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The Mystery of 31 New Inn by R. Austin Freeman

Part 4 out of 5

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"Perhaps you'd better," said Thorndyke. "It may not be Mr. Britton, and
I don't want to be caught and delayed just now."

However, it was Mr. Britton; a breezy alert-looking middle-aged man, who
came in escorted by Polton and shook our hands cordially, having been
previously warned of my presence. He carried a small but solid hand-bag,
to which he clung tenaciously up to the very moment when its contents
were required for use.

"So that is the camera," said he, running an inquisitive eye over the
instrument. "Very fine one, too; I am a bit of a photographer myself.
What is that graduation on the side-bar?"

"Those are the scales," replied Thorndyke, "that shows the degree of
magnification or reduction. The pointer is fixed to the easel and
travels with it, of course, showing the exact size of the photograph.
When the pointer is opposite o the photograph will be identical in size
with the object photographed; when it points to, say, x 6, the
photograph will be six times as long as the object, or magnified
thirty-six times superficially, whereas if the pointer is at / 6, the
photograph will be a sixth of the length of the object, or one
thirty-sixth superficial."

"Why are there two scales?" Mr. Britton asked.

"There is a separate scale for each of the two lenses that we
principally use. For great magnification or reduction a lens of
comparatively short focus must be used, but, as a long-focus lens gives
a more perfect image, we use one of very long focus--thirty-six
inches--for copying the same size or for slight magnification or

"Are you going to magnify these cheques?" Mr. Britton asked.

"Not in the first place," replied Thorndyke. "For convenience and speed
I am going to photograph them half-size, so that six cheques will go on
one whole plate. Afterwards we can enlarge from the negatives as much as
we like. But we should probably enlarge only the signatures in any

The precious bag was now opened and the twenty-three cheques brought out
and laid on the bench in a consecutive series in the order of their
dates. They were then fixed by tapes--to avoid making pin-holes in
them--in batches of six to small drawing boards, each batch being so
arranged that the signatures were towards the middle. The first board
was clamped to the easel, the latter was slid along its guides until
the pointer stood at / 2 on the long-focus scale and Thorndyke proceeded
to focus the camera with the aid of a little microscope that Polton had
made for the purpose. When Mr. Britton and I had inspected the
exquisitely sharp image on the focusing-screen through the microscope,
Polton introduced the plate and made the first exposure, carrying the
dark-slide off to develop the plate while the next batch of cheques was
being fixed in position.

In his photographic technique, as in everything else, Polton followed as
closely as he could the methods of his principal and instructor; methods
characterized by that unhurried precision that leads to perfect
accomplishment. When the first negative was brought forth, dripping,
from the dark-room, it was without spot or stain, scratch or pin-hole;
uniform in colour and of exactly the required density. The six cheques
shown on it--ridiculously small in appearance, though only reduced to
half-length--looked as clear and sharp as fine etchings; though, to be
sure, my opportunity for examining them was rather limited, for Polton
was uncommonly careful to keep the wet plate out of reach and so safe
from injury.

"Well," said Mr. Britton, when, at the end of the seance, he returned
his treasures to the bag, "you have now got twenty-three of our cheques,
to all intents and purposes. I hope you are not going to make any
unlawful use of them--must tell our cashiers to keep a bright look-out;
and"--here he lowered his voice impressively and addressed himself to
me and Polton--"you understand that this is a private matter between Dr.
Thorndyke and me. Of course, as Mr. Blackmore is dead, there is no
reason why his cheques should not be photographed for legal purposes;
but we don't want it talked about; nor, I think, does Dr. Thorndyke."

"Certainly not," Thorndyke agreed emphatically; "but you need not be
uneasy, Mr. Britton. We are very uncommunicative people in this

As my colleague and I escorted our visitor down the stairs, he returned
to the subject of the cheques.

"I don't understand what you want them for," he remarked. "There is no
question turning on signatures in the case of Blackmore deceased, is

"I should say not," Thorndyke replied rather evasively.

"I should say very decidedly not," said Mr. Britton, "if I understood
Marchmont aright. And, even if there were, let me tell you, these
signatures that you have got wouldn't help you. I have looked them over
very closely--and I have seen a few signatures in my time, you know.
Marchmont asked me to glance over them as a matter of form, but I don't
believe in matters of form; I examined them very carefully. There is an
appreciable amount of variation; a very appreciable amount. But under
the variation one can trace the personal character (which is what
matters); the subtle, indescribable quality that makes it recognizable
to the expert eye as Jeffrey Blackmore's writing. You understand me.
There is such a quality, which remains when the coarser characteristics
vary; just as a man may grow old, or fat, or bald, or may take to drink,
and become quite changed; and yet, through it all, he preserves a
certain something which makes him recognizable as a member of a
particular family. Well, I find that quality in all those signatures,
and so will you, if you have had enough experience of handwriting. I
thought it best to mention it in case you might be giving yourself
unnecessary trouble."

"It is very good of you," said Thorndyke, "and I need not say that the
information is of great value, coming from such a highly expert source.
As a matter of fact, your hint will be of great value to me."

He shook hands with Mr. Britton, and, as the latter disappeared down the
stairs, he turned into the sitting-room and remarked:

"There is a very weighty and significant observation, Jervis. I advise
you to consider it attentively in all its bearings."

"You mean the fact that these signatures are undoubtedly genuine?"

"I meant, rather, the very interesting general truth that is contained
in Britton's statement; that physiognomy is not a mere matter of facial
character. A man carries his personal trademark, not in his face only,
but in his nervous system and muscles--giving rise to characteristic
movements and gait; in his larynx--producing an individual voice; and
even in his mouth, as shown by individual peculiarities of speech and
accent. And the individual nervous system, by means of these
characteristic movements, transfers its peculiarities to inanimate
objects that are the products of such movements; as we see in pictures,
in carving, in musical execution and in handwriting. No one has ever
painted quite like Reynolds or Romney; no one has ever played exactly
like Liszt or Paganini; the pictures or the sounds produced by them,
were, so to speak, an extension of the physiognomy of the artist. And so
with handwriting. A particular specimen is the product of a particular
set of motor centres in an individual brain."

"These are very interesting considerations, Thorndyke," I remarked; "but
I don't quite see their present application. Do you mean them to bear in
any special way on the Blackmore case?"

"I think they do bear on it very directly. I thought so while Mr.
Britton was making his very illuminating remarks."

"I don't see how. In fact I cannot see why you are going into the
question of the signatures at all. The signature on the will is
admittedly genuine, and that seems to me to dispose of the whole

"My dear Jervis," said he, "you and Marchmont are allowing yourselves to
be obsessed by a particular fact--a very striking and weighty fact, I
will admit, but still, only an isolated fact. Jeffrey Blackmore executed
his will in a regular manner, complying with all the necessary
formalities and conditions. In the face of that single circumstance you
and Marchmont would 'chuck up the sponge,' as the old pugilists
expressed it. Now that is a great mistake. You should never allow
yourself to be bullied and browbeaten by a single fact."

"But, my dear Thorndyke!" I protested, "this fact seems to be final. It
covers all possibilities---unless you can suggest any other that would
cancel it."

"I could suggest a dozen," he replied. "Let us take an instance.
Supposing Jeffrey executed this will for a wager; that he immediately
revoked it and made a fresh will, that he placed the latter in the
custody of some person and that that person has suppressed it."

"Surely you do not make this suggestion seriously!" I exclaimed.

"Certainly I do not," he replied with a smile. "I merely give it as an
instance to show that your final and absolute fact is really only
conditional on there being no other fact that cancels it."

"Do you think he might have made a third will?"

"It is obviously possible. A man who makes two wills may make three or
more; but I may say that I see no present reason for assuming the
existence of another will. What I want to impress on you is the
necessity of considering all the facts instead of bumping heavily
against the most conspicuous one and forgetting all the rest. By the
way, here is a little problem for you. What was the object of which
these are the parts?"

He pushed across the table a little cardboard box, having first removed
the lid. In it were a number of very small pieces of broken glass, some
of which had been cemented together by their edges.

"These, I suppose," said I, looking with considerable curiosity at the
little collection, "are the pieces of glass that we picked up in poor
Blackmore's bedroom?"

"Yes. You see that Polton has been endeavouring to reconstitute the
object, whatever it was; but he has not been very successful, for the
fragments were too small and irregular and the collection too
incomplete. However, here is a specimen, built up of six small pieces,
which exhibits the general character of the object fairly well."

He picked out the little irregularly shaped object and handed it to me;
and I could not but admire the neatness with which Polton had joined the
tiny fragments together.

I took the little "restoration," and, holding it up before my eyes,
moved it to and fro as I looked through it at the window.

"It was not a lens," I pronounced eventually.

"No," Thorndyke agreed, "it was not a lens."

"And so cannot have been a spectacle-glass. But the surface was
curved--one side convex and the other concave--and the little piece that
remains of the original edge seems to have been ground to fit a bezel or
frame. I should say that these are portions of a watch-glass."

"That is Polton's opinion," said Thorndyke, "and I think you are both

"What do you say to the glass of a miniature or locket?"

"That is rather more probable, but it is not my view."

"What do you think it is?" I asked. But Thorndyke was not to be drawn.

"I am submitting the problem for solution by my learned friend," he
replied with an exasperating smile, and then added: "I don't say that
you and Polton are wrong; only that I don't agree with you. Perhaps you
had better make a note of the properties of this object, and consider it
at your leisure when you are ruminating on the other data referring to
the Blackmore case."

"My ruminations," I said, "always lead me back to the same point."

"But you mustn't let them," he replied. "Shuffle your data about. Invent
hypotheses. Never mind if they seem rather wild. Don't put them aside on
that account. Take the first hypothesis that you can invent and test it
thoroughly with your facts. You will probably have to reject it, but you
will be certain to have learned something new. Then try again with a
fresh one. You remember what I told you of my methods when I began this
branch of practice and had plenty of time on my hands?"

"I am not sure that I do."

