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ANONYMOUS

THE CLUE OF THE ASH

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Ex Libris

First published in Answers Weekly,
the Amalgamated Press, London, 8 April 1911

Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
Patea Mail, New Zealand, 10 July 1911 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-02-25

Produced by Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

Click here for more Sexton Blake stories


I.

"YES; my son comes home on Friday, Poole. I've only two more days to wait. And I haven't seen him for nearly six years."

John Haleted spoke rather shakily, and did not face his servant; but a happy little smile appeared on his lips at frequent intervals.

"We must make him very comfortable. He'll expect a special welcome, you know."

"Why, certainly, sir!" The servant, withdrawing, stopped at the door. "I presume this won't affect my leave today, though, sir? You promised I should have the night off, you remember."

"And you may go, of course. But don't forget to come back early in the morning. There'll be quite a lot for you to do."


Poole departed after luncheon, and John Halsted was left to himself. He was not expecting a caller, and a knock startled him presently. When he opened the door he stared in his short-sighted way. The visitor bent his head. "I've come," he muttered. "I home."

John Halsted trembled suddenly, and leaned forward half incredulously.

"Don't you know me, father?"

"George! It's you—it's you, already! Oh, if I'd only had my glasses on I'd have seen that it was you, my boy!"

He would not for the world have admitted that his son seemed older, and that even his voice had altered a little. "But you're two days early, George. Surely I didn't make a mistake?"

"I was to come on Friday; but that was altered."

"Yes, yes! So you didn't think I had neglected you. You're sure? I was coming to meet you, my boy. And we—we're hardly ready. My man Poole—he's out; and your room—"

Affectionately John Halsted helped the other off with his coat, and pushed a chair forward. He asked nothing better than to wait on his son.

"You'd rather move? The light's too strong? How stupid of me!"

"You see, where I've been it—"

"No; I don't want to hear, George; and you're not to talk about that any more. We'll forget it, boy. You're going to start again now, remember, I'll help you all I can; and your friends'll stand by you—your real friends."

During the afternoon and evening John Halsted was very happy. They sat together till fairly late.

"Theres just a letter I want to write now, father. Then I'll catch the post. No; don't you wait up. Give me a key."


In the morning he rose cheerfully, and, when he was dressed, stepped across the landing.

"George! Are you awake, George!" But there was no answer to his greeting. He looked in at last. The room was empty, and the bed had obviously not been used.

Puzzled and alarmed, he hurried down the stairs. He was alone in the house till nine o'clock, when Poole returned.

The morning passed somehow. Early in the afternoon he hurried round to see the Graingers. There they were amazed by his tidings, but they had no news in return. The day before, Irene Grainger had been away from the house. Now her distress equalled John Halsted's own.

Hurrying home in the early twilight, at the corner he collided with someone hurrying the opposite direction. John Halsted clutched his arm spasmodically. His face told its own tale. The stranger halted.

"Is anything wrong, sir? Can I assist you in any way? I often do help people, you know. It's my profession."

"Who—who are you, then?"

"My name," returned the stranger reassuringly, "is Sexton Blake."

II.

"NOW, then, Mr. Halsted," advised Blake sympathetically, "pull yourself together."

He had taken a chair; but the elder man paced the room restlessly as he told hia story.

"It's cruel! To be separated so long, and then to lose him again a few hours after he'd come back! Five years or more he's been away—abroad."

"The truth, please," said Blake gently. John Halsted shot a glance at him, then almost broke down.

"It was a mistake—a conspiracy! They said he took the firm's money; but I never believed it. It can't be true!"

Blake laid a hand on his shoulder.

"His sentence was seven years, then; but he gained the full remittance for good conduct. Speak quite frankly, Mr. Halsted. It'll make my task so much easier. Are all the other details you've me—?"

"You can rely on them," John Halsted assured him shamefacedly. Then he blurted out: "There's no time to lose! There's been foul play, I'm sure! He was robbed!"

Blake roused himself suddenly.

"Ah! Then you haven't told me all."

"My cheque's been cashed by a stranger."

"What cheque?"

"The one I gave George yesterday. A hundred pounds it was; all I could spare. At the bank they said—"

"Your son had this cheque with him when he left the house?"

"Yes, yes; and it was payable to 'bearer.'"

"He wanted the money urgently, then?"

"We were talking of the fresh start he could make," John Halsted explained jerkily. "I'd promised to help him. He hardly seemed to believe it. To convince him, I—I wrote the cheque there and then."

"I think I understand. You parted on good terms—when he said good-night, for instance?"

"We had a little argument, Mr. Blake, if I must admit it. I told him that one hundred pounds was all I could afford. He said he really, wanted more for a scheme he had in mind."

"Was he always so inconsiderate, or has he changed?" John Halsted hurriedly began to defend his son.

"It was natural enough," he protested. "Yes, he's changed, of course. I couldn't help noticing. He has altered in a lot of small ways. But no one would have been surprised at that."

"You live alone, Mr. Halsted?"

"Except for my servant Poole."

"He's here? I can meet him if I want to...? Thanks. He met your son, of course."

"No; he was away. I forgot to tell you. I let him go to visit some friends yesterday."

The detective nodded casually.

"And this Miss Grainger you've mentioned."

