Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.

ANONYMOUS

A HOLIDAY TASK

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover 2017



First published in Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, June 5, 1909
Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, July 17, 1909 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-02-09
Produced by Roy Glashan

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

Click here for more Sexton Blake stories



I.

SEXTON BLAKE paced the platform of Little Hesslewood Junction, a station on the Great Southern, nearly two hundred miles from London, and forty-four from the seaport of Barquay.

The smile which, played upon his keen face showed his thoughts were pleasant. In fact, the famous detective was treating himself to a holiday, and had driven in from the farm where he was staying to meet his old friend Bathurst, who was going to share his vacation.

"Oh, here she is at last!" he muttered, as the 9.30, brilliantly lit, came out of the tunnel beyond the station and rolled up to the platform.

Before it had stopped, a figure sprang from a carriage and ran towards Blake.

"Delighted to see you!" cried Blake. "Where's your kit?"

"In front, I believe."

They were hurrying towards the luggage-van when a woman in front of them uttered a scream, and Blake was just in time to catch her and save her from falling.

"Oh, he's dead!" she moaned, pointing at the carriage immediately opposite.

In the corner, close by the window, under the strong glow of the roof lamp, a man lay huddled in a shapeless heap. One glance was enough to show that he was dead. He had been cut to pieces.

In the far corner of the carriage was another man. His face was white, save for a smear of blood across one cheek, his eyes were fixed and glassy, and he seemed barely conscious of his surroundings. A long-bladed knife lay on the seat by his side.

"Stand back!" shouted a guard, as people came rushing from every side. "Police! Send for the police!"

Blake, whose idea was not to be mixed up in the dreadful business, lifted the fainting woman bodily in his arms, and took her into the waiting-room, where he left her in the charge of an attendant. Then he escaped, and as the porters were quite beside themselves, he and Bathurst together collected the latter's luggage, piled it up on the fly, and ordered the man to drive home.

"Wonder what he killed him for?" said Bathurst thoughtfully.

"Don't wonder, Bathurst! Let's forget the whole business. This is holiday time, remember."

He began to talk about the fishing, and that night the subject of the murder was not mentioned again.

But they were not to be allowed to forget so easily. At breakfast next morning, Farmer Corey, their landlord, came stumping in.

"Have 'ee heard, gennelmen?" he cried. "There's been a terrible business in Hesslewood. Chap found stabbed in the train. I brought 'ee the paper."

Bathurst thanked him, and took the paper.

"Hallo!" he exclaimed. "This is funny! The chap swears he didn't do it."

"What, the man with the blood on his face?"

"Yes. Angus Clibborn is the name he gives. His story is that, when he got into the train at Barquay he was alone. At the last minute two men jumped in. As soon as the train was well out of Barquay they both seized him, and one held him while the other chloroformed him. When he came to the train was already slowing into Hesslewood, one man had disappeared, the other lay dead in the opposite corner of the carriage."

"Does he give any reason for the alleged attack upon himself?" said Blake.

"Yes; they stole his hag."

"What was in it?"

"That's the odd part of it," replied Bathurst. "Nothing! But, all the same, he seems to have set great value on the bag. Be says it was a new invention of his own. It was burglar-proof. He patented it some weeks ago. What is more, he maintains that whoever took it will certainly be found."

Blake's forehead knitted.

"An extraordinary story!" he said. "For if he had already got his patent, his assailants could have no possible object in stealing his invention. But enough of this, Bathurst! Come on down to the river!"

He was taking his rod from its case when the deep hum of a motor car came from the road. Next moment an elderly man came hurrying up the garden path, and met Blake in the porch.

"Mr. Sexton Blake, I believe?" said the newcomer.

"That's my name, sir," replied Blake.

"My name is Gaunt," said the other. "I am a director of the Great Southern. I know you are holiday-making, Mr. Blake, but I have come to beg you of your kindness to clear up the mystery of the horrible crime."

"Is there a mystery?" asked Blake. "On the face of it, the case seems clear."

