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"The Eyes of Max Carrados/Chapter 1"

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THE EYES OF
MAX CARRADOS

I

The Virginiola Fraud

IF there was one thing more than another about Max Carrados that came as a continual surprise, even a mild shock, to his acquaintances, it was the wide and unrestricted scope of his amusements. Had the blind man displayed a pensive interest in chamber music, starred by an occasional visit to the opera, taken a daily walk in the park on his attendant's arm, and found his normal recreation in chess or in being read to, the routine would have seemed an eminently fit and proper one. But to call at The Turrets and learn that Carrados was out on the river punting, or to find him in his gymnasium, probably with the gloves on, outraged one's sense of values. The only extraordinary thing in fact about his recreations was their ordinariness. He frequently spent an afternoon at Lord's when there was the prospect of a good game being put up; he played golf, bowls, croquet and cards; fished in all waters, and admitted that he had never missed the University Boat Race since the great finish of '91. When he walked about the streets anywhere within two miles of his house he was quite independent of any guidance, and on one occasion he had saved a mesmerised girl's life on Richmond Bridge by dragging her into one of the recesses just in time to escape an uncontrollable dray that had jumped the kerb.

This prelude is by way of explaining the attitude of a certain Mr Marrable whom Carrados knew, as he knew a hundred strange and useful people. Marrable had chambers in the neighbourhood of Piccadilly which he furnished and decorated on a lavish and expensive scale. His bric-à-brac, pictures, books and appointments, indeed, constituted the man's means of living, for he was one of the best all-round judges of art and the antique in London, and with a nonchalant air of indifference he very pleasantly and profitably lounged his way through life on the honey extracted from one facile transaction after another. Living on his wits in a strictly legitimate sense, he enjoyed all the advantages of being a dealer without the necessity of maintaining a place of business. It was not even necessary for him to find "bargains" in the general sense, for buying in the ordinary market and selling in a very special and restricted one disclosed a substantial margin. This commercial system, less rare than one might imagine, involved no misrepresentation: his wealthy and exclusive clients were quite willing to pay the difference for the cachet of Mr Marrable's connoisseurship and also, perhaps, for the amiable reluctance with which he carried on his operations.

The business that took Carrados to the amateur dealer's rooms one day in April has nothing to do with this particular incident. It was quite friendly and satisfactory on both sides, but it was not until Carrados rose to leave that the tangent of the visit touched the circle of the Virginiola.

"I am due at Gurnard's at about three-thirty," remarked Marrable, glancing at a Louis XVI. ormolu clock for which he had marked off a certain musical comedy countess at two hundred and fifty guineas. "Your way at all?"

"Gurnard & Lane's—the auctioneers?"

"Yes. They have a book sale on this afternoon."

"I hope I haven't been keeping you," apologised Carrados.

"Oh, not at all. There is nothing I want among the earlier lots." He picked up a catalogue from a satinwood desk in which Mademoiselle Mars had once kept her play-bills and glanced down the pages. "No. 191 is the first I have marked: An Account of the Newly Discovered Islands of Sir George Sommers, called 'Virginiola.' You aren't a competitor, by the way?"

"No," replied Carrados; "but if you don't mind I should like to go with you."

Marrable looked at him with slightly suspicious curiosity.

"You'd find it uncommonly dull, surely, seeing nothing," he remarked.

"I generally contrive to extract some interest from what is going on," said Carrados modestly. "And as I have never yet been at a book sale——"

"Oh, come, by all means," interposed the other. "I shall be very glad of your company. Only I was surprised for the moment at the idea. I should warn you, however, that it isn't anything great in the way of a dispersal—no Caxtons or first-folio Shakespeares. Consequently there will be an absence of ducal bibliophiles and literary Cabinet ministers, and we shall have a crowd of more or less frowsy dealers."

They had walked down into the street as they conversed. Marrable held up a ringer to the nearest taxicab on an adjacent rank, opened the door for Carrados, and gave the driver the address of the auction rooms of which he had spoken.

"I don't expect to get very much," he speculated, turning over the later pages of the catalogue, which he still carried in his hand. "I've marked a dozen lots, but I'm not particularly keen on half of them. But I should certainly like to land the Virginiola."

"It is rare, I suppose?" inquired Carrados. Indifferent to books from the bibliophile's standpoint, he was able to feel the interest that one collector is generally willing to extend to the tastes of another.

"Yes," assented Marrable with weighty consideration. "Yes. In a way it is extremely rare. But this copy is faulty—the Dedication and Address pages are missing. That will bring down the bidding enormously, and yet it is just the defect that makes it attractive to me."

For a moment he was torn between the secretiveness bred of his position and a human desire to expound his shrewdness. The weakness triumphed.

"A few months ago," he continued, "I came cross another copy of the Virginiola among the lumber of a Bristol second-hand book-dealer's stock. It was altogether a rotten specimen—both covers gone, scores of pages ripped away, and most of those that remained appallingly torn and dirty. It was a fragment in fact, and I was not tempted even at the nominal guinea that was put upon it. But now——"

"Quite so," agreed Carrados.

"The first few pages were just the scrap that was presentable. I have a wonderful memory for details like that. The pages I want were discoloured, but they were sound. Sunshine or a chloride of lime bath will restore them to condition. If I get this Virginiola I shall run down to Bristol to-morrow."

"I congratulate you," said Carrados. "Unless, of course, your Bristol friend runs up to London to-day!"

