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ANONYMOUS

THE CIGARETTE

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Ex Libris

First published in Answers Weekly,
the Amalgamated Press, London, 21 January 1911

Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
Patea Mail, New Zealand, 12 June 1911 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2023-07-23

Produced by Roy Glashan
Proofread by Mark Munro and Gordon Hobley

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

Click here for more Sexton Blake stories



THE smoke-room of the Paladium Club was certainly not a place where one would indulge in mirth, and Sexton Blake was, therefore, considerably surprised, on entering, to find that a group of well-dressed men were gathered in front of one of the great windows, giving out peal after peal of right joyous laughter.

One of them, a lithe, well-groomed man, sighted the quiet, keen face of the world-famous detective, and he gave something approaching a view-hallo.

"The very man we need!" he cried.

Vere Barker was a personal friend of Blake's, so he sauntered across the wide room.

"Here you are, Bruce," Vere cried; "you've met Blake before, I suppose?"

The Honorable Bruce Foringham grinned up at the detective.

"Not in his official capacity, thank heaven!" he returned.

Blake smiled.

Vere picked up a thin gold cigarette-case, on which was engraved the crest of the Foringham family. Pressing the spring, he opened the case. There was one thin cigarette tucked away below the elastic.

"We have heard," said Vere, "that Bruce was getting rather rocky, you know. And here is the awful proof. I asked him for a cigarette a minute ago," he continued, "and with that regal sweep of his, he handed me his case. When I opened it, this was the article I discovered."

Blake took the cigarette and glanced at it. It was of a famous brand that was retailed five for a penny! The bare idea of Bruce Foringham, the exquisite, the dandy, carrying cigarettes of that class about with him in his immaculate clothes, was rich in humor.

"Great Scott," Blake said, "this is a sad, sad thing! We will have to hush it up!"

"Oh, don't rot!" Bruce cried, grinning, nevertheless, at the pained tone of the detective. "I've told these beggars all about it. I don't know how the beastly things got in my case. I didn't want a smoke all morning, and Vere here was the first one who handled my case." He pointed an accusing finger at Barker. "In fact, I shouldn't be surprised if the old humbug put it in there himself," he finished.

"Not guilty," Vere cried, with mock solemnity. "No, Bruce. You have wisely decided to economise—and have started with cigarettes. I congratulate you, old man, on your pluck; though I'm hanged if I can on your choice of brands!"

Blake handed the case back to its owner, and Bruce slid it back into his waistcoat pocket with a sigh.

"I'd give a fiver really to know how the thing got there," he said. "I used the case for a couple of days. It's my dress one, you see. I've been down to Dorset in my car, and only got back this morning."

"Now, I have you!" said Barker triumphantly. He strode across to the table, and returned with a morning paper in his hand.

"Listen," he said. "I will read you a brief, but illuminating par. It is from the society tittle-tattle."

He smoothed the sheet out, and laid his finger on one column.

"'A large and distinguished party assembled at Lady Blanfirth's house last night'—"

"Blanfirth!" Blake murmured.

Barker looked up.

"Yes. Anything happened?"

"I'll tell you later on," continued the detective, an eager look coming into his face. "Read on, if you don't mind."

"'Among the guests were so-and-so, so-and-so, and the Hon. Bruce Foringham.'"

Vere finished with his finger on the line of print. Bruce leaned over the table and stared at the words.

"The fellow who wrote that was never near the beastly place," he protested. "Of course, I had a card, but, as I tell you, I was out of town, and didn't go."

Blake leaned forward.

"There is a sequel to the story, Barker," he said, "and one that is not public property yet. Do you know that the Duchess of Chelmstone had her diamond necklace stolen from her at Lady Blanfirth's last night?"

A murmur of surprise ran round the group.

"You don't mean it, Blake?" Bruce cried.

"It's a fact," said Blake. "I had a visit from Lady Blanfirth this morning. She asked me to take the matter up."

Vere Barker smiled.

"If anybody ever deserved to lose anything it is her Grace," he said; "she wanders about in crushes with a most happy disregard of the fact that her stout body is simply loaded with baubles to tempt the needy."

"And as Bruce must be hard up—" someone began.

The laugh which followed made the victim turn away from the window.

"I'm off," he proclaimed; "you're a lot of silly asses!"

Blake sauntered after him.

