"The Eyes of Max Carrados/Chapter 8"

Jump to search


The Kingsmouth Spy Case

NOT guilty, my lord!" There was a general laugh in the lounge of the Rose and Plumes, the comfortable old Cliffhurst hotel that upheld the ancient traditions unaffected by the flaunting rivalry of Grand or Metropole. The jest hidden in the retort was a small one, but it was at the expense of a pompous, pretentious bore, and the speaker was a congenial wag who had contrived in the course of a few weeks to win a facile popularity on all sides.

Across the room one of the later arrivals—"the blind gentleman," as he was sympathetically alluded to, for few had occasion to learn his name—turned slightly towards the direction of the voice and added a pleasantly appreciative smile to the common tribute. Then his attention again settled on the writing-table at which he sat, and for the next few minutes his pencil travelled smoothly, with an occasional pause for consideration, over the block of telegraphic forms that he had picked out. At the end of ten minutes he rang for a waiter and directed that his own man should be sent to him.

"Here are three telegrams to go off, Parkinson," he said in the suave, agreeable voice that scarcely ever varied, no matter what the occasion might be. "You will take them yourself at once. After that I shall not require you again to-night."

The attendant thanked him and withdrew. The blind man closed his letter-case, retired from the writing-table to the obscurity of a sequestered corner and sat unnoticed with his sightless eyes, that always seemed to be quietly smiling, looking placidly into illimitable space as he visualised the scene before him, and the laughter, the conversation and the occasional whisper went on unchecked around.

Max Carrados had journeyed down to Cliffhurst a few days previously, good-naturedly, but without any enthusiasm. Indeed it had needed all Mr Carlyle's persuasive eloquence to move him.

"The Home Office, Max," urged the inquiry agent, "one of the premier departments of the State! Consider the distinction! Surely you will not refuse a commission of that nature direct from the Government?" Carrados, looking a little deeper than a Melton overcoat and a glossy silk hat, had once declared his friend to be the most incurably romantic of idealists. He now took a malicious pleasure in reducing the situation to its crudest terms.

"Why can't the local police arrest a solitary inoffensive German spy themselves?" he inquired.

"To tell the truth, Max, I believe that there are two or three fingers in that pie at the present moment," replied Mr Carlyle confidentially. "It doesn't concern the Home Office alone. And after that Guitry Bay fiasco and the unmerciful chaffing that we got in the German papers—with rather a nasty rap or two over the knuckles from the Kölnische Zeitung—both Whitehall and Downing Street are in a blue funk lest they should do the wrong thing, either let the man slip away with the papers or arrest him without them."

"Contingencies with which I am sure you could grapple successfully, Louis."

Mr Carlyle's bland complacency did not suggest that he, at any rate, had any doubt on that score.

"But, you know, Max, I am pledged to carry through the Vandeeming affair here in town. And—um—well, the Secretary did make a point of you being the man they relied on."

"Oh! someone there must read the papers, Louis. But I wonder . . . why they did not communicate with me direct."

Mr Carlyle contrived to look extremely ingenuous. Even he occasionally forgot that looks went for nothing with Carrados.

"I imagine that they thought that a friendly intermediary—or something of that sort."

"Possibly Inspector Beedel hinted to the Commissioner that you would have more influence with me than a whole Government Department?" smiled Carrados. "And so you have, Louis; so you have. If it's your ambition to get the Government on your books you can tell your clients that I'll take on their job!"

"By Jupiter, Max, you are a good fellow if ever there was one!" exclaimed Mr Carlyle with gentlemanly emotion. "But I owe too much to you already."

"This won't make it any more, then. I have another reason, quite different, for going."

"Of course you have," assented the visitor heartily. "You are not one to talk about patriotism, and all that, but you can't hoodwink me with your dilettantish pose, Max, and I know that deep down in your nature there is a passionate devotion to your country——"

"Thank you, Louis," interrupted Carrados. "It is very nice to learn that. But I am really going to Kingsmouth because there's a man there—a curate—who has the second best private collection in Europe of autonomous coins of Thessaly."

For a few seconds Mr Carlyle looked his unutterable feelings. When he did speak it was with crushing deliberation.

"'Mrs Carrados,' I shall say—if ever there is a Mrs Carrados, Max—'Mrs Carrados, two things are necessary for your domestic happiness. In the first place, pack up your husband's tetradrachms in a brown-paper parcel and send them with your compliments to the British Museum. In the second, at the earliest possible opportunity, exact from him an oath that he will never touch another Greek coin as long as you both live.'"

"If ever there is a Mrs Carrados," was the quick retort, "I shall probably be independent of the consolation of Greek coins as, also, Louis, of the distraction of criminal investigation. In the meantime, what are you going to tell me about this case?"

Mr Carlyle at once became alert. He would have become absolutely professional had not Carrados tactfully obtruded the cigar-box. The digression, and the pleasant aroma that followed it, brought him back again to the merely human.

"It began, like a good many other cases, with an anonymous letter." He took a slip of paper from his pocket-book and handed it to Carrados. "Here is a copy."

"A copy!" The blind man ran his finger lightly along the lines and read aloud what he found there:


"A friend warns you that an attempt is being successfully made on behalf of another Power to obtain naval information of vital importance. You have a traitor within your gates."

Then he crumpled up the paper and dropped it half-contemptuously into the waste-paper basket. "A copy is no use to us, Louis," he remarked. "Indeed it is worse than useless; it is misleading."

"That is all they had here. The original was addressed to the Admiral-Superintendent at the Kingsmouth Dockyard. This was sent up with the report. But I am assured that the other contained no clue to the writer's identity."

"Not even a watermark, 'Jones, stationer, High Street, Kingsmouth'!" said Carrados dryly. "Really, Louis! Every piece of paper contains at least four palpable clues."

"And what are they, pray?"