Mr. Marrable started rather violently. Then he shook his head with a knowing look.

"No; he won't do that. He is only a little backstreet huckster. True, if he found out that a Virginiola short of the pages he possesses was being sold he might have written to a London dealer, but he won't find out. For some reason they have overlooked the defect in cataloguing. Of course every expert will spot the omission at once, as I did this morning, and the book will be sold as faulty, but if my Bristol friend, as you call him, did happen to see a catalogue there would be nothing to suggest any profitable opening to him."

"Splendid," admitted the blind man. "What would a perfect Virginiola be worth?"

"Auction price? Oh, about five hundred guineas."

"And to-day's copy?"

"Ah, that's more difficult ground. You see, every perfect copy is alike, but every imperfect copy is different. Well, say anything from a hundred and fifty to three hundred, according to who wants it. I shall be very content to take it half-way."

"Two hundred and twenty-five? Yes, I suppose so. Five hundred, less two twenty-five plus one leaves two hundred and seventy-four guineas to the good. You shall certainly pay for the taxi!"

"Oh, I don't mind standing the taxi," declared Mr Marrable magniloquently; "but don't pin me down to five hundred—that's the auction price. I should want a trifle above—if I decided to let the book go out of my own library, that is to say. Probably I should keep it. Well, here we are."

The cab had drawn to the kerb opposite the door of Messrs Gurnard's unpretentious frontage. Mr Marrable piloted his friend into the saleroom and to a vacant chair by the wall, and then went off to watch the fray at closer quarters. Carrados heard the smooth-tongued auctioneer referring to an item as No. 142, and for the next fifty lots he followed the strangely unexciting progress of the sale with his own peculiar speculative interest.

"Lot 191," announced the easy, untiring voice. "An Account of the Newly Discovered Islands, etc." At last the atmosphere pulsed to a faint thrill of expectation. "Unfortunately we had not the book before us when the catalogue was drawn up. Lot 191 is imperfect and is sold not subject to return; a very desirable volume all the same. What may I say for Lot 191, please? An Account, etc., in original leather, faulty, and not subject to return."

As Mr Marrable had indicated, the defective Virginiola occupied a rather special position. Did anyone else want it? was in several minds; and if so, how much did he want it? Everyone waited until at last the question seemed to fine down into: Did anyone want it?

"May I say two hundred guineas?" suggested the auctioneer persuasively.

A large, heavy-faced man, who might have been a cattle-dealer from the North by every indication that his appearance gave, opened the bidding. He, at any rate, could have dissipated the uncertainty and saved the room the waiting. Holding, as he did, two commissions, he was bound to make the price a point above the lower of the orders.

"A hundred and twenty-one pounds."

"Guineas," came back like a slap from across the tables.

"A hundred and twenty-eight pounds."

"Guineas."

"A hundred and thirty-five."

"Guineas."

"A hundred and fifty."

"Guineas."

The duel began to resemble the efforts of some unwieldy pachyderm to shake off the attack of a nimble carnivore by fruitless twists and plunges. But now other voices, nods and uplifted eyebrows joined in, complicating a direct issue, and the forked arithmetic played in among pounds and guineas with bewildering iteration. Then, as suddenly as it had grown, the fusilade shrivelled away, leaving the two original antagonists like two doughty champions emerging from a melee.

"Two hundred and thirty."

"Guineas."

"Two hundred and fifty."

"Guineas."

"Two hundred and seventy."

There was no response. The large man in the heavy ulster and pot-hat was to survive the attack after all, apparently: the elephant to outlast the jaguar.

"Two hundred and seventy pounds?" The auctioneer swept a comprehensive inquiry at every participant in the fray and raised his hammer, "It's against you, sir. No advance? At two hundred and seventy pounds . . . ?"

The hammer began to fall. A score of pencils wrote "£270" against Lot 191.

"And eighty!"

The voice of the new bidder cut in crisp and businesslike. Without ostentation it conveyed the cheerful message: "Now we are just beginning. I feel uncommonly fit." It caught the hammer in mid-air and arrested it. It made the large man feel tired and discouraged. He pushed back his hat, shook his head slowly, with his eyes fixed on his catalogue, and remained in stolid meditation. Carrados smiled inwardly at the restraint and strategy of his friend.

"Two hundred and eighty. Thank you, sir. Two hundred and eighty pounds . . . ?" He knew by intuition that the price was final and the hammer fell decisively. "Mr. Marrable. . . . Lot 192, History and Antiquities of the County, etc. Put it in the bidding, please. One pound . . . ?"

After the sale Mr Marrable came round to Carrados's chair in very good spirits. Certainly he had had to give a not insignificant price for the Virginiola, but the attendant circumstances had elated him. Then he had secured the greater part of the other lots he wanted, and at quite moderate valuations.

"I've paid my cheque and got my delivery note," he explained. "I shall send my men round for the books when I get back. What do you think of the business?"

"Vastly entertaining," replied Carrados. "I have enjoyed myself thoroughly."

"Oh, well . . . But they were out for the Virginiola, weren't they?"

"Yes," admitted Carrados. "I feel that it is my turn to stand a taxi. Can I drop you?"

Mr Marrable assented graciously and they set out again.

"Look here," said that gentleman as they approached his door, "I think that I can put my hand on the Rimini cameo I told you about, if you don't mind coming up again. Do you care to, now that you are here?"

