Part 2 out of 5
"Why, of course, Juliet, dear. What else did we come here for?" With a
slightly injured expression, Mrs. Hornby opened the little bag and
commenced, with the utmost deliberation, to turn out its contents on to
the table. These included a laced handkerchief, a purse, a card-case, a
visiting list, a packet of _papier poudre_, and when she had laid the
last-mentioned article on the table, she paused abruptly and gazed into
Miss Gibson's face with the air of one who has made a startling
"I remember the woman's name," she said in an impressive voice. "It was
Gudge--Mrs. Gudge, the sister-in-law of--"
Here Miss Gibson made an unceremonious dive into the open bag and fished
out a tiny parcel wrapped in notepaper and secured with a silk thread.
"Thank you," said Thorndyke, taking it from her hand just as Mrs. Hornby
was reaching out to intercept it. He cut the thread and drew from its
wrappings a little book bound in red cloth, with the word "Thumbograph"
stamped upon the cover, and was beginning to inspect it when Mrs. Hornby
rose and stood beside him.
"That," said she, as she opened the book at the first page, "is the
thumb-mark of a Miss Colley. She is no connection of ours. You see it is
a little smeared--she said Reuben jogged her elbow, but I don't think he
did; at any rate he assured me he did not, and, you know--"
"Ah! Here is one we are looking for," interrupted Thorndyke, who had
been turning the leaves of the book regardless of Mrs. Hornby's rambling
comments; "a very good impression, too, considering the rather rough
method of producing it."
He reached out for the reading lens that hung from its nail above the
mantelpiece, and I could tell by the eagerness with which he peered
through it at the thumb-print that he was looking for something. A
moment later I felt sure that he had found that something which he had
sought, for, though he replaced the lens upon its nail with a quiet and
composed air and made no remark, there was a sparkle of the eye and a
scarcely perceptible flush of suppressed excitement and triumph which I
had begun to recognise beneath the impassive mask that he presented to
"I shall ask you to leave this little book with me, Mrs. Hornby," he
said, breaking in upon that lady's inconsequent babblings, "and, as I
may possibly put it in evidence, it would be a wise precaution for you
and Miss Gibson to sign your names--as small as possible--on the page
which bears Mr. Reuben's thumb-mark. That will anticipate any suggestion
that the book has been tampered with after leaving your hands."
"It would be a great impertinence for anyone to make any such
suggestion," Mrs. Hornby began; but on Thorndyke's placing his fountain
pen in her hand, she wrote her signature in the place indicated and
handed the pen to Miss Gibson, who signed underneath.
"And now," said Thorndyke, "we will take an enlarged photograph of this
page with the thumb-mark; not that it is necessary that it should be
done now, as you are leaving the book in my possession; but the
photograph will be wanted, and as my man is expecting us and has the
apparatus ready, we may as well despatch the business at once."
To this both the ladies readily agreed (being, in fact, devoured by
curiosity with regard to my colleague's premises), and we accordingly
proceeded to invade the set of rooms on the floor above, over which the
ingenious Polton was accustomed to reign in solitary grandeur.
It was my first visit to these mysterious regions, and I looked about me
with as much curiosity as did the two ladies. The first room that we
entered was apparently the workshop, for it contained a small
woodworker's bench, a lathe, a bench for metal work and a number of
mechanical appliances which I was not then able to examine; but I
noticed that the entire place presented to the eye a most unworkmanlike
neatness, a circumstance that did not escape Thorndyke's observation,
for his face relaxed into a grim smile as his eye travelled over the
bare benches and the clean-swept floor.
From this room we entered the laboratory, a large apartment, one side of
which was given up to chemical research, as was shown by the shelves of
reagents that covered the wall, and the flasks, retorts and other
apparatus that were arranged on the bench, like ornaments on a
drawing-room mantelpiece. On the opposite side of the room was a large,
massively-constructed copying camera, the front of which, carrying the
lens, was fixed, and an easel or copyholder travelled on parallel guides
towards, or away, from it, on a long stand.
This apparatus Thorndyke proceeded to explain to our visitors while
Polton was fixing the "Thumbograph" in a holder attached to the easel.
"You see," he said, in answer to a question from Miss Gibson, "I have a
good deal to do with signatures, cheques and disputed documents of
various kinds. Now a skilled eye, aided by a pocket-lens, can make out
very minute details on a cheque or bank-note; but it is not possible to
lend one's skilled eye to a judge or juryman, so that it is often very
convenient to be able to hand them a photograph in which the
magnification is already done, which they can compare with the original.
Small things, when magnified, develop quite unexpected characters; for
instance, you have handled a good many postage stamps, I suppose, but
have you ever noticed the little white spots in the upper corner of a
penny stamp, or even the difference in the foliage on the two sides of
Miss Gibson admitted that she had not.
"Very few people have, I suppose, excepting stamp-collectors," continued
Thorndyke; "but now just glance at this and you will find these
unnoticed details forced upon your attention." As he spoke, he handed
her a photograph, which he had taken from a drawer, showing a penny
stamp enlarged to a length of eight inches.
While the ladies were marvelling over this production, Polton proceeded
with his work. The "Thumbograph" having been fixed in position, the
light from a powerful incandescent gas lamp, fitted with a parabolic
reflector, was concentrated on it, and the camera racked out to its
"What are those figures intended to show?" inquired Miss Gibson,
indicating the graduation on the side of one of the guides.
"They show the amount of magnification or reduction," Thorndyke
explained. "When the pointer is opposite 0, the photograph is the same
size as the object photographed; when it points to, say, x 4, the
photograph will be four times the width and length of the object, while
if it should point to, say, / 4, the photograph will be one-fourth the
length of the object. It is now, you see, pointing to x 8, so the
photograph will be eight times the diameter of the original thumb-mark."
By this time Polton had brought the camera to an accurate focus and,
when we had all been gratified by a glimpse of the enlarged image on the
focussing screen, we withdrew to a smaller room which was devoted to
bacteriology and microscopical research, while the exposure was made and
the plate developed. Here, after an interval, we were joined by Polton,
who bore with infinite tenderness the dripping negative on which could
be seen the grotesque transparency of a colossal thumb-mark.
This Thorndyke scrutinised eagerly, and having pronounced it
satisfactory, informed Mrs. Hornby that the object of her visit was
attained, and thanked her for the trouble she had taken.
"I am very glad we came," said Miss Gibson to me, as a little later we
walked slowly up Mitre Court in the wake of Mrs. Hornby and Thorndyke;
"and I am glad to have seen these wonderful instruments, too. It has
made me realise that something is being done and that Dr. Thorndyke
really has some object in view. It has really encouraged me immensely."
"And very properly so," I replied. "I, too, although I really know
nothing of what my colleague is doing, feel very strongly that he would
not take all this trouble and give up so much valuable time if he had
not some very definite purpose and some substantial reasons for taking
a hopeful view."
"Thank you for saying that," she rejoined warmly; "and you will let me
have a crumb of comfort when you can, won't you?" She looked in my face
so wistfully as she made this appeal that I was quite moved; and,
indeed, I am not sure that my state of mind at that moment did not fully
justify my colleague's reticence towards me.
However, I, fortunately, had nothing to tell, and so, when we emerged
into Fleet Street to find Mrs. Hornby already ensconced in a hansom, I
could only promise, as I grasped the hand that she offered to me, to see
her again at the earliest opportunity--a promise which my inner
consciousness assured me would be strictly fulfilled.
"You seem to be on quite confidential terms with our fair friend,"
Thorndyke remarked, as we strolled back towards his chambers. "You are
an insinuating dog, Jervis."
"She is very frank and easy to get on with," I replied.
"Yes. A good girl and a clever girl, and comely to look upon withal. I
suppose it would be superfluous for me to suggest that you mind your
"I shouldn't, in any case, try to cut out a man who is under a cloud," I
"Of course you wouldn't; hence the need of attention to the ophthalmic
member. Have you ascertained what Miss Gibson's actual relation is to
"No," I answered.
"It might be worth while to find out," said Thorndyke; and then he
relapsed into silence.
COMMITTED FOR TRIAL
Thorndyke's hint as to the possible danger foreshadowed by my growing
intimacy with Juliet Gibson had come upon me as a complete surprise, and
had, indeed, been resented by me as somewhat of an impertinence.
Nevertheless, it gave me considerable food for meditation, and I
presently began to suspect that the watchful eyes of my observant friend
might have detected something in my manner towards Miss Gibson
suggestive of sentiments that had been unsuspected by myself.
Of course it would be absurd to suppose that any real feeling could have
been engendered by so ridiculously brief an acquaintance. I had only met
the girl three times, and even now, excepting for business relations,
was hardly entitled to more than a bow of recognition. But yet, when I
considered the matter impartially and examined my own consciousness, I
could not but recognise that she had aroused in me an interest which
bore no relation to the part that she had played in the drama that was
so slowly unfolding. She was undeniably a very handsome girl, and her
beauty was of a type that specially appealed to me--full of dignity and
character that gave promise of a splendid middle age. And her
personality was in other ways not less attractive, for she was frank and
open, sprightly and intelligent, and though evidently quite
self-reliant, was in nowise lacking in that womanly softness that so
strongly engages a man's sympathy.
In short, I realised that, had there been no such person as Reuben
Hornby, I should have viewed Miss Gibson with uncommon interest.
But, unfortunately, Reuben Hornby was a most palpable reality, and,
moreover, the extraordinary difficulties of his position entitled him to
very special consideration by any man of honour. It was true that Miss
Gibson had repudiated any feelings towards Reuben other than those of
old-time friendship; but young ladies are not always impartial judges of
their own feelings, and, as a man of the world, I could not but have my
own opinion on the matter--which opinion I believed to be shared by
Thorndyke. The conclusions to which my cogitations at length brought me
were: first, that I was an egotistical donkey, and, second, that my
relations with Miss Gibson were of an exclusively business character and
must in future be conducted on that basis, with the added consideration
that I was the confidential agent, for the time being, of Reuben Hornby,
and in honour bound to regard his interests as paramount.
"I am hoping," said Thorndyke, as he held out his hand for my teacup,
"that these profound reflections of yours are connected with the Hornby
affair; in which case I should expect to hear that the riddle is solved
and the mystery made plain."
