Part 4 out of 6
world. I bar nobody. Charlie Tavor could take a nigger and
cross the poisonous plateau south west of the Libyan desert.
I've backed him. I know . . . but he had no business sense,
anybody could fool him. He found the stock of bar silver on the
west face of the Andes that made old Nute Hardman a quarter of a
million dollars, clear, after the cursed beast had split it a
half dozen ways with a crooked South American government."
Barclay's teeth set and he jerked up his clinched hand.
"It was a damned steal, Sir Henry. A piece of low down, dirty
robbery; and it was like taking candy away from a child . . . .
`Sign here, Mr. Tavor,' and Charlie would scrawl on his fist . .
. . Some people think there's no hell, but what's God Almighty
going to do with Old Nute?"
He flung out his hand again.
"Still the thing didn't dent Charlie. He never missed a step.
`Don't bother, Barclay, old man,' he'd say, `I'll find something
else,' and then he'd go off into this dream he had of coming back
when he'd struck it, to the old home county in England and laying
it over the bunch that had called him `no good.' He never talked
much, but I gathered from odds and ends that he was the black
sheep in a pretty smart flock.
"Then, I'd stake him to a cheap outfit - not much, I've said he
could push through the Libyan desert with a nigger - and he'd
drop out of the world. It wasn't charity. I got my money's
worth. The clay pots he brought me from Yucatan would sell any
day for more cash than I ever advanced him."
Barclay moved a little before the fire. I was listening in a big
chair, my feet extended toward the hearth; a smoking jacket had
replaced my dinner coat.
"It was five years ago, in London," Barclay went on, "that I
fitted Charlie out for his last adventure. He wanted to land in
the gulf of Pe-chi-li and go into the great desert of the Shamo
in Central Mongolia. You'll find the Shamo all dotted out on the
maps; but it's faked dope. No white man knows anything about the
"It's a trick to lay off these great waste areas and call them
elevated plateaus or sunken plateaus. You can't go by the atlas.
Where's Kane's Open Polar Sea and Morris K. Jessup's Land?
Still, Charlie thought the Shamo might be a low plain, and he
thought he might find something in it. You see the great gold
caravans used to cross it, three thousand years ago . . . and as
Charlie kept saying, `What's time in the Shamo?'
"Well, I bought him a kit of stuff, and he took a P. and O.
through the Suez. I got a long letter from Pekin two months
later; and then Charlie Tavor dropped out of the world. I went
back to America. No word ever came from Charlie. I thought he
was dead. I suppose a white man's life is about the cheapest
thing there is northwest of the Yellow River; and Charlie never
had an escort. A coolie and an old service pistol would about
foot up his defenses.
"And there's every ghastly disease in Mongolia . . . . Still
some word always came from Tavor inside of a year; a tramp around
the Horn would bring in a dirty note, written God knows where,
and carried out to the ship by a naked native swimming with the
thing in his teeth; or some little embassy would send it to me in
a big official envelope stamped with enough red wax to make a
"But the luck failed this time. A year ran on, then two, then
three and I passed Charlie up. He'd surely `gone west!'"
Barclay paused, thrust his hands into the pockets of his dinner
jacket and looked down at me.
"One night in New York I got a call from the City Hospital. The
telephone message came in about ten o'clock. I was in Albany; I
found the message when I got back the following morning and I
went ever to the hospital.
"The matron said that they had picked up a man on the North River
docks in an epileptic fit and the only name they could find on
him was my New York address. They thought he was going to die,
he was cold and stiff for hours, and they had undertaken to reach
me in order to identify him. But he did not die. He was up this
morning and she would bring him in."
Barclay paused again.
"She brought in Charlie Tavor! . . . And I nearly screamed when
I saw the man. He was dressed in one of those cheap
hand-me-downs that the Germans used to sell in the tropics for a
pound, three and six, his eyes looked as dead as glass and he was
as white as plaster. How the man managed to keep on his feet I
"I didn't stop for any explanation. I got Tavor into a taxi, and
over to my apartment."
Barclay moved in his position before the fire.
"But on the way over a thing happened that some little god played
in for a joke. There was a block just where Thirty-third crosses
into Fifth Avenue, and our taxi pulled up by a limousine."
Barclay suddenly thrust out his big pock-marked face.
"The thing couldn't have happened by itself. Some burlesque
angel put it over when the Old Man wasn't looking. Spread out bn
the tapestry cushions of that limousine was Nute Hardman!
"There they were side by side. Not six feet apart; Old Nute in a
sable-lined coat and Charlie in his hand-me-down, at a pound,
three and six."
The muscles in Barclay's big jaw tightened.
"Maybe there is a joker that runs the world, and maybe the devil
runs it. Anyhow it's a queer system. Here was Charlie Tavor,
straight as a string, down and out. And here was Nute Hardman,
so crooked that a fly couldn't light on him and stand level, with
everything that money could buy.
"I cast it up while the taxi stood there beside the car. Nute
was consul in a South American port that you couldn't spell and
couldn't find on the map. He didn't have two dollars to rub
together, until Charlie Tavor turned up. There he sat, out of
the world, forgotten, growing moss and getting ready to rot; and
God Almighty, or the devil, or whatever it is, steered Charlie
Tavor in to him with the bar silver.
"He picked Charlie to the bone and cut for the States. And this
damned crooked luck went right along with him. He was in a big
apartment, now, up on Fifth Avenue and four-flushing toward every
point of the compass. His last stunt was `patron of science.'
He'd gotten into the Geographical Society, and he was laying
lines for the Royal Society in London. He had a Harvard don
working over in the Metropolitan library, building him a thesis!
"The thing made me ugly. I wanted to have a plain talk with the
devil. He wasn't playing fair. Old Nute couldn't have been
worth the whole run of us; I've legged some myself, and I had a
right to be heard. The devil ought to make old Nute split up
with Charlie. True, Charlie belonged in the other camp, but I
didn't. And if I wanted a little favor I felt that the devil
ought to come across with it . . . I put it up to him, or down
to him, as you'd say, while I sat there in that taxi."
There was a grim energy in Barclay's face. He was no ordinary
"I got Tavor up to my apartment, and a goblet of brandy in him.
I never saw anybody look like Tavor as he sat there propped up in
the chair with a lot of cushions around him. It was winter and
cold. He had no clothes to speak of, but he did not seem to
notice either the cold outside or the heat in the apartment, as
though, somehow, he couldn't tell the difference.
"And he was the strangest color that any human being ever was in
the world. I've said that he looked like plaster, and he did
look like it, but he looked like a plaster man with a thin coat
of tan colored paint on him."
"It's hardly a wonder that no message reached me. The devil
couldn't have got word out of the hell land he'd been in. Lost
is no name for it. He'd been all over the Shamo, and the big
Sahara's a park to it. He'd been North to the Kangai where they
used to get the gold that the caravans carried across the Shamo,
and he'd followed the old trails South to the great wall.
"It's all a Satan's country. I don't know why God Almighty
wanted to make a hell hole like the Shamo!"
He paused, then he went on.
"But it wasn't in the Shamo that Tavor got track of the thing he
was after. He said that the age he was trying to get back into
was much more remote than he imagined. It must have been a good
many thousands of years ago. He couldn't tell; long before
anything like dependable history at any rate . . . . There must
have been an immense age of great oriental splendor in the South
of Asia and along the East African coast, dying out at about the
time our knowledge of human history begins."
Barclay went on, unmoving before the fire.
"I don't know why we imagine that the legends of a little tribe
in Syria running back to the fifth or sixth century begins the
world . . . . Anyway, Tavor got the notion, as I have said, of
an age in decay at about the time these legends start in; with a
trade moving west.
"He nosed it all out! God knows how. Of course it was only a
theory - only a notion in fact. He hadn't anything to go on that
I could see. But after two years' drifting about in the Shamo,
this is how he finally figured it:
"Northern Asia traded gold in the west; the mined product would
be molded into bricks in lower Mongolia. It was then carried
over land to the southwest coast of Arabia. There was some great
center of world commerce low down on the Red Sea about eight
hundred miles south of Port Said.
"Tavor said that when he began to think about the thing the
caravan route was pretty clear to him. Arabia seemed to have
been connected, in that remote age, with Persia at the Strait of
Ormus, so there was a direct overland route . . . . That put
another notion into Tavor's head; these treasure caravans must
have crossed the immense Sandy Desert of El-Khali. And this
notion developed another; if one were seeking the wreck of any
one of these treasure caravans he would be more likely to find it
in the El-Khali than in the Shamo."
Barclay moved away from the :fire, got a chair and sat down. He
was across the hearth from me. He looked about the room and at
the curtained windows that shut out the blue night.