"Certainly," replied Carrados. "I should like to handle it."

"May as well turn off the taxi then. There is a stand quite near."

The cameo proved interesting and led to the display of one or two other articles of bijouterie. The host rang for tea and easily prevailed on Carrados—who could be entertained by anyone except the rare individual who had no special knowledge on any subject whatever—to remain. Thus it came about that the blind man was still there when the servant arrived with the books.

"I say, Carrados," called out Mr Marrable.

He had crossed the room to speak with his man, who had come up immediately on his return. The servant continued to explain, and it was evident that something annoying had happened. "Here's a devilish fine thing," continued Mr Marrable, dividing his attention between the two. "Felix has just been to Gurnard's and they tell him that the Virginiola cannot be found!"

"'Mislaid for the moment,' the gentleman said," amplified Felix.

"They send me back my cheque pending the book's recovery, but did you ever hear of such a thing? I was going down to Bristol by an early train to-morrow. Now I don't know what the deuce to do."

"Why not go back and find out what has really happened?" suggested Carrados. "They will tell you more than they would tell your man. If the book is stolen you may as well put off your journey. If it is mislaid—taken off by someone else in mistake, I expect they mean—it may be on its way back by now."

"Yes; I suppose I'd better go. You've had enough of it, I suppose?"

"On the contrary I was going to ask you to let me accompany you. It may be getting interesting."

"I hope not," retorted Marrable. "Come if you can spare the time, but the very tamest ending will suit me the best."

Felix had called up another cab by the time they reached the door, and for the second time that afternoon they spun through the West End streets with the auction rooms for their destination.

"Your turn to pay again, I think," proposed Carrados when they arrived. "You take the odd numbers and I'll take the even!"

Inside, most of the staff were obviously distracted by the strain of the untoward event and it was very evident that barbed words had been on the wing. In the private office to which Mr Marrable's card gained them immediate admittance they found all those actually concerned in the loss engaged in saying the same things over to each other for the hundredth time.

"The book isn't on the shelves now and there's the number in the delivery note; that's all I know about it," a saleroom porter was reiterating with the air of an extremely reasonable martyr.

"Yes, yes," admitted the auctioneer who had conducted the sale, "no one—— Oh, I'm glad you are here, Mr Marrable. You've heard of our—er—eh——"

"My man came back with something about the book—the Virginiola—being mislaid," replied Mr Marrable. "That is all I know so far."

"Well, it's very regrettable, of course, and we must ask your indulgence; but what has happened is simple enough and I hope it isn't serious."

"What concerns me," interposed Mr Marrable, "is merely this: Am I to have the book, and when?"

"We hope to deliver it into your hands—well, in a very short time. As I was saying, what has happened is this: Another purchaser bought certain lots. Among them was Lot 91. My sale clerk, in the stress of his duties, inadvertently filled in the delivery note as Lot 191." A gesture of despairing protest from the unfortunate young man referred to passed unheeded. "Consequently, as this gentleman took away his purchases at the end of the sale, he carried off the Virginiola among them. When he comes to look into the parcel he will at once discover the substitution and—er—of course return the volume."

"I see," assented Mr Marrable. "That seems straightforward enough, but the delay is unfortunate for me. Have you sent after the purchaser, by the way?"

"We haven't sent after the purchaser because he happens to live in Derbyshire," was the reply. "Here is his card. We are writing at once, but the probability is that he is staying in London overnight at least."

"You might wire."

"We will, of course, wire if you ask us to do so, Mr Marrable, but it seems to indicate an attitude of distrust towards Mr—er—Mr Dillworthy of Cullington Grange that I see no reason to entertain."

"Assuming the whole incident to be accidental, I think you are doing quite right. But in order to save time mayn't it perhaps be worth while anticipating that something else may have been at work?"

They all looked at Mr Carrados, who advanced this suggestion diffidently. The young man in the background breathed an involuntary "Ah!" of agreement and came a little more to the front.

"Do you suggest that Mr Dillworthy of Cullington Grange would actually deny possession of the book?" inquired the auctioneer a little cuttingly.

"Pardon me," replied Carrados blandly, "but do you know Mr Dillworthy of Cullington Grange?"

"No, certainly, I——"

"Nor, of course, the purchaser of Lot 91? That naturally follows. Then for the purpose of our hypothesis I would suggest that we eliminate Mr Dillworthy, who quite reasonably may not have been within a hundred miles of Charing Cross to-day. What remains? His visiting-card, that would cost about a crown at the outside to reproduce, or might much more cheaply be picked up from a hundred halls or office tables."

The auctioneer smiled.

"An elaborate plant, eh? Have you any practical knowledge, sir, of the difficulty, the impossibility, that would attend the disposal of this imperfect copy the moment our loss is notified?"

"But suppose it should become a perfect copy in the meantime? That might throw dust in their eyes. Eh, Marrable?"

"I say!" exclaimed the virtuoso, with his ideas forcibly directed into a new channel. "Yes, there is that, you know, Mr Trenchard."

"Even in that very unlikely event the Virginiola remains a white elephant. It cannot be got off to-day nor yet to-morrow. Any bookseller would require time in which to collate the volume; it dare not be offered by auction. It is like a Gainsborough or a Leonardo illegally come by—so much unprofitable lumber after it is stolen."

"Then," hazarded Carrados, "there is the alternative, which might suggest itself to a really intelligent artist, of selling it before it is stolen."

