Roy Glashan's Library
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Irish barrister and author of detective and mystery stories Bodkin was appointed a judge in County Clare and also served as a Nationalist member of Parliament. His native country and years in the courtroom are recalled in the autobiographical Recollections of an Irish Judge (1914).
Bodkin's witty stories, collected in Dora Myrl, the Lady Detective (1900) and Paul Beck, the Rule of Thumb Detective (1898), have been unjustly neglected.
Beck, his first detective (when he first appeared in print in Pearson's Magazine in 1897, he was named "Alfred Juggins"), claims to be not very bright, saying, "I just go by the rule of thumb, and muddle and puzzle out my cases as best I can."
...In The Capture of Paul Beck (1909) he and Dora begin on opposite sides in a case, but in the end they are married. They have a son who solves a crime at his university in Young Beck, a Chip Off the Old Block (1911).
Other Bodkin books are The Quests of Paul Beck (1908), Pigeon Blood Rubies (1915), and Guilty or Not Guilty? (1929).
— Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, Steinbrunner & Penzler, 1976.
"VERY neat, very neat indeed!" muttered Mr. Paul Beck approvingly.
His tone was precisely that of a good-natured master-workman contemplating the handiwork of a particularly smart apprentice. It was after midnight, and Mr. Beck was sitting in the parlour of his snug lodgings in Chester—he always liked to make himself as comfortable as possible—reading that morning's Daily Telegraph.
Right on the prize place on the paper, on the fifth page, close to the leaders, under five headings, in a beautiful variety of type, was the account that attracted his benevolent approval.
THE RAVISHED RUBY
were the most conspicuous of the headings that caught and held the professional eye of the detective.
"The Kubla Khan Ruby," so ran the report, "has disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as it was discovered. Our readers are acquainted with the recent history of that unrivalled jewel. It has been already told more than once in these columns, how young Viscount Mervel having lost his fortune at play, and his heart in earnest, with the characteristic pluck of an Englishman set out for Ceylon to make his fortune, and made it. The story of his return with the peerless Ceylon ruby, which had been missing for more than ten centuries, has for the last fortnight been the talk of the town, though few have heard the secret and wonderful history of its discovery. There is no doubt at all it is the famous ruby which Marco Polo described in the close of the thirteenth century long after it had disappeared, the identical stone which Kubla Khan coveted, and which the Ceylonese King refused his ambassador to sell for a city.
"The ruby was in the form of a six-sided prism, terminated on either side by a six-sided pyramid. It was of the purest pigeon blood colour, and without a flaw, nearly three inches long and over an inch in diameter, so the tradition which described it as a span in length and as thick as a man's arm was not so far out as such traditions usually are.
"It was almost as hard to discover a purchaser for this peerless jewel as it was to discover the ruby itself; but a syndicate was in progress of formation to buy it for half a million—about four times the estimated value of the Koh-I-Nur—which price had been fixed by a jury of experts as reasonable.
"Meanwhile the gorgeous gem lay blazing with red flame in its case of white velvet, the centre of attraction in the shop window of Mr. Bolas, of Bond Street, perhaps the most eminent jeweller in London—that is to say, in the world—who was chairman of the syndicate. It was plain that the capital for the purpose would be speedily found. Already, it is said, three crowned heads have been, if the expression is not derogatory to their dignity, nibbling at the glittering bait, and a question had been asked by Mr. Thomas Bowler, M.P., suggesting the advisability of securing it for the British Crown, to which an evasive answer was returned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
"Now all these fine schemes vanish into thin air with the vanished ruby, and Viscount Mervel is as poor as when he started on his adventurous quest. The Kubla Khan Ruby has been captured by audacious burglary at noonday in one of the most frequented streets in London, under the very noses of the guardians of our city, who, however, it is only fair to say, were in no way to blame in the business.
"Naturally the unique gem had excited a vast amount of curiosity and speculation, and the street in front of the shop was daily thronged with sightseers. But the most elaborate precautions had been taken against the possibility of robbery. Two of the most efficient of our admirable police force were stationed night and day in front of the window. The plate glass was of double the ordinary thickness, and as an additional precaution a strong netting of steel wire was secured between the window and the peerless ruby. All these precautions have, however, proved utterly futile, and the ruby and the daylight burglars have disappeared together.
"The following are the circumstances of this most daring robbery, gathered by our representative from the lips of civilian eye-witnesses, for the police are naturally very reticent on the subject. About noon yesterday when the throng of sightseers was densest round the window, two gentlemen arm-in-arm, well dressed and smoking cigarettes, were observed forcing their way somewhat rudely through the crowd, which consisted largely of women and children. Before the police could interfere a sudden altercation arose. Instantly there was a scene of the wildest confusion. Amid the shrieks of women and men sticks were waved and blows struck. The excited crowd swayed again and again against the great glass window. While the police were forcing their way through the dense throng a crash of breaking glass was heard, and instantly the red light of the ruby had vanished, nobody could say how or where.
"But a moment afterwards the police had laid strong hands on one of the gentlemen who had helped to originate the disturbance, and had been most active in its progress. At his feet was found what proved to be a heavily-loaded bludgeon, though in appearance only a gentleman's ordinary bamboo cane, and his wrist was slightly rasped as if by broken glass. A great hole was broken in the window, plainly by design, straight opposite where the ruby had lain, and the strong wire netting was torn away by main force. The police at once searched the prisoner carefully, but found no trace of the missing gem.
"The strange adventure does not end here. The custodians of the peace proceeded towards the police-station with the prisoner, who from the first contented himself with protesting his innocence and offered no resistance. They had not, however, got well clear of the crowd when they were suddenly set upon by a gang of desperadoes, by whom they were brutally maltreated and their prisoner rescued. Such at least is the account of the police themselves, who were found lying in a heap together in the kennel, one bleeding from a cut in his forehead, and both much bruised and shaken. But they have not even yet recovered from their fright and ill-usage, and their story is, as might be expected, vague and contradictory. They confess they would not be able to identify any of their assailants, and, stranger still, so judiciously was the spot chosen and so sudden and well organised the attack, that up to the present it has been found impossible to discover a single independent witness of the rescue. The whole affair is involved in the deepest mystery, and has created the wildest excitement in London. The police are working with a will, and hope to be soon on the track of the marauders. A reward of £5,000 has been offered for the recovery of the jewel."
"H'm," said Mr. Beck, as he finished the account and took a comfortable pull at his tumbler of rum punch with a slice of lemon in it.
He glanced down the next column. There was nothing to interest him there.
"A STARTLING TRANSFORMATION."
"Signor Madaveski has considerably startled his admirers by appearing at last evening's recital with his hair cut short, brushed smooth, and neatly parted in the middle. Many of the audience, especially amongst the ladies, found the performance as disappointing as his appearance, and hinted their belief that his strength lay where Samson's did."
