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Anonymous

Addressed To The Advocate Who Defended Him At His Trial
The Great Valdez Sapphire
The Lost Duchess
The Minor Canon
The Pipe
The Puzzle

The Lock And Key Library

A Case Of Identity
A Conjurer's Confessions
A Flight Into Texas
A Formidable Weapon
A Mystery With A Moral
A Scandal In Bohemia
A Wish Unexpectedly Gratified
Addressed To The Advocate Who Defended Him At His Trial
Adventure Of The Black Fisherman
Adventures In The Secret Service Of The Post-office Department
An Aspirant For Congress
An Erring Shepherd
An Heiress From Redhorse
An Old Game Revived
Bourgonef
By The Waters Of Paradise
Deception Explained By The Science Of Psychology
Facing The Arab's Pistol
Fact And Fable In Psychology
Fraudulent Spiritualism Unveiled[1]
His Wedded Wife
Horror: A True Tale
How Spirits Materialize
How The Tricks Succeeded
In The House Of Suddhoo
Introduction To A Mystery With A Moral
Introduction To Melmoth The Wanderer
Introduction To The Corpus Delicti
Matter Through Matter
Melmoth The Wanderer
Mind Reading In Public
My Own True Ghost Story
My Wife's Tempter
No 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man
On Being Found Out
Saint-germain The Deathless
Second Sight
Some Famous Exposures
The Avenger
The Baron's Quarry
The Closed Cabinet
The Corpus Delicti
The Dream Woman
The Fortune Of Seth Savage
The Fowl In The Pot
The Gold-bug
The Golden Ingot
The Great Valdez Sapphire
The Haunted And The Haunters Or The House And The Brain
The Hostler's Story Told By Himself
The Incantation
The Lost Duchess
The Magician Who Became An Ambassador
The Man And The Snake
The Man In The Iron Mask
The Methods Of A Doctor Of The Occult
The Minister's Black Veil
The Minor Canon
The Mortals In The House
The Name Of The Dead
The Notch On The Ax - A Story A La Mode
The Oblong Box
The Pavilion On The Links
The Pipe
The Puzzle
The Red-headed League
The Sending Of Dana Da
The Shadows On The Wall
The Story Continued By Percy Fairbank
Wieland's Madness
Wolfert Webber Or Golden Dreams



The Puzzle








I

Pugh came into my room holding something wrapped in a piece of brown
paper.

"Tress, I have brought you something on which you may exercise your
ingenuity." He began, with exasperating deliberation, to untie the string
which bound his parcel; he is one of those persons who would not cut a
knot to save their lives. The process occupied him the better part of a
quarter of an hour. Then he held out the contents of the paper.

"What do you think of that?" he asked. I thought nothing of it, and I told
him so. "I was prepared for that confession. I have noticed, Tress, that
you generally do think nothing of an article which really deserves the
attention of a truly thoughtful mind. Possibly, as you think so little of
it, you will be able to solve the puzzle."

I took what he held out to me. It was an oblong box, perhaps seven inches
long by three inches broad.

"Where's the puzzle?" I asked.

"If you will examine the lid of the box, you will see."

I turned it over and over; it was difficult to see which was the lid. Then
I perceived that on one side were printed these words:

"PUZZLE: TO OPEN THE BOX"

The words were so faintly printed that it was not surprising that I had
not noticed them at first. Pugh explained.

"I observed that box on a tray outside a second-hand furniture shop. It
struck my eye. I took it up. I examined it. I inquired of the proprietor
of the shop in what the puzzle lay. He replied that that was more than he
could tell me. He himself had made several attempts to open the box, and
all of them had failed. I purchased it. I took it home. I have tried, and
I have failed. I am aware, Tress, of how you pride yourself upon your
ingenuity. I cannot doubt that, if you try, you will not fail."

While Pugh was prosing, I was examining the box. It was at least well
made. It weighed certainly under two ounces. I struck it with my knuckles;
it sounded hollow. There was no hinge; nothing of any kind to show that it
ever had been opened, or, for the matter of that, that it ever could be
opened. The more I examined the thing, the more it whetted my curiosity.
That it could be opened, and in some ingenious manner, I made no
doubt--but how?

The box was not a new one. At a rough guess I should say that it had been
a box for a good half century; there were certain signs of age about it
which could not escape a practiced eye. Had it remained unopened all that
time? When opened, what would be found inside? It sounded hollow;
probably nothing at all--who could tell?

It was formed of small pieces of inlaid wood. Several woods had been used;
some of them were strange to me. They were of different colors; it was
pretty obvious that they must all of them have been hard woods. The pieces
were of various shapes--hexagonal, octagonal, triangular, square, oblong,
and even circular. The process of inlaying them had been beautifully done.
So nicely had the parts been joined that the lines of meeting were
difficult to discover with the naked eye; they had been joined solid, so
to speak. It was an excellent example of marquetry. I had been over-hasty
in my deprecation; I owed as much to Pugh.

