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First published in The Royal Magazine, March 1907
in the series "The Quests of Paul Beck"

Collected in The Quests of Paul Beck,
T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1908

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-11-09

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"The Quests of Paul Beck,"
with "The Voice from the Dead"



M. McDonnell Bodkin

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.



IT may be objected that among all these stories there is no record of failure on the part of Mr Beck. The incredulous question will be asked: Was he always successful? The answer may be given in a confidential whisper; he was not; nearly always, not quite. But only his successes are published because the details are largely derived from after-dinner chats with the unconscious Mr Beck himself. Like other people less famous he did not like to talk much about his failures. Besides, it would be hardly fair to put them into print if he did. There is another reason stronger still. Failures make dull stories. To anyone who has read his adventures it must be plain that Mr Beck is not devoid of that natural, unaffected vanity which is one of the most agreeable of social qualities because it is so conducive to good humour. He was surprised, but he did not even pretend to be displeased, when he found himself famous. He was frankly delighted at the popularity his adventures obtained, not merely in Great Britain and Ireland, but in France, Germany and Sweden, where they have been translated and published in sixpenny editions. It is with his express permission that the following stories are told. "They are too flattering," he said, and, unlike other people who say that, he meant it. It will be for the readers to judge if he was right.


PLAINLY Mr Beck was just about to start on a journey. Piled together in the middle of his study floor were a bulging Gladstone bag, strapped and locked, an overcoat, a travelling-rug, a salmon rod, a trout rod, and a fishing-basket.

He looked up over his shoulder from his desk, where he was finishing a letter. "You might fetch a hansom, Burns," he said to his factotum, who was putting his things together.

"Yes, sir," said Burns, and started for the door.

Then the telephone bell rang in its little glass closet in the corner of the room.

"See to that, Burns. Tell whoever it is that I have gone off to the country. It's only anticipating the truth by a minute or so."

"Yes, sir."

"Halloa! Are you there? Yes; are you there?"—the usual interchanges went on.

"Yes," Mr Beck heard Burns say. "No; gone away to the country, left no address. Cannot be done. I tell you it's impossible."

"Well?" asked Mr Beck.

"Must see you, sir. I said you had left no address. Says someone must know where you are. Most important."

"They all say that if a teaspoon is stolen."

"She says it's a matter of life and death," said Burns.

"She?" Mr Beck got up from his chair.

"Yes, sir; a lady's voice, particular clear and most distinct, sir."

A smile wrinkled Burns' face as he made way for his master at the telephone.

It was a lady's voice that spoke—a very pleasant voice despite the metallic twang of the instrument.

"Mr Beck? Is it really! Oh! I'm so glad. I knew I should find you. I want you here at once. Yes, Ringwood Castle; you know Simon Rutherford—he has been missing for two days. Yes, we have searched everywhere. I'm his daughter, his only child, Josephine Rutherford. Do please come at once. Oh! thanks ever so much."

"Burns," said Mr Beck, ruefully turning from the telephone, "you may put those rods back. I'm not going fishing—for fish."

"But I thought, sir——"

"Never mind what you thought. Go and call a hansom and put the bag in it. I'll catch the 10.40 if you look sharp."

THE case was important. Simon Rutherford, the millionaire, had vanished out of the palace he had built for himself on the slope of a sunny hill amid embowering trees—vanished from the midst of an army of attendants. "Here," thought Mr Beck, as he leant back in the first-class carriage of the train that he had caught with a second to spare, "is a problem worth solving." The pleasant voice that called to him for help through the telephone made the problem more exciting.

A small electric motor waited for him at the station and bowled him along a broad, smooth road to Ringwood Castle.

For half its length the avenue of chestnut trees, which were huge cones of flower, ran up a steep incline. At a curve Mr Beck caught sight of the Castle, and was startled by its magnificence. Mr Rutherford, when he purchased the estate from the impoverished Lord Hazelton, had pulled down the crazy family mansion and had built Ringwood Castle on its site. He was fortunate in his architect and in his own supreme ignorance of architecture. The stately building of grey stone, with towers massive yet graceful, that rose above the tallest of the trees, crowned the hill superbly, and harmonised with the surrounding landscape.

