Part 2 out of 3
THE TRAGEDY AT BROOKBEND COTTAGE
"Max," said Mr. Carlyle, when Parkinson had closed the door behind
him, "this is Lieutenant Hollyer, whom you consented to see."
"To hear," corrected Carrados, smiling straight into the healthy and
rather embarrassed face of the stranger before him. "Mr. Hollyer knows
of my disability?"
"Mr. Carlyle told me," said the young man, "but, as a matter of fact,
I had heard of you before, Mr. Carrados, from one of our men. It was
in connection with the foundering of the _Ivan Saratov_."
Carrados wagged his head in good-humoured resignation.
"And the owners were sworn to inviolable secrecy!" he exclaimed.
"Well, it is inevitable, I suppose. Not another scuttling case, Mr.
"No, mine is quite a private matter," replied the lieutenant. "My
sister, Mrs. Creake--but Mr. Carlyle would tell you better than I can.
He knows all about it."
"No, no; Carlyle is a professional. Let me have it in the rough, Mr.
Hollyer. My ears are my eyes, you know."
"Very well, sir. I can tell you what there is to tell, right enough,
but I feel that when all's said and done it must sound very little to
another, although it seems important to me."
"We have occasionally found trifles of significance ourselves," said
Carrados encouragingly. "Don't let that deter you."
This was the essence of Lieutenant Hollyer's narrative:
"I have a sister, Millicent, who is married to a man called Creake.
She is about twenty-eight now and he is at least fifteen years older.
Neither my mother (who has since died) nor I cared very much about
Creake. We had nothing particular against him, except, perhaps, the
moderate disparity of age, but none of us appeared to have anything in
common. He was a dark, taciturn man, and his moody silence froze up
conversation. As a result, of course, we didn't see much of each
"This, you must understand, was four or five years ago, Max,"
interposed Mr. Carlyle officiously.
Carrados maintained an uncompromising silence. Mr. Carlyle blew his
nose and contrived to impart a hurt significance into the operation.
Then Lieutenant Hollyer continued:
"Millicent married Creake after a very short engagement. It was a
frightfully subdued wedding--more like a funeral to me. The man
professed to have no relations and apparently he had scarcely any
friends or business acquaintances. He was an agent for something or
other and had an office off Holborn. I suppose he made a living out of
it then, although we knew practically nothing of his private affairs,
but I gather that it has been going down since, and I suspect that for
the past few years they have been getting along almost entirely on
Millicent's little income. You would like the particulars of that?"
"Please," assented Carrados.
"When our father died about seven years ago, he left three thousand
pounds. It was invested in Canadian stock and brought in a little over
a hundred a year. By his will my mother was to have the income of that
for life and on her death it was to pass to Millicent, subject to the
payment of a lump sum of five hundred pounds to me. But my father
privately suggested to me that if I should have no particular use for
the money at the time, he would propose my letting Millicent have the
income of it until I did want it, as she would not be particularly
well off. You see, Mr. Carrados, a great deal more had been spent on
my education and advancement than on her; I had my pay, and, of
course, I could look out for myself better than a girl could."
"Quite so," agreed Carrados.
"Therefore I did nothing about that," continued the lieutenant. "Three
years ago I was over again but I did not see much of them. They were
living in lodgings. That was the only time since the marriage that I
have seen them until last week. In the meanwhile our mother had died
and Millicent had been receiving her income. She wrote me several
letters at the time. Otherwise we did not correspond much, but about a
year ago she sent me their new address--Brookbend Cottage, Mulling
Common--a house that they had taken. When I got two months' leave I
invited myself there as a matter of course, fully expecting to stay
most of my time with them, but I made an excuse to get away after a
week. The place was dismal and unendurable, the whole life and
atmosphere indescribably depressing." He looked round with an instinct
of caution, leaned forward earnestly, and dropped his voice. "Mr.
Carrados, it is my absolute conviction that Creake is only waiting for
a favourable opportunity to murder Millicent."
"Go on," said Carrados quietly. "A week of the depressing surroundings
of Brookbend Cottage would not alone convince you of that, Mr.
"I am not so sure," declared Hollyer doubtfully. "There was a feeling
of suspicion and--before me--polite hatred that would have gone a good
way towards it. All the same there _was_ something more definite.
Millicent told me this the day after I went there. There is no doubt
that a few months ago Creake deliberately planned to poison her with
some weed-killer. She told me the circumstances in a rather distressed
moment, but afterwards she refused to speak of it again--even weakly
denied it--and, as a matter of fact, it was with the greatest of
difficulty that I could get her at any time to talk about her husband
or his affairs. The gist of it was that she had the strongest
suspicion that Creake doctored a bottle of stout which he expected she
would drink for her supper when she was alone. The weed-killer,
properly labelled, but also in a beer bottle, was kept with other
miscellaneous liquids in the same cupboard as the beer but on a high
shelf. When he found that it had miscarried he poured away the
mixture, washed out the bottle and put in the dregs from another.
There is no doubt in my mind that if he had come back and found
Millicent dead or dying he would have contrived it to appear that she
had made a mistake in the dark and drunk some of the poison before she
"Yes," assented Carrados. "The open way; the safe way."
"You must understand that they live in a very small style, Mr.
Carrados, and Millicent is almost entirely in the man's power. The
only servant they have is a woman who comes in for a few hours every
day. The house is lonely and secluded. Creake is sometimes away for
days and nights at a time, and Millicent, either through pride or
indifference, seems to have dropped off all her old friends and to
have made no others. He might poison her, bury the body in the garden,
and be a thousand miles away before anyone began even to inquire about
her. What am I to do, Mr. Carrados?"
"He is less likely to try poison than some other means now," pondered
Carrados. "That having failed, his wife will always be on her guard.
He may know, or at least suspect, that others know. No. ... The
common-sense precaution would be for your sister to leave the man, Mr.
Hollyer. She will not?"
"No," admitted Hollyer, "she will not. I at once urged that." The
young man struggled with some hesitation for a moment and then blurted
out: "The fact is, Mr. Carrados, I don't understand Millicent. She is
not the girl she was. She hates Creake and treats him with a silent
contempt that eats into their lives like acid, and yet she is so
jealous of him that she will let nothing short of death part them. It
is a horrible life they lead. I stood it for a week and I must say,
much as I dislike my brother-in-law, that he has something to put up
with. If only he got into a passion like a man and killed her it
wouldn't be altogether incomprehensible."
"That does not concern us," said Carrados. "In a game of this kind one
has to take sides and we have taken ours. It remains for us to see
that our side wins. You mentioned jealousy, Mr. Hollyer. Have you any
idea whether Mrs. Creake has real ground for it?"
"I should have told you that," replied Lieutenant Hollyer. "I happened
to strike up with a newspaper man whose office is in the same block as
Creake's. When I mentioned the name he grinned. 'Creake,' he said,
'oh, he's the man with the romantic typist, isn't he?' 'Well, he's my
brother-in-law,' I replied. 'What about the typist?' Then the chap
shut up like a knife. 'No, no,' he said, 'I didn't know he was
married. I don't want to get mixed up in anything of that sort. I only
said that he had a typist. Well, what of that? So have we; so has
everyone.' There was nothing more to be got out of him, but the remark
and the grin meant--well, about as usual, Mr. Carrados."
Carrados turned to his friend.
"I suppose you know all about the typist by now, Louis?"
"We have had her under efficient observation, Max," replied Mr.
Carlyle with severe dignity.
"Is she unmarried?"
"Yes; so far as ordinary repute goes, she is."
"That is all that is essential for the moment. Mr. Hollyer opens up
three excellent reasons why this man might wish to dispose of his
wife. If we accept the suggestion of poisoning--though we have only a
jealous woman's suspicion for it--we add to the wish the
determination. Well, we will go forward on that. Have you got a
photograph of Mr. Creake?"
The lieutenant took out his pocket-book.
"Mr. Carlyle asked me for one. Here is the best I could get."
Carrados rang the bell.
"This, Parkinson," he said, when the man appeared, "is a photograph of
a Mr. ---- What first name, by the way?"
"Austin," put in Hollyer, who was following everything with a boyish
mixture of excitement and subdued importance.
"--of a Mr. Austin Creake. I may require you to recognize him."
Parkinson glanced at the print and returned it to his master's hand.
"May I inquire if it is a recent photograph of the gentleman, sir?" he
"About six years ago," said the lieutenant, taking in this new actor
in the drama with frank curiosity. "But he is very little changed."
"Thank you, sir. I will endeavour to remember Mr. Creake, sir."
Lieutenant Hollyer stood up as Parkinson left the room. The interview
seemed to be at an end.
"Oh, there's one other matter," he remarked. "I am afraid that I did
rather an unfortunate thing while I was at Brookbend. It seemed to me
that as all Millicent's money would probably pass into Creake's hands
sooner or later I might as well have my five hundred pounds, if only
to help her with afterwards. So I broached the subject and said that I
should like to have it now as I had an opportunity for investing."
"And you think?"
"It may possibly influence Creake to act sooner than he otherwise
might have done. He may have got possession of the principal even and
find it very awkward to replace it."
"So much the better. If your sister is going to be murdered it may as
well be done next week as next year so far as I am concerned. Excuse
my brutality, Mr. Hollyer, but this is simply a case to me and I
regard it strategically. Now Mr. Carlyle's organization can look after
Mrs. Creake for a few weeks, but it cannot look after her for ever. By
increasing the immediate risk we diminish the permanent risk."