The conditions were getting a little beyond Mr Trenchard's easy access. "Sell it before it is stolen?" he repeated. "Why?"

"Because of the extreme difficulty, as you have proved, of selling it after."

"But how, I mean?"

"I think," interposed a quiet voice from the doorway, "that we had better accept Mr Carrados's advice, if he does us the great service of offering it, without discussion, Leonard. I have the pleasure of speaking to Mr Max Carrados, have I not?" continued a white-haired old gentleman, advancing into the room. "My young friend Trenchard, in his jealousy for the firm's reputation, starts with the conviction that it is impossible for us to be victimised. You and I know better, Mr Carrados. Now will you tell me—I am Mr Ing, by the way—will you tell me what has really happened?"

"I wish I could," admitted Carrados frankly. "Unfortunately I know less of the circumstances than you do, and although I was certainly present during a part of the sale, I never even 'saw' the book"—he spread out the fingers of a hand to illustrate—"and probably I was not within several yards of it or its present holder."

"But you have some idea of the method adopted—some theory," persisted Mr Ing. "You can tell us what to do."

"Even there I can only put two and two together and suggest investigation on common-sense lines."

"It is necessary to go to an expert even for that sometimes," submitted the old gentleman with a very comical look. "Now, Mr Carrados, pray enlighten us."

"May I put a few questions then?"

"By all means."

"Do you require me, sir?" inquired Mr Trenchard distantly.

"Not if you will kindly leave the sale-book and papers, I think, thank you," replied Carrados. "This young gentleman, though." The sale clerk came forward eagerly. "You have the delivery note there? No, I don't want it. This gentleman, whom we will refer to as Mr Dillworthy—91 is the first thing he bought?"

"Yes, sir."

"The price?"

"Three pounds fifteen."

"Is that a good price or a bargain?"

The clerk looked towards Mr Ing.

"It's Coulthorp's Marvellous Recoveries, sir; the edition of 1674," he explained.

"A fair price," commented the old gentleman. "Yes, quite a good auction figure."

"The Virginiola is folio, I believe. What size is Marvellous Recoveries?"

"It is folio also."

"What was the next lot that Dr Dillworthy bought?"

"Lot 198."

"Any others?"

"Yes, sir. Lots 211, 217 and 234."

"And the prices of these four lots?"

"Lot 198, a guinea; 211, twelve-and-six; 217, fifteen shillings; 234, twenty-three shillings."

"Those must be very low prices?"

"They are books in no great demand. At every sale from mixed sources there are a certain number of make-weight lots."

"We find, then, that Mr Dillworthy bought 91 at a good price. After that he did nothing until 191 had passed. Then he at once secured four lots of cheap books. This gives a certain colour to suspicion, but it may be pure coincidence. Now," he continued, addressing himself to the clerk again, "after the delivery slip had been made out, did Mr Dillworthy borrow a pen from you?"

The youth's ingenuous face suddenly flashed to a recollection.

"Suffering Moses!" he exclaimed irrepressibly. "Well——"

"Then he did?" demanded Mr Ing, too keenly interested to stop to reprove the manner.

"Not exactly, sir. He didn't borrow a pen, but I lent him one."

"Ah!" remarked Carrados, "that sounds even better. How did it come about?"

"His bill was six pounds twelve and six. He gave me seven pounds and I made out the delivery form and gave it to him with the change. Then he said: 'Could you do with a fiver instead of five ones, by the way? I may run short of change,' and he held out a banknote. 'Certainly, if you will kindly write your name and address on the back,' I replied, and I gave him a pen."

"The one you had been using?"

"Yes; it was in my hand. He turned away and I thought that he was doing what I asked, but before he would have had time to do that he handed me the pen back and said: 'Thanks; after all, I'll leave it as it is.'"

"Who sent in the book for sale?"

"Described as 'the property of a gentleman,'" contributed Mr Marrable. "I wondered."

"If you will excuse me for a moment," said Mr Ing, "I will find out."

He returned from another office smiling amiably but shaking his head.

"'The property of a gentleman,'" he repeated with senile deliberateness. "I find that the owner expressed a definite wish for the transaction to be treated confidentially. It is no unusual thing for a client to desire that. On certain points of etiquette, Mr Carrados, I am just as jealous for the firm as Trenchard could be, so that until we can obtain consent I am afraid that the gentleman must remain anonymous."

"The question is," volunteered Mr Marrable, "where has the volume got to, rather than where has it come from?"

"Sometimes," remarked the blind man, "after looking in many unlikely places one finds the key in the lock itself. At all events we seem to have come to the end of our usefulness here. Unless one of your people happens to come forward with a real clue, Mr Ing, I venture to predict that you will find more profit in investigating farther afield."

"But what are we to do?" exclaimed the old gentleman rather blankly, when he saw that Carrados was preparing to go. "We are absolute babes at this sort of thing—at least I know that I am."

"The remedy for that is quite simple. Put the case into the hands of the police."

"True, true; but it is not so absolutely simple to us. We have various interests and, yes, let us say, old-fashioned prejudices to consider. I suppose"—he became quite touchingly wistful—"I suppose that you could not be persuaded, Mr Carrados——?"

"I'm afraid not," replied Carrados. "I have other irons in the fire just now. But before you do call in the police, by the way, there is Mr Trenchard's view to be considered."