"THE STRONG MAN OVERTHROWN."
"Don Coloso, 'The Modern Atlas,' who has been amazing London by his feats of strength and activity, tossing hundredweights about like india-rubber balls, and crushing stones with his naked hands, was announced to appear to-night in his famous feat of leaping a five-barred gate with a huge globe of burnished steel on his shoulder. But his admirers were disappointed at the non-appearance of their favourite. The rumour goes that he has been stricken down with the influenza. Don Coloso certainly combines in a not particularly big human frame the strength of an elephant and the activity of an antelope. But it would appear there is a 'grippe' stronger than his."
MR. BECK'S eyes ran listlessly down the gossip, and then came back to the robbery.
"It is too bad," he said, in gentle discontent, "too bad I am away. It's just the little job that would suit me."
It was the mild melancholy of a musical amateur who is compelled to miss a favourite opera.
Mr. Beck had come down from London on what he modestly called "a simple, commonplace little job," a bit of bank-note forgery. But simple as the job was, it had bothered not merely the local police, but two particularly smart and up-to-date scientific detectives who had preceded Mr. Beck from London. Before he was a week in Chester, Mr. Beck had laid a heavy hand on the criminal. "More by good luck than good management," his colleagues declared.
"Old Beck has the luck of the old boy," they were wont to observe good-humouredly, for he was a general favourite. "No system, no nothing. He just blunders through somehow like a blind man in a fog, when those who use their eyes get run over. The proofs drop into his mouth of their own accord. He keeps it half open on purpose."
To all of which chaff Mr. Beck, with responsive good-humour, would reply: "Luck is better than brains, boys, when it is as steady as mine."
Stolidity was Mr. Beck's strong point. He had nerve to any amount, but no nerves. It was almost impossible to excite him about anything, yet he was plainly excited now. He puffed at his briar-root pipe in quick, short puffs, quite unlike his usual long, luxurious inhalations, and he gulped, rather than sipped, his rum punch. All the time he slowly spelt out, over and over again, the newspaper paragraph about the wonderful ruby and the wonderful robbery, reading a good deal more there with those wide-open eyes of his than was ever written by a reporter or set up by a compositor.
His restlessness grew upon him.
"I wish I was back in London," he muttered again; "I rather think I could get on the track."
He picked up a railway guide from a side table and glanced at it with practised eyes.
"First train to-morrow at 1.20 for London. I'm there."
BUT for once Mr. Beck broke his appointment. He was not there. He was on the verge of an event so exciting and mysterious as to banish even the great ruby robbery from his mind, or rather to relegate it to a back chamber of his brain. For his tenacious memory never let go anything it had once got tight hold of.
The time-table was still in his hands. By mere accident, as it seemed, he glanced at the other page.
"Down train in at 12.38 to-night." He looked at his big turnip of a watch. "Half-past! Just in time. I'll turn down to the station and meet it and get the London evening papers. There may be some more news." He turned his shaded reading lamp down to a glimmer, put his pipe aside, lit a strong Havanna cigar, and strolled out into the dark, quiet, starlit night. There were very few persons on the platform, but amongst those few was young Nat Perkins, one of the smart detectives of the new school, who had come down from London about "the little forgery job," and was plainly restive in the dull atmosphere of a provincial town.
He nodded to Mr. Beck with a curious mixture of patronage and respect, and Mr. Beck returned the salute with the beaming good-humour of a stage father. They strolled together, smoking, up and down the platform, Perkins talking thirteen to the dozen and the other listening. Beck did a great deal of listening and very little talking as a rule.
Perkins had a brand-new theory about the ruby robbery. It was done, he insisted, by an assistant in the establishment. The row in the street was either the chance opportunity or a carefully prepared blind.
"You see how it is, Mr. Beck," he insisted, with a slight touch of the lecturer in his tone, "there was no wire netting on the inside, and the assistants were doubtless all men of the most trustworthy and respectable character. In a case of this kind, I always make it a rule to begin by suspecting people of the most trustworthy and respectable character, because, you see——"
The shriek of the railway whistle chopped his logic off short. In another moment the long train burst with a shock and jar into the station and woke up the people on the platform. The porters ran along by the carriages, shouting at the very top of their lungs.
Then one man, a young, florid-faced porter, stopped short at the door of a first-class carriage close to the engine. For a moment he glued his face to the glass, then tried to turn the door-handle. The door was locked.
He slipped out his key, jerked the door open, and bolted into the carriage. Another moment, and the thrilling cry, "Murder! Murder!" rang out in the night air high over the din of the station.
Mr. Perkins and Mr. Beck raced up the platform for the open door, breaking through the crowd that already began to gather, like clipper yachts through a rough sea. Mr. Perkins was young, light, and active, but Mr. Beck was an easy first in the race.
He leaped into the carriage beside the porter, who was in the act of lifting the body of a man from the floor.
"Stop!" cried Mr. Beck, in a quick, sharp tone of authority, and the man stopped.
"Get out!" said Mr. Beck, and the man got out. "Fetch a lantern and call the superintendent," and the man set off on his message, as obedient as a well-trained spaniel.
"Here you are, old man," said Perkins, coming up puffing to the door, "never go without it." He took out from his breast coat pocket a neat little lamp nickel-plated, with a burnished reflector at the back. He "pressed the button," and an electric light flashed out.
"Thanks, my boy," said Mr. Beck. "That old oil lamp overhead is dull. Just keep the door and keep the crowd out for a moment, will you? You shall have your turn next, and I shall do as much for you."
Then, without waiting for a reply, he was down on his knees beside the dead man, who lay on his back on the floor of the carriage, with sightless, half-open eyes, that had a ghastly glint in them in the flicker of the oil lamp.
Mr. Beck's eyes, restless as a wild animal's, seemed to take in all details at once.
THIS is what he saw. It took less than a minute to see what it takes more than twenty to write:
A handsome young man, not more than thirty years of age, of slim figure, quite dead. There was a bullet-hole through his breast, but he had hardly bled at all. The large black eyes were protruding, and the tongue, out a little, showed scarlet through the black moustache. There was a purplish tinge in the livid face.
Mr. Beck looked at his neck. There was a narrow band cutting down into the flesh under the chin and ears. The wooden stick of a Vesuvian match, the head burned off, lay on the floor, and beside it a reading lamp, quenched, and the glass broken. A serviceable Colt's revolver had rolled into a corner half under the seat. Mr. Beck picked it up, and saw at a glance that two barrels had been recently discharged. There was a round bullet-hole in the glass window at the far side of the station, through which a bullet had left or entered the carriage.
