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First published in Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, 12 Sep 1908

Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, 31 October 1908 (this version)

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Version Date: 2021-03-13
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THAT was all the telegram said; and, apart from the fact that Sir Otto Trevelyan, of Mostyn Manor, in Surrey, was one of the best-known financial magnates in the City of London, that was all that Sexton Blake knew of the case when he left his rooms in Baker Street and drove to Waterloo.

It was then half-past seven in the morning. An hour later he reached Mostyn, where Sir Otto's motor met him at the station. By a quarter to nine he was at the Hall, a fine old Tudor mansion, surrounded by an extensive park.

Sir Otto, pale and distracted, was awaiting him in the library.

"I thought you weren't coming!" he exclaimed, seizing the detective by the hand, and dragging him into the room. "I've been robbed of a document worth a hundred thousand pounds! My secretary, who apparently surprised the thief, has been shot and is now unconscious. The police, of course, have the matter in hand; but I've no faith in these rural police so I sent for you. Find the thief and recover the stolen document before it falls into He hands of old Picot—for he's at the bottom of the business, I'll swear—and I'll pay you any fee—"

The detective interrupted him with an impatient gesture.

"We can discuss the question of fee afterwards." he said. "At present we are merely wasting time. Pray calm yourself, and begin at the beginning, and tell me what has happened."

"If I am to begin at the beginning," said Sir Otto, "I must tell you that I have large financial interests in Peru. Another firm, with equally large interests in that country, is the well-known financial firm of Picot et Fils, of Paris. Between their firm and mine there has been for many years the keenest commercial rivalry, amounting, in the case of old Picot and myself, to something in the nature of a bitter personal feud.

"About six months ago I sent an expert over to Peru to inspect and report on certain properties which had been offered to me. His confidential report, written in Spanish, reached London yesterday. I do not wish to weary you with details; so I will simply say that if that report falls into the hands of Picot et Fils before noon to-morrow, the result will be a loss to me and my firm of at least a hundred thousand pounds.

"I glanced through the report at my office in London, and brought it home with me last evening. I sat up until after midnight reading it; then I locked it up in a small safe in my study an I went to bed."

"Excuse my interrupting you," said Sexton Blake. "How many persons knew you had brought the report home with you?"

"Two," said Sir Otto. "My confidential clerk, in London, and my private secretary, a young fellow named Percival, who lives here."

"At six o'clock this morning," he continued, "I was roused by one of the servants with the startling news that the study window had been broken open during the night, the lock of the safe had been picked, and the unconscious form of my secretary had been found lying outside the study window. He had evidently heard a suspicious noise in the study, had come down to investigate, had surprised the thief at work, and had jumped out of the window after him.

"The burglar had then apparently fired at him, for there was a wound on the side of his head, which the doctor declares must have been caused by a revolver-shot fired at close quarters. Fortunately, the bullet did not enter the skull, and the doctor has every hope that he will recover."

"Did anybody in the house hear a shot fired?" asked Sexton Blake.

"No. But there was a violent thunderstorm here between two and three this morning—no rain, but terrific thunder and lightning— so that, if the shot was fired at any time between two and three, it is not surprising that nobody heard it.

"On hearing the servant's news," continued Sir Otto, "I rushed down to the study. The lock of the safe had not been picked, as the servant had said. It had been opened by means of a duplicate key, which was still in the keyhole. And the only thing which was missing from the safe was the confidential report—which proves, to my mind, at least, that the thief was an agent of old Picot's."

The detective shook his head.

"Your theory doesn't impress me at present," he said. "However, may I see the room in which the robbery was committed?"

Sir Otto conducted him to the study, which was on the ground floor and overlooked the park. The window had been opened by the well-known device of scratching a circle with a diamond on the outside of one of the panes, sticking a lump of putty in the centre of the circle, and pulling out the disc of glass. A hand had then apparently been thrust through the opening, and the catch had been forced back.

