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First published in Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, 13 March 1909
Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, 1 May 1909 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2022-07-22

Produced by Roy Glashan
Proofread by Gordon Hobley and Mark Munro

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright

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IT was a stormy night in mid-December, and Father Benn, the priest in charge of the Catholic Mission at Rocksby, a fishing village on the Yorkshire coast, had just finished hearing confessions, and had returned to his cosy sitting-room, when the presbytery re-echoed with a violent pealing of the front-door bell.

So loud and peremptory was the ring that Father Benn, instead of waiting for his housekeeper to answer the summons, ran to the door himself. Ere he had time to reach it, however, it was suddenly flung open, and a tall, thin, weedy-looking young fellow, one side of whose face was streaming with blood, stumbled across the threshold, slammed the door behind him, and planted his back to it.

"Don't let 'im in!" he panted wildly and incoherently. "He isn't far behind me! He's tried to murder me once, and he'll do it if yer let 'im in!"

To say that Father Benn was astounded and bewildered is to describe his feelings mildly. He knew everybody in the neighbourhood, yet this weakly-looking young fellow was an utter stranger to him. His age was apparently twenty-five or twenty-six, and his appearance and manner of speech were those of a poor working-man. His clothes were splashed with mud, he had lost his hat, and one side of his face, as already stated, was streaming with blood. From head to foot he was trembling with mingled terror and excitement; and, from the way in which he was gasping for breath, he appeared to have been running for a considerable distance at an unaccustomed pace.

"Who are you?" demanded Father Benn.

"My name—" began the young fellow; then he suddenly stiffened, and his eyes dilated with panic-stricken fear. "He's outside!" he almost screamed. "I can 'ear 'im! Don't let 'im in! Don't let 'im in!"

More than half convinced that his visitor was mad, yet anxious to allay his obvious terror, Father Benn stepped up to the door, turned the key, and shot the bolts.

"There!" he said soothingly. "Nobody can come in now, and I promise you I won't let anybody in. Now, come into the sitting-room and tell me all about it."

He led the way into the sitting-room, where he closed the door and pointed to an easy-chair.

"Sit down," he said, in a kindly voice. "Shut the shutters first," said the young fellow, glancing at the uncurtained window, which overlooked a garden-plot at the side of the presbytery.

"I'm afraid I can't," said Father Benn. "There are no shutters."

"Then pull down the blind," said his visitor. "He's outside. I know he is, 'cos I 'eard 'im. If he looks through that winder he'll see me, an' if he sees me he'll—"

The sentence was never completed, for at that moment the sharp crack of a revolver mingled with the howling of the wind, and the next instant a bullet crashed through the window-pane, whistled past the reverend father's head, and buried itself in the young fellow's breast.

With a sobbing cry, the young man threw up his arms and fell in a huddled heap at Father Benn's feet.

"I told yer—I told yer!" he moaned. Then a rush of blood choked his further utterance, and he lapsed into unconsciousness. Acting on the impulse of the moment, Father Benn dashed to the window, threw up the sash, and leaped out into the garden. But the night was so dark, and the roar of the wind was so loud, he could neither see nor hear anything of the man who had fired the shot.

For a second or two he stood in the pelting rain, straining his ears and peering through the inky darkness; then he climbed back through the window, and turned his attention to his visitor, who was bleeding profusely from a bullet-wound on the left side of the chest.

In the meantime, the housekeeper had heard the revolver-shot, and a moment later, pale and scared, she burst into the room. The priest instructed her to fetch the village doctor and the village constable. The doctor was the first to arrive at the presbytery, where he helped Father Benn to carry the unconscious man upstairs, undress him, and place him in the priest's own bed. He then examined him, extracted the bullet—which had not penetrated very deeply, dressed the wound, and expressed the opinion that, "with luck," the man might yet pull through.

Whilst the doctor was dressing the wound the constable arrived. After hearing the priest's story, he took the responsibility of searching the young fellow's pockets, in the hope of finding some clue to his identity. In this, however, he was disappointed, for the only things the pockets contained were a handkerchief, a pipe, a plug of twist tobacco, a knife, a box of matches, a sovereign, nine shillings in silver, and four pence in copper.

As soon as the post office opened next morning the constable wired full particulars of the affair to the chief constable of the North Riding, who promptly sent an inspector to Rocksby to take charge of the case. The inspector, however, had no more success than the constable in his efforts to establish the identity of Father Benn's mysterious visitor. It is true that he ascertained that the young fellow had arrived at Rocksby by the 5.45 train from the south, and had given up a third-class single from Scarborough; but exhaustive enquiries in Scarborough failed to discover anybody who knew the man or anything about him. And so, next day, Father Benn, at his own expense, and solely in the interests of truth and justice, telegraphed for Sexton Blake.


"AND the man is still here?" said Sexton Blake, when Father Benn had told him all.


