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ANONYMOUS

THE LEATHER-HANDLED PARASOL

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Ex Libris

First published in
Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, 18 September 1909

Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Manawatu Times, New Zealand, 10 December 1909 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-11-08
Produced by Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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I.

THERE were few women in London so winsome as Lady Florrie Warden. Small and dainty in build she was, with a smile as frank and spontaneous as a child's, eyes the color of the bluebell, and hair of the warm gold of September corn.

She was alert and vivacious as a bird, and in the diplomatic world to which her husband belonged was beginning to attract the keen attention of men grown grey in the service. It was, therefore, with a sense of positive stupefaction that London received the news that the Countess of Milchester had publicly accused Lady Florrie of stealing a parasol with a leather handle, and that the affair was so flagrant that an arrest was inevitable.

This particular parasol had been specially designed. Not only was the carving done by a special artist, but the top contained a receptacle which could he opened by the touch of a spring. And into this receptacle the countess, on the occasion her parasol was stolen, had placed a very valuable ruby ring of unique lustre and workmanship.

The countess was taking it to the jeweller's, when on the road she met Lady Florrie Warden, who insisted on taking her to tea at her beautiful home in Grosvenor Crescent. Lady Florrie, somewhat to the countess's surprise and secret indignation, was carrying a parasol, the carved leather handle of which was identical in design with the one she herself was carrying, and for which Maurice, of the Rue de la Paix, had charged her so special a price.

The countess, who was renowned for her plain speaking, could not restrain her rising wrath, and openly hinted at what she considered Maurice's chicanery. Her remarks were made in the presence of several mutual friends, who had met at Hyde Park Corner, and there was no doubt that Lady Florrie had shown some embarrassment.

"They can't surely he exactly the same?" she had said, with an obvious effort to recover herself. "Let me compare them more closely."

She held out her hand, and the countess passed into it her parasol containing in its secret receptacle the famous ruby.

Lady Florrie examined them carefully, and her fair face flushed.

"I am afraid they are," she said at last, handing back to the countess her parasol. "But I really do not know how they can be, since I bought mine at Ford's, in Bond Street."

"What an extraordinary coincidence," said the countess, with an unpleasant sneer. "Well, my dear, I won't keep you. I must really run away." And she did, fairly whisking off in a whirlwind of muslin, silk, and wrath, and feathers.

It was half an hour later that the Countess of Milchester swept into Lady Florrie's drawing-room, and, trembling with rage, asked point-blank:

"Why did you change my parasol? Where is it? Return it to me at once!"

Lady Florrie, flushed and paled, half rose, and sat down.

"I did not change your parasol," she affirmed, after a second's pause, during which her guests looked on amazed,

"It is false!" cried the countess. Opening the receptacle in the handle of the parasol, she explained, with characteristic vehemence, how she had ordered its special construction, how it had contained the famous ruby when she had handed it to Lady Florrie, and how, when arriving at her jeweller's, she had found the receptacle empty, and not only empty, but void of a little private mark she had made on the gold-lined top.

Lady Florrie rang the bell. "Tell Félice to bring me my leather-handled parasol!" she said to the servant who came to the summons.

In three minutes a pretty little French woman came tripping in, and handed her mistress the parasol. Lady Florrie handed it over to a dignified dowager who was present.

"Will you kindly examine it for me, duchess?" she said. "Mine has no secret boxes with private marks and missing jewels."

The duchess complied, and beneath the pressure of her delicate fingers, the top of the parasol handle flew back, showing a receptacle identical with that of the other.

Lady Florrie gasped. The countess gave a shrill cry of triumph, and pointed at the gold-lined lid.

"Look at my private mark!" she cried. "And the receptacle is empty!"

There was a minute's frozen silence.

Lady Florrie had risen to her feet. She was very pale, but there was a firmness about her lips and a sparkle in her eyes that foreboded a storm.

"She means to keep it," murmured one of her visitors to another. "What nerve!"

"I shall be glad of my ruby, dear, please," purred the countess, with a yellow gleam of malicious enjoyment in her narrow eyes.

"I have not got your ruby." said Lady Florrie, in a dispassionate tone. "Félice, show the Countess of Milchester out!"

II.

SUCH was the story that was told by Sir Greatorex Warden, Lady Flume's husband, an hour later, to Sexton Blake who, over the telephone, had been summoned from his rooms to Grosvenor Crescent.

The famous detective listened to it with unconcealed dismay. The gravity of his face was not lost upon either.

