The Master Detective
Percy James Brebner
Part 3 out of 6
"I do not remember a lady calling on Mr. Bridwell at anytime."
It was early morning when the professor and I left Duke's Mansions.
"There are two obvious things to do, Wigan," said Quarles. "First, we
must know something of this man Fisher. I think you should go to Harrow
as soon as possible. Then we want to know something of Bridwell's
parliamentary record. You might get an interview with one or two of his
colleagues, and ask their opinion of him as a public man and as a private
individual. Come to Chelsea to-night. You will probably have raked up a
good many facts by then, and we may find the right road to pursue. I will
also make an inquiry or two. At present I confess to being puzzled."
"You told the doctor that you usually formed an opinion before the
inquest," I reminded him with a smile.
"And he immediately talked of tablets and poisoned foods, and looked
horribly superior. He is a young man, and I knew his father, who once did
me a good turn. I shall have to repay the debt and prevent the son making
a fool of himself."
"You have no doubt that it was murder?" I asked.
"Why, you told me it was yourself when you rang me up on the 'phone,"
As had often happened before, Quarles's manner of shutting me up annoyed
me, but when you have to deal with an eccentric it is no use expecting
him to travel in an ordinary orbit.
To obviate unnecessary repetition I shall give the result of my
inquiries as I related it to Quarles and Zena when I went to Chelsea
"You look satisfied and successful, Wigan," said the professor.
"I am both," I answered. "Whether we shall catch the actual criminal is
another matter. We may at least lay our hands on one of his accomplices.
Will it surprise you to learn that I am having the Italian Masini
"It is a wise precaution."
"I am inclined to adopt the method you do sometimes, professor, and begin
at the end," I went on. "First, as regards Mr. Bridwell's parliamentary
friends and acquaintances, and his political career. Although he is a
Member whose voice is not often heard in the House, his intimate
knowledge of Europe, its general history and politics, gives him
importance. He is constantly consulted by the Government, and his opinion
is always considered valuable. His colleagues are unanimous on this
point, and generally he seems to be respected."
"But the respect is not unanimous, you mean?"
"It is not."
"And in his private life?"
"I have not found any one who was intimate with him in private."
"I see; kept politics and his private life entirely separate,"
"I am not prepared to say that," I answered. "I have not had time to hunt
up anybody on the private side yet, and I do not think it will be
necessary. One of the men I saw was Reynolds, of the War Office. I was
advised to go and see him, as he was supposed to know Bridwell well. He
did not have much good to say about him. It seems that for some time past
there has been a leakage of War Office secrets, that in some
unaccountable way foreign powers have obtained information, and suspicion
has pointed to Bridwell being concerned. So far as I can gather, nothing
has been actually proved against him, and I pointed out that his intimate
knowledge of European affairs made him rather a marked man. Reynolds,
however, was very definite in his opinion, spoke as if he possessed
knowledge which he could not impart to me. He was not surprised to hear
of Bridwell's death. When I spoke of murder he was rather skeptical,
remarked that in that case Bridwell must have been double-dealing with
his paymasters, and had paid the penalty; but it was far more likely to
be suicide, he thought, and said it was the best thing, the only thing,
in fact, which Bridwell could do. I have no doubt Reynolds knew that some
action had been taken which could not fail to show Bridwell that he was
Quarles nodded, evidently much interested.
"This view receives confirmation from the movements of Fisher," I went
on. "He left Harrow last night--must have gone almost directly after he
received the packet. He only occupies furnished rooms in Harrow, and the
landlady tells me that during the year he has had them he has often been
away for days and even weeks at a time. Announcing his return, or giving
her some instructions, she has received letters from him from Berlin,
Madrid, Rome, and Vienna. That is significant, Professor."
"It is. Did she happen to mention any places in England from which she
has heard from him?"
"Yes, several--York, Oakham, Oxford, and also from Edinburgh."
"She did not mention any place in Sussex?"
"No, I think not."
"It would appear then that Fisher could have had nothing to do with
Bridwell's legitimate political business or he would certainly have
spent some time in the constituency. Well, Wigan, what do you make of
"I think it is fairly clear in its main points," I answered. "Bridwell
has been selling information to foreign powers, and would naturally deal
with the highest bidders. Fisher is a foreign agent, and having received
valuable information yesterday, left England with it at once. The two men
who came to dinner represented some other power, came no doubt by
appointment to receive information, but probably knew that their host was
dealing doubly with them. Bridwell's commercial ingenuity in the matter
has been his undoing, hence his death. Whether Masini was attached to
Fisher, or to the schemes of the other two, it is impossible to say, but
I believe he was an accomplice on one side or the other."
"I built up a similar theory, Wigan; not with the completeness you have,
of course, because I knew nothing of the suspicions concerning Bridwell,
but when I had made it as complete as I could, I began to pick it to
pieces. It fell into ruins rather easily, and you do not help me to build
"It seems to me the main facts cannot be got away from," I said.
"Zena assisted in the ruining process by saying, 'Cherchez la femme.'"
"You see, Murray, you do not account for the woman and the bag,"
"They are extraneous incidents belonging to his private life. It is
remarkable how distinct he kept his private from his political life."
"Very remarkable," Quarles said. "Yet the woman is also a fact, and she
seems to me of the utmost importance. We must account for her, and your
explanation brings me no sense of satisfaction. Let me tell you how I
began to demolish my theory, Wigan. I started with Masini. Now, he seemed
honest to me. He was very ready to repeat Fisher's exact words, and the
very fact of my asking for them would have made him suspicious and put
him on his guard had he possessed any guilty knowledge, whether it
concerned Fisher or the two visitors. Further, had he been in league with
the two visitors and knew they had murdered his master, he would hardly
have been so ready to block suspicion in other directions. He would not
have said his master's visitors came chiefly from his constituency, and
he certainly would not have scouted the idea of a woman caller. He would
have welcomed such a suggestion, fully appreciating how valuable a woman
would be in starting an inquiry on a false trail."
"But you mustn't attribute to an Italian servant all the subtlety you
might use under similar circumstances," I said.