"You can't sleep," he went on, "so I might just as well tell you
this. A good deal of it is what the lawyers called dicta . . .
obiter dicta; when the judge gets to putting in stuff on the side
. . . but it's a long time 'til daylight."
He had taken a small chair and he sat straight in it after the
manner of a big man.
"You see the treasure carried south across the Shamo would be
`gold wheat' (dust, we'd call it), packed in green skins . . .
you couldn't find that. But the caravans crossing the El-Khali
would carry this gold in bricks for the great west trade. Now a
gold brick is indestructible; you can't think of anything that
would last forever like a gold brick. 'Nothing would disturb it,
water and sun are alike without effect on it . . . .
"That was Tavor's notion, and he went right after it. Most of us
would have slacked out after two years in the hell hole of
'Central Mongolia. But not Charlie Tavor. He got down to Arabia
somehow; God knows, I never asked him, - and he went right on
into the Great Sandy Desert of Roba El Khali. The oldest caravan
route known runs straight across the desert from Muscat to Mecca.
It's a thousand miles across - but you can strike the line of it
nearly four hundred miles west in a hundred miles travel by going
due South from the coast between fifty and fifty-five degrees.
"You'll find this old caravan route drawn on the map, a dead
straight line across the thirty-third parallel. But the man that
put it on there never traveled over it. He doesn't know whether
it is a sunken plateau, or an elevated plateau, or what the devil
it is that this old route runs across. And he doesn't know what
the earth's like in the great basin of the El-Khali; maybe it's
sand and maybe it's something else."
Barclay stopped and looked queerly at me.
"The Doctor Cooks have put a lot of stuff over on us. The fact
is, there's six million square miles of the earth's surface that
nobody knows anything about."
He got a package of American cigarettes out of his pocket,
selected one and lighted it with a fragment of the box thrust
into the fire.
"That's where Tavor was the last year. When the ambulance picked
him up, he'd crawled around the Horn in a Siamese tramp."
"Great people, the English; no fag-out to them. Look how Scott
went on in the Antarctic with his feet frozen . . . It's in the
blood; it was in Tavor.
"I sat there that winter night in my room in New York while he
told me all about it.
"It was morning when he finished - the milk wagons were on the
street, - and then, he added, quite simply, as though it were a
matter of no importance
"'But I can't go back, Barclays old man; my tramping's over.
That was no fit I had on the dock.'
"He looked at me with his dead eyes in his tan-colored plaster
face. You've heard of the hemp-chewers and the betel-chewers;
well, all that's baby-food to a thing they've got in the Shamo.
It's a shredded root, bitter like cactus, and when you chew it,
you don't get tired and you don't get hot . . . you go on and you
don't know what the temperature is. Then some day, all at once,
you go down, cold all over like a dead man . . . that time you
don't die, but the next time . . . "
Barclay snapped his fingers without adding the word.'
"And you can calculate when the second one will strike you. It's
a hundred and eighty-one days to the hour."
Then he added:
"That was the first one on the dock. Tavor had six months to
The big man broke the cigarette in his fingers and threw the
pieces into the fire. Then he turned abruptly toward me.
"And I know where he wanted to live for those six months. The
old dream was still with him. He wanted that country house in
his native county in England, with the formal garden and the
lackeys. The finish didn't bother him, but he wanted to round
out his life with the dream that he had carried about with him.
"I put him to bed and went down into Broadway, and walked about
all night. Tavor couldn't go back and he had to have a bunch of
"It was no good. I couldn't see it. I went back Tavor was up
and I sat him down to a cross examination that would have
delighted the soul of a Philadelphia lawyer."
"It was all at once that I saw it - like you'd snap your fingers.
It was an accident of Charlie's talk . . . one of those obiter
dicta, that I mentioned a while ago. But I stopped Charlie and
went over to the Metropolitan Library; there I got me an expert -
an astronomer chap, as it happened, reading calculus in French
for fun - I gave him a twenty and I looked him in the eye.
"Now, Professor,' I said, `this dope's got to be straight stuff,
I'm risking money on it; every word you write has got to be the
truth, and every line and figure that you put on your map has got
to be correct with a capital K.'"
"'Surely,' he said, `I shall follow Huxley for the text and I
shall check the chart calculations for error.'
"'And there's another thing, professor. You've got to go dumb on
this job, for which I double the twenty.' He looked puzzled, but
when he finally understood me, he said `Surely' again, and I went
back to my apartment.
"'Charlie,' I said, `how much money would it take for this
English country life business?'
"His eyes lighted up a little.
"Well, Barclay, old man,' he replied, `I've estimated it pretty
carefully a number of times. I could take Eldon's place for six
months with the right to purchase for two thousand dollars paid
down; and I could manage the servants and the living expenses for
another four thousand. I fear I should not be able to get on
with a less sum than six thousand dollars.'
"Then he added - he was a child to the last - 'perhaps Mr.
Hardman will now be able to advance it; he promised me "a further
per cent" those were his words, when the matter was (finally
"Then ten thousand would do?'
"My word,' he said, `I should go it like a lord on ten thousand.
Do you think Mr. Hardman would consider that sum?'
"I'm going to try him,' I said, `I've got some influence in a
quarter that he depends on.'
"And I went out. I went down to my bank and got twenty U. S.
bonds of a thousand each. At five o'clock, the professor had his
dope ready - the text and the chart, neatly folded in a big
manilla envelope with a rubber band around it. And that evening
I went up to see old Nute."
Barclay got another cigarette. There was a queer cynicism in his
big pitted face.
"The church bunch," he said, "have got a strange conception of
the devil; they think he's always ready to lie down on his
friends. That's a fool notion. The devil couldn't do business
if he didn't come across when you needed him.
"And there's another thing; the old-timers, when they went after
their god for a favor, always began by reciting what they'd done
for him . . . . That was sound dope! I tried it myself on the
way up to old Nute's apartment on Fifth Avenue.
"I went over a lot of things. And whenever I made a point, I
rapped it on the pavement with the ferule of my walking stick; as
one would say, `you owe me for that!'
"You see I was worked up about Tavor. When a man's carried a
dream over all the hell he'd pushed through he ought to have it
in the end."
Barclay paused and flicked the ashes from his cigarette.
"You know the swell apartments on Fifth Avenue; no name, only a
number; every floor a residence, only the elevators connecting
them. I found old Nute in the seventh; and I was bucked the
moment I got in.
"The door from the drawing room to the library was open. The
Harvard don was going out, the one Nute had employed to get up
his thesis for the Royal Society of London - I mentioned him a
while ago. And I heard his final remark, flung back at the door.
`What you require, Sir, is the example case of some new
exploration - one that you have yourself conducted.'
"That bucked me; the devil was on the job!"
Barclay stopped again. He sat for a moment watching the smoke
from the cigarette climb in a blue mist slowly into the beautiful
fresco of the ceiling.
"I told old Nute precisely what I've told you. How I'd backed
Tavor for his last adventure, and where he'd been; all over
Central Mongolia and finally across the Great Sandy Desert of
El-Khali. And I told him what Charlie was after; the theory he
started with and his final conclusion when he made his last push
along the old caravan route west from Muscat.
"I went into the details, and the big notion that Tavor had
slowly pieced together; how the gold was mined in the ranges
south of Siberia, carried in green skins to lower Mongolia,
melted there and taken for trade Southwest across the El-Khali to
an immense Babylon of Commerce of which the present Mecca is
perhaps a decadent residuum.
"I put it all in; the accessibility of this desert from the coast
on three sides, how the old caravan route parallels the
thirty-third meridian and how Charlie struck it four hundred
miles out into the desert in a hundred miles travel due south in
longitude between 50 and 55 degrees; all the details of Tavor's
hunt for the wreck of one of these treasure caravans.
"Old Nute looked at me with his little hard eyes slipping about.
"'And he didn't find it?' he said.
"I didn't answer that. I went ahead and told him how I found
Tavor and the shape he was in, and then I added, `I'm not an
explorer, and Charlie can't go back.'
"Old Nute's thick neck shot out at that.
"'Then he did find it?' he said.
"'Now look here, Nute,' I said, `you're not trading with Tavor on
this deal. You're trading with me and I'm just as slick as you
are. You'll get no chance to slip under on this. You forget all
I've told you just as though it had nothing to do with what I'm
going to tell you, and I'll come to the point.'
"`Forget it?' he said.
"'Yes,' I said, `forget it. I'm not going to put you on to what
Charlie knows, with any strings to it, or with any pointers that
you can run down without us. I've told you all about Tavor's big
hunt through the Shamo and the El-Khali for a purpose of my own
and not for the purpose of enabling you to locate the thing that
Charlie Tavor knows about.'
"Hardman's voice went down into a low note. `What does he know?'
