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ANONYMOUS

THE SILVER LOCK

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Ex Libris

First published in
Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, 24 April 1909

Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
Manawatu Times, New Zealand, 21 June 1909 (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.

THEY had left the chauffeur to wrestle with a leaking tyre, and were walking up the hard-frozen road, side by side. Arthur Craven looked oddly but of place in his fur-trimmed overcoat, glossy tall hat, and patent-leather boots. Sexton Blake, on the contrary, wore a knickerbocker suit of rough Harris tweed, a cap, and a pair, of thick-soled hoots. Craven, lessee and manager of the Sceptre Theatre, was white and anxious. He kept pulling nervously at his moustache. Blake's keen eyes looked straight ahead. He was thinking.

It was exactly nine o'clock in the morning, Three hours before, Sexton. Blake had been roused from his sleep by a violent knocking and ringing. The early visitor was Arthur Craven. The manager himself had been wakened by the insistent ringing of the telephone at his bedside. The message was from the sergeant of police at Little Topham, and when he grasped its fatal significance the manager almost fainted.

The day was Friday. On Monday evening his, new play, which promised to be the success and sensation of the theatrical season, was to be produced. The most popular dramatist of the day had written it, and Denver Morland, the idol of boxes, stalls, and gallery alike, had been engaged to play the part of hero; and that in itself was enough to spell success.

The telephone message had fallen like a thunderbolt. Whether Denver Morland was alive or dead, Craven did not know; but the actor had been found lying on the lawn of his bungalow, half-dressed, unconscious, and almost frozen. The local policeman, suspicious at seeing a light in the dining-room of the bungalow at such an early hour, had made the discovery. These, with one addition, were the scanty facts that had been told over the' wire. John, Steel, who had understudied Morland so brilliantly, and who was to act the character when the first touring company was formed, had disappeared.

"Steel and Morland were great friends, you tell me?" said Blake, breaking the long silence.

"Almost like father and son, Mr. Blake, Steel is bound to make a big name, and Morland always said so. He took the youngster up from the first. The lad is a born genius, and Morland believes in him so thoroughly that ha offered to bet me a hundred pounds to ten that if Steel went on instead of himself, and played through the whole four acts, not a soul in the house, from newspaper critic to gallery-boy, would be a penny the wiser!"

"Would you have pluck enough to try such a risky experiment?"

"Find John Steel for me, and I'll tell you," said Craven desperately.

"Oh, well, don't lose hope, Craven! Morland was very fond of being out here in the country, I believe?"

"A great deal too fond of it, and this is the result," said the manager. "He liked the quiet. Steel is a bit of a sportsman, and Morland rented the shooting for him."

They reached the top of the hill. A few curious villagers were peering over the hedge, and a dog-cart stood at the gate of the bungalow. Leaning against the gate, proudly conscious of his importance, was the village constable. Arthur Craven raised his hat to a tall, grey-haired woman, whose tearful eyes suddenly brightened with recognition and hope as they rested on the bronzed, strong face of Sexton Blake.

"Is he still unconscious, Mrs. Morland?"

"Yes, still unconscious. The doctor's with him. I need not ask who this is, Mr. Craven," she added, holding out her hand to the detective. "We have met before. Do, not make a noise. My poor boy is in here!"

Craven stood back as she gently opened the door. Sexton Blake stepped silently into the darkened room, and bent over the still form of Denver Morland.

II.

WHERE was John Steel? Putting the problem of Steel's absence aside, it was obviously a case of attempted burglary. The constable had told all he knew. Morland lay stunned on the grass, wearing only trousers, shirt, and slippers! The French window of the dining-room was open, The ground, being like adamant, after three black frosts, revealed no signs of the struggle, Nor had any of the doors or windows been tampered with. Alarmed by some unusual noise, Morland must have left his bed.

There was a telephone in the bungalow. Arthur Craven, paler than ever, rang up the Sceptre Theatre. Steel had not called there. A messenger in a cab was sent to his mother's house. Presently the bell rang, Craven turned his haggard face towards Sexton Blake. Steel had not been home either.

"You have implicit confidence in the young fellow, Mrs. Morland?" asked Sexton Blake.

