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ANONYMOUS

THE WHITE MOUSE

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Ex Libris

First published in
Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, 15 May 1909

Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, 26 June 1909
(this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2021-05-01
Produced by Roy Glashan
Proofread by Gordon Hobley

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

Click here for more Sexton Blake stories


I.

ONE-AND-TWENTY! Lady Penberthy had gone to her dressing-room, tired and happy. It was the last rally. The March night was fine and warm, and the scent of the early flowers was lost in the smell of gunpowder. A shower of rockets hissed into the air. The tenants were calling to give the young squire another cheer. The great Italian fountain reflected the changing hues of the rockets in a tumbling mass of liquid jewels. Sir Eric Penberthy, a slight, handsome youngster, sprang lightly up on the parapet.

"Good-night, my friends, and thank you all!" he cried. "I'll try and treat you all as my dear father did, and I hardly think I could do more!"

The rest was lost in deafening cheers, Sir Eric stepped back into the ballroom. Though the tenants were making their way homewards, his guests would not go to bed for hours yet. As the band struck up the supper waltz Sir Eric passed through the splendid room, receiving congratulations and handshakes everywhere.

Sir Eric made his way to his mother's room. She turned to him with a loving smile.

"Are you very tired, darling?" he asked.

"Very tired, Eric, but very happy. They will understand why I have run away and left them. You must be both host and hostess for a few hours. And, Eric, send me the key of the safe. I must put these away. What silly things jewels are, after all! I have not worn that tiara since my wedding-night, Eric, and I shall never wear it again. That belongs to your future bride."

"It is very wonderful and beautiful, mother. I never saw it myself until to-day. I wonder what it is worth?"

They lay there on the dressing-table—not only the historic tiara, but the famous Penberthy bracelets, brooches, and chain. All the gems were exquisite.

"You forget that these are in the care of that detective from the bank, mother," said Sir Eric. "He can't take them back to London to-night, so I shall hand them over to him. Is this the jewel-case? Count them as I put them in."

It was a square case, covered with faded green leather. Sir Eric closed it and kissed his mother again. He ran down to the library. The man who had brought the Penberthy heirlooms, and who was there to guard them, and to carry them back in safety, stood smoking a cigarette, with his back to the fire.

"You have seen the strong-room, Mr. Darvin?"

The trusted messenger bowed.

"And you are satisfied with it?"

"Perfectly, Sir Eric!"

The young baronet opened the case. One by one the messenger took the jewels out, scrutinised them, and replaced them. Then he took out a printed form and signed a receipt.

The strong-room was at the back of the library, approached by a door and a barred gate. Eric saw him lock the safe and then the gate. The man placed the armchair against the gate, sat down in it, and lit a cigarette.

The telephone-bell in the library was ringing. Eric was in too great a hurry to return to his guests to attend to it, so he switched on the connection that communicated with the butler's room. It was probably only some forgetful chauffeur or groom who had forgotten for what time the motor or carriage had been ordered.

The great ballroom was over the library. The music had ceased, but sounds of merriment came from the balcony. Down below half-a-dozen young gentlemen were endeavoring to inflate a gigantic fire-balloon. Sir Eric's guests were not experts at their work. There was a torrent of laughter and chaff as the balloon caught fire and flared up in tall flames. Then came the sound of a shot, a woman's frantic scream, and a crash of glass.

"Stop him—stop him!"

A man in a frock-coat leapt down the slopes of the terrace like a hare. They all saw him distinctly, and that he was carrying what seemed to be a bag. In an instant six young athletes were at his heels. He doubled into the rhododendrons; but there could be no escape. Beyond that the garden opened, with its ornamental pond, surrounded by a marble parapet, a wide gravel sweep, and lawns and flower-beds on every side. Shouting, the pursuers burst through the shrubbery. The moon shone white, clear, and cold. There was not cover for a rabbit. They rubbed their eyes and doubled back through the shrubbery. Only the fountain sending silvery waves across the basin, the drive, the lawns wet with dew, and the black, fantastic outlines of the curved yews beyond. The man had vanished like a spectre.

