Roy Glashan's Library
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ANONYMOUS

AN ARTIFICIAL CLUE

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First published in Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, January 9, 1909
Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, March 13, 1909 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2016
Version Date: 2016-11-28
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.

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AT the conclusion of the County Ball, which ended at half-past two, Lord and Lady Lingdale motored back to the Castle, arriving there about three o'clock on a starlit December morning. Her ladyship was wearing the famous Lingdale diamonds, which, being of incalculable value, were usually kept in the strongroom of the local bank. Lord Lingdale himself had fetched them from the bank on the afternoon, of the ball, and intended himself to take them back next morning.

On reaching the Castle, her ladyship went straight up to her room, removed the famous diamonds from her neck and arms and hair, placed them in their case, and gave the case to her maid, who took it downstairs and handed it to Lord Lingdale.

Lord Lingdale deposited the case in a safe in the library, locked up the safe, rang for his valet, and went to bed. Half an hour later the Castle was wrapped in darkness and silence. Perhaps it was the lobster mayonnaise, of which his lordship had partaken so freely at the ball supper; perhaps it was the champagne, which had certainly not been up to the usual "County" standard. Anyhow, whatever the reason may have been, Lord Lingdale could not sleep.

About half-past four he got out of bed and drew aside the curtains which screened his bedroom window. It was a clear, dark, frosty night, but the stars gave just sufficient light for his lordship to see a muffled figure vault over the fence on the far side of the tennis-lawn and walk rapidly and stealthily towards the library window, which was hidden from Lord Lingdale's view by a projecting buttress.

This, of course, was eminently calculated to arouse Lord Lingdale's suspicions; and when, a moment later, he heard a faint tinkle of falling glass, his suspicions were converted into certainties. The man was a burglar, and had broken into the library through the window.

His lordship was a self-reliant man, and was accustomed to act on his own initiative. Besides, if be had roused the servants, he would probably have alarmed the burglar and given him time to escape. Fifteen seconds later, armed with the bedroom poker, he was creeping noiselessly downstairs.

A feeble glimmer of light streamed under the library door. Scarcely daring to breathe, he crept to within a couple of yards of the door; then he suddenly sprang forward, seized the handle, and endeavoured to fling the door open.

It had never occurred to him that the burglar might have taken the obvious precaution of locking the door on the inside. The door refused to open and the light went out.

Further concealment was now impossible. Applying his shoulder to the door, his lordship burst it open. As he tumbled into the room, a half-seen figure leaped at him and struck him a savage blow on the side of the head. After that, so far as Lord Lingdale woe concerned, the world became a blank.

In the meantime, the crash of the burst-open door had roused the rest of the inmates of the Castle. Johnson, his lordship's valet, was the first to arrive on the scene. The butler was the next, being followed in quick succession by two footmen, three or four frightened maidservants, her ladyship's maid, and, finally, her ladyship.

They found Lord Lingdale lying just inside the library door, quite unconscious. The safe was open, and so was the window; and the case containing the Lingdale diamonds had disappeared.

Johnson was sent for the doctor, and the butler for the village constable. By the time the doctor arrived, Lord Lingdale was beginning to show signs of returning consciousness. When he finally regained his senses and had been informed that the diamonds had been stolen, he turned to his wife.

"Wire at once for Sexton Blake," he said.


IT was growing dusk when Sexton Blake arrived. First he interviewed Lord Lingdale, who was still in bed, of course. He listened attentively to his lordship's story, and seemed to be particularly interested in the fact that the blow which had stunned his lordship had landed on the left side of Lord Lingdale's head.

He then went to the library, where he carefully examined the lock of the safe, after which he turned his attention to the window.

The window was of the ordinary "French" pattern, and consisted of two long panes. In one of the panes, about four inches from the central catch, a hole had been made by the well-known expedient of scratching a rough circle on the pane with a diamond or a glass-cutter, sticking a lump of putty in the middle of the circle, and pulling out the disc of glass.

Apparently, the disc of glass had come out more quickly, or more suddenly than the burglar had expected, and had dropped off the putty and fallen to the ground; for on the stone-flagged terrace outside the window were several fragments of broken glass, the "tinkle" of which, as they had fallen to the ground, Lord Lingdale had heard. There was no sign, however, of the lump of putty, which the burglar, no doubt, had afterwards replaced in his pocket.

The detective collected the fragments of glass and subjected each of them in turn to a careful examination. Many of them bore the marks of the putty on one side, and one large fragment had a email piece of putty still adhering to it. This last-named fragment, which had originally formed the upper half of the glass disc, especially attracted Sexton Blake's attention. He lifted it into its place in the hole in the window-pane, and gazed, with a gleam of satisfaction in his eyes, at the morsel of putty which still adhered to it.

"How strange it is," he muttered to himself, "that even the cleverest criminal nearly always makes a fatal slip of this kind!"