"I looked him squarely in the little reptilian eyes. `He knows
where there is a treasure in gold equal in our money to three
hundred thousand dollars!'
"Old Nute's little eyes focused into his nose an instant. Then
he took a chance at me.
"'What's the country like?'
"I went on as though I didn't see the drift.
"'Tavor says this area of the earth's surface is a great plain
practically level, sloping gradually on one side and rising
gradually on the other.'
"'Sand?' said Nute.
"'No,' I replied, 'Tavor says that contrary to the common notion,
this plain is not covered with sand, it's a kind of chalk
"'Hard to get to?'
"Old Nute shot the query in with a little quick duck of his head.
"I went straight on with the answer.
"'Tavor says it's about a five or six days' journey from a sea
"'No, Tavor says you can get within two miles of the place
without any difficulty whatever - he says anybody can do it. The
only difficulties are on the last two miles. But up to the last
two miles, it's a holiday journey for a middle-aged woman.'
"Old Nute grunted. He put his fat hands together over his
waistcoat and twiddled his thumbs.
"`Well,'; he said, 'what's in your mind about it?'
"We were now up to the trade and I Stated the terms.
"'It's like this,' I said, 'Tavor's down and out. He's got only
six months to live. Fifth Avenue piled full of gold won't do him
any good if he's got to wait for it. What he wants is a little
"Old Nute's eyes squinted.
"'How much money?' he said.
"'Well,' I said, 'Tavor will turn his map over to you for ten
thousand dollars . . . Death's crowding him.'.
"Old Nute's fat fingers began to drum on his waistcoat.
How do I know the gold's there and the map's straight?'
"'Did you ever know Tavor to lie?' I said.
"'No,' he said, 'Tavor's not a liar; but I am a business man, Mr.
Barclay, and in business we do not go on verbal assurances, no
matter how unquestioned.'
"'That's right,' I replied, `I'm a business man, too; that's why
I came instead of sending Tavor . . . . you found out he wasn't a
business man in the first deal.'
"Then I took my `shooting irons' out of my pocket and laid them
on the table.
"There,' I said, `are twenty, one-thousand United States bonds,
not registered,' and I put my hand on one of the big Manila
envelopes.; `and here,' I said, `is an accurate description of
the place where this treasure lies and a map of the route to it,'
and I put my hand on the other.
"'Now,' I went on, `I believe every word of this thing. Charles
Tavor is the best all-round explorer in the world. I've known
him a lifetime and what he says goes with me. We'll put up this
bunch of stuff with a stakeholder for the term of a year, and if
the gold isn't there and if the map showing the route to it isn't
correct and if every word I've said about it isn't precisely the
truth, you take down my bonds and keep them.'
"Old Nute got up and walked about the room. I knew what he was
thinking. `Here's another one of them - there's all kinds.'
"But it hooked him. We wrote out the terms and put the stuff up
with old Commodore Harris - the straightest sport in America.
Nute had the right to copy the map, and the text and a year to
verify it. And I took the ten thousand back to Charlie Tavor."
Barclay got up and went over to the window. He drew back the
heavy tapestry curtains. It wars morning; the blue dawn was
beginning to illumine Monaco and the polished arc of the sea. He
stood looking down into it, holding the curtain in his hand.
"I give the devil his due for that, Sir Henry," he said.
"Charlie Tavor got his dream at the end; he died like a gentleman
in his English country house with the formal garden and the
"And the other man got the treasure?" I said. Barclay replied
"No, he didn't get it."
"Then you lost your bonds?"
"No, I didn't lose them; Commodore Harris handed them back to me
on the last day of the year."
I sat up in my big lounge chair.
"Didn't Hardman make a fight for them; if he didn't find the
treasure - didn't he squeal?"
Barclay turned about, drawing the curtain close behind him.
"And be laughed out of the high-brow bunch that he was trying to
get into? . . . I said old Nute was a crook, but I didn't say
he was a fool."
I turned around in the chair.
"I don't understand this thing, Barclay. If the treasure was
there, and you gave Hardman a correct map of the route to it, and
it lay on a practically level plain, and he could get within two
miles of it without difficulty in four or five days' travel from
a sea coast town, why couldn't he get it? Was it all the truth?"
"It was every word precisely the truth," he said.
"Then why couldn't he get it?"
Barclay looked down at me; his big pitted face was illumined with
a cynical smile.
"Well, Sir Henry," he said, "'the trouble is with those last two
miles. They're water . . . straight down. The level plain is
the bed of the Atlantic ocean and that gold is in the hold of the
The thing began in the colony room of the Empire Club in London.
The colony room is on the second floor and looks out over
Picadilly Circus. It was at an hour when nobody is in an English
club. There was a drift of dirty fog outside. Such nights come
along in October.
Douglas Hargrave did not see the Baronet until he closed the door
behind him. Sir Henry was seated at a table, leaning over, his
face between his hand, and his elbows resting on the polished
mahogany board. There was a sheet of paper on the table between
the Baronet's elbows. There were a few lines written on the
paper and the man's faculties were concentrated on them. He did
not see the jewel dealer until that person was half across the
room, then he called to him.
"Hello, Hargrave," he said. "Do you know anything about
"Only the trade one that our firm uses," replied the jewel
dealer. "And that's a modification of the A B C code."
"Well," he said, "take a look at this."
The jewel dealer sat down at the other side of the table and the
Baronet handed him the sheet of paper. The man expected to see a
lot of queer signs and figures; but instead he found a simple
trade's message, as it seemed to him.
P.L.A. shipped nine hundred horses on freight steamer Don Carlow
from N. Y.
Have the bill of lading handed over to our agent to check up.
"Well," said the jewel dealer, "somebody's going to ship nine
hundred horses. Where's the mystery?"
The Baronet shrugged his big shoulders.
"The mystery," he said, "is everywhere. It's before and after
and in the body of this message. There's hardly anything to it
"Who sent it?" said Hargrave.
"That's one of the mysteries," replied the Baronet.
"Ah!" said the jewel dealer. "Who received it?"
"That's another," he answered.
"At any rate," continued Hargrave, "you know where you got it."
"Right," replied the Baronet. "I know where I got it." He took
three newspapers out of the pocket of his big tweed coat. "There
it is," he said, "in the personal column of three newspapers -
today's Times printed in London; the Matin printed in Paris; and
a Dutch daily printed in Amsterdam."
And there was the message set up in English, in two sentences
precisely word for word, in three news papers printed on the same
day in London, Paris and Amsterdam.
"It seems to be a message all right," said Hargrave: "But why do
you imagine it's a cipher?"
The Baronet looked closely at the American jewel dealer for a
"Why should it be printed in English in these foreign papers," he
said, "if it were not a cipher?"
"Perhaps," said Hargrave, "the person for whom it's intended does
not know any other language."
The Baronet shrugged his shoulders.
"The persons for whom this message is intended," he said, "do not
confine themselves to a single language. It's a pretty
well-organized international concern."
"Well," said Hargrave, "it doesn't look like a mystery that ought
to puzzle the ingenuity of the Chief of the Criminal
Investigation Department of the metropolitan police." He nodded
to Sir Henry. "You have only to look out for the arrival of nine
hundred horses and when they get in to see who takes them off the
boat. The thing looks easy."
"It's not so easy as it looks," replied the Baronet. "Evidently
these horses might go to France, Holland or England. That's the
secret in this message. That's where the cipher comes in. The
name of the port is in that cipher somewhere."
"But you can, watch the steamer," said Hargrave, "the Don
The Baronet laughed.
"There's no such steamer!" He got up and began to walk round the
table. "Nine hundred horses," he said. "This thing has got to
stop. They're on the sea now, on the way over from America: We
have got to find out where they will go ashore."
He stopped, stooped over and studied the message which he had
written out and which also lay before him in the three
"It's there," he said, "the name of the port of arrival,
somewhere in those two sentences. But I can't get at it. It's
no cipher that I have ever heard of. It's no one of the hundred
figure or number ciphers that the experts in the department know
anything about. If we knew the port of arrival we could pick up
the clever gentleman who comes to take away the horses. But
what's the port - English, French or Dutch? There are a score of
ports." He struck the paper with his hand. "It's there, my word
for it, if we could only decode the thing."
Then he stood up, his face lifted, his fingers linked behind his
back. He crossed the room and stood looking out at the thin
yellow fog drifting over Piccadilly Circus. Finally he came
back, gathered up his papers and put them in the pocket of his
big tweed coat.
"There's one man in Europe," he said, "who can read this thing.
That's the Swiss expert criminologist, old Arnold, of Zurich.
He's lecturing at the Sorbonne in Paris. I'm going to see him."
Then he went out.