"You mean?"

"I mean that it would be as well to make sure that the Virginiola has been stolen."

"By wiring to Cullington Grange?"

"Assuming that there is a Cullington Grange. Then there is a harmless experiment in collateral proof that you might like to make in the meantime if the reply is delayed, as it reasonably may be through a dozen causes."

"And what is that, Mr Carrados?"

"Send up Charing Cross Road and find out among the second-hand shops whether the other books Mr Dillworthy took away with him were sold there immediately after the sale. They were only bought to round off the operation. They would be a dangerous incubus to keep, but if our man is a cool hand he may contrive to realise a pound or so for them before anything is known. You might even learn something else in the process."

"Aye, aye, to be sure," acquiesced Mr Ing. "We'll do that at once. And then, Mr Carrados, just a parting hint. If you were taking up the case what would you do then?"

The temptation to be oracular was irresistible. Carrados smiled inwardly.

"I should try to find a tall, short-sighted, Welsh book-dealer who smokes perique tobacco, suffers from a weak chest, wears thick-soled boots and always carries an umbrella," he replied with impressive gravity.

Mr Ing, the saleroom porter, the young clerk and Mr Marrable all looked at each other and then began to repeat the varied attributes of the required individual.

"There's that—what's his name?—old chap with a red waistcoat who's always here," hopefully suggested the porter in an aside. "He wears specs, and I've never seen him without an umbrella."

"He's a Scotchman and stands about five feet three, fathead!" whispered the clerk. "Isn't Mr Powis Welsh, sir?"

"To be sure. Powis of Redmayne Street is the man," assented Mr Ing. "Isn't that correct, Mr Carrados?"

"I don't know," replied Carrados, "but if he answers to the description it probably is."

"And then?"

"Then I think I should call and encourage him to talk to me—about Shakespeare."

"Why, dash it, Carrados," cried Mr Marrable, "you said that you knew nothing of book-collecting and yet you seem to be aware that Powis specialises Shakespeariana and to know that the Virginiola would interest him. I wonder how much you have been getting at me!"

"Oh, I suppose that I'm beginning to pick up a thing or two," admitted the blind man diffidently.

In the course of his experience of crime, fragments of many mysteries had been brought to Carrados's notice—detached chapters of chequered human lives to which the opening and the finis had never been supplied. Some had fascinated him and yet remained impenetrable to the end, yet the theft of the Virginiola, a mere coup of cool effrontery in which he felt no great interest after he had pierced the method, was destined to unfold itself before his mind without an effort on his part.

The sale at Gurnard's had taken place on a Wednesday. Friday brought Carrados a reminder of the stone that he had set rolling in the appearance of a visiting-card bearing the name and address of Mr Powis of Redmayne Street. Mr Powis was shown in and proved to be a tall, mild-looking man with a chronic cough. He carried a moderate parcel in one hand and, despite the bright, settled condition of the weather, an umbrella in the other.

"I'm an antiquarian bookseller, Mr Carrados," he remarked by way of introduction. "I haven't the honour of your custom that I know of, but I dare say you can guess what brings me here."

"You might tell me," replied Carrados.

"Oh yes, Mr Carrados, I will tell you. Certainly I will tell you," retorted Mr Powis, in a rather louder voice than was absolutely necessary. "Mr Ing looked in at my place of pizzness yesterday. He said that he was 'just passing'—'just passing,' you understand." Mr Powis emphasised the futility of the subterfuge by laughing sardonically.

"A charming old gentleman," remarked Carrados pleasantly. "I don't suppose that he would deceive a rabbit."

"I don't suppose that he could," asserted Mr Powis. "'By the way,' he said, 'did you see the Virginiola we sold yesterday?' 'By the way!' Yes, that was it."

Carrados nodded his smiling appreciation.

"'Oh-ho,' I thought, 'the Virginiola!' 'Yes, Mr Ing,' I said, 'it was a nice copy parring the defect, but a week ago I could have shown you a nicer and a perfect one to poot.'

"'You've got one too, have you?' he asked.

'"Certainly I have,' I replied, 'or I should not say so. At least I had, but it may be sold now. It has gone to a gentleman in Rutland.'

"'Rutland; that's a little place,' he remarked thoughtfully. 'Have you any objection to mentioning your customer's name?'

"'Not in the least, Mr Ing,' I told him. 'Why should I have? It has taken me five and twenty years to make my connection, but let all the trade have it. Sir Roland Chargrave of Densmore Hall is the gentleman.'

"Now, look you, Mr Carrados, I could see by the way Mr Ing gasped when I told him that things are not all right. It seems to be your doing that I am brought into it and I want to know where I stand."

"Have you any misgivings as to where you stand?" inquired Carrados.

"No, Mr Carrados, I have not," exclaimed the visitor indignantly. "I pought my Virginiola three or four weeks ago and I paid a goot price for it."

"Then you certainly have nothing to trouble about."

"Put I have a goot deal to trouble about," vociferated Mr Powis. "I have a copy of the Virginiola to dispose of——"

"Oh, you still have it, then?"

"Yes, Mr Carrados, I have. Thanks to what is peing said pehind my pack, the pook was returned to me this morning. My name has been connected with a stolen copy and puyers are very shy, look you, when they hear that. And word, it travels; oh yes. You may not know how, but to-day they will be saying in Wales: 'Have you heard what is peing said of Mr Powis of London?' And to-morrow in Scotland it will be: 'That old tamn rascal Powis has been caught at last!'"

