Part 2 out of 5
further difficulty. If I could see objects unaltered through them, so
could Mr. Weiss. But the function of spectacles is to alter the
appearances of objects, by magnification, reduction or compensating
distortion. If they leave the appearances unchanged they are useless. I
could make nothing of it. After puzzling over it for quite a long time,
I had to give it up; which I did the less unwillingly inasmuch as the
construction of Mr. Weiss's spectacles had no apparent bearing on the
On arriving home, I looked anxiously at the message-book, and was
relieved to find that there were no further visits to be made. Having
made up a mixture for Mr. Graves and handed it to the coachman, I raked
the ashes of the surgery fire together and sat down to smoke a final
pipe while I reflected once more on the singular and suspicious case in
which I had become involved. But fatigue soon put an end to my
meditations; and having come to the conclusion that the circumstances
demanded a further consultation with Thorndyke, I turned down the gas to
a microscopic blue spark and betook myself to bed.
The Official View
I rose on the following morning still possessed by the determination to
make some oportunity during the day to call on Thorndyke and take his
advice on the now urgent question as to what I was to do. I use the word
"urgent" advisedly; for the incidents of the preceding evening had left
me with the firm conviction that poison was being administered for some
purpose to my mysterious patient, and that no time must be lost if his
life was to be saved. Last night he had escaped only by the narrowest
margin--assuming him to be still alive--and it was only my unexpectedly
firm attitude that had compelled Mr. Weiss to agree to restorative
That I should be sent for again I had not the slightest expectation. If
what I so strongly suspected was true, Weiss would call in some other
doctor, in the hope of better luck, and it was imperative that he
should be stopped before it was too late. This was my view, but I meant
to have Thorndyke's opinion, and act under his direction, but
"The best laid plans of mice and men
Gang aft agley."
When I came downstairs and took a preliminary glance at the rough
memorandum-book, kept by the bottle-boy, or, in his absence, by the
housemaid, I stood aghast. The morning's entries looked already like a
sample page of the Post Office directory. The new calls alone were more
than equal to an ordinary day's work, and the routine visits remained to
be added. Gloomily wondering whether the Black Death had made a sudden
reappearance in England, I hurried to the dining-room and made a hasty
breakfast, interrupted at intervals by the apparition of the bottle-boy
to announce new messages.
The first two or three visits solved the mystery. An epidemic of
influenza had descended on the neighbourhood, and I was getting not only
our own normal work but a certain amount of overflow from other
practices. Further, it appeared that a strike in the building trade had
been followed immediately by a widespread failure of health among the
bricklayers who were members of a certain benefit club; which accounted
for the remarkable suddenness of the outbreak.
Of course, my contemplated visit to Thorndyke was out of the question. I
should have to act on my own responsibility. But in the hurry and rush
and anxiety of the work--for some of the cases were severe and even
critical--I had no opportunity to consider any course of action, nor
time to carry it out. Even with the aid of a hansom which I chartered,
as Stillbury kept no carriage, I had not finished my last visit until
near on midnight, and was then so spent with fatigue that I fell asleep
over my postponed supper.
As the next day opened with a further increase of work, I sent a
telegram to Dr. Stillbury at Hastings, whither he had gone, like a wise
man, to recruit after a slight illness. I asked for authority to engage
an assistant, but the reply informed me that Stillbury himself was on
his way to town; and to my relief, when I dropped in at the surgery for
a cup of tea, I found him rubbing his hands over the open day-book.
"It's an ill wind that blows nobody good," he remarked cheerfully as we
shook hands. "This will pay the expenses of my holiday, including you.
By the way, you are not anxious to be off, I suppose?"
As a matter of fact, I was; for I had decided to accept Thorndyke's
offer, and was now eager to take up my duties with him. But it would
have been shabby to leave Stillbury to battle alone with this rush of
work or to seek the services of a strange assistant.
"I should like to get off as soon as you can spare me," I replied, "but
I'm not going to leave you in the lurch."
"That's a good fellow," said Stillbury. "I knew you wouldn't. Let us
have some tea and divide up the work. Anything of interest going?"
There were one or two unusual cases on the list, and, as we marked off
our respective patients, I gave him the histories in brief synopsis. And
then I opened the subject of my mysterious experiences at the house of
"There's another affair that I want to tell you about; rather an
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Stillbury. He put down his cup and regarded me
with quite painful anxiety.
"It looks to me like an undoubted case of criminal poisoning," I
Stillbury's face cleared instantly. "Oh, I'm glad it's nothing more than
that," he said with an air of relief. "I was afraid, it was some
confounded woman. There's always that danger, you know, when a locum is
young and happens--if I may say so, Jervis--to be a good-looking fellow.
Let us hear about this case."
I gave him a condensed narrative of my connection with the mysterious
patient, omitting any reference to Thorndyke, and passing lightly over
my efforts to fix the position of the house, and wound up with the
remark that the facts ought certainly to be communicated to the police.
"Yes," he admitted reluctantly, "I suppose you're right. Deuced
unpleasant though. Police cases don't do a practice any good. They waste
a lot of time, too; keep you hanging about to give evidence. Still, you
are quite right. We can't stand by and see the poor devil poisoned
without making some effort. But I don't believe the police will do
anything in the matter."
"Don't you really?"
"No, I don't. They like to have things pretty well cut and dried before
they act. A prosecution is an expensive affair, so they don't care to
prosecute unless they are fairly sure of a conviction. If they fail they
get hauled over the coals."
"But don't you think they would get a conviction in this case?"
"Not on your evidence, Jervis. They might pick up something fresh, but,
if they didn't they would fail. You haven't got enough hard-baked facts
to upset a capable defence. Still, that isn't our affair. You want to
put the responsibility on the police and I entirely agree with you."
"There ought not to be any delay," said I.
"There needn't be. I shall look in on Mrs. Wackford and you have to see
the Rummel children; we shall pass the station on our way. Why shouldn't
we drop in and see the inspector or superintendent?"
The suggestion met my views exactly. As soon as we had finished tea, we
set forth, and in about ten minutes found ourselves in the bare and
forbidding office attached to the station.
The presiding officer descended from a high stool, and, carefully laying
down his pen, shook hands cordially.
"And what can I do for you gentlemen?" he asked, with an affable smile.
Stillbury proceeded to open our business.
"My friend here, Dr. Jervis, who has very kindly been looking after my
work for a week or two, has had a most remarkable experience, and he
wants to tell you about it."
"Something in my line of business?" the officer inquired.
"That," said I, "is for you to judge. I think it is, but you may think
otherwise"; and hereupon, without further preamble, I plunged into the
history of the case, giving him a condensed statement similar to that
which I had already made to Stillbury.
He listened with close attention, jotting down from time to time a brief
note on a sheet of paper; and, when I had finished, he wrote out in a
black-covered notebook a short precis of my statement.
"I have written down here," he said, "the substance of what you have
told me. I will read the deposition over to you, and, if it is correct,
I will ask you to sign it."
He did so, and, when I had signed the document, I asked him what was
likely to be done in the matter.
"I am afraid," he replied, "that we can't take any active measures. You
have put us on our guard and we shall keep our eyes open. But I think
that is all we can do, unless we hear something further."
"But," I exclaimed, "don't you think that it is a very suspicious
"I do," he replied. "A very fishy business indeed, and you were quite
right to come and tell us about it."
"It seems a pity not to take some measures," I said. "While you are
waiting to hear something further, they may give the poor wretch a fresh
dose and kill him."
"In which case we should hear something further, unless some fool of a
doctor were to give a death certificate."
"But that is very unsatisfactory. The man ought not to be allowed to
"I quite agree with you, sir. But we've no evidence that he is going to
die. His friends sent for you, and you treated him skilfully and left
him in a fair way to recovery. That's all that we really know about it.
Yes, I know," the officer continued as I made signs of disagreement,
"you think that a crime is possibly going to be committed and that we
ought to prevent it. But you overrate our powers. We can only act on
evidence that a crime has actually been committed or is actually being
attempted. Now we have no such evidence. Look at your statement, and
tell me what you can swear to."
"I think I could swear that Mr. Graves had taken a poisonous dose of
"And who gave him that poisonous dose?"
"I very strongly suspect--"
"That's no good, sir," interrupted the officer. "Suspicion isn't
evidence. We should want you to swear an information and give us enough
facts to make out a prima facie case against some definite person. And
you couldn't do it. Your information amounts to this: that a certain
person has taken a poisonous dose of morphine and apparently recovered.
That's all. You can't swear that the names given to you are real names,
and you can't give us any address or even any locality."
"I took some compass bearings in the carriage," I said. "You could
locate the house, I think, without much difficulty."
The officer smiled faintly and fixed an abstracted gaze on the clock.
"You could, sir," he replied. "I have no doubt whatever that you
could. I couldn't. But, in any case, we haven't enough to go upon. If
you learn anything fresh, I hope you will let me know; and I am very
much obliged to you for taking so much trouble in the matter. Good
evening sir. Good evening, Dr. Stillbury."
He shook hands with us both genially, and, accepting perforce this very
polite but unmistakable dismissal, we took our departure.
Outside the station, Stillbury heaved a comfortable sigh. He was
evidently relieved to find that no upheavals were to take place in his
"I thought that would be their attitude," he said, "and they are quite
right, you know. The function of law is to prevent crime, it is true;
but prophylaxis in the sense in which we understand it is not possible
in legal practice."
I assented without enthusiasm. It was disappointing to find that no
precautionary measures were to be taken. However, I had done all that I
could in the matter. No further responsibility lay upon me, and, as it
was practically certain that I had seen and heard the last of Mr. Graves
and his mysterious household, I dismissed the case from my mind. At the
next corner Stillbury and I parted to go our respective ways; and my
attention was soon transferred from the romance of crime to the
realities of epidemic influenza.
The plethora of work in Dr. Stillbury's practice continued longer than I
had bargained for. Day after day went by and still found me tramping the
dingy streets of Kennington or scrambling up and down narrow stairways;
turning in at night dead tired, or turning out half awake to the hideous
jangle of the night bell.