"Why should you expect that?" I demanded, reddening somewhat, I suspect,
as I met his twinkling eye. There was something rather disturbing in
the dry, quizzical smile that I encountered and the reflection that I
had been under observation, and I felt as much embarrassed as I should
suppose a self-conscious water-flea might feel on finding itself on the
illuminated stage of a binocular microscope.
"My dear fellow," said Thorndyke, "you have not spoken a word for the
last quarter of an hour; you have devoured your food with the relentless
regularity of a sausage-machine, and you have, from time to time, made
the most damnable faces at the coffee-pot--though there I'll wager the
coffee-pot was even with you, if I may judge by the presentment that it
offers of my own countenance."
I roused myself from my reverie with a laugh at Thorndyke's quaint
conceit and a glance at the grotesquely distorted reflection of my face
in the polished silver.
"I am afraid I _have_ been a rather dull companion this morning," I
"By no means," replied Thorndyke, with a grin. "On the contrary, I have
found you both amusing and instructive, and I only spoke when I had
exhausted your potentialities as a silent entertainer."
"You are pleased to be facetious at my expense," said I.
"Well, the expense was not a very heavy one," he retorted. "I have been
merely consuming a by-product of your mental activity--Hallo! that's
A peculiar knock, apparently delivered with the handle of a
walking-stick on the outer door, was the occasion of this exclamation,
and as Thorndyke sprang up and flung the door open, a clear, musical
voice was borne in, the measured cadences of which proclaimed at once
the trained orator.
"Hail, learned brother!" it exclaimed. "Do I disturb you untimely at
your studies?" Here our visitor entered the room and looked round
critically. "'Tis even so," he declared. "Physiological chemistry and
its practical applications appears to be the subject. A physico-chemical
inquiry into the properties of streaky bacon and fried eggs. Do I see
another learned brother?"
He peered keenly at me through his pince-nez, and I gazed at him in some
"This is my friend Jervis, of whom you have heard me speak," said
Thorndyke. "He is with us in this case, you know."
"The echoes of your fame have reached me, sir," said Anstey, holding out
his hand. "I am proud to know you. I should have recognised you
instantly from the portrait of your lamented uncle in Greenwich
"Anstey is a wag, you understand," explained Thorndyke, "but he has
lucid intervals. He'll have one presently if we are patient."
"Patient!" snorted our eccentric visitor, "it is I who need to be
patient when I am dragged into police courts and other sinks of iniquity
to plead for common thieves and robbers like a Kennington Lane
"You've been talking to Lawley, I see," said Thorndyke.
"Yes, and he tells me that we haven't a leg to stand upon."
"No, we've got to stand on our heads, as men of intellect should. But
Lawley knows nothing about the case."
"He thinks he knows it all," said Anstey.
"Most fools do," retorted Thorndyke. "They arrive at their knowledge by
intuition--a deuced easy road and cheap travelling too. We reserve our
defence--I suppose you agree to that?"
"I suppose so. The magistrate is sure to commit unless you have an
"We shall put in an _alibi_, but we are not depending on it."
"Then we had better reserve our defence," said Anstey; "and it is time
that we wended on our pilgrimage, for we are due at Lawley's at
half-past ten. Is Jervis coming with us?"
"Yes, you'd better come," said Thorndyke. "It's the adjourned hearing of
poor Hornby's case, you know. There won't be anything done on our side,
but we may be able to glean some hint from the prosecution."
"I should like to hear what takes place, at any rate," I said, and we
accordingly sallied forth together in the direction of Lincoln's Inn, on
the north side of which Mr. Lawley's office was situated.
"Ah!" said the solicitor, as we entered, "I am glad you've come; I was
getting anxious--it doesn't do to be late on these occasions, you know.
Let me see, do you know Mr. Walter Hornby? I don't think you do." He
presented Thorndyke and me to our client's cousin, and as we shook
hands, we viewed one another with a good deal of mutual interest.
"I have heard about you from my aunt," said he, addressing himself more
particularly to me. "She appears to regard you as a kind of legal
Maskelyne and Cooke. I hope, for my cousin's sake, that you will be able
to work the wonders that she anticipates. Poor old fellow! He looks
pretty bad, doesn't he?"
I glanced at Reuben, who was at the moment talking to Thorndyke, and as
he caught my eye he held out his hand with a warmth that I found very
pathetic. He seemed to have aged since I had last seen him, and was
pale and rather thinner, but he was composed in his manner and seemed to
me to be taking his trouble very well on the whole.
"Cab's at the door, sir," a clerk announced.
"Cab," repeated Mr. Lawley, looking dubiously at me; "we want an
"Dr. Jervis and I can walk," Walter Hornby suggested. "We shall probably
get there as soon as you, and it doesn't matter if we don't."
"Yes, that will do," said Mr. Lawley; "you two walk down together. Now
let us go."
We trooped out on to the pavement, beside which a four-wheeler was drawn
up, and as the others were entering the cab, Thorndyke stood close
beside me for a moment.
"Don't let him pump you," he said in a low voice, without looking at me;
then he sprang into the cab and slammed the door.
"What an extraordinary affair this is," Walter Hornby remarked, after we
had been walking in silence for a minute or two; "a most ghastly
business. I must confess that I can make neither head nor tail of it."
"How is that?" I asked.
"Why, do you see, there are apparently only two possible theories of the
crime, and each of them seems to be unthinkable. On the one hand there
is Reuben, a man of the most scrupulous honour, as far as my experience
of him goes, committing a mean and sordid theft for which no motive can
be discovered--for he is not poor, nor pecuniarily embarrassed nor in
the smallest degree avaricious. On the other hand, there is this
thumb-print, which, in the opinion of the experts, is tantamount to the
evidence of an eye-witness that he did commit the theft. It is
positively bewildering. Don't you think so?"
"As you put it," I answered, "the case is extraordinarily puzzling."
"But how else would you put it?" he demanded, with ill-concealed
"I mean that, if Reuben is the man you believe him to be, the thing is
"Quite so," he agreed, though he was evidently disappointed at my
He walked on silently for a few minutes and then said: "I suppose it
would not be fair to ask if you see any way out of the difficulty? We
are all, naturaly anxious about the upshot of the affair, seeing what
poor old Reuben's position is."
"Naturally. But the fact is that I know no more than you do, and as to
Thorndyke, you might as well cross-examine a Whitstable native as put
questions to him."
"Yes, so I gathered from Juliet. But I thought you might have gleaned
some notion of the line of defence from your work in the laboratory--the
microscopical and photographic work I mean."
"I was never in the laboratory until last night, when Thorndyke took me
there with your aunt and Miss Gibson; the work there is done by the
laboratory assistant, and his knowledge of the case, I should say, is
about as great as a type-founder's knowledge of the books that he is
helping to produce. No; Thorndyke is a man who plays a single-handed
game and no one knows what cards he holds until he lays them on the
My companion considered this statement in silence while I congratulated
myself on having parried, with great adroitness, a rather inconvenient
question. But the time was not far distant when I should have occasion
to reproach myself bitterly for having been so explicit and emphatic.
"My uncle's condition," Walter resumed after a pause, "is a pretty
miserable one at present, with this horrible affair added to his own
"Has he any special trouble besides this, then?" I asked.
"Why, haven't you heard? I thought you knew about it, or I shouldn't
have spoken--not that it is in any way a secret, seeing that it is
public property in the city. The fact is that his financial affairs are
a little entangled just now."
"Indeed!" I exclaimed, considerably startled by this new development.
"Yes, things have taken a rather awkward turn, though I think he will
pull through all right. It is the usual thing, you know--investments, or
perhaps one should say speculations. He appears to have sunk a lot of
capital in mines--thought he was 'in the know,' not unnaturally; but it
seems he wasn't after all, and the things have gone wrong, leaving him
with a deal more money than he can afford locked up and the possibility
of a dead loss if they don't revive. Then there are these infernal
diamonds. He is not morally responsible, we know; but it is a question
if he is not legally responsible, though the lawyers think he is not.
Anyhow, there is going to be a meeting of the creditors to-morrow."
"And what do you think they will do?"
"Oh, they will, most probably, let him go on for the present; but, of
course, if he is made accountable for the diamonds there will be nothing
for it but to 'go through the hoop,' as the sporting financier
"The diamonds were of considerable value, then?"
"From twenty-five to thirty thousand pounds' worth vanished with that
I whistled. This was a much bigger affair than I had imagined, and I was
wondering if Thorndyke had realised the magnitude of the robbery, when
we arrived at the police court.
"I suppose our friends have gone inside," said Walter. "They must have
got here before us."
This supposition was confirmed by a constable of whom we made inquiry,
and who directed us to the entrance to the court. Passing down a passage
and elbowing our way through the throng of idlers, we made for the
solicitor's box, where we had barely taken our seats when the case was
Unspeakably dreary and depressing were the brief proceedings that
followed, and dreadfully suggestive of the helplessness of even an
innocent man on whom the law has laid its hand and in whose behalf its
inexorable machinery has been set in motion.
The presiding magistrate, emotionless and dry, dipped his pen while
Reuben, who had surrendered to his bail, was placed in the dock and the
charge read over to him. The counsel representing the police gave an
abstract of the case with the matter-of-fact air of a house-agent
describing an eligible property. Then, when the plea of "not guilty" had
been entered, the witnesses were called. There were only two, and when
the name of the first, John Hornby, was called, I glanced towards the
witness-box with no little curiosity.
I had not hitherto met Mr. Hornby, and as he now entered the box, I saw
an elderly man, tall, florid, and well-preserved, but strained and wild
in expression and displaying his uncontrollable agitation by continual
nervous movements which contrasted curiously with the composed demeanour
of the accused man. Nevertheless, he gave his evidence in a perfectly
connected manner, recounting the events connected with the discovery of
the crime in much the same words as I had heard Mr. Lawley use, though,
indeed, he was a good deal more emphatic than that gentleman had been in
regard to the excellent character borne by the prisoner.
After him came Mr. Singleton, of the finger-print department at Scotland
Yard, to whose evidence I listened with close attention. He produced the
paper which bore the thumb-print in blood (which had previously been
identified by Mr. Hornby) and a paper bearing the print, taken by
himself, of the prisoner's left thumb. These two thumb-prints, he
stated, were identical in every respect.
"And you are of opinion that the mark on the paper that was found in Mr.