In spite of Mr Powis's desperate seriousness Carrados could not restrain a laugh at the forcefulness of the recital. "Come, come, Mr Powis," he said soothingly, "it isn't as bad as that, you know. In any case you have only to display your receipt."

"Oh, very goot, very goot indeed!" retorted the Welshman in an extremity of satire. "Show a buyer my receipt! Excellent! That would be a capital way to carry on the antiquarian pook pizzness! Besides," he added, rather lamely, "in this case it happens that I do not possess a receipt."

"Isn't that—rather an oversight?" suggested Carrados.

"No doubt I could easily procure one. Let me tell you the circumstances, Mr Carrados. I only want to convince you that I have nothing to conceal." With this laudable intention Mr Powis's attitude became more and more amiable and his manner much less Welsh. He had, in fact, used up all the indignation that he had generated in anticipation of a wordy conflict—a species of protective mimicry common to mild-tempered men. "I bought this book from the Rev. Mr Winch, the vicar of Fordridge, in Leicestershire. A few weeks ago I received a registered parcel from Fordridge containing a fine copy of the Virginiola. The same post brought me a letter from Mr Winch. I dare say I have it here. . . . No, never mind; it was to the effect that the book had been in the writer's family for many generations. Being something of a collector, he had never wished to sell it, but an unexpected misfortune now obliged him to raise a sum of money. He had contracted blood-poisoning in his hand and he had to come up to London for an operation. After that he would have to take a long sea voyage. He went on to say that he had heard of me as a likely buyer and would call on me in a day or two. In the meantime he sent the book to give me full opportunity of examining it.

"Nothing could be more straightforward, Mr Carrados. Two days later Mr Winch walked into my place. We discussed the price, and finally we agreed upon—well, a certain figure."

"You can rely upon my discretion, Mr Powis."

"I paid him £260."

"That would be a fair price in the circumstances?"

"I thought so, Mr Carrados. I don't say that it wasn't a bargain, but it wasn't an outrageous bargain."

"You have occasionally done better?" smiled Carrados.

"Frequently. If I buy a book for threepence and sell it again for a shilling I do better, although it doesn't sound so well. Of course I am a dealer and I have to live on my profits and to pay for my bad bargains with my good bargains. Now if I had had an immediate customer in view the book might have been worth a good deal more to me. I may say that Wednesday's price at Gurnard's surprised me. Prices have certainly been going up, but only five years ago it would have required a practically perfect copy to make that."

"At all events, Mr Winch accepted?"

"I think I may say that he was perfectly satisfied," amended Mr Powis. "You see, Mr Carrados, he wanted the money at once, and, apart from the uncertainty and expense, he could not have waited for an auction. I was making out a cheque when he reminded me that his right hand was useless and asked me to initial it to 'bearer.' That is why I come to have no receipt."

"Yes," assented Carrados. "Yes, that is it. How was the letter signed?"

"It was typewritten, like the rest of it. You remember that his hand was bad when he wrote."

"True. Did you notice the postmark—was it Fordridge?"

"Yes; you should understand that Mr Winch posted on the book before he left Fordridge for London." It seemed to the visitor that Mr Carrados was rather slow even for a blind man.

"I think I am beginning to grasp the position," said Carrados mildly. "Of course you had no occasion to write to him at Fordridge?"

"Nothing whatever. Besides, he was coming to London almost immediately. If I wrote it was to be to the Fitzalan Hotel, off the Strand. Now here is the book, Mr Carrados. You saw—you examined, that is, the auction Virginiola?"

"No, unfortunately I did not."

"I am sorry. You would now have recognised how immeasurably superior my copy is, even apart from the missing pages."

"I can quite believe it." He was turning over the leaves of the book, which Mr Powis had passed to him. "But this writing on the dedication page?"

"Oh, that," said the dealer carelessly. "Some former owner has written his name there."

"I suppose it constitutes a blot?"

"Why, yes, in a small way it does," admitted Mr Powis. "Had it been 'Wm. Shakespeare,' it would have added a thousand guineas; as it's only 'Wm. Shoelack,' it knocks two or three off."

"Possibly," suggested Carrados, "it was this blemish that decided Sir Roland Chargrave against the book?"

"No, no," insisted Mr Powis. "Someone has hinted something to him. I don't say that you are to blame, Mr Carrados, but a suspicion has been created; it has got about."

"But Sir Roland is the one man whom it could not affect," pointed out Carrados. "He, at any rate, would know that this copy is unimpeachable, because when the other was being stolen this was actually in his hands and had been for—for how long?"

"Five or six days; he kept it for about a week. And that no doubt is true as a specific case; but a malicious rumour is wide, Mr Carrados. So-and-so is unreliable; he deals in questionable property; better be careful. It is enough. No, no; Mr Chatton said nothing about any objection to the book, merely that Sir Roland had decided not to retain it."

"Mr Chatton?"

"He is the secretary or the librarian there. I have frequently done business with him in the old baronet's time. This man is a nephew who succeeded only a few months ago. Well, Mr Carrados, I hope I have convinced you that I came by this Virginiola in a legitimate manner?"

"Scarcely that."

"I haven't!" exclaimed Mr Powis in blank astonishment.