"This box of yours is better worth looking at than I first supposed. Is it
to be sold?"

"No, it is not to be sold. Nor"--he "fixed" me with his spectacles--"is it
to be given away. I have brought it to you for the simple purpose of
ascertaining if you have ingenuity enough to open it."

"I will engage to open it in two seconds--with a hammer."

"I dare say. I will open it with a hammer. The thing is to open it
without."

"Let me see." I began, with the aid of a microscope, to examine the box
more closely. "I will give you one piece of information, Pugh. Unless I am
mistaken, the secret lies in one of these little pieces of inlaid wood.
You push it, or you press it, or something, and the whole affair flies
open."

"Such was my own first conviction. I am not so sure of it now. I have

pressed every separate piece of wood; I have tried to move each piece in
every direction. No result has followed. My theory was a hidden spring."

"But there must be a hidden spring of some sort, unless you are to open it
by a mere exercise of force. I suppose the box is empty."

"I thought it was at first, but now I am not so sure of that either. It
all depends on the position in which you hold it. Hold it in this
position--like this--close to your ear. Have you a small hammer?" I took a
small hammer. "Tap it softly, with the hammer. Don't you notice a sort of
reverberation within?"

Pugh was right, there certainly was something within; something which
seemed to echo back my tapping, almost as if it were a living thing. I
mentioned this to Pugh.

"But you don't think that there is something alive inside the box? There
can't be. The box must be air-tight, probably as much air-tight as an
exhausted receiver."

"How do we know that? How can we tell that no minute interstices have been
left for the express purpose of ventilation?" I continued tapping with the
hammer. I noticed one peculiarity, that it was only when I held the box in
a particular position, and tapped at a certain spot, there came the
answering taps from within. "I tell you what it is, Pugh, what I hear is
the reverberation of some machinery."

"Do you think so?"

"I'm sure of it."

"Give the box to me." Pugh put the box to his ear. He tapped. "It sounds
to me like the echoing tick, tick of some great beetle; like the sort of
noise which a deathwatch makes, you know."

Trust Pugh to find a remarkable explanation for a simple fact; if the
explanation leans toward the supernatural, so much the more satisfactory
to Pugh. I knew better.

"The sound which you hear is merely the throbbing or the trembling of the
mechanism with which it is intended that the box should be opened. The
mechanism is placed just where you are tapping it with the hammer. Every
tap causes it to jar."

"It sounds to me like the ticking of a deathwatch. However, on such
subjects, Tress, I know what you are."

"My dear Pugh, give it an extra hard tap, and you will see."

He gave it an extra hard tap. The moment he had done so, he started.

"I've done it now."

"What have you done?"

"Broken something, I fancy." He listened intently, with his ear to the
box. "No--it seems all right. And yet I could have sworn I had damaged
something; I heard it smash."

"Give me the box." He gave it me. In my turn, I listened. I shook the box.
Pugh must have been mistaken. Nothing rattled; there was not a sound; the
box was as empty as before. I gave a smart tap with the hammer, as Pugh
had done. Then there certainly was a curious sound. To my ear, it sounded
like the smashing of glass. "I wonder if there is anything fragile inside
your precious puzzle, Pugh, and, if so, if we are shivering it by
degrees?"


II

"What is that noise?"

I lay in bed in that curious condition which is between sleep and waking.
When, at last, I knew that I was awake, I asked myself what it was that
had woke me. Suddenly I became conscious that something was making itself
audible in the silence of the night. For some seconds I lay and listened.
Then I sat up in bed.

"What is that noise?"

It was like the tick, tick of some large and unusually clear-toned clock.
It might have been a clock, had it not been that the sound was varied,
every half dozen ticks or so, by a sort of stifled screech, such as might
have been uttered by some small creature in an extremity of anguish. I got
out of bed; it was ridiculous to think of sleep during the continuation of
that uncanny shrieking. I struck a light. The sound seemed to come from
the neighborhood of my dressing-table. I went to the dressing-table, the
lighted match in my hand, and, as I did so, my eyes fell on Pugh's
mysterious box. That same instant there issued, from the bowels of the
box, a more uncomfortable screech than any I had previously heard. It took
me so completely by surprise that I let the match fall from my hand to the
floor. The room was in darkness. I stood, I will not say trembling,
listening--considering their volume--to the eeriest shrieks I ever
heard. All at once they ceased. Then came the tick, tick, tick again. I
struck another match and lit the gas.

