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NO ROBBERY

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First published in Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, 22 May 1909
Reprinted under syndication, e.g., in
The Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, 3 July 1909
The Manawatu Times, New Zealand, 23 July 1909
The Kangaroo Island Courier, Kingscote, Australia, 18 September 1909
(this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-06-06
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.

"A MOST curious story," said Vansittart thoughtfully, peeling a peach. "You mean to tell me that your brother has actually told you in so many words that be intends to steal the picture?"

Godfrey Featherstone filled a glass of port and sipped it nervously.

"That's exactly what he wrote. 'By fair means or foul, I mean to have the Vandyck.' Those were his very words."

"Don't you think it's just a joke?" persisted Vansittart. He was a tall, aristocratic-looking man—American by birth but with hardly a trace of the accent of his country.

"A joke? You wouldn't talk of jokes if you knew my brother Dudley!" returned Featherstone grimly. "Whatever his faults, Dudley never boasts. If he says he'll do a thing, he does it, no matter how mad or foolish. That was why my father kicked him out and left the place to me."

"Hadn't you better have sold him the picture? He appears to have offered you a fair price," said Vansittart, raising his eyes to the other's face.

"What, let our greatest treasure leave the country?" cried Featherstone sharply. "Never! No money could tempt me to part with it, even if it were not an heirloom! The Vandyck has hung in the gallery at Fancourt for two centuries and a half and there it shall remain as long as Fancourt is the home of the Featherstones!"

"Seems to me, Mr Featherstone, that you've got trouble ahead of you," smiled the American. "You'll find it a hit awkward to be up against this brother of yours—a man with millions of money, and apparently no scruples worth mentioning. And, now, to change the subject, when can I show you those snuff-boxes?"

"Haven't you got them with you?"

"No. They are at Duval's being cleaned and done up."

"That's a pity. I must go home to-morrow morning."

"I'm extremely sorry," said Vansittart. "They're worth looking at, I can assure you."

Featherstone hesitated.

"Look here, Mr Vansittart," he said after a moment's pause. "Are you very busy?"

"Not just now. Why?"

"Would it be too much to ask you to run down to Fancourt? It seems almost impertinent to ask such a favour of a comparative stranger, but if you would dine and spend the night we could make you comfortable."

"I should like it, of all things!" declared Vansittart.

"That's very nice of you. Will Wednesday suit—the day after to-morrow?"

"Excellently!" replied Vansittart.

And so it was arranged.

Next day, when Featherstone's motor spun up the smoothly-gravelled drive to the fine old Jacobean house which called him master a keen-eyed young man in rough tweeds was standing in the porch.

"All safe, Mr Blake?" was Featherstone's first eager question, as he jumped out and warmly shook the other's hand.

Sexton Blake nodded.

"Right as rain," he replied cheerfully. Then, in a lower voice: "Remember, I'm not Blake here, Mr Featherstone. Just now my name's Roper."

Featherstone looked annoyed.

"I'm awfully sorry! I won't forget again," he said quickly. "But I'm surprised that nothing's happened yet. Every day I've been expecting to hear of a raid."

"I wish they'd hurry up," said Blake. "I can't stay here for ever, you know. I've other work to do. A week more is my limit. I must go on Saturday."

Featherstone's face fell.

"I wish to goodness Dudley would start if he's going to," he said irritably. "The only time I've managed to forget it was the last two nights. I met a man at the hotel called Vansittart, an American millionaire, but much more decent than the usual rich Yankee. Be and I dined together twice, and he talked so well he took my mind off my troubles. Clever man too. He's coming down tomorrow to show me his snuff-boxes. I hope he'll stay a few days."

"It'll be a good thing to have someone to cheer you up," agreed Blake. "You're worrying too much. If you were wise, you'd take my advice and put the picture away in a safe deposit for a few months."

Featherstone's face darkened.

"Nothing will induce me to do anything of the kind!" he exclaimed violently. "It would be a confession of weakness. When we were youngsters Dudley nearly bullied the life out of me, He sha'nt have the satisfaction of thinking I'm afraid of him now!"


