Part 3 out of 5
"So they do by this light, but I think that by daylight we shall find
them to be a dark, reddish-brown. You can see the colour now if you look
at the smaller fragments of the one that is crushed."
He handed me his lens, and, when I had verified his statement, he
produced from his pocket a small tin box with a closely-fitting lid in
which he deposited the paper, having first folded it up into a small
"We will put the pencil in too," said he; and, as he returned the box to
his pocket he added: "you had better get one of these little boxes from
Polton. If is often useful to have a safe receptacle for small and
He folded up and replaced the dead man's clothes as we had found them.
Then, observing a pair of shoes standing by the wall, he picked them up
and looked them over thoughtfully, paying special attention to the backs
of the soles and the fronts of the heels.
"I suppose we may take it," said he, "that these are the shoes that poor
Jeffrey wore on the night of his death. At any rate there seem to be no
others. He seems to have been a fairly clean walker. The streets were
shockingly dirty that day, as I remember most distinctly. Do you see any
slippers? I haven't noticed any."
He opened and peeped into a cupboard in which an overcoat surmounted by
a felt hat hung from a peg like an attenuated suicide; he looked in all
the corners and into the sitting-room, but no slippers were to be seen.
"Our friend seems to have had surprisingly little regard for comfort,"
Thorndyke remarked. "Think of spending the winter evenings in damp boots
by a gas fire!"
"Perhaps the opium-pipe compensated," said I; "or he may have gone to
"But he did not. The night porter used to see the light in his rooms at
one o'clock in the morning. In the sitting-room, too, you remember. But
he seems to have been in the habit of reading in bed--or perhaps
smoking--for here is a candlestick with the remains of a whole dynasty
of candles in it. As there is gas in the room, he couldn't have wanted
the candle to undress by. He used stearine candles, too; not the common
paraffin variety. I wonder why he went to that expense."
"Perhaps the smell of the paraffin candle spoiled the aroma of the
opium," I suggested; to which Thorndyke made no reply but continued his
inspection of the room, pulling out the drawer of the washstand--which
contained a single, worn-out nail-brush--and even picking up and
examining the dry and cracked cake of soap in the dish.
"He seems to have had a fair amount of clothing," said Thorndyke, who
was now going through the chest of drawers, "though, by the look of it,
he didn't change very often, and the shirts have a rather yellow and
faded appearance. I wonder how he managed about his washing. Why, here
are a couple of pairs of boots in the drawer with his clothes! And here
is his stock of candles. Quite a large box--though nearly empty now--of
stearine candles, six to the pound."
He closed the drawer and cast another inquiring look round the room.
"I think we have seen all now, Jervis," he said, "unless there is
anything more that you would like to look into?"
"No," I replied. "I have seen all that I wanted to see and more than I
am able to attach any meaning to. So we may as well go."
I blew out the lamp and put it in my overcoat pocket, and, when we had
turned out the gas in both rooms, we took our departure.
As we approached the lodge, we found our stout friend in the act of
retiring in favour of the night porter. Thorndyke handed him the key of
the chambers, and, after a few sympathetic inquiries, about his
health--which was obviously very indifferent--said:
"Let me see; you were one of the witnesses to Mr. Blackmore's will, I
"I was, sir," replied the porter.
"And I believe you read the document through before you witnessed the
"I did, sir."
"Did you read it aloud?"
"Aloud, sir! Lor' bless you, no, sir! Why should I? The other witness
read it, and, of course, Mr. Blackmore knew what was in it, seeing that
it was in his own handwriting. What should I want to read it aloud for?"
"No, of course you wouldn't want to. By the way, I have been wondering
how Mr. Blackmore managed about his washing."
The porter evidently regarded this question with some disfavour, for he
replied only with an interrogative grunt. It was, in fact, rather an odd
"Did you get it done for him," Thorndyke pursued.
"No, certainly not, sir. He got it done for himself. The laundry people
used to deliver the basket here at the lodge, and Mr. Blackmore used to
take it in with him when he happened to be passing."
"It was not delivered at his chambers, then?"
"No, sir. Mr. Blackmore was a very studious gentleman and he didn't like
to be disturbed. A studious gentleman would naturally not like to be
Thorndyke cordially agreed with these very proper sentiments and finally
wished the porter "good night." We passed out through the gateway into
Wych Street, and, turning our faces eastward towards the Temple, set
forth in silence, each thinking his own thoughts. What Thorndyke's were
I cannot tell, though I have no doubt that he was busily engaged in
piecing together all that he had seen and heard and considering its
possible application to the case in hand.
As to me, my mind was in a whirl of confusion. All this searching and
examining seemed to be the mere flogging of a dead horse. The will was
obviously a perfectly valid and regular will and there was an end of the
matter. At least, so it seemed to me. But clearly that was not
Thorndyke's view. His investigations were certainly not purposeless;
and, as I walked by his side trying to conceive some purpose in his
actions, I only became more and more mystified as I recalled them one
by one, and perhaps most of all by the cryptic questions that I had just
heard him address to the equally mystified porter.
The Track Chart
As Thorndyke and I arrived at the main gateway of the Temple and he
swung round into the narrow lane, it was suddenly borne in on me that I
had made no arrangements for the night. Events had followed one another
so continuously and each had been so engrossing that I had lost sight of
what I may call my domestic affairs.
"We seem to be heading for your chambers, Thorndyke," I ventured to
remark. "It is a little late to think of it, but I have not yet settled
where I am to put up to-night."
"My dear fellow," he replied, "you are going to put up in your own
bedroom which has been waiting in readiness for you ever since you left
it. Polton went up and inspected it as soon as you arrived. I take it
that you will consider my chambers yours until such time as you may join
the benedictine majority and set up a home for yourself."
"That is very handsome of you," said I. "You didn't mention that the
billet you offered was a resident appointment."
"Rooms and commons included," said Thorndyke; and when I protested that
I should at least contribute to the costs of living he impatiently
waved the suggestion away. We were still arguing the question when we
reached our chambers--as I will now call them--and a diversion was
occasioned by my taking the lamp from my pocket and placing it on the
"Ah," my colleague remarked, "that is a little reminder. We will put it
on the mantelpiece for Polton to collect and you shall give me a full
account of your further adventures in the wilds of Kennington. That was
a very odd affair. I have often wondered how it ended."
He drew our two arm-chairs up to the fire, put on some more coal, placed
the tobacco jar on the table exactly equidistant from the two chairs,
and settled himself with the air of a man who is anticipating an
I filled my pipe, and, taking up the thread of the story where I had
broken off on the last occasion, began to outline my later experiences.
But he brought me up short.
"Don't be sketchy, Jervis. To be sketchy is to be vague. Detail, my
child, detail is the soul of induction. Let us have all the facts. We
can sort them out afterwards."
I began afresh in a vein of the extremest circumstantiality. With
deliberate malice I loaded a prolix narrative with every triviality that
a fairly retentive memory could rake out of the half-forgotten past. I
cudgelled my brains for irrelevant incidents. I described with the
minutest accuracy things that had not the faintest significance. I drew
a vivid picture of the carriage inside and out; I painted a lifelike
portrait of the horse, even going into particulars of the harness--which
I was surprised to find that I had noticed. I described the furniture of
the dining-room and the cobwebs that had hung from the ceiling; the
auction-ticket on the chest of drawers, the rickety table and the
melancholy chairs. I gave the number per minute of the patient's
respirations and the exact quantity of coffee consumed on each occasion,
with an exhaustive description of the cup from which it was taken; and I
left no personal details unconsidered, from the patient's finger-nails
to the roseate pimples on Mr. Weiss's nose.
But my tactics of studied prolixity were a complete failure. The attempt
to fatigue Thorndyke's brain with superabundant detail was like trying
to surfeit a pelican with whitebait. He consumed it all with calm
enjoyment and asked for more; and when, at last, I did really begin to
think that I had bored him a little, he staggered me by reading over his
notes and starting a brisk cross-examination to elicit fresh facts! And
the most surprising thing of all was that when I had finished I seemed
to know a great deal more about the case than I had ever known before.
"It was a very remarkable affair," he observed, when the
cross-examination was over--leaving me somewhat in the condition of a
cider-apple that has just been removed from a hydraulic press--"a very
suspicious affair with a highly unsatisfactory end. I am not sure that I
entirely agree with your police officer. Nor do I fancy that some of my
acquaintances at Scotland Yard would have agreed with him."
"Do you think I ought to have taken any further measures?" I asked
"No; I don't see how you could. You did all that was possible under the
circumstances. You gave information, which is all that a private
individual can do, especially if he is an overworked general
practitioner. But still, an actual crime is the affair of every good
citizen. I think we ought to take some action."
"You think there really was a crime, then?"
"What else can one think? What do you think about it yourself?"
"I don't like to think about it at all. The recollection of that
corpse-like figure in that gloomy bedroom has haunted me ever since I
left the house. What do you suppose has happened?"
Thorndyke did not answer for a few seconds. At length he said gravely:
"I am afraid, Jervis, that the answer to that question can be given in
"Murder?" I asked with a slight shudder.
He nodded, and we were both silent for a while.
"The probability," he resumed after a pause, "that Mr. Graves is alive
at this moment seems to me infinitesimal. There was evidently a
conspiracy to murder him, and the deliberate, persistent manner in which
that object was being pursued points to a very strong and definite
motive. Then the tactics adopted point to considerable forethought and
judgment. They are not the tactics of a fool or an ignoramus. We may
criticize the closed carriage as a tactical mistake, calculated to
arouse suspicion, but we have to weigh it against its alternative."
"What is that?"
"Well, consider the circumstances. Suppose Weiss had called you in in
the ordinary way. You would still have detected the use of poison. But
now you could have located your man and made inquiries about him in the
neighbourhood. You would probably have given the police a hint and they
would almost certainly have taken action, as they would have had the
means of identifying the parties. The result would have been fatal to
Weiss. The closed carriage invited suspicion, but it was a great
safeguard. Weiss's method's were not so unsound after all. He is a
cautious man, but cunning and very persistent. And he could be bold on
occasion. The use of the blinded carriage was a decidedly audacious
proceeding. I should put him down as a gambler of a very discreet,
courageous and resourceful type."
"Which all leads to the probability that he has pursued his scheme and
brought it to a successful issue."