"As to the perpetrator, yes. We have him under lock and key. What we want is the reason of the murder. Mysteries, Mr. Blake, are the worst possible advertisements for a railway."

Blake laid down his rod with a sigh. "Very well, Mr. Gaunt, I'll do what I can. Just wait till I change my things."

In less than five minutes Blake and Bathurst were seated in Mr. Gaunt's car.

II.

"WHAT do the police think?" was Blake's first question, as they whirled rapidly towards Hesslewood.

"Their theory is that the crime is one of revenge," replied Mr. Gaunt. "The murdered man is certainly a foreigner. The accused, Angus Clibborn he calls himself, admits that he has lived in Italy all his life. His father was a Scottish engineer, employed on the Calabrian Railway. We all know that Calabria is a nest of secret societies. What more likely than that Clibborn, having some private wrong to avenge, followed his man and killed him at the first opportunity?"

"Odd that he should then make no attempt to escape."

"How could he? The 9.30 averages nearly fifty miles an hour all the way from Barquay."

"There is no stop or slow on the journey?"

"None! The first stop is Hesslewood."

"If I remember right," said Blake, "your line runs through level country most of the way."

"Quite so. There are only two gradients—the drop into and the rise from the valley of the Longbourne, and neither of those is severe."

"You attach no importance to the story of the hag?"

Mr. Gaunt shrugged his shoulders.

"Surely, the prisoner's story is hardly worth taking seriously. At the same time, the plate-layers were warned all down the line at daybreak this morning, and the permanent way has already been searched. We shall find a wire at the station if anything has been found."

In another five minutes they were at the station. The station-master was waiting for them.

"Nothing has been found, sir!" were his first words.

Blake turned to Mr. Gaunt.

"I should like to seq the prisoner," he said.

"That is easily arranged," replied tire director. "He is still at the police-station. I'll take you on in the car."

The local authorities were quite ready to do anything to assist Sexton Blake. They took him to the cell, and Bathurst sat chatting to the police-sergeant nearly half an hour before his colleague reappeared.

"Thank you," said Blake, in reply to the sergeant's inquiries. "I have got all that Clibborn can tell me. Bathurst, we must go back to the railway-station."

"Well," said Bathurst, as they walked up the street, "does he stick to his story!"

"Absolutely! He swears there were two men, and that both attacked him. He declares that their object was to steal his patent bag, and he reiterates his entire innocence of the murder."

"But the story's absurd," growled Bathurst.

"So absurd that I'm half inclined to believe it. No one short of a lunatic would have invented such a yarn!"

"But the third man," urged Bathurst. "What became of him? He couldn't have jumped from a train going at fifty miles an hour. At least, if he had the plate-layers would surely have found the pieces."

Arrived at the station, Blake asked if it would be possible to run him down the line.

"Certainly," said the station-master. An engine was ordered out, and in a few minutes the detective and his assistant were steaming southwards towards Barquay. Blake requested the driver not to exceed fifteen miles an hour, and as he stood on the footplate his quick eyes searched the ground on either side of the line.

In about an hour they reached the Long Bank, where the line dropped down, in a beautifully-engineered curve, through thick woods cut into the lovely valley of Longbourne. Half-way down the hill was a siding running to a gravel-pit.

"Can you stop here?" Blake asked the driver.

The driver said he could wait in the siding as long as necessary. He ran the engine in, and Blake jumped down.

"Come on, Bathurst!" he said, and, strolling leisurely away from the railway, plunged amongst the thickest of the trees.

III.

BLAKE walked on down the hill, through covert so thick one could not see five yards in any direction. Bathurst followed.

All of a sudden the trees opened, and they were standing on the brink of a wide, slow stream.

"Hallo!" exclaimed Bathurst, "here's the railway again!"

They had emerged from the wood just below the spot where the line crossed it on a stone-built bridge. Here the river took a sharp curve to the right, so that the railway embankment ran for a distance of some two hundred yards close alongside the opposite bank.

Blake sat down leisurely on the grass.

"Bathurst," he said, "what do you say to a swim?"