"A smell, a taste, an appearance and a texture. This one, in addition, bears ink, and with it all the characteristics of an individual handwriting."

"In capitals, Max," Mr Carlyle reminded him. "Our anonymous friend is up to that."

"Yes; I wonder who first started that venerable illusion."


"Certainly an illusion. Capitals, or 'printed handwriting' as one sees them called, are just as idiomorphic as a cursive form."

"But much less available for comparison. How are you going to obtain a specimen of anyone's printed handwriting for comparison?"

Carrados reflected silently for a moment.

"I think I should ask anyone I suspected to do one for me," he replied.

Carlyle resisted the temptation to laugh outright, but mordacity lurked in his voice.

"And you imagine that the writer of this, who evidently has good reason for anonymity, will be simple enough to comply?"

"I think so; if I ask him nicely."

"Look here, Max, I will bet you a box of any cigars you care to name——"

"Yes, Louis?"

Mr Carlyle had hesitated. He was recalling one or two things from the past, and on those occasions his friend's unemotional face had looked just as devoid of guile as it did now.

"No, Max, I won't bet this time, but I should like to send across a small box of Monterey Coronas for Parkinson to pack among your things. Well, so much for the letter."

"Not quite all," interposed Carrados. "I must have the original."

The visitor made a note in his pocket diary.

"It shall be sent to you at once. I stipulated an absolutely free hand for you. Oh, I took a tolerably high tone! I can assure you, Max. You will find everything at Kingsmouth very pleasant, and there, of course, you will learn all the details. Here they don't seem to know very much. I was not informed whether the Dockyard authorities had already had their suspicions aroused or whether the letter was the first hint. At all events they acted with tolerable promptness. The letter, you will see, is undated, but it was delivered on the seventeenth—last Thursday. On Friday they put their hands on a man in the construction department—a fellow called Brown. He made no fight of it when he was cornered, but although he owned up to the charge of betraying information, there was one important link that he could not supply and one that he would not. He could not tell them who the spy collecting the information was, because there was an intermediary; and he would not betray the intermediary on any terms. And, by gad! I for one can't help respecting the beggar for that remnant of loyalty."

"A woman?" suggested Carrados.

"Even that, I believe, is not known, but very likely you have hit the mark. A woman would explain the element of chivalry that prompts Brown's attitude. He is under open arrest now—nobody outside is supposed to know, but of course he can't buy an evening paper without it being noted. They are in hope of something more definite turning up. At present they have pitched their suspicions on a German visitor staying at Cliffhurst."


"I don't know, Max. They must fix on someone, you know. It's expected. All the same they are deucedly nervous at this end about the outcome."

"Did they say what Brown had given away?"

"Yes, egad! Do you know anything of the Croxton-Delahey torpedo?"

"A little," admitted Carrados.

"What does it do?" asked Mr Carlyle, with the rather sublime air of casual interest which he attached to any subject outside his own knowledge.

"It's rather an ingenious contrivance. It is fired like any other uncontrolled torpedo. At the end of a straight run—anything up to ten thousand yards at 55 knots with the superheated system—the diabolical creature stops and begins deliberately to slash a zigzag course over any area you have set it for. If in its roving it comes within two hundred feet of any considerable mass of iron it promptly makes for it, cuts its way through torpedo netting if any bars its progress, explodes its three hundredweight of gun-cotton and finishes its existence by firing a 24 lb. thorite shell through the breach it has made."

"'Um," mused Mr Carlyle, "I don't like the weapon, Max, but I would rather that we kept it to ourselves. Well, Mr Brown has given away the plans."

Carrados disposed of the end of his cigar and crossed the room to his open desk. From its appointed place he took a book inscribed "Engagements," touched a few pages and scribbled a line of comment here and there. Then he turned to his guest again.

"All right. I'll go down to Kingsmouth by the 12.17 to-morrow morning," he said. "Now I want you to look up the following points for me and let me have the particulars before I go."

Mr Carlyle again took out his pocket diary and beamed approvingly.

As a matter of fact the tenor of the replies he received influenced Carrados to make some change in his plans. Accompanied by Parkinson he left London by the appointed train on the next day, but instead of proceeding to Kingsmouth he alighted at Cliffhurst, the pretty little seaside resort some five miles east of the great dockport. After securing rooms at the Rose and Plumes—an easy enough matter in October—he directed his attendant to take him to a sheltered seat on the winding paths below the promenade and there leave him for an hour.

"Very nicely kept, these walks and shrubberies, sir," remarked an affable voice from the other end of the bench. A leisurely pedestrian whose clothes and manner proclaimed him to be an aimless holiday-maker had sauntered along and, after a moment's hesitation, had sat down on the same form.

"Yes, Inspector," replied Carrados genially. "Almost up to the standard of our own Embankment Gardens, are they not?"

Detective-Inspector Tapling, of New Scotland Yard, went rather red and then laughed quietly.

"I wasn't quite sure at first if it was you, Mr Carrados," he apologised, moving nearer and lowering his voice. "I was to report to you here, sir, and to give you any information and assistance you might require."

"How are you getting on?" inquired Carrados.

"We think that we have got hold of the right man, sir; but for reasons that you can guess the Chief is very anxious to have no mistake this time."


"Yes, sir. He has a furnished villa here in Cliffhurst and is very open-handed. The time he came fits in, so far as we can tell, with the beginning of the inquiries in Kingsmouth. Then, whatever his real name is, it isn't Muller."

"He is a German?"

"Oh yes; he's German right enough, sir. We've looked up telegrams to him from Lubeck—nothing important though—and he has changed German notes in Kingsmouth. He spends a lot of time over there—says the fishing is better, but that's all my eye, only the Kingsmouth boatmen get hold of the dockyard talk and know more of the movements than the men about here. Then there's a lady."

"The intermediary?"