It was very provoking. For months I had resisted Thorndyke's persuasion
to give up general practice and join him. Not from lack of inclination,
but from a deep suspicion that he was thinking of my wants rather than
his own; that his was a charitable rather than a business proposal. Now
that I knew this not to be the case, I was impatient to join him; and,
as I trudged through the dreary thoroughfares of this superannuated
suburb, with its once rustic villas and its faded gardens, my thoughts
would turn enviously to the quiet dignity of the Temple and my friend's
chambers in King's Bench Walk.
The closed carriage appeared no more; nor did any whisper either of good
or evil reach me in connection with the mysterious house from which it
had come. Mr. Graves had apparently gone out of my life for ever.
But if he had gone out of my life, he had not gone out of my memory.
Often, as I walked my rounds, would the picture of that dimly-lit room
rise unbidden. Often would I find myself looking once more into that
ghastly face, so worn, so wasted and haggard, and yet so far from
repellent. All the incidents of that last night would reconstitute
themselves with a vividness that showed the intensity of the impression
that they had made at the time. I would have gladly forgotten the whole
affair, for every incident of it was fraught with discomfort. But it
clung to my memory; it haunted me; and ever as it returned it bore with
it the disquieting questions: Was Mr. Graves still alive? And, if he was
not, was there really nothing which could have been done to save him?
Nearly a month passed before the practice began to show signs of
returning to its normal condition. Then the daily lists became more and
more contracted and the day's work proportionately shorter. And thus the
term of my servitude came to an end. One evening, as we were writing up
the day-book, Stillbury remarked:
"I almost think, Jervis, I could manage by myself now. I know you are
only staying on for my sake."
"I am staying on to finish my engagement, but I shan't be sorry to clear
out if you can do without me."
"I think I can. When would you like to be off?"
"As soon as possible. Say to-morrow morning, after I have made a few
visits and transferred the patients to you."
"Very well," said Stillbury. "Then I will give you your cheque and
settle up everything to-night, so that you shall be free to go off when
you like to-morrow morning."
Thus ended my connection with Kennington Lane. On the following day at
about noon, I found myself strolling across Waterloo Bridge with the
sensations of a newly liberated convict and a cheque for twenty-five
guineas in my pocket. My luggage was to follow when I sent for it. Now,
unhampered even by a hand-bag, I joyfully descended the steps at the
north end of the bridge and headed for King's Bench Walk by way of the
Embankment and Middle Temple Lane.
Jeffrey Blackmore's Will
My arrival at Thorndyke's chambers was not unexpected, having been
heralded by a premonitory post-card. The "oak" was open and an
application of the little brass knocker of the inner door immediately
produced my colleague himself and a very hearty welcome.
"At last," said Thorndyke, "you have come forth from the house of
bondage. I began to think that you had taken up your abode in Kennington
"I was beginning, myself, to wonder when I should escape. But here I am;
and I may say at once that I am ready to shake the dust of general
practice off my feet for ever--that is, if you are still willing to have
me as your assistant."
"Willing!" exclaimed Thorndyke, "Barkis himself was not more willing
than I. You will be invaluable to me. Let us settle the terms of our
comradeship forthwith, and to-morrow we will take measures to enter you
as a student of the Inner Temple. Shall we have our talk in the open air
and the spring sunshine?"
I agreed readily to this proposal, for it was a bright, sunny day and
warm for the time of year--the beginning of April. We descended to the
Walk and thence slowly made our way to the quiet court behind the
church, where poor old Oliver Goldsmith lies, as he would surely have
wished to lie, in the midst of all that had been dear to him in his
chequered life. I need not record the matter of our conversation. To
Thorndyke's proposals I had no objections to offer but my own
unworthiness and his excessive liberality. A few minutes saw our
covenants fully agreed upon, and when Thorndyke had noted the points on
a slip of paper, signed and dated it and handed it to me, the business
was at an end.
"There," my colleague said with a smile as he put away his pocket-book,
"if people would only settle their affairs in that way, a good part of
the occupation of lawyers would be gone. Brevity is the soul of wit; and
the fear of simplicity is the beginning of litigation."
"And now," I said, "I propose that we go and feed. I will invite you to
lunch to celebrate our contract."
"My learned junior is premature," he replied. "I had already arranged a
little festivity--or rather had modified one that was already arranged.
You remember Mr. Marchmont, the solicitor?"
"He called this morning to ask me to lunch with him and a new client at
the 'Cheshire Cheese.' I accepted and notified him that I should bring
"Why the 'Cheshire Cheese'?" I asked.
"Why not? Marchmont's reasons for the selection were, first, that his
client has never seen an old-fashioned London tavern, and second, that
this is Wednesday and he, Marchmont, has a gluttonous affection for a
really fine beef-steak pudding. You don't object, I hope?"
"Oh, not at all. In fact, now that you mention it, my own sensations
incline me to sympathize with Marchmont. I breakfasted rather early."
"Then come," said Thorndyke. "The assignation is for one o'clock, and,
if we walk slowly, we shall just hit it off."
We sauntered up Inner Temple Lane, and, crossing Fleet Street, headed
sedately for the tavern. As we entered the quaint old-world dining-room,
Thorndyke looked round and a gentleman, who was seated with a companion
at a table in one of the little boxes or compartments, rose and saluted
"Let me introduce you to my friend Mr. Stephen Blackmore," he said as we
approached. Then, turning to his companion, he introduced us by our
"I engaged this box," he continued, "so that we might be private if we
wished to have a little preliminary chat; not that beef-steak pudding is
a great help to conversation. But when people have a certain business
in view, their talk is sure to drift towards it, sooner or later."
Thorndyke and I sat down opposite the lawyer and his client, and we
mutually inspected one another. Marchmont I already knew; an elderly,
professional-looking man, a typical solicitor of the old school;
fresh-faced, precise, rather irascible, and conveying a not unpleasant
impression of taking a reasonable interest in his diet. The other man
was quite young, not more than five-and-twenty, and was a fine
athletic-looking fellow with a healthy, out-of-door complexion and an
intelligent and highly prepossessing face. I took a liking to him at the
first glance, and so, I saw, did Thorndyke.
"You two gentlemen," said Blackmore, addressing us, "seem to be quite
old acquaintances. I have heard so much about you from my friend, Reuben
"Ah!" exclaimed Marchmont, "that was a queer case--'The Case of the Red
Thumb Mark,' as the papers called it. It was an eye-opener to
old-fashioned lawyers like myself. We've had scientific witnesses
before--and bullied 'em properly, by Jove! when they wouldn't give the
evidence that we wanted. But the scientific lawyer is something new. His
appearance in court made us all sit up, I can assure you."
"I hope we shall make you sit up again," said Thorndyke.
"You won't this time," said Marchmont. "The issues in this case of my
friend Blackmore's are purely legal; or rather, there are no issues at
all. There is nothing in dispute. I tried to prevent Blackmore from
consulting you, but he wouldn't listen to reason. Here! Waiter! How much
longer are we to be waiters? We shall die of old age before we get our
The waiter smiled apologetically. "Yessir!" said he. "Coming now, sir."
And at this very moment there was borne into the room a Gargantuan
pudding in a great bucket of a basin, which being placed on a
three-legged stool was forthwith attacked ferociously by the
white-clothed, white-capped carver. We watched the process--as did every
one present--with an interest not entirely gluttonous, for it added a
pleasant touch to the picturesque old room, with its sanded floor, its
homely, pew-like boxes, its high-backed settles and the friendly
portrait of the "great lexicographer" that beamed down on us from the
"This is a very different affair from your great, glittering modern
restaurant," Mr. Marchmont remarked.
"It is indeed," said Blackmore, "and if this is the way in which our
ancestors lived, it would seem that they had a better idea of comfort
than we have."
There was a short pause, during which Mr. Marchmont glared hungrily at
the pudding; then Thorndyke said:
"So you refused to listen to reason, Mr. Blackmore?"
"Yes. You see, Mr. Marchmont and his partner had gone into the matter
and decided that there was nothing to be done. Then I happened to
mention the affair to Reuben Hornby, and he urged me to ask your advice
on the case."
"Like his impudence," growled Marchmont, "to meddle with my client."
"On which," continued Blackmore, "I spoke to Mr. Marchmont and he agreed
that it was worth while to take your opinion on the case, though he
warned me to cherish no hopes, as the affair was not really within your
"So you understand," said Marchmont, "that we expect nothing. This is
quite a forlorn hope. We are taking your opinion as a mere formality, to
be able to say that we have left nothing untried."
"That is an encouraging start," Thorndyke remarked. "It leaves me
unembarrassed by the possibility of failure. But meanwhile you are
arousing in me a devouring curiosity as to the nature of the case. Is it
highly confidential? Because if not, I would mention that Jervis has now
joined me as my permanent colleague."
"It isn't confidential at all," said Marchmont. "The public are in full
possession of the facts, and we should be only too happy to put them in
still fuller possession, through the medium of the Probate Court, if we
could find a reasonable pretext. But we can't."
Here the waiter charged our table with the fussy rapidity of the
"Sorry to keep you waiting, sir. Rather early, sir. Wouldn't like it
Marchmont inspected his plate critically and remarked:
"I sometimes suspect these oysters of being mussels; and I'll swear the
larks are sparrows."
"Let us hope so," said Thorndyke. "The lark is better employed 'at
Heaven's gate singing' than garnishing a beef-steak pudding. But you
were telling us about your case."
"So I was. Well it's just a matter of--ale or claret? Oh, claret, I
know. You despise the good old British John Barleycorn."
"He that drinks beer thinks beer," retorted Thorndyke. "But you were
saying that it is just a matter of--?"
"A matter of a perverse testator and an ill-drawn will. A peculiarly
irritating case, too, because the defective will replaces a perfectly
sound one, and the intentions of the testator were--er--were--excellent
ale, this. A little heady, perhaps, but sound. Better than your sour
French wine, Thorndyke--were--er--were quite obvious. What he evidently
desired was--mustard? Better have some mustard. No? Well, well! Even a
Frenchman would take mustard. You can have no appreciation of flavour,
Thorndyke, if you take your victuals in that crude, unseasoned state.