II.

"IT'S one of the queerest businesses I was ever mixed up in," said Blake to himself, as he strolled through the Fancourt Park on the following afternoon. "This Dudley Featherstone is the sort of ruffian who rather appeals to me. Kicked out, disgraced, and disinherited, he makes a fortune by one big gamble, and then calmly announces to his brother that he is going to have the Vandyck by fair means or foul. Hallo! Who's this?" he broke off as a man in gaiters and corduroys came hurrying across the turf towards him.

The newcomer was one of the keepers, full of story of a rough-looking chap he'd seen sneaking about in Hedland Wood.

"Arter pheasants' eggs, sir, I'll lay a shilling! I be going to tell the master."

"Didn't you try to catch him?" asked Blake sharply.

"'Course I did, sir! But he ran like a hare."

"Take me down and show me exactly where it was."

The keeper looked rather surprised at the sharp command. But his master's orders had been plain. Mr Roper was to be obeyed.

He turned and led the way. Blake's trained eye soon laid him on the track of the intruder, and he followed it as far as the road, Here, in the wind-blown dust, the trail was impossible to follow, and, somewhat out of temper, the detective returned to the house.

As he climbed the ha-ha steps a motor drove up, and he arrived at the door in time to be introduced by his host to "my American friend Mr Vansittart."

The latter had in his hand a small but heavy bag.

"I've brought the snuff-boxes," he said with a smile.

"After dinner we'll have a look at them," said Featherstone. "Meanwhile let me show you your room."

At dinner Vansittart talked brilliantly. He was evidently a man who had been everywhere and seen most things. Paris, Rome, Vienna, New York—he knew them all equally well.

When dinner was over Featherstone suggested that they should have coffee in the picture-gallery.

"The Vandyck is well lighted," he said. "You can see it as well by night as by day."

"All right," replied the American. "I'll run up to my room, get the snuff-boxes, and join you in a minute."

The gallery at Fancourt was on the first floor. It was a long and lofty room, lit by three great mullioned windows. Portraits of generations of Featherstones covered the walls, but the place of honour in the centre was held by the Vandyck.

This picture, which had all the stately dignity of Rubens' greatest pupil, represented the famous cavalier Sir Anthony Featherstone, mounted, and in full armour. Sir Anthony, knighted on the field of battle by Charles I, had been the founder of the Featherstone family and the builder of Fancourt.

For two and a half centuries the picture had descended from father to son, and Blake could well understand the feelings of Dudley Featherstone, disinherited in favour of his younger brother, and barred for ever from the ownership of the old home and its glorious associations.

"It's worth stealing," said Vansittart at last, after gazing for quite three minutes at the masterpiece of the great Jacobean artist. "But, all the same," he added with a laugh, "it's not the sort of job that any self-respecting Bill Sikes would care to tackle. You seem to have taken every possible precaution, Mr Featherstone."

"I am not running any needless risks," smiled Featherstone. "Look at these windows!" He pulled back a curtain, and showed the window covered with a shutter of latticed steel. "Then, I have electric alarm wires around the picture itself, and all the doors and windows are protected by the very latest in bolts and safety catches. No, the burglar who tries to steal the Vandyck will have his work cut out."

"Now that I've seen your treasure you shall see mine," said Vansittart, opening his bag and taking out a dozen exquisite old snuff-boxes, which he laid on the table.

He gave a full and particular history of each box, and his stories were so interesting that when the clock on the mantelpiece chimed twelve all three men were genuinely astonished.

"You'll be on the look-out to-night Blake?" whispered Mr Featherstone, as he said "Good-night!"

"You bet!" was the detective's brief but comprehensive reply.


III.

Blake used to say that he slept like a watch-dog—with one eye open. But on this particular night he never went to bed at all. Changing his dress-clothes for a suit of grey flannel and tennis shoes, he sat down in a comfortable chair and picked up his pet copy of The Seven Seas.

One struck, then two. Blake began to grow a little restless.

"Wonder if I'm mistaken?" he muttered.

