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ANONYMOUS

THE MYSTERY OF THE EMPTY NUTSHELLS

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Ex Libris

First published in
Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, 21 August 1909

Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
Manawatu Times, New Zealand, 22 October 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

"I'M glad I didn't go out of town after all," thought Blake, looking for the tenth time at the telegram which had been handed to him half an hour ago.

He was no stranger to startling telegrams—some almost grotesque in their tenor, others utterly incoherent; others, again, warped from all meaning by their cumbersome diction of mystery. But the one in his hand had arrested his attention and tickled his curiosity from the moment he had mastered its contents. It was explicit, though it was brimming over with mystery.


"BE IN AT SEVEN," it read, "BE LEANING OUT OF YOUR WINDOW. LEAVE YOUR FRONT DOOR AND STUDY DOOR OPEN. I WILL SHUT BOTH AS I COME UP; BUT IF I GET THROUGH THE GAUNTLET AT ALL IT WILL BE A MATTER OF SECONDS. DON'T BUDGE FROM YOUR WINDOW. IF THEY SUSPECT YOU, YOU WILL BE USELESS, AND NOTHING CAN SAVE ME.
— JAMES HOLROYD (CAPTAIN, —TH LANCERS, KNIGHTSBRIDGE.)"


It was now five minutes to seven, and the front door and study door of Blake's rooms in Chelsea had been off the latch for the last ten minutes, and the detective himself had been lolling at the open window, in full view of anyone passing in the square, had anyone passed. But no one had passed. The square was steeped in that extraordinary silence which belongs peculiarly to London on a Saturday evening in late June.

It had been a torrid day. The foliage on the trees in the square hung motionless about the black branches. The grey outline of the sweltering streets seemed to pant against the palpitating haze of heat. The sun was declining through a fan-like shroud of lowering purple clouds, here and there hemmed with a fiery lacework of vivid gold, here and there splashed with an angry, hot crimson.

Seven o'clock boomed, and the figure of a tall, athletic-looking man, with a morning-coat tightly buttoned about a slim waist, with a soft felt hat hard pulled about his ears, darted into the square.

"For heaven's sake, don't move!" he gasped, as he reached Blake's door. "Go on looking out. Watch!"

Blake obeyed. Looking below, he saw that three men had met almost beneath his windows.

They were talking quietly, with an occasional gesture—very slight, but definite enough for Blake—towards the block of houses in which his own was situated. They linked arms presently, and walked slowly down the block, scrutinising each doorway. They paused a few moments at Blake's, and one of them pointed swiftly to two little spirals of dust that lay on the top step, in the place where Captain James Holroyd had leapt.

Blake's lips drew into a thin line, and his eyes gleamed. He remembered quite distinctly seeing the dust fly as his visitor had jumped the steps; but that others should have deduced their quarry from those little spirals gave his nerves a turn-up to fighting tension. He watched the men intently, and could see they looked puzzled and only half decided. But, after a moment they walked on to the corner, scrutinising the other houses. Then they turned, and, looking up, saw Blake, gazing apparently at the beauty of the western sky. For a good quarter of an hour they stayed there. Then one drifted back to the opposite corner of the block and disappeared. One lounged across into the little square of garden and took a seat on a bench commanding a view of Blake's window; and the third drifted round the corner where he had been standing.

Blake stood up, knocked the ashes from his pipe, hung a light curtain across the window, and turned to confront his guest. He found him seated in a chair in a far corner of the room, placidly smoking a cigar.

"They all three turned up, I suppose!" said the visitor.

"And spotted your arrival here," said Blake drily, "by the dust you left when you jumped on to my doorstep."

A curious grey pallor showed through the bronze on the captain's face, and his lips twitched.

"Then I'm a dead man!" he said, in a dull tone of despair.

"Not if I can help it," said Blake quietly. "Suppose you give me the details?"

"I will," said the captain, stiffening visibly under the influence of Blake's words. "The thing is all a mystery to me. It began five days ago—my knowledge of it. I was down at my uncle's, at Hazeldene, in Sussex. We were at breakfast, when the mail-bag brought this box."

He placed a small cedar-wood box before the detective, who opened it and stared blankly at its contents. These consisted of thirteen nutshells, from which the tops had been removed, and which were threaded together on a loop of silver wire.

