Part 3 out of 5
"Bah!" exclaimed Thorndyke, drawing his rug round his shoulders; "this
is a cheerless hour--a quarter past one. See how chilly and miserable
all these poor devils of passengers look. Shall we cab it or walk?"
"I think a sharp walk would rouse our circulation after sitting huddled
up in the carriage for so long," I answered.
"So do I," said Thorndyke, "so let us away; hark forward! and also Tally
Ho! In fact one might go so far as to say Yoicks! That gentleman appears
to favour the strenuous life, if one may judge by the size of his
He pointed to a bicycle that was drawn up by the kerb in the approach--a
machine of the road-racer type, with an enormous sprocket-wheel,
indicating a gear of, at least, ninety.
"Some scorcher or amateur racer, probably," I said, "who takes the
opportunity of getting a spin on the wood pavement when the streets are
empty." I looked round to see if I could identify the owner, but the
machine appeared to be, for the moment, taking care of itself. King's
Cross is one of those districts of which the inhabitants are slow in
settling down for the night, and even at a quarter past one in the
morning its streets are not entirely deserted. Here and there the
glimmer of a street lamp or the far-reaching ray from a tall electric
light reveals the form of some nocturnal prowler creeping along with
cat-like stealthiness, or bursting, cat-like, into unmelodious song. Not
greatly desirous of the society of these roysterers, we crossed quickly
from the station into the Gray's Inn Road, now silent and excessively
dismal in aspect, and took our way along the western side. We had turned
the curve and were crossing Manchester Street, when a series of yelps
from ahead announced the presence of a party of merry-makers, whom we
were not yet able to see, however, for the night was an exceptionally
dark one; but the sounds of revelry continued to increase in volume as
we proceeded, until, as we passed Sidmouth Street, we came in sight of
the revellers. They were some half-dozen in number, all of them roughs
of the hooligan type, and they were evidently in boisterous spirits,
for, as they passed the entrance to the Royal Free Hospital, they halted
and battered furiously at the gate. Shortly after this exploit they
crossed the road on to our side, whereupon Thorndyke caught my arm and
slackened his pace.
"Let them draw ahead," said he. "It is a wise precaution to give all
hooligan gangs a very wide berth at this time of night. We had better
turn down Heathcote Street and cross Mecklenburgh Square."
We continued to walk on at reduced speed until we reached Heathcote
Street, into which we turned and so entered Mecklenburgh Square, where
we mended our pace once more.
"The hooligan," pursued Thorndyke, as we walked briskly across the
silent square, "covers a multitude of sins, ranging from highway robbery
with violence and paid assassination (technically known as 'bashing')
down to the criminal folly of the philanthropic magistrate, who seems to
think that his function in the economy of nature is to secure the
survival of the unfittest. There goes a cyclist along Guildford Street.
I wonder if that is our strenuous friend from the station. If so, he has
slipped past the hooligans."
We were just entering Doughty Street, and, as Thorndyke spoke, a man on
a bicycle was visible for an instant at the crossing of the two streets.
When we reached Guildford Street we both looked down the long,
lamp-lighted vista, but the cyclist had vanished.
"We had better go straight on into Theobald's Road," said Thorndyke, and
we accordingly pursued our way up the fine old-world street, from whose
tall houses our footfalls echoed, so that we seemed to be accompanied by
an invisible multitude, until we reached that part where it
unaccountably changes its name and becomes John Street.
"There always seems to me something very pathetic about these old
Bloomsbury streets," said Thorndyke, "with their faded grandeur and
dignified seediness. They remind me of some prim and aged gentlewoman in
reduced circumstances who--Hallo! What was that?"
A faint, sharp thud from behind had been followed instantly by the
shattering of a ground-floor window in front.
We both stopped dead and remained, for a couple of seconds, staring into
the gloom, from whence the first sound had come; then Thorndyke darted
diagonally across the road at a swift run and I immediately followed.
At the moment when the affair happened we had gone about forty yards up
John Street, that is, from the place where it is crossed by Henry
Street, and we now raced across the road to the further corner of the
latter street. When we reached it, however, the little thoroughfare was
empty, and, as we paused for a moment, no sound of retreating footsteps
broke the silence.
"The shot certainly came from here!" said Thorndyke; "come on," and he
again broke into a run. A few yards up the street a mews turns off to
the left, and into this my companion plunged, motioning me to go
straight on, which I accordingly did, and in a few paces reached the top
of the street. Here a narrow thoroughfare, with a broad, smooth
pavement, bears off to the left, parallel with the mews, and, as I
arrived at the corner and glanced up the little street, I saw a man on a
bicycle gliding swiftly and silently towards Little James' Street.
With a mighty shout of "Stop thief!" I started in hot pursuit, but,
though the man's feet were moving in an apparently leisurely manner, he
drew ahead at an astonishing pace, in spite of my efforts to overtake
him; and it then dawned upon me that the slow revolutions of his feet
were due, in reality, to the unusually high gear of the machine that he
was riding. As I realised this, and at the same moment recalled the
bicycle that we had seen in the station, the fugitive swung round into
Little James' Street and vanished.
The speed at which the man was travelling made further pursuit utterly
futile, so I turned and walked back, panting and perspiring from the
unwonted exertion. As I re-entered Henry Street, Thorndyke emerged from
the mews and halted on seeing me.
"Cyclist?" he asked laconically, as I came up.
"Yes," I answered; "riding a machine geared up to about ninety."
"Ah! he must have followed us from the station," said Thorndyke. "Did
you notice if he was carrying anything?"
"He had a walking-stick in his hand. I didn't see anything else."
"What sort of walking-stick?"
"I couldn't see very distinctly. It was a stoutish stick--I should say a
Malacca, probably--and it had what looked like a horn handle. I could
see that as he passed a street lamp."
"What kind of lamp had he?"
"I couldn't see; but, as he turned the corner, I noticed that it seemed
to burn very dimly."
"A little vaseline, or even oil, smeared on the outside of the glass
will reduce the glare of a lamp very appreciably," my companion
remarked, "especially on a dusty road. Ha! here is the proprietor of the
broken window. He wants to know, you know."
We had once more turned into John Street and now perceived a man,
standing on the wide doorstep of the house with the shattered window,
looking anxiously up and down the street.
"Do either of you gents know anything about this here?" he asked,
pointing to the broken pane.
"Yes," said Thorndyke, "we happened to be passing when it was done; in
fact," he added, "I rather suspect that the missile, whatever it was,
was intended for our benefit."
"Oh!" said the man. "Who done it?"
"That I can't say," replied Thorndyke. "Whoever he was, he made off on a
bicycle and we were unable to catch him."
"Oh!" said the man once more, regarding us with growing suspicion. "On a
bicycle, hay! Dam funny, ain't it? What did he do it with?"
"That is what I should like to find out," said Thorndyke. "I see this
house is empty."
"Yes, it's empty--leastways it's to let. I'm the caretaker. But what's
that got to do with it?"
"Merely this," answered Thorndyke, "that the object--stone, bullet or
whatever it may have been--was aimed, I believe, at me, and I should
like to ascertain its nature. Would you do me the favour of permitting
me to look for it?"
The caretaker was evidently inclined to refuse this request, for he
glanced suspiciously from my companion to me once or twice before
replying, but, at length, he turned towards the open door and gruffly
invited us to enter.
A paraffin lamp was on the floor in a recess of the hall, and this our
conductor took up when he had elosed the street door.
"This is the room," he said, turning the key and thrusting the door
open; "the library they call it, but it's the front parlour in plain
English." He entered and, holding the lamp above his head, stared
balefully at the broken window.
Thorndyke glanced quickly along the floor in the direction that the
missile would have taken, and then said--
"Do you see any mark on the wall there?"
As he spoke, he indicated the wall opposite the window, which obviously
could not have been struck by a projectile entering with such extreme
obliquity; and I was about to point out this fact when I fortunately
remembered the great virtue of silence.
Our friend approached the wall, still holding up the lamp, and
scrutinised the surface with close attention; and while he was thus
engaged, I observed Thorndyke stoop quickly and pick up something, which
he deposited carefully, and without remark, in his waistcoat pocket.
"I don't see no bruise anywhere," said the caretaker, sweeping his hand
over the wall.
"Perhaps the thing struck this wall," suggested Thorndyke, pointing to
the one that was actually in the line of fire. "Yes, of course," he
added, "it would be this one--the shot came from Henry Street."
The caretaker crossed the room and threw the light of his lamp on the
wall thus indicated.
"Ah! here we are!" he exclaimed, with gloomy satisfaction, pointing to a
small dent in which the wall-paper was turned back and the plaster
exposed; "looks almost like a bullet mark, but you say you didn't hear
"No," said Thorndyke, "there was no report; it must have been a
The caretaker set the lamp down on the floor and proceeded to grope
about for the projectile, in which operation we both assisted; and I
could not suppress a faint smile as I noted the earnestness with which
Thorndyke peered about the floor in search of the missile that was
quietly reposing in his waistcoat pocket.
We were deep in our investigations when there was heard an
uncompromising double knock at the street door, followed by the loud
pealing of a bell in the basement.
"Bobby, I suppose," growled the caretaker. "Here's a blooming fuss about
nothing." He caught up the lamp and went out, leaving us in the dark.
"I picked it up, you know," said Thorndyke, when we were alone.
"I saw you," I answered.
"Good; I applaud your discretion," he rejoined. The caretaker's
supposition was correct. When he returned, he was accompanied by a burly
constable, who saluted us with a cheerful smile and glanced facetiously
round the empty room.
"Our boys," said he, nodding towards the broken window; "they're playful
lads, that they are. You were passing when it happened, sir, I hear."
"Yes," answered Thorndyke; and he gave the constable a brief account of
the occurrence, which the latter listened to, notebook in hand.
"Well," said he when the narrative was concluded, "if those hooligan
boys are going to take to catapults they'll make things lively all
"You ought to run some of 'em in," said the caretaker.
"Run 'em in!" exclaimed the constable in a tone of disgust; "yes! And
then the magistrate will tell 'em to be good boys and give 'em five
shillings out of the poor-box to buy illustrated Testaments. I'd
Testament them, the worthless varmints!"
He rammed his notebook fiercely into his pocket and stalked out of the
room into the street, whither we followed.