"That's further than we can go at the moment, but there is a lady at the furnished villa. She's not exactly Mrs Muller, we believe, but she lives there, if you understand what I mean, sir."

"Perfectly," acquiesced Carrados in the same modest spirit.

"So that all the necessary conditions can be shown to exist," concluded Tapling.

"But so far you have not a single positive fact connecting Muller with Brown?"

The Inspector admitted that he had not, but added hopefully that he was in immediate expectation of information that would enable him to link up the detached surmises into a conclusive chain of direct evidence.

"And if I might ask the favour of you, sir," he continued, "you would be doing us a great service if you would allow us to continue our investigation for another twenty-four hours. I think that by then we shall be able to show something solid. And if you certify what we have done, that's all to our credit, whereas if you take it out of our hands now—— You see what I mean, Mr Carrados, but of course it lies entirely with you."

Carrados assented with his usual good nature. His actual business was only to examine the evidence before the arrest was made and to guarantee that the Home Office should not be involved in another spy-scare fiasco. He knew Tapling to be a reliable officer, and he did not doubt that the line he was working was the correct one. Least of all did he wish to deprive the man of his due credit.

"I can very well put in a day on my own account," he accordingly replied. "And so long as Muller is here there does not appear to be any special urgency. I suppose the odds are that the papers have been got away before you began to watch?"

"There is just a chance yet, we believe, sir; and the Admiralty is very keen on recovering those torpedo plans if it's to be done. Some of these foreign spies like to keep the thing as much as possible in their own hands. There's more credit to it, and more cash, too, at headquarters if they do. Then if it comes to a matter of touch-and-go, a letter, and especially a letter from abroad, may be stopped on the way. You will say that a man may be, for that matter, but there's been another reason against posting valuable papers about here for the past week."

"Of course," assented Carrados with enlightenment. "The Suffragettes down here are out."

"I never thought to have any of that lot helping me," said the Inspector, absent-mindedly stroking his right shin; "but they may have turned the scale for us this time. There isn't a posting place from a rural pillar-box to the head office at Kingsmouth that has been really safe from them. They've even got at the registered letters in the sorting-rooms somehow. That's why I think there's a chance still."

Parkinson's approaching figure announced that an hour had passed. Carrados and the Inspector rose to walk away in different directions, but before they parted the blind man put a question that had confronted him several times, although he had as yet given only a glancing attention to the case.

"Now that Muller has got the plans of the torpedo, Inspector, why is he remaining here?"

It was a simple and an obvious inquiry, but before he replied Inspector Tapling looked round suspiciously. Then he further reduced the distance between them and dropped his voice to a whisper.

St Ethelburga's boasted the most tin-potty bell and the highest ritual of any church in Kingsmouth. Outside it resembled a brick barn, inside a marble palace, and its ministration overworked a vicar and two enthusiastic curates. It stood at the corner of Jubilee Street and Lower Dock Approach, a conjunction that should render further description of the neighbourhood superfluous.

The Rev Byam Hosier, the senior curate, whose magnetic eloquence filled St Ethelburga's from chancel steps to porch, lodged in Jubilee Street, and there Mr Carrados found him at ten o'clock on the following morning. The curate had just finished his breakfast, and the simultaneous correction of a batch of exercise books. He apologised for the disorder without justifying himself by explaining the cause, for instead of being a laggard Mr Hosier had already taken an early celebration, and afterwards allowed himself to be intercepted on his way back to attend to a domestic quarrel, a lost cat, and the arrangements for a funeral.

"I got your note last night, Mr Carrados," he said, after guiding his guest to a seat, for Parkinson had been dismissed to make himself agreeable elsewhere. "I am glad to show you my small collection, and still more so to have an opportunity of thanking you for the help you have given me from time to time."

Carrados lightly disclaimed the obligation. It was the first time the two had met, though, as the outcome of a review article, they had frequently corresponded. The clergyman went to his single cabinet, took out the top tray and put it down before his visitor on the now available table.

"Pherae," he said.

"May I touch the surfaces?" asked the blind man.

"Oh, certainly. Pray do. I am sorry——" He did not quite know what to say before the spectacle of the blind expert, with his eyes fixed elsewhere, passing a critical touch over the details that he himself loved to gaze upon.

In this one thing the Rev. Byam was fastidious. His clothes were generally bordering on the shabby, and he allowed himself to wear boots that shocked or amused the feminine element in the first half-dozen pews of St Ethelburga's. He might—as he frequently did, indeed—make a breakfast of weak tea, bread and butter and marmalade without any sense of deficiency, but in the matter of Greek coins his taste was exacting and his standard exact. His one small mahogany cabinet was pierced for five hundred specimens, and it was far from full, but every coin was the exquisite production of the golden era of the world's creative art.

It did not take Carrados three minutes to learn this. Occasionally he dropped a word of comment or inquiry, but for the most part tray succeeded tray in fascinated silence.

"Still Larissa," announced the clergyman, sliding out the last tray.

Under each coin was a circular ticket with written particulars of the specimen accompanying it. For some time Carrados took little interest in these commentaries, but presently Hosier noticed that his guest was submitting many of them to a close but quiet scrutiny.

"Excuse my asking, Mr Carrados," he said at length, "but are you quite blind?"

"Quite," was the unconcerned reply. "Why?"

"Because I noticed that you held some of the labels close to your eyes and I fancied that perhaps——"

"It is my way."

"Forgive my curiosity——"

"I can assure you, Mr Hosier, that other people are much more touchy about my blindness than I am. Now will you do me a kindness? I should like a copy of the inscriptions on half-a-dozen of these gems."

"With pleasure." The curate discovered pen and ink and paper and waited.

"This didrachm of the nymph Larissa wearing earrings; this of Artemis and the stag; this, and this, and this." The trays had been left displayed upon the table and Carrados's hand selected from them with unerring precision.