"I am afraid it does. But--have you got your notes of the
"The book is in my overcoat pocket with the board. I will fetch them."
I went into the office, where our coats hung, and brought back the
notebook with the little board to which it was still attached by the
rubber band. Thorndyke took them from me, and, opening the book, ran
his eye quickly down one page after another. Suddenly he glanced at the
"It is a little late to begin," said he, "but these notes look rather
alluring. I am inclined to plot them out at once. I fancy, from their
appearance, that they will enable us to locate the house without much
difficulty. But don't let me keep you up if you are tired. I can work
them out by myself."
"You won't do anything of the kind," I exclaimed. "I am as keen on
plotting them as you are, and, besides, I want to see how it is done. It
seems to be a rather useful accomplishment."
"It is," said Thorndyke. "In our work, the ability to make a rough but
reliable sketch survey is often of great value. Have you ever looked
over these notes?"
"No. I put the book away when I came in and have never looked at it
"It is a quaint document. You seem to be rich in railway bridges in
those parts, and the route was certainly none of the most direct, as you
noticed at the time. However, we will plot it out and then we shall see
exactly what it looks like and whither it leads us."
He retired to the laboratory and presently returned with a T-square, a
military protractor, a pair of dividers and a large drawing-board on
which was pinned a sheet of cartridge paper.
"Now," said he, seating himself at the table with the board before him,
"as to the method. You started from a known position and you arrived at
a place the position of which is at present unknown. We shall fix the
position of that spot by applying two factors, the distance that you
travelled and the direction in which you were moving. The direction is
given by the compass; and, as the horse seems to have kept up a
remarkably even pace, we can take time as representing distance. You
seem to have been travelling at about eight miles an hour, that is,
roughly, a seventh of a mile in one minute. So if, on our chart, we take
one inch as representing one minute, we shall be working with a scale of
about seven inches to the mile."
"That doesn't sound very exact as to distance," I objected.
"It isn't. But that doesn't matter much. We have certain landmarks, such
as these railway arches that you have noted, by which the actual
distance can be settled after the route is plotted. You had better read
out the entries, and, opposite each, write a number for reference, so
that we need not confuse the chart by writing details on it. I shall
start near the middle of the board, as neither you nor I seem to have
the slightest notion what your general direction was."
I laid the open notebook before me and read out the first entry:
"'Eight fifty-eight. West by South. Start from home. Horse thirteen
"You turned round at once, I understand," said Thorndyke, "so we draw no
line in that direction. The next is--?"
"'Eight fifty-eight minutes, thirty seconds, East by North'; and the
next is 'Eight fifty-nine, North-east.'"
"Then you travelled east by north about a fifteenth of a mile and we
shall put down half an inch on the chart. Then you turned north-east.
How long did you go on?"
"Exactly a minute. The next entry is 'Nine. West north-west.'"
"Then you travelled about the seventh of a mile in a north-easterly
direction and we draw a line an inch long at an angle of forty-five
degrees to the right of the north and south line. From the end of that
we carry a line at an angle of fifty-six and a quarter degrees to the
left of the north and south line, and so on. The method is perfectly
simple, you see."
"Perfectly; I quite understand it now."
I went back to my chair and continued to read out the entries from the
notebook while Thorndyke laid off the lines of direction with the
protractor, taking out the distances with the dividers from a scale of
equal parts on the back of the instrument. As the work proceeded, I
noticed, from time to time, a smile of quiet amusement spread over my
colleague's keen, attentive face, and at each new reference to a railway
bridge he chuckled softly.
"What, again!" he laughed, as I recorded the passage of the fifth or
sixth bridge. "It's like a game of croquet. Go on. What is the next?"
I went on reading out the notes until I came to the final one:
"'Nine twenty-four. South-east. In covered way. Stop. Wooden gates
Thorndyke ruled off the last line, remarking: "Then your covered way is
on the south side of a street which bears north-east. So we complete our
chart. Just look at your route, Jervis."
He held up the board with a quizzical smile and I stared in astonishment
at the chart. The single line, which represented the route of the
carriage, zigzagged in the most amazing manner, turning, re-turning and
crossing itself repeatedly, evidently passing more than once down the
same thoroughfares and terminating at a comparatively short distance
from its commencement.
"Why!" I exclaimed, the "rascal must have lived quite near to
Thorndyke measured with the dividers the distance between the starting
and arriving points of the route and took it off from the scale.
"Five-eighths of a mile, roughly," he said. "You could have walked it in
less than ten minutes. And now let us get out the ordnance map and see
if we can give to each of those marvellously erratic lines 'a local
habitation and a name.'"
He spread the map out on the table and placed our chart by its side.
"I think," said he, "you started from Lower Kennington Lane?"
"Yes, from this point," I replied, indicating the spot with a pencil.
"Then," said Thorndyke, "if we swing the chart round twenty degrees to
correct the deviation of the compass, we can compare it with the
He set off with the protractor an angle of twenty degrees from the
north and south line and turned the chart round to that extent. After
closely scrutinizing the map and the chart and comparing the one with
the other, he said:
"By mere inspection it seems fairly easy to identify the thoroughfares
that correspond to the lines of the chart. Take the part that is near
your destination. At nine twenty-one you passed under a bridge, going
westward. That would seem to be Glasshouse Street. Then you turned
south, apparently along the Albert Embankment, where you heard the tug's
whistle. Then you heard a passenger train start on your left; that would
be Vauxhall Station. Next you turned round due east and passed under a
large railway bridge, which suggests the bridge that carries the Station
over Upper Kennington Lane. If that is so, your house should be on the
south side of Upper Kennington Lane, some three hundred yards from the
bridge. But we may as well test our inferences by one or two
"How can you do that if you don't know the exact scale of the chart?"
"I will show you," said Thorndyke. "We shall establish the true scale
and that will form part of the proof."
He rapidly constructed on the upper blank part of the paper, a
proportional diagram consisting of two intersecting lines with a single
"This long line," he explained, "is the distance from Stillbury's house
to the Vauxhall railway bridge as it appears on the chart; the shorter
cross-line is the same distance taken from the ordnance map. If our
inference is correct and the chart is reasonably accurate, all the other
distances will show a similar proportion. Let us try some of them. Take
the distance from Vauxhall bridge to the Glasshouse Street bridge."
[Illustration: The Track Chart, showing the route followed by Weiss's
A.--Starting-point in Lower Kennington Lane.
B.--Position of Mr. Weiss's house. The dotted lines connecting the
bridges indicate probable railway lines.]
He made the two measurements carefully, and, as the point of the
dividers came down almost precisely in the correct place on the diagram,
he looked up at me.
"Considering the roughness of the method by which the chart was made, I
think that is pretty conclusive, though, if you look at the various
arches that you passed under and see how nearly they appear to follow
the position of the South-Western Railway line, you hardly need further
proof. But I will take a few more proportional measurements for the
satisfaction of proving the case by scientific methods before we proceed
to verify our conclusions by a visit to the spot."
He took off one or two more distances, and on comparing them with the
proportional distances on the ordnance map, found them in every case as
nearly correct as could be expected.
"Yes," said Thorndyke, laying down the dividers, "I think we have
narrowed down the locality of Mr. Weiss's house to a few yards in a
known street. We shall get further help from your note of nine
twenty-three thirty, when records a patch of newly laid macadam
extending up to the house."
"That new macadam will be pretty well smoothed down by now," I objected.
"Not so very completely," answered Thorndyke. "It is only a little over
a month ago, and there has been very little wet weather since. It may be
smooth, but it will be easily distinguishable from the old."
"And do I understand that you propose to go and explore the
"Undoubtedly I do. That is to say, I intend to convert the locality of
this house into a definite address; which, I think, will now be
perfectly easy, unless we should have the bad luck to find more than one
covered way. Even then, the difficulty would be trifling."
"And when you have ascertained where Mr. Weiss lives? What then?"
"That will depend on circumstances. I think we shall probably call at
Scotland Yard and have a little talk with our friend Mr. Superintendent
Miller; unless, for any reason, it seems better to look into the case
"When is this voyage of exploration to take place?"
Thorndyke considered this question, and, taking out his pocket-book,
glanced through his engagements.
"It seems to me," he said, "that to-morrow is a fairly free day. We
could take the morning without neglecting other business. I suggest that
we start immediately after breakfast. How will that suit my learned
"My time is yours," I replied; "and if you choose to waste it on matters
that don't concern you, that's your affair."
"Then we will consider the arrangement to stand for to-morrow morning,
or rather, for this morning, as I see that it is past twelve."
With this Thorndyke gathered up the chart and instruments and we
separated for the night.
The House of Mystery
Half-past nine on the following morning found us spinning along the
Albert Embankment in a hansom to the pleasant tinkle of the horse's
bell. Thorndyke appeared to be in high spirits, though the full
enjoyment of the matutinal pipe precluded fluent conversation. As a
precaution, he had put my notebook in his pocket before starting, and
once or twice he took it out and looked over its pages; but he made no
reference to the object of our quest, and the few remarks that he
uttered would have indicated that his thoughts were occupied with other
Arrived at Vauxhall Station, we alighted and forthwith made our way to
the bridge that spans Upper Kennington Lane near its junction with
"Here is our starting point," said Thorndyke. "From this place to the
house is about three hundred yards--say four hundred and twenty
paces--and at about two hundred paces we ought to reach our patch of new
road-metal. Now, are you ready? If we keep step we shall average our
We started together at a good pace, stepping out with military
regularity and counting aloud as we went. As we told out the hundred and
ninety-fourth pace I observed Thorndyke nod towards the roadway a little
ahead, and, looking at it attentively as we approached, it was easy to
see by the regularity of surface and lighter colour, that it had
recently been re-metalled.
Having counted out the four hundred and twenty paces, we halted, and
Thorndyke turned to me with a smile of triumph.
"Not a bad estimate, Jervis," said he. "That will be your house if I am
not much mistaken. There is no other mews or private roadway in sight."
He pointed to a narrow turning some dozen yards ahead, apparently the
entrance to a mews or yard and closed by a pair of massive wooden gates.
"Yes," I answered, "there can be no doubt that this is the place; but,
by Jove!" I added, as we drew nearer, "the nest is empty! Do you see?"
I pointed to a bill that was stuck on the gate, bearing, as I could see
at this distance, the inscription "To Let."
