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First published in The Sketch, London, 20 October 1915

Reprinted in Short Stories, April 1916 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-06-21
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Short Stories, April 1916, with "The Sniper"



IT was a bold advertisement, and occupied half the window space of the International Inquiry Bureau. Pedestrians sometimes halted with a jerk to read it. Men and women with sons and relatives fighting in Flanders passed on wondering whether such claims were genuine or merely the effusions of commission-hunting charlatans.

"It wouldn't be hard for them to tell us more than the War Office," a man stated huskily. "All the same I don't think any institution can live up to that press notice. It beats Sherlock Holmes to a frazzle!"

At the end of a white-paneled corridor, in one of the Bureau's most daintily furnished chambers, sat Cayley Troop, Chief of the Inquiry Department. The top of Troop's head was pink and bald; his eyes narrow at the points as though the blinding light of his discoveries had pinched them. Clients learned to regard him as a kind of human eagle chained to a desk. The professional glitter in his eye was more convincing than the office window advertisement. And the sheep-faced inquirer who entered to consult him about a missing brother or son at the front, was soon at his ease regarding Troop's knowledge of German brigades and units, his almost occult powers of divining inpenetrable secrets.

A pale overworked secretary appeared in the doorway and coughed to attract his attention. "Mrs. Lorimer has just called, sir," he announced. "May I show her in?"

Troop looked up from his desk and pondered swiftly. The name Lorimer was familiar. Her case had interested him. Six months before, her husband, Noel Lorimer, had gone to the front as a member of the Army Medical Corps. He had been shot by a German sniper at a farmhouse near La Vendée. Troop had noted a look of horror in the young widow's eye at the way her husband had been picked off while rendering aid to the wounded and dying. Pretty women always interested Troop, especially in their moments of grief and despair. He knew that many of these young widows would cheerfully shoot at sight the slayers of their husbands.

He had consoled her, but while stressing the difficulty of dealing with the enemy's hired assassins, had assured her that even a commissioned sniper in the German Army was not beyond reckoning with. He had invited her to call again.

He nodded to the secretary, and a few moments later the widow of Noel Lorimer was seated before him. She was not more than twenty, with a touch of the Spaniard in her slow burning eyes. Each movement conveyed something of the suave beauty of her supple young body. Yet, despite her charm of gesture and speech, Troop diagnosed a mutinous anger against the sniper of La Vendée.

"My coming here may seem childish, Mr, Troop," she began somewhat passionately. "I can think of nothing but this miscreant who could shoot a defenceless man striving to aid the wounded and maimed!"

Troop inclined sympathetically, then, very slowly, opened a letter with Belgian postmark. He read it pensively while the silence of Infinity seemed to leap between them. After awhile he spoke and his words were like a sword-cut.

"This sniper who shot your husband is in England, Mrs. Lorimer. I may add that he is employed at the present moment in this city!"

She stood up swaying slightly against the chair, the red signals from her heart flashing in her cheeks. "Do you mean that he is a prisoner?" she demanded.

The bald, pink head shook. "He is a free man, Mrs. Lorimer. After the fall of Antwerp he deserted the German Army and came here in the guise of a Belgian refugee. At present he is known as Auguste Wiegand. His real name is Louis Brandenberg. He belonged to the 57th Bavarian Regiment stationed at La Vendée. Being an excellent shot he volunteered to take up a position near an old farmhouse at St. Meuve. It was from this hiding place that he picked off your husband!"

The slow fire in Beatrice Lorimer's eyes seemed to darken and blaze. "What is Brandenberg doing in this country?" she demanded.

Troop's answer was short-clipped and precise. "He is a waiter. Do you want the name of his hotel?"

The blood-red of her cheeks grew ashen. For an instant he thought she would collapse. Then: "There must be no mistake about this sniper's identity, Mr. Troop. What proof have you that he is the man who shot my husband?"

Troop's face seemed to recede and then dart toward his questioner. "After shooting your husband, Brandenberg descended from his hiding place and stole his note-book. I believe that this note-book is still in his possession. There is no doubt whatever concerning the fellow's identity. Do you want his address?"

"I do!" Her whole being seemed to vibrate in her pent-up anger against the privileged assassin who had taken her husband's life. "If Noel had been a soldier carrying arms I could have born no enmity. He was murdered while succoring the dying. And this miscreant Brandenberg is permitttu to—do—"

"Go to the authorities if you will," Troop interrupted gently. "But your case may be difficult to prove, although I, as director of this institution, am positive that he is the sniper of La Vendée."

"I shall not go to the authorities. They will allow him to escape. Give me the name of Brandenberg's hotel. I shall not trouble you further."

Troop coughed and allowed an unbirdlike smile to soften his eagle expression. "We have been to some expense in this matter, Mrs. Lorimer. You will readily understand "

"How much?" she interrupted.