"I beg your pardon," said Lady Lingdale, who had conducted him to the library. "Did you speak?"

"I hope not," said the detective suavely. "If I did, I was guilty of the unpardonable offence of speaking my thoughts aloud!"

"Have you discovered any clue to the identity of the burglar?" asked her ladyship.

"I'm inclined to think I've discovered two." said Sexton Blake. "In the meantime—"

He pointed through the window to a rustic fence on the far side of the tennis-lawn.

"Is that the fence over which your husband saw the man vault?" he asked.

"Yes," Lady Lingdale answered.

"Then, if your ladyship will excuse me for a few minutes," said Sexton Blake, "I'll go and examine the ground in the neighbourhood of the fence."

He opened the window and crossed the lawn. Whilst he was examining the surface of the ground he became aware that somebody was watching him from one of the upper windows of the Castle. As the light was now rapidly failing, he could not see who it was, but he distinctly saw a face close-pressed to the inside of the pane.

Chuckling softly to himself, the detective suddenly darted behind a clump of bushes. Stooping down to hide his movements from the view of his unknown watcher, he whipped out his handkerchief. Then he raised himself to an upright position, holding the handkerchief ostentatiously displayed in his hand, and pretended to examine it with the greatest care.

Half a minute later the side door of the Castle opened, and a man walked swiftly in his direction. It was Johnson, the valet. Sexton Blake waited until he was half-way across the lawn; then, pretending suddenly to catch sight of him, he hurriedly thrust the handkerchief into his pocket.

"Hallo! I didn't know you were here, sir." said Johnson. "You're searching for traces of the burglar, I suppose sir? Have you discovered anything?"

"Oh, yes!" said Sexton Blake pleasantly. "I've discovered lots of things!"

"What was that you put into your pocket just now, sir?" asked Johnson.

"That's my business." said the detective, stiffly. "Where does Mr. Sadler live?"

Mr. Sadler was a well-known local breeder of bloodhounds.

"He'll lend me one of his dogs, I suppose, if I ask him?" said Sexton Blake, when the valet had given him the necessity directions.

"No doubt," said Johnson. "But why do you want a bloodhound?"

The detective tapped the outside of the pocket into which he had thrust the handkerchief.

"Ask no questions," he said, with a meaning wink, "Is there a gate in this fence?"

"Yes, but it's locked." said Johnson. "If you're going down to the village to see Mr. Sadler, you'd better go down the drive and through the park gates."

"For reasons of my own, I prefer to go by this lane," said Sexton Blake, referring to the lane on the other side of the fence. "Lead the way to the gate of which you spoke."

Johnson led the way to the gate, and, on Sexton Blake's instructions, lifted it off its hinges. The detective narrowly watched him whilst he was removing the gale; then, alter telling the man to inform Lady Lingdale where he had gone, he strode off down the lane in the direction of the village.

In the meantime, the village constable had wired the facts of the case to the chief constable of the county. The latter had instructed Inspector Wynn to go down and investigate the affair, and, as luck would have it, the detective met the inspector and the constable at the end of the lane already mentioned.

"Hallo! You here!" exclaimed the inspector, recognising Sexton Blake. "Just my luck! For the credit of the force, I hope you haven't solved, the mystery already!"

"Not quite, but very nearly!" said Sexton Blake, with a laugh. "You're just in time to be in at the death. Send the constable away, and I'll tell you all about it."

When the constable had been dismissed, much against his will, the detective told the inspector all the known facts of the case. Then he went on to describe the result of his own investigations.

"When I saw Lord Lingdale." he said, "the first thing that struck me was that his lordship had been stunned by a blow on the left side of the head. As his assailant had attacked him from the front, this seemed to me to be conclusive proof that the man who had attacked hie lordship was left-handed. You agree?"

"Of course," said the inspector. "A right-handed man, attacking another from the front, could hardly strike him on the left side of the head."

"When I examined the safe," continued Sexton Blake, "I found that the lock had not been picked or tampered with in any way. It had simply been unlocked by means of a duplicate key. I then examined the window. There was a hole in one of the panes, which had been cut out in the usual way—with a diamond cutter and a lump of putty. The piece of glass which had been cut out was lying in fragments on the terrace outside. One fragment I was able to fit into its place in the hole in the pane. There was a tiny piece of putty still sticking to it; and the putty was on, that side of the glass which had originally faced into the room!"

The inspector whistled.

"The piece of glass had been cut out by somebody inside the room," he said.

"Obviously," said Sexton Blake, "he had endeavoured to make it appear that the window had been broken open by somebody outside; but, with that carelessness which nearly always gives a criminal away, he had cut out the piece of glass from the inside of the room.

"Having thus convinced myself that the real burglar was somebody in the house," he continued, "and that the man whom Lord Lingdale had seen was merely a confederate who had come by appointment to take away the plunder, I addressed myself to the task of discovering who the confederate was."