"I see," agreed Hollyer. "I'm awfully uneasy but I'm entirely in your
"Then we will give Mr. Creake every inducement and every opportunity
to get to work. Where are you staying now?"
"Just now with some friends at St. Albans."
"That is too far." The inscrutable eyes retained their tranquil depth
but a new quality of quickening interest in the voice made Mr. Carlyle
forget the weight and burden of his ruffled dignity. "Give me a few
minutes, please. The cigarettes are behind you, Mr. Hollyer." The
blind man walked to the window and seemed to look out over the
cypress-shaded lawn. The lieutenant lit a cigarette and Mr. Carlyle
picked up Punch. Then Carrados turned round again.
"You are prepared to put your own arrangements aside?" he demanded of
"Very well. I want you to go down now--straight from here--to
Brookbend Cottage. Tell your sister that your leave is unexpectedly
cut short and that you sail to-morrow."
"No, no; the _Martian_ doesn't sail. Look up the movements on your way
there and pick out a boat that does. Say you are transferred. Add that
you expect to be away only two or three months and that you really
want the five hundred pounds by the time of your return. Don't stay in
the house long, please."
"I understand, sir."
"St. Albans is too far. Make your excuse and get away from there
to-day. Put up somewhere in town, where you will be in reach of the
telephone. Let Mr. Carlyle and myself know where you are. Keep out of
Creake's way. I don't want actually to tie you down to the house, but
we may require your services. We will let you know at the first sign
of anything doing and if there is nothing to be done we must release
"I don't mind that. Is there nothing more that I can do now?"
"Nothing. In going to Mr. Carlyle you have done the best thing
possible; you have put your sister into the care of the shrewdest man
in London." Whereat the object of this quite unexpected eulogy found
himself becoming covered with modest confusion.
"Well, Max?" remarked Mr. Carlyle tentatively when they were alone.
"Of course it wasn't worth while rubbing it in before young Hollyer,
but, as a matter of fact, every single man carries the life of any
other man--only one, mind you--in his hands, do what you will."
"Provided he doesn't bungle," acquiesced Carrados.
"And also that he is absolutely reckless of the consequences."
"Two rather large provisos. Creake is obviously susceptible to both.
Have you seen him?"
"No. As I told you, I put a man on to report his habits in town. Then,
two days ago, as the case seemed to promise some interest--for he
certainly is deeply involved with the typist, Max, and the thing might
take a sensational turn at any time--I went down to Mulling Common
myself. Although the house is lonely it is on the electric tram route.
You know the sort of market garden rurality that about a dozen miles
out of London offers--alternate bricks and cabbages. It was easy
enough to get to know about Creake locally. He mixes with no one
there, goes into town at irregular times but generally every day, and
is reputed to be devilish hard to get money out of. Finally I made the
acquaintance of an old fellow who used to do a day's gardening at
Brookbend occasionally. He has a cottage and a garden of his own with
a greenhouse, and the business cost me the price of a pound of
"Was it--a profitable investment?"
"As tomatoes, yes; as information, no. The old fellow had the fatal
disadvantage from our point of view of labouring under a grievance. A
few weeks ago Creake told him that he would not require him again as
he was going to do his own gardening in future."
"That is something, Louis."
"If only Creake was going to poison his wife with hyoscyamine and bury
her, instead of blowing her up with a dynamite cartridge and claiming
that it came in among the coal."
"True, true. Still--"
"However, the chatty old soul had a simple explanation for everything
that Creake did. Creake was mad. He had even seen him flying a kite in
his garden where it was found to get wrecked among the trees. A lad of
ten would have known better, he declared. And certainly the kite did
get wrecked, for I saw it hanging over the road myself. But that a
sane man should spend his time 'playing with a toy' was beyond him."
"A good many men have been flying kites of various kinds lately," said
Carrados. "Is he interested in aviation?"
"I dare say. He appears to have some knowledge of scientific subjects.
Now what do you want me to do, Max?"
"Will you do it?"
"Implicitly--subject to the usual reservations."
"Keep your man on Creake in town and let me have his reports after you
have seen them. Lunch with me here now. 'Phone up to your office that
you are detained on unpleasant business and then give the deserving
Parkinson an afternoon off by looking after me while we take a motor
run round Mulling Common. If we have time we might go on to Brighton,
feed at the 'Ship,' and come back in the cool."
"Amiable and thrice lucky mortal," sighed Mr. Carlyle, his glance
wandering round the room.
But, as it happened, Brighton did not figure in that day's itinerary.
It had been Carrados's intention merely to pass Brookbend Cottage on
this occasion, relying on his highly developed faculties, aided by Mr.
Carlyle's description, to inform him of the surroundings. A hundred
yards before they reached the house he had given an order to his
chauffeur to drop into the lowest speed and they were leisurely
drawing past when a discovery by Mr. Carlyle modified their plans.
"By Jupiter!" that gentleman suddenly exclaimed, "there's a board up,
Max. The place is to be let."
Carrados picked up the tube again. A couple of sentences passed and
the car stopped by the roadside, a score of paces past the limit of
the garden. Mr. Carlyle took out his notebook and wrote down the
address of a firm of house agents.
"You might raise the bonnet and have a look at the engines, Harris,"
said Carrados. "We want to be occupied here for a few minutes."
"This is sudden; Hollyer knew nothing of their leaving," remarked Mr.
"Probably not for three months yet. All the same, Louis, we will go on
to the agents and get a card to view whether we use it to-day or not."
A thick hedge, in its summer dress effectively screening the house
beyond from public view, lay between the garden and the road. Above
the hedge showed an occasional shrub; at the corner nearest to the car
a chestnut flourished. The wooden gate, once white, which they had
passed, was grimed and rickety. The road itself was still the
unpretentious country lane that the advent of the electric car had
found it. When Carrados had taken in these details there seemed little
else to notice. He was on the point of giving Harris the order to go
on when his ear caught a trivial sound.
"Someone is coming out of the house, Louis," he warned his friend. "It
may be Hollyer, but he ought to have gone by this time."
"I don't hear anyone," replied the other, but as he spoke a door
banged noisily and Mr. Carlyle slipped into another seat and ensconced
himself behind a copy of _The Globe_.
"Creake himself," he whispered across the car, as a man appeared at
the gate. "Hollyer was right; he is hardly changed. Waiting for a car,
But a car very soon swung past them from the direction in which Mr.
Creake was looking and it did not interest him. For a minute or two
longer he continued to look expectantly along the road. Then he walked
slowly up the drive back to the house.
"We will give him five or ten minutes," decided Carrados. "Harris is
behaving very naturally."
Before even the shorter period had run out they were repaid. A
telegraph-boy cycled leisurely along the road, and, leaving his
machine at the gate, went up to the cottage. Evidently there was no
reply, for in less than a minute he was trundling past them back
again. Round the bend an approaching tram clanged its bell noisily,
and, quickened by the warning sound, Mr. Creake again appeared, this
time with a small portmanteau in his hand. With a backward glance he
hurried on towards the next stopping-place, and, boarding the car as
it slackened down, he was carried out of their knowledge.
"Very convenient of Mr. Creake," remarked Carrados, with quiet
satisfaction. "We will now get the order and go over the house in his
absence. It might be useful to have a look at the wire as well."
"It might, Max," acquiesced Mr. Carlyle a little dryly. "But if it is,
as it probably is in Creake's pocket, how do you propose to get it?"
"By going to the post office, Louis."
"Quite so. Have you ever tried to see a copy of a telegram addressed
to someone else?"
"I don't think I have ever had occasion yet," admitted Carrados. "Have
"In one or two cases I have perhaps been an accessory to the act. It
is generally a matter either of extreme delicacy or considerable
"Then for Hollyer's sake we will hope for the former here." And Mr.
Carlyle smiled darkly and hinted that he was content to wait for a
A little later, having left the car at the beginning of the straggling
High Street, the two men called at the village post office. They had
already visited the house agent and obtained an order to view
Brookbend Cottage, declining with some difficulty the clerk's
persistent offer to accompany them. The reason was soon forthcoming.
"As a matter of fact," explained the young man, "the present tenant is
under _our_ notice to leave."
"Unsatisfactory, eh?" said Carrados encouragingly.
"He's a corker," admitted the clerk, responding to the friendly tone.
"Fifteen months and not a doit of rent have we had. That's why I
should have liked--"
"We will make every allowance," replied Carrados.
The post office occupied one side of a stationer's shop. It was not
without some inward trepidation that Mr. Carlyle found himself
committed to the adventure. Carrados, on the other hand, was the
personification of bland unconcern.
"You have just sent a telegram to Brookbend Cottage," he said to the
young lady behind the brasswork lattice. "We think it may have come
inaccurately and should like a repeat." He took out his purse. "What
is the fee?"
The request was evidently not a common one. "Oh," said the girl
uncertainly, "wait a minute, please." She turned to a pile of telegram
duplicates behind the desk and ran a doubtful finger along the upper
sheets. "I think this is all right. You want it repeated?"
"Please." Just a tinge of questioning surprise gave point to the
"It will be fourpence. If there is an error the amount will be
Carrados put down his coin and received his change.
"Will it take long?" he inquired carelessly, as he pulled on his
"You will most likely get it within a quarter of an hour," she
"Now you've done it," commented Mr. Carlyle as they walked back to
their car. "How do you propose to get that telegram, Max?"
"Ask for it," was the laconic explanation.