Hosier took the chosen coins and noted down the legends in their bold Greek capitals. "Shall I describe the type of each as well?" he asked.

"Thank you," assented his visitor. "If you don't mind writing that also in capitals and not blotting I shall read it so much the easier."

He accepted the sheet of paper and delicately touched the lettering along each line.

"I have a friend who will be equally interested in this," he remarked, taking out his pocket-book.

The clergyman had turned to remove a tray from the table when a sheet of paper, fluttering to the ground, caught his eye. He picked it up and was returning it into the blind man's hand when he stopped in a sudden arrest of every movement.

"Good heavens, Mr Carrados!" he exclaimed in an agitated voice, "how does this come in your possession?"

"Your note?"

"You know that it is mine?"

"Yes—now," replied Carrados quietly. "It was sent to me by the Admiral-Superintendent of the Yard here. He wished to communicate with the writer."

"I am bewildered at the suddenness of this," protested the poor young man in some distress. "Let me tell you the circumstances—such at least as do not violate my promise."

He procured himself a glass of water from the sideboard, drank half of it and began to pace the room nervously as he talked.

"On Wednesday last, after taking Evensong at the church, I was leaving the vestry when a lady stepped forward and asked if she might speak to me privately. It is a request which a clergyman cannot refuse, Mr Carrados, but I endeavoured first to find out what she required, because people frequently come to one or another of us on business that really has to do with the clerk, or the organist, or something of that sort.

"She assured me that it was a personal matter and that no other official would do.

"The lights had by this time been extinguished in the church, and doubtless the apparitor had left. I gave her my address here and asked her if she would call in ten or twenty minutes. I preferred that she should present herself in the ordinary way.

"There is no need to go into extraneous details. The unhappy lady wished to unburden her conscience by making explicit confession, and she had come to me in consequence of a sermon which she had heard me preach on the Sunday before.

"It is not expedient to weigh considerations of time or circumstance in such a case. I allowed her to proceed, and she made her confession under the seal of inviolable confidence. It involved other persons besides herself. I besought her to undo as far as possible the great harm she had done by making a full statement to the authorities, but this she was too weak—too terrified to do. This clumsy warning of mine"—he pointed to the paper now lying on the table between them—"was the utmost concession that I could wring from her."

He stopped and looked at his visitor with a troubled face that seemed to demand some sort of assent to the dilemma.

"You are an Englishman, Mr Hosier, and you know what this might mean in a conflict—you know that one of our most formidable weapons has been annexed."

"My dear sir!" rapped out the distressed curate, "don't you think that I haven't worried about that? But behind the Englishman stands something more primitive, more just—the man. I gave my assurance as a man, and the Admiralty can go hang!"

"Besides," he added, in petulant reaction, "the poor woman is dying, and then everyone can know. Of course it may be too late."

"Do you mind telling me if the lady gave you the names of her accomplices?"

"How can I tell you, Mr Carrados? It may identify her in some way. I am too confounded by your unexpected appearance in the affair to know what is important and what is not."

"It will not implicate her. I have no concern there."

"Then, yes, she did. She gave me every detail."

"I ask because a man is suspected and on the point of arrest. He may be innocent. I have no deeper motive, but if the one for whom she is working is not a German called, or passing as, Muller, you might have some satisfaction in exonerating him."

The curate reflected a moment.

"He is not, Mr Carrados," he replied decidedly. "But please don't ask me anything more."

"Very well, I won't," said Carrados, rising. "Our numismatic conversation has taken a strange turn, Mr Hosier. There is a text for you—Money at the root of everything! By the way, I can do you one trifling service." He picked up the anonymous letter, tore it across and held it out. "You have done all you could. Burn this and then you are clear of the matter."

"Thanks, thanks. But won't it get you into trouble with the Admiralty?"

"I make my own terms," replied Carrados. "Now Mr Hosier, I have been an ill-omened bird, but I had no suspicion of this when I came. The 'long arm' has landed us this time. Will you come and dine with me one day this week, and I promise you not a single reference to this troublesome business?"

"You are very good," assented Hosier.

"I am at Cliffhurst——"

"Cliffhurst?" was Hosier's quick exclamation.

"Yes, at the Rose and Plumes."

"I—I am very sorry, Mr Carrados," stammered the curate, "but, after all, I am afraid that I must cry off. This week——"

"If the distance takes up too much of your time, may I send a car?"

"No, no, it isn't that—at least, of course, one has to consider time and work. Thank you, Mr Carrados; you are very kind, but, really, if you don't mind——"

Carrados courteously accepted the refusal without further pressure. He turned the momentary embarrassment by hoping that Hosier would not fail to call on him when next in London, and the curate availed himself of the compromise to protest the pleasure that it would afford him. Parkinson was summoned and the strangely developed visit came to an end.

Parkinson doubtless found his master a dull companion on the way back. Carrados had to rearrange his ideas from the preconception which he had so far tentatively based on Inspector Tapling's report, and he was faced by the necessity of discovering whose presence made the Rose and Plumes Hotel inexplicably distasteful to Mr Hosier just then. Only two flashes of conversation broke the journey, both of which may be taken as showing the trend of Max Carrados's mind, and demonstrating the sound common sense exhibited by his henchman.

"It is a mistake they often make, Parkinson, to begin looking with a fixed idea of what they are going to find."

"Yes, sir."

And, ten minutes later:

"But I don't know that it would be safe yet to ignore the obvious altogether."

"No, sir," replied Parkinson.

"Not guilty, my lord!"