"May I see him ?"

"Certainly!" said the priest. And he led the detective up to the bedroom, where the unknown man, still unconscious, was being nursed by a nun. After bowing to the nun, Sexton Blake proceeded to examine the man.

The first thing that attracted his attention was the condition of the young fellow's arm, which, bare to the elbow, was lying on the outside of the counterpane. The muscles on the back of the forearm were terribly wasted, and when the detective raised the arm the hand drooped limply down, almost at right angles to the wrist.

"Suggestive!" he muttered to himself.

He parted the young fellow's lips, and examined his gums. On each of them, where the teeth joined the gums, there was a well-marked blue line.

"This is most important," he said. "You know, I suppose, the significance of this blue line?"

Father Benn shook his head.

"What does it signify?" he said.

"It signifies," said Sexton Blake, "that this young fellow has been suffering for some time from a disease known as lead poisoning. This blue line on the gums, this wasted condition of the muscles of the forearm, and this peculiar drooping of the wrist—which is known as 'dropwrist'—are all well-recognised symptoms of that disease, which is caused by the constant and frequent introduction into the system of minute quantities of lead.

"The men who are most commonly afflicted with lead-poisoning," he continued, "are lead-workers, painters, plumbers, and file-cutters. We may safely conclude, therefore, that this young man follows one of those occupations. From the absence of any paint stains on his hands, and from the absence of the burns and bruises which one usually finds on a plumber's hands, I have little hesitation in saying that he is either a lead-worker or a file-cutter. If we can discover which of these trades he followed, we shall have obtained a valuable clue to his identity."

"I don't know if this will help you, sir," said the nun, speaking for the first time, "but he has three peculiar spots on the upper part of his right arm. They were little more than scratches when first I saw him on Wednesday night, but during yesterday and to-day they have grown bigger and quite inflamed."

The nun rolled up the man's shirtsleeve; and the moment the detective's eyes fell on the "three peculiar spots" an involuntary cry of satisfaction rose to his lips.

"Re-vaccination marks!" he exclaimed. "From their appearance, four days old. Splendid! This man was re-vaccinated four days ago, from which we may safely conclude that he is a file-cutter, and comes from Sheffield."

The blank look of bewilderment which crossed Father Benn's face was eloquent of hie mystification,

"How do you make that out?" he asked.

"Here is a young fellow, twenty-five or twenty-six years of age, who was re-vaccinated four days ago," said Sexton Blake. "How many such will you find in the North of England at the present moment? Not many. But there is a town in the Midlands where young men, middle-aged men, and old men are being re-vaccinated at the present time by thousands. That town, of course, is Sheffield, where the prevailing epidemic of smallpox is driving the inhabitants to seek safety in re-vaccination."

It should here be explained that these events took place in December, 1887, when the epidemic of smallpox in Sheffield was just at its height.

"We have already decided," continued Sexton Blake, "that this young fellow is either a lead-worker or a file-cutter. We have discovered that he is suffering from lead-poisoning, and that he was re-vaccinated four days ago. There are practically no lead-workers in Sheffield, but there are thousands of file-cutters, amongst whom the disease of lead-poisoning is terribly prevalent. Putting two and two together, therefore, there is no doubt whatever in my mind that this young fellow is a file-cutter, and comes from Sheffield."

"Assuming that your theory is correct," said Father Benn, "what do you propose to do?"

"I propose to go to Sheffield by the next train," said Sexton Blake. "On reaching Sheffield I shall obtain a list of all the medical men in the town, and I shall then set to work to call on them. To each of the doctors I interview I shall describe this man, and to each of them I shall say, 'Did you, last Monday, re-vaccinate a young file-cutter such as I have described, and who was suffering from lead-poisoning? If so, what is his name, and where does he live?'

"And when I have found a doctor who answers my question in the affirmative," concluded Sexton Blake, "I shall have taken the first step towards solving the mystery of your unknown visitor's identity." Two hours later the detective left for Sheffield.


"YES," said the seventeenth doctor whom Sexton Blake interviewed; "I re-vaccinated the man you describe last Monday afternoon. His name is Arthur Wilson, and he lives at No. 5, Court 37, Portland Street."

A quarter of an hour later a hansom landed Sexton Blake at the entrance of the passage which led to Court 37, Portland Street. Bidding the driver wait for him, the detective strode up the passage to No. 5.

"Does Mr. Arthur Wilson live here?" he asked of the old woman who answered his knock.

"Yes; but 'e's away from 'ome at present," she replied. "Would you like to see 'is father?"

"Please," said Sexton Blake. And she thereupon conducted him to a dirty, barely-furnished bedroom, in which lay an old man, apparently in the last stage of consumption.

"My name is Sexton Blake," said the detective. "I've called to enquire about your son. He left here, I believe, last Wednesday, and went to Rocksby."

The old man started, and regarded him with a glance of stupefied amazement.