The motor wheeled like a swallow on the wing, and left Mr Beck at the door.

A girl waited for him in the hall and captured him the moment he appeared. A tall girl, with the figure of Diana, and gold hair coiled like a crown on her shapely head.

"So glad you've come!" she cried impetuously, as she led him along the corridor to a spacious room that looked out through a French window on the garden. The room might have been mistaken for a bachelor's "den" but for its neatness and the absence of tobacco.

There were golf clubs, and tennis racquets and fishing rods. But there was also a couple of bookcases with rows of standard books in honest, workaday binding, meant for use not show. The place, with its light wicker chairs and its spindle-shanked tables, was neat as a captain's cabin.

"Sit down there," the girl said, pushing a comfortable chair to Mr Beck, "and let me introduce myself. I'm Josephine Rutherford, only daughter of the man who has vanished. I sent for you because I needed you horribly."

Mr Beck smiled. His eyes swept the room at one glance, and lighted on a man seated in a low chair at the corner furthest from the door.

"That's Mr Herbert Ross, M.P. He knows who you are. I don't mean to keep any secrets from you, Mr Beck. Mr Ross and I are engaged to be married."

Mr Beck had already guessed her secret as he summed up the man at a glance. Tall—so far as could be judged from the loose stretch of his long limbs as he lay back in his low chair—handsome, too, after a fashion; a dark, intelligent, keen face alive with intense earnestness—the face of a man not easily to be baulked in anything he had set his heart on.

His dark eyes searched the face of the detective, who nodded and smiled at the introduction.

"Mr Ross belongs to what I have to say, Mr Beck," Miss Rutherford went on. "I'll say it as quick as I can, because I may be interrupted.

"We met first—Mr Ross and myself—when he came down here to contest the seat against father and won it. I went to one of his meetings and liked his speech immensely. We met afterwards and became friends, and to make a long story short he liked me, and we got engaged to be married. Father was furious. Herbert is poor, of course—he is a barrister in London and hasn't much practice yet.

"But it was not that so much which made father mad. He never could forgive one who had thwarted him, and he had set his heart on a seat in Parliament, so Herbert was forbidden the house.

"I was ordered not to write to him, an order to which I didn't pay the least attention. About a week later a young widow—at least, she said she was a widow—was brought down here to be a companion to me. You will see Lucy Lalladay presently, so I won't say a word that might prejudice you against her. I didn't like her, I may say that much, but father did immensely. He could do nothing without consulting her—had her constantly in his study, where I was never allowed, and later went on pleasure trips to London with her. He was infatuated with her——" She broke off suddenly.

"Mr Beck, I am as certain as I can be that this wretched woman is at the bottom of his disappearance."

"But you have told me nothing yet about his disappearance, Miss Rutherford," said Mr Beck, ignoring the sudden onslaught on the widow.

"Oh! there is very little to tell. Father had just come home from a trip with this woman—the way she made eyes at him was disgusting! The next afternoon he was in the study alone with Mr Mark Strangley, his private secretary. Mr Strangley had left the room for a few moments, and when he came back my father had disappeared. Mr Strangley thought little about it at the time.

"There is a glass door opening on the lawn, and he fancied perhaps father had gone out for a stroll. But when father didn't come in to dinner we had a search made for him through the grounds. It was no use. Then there was another surprise. That woman confessed that they had been married a week ago in London by special licence, and pretended to go into hysterics, to make matters worse. Well, we had a farther search next day, but still no sign; so——"

"You sent for me," said Mr Beck. "Anything more?"

"Oh, yes! There is another thing most important. Herbert comes to see me, of course, whenever he can spare time from his work in London—sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the evening. He was seen about the place. He is well known, and there have been whispers."

"Not to put too fine a point on it, Mr Beck," spoke up Herbert Ross from his corner, "I am strongly suspected of having murdered Mr Simon Rutherford."

"Father is not dead," persisted the daughter; "no one would kill him except that woman, and she couldn't if she wanted to. You will find him for us, Mr Beck?"

"I will try," said Mr Beck.

"Would you like to see the study now?"

"Why, certainly, but I would like just one word more with you before we go. What kind of man is this secretary? I can guess what you think of Mrs Lalladay, or I should say Mrs Rutherford"—the daughter winced at the name, but Mr Beck did not seem to notice. "Now I want to know what you think of Mr Mark Strangley?"