Pugh had left his puzzle box behind him. We had done all we could,
together, to solve the puzzle. He had left it behind to see what I could
do with it alone. So much had it engrossed my attention that I had even
brought it into my bedroom, in order that I might, before retiring to
rest, make a final attempt at the solution of the mystery. Now what
possessed the thing?

As I stood, and looked, and listened, one thing began to be clear to me,
that some sort of machinery had been set in motion inside the box. How it
had been set in motion was another matter. But the box had been subjected
to so much handling, to such pressing and such hammering, that it was not
strange if, after all, Pugh or I had unconsciously hit upon the spring
which set the whole thing going. Possibly the mechanism had got so rusty
that it had refused to act at once. It had hung fire, and only after some
hours had something or other set the imprisoned motive power free.

But what about the screeching? Could there be some living creature
concealed within the box? Was I listening to the cries of some small
animal in agony? Momentary reflection suggested that the explanation of
the one thing was the explanation of the other. Rust!--there was the
mystery. The same rust which had prevented the mechanism from acting at
once was causing the screeching now. The uncanny sounds were caused by
nothing more nor less than the want of a drop or two of oil. Such an
explanation would not have satisfied Pugh, it satisfied me.

Picking up the box, I placed it to my ear.

"I wonder how long this little performance is going to continue. And what
is going to happen when it is good enough to cease? I hope"--an
uncomfortable thought occurred to me--"I hope Pugh hasn't picked up some
pleasant little novelty in the way of an infernal machine. It would be a
first-rate joke if he and I had been endeavoring to solve the puzzle of
how to set it going."

I don't mind owning that as this reflection crossed my mind I replaced
Pugh's puzzle on the dressing-table. The idea did not commend itself to me
at all. The box evidently contained some curious mechanism. It might be
more curious than comfortable. Possibly some agreeable little device in
clockwork. The tick, tick, tick suggested clockwork which had been planned
to go a certain time, and then--then, for all I knew, ignite an explosive,
and--blow up. It would be a charming solution to the puzzle if it were to
explode while I stood there, in my nightshirt, looking on. It is true that
the box weighed very little. Probably, as I have said, the whole affair
would not have turned the scale at a couple of ounces. But then its very
lightness might have been part of the ingenious inventor's little game.
There are explosives with which one can work a very satisfactory amount of
damage with considerably less than a couple of ounces.

While I was hesitating--I own it!--whether I had not better immerse Pugh's
puzzle in a can of water, or throw it out of the window, or call down Bob
with a request to at once remove it to his apartment, both the tick, tick,
tick, and the screeching ceased, and all within the box was still. If it
was going to explode, it was now or never. Instinctively I moved in the
direction of the door.

I waited with a certain sense of anxiety. I waited in vain. Nothing
happened, not even a renewal of the sound.

"I wish Pugh had kept his precious puzzle at home. This sort of thing
tries one's nerves."

When I thought that I perceived that nothing seemed likely to happen, I
returned to the neighborhood of the table. I looked at the box askance. I
took it up gingerly. Something might go off at any moment for all I knew.
It would be too much of a joke if Pugh's precious puzzle exploded in my
hand. I shook it doubtfully; nothing rattled. I held it to my ear. There
was not a sound. What had taken place? Had the clockwork run down, and was
the machine arranged with such a diabolical ingenuity that a certain,
interval was required, after the clockwork had run down, before an
explosion could occur? Or had rust caused the mechanism to again hang
fire?

"After making all that commotion the thing might at least come open." I
banged the box viciously against the corner of the table. I felt that I
would almost rather that an explosion should take place than that nothing
should occur. One does not care to be disturbed from one's sound slumber
in the small hours of the morning for a trifle.

"I've half a mind to get a hammer, and try, as they say in the cookery
books, another way."

Unfortunately I had promised Pugh to abstain from using force. I might
have shivered the box open with my hammer, and then explained that it had
fallen, or got trod upon, or sat upon, or something, and so got shattered,
only I was afraid that Pugh would not believe me. The man is himself such
an untruthful man that he is in a chronic state of suspicion about the
truthfulness of others.

"Well, if you're not going to blow up, or open, or something, I'll say
good night."

I gave the box a final rap with my knuckles and a final shake, replaced it
on the table, put out the gas, and returned to bed.

I was just sinking again into slumber, when that box began again. It was
true that Pugh had purchased the puzzle, but it was evident that the whole
enjoyment of the purchase was destined to be mine. It was useless to think
of sleep while that performance was going on. I sat up in bed once more.

"It strikes me that the puzzle consists in finding out how it is possible
to go to sleep with Pugh's purchase in your bedroom. This is far better
than the old-fashioned prescription of cats on the tiles."

It struck me the noise was distinctly louder than before; this applied
both to the tick, tick, tick, and the screeching.

