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First published in Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, 10 July 1909

Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Manawatu Times, New Zealand, 6 September 1909
(this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2016
Version Date: 2021-05-01
Produced by Roy Glashan
Proofread by Gordon Hobley

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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BLAKE tossed the wire across to Bathurst.

"Ever heard of the Merriton Herald?" he asked whimsically. "Truly the power of the Press is upon us these days! The man wires as if he were at least a German princeling. I am afraid that I shall be inconsiderate enough to disappoint him. Meanwhile, I would be at peace, and read my papers."

Bathurst picked up the telegram and glanced at it carelessly. Having mastered its contents, he threw it aside, and continued his breakfast in silence. Blake was reading betwixt spasmodic mouthfuls of toast and marmalade, when suddenly he gave vent to a hurried exclamation of surprise.

"By Jove! That Merriton man seems to have stumbled across something a bit off the ordinary lines. The thing he wires about is in the morning papers," he said. "Listen to this. It is headed, 'The Barton Tunnel Mystery:'"

"Barton Tunnel is some six miles from Merriton on a small single-line railway linking up Merriton with the main system, which it joins at Fulchurch Junction.

"There is a train which leaves Merriton at 4.20 p.m. and arrives at Fulchurch at 4.40. When it drew into that station yesterday afternoon, a guard, on opening the door of a first-class smoker, was horrified to discover the body of a well-dressed, middle-aged man lying in a huddled heap on the floor near the farther door, the window of which was down.

"He at once summoned assistance, and it was found that the man was dead. He had received a terrific blow on the left temple, which had fractured the skull.

"He was immediately recognised by some of the railway employees as a Mr. Flaxman—a well-known resident of Merriton, who constantly travelled by that line. The body was removed to one of the waiting-rooms, and the police and a doctor summoned.

"The doctor, after examining the wound, asserted unhesitatingly that the blow had been struck with such terrific force that death must have been practically instantaneous.

"A considerable sum of money in notes and gold was found on the body; also a valuable gold repeater and other articles of jewellery. The carriage showed no signs of anything in the nature of a serious or prolonged struggle having taken place; but the cushion nearest the corner on the seat facing the engine was partially displaced.

"The police adopted the theory that the blow must have been struck suddenly—Mr. Flaxman being taken unawares—and that his assailant must have managed to effect his escape, taking the weapon used with him.

"From the nature of the wound the weapon is supposed to have been a heavy life-preserver or some similar object. Their theory is supported by the fact that there has been a small but very vindictive labour strike at Merriton, which originated in a company of which Mr. Flaxman was chairman. His uncompromising attitude towards the strikers was well known.

"The authorities at Merriton were at once communicated with, the result being that a fresh complication arose.

"Both the stationmaster and the ticket-collector at that station had not only seen Mr. Flaxman into an empty carriage, but had stood chatting with him till the train moved out. The farther door—the one by which the body was found—was locked. In addition to Mr. Flaxman, there were barely half-a-dozen passengers on that particular train, all local residents well known by name and sight, and on the face of it to attempt to connect them with the crime would be absurd.

"The difficulty, therefore, is to ascertain at what point the murderer can have gained access to and left the train.

"The latter makes, the entire journey at a speed of a trifle over thirty miles an hour with one exception—near Barton Tunnel the line is under repair, and all trains are compelled to slow down to a speed of something under eight miles until the tunnel has been left behind.

"Even at that speed, however, it would require a man of very exceptional daring and activity to board it successfully, and to do so unobserved, with a gang of workmen scattered along the line, would be additionally difficult.

"The suggested motive is revenge."

"Seems to me to be rather a tough nut to crack," said Bathurst, "unless one of the strikers managed to get a temporary job on the line, and watched his chance to get Flaxman alone."

"That is certainly a point worth considering; but then—" Blake paused abruptly. "It's no use theorising before one has been over the ground oneself. I think we'll accept Mr. Johnson's invitation, after all, and run down. You might look up a train whilst I sort out these papers. I'll be ready in twenty minutes or so."

Merriton is barely an hour's run from town, including the change at Fulchurch, and they decided to go direct to the terminus, Mr. Flaxman's body having been already removed there.

