more than the darkness, but she continued to
stare at it. Then the world itself went half-witted and she
screamed. The scarecrow moved in the sun light. It had stood with
its back to her in a battered old black hat and a tattered garment,
and with all its tatters flying, it strode away across the hill.
She did not analyze the audacious trick by which the man had turned
to his advantage the subtle effects of the expected and the obvious;
she was still under the cloud of more individual complexities, and
she noticed most of all that the vanishing scarecrow did not even
turn to look at the farm. And the fates that were running so adverse
to his fantastic career of freedom ruled that his next adventure,
though it had the same success in another quarter, should increase
the danger in this quarter. Among the many similar adventures
related of him in this manner it is also said that some days
afterward another girl, named Mary Cregan, found him concealed on
the farm where she worked; and if the story is true, she must also
have had the shock of an uncanny experience, for when she was busy
at some lonely task in the yard she heard a voice speaking out of
the well, and found that the eccentric had managed to drop himself
into the bucket which was some little way below, the well only
partly full of water. In this case, however, he had to appeal to the
woman to wind up the rope. And men say it was when this news was
told to the other woman that her soul walked over the border line of
Such, at least, were the stories told of him in the countryside, and
there were many more--as that he had stood insolently in a splendid
green dressing gown on the steps of a great hotel, and then led the
police a chase through a long suite of grand apartments, and finally
through his own bedroom on to a balcony that overhung the river. The
moment the pursuers stepped on to the balcony it broke under them,
and they dropped pell-mell into the eddying waters, while Michael,
who had thrown off his gown and dived, was able to swim away. It was
said that he had carefully cut away the props so that they would not
support anything so heavy as a policeman. But here again he was
immediately fortunate, yet ultimately unfortunate, for it is said
that one of the men was drowned, leaving a family feud which made a
little rift in his popularity. These stories can now be told in some
detail, not because they are the most marvelous of his many
adventures, but because these alone were not covered with silence by
the loyalty of the peasantry. These alone found their way into
official reports, and it is these which three of the chief officials
of the country were reading and discussing when the more remarkable
part of this story begins.
Night was far advanced and the lights shone in the cottage that
served for a temporary police station near the coast. On one side of
it were the last houses of the straggling village, and on the other
nothing but a waste moorland stretching away toward the sea, the
line of which was broken by no landmark except a solitary tower of
the prehistoric pattern still found in Ireland, standing up as
slender as a column, but pointed like a pyramid. At a wooden table
in front of the window, which normally looked out on this landscape,
sat two men in plain clothes, but with something of a military
bearing, for indeed they were the two chiefs of the detective
service of that district. The senior of the two, both in age and
rank, was a sturdy man with a short white beard, and frosty eyebrows
fixed in a frown which suggested rather worry than severity.
His name was Morton, and he was a Liverpool man long pickled in the
Irish quarrels, and doing his duty among them in a sour fashion not
altogether unsympathetic. He had spoken a few sentences to his
companion, Nolan, a tall, dark man with a cadaverous equine Irish
face, when he seemed to remember something and touched a bell which
rang in another room. The subordinate he had summoned immediately
appeared with a sheaf of papers in his hand.
"Sit down, Wilson," he said. "Those are the dispositions, I
"Yes," replied the third officer. "I think I've got all there is to
be got out of them, so I sent the people away."
"Did Mary Cregan give evidence?" asked Morton, with a frown that
looked a little heavier than usual.
"No, but her master did," answered the man called Wilson, who had
flat, red hair and a plain, pale face, not without sharpness. "I
think he's hanging round the girl himself and is out against a
rival. There's always some reason of that sort when we are told the
truth about anything. And you bet the other girl told right enough."
"Well, let's hope they'll be some sort of use," remarked Nolan, in a
somewhat hopeless manner, gazing out into the darkness.
"Anything is to the good," said Morton, "that lets us know anything
"Do we know anything about him?" asked the melancholy Irishman.
"We know one thing about him," said Wilson, "and it's the one thing
that nobody ever knew before. We know where he is."
"Are you sure?" inquired Morton, looking at him sharply.
"Quite sure," replied his assistant. "At this very minute he is in
that tower over there by the shore. If you go near enough you'll see
the candle burning in the window."
As he spoke the noise of a horn sounded on the road outside, and a
moment after they heard the throbbing of a motor car brought to a
standstill before the door. Morton instantly sprang to his feet.
"Thank the Lord that's the car from Dublin," he said. "I can't do
anything without special authority, not if he were sitting on the
top of the tower and putting out his tongue at us. But the chief can
do what he thinks best."
He hurried out to the entrance and was soon exchanging greetings
with a big handsome man in a fur coat, who brought into the dingy
little station the indescribable glow of the great cities and the
luxuries of the great world.
For this was Sir Walter Carey, an official of such eminence in
Dublin Castle that nothing short of the case of Prince Michael would
have brought him on such a journey in the middle of the night. But
the case of Prince Michael, as it happened, was complicated by
legalism as well as lawlessness. On the last occasion he had escaped
by a forensic quibble and not, as usual, by a private escapade; and
it was a question whether at the moment he was amenable to the law
or not. It might be necessary to stretch a point, but a man like Sir
Walter could probably stretch it as far as he liked.
Whether he intended to do so was a question to be considered.