He began peeling off his clothes. Bathurst, whom experience had taught to fall in with every whim of Blake, followed his example.

Blake, having dived in, struck out towards the far side, and swam some distance down stream. Then he came back and swam up the left bank towards the spot where he had left his clothes.

When Bathurst rejoined him he was dressing. Both dressed, Blake led the way to the railway bridge, clambered up the embankment, and crossed. Arrived at a point some fifty yards beyond the bridge, he turned to the left and scrambled down towards the river.

The bank ran steeply into the water. Footing was difficult, but Blake worked his way along over the coarse, dry grass, and Bathurst followed cautiously.

The further they advanced the less steep became the slope. At last they reached a place where there was a tongue of level land between embankment and river. This was covered with a coarse growth of brambles and nettles.

Blake advanced cautiously. Suddenly he gave a triumphant cry, and, plunging down into the weeds, brought up a most extraordinary object.

It was a tangle of thin steel ribs crushed and broken in the most extraordinary fashion, and covered with tattered scraps of black leather.

He held it up before Bathurst's eyes.

"The bag!" he said. "And now for the man. He hasn't gone far."

He was on the trail again like a questing bloodhound. Signs invisible even to Bathurst's trained eyes were to him as plain as print.

Leaving the railway, he walked sharply across a water meadow, then, turning half-right, gained a dense osier-bed where the swampy ground squelched beneath their feet. Here the trail was plain to any eyes. The tall swamp weeds—marsh-mallow, ragged robin, and flag—were crushed and broken as by a heavy weight, but still there was no sign of the fugitive.

"I didn't think he'd have got so far," muttered Blake.

The words were hardly out of his mouth before a groan broke upon the stillness of the afternoon. Blake dashed on, forcing aside the pliant osier with both hands. Next moment Bathurst saw him drop on his knees beside a man who lay flat on his back on a patch of raised ground.

The man, whose ugly face was blackened and covered with dried blood, turned and glared.

"The 'tecs!" he groaned. "If it hadn't been for that bag I'd have got clear."

"Just so." said Blake coolly. "How much damaged are you?"

"Too bad for the likes of you to put the rope round my neck," retorted the other, a gleam of triumph in his eyes.

Blake made a brief examination.

"The fellow's right," he muttered. "He's booked. Young Clibborn spoke the truth about his bag. You might just as well fool with an anarchist's bomb. But what did you want the bag for?"

"The bag!" growled the fellow. "That warn't the bag we was after. It were that fool Luigi made the mistake. We was after the chap from the Union Bank."

"I thought so," replied Blake coolly. "Bathurst, go and get help."

It was hardly more than half an hour before Bathurst was back with two men and a hurdle. But when they reached the little opening in the osier bed it was too late. The murderer was dead. They left his body at a neighboring farm, and, mounting their engine, returned to Hesslewood.

"I see part of it," said Bathurst, "but not all. Tell me!"

"Simple enough," replied Blake. "Clibborn's story was so extraordinary that I believed it, and acted on that belief.

"The first deduction was that the two thieves, after chloroforming Clibborn, whom they mistook for the bank clerk, quarrelled over their spoils. That gave a motive for the murder. The next was that the murderer, in panic, left the train en route.

"Now, a man can't jump out of a fast train on to hard ground. It is suicide to try it. But he can jump into water. A very little pumping of our director friend showed me that the Longbourne was the only possible place where the murderer could have jumped. I argued that he would have thrown the bag out first on to the firm ground, and then himself have dived into the river.

"That swim proved that I was right. I spotted the place where the fellow climbed up the bank. The rest, of course, was easy. When I interviewed Clibborn this morning he told me about this bag of his. It is so constructed that, although the owner can open or shut it without difficulty or danger, violence causes the explosion of a small charge of a special explosive.

"The late unlamented pounded it with a large chunk of limestone, and suffered accordingly.

"That's the whole story," concluded Blake drily. "But all I can say is that if the reporters come worrying me about it I shall be extremely rude. I came to Hesslewood for some fishing, and that I'm going to have."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.