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ANONYMOUS

THE RECIPE FOR RUBBER

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Ex Libris

First published in Answers, Amalgamated Press, London, 14 May 1910
Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, 13 July 1910 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-05-09
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.

"WAIT for me!" said Blake to the driver, as he sprang out of the taxi and ran up the steps of the tall, old-fashioned house. He was evidently expected, for the door was flung open before he could ring, and a manservant, with an agitated face, said hastily:

"Mr. Shand is waiting for you, sir. This way, if you please!"

He showed the detective into a spacious, high-ceilinged room, fitted as a laboratory. A tall, lean old man, with rumpled grey hair and anxious eyes, hurried forward.

"Thank goodness you have come, Mr. Blake!" he exclaimed.

Blake had often heard of Baldwin Shand, whose reputation as a chemist and scientist was world-wide, but had never before set eyes upon him. Mr. Shand led a very retired life, and was seldom seen beyond the walls of his old-fashioned Fulham residence. Mr. Shand, on the detective's arrival, was literally shaking with repressed emotion.

"I have been robbed, Mr. Blake," he burst out, "cruelly robbed by my nearest relative, and it has upset me terribly."

"That is not to be wondered at," said Blake, sympathetically. "Do you feel equal to telling me the facts?"

"Yes: and the sooner I do so the better," replied Mr. Shand, pulling himself together.

"For years past I have spent most of my time in attempting to discover a synthetic substitute for india-rubber. Three weeks ago I succeeded. By compounding certain materials and treating them with a particular acid I produced a perfectly elastic substance with all the qualities of the best Para rubber, and this can be manufactured at a cost of rather less than a shilling a pound."

Blake's lips pursed in a soundless whistle. It was the great secret that thousands of chemists had been tailing after for the past quarter of a century. Rubber at a shilling a pound, and at the present moment Para stood at nine shillings and eightpence!

Mr. Shand went on without noticing Blake's surprise.

"I at once began negotiations with Messrs. Scott and Rayson for the sale of my discovery. Their expert called, and the result was that the firm offered me for my secret a very large sum in cash as well as a royalty. Meantime, I kept the formula locked in this safe," pointing to a small iron affair let into the wall of the room.

"A little more than an hour ago I was busy here in my laboratory, when Snell, my butler, came to tell me that I was wanted on the telephone. I detest being interrupted while at work, and told him to answer the call. But when I heard that it was Mr. Rayson who wished to speak to me I went out, locking the door behind me, and putting the key in my pocket. The telephone is in my study at the back of the house. There was some delay in getting through, and when I did get a reply it was not in Mr. Rayson's voice. Someone professing to be a clerk said he had been suddenly called away, and would ring me up later. I have since ascertained that the call was fraudulent. No one from Scott and Rayson's rang me up to-day.

"But I had no suspicion of anything wrong until I came back to this room and found the door unlocked. Naturally, the first thing I thought of was the formula, and I rushed to the safe. It, too, was open, and the envelope containing the recipe was gone."

"You said the culprit was your nearest relative, Mr. Shand," Blake suggested.

"Yes, my nephew—Walcot Shand. As soon as I discovered my loss I rang for Snell and asked him who had been in.

"'Only Mr. Walcot, sir,' was the answer. 'He came in a few moments before you were called to the telephone, and he has just gone out again. He seemed in a great hurry.'"

"Then he knew of the existence of the formula?" asked Blake.

"I was fool enough to tell him," replied the other. "I thought I could trust my dead brother's son, but I might have known better."

"But there were others who knew of your discovery," said Blake quickly. "Messrs Scott and Rayson, for instance."

"Surely you do not imagine that they would talk! With German spies by the dozen all over London and millions at stake! Why speak of them? We have the clearest proof against my nephew. He was seen both coming into the house and going out."

"It looks a clear case on the face of it," said Blake quietly. "Of course, he would know the value of the discovery? Have you any idea what he would do with it?"

"I should think he is already on his way to Germany to sell it," replied Mr. Shand harshly.