"No writing with them?" asked Blake.

"Not a word," said the captain, "But that they had a message of their own was evident enough from their effect upon my poor uncle. He had no sooner set eyes on them than he got up with a suffocated cry, clutched at his throat, and fell back in his chair, gasping, 'Great heavens! The brothers of Jahore!' They were his last words. He was a big, full-blooded man, and the shock, whatever be its explanation, simply killed him. Apoplexy, the doctor called it.

"I must tell you," went on the captain, after draining the tumbler of whisky-and-soda Blake had pushed towards him, "that my Uncle Jasper and I are the last of our race. We were close chums, and, as far as I know, he had no secret from me. After the funeral—which was three days ago—I returned to Hazeldene to hear the reading of a will by which Uncle Jasper left me all he had. You may be sure that with that cry, 'The brothers of Jahore,' ringing in my ears, I went carefully through my uncle's papers. There was nothing to throw light on the matter. Tho only thing I found out of the ordinary, and which seemed as if it might have some kind of relation to the contents of that cedar box, was this."

He passed over a curiously-worked, heavy little casket. It was made of jade, and stamped all over, in the ordinary Indian hammer-work, with bas-reliefs of Buddha.

Blake opened it. The inside was lined with saffron-colored satin. It was empty, but in the silk cushion, half-way down the box, was distinctly visible the impress as of a necklet of thirteen stones, each the size of an ordinary hazel-nut. Blake examined the box minutely, took careful measurements of it, scrutinised it through a powerful lens; then, with a face devoid of any suggestion of the excitement that was thrilling him, asked calmly:

"And afterwards?"

"The business commenced," said the captain grimly. "After dinner I was on the terrace at Hazeldene. It was about nine. I felt someone at my elbow. I turned and saw a chap garbed as a Brahmin priest. 'I have called for the jade casket, sahib,' he said, as cool as you please. 'Then you won't get it!' I replied. 'The brothers of Jahore always get what is theirs,' he replied. 'If it is not delivered here by eleven o'clock on Saturday evening—you see, we give you three days, sahib—you will be dead at midnight!' He had hardly finished before I had grabbed him. 'If you're a brother of Jahore,' I said to him, 'you are just the man I want to talk with!' But he was too slippery for me. Before I'd got the words out of my mouth he had slipped out of his garment and was gone. Here is his wretched linen robe, if that can tell you anything!"

I Blake examined the roll the captain flung open before him, and an exultant smile hovered about his lips.

"Finish the yarn," he said,

"Next morning I got a counterpart of the cedar box with the thirteen nutshells in it," said the captain. "Here it is, and I've left in the lid the paper that was in it."

"Put the jade box on the terrace at eleven on Saturday, and all will he well," Blake read. "Fail, and nothing shall save you from the doom of the brothers of Jahore."

"I came to town," continued the captain, "but those beggars have stuck to me like leeches. I don't pretend to know how they've worked it, but their confounded menaces, always in the same print, have reached me at mess, in my club, in my flat. I come across them under my pillow, in my boots, on my plate; and the servants swear they know nothing of it. I can't set foot out of doors without picking up the three yellow-skinned brutes within three minutes. They mean to have that box or my skin. And I mean 'em to have neither. That's why I've come to you, What do you make of it?"

For answer, Blake took the jade box in his hands and beckoned the captain to his side.

"In examining the satin lining through this lens," he said, "you will see at the groove, where the gloss of the satin-lined sides of the box ends, a narrow, circular area been worn to a dull polish. Now observe!"

He placed a thumb and little finger on the extreme imprints in the satin cushion, and, with the index finger of the other hand placed on the central impression, gently pushed, The side of the cushion nearest them sank in. The side towards the top rose, coming forward in the circular groove he had pointed out. Next moment the cushion was on a necklet of thirteen diamonds, each the size of a hazel-nut, that glowed and flashed and glittered against a crimson background.

"If you shut the box," said Blake, calmly, "the cushion reverses again automatically. It is the diamonds this little gang is after!"

"Great Scott!" gasped the captain. "But they're worth a fortune, Blake! How on earth did you spot it?"

"The groove in the satin," smiled Blake, "coupled with a little knowledge of Indian workmanship and a fairly exhaustive knowledge of missing Mutiny treasure. Yes, the stones arc worth a fortune. As it stands, the necklet is unique, and should be worth anything from a hundred thousand pounds upwards."

