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Published in Associated Sunday Magazine, 30 September 1906
Reprinted in The Story-Teller, December 1907

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Version Date: 2019-11-01
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Jacques Futrelle


The Story-Teller, December 1907, with reprint of "The Roswell Tiara"

HAD it not been for the personal interest of a fellow savant in the case it is hardly likely that the problem of the Roswell tiara would ever have come to the attention of The Thinking Machine. And had the problem not come to his attention it would inevitably have gone to the police. Then there would have been a scandal in high places, a disrupted home and everlasting unhappiness to at least four persons. Perhaps it was an inkling of this latter possibility that led The Thinking Machine to take initial steps in the solution of a mystery which seemed to have only an obvious ending.

When he was first approached in the matter The Thinking Machine was in his small laboratory from which had gone forth truths that shocked and partially readjusted at least three of the exact sciences. His enormous head, with its long yellow hair, bobbed up and down over a little world of chemical apparatus, and the narrow, squint eyes peered with disagreeable satisfaction at a blue flame which spouted from a brazier. Martha, an aged woman who was the scientist's household staff, entered. She was not tall yet she towered commandingly above the slight figure of her eminent master. Professor Van Dusen turned to her impatiently.

"Well? Well?" he demanded shortly.

Martha handed him two cards. On one was the name Charles Wingate Field, and on the other Mrs. Richard Watson Roswell. Charles Wingate Field was a name to juggle with in astronomy—The Thinking Machine knew him well; the name of the woman was strange to him.

"The gentleman said it was very important," Martha explained, "and the poor lady was crying."

"What about?" snapped the scientist.

"Lord, sir, I didn't ask her," exclaimed Martha.

"I'll be there in a moment."

A few minutes later The Thinking Machine appeared at the door of the little reception room, which he regarded as a sort of useless glory, and the two persons there arose to meet him. One was a woman apparently of forty-five years, richly gowned, splendid of figure and with a distinct, matured beauty. Her eyes showed she had been weeping but now her tears were dried and she caught herself staring curiously at the pallid face, the keen blue eyes and the long slender hands of the scientist. The other person was Mr. Field.

There was an introduction and the scientist motioned them to seats. He himself dropped into a large cushioned chair, and looked from one to the other with a question in his eyes.

"I have been telling Mrs. Roswell some of the things you have done, Van Dusen," began Mr. Field. "Now I have brought her to you because here is a mystery, a problem, an abstruse problem, and it isn't the kind of thing one cares to take to the police. If you—"

"If Mrs. Roswell will tell me about it?" interrupted the scientist. He seemed to withdraw even further into the big chair. With head tilted back, eyes squinting steadily upward and white fingers pressed tip to tip he waited.

"Briefly," said Mrs. Roswell, "it has to do with the disappearance of a single small gem from a diamond tiara which I had locked in a vault—a vault of which no living person knew the combination except myself. Because of family reasons I could not go to the police, and—"

"Please begin at the beginning," requested The Thinking Machine. "Remember I know nothing whatever of you or your circumstances."

It was not unnatural that Mrs. Roswell should be surprised. Her social reign was supreme, her name was constantly to be seen in the newspapers, her entertainments were gorgeous, her social doings on an elaborate scale. She glanced at Mr. Field inquiringly, and he nodded.

"My first husband was Sidney Grantham, an Englishman," she explained. "Seven years ago he left me a widow with one child—a son Arthur—now twenty-two years old and just out of Harvard. Mr. Grantham died intestate and his whole fortune together with the family jewels, came to me and my son. The tiara was among these jewels.

"A year ago I was married to Mr. Roswell. He, too, is a man of wealth, with one daughter, Jeanette, now nineteen years old. We live on Commonwealth Avenue and while there are many servants I know it impossible—"

"Nothing is impossible, Madam," interposed The Thinking Machine positively. "Don't say that please. It annoys me exceedingly."

Mrs. Roswell stared at him a moment then resumed:

"My bed room is on the second floor. Adjoining and connecting with it is the bed room of my step-daughter. This connecting door is always left unlocked because she is timid and nervous. I keep the door from my room into the hall bolted at night and Jeanette keeps the hall door of her room similarly fastened. The windows, too, are always secured at night in both rooms.