"Well, I used to occupy my leisure in constructing imaginary cases,
mostly criminal, for the purpose of study and for the acquirement of
experience. For instance, I would devise an ingenious fraud and would
plan it in detail, taking every precaution that I could think of against
failure or detection, considering, and elaborately providing for, every
imaginable contingency. For the time being, my entire attention was
concentrated on it, making it as perfect and secure and undetectable as
I could with the knowledge and ingenuity at my command. I behaved
exactly as if I were proposing actually to carry it out, and my life or
liberty depended on its success--excepting that I made full notes of
every detail of the scheme. Then when my plans were as complete as I
could make them, and I could think of no way in which to improve them, I
changed sides and considered the case from the standpoint of detection.
I analysed the case, I picked out its inherent and unavoidable
weaknesses, and, especially, I noted the respects in which a fraudulent
proceeding of a particular kind differed from the bona fide proceeding
that it simulated. The exercise was invaluable to me. I acquired as much
experience from those imaginary cases as I should from real ones, and in
addition, I learned a method which is the one that I practise to this

"Do you mean that you still invent imaginary cases as mental exercises?"

"No; I mean that, when I have a problem of any intricacy, I invent a
case which fits the facts and the assumed motives of one of the parties.
Then I work at that case until I find whether it leads to elucidation or
to some fundamental disagreement. In the latter case I reject it and
begin the process over again."

"Doesn't that method sometimes involve a good deal of wasted time and
energy?" I asked.

"No; because each time that you fail to establish a given case, you
exclude a particular explanation of the facts and narrow down the field
of inquiry. By repeating the process, you are bound, in the end, to
arrive at an imaginary case which fits all the facts. Then your
imaginary case is the real case and the problem is solved. Let me
recommend you to give the method a trial."

I promised to do so, though with no very lively expectations as to the
result, and with this, the subject was allowed, for the present, to

Chapter XII

The Portrait

The state of mind which Thorndyke had advised me to cultivate was one
that did not come easily. However much I endeavoured to shuffle the
facts of the Blackmore case, there was one which inevitably turned up on
the top of the pack. The circumstances surrounding the execution of
Jeffrey Blackmore's will intruded into all my cogitations on the subject
with hopeless persistency. That scene in the porter's lodge was to me
what King Charles's head was to poor Mr. Dick. In the midst of my
praiseworthy efforts to construct some intelligible scheme of the case,
it would make its appearance and reduce my mind to instant chaos.

For the next few days, Thorndyke was very much occupied with one or two
civil cases, which kept him in court during the whole of the sitting;
and when he came home, he seemed indisposed to talk on professional
topics. Meanwhile, Polton worked steadily at the photographs of the
signatures, and, with a view to gaining experience, I assisted him and
watched his methods.

In the present case, the signatures were enlarged from their original
dimensions--rather less than an inch and a half in length--to a length
of four and a half inches; which rendered all the little peculiarities
of the handwriting surprisingly distinct and conspicuous. Each signature
was eventually mounted on a slip of card bearing a number and the date
of the cheque from which it was taken, so that it was possible to place
any two signatures together for comparison. I looked over the whole
series and very carefully compared those which showed any differences,
but without discovering anything more than might have been expected in
view of Mr. Britton's statement. There were some trifling variations,
but they were all very much alike, and no one could doubt, on looking at
them, that they were all written by the same hand.

As this, however, was apparently not in dispute, it furnished no new
information. Thorndyke's object--for I felt certain that he had
something definite in his mind--must be to test something apart from the
genuineness of the signatures. But what could that something be? I dared
not ask him, for questions of that kind were anathema, so there was
nothing for it but to lie low and see what he would do with the

The whole series was finished on the fourth morning after my adventure
at Sloane Square, and the pack of cards was duly delivered by Polton
when he brought in the breakfast tray. Thorndyke took up the pack
somewhat with the air of a whist player, and, as he ran through them, I
noticed that the number had increased from twenty-three to twenty-four.

"The additional one," Thorndyke explained, "is the signature to the
first will, which was in Marchmont's possession. I have added it to the
collection as it carries us back to an earlier date. The signature of
the second will presumably resembles those of the cheques drawn about
the same date. But that is not material, or, if it should become so, we
could claim to examine the second will."

He laid the cards out on the table in the order of their dates and
slowly ran his eye down the series. I watched him closely and ventured
presently to ask:

"Do you agree with Mr. Britton as to the general identity of character
in the whole set of signatures?"

"Yes," he replied. "I should certainly have put them down as being all
the signatures of one person. The variations are very slight. The later
signatures are a little stiffer, a little more shaky and indistinct, and
the B's and k's are both appreciably different from those in the earlier
ones. But there is another fact which emerges when the whole series is
seen together, and it is so striking and significant a fact, that I am
astonished at its not having been remarked on by Mr. Britton."

"Indeed!" said I, stooping to examine the photographs with fresh
interest; "what is that?"

"It is a very simple fact and very obvious, but yet, as I have said,
very significant. Look carefully at number one, which is the signature
of the first will, dated three years ago, and compare it with number
three, dated the eighteenth of September last year."

"They look to me identical," said I, after a careful comparison.

"So they do to me," said Thorndyke. "Neither of them shows the change
that occurred later. But if you look at number two, dated the sixteenth
of September, you will see that it is in the later style. So is number
four, dated the twenty-third of September; but numbers five and six,
both at the beginning of October, are in the earlier style, like the
signature of the will. Thereafter all the signatures are in the new
style; but, if you compare number two, dated the sixteenth of September
with number twenty-four, dated the fourteenth of March of this year--the
day of Jeffrey's death--you see that they exhibit no difference. Both
are in the 'later style,' but the last shows no greater change than the
first. Don't you consider these facts very striking and significant?"

I reflected a few moments, trying to make out the deep significance to
which Thorndyke was directing my attention--and not succeeding very

"You mean," I said, "that the occasional reversions to the earlier form
convey some material suggestion?"

"Yes; but more than that. What we learn from an inspection of this
series is this: that there was a change in the character of the
signature; a very slight change, but quite recognizable. Now that change
was not gradual or insidious nor was it progressive. It occurred at a
certain definite time. At first there were one or two reversions to the
earlier form, but after number six the new style continued to the end;
and you notice that it continued without any increase in the change and
without any variation. There are no intermediate forms. Some of the
signatures are in the 'old style' and some in the 'new,' but there are
none that are half and half. So that, to repeat: We have here two types
of signature, very much alike, but distinguishable. They alternate, but
do not merge into one another to produce intermediate forms. The change
occurs abruptly, but shows no tendency to increase as time goes on; it
is not a progressive change. What do you make of that, Jervis?"

"It is very remarkable," I said, poring over the cards to verify
Thorndyke's statements. "I don't quite know what to make of it. If the
circumstances admitted of the idea of forgery, one would suspect the
genuineness of some of the signatures. But they don't--at any rate, in
the case of the later will, to say nothing of Mr. Britton's opinion on
the signatures."

"Still," said Thorndyke, "there must be some explanation of the change
in the character of the signatures, and that explanation cannot be the
failing eyesight of the writer; for that is a gradually progressive and
continuous condition, whereas the change in the writing is abrupt and

I considered Thorndyke's remark for a few moments; and then a
light--though not a very brilliant one--seemed to break on me.

"I think I see what you are driving at," said I. "You mean that the
change in the writing must be associated with some new condition
affecting the writer, and that that condition existed intermittently?"

Thorndyke nodded approvingly, and I continued:

"The only intermittent condition that we know of is the effect of opium.
So that we might consider the clearer signatures to have been made when
Jeffrey was in his normal state, and the less distinct ones after a bout
of opium-smoking."

"That is perfectly sound reasoning," said Thorndyke. "What further
conclusion does it lead to?"

"It suggests that the opium habit had been only recently acquired, since
the change was noticed only about the time he went to live at New Inn;
and, since the change in the writing is at first intermittent and then
continuous, we may infer that the opium-smoking was at first occasional
and later became a a confirmed habit."

"Quite a reasonable conclusion and very clearly stated," said Thorndyke.
"I don't say that I entirely agree with you, or that you have exhausted
the information that these signatures offer. But you have started in the
right direction."

"I may be on the right road," I said gloomily; "but I am stuck fast in
one place and I see no chance of getting any farther."

"But you have a quantity of data," said Thorndyke. "You have all the
facts that I had to start with, from which I constructed the hypothesis
that I am now busily engaged in verifying. I have a few more data now,
for 'as money makes money' so knowledge begets knowledge, and I put my
original capital out to interest. Shall we tabulate the facts that are
in our joint possession and see what they suggest?"

I grasped eagerly at the offer, though I had conned over my notes again
and again.

Thorndyke produced a slip of paper from a drawer, and, uncapping his
fountain-pen, proceeded to write down the leading facts, reading each
aloud as soon as it was written.

"1. The second will was unnecessary since it contained no new matter,
expressed no new intentions and met no new conditions, and the first
will was quite clear and efficient.

"2. The evident intention of the testator was to leave the bulk of his
property to Stephen Blackmore.

"3. The second will did not, under existing circumstances, give effect
to this intention, whereas the first will did.

"4. The signature of the second will differs slightly from that of the
first, and also from what had hitherto been the testator's ordinary

"And now we come to a very curious group of dates, which I will advise
you to consider with great attention.

"5. Mrs. Wilson made her will at the beginning of September last year,
without acquainting Jeffrey Blackmore, who seems to have been unaware of
the existence of this will.

"6. His own second will was dated the twelfth of November of last year.

"7. Mrs. Wilson died of cancer on the twelfth of March this present

"8. Jeffrey Blackmore was last seen alive on the fourteenth of March.

"9. His body was discovered on the fifteenth of March.

"10. The change in the character of his signature began about September
last year and became permanent after the middle of October.

"You will find that collection of facts repay careful study, Jervis,
especially when considered in relation to the further data:

"11. That we found in Blackmore's chambers a framed inscription of large
size, hung upside down, together with what appeared to be the remains of
a watch-glass and a box of stearine candles and some other objects."

