Part 4 out of 5
"It was locked. I unlocked it."
"Did you notice anything unusual about the safe?"
"Had the keys left your custody in the interval?"
"No. They were attached to a key-chain, which I always wear."
"Are there any duplicates of those keys?--the keys of the safe, I mean."
"No, there are no duplicates."
"Have the keys ever gone out of your possession?"
"Yes. If I have had to be absent from the office for a considerable
time, it has been my custom to hand the keys to one of my nephews,
whichever has happened to be in charge at the time."
"And never to any other person?"
"Never to any other person."
"What did you observe when you opened the safe?"
"I observed that the parcel of diamonds had disappeared."
"Did you notice anything else?"
"Yes. I found the leaf from my memorandum block lying at the bottom of
the safe. I picked it up and turned it over, and then saw that there
were smears of blood on it and what looked like the print of a thumb in
blood. The thumb-mark was on the under-surface, as the paper lay at the
bottom of the safe."
"What did you do next?"
"I closed and locked the safe, and sent a note to the police station
saying that a robbery had been committed on my premises."
"You have known the prisoner several years, I believe?"
"Yes; I have known him all his life. He is my eldest brother's son."
"Then you can tell us, no doubt, whether he is left-handed or
"I should say he was ambidextrous, but he uses his left hand by
"A fine distinction, Mr. Hornby; a very fine distinction. Now tell me,
did you ascertain beyond all doubt that the diamonds were really gone?"
"Yes; I examined the safe thoroughly, first by myself and afterwards
with the police. There was no doubt that the diamonds had really gone."
"When the detective suggested that you should have the thumb-prints of
your two nephews taken, did you refuse?"
"Why did you refuse?"
"Because I did not choose to subject my nephews to the indignity.
Besides, I had no power to make them submit to the proceeding."
"Had you any suspicions of either of them?"
"I had no suspicions of anyone."
"Kindly examine this piece of paper, Mr. Hornby," said Sir Hector,
passing across a small oblong slip, "and tell us if you recognise it."
Mr. Hornby glanced at the paper for a moment, and then said--
"This is the memorandum slip that I found lying at the bottom of the
"How do you identify it?"
"By the writing on it, which is in my own hand, and bears my initials."
"Is it the memorandum that you placed on the parcel of diamonds?"
"Was there any thumb-mark or blood-smear on it when you placed it in the
"Was it possible that there could have been any such marks?"
"Quite impossible. I tore it from my memorandum block at the time I
wrote upon it."
"Very well." Sir Hector Trumpler sat down, and Mr. Anstey stood up to
cross-examine the witness.
"You have told us, Mr. Hornby," said he, "that you have known the
prisoner all his life. Now what estimate have you formed of his
"I have always regarded him as a young man of the highest
character--honourable, truthful, and in every way trustworthy. I have
never, in all my experience of him, known him to deviate a
hair's-breadth from the strictest honour and honesty of conduct."
"You regarded him as a man of irreproachable character. Is that so?"
"That is so; and my opinion of him is unchanged."
"Has he, to your knowledge, any expensive or extravagant habits?"
"No. His habits are simple and rather thrifty."
"Have you ever known him to bet, gamble, or speculate?"
"Has he ever seemed to be in want of money?"
"No. He has a small private income, apart from his salary, which I know
he does not spend, since I have occasionally employed my broker to
invest his savings."
"Apart from the thumb-print which was found in the safe, are you aware
of any circumstances that would lead you to suspect the prisoner of
having stolen the diamonds?"
Mr. Anstey sat down, and as Mr. Hornby left the witness-box, mopping the
perspiration from his forehead, the next witness was called.
The dapper police officer stepped briskly into the box, and having been
duly sworn, faced the prosecuting counsel with the air of a man who was
prepared for any contingency.
"Do you remember," said Sir Hector, after the usual preliminaries had
been gone through, "what occurred on the morning of the tenth of March?"
"Yes. A note was handed to me at the station at 10.23 a.m. It was from
Mr. John Hornby, and stated that a robbery had occurred at his premises
in St. Mary Axe. I went to the premises and arrived there at 10.31 a.m.
There I saw the prosecutor, Mr. John Hornby, who told me that a parcel
of diamonds had been stolen from the safe. At his request I examined the
safe. There were no signs of its having been forced open; the locks
seemed to be quite uninjured and in good order. Inside the safe, on the
bottom, I found two good-sized drops of blood, and a slip of paper with
pencil-writing on it. The paper bore two blood-smears and a print of a
human thumb in blood."
"Is this the paper?" asked the counsel, passing a small slip across to
"Yes," replied the inspector, after a brief glance at the document.
"What did you do next?" "I sent a message to Scotland Yard acquainting
the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department with the facts, and
then went back to the station. I had no further connection with the
Sir Hector sat down, and the judge glanced at Anstey.
"You tell us," said the latter, rising, "that you observed two
good-sized drops of blood on the bottom of the safe. Did you notice the
condition of the blood, whether moist or dry?"
"The blood looked moist, but I did not touch it. I left it undisturbed
for the detective officers to examine."
The next witness called was Sergeant Bates, of the Criminal
Investigation Department. He stepped into the box with the same ready,
business-like air as the other officer, and, having been sworn,
proceeded to give his evidence with a fluency that suggested careful
preparation, holding an open notebook in his hand but making no
references to it.
"On the tenth of March, at 12.8 p.m., I received instructions to proceed
to St. Mary Axe to inquire into a robbery that had taken place there.
Inspector Sanderson's report was handed to me, and I read it in the cab
on my way to the premises. On arriving at the premises at 12.30 p.m., I
examined the safe carefully. It was quite uninjured, and there were no
marks of any kind upon it. I tested the locks and found them perfect;
there were no marks or indications of any picklock having been used. On
the bottom of the inside I observed two rather large drops of a dark
fluid. I took up some of the fluid on a piece of paper and found it to
be blood. I also found, in the bottom of the safe, the burnt head of a
wax match, and, on searching the floor of the office, I found, close by
the safe, a used wax match from which the head had fallen. I also found
a slip of paper which appeared to have been torn from a perforated
block. On it was written in pencil, 'Handed in by Reuben at 7.3 p.m.
9.3.01. J.H.' There were two smears of blood on the paper and the
impression of a human thumb in blood. I took possession of the paper in
order that it might be examined by the experts. I inspected the office
doors and the outer door of the premises, but found no signs of forcible
entrance on any of them. I questioned the housekeeper, but obtained no
information from him. I then returned to headquarters, made my report
and handed the paper with the marks on it to the Superintendent."
"Is this the paper that you found in the safe?" asked the counsel, once
more handing the leaflet across.
"Yes; this is the paper."
"What happened next?"
"The following afternoon I was sent for by Mr. Singleton, of the
Finger-print Department. He informed me that he had gone through the
files and had not been able to find any thumb-print resembling the one
on the paper, and recommended me to endeavour to obtain prints of the
thumbs of any persons who might have been concerned in the robbery. He
also gave me an enlarged photograph of the thumb-print for reference if
necessary. I accordingly went to St. Mary Axe and had an interview with
Mr. Hornby, when I requested him to allow me to take prints of the
thumbs of all the persons employed on the premises, including his two
nephews. This he refused, saying that he distrusted finger-prints and
that there was no suspicion of anyone on the premises. I asked if he
would allow his nephews to furnish their thumb-prints privately, to
which he replied, 'Certainly not.'"
"Had you then any suspicion of either of the nephews?"
"I thought they were both open to some suspicion. The safe had certainly
been opened with false keys, and as they had both had the real keys in
their possession it was possible that one of them might have taken
impressions in wax and made counterfeit keys."
"I called on Mr. Hornby several times and urged him, for the sake of his
nephews' reputations, to sanction the taking of the thumb-prints; but he
refused very positively and forbade them to submit, although I
understood that they were both willing. It then occurred to me to try if
I could get any help from Mrs. Hornby, and on the fifteenth of March I
called at Mr. Hornby's private house and saw her. I explained to her
what was wanted to clear her nephews from the suspicion that rested on
them, and she then said that she could dispose of those suspicions at
once, for she could show me the thumb-prints of the whole family: she
had them all in a 'Thumbograph.'"
"A 'Thumbograph'?" repeated the judge. "What is a 'Thumbograph'?"
Anstey rose with the little red-covered volume in his hand.
"A 'Thumbograph,' my lord," said he, "is a book, like this, in which
foolish people collect the thumb-prints of their more foolish
He passed the volume up to the judge, who turned over the leaves
curiously and then nodded to the witness.
"Yes. She said she had them all in a 'Thumbograph.'"
"Then she fetched from a drawer a small red-covered book which she
showed to me. It contained the thumb-prints of all the family and some
of her friends."
"Is this the book?" asked the judge, passing the volume down to the
The sergeant turned over the leaves until he came to one which he
apparently recognised, and said--
"Yes, m'lord; this is the book. Mrs. Hornby showed me the thumb-prints
of various members of the family, and then found those of the two
nephews. I compared them with the photograph that I had with me and
discovered that the print of the left thumb of Reuben Hornby was in
every respect identical with the thumb-print shown in the photograph."
"What did you do then?"
"I asked Mrs. Hornby to lend me the 'Thumbograph' so that I might show
it to the Chief of the Finger-print Department, to which she consented.