"My maid and my daughter's maid both sleep in the servants' quarters. I arranged for this because, as I was about to state, I keep about half a million dollars worth of jewels in my bed room locked in a small vault built into the wall. This little vault opens with a combination. Not one person knows that combination except myself. It so happens that the man who set it is dead.

"Last night, Thursday, I attended a reception and wore the tiara. My daughter remained at home. At four o'clock this morning I returned. The maids had retired; Jeanette was sleeping soundly. I took off the tiara and placed it, with my other jewels, in the vault. I know that the small diamond now missing was in its setting at that time. I locked the vault, shot the bolt and turned the combination. Afterwards I tried the vault door to make certain it was fastened. It was then—then—"

For no apparent reason Mrs. Roswell suddenly burst into tears. The two men were silent and The Thinking Machine looked at her uneasily. He was not accustomed to women anyway, and women who wept were hopelessly beyond him.

"Well, well, what happened?" he asked brusquely at last.

"It was perhaps five o'clock when I fell asleep," Mrs. Roswell continued after a moment. "About twenty minutes later I was aroused by a scream of 'Jeanette, Jeanette, Jeanette.' Instantly I was fully awake. The screaming was that of a cockatoo which I have kept in my room for many years. It was in its usual place on a perch near the window, and seemed greatly disturbed.

"My first impression was that Jeanette had been in the room. I went into her room and even shook her gently. She was asleep so far as I could ascertain. I returned to my own room and then was amazed to see the vault door standing open. All the jewels and papers from the vault were scattered over the floor. My first thought was of burglars who had been frightened away by the cockatoo. I tried every door and every window in both Jeanette's room and mine. Everything was securely fastened.

"When I picked up the tiara I found that a diamond was missing. It had evidently been torn out of the setting. I searched for it on the floor and inside the vault. I found nothing. Then of course I could only associate its disappearance with some act of—of my step-daughter's. I don't believe the cockatoo would have called her name if she had not been in my room. Certainly the bird could not have opened the vault. Therefore I—I—"

There was a fresh burst of tears and for a long time no one spoke.

"Do you burn a night lamp?" asked The Thinking Machine finally.

"Yes," replied Mrs. Roswell.

"Did the bird ever disturb you at any time previous to last night—that is I mean at night?"


"Has it any habit of speaking the word 'Jeanette.'"

"No. I don't think I ever heard it pronounce the word more than three or four times before. It is stupid and seems to dislike her."

"Was there anything else missing—any letter or paper or jewels?"

"Nothing but the one small stone."

The Thinking Machine took down a volume of an encyclopaedia which he studied for a moment.

"Have you any record anywhere of that combination?" he inquired.

"Yes, but it would have been impossi—"

The scientist made a little impatient gesture with his hands.

"Where is this record?"

"The combination begins with the figure three," Mrs. Roswell hastened to explain. "I jotted it down in a French copy of 'Les Misérables' which I keep in my room with a few other books. The first number, three, appears on Page 3, the second on Page 33, and the third on Page 333. The combination in full is 3–14-9. No person could possibly associate the numbers in the book with the combination even if they should notice them."

Again there was the quick, impatient gesture of the hands. Mr. Field interpreted it aright as annoyance.

"You say your daughter is nervous," The Thinking Machine said. "Is it serious? Is there any somnambulistic tendency that you know of?"

Mrs. Roswell flushed a little.

"She has a nervous disorder," she confessed at last. "But I know of no somnambulistic tendency. She has been treated by half a dozen specialists. Two or three times we feared—feared—"

She faltered and stopped. The Thinking Machine squinted at her oddly, then turned his eyes toward the ceiling again.

"I understand," he said. "You feared for her sanity. And she may have the sleep-walking habit without your knowledge?"

"Yes, she may have," faltered Mrs. Roswell.

"And now your son. Tell me something about him. He has an allowance, I suppose? Is he inclined to be studious or other wise? Has he any love affair?"

Again Mrs. Roswell flushed. Her entire manner resented this connection of her son's name with the affair. She looked inquiringly at Mr. Field.

"I don't see—" Mr. Field began, remonstratingly.

"My son could have nothing—" Mrs. Roswell interrupted.