And, talking of flavour, do you suppose that there is really any
difference between that of a lark and that of a sparrow?"
Thorndyke smiled grimly. "I should suppose," said he, "that they were
indistinguishable; but the question could easily be put to the test of
"That is true," agreed Marchmont, "and it would really be worth trying,
for, as you say, sparrows are more easily obtainable than larks. But,
about this will. I was saying--er--now, what was I saying?"
"I understood you to say," replied Thorndyke, "that the intentions of
the testator were in some way connected with mustard. Isn't that so,
"That was what I gathered," said I.
Marchmont gazed at us for a moment with a surprised expression and then,
laughing good-humouredly, fortified himself with a draught of ale.
"The moral of which is," Thorndyke added, "that testamentary
dispositions should not be mixed up with beef-steak pudding."
"I believe you're right, Thorndyke," said the unabashed solicitor.
"Business is business and eating is eating. We had better talk over our
case in my office or your chambers after lunch."
"Yes," said Thorndyke, "come over to the Temple with me and I will give
you a cup of coffee to clear your brain. Are there any documents?"
"I have all the papers here in my bag," replied Marchmont; and the
conversation--such conversation as is possible "when beards wag all"
over the festive board--drifted into other channels.
As soon as the meal was finished and the reckoning paid, we trooped out
of Wine Office Court, and, insinuating ourselves through the line of
empty hansoms that, in those days, crawled in a continuous procession
on either side of Fleet Street, betook ourselves by way of Mitre Court
to King's Bench Walk. There, when the coffee had been requisitioned and
our chairs drawn up around the fire, Mr. Marchmont unloaded from his bag
a portentous bundle of papers, and we addressed ourselves to the
business in hand.
"Now," said Marchmont, "let me repeat what I said before. Legally
speaking, we have no case--not the ghost of one. But my client wished to
take your opinion, and I agreed on the bare chance that you might detect
some point that we had overlooked. I don't think you will, for we have
gone into the case very thoroughly, but still, there is the
infinitesimal chance and we may as well take it. Would you like to read
the two wills, or shall I first explain the circumstances?"
"I think," replied Thorndyke, "a narrative of the events in the order of
their occurrence would be most helpful. I should like to know as much as
possible about the testator before I examine the documents."
"Very well," said Marchmont. "Then I will begin with a recital of the
circumstances, which, briefly stated, are these: My client, Stephen
Blackmore, is the son of Mr. Edward Blackmore, deceased. Edward
Blackmore had two brothers who survived him, John, the elder, and
Jeffrey, the younger. Jeffrey is the testator in this case.
"Some two years ago, Jeffrey Blackmore executed a will by which he made
his nephew Stephen his executor and sole legatee; and a few months later
he added a codicil giving two hundred and fifty pounds to his brother
"What was the value of the estate?" Thorndyke asked.
"About three thousand five hundred pounds, all invested in Consols. The
testator had a pension from the Foreign Office, on which he lived,
leaving his capital untouched. Soon after having made his will, he left
the rooms in Jermyn Street, where he had lived for some years, stored
his furniture and went to Florence. From thence he moved on to Rome and
then to Venice and other places in Italy, and so continued to travel
about until the end of last September, when it appears that he returned
to England, for at the beginning of October he took a set of chambers in
New Inn, which he furnished with some of the things from his old rooms.
As far as we can make out, he never communicated with any of his
friends, excepting his brother, and the fact of his being in residence
at New Inn or of his being in England at all became known to them only
when he died."
"Was this quite in accordance with his ordinary habits?" Thorndyke
"I should say not quite," Blackmore answered. "My uncle was a studious,
solitary man, but he was not formerly a recluse. He was not much of a
correspondent but he kept up some sort of communication with his
friends. He used, for instance, to write to me sometimes, and, when I
came down from Cambridge for the vacations, he had me to stay with him
at his rooms."
"Is there anything known that accounts for the change in his habits?"
"Yes, there is," replied Marchmont. "We shall come to that presently. To
proceed with the narrative: On the fifteenth of last March he was found
dead in his chambers, and a more recent will was then discovered, dated
the twelfth of November of last year. Now no change had taken place in
the circumstances of the testator to account for the new will, nor was
there any appreciable alteration in the disposition of the property. As
far as we can make out, the new will was drawn with the idea of stating
the intentions of the testator with greater exactness and for the sake
of doing away with the codicil. The entire property, with the exception
of two hundred and fifty pounds, was, as before, bequeathed to Stephen,
but the separate items were specified, and the testator's brother, John
Blackmore, was named as the executor and residuary legatee."
"I see," said Thorndyke. "So that your client's interest in the will
would appear to be practically unaffected by the change."
"Yes. There it is," exclaimed the lawyer, slapping the table to add
emphasis to his words. "That is the pity of it! If people who have no
knowledge of law would only refrain from tinkering at their wills, what
a world of trouble would be saved!"
"Oh, come!" said Thorndyke. "It is not for a lawyer to say that."
"No, I suppose not," Marchmont agreed. "Only, you see, we like the
muddle to be made by the other side. But, in this case, the muddle is on
our side. The change, as you say, seems to leave our friend Stephen's
interests unaffected. That is, of course, what poor Jeffrey Blackmore
thought. But he was mistaken. The effect of the change is absolutely
"Yes. As I have said, no alteration in the testator's circumstances had
taken place at the time the new will was executed. But only two days
before his death, his sister, Mrs. Edmund Wilson, died; and on her will
being proved it appeared that she had bequeathed to him her entire
personalty, estimated at about thirty thousand pounds."
"Heigho!" exclaimed Thorndyke. "What an unfortunate affair!"
"You are right," said Mr. Marchmont; "it was a disaster. By the original
will this great sum would have accrued to our friend Mr. Stephen,
whereas now, of course, it goes to the residuary legatee, Mr. John
Blackmore. And what makes it even more exasperating is the fact that
this is obviously not in accordance with the wishes and intentions of
Mr. Jeffrey, who clearly desired his nephew to inherit his property."
"Yes," said Thorndyke; "I think you are justified in assuming that. But
do you know whether Mr. Jeffrey was aware of his sister's intentions?"
"We think not. Her will was executed as recently as the third of
September last, and it seems that there had been no communication
between her and Mr. Jeffrey since that date. Besides, if you consider
Mr. Jeffrey's actions, you will see that they suggest no knowledge or
expectation of this very important bequest. A man does not make
elaborate dispositions in regard to three thousand pounds and then leave
a sum of thirty thousand to be disposed of casually as the residue of
"No," Thorndyke agreed. "And, as you have said, the manifest intention
of the testator was to leave the bulk of his property to Mr. Stephen. So
we may take it as virtually certain that Mr. Jeffrey had no knowledge of
the fact that he was a beneficiary under his sister's will."
"Yes," said Mr. Marchmont, "I think we may take that as nearly certain."
"With reference to the second will," said Thorndyke, "I suppose there is
no need to ask whether the document itself has been examined; I mean as
to its being a genuine document and perfectly regular?"
Mr. Marchmont shook his head sadly.
"No," he said, "I am sorry to say that there can be no possible doubt as
to the authenticity and regularity of the document. The circumstances
under which it was executed establish its genuineness beyond any
"What were those circumstances?" Thorndyke asked.
"They were these: On the morning of the twelfth of November last, Mr.
Jeffrey came to the porter's lodge with a document in his hand. 'This,'
he said, 'is my will. I want you to witness my signature. Would you mind
doing so, and can you find another respectable person to act as the
second witness?' Now it happened that a nephew of the porter's, a
painter by trade, was at work in the Inn. The porter went out and
fetched him into the lodge and the two men agreed to witness the
signature. 'You had better read the will,' said Mr. Jeffrey. 'It is not
actually necessary, but it is an additional safeguard and there is
nothing of a private nature in the document.' The two men accordingly
read the document, and, when Mr. Jeffrey had signed it in their
presence, they affixed their signatures; and I may add that the painter
left the recognizable impressions of three greasy fingers."
"And these witnesses have been examined?"
"Yes. They have both sworn to the document and to their own signatures,
and the painter recognized his finger-marks."
"That," said Thorndyke, "seems to dispose pretty effectually of any
question as to the genuineness of the will; and if, as I gather, Mr.
Jeffrey came to the lodge alone, the question of undue influence is
disposed of too."
"Yes," said Mr. Marchmont. "I think we must pass the will as absolutely
"It strikes me as rather odd," said Thorndyke, "that Jeffrey should have
known so little about his sister's intentions. Can you explain it, Mr.
"I don't think that it is very remarkable," Stephen replied. "I knew
very little of my aunt's affairs and I don't think my uncle Jeffrey knew
much more, for he was under the impression that she had only a life
interest in her husband's property. And he may have been right. It is
not clear what money this was that she left to my uncle. She was a very
taciturn woman and made few confidences to anyone."
"So that it is possible," said Thorndyke, "that she, herself, may have
acquired this money recently by some bequest?"
"It is quite possible," Stephen answered.
"She died, I understand," said Thorndyke, glancing at the notes that he
had jotted down, "two days before Mr. Jeffrey. What date would that be?"
"Jeffrey died on the fourteenth of March," said Marchmont.
"So that Mrs. Wilson died on the twelfth of March?"
"That is so," Marchmont replied; and Thorndyke then asked:
"Did she die suddenly?"
"No," replied Stephen; "she died of cancer. I understand that it was
cancer of the stomach."
"Do you happen to know," Thorndyke asked, "what sort of relations
existed between Jeffrey and his brother John?"
"At one time," said Stephen, "I know they were not very cordial; but the
breach may have been made up later, though I don't know that it actually
"I ask the question," said Thorndyke, "because, as I dare say you have
noticed, there is, in the first will, some hint of improved relations.
As it was originally drawn that will makes Mr. Stephen the sole legatee.
Then, a little later, a codicil is added in favour of John, showing that
Jeffrey had felt the necessity of making some recognition of his
brother. This seems to point to some change in the relations, and the
question arises: if such a change did actually occur, was it the
beginning of a new and further improving state of feeling between the
two brothers? Have you any facts bearing on that question?"
