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 suède 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 entrée. 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 £6000 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.
"Is that sum contingent on any specific performance?" inquired the
"I do not mind making it conditional on my procuring for you, for the
police to act on, a photograph and a description of the thief."
The two officials conferred apart for a moment. Then the manager
"We will agree, Mr. Carrados, on the understanding that these things
are to be in our hands within two days. Failing that--"
"No, no!" cried Mr. Carlyle indignantly, but Carrados good-humouredly
put him aside.
"I will accept the condition in the same sporting spirit that inspires
it. Within forty-eight hours or no pay. The cheque, of course, to be
given immediately the goods are delivered?"
"You may rely on that."
Carrados took out his pocket-book, produced an envelope bearing
an American stamp, and from it extracted an unmounted print.
"Here is the photograph," he announced. "The man is called Ulysses K.
Groom, but he is better known as 'Harry the Actor.' You will find the
description written on the back."
Five minutes later, when they were alone, Mr. Carlyle expressed his
opinion of the transaction.
"You are an unmitigated humbug, Max," he said, "though an amiable one,
I admit. But purely for your own private amusement you spring these
things on people."
"On the contrary," replied Carrados, "people spring these things on
"Now this photograph. Why have I heard nothing of it before?"
Carrados took out his watch and touched the fingers.
"It is now three minutes to eleven. I received the photograph at
twenty past eight."
"Even then, an hour ago you assured me that you had done nothing."
"Nor had I--so far as result went. Until the keystone of the edifice
was wrung from the manager in his room, I was as far away from
demonstrable certainty as ever."
"So am I--as yet," hinted Mr. Carlyle.
"I am coming to that, Louis. I turn over the whole thing to you. The
man has got two clear days' start and the chances are nine to one
against catching him. We know everything, and the case has no further
interest for me. But it is your business. Here is your material.
"On that one occasion when the 'tawny' man crossed our path, I took
from the first a rather more serious view of his scope and intention
than you did. The same day I sent a cipher cable to Pierson of the New
York service. I asked for news of any man of such and such a
description--merely negative--who was known to have left the States;
an educated man, expert in the use of disguises, audacious in his
operations, and a specialist in 'dry' work among banks and
"Why the States, Max?"
"That was a sighting shot on my part. I argued that he must be an
English-speaking man. The smart and inventive turn of the modern Yank
has made him a specialist in ingenious devices, straight or crooked.
Unpickable locks and invincible lock-pickers, burglar-proof safes and
safe-specializing burglars, come equally from the States. So I tried a
very simple test. As we talked that day and the man walked past us, I
dropped the words 'New York'--or, rather, 'Noo Y'rk'--in his hearing."
"I know you did. He neither turned nor stopped."
"He was that much on his guard; but into his step there came--though
your poor old eyes could not see it, Louis--the 'psychological pause,'
an absolute arrest of perhaps a fifth of a second; just as it would
have done with you if the word 'London' had fallen on your ear in a
distant land. However, the whys and the wherefores don't matter. Here
is the essential story.
"Eighteen months ago 'Harry the Actor' successfully looted the office
safe of M'Kenkie, J.F. Higgs & Co., of Cleveland, Ohio. He had just
married a smart but very facile third-rate vaudeville actress--English
by origin--and wanted money for the honeymoon. He got about five
hundred pounds, and with that they came to Europe and stayed in London
for some months. That period is marked by the Congreave Square post
office burglary, you may remember. While studying such of the British
institutions as most appealed to him, the 'Actor's' attention became
fixed on this safe-deposit. Possibly the implied challenge contained
in its telegraphic address grew on him until it became a point of
professional honour with him to despoil it; at all events he was
presumedly attracted by an undertaking that promised not only glory
but very solid profit. The first part of the plot was, to the most
skilful criminal 'impersonator' in the States, mere skittles.
Spreading over those months he appeared at 'The Safe' in twelve
different characters and rented twelve safes of different sizes. At
the same time he made a thorough study of the methods of the place. As
soon as possible he got the keys back again into legitimate use,
having made duplicates for his own private ends, of course. Five he
seems to have returned during his first stay; one was received later,
with profuse apologies, by registered post; one was returned through a
leading Berlin bank. Six months ago he made a flying visit here,
purely to work off two more. One he kept from first to last, and the
remaining couple he got in at the beginning of his second long
residence here, three or four months ago.