And, stripping the artifice of any elaboration, he simply asked for it
and got it. The car, posted at a convenient bend in the road, gave him
a warning note as the telegraph-boy approached. Then Carrados took up
a convincing attitude with his hand on the gate while Mr. Carlyle lent
himself to the semblance of a departing friend. That was the
inevitable impression when the boy rode up.
"Creake, Brookbend Cottage?" inquired Carrados, holding out his hand,
and without a second thought the boy gave him the envelope and rode
away on the assurance that there would be no reply.
"Some day, my friend," remarked Mr. Carlyle, looking nervously toward
the unseen house, "your ingenuity will get you into a tight corner."
"Then my ingenuity must get me out again," was the retort. "Let us
have our 'view' now. The telegram can wait."
An untidy workwoman took their order and left them standing at the
door. Presently a lady whom they both knew to be Mrs. Creake appeared.
"You wish to see over the house?" she said, in a voice that was
utterly devoid of any interest. Then, without waiting for a reply, she
turned to the nearest door and threw it open.
"This is the drawing-room," she said, standing aside.
They walked into a sparsely furnished, damp-smelling room and made a
pretence of looking round, while Mrs. Creake remained silent and
"The dining-room," she continued, crossing the narrow hall and opening
Mr. Carlyle ventured a genial commonplace in the hope of inducing
conversation. The result was not encouraging. Doubtless they would
have gone through the house under the same frigid guidance had not
Carrados been at fault in a way that Mr. Carlyle had never known him
fail before. In crossing the hall he stumbled over a mat and almost
"Pardon my clumsiness," he said to the lady. "I am, unfortunately,
quite blind. But," he added, with a smile, to turn off the mishap,
"even a blind man must have a house."
The man who had eyes was surprised to see a flood of colour rush into
Mrs. Creake's face.
"Blind!" she exclaimed, "oh, I beg your pardon. Why did you not tell
me? You might have fallen."
"I generally manage fairly well," he replied. "But, of course, in a
She put her hand on his arm very lightly.
"You must let me guide you, just a little," she said.
The house, without being large, was full of passages and inconvenient
turnings. Carrados asked an occasional question and found Mrs. Creake
quite amiable without effusion. Mr. Carlyle followed them from room to
room in the hope, though scarcely the expectation, of learning
something that might be useful.
"This is the last one. It is the largest bedroom," said their guide.
Only two of the upper rooms were fully furnished and Mr. Carlyle at
once saw, as Carrados knew without seeing, that this was the one which
the Creakes occupied.
"A very pleasant outlook," declared Mr. Carlyle.
"Oh, I suppose so," admitted the lady vaguely. The room, in fact,
looked over the leafy garden and the road beyond. It had a French
window opening on to a small balcony, and to this, under the strange
influence that always attracted him to light, Carrados walked.
"I expect that there is a certain amount of repair needed?" he said,
after standing there a moment.
"I am afraid there would be," she confessed.
"I ask because there is a sheet of metal on the floor here," he
continued. "Now that, in an old house, spells dry rot to the wary
"My husband said that the rain, which comes in a little under the
window, was rotting the boards there," she replied. "He put that down
recently. I had not noticed anything myself."
It was the first time she had mentioned her husband; Mr. Carlyle
pricked up his ears.
"Ah, that is a less serious matter," said Carrados. "May I step out on
to the balcony?"
"Oh yes, if you like to." Then, as he appeared to be fumbling at the
catch, "Let me open it for you."
But the window was already open, and Carrados, facing the various
points of the compass, took in the bearings.
"A sunny, sheltered corner," he remarked. "An ideal spot for a
deck-chair and a book."
She shrugged her shoulders half contemptuously.
"I dare say," she replied, "but I never use it."
"Sometimes, surely," he persisted mildly. "It would be my favourite
retreat. But then--"
"I was going to say that I had never even been out on it, but that
would not be quite true. It has two uses for me, both equally
romantic; I occasionally shake a duster from it, and when my husband
returns late without his latchkey he wakes me up and I come out here
and drop him mine."
Further revelation of Mr. Creake's nocturnal habits was cut off,
greatly to Mr. Carlyle's annoyance, by a cough of unmistakable
significance from the foot of the stairs. They had heard a trade cart
drive up to the gate, a knock at the door, and the heavy-footed woman
tramp along the hall.
"Excuse me a minute, please," said Mrs. Creake.
"Louis," said Carrados, in a sharp whisper, the moment they were
alone, "stand against the door."
With extreme plausibility Mr. Carlyle began to admire a picture so
situated that while he was there it was impossible to open the door
more than a few inches. From that position he observed his confederate
go through the curious procedure of kneeling down on the bedroom floor
and for a full minute pressing his ear to the sheet of metal that had
already engaged his attention. Then he rose to his feet, nodded,
dusted his trousers, and Mr. Carlyle moved to a less equivocal
"What a beautiful rose-tree grows up your balcony," remarked Carrados,
stepping into the room as Mrs. Creake returned. "I suppose you are
very fond of gardening?"
"I detest it," she replied.
"But this _Gloire_, so carefully trained--?"
"Is it?" she replied. "I think my husband was nailing it up recently."
By some strange fatality Carrados's most aimless remarks seemed to
involve the absent Mr. Creake. "Do you care to see the garden?"
The garden proved to be extensive and neglected. Behind the house was
chiefly orchard. In front, some semblance of order had been kept up;
here it was lawn and shrubbery, and the drive they had walked along.
Two things interested Carrados: the soil at the foot of the balcony,
which he declared on examination to be particularly suitable for
roses, and the fine chestnut-tree in the corner by the road.
As they walked back to the car Mr. Carlyle lamented that they had
learned so little of Creake's movements.
"Perhaps the telegram will tell us something," suggested Carrados.
"Read it, Louis."
Mr. Carlyle cut open the envelope, glanced at the enclosure, and in
spite of his disappointment could not restrain a chuckle.
"My poor Max," he explained, "you have put yourself to an amount of
ingenious trouble for nothing. Creake is evidently taking a few days'
holiday and prudently availed himself of the Meteorological Office
forecast before going. Listen: '_Immediate prospect for London warm
and settled. Further outlook cooler but fine._' Well, well; I did get
a pound of tomatoes for _my_ fourpence."
"You certainly scored there, Louis," admitted Carrados, with humorous
appreciation. "I wonder," he added speculatively, "whether it is
Creake's peculiar taste usually to spend his week-end holiday in
"Eh?" exclaimed Mr. Carlyle, looking at the words again, "by gad,
that's rum, Max. They go to Weston-super-Mare. Why on earth should he
want to know about London?"
"I can make a guess, but before we are satisfied I must come here
again. Take another look at that kite, Louis. Are there a few yards of
string hanging loose from it?"
"Yes, there are."
"Rather thick string--unusually thick for the purpose?"
"Yes, but how do you know?"
As they drove home again Carrados explained, and Mr. Carlyle sat
aghast, saying incredulously: "Good God, Max, is it possible?"
An hour later he was satisfied that it was possible. In reply to his
inquiry someone in his office telephoned him the information that
"they" had left Paddington by the four-thirty for Weston.
It was more than a week after his introduction to Carrados that
Lieutenant Hollyer had a summons to present himself at The Turrets
again. He found Mr. Carlyle already there and the two friends were
awaiting his arrival.
"I stayed in all day after hearing from you this morning, Mr.
Carrados," he said, shaking hands. "When I got your second message I
was all ready to walk straight out of the house. That's how I did it
in the time. I hope everything is all right?"
"Excellent," replied Carrados. "You'd better have something before we
start. We probably have a long and perhaps an exciting night before
"And certainly a wet one," assented the lieutenant. "It was thundering
over Mulling way as I came along."
"That is why you are here," said his host. "We are waiting for a
certain message before we start, and in the meantime you may as well
understand what we expect to happen. As you saw, there is a
thunderstorm coming on. The Meteorological Office morning forecast
predicted it for the whole of London if the conditions remained. That
is why I kept you in readiness. Within an hour it is now inevitable
that we shall experience a deluge. Here and there damage will be done
to trees and buildings; here and there a person will probably be
struck and killed."
"It is Mr. Creake's intention that his wife should be among the
"I don't exactly follow," said Hollyer, looking from one man to the
other. "I quite admit that Creake would be immensely relieved if such
a thing did happen, but the chance is surely an absurdly remote one."
"Yet unless we intervene it is precisely what a coroner's jury will
decide has happened. Do you know whether your brother-in-law has any
practical knowledge of electricity, Mr. Hollyer?"
"I cannot say. He was so reserved, and we really knew so little of
"Yet in 1896 an Austin Creake contributed an article on 'Alternating
Currents' to the American _Scientific World_. That would argue a
fairly intimate acquaintanceship."
"But do you mean that he is going to direct a flash of lightning?"
"Only into the minds of the doctor who conducts the post-mortem, and
the coroner. This storm, the opportunity for which he has been waiting
for weeks, is merely the cloak to his act. The weapon which he has
planned to use--scarcely less powerful than lightning but much more
tractable--is the high voltage current of electricity that flows along
the tram wire at his gate."
"Oh!" exclaimed Lieutenant Hollyer, as the sudden revelation struck
"Some time between eleven o'clock to-night--about the hour when your
sister goes to bed--and one thirty in the morning--the time up to
which he can rely on the current--Creake will throw a stone up at the
balcony window. Most of his preparation has long been made; it only
remains for him to connect up a short length to the window handle and
a longer one at the other end to tap the live wire. That done, he will
wake his wife in the way I have said. The moment she moves the catch
of the window--and he has carefully filed its parts to ensure perfect
contact--she will be electrocuted as effectually as if she sat in the
executioner's chair in Sing Sing prison."