I had not intended to tell her of my discovery, but, as I was leaving,
Mr. Hornby arrived home, and when he heard of what had taken place, he
asked me why I wanted the book, and then I told him. He was greatly
astonished and horrified, and wished me to return the book at once. He
proposed to let the whole matter drop and take the loss of the diamonds
on himself; but I pointed out that this was impossible as it would
practically amount to compounding a felony. Seeing that Mrs. Hornby was
so distressed at the idea of her book being used in evidence against her
nephew, I promised her that I would return it to her if I could obtain a
thumb-print in any other way.
"I then took the 'Thumbograph' to Scotland Yard and showed it to Mr.
Singleton, who agreed that the print of the left thumb of Reuben Hornby
was in every respect identical with the thumb-print on the paper found
in the safe. On this I applied for a warrant for the arrest of Reuben
Hornby, which I executed on the following morning. I told the prisoner
what I had promised Mrs. Hornby, and he then offered to allow me to take
a print of his left thumb so that his aunt's book should not have to be
used in evidence."
"How is it, then," asked the judge, "that it has been put in evidence?"
"It has been put in by the defence, my lord," said Sir Hector Trumpler.
"I see," said the judge. "'A hair of the dog that bit him.' The
'Thumbograph' is to be applied as a remedy on the principle that
_similia similibus curantur_. Well?"
"When I arrested him, I administered the usual caution, and the prisoner
then said, 'I am innocent. I know nothing about the robbery.'"
The counsel for the prosecution sat down, and Anstey rose to
"You have told us," said he, in his clear musical voice, "that you found
at the bottom of the safe two rather large drops of a dark fluid which
you considered to be blood. Now, what led you to believe that fluid to
"I took some of the fluid up on a piece of white paper, and it had the
appearance and colour of blood."
"Was it examined microscopically or otherwise?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"Was it quite liquid?"
"Yes, I should say quite liquid."
"What appearance had it on paper?"
"It looked like a clear red liquid of the colour of blood, and was
rather thick and sticky."
Anstey sat down, and the next witness, an elderly man, answering to the
name of Francis Simmons, was called.
"You are the housekeeper at Mr. Hornby's premises in St. Mary Axe?"
asked Sir Hector Trumpler.
"Did you notice anything unusual on the night of the ninth of March?"
"I did not."
"Did you make your usual rounds on that occasion?"
"Yes. I went all over the premises several times during the night, and
the rest of the time I was in a room over the private office."
"Who arrived first on the morning of the tenth?"
"Mr. Reuben. He arrived about twenty minutes before anybody else."
"What part of the building did he go to?"
"He went into the private office, which I opened for him. He remained
there until a few minutes before Mr. Hornby arrived, when he went up to
"Who came next?"
"Mr. Hornby, and Mr. Walter came in just after him."
The counsel sat down, and Anstey proceeded to cross-examine the witness.
"Who was the last to leave the premises on the evening of the ninth?"
"I am not sure."
"Why are you not sure?"
"I had to take a note and a parcel to a firm in Shoreditch. When I
started, a clerk named Thomas Holker was in the outer office and Mr.
Walter Hornby was in the private office. When I returned they had both
"Was the outer door locked?"
"Had Holker a key of the outer door?"
"No. Mr. Hornby and his two nephews had each a key, and I have one. No
one else had a key."
"How long were you absent?"
"About three-quarters of an hour."
"Who gave you the note and the parcel?"
"Mr. Walter Hornby."
"When did he give them to you?"
"He gave them to me just before I started, and told me to go at once for
fear the place should be closed before I got there."
"And was the place closed?"
"Yes. It was all shut up, and everybody had gone."
Anstey resumed his seat, the witness shuffled out of the box with an air
of evident relief, and the usher called out, "Henry James Singleton."
Mr. Singleton rose from his seat at the table by the solicitors for the
prosecution and entered the box. Sir Hector adjusted his glasses, turned
over a page of his brief, and cast a steady and impressive glance at the
"I believe, Mr. Singleton," he said at length, "that you are connected
with the Finger-print Department at Scotland Yard?"
"Yes. I am one of the chief assistants in that department."
"What are your official duties?"
"My principal occupation consists in the examination and comparison of
the finger-prints of criminals and suspected persons. These
finger-prints are classified by me according to their characters and
arranged in files for reference."
"I take it that you have examined a great number of finger-prints?"
"I have examined many thousands of finger-prints, and have studied them
closely for purposes of identification."
"Kindly examine this paper, Mr. Singleton" (here the fatal leaflet was
handed to him by the usher); "have you ever seen it before?"
"Yes. It was handed to me for examination at my office on the tenth of
"There is a mark upon it--the print of a finger or thumb. Can you tell
us anything about that mark?" "It is the print of the left thumb of
Reuben Hornby, the prisoner at the bar."
"You are quite sure of that?"
"I am quite sure."
"Do you swear that the mark upon that paper was made by the thumb of the
"Could it not have been made by the thumb of some other person?"
"No; it is impossible that it could have been made by any other person."
At this moment I felt Juliet lay a trembling hand on mine, and, glancing
at her, I saw that she was deathly pale. I took her hand in mine and,
pressing it gently, whispered to her, "Have courage; there is nothing
unexpected in this."
"Thank you," she whispered in reply, with a faint smile; "I will try;
but it is all so horribly unnerving."
"You consider," Sir Hector proceeded, "that the identity of this
thumb-print admits of no doubt?" "It admits of no doubt whatever,"
replied Mr. Singleton.
"Can you explain to us, without being too technical, how you have
arrived at such complete certainty?"
"I myself took a print of the prisoner's thumb--having first obtained
the prisoner's consent after warning him that the print would be used in
evidence against him--and I compared that print with the mark on this
paper. The comparison was made with the greatest care and by the most
approved method, point by point and detail by detail, and the two prints
were found to be identical in every respect.
"Now it has been proved by exact calculations--which calculations I have
personally verified---that the chance that the print of a single finger
of any given person will be exactly like the print of the same finger of
any other given person is as one to sixty-four thousand millions. That
is to say that, since the number of the entire human race is about
sixteen thousand millions, the chance is about one to four that the
print of a single finger of any one person will be identical with that
of the same finger of any other member of the human race.
"It has been said by a great authority--and I entirely agree with the
statement--that a complete, or nearly complete, accordance between two
prints of a single finger affords evidence requiring no corroboration
that the persons from whom they were made are the same.
"Now, these calculations apply to the prints of ordinary and normal
fingers or thumbs. But the thumb from which these prints were taken is
not ordinary or normal. There is upon it a deep but clean linear
scar--the scar of an old incised wound--and this scar passes across the
pattern of the ridges, intersecting the latter at certain places and
disturbing their continuity at others. Now this very characteristic scar
is an additional feature, having a set of chances of its own. So that we
have to consider not only the chance that the print of the prisoner's
left thumb should be identical with the print of some other person's
left thumb--which is as one to sixty-four thousand millions--but the
further chance that these two identical thumb-prints should be traversed
by the impression of a scar identical in size and appearance, and
intersecting the ridges at exactly the same places and producing
failures of continuity in the ridges of exactly the same character. But
these two chances, multiplied into one another, yield an ultimate chance
of about one to four thousand trillions that the prisoner's left thumb
will exactly resemble the print of some other person's thumb, both as to
the pattern and the scar which crosses the pattern; in other words such
a coincidence is an utter impossibility."
Sir Hector Trumpler took off his glasses and looked long and steadily at
the jury as though he should say, "Come, my friends; what do you think
of that?" Then he sat down with a jerk and turned towards Anstey and
Thorndyke with a look of triumph.
"Do you propose to cross-examine the witness?" inquired the judge,
seeing that the counsel for the defence made no sign.
"No, my lord," replied Anstey.
Thereupon Sir Hector Trumpler turned once more towards the defending
counsel, and his broad, red face was illumined by a smile of deep
satisfaction. That smile was reflected on the face of Mr. Singleton as
he stepped from the box, and, as I glanced at Thorndyke, I seemed to
detect, for a single instant, on his calm and immovable countenance, the
faintest shadow of a smile.
"Herbert John Nash!"
A plump, middle-aged man, of keen, though studious, aspect, stepped into
the box, and Sir Hector rose once more.
"You are one of the chief assistants in the Finger-print Department, I
believe, Mr. Nash?"
"Have you heard the evidence of the last witness?"
"Do you agree with the statements made by that witness?"
"Entirely. I am prepared to swear that the print on the paper found in
the safe is that of the left thumb of the prisoner, Reuben Hornby."
"And you are certain that no mistake is possible?"
"I am certain that no mistake is possible."
Again Sir Hector glanced significantly at the jury as he resumed his
seat, and again Anstey made no sign beyond the entry of a few notes on
the margin of his brief.
"Are you calling any more witnesses?" asked the judge, dipping his pen
in the ink.
"No, my lord," replied Sir Hector. "That is our case."
Upon this Anstey rose and, addressing the judge, said--
"I call witnesses, my lord."
The judge nodded and made an entry in his notes while Anstey delivered
his brief introductory speech--
"My lord and gentlemen of the jury, I shall not occupy the time of the
Court with unnecessary appeals at this stage, but shall proceed to take
the evidence of my witnesses without delay."
There was a pause of a minute or more, during which the silence was
broken only by the rustle of papers and the squeaking of the judge's
quill pen. Juliet turned a white, scared face to me and said in a hushed
"This is terrible. That last man's evidence is perfectly crushing. What
can possibly be said in reply? I am in despair; oh! poor Reuben! He is
lost, Dr. Jervis! He hasn't a chance now."