Now that, as has been said, is how the thing began. It was the
first episode in the series of events that began to go forward on
this extraordinary night. One will say that the purchasing agent
for a great New York jewel house ought to be accustomed to
adventures. The writers of romance have stimulated that fancy.
But the fact is that such persons are practical people. They
never do any of the things that the story writers tell us. They
never carry jewels about with them. Of course they know the
police departments of foreign cities. All jewel dealers make a
point of that. Hargrave's father was an old friend of Sir Henry
Marquis, chief of the C. I. D., and the young man always went to
see him when he happened in London. That explains the freedom of
his talk to Hargrave on this night in the Empire Club in
The young man went over and sat down by the fire. The, big room
was empty. The sounds outside seemed muffled and distant. The
incident that had just passed impressed him. He wondered why
people should imagine that a purchasing agent of a jewel house
must be a sort of expert in the devices of mystery. As has been
said, the thing's a notion. Everything is shipped through
reliable transportation companies and insured. There was much
more mystery in a shipload of horses - the nine hundred horses
that were galloping through the head of Sir Henry Marquis - than
in all the five prosaic years during which young Hargrave had
succeeded his father as a jewel buyer. The American was
impressed by this mystery of the nine hundred horses. Sir Henry
had said it was a mystery in every direction.
Now, as he sat alone before the fire in the colony room of the
Empire Club and thought about it, the thing did seem
inexplicable. Why should the metropolitan police care who
imported horses, or in what port a shipload of them was landed?
The war was over. Nobody was concerned about the importation of
horses. Why should Sir Henry be so disturbed about it? But he
was disturbed; and he had rushed off to Paris to see an expert on
ciphers. That seemed a tremendous lot of trouble to take. The
Baronet knew the horses were on the sea coming from America, he
said. If he knew that much, how could he fail to discover the
boat on which they were carried and the port at which they would
arrive? Nobody could conceal nine hundred horses!
Hargrave was thinking about that, idly, before the glow of the
coal fire, when the second episode in this extraordinary affair
A steward entered.
"Visitor, please," he said, "to see Mr. Hargrave."
Then he presented his tray with a card. The jewel dealer took
the card with some surprise. Everybody knew that he was at the
Empire Club. It is a colony thing with chambers for foreign
guests. A list of arrivals is always printed. He saw at a
glance that it was not a man's card; the size was too large.
Then he turned it over before the light of the fire. The name
was engraved in script, an American fashion at this time.
The woman's card had surprised him; but the name on it brought
him up in his chair - "Mrs. A. B. Farmingham." It was not a name
that he knew precisely; but he knew its genera, the family or
group to which it belonged. Mr. Jefferson removed titles of
nobility in the American republic, but his efforts did not
eliminate caste zones. It only made the lines of cleavage more
pronounced. One knew these zones by the name formation.
Everybody knew "Alfa Baba" Farmingham, as the Sunday Press was
accustomed to translate his enigmatical initials. Some wonderful
Western bonanza was behind the man. Mrs. "Alfa Baba" Farmingham
would be, then, one of the persons that Hargrave's house was
concerned to reach. He looked again at the card. In the corner
the engraved address, "Point View, Newport," was marked out with
a pencil and "The Ritz" written over it.
He got his coat and hat and followed the steward out of the club.
There was a carriage at the curb. A footman was holding the door
open, and a woman, leaning over in the seat, was looking out.
She was precisely what Hargrave expected to see, one of those
dominant, impatient, aggressive women who force their way to the
head of social affairs in America. She shot a volley of
questions at him the moment he was before the door.
"Are you Douglas Hargrave, the purchasing agent for Bartholdi &
The man said that he was, and at her service, and so forth. But
she did not stop to listen to any reply.
"You look mighty young, but perhaps you know your business. At
any rate, it's the best I can do. Get in."
Hargrave got in, the footman closed the door, and the carriage
turned into Piccadilly Circus. The woman did not pay very much
attention to him. She made a laconic explanation, the sort of
explanation one would make to a shopkeeper.
"I want your opinion on some jewels," she said. "I have a lot to
do - no time to fool away. When I found that I could see the
jewels to-night I concluded to pick you up on my way down. I
didn't find out about it in time to let you know."
Hargrave told her that he would be very glad to give her the
benefit of his experience.
"Glad, nonsense!" she said. "I'll pay your fee. Do you know a
jewel when you see it?"
"I think I do, madam," he replied.
She moved with energy.
"It won't do to think," she said. "I have got to know. I don't
He tried to carry himself up to her level with a laugh.
"I assure you, madam," he said, "our house is not accustomed to
buy junk. It's a perfectly simple matter to tell a spurious
And he began to explain the simple, decisive tests. But she did
not listen to him.
"I don't care how a vet knows that a hunter's sound. All that I
want to be certain about is that he does know it. I don't want
to buy hunters on my own hook. Neither do I want to buy jewels
on what I know about them. If you know, that's all I care about
it. And you must know or old Bartholdi wouldn't trust you.
That's what I'm going on."
She was a big aggressive woman, full of energy. Hargrave could
not see her very well, but that much was abundantly clear. The
carriage turned out of Piccadilly Circus, crossed Trafalgar
Square and stopped before Blackwell's Hotel. Blackwell's has had
a distinct clientele since the war; a sort of headquarters for
Southeastern European visitors to London.
When the carriage stopped Mrs. Farmingham opened the door
herself, before the footman could get down, and got out. It was
the restless American impatience always cropping out in this
"Come along, young man," she said, "and tell me whether this
stuff is O. K. or junk."
They got in a lift and went up to the top floor of the hotel.
Mrs. Farmingham got out and Hargrave followed her along the hall
to a door at the end of a corridor. He could see her now clearly
in the light. She had gray eyes, a big determined mouth, and a
mass of hair dyed as only a Parisian expert, in the Rue de la
Paix, can do it. She went directly to a door at the end of the
corridor, rapped on it with her gloved hand, and turned the latch
before anybody could possibly have responded
Hargrave followed her into the room. It was a tiny sitting room,
one of the inexpensive rooms in the hotel. There was a bit of
fire in the grate, and standing by the mantelpiece was, a big old
man with close-cropped hair and a pale, unhealthy face. It was
the type of face that one associates with tribal races in
Southeastern Europe. He was dressed in a uniform that fitted
closely to his figure. It was a uniform of some elevated rank,
from the apparent richness of it. There were one or two
decorations on the coat, a star and a heavy bronze medal. The
man looked to be of some importance; but this importance did not
impress Mrs. Farmingham.
"Major," she said in her direct fashion, "I have brought an
expert to look at the jewels."
She indicated Hargrave, and the foreign officer bowed
courteously. Then he took two candles from the mantelpiece and
placed them on a little table that stood in the center of the
He put three chairs round this table, sat down in one of them,
unbuttoned the bosom of his coat and took out a big oblong jewel
case. The case was in an Oriental design and of great age. The
embroidered silk cover was falling apart. He opened the case
carefully, delicately, like one handling fragile treasure.
Inside, lying each in a little pocket that exactly fitted the
outlines of the stone, were three rows of sapphires. He emptied
the jewels out on the table.
"Sir," he said, speaking with a queer, hesitating accent, "it
saddens one unspeakably to part with the ancient treasure of
Mrs. Farmingham said nothing whatever. Hargrave stooped over the
jewels and spread them out on top of, the table. There were
twenty-nine sapphires of the very finest quality. He had never
seen better sapphires anywhere. He remembered seeing stones that
were matched up better; but he had never seen individual stones
that were any finer in anybody's collection. The foreigner was
composed and silent while the American examined the jewels. But
Mrs. Farmingham moved restlessly in her chair.
"Well," she said, "are they O. K.?"
"Yes, madam," said Hargrave; "they are first-class stones."
"Sure?" she asked.
"Quite sure, madam," replied the American. "There can be no
question about it."
"Are they worth eighteen thousand dollars?"
She put the question in such a way that Hargrave understood her
"Well," he said, "that depends upon a good many conditions. But
I'm willing to say, quite frankly, that if you don't want the
jewels I'm ready to take them for our house at eighteen thousand
The big, dominant, aggressive woman made the gesture of one who
cracks a dog whip.
"That's all right," she said. Then she turned to the foreigner.
"Now, major, when do you want this money?"
The big old officer shrugged his shoulders and put out his hands.
"To-morrow, madam; to-morrow as I have said to you; before midday
I must return. I can by no means remain an hour longer; my leave
of absence expires. I must be in Bucharest at sunrise on the
morning of the twelfth of October. I can possibly arrive if I
leave London to-morrow at midday, but not later."
Mrs. Farmingham began to wag her head in a determined fashion.
"Nonsense," she said, "I can't get the money by noon. I have
telegraphed to the Credit Lyonnais in Paris. I can get it by the
day after to-morrow, or perhaps to-morrow evening."
