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First published in Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, 26 Sep 1908

Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Daily News, Perth, Australia, 20 Nov 1908 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-03-13
Produced by Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright

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IT was a case which Sexton Blake was very fond of quoting, not in a boastful spirit, but as a striking proof of his contention that no man may hope to become a successful detective unless he has received at least the rudiments of a medical education. The bald facts of the case, stripped of all unnecessary verbiage were these:—

Mr. Beaumont was an architect and a well-known figure at Hummersea, a small watering place on the south coast. He married somewhat late in life, and twelve months after his marriage his wife presented him with a son.

On a certain sunny day in August, the baby being then about three weeks old, he was taken out in his mail-cart by his nurse. They left the house about half-past 10, and, on reaching the sea-front, they turned along a secluded path which skirted the edge of the cliffs.

Afterwards the nurse asserted that, from the moment she left Mr. Beaumont's house, she had "an uneasy feeling" that she was being followed. As she never mentioned this "uneasy feeling," however, until after the mystery had been solved, one is justified in wondering if it were not an afterthought.

About a quarter-past eleven, being then quite out of sight of the town, the nurse was thinking of retracing her steps, when she was startled by hearing a sudden scream and a shout for help.

Glancing back along the road by which she had come, she saw a woman lying at full length on the path. According to the nurse's subsequent statements, this woman spoke with a decided foreign accent, and appeared to be about the same age as the nurse, but, as she was wearing a thick, dark veil, which she never raised, the nurse never saw her face with sufficient clearness to enable her to identify the woman.

Hastily turning the mail-cart round, the nurse hurried back to the woman, who explained that she had stumbled and fallen, and believed she had broken her leg. She seemed to be in terrible agony, said the nurse, and, at the woman's suggestion, the nurse left her in charge of the baby and the mail-cart while, she ran back, to the nearest house—about half-a-mile away—in quest of help.

And when the nurse returned, a few minutes later, accompanied by two men and a roughly-improvised stretcher, the woman and the baby had disappeared! The mail-cart was still there, but the woman had apparently risen to her feet as soon as the nurse was out of sight, and taken the baby out of the mail-cart, and had made off with him.

In less than an hour the whole town was ringing with the news of this sensational abduction of Mrs. Beaumont's baby. The local police cross-questioned the nurse and wired her meagre description of the unknown woman to all the surrounding towns and villages. Thousands of people visited the spot where the abduction had taken place and scores of theories were put forward to explain the affair.

Mrs. Beaumont was prostrated with grief, and had three attacks of hysterics in less than as many hours. Mr. Beaumont was almost equally distracted; and when 7 o'clock arrived and there was still no news of the missing baby he wired for Sexton Blake.

The detective arrived at nine o'clock, by which time it was raining hard, and the little town was enveloped in a thick sea-mist. Mr. Beaumont met him at the station, and as they walked to his house he told the detective all the details of the case.

"Now, what is your theory?" he asked, as they turned in at the garden gate. "Who was the woman who stole my child, and why did she steal him? What object could anybody hope to achieve by stealing a baby three weeks old? Revenge is out of the question, for I haven't an enemy in the world, and neither has my wife."

"I must have more information before I begin weaving theories," said Sexton Blake. "The nurse is still here, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes."

"Then I'd like to begin by questioning her," said Sexton Blake.

By this time they had entered the house. Mr. Beaumont, ushered the detective into a cosily-furnished dining-room, and then, explaining that the housemaid—his only other servant—was out, he went off in search of the nurse.

A moment or two later he returned with the nurse, and Sexton Blake was in the act of cross-examining her when the house re-echoed with a violent peal of the front-door bell.

"I'll see who it is," said Mr. Beaumont, jumping to his feet.

He left the room and opened the front door. There was nobody there. Peering through the swirling mist he called out; but received no answer. Then, just as he was about to close the door his eyes fell on a bundle on the step. It was a baby, wrapped in a shawl. He snatched it up, dragged aside the shawl, and peered into the baby's face. Then an awful cry burst from his lips.

He staggered back into the dining-room, tears streaming down his face, and tenderly laid a little form on the couch.

"My boy—my little son," he sobbed. "She—she has brought him back—left him on the doorstep—rang the bell, and ran away. And—and he is dead!"


THERE was no doubt that the baby was dead. A very brief examination on the part of Sexton Blake sufficed to convince him of that fact. Also, incidentally, it convinced him of something else.

He felt in his waistcoat pocket and drew out a clinical thermometer. He shook down the mercury index and inserted the bulb of the instrument in the baby's mouth. Then he turned to the weeping nurse. It was no use talking to Mr. Beaumont, who, with his face buried in his hands, was rocking himself to and fro in an agony of grief.