"You'll find that bullet or stone when you sweep up the room," he said,
as he turned on to his beat; "and you'd better let us have it. Good
He strolled off towards Henry Street, while Thorndyke and I resumed our
"Why were you so secret about that projectile?" I asked my friend as we
walked up the street.
"Partly to avoid discussion with the caretaker," he replied; "but
principally because I thought it likely that a constable would pass the
house and, seeing the light, come in to make inquiries."
"Then I should have had to hand over the object to him." "And why not?
Is the object a specially interesting one?"
"It is highly interesting to me at the present moment," replied
Thorndyke, with a chuckle, "because I have not examined it. I have a
theory as to its nature, which theory I should like to test before
taking the police into my confidence."
"Are you going to take me into your confidence?" I asked.
"When we get home, if you are not too sleepy," he replied.
On our arrival at his chambers, Thorndyke desired me to light up and
clear one end of the table while he went up to the workshop to fetch
some tools. I turned back the table cover, and, having adjusted the gas
so as to light this part of the table, waited in some impatience for my
colleague's return. In a few minutes he re-entered bearing a small vice,
a metal saw and a wide-mouthed bottle.
"What have you got in that bottle?" I asked, perceiving a metal object
"That is the projectile, which I have thought fit to rinse in distilled
water, for reasons that will presently appear."
He agitated the bottle gently for a minute or so, and then, with a pair
of dissecting forceps, lifted out the object and held it above the
surface of the water to drain, after which he laid it carefully on a
piece of blotting-paper.
I stooped over the projectile and examined it with great curiosity,
while Thorndyke stood by regarding me with almost equal interest.
"Well," he said, after watching me in silence for some time, "what do
"I see a small brass cylinder," I answered, "about two inches long and
rather thicker than an ordinary lead pencil. One end is conical, and
there is a small hole at the apex which seems to contain a steel point;
the other end is flat, but has in the centre a small square projection
such as might fit a watch-key. I notice also a small hole in the side of
the cylinder close to the flat end. The thing looks like a miniature
shell, and appears to be hollow."
"It is hollow," said Thorndyke. "You must have observed that, when I
held it up to drain, the water trickled out through the hole at the
"Yes, I noticed that."
"Now take it up and shake it."
I did so and felt some heavy object rattle inside it.
"There is some loose body inside it," I said, "which fits it pretty
closely, as it moves only in the long diameter."
"Quite so; your description is excellent. And now, what is the nature of
"I should say it is a miniature shell or explosive bullet."
"Wrong!" said Thorndyke. "A very natural inference, but a wrong one."
"Then what is the thing?" I demanded, my curiosity still further
"I will show you," he replied. "It is something much more subtle than an
explosive bullet--which would really be a rather crude
appliance--admirably thought out and thoroughly well executed. We have
to deal with a most ingenious and capable man."
I was fain to laugh at his enthusiastic appreciation of the methods of
his would-be assassin, and the humour of the situation then appeared to
dawn on him, for he said, with an apologetic smile--
"I am not expressing approval, you must understand, but merely
professional admiration. It is this class of criminal that creates the
necessity for my services. He is my patron, so to speak; my ultimate
employer. For the common crook can be dealt with quite efficiently by
the common policeman!"
While he was speaking he had been fitting the little cylinder between
two pads of tissue-paper in the vice, which he now screwed up tight.
Then, with the fine metal saw, he began to cut the projectile,
lengthwise, into two slightly unequal parts. This operation took some
time, especially since he was careful not to cut the loose body inside,
but at length the section was completed and the interior of the cylinder
exposed, when he released it from the vice and held it up before me with
an expression of triumph.
"Now, what do you make it?" he demanded.
I took the object in my fingers and looked at it closely, but was at
first more puzzled than before. The loose body I now saw to be a
cylinder of lead about half an inch long, accurately fitting the inside
of the cylinder but capable of slipping freely backwards and forwards.
The steel point which I had noticed in the hole at the apex of the
conical end, was now seen to be the pointed termination of a slender
steel rod which projected fully an inch into the cavity of the cylinder,
and the conical end itself was a solid mass of lead.
"Well?" queried Thorndyke, seeing that I was still silent.
"You tell me it is not an explosive bullet," I replied, "otherwise I
should have been confirmed in that opinion. I should have said that the
percussion cap was carried by this lead plunger and struck on the end of
that steel rod when the flight of the bullet was suddenly arrested."
"Very good indeed," said Thorndyke. "You are right so far that this is,
in fact, the mechanism of a percussion shell.
"But look at this. You see this little rod was driven inside the bullet
when the latter struck the wall. Let us replace it in its original
He laid the end of a small flat file against the end of the rod and
pressed it firmly, when the rod slid through the hole until it projected
an inch beyond the apex of the cone. Then he handed the projectile back
A single glance at the point of the steel rod made the whole thing
clear, and I gave a whistle of consternation; for the "rod" was a fine
tube with a sharply pointed end.
"The infernal scoundrel!" I exclaimed; "it is a hypodermic needle."
"Yes. A veterinary hypodermic, of extra large bore. Now you see the
subtlety and ingenuity of the whole thing. If he had had a reasonable
chance he would certainly have succeeded."
"You speak quite regretfully," I said, laughing again at the oddity of
his attitude towards the assassin.
"Not at all," he replied. "I have the character of a single-handed
player, but even the most self-reliant man can hardly make a
_post-mortem_ on himself. I am merely appreciating an admirable piece of
mechanical design most efficiently carried out. Observe the
completeness of the thing, and the way in which all the necessities of
the case are foreseen and met. This projectile was discharged from a
powerful air-gun--the walking-stick form--provided with a force-pump and
key. The barrel of that gun was rifled."
"How do you know that?" I asked.
"Well, to begin with, it would be useless to fit a needle to the
projectile unless the latter was made to travel with the point forwards;
but there is direct evidence that the barrel was rifled. You notice the
little square projection on the back surface of the cylinder. That was
evidently made to fit a washer or wad--probably a thin plate of soft
metal which would be driven by the pressure from behind into the grooves
of the rifling and thus give a spinning motion to the bullet. When the
latter left the barrel, the wad would drop off, leaving it free."
"I see. I was wondering what the square projection was for. It is, as
you say, extremely ingenious."
"Highly ingenious," said Thorndyke, enthusiastically, "and so is the
whole device. See how perfectly it would have worked but for a mere
fluke and for the complication of your presence. Supposing that I had
been alone, so that he could have approached to a shorter distance. In
that case he would not have missed, and the thing would have been done.
You see how it was intended to be done, I suppose?"
"I think so," I answered; "but I should like to hear your account of the
"Well, you see, he first finds out that I am returning by a late
train--which he seems to have done--and he waits for me at the terminus.
Meanwhile he fills the cylinder with a solution of a powerful alkaloidal
poison, which is easily done by dipping the needle into the liquid and
sucking at the small hole near the back end, when the piston will be
drawn up and the liquid will follow it. You notice that the upper side
of the piston is covered with vaseline--introduced through the hole, no
doubt--which would prevent the poison from coming out into the mouth,
and make the cylinder secure from leakage. On my arrival, he follows me
on his bicycle until I pass through a sufficiently secluded
neighbourhood. Then he approaches me, or passes me and waits round a
corner, and shoots at pretty close range. It doesn't matter where he
hits me; all parts are equally vital, so he can aim at the middle of my
back. Then the bullet comes spinning through the air point foremost; the
needle passes through the clothing and enters the flesh, and, as the
bullet is suddenly stopped, the heavy piston flies down by its own great
momentum and squirts out a jet of the poison into the tissues. The
bullet then disengages itself and drops on to the ground.
"Meanwhile, our friend has mounted his bicycle and is off, and when I
feel the prick of the needle, I turn, and, without stopping to look for
the bullet, immediately give chase. I am, of course, not able to
overtake a man on a racing machine, but still I follow him some
distance. Then the poison begins to take effect--the more rapidly from
the violent exercise--and presently I drop insensible. Later on, my body
is found. There are no marks of violence, and probably the
needle-puncture escapes observation at the _post-mortem_, in which case
the verdict will be death from heart-failure. Even if the poison and the
puncture are discovered, there is no clue. The bullet lies some streets
away, and is probably picked up by some boy or passing stranger, who
cannot conjecture its use, and who would never connect it with the man
who was found dead. You will admit that the whole plan has been worked
out with surprising completeness and foresight." "Yes," I answered;
"there is no doubt that the fellow is a most infernally clever
scoundrel. May I ask if you have any idea who he is?"
"Well," Thorndyke replied, "seeing that, as Carlyle has unkindly pointed
out, clever people are not in an overwhelming majority, and that, of the
clever people whom I know, only a very few are interested in my
immediate demise, I am able to form a fairly probable conjecture."
"And what do you mean to do?"
"For the present I shall maintain an attitude of masterly inactivity and
avoid the night air."
"But, surely," I exclaimed, "you will take some measures to protect
yourself against attempts of this kind. You can hardly doubt now that
your accident in the fog was really an attempted murder."
"I never did doubt it, as a matter of fact, although I prevaricated at
the time. But I have not enough evidence against this man at present,
and, consequently, can do nothing but show that I suspect him, which
would be foolish. Whereas, if I lie low, one of two things will happen;
either the occasion for my removal (which is only a temporary one) will
pass, or he will commit himself--will put a definite clue into my hands.
Then we shall find the air-cane, the bicycle, perhaps a little stock of
poison, and certain other trifles that I have in my mind, which will be
good confirmatory evidence, though insufficient in themselves. And now,
I think, I must really adjourn this meeting, or we shall be good for
IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
It was now only a week from the date on which the trial was to open. In
eight days the mystery would almost certainly be solved (if it was
capable of solution), for the trial promised to be quite a short one,
and then Reuben Hornby would be either a convicted felon or a free man,
clear of the stigma of the crime.
For several days past, Thorndyke had been in almost constant possession
of the laboratory, while his own small room, devoted ordinarily to
bacteriology and microscopical work was kept continually locked; a state
of things that reduced Polton to a condition of the most extreme nervous
irritation, especially when, as he told me indignantly, he met Mr.