"Possibly," I told myself, as I relighted the gas, "the explosion is to
come off this time."

I turned to look at the box. There could be no doubt about it; the noise
was louder. And, if I could trust my eyes, the box was moving--giving a
series of little jumps. This might have been an optical delusion, but it
seemed to me that at each tick the box gave a little bound. During the
screeches--which sounded more like the cries of an animal in an agony of
pain even than before--if it did not tilt itself first on one end, and
then on another, I shall never be willing to trust the evidence of my own
eyes again. And surely the box had increased in size; I could have sworn
not only that it had increased, but that it was increasing, even as I
stood there looking on. It had grown, and still was growing, both broader,
and longer, and deeper. Pugh, of course, would have attributed it to
supernatural agency; there never was a man with such a nose for a ghost. I
could picture him occupying my position, shivering in his nightshirt, as
he beheld that miracle taking place before his eyes. The solution which at
once suggested itself to me--and which would never have suggested itself
to Pugh!--was that the box was fashioned, as it were, in layers, and that
the ingenious mechanism it contained was forcing the sides at once both
upward and outward. I took it in my hand. I could feel something striking
against the bottom of the box, like the tap, tap, tapping of a tiny
hammer.

"This is a pretty puzzle of Pugh's. He would say that that is the tapping
of a deathwatch. For my part I have not much faith in deathwatches, et
hoc genus omne, but it certainly is a curious tapping; I wonder what is
going to happen next?"

Apparently nothing, except a continuation of those mysterious sounds. That
the box had increased in size I had, and have, no doubt whatever. I should
say that it had increased a good inch in every direction, at least half an
inch while I had been looking on. But while I stood looking its growth was
suddenly and perceptibly stayed; it ceased to move. Only the noise
continued.

"I wonder how long it will be before anything worth happening does happen!
I suppose something is going to happen; there can't be all this to-do for
nothing. If it is anything in the infernal machine line, and there is
going to be an explosion, I might as well be here to see it. I think I'll
have a pipe."

I put on my dressing-gown. I lit my pipe. I sat and stared at the box. I
dare say I sat there for quite twenty minutes when, as before, without any
sort of warning, the sound was stilled. Its sudden cessation rather
startled me.

"Has the mechanism again hung fire? Or, this time, is the explosion
coming off?" It did not come off; nothing came off. "Isn't the box even
going to open?"

It did not open. There was simply silence all at once, and that was all. I
sat there in expectation for some moments longer. But I sat for nothing. I
rose. I took the box in my hand. I shook it.

"This puzzle is a puzzle." I held the box first to one ear, then to the
other. I gave it several sharp raps with my knuckles. There was not an
answering sound, not even the sort of reverberation which Pugh and I had
noticed at first. It seemed hollower than ever. It was as though the soul
of the box was dead. "I suppose if I put you down, and extinguish the gas
and return to bed, in about half an hour or so, just as I am dropping off
to sleep, the performance will be recommenced. Perhaps the third time will
be lucky."

But I was mistaken--there was no third time. When I returned to bed that
time I returned to sleep, and I was allowed to sleep; there was no
continuation of the performance, at least so far as I know. For no sooner
was I once more between the sheets than I was seized with an irresistible
drowsiness, a drowsiness which so mastered me that I--I imagine it must
have been instantly--sank into slumber which lasted till long after day
had dawned. Whether or not any more mysterious sounds issued from the
bowels of Pugh's puzzle is more than I can tell. If they did, they did not
succeed in rousing me.

And yet, when at last I did awake, I had a sort of consciousness that my
waking had been caused by something strange. What it was I could not
surmise. My own impression was that I had been awakened by the touch of a
person's hand. But that impression must have been a mistaken one, because,
as I could easily see by looking round the room, there was no one in the
room to touch me.

It was broad daylight. I looked at my watch; it was nearly eleven o'clock.
I am a pretty late sleeper as a rule, but I do not usually sleep as late
as that. That scoundrel Bob would let me sleep all day without thinking it
necessary to call me. I was just about to spring out of bed with the
intention of ringing the bell so that I might give Bob a piece of my mind
for allowing me to sleep so late, when my glance fell on the
dressing-table on which, the night before, I had placed Pugh's puzzle. It
had gone!

Its absence so took me by surprise that I ran to the table. It had gone.
But it had not gone far; it had gone to pieces! There were the pieces
lying where the box had been. The puzzle had solved itself. The box was
open, open with a vengeance, one might say. Like that unfortunate Humpty
Dumpty, who, so the chroniclers tell us, sat on a wall, surely "all the
king's horses and all the king's men" never could put Pugh's puzzle
together again!