Marchmont pursed up his lips with the air of a man considering an
unwelcome suggestion, and, after a few moments of reflection, answered:
"I think we must say 'yes' to that. There is the undeniable fact that,
of all Jeffrey's friends, John Blackmore was the only one who knew that
he was living in New Inn."
"Oh, John knew that, did he?"
"Yes, he certainly did; for it came out in the evidence that he had
called on Jeffrey at his chambers more than once. There is no denying
that. But, mark you!" Mr. Marchmont added emphatically, "that does not
cover the inconsistency of the will. There is nothing in the second will
to suggest that Jeffrey intended materially to increase the bequest to
"I quite agree with you, Marchmont. I think that is a perfectly sound
position. You have, I suppose, fully considered the question as to
whether it would be possible to set aside the second will on the ground
that it fails to carry out the evident wishes and intentions of the
"Yes. My partner, Winwood, and I went into that question very carefully,
and we also took counsel's opinion--Sir Horace Barnaby--and he was of
the same opinion as ourselves; that the court would certainly uphold the
"I think that would be my own view," said Thorndyke, "especially after
what you have told me. Do I understand that John Blackmore was the only
person who knew that Jeffrey was in residence at New Inn?"
"The only one of his private friends. His bankers knew and so did the
officials from whom he drew his pension."
"Of course he would have to notify his bankers of his change of
"Yes, of course. And a propos of the bank, I may mention that the
manager tells me that, of late, they had noticed a slight change in the
character of Jeffrey's signature--I think you will see the reason of the
change when you hear the rest of his story. It was very trifling; not
more than commonly occurs when a man begins to grow old, especially if
there is some failure of eyesight."
"Was Mr. Jeffrey's eyesight failing?" asked Thorndyke.
"Yes, it was, undoubtedly," said Stephen. "He was practically blind in
one eye and, in the very last letter that I ever had from him, he
mentioned that there were signs of commencing cataract in the other."
"You spoke of his pension. He continued to draw that regularly?"
"Yes; he drew his allowance every month, or rather, his bankers drew it
for him. They had been accustomed to do so when he was abroad, and the
authorities seem to have allowed the practice to continue."
Thorndyke reflected a while, running his eye over the notes on the slips
of paper in his hand, and Marchmont surveyed him with a malicious smile.
Presently the latter remarked:
"Methinks the learned counsel is floored."
Thorndyke laughed. "It seems to me," he retorted, "that your proceedings
are rather like those of the amiable individual who offered the bear a
flint pebble, that he might crack it and extract the kernel. Your
confounded will seems to offer no soft spot on which one could commence
an attack. But we won't give up. We seem to have sucked the will dry.
Let us now have a few facts respecting the parties concerned in it; and,
as Jeffrey is the central figure, let us begin with him and the tragedy
at New Inn that formed the starting-point of all this trouble."
Jeffrey Blackmore, Deceased
Having made the above proposition, Thorndyke placed a fresh slip of
paper on the blotting pad on his knee and looked inquiringly at Mr.
Marchmont; who, in his turn, sighed and looked at the bundle of
documents on the table.
"What do you want to know?" he asked a little wearily.
"Everything," replied Thorndyke. "You have hinted at circumstances that
would account for a change in Jeffrey's habits and that would explain an
alteration in the character of his signature. Let us have those
circumstances. And, if I might venture on a suggestion, it would be that
we take the events in the order in which they occurred or in which they
"That's the worst of you, Thorndyke," Marchmont grumbled. "When a case
has been squeezed out to the last drop, in a legal sense, you want to
begin all over again with the family history of every one concerned and
a list of his effects and household furniture. But I suppose you will
have to be humoured; and I imagine that the best way in which to give
you the information you want will be to recite the circumstances
surrounding the death of Jeffrey Blackmore. Will that suit you?"
"Perfectly," replied Thorndyke; and thereupon Marchmont began:
"The death of Jeffrey Blackmore was discovered at about eleven o'clock
in the morning of the fifteenth of March. It seems that a builder's man
was ascending a ladder to examine a gutter on number 31, New Inn, when,
on passing a second-floor window that was open at the top, he looked in
and perceived a gentleman lying on a bed. The gentleman was fully
clothed and had apparently lain down on the bed to rest; at least so the
builder thought at the time, for he was merely passing the window on
his way up, and, very properly, did not make a minute examination. But
when, some ten minutes later, he came down and saw that the gentleman
was still in the same position, he looked at him more attentively; and
this is what he noticed--but perhaps we had better have it in his own
words as he told the story at the inquest.
"'When I came to look at the gentleman a bit more closely, it struck me
that he looked rather queer. His face looked very white, or rather pale
yellow, like parchment, and his mouth was open. He did not seem to be
breathing. On the bed by his side was a brass object of some kind--I
could not make out what it was--and he seemed to be holding some small
metal object in his hand. I thought it rather a queer affair, so, when I
came down I went across to the lodge and told the porter about it. The
porter came out across the square with me and I showed him the window.
Then he told me to go up the stairs to Mr. Blackmore's chambers on the
second pair and knock and keep on knocking until I got an answer. I went
up and knocked and kept on knocking as loud as I could, but, though I
fetched everybody out of all the other chambers in the house, I couldn't
get any answer from Mr. Blackmore. So I went downstairs again and then
Mr. Walker, the porter, sent me for a policeman.
"'I went out and met a policeman just by Dane's Inn and told him about
the affair, and he came back with me. He and the porter consulted
together, and then they told me to go up the ladder and get in at the
window and open the door of the chambers from the inside. So I went up;
and as soon as I got in at the window I saw that the gentleman was dead.
I went through the other room and opened the outer door and let in the
porter and the policeman.'
"That," said Mr. Marchmont, laying down the paper containing the
depositions, "is the way in which poor Jeffrey Blackmore's death came to
"The constable reported to his inspector and the inspector sent for the
divisional surgeon, whom he accompanied to New Inn. I need not go into
the evidence given by the police officers, as the surgeon saw all that
they saw and his statement covers everything that is known about
Jeffrey's death. This is what he says, after describing how he was sent
for and arrived at the Inn:
"'In the bedroom I found the body of a man between fifty and sixty years
of age, which has since been identified in my presence as that of Mr.
Jeffrey Blackmore. It was fully dressed and wore boots on which was a
moderate amount of dry mud. It was lying on its back on the bed, which
did not appear to have been slept in, and showed no sign of any struggle
or disturbance. The right hand loosely grasped a hypodermic syringe
containing a few drops of clear liquid which I have since analysed and
found to be a concentrated solution of strophanthin.
"'On the bed, close to the left side of the body, was a brass opium-pipe
of a pattern which I believe is made in China. The bowl of the pipe
contained a small quantity of charcoal, and a fragment of opium
together with some ash, and there was on the bed a little ash which
appeared to have dropped from the bowl when the pipe fell or was laid
down. On the mantelshelf in the bedroom I found a small glass-stoppered
jar containing about an ounce of solid opium, and another, larger jar
containing wood charcoal broken up into small fragments. Also a bowl
containing a quantity of ash with fragments of half-burned charcoal and
a few minute particles of charred opium. By the side of the bowl were a
knife, a kind of awl or pricker and a very small pair of tongs, which I
believe to have been used for carrying a piece of lighted charcoal to
"'On the dressing-table were two glass tubes labelled "Hypodermic
Tabloids: Strophanthin 1/500 grain," and a minute glass mortar and
pestle, of which the former contained a few crystals which have since
been analysed by me and found to be strophanthin.
"'On examining the body, I found that it had been dead about twelve
hours. There were no marks of violence or any abnormal condition
excepting a single puncture in the right thigh, apparently made by the
needle of the hypodermic syringe. The puncture was deep and vertical in
direction as if the needle had been driven in through the clothing.
"'I made a post-mortem examination of the body and found that death was
due to poisoning by strophanthin, which appeared to have been injected
into the thigh. The two tubes which I found on the dressing-table would
each have contained, if full, twenty tabloids, each tabloid
representing one five-hundredth of a grain of strophanthin. Assuming
that the whole of this quantity was injected the amount taken would be
forty five-hundredths, or about one twelfth of a grain. The ordinary
medicinal dose of strophanthin is one five-hundredth of a grain.
"'I also found in the body appreciable traces of morphine--the principal
alkaloid of opium--from which I infer that the deceased was a confirmed
opium-smoker. This inference was supported by the general condition of
the body, which was ill-nourished and emaciated and presented all the
appearances usually met with in the bodies of persons addicted to the
habitual use of opium.'
"That is the evidence of the surgeon. He was recalled later, as we shall
see, but, meanwhile, I think you will agree with me that the facts
testified to by him fully account, not only for the change in Jeffrey's
habits--his solitary and secretive mode of life--but also for the
alteration in his handwriting."
"Yes," agreed Thorndyke, "that seems to be so. By the way, what did the
change in the handwriting amount to?"
"Very little," replied Marchmont. "It was hardly perceptible. Just a
slight loss of firmness and distinctness; such a trifling change as you
would expect to find in the handwriting of a man who had taken to drink
or drugs, or anything that might impair the steadiness of his hand. I
should not have noticed it, myself, but, of course, the people at the
bank are experts, constantly scrutinizing signatures and scrutinizing
them with a very critical eye."
"Is there any other evidence that bears on the case?" Thorndyke asked.
Marchmont turned over the bundle of papers and smiled grimly.
"My dear Thorndyke," he said, "none of this evidence has the slightest
bearing on the case. It is all perfectly irrelevant as far as the will
is concerned. But I know your little peculiarities and I am indulging
you, as you see, to the top of your bent. The next evidence is that of
the chief porter, a very worthy and intelligent man named Walker. This
is what he says, after the usual preliminaries.
