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First published in Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, 19 Sep 1908

Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, 7 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

Click here for more Sexton Blake stories

IT was a few commonplace words which Sexton Blake chanced to overhear whilst buying a toothbrush which furnished him with the clue that ultimately enabled him to solve the mystery of the burglary at Ugthorpe Lodge.

He had gone down to Ugthorpe, a little seaside village in Lincolnshire, in order to examine the parish register for certain information in connection with a case he had on hand.

On unpacking his bag, late in the afternoon, he discovered that he had come away without a toothbrush; and, accordingly, he strolled round to the village chemist's to buy one. He was on the point of leaving, when a stylishly-dressed young woman, who would have been pretty but for a disfiguring patch of eczema on her right cheek, came into the shop.

"Will you please make me up another box of ointment and another bottle of medicine?" she said.

"The iron medicine or the sulphur medicine?" inquired the chemist.

"The sulphur medicine," she replied. "The same that I've been taking for the last fortnight. You have the prescription."

"Oh, yes," said the chemist. "Shall I send them up to the lodge?"

"I'll call for them in about half an hour," she said. And with that she left the shop.

"That was Miss Flower," said the chemist to Sexton Blake. "Her father is Lord Borrowby's agent, you know."

The detective neither knew nor cared to know. He gathered up his change and returned to the inn, where he spent the night.

Next morning, after breakfast, the detective was just setting out for the station to catch the half-past seven train to town, when a dogcart rattled up to the front door of the inn, and an elderly man, with iron-grey hair, sprang out.

"Mr. Sexton Blake?" he inquired.

"That's me," said the detective, who was just coming out of the door, bag in hand.

"Thank goodness, I've caught you in time!" said the new arrival. "My name is Flower. I'm Lord Borrowby's agent. A burglary has been committed at my house, and a bag containing nearly six hundred pounds has been stolen. I've communicated with the police, of course, but having heard that you were in the neighbourhood, I've decided to ask you to make an independent investigation. If you will, I'll drive you to my house—which is about two miles from here—and I'll give you all the details on the way."

The detective having expressed his willingness to undertake the case, he and Mr. Flower drove off in the direction of Ugthorpe Lodge.

"Now, begin at the beginning, and tell me all about it, said Sexton Blake.

"If I am to begin at the beginning," said Mr. Flower, "I must first tell you that yesterday I drove to Kedmires, which is a village about seven miles from here, in order to receive the rents of those of Lord Borrowby's tenants who have holdings on that portion of the estate. When I returned to Ugthorpe Lodge— the name of my house—I had over five hundred pounds—nearly six, as a matter of fact—in a small, black-leather handbag. About fifty pounds was in notes; the rest was in gold and Silver.

"On arriving at my house, about half-past eleven last night, I placed the bag and its contents in a roll-top desk in my library, intending to bank the money to-day. I have locked money in that desk for the last twenty years, and never until now have I had reason to regret it.

"I ought, perhaps, to explain that I am a widower. My household consists of myself, my daughter—who is just out of her teens—and a couple of female servants."

He stopped suddenly, seeming to find the detective's keen glance disconcerting.

"To resume my narrative," he continued, "I went to bed soon after midnight, and by one o'clock was fast asleep. Two hours later I awoke—for no particular reason—and as I lay awake in bed I fancied I heard somebody in the library.

"I slipped out of bed and stole downstairs. A feeble glimmer of light was streaming under the library door, and I distinctly heard two people talking. By that time, however, the burglars— for such they were, of course, had evidently heard me coming downstairs: for suddenly the light was extinguished.

"With a ringing shout, by which I hoped to rouse the servants, I rushed to the library door, and flung it open. No sooner had I done so than one of the burglars—whom I could not see in the darkness, of course—sprang at me, and enveloped my head and shoulders in a rug.

"'Run—run!' I heard him say to his confederate in a low, excited whisper.

"I struck out wildly, and tried to free myself from the rug. In doing so I slipped and fell, and as I fell I struck my head against the corner of the table. The blow stunned me for a few minutes, and when I regained my senses the burglars had disappeared, and I was lying on the library floor, surrounded by my daughter and the two servants. I struggled to my feet, and told them briefly what had happened. I then proceeded to examine the room.