The marquetry had resolved itself into its component parts. How those
parts had ever been joined was a mystery. They had been laid upon no
foundation, as is the case with ordinary inlaid work. The several pieces
of wood were not only of different shapes and sizes, but they were as thin
as the thinnest veneer; yet the box had been formed by simply joining them
together. The man who made that box must have been possessed of ingenuity
worthy of a better cause.

I perceived how the puzzle had been worked. The box had contained an
arrangement of springs, which, on being released, had expanded themselves
in different directions until their mere expansion had rent the box to
pieces. There were the springs, lying amid the ruin they had caused.

There was something else amid that ruin besides those springs; there was a
small piece of writing paper. I took it up. On the reverse side of it was
written in a minute, crabbed hand: "A Present For You." What was a present
for me? I looked, and, not for the first time since I had caught sight of
Pugh's precious puzzle, could scarcely believe my eyes.

There, poised between two upright wires, the bent ends of which held it
aloft in the air, was either a piece of glass or--a crystal. The scrap of
writing paper had exactly covered it. I understood what it was, when Pugh
and I had tapped with the hammer, had caused the answering taps to proceed
from within. Our taps caused the wires to oscillate, and in these
oscillations the crystal, which they held suspended, had touched the side
of the box.

I looked again at the piece of paper. "A Present For You." Was this the
present--this crystal? I regarded it intently.

"It can't be a diamond."

The idea was ridiculous, absurd. No man in his senses would place a
diamond inside a twopenny-halfpenny puzzle box. The thing was as big as a
walnut! And yet--I am a pretty good judge of precious stones--if it was
not an uncut diamond it was the best imitation I had seen. I took it up. I
examined it closely. The more closely I examined it, the more my wonder
grew.

"It is a diamond!"

And yet the idea was too preposterous for credence. Who would present a
diamond as big as a walnut with a trumpery puzzle? Besides, all the
diamonds which the world contains of that size are almost as well known as
the Koh-i-noor.

"If it is a diamond, it is worth--it is worth--Heaven only knows what it
isn't worth if it's a diamond."

I regarded it through a strong pocket lens. As I did so I could not
restrain an exclamation.

"The world to a China orange, it is a diamond!"

The words had scarcely escaped my lips than there came a tapping at the
door.

"Come in!" I cried, supposing it was Bob. It was not Bob, it was Pugh.
Instinctively I put the lens and the crystal behind my back. At sight of
me in my nightshirt Pugh began to shake his head.

"What hours, Tress, what hours! Why, my dear Tress, I've breakfasted, read
the papers and my letters, came all the way from my house here, and you're
not up!"

"Don't I look as though I were up?"

"Ah, Tress! Tress!" He approached the dressing-table. His eye fell upon
the ruins. "What's this?"

"That's the solution to the puzzle."

"Have you--have you solved it fairly, Tress?"

"It has solved itself. Our handling, and tapping, and hammering must have
freed the springs which the box contained, and during the night, while I
slept, they have caused it to come open."

"While you slept? Dear me! How strange! And--what are these?"

He had discovered the two upright wires on which the crystal had been
poised.

"I suppose they're part of the puzzle."

"And was there anything in the box? What's this?" He picked up the scrap
of paper; I had left it on the table. He read what was written on it: "'A
Present For You.' What's it mean? Tress, was this in the box?"

"It was."

"What's it mean about a present? Was there anything in the box besides?"

"Pugh, if you will leave the room I shall be able to dress; I am not in
the habit of receiving quite such early calls, or I should have been
prepared to receive you. If you will wait in the next room, I will be with
you as soon as I'm dressed. There is a little subject in connection with
the box which I wish to discuss with you."

"A subject in connection with the box? What is the subject?"

"I will tell you, Pugh, when I have performed my toilet."

"Why can't you tell me now?"

"Do you propose, then, that I should stand here shivering in my shirt
while you are prosing at your ease? Thank you; I am obliged, but I
decline. May I ask you once more, Pugh, to wait for me in the adjoining
apartment?"

He moved toward the door. When he had taken a couple of steps, he halted.

"I--I hope, Tress, that you're--you're going to play no tricks on me?"

"Tricks on you! Is it likely that I am going to play tricks upon my oldest
friend?"

When he had gone--he vanished, it seemed to me, with a somewhat doubtful
visage--I took the crystal to the window. I drew the blind. I let the
sunshine fall on it. I examined it again, closely and minutely, with the
aid of my pocket lens. It was a diamond; there could not be a doubt of
it. If, with my knowledge of stones, I was deceived, then I was deceived
as never man had been deceived before. My heart beat faster as I
recognized the fact that I was holding in my hand what was, in all
probability, a fortune for a man of moderate desires. Of course, Pugh knew
nothing of what I had discovered, and there was no reason why he should
know. Not the least! The only difficulty was that if I kept my own
counsel, and sold the stone and utilized the proceeds of the sale, I
should have to invent a story which would account for my sudden accession
to fortune. Pugh knows almost as much of my affairs as I do myself. That
is the worst of these old friends!

