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First published in Answers, Amalgamated Press, London, 9 March 1910
Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, 27 May 1910 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-04-16
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

WHEN he first met Mr. Owen Ormston, Sexton Blake thought that he had never seen a human being who so strongly resembled a bird. The hooked nose, fluffy side-whiskers, and large, short-sighted, round eyes peering from behind heavyrimmed spectacles, gave the owner of Croom Court an amazing resemblance to a large, amiable owl.

MR. ORMSTON'S name was familiar to Blake. He had read his monograph on British shore birds; but of the reason why he himself had been so hastily summoned to Croom Court he was ignorant.

"I am glad to see you, Mr. Blake," said Mr. Ormston, with nervous eagerness. "Come in, please! Lycett"—speaking to the footman—"take this gentleman's luggage to his room."

He led the detective into a large, comfortable apartment, which seemed half study, half workshop. There was a big desk littered with papers, tall bookshelves full of works on bird lore, and one wall was hidden by beautifully-constructed collector's cabinets, each drawer neatly labelled. Below was a long line of glass-topped cases, in the compartments of which lay clutches of eggs, neatly displayed upon cotton-wool.

"You take an interest in wild birds' eggs, Mr. Blake?" began Mr. Ormston.

"A very amateurish one, I'm afraid," replied Blake.

"It is about one these eggs that I have requested your services," said the other eagerly. "I have had a dreadful loss, Mr. Blalke. The gem of my collection, my great auk's egg, has mysteriously vanished."

"But," returned Blake, in surprise, pointing to one of the compartments where lay, in solitary glory, a large mottled egg, some five inches long by three wide, "surely this is the egg you speak of—the egg of the long extinct Alca impennis!"

Mr. Ormston shook his head sadly.

"That," he said, "is only an imitation in plaster of Paris. The real egg was far too precious for casual exhibition. I kept it carefully locked in a special metal-lined drawer. Yesterday, when I opened the draw, it was gone!"

His tones were pitiful. Blake felt a sudden pity for the kindly old man. He knew there is no grief like that of the ardent collector robbed of his greatest treasure. And as he was aware that there are in existence only sixty-eight specimens of this extinct bird, and that these are valued at three hundred pounds apiece, he could quite understand Mr. Ormston's emotion.

"When did you last see the egg?" he asked.

"Six days ago," was the prompt reply.

"Have you any suspicions as to the culprit? You must be quite open with me," he added, as he saw the other hesitate.

"Very well, I will tell you all I know," replied Mr. Ormston, with sudden decision. "It is a dreadful thing, but I fear it is my nephew, Trevor Ormston, who has taken the egg. On Friday last the very day after I last looked at the egg, I opened a letter addressed simply "Mr. Ormston," and read it through before I realised that it was meant, not for me, but for my nephew.

"This letter was from a bookmaker, and demanded in curt terms a cheque for £130.

"I had no idea that Trevor gambled, and I was angry. When he came down to breakfast, and I handed him the letter, I spoke to him very sharply, and told him that I made him a good allowance, and had no intention of paying his gambling debts. He answered angrily that I had better wait until he asked me to do so, and left the table without finishing his breakfast."

"But that is not evidence," said Blake, as Mr. Ormston paused. "¥our nephew may have had the money to settle the debt."

"Wait!" exclaimed the other. "I happened to know that Trevor's account at his bank was overdrawn, he is an extravagant youngster, though, so far as I am aware, not vicious. On Monday it occurred to me that I had been hasty, and wrote to the bookmaker, enclosing a cheqnue for the amount. Yesterday—Wednesday—the cheque came back, with a civil letter, saying that the account had been settled."

Blake pursed his lips. "Even that does not connect your nephew directly with the theft."

"Heaven knows that the last thing I desire is to connect him with it! But there is, unfortunately, further evidence against him. In the first place, he is the only person in the house besides myself who has free access to this room. I am so particular that I always lock the door when I am out of it, and when it is swept and dusted, my old butler, Moreland, stands by, and supervises the maid who does the work. In the second place, Trevor went up to town for the day on Tuesday. Worse than all, Mr. Blake, when I asked him where he got the money to settle with the bookmaker, he got red and confused, and refused to tell me."

