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

the place.

"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

innocent explanations."

"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."

"Then why--?"

"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

the manager."

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

bland malice.

"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

only watching."

"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 you."

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

the hall.

"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.

"Yours faithfully,

"Herbert Draycott.

"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

were blind."

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

knuckles bled.

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


"Quite empty?"

"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

gloomiest anticipations.

"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?"

Draycott hesitated.

"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?"

"There is."

"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

the police?"

"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

Carrados quietly.

"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

eyes are?"

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!"

"That child!"

"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

further authority."

"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

of it.

"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

rude blow.

"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--"

"Yes, Max?"

"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

boardroom--if necessary."

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.

Carlyle's hand.

"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

manager shortly.

"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

yellow sand.

"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

The Last Adventure The Leather Funnel facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail