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THE good ship Darley Dale, homeward bound from Valparaiso to Hull, came ashore on a wild and stormy October afternoon in Cleveden Bay, on the Sussex coast. Thanks to the gallantry of the local lifeboat men, every soul aboard was saved; but, in jumping from the wreck to the lifeboat, one of the crew, named William Sheen, slipped and fell. He struck his head with so much force that he became unconscious.
The rescued men were taken to the village inn—the Golden Lion— where Sheen, after being examined by the local doctor, was undressed and put to bed. The rest were provided with dry clothes and dosed with hot beef-tea and coffee. Then Mrs. Brewster, the landlord's wife, who was extremely short-sighted, set to work to dry the twenty-four dripping suits of clothes belonging to the shipwrecked mariners.
When shaking the water out of Sheen's coat something fell from one of the pockets. Mrs. Brewster picked it up, and found it was a flat, oval tin canister, such as tobacco is often sold in. The tin was empty, the outside label had been removed, and the lid was missing. Thinking it was of no value, she tossed it aside.
Later in the day—to be precise, about one o'clock on Friday afternoon—Jimmy Brewster, the landlord's five-year- old son, searching round for something to play with, found the tin which had fallen out of Sheen's coat-pocket. Unseen by anybody, he picked it up, and left the house for the beach to make sand-pies.
About a quarter of an hour later Sheen recovered consciousness. As soon as he was able to speak he asked for his coat. Mrs. Brewster and Captain Smith were in the bedroom at the time. The captain handed Sheen his coat, and Sheen, with a strained and anxious look on his face, thrust his hand into one of the pockets. A look of dismay crossed his face when he found that the pocket was empty.
"There was a terbaccer-tin in one of these 'ere pockets when I came ashore," he said, striving with a visible effort to speak calmly. "It isn't 'ere now. Where is it?"
"A hempty tin without a lid?" asked Mrs. Brewster.
"Yes," said Sheen eagerly.
"I threw it away," said Mrs. Brewster,
"Threw it away?" screamed Sheen, his eyes ablaze with fury, and every fibre of his being quivering with excitement.
"Yes," said Mrs. Brewster. "It fell out of yer pocket while I was dryin' yer coat. I didn't think you'd ever want it, so I threw it away. But I dare say I can find it."
"Find it at once," commanded Sheen, "It's worth 'undreds of pounds to me!"
Convinced that the man was raving, Mrs. Brewster went downstairs and sought for the missing tin. Of course, she did not find it.
"I can't find it anywhere," she said to Sheen, returning to the bedroom. "It's been swept up with the rest of the rubbish, I expect, an' thrown into the sea. I'm sorry—"
The sentence was never completed, for at that moment, with a wild, despairing cry, Sheen sank back, and became again unconscious.
"An apoplectic fit," said the doctor, who was hastily summoned to the inn. "Brought on by too much excitement."
SEXTON BLAKE happened to be staying at the Golden Lion at this time, having gone down to Cleveden to search the parish registers in connection with a case he had on hand.
"Perhaps Mr. Blake will be able to explain what it all means," said the captain.
"Explain what?" asked Sexton Blake.
The captain told him what had happened.
"It all sounds very improbable," said Sexton Blake. "An empty tobacco-tin worth hundreds of pounds! Surely the man must have been raving!"
"He wasn't," said the captain. "He was as sane as you or I."
"Had you ever heard of him speak of the tin before?"
"Who is the man? Where does he come from, and what do you know of his previous history?"
"I know very little of his previous history. He isn't one of my regular crew. As a matter of fact, I found him on an uninhabited island off the west coast of South America."
"That sounds interesting. In what circumstances did you find him on this uninhabited island off the west coast of South America?"
"We had been driven somewhat out of our course by a storm, and as we were passing the island we saw a man making signals to us. I sent a boat ashore, of course, and the man was brought aboard."
"He had been shipwrecked on the island?"
"Yes. You remember, no doubt, the wreck of the Ocean Queen?"