"Madam, you have presented an abstract problem," broke in The Thinking Machine impatiently. "I presumed you wanted a solution. Of course, if you do not—" and he made as if to arise.

"Please pardon me," said Mrs. Roswell quickly, almost tearfully. "My son has an allowance of ten thousand a year; my daughter has the same. My son is inclined to be studious along political lines, while my daughter is interested in charity. He has no love affair except—except a deep attachment for his step-sister. It is rather unfortunate—"

"I know, I know," interrupted the scientist again. "Naturally you object to any affection in that direction because of a fear for the girl's mental condition. May I ask if there is any further prejudice on your part to the girl?"

"Not the slightest," said Mrs. Roswell quickly. "I am deeply attached to her. It is only a fear for my son's happiness."

"I presume your son understands your attitude in the matter?"

"I have tried to intimate it to him without saying it openly," she explained. "I don't think he knows how serious her condition has been, and is for that matter."

"Of your knowledge has either your son or the girl ever handled or looked into the book where the combination is written?"

"Not that I know of, or ever heard of."

"Or any of your servants?"


"Does it happen that you have this tiara with you?"

Mrs. Roswell produced it from her hand bag. It was a glittering, glistening thing, a triumph of the jeweller's art, intricate and marvellously delicate in conception yet wonderfully heavy with the dead weight of pure gold. A single splendid diamond of four or five carats blazed at its apex, and radiating from this were strings of smaller stones. One was missing from its setting. The prongs which had held it were almost straight from the force used to pry out the stone. The Thinking Machine studied the gorgeous ornament in silence.

"It is possible for you to clear up this matter without my active interference," he said at last. "You do not want it to become known outside your own family, therefore you must watch for this thief—yourself in person. Take no one into your confidence, least of all your son and step-daughter. Given the same circumstances, the A B C rules of logic—and logic is inevitable—indicate that another may disappear."

Mrs. Roswell was frankly startled, and Mr. Field leaned forward with eager interest.

"If you see how this second stone disappears," continued The Thinking Machine musingly, without heeding in the slightest the effect of his words on the others, "you will know what became of the first and will be able to recover both."

"If another attempt is to be made," exclaimed Mrs. Roswell apprehensively, "would it not be better to send the jewels to a safe deposit? Would I not be in danger myself?"

"It is perfectly possible that if the jewels were removed the vault would be opened just the same," said The Thinking Machine quietly, enigmatically while his visitors stared. "Leave the jewels where they are. You may be assured that you are in no personal danger whatever. If you learn what you seek you need not communicate with me again. If you do not I will personally investigate the matter. On no condition whatever interrupt or attempt to prevent anything that may happen."

Mr. Field arose; the interview seemed to be at an end. He had one last question.

"Have you any theory of what actually happened?" he asked. "How was the jewel taken?"

"If I told you you wouldn't believe it," said The Thinking Machine, curtly. "Good day."

IT was on the third day following that Mrs. Roswell hurriedly summoned The Thinking Machine to her home. When he arrived she was deeply agitated.

"Another of the small stones has been stolen from the tiara," she told him hurriedly. "The circumstances were identical with those of the first theft, even to the screaming of the cockatoo. I watched as you suggested, have been watching each night but last night was so weary that I fell asleep. The cockatoo awoke me. Why would Jeanette—"

"Let me see the apartments," suggested the scientist. Thus he was ushered into the room which was the centre of the mystery. Again he examined the tiara, then studied the door of the vault. Afterwards he casually picked up and verified the record of the combination, locked and unlocked the vault twice after which he examined the fastenings of the door and the windows. This done he went over and peered inquisitively at the cockatoo on its perch.

The bird was a giant of its species, pure white, with a yellow crest which drooped in exaggerated melancholy. The cockatoo resented the impertinence and had not The Thinking Machine moved quickly would have torn off his spectacles.

A door from another room opened and a girl—Jeanette—entered. She was tall, slender and exquisitely proportioned with a great cloud of ruddy gold hair. Her face was white with the dead white of illness and infinite weariness was in her eyes. She was startled at sight of a stranger.

"I beg your pardon," she said. "I didn't know—" and started to retire.