"I am going to ask you to do me a favor, Bruce," Blake said. "Will you take me up to your flat this morning?"

It was an unusual request to make, and Bruce showed his surprise. Blake linked his arm through that of the younger man, however, and they went down the marble steps of the club together.

"Look here, old chap," the detective went on. "I have a faint suspicion that, indirectly, you have something to do with the disappearance of that necklace."

He felt Bruce stiffen indignantly, and went on: "Don't get cross! It's only a theory, and may be all wrong. But, if you have ten minutes to spare, you might help me. You have probably been a victim; and, anyhow, it's just as well to settle the matter."


THEY hailed a taxi, and, some ten minutes later, entered Bruce's flat in Jermyn Street.

"My valet is coming up from Dorset by the midday express," the proprietor of the beautifully-furnished rooms explained. "I was only a couple of minutes in here this morning. I just changed into town clothes, you know."

Blake went across the room and into the bedroom. Bruce followed him.

"Where did you find the cigarette-case?" Blake asked.

Bruce pointed to the dressing-table. "It was laid out there, along with my card-case and match-box," he said.

Blake crossed to the dressing-table and inspected it. The mirror was an oval one, and Blake, a head and shoulders taller than the slim Bruce, found that he could only just see his face in it as he stood close to the mirror. He bent across and examined the catches at the back. The mirror had been fixed at that angle.

There was a quiet smile on his face as he turned to his companion.

"You said that you had a card for Lady Blanfirth's ball last night," he said. "Where is it?"

The Honorable Bruce pointed to a small bureau. "You'll find it along with a host of other cards in the top drawer there," he said wonderingly.

Blake opened the drawer and made a careful search. There was no card bearing the desired name there.

"It's gone, Bruce," he said. "I rather expected it would be."

Bruce rummaged about among the heap of ivory cards, and found that the detective was not mistaken. The invitation to Lady Blanfirth's ball had disappeared.

"I'll swear I put it in there," said the younger man; "in fact, coming to think of it, I saw it just before I left last Monday. It was on top of the heap."

"I don't doubt you, my dear chap," said Blake, with a friendly nod at the rather heated face of the young man. He turned towards the huge mahogany wardrobe.

"Where do you keep your dress-clothes?" the detective asked.

Bruce's eyes widened. "You'll find 'em on one of the shelves in the 'robe," he returned. "Do you want to have a look at my socks and pyjamas?" The injured tone made Blake grin, but he opened the door of the wardrobe and went on with his search. There were three suits of dress-clothes, and the detective moved each suit off the shelf and examined it carefully. The bottom one seemed to satisfy him. He unfolded the coat, and, turning it outside in, examined the lining of the sleeves.

"You'll be interested to know, Bruce," he said, "that some friendly soul has been airing your clothes for you. He was taller than you, but as you've longish limbs, your clothes fitted our mysterious gentleman pretty well."

The aristocratic owner took the coat out of Blake's hands and examined it carefully. A faint, warm odour clung about the garment, and there were traces of perspiration on the lining. With a grunt of disgust Bruce threw the coat down on the floor.

"I never heard of such a confounded piece of impertinence!" he growled. "It's a bally outrage! What on earth did the bounder want in my togs, anyhow?"

Blake nodded across at the opened drawer. "The bounder wanted to impersonate you, my dear chap," he said. "He borrowed your invite card, dressed himself in your clothes, took your cigarette-case, so that the monogram on it might help his disguise—and how successful he was Lady Blanfirth was able to tell me this morning."

Bruce stood stock-still, gazing at the keen face of his visitor.

"He not only started his operations here, but he also finished them," Blake went on; "he must have returned at some time during the night, or early in the morning, rather, and changed into his ordinary clothes. It was only the momentary carelessness—which all criminals display—which allowed him to neglect to open the case that gave him away. His taste for cheap cigarettes has resulted in a clue which should not be too difficult to follow up."

"I'm glad you think so," said Bruce gloomily; "but it strikes me it's a hopeless sort of job. And, anyhow, I can't make out how you arrive at the conclusion that he was taller than I am."

Blake nodded towards the mirror of the dressing-table. "He adjusted his tie in front of that, and had to tilt the glass back," he said. "But I haven't any time for further explanations now. What I want to know is, are there any other keys which fit this flat?"