That was the link for which Carrados had been waiting patiently each day since his visit to Kingsmouth; or, more exactly, since the sound of a voice heard in the hotel on his return had stirred a memory that he could not materialise. Parkinson had described the man with photographic exactness and still recognition was balked. Tapling, who found himself at a deadlock before the furnished villa, both by reason of his want of progress and at Carrados's recommendation, contributed his observation, which was guardedly negative. Everyone about knew Mr Slater—"a pleasant, open-handed gentleman, with a word and a joke for all"—but no one knew anything of him, as, indeed, who should know of a leisurely bird of passage staying for a little time at a seaside hotel?

Then across the lounge rang the mock-serious repartee, and enlightenment cut into the patient listener's brain like a flash of inspiration.

These were the three telegrams which immediately came into existence as a result of that ray, deciphered here from their code obscurity:

"To Greatorex, Turrets, Richmond, Surrey.

"Extract Times full report trial Henry Frankworth, convicted embezzlement early 1906, and forward express.—Carrados."

"To Wrattesley, Home Office, Whitehall, S.W.

"Will you please have Lincoln authorities instructed to send me confidential report antecedents Henry Frankworth, embezzler, native Trudstone that county. Urgent.—Wynn Carrados."

"To Carlyle, 72a Bampton St., W.C.

"My dear Louis,—Why not come down week-end talk things over? Meanwhile make every effort discover subsequent history Henry Frankworth convicted embezzlement Central Criminal Court early 1906. Beedel will furnish police records. Pressing.—Max."

On his way upstairs a few hours later Carrados looked in at the reception office to inquire if there were any letters.

"By the by," he remarked, after he had turned to leave, "I wonder if you happen to have a room a little—just a little—farther away from the drawing-room?"

"Certainly, sir," replied the clerk. "Does the playing annoy you? They do keep it up rather late sometimes, don't they?"

"No, it doesn't annoy me," admitted Carrados; "on the contrary, I am passionately fond of it. But it tempts me into lying awake listening when I ought to be asleep."

The young lady laughed pleasantly. It was her business to be agreeable.

"You are considerate!" she rippled. "Well, there's the further corridor; or, of course, a floor above——"

"The floor above would do nicely. Not on the front if possible. The sea is rather noisy."

"Second floor, west corridor." She glanced at her keyboard. "No. 15?"

"Is that the side overlooking the——?"

"The High Street," she prompted.

"I am such a poor sleeper," he apologised.

"No. 21 on the other side, overlooking the gardens?" she suggested.

"I am sure that will do admirably " he said, with the gratitude that is always so touching from the blind. "Thank you for taking so much trouble to pick it for me. Good-night."

"I will have your things transferred to-morrow," she nodded after him.

An hour later Mr Slater, generally the last man to leave the lounge, strolled across to the office for his key.

"No. 22, sir, isn't it?" she hazarded, unhooking it without waiting for the number.

"Good little girl," he assented approvingly. "What a brain beneath that fascinating aureola. Eh bien, au revoir, petite! You ought to be about snuffing the candle yourself, my dear."

The young lady laughed just as pleasantly. It was her business to be equally agreeable to all.

Mr Carrados was sitting in an alcove of the lounge on the following morning when Parkinson brought him a letter. It proved to be the extract from The Times, written on the special typewriter. The day was bright and inviting and the room was deserted. On his master's instruction Parkinson sat down and waited while the blind man rapidly deciphered the half-dozen sheets of typewriting.

"You have been with me to the Old Bailey several times," remarked Carrados, as he slowly replaced the document. "Do you remember an occasion in February 1906?"

Parkinson looked unnecessarily wise, but was unable to acquiesce. Carrados gave him another guide.

"A man named Frankworth was sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment for an ingenious system of theft. He had also fraudulently disposed of information to trade rivals of his employer."

"I apprehend the circumstances now, sir."

"Can you recall the appearance of the prisoner?"

Parkinson thought that he could, but he did not rise to the suggestion and Carrados was obliged to follow the direct line.

"Have you seen anyone lately—here in the hotel—who might be Frankworth?"

"I can't say that I have, sir."

"Take Mr Slater now. Shave off his beard and moustache."

Parkinson began to look respectfully uncomfortable.

"Do you mean, sir——"

"By an effort of the imagination, Parkinson. Close your eyes and picture Mr Slater as a clean-shaven man, some years younger, standing in the dock——"

"Yes, sir. There is a distinct resemblance."

With this Max Carrados had to be satisfied for the time. Long memory was not Parkinson's strong point, but he had his own pre-eminent gift, and of this his master was to have an immediate example that outweighed every possible deficiency.

"Speaking of Mr Slater, sir, I noticed a curious thing that I intended to mention, as you told me to be particularly observant."

Carrados nodded encouragingly.

"I was talking to Herbert early this morning as he cleaned the boots. He is a very bigoted Free Trader, sir, and is thinking of becoming a Mormon, and I was speaking to him about it. Presently he came to No. 22's—Mr Slater's. They were muddy, for Mr Slater went out for a walk last night—I saw him as he returned. But the boots that Mr Slater put out to be cleaned last night were not the boots that he went out in and got wet, although they were exactly the same make."

"That is certainly curious," admitted Carrados slowly. "There was only one pair put out?"

"That is all, sir; and they were not the boots that Mr Slater has worn every day since I began to notice him particularly. He always does wear the same pair, morning, noon and night."

"Wait," said Carrados briskly. An idea bordering on the fantastic flashed between a sentence in the report which he had just been reading and Parkinson's discovery. He took out the sheets, ran his finger along the lines and again read—"stated that the prisoner was the son of a respectable bootmaker, and had followed the occupation himself." "I know how accurate you are, Parkinson, but this may be of superlative importance. You see that?"

"I had not contemplated it in that light, sir."

"But what did the incident suggest to you?"

"I inferred, sir, that Mr Slater must have had some reason for going out again after the hotel was closed."

"Yes, that might explain half; but what if he did not?" persisted Carrados.

Parkinson wisely dismissed the intellectual problem as outside his sphere.