He passed the paper to me and I pored over it intently, focusing my
attention on the various items with all the power of my will. But,
struggle as I would, no general conclusion could be made to emerge from
the mass of apparently disconnected facts.

"Well?" Thorndyke said presently, after watching with grave interest my
unavailing efforts; "what do you make of it?"

"Nothing!" I exclaimed desperately, slapping the paper down on the
table. "Of course, I can see that there are some queer coincidences. But
how do they bear on the case? I understand that you want to upset this
will; which we know to have been signed without compulsion or even
suggestion in the presence of two respectable men, who have sworn to the
identity of the document. That is your object, I believe?"

"Certainly it is."

"Then I am hanged if I see how you are going to do it. Not, I should
say, by offering a group of vague coincidences that would muddle any
brain but your own."

Thorndyke chuckled softly but pursued the subject no farther.

"Put that paper in your file with your other notes," he said, "and think
it over at your leisure. And now I want a little help from you. Have you
a good memory for faces?"

"Fairly good, I think. Why?"

"Because I have a photograph of a man whom I think you may have met.
Just look at it and tell me if you remember the face."

He drew a cabinet size photograph from an envelope that had come by the
morning's post and handed it to me.

"I have certainly seen this face somewhere," said I, taking the portrait
over to the window to examine it more thoroughly, "but I can't, at the
moment, remember where."

"Try," said Thorndyke. "If you have seen the face before, you should be
able to recall the person."

I looked intently at the photograph, and the more I looked, the more
familiar did the face appear. Suddenly the identity of the man flashed
into my mind and I exclaimed in astonishment:

"It can't be that poor creature at Kennington, Mr. Graves?"

"I think it can," replied Thorndyke, "and I think it is. But could you
swear to the identity in a court of law?"

"It is my firm conviction that the photograph is that of Mr. Graves. I
would swear to that."

"No man ought to swear to more," said Thorndyke. "Identification is
always a matter of opinion or belief. The man who will swear
unconditionally to identity from memory only is a man whose evidence
should be discredited. I think your sworn testimony would be

It is needless to say that the production of this photograph filled me
with amazement and curiosity as to how Thorndyke had obtained it. But,
as he replaced it impassively in its envelope without volunteering any
explanation, I felt that I could not question him directly.
Nevertheless, I ventured to approach the subject in an indirect manner.

"Did you get any information from those Darmstadt people?" I asked.

"Schnitzler? Yes. I learned, through the medium of an official
acquaintance, that Dr. H. Weiss was a stranger to them; that they knew
nothing about him excepting that he had ordered from them, and been
supplied with, a hundred grammes of pure hydrochlorate of morphine."

"All at once?"

"No. In separate parcels of twenty-five grammes each."

"Is that all you know about Weiss?"

"It is all that I actually know; but it is not all that I suspect--on
very substantial grounds. By the way, what did you think of the

"I don't know that I thought very much about him. Why?"

"You never suspected that he and Weiss were one and the same person?"

"No. How could they be? They weren't in the least alike. And one was a
Scotchman and the other a German. But perhaps you know that they were
the same?"

"I only know what you have told me. But considering that you never saw
them together, that the coachman was never available for messages or
assistance when Weiss was with you; that Weiss always made his
appearance some time after you arrived, and disappeared some time before
you left; it has seemed to me that they might have been the same

"I should say it was impossible. They were so very different in
appearance. But supposing that they were the same; would the fact be of
any importance?"

"It would mean that we could save ourselves the trouble of looking for
the coachman. And it would suggest some inferences, which will occur to
you if you think the matter over. But being only a speculative opinion,
at present, it would not be safe to infer very much from it."

"You have rather taken me by surprise," I remarked. "It seems that you
have been working at this Kennington case, and working pretty actively I
imagine, whereas I supposed that your entire attention was taken up by
the Blackmore affair."

"It doesn't do," he replied, "to allow one's entire attention to be
taken up by any one case. I have half a dozen others--minor cases,
mostly--to which I am attending at this moment. Did you think I was
proposing to keep you under lock and key indefinitely?"

"Well, no. But I thought the Kennington case would have to wait its
turn. And I had no idea that you were in possession of enough facts to
enable you to get any farther with it."

"But you knew all the very striking facts of the case, and you saw the
further evidence that we extracted from the empty house."

"Do you mean those things that we picked out from the rubbish under the

"Yes. You saw those curious little pieces of reed and the pair of
spectacles. They are lying in the top drawer of that cabinet at this
moment, and I should recommend you to have another look at them. To me
they are most instructive. The pieces of reed offered an extremely
valuable suggestion, and the spectacles enabled me to test that
suggestion and turn it into actual information."

"Unfortunately," said I, "the pieces of reed convey nothing to me. I
don't know what they are or of what they have formed a part."

"I think," he replied, "that if you examine them with due consideration,
you will find their use pretty obvious. Have a good look at them and the
spectacles too. Think over all that you know of that mysterious group of
people who lived in that house, and see if you cannot form some coherent
theory of their actions. Think, also, if we have not some information in
our possession by which we might be able to identify some of them, and
infer the identity of the others. You will have a quiet day, as I shall
not be home until the evening; set yourself this task. I assure you that
you have the material for identifying--or rather for testing the
identity of--at least one of those persons. Go over your material
systematically, and let me know in the evening what further
investigations you would propose."

"Very well," said I. "It shall be done according to your word. I will
addle my brain afresh with the affair of Mr. Weiss and his patient, and
let the Blackmore case rip."

"There is no need to do that. You have a whole day before you. An hour's
really close consideration of the Kennington case ought to show you what
your next move should be, and then you could devote yourself to the
consideration of Jeffrey Blackmore's will."

With this final piece of advice, Thorndyke collected the papers for his
day's work, and, having deposited them in his brief bag, took his
departure, leaving me to my meditations.

Chapter XIII

The Statement of Samuel Wilkins

As soon as I was alone, I commenced my investigations with a rather
desperate hope of eliciting some startling and unsuspected facts. I
opened the drawer and taking from it the two pieces of reed and the
shattered remains of the spectacles, laid them on the table. The repairs
that Thorndyke had contemplated in the case of the spectacles, had not
been made. Apparently they had not been necessary. The battered wreck
that lay before me, just as we had found it, had evidently furnished the
necessary information; for, since Thorndyke was in possession of a
portrait of Mr. Graves, it was clear that he had succeeded in
identifying him so far as to get into communication with some one who
had known him intimately.

The circumstance should have been encouraging. But somehow it was not.
What was possible to Thorndyke was, theoretically, possible to me--or to
anyone else. But the possibility did not realize itself in practice.
There was the personal equation. Thorndyke's brain was not an ordinary
brain. Facts of which his mind instantly perceived the relation remained
to other people unconnected and without meaning. His powers of
observation and rapid inference were almost incredible, as I had noticed
again and again, and always with undiminished wonder. He seemed to take
in everything at a single glance and in an instant to appreciate the
meaning of everything that he had seen.

Here was a case in point. I had myself seen all that he had seen, and,
indeed, much more; for I had looked on the very people and witnessed
their actions, whereas he had never set eyes on any of them. I had
examined the little handful of rubbish that he had gathered up so
carefully, and would have flung it back under the grate without a qualm.
Not a glimmer of light had I perceived in the cloud of mystery, nor even
a hint of the direction in which to seek enlightenment. And yet
Thorndyke had, in some incomprehensible manner, contrived to piece
together facts that I had probably not even observed, and that so
completely that he had already, in these few days, narrowed down the
field of inquiry to quite a small area.

From these reflections I returned to the objects on the table. The
spectacles, as things of which I had some expert knowledge, were not so
profound a mystery to me. A pair of spectacles might easily afford good
evidence for identification; that I perceived clearly enough. Not a
ready-made pair, picked up casually at a shop, but a pair constructed by
a skilled optician to remedy a particular defect of vision and to fit a
particular face. And such were the spectacles before me. The build of
the frames was peculiar; the existence of a cylindrical lens--which I
could easily make out from the remaining fragments--showed that one
glass had been cut to a prescribed shape and almost certainly ground to
a particular formula, and also that the distance between centres must
have been carefully secured. Hence these spectacles had an individual
character. But it was manifestly impossible to inquire of all the
spectacle-makers in Europe--for the glasses were not necessarily made in
England. As confirmation the spectacles might be valuable; as a
starting-point they were of no use at all.

From the spectacles I turned to the pieces of reed. These were what had
given Thorndyke his start. Would they give me a leading hint too? I
looked at them and wondered what it was that they had told Thorndyke.
The little fragment of the red paper label had a dark-brown or thin
black border ornamented with a fret-pattern, and on it I detected a
couple of tiny points of gold like the dust from leaf-gilding. But I
learned nothing from that. Then the shorter piece of reed was
artificially hollowed to fit on the longer piece. Apparently it formed a
protective sheath or cap. But what did it protect? Presumably a point or
edge of some kind. Could this be a pocket-knife of any sort, such as a
small stencil-knife? No; the material was too fragile for a
knife-handle. It could not be an etching-needle for the same reason; and
it was not a surgical appliance--at least it was not like any surgical
instrument that was known to me.

I turned it over and over and cudgelled my brains; and then I had a
brilliant idea. Was it a reed pen of which the point had been broken
off? I knew that reed pens were still in use by draughtsmen of
decorative leanings with an affection for the "fat line." Could any of
our friends be draughtsmen? This seemed the most probable solution of
the difficulty, and the more I thought about it the more likely it
seemed. Draughtsmen usually sign their work intelligibly, and even when
they use a device instead of a signature their identity is easily
traceable. Could it be that Mr. Graves, for instance, was an
illustrator, and that Thorndyke had established his identity by looking
through the works of all the well-known thick-line draughtsmen?