The murdered man appeared to have slept at least for some part of the journey, for an air cushion blown out was lying close to the window, and he had on his head a comfortable sleeping cap of black velvet.
Whatever was the motive of the murder, robbery had no place in it. The man had a valuable gold watch in his pocket, a diamond ring on his little finger, and notes and gold to the amount of £20 in his pocket-book. There was a strong smell of burnt wool in the compartment, and sniffing closely where it seemed strongest, Mr. Beck made a last curious discovery. The man's trousers of light-coloured tweed had a round hole burned through on the inner side of the right thigh, well over the knee, and the skin was scorched underneath.
"Hulloa there!" cried an authoritative voice at the carriage door, as Mr. Beck rose from a close examination of his last discovery.
"That the superintendent?" said Mr. Beck very quietly. "Good-night, Mr. Fenton."
"Oh, good-night, Mr. Beck. I did not know you at first. This is a bad business. What do you make of it."
"My God! you don't say so. Make way there," and the superintendent pushed clean through the excited crowd and stood beside Mr. Beck, looking down on the dead man with staring eyes, his jovial face pale with the sudden horror.
"But I do say so, Mr. Fenton. It's murder, and no mistake, and about the cleverest murder I've come across, and I've been mixed up with a good many in my time."
There was a distinct note of admiration in his voice. It sounded a little ghastly in the presence of the corpse, this mild insistence on the ability displayed by the murderer.
"What am I to do?" cried the superintendent in woeful perplexity. "I never had a thing of the kind on the line before. Mustn't there be an inquest or some thing and all that. I'll have the body lifted out into the third-class refreshment-room."
"I think it would be better not to disturb the deceased just at present," suggested Mr. Beck mildly.
"Then what in God's name am I to do?"
"You could not keep the train back?"
"Impossible. If half the passengers were murdered, we must catch the boat."
"Can you take off the carriage?" It was Mr. Perkins who asked this question.
"I'm afraid not; it would take too long."
"And would be very little use if you could," broke in Mr. Beck. "It's the train we want, not the carriage. What's the last minute you can delay the whole train, Mr. Fenton?"
"Five minutes at the outside. That is a quarter of an hour altogether. Luckily we are three minutes before time. Besides, I don't think that I could get my passengers back into their places before that. They seem to have all gone mad. One would think there was a murderer in each compartment."
"A quarter of an hour. It's short, but it must be made do. Let me have your lantern again, Perkins, will you?"
NO one who knew Mr. Beck as a quiet, easy-going man could recognise him now. In an instant he was all over the long train. He climbed like a bear along the roofs of the carriages, he crawled like a serpent under the wheels. He was in and out through all the doors almost, as it would seem, at the same time. The passengers stood back and watched him like a circus performer. All the while the engine kept puffing an impatient accompaniment.
Only one little fact seemed to reward his search. Five compartments off from that in which the dead man lay, the oil lamp was missing from a third-class carriage.
In this compartment were two men—a soldier and a sailor—sleeping the sleep of the just—or the drunk.
They were wakened up and pulled out. The sailor was a thin, wiry fellow, with small head and body. The soldier, who had a corporal's chevron on his sleeve, was almost a giant.
They seemed both frightened and confused. They declared that they had never met before. Neither had noticed the lamp. Could not say if it were lit when they got in at Euston. Neither could say when it was quenched. "They weren't drunk," they said, "nor yet were they sober. They paid for their blooming tickets, and they had a right to their seats, lamp or no lamp. What had they to say to the blooming lamp, anyhow. That was the company's look-out."
Under Mr. Perkins's able cross-examination they grew insolent, and contradicted him and each other with great facility. Ultimately the small man offered to fight him on the platform for a plug of tobacco. Mr. Perkins responded by arresting them both on a charge of murder, and giving them in custody of the local police, to be released next day for lack of evidence.
Meanwhile Mr. Beck was away back at the end of the train, loosening a strong cord which he found tied in a hard knot round the iron rod of the buffer. When he came walking back quickly along the platform the quarter of an hour was overdue, and the passengers were crowding back into their compartments. The engine was puffing more impatiently than ever. But there was neither puff nor impatience about Mr. Beck.
He found the superintendent and Mr. Perkins standing in front of the carriage, where the dead man still lay on his back, ghastly in the flickering light.
There was a smear of damp blood on the forefinger of Mr. Beck, which he examined with interest as he came up to the other two.
"Hello, old man, got a clue?" cried Perkins, in good-humoured mockery.
"I just have," said Mr. Beck; "a clue of worsted."
He held up in his left hand a little thread of fine lamb's wool of light grey colour, stained dark in parts.
Perkins laughed outright and the superintendent smiled feebly, even while he murmured: "Hurry up, gentlemen, please hurry up!"
"And what do you intend to do with that?" said the young detective chaffingly.
Mr. Beck had tied the thin thread at the end of the strong cord he had taken from the buffer, and looped it in a noose. He smiled grimly as he dangled it before Perkins's eyes. "That little halter," he said softly, "is strong enough to hang a strong man with."
Perkins winked in high good-humour at the superintendent, who was growing more and more impatient.
"All right, all right," said Mr. Perkins. "Are you coming along, Mr. Beck?"
"Why, on to Holyhead with the stiff. He and I are to be travelling companions this voyage, and three is better company than two for once in a way."
"No," said Mr. Beck shortly. "I'm done with him," he pointed with a jerk of his thumb at the corpse. "I have learned all he has got to tell me. Now I'm going to look after the other fellow."
"All right," cried Perkins again, "please yourself, I'm off," and he leaped into the compartment as the carriage began to slide slowly along the edge of the platform.
THE door was slammed after him, and the long train sped away into darkness, leaving Mr. Beck on the platform with his head turned in the opposite direction.
The superintendent watched the train until the back light faded to a fine point and disappeared.
Then he turned to his companion. He was nervous, and excited, and unstrung—in fact in that condition in which a man must talk or burst. The coolness of Mr. Beck was an inexpressible relief to him.
"I should be very glad indeed to help," he said, "if there is anything I——"
"Well, there just is. I want to find that missing lamp out of the third-class carriage, or the bits of it. Can you help me?"
"There'll be some trouble about that, I'm afraid. You see we don't know what happened to it. As likely as not they forgot to put it in at Euston."
"Oh no. It's on the side of the line in bits, about midway between two stations, I should think. But what stations I cannot say positively. Probably one or two from this. I want you to telegraph along the line to have it looked for."
"All right; I'll have that done the moment the telegraph stations open."
"And what time may we expect an answer?"
"Not before twelve to-morrow. You see, there is a great deal of ground to be covered."
"Well, I shall look down about twelve. Good-night."
"You are not going," said the superintendent, eager for company and gossip. "Come in and have a little something hot. I always have a drop after the last train goes; I cannot sleep otherwise, and, by George! I'll want it to-night, if I never wanted it before."