"'I have viewed the body which forms the subject of this inquiry. It is
that of Mr. Jeffrey Blackmore, the tenant of a set of chambers on the
second floor of number thirty-one, New Inn. I have known the deceased
nearly six months, and during that time have seen and conversed with him
frequently. He took the chambers on the second of last October and came
into residence at once. Tenants at New Inn have to furnish two
references. The references that the deceased gave were his bankers and
his brother, Mr. John Blackmore. I may say that the deceased was very
well known to me. He was a quiet, pleasant-mannered gentleman, and it
was his habit to drop in occasionally at the lodge and have a chat with
me. I went into his chambers with him once or twice on some small
matters of business and I noticed that there were always a number of
books and papers on the table. I understood from him that he spent most
of his time indoors engaged in study and writing. I know very little
about his way of living. He had no laundress to look after his rooms, so
I suppose he did his own house-work and cooking; but he told me that he
took most of his meals outside, at restaurants or his club.
"'Deceased impressed me as a rather melancholy, low-spirited gentleman.
He was very much troubled about his eyesight and mentioned the matter to
me on several occasions. He told me that he was practically blind in one
eye and that the sight of the other was failing rapidly. He said that
this afflicted him greatly, because his only pleasure in life was in the
reading of books, and that if he could not read he should not wish to
live. On another occasion he said that "to a blind man life was not
"'On the twelfth of last November he came to the lodge with a paper in
his hand which he said was his will'--But I needn't read that," said
Marchmont, turning over the leaf, "I've told you how the will was signed
and witnessed. We will pass on to the day of poor Jeffrey's death.
"'On the fourteenth of March,' the porter says, 'at about half-past six
in the evening, the deceased came to the Inn in a four-wheeled cab. That
was the day of the great fog. I do not know if there was anyone in the
cab with the deceased, but I think not, because he came to the lodge
just before eight o'clock and had a little talk with me. He said that
he had been overtaken by the fog and could not see at all. He was quite
blind and had been obliged to ask a stranger to call a cab for him as he
could not find his way through the streets. He then gave me a cheque for
the rent. I reminded him that the rent was not due until the
twenty-fifth, but he said he wished to pay it now. He also gave me some
money to pay one or two small bills that were owing to some of the
tradespeople--a milk-man, a baker and a stationer.
"'This struck me as very strange, because he had always managed his
business and paid the tradespeople himself. He told me that the fog had
irritated his eye so that he could hardly read, and he was afraid he
should soon be quite blind. He was very depressed; so much so that I
felt quite uneasy about him. When he left the lodge, he went back across
the square as if returning to his chambers. There was then no gate open
excepting the main gate where the lodge is situated. That was the last
time that I saw the deceased alive.'"
Mr. Marchmont laid the paper on the table. "That is the porter's
evidence. The remaining depositions are those of Noble, the night
porter, John Blackmore and our friend here, Mr. Stephen. The night
porter had not much to tell. This is the substance of his evidence:
"'I have viewed the body of the deceased and identify it as that of Mr.
Jeffrey Blackmore. I knew the deceased well by sight and occasionally
had a few words with him. I know nothing of his habits excepting that he
used to sit up rather late. It is one of my duties to go round the Inn
at night and call out the hours until one o'clock in the morning. When
calling out "one o'clock" I often saw a light in the sitting-room of the
deceased's chambers. On the night of the fourteenth instant, the light
was burning until past one o'clock, but it was in the bedroom. The light
in the sitting-room was out by ten o'clock.'
"We now come to John Blackmore's evidence. He says:
"'I have viewed the body of the deceased and recognize it as that of my
brother Jeffrey. I last saw him alive on the twenty-third of February,
when I called at his chambers. He then seemed in a very despondent state
of mind and told me that his eyesight was fast failing. I was aware that
he occasionally smoked opium, but I did not know that it was a confirmed
habit. I urged him, on several occasions, to abandon the practice. I
have no reason to believe that his affairs were in any way embarrassed
or that he had any reason for making away with himself other than his
failing eyesight; but, having regard to his state of mind when I last
saw him, I am not surprised at what has happened.'
"That is the substance of John Blackmore's evidence, and, as to Mr.
Stephen, his statement merely sets forth the fact that he had identified
the body as that of his uncle Jeffrey. And now I think you have all the
facts. Is there anything more that you want to ask me before I go, for I
must really run away now?"
"I should like," said Thorndyke, "to know a little more about the
parties concerned in this affair. But perhaps Mr. Stephen can give me
"I expect he can," said Marchmont; "at any rate, he knows more about
them than I do; so I will be off. If you should happen to think of any
way," he continued, with a sly smile, "of upsetting that will, just let
me know, and I will lose no time in entering a caveat. Good-bye! Don't
trouble to let me out."
As soon as he was gone, Thorndyke turned to Stephen Blackmore.
"I am going," he said, "to ask you a few questions which may appear
rather trifling, but you must remember that my methods of inquiry
concern themselves with persons and things rather than with documents.
For instance, I have not gathered very completely what sort of person
your uncle Jeffrey was. Could you tell me a little more about him?"
"What shall I tell you?" Stephen asked with a slightly embarrassed air.
"Well, begin with his personal appearance."
"That is rather difficult to describe," said Stephen. "He was a
medium-sized man and about five feet seven--fair, slightly grey,
clean-shaved, rather spare and slight, had grey eyes, wore spectacles
and stooped a little as he walked. He was quiet and gentle in manner,
rather yielding and irresolute in character, and his health was not at
all robust though he had no infirmity or disease excepting his bad
eyesight. His age was about fifty-five."
"How came he to be a civil-service pensioner at fifty-five?" asked
"Oh, that was through an accident. He had a nasty fall from a horse,
and, being a rather nervous man, the shock was very severe. For some
time after he was a complete wreck. But the failure of his eyesight was
the actual cause of his retirement. It seems that the fall damaged his
eyes in some way; in fact he practically lost the sight of one--the
right--from that moment; and, as that had been his good eye, the
accident left his vision very much impaired. So that he was at first
given sick leave and then allowed to retire on a pension."
Thorndyke noted these particulars and then said:
"Your uncle has been more than once referred to as a man of studious
habits. Does that mean that he pursued any particular branch of
"Yes. He was an enthusiastic Oriental scholar. His official duties had
taken him at one time to Yokohama and Tokio and at another to Bagdad,
and while at those places he gave a good deal of attention to the
languages, literature and arts of the countries. He was also greatly
interested in Babylonian and Assyrian archaeology, and I believe he
assisted for some time in the excavations at Birs Nimroud."
"Indeed!" said Thorndyke. "This is very interesting. I had no idea that
he was a man of such considerable attainments. The facts mentioned by
Mr. Marchmont would hardly have led one to think of him as what he seems
to have been: a scholar of some distinction."
"I don't know that Mr. Marchmont realized the fact himself," said
Stephen; "or that he would have considered it of any moment if he had.
Nor, as far as that goes, do I. But, of course, I have no experience of
"You can never tell beforehand," said Thorndyke, "what facts may turn
out to be of moment, so that it is best to collect all you can get. By
the way, were you aware that your uncle was an opium-smoker?"
"No, I was not. I knew that he had an opium-pipe which he brought with
him when he came home from Japan; but I thought it was only a curio. I
remember him telling me that he once tried a few puffs at an opium-pipe
and found it rather pleasant, though it gave him a headache. But I had
no idea he had contracted the habit; in fact, I may say that I was
utterly astonished when the fact came out at the inquest."
Thorndyke made a note of this answer, too, and said:
"I think that is all I have to ask you about your uncle Jeffrey. And now
as to Mr. John Blackmore. What sort of man is he?"
"I am afraid I can't tell you very much about him. Until I saw him at
the inquest, I had not met him since I was a boy. But he is a very
different kind of man from Uncle Jeffrey; different in appearance and
different in character."
"You would say that the two brothers were physically quite unlike,
"Well," said Stephen, "I don't know that I ought to say that. Perhaps I
am exaggerating the difference. I am thinking of Uncle Jeffrey as he was
when I saw him last and of uncle John as he appeared at the inquest.
They were very different then. Jeffrey was thin, pale, clean shaven,
wore spectacles and walked with a stoop. John is a shade taller, a shade
greyer, has good eyesight, a healthy, florid complexion, a brisk,
upright carriage, is distinctly stout and wears a beard and moustache
which are black and only very slightly streaked with grey. To me they
looked as unlike as two men could, though their features were really of
the same type; indeed, I have heard it said that, as young men, they
were rather alike, and they both resembled their mother. But there is no
doubt as to their difference in character. Jeffrey was quiet, serious
and studious, whereas John rather inclined to what is called a fast
life; he used to frequent race meetings, and, I think, gambled a good
deal at times."
"What is his profession?"
"That would be difficult to tell; he has so many; he is so very
versatile. I believe he began life as an articled pupil in the
laboratory of a large brewery, but he soon left that and went on the
stage. He seems to have remained in 'the profession' for some years,
touring about this country and making occasional visits to America. The
life seemed to suit him and I believe he was decidedly successful as an
actor. But suddenly he left the stage and blossomed out in connection
with a bucket-shop in London."
"And what is he doing now?"
"At the inquest he described himself as a stockbroker, so I presume he
is still connected with the bucket-shop."
Thorndyke rose, and taking down from the reference shelves a list of
members of the Stock Exchange, turned over the leaves.
"Yes," he said, replacing the volume, "he must be an outside broker. His
name is not in the list of members of 'the House.' From what you tell
me, it is easy to understand that there should have been no great
intimacy between the two brothers, without assuming any kind of
ill-feeling. They simply had very little in common. Do you know of
"No. I have never heard of any actual quarrel or disagreement. My
impression that they did not get on very well may have been, I think,
due to the terms of the will, especially the first will. And they
certainly did not seek one another's society."
"That is not very conclusive," said Thorndyke. "As to the will, a
thrifty man is not usually much inclined to bequeath his savings to a
gentleman who may probably employ them in a merry little flutter on the
turf or the Stock Exchange. And then there was yourself; clearly a more
suitable subject for a legacy, as your life is all before you. But this
is mere speculation and the matter is not of much importance, as far as
we can see. And now, tell me what John Blackmore's relations were with
Mrs. Wilson. I gather that she left the bulk of her property to Jeffrey,
her younger brother. Is that so?"
