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IT was Captain Ensor who brought the message. He was a retired "master mariner," rather better educated than most of his class, but otherwise, in appearance and manner, a typical British sailor. Incidentally, he was fifty-five and a widower. He arrived at Sexton Blake's rooms about half-past nine in the morning.
"Mrs. Drury would be greatly obliged if you'd come to the house as quickly as possible," he said. "She would have come for you herself, but her husband is terribly upset by what has happened, and she doesn't like to leave him. They don't keep a servant, you know; and as I'm their nearest neighbour, and, I suppose, their greatest friend, she asked me if I'd come and deliver her message."
"And who is Mrs. Drury, pray?" asked Sexton Blake.
"She's the wife of Jonathan Drury," said Captain Ensor. "He's a retired publican, and they live at No. 15, Doncaster Street, which, as you probably know, leads out of Pentonville Road. I live next door to them."
"And why does Mrs. Drury wish me to come to their house? What has happened?"
"Their house was broken into last night, and a cash-box, containing over eight hundred pound in gold and notes, was stolen."
The detective looked puzzled, and Captain Ensor hastened to explain. "Between you and me," he said confidentially, "Mr. Drury's a good bit of a miser and a skinflint. He could quite well afford to live in a better neighbourhood than Doncaster Street, and to keep a servant, too; but—".
"Yes, yes!" interrupted Sexton Blake. "That isn't what puzzles me. How came Mr. Drury to have so large a sum as eight hundred pounds in the house?"
"He sold some cottages at Streatham last week. The man who bought them vas a small shopkeeper, who didn't have a banking account, and he paid the purchase-money yesterday afternoon in notes and gold—mostly gold. Mr. Drury, of course, has a banking account; but the bank was closed when he received the money, so he put it in the cash-box, intending to pay it into the bank to-day."
"And it was stolen, you say, last night? In what circumstances?"
"First of all," said Captain Ensor, "I must tell you that Mrs. Drury has a married sister, named Booth, who lives at Chislehurst, in Kent. Last night, about nine o'clock, Mrs. Drury received a telegram, purporting to come from her sister's husband, informing her that her sister was dying, and imploring her to come at once.
"Needless to say, Mrs. Drury decided to go to Chislehurst by the next train. As the telegraph-office at Chislehurst closes at nine o'clock, it was too late for her to wire that she was coming. She hurriedly packed a few things in a hand-bag, sent for a cab, drove to Waterloo, and left by the 9.47.
"After Mrs. Drury's departure, Mr. Drury was left alone in the house. He sat up, smoking and reading, until eleven o'clock; then he locked up, turned out the lights, and went to bed."
"Meanwhile, where had he put the cash-box?"
"Where he always keeps it—in the cupboard under the bookcase in the sitting-room. When he was going to bed, however, it struck him this was not a very safe place in which to keep eight hundred pounds, so he removed the cash-box from the cupboard, took it upstairs with him, and locked it up in an old oak chest in his bedroom.
"About half-past two this morning he awoke—for no particular reason, so far as I can gather—and, as he lay awake, he fancied he heard somebody moving in the sitting-room. He jumped out of bed, lit a candle, armed himself with the bedroom poker, and stole downstairs in his pyjamas.
"The sitting-room door was shut. He opened it, and no sooner had he done so than a hand shot out of the darkness, and knocked the candle out of his grasp. The candle, of course, immediately went out, and the next instant he received a blow in the face, which sent him sprawling on his back.
"As he fell, he struck his head against the edge of the door. This stunned him for a time, and he found when he recovered consciousness that his unknown assailant—whom he had never seen—had placed him in one of the sitting-room chairs, had bound him to the chair with some rope which he had found in the kitchen, and had gagged him with a strip of linen which he had torn off the tablecloth.
"The scoundrel was still in the house, for Mr. Drury could hear him moving about upstairs, opening drawers, and evidently searching for plunder. Presently he heard him come downstairs, go into the kitchen, and climb out through the window.
"In the meantime," continued Captain Ensor, "Mrs. Drury had arrived at Chislehurst. As a matter of fact, she arrived there about half-past ten last night. Somewhat to her surprise there was nobody at the station to meet her. She walked to her sister's house, arriving there a few minutes after eleven. And judge of her amazement when she found that her sister was perfectly well, and that neither she nor her husband knew anything about the telegram which Mrs. Drury had received."
"One moment," interrupted Sexton Blake. "Was Mrs. Drury's. sisters husband at home when Mrs. Drury arrived?"
"Yes," said the captain. "I know what you're thinking. You're wondering if it was the husband who had sent the bogus telegram to lure Mrs. Drury away from the house, and if it was he who broke into the house and committed the robbery. But such a theory is untenable. In the first place, he was at Chislehurst when Mrs. Drury arrived, and remained there until she left this morning; and, in the second place, he's a pious, upright man, utterly incapable of such a crime."