"You think it is a bad case, Mr. Blake," said Sir Greatorex.

"It has a very ugly look," admitted Blake. "I am obliged to look at the evidence. Of course, if it came to the courts, it is just as admissible to suppose that the countess stole an heirloom as that your wife purloined it, save for the incontestable fact that the latter has the countess's parasol, identified by her private mark, and had also her own parasol, identical with that of the countess's. It would be very difficult to get rid of the prejudice of premeditation. It was possibly within Lady Warden's knowledge that the countess was taking the ruby to her jeweller's this afternoon."

"I knew it for the last three days. I met her on purpose," said Lady Florrie.

"The situation is saved," said Blake softly rippling his long fingers.

They looked at him in amazement

"It was the psychological key of the situation," he explained, with a smile. "If Lady Florrie had really designed the theft, she would never have admitted that she knew of the presence of the ruby. If she had, by accident, changed the parasols, and then, discovering the jewel receptacle, had purloined the jewel, she would not, in producing what she knew not to be her own parasol, have asserted that it contained no receptacle. Between the two alternatives, there is only one other solution possible.

"There was no exchange made. Lady Florrie went out with the parasol she brought back. The Countess of Milchester did the same. There has been a very ingenious piece of trickery, of which I think I see the working. One question to the countess will settle the point, though it may he more difficult to trace the jewel and catch the thief.

"By the way, Lady Warden, did you lay down the parasol you were carrying at any place from the time you left the house?"

"Not once, I am sure," said Lady Florrie.

"I should like to get on to the telephone with the countess, Sir Greatorex," said Blake. "She may make difficulties, and we must act quickly."

"I'll get you through," said Sir Greatorex grimly.

Blake took up the two parasols, and followed Warden and his wife into the library, There he took the parasols to the window and examined them again, subjecting the secret receptacles to a prolonged scrutiny through a powerful lens. He gave a little chuckle of satisfaction, and smiled several times at each receptacle.

"You can speak to the countess, Blake," said Warden. "I have told her you are investigating the case, and want to ask her a question."

Blake went to the telephone.

"I believe, countess," he said, "that your ruby was wrapped in tissue-paper when you put it in the parasol handle this afternoon immediately after lunch. You wrapped it, I think, in the tissue-paper yourself?"

"Yes, I did, with my own hands," was the reply.

"And the tissue-paper was scented with New-mown Hay?" asked Blake. "Ah, there you are wrong!" said the countess. "I have not used New-mown Hay for more than a week. To-day I used Otto of Violets, to match my new hat."

"Thank you, countess!" said Blake. "One move question. You did not, I suppose, lay your parasol down anywhere at any time, since you put in the jewel till you found it gone?"

"No, certainly not; the only person who had it was Lady Florrie Warden," replied the countess.

"Thank you, that, is all," said Blake, "except that if you desire to see your ruby again, you had better take no proceedings at all until I see you in about two hours' time. You have been, like Lady Florrie Warden, the victim of a very ingenious plot and a very simple accident. But if you say a word to anyone about the matter until I see you, I am afraid I shall lose all chance of recovering the ruby."

III.

SEXTON BLAKE spent the next hour and a half strenuously.

His enquiries took him through Piccadilly clubs, through working-men's clubs and cafés in Soho, to Scotland Yard and Bow Street, and to a tenement house off Long Acre. In this last he remained some time, viewing, so the caretaker imagined, the beauties of a twelve-foot square empty room he had engaged for a week.

He wore so extremely satisfied an air when finally he passed the caretaker's lodge that its worthy inmate remarked jocularly:

"Bin amoosin' yerself, 'aven't yer, lookin' at the picshures?"

"Prints," said Blake laconically, and leaving the man to his mystification hurried away.

He was confidently sure of his quest now, and as he had still half an hour in front of him before he was due in Manchester Square, where the Countess of Milchester resided, he strolled through Lincoln's Inn Fields, and, turning into High Holborn, paused to speak to two quietly-dressed men who were lounging in front of a jeweller's shop.

"Is he in?" he asked.

One of the men nodded.

"All right," said Blake, "you can leave the rest to me now. I've come across a little find that simplifies matters. And as we don't want the thing to get into the Press until necessary you'd better not be officially connected."

The two grinned and walked off, and Blake entered the shop.

"Glad to see you again, Draper," he said pleasantly to a pallid-faced man with a long nose and peculiarly hard eyes.

"Can't say the same to you, Mr. Sexton Blake," replied the man.