This problem occupied me for the rest of the day. My explanation did not
seem quite to fit Thorndyke's description of his methods; but I could
think of no other. I turned it over during my solitary lunch; I
meditated on it with the aid of several pipes in the afternoon; and
having refreshed my brain with a cup of tea, I went forth to walk in the
Temple gardens--which I was permitted to do without breaking my
parole--to think it out afresh.

The result was disappointing. I was basing my reasoning on the
assumption that the pieces of reed were parts of a particular appliance,
appertaining to a particular craft; whereas they might be the remains of
something quite different, appertaining to a totally different craft or
to no craft at all. And in no case did they point to any known
individual or indicate any but the vaguest kind of search. After pacing
the pleasant walks for upwards of two hours, I at length turned back
towards our chambers, where I arrived as the lamp-lighter was just
finishing his round.

My fruitless speculations had left me somewhat irritable. The lighted
windows that I had noticed as I approached had given me the impression
that Thorndyke had returned. I had intended to press him for a little
further information. When, therefore, I let myself into our chambers and
found, instead of my colleague, a total stranger--and only a back view
at that--I was disappointed and annoyed.

The stranger was seated by the table, reading a large document that
looked like a lease. He made no movement when I entered, but when I
crossed the room and wished him "Good evening," he half rose and bowed
silently. It was then that I first saw his face, and a mighty start he
gave me. For one moment I actually thought he was Mr. Weiss, so close
was the resemblance, but immediately I perceived that he was a much
smaller man.

I sat down nearly opposite and stole an occasional furtive glance at
him. The resemblance to Weiss was really remarkable. The same flaxen
hair, the same ragged beard and a similar red nose, with the patches of
acne rosacea spreading to the adjacent cheeks. He wore spectacles,
too, through which he took a quick glance at me now and again, returning
immediately to his document.

After some moments of rather embarrassing silence, I ventured to remark
that it was a mild evening; to which he assented with a sort of Scotch
"Hm--hm" and nodded slowly. Then came another interval of silence,
during which I speculated on the possibility of his being a relative of
Mr. Weiss and wondered what the deuce he was doing in our chambers.

"Have you an appointment with Dr. Thorndyke?" I asked, at length.

He bowed solemnly, and by way of reply--in the affirmative, as I
assumed--emitted another "hm--hm."

I looked at him sharply, a little nettled by his lack of manners;
whereupon he opened out the lease so that it screened his face, and as I
glanced at the back of the document, I was astonished to observe that it
was shaking rapidly.

The fellow was actually laughing! What he found in my simple question to
cause him so much amusement I was totally unable to imagine. But there
it was. The tremulous movements of the document left me in no possible
doubt that he was for some reason convulsed with laughter.

It was extremely mysterious. Also, it was rather embarrassing. I took
out my pocket file and began to look over my notes. Then the document
was lowered and I was able to get another look at the stranger's face.
He was really extraordinarily like Weiss. The shaggy eyebrows, throwing
the eye-sockets into shadow, gave him, in conjunction with the
spectacles, the same owlish, solemn expression that I had noticed in my
Kennington acquaintance; and which, by the way, was singularly out of
character with the frivolous behaviour that I had just witnessed.

From time to time as I looked at him, he caught my eye and instantly
averted his own, turning rather red. Apparently he was a shy, nervous
man, which might account for his giggling; for I have noticed that shy
or nervous people have a habit of smiling inopportunely and even
giggling when embarrassed by meeting an over-steady eye. And it seemed
my own eye had this disconcerting quality, for even as I looked at him,
the document suddenly went up again and began to shake violently.

I stood it for a minute or two, but, finding the situation intolerably
embarrassing, I rose, and brusquely excusing myself, went up to the
laboratory to look for Polton and inquire at what time Thorndyke was
expected home. To my surprise, however, on entering, I discovered
Thorndyke himself just finishing the mounting of a microscopical

"Did you know that there is some one below waiting to see you?" I asked.

"Is it anyone you know?" he inquired.

"No," I answered. "It is a red-nosed, sniggering fool in spectacles. He
has got a lease or a deed or some other sort of document which he has
been using to play a sort of idiotic game of Peep-Bo! I couldn't stand
him, so I came up here."

Thorndyke laughed heartily at my description of his client.

"What are you laughing at?" I asked sourly; at which he laughed yet more
heartily and added to the aggravation by wiping his eyes.

"Our friend seems to have put you out," he remarked.

"He put me out literally. If I had stayed much longer I should have
punched his head."

"In that case," said Thorndyke, "I am glad you didn't stay. But come
down and let me introduce you."

"No, thank you. I've had enough of him for the present."

"But I have a very special reason for wishing to introduce you. I think
you will get some information from him that will interest you very much;
and you needn't quarrel with a man for being of a cheerful disposition."

"Cheerful be hanged!" I exclaimed. "I don't call a man cheerful because
he behaves like a gibbering idiot."

To this Thorndyke made no reply but a broad and appreciative smile, and
we descended to the lower floor. As we entered the room, the stranger
rose, and, glancing in an embarrassed way from one of us to the other,
suddenly broke out into an undeniable snigger. I looked at him sternly,
and Thorndyke, quite unmoved by his indecorous behaviour, said in a
grave voice:

"Let me introduce you, Jervis; though I think you have met this
gentleman before."

"I think not," I said stiffly.

"Oh yes, you have, sir," interposed the stranger; and, as he spoke, I
started; for the voice was uncommonly like the familiar voice of Polton.

I looked at the speaker with sudden suspicion. And now I could see that
the flaxen hair was a wig; that the beard had a decidedly artificial
look, and that the eyes that beamed through the spectacles were
remarkably like the eyes of our factotum. But the blotchy face, the
bulbous nose and the shaggy, overhanging eyebrows were alien features
that I could not reconcile with the personality of our refined and
aristocratic-looking little assistant.

"Is this a practical joke?" I asked.

"No," replied Thorndyke; "it is a demonstration. When we were talking
this morning it appeared to me that you did not realize the extent to
which it is possible to conceal identity under suitable conditions of
light. So I arranged, with Polton's rather reluctant assistance, to give
you ocular evidence. The conditions are not favourable--which makes the
demonstration more convincing. This is a very well-lighted room and
Polton is a very poor actor; in spite of which it has been possible for
you to sit opposite him for several minutes and look at him, I have no
doubt, very attentively, without discovering his identity. If the room
had been lighted only with a candle, and Polton had been equal to the
task of supporting his make-up with an appropriate voice and manner, the
deception would have been perfect."

"I can see that he has a wig on, quite plainly," said I.

"Yes; but you would not in a dimly lighted room. On the other hand, if
Polton were to walk down Fleet Street at mid-day in this condition, the
make-up would be conspicuously evident to any moderately observant
passer-by. The secret of making up consists in a careful adjustment to
the conditions of light and distance in which the make-up is to be seen.
That in use on the stage would look ridiculous in an ordinary room; that
which would serve in an artificially lighted room would look ridiculous
out of doors by daylight."

"Is any effective make-up possible out of doors in ordinary daylight?" I

"Oh, yes," replied Thorndyke. "But it must be on a totally different
scale from that of the stage. A wig, and especially a beard or
moustache, must be joined up at the edges with hair actually stuck on
the skin with transparent cement and carefully trimmed with scissors.
The same applies to eyebrows; and alterations in the colour of the skin
must be carried out much more subtly. Polton's nose has been built up
with a small covering of toupee-paste, the pimples on the cheeks
produced with little particles of the same material; and the general
tinting has been done with grease-paint with a very light scumble of
powder colour to take off some of the shine. This would be possible in
outdoor make-up, but it would have to be done with the greatest care and
delicacy; in fact, with what the art-critics call 'reticence.' A very
little make-up is sufficient and too much is fatal. You would be
surprised to see how little paste is required to alter the shape of the
nose and the entire character of the face."

At this moment there came a loud knock at the door; a single, solid dab
of the knocker which Polton seemed to recognize, for he ejaculated:

"Good lord, sir! That'll be Wilkins, the cabman! I'd forgotten all
about him. Whatever's to be done?"

He stared at us in ludicrous horror for a moment or two, and then,
snatching off his wig, beard and spectacles, poked them into a cupboard.
But his appearance was now too much even for Thorndyke--who hastily got
behind him--for he had now resumed his ordinary personality--but with a
very material difference.

"Oh, it's nothing to laugh at, sir," he exclaimed indignantly as I
crammed my handkerchief into my mouth. "Somebody's got to let him in, or
he'll go away."

"Yes; and that won't do," said Thorndyke. "But don't worry, Polton. You
can step into the office. I'll open the door."

Polton's presence of mind, however, seemed to have entirely forsaken
him, for he only hovered irresolutely in the wake of his principal. As
the door opened, a thick and husky voice inquired:

"Gent of the name of Polton live here?"

"Yes, quite right," said Thorndyke. "Come in. Your name is Wilkins, I

"That's me, sir," said the voice; and in response to Thorndyke's
invitation, a typical "growler" cabman of the old school, complete even
to imbricated cape and dangling badge, stalked into the room, and
glancing round with a mixture of embarrassment and defiance, suddenly
fixed on Polton's nose a look of devouring curiosity.

"Here you are, then," Polton remarked nervously.

"Yus," replied the cabman in a slightly hostile tone. "Here I am. What
am I wanted to do? And where's this here Mr. Polton?"

"I am Mr. Polton," replied our abashed assistant.

"Well, it's the other Mr. Polton what I want," said the cabman, with his
eyes still riveted on the olfactory prominence.

"There isn't any other Mr. Polton," our subordinate replied irritably.
"I am the--er--person who spoke to you in the shelter."

"Are you though?" said the manifestly incredulous cabby. "I shouldn't
have thought it; but you ought to know. What do you want me to do?"

"We want you," said Thorndyke, "to answer one or two questions. And the
first one is, Are you a teetotaller?"

The question being illustrated by the production of a decanter, the
cabman's dignity relaxed somewhat.

"I ain't bigoted," said he.

"Then sit down and mix yourself a glass of grog. Soda or plain water?"