"Yes. She left nothing to John. The fact is that they were hardly on
speaking terms. I believe John had treated her rather badly, or, at any
rate, she thought he had. Mr. Wilson, her late husband, dropped some
money over an investment in connection with the bucket-shop that I spoke
of, and I think she suspected John of having let him in. She may have
been mistaken, but you know what ladies are when they get an idea into
"Did you know your aunt well?"
"No; very slightly. She lived down in Devonshire and saw very little of
any of us. She was a taciturn, strong-minded woman; quite unlike her
brothers. She seems to have resembled her father's family."
"You might give me her full name."
"Julia Elizabeth Wilson. Her husband's name was Edmund Wilson."
"Thank you. There is just one more point. What has happened to your
uncle's chambers in New Inn since his death?"
"They have remained shut up. As all his effects were left to me, I have
taken over the tenancy for the present to avoid having them disturbed. I
thought of keeping them for my own use, but I don't think I could live
in them after what I have seen."
"You have inspected them, then?"
"Yes; I have just looked through them. I went there on the day of the
"Now tell me: as you looked through those rooms, what kind of impression
did they convey to you as to your uncle's habits and mode of life?"
Stephen smiled apologetically. "I am afraid," said he, "that they did
not convey any particular impression in that respect. I looked into the
sitting-room and saw all his old familiar household gods, and then I
went into the bedroom and saw the impression on the bed where his corpse
had lain; and that gave me such a sensation of horror that I came away
"But the appearance of the rooms must have conveyed something to your
mind," Thorndyke urged.
"I am afraid it did not. You see, I have not your analytical eye. But
perhaps you would like to look through them yourself? If you would, pray
do so. They are my chambers now."
"I think I should like to glance round them," Thorndyke replied.
"Very well," said Stephen. "I will give you my card now, and I will look
in at the lodge presently and tell the porter to hand you the key
whenever you like to look over the rooms."
He took a card from his case, and, having written a few lines on it,
handed it to Thorndyke.
"It is very good of you," he said, "to take so much trouble. Like Mr.
Marchmont, I have no expectation of any result from your efforts, but I
am very grateful to you, all the same, for going into the case so
thoroughly. I suppose you don't see any possibility of upsetting that
will--if I may ask the question?"
"At present," replied Thorndyke, "I do not. But until I have carefully
weighed every fact connected with the case--whether it seems to have any
bearing or not--I shall refrain from expressing, or even entertaining,
an opinion either way."
Stephen Blackmore now took his leave; and Thorndyke, having collected
the papers containing his notes, neatly punched a couple of holes in
their margins and inserted them into a small file, which he slipped into
"That," said he, "is the nucleus of the body of data on which our
investigations must be based; and I very much fear that it will not
receive any great additions. What do you think, Jervis?"
"The case looks about as hopeless as a case could look," I replied.
"That is what I think," said he; "and for that reason I am more than
ordinarily keen on making something of it. I have not much more hope
than Marchmont has; but I shall squeeze the case as dry as a bone before
I let go. What are you going to do? I have to attend a meeting of the
board of directors of the Griffin Life Office."
"Shall I walk down with you?"
"It is very good of you to offer, Jervis, but I think I will go alone. I
want to run over these notes and get the facts of the case arranged in
my mind. When I have done that, I shall be ready to pick up new matter.
Knowledge is of no use unless it is actually in your mind, so that it
can be produced at a moment's notice. So you had better get a book and
your pipe and spend a quiet hour by the fire while I assimilate the
miscellaneous mental feast that we have just enjoyed. And you might do a
little rumination yourself."
With this, Thorndyke took his departure; and I, adopting his advice,
drew my chair closer to the fire and filled my pipe. But I did not
discover any inclination to read. The curious history that I had just
heard, and Thorndyke's evident determination to elucidate it further,
disposed me to meditation. Moreover, as his subordinate, it was my
business to occupy myself with his affairs. Wherefore, having stirred
the fire and got my pipe well alight, I abandoned myself to the renewed
consideration of the facts relating to Jeffrey Blackmore's will.
The Cuneiform Inscription
The surprise which Thorndyke's proceedings usually occasioned,
especially to lawyers, was principally due, I think, to my friend's
habit of viewing occurrences from an unusual standpoint. He did not look
at things quite as other men looked at them. He had no prejudices and he
knew no conventions. When other men were cocksure, Thorndyke was
doubtful. When other men despaired, he entertained hopes; and thus it
happened that he would often undertake cases that had been rejected
contemptuously by experienced lawyers, and, what is more, would bring
them to a successful issue.
Thus it had been in the only other case in which I had been personally
associated with him--the so-called "Red Thumb Mark" case. There he was
presented with an apparent impossibility; but he had given it careful
consideration. Then, from the category of the impossible he had brought
it to that of the possible; from the merely possible to the actually
probable; from the probable to the certain; and in the end had won the
Was it conceivable that he could make anything of the present case? He
had not declined it. He had certainly entertained it and was probably
thinking it over at this moment. Yet could anything be more impossible?
Here was the case of a man making his own will, probably writing it out
himself, bringing it voluntarily to a certain place and executing it in
the presence of competent witnesses. There was no suggestion of any
compulsion or even influence or persuasion. The testator was admittedly
sane and responsible; and if the will did not give effect to his
wishes--which, however, could not be proved--that was due to his own
carelessness in drafting the will and not to any unusual circumstances.
And the problem--which Thorndyke seemed to be considering--was how to
set aside that will.
I reviewed the statements that I had heard, but turn them about as I
would, I could get nothing out of them but confirmation of Mr.
Marchmont's estimate of the case. One fact that I had noted with some
curiosity I again considered; that was Thorndyke's evident desire to
inspect Jeffrey Blackmore's chambers. He had, it is true, shown no
eagerness, but I had seen at the time that the questions which he put to
Stephen were put, not with any expectation of eliciting information but
for the purpose of getting an opportunity to look over the rooms
I was still cogitating on the subject when my colleague returned,
followed by the watchful Polton with the tea-tray, and I attacked him
"Well, Thorndyke," I said, "I have been thinking about this Blackmore
case while you have been gadding about."
"And may I take it that the problem is solved?"
"No, I'm hanged if you may. I can make nothing of it."
"Then you are in much the same position as I am."
"But, if you can make nothing of it, why did you undertake it?"
"I only undertook to think about it," said Thorndyke. "I never reject a
case off-hand unless it is obviously fishy. It is surprising how
difficulties, and even impossibilities, dwindle if you look at them
attentively. My experience has taught me that the most unlikely case is,
at least, worth thinking over."
"By the way, why do you want to look over Jeffrey's chambers? What do
you expect to find there?"
"I have no expectations at all. I am simply looking for stray facts."
"And all those questions that you asked Stephen Blackmore; had you
nothing in your mind--no definite purpose?"
"No purpose beyond getting to know as much about the case as I can."
"But," I exclaimed, "do you mean that you are going to examine those
rooms without any definite object at all?"
"I wouldn't say that," replied Thorndyke. "This is a legal case. Let me
put an analogous medical case as being more within your present sphere.
Supposing that a man should consult you, say, about a progressive loss
of weight. He can give no explanation. He has no pain, no discomfort, no
symptoms of any kind; in short, he feels perfectly well in every
respect; but he is losing weight continuously. What would you do?"
"I should overhaul him thoroughly," I answered.
"Why? What would you expect to find?"
"I don't know that I should start by expecting to find anything in
particular. But I should overhaul him organ by organ and function by
function, and if I could find nothing abnormal I should have to give it
"Exactly," said Thorndyke. "And that is just my position and my line of
action. Here is a case which is perfectly regular and straightforward
excepting in one respect. It has a single abnormal feature. And for that
abnormality there is nothing to account.
"Jeffrey Blackmore made a will. It was a well-drawn will and it
apparently gave full effect to his intentions. Then he revoked that will
and made another. No change had occurred in his circumstances or in his
intentions. The provisions of the new will were believed by him to be
identical with those of the old one. The new will differed from the old
one only in having a defect in the drafting from which the first will
was free, and of which he must have been unaware. Now why did he revoke
the first will and replace it with another which he believed to be
identical in its provisions? There is no answer to that question. It is
an abnormal feature in the case. There must be some explanation of that
abnormality and it is my business to discover it. But the facts in my
possession yield no such explanation. Therefore it is my purpose to
search for new facts which may give me a starting-point for an
This exposition of Thorndyke's proposed conduct of the case, reasonable
as it was, did not impress me as very convincing. I found myself coming
back to Marchmont's position, that there was really nothing in dispute.
But other matters claimed our attention at the moment, and it was not
until after dinner that my colleague reverted to the subject.
"How should you like to take a turn round to New Inn this evening?" he
"I should have thought," said I, "that it would be better to go by
daylight. Those old chambers are not usually very well illuminated."
"That is well thought of," said Thorndyke. "We had better take a lamp
with us. Let us go up to the laboratory and get one from Polton."
"There is no need to do that," said I. "The pocket-lamp that you lent me
is in my overcoat pocket. I put it there to return it to you."
"Did you have occasion to use it?" he asked.
"Yes. I paid another visit to the mysterious house and carried out your
plan. I must tell you about it later."
"Do. I shall be keenly interested to hear all about your adventures. Is
there plenty of candle left in the lamp?"
"Oh yes. I only used it for about an hour."
"Then let us be off," said Thorndyke; and we accordingly set forth on
our quest; and, as we went, I reflected once more on the apparent
vagueness of our proceedings. Presently I reopened the subject with
"I can't imagine," said I, "that you have absolutely nothing in view.
That you are going to this place with no defined purpose whatever."
"I did not say exactly that," replied Thorndyke. "I said that I was not
going to look for any particular thing or fact. I am going in the hope
that I may observe something that may start a new train of speculation.
But that is not all. You know that an investigation follows a certain
logical course. It begins with the observation of the conspicuous facts.