"Here is a new and startling, if not altogether unexpected,
development," said Thorndyke, as we stood gazing at the bill; which set
forth that "these premises, including stabling and workshops," were "to
be let on lease or otherwise," and referred inquiries to Messrs. Ryebody
Brothers, house-agents and valuers, Upper Kennington Lane. "The question
is, should we make a few inquiries of the agent, or should we get the
keys and have a look at the inside of the house? I am inclined to do
both, and the latter first, if Messrs. Ryebody Brothers will trust us
with the keys."
We proceeded up the lane to the address given, and, entering the
office, Thorndyke made his request--somewhat to the surprise of the
clerk; for Thorndyke was not quite the kind of person whom one naturally
associates with stabling and workshops. However, there was no
difficulty, but as the clerk sorted out the keys from a bunch hanging
from a hook, he remarked:
"I expect you will find the place in a rather dirty and neglected
condition. The house has not been cleaned yet; it is just as it was left
when the brokers took away the furniture."
"Was the last tenant sold up, then?" Thorndyke asked.
"Oh, no. He had to leave rather unexpectedly to take up some business in
"I hope he paid his rent," said Thorndyke.
"Oh, yes. Trust us for that. But I should say that Mr. Weiss--that was
his name--was a man of some means. He seemed to have plenty of money,
though he always paid in notes. I don't fancy he had a banking account
in this country. He hadn't been here more than about six or seven months
and I imagine he didn't know many people in England, as he paid us a
cash deposit in lieu of references when he first came."
"I think you said his name was Weiss. It wouldn't be H. Weiss by any
"I believe it was. But I can soon tell you." He opened a drawer and
consulted what looked like a book of receipt forms. "Yes; H Weiss. Do
you know him, sir?"
"I knew a Mr. H. Weiss some years ago. He came from Bremen, I
"This Mr. Weiss has gone back to Hamburg," the clerk observed.
"Ah," said Thorndyke, "then it would seem not to be the same. My
acquaintance was a fair man with a beard and a decidedly red nose and he
"That's the man. You've described him exactly," said the clerk, who was
apparently rather easily satisfied in the matter of description.
"Dear me," said Thorndyke; "what a small world it is. Do you happen to
have a note of his address in Hamburg?"
"I haven't," the clerk replied. "You see we've done with him, having got
the rent, though the house is not actually surrendered yet. Mr Weiss's
housekeeper still has the front-door key. She doesn't start for Hamburg
for a week or so, and meanwhile she keeps the key so that she can call
every day and see if there are any letters."
"Indeed," said Thorndyke. "I wonder if he still has the same
"This lady is a German," replied the clerk, "with a regular jaw-twisting
name. Sounded like Shallybang."
"Schallibaum. That is the lady. A fair woman with hardly any eyebrows
and a pronounced cast in the left eye."
"Now that's very curious, sir," said the clerk. "It's the same name, and
this is a fair woman with remarkably thin eyebrows, I remember, now that
you mention it But it can't be the same person. I have only seen her a
few times and then only just for a minute or so; but I'm quite certain
she had no cast in her eye. So, you see, sir, she can't be the same
person. You can dye your hair or you can wear a wig or you can paint
your face; but a squint is a squint. There's no faking a swivel eye."
Thorndyke laughed softly. "I suppose not; unless, perhaps, some one
might invent an adjustable glass eye. Are these the keys?"
"Yes, sir. The large one belongs to the wicket in the front gate. The
other is the latch-key belonging to the side door. Mrs. Shallybang has
the key of the front door."
"Thank you," said Thorndyke. He took the keys, to which a wooden label
was attached, and we made our way back towards the house of mystery,
discussing the clerk's statements as we went.
"A very communicable young gentleman, that," Thorndyke remarked. "He
seemed quite pleased to relieve the monotony of office work with a
little conversation. And I am sure I was very delighted to indulge him."
"He hadn't much to tell, all the same," said I.
Thorndyke looked at me in surprise. "I don't know what you would have,
Jervis, unless you expect casual strangers to present you with a
ready-made body of evidence, fully classified, with all the inferences
and implications stated. It seemed to me that he was a highly
instructive young man."
"What did you learn from him?" I asked.
"Oh, come, Jervis," he protested; "is that a fair question, under our
present arrangement? However, I will mention a few points. We learn that
about six or seven months ago, Mr. H. Weiss dropped from the clouds into
Kennington Lane and that he has now ascended from Kennington Lane into
the clouds. That is a useful piece of information. Then we learn that
Mrs. Schallibaum has remained in England; which might be of little
importance if it were not for a very interesting corollary that it
"What is that?"
"I must leave you to consider the facts at your leisure; but you will
have noticed the ostensible reason for her remaining behind. She is
engaged in puttying up the one gaping joint in their armour. One of them
has been indiscreet enough to give this address to some
correspondent--probably a foreign correspondent. Now, as they obviously
wish to leave no tracks, they cannot give their new address to the Post
Office to have their letters forwarded, and, on the other hand, a letter
left in the box might establish such a connection as would enable them
to be traced. Moreover, the letter might be of a kind that they would
not wish to fall into the wrong hands. They would not have given this
address excepting under some peculiar circumstances."
"No, I should think not, if they took this house for the express purpose
of committing a crime in it."
"Exactly. And then there is one other fact that you may have gathered
from our young friend's remarks."
"What is that?"
"That a controllable squint is a very valuable asset to a person who
wishes to avoid identification."
"Yes, I did note that. The fellow seemed to think that it was absolutely
"And so would most people; especially in the case of a squint of that
kind. We can all squint towards our noses, but no normal person can turn
his eyes away from one another. My impression is that the presence or
absence, as the case might be, of a divergent squint would be accepted
as absolute disproof of identity. But here we are."
He inserted the key into the wicket of the large gate, and, when we had
stepped through into the covered way, he locked it from the inside.
"Why have you locked us in?" I asked, seeing that the wicket had a
"Because," he replied, "if we now hear any one on the premises we shall
know who it is. Only one person besides ourselves has a key."
His reply startled me somewhat. I stopped and looked at him.
"That is a quaint situation, Thorndyke. I hadn't thought of it. Why she
may actually come to the house while we are here; in fact, she may be in
the house at this moment."
"I hope not," said he. "We don't particularly want Mr. Weiss to be put
on his guard, for I take it, he is a pretty wide-awake gentleman under
any circumstances. If she does come, we had better keep out of sight. I
think we will look over the house first. That is of the most interest to
us. If the lady does happen to come while we are here, she may stay to
show us over the place and keep an eye on us. So we will leave the
stables to the last."
We walked down the entry to the side door at which I had been admitted
by Mrs. Schallibaum on the occasion of my previous visits. Thorndyke
inserted the latch-key, and, as soon as we were inside, shut the door
and walked quickly through into the hall, whither I followed him. He
made straight for the front door, where, having slipped up the catch of
the lock, he began very attentively to examine the letter-box. It was a
somewhat massive wooden box, fitted with a lock of good quality and
furnished with a wire grille through which one could inspect the
"We are in luck, Jervis," Thorndyke remarked. "Our visit has been most
happily timed. There is a letter in the box."
"Well," I said, "we can't get it out; and if we could, it would be
"I don't know," he replied, "that I am prepared to assent off-hand to
either of those propositions; but I would rather not tamper with another
person's letter, even if that person should happen to be a murderer.
Perhaps we can get the information we want from the outside of the
He produced from his pocket a little electric lamp fitted with a
bull's-eye, and, pressing the button, threw a beam of light in through
the grille. The letter was lying on the bottom of the box face upwards,
so that the address could easily be read.
"Herrn Dr. H. Weiss," Thorndyke read aloud. "German stamp, postmark
apparently Darmstadt. You notice that the 'Herrn Dr.' is printed and the
rest written. What do you make of that?"
"I don't quite know. Do you think he is really a medical man?"
"Perhaps we had better finish our investigation, in case we are
disturbed, and discuss the bearings of the facts afterwards. The name of
the sender may be on the flap of the envelope. If it is not, I shall
pick the lock and take out the letter. Have you got a probe about you?"
"Yes; by force of habit I am still carrying my pocket case."
I took the little case from my pocket and extracting from it a jointed
probe of thickish silver wire, screwed the two halves together and
handed the completed instrument to Thorndyke; who passed the slender rod
through the grille and adroitly turned the letter over.
"Ha!" he exclaimed with deep satisfaction, as the light fell on the
reverse of the envelope, "we are saved from the necessity of theft--or
rather, unauthorized borrowing--'Johann Schnitzler, Darmstadt.' That is
all that we actually want. The German police can do the rest if
He handed me back my probe, pocketed his lamp, released the catch of the
lock on the door, and turned away along the dark, musty-smelling hall.
"Do you happen to know the name of Johann Schnitzler?" he asked.
I replied that I had no recollection of ever having heard the name
"Neither have I," said he; "but I think we may form a pretty shrewd
guess as to his avocation. As you saw, the words 'Herrn Dr.' were
printed on the envelope, leaving the rest of the address to be written
by hand. The plain inference is that he is a person who habitually
addresses letters to medical men, and as the style of the envelope and
the lettering--which is printed, not embossed--is commercial, we may
assume that he is engaged in some sort of trade. Now, what is a likely
"He might be an instrument maker or a drug manufacturer; more probably
the latter, as there is an extensive drug and chemical industry in
Germany, and as Mr. Weiss seemed to have more use for drugs than
"Yes, I think you are right; but we will look him up when we get home.
And now we had better take a glance at the bedroom; that is, if you can
remember which room it was."
"It was on the first floor," said I, "and the door by which I entered
was just at the head of the stairs."
We ascended the two flights, and, as we reached the landing, I halted.
"This was the door," I said, and was about to turn the handle when
Thorndyke caught me by the arm.
"One moment, Jervis," said he. "What do you make of this?"
He pointed to a spot near the bottom of the door where, on close
inspection, four good-sized screw-holes were distinguishable. They had
been neatly stopped with putty and covered with knotting, and were so
nearly the colour of the grained and varnished woodwork as to be hardly
"Evidently," I answered, "there has been a bolt there, though it seems a
queer place to fix one."