Despite the almost aggressive touch of luxury in the fur coat, it
soon became apparent that Sir Walter's large leonine head was for
use as well as ornament, and he considered the matter soberly and
sanely enough. Five chairs were set round the plain deal table, for
who should Sir Walter bring with him but his young relative and
secretary, Horne Fisher. Sir Walter listened with grave attention,
and his secretary with polite boredom, to the string of episodes by
which the police had traced the flying rebel from the steps of the
hotel to the solitary tower beside the sea. There at least he was
cornered between the moors and the breakers; and the scout sent by
Wilson reported him as writing under a solitary candle, perhaps
composing another of his tremendous proclamations. Indeed, it would
have been typical of him to choose it as the place in which finally
to turn to bay. He had some remote claim on it, as on a family
castle; and those who knew him thought him capable of imitating the
primitive Irish chieftains who fell fighting against the sea.
"I saw some queer-looking people leaving as I came in," said Sir
Walter Carey. "I suppose they were your witnesses. But why do they
turn up here at this time of night?"
Morton smiled grimly. "They come here by night because they would
be dead men if they came here by day. They are criminals committing
a crime that is more horrible here than theft or murder."
"What crime do you mean?" asked the other, with some curiosity.
"They are helping the law," said Morton.
There was a silence, and Sir Walter considered the papers before him
with an abstracted eye. At last he spoke.
"Quite so; but look here, if the local feeling is as lively as that
there are a good many points to consider. I believe the new Act will
enable me to collar him now if I think it best. But is it best? A
serious rising would do us no good in Parliament, and the government
has enemies in England as well as Ireland. It won't do if I have
done what looks a little like sharp practice, and then only raised a
"It's all the other way," said the man called Wilson, rather
quickly. "There won't be half so much of a revolution if you arrest
him as there will if you leave him loose for three days longer. But,
anyhow, there can't be anything nowadays that the proper police
"Mr. Wilson is a Londoner," said the Irish detective, with a smile.
"Yes, I'm a cockney, all right," replied Wilson, "and I think I'm
all the better for that. Especially at this job, oddly enough."
Sir Walter seemed slightly amused at the pertinacity of the third
officer, and perhaps even more amused at the slight accent with
which he spoke, which rendered rather needless his boast about his
"Do you mean to say," he asked, "that you know more about the
business here because you have come from London?"
"Sounds funny, I know, but I do believe it," answered Wilson. "I
believe these affairs want fresh methods. But most of all I believe
they want a fresh eye."
The superior officers laughed, and the redhaired man went on with a
slight touch of temper:
"Well, look at the facts. See how the fellow got away every time,
and you'll understand what I mean. Why was he able to stand in the
place of the scarecrow, hidden by nothing but an old hat? Because it
was a village policeman who knew the scarecrow was there, was
expecting it, and therefore took no notice of it. Now I never expect
a scarecrow. I've never seen one in the street, and I stare at one
when I see it in the field. It's a new thing to me and worth
noticing. And it was just the same when he hid in the well. You are
ready to find a well in a place like that; you look for a well, and
so you don't see it. I don't look for it, and therefore I do look at
"It is certainly an idea," said Sir Walter, smiling, "but what about
the balcony? Balconies are occasionally seen in London."
"But not rivers right under them, as if it was in Venice," replied
"It is certainly a new idea," repeated Sir Walter, with something
like respect. He had all the love of the luxurious classes for new
ideas. But he also had a critical faculty, and was inclined to
think, after due reflection, that it was a true idea as well.
Growing dawn had already turned the window panes from black to gray
when Sir Walter got abruptly to his feet. The others rose also,
taking this for a signal that the arrest was to be undertaken. But
their leader stood for a moment in deep thought, as if conscious
that he had come to a parting of the ways.
Suddenly the silence was pierced by a long, wailing cry from the
dark moors outside. The silence that followed it seemed more
startling than the shriek itself, and it lasted until Nolan said,
"'Tis the banshee. Somebody is marked for the grave."
His long, large-featured face was as pale as a moon, and it was easy
to remember that he was the only Irishman in the room.
"Well, I know that banshee," said Wilson, cheerfully, "ignorant as
you think I am of these things. I talked to that banshee myself an
hour ago, and I sent that banshee up to the tower and told her to
sing out like that if she could get a glimpse of our friend writing
"Do you mean that girl Bridget Royce?" asked Morton, drawing his
frosty brows together. "Has she turned king's evidence to that
"Yes," answered Wilson. "I know very little of these local things,
you tell me, but I reckon an angry woman is much the same in all
Nolan, however, seemed still moody and unlike himself. "It's an ugly
noise and an ugly business altogether," he said. "If it's really the
end of Prince Michael it may well be the end of other things as
well. When the spirit is on him he would escape by a ladder of dead
men, and wade through that sea if it were made of blood."
"Is that the real reason of your pious alarms?" asked Wilson, with a
The Irishman's pale face blackened with a new passion.
"I have faced as many murderers in County Clare as you ever fought
with in Clapham junction, Mr. Cockney," he said.
"Hush, please," said Morton, sharply. "Wilson, you have no kind of
right to imply doubt of your superior's conduct. I hope you will
prove yourself as courageous and trustworthy as he has always been."
The pale face of the red-haired man seemed a shade paler, but he was
silent and composed, and Sir Walter went up to Nolan with marked
courtesy, saying, "Shall we go outside now, and get this business
Dawn had lifted, leaving a wide chasm of white between a great gray
cloud and the great gray moorland, beyond which the tower was
outlined against the daybreak and the sea.
Something in its plain and primitive shape vaguely suggested the
dawn in the first days of the earth, in some prehistoric time when
even the colors were hardly created, when there was only blank
daylight between cloud and clay. These dead hues were relieved only
by one spot of gold--the spark of the candle alight in the window
of the lonely tower, and burning on into the broadening daylight. As
the group of detectives, followed by a cordon of policemen, spread
out into a crescent to cut off all escape, the light in the tower
flashed as if it were moved for a moment, and then went out. They
knew the man inside had realized the daylight and blown out his
"There are other windows, aren't there?" asked Morton, "and a door,
of course, somewhere round the corner? Only a round tower has no
"Another example of my small suggestion," observed Wilson, quietly.