"May as well have all the extries," replied the cabman, sitting down and
grasping the decanter with the air of a man who means business. "Per'aps
you wouldn't mind squirtin' out the soda, sir, bein' more used to it."

While these preliminaries were being arranged, Polton silently slipped
out of the room, and when our visitor had fortified himself with a gulp
of the uncommonly stiff mixture, the examination began.

"Your name, I think, is Wilkins?" said Thorndyke.

"That's me, sir. Samuel Wilkins is my name."

"And your occupation?"

"Is a very tryin' one and not paid for as it deserves. I drives a cab,
sir; a four-wheeled cab is what I drives; and a very poor job it is."

"Do you happen to remember a very foggy day about a month ago?"

"Do I not, sir! A regler sneezer that was! Wednesday, the fourteenth of
March. I remember the date because my benefit society came down on me
for arrears that morning."

"Will you tell us what happened to you between six and seven in the
evening of that day?"

"I will, sir," replied the cabman, emptying his tumbler by way of
bracing himself up for the effort. "A little before six I was waiting on
the arrival side of the Great Northern Station, King's Cross, when I see
a gentleman and a lady coming out. The gentleman he looks up and down
and then he sees me and walks up to the cab and opens the door and helps
the lady in. Then he says to me: 'Do you know New Inn?' he says. That's
what he says to me what was born and brought up in White Horse Alley,
Drury Lane.

"'Get inside,' says I.

"'Well,' says he, 'you drive in through the gate in Wych Street,' he
says, as if he expected me to go in by Houghton Street and down the
steps, 'and then,' he says, 'you drive nearly to the end and you'll see
a house with a large brass plate at the corner of the doorway. That's
where we want to be set down,' he says, and with that he nips in and
pulls up the windows and off we goes.

"It took us a full half-hour to get to New Inn through the fog, for I
had to get down and lead the horse part of the way. As I drove in under
the archway, I saw it was half-past six by the clock in the porter's
lodge. I drove down nearly to the end of the inn and drew up opposite a
house where there was a big brass plate by the doorway. It was number
thirty-one. Then the gent crawls out and hands me five bob--two
'arf-crowns--and then he helps the lady out, and away they waddles to
the doorway and I see them start up the stairs very slow--regler
Pilgrim's Progress. And that was the last I see of 'em."

Thorndyke wrote down the cabman's statement verbatim together with his
own questions, and then asked:

"Can you give us any description of the gentleman?"

"The gent," said Wilkins, was a very respectable-looking gent, though he
did look as if he'd had a drop of something short, and small blame to
him on a day like that. But he was all there, and he knew what was the
proper fare for a foggy evening, which is more than some of 'em do. He
was a elderly gent, about sixty, and he wore spectacles, but he didn't
seem to be able to see much through 'em. He was a funny 'un to look at;
as round in the back as a turtle and he walked with his head stuck
forward like a goose."

"What made you think he had been drinking?"

"Well, he wasn't as steady as he might have been on his pins. But he
wasn't drunk, you know. Only a bit wobbly on the plates."

"And the lady; what was she like?"

"I couldn't see much of her because her head was wrapped up in a sort of
woollen veil. But I should say she wasn't a chicken. Might have been
about the same age as the gent, but I couldn't swear to that. She seemed
a trifle rickety on the pins too; in fact they were a rum-looking
couple. I watched 'em tottering across the pavement and up the stairs,
hanging on to each other, him peering through his blinkers and she
trying to see through her veil, and I thought it was a jolly good job
they'd got a nice sound cab and a steady driver to bring 'em safe home."

"How was the lady dressed?"

"Can't rightly say, not being a hexpert. Her head was done up in this
here veil like a pudden in a cloth and she had a small hat on. She had a
dark brown mantle with a fringe of beads round it and a black dress; and
I noticed when she got into the cab at the station that one of her
stockings looked like the bellows of a concertina. That's all I can tell

Thorndyke wrote down the last answer, and, having read the entire
statement aloud, handed the pen to our visitor.

"If that is all correct," he said, "I will ask you to sign your name at
the bottom."

"Do you want me to swear a affidavy that it's all true?" asked Wilkins.

"No, thank you," replied Thorndyke. "We may have to call you to give
evidence in court, and then you'll be sworn; and you'll also be paid for
your attendance. For the present I want you to keep your own counsel and
say nothing to anybody about having been here. We have to make some
other inquiries and we don't want the affair talked about."

"I see, sir," said Wilkins, as he laboriously traced his signature at
the foot of the statement; "you don't want the other parties for to ogle
your lay. All right, sir; you can depend on me. I'm fly, I am."

"Thank you, Wilkins," said Thorndyke. "And now what are we to give you
for your trouble in coming here?"

"I'll leave the fare to you, sir. You know what the information's worth;
but I should think 'arf a thick-un wouldn't hurt you."

Thorndyke laid on the table a couple of sovereigns, at the sight of
which the cabman's eyes glistened.

"We have your address, Wilkins," said he. "If we want you as a witness
we shall let you know, and if not, there will be another two pounds for
you at the end of a fortnight, provided you have not let this little
interview leak out."

Wilkins gathered up the spoils gleefully. "You can trust me, sir," said
he, "for to keep my mouth shut. I knows which side my bread's buttered.
Good night, gentlemen all."

With this comprehensive salute he moved towards the door and let
himself out.

"Well, Jervis; what do you think of it?" Thorndyke asked, as the
cabman's footsteps faded away in a creaky diminuendo.

"I don't know what to think. This woman is a new factor in the case and
I don't know how to place her."

"Not entirely new," said Thorndyke. "You have not forgotten those beads
that we found in Jeffrey's bedroom, have you?"

"No, I had not forgotten them, but I did not see that they told us much
excepting that some woman had apparently been in his bedroom at some

"That, I think, is all that they did tell us. But now they tell us that
a particular woman was in his bedroom at a particular time, which is a
good deal more significant."

"Yes. It almost looks as if she must have been there when he made away
with himself."

"It does, very much."

"By the way, you were right about the colours of those beads, and also
about the way they were used."

"As to their use, that was a mere guess; but it has turned out to be
correct. It was well that we found the beads, for, small as is the
amount of information they give, it is still enough to carry us a stage

"How so?"

"I mean that the cabman's evidence tells us only that this woman entered
the house. The beads tell us that she was in the bedroom; which, as you
say, seems to connect her to some extent with Jeffrey's death. Not
necessarily, of course. It is only a suggestion; but a rather strong
suggestion under the peculiar circumstances."

"Even so," said I, "this new fact seems to me so far from clearing up
the mystery, only to add to it a fresh element of still deeper mystery.
The porter's evidence at the inquest could leave no doubt that Jeffrey
contemplated suicide, and his preparations pointedly suggest this
particular night as the time selected by him for doing away with
himself. Is not that so?"

"Certainly. The porter's evidence was very clear on that point."

"Then I don't see where this woman comes in. It is obvious that her
presence at the inn, and especially in the bedroom, on this occasion and
in these strange, secret circumstances, has a rather sinister look; but
yet I do not see in what way she could have been connected with the
tragedy. Perhaps, after all, she has nothing to do with it. You remember
that Jeffrey went to the lodge about eight o'clock, to pay his rent, and
chatted for some time with the porter. That looks as if the lady had
already left."

"Yes," said Thorndyke. "But, on the other hand, Jeffrey's remarks to the
porter with reference to the cab do not quite agree with the account
that we have just heard from Wilkins. Which suggests--as does Wilkins's
account generally--some secrecy as to the lady's visit to his chambers."

"Do you know who the woman was?" I asked.

"No, I don't know," he replied. "I have a rather strong suspicion that I
can identify her, but I am waiting for some further facts."

"Is your suspicion founded on some new matter that you have discovered,
or is it deducible from facts that are known to me?"

"I think," he replied, "that you know practically all that I know,
although I have, in one instance, turned a very strong suspicion into a
certainty by further inquiries. But I think you ought to be able to form
some idea as to who this lady probably was."

"But no woman has been mentioned in the case at all."

"No; but I think you should be able to give this lady a name,

"Should I? Then I begin to suspect that I am not cut out for
medico-legal practice, for I don't see the faintest glimmer of a

Thorndyke smiled benevolently. "Don't be discouraged, Jervis," said he.
"I expect that when you first began to go round the wards, you doubted
whether you were cut out for medical practice. I did. For special work
one needs special knowledge and an acquired faculty for making use of
it. What does a second year's student make of a small thoracic aneurysm?
He knows the anatomy of the chest; he begins to know the normal heart
sounds and areas of dullness; but he cannot yet fit his various items of
knowledge together. Then comes the experienced physician and perhaps
makes a complete diagnosis without any examination at all, merely from
hearing the patient speak or cough. He has the same facts as the
student, but he has acquired the faculty of instantly connecting an
abnormality of function with its correleated anatomical change. It is a
matter of experience. And, with your previous training, you will soon
acquire the faculty. Try to observe everything. Let nothing escape you.
And try constantly to find some connection between facts and events that
seem to be unconnected. That is my advice to you; and with that we will
put away the Blackmore case for the present and consider our day's work
at an end."

Chapter XIV

Thorndyke Lays the Mine

The information supplied by Mr. Samuel Wilkins, so far from dispelling
the cloud of mystery that hung over the Blackmore case, only enveloped
it in deeper obscurity, so far as I was concerned. The new problem that
Thorndyke offered for solution was a tougher one than any of the others.
He proposed that I should identify and give a name to this mysterious
woman. But how could I? No woman, excepting Mrs. Wilson, had been
mentioned in connection with the case. This new dramatis persona had
appeared suddenly from nowhere and straightway vanished without leaving
a trace, excepting the two or three beads that we had picked up in
Jeffrey's room.

Nor was it in the least clear what part, if any, she had played in the
tragedy. The facts still pointed as plainly to suicide as before her
appearance. Jeffrey's repeated hints as to his intentions, and the very
significant preparations that he had made, were enough to negative any
idea of foul play. And yet the woman's presence in the chambers at that
time, the secret manner of her arrival and her precautions against
recognition, strongly suggested some kind of complicity in the dreadful
event that followed.