Professor Van Dusen acknowledged an introduction to her by a glance and a nod then turned quickly and looked at the cockatoo which was quarrelling volubly with crest upraised. Mrs. Roswell's attention, too, was attracted by the angry attitude of her pet. She grasped the scientist's arm quickly.

"The bird!" she exclaimed.

"Jeanette, Jeanette, Jeanette," screamed the cockatoo, shrilly.

Jeanette dropped wearily into a chair, heeding neither the tense attitude of her step-mother nor the quarrellings of the cockatoo.

"You don't sleep well, Miss Roswell?" asked The Thinking Machine.

"Oh, yes," the girl replied. "I seem to sleep enough, but I am always very tired. And I dream constantly, nearly always my dreams are of the cockatoo. I imagine he calls my name."

Mrs. Roswell looked quickly at Professor Van Dusen. He crossed to the girl and examined her pulse.

"Do you read much?" he asked. "Did you ever read this?" and he held up the copy of "Les Misérables."

"I don't read French well enough," she replied. "I have read it in English."

The conversation was desultory for a time and finally The Thinking Machine arose. In the drawing room down stairs he gave Mrs. Roswell some instructions which amazed her exceedingly, and went his way.

Jeanette retired about eleven o'clock that night and in an hour was sleeping soundly. But Mrs. Roswell was up when the clock struck one. She had previously bolted the doors of the two rooms and fastened the windows. Now she arose from her seat, picked up a small jar from her table, and crept cautiously, even stealthily to the bed whereon Jeanette lay, pale almost as the sheets. The girl's hands were outstretched in an attitude of utter exhaustion. Mrs. Roswell bent low over them a moment, then stole back to her own room. Half an hour later she was asleep.

EARLY next morning Mrs. Roswell 'phoned to The Thinking Machine, and they talked for fifteen minutes. She was apparently explaining something and the scientist gave crisp, monosyllabic answers. When the wire was disconnected he called up two other persons on the 'phone. One of them was Dr. Henderson, noted alienist; the other was Dr. Forrester, a nerve specialist of international repute. To both he said:

"I want to show you the most extraordinary thing you have ever seen."

The dim light of the night lamp cast strange, unexpected shadows, half revealing yet half hiding, the various objects in Mrs. Roswell's room. The bed made a great white splotch in the shadows, and the only other conspicuous point was the bright silver dial of the jewel vault. From the utter darkness of Jeanette Roswell's room came the steady, regular breathing of a person asleep; the cockatoo was gone from his perch. Outside was the faint night throb of a city at rest. In the distance a clock boomed four times.

Finally the stillness was broken by a faint creaking, the tread of a light foot and Jeanette, robed mystically in white, appeared in the door of her room. Her eyes were wide open, staring, her face was chalk-like, her hair tumbled in confusion about her head and here and there was flecked with the glint of the night-light.

The girl paused and from somewhere in the shadow came a quick gasp, instantly stifled. Then, unhearing, she moved slowly but without hesitation across the room to a table whereon lay several books. She stooped over this and when she straightened up again she held "Les Misérables" in her hand. Several times the leaves fluttered through her fingers, and thrice she held the book close to her eyes in the uncertain light, then nodded as if satisfied and carefully replaced it as she had found it.

From the table she went straight toward the silver dial which gleamed a reflection of light. As she went another figure detached itself noiselessly from the shadows and crept toward her from behind. As the girl leaned forward to place her hand on the dial a steady ray of light from an electric bell struck her full in the face. She did not flinch nor by the slightest sign show that she was aware of it. From her face the light travelled to each of her hands in turn.

The dial whirled in her fingers several times and then stopped with a click, the bolt snapped and the vault door opened. Conspicuously in front lay the tiara glittering mockingly. Again from the shadows there came a quick gasp as the girl lifted the regal toy and tumbled it on the floor. Again the gasp was stifled.

With quick moving, nervous hands she dragged the jewels out permitting them to fall. She seemed to be seeking something else, seeking vainly, apparently, for after awhile she rose with a sigh, staring into the vault hopelessly. She stood thus for a dozen heart beats, then the low, guarded voice of the second figure was heard—low yet singularly clear of enunciation.

"What is it you seek?"