The foreigner looked down on the floor.
"It is impossible," he said.
The woman interrupted him.
"Now major, that's all nonsense! A day longer can't make any
He drew himself up and looked calmly at her.
"Madam," he said, "it would make all the difference in the world.
If I should remain one day over my time I might just as well
remain all the other days that are to follow it."
There was finality and conviction in the man's voice. Mrs.
Farmingham got up and began to walk about the room. She seemed
to speak to Hargrave, although he imagined that she was speaking
"Now this is a pretty how-de-do," she said "Lady Holbert told me
about this find to-night at dinner. She said Major Mikos wanted
the money at once; but I didn't suppose he wanted it cash on the
hour like that. She brought me right away after dinner to see
him. And then I went for you." She stopped, and again made the
gesture as of one who, cracks a dog whip. "Now what shall I do?"
The last remark was evidently not addressed to Hargrave. It was
not addressed to anybody. It was merely the reflection of a
dominant nature taking counsel With itself. She took another
turn about the room. Then she pulled up short.
"See here," she said, "suppose you take these jewels and give the
major his money in the morning. Then I'll buy them of you."
"Very well, madam," said Hargrave; "but in that event we shall
charge you a ten per cent commission."
She stormed at that.
"Eighteen hundred dollars?" she said. "That's absurd,
ridiculous! I'm willing to pay you five hundred dollars."
The American did not undertake to argue the matter with her.
"We don't handle any sale for a less commission," he said.
Then he explained that he could not act as any sort of agent in
the matter; that the only thing he could do would be to buy the
jewels outright and resell them to her. His house would not make
any sale for a less profit than ten per cent. Hargrave did not
propose to be involved in any but a straight-out transaction. He
was quite willing to buy the sapphires for eighteen thousand
dollars. There was five thousand dollars' profit in them on any
market. He was perfectly safe either way about. If Mrs.
Farmingham made the repurchase there was a profit of ten per
cent. If not, there was five thousand dollars' profit in the
bargain under any conditions.
They were Siamese stones, and the cutting was of an old design.
They were not from any stock in Europe. Hargrave knew what
Europe held of sapphires. These were from some Oriental stock.
And everybody bought an Oriental stone wherever he could get it.
How the seller got it did not matter. Nobody undertook to verify
the title of a Siamese trader or a Burma agent.
Mrs. Farmingham walked about for several minutes, saying over to
herself as she had said before:
"Now what shall I do?"
Then like the big, dominant, decisive nature that she was she
came to a conclusion.
"All right," she said, "bring in the money in the morning and get
the sapphires. I'll take them up in a day or two. Good-by,
major; come along, Mr: Hargrave." And she went out of the room.
The American stopped at the door to bow to the old Rumanian
officer who was standing up beside the table before the heap of
sapphires. They got into the carriage at the curb before
Blackwell's Hotel. Mrs. Farmingham put Hargrave down at the
Empire Club, and the carriage passed on, across Piccadilly Circus
toward the Ritz.
The following morning Hargrave got the sapphires from Major
Mikos, and paid him eighteen thousand dollars in English
sovereigns for them. He wanted gold to carry back with him for
the jewels that he had brought out of the kingdom of Rumania. He
seemed a simple, anxious person. He wished to carry his
treasures with him like a peasant. The sapphires looked better
in the daylight. There ought to have been seven thousand
dollars' profit in them, perhaps more; seven thousand dollars, at
any rate, that very day in the London market. Hargrave took them
to the Empire Club and put them in a sealed envelope in the
The thin drift of yellow remained in the city; that sulphurous
haze that the blanket of sea fog, moving over London, presses
down into her streets. It was not heavy yet; it was only a mist
of saffron; but it threatened to gather volume as the day
At luncheon Hargrave got a note from Mrs. Farmingham, a line
scrawled on her card to say that she would call for him at three
o'clock. Her carriage was before the door on the stroke of the
hour, and she explained that the money to redeem the jewels had
arrived. The Credit Lyonnais had sent it over from Paris. She
seemed a bit puzzled about it. She had telegraphed the Credit
Lyonnais yesterday to send her eighteen thousand dollars. And
she had expected that the French banking house would have
arranged for the payment of the money through its English
correspondent. But its telegram directed her to go to the United
Atlantic Express Company and receive the money.
A few minutes cleared the puzzle. The office of the company is
on the Strand above the Savoy. Mrs. Farmingham went to the
manager and showed him a lot of papers she had in an
official-looking envelope. After a good bit of official pother
the porters carried out a big portmanteau, a sort of heavy
leather traveling case, and put it into the carriage. Mrs.
Farmingham came to Hargrave where he stood by the door.
"Now, what do you think!" she said. "Of all the stupid idiots,
give me a French idiot to be the stupidest; they have actually
sent me eighteen thousand dollars in gold!"
"Well," said Hargrave, "perhaps you asked them to send you
eighteen thousand dollars in gold."
She closed her mouth firmly for a moment and looked him vacantly
in the face.
"What did I do?" she said, in the old manner of addressing an
inquiry to herself. "The major wanted gold and perhaps I said
gold. Why, yes, I must have said I wanted eighteen thousand
dollars in gold. Well, at any rate, here's the money to pay you
for the sapphires. I'll telegraph the Credit Lyonnais to send me
your eighteen hundred, and you can come around to the Ritz for it
in the morning."
She wished Hargrave to see that the telegram was properly worded,
so the stupid French would not undertake to ship another bag of
coin to her. He wrote it out, so there could be no mistake, and
sent it from Charing Cross on the way back to the club.
Hargrave had to get two porters to carry the leather portmanteau
into his room at the Empire Club. Mrs. Farmingham did not wait
to receive the sapphires. She said he could bring them over to
the Ritz after he had counted the money. She wanted a cup of
tea; he could come along in an hour.
It took Hargrave the whole of the hour to verify the money. The
case had been shipped, the straps were knotted tight and the lock
was sealed. He had to get a man from the outside to break the
lock open. The man said it was an American lock and he hadn't
any implement to turn it.
There were eighteen thousand dollars in American twenty-dollar
gold pieces packed in sawdust in the bag. The Credit Lyonnais
had followed Mrs. Farmingham's directions to the letter. Such is
the custom of the stupid French! She had asked for eighteen
thousand dollars in gold, and they had sent her eighteen thousand
dollars in gold. Hargrave put one of the pieces into his
waistcoat pocket. He wanted to show Mrs. Farmingham how
strangely the stupid French had made the blunder of doing
precisely what she asked. Then he strapped up the portmanteau,
pushed it under the bed, went out and locked the door. He asked
the chief steward to put a man in the corridor to see that no one
went into his room while he was out. Then he got the sapphires
out of the safe and went over to the Ritz.
He met Mrs. Farmingham in the corridor coming out to her
"Ah, Mr. Hargrave," she said, "here you are. I just told the
clerk to call you up and tell you to bring the sapphires over in
the morning when you came for the draft. I promised Lady Holbert
last night to come out to tea at five. Forgot it until a moment
She took Hargrave along out to the carriage and he gave her the
envelope. She tore off the corner, emptied the sapphires into
her hand, glanced at them, and dropped them loose into the pocket
of her coat.
"Was the money all right?" she said.
"Precisely all right," replied the American. "The Credit
Lyonnais, with amazing stupidity, sent you precisely what you
asked for in your telegram." And he showed her the twenty-dollar
"Well, well, the stupid darlings!" Then she laughed in her big,
energetic manner. "I'm not always a fool. Come in the morning
at nine. Good-night, Mr. Hargrave."
And the carriage rolled across Piccadilly into Bond Street in the
direction of Grosvenor Square and Lady Holbert's.
The fog was settling down over London. Moving objects were
beginning to take on the loom of gigantic figures. It was
getting difficult to see.
It must have taken Hargrave half an hour to reach the club. The
first man he saw when he went in was Sir Henry, his hands in the
pockets of his tweed coat and his figure blocking the passage.
"Hello, Hargrave!" he cried. "What have you got in your room
that old Ponsford won't let me go up?"
"Not nine hundred horses!" replied the American.
The Baronet laughed. Then he spoke in a lower voice:
"It's extraordinary lucky that I ran over to the Sorbonne. Come
along up to your room and I'll tell you. This place is filling
up with a lot of thirsty swine. We can't talk in any public room
They went up the great stairway, lined with paintings of famous
colonials celebrated in the English wars, and into the room.
Hargrave turned on the light and poked up the fire. Sir Henry
sat down by the table. He took out his three newspapers and laid
them down before him.
"My word, Hargrave," he said, "old Arnold is a clever beggar! He
cleared the thing up clean as rain." The Baronet spread the
newspapers out before him.