"Well?" said Sexton Blake, "What did Mrs. Drury do when she discovered the telegram was a forgery?"
"She couldn't return to London last night, as the last train leaves Chislehurst at 11.8; and she couldn't wire to her husband, as the post office closes at nine. What she did, therefore, was to return by the first train this morning, leaving Chislehurst at 6.55, and arriving at London Bridge at 7.22.
"From London Bridge she took a cab to Doncaster Street. She rang the bell again and again, and, as there was no response, she went round to the yard at the back of the house. To her alarm, she saw that the kitchen window was wide open. She climbed in through the window, and found her husband sitting in a chair in the sitting-room, bound and gagged as I have described.
"Half crazy with terror, she cut the ropes by which he was bound. After he had told her his story they examined the house. Their worst fears were realised. The unknown burglar had secured Mr. Drury's keys, which were in his trousers-pocket, by the side of the bed, had unlocked the old oak chest, and had made off with the cash-box."
"Was anything else stolen?"
"No; but every drawer and cupboard in the house lad been opened and examined."
"Which seems to prove—" began Sexton Blake; then he checked himself. "The police have been informed, of course?" he asked.
"Yes," replied the captain. "When Mr. Drury discovered that the cash-box was gone, he collapsed, Mrs. Drury helped him back to bed, and then came for me. First, I went for a doctor; then I communicated with the police; and, then, at Mrs. Drury's urgent and tearful request, I came for you."
The detective glanced at his watch. It was five minutes to ten.
"I have an appointment at Scotland Yard at twelve," he said. "In the meantime, I've a couple of hours to spare, which I shall be pleased to devote to the investigation of what seems, at first sight, a rather interesting case. Come along!"
No. 15, Doncaster Street, proved to be one of a long row of mean-looking houses, all built to the same pattern. Each house had a sitting-room, a kitchen, and a scullery on the ground floor, two bedrooms on the first floor, two on the second, and an attic over all, lighted by a skylight from the roof, At the back of each house, was a tiny yard, the wooden gate of which opened onto Doncaster Lane.
Mrs. Drury received Sexton Blake with almost hysterical effusion, and, at the detective's request, first conducted him to the sitting-room. Captain Ensor, as a matter of course, followed them. The chair to which Mr. Drury had been bound was still standing in the middle of the room, festooned with the ropes with which the unfortunate man had been tethered. As Mrs. Drury had cut the ropes, and not untied them, the knots were still intact.
Sexton Blake examined the ropes and the knots, and apparently found them very interesting. His only remark, however, was: "Has it been ascertained how the burglar gained admittance to the house?"
"In the same way as he made his escape," said Captain Ensor; "through the kitchen window, the catch of which he apparently forced back."
"There can be no doubt on that point," said Mrs. Drury. "I found the window open when I returned, and, as all the other windows, and both the front door and the back door, were shut and fastened, that must have been the way in which he gained admittance."
"May I see the window?" asked Sexton Blake.
"Certainly!" said Mrs. Drury,
She conducted them to the kitchen. The detective examined the fastenings of the window, the sill, the yard outside, and the gate opening onto Doncaster Lane. He then expressed a desire to interview Mr. Drury.
Mr. Drury was in bed, and, although he was but little the worse, physically, for his recent adventure, he was in a state of mental collapse. The defective questioned him at great, length, but without obtaining any material addition to the information he had already gained from Captain Ensor.
Then he turned to the captain.
"As I've already told you," he said, "I have an appointment at Scotland Yard at twelve. You have been so very good and generous with your help this morning that I am emboldened to ask you if you'll be so good as to take a note from me to Scotland Yard, explaining that I am detained by another case and may be late in keeping my appointment, Would you mind?"
The captain expressed his willingness to take the note; and, after Mrs. Drury had provided Sexton Blake with a sheet of paper and an envelope, the detective scribbled a brief note and handed it to Captain Ensor, who thereupon took his departure.
"And now," said Sexton Blake, as soon as the captain had gone, "I should like to see the attic."
Somewhat surprised by this strange request, Mrs. Drury led the way to the attic. The skylight was open, being propped-up by the usual arrangement—a perforated iron bar and an iron peg on the inside of the frame.
"Do you happen to know if this skylight was open last, night?" asked Sexton Blake as he dragged a chair into the middle of the room.
"It was," said Mrs. Drury. "We never close it except in rainy weather."
The detective mounted on the chair, pushed the skylight further open, and thrust out his head and shoulders. He examined the surface of the slates outside, and chuckled softly to himself.
"Captain Ensor lives next door, I understand," he said, withdrawing his head and addressing Mrs. Drury. "Am I right in supposing that he lives on the left of this?"
"Will there be anybody in the house at the present moment?"
Mrs. Drury started. "His servant will be in, I suppose, but nobody else," she said. "But why—?