Anstey emerging from the holy of holies, grinning and rubbing his hands
and giving utterance to genial but unparliamentary expressions of amused
I had met Anstey on several occasions lately, and each time liked him
better than the last; for his whimsical, facetious manner covered a
nature (as it often does) that was serious and thoughtful; and I found
him, not only a man of considerable learning, but one also of a lofty
standard of conduct. His admiration for Thorndyke was unbounded, and I
could see that the two men collaborated with the utmost sympathy and
But although I regarded Mr. Anstey with feelings of the liveliest
friendship, I was far from gratified when, on the morning of which I am
writing, I observed him from our sitting-room window crossing the
gravelled space from Crown Office Row and evidently bearing down on our
chambers. For the fact is that I was awaiting the arrival of Juliet, and
should greatly have preferred to be alone at the moment, seeing that
Thorndyke had already gone out. It is true that my fair enslaver was not
due for nearly half-an-hour, but then, who could say how long Anstey
would stay, or what embarrassments might arise from my efforts to
escape? By all of which it may be perceived that my disease had reached
a very advanced stage, and that I was unequal to those tactics of
concealment that are commonly attributed to the ostrich.
A sharp rap of the knocker announced the arrival of the disturber of my
peace, and when I opened the door Anstey walked in with the air of a man
to whom an hour more or less is of no consequence whatever. He shook my
hand with mock solemnity, and, seating himself upon the edge of the
table, proceeded to roll a cigarette with exasperating deliberation.
"I infer," said he, "that our learned brother is practising parlour
magic upstairs, or peradventure he has gone on a journey?"
"He has a consultation this morning," I answered. "Was he expecting
"Evidently not, or he would have been here. No, I just looked in to ask
a question about the case of your friend Hornby. You know it comes on
for trial next week?"
"Yes; Thorndyke told me. What do you think of Hornby's prospects? Is he
going to be convicted, or will he get an acquittal?"
"_He_ will be entirely passive," replied Anstey, "but _we_"--here he
slapped his chest impressively--"are going to secure an acquittal. You
will be highly entertained, my learned friend, and Mr. The Enemy will be
excessively surprised." He inspected the newly-made cigarette with a
critical air and chuckled softly.
"You seem pretty confident," I remarked.
"I am," he answered, "though Thorndyke considers failure
possible--which, of course, it is if the jury-box should chance to be
filled with microcephalic idiots and the judge should prove incapable of
understanding simple technical evidence. But we hope that neither of
these things will happen, and, if they do not, we feel pretty safe. By
the way, I hope I am not divulging your principal's secrets?"
"Well," I replied, with a smile, "you have been more explicit than
Thorndyke ever has."
"Have I?" he exclaimed, with mock anxiety; "then I must swear you to
secrecy. Thorndyke is so very close--and he is quite right too. I never
cease admiring his tactics of allowing the enemy to fortify and
barricade the entrance that he does _not_ mean to attack. But I see you
are wishing me at the devil, so give me a cigar and I will go--though
not to that particular destination."
"Will you have one of Thorndyke's special brand?" I asked malignantly.
"What! those foul Trichinopolies? Not while brown paper is to be
obtained at every stationer's; I'd sooner smoke my own wig."
I tendered my own case, from which he selected a cigar with anxious care
and much sniffing; then he bade me a ceremonious adieu and departed down
the stairs, blithely humming a melody from the latest comic opera.
He had not left more than five minutes when a soft and elaborate
rat-tat from the little brass knocker brought my heart into my mouth. I
ran to the door and flung it open, revealing Juliet standing on the
"May I come in?" she asked. "I want to have a few words with you before
I looked at her with some anxiety, for she was manifestly agitated, and
the hand that she held out to me trembled.
"I am greatly upset, Dr. Jervis," she said, ignoring the chair that I
had placed for her. "Mr. Lawley has been giving us his views of poor
Reuben's case, and his attitude fills me with dismay."
"Hang Mr. Lawley!" I muttered, and then apologised hastily. "What made
you go to him, Miss Gibson?"
"I didn't go to him; he came to us. He dined with us last night--he and
Walter--and his manner was gloomy in the extreme. After dinner Walter
took him apart with me and asked him what he really thought of the case.
He was most pessimistic. 'My dear sir,' he said, 'the only advice I can
give you is that you prepare yourself to contemplate disaster as
philosophically as you can. In my opinion your cousin is almost certain
to be convicted.' 'But,' said Walter, 'what about the defence? I
understood that there was at least a plausible case.' Mr. Lawley
shrugged his shoulders. 'I have a sort of _alibi_ that will go for
nothing, but I have no evidence to offer in answer to that of the
prosecution, and no case; and I may say, speaking in confidence, that I
do not believe there is any case. I do not see how there can be any
case, and I have heard nothing from Dr. Thorndyke to lead me to suppose
that he has really done anything in the matter.' Is this true, Dr.
Jervis? Oh! do tell me the real truth about it! I have been so miserable
and terrified since I heard this, and I was so full of hope before. Tell
me, is it true? Will Reuben be sent to prison after all?"
In her agitation she laid her hands on my arm and looked up into my face
with her grey eyes swimming with tears, and was so piteous, so trustful,
and, withal, so bewitching that my reserve melted like snow before a
"It is not true," I answered, taking her hands in mine and speaking
perforce in a low tone that I might not betray my emotion. "If it were,
it would mean that I have wilfully deceived you, that I have been false
to our friendship; and how much that friendship has been to me, no one
but myself will ever know."
She crept a little closer to me with a manner at once penitent and
"You are not going to be angry with me, are you? It was foolish of me to
listen to Mr. Lawley after all you have told me, and it did look like a
want of trust in you, I know. But you, who are so strong and wise, must
make allowance for a woman who is neither. It is all so terrible that I
am quite unstrung; but say you are not really displeased with me, for
that would hurt me most of all."
Oh! Delilah! That concluding stroke of the shears severed the very last
lock, and left me--morally speaking--as bald as a billiard ball.
Henceforth I was at her mercy and would have divulged, without a
scruple, the uttermost secrets of my principal, but that that astute
gentleman had placed me beyond the reach of temptation.
"As to being angry with you," I answered, "I am not, like Thorndyke, one
to essay the impossible, and if I could be angry it would hurt me more
than it would you. But, in fact, you are not to blame at all, and I am
an egotistical brute. Of course you were alarmed and distressed; nothing
could be more natural. So now let me try to chase away your fears and
restore your confidence.
"I have told you what Thorndyke said to Reuben: that he had good hopes
of making his innocence clear to everybody. That alone should have been
"I know it should," murmured Juliet remorsefully; "please forgive me for
my want of faith."
"But," I continued, "I can quote you the words of one to whose opinions
you will attach more weight. Mr. Anstey was here less than half-an-hour
"Do you mean Reuben's counsel?"
"And what did he say? Oh, do tell me what he said."
"He said, in brief, that he was quite confident of obtaining an
acquittal, and that the prosecution would receive a great surprise. He
seemed highly pleased with his brief, and spoke with great admiration of
"Did he really say that--that he was confident of an acquittal?" Her
voice was breathless and unsteady, and she was clearly, as she had said,
quite unstrung. "What a relief it is," she murmured incoherently; "and
so very, very kind of you!" She wiped her eyes and laughed a queer,
shaky little laugh; then, quite suddenly, she burst into a passion of
Hardly conscious of what I did, I drew her gently towards me, and rested
her head on my shoulder whilst I whispered into her ear I know not what
words of consolation; but I am sure that I called her "dear Juliet," and
probably used other expressions equally improper and reprehensible.
Presently she recovered herself, and, having dried her eyes, regarded me
somewhat shamefacedly, blushing hotly, but smiling very sweetly
"I am ashamed of myself," she said, "coming here and weeping on your
bosom like a great baby. It is to be hoped that your other clients do
not behave in this way."
Whereat we both laughed heartily, and, our emotional equilibrium being
thus restored, we began to think of the object of our meeting.
"I am afraid I have wasted a great deal of time," said Juliet, looking
at her watch. "Shall we be too late, do you think?"
"I hope not," I replied, "for Reuben will be looking for us; but we must
I caught up my hat, and we went forth, closing the oak behind us, and
took our way up King's Bench Walk in silence, but with a new and
delightful sense of intimate comradeship. I glanced from time to time at
my companion, and noted that her cheek still bore a rosy flush, and when
she looked at me there was a sparkle in her eye, and a smiling softness
in her glance, that stirred my heart until I trembled with the intensity
of the passion that I must needs conceal. And even while I was feeling
that I must tell her all, and have done with it, tell her that I was her
abject slave, and she my goddess, my queen; that in the face of such a
love as mine no man could have any claim upon her; even then, there
arose the still, small voice that began to call me an unfaithful steward
and to remind me of a duty and trust that were sacred even beyond love.
In Fleet Street I hailed a cab, and, as I took my seat beside my fair
companion, the voice began to wax and speak in bolder and sterner
"Christopher Jervis," it said, "what is this that you are doing? Are you
a man of honour or nought but a mean, pitiful blackguard? You, the
trusted agent of this poor, misused gentleman, are you not planning in
your black heart how you shall rob him of that which, if he is a man at
all, must be more to him than his liberty, or even his honour? Shame on
you for a miserable weakling! Have done with these philanderings and
keep your covenants like a gentleman--or, at least, an honest man!"
At this point in my meditations Juliet turned towards me with a coaxing
"My legal adviser seems to be revolving some deep and weighty matter,"
I pulled myself together and looked at her--at her sparkling eyes and
rosy, dimpling cheeks, so winsome and lovely and lovable.
"Come," I thought, "I must put an end to this at once, or I am lost."
But it cost me a very agony of effort to do it--which agony, I trust,
may be duly set to my account by those who may sit in judgement on me.
"Your legal adviser, Miss Gibson," I said (and at that "Miss Gibson" I
thought she looked at me a little queerly), "has been reflecting that he
has acted considerably beyond his jurisdiction."
"In what respect?" she asked.
"In passing on to you information which was given to him in very strict
confidence, and, in fact, with an implied promise of secrecy on his
"But the information was not of a very secret character, was it?"
"More so than it appeared. You see, Thorndyke thinks it so important not
to let the prosecution suspect that he has anything up his sleeve, that
he has kept even Mr. Lawley in the dark, and he has never said as much
to me as Anstey did this morning."
"And now you are sorry you told me; you think I have led you into a
breach of trust. Is it not so?" She spoke without a trace of petulance,
and her tone of dignified self-accusation made me feel a veritable worm.
"My dear Miss Gibson," I expostulated, "you entirely misunderstand me. I
am not in the least sorry that I told you. How could I have done
otherwise under the circumstances? But I want you to understand that I
have taken the responsibility of communicating to you what is really a
professional secret, and that you are to consider it as such."