"'Ow did you know!" he gasped.

By way of reply, the detective told him all that had happened.

Long before he had finished, the old man's eyes blazed with fury.

"It was Julian Cole who shot 'im!" he cried. "Arthur must 'ave met 'im on 'is way to the 'All. Arthur must 'ave told 'im he was goin' to see Sir Norman, an' Cole must 'ave tried to murder 'im. But I'll be even with the scoundrel! I'll make a clean breast of everything!"

"The very best thing you can do," said Sexton Blake. "Fire away!"

"Thirty years ago," said Arthur Wilson's father, "I was butler at Rocksby 'All. There was livin' at the 'All at that time Sir Norman Verrill, who was a widower, 'is only son, Ralph Verrill, an' Sir Norman's nephew, Julian Cole. Julian's parents 'ad died a year or two before, an' Sir Norman 'ad adopted 'im.

"Ralph was a fine young feller, but Julian was a skunk, an' was always tryin' to supplant Ralph in Sir Norman's favour. At last 'is chance came. A burglar broke into the 'All one night, an' was riflin' Sir Norman's safe, when Ralph surprised 'im. The burglar stunned 'im with a life-preserver, an' 'ad just climbed out of the library winder, when Julian an' me arrived on the scene.

"We found Ralph lyin' unconscious by the side of the open safe, an' Julian sez to me, sez he, 'I'll give you five 'undred pounds if you'll tell Sir Norman as me an' you found Ralph riflin' the safe, an' knocked 'im down.'

"I accepted 'is offer; an', though Ralph protested 'is innocence when he came round, Sir Norman believed our story, an' he ordered Ralph to leave the 'ouse an' never darken its doors again. Next day he made a new will, disinheriting Ralph an' leavin' all to Julian.

"Julian paid me my five 'undred pounds," continued the old man, "an' a few months later I resigned my situation as butler at the 'All an' came to Sheffield, which is my native town. I took a pub, and in 1861 I married. Arthur was born in 1862, an' when he was eighteen years old my wife died. After 'er death everything went wrong, an' two years ago I gave up the pub, an' came to live 'ere with Arthur an' a 'ousekeeper. 'Im an' me got work as file-cutters, an' for eighteen months we did fairly well. Then 'e took bad with lead poisonin', an' I fell ill with consumption, an' last Tuesday the doctor told me I was goin' to die.

"Up till then I'd never told a livin' soul about the bargain between me an' Julian Cole. When I knew I was goin' to die, my conscience began to prick me; an', in the end, to make a long story short, I determined to tell Sir Norman everything. So I first told Arthur all about it, an' then I asked 'im to go to Rocksby an' ask Sir Norman to come an' see me.

"Arthur left 'ere on Wednesday afternoon," he concluded. "He couldn't book all the way to Rocksby, so he booked as far as Scarborough, which explains why he gave up a ticket from Scarborough when he arrived at Rocksby at 5.45 on Wednesday night. I expected 'im back, with Sir Norman, yesterday; an' it was not till you came this mornin', an' told me wot 'ad 'appened, that I knew why 'e 'adn't come."

"So your theory is," said Sexton Blake, "that your son arrived at Rocksby on Wednesday evening, that he met Cole on his way to the Hall, that he foolishly told him why he wished to see Sir Norman, that Cole attempted to shoot him, that your son fled and took refuge with Father Benn, and that Cole, who had followed him, shot him through the presbytery window?"

"Yes," said the old man.

"And I'm very much inclined to agree with you," said Sexton Blake. "Anyhow, I'll now return to Rocksby and test your theory."


IN accordance with this programme, the detective left Sheffield by the first available train, and arrived at Rocksby at a quarter to six in the evening. At half-past six he presented himself at Rocksby Hall, where, on asking for Sir Norman Verrill, he was informed by the butler that Sir Norman was away from home, and had been away for the past three weeks, but was expected back on Monday. On enquiring for Julian Cole, he was informed that Cole had hurriedly left the Hall on Wednesday night, saying that he was going to visit some friend in the south.

"He's lying low until he hears whether Wilson recovers or dies," said Sexton Blake to Father Benn. "If he hears that Wilson has died without telling his secret, he'll return to Rocksby. If he learns that the truth has been discovered, he'll never be heard of again."

The detective proved a true prophet. Nothing had been heard of Julian Cole up till Monday, when Sir Norman Verrill returned to Rocksby Hall, where Sexton Blake interviewed him.

ON Tuesday Arthur Wilson recovered consciousness, and confirmed his father's theory in every particular. Nothing more was ever heard of Julian Cole, but Ralph Verrill was traced by means of an advertisement in the newspapers. Ralph is now Sir Norman's acknowledged heir; and Arthur Wilson, whose father died a few weeks later, is at present in the enjoyment of a pension of three pounds a week from Ralph Verrill's father.


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.