"I never doubted it. At the sale I happened to hear you remark to a friend that you had recently bought a copy. My suggestion to Mr Ing was merely to hint that, with your exceptional knowledge, your unique experience, you would probably be able to put them on the right line as to the disposal of the stolen copy and so on. An unfortunate misunderstanding."

Mr Powis stared and then nodded several times with an expression of acute resignation.

"That old man is past work," he remarked feelingly. "I might have saved myself a journey. Well, I'll go now, Mr Carrados."

"Not yet," declared Carrados hospitably; "I am going to persuade you to stay and lunch with me, Mr Powis. I want"—he was still fingering the early pages of the Virginiola with curious persistence—"I want you to explain to me the way in which these interesting old books were bound."

With the departure of Mr Powis a few hours later Carrados might reasonably conclude that he had heard the last of the Virginiola theft, for he was now satisfied that it would never reach publicity as a police court case. But, willy-nilly, the thing pursued him. Mr Carlyle was to have dined with him one evening in the following week. It was a definite engagement, but during the day the inquiry agent telephoned his friend to know what he should do. A young gentleman who had been giving him some assistance in a case was thrown on his hands for the evening.

"You are the most amiable of men, Max," chirruped Mr Carlyle; "but, really, I don't like to ask——"

"Bring him by all means," assented the most amiable of men. "I expect two or three others to turn up to-night." So Mr Carlyle brought him.

"Mr Chatton, Max."

An unobtrusive young man, whose face wore a perpetual expression of docile willingness, shook hands with Carrados. Anything less like the sleek, competent self-assurance of the conventional private secretary it would be difficult to imagine. Mr Chatton's manner was that of a well-meaning man who habitually blundered from a too conscientious sense of duty, knew it all along, and was pained at the inevitableness of the recurring catastrophe.

"I have just taken up a case that might interest you, Max," said Mr Carlyle, as the three of them stood together. "Simple enough, but it involves a valuable old book that has been stolen. Gurnard's called me in"—and he proceeded to outline the particulars of the missing Virginiola.

"And you went down yourself to Gurnard's to look into it, Mr Chatton?" said Carrados, masking the species of admiration that he felt for his new acquaintance.

"Well, I don't know about looking into it," confessed Mr Chatton. "You see, it doesn't really concern Sir Roland at all now. But I thought that I ought to offer them any information—a description or something of that sort might be wanted—when I heard of their loss. Of course," he added, with a deepening of his habitual look of rueful perturbation, "we can't help it, but it's very distressing to think of them losing so much money over our affair."

"Not a bit of it, not a bit of it," cried Mr Carlyle heartily. "It's all in the way of business and Gurnard's won't feel a touch like that. Very good of you to take all the trouble you have, I say." He turned his beaming, self-confident eye towards his host to explain. "I happened to meet Mr Chatton there this morning and ever since he has been helping me to put about inquiries in likely quarters and so on. I haven't any doubt of pulling our man up in a week or two, unless it's the work of a secret bibliomaniac, and Gurnard's don't entertain that."

"Wednesday last, you say," pondered Carrados. "Aren't they rather late in turning it over to you?"

"Just what I complained of. Then it came out that they had been pinning their faith to the advice of some officious idiot who happened to be present at the sale. Nothing came of it, of course."

"They did not happen to mention the idiot's name?" inquired Max tentatively.

"No. The old gentleman—Mr Ing—said that he had already got into hot water once through doing that." Mr Carlyle began to laugh in his hearty way over a recollection of the incident. "Do you know what this genius's brilliant idea was? He put them on the track of a copy of this book that had been recently sold to a dealer, assuming that it must necessarily be the stolen copy. And so it had been recently sold, Max, but it happened to be before the other was stolen!"

"Very amusing," agreed Carrados.

"Do you know, I can't help thinking that I was somehow to blame for that," confessed Mr Chatton in a troubled voice. "You remember, I told you——"

"No, no," protested Mr Carlyle encouragingly. "How could it be your fault?"

"Well, it's very good of you to reassure me," continued the young man, relieved but not convinced. "But I really think I may have introduced a confusing element. I should like Mr Carrados to judge. . . . When I learned from Sir Roland that he intended sending this Virginiola to Gurnard's, knowing that it was a valuable book, I saw the necessity of going over it carefully with another copy—'collating' it is called—to find out whether anything was missing. The British Museum doesn't possess an example, and in any case I could not well spare a day just then to come to London for the purpose. So I wrote to a few dealers, rather, I am afraid, giving them the impression that we wished to buy a copy. In this way I got what I wanted sent up on approval and I was able to go through the two thoroughly. At the moment I argued that my duty to my employer justified the subterfuge, but I don't know, I don't know; I really question whether it was quite legitimate."

"Oh, nonsense," remonstrated Mr Carlyle, to whom the subtleties did not appeal. "Rather a smart way of getting what you wanted in the circumstances, don't you think, Max?"

Carrados paid a willing if equivocal tribute to the wider problem of Mr Chatton's brooding conscientiousness.

"Very ingenious altogether," he admitted.

Mr. Carlyle did not pull his man up in a few weeks; in fact he never reached him at all. For the key to the disappearance of the Virginiola he had to wait two years. He was at The Turrets one day when his host was called away for a short time to see a man who had come on business.

Carlyle had picked up a newspaper, when Carrados came back from the door and opening one of the inner drawers of his desk threw out a long envelope.

"There," he remarked as he went on again, "is something that may interest you more."