"Do you believe that he is guilty?" I asked.
"Certainly not!" she replied indignantly. "I am as certain of his
innocence as ever."
"Then," said I, "if he is innocent, there must be some means of proving
"Yes. I suppose so," she rejoined in a dejected whisper. "At any rate we
shall soon know now."
At this moment the usher's voice was heard calling out the name of the
first witness for the defence.
"Edmund Horford Rowe!"
A keen-looking, grey-haired man, with a shaven face and close-cut
side-whiskers, stepped into the box and was sworn in due form.
"You are a doctor of medicine, I believe," said Anstey, addressing the
witness, "and lecturer on Medical Jurisprudence at the South London
"Have you had occasion to study the properties of blood?"
"Yes. The properties of blood are of great importance from a
medico-legal point of view."
"Can you tell us what happens when a drop of blood--say from a cut
finger--falls upon a surface such as the bottom of an iron safe?"
"A drop of blood from a living body falling upon any non-absorbent
surface will, in the course of a few minutes, solidify into a jelly
which will, at first, have the same bulk and colour as the liquid
"Will it undergo any further change?"
"Yes. In a few minutes more the jelly will begin to shrink and become
more solid so that the blood will become separated into two parts, the
solid and the liquid. The solid part will consist of a firm, tough jelly
of a deep red colour, and the liquid part will consist of a pale yellow,
clear, watery liquid."
"At the end, say, of two hours, what will be the condition of the drop
"It will consist of a drop of clear, nearly colourless liquid, in the
middle of which will be a small, tough, red clot."
"Supposing such a drop to be taken up on a piece of white paper, what
would be its appearance?"
"The paper would be wetted by the colourless liquid, and the solid clot
would probably adhere to the paper in a mass."
"Would the blood on the paper appear as a clear, red liquid?"
"Certainly not. The liquid would appear like water, and the clot would
appear as a solid mass sticking to the paper."
"Does blood always behave in the way you have described?"
"Always, unless some artificial means are taken to prevent it from
"By what means can blood be prevented from clotting or solidifying?"
"There are two principal methods. One is to stir or whip the fresh blood
rapidly with a bundle of fine twigs. When this is done, the fibrin--the
part of the blood that causes solidification--adheres to the twigs, and
the blood that remains, though it is unchanged in appearance, will
remain liquid for an indefinite time. The other method is to dissolve a
certain proportion of some alkaline salt in the fresh blood, after which
it no longer has any tendency to solidify."
"You have heard the evidence of Inspector Sanderson and Sergeant Bates?"
"Inspector Sanderson has told us that he examined the safe at 10.31 a.m.
and found two good-sized drops of blood on the bottom. Sergeant Bates
has told us that he examined the safe two hours later, and that he took
up one of the drops of blood on a piece of white paper. The blood was
then quite liquid, and, on the paper, it looked like a clear, red liquid
of the colour of blood. What should you consider the condition and
nature of that blood to have been?"
"If it was really blood at all, I should say that it was either
defibrinated blood--that is, blood from which the fibrin has been
extracted by whipping--or that it had been treated with an alkaline
"You are of opinion that the blood found in the safe could not have been
ordinary blood shed from a cut or wound?"
"I am sure it could not have been."
"Now, Dr. Rowe, I am going to ask you a few questions on another
subject. Have you given any attention to finger-prints made by bloody
"Yes. I have recently made some experiments on the subject."
"Will you give us the results of those experiments?"
"My object was to ascertain whether fingers wet with fresh blood would
yield distinct and characteristic prints. I made a great number of
trials, and as a result found that it is extremely difficult to obtain a
clear print when the finger is wetted with fresh blood. The usual result
is a mere red blot showing no ridge pattern at all, owing to the blood
filling the furrows between the ridges. But if the blood is allowed to
dry almost completely on the finger, a very clear print is obtained."
"Is it possible to recognise a print that has been made by a nearly dry
"Yes; quite easily. The half-dried blood is nearly solid and adheres to
the paper in a different way from the liquid, and it shows minute
details, such as the mouths of the sweat glands, which are always
obliterated by the liquid."
"Look carefully at this paper, which was found in the safe, and tell me
what you see."
The witness took the paper and examined it attentively, first with the
naked eye and then with a pocket-lens.
"I see," said he, "two blood-marks and a print, apparently of a thumb.
Of the two marks, one is a blot, smeared slightly by a finger or thumb;
the other is a smear only. Both were evidently produced with quite
liquid blood. The thumb-print was also made with liquid blood."
"You are quite sure that the thumb-print was made with liquid blood?"
"Is there anything unusual about the thumb-print?"
"Yes. It is extraordinarily clear and distinct. I have made a great
number of trials and have endeavoured to obtain the clearest prints
possible with fresh blood; but none of my prints are nearly as distinct
as this one."
Here the witness produced a number of sheets of paper, each of which was
covered with the prints of bloody fingers, and compared them with the
The papers were handed to the judge for his inspection, and Anstey sat
down, when Sir Hector Trumpler rose, with a somewhat puzzled expression
on his face, to cross-examine.
"You say that the blood found in the safe was defibrinated or
artificially treated. What inference do you draw from that fact?"
"I infer that it was not dropped from a bleeding wound."
"Can you form any idea how such blood should have got into the safe?"
"You say that the thumb-print is a remarkably distinct one. What
conclusion do you draw from that?"
"I do not draw any conclusion. I cannot account for its distinctness at
The learned counsel sat down with rather a baffled air, and I observed a
faint smile spread over the countenance of my colleague.
A muffled whimpering from my neighbour on the left hand was accompanied
by a wild rustling of silk. Glancing at Mrs. Hornby, I saw her stagger
from the bench, shaking like a jelly, mopping her eyes with her
handkerchief and grasping her open purse. She entered the witness-box,
and, having gazed wildly round the court, began to search the
multitudinous compartments of her purse.
"The evidence you shall give," sang out the usher--whereat Mrs. Hornby
paused in her search and stared at him apprehensively--"to the court and
jury sworn, between our Sovereign Lord the King and the prisoner at the
bar shall be the truth,--"
"Certainly," said Mrs. Hornby stiffly, "I--"
"--the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; so help you God!"
He held out the Testament, which she took from him with a trembling hand
and forthwith dropped with a resounding bang on to the floor of the
witness-box, diving after it with such precipitancy that her bonnet
jammed violently against the rail of the box.
She disappeared from view for a moment, and then rose from the depths
with a purple face and her bonnet flattened and cocked over one ear like
an artillery-man's forage cap.
"Kiss the Book, if you please," said the usher, suppressing a grin by an
heroic effort, as Mrs. Hornby, encumbered by her purse, her handkerchief
and the Testament, struggled to unfasten her bonnet-strings. She clawed
frantically at her bonnet, and, having dusted the Testament with her
handkerchief, kissed it tenderly and laid it on the rail of the box,
whence it fell instantly on to the floor of the court.
"I am really very sorry!" exclaimed Mrs. Hornby, leaning over the rail
to address the usher as he stooped to pick up the Book, and discharging
on to his back a stream of coins, buttons and folded bills from her open
purse; "you will think me very awkward, I'm afraid."
She mopped her face and replaced her bonnet rakishly on one side, as
Anstey rose and passed a small red book across to her.
"Kindly look at that book, Mrs. Hornby."
"I'd rather not," said she, with a gesture of repugnance. "It is
associated with matters of so extremely disagreeable a character--"
"Do you recognise it?"
"Do I recognise it! How can you ask me such a question when you must
"Answer the question," interposed the judge. "Do you or do you not
recognise the book in your hand?"
"Of course I recognise it. How could I fail to--"
"Then say so," said the judge.
"I have said so," retorted Mrs. Hornby indignantly.
The judge nodded to Anstey, who then continued--"It is called a
'Thumbograph,' I believe."
"Yes: the name 'Thumbograph' is printed on the cover, so I suppose that
is what it is called."
"Will you tell us, Mrs. Hornby, how the 'Thumbograph' came into your
For one moment Mrs. Hornby stared wildly at her interrogator; then she
snatched a paper from her purse, unfolded it, gazed at it with an
expression of dismay, and crumpled it up in the palm of her hand.
"You are asked a question," said the judge.
"Oh! yes," said Mrs. Hornby. "The Committee of the Society--no, that is
the wrong one--I mean Walter, you know--at least--"
"I beg your pardon," said Anstey, with polite gravity.
"You were speaking of the committee of some society," interposed the
judge. "What society were you referring to?"
Mrs. Hornby spread out the paper and, after a glance at it, replied--
"The Society of Paralysed Idiots, your worship," whereat a rumble of
suppressed laughter arose from the gallery.
"But what has that society to do with the 'Thumbograph'?" inquired the
"Nothing, your worship. Nothing at all."
"Then why did you refer to it?"
"I am sure I don't know," said Mrs. Hornby, wiping her eyes with the
paper and then hastily exchanging it for her handkerchief.
The judge took off his glasses and gazed at Mrs. Hornby with an
expression of bewilderment. Then he turned to the counsel and said in a
weary voice--"Proceed, if you please, Mr. Anstey."
"Can you tell us, Mrs. Hornby, how the 'Thumbograph' came into your
possession?" said the latter in persuasive accents.