"I love him almost as much as I love Denver, my own son, Mr. Blake. Surely," she added, with a horrified gasp, "you don't—"

"No, no! Mr. Steel went out yesterday after lunch with his gun and retriever. He did not say where he was going. Has he done such a thing before and not returned?"

"If he had not, I should be more broken-hearted than I am now. I should imagine that he had met with an accident. That was my first dread; but the dog, Bruce, would have returned. Poor Denver had been thinking about the play too much, and that made him sleepless. As Mr. Craven knows, Sir Claud Minter was treating him for insomnia. Denver had used all the medicine, and—"

"I quite understand," said the detective, turning over the pages of the railway guide. "My point is this—has Mr. Steel ever stayed away a night without telling you?"

"Never!"

"And if he took a it into his head to run up to London and catch the ten-thirty home to Little Topham, who would let him in, supposing he lad forgotten to key?"

"He would tap on Denver's window or mine," answered Mrs. Morland wearily. "As you know, he is nearly as dear to me as my own eon."

"I am sorry to worry you so much," said the detective; "but Mr. Steel did forget his key, for I found it on his dressing-table. I will trouble you as little more as I possibly can, madam, You think that Mr. Steel was anxious about Mr. Morland. The sleeping draught could not be obtained in the village, so Mr. Steel suddenly made up his mind to go to London for it. There is a train at two fifty-five. What would he have done with his dog and his gun?"

"He would have taken the dog with him and left the gun at the railway station, Mr. Blake. The dog was quite used to travelling."

Sexton Blake rose and bowed. Then he took the manager by the arm.

"I don't want to discourage you, but I don't like the look of affairs. Morland opened the window to the wrong man. It wasn't Steel."

In three minutes the motor-car brought them to the little railway station, Arthur Craven remained in the car. Blake rattled the grating of the ticket-office with his knuckles, and a sleepy-looking boy appeared.

"Now, my lad," said Blake, "if you were here, tell me who booked by the two fifty-five for London yesterday afternoon."

"Why, nobody did."

"Nobody at all! Are you sure?"

"Yes, I am sure," replied the boy, as he prepared to bang down the shutter.

"And good reason, too, for that train don't run on Thursdays. It's took off!"

Blake had got his answer, and he laughed. He ran his finger down the time-table. The next train was at five-thirty. He elicited the information that Mr. Steel had not travelled by that. The boy knew him well, and he was quite positive about it. Blake uttered an ejaculation, and went back to the car.

"Have you ever seen that shooting-dog of Steel's, Craven?" he asked, as they drove away.

"Scores of times," said the manager. "It used to come on the stage with him in that sporting play we ran last year. The play was a frost, but that wasn't Steel's fault or the dog's. It cost me a pretty penny! The author brought an action, if you remember. It broke him, both financially and mentally. He went mad."

"Yes, I do remember something about it," said Blake. "It's an intelligent sort of dog, then?"

"The beggar can do everything except talk, In the play Steel was supposed to be shot by the villain and left dead on the moor. The scene in the gamekeeper's kitchen, when they hear the dog whining and scratching at the door, and find him with Steel's cap in his mouth, nearly saved the play!"

"By Jove, that's queer!" muttered Sexton Blake, "What has become of the dog?"


THERE was no news of the missing man. The doctor had gone, and Sir Claud Minter had telegraphed that he was on his way.

Morland was conscious, and had asked to see the manager. Craven bent over him, and Morland's lips moved.

"Don't—don't worry, Arthur," he said, in a husky whisper. "Let—let Jack take the—the part. They'll never know. Jack can—can, do it!"

Craven turned away with a stifled groan. Jack Steel could impersonate Denver Morland to the very life. But where was Jack Steel!

III.

"YOU had better come with us. The walk will brace you up, Craven, Borrow a suit of Morland's clothes and some thick boots, I've spread a report that Morland isn't badly hurt, for we don't want any fuss. The doctor has promised to keep a still tongue, and it will take a long time for news to leak out of this sleepy hole!"

Sexton Blake was making a late breakfast, and his appetite was excellent, The manager could not eat a morsel, but he had applied to the decanter of brandy more than once.

Morland's gamekeeper waited outside with a couple of spaniels, chatting with his friend the policeman. Sexton Blake lighted his pipe. He beckoned to the gamekeeper, and they turned into the lane side by side, followed by Arthur, Craven and the constable.

