Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in Answers, Amalgamated Press, London, 13 February 1909
Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, 10 April 1909 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2016
Version Date: 2922-06-26
Produced by Roy Glashan
Proofread by Gordon Hobley and Mark Munro

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright

Click here for more Sexton Blake stories

HE was certainly a most ingenious rogue, and a humorous one withal. Sexton Blake, being a disinterested outsider, could appreciate the rascal's humour; but the viscount—well, that would have been too much to expect!

It was the day after Captain Owen's funeral that the viscount consulted Sexton Blake. He began, as so many clients did, by asking if he could rely on the detective's discretion—if he could be sure that nothing he said would go beyond the four walls of the room, and so on. Being reassured on these points, he plunged into his story.

"Five years ago," he said, "I was foolish enough—mad enough—to write a letter of a most compromising nature. I do not intend to tell you to whom the letter was addressed, or what it was about. There is no necessity. It is enough to say that if that letter were forwarded to a certain quarter I should be absolutely and irretrievably ruined.

"By an evil mischance the letter fell into the hands of an unscrupulous half-pay Army captain, who at once came to see me, and unblushingly informed me that he intended to use the letter as a means of levying blackmail on me. Knowing I was in his power, I offered to buy the letter; but he would not part with it.

"'I'm too fond of drink,' he said candidly. 'If I sold the letter for a lump sum down, I should go on the booze, and the money would be gone in less than a month. What I want is a regular, steady income; and the way in which I propose to secure it is this:

"'So long as I receive a Bank of England note for fifty pounds on the first day of every month,' he said, 'the letter will remain in my possession, and nobody but you and I need know of its existence. But on the day my instalment fails to arrive the letter goes to—you know whom!'

"'That's all very well,' I said. 'But suppose you die—what then? The letter will be found at your flat, and the ruin and disgrace I have paid to avert will come upon me, after all. That must be prevented, at any cost!'

"Scoundrel though he was, he was not an unreasonable man," continued the viscount. "He saw my point, and after some consideration he said—I don't pretend to quote his exact words—'I only want to keep the letter as a means of securing an income for myself for the few years longer I have to live. It is only right that you should have it when I die; so I'll tell you what I'll do.

"'I'll hide the letter at my flat,' he said, 'and I'll deposit a sealed envelope with my solicitors containing such information as will enable you to find the letter. And I'll instruct my solicitors that, if I die before you, they are to forward the sealed envelope to you within twelve hours of my death. Of course, if you die first, my income will be gone, and I'll destroy both the sealed envelope and the letter.'"

"And you accepted those terms?" asked Sexton Blake.

"I had no choice but to accept," replied the viscount. "The sealed envelope was deposited with the lawyers a few days later; and on the first day of each month, for the last five years, I have paid Captain Owen fifty pounds."

"Well?" said Sexton Blake, as the viscount paused and fumbled in his waistcoat-pocket.

"Captain Owen died last Tuesday," said the viscount, "and on Wednesday morning I received the sealed envelope from his solicitors. You can imagine with what eager haste I opened it, and you can judge of my amazement and chagrin when I found that the only thing it contained was this!"

Saying which, he drew from his waistcoat-pocket, and handed to Sexton Blake, a plain gold ring set with a single large ruby!

For once in a way Sexton Blake was clearly surprised.

"Captain Owen," he said, "promised that he would deposit an envelope with his solicitors, containing such information as would enable you to find the letter, yet when you opened the envelope there was nothing in it but this ring?"

"Absolutely nothing," said the viscount. "Not a scrap of writing of any kind. As you see, there is an inscription on the ring, and, although I've examined it a hundred thousand times, I cannot find any trace of a secret cavity, or anything that throws any light on the whereabouts of the hidden letter.

"As I've already told you," he continued, "Captain Owen died last Tuesday. He was buried yesterday, and today his flat is being dismantled, with a view to his belongings being sold by auction to satisfy his numerous creditors. As the letter is undoubtedly concealed somewhere at the flat, and may be found at any moment, I decided this afternoon that I would delay no longer, but would come to you—as I thought of doing last Wednesday—and ask your advice.