"Oh! he is a good sort enough; not too clever perhaps, but honest and straight as a die. For the first few days after she came I thought he was going to fall in love with the widow, but he soon found her out. Afterwards he used to laugh at her with me, and was almost as indignant as myself at the way she played upon father's folly. He even spoke to him about it, and was sharply told to mind his own business. It was Mark—Mr Strangley I mean—that advised me to telephone for you."

Again Mr Herbert Ross spoke straight out from his corner. "I have seen Mark Strangley only three times," he said, "and I believe him to be a thoroughpaced scoundrel. Well, well, Joe," good-humouredly but firmly withal to the girl, who was about to protest, "we are not likely to agree on this point. Time may tell who's right."

Then to Mr Beck very courteously: "I have heard of you, sir, in many quarters and always in high praise. I am glad you have come. If any man living can unravel this mystery it is you. Goodbye, Joe. I cannot stay here, you know. I have taken a room at the Star and Anchor. It's not a quarter of a mile off, Mr Beck, and I will come at a word if you want me."

The two lovers stood for a moment together at the door. Mr Beck happened to be busy with a note-book at the moment and did not look up till the girl spoke to him again.

Something of the life and buoyancy was gone out of her voice and face when her lover left.

"You would like to see the study now?"

The study was a wide, airy room on the right of the hall, with a great, ebony roll-top American desk in the centre. The floor was of polished oak, with no rug or carpet to mar the rich, glossy expanse. The walls, painted a rich maroon, made an effective background for masterpieces of Romney, Gainsborough, and Reynolds—high-waisted, full-bosomed beauties, simpering seductively.

Other ornament there was none. An electric foot-warmer cushioned in furs was under the comfortable arm-chair at the desk, an electric cigar-lighter was at the writer's elbow, electric lamps—standard and suspended—were everywhere. There were half a dozen phonographs in the room, each perched on a little table of its own with high rubber castors that glided at a touch over the polished floor.

On the left of the desk was the door from the hall; to the right a large French window looked upon the lawn. Facing the writer as he sat at his desk was a huge safe ten feet square, painted, like the walls, a dark maroon, with polished brass handles.

It was the first thing that took Mr Beck's attention. He walked straight to it and tried the handle.

"Locked," said Miss Josephine; "my father had the key when he disappeared. Oh! is that you, Mark; how quietly you come in! Mr Beck, this is my father's secretary, Mr Strangley, who asked me to send for you."

Mr Beck's genial smile expressed his gratitude while his keen eyes studied Mr Mark Strangley.

It was an easy book to read. The figure of an athlete, clean and strong, a handsome face, blue-eyed, flaxen-haired, not too clever, and boyish for his age, which might be thirty. This was Mark Strangley as Mr Beck first saw him.

"Glad to see you, sir," he said, with hearty welcome, as he took Mr Beck's hand in a firm grasp. "I'm glad for Miss Rutherford's sake, for all our sakes, that you have come."

Miss Rutherford seemed to hesitate for a moment. "Perhaps I'd better leave you two alone," she said.

Plainly she wanted to be asked to stay, but Mr Beck did not ask her. On the contrary, he gallantly held the door open for her.

"You will find me in my own room when you want me," she said as she passed out.

"A charming young lady," said Mr Beck when the door had closed.

"A queen," said Mr Strangley, in accents of undisguised adoration; "I pity her from the bottom of my heart."

"But why pity?"

"First for the loss of her father, then—Oh! come in"—impatiently.

There had come a timid tap to the door. As it opened softly Mr Strangley's impatience changed to deferential welcome. "Mrs Lalladay," he said very gently, "I beg pardon, I should say Mrs Rutherford; this is Mr Beck, the famous detective, of whom you have heard me speak."

Mr Beck, turning round, saw the most lovely woman he had ever looked at. All the old-fashioned similes were wanted to describe her: cheeks like the rose-leaf, eyes blue as the violet, hair like fine gold, alive with wave and curl. She was small, but of figure marvellously erect, lithe, delicately poised as a fairy. The winsome little lady was dressed all in black, plain, close-fitting black—a perfect foil to her rare beauty.