Hornby's safe, was made by the prisoner's left thumb?" the magistrate
asked in dry and business-like tones.
"I am certain of it."
"You are of opinion that no mistake is possible?"
"No mistake is possible, your worship. It is a certainty."
The magistrate looked at Anstey inquiringly, whereupon the barrister
rose. "We reserve our defence, your worship."
The magistrate then, in the same placid, business-like manner, committed
the prisoner for trial at the Central Criminal Court, refusing to accept
bail for his appearance, and, as Reuben was led forth from the dock, the
next case was called.
By special favour of the authorities, Reuben was to be allowed to make
his journey to Holloway in a cab, thus escaping the horrors of the
filthy and verminous prison van, and while this was being procured, his
friends were permitted to wish him farewell.
"This is a hard experience, Hornby," said Thorndyke, when we three were,
for a few moments, left apart from the others; and as he spoke the
warmth of a really sympathetic nature broke through his habitual
impassivity. "But be of good cheer; I have convinced myself of your
innocence and have good hopes of convincing the world--though this is
for your private ear, you understand, to be mentioned to no one."
Reuben wrung the hand of this "friend in need," but was unable, for the
moment, to speak; and, as his self-control was evidently strained to the
breaking point, Thorndyke, with a man's natural instinct, wished him a
hasty good-bye, and passing his hand through my arm, turned away.
"I wish it had been possible to save the poor fellow from this delay,
and especially from the degradation of being locked up in a jail," he
exclaimed regretfully as we walked down the street.
"There is surely no degradation in being merely accused of a crime," I
answered, without much conviction, however. "It may happen to the best
of us; and he is still an innocent man in the eyes of the law."
"That, my dear Jervis, you know, as well as I do, to be mere casuistry,"
he rejoined. "The law professes to regard the unconvicted man as
innocent; but how does it treat him? You heard how the magistrate
addressed our friend; outside the court he would have called him _Mr_.
Hornby. You know what will happen to Reuben at Holloway. He will be
ordered about by warders, will have a number label fastened on to his
coat, he will be locked in a cell with a spy-hole in the door, through
which any passing stranger may watch him; his food will be handed to him
in a tin pan with a tin knife and spoon; and he will be periodically
called out of his cell and driven round the exercise yard with a mob
composed, for the most part, of the sweepings of the London slums. If he
is acquitted, he will be turned loose without a suggestion of
compensation or apology for these indignities or the losses he may have
sustained through his detention."
"Still I suppose these evils are unavoidable," I said.
"That may or may not be," he retorted. "My point is that the presumption
of innocence is a pure fiction; that the treatment of an accused man,
from the moment of his arrest, is that of a criminal. However," he
concluded, hailing a passing hansom, "this discussion must be adjourned
or I shall be late at the hospital. What are you going to do?"
"I shall get some lunch and then call on Miss Gibson to let her know the
"Yes, that will be kind, I think; baldly stated, the news may seem
rather alarming. I was tempted to thrash the case out in the police
court, but it would not have been safe. He would almost certainly have
been committed for trial after all, and then we should have shown our
hand to the prosecution."
He sprang into the hansom and was speedily swallowed up in the traffic,
while I turned back towards the police court to make certain inquiries
concerning the regulations as to visitors at Holloway prison. At the
door I met the friendly inspector from Scotland Yard, who gave me the
necessary information, whereupon with a certain homely little French
restaurant in my mind I bent my steps in the direction of Soho.
SHOALS AND QUICKSANDS
When I arrived at Endsley Gardens, Miss Gibson was at home, and to my
unspeakable relief, Mrs. Hornby was not. My veneration for that lady's
moral qualities was excessive, but her conversation drove me to the
verge of insanity--an insanity not entirely free from homicidal
"It is good of you to come--though I thought you would," Miss Gibson
said impulsively, as we shook hands. "You have been so sympathetic and
human--both you and Dr. Thorndyke--so free from professional stiffness.
My aunt went off to see Mr. Lawley directly we got Walter's telegram."
"I am sorry for her," I said (and was on the point of adding "and him,"
but fortunately a glimmer of sense restrained me); "she will find him
"Yes; I dislike him extremely. Do you know that he had the impudence to
advise Reuben to plead 'guilty'?"
"He told us he had done so, and got a well-deserved snubbing from
Thorndyke for his pains."
"I am so glad," exclaimed Miss Gibson viciously. "But tell me what has
happened. Walter simply said 'Transferred to higher court,' which we
agreed was to mean, 'Committed for trial.' Has the defence failed? And
where is Reuben?"
"The defence is reserved. Dr. Thorndyke considered it almost certain
that the case would be sent for trial, and that being so, decided that
it was essential to keep the prosecution in the dark as to the line of
defence. You see, if the police knew what the defence was to be they
could revise their own plans accordingly."
"I see that," said she dejectedly, "but I am dreadfully disappointed. I
had hoped that Dr. Thorndyke would get the case dismissed. What has
happened to Reuben?"
This was the question that I had dreaded, and now that I had to answer
it I cleared my throat and bent my gaze nervously on the floor.
"The magistrate refused bail," I said after an uncomfortable pause.
"Consequently Reuben has been--er--detained in custody."
"You don't mean to say that they have sent him to prison?" she exclaimed
"Not as a convicted prisoner, you know. He is merely detained pending
"But in prison?"
"Yes," I was forced to admit; "in Holloway prison."
She looked me stonily in the face for some seconds, pale and wide-eyed,
but silent; then, with a sudden catch in her breath, she turned away,
and, grasping the edge of the mantel-shelf, laid her head upon her arm
and burst into a passion of sobbing.
Now I am not, in general, an emotional man, nor even especially
impulsive; but neither am I a stock or a stone or an effigy of wood;
which I most surely must have been if I could have looked without being
deeply moved on the grief, so natural and unselfish, of this strong,
brave, loyal-hearted woman. In effect, I moved to her side and, gently
taking in mine the hand that hung down, murmured some incoherent words
of consolation in a particularly husky voice.
Presently she recovered herself somewhat and softly withdrew her hand,
as she turned towards me drying her eyes.
"You must forgive me for distressing you, as I fear I have," she said;
"for you are so kind, and I feel that you are really my friend and
"I am indeed, dear Miss Gibson," I replied, "and so, I assure you, is my
"I am sure of it," she rejoined. "But I was so unprepared for this--I
cannot say why, excepting that I trusted so entirely in Dr.
Thorndyke--and it is so horrible and, above all, so dreadfully
suggestive of what may happen. Up to now the whole thing has seemed like
a nightmare--terrifying, but yet unreal. But now that he is actually in
prison, it has suddenly become a dreadful reality and I am overwhelmed
with terror. Oh! poor boy! What will become of him? For pity's sake, Dr.
Jervis, tell me what is going to happen."
What could I do? I had heard Thorndyke's words of encouragement to
Reuben and knew my colleague well enough to feel sure that he meant all
he had said. Doubtless my proper course would have been to keep my own
counsel and put Miss Gibson off with cautious ambiguities. But I could
not; she was worthy of more confidence than that.
"You must not be unduly alarmed about the future," I said. "I have it
from Dr. Thorndyke that he is convinced of Reuben's innocence, and is
hopeful of being able to make it clear to the world. But I did not have
this to repeat," I added, with a slight qualm of conscience.
"I know," she said softly, "and I thank you from my heart."
"And as to this present misfortune," I continued, "you must not let it
distress you too much. Try to think of it as of a surgical operation,
which is a dreadful thing in itself, but is accepted in lieu of
something which is immeasurably more dreadful."
"I will try to do as you tell me," she answered meekly; "but it is so
shocking to think of a cultivated gentleman like Reuben, herded with
common thieves and murderers, and locked in a cage like some wild
animal. Think of the ignominy and degradation!"
"There is no ignominy in being wrongfully accused," I said--a little
guiltily, I must own, for Thorndyke's words came back to me with all
their force. But regardless of this I went on: "An acquittal will
restore him to his position with an unstained character, and nothing but
the recollection of a passing inconvenience to look back upon."
She gave her eyes a final wipe, and resolutely put away her
"You have given me back my courage," she said, "and chased away my
terror. I cannot tell you how I feel your goodness, nor have I any
thank-offering to make, except the promise to be brave and patient
henceforth, and trust in you entirely."
She said this with such a grateful smile, and looked withal so sweet and
womanly that I was seized with an overpowering impulse to take her in my
arms. Instead of this I said with conscious feebleness: "I am more than
thankful to have been able to give you any encouragement--which you must
remember comes from me second-hand, after all. It is to Dr. Thorndyke
that we all look for ultimate deliverance."
"I know. But it is you who came to comfort me in my trouble, so, you
see, the honours are divided--and not divided quite equally, I fear, for
women are unreasoning creatures, as, no doubt, your experience has
informed you. I think I hear my aunt's voice, so you had better escape
before your retreat is cut off. But before you go, you must tell me how
and when I can see Reuben. I want to see him at the earliest possible
moment. Poor fellow! He must not be allowed to feel that his friends
have forgotten him even for a single instant."
"You can see him to-morrow, if you like," I said; and, casting my good
resolutions to the winds, I added: "I shall be going to see him myself,
and perhaps Dr. Thorndyke will go."
"Would you let me call at the Temple and go with you? Should I be much
in the way? It is rather an alarming thing to go to a prison alone."
"It is not to be thought of," I answered. "If you will call at the
Temple--it is on the way--we can drive to Holloway together. I suppose
you are resolved to go? It will be rather unpleasant, as you are
"I am quite resolved. What time shall I come to the Temple?"
"About two o'clock, if that will suit you."
"Very well. I will be punctual; and now you must go or you will be
She pushed me gently towards the door and, holding out her hand, said--
"I haven't thanked you half enough and I never can. Good-bye!"
She was gone, and I stood alone in the street, up which yellowish
wreaths of fog were beginning to roll. It had been quite clear and
bright when I entered the house, but now the sky was settling down into
a colourless grey, the light was failing and the houses dwindling into
dim, unreal shapes that vanished at half their height. Nevertheless I
stepped out briskly and strode along at a good pace, as a young man is
apt to do when his mind is in somewhat of a ferment. In truth, I had a
good deal to occupy my thoughts and, as will often happen both to young
men and old, those matters that bore most directly upon my own life and
prospects were the first to receive attention.