At this moment the door burst open, and a smartly-dressed, clean-shaven young man of about twenty-five rushed into the room.

"Uncle," he cried, "what's this Snell tells me—that you've been robbed?"

Mr. Shand made one quick stride, and seized the new-comer by the shoulder.

"Have you brought it back, you young scoundrel?" he exclaimed fiercely.

"Brought what back? What do you mean, uncle?" There was no mistake about the surprise on the young fellow's face.

"The formula! What else should I mean?" And in his excitement Baldwin Shand actually shook his nephew as a terrier shakes a rat.

The other tore himself loose.

"Either you're crazy or I am. For Heaven's sake explain!"

"Let me do so!" said Blake, and briefly told the story of the theft.

"Snell must be mad!" exclaimed Walcot Shand. "I've been out all day, and only just come in. That young ass Otto Hartog asked me down to Maidenhead for a river picnic, and never turned up. I waited till three, and then came away. I only just caught the 3.45 back to town."

"Otto Hartog? Who is he?" demanded Blake.

"A pal of mine. A very decent sort. But what has it to do with you?"

"My name is Sexton Blake," said Blake drily. "And it seems clear that your friend Hartog, or some accomplice of his, has cleverly personated you and robbed your uncle of a secret worth millions. Perhaps it will be as well to tell me all you know about him, and especially whether you have ever given him any inkling of Mr. Shand's discovery."

Walcot Shand went white as a sheet. Blake saw in a moment that he had been talking.

"He couldn't have done such a thing!" he muttered.

"But he has," said Blake. "Quickly, now, for time is precious. Tell me all you know about him."

Within five minutes he had pumped Walcot Shand dry of information.

"Now, sir," he said briskly, turning to Mr. Baldwin Shand, "if I am to recover the formula there is no time to be lost. Do you give me a free hand?"

"Absolutely! But I cannot believe that you will be successful."

"I can but try," replied Blake, whose mind was working like lightning. "Now, before I start I want you to write me out a copy of the formula, a duplicate in all respects but the essential one. For the acid, or whatever the main ingredient is, you must substitute something else, and the more difficult the latter is to make or obtain the better."

Looking utterly bewildered, the old man did as requested. Blake put the paper carefully away in his pocket.

"You shall hear from me to-morrow," he said, and a minute later was being whisked eastwards in his taxi.

II.

BLAKE called at a number of different addresses in the city—one a chemist, one a business-man, the last a shipping office. It was late before he reached his destination, namely, Liverpool Street Station, where he paid off his driver, and hurried in. As he passed, he glanced up at the booking-hall clock.

"H'm! The boat train has gone. I thought as much. Thank goodness, there are such luxuries as specials."

In twenty minutes his special was thundering north-eastwards at fifty miles an hour. She was only five minutes behind the boat train at Parkeston Quay, and handing the engine-driver a generous tip, Blake walked straight aboard the steamer, and, sitting down on deck, opened an evening paper, from behind which he kept a vigilant lookout.

It was not long before his patience was rewarded. Just as the vessel was casting off, a youngish man, with a fair moustache, wearing a light overcoat, came quickly by, and stood watching the gangway being pulled in. He waited until the screw began to churn the water and the gap between the wharf and the steamer began to widen. Then, with a sigh of evident relief, he turned, and went below.

Blake gave a faint chuckle.

"Marked you down, my beauty!" he muttered. "The next job is to get that envelope from you. And that's going to be the hardest part of it, by a long chalk," he added thoughtfully.

It was a fine night—warm, and brilliantly star-lit. There was only a slight swell, and after supper many of the passengers came on deck. Blake, who had not gone below for the meal, waited anxiously. It was all-important for the success of his plans that Otto Hartog should come on deck again. But an hour passed, and there was no sign of him. The night grew cooler, a breeze sprang up, and as the motion of the vessel increased most of the passengers went below. The detective began to get very anxious.

Suddenly, the object of his solicitude came out of the companion, and after a quick glance all round went and stood by the rail, rather far aft, on the port side. Blake began walking up and down.

