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.


ANONYMOUS

THE OLD PRINT MYSTERY

RGL Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover


Ex Libris

First published in
Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, 20 November 1909

Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
Manawatu Times, New Zealand, 27 January 1910 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-11-17
Produced by Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

Click here for more Sexton Blake stories


I.

THE 2.30 from Paddington wound its way slowly into the little country station of Stanbury, and as it pulled up with a grunt and a jerk a keen-faced, clean-shaven, active-looking man sprang out.

A square-shouldered young fellow in loose tweeds and a broad-brimmed felt hat came hurrying down the platform to meet him.

"Mr. Blake?" he asked.

Sexton Blake nodded.

"And you are Mr. Witney, I presume?"

"I am," responded the other. "By Jove, but I'm glad you've come! I'm about fed-up with these local chaps. Come along. The cart's waiting."

In less than a minute the famous detective was seated in a smart dogcart, and Mark Witney was sending the cob along the smooth, broad high-road at a spanking trot.

"From what you said just now, Mr. Witney, I gather you are not satisfied with the investigation of the local police?" said Blake.

"I should jolly well think I wasn't," returned Witney irritably. "Most country police are slow, but these fellows fairly take the cake. No doubt you saw in the evening paper that Sergeant Wilkes has gone and arrested a wretched tramp, and swears he's the murderer."

"The account in the paper was of the vaguest description. It will save time if you will give me the whole of the facts while we drive up," said Blake.

"All right. Here they are so far as I know them. This morning, when the maid went to call my uncle—William Acland—she found him lying on the floor, his head, as she described it, 'a mass of blood.' She didn't wait to investigate, but ran off screaming. The groom galloped for Dr. Hayes, but when he came he said that my uncle had been dead for hours. His skull had been fractured by a terrible blow from some blunt instrument, presumably a poker or a jemmy.

"By that time Wilkes had arrived, and meanwhile they wired for me. When I got down, about half-past ten. Wilkes told me that it was a case of burglary. The window of the spare room next my uncle's had been forced, and the burglar had entered my uncle's room by the door. While he was busy, said Wilkes, my uncle had, no doubt, heard him, and jumped up. In a panic, the fellow hit him over the head, and cleared by the same way he came."

"That sounds a reasonable inference," said Blake quietly. "How about the mark on the skull?"

"Yes, that was made by a jemmy right enough. But—"

"A moment, Mr. Witney! Let me ask a few questions first. Was anything taken?"

"That's just it. Only two things, and what d'ye think they were?—a small clock, and a little old-fashioned print which hung above it over the mantel. Did you ever hear of a burglar helping himself to stuff like that—especially as there were seven pounds in gold in a purse on the dressing-table, besides a gold watch and chain, gold sleeve-links, and a sapphire tie-pin? In fact, there was any amount of booty. My uncle was a collector, and all sorts of valuable odds and ends were knocking about. None, was touched."

Blake's keen eyes showed a gleam of interest.

"That's strange," he muttered. "Then what theory have you formed on the subject, Mr. Witney?"

"I put it down to revenge," replied Witney promptly. "Someone had a grudge against the poor old chap. It's my notion that the things that were stolen were taken simply as a blind."

"Have you any reason to believe that anyone had a grudge against your uncle?"

Mark Witney shrugged his broad shoulders.

"No. But though I was his heir, I did not know my uncle very well. I've been abroad since I was nineteen, and only came home last spring. Since then I've only been at Hartley House once, and then for only two nights."

"And now," went on Blake, "about the tramp? What grounds of suspicion has Wilkes against him?"

"His name is James Worsley," replied Witney. "It appears that he came to the front door yesterday and begged. My uncle said he could have food, but the fellow demanded money. When this was refused he began to 'talk ugly.' so my uncle called the gardener and had him put out. That was all there was to it. It seems to me ridiculous that the fellow should come back and murder my uncle; and what makes it, to my mind, more absurd is that he never attempted to bolt. He slept in a haystack near by, and was arrested close to Stanbury at 11 o'clock this morning.

"But here we are," he broke off, as the cart turned through a pair of tall, green-painted gates into a well-timbered drive. "Now you'll be able to see for yourself."

II.

"THE clock stood there," said Witney, "and above it you notice a light mark on the wallpaper where the print hung."