Blake's face assumed a serious expression.

"You are right, Mr. Ormston. What you have just told me puts a very different complexion upon the case. But there is one point which occurs to me. A great auk's egg is not like a piece of jewellery, which you can dispose of at any pawnbroker's. It is such a rarity that the sale of a specimen creates a small sensation in the ornithological world, and is usually chronicled in the papers. How could your nephew have disposed of the egg?"

"Your question is a sound one," replied Mr. Ormston approvingly. "But when I tell you that Nelson Q. Gedney is in London, you will appreciate the fact."

"Gedney, the American collector?" exclaimed Blake.

"The same. He is a millionaire, Mr. Blake, and, what is more, is as unscrupulous as he is rich. He has not got a good specimen of the great auk's egg, and I am certain that for one like mine he would pay full market price and ask no questions."

Blake nodded.

"You are probably right, Mr. Ormston." He stopped, and considered a moment. "I think the best thing that I can do is to stay here at Croom for the present. There are enquiries which I must make upon the spot, and I also wish to meet your nephew. One other question, Mr. Ormston. Have you told anyone of your loss?"

"No one besides yourself. Not even Moreland."

"Your butler, you mean?"

"Yes. He is almost more than that, Mr. Blake. One of those old family servants who one may class as friends. He, too, is a collector, but of freshwater shells, not birds' eggs. If you want to win his heart, you should ask him to show you his collection."

"And your nephew?" asked Blake. "You have not mentioned the disappearance of the egg to him?"

"I have not said a word to him."

"I am glad of that. And does your household know anything of my identity?"

"Probably not, for this is an out-of-the-way part of the world. And even if they do, it is only the guilty one who could connect your presence here with your profession. I told Moreland that you were a brother collector, interested in my work."

"Very wise," said Blake, approvingly.

At luncheon Blake met Trevor Ormston, a well-set-up young Englishman, with a tanned face and dressed in a rough suit of grey tweeds. There was nothing to distinguish him from a thousand other products of the public school and university. Certainly there was nothing about him to connect with a crime; but Blake knew too well to judge by first appearances.

The luncheon was well-cooked and well-served. Moreland, the grey-haired butler, was assisted by Lycett, the footman who had taken up Blake's luggage.

After the meal, Trevor offered to show him over the farm. Blake accepted the invitation, but after an hour's stroll excused himself on the plea of letters for the post, and came back alone. The door was locked. Moreland answered the bell. Blake engaged the old man in conversation, and presently said:

"Mr. Ormston tells me that you, like him, are a collector."

A gratified smile crossed the butler's face.

"In a very humble way, sir," he answered. "If you take any interest in such things, sir, I should be more than pleased to show you my little collection.

"I shall be delighted," said Blake, cordially, and followed Moreland to the back regions.

An hour later, Blake, who had apparently forgotten all about his letters, was sitting in a little summer-house in the garden. He was evidently deeply wrapped in thought. He sat there for a long time, and then at last got up, and began strolling casually through the well-kept grounds and shrubberies which surrounded the house.

That evening and the next day Blake never left the house for long at a time, but for all the effort he appeared to be making to solve the mystery, he might, indeed, have been a guest. On the second evening, Lycett, the footman, asked leave to go to Southampton next day, in order to see his brother, a soldier whose regiment was leaving England for India. The following morning at breakfast Trevor Ormston announced his intention of running up to town for the day.

"Got a bit of shopping to do," he explained, "and I have to see my tailor."

Blake made no remark, but after breakfast Mr. Ormston found a note on his writing-table, addressed in Blake's characteristic hand.

"I am going away for the day," it ran. "I hope to be back for dinner. I have taken the liberty of borrowing your artificial great auk's egg."