"I am showing you how I picked my own theory to pieces," he answered. "I
next considered the visitors. I assumed they were there for an unlawful
purpose--your facts go to show that my assumption was right--and I asked
myself why and how they had murdered Bridwell. If he were a schemer with
them, there would be no need to murder him, no need to silence him; were
he to talk afterwards he would only injure himself, not them. If they
were there to force papers from their host, it seems unlikely that he
would be so unsuspicious of them that he would have asked them to dinner,
and, even if he were, a moment must have come during, or after dinner,
when they must have shown their hand. A man who deals in this kind of
commerce does not easily trust people. Bridwell's suspicions would
certainly have been aroused; he would in some measure, at any rate, have
been prepared, and we should have found some signs of a struggle."
"I admit the soundness of the argument," I answered. "For my part I
incline to Reynolds' opinion that it was suicide after all."
"Oh, no; it was murder," said Quarles.
"A tablet--" I began.
"I know it was murder," returned the professor sharply, "and the manner
of it has presented the chief difficulty I have found in demolishing my
theory altogether. Bridwell was poisoned by an injection. The hypodermic
needle was inserted under the hair at the back of the head, here in the
soft part of the base of the skull, the hair concealing the small mark it
made. I believe the secret of the poison used is forgotten, but you may
read of it in books relating to the Vatican of old days and concerning
the old families of Italy. I might mention the Borgias particularly. So
you see my difficulty, Wigan. The crime literally reeked of Italy, and we
had two Italians amongst our dramatis personæ."
"A significant fact," I said.
"Of course I am letting the doctor know of my discovery; that is the good
turn I shall do him. He will be considered quite smart over this affair.
Now consider this point. It would surely have been very difficult, once
the host's suspicions had been aroused, to make the injection without a
struggle on the victim's part."
"No suspicion may have been aroused," I said. "Masini has told us of a
map. The murderer might have been leaning over his victim examining it."
"That is true. You pick out the weak point," said Quarles.
"Even then there would have been some sort of struggle, surely," said
Zena. "The poison can hardly act instantaneously."
"Practically it does," Quarles answered. "I have read of it, of the
different methods of its administration, and of its results, and no doubt
any one acquainted with old Italian manuscripts would be able to get more
detailed information than I have; but it produces almost instant
paralysis, acts on the nerve centers, and stops the heart's action,
leaving no trace behind it. What straggle there was could be overcome by
the pressure of a man's hand upon the victim's chest, to keep him from
rising from his seat, for instance. I found signs of such a detaining
hand on Bridwell's shirt front. Of course, Wigan, while pulling my theory
to pieces I knew nothing of your facts about Bridwell, but now that I do
know them, the theory is not saved from ruin. Have you ever watched
trains rushing through a great junction--say Clapham Junction?"
"And haven't you noticed how the lines, crossing and recrossing one
another, seem to be alive, seem to be trying to draw the train to run
upon them, to deviate it from its course, until you almost wonder whether
the train will be able to keep its right road? There seems to be great
confusion; yet we know this is not so. We know those many lines are
mathematically correct. If you want to keep your eye on the main line,
you mustn't be misled by the lines which touch and cross it, which seem
to belong to it, until they suddenly sweep off in another direction. In
this Bridwell affair we have to be careful not to be misled by cross
lines, and I grant there are many. You say the woman is an extraneous
episode; but is she? She left a bag, which is not to be found. Had Masini
known of her existence I do not think he would have denied all knowledge
of her, for the reasons I have already given, and I argue that her visit
to the flat was timed to occur when the servant was out, so that he
should know nothing about her. The hall porter knew nothing; about a lady
visiting the flat at any time, so we must assume the woman was not a
constant visitor. Moreover, we know that she had something to hide, some
secret, or she would not have ceased speaking directly she found she was
addressing a stranger. She probably belonged to Bridwell's private life.
Now Zena says, 'Cherchez la femme,' but there is no need to look for her;
she forces herself upon our notice. We know that Bridwell was alive at
seven o'clock: we know his visitors did not leave him until eight. It is
hardly conceivable that the woman came to the flat after that to commit a
crime, impossible to believe that she would leave her bag there to be
evidence against her, and then telephone about it to a man she knew to be
dead. We may dismiss from our minds any idea that she committed murder."
"I can see a possibility of immense subtlety on her part," I said.
"That is to be deceived by a crossing line, which ought not to deceive
you, which leads only into a siding," said Quarles. "We have to remember
that there was a bag, and that it has disappeared"
"She may have made a mistake and left it somewhere else," said Zena.
"I think we may be sure it was left there, because she states distinctly
where it was left--on the Chesterfield. There was something in her mind
to fix the place. Moreover, she says, 'Better not send it.' Very
significant, that. Bridwell is to keep it until she comes again.
Therefore there was some person she would not have know of her visit to
the flat, some person who might possibly find out if the bag were
returned. I suggest that person was her husband."
"I think you have struck the side line," I remarked.
"Let me continue to build on the private life of Mr. Bridwell," Quarles
went on. "I find a foundation in his literary work--no mean work,
absorbing a great part of his life. There would be constant need to refer
to libraries, to pictures and other works of art, some of them in private
collections. A great deal of this work could be done by an assistant.
Shall we say the name of this assistant was Fisher? I observe you do not
think it likely."
"I certainly do not."
"But a secret agent engaged in stealing Government information would
hardly advertise his movements to his landlady; he would surely have been
more secret than that. On the other hand, the places Fisher mentions have
famous libraries and picture galleries. What would a secret agent want at
Oxford? A man bent on research would be going to the Bodleian. Country
seats with famous works of art in their galleries would account for
Fisher's presence in other places mentioned by the landlady."
"Is it not strange the Italian servant knew nothing about this wonderful
assistant?" I said.
"No doubt Bridwell usually saw him in town, at his club, or elsewhere, or
communicated with him through the post; but on this occasion Masini was
purposely sent to be out of the way when the lady came. We know there
was some need for secrecy, and I suggest that Bridwell was in love with
another man's wife. In passing, I would point out that the answer Fisher
sent back bears out my idea of the assistantship."
"It may," I answered.
"Now Bridwell's work on the Italian Renaissance no doubt has much
information concerning the Vatican, and much to say about the prominent
Italian families. As a student, Bridwell would be likely to know all
about the romances of poisoned bouquets, gloves, prepared sweetmeats, and
the rest of the diabolical cunning which existed."
"But we know that he didn't kill himself," I said.