"She happened to be out of town also."

"Have you a photograph of your son?"

John Halsted crossed to the mantelpiece, and returned with a framed portrait. But Blake hardly looked at the features.

"This always stands up there?" he queried.

"Why, yes; ever since—"

"Now I should like to examine the room your sou used yesterday."

They went upstairs together. Blake glanced round swiftly, scrutinising a few objects apparently at random.

"H'm! Nothing to help us here. Let me see those letters, please, Mr. Halsted."

"Letters?"

"From your son. He must have been allowed to write at intervals."

The grey-haired man hesitated.

"Oh, I won't read them at all, if you'd rather not! Perhaps I shan't read any of them. But if you really want me to do my best in this matter..."

Without another word John Halsted walked out, returning with a metal despatch-box.

"You keep this in your own bed-room. And locked, naturally."

To Halsted's amazement, he examined the key for some momenta with a magnifying glass. Then the box was opened. Halsted was about to lift the pile of letters, when the detective stopped him peremptorily.

"The first one he wrote is at the bottom, Mr. Blake. This is the last—where he told mo the date on which he hoped to be released, and thanked mo for offering the money. If I could find my spectacles—I can't iagine where are!—I'd point out the page."

He searched his pockets agitatedly.

"Never mind. Please don't worry yourself."

Blake used his magnifying glass again for an instant, with a quick breath. Then, somehow, the key fell from the lock, and while Halsted stopped for it the detective picked up the letters, and allowed something from the bottom of the box to fall into his hand.

"You can put them away now, thanks. Meanwhile, I'll go downstairs again and have a quiet smoke."

Halsted turned away disappointedly. His lips quivered.

"Come, come! I didn't mean to wound you. I meant it literally," said Blake.

"Try these cigars, then, won't you? I'm sorry, I haven't a cigarette in the house."

"Perhaps your servant has," Blake suggested. "May I ring the bell?"

Poole entered quietly, and Mr. Halsted began to give instructions. Blake interrupted deprecatingly.

"Oh, it's only one I want!" He turned to the servant with a smile, "Have you such a thing to spare?"

"Oh, yes, sir!" The man drew out a paper packet.

"Thank you very much. Virginian, I see."

"I always smoke the same brand, sir,"

"And they're jolly good value for the money—eh?" He leaned back, puffing lazily. "I'm much obliged."

When the servant had left the room, Blake smiled.

"We're getting on splendidly! I hope to have good news—the best news—when I call in again to-morrow. Don't worry, Mr. Halsted; and sleep well."

III.

WHEN Blake arrived next day he found John Halsted with a visitor.

"This is Miss Grainger."

The detective bowed.

"So you got my message?"

"Ah, it was from you! Mr. Halsted thought as much. Our maid told me—"

"To be here in good time. My instructions—yea."

She clasped her hands together.

"Have you found George, then?"

"Yes, where is my boy, Mr. Blake? Where has he been?"

They pressed near to him in their eagerness.

"I'll explain," said Blake, "if we may first have some more coals on the fire. It's a chilly day, you know. I'd like your man to see to it, if you don't mind."

In bewildered obedience John Halsted crossed to the door.

"Oh, Poole, you're there! I want you a minute."

The servant approached the grate. Blake leaned over him.

"Just a lump in that corner. There!"

His hand flashed from his pocket, there was a sudden click, and Poole gave a furious exclamation, struggling to his feet with the handcuffs on his wrists.

"You were getting nervous—eh? Listening at the keyhole just now. I'm rather surprised at that, Poole, considering you'd evidently decided to stop and see the thing through. Ah, it was quite a smart scheme! But just let me give you a word of advice."

The detective faced his discomfited prisoncr with a smile.

"Never smoke when you're reading other people's private letters! The ash is liable to drop. What have you done with the money?"

"Upstairs—in my room!" Poole gasped. He faced his master despairingly. "Sir, sir! You won't prosecute me? I was mad to do it; but it seemed so easy. It you haven't treated me well—"

He took away your glasses, and relied on your short-sightedness. "Mr. Halsted!" interrupted Blake briskly. "He's a clever actor, and he 'made up' from your son's photograph. Of course, you were bound to discover there'd been an imposture; but naturally, he thought, you'd never suspect him, especially if he stayed. Besides, I expect he's manufactured an alibi. His accomplice, who cashed the cheque, has been making love to Mrs. Grainger's maid. He learned that Miss Grainger wouldn't possibly be here to spoil their plans."

On investigation, Blake found 95 of the 100 in a carefully-chosen hidingplace. Mr. Halsted, hearing this, refused to prosecute.

"Let him go, Mr. Blake. I can't make it all public again. George wouldn't care for that—just when he's back homr, he's really coming, then? Oh, I—I can't realise the truth yet!"

Blake crossed to the window. "Here's the key of the handcuffs. Let your son decide," he said ouicklv "I'll be off now."


There was a timid, hesitating knoak at the front door. John Halsted and the girl instantly made for the hall. Blake, following swiftly, managed to slip out just after George Halsted's arrival and welcome. The detective found it necessary to clear his throat.

"I'm useful sometimes," he murmured, "but this is a moment when a stranger should unobtrusively depart."


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.