We have done that. The facts were supplied by Marchmont. The next stage
is to propose to oneself one or more provisional explanations or
hypotheses. We have done that, too--or, at least I have, and I suppose
"I haven't," said I. "There is Jeffrey's will, but why he should have
made the change I cannot form the foggiest idea. But I should like to
hear your provisional theories on the subject."
"You won't hear them at present. They are mere wild conjectures. But to
resume: what do we do next?"
"Go to New Inn and rake over the deceased gentleman's apartments."
Thorndyke smilingly ignored my answer and continued--
"We examine each explanation in turn and see what follows from it;
whether it agrees with all the facts and leads to the discovery of new
ones, or, on the other hand, disagrees with some facts or leads us to an
absurdity. Let us take a simple example.
"Suppose we find scattered over a field a number of largish masses of
stone, which are entirely different in character from the rocks found in
the neighbourhood. The question arises, how did those stones get into
that field? Three explanations are proposed. One: that they are the
products of former volcanic action; two: that they were brought from a
distance by human agency; three: that they were carried thither from
some distant country by icebergs. Now each of those explanations
involves certain consequences. If the stones are volcanic, then they
were once in a state of fusion. But we find that they are unaltered
limestone and contain fossils. Then they are not volcanic. If they were
borne by icebergs, then they were once part of a glacier and some of
them will probably show the flat surfaces with parallel scratches which
are found on glacier-borne stones. We examine them and find the
characteristic scratched surfaces. Then they have probably been brought
to this place by icebergs. But this does not exclude human agency, for
they might have been brought by men to this place from some other where
the icebergs had deposited them. A further comparison with other facts
would be needed.
"So we proceed in cases like this present one. Of the facts that are
known to us we invent certain explanations. From each of those
explanations we deduce consequences; and if those consequences agree
with new facts, they confirm the explanation, whereas if they disagree
they tend to disprove it. But here we are at our destination."
We turned out of Wych Street into the arched passage leading into New
Inn, and, halting at the half-door of the lodge, perceived a stout,
purple-faced man crouching over the fire, coughing violently. He held up
his hand to intimate that he was fully occupied for the moment, and we
accordingly waited for his paroxysm to subside. At length he turned
towards us, wiping his eyes, and inquired our business.
"Mr. Stephen Blackmore," said Thorndyke, "has given me permission to
look over his chambers. He said that he would mention the matter to
"So he has, sir," said the porter; "but he has just taken the key
himself to go to the chambers. If you walk across the Inn you'll find
him there; it's on the farther side; number thirty-one, second floor."
We made our way across to the house indicated, the ground floor of which
was occupied by a solicitor's offices and was distinguished by a
good-sized brass plate. Although it had now been dark some time there
was no light on the lower stairs, but we encountered on the first-floor
landing a man who had just lit the lamp there. Thorndyke halted to
"Can you tell me who occupies the chambers on the third floor?"
"The third floor has been empty about three months," was the reply.
"We are going up to look at the chambers on the second floor," said
Thorndyke. "Are they pretty quiet?"
"Quiet!" exclaimed the man. "Lord bless you the place is like a cemetery
for the deaf and dumb. There's the solicitors on the ground floor and
the architects on the first floor. They both clear out about six, and
when they're gone the house is as empty as a blown hegg. I don't wonder
poor Mr. Blackmore made away with his-self. Livin' up there all alone,
it must have been like Robinson Crusoe without no man Friday and not
even a blooming goat to talk to. Quiet! It's quiet enough, if that's
what you want. Wouldn't be no good to me."
With a contemptuous shake of the head, he turned and retired down the
next flight, and, as the echoes of his footsteps died away we resumed
"So it would appear," Thorndyke commented, "that when Jeffrey Blackmore
came home that last evening, the house was empty."
Arrived on the second-floor landing, we were confronted by a
solid-looking door on the lintel of which the deceased man's name was
painted in white lettering which still looked new and fresh. Thorndyke
knocked at the door, which was at once opened by Stephen Blackmore.
"I haven't wasted any time before taking advantage of your permission,
you see," my colleague said as we entered.
"No, indeed," said Stephen; "you are very prompt. I have been rather
wondering what kind of information you expect to gather from an
inspection of these rooms."
Thorndyke smiled genially, amused, no doubt, by the similarity of
Stephen's remarks to those of mine which he had so recently criticized.
"A man of science, Mr. Blackmore," he said, "expects nothing. He
collects facts and keeps an open mind. As to me, I am a mere legal
Autolycus, a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles of evidence. When I have
accumulated a few facts, I arrange them, compare them and think about
them. Sometimes the comparison yields new matter and sometimes it
doesn't; but in any case, believe me, it is a capital error to decide
beforehand what data are to be sought for."
"Yes, I suppose that is so," said Stephen; "though, to me, it almost
looks as if Mr. Marchmont was right; that there is nothing to
"You should have thought of that before you consulted me," laughed
Thorndyke. "As it is, I am engaged to look into the case and I shall do
so; and, as I have said, I shall keep an open mind until I have all the
facts in my possession."
He glanced round the sitting-room, which we had now entered, and
"These are fine, dignified old rooms. It seems a sin to have covered up
all this oak panelling and that carved cornice and mantel with paint.
Think what it must have been like when the beautiful figured wood was
"It would be very dark," Stephen observed.
"Yes," Thorndyke agreed, "and I suppose we care more for light and less
for beauty than our ancestors did. But now, tell me; looking round these
rooms, do they convey to you a similar impression to that which the old
rooms did? Have they the same general character?"
"Not quite, I think. Of course the rooms in Jermyn Street were in a
different kind of house, but beyond that, I seem to feel a certain
difference; which is rather odd, seeing that the furniture is the same.
But the old rooms were more cosy, more homelike. I find something rather
bare and cheerless, I was almost going to say squalid, in the look of
"That is rather what I should have expected," said Thorndyke. "The opium
habit alters a man's character profoundly; and, somehow, apart from the
mere furnishing, a room reflects in some subtle way, but very
distinctly, the personality of its occupant, especially when that
occupant lives a solitary life. Do you see any evidences of the
activities that used to occupy your uncle?"
"Not very much," replied Stephen. "But the place may not be quite as he
left it. I found one or two of his books on the table and put them back
in the shelves, but I found no manuscript or notes such as he used to
make. I noticed, too, that his ink-slab which he used to keep so
scrupulously clean is covered with dry smears and that the stick of ink
is all cracked at the end, as if he had not used it for months. It seems
to point to a great change in his habits."
"What used he to do with Chinese ink?" Thorndyke asked.
"He corresponded with some of his native friends in Japan, and he used
to write in the Japanese character even if they understood English. That
was what he chiefly used the Chinese ink for. But he also used to copy
the inscriptions from these things." Here Stephen lifted from the
mantelpiece what looked like a fossil Bath bun, but was actually a clay
tablet covered with minute indented writing.
"Your uncle could read the cuneiform character, then?"
"Yes; he was something of an expert. These tablets are, I believe,
leases and other legal documents from Eridu and other Babylonian cities.
He used to copy the inscriptions in the cuneiform writing and then
translate them into English. But I mustn't stay here any longer as I
have an engagement for this evening. I just dropped in to get these two
volumes--Thornton's History of Babylonia, which he once advised me to
read. Shall I give you the key? You'd better have it and leave it with
the porter as you go out."
He shook hands with us and we walked out with him to the landing and
stood watching him as he ran down the stairs. Glancing at Thorndyke by
the light of the gas lamp on the landing, I thought I detected in his
impassive face that almost imperceptible change of expression to which I
have already alluded as indicating pleasure or satisfaction.
"You are looking quite pleased with yourself," I remarked.
"I am not displeased," he replied calmly. "Autolycus has picked up a few
crumbs; very small ones, but still crumbs. No doubt his learned junior
has picked up a few likewise?"
I shook my head--and inwardly suspected it of being rather a thick head.
"I did not perceive anything in the least degree significant in what
Stephen was telling you," said I. "It was all very interesting, but it
did not seem to have any bearing on his uncle's will."
"I was not referring only to what Stephen has told us, although that
was, as you say, very interesting. While he was talking I was looking
about the room, and I have seen a very strange thing. Let me show it to
He linked his arm in mine and, walking me back into the room, halted
opposite the fire-place.
"There," said he, "look at that. It is a most remarkable object."
[Illustration: THE INVERTED INSCRIPTION.]
I followed the direction of his gaze and saw an oblong frame enclosing a
large photograph of an inscription in the weird and cabalistic
arrow-head character. I looked at it in silence for some seconds and
then, somewhat disappointed, remarked:
"I don't see anything very remarkable in it, under the circumstances. In
any ordinary room it would be, I admit; but Stephen has just told us
that his uncle was something of an expert in cuneiform writing."
"Exactly," said Thorndyke. "That is my point. That is what makes it so
"I don't follow you at all," said I. "That a man should hang upon his
wall an inscription that is legible to him does not seem to me at all
out of the way. It would be much more singular if he should hang up an
inscription that he could not read."
"No doubt," replied Thorndyke. "But you will agree with me that it would
be still more singular if a man should hang upon his wall an inscription
that he could read--and hang it upside down."
I stared at Thorndyke in amazement.
"Do you mean to tell me," I exclaimed, "that that photograph is really
"I do indeed," he replied.
"But how do you know? Have we here yet another Oriental scholar?"
Thorndyke chuckled. "Some fool," he replied, "has said that 'a little
knowledge is a dangerous thing.' Compared with much knowledge, it may
be; but it is a vast deal better than no knowledge. Here is a case in
point. I have read with very keen interest the wonderful history of the
decipherment of the cuneiform writing, and I happen to recollect one or
two of the main facts that seemed to me to be worth remembering. This
particular inscription is in the Persian cuneiform, a much more simple
and open form of the script than the Babylonian or Assyrian; in fact, I
suspect that this is the famous inscription from the gateway at
Persepolis--the first to be deciphered; which would account for its
presence here in a frame. Now this script consists, as you see, of two
kinds of characters; the small, solid, acutely pointed characters which
are known as wedges, and the larger, more obtuse characters, somewhat
like our government broad arrows, and called arrow-heads. The names are
rather unfortunate, as both forms are wedge-like and both resemble
arrow-heads. The script reads from left to right, like our own writing,
and unlike that of the Semitic peoples and the primitive Greeks; and the
rule for the placing of the characters is that all the 'wedges' point to
the right or downwards and the arrow-head forms are open towards the
right. But if you look at this photograph you will see that all the
wedges point upwards to the left and that the arrow-head characters are
open towards the left. Obviously the photograph is upside down."