"As you will have gathered," he concluded, "Captain Owen was an unscrupulous scoundrel. Nevertheless, he had a perverted sense of honour, and I am perfectly certain he would not deliberately lie to me. He said the contents of the envelope would enable me to find the letter, and although he may have indulged his well-known propensity for practical joking, I have not the very slightest doubt that that ring, in some way or other, furnishes a clue to the hiding-place of the letter. I cannot interpret the clue myself—can you?"

The detective carefully examined the ring, first with the naked eye, and then with the aid of a powerful pocket-lens. Something in the appearance of the ruby struck him as peculiar.

"This stone has been tampered with," he said. "Apparently it has been cut in two and then re-joined. Apparently, too, something has been placed between the two halves before they were joined together again. I have an X-ray apparatus in the next room. Come with me, and we'll see if the X-rays throw any light on the matter."

The X-rays amply confirmed the detective's suspicions. To the trained eye of Sexton Blake they revealed the fact that the ruby had been cut in two, that a tiny disc of ruby-coloured glass had been placed between the two halves, and that the whole had been joined together again by means of a transparent cement.

Prising the stone out of its setting, Sexton Blake immersed it in a chemical bath, which had the effect of dissolving the cement. The ruby then resolved itself into three separate portions—two hemispheres of precious stone, and a circular disc of ruby-coloured glass. And when the detective placed this disc of glass on the stage of a powerful microscope, he discovered—as, indeed, he had expected—that it was nothing more nor less than a micro-photographic negative.

"Captain Owen had more ingenuity and skill than I gave him credit for," he said to the viscount. "What he did is obvious. First he wrote down certain words and figures which contained a clue to the hiding-place of the letter. These words and figures, by means of a well-known process, he photographed on a disc of glass no bigger than a pin-head. He then divided this ruby in two, placed his micro-photographic film between the two halves, cemented the three together, and replaced the ruby in the ring."

"Then that little slip of glass which you have been examining under the microscope," said the viscount, "contains the information which will enable me to find the hidden letter?"

"Yes," said Sexton Blake.

The viscount heaved a sigh of relief. "What a wonderful man you are!" he said. "I'm awfully glad I came to you! Now, tell me, what are the words and figures which are photographed on that slip of glass?"

"Look for yourself." said Sexton Blake.

The viscount applied his eye to the microscope, and this is what he saw:

Numbers 21 22 41
Numbers 12 5 1
Numbers 3 6 8

The viscount looked up from the microscope, and regarded Sexton Blake with a glance of blank bewilderment.

"But—but this gives no clue to the whereabouts of the hidden letter!" he faltered.

"Oh, yes, it does!" said Sexton Blake.

"How?" demanded the viscount. "What is the meaning of these numbers?"

"Numbers!" said Sexton Blake significantly.

The viscount stared at him in undisguised perplexity. Then a sudden light broke on him.

"Numbers!" he exclaimed. "One of the books of the Bible!"

"Of course," said Sexton Blake. "This is a cryptogram of sorts. But we have solved it, I hope. Unless I am greatly mistaken, we have only to refer to the forty-first word of the twenty-second verse of the twenty-first chapter of Numbers, and so on, to learn where the letter is concealed."

He led the way back to his sitting-room. From his bookcase he took down a Bible. He turned to the twenty-first chapter of Numbers, and found that the forty-first word of the twenty-second verse was "past."

He referred to the twelfth chapter, and found that the first word of the fifth verse was "and."

This was not encouraging, and when he turned to the third chapter and found that the eighth word of the sixth verse was "present," his mystification was complete.

"Past and present!" he repeated in a puzzled voice.

The viscount made a gesture of despair.

"Your theory is strangled at its birth," he said. "It is clear that those numbers do not refer to the Book of Numbers at all. You are on a wrong tack. 'Past and present!' There's no sense in it!"

For a moment or two Sexton Blake was inclined to agree with the viscount that his theory was at fault.

"Past—and—present!" he repeated to himself; and, again, "Past—and—present!"

"As you say," he said to the viscount, "the words appear to convey no sense; and yet—"

He broke off with a stifled cry of triumph.

"'Past and present!'" he exclaimed excitedly. "I knew I'd heard the combination before! How dense I am! 'Past and Present,' of course, is the title of one of Carlyle's best-known books!"

"So it is, now you mention it!" said the viscount. "But I still fail to see how that helps us."

"Where is Captain Owen's flat?" asked Sexton Blake.

"In Elgin Avenue."

"Have you ever been there?"


"Had the captain any books at his flat?"