"That queer tower was the first thing I saw when I came to these
parts; and I can tell you a little more about it--or, at any rate,
the outside of it. There are four windows altogether, one a little
way from this one, but just out of sight. Those are both on the
ground floor, and so is the third on the other side, making a sort
of triangle. But the fourth is just above the third, and I suppose
it looks on an upper floor."
"It's only a sort of loft, reached by a ladder, said Nolan. "I've
played in the place when I was a child. It's no more than an empty
shell." And his sad face grew sadder, thinking perhaps of the
tragedy of his country and the part that he played in it.
"The man must have got a table and chair, at any rate," said Wilson,
"but no doubt he could have got those from some cottage. If I might
make a suggestion, sir, I think we ought to approach all the five
entrances at once, so to speak. One of us should go to the door and
one to each window; Macbride here has a ladder for the upper
Mr. Horne Fisher languidly turned to his distinguished relative and
spoke for the first time.
"I am rather a convert to the cockney school of psychology," he said
in an almost inaudible voice.
The others seemed to feel the same influence in different ways, for
the group began to break up in the manner indicated. Morton moved
toward the window immediately in front of them, where the hidden
outlaw had just snuffed the candle; Nolan, a little farther westward
to the next window; while Wilson, followed by Macbride with the
ladder, went round to the two windows at the back. Sir Walter Carey
himself, followed by his secretary, began to walk round toward the
only door, to demand admittance in a more regular fashion.
"He will be armed, of course," remarked Sir Walter, casually.
"By all accounts," replied Horne Fisher, "he can do more with a
candlestick than most men with a pistol. But he is pretty sure to
have the pistol, too."
Even as he spoke the question was answered with a tongue of thunder.
Morton had just placed himself in front of the nearest window, his
broad shoulders blocking the aperture. For an instant it was lit
from within as with red fire, followed by a thundering throng of
echoes. The square shoulders seemed to alter in shape, and the
sturdy figure collapsed among the tall, rank grasses at the foot of
the tower. A puff of smoke floated from the window like a little
cloud. The two men behind rushed to the spot and raised him, but he
Sir Walter straightened himself and called out something that was
lost in another noise of firing; it was possible that the police
were already avenging their comrade from the other side. Fisher had
already raced round to the next window, and a new cry of
astonishment from him brought his patron to the same spot. Nolan,
the Irish policeman, had also fallen, sprawling all his great length
in the grass, and it was red with his blood. He was still alive when
they reached him, but there was death on his face, and he was only
able to make a final gesture telling them that all was over; and,
with a broken word and a heroic effort, motioning them on to where
his other comrades were besieging the back of the tower. Stunned by
these rapid and repeated shocks, the two men could only vaguely obey
the gesture, and, finding their way to the other windows at the
back, they discovered a scene equally startling, if less final and
tragic. The other two officers were not dead or mortally wounded,
but Macbride lay with a broken leg and his ladder on top of him,
evidently thrown down from the top window of the tower; while Wilson
lay on his face, quite still as if stunned, with his red head among
the gray and silver of the sea holly. In him, however, the impotence
was but momentary, for he began to move and rise as the others came
round the tower.
"My God! it's like an explosion!" cried Sir Walter; and indeed it
was the only word for this unearthly energy, by which one man had
been able to deal death or destruction on three sides of the same
small triangle at the same instant.
Wilson had already scrambled to his feet and with splendid energy
flew again at the window, revolver in hand. He fired twice into the
opening and then disappeared in his own smoke; but the thud of his
feet and the shock of a falling chair told them that the intrepid
Londoner had managed at last to leap into the room. Then followed a
curious silence; and Sir Walter, walking to the window through the
thinning smoke, looked into the hollow shell of the ancient tower.
Except for Wilson, staring around him, there was nobody there.
The inside of the tower was a single empty room, with nothing but a
plain wooden chair and a table on which were pens, ink and paper,
and the candlestick. Halfway up the high wall there was a rude
timber platform under the upper window, a small loft which was more
like a large shelf. It was reached only by a ladder, and it seemed
to be as bare as the bare walls. Wilson completed his survey of the
place and then went and stared at the things on the table. Then he
silently pointed with his lean forefinger at the open page of the
large notebook. The writer had suddenly stopped writing, even in the
middle of a word.
"I said it was like an explosion," said Sir Walter Carey at last.
"And really the man himself seems to have suddenly exploded. But he
has blown himself up somehow without touching the tower. He's burst
more like a bubble than a bomb."
"He has touched more valuable things than the tower," said Wilson,
There was a long silence, and then Sir Walter said, seriously:
"Well, Mr. Wilson, I am not a detective, and these unhappy
happenings have left you in charge of that branch of the business.
We all lament the cause of this, but I should like to say that I
myself have the strongest confidence in your capacity for carrying
on the work. What do you think we should do next?"
Wilson seemed to rouse himself from his depression and acknowledged
the speaker's words with a warmer civility than he had hitherto
shown to anybody. He called in a few of the police to assist in
routing out the interior, leaving the rest to spread themselves in a
search party outside.
"I think," he said, "the first thing is to make quite sure about the
inside of this place, as it was hardly physically possible for him
to have got outside. I suppose poor Nolan would have brought in his
banshee and said it was supernaturally possible. But I've got no use
for disembodied spirits when I'm dealing with facts. And the facts
before me are an empty tower with a ladder, a chair, and a table."