"That was how I understood it," replied Juliet; "and you may rely upon
me not to utter a syllable on the subject to anyone."
I thanked her for this promise, and then, by way of making conversation,
gave her an account in detail of Anstey's visit, not even omitting the
incident of the cigar.
"And are Dr. Thorndyke's cigars so extraordinarily bad?" she asked.
"Not at all," I replied; "only they are not to every man's taste. The
Trichinopoly cheroot is Thorndyke's one dissipation, and, I must say, he
takes it very temperately. Under ordinary circumstances he smokes a
pipe; but after a specially heavy day's work, or on any occasion of
festivity or rejoicing, he indulges in a Trichinopoly, and he smokes the
very best that can be got."
"So even the greatest men have their weaknesses," Juliet moralised; "but
I wish I had known Dr. Thorndyke's sooner, for Mr. Hornby had a large
box of Trichinopoly cheroots given to him, and I believe they were
exceptionally fine ones. However, he tried one and didn't like it, so he
transferred the whole consignment to Walter, who smokes all sorts and
conditions of cigars."
So we talked on from one commonplace to another, and each more
conventional than the last. In my nervousness, I overdid my part, and
having broken the ice, proceeded to smash it to impalpable fragments.
Endeavouring merely to be unemotional and to avoid undue intimacy of
manner, I swung to the opposite extreme and became almost stiff; and
perhaps the more so since I was writhing with the agony of repression.
Meanwhile a corresponding change took place in my companion. At first
her manner seemed doubtful and bewildered; then she, too, grew more
distant and polite and less disposed for conversation. Perhaps her
conscience began to rebuke her, or it may be that my coolness suggested
to her that her conduct had not been quite of the kind that would have
commended itself to Reuben. But however that may have been, we continued
to draw farther and farther apart; and in that short half-hour we
retraced the steps of our growing friendship to such purpose that, when
we descended from the cab at the prison gate, we seemed more like
strangers than on the first day that we met. It was a miserable ending
to all our delightful comradeship, and yet what other end could one
expect in this world of cross purposes and things that might have been?
In the extremity of my wretchedness I could have wept on the bosom of
the portly warder who opened the wicket, even as Juliet had wept upon
mine; and it was almost a relief to me, when our brief visit was over,
to find that we should not return together to King's Cross as was our
wont, but that Juliet would go back by omnibus that she might do some
shopping in Oxford Street, leaving me to walk home alone.
I saw her into her omnibus, and stood on the pavement looking wistfully
at the lumbering vehicle as it dwindled in the distance. At last, with a
sigh of deepest despondency, I turned my face homeward, and, walking
like one in a dream, retraced the route over which I had journeyed so
often of late and with such different sensations.
MURDER BY POST
The next few days were perhaps the most unhappy that I have known. My
life, indeed, since I had left the hospital had been one of many
disappointments and much privation. Unfulfilled desires and ambitions
unrealised had combined with distaste for the daily drudgery that had
fallen to my lot to embitter my poverty and cause me to look with gloomy
distrust upon the unpromising future. But no sorrow that I had hitherto
experienced could compare with the grief that I now felt in
contemplating the irretrievable ruin of what I knew to be the great
passion of my life. For to a man like myself, of few friends and deep
affections, one great emotional upheaval exhausts the possibilities of
nature; leaving only the capacity for feeble and ineffective echoes. The
edifice of love that is raised upon the ruins of a great passion can
compare with the original no more than can the paltry mosque that
perches upon the mound of Jonah with the glories of the palace that lies
entombed beneath. I had made a pretext to write to Juliet and had
received a reply quite frank and friendly in tone, by which I knew that
she had not--as some women would have done--set the blame upon me for
our temporary outburst of emotion. And yet there was a subtle difference
from her previous manner of writing that only emphasised the finality of
I think Thorndyke perceived that something had gone awry, though I was
at great pains to maintain a cheerful exterior and keep myself occupied,
and he probably formed a pretty shrewd guess at the nature of the
trouble; but he said nothing, and I only judged that he had observed
some change in my manner by the fact that there was blended with his
usual quiet geniality an almost insensible note of sympathy and
A couple of days after my last interview with Juliet, an event occurred
which served, certainly, to relieve the tension and distract my
thoughts, though not in a very agreeable manner.
It was the pleasant, reposeful hour after dinner when it was our custom
to sit in our respective easy chairs and, as we smoked our pipes,
discuss some of the many topics in which we had a common interest. The
postman had just discharged into the capacious letter-box an avalanche
of letters and circulars, and as I sat glancing through the solitary
letter that had fallen to my share, I looked from time to time at
Thorndyke and noticed, as I had often done before, with some surprise, a
curious habit that he had of turning over and closely scrutinising every
letter and package before he opened it.
"I observe, Thorndyke," I now ventured to remark, "that you always
examine the outside of a letter before looking at the inside. I have
seen other people do the same, and it has always appeared to me a
singularly foolish proceeding. Why speculate over an unopened letter
when a glance at the contents will tell you all there is to know?"
"You are perfectly right," he answered, "if the object of the inspection
is to discover who is the sender of the letter. But that is not my
object. In my case the habit is one that has been deliberately
cultivated--not in reference to letters only, but to everything that
comes into my hands--the habit of allowing nothing to pass without a
certain amount of conscious attention. The observant man is, in reality,
the attentive man, and the so-called power of observation is simply the
capacity for continuous attention. As a matter of fact, I have found in
practice, that the habit is a useful one even in reference to letters;
more than once I have gleaned a hint from the outside of a letter that
has proved valuable when applied to the contents. Here, for instance, is
a letter which has been opened after being fastened up--apparently by
the aid of steam. The envelope is soiled and rubbed, and smells faintly
of stale tobacco, and has evidently been carried in a pocket along with
a well-used pipe. Why should it have been opened? On reading it I
perceive that it should have reached me two days ago, and that the date
has been skilfully altered from the thirteenth to the fifteenth. The
inference is that my correspondent has a highly untrustworthy clerk."
"But the correspondent may have carried the letter in his own pocket," I
"Hardly," replied Thorndyke. "He would not have troubled to steam his
own letter open and close it again; he would have cut the envelope and
addressed a fresh one. This the clerk could not do, because the letter
was confidential and was addressed in the principal's handwriting. And
the principal would have almost certainly added a postscript; and,
moreover, he does not smoke. This, however, is all very obvious; but
here is something rather more subtle which I have put aside for more
detailed examination. What do you make of it?"
He handed me a small parcel to which was attached by string a
typewritten address label, the back of which bore the printed
inscription, "James Bartlett and Sons, Cigar Manufacturers, London and
"I am afraid," said I, after turning the little packet over and
examining every part of it minutely, "that this is rather too subtle for
me. The only thing that I observe is that the typewriter has bungled the
address considerably. Otherwise this seems to me a very ordinary packet
"Well, you have observed one point of interest, at any rate," said
Thorndyke, taking the packet from me. "But let us examine the thing
systematically and note down what we see. In the first place, you will
notice that the label is an ordinary luggage label such as you may buy
at any stationer's, with its own string attached. Now, manufacturers
commonly use a different and more substantial pattern, which is attached
by the string of the parcel. But that is a small matter. What is much
more striking is the address on the label. It is typewritten and, as you
say, typed very badly. Do you know anything about typewriters?"
"Then you do not recognise the machine? Well, this label was typed with
a Blickensderfer--an excellent machine, but not the form most commonly
selected for the rough work of a manufacturer's office; but we will let
that pass. The important point is this: the Blickensderfer Company make
several forms of machine, the smallest and lightest of which is the
literary, specially designed for the use of journalists and men of
letters. Now this label was typed with the literary machine, or, at
least, with the literary typewheel; which is really a very remarkable
"How do you know that?" I asked.
"By this asterisk, which has been written by mistake, the inexpert
operator having pressed down the figure lever instead of the one for
capitals. The literary typewheel is the only one that has an asterisk,
as I noticed when I was thinking of purchasing a machine. Here, then, we
have a very striking fact, for even if a manufacturer chose to use a
'Blick' in his factory, it is inconceivable that he should select the
literary form in preference to the more suitable 'commercial' machine."
"Yes," I agreed; "it is certainly very singular."
"And now," pursued Thorndyke, "to consider the writing itself. It has
been done by an absolute beginner. He has failed to space in two places,
he has written five wrong letters, and he has written figures instead of
capitals in two instances."
"Yes; he has made a shocking muddle of it. I wonder he didn't throw the
label away and type another."
"Precisely," said Thorndyke. "And if we wish to find out why he did not,
we have only to look at the back of the label. You see that the name of
the firm, instead of being printed on the label itself in the usual
manner, is printed on a separate slip of paper which is pasted on the
label--a most foolish and clumsy arrangement, involving an immense waste
of time. But if we look closely at the printed slip itself we perceive
something still more remarkable; for that slip has been cut down to fit
the label, and has been cut with a pair of scissors. The edges are not
quite straight, and in one place the 'overlap,' which is so
characteristic of the cut made with scissors, can be seen quite
He handed the packet to me with a reading-lens, through which I could
distinctly make out the points he had mentioned.
"Now I need not point out to you," he continued, "that these slips
would, ordinarily, have been trimmed by the printer to the correct size
in his machine, which would leave an absolutely true edge; nor need I
say that no sane business man would adopt such a device as this. The
slip of paper has been cut with scissors to fit the label, and it has
then been pasted on to the surface that it has been made to fit, when
all this waste of time and trouble--which, in practice, means
money--could have been saved by printing the name on the label itself."
"Yes, that is so; but I still do not see why the fellow should not have
thrown away this label and typed another."
"Look at the slip again," said Thorndyke. "It is faintly but evenly
discoloured and, to me, has the appearance of having been soaked in
water. Let us, for the moment, assume that it has been. That would look
as if it had been removed from some other package, which again would
suggest that the person using it had only the one slip, which he had
soaked off the original package, dried, cut down and pasted on the
present label. If he pasted it on before typing the address--which he
would most probably have done--he might well be unwilling to risk
destroying it by soaking it a second time."
"You think, then, there is a suspicion that the package may have been
"There is no need to jump to conclusions," replied Thorndyke. "I merely
gave this case as an instance showing that careful examination of the
outside of a package or letter may lead us to bestow a little extra
attention on the contents. Now let us open it and see what those
With a sharp knife he divided the outside cover, revealing a stout
cardboard box wrapped in a number of advertisement sheets. The box, when
the lid was raised, was seen to contain a single cigar--a large
cheroot--packed in cotton wool.