When I joined Pugh I found him dancing up and down the floor like a bear
upon hot plates. He scarcely allowed me to put my nose inside the door
before attacking me.

"Tress, give me what was in the box."

"My dear Pugh, how do you know that there was something in the box to give
you?"

"I know there was!"

"Indeed! If you know that there was something in the box, perhaps you will
tell me what that something was."

He eyed me doubtfully. Then, advancing, he laid upon my arm a hand which
positively trembled.

"Tress, you--you wouldn't play tricks on an old friend."

"You are right, Pugh, I wouldn't, though I believe there have been
occasions on which you have had doubts upon the subject. By the way, Pugh,
I believe that I am the oldest friend you have."

"I--I don't know about that. There's--there's Brasher."

"Brasher! Who's Brasher? You wouldn't compare my friendship to the
friendship of such a man as Brasher? Think of the tastes we have in
common, you and I. We're both collectors."

"Ye-es, we're both collectors."

"I make my interests yours, and you make your interests mine. Isn't that
so, Pugh?"

"Tress, what--what was in the box?"

"I will be frank with you, Pugh. If there had been something in the box,
would you have been willing to go halves with me in my discovery?"

"Go halves! In your discovery, Tress! Give me what is mine!"

"With pleasure, Pugh, if you will tell me what is yours."

"If--if you don't give me what was in the box I'll--I'll send for the
police."

"Do! Then I shall be able to hand to them what was in the box in order
that it may be restored to its proper owner."

"Its proper owner! I'm its proper owner!"

"Excuse me, but I don't understand how that can be; at least, until the
police have made inquiries. I should say that the proper owner was the
person from whom you purchased the box, or, more probably, the person from
whom he purchased it, and by whom, doubtless, it was sold in ignorance, or
by mistake. Thus, Pugh, if you will only send for the police, we shall
earn the gratitude of a person of whom we never heard in our lives--I for
discovering the contents of the box, and you for returning them."

As I said this, Pugh's face was a study. He gasped for breath. He actually
took out his handkerchief to wipe his brow.

"Tress, I--I don't think you need to use a tone like that to me. It isn't
friendly. What--what was in the box?"

"Let us understand each other, Pugh. If you don't hand over what was in
the box to the police, I go halves."

Pugh began to dance about the floor.

"What a fool I was to trust you with the box! I knew I couldn't trust
you." I said nothing. I turned and rang the bell. "What's that for?"

"That, my dear Pugh, is for breakfast, and, if you desire it, for the
police. You know, although you have breakfasted, I haven't. Perhaps while
I am breaking my fast, you would like to summon the representatives of law
and order." Bob came in. I ordered breakfast. Then I turned to Pugh. "Is
there anything you would like?"

"No, I--I've breakfasted."

"It wasn't of breakfast I was thinking. It was of--something else. Bob is
at your service, if, for instance, you wish to send him on an errand."

"No, I want nothing. Bob can go." Bob went. Directly he was gone, Pugh
turned to me. "You shall have half. What was in the box?"

"I shall have half?"

"You shall!"

"I don't think it is necessary that the terms of our little understanding
should be expressly embodied in black and white. I fancy that, under the
circumstance, I can trust you, Pugh. I believe that I am capable of seeing
that, in this matter, you don't do me. That was in the box."

I held out the crystal between my finger and thumb.

"What is it?"

"That is what I desire to learn."

"Let me look at it."

"You are welcome to look at it where it is. Look at it as long as you
like, and as closely."

Pugh leaned over my hand. His eyes began to gleam. He is himself not a bad
judge of precious stones, is Pugh.

"It's--it's--Tress!--is it a diamond?"

"That question I have already asked myself."

"Let me look at it! It will be safe with me! It's mine!"

I immediately put the thing behind my back.

"Pardon me, it belongs neither to you nor to me. It belongs, in all
probability, to the person who sold that puzzle to the man from whom you
bought it--perhaps some weeping widow, Pugh, or hopeless orphan--think of
it. Let us have no further misunderstanding upon that point, my dear old
friend. Still, because you are my dear old friend, I am willing to trust
you with this discovery of mine, on condition that you don't attempt to
remove it from my sight, and that you return it to me the moment I require
you."

"You're--you're very hard on me." I made a movement toward my waistcoat
pocket. "I'll return it to you!"

I handed him the crystal, and with it I handed him my pocket lens.