In a ferment of excitement, the pursuers rushed to the library. Sir Eric's heart was sick with terror. Hilda, the lady's-maid, lay face downwards on the floor. The strong-room door stood wide open, and from beneath the gate protruded a man's foot, shod in a neat, patent-leather boot. The man was Malcolm Darvin, unconscious.

II.

"OF course, Sir Eric, in this case I am representing the bank and the insurance companies," said Sexton Blake. "You all rang me up together. Let me try to kill the three birds with one stone. I prefer to work independently, but do not let that influence you. There are plenty of smart men to be had."

Sexton Blake had not been there an hour, but he had not wasted a second of that hour. As Blake sipped a glass of sherry and munched a biscuit, Sir Eric explained that he had run his dogs through the shrubbery, but the best of them had failed to find any scent.

"You were asking too much," said Blake, "and it is rather a pity you did it. The paths and grass had been trampled over by scores of people, and the smell of stale fireworks would baffle any dog. What a glorious place this is! You are a lucky man, Sir Eric, to have your life before you and to be master of Penberthy Park—even without the jewels."

"Yes, yes; I know it is all very beautiful, and I love it!" said Eric impatiently. "But I do not want to lose the jewels, Mr. Blake. They are also to be admired. If they have time to break up the settings, however can we trace the gems? The large ones that we might trace will he smuggled to Holland and cut up beyond recognition."

"You have been reading sensational stories," Blake said. "All the big diamonds that are stolen do not go to Amsterdam in such a hurry. I have had the pleasure of speaking to your mother. She overlooked a diamond brooch, and sent Hilda down with it to be placed with the others in the safe. She says positively that you had not been gone five minutes when she found the forgotten brooch. How long were you with Darvin?"

"About five or six minutes, Mr. Blake."

"And the brooch vanished with the rest? I'll take the keys of the safe, Sir Eric. Remember, I am not Sexton Blake when I leave this room, but that eminent physician, Dr. Parlane, who arrived in the motor to prescribe for your mother. He's a dear friend of mine, and will forgive me for impersonating him. As Dr. Parlane, I have already hoodwinked your family physician. Hallo!"

There was a knock at the door. The butler had brought a telegram. Eric, in spite of all the worry and loss, as he closed the door, and saw, instead of the young, keen-eyed, vigorous detective, a mild-faced old gentleman with white mutton-chop whiskers and gold-rimmed spectacles, could not repress a laugh. The change had been as swift as it was thorough and convincing. Blake went into the strong-room, and then examined the jewel-safe.

"Sir Eric," he called, "please come here and lock me in; but lock the library door first. Then switch on the light."

The steel door closed with a clang. Blake sat down on the floor, for there was ample room. Not a streak of light was visible. He tapped the walls. There was a curious smell, probably the smell of parchment and musty old ledgers stored there. He crouched down again, his hands on the floor, peering everywhere; but all was as black as night. Then some living thing slid under his left hand and under his cuff. Blake felt it warm and quivering against the flesh of his arm.

"All right, Sir Eric!" he cried. "Open the door and let me out!"

The baronet stared in wonder, for sitting contentedly on the detective's wrist was a little white mouse with ruby eyes.

Discarding his disguise, Blake dropped on hands and knees, the white mouse perched on his shoulder, and began to crawl about the room. For a moment the baronet thought he was mad, but then he went down as well. Their heads almost collided.

"Found it!" cried the baronet triumphantly. "Or was it a dead heat? But, I say, what are you driving at?"

"Oh, you won!" laughed Blake. "I'll show you what I'm driving at presently. This is a fine old chest. Humph!"

He lifted the lid of the curved Jacobean locker. It stood about eighteen inches from the wall. The bottom had split away, and the chest did not fit tightly to the floor. There were a few hooks in it, but Sexton Blake did not look at them. What he seized and thrust into his pocket was a bottle with a ball-spray and a length of rubber-tubing attached to it.

"The thief was hidden in that chest," he said. "Look after the mouse. Dr. Parlane is going to wander round and inspect the antiquities."

III.