"Not at all," replied Thorndyke. "If you look up you will see that there
was another at the top of the door, and, as the lock is in the middle,
they must have been highly effective. But there are one or two other
points that strike one. First, you will notice that the bolts have been
fixed on quite recently, for the paint that they covered is of the same
grimy tint as that on the rest of the door. Next, they have been taken
off, which, seeing that they could hardly have been worth the trouble of
removal, seems to suggest that the person who fixed them considered that
their presence might appear remarkable, while the screw-holes, which
have been so skilfully and carefully stopped, would be less conspicuous.
"Then, they are on the outside of the door--an unusual situation for
bedroom bolts--and were of considerable size. They were long and thick."
"I can see, by the position of the screw-holes, that they were long; but
how do you arrive at their thickness?"
"By the size of the counter-holes in the jamb of the door. These holes
have been very carefully filled with wooden plugs covered with knotting;
but you can make out their diameter, which is that of the bolts, and
which is decidedly out of proportion for an ordinary bedroom door. Let
me show you a light."
He flashed his lamp into the dark corner, and I was able to see
distinctly the portentously large holes into which the bolts had fitted,
and also to note the remarkable neatness with which they had been
"There was a second door, I remember," said I. "Let us see if that was
guarded in a similar manner."
We strode through the empty room, awakening dismal echoes as we trod the
bare boards, and flung open the other door. At top and bottom, similar
groups of screw-holes showed that this also had been made secure, and
that these bolts had been of the same very substantial character as the
Thorndyke turned away from the door with a slight frown.
"If we had any doubts," said he, "as to what has been going on in this
house, these traces of massive fastenings would be almost enough to
"They might have been there before Weiss came," I suggested. "He only
came about seven months ago and there is no date on the screw-holes."
"That is quite true. But when, with their recent fixture, you couple the
facts that they have been removed, that very careful measures have been
taken to obliterate the traces of their presence, and that they would
have been indispensable for the commission of the crime that we are
almost certain was being committed here, it looks like an excess of
caution to seek other explanations."
"But," I objected, "if the man, Graves, was really imprisoned, could not
he have smashed the window and called for help?"
"The window looks out on the yard, as you see; but I expect it was
He drew the massive, old-fashioned shutters out of their recess and
"Yes, here we are." He pointed to four groups of screw-holes at the
corners of the shutters, and, once more producing his lamp, narrowly
examined the insides of the recesses into which the shutters folded.
"The nature of the fastening is quite evident," said he. "An iron bar
passed right across at the top and bottom and was secured by a staple
and padlock. You can see the mark the bar made in the recess when the
shutters were folded. When these bars were fixed and padlocked and the
bolts were shot, this room was as secure, for a prisoner unprovided with
tools, as a cell in Newgate."
We looked at one another for awhile without speaking; and I fancy that
if Mr. H. Weiss could have seen our faces he might have thought it
desirable to seek some retreat even more remote than Hamburg.
"It was a diabolical affair, Jervis," Thorndyke said at length, in an
ominously quiet and even gentle tone. "A sordid, callous, cold-blooded
crime of a type that is to me utterly unforgivable and incapable of
extenuation. Of course, it may have failed. Mr. Graves may even now be
alive. I shall make it my very especial business to ascertain whether he
is or not. And if he is not, I shall take it to myself as a sacred duty
to lay my hand on the man who has compassed his death."
I looked at Thorndyke with something akin to awe. In the quiet
unemotional tone of his voice, in his unruffled manner and the stony
calm of his face, there was something much more impressive, more
fateful, than there could have been in the fiercest threats or the most
passionate denunciations. I felt that in those softly spoken words he
had pronounced the doom of the fugitive villain.
He turned away from the window and glanced round the empty room. It
seemed that our discovery of the fastenings had exhausted the
information that it had to offer.
"It is a thousand pities," I remarked, "that we were unable to look
round before they moved out the furniture. We might have found some clue
to the scoundrel's identity."
"Yes," replied Thorndyke; "there isn't much information to be gathered
here, I am afraid. I see they have swept up the small litter from the
floor and poked it under the grate. We will turn that over, as there
seems to be nothing else, and then look at the other rooms."
He raked out the little heap of rubbish with his stick and spread it out
on the hearth. It certainly looked unpromising enough, being just such a
rubbish heap as may be swept up in any untidy room during a move. But
Thorndyke went through it systematically, examining each item
attentively, even to the local tradesmen's bills and empty paper bags,
before laying them aside. Another rake of his stick scattered the bulky
masses of crumpled paper and brought into view an object which he picked
up with some eagerness. It was a portion of a pair of spectacles, which
had apparently been trodden on, for the side-bar was twisted and bent
and the glass was shattered into fragments.
"This ought to give us a hint," said he. "It will probably have belonged
either to Weiss or Graves, as Mrs. Schallibaum apparently did not wear
glasses. Let us see if we can find the remainder."
We both groped carefully with our sticks amongst the rubbish, spreading
it out on the hearth and removing the numerous pieces of crumpled paper.
Our search was rewarded by the discovery of the second eye-picce of the
spectacles, of which the glass was badly cracked but less shattered than
the other. I also picked up two tiny sticks at which Thorndyke looked
with deep interest before laying them on the mantelshelf.
"We will consider them presently," said he. "Let us finish with the
spectacles first. You see that the left eye-glass is a concave
cylindrical lens of some sort. We can make out that much from the
fragments that remain, and we can measure the curvature when we get them
home, although that will be easier if we can collect some more fragments
and stick them together. The right eye is plain glass; that is quite
evident. Then these will have belonged to your patient, Jervis. You said
that the tremulous iris was in the right eye, I think?"
"Yes," I replied. "These will be his spectacles, without doubt."
"They are peculiar frames," he continued. "If they were made in this
country, we might be able to discover the maker. But we must collect as
many fragments of glass as we can."
Once more we searched amongst the rubbish and succeeded, eventually, in
recovering some seven or eight small fragments of the broken
spectacle-glasses, which Thorndyke laid on the mantelshelf beside the
"By the way, Thorndyke," I said, taking up the latter to examine them
afresh, "what are these things? Can you make anything of them?"
He looked at them thoughtfully for a few moments and then replied:
"I don't think I will tell you what they are. You should find that out
for yourself, and it will be well worth your while to do so. They are
rather suggestive objects under the circumstances. But notice their
peculiarities carefully. Both are portions of some smooth, stout reed.
There is a long, thin stick--about six inches long--and a thicker piece
only three inches in length. The longer piece has a little scrap of red
paper stuck on at the end; apparently a portion of a label of some kind
with an ornamental border. The other end of the stick has been broken
off. The shorter, stouter stick has had its central cavity artificially
enlarged so that it fits over the other to form a cap or sheath. Make a
careful note of those facts and try to think what they probably mean;
what would be the most likely use for an object of this kind. When you
have ascertained that, you will have learned something new about this
case. And now, to resume our investigations. Here is a very suggestive
thing." He picked up a small, wide-mouthed bottle and, holding it up for
my inspection, continued: "Observe the fly sticking to the inside, and
the name on the label, 'Fox, Russell Street, Covent Garden.'"
"I don't know Mr. Fox."
"Then I will inform you that he is a dealer in the materials for
'make-up,' theatrical or otherwise, and will leave you to consider the
bearing of this bottle on our present investigation. There doesn't seem
to be anything else of interest in this El Dorado excepting that screw,
which you notice is about the size of those with which the bolts were
fastened on the doors. I don't think it is worth while to unstop any of
the holes to try it; we should learn nothing fresh."
He rose, and, having kicked the discarded rubbish back under the grate,
gathered up his gleanings from the mantelpiece, carefully bestowing the
spectacles and the fragments of glass in the tin box that he appeared
always to carry in his pocket, and wrapping the larger objects in his
"A poor collection," was his comment, as he returned the box and
handkerchief to his pocket, "and yet not so poor as I had feared.
Perhaps, if we question them closely enough, these unconsidered trifles
may be made to tell us something worth learning after all. Shall we go
into the other room?"
We passed out on to the landing and into the front room, where, guided
by experience, we made straight for the fire-place. But the little heap
of rubbish there contained nothing that even Thorndyke's inquisitive eye
could view with interest. We wandered disconsolately round the room,
peering into the empty cupboards and scanning the floor and the corners
by the skirting, without discovering a single object or relic of the
late occupants. In the course of my perambulations I halted by the
window and was looking down into the street when Thorndyke called to me
"Come away from the window, Jervis! Have you forgotten that Mrs.
Schallibaum may be in the neighbourhood at this moment?"
As a matter of fact I had entirely forgotten the matter, nor did it now
strike me as anything but the remotest of possibilities. I replied to
"I don't agree with you," Thorndyke rejoined. "We have heard that she
comes here to look for letters. Probably she comes every day, or even
oftener. There is a good deal at stake, remember, and they cannot feel
quite as secure as they would wish. Weiss must have seen what view you
took of the case and must have had some uneasy moments thinking of what
you might do. In fact, we may take it that the fear of you drove them
out of the neighbourhood, and that they are mighty anxious to get that
letter and cut the last link that binds them to this house."
"I suppose that is so," I agreed; "and if the lady should happen to pass
this way and should see me at the window and recognize me, she would
certainly smell a rat."
"A rat!" exclaimed Thorndyke. "She would smell a whole pack of foxes,
and Mr. H. Weiss would be more on his guard than ever. Let us have a
look at the other rooms; there is nothing here."
We went up to the next floor and found traces of recent occupation in
one room only. The garrets had evidently been unused, and the kitchen
and ground-floor rooms offered nothing that appeared to Thorndyke worth
noting. Then we went out by the side door and down the covered way into
the yard at the back. The workshops were fastened with rusty padlocks
that looked as if they had not been disturbed for months. The stables
were empty and had been tentatively cleaned out, the coach-house was
vacant, and presented no traces of recent use excepting a half-bald
spoke-brush. We returned up the covered way and I was about to close the
side door, which Thorndyke had left ajar, when he stopped me.
"We'll have another look at the hall before we go," said he; and,
walking softly before me, he made his way to the front door, where,
producing his lamp, he threw a beam of light into the letter-box.
"Any more letters?" I asked.
"Any more!" he repeated. "Look for yourself."
I stooped and peered through the grille into the lighted interior; and
then I uttered an exclamation.
The box was empty.
Thorndyke regarded me with a grim smile. "We have been caught on the
hop, Jervis, I suspect," said he.