"I thought it was Walter, and so did my niece, but Walter says it was
not, and he ought to know, being young and having a most excellent
memory, as I had myself when I was his age, and really, you know, it
can't possibly matter where I got the thing--"
"But it does matter," interrupted Anstey. "We wish particularly to
"If you mean that you wish to get one like it--"
"We do not," said Anstey. "We wish to know how that particular
'Thumbograph' came into your possession. Did you, for instance, buy it
yourself, or was it given to you by someone?"
"Walter says I bought it myself, but I thought he gave it to me, but he
says he did not, and you see--"
"Never mind what Walter says. What is your own impression?"
"Why I still think that he gave it to me, though, of course, seeing that
my memory is not what it was--"
"You think that Walter gave it to you?"
"Yes, in fact I feel sure he did, and so does my niece."
"Walter is your nephew, Walter Hornby?"
"Yes, of course. I thought you knew."
"Can you recall the occasion on which the 'Thumbograph' was given to
"Oh yes, quite distinctly. We had some people to dinner--some people
named Colley--not the Dorsetshire Colleys, you know, although they are
exceedingly nice people, as I have no doubt the other Colleys are, too,
when you know them, but we don't. Well, after dinner we were a little
dull and rather at a loss, because Juliet, my niece, you know, had cut
her finger and couldn't play the piano excepting with the left hand, and
that is so monotonous as well as fatiguing, and the Colleys are not
musical, excepting Adolphus, who plays the trombone, but he hadn't got
it with him, and then, fortunately, Walter came in and brought the
'Thumbograph' and took all our thumb-prints and his own as well, and we
were very much amused, and Matilda Colley--that is the eldest daughter
but one--said that Reuben jogged her elbow, but that was only an
"Exactly," interrupted Anstey. "And you recollect quite clearly that
your nephew Walter gave you the 'Thumbograph' on that occasion?"
"Oh, distinctly; though, you know, he is really my husband's nephew--"
"Yes. And you are sure that he took the thumb-prints?"
"And you are sure that you never saw the 'Thumbograph' before that?"
"Never. How could I? He hadn't brought it."
"Have you ever lent the 'Thumbograph' to anyone?"
"No, never. No one has ever wanted to borrow it, because, you see--"
"Has it never, at any time, gone out of your possession?"
"Oh, I wouldn't say that; in fact, I have often thought, though I hate
suspecting people, and I really don't suspect anybody in particular, you
know, but it certainly was very peculiar and I can't explain it in any
other way. You see, I kept the 'Thumbograph' in a drawer in my writing
table, and in the same drawer I used to keep my handkerchief-bag--in
fact I do still, and it is there at this very moment, for in my hurry
and agitation, I forgot about it until we were in the cab, and then it
was too late, because Mr. Lawley--"
"Yes. You kept it in a drawer with your handkerchief-bag."
"That was what I said. Well, when Mr. Hornby was staying at Brighton he
wrote to ask me to go down for a week and bring Juliet--Miss Gibson, you
know--with me. So we went, and, just as we were starting, I sent Juliet
to fetch my handkerchief-bag from the drawer, and I said to her,
'Perhaps we might take the thumb-book with us; it might come in useful
on a wet day.' So she went, and presently she came back and said that
the 'Thumbograph' was not in the drawer. Well, I was so surprised that I
went back with her and looked myself, and sure enough the drawer was
empty. Well, I didn't think much of it at the time, but when we came
home again, as soon as we got out of the cab, I gave Juliet my
handkerchief-bag to put away, and presently she came running to me in a
great state of excitement. 'Why, Auntie,' she said,' the "Thumbograph"
is in the drawer; somebody must have been meddling with your writing
table.' I went with her to the drawer, and there, sure enough, was the
'Thumbograph.' Somebody must have taken it out and put it back while we
"Who could have had access to your writing table?"
"Oh, anybody, because, you see, the drawers were never locked. We
thought it must have been one of the servants."
"Had anyone been to the house during your absence?"
"No. Nobody, except, of course, my two nephews; and neither of them had
touched it, because we asked them, and they both said they had not."
"Thank you." Anstey sat down, and Mrs. Hornby having given another
correcting twist to her bonnet, was about to step down from the box when
Sir Hector rose and bestowed upon her an intimidating stare.
"You made some reference," said he, "to a society--the Society of
Paralysed Idiots, I think, whatever that may be. Now what caused you to
make that reference?"
"It was a mistake; I was thinking of something else."
"I know it was a mistake. You referred to a paper that was in your
"I did not refer to it, I merely looked at it. It is a letter from the
Society of Paralysed Idiots. It is nothing to do with me really, you
know; I don't belong to the society, or anything of that sort."
"Did you mistake that paper for some other paper?"
"Yes, I took it for a paper with some notes on it to assist my memory."
"What kind of notes?"
"Oh, just the questions I was likely to be asked."
"Were the answers that you were to give to those questions also written
on the paper?"
"Of course they were. The questions would not have been any use without
"Have you been asked the questions that were written on the paper?"
"Yes; at least, some of them."
"Have you given the answers that were written down?"
"I don't think I have--in fact, I am sure I haven't, because, you see--"
"Ah! you don't think you have." Sir Hector Trumpler smiled significantly
at the jury, and continued--
"Now who wrote down those questions and answers?"
"My nephew, Walter Hornby. He thought, you know--"
"Never mind what he thought. Who advised or instructed him to write them
"Nobody. It was entirely his own idea, and very thoughtful of him, too,
though Dr. Jervis took the paper away from me and said I must rely on my
Sir Hector was evidently rather taken aback by this answer, and sat down
suddenly, with a distinctly chapfallen air.
"Where is this paper on which the questions and answers are written?"
asked the judge. In anticipation of this inquiry I had already handed it
to Thorndyke, and had noted by the significant glance that he bestowed
on me that he had not failed to observe the peculiarity in the type.
Indeed the matter was presently put beyond all doubt, for he hastily
passed to me a scrap of paper, on which I found, when I opened it out,
that he had written "X = W.H."
As Anstey handed the rather questionable document up to the judge, I
glanced at Walter Hornby and observed him to flush angrily, though he
strove to appear calm and unconcerned, and the look that he directed at
his aunt was very much the reverse of benevolent.
"Is this the paper?" asked the judge, passing it down to the witness.
"Yes, your worship," answered Mrs. Hornby, in a tremulous voice;
whereupon the document was returned to the judge, who proceeded to
compare it with his notes.
"I shall order this document to be impounded," said he sternly, after
making a brief comparison. "There has been a distinct attempt to tamper
with witnesses. Proceed with your case, Mr. Anstey."
There was a brief pause, during which Mrs. Hornby tottered across the
court and resumed her seat, gasping with excitement and relief; then the
usher called out--
"John Evelyn Thorndyke!"
"Thank God!" exclaimed Juliet, clasping her hands. "Oh! will he be able
to save Reuben? Do you think he will, Dr. Jervis?"
"There is someone who thinks he will," I replied, glancing towards
Polton, who, clasping in his arms the mysterious box and holding on to
the microscope case, gazed at his master with a smile of ecstasy.
"Polton has more faith than you have, Miss Gibson."
"Yes, the dear, faithful little man!" she rejoined. "Well, we shall know
the worst very soon now, at any rate."
"The worst or the best," I said. "We are now going to hear what the
defence really is."
"God grant that it may be a good defence," she exclaimed in a low voice;
and I--though not ordinarily a religious man--murmured "Amen!"
THORNDYKE PLAYS HIS CARD
As Thorndyke took his place in the box I looked at him with a sense of
unreasonable surprise, feeling that I had never before fully realised
what manner of man my friend was as to his externals. I had often noted
the quiet strength of his face, its infinite intelligence, its
attractiveness and magnetism; but I had never before appreciated what
now impressed me most: that Thorndyke was actually the handsomest man I
had ever seen. He was dressed simply, his appearance unaided by the
flowing gown or awe-inspiring wig, and yet his presence dominated the
court. Even the judge, despite his scarlet robe and trappings of office,
looked commonplace by comparison, while the jurymen, who turned to look
at him, seemed like beings of an inferior order. It was not alone the
distinction of the tall figure, erect and dignified, nor the power and
massive composure of his face, but the actual symmetry and comeliness of
the face itself that now arrested my attention; a comeliness that made
it akin rather to some classic mask, wrought in the ivory-toned marble
of Pentelicus, than to the eager faces that move around us in the hurry
and bustle of a life at once strenuous and trivial.
"You are attached to the medical school at St. Margaret's Hospital, I
believe, Dr. Thorndyke?" said Anstey.
"Yes. I am the lecturer on Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology."
"Have you had much experience of medico-legal inquiries?"
"A great deal. I am engaged exclusively in medico-legal work."
"You heard the evidence relating to the two drops of blood found in the
"What is your opinion as to the condition of that blood?"
"I should say there is no doubt that it had been artificially
treated--probably by defibrination."
"Can you suggest any explanation of the condition of that blood?"
"Is your explanation connected with any peculiarities in the thumb-print
on the paper that was found in the safe?"
"Have you given any attention to the subject of finger-prints?"
"Yes. A great deal of attention."
"Be good enough to examine that paper" (here the usher handed to
Thorndyke the memorandum slip). "Have you seen it before?"
"Yes. I saw it at Scotland Yard."
"Did you examine it thoroughly?"
"Very thoroughly. The police officials gave me every facility and, with
their permission, I took several photographs of it."
"There is a mark on that paper resembling the print of a human thumb?"
"You have heard two expert witnesses swear that that mark was made by
the left thumb of the prisoner, Reuben Hornby?"