"A 'Trichy,' by Jove!" I exclaimed. "Your own special fancy, Thorndyke."
"Yes; and another anomaly, at once, you see, which might have escaped
our notice if we had not been on the _qui vive_."
"As a matter of fact, I _don't_ see," said I. "You will think me an
awful blockhead, but I don't perceive anything singular in a cigar
manufacturer sending a sample cigar."
"You read the label, I think?" replied Thorndyke. "However, let us look
at one of these leaflets and see what they say. Ah! here we are:
'Messrs. Bartlett and Sons, who own extensive plantations on the island
of Cuba, manufacture their cigars exclusively from selected leaves grown
by themselves.' They would hardly make a Trichinopoly cheroot from leaf
grown in the West Indies, so we have here a striking anomaly of an East
Indian cigar sent to us by a West Indian grower."
"And what do you infer from that?"
"Principally that this cigar--which, by the way, is an uncommonly fine
specimen and which I would not smoke for ten thousand pounds--is
deserving of very attentive examination." He produced from his pocket a
powerful doublet lens, with the aid of which he examined every part of
the surface of the cigar, and finally, both ends. "Look at the small
end," he said, handing me the cigar and the lens, "and tell me if you
I focussed the lens on the flush-cut surface of closely-rolled leaf, and
explored every part of it minutely.
"It seems to me," I said, "that the leaf is opened slightly in the
centre, as if a fine wire had been passed up it."
"So it appeared to me," replied Thorndyke; "and, as we are in agreement
so far, we will carry our investigations a step further."
He laid the cigar down on the table, and, with the keen, thin-bladed
penknife, neatly divided it lengthwise into two halves.
"_Ecce signum_!" exclaimed Thorndyke, as the two parts fell asunder; and
for a few moments we stood silently regarding the dismembered cheroot.
For, about half an inch from the small end, there appeared a little
circular patch of white, chalky material which, by the even manner in
which it was diffused among the leaf, had evidently been deposited from
"Our ingenious friend again, I surmise," said Thorndyke at length,
taking up one of the halves and examining the white patch through his
lens. "A thoughtful soul, Jervis, and original too. I wish his talents
could be applied in some other direction. I shall have to remonstrate
with him if he becomes troublesome." "It is your duty to society,
Thorndyke," I exclaimed passionately, "to have this infernal,
cold-blooded scoundrel arrested instantly. Such a man is a standing
menace to the community. Do you really know who sent this thing?"
"I can form a pretty shrewd guess, which, however, is not quite the same
thing. But, you see, he has not been quite so clever this time, for he
has left one or two traces by which his identity might be ascertained."
"Indeed! What traces has he left?"
"Ah! now there is a nice little problem for us to consider." He settled
himself in his easy chair and proceeded to fill his pipe with the air of
a man who is about to discuss a matter of merely general interest.
"Let us consider what information this ingenious person has given us
about himself. In the first place, he evidently has a strong interest in
my immediate decease. Now, why should he feel so urgent a desire for my
death? Can it be a question of property? Hardly; for I am far from a
rich man, and the provisions of my will are known to me alone. Can it
then be a question of private enmity or revenge? I think not. To the
best of my belief I have no private enemies whatever. There remains only
my vocation as an investigator in the fields of legal and criminal
research. His interest in my death must, therefore, be connected with my
professional activities. Now, I am at present conducting an exhumation
which may lead to a charge of murder; but if I were to die to-night the
inquiry would be carried out with equal efficiency by Professor Spicer
or some other toxicologist. My death would not affect the prospects of
the accused. And so in one or two other cases that I have in hand; they
could be equally well conducted by someone else. The inference is that
our friend is not connected with any of these cases, but that he
believes me to possess some exclusive information concerning
him--believes me to be the one person in the world who suspects and can
convict him. Let us assume the existence of such a person--a person of
whose guilt I alone have evidence. Now this person, being unaware that I
have communicated my knowledge to a third party, would reasonably
suppose that by making away with me he had put himself in a position of
"Here, then, is our first point. The sender of this offering is probably
a person concerning whom I hold certain exclusive information.
"But see, now, the interesting corollary that follows from this. I,
alone, suspect this person; therefore I have not published my
suspicions, or others would suspect him too. Why, then, does he suspect
me of suspecting him, since I have not spoken? Evidently, he too must be
in possession of exclusive information. In other words, my suspicions
are correct; for if they were not, he could not be aware of their
"The next point is the selection of this rather unusual type of cigar.
Why should he have sent a Trichinopoly instead of an ordinary Havana
such as Bartletts actually manufacture? It looks as if he were aware of
my peculiar predilection, and, by thus consulting my personal tastes,
had guarded against the chance of my giving the cigar to some other
person. We may, therefore, infer that our friend probably has some
knowledge of my habits.
"The third point is, What is the social standing of this gentle
stranger, whom we will call X? Now, Bartletts do not send their
advertisements and samples to Thomas, Richard and Henry. They send,
chiefly, to members of the professions and men of means and position. It
is true that the original package might have been annexed by a clerk,
office boy or domestic servant; but the probabilities are that X
received the package himself, and this is borne out by the fact that he
was able to obtain access to a powerful alkaloidal poison--such as this
"In that case he would probably be a medical man or a chemist," I
"Not necessarily," replied Thorndyke. "The laws relating to poisons are
so badly framed and administered that any well-to-do person, who has the
necessary knowledge, can obtain almost any poison that he wants. But
social position is an important factor, whence we may conclude that X
belongs, at least, to the middle class.
"The fourth point relates to the personal qualities of X. Now it is
evident, from this instance alone, that he is a man of exceptional
intelligence, of considerable general information, and both ingenious
and resourceful. This cigar device is not only clever and original, but
it has been adapted to the special circumstances with remarkable
forethought. Thus the cheroot was selected, apparently, for two
excellent reasons: first, that it was the most likely form to be smoked
by the person intended, and second, that it did not require to have the
end cut off--which might have led to a discovery of the poison. The plan
also shows a certain knowledge of chemistry; the poison was not intended
merely to be dissolved in the moisture of the mouth. The idea evidently
was that the steam generated by the combustion of the leaf at the
distal end, would condense in the cooler part of the cigar and dissolve
the poison, and the solution would then be drawn into the mouth. Then
the nature of the poison and certain similarities of procedure seem to
identify X with the cyclist who used that ingenious bullet. The poison
in this case is a white, non-crystalline solid; the poison contained in
the bullet was a solution of a white, non-crystalline solid, which
analysis showed to be the most poisonous of all akaloids.
"The bullet was virtually a hypodermic syringe; the poison in this cigar
has been introduced, in the form of an alcoholic or ethereal solution,
by a hypodermic syringe. We shall thus be justified in assuming that the
bullet and the cigar came from the same person; and, if this be so, we
may say that X is a person of considerable knowledge, of great ingenuity
and no mean skill as a mechanician--as shown by the manufacture of the
"These are our principal facts--to which we may add the surmise that he
has recently purchased a second-hand Blickensderfer of the literary form
or, at least, fitted with a literary typewheel."
"I don't quite see how you arrive at that," I said, in some surprise.
"It is merely a guess, you know," he replied, "though a probable one. In
the first place he is obviously unused to typing, as the numerous
mistakes show; therefore he has not had the machine very long. The type
is that which is peculiar to the Blickensderfer, and, in one of the
mistakes, an asterisk has been printed in place of a letter. But the
literary typewheel is the only one that has the asterisk. As to the age
of the machine, there are evident signs of wear, for some of the letters
have lost their sharpness, and this is most evident in the case of those
letters which are the most used--the 'e,' you will notice, for instance,
is much worn; and 'e' occurs more frequently than any other letter of
the alphabet. Hence the machine, if recently purchased, was bought
"But," I objected, "it may not have been his own machine at all."
"That is quite possible," answered Thorndyke, "though, considering the
secrecy that would be necessary, the probabilities are in favour of his
having bought it. But, in any case, we have here a means of identifying
the machine, should we ever meet with it."
He picked up the label and handed it to me, together with his pocket
"Look closely at the 'e' that we have been discussing; it occurs five
times; in 'Thorndyke,' in 'Bench,' in 'Inner,' and in 'Temple.' Now in
each case you will notice a minute break in the loop, just at the
summit. That break corresponds to a tiny dent in the type--caused,
probably, by its striking some small, hard object."
"I can make it out quite distinctly," I said, "and it should be a most
valuable point for identification."
"It should be almost conclusive," Thorndyke replied, "especially when
joined to other facts that would be elicited by a search of his
premises. And now let us just recapitulate the facts which our friend X
has placed at our disposal.
"First: X is a person concerning whom I possess certain exclusive
"Second: He has some knowledge of my personal habits.
"Third: He is a man of some means and social position.
"Fourth: He is a man of considerable knowledge, ingenuity and mechanical
"Fifth: He has probably purchased, quite recently, a second-hand 'Blick'
fitted with a literary typewheel. "Sixth: That machine, whether his
own or some other person's property, can be identified by a
characteristic mark on the small 'e.'
"If you will note down those six points and add that X is probably an
expert cyclist and a fairly good shot with a rifle, you may possibly be
able, presently, to complete the equation, X = ?"
"I am afraid," I said, "I do not possess the necessary data; but I
suspect you do, and if it is so, I repeat that it is your duty to
society--to say nothing of your clients, whose interests would suffer by
your death--to have this fellow laid by the heels before he does any
"Yes; I shall have to interfere if he becomes really troublesome, but I
have reasons for wishing to leave him alone at present."
"You do really know who he is, then?"
"Well, I think I can solve the equation that I have just offered to you
for solution. You see, I have certain data, as you suggest, which you do
not possess. There is, for instance, a certain ingenious gentleman
concerning whom I hold what I believe to be exclusive information, and
my knowledge of him does not make it appear unlikely that he might be
the author of these neat little plans."
"I am much impressed," I said, as I put away my notebook, after having
jotted down the points that Thorndyke had advised me to consider--"I am
much impressed by your powers of observation and your capacity for
reasoning from apparently trivial data; but I do not see, even now, why
you viewed that cigar with such immediate and decided suspicion. There
was nothing actually to suggest the existence of poison in it, and yet
you seemed to form the suspicion at once and to search for it as though
you expected to find it."