"The letters," she replied dreamily yet distinctly. There was a pause and she turned suddenly as if to reenter her room. As she did so the light again flashed in her glassy eyes, and the second figure laid a detaining hand on her arm. She started a little, staggered, her eyes closed suddenly to open again in abject terror as she stared into the face before her. She screamed wildly, piercingly, gazed a moment then sank down fainting.

"Dr. Forrester, she needs you now."

It was the calm, unexcited, impersonal voice of The Thinking Machine. He touched a button in the wall and the room was flooded with light. Drs. Forrester and Henderson, suddenly revealed with Mr. and Mrs. Roswell and Arthur Grantham, came forward and lifted the senseless body. Grantham, too, rushed to her with pained, horror-stricken face. Mrs. Roswell dropped limply into a chair; her husband stood beside her helplessly stroking her hair.

"It's all right," said The Thinking Machine. "It's only shock."

Grantham turned on him savagely, impetuously and danger lay in the boyish eyes.

"It's a lie!" he said fiercely. "She didn't steal those diamonds."

"How do you know?" asked The Thinking Machine coldly.

"Because—because I took them myself," the young man blurted. "If I had known there was to be any such trick as this I should never have consented to it."

His mother stared up at him in open eyed wonder.

"How did you remove the jewels from the setting?" asked The Thinking Machine, still quietly.

"I—I did it with my fingers."

"Take out one of these for me," and The Thinking Machine offered him the tiara.

Grantham snatched it from his hand and tugged at it frantically while the others stared, but each jewel remained in its setting. Finally he sank down on the bed beside the still figure of the girl he loved. His face was crimson.

"Your intentions are good, but you're a fool," commented The Thinking Machine tartly. "I know you did not take the jewels—you have proven it yourself—and I may add that Miss Roswell did not take them."

The stupefied look on Grantham's face was reflected in those of his mother and step-father. Drs. Forrester and Henderson were busy with the girl heedless of the others.

"Then where are the jewels?" Mrs. Roswell demanded.

The Thinking Machine turned and squinted at her with a slight suggestion of irritable reproach in his manner.

"Safe and easily found," he replied impatiently. He lifted the unconscious girl's hand and allowed his fingers to rest on her pulse for a moment, then turned to the medical men. "Would you have believed that somnambulistic sub-consciousness would have taken just this form?" he asked curtly.

"Not unless I had seen it," replied Dr. Henderson, frankly.

"It's a remarkable mental condition—remarkable," commented Dr. Forrester.

IT was a weirdly simple recital of the facts as he had found them that The Thinking Machine told downstairs in the drawing room an hour later. Dawn was breaking over the city, and the faces of those who had waited and watched for just what had happened showed weariness. Yet they listened, listened with all their faculties as the eminent scientist talked. Young Grantham sat white faced and nervous; Jeanette was sleeping quietly upstairs with her maid on watch.

"The problem in itself was not a difficult one," The Thinking Machine began as he lounged in a big chair with eyes upturned. "The unusual, not to say strange features, which seemed to make it more difficult served to simplify it as a matter of fact. When I had all the facts I had the solution in the main. It was adding a fact to a fact to get a result as one might add two and two to get four.

"In the first place burglars were instantly removed as a possibility. They would have taken everything, not one small stone. Then what? Mr. Grantham here? His mother assured me that he was quiet and studious of habit, and had an allowance of ten thousand a year. There was no need for him to steal. Then remember always that he no more than anyone else could have entered the rooms. The barred doors excluded the servants too.

"Then we had only you, Mrs. Roswell, and your step-daughter. There would have been no motive for you to remove the jewel unless your object was to throw suspicion on the girl. I didn't believe you capable of this. So there was left somnambulism or a wilful act of your step-daughter's. There was no motive for the last—your daughter has ten thousand a year. Then sleep-walking alone remained. Sleep-walking it was. I am speaking now of the opening of the vault."

Grantham leaned forward in his chair gripping its arms fiercely. The mother saw, and one of her white hands was laid gently on his. He glanced at her impatiently then turned to The Thinking Machine. Mr. Roswell, the alienist, and the specialist, followed the cold clear logic as if fascinated.

