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ANONYMOUS

THE AMATEUR BURGLAR

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First published in Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, April 3, 1909
Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Manawatu Times, New Zealand, May 28, 1909 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2016
Version Date: 2016-11-25
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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I.

HE was "Marmaduke and Co.," outside brokers, of Throgmorton Avenue, He was "Duncombe and Platts," turf accountants and commission agents', of tie Haymarket. He was "Cecil Howard," money-lender and bill-discounter, of Oxford Street. He had several other aliases and business addresses; but his real name was Edward Sinclair, and his private residence was in Lordship Park, Stoke Newington, where his household consisted of himself, a cook, a housemaid, and an unmarried niece named Arnold, who acted as his housekeeper. One night he returned from the City at half-past six, dined with his niece, and retired to rest about a quarter to eleven. Miss Arnold and the servants followed his example shortly afterwards, and by half-past eleven everybody in the house was in bed and fast asleep.

A few minutes after three o'clock in the morning, Miss Arnold was awakened by a resounding crash, which appeared to proceed from her uncle's bedroom. She sprang out of bed, hastily donned a dressing-gown, and ran towards it.

Presently she was joined by the housemaid and the cook, who had also been awakened by the crash; and when she and the two servants had exhausted their strength in vain attempts to burst the door open, she sent the housemaid in search of a policeman. Applying his shoulder to the door, the constable quickly burst it open; then, with the three frightened women at his heels, he strode into the room and turned on the electric light. And this is what they saw:

Mr. Sinclair, in his pyjamas, was lying face downwards on the floor, midway between the bed and the fireplace. He was quite unconscious, and was bleeding profusely from a wound in the centre of his forehead, which appeared to have been inflicted by some blunt instrument. Near him lay an overturned chair; whilst a little distance from the chair lay the bedroom poker, which was wet with blood.

A writing-desk which stood in one corner of the room had been broken open, apparently with the aid of the poker. There was no blood on the desk, however; but there wore several bloodstains on the carpet, and also innumerable muddy footprints, which were especially noticeable near the window.

On examining the window, the constable speedily discovered that it had been opened from the outside. Immediately underneath was the sloping roof of a wooden tool-shed, and on this roof ample evidence that somebody had crawled up it.

"It's easy to see what's 'appened," said the constable, when he had completed his investigations and the housemaid had been sent for the nearest doctor. "Somebody climbed on to the roof of the tool-shed and broke into this room through that window. He forced open the lid of that desk with this poker, and was in the act of riflin' the desk, when Mr. Sinclair awoke and surprised 'im. The man then attacked Mr. Sinclair with the poker, and stunned 'im; then he rushed to the window, climbed out on to the roof of the shed, closed the window behind 'im, slid down the roof of the shed, dropped to the ground, and made 'is escape."

The doctor, when he arrived, endorsed the constable's theory, and added the further information that the blow had fractured Mr. Sinclair's skull.

"Do you think he will recover?" asked Miss Arnold.

"It's no good deceiving you," said the doctor; "I don't."

Miss Arnold felt it was her duty to take every possible step to bring her uncle's assailant to justice, and, accordingly, at seven o'clock she sent the housemaid with a note to Sexton Blake, asking the detective to come to Lordship Park at once.


II.

EXCEPT that Mr. Sinclair had been put back to bed, nothing had been altered in the bedroom when Sexton Blake arrived. He listened to Miss Arnold's story, and then, by permission of the doctor, examined the wound in the centre of Mr. Sinclair's forehead.

"The skull has certainly been fractured," he said to the doctor; "but the fracture is a very slight one, and—er—doesn't it occur to you that there is another cause for this profound unconsciousness!"

"What other cause can there be?" asked the doctor.

The doctor glanced round the room, and as he did so his eyes fell on a hanging cabinet over the washstand. He walked up to it and opened it. Inside, amongst other things, he found a bottle labelled "Syrup of Chloral" and a medicine-glass, in the bottom of which were a few drops of liquid. He smelt at this liquid and tasted it; then he turned to Miss Arnold.