"Then I am unable to suggest why the gentleman cleaned his muddy boots himself and muddied his clean boots, sir."

"Yes, that is what it comes to. He is wearing the same pair again this morning?"

"Yes, sir. The boots that were dirty at ten o'clock last night."

"Pay particular attention to Mr Slater's boots in future. I have transferred to No. 21, so you will have every opportunity. Talk to Herbert about Tariff Reform to-morrow morning. In the meanwhile—Are they any particular make?"

"'Moorland hand-made waterproof,' a heavy shooting boot, sir. Size 7. Rossiter, of Kingsmouth, is the maker."

"In the meanwhile go to Kingsmouth and buy an identical pair. Before you go cut the sole off one of your oldest boots and bring me a piece about three inches square. Buy yourself another pair. Here is a note. Do you know which chamber-maid has charge of No. 21?"

"I could ascertain, sir."

"It would be as well. You might buy her a bangle out of the change—if you have no personal objection to the young lady's society. And, Parkinson——"

"Yes, sir?"

"I know you to be discreet and reliable. The work we are engaged on here is exceptionally important and equally honourable. A mistake might ruin it. That is all."

"Thank you, sir." Parkinson marched away with his head a little higher for the guarded compliment. It was the essence of the man's extraordinary value to his master that while on some subjects he thought deeply, on others he did not think at all; and he contrived automatically to separate everything into its proper compartment.

"Here is what you require, sir," he said, returning with the square of leather.

"Come across to the fireplace," said Carrados. "There is still no one else in the lounge?"

"No, sir."

"Who would be the last servant to see to this room at night—to leave the fire safe and the windows fastened?"

"The hall porter, sir."

"Where is he now?"

"In the outer hall."

Carrados bent towards the fire. "It's a million-to-one chance," he thought, "but it's worth trying." He dropped the leather on to the red coals, waited until it began to smoke fiercely, and then, lifting it out with the tongs, he allowed the pungent aromatic odour to diffuse into the air for a few seconds. A minute later the charred fragment had lost its identity among the embers.

"Go now, and on your way tell the hall porter that I want to speak to him."

The hall porter came, a magnificent being, but full of affable condescension.

"You sent for me, sir?"

Carrados was sitting at a table near the fire.

"Yes. I am a little nervous. Do you smell anything burning?"

The porter sniffed the air—superfluously but loudly, so that the blind gentleman should hear that he was not failing in his duty. Then he looked comprehensively around.

"There certainly is a sort of hottish smell somewhere, sir," he admitted.

"It isn't any woodwork about the fireplace scorching? We blind are so helpless."

"That's all right, sir." He laid a broad hand on the mantelpiece and then rapped it reassuringly. "Solid marble that, sir. You needn't be afraid; I'll give a look across now and then."

"Thank you, if you will," said Carrados, with relief in his voice. "And, by the way, will you ring for Maurice as you go?"

A distant bell churred. Across the room, like a strangely balancing bird, skimmed a waiter.


"Oh, is that you, Maurice? I want—— By the way, what's that burning?"

"Burning, sair?"

"Yes; don't you smell anything?"

"There is an odour of smell," admitted Maurice sagely, "but it is nothing to see."

"You don't know the smell?"

The waiter shook his head and looked vague. Carrados divined perplexity.

"Oh, I dare say it's nothing," he declared carelessly. "Will you get me a sherry and khoosh?"

The million-to-one chance had failed.

"Sherry and bittaire, sair."

Maurice deposited the glass with great precision, regarded it sadly and then moved it three inches to the right.

"I 'ave recollect this odour, sair," he remarked, "although I cannot give actuality. I 'ave met him here before, but—less—less forcefully."


"Oh, one week since, perhaps."

"Something in the coals?" suggested Carrados.

"I imagine yes," pondered Maurice conscientiously. "I was 'brightening up,' you say, for the night, and the fire was low down. I squash it with the poker still more for safety."

"Oh, then the lounge would be empty?"

"Yes—of people. Only Mr Slataire already departing."

Carrados indicated that he did not want the change and dismissed the subject.

"So long as nothing's on fire," he said with indifference.

"Thank you, sair."

The million-to-one chance had come off after all.

Two days later, walking beyond the usual limit of the conventional promenade, Carrados reached a rough wooden hut such as contractors erect during the progress of their work. Having accompanied his master to the door, Parkinson returned towards the promenade and sat down to admire the seascape from the nearest bench.

Inside the hut three men had been waiting. One of the trio, a tall, military-looking man with the air of a personage, had been sitting on a whitewash-splashed trestle reading The Times. Of the others, one was Inspector Tapling, and the third a dwarfish, wizened creature with the air of a converted ostler. He had passed the time by watching the Cliffhurst side through a knot-hole in a plank. With the entrance of Carrados the tall man folded his newspaper and a period of expectancy seemed to have come to an end.

"Good-morning, Colonel, Inspector and you there, Bob."

"You found your way, Mr Carrados?" remarked the Colonel.

"Yes; it is not really I who am late. I had a letter this morning from Wrattesley holding me up for a wire at 10.30. It did not arrive till 10.45."

"Ah, it did come! Then we may regard everything as settled?"

"No, Colonel. On the contrary, we must accept everything as upset."

"What, sir?"

Carrados took out the slim pocket-book, extracted a telegram and held it out.

"What is this?" demanded the Colonel, peering through his glasses in the indifferent light. "'Laburnum edifice plaster dark dark late herald same dome aurora dark vitiate camp encase.' I don't know the code."

"Oh, it's Westneath's arrangement," explained Carrados. "'The individual with whom we are concerned must not be arrested on charge, but it is of the gravest importance that the papers in question be recovered. There must be no public proceedings even if conviction assured.'"

There was a moment of stupefaction.

"This—this is a bombshell!" exclaimed the Colonel. "What does it mean?"