"Exactly. We have to find some one who shared the knowledge with him. Let
me go back to the missing bag for a moment. Since it was on the
Chesterfield, Bridwell must have seen it. What would he do with it? What
would you have done with it, Wigan? I think you would have just put it on
a side table or in a handy drawer; yet it had gone. The fact of its
disappearance stuck in my mind from the first, although I did not at once
see the full significance of it. On the cover of the telephone directory
there were two or three numbers scribbled in pencil; I made a note of
them with the idea that the woman might be traced that way. However,
arguing that a man would be likely to know the telephone number of a
woman he was in love with, and have no necessity to write it down, I took
no trouble in this direction. I went to see Bridwell's solicitor instead.
I led him to suppose that I was interested in the study of the
Renaissance, and asked him if Bridwell had had a companion during his
wanderings in Italy three years ago. For part of the time, at any rate,
he had--a partner rather than a companion, a man named Ormrod--Peter
Ormrod. I knew the name at once, because Ormrod has written many
articles for the reviews, and all of them have been about Italy in the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Ormrod's telephone number is 0054
Croydon, and he is married, and I think it was his wife who spoke to you
over the telephone. My theory is that Ormrod had discovered that his wife
was in love with his friend, and used his knowledge of this poisoning
method, which could not be detected, remember, to be revenged. I think he
came to the flat that evening after Bridwell's guests had gone, perhaps
he expected to find his wife there. I do not think he quarreled with his
false friend. I think he showed great friendliness, talked a little of
the past perhaps; and then, in examining some book or paper, leant over
his friend as he sat at the table, and the deed was done. If the bag was
lying on a side table he saw it and took it away; if it was lying in a
drawer no doubt he found it while he was looking for letters from his
wife to Bridwell, or for her photograph--anything which would connect her
name with Bridwell. Somehow, he found it and took it away. There is no
one else who would be likely to take it."
This was the solution. It was proved beyond all doubt that Bridwell had
been dealing in Government secrets, and changes had to be made to ensure
that the information he had sold should be useless to the purchasers; but
this crime had nothing to do with his murder. The dénouement was rather
startling. When we went to Ormrod's house next day we found that he had
gone. His wife, after fencing with us a little, was perfectly open. She
had arranged to go away with Bridwell and had visited him that day to
talk over final arrangements. It was the first time she had ever been to
the flat. Yesterday, a telegram had come for her husband. He opened it
in her presence, and told her he was going away at once, and for good.
Then he gave her the bag, saying he had found it in Bridwell's rooms on
the previous evening. Bridwell was dead, that was why he was going away.
The solicitor Standish was a friend of Ormrod's, and after Quarles had
gone had suddenly realized what the inquiry might mean, so had
telegraphed a warning.
THE STOLEN AEROPLANE MODEL
It was probably on account of the acumen he had shown in solving the
mystery of Arthur Bridwell's death that the government employed Quarles
in the important inquiry concerning a stolen model. For political reasons
nothing got into the papers at the time, but now there is no further need
You would have been astonished, I fancy, had you chanced upon us in the
empty room at Chelsea on a certain Friday afternoon. No trio of sane
persons could have looked more futile. On a paper pad the professor was
making odd diagrams which might have represented a cubist's idea of an
aeroplane collision; Zena was looking at her hands as if she had
discovered something new and unfamiliar about them; and I was turning the
leaves of my pocket book, hoping to get an inspiration.
"The man-servant," said Zena, breaking the silence, which had lasted a
"You have said that a dozen times in the last twenty-four hours," Quarles
returned rather shortly, adding after a moment's pause, as if he were
giving us valuable information, "and to-day is Friday."
"It is simply impossible that the servant should know so little," she
persisted. "His ignorance is too colossal to be genuine. He doesn't know
whether he was attacked by one person or by half-a-dozen; he is not sure
that it wasn't a woman who seized him; he has no idea what his master
kept in the safe or in the cupboard. Well, all I can say is, I do not
I was inclined to agree with her, but in silence I went on looking
through the notes I had made concerning the extraordinary case which
must be solved quickly if the solution were to be of any benefit to
the country. Quarles was also silent, continuing his work as an
He had expressed no definite opinion since the case had come into his
hands, nor had he laughed at any speculation of mine, a sure sign that he
was barren of ideas. I had never known him so reticent.
It was his case entirely, not mine, and the fact that the government had
considered he was the only man likely to get to the bottom of the mystery
was a recognition of his powers, which pleased him no doubt. Twenty-four
hours had elapsed since he had been put in possession of the facts, and
although they had been spent in tireless energy by both of us--for he had
immediately sent for me--we seemed as far from the truth as ever.
On the previous Tuesday Lady Chilcot had given a dance in her house in
Mayfair. Her entertainments always had a political flavor, and on this
particular evening her rooms seemed to have been full of conflicting
There was considerable political tension at the time, consequent upon one
of those periodical disturbances in the Balkans, and people remarked upon
the coolness between the Minister for War and certain ambassadors who
were all present at Lady Chilcot's.
Imagination may have had something to do with this conclusion, but two
apparently trivial incidents assumed importance as regards the case in
hand. The Silesian ambassador was seen in very earnest conversation with
a young man attached to the Silesian Embassy; and the Minister of War
had buttonholed young Lanning.
Of course, we did not know what the Silesians had talked about, but to
Lanning the minister had remarked that, in view of the political
situation, the experiments which had been witnessed that day might prove
to be of supreme importance. Lanning expressed gratification that the
experiments had been found convincing, and ventured to hope the
government would not delay getting to work.
With the minister's assurance that the government was keen, Richard
Lanning went to find Barbara Chilcot, Lady Chilcot's daughter, but not to
talk about the Minister of War or about any experiments. He was in love
with her, and had every reason to believe that she liked him.
She was, however, very cool to him that evening, and sarcastically
inquired why he was not in attendance upon Mademoiselle Duplaix as usual.
She only laughed at his denials, and when he suggested that she should
ask his friend, Perry Nixon, whether there was any ground for her
suspicions, said that when she danced with Mr. Nixon later in the evening
she hoped to find something more interesting to talk about than
Lanning comforted himself with the reflection that if Barbara were
indifferent to him she would have said nothing about Yvonne Duplaix, and
as he had another dance with her at the end of the program hoped to make
his peace then.
When this dance came, however, he could not find her, and afterwards
discovered that she had sat it out with the young Silesian. He was angry
and felt a little revengeful, but he did not mention Barbara to Perry
Nixon when they left the house together and walked to Piccadilly.
He left Nixon at the corner of Bond Street and went to his flat in
He found his man, Winbush, lying on the dining-room floor, gagged and
half unconscious. The safe in his bedroom had been broken open, important
papers had been stolen from it, and a wooden case, which he had locked in
a cupboard there, had been taken away.
