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ANONYMOUS

THE STRANGE CASE OF THE MILLIONAIRE

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RGL e-Book Cover


Ex Libris

First published in Answers, Amalgamated Press, London, 1 January 1910
Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Daily News, Perth, Australia, 10 February 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.

SEXTON BLAKE was standing at the window of his house in Messenger Square, in a disconsolate mood. He had hardly tasted his breakfast, his fire was smoky, and outside a south-east wind was rapidly unrolling a carpet of snow over London. Cases, moreover, had been scant of late, and the expenses of the laboratory research on which he was engaged were high.

It was, therefore, something like a whoop of joy that he greeted a large motor-car that had rolled up to his door, and disembarked a lady clad in sables.

The lady was announced as Mrs. Collier a lew moments later, and the detective found himself gazing on a sweet, grave-faced woman, with steadfast grey eyes, whom he judged to be about thirty years of age.

"I have heard a great deal of you, Mr. Blake," she said, "and your face confirms the good reports I have heard of you. I am a business-woman, and I always speak my mind. If you are disengaged I retain you forthwith."

"Quite disengaged!" said Blake.

"Then here are notes for a hundred pounds," said Mrs. Collier. "Your retaining fee. If you solve the mystery that is baffling me, I will add a thousand."

"Kindly state the case," said Blake laconically.

"You will recognise me better," said Mrs. Harper, "when I tell you that my uncle was James Harper—Millionaire Harper, as he was known in the City."

"Who died yesterday evening?" said Blake.

"Who was reported to have died of syncope yesterday evening," corrected Mrs. Collier. "And that raises the whole question, for I do not believe that my uncle died a natural death. The doctors state that it is a clear case of cerebral haemorrhage, induced by overstrain and old age. I don't believe it. And I will tell you two facts, Mr. Blake, which will explain more forcibly than any argument why I don't believe it.

"My uncle had a pet canary that was always on a perch on his desk. Two days ago, I had my face bent towards the pet. I lifted it up, and felt as though something had hissed past my cheek. The same instant the bird fell dead. That is fact number one.

"Yesterday, at half-past four, I was bending down over my uncle's shoulder? My face was on a level with his. For no particular reason, I suddenly stood erect, and as I withdrew my head, I again felt something hiss past me. At the same instant, with a strangled cry, my uncle fell forward on his desk. He was dead, like the canary!"

"One moment," said Blake. "Was your uncle, or the canary, in line with the window or the door?"

"With neither," said Mrs. Collier. "The window, moreover, was shuttered, and covered by a thick curtain. The door to the corridor shuts automatically, and cannot be opened from the outside. The only other door is to the ante-room, and is directly opposite the desk, and hidden from anyone sitting there by the high pigeon-holes at the back of the desk."

"And have you had other indications that your life was threatened?" asked Blake.

"None," said Mrs. Collier. "The only other untoward event that has happened was an attempt two months ago by a mulatto to kidnap my two children when they were in the park. Since then they have been guarded by detectives, and the attempt has not been repeated."

"Was there a post-mortem on Mr. Harper?" asked Blake.

"The family doctor thought it unnecessary," replied Mrs. Collier. "He said he had warned my uncle a week ago what to expect unless he ceased work."

"What became of that canary?" asked Blake.

"It is here!" said Mrs. Collier, drawing a small box from her muff. "I took it home to bury it. But when I decided last night to consult you. I exhumed it again. I thought it might be symptomatic."

"You are great!" said Blake enthusiastically, almost snatching the box from her. "Excuse me one moment. I must see this in my laboratory."

He was back in two minutes, and holding in a pair of forceps a tiny piece of steel, like the extreme point of a broken needle.

"Your canary was killed," he said, "by this dart. It is soaked in a poison only found in South America, and more deadly than a cobra's bite. You were not mistaken in thinking you heard something hiss past you. I must examine your uncle."

Mrs. Collier leant forward, and stared at Blake. Her face was white as paper.