"Thanks, but I must be getting back to my lodgings. I have the knack of sleeping whenever and wherever I like. There's no saying when I'll get a good night's rest again after to-night."
So Mr. Beck walked back to his lodgings, imperturbable as when he left it. The Daily Telegraph still lay on his table; but the mysterious murder had completely eclipsed the mysterious robbery, in his mind. He took his little miniature halter from his pocket and laid it on the open paper.
"Strong enough to hang the strongest man in England," he murmured to himself softly again.
Then he turned to bed and slept as placidly as a child, a sound, dreamless, refreshing sleep until half-past ten the next morning.
"Well, Mr. Fenton, any news?"
"The superintendent looked at Mr. Beck with increased respect as he walked leisurely up to him on the platform at noon next day.
"You were quite right, Mr. Beck, the broken lamp was found as near as might be between two stations, Rugby and Crewe. How in the world did you know?"
Mr. Beck laughed a little shy, deprecating laugh at the other's manifest admiration. "Only a good guess, Mr. Fenton. I was always a first-class hand at conundrums. What's the next train for Rugby?"
"All right. I want a first-class single. May as well get it now."
"Do you think you'll nab your man there, sir?"
"Rugby? Oh, I shan't look for him. I don't believe he was there, at least to stop. I'm quite certain he's not there now."
"Then why go there, if I may ask, Mr. Beck?" said the superintendent, bursting with excitement and curiosity. He had never, as he said himself, been mixed up in a murder before. "It looks like wasting time."
"So it does, Mr. Fenton. So it does, no doubt," assented Mr. Beck mildly. "But there is an old proverb for which I have a great respect: 'The more haste the less speed.' I like to puzzle about and try and pick up the scent to begin with. Once on the track I manage to stick to it somehow or another. Our boys laugh at me for an easy-going old codger. But good luck and common sense pull me through now and again."
Easy-going as ever, Mr. Beck slipped out of the train at Rugby, with his neatly-strapped Gladstone bag in his hand and his warm rug over his arm.
"Cab, sir?" cried an active porter, making a grab at the handle of his bag.
"No, thank you," said Mr. Beck, dexterously evading the charge. "I'm not going beyond this."
The man turned away with a blank stare of amazement.
Mr. Beck sat down on one of the seats and waited placidly till the bustle on the platform had effervesced through the open doors.
Then he called a porter to him.
"I want you to put this bag and rug in a first-class carriage, on the seat with back to the engine in the next down train," and he handed the man a half-crown.
"Yes-sir," said the porter, with a sudden infusion of respect in his voice.
"Stop a moment. You have got to earn the half crown. You have heard of the murder on the line down at Chester?"
"Heard of it, sir! We have heard of nothing else. There were men out at all hours looking for a railway lamp along the line. There was a fight for the London papers when they came in with the news."
"Well, you see, porter, I'm a detective, and I want to pick up any information that's going."
It was always Mr. Beck's way to go to work in the simplest fashion possible, without any pretence to mystery. If he had told the man he was Emperor of Russia he could not have looked more surprised. But detective or not, to the porter he was unquestionably a gentleman who had given him half a crown.
"It isn't much I can tell you myself, sir, beyond seeing the men come back with the lamp. But Tim Rafferty, that big man down there at the end of the station, was the last that laid eyes on the dead man. Leastways, he wasn't dead then, but only asleep."
"If you will send Rafferty to me you will have earned your half-crown and have given him the chance to earn another."
Rafferty came up with a twinkle in his blue eyes, and a smile, half shy, half expectant, on his big, good-humoured face, which showed the message had been faithfully delivered.
"Now, Rafferty," said Mr. Beck encouragingly, "just tell me what you saw."
"Well, it was just nothing, sir—leastways it would have been nothing at the time only for what happened afterwards. It's curious, too, that I noticed him at all, for I've seen lots of gentlemen asleep, and none of them murdered barrin' himself."
"You saw a gentleman asleep in a first-class carriage in the down train last night—a slight, good-looking gentleman, with a dark moustache?"
"Exactly, sir. I read the description in the papers, and it was the same man that was shot beyond in Chester. There was no signs of shooting about him when I saw him. He was sleeping like a year-old babby."
"You are sure it was the same man?"
"Sure and certain, sir. He answered the description in the newspapers like a catechism—every answer right. He was lying fast asleep all by himself with the cushion of which there was word in the papers under his head. ''Throth there's not much troubling you, me gentleman,' I said when I seen him, and it's little I thought of the trouble that was cummin' to him so soon."
"You had a good look?"
"Did you see a reading lamp there?"
"Not a light or sight of wan, and I think I'd have seen it if it wor there, for the carriage lamp was beamin' uncommon bright."
Mr. Beck seemed much struck by these trivial circumstances, and questioned him closely. But Rafferty was quite clear on the point. The carriage lamp was not dim, and the reading lamp was not there.
"Thank you, my man," he said at last, without the slightest sign in face or manner whether he had got the information he wanted or not, only he made the promised half-crown five shillings. "I'll have time for a cup of tea before the next train?"
"Time and to spare. Good-day, sir, and thanks."
THERE was a little group of porters round the carriage when Mr. Beck stepped into the down train, curiously eyeing him, and their comments as he was whirled away were hardly complimentary to his professional capacity.
"Him a detective!" said Rafferty, with good-humoured pity. "Faith, I'm thinking he wouldn't have the wit to catch a flay, or the heart to kill it if it wor caught. 'Throth, all the detectives I seen or heard of was a cross between a bloodhound and a gimlet. You'd know them a mile off. I'm not denyin' nayther he's a right good sort," he added, with a kindly remembrance of the five shillings in his waistcoat pocket, "but detective, moryah!"
There certainly was very little of the detective about Mr. Beck as he sat with half-closed eyes and drooping underlip cosily muffled up in his railway rugs.
The ticket-collector at Crewe was just as astounded as the porter at Rugby when Mr. Beck mentioned his profession. But he was civil and communicative all the same. It was curious that everybody was always civil and communicative to Mr. Beck. He had got such a pleasant, good-natured way with him.
Yes, the ticket-collector remembered a gentleman who had gone out after all the other passengers from the down mail train the night before, a good five minutes after them he should say. But he had his ticket all right. It was a first single to Holyhead. He had a small black Gladstone bag in his hand, but no other luggage of any kind. A well set-up, good-looking man, with black curly hair and black moustache. A foreigner by the looks of him. He entered into a minute description to which the detective listened attentively.
"He walked a little lame, I think?" put in Mr. Beck quietly at last.
The ticket-collector looked at him in surprise.
"Do you know the gentleman, sir?"