"But what are we doing here!" exclaimed Hollyer, starting to his feet,
pale and horrified. "It is past ten now and anything may happen."
"Quite natural, Mr. Hollyer," said Carrados reassuringly, "but you
need have no anxiety. Creake is being watched, the house is being
watched, and your sister is as safe as if she slept to-night in
Windsor Castle. Be assured that whatever happens he will not be
allowed to complete his scheme; but it is desirable to let him
implicate himself to the fullest limit. Your brother-in-law, Mr.
Hollyer, is a man with a peculiar capacity for taking pains."
"He is a damned cold-blooded scoundrel!" exclaimed the young officer
fiercely. "When I think of Millicent five years ago--"
"Well, for that matter, an enlightened nation has decided that
electrocution is the most humane way of removing its superfluous
citizens," suggested Carrados mildly. "He is certainly an
ingenious-minded gentleman. It is his misfortune that in Mr. Carlyle
he was fated to be opposed by an even subtler brain--"
"No, no! Really, Max!" protested the embarrassed gentleman.
"Mr. Hollyer will be able to judge for himself when I tell him that it
was Mr. Carlyle who first drew attention to the significance of the
abandoned kite," insisted Carrados firmly. "Then, of course, its
object became plain to me--as indeed to anyone. For ten minutes,
perhaps, a wire must be carried from the overhead line to the
chestnut-tree. Creake has everything in his favour, but it is just
within possibility that the driver of an inopportune train might
notice the appendage. What of that? Why, for more than a week he has
seen a derelict kite with its yards of trailing string hanging in the
tree. A very calculating mind, Mr. Hollyer. It would be interesting to
know what line of action Mr. Creake has mapped out for himself
afterwards. I expect he has half-a-dozen artistic little touches up
his sleeve. Possibly he would merely singe his wife's hair, burn her
feet with a red-hot poker, shiver the glass of the French window, and
be content with that to let well alone. You see, lightning is so
varied in its effects that whatever he did or did not do would be
right. He is in the impregnable position of the body showing all the
symptoms of death by lightning shock and nothing else but lightning to
account for it--a dilated eye, heart contracted in systole, bloodless
lungs shrunk to a third the normal weight, and all the rest of it.
When he has removed a few outward traces of his work Creake might
quite safely 'discover' his dead wife and rush off for the nearest
doctor. Or he may have decided to arrange a convincing alibi, and
creep away, leaving the discovery to another. We shall never know; he
will make no confession."
"I wish it was well over," admitted Hollyer, "I'm not particularly
jumpy, but this gives me a touch of the creeps."
"Three more hours at the worst, lieutenant," said Carrados cheerfully.
"Ah-ha, something is coming through now."
He went to the telephone and received a message from one quarter; then
made another connection and talked for a few minutes with someone
"Everything working smoothly," he remarked between times over his
shoulder. "Your sister has gone to bed, Mr. Hollyer."
Then he turned to the house telephone and distributed his orders.
"So we," he concluded, "must get up."
By the time they were ready a large closed motor car was waiting. The
lieutenant thought he recognised Parkinson in the well-swathed form
beside the driver, but there was no temptation to linger for a second
on the steps. Already the stinging rain had lashed the drive into the
semblance of a frothy estuary; all round the lightning jagged its
course through the incessant tremulous glow of more distant lightning,
while the thunder only ceased its muttering to turn at close quarters
and crackle viciously.
"One of the few things I regret missing," remarked Carrados
tranquilly; "but I hear a good deal of colour in it."
The car slushed its way down to the gate, lurched a little heavily
across the dip into the road, and, steadying as it came upon the
straight, began to hum contentedly along the deserted highway.
"We are not going direct?" suddenly inquired Hollyer, after they had
travelled perhaps half-a-dozen miles. The night was bewildering enough
but he had the sailor's gift for location.
"No; through Hunscott Green and then by a field-path to the orchard at
the back," replied Carrados. "Keep a sharp look out for the man with
the lantern about here, Harris," he called through the tube.
"Something flashing just ahead, sir," came the reply, and the car
slowed down and stopped.
Carrados dropped the near window as a man in glistening waterproof
stepped from the shelter of a lich-gate and approached.
"Inspector Beedel, sir," said the stranger, looking into the car.
"Quite right, Inspector," said Carrados. "Get in."
"I have a man with me, sir."
"We can find room for him as well."
"We are very wet."
"So shall we all be soon."
The lieutenant changed his seat and the two burly forms took places
side by side. In less than five minutes the car stopped again, this
time in a grassy country lane.
"Now we have to face it," announced Carrados. "The inspector will show
us the way."
The car slid round and disappeared into the night, while Beedel led
the party to a stile in the hedge. A couple of fields brought them to
the Brookbend boundary. There a figure stood out of the black foliage,
exchanged a few words with their guide and piloted them along the
shadows of the orchard to the back door of the house.
"You will find a broken pane near the catch of the scullery window,"
said the blind man.
"Right, sir," replied the inspector. "I have it. Now who goes
"Mr. Hollyer will open the door for us. I'm afraid you must take off
your boots and all wet things, Lieutenant. We cannot risk a single
They waited until the back door opened, then each one divested himself
in a similar manner and passed into the kitchen, where the remains of
a fire still burned. The man from the orchard gathered together the
discarded garments and disappeared again.
Carrados turned to the lieutenant.
"A rather delicate job for you now, Mr. Hollyer. I want you to go up
to your sister, wake her, and get her into another room with as little
fuss as possible. Tell her as much as you think fit and let her
understand that her very life depends on absolute stillness when she
is alone. Don't be unduly hurried, but not a glimmer of a light,
Ten minutes passed by the measure of the battered old alarum on the
dresser shelf before the young man returned.
"I've had rather a time of it," he reported, with a nervous laugh,
"but I think it will be all right now. She is in the spare room."
"Then we will take our places. You and Parkinson come with me to the
bedroom. Inspector, you have your own arrangements. Mr. Carlyle will
be with you."
They dispersed silently about the house. Hollyer glanced
apprehensively at the door of the spare room as they passed it, but
within was as quiet as the grave. Their room lay at the other end of
"You may as well take your place in the bed now, Hollyer," directed
Carrados when they were inside and the door closed. "Keep well down
among the clothes. Creake has to get up on the balcony, you know, and
he will probably peep through the window, but he dare come no farther.
Then when he begins to throw up stones slip on this dressing-gown of
your sister's. I'll tell you what to do after."
The next sixty minutes drew out into the longest hour that the
lieutenant had ever known. Occasionally he heard a whisper pass
between the two men who stood behind the window curtains, but he could
see nothing. Then Carrados threw a guarded remark in his direction.
"He is in the garden now."
Something scraped slightly against the outer wall. But the night was
full of wilder sounds, and in the house the furniture and the boards
creaked and sprung between the yawling of the wind among the chimneys,
the rattle of the thunder and the pelting of the rain. It was a time
to quicken the steadiest pulse, and when the crucial moment came, when
a pebble suddenly rang against the pane with a sound that the tense
waiting magnified into a shivering crash, Hollyer leapt from the bed
on the instant.
"Easy, easy," warned Carrados feelingly. "We will wait for another
knock." He passed something across. "Here is a rubber glove. I have
cut the wire but you had better put it on. Stand just for a moment at
the window, move the catch so that it can blow open a little, and drop
Another stone had rattled against the glass. For Hollyer to go through
his part was the work merely of seconds, and with a few touches
Carrados spread the dressing-gown to more effective disguise about the
extended form. But an unforeseen and in the circumstances rather
horrible interval followed, for Creake, in accordance with some detail
of his never-revealed plan, continued to shower missile after missile
against the panes until even the unimpressionable Parkinson shivered.
"The last act," whispered Carrados, a moment after the throwing had
ceased. "He has gone round to the back. Keep as you are. We take cover
now." He pressed behind the arras of an extemporized wardrobe, and the
spirit of emptiness and desolation seemed once more to reign over the
From half-a-dozen places of concealment ears were straining to catch
the first guiding sound. He moved very stealthily, burdened, perhaps,
by some strange scruple in the presence of the tragedy that he had not
feared to contrive, paused for a moment at the bedroom door, then
opened it very quietly, and in the fickle light read the consummation
of his hopes.
"At last!" they heard the sharp whisper drawn from his relief. "At
He took another step and two shadows seemed to fall upon him from
behind, one on either side. With primitive instinct a cry of terror
and surprise escaped him as he made a desperate movement to wrench
himself free, and for a short second he almost succeeded in dragging
one hand into a pocket. Then his wrists slowly came together and the
"I am Inspector Beedel," said the man on his right side. "You are
charged with the attempted murder of your wife, Millicent Creake."
"You are mad," retorted the miserable creature, falling into a
desperate calmness. "She has been struck by lightning."
"No, you blackguard, she hasn't," wrathfully exclaimed his
brother-in-law, jumping up. "Would you like to see her?"
"I also have to warn you," continued the inspector impassively, "that
anything you say may be used as evidence against you."
A startled cry from the farther end of the passage arrested their
"Mr. Carrados," called Hollyer, "oh, come at once."