He was quite right. The inquiry agent cut open the envelope that was addressed to himself and read the following narrative:—


In the year 1609 a seafaring gentleman called Somers—Sir George Somers—was wrecked on an island in the Atlantic. This island—one of a group—although destitute of human inhabitants, was overrun by pigs. During the first part of their enforced residence there the shipwrecked mariners were much concerned by unearthly shrieks and wailings that filled the night. With the simple piety of the time these were attributed to the activity of witches, imps and demons. In fact, in addition to the varied appellations of Virginiola, Bermoothes, Somers Islands, etc., the place was enticingly called "The Ile of Divels."

In due course the castaways were rescued and returned to England. In due course, also, there appeared a variety of printed accounts of their adventures. (We are prone to think that the tendency is modern, Louis, but it is not.) One of these coming into the hands of a cynical, middle-aged playwright on the look-out for a new plot to annex, was at once pressed into his scheme. Doubtless he saw behind the shadowy "divels" the substantial outlines of the noisy "hogges." However, the idea was good enough for a background. He wrote his play and called it The Tempest.

This is the explanation offered to me of the high and increasing value of rare early works on Bermuda. They can be classed among the Shakespeariana. There is also another reason: they can be classed among the Americana.

About three hundred years later a certain young gentleman who combined fairly expensive tastes with good commercial ability succeeded to a title and its appendages. Among the latter were a mansion in Rutlandshire, which he determined was too expensive, a library in which he was not vastly interested, and a private secretary whose services he continued to retain.

One day about six months after his succession Sir Roland Chargrave called in his secretary to receive instructions.

"Look here, Chatton," he said, "I have decided to let this place furnished for a time. See Turvey about the value and then advertise it for something more than he advises. It ought to bring in a decent rental. Then there are some valuable things here that are no earthly good to me. I'll start with the library."

"You intend to dispose of the library, Sir Roland?" faltered the secretary.

"No. The library gives a certain distinction to a fellow and the Chargraves have always had one. I'll keep the library, but I'll weed out all the old stuff that will make high prices. Uncle Vernon left a valuation list which appears to have been made out about ten years ago. One book alone—An Account of Virginiola—he puts down at £300. Then there are a dozen others that ought to bring another £200 among them. I require £500 just now. Here is a list of the books I have picked out. Send them off to Gurnard's to be sold as soon as possible. Don't have my name catalogued. I don't want it to be known that I'm selling anything. That's all."

The secretary withdrew with an accentuation of his unhappy manner. It was very distressing to him, this dispersal of the family heirlooms. It was also extremely inconvenient personally, because he had already sold the Virginiola himself only a week before. For he also had expenses. Perhaps he had fallen into the hands of the Jews; perhaps it was the Jewesses. At all events, like Sir Roland, he required money, and again like Sir Roland, the Virginiola had seemed the most suitable method. He had quietly withdrawn the book about the time of his former master's death, and thus saved the new baronet quite an item in duty. He had secured Sir Vernon's valuation list and after six months had concluded that he was safe. He had taken extraordinary pains to cover his identity in selling the book and the old dotard appeared to have made two lists and to have deposited one elsewhere!

Like a wise man Mr Chatton set about discovering how he could retrieve himself. He had had charge of the library and he knew that it was too late to report the book as lost. In any case he would be dismissed; if inquiry was made at that stage he would be prosecuted. From the depths of his brooding melancholy Mr Chatton evolved a scheme.

The first thing was to get back the Virginiola a little before the sale. By that time he had sent in the list, but not the books. Doubtless he still had some of the illicit funds in hand. Now the Virginiola had been valued at £300 by old Sir Vernon, but if at the sale it was discovered to be imperfect in an important detail then it might realise only a fraction of that sum. There was also another consideration. A name had been indelibly written on one of the early pages, and if Mr Powis was not to recognise his property that page must be temporarily removed.

I think it was Chatton's undoubted intention to buy back the book if possible and run no further risk with it. What he had not taken into account was the enormous rise in the value of this class of work. What had been reasonably worth £300 ten years before, the market now apprised at nearly double. Even the imperfect copy reached nearly the original estimate and thereby Chatton's first string failed.

But this painstakingly conscientious young man had not been content to risk all on a single chance. What form his second venture took it will be unnecessary to recall to you. He calculated on the chances of the saleroom, and he succeeded. The Virginiola was recovered; the abstracted sheet was cunningly replaced, probably certain erasable marks that had been put in for fuller disguise were removed, and Mr Powis received back his property with formal regrets.

I anticipate an indignant question rising to your lips. I did not tell you this before, Louis, because of one curious fact. The story is entirely speculative on my part so far as demonstrable proof is concerned. Chatton, who is rather a remarkable young man, did not leave behind him one solitary shread of evidence that would stand before a jury. Time and Mr Chatton's future career can alone bring my justification, but some day if we have the opportunity (I am committing this to paper in case we should not) we will go over the evidence together. In the meanwhile Gurnard's can, as you said, stand the loss.

Here the typewritten account ended, but at the foot of the last page Carrados had pasted a newspaper cutting. From it Mr Carlyle learned that "Vernon Howard, alias Digby Skeffington, etc., etc., whose real name was said to be Chatton, well connected," had, the week before, been convicted, chiefly on the King's evidence of a female accomplice, of obtaining valuable jewellery under false pretences. Sentence had been deferred, pending further inquiries.


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