Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.


M. MCDONNEL BODKIN

THE LEADEN CASKET

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover©


Ex Libris

First published in Detective Magazine #14, 25 May 1923

Collected in Paul Beck, Detective, Talbot Press, Dublin, 1929

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-12-14

Produced by Paul Moulder, Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

Click here for more books by this author



Cover Image

The Detective Magazine. 25 May 1923, with "The Leaden Casket"


Cover Image

"Paul Beck—Detective,"
Talbot Press, Dublin, 1929, with "The Leaden Casket"


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Illustration

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.




"LISTEN to me," said Dora, "please, Paul, I was wondering about that little casket and what it could be for all the time you were asleep."

The casket was about three inches square and very thick. The lid fitted tight as a cork in a bottle, and there was a little steel ring set in the lead to pull it up by.

"I first saw that little box," began Mr. Beck, taking it in his hand and fiddling with it as he spoke, "in a bedroom in a small cottage in a remote corner of Cornwall. There were two other live people with me in the room, and on the bed lay an old man stone dead, with a revolver in his right hand and a little round hole in his temple."

"Oh, Paul, you are too horrible for words! That's not the kind of story for a day like this."

"Young Dr. Althorpe," he went on, "the only son of the dead man, bent over the bed, his face ghastly pale.

"'Could it be an accident, Beck?' he asked.

"I didn't want to answer. I knew it was no accident, so I parried the question with another:

"'How did it happen? Tell me what you can.'

"His voice was very shaky at first, but it steadied as he spoke.

"'My room, as you know, is at the far end of the cottage from here. About an hour ago I was banged out of a deep sleep by the sound of a shot, or of two shots fired almost together, I cannot say which. I jumped into my trousers and rushed straight to Miss Dartry's door. It is quite close to mine, and I cried out to know if she was safe. She called back "All right," and I rushed on to my father's room and found'—he motioned towards the body that had been his father—'Bert Cordac was here before me, and I sent him off at once for you; that's all.'

"It was little enough. The room that saw the shot fired must tell the rest. I bent over the dead body. The right arm lay limp on the quilt, and the right hand gripped the revolver with a death grip. There seemed no way out of the conclusion. The old man shot himself. As a doctor the son must have known, though he tried to get away from the terrible thought.

"'Could it have been put in his hand afterwards?' he asked.

"'Impossible. See for yourself. The dead fingers would not have closed on it. His own hand held the pistol when the shot was fired; his grip tightened convulsively when he died.'

"'Then it must have been suicide,' he whispered in a tone of absolute horror that took me by surprise. Murder or suicide, which great matter which? His father was dead.

"'Oh, heavens!' he cried in a sudden frenzy. 'It is too bad. The dear old governor!'

"As he bent over to kiss the pale forehead of the dead man, the candlestick slipped from his fingers, the candle went out, and for a moment the room was in pitch darkness.

"When I stooped to grope for the candle, I saw a queer flickering light under the bed, the kind you make by rubbing a phosphorous match on its box without lighting it. You know what I mean. My groping fingers closed on the leaden casket, and I slipped it into my pocket before the candle was relighted. That casket and the queer light from it gave a new turn to my thoughts."

"Oh, stop—stop!" cried Dora impatiently. "You have got me quite mixed up. I don't in the least know who Dr. Althorpe is, or Bart Cordac, or Miss Dartry, though I guess she'll turn out to be pretty. Can't you begin at the beginning, Paul?"

"The best way, my dear, is to start a story in the middle, and find your way back to the beginning.

"The story really begins by a riverside, very like this, only the river was much smaller. I had been fishing all that day, just the kind of sport I love best—a shady stream, a dry fly, and trout from half a pound to a pound; not too many of them, not too few. About two o'clock my basket was half-full, and I felt that I owed myself a good lunch and a smoke, so I made straight for a little dell, when suddenly I noticed a white gleam through the dark green of the trees. There was a young lady reading in my favourite resting-place."

"You turned back, of course?" said his wife mockingly.

"I went on. She didn't see me until I was close up to her. Then she started and jumped to her feet, and I noticed that she was extremely pretty."

"Oh, I guessed that was corning."