"Well, yes; I think I have a notion. I may be wrong, but I think have a notion who he is."
"He walked very lame, and seemed to be in pain with his right foot. 'Hope you haven't hurt yourself, sir,' said I. He looked at me sharp with a snap in his big eyes. 'Eh, oh no, not at all. Just a touch of the gout, that's all.' But he had not the look of one the gout would be likely to trouble, and the neat side-spring boots he had on did not look like gout neither."
"Side-spring boots," muttered Mr. Beck. "Um—I thought so! You'd know him again, I suppose, if you saw him?"
"I did know him again, sir, when I saw him. He was on the platform for the first train next morning. I knew him the minute I set eyes on him, though the foot seemed considerably better. I had the curiosity to find out where he was going to."
"He took a first single for Liverpool—— Oh, thank you, sir! I wasn't expecting anything of the kind. Only too happy to be of any service, I'm sure."
"Just one word more. You'd know this man's photo if you saw it?"
"I'd know it upside down, sir. Have you got his photo?"
"Not here, but I think I can get one without trouble. If I send you the photo by post, will you write yes or no on a sheet of paper and post it to the address I enclose?"
"For certain by return of post. You are not coming back, sir?"
"No, I'm not coming back. I'm going straight on to the end, and I think I see my way pretty clear."
There was a train just due, and without further delay Mr. Beck made his way to the ticket office.
"First-class single for Liverpool," he said.
So those two, the hunted and the hunter, disappeared one after the other into the thick close cover of the great city.
JUST about the same time there were two other new arrivals in Liverpool.
Dr. Palmer Coleman settling down in a quiet street that was neither city or suburb, began to speedily gather to himself a profitable practice. "Homoeopathist" was what he called himself. "Quack" was what the neighbouring practitioners called him. One of his first patients was a sturdy, strongly built loafer, who had taken up his quarters in a somewhat disreputable lane, at no great distance from the "doctor's" reputable habitation. The "doctor," much to his own surprise it must be confessed, succeeded in curing the tramp of St. Vitus dance, by no more complicated remedy than a box of tiny pills compounded in equal parts of breadcrumb and soap. The man paid the full fee of a sovereign, which the doctor strongly suspected he had stolen. But in addition to that his gratitude was so persistent and effusive as to be embarrassing. He got very drunk to celebrate his recovery, and knocked his benefactor up at one in the morning to thank him. He sang the doctor's praise in a gruff voice in every taproom in the locality. Even this did not content him. He was as obtrusive in his attentions to his benefactor as a big slobbery puppy dog, always turning up at inconvenient hours and places, and haunting his house like an unpaid tax-collector.
William Simmons was the tramp's name, he said, when anybody took the trouble to ask him. But he answered freely to the pet name "Bill Pluck," which was bestowed on him in the locality. He did very little work. But it is only fair to say what he did he did very well, with quite unexpected skill and strength.
Dr. Coleman had made him useful in getting his surgery, which was on the drawing-room floor, into order, and in carrying up and settling in their places certain heavy pieces of furniture, which gave respectability to the place, for which service Bill Pluck steadily declined payment.
Dr. Coleman and Bill Pluck, having each made his little splash in the district, followed by a number of bursting bubbles of local gossip, might have been quietly absorbed in the reputable and disreputable strata of society to which they respectively belonged, were it not for a startling incident about three weeks after their joint arrival. About one o'clock on a particularly dark night the policeman whose beat ran closest to Dr. Coleman's house, was startled by a loud crash, followed by three revolver shots, quick and sharp like the cracking of a teamster's whip. As he ran to the spot, sounding his rattle while he ran, he saw a dark figure leap sheer from the drawing-room window of the doctor's house, light in the street, a good eighteen feet below, and whisk like a cat round the corner, though the constable thought that he limped a little as he ran.
The constable followed in quick pursuit, but as he passed under the open drawing-room window, he almost fell over a rope that trailed down on the pavement from above. When he looked again the figure had vanished, and pursuit in the dead darkness of the night was impossible.
A moment later he heard the doctor's voice call him from the open window.
He knocked at the door.
"One moment constable, and I'll come down and let you in," said the voice from the window.
Then there was the rattle of many chains and bolts, and the doctor appeared, candlestick in hand, dressed, or rather undressed, in night-shirt and trousers, straight out of bed as it seemed, with his fair hair all in a wild wisp, and his face flushed and excited.
A splendid figure of a man he showed, broad-shouldered and muscular in this deshabillé.
"A dangerous customer to tackle," was the constable's mental commentary.
"Burglary, constable," said the doctor, "or rather, I should say, attempted burglary. I was just in time to spoil the game."
"May I have a look round, sir?"
"Certainly, if you care to, but I don't think there is much to see. The principal performer has just left."
The doctor led the way to his study on the drawing-room floor. The flickering candle in his hand showed a scene of the wildest confusion.
The constable turned on the gas and lit the four lights in the hanging gasalier, and the confusion seemed ten times more confused.
The heavy door which led from the study to the doctor's bedroom had been burst sheer from its strong hinges on one side and its strong lock on the other, and flung forward, crashing down tables and chairs as it fell. The window was open, and the night air came in coldly, making the lights flicker. Through the central pane of the upper panel were three round holes, close together like the leaves of a shamrock, clean drilled by revolver bullets.
In the corner of the room, farthest from the window, a neat set of burglar's instruments scattered beside a small, strongly made safe, in the entry of which very satisfactory progress had been made, sufficiently indicated the trade and calling of the midnight visitor.
"Very neat tools," said the constable, picking them up and examining them one by one, "and very neat work—very neat indeed," looking with undisguised admiration at the burglar's handiwork on the safe. "That hole was chilled by a clever hand, believe me."
"I came near drilling a neater hole through his clever head," said Dr. Coleman grimly. "I wish I had. I don't often miss."
"Would you mind telling me shortly what happened?" said the constable, his ready notebook out.
"Not in the least, though there is really very little to tell beyond what you see. I had gone to bed at about half-past eleven after a hard day and night's work, and was fast asleep, when I was wakened by the faintest scraping sound, like the scratches of a mouse in the next room. No other man would have minded it in the least, but I hate mice. I suppose I ought to be ashamed to confess it, but they frighten and fidget me like a school-girl. Strange, isn't it, a big, strong fellow like me? I cannot sleep if I hear the sound of one, so I got up quietly, pulled on my trousers, lit my candle at the gas-jet I always keep burning, and turned the handle of the door softly in the hope of catching and killing the thing. The door was locked on the outside. This startled me. I never lock the door inside or outside. I listened again. The same scratchy sound went on steadily—too steadily as I thought for a mouse. I picked up my revolver—I always have one handy—put my shoulder to the door—it's a rickety concern, as you see—and sent the whole thing flying into the other room. Unluckily the rush of air blew out my candle, and the other chap had the gumption to blow out his light. It was pitch dark in the room. I just saw—or thought I saw—a patch of blacker blackness making for the window, and I let drive three shots at it, and missed all three it seems."