"The spiritualists," said Sir Walter, with a smile, "would say that
spirits could find a great deal of use for a table."
"I dare say they could if the spirits were on the table--in a
bottle," replied Wilson, with a curl of his pale lip. "The people
round here, when they're all sodden up with Irish whisky, may
believe in such things. I think they want a little education in this
Horne Fisher's heavy eyelids fluttered in a faint attempt to rise,
as if he were tempted to a lazy protest against the contemptuous
tone of the investigator.
"The Irish believe far too much in spirits to believe in
spiritualism," he murmured. "They know too much about 'em. If you
want a simple and childlike faith in any spirit that comes along you
can get it in your favorite London."
"I don't want to get it anywhere," said Wilson, shortly. "I say I'm
dealing with much simpler things than your simple faith, with a
table and a chair and a ladder. Now what I want to say about them at
the start is this. They are all three made roughly enough of plain
wood. But the table and the chair are fairly new and comparatively
clean. The ladder is covered with dust and there is a cobweb under
the top rung of it. That means that he borrowed the first two quite
recently from some cottage, as we supposed, but the ladder has been
a long time in this rotten old dustbin. Probably it was part of the
original furniture, an heirloom in this magnificent palace of the
Again Fisher looked at him under his eyelids, but seemed too sleepy
to speak, and Wilson went on with his argument.
"Now it's quite clear that something very odd has just happened in
this place. The chances are ten to one, it seems to me, that it had
something specially to do with this place. Probably he came here
because he could do it only here; it doesn't seem very inviting
otherwise. But the man knew it of old; they say it belonged to his
family, so that altogether, I think, everything points to something
in the construction of the tower itself."
"Your reasoning seems to me excellent," said Sir Walter, who was
listening attentively. "But what could it be?"
"You see now what I mean about the ladder," went on the detective;
"it's the only old piece of furniture here and the first thing that
caught that cockney eye of mine. But there is something else. That
loft up there is a sort of lumber room without any lumber. So far as
I can see, it's as empty as everything else; and, as things are, I
don't see the use of the ladder leading to it. It seems to me, as I
can't find anything unusual down here, that it might pay us to look
He got briskly off the table on which he was sitting (for the only
chair was allotted to Sir Walter) and ran rapidly up the ladder to
the platform above. He was soon followed by the others, Mr. Fisher
going last, however, with an appearance of considerable nonchalance.
At this stage, however, they were destined to disappointment; Wilson
nosed in every corner like a terrier and examined the roof almost in
the posture of a fly, but half an hour afterward they had to confess
that they were still without a clew. Sir Walter's private secretary
seemed more and more threatened with inappropriate slumber, and,
having been the last to climb up the ladder, seemed now to lack the
energy even to climb down again.
"Come along, Fisher," called out Sir Walter from below, when the
others had regained the floor. "We must consider whether we'll pull
the whole place to pieces to see what it's made of."
"I'm coming in a minute," said the voice from the ledge above their
heads, a voice somewhat suggestive of an articulate yawn.
"What are you waiting for?" asked Sir Walter, impatiently. "Can you
see anything there?"
"Well, yes, in a way," replied the voice, vaguely. "In fact, I see
it quite plain now."
"What is it?" asked Wilson, sharply, from the table on which he sat
kicking his heels restlessly.
"Well, it's a man," said Horne Fisher.
Wilson bounded off the table as if he had been kicked off it. "What
do you mean?" he cried. "How can you possibly see a man?"
"I can see him through the window," replied the secretary, mildly.
"I see him coming across the moor. He's making a bee line across the
open country toward this tower. He evidently means to pay us a
visit. And, considering who it seems to be, perhaps it would be more
polite if we were all at the door to receive him." And in a
leisurely manner the secretary came down the ladder.
"Who it seems to be!" repeated Sir Walter in astonishment.
"Well, I think it's the man you call Prince Michael," observed Mr.
Fisher, airily. "In fact, I'm sure it is. I've seen the police
portraits of him."
There was a dead silence, and Sir Walter's usually steady brain
seemed to go round like a windmill.
"But, hang it all!" he said at last, "even supposing his own
explosion could have thrown him half a mile away, without passing
through any of the windows, and left him alive enough for a country
walk--even then, why the devil should he walk in this direction?
The murderer does not generally revisit the scene of his crime so
rapidly as all that."
"He doesn't know yet that it is the scene of his crime," answered
"What on earth do you mean? You credit him with rather singular
absence of mind."
"Well, the truth is, it isn't the scene of his crime," said Fisher,
and went and looked out of the window.
There was another silence, and then Sir Walter said, quietly: "What
sort of notion have you really got in your head, Fisher? Have you
developed a new theory about how this fellow escaped out of the ring
"He never escaped at all," answered the man at the window, without
turning round. "He never escaped out of the ring because he was
never inside the ring. He was not in this tower at all, at least not
when we were surrounding it."
He turned and leaned back against the window, but, in spite of his
usual listless manner, they almost fancied that the face in shadow
was a little pale.
"I began to guess something of the sort when we were some way from
the tower," he said. "Did you notice that sort of flash or flicker
the candle gave before it was extinguished? I was almost certain it
was only the last leap the flame gives when a candle burns itself
out. And then I came into this room and I saw that."
He pointed at the table and Sir Walter caught his breath with a sort
of curse at his own blindness. For the candle in the candlestick had
obviously burned itself away to nothing and left him, mentally, at
least, very completely in the dark.