"'Dainty' is perhaps a better word," Mr. Beck proceeded deliberately. "She was very like you, Dora, my dear—short and slight and alive all over.

"'I beg your pardon,' I said very humbly. 'I didn't see you at first.'"

"A lie," said Dora.

"Of course, a lie. 'I didn't see you,' I said, 'or I would not have disturbed you on any account. I was fishing on the river, and I generally take my lunch here. Oh, no, please don't go. I shall be mad with myself if I drive you away.'

"I don't suppose you want any details of our picnic?"

"Certainly not!"

"We had a high tea and sat on for an hour afterwards, chatting on all sorts of things. The young lady was as confiding as a seven-year-old child about herself and her belongings. Her father and mother, she told me, had died when she was a baby, and while she could remember, a chap called Simon Althorpe looked after her as guardian. The name was familiar to me as that of a famous scientist, a very rum old chap, by Miss Emma's account of him. He was in a tremendous hurry to be rich, one way or another. He had tried gold-mining in California and diamond-mining in South Africa, and had patented a score of scientific inventions as ingenious as they were unprofitable. All to no purpose. Each year he was poorer than the year before. I guessed from his ward, though she didn't mean me to guess, that most of whatever little fortune she had had was gone in those ventures.

"About four months before we met she and old Althorpe came down together to Cornwall. The old chap was broken up by continuous disappointment, and the doctor said he needed a complete rest. They were lucky to get a nice cottage cheap. There was a nice garden at the back of the cottage, and part of the land was tilled, but at the extreme end was a bare patch of about an acre and a half, covered with heavy stones, on which nothing grew.

"Old Althorpe, it appears, was particularly interested in this part of his estate. He used to potter about on it for hours at a time with a spud on the end of a stick, prodding and rooting. Then after they had been about a week in the cottage something happened. Perhaps I had better tell you in the girl's own words as near as I can remember.

"'Uncle came in to lunch one day in a state of wild excitement, which frightened me. He was always like that when he had some new venture in his mind, but I never saw him quite so wild before. I tried to chaff him out of it. "Have you found a diamond mine, uncle?" I said. He isn't really my uncle, but I called him so. "There are better things than diamonds," he snapped out. "I always told you I would make my fortune." After that I couldn't get a word more out of him; he seemed sorry he had said so much; but a few days later he told me he had made up his mind to buy the cottage and land right out, and he asked me to sign a paper to get my money out of Consols. I am over twenty-one, though you mightn't think it. Since that he and Bart Cordac have been digging up the black stones in the bare field and getting them into a big barn about five hundred yards from the cottage.'

"'Who is Bart Cordac?' I asked. 'Where does he come in?'

"'Oh, he is a hunchback; like the hunchback of Notre-Dame, you know, very ugly and very strong and awfully obliging. Uncle has reared him from a child out of a foundling hospital, and Bart has been with him in many mad expeditions; but this looks the maddest of all. About a fortnight ago he got down a lot of furnaces and machines and bottles and things of that kind from his laboratory in London. He and Bart are at work there all day long. The place is always full of a bad smell and foul smoke.

"'It's an awfully pretty cottage and garden,' Miss Emma said, 'with all kinds of old-fashioned flowers. Will you come to lunch with me there to-morrow? We will have the place to ourselves. Of late, uncle and Bart always take their lunch in the laboratory.'"

"Well, if that wasn't flirting!"

"Wait a bit! Hear what she said next.

"'It will be our last time together, you know, for Philip is coming down from London the day after to-morrow.'

"There was no mistaking the tone of her voice as his name slipped out.

"'Who is Philip, may I ask?'

"'Oh, he is uncle's son, a London doctor, and we are engaged to be married.'

"She stole a shy glance at me as she said it, and then laughed outright. Very likely I did look dismal for a minute.

"'You are a wicked imp,' I said severely, 'leading me to fall head over heels in love with you and then breaking my heart. The worst of it is, I believe that your Philip and myself are old friends.'

"'Why the worst of it?'

"'Because I shall be sorry to have to cut him out.'

"'Oh, be serious, please! Is it true? Do you really know Philip?'