"With the aid of that glass I imagine that you will be able to subject it
to a more acute examination, Pugh."

He began to examine it through the lens. Directly he did so, he gave an
exclamation. In a few moments he looked up at me. His eyes were glistening
behind his spectacles. I could see he trembled.

"Tress, it's--it's a diamond, a Brazil diamond. It's worth a fortune!"

"I'm glad you think so."

"Glad I think so! Don't you think that it's a diamond?"

"It appears to be a diamond. Under ordinary conditions I should say,
without hesitation, that it was a diamond. But when I consider the
circumstances of its discovery, I am driven to doubts. How much did you
give for that puzzle, Pugh?"

"Ninepence; the fellow wanted a shilling, but I gave him ninepence. He
seemed content."

"Ninepence! Does it seem reasonable that we should find a diamond, which,
if it is a diamond, is the finest stone I ever saw and handled, in a
ninepenny puzzle? It is not as though it had got into the thing by
accident, it had evidently been placed there to be found, and, apparently,
by anyone who chanced to solve the puzzle; witness the writing on the
scrap of paper."

Pugh reexamined the crystal.

"It is a diamond! I'll stake my life that it's a diamond!"

"Still, though it be a diamond, I smell a rat!"

"What do you mean?"

"I strongly suspect that the person who placed that diamond inside that
puzzle intended to have a joke at the expense of the person who discovered
it. What was to be the nature of the joke is more than I can say at
present, but I should like to have a bet with you that the man who
compounded that puzzle was an ingenious practical joker. I may be wrong,
Pugh; we shall see. But, until I have proved the contrary, I don't believe
that the maddest man that ever lived would throw away a diamond worth,
apparently, shall we say a thousand pounds?"

"A thousand pounds! This diamond is worth a good deal more than a thousand
pounds."

"Well, that only makes my case the stronger; I don't believe that the
maddest man that ever lived would throw away a diamond worth more than a
thousand pounds with such utter wantonness as seems to have characterized
the action of the original owner of the stone which I found in your
ninepenny puzzle, Pugh."

"There have been some eccentric characters in the world, some very
eccentric characters. However, as you say, we shall see. I fancy that I
know somebody who would be quite willing to have such a diamond as this,
and who, moreover, would be willing to pay a fair price for its
possession; I will take it to him and see what he says."

"Pugh, hand me back that diamond."

"My dear Tress, I was only going--"

Bob came in with the breakfast tray.

"Pugh, you will either hand me that at once, or Bob shall summon the
representatives of law and order."

He handed me the diamond. I sat down to breakfast with a hearty appetite.
Pugh stood and scowled at me.

"Joseph Tress, it is my solemn conviction, and I have no hesitation in
saying so in plain English, that you're a thief."

"My dear Pugh, it seems to me that we show every promise of becoming a
couple of thieves."

"Don't bracket me with you!"

"Not at all, you are worse than I. It is you who decline to return the
contents of the box to its proper owner. Put it to yourself, you have
some common sense, my dear old friend!--do you suppose that a diamond
worth more than a thousand pounds is to be honestly bought for
ninepence?"

He resumed his old trick of dancing about the room.

"I was a fool ever to let you have the box! I ought to have known better
than to have trusted you; goodness knows you have given me sufficient
cause to mistrust you! Over and over again! Your character is only too
notorious! You have plundered friend and foe alike--friend and foe alike!
As for the rubbish which you call your collection, nine tenths of it, I
know as a positive fact, you have stolen out and out."

"Who stole my Sir Walter Raleigh pipe? Wasn't it a man named Pugh?"

"Look here, Joseph Tress!"

"I'm looking."

"Oh, it's no good talking to you, not the least! You're--you're dead to
all the promptings of conscience! May I inquire, Mr. Tress, what it is you
propose to do?"

"I propose to do nothing, except summon the representatives of law and
order. Failing that, my dear Pugh, I had some faint, vague, very vague
idea of taking the contents of your ninepenny puzzle to a certain firm in
Hatton Garden, who are dealers in precious stones, and to learn from them
if they are disposed to give anything for it, and if so, what."

"I shall come with you."

"With pleasure, on condition that you pay the cab."

"I pay the cab! I will pay half."

"Not at all. You will either pay the whole fare, or else I will have one
cab and you shall have another. It is a three-shilling cab fare from here
to Hatton Garden. If you propose to share my cab, you will be so good as
to hand over that three shillings before we start."

He gasped, but he handed over the three shillings. There are few things I
enjoy so much as getting money out of Pugh!

On the road to Hatton Garden we wrangled nearly all the way. I own that I
feel a certain satisfaction in irritating Pugh, he is such an irritable
man. He wanted to know what I thought we should get for the diamond.