Fully alive to the gravity of the loss, and oblivious of the fact that
neglect would be attributed to him, he immediately telephoned to the
Minister of War.
Then he 'phoned to Nixon's rooms in Bond Street, and Nixon came round at
once. Up to that time Lanning had said nothing about the experiments to
his friend; now he told him the whole story.
Richard Lanning belonged to the Army Flying Corps, and was not only a
good airman, but was an authority upon flying machines. For some time
past there had been secret trials of various types of stabilizers, and
one invention, somewhat altered at Lanning's suggestion, had proved so
successful that safety in flight seemed assured in the near future.
Detailed plans had been prepared, a working model constructed, and only
that afternoon these had been secretly exhibited by Lanning in London to
a few members of the government and some War Office officials.
Only four men at the works knew anything about the secret, and even their
knowledge was not complete, so it seemed impossible that information
could leak out, yet the plans and the working model had been stolen.
Of course Lanning was blamed for having them at his flat; he ought to
have taken them back to the works. The fact that this would have meant
missing Lady Chilcot's dance was an added mark against him, and
suggested a neglect of duty.
Under the circumstances publicity was not desirable, and Christopher
Quarles was asked to solve the mystery. Instructions were telegraphed to
the various ports with a view to preventing the model and the plans being
taken out of the country, and, as I have said, the professor and I
entered upon a strenuous time.
All our preliminary information naturally came from Lanning, who appeared
quite indifferent to his own position so long as the stolen property was
The man Winbush could throw little light upon the affair. He was in his
own room when he had heard a noise in the passage and supposed his master
had returned earlier than he expected. To make sure, he had gone to the
dining-room, but before he could switch on the light he had been seized
from behind, a pungent smell was in his nostrils, and he was only just
beginning to recover consciousness when his master found him.
He had not seen his assailants, he could not say how many there were, and
he was inclined to think one of them was a woman, he told Quarles,
because when he first entered the dining-room there was a faint perfume
which suggested a woman's presence.
"It was like a woman when she is dressed for a party," he said in
He had seen his master bring in the wooden case that afternoon, but he
did not know what it contained.
As Zena said, it sounded a lame story, but Lanning believed it. Winbush
had been connected with the family all his life, was devoted to him, and
it was not likely he would know what the case contained. Lanning could
only suppose that some man at the works had turned traitor, while Mr.
Nixon gave it as his opinion that either France or Germany had pulled
the strings of the robbery.
Acting under Quarles's instructions, I had an interview with Miss
Chilcot. She corroborated Lanning's story in every detail so far as she
was concerned, and incidentally I understood there was no more than a
lover's quarrel between them. She had sat out with the young Silesian on
purpose to annoy Richard. Certainly they had talked of aeroplaning; it
was natural, since two days before she had seen some flying at Ranelagh,
but Lanning's name had not been mentioned. Miss Chilcot knew nothing
about the experiments which had taken place, nor was she aware that her
lover was responsible for some of the improvements which had been made in
stabilizers. Rather inconsequently she was annoyed that he had not
confided in her. Miss Chilcot carried with her a faint odor of Parma
violets. Quarles had told me to note particularly whether she used any
kind of perfume.
I was convinced of two things; first, that she was telling the truth
without concealing anything, and, secondly, that Mr. Lanning was likely
to marry a very charming but rather exacting young woman. When I said so
to Quarles he annoyed me by remarking that some women were capable of
making lies sound much more convincing than the truth.
I did not attempt to get an interview with Mademoiselle Duplaix, but I
made inquiries concerning her, and had a man watching her movements.
Apparently she was the daughter of a good French family, and was making a
prolonged stay with the Payne-Kennedys, who moved in very good society.
You may see their name constantly in the _Morning Post_. It was whispered
that they were not above accepting a handsome fee for introducing a
protégée into society, a form of log-rolling which is far more prevalent
than people imagine. Whether the girl's entrance into London society had
been paid for or not I am unable to say, but she had quickly established
herself as a success. It was generally agreed that she was both witty and
charming, the kind of girl men easily run after, but not the sort they
She had evidently managed to cause dissension in various directions, so
the suggestion that there was something of the adventuress about her
might be nothing more than a spiteful comment. It justified us in keeping
a watch upon her, but I had no definite opinion in the matter, not having
seen the lady, and, as Quarles said, a fascinating foreigner is easily
called an adventuress.
I also made careful inquiries concerning the young Silesian, and had him
pointed out to me. He had recently come from his own capital, and was
remaining in London only for a short time. He was a relative of the
ambassador, and was not here in any official capacity, it was stated.
This might be true so far as it went, but at the same time he might be
connected with the secret service.
The professor said very little about his investigations, and I concluded
he had met with no success. He had spent some hours with Lanning at the
works, I knew, but if he had tapped any other sources of information he
did not mention them.
He was still engaged in his cubist's drawings when the telephone
"I'll go," he said as Zena jumped up; "I am expecting a message."
He went into the hall, and when he returned told us that Lanning and
Nixon were on their way to Chelsea.
"I told them to 'phone me if anything happened," he said.
"And you expected to hear from them?" I asked.
"My name is Micawber when I am in a hole, and I wait for something to
turn up. Waiting is occasionally the best way of getting to the end of
the journey. We will hear what they have to say, Wigan, and then we shall
possibly have to get a move on."
Evidently he had a theory, but he would say nothing about it. He amused
himself by explaining that mechanical action, such as drawing meaningless
lines and curves, as he had been doing, had the effect of giving the
brain freedom to think, and declared that it was during times of this
sort of freedom that inspiration most usually came.
He was still engrossed with the subject when Lanning and Nixon arrived.
Quarles introduced them to Zena, saying that she always helped him in his
"Oh, no, not as a clairvoyant," he said with a smile as both men looked
astonished. "She just uses common sense, a very valuable thing in
detective work, I can assure you."
"Are you any nearer a solution?" Lanning asked.
"I thought you had come to give me some information," Quarles returned.
"I have, but--"
"Sit down, then, and to business. I am still wanting facts, which are
more useful than all my theories."
"Mademoiselle Duplaix telephoned to me this morning," said Lanning. "A
man called on her to-day, a mysterious foreigner. He gave no name, but
she thinks he was a Silesian, although he spoke perfect French. He talked
to her in French, his English being of a fragmentary kind. He asked her
to give him the plans of the new aeroplane. You can imagine her surprise.