"It is queer," I replied. "I didn't hear any sound of the opening or
closing of the door; did you?"
"No; I didn't hear any sound; which makes me suspect that she did. She
would have heard our voices and she is probably keeping a sharp look-out
at this very moment. I wonder if she saw you at the window. But whether
she did or not, we must go very warily. Neither of us must return to the
Temple direct, and we had better separate when we have returned the keys
and I will watch you out of sight and see if anyone is following you.
What are you going to do?"
"If you don't want me, I shall run over to Kensington and drop in to
lunch at the Hornbys'. I said I would call as soon as I had an hour or
"Very well. Do so; and keep a look-out in case you are followed. I have
to go down to Guildford this afternoon. Under the circumstances, I shall
not go back home, but send Polton a telegram and take a train at
Vauxhall and change at some small station where I can watch the
platform. Be as careful as you can. Remember that what you have to
avoid is being followed to any place where you are known, and, above
all, revealing your connection with number Five A, King's Bench Walk."
Having thus considered our immediate movements, we emerged together from
the wicket, and locking it behind us, walked quickly to the
house-agents', where an opportune office-boy received the keys without
remark. As we came out of the office, I halted irresolutely and we both
looked up and down the lane.
"There is no suspicious looking person in sight at present," Thorndyke
said, and then asked: "Which way do you think of going?"
"It seems to me," I replied, "that my best plan would be to take a cab
or an omnibus so as to get out of the neighbourhood as quickly as
possible. If I go through Ravensden Street into Kennington Park Road, I
can pick up an omnibus that will take me to the Mansion House, where I
can change for Kensington. I shall go on the top so that I can keep a
look-out for any other omnibus or cab that may be following."
"Yes," said Thorndyke, "that seems a good plan. I will walk with you and
see that you get a fair start."
We walked briskly along the lane and through Ravensden Street to the
Kennington Park Road. An omnibus was approaching from the south at a
steady jog-trot and we halted at the corner to wait for it. Several
people passed us in different directions, but none seemed to take any
particular notice of us, though we observed them rather narrowly,
especially the women. Then the omnibus crawled up. I sprang on the
foot-board and ascended to the roof, where I seated myself and surveyed
the prospect to the rear. No one else got on the omnibus--which had not
stopped--and no cab or other passenger vehicle was in sight. I continued
to watch Thorndyke as he stood sentinel at the corner, and noted that no
one appeared to be making any effort to overtake the omnibus. Presently
my colleague waved his hand to me and turned back towards Vauxhall, and
I, having satisfied myself once more that no pursuing cab or hurrying
foot-passenger was in sight, decided that our precautions had been
unnecessary and settled myself in a rather more comfortable position.
The Hunter Hunted
The omnibus of those days was a leisurely vehicle. Its ordinary pace was
a rather sluggish trot, and in a thickly populated thoroughfare its
speed was further reduced by frequent stoppages. Bearing these facts in
mind, I gave an occasional backward glance as we jogged northward,
though my attention soon began to wander from the rather remote
possibility of pursuit to the incidents of our late exploration.
It had not been difficult to see that Thorndyke was very well pleased
with the results of our search, but excepting the letter--which
undoubtedly opened up a channel for further inquiry and possible
identification--I could not perceive that any of the traces that we had
found justified his satisfaction. There were the spectacles, for
instance. They were almost certainly the pair worn by Mr. Graves. But
what then? It was exceedingly improbable that we should be able to
discover the maker of them, and if we were, it was still more improbable
that he would be able to give us any information that would help us.
Spectacle-makers are not usually on confidential terms with their
As to the other objects, I could make nothing of them. The little sticks
of reed evidently had some use that was known to Thorndyke and
furnished, by inference, some kind of information about Weiss, Graves,
or Mrs. Schallibaum. But I had never seen anything like them before and
they conveyed nothing whatever to me. Then the bottle that had seemed so
significant to Thorndyke was to me quite uninforming. It did, indeed,
suggest that some member of the household might be connected with the
stage, but it gave no hint as to which one. Certainly that person was
not Mr. Weiss, whose appearance was as remote from that of an actor as
could well be imagined. At any rate, the bottle and its label gave me no
more useful hint than it might be worth while to call on Mr. Fox and
make inquiries; and something told me very emphatically that this was
not what it had conveyed to Thorndyke.
These reflections occupied me until the omnibus, having rumbled over
London Bridge and up King William Street, joined the converging streams
of traffic at the Mansion House. Here I got down and changed to an
omnibus bound for Kensington; on which I travelled westward pleasantly
enough, looking down into the teeming streets and whiling away the time
by meditating upon the very agreeable afternoon that I promised myself,
and considering how far my new arrangement with Thorndyke would justify
me in entering into certain domestic engagements of a highly interesting
What might have happened under other circumstances it is impossible to
tell and useless to speculate; the fact is that my journey ended in a
disappointment. I arrived, all agog, at the familiar house in Endsley
Gardens only to be told by a sympathetic housemaid that the family was
out; that Mrs. Hornby had gone into the country and would not be home
until night, and--which mattered a good deal more to me--that her niece,
Miss Juliet Gibson, had accompanied her.
Now a man who drops into lunch without announcing his intention or
previously ascertaining those of his friends has no right to quarrel
with fate if he finds an empty house. Thus philosophically I reflected
as I turned away from the house in profound discontent, demanding of the
universe in general why Mrs. Hornby need have perversely chosen my first
free day to go gadding into the country, and above all, why she must
needs spirit away the fair Juliet. This was the crowning misfortune (for
I could have endured the absence of the elder lady with commendable
fortitude), and since I could not immediately return to the Temple it
left me a mere waif and stray for the time being.
Instinct--of the kind that manifests itself especially about one
o'clock in the afternoon--impelled me in the direction of Brompton Road,
and finally landed me at a table in a large restaurant apparently
adjusted to the needs of ladies who had come from a distance to engage
in the feminine sport of shopping. Here, while waiting for my lunch, I
sat idly scanning the morning paper and wondering what I should do with
the rest of the day; and presently it chanced that my eye caught the
announcement of a matinee at the theatre in Sloane Square. It was quite
a long time since I had been at a theatre, and, as the play--light
comedy--seemed likely to satisfy my not very critical taste, I decided
to devote the afternoon to reviving my acquaintance with the drama.
Accordingly as soon as my lunch was finished, I walked down the Brompton
Road, stepped on to an omnibus, and was duly deposited at the door of
the theatre. A couple of minutes later I found myself occupying an
excellent seat in the second row of the pit, oblivious alike of my
recent disappointment and of Thorndyke's words of warning.
I am not an enthusiastic play-goer. To dramatic performances I am
disposed to assign nothing further than the modest function of
furnishing entertainment. I do not go to a theatre to be instructed or
to have my moral outlook elevated. But, by way of compensation, I am not
difficult to please. To a simple play, adjusted to my primitive taste, I
can bring a certain bucolic appreciation that enables me to extract from
the performance the maximum of enjoyment; and when, on this occasion,
the final curtain fell and the audience rose, I rescued my hat from its
insecure resting-place and turned to go with the feeling that I had
spent a highly agreeable afternoon.
Emerging from the theatre, borne on the outgoing stream, I presently
found myself opposite the door of a tea-shop. Instinct--the five o'clock
instinct this time--guided me in; for we are creatures of habit,
especially of the tea habit. The unoccupied table to which I drifted was
in a shady corner not very far from the pay-desk; and here I had been
seated less than a minute when a lady passed me on her way to the
farther table. The glimpse that I caught of her as she approached--it
was but a glimpse, since she passed behind me--showed that she was
dressed in black, that she wore a beaded veil and hat, and in addition
to the glass of milk and the bun that she carried, she was encumbered by
an umbrella and a small basket, apparently containing some kind of
needlework. I must confess that I gave her very little attention at the
time, being occupied in anxious speculation as to how long it would be
before the fact of my presence would impinge on the consciousness of the
The exact time by the clock on the wall was three minutes and a quarter,
at the expiration of which an anaemic young woman sauntered up to the
table and bestowed on me a glance of sullen interrogation, as if mutely
demanding what the devil I wanted. I humbly requested that I might be
provided with a pot of tea; whereupon she turned on her heel (which was
a good deal worn down on the offside) and reported my conduct to a lady
behind a marble-topped counter.
It seemed that the counter lady took a lenient view of the case, for in
less than four minutes the waitress returned and gloomily deposited on
the table before me a tea-pot, a milk-jug, a cup and saucer, a jug of
hot water, and a small pool of milk. Then she once more departed in
I had just given the tea in the pot a preliminary stir and was about to
pour out the first cup when I felt some one bump lightly against my
chair and heard something rattle on the floor. I turned quickly and
perceived the lady, whom I had seen enter, stooping just behind my
chair. It seemed that having finished her frugal meal she was on her way
out when she had dropped the little basket that I had noticed hanging
from her wrist; which basket had promptly disgorged its entire contents
on the floor.
Now every one must have noticed the demon of agility that seems to enter
into an inanimate object when it is dropped, and the apparently
intelligent malice with which it discovers, and rolls into, the most
inaccessible places. Here was a case in point. This particular basket
had contained materials for Oriental bead-work; and no sooner had it
reached the floor than each item of its contents appeared to become
possessed of a separate and particular devil impelling it to travel at
headlong speed to some remote and unapproachable corner as distant as
possible from its fellows.
As the only man--and almost the only person--near, the duty of
salvage-agent manifestly devolved upon me; and down I went, accordingly,
on my hands and knees, regardless of a nearly new pair of trousers, to
grope under tables, chairs and settles in reach of the scattered
treasure. A ball of the thick thread or twine I recovered from a dark
and dirty corner after a brief interview with the sharp corner of a
settle, and a multitude of the large beads with which this infernal
industry is carried on I gathered from all parts of the compass, coming
forth at length (quadrupedally) with a double handful of the
treasure-trove and a very lively appreciation of the resistant qualities
of a cast-iron table-stand when applied to the human cranium.