"You can't expect to get much for the contents of a ninepenny puzzle, not
even the price of a cab fare, Pugh."

He eyed me, but for some minutes he was silent. Then he began again.

"Tress, I don't think we ought to let it go for less than--than five
thousand pounds."

"Seriously, Pugh, I doubt whether, when the whole affair is ended, we
shall get five thousand pence for it, or, for the matter of that, five
thousand farthings."

"But why not? Why not? It's a magnificent stone--magnificent! I'll stake
my life on it."

I tapped my breast with the tips of my fingers.

"There's a warning voice within my breast that ought to be in yours, Pugh!
Something tells me, perhaps it is the unusually strong vein of common
sense which I possess, that the contents of your ninepenny puzzle will be
found to be a magnificent do--an ingenious practical joke, my friend."

"I don't believe it."

But I think he did; at any rate, I had unsettled the foundations of his
faith.

We entered the Hatton Garden office side by side; in his anxiety not to
let me get before him, Pugh actually clung to my arm. The office was
divided into two parts by a counter which ran from wall to wall. I
advanced to a man who stood on the other side of this counter.

"I want to sell you a diamond."

"We want to sell you a diamond," interpolated Pugh.

I turned to Pugh. I "fixed" him with my glance.

"I want to sell you a diamond. Here it is. What will you give me for
it?"

Taking the crystal from my waistcoat pocket I handed it to the man on the
other side of the counter. Directly, he got it between his fingers, and
saw that it was that he had got, I noticed a sudden gleam come into his
eyes.

"This is--this is rather a fine stone."

Pugh nudged my arm.

"I told you so." I paid no attention to Pugh. "What will you give me for
it?"

"Do you mean, what will I give you for it cash down upon the nail?"

"Just so--what will you give me for it cash down upon the nail?"

The man turned the crystal over and over in his fingers.

"Well, that's rather a large order. We don't often get a chance of buying
such a stone as this across the counter. What do you say to--well--to ten
thousand pounds?"

Ten thousand pounds! It was beyond my wildest imaginings. Pugh gasped. He
lurched against the counter.

"Ten thousand pounds!" he echoed.

The man on the other side glanced at him, I thought, a little curiously.

"If you can give me references, or satisfy me in any way as to your bona
fides, I am prepared to give you for this diamond an open check for ten
thousand pounds, or if you prefer it, the cash instead."

I stared; I was not accustomed to see business transacted on quite such
lines as those.

"We'll take it," murmured Pugh; I believe he was too much overcome by his
feelings to do more than murmur. I interposed.

"My dear sir, you will excuse my saying that you arrive very rapidly at
your conclusions. In the first place, how can you make sure that it is a
diamond?"

The man behind the counter smiled.

"I should be very ill-fitted for the position which I hold if I could not
tell a diamond directly I get a sight of it, especially such a stone as
this."

"But have you no tests you can apply?"

"We have tests which we apply in cases in which doubt exists, but in this
case there is no doubt whatever. I am as sure that this is a diamond as I
am sure that it is air I breathe. However, here is a test."

There was a wheel close by the speaker. It was worked by a treadle. It was
more like a superior sort of traveling-tinker's grindstone than anything
else. The man behind the counter put his foot upon the treadle. The wheel
began to revolve. He brought the crystal into contact with the swiftly
revolving wheel. There was a s--s--sh! And, in an instant, his hand was
empty; the crystal had vanished into air.

"Good heavens!" he gasped. I never saw such a look of amazement on a human
countenance before. "It's splintered!"


POSTSCRIPT

It was a diamond, although it had splintered. In that fact lay the
point of the joke. The man behind the counter had not been wrong;
examination of such dust as could be collected proved that fact beyond a
doubt. It was declared by experts that the diamond, at some period of its
history, had been subjected to intense and continuing heat. The result had
been to make it as brittle as glass.

There could be no doubt that its original owner had been an expert too. He
knew where he got it from, and he probably knew what it had endured. He
was aware that, from a mercantile point of view, it was worthless; it
could never have been cut. So, having a turn for humor of a peculiar kind,
he had devoted days, and weeks, and possibly months, to the construction
of that puzzle. He had placed the diamond inside, and he had enjoyed, in
anticipation and in imagination, the Alnaschar visions of the lucky
finder.

Pugh blamed me for the catastrophe. He said, and still says, that if I had
not, in a measure, and quite gratuitously, insisted on a test, the man
behind the counter would have been satisfied with the evidence of his
organs of vision, and we should have been richer by ten thousand pounds.
But I satisfy my conscience with the reflection that what I did at any
rate was honest, though, at the same time, I am perfectly well aware that
such a reflection gives Pugh no sort of satisfaction.





Next: The Great Valdez Sapphire

Previous: The Pipe



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