"Then there is a sort of mathematical question," went on Fisher,
leaning back in his limp way and looking up at the bare walls, as if
tracing imaginary diagrams there. "It's not so easy for a man in the
third angle to face the other two at the same moment, especially if
they are at the base of an isosceles. I am sorry if it sounds like a
lecture on geometry, but--"
"I'm afraid we have no time for it," said Wilson, coldly. "If this
man is really coming back, I must give my orders at once."
"I think I'll go on with it, though," observed Fisher, staring at
the roof with insolent serenity.
"I must ask you, Mr. Fisher, to let me conduct my inquiry on my own
lines," said Wilson, firmly. "I am the officer in charge now."
"Yes," remarked Horne Fisher, softly, but with an accent that
somehow chilled the hearer. "Yes. But why?"
Sir Walter was staring, for he had never seen his rather
lackadaisical young friend look like that before. Fisher was looking
at Wilson with lifted lids, and the eyes under them seemed to have
shed or shifted a film, as do the eyes of an eagle.
"Why are you the officer in charge now?" he asked. "Why can you
conduct the inquiry on your own lines now? How did it come about, I
wonder, that the elder officers are not here to interfere with
anything you do?"
Nobody spoke, and nobody can say how soon anyone would have
collected his wits to speak when a noise came from without. It was
the heavy and hollow sound of a blow upon the door of the tower, and
to their shaken spirits it sounded strangely like the hammer of
The wooden door of the tower moved on its rusty hinges under the
hand that struck it and Prince Michael came into the room. Nobody
had the smallest doubt about his identity. His light clothes, though
frayed with his adventures, were of fine and almost foppish cut, and
he wore a pointed beard, or imperial, perhaps as a further
reminiscence of Louis Napoleon; but he was a much taller and more
graceful man that his prototype. Before anyone could speak he had
silenced everyone for an instant with a slight but splendid gesture
"Gentlemen," he said, "this is a poor place now, but you are
Wilson was the first to recover, and he took a stride toward the
"Michael O'Neill, I arrest you in the king's name for the murder of
Francis Morton and James Nolan. It is my duty to warn you--"
"No, no, Mr. Wilson," cried Fisher, suddenly. "You shall not commit
a third murder."
Sir Walter Carey rose from his chair, which fell over with a crash
behind him. "What does all this mean?" he called out in an
"It means," said Fisher, "that this man, Hooker Wilson, as soon as
he had put his head in at that window, killed his two comrades who
had put their heads in at the other windows, by firing across the
empty room. That is what it means. And if you want to know, count
how many times he is supposed to have fired and then count the
charges left in his revolver."
Wilson, who was still sitting on the table, abruptly put a hand out
for the weapon that lay beside him. But the next movement was the
most unexpected of all, for the prince standing in the doorway
passed suddenly from the dignity of a statue to the swiftness of an
acrobat and rent the revolver out of the detective's hand.
"You dog!" he cried. "So you are the type of English truth, as I am
of Irish tragedy--you who come to kill me, wading through the blood
of your brethren. If they had fallen in a feud on the hillside, it
would be called murder, and yet your sin might be forgiven you. But
I, who am innocent, I was to be slain with ceremony. There would
be long speeches and patient judges listening to my vain plea of
innocence, noting down my despair and disregarding it. Yes, that is
what I call assassination. But killing may be no murder; there is
one shot left in this little gun, and I know where it should go."
Wilson turned quickly on the table, and even as he turned he twisted
in agony, for Michael shot him through the body where he sat, so
that he tumbled off the table like lumber.
The police rushed to lift him; Sir Walter stood speechless; and
then, with a strange and weary gesture, Horne Fisher spoke.
"You are indeed a type of the Irish tragedy," he said. "You were
entirely in the right, and you have put yourself in the wrong."
The prince's face was like marble for a space then there dawned in
his eyes a light not unlike that of despair. He laughed suddenly and
flung the smoking pistol on the ground.
"I am indeed in the wrong," he said. "I have committed a crime that
may justly bring a curse on me and my children."
Horne Fisher did not seem entirely satisfied with this very sudden
repentance; he kept his eyes on the man and only said, in a low
voice, "What crime do you mean?"
"I have helped English justice," replied Prince Michael. "I have
avenged your king's officers; I have done the work of his hangman.
For that truly I deserve to be hanged."
And he turned to the police with a gesture that did not so much
surrender to them, but rather command them to arrest him.
This was the story that Horne Fisher told to Harold March, the
journalist, many years after, in a little, but luxurious, restaurant
near Piccadilly. He had invited March to dinner some time after the
affair he called "The Face in the Target," and the conversation had
naturally turned on that mystery and afterward on earlier memories
of Fisher's life and the way in which he was led to study such
problems as those of Prince Michael. Horne Fisher was fifteen years
older; his thin hair had faded to frontal baldness, and his long,
thin hands dropped less with affectation and more with fatigue. And
he told the story of the Irish adventure of his youth, because it
recorded the first occasion on which he had ever come in contact
with crime, or discovered how darkly and how terribly crime can be
entangled with law.
"Hooker Wilson was the first criminal I ever knew, and he was a
policeman," explained Fisher, twirling his wine glass. "And all my
life has been a mixed-up business of the sort. He was a man of very
real talent, and perhaps genius, and well worth studying, both as a
detective and a criminal. His white face and red hair were typical
of him, for he was one of those who are cold and yet on fire for
fame; and he could control anger, but not ambition. He swallowed the
snubs of his superiors in that first quarrel, though he boiled with
resentment; but when he suddenly saw the two heads dark against the
dawn and framed in the two windows, he could not miss the chance,
not only of revenge, but of the removal of the two obstacles to his
promotion. He was a dead shot and counted on silencing both, though
proof against him would have been hard in any case. But, as a matter
of fact, he had a narrow escape, in the case of Nolan, who lived
just long enough to say, 'Wilson' and point. We thought he was
summoning help for his comrade, but he was really denouncing his
murderer. After that it was easy to throw down the ladder above him
(for a man up a ladder cannot see clearly what is below and behind)
and to throw himself on the ground as another victim of the
"But there was mixed up with his murderous ambition a real belief,
not only in his own talents, but in his own theories. He did believe
in what he called a fresh eye, and he did want scope for fresh
methods. There was something in his view, but it failed where such
things commonly fail, because the fresh eye cannot see the unseen.