"Would you know the man again, sir?"
"Not from Adam. Didn't I tell you the room was as black as the ace of spades, and what's more I don't want to see him or know him again. I would like well enough to drop him to my own shot. But when I missed him he saved his skin so far as I am concerned."
"But in the interest of justice, sir."
"Justice, be blowed. The poor devil risked his life cheap. There was nothing in the safe but some bottles of poison, if he had got it open."
"What does that matter, sir, begging your pardon? The crime was the same. The fellow plainly thought there was something extra valuable in it, and meant to lay hands on it if he could."
"Did he?" a little sharply. "Well, there isn't, that's all. Good-night, constable. I'll finish my beauty sleep."
But the constable, a shrewd and experienced officer, was hot on the scent, he thought, and before an hour was over had arrested "Bill Pluck" in his squalid retreat in Heavenly Lane on a charge of attempted burglary.
There were several suspicious circumstances against the prisoner. He had only come in half an hour before. There was a red scar on his neck, that looked remarkably like the graze of a bullet, and he walked decidedly lame on the right foot.
He took the thing, however, quite coolly.
"Rubbing a safe, is it? What do I know about safes? Rubbing Dr. Coleman, the man who cured me? 'Tain't likely. The doctor and me is too thick for the like of that. You see if he will come again me in the court, neither!"
All the same he was locked up in the police-station for the night, accepting the situation with philosophic contentment, and sleeping like a child.
The constable had his prize down in court early next morning, and was half-way through his evidence when Dr. Coleman appeared.
The magistrate seemed much impressed by the evidence. It appeared inevitable that the prisoner would be either remanded or forthwith committed for trial.
Dr. Coleman was put into the box and examined by the constable. He told the story much as the constable told it. But there seemed a curious, almost imperceptible, leaning in favour of the prisoner in his evidence.
He was sure he did not hit the burglar with any of the three revolver shots, or even graze him.
"Quite sure of that, sir?" said the constable.
"It was very dark at the time?" This from the Bench.
"It was rather dark, your worship."
"You cannot identify this man, I suppose?"
"On the contrary, your worship, I can swear positively this is not the man. I could distinguish the outline of the figure, and this is not the figure I saw."
"The man you saw leaped through the window, I understand?"
"He went through the window, your worship. There was no other way for him to go. But whether he leaped or not I cannot say. There was a knotted rope looped to one of the spikes of the iron balcony in front of the window, by which plainly he got up and by which possibly he got down."
"But I saw him jump from the window," broke in the constable, "and he lamed himself by the leap, and this man is lame. How do you account for that, Doctor?"
"I have been lame myself for some time," retorted the doctor sharply, "from an accident, and even yet I am not quite recovered. But that is no proof, I trust, that I am a burglar."
The constable looked sheepish, and the prisoner giggled with curious amusement at the retort.
"Besides," the doctor went on, "I think this man was always lame."
"Is that so, Constable Brunker?" This from the magistrate.
The constable was puzzled. It came to him suddenly that the man did always walk with a slouch and something of a limp. He had got quite a new limp, he thought, since last night, but he did not know how he could explain that to the Court. "Well, you see, your worship, I think he had a kind of limp. But——"
"That will do, constable," interrupted his worship. "I think you have been a little hasty in this business. The prisoner is discharged. Thank you, Dr. Coleman, and good-day."
The prisoner gave a curious leer at Dr. Coleman as he shambled out of the dock—rather an amused than a grateful look, one would say.
The other left the witness-box at the same moment, and the two came together at the court-room door.
"Simmons," said the doctor quietly, "I have a job for you if you will look up in an hour's time. My rooms are in a mess after that ruffian last night."
"Thank you, sir," said Bill Pluck, with gruff civility. "I'll be there."
BILL PLUCK was more under a cloud than ever in the neighbourhood after this occurrence. The neighbours, as a rule, took the constable's rather than the magistrate's view of the transaction, and gave him a pretty wide berth.
But whoever else thought him guilty, it was plain Dr. Coleman did not, for he was kinder than ever to the sturdy outcast. He seemed to make jobs specially for him and was liberal with money, which in Bill Pluck's free translation meant drink. So he seemed in a fair way to drink himself to death or delirium tremens.
Once again things quieted down to a dull routine, when there was a third sensation—the last.
Signor Montifero visited the locality. If his own handbills are to be trusted, everybody must have heard of Signor Montifero. Still, for the benefit of the possible benighted reader it may be worth while to quote briefly from that interesting document by way of introduction of its author, described in big type therein.
"Signor Professor Montifero" it appeared was "the famous disciple of Mesmer the Professor of hypnotism, who had explored the borderlands of life and penetrated their most mysterious arcana, whose multifarious learning and profound research had wedded the occultism of the East and the science of the west in harmonious unison, whose marvellous demonstrations had been witnessed with amazement and delight in the Court of every reigning sovereign, and in the lecture hall of every learned university in Europe."
Considering his accomplishments and reputation, Signor Professor Montifero was a modest man, not in the least puffed up by admiration of reigning Sovereigns and University dons.
He was content with a moderate-sized hall, in what might be called the outskirts of the town, and he even condescended to circulate his own handbills.
Bill Pluck attached himself to Signor Montifero from the moment of his arrival. This was surprising, as the Signor was not particularly free with drink or money. But the mesmerist seemed to have a strange fascination for the loafer, and the loafer, with his local knowledge, made himself useful to the mesmerist. Bill Pluck posted his bills for him and helped him in the arrangements of his hall. Furthermore he gave him, in his own blundering way, the hint which enabled the professor to secure Dr. Coleman as the chairman of his committee of inspection.
The Signor, a dark, portly gentleman, with insinuating manners, had found the doctor a shy fish to land.
"You really must not refuse, Dr. Coleman," he said. "Your name and position—and, if I may be excused for saying so, your appearance—will be invaluable. There is a certain bond between us; we both cultivate outlying fields in the vast regions of science."
"But I dislike hypnotism, and, what's more, I don't believe in it."
"Dislike and disbelief, my dear sir, cannot co-exist. Your dislike, if you will forgive me saying, is a tribute of faith. You would yourself make an excellent medium, if you would allow me."
But here Dr. Coleman was determined, and even angry.
"No power on earth," he said hotly, "would induce me to submit to such mummery."
But the Signor skilfully soothed him, and before he left exacted a promise that he would attend as chairman of the committee on the express promise that the Signor's influence would not be tested on himself.
The same evening Bill Pluck surprised the Signor by a proposal.