"Heaps. He was a great reader."

"Then the mystery is solved," said Sexton Blake. "Amongst the captain's books at his flat in Elgin Avenue there is doubtless a copy of Carlyle's 'Past and Present.' And in that book—possibly concealed between the leather and the cardboard of the covers—your letter is hidden!"

"And the captain's books and other belongings are being removed this afternoon," said the viscount.

"Which means," said Sexton Blake, "that no time is to be lost if we are to prevent the letter falling into the hands of strangers. Your car is outside, I see. Come along!"

And a moment later the detective and his client were speeding their way to Elgin Avenue.

The captain's bedroom had already been dismantled when Sexton Blake and the viscount arrived. Two men were at work removing the things from the kitchen, but the sitting-room had not yet been disturbed.

It was just such a room as one would expect to find in the occupation of a sporting and much-travelled bachelor who had formerly been in the Army. Over the mantelpiece was a trophy of Zulu assegais and Moorish jezails. On one wall was a stuffed and varnished salmon, and on another a fox's head and brush. On the top of the bookcase stood a stuffed monkey, very old and disreputable-looking, and flanked on one side by an ebony elephant, hailing from Ceylon, and on the other by a Burmese idol. It was to the bookcase that Sexton Blake naturally directed his attention. It contained a curious medley of books—sporting novels, racing guides, military text-books, volumes of poems, and works of classic authors.

Amongst the latter the detective speedily discovered a copy of Carlyle's "Past and Present;" but, although he examined it most carefully, he failed to discover the slightest sign of any letter concealed therein. On the fly-leaf, however, he observed that there was written, in bold characters:

"To Viscount M. Book Two. Title."

It should here be explained—though the reader doubtless knows it—that Carlyle's famous work is divided into four books. The first book is entitled "Proem," the second "The Ancient Monk," the third "The Modern Worker," and the fourth "Horoscope."

"'To Viscount M.," murmured Sexton Blake. "'Book Two. Title.' That is evidently meant as a direction to you, viscount."

"But what does it mean?" asked the bewildered viscount. "What is the title of Book Two?"

The detective turned over tile leaves of the volume.

"'The Ancient Monk,'" he said. "That's the title of Book Two; and the words are meant, without a doubt, to furnish you with another clue to the whereabouts of the hidden letter."

Once more the viscount made a gesture of despair.

"'The Ancient Monk,'" he said. "The words convey no sense to me, and most assuredly they do not give any clue to the hiding-place of the letter. Do they give you any clue?"

Sexton Blake shook his head.

"At present," he said, "I'm bound to confess that I'm as much in the dark as you are. At the same time, there cannot be the slightest doubt that these words are meant to—"

Suddenly he paused, and burst out laughing.

The viscount bridled up.

"I don't see anything to laugh at!" he said stiffly.

"Don't you?" said Sexton Blake, still laughing. "Then you evidently don't possess the sense of humour which Captain Owen possessed. 'The Ancient Monk!' The wag! What a humorous rascal he must have been!"

"He was," admitted the viscount. "When he let himself go, he was one of the funniest men I ever met. But why this hilarity?"

"'The Ancient Monk,'" of course said Sexton Blake, with a chuckle.

The viscount began to lose his temper.

"This may be a laughing matter for you," he said angrily, "but it's a matter of life and death for me!"

"I beg your pardon," said Sexton Blake humbly. "For the future I'm as solemn as a tombstone!"

"If you have discovered any clue to the hiding-place of the letter," said the viscount, "I beg of you to explain!"

"With pleasure," said Sexton Blake.

He pointed to the stuffed monkey on the top of the bookcase.

"The Ancient Monk!" he said. "And a very ancient monk it is, to be sure! See the idea?"

The viscount started. "You think the letter is hidden inside that monkey?" he gasped.

"I'm willing to bet on it!" said Sexton Blake. "Anyhow, we'll soon see how far my belief is justified!"

He lifted down the "ancient monk," took out his pocket-knife, opened the biggest blade, and slit the animal open.

And there, sure enough, rolled up in a goose-quill, and concealed in one of the monkey's legs, was the viscount's compromising letter.

"Which shows you," said Sexton Blake, as they left the flat, "that a little imagination, a sense of humour, and a knowledge of English literature are by no means bad equipments for an up-to-date detective!"


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.