It is true about the ladder and the scarecrow, but not about the
life and the soul; and he made a bad mistake about what a man like
Michael would do when he heard a woman scream. All Michael's very
vanity and vainglory made him rush out at once; he would have walked
into Dublin Castle for a lady's glove. Call it his pose or what you
will, but he would have done it. What happened when he met her is
another story, and one we may never know, but from tales I've heard
since, they must have been reconciled. Wilson was wrong there; but
there was something, for all that, in his notion that the newcomer
sees most, and that the man on the spot may know too much to know
anything. He was right about some things. He was right about me."
"About you?" asked Harold March in some wonder.
"I am the man who knows too much to know anything, or, at any rate,
to do anything," said Horne Fisher. "I don't mean especially about
Ireland. I mean about England. I mean about the whole way we are
governed, and perhaps the only way we can be governed. You asked me
just now what became of the survivors of that tragedy. Well, Wilson
recovered and we managed to persuade him to retire. But we had to
pension that damnable murderer more magnificently than any hero who
ever fought for England. I managed to save Michael from the worst,
but we had to send that perfectly innocent man to penal servitude
for a crime we know he never committed, and it was only afterward
that we could connive in a sneakish way at his escape. And Sir
Walter Carey is Prime Minister of this country, which he would
probably never have been if the truth had been told of such a
horrible scandal in his department. It might have done for us
altogether in Ireland; it would certainly have done for him. And he
is my father's old friend, and has always smothered me with
kindness. I am too tangled up with the whole thing, you see, and I
was certainly never born to set it right. You look distressed, not
to say shocked, and I'm not at all offended at it. Let us change the
subject by all means, if you like. What do you think of this
Burgundy? It's rather a discovery of mine, like the restaurant
And he proceeded to talk learnedly and luxuriantly on all the wines
of the world; on which subject, also, some moralists would consider
that he knew too much.
III. THE SOUL OF THE SCHOOLBOY
A large map of London would be needed to display the wild and zigzag
course of one day's journey undertaken by an uncle and his nephew;
or, to speak more truly, of a nephew and his uncle. For the nephew,
a schoolboy on a holiday, was in theory the god in the car, or in
the cab, tram, tube, and so on, while his uncle was at most a priest
dancing before him and offering sacrifices. To put it more soberly,
the schoolboy had something of the stolid air of a young duke doing
the grand tour, while his elderly relative was reduced to the
position of a courier, who nevertheless had to pay for everything
like a patron. The schoolboy was officially known as Summers Minor,
and in a more social manner as Stinks, the only public tribute to
his career as an amateur photographer and electrician. The uncle was
the Rev. Thomas Twyford, a lean and lively old gentleman with a red,
eager face and white hair. He was in the ordinary way a country
clergyman, but he was one of those who achieve the paradox of being
famous in an obscure way, because they are famous in an obscure
world. In a small circle of ecclesiastical archaeologists, who were
the only people who could even understand one another's discoveries,
he occupied a recognized and respectable place. And a critic might
have found even in that day's journey at least as much of the
uncle's hobby as of the nephew's holiday.
His original purpose had been wholly paternal and festive. But,
like many other intelligent people, he was not above the weakness of
playing with a toy to amuse himself, on the theory that it would
amuse a child. His toys were crowns and miters and croziers and
swords of state; and he had lingered over them, telling himself that
the boy ought to see all the sights of London. And at the end of the
day, after a tremendous tea, he rather gave the game away by winding
up with a visit in which hardly any human boy could be conceived as
taking an interest--an underground chamber supposed to have been a
chapel, recently excavated on the north bank of the Thames, and
containing literally nothing whatever but one old silver coin. But
the coin, to those who knew, was more solitary and splendid than the
Koh-i-noor. It was Roman, and was said to bear the head of St. Paul;
and round it raged the most vital controversies about the ancient
British Church. It could hardly be denied, however, that the
controversies left Summers Minor comparatively cold.
Indeed, the things that interested Summers Minor, and the things
that did not interest him, had mystified and amused his uncle for
several hours. He exhibited the English schoolboy's startling
ignorance and startling knowledge--knowledge of some special
classification in which he can generally correct and confound his
elders. He considered himself entitled, at Hampton Court on a
holiday, to forget the very names of Cardinal Wolsey or William of
Orange; but he could hardly be dragged from some details about the
arrangement of the electric bells in the neighboring hotel. He was
solidly dazed by Westminster Abbey, which is not so unnatural since
that church became the lumber room of the larger and less successful
statuary of the eighteenth century. But he had a magic and minute
knowledge of the Westminster omnibuses, and indeed of the whole
omnibus system of London, the colors and numbers of which he knew as
a herald knows heraldry. He would cry out against a momentary
confusion between a light-green Paddington and a dark-green
Bayswater vehicle, as his uncle would at the identification of a
Greek ikon and a Roman image.
"Do you collect omnibuses like stamps?" asked his uncle. "They must
need a rather large album. Or do you keep them in your locker?"