The owner of the lost and found property was greatly distressed by the
accident and the trouble it had caused me; in fact she was quite
needlessly agitated about it. The hand which held the basket into which
I poured the rescued trash trembled visibly, and the brief glance that I
bestowed on her as she murmured her thanks and apologies--with a very
slight foreign accent--showed me that she was excessively pale. That
much I could see plainly in spite of the rather dim light in this part
of the shop and the beaded veil that covered her face; and I could also
see that she was a rather remarkable looking woman, with a great mass of
harsh, black hair and very broad black eyebrows that nearly met above
her nose and contrasted strikingly with the dead white of her skin. But,
of course, I did not look at her intently. Having returned her property
and received her acknowledgments, I resumed my seat and left her to go
on her way.
I had once more grasped the handle of the tea-pot when I made a rather
curious discovery. At the bottom of the tea-cup lay a single lump of
sugar. To the majority of persons it would have meant nothing. They
would have assumed that they had dropped it in and forgotten it and
would have proceeded to pour out the tea. But it happened that, at this
time, I did not take sugar in my tea; whence it followed that the lump
had not been put in by me. Assuming, therefore, that it had been
carelessly dropped in by the waitress, I turned it out on the table,
filled the cup, added the milk, and took a tentative draught to test the
The cup was yet at my lips when I chanced to look into the mirror that
faced my table. Of course it reflected the part of the shop that was
behind me, including the cashier's desk; at which the owner of the
basket now stood paying for her refreshment. Between her and me was a
gas chandelier which cast its light on my back but full on her face; and
her veil notwithstanding, I could see that she was looking at me
steadily; was, in fact, watching me intently and with a very curious
expression--an expression of expectancy mingled with alarm. But this was
not all. As I returned her intent look--which I could do unobserved,
since my face, reflected in the mirror, was in deep shadow--I suddenly
perceived that that steady gaze engaged her right eye only; the other
eye was looking sharply towards her left shoulder. In short, she had a
divergent squint of the left eye.
I put down my cup with a thrill of amazement and a sudden surging up of
suspicion and alarm. An instant's reflection reminded me that when she
had spoken to me a few moments before, both her eyes had looked into
mine without the slightest trace of a squint. My thoughts flew back to
the lump of sugar, to the unguarded milk-jug and the draught of tea that
I had already swallowed; and, hardly knowing what I intended, I started
to my feet and turned to confront her. But as I rose, she snatched up
her change and darted from the shop. Through the glass door, I saw her
spring on to the foot-board of a passing hansom and give the driver some
direction. I saw the man whip up his horse, and, by the time I reached
the door, the cab was moving off swiftly towards Sloane Street.
I stood irresolute. I had not paid and could not run out of the shop
without making a fuss, and my hat and stick were still on the rail
opposite my seat. The woman ought to be followed, but I had no fancy for
the task. If the tea that I had swallowed was innocuous, no harm was
done and I was rid of my pursuer. So far as I was concerned, the
incident was closed. I went back to my seat, and picking up the lump of
sugar which still lay on the table where I had dropped it, put it
carefully in my pocket. But my appetite for tea was satisfied for the
present. Moreover it was hardly advisable to stay in the shop lest some
fresh spy should come to see how I fared. Accordingly I obtained my
check, handed it in at the cashier's desk and took my departure.
All this time, it will be observed, I had been taking it for granted
that the lady in black had followed me from Kensington to this shop;
that, in fact, she was none other than Mrs. Schallibaum. And, indeed,
the circumstances had rendered the conclusion inevitable. In the very
instant when I had perceived the displacement of the left eye, complete
recognition had come upon me. When I had stood facing the woman, the
brief glance at her face had conveyed to me something dimly reminiscent
of which I had been but half conscious and had instantly forgotten. But
the sight of that characteristic squint had at once revived and
explained it. That the woman was Mrs. Schallibaum I now felt no doubt
Nevertheless, the whole affair was profoundly mysterious. As to the
change in the woman's appearance, there was little in that. The coarse,
black hair might be her own, dyed, or it might be a wig. The eyebrows
were made-up; it was a simple enough proceeding and made still more
simple by the beaded veil. But how did she come to be there at all? How
did she happen to be made-up in this fashion at this particular time?
And, above all, how came she to be provided with a lump of what I had
little doubt was poisoned sugar?
I turned over the events of the day, and the more I considered them the
less comprehensible they appeared. No one had followed the omnibus
either on foot or in a vehicle, as far as I could see; and I had kept a
careful look-out, not only at starting but for some considerable time
after. Yet, all the time, Mrs. Schallibaum must have been following.
But how? If she had known that I was intending to travel by the omnibus
she might have gone to meet it and entered before I did. But she could
not have known: and moreover she did not meet the omnibus, for we
watched its approach from some considerable distance. I considered
whether she might not have been concealed in the house and overheard me
mention my destination to Thorndyke. But this failed to explain the
mystery, since I had mentioned no address beyond "Kensington." I had,
indeed, mentioned the name of Mrs. Hornby, but the supposition that my
friends might be known by name to Mrs. Schallibaum, or even that she
might have looked the name up in the directory, presented a probability
too remote to be worth entertaining.
But, if I reached no satisfactory conclusion, my cogitations had one
useful effect; they occupied my mind to the exclusion of that
unfortunate draught of tea. Not that I had been seriously uneasy after
the first shock. The quantity that I had swallowed was not large--the
tea being hotter than I cared for--and I remembered that, when I had
thrown out the lump of sugar, I had turned the cup upside down on the
table; so there could have been nothing solid left in it. And the lump
of sugar was in itself reassuring, for it certainly would not have been
used in conjunction with any less conspicuous but more incriminating
form of poison. That lump of sugar was now in my pocket, reserved for
careful examination at my leisure; and I reflected with a faint grin
that it would be a little disconcerting if it should turn out to
contain nothing but sugar after all.
On leaving the tea-shop, I walked up Sloane Street with the intention of
doing what I ought to have done earlier in the day. I was going to make
perfectly sure that no spy was dogging my footsteps. But for my
ridiculous confidence I could have done so quite easily before going to
Endsley Gardens; and now, made wiser by a startling experience, I
proceeded with systematic care. It was still broad daylight--for the
lamps in the tea-shop had been rendered necessary only by the faulty
construction of the premises and the dullness of the afternoon--and in
an open space I could see far enough for complete safety. Arriving at
the top of Sloane Street, I crossed Knightsbridge, and, entering Hyde
Park, struck out towards the Serpentine. Passing along the eastern
shore, I entered one of the long paths that lead towards the Marble Arch
and strode along it at such a pace as would make it necessary for any
pursuer to hurry in order to keep me in sight. Half-way across the great
stretch of turf, I halted for a few moments and noted the few people who
were coming in my direction. Then I turned sharply to the left and
headed straight for the Victoria Gate, but again, half-way, I turned off
among a clump of trees, and, standing behind the trunk of one of them,
took a fresh survey of the people who were moving along the paths. All
were at a considerable distance and none appeared to be coming my way.
I now moved cautiously from one tree to another and passed through the
wooded region to the south, crossed the Serpentine bridge at a rapid
walk and hurrying along the south shore left the Park by Apsley House.
From hence I walked at the same rapid pace along Piccadilly, insinuating
myself among the crowd with the skill born of long acquaintance with the
London streets, crossed amidst the seething traffic at the Circus,
darted up Windmill Street and began to zigzag amongst the narrow streets
and courts of Soho. Crossing the Seven Dials and Drury Lane I passed
through the multitudinous back-streets and alleys that then filled the
area south of Lincoln's Inn, came out by Newcastle Street, Holywell
Street and Half-Moon Alley into the Strand, which I crossed immediately,
ultimately entering the Temple by Devereux Court.
Even then I did not relax my precautions. From one court to another I
passed quickly, loitering in those dark entries and unexpected passages
that are known to so few but the regular Templars, and coming out into
the open only at the last where the wide passage of King's Bench Walk
admits of no evasion. Half-way up the stairs, I stood for some time in
the shadow, watching the approaches from the staircase window; and when,
at length, I felt satisfied that I had taken every precaution that was
possible, I inserted my key and let myself into our chambers.
Thorndyke had already arrived, and, as I entered, he rose to greet me
with an expression of evident relief.
"I am glad to see you, Jervis," he said. "I have been rather anxious
"Why?" I asked.
"For several reasons. One is that you are the sole danger that threatens
these people--as far as they know. Another is that we made a most
ridiculous mistake. We overlooked a fact that ought to have struck us
instantly. But how have you fared?"
"Better than I deserved. That good lady stuck to me like a burr--at
least I believe she did."
"I have no doubt she did. We have been caught napping finely, Jervis."
"We'll go into that presently. Let us hear about your adventures first."
I gave him a full account of my movements from the time when we parted
to that of my arrival home, omitting no incident that I was able to
remember and, as far as I could, reconstituting my exceedingly devious
"Your retreat was masterly," he remarked with a broad smile. "I should
think that it would have utterly defeated any pursuer; and the only pity
is that it was probably wasted on the desert air. Your pursuer had by
that time become a fugitive. But you were wise to take these
precautions, for, of course, Weiss might have followed you."
"But I thought he was in Hamburg?"
"Did you? You are a very confiding young gentleman, for a budding
medical jurist. Of course we don't know that he is not; but the fact
that he has given Hamburg as his present whereabouts establishes a
strong presumption that he is somewhere else. I only hope that he has
not located you, and, from what you tell me of your later methods, I
fancy that you would have shaken him off even if he had started to
follow you from the tea-shop."
"I hope so too. But how did that woman manage to stick to me in that
way? What was the mistake we made?"
Thorndyke laughed grimly. "It was a perfectly asinine mistake, Jervis.
You started up Kennington Park Road on a leisurely, jog-trotting
omnibus, and neither you nor I remembered what there is underneath
Kennington Park Road."
"Underneath!" I exclaimed, completely puzzled for the moment. Then,
suddenly realizing what he meant, "Of course!" I exclaimed. "Idiot that
I am! You mean the electric railway?"
"Yes. That explains everything. Mrs. Schallibaum must have watched us
from some shop and quietly followed us up the lane. There were a good
many women about and several were walking in our direction. There was
nothing to distinguish her from the others unless you had recognized
her, which you would hardly have been able to do if she had worn a veil
and kept at a fair distance. At least I think not."
"No," I agreed, "I certainly should not. I had only seen her in a
half-dark room. In outdoor clothes and with a veil, I should never have
been able to identify her without very close inspection. Besides there
was the disguise or make-up."