"Politics," replied Carrados tersely.

"Ah!" soliloquised Tapling, walking to the door and looking sympathetically out at the gloomy prospect of sea and sky.

"But I've had no notification," protested the Colonel. "Surely, Mr Carrados——"

"The wire is probably at the station."

"True; you said 10.45. Well, what do you propose doing now?"

"Scrapping all our arrangements and recovering the papers without arresting Slater."

"In what way?"

"At the moment I have not the faintest idea."

The Inspector left the door and came back moodily to his old position.

"We have reason to think that he is becoming suspicious, Mr Carrados," he remarked. "He may decide to go any hour."

"Then the sooner we act the better."

The stunted pigmy in the background had been listening to the conversation with rapt attention, fastening his eyes unwinkingly on each face in turn. He now glided forward.

"Listen to me, gents," he said, throwing round a cunning leer; "how does this sound? This afternoon . . ."

That afternoon Mr Slater had been for what he termed "a blow of the briny," as his custom was on a fine day. He was returning in the dusk and had crossed the spacious promenade when, at a corner, he almost ran into the broad figure of a policeman who stood talking to a woman on the path.

"That's the man!" exclaimed the woman with almost vicious certainty.

Mr Slater fell back a step in momentary alarm; then, recovering his self-control, he went forward with admirable composure.

"Beg pardon, sir," explained the constable, "but this young lady has just lost her purse. She says she was sitting next to you on a seat——"

"And the minute after he had gone—the very minute—my bag was open like you see it now and my purse vanished," interposed the lady volubly.

"On the seat by the lifeboat where I passed you, sir," amplified the constable.

"This is ridiculous," said Mr Slater with a breath of relief. "I am a gentleman and I have no need to steal purses. My name is Slater, and I am staying at the Rose and Plumes."

"Yes, sir," assented the policeman respectfully. "I know you by sight, sir, and have seen you go there. You hear what the gentleman says, miss?"

"Gentleman or no gentleman, I know my purse has gone," snapped the girl. "If he hasn't got it why did it vanish—where is it now? That's all I ask—where is it now?"

"You've seen nothing of it, I take it, sir?"

"No, of course I haven't," retorted the gentleman contemptuously. "I was sitting on a seat. The woman may have sat next to me—someone reading certainly did. Then I got up, walked once or twice up and down and came across. That's all."

"What was in the purse, miss?" inquired the constable.

"A postal order for a sovereign—and, thank the Lord, I've got the tag of it—a half-crown, two shillings and a few coppers, a Kruger sixpence with a hole through, a gold gipsy ring with pearls, the return half of my ticket, some hairpins and a few recipes, a book of powder papers, a pocket mirror——"

"That ought to be enough to identify it by," said the constable, catching Mr Slater's eye in humorous sympathy. "Well, miss, you'd better come to the station and report the loss. Perhaps you'll look in as well, sir?"

"Does that mean," demanded Mr Slater with a dark gleam, "that I am to be charged with theft?"

"Bless you, no, sir," was the easy reassurance. "We couldn't take a charge in the circumstances—not with a gentleman of respectable position and known address. But it might save you some inquiry and bother later, and if it was myself I should like to get it done with while it was red-hot, so to speak."

"I will go now," decided Mr Slater. "Do I walk with——?"

"Just as you like, sir. You can go before or follow on. It's only just down Bank Street."

The two went on and the gentleman followed at a few yards' interval. Three minutes and a blue lamp indicated their destination. No other pedestrian was in sight; the door stood hospitably open and Mr Slater walked in.

The station Inspector was seated at a desk when they entered and a couple of other officials stood about the room. The policeman explained the circumstances of the loss, the Inspector noting the details in the record-book.

"This gentleman voluntarily accompanied us as he had been brought into the case," concluded the policeman.

"Here is my card, Superintendent," said Mr Slater with some importance. He had determined to be agreeable, but dignified, and to enlist the Inspector on his side. "I am staying at the Rose and Plumes. It's deuced unpleasant, you know, for a gentleman in my position to have to answer to a charge like this. That's why I came at once to clear the matter up."

"Quite so, sir," replied the Inspector; "but there is no charge at present." He turned to the girl. "You understand that if you sign the charge-sheet and it turns out that you are mistaken it may be a serious matter?"

"I only want my purse and money back," replied the young woman mulishly.

"We will try to find it for you; but there is nothing beyond your suspicion that this gentleman has ever seen it. Probably, sir, you don't possess a sovereign postal order, or a Kruger coin, or any of the other articles, even of your own?"

"I don't," replied Mr Slater. "Except, of course, some silver and copper. If it will satisfy you I will turn out my pockets."

The Inspector looked at the complainant.

"You hear that, miss?"

"Oh, very well," she retorted. "If he really hasn't got it I shall be the one to look silly, shan't I?"

On this encouragement Mr Slater made a display of his various possessions, turning out each pocket as he emptied it. The contents were laid before the Inspector, who satisfied himself by a glance of their innocent nature.

"I should warn you that I am going to bring out a loaded revolver," said Mr Slater when he came to his hip-pocket. "I travel a good deal abroad and often in wild parts, where it is necessary to carry a pistol for protection."

The Inspector nodded and examined the weapon with a knowing touch. The last pocket was displayed.

"That's not what I mean," objected the girl with a dogged air, as everyone began to regard her in varying degrees of inquiry. "You don't suppose that anyone would keep the things in their pocket, do you? I thought you meant properly."

The Inspector addressed himself to Mr Slater again in a matter-of-fact, business manner.

"Perhaps you would like one of my men to put his hand over you to settle the matter, sir?" he asked.

For just a couple of seconds there was the pause of hesitation.

"If nothing is found you withdraw all imputation against this gentleman?" demanded the Inspector of the girl.