She divided an appealing smile between the two men.

"Is there any news?" she asked. The question was to Mr Strangley, but Mr Beck was not excluded.

"None yet," Mark Strangley answered, "but we must not despair. While there's life there's hope, you know. If any man living can find your husband Mr Beck can and will."

"Oh, I'm so glad!" She looked Mr Beck full in the eyes, and then gave him her hand impulsively—a white, shapely, firm little hand. As usual, his kindly face induced confidence. "They say I didn't love my husband," she complained, "because he was older than I; that I married him for his money; but it's false. I couldn't help his leaving everything to me—could I? But I loved him for himself alone, and now that I have lost him my heart is broken. We had a little quarrel that morning. I spoke in favour of his daughter and vexed him. He left me in anger, and I may never see him again." The violet eyes were bright with tears, but she held them back bravely. "I will give you everything I have in the world if you find him for me."

Beauty in distress always appealed to Mr Beck.

"There is no use meeting trouble half-way," he said kindly. "Reward or no reward, you may be sure I'll find him if I can." He did not add "for your sake," but it was plain from his tone that he meant it.

A fleeting blush showed she knew he meant it. "I won't keep you from your work," she said. "I wish you all good luck and Godspeed."

Mark Strangley held the door open for her as she went out.

Mr Beck's eyes were on his face. "If that man is not in love with the widow," Mr Beck thought, "he is a very fine actor."

"Let us get to work," he said briskly, when the door closed. "There has been already too much delay."

"Won't you have lunch first?"

"No, work first, if you please—lunch later. How long were you out of the room when he disappeared?"

"About five minutes, not more."

"Could he not have gone out by the same door that you went by?"

"Impossible. He would have to pass through the room where I was looking for a paper he sent me for."

"Then he must have gone out through the glass door?"

"So it would seem, unless he went up the chimney."

Mr Beck did not resent the sneer. "Yes," he said, "it seems quite obvious, but one cannot afford to take even the obvious for granted."

He had opened the glass door and looked out. The path ran in full view for at least a quarter of a mile.

"If he had gone that way you must have seen him when you returned," he said to Mr Strangley, who had come up to the door and looked through over his shoulder.

"Unless he had turned in on the grass, past that clump of trees to the right," Strangley answered.

"Quite so," said Mr Beck, approvingly. "I expected you to say just that. I wonder is it too late to find any sign? Come along!"

BENDING low he scrutinised the edge of the pathway closely as he walked. Twice he found a break in the clean-cut edge, examined it carefully and went on. The third time he found the mark of one of the new-fashioned round rubber heels in the turf. The ground had been soft when the mark was made—it was hard now. The segment of the circular heel was cut deep and clear.

"Mr Rutherford wore rubber heels," he said to the other, rather as one who makes a statement than one who asks a question.

Strangley nodded. Mr Beck was on his knees on the grass sward with a magnifying glass close to the ground. He put the grass softly aside as a surgeon parts the hair to examine a scalp wound.


Mr Beck was on his knees on the grass sward
with a magnifying glass close to the ground.

"Was Mr Rutherford a heavy man?"

Mr Strangley did not hear him at first, and he repeated the question. "Well, no, he was rather light and wiry, but he had big feet, if that's what you mean."

"Right," said Mr Beck, "here is a full footmark."

He got up from his knees and walked on briskly, picking up the trail as if it were the "scent" of a paper-chase, though Strangley's eyes could find only a few vague marks amongst the grass. The track skirted the woods and led them to the banks of a deep, dumb river that ran slowly, level with its brim. Along the banks of the river the track led them for about a mile, tending always away from the house.

Under the shelter of a clump of beech Mr Beck stopped short and began to cast about like a sporting dog that makes a dead set, weakens on it when he finds the bird has just left, and begins beating cautiously again. He examined every mark about the place with scrupulous care, went on about twenty yards to where the river was crossed by a new iron bridge, and walked a little with bent head on the further side. Mr Strangley watched him curiously all the time, till he came back at last to the place where he had first pointed his game, and looked fixedly at the water.

Then very quietly he said to Mr Strangley: "Mr Rutherford's body is out there, under the water."

Mr Strangley gasped, and no wonder; the colour left his face. He gazed at Mr Beck dumbfounded.