"'Does he play golf?'

"'He used to. Now he attends to his practice. There isn't much to attend to, I'm sorry to say.'

"'A tall man, dark, with small moustache, pleasant-faced, not handsome?'

"'Oh, Mr. Beck, I'm so glad! I say, don't come to lunch to-morrow. Come the day after and meet Philip.'

"We had a dainty little lunch. Miss Emma's cooking was perfection, and we talked gaily while we ate, but, all the same, I could see there was something weighing on the doctor's mind.

"'What is it, old man?' I said when Miss Emma gave us a little while to ourselves and our pipes in the porch. 'There's something troubling you.'

"'It's the governor,' he said. 'I don't know what to make of this new freak of his—digging diamonds in Cornwall. It's worse than that. I mentioned diamonds to him the other day, and he snapped his fingers contemptuously. "There is something better than diamonds to be had," he said, "if a man knows where to find it. Any fool could dig for diamonds." 'Pon my soul, Paul, I believe it is the Philosopher's Stone he's after. He's melting all sorts of things in that furnace he's got down from London. You never saw such a litter as he has made in the big barn. Everything he could rake together has been spent on this new fad. He has borrowed a hundred from me, and I'm afraid he has taken the last of poor little Emma's store to buy this out-of-the-way place. The cottage is very pretty, no doubt, and very comfortable into the bargain. But what the deuce does he want to buy it for? It really looks like madness, and he is as sane as you or I to talk to. I was awfully glad when Emma told me you were here. I wanted someone to advise and help me, and you are the man I would have chosen out of ten thousand.'

"'Good of you to say so. Of course I will be only too glad if I can be of any use.'

"'First I want you to have a peep at the laboratory. Oh, the governor won't mind. He is always as polite as you please to any friend of mine.'

"The door of the improvised laboratory stood wide open, and we could see the two men within hard at work. On one side of the room was a great heap of what looked like coal, but was of a duller black; it hadn't the shininess of coal; and in the other corner there was a smallish pile of lumpy reddish powder. I suppose I should have guessed what the old chap was after, for I had given some study to the subject, but I didn't at the time.

"We had a good long look at the two men inside before they saw us. The old chap was doing something with a spirit-lamp and a retort at a table littered with bottles and instruments. I caught a glimpse of a hatchet face with a big bulging forehead and a very pointed beard.

"The attendant, whom I at once recognised as Bart Cordac, was feeding the furnace, stripped to the waist. His huge shaggy head was sunk somewhat between his shoulders, and his arms were tremendous. I never saw such muscles.

"It chanced that the dwarf turned and saw us standing at the door and stared at us angrily for a moment. Then he must have recognised Philip, for the expression of his face changed of a sudden.

"Miss Emma was right when she said the man was not really ugly. It was a fine, open, kindly face with honest eyes, a face to trust at first sight.

"Cordac called out something to the professor, who stopped his work like a shot, blew out his lamp, and came straight to the door to welcome us. I have seldom met a more urbane, courteous old gentleman. The idea of madness flew at the first sound of his voice.

"'Hello, Philip! I'm so glad you have come!' he cried as he gripped his son's hand. A fool could see that he worshipped him. He was most cordial to me when Philip gave him my name.

"'Charmed to meet you, Mr. Beck. Philip has often spoken of you. You'll dine, of course? I don't suppose this sort of thing interests you much.' He waved a hand, elaborately careless, towards the laboratory. 'Chemistry was always a pet hobby of mine. Perhaps I may make something out of it some time. Philip doesn't think so. Do you, Philip?'

"There was a queer expression on the old man's face as he said this, a kind of furtive triumph that for one second suggested the notion of wildness, only to be rejected the next. He bade me a polite good-bye and went back into the shed.

"Two nights later Philip came over to my place. The first glance at his face told me that something had gone very wrong at the cottage. That old cheerful grin that we used to chaff him about on the golf links, that persisted even when he topped his ball into a bunker, had disappeared. He was pale and miserable-looking as I had never seen him before.