Blake, who, in his own swift but thorough fashion had been examining the scene of the crime, looked up.

"Was the clock valuable?" he asked.

"Not at all. A small travelling clock, the sort you'd buy for about two pounds."

"And the print?"

"That I know nothing about. The maid says that it was a man's head in a common black frame, and that it looked very old, for the margin was yellow and discolored. It may, of course, have been worth a lot."

"And now for the next room," said Blake. "I want to see how the burglar entered."

Blake examined the sill and got out on the verandah roof.

"Yes," he said, "he went the same way that he came."

As he spoke he lightly swung himself to the gravel below. Witney, running round by the stairs, found Blake bent double, slowly moving across the turf.

"Mean to say you can find any marks?" he asked, in surprise.

"Fortunately, yes. Though not very distinct. Is there any way out of the place in this direction?"

"Yes; there's a fisherman's bridge across the brook behind the trees."

"A brook?" repeated Sexton Blake, quickening his pace. In a few moments he and Witney were standing beside a narrow little stream which wound sluggishly along at the bottom of the broad lawn, dividing it from the park beyond. This bridge was only a single broad plank, guarded at the far end by a low rail.

Blake carefully examined the ground at the near side, and nodded with a satisfied air.

"Mr. Witney," he said, "do you think there's such a thing as a landing-net in the house?"

"Sure to be," replied Witney. "My uncle used to fish here. Small as it is, there are some good jack in the stream!"

"Would you mind getting it for me?" asked Blake.

In a few minutes Witney came back with a long-handled net. Blake took it, and, lying flat upon the plank, began working the net to and fro across the bottom of the water. Witney watched with a puzzled look on his sun-tanned face. For some minutes there was no result. Then suddenly Blake's arm stopped in the middle of a sweep, He gave a dig and a twist, and up came the net with something small but heavy caught in the meshes. The object, whatever it was, was covered with mud and weeds, but when Blake took it out and dipped it in the water Witney sprang forward excitedly.

"The clock!" he exclaimed.

III.

ONLY a few hours of the following day had passed ere Blake, through the aid of his friend and assistant Bathurst, had discovered that the stolen print had been pawned by a Mrs. Sneed, of 37, Racehorse Rents, Shadmore. Fortunately, Mrs. Sneed was still at home when Blake, in a shabby blue serge and bowler, introduced himself as an insurance agent to a hard-faced, middle-aged woman in rusty widow's weeds.

At first she would have none of him, but Blake gradually worked the conversation round to the advantages of insurance for married people.

"I ain't got no husband," said the woman sharply.

"I see you are in mourning, ma'am," replied the Blake. "But come now, a good-looking lady like yourself will not remain a widow very long."

Mrs. Sneed bridled, but shook her head.

"I ain't had such an experience of married life as makes me want to try it again," she replied. "Sneed, my first—"

She stopped abruptly.

Blake gave a cleverly simulated start.

"Sneed!" he exclaimed. "Never that chap as set all Scotland Yard by the ears?"

Mrs. Sneed gave him a sharp glance, but Blake's face was pure admiration.

"Yes, that's 'oo 'e was, if you want to know," she replied.

"He was a wonder!" exclaimed Blake warmly. "How well I remember reading about him in the Sunday papers! 'Specially that job of the Dinsmorc diamonds, the one he got lagged for. He was a man, he was!"

"And a brute, too, sometimes!" remarked the woman sourly.

"What he lacked in morals he made up in taste," said Blake, in his best manner. And as she smirked again he went on. "But you kept him in order, I'll be bound."

"So long as 'e was at 'ome I 'did. An' 'e knew it, too. Bless you, when 'e was dying 'e said' to a pal—" She hesitated, and then once more stopped, casting eyes of suspicion upon her visitor.

Blake's face was lamb-like in its innocence.

"Told him he couldn't do better than marry a woman like you, I expect," he continued for her. "Well, I hope he's taken good advice. He will if he's got sense."

As he spoke he rose, and, promising to call again, took friendly leave of the lady.

IV.

"I'VE got it, Bathurst!" were Blake's first words as he entered his own room. "It's either Happy Hopwood or Zeke the Tinker. I must go down to the Yard to find out. Meantime, I want you to get off to No. 37. Keep an eye on the house, and watch who goes in or out. If anyone leaves shadow him, and send me word as I soon as you can."