What sort of relations were growing up between Juliet Gibson and me? And
what was my position? As to hers, it seemed plain enough; she was
wrapped up in Reuben Hornby and I was her very good friend because I was
his. But for myself, there was no disguising the fact that I was
beginning to take an interest in her that boded ill for my peace of
Never had I met a woman who so entirely realised my conception of what a
woman should be, nor one who exercised so great a charm over me. Her
strength and dignity, her softness and dependency, to say nothing of her
beauty, fitted her with the necessary weapons for my complete and utter
subjugation. And utterly subjugated I was--there was no use in denying
the fact, even though I realised already that the time would presently
come when she would want me no more and there would remain no remedy for
me but to go away and try to forget her.
But was I acting as a man of honour? To this I felt I could fairly
answer "yes," for I was but doing my duty, and could hardly act
differently if I wished to. Besides, I was jeopardising no one's
happiness but my own, and a man may do as he pleases with his own
happiness. No; even Thorndyke could not accuse me of dishonourable
Presently my thoughts took a fresh turn and I began to reflect upon what
I had heard concerning Mr. Hornby. Here was a startling development,
indeed, and I wondered what difference it would make in Thorndyke's
hypothesis of the crime. What his theory was I had never been able to
guess, but as I walked along through the thickening fog I tried to fit
this new fact into our collection of data and determine its bearings and
In this, for a time, I failed utterly. The red thumb-mark filled my
field of vision to the exclusion of all else. To me, as to everyone else
but Thorndyke, this fact was final and pointed to a conclusion that was
unanswerable. But as I turned the story of the crime over and over,
there came to me presently an idea that set in motion a new and very
startling train of thought.
Could Mr. Hornby himself be the thief? His failure appeared sudden to
the outside world, but he must have seen difficulties coming. There,
indeed, was the thumb-mark on the leaf which he had torn from his
pocket-block. Yes! but who had seen him tear it off? No one. The fact
rested on his bare statement.
But the thumb-mark? Well, it was possible (though unlikely)--still
possible--that the mark might have been made accidentally on some
previous occasion and forgotten by Reuben, or even unnoticed. Mr. Hornby
had seen the "Thumbograph," in fact his own mark was in it, and so would
have had his attention directed to the importance of finger-prints in
identification. He might have kept the marked paper for future use, and,
on the occasion of the robbery, pencilled a dated inscription on it, and
slipped it into the safe as a sure means of diverting suspicion. All
this was improbable in the highest degree, but then so was every other
explanation of the crime; and as to the unspeakable baseness of the
deed, what action is too base for a gambler in difficulties?
I was so much excited and elated by my own ingenuity in having formed an
intelligible and practicable theory of the crime, that I was now
impatient to reach home that I might impart my news to Thorndyke and see
how they affected him. But as I approached the centre of the town the
fog grew so dense that all my attention was needed to enable me to
thread my way safely through the traffic; while the strange, deceptive
aspect that it lent to familiar objects and the obliteration of
landmarks made my progress so slow that it was already past six o'clock
when I felt my way down Middle Temple Lane and crept through Crown
Office Row towards my colleague's chambers.
On the doorstep I found Polton peering with anxious face into the blank
expanse of yellow vapour.
"The Doctor's late, sir," said he. "Detained by the fog, I expect. It
must be pretty thick in the Borough."
(I may mention that, to Polton, Thorndyke was The Doctor. Other inferior
creatures there were, indeed, to whom the title of "doctor" in a way,
appertained; but they were of no account in Polton's eyes. Surnames were
good enough for them.)
"Yes, it must be," I replied, "judging by the condition of the Strand."
I entered and ascended the stairs, glad enough of the prospect of a warm
and well-lighted room after my comfortless groping in the murky streets,
and Polton, with a final glance up and down the walk reluctantly
"You would like some tea, sir, I expect?" said he, as he let me in
(though I had a key of my own now).
I thought I should, and he accordingly set about the preparations in his
deft methodical way, but with an air of abstraction that was unusual
"The Doctor said he should be home by five," he remarked, as he laid the
tea-pot on the tray.
"Then he is a defaulter," I answered. "We shall have to water his tea."
"A wonderful punctual man, sir, is the Doctor," pursued Polton. "Keeps
his time to the minute, as a rule, he does."
"You can't keep your time to a minute in a 'London Particular,'" I said
a little impatiently, for I wished to be alone that I might think over
matters, and Polton's nervous flutterings irritated me somewhat. He was
almost as bad as a female housekeeper.
The little man evidently perceived my state of mind, for he stole away
silently, leaving me rather penitent and ashamed, and, as I presently
discovered on looking out of the window, resumed his vigil on the
doorstep. From this coign of vantage he returned after a time to take
away the tea-things; and thereafter, though it was now dark as well as
foggy, I could hear him softly flitting up and down the stairs with a
gloomy stealthiness that at length reduced me to a condition as
nervously apprehensive as his own.
A SUSPICIOUS ACCIDENT
The Temple clock had announced in soft and confidential tones that it
was a quarter to seven, in which statement it was stoutly supported by
its colleague on our mantelpiece, and still there was no sign of
Thorndyke. It was really a little strange, for he was the soul of
punctuality, and moreover, his engagements were of such a kind as
rendered punctuality possible. I was burning with impatience to impart
my news to him, and this fact, together with the ghostly proceedings of
Polton, worked me up to a state of nervous tension that rendered either
rest or thought equally impossible. I looked out of the window at the
lamp below, glaring redly through the fog, and then, opening the door,
went out on to the landing to listen.
At this moment Polton made a silent appearance on the stairs leading
from the laboratory, giving me quite a start; and I was about to retire
into the room when my ear caught the tinkle of a hansom approaching from
The vehicle drew nearer, and at length stopped opposite the house, on
which Polton slid down the stairs with the agility of a harlequin. A few
moments later I heard his voice ascending from the hall--
"I do hope, sir, you're not much hurt?"
I ran down the stairs and met Thorndyke coming up slowly with his right
hand on Polton's shoulder. His clothes were muddy, his left arm was in a
sling, and a black handkerchief under his hat evidently concealed a
"I am not really hurt at all," Thorndyke replied cheerily, "though very
disreputable to look at. Just came a cropper in the mud, Jervis," he
added, as he noted my dismayed expression. "Dinner and a clothes-brush
are what I chiefly need." Nevertheless, he looked very pale and shaken
when he came into the light on the landing, and he sank into his
easy-chair in the limp manner of a man either very weak or very
"How did it happen?" I asked when Polton had crept away on tip-toe to
make ready for dinner.
Thorndyke looked round to make sure that his henchman had departed, and
"A queer affair, Jervis; a very odd affair indeed. I was coming up from
the Borough, picking my way mighty carefully across the road on account
of the greasy, slippery mud, and had just reached the foot of London
Bridge when I heard a heavy lorry coming down the slope a good deal too
fast, considering that it was impossible to see more than a dozen yards
ahead, and I stopped on the kerb to see it safely past. Just as the
horses emerged from the fog, a man came up behind and lurched violently
against me and, strangely enough, at the same moment passed his foot in
front of mine. Of course I went sprawling into the road right in front
of the lorry. The horses came stamping and sliding straight on to me,
and, before I could wriggle out of the way, the hoof of one of them
smashed in my hat--that was a new one that I came home in--and
half-stunned me. Then the near wheel struck my head, making a dirty
little scalp wound, and pinned down my sleeve so that I couldn't pull
away my arm, which is consequently barked all the way down. It was a
mighty near thing, Jervis; another inch or two and I should have been
rolled out as flat as a starfish."
"What became of the man?" I asked, wishing I could have had a brief
interview with him.
"Lost to sight though to memory dear: he was off like a lamplighter. An
alcoholic apple-woman picked me up and escorted me back to the hospital.
It must have been a touching spectacle," he added, with a dry smile at
"And I suppose they kept you there for a time to recover?"
"Yes; I went into dry dock in the O. P. room, and then old Langdale
insisted on my lying down for an hour or so in case any symptoms of
concussion should appear. But I was only a trifle shaken and confused.
Still, it was a queer affair."
"You mean the man pushing you down in that way?"
"Yes; I can't make out how his foot got in front of mine."
"You don't think it was intentional, surely?" I said.
"No, of course not," he replied, but without much conviction, as it
seemed to me; and I was about to pursue the matter when Polton
reappeared, and my friend abruptly changed the subject.
After dinner I recounted my conversation with Walter Hornby, watching my
colleague's face with some eagerness to see what effect this new
information would produce on him. The result was, on the whole,
disappointing. He was interested, keenly interested, but showed no
symptoms of excitement.
"So John Hornby has been plunging in mines, eh?" he said, when I had
finished. "He ought to know better at his age. Did you learn how long he
had been in difficulties?"
"No. But it can hardly have been quite sudden and unforeseen."
"I should think not," Thorndyke agreed. "A sudden slump often proves
disastrous to the regular Stock Exchange gambler who is paying
differences on large quantities of unpaid-for stock. But it looks as if
Hornby had actually bought and paid for these mines, treating them as
investments rather than speculations, in which case the depreciation
would not have affected him in the same way. It would be interesting to
know for certain."
"It might have a considerable bearing on the present case, might it
"Undoubtedly," said Thorndyke. "It might bear on the case in more ways
than one. But you have some special point in your mind, I think."
"Yes. I was thinking that if these embarrassments had been growing up
gradually for some time, they might have already assumed an acute form
at the time of the robbery."
"That is well considered," said my colleague. "But what is the special
bearing on the case supposing it was so?"
"On the supposition," I replied, "that Mr. Hornby was in actual
pecuniary difficulties at the date of the robbery, it seems to me
possible to construct a hypothesis as to the identity of the robber."
"I should like to hear that hypothesis stated," said Thorndyke, rousing
himself and regarding me with lively interest.
"It is a highly improbable one," I began with some natural shyness at
the idea of airing my wits before this master of inductive method; "in
fact, it is almost fantastic."
"Never mind that," said he. "A sound thinker gives equal consideration
to the probable and the improbable."
Thus encouraged, I proceeded to set forth the theory of the crime as it
had occurred to me on my way home in the fog, and I was gratified to
observe the close attention with which Thorndyke listened, and his
little nods of approval at each point that I made.