"Do you agree to that statement?"
"I do not."
"In your opinion, was the mark upon that paper made by the thumb of the
"No. I am convinced that it was not made by the thumb of Reuben Hornby."
"Do you think that it was made by the thumb of some other person?"
"No. I am of opinion that it was not made by a human thumb at all."
At this statement the judge paused for a moment, pen in hand, and stared
at Thorndyke with his mouth slightly open, while the two experts looked
at one another with raised eyebrows.
"By what means do you consider that the mark was produced?"
"By means of a stamp, either of indiarubber or, more probably, of
Here Polton, who had been, by degrees, rising to an erect posture, smote
his thigh a resounding thwack and chuckled aloud, a proceeding that
caused all eyes, including those of the judge, to be turned on him.
"If that noise is repeated," said the judge, with a stony stare at the
horrified offender--who had shrunk into the very smallest space that I
have ever seen a human being occupy--"I shall cause the person who made
it to be removed from the court."
"I understand, then," pursued Anstey, "that you consider the
thumb-print, which has been sworn to as the prisoner's, to be a
"Yes. It is a forgery."
"But is it possible to forge a thumb-print or a finger-print?"
"It is not only possible, but quite easy to do."
"As easy as to forge a signature, for instance?" "Much more so, and
infinitely more secure. A signature, being written with a pen, requires
that the forgery should also be written with a pen, a process demanding
very special skill and, after all, never resulting in an absolute
_facsimile_. But a finger-print is a stamped impression--the finger-tip
being the stamp; and it is only necessary to obtain a stamp identical in
character with the finger-tip, in order to produce an impression which
is an absolute _facsimile_, in every respect, of the original, and
totally indistinguishable from it."
"Would there be no means at all of detecting the difference between a
forged finger-print and the genuine original?"
"None whatever; for the reason that there would be no difference to
"But you have stated, quite positively, that the thumb-print on this
paper is a forgery. Now, if the forged print is indistinguishable from
the original, how are you able to be certain that this particular print
is a forgery?"
"I was speaking of what is possible with due care, but, obviously, a
forger might, through inadvertence, fail to produce an absolute
_facsimile_ and then detection would be possible. That is what has
happened in the present case. The forged print is not an absolute
_facsimile_ of the true print. There is a slight discrepancy. But, in
addition to this, the paper bears intrinsic evidence that the
thumb-print on it is a forgery." "We will consider that evidence
presently, Dr. Thorndyke. To return to the possibility of forging a
finger-print, can you explain to us, without being too technical, by
what methods it would be possible to produce such a stamp as you have
"There are two principal methods that suggest themselves to me. The
first, which is rather crude though easy to carry out, consists in
taking an actual cast of the end of the finger. A mould would be made by
pressing the finger into some plastic material, such as fine modelling
clay or hot sealing wax, and then, by pouring a warm solution of
gelatine into the mould, and allowing it to cool and solidify, a cast
would be produced which would yield very perfect finger-prints. But this
method would, as a rule, be useless for the purpose of the forger, as it
could not, ordinarily, be carried out without the knowledge of the
victim; though in the case of dead bodies and persons asleep or
unconscious or under an anaesthetic, it could be practised with success,
and would offer the advantage of requiring practically no technical
skill or knowledge and no special appliances. The second method, which
is much more efficient, and is the one, I have no doubt, that has been
used in the present instance, requires more knowledge and skill.
"In the first place it is necessary to obtain possession of, or access
to, a genuine finger-print. Of this finger-print a photograph is taken,
or rather, a photographic negative, which for this purpose requires to
be taken on a reversed plate, and the negative is put into a special
printing frame, with a plate of gelatine which has been treated with
potassium bichromate, and the frame is exposed to light.
"Now gelatine treated in this way--chromicized gelatine, as it is
called--has a very peculiar property. Ordinary gelatine, as is well
known, is easily dissolved in hot water, and chromicized gelatine is
also soluble in hot water as long as it is not exposed to light; but on
being exposed to light, it undergoes a change and is no longer capable
of being dissolved in hot water. Now the plate of chromicized gelatine
under the negative is protected from the light by the opaque parts of
the negative, whereas the light passes freely through the transparent
parts; but the transparent parts of the negative correspond to the black
marks on the finger-print, and these correspond to the ridges on the
finger. Hence it follows that the gelatine plate is acted upon by light
only on the parts corresponding to the ridges; and in these parts the
gelatine is rendered insoluble, while all the rest of the gelatine is
soluble. The gelatine plate, which is cemented to a thin plate of metal
for support, is now carefully washed with hot water, by which the
soluble part of the gelatine is dissolved away leaving the insoluble
part (corresponding to the ridges) standing up from the surface. Thus
there is produced a _facsimile_ in relief of the finger-print having
actual ridges and furrows identical in character with the ridges and
furrows of the finger-tip. If an inked roller is passed over this
relief, or if the relief is pressed lightly on an inked slab, and then
pressed on a sheet of paper, a finger-print will be produced which will
be absolutely identical with the original, even to the little white
spots which mark the orifices of the sweat glands. It will be impossible
to discover any difference between the real finger-print and the
counterfeit because, in fact, no difference exists."
"But surely the process you have described is a very difficult and
"Not at all; it is very little more difficult than ordinary carbon
printing, which is practised successfully by numbers of amateurs.
Moreover, such a relief as I have described--which is practically
nothing more than an ordinary process block--could be produced by any
photo-engraver. The process that I have described is, in all essentials,
that which is used in the reproduction of pen-and-ink drawings, and any
of the hundreds of workmen who are employed in that industry could make
a relief-block of a finger-print, with which an undetectable forgery
could be executed."
"You have asserted that the counterfeit finger-print could not be
distinguished from the original. Are you prepared to furnish proof that
this is the case?"
"Yes. I am prepared to execute a counterfeit of the prisoner's
thumb-print in the presence of the Court."
"And do you say that such a counterfeit would be indistinguishable from
the original, even by the experts?"
Anstey turned towards the judge. "Would your lordship give your
permission for a demonstration such as the witness proposes?"
"Certainly," replied the judge. "The evidence is highly material. How do
you propose that the comparison should be made?" he added, addressing
"I have brought, for the purpose, my lord," answered Thorndyke, "some
sheets of paper, each of which is ruled into twenty numbered squares. I
propose to make on ten of the squares counterfeits of the prisoner's
thumb-mark, and to fill the remaining ten with real thumb-marks. I
propose that the experts should then examine the paper and tell the
Court which are the real thumb-prints and which are the false."
"That seems a fair and efficient test," said his lordship. "Have you any
objection to offer, Sir Hector?"
Sir Hector Trumpler hastily consulted with the two experts, who were
sitting in the attorney's bench, and then replied, without much
"We have no objection to offer, my lord."
"Then, in that case, I shall direct the expert witnesses to withdraw
from the court while the prints are being made."
In obedience to the judge's order, Mr. Singleton and his colleague rose
and left the court with evident reluctance, while Thorndyke took from a
small portfolio three sheets of paper which he handed up to the judge.
"If your lordship," said he, "will make marks in ten of the squares on
two of these sheets, one can be given to the jury and one retained by
your lordship to check the third sheet when the prints are made on it."
"That is an excellent plan," said the judge; "and, as the information is
for myself and the jury, it would be better if you came up and performed
the actual stamping on my table in the presence of the foreman of the
jury and the counsel for the prosecution and defence."
In accordance with the judge's direction Thorndyke stepped up on the
dais, and Anstey, as he rose to follow, leaned over towards me.
"You and Polton had better go up too," said he: "Thorndyke will want
your assistance, and you may as well see the fun. I will explain to his
He ascended the stairs leading to the dais and addressed a few words to
the judge, who glanced in our direction and nodded, whereupon we both
gleefully followed our counsel, Polton carrying the box and beaming with
The judge's table was provided with a shallow drawer which pulled out at
the side and which accommodated the box comfortably, leaving the small
table-top free for the papers. When the lid of the box was raised, there
were displayed a copper inking-slab, a small roller and the twenty-four
"pawns" which had so puzzled Polton, and on which he now gazed with a
twinkle of amusement and triumph.
"Are those all stamps?" inquired the judge, glancing curiously at the
array of turned-wood handles.
"They are all stamps, my lord," replied Thorndyke, "and each is taken
from a different impression of the prisoner's thumb."
"But why so many?" asked the judge.
"I have multiplied them," answered Thorndyke, as he squeezed out a drop
of finger-print ink on to the slab and proceeded to roll it out into a
thin film, "to avoid the tell-tale uniformity of a single stamp. And I
may say," he added, "that it is highly important that the experts should
not be informed that more than one stamp has been used."
"Yes, I see that," said the judge. "You understand that, Sir Hector," he
added, addressing the counsel, who bowed stiffly, clearly regarding the
entire proceeding with extreme disfavour.