Blake, who had been placidly reading all the way to the junction, roused himself into almost feverish activity as soon as they entered the little local train.

He himself took the window on that side of the carriage where the body had been found, and stood by it, stop-watch in hand, mechanically checking the speed of the train by the jolt-jolt of the rails and the known distances of the telegraph-posts. Bathurst took charge of the other window, for they had the carriage entirely to themselves.

Arriving at the tunnel, Blake kept watch with renewed vigilance, even going to the length of holding his walking-stick out of the window, at about the height of a man's head in a stooping position, in order to satisfy himself that there was no projection coming sufficiently close to the window to have caused the injury—supposing Mr. Flaxman had been looking out at the time and leaning forward.

Blake remained at his post until the train drew in at Merriton.

Mr. Johnson, the editor, was waiting to meet them, having been apprised by wire of their coming.

"This is good of you indeed, Mr. Blake!" he said effusively. "I hardly ventured to hope that you would come. The truth is, I am especially anxious to place the case in your hands for private reasons. We have been agitating for some time to get a more intelligent police service in the town—at present they are very lax—and the Herald has pitched into them pretty hot on one or two recent occasions. If you, acting for the paper, as it were, can elucidate the mystery of poor Mr. Flaxman's death it will be a scoop for us and another nail in their coffin, and the authorities will be compelled to take notice of our complaints. First of all you will, I suppose, wish to see the body, and I have made all arrangements."

Blake shook his head.

"First of all," he said, "I wish to wait till the station is clear, and then to examine the carriage in which the body was found. I understand that it is in the siding here?"

"That is so. One moment. I'll fetch the stationmaster."

When that individual arrived they adjourned to the siding. Blake, standing on the line, measured the height of the lowest footboard with his eye, and shook his head.

"I count myself an active man," he said—"probably more active than the average—but it would be a physical impossibility for me to gain access to that carriage when in motion from the level of the line. Try it, Bathurst, now that the carriage is at rest even, and you will find it a bit of a scramble. You must bear in mind that a touch of your foot on the wheel, or a slip, would inevitably mean death or disablement."

Bathurst tried; but it was only after a third attempt that he at last scrambled up.

"You see," said Blake, "with the train moving at a minimum speed of eight miles the thing would be impossible. No living man can have boarded that carriage when once it was under way, nor can he have done so as it was leaving the station, for the stationmaster here was watching this particular carriage. Let's have a look at the interior."

Passing round to the platform side, they entered, There was nothing to be seen, except that the cushion by the door—which was still locked—was a trifle disarranged, and there was an ugly smear on the floor-carpet where the dead man's head had lain.

"Where was Mr. Flaxman's hat found?" asked Blake.

"On the seat, sir, here," said the stationmaster. "He took it off and placed it there whilst I was speaking to him."

"Humph! And this window of the door which is locked was open then?"

"He opened it himself directly he got into the carriage. It was a blazing sunny afternoon, sir, and very hot."

"Thank you! By the way, the train as it stands in the station now is made up exactly as yesterday's 4.20?"

"Exactly the same, sir—with the exception that another carriage is substituted for this, of course?"

"Quite so! And now, Mr. Johnson, I should like to see the body."

Their visit to the mortuary was a brief one. The wound was just such as had been described, and might have been inflicted by almost any blunt, round-ended weapon—a life-preserver, a pebble, a heavy knob-stick.

The one point noticeable about it was the position—it was exactly over the left temple.

Blake examined it.

"This is particularly interesting," he said. "The theory is that Mr. Flaxman was attacked suddenly—taken unawares; yet, from the position of the wound, it is quite impossible that the attack could have been made from behind."

"By Jove, Mr. Blake, you're right!" exclaimed Johnson. "He must have seen the man—even if it was only at the last instant."

"This is one of those cases," said Blake, in which, having eliminated all that cannot have happened, we must pin our minds to what must have happened, however improbable it may appear at first sight.

"Mr. Flaxman entered the carriage here at Merriton in good health and spirits. One door of the carriage is locked, the other under observation, and the train was travelling at a very considerable speed.

"We have proved by experiment that it is a physical impossibility that any man can have entered the carriage from the line en route—even setting aside the fact that he could not have known in which carriage Mr. Flaxman was travelling. It is equally impossible that a man from another carriage could have made his way along the footboards, for the handholds, the distances between which I measured, are too far apart.