Another quarter of an hour passed. Then a slight rustling sound in the passage brought him to his feet. His keen eyes gleamed with the light of battle, and opening the door, which swung silently on well-oiled hinges, he glided out into the corridor.

He was just in time to see a figure faintly outlined against the window at the far end turn noiselessly down a cross-passage that led to the picture gallery.

Blake was after it like a shot. Years of training had taught him to move with a silent speed that only a cat could equal.

The picture gallery door was at the far end of the cross-passage. As he turned the corner Blake saw the tiniest gleam of light flicker on the dark oak panelling. He paused.

Next minute there was a slight click. The light vanished.

"Knows his job!" chuckled Blake noiselessly. Then, instead of following the intruder, he turned straight buck, and made for the door of Vansittart's room.

It was closed. He tried the handle. It turned easily. Blake entered, closed the door again, and flashed an electric pocket lamp.

The room was empty, but the window was open, and on the sill lay a coil of thin but immensely strong silk rope. Near the rope was the bag.

Blake opened it. The snuff-boxes were inside, each wrapped separately in tissue paper.

"They're genuine, anyhow!" said Blake, with a twinkle in his eye. And emptying all the boxes out of the bag, he stuffed them into his pockets. Then he rapidly filled the bag with lumps of coal from the scuttle, closed it again, and leaving the rope and bag exactly where be had found them, hurried back to his own room.

He put out the candle by which he had been reading and, leaving the door ajar, sat down and listened quietly.

In about five minutes there came again the cautious tread which he had heard before. But Blake did not move. The steps passed into Vansittart's room, but the detective sat still where he was. The door was closed but all Blake did was to get up and begin undressing.

In less than five minutes he was in bed, and two minutes later sleeping more soundly than for many nights past.


IV.

"HALLO! What's up?" growled Blake.

Someone was shaking him savagely by the shoulder.

"What's up?" repeated Featherstone furiously. "You lie here, snoring like a hog when the picture you're paid to take care of is stolen!"

"Are you sure?" asked Blake coolly as he slipped out of bed and donned dressing-gown and slippers.

"Sure? Haven't I seen it with my own eyes?" shrieked Featherstone harshly. "It's been cut out of its frame in the night!"

"Let's go and have a look," said Blake, who seemed quite undisturbed by the other's emotion.

Featherstone led the way at a run. Sure enough, when they reached the gallery, the grey morning light fell upon an empty frame. The canvas had been cut clean out of it with a sharp knife.

Blake regarded it coolly.

"Any idea who did it?" he asked quietly.

Featherstone swung round on him savagely.

"Are you mad?" he cried. "That's what I've been paying you to find out. Dash me if I ever trust a detective again!"

He would have said more but Blake had left him and gone to the far end of the gallery, where a great oak chest stood against the wall. Producing a key he unlocked this, and took therefrom a roll of canvas tied with string.

Opening it be held up before the eyes of the amazed Featherstone the Vandyck portrait.

"W-w-what's it mean?" gasped the man.

"That's your picture all right, isn't it?" asked Blake.

Featherstone examined it.

"Yes," he said. "I—I apologise, Blake! But, hang me if I can make head or tail of it!"

"It's simple enough," replied Blake, with a twinkle of amusement in his keen eyes. "While you were away I took the liberty of asking a young artist friend down. He painted a copy of the Vandyck—a copy which you yourself last night could not tell from the original. That's what your brother's burglar stole."

"But who stole it? How did he get in?"

"You let him in yourself. It was your American friend, Vansittart."

Featherstone's jaw dropped.

"Impossible!" he gasped.

"Go to his room, then, and see. My dear sir, I spotted him the minute I set eyes on him as Lex Manley, the cleverest curio thief in two continents. He knows as much about art as any living connoisseur. He collects himself."

"Then that explains the snuff-boxes," said Featherstone, crestfallen.

"Which reminds me," replied Blake. "I paid young Winwood fifty pounds for the copy; but I think these will cover the bill."

He pulled out the snuff-boxes, and piled them on the table,

"Fair exchange is no robbery!" he said with a laugh. "On the whole, I think we've come out a bit to the good."


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.