"Sure?" he asked at last in a frightened whisper.

"As sure as you and I are on the banks he is under the water. We can do no more at present. Let us get back now and have that lunch you spoke about. After lunch we will drag the river and bring the body home."

They walked in silence by the water's edge back to the house. In the midst of the brightness of the fair scene and sunshine, of green leaf and singing birds, they were haunted by the tragedy hidden by the dark water of the deep stream that moved so stealthily under the trees.

"Say nothing to the ladies," whispered Mr Strangley, as they went back through the French window, "until you are quite sure."

"I am quite sure," replied Mr Beck, "but I shall say nothing."

HIS certainty was justified. Out of the dark depths of the river, at the very spot he pointed to, the men fished up the draggled body of Mr Rutherford, millionaire. The pockets of the dead man's coat bulged with stones. A horrid sight the body was as it lay there on the soft grass under the trees, while the moving boughs let the sunshine trickle through, and the birds sang unconscious of the horror.

Again Mr Strangley's first kindly thought was for the women.

"We must get him quietly to the house."

Mr Beck nodded.

"Have the coroner sent for," he added; "we should have the inquest to-morrow."

The body was composed in decent state, the staring eyes closed, the grey hands crossed over the breast, before his wife and daughter were told of the ghastly discovery.

Mr Beck watched them closely as they came, one after the other, into the room with the dead.

The daughter made no display of violent grief. She moved softly to the bedside and kissed the poor, clammy forehead with a kiss that seemed to have in it as much of forgiveness as of affection. She knelt for a moment at the bedside and went out quietly as she entered.

The widow, on the other hand, was distraught. "I loved him, I loved him," she cried continuously, "and now I shall never see him again. It was I drove him to it. I was unkind to him. I am his murderess."

From the first she assumed he had committed suicide, and the jury's verdict justified her instinct.

They found the customary verdict with the charitable addition, "during temporary insanity."

MR BECK'S work was done, but he remained a day or two at the special invitation of the widow, who, when the first paroxysm of her grief was passed, was lavish in childlike admiration and gratitude.

"But for you," she exclaimed, "we should never have found him. My life would have passed in a long agony of suspense. Horrible as the truth is the suspense would have been more horrible. He would never have lain in consecrated ground. I could never have watered his grave with my tears."

Not she alone, but all the neighbourhood were full of wonder and admiration at the skill with which the detective went straight to the root of the mystery.

There was one exception—Miss Joe Rutherford was not in the least enthusiastic. If Mr Beck expected congratulations from her when she summoned him to her bachelor's den he was disappointed.

He found her standing at the great bow window, and before she turned had time to admire the grace of that tall, pliant figure clear against the evening light. He noticed as she turned that the comely face was pale, and the eyelids red with weeping.

"Sit down," she said abruptly. "I suppose I ought to thank you, but I cannot. The thing you have done is very clever and all that. But what does it come to? You have found the body, but you have not found the cause of death."

"The coroner's jury have found that," replied Mr Beck, innocently, "as was their business, and they have found it to be suicide."

"I don't believe it; I don't believe a word of it. Do you?"

The question was a sharp home-thrust—the frank eyes looked straight in his.

But Mr Beck never winced.

"I don't see what other verdict the jury could find," he answered slowly. "The body was in the water; the footprints leading to the river were made by the boots on his feet; the doctor testified that he died of suffocation; there were no external marks on the body, except that the nails and knuckles were bruised and torn, but bruised knuckles and nails don't kill a man."

"How were they bruised and torn?"

"How can I tell? The coroner and the coroner's jury could not tell that. How can I?"

"Oh, I thought that you clever detectives knew everything."

He spread out his big hands deprecatingly like a clumsy Frenchman.

"My dear young lady, did I ever pretend to be clever, did I now? We detectives are like children with puzzle alphabets. We pick up letters here and there and try to get them in their proper order to spell out a word or two. Don't smack me if I cannot get the letters right at first. I'm doing my best all the time."

Something in the contagious good-humour of the man captured her.