When I had finished, he remained silent for some time, looking
thoughtfully into the fire and evidently considering how my theory and
the new facts on which it was based would fit in with the rest of the
data. At length he spoke, without, however, removing his eyes from the
"This theory of yours, Jervis, does great credit to your ingenuity. We
may disregard the improbability, seeing that the alternative theories
are almost equally improbable, and the fact that emerges, and that
gratifies me more than I can tell you, is that you are gifted with
enough scientific imagination to construct a possible train of events.
Indeed, the improbability--combined, of course, with possibility--really
adds to the achievement, for the dullest mind can perceive the
obvious--as, for instance, the importance of a finger-print. You have
really done a great thing, and I congratulate you; for you have
emancipated yourself, at least to some extent, from the great
finger-print obsession, which has possessed the legal mind ever since
Galton published his epoch-making monograph. In that work I remember he
states that a finger-print affords evidence requiring no
corroboration--a most dangerous and misleading statement which has been
fastened upon eagerly by the police, who have naturally been delighted
at obtaining a sort of magic touchstone by which they are saved the
labour of investigation. But there is no such thing as a single fact
that 'affords evidence requiring no corroboration.' As well might one
expect to make a syllogism with a single premise." "I suppose they
would hardly go so far as that," I said, laughing.
"No," he admitted. "But the kind of syllogism that they do make is
"'The crime was committed by the person who made this finger-print.
"'But John Smith is the person who made the finger-print.
"'Therefore the crime was committed by John Smith.'"
"Well, that is a perfectly good syllogism, isn't it?" I asked.
"Perfectly," he replied. "But, you see, it begs the whole question,
which is, 'Was the crime committed by the person who made this
finger-print?' That is where the corroboration is required."
"That practically leaves the case to be investigated without reference
to the finger-print, which thus becomes of no importance."
"Not at all," rejoined Thorndyke; "the finger-print is a most valuable
clue as long as its evidential value is not exaggerated. Take our
present case, for instance. Without the thumb-print, the robbery might
have been committed by anybody; there is no clue whatever. But the
existence of the thumb-print narrows the inquiry down to Reuben or some
person having access to his finger-prints."
"Yes, I see. Then you consider my theory of John Hornby as the
perpetrator of the robbery as quite a tenable one?" "Quite," replied
Thorndyke. "I have entertained it from the first; and the new facts that
you have gathered increase its probability. You remember I said that
four hypotheses were possible: that the robbery was committed either by
Reuben, by Walter, by John Hornby, or by some other person. Now, putting
aside the 'some other person' for consideration only if the first three
hypotheses fail, we have left, Reuben, Walter, and John. But if we leave
the thumb-print out of the question, the probabilities evidently point
to John Hornby, since he, admittedly, had access to the diamonds,
whereas there is nothing to show that the others had. The thumb-print,
however, transfers the suspicion to Reuben; but yet, as your theory
makes evident, it does not completely clear John Hornby. As the case
stands, the balance of probabilities may be stated thus: John Hornby
undoubtedly had access to the diamonds, and therefore might have stolen
them. But if the thumb-mark was made after he closed the safe and before
he opened it again, some other person must have had access to them, and
was probably the thief.
"The thumb-mark is that of Reuben Hornby, a fact that establishes a
_prima facie_ probability that he stole the diamonds. But there is no
evidence that he had access to them, and if he had not, he could not
have made the thumb-mark in the manner and at the time stated.
"But John Hornby may have had access to the previously-made thumb-mark
of Reuben, and may possibly have obtained it; in which case he is almost
certainly the thief.
"As to Walter Hornby, he may have had the means of obtaining Reuben's
thumb-mark; but there is no evidence that he had access either to the
diamonds or to Mr. Hornby's memorandum block. The _prima facie_
probabilities in his case, therefore, are very slight."
"The actual points at issue, then," I said, "are, whether Reuben had any
means of opening the safe, and whether Mr. Hornby ever did actually have
the opportunity of obtaining Reuben's thumb-mark in blood on his
"Yes," replied Thorndyke. "Those are the points--with some others--and
they are likely to remain unsettled. Reuben's rooms have been searched
by the police, who failed to find any skeleton or duplicate keys; but
this proves nothing, as he would probably have made away with them when
he heard of the thumb-mark being found. As to the other matter, I have
asked Reuben, and he has no recollection of ever having made a
thumb-mark in blood. So there the matter rests."
"And what about Mr. Hornby's liability for the diamonds?"
"I think we may dismiss that," answered Thorndyke. "He had undertaken no
liability and there was no negligence. He would not be liable at law."
After my colleague retired, which he did quite early, I sat for a long
time pondering upon this singular case in which I found myself involved.
And the more I thought about it the more puzzled I became. If Thorndyke
had no more satisfactory explanation to offer than that which he had
given me this evening, the defence was hopeless, for the court was not
likely to accept his estimate of the evidential value of finger-prints.
Yet he had given Reuben something like a positive assurance that there
would be an adequate defence, and had expressed his own positive
conviction of the accused man's innocence. But Thorndyke was not a man
to reach such a conviction through merely sentimental considerations.
The inevitable conclusion was that he had something up his sleeve--that
he had gained possession of some facts that had escaped my observation;
and when I had reached this point I knocked out my pipe and betook
myself to bed.
On the following morning, as I emerged from my room, I met Polton coming
up with a tray (our bedrooms were on the attic floor above the
laboratory and workshop), and I accordingly followed him into my
"I shan't go out to-day," said Thorndyke, "though I shall come down
presently. It is very inconvenient, but one must accept the inevitable.
I have had a knock on the head, and, although I feel none the worse, I
must take the proper precautions--rest and a low diet--until I see that
no results are going to follow. You can attend to the scalp wound and
send round the necessary letters, can't you?"
I expressed my willingness to do all that was required and applauded my
friend's self-control and good sense; indeed, I could not help
contrasting the conduct of this busy, indefatigable man, cheerfully
resigning himself to most distasteful inaction, with the fussy behaviour
of the ordinary patient who, with nothing of importance to do, can
hardly be prevailed upon to rest, no matter how urgent the necessity.
Accordingly, I breakfasted alone, and spent the morning in writing and
despatching letters to the various persons who were expecting visits
from my colleague.
Shortly after lunch (a very spare one, by the way, for Polton appeared
to include me in the scheme of reduced diet) my expectant ear caught
the tinkle of a hansom approaching down Crown Office Row.
"Here comes your fair companion," said Thorndyke, whom I had acquainted
with my arrangements, "Tell Hornby, from me, to keep up his courage,
and, for yourself, bear my warning in mind. I should be sorry indeed if
you ever had cause to regret that you had rendered me the very valuable
services for which I am now indebted to you. Good-bye; don't keep her
I ran down the stairs and came out of the entry just as the cabman had
pulled up and flung open the doors.
"Holloway Prison--main entrance," I said, as I stepped up on to the
"There ain't no back door there, sir," the man responded, with a grin;
and I was glad that neither the answer nor the grin was conveyed to my
"You are very punctual, Miss Gibson," I said. "It is not half-past one
"Yes; I thought I should like to get there by two, so as to have as long
a time with him as is possible without shortening your interview."
I looked at my companion critically. She was dressed with rather more
than her usual care, and looked, in fact, a very fine lady indeed. This
circumstance, which I noted at first with surprise and then with decided
approbation, caused me some inward discomfort, for I had in my mind a
very distinct and highly disagreeable picture of the visiting
arrangements at a local prison in one of the provinces, at which I had
acted temporarily as medical officer.
"I suppose," I said at length, "it is of no use for me to re-open the
question of the advisability of this visit on your part?"
"Not the least," she replied resolutely, "though I understand and
appreciate your motive in wishing to do so."
"Then," said I, "if you are really decided, it will be as well for me to
prepare you for the ordeal. I am afraid it will give you a terrible
"Indeed?" said she. "Is it so bad? Tell me what it will be like."
"In the first place," I replied, "you must keep in your mind the purpose
of a prison like Holloway. We are going to see an innocent man--a
cultivated and honourable gentleman. But the ordinary inmates of
Holloway are not innocent men; for the most part, the remand cases on
the male side are professional criminals, while the women are either
petty offenders or chronic inebriates. Most of them are regular
customers at the prison--such is the idiotic state of the law--who come
into the reception-room like travellers entering a familiar hostelry,
address the prison officers by name and demand the usual privileges and
extra comforts--the 'drunks,' for instance, generally ask for a dose of
bromide to steady their nerves and a light in the cell to keep away the
horrors. And such being the character of the inmates, their friends who
visit them are naturally of the same type--the lowest outpourings of the
slums; and it is not surprising to find that the arrangements of the
prison are made to fit its ordinary inmates. The innocent man is a
negligible quantity, and no arrangements are made for him or his
"But shall we not be taken to Reuben's cell?" asked Miss Gibson.
"Bless you! no," I answered; and, determined to give her every
inducement to change her mind, I continued: "I will describe the
procedure as I have seen it--and a very dreadful and shocking sight I
found it, I can tell you. It was while I was acting as a prison doctor
in the Midlands that I had this experience. I was going my round one
morning when, passing along a passage, I became aware of a strange,
muffled roar from the other side of the wall.
"'What is that noise?' I asked the warder who was with me.
"'Prisoners seeing their friends,' he answered. 'Like to have a look at
"He unlocked a small door and, as he threw it open, the distant, muffled
sound swelled into a deafening roar. I passed through the door and found
myself in a narrow alley at one end of which a warder was sitting. The
sides of the alley were formed by two immense cages with stout wire
bars, one for the prisoners and the other for the visitors; and each
cage was lined with faces and hands, all in incessant movement, the
faces mouthing and grimacing, and the hands clawing restlessly at the
bars. The uproar was so terrific that no single voice could be
distinguished, though every one present was shouting his loudest to make
himself heard above the universal din. The result was a very strange and
horrid illusion, for it seemed as if no one was speaking at all, but
that the noise came from outside, and that each one of the faces--low,
vicious faces, mostly--was silently grimacing and gibbering, snapping
its jaws and glaring furiously at the occupants of the opposite cage. It
was a frightful spectacle. I could think of nothing but the
monkey-house at the Zoo. It seemed as if one ought to walk up the alley
and offer nuts and pieces of paper to be torn to pieces."