Sexton Blake examined the safe and the duplicate key; then he opened the window. On the ground outside was the disc of glass which had been cut out of the window-pane, and which had been overlooked by the servants and the village constable. The putty was still adhering to it, and on one side if the putty was a beautifully clear impression of a thumb, whilst on the other was an equally clear impression of a finger.

"Clue No. 1!" said Sexton Blake. "These finger-prints may prove of incalculable help in identifying the thief."

He opened the window, climbed out, and examined the ground outside, where the secretary had been found. Suddenly he uttered a low whistle of astonishment, and, to Sir Otto's surprise, he began to walk slowly away from the house with his eyes fixed on the ground.

"Where are you going?" asked Sir Otto, vaulting through the window and joining him.

The detective made no reply. With his eyes still fixed on the ground, and followed by Sir Otto, he walked across the lawn, round the end of the shrubbery, and ultimately pulled up at a small rustic gate, which opened into a deserted lane on the south side of the park. Just outside the gate were the prints of a horse's hoofs—dozens of impressions—and a number of cigarette-ends.

"A man on horseback evidently role up to this gate, either last night or early this morning," said Sexton Blake. "He waited here. Judging by the number of hoof-prints, he waited a considerable time. See!"

He picked up and counted the cigarette-ends. There were five of them.

"Turkish," he said. "Evidently not a poor man. Allowing a quarter of an hour for each cigarette, that means he waited here for upwards of an hour."

Suddenly his eyes fell on a yew-tree, which grew beside the gate. Several of the fresh young shoots had been recently torn off. On one of the branches were the marks of teeth.

"Splendid!" said Sexton Blake. "Magnificent. The man whiled away his time whilst he was waiting here by smoking Turkish cigarettes. The horse amused himself by munching the leaves of this yew-tree. If you recover that confidential report it'll be the horse you'll have to thank!"

"Why?" said Sir Otto, completely mystified.

The detective smiled, and shrugged his shoulders.

"And now." he said. "I'd like to see your private secretary."

They returned to the house. Percival, the secretary, had been carried up to his bedroom and put to bed. He was still unconscious, and the district nurse had been pressed into service, till one from London could be obtained. Without a word, the detective removed the bandage from Percival's head and examined the wound. It was a peculiar, burnt-looking wound. The skin was scorched and blackened, and the hair on each side was singed.

"Where are his clothes?" asked Sexton Blake, after replacing the bandage.

"There, sir," said the nurse, pointing to a chair at the foot of the bed.

The detective calmly felt in the pockets, and drew out a knife. He opened one of the blades, and requested the nurse to lend him a needle.

When she had complied, he laid the needle on the bed and touched it with the blade of the knife. The blade picked up the needle and held it, exactly as a magnet would have done.

"That's curious," said Sir Otto. "But, upon my word, I don't see what it points to."

"It points to the fact that your secretary wasn't shot at all," said Sexton Blake. "I guessed what had happened when I saw the wound, and now I know. He was struck by lightning, and, as often happens in such cases, all the steel articles in his pockets were converted into magnets."

He picked up the piece of putty, which he had brought upstairs with him, and compared the impressions on each aide with the finger and thumb of Percival's right hand.

Sir Otto turned suddenly pale.

"Mr. Blake," he said, in a low, hoarse voice, "you—you don't suggest that—that—-"

"I do," said Sexton Blake. "Come downstairs, and I'll tell you."

They retraced their steps to the library.

"When I examined the ground outside the study window." said Sexton Blake, "I discovered a double track of bare feet, leading away from and back to the window. I traced them to that rustic gate, and found, as you know, that a man and a horse had been standing there for an hour at least. That gave me my first, inkling of the truth. I returned to the house, examined your secretary's wound, and his finger and thumb, and then I knew my theory was correct."

"And what is your theory?"

"It was your secretary who opened the safe and took out the report. The duplicate key had probably been in his possession for months, and he cut the piece out of the window to make it appear that the house had been broken into from outside.

"After he had secured the report, he climbed out through the window, and walked to that gate, where he handed the report to a confederate, who had arrived on horseback, and who had been waiting there for more than an hour. He then walked back to the house, but, just as he reached the window, he was struck by lightning and rendered unconscious."