The detective pondered for a moment, "The Ocean Queen," he repeated, "Was that the name of Sir Everard Milson's yacht which was lost in the South Pacific with all hands about nine or ten months ago?"
"Yes," said Captain Smith. "At least, the vessel was supposed to have foundered with all hands, but it appears that Sir Everard and this man Sheen—who was one of the crew of the yacht were washed ashore on one of the numerous uninhabited islands in the vicinity of the disaster. Both men had been badly knocked about, and Sir Everard succumbed to his injuries shortly after landing on the island. Sheen, however, pulled through, and had been living alone on the island for over six months when we found him and took him off."
As the captain uttered these last words a weedy-looking but fashionably-dressed young fellow walked into the bar-parlour of the inn, where the above-recorded discussion had taken place.
"Are you Captain Smith?" he asked, addressing the captain, and either not seeing or ignoring Sexton Blake.
"My name is Baldwin," said the new arrival. "I'm the nephew of the late Sir Everard Milson. I received a letter from Rio de Janeiro a little time ago from a man named Sheen, who stated that he was one of the crew of my late uncle's yacht; that he and Sir Everard had not been drowned when the yacht had gone down, but had been washed ashore on a desert island; that Sir Everard had died on the inland, but that he—Sheen—had recovered from his injuries and had subsequently been rescued by your ship. Is that true?"
"Quite true, sir." said Captain Smith. "Sheen told me that Sir Everard had given him your name and address, and had told him you were his only living relative; so when we put into Rio to coal he said he'd like to write to you, and I gave him a sheet of paper and an envelope and money to buy a stamp."
"When I opened my newspaper at breakfast-time this morning," said Mr. Baldwin, "I saw that your ship had been wrecked here yesterday afternoon, and that this man Sheen had been carried to this inn in an unconscious condition. As I am naturally anxious to question him about my uncle's last moments at the earliest possible opportunity, I took the first available train down here, Is he conscious now?"
"No, sir," said Captain Smith. "He recovered consciousness about three-quarters of an hour ago, but a few minutes later he became so excited that he took an apoplectic fit, and again became unconscious."
"What—er—was the cause of his excitement?" asked Mr. Baldwin nervously.
"You'll hardly believe me when I tell you, sir," said the captain; "but the thing that threw him into a fit was the news that Mrs. Brewster, the landlord's wife, had thrown away an empty tobacco-tin which she had found in one of his pockets."
Mr. Baldwin started as if he had been stunned. An exultant look leaped into his face, and before he could repress them, two words burst from his lips:
He regained his composure with an effort, and obviously regretted his involuntary outburst.
"I—I mean," he faltered, "how very strange! And cannot the tin be found?"
"No, sir," said Mrs. Brewster. "It must have been swept up by the servant and thrown into the sea. But can you imagine why 'e made such a fuss about it?"
"Indeed I can't!" said Mr. Baldwin, whose face was now wreathed in smiles.
He turned to Captain Smith,
"Although Sheen is unconscious," he said, "I should like to have a look at him, if I may. Will you take me up to him?"
Captain Smith assented, and he and Mr. Baldwin left the room. Scarcely had they disappeared ere Jimmy Brewster toddled into the bar-parlor, weeping bitterly.
"Daddy," he sobbed, addressing his father, "Bob Walker pushed me down and took my tin, and he won't give it back to me!"
"What tin?" said his father.
"I found it under the kitchen cupboard," said Jimmy. "I was playing with it on the sands, when Bob—"
Before he could say more his mother caught him by the arm. "Was it an empty tobacco-tin without a lid?" she asked excitedly.
"Yes," said Jimmy, through his tears.
Mrs. Brewster turned to her husband,
"That's the tin that Sheen is making all this fuss about!" she said. "I threw it into the corner under the cupboard, an' Jimmy must 'ave found it."
She moved towards the door, but Sexton Blake blocked the way.
"Where are you going?" asked the detective.
"To tell Mr. Baldwin that the tin is found." said Mrs. Brewster,
"Don't!" said Sexton Blake. "There is more in this, I fancy, than appears on the surface. I'll interview Bob Walker and get the tin; but, until I come back, don't mention a word of this to anybody."