At the open door of the other bedroom stood the lieutenant, his eyes
still turned towards something in the room beyond, a little empty
bottle in his hand.
"Dead!" he exclaimed tragically, with a sob, "with this beside her.
Dead just when she would have been free of the brute."
The blind man passed into the room, sniffed the air, and laid a gentle
hand on the pulseless heart.
"Yes," he replied. "That, Hollyer, does not always appeal to the
woman, strange to say."
THE LAST EXPLOIT OF HARRY THE ACTOR
The one insignificant fact upon which turned the following incident in
the joint experiences of Mr. Carlyle and Max Carrados was merely this:
that having called upon his friend just at the moment when the private
detective was on the point of leaving his office to go to the safe
deposit in Lucas Street, Piccadilly, the blind amateur accompanied
him, and for ten minutes amused himself by sitting quite quietly among
the palms in the centre of the circular hall while Mr. Carlyle was
occupied with his deed-box in one of the little compartments provided
for the purpose.
The Lucas Street depository was then (it has since been converted into
a picture palace) generally accepted as being one of the strongest
places in London. The front of the building was constructed to
represent a gigantic safe door, and under the colloquial designation
of "The Safe" the place had passed into a synonym for all that was
secure and impregnable. Half of the marketable securities in the west
of London were popularly reported to have seen the inside of its
coffers at one time or another, together with the same generous
proportion of family jewels. However exaggerated an estimate this
might be, the substratum of truth was solid and auriferous enough to
dazzle the imagination. When ordinary safes were being carried bodily
away with impunity or ingeniously fused open by the scientifically
equipped cracksman, nervous bond-holders turned with relief to the
attractions of an establishment whose modest claim was summed up in
its telegraphic address: "Impregnable." To it went also the jewel-case
between the lady's social engagements, and when in due course "the
family" journeyed north--or south, east or west--whenever, in short,
the London house was closed, its capacious storerooms received the
plate-chest as an established custom. Not a few traders
also--jewellers, financiers, dealers in pictures, antiques and costly
bijouterie, for instance--constantly used its facilities for any stock
that they did not require immediately to hand.
There was only one entrance to the place, an exaggerated keyhole, to
carry out the similitude of the safe-door alluded to. The ground floor
was occupied by the ordinary offices of the company; all the
strong-rooms and safes lay in the steel-cased basement. This was
reached both by a lift and by a flight of steps. In either case the
visitor found before him a grille of massive proportions. Behind its
bars stood a formidable commissionaire who never left his post, his
sole duty being to open and close the grille to arriving and departing
clients. Beyond this, a short passage led into the round central hall
where Carrados was waiting. From this part, other passages radiated
off to the vaults and strong-rooms, each one barred from the hall by a
grille scarcely less ponderous than the first one. The doors of the
various private rooms put at the disposal of the company's clients,
and that of the manager's office, filled the wall-space between the
radiating passages. Everything was very quiet, everything looked very
bright, and everything seemed hopelessly impregnable.
"But I wonder?" ran Carrados's dubious reflection as he reached this
"Sorry to have kept you so long, my dear Max," broke in Mr. Carlyle's
crisp voice. He had emerged from his compartment and was crossing the
hall, deed-box in hand. "Another minute and I will be with you."
Carrados smiled and nodded and resumed his former expression, which
was merely that of an uninterested gentleman waiting patiently for
another. It is something of an attainment to watch closely without
betraying undue curiosity, but others of the senses--hearing and
smelling, for instance--can be keenly engaged while the observer
possibly has the appearance of falling asleep.
"Now," announced Mr. Carlyle, returning briskly to his friend's chair,
and drawing on his grey suede gloves.
"You are in no particular hurry?"
"No," admitted the professional man, with the slowness of mild
surprise. "Not at all. What do you propose?"
"It is very pleasant here," replied Carrados tranquilly. "Very cool
and restful with this armoured steel between us and the dust and
scurry of the hot July afternoon above. I propose remaining here for a
few minutes longer."
"Certainly," agreed Mr. Carlyle, taking the nearest chair and eyeing
Carrados as though he had a shrewd suspicion of something more than
met the ear. "I believe some very interesting people rent safes here.
We may encounter a bishop, or a winning jockey, or even a musical
comedy actress. Unfortunately it seems to be rather a slack time."
"Two men came down while you were in your cubicle," remarked Carrados
casually. "The first took the lift. I imagine that he was a
middle-aged, rather portly man. He carried a stick, wore a silk hat,
and used spectacles for close sight. The other came by the stairway. I
infer that he arrived at the top immediately after the lift had gone.
He ran down the steps, so that the two were admitted at the same time,
but the second man, though the more active of the pair, hung back for
a moment in the passage and the portly one was the first to go to his
Mr. Carlyle's knowing look expressed: "Go on, my friend; you are
coming to something." But he merely contributed an encouraging "Yes?"
"When you emerged just now our second man quietly opened the door of
his pen a fraction. Doubtless he looked out. Then he closed it as
quietly again. You were not his man, Louis."
"I am grateful," said Mr. Carlyle expressively. "What next, Max?"
"That is all; they are still closeted."
Both were silent for a moment. Mr. Carlyle's feeling was one of
unconfessed perplexity. So far the incident was utterly trivial in his
eyes; but he knew that the trifles which appeared significant to Max
had a way of standing out like signposts when the time came to look
back over an episode. Carrados's sightless faculties seemed indeed to
keep him just a move ahead as the game progressed.
"Is there really anything in it, Max?" he asked at length.
"Who can say?" replied Carrados. "At least we may wait to see them go.
Those tin deed-boxes now. There is one to each safe, I think?"
"Yes, so I imagine. The practice is to carry the box to your private
lair and there unlock it and do your business. Then you lock it up
again and take it back to your safe."
"Steady! our first man," whispered Carrados hurriedly. "Here, look at
this with me." He opened a paper--a prospectus--which he pulled from
his pocket, and they affected to study its contents together.
"You were about right, my friend," muttered Mr. Carlyle, pointing to a
paragraph of assumed interest. "Hat, stick and spectacles. He is a
clean-shaven, pink-faced old boy. I believe--yes, I know the man by
sight. He is a bookmaker in a large way, I am told."
"Here comes the other," whispered Carrados.
The bookmaker passed across the hall, joined on his way by the manager
whose duty it was to counterlock the safe, and disappeared along one
of the passages. The second man sauntered up and down, waiting his
turn. Mr. Carlyle reported his movements in an undertone and described
him. He was a younger man than the other, of medium height, and
passably well dressed in a quiet lounge suit, green Alpine hat and
brown shoes. By the time the detective had reached his wavy chestnut
hair, large and rather ragged moustache, and sandy, freckled
complexion, the first man had completed his business and was leaving
"It isn't an exchange lay, at all events," said Mr. Carlyle. "His
inner case is only half the size of the other and couldn't possibly be
"Come up now," said Carrados, rising. "There is nothing more to be
learned down here."
They requisitioned the lift, and on the steps outside the gigantic
keyhole stood for a few minutes discussing an investment as a couple
of trustees or a lawyer and a client who were parting there might do.
Fifty yards away, a very large silk hat with a very curly brim marked
the progress of the bookmaker towards Piccadilly.
The lift in the hall behind them swirled up again and the gate
clashed. The second man walked leisurely out and sauntered away
without a backward glance.
"He has gone in the opposite direction," exclaimed Mr. Carlyle, rather
blankly. "It isn't the 'lame goat' nor the 'follow-me-on,' nor even
the homely but efficacious sand-bag."
"What colour were his eyes?" asked Carrados.
"Upon my word, I never noticed," admitted the other.
"Parkinson would have noticed," was the severe comment.
"I am not Parkinson," retorted Mr. Carlyle, with asperity, "and,
strictly as one dear friend to another, Max, permit me to add, that
while cherishing an unbounded admiration for your remarkable gifts, I
have the strongest suspicion that the whole incident is a ridiculous
mare's nest, bred in the fantastic imagination of an enthusiastic
Mr. Carrados received this outburst with the utmost benignity. "Come
and have a coffee, Louis," he suggested. "Mehmed's is only a street
Mehmed proved to be a cosmopolitan gentleman from Mocha whose shop
resembled a house from the outside and an Oriental divan when one was
within. A turbaned Arab placed cigarettes and cups of coffee spiced
with saffron before the customers, gave salaam and withdrew.
"You know, my dear chap," continued Mr. Carlyle, sipping his black
coffee and wondering privately whether it was really very good or very
bad, "speaking quite seriously, the one fishy detail--our ginger
friend's watching for the other to leave--may be open to a dozen very
"So innocent that to-morrow I intend taking a safe myself."
"You think that everything is all right?"
"On the contrary, I am convinced that something is very wrong."
"I shall keep nothing there, but it will give me the _entree_. I
should advise you, Louis, in the first place to empty your safe with
all possible speed, and in the second to leave your business card on
Mr. Carlyle pushed his cup away, convinced now that the coffee was
really very bad.
"But, my dear Max, the place--'The Safe'--is impregnable!"
"When I was in the States, three years ago, the head porter at one
hotel took pains to impress on me that the building was absolutely
fireproof. I at once had my things taken off to another hotel. Two
weeks later the first place was burnt out. It _was_ fireproof, I
believe, but of course the furniture and the fittings were not and the
walls gave way."
"Very ingenious," admitted Mr. Carlyle, "but why did you really go?