"Horrible!" exclaimed Miss Gibson. "And do you mean to say that we shall
be turned loose into one of these cages with a herd of other visitors?"
"No. You are not turned loose anywhere in a prison. The arrangement is
this: each cage is divided by partitions into a number of small boxes or
apartments, which are numbered. The prisoner is locked in one box and
his visitor in the corresponding box opposite. They are thus confronted,
with the width of the alley between them; they can see one another and
talk but cannot pass any forbidden articles across--a very necessary
precaution, I need hardly say."
"Yes, I suppose it is necessary, but it is horrible for decent people.
Surely they ought to be able to discriminate."
"Why not give it up and let me take a message to Reuben? He would
understand and be thankful to me for dissuading you."
"No, no," she said quickly; "the more repulsive it is the greater the
necessity for me to go. He must not be allowed to think that a trifling
inconvenience or indignity is enough to scare his friends away. What
building is that ahead?"
We had just swung round from Caledonian Road into a quiet and
prosperous-looking suburban street, at the end of which rose the tower
of a castellated building.
"That is the prison," I replied. "We are looking at it from the most
advantageous point of view; seen from the back, and especially from the
inside, it is a good deal less attractive." Nothing more was said
until the cab drove into the courtyard and set us down outside the great
front gates. Having directed the cabman to wait for us, I rang the bell
and we were speedily admitted through a wicket (which was immediately
closed and locked) into a covered court closed in by a second gate,
through the bars of which we could see across an inner courtyard to the
actual entrance to the prison. Here, while the necessary formalities
were gone through, we found ourselves part of a numerous and very motley
company, for a considerable assemblage of the prisoners' friends was
awaiting the moment of admission. I noticed that my companion was
observing our fellow-visitors with a kind of horrified curiosity, which
she strove, however, and not unsuccessfully, to conceal; and certainly
the appearance of the majority furnished eloquent testimony to the
failure of crime as a means of worldly advancement. Their present
position was productive of very varied emotions; some were silent and
evidently stricken with grief; a larger number were voluble and excited,
while a considerable proportion were quite cheerful and even inclined to
At length the great iron gate was unlocked and our party taken in charge
by a warder, who conducted us to that part of the building known as "the
wing"; and, in the course of our progress, I could not help observing
the profound impression made upon my companion by the circumstance that
every door had to be unlocked to admit us and was locked again as soon
as we had passed through.
"It seems to me," I said, as we neared our destination, "that you had
better let me see Reuben first; I have not much to say to him and shall
not keep you waiting long."
"Why do you think so?" she asked, with a shade of suspicion.
"Well," I answered, "I think you may be a little upset by the interview,
and I should like to see you into your cab as soon as possible
"Yes," she said; "perhaps you are right, and it is kind of you to be so
thoughtful on my account."
A minute later, accordingly, I found myself shut into a narrow box, like
one of those which considerate pawnbrokers provide for their more
diffident clients, and in a similar, but more intense, degree, pervaded
by a subtle odour of uncleanness. The woodwork was polished to an
unctuous smoothness by the friction of numberless dirty hands and soiled
garments, and the general appearance--taken in at a glance as I
entered--was such as to cause me to thrust my hands into my pockets and
studiously avoid contact with any part of the structure but the floor.
The end of the box opposite the door was closed in by a strong grating
of wire--excepting the lower three feet, which was of wood--and looking
through this, I perceived, behind a second grating, Reuben Hornby,
standing in a similar attitude to my own. He was dressed in his usual
clothes and with his customary neatness, but his face was unshaven and
he wore, suspended from a button-hole, a circular label bearing the
characters "B.31"; and these two changes in his exterior carried with
them a suggestiveness as subtle as it was unpleasant, making me more
than ever regretful that Miss Gibson had insisted on coming.
"It is exceedingly good of you, Dr. Jervis, to come and see me," he said
heartily, making himself heard quite easily, to my surprise, above the
hubbub of the adjoining boxes; "but I didn't expect you here. I was told
I could see my legal advisers in the solicitor's box."
"So you could," I answered. "But I came here by choice because I have
brought Miss Gibson with me." "I am sorry for that," he rejoined, with
evident disapproval; "she oughtn't to have come among these riff-raff."
"I told her so, and that you wouldn't like it, but she insisted."
"I know," said Reuben. "That's the worst of women--they will make a
beastly fuss and sacrifice themselves when nobody wants them to. But I
mustn't be ungrateful; she means it kindly, and she's a deuced good
sort, is Juliet."
"She is indeed," I exclaimed, not a little disgusted at his cool,
unappreciative tone; "a most noble-hearted girl, and her devotion to you
is positively heroic."
The faintest suspicion of a smile appeared on the face seen through the
double grating; on which I felt that I could have pulled his nose with
pleasure--only that a pair of tongs of special construction would have
been required for the purpose.
"Yes," he answered calmly, "we have always been very good friends."
A rejoinder of the most extreme acidity was on my lips. Damn the fellow!
What did he mean by speaking in that supercilious tone of the loveliest
and sweetest woman in the world? But, after all, one cannot trample on a
poor devil locked up in a jail on a false charge, no matter how great
may be the provocation. I drew a deep breath, and, having recovered
myself, outwardly at least, said--
"I hope you don't find the conditions here too intolerable?" "Oh, no,"
he answered. "It's beastly unpleasant, of course, but it might easily be
worse. I don't mind if it's only for a week or two; and I am really
encouraged by what Dr. Thorndyke said. I hope he wasn't being merely
"You may take it that he was not. What he said, I am sure he meant. Of
course, you know I am not in his confidence--nobody is--but I gather
that he is satisfied with the defence he is preparing."
"If he is satisfied, I am," said Reuben, "and, in any case, I shall owe
him an immense debt of gratitude for having stood by me and believed in
me when all the world--except my aunt and Juliet--had condemned me."
He then went on to give me a few particulars of his prison life, and
when he had chatted for a quarter of an hour or so, I took my leave to
make way for Miss Gibson.
Her interview with him was not as long as I had expected, though, to be
sure, the conditions were not very favourable either for the exchange of
confidences or for utterances of a sentimental character. The
consciousness that one's conversation could be overheard by the
occupants of adjacent boxes destroyed all sense of privacy, to say
nothing of the disturbing influence of the warder in the alley-way.
When she rejoined me, her manner was abstracted and very depressed, a
circumstance that gave me considerable food for reflection as we made
our way in silence towards the main entrance. Had she found Reuben as
cool and matter-of-fact as I had? He was assuredly a very calm and
self-possessed lover, and it was conceivable that his reception of the
girl, strung up, as she was, to an acute pitch of emotion, might have
been somewhat in the nature of an anticlimax. And then, was it possible
that the feeling was on her side only? Could it be that the priceless
pearl of her love was cast before--I was tempted to use the colloquial
singular and call him an "unappreciative swine!" The thing was almost
unthinkable to me, and yet I was tempted to dwell upon it; for when a
man is in love--and I could no longer disguise my condition from
myself--he is inclined to be humble and to gather up thankfully the
treasure that is rejected of another.
I was brought up short in these reflections by the clank of the lock in
the great iron gate. We entered together the gloomy vestibule, and a
moment later were let out through the wicket into the courtyard; and as
the lock clicked behind us, we gave a simultaneous sigh of relief to
find ourselves outside the precincts of the prison, beyond the domain of
bolts and bars.
I had settled Miss Gibson in the cab and given her address to the
driver, when I noticed her looking at me, as I thought, somewhat
"Can't I put you down somewhere?" she said, in response to a
half-questioning glance from me.
I seized the opportunity with thankfulness and replied--
"You might set me down at King's Cross if it is not delaying you;" and
giving the word to the cabman, I took my place by her side as the cab
started and a black-painted prison van turned into the courtyard with
its freight of squalid misery.
"I don't think Reuben was very pleased to see me," Miss Gibson remarked
presently, "but I shall come again all the same. It is a duty I owe both
to him and to myself."
I felt that I ought to endeavour to dissuade her, but the reflection
that her visits must almost of necessity involve my companionship,
enfeebled my will. I was fast approaching a state of infatuation.
"I was so thankful," she continued, "that you prepared me. It was a
horrible experience to see the poor fellow caged like a wild beast, with
that dreadful label hanging from his coat; but it would have been
overwhelming if I had not known what to expect."
As we proceeded, her spirits revived somewhat, a circumstance that she
graciously ascribed to the enlivening influence of my society; and I
then told her of the mishap that had befallen my colleague.
"What a terrible thing!" she exclaimed, with evidently unaffected
concern. "It is the merest chance that he was not killed on the spot. Is
he much hurt? And would he mind, do you think, if I called to inquire
I said that I was sure he would be delighted (being, as a matter of
fact, entirely indifferent as to his sentiments on the subject in my
delight at the proposal), and when I stepped down from the cab at King's
Cross to pursue my way homewards, there already opened out before me the
prospect of the renewal of this bitter-sweet and all too dangerous
companionship on the morrow.
POLTON IS MYSTIFIED
A couple of days sufficed to prove that Thorndyke's mishap was not to be
productive of any permanent ill consequences; his wounds progressed
favourably and he was able to resume his ordinary avocations.
Miss Gibson's visit--but why should I speak of her in these formal
terms? To me, when I thought of her, which I did only too often, she was
Juliet, with perhaps an adjective thrown in; and as Juliet I shall
henceforth speak of her (but without the adjective) in this narrative,
wherein nothing has been kept back from the reader--Juliet's visit,
then, had been a great success, for my colleague was really pleased by
the attention, and displayed a quiet geniality that filled our visitor
He talked a good deal of Reuben, and I could see that he was
endeavouring to settle in his own mind the vexed question of her
relations with and sentiments towards our unfortunate client; but what
conclusions he arrived at I was unable to discover, for he was by no
means communicative after she had left. Nor was there any repetition of
the visit--greatly to my regret--since, as I have said, he was able, in
a day or two, to resume his ordinary mode of life.
The first evidence I had of his renewed activity appeared when I
returned to the chambers at about eleven o'clock in the morning, to find
Polton hovering dejectedly about the sitting-room, apparently
perpetrating as near an approach to a "spring clean" as could be
permitted in a bachelor establishment.