"I'm sure of that," said Blake, with a short laugh. "I've given you three lives, Draper, and this is your second. Got the ruby on you? Or is it in the safe?"

"Confound you!" snarled the man. "I might ha' guessed you'd be put on after it."

"You might, you ungrateful scoundrel!" said Blake. "Hand it over, and come with me!"

"What am I to come for?" whined the fellow, with a sudden change of tone, as he took the famous ruby from his pocket and transferred it to Blake's hand.

"You just said this was only the second life, and 'pon me soul I—"

"No lies!" said Blake sternly.

"Well, don't go back on your word, if there's to be no lies," said. Draper sullenly.

"I will keep my word," said Blake quietly. "The place I am taking you to is not Bow Street. I am taking you to restore the ruby to the Countess of Milchester, and bear witness as to whom you received it from."

"He'll half kill me!" said Draper, in a quavering voice.

"I hope so," said Blake drily. "Come along!"

The man followed him like a lamb into the taxi waiting outside.

IV

IT was five minutes to seven when Blake got out and rang at the Countess of Milchester's door; but he found Sir Greatorex Warden and his wife awaiting him, and glancing across the drawing-room at the countess and the duchess who had so hastily taken her side.

"And my ruby, Mr. Blake?" said the countess, eyeing him superciliously through her pince-nez.

"One moment, madam!" said Blake frigidly. "The person who stole your ruby is now coming up the steps, and I have given orders for him to be admitted here."

There was a breathless pause.

"The person about your parasol, your ladyship," said a six-foot monument of plush and vainglory.

The person came in. He was an extremely small and thin man, with an unhealthy, chalky pallor of face, but eyes of an extraordinary brilliance. He glanced round the room, saw Blake smiling at him, and with the leap of cat, gained the door, opened it, and jumped into the arms of James.

James rose to the occasion.

"The person about the parasol, your ladyship," he said, with unruffled dignity, and, advancing into the room, deposited his burden three inches from the floor, and held him there.

"Well, Tim," said Blake, as the flunkey retired. "You'd better tell the truth. You won't? Well, I will tell it for you."

"This is how your jewel was stolen, countess," said Blake, turning to the ladies. "This man learned of its presence in your house through a lapidary who had been once in the employment of your jeweller's. He and this man, Draper, got to know that you were intending to take the stone to Bond Street in your parasol to-day. Draper knew that you always brought it wrapped in tissue-paper. Tim, while you were at lunch to-day, mounted your balcony at the back and substituted for the ruby, wrapped in its tissue-paper, a bulb of thin glass containing a corrosive acid, warranted to eat through and reduce to ash, glass and paper in two or three hours, He got away with the ruby, you put the substitute in its place, and when you had got to your jeweller's it had simply evaporated, while the ruby itself was lying in the pocket of Draper, Tim's accomplice. Is that right, Tim?"

"You're the fiend himself!" said Tim, with gaping mouth. "Or else Draper's given me away."

"Neither!" said Blake. "What gave you away was the smell of the acid and the powder left in the parasol that the countess was carrying, and the smell of New-mown Hay in the receptacle of the parasol that Lady Warden was carrying. That and a few logical deductions and enquiries, including a visit to your new rooms off Long Acre, and a receipt from Draper found there."

"I give in!" said Tim. "'Tain't no use fightin' against brains like yours. Every mortal word you've said is just 'ow it 'appened."

"But my ruby?" wailed the countess.

"It is here, countess," and Blake passed it over to her.

"It is very satisfactory," said the duchess, in a genial tone, "to know that our dear Lady Florrie is relieved from so painful an anxiety. But I still do not understand, Mr.--er--Blake, how the dear countess's parasol came to be in Lady Warden's possession."

"Nor do I!" cried the countess, looking up from her jewel with bright eyes.

"Then I must explain," said Lady Florrie, stepping forward, and looking altogether charming.

"The fact is, Hilda, I so fell in love with your parasol, I determined to have one like it. Maurice refused to make me one, so I arranged with Ford's to copy yours, and last night at six, when I left you, I took your parasol to Ford's, and they copied it so beautifully I didn't know which from which when I went for them at noon. I told them I must have it at noon, because you wanted it to take your ruby to the jeweller's after lunch, and so, I suppose, when I returned you yours, as I called round before you were up, I must have left mine, and kept yours. But, of course, I never knew of the secret receptacle. And I'm awfully sorry I was so mean, but I'm frightfully impenitent!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
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.