After passing Hartog once or twice, he stopped beside him and made some remark about the beauty of the night, Hartog grunted out a surly reply. Blake looked round. No one was very near.

Turning as if to move away, he suddenly stumbled, and as the ship rolled to port fell heavily against the German. Next moment the two were over the low rail, and struck the water with a sounding splash.

"Help! Man overboard!" shouted Blake, as he got his head up.

Hartog, who evidently could not swim a stroke, made a wild grab at him. But Blake was on his guard, and seized him by the back of his coat collar just as a life-belt, flung by a deck-hand, dropped within a few feet.

Hartog struggled wildly, gulping and choking. Blake, holding him tightly, struck out for the belt, and managed to reach it. By this time the ship was a quarter of a mile away, but he saw, with satisfaction, that she had stopped, and was lowering a boat.

It was not more than five minutes before the two were picked up. Blake did not seem a ha'porth the worse for his ducking, but the German was insensible.

"He's swallowed a little more of the North Sea than is good for him," said Blake to the captain, as they were hauled, dripping, aboard in the presence of a crowd of excited passengers. "But warm blankets and a hot water-bottle will soon put him to rights. When I have changed I will come and look at him. I am a doctor myself," he added.

"How did he come to fall overboard?" asked the captain.

"He was leaning over the rail, and the ship rolled," replied Blake.

"It was a very plucky rescue on your part, sir," said the captain warmly. "He would most certainly have been drowned if you had not gone to his assistance."

"I swim well," Blake said shortly, and hurried down to his cabin.

He changed in record time, and called a steward to show him Hartog's cabin. The German, rolled in blankets, was lying on his bunk, and a steward was attending to him. Hartog opened his eyes, and gazed round in a confused fashion.

"Where are my clothes?" he said thickly.

"Hanging up here, sir!" replied the steward. "I was just going to take them to dry."

"Give me my coat!" sharply ordered Hartog. Blake had stepped a little back out of Hartog's line of sight. He stood there while the steward handed the other his coat. Hartog snatched at the dripping garment, and putting his hand into the inner pocket, drew out a large leather wallet. Holding it so that the steward could not see its contents, he fumbled inside it.

A sigh of relief escaped him, and he thrust the pocket-book under his pillow.

"Important papers," he muttered, in an explanatory tone. "I thought I might have lost them."

Blake came forward.

"You seem much better," he said. "I prescribe a little hot soup for you, and by the time we reach the Hook you will be quite fit to proceed on your journey."

Hartog stared at Blake. "You—you are the fellow who pushed me overboard!" he cried.

"Why, sir, you must be dreaming," broke in the steward, horrified. "This gentleman went over after you, and saved your life at the risk of his own."

Hartog's face assumed an expression of utter bewilderment.

"I—I thought I was pushed over," he stammered. "I—I am very sorry. I apologise, sir, and thank you most sincerely."

"We will say no more about it," said Blake quietly. "Now, I shall go and order your soup. And after you have had it, try and go to sleep,"

III.

RATHER less than twenty-four hours later Blake was standing once more in the laboratory in the old house at Fulham, and Mr. Baldwin Shand was wringing his hand with an energy Blake hardly thought the frail-looking old man capable of.

"I can't tell you what a relief your telegram was," he said. "To Walcot, too, as well as myself. Mr. Blake, that boy has had a lesson that will last him the rest of his life. Now tell me how you managed to get the formula back from this fellow Hartog."

Blake told the story, and the other listened with eager interest.

"But even now I don't quite see how you managed the exchange," he said, when Blake had finished.

"Oh. I did that while we were in the water!" said Blake. "Hartog couldn't swim a stroke, so it was simple enough. He was half drowned within the first few seconds, and had no notion of what was happening."

"But supposing that he had been able to swim?"

"I had taken precautions," smiled Blake, taking from his pocket a little air-tight case.

"This contains a most powerful anaesthetic," he explained. "I was bound to have him one way or another. What tickles me is the thought of what will happen when they try to make rubber with the substituted formula."


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.