"So, this is the baby whom you took out this morning and who afterwards disappeared?" said Sexton Blake.

The nurse nodded.

"Do you notice any difference in him?"

"He's just as I left him in the mail-cart," she said. "The same clothes and the same little bonnet. Nothing has been changed or stolen."

There was an interval of silence; then Mr. Beaumont raised his head and regarded the detective with tear-dimmed eyes.

"Well?" he said, in a husky voice. "What is your theory? How has he been murdered, and why?"

"I have discovered nothing up to the present," said Sexton Blake, "to lead me to suppose that this child has been murdered. On the contrary, I have little hesitation in saying that he died from natural causes—probably convulsions."

Mr. Beaumont shook his head. "I can't believe that," he said. "He was perfectly well and strong when he left this house at half-past ten this morning, and nothing will make me believe that his death was due to natural causes."

Sexton Blake made no reply. He stood, silent, watch in hand, for a couple of minutes, then he removed the thermometer from the baby's mouth, glanced at it, and replaced it in his pocket.

"How many fingers had your baby when he was born?" he asked.

Mr. Beaumont was evidently surprised by the question.

"The usual number, of course," he said. "Four fingers and a thumb on each hand."

"You are absolutely certain of that?"

"Of course."

"He hadn't an extra finger on the right hand, which the doctor snipped off?"

"Certainly not! Why do you ask such an extraordinary question?"

"I'll explain my reason by-and-by," said Sexton Blake. "In the meantime"—he laid his hand on Mr. Beaumont's shoulder—"hope for the best," he said. "I am going to leave you now for a little while, but when I come back I hope I shall be able to give you good news of your little son."

And before his astounded and bewildered client could say a word he picked up his hat and left the house.

It was 11 o'clock when be returned. Mr. Beaumont was still in the dining-room, but the lifeless form of the dead baby had been carried upstairs.

"Here we are again!" said the detective with, a levity that jarred on Mr. Beaumont's nerves. "I have a cab outside and I want you to come with me for a drive."

"Where to?" asked Mr. Beaumont.

"I'll tell you when we're in the cab," said Sexton Blake.

"But what—?"

"Don't ask questions," said Sexton Blake. "Come with me, and I promise you that in half an hour from now you shall see your son."

Mr. Beaumont gazed at him in stupefied bewilderment.

"But I've seen him already," he said. "He's lying dead upstairs."

The detective shook his head.

"He isn't!" he said. "That baby—But I'll tell you all about it later. Come along or her ladyship will have gone to bed."

Like a man in a dream, Mr. Beaumont followed the detective out of the house. A moment later they were seated in the cab and rattling down the mist-enshrouded road.


"NOW, before I explain my seemingly eccentric conduct to-night," began Sexton Blake, "I'm going to give you an elementary lesson in medical jurisprudence.

"As you may be aware," he continued, "the normal temperature of a living human being is ninety-eight and a half degrees Fahrenheit. In fever a man's temperature may rise to a hundred and three or four or five, and in states of collapse it may sink to ninety-seven, or even ninety-six. The ordinary temperature of a healthy living man, woman, or child is, however, as I have said, ninety-eight and a half. When a man dies the heat of his body gradually subsides until it reaches the same temperature as that of the surrounding air. As the rate of cooling is fairly regular—one and three-fifths of a degree per hour after death, a very simple calculation enables us to say that that particular man or woman has been dead six and a quarter hours. Do you follow me?"

"Quite," said Mr. Beaumont. "But what has all this to do with the death of my child?"

"That's just what I'm going to explain," said Sexton Blake. "When I examined that baby which was left on your doorstep, the first thing that struck me was that the body was, abnormally cold for a child that had been alive and well at a quarter-past eleven this morning. As you saw, I took the baby's temperature with my thermometer. It was sixty-six and a half.

"It was a quarter-past nine when I examined the baby. Your baby had been alive and well at a quarter-past eleven in the morning; therefore, if this was your baby, it could not have been dead more than ten hours at the very outside. But this baby's temperature was sixty-six and a half, which proved that it had been dead twenty hours!

"In other words," he went on, "the baby which was left on your doorstep to-night died about one o'clock this morning. As your baby was alive and well at a quarter-past eleven, it follows, as a matter of course, that the baby I examined to-night was not yours."

"But—but it was dressed in my child's clothes," stammered Mr. Beaumont.

The detective laughed.

"That proves nothing," he said. "It is easy to change a child's clothes—to take them from a living child and place them on a dead one. And babies of three weeks old are very, much alike, as a rule.

"However," he continued, "whilst I was examining the baby I made an other discovery, which effectually settled the matter. As you doubtless know, it is not an uncommon thing for a baby to be born with an extra, or supernumerary, finger. The finger, as a rule, is merely attached to the outer side of the hand by a thin pedicle of skin, and a snip of the scissors is all that is required to remove it.