The unbirdlike smile vanished, and the eagle eye explored the expensive jewelry about her wrists and throat, the diamonds peeping at him in clusters from the necklace she wore. "Let us say two hundred guineas, Mrs. Lorimer, and you shall have the pleasure of meeting the sniper who put a bullet through your husband's heart!"

She took a check book from her pocket, filled in the amount with a pen from the desk, and passed it to him.

Troop glanced at the signature as he thrust it carelessly into a drawer, then drew an envelope from a near pigeon-hole. On it was written:

Auguste Wiegand
Hotel Mazarin


BEATRICE LORIMER entered the Hotel Mazarin like a priestess ascending an altar steps. A watchful attendant hurried near to inquire her wants, and to assure her that the excellent service of the hotel was at her disposal.

She followed him to a small private dining-room where a mirror above the oak mantelpiece showed the faint scarlet of her cheeks, the almost ghostly brilliance of her eyes. Almost mechanically she sat at the little table, while the attendant vanished to announce her coming. For several moments she permitted her fiercely imaginative mind to re-picture Noel lying face down in the wheel-rutted road near the farmhouse at St. Meuve, blood oozing from the bullet-hole in his breast. There came to her also a swift and terrible picture of the German sniper, Brandenberg, a white-skinned, thick-lipped beast crouching in the clump of pines at the rear of the farm. She saw him approach Noel's supine figure with plundering hands, saw him place his still-smoking rifle on the ground to allow a quick search of the victim's pockets; and then a stealthy and rapid return to the pine-shelter.

She was suddenly conscious of a waiter standing beside her chair, of a gilt-edge menu held near for her consideration. For ten seconds she considered it with unseeing eyes, then slowly, very slowly looked up into the gallon's face.

"What is your name?" she inquired steadily.

A wan smile creased his pallid features. His reply was soft and scarce audible. "Jacques Monier, mademoiselle. I am at your service."

Her eyes fell again to the gilt-edged menu. "There is a waiter here named Wiegand. He is a Belgian, if I remember rightly. May I see him?"

Again the wan smile that reminded her of a Chinese mask; and again the terrible silence that left her stark still in her chair with only the trumpet call of her mission stirring her brain to life. Then after ages it seemed, the door opened. A soft footstep fell near her chair. She did not look up because he was speaking.

"Mademoiselle has sent for me. How may I serve mademoiselle? He moved round the table and stood before her, a wine-napkin outspread on his left arm. He was not more than eighteen, with blonde eyes and the face of a child. She looked at him again, wonder and doubt striving in her until her sobbing heart seemed to leap and suffocate.

"Your name is Louis Brandenberg," she found voice to say. "You are a deserter from the German Army!"

In a flash the waiter's pose had gone. He was standing erect, eyes illumined, head flung back. Then for an instant the childish softness returned to his face. A round German tear welled in his blonde eyes.

"Mademoiselle, spare me! If I am caught these English will shoot me. Have pity, mademoiselle!"

Her hand became clenched on the table. She had another flying picture of Noel lying in the wheel-rutted track near the farmhouse. "You shot my husband at a place called La Vendée. It was on the twentieth of September. He was attached to the Medical Corps. You will understand that I have taken some trouble to find you!"

He stared round-eyed at her, and his Teutonic dismay left him slack-lipped and gasping a little. A sudden gleam of understanding lit his eyes; the slack lips grew suddenly tense.

"Madame, you overwhelm me! I was at La Vendée on the date you mention. I also shot a Red Cross officer named Lorimer!"

"You coward!"

He flinched as though naked steel had touched him, but it was the action of one unafraid of steel. "Madame, I crave your pity and forgiveness!"

"You did not spare the seeker of the wounded and the dead!" she taunted. "From your coward's hiding place you picked off the doctors, the nurses, the dying!"

Again he flinched, but the serenity of the unruffled child returned to his brow. "Madame, I found your husband's grave the day after they brought him in. Some day you will see the little white cross I put there. Some day," he went on with difficulty, "you may see another near by. It also has a white cross. It marks the resting place of Marie Brandenberg, my little Alsatian wife who lived with the Santons at the farmhouse at St. Meuve. We had been married a year. The war called me away, and Marie went to live with the Santons! My regiment moved here and there until it brought me to La Vendée, and only a little way over the hills was the Santons' farm at St. Meuve. My heart was full of joy at the thought of seeing Marie again."

He paused at the sound of footsteps in the passage outside as though in fear of being disturbed. After they had gone he continued speaking in a sharp undertone. "When the French and English closed round the farm the people of the district fled. Marie stayed because she knew that I was at La Vendée, and because the Santons knew that the French would not molest them. It was here Marie met your husband, madame!"