When the dinner-gong sounded, Blake was waiting in the drawing-room, perfectly turned out, as usual, in irreproachable evening-dress. Trevor, too, was there, looking rather pleased with himself. The two men were chatting easily when Mr. Ormston came in. The latter hoped that after dinner Blake would volunteer some explanation, but he was disappointed.

Mr. Ormston lay awake that night, worrying over the whole business, with the result that next morning he was late for breakfast. He found Blake down before him, eating kidneys and bacon with a zest which spoke well for his health and appetite. Of Trevor there was no sign. Mr. Ormston sat down heavily in his place, and languidly raised the cover of the silver breakfast-dish in front of him. Then he leaped from his chair with a shout.

In the dish lay the great auk's egg, safe and sound as when he had last seen it a week before in his cabinet.

"Forgive me," said Blake, with a laugh. "I had no business to startle you, but I could not resist the opportunity for a small practical joke."

"Forgive you! I'd forgive you for more than that, my dear fellow, for restoring my treasure. But how—how in the name of wonder have you accomplished the miracle?"

"It was really a very simple matter," replied Blake modestly. "In the first place, let me assure you that your nephew, who, by-the-bye, has breakfasted early and gone out, had nothing whatever to do with the theft."

"Thank Heaven for that!" exclaimed Mr. Ormston earnestly. "But who, then, was the real thief?"

"I'll come to that in a minute. You remember telling me that Moreland was a collector?"

"I do."

"I acted upon your suggestion, and asked him to let me see his shells. That gave me an opportunity for a talk, and I told him that you were anxious about your nephew, and feared he had run into debt beyond his means. I told him, in fact, about the bookmaker's letter. He was oddly confused, but begged me to believe that Mr. Trevor had come by the money in a perfectly legitimate manner. I drew my own conclusions, and went out into the garden, which I explored thoroughly."

"The garden!" exclaimed Mr. Orraston, amazed.

"Yes. I was already nearly certain of the identity of the thief, and I had made up my mind that the egg was in all probability concealed—buried most likely—in the grounds. Presently I found that there was just one spot which was not commanded by any of the windows. It is that plantation of deodars on the north-west side of the house. Choosing the time when I knew that tea was being brought in, I made a thorough search, and sure enough found the egg buried at the foot of a tree. It was in a box, well-wrapped in wool. I covered it up again, and left it exactly as I had found it."

Mr. Ormston stared in stupefaction,

"Left it! Good heavens, why did you not bring it in at once?"

"That would never have done. Remember, I had to clear your nephew, and for that reason, if for no other, it was necessary to have proof against the real culprit."

"I see. And then?"

"Then I waited. I knew the thief must take his his spoils to market. The night before last I learned from Moreland that the footman, Lycett, had asked for leave to go away for a day."

"Lycett! Then he is the thief?"

"Yes, as I had suspected almost from the beginning. I had a clue the very day I was here. At luncheon I noticed the remains of a green moss-stain on the left knee of his livery trousers. It had been well-brushed, but there was quite enough left to give him away.

"As soon as I knew what Lycett was after, I borrowed the sham egg and substituted it for the real one, and next morning followed the man. Just as I expected, it was the London train which he took, not the Southampton. I followed him to Waterloo, and from there to the house which Mr. Gedney has taken in Hans Place. I watched him ring the bell and enter, and then I came away."

"Came away! But why didn't you arrest the scoundrel at once, and hand him over to the police?"

Blake laughed, and handed him a morning paper. It contained an account of how a man who called himself Green had been handed over to the police by Mr. Nelson Q. Gedney, for endeavoring to swindle him by selling a sham great auk's egg.

Mr. Ormston was so pleased and excited that some minutes elapsed before it occurred to him to ask Blake from what source Trevor had got the money to pay off the bookmaker.

"Surely that is clear enough," said Blake. "Moreland lent it to him. The old man has a very snug nest-egg of his own, and is devoted to your nephew."

"He shall not lose by it," said Mr. Ormston warmly.

And Moreland found that he kept his word.


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.