"'Things have come to a climax, Paul,' he said. 'The governor is queerer than ever. To-day he called me into the sitting-room for a sensible talk, he said, and then proceeded to talk unmitigated nonsense. He said that his experiments had succeeded beyond his wildest hopes. It was of me he was thinking all the time. He didn't care at all about himself, and I would the richest man in all England. I could be what I liked and do what I liked. I could marry a duke's daughter. "But——" I began. "I know what you are going to say," cried the governor. "That is mere folly."

"'Just at that precise moment Emma came into the room. She was going out again. I made a motion to her to go, but the governor stopped her. "Stay here, my dear," he said. "Sit down. What I have to say concerns you as well as Philip, and I'm sure you will agree with me. I was telling Philip when you came in that I have made a great discovery—that he is at present the richest man in England, perhaps in the world. Don't open your eyes, girl," he snapped at her irritably. "It's the plain truth." Perhaps he was glad of an excuse to get vexed with her. It helped him through what was to follow. "I told him that he might marry the proudest woman in England, and that I was sure that you would not stand in his way. Have patience for just one moment. I know, of course, that there was some kind of an engagement between you, but that was when he was a struggling doctor, not a multimillionaire."

"'The poor little girl had gone as pale as a ghost. Her lips were trembling to speak when I broke in. I guessed what her reply would be. "I hold her to her word, sir," I cried, "even if all this foolish talk is true." "Foolish talk!" he shouted excitedly, getting red in the face. "It is quite true." "Well, let it be true," I answered, humouring him. "I don't want money. I'll marry Emma whatever happens, and no one but Emma." "If she'll have you," cried the governor in a rage. But there was method in his madness. "If she'll have you," cried the governor in a rage. But there was method in his madness. "If she'll have you, with my curse. I'd sooner shoot myself than see you spoil your chances by such a marriage."

"'Emma had pulled herself together by this. I never saw such a change in a girl. She was no longer the gay little butterfly you know, but a determined woman with that small round chin of hers stuck out defiantly. Her face was pale as ashes, but there wasn't a shake in her voice. "You needn't shoot yourself, uncle," she said. "I swear I will never marry Philip without your full consent." Then, as if she couldn't trust herself any longer, she bolted out of the room, and I could hear her bed-room door slam. The governor, who had risen in his excitement, sank back in his chair, and I am glad to say had the grace to look thoroughly ashamed of himself. He has always been the best of fathers to me, Paul, but I knew we should have a row, the first of our lives, if I stayed where I was, so I got out of the room as quickly as I could and came straight on here. What the blazes am I to do about it? I know Emma; with all that childish face and manner of hers she is as firm as a rock when she thinks she's right, and she'll never go one inch back from her promise.

"'Talk it over with the governor to-night,' I said. 'I believe it will come all right. One can see with half an eye that he dotes on you. If you can convince him that your heart is really set on Miss Emma, that you won't be happy till you get her, you may marry her with his blessing any time you like.'

"After that we had a drink and a smoke and a walk, and a talk about the old man's curious 'delusion,' as we called it—I cannot imagine how I can have been such an ass—and then Philip walked back to the cottage in much better spirits than he had come.

"But that very night Bart Cordac, pale-faced and wild-eyed, came flying through the darkness to call me from my bed with the news that the old man was shot."

"You have got to the spot where you started from," said Dora.

"Exactly. Now it is a straight road to the end. You remember I told you that little leaden casket was the first clue I got. The next thing was to find out if there were two shots or only one. That wasn't so easy. Philip rather thought there had been two, but Miss Emma, who had been wakened by the report, rather thought there was only one, and Bart Cordac, who was nearest the room, agreed with her.

"While I am about it, I may as well say that the poor hunchback seemed almost as cut up as the son by the terrible death of the old man, to whom he had been devoted as a dog to his master.

"I examined the revolver, a six-chamber, all the chambers loaded except one. That seemed to settle the point. To make assurance doubly sure, I searched the room thoroughly next day, and found what I found.

"Little more came out at the inquest than what I have told you. The dead man's watch was in its case beside his bed, and his purse was in his pocket, with a 5 Bank of England note and a deposit note for 75 in Deacon's Bank, Cockspur Street. Beyond the cottage and the piece of ground, that seemed to be the sum total of his worldly wealth. No trace was discovered of the priceless treasure of which he boasted so confidently the day of his death.