"Ask no questions," interrupted Sexton Blake. "Just go back to your husband, and I'll join you later."
As he uttered these words he hauled himself through the skylight and crawled along the slates till he came to the skylight of Captain Ensor's house. It was also open. He lowered himself into a bare, unfurnished attic, and softly opened the door.
From the regions below was wafted up the shrill voice of the servant, who was singing a popular music hall ditty as she "washed-up'" the breakfast things. Scarcely daring to breathe, the detective cautiously down the attic stairs and explored the two rooms on the second floor. Having drawn them blank, he stole down another flight and entered what appeared to be the captain's bed-room. He opened various drawers, and rummaged amongst their contents. Then he peered underneath the bed.
A couple of loose flooring-boards attracted his attention. He pulled up one of the boards underneath the bed. No sooner had he done so than, a low, triumphant cry rose to his lips. He thrust his hand into the opening, and drew out—the missing cash- box.
Words fail to describe the mingled stupefaction and delight of Mr. and Mrs. Drury when Sexton Blake, after re-entering the house in the same way that he had left it, walked into Mr. Drury's bed- room and handed him the cash-box.
"Where—where did you find it?" gasped Mr. Drury, after opening the box, and assuring himself that its contents were intact.
"Under the floor beneath Captain Ensor's bed," said the detective quietly.
"Captain Ensor?" cried Mr. and Mrs. Drury, in the same breath. The detective nodded.
"It has been a very interesting case, but, really, a very simple one," he said. "When Captain Ensor came for me this morning and told me what bad happened—especially when he told me that nothing had been stolen except the cash-box—I realised at once that the thief must have been somebody who knew that you had received a large sum of money yesterday, who was acquainted with the internal arrangements of your house, and who knew that, as a rule, you kept your cash-box in the sitting- room.
"At that time," he continued, "I did not suspect Captain Ensor, although he had told me he lived next door to you and was your greatest friend. In fact, it was not until I examined the ropes with which you had been bound that an inkling of the truth first dawned on me.
"This is what I discovered: You had been bound with two ropes, one of which had encircled your arms and chest, and the other of which had pinioned your legs. Each of these ropes had been knotted in the following fashion:
"First of all, a bowline had been fashioned on the end of the rope, The rope had next been lashed to the framework of the chair by means of a rolling-hitch. Your arms in one case, and your legs in the other, had been secured by means of two half-hitches. Finally, after the rope had been drawn tight, the loose end had been passed through the loop of the bowline, and had been secured with a sheet-bend.
"What was the obvious deduction? A bowline, a rolling-hitch, a half-hitch, and a sheet-bend—could any landsman tie such knots? Clearly, the thief must have been a sailor.
"It was then that I began to suspect Captain Ensor. I examined the kitchen window and the yard outside. I won't weary you with details, but it was obvious to me that, although somebody had certainly left the house in that way, the original entrance had not been effected by that means. Neither the yard gate nor the kitchen window had been forced open from the outside, but had simply been unfastened from the inside. In other words, the thief had left the house through the kitchen window and the yard gate, but had entered in some other way.
"But in what other way? Mrs. Drury had told me that all the other windows, and the two doors, were shut and fastened when she returned, But she had not mentioned the skylight. I got rid of Captain Ensor by sending him with a note to Scotland Yard, and then I went up and examined the skylight.
"A brief inspection of the plates showed me that somebody had been on the roof last night or early this morning. There was a clearly-marked track on the slates, leading towards the house on the left. I ascertained from Mrs. Drury that the house on the left was Captain Ensor's house. I sent her back to you, crawled along the roof to Captain Ensor's skylight, entered his house, explored his bedroom, and found the stolen cash-box.
"What has happened admits of little doubt," he concluded. "Captain Ensor knew you had this money in the house, and knew that, as a rule, you kept your cash-box in the cupboard under the bookcase in the sitting-room. He went down to Chislehurst yesterday evening and sent off that bogus telegram to lure Mrs. Drury, away from the house. Possibly he hoped that both of you would go to Chislehurst. Returning to London, he waited until half-past two this morning, then he crawled out onto the roof of his house through the attic skylight, entered your house and was in the sitting-room, searching for the cash-box when you arrived.
"He stunned you, bound you in the chair, and resumed his search. Having found-the cash-box, he made his escape through the kitchen window, leaving it open to convey the idea that that was the way in which he had, broken into the house. This morning, confident that his cunning scheme would never be discovered, he actually had the audacity to yield to Mrs. Drury's suggestion that he should ask me to come and investigate the robbery. Such coolness, I admit, compels my admiration; but, of course..."
The detective moved towards the door.
"...I must have a policeman here," he said, "to welcome Captain Ensor when he returns."
The rest may be told in a single sentence. When Captain Ensor returned, half an hour later, he was promptly taken into custody, and subsequently, in a written confession, confirmed the detective's theory in every material particular.