"And to think how I trusted him!" Sir Otto said, in a hollow voice. "Who do you think was his confederate?"

"That's just what I'm going to find out," said Sexton Blake, rising to his feet. "May I borrow the car? It's still outside, I see."

"Certainly," said Sir Otto. "But where are you going?"

"To find your secretary's confederate, of course," said Sexton Blake, "and to compel him to disgorge his booty."

And, before the mystified baronet could question him further, Sexton Blake had left the house, and was speeding down the drive in a motor-car.


FEW things escaped Sexton Blake's observation. Whilst passing through the village, on his way from the station to the Hall, he had observed on the door of one of the houses a brass plate bearing the inscription "Mr. Dawson, Veterinary Surgeon." It was to this house that he now directed Sir Otto's chauffeur to drive him.

Mr. Dawson was standing at his window. He saw the detective alight from the car, and hurried to the door.

"You know who I am, I see!" said Sexton Blake, as the vet welcomed him with effusive cordiality. "I want some information from you, if you're willing to give it to me."

"Any information I can give you is at your service," said Mr. Dawson, "What do you want to know?"

"You attend most of the horses hereabouts when they are ill, I suppose."

"All of them, I think."

"Have you one on your list at present suffering from the effects of yew-poisoning?"

"Why, yes!" replied the vet, in evident surprise. "I was called out early this morning to sec one—a valuable hunter, belonging to Major Brett."

"Taken ill this morning?"

"Yes; quite suddenly."

"And you've no doubt that the horses's illness has been caused by eating yew-leaves?"

"Not the slightest, though it's a mystery where the beast found the leaves, as there are no yew-trees in the major's grounds. But why do you ask?"

"I'm asking questions, not you!" said the detective, with a laugh. "Where does Major Brett live?"

"At Tapton Lodge, about three miles from here."

The detective looked him full in the face.

"Don't answer this if you'd rather not?" he said. "What sort of a character does the major bear?"

"Very bad," said Mr. Dawson frankly.

"Do you happen to know if he's a friend of Mr. Percival, Sir Otto Trevelyan's private secretary?"

"He is. Sir Otto doesn't know, and I'm sure he wouldn't approve of it if he did, but Brett and Percival have been as thick as thieves for the past few weeks."

That was all the detective wished to know.

"Good-morning!" he said, holding out his hand. "Thank you for your information, and especially for asking no questions. By the way, I suppose the chauffeur will know where Tapton Lodge is?"

"Oh, yes! But if you want to see Major Brett, it's no use your going to Tapton Lodge. He has gone away this morning."

"Gone away?" echoed Sexton Blake, in dismay. "Already?"

"Yes. He left by the 8.30 for London. I drove him to the station in my trap after I had seen the hunter. He's off to Paris by the eleven train from Victoria. He told me so himself."

"Can I get from here to London in time to reach Victoria by eleven?" Sexton Blake asked.

Mr. Dawson glanced at his watch. It was a quarter to ten.

"I'm afraid you can't," he said. "The 9.25 will have gone now. The next train doesn't leave till 10.10, and isn't due to reach Waterloo till 11.25."

The detective groaned. Then he suddenly bethought himself of the motor-car. Victoria was only twenty-five miles away, and he had an hour and a quarter.

He turned to the vet.

"One last favour," he said. "What is the major like—in personal appearance, I mean?"

Mr. Dawson pointed to a framed photograph on the wall of the consulting-room. It represented a meet of the local hunt.

"That's Major Brett," he said, pointing to one of the mounted figures.

The detective studied the photograph for a few seconds; then he bade the vet a hurried farewell, and returned to the car.

"Victoria Station!" he said, as he sprung in. "As fast as you can make her travel!"

The car dashed away, and seventy minutes later drew up in Victoria station-yard.

At Dover all doubt was set at rest as to whether Major Brett was in the train. The detective saw him alight, recognised him by the photograph he had seen in the vet's consulting-room, and followed him aboard the steamer.