"Hallo, Polton!" I exclaimed, "have you contrived to tear yourself away
from the laboratory for an hour or two?"
"No, sir," he answered gloomily. "The laboratory has torn itself away
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"The Doctor has shut himself in and locked the door, and he says I am
not to disturb him. It will be a cold lunch to-day."
"What is he doing in there?" I inquired.
"Ah!" said Polton, "that's just what I should like to know. I'm fair
eaten up with curiosity. He is making some experiments in connection
with some of his cases, and when the Doctor locks himself in to make
experiments, something interesting generally follows. I should like to
know what it is this time."
"I suppose there is a keyhole in the laboratory door?" I suggested, with
"Sir!" he exclaimed indignantly. "Dr. Jervis, I am surprised at you."
Then, perceiving my facetious intent, he smiled also and added: "But
there _is_ a keyhole if you'd like to try it, though I'll wager the
Doctor would see more of you than you would of him."
"You are mighty secret about your doings, you and the Doctor," I said.
"Yes," he answered. "You see, it's a queer trade this of the Doctor's,
and there are some queer secrets in it. Now, for instance, what do you
make of this?"
He produced from his pocket a leather case, whence he took a piece of
paper which he handed to me. On it was a neatly executed drawing of what
looked like one of a set of chessmen, with the dimensions written on the
"It looks like a pawn--one of the Staunton pattern," I said.
"Just what I thought; but it isn't. I've got to make twenty-four of
them, and what the Doctor is going to do with them fairly beats me."
"Perhaps he has invented some new game," I suggested facetiously. "He
is always inventing new games and playing them mostly in courts of law,
and then the other players generally lose. But this is a puzzler, and no
mistake. Twenty-four of these to be turned up in the best-seasoned
boxwood! What can they be for? Something to do with the experiments he
is carrying on upstairs at this very moment, I expect." He shook his
head, and, having carefully returned the drawing to his pocket-book,
said, in a solemn tone--"Sir, there are times when the Doctor makes me
fairly dance with curiosity. And this is one of them."
Although not afflicted with a curiosity so acute as that of Polton, I
found myself speculating at intervals on the nature of my colleague's
experiments and the purpose of the singular little objects which he had
ordered to be made; but I was unacquainted with any of the cases on
which he was engaged, excepting that of Reuben Hornby, and with the
latter I was quite unable to connect a set of twenty-four boxwood
chessmen. Moreover, on this day, I was to accompany Juliet on her second
visit to Holloway, and that circumstance gave me abundant mental
occupation of another kind.
At lunch, Thorndyke was animated and talkative but not communicative. He
"had some work in the laboratory that he must do himself," he said, but
gave no hint as to its nature; and as soon as our meal was finished, he
returned to his labours, leaving me to pace up and down the walk,
listening with ridiculous eagerness for the sound of the hansom that was
to transport me to the regions of the blest, and--incidentally--to
When I returned to the Temple, the sitting-room was empty and hideously
neat, as the result of Polton's spring-cleaning efforts. My colleague
was evidently still at work in the laboratory, and, from the
circumstance that the tea-things were set out on the table and a kettle
of water placed in readiness on the gas-ring by the fireplace, I
gathered that Polton also was full of business and anxious not to be
Accordingly, I lit the gas and made my tea, enlivening my solitude by
turning over in my mind the events of the afternoon.
Juliet had been charming--as she always was--frank, friendly and
unaffectedly pleased to have my companionship. She evidently liked me
and did not disguise the fact--why should she indeed?--but treated me
with a freedom, almost affectionate, as though I had been a favourite
brother; which was very delightful, and would have been more so if I
could have accepted the relationship. As to her feelings towards me, I
had not the slightest misgiving, and so my conscience was clear; for
Juliet was as innocent as a child, with the innocence that belongs to
the direct, straightforward nature that neither does evil itself nor
looks for evil motives in others. For myself, I was past praying for.
The thing was done and I must pay the price hereafter, content to
reflect that I had trespassed against no one but myself. It was a
miserable affair, and many a heartache did it promise me in the lonely
days that were to come, when I should have said "good-bye" to the Temple
and gone back to my old nomadic life; and yet I would not have had it
changed if I could; would not have bartered the bitter-sweet memories
for dull forgetfulness.
But other matters had transpired in the course of our drive than those
that loomed so large to me in the egotism of my love. We had spoken of
Mr. Hornby and his affairs, and from our talk there had emerged certain
facts of no little moment to the inquiry on which I was engaged.
"Misfortunes are proverbially sociable," Juliet had remarked, in
reference to her adopted uncle. "As if this trouble about Reuben were
not enough, there are worries in the city. Perhaps you have heard of
I replied that Walter had mentioned the matter to me.
"Yes," said Juliet rather viciously; "I am not quite clear as to what
part that good gentleman has played in the matter. It has come out,
quite accidentally, that he had a large holding in the mines himself,
but he seems to have 'cut his loss,' as the phrase goes, and got out of
them; though how he managed to pay such large differences is more than
we can understand. We think he must have raised money somehow to do it."
"Do you know when the mines began to depreciate?" I asked.
"Yes, it was quite a sudden affair--what Walter calls 'a slump'--and it
occurred only a few days before the robbery. Mr. Hornby was telling me
about it only yesterday, and he recalled it to me by a ridiculous
accident that happened on that day."
"What was that?" I inquired.
"Why, I cut my finger and nearly fainted," she answered, with a
shamefaced little laugh. "It was rather a bad cut, you know, but I
didn't notice it until I found my hand covered with blood. Then I turned
suddenly faint, and had to lie down on the hearthrug--it was in Mr.
Hornby's study, which I was tidying up at the time. Here I was found by
Reuben, and a dreadful fright it gave him at first; and then he tore up
his handkerchief to tie up the wounded finger, and you never saw such an
awful mess as he got his hands in. He might have been arrested as a
murderer, poor boy, from the condition he was in. It will make your
professional gorge rise to learn that he fastened up the extemporised
bandage with red tape, which he got from the writing table after rooting
about among the sacred papers in the most ruthless fashion.
"When he had gone I tried to put the things on the table straight again,
and really you might have thought some horrible crime had been
committed; the envelopes and papers were all smeared with blood and
marked with the print of gory fingers. I remembered it afterwards, when
Reuben's thumb-mark was identified, and thought that perhaps one of the
papers might have got into the safe by accident; but Mr. Hornby told me
that was impossible; he tore the leaf off his memorandum block at the
time when he put away the diamonds."
Such was the gist of our conversation as the cab rattled through the
streets on the way to the prison; and certainly it contained matter
sufficiently important to draw away my thoughts from other subjects,
more agreeable, but less relevant to the case. With a sudden remembrance
of my duty, I drew forth my notebook, and was in the act of committing
the statements to writing, when Thorndyke entered the room.
"Don't let me interrupt you, Jervis," said he. "I will make myself a cup
of tea while you finish your writing, and then you shall exhibit the
day's catch and hang your nets out to dry."
I was not long in finishing my notes, for I was in a fever of impatience
to hear Thorndyke's comments on my latest addition to our store of
information. By the time the kettle was boiling my entries were
completed, and I proceeded forthwith to retail to my colleague those
extracts from my conversation with Juliet that I have just recorded.
He listened, as usual, with deep and critical attention.
"This is very interesting and important," he said, when I had finished;
"really, Jervis, you are a most invaluable coadjutor. It seems that
information, which would be strictly withheld from the forbidding
Jorkins, trickles freely and unasked into the ear of the genial Spenlow.
Now, I suppose you regard your hypothesis as having received very
"Certainly, I do."
"And very justifiably. You see now how completely you were in the right
when you allowed yourself to entertain this theory of the crime in spite
of its apparent improbability. By the light of these new facts it has
become quite a probable explanation of the whole affair, and if it could
only be shown that Mr. Hornby's memorandum block was among the papers on
the table, it would rise to a high degree of probability. The obvious
moral is, never disregard the improbable. By the way, it is odd that
Reuben failed to recall this occurrence when I questioned him. Of
course, the bloody finger-marks were not discovered until he had gone,
but one would have expected him to recall the circumstance when I asked
him, pointedly, if he had never left bloody finger-prints on any
"I must try to find out if Mr. Hornby's memorandum block was on the
table and among the marked papers," I said.
"Yes, that would be wise," he answered, "though I don't suppose the
information will be forthcoming."
My colleague's manner rather disappointed me. He had heard my report
with the greatest attention, he had discussed it with animation, but yet
he seemed to attach to the new and--as they appeared to me--highly
important facts an interest that was academic rather than practical. Of
course, his calmness might be assumed; but this did not seem likely, for
John Thorndyke was far too sincere and dignified a character to
cultivate in private life the artifices of the actor. To strangers,
indeed, he presented habitually a calm and impassive exterior; but this
was natural to him, and was but the outward sign of his even and
judicial habit of mind.
No; there was no doubt that my startling news had left him unmoved, and
this must be for one of two reasons: either he already knew all that I
had told him (which was perfectly possible), or he had some other and
better means of explaining the crime. I was turning over these two
alternatives, not unobserved by my watchful colleague, when Polton
entered the room; a broad grin was on his face, and a drawing-board,
that he carried like a tray, bore twenty-four neatly turned boxwood
Thorndyke at once entered into the unspoken jest that beamed from the
countenance of his subordinate.
"Here is Polton with a problem for you, Jervis," he said. "He assumes
that I have invented a new parlour game, and has been trying to work out
the moves. Have you succeeded yet, Polton?"
"No, sir, I haven't; but I suspect that one of the players will be a man
in a wig and gown."
"Perhaps you are right," said Thorndyke; "but that doesn't take you very
far. Let us hear what Dr. Jervis has to say."
"I can make nothing of them," I answered. "Polton showed me the drawing
this morning, and then was terrified lest he had committed a breach of
confidence, and I have been trying ever since, without a glimmer of
success, to guess what they can be for."
"H'm," grunted Thorndyke, as he sauntered up and down the room, teacup
in hand, "to guess, eh? I like not that word 'guess' in the mouth of a
man of science. What do you mean by a 'guess'?"
His manner was wholly facetious, but I professed to take his question
seriously, and replied--
"By a guess, I mean a conclusion arrived at without data."
"Impossible!" he exclaimed, with mock sternness. "Nobody but an utter
fool arrives at a conclusion without data."