When she said she had got no plans he expressed great astonishment and
plunged into the whole story of how I had been robbed. Until that moment
Mademoiselle knew nothing of what had happened in my flat, but this
foreigner had evidently got hold of the whole story."
"Who had told him to call upon her?" Quarles asked.
"In the course of an excited narrative he mentioned two or three names
entirely unknown to her, but the man seemed to think that I should have
sent her the plans."
"Very curious," Quarles remarked.
"He then became apologetic," Lanning went on, "but all the same left the
impression that he did not believe her; in fact, she describes his
attitude as rather threatening. It wasn't until after he had gone that
she thought she ought to have him followed, and then it was too late. He
was out of the street. Probably he had a motor waiting for him. Then she
telephoned to me, but I was out, and have only just received her message.
What do you make of it?"
"It gives a new turn to the affair," said Quarles reflectively. "It
leaves an unpleasant doubt whether Mademoiselle Duplaix is as innocent as
she ought to be, doesn't it?"
"I don't think so."
"Would she have telephoned to Lanning if she were guilty?" said Nixon.
"My experience is that where women are concerned it is very difficult to
tell what line of action will be followed. Women are distinctly more
subtle than men."
Then after a pause the professor went on: "It is difficult to understand
how this foreigner could have made such a mistake. You have told us, Mr.
Lanning, that there is nothing between you and this lady, but Miss
Chilcot had her suspicions, remember, which suggests that, without
intending to do so, you have paid her attentions which other people have
misunderstood. Now, do you think you have given Mademoiselle Duplaix a
wrong impression, made her believe, in short, that you cared for her, and
so caused her to be jealous and perhaps inclined to be revengeful?"
"I am sure I have not."
"Think well, it is a very important point. For instance, has she ever
given you any keepsake, a glove, a handkerchief, something--some trifle
she was wearing at a dance when--when you flirted with her? Girls do that
kind of thing, so my niece there has told me."
Zena smiled and made no denial.
"Nothing of the kind has happened between Mademoiselle and myself,"
"And yet there seems to be a distinct attempt on some one's part to
"That is true, and I am quite at a loss to understand it."
"I have wondered whether it is not a clever device to put us off the
trail," said Nixon. "Your investigations may have led you nearer the
truth than you imagined, Mr. Quarles, and this may be an attempt to set
you off on a wrong scent. It seems such an obvious clue, doesn't it? They
would guess that Lanning would communicate with you."
"That hardly explains why they went to Mademoiselle Duplaix, does it?"
"But the fact that she is French may," Nixon answered. "Perhaps I am
prejudiced, but I believe Silesia has pulled the strings of this affair,
and that would be a very good reason for trying to implicate France. It
has occurred to Lanning whether the plot might not be frustrated at the
other end of it, so to speak. Lanning thinks it would be a good idea if
we went to Silesia."
"What do you think of the idea?" Lanning asked. "I should have our
Embassy there behind me, and I should probably manage to get in touch
with the men who are active in Silesia's secret service. I mentioned it
to my chief this morning, and he thought there was a great deal in it,
but advised a consultation with you first."
"I think it is a good idea," said Quarles, "and it suggests another one.
I am still a little doubtful about Mademoiselle Duplaix, and I have a
strong impression that she could at least tell us more if she would, but
that she is afraid of hurting you."
"It is most unlikely."
"Well, let me put it to the test, Mr. Lanning. Just write--let me see,
how will it be best to word it? 'I am going to Silesia--' By the way,
when will you go?"
"I thought to-night."
"It is as well not to waste time," said Quarles. "Then write, 'I am going
to Silesia to-night. I want you to be perfectly open with the bearer of
this note and do whatever he advises. If you would be a true friend to
me, tell him everything.' Put your ordinary signature to it. With that in
my possession I will get to work at once, and if I discover anything of
importance, and it should be necessary to stop your journey, I will meet
your train to-night."
"It seems like an impertinence," Lanning said as he wrote the note.
"When there is so much at stake I shouldn't let that worry you,"
No sooner had they gone than Quarles became alert.
"Now we move, Wigan. First of all, we have an appointment in Kensington,
at the Blue Lion, near the church, quite a respectable hostelry."
"Not to meet Mademoiselle Duplaix, surely?"
"No, she can wait. Respectable as it is, I do not suppose Mademoiselle
frequents the Blue Lion, but we may find there the man who called upon
her this morning."
We took a taxi to Kensington. Every moment seemed to be bursting with
importance for Quarles now.
The first person I caught sight of at the Blue Lion was Winbush,
evidently waiting for some one. He recognized us, and Quarles went to
"You are waiting for Mr. Lanning."
The man hesitated.
"I know," Quarles went on, "because I have just left your master. He is
"Oh, we shall get him out of it all right. There is some mistake. _I_
have a message for you. Come inside."
We found a corner to ourselves, and the professor, having ordered drinks,
showed Winbush the note which Lanning had written to Mademoiselle
Duplaix. It was not addressed to her, and was so worded that it might be
meant for any one. Winbush read it and looked at Quarles.
"While your master is in Silesia I have certain work to do here, and to
do it I must have your complete story," said the professor. "You
appreciate the fact that Mr. Laiming looks upon you as a friend and
wishes you to tell me all you know."
"I do, sir, only I don't see how my story is going to help him."
"It is going to help us to put our hand on the man who is really guilty."
"It has all been very mysterious," said Winbush, "and I have not been
able to understand my master at all. What I have said about hearing a
noise in the passage and being seized before I could switch on the light
in the dining-room is all true, but the stuff which was put into my face
and made me unconscious wasn't there before I had time to call out."
"You called out, then?"
"No, I didn't, because the man spoke to me."
"Oh, it was a man--not a woman?"
"It was Mr. Lanning himself," said Winbush.
This was so unexpected that I nearly exclaimed at it, but Quarles just
watched the speaker as if he would make certain that he was telling
nothing but the truth.
"He spoke quickly and excitedly," Winbush went on. "Said it was necessary
that the flat should appear to have been robbed. I should presently be
discovered bound. I was to say that I had been attacked in the dark and
that I did not know by whom nor by how many. I was not to speak about the
matter to him again under any circumstances, and even if he questioned me
alone or before others I was to stick to my story of utter ignorance. I
had just said that I understood and heard him say that he would probably
question me to prove my faithfulness, when he put the stuff over my mouth
and nose, and I knew no more until he found me there later on."