"But," I exclaimed, "this is really most mysterious. What do you suppose
can be the explanation?"
"I think," replied Thorndyke, "that we may perhaps get a suggestion from
the back of the frame. Let us see."
He disengaged the frame from the two nails on which it hung, and,
turning it round, glanced at the back; which he then presented for my
inspection. A label on the backing paper bore the words, "J. Budge,
Frame-maker and Gilder, 16, Gt. Anne Street, W.C."
"Well?" I said, when I had read the label without gathering from it
"The label, you observe, is the right way up as it hangs on the wall."
"So it is," I rejoined hastily, a little annoyed that I had not been
quicker to observe so obvious a fact. "I see your point. You mean that
the frame-maker hung the thing upside down and Jeffrey never noticed the
"That is a perfectly sound explanation," said Thorndyke. "But I think
there is something more. You will notice that the label is an old one;
it must have been on some years, to judge by its dingy appearance,
whereas the two mirror-plates look to me comparatively new. But we can
soon put that matter to the test, for the label was evidently stuck on
when the frame was new, and if the plates were screwed on at the same
time, the wood that they cover will be clean and new-looking."
He drew from his pocket a "combination" knife containing, among other
implements, a screw-driver, with which he carefully extracted the screws
from one of the little brass plates by which the frame had been
suspended from the nails.
"You see," he said, when he had removed the plate and carried the
photograph over to the gasjet, "the wood covered by the plate is as
dirty and time-stained as the rest of the frame. The plates have been
put on recently."
"And what are we to infer from that?"
"Well, since there are no other marks of plates or rings upon the
frame, we may safely infer that the photograph was never hung up until
it came to these rooms."
"Yes, I suppose we may. But what then? What inference does that lead
Thorndyke reflected for a few moments and I continued:
"It is evident that this photograph suggests more to you than it does to
me. I should like to hear your exposition of its bearing on the case, if
it has any."
"Whether or no it has any real bearing on the case," Thorndyke answered,
"it is impossible for me to say at this stage. I told you that I had
proposed to myself one or two hypotheses to account for and explain
Jeffrey Blackmore's will, and I may say that the curious misplacement of
this photograph fits more than one of them. I won't say more than that,
because I think it would be profitable to you to work at this case
independently. You have all the facts that I have and you shall have a
copy of my notes of Marchmont's statement of the case. With this
material you ought to be able to reach some conclusion. Of course
neither of us may be able to make anything of the case--it doesn't look
very hopeful at present--but whatever happens, we can compare notes
after the event and you will be the richer by so much experience of
actual investigation. But I will start you off with one hint, which is
this: that neither you nor Marchmont seem to appreciate in the least the
very extraordinary nature of the facts that he communicated to us."
"I thought Marchmont seemed pretty much alive to the fact that it was a
very queer will."
"So he did," agreed Thorndyke. "But that is not quite what I mean. The
whole set of circumstances, taken together and in relation to one
another, impressed me as most remarkable; and that is why I am giving so
much attention to what looks at first sight like such a very unpromising
case. Copy out my notes, Jervis, and examine the facts critically. I
think you will see what I mean. And now let us proceed."
He replaced the brass plate and having reinserted the screws, hung up
the frame, and proceeded to browse slowly round the room, stopping now
and again to inspect the Japanese colour-prints and framed photographs
of buildings and other objects of archaeological interest that formed
the only attempts at wall-decoration. To one of the former he drew my
"These things are of some value," he remarked. "Here is one by
Utamaro--that little circle with the mark over it is his signature--and
you notice that the paper is becoming spotted in places with mildew. The
fact is worth noting in more than one connection."
I accordingly made a mental note and the perambulation continued.
"You observe that Jeffrey used a gas-stove, instead of a coal fire, no
doubt to economize work, but perhaps for other reasons. Presumably he
cooked by gas, too; let us see."
We wandered into the little cupboard-like kitchen and glanced round. A
ring-burner on a shelf, a kettle, a frying-pan and a few pieces of
crockery were its sole appointments. Apparently the porter was correct
in his statement as to Jeffrey's habits.
Returning to the sitting-room, Thorndyke resumed his inspection, pulling
out the table drawers, peering inquisitively into cupboards and
bestowing a passing glance on each of the comparatively few objects that
the comfortless room contained.
"I have never seen a more characterless apartment," was his final
comment. "There is nothing that seems to suggest any kind of habitual
activity on the part of the occupant. Let us look at the bedroom."
We passed through into the chamber of tragic memories, and, when
Thorndyke had lit the gas, we stood awhile looking about us in silence.
It was a bare, comfortless room, dirty, neglected and squalid. The bed
appeared not to have been remade since the catastrophe, for an
indentation still marked the place where the corpse had lain, and even a
slight powdering of ash could still be seen on the shabby counterpane.
It looked to me a typical opium-smoker's bedroom.
"Well," Thorndyke remarked at length, "there is character enough
here--of a kind. Jeffrey Blackmore would seem to have been a man of few
needs. One could hardly imagine a bedroom in which less attention seemed
to have been given to the comfort of the occupant."
He looked about him keenly and continued: "The syringe and the rest of
the lethal appliances and material have been taken away, I see.
Probably the analyst did not return them. But there are the opium-pipe
and the jar and the ash-bowl, and I presume those are the clothes that
the undertakers removed from the body. Shall we look them over?"
He took up the clothes which lay, roughly folded, on a chair and held
them up, garment by garment.
"These are evidently the trousers," he remarked, spreading them out on
the bed. "Here is a little white spot on the middle of the thigh which
looks like a patch of small crystals from a drop of the solution. Just
light the lamp, Jervis, and let us examine it with a lens."
I lit the lamp, and when we had examined the spot minutely and
identified it as a mass of minute crystals, Thorndyke asked:
"What do you make of those creases? You see there is one on each leg."
"It looks as if the trousers had been turned up. But if they have been
they must have been turned up about seven inches. Poor Jeffrey couldn't
have had much regard for appearances, for they would have been right
above his socks. But perhaps the creases were made in undressing the
"That is possible," said Thorndyke: "though I don't quite see how it
would have happened. I notice that his pockets seem to have been
emptied--no, wait; here is something in the waistcoat pocket."
He drew out a shabby, pigskin card-case and a stump of lead pencil, at
which latter he looked with what seemed to me much more interest than
was deserved by so commonplace an object.
"The cards, you observe," said he, "are printed from type, not from a
plate. I would note that fact. And tell me what you make of that."
He handed me the pencil, which I examined with concentrated attention,
helping myself even with the lamp and my pocket lens. But even with
these aids I failed to discover anything unusual in its appearance.
Thorndyke watched me with a mischievous smile, and, when I had finished,
"Well; what is it?"
"Confound you!" I exclaimed. "It's a pencil. Any fool can see that, and
this particular fool can't see any more. It's a wretched stump of a
pencil, villainously cut to an abominably bad point. It is coloured dark
red on the outside and was stamped with some name that began with
C--O--Co-operative Stores, perhaps."
"Now, my dear Jervis," Thorndyke protested, "don't begin by confusing
speculation with fact. The letters which remain are C--O. Note that fact
and find out what pencils there are which have inscriptions beginning
with those letters. I am not going to help you, because you can easily
do this for yourself. And it will be good discipline even if the fact
turns out to mean nothing."
At this moment he stepped back suddenly, and, looking down at the floor,
"Give me the lamp, Jervis, I've trodden on something that felt like
I brought the lamp to the place where he had been standing, close by
the bed, and we both knelt on the floor, throwing the light of the lamp
on the bare and dusty boards. Under the bed, just within reach of the
foot of a person standing close by, was a little patch of fragments of
glass. Thorndyke produced a piece of paper from his pocket and
delicately swept the little fragments on to it, remarking:
"By the look of things, I am not the first person who has trodden on
that object, whatever it is. Do you mind holding the lamp while I
inspect the remains?"
I took the lamp and held it over the paper while he examined the little
heap of glass through his lens.
"Well," I asked. "What have you found?"
"That is what I am asking myself," he replied. "As far as I can judge by
the appearance of these fragments, they appear to be portions of a small
watch-glass. I wish there were some larger pieces."
"Perhaps there are," said I. "Let us look about the floor under the
We resumed our groping about the dirty floor, throwing the light of the
lamp on one spot after another. Presently, as we moved the lamp about,
its light fell on a small glass bead, which I instantly picked up and
exhibited to Thorndyke.
"Is this of any interest to you?" I asked.
Thorndyke took the bead and examined it curiously.
"It is certainly," he said, "a very odd thing to find in the bedroom of
an old bachelor like Jeffrey, especially as we know that he employed no
woman to look after his rooms. Of course, it may be a relic of the last
tenant. Let us see if there are any more."
We renewed our search, crawling under the bed and throwing the light of
the lamp in all directions over the floor. The result was the discovery
of three more beads, one entire bugle and the crushed remains of
another, which had apparently been trodden on. All of these, including
the fragments of the bugle that had been crushed, Thorndyke placed
carefully on the paper, which he laid on the dressing-table the more
conveniently to examine our find.
"I am sorry," said he, "that there are no more fragments of the
watch-glass, or whatever it was. The broken pieces were evidently picked
up, with the exception of the one that I trod on, which was an isolated
fragment that had been overlooked. As to the beads, judging by their
number and the position in which we found some of them--that crushed
bugle, for instance--they must have been dropped during Jeffrey's
tenancy and probably quite recently."
"What sort of garment do you suppose they came from?" I asked.
"They may have been part of a beaded veil or the trimming of a dress,
but the grouping rather suggests to me a tag of bead fringe. The colour
is rather unusual."
"I thought they looked like black beads."