Blake did not wait to change. A smart taxi took him full pelt to Scotland Yard.

"I want a list of the tickets-of-leave from Portland for the last month," was his request at the Yard, and the necessary papers were put before him with a promptitude which was in itself a compliment.

"Ah, Zedekiah Clay! That's the man they call Zeke the Tinker, isn't it?" he asked of the detective in charge.

"The same, Mr. Blake. And a bad lot, too."

Another moment, and the waiting taxicab was whirling him eastwards. The man drove well, and barely twenty minutes later Blake had passed Fenchurch Street Station, and, telling his driver to wait, was walking down the long, narrow street which led to Racehorse Rents. It was getting dusk now, and it was not until he had almost arrived at his destination that he spotted Bathurst on guard in an archway.

"Chap went in just as I got here. Hasn't come out yet," whispered Bathurst, as Blake loafed slowly past.

"Good! Follow me! And look out for the chap. He's probably armed."

Standing one on each side of the foot of the stairs which led up to Mrs. Sneed's abode, Blake and Bathurst waited many long-drawn minutes, until at last a door slammed above and heavy footsteps came slowly down the old croaking steps.

Presently the dim light shone upon a tall figure and a long, sharp face with small eyes and a bristling beard. Blake waited till the man's foremost foot reached the floor of the passage, then with every muscle taut he took a stop forward.

"Zedekiah Clay, I arrest you for the murder of Mr. William Acland!"

Before the words were out of his mouth the man hit out with all his might. Blake, springing back to avoid the blow, slipped on the greasy boards and stumbled to his knees. At the same moment Zeke pulled a revolver from his pocket, and, with murder gleaming in his eyes, aimed straight at the detective's head.

As he pulled the trigger Bathurst's rush came. The crash of a heavy report shook the crazy building, and then Bathurst kicked the fellow's legs from under him, and, as he fell, sprang upon him, giving his arm a wrench which sent the revolver clattering along the passage.

Zeke struggled fiercely, but in a moment the "irons" clicked on the ruffian's wrists, and he was reduced to cursing impotence.

"Quick, before a crowd collects!" cried Blake to Bathurst, and, seizing Zeke, one by each arm, they rush him out and up the street to the waiting cab. Within a very few minutes the murderer was safe under lock and key.

"How did you do it?" asked Bathurst, as the two friends drove homewards.

"Simply enough. As soon as I found the clock I realised that it was only taken as a blind. The old print was the real object of Zeke's burglary."

"The print?" echoed Bathurst.

"Exactly," said Blake, handing to the other a folded slip of paper.

"I took this from Zeke's pocket. I haven't had time to look at it yet, but if I'm not vastly mistaken it contains a plan or description of the hiding-place of the Dinsmorc diamonds."

"By Jove, here is a plan!" exclaimed Bathurst, as he unfolded the sheet. "But even now I don't see light."

Blake smiled, "Don't you? Sneed was the man who stole the diamonds. He was caught and sentenced to ten years, but the diamonds were not recovered. At Portland, Sneed got pneumonia. As he lay dying in the prison infirmary he spoke with Zeke, who was probably in the next bed, and bargained with him to share the plunder with his—Sneed's—wife. Now do you see?"

"Like a shot," answered Bathurst. "This plan was hidden in the frame of the print, but Mrs. Sneed didn't know of it. She got hard up, pawned the print, and when Zeke came to her with his story, all she could tell him was where she had pawned it. He went to the shop, got on the track, as I did, found out that Mr. Acland, of Stanbury, bad bought it and followed it up. Just as he got into poor Mr. Acland's room the old gentleman woke up. Zeke promptly brained him, snatched the print, and took the clock, too, just to put the police off the scent."

Blake nodded.

"Yes, those were my deductions, and when Mrs. Sneed rashly spoke of her husband's pal I was certain I was right. It only remained to find out who he was. Of course, I knew he would never let the half of the diamonds slip through his fingers. He meant to marry Mrs. Sneed, shut her mouth, and secure the whole booty at one clip, Fortunately, with your assistance, Bathurst, I nipped the scheme in the bud."


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.