"Not at that time. She would hardly come disguised to her own house,
for it might have led to her being challenged and asked who she was. I
think we may take it that there was no actual disguise, although she
would probably wear a shady hat and a veil; which would have prevented
either of us from picking her out from the other women in the street."
"And what do you think happened next?"
"I think that she simply walked past us--probably on the other side of
the road--as we stood waiting for the omnibus, and turned up Kennington
Park Road. She probably guessed that we were waiting for the omnibus and
walked up the road in the direction in which it was going. Presently the
omnibus would pass her, and there were you in full view on top keeping a
vigilant look-out in the wrong direction. Then she would quicken her
pace a little and in a minute or two would arrive at the Kennington
Station of the South London Railway. In a minute or two more she would
be in one of the electric trains whirling along under the street on
which your omnibus was crawling. She would get out at the Borough
Station, or she might take a more risky chance and go on to the
Monument; but in any case she would wait for your omnibus, hail it and
get inside. I suppose you took up some passengers on the way?"
"Oh dear, yes. We were stopping every two or three minutes to take up or
set down passengers; and most of them were women."
"Very well; then we may take it that when you arrived at the Mansion
House, Mrs. Schallibaum was one of your inside passengers. It was a
rather quaint situation, I think."
"Yes, confound her! What a couple of noodles she must have thought us!"
"No doubt. And that is the one consoling feature in the case. She will
have taken us for a pair of absolute greenhorns. But to continue. Of
course she travelled in your omnibus to Kensington--you ought to have
gone inside on both occasions, so that you could see every one who
entered and examine the inside passengers; she will have followed you to
Endsley Gardens and probably noted the house you went to. Thence she
will have followed you to the restaurant and may even have lunched
"It is quite possible," said I. "There were two rooms and they were
filled principally with women."
"Then she will have followed you to Sloane Street, and, as you persisted
in riding outside, she could easily take an inside place in your
omnibus. As to the theatre, she must have taken it as a veritable gift
of the gods; an arrangement made by you for her special convenience."
"My dear fellow! consider. She had only to follow you in and see you
safely into your seat and there you were, left till called for. She
could then go home, make up for her part; draw out a plan of action,
with the help, perhaps, of Mr. Weiss, provide herself with the necessary
means and appliances and, at the appointed time, call and collect you."
"That is assuming a good deal," I objected. "It is assuming, for
instance, that she lives within a moderate distance of Sloane Square.
Otherwise it would have been impossible."
"Exactly. That is why I assume it. You don't suppose that she goes about
habitually with lumps of prepared sugar in her pocket. And if not, then
she must have got that lump from somewhere. Then the beads suggest a
carefully prepared plan, and, as I said just now, she can hardly have
been made-up when she met us in Kennington Lane. From all of which it
seems likely that her present abode is not very far from Sloane Square."
"At any rate," said I, "it was taking a considerable risk. I might have
left the theatre before she came back."
"Yes," Thorndyke agreed. "But it is like a woman to take chances. A man
would probably have stuck to you when once he had got you off your
guard. But she was ready to take chances. She chanced the railway, and
it came off; she chanced your remaining in the theatre, and that came
off too. She calculated on the probability of your getting tea when you
came out, and she hit it off again. And then she took one chance too
many; she assumed that you probably took sugar in your tea, and she was
"We are taking it for granted that the sugar was prepared," I remarked.
"Yes. Our explanation is entirely hypothetical and may be entirely
wrong. But it all hangs together, and if we find any poisonous matter in
the sugar, it will be reasonable to assume that we are right. The sugar
is the Experimentum Crucis. If you will hand it over to me, we will go
up to the laboratory and make a preliminary test or two."
I took the lump of sugar from my pocket and gave it to him, and he
carried it to the gas-burner, by the light of which he examined it with
"I don't see any foreign crystals on the surface," said he; "but we had
better make a solution and go to work systematically. If it contains any
poison we may assume that it will be some alkaloid, though I will test
for arsenic too. But a man of Weiss's type would almost certainly use an
alkaloid, on account of its smaller bulk and more ready solubility. You
ought not to have carried this loose in your pocket. For legal purposes
that would seriously interfere with its value as evidence. Bodies that
are suspected of containing poison should be carefully isolated and
preserved from contact with anything that might lead to doubt in the
analysis. It doesn't matter much to us, as this analysis is only for our
own information and we can satisfy ourselves as to the state of your
pocket. But bear the rule in mind another time."
We now ascended to the laboratory, where Thorndyke proceeded at once to
dissolve the lump of sugar in a measured quantity of distilled water by
the aid of gentle heat.
"Before we add any acid," said he, "or introduce any fresh matter, we
will adopt the simple preliminary measure of tasting the solution. The
sugar is a disturbing factor, but some of the alkaloids and most
mineral poisons excepting arsenic have a very characteristic taste."
He dipped a glass rod in the warm solution and applied it gingerly to
"Ha!" he exclaimed, as he carefully wiped his mouth with his
handkerchief, "simple methods are often very valuable. There isn't much
doubt as to what is in that sugar. Let me recommend my learned brother
to try the flavour. But be careful. A little of this will go a long
He took a fresh rod from the rack, and, dipping it in the solution,
handed it to me. I cautiously applied it to the tip of my tongue and was
immediately aware of a peculiar tingling sensation accompanied by a
feeling of numbness.
"Well," said Thorndyke; "what is it?"
"Aconite," I replied without hesitation.
"Yes," he agreed; "aconite it is, or more probably aconitine. And that,
I think, gives us all the information we want. We need not trouble now
to make a complete analysis, though I shall have a quantitative
examination made later. You note the intensity of the taste and you see
what the strength of the solution is. Evidently that lump of sugar
contained a very large dose of the poison. If the sugar had been
dissolved in your tea, the quantity that you drank would have contained
enough aconitine to lay you out within a few minutes; which would
account for Mrs. Schallibaum's anxiety to get clear of the premises. She
saw you drink from the cup, but I imagine she had not seen you turn the
"No, I should say not, to judge by her expression. She looked
terrified. She is not as hardened as her rascally companion."
"Which is fortunate for you, Jervis. If she had not been in such a
fluster, she would have waited until you had poured out your tea, which
was what she probably meant to do, or have dropped the sugar into the
milk-jug. In either case you would have got a poisonous dose before you
noticed anything amiss."
"They are a pretty pair, Thorndyke," I exclaimed. "A human life seems to
be no more to them than the life of a fly or a beetle."
"No; that is so. They are typical poisoners of the worst kind; of the
intelligent, cautious, resourceful kind. They are a standing menace to
society. As long as they are at large, human lives are in danger, and it
is our business to see that they do not remain at large a moment longer
than is unavoidable. And that brings us to another point. You had better
keep indoors for the next few days."
"Oh, nonsense," I protested. "I can take care of myself."
"I won't dispute that," said Thorndyke, "although I might. But the
matter is of vital importance and we can't be too careful. Yours is the
only evidence that could convict these people. They know that and will
stick at nothing to get rid of you--for by this time they will almost
certainly have ascertained that the tea-shop plan has failed. Now your
life is of some value to you and to another person whom I could mention;
but apart from that, you are the indispensable instrument for ridding
society of these dangerous vermin. Moreover, if you were seen abroad and
connected with these chambers, they would get the information that their
case was really being investigated in a businesslike manner. If Weiss
has not already left the country he would do so immediately, and if he
has, Mrs. Schallibaum would join him at once, and we might never be able
to lay hands on them. You must stay indoors, out of sight, and you had
better write to Miss Gibson and ask her to warn the servants to give no
information about you to anyone."
"And how long," I asked, "am I to be held on parole?"
"Not long, I think. We have a very promising start. If I have any luck,
I shall be able to collect all the evidence I want in about a week. But
there is an element of chance in some of it which prevents me from
giving a date. And it is just possible that I may have started on a
false track. But that I shall be able to tell you better in a day or
"And I suppose," I said gloomily, "I shall be out of the hunt
"Not at all," he replied. "You have got the Blackmore case to attend to.
I shall hand you over all the documents and get you to make an orderly
digest of the evidence. You will then have all the facts and can work
out the case for yourself. Also I shall ask you to help Polton in some
little operations which are designed to throw light into dark places and
which you will find both entertaining and instructive."
"Supposing Mrs. Hornby should propose to call and take tea with us in
the gardens?" I suggested.
"And bring Miss Gibson with her?" Thorndyke added dryly. "No, Jervis, it
would never do. You must make that quite clear to her. It is more
probable than not that Mrs. Schallibaum made a careful note of the house
in Endsley Gardens, and as that would be the one place actually known to
her, she and Weiss--if he is in England--would almost certainly keep a
watch on it. If they should succeed in connecting that house with these
chambers, a few inquiries would show them the exact state of the case.
No; we must keep them in the dark if we possibly can. We have shown too
much of our hand already. It is hard on you, but it cannot be helped."
"Oh, don't think I am complaining," I exclaimed. "If it is a matter of
business, I am as keen as you are. I thought at first that you were
merely considering the safety of my vile body. When shall I start on my
"To-morrow morning. I shall give you my notes on the Blackmore case and
the copies of the will and the depositions, from which you had better
draw up a digest of the evidence with remarks as to the conclusions that
it suggests. Then there are our gleanings from New Inn to be looked over
and considered; and with regard to this case, we have the fragments of a
pair of spectacles which had better be put together into a rather more
intelligible form in case we have to produce them in evidence. That will
keep you occupied for a day or two, together with some work
appertaining to other cases. And now let us dismiss professional topics.
You have not dined and neither have I, but I dare say Polton has made
arrangements for some sort of meal. We will go down and see."
We descended to the lower floor, where Thorndyke's anticipations were
justified by a neatly laid table to which Polton was giving the
The Blackmore Case Reviewed
One of the conditions of medical practice is the capability of
transferring one's attention at a moment's notice from one set of
circumstances to another equally important but entirely unrelated. At
each visit on his round, the practitioner finds himself concerned with a
particular, self-contained group of phenomena which he must consider at
the moment with the utmost concentration, but which he must instantly
dismiss from his mind as he moves on to the next case. It is a difficult
habit to acquire; for an important, distressing or obscure case is apt
to take possession of the consciousness and hinder the exercise of
attention that succeeding cases demand; but experience shows the faculty
to be indispensable, and the practitioner learns in time to forget
everything but the patient with whose condition he is occupied at the
My first morning's work on the Blackmore case showed me that the same
faculty is demanded in legal practice; and it also showed me that I had
yet to acquire it. For, as I looked over the depositions and the copy of
the will, memories of the mysterious house in Kennington Lane
continually intruded into my reflections, and the figure of Mrs.