He described how he had examined the ground in the neighborhood of the fence, and how he had observed that somebody was watching him out of one of the upper windows of the Castle.

"Needless to say," he said, "I was morally certain that the man who was watching me was the man who, at some time or another, had obtained possession of the key of the safe, had made a duplicate key, had stolen the Lingdale diamonds, and had given them to the man whom Lord Lingdale had seen. As I had no clue to this man's identity, I decided to manufacture one—in other word's, to invent an artificial clue, in the hope that it would lure him into revealing himself.

"With that object in view," continued Sexton Blake, "I suddenly darted behind a neighboring clump of bushes, and pretended to pick up a pocket-handkerchief. Knowing that the man was watching me, I tried, to the best of my ability, to make him believe that the man who had vaulted over the fence this morning had dropped the handkerchief, that I had found it, and that I had thereby discovered a possible clue to his identity."

"Cute!" said the inspector, admiringly. "Very cute! Did the ruse succeed?"

"Perfectly," said Sexton Blake. "The man who had been watching me immediately came to see what I had found."

"And who was he?"

"Lord Lingdale's valet—a man of the name of Johnson. He tried to appear unconcerned, but it was only too plain that he was distracted with fear and anxiety. He asked me what I had discovered. I returned evasive answers, and conveyed the impression that I intended to borrow one of Mr. Sadler's bloodhounds in order to follow up the clue I had discovered. In order to make assurance doubly sure, I asked him to lift, the gate off the hinges. I watched him whilst he did so, and saw that he was left-handed!"

"That settles, the matter," said the inspector decisively. "Without a doubt it was Johnson who stole the diamonds, who stunned Lord Lingdale, and who gave the stolen property to his confederate."

"And Johnson believes that I have now gone down to the village to interview Mr. Sadler," said Sexton Blake meaningly. "He believes that I shall presently return with a bloodhound. What will he do?"

"He will hurry off to his confederate's house," said the inspector, "and warn him of his supposed danger."

"Exactly," said Sexton Blake. "And if we keep watch on the Castle, and shadow him when he leaves—"

"Come on!" said the inspector.

The two men concealed themselves on the outskirts of the park, in such a position that nobody could leave the Castle without their seeing them.

They had not long to wait. The side door opened, and a man came out. As he passed their hiding-place they saw it was Johnson. They shadowed him down the drive, up the road, through an adjacent wood, and eventually saw him enter a gamekeeper's cottage. It was a one-storied building, with two doors and four windows. Only one of the windows was lighted. With stealthy, cat-like steps, the detective and the inspector crept up to the outside of this window. The blind was drawn. They could see nothing of the interior of the room, but they heard Johnson say:

"Dropped your handkerchief—saw Sexton Blake pick it up—gone to Sadler's for a bloodhound!"

"But I didn't drop my handkerchief," said a louder voice, which the listeners rightly guessed was that of the gamekeeper.

"Must have done," they heard Johnson say. "If you didn't, how— Blake find it? Anyhow, can't afford to run any risk. We must—the stuff—and hide it at once. Where is it?"

"Under my bed." said the gamekeeper.

"Fetch it." said Johnson. "It may a false alarm—no risk. Bury it in the garden. If Sexton Blake comes—no proof!"

The detective glanced at the inspector.

"Ready?" he whispered, and he drew his revolver.

The inspector nodded, and produced a pair of handcuffs.

Three minutes elapsed: then the cottage door opened, and the gamekeeper, with a spade over his shoulder, walked out into the garden, closely followed by Johnson, who was carrying the stolen jewel-case.

"Hands up!"

Sexton Blake jumped at Johnson, seized him by the throat with one hand, and clapped the muzzle of his revolver to his head with the other. At the same instant the inspector sprang at the gamekeeper, tripped him up, and seated himself astride his chest.

Never was a surprise more dramatic or more complete. In little more lime than it takes to tell, the handcuffs encircled the gamekeeper's wrists, and Johnson's hands had been tied behind his back with the same handkerchief that had furnished Sexton Blake with his "artificial clue."

"It's a fair cop!" admitted Johnson sullenly, as he staggered to his feet. "But—but where's the bloomin' bloodhound?"

"There." said the inspector, pointing, with a smile, to Sexton Blake.

A puzzled look crossed Johnson's face. Then suddenly the truth dawned on him.

"That 'andkerchief was a fake!" he gasped.

"It was," said Sexton Blake cheerfully.

"Jeerusalem!" groaned Johnson.

"No, not Jerusalem," said Sexton Blake, with a pleasant smile. "Northallerton, I think!"

And he was right. Half-an-hour later the Lingdale diamonds were safely back in his lordship's safe; and within the month Johnson and the gamekeeper—who had hatched the plot between them—had made their first acquaintance with the unlovely interior of Northallerton Gaol.


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.