Thorndyke now inked one of the stamps and handed it to the judge, who
examined it curiously and then pressed it on a piece of waste paper, on
which there immediately appeared a very distinct impression of a human
thumb. "Marvellous!" he exclaimed. "Most ingenious! Too ingenious!" He
chuckled softly and added, as he handed the stamp and the paper to the
foreman of the jury: "It is well, Dr. Thorndyke, that you are on the
side of law and order, for I am afraid that, if you were on the other
side, you would be one too many for the police. Now, if you are ready,
we will proceed. Will you, please, stamp an impression in square number
Thorndyke drew a stamp from its compartment, inked it on the slab, and
pressed it neatly on the square indicated, leaving there a sharp, clear
The process was repeated on nine other squares, a different stamp being
used for each impression. The judge then marked the ten corresponding
squares of the other two sheets of paper, and having checked them,
directed the foreman to exhibit the sheet bearing the false thumb-prints
to the jury, together with the marked sheet which they were to retain,
to enable them to check the statements of the expert witnesses. When
this was done, the prisoner was brought from the dock and stood beside
the table. The judge looked with a curious and not unkindly interest at
the handsome, manly fellow who stood charged with a crime so sordid and
out of character with his appearance, and I felt, as I noted the look,
that Reuben would, at least, be tried fairly on the evidence, without
prejudice or even with some prepossession in his favour.
With the remaining part of the operation Thorndyke proceeded carefully
and deliberately. The inking-slab was rolled afresh for each impression,
and, after each, the thumb was cleansed with petrol and thoroughly
dried; and when the process was completed and the prisoner led back to
the dock, the twenty squares on the paper were occupied by twenty
thumb-prints, which, to my eye, at any rate, were identical in
The judge sat for near upon a minute poring over this singular document
with an expression half-way between a frown and a smile. At length, when
we had all returned to our places, he directed the usher to bring in the
I was amused to observe the change that had come over the experts in the
short interval. The confident smile, the triumphant air of laying down a
trump card, had vanished, and the expression of both was one of anxiety,
not unmixed with apprehension. As Mr. Singleton advanced hesitatingly to
the table, I recalled the words that he had uttered in his room at
Scotland Yard; evidently his scheme of the game that was to end in an
easy checkmate, had not included the move that had just been made.
"Mr. Singleton," said the judge, "here is a paper on which there are
twenty thumb-prints. Ten of them are genuine prints of the prisoner's
left thumb and ten are forgeries. Please examine them and note down in
writing which are the true prints and which are the forgeries. When you
have made your notes the paper will be handed to Mr. Nash."
"Is there any objection to my using the photograph that I have with me
for comparison, my lord?" asked Mr. Singleton.
"I think not," replied the judge. "What do you say, Mr. Anstey?"
"No objection whatever, my lord," answered Anstey.
Mr. Singleton accordingly drew from his pocket an enlarged photograph of
the thumb-print and a magnifying glass, with the aid of which he
explored the bewildering array of prints on the paper before him; and as
he proceeded I remarked with satisfaction that his expression became
more and more dubious and worried. From time to time he made an entry on
a memorandum slip beside him, and, as the entries accumulated, his frown
grew deeper and his aspect more puzzled and gloomy.
At length he sat up, and taking the memorandum slip in his hand,
addressed the judge.
"I have finished my examination, my lord."
"Very well. Mr. Nash, will you kindly examine the paper and write down
the results of your examination?"
"Oh! I wish they would make haste," whispered Juliet. "Do you think they
will be able to tell the real from the false thumb-prints?"
"I can't say," I replied; "but we shall soon know. They looked all alike
Mr. Nash made his examination with exasperating deliberateness, and
preserved throughout an air of stolid attention; but at length he, too,
completed his notes and handed the paper back to the usher.
"Now, Mr. Singleton," said the judge, "let us hear your conclusions. You
have been sworn."
Mr. Singleton stepped into the witness-box, and, laying his notes on the
ledge, faced the judge.
"Have you examined the paper that was handed to you?" asked Sir Hector
"What did you see on the paper?"
"I saw twenty thumb-prints, of which some were evident forgeries, some
were evidently genuine, and some were doubtful."
"Taking the thumb-prints _seriatim_, what have you noted about them?"
Mr. Singleton examined his notes and replied--"The thumb-print on square
one is evidently a forgery, as is also number two, though it is a
passable imitation. Three and four are genuine; five is an obvious
forgery. Six is a genuine thumb-print; seven is a forgery, though a good
one; eight is genuine; nine is, I think, a forgery, though it is a
remarkably good imitation. Ten and eleven are genuine thumb-marks;
twelve and thirteen are forgeries; but as to fourteen I am very
doubtful, though I am inclined to regard it as a forgery. Fifteen is
genuine, and I think sixteen is also; but I will not swear to it.
Seventeen is certainly genuine Eighteen and nineteen I am rather
doubtful about, but I am disposed to consider them both forgeries.
Twenty is certainly a genuine thumb-print."
As Mr. Singleton's evidence proceeded, a look of surprise began to make
its appearance on the judge's face, while the jury glanced from the
witness to the notes before them and from their notes to one another in
As to Sir Hector Trumpler, that luminary of British jurisprudence was
evidently completely fogged; for, as statement followed statement, he
pursed up his lips and his broad, red face became overshadowed by an
expression of utter bewilderment.
For a few seconds he stared blankly at his witness and then dropped on
to his seat with a thump that shook the court.
"You have no doubt," said Anstey, "as to the correctness of your
conclusions? For instance, you are quite sure that the prints one and
two are forgeries?"
"I have no doubt."
"You swear that those two prints are forgeries?"
Mr. Singleton hesitated for a moment. He had been watching the judge and
the jury and had apparently misinterpreted their surprise, assuming it
to be due to his own remarkable powers of discrimination; and his
confidence had revived accordingly.
"Yes," he answered; "I swear that they are forgeries."
Anstey sat down, and Mr. Singleton, having passed his notes up to the
judge, retired from the box, giving place to his colleague.
Mr. Nash, who had listened with manifest satisfaction to the evidence,
stepped into the box with all his original confidence restored. His
selection of the true and the false thumb-prints was practically
identical with that of Mr. Singleton, and his knowledge of this fact led
him to state his conclusions with an air that was authoritative and even
"I am quite satisfied of the correctness of my statements," he said, in
reply to Anstey's question, "and I am prepared to swear, and do swear,
that those thumb-prints which I have stated to be forgeries, are
forgeries, and that their detection presents no difficulty to an
observer who has an expert acquaintance with finger-prints."
"There is one question that I should like to ask," said the judge, when
the expert had left the box and Thorndyke had re-entered it to continue
his evidence. "The conclusions of the expert witnesses--manifestly _bona
fide_ conclusions, arrived at by individual judgement, without collusion
or comparison of results--are practically identical. They are virtually
in complete agreement. Now, the strange thing is this: their conclusions
are wrong in every instance" (here I nearly laughed aloud, for, as I
glanced at the two experts, the expression of smug satisfaction on their
countenances changed with lightning rapidity to a ludicrous spasm of
consternation); "not sometimes wrong and sometimes right, as would have
been the case if they had made mere guesses, but wrong every time. When
they are quite certain, they are quite wrong; and when they are
doubtful, they incline to the wrong conclusion. This is a very strange
coincidence, Dr. Thorndyke. Can you explain it?"
Thorndyke's face, which throughout the proceedings had been as
expressionless as that of a wooden figurehead, now relaxed into a dry
"I think I can, my lord," he replied. "The object of a forger in
executing a forgery is to produce deception on those who shall examine
"Ah!" said the judge; and _his_ face relaxed into a dry smile, while the
jury broke out into unconcealed grins.
"It was evident to me," continued Thorndyke, "that the experts would be
unable to distinguish the real from the forged thumb-prints, and, that
being so, that they would look for some collateral evidence to guide
them. I, therefore, supplied that collateral evidence. Now, if ten
prints are taken, without special precautions, from a single finger, it
will probably happen that no two of them are exactly alike; for the
finger being a rounded object of which only a small part touches the
paper, the impressions produced will show little variations according to
the part of the finger by which the print is made. But a stamp such as I
have used has a flat surface like that of a printer's type, and, like a
type, it always prints the same impression. It does not reproduce the
finger-tip, but a particular print of the finger, and so, if ten prints
are made with a single stamp, each print will be a mechanical repetition
of the other nine. Thus, on a sheet bearing twenty finger-prints, of
which ten were forgeries made with a single stamp, it would be easy to
pick out the ten forged prints by the fact that they would all be
mechanical repetitions of one another; while the genuine prints could be
distinguished by the fact of their presenting trifling variations in the
position of the finger.
"Anticipating this line of reasoning, I was careful to make each print
with a different stamp and each stamp was made from a different
thumb-print, and I further selected thumb-prints which varied as widely
as possible when I made the stamps. Moreover, when I made the real
thumb-prints, I was careful to put the thumb down in the same position
each time as far as I was able; and so it happened that, on the sheet
submitted to the experts, the real thumb-prints were nearly all alike,
while the forgeries presented considerable variations. The instances in
which the witnesses were quite certain were those in which I succeeded
in making the genuine prints repeat one another, and the doubtful cases
were those in which I partially failed."
"Thank you, that is quite clear," said the judge, with a smile of deep
content, such as is apt to appear on the judicial countenance when an
expert witness is knocked off his pedestal. "We may now proceed, Mr.
"You have told us," resumed Anstey, "and have submitted proofs, that it
is possible to forge a thumb-print so that detection is impossible. You
have also stated that the thumb-print on the paper found in Mr. Hornby's
safe is a forgery. Do you mean that it _may_ be a forgery, or that it
actually is one?"
"I mean that it actually is a forgery."
"When did you first come to the conclusion that it was a forgery?"
"When I saw it at Scotland Yard. There are three facts which suggested
this conclusion. In the first place the print was obviously produced
with liquid blood, and yet it was a beautifully clear and distinct
impression. But such an impression could not be produced with liquid
blood without the use of a slab and roller, even if great care were
used, and still less could it have been produced by an accidental smear.