"Was your uncle in the habit of taking chloral as a sleeping-draught?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered, in some surprise.

"I thought so," said Sexton Blake. "Now, will you kindly tell me which is the chair you found overturned when you broke into the room?"

Miss Arnold pointed out the chair, and Sexton Blake examined it. On one of the sharp corners of the frame he found a stain of blood.

He examined the poker and the writing-desk. With the aid of a pocket-lens, he examined the bloodstains and the muddy footprints on the carpet, He next examined the window, the roof of the tool-shed, and the surface of the ground, outside. In the garden he discovered two distinct impressions of the burglar's feet. He measured them, and made a sketch of them in his notebook. Then he climbed back on to the roof of the shed and returned to the bedroom.

With the doctor and Miss Arnold looking on, he subjected every nook and corner of the room to a minute and careful examination. In the course of his investigations he came to the grate, in which a fire had been laid ready for lighting. And here, on the top of the pile of wood and coal, he discovered the remains of a half-burnt match and several fragments of charred and blackened paper.

Carefully removing these fragments of charred paper, he examined them with his lens. They appeared to be portions of a cheque, for on one of them he read the words, "Pay to—"; on another, "—ed Bidwell"; and on another, "D 24543." The writing, or the printing, on the other fragments was undecipherable.

"Well?" said the doctor when Sexton Blake had entered these particulars' in his notebook.

"In the first place," said Sexton Blake, turning to Miss Arnold, "your uncle was not stunned with the poker; his unconsciousness has little or nothing to do with that wound on his forehead. The moment I saw him, I saw that he was suffering from an overdose of chloral; and when I examined the poker I found two hairs adhering to the bloodstain on the end, which satisfied me as the wound on your uncle's forehead is at least an inch away from any part that is covered with hair—that the wound had not been inflicted with the poker. Clearly, then, somebody else had been struck with the poker, and the wound on your uncle's forehead was due to some other cause.

"In my opinion," he continued, "what happened was this: A man, wearing narrow-toed, well-made boots, climbed on to the roof of the tool-shed and broke into this room through that window. He woke your uncle, and probably covered him with a revolver. He ordered him to open that desk and take out and burn a certain cheque. Probably your uncle, in the hope of taking the man by surprise, said he had not the key of the desk, and suggested he should break it open with the poker. Apparently the man assented, and your uncle, having secured the poker, suddenly sprang at him and struck him a violent blow on the head. That is why the end of the poker is stained with blood, and why there are hairs adhering to it.

"The man was evidently not seriously injured," he went on, "for we have clear proof that your uncle broke open the desk and burnt the cheque by holding a lighted match to it over the wood and coals in the grate, When the cheque had been burnt, the man, who was bleeding from the wound on his head—I have found drops of blood leading from the desk to the window and down the roof of the shed and across the garden—climbed out through the window and made his escape.

"After his departure," continued Sexton Blake, "your uncle apparently went back to bed. But he could not sleep. Eventually, he got up and took a dose of chloral. In his agitation, he took too much. Presently he realised that he had taken too much. He found himself growing unconscious. He got out of bed, with the intention of rousing you and sending for a doctor. In the darkness he stumbled over that chair, and that was the crash you heard. As he fell he struck his head against the corner of the chair. That explains the wound on his forehead and the bloodstain on the chair. But the unconscious state in which you found him, and in which he now lies, was not due to the fall, but to the overdose of chloral he had taken."

"What do you propose to do in the matter?" asked the doctor.

"I propose," said Sexton Blake, "to go to the bank which issued the cheque and interview the manager."


III.

FIVE minutes at the London and Colonial Bank, which had just opened when Sexton Blake arrived, sufficed to give the detective all the information he required.

"The cheque-book from which that particular cheque was taken," said the manager, after referring to his books, "was issued by us, three years ago, to Alderman Sir Alfred Bidwell, the well-known City merchant, of Hazeldean Hall, Elstree."

The detective thanked him, hired a taxicab, and drove to Elstree. On reaching. Hazeldean Hall, he found that the gates were closed and locked, He rang the bell, and the lodge-keeper appeared.