From Dover to Calais—from Calais to Paris—and in Paris, which was reached at a quarter to seven in the evening—from the Gare du Nord to the Hôtel Mimosas, in the Rue Caumartin, he shadowed his unsuspecting quarry.

"I wired to you from London this morning to reserve me a private sitting-room and a bed-room," he heard the major say to the manager of the hotel.

"What name, sir?" asked the manager.

"Smith," said the major unblushingly.

The manager consulted his book, and beckoned to the hall-porter.

"Forty-nine," he said. Then be turned to Brett. "Your sitting-room and bedroom are en suite, sir," he said, "on the first Hour. Dinner will be ready at half-past seven."

"I shall not take dinner to-night," said Brett. "I may have something later in my room: but I'm expecting a gentleman to call to see me at eight o'clock. Monsieur Picot is his name. Will you please show him up to my room as soon as he arrives?"

The manager promised that he would, and the major followed the hall-porter to the lift.

"So Sir Otto was right," murmured Sexton Blake as he turned on his heel and left the hotel, after asking for somebody who he knew was not there. "Picot et Fils are at the bottom of this. And yet that doesn't follow," he added. "Percival and Brett may have concocted this plot between them, and Brett may simply have wired to Paris this morning, asking Picot to meet him at the Mimosas at eight o'clock to-night. In any case, whether Picot knew of the plot beforehand or not, he doubtless knows by now that Brett has the report and is willing to sell it. Even if Brett only wired to him this morning, he would he sure to tell him that; or, at any rate, to give him a hint. And, unless I can prevent it, the report will pass into Picot's hands to-night.

"Unless I can prevent it," he mused. "Can I? Of course, I've no legal evidence against Brett, and, even if I had, I couldn't have him arrested and searched before eight o'clock. And if once old Picot gets bold of the report, all is lost."

He pondered for a moment or two; then a daring idea occurred lo him.

"It's risky," he muttered. "But it might come off."

He hailed a passing cab, and drove to a big theatrical costumier's in the Rue Rivoli. He was only in the shop a few minutes, yet when he came out he was no longer a young, clean-shaven Englishman, but—in appearance—an elderly Frenchman, with a grey, pointed heard and hair of the same hue.

"If he knows Picot, I'm done," he mused, as he retraced his steps to tho Hue Caumartin. "But it's a hundred to one he doesn't. Anyhow, I'll risk it."

It was barely a quarter to eight when he reached the Hôtel Mimosas.

"There is it gentleman staying here named Smith," he said to the manager, in faultless French. "I wish to see him."

"Ah, you are Monsieur Picot, no doubt," said the manager. "Yes, Mr. Smith is expecting you."

Sexton Blake heaved a sigh of relief. He had not disguised himself Jo resemble M. Picot of, course, for the simple reason that he had not a ghost of an idea what M. Picot was like. He had merely made up as an elderly, grey-haired Frenchman, and if He manager had happened lo know M. Picot, the detective's trick would have been exposed at the very outset of his programme.

But the manager suspected nothing—he called lo one of the waiters and instructed him to conduct the detective to No. 49.

The detective walked into the room. Brett came forward with outstretched hand. The waiter closed the door retired.

"I hope you speak English, Monsieur Picot?" said the major, somewhat anxiously.

"But yes," said the detective, "I speak English veree well. And you? Is it that you do not speak our language?"

"No," said Brett, "English is the only language I know—and the only one I want to know!"

Again a look of relief crossed the detective's face. The stolen report was written in Spanish. If English was the only language which Brett knew, he could not have read the report, and, therefore, would not be able to tell Monsieur Picot what it contained if he—Sexton Blake—could recover it before the Frenchman saw it.

Brett observed the look which flashed into the detective's face, and misinterpreted it.

"You're wondering," he said, "how I wrote that telegram, if I didn't know French?"

"Certainly the telegram was in French," said Sexton Blake, making a blind shot.

"Of course it was, but it wasn't written by me. It was written by a gentleman whom you know, I believe—Mr. Percival, Sir Otto Trevelyan's private secretary. He wrote it out for me last night, and I sent it off from London this morning."