"Has he questioned you since?"
"Not since he first found me lying on the floor. He did then, and I
obeyed his instructions just as I did when you talked to me afterwards."
"Did he suggest you should say a woman was present?"
"That was a little extra trimming of your own, eh?"
"No, it was a bit of truth that crept in. I thought a woman was there."
"By the perfume?"
Quarles brought from the depth of a pocket a tissue-paper parcel, from
which he took a handkerchief.
"Was that the perfume?"
Winbush smelt it.
"It may have been. It was the perfume that hangs about a woman in
"That's Parma violets, Wigan," said the professor, waving the
handkerchief towards me. It was one of his own, so had evidently been
specially prepared for this test. "I wonder what percentage of women use
the scent? It is not much of a clue for us, I am afraid."
He put the handkerchief away, and then from another pocket produced a
second handkerchief, also wrapped in tissue paper.
This time it was a fragile affair of lawn and lace.
"Smell that, Mr. Winbush."
"That's it!" the man exclaimed; no hesitation this time.
"You can swear to it?"
"Rather a pleasant scent but peculiar, Wigan. I do not know what it is."
Nor did I, but the handkerchief interested me. Worked in the corner were
the letters "Y.D."
"I can get to work now, Mr. Winbush," said Quarles. "Your master tells
you to do whatever I advise. Of course, I understand that in keeping
these facts to yourself you were acting in your master's interests, but
were it generally known that you had suppressed the truth you might get
into trouble. Have you any relatives in town?"
"I have a married nephew out Hampstead way."
"Most fortunate. You go straight off and see him, get him to put you up
for the night, but whatever you do keep away from Jermyn Street until
to-morrow morning. You will spoil my efforts on your master's behalf if
you turn up at the flat before then."
Winbush promised to obey these instructions, and Quarles and I left the
"After hearing that Lanning was coming to see me this afternoon, I
telephoned a telegram to Winbush," explained the professor when we were
outside. "He thought it came from his master telling him to meet him at
the Blue Lion. Lanning will have to do his own packing for once.
Winbush's story is rather a surprising one, eh, Wigan?"
"And most unexpected," I said.
"Well, no, not quite unexpected," he answered in that superior manner
which is so exasperating at times. "I got that note from Lanning for the
purpose of getting the man to tell me the truth."
"At any rate, you were mistaken in supposing that Mademoiselle's
mysterious foreigner would be at the Blue Lion," I returned.
"Not at all. He was there."
"Winbush!" I exclaimed.
"No, Christopher Quarles. I called on Mademoiselle Duplaix this morning.
I thought she would communicate directly or indirectly with Lanning;
that is why I was expecting a message from him. I was also fortunate
enough to appropriate her handkerchief. To-night I become the
distinguished foreigner again; you had better be an elderly gentleman
with a stoop. We are traveling to Harwich. Don't forget a revolver; it
may be useful. We must get to Liverpool Street early; we shall want
plenty of time at the station."
He left me without waiting to be questioned. I was annoyed, and was
pretty certain that he had overlooked one important fact. Surely Lanning
must have realized how dangerous it was to give such a note to Quarles?
Knowing the story Winbush could tell, he would not have been deceived by
the statement that the letter was intended for Mademoiselle Duplaix. He
was far too clever for that. He and Winbush were no doubt working
together, and the man's story was no doubt part of an arranged scheme. It
seemed to me that the immediate recognition of the second scent was
suspicious. The man was probably prepared for the test.
I thought it likely that Quarles had met his match this time, and I did
not expect to see Richard Lanning at the station.
However, he was there with Mr. Nixon.
"Are they both in it?" I asked Quarles as we watched them.
"No, I don't think so," was his doubtful answer.
We were still watching them as they spoke to the guard, when I started
and called the professor's attention to a tall, military-looking man who
was hurrying along the platform.
"That is the young man at the Silesian Embassy," I said. "He is evidently
going back. Are we to see Mademoiselle Duplaix come along next?"
"We are only concerned with Lanning for the present," Quarles answered,
"and we have got to travel in the same carriage with him and Nixon. I
expect they have tipped the guard to get a carriage to themselves. You
must use your authority with him, Wigan, and show him that we are
Scotland Yard men. Suggest that he put us into the carriage at the last
moment with many apologies because there is no room elsewhere. In these
disguises they will not recognize us."
The two Englishmen and the Silesian did not approach each other, and
apparently were quite ignorant of the fact that they were traveling by
the same train. I made the necessary arrangements with the guard, and
just as the train was starting we were bundled into the carriage, Quarles
blowing and puffing in a most natural manner.
"Sorry," he panted, speaking in broken English; "it is a train quite
full, and I say to the man I must go. He put us in here. I am grieved to
Nixon said it didn't matter, but Lanning looked annoyed.
Quarles talked to me chiefly about a wife he was returning to at Bohn. He
became almost maudlin in his sentiment, and at intervals he raised his
voice sufficiently to allow our traveling companions to overhear the
Presently Quarles leaned towards me in a confidential manner, and said in
a whisper which was intentionally loud enough for the others to hear:
"From Bohn I go to Silesia to see the new flying machine."
"What flying machine?" I asked.
"Ah, it was a secret what Silesia have got hold of. It was wonderful. I
myself tell you so, and I know. I--"
"What do you know about it?"
Lanning was leaning from his corner looking at Quarles.
"Steady," said the professor. "If your hand does not from your pocket
come in one blink of an eye you are a dead man. This is a big matter."
Quarles had covered him with a revolver, and following his lead I
For a moment it was a tableau, not a sound nor a movement in the
"As you say, it is a big matter," said Lanning, taking his hand from
He was for diplomacy rather than force, or perhaps he was a coward at
heart. Nixon showed more courage and was quicker in his movements. His
revolver was halfway out before I had slid along the seat and had my
weapon at his head.
"It is of no use," said Quarles. "It is not by accident we are here. We
know, no matter how, but we know for certain that the plans of a
wonderful aeroplane which cannot come to harm, and a model of it, are
traveling by this train to-night. We came here to take them. We are sorry
to disturb you, but it is necessary."
"Would it astonish you to hear we are after the very same things?"
"It would, because I tell you they are in this carriage."
"Where?" asked Lanning, still laughing.
"There, in that big portmanteau." And Quarles pointed to one on the rack
above Nixon's head.
I was only just in time to bring my weapon down on Nixon's wrist as he
whipped out his revolver.