"We knew here at the Criminal Investigation Department that this
thing was a cipher of some sort, because we knew about these
horses. We had caught up with this business of importing horses.
We knew the shipment was on the way as I explained to you. But
we didn't know the port that it would come into."
"Well," said the American, "did you find out?"
"My word," he cried, "old Arnold laughed in my face. 'Ach,
monsieur,' he cried, mixing up several languages, `it is Heidel's
cipher! It is explained in the seventeenth Criminal Archive at
Gratz. Attend and I will explain it, monsieur. It is always
written in two paragraphs. The first paragraph contains the
secret message, and the second paragraph contains the key to it.
Voila! This message is in two paragraphs:
"'"P.L.A. shipped nine hundred horses on freight steamer Don
Carlos from N. Y.
"'"Have the bill of lading handed over to our agent to check up"
"'The hidden message is made up of certain words and capital
letters contained in the first paragraph, while the presence of
the letter t in the second paragraph indicates the words or
capital letters that count in the first. One has only to note the
numerical position of the letter t in the second paragraph in
order to know what capital letter or word counts in the first
The Baronet took out a pencil and underscored the words in the
second paragraph of the printed cipher: "Have the bill of lading
handed over to our agent to check up."
"You will observe that the second, the eighth and the eleventh
words in this paragraph begin with the letter t. Therefore, the
second, the eighth and the eleventh capital letters or words in
the first paragraph make up the hidden message."
And again with his pencil he underscored the letters of the first
paragraph of the cipher: "P.L.A. shipped nine hundred horses on
freight steamer Don 'Carlos from N. Y."
"So we get `L, on, Don."
"London!" cried Hargrave. "The nine-hundred horses are to come
And in his excitement he took the gold piece out of his pocket
and pitched it up. He had been stooping over the table. The fog
was creeping into the room. And in the uncertain light about the
ceiling he missed the gold piece and it fell on the table before
Sir Henry. The gold piece did not ring, it fell dull and heavy,
and the big Baronet looked at it openmouthed as though it had
suddenly materialized out of the yellow fog entering the room.
"My word!" he cried. "One of the nine hundred horses!"
Hargrave stopped motionless like a man stricken by some sorcery.
"One of the nine hundred horses!" he echoed.
The Baronet was digging at the gold piece with the blade of his
"Precisely! In the criminal argot a counterfeit American
twenty-dollar gold piece is called a `horse.'
"Look," he said, and he dug into the coin with his knife, "it's
white inside, made of Babbit metal, milled with a file and
gold-plated. Where did you get it?"
The American stammered.
"Where could I have gotten it?" he murmured.
"Well," the Baronet said, "you might have got it from a big, old,
pasty-faced Alsatian; that would be 'Dago' Mulehaus. Or you
might have got it 'from an energetic, middle-aged, American woman
posing as a social leader in the States; that would be `Hustling'
Anne; both bad crooks, at the head of an international gang of
XII. The Spread Rails
It was after dinner, in the great house of Sir Henry Marquis in
St. James's Square.
The talk had run on the value of women in criminal investigation;
their skill as detective agents . . . the suitability of the
feminine intelligence to the hard, accurate labor of concrete
It was the American Ambassadress, Lisa Lewis, who told the story.
It was a fairy night, and the thing was a fairy story.
The sun had merely gone behind a colored window. The whole vault
of the heaven was white with stars. The road was like a ribbon
winding through the hills. In little whispers, in the dark
places, Marion told me it. We sat together in the tonneau of the
motor. It was past midnight, of a heavenly September. We were
coming in from a stately dinner at the Fanshaws'.
A fairy story is a nice, comfortable human affair. It's about a
hero, and a thing no man could do, and a princess and a dragon.
It tells how the hero found the task that was too big for other
men, how he accomplished it, circumvented the dragon and won the
The Arabian formula fitted snugly to the facts.
The great Dominion railroad, extending from Montreal into New
York, was having a run of terrible luck; one frightful wreck
followed another. Nobody could get the thing straightened out.
Old Crewe, the railroad commissioner of New York, was relentless
in pressing hard conditions on the road. Then out of the West,
had come young Clinton Howard, big, tawny, virile, like the race
of heroes. He had cleaned out the tangles, set the thing going,
restored order and method; and the confidence of Canada was
flowing back. Then Howard had made love to Marion in his
persistent dominating fashion . . . . and here, with her
whispered confession, was the fairy story ended.
Marion pointed her finger out north, where, far across the
valley, a great country-house sat on the summit of a wooded hill.
"Clinton has discovered the Commissioner's secret, Sarah," she
said. "The safety of the public isn't the only thing moving old
Crewe to hammer the railroad. He pretends it is. But in fact he
wishes to get control of the road in a bankrupt court."
"Crewe is a Nietzsche creature. Victory is the only thing with
him. Nothing else counts. The way the road was going he would
have got it in the bankrupt court by now. He's howling `safety
first' all over the country. `Negligence' is the big word in
every report he issues. It won't do for Clinton to have an
accident now that any degree of human foresight could have
"Well," I said, "the dragon will give the hero no further
trouble. Dr. Martin told mother to-day that Mr. Crewe's mind had
broken down, and they had brought him out from New York. He got
up in a directors' meeting and tried to kill the president of the
Pacific Trust Company, with a chair. He went suddenly mad, Dr.
Marion put out her hands in an unconscious gesture.
"I am not surprised," she said. "That sort of temperament in the
strain of a great struggle is apt to break down and attempt to
gain its end by some act of direct violence."
Then she added:
"My grandfather says in his work on evidence that the human mind
if dominated by a single idea will finally break out in some
bizarre act. And he cites the case of the minister who, having
maneuvered in vain to compass the death of the king by some sort
of accident, finally undertook to kill him with an andiron."
She reflected a moment.
"I am afraid," she continued, "that the harm is already done.
Crewe has set the whole country on the watch. Clinton says there
simply must not be a slip anywhere now. The road must be safe;
he must make it safe." She repeated her expression.
"An accident now that any sort of human foresight could prevent
would ruin him."
"Oh, dear, it's an awful strain on us . . . on him," she
corrected. "He simply can't be everywhere to see that everything
is right and everybody careful. And besides, there's the
finances of the road to keep in shape. He had to go to Montreal
to-day to see about that."
She leaned over toward me in her eager interest.
"I don't see how he can sleep with the thing on him. The big
trains must go through on time, and every workman and every piece
of machinery mutt be right as a clock. I get in a panic. I
asked him to-day if he thought he could run a railroad like that,
like a machine, everything in place on the second, and he said,
"`Sure, Mike,"' I said, "is the spirit in which the world is
And then the strange attraction of these two persons for one
another arose before me; this big, crude, virile, direct son of
the hustling West, and this delicate, refined, intellectual
daughter of New England. The ancestors of the man had been the
fighting and the building pioneer. And those of the girl,
reflective people, ministers of the gospel and counselors at law.
Marion's grandfather had been a writer on the law. Warfield on
Evidence, had been the leading authority in this country. And
this ambitious girl had taken a special course in college to fit
her to revise her grandfather's great work. There was no
grandson to undertake this labor, and she had gone about the task
herself. She would not trust the great book to outside hands. A
Warfield had written it, and a Warfield should keep the edition
up. Her revision was now in the hands of a publisher in Boston,
and it was sound and comprehensive, the critics said; the ablest
textbook on circumstantial evidence in America. I looked in a
sort of wonder at this girl, carried off her feet by a tawny
Marion was absorbed in the thing; and I understood her anxiety.
But the most pressing danger, she did not seem to realize.
It lay, I thought, in the revenge of a discharged workman.
Clinton Howard had to drop any number of incompetent persons, and
they wrote him all sorts of threatening letters, I had been told.
With all the awful things that happen over the country some of
these angry people might do anything. There are always some
She went on.
"But Clinton says the public is as just as Daniel. If he has an
accident in the ordinary course of affairs the public will hold
him for it. But if anything should happen that he could not
help, the public will not hold him responsible."
I realized the force of that. What reasonable human care could
prevent he must answer for, but the outrage of a criminal would
not be taken in the public mind against him. On the contrary,
the sympathy of the public would flow in. When the people feel
that a man is making every effort for their welfare, the criminal
act of an outsider brings them over wholly to his support.
Profound interest carried Marion off her feet.
"I was in a panic the other day, and Clinton said, `Don't let
rotten luck get your goat. I'm done if an engineer runs by a
block, but nothing else can put it over on me'!"
She laughed with me at the direct, virile, idiom of young America
An event interrupted the discourse. The motor took a sharp curve
and a young man running across the road suddenly flung himself
face, down in the grass beyond the curb.
"Is he hurt?" said Marion to the chauffeur.