You know you can't humbug me with your superhuman sixth sense, my
Carrados smiled pleasantly, thereby encouraging the watchful attendant
to draw near and replenish their tiny cups.
"Perhaps," replied the blind man, "because so many careless people
were satisfied that it was fireproof."
"Ah-ha, there you are--the greater the confidence the greater the
risk. But only if your self-confidence results in carelessness. Now do
you know how this place is secured, Max?"
"I am told that they lock the door at night," replied Carrados, with
"And hide the key under the mat to be ready for the first arrival in
the morning," crowed Mr. Carlyle, in the same playful spirit. "Dear
old chap! Well, let me tell you--"
"That force is out of the question. Quite so," admitted his friend.
"That simplifies the argument. Let us consider fraud. There again the
precautions are so rigid that many people pronounce the forms a
nuisance. I confess that I do not. I regard them as a means of
protecting my own property and I cheerfully sign my name and give my
password, which the manager compares with his record-book before he
releases the first lock of my safe. The signature is burned before my
eyes in a sort of crucible there, the password is of my own choosing
and is written only in a book that no one but the manager ever sees,
and my key is the sole one in existence."
"No duplicate or master-key?"
"Neither. If a key is lost it takes a skilful mechanic half-a-day to
cut his way in. Then you must remember that clients of a safe-deposit
are not multitudinous. All are known more or less by sight to the
officials there, and a stranger would receive close attention. Now,
Max, by what combination of circumstances is a rogue to know my
password, to be able to forge my signature, to possess himself of my
key, and to resemble me personally? And, finally, how is he possibly
to determine beforehand whether there is anything in my safe to repay
so elaborate a plant?" Mr. Carlyle concluded in triumph and was so
carried away by the strength of his position that he drank off the
contents of his second cup before he realized what he was doing.
"At the hotel I just spoke of," replied Carrados, "there was an
attendant whose one duty in case of alarm was to secure three iron
doors. On the night of the fire he had a bad attack of toothache and
slipped away for just a quarter of an hour to have the thing out.
There was a most up-to-date system of automatic fire alarm; it had
been tested only the day before and the electrician, finding some part
not absolutely to his satisfaction, had taken it away and not had time
to replace it. The night watchman, it turned out, had received leave
to present himself a couple of hours later on that particular night,
and the hotel fireman, whose duties he took over, had missed being
notified. Lastly, there was a big riverside blaze at the same time and
all the engines were down at the other end of the city."
Mr. Carlyle committed himself to a dubious monosyllable. Carrados
leaned forward a little.
"All these circumstances formed a coincidence of pure chance.
Is it not conceivable, Louis, that an even more remarkable series
might be brought about by design?"
"Our tawny friend?"
"Possibly. Only he was not really tawny." Mr. Carlyle's easy attitude
suddenly stiffened into rigid attention. "He wore a false moustache."
"He wore a false moustache!" repeated the amazed gentleman. "And you
cannot see! No, really, Max, this is beyond the limit!"
"If only you would not trust your dear, blundering old eyes so
implicitly you would get nearer that limit yourself," retorted
Carrados. "The man carried a five-yard aura of spirit gum, emphasized
by a warm, perspiring skin. That inevitably suggested one thing. I
looked for further evidence of making-up and found it--these
preparations all smell. The hair you described was characteristically
that of a wig--worn long to hide the joining and made wavy to minimize
the length. All these things are trifles. As yet we have not gone
beyond the initial stage of suspicion. I will tell you another trifle.
When this man retired to a compartment with his deed-box, he never
even opened it. Possibly it contains a brick and a newspaper. He is
"Watching the bookmaker."
"True, but it may go far wider than that. Everything points to a plot
of careful elaboration. Still, if you are satisfied--"
"I am quite satisfied," replied Mr. Carlyle gallantly. "I regard 'The
Safe' almost as a national institution, and as such I have an implicit
faith in its precautions against every kind of force or fraud." So far
Mr. Carlyle's attitude had been suggestive of a rock, but at this
point he took out his watch, hummed a little to pass the time,
consulted his watch again, and continued: "I am afraid that there were
one or two papers which I overlooked. It would perhaps save me coming
again to-morrow if I went back now--"
"Quite so," acquiesced Carrados, with perfect gravity. "I will wait
For twenty minutes he sat there, drinking an occasional tiny cup of
boiled coffee and to all appearance placidly enjoying the quaint
atmosphere which Mr. Mehmed had contrived to transplant from the
shores of the Persian Gulf.
At the end of that period Carlyle returned, politely effusive about
the time he had kept his friend waiting but otherwise bland and
unassailable. Anyone with eyes might have noticed that he carried a
parcel of about the same size and dimensions as the deed-box that
fitted his safe.
The next day Carrados presented himself at the safe-deposit as an
intending renter. The manager showed him over the vaults and
strong-rooms, explaining the various precautions taken to render the
guile or force of man impotent: the strength of the chilled-steel
walls, the casing of electricity-resisting concrete, the stupendous
isolation of the whole inner fabric on metal pillars so that the
watchman, while inside the building, could walk above, below, and all
round the outer walls of what was really--although it bore no actual
relationship to the advertising device of the front--a monstrous safe;
and, finally, the arrangement which would enable the basement to be
flooded with steam within three minutes of an alarm. These details
were public property. "The Safe" was a showplace and its directors
held that no harm could come of displaying a strong hand.
Accompanied by the observant eyes of Parkinson, Carrados gave an
adventurous but not a hopeful attention to these particulars.
Submitting the problem of the tawny man to his own ingenuity, he was
constantly putting before himself the question: How shall I set about
robbing this place? and he had already dismissed force as
impracticable. Nor, when it came to the consideration of fraud, did
the simple but effective safeguards which Mr. Carlyle had specified
seem to offer any loophole.
"As I am blind I may as well sign in the book," he suggested, when the
manager passed him a gummed slip for the purpose. The precaution
against one acquiring particulars of another client might well be
deemed superfluous in his case.
But the manager did not fall into the trap.
"It is our invariable rule in all cases, sir," he replied courteously.
"What word will you take?" Parkinson, it may be said, had been left in
"Suppose I happen to forget it? How do we proceed?"
"In that case I am afraid that I might have to trouble you to
establish your identity," the manager explained. "It rarely happens."
"Then we will say 'Conspiracy.'"
The word was written down and the book closed.
"Here is your key, sir. If you will allow me--your key-ring--"
A week went by and Carrados was no nearer the absolute solution of the
problem he had set himself. He had, indeed, evolved several ways by
which the contents of the safes might be reached, some simple and
desperate, hanging on the razor-edge of chance to fall this way or
that; others more elaborate, safer on the whole, but more liable to
break down at some point of their ingenious intricacy. And setting
aside complicity on the part of the manager--a condition that Carrados
had satisfied himself did not exist--they all depended on a relaxation
of the forms by which security was assured. Carrados continued to have
several occasions to visit the safe during the week, and he "watched"
with a quiet persistence that was deadly in its scope. But from
beginning to end there was no indication of slackness in the
business-like methods of the place; nor during any of his visits did
the "tawny man" appear in that or any other disguise. Another week
passed; Mr. Carlyle was becoming inexpressibly waggish, and Carrados
himself, although he did not abate a jot of his conviction, was
compelled to bend to the realities of the situation. The manager, with
the obstinacy of a conscientious man who had become obsessed with the
pervading note of security, excused himself from discussing abstract
methods of fraud. Carrados was not in a position to formulate a
detailed charge; he withdrew from active investigation, content to
await his time.
It came, to be precise, on a certain Friday morning, seventeen days
after his first visit to "The Safe." Returning late on the Thursday
night, he was informed that a man giving the name of Draycott had
called to see him. Apparently the matter had been of some importance
to the visitor for he had returned three hours later on the chance of
finding Mr. Carrados in. Disappointed in this, he had left a note.
Carrados cut open the envelope and ran a finger along the following
"_Dear Sir_,--I have to-day consulted Mr. Louis Carlyle, who thinks
that you would like to see me. I will call again in the morning, say
at nine o'clock. If this is too soon or otherwise inconvenient I
entreat you to leave a message fixing as early an hour as possible.
"_P.S._--I should add that I am the renter of a safe at the Lucas
Street depository. _H.D._"
A description of Mr. Draycott made it clear that he was not the
West-End bookmaker. The caller, the servant explained, was a thin,
wiry, keen-faced man. Carrados felt agreeably interested in this
development, which seemed to justify his suspicion of a plot.
At five minutes to nine the next morning Mr. Draycott again presented
"Very good of you to see me so soon, sir," he apologized, on Carrados
at once receiving him. "I don't know much of English ways--I'm an
Australian--and I was afraid it might be too early."
"You could have made it a couple of hours earlier as far as I am
concerned," replied Carrados. "Or you either for that matter, I
imagine," he added, "for I don't think that you slept much last
"I didn't sleep at all last night," corrected Mr. Draycott. "But it's
strange that you should have seen that. I understood from Mr. Carlyle
that you--excuse me if I am mistaken, sir--but I understood that you
Carrados laughed his admission lightly.
"Oh yes," he said. "But never mind that. What is the trouble?"