"Mr. Blake." she said in a whisper, "do you realise that there was no one in the room but me? The first thing I did when he fell forward and I was sure nothing could help him, was to take his revolver from his desk, and thoroughly search the room. It was a grotesque act almost, for there was no place for anyone to hide: and with the exception of a few inches here and there, the room is lined with bookcases."

Blake nodded.

"If all were clear," he said, "there would be no need for me. I have got to find the missing link. Is there anyone interested in your death?"

"Absolutely no one," said Mrs. Collier. "The business is left to me, and, in fact, all my uncle's wealth absolutely, to do as I like with. He hadn't a single other relative in the world."

"And your husband?" asked Blake.

"Oh, Hugh and I are one in all things," smiled Mrs. Collier. "Ours was a love match. I expect him home to-day from New York. This will be a great shock to him."

"He might have had a greater," said Blake gravely. "I will look into this case for you, Mrs. Collier. Meanwhile, if you have any desire to live, you will take this advice: Go home. Shut yourself up. See no one until you hear from me."

"I understand," said Mrs Collier; "and I will do as you say."

"Then I will accompany you home," said Blake, "and visit the body of Mr. Harper."

II.

IT was nearly eleven o'clock before Sexton Blake stood in the office in Threadneedle-street, and had demonstrated to her that her uncle had fallen a victim to the death destined for herself.

His examination had placed the manner of death beyond a doubt. In the right temple there was a puncture considerably smaller than a pinprick, but showing, under a strong lens, curiously discolored. In the corner of the right eye was a similar discolored puncture, and Blake had had no difficulty in showing that the poisoned dart had entered by the temple, traversed the brain, and found egress through the eye.

"It has been driven," he said, "by a very high electrical power, and probably with a rotary motion. There is no doubt that in reconstituting the positions, I shall find the dart, and then be able to determine whence it was fired."

Mrs. Collier had shaken her head despondently.

And as he stood in James Harper's office and looked round he was bound to admit that Mrs. Collier had, at any rate, all the appearances on her side.

The room was 22ft long by 16ft broad. It contained but two desks—the large American desk, almost in the centre of the room, whereat James Harper had sat, and a smaller desk near to the door leading to the ante-room—a desk consecrated to the use of Mrs. Collier, and situated in the angle of the two massive book-cases. As Mrs. Collier had informed him, book-cases lined the wall from floor to ceiling, save that here and there a space of a few inches separated one from the other.

Blake sat in the dead man's chair and took stock of his position.

To his right, whence the dart had been fired, was one of the three-inch spaces between two bookcases. To his left, almost within reach of his hand, was a bookcase crammed with calf-bound volumes. Blake measured a spot about a foot square on the volumes, and, getting up, approached them. He had not far to seek. In a copy of Mercantile Law there was a slight puncture at the back. The detective pulled the volume out, and opened it, and in another minute had lifted from its pages with his forceps an extraordinarily fine morsel of steel, sharp as a needle-point, about one-tenth of an inch long, and stained a dark brown.

"He's a wicked fiend who devised this," he muttered, as he dropped the bit of steel into an envelope, and gingerly bestowed it in his pocket-book.

His next act was to pin a tape-measure to the volume, which he replaced, and, running it out, led it to the chair at about the height at which James Harper would have been sitting. This gave him the line of the direction of the dart, and unrolling the tape he carried it on. It led him to the three-inch recess between the bookshelves. He took out his electric torch and, as well as he might, examined the wall. Presently, an exclamation of dismay broke from his lips, and he fell back pale and shivering.

He had found what he sought, but the simplicity of it, its demoniac ingenuity staggered him. He sat down heavily and stared at the wall. In it were three holes, two about an inch apart and on a level, the other about an inch and a half lower. Each hole was no bigger than a pin's head, and the lowest was almost on a level with the height at which James Harper's head would have been when sitting in the chair.

It took Blake two minutes to recover. But his actions were then rapid. He hurried from the office, and took stock of the building from the outside. James Harper's room was on the first floor, and overlooked the street. It was also adjacent to the parting wall of the next block of offices. Blake looked up at them. Those on the first floor were obviously empty, and the begrimed windows bore the legend "To Let."