"Hold him, Wigan; he is dangerous," said Quarles, speaking in his natural
voice. "We will have a look in that portmanteau, Mr. Lanning."
The plans and the model in its wooden case were there. Lanning was too
dumbfounded to ask questions, and Nixon offered no explanation just then.
I had wrested the revolver from him, and he sat there in silence.
"It was very cleverly thought out, Mr. Nixon," said Quarles. "You see,
Mr. Lanning, your friend, having stolen these things, intended to allow
time to elapse before attempting to get them out of the country, but his
hand was forced when Mademoiselle Duplaix telephoned to you. The
foreigner who called upon her for the plans puzzled him. There was
something in the plot he did not understand. Two things were clear to
him, however; first, that he must act without delay, and secondly, that
mademoiselle's visitor would implicate her and cause us to make minute
inquiries in her direction--that a false trail was laid, in fact. So,
aware that he would find difficulty at the ports, he carefully suggested
to your mind that a journey to Silesia would be a useful move. Your
mission would be known at the ports, and you and your friend would pass
through without special examination."
"That is so," said Lanning.
"And you would have been cleverly fooled," said Quarles, "As for
Mademoiselle Duplaix, I confess I should have watched her keenly had I
not been the mysterious foreigner."
"But my note to her?" said Lanning.
"Was exceedingly useful, but I used it to get the truth out of Winbush,"
and Quarles told the man-servant's story in detail. "Winbush, you see,
was in a dazed condition, and was deceived. In the dark Nixon pretended
to be you. I suppose it was a sudden inspiration when he found himself
disturbed, and his instructions to Winbush stopped your servant from
questioning you. Had he done so a suspicion concerning your friend might
have been aroused in your mind. Winbush, however, went a little beyond
his instructions, and said he thought a woman was present, because of a
perfume he noticed when he first entered the room. That particular
perfume is used by Mademoiselle Duplaix, and I should hazard a guess that
Mr. Nixon had stolen her handkerchief that evening, not a criminal
offense, but a matter of flirtation."
"But he was at Lady Chilcot's, and left there with me," said Lanning.
"If he has kept his program. I expect you will find some consecutive
places in it blank. Until this afternoon, Mr. Lanning, I confess that I
was uncertain whether you had been your own burglar or not, for it was
evident to me that your man knew something. I was convinced you were
innocent when you wrote that note for me, I rather wonder Mr. Nixon did
not realize the danger, but I suppose he felt confident that
Mademoiselle's visitor had entirely put me on the wrong trail. I do not
think Mademoiselle Duplaix is in any way a party to the theft, but I
think it is up to Mr. Nixon to make this quite clear."
It is only doing Perry Nixon justice to say that he did clear up this
point, but not by word of mouth.
At Harwich he ingeniously gave us the slip, but in a letter to Lanning,
received from Paris a week later, he said that he alone was responsible
for the theft, and that neither Mademoiselle Duplaix nor any one else had
any hand in it, nor any knowledge of it.
From some remarks Lanning had let fall he concluded that some important
development had occurred in the stabilizing of flying machines--a matter
his employers were interested in--and he had watched his friend's
movements. He guessed that secret experiments had been tried that day
when he saw Lanning take the wooden case to his flat, and during the
evening he had slipped away from Lady Chilcot's dance, returning when he
had deposited the model and the plans in a safe place.
He did not say where this safe place was, and since he had persistently
suggested that either France or Germany had pulled the strings of the
robbery, he was probably working for neither of these countries.
Shortly afterwards Richard Lanning's engagement to Miss Chilcot was
announced, and I imagine he is still working to perfect a stabilizer,
for, although the model appears to have done all that was required of it,
the actual machine proved defective, I understand.
THE AFFAIR OF THE CONTESSA'S PEARLS
I think it was when talking about the stolen model that Quarles made the
paradoxical statement that facts are not always the best evidence. I
argued the point, and remained entirely of an opposite opinion until I
had to investigate the case of a pair of pearl earrings, and then I was
driven into thinking there was something in Quarles's statement. It was
altogether a curious a if air, and showed the professor in a new light
which caused Zena and myself some trouble.
The Contessa di Castalani occupied rooms at one of the big West End
hotels, a self-contained suite, consisting of a sitting-room, two
bedrooms, and vestibule. She had her child with her, a little girl of
about three years old, and a French maid named Angélique.
Returning to the hotel one afternoon unexpectedly, she met, but took no
particular notice of, two men in the corridor which led to her suite.
Hotel servants she supposed them to be, and, as she entered the little
vestibule Angélique came from the contessa's bedroom. There was no reason
why she should not go in there; in fact, she carried a reason in her
hand. She had been to get a clean frock for the child. The one she had
worn on the previous day was too soiled to put on.
That evening the contessa wished to wear a special pair of pearl
earrings, but when she went to get the little leather case which
contained the pearls, it was missing.
Although her boxes and drawers were not much disarranged, it was quite
evident to her that they had been searched, but nothing else had been
It did not occur to her to suspect the maid, partly, no doubt, because
she remembered the men in the corridor, and she immediately sent for
The police were called in. The men in the corridor could not be accounted
for, but a search resulted in the finding of the leather case under the
bed. The earrings had gone.
Naturally police suspicion fell on the French maid, but the contessa
absolutely refused such an explanation. Angélique, who was passionately
fond of her and of the child, would not do such a thing.
The case looked simple enough, but it proved to be one in which facts did
not constitute the best evidence. Indeed, they proved somewhat
Beautiful, romantic, eccentric, superstitious, and most unfortunate
according to her own account, the Contessa di Castalani was the sensation
of a whole London season.
As a dancer of a bizarre kind, she had set Paris nodding to the rhythm of
her movements and raving about the beauty of her eyes and hair. Her
reputation had preceded her to London, and when she appeared at the
Regency it was universally admitted that she far surpassed everything
that had been said about her.
The press had duly informed the public that Castalani was one of the
oldest and most honored names in Italy. There had been a Castalani in the
Medici time, a close friend of the magnificent Lorenzo, it was asserted.
One paper declared that a Castalani had worn the triple tiara, which a
learned don of Oxford took the trouble to write and deny. And it would
appear that no one who had ever borne the name had been altogether
How the family, resident in Pisa, liked this publicity, I do not know.