"Would you think of trying some new spiratool material, governor?" he said.
"Would I what?" said the Signor, not quite grasping his meaning.
"'Cos if you would, I don't care if you experimentatise on me. Oh, I have been there before. I'm a medium-paced subject, I am."
"You mean you are willing to act as a medium," said the Signor.
"Aye, just! act on the square; and the neighbours knows me, they does."
Signor Montifero jumped at the offer. He carted his mediums round with him as a rule, trained mediums who were so impregnated with mesmerism that they could be relied on. Now and again he was fortunate enough to pick up a peculiarly susceptible subject amongst the audience. But he found it convenient to have subjects to fall back upon, whose susceptibilities were established on the sound commercial basis of weekly wages. But then the wages were heavy, for his men, as they took frequent occasions to explain to the Signor, could not be asked to have pins stuck in them without squealing, and to eat tallow candles the same as sugar-stick, and make bloomin' asses of themselves all over the shop, without it is considered in the screw. Besides, these professional gentlemen were unknown in the district, and their appearance was not calculated to beget confidence in their disinterested devotion to science.
Bill Pluck was not specially prepossessing either but he had the advantage of being known. So when he offered to come on for a bob and a pot of beer a night during the week, the Signor jumped at the offer. As a matter of fact he only performed on the first night of the engagement.
THERE was a very fair attendance that first night. A thick sprinkling on the crimson-covered two-shilling seats, a good show on the one-shilling seats, and the sixpenny places crammed. On the platform sat the committee of inspection round a table, Dr. Coleman conspicuous amongst them.
Right opposite, all in a row, were the hang-dog mediums, Bill Pluck at the outer end in full view of the audience, the target for some rough compliments.
The Signor always began with his property mediums. If he could once get the audience to believe in them, the rest of his work was easy enough, for the mesmerist largely lives by faith. The usual preliminary work was gone through this evening amid much cheering and tittering.
The mediums were—like the delicate Ariel—"correspondent to command." They panted in extreme heat or shivered in extreme cold; they hunted imaginary sovereigns round the stage; they ate tallow candles with a relish; they had pins driven in their legs without any manifestation of emotion, and scalded themselves with cold water in the most natural manner possible. When suddenly awakened in the very middle of some ludicrous escapade, their faces wore the orthodox expression of surprise and horror, and awakened the usual laughter.
Bill Pluck was the last called amid a roar of applause and laughter, and a futile attempt by a pal in the background to raise a chorus: "For he's a right gay fellow."
He was brought forward and seated sheepishly in a chair with a glare of light on his face, in full view of the committee and audience. Dr. Coleman especially watched him with fixed attention. There was a smart young man on the platform—not a member of the committee—who also seemed much interested. He was probably a reporter, for he took out his notebook when Bill Pluck was called, and began writing rapidly in shorthand a moment afterwards.
Signor Montifero bade his subject fix his eyes intently on the revolving mirror, by which he was to be dazzled and dazed into the mesmeric trance.
For a few minutes the man stared fixedly and vacantly as directed. Then his eyelids drooped and closed, and his breathing grew deep and regular.
A thrill ran through the audience as they gazed at the sleeper. The man's rough face was, as it were, transformed by surprise and delight. Dr. Coleman, who knew him best, looking his hardest, could scarcely recognise his features in that sudden change. Signor Montifero himself seemed astounded at his own handiwork.
"Oh! Oh! oh!" cried the figure in the chair, pointing in a kind of ecstasy of delight—"it is wonderful!"
The voice had a hollow, far-off sound in it, not the least like his own. But it was heard at the farthest corner of the silent hall.
The Signor roused himself to meet his good fortune. Here was a man really hypnotised at last.
"What's wonderful?" he said. "What do you see?"
"The Kubla Khan ruby," was the answer in the same hollow monotone.
"His voice was thin, like voices from the grave,
And deep asleep he seemed, yet all awake."
Excitement grew more intense at the mention of the famous jewel, whose mysterious disappearance had been the chief topic of gossip for the last six weeks. The committee turned earnest faces and staring eyes on the man, Dr. Coleman's the most earnest of all. The Signor was trembling from head to foot. The young reporter was scribbling shorthand furiously.
"The Kubla ruby," said the Signor, in a voice which he tried to make steady; "where do you see it?"
"In the shop window of Mr. Bolas, of Bond Street. Look, look! it is a blaze of red light. There is a crowd round the window. See! two men come pushing their way through the crowd."
"Can you say who they are?"
"Let me—let me—yes. One of them is Don Coloso, the Modern Atlas—I know him from his photographs. The other is the small man, Jules Hernandes, whom he used to fly over his head."
Another thrill amongst the audience, for Don Coloso and his companion had disappeared on the night of the daring robbery.
"Yes, I know him," went on the man in the chair, still speaking faintly as from a far distance, "though he has put off his black, curly wig and moustache he wears on the stage. The man on his arm is slight and dark. I know him too. See, they are pushing through the crowd. No wonder the people are angry. Don Coloso knocks them about like ninepins. Oh, oh!"
"What do you see now?"
"Now he strikes with his walking-stick. He has broken the thick glass like paper. He has torn the wire grating like cobweb. See! the little man has grabbed the ruby and slipped off like a weasel through the throng. The police are breaking through the crowd. Now they have caught Don Coloso. They push him roughly about. He goes with them like a lamb."
"Do you follow them?"
"I follow them. They turn down a quiet street together. Don Coloso glances back over his shoulder. There is no one in the street. Now in a moment he flings the police round. They are like children in his hand. He dashes their heads together. He slings them from him in the kennel. He is off like a flash. He has disappeared."
The excitement in the audience was intense. There was a tragic reality about the "manifestation" that held them spell-bound. Signor Montifero rose to the occasion.
"Do you follow him still?"
"No, he has disappeared. I cannot follow him," said the far-away voice.
"Look again—do you see him now?"
"Dimly. He seems waiting in the dark for some one who does not come. He clenches his hands and his teeth. He disappears. I see him again more clearly. It is at the Euston railway station. Now he has a black leather bag in his hand. He is watching some one. It is the slight man who stole the ruby. Don Coloso does not speak to him. The slight man buys a ticket. Don Coloso buys a ticket. The slight man gets into a carriage—first-class—close to the engine. Don Coloso gets into the last carriage at the extreme end of the train. It is a very long train. The two men are very far apart. The train is off."
"Do you follow?"
"I follow. We have stopped at Rugby. I know the station well. The end of the long train tails away from the platform into the dark night. The slight man does not leave his carriage. But see a shadow slip out from the last carriage of the train. How quietly he goes. He is down on the line behind the train. He ties his bag under the buffer with strong twine; he slips off his boots and ties them up with his bag. He climbs like a cat to the roof of the carriage, and so is carried away into the night."