"In the second place, on measuring the print with a micrometer, I found
that it did not agree in dimensions with a genuine thumb-print of Reuben
Hornby. It was appreciably larger. I photographed the print with the
micrometer in contact and on comparing this with a genuine thumb-print,
also photographed with the same micrometer in contact, I found that the
suspected print was larger by the fortieth of an inch, from one given
point on the ridge-pattern to another given point. I have here
enlargements of the two photographs in which the disagreement in size is
clearly shown by the lines of the micrometer. I have also the micrometer
itself and a portable microscope, if the Court wishes to verify the
"Thank you," said the judge, with a bland smile; "we will accept your
sworn testimony unless the learned counsel for the prosecution demands
He received the photographs which Thorndyke handed up and, having
examined them with close attention, passed them on to the jury.
"The third fact," resumed Thorndyke, "is of much more importance, since
it not only proves the print to be a forgery, but also furnishes a very
distinct clue to the origin of the forgery, and so to the identity of
the forger." (Here the court became hushed until the silence was so
profound that the ticking of the clock seemed a sensible interruption. I
glanced at Walter, who sat motionless and rigid at the end of the bench,
and perceived that a horrible pallor had spread over his face, while his
forehead was covered with beads of perspiration.) "On looking at the
print closely, I noticed at one part a minute white mark or space. It
was of the shape of a capital S and had evidently been produced by a
defect in the paper--a loose fibre which had stuck to the thumb and been
detached by it from the paper, leaving a blank space where it had been.
But, on examining the paper under a low power of the microscope, I found
the surface to be perfect and intact. No loose fibre had been detached
from it, for if it had, the broken end or, at least, the groove in which
it had lain, would have been visible. The inference seemed to be that
the loose fibre had existed, not in the paper which was found in the
safe, but in the paper on which the original thumb-mark had been made.
Now, as far as I knew, there was only one undoubted thumb-print of
Reuben Hornby's in existence--the one in the 'Thumbograph.' At my
request, the 'Thumbograph' was brought to my chambers by Mrs. Hornby,
and, on examining the print of Reuben Hornby's left thumb, I perceived
on it a minute, S-shaped white space occupying a similar position to
that in the red thumb-mark; and when I looked at it through a powerful
lens, I could clearly see the little groove in the paper in which the
fibre had lain and from which it had been lifted by the inked thumb. I
subsequently made a systematic comparison of the marks in the two
thumb-prints; I found that the dimensions of the mark were
proportionally the same in each--that is to say, the mark in the
'Thumbograph' print had an extreme length of 26/1000 of an inch and an
extreme breadth of 14.5/1000 of an inch, while that in the red
thumb-mark was one-fortieth larger in each dimension, having an extreme
length of 26.65/1000 of an inch and an extreme breadth of 14.86/1000 of
an inch; that the shape was identical, as was shown by superimposing
tracings of greatly enlarged photographs of each mark on similar
enlargements of the other; and that the mark intersected the ridges of
the thumb-print in the same manner and at exactly the same parts in the
"Do you say that--having regard to the facts which you have stated--it
is certain that the red thumb-mark is a forgery?"
"I do; and I also say that it is certain that the forgery was executed
by means of the 'Thumbograph.'"
"Might not the resemblances be merely a coincidence?"
"No. By the law of probabilities which Mr. Singleton explained so
clearly in his evidence, the adverse chances would run into untold
millions. Here are two thumb-prints made in different places and at
different times--an interval of many weeks intervening. Each of them
bears an accidental mark which is due not to any peculiarity of the
thumb, but to a peculiarity of the paper. On the theory of coincidences
it is necessary to suppose that each piece of paper had a loose fibre of
exactly identical shape and size and that this fibre came, by accident,
in contact with the thumb at exactly the same spot. But such a
supposition would be more opposed to probabilities even than the
supposition that two exactly similar thumb-prints should have been made
by different persons. And then there is the further fact that the paper
found in the safe had no loose fibre to account for the mark." "What
is your explanation of the presence of defibrinated blood in the safe?"
"It was probably used by the forger in making the thumb-print, for which
purpose fresh blood would be less suitable by reason of its clotting. He
would probably have carried a small quantity in a bottle, together with
the pocket slab and roller invented by Mr. Galton. It would thus be
possible for him to put a drop on the slab, roll it out into a thin film
and take a clean impression with his stamp. It must be remembered that
these precautions were quite necessary, since he had to make a
recognisable print at the first attempt. A failure and a second trial
would have destroyed the accidental appearance, and might have aroused
"You have made some enlarged photographs of the thumb-prints, have you
"Yes. I have here two enlarged photographs, one of the 'Thumbograph'
print and one of the red thumb-print. They both show the white mark very
clearly and will assist comparison of the originals, in which the mark
is plainly visible through a lens."
He handed the two photographs up to the judge, together with the
'Thumbograph,' the memorandum slip, and a powerful doublet lens with
which to examine them.
The judge inspected the two original documents with the aid of the lens
and compared them with the photographs, nodding approvingly as he made
out the points of agreement. Then he passed them on to the jury and made
an entry in his notes.
While this was going on my attention was attracted by Walter Hornby. An
expression of terror and wild despair had settled on his face, which was
ghastly in its pallor and bedewed with sweat. He looked furtively at
Thorndyke and, as I noted the murderous hate in his eyes, I recalled our
midnight adventure in John Street and the mysterious cigar.
Suddenly he rose to his feet, wiping his brow and steadying himself
against the bench with a shaking hand; then he walked quietly to the
door and went out. Apparently, I was not the only onlooker who had been
interested in his doings, for, as the door swung to after him,
Superintendent Miller rose from his seat and went out by the other door.
"Are you cross-examining this witness?" the judge inquired, glancing at
Sir Hector Trumpler.
"No, my lord," was the reply.
"Are you calling any more witnesses, Mr. Anstey?"
"Only one, my lord," replied Anstey--"the prisoner, whom I shall put in
the witness-box, as a matter of form, in order that he may make a
statement on oath."
Reuben was accordingly conducted from the dock to the witness-box, and,
having been sworn, made a solemn declaration of his innocence. A brief
cross-examination followed, in which nothing was elicited, but that
Reuben had spent the evening at his club and gone home to his rooms
about half-past eleven and had let himself in with his latchkey. Sir
Hector at length sat down; the prisoner was led back to the dock, and
the Court settled itself to listen to the speeches of the counsel.
"My lord and gentlemen of the jury," Anstey commenced in his clear,
mellow tones, "I do not propose to occupy your time with a long speech.
The evidence that has been laid before you is at once so intelligible,
so lucid, and so conclusive, that you will, no doubt, arrive at your
verdict uninfluenced by any display of rhetoric either on my part or on
the part of the learned counsel for the prosecution.
"Nevertheless, it is desirable to disentangle from the mass of evidence
those facts which are really vital and crucial.
"Now the one fact which stands out and dominates the whole case is this:
The prisoner's connection with this case rests solely upon the police
theory of the infallibility of finger-prints. Apart from the evidence of
the thumb-print there is not, and there never was, the faintest breath
of suspicion against him. You have heard him described as a man of
unsullied honour, as a man whose character is above reproach; a man who
is trusted implicitly by those who have had dealings with him. And this
character was not given by a casual stranger, but by one who has known
him from childhood. His record is an unbroken record of honourable
conduct; his life has been that of a clean-living, straightforward
gentleman. And now he stands before you charged with a miserable, paltry
theft; charged with having robbed that generous friend, the brother of
his own father, the guardian of his childhood and the benefactor who has
planned and striven for his well-being; charged, in short, gentlemen,
with a crime which every circumstance connected with him and every trait
of his known character renders utterly inconceivable. Now upon what
grounds has this gentleman of irreproachable character been charged with
this mean and sordid crime? Baldly stated, the grounds of the accusation
are these: A certain learned and eminent man of science has made a
statement, which the police have not merely accepted but have, in
practice, extended beyond its original meaning. That statement is as
follows: 'A complete, or nearly complete, accordance between two prints
of a single finger ... affords evidence requiring no corroboration, that
the persons from whom they were made are the same.'
"That statement, gentlemen, is in the highest degree misleading, and
ought not to have been made without due warning and qualification. So
far is it from being true, in practice, that its exact contrary is the
fact; the evidence of a finger-print, in the absence of corroboration,
is absolutely worthless. Of all forms of forgery, the forgery of a
finger-print is the easiest and most secure, as you have seen in this
court to-day. Consider the character of the high-class forger--his
skill, his ingenuity, his resource. Think of the forged banknotes, of
which not only the engraving, the design and the signature, but even the
very paper with its private watermarks, is imitated with a perfection
that is at once the admiration and the despair of those who have to
distinguish the true from the false; think of the forged cheque, in
which actual perforations are filled up, of which portions are cut out
bodily and replaced by indistinguishable patches; think of these, and
then of a finger-print, of which any photo-engraver's apprentice can
make you a forgery that the greatest experts cannot distinguish from the
original, which any capable amateur can imitate beyond detection after a
month's practice; and then ask yourselves if this is the kind of
evidence on which, without any support or corroboration, a gentleman of
honour and position should be dragged before a criminal court and
charged with having committed a crime of the basest and most sordid
type. "But I must not detain you with unnecessary appeals. I will
remind you briefly of the salient facts. The case for the prosecution
rests upon the assertion that the thumb-print found in the safe was made
by the thumb of the prisoner. If that thumb-print was not made by the
prisoner, there is not only no case against him but no suspicion of any
"Now, was that thumb-print made by the prisoner's thumb? You have had
conclusive evidence that it was not. That thumb-print differed in the
size, or scale, of the pattern from a genuine thumb-print of the
prisoner's. The difference was small, but it was fatal to the police
theory; the two prints were not identical.