"No, sir," said the gamekeeper; "I didn't 'ear a word of this till just afore you came, or I should 'ave searched. You see, I 'ad a day off, and I stopped the night over at my brother's farm. The carefullest man as ever carried a gun is liable to accident, sir. Mr. Jack wasn't any fool when he went shootin', but he may 'ave come to grief. If so, what's become of his' dawg? The two of 'em couldn't 'ave come to grief, surely?"

The detective, climbed the stile and looked round him. It was bitterly cold. They were in a rough field, with patches of gorse here and there.

"Send the dogs in," said Blake, "and then go along up the ditch. I'll go the other way, and meet you at the gate. You beat about, constable."

The field was drawn blank, except for the rabbits turned out by the dogs. They went on again and entered the wood. They explored it thoroughly, to the indignation of the jays and wood-pigeons, with the same result. The next field was meadow-land. The ditches yielded nothing.

Blake perched himself on the gate leading to the next field, and smoked his pipe. It was still freezing.

"Have you noticed any strangers about the village lately, constable?"

"No, sir."

"Well," said Sexton Blake, "now we'll make a move,"

The gamekeeper sent his spaniels ahead. Then Blake sprang forward, as one of the dogs uttered a sound that was half bark and half whine. He parted the long, frost-stiffened grass.

"Here's poor Bruce!" he said. There lay John Steel's retriever, stiff and stark, with a gaping hole in its ribs, and its sleek black coat clotted with blood.

"Stand back there, and keep the dogs back," said Blake sharply. "Don't move till I call you!"

They saw him stoop and pick up a double-barrelled gun. Arthur Craven's face was like the face of a man who has just heard his death-sentence pronounced. Again Sexton Blake stooped, and the manager shuddered. He dreaded the worst.

"All right!"

A path of beaten-down grass clearly showed the line to be followed. They broke into a run, Three haystacks stood together, fenced in by iron hurdles. Blake took the fence at a bound. As the others raced up and scrambled over, he dragged away a pile of loose hay. He had found John, Steel.

"Is—is he dead?"

Arthur Craven's white lips could hardly frame the question.

Steel's eyes were shut, and his legs and arms were tied with rope.

"No, he's not dead," said Blake. "Climb that ladder, constable, and wave your handkerchief for the pony-cart. I have arranged that."

The signal was quickly answered from the bungalow. Eager hands tore down the fence to make a way for the pony-trap. In less than twenty minutes John Steel was in bed, with one of the most celebrated physicians in England to look after him, for Sir Claud Minter had reached the bungalow.

"That man couldn't have meant murder," thought Sexton Blake, "whoever he is. If he had he wouldn't have left this here."

An ordinary dinner-knife had been thrust into the ground beside the young actor. Steel's arms had only been bound loosely. Had he rolled over and shaken himself free of the hay, he must have found the knife and liberated himself. And he had not been robbed. Blake walked on, and peered into the rotting lock of the disused canal. A little water still trickled over, and the icicles hung from the slimy wood in huge spikes.

"Fill the lock!" cried the detective, pointing to the rusty windlass, "Whether it bursts or mot, fill it!"

He had seen where the icicles, had been torn away, as if in trying to cross, someone had slipped and fought desperately to recover a hold.

The gates creaked and the water, came rushing in. Blake bared his arm and threw himself flat. Then something gleamed white through the water, and his hand shot down.

"Dinneford, the mad playwright!" gasped Arthur Graven, as they dragged the limp body out. "He swore he'd ruin me when the lawsuit went against him, and he's done it! He's robbed me of my two best actors, Blake, and beggared me!"


BUT the madman's plan of vengeance had come to nothing, though Morland lay close to death's door. A wave of mad enthusiasm swept over the packed theatre. Arthur Craven wiped the perspiration from his forehead as he listened to the storm of cheering and applause. They were howling for Denver Morland, shrieking for him. Again and again the curtain was lowered and raised. And John Steel, holding the leading lady by the hand, bowed his thanks. And when it became known that he had risen from a sick-bed to play Denver Morland's part, Jack Steel suddenly found himself a hero.


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.