"The first thing I discovered was that the burglars had had the impudence to raid my larder, and regale themselves on chicken and claret! Standing on the library table were a silver candlestick, which they had taken from the hall-stand, the remains of a cold chicken which they had found in the larder, some bread and butter, and a newly-opened bottle of claret.

"Finally, I must tell yon," he concluded, "that the library-window—which is a French window—was wide open—which showed how the scoundrels had gained admittance to the house, and how they had escaped."

"But when did you discover that the money had been stolen?" said Sexton Blake.

"Not for several minutes," said Mr. Flower. "In fact, after examining the room, I had come to the conclusion that I had surprised the burglars before they had time to steal anything, when it occurred to me to look in my desk. Then I found that it had been forced open, and closed again. The lock, in fact, had been smashed; and when I raised the roll-top. I saw at a glance that the bag had disappeared.

"On bearing my announcement that the bag had been stolen, my daughter fainted. After I had, satisfied myself that nothing else had been stolen, I dressed, drove to the village, informed the constable of what had occurred, and then drove to the Towers and informed Lord Borrowby. It was at his suggestion that I decided to ask you to investigate the case. And now"—he heaved a sigh of relief—"I think I've told you everything."

A few minutes later they reached Ugthorpe Lodge.

In accordance with Mr. Flower's instructions, nothing had been disturbed in the library. Sexton Blake made a rapid examination of the room; then he turned to Mr. Flower.

"You spoke of burglars in the plural number," he said, pointing to the table. "As you see, however, only one of them must have been hungry. There is only one plate, one glass, and one knife and fork."

"Humph!" growled Mr. Flower. "I hadn't noticed that before! It is, however, as you say. Only one of the scoundrels was regaling himself at my expense when I disturbed them."

The detective next examined the roll-top desk. The lock was of the most primitive description, and had been smashed open by main force.

"Amateurish—very amateurish!" he murmured! "This is not the work of a professional!"

He examined the window. As already stated, it was a French window, and was secured on the inside by a couple of bolts at the top and another pair at the bottom. Clearly, therefore, nothing outside the window could have unfastened these bolts without first making a breach in the panes; yet both the panes were intact.

"You didn't think, I suppose," he said, "of examining the other windows of the house?"

"Oh, yes, I did!" said Mr. Flower. "I carefully examined every door and window in the house, and all of them were securely fastened."

Sexton Blake made no remark on this statement: but, in his own mind, he registered it as a fact beyond all doubt that the burglars—or one of them, at any rate—had been admitted into the library by somebody inside the house.

He examined the ground outside the window. To the untrained eye there was nothing to be seen; but, to Sexton Blake, a double track of footprints, one leading to the window and the other away from it, was as clear as the noonday sun. But the footprints were all alike; they were the footprints of one man, not two.

This, of course, confirmed Sexton Blake's theory. Somebody had walked up to the outside of the window; a second person, inside the house, had opened the window and admitted him; and, after Mr. Flower had been stunned the first man had stepped through the window and escaped, leaving the second person in the house.

Who was the second person? Clearly it could only have been one of three people—Miss Flower or one of the two female servants.

Whilst Sexton Blake was pondering over this discovery, he happened to glance at the silver candlestick, which was still standing on the table by the side of the remains of the burglar's supper.

He picked up the candlestick and closely examined it. A black stain which he had observed was apparently of recent origin, and was due to a deposit of sulphide of silver.

To what was this deposit due? There was only one possible explanation. The silver—of which the candlestick was composed— had been brought in contact with sulphur in some form. But how? Again there was only one explanation. Sexton Blake, who had had a medical training, was well aware that persons who are taking medicine containing sulphur exude small quantities of the drug in their perspiration, with the result that any silver articles they handle, or any silver articles in their pockets—such as a silver watch, or silver coins—are tarnished and blackened by the sulphur, which combines with the silver to form silver sulphide. The explanation of the dark stain on the candlestick was, therefore, perfectly clear. Somebody who was taking sulphur medicine had recently handled the candlestick. In a flash the detective remembered the conversation he had overheard in the chemist's shop the day before.