Schallibaum, white-faced, terrified, expectant, haunted me continually.
In truth, my interest in the Blackmore case was little more than
academic, whereas in the Kennington case I was one of the parties and
was personally concerned. To me, John Blackmore was but a name, Jeffrey
but a shadowy figure to which I could assign no definite personality,
and Stephen himself but a casual stranger. Mr. Graves, on the other
hand, was a real person. I had seen him amidst the tragic circumstances
that had probably heralded his death, and had brought away with me, not
only a lively recollection of him, but a feeling of profound pity and
concern as to his fate. The villain Weiss, too, and the terrible woman
who aided, abetted and, perhaps, even directed him, lived in my memory
as vivid and dreadful realities. Although I had uttered no hint to
Thorndyke, I lamented inwardly that I had not been given some work--if
there was any to do--connected with this case, in which I was so deeply
interested, rather than with the dry, purely legal and utterly
bewildering case of Jeffrey Blackmore's will.
Nevertheless, I stuck loyally to my task. I read through the depositions
and the will--without getting a single glimmer of fresh light on the
case--and I made a careful digest of all the facts. I compared my
digest with Thorndyke's notes--of which I also made a copy--and found
that, brief as they were, they contained several matters that I had
overlooked. I also drew up a brief account of our visit to New Inn, with
a list of the objects that we had observed or collected. And then I
addressed myself to the second part of my task, the statement of my
conclusions from the facts set forth.
It was only when I came to make the attempt that I realized how
completely I was at sea. In spite of Thorndyke's recommendation to study
Marchmont's statement as it was summarized in those notes which I had
copied, and of his hint that I should find in that statement something
highly significant, I was borne irresistibly to one conclusion, and one
only--and the wrong one at that, as I suspected: that Jeffrey
Blackmore's will was a perfectly regular, sound and valid document.
I tried to attack the validity of the will from various directions, and
failed every time. As to its genuineness, that was obviously not in
question. There seemed to me only two conceivable respects in which any
objection could be raised, viz. the competency of Jeffrey to execute a
will and the possibility of undue influence having been brought to bear
With reference to the first, there was the undoubted fact that Jeffrey
was addicted to the opium habit, and this might, under some
circumstances, interfere with a testator's competency to make a will.
But had any such circumstances existed in this case? Had the drug habit
produced such mental changes in the deceased as would destroy or weaken
his judgment? There was not a particle of evidence in favour of any such
belief. Up to the very end he had managed his own affairs, and, if his
habits of life had undergone a change, they were still the habits of a
perfectly sane and responsible man.
The question of undue influence was more difficult. If it applied to any
person in particular, that person could be none other than John
Blackmore. Now it was an undoubted fact that, of all Jeffrey's
acquaintance, his brother John was the only one who knew that he was in
residence at New Inn. Moreover John had visited him there more than
once. It was therefore possible that influence might have been brought
to bear on the deceased. But there was no evidence that it had. The fact
that the deceased man's only brother should be the one person who knew
where he was living was not a remarkable one, and it had been
satisfactorily explained by the necessity of Jeffrey's finding a
reference on applying for the chambers. And against the theory of undue
influence was the fact that the testator had voluntarily brought his
will to the lodge and executed it in the presence of entirely
In the end I had to give up the problem in despair, and, abandoning the
documents, turned my attention to the facts elicited by our visit to New
What had we learned from our exploration? It was clear that Thorndyke
had picked up some facts that had appeared to him important. But
important in what respect? The only possible issue that could be raised
was the validity or otherwise of Jeffrey Blackmore's will; and since the
validity of that will was supported by positive evidence of the most
incontestable kind, it seemed that nothing that we had observed could
have any real bearing on the case at all.
But this, of course, could not be. Thorndyke was no dreamer nor was he
addicted to wild speculation. If the facts observed by us seemed to him
to be relevant to the case, I was prepared to assume that they were
relevant, although I could not see their connection with it. And, on
this assumption, I proceeded to examine them afresh.
Now, whatever Thorndyke might have observed on his own account, I had
brought away from the dead man's chambers only a single fact; and a very
extraordinary fact it was. The cuneiform inscription was upside down.
That was the sum of the evidence that I had collected; and the question
was, What did it prove? To Thorndyke it conveyed some deep significance.
What could that significance be?
The inverted position was not a mere temporary accident, as it might
have been if the frame had been stood on a shelf or support. It was hung
on the wall, and the plates screwed on the frame showed that its
position was permanent and that it had never hung in any other. That it
could have been hung up by Jeffrey himself was clearly inconceivable.
But allowing that it had been fixed in its present position by some
workman when the new tenant moved in, the fact remained that there it
had hung, presumably for months, and that Jeffrey Blackmore, with his
expert knowledge of the cuneiform character, had never noticed that it
was upside down; or, if he had noticed it, that he had never taken the
trouble to have it altered.
What could this mean? If he had noticed the error but had not troubled
to correct it, that would point to a very singular state of mind, an
inertness and indifference remarkable even in an opium-smoker. But
assuming such a state of mind, I could not see that it had any bearing
on the will, excepting that it was rather inconsistent with the tendency
to make fussy and needless alterations which the testator had actually
shown. On the other hand, if he had not noticed the inverted position of
the photograph he must have been nearly blind or quite idiotic; for the
photograph was over two feet long and the characters large enough to be
read easily by a person of ordinary eyesight at a distance of forty or
fifty feet. Now he obviously was not in a state of dementia, whereas his
eyesight was admittedly bad; and it seemed to me that the only
conclusion deducible from the photograph was that it furnished a measure
of the badness of the deceased man's vision--that it proved him to have
been verging on total blindness.
But there was nothing startling new in this. He had, himself, declared
that he was fast losing his sight. And again, what was the bearing of
his partial blindness on the will? A totally blind man cannot draw up
his will at all. But if he has eyesight sufficient to enable him to
write out and sign a will, mere defective vision will not lead him to
muddle the provisions. Yet something of this kind seemed to be in
Thorndyke's mind, for now I recalled the question that he had put to the
porter: "When you read the will over in Mr. Blackmore's presence, did
you read it aloud?" That question could have but one significance. It
implied a doubt as to whether the testator was fully aware of the exact
nature of the document that he was signing. Yet, if he was able to write
and sign it, surely he was able also to read it through, to say nothing
of the fact that, unless he was demented, he must have remembered what
he had written.
Thus, once more, my reasoning only led me into a blind alley at the end
of which was the will, regular and valid and fulfilling all the
requirements that the law imposed. Once again I had to confess myself
beaten and in full agreement with Mr. Marchmont that "there was no
case"; that "there was nothing in dispute." Nevertheless, I carefully
fixed in the pocket file that Thorndyke had given me the copy that I had
made of his notes, together with the notes on our visit to New Inn, and
the few and unsatisfactory conclusions at which I had arrived; and this
brought me to the end of my first morning in my new capacity.
"And how," Thorndyke asked as we sat at lunch, "has my learned friend
progressed? Does he propose that we advise Mr. Marchmont to enter a
"I've read all the documents and boiled all the evidence down to a stiff
jelly; and I am in a worse fog than ever."
"There seems to be a slight mixture of metaphors in my learned friend's
remarks. But never mind the fog, Jervis. There is a certain virtue in
fog. It serves, like a picture frame, to surround the essential with a
neutral zone that separates it from the irrelevant."
"That is a very profound observation, Thorndyke," I remarked ironically.
"I was just thinking so myself," he rejoined.
"And if you could contrive to explain what it means--"
"Oh, but that is unreasonable. When one throws off a subtly philosophic
obiter dictum one looks to the discerning critic to supply the meaning.
By the way, I am going to introduce you to the gentle art of photography
this afternoon. I am getting the loan of all the cheques that were drawn
by Jeffrey Blackmore during his residence at New Inn--there are only
twenty-three of them, all told--and I am going to photograph them."
"I shouldn't have thought the bank people would have let them go out of
"They are not going to. One of the partners, a Mr. Britton, is bringing
them here himself and will be present while the photographs are being
taken; so they will not go out of his custody. But, all the same, it is
a great concession, and I should not have obtained it but for the fact
that I have done a good deal of work for the bank and that Mr. Britton
is more or less a personal friend."
"By the way, how comes it that the cheques are at the bank? Why were
they not returned to Jeffrey with the pass-book in the usual way?"
"I understand from Britton," replied Thorndyke, "that all Jeffrey's
cheques were retained by the bank at his request. When he was travelling
he used to leave his investment securities and other valuable documents
in his bankers' custody, and, as he has never applied to have them
returned, the bankers still have them and are retaining them until the
will is proved, when they will, of course, hand over everything to the
"What is the object of photographing these cheques?" I asked.
"There are several objects. First, since a good photograph is
practically as good as the original, when we have the photographs we
practically have the cheques for reference. Then, since a photograph can
be duplicated indefinitely, it is possible to perform experiments on it
which involve its destruction; which would, of course, be impossible in
the case of original cheques."
"But the ultimate object, I mean. What are you going to prove?"
"You are incorrigible, Jervis," he exclaimed. "How should I know what I
am going to prove? This is an investigation. If I knew the result
beforehand, I shouldn't want to perform the experiment."
He looked at his watch, and, as we rose from the table, he said:
"If we have finished, we had better go up to the laboratory and see that
the apparatus is ready. Mr. Britton is a busy man, and, as he is doing
us a great service, we mustn't keep him waiting when he comes."
We ascended to the laboratory, where Polton was already busy inspecting
the massively built copying camera which--with the long, steel guides on
which the easel or copy-holder travelled--took up the whole length of
the room on the side opposite to that occupied by the chemical bench. As
I was to be inducted into the photographic art, I looked at it with more
attention than I had ever done before.
"We've made some improvements since you were here last, sir," said
Polton, who was delicately lubricating the steel guides. "We've fitted
these steel runners instead of the blackleaded wooden ones that we used
to have. And we've made two scales instead of one. Hallo! That's the
downstairs bell. Shall I go sir?"