Her face lightened with a smile. "Forgive me," she said, "I'm an ungrateful, selfish thing. I know you did your best—and more than anyone else could do. I'm worried—you mustn't mind me. I suppose you heard that father left all he died possessed of to his widow? Mr Strangley drew the will and witnessed it, and never said a word, and he pretended to be fond of me. Oh, the cur! I'm sure it was she put him up to it."

"Do you stay on here?" Mr Beck asked sympathetically.

"Do I stay here! As if I would stay an hour longer than I could help under the same roof with that woman. I wouldn't take a crust of bread or a glass of water from her if I was starving and it was to save my life. There is an animal in India Kipling wrote about that knows a snake the first time it sees one, and wants to kill it. I feel just like that."

"She speaks most kindly of you."

"Of course she does. Aren't snakes always slimy? She came gushing to me here. She said we were sisters in sorrow—'let us weep together on his tomb.' I answered her pretty plainly."

"I'll warrant you did," said Mr Beck under his breath.

"But I could not vex her. Nothing I could say would vex her. She was most loving to the very last. She—she wanted to kiss me." There was a break in her voice as she said it, but not even Mr Beck could say whether it was laughter or tears. "I am going away this evening," she went on calmly.


"Anywhere out of this."

"Don't go this evening. I'm staying over tonight. I may want you to-morrow."

"But," she began, but her eyes met Mr Beck's, grave, determined, all the smile gone from his face.

"I'll stay," she said, "if you wish it."

His finger went suddenly to his lips commanding silence. Then he pointed to the door.

His ears were quicker than hers, for after a long silence there came a gentle, timid knock.

Mr Beck turned the handle and opened the door, but he stepped aside as the young widow, more lovely than ever, more delicately spirituelle in her widow's weeds, came softly in.

The detective watched the high comedy of the meeting with quiet interest and amusement.

"I have returned," cooed the widow, softly, with hands stretched out in sweet entreaty.

"So I see," answered the girl, with implacable coldness. "May I ask why?"

"Oh! Josephine, Josephine!" cried the other, plaintively, "why will you reject my love? I want to be a sister to you."

"Look here, Mrs Lalladay, if that's your name, what's the use of telling these lies to me when you know I don't believe them; when you know that I know you hate me just as much as I hate you, and that's enough? You managed to get between my father and myself. His eyes were blinded; mine are not. I know you from your heel to your top-knot. You have got all his money. You have robbed me of that. Cannot you be satisfied? Why must you worry me as well?"

"Why will you speak in this cruel way?"

"You want to get rid of me. Well, I am going to-morrow."

"I thought you said to-night."

The widow did not seem delighted at the change.

Joe Rutherford smiled scornfully.

"Mr Beck asked me to stay till to-morrow to have his company to London."

"I'm so glad," gushed the widow, correcting her mistake, "you have changed your mind. Tomorrow I may persuade you to prolong your stay. Good-bye, dearest; good-bye, Mr Beck, I am very grateful to you too."

"You may have reason to be," Mr Beck said to himself as she left the room.

"Miss Rutherford," he added aloud when the door was closed, "I would advise you to telegraph for Mr Ross. I may have some startling news for you to-morrow. By the way, could you lend me an alarm clock? You are an open-air, early-rising young lady, likely to have one. Thanks! No, no, I answer no questions until to-morrow. I never speak till I am quite sure."

THE greater part of the night Mr Beck spent in the dead man's study with the doors locked and no company but the pictures, the great safe and the phonographs.

Mr Strangley thought he heard loud shouting in the room, and came out in his pyjamas to reconnoitre. Mr Beck opened the door to his knocking.

"Thought I heard shouting," Strangley said; "did you hear anything?"

"Nothing louder than my own voice," Mr Beck returned, smiling.

"Why the deuce didn't you go to your bed?" Strangley asked. "What are you doing here?"

"Thinking," Mr Beck answered gravely. "I am pretty nearly done."

"Well, good luck, anyway. I'm off."

Next morning, when the two men were breakfasting alone, by Mr Beck's special request, in the spacious study, Strangley reverted to the incident of the night before.

"Twopence for your thoughts, Beck," he said laughingly; "what were you pondering over last night?"

"The Rutherford mystery," Mr Beck answered gravely.

For a moment the other seemed taken quite aback by this unexpected reply.

"But there is no mystery now," he objected; "the puzzle has been solved, thanks to you, old man; a commonplace suicide after all."