"The sulphur medicine," Miss Flower had said. "The same that I've been taking for the last fortnight."

There was still a loophole of escape from the terrible conclusion to which Sexton Blake was being forced. He turned to Mr. Flower.

"Can you find out when this candlestick was last cleaned?" he asked.

Mr. Flower rang the bell for the housemaid.

"I cleaned it yesterday evening," she said, in reply to the detective's question. That settled the matter. It was Miss Flower who had admitted the burglar; who had carried the candlestick to the larder in search of food for him; who had escaped from the library—and had doubtless returned to her bed-room—when the burglar, after flinging the rug over her father's head, had whispered, "Run—run!"

It was a horrible solution of the mystery; but suddenly another thought occurred to Blake. He went to the door, and caught the housemaid at the head of the stairs. To her he put a rapid question, and he breathed a sigh of relief at her reply.

His musings ended in a sudden start. Through the open window he saw a girlish figure stealing down the drive, and ever and anon glancing furtively behind her, as if she feared to be seen. He recognised her at a glance. It was the girl he had seen in the chemist's shop the day before.

The detective turned to Mr. Flower.

"Will you fetch me another bottle of claret, the same as this?" he asked.

Completely mystified, Mr. Flower left the room; and the moment he had disappeared the detective stepped through the open window, and darted after Miss Flower.

"Good-morning, Miss Flower!" he said, overtaking her. "Hadn't you better let me do it?"

She gazed at him with frightened eyes.

"Do—do what?" she faltered.

"Go to your brother," said Sexton Blake, "and beg him to return the money which, unknown to you, he stole from his father's desk."

With a piteous moan, the poor girl reeled, and would have fallen if he had not caught her.

His rapid question to the housemaid had provided him with the key to the mystery. He had noted Mr. Flower's hesitation when he described the members of his family, and the girl had told him that one had been left unmentioned—a scapegrace son, who had disappeared two years before.

The matchless brain of the detective brought him to the conclusion that, unknown to his father, the son had returned. Miss Flower had admitted him to give him food and perhaps money. While she was in the larder the scamp had abstracted the money. Miss Flower had no idea of this; that was why she had fainted when the robbery was made manifest.

"Now tell me all about it," he said gently. And she told him— told him everything. Her brother had returned to tho village penniless and starving. He had sent her a note, begging her to grant him an interview; and after that everything had happened as the detective surmised.

"He must have yielded to a sudden temptation, and broken open the desk whilst I was in the larder," she sobbed. "He isn't really bad, Mr. Blake, only a bit wild; and by this time, I know, he has bitterly repented of his mad act. If only I could have seen him, before his guilt was discovered, he would have given me the bag, and all might have been well. And now it is too late— too late!"

"Not yet," said Sexton Blake softly. "I have told nobody but you of my discoveries; and if your brother is truly repentant, all may still be well. Tell me where he is staying, then go back to the house, and leave the rest to me."

Two hours later the detective stepped back into the library, through the open window, with a small black-leather handbag in his hand.

Mr. Flower was standing there looking abjectly miserable.

Suddenly he saw the bag.

"You—you don't mean to say you've found it?" he gasped.

Sexton Blake smiled and handed him the bag.

"You'll find all the money there," he said, "except for a fee of twenty guineas, which I've taken the liberty of extracting. No; don't-ask any questions. Rest content to have recovered your property, and accept my thanks for giving me the opportunity of tackling a very interesting problem."

Before the astounded agent could question him further, he was trudging down the drive. At the gate he met Miss Flower.

"The bag is now in your father's possession," he said. "It was as you guessed, a case of a sudden temptation on your brother's part, followed by swift remorse. So satisfied was I, in fact, of his repentance that, in order to enable him to make a fresh start in life, gave him—" he smiled and raised his hat "—some very good advice. Good-bye."

And it was not until long afterwards that Miss Flower learned from her brother, who was then in Canada, that Sexton Blake, in addition to giving him "some very good advice," had also given him twenty guineas.


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.