But what complicity is possible in the case of suicide? The woman might
have furnished him with the syringe and the poison, but it would not
have been necessary for her to go to his chambers for that purpose.
Vague ideas of persuasion and hypnotic suggestion floated through my
brain; but the explanations did not fit the case and the hypnotic
suggestion of crime is not very convincing to the medical mind. Then I
thought of blackmail in connection with some disgraceful secret; but
though this was a more hopeful suggestion, it was not very probable,
considering Jeffrey's age and character.

And all these speculations failed to throw the faintest light on the
main question: "Who was this woman?"

A couple of days passed, during which Thorndyke made no further
reference to the case. He was, most of the time, away from home, though
how he was engaged I had no idea. What was rather more unusual was that
Polton seemed to have deserted the laboratory and taken to outdoor
pursuits. I assumed that he had seized the opportunity of leaving me in
charge, and I dimly surmised that he was acting as Thorndyke's private
inquiry agent, as he seemed to have done in the case of Samuel Wilkins.

On the evening of the second day Thorndyke came home in obviously good
spirits, and his first proceedings aroused my expectant curiosity. He
went to a cupboard and brought forth a box of Trichinopoly cheroots. Now
the Trichinopoly cheroot was Thorndyke's one dissipation, to be enjoyed
only on rare and specially festive occasions; which, in practice, meant
those occasions on which he had scored some important point or solved
some unusually tough problem. Wherefore I watched him with lively

"It's a pity that the 'Trichy' is such a poisonous beast," he remarked,
taking up one of the cheroots and sniffing at it delicately. "There is
no other cigar like it, to a really abandoned smoker." He laid the cigar
back in the box and continued: "I think I shall treat myself to one
after dinner to celebrate the occasion."

"What occasion?" I asked.

"The completion of the Blackmore case. I am just going to write to
Marchmont advising him to enter a caveat."

"Do you mean to say that you have discovered a flaw in the will, after

"A flaw!" he exclaimed. "My dear Jervis, that second will is a forgery."

I stared at him in amazement; for his assertion sounded like nothing
more or less than arrant nonsense.

"But the thing is impossible, Thorndyke," I said. "Not only did the
witnesses recognize their own signatures and the painter's greasy
finger-marks, but they had both read the will and remembered its

"Yes; that is the interesting feature in the case. It is a very pretty
problem. I shall give you a last chance to solve it. To-morrow evening
we shall have to give a full explanation, so you have another
twenty-four hours in which to think it over. And, meanwhile, I am going
to take you to my club to dine. I think we shall be pretty safe there
from Mrs. Schallibaum."

He sat down and wrote a letter, which was apparently quite a short one,
and having addressed and stamped it, prepared to go out.

"Come," said he, "let us away to 'the gay and festive scenes and halls
of dazzling light.' We will lay the mine in the Fleet Street pillar box.
I should like to be in Marchmont's office when it explodes."

"I expect, for that matter," said I, "that the explosion will be felt
pretty distinctly in these chambers."

"I expect so, too," replied Thorndyke; "and that reminds me that I shall
be out all day to-morrow, so, if Marchmont calls, you must do all that
you can to persuade him to come round after dinner and bring Stephen
Blackmore, if possible. I am anxious to have Stephen here, as he will be
able to give us some further information and confirm certain matters of

I promised to exercise my utmost powers of persuasion on Mr. Marchmont
which I should certainly have done on my own account, being now on the
very tiptoe of curiosity to hear Thorndyke's explanation of the
unthinkable conclusion at which he had arrived--and the subject dropped
completely; nor could I, during the rest of the evening, induce my
colleague to reopen it even in the most indirect or allusive manner.

Our explanations in respect of Mr. Marchmont were fully realized; for,
on the following morning, within an hour of Thorndyke's departure from
our chambers, the knocker was plied with more than usual emphasis, and,
on my opening the door, I discovered the solicitor in company with a
somewhat older gentleman. Mr. Marchmont appeared somewhat out of humour,
while his companion was obviously in a state of extreme irritation.

"How d'you do, Dr. Jervis?" said Marchmont as he entered at my
invitation. "Your friend, I suppose, is not in just now?"

"No; and he will not be returning until the evening."

"Hm; I'm sorry. We wished to see him rather particularly. This is my
partner, Mr. Winwood."

The latter gentleman bowed stiffly and Marchmont continued:

"We have had a letter from Dr. Thorndyke, and it is, I may say, a rather
curious letter; in fact, a very singular letter indeed."

"It is the letter of a madman!" growled Mr. Winwood.

"No, no, Winwood; nothing of the kind. Control yourself, I beg you. But
really, the letter is rather incomprehensible. It relates to the will of
the late Jeffrey Blackmore--you know the main facts of the case; and we
cannot reconcile it with those facts."

"This is the letter," exclaimed Mr. Winwood, dragging the document from
his wallet and slapping it down on the table. "If you are acquainted
with the case, sir, just read that, and let us hear what you think."

I took up the letter and read aloud:



"I have gone into this case with great care and have now no doubt that
the second will is a forgery. Criminal proceedings will, I think, be
inevitable, but meanwhile it would be wise to enter a caveat.

"If you could look in at my chambers to-morrow evening we could talk the
case over; and I should be glad if you could bring Mr. Stephen
Blackmore; whose personal knowledge of the events and the parties
concerned would be of great assistance in clearing up obscure details.

"I am,

"Yours sincerely,



"Well!" exclaimed Mr. Winwood, glaring ferociously at me, "what do you
think of the learned counsel's opinion?"

"I knew that Thorndyke was writing to you to this effect," I replied,
"but I must frankly confess that I can make nothing of it. Have you
acted on his advice?"

"Certainly not!" shouted the irascible lawyer. "Do you suppose that we
wish to make ourselves the laughing-stock of the courts? The thing is
impossible--ridiculously impossible!"

"It can't be that, you know," I said, a little stiffly, for I was
somewhat nettled by Mr. Winwood's manner, "or Thorndyke would not have
written this letter. The conclusion looks as impossible to me as it does
to you; but I have complete confidence in Thorndyke. If he says that the
will is a forgery, I have no doubt that it is a forgery."

"But how the deuce can it be?" roared Winwood. "You know the
circumstances under which the will was executed."

"Yes; but so does Thorndyke. And he is not a man who overlooks important
facts. It is useless to argue with me. I am in a complete fog about the
case myself. You had better come in this evening and talk it over with
him as he suggests."

"It is very inconvenient," grumbled Mr. Winwood. "We shall have to dine
in town."

"Yes," said Marchmont, "but it is the only thing to be done. As Dr.
Jervis says, we must take it that Thorndyke has something solid to base
his opinion on. He doesn't make elementary mistakes. And, of course, if
what he says is correct, Mr. Stephen's position is totally changed."

"Bah!" exclaimed Winwood, "he has found a mare's nest, I tell you.
Still, I agree that the explanation should be worth hearing."

"You mustn't mind Winwood," said Marchmont, in an apologetic undertone;
"he's a peppery old fellow with a rough tongue, but he doesn't mean any
harm." Which statement Winwood assented to--or dissented from; for it
was impossible to say which--by a prolonged growl.

"We shall expect you then," I said, "about eight to-night, and you will
try to bring Mr. Stephen with you?"

"Yes," replied Marchmont; "I think we can promise that he shall come
with us. I have sent him a telegram asking him to attend."

With this the two lawyers took their departure, leaving me to meditate
upon my colleague's astonishing statement; which I did, considerably to
the prejudice of other employment. That Thorndyke would be able to
justify the opinion that he had given, I had no doubt whatever; but yet
there was no denying that his proposition was what Mr. Dick Swiveller
would call "a staggerer."

When Thorndyke returned, I informed him of the visit of our two friends,
and acquainted him with the sentiments that they had expressed; whereat
he smiled with quiet amusement.

"I thought," he remarked, "that letter would bring Marchmont to our door
before long. As to Winwood, I have never met him, but I gather that he
is one of those people whom you 'mustn't mind.' In a general way, I
object to people who tacitly claim exemption from the ordinary rules of
conduct that are held to be binding on their fellows. But, as he
promises to give us what the variety artists call 'an extra turn,' we
will make the best of him and give him a run for his money."

Here Thorndyke smiled mischievously--I understood the meaning of that
smile later in the evening--and asked: "What do you think of the affair

"I have given it up," I answered. "To my paralysed brain, the Blackmore
case is like an endless algebraical problem propounded by an insane

Thorndyke laughed at my comparison, which I flatter myself was a rather
apt one.

"Come and dine," said he, "and let us crack a bottle, that our hearts
may not turn to water under the frown of the disdainful Winwood. I think
the old 'Bell' in Holborn will meet our present requirements better than
the club. There is something jovial and roystering about an ancient
tavern; but we must keep a sharp lookout for Mrs. Schallibaum."

Thereupon we set forth; and, after a week's close imprisonment, I once
more looked upon the friendly London streets, the cheerfully lighted
shop windows and the multitudes of companionable strangers who moved
unceasingly along the pavements.

Chapter XV

Thorndyke Explodes the Mine

We had not been back in our chambers more than a few minutes when the
little brass knocker on the inner door rattled out its summons.
Thorndyke himself opened the door, and, finding our three expected
visitors on the threshold, he admitted them and closed the "oak."

"We have accepted your invitation, you see," said Marchmont, whose
manner was now a little flurried and uneasy. "This is my partner, Mr.
Winwood; you haven't met before, I think. Well, we thought we should
like to hear some further particulars from you, as we could not quite
understand your letter."

"My conclusion, I suppose," said Thorndyke, "was a little unexpected?"