"But, if not the prisoner's thumb-print, what was it? The resemblance of
the pattern was too exact for it to be the thumb-print of another
person, for it reproduced not only the pattern of the ridges on the
prisoner's thumb, but also the scar of an old wound. The answer that I
propose to this question is, that it was an intentional imitation of the
prisoner's thumb-print, made with the purpose of fixing suspicion on the
prisoner, and so ensuring the safety of the actual criminal. Are there
any facts which support this theory? Yes, there are several facts which
support it very strongly.
"First, there are the facts that I have just mentioned. The red
thumb-print disagreed with the genuine print in its scale or dimensions.
It was not the prisoner's thumb-print; but neither was it that of any
other person. The only alternative is that it was a forgery.
"In the second place, that print was evidently made with the aid of
certain appliances and materials, and one of those materials, namely
defibrinated blood, was found in the safe.
"In the third place, there is the coincidence that the print was one
which it was possible to forge. The prisoner has ten digits--eight
fingers and two thumbs. But there were in existence actual prints of the
two thumbs, whereas no prints of the fingers were in existence; hence it
would have been impossible to forge a print of any of the fingers. So it
happens that the red thumb-print resembled one of the two prints of
which forgery was possible.
"In the fourth place, the red thumb-print reproduces an accidental
peculiarity of the 'Thumbograph' print. Now, if the red thumb-print is a
forgery, it must have been made from the 'Thumbograph' print, since
there exists no other print from which it could have been made. Hence we
have the striking fact that the red thumb-print is an exact
replica--including accidental peculiarities--of the only print from
which a forgery could have been made. The accidental S-shaped mark in
the 'Thumbograph' print is accounted for by the condition of the paper;
the occurrence of this mark in the red thumb-print is not accounted for
by any peculiarity of the paper, and can be accounted for in no way,
excepting by assuming the one to be a copy of the other. The conclusion
is thus inevitable that the red thumb-print is a photo-mechanical
reproduction of the 'Thumbograph' print.
"But there is yet another point. If the red thumb-print is a forgery
reproduced from the 'Thumbograph' print, the forger must at some time
have had access to the 'Thumbograph.' Now, you have heard Mrs. Hornby's
remarkable story of the mysterious disappearance of the 'Thumbograph'
and its still more mysterious reappearance. That story can have left no
doubt in your minds that some person had surreptitiously removed the
'Thumbograph' and, after an unknown interval, secretly replaced it. Thus
the theory of forgery receives confirmation at every point, and is in
agreement with every known fact; whereas the theory that the red
thumb-print was a genuine thumb-print, is based upon a gratuitous
assumption, and has not had a single fact advanced in its support.
"Accordingly, gentlemen, I assert that the prisoner's innocence has been
proved in the most complete and convincing manner, and I ask you for a
verdict in accordance with that proof."
As Anstey resumed his seat, a low rumble of applause was heard from the
gallery. It subsided instantly on a gesture of disapproval from the
judge, and a silence fell upon the court, in which the clock, with
cynical indifference, continued to record in its brusque monotone the
passage of the fleeting seconds.
"He is saved, Dr. Jervis! Oh! surely he is saved!" Juliet exclaimed in
an agitated whisper. "They must see that he is innocent now."
"Have patience a little longer," I answered. "It will soon be over now."
Sir Hector Trumpler was already on his feet and, after bestowing on the
jury a stern hypnotic stare, he plunged into his reply with a really
admirable air of conviction and sincerity. "My lord and gentlemen of
the jury: The case which is now before this Court is one, as I have
already remarked, in which human nature is presented in a highly
unfavourable light. But I need not insist upon this aspect of the case,
which will already, no doubt, have impressed you sufficiently. It is
necessary merely for me, as my learned friend has aptly expressed it, to
disentangle the actual facts of the case from the web of casuistry that
has been woven around them.
"Those facts are of extreme simplicity. A safe has been opened and
property of great value abstracted from it. It has been opened by means
of false keys. Now there are two men who have, from time to time, had
possession of the true keys, and thus had the opportunity of making
copies of them. When the safe is opened by its rightful owner, the
property is gone, and there is found the print of the thumb of one of
these two men. That thumb-print was not there when the safe was closed.
The man whose thumb-print is found is a left-handed man; the print is
the print of a left thumb. It would seem, gentlemen, as if the
conclusion were so obvious that no sane person could be found to contest
it; and I submit that the conclusion which any sane person would arrive
at--the only possible conclusion--is, that the person whose thumb-print
was found in the safe is the person who stole the property from the
safe. But the thumb-print was, admittedly, that of the prisoner at the
bar, and therefore the prisoner at the bar is the person who stole the
diamonds from the safe.
"It is true that certain fantastic attempts have been made to explain
away these obvious facts. Certain far-fetched scientific theories have
been propounded and an exhibition of legerdemain has taken place which,
I venture to think, would have been more appropriate to some place of
public entertainment than to a court of justice. That exhibition has, no
doubt, afforded you considerable amusement. It has furnished a pleasing
relaxation from the serious business of the court. It has even been
instructive, as showing to what extent it is possible for plain facts to
be perverted by misdirected ingenuity. But unless you are prepared to
consider this crime as an elaborate hoax--as a practical joke carried
out by a facetious criminal of extraordinary knowledge, skill and
general attainments--you must, after all, come to the only conclusion
that the facts justify: that the safe was opened and the property
abstracted by the prisoner. Accordingly, gentlemen, I ask you, having
regard to your important position as the guardians of the well-being and
security of your fellow-citizens, to give your verdict in accordance
with the evidence, as you have solemnly sworn to do; which verdict, I
submit, can be no other than that the prisoner is guilty of the crime
with which he is charged."
Sir Hector sat down, and the jury, who had listened to his speech with
solid attention, gazed expectantly at the judge, as though they should
say: "Now, which of these two are we to believe?"
The judge turned over his notes with an air of quiet composure, writing
down a word here and there as he compared the various points in the
evidence. Then he turned to the jury with a manner at once persuasive
"It is not necessary, gentlemen," he commenced, "for me to occupy your
time with an exhaustive analysis of the evidence. That evidence you
yourselves have heard, and it has been given, for the most part, with
admirable clearness. Moreover, the learned counsel for the defence has
collated and compared that evidence so lucidly, and, I may say, so
impartially, that a detailed repetition on my part would be
superfluous. I shall therefore confine myself to a few comments which
may help you in the consideration of your verdict.
"I need hardly point out to you that the reference made by the learned
counsel for the prosecution to far-fetched scientific theories is
somewhat misleading. The only evidence of a theoretical character was
that of the finger-print experts. The evidence of Dr. Rowe and of Dr.
Thorndyke dealt exclusively with matters of fact. Such inferences as
were drawn by them were accompanied by statements of the facts which
yielded such inferences.
"Now, an examination of the evidence which you have heard shows, as the
learned counsel for the defence has justly observed, that the entire
case resolves itself into a single question, which is this: 'Was the
thumb-print that was found in Mr. Hornby's safe made by the thumb of the
prisoner, or was it not?' If that thumb-print was made by the prisoner's
thumb, then the prisoner must, at least, have been present when the safe
was unlawfully opened. If that thumb-print was not made by the
prisoner's thumb, there is nothing to connect him with the crime. The
question is one of fact upon which it will be your duty to decide; and I
must remind you, gentlemen, that you are the sole judges of the facts of
the case, and that you are to consider any remarks of mine as merely
suggestions which you are to entertain or to disregard according to your
"Now let us consider this question by the light of the evidence. This
thumb-print was either made by the prisoner or it was not. What evidence
has been brought forward to show that it was made by the prisoner? Well,
there is the evidence of the ridge-pattern. That pattern is identical
with the pattern of the prisoner's thumb-print, and even has the
impression of a scar which crosses the pattern in a particular manner
in the prisoner's thumb-print. There is no need to enter into the
elaborate calculations as to the chances of agreement; the practical
fact, which is not disputed, is that if this red thumb-print is a
genuine thumb-print at all, it was made by the prisoner's thumb. But it
is contended that it is not a genuine thumb-print; that it is a
mechanical imitation--in fact a forgery.
"The more general question thus becomes narrowed down to the more
particular question: 'Is this a genuine thumb-print or is it a forgery?'
Let us consider the evidence. First, what evidence is there that it is a
genuine thumb-print? There is none. The identity of the pattern is no
evidence on this point, because a forgery would also exhibit identity of
pattern. The genuineness of the thumb-print was assumed by the
prosecution, and no evidence has been offered.
"But now what evidence is there that the red thumb-print is a forgery?
"First, there is the question of size. Two different-sized prints could
hardly be made by the same thumb. Then there is the evidence of the use
of appliances. Safe-robbers do not ordinarily provide themselves with
inking-slabs and rollers with which to make distinct impressions of
their own fingers. Then there is the accidental mark on the print which
also exists on the only genuine print that could have been used for the
purpose of forgery, which is easily explained on the theory of a