"Yes," replied Thorndyke; "to a certain extent you are right. The idea
of a poisoned cigar was not new to me--and thereby hangs a tale."
He laughed softly and gazed into the fire with eyes that twinkled with
quiet amusement. "You have heard me say," he resumed, after a short
pause, "that when I first took these chambers I had practically nothing
to do. I had invented a new variety of medico-legal practice and had to
build it up by slow degrees, and the natural consequence was that, for a
long time, it yielded nothing but almost unlimited leisure. Now, that
leisure was by no means wasted, for I employed it in considering the
class of cases in which I was likely to be employed, and in working out
theoretical examples; and seeing that crimes against the person have
nearly always a strong medical interest, I gave them special attention.
For instance, I planned a series of murders, selecting royal personages
and great ministers as the victims, and on each murder I brought to bear
all the special knowledge, skill and ingenuity at my command. I inquired
minutely into the habits of my hypothetical victims; ascertained who
were their associates, friends, enemies and servants; considered their
diet, their residences, their modes of conveyance, the source of their
clothing and, in fact, everything which it was necessary to know in
order to achieve their deaths with certainty and with absolute safety to
"How deeply gratified and flattered those great personages would have
felt," I remarked, "if they had known how much attention they were
"Yes; I suppose it would have been somewhat startling, to the Prime
Minister, for instance, to have learned that he was being watched and
studied by an attentive observer and that the arrangements for his
decease had been completed down to the minutest detail. But, of course,
the application of the method to a particular case was the essential
thing, for it brought into view all the incidental difficulties, in
meeting which all the really interesting and instructive details were
involved. Well, the particulars of these crimes I wrote out at length,
in my private shorthand, in a journal which I kept for the purpose--and
which, I need not say, I locked up securely in my safe when I was not
using it. After completing each case, it was my custom to change sides
and play the game over again from the opposite side of the board; that
is to say, I added, as an appendix to each case, an analysis with a
complete scheme for the detection of the crime. I have in my safe at the
present moment six volumes of cases, fully indexed; and I can assure you
that they are not only highly instructive reading, but are really
valuable as works of reference."
"That I can readily believe," I replied, laughing heartily,
nevertheless, at the grotesqueness of the whole proceeding, "though they
might have proved rather incriminating documents if they had passed out
of your possession."
"They would never have been read," rejoined Thorndyke. "My shorthand is,
I think, quite undecipherable; it has been so made intentionally with a
view to secrecy."
"And have any of your theoretical cases ever turned up in real life?"
"Several of them have, though very imperfectly planned and carried out
as a rule. The poisoned cigar is one of them, though, of course I
should never have adopted such a conspicuous device for presenting it;
and the incident of the other night is a modification--for the worse--of
another. In fact, most of the intricate and artistic crimes with which I
have had to deal professionally have had their more complete and
elaborate prototypes in my journals."
I was silent for some time, reflecting on the strange personality of my
gifted friend and the singular fitness that he presented for the part he
had chosen to play in the drama of social life; but presently my
thoughts returned to the peril that overshadowed him, and I came back,
once more, to my original question.
"And now, Thorndyke," I said, "that you have penetrated both the motives
and the disguise of this villain, what are you going to do? Is he to be
put safely under lock and key, or is he to be left in peace and security
to plan some other, and perhaps more successful, scheme for your
"For the present," replied Thorndyke, "I am going to put these things in
a place of safety. To-morrow you shall come with me to the hospital and
see me place the ends of the cigar in the custody of Dr. Chandler, who
will make an analysis and report on the nature of the poison. After that
we shall act in whatever way seems best."
Unsatisfactory as this conclusion appeared, I knew it was useless to
raise further objections, and, accordingly, when the cigar with its
accompanying papers and wrappings had been deposited in a drawer, we
dismissed it, if not from our thoughts, at least from our conversation.
A STARTLING DISCOVERY
The morning of the trial, so long looked forward to, had at length
arrived, and the train of events which it has been my business to
chronicle in this narrative was now fast drawing to an end. To me those
events had been in many ways of the deepest moment. Not only had they
transported me from a life of monotonous drudgery into one charged with
novelty and dramatic interest; not only had they introduced me to a
renascence of scientific culture and revived under new conditions my
intimacy with the comrade of my student days; but, far more momentous
than any of these, they had given me the vision--all too fleeting--of
happiness untold, with the reality of sorrow and bitter regret that
promised to be all too enduring.
Whence it happened that on this morning my thoughts were tinged with a
certain greyness. A chapter in my life that had been both bitter and
sweet was closing, and already I saw myself once more an Ishmaelite and
a wanderer among strangers.
This rather egotistical frame of mind, however, was soon dispelled when
I encountered Polton, for the little man was in a veritable twitter of
excitement at the prospect of witnessing the clearing up of the
mysteries that had so severely tried his curiosity; and even Thorndyke,
beneath his habitual calm, showed a trace of expectancy and pleasurable
"I have taken the liberty of making certain little arrangements on your
behalf," he said, as we sat at breakfast, "of which I hope you will not
disapprove. I have written to Mrs. Hornby, who is one of the witnesses,
to say that you will meet her at Mr. Lawley's office and escort her and
Miss Gibson to the court. Walter Hornby may be with them, and, if he is,
you had better leave him, if possible, to come on with Lawley."
"You will not come to the office, then?"
"No. I shall go straight to the court with Anstey. Besides, I am
expecting Superintendent Miller from Scotland Yard, who will probably
walk down with us."
"I am glad to hear that," I said; "for I have been rather uneasy at the
thought of your mixing in the crowd without some kind of protection."
"Well, you see that I am taking precautions against the assaults of the
too-ingenious X, and, to tell the truth--and also to commit a flagrant
bull--I should never forgive myself if I allowed him to kill me before I
had completed Reuben Hornby's defence. Ah, here is Polton--that man is
on wires this morning; he has been wandering in and out of the rooms
ever since he came, like a cat in a new house."
"It's quite true, sir," said Polton, smiling and unabashed, "so it's no
use denying it. I have come to ask what we are going to take with us to
"You will find a box and a portfolio on the table in my room," replied
Thorndyke. "We had better also take a microscope and the micrometers,
though we are not likely to want them; that is all, I think."
"A box and a portfolio," repeated Polton in a speculative tone. "Yes,
sir, I will take them with me." He opened the door and was about to
pass out, when, perceiving a visitor ascending the stairs, he turned
"Here's Mr. Miller, from Scotland Yard, sir; shall I show him in?"
"Yes, do." He rose from his chair as a tall, military-looking man
entered the room and saluted, casting, at the same time, an inquiring
glance in my direction.
"Good morning, Doctor," he said briskly. "I got your letter and couldn't
make such of it, but I have brought down a couple of plain-clothes men
and a uniform man, as you suggested. I understand you want a house
"Yes, and a man, too. I will give you the particulars presently--that
is, if you think you can agree to my conditions."
"That I act entirely on my own account and make no communication to
anybody? Well, of course, I would rather you gave me all the facts and
let me proceed in the regular way; but if you make conditions I have no
choice but to accept them, seeing that you hold the cards."
Perceiving that the matter in hand was of a confidential nature, I
thought it best to take my departure, which I accordingly did, as soon
as I had ascertained that it wanted yet half-an-hour to the time at
which Mrs. Hornby and Juliet were due at the lawyer's office.
Mr. Lawley received me with stiffness that bordered on hostility. He was
evidently deeply offended at the subordinate part that he had been
compelled to play in the case, and was at no great pains to conceal the
"I am informed," said he, in a frosty tone, when I had explained my
mission, "that Mrs. Hornby and Miss Gibson are to meet you here. The
arrangement is none of my making; none of the arrangements in this case
are of my making. I have been treated throughout with a lack of ceremony
and confidence that is positively scandalous. Even now, I--the
solicitor for the defence--am completely in the dark as to what defence
is contemplated, though I fully expect to be involved in some ridiculous
fiasco. I only trust that I may never again be associated with any of
your hybrid practitioners. _Ne sutor ultra crepidam_, sir, is an
excellent motto; let the medical cobbler stick to his medical last."
"It remains to be seen what kind of boot he can turn out on the legal
last," I retorted.
"That is so," he rejoined; "but I hear Mrs. Hornby's voice in the outer
office, and as neither you nor I have any time to waste in idle talk, I
suggest that you make your way to the court without delay. I wish you
Acting on this very plain hint, I retired to the clerks' office, where I
found Mrs. Hornby and Juliet, the former undisguisedly tearful and
terrified, and the latter calm, though pale and agitated.
"We had better start at once," I said, when we had exchanged greetings.
"Shall we take a cab, or walk?"
"I think we will walk, if you don't mind," said Juliet. "Mrs. Hornby
wants to have a few words with you before we go into court. You see, she
is one of the witnesses, and she is terrified lest she should say
something damaging to Reuben."
"By whom was the subpoena served?" I asked.
"Mr. Lawley sent it," replied Mrs. Hornby, "and I went to see him about
it the very next day, but he wouldn't tell me anything--he didn't seem
to know what I was wanted for, and he wasn't at all nice--not at all."
"I expect your evidence will relate to the 'Thumbograph,'" I said.
"There is really nothing else in connection with the case that you have
any knowledge of."
"That is just what Walter said," exclaimed Mrs. Hornby. "I went to his
rooms to talk the matter over with him. He is very upset about the whole
affair, and I am afraid he thinks very badly of poor Reuben's prospects.
I only trust he may be wrong! Oh dear! What a dreadful thing it is, to
be sure!" Here the poor lady halted to mop her eyes elaborately, to the
surprise and manifest scorn of a passing errand boy.
"He was very thoughtful and sympathetic--Walter, I mean, you know,"
pursued Mrs. Hornby, "and most helpful. He asked me all I knew about
that horrid little book, and took down my answers in writing. Then he
wrote out the questions I was likely to be asked, with my answers, so
that I could read them over and get them well into my head. Wasn't it
good of him! And I made him print them with his machine so that I could
read them without my glasses, and he did it beautifully. I have the
paper in my pocket now."
"I didn't know Mr. Walter went in for printing," I said. "Has he a
regular printing press?"
"It isn't a printing press exactly," replied Mrs. Hornby; "it is a small
thing with a lot of round keys that you press down--Dickensblerfer, I
think it is called--ridiculous name, isn't it? Walter bought it from one
of his literary friends about a week ago; but he is getting quite clever
with it already, though he does make a few mistakes still, as you can
see." She halted again, and began to search for the opening of a
pocket which was hidden away in some occult recess of her clothing, all
unconscious of the effect that her explanation had produced on me. For,
instantly, as she spoke, there flashed into my mind one of the points
that Thorndyke had given me for the identification of the mysterious X.