"I wish to see Sir Alfred on a matter of urgent importance," said Sexton Blake, when the man had opened the gates. "Is he at home?"

"Yes, sir," said the lodge-keeper; "but he's ill in bed, and isn't allowed to see any visitors."

As he uttered these words the detective saw two young fellows come out of the front door of the hall, clearly visible from the gates, and stroll away in the direction of the conservatories.

"Who are those?" he asked.

"The taller of the two is Master Ralph," said the lodge-keeper. "He's Sir Alfred's only son, you know. The other is Lieutenant Ford. He's a great friend of Master Ralph's, and has been staying here for the last day or two."

Bidding the taxi-driver wait for him, the detective hurried up the snow-clad drive and followed the two young fellows towards the conservatories. Suddenly he started, and a thrill of suppressed excitement shot through his nerves. In the snow, on that part of the drive which led from the front door to the conservatories, the footprints of the two young fellows were the only footprints to be seen. And the footprints of one of the young fellows exactly corresponded with the footprints which Sexton Blake had sketched in Mr. Sinclair's garden!

Quickening his pace, the detective approached the two young men from behind without their having observed him, Carefully watching them, he saw that the one whose footprints corresponded with those of Mr. Sinclair's nocturnal visitor was Lieutenant Ford.

"Good-morning, gentlemen," said Sexton Blake. "Sorry if I intrude. You know who I am, I see."

"You're Sexton Blake," said Lieutenant Ford, turning pale.

"I am," said the detective. "And I've come to ask you why you broke into Mr. Sinclair's house this morning and forced him to burn that cheque?"

The lieutenant uttered a groan of dismay, Ralph Bidwell turned to him with a cry of comprehension.

"So you have been to Sinclair's and forced him to destroy the cheque!"

"I have," said the lieutenant defiantly. "You have nothing more to fear from Sinclair."

"That is true," said Sexton Blake gravely. "Mr. Sinclair is dying."

"Dying!" gasped Lieutenant Ford. "But—but I never touched him! It isn't my fault if he is dying!"

"I know it isn't," said Sexton Blake. "But after yon left the house, Mr. Sinclair took an overdose of chloral, and—However, before I tell you my story you'd better tell me yours."

The lieutenant glanced at Ralph Bidwell.

"You'd better tell him the first part," he said.

"Two years ago." said Ralph to the detective, "I was desperately hard up for money, and in a mad fit of youthful folly I forged my father's name to a cheque. Within an hour of parting with the cheque I realised my folly. I went to the man to whom I had given the cheque, and implored him to give it back to me, But I was too late. He had endorsed it and had given it to Mr. Sinclair in payment of a debt.

"I went to Mr. Sinclair," he continued, "and made a clean breast of the whole affair. He saw that I was in his power, and, like the scoundrel he is, he made the most of it. In other words, he refused to give up the cheque, but agreed not to present it so long as I paid him so much a month.

"From first to last," he concluded, "I have paid Mr. Sinclair over a thousand pounds on account of that cheque. Three days ago he informed me that unless I paid him a hundred pounds before the end of the week he would take the cheque to my father and tell him everything. My father was then ill, and likely to die. I knew that the revelation of my baseness would break his heart. I also knew that he would probably alter his will. Yet I could do nothing to avert the disaster, as I couldn't have raised a hundred pounds to save my life."

"Ralph told me all this last night," said Lieutenant Ford, taking up the thread of the narrative. "Without telling him of my intention, I decided to go to Sinclair's house and compel him to destroy the cheque."

The rest is soon told. Ralph Bidwell took Sexton Blake's advice, and told his father everything. The old man was naturally greatly distressed, but in the end he forgave his erring son, and died without altering his will. Miss Arnold, on hearing the detective's story, declared she had nothing but sympathy and admiration for Lieutenant Ford; and, as Mr. Sinclair died without recovering consciousness, the whole affair, so far as the police and public were concerned, remained an unsolved mystery.


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.