"I'm afraid it means more than just trouble for me, Mr. Carrados." The
man had steady, half-closed eyes, with the suggestion of depth which
one notices in the eyes of those whose business it is to look out over
great expanses of land or water; they were turned towards Carrados's
face with quiet resignation in their frankness now. "I'm afraid it
spells disaster. I am a working engineer from the Mount Magdalena
district of Coolgardie. I don't want to take up your time with outside
details, so I will only say that about two years ago I had an
opportunity of acquiring a share in a very promising claim--gold, you
understand, both reef and alluvial. As the work went on I put more and
more into the undertaking--you couldn't call it a venture by that
time. The results were good, better than we had dared to expect, but
from one cause and another the expenses were terrible. We saw that it
was a bigger thing than we had bargained for and we admitted that we
must get outside help."
So far Mr. Draycott's narrative had proceeded smoothly enough under
the influence of the quiet despair that had come over the man. But at
this point a sudden recollection of his position swept him into a
frenzy of bitterness.
"Oh, what the blazes is the good of going over all this again!" he
broke out. "What can you or anyone else do anyhow? I've been robbed,
rooked, cleared out of everything I possess," and tormented by
recollections and by the impotence of his rage the unfortunate
engineer beat the oak table with the back of his hand until his
Carrados waited until the fury had passed.
"Continue, if you please, Mr. Draycott," he said. "Just what you
thought it best to tell me is just what I want to know."
"I'm sorry, sir," apologized the man, colouring under his tanned skin.
"I ought to be able to control myself better. But this business has
shaken me. Three times last night I looked down the barrel of my
revolver, and three times I threw it away.... Well, we arranged that I
should come to London to interest some financiers in the property. We
might have done it locally or in Perth, to be sure, but then, don't
you see, they would have wanted to get control. Six weeks ago I landed
here. I brought with me specimens of the quartz and good samples of
extracted gold, dust and nuggets, the clearing up of several weeks'
working, about two hundred and forty ounces in all. That includes the
Magdalena Lodestar, our lucky nugget, a lump weighing just under seven
pounds of pure gold.
"I had seen an advertisement of this Lucas Street safe-deposit and it
seemed just the thing I wanted. Besides the gold, I had all the papers
to do with the claims--plans, reports, receipts, licences and so on.
Then when I cashed my letter of credit I had about one hundred and
fifty pounds in notes. Of course I could have left everything at a
bank, but it was more convenient to have it, as it were, in my own
safe, to get at any time, and to have a private room that I could take
any gentlemen to. I hadn't a suspicion that anything could be wrong.
Negotiations hung on in several quarters--it's a bad time to do
business here, I find. Then, yesterday, I wanted something. I went to
Lucas Street, as I had done half-a-dozen times before, opened my safe,
and had the inner case carried to a room.... Mr. Carrados, it was
"No." He laughed bitterly. "At the bottom was a sheet of wrapper
paper. I recognized it as a piece I had left there in case I wanted to
make up a parcel. But for that I should have been convinced that I had
somehow opened the wrong safe. That was my first idea."
"It cannot be done."
"So I understand, sir. And, then, there was the paper with my name
written on it in the empty tin. I was dazed; it seemed impossible. I
think I stood there without moving for minutes--it was more like
hours. Then I closed the tin box again, took it back, locked up the
safe and came out."
"Without notifying anything wrong?"
"Yes, Mr. Carrados." The steady blue eyes regarded him with pained
thoughtfulness. "You see, I reckoned it out in that time that it must
be someone about the place who had done it."
"You were wrong," said Carrados.
"So Mr. Carlyle seemed to think. I only knew that the key had never
been out of my possession and I had told no one of the password. Well,
it did come over me rather like cold water down the neck, that there
was I alone in the strongest dungeon in London and not a living soul
knew where I was."
"Possibly a sort of up-to-date Sweeney Todd's?"
"I'd heard of such things in London," admitted Draycott. "Anyway, I
got out. It was a mistake; I see it now. Who is to believe me as it
is--it sounds a sort of unlikely tale. And how do they come to pick on
me? to know what I had? I don't drink, or open my mouth, or hell
round. It beats me."
"They didn't pick on you--you picked on them," replied Carrados.
"Never mind how; you'll be believed all right. But as for getting
anything back--" The unfinished sentence confirmed Mr. Draycott in his
"I have the numbers of the notes," he suggested, with an attempt at
hopefulness. "They can be stopped, I take it?"
"Stopped? Yes," admitted Carrados. "And what does that amount to? The
banks and the police stations will be notified and every little
public-house between here and Land's End will change one for the
scribbling of 'John Jones' across the back. No, Mr. Draycott, it's
awkward, I dare say, but you must make up your mind to wait until you
can get fresh supplies from home. Where are you staying?"
"I have been at the Abbotsford, in Bloomsbury, up to now," he said,
with some embarrassment. "The fact is, Mr. Carrados, I think I ought
to have told you how I was placed before consulting you, because I--I
see no prospect of being able to pay my way. Knowing that I had plenty
in the safe, I had run it rather close. I went chiefly yesterday to
get some notes. I have a week's hotel bill in my pocket, and"--he
glanced down at his trousers--"I've ordered one or two other things
"That will be a matter of time, doubtless," suggested the other
Instead of replying Draycott suddenly dropped his arms on to the table
and buried his face between them. A minute passed in silence.
"It's no good, Mr. Carrados," he said, when he was able to speak. "I
can't meet it. Say what you like, I simply can't tell those chaps that
I've lost everything we had and ask them to send me more. They
couldn't do it if I did. Understand sir. The mine is a valuable one;
we have the greatest faith in it, but it has gone beyond our depth.
The three of us have put everything we own into it. While I am here
they are doing labourers' work for a wage, just to keep going ...
waiting, oh, my God! waiting for good news from me!"
Carrados walked round the table to his desk and wrote. Then, without a
word, he held out a paper to his visitor.
"What's this?" demanded Draycott, in bewilderment. "It's--it's a
cheque for a hundred pounds."
"It will carry you on," explained Carrados imperturbably. "A man like
you isn't going to throw up the sponge for this set-back. Cable to
your partners that you require copies of all the papers at once.
They'll manage it, never fear. The gold ... must go. Write fully by
the next mail. Tell them everything and add that in spite of all you
feel that you are nearer success than ever."
Mr. Draycott folded the cheque with thoughtful deliberation and put it
carefully away in his pocket-book.
"I don't know whether you've guessed as much, sir," he said in a queer
voice, "but I think that you've saved a man's life to-day. It's not
the money, it's the encouragement ... and faith. If you could see
you'd know better than I can say how I feel about it."
Carrados laughed quietly. It always amused him to have people explain
how much more he would learn if he had eyes.
"Then we'll go on to Lucas Street and give the manager the shock of
his life," was all he said. "Come, Mr. Draycott, I have already rung
up the car."
But, as it happened, another instrument had been destined to apply
that stimulating experience to the manager. As they stepped out of the
car opposite "The Safe" a taxicab drew up and Mr. Carlyle's alert and
cheery voice hailed them.
"A moment, Max," he called, turning to settle with his driver, a
transaction that he invested with an air of dignified urbanity which
almost made up for any small pecuniary disappointment that may have
accompanied it. "This is indeed fortunate. Let us compare notes for a
moment. I have just received an almost imploring message from the
manager to come at once. I assumed that it was the affair of our
colonial friend here, but he went on to mention Professor Holmfast
Bulge. Can it really be possible that he also has made a similar
"What did the manager say?" asked Carrados.
"He was practically incoherent, but I really think it must be so. What
have you done?"
"Nothing," replied Carrados. He turned his back on "The Safe" and
appeared to be regarding the other side of the street. "There is a
tobacconist's shop directly opposite?"
"What do they sell on the first floor?"
"Possibly they sell 'Rubbo.' I hazard the suggestion from the legend
'Rub in Rubbo for Everything' which embellishes each window."
"The windows are frosted?"
"They are, to half-way up, mysterious man."
Carrados walked back to his motor-car.
"While we are away, Parkinson, go across and buy a tin, bottle, box or
packet of 'Rubbo.'"
"What is 'Rubbo,' Max?" chirped Mr. Carlyle with insatiable
"So far we do not know. When Parkinson gets some, Louis, you shall be
the one to try it."
They descended into the basement and were passed in by the
grille-keeper, whose manner betrayed a discreet consciousness of
something in the air. It was unnecessary to speculate why. In the
distance, muffled by the armoured passages, an authoritative voice
boomed like a sonorous bell heard under water.
"What, however, are the facts?" it was demanding, with the causticity
of baffled helplessness. "I am assured that there is no other key in
existence; yet my safe has been unlocked. I am given to understand
that without the password it would be impossible for an unauthorized
person to tamper with my property. My password, deliberately chosen,
is 'anthropophaginian,' sir. Is it one that is familiarly on the lips
of the criminal classes? But my safe is empty! What is the
explanation? Who are the guilty persons? What is being done? Where are
"If you consider that the proper course to adopt is to stand on the
doorstep and beckon in the first constable who happens to pass, permit
me to say, sir, that I differ from you," retorted the distracted
manager. "You may rely on everything possible being done to clear up
the mystery. As I told you, I have already telephoned for a capable
private detective and for one of my directors."
"But that is not enough," insisted the professor angrily. "Will one
mere private detective restore my L6000 Japanese 4-1/2 per cent.
bearer bonds? Is the return of my irreplaceable notes on 'Polyphyletic
Bridal Customs among the mid-Pleistocene Cave Men' to depend on a
solitary director? I demand that the police shall be called in--as
many as are available. Let Scotland Yard be set in motion. A searching
inquiry must be made. I have only been a user of your precious
establishment for six months, and this is the result."