"It was more than that, sir," exclaimed Winwood. "It was absolutely
irreconcilable either with the facts of the case or with common physical

"At the first glance," Thorndyke agreed, "it would probably have that

"It has that appearance still to me." said Winwood, growing suddenly red
and wrathful, "and I may say that I speak as a solicitor who was
practising in the law when you were an infant in arms. You tell us, sir,
that this will is a forgery; this will, which was executed in broad
daylight in the presence of two unimpeachable witnesses who have sworn,
not only to their signatures and the contents of the document, but to
their very finger-marks on the paper. Are those finger-marks forgeries,
too? Have you examined and tested them?"

"I have not," replied Thorndyke. "The fact is they are of no interest to
me, as I am not disputing the witnesses' signatures."

At this, Mr. Winwood fairly danced with irritation.

"Marchmont!" he exclaimed fiercely, "you know this good gentleman, I
believe. Tell me, is he addicted to practical jokes?"

"Now, my dear Winwood," groaned Marchmont, "I pray you--I beg you to
control yourself. No doubt--"

"But confound it!" roared Winwood, "you have, yourself, heard him say
that the will is a forgery, but that he doesn't dispute the signatures;
which," concluded Winwood, banging his fist down on the table, "is
damned nonsense."

"May I suggest," interposed Stephen Blackmore, "that we came here to
receive Dr. Thorndyke's explanation of his letter. Perhaps it would be
better to postpone any comments until we have heard it."

"Undoubtedly, undoubtedly," said Marchmont. "Let me entreat you,
Winwood, to listen patiently and refrain from interruption until we have
heard our learned friend's exposition of the case."

"Oh, very well," Winwood replied sulkily; "I'll say no more."

He sank into a chair with the manner of a man who shuts himself up and
turns the key; and so remained--excepting when the internal pressure
approached bursting-point--throughout the subsequent proceedings,
silent, stony and impassive, like a seated statue of Obstinacy.

"I take it," said Marchmont, "that you have some new facts that are not
in our possession?"

"Yes," replied Thorndyke; "we have some new facts, and we have made some
new use of the old ones. But how shall I lay the case before you? Shall
I state my theory of the sequence of events and furnish the verification
afterwards? Or shall I retrace the actual course of my investigations
and give you the facts in the order in which I obtained them myself,
with the inferences from them?"

"I almost think," said Mr. Marchmont, "that it would be better if you
would put us in possession of the new facts. Then, if the conclusions
that follow from them are not sufficiently obvious, we could hear the
argument. What do you say, Winwood?"

Mr. Winwood roused himself for an instant, barked out the one word
"Facts," and shut himself up again with a snap.

"You would like to have the new facts by themselves?" said Thorndyke.

"If you please. The facts only, in the first place, at any rate."

"Very well," said Thorndyke; and here I caught his eye with a
mischievous twinkle in it that I understood perfectly; for I had most of
the facts myself and realized how much these two lawyers were likely to
extract from them. Winwood was going to "have a run for his money," as
Thorndyke had promised.

My colleague, having placed on the table by his side a small cardboard
box and the sheets of notes from his file, glanced quickly at Mr.
Winwood and began:

"The first important new facts came into my possession on the day on
which you introduced the case to me. In the evening, after you left, I
availed myself of Mr. Stephen's kind invitation to look over his uncle's
chambers in New Inn. I wished to do so in order to ascertain, if
possible, what had been the habits of the deceased during his residence
there. When I arrived with Dr. Jervis, Mr. Stephen was in the chambers,
and I learned from him that his uncle was an Oriental scholar of some
position and that he had a very thorough acquaintance with the cuneiform
writing. Now, while I was talking with Mr. Stephen I made a very curious
discovery. On the wall over the fire-place hung a large framed
photograph of an ancient Persian inscription in the cuneiform character;
and that photograph was upside down."

"Upside down!" exclaimed Stephen. "But that is really very odd."

"Very odd indeed," agreed Thorndyke, "and very suggestive. The way in
which it came to be inverted is pretty obvious and also rather
suggestive. The photograph had evidently been in the frame some years
but had apparently never been hung up before."

"It had not," said Stephen, "though I don't know how you arrived at the
fact. It used to stand on the mantelpiece in his old rooms in Jermyn

"Well," continued Thorndyke, "the frame-maker had pasted his label on
the back of the frame, and as this label hung the right way up, it
appeared as if the person who fixed the photograph on the wall had
adopted it as a guide."

"It is very extraordinary," said Stephen. "I should have thought the
person who hung it would have asked Uncle Jeffrey which was the right
way up; and I can't imagine how on earth it could have hung all those
months without his noticing it. He must have been practically blind."

Here Marchmont, who had been thinking hard, with knitted brows, suddenly
brightened up.

"I see your point," said he. "You mean that if Jeffrey was as blind as
that, it would have been possible for some person to substitute a false
will, which he might sign without noticing the substitution."

"That wouldn't make the will a forgery," growled Winwood. "If Jeffrey
signed it, it was Jeffrey's will. You could contest it if you could
prove the fraud. But he said: 'This is my will,' and the two witnesses
read it and have identified it."

"Did they read it aloud?" asked Stephen.

"No, they did not," replied Thorndyke.

"Can you prove substitution?" asked Marchmont.

"I haven't asserted it," answered Thorndyke, "My position is that the
will is a forgery."

"But it is not," said Winwood.

"We won't argue it now," said Thorndyke. "I ask you to note the fact
that the inscription was upside down. I also observed on the walls of
the chambers some valuable Japanese colour-prints on which were recent
damp-spots. I noted that the sitting-room had a gas-stove and that the
kitchen contained practically no stores or remains of food and hardly
any traces of even the simplest cooking. In the bedroom I found a large
box that had contained a considerable stock of hard stearine candles,
six to the pound, and that was now nearly empty. I examined the clothing
of the deceased. On the soles of the boots I observed dried mud, which
was unlike that on my own and Jervis's boots, from the gravelly square
of the inn. I noted a crease on each leg of the deceased man's trousers
as if they had been turned up half-way to the knee; and in the waistcoat
pocket I found the stump of a 'Contango' pencil. On the floor of the
bedroom, I found a portion of an oval glass somewhat like that of a
watch or locket, but ground at the edge to a double bevel. Dr. Jervis
and I also found one or two beads and a bugle, all of dark brown glass."

Here Thorndyke paused, and Marchmont, who had been gazing at him with
growing amazement, said nervously:

"Er--yes. Very interesting. These observations of yours--er--are--"

"Are all the observations that I made at New Inn."

The two lawyers looked at one another and Stephen Blackmore stared
fixedly at a spot on the hearth-rug. Then Mr. Winwood's face contorted
itself into a sour, lopsided smile.

"You might have observed a good many other things, sir," said he, "if
you had looked. If you had examined the doors, you would have noted that
they had hinges and were covered with paint; and, if you had looked up
the chimney you might have noted that it was black inside."

"Now, now, Winwood," protested Marchmont in an agony of uneasiness as to
what his partner might say next, "I must really beg you--er--to refrain
from--what Mr. Winwood means, Dr. Thorndyke, is that--er--we do not
quite perceive the relevancy of these--ah--observations of yours."

"Probably not," said Thorndyke, "but you will perceive their relevancy
later. For the present, I will ask you to note the facts and bear them
in mind, so that you may be able to follow the argument when we come to

"The next set of data I acquired on the same evening, when Dr. Jervis
gave me a detailed account of a very strange adventure that befell him.
I need not burden you with all the details, but I will give you the
substance of his story."

He then proceeded to recount the incidents connected with my visits to
Mr. Graves, dwelling on the personal peculiarities of the parties
concerned and especially of the patient, and not even forgetting the
very singular spectacles worn by Mr. Weiss. He also explained briefly
the construction of the chart, presenting the latter for the inspection
of his hearers. To this recital our three visitors listened in utter
bewilderment, as, indeed did I also; for I could not conceive in what
way my adventures could possibly be related to the affairs of the late
Mr. Blackmore. This was manifestly the view taken by Mr. Marchmont, for,
during a pause in which the chart was handed to him, he remarked
somewhat stiffly:

"I am assuming, Dr. Thorndyke, that the curious story you are telling us
has some relevance to the matter in which we are interested."

"You are quite correct in your assumption," replied Thorndyke. "The
story is very relevant indeed, as you will presently be convinced."

"Thank you," said Marchmont, sinking back once more into his chair with
a sigh of resignation.

"A few days ago," pursued Thorndyke, "Dr. Jervis and I located, with the
aid of this chart, the house to which he had been called. We found that
the late tenant had left somewhat hurriedly and that the house was to
let; and, as no other kind of investigation was possible, we obtained
the keys and made an exploration of the premises."

Here he gave a brief account of our visit and the conditions that we
observed, and was proceeding to furnish a list of the articles that we
had found under the grate, when Mr. Winwood started from his chair.

"Really, sir!" he exclaimed, "this is too much! Have I come here, at
great personal inconvenience, to hear you read the inventory of a

Thorndyke smiled benevolently and caught my eye, once more, with a gleam
of amusement.

"Sit down, Mr. Winwood," he said quietly. "You came here to learn the
facts of the case, and I am giving them to you. Please don't interrupt
needlessly and waste time."

Winwood stared at him ferociously for several seconds; then, somewhat
disconcerted by the unruffled calm of his manner, he uttered a snort of
defiance, sat down heavily and shut himself up again.

"We will now," Thorndyke continued, with unmoved serenity, "consider
these relics in more detail, and we will begin with this pair of
spectacles. They belonged to a person who was near-sighted and
astigmatic in the left eye and almost certainly blind in the right. Such
a description agrees entirely with Dr. Jervis's account of the sick

He paused for the moment, and then, as no one made any comment,

"We next come to these little pieces of reed, which you, Mr. Stephen,
will probably recognize as the remains of a Japanese brush, such as is
used for writing in Chinese ink or for making small drawings."

Again he paused, as though expecting some remark from his listeners; but
no one spoke, and he continued:

"Then there is this bottle with the theatrical wig-maker's label on it,
which once contained cement such as is used for fixing on false beards,
moustaches or eyebrows."