He turned to Jimmy and held out his hand.
"Don't cry. old man!" he said. "Take me to Bob Walker, and I'll jolly soon make him give up your tin!"
BOB WALKER, a desperado of six and a half, dropped the tin at sight of Sexton Blake, and took to his heels. The detective picked it up and carefully examined it. On the outside several words had been scratched, apparently with a nail or some similar implement.
"I'm afraid I shall have to keep this tin, Jimmy," he said. "As Mr. Sheen said, it's worth hundreds of pounds—thousands of pounds, in fact! Here's a penny for you. That's better than a rotten old tin, isn't it?"
Jimmy evidently thought so, for he grabbed the penny and dashed off to the nearest sweet-shop, without so much as a "Thank you."
"And now for a word or two with Mr. Baldwin," muttered Sexton Blake. He retraced his steps to the inn, where he found that Mr. Baldwin and Captain Smith had just come downstairs, and were chatting to Mr. and Mrs. Brewster in the bar-parlor.
"Can anybody tell me who Digby White is, and where he lives?" asked the detective.
Mr. Baldwin spun round with a startled gasp. Before he could reply the doctor walked in.
"Did I hear somebody mention the name of Digby White?" he asked.
"Yes," said Sexton Blake; "I was just asking if anybody could tell me who he is and where he lives."
"Do you mean the Digby White who was adopted by Sir Everard Milson, of Birmingham, many years ago?" enquired the doctor.
"That's the man, without a doubt,' said Sexton Blake triumphantly.
"Yes," said the doctor. "He's the son of an old friend of mine, who was also a very dear friend of Sir Everard's. His parents died when he was twelve years old, and left him absolutely penniless. Sir Everard, who had quarrelled with his only relative—a nephew, I believe—on account of his dissolute habits, adopted Digby, and announced that he would make him his heir.
"As you probably know," he continued, "Sir Everard was drowned last year, and after his death it was found that he had never made a will. The result was that his scoundrel of a nephew— Baldwin, I fancy, was his name—claimed, and obtained, possession of all Sir Everard's money, and Digby White was turned adrift without a penny."
"Thank you," said Sexton Blake. "That's all I want to know. And now permit me to introduce you to Sir Everard's nephew, Mr. Baldwin."
The doctor reddened with confusion.
"I beg your pardon," he said to Mr. Baldwin. "Needless to say, I had no idea who you were, or I would not have said what I did."
"You have said nothing you need regret," said Sexton Blake. "At the same time, however, you have said something which is not correct. It is not true to say that Sir Everard never made a will. He did make a will."
"It's a lie!" shouted Mr. Baldwin. "My uncle never made a will!"
"Unfortunately for you, he did!" sail Sexton Blake. "And you know it! And here it is."
Saying which, he drew the empty tobacco-tin from his pocket, and pointed to the words which had been scratched on the outside.
"All to Digby White. Everard Milson. Dec. 10th, 1907. Witness', William Sheen."
"IT doesn't require any special acumen to guess what has happened in this case," said Sexton Blake. "When Sir Everard and Sheen were cast ashore on that island in the Pacific, Sir Everard, finding he was dying, knowing he had made no will, scratched this on the outside of this tin, probably with a nail, and got Sheen to scratch his name as witness.
"Probably—nay, certainly—he told Sheen why be was making this strange will, and gave him Digby White's address.
"Sheen was a scoundrel, and a blackmailer to boot. He wrote to Mr. Baldwin, telling him all the circumstances of the case, and offering to sell him the box. That was why it was worth hundreds of pounds to him. I shall, of course, take this will to Digby White—" He paused, for Mr. Baldwin had suddenly leaped to his feet, and was standing before him with clenched fists.
"Look out!" shouted Captain Smith. "He's going to strike you!"
The detective, smiled, and looked the baffled scoundrel full in the face.
"I wouldn't try it on if I were you," he said.
And Mr. Baldwin didn't—