"There you hold the key of the mystery, Professor Bulge," interposed
"Who is this, sir?" demanded the exasperated professor at large.
"Permit me," explained Mr. Carlyle, with bland assurance. "I am Louis
Carlyle, of Bampton Street. This gentleman is Mr. Max Carrados, the
eminent amateur specialist in crime."
"I shall be thankful for any assistance towards elucidating this
appalling business," condescended the professor sonorously. "Let me
put you in possession of the facts--"
"Perhaps if we went into your room," suggested Carrados to the
manager, "we should be less liable to interruption."
"Quite so; quite so," boomed the professor, accepting the proposal on
everyone else's behalf. "The facts, sir, are these: I am the
unfortunate possessor of a safe here, in which, a few months ago, I
deposited--among less important matter--sixty bearer bonds of the
Japanese Imperial Loan--the bulk of my small fortune--and the
manuscript of an important projected work on 'Polyphyletic Bridal
Customs among the mid-Pleistocene Cave Men.' Today I came to detach
the coupons which fall due on the fifteenth; to pay them into my bank
a week in advance, in accordance with my custom. What do I find? I
find the safe locked and apparently intact, as when I last saw it a
month ago. But it is far from being intact, sir! It has been opened,
ransacked, cleared out! Not a single bond, not a scrap of paper
It was obvious that the manager's temperature had been rising during
the latter part of this speech and now he boiled over.
"Pardon my flatly contradicting you, Professor Bulge. You have again
referred to your visit here a month ago as your last. You will bear
witness of that, gentlemen. When I inform you that the professor had
access to his safe as recently as on Monday last you will recognize
the importance that the statement may assume."
The professor glared across the room like an infuriated animal, a
comparison heightened by his notoriously hircine appearance.
"How dare you contradict me, sir!" he cried, slapping the table
sharply with his open hand. "I was not here on Monday."
The manager shrugged his shoulders coldly.
"You forget that the attendants also saw you," he remarked. "Cannot we
trust our own eyes?"
"A common assumption, yet not always a strictly reliable one,"
insinuated Carrados softly.
"I cannot be mistaken."
"Then can you tell me, without looking, what colour Professor Bulge's
There was a curious and expectant silence for a minute. The professor
turned his back on the manager and the manager passed from
thoughtfulness to embarrassment.
"I really do not know, Mr. Carrados," he declared loftily at last. "I
do not refer to mere trifles like that."
"Then you can be mistaken," replied Carrados mildly yet with decision.
"But the ample hair, the venerable flowing beard, the prominent nose
and heavy eyebrows--"
"These are just the striking points that are most easily
counterfeited. They 'take the eye.' If you would ensure yourself
against deception, learn rather to observe the eye itself, and
particularly the spots on it, the shape of the finger-nails, the set
of the ears. These things cannot be simulated."
"You seriously suggest that the man was not Professor Bulge--that he
was an impostor?"
"The conclusion is inevitable. Where were you on Monday, Professor?"
"I was on a short lecturing tour in the Midlands. On Saturday I was in
Nottingham. On Monday in Birmingham. I did not return to London until
Carrados turned to the manager again and indicated Draycott, who so
far had remained in the background.
"And this gentleman? Did he by any chance come here on Monday?"
"He did not, Mr. Carrados. But I gave him access to his safe on
Tuesday afternoon and again yesterday."
Draycott shook his head sadly.
"Yesterday I found it empty," he said. "And all Tuesday afternoon I
was at Brighton, trying to see a gentleman on business."
The manager sat down very suddenly.
"Good God, another!" he exclaimed faintly.
"I am afraid the list is only beginning," said Carrados. "We must go
through your renters' book."
The manager roused himself to protest.
"That cannot be done. No one but myself or my deputy ever sees the
book. It would be--unprecedented."
"The circumstances are unprecedented," replied Carrados.
"If any difficulties are placed in the way of these gentlemen's
investigations, I shall make it my duty to bring the facts before the
Home Secretary," announced the professor, speaking up to the ceiling
with the voice of a brazen trumpet.
Carrados raised a deprecating hand.
"May I make a suggestion?" he remarked. "Now, I am blind. If,
"Very well," acquiesced the manager. "But I must request the others to
For five minutes Carrados followed the list of safe-renters as the
manager read them to him. Sometimes he stopped the catalogue to
reflect a moment; now and then he brushed a finger-tip over a written
signature and compared it with another. Occasionally a password
interested him. But when the list came to an end he continued to look
into space without any sign of enlightenment.
"So much is perfectly clear and yet so much is incredible," he mused.
"You insist that you alone have been in charge for the last six
"I have not been away a day this year."
"I have my lunch sent in."
"And this room could not be entered without your knowledge while you
were about the place?"
"It is impossible. The door is fitted with a powerful spring and a
feather-touch self-acting lock. It cannot be left unlocked unless you
deliberately prop it open."
"And, with your knowledge, no one has had an opportunity of having
access to this book?"
"No," was the reply.
Carrados stood up and began to put on his gloves.
"Then I must decline to pursue my investigation any further," he said
"Why?" stammered the manager.
"Because I have positive reason for believing that you are deceiving
"Pray sit down, Mr. Carrados. It is quite true that when you put the
last question to me a circumstance rushed into my mind which--so far
as the strict letter was concerned--might seem to demand 'Yes' instead
of 'No.' But not in the spirit of your inquiry. It would be absurd to
attach any importance to the incident I refer to."
"That would be for me to judge."
"You shall do so, Mr. Carrados. I live at Windermere Mansions with my
sister. A few months ago she got to know a married couple who had
recently come to the opposite flat. The husband was a middle-aged,
scholarly man who spent most of his time in the British Museum. His
wife's tastes were different; she was much younger, brighter, gayer; a
mere girl in fact, one of the most charming and unaffected I have ever
met. My sister Amelia does not readily--"
"Stop!" exclaimed Carrados. "A studious middle-aged man and a charming
young wife! Be as brief as possible. If there is any chance it may
turn on a matter of minutes at the ports. She came here, of course?"
"Accompanied by her husband," replied the manager stiffly. "Mrs. Scott
had travelled and she had a hobby of taking photographs wherever she
went. When my position accidentally came out one evening she was
carried away by the novel idea of adding views of a safe deposit to
her collection--as enthusiastic as a child. There was no reason why
she should not; the place has often been taken for advertising
"She came, and brought her camera--under your very nose!"
"I do not know what you mean by 'under my very nose.' She came with
her husband one evening just about closing time. She brought her
camera, of course--quite a small affair."
"And contrived to be in here alone?"
"I take exception to the word 'contrived.' It--it happened. I sent out
for some tea, and in the course--"
"How long was she alone in here?"
"Two or three minutes at the most. When I returned she was seated at
my desk. That was what I referred to. The little rogue had put on my
glasses and had got hold of a big book. We were great chums, and she
delighted to mock me. I confess that I was startled--merely
instinctively--to see that she had taken up this book, but the next
moment I saw that she had it upside down."
"Clever! She couldn't get it away in time. And the camera, with
half-a-dozen of its specially sensitized films already snapped over
the last few pages, by her side!"
"Yes. She is twenty-seven and has kicked hats off tall men's heads in
every capital from Petersburg to Buenos Ayres! Get through to Scotland
Yard and ask if Inspector Beedel can come up."
The manager breathed heavily through his nose.
"To call in the police and publish everything would ruin this
establishment--confidence would be gone. I cannot do it without
"Then the professor certainly will."
"Before you came I rang up the only director who is at present in town
and gave him the facts as they then stood. Possibly he has arrived by
this. If you will accompany me to the boardroom we will see."
They went up to the floor above, Mr. Carlyle joining them on the way.
"Excuse me a moment," said the manager.
Parkinson, who had been having an improving conversation with the hall
porter on the subject of land values, approached.
"I am sorry, sir," he reported, "but I was unable to procure any
'Rubbo.' The place appears to be shut up."
"That is a pity; Mr. Carlyle had set his heart on it."
"Will you come this way, please?" said the manager, reappearing.
In the boardroom they found a white-haired old gentleman who had
obeyed the manager's behest from a sense of duty, and then remained in
a distant corner of the empty room in the hope that he might be
over-looked. He was amiably helpless and appeared to be deeply aware
"This is a very sad business, gentlemen," he said, in a whispering,
confiding voice. "I am informed that you recommend calling in the
Scotland Yard authorities. That would be a disastrous course for an
institution that depends on the implicit confidence of the public."
"It is the only course," replied Carrados.
"The name of Mr. Carrados is well known to us in connection with a
delicate case. Could you not carry this one through?"
"It is impossible. A wide inquiry must be made. Every port will have
to be watched. The police alone can do that." He threw a little
significance into the next sentence. "I alone can put the police in
the right way of doing it."
"And you will do that, Mr. Carrados?"
Carrados smiled engagingly. He knew exactly what constituted the great
attraction of his services.
"My position is this," he explained. "So far my work has been entirely
amateur. In that capacity I have averted one or two crimes, remedied
an occasional injustice, and now and then been of service to my
professional friend, Louis Carlyle. But there is no reason at all why
I should serve a commercial firm in an ordinary affair of business for
nothing. For any information I should require a fee, a quite nominal
fee of, say, one hundred pounds."
The director looked as though his faith in human nature had received a
"A hundred pounds would be a very large initial fee for a small firm
like this, Mr. Carrados," he remarked in a pained voice.
"And that, of course, would be independent of Mr. Carlyle's
professional charges," added Carrados.