"The jury found that he had committed suicide while suffering from temporary insanity. I said nothing to them or to anyone else of the leaden casket, or some other trifling discoveries I had made, and no other verdict was possible on the evidence.

"The day after the inquest I had a long talk with Philip which left the notion of suicide a greater mystery than ever. Philip had taken my advice, and when he had returned to the cottage on the evening of his father's death, he had, as I anticipated, found the old man most reasonable and affectionate and ready to fall in with his wishes.

"'I was wrong,' his father confessed almost at once. 'I was too ambitious for my boy. But I only thought of your happiness, Philip, you know that. Emma is a dear good girl, and I don't doubt that she would keep her word if she were put to it. But if you love her as you say you do, you shall marry her with my consent and blessing, and make her the richest girl in England into the bargain. You believe that, don't you?'

"'It was a ticklish question,' Philip said. 'But what could I do but humour him? So I lied like a trooper and swore I believed it. Then he promised that next morning he would explain everything. But he was glad, he said, that I took his word for it. We parted the very best of friends, and when I next saw him——'

"There was a long pause, and I looked the other way while the poor chap had it out with himself.

"'The worst of it is,' he went on when he had pulled himself together, 'that Emma won't believe me about the governor. She thinks he shot himself to stop our marriage, as he threatened to do. I wish you would have a talk with her, old chap, and try to square things up. She has a great regard for you. The poor little wretch is breaking her heart over the whole business. It will kill her if it goes on as it's going.'

"I had my talk next day. I thought it better that Philip should be in the room at the time. Really, Dora, I was near blubbering myself when I saw the cut of her. I could hardly believe that the limp little woman in black, with sallow, scalded cheeks and swollen eyelids, was the lively little lassie that I had met for the first time a few days before by the riverside.

"But, frail as she looked—and you would think that a puff of wind would blow her away—nothing would stir her from her conviction. Old Althorpe had shot himself, she persisted, to prevent her marrying his son.

"'You don't believe what Philip told you?' I said sharply.

"'Of course I do,' she replied, with a wan little ghost of a smile for her lover. 'Philip couldn't tell anything but the truth.'

"'Then——' I began. But she cut me short.

"'I believe that uncle said it, but I don't believe he meant it. If he meant it, why did he shoot himself, as he threatened to do?'

"Philip couldn't find any answer to this, nor could I at the time. He could only urge that his father was in earnest when he consented to the marriage, whereat she shook her head sadly.

"'Well, anyhow, the governor only objected because I was a multi-millionaire,' Philip said. 'And I'm not. I'm a poor, struggling doctor.'

"But he couldn't stir her one inch from her resolve.

"'Your father shot himself,' she insisted, 'to prevent our marrying. He said I might marry you with his curse.'

"Philip stayed on in the cottage for a while, partly because he was too stunned for any definite plan, and it was the line of least resistance; partly, I think, because I advised it.

"I have spoken of the grief of Philip and Miss Emma. The grief of poor Bart Cordac seemed just as intense. Day after day he wandered aimlessly about from the cottage to the laboratory and back again, like a dog that had lost its master. More than once I saw him, when he didn't see me, stop short and press his hand to his side as if in actual pain.

"I ran up to London for a day and got an eminent surgeon to show me coloured plates of 'the Becquerel scald.' Ever heard of the Becquerel scald, Dora?"

His wife nodded.

"Bart Cordac had never heard of it when I came across him next day, accidentally on purpose, and found him with his hand pressed to his side. I was full of sympathy.

"'You seem to have hurt yourself pretty badly,' I said. 'You had better let the doctor see it.'

"'It is nothing,' he replied. 'Just a slight burn I got a few days ago. It is almost well.'

"'How did you get it?' I asked.

"He hesitated for a moment.

"'In a very foolish way. A box of matches lit somehow in my waistcoat pocket and burned right into the flesh.'

"When I told Philip he insisted on dressing the wound.

"'Poor wretch,' he said. 'He is like the Spartan boy in the story. His grief for my father made him forget his pain.'