He entered the offices, and seeking the caretaker, obtained from him the keys of the vacant offices, and the permission—for a golden consideration—to go up.

His anticipations of a "find" on the dusty flooring were not deceived. There were a good dozen tracks of footprints from the door to the wall adjoining James Harper's office. But had Blake not known that holes must be there, he would have had difficulty in finding them, so cunningly were they plugged with putty, painted to the exact colour of the walls. He found and removed the plugs, and applying his eyes saw that they commanded the chair and part of the desk in the next room, but were shut off from the rest of the room by the bookcases.

Blake quitted the room, and examined the plates on the other side of the landing. There were only two: one Carter, Christmas Card Agent; the other Ferdnand Pereira, Electrical Instrument Merchant.

The detective resumed his way downstairs, and further induced the caretaker to enter into his sanctum and talk. Half an hour later, he emerged, stood for a moment on the steps, then hurried towards the Mansion House.

III.

BLAKE hurried so far and so long that it was nearly half-past 4 when he reached his rooms in Messenger Square, and asked Simmons if there were any telegrams for him.

"Two, sir," said Simons.

Blake tore them open. The first one evidently afforded him satisfaction, but when his eyes fell on the second he gave a cry of dismay, cast a hurried glance at the clock, and bolted into the street, where the taxi that had brought him was in the act of moving off.

"Threadneedle-street!" he yelled in frenzied tones, "And a fiver if you do it in a quarter of an hour!"

The taxi leapt forward, and Blake, collapsing into his seat, reread his telegram.


ARRIVING HOME, FOUND WIFE DECOYED BY FALSE TELEGRAM FROM ME TO GO TO OFFICE TO MEET ME THERE 5 O'CLOCK. SHE LEFT MESSAGE, ASKING ME TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOU IF I CAME HOME. AM GOING AT ONCE TO OFFICE. UNDERSTAND NOTHING. HUGH COLLIER.


Blake had not the slightest doubt as to the intent of the lure or its origin. The telegram he had first opened settled that, together with various scraps of information he had gathered during the afternoon at the Venezuelan Ministry, and among old West Indians.

There was no doubt that James Harper had married Ferdnand Pereira's mother. But there was no doubt also that Harper had been tricked into a marriage by a quadroon as worthless as she was lovely, and whose conduct drove him, within three days of his marriage, to leave her to her caprices and fly the country. Pereira had been born two years later, and with the stubbornness due to the half-savage mind, had persisted in regarding himself as James Harper's son.

The rest was easy to divine. Revenge and avarice prompted the removal of Harper's niece and heiress, and of Harper himself.

And the estate once intestate, who was to gainsay his claim?

The first stroke of 5 was booming out as Blake leapt from the car opposite Mortimer's Building in Threadneedle-street, and raced up the stairs to the vacant offices he had seen that morning, and the keys of which he had advisedly retained.

He turned the lock noiselessly, and stepped into the room. At the wall to his right a man was standing, his eye fixed to a long hollow tube that was pressed against the wall. At his feet, on two trestles, a machine was whirring softly, but driving round with a vertiginous rapidity a wheel that was connected with an extremely thin tube that was inserted into the wall. This tube was fitted with a magazine like a rifle's, and was easily movable in any desired direction by means of a pair of tight forceps the man held in his right hand.

"Ah, at last!" said the man, in Spanish, moving the tube quickly to the left, while a look of suppressed eagerness and fierce hatred overspread his face.

But before he had focussed, Blake had sprung, sent the machine flying with a well-directed kick at the trestle, and caught the mulatto by the throat.

The fight was fierce, for the assassin was no mean antagonist, but in two minutes it was over, and Ferdnand Pereira lay handcuffed on the floor.

"I don't think the subsequent proceedings will amuse you," said Blake drily, as he handed him a few minutes later to a constable, and saw him off to Bow-street.

Then he went up to Mr. Harper's office to report progress, and to show Mrs. Collier and her astounded husband how nearly they had come into the zone of death when they moved towards the fatal chair.

"I'll make that cheque five thousand," said Mrs. Collier.

And she did.


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.