"He has probably purchased, quite recently, a second-hand
Blickensderfer, fitted with a literary typewheel." The coincidence was
striking and even startling, though a moment's reflection convinced me
that it was nothing more than a coincidence; for there must be hundreds
of second-hand "Blicks" on the market, and, as to Walter Hornby, he
certainly could have no quarrel with Thorndyke, but would rather be
interested in his preservation on Reuben's account.
These thoughts passed through my mind so rapidly that by the time Mrs.
Hornby had run her pocket to earth I had quite recovered from the
"Ah! here it is," she exclaimed triumphantly, producing an obese Morocco
purse. "I put it in here for safety, knowing how liable one is to get
one's pocket picked in these crowded London streets." She opened the
bulky receptacle and drew it out after the manner of a concertina,
exhibiting multitudinous partitions, all stuffed with pieces of paper,
coils of tape and sewing silk, buttons, samples of dress materials and
miscellaneous rubbish, mingled indiscriminately with gold, silver, and
"Now just run your eye through that, Dr. Jervis," she said, handing me a
folded paper, "and give me your advice on my answers."
I opened the paper and read: "The Committee of the Society for the
Protection of Paralysed Idiots, in submitting this--"
"Oh! that isn't it; I have given you the wrong paper. How silly of me!
That is the appeal of--you remember, Juliet, dear, that troublesome
person--I had, really, to be quite rude, you know, Dr. Jervis; I had to
tell him that charity begins at home, although, thank Heaven! none of us
are paralysed, but we must consider our own, mustn't we? And then--"
"Do you think this is the one, dear?" interposed Juliet, in whose pale
cheek the ghost of a dimple had appeared. "It looks cleaner than most of
She selected a folded paper from the purse which Mrs. Hornby was holding
with both hands extended to its utmost, as though she were about to
produce a burst of music, and, opening it, glanced at its contents.
"Yes, this is your evidence," she said, and passed the paper to me.
I took the document from her hand and, in spite of the conclusion at
which I had arrived, examined it with eager curiosity. And at the very
first glance I felt my head swim and my heart throb violently. For the
paper was headed: "Evidence respecting the Thumbograph," and in every
one of the five small "e's" that occurred in that sentence I could see
plainly by the strong out-door light a small break or interval in the
summit of the loop.
I was thunderstruck.
One coincidence was quite possible and even probable; but the two
together, and the second one of so remarkable a character, were beyond
all reasonable limits of probability. The identification did not seem to
admit of a doubt, and yet--
"Our legal adviser appears to be somewhat preoccupied," remarked Juliet,
with something of her old gaiety of manner; and, in fact, though I held
the paper in my hand, my gaze was fixed unmeaningly on an adjacent
lamp-post. As she spoke, I pulled myself together, and, scanning the
paper hastily, was fortunate enough to find in the first paragraph
matter requiring comment.
"I observe, Mrs. Hornby," I said, "that in answer to the first question,
'Whence did you obtain the "Thumbograph"?' you say, 'I do not remember
clearly; I think I must have bought it at a railway bookstall.' Now I
understood that it was brought home and given to you by Walter himself."
"That was what I thought," replied Mrs. Hornby, "but Walter tells me
that it was not so, and, of course, he would remember better than I
"But, my dear aunt, I am sure he gave it to you," interposed Juliet.
"Don't you remember? It was the night the Colleys came to dinner, and we
were so hard pressed to find amusement for them, when Walter came in and
produced the 'Thumbograph.'"
"Yes, I remember quite well now," said Mrs. Hornby. "How fortunate that
you reminded me. We must alter that answer at once."
"If I were you, Mrs. Hornby," I said, "I would disregard this paper
altogether. It will only confuse you and get you into difficulties.
Answer the questions that are put, as well as you can, and if you don't
remember, say so."
"Yes, that will be much the wisest plan," said Juliet. "Let Dr. Jervis
take charge of the paper and rely on your own memory." "Very well, my
dear," replied Mrs. Hornby, "I will do what you think best, and you can
keep the paper, Dr. Jervis, or throw it away."
I slipped the document into my pocket without remark, and we proceeded
on our way, Mrs. Hornby babbling inconsequently, with occasional
outbursts of emotion, and Juliet silent and abstracted. I struggled to
concentrate my attention on the elder lady's conversation, but my
thoughts continually reverted to the paper in my pocket, and the
startling solution that it seemed to offer of the mystery of the
Could it be that Walter Hornby was in reality the miscreant X? The thing
seemed incredible, for, hitherto, no shadow of suspicion had appeared to
fall on him. And yet there was no denying that his description tallied
in a very remarkable manner with that of the hypothetical X. He was a
man of some means and social position; he was a man of considerable
knowledge and mechanical skill, though as to his ingenuity I could not
judge. He had recently bought a second-hand Blickensderfer which
probably had a literary typewheel, since it was purchased from a
literary man; and that machine showed the characteristic mark on the
small "e." The two remaining points, indeed, were not so clear.
Obviously I could form no opinion as to whether or not Thorndyke held
any exclusive information concerning him, and, with reference to his
knowledge of my friend's habits, I was at first inclined to be doubtful
until I suddenly recalled, with a pang of remorse and self-accusation,
the various details that I had communicated to Juliet and that she might
easily, in all innocence, have handed on to Walter. I had, for instance,
told her of Thorndyke's preference for the Trichinopoly cheroot, and of
this she might very naturally have spoken to Walter, who possessed a
supply of them. Again, with regard to the time of our arrival at King's
Cross, I had informed her of this in a letter which was in no way
confidential, and again there was no reason why the information should
not have been passed on to Walter, who was to have been one of the party
at the family dinner. The coincidence seemed complete enough, in all
truth; yet it was incredible that Reuben's cousin could be so
blackhearted a villain or could have any motive for these dastardly
Suddenly a new idea struck me. Mrs Hornby had obtained access to this
typewriting machine; and if Mrs. Hornby could do so, why not John
Hornby? The description would, for the most part, fit the elder man as
well as the younger, though I had no evidence of his possessing any
special mechanical skill; but my suspicions had already fastened upon
him, and I remembered that Thorndyke had by no means rejected my theory
which connected him with the crime.
At this point, my reflections were broken in upon by Mrs. Hornby, who
grasped my arm and uttered a deep groan. We had reached the corner of
the Old Bailey, and before us were the frowning walls of Newgate. Within
those walls, I knew--though I did not mention the fact--that Reuben
Hornby was confined with the other prisoners who were awaiting their
trial; and a glance at the massive masonry, stained to a dingy grey by
the grime of the city, put an end to my speculations and brought me back
to the drama that was so nearly approaching its climax.
Down the old thoroughfare, crowded with so many memories of hideous
tragedy; by the side of the gloomy prison; past the debtors' door with
its forbidding spiked wicket; past the gallows gate with its festoons
of fetters; we walked in silence until we reached the entrance to the
Here I was not a little relieved to find Thorndyke on the look-out for
us, for Mrs. Hornby, in spite of really heroic efforts to control her
emotion, was in a state of impending hysteria, while Juliet, though
outwardly calm and composed, showed by the waxen pallor of her cheeks
and a certain wildness of her eyes that all her terror was reviving; and
I was glad that they were spared the unpleasantness of contact with the
policemen who guarded the various entrances.
"We must be brave," said Thorndyke gently, as he took Mrs. Hornby's
hand, "and show a cheerful face to our friend who has so much to bear
and who bears it so patiently. A few more hours, and I hope we shall see
restored, not only his liberty, but his honour. Here is Mr. Anstey, who,
we trust, will be able to make his innocence apparent."
Anstey, who, unlike Thorndyke, had already donned his wig and gown,
bowed gravely, and, together, we passed through the mean and grimy
portals into a dark hall. Policemen in uniform and unmistakable
detectives stood about the various entries, and little knots of people,
evil-looking and unclean for the most part, lurked in the background or
sat on benches and diffused through the stale, musty air that
distinctive but indescribable odour that clings to police vans and
prison reception rooms; an odour that, in the present case, was
pleasantly mingled with the suggestive aroma of disinfectants. Through
the unsavoury throng we hurried, and up a staircase to a landing from
which several passages diverged. Into one of these passages--a sort of
"dark entry," furnished with a cage-like gate of iron bars--we passed
to a black door, on which was painted the inscription, "Old Court.
Counsel and clerks."
Anstey held the door open for us, and we passed through into the court,
which at once struck me with a sense of disappointment. It was smaller
than I had expected, and plain and mean to the point of sordidness. The
woodwork was poor, thinly disguised by yellow graining, and slimy with
dirt wherever a dirty hand could reach it. The walls were distempered a
pale, greenish grey; the floor was of bare and dirty planking, and the
only suggestions of dignity or display were those offered by the canopy
over the judge's seat--lined with scarlet baize and surmounted by the
royal arms--the scarlet cushions of the bench, and the large, circular
clock in the gallery, which was embellished with a gilded border and
asserted its importance by a loud, aggressive tick.
Following Anstey and Thorndyke into the well of the court, we were
ushered into one of the seats reserved for counsel--the third from the
front--where we sat down and looked about us, while our two friends
seated themselves in the front bench next to the central table. Here, at
the extreme right, a barrister--presumably the counsel for the
prosecution--was already in his place and absorbed in the brief that lay
on the desk before him. Straight before us were the seats for the jury,
rising one above the other, and at their side the witness-box. Above us
on the right was the judge's seat, and immediately below it a structure
somewhat resembling a large pew or a counting-house desk, surmounted by
a brass rail, in which a person in a grey wig--the clerk of the
court--was mending a quill pen. On our left rose the dock--suggestively
large and roomy--enclosed at the sides with high glazed frames; and
above it, near the ceiling, was the spectators' gallery.
"What a hideous place!" exclaimed Juliet, who separated me from Mrs.
Hornby. "And how sordid and dirty everything looks!"
"Yes," I answered. "The uncleanness of the criminal is not confined to
his moral being; wherever he goes, he leaves a trail of actual,
physical dirt. It is not so long ago that the dock and the bench alike
used to be strewn with medicinal herbs, and I believe the custom still
survives of furnishing the judge with a nosegay as a preventive of
"And to think that Reuben should be brought to a place like this!"