"This was not exactly my view, but I said nothing. However, I contrived to be present to lend a hand with the lint when the wound was dressed. It was an ugly, raw, running sore, not a bit like an ordinary burn or scald, and I could see that my friend Philip was not a little puzzled with it; but he looked wise and dressed it with a simple, soothing ointment.

"'My poor fellow,' he said when he had arranged the lint and oil-silk over the ointment and wound a bandage round his waist with the deft, firm touch of a skilled surgeon, 'you must have suffered terribly!'

"'Bad enough,' said the hunchback, drawing a deep breath of relief.

"For me, the first sight of that strange-looking, raw scald was enough. I knew for certain then how Professor Althorpe had met his death, who had killed him, and why.

"'Philip,' I said when we were alone together in his room that night and the house was silent, 'your father did not commit suicide, he was murdered.'

"'Good heavens!' he cried. 'How could that be? You yourself said that his own hand had shot him.'

"'Many things made me suspect. To make quite sure I examined coloured plates of the Becquerel scald with Dr. Strangly at Guy's yesterday. You will remember that Becquerel carried radium in a little glass tube in his waistcoat pocket, and the scald didn't appear for a fortnight afterwards. The radium was in Bart Cordac's pocket only a week ago or less, so he must have got an infinitely stronger dose of it.'

"'Bart Cordac—radium!' muttered Philip, in utter bewilderment.

"'Pull yourself together, man. The black stuff like coal in the laboratory was pitchblend, which your father discovered before he bought the land. The lumpy, reddish powder is the tailing of the pitchblend from which the uranium has been removed, leaving the radium, among other things, behind. I was an ass not to guess it at my first peep into the laboratory, but my suspicions were first aroused when I found this under your father's bed on the night of the murder.'

"I took the little leaden casket from my pocket and put it on the table.

"'You may remember you dropped the candle, and as I stooped to pick it up I saw this shining like phosphorescent paint in the dark, and I guessed at once it must have been in contact with radium. You know, of course, that lead protects the operator. Well, that sent me to examine the laboratory. I tested the "tailing," and I knew enough to know it was tremendously rich in the most precious of all metals. What had he done with the radium? Without doubt he had put it in a bottle and put the bottle in this little lead casket. But who knew it was there? Who had stolen it? Whoever did that murdered your father as a matter of course. For one thing, you were right in thinking there were two shots.'

"I was almost sure I was right. But you remember that there was only one chamber discharged. That staggered me.

"'You may be quite sure there were two chambers discharged. Two chambers were fouled with gunpowder, and four chambers clean. The murderer put the cartridge back into one. There was a box of cartridges on the table, you remember. This is how it happened. I know it as surely as if I had been there.

"'Your father fired the first shot at Cordac as he came into the room. I found a little hole in the woodwork near the door, and dug the bullet out of it. Now can you guess what came next?'

"'In a vague kind of way.'

"'Vague? Why it is as plain as big print. Bart Cordac alone knew the secret of the radium. Bart Cordac came to steal it. Your father must have suspected him, for he kept a pistol under his pillow and fired the moment he saw him. The shot missed, and the powerful brute seized his wrist, forced it back, and made him shoot himself with his own hand. Then he slipped a cartridge into one of the empty chambers of the revolver, got hold of the tube of radium, clapped it into his left waistcoat pocket, and flung the lead casket under the bed, and was ready with innocence, grief, and amazement when you came rushing into the room. Bart Cordac murdered your father and stole the radium just as sure as you didn't.'

"I had meant to stop there. In point of fact, I had nothing more to say. But at that moment I heard a slight noise at the door in the outside darkness that made my blood run cold. It was very slight. Philip heard nothing. But I have the ears, as you know, of a hunted hare, and I knew on the instant what the noise was. It was the click of a revolver cautiously raised to full cock. The door was unlocked, and we were unarmed.

"With a wrench of my will I held my nerves and voice steady, and went on without a pause to tell the only lie that could save us.

"'I sent a full description and detailed evidence,' I said, 'to Scotland Yard by registered letter yesterday. The scoundrel cannot possibly escape.'