"I keep them in my head," replied the nephew, with legitimate
"It does you credit, I admit," replied the clergyman. "I suppose it
were vain to ask for what purpose you have learned that out of a
thousand things. There hardly seems to be a career in it, unless you
could be permanently on the pavement to prevent old ladies getting
into the wrong bus. Well, we must get out of this one, for this is
our place. I want to show you what they call St. Paul's Penny."
"Is it like St. Paul's Cathedral?" asked the youth with resignation,
as they alighted.
At the entrance their eyes were arrested by a singular figure
evidently hovering there with a similar anxiety to enter. It was
that of a dark, thin man in a long black robe rather like a cassock;
but the black cap on his head was of too strange a shape to be a
biretta. It suggested, rather, some archaic headdress of Persia or
Babylon. He had a curious black beard appearing only at the corners
of his chin, and his large eyes were oddly set in his face like the
flat decorative eyes painted in old Egyptian profiles. Before they
had gathered more than a general impression of him, he had dived
into the doorway that was their own destination.
Nothing could be seen above ground of the sunken sanctuary except a
strong wooden hut, of the sort recently run up for many military and
official purposes, the wooden floor of which was indeed a mere
platform over the excavated cavity below. A soldier stood as a
sentry outside, and a superior soldier, an Anglo-Indian officer of
distinction, sat writing at the desk inside. Indeed, the sightseers
soon found that this particular sight was surrounded with the most
extraordinary precautions. I have compared the silver coin to the
Koh-i-noor, and in one sense it was even conventionally comparable,
since by a historical accident it was at one time almost counted
among the Crown jewels, or at least the Crown relics, until one of
the royal princes publicly restored it to the shrine to which it was
supposed to belong. Other causes combined to concentrate official
vigilance upon it; there had been a scare about spies carrying
explosives in small objects, and one of those experimental orders
which pass like waves over bureaucracy had decreed first that all
visitors should change their clothes for a sort of official
sackcloth, and then (when this method caused some murmurs) that they
should at least turn out their pockets. Colonel Morris, the officer
in charge, was a short, active man with a grim and leathery face,
but a lively and humorous eye--a contradiction borne out by his
conduct, for he at once derided the safeguards and yet insisted on
"I don't care a button myself for Paul's Penny, or such things," he
admitted in answer to some antiquarian openings from the clergyman
who was slightly acquainted with him, "but I wear the King's coat,
you know, and it's a serious thing when the King's uncle leaves a
thing here with his own hands under my charge. But as for saints and
relics and things, I fear I'm a bit of a Voltairian; what you would
call a skeptic."
"I'm not sure it's even skeptical to believe in the royal family and
not in the 'Holy' Family," replied Mr. Twyford. "But, of course, I
can easily empty my pockets, to show I don't carry a bomb."
The little heap of the parson's possessions which he left on the
table consisted chiefly of papers, over and above a pipe and a
tobacco pouch and some Roman and Saxon coins. The rest were
catalogues of old books, and pamphlets, like one entitled "The Use
of Sarum," one glance at which was sufficient both for the colonel
and the schoolboy. They could not see the use of Sarum at all. The
contents of the boy's pockets naturally made a larger heap, and
included marbles, a ball of string, an electric torch, a magnet, a
small catapult, and, of course, a large pocketknife, almost to be
described as a small tool box, a complex apparatus on which he
seemed disposed to linger, pointing out that it included a pair of
nippers, a tool for punching holes in wood, and, above all, an
instrument for taking stones out of a horse's hoof. The comparative
absence of any horse he appeared to regard as irrelevant, as if it
were a mere appendage easily supplied. But when the turn came of the
gentleman in the black gown, he did not turn out his pockets, but
merely spread out his hands.
"I have no possessions," he said.
"I'm afraid I must ask you to empty your pockets and make sure,"
observed the colonel, gruffly.
"I have no pockets," said the stranger.
Mr. Twyford was looking at the long black gown with a learned eye.
"Are you a monk?" he asked, in a puzzled fashion.
"I am a magus," replied the stranger. "You have heard of the magi,
perhaps? I am a magician."
"Oh, I say!" exclaimed Summers Minor, with prominent eyes.
"But I was once a monk," went on the other. "I am what you would
call an escaped monk. Yes, I have escaped into eternity. But the
monks held one truth at least, that the highest life should be
without possessions. I have no pocket money and no pockets, and all
the stars are my trinkets."
"They are out of reach, anyhow," observed Colonel Morris, in a tone
which suggested that it was well for them. "I've known a good many
magicians myself in India--mango plant and all. But the Indian ones
are all frauds, I'll swear. In fact, I had a good deal of fun
showing them up. More fun than I have over this dreary job, anyhow.
But here comes Mr. Symon, who will show you over the old cellar
Mr. Symon, the official guardian and guide, was a young man,
prematurely gray, with a grave mouth which contrasted curiously with
a very small, dark mustache with waxed points, that seemed somehow,
separate from it, as if a black fly had settled on his face. He
spoke with the accent of Oxford and the permanent official, but in
as dead a fashion as the most indifferent hired guide. They
descended a dark stone staircase, at the floor of which Symon
pressed a button and a door opened on a dark room, or, rather, a
room which had an instant before been dark. For almost as the heavy
iron door swung open an almost blinding blaze of electric lights
filled the whole interior. The fitful enthusiasm of Stinks at once
caught fire, and he eagerly asked if the lights and the door worked
"Yes, it's all one system," replied Symon. "It was all fitted up
for the day His Royal Highness deposited the thing here. You see,
it's locked up behind a glass case exactly as he left it."