"The caretaker has one," said Bruce; "she does the dusting and sweeping-up, you know. But you mustn't think—She's an honest old soul, I'll swear to that."

"I don't think I'll accuse her, old chap," said Blake quietly. "But, if you don't mind, I'll just go and have a chat with the old creature."

"Her name is Hines," said Bruce, "and you'll find her at the head of the stairs. I'll sit here and wait until you return with the necklace in your pocket. Ha, ha!"

Blake accepted the sly dig with a smile; then, crossing the room, left the flat and climbed the broad stairs. At the top of the building he found the door with the brass plate marked "Caretaker", and knocked. A smooth-cheeked dame answered his summons, and gave him a little old-fashioned curtsey.

"I've come from Mr. Bruce," Blake said quietly; "I am on the look-out for a capable man to valet me. Do you know of anyone?"

A look of joy came into this innocent old face. "Well, if that ain't the best of news, sir!" she said, with quick garrulity. "Here have I been wonderin' what I could do for my grandson, who's just left the army, so he has, and is as fine a young fellow as ever stepped, although it's myself as says it."

Blake's face revealed no sign, but he felt a quick thrill run through him—that stirring of the pulse which comes to most men as they feel that they are nearing their goal.

"And is your grandson out of work? And you think that he would suit me?" the detective went on. He felt rising in front of him a great pity for the poor old creature, but his duty lay clear before him, and he was not the man to hesitate.

"No one better, sir," said Mrs. Hines. "He was an officer's servant for two years, and he talks just the same as the gentry when he likes. He can drawl as bad as Mr. Bruce, beggin' his pardon for saying such a thing."

Blake found himself smiling in spite of his anxiety.

"And is your grandson in just now?"

"No, sir; but I expect him eve—I believe this is 'im now."

A light footfall was heard on the stairs, and Blake turned. He had no wish to meet the man in front of the old dame.

"I'll go down and have a chat with him, Mrs. Hines," he said, raising his hat.

By dropping down the wide stairs three at a time he was able to reach the second landing just as the tall figure in a quiet serge suit stepped on it from the stairs below. Blake ran his eyes over the clean-shaven face of the lad; then fixed his glance on the troubled eyes. The man stood quite still for a moment, searching the stern visage; then a look of terror sprang into the tense face, and, with a hoarse cry, the caretaker's grandson turned to fling himself down the stairs.

One bound carried Blake to the man's side, and his fingers closed on the arm grasping the balustrade.

"Don't be in such a hurry, my friend," he said. "I want a word with you."

The lad looked up at him for a moment; then, with a low moan, he dropped on his knees in front of the detective.

"I—I know you," he gasped; "I've seen your photograph in the papers dozens of times. You are Sexton Blake!"

Blake glanced down at the twitching face.

"That is my name," he said; "and you know what I have come for?"

By way of reply the wretched fellow thrust his hand into his breast-pocket, and brought forth a handful of sparkling, flashing lights, which he held out.

"Take them away," he sobbed. "I—I have been a fool, and I'll have to pay for it. I wish I'd never gone into that rotten room!"

Blake slipped the necklace into his pocket, and stepped back a pace.

"I want to hear your story first," he said. "I am a private detective, not a police-officer, remember."

The lad rose with bowed head and twitching hands. He drew a deep breath before plunging into his confession.

"I—I tried on a couple of coats, and—and found they fitted me," he said; "then I came across the—the invite card, and thought it would be a rare lark to go and pass myself off as a real toff. I did it, too, and nobody suspected me. It was after supper, when they were all crushing out into the ball-room, that I saw the—the necklace lying beneath one of the big plush curtains. It—it didn't take me a minute to take it up and stuff it into my pocket. But I—I haven't spent a quiet moment since. I couldn't get rid of the confounded thing this morning, and—and I'm glad you've come to take it away."

There was a long silence; then, from the top of the landing, a thin voice floated down. "Your tea is waiting for you, Jim, as soon as you're ready," Mrs. Hines called.

The detective stepped back a pace and motioned to the flight of stairs.

"Don't keep your grandmother waiting," he said.

The man flashed on him one deep, dog-like look of unutterable thanks, and, without a word, ran across the landing and up the stairs.

"And now to turn the laugh on friend Bruce," Blake muttered. "I do return with the necklace."


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.