"Then I must revise my definition instantly," I rejoined. "Let us say
that a guess is a conclusion drawn from insufficient facts."
"That is better," said he; "but perhaps it would be better still to say
that a guess is a particular and definite conclusion deduced from facts
which properly yield only a general and indefinite one. Let us take an
instance," he continued. "Looking out of the window, I see a man walking
round Paper Buildings. Now suppose I say, after the fashion of the
inspired detective of the romances, 'That man is a stationmaster or
inspector,' that would be a guess. The observed facts do not yield the
conclusion, though they do warrant a conclusion less definite and more
"You'd have been right though, sir!" exclaimed Polton, who had stepped
forward with me to examine the unconscious subject of the demonstration.
"That gent used to be the stationmaster at Camberwell. I remember him
well." The little man was evidently greatly impressed.
"I happen to be right, you see," said Thorndyke; "but I might as easily
have been wrong."
"You weren't though, sir," said Polton. "You spotted him at a glance."
In his admiration of the result he cared not a fig for the correctness
of the means by which it had been attained.
"Now why do I suggest that he is a stationmaster?" pursued Thorndyke,
disregarding his assistant's comment.
"I suppose you were looking at his feet," I answered. "I seem to have
noticed that peculiar, splay-footed gait in stationmasters, now that you
"Quite so. The arch of the foot has given way; the plantar ligaments
have become stretched and the deep calf muscles weakened. Then, since
bending of the weakened arch causes discomfort, the feet have become
turned outwards, by which the bending of the foot is reduced to a
minimum; and as the left foot is the more flattened, so it is turned out
more than the right. Then the turning out of the toes causes the legs to
splay outward from the knees downwards--a very conspicuous condition in
a tall man like this one--and you notice that the left leg splays out
more than the other.
"But we know that depression of the arch of the foot is brought about by
standing for long periods. Continuous pressure on a living structure
weakens it, while intermittent pressure strengthens it; so the man who
stands on his feet continuously develops a flat instep and a weak calf,
while the professional dancer or runner acquires a high instep and a
strong calf. Now there are many occupations which involve prolonged
standing and so induce the condition of flat foot: waiters,
hall-porters, hawkers, policemen, shop-walkers, salesmen, and station
officials are examples. But the waiter's gait is characteristic--a
quick, shuffling walk which enables him to carry liquids without
spilling them. This man walks with a long, swinging stride; he is
obviously not a waiter. His dress and appearance in general exclude the
idea of a hawker or even a hall-porter; he is a man of poor physique and
so cannot be a policeman. The shop-walker or salesman is accustomed to
move in relatively confined spaces, and so acquires a short, brisk step,
and his dress tends to rather exuberant smartness; the station official
patrols long platforms, often at a rapid pace, and so tends to take long
strides, while his dress is dignified and neat rather than florid. The
last-mentioned characteristics, you see, appear in the subject of our
analysis; he agrees with the general description of a stationmaster. But
if we therefore conclude that he _is_ a stationmaster, we fall into the
time-honoured fallacy of the undistributed middle term--the fallacy that
haunts all brilliant guessers, including the detective, not only of
romance, but too often also of real life. All that the observed facts
justify us in inferring is that this man is engaged in some mode of life
that necessitates a good deal of standing; the rest is mere guess-work."
"It's wonderful," said Polton, gazing at the now distant figure;
"perfectly wonderful. I should never have known he was a stationmaster."
With this and a glance of deep admiration at his employer, he took his
"You will also observe," said Thorndyke, with a smile, "that a fortunate
guess often brings more credit than a piece of sound reasoning with a
less striking result."
"Yes, that is unfortunately the case, and it is certainly true in the
present instance. Your reputation, as far as Polton is concerned, is now
firmly established even if it was not before. In his eyes you are a
wizard from whom nothing is hidden. But to return to these little
pieces, as I must call them, for the lack of a better name. I can form
no hypothesis as to their use. I seem to have no 'departure,' as the
nautical phrase goes, from which to start an inquiry. I haven't even the
material for guess-work. Ought I to be able to arrive at any opinion on
Thorndyke picked up one of the pieces, fingering it delicately and
inspecting with a critical eye the flat base on which it stood, and
reflected for a few moments.
"It is easy to trace a connection when one knows all the facts," he said
at length, "but it seems to me that you have the materials from which to
form a conjecture. Perhaps I am wrong, but I think, when you have had
more experience, you will find yourself able to work out a problem of
this kind. What is required is constructive imagination and a rigorous
exactness in reasoning. Now, you are a good reasoner, and you have
recently shown me that you have the necessary imagination; you merely
lack experience in the use of your faculties. When you learn my purpose
in having these things made--as you will before long--you will probably
be surprised that their use did not occur to you. And now let us go
forth and take a brisk walk to refresh ourselves (or perhaps I should
say myself) after the day's labour.
"I am going to ask for your collaboration in another case," said
Thorndyke, a day or two later. "It appears to be one of suicide, but the
solicitors to the 'Griffin' office have asked me to go down to the
place, which is in the neighbourhood of Barnet, and be present at the
_post-mortem_ and the inquest. They have managed to arrange that the
inquest shall take place directly after the _post-mortem_, so that we
shall be able to do the whole business in a single visit."
"Is the case one of any intricacy?" I asked.
"I don't think so," he answered. "It looks like a common suicide; but
you can never tell. The importance of the case at present arises
entirely from the heavy insurance; a verdict of suicide will mean a gain
of ten thousand pounds to the 'Griffin,' so, naturally, the directors
are anxious to get the case settled and not inclined to boggle over a
"Naturally. And when will the expedition take place?" I asked.
"The inquest is fixed for to-morrow--what is the matter? Does that fall
foul of any arrangement of yours?"
"Oh, nothing of any importance," I replied hastily, deeply ashamed of
the momentary change of countenance that my friend had been so quick to
"Well, what is it?" persisted Thorndyke. "You have got something on."
"It is nothing, I tell you, but what can be quite easily arranged to
suit your plans."
"_Cherchez la_--h'm?" queried Thorndyke, with an exasperating grin.
"Yes," I answered, turning as red as a pickled cabbage; "since you are
so beastly inquisitive. Miss Gibson wrote, on behalf of Mrs. Hornby,
asking me to dine with them _en famille_ to-morrow evening, and I sent
off an acceptance an hour ago."
"And you call that 'nothing of any importance'!" exclaimed Thorndyke.
"Alas! and likewise alackaday (which is an approximately synonymous
expression)! The age of chivalry is past, indeed. Of course you must
keep your appointment; I can manage quite well alone."
"We shouldn't be back early enough for me to go to Kensington from the
station, I suppose?"
"No; certainly not. I find that the trains are very awkward; we should
not reach King's Cross until nearly one in the morning."
"Then, in that case, I shall write to Miss Gibson and excuse myself."
"Oh, I wouldn't do that," said Thorndyke; "it will disappoint them, and
really it is not necessary."
"I shall write forthwith," I said firmly, "so please don't try to
dissuade me. I have been feeling quite uncomfortable at the thought
that, all the time I have been in your employ, I seem to have done
nothing but idle about and amuse myself. The opportunity of doing
something tangible for my wage is too precious to be allowed to slip."
Thorndyke chuckled indulgently. "You shall do as you please, my dear
boy," he said; "but don't imagine that you have been eating the bread of
idleness. When you see this Hornby case worked out in detail, you will
be surprised to find how large a part you have taken in unravelling it.
Your worth to me has been far beyond your poor little salary, I can
"It is very handsome of you to say that," I said, highly gratified to
learn that I was really of use, and not, as I had begun to suspect, a
mere object of charity.
"It is perfectly true," he answered; "and now, since you are going to
help me in this case, I will set you your task. The case, as I have
said, appears to be quite simple, but it never does to take the
simplicity for granted. Here is the letter from the solicitors giving
the facts as far as they are known at present. On the shelves there you
will find Casper, Taylor, Guy and Ferrier, and the other authorities on
medical jurisprudence, and I will put out one or two other books that
you may find useful. I want you to extract and make classified notes of
everything that may bear on such a case as the present one may turn out
to be. We must go prepared to meet any contingency that may arise. This
is my invariable practice, and even if the case turns out to be quite
simple, the labour is never wasted, for it represents so much experience
"Casper and Taylor are pretty old, aren't they?" I objected.
"So is suicide," he retorted drily. "It is a capital mistake to neglect
the old authorities. 'There were strong men before Agamemnon,' and some
of them were uncommonly strong, let me tell you. Give your best
attention to the venerable Casper and the obsolete Taylor and you will
not be without your reward."
As a result of these injunctions, I devoted the remainder of the day to
the consideration of the various methods by which a man might contrive
to effect his exit from the stage of human activities. And a very
engrossing study I found it, and the more interesting in view of the
problem that awaited solution on the morrow; but yet not so engrossing
but that I was able to find time to write a long, rather intimate and
minutely explanatory letter to Miss Gibson, in which I even mentioned
the hour of our return as showing the impossibility of my keeping my
engagement. Not that I had the smallest fear of her taking offence, for
it is an evidence of my respect and regard for her that I cancelled the
appointment without a momentary doubt that she would approve of my
action; but it was pleasant to write to her at length and to feel the
intimacy of keeping her informed of the details of my life.
The case, when we came to inquire into it on the spot, turned out to be
a suicide of the most transparent type; whereat both Thorndyke and I
were, I think, a little disappointed--he at having apparently done so
little for a very substantial fee, and I at having no opportunity for
applying my recently augmented knowledge.
"Yes," said my colleague, as we rolled ourselves up in our rugs in
adjacent corners of the railway carriage, "it has been a flat affair,
and the whole thing could have been managed by the local solicitor. But
it is not a waste of time after all, for, you see, I have to do many a
day's work for which I get not a farthing of payment, nor even any
recognition, so that I do not complain if I occasionally find myself
receiving more payment than my actual services merit. And as to you, I
take it that you have acquired a good deal of valuable knowledge on the
subject of suicide, and knowledge, as the late Lord Bacon remarked with
more truth than originality, is power."
To this I made no reply, having just lit my pipe and feeling uncommonly
drowsy; and, my companion having followed my example, we smoked in
silence, becoming more and more somnolent, until the train drew up in
the terminus and we turned out, yawning and shivering, on to the