"This brings us to the serious part of the cool enterprise. He had
funds from the Atlantic and South-Central Mail-car coup when he
arrived here last April. He appears to have set up three
establishments; a home, in the guise of an elderly scholar with a
young wife, which, of course, was next door to our friend the manager;
an observation point, over which he plastered the inscription 'Rub in
Rubbo for Everything' as a reason for being; and, somewhere else, a
dressing-room with essential conditions of two doors into different
"About six weeks ago he entered the last stage. Mrs. Harry, with quite
ridiculous ease, got photographs of the necessary page or two of the
record-book. I don't doubt that for weeks before then everyone who
entered the place had been observed, but the photographs linked them
up with the actual men into whose hands the 'Actor's' old keys had
passed--gave their names and addresses, the numbers of their safes,
their passwords and signatures. The rest was easy."
"Yes, by Jupiter; mere play for a man like that," agreed Mr. Carlyle,
with professional admiration. "He could contrive a dozen different
occasions for studying the voice and manner and appearance of his
victims. How much has he cleared?"
"We can only speculate as yet. I have put my hand on seven doubtful
callers on Monday and Tuesday last. Two others he had ignored for some
reason; the remaining two safes had not been allotted. There is one
point that raises an interesting speculation."
"What is that, Max?"
"The 'Actor' has one associate, a man known as 'Billy the Fondant,'
but beyond that--with the exception of his wife, of course--he does
not usually trust anyone. It is plain, however, that at least seven
men must latterly have been kept under close observation. It has
occurred to me--"
"I have wondered whether Harry has enlisted the innocent services of
one or other of our private inquiry offices."
"Scarcely," smiled the professional. "It would hardly pass muster."
"Oh, I don't know. Mrs. Harry, in the character of a jealous wife or a
suspicious sweetheart, might reasonably--"
Mr. Carlyle's smile suddenly faded.
"By Jupiter!" he exclaimed. "I remember--"
"Yes, Louis?" prompted Carrados, with laughter in his voice.
"I remember that I must telephone to a client before Beedel comes,"
concluded Mr. Carlyle, rising in some haste.
At the door he almost ran into the subdued director, who was wringing
his hands in helpless protest at a new stroke of calamity.
"Mr. Carrados," wailed the poor old gentleman in a tremulous bleat,
"Mr. Carrados, there is another now--Sir Benjamin Gump. He insists on
seeing me. You will not--you will not desert us?"
"I should have to stay a week," replied Carrados briskly, "and I'm
just off now. There will be a procession. Mr. Carlyle will support
you, I am sure."
He nodded "Good-morning" straight into the eyes of each and found his
way out with the astonishing certainty of movement that made so many
forget his infirmity. Possibly he was not desirous of encountering
Draycott's embarrassed gratitude again, for in less than a minute they
heard the swirl of his departing car.
"Never mind, my dear sir," Mr. Carlyle assured his client, with
impenetrable complacency. "Never mind. I will remain instead.
Perhaps I had better make myself known to Sir Benjamin at once."
The director turned on him the pleading, trustful look of a cornered
"He is in the basement," he whispered. "I shall be in the
Mr. Carlyle had no difficulty in discovering the centre of interest in
the basement. Sir Benjamin was expansive and reserved, bewildered and
decisive, long-winded and short-tempered, each in turn and more or
less all at once. He had already demanded the attention of the
manager, Professor Bulge, Draycott and two underlings to his case and
they were now involved in a babel of inutile reiteration. The inquiry
agent was at once drawn into a circle of interrogation that he did his
best to satisfy impressively while himself learning the new facts.
The latest development was sufficiently astonishing. Less than an hour
before Sir Benjamin had received a parcel by district messenger. It
contained a jewel-case which ought at that moment to have been
securely reposing in one of the deposit safes. Hastily snatching it
open, the recipient's incredible forebodings were realized. It was
empty--empty of jewels, that is to say, for, as if to add a sting to
the blow, a neatly inscribed card had been placed inside, and on it
the agitated baronet read the appropriate but at the moment rather
gratuitous maxim: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth--"
The card was passed round and all eyes demanded the expert's
"'--where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through
and steal.' H'm," read Mr. Carlyle with weight. "This is a most
important clue, Sir Benjamin--"
"Hey, what? What's that?" exclaimed a voice from the other side of the
hall. "Why, damme if I don't believe you've got another! Look at that,
gentlemen; look at that. What's on, I say? Here now, come; give me my
safe. I want to know where I am."