A glance showed that the arrangements for guarding the treasure were
indeed as strong as they were simple. A single pane of glass cut off
one corner of the room, in an iron framework let into the rock walls
and the wooden roof above; there was now no possibility of reopening
the case without elaborate labor, except by breaking the glass,
which would probably arouse the night watchman who was always within
a few feet of it, even if he had fallen asleep. A close examination
would have showed many more ingenious safeguards; but the eye of the
Rev. Thomas Twyford, at least, was already riveted on what
interested him much more--the dull silver disk which shone in the
white light against a plain background of black velvet.
"St. Paul's Penny, said to commemorate the visit of St. Paul to
Britain, was probably preserved in this chapel until the eighth
century," Symon was saying in his clear but colorless voice. "In the
ninth century it is supposed to have been carried away by the
barbarians, and it reappears, after the conversion of the northern
Goths, in the possession of the royal family of Gothland. His Royal
Highness, the Duke of Gothland, retained it always in his own
private custody, and when he decided to exhibit it to the public,
placed it here with his own hand. It was immediately sealed up in
such a manner--"
Unluckily at this point Summers Minor, whose attention had somewhat
strayed from the religious wars of the ninth century, caught sight
of a short length of wire appearing in a broken patch in the wall.
He precipitated himself at it, calling out, "I say, say, does that
It was evident that it did connect, for no sooner had the boy given
it a twitch than the whole room went black, as if they had all been
struck blind, and an instant afterward they heard the dull crash of
the closing door.
"Well, you've done it now," said Symon, in his tranquil fashion.
Then after a pause he added, "I suppose they'll miss us sooner or
later, and no doubt they can get it open; but it may take some
There was a silence, and then the unconquerable Stinks observed:
"Rotten that I had to leave my electric torch."
"I think," said his uncle, with restraint, "that we are sufficiently
convinced of your interest in electricity."
Then after a pause he remarked, more amiably: "I suppose if I
regretted any of my own impedimenta, it would be the pipe. Though,
as a matter of fact, it's not much fun smoking in the dark.
Everything seems different in the dark."
"Everything is different in the dark," said a third voice, that of
the man who called himself a magician. It was a very musical voice,
and rather in contrast with his sinister and swarthy visage, which
was now invisible. "Perhaps you don't know how terrible a truth that
is. All you see are pictures made by the sun, faces and furniture
and flowers and trees. The things themselves may be quite strange to
you. Something else may be standing now where you saw a table or a
chair. The face of your friend may be quite different in the dark."
A short, indescribable noise broke the stillness. Twyford started
for a second, and then said, sharply:
"Really, I don't think it's a suitable occasion for trying to
frighten a child."
"Who's a child?" cried the indignant Summers, with a voice that had
a crow, but also something of a crack in it. "And who's a funk,
either? Not me."
"I will be silent, then," said the other voice out of the darkness.
"But silence also makes and unmakes."
The required silence remained unbroken for a long time until at last
the clergyman said to Symon in a low voice:
"I suppose it's all right about air?"
"Oh, yes," replied the other aloud; "there's a fireplace and a
chimney in the office just by the door."
A bound and the noise of a falling chair told them that the
irrepressible rising generation had once more thrown itself across
the room. They heard the ejaculation: "A chimney! Why, I'll be--"
and the rest was lost in muffled, but exultant, cries.
The uncle called repeatedly and vainly, groped his way at last to
the opening, and, peering up it, caught a glimpse of a disk of
daylight, which seemed to suggest that the fugitive had vanished in
safety. Making his way back to the group by the glass case, he fell
over the fallen chair and took a moment to collect himself again. He
had opened his mouth to speak to Symon, when he stopped, and
suddenly found himself blinking in the full shock of the white
light, and looking over the other man's shoulder, he saw that the
door was standing open.
"So they've got at us at last," he observed to Symon.
The man in the black robe was leaning against the wall some yards
away, with a smile carved on his face.
"Here comes Colonel Morris," went on Twyford, still speaking to
Symon. "One of us will have to tell him how the light went out. Will
But Symon still said nothing. He was standing as still as a statue,
and looking steadily at the black velvet behind the glass screen. He
was looking at the black velvet because there was nothing else to
look at. St. Paul's Penny was gone.
Colonel Morris entered the room with two new visitors; presumably
two new sightseers delayed by the accident. The foremost was a tall,
fair, rather languid-looking man with a bald brow and a high-bridged
nose; his companion was a younger man with light, curly hair and
frank, and even innocent, eyes. Symon scarcely seemed to hear the
newcomers; it seemed almost as if he had not realized that the
return of the light revealed his brooding attitude. Then he started
in a guilty fashion, and when he saw the elder of the two strangers,
his pale face seemed to turn a shade paler.
"Why it's Horne Fisher!" and then after a pause he said in a low
voice, "I'm in the devil of a hole, Fisher."
"There does seem a bit of a mystery to be cleared up," observed the
gentleman so addressed.
"It will never be cleared up," said the pale Symon. "If anybody
could clear it up, you could. But nobody could."
"I rather think I could," said another voice from outside the group,
and they turned in surprise to realize that the man in the black
robe had spoken again.
"You!" said the colonel, sharply. "And how do you propose to play
"I do not propose to play the detective," answered the other, in a
clear voice like a bell. "I propose to play the magician. One of the
magicians you show up in India, Colonel."
No one spoke for a moment, and then Horne Fisher surprised everybody
by saying, "Well, let's go upstairs, and this gentleman can have a
He stopped Symon, who had an automatic finger on the button, saying:
"No, leave all the lights on. It's a sort of safeguard."
"The thing can't be taken away now," said Symon, bitterly.
"It can be put back," replied Fisher.
Twyford had already run upstairs for news of his vanishing nephew,