"Yet Mr. Flaxman was found dead when the train drew into Fulchurch, twenty minutes later, and there is no obstruction of any sort along the line or in the tunnel which comes closer than five feet to the carriage window.

"From those facts—and from the fact that there was no attempt at robbery, though the dead man had property of considerable value on him—there is one obvious deduction—that Mr. Flaxman's assailant was not on the train at all during any part of the journey."

"But, confound it all, you yourself said that, from the position of the wound, he must have seen the man!"

"Pardon me! It was you who said that. All I pointed out was that the blow could not have been struck from behind. By the way, perhaps you can tell me, was Mr. Flaxman an athletic man—fond of sports, and so forth?"

"Yes, very. Of course, he was getting on a bit, and had put on weight, so he couldn't do much himself except play golf; but he was a keen supporter if the local cricket and football clubs."

"Ah, thanks! Well, now, if I may, I'll leave my friend Bathurst on your hands for an hour or so whilst I go for a stroll. I can't tell you when I shall be back, but the moment I return I will some straight to your office."

"You have a theory, then?"

"That is, perhaps, too much to say; but I have every hope of finding the implement with which Mr. Flaxman was killed."

It was past five in the afternoon when Blake knocked at the door of Mr. Johnson's private sanctum.

"There's someone with him," said Bathurst. "I wonder—"

The door was flung open, and Blake appeared, ushering in an elderly gentleman with a white moustache, dressed in a light flannel suit, and obviously much agitated.

"Colonel Kingsford!" exclaimed Mr. Johnson, in surprise.

"Yes, Colonel Kingsford," said Blake gravely, "who, unfortunately, but quite innocently, is responsible for Mr. Flaxman's death."

"Good heavens!" gasped Mr. Johnson. And the colonel sank heavily into a chair, covering his eyes with his hand.

"But, my dear sir, this is impossible!" Johnson blurted out.

"On the contrary, it is, unfortunately, the truth," said Blake. "The whole affair was an accident. I will explain. I told you that I had satisfied myself that Mr. Flaxman's assailant had not been on the train, As a matter of fact. I felt pretty sure that he had not been near it. In other words, I was sure the implement was really a missile of some sort—a rounded stone thrown by chance by some mischievous boy, or—and this was far more favourable—a golf-ball.

"On my way down the line I had noticed a golf-course on that side, some of the holes of which run parallel with, and dangerously close to, the railway.

"Two at least of the teeing-grounds are so placed that a sliced ball—that is, of course, a ball curving away to the right—would inevitably cross the line or crash into a passing train. A ball hit with the full strength of a grown man has a terrific initial velocity; add to that the velocity of a train travelling at nearly thirty miles an hour in the opposite direction, and the force of impact would be tremendous.

"I bicycled out to the club, obtained the services of half a dozen boys, and bade them search the line and the embankment at points where a ball driven from either of those two tees might he expected to land after rebound from the impact. It took a couple of hours' hard searching, but at last we found it in some long grass halfway down the slope. Here it is. You will notice that there are still slight traces of blood on this side of it.

"As luck would have it, the owner, as is not unusual, had put a private mark on it—this little circle, drawn with an indelible ink pencil. One of the caddies recognised it at once as Colonel Kingsford's mark. Of course, I had not told them why I was searching for a ball there.

"I found Colonel Kingsford at the club, and, on my asking him, he at once remembered losing a ball at that hole the previous afternoon. He was playing a round with his wife. They had no caddies with them, and on that particular hole the full glare of the sun was straight in their eyes. Neither of them saw the ball at all from the instant of its leaving the tee. Not only that, the colonel distinctly remembers the train passing as he played his stroke, and accounted for his failure to see the ball by the fact that the train distracted his attention.

"What happened, of course, was that he drove it away to the right, Mr. Flaxman was leaning partly out of the open window, looking at the course—he was, I learn, a prominent member of the club—and the ball caught him with terrific force on the side of the head, killing him instantly.

"It was a deplorable accident, and I am sure the colonel has our sincerest sympathies.

"Bathurst, we can just catch the up train if we hurry."


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.