"Whilst I was examining the baby in your dining-room I discovered a minute scar on the outer side of the right hand, which showed me at a glance that the child had had a supernumerary finger removed at that spot. I asked you if your child had been born with an extra finger, and you replied in the negative, which was all the further proof I needed to convince me this was not your child.

"To sum up the result of my examination," he concluded: "it was obvious to me that somebody had stolen your child, had taken off his clothes, had put them on a dead child, had brought the dead child to your door under cover of the darkness and the mist, and had rung the bell and run away."

"But who could have done such an extraordinary thing?" said Mr. Beaumont, still only half-convinced. "What could anybody have to gain by exchanging a dead child for a living one?"

"That's just what I asked myself," said Sexton Blake. "So, when I left your house, I started on a round of visits to the local doctors. 'Have you a patient,' I asked, who recently gave birth to a male baby with a supernumerary finger on the right hand which you removed?"

"The first five doctors I interviewed answered my question in the negative. The sixth said, 'Yes: Lady Lingdale, of Hummersea Castle, gave birth to a son and heir three weeks ago. He had a supernumerary finger on his right hand, and I snipped it off with a pair of scissors before he was an hour old!"

"Lady Lingdale!" gasped Mr. Beaumont.

The detective nodded.

"You know her?" he asked.

"Well!" said Mr. Beaumont; "She's the widow of the late Lord Lingdale. His lordship was killed in a motor accident two days before the baby was born."

"And it was her ladyship's first child?"

"Yes; so that the baby was the new Lord Lingdale the moment he was born."

"So the doctor told me. He also told me that so long as the little Lord Lingdale lived her ladyship would continue to enjoy a royal income, but if the child died before attaining the age of twenty-one Lady Lingdale would have to leave the castle—the rightful owner, a distant cousin would succeed—and she would only have a comparatively modest jointure as her portion."

Mr. Beaumont started and regarded the detective with eyes that glowed with suppressed excitement.

"Yes," said Sexton Blake, in reply to his unspoken question. "That's the explanation, without a doubt. Lady Lingdale's son evidently died—probably in a convulsion fit—at one o'clock this morning. She knew that you had a son the same age as her own, and either she or an accomplice stole your baby and exchanged it for her own."

"Then we are now going—?" said Mr. Beaumont.

"To Hummersea Castle," said Sexton Blake. "Where I hope to find your little son alive and well."

A quarter of an hour later they reached-the castle. Lady Lingdale—formerly known on the music-hall stage as Flossie Flower—happened to be crossing the entrance hall when the detective and-Mr. Beaumont were admitted by the butler.

She recognised Sexton Blake at a glance, and obviously guessed the object of his visit, for she instantly turned pale, stumbled forward with a low moan of despair, and—but for the prompt action of Sexton Blake, who sprang forward and caught her in his arms—would have fallen to the ground.

"I didn't do it," she protested, when the detective had seated her in a chair. "It was Celestine! It was her idea, and I told her it wouldn't come off."

The butler gazed at this extraordinary scene with wide-open eyes. He was still, more amazed when Mr. Beaumont seized her ladyship by the wrist, and forced her to look at him.

"My son," he said, in a voice that vibrated with tense excitement. "Is he here? Is he safe?"

There was no need for Lady Lingdale to reply, for at that moment the lusty cry of an infant was heard in an adjoining room.

Half a dozen strides and Mr. Beaumont was in the room. The next instant the baby was in his arms and he was covering its wee pink face with hysterical kisses.

THE rest is soon told; As Sexton Blake had surmised, Lady Lingdale's baby had been seized with convulsions at one o'clock in the morning and had died within a few minutes. The only persons present in the bedroom at that time had been Lady Lingdale and her French maid, Celestine. Both of them were aware that Mrs. Beaumont had a baby the same age as the little Lord Lingdale, and both of them knew what a difference would be made to Lady Lingdale's position by the death of her son.

It was Celestine, as Lady Lingdale had said to Sexton Blake, who had suggested the daring idea of stealing Mrs. Beaumont's baby and passing it off as Lady Lingdale's. And it was Celestine who had followed the nurse from the house, had pretended to fall and break her leg, and had made off with the child.

How the plot was circumvented by the skill and acumen of Sexton Blake the reader already knows, and it only remains to add that, moved by the appeal of Lady Lingdale—who was undeniably pretty—Mr. Beaumont consented to hush the matter up. With the result that the infant, Lord Lingdale, was duly buried in the family vault, and Lady Lingdale, accompanied by Celestine, left the castle and went abroad—according to the papers—"for the good of their health."


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.