"I am watching. He crawls like a great cat along the ridge of the rushing train, counting the lamps as he goes. He is close to the engine now. He lifts the carriage lamp from its place and tries to balance it on the swaying curve of the roof, but it goes over with a crash on to the line. I hear the man curse under his breath. But he takes a railway reading lamp from his pocket; he lights it with a flaming Vesuvian, and turns the light down into the opening in the roof. In the carriage below there is a man asleep, sleeping quietly. The light gleams white on his face. Again it is the slight man who stole the ruby.
"There is an evil look in the eyes that gleam down at him, and from the thin lips comes a low growl of joy like a wild beast feeding. Again the man on the roof lights a flaming Vesuvian, poises the morsel of fierce fire for a moment with cautious aim, and then drops it down on the sleeper. There is a slight hissing sound and the tickling smell of burning wool. The sleeping man leaps to his feet with a cry of pain. The sound is choked on his lips. A running noose falls upon his neck, and a strong pull lifts and holds him clean from the carriage floor. The struggle is fierce and short. Now the body hangs limp at the noose. A long arm stretches through the opening and clutches the corpse, feeling eagerly for something. There is the same low growl of delight as the hand draws a small packet from the inner breast pocket of the dead man and carefully secures it.
"A revolver is out now. A crash and a flash, and a bullet goes through the body of the dead man; another, and there is a round hole in the carriage window. The noose is loosened from the neck of the victim; he drops with a dull thud, face upwards, on the floor of the carriage. The lamp and revolver go down after him, and the murderer crawls back on his hands and feet on the swaying ridge of the train. A curse and a growl of pain. He has cut his foot through his stocking on a jagged nail in the carriage roof. A thread of the stocking catches on the nail, a thread of grey worsted. There is blood round it. The man cannot see it in the dark, but I see.
"He goes on limping and growling softly to himself. Five carriages off he lifts out a lamp, and crawling back replaces it in the opening of the compartment where the dead man lies. Then without a pause he turns and crawls away to the end of the train, still growling with pain as he goes. Five minutes later the train begins to slacken its furious speed, and with a shriek and a rattle it rushes into Crewe. Then he steps lightly on to the rails and cuts his boots and bag loose from the buffer. He draws on his boots, crushing the wounded and blood-stained foot in fiercely. A moment after he goes limping past the ticket-collector."
The horror of the audience has reached its culminating point. There is the hush of death in the hall.
Signor Montifero is pale to the lips, and his voice trembles as he falters out: "Do you see him still?"
"I see him again at the Crewe station. He takes train for Liverpool. He is here in this city; here in this hall. I see! I see!"
The man's voice rose and swelled with horror, thrilling the audience.
But at that moment another cry was heard, so full of wild, conscience-stricken fear that it made their hearts stop beating.
Dr. Coleman had fallen back limp and livid in his chair; his face ashen grey, his lips twitching, and his eyes staring with a ghastly glare.
"Enough, enough!" he shouted that all might hear. "The devil is too strong for me. I give in. D——n you all—you staring idiots! I am the murderer! I—I! Jules Hernandes played me false—do you hear? False! I strangled him. If it were to be done again I'd do it."
Before any one noticed, the mesmerised man was out of his chair. There was a metallic clink and a sharp snap; a broad, calm face was bending over Dr. Coleman, and a voice said—
"I arrest you, Don Coloso, alias Dr. Coleman, on a charge of wilful murder of Jules Hernandes. You are not bound to say anything, but whatever you do say may be used in evidence against you."
The face was the face of William Simmons, but the voice was the voice of Mr. Beck.
The shock of the cold official words roused Dr. Coleman from his ague fit of fear to sudden fury.
"Trapped!" he shouted fiercely, and he made one awful effort to burst the shiny bracelets that Mr. Beck had so deftly slipped upon his wrists.
That supreme effort of stupendous strength was terrible to see. The sweat came out in tiny bubbles on his face; the veins on his forehead were like corded network, and the great muscles of his arms strained and swelled and throbbed.
"It's no use," said Mr. Beck soothingly, "no use at all. They are half an inch thick, of solid steel, and they were made specially for yourself."
For answer the prisoner struck fiercely at the detective's head. Mr. Beck dodged the blow. The manacled hands crashed upon the table and shivered it to pieces like the stroke of a sledge-hammer, and the man fell prone and lay like a log.
Mr. Beck bent over him, and with a quick turn of his wrist twisted a small steel key from his watch-chain.
"Take it easy, Doctor," he said, still soothingly. "The game is up," and he handed him over to the charge of the local police, four of whom were ready on the platform. Then or afterwards to the end the formidable captive offered no resistance at all. The audience broke up tumultuously, leaving Signor Montifero alone. They had got their money's worth of excitement. The main part of them, with an ever-gathering crowd, followed the police and prisoner to the station.
Mr. Beck, with his hands buried deep in the pockets of his worn pea-jacket, slipped off quietly in another direction. The young man of the notebook walked by his side. A change had come over the burly detective—Figure, costume, and make-up were still the same, but he had resumed his own identity. He was no longer Bill Pluck or William Simmons, but Mr. Paul Beck.
"You have got it all down, Perkins?" he said to his companion.
"Every word, story, confession, and all. You are in luck again, Beck. By George! You have caught the right man this time. You did lay it on pretty thick over there"—he jerked his thumb towards the hall. "Hanged if I'd have known you myself if I was not in the swim."
"Well, you see," said Mr. Beck, in a half-apologetic tone, "I always had something of a gift in the playacting line. It comes natural."
"I suppose your story of the robbery and murder was all a flam?"
"Flam!" replied Mr. Beck. "I'm surprised at you, Perkins. Do you think if it was a flam it would take him like that? Every word was true."
"But how the dickens did you know? You did not see the thing done, did you?"
"Well, not exactly," Mr. Beck confessed. "But when you see a footprint in the mud, you can guess that somebody has gone by. This case was as plain as mud from the first."
He drew his miniature halter from his pocket, with the noose of lamb's worsted wool.
"I told you that was strong enough to hang a strong man, and you laughed at me. Still it was."
"But the ruby, old boy. You have not found the ruby yet. I wish I knew where that was."
"You will know soon enough if you come with me to Dr. Coleman's," replied Mr. Beck. "I have known for some time. I had a little try for it before, and I might have got into trouble, but he was as anxious to hush things up as I was, and more so. I hadn't the key then. I have now."
"But where's the ruby, anyhow?"
"The Kubla Khan ruby," said Mr. Beck slowly, "value half a million, reward five thousand pounds, is in the safe in the far corner of Dr. Coleman's sitting-room or I am very much mistaken."
Mr. Beck was not very much mistaken.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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