Juliet continued bitterly; "to be herded with such people as we saw
She sighed and looked round at the benches that rose behind us, where a
half-dozen reporters were already seated and apparently in high spirits
at the prospect of a sensational case.
Our conversation was now interrupted by the clatter of feet on the
gallery stairs, and heads began to appear over the wooden parapet.
Several junior counsel filed into the seats in front of us; Mr. Lawley
and his clerk entered the attorney's bench; the ushers took their stand
below the jury-box; a police officer seated himself at a desk in the
dock; and inspectors, detectives and miscellaneous officers began to
gather in the entries or peer into the court through the small glazed
openings in the doors.
THE FINGER-PRINT EXPERTS
The hum of conversation that had been gradually increasing as the court
filled suddenly ceased. A door at the back of the dais was flung open;
counsel, solicitors, and spectators alike rose to their feet; and the
judge entered, closely followed by the Lord Mayor, the sheriff, and
various civic magnates, all picturesque and gorgeous in their robes and
chains of office. The Clerk of Arraigns took his place behind his table
under the dais; the counsel suspended their conversation and fingered
their briefs; and, as the judge took his seat, lawyers, officials, and
spectators took their seats, and all eyes were turned towards the dock.
A few moments later Reuben Hornby appeared in the enclosure in company
with a warder, the two rising, apparently, from the bowels of the earth,
and, stepping forward to the bar, stood with a calm and self-possessed
demeanour, glancing somewhat curiously around the court. For an instant
his eye rested upon the group of friends and well-wishers seated behind
the counsel, and the faintest trace of a smile appeared on his face; but
immediately he turned his eyes away and never again throughout the trial
looked in our direction.
The Clerk of Arraigns now rose and, reading from the indictment which
lay before him on the table, addressed the prisoner--
"Reuben Hornby, you stand indicted for that you did, on the ninth or
tenth day of March, feloniously steal a parcel of diamonds of the goods
and chattels of John Hornby. Are you guilty or not guilty?"
"Not guilty," replied Reuben.
The Clerk of Arraigns, having noted the prisoner's reply, then
"The gentlemen whose names are about to be called will form the jury who
are to try you. If you wish to object to any of them, you must do so as
each comes to the book to be sworn, and before he is sworn. You will
then be heard."
In acknowledgment of this address, which was delivered in clear, ringing
tones, and with remarkable distinctness, Reuben bowed to the clerk, and
the process of swearing-in the jury was commenced, while the counsel
opened their briefs and the judge conversed facetiously with an
official in a fur robe and a massive neck chain.
Very strange, to unaccustomed eyes and ears, was the effect of this
function--half solemn and half grotesque, with an effect intermediate
between that of a religious rite and that of a comic opera. Above the
half-suppressed hum of conversation the clerk's voice arose at regular
intervals, calling out the name of one of the jurymen, and, as its owner
stood up, the court usher, black-gowned and sacerdotal of aspect,
advanced and proffered the book. Then, as the juryman took the volume in
his hand, the voice of the usher resounded through the court like that
of a priest intoning some refrain or antiphon--an effect that was
increased by the rhythmical and archaic character of the formula--
A stolid-looking working-man rose and, taking the Testament in his hand,
stood regarding the usher while that official sang out in a solemn
"You shall well and truly try and true deliverance make between our
Sovereign Lord the King and the prisoner at the bar, whom you shall have
in charge, and a true verdict give according to the evidence. So help
"James Piper!" Another juryman rose and was given the Book to hold; and
again the monotonous sing-song arose--
"You shall well and truly try and true deliverance make, etc."
"I shall scream aloud if that horrible chant goes on much longer,"
Juliet whispered. "Why don't they all swear at once and have done with
"That would not meet the requirements," I answered. "However, there are
only two more, so you must have patience."
"And you will have patience with me, too, won't you? I am horribly
frightened. It is all so solemn and dreadful."
"You must try to keep up your courage until Dr. Thorndyke has given his
evidence," I said. "Remember that, until he has spoken, everything is
against Reuben; so be prepared."
"I will try," she answered meekly; "but I can't help being terrified."
The last of the jurymen was at length sworn, and when the clerk had once
more called out the names one by one, the usher counting loudly as each
man answered to his name, the latter officer turned to the Court and
spectators, and proclaimed in solemn tones--
"If anyone can inform my Lords the King's justices, the King's
attorney-general, or the King's serjeant, ere this inquest be now taken
between our Sovereign Lord the King and the prisoner at the bar, of any
treason, murder, felony or misdemeanour, committed or done by him, let
him come forth and he shall be heard; for the prisoner stands at the bar
upon his deliverance."
This proclamation was followed by a profound silence, and after a brief
interval the Clerk of Arraigns turned towards the jury and addressed
"Gentlemen of the jury, the prisoner at the bar stands indicted by the
name of Reuben Hornby, for that he, on the ninth or tenth of March,
feloniously did steal, take and carry away a parcel of diamonds of the
goods of John Hornby. To this indictment he has pleaded that he is not
guilty, and your charge is to inquire whether he be guilty or not and to
hearken to the evidence."
When he had finished his address the clerk sat down, and the judge, a
thin-faced, hollow-eyed elderly man, with bushy grey eyebrows and a very
large nose, looked attentively at Reuben for some moments over the tops
of his gold-rimmed pince-nez. Then he turned towards the counsel nearest
the bench and bowed slightly.
The barrister bowed in return and rose, and for the first time I
obtained a complete view of Sir Hector Trumpler, K.C., the counsel for
the prosecution. His appearance was not prepossessing nor--though he was
a large man and somewhat florid as to his countenance--particularly
striking, except for a general air of untidiness. His gown was slipping
off one shoulder, his wig was perceptibly awry, and his pince-nez
threatened every moment to drop from his nose.
"The case that I have to present to you, my lord and gentlemen of the
jury," he began in a clear, though unmusical voice, "is one the like of
which is but too often met with in this court. It is one in which we
shall see unbounded trust met by treacherous deceit, in which we shall
see countless benefactions rewarded by the basest ingratitude, and in
which we shall witness the deliberate renunciation of a life of
honourable effort in favour of the tortuous and precarious ways of the
criminal. The facts of the case are briefly as follows: The prosecutor
in this case--most unwilling prosecutor, gentlemen--is Mr. John Hornby,
who is a metallurgist and dealer in precious metals. Mr. Hornby has two
nephews, the orphan sons of his two elder brothers, and I may tell you
that since the decease of their parents he has acted the part of a
father to both of them. One of these nephews is Mr. Walter Hornby, and
the other is Reuben Hornby, the prisoner at the bar. Both of these
nephews were received by Mr. Hornby into his business with a view to
their succeeding him when he should retire, and both, I need not say,
occupied positions of trust and responsibility.
"Now, on the evening of the ninth of March there was delivered to Mr.
Hornby a parcel of rough diamonds of which one of his clients asked him
to take charge pending their transfer to the brokers. I need not burden
you with irrelevant details concerning this transaction. It will suffice
to say that the diamonds, which were of the aggregate value of about
thirty thousand pounds, were delivered to him, and the unopened package
deposited by him in his safe, together with a slip of paper on which he
had written in pencil a memorandum of the circumstances. This was on the
evening of the ninth of March, as I have said. Having deposited the
parcel, Mr. Hornby locked the safe, and shortly afterwards left the
premises and went home, taking the keys with him.
"On the following morning, when he unlocked the safe, he perceived with
astonishment and dismay that the parcel of diamonds had vanished. The
slip of paper, however, lay at the bottom of the safe, and on picking it
up Mr. Hornby perceived that it bore a smear of blood, and in addition,
the distinct impression of a human thumb. On this he closed and locked
the safe and sent a note to the police station, in response to which a
very intelligent officer--Inspector Sanderson--came and made a
preliminary examination. I need not follow the case further, since the
details will appear in the evidence, but I may tell you that, in effect,
it has been made clear, beyond all doubt, that the thumb-print on that
paper was the thumb-print of the prisoner, Reuben Hornby."
He paused to adjust his glasses, which were in the very act of falling
from his nose, and hitch up his gown, while he took a leisurely survey
of the jury, as though he were estimating their impressionability. At
this moment I observed Walter Hornby enter the court and take up a
position at the end of our bench nearest the door; and, immediately
after, Superintendent Miller came in and seated himself on one of the
"The first witness whom I shall call," said Sir Hector Trumpler, "is
Mr. Hornby, looking wild and agitated, stepped into the witness-box, and
the usher, having handed him the Testament, sang out--
"The evidence you shall give to the court and jury sworn, between our
Sovereign Lord the King and the prisoner at the bar shall be the truth,
the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; so help you God!"
Mr. Hornby kissed the Book, and, casting a glance of unutterable misery
at his nephew, turned towards the counsel.
"Your name is John Hornby, is it not?" asked Sir Hector.
"And you occupy premises in St. Mary Axe?"
"Yes. I am a dealer in precious metals, but my business consists
principally in the assaying of samples of ore and quartz and bars of
silver and gold."
"Do you remember what happened on the ninth of March last?"
"Perfectly. My nephew Reuben--the prisoner--delivered to me a parcel of
diamonds which he had received from the purser of the _Elmina Castle_,
to whom I had sent him as my confidential agent. I had intended to
deposit the diamonds with my banker, but when the prisoner arrived at my
office, the banks were already closed, so I had to put the parcel, for
the night, in my own safe. I may say that the prisoner was not in any
way responsible for the delay."
"You are not here to defend the prisoner," said Sir Hector. "Answer my
questions and make no comments, if you please. Was anyone present when
you placed the diamonds in the safe?" "No one was present but myself."
"I did not ask if you were present when you put them in," said Sir
Hector (whereupon the spectators sniggered and the judge smiled
indulgently). "What else did you do?"
"I wrote in pencil on a leaf of my pocket memorandum block, 'Handed in
by Reuben at 7.3 p.m., 9.3.01,' and initialled it. Then I tore the leaf
from the block and laid it on the parcel, after which I closed the safe
and locked it."
"How soon did you leave the premises after this?"
"Almost immediately. The prisoner was waiting for me in the outer
"Never mind where the prisoner was; confine your answers to what is
asked. Did you take the keys with you?"
"When did you next open the safe?"
"On the following morning at ten o'clock."
"Was the safe locked or unlocked when you arrived?"