It was the bookmaker who strode tempestuously in among them,
flourishing before their faces a replica of the card that was in Mr.
"Well, upon my soul this is most extraordinary," exclaimed that
gentleman, comparing the two. "You have just received this, Mr.--Mr.
Berge, isn't it?"
"That's right, Berge--'Iceberg' on the course. Thank the Lord Harry, I
can take my losses coolly enough, but this--this is a facer. Put into
my hand half-an-hour ago inside an envelope that ought to be here and
as safe as in the Bank of England. What's the game, I say? Here,
Johnny, hurry and let me into my safe."
Discipline and method had for the moment gone by the board. There was
no suggestion of the boasted safeguards of the establishment. The
manager added his voice to that of the client, and when the attendant
did not at once appear he called again.
"John, come and give Mr. Berge access to his safe at once."
"All right, sir," pleaded the harassed key-attendant, hurrying up with
the burden of his own distraction. "There's a silly fathead got in
what thinks this is a left-luggage office, so far as I can make out--a
"Never mind that now," replied the manager severely, "Mr. Berge's
safe: No. 01724."
The attendant and Mr. Berge went off together down one of the
brilliant colonnaded vistas. One or two of the others who had caught
the words glanced across and became aware of a strange figure that was
drifting indecisively towards them. He was obviously an elderly German
tourist of pronounced type--long-haired, spectacled, outrageously
garbed and involved in the mental abstraction of his philosophical
race. One hand was occupied with the manipulation of a pipe, as
markedly Teutonic as its owner; the other grasped a carpet-bag that
would have ensured an opening laugh to any low comedian.
Quite impervious to the preoccupation of the group, the German made
his way up to them and picked out the manager.
"This was a safety deposit, nicht wahr?"
"Quite so," acquiesced the manager loftily, "but just now--"
"Your fellow was dense of comprehension." The eyes behind the clumsy
glasses wrinkled to a ponderous humour. "He forgot his own business.
Now this goot bag--"
Brought into fuller prominence, the carpet-bag revealed further
details of its overburdened proportions. At one end a flannel shirt
cuff protruded in limp dejection; at the other an ancient collar, with
the grotesque attachment known as a "dickey," asserted its presence.
No wonder the manager frowned his annoyance. "The Safe" was in low
enough repute among its patrons at that moment without any burlesque
interlude to its tragic hour.
"Yes, yes," he whispered, attempting to lead the would-be depositor
away, "but you are under a mistake. This is not--"
"It was a safety deposit? Goot. Mine bag--I would deposit him in
safety till the time of mine train. Ja?"
"Nein, nein!" almost hissed the agonized official. "Go away, sir, go
away! It isn't a cloakroom. John, let this gentleman out."
The attendant and Mr. Berge were returning from their quest. The inner
box had been opened and there was no need to ask the result. The
bookmaker was shaking his head like a baffled bull.
"Gone, no effects," he shouted across the hall. "Lifted from 'The
Safe,' by crumb!"
To those who knew nothing of the method and operation of the fraud it
seemed as if the financial security of the Capital was tottering. An
amazed silence fell, and in it they heard the great grille door of the
basement clang on the inopportune foreigner's departure. But, as if it
was impossible to stand still on that morning of dire happenings, he
was immediately succeeded by a dapper, keen-faced man in severe
clerical attire who had been let in as the intruder passed out.
"Canon Petersham!" exclaimed the professor, going forward to greet
"By dear Professor Bulge!" reciprocated the canon. "You here! A most
disquieting thing has happened to me. I must have my safe at once." He
divided his attention between the manager and the professor as he
monopolized them both. "A most disquieting and--and outrageous
circumstance. My safe, please--yes, yes, Rev. Henry Noakes Petersham.
I have just received by hand a box, a small box of no value but one
that I thought, yes, I am convinced that it was the one, a box that
was used to contain certain valuables of family interest which should
at this moment be in my safe here. No. 7436? Very likely, very likely.