"I'm not so sure of that," Mr Beck answered. "The evidence doesn't show how he got to the water."

"There were his own footprints leading straight to the bank."

"The footprints were heavier than so light a man could make. Besides, I found close to the place the faint trace of a stockinged foot. What if the murderer, wearing the dead man's boots, had carried the corpse on his back to the river and changed the boots to the dead man's feet before he threw it in?"

Mr Strangley grew pale at the horrible suggestion. "But the man was drowned, suffocated," he stammered.

"He was suffocated," Mr Beck answered, "but was he drowned? There was no water found in the lungs, and then the hands were bruised and torn as if the wretched man, trapped in a living tomb, had beaten them in vain against the iron wall." Mr Beck's voice shook with the horror of his own imagining.

His companion was strangely affected. His face was ghastly, his eyes staring. He wiped a clammy forehead with a trembling hand. He seemed listening for some terrible sound.

It came! In the long pause suddenly it came.

There was quick beating of hands against the door of the great iron safe, and a faint cry of "Help! Help!" was heard, stifled and strangled by the iron walls.

Then Mark Strangley lost all self-control. "The dead speaks!" he cried, "the dead speaks! I will confess! I will confess! I murdered him! As he stood at the safe I thrust him in and slammed the door and locked it. That night I carried the body to the river. I murdered him—she enticed me to it. She had married him for his money; she hated him; she swore she would marry me when he was dead!"

The sudden opening of the door cut short his confession. The widow dashed into the room, not soft and gentle now, but tense with rage. The fury of the wild cat—fierce, untamable—flamed from her eyes.

"You lie, you coward!" she screamed, "you coward and fool! If you murdered my husband you shall hang. I know nothing of it."

"Did you not urge me to it?"

"Never! Never!"

"And promise to marry me when he was dead?"

"Marry you, you wretched fool and craven!"

There was an infinite contempt in her voice which stung him to the quick.

"You shall pay for this," he cried, "though I hang for it!"

"Do your worst, fool—do your worst! You have no scrap of writing of mine, no particle of proof. You are the murderer—you cannot turn King's evidence. I know that much law. No one will believe your lies. I defy you! I defy you!" She pointed a small, white finger at him and laughed derisively. "I defy you, and your wise detective, and that great, stupid ploughman-girl—curse her! I defy you all!" She turned to Beck. "I don't care a farthing whether you hang that fool there or not. I have the will. Everything is mine."

Hereupon in his turn Mark Strangley broke into loud, derisive laughter.

"If I hang, my lady, you will starve!" he cried. "You know the law, do you? Then you know that the will was revoked by marriage. You revoked it yourself when you married the man you murdered. The will is not worth the paper it is written on."

There was a ring of truth in the man's savage triumph.

The woman glared like a wild beast trapped—ready to bite and claw.

She turned again to Mr Beck.

"Is that true?"

"Quite true."

With a snarl she sprang like a wild cat on Strangley. A knife leapt out and flashed in the sunlight as she plunged it once, twice in his heart. Before Mr Beck could interfere she turned the red, smoking blade on her own breast, and sank beside her victim on the floor.


Before Mr Beck could interfere she turned
the red, smoking blade on her own breast.

At that moment there came a knocking at the door.

Mr Beck rushed to turn the key in the lock.

"Who's there?" he called out.

"It's I, Joe Rutherford. You said you would have exciting news for me."

"I have. The mystery is solved, the tragedy ended," answered Mr Beck, through the closed door. "You shall know all later."

A month later he told the strange story in detail to Joe Rutherford, heiress, and Herbert Ross, her affianced husband.

"I was right," whispered the girl, with pale lips. "I knew the woman was the murderess. I am sorry for poor Strangley."

"He got his deserts. He was the viler of the two," retorted Ross, fiercely.

"But how came that voice?" queried the girl. "How came that voice from the dead to force him to confess? Did he imagine it was a real voice he heard?"

"It was very real," replied Mr Beck. "The night before I prepared that little surprise for him. I set a phonograph in the safe with an alarum clock to start it at the right moment. I worked up to the crowning horror. I guessed the voice from the dead would drag a confession from the murderer, and I was right."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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