He paused once more and looked round expectantly at his audience, none
of whom, however, volunteered any remark.

"Do none of these objects that I have described and shown you, seem to
have any significance for us?" he asked, in a tone of some surprise.

"They convey nothing to me," said Mr. Marchmont, glancing at his
partner, who shook his head like a restive horse.

"Nor to you, Mr. Stephen?"

"No," replied Stephen. "Under the existing circumstances they convey no
reasonable suggestion to me."

Thorndyke hesitated as if he were half inclined to say something more;
then, with a slight shrug, he turned over his notes and resumed:

"The next group of new facts is concerned with the signatures of the
recent cheques. We have photographed them and placed them together for
the purpose of comparison and analysis."

"I am not prepared to question the signatures." said Winwood. "We have
had a highly expert opinion, which would override ours in a court of law
even if we differed from it; which I think we do not."

"Yes," said Marchmont; "that is so. I think we must accept the
signatures, especially as that of the will has been proved, beyond any
question" to be authentic."

"Very well," agreed Thorndyke; "we will pass over the signatures. Then
we have some further evidence in regard to the spectacles, which serves
to verify our conclusions respecting them."

"Perhaps," said Marchmont, "we might pass over that, too, as we do not
seem to have reached any conclusions."

"As you please," said Thorndyke. "It is important, but we can reserve it
for verification. The next item will interest you more, I think. It is
the signed and witnessed statement of Samuel Wilkins, the driver of the
cab in which the deceased came home to the inn on the evening of his

My colleague was right. An actual document, signed by a tangible
witness, who could be put in the box and sworn, brought both lawyers to
a state of attention; and when Thorndyke read out the cabman's evidence,
their attention soon quickened into undisguised astonishment.

"But this is a most mysterious affair," exclaimed Marchmont. "Who could
this woman have been, and what could she have been doing in Jeffrey's
chambers at this time? Can you throw any light on it, Mr. Stephen?"

"No, indeed I can't," replied Stephen. "It is a complete mystery to me.
My uncle Jeffrey was a confirmed old bachelor, and, although he did not
dislike women, he was far from partial to their society, wrapped up as
he was in his favourite studies. To the best of my belief, he had not a
single female friend. He was not on intimate terms even with his sister,
Mrs. Wilson."

"Very remarkable," mused Marchmont; "most remarkable. But, perhaps, you
can tell us, Dr. Thorndyke, who this woman was?"

"I think," replied Thorndyke, "that the next item of evidence will
enable you to form an opinion for yourselves. I only obtained it
yesterday, and, as it made my case quite complete, I wrote off to you
immediately. It is the statement of Joseph Ridley, another cabman, and
unfortunately, a rather dull, unobservant fellow, unlike Wilkins. He has
not much to tell us, but what little he has is highly instructive. Here
is the statement, signed by the deponent and witnessed by me:

"'My name is Joseph Ridley. I am the driver of a four-wheeled cab. On
the fourteenth of March, the day of the great fog, I was waiting at
Vauxhall Station, where I had just set down a fare. About five o'clock a
lady came and told me to drive over to Upper Kennington Lane to take up
a passenger. She was a middle-sized woman. I could not tell what her age
was, or what she was like, because her head was wrapped up in a sort of
knitted, woollen veil to keep out the fog. I did not notice how she was
dressed. She got into the cab and I led the horse over to Upper
Kennington Lane and a little way up the lane, until the lady tapped at
the front, window for me to stop.

"'She got out of the cab and told me to wait. Then she went away and
disappeared in the fog. Presently a lady and gentleman came from the
direction in which she had gone. The lady looked like the same lady, but
I won't answer to that. Her head was wrapped up in the same kind of veil
or shawl, and I noticed that she had on a dark coloured mantle with
bead fringe on it.

"'The gentleman was clean shaved and wore spectacles, and he stooped a
good deal. I can't say whether his sight was good or bad. He helped the
lady into the cab and told me to drive to the Great Northern Station,
King's Cross. Then he got in himself and I drove off. I got to the
station about a quarter to six and the lady and gentleman got out. The
gentleman paid my fare and they both went into the station. I did not
notice anything unusual about either of them. Directly after they had
gone, I got a fresh fare and drove away.'

"That," Thorndyke concluded, "is Joseph Ridley's statement; and I think
it will enable you to give a meaning to the other facts that I have
offered for your consideration."

"I am not so sure about that," said Marchmont. "It is all exceedingly
mysterious. Your suggestion is, of course, that the woman who came to
New Inn in the cab was Mrs. Schallibaum!"

"Not at all," replied Thorndyke. "My suggestion is that the woman was
Jeffrey Blackmore."

There was deathly silence for a few moments. We were all absolutely
thunderstruck, and sat gaping at Thorndyke in speechless-astonishment.
Then--Mr. Winwood fairly bounced out of his chair.

"But--my--good--sir!" he screeched. "Jeffrey Blackmore was with her at
the time!"

"Naturally," replied Thorndyke, "my suggestion implies that the person
who was with her was not Jeffrey Blackmore."

"But he was!" bawled Winwood. "The porter saw him!"

"The porter saw a person whom he believed to be Jeffrey Blackmore. I
suggest that the porter's belief was erroneous."

"Well," snapped Winwood, "perhaps you can prove that it was. I don't see
how you are going to; but perhaps you can."

He subsided once more into his chair and glared defiantly at Thorndyke.

"You seemed," said Stephen, "to suggest some connection between the sick
man, Graves, and my uncle. I noted it at the time, but put it aside as
impossible. Was I right. Did you mean to suggest any connection?"

"I suggest something more than a connection. I suggest identity. My
position is that the sick man, Graves, was your uncle."

"From Dr. Jervis's description," said Stephen, "this man must have been
very like my uncle. Both were blind in the right eye and had very poor
vision with the left; and my uncle certainly used brushes of the kind
that you have shown us, when writing in the Japanese character, for I
have watched him and admired his skill; but--"

"But," said Marchmont, "there is the insuperable objection that, at the
very time when this man was lying sick in Kennington Lane, Mr. Jeffrey
was living at New Inn."

"What evidence is there of that?" asked Thorndyke.

"Evidence!" Marchmont exclaimed impatiently. "Why, my dear sir--"

He paused suddenly, and, leaning forward, regarded Thorndyke with a new
and rather startled expression.

"You mean to suggest--" he began.

"I suggest that Jeffrey Blackmore never lived at New Inn at all."

For the moment, Marchmont seemed absolutely paralysed by astonishment.

"This is an amazing proposition!" he exclaimed, at length. "Yet the
thing is certainly not impossible, for, now that you recall the fact, I
realize that no one who had known him previously--excepting his brother,
John--ever saw him at the inn. The question of identity was never

"Excepting," said Mr. Winwood, "in regard to the body; which was
certainly that of Jeffrey Blackmore."

"Yes, yes. Of course," said Marchmont. "I had forgotten that for the
moment. The body was identified beyond doubt. You don't dispute the
identity of the body, do you?"

"Certainly not," replied Thorndyke.

Here Mr. Winwood grasped his hair with both hands and stuck his elbows
on his knees, while Marchmont drew forth a large handkerchief and mopped
his forehead. Stephen Blackmore looked from one to the other
expectantly, and finally said:

"If I might make a suggestion, it would be that, as Dr. Thorndyke has
shown us the pieces now of the puzzle, he should be so kind as to put
them together for our information."

"Yes," agreed Marchmont, "that will be the best plan. Let us have the
argument, Doctor, and any additional evidence that you possess."

"The argument," said Thorndyke, "will be a rather long one, as the data
are so numerous, and there are some points in verification on which I
shall have to dwell in some detail. We will have some coffee to clear
our brains, and then I will bespeak your patience for what may seem like
a rather prolix demonstration."

Chapter XVI

An Exposition and a Tragedy

"You may have wondered," Thorndyke commenced, when he had poured out the
coffee and handed round the cups, "what induced me to undertake the
minute investigation of so apparently simple and straightforward a case.
Perhaps I had better explain that first and let you see what was the
real starting-point of the inquiry.

"When you, Mr. Marchmont and Mr. Stephen, introduced the case to me, I
made a very brief precis of the facts as you presented them, and of
these there were one or two which immediately attracted my attention. In
the first place, there was the will. It was a very strange will. It was
perfectly unnecessary. It contained no new matter; it expressed no
changed intentions; it met no new circumstances, as known to the
testator. In short it was not really a new will at all, but merely a
repetition of the first one, drafted in different and less suitable
language. It differed only in introducing a certain ambiguity from which
the original was free. It created the possibility that, in certain
circumstances, not known to or anticipated by the testator, John
Blackmore might become the principal beneficiary, contrary to the
obvious wishes of the testator.

"The next point that impressed me was the manner of Mrs. Wilson's death.
She died of cancer. Now people do not die suddenly and unexpectedly of
cancer. This terrible disease stands almost alone in that it marks out
its victim months in advance. A person who has an incurable cancer is a
person whose death may be predicted with certainty and its date fixed
within comparatively narrow limits.

"And now observe the remarkable series of coincidences that are brought
into light when we consider this peculiarity of the disease. Mrs. Wilson
died on the twelfth of March of this present year. Mr. Jeffrey's second
will was signed on the twelfth of November of last year; at a time, that
is to say, when the existence of cancer must have been known to Mrs.
Wilson's doctor, and might have been known to any of her relatives who
chose to inquire after her.

"Then you will observe that the remarkable change in Mr. Jeffrey's
habits coincides in the most singular way with the same events. The
cancer must have been detectable as early as September of last year;
about the time, in fact, at which Mrs. Wilson made her will. Mr. Jeffrey
went to the inn at the beginning of October. From that time his habits
were totally changed, and I can demonstrate to you that a change--not a
gradual, but an abrupt change--took place in the character of his

"In short, the whole of this peculiar set of curcumstances--the change
in Jeffrey's habits, the change in his signature, and the execution of
his strange will--came into existence about the time when Mrs. Wilson
was first known to be suffering from cancer.

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