Yes, here is my key. But not content with the disconcerting effect of
that, professor, the box contained--and I protest that it's a most
unseemly thing to quote any text from the Bible in this way to a
clergyman of my position--well, here it is. 'Lay not up for yourselves
treasures upon earth--' Why, I have a dozen sermons of my own in my
desk now on that very verse. I'm particularly partial to the very
needful lesson that it teaches. And to apply it to me! It's
"No. 7436, John," ordered the manager, with weary resignation.
The attendant again led the way towards another armour-plated aisle.
Smartly turning a corner, he stumbled over something, bit a profane
exclamation in two, and looked back.
"It's that bloomin' foreigner's old bag again," he explained across
the place in aggrieved apology. "He left it here after all."
"Take it upstairs and throw it out when you've finished," said the
"Here, wait a minute," pondered John, in absent-minded familiarity.
"Wait a minute. This is a funny go. There's a label on that wasn't
here before. 'Why not look inside?'"
"'Why not look inside?'" repeated someone.
"That's what it says."
There was another puzzled silence. All were arrested by some
intangible suggestion of a deeper mystery than they had yet touched.
One by one they began to cross the hall with the conscious air of men
who were not curious but thought that they might as well see.
"Why, curse my crumpet," suddenly exploded Mr. Berge, "if that ain't
the same writing as these texts!"
"By gad, but I believe you are right," assented Mr. Carlyle. "Well,
why not look inside?"
The attendant, from his stooping posture, took the verdict of the ring
of faces and in a trice tugged open the two buckles. The central
fastening was not locked, and yielded to a touch. The flannel shirt,
the weird collar and a few other garments in the nature of a
"top-dressing" were flung out and John's hand plunged deeper....
Harry the Actor had lived up to his dramatic instinct. Nothing was
wrapped up; nay, the rich booty had been deliberately opened out and
displayed, as it were, so that the overturning of the bag, when John
the keybearer in an access of riotous extravagance lifted it up and
strewed its contents broadcast on the floor, was like the looting of a
smuggler's den, or the realization of a speculator's dream, or the
bursting of an Aladdin's cave, or something incredibly lavish and
bizarre. Bank-notes fluttered down and lay about in all directions,
relays of sovereigns rolled away like so much dross, bonds and scrip
for thousands and tens of thousands clogged the downpouring stream of
jewellery and unset gems. A yellow stone the size of a four-pound
weight and twice as heavy dropped plump upon the canon's toes and sent
him hopping and grimacing to the wall. A ruby-hilted kris cut across
the manager's wrist as he strove to arrest the splendid rout. Still
the miraculous cornucopia deluged the ground, with its pattering,
ringing, bumping, crinkling, rolling, fluttering produce until, like
the final tableau of some spectacular ballet, it ended with a golden
rain that masked the details of the heap beneath a glittering veil of
"My dust!" gasped Draycott.
"My fivers, by golly!" ejaculated the bookmaker, initiating a plunge
among the spoil.
"My Japanese bonds, coupons and all, and--yes, even the manuscript of
my work on 'Polyphyletic Bridal Customs among the mid-Pleistocene Cave
Men.' Hah!" Something approaching a cachinnation of delight closed the
professor's contribution to the pandemonium, and eyewitnesses
afterwards declared that for a moment the dignified scientist stood on
one foot in the opening movement of a can-can.
"My wife's diamonds, thank heaven!" cried Sir Benjamin, with the air
of a schoolboy who was very well out of a swishing.
"But what does it mean?" demanded the bewildered canon. "Here are my
family heirlooms--a few decent pearls, my grandfather's collection of
camei and other trifles--but who--?"
"Perhaps this offers some explanation," suggested Mr. Carlyle,
unpinning an envelope that had been secured to the lining of the bag.
"It is addressed 'To Seven Rich Sinners.' Shall I read it for you?"
For some reason the response was not unanimous, but it was sufficient.
Mr. Carlyle cut open the envelope.
"My dear Friends,--Aren't you glad? Aren't you happy at this moment?
Ah yes; but not with the true joy of regeneration that alone can bring
lightness to the afflicted soul. Pause while there is yet time. Cast
off the burden of your sinful lusts, for what shall it profit a man if
he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? (Mark, chap.
viii, v. 36.)
"Oh, my friends, you have had an all-fired narrow squeak. Up till the
Friday in last week I held your wealth in the hollow of my ungodly
hand and rejoiced in my nefarious cunning, but on that day as I with
my guilty female accomplice stood
Next: Hunted Down
Previous: The Tragedy At Brookbend Cottage