"If somnambulism, then who was the somnambulist?" The Thinking Machine resumed after a moment. "It did not seem to be you, Mrs. Roswell. You are not of a nervous temperament; you are a normal healthy woman. If we accept as true your statement that you were aroused in bed by the cockatoo screaming 'Jeanette' we prove that you were not the somnambulist. Your step-daughter? She suffered from a nervous disorder so pronounced that you had fears for her mental condition. With everyone else removed she was the somnambulist. Even the cockatoo said that.

"Now let us see how it would have been possible to open the vault. We admit that no one except yourself knew the combination. But a record of that combination did appear therefore it was possible for some one else to learn it. Your step-daughter does not know that combination when she is in a normal condition. I won't say that she knows it when in the somnambulistic state, but I will say that when in that condition she knows where there is a record of it. How she learned this I don't know. It is not a legitimate part of the problem.

"Be that as it may she was firmly convinced that something she was seeking, something of deep concern to her, was in that vault. It might not have been in the vault but in her abnormal condition she thought it was. She was not after jewels—her every act even tonight showed that. What else? Letters. I knew it was a letter, or letters, before she said so herself. What was in these letters is of no consequence here. You, Mrs. Roswell, considered it your duty to hide them—possibly destroy them."

Both husband and son turned on Mrs. Roswell inquiringly. She stared from one to the other helplessly, pleadingly.

"The letters contained—" she started to explain.

"Never mind that, it's none of our business," curtly interrupted The Thinking Machine. "If there is a family skeleton, it's yours."

"I won't believe anything against her," burst out Grantham passionately.

"Even with the practical certain knowledge that Miss Roswell did open the vault," The Thinking Machine resumed placidly, "and that she opened it in precisely the manner you saw tonight, I took one more step to prove it. This was after the second stone had disappeared. I instructed Mrs. Roswell to place a little strawberry jam on her step-daughter's hands while she was sleeping. If this jam appeared on the book the next time the vault was found open it proved finally and conclusively that Miss Roswell opened it. I chose strawberry jam because it was unusual. I dare say no one who might have a purpose in opening that vault would go around with strawberry jam on his hands. This jam did appear on the book, and then I summoned you, Dr. Forrester, and you, Dr. Henderson. You know the rest. I may add that Mr. Grantham in attempting to take the theft upon himself merely made a fool of himself. No person with bare fingers could have torn out one of the stones."

There was a long pause, and deep silence while the problem as seen by The Thinking Machine was considered in the minds of his hearers. Grantham at last broke the silence.

"Where are the two stones that are missing?"

"Oh yes," said The Thinking Machine easily, as if that trivial point had escaped him. "Mrs. Roswell, will you please have the cockatoo brought in?" he asked, and then explained to the others: "I had the bird removed from the room tonight for fear it would interrupt at the wrong moment."

Mrs. Roswell arose and gave some instructions to a servant who was waiting outside. He went away and returned later with a startled expression on his graven face.

"The bird is dead, madam," he reported.

"Dead?" repeated Mrs. Roswell.

"Good!" said The Thinking Machine rubbing his hands briskly together. "Bring it in anyhow."

"Why, what could have killed it?" asked Mrs. Roswell, bewildered.

"Indigestion," replied the scientist. "Here is the thief."

He turned suddenly to the servant who had entered bearing the cockatoo in state on a silver tray.

"Who? I?" gasped the astonished servant.

"No, this fellow," replied The Thinking Machine as he picked up the dead bird. "He had the opportunity; he had the pointed instrument necessary to pry out a stone—note the sharp hooked bill; and he had the strength to do it. Besides all that he confessed a fondness for bright things when he tried to snatch my eyeglasses. He saw Miss Roswell drop the tiara on the floor, its brightness fascinated him. He pried out the stone and swallowed it. It pained him, and he screamed 'Jeanette.' This same thing happened on two occasions. Your encyclopaedia will tell you that the cockatoo has more strength in that sharp beak than you could possibly exercise with two fingers unless you had a steel instrument."

Later that day The Thinking Machine sent to Mrs. Roswell the two missing diamonds, the glass head of a hat pin and a crystal shoe button which he had recovered from the dead bird. His diagnosis of the case was acute indigestion.


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