"There was a loud explosion that seemed to shake the walls of the cottage, and a heavy fall at the door. Philip jumped to his feet.

"'It is all right,' I said. 'Bart Cordac has shot himself outside the door. It was touch and go that he didn't shoot us instead. Come along! We must look alive and get him out of the way before Miss Emma is down to see what has happened.'

"He was stone dead, shot through the right temple. We had just time to lug him into the bathroom and clasp the door before Miss Emma, in a white dressing-gown, came rushing down the passage. Philip stopped her before her trailing white gown caught the pool of blood on the floor, and together we got her into the sitting-room.

"'Pull yourself together, darling,' he said. 'Something terrible has happened.'

"'You are safe, and Paul?'

"'Quite safe,' I interposed cheerily, 'and nothing terrible has happened. Philip's father didn't commit suicide. Bart Cordac murdered him, and the murderer has just committed suicide.'

"'Philip's father didn't commit suicide?' she repeated slowly. 'Oh, I am so glad! It was breaking my heart to think I was the cause.' She smiled for the first time since the old man's death, a timid little smile. 'Forgive me, Philip,' she said as she put her hand in his. And I knew it was all right.

"Then a sudden thought hit me hard.

"'The radium,' I explained. 'The radium is lost. The man who hid it is dead. For your father's sake we must try to find it; but I'm afraid it will be searching for a needle in a bundle of hay. The ruffian may have buried it.'

"'Well, we can't search for it to-night, anyway,' Philip said, still smiling. 'Get back to your warm bed, Emma, as quickly as you can. We will all get back to our beds. I suppose there must be an inquest on that hound. He has saved the hangman a job. We will have a look round for your radium in the morning.'

"Next morning, in the clear daylight, the job seemed more hopeless than ever. It was such a small thing, and might be hidden anywhere within a radius of miles.

"'If we cannot find it in the cottage or laboratory,' I said, 'we may as well give it up. I vote we search the laboratory first. The scoundrel spent most of his time there.'

"We went down to the laboratory, all three, and looked round us vacantly, not knowing how or where to begin. There were a million places in that big room where it might lie hidden. The heap of black pitchblend on one side, and the red tailings on the other, the hundreds and hundreds of bottles on the shelves, the thick walls, the wide clay floor.

"'It is quite hopeless,' cried Philip.

"'It isn't,' I retorted. 'It may be hopeless by daylight. Let us try the dark.'

"Miss Emma turned sharply round to see if I were jesting; but Philip, I think, jumped at my meaning. He helped me to close the heavy doors, stop the key-holes, and hang sacks in front of the windows. Every ray of light was barred out. The place should have been pitch dark, but it wasn't.

"Round the heaps of tailings there played a light, vapoury, wavering flame, and there was a fainter light over the pile of pitchblend. One of the biggest bottles on the shelves glowed like a shaded lamp.

"I went straight to it, guided by its own light. It was a big round bottle, nearly a foot in diameter, full of some fine white powder. The glass of the bottle was quite warm to the touch.

"'Open the windows, Phil!' I shouted excitedly. 'I have found it!'

"Clearing a space on the broad shelf, I emptied out the white powder, and in the very centre of it I found a tiny bottle nearly full of coarse, yellowish salt, which I held up in triumph.

"'Radium!' I cried. 'Pure chloride of radium! Hands off, Miss Emma! It's not safe. It's a pack of artillery firing off millions of bullets at the speed of a hundred thousand miles a second!'

"I clapped the bottle back into the lead casket, and passed it over to Paul.

"'It's the dearest thing in the known world,' I said. 'Diamonds are sea-shore pebbles in comparison. There is nearly an ounce of radium in that bottle, and I doubt if there is twice as much outside. Your father was right, Phil. The price will run into millions. You won't know what to do with your wealth.'

"'Don't you fret about that,' he answered, drawing Miss Emma close."

"Well?" asked Dora after a pause.

"That's the end of the story," said Beck. "Of course, they got married. While on his honeymoon, Phil sent me a cheque. 'A pinch of radium,' he called it. That 'pinch of radium,' my dear, bought the house we live in, with garden and grounds, and left a bit of money over for emergencies."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.