The captain heaved a long sigh. "It is a big temptation," he said. "But if these things really belong to these Jahore people—"

"Jahore fiddlesticks!" said Blake, with a dry chuckle, "Your title is as good as anybody's, my dear fellow. Tippo Sahib was the last owner of this necklet. It was entrusted by him to the care of four brothers, priests of a little temple at Jahore, and the active engineers of some of the ghastliest atrocities of the Mutiny. Three of them were passed under arms by Havelock. The fourth escaped, and it is within my knowledge that he died two years ago at Dartmoor, whither he was sent for burglary at your uncle's house, in the course of which he stabbed a butler. I may say at once that your uncle consulted me in the matter; but he was so extraordinarily reticent that I threw up the case, and he was probably unaware that the last of the brothers of the Jahore had passed in his checks."

"Then who the dickens are these fellows after me!" asked the captain.

"That remains to be seen," said Blake, "But I do not think we shall have much trouble in identifying them. One at least of them must have been in the prison hospital with the Jahore brother who died, and become the repository of his secret. The rest is easy to imagine. That linen garb you showed me was never made for Indian wear, It wis probably bought at Whiteley's. These cedar boxes are Brummagem ware. Those printed characters are as English as they can be. Now, if you will be good enough to get into my dressing-gown, and lend me your clothes, I will borrow your personality for an hour or two, and see the thing through. Meanwhile, on no consideration whatever must you budge from this room and that chair. You had better stick that necklace in your pocket. I shall want the jade box."

II

THE disguised detective crept out with the air of a man in mortal fear of being observed, and, after a stealthy scrutiny around, made a bolt for the corner on his right. He was carrying the jade box under his left arm. It was stoutly corded with twine, the ends of which were passed through a couple of holes in his coat and tightly attached round his body. This detail was, naturally, not apparent, and the box looked the easiest thing in the world for anyone to snatch.

The seeming Hindu spotted it at once and set off at a swift trot after the man he took for the captain. At the same time he gave three calls of the wood-pigeon, and his comrades, waiting at the flanking ends of the block, stood to the alert at the agreed-on signal.

Sexton Blake rounded the corner carelessly, and three doorways down halted, as if irresolute, as a dusky-faced man leapt from the shadow and made a snatch at the jade box. The dusky-faced one got a grip of the box in both hands, tugged, then gasped, as the box remained firm and a pair of handcuffs glittered and clicked about his wrists.

The man running from behind saw nothing of what had happened to his friend, save that he was tugging at the box. He aimed a violent blow with a loaded cane at the detective's arm. But Blake had expected that, and had twitched his prisoner's head suddenly forward, so that he received the spent blow,

Before the giver of it had time to recover his balance, Blake had snapped the bracelets on him also, and, with a deft ankle-kick, had swept the man off his feet and laid him athwart his half-unconscious comrade.

He was on the two like a cat after a mouse, and had noosed them knee to knee and neck to neck before they had a chance to show fight. He hauled them into the doorway of the empty house, and gently blew a police-whistle. In a couple of minutes a constable came running up.

"I've got another to collect, Hansen," said Blake. "Just stand by these till I give you a. call."

Hansen grinned, drew his truncheon, and stood to attention.

Blake made the tour of the block and fell on the third man from behind as he was peering anxiously round the corner. In five minutes, Blake leading one man and Hansen kneeing on the other two, the little procession rejoined Captain James Holroyd in Blake's rooms.

"Well, I'm jiggered!" gasped the captain. "You've got the lot!"

"Looks like it, doesn't it?" said Blake gaily. "There they are, the brothers of Jahore, otherwise Mooney, Slikey Rat, and Whisperer, wandering conjurers, the last late of Dartmoor. You can take them away, Hansen. The captain and I will be following you on to the station presently."

"By Jove, Blake!" cried the gallant captain, his face flushed with pleasure, as he broke the central stone from the necklet and laid it on the detective's table. "You've not only saved my life, but you've given me a fortune; and you've jolly well got to keep that stone as a memento, if only to break the unlucky thirteen!"

"Oh, well, if you put it that way," said Blake, eyeing the lustrous gem proudly, "I really don't mind if I do!"


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.