"No, Miss, he's hiding, Miss," said the man, and we swept out of
I thought it more likely that the creature was in liquor. In
spite of the great country-houses, it was not good hunting-ground
for the criminal class, during the season when everybody was
about. The very number of servants, when a place is open, in a
rather effective way, police it. Besides the young man looked
like a sort of workman. One gets such impressions at a glance.
The motor descended the long hill toward the river and the flat
valley. It hummed into the curves and hollows, through the
pockets of chill air, and out again into the soft September
Then finally it swept out into the flat valley, and stopped with
a grind of the emergency brake that caused the wheels to skid,
ripping up the dust and gravel. For a moment in the jar and
confusion we did not realize what had happened, then we saw a
great locomotive lying on its side, and a line of Pullmans, sunk
to the axles in the soft earth.
The whole "Montreal Express" was derailed, here in the flat land
at the grade crossing. The thing had been done some time. The
fire had been drawn from the engine; there was only a sputtering
of steam. The passengers had been removed. A wrecking-car had
come up from down the line. A telegrapher was setting up a
little instrument on a box by the roadside. A lineman was
climbing a pole to connect his wire. A track boss with a torch
and a crew of men were coming up from an examination of the line
littered with its wreck.
I hardly know what happened in the next few minutes. We were out
of the motor and among the men almost before the car stopped.
No one had been hurt. The passenger-coaches were not turned
over, and the engineer and fireman had jumped as the cab toppled.
By the greatest good fortune the train had gone off the track in
this low flat land almost level with the grade. Several things
joined to avoid a terrible disaster; the flat ground that enabled
the whole train to plow along upright until it stopped, the track
lying flush with the highway where the engine went off, and the
fact that trains must slow up for this grade crossing. Had there
been an embankment, or a big ditch, or the train under its usual
headway the wreck would have been a horror, for every wheel, from
the engine to the last coach, had left the rails.
We were an excited group around the train's crew, when the
trackman came up with his torch. Everybody asked the same
question as the man approached.
"What caused the accident?"
"Spread rails," he said. "These big brutes," he pointed to the
mammoth engine sprawling like a child's top on its side, the
gigantic wheels in the air, "and these new steel coaches, are
awful heavy. "There's an upgrade here. When they struck it,
they just spread out the rails."
And he pushed his closed hands out before him, slowly apart, in
The man knew Marion, for he spoke directly to her in reply to our
concerted query. Then he added "If you step down the track, Miss
Warfield, I'll show you exactly how it happened."
We followed the big workman with his torch. Marion walked beside
him, and I a few steps behind. The girl had been plunged, on the
instant, headlong into the horror she feared, into the ruin that
she had lain awake over - and yet she met it with no sign, except
that grim stiffening of the figure that disaster brings, to
persons of courage. She gave no attention to her exquisite gown.
It was torn to pieces that night; my own was a ruin. The
crushing effect of this disaster swept out every trivial thing.
In a moment we saw how the accident happened, the workman
lighting the sweep of track with his torch. Here were the plow
marks on the wooden cross ties, where the wheels had run after
they left the rails. One saw instantly that the thing happened
precisely as the workman explained it. When the heavy engine
struck the up-grade, the rails had spread, the wheels had gone
down on the cross-ties, and the whole train was derailed.
I saw it with a sickening realization of the fact.
Marion took the workman's torch and went over the short piece of
track on which the thing had happened. All the evidences of the
accident were within a short distance. The track was not torn up
When the thing began. There was only the displaced rail pushed
away, and the plow marks of the wheels on the ties. The spread
rails had merely switched the train off the track onto the level
of the highway roadbed into the flat field.
Marion and the workman had gone a little way down the track. I
was quite alone at the point of accident, when suddenly some one
caught my hand.
I was so startled that I very nearly screamed. The thing
happened so swiftly, with no word.
There behind me was a woman, an old foreign woman, a peasant from
some land of southern Europe. She had my hand huddled up to her
And she began to speak, bending her aged body, and with every
expression of respect.
"Ah, Contessa, he is not do it, my Umberto. He is run away in
fear to hide in the Barrington quarry. It is accident. It is
the doing of the good God. Ah, Contessa," and her old lips
dabbed against my hand. "I beg him to not go, but he is
discharge; an' he make the threat like the great fool. Ah,
Contessa, Contessa," and she went over the words with absurd
repetition, "believe it is by chance, believe it is the doing of
the good God, I pray you." And so she ran on in her quaint
Instantly I remembered the man lying by the roadside, and the
threats of discharged workmen.
I told her the thing was a clean accident, and tried to show her
how it came about. She was effusive in gratitude for my belief.
But she seemed concerned about Marion and the others. She did
not go away; she went over and sat down beside the track.
Presently the others returned. They were so engrossed that they
did not notice my adventure or the aged woman seated on the
Marion was putting questions to the workman.
"There was no obstruction on the track?"
"The engineer was watching?"
"Yes, Miss Warfield, he had to slow up and be careful about the
crossing. There is no curve on this grade, he could see every
foot of the way. The track was clear and in place, and he was
watching it. There was nothing on it. - The rails simply spread
under the weight of the engine."
And he began to comment on the excessive size and weight of the
huge modern passenger engine.
"The brute drove the rails apart," he said, "that's all there is
"Was the track in repair?" said Marion.
"It was patrolled to-day, Miss, and it was all in shape."
Then he repeated:
"The big engine just pushed the rails out."
"But the road is built for this type of engine," said Marion.
"Yes, Miss Warfield," replied the man, "it's supposed to be, but
every roadbed gets a spread rail sometimes."
Then he added:
"It has to be mighty solid to hold these hundred ton engines on
the rails at sixty miles an hour."
"It does hold them," said Marion.
"Yes, Miss Warfield, usually," said the man.
"Then why should it fail here?"
The man's big grimy face wrinkled into a sort of smile.
"Now, Miss Warfield," he said, "if we knew why an accident was
likely to happen at one place more than another we wouldn't have
"Precisely," replied Marion, "but isn't it peculiar that the
track should spread at the synclinal of this grade with the train
running at a reduced speed, when it holds on the synclinal of
other grades with the train running at full speed?"
The man's big face continued to smile.
"All accidents are peculiar, Miss Warfield; that's what makes
"But," said Marion, "is not the aspect of these peculiarities
indicatory of either a natural event or one designed by a human
The man fingered his torch.
"Mighty strange things happen, Miss Warfield. I've seen a train
go over into a canal and one coach lodge against a tree that was
standing exactly in the right place to save it. And I've seen a
passenger engine run by a signal and through a block and knock a
single car out of a passing freight-train, at a crossing, and
that car be the very one that the freight train's brakeman had
just reached on his way to the caboose; just like somebody had
timed it all, to the second, to kill him. And I've seen a whole
wreck piled up, as high as a house, on top of a man, and the man
"I do not mean the coincidence of accident," said Marion, "that
is a mystery beyond us; what I mean is that there must be an
organic difference in the indicatory signs of a thing as it
happens in the course of nature, and as it happens by human
The trackman was a person accustomed to the reality and not the
theory of things.
"I don't see how the accident would have been any different," he
said, "if somebody had put that tree in the right spot to catch
the coach; or timed the minute with a stop-watch to kill that
brakeman; or piled that wreck on the man so it wouldn't hurt him.
The result would have been just the same."
"The result would have been the same," replied Marion, "but the
arrangement of events would have been different."
"Just what way different, Miss Warfield?" said the man.
"We cannot formulate an iron rule about that," replied Marion,
"but as a general thing catastrophes in nature seem to lack a
motive, and their contributing events are not forced."
The big trackman was a person of sound practical sense. He knew
what Marion was after, but he was confused by the unfamiliar
terms in which the idea was stated.
"It's mighty hard to figure out," he said. "Of course, when you
find an obstruction on the track or a crowbar under a rail, or
some plain thing, you know."
Then he added:
"You've got to figure out a wreck from what seems likely."
"There you have it exactly," said Marion. "You must begin your
investigation from what your common experience indicates is
likely to happen. Now, your experience indicates that the rails
of a track sometimes spread under these heavy engines."
"Yes, Miss Warfield."
"And your experience indicates that this is more likely to happen
at the first rise of the synclinal on a grade than anywhere on a
"Yes, Miss Warfield."
"Good!" said Marion, "so far. But does not your experience also
indicate that such an accident usually happens when the train is
running at a high rate of speed?"
"Yes, Miss Warfield," said the man. "It's far more likely to
happen then, because the engine strikes the rails at the first
rise of the grade with more force. Naturally a thing hits harder
when it's going . . . But it might happen with a slow train."