"Suppose I must," she admitted with an admirable pose of sulky acquiescence. In less exciting moments the young lady was a valued member of the Kingsmouth Amateur Dramatic Society.

"Oh, all right," assented Mr Slater. "Only get it over."

"You quite understand that the search is entirely voluntary on your part, sir. Hilldick!"

One of the other policemen came forward.

"You can stand where you are, sir," he directed. With the practised skill of, say, a Custom House officer from Kingsmouth, he used his fingers dexterously about the gentleman's clothing. "Now, sir, will you sit down and remove your boots for a moment?"

"My boots!" The man's eyes narrowed and his mouth took another line. He glanced at the Inspector. "Is it really necessary——?"

"That's it!" came from the girl in a fiercely exultant whisper. "He's slipped them in his boots!"

"Idiot!" commented Mr Slater. He sat down and slowly drew slack the laces.

"Thank you," said Hildrick. He picked up both boots and with them turned to the table underneath the light. The next moment there was a sound like the main-spring of a clock going wrong and the sole and the upper of one boot came violently apart.

"You scoundrel!" screamed Slater, leaping from the chair.

But the grouping of the room had undergone a quiet change. Two men closed in on his right and left, and Mr Slater sat down again. The Inspector opened the desk, dropped in the revolver and turned the key. Then all eyes went again to Hilldick and saw—nothing.

"The other boot," came in a quiet voice from the doorway to the inner room. "But just let me have it for a second."

It was put into his hands, and Carrados examined it in unmoved composure, while unpresentable words flowed in a blistering stream from Slater's lips.

"Yes, it is very good workmanship, Mr Frankworth," remarked the blind man. "You haven't forgotten your early training. All right, Hilldick."

The tool cut and rasped again and the stitches flew. But this time from the opening, snugly lying in a space cut out among the leathers, a flat packet slid down to the ground.

Someone tore open the oiled silk covering and spread out the contents. Six sheets of fine tracing paper, each covered with signs and drawings, were disclosed.

The finality of the discovery acted on the culprit like a douche of water. He ceased to revile, and a white and deadly calm came over him.

"I don't know who is responsible for this atrocious outrage," he said between his clenched teeth, "but everyone concerned shall pay dearly for it. I am a naturalised Frenchman, and my adopted country will demand immediate satisfaction."

"Your adopted country is welcome to you, and it's going to have you back again," said the Inspector grimly. "Here is a pair of boots exactly like your own—we only retain the papers, which do not belong to you. You are allowed twenty-four hours to be clear of the country. If you have not sailed by this time to-morrow you will be arrested as Henry Frankworth for failing to report yourself when on licence and sent to serve the unexpired portion of your sentence. If you return at any time the same course will be followed. Inspector Tapling, here is the warrant. You will keep Frankworth under observation and act as the circumstances demand."

Henry Frankworth glared round the room vindictively, drew himself up and clenched his fists. Then his figure drooped, and he turned and walked dully out into the darkening night.

"So you let the German spy slip through your fingers after all," protested Mr Carlyle warmly. "I know that it was on instructions, and not your doing, Max; but why, why on earth, why?"

Carrados smiled and pointed to the heading of a column in an evening paper that he picked up from his side.

"There is your answer, Louis," he replied.

"'Position of the Entente. What does France Mean?'" read the gentleman. "What has that got to do with it?"

"Your German spy was a French spy, Louis, and just at this moment a certain section of the public, led by a certain gang of politicians and aided by a certain interest in the Press, is doing its best to imperil the Entente. The Government has no desire to have the Entente imperilled. Hence your wail. If the dear old emotional, pig-headed, Rule-Britannia! public had got it that French spies were stalking through the land at this crisis, then, indeed, the fat would have been in the fire!"

"But, upon my soul, Max—— Well, well; I hope that I am the last man to be led by newspaper clap-trap, but I think that it's a deuced queer proceeding all the same. Why should our ally want our secret plans?"

"Why not, if he can get them?" demanded Max Carrados philosophically. "One never knows what may happen next We ought to have plans and knowledge of all the French strategic positions as well as of the German. I hope that we have, but I doubt it. It would be a guarantee of peace and good relations."

"There are times, Max," declared Mr Carlyle severely, "when I suspect you of being—er—paradoxical."

"Can you imagine, Louis, an Archbishop of Canterbury, or a Poet Laureate, or a Chancellor of the Exchequer being friendly—perhaps even dining—with the editor of The Times?"

"Certainly; why not?"

"Yet in the editor's office, drawn up by his orders, there is probably a three-column obituary notice of each of those impersonalities. Does it mean that the editor wishes them to die—much less has any intention of poisoning their wine? Ridiculous! He merely, as a prudent man, prepares for an eventuality, so as not to be caught unready by a misfortune which he sincerely hopes will never take place—in his time, that is to say."

"Well, well," said Mr Carlyle benignantly—they were lunching together at Vitet's, on Carrados's return—"I am glad that we got the papers. One thing I cannot understand. Why didn't the fellow get clear as soon as he had the plans?"

"Ah," admitted the blind man, "why not, indeed? Even Inspector Tapling bated his breath when he suggested the reason to me."

"And what was that?" inquired Carlyle with intense interest.

Mr Carrados looked extremely mysterious and half-reluctant for a moment. Then he spoke.

"Do you know, Louis, of any great secret military camp where a surprise fleet of dirigibles and flying machines of a new and terrible pattern is being formed by a far-seeing Government as a reserve against the day of Armageddon?"

"No," admitted Mr Carlyle, with staring eyes, "I don't."

"Nor do I," contributed Carrados.

本页面最后更新于2020-10-09 05:41,点击更新本页查看原网页

本站的所有资料包括但不限于文字、图片等全部转载于维基文库(wikisource.org),遵循 维基百科:CC BY-SA 3.0协议