IT was drizzling a little. Leaving Sir Eric mystified, Sexton Blake hobbled down the steps of the terrace. He passed out of sight round the shrubbery. The beautiful fountain, with its four carved basins and the great, open-jawed fish at its summit, seemed to interest him. The head gardener happened to stroll past. He touched his hat to the distinguished visitor. Of course Dr. Parlane could see the fountain in full play. Blake rewarded the obliging gardener with five shillings. Then the sham doctor strolled on. He strolled by mistake into the garage, where Sir Eric's head chauffeur was watching one of the understrappers cleaning a car. Blake apologised for his blunder. Then he went home to lunch.

"Any news?" asked the baronet eagerly.

"No; I have not much news yet. I've got a special message to go to London to-night, and I want your head chauffeur to take it. He can easily run up in three hours. I want it to arrive about one o'clock in the morning. Don't tell him till nine o'clock, which will leave him an hour's notice. It's to a doctor in Soho for some special drugs."

"It's queer, but I'll do anything you tell me, Mr. Blake," said the baronet.

"Telephone to your chauffeur at nine, and meet me here. I shall have the message ready. 'Phone at nine."

At nine o'clock exactly the chauffeur answered the call from the garage. Dinner was just over. The mild-faced old doctor was sipping a liqueur. The man received his instructions, and took the envelope. His eyes sparkled as he glanced at the address.

The sham doctor rose twenty minutes later.

"Slip a dark coat over your dress suit," he said, "and come with me. Don't say a word; only be quick."

It was a breezy night, and the moon shone fitfully through driving clouds. They reached the fishpond. Blake swung his leg over the parapet, and, to Eric's amazement, waded to the fountain and began to climb. When he reached the third basin he climbed down again and waded back.

"Here are the stolen jewels," he said; "now for the thief. Keep still and hide. He'll come back, as sure as fate."

And they had not long to wait. It was dark, and then suddenly light again. Blake grasped Eric's arm. A man's figure appeared. They saw him pull up his trousers to the knee. A cloud darkened the moon, and then once more the moon shone out. The figure was clinging to the second basin of the fountain.

"Hands up, Gayner!" cried Sexton Blake. "I've got yon covered! You've lost the game this time! Face it like a man!"

The chauffeur uttered a cry of terror, lost his hold, and fell backwards headlong. They dragged him out, stunned, and half drowned.

"It's wonderful—it's too wonderful!" said Eric. "I understand, and yet I don't understand. Do tell me! I'll never tell a soul."

Blake's eyes twinkled as he showed the little white mouse.

"Oh, it's very simple!" he said. "You can never tell when a man will go wrong, but I trusted that messenger. You gave him the keys to inspect the strong-room. He told me that he knew nothing after you left him in the strong-room till he saw me. He had been drugged. But how! Well, I know something about drugs, but only one that will knock a man over with one whiff and leave no smell. The brute who invented it is doing a 'lifer' in Devil's Island, the French penal settlement.

"We now know that your half-French, half-English chauffeur escaped from Devil's Island. I saw at once how he escaped from here when the maid surprised him. It was a brilliant stroke to take refuge in the fountain, where he was perfectly screened. He had only to lie in one of the basins and walk away when all was quiet. He seems to have had the run of the house, too, and he laid his plans cleverly. He knew that the jewels would be produced on your twenty-first birthday. And this little white mouse told him when the atmosphere was clear enough for him to venture out of the chest. And a criminal who keeps one of those cages for tame mice, even when it is smashed up and thrown on his rubbish-heap, is a fool. I saw it there.

"At least," added Sexton Blake, "he's a fool when he leaves behind him a ball-spray he used for transmitting a deadly drug when hiding in an old chest. Mend your old chests, Sir Eric, and—Well, I'll keep the little white mouse."

"But why did you want to send him to London at such an hour?" Tell me that, and all will be pretty clear."

"Because, as I told you," answered Sexton Blake, "all the big diamonds don't go to Amsterdam. I guessed where he would take them. That's why I gave him an hour. He telephoned to the gang that he would be there with the goods about one o'clock. I went instead, and with your jewel-case and in your car. It was a scoop. I caught the gang. Good little white mouse!"


THE END


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.