"Go on." Beatrice Lorimer had grown ashen.

The blue of his eyes seemed to harden, although the boyish tremor still stayed in his voice. "He used to go to the farmhouse for fruit at first; and the Santons gave him flowers for the hospital and fresh miik for the wounded soldiers. Then your husband began to see Marie and write her letters. They used to walk together in the woods when he could steal an hour from his work. I was in the first line of trenches, beyond La Vendée, at the time. My corporal gave me word of Marie occasionally. One day he asked if I would like to do some sniping near the farm. I told him I would go. Well, madame," he hesitated again, while his right hand went to his inner breast pocket with military suddenness, "we have Marie Brandenberg's letters to Noel Lorimer of the Army Medical Corps. I got them from him after I had killed him! You may read them at your leisure, madame!"

He cast a small war-soiled packet of letters on the table before her.

There was a silence in which he almost could hear the loud beating of her heart. Her hand moved to the packet. Then, as if overcome by nausea, she thrust them aside.

He nodded. But it was Beatrice who spoke first. "You judged them guilty," was all she said.

It was a long time before he answered. His breath came through his tight-shut teeth; his head was bent, his chest heaved. "Some day, madame, you will read those letters. I pray you have pity on the two people they concern—I pray you have pity on them and me. They said he was married to a wife in England, and I could not understand why such a man should steal my love from me, the love that cried like a child in my heart when I shot her in the woods at La Vendée!"

Beatrice stood up, shaken to her depths. In the doorway she turned and looked back at his sobbing shoulders. "God forgive you!" she said, and almost ran from the hotel corridor into the street.

Here the hot sunlight played on her cheek and cleared her throbbing senses. It was some time before she recovered herself. Vith half-seeing eyes she hailed a taxi and rove to Scotland Yard.

Arriving she was shewn into a square, high-windowed apartment where sat the chief superintendent of police. He looked up with a curious smile of recognition as she entered. Pushing aside some papers he indicated a chair briefly.

"I had almost forgotten your case, Miss Lorimer," he said genially. "It's almost a month since you reported last. Do you like your work?"

"Immensely sir. I have been engaged on the Troop case, if you remember."

He regarded her flushed young face with almost fatherly concern, his brow creasing in his effort to recall her case more clearly. Each hour brought dozens of more or less interesting problems to be solved, and sometimes the issues were confusing.

"The Troop gang have given us trouble," he stated pensively. "If I remember rightly you undertook to impersonate a widow whose husband had been shot by a German sniper. You invented a story and took it to the International Inquiry Bureau. Troop decided to put you in touch with the sniper who sniped your non-existent husband. Did he?"

Beatrice nodded. "They found an actor, sir, who gave adequate reasons for sniping a husband I did not possess. And Troop took my check for two hundred guineas."

Very briefly she related what had happened while the old chief lay back in his chair, tight-browed but inwardly chuckling. "Excellent, excellent!" he broke out when she had finished. "This Louis Brandenberg is evidently an artist at the game. We are now in a position to jail the whole crowd for fraud!"

Beatrice was thinking of the sobbing shoulders, the child-like eyes of the boy-impostor whose acting was touched by the salt of inward tears. She was thinking of the two graves at La Vendée, of the little Alsatian wife Marie who never existed. The voice of the chief dispelled her mental pictures.

"We'd better arrest Troop at once, Miss Lorimer. It will mean five years for him and this Louis Brandenberg. I congratulate you. This is your first scoop since you became attached to the Criminal Investigation Department. Keep it up. We need ladies of your imaginative powers. Go home now and rest. You will hear from me this evening."

Beatrice returned to her little flat in South Kensington, a feeling of weariness and depression overcoming her after her morning's work. It had all seemed so real, so convincing. But the chief had said her work was good, so nothing else mattered.

Beatrice had few friends in life. Although her parents had left her comfortably provided, her restless nature craved for work out of the beaten track. She had gone to the chief of police with a burning desire to distinguish herself in the hunting down of criminals. The old chief had been very patient, and had assigned her one or two unimportant missions connected with women and children. Her entry into the Troop case had revealed an amazing and daring fraud.

Late that evening Troop was arrested. Brandenberg was nowhere to be found. A fortnight later the disgusted chief received the following note from Beatrice Lorimer

Dear Sir:

I beg to resign my post as a member of the C.I.D. The work is really too trying for my nerves. Let me add another confession of feminine weakness. The artistic side of Louis Brandenberg's nature has impressed me. He is not a criminal. He is merely a brilliant young actor fallen among thieves. His real name is Madison. I can vouch for him becoming a useful member of society in future. We were married at a registry office on Thursday last.

Beatrice Lorimer.

"Damn!" muttered the chief under his breath. "I've lost the only real genius that ever entered the department!"


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.