The detective nodded—somewhat impatiently, it is to be feared. It was now ten minutes to eight, and the real Monsieur Picot was due at eight.

"And now to business, as you English say," he said. "You have brought the report?"

Brett gazed at him in undisguised astonishment.

"You're a boy for jumping to conclusions!" he said. "How on earth did you guess I'd got the report?"

This was an awkward corner; but Sexton Blake turned it with flying colours.

"Ah, I see Mr. Percival doesn't tell you everything!" he said blandly. "Of course, the telegram was in French; you couldn't read it."

"That's so," said Brett. "But Percival didn't say any more in the telegram than what I've told you, did he?"

The detective shrugged his shoulders.

"The beggar!" said Brett. "Fancy his deceiving me like that!"

It was then five minutes to eight.

"Then why do you waste time in idle talk?" said Sexton Blake. "Let us come to business. You have the report. I want it. For how much will you sell it to me?"

"Five thousand pounds," said Brett. "Mot a penny less!"

"A large sum," said Sexton Blake. "Yet I do not say it is more than the report is worth. First of all, however, before we discuss terms I must know that you are not deceiving me. I must see the report."

"You can look at it across the table," said Brett; "but I'm not going to let you touch it, or read a line of it, till the money's in my hands."

"Let me see it, then," said Sexton Blake.

Brett thrust his hand into the inside pocket of his frock-coat and drew out a foolscap envelope, addressed to Sir Otto Trevelyan at his London Office, and bearing a Peruvian stamp. From the envelope he drew out a folded packet of papers, unfolded it, and laid it face upwards on the table in front of him.

Quick as thought the detective stretched out his hand to secure the papers, but, quicker still, a revolver flashed from Brett's pocket and leaped into his face.

"No, you don't," said Brett. "No tricks! As I said before, I'm not going to let you touch those papers till the five thousand pounds are in my hands."

The detective smiled. Fixing his eyes on the bedroom door, which was behind Brett, he ostentatiously nodded his head.

"Collar him!" he said.

"Right you are, sir," said a gruff voice behind Brett's back.

Brett leaped to his feet with a startled oath, and spun round on his heel.

But it was only Sexton Blake practising a little Ventriloquism. And even as Brett turned his head to see who had spoken, the detective's hands shot out across the table. One hand snatched up the precious report; the other wrested the revolver from Brett's grasp and levelled it at its owner's head.

Still covering Brett with the revolver, he raised the hand containing the report to his head, and whipped off his wig and false beard.

"Sexton Blake!" gasped Brett.

"Who presents his compliments to Major Brett, of Tapton Lodge!" said the detective, with a mocking bow.

The clock struck eight. Footsteps and excited voices were heard in the corridor outside.

"I rather fancy," said Sexton Blake "that this is the real Monsieur Picot, coming in see you. By this time, no doubt, the manager has explained to him that another gentleman, giving the name of Picot, has been shown up to your room. Monsieur Picot appears to be angry and excited. I hate scenes. You'd better meet him in the corridor, and explain to him that there has been a slight mistake, and that you have no important private information for sale."

Brett looked up quickly.

"You're not going to arrest me?" he asked eagerly.

Sexton Blake did not answer. He did not trouble to explain that he had no power to arrest him. He merely pointed to the door.

"Go—quickly!" he said. "They'll be here in half a minute!"

Brett darted from the room. Scarcely had he disappeared, when Sexton Blake slipped into the bedroom through one door and out through another.

"NO. I sha'n't prosecute," said Sir Otto, when Sexton Blake had presented him with the report, and had briefly related his adventures. "Percival is dying, the doctor says; and as for Picot, well, I don't suppose he'll ever dare to show his face in England again, and, now that I've recovered the report I don't feel inclined to waste time and trouble over extradition proceedings."

And so the true history of the robbery at Mostyn Manor never got into the papers; and the villagers are still wondering why Major Brett, of Tapton Lodge, departed by an early train for London one morning, and never returned.


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.