Marion made a gesture as of one rejecting the man's final
"When you turn that way," she said, "you at once leave the lines
of greatest probability. Why should you follow the preponderance
of common experience on two features here, and turn aside from it
on the third feature?"
"Because the thing happened," replied the man, with the
directness of those practical persons who drive through to the
"That is to say an unlikely thing happened!" Marion made a
decisive gesture with her clenched fingers. "Thus, the inquiry,
beginning with two consistent elements, now comes up against one
that is inconsistent."
"But not impossible," said the man.
"Possible," said Marion, "but not likely. Not to be expected,
not in line with the preponderance of common experience;
therefore, not to be passed. We have got to stop here and try to
find out why this track spread under a slow train."
"But we see it spread, Miss Warfield," said the trackman with a
"True," replied Marion, "we see that it did spread, under this
condition, but why?"
The old woman sitting beside the track seemed to realize what was
under way; for she rose and came over to where I stood.
"Contessa," she whispered, in those quaint, old world words, "do
not reveal, what I have tol'. I pray you!"
And she followed me across the few steps to where the others
I did not answer. I stood like one in some Hellenic drama,
between two tragic figures. The love of woman lay in the
solution of this problem - in the beginning and at the end of
Marion and the big track boss continued with this woman looking
I feared to speak or move; the thing was like a sort of trap, set
with ghastly cunning, by some evil Fate. The ruin of a woman it
would have. And perhaps on the vast level plain where it evilly
dwelt, through its hard all-seeing eyes, the ruin and the sorrow
either way would be precisely equal. How could I, then, lay a
finger on the scale.
"Now," said Marion, "when the engine reached this point on the
track, one of the rails gave way first."
The big workman looked steadily at her.
"How do you know that, Miss Warfield?" he said.
"Because," replied Marion, "the marks of the wheels of the
locomotive on the ties are found, in the beginning, only on one
side of the track, showing that the rail on that side gave way,
when the engine struck it, and the other rail for some distance
bore the weight of the train."
She illustrated with her hands.
"When the one rail was pushed out, the wheels on that side went
down and continued on the ties, while the wheels on the other
side went ahead on the firm rail."
The workman saw it.
"That's true, Miss Warfield," he said, "one rail sometimes
spreads and the other holds solid."
Marion was absorbed in the problem.
"But why should the one rail give way like this and its companion
"One of the rails might not be as solid as the other," said the
"But it should have been nearly as solid," replied "Marion.
"This piece of track, you tell me, was examined to-day; the ties
are equally sound on both sides, the rail is the same weight. We
have the right to conclude then that each of these rails was
about in the same condition. I do not say precisely, in the same
condition. Now, it is true that under these conditions one of
the rails might have been pushed out of alignment before the
other. We can grant a certain factor of difference, a certain
reasonable factor of difference. But not a great factor of
difference. We have a right to conclude that one rail would give
way before the other. But not that one would very readily give
way before the other. For some reason this particular rail did
give way, much more readily than it ought to have done."
The trackman was listening with the greatest interest.
"Just how do you know that, Miss Warfield?" he said.
"Why," replied Marion, "don't you see, from the mark on the ties,
that the engine wheels left the rail almost at the moment they
struck it. The marks of the wheels commence on the second tie
ahead of the beginning of the rail. Therefore, this rail, for
some reason, was more easily pushed out of alignment than it
should have been. What was the reason?"
The track boss reflected.
"You see, Miss Warfield, this place is the beginning of an
up-grade, the engine was coming down a long grade toward it, so
when this train struck the first rails of the up-grade it struck
it just like you'd drive in a wedge, and the hundred-ton brute of
an engine jammed this rail out of alignment. That's all there is
to it. When the rail sprung the wheels went down on the ties on
that side and the train was ditched."
"It was a clean accident, then, you think?" said Marion.
"Sure, Miss Warfield," replied the man. "If anybody had tried to
move that rail out of alignment, he would have to disconnect it
at the other end, that is, take off the plate that joins it to
the next rail. That would leave the end of the rail clean, with
no broken plate. But the end of the rail is bent and the plate
is twisted off. We looked at that the first thing. Nobody could
twist that plate off. The engine did it when it left the track.
"You see, Miss Warfield, the weight of the engine, like a wedge,
simply forced one of these rails out of alignment. Don't you
understand how a hundred ton wedge driven against the track, at
the start of an upgrade, could do it?"
The old peasant woman stood behind the track boss. The thing was
a sort of awful game. She did not speak, but the vicissitudes of
the inquiry advanced her, or retired her, with the effect of
points, won or lost.
"I understand perfectly," replied Marion, "how the impact of the
heavy engine might drive both rails out of alignment, if they
offered an equal resistance, or one of them out if it offered a
less resistance. This is straight track. The wedge would go in
even. It should have spread the rails equally. That's the
probable thing. But instead it did the improbable thing; it
spread one. I hold the improbable thing always in question.
Human knowledge is built up on that postulate.
"True, a certain factor of difference in conditions must be
allowed, as I have said, but an excessive factor cannot be
allowed. We have got to find it, or discard human reason as an
implement for getting at the truth."
Again the big track boss smashed through the niceties of logic.
"These things happen all the time, Miss War. field. You can't
figure it out."
"One ought to be able to determine it,"' replied the girl.
The track boss shook his head.
"We can't tell what made that rail give."
"Of course, we can tell," said Marion. "It gave because it was
"But what weakened it?" replied the man. "You can't tell that?
The rail's sound."
"There could be only two causes," said Marion. "It was either
weakened by a natural agency or a human agency."
The track boss made an annoyed gesture, like a practical person
vexed with the refinements of a theorist.
"But how are you going to tell?"
"Now," said Marion, "there is always a point as you follow a
thing down, where the human design in it must appear, if there is
a human design in it. The human mind can falsify events within a
limited area. But if one keeps moving out, as from a center, he
will find somewhere this point at which intelligence is no longer
able to imitate the aspect of the result of natural forces . . .
I think we have reached it."
She paused and drove her query at the track boss.
"The spikes on the outside of this rail held it in place, did
"Yes, Miss Warfield."
"Did the impact of the engine force these spikes out of the
"Yes, Miss Warfield, it forced them out."
"How do you know it forced them out?"
"Well, Miss Warfield," said the man, pointing to the rail and the
denuded cross-ties, don't you see they're out?"
"I see that they are out," replied Marion, "but I do not yet see
that they have been forced out."
She moved a step closer to the track boss and her voice hardened.
"If these spikes were forced out by the impact of the engine, we
ought to find torn spike holes inclining toward the end of the
crossties. . . . Look!"
The big practical workman suddenly realized what the girl meant.
He stooped over and began to flash his torch along the end of the
ties. We crowded against him. Every one of the spike holes, for
the entire length of the rail, was straight and clean. The man
seized one of the spikes and scrutinized it under his torch.
Then he stood up. For a moment he did not speak. He merely
looked at Marion. "It's the holy truth!" he said. "Somebody
pulled these spikes with a clawbar. That weakened the rail, and
she bowed out when the engine struck her."
Then he turned around, and shouted down the track to his crew.
"Hey, boys! Spread out along the right of way and see if you
can't find a claw-bar. The devils that do these tricks always
throw away their tools."
We stood together in a little tragic group. The old peasant
woman came over to where I stood, she walked with a dead, wooden
step. "Contessa," she whispered, her old lips against my hand.
"You will save him?"
And suddenly with a wild human resentment, I longed to cut a way
out of the trap of this Fatality; to force its ruthless decree
into a sort of equity, if I could do it.
"Yes," I said, "I will save him!"
It was an impulse with no plan behind it. But the dabbing of the
withered mouth on my fingers was like actual physical contact
with a human heart.
For a moment she looked at me as one among the damned might look
at Michael. Then she went slowly away, down through the wooded
copse of the meadow. And I turned about to meet Marion. I knew
that she was now after the identity of the wrecker, and I faced
her to foul her lines.
"This is not the work of one with murder in his heart," she said
"A criminal agent set on a ruthless destruction of property and
life would have drawn these spikes on a trestle or an embankment,
at a point where the train would be running at high speed."
She paused for a moment, then she went on speaking to me as
though she merely uttered her mental comment to herself.
"These spikes are drawn at a point where the train slows down for
a crossing and precisely where the engine would go off onto the
hard road-bed of the highway into a level meadow. That means
some one planned this wreck to result in the least destruction of
life and property possible. Now, what class of persons could be
after the effect of a wreck, exclusive of a loss of life?"
I saw where her relentless deductions would presently lead. This
was precisely the result that a discharged foreign workman would
seek in his reprisal. This man would have hot blood, the
southern Europe instinct for revenge, but with such a mother, no
mere lust to kill. I tried to divert her from the fugitive.
"Train robbers," I said. "I wonder what was in the express-car?"