They made no movement to repudiate this daughter of their house, and I
have no reason whatever to doubt that the lady had a perfect right to her
title. I never heard any scandalous tale about her which even seemed
true, and if she and her husband were happier going each their own way,
it was their affair.
So much mystery was woven round her during her appearances in the
European capitals, that I do not guarantee the correctness of my
statements when I say she was of humble origin, a Russian gipsy, I have
heard, seen in a Hungarian village by young Castalani, who immediately
fell in love with her and married her.
Although in the course of this investigation I saw her many times and she
talked a great deal about herself, she was always vague when she was
dealing with facts.
I am only concerned with her appearance in London. She attracted
overflowing houses to the Regency. A real live countess performing
bizarre and daring dances was undoubtedly the attraction to some, the
woman's splendid beauty charmed others, while a third section could talk
of nothing but her wonderful jewelry.
At least two foolish young peers were said to be in love with her, and
there were tales of a well-known Cabinet Minister constantly occupying a
stall at the Regency when he ought to have been in his seat in the House.
Had I not taken Christopher Quarles and Zena to the Regency one evening I
should probably never have known anything further of the contessa, but it
so happened that the professor was very much attracted by her.
He went to the Regency three times in one week to study the inward
significance of her dances, he declared. He treated me to a learned
discourse concerning them, and was furious when one journal, slightly
puritanical in tone, perhaps, said that they were generally unedifying,
and in one case, at any rate, immodest.
Zena and I began by laughing at the professor, but he did not like it. He
was quite serious in his admiration, and declared that nothing would
afford him greater pleasure than an introduction to the dancer.
To his delight he got what he wanted, and incidentally solved one of the
most curious cases we have ever been engaged in together.
In the ordinary way the case would never have come into my hands. It was
at Quarles's instigation that I asked to be employed upon it, and since
small and insignificant affairs are sometimes ramifications of big
mysteries, no surprise was caused by my request.
I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that it was the
introduction to the woman which interested Quarles rather than her
pearls. Indeed, he appeared to think of nothing else beyond making
It seemed to me she was just as interested in him, talked about herself
in a naive kind of way, and was delighted when her little girl, Nella,
took a tremendous fancy to the professor, demanding to be taken on his
knee and to have his undivided attention.
Christopher Quarles, in fact, presented quite an unfamiliar side of his
character to me, and I do not think he would have bothered about the
pearls at all but for the fact that the contessa was superstitious
"They were given to me by a Hungarian count," she said in her pretty
broken English; "just two pearls. I had them made into earrings. It was
the best way I could wear them. They are perfect, and they have a
history. They were a thank-offering to some idol in Burmah, but were
afterwards sold or stolen--I do not know which. It does not matter; it
was a very long time ago; but what does matter is that they bring good
luck. I shall be nothing without them, do you see?"
"That I will not believe! You will always be--"
"Beautiful," she said before Quarles could complete the sentence. "Ah,
yes, I know that. I have been told that when I cease to be beautiful I
shall cease to live. A gipsy in Budapest told me so. But what is beauty
if you have no luck?"
"When were they given to you?" Quarles asked.
"A year after I married. Listen, I will tell you a secret. It was the
beginning of the little difference with my husband. He was jealous."
"It was natural."
"No, it was not," she answered. "My Hungarian friend, he loved me of
course. That is the natural part. I was born like that. Some women are.
It is not their fault. It just is so, and yet people think evil and say,
shocking! It is in their own mind--the evil--and nowhere else, and I say
'basta,' and go my way, caring not at all. Why, every night in my
dressing room at the Regency there is a pile of letters--like that, and
flowers. The room is full of them--all from people who love me--and I do
not know one of them. I like it, but it makes no difference to me. I told
my husband that it was nothing, but no, he went on being jealous. He was
very foolish, but I think some day he will grow sensible. Then I shall
very likely say it is too late. The world has said it loves me, and that
is better than one Castalani. You do not know the Castalanis?"
"Ah, they are what you call thoughtful for themselves, very high, and
very few people are quite as good, so we had little quarrels, and then a
big one, because he said he would throw my pearls into the Arno. I hid
them, and he could not find them. If he had found them and thrown them
away I would have killed him."
Quarles nodded, as if such a tragedy would have been the most natural
"His mother made it worse," the contessa went on, "so we have one fierce
quarrel and I speak my mind. I say a great deal when I speak my mind, and
I am not nice then. I went away with my little girl. It was very
unfortunate, but what could I do? I love dancing, so I go on the stage,
and--and I have lost my pearls. See, there is the case, but it is empty."
Quarles looked at it, but I was sure he was not thinking of what he was
doing, and he did not even ask the most obvious questions.
I did that, and received scant answers. She was not a bit
interested in me.
"My pearls," she went on, "I want my pearls. There are some women
pearls love. I am one. When I wear them a little while they are alive.
The colors in them glow and palpitate. They are never dull then. I do
not wear them always, only on certain days--on feasts, and when I am
"We must find them," said Quarles.
"Of course. That is why I come to know you, isn't it?"
The professor was full of her as we left the hotel.
"A most charming woman," he said.
"I doubt if you will find her so when you fail to restore her pearls."
"I shall restore them," he said, with that splendid confidence which
sometimes characterized him, but, having no faith in his judgment on this
occasion, I went my own way. I searched the maid's boxes and found that
she had purloined many of the contessa's things--garments which had
hardly been worn, silk scarves, laces--in fact, anything which took her
fancy, and which her mistress would not be likely to miss. Of the two men
in the corridor I could find no trace. The manager said there were no
workmen about the hotel at that time, and the only description I could
get from the contessa was so vague that it would have fitted anybody from
the Prime Minister to the old bootlace-seller at the end of the street.
One of the hotel servants was confident that he had seen the French maid
speak to a man in the street outside the hotel on more than one occasion,
but he was not inclined to swear to anything. However, the French maid
was finally arrested on suspicion.
I knew that Quarles had been to see the contessa once or twice by
himself, and when I went to the Brunswick Hotel on the day after
Angélique's arrest, I found him there.
"Ah, you have taken an innocent woman," the contessa exclaimed.
"I think not."
"What you think does not matter at all, it is what I know. I asked her,
and she said she had not taken the pearls. Voila! She would not tell me
anything that was not true."
"I say there is no evidence against her. You just find two or three of
my stupid things in her room, but that is nothing. French maids always
take things like that--one expects it. But I am not angry. You think what
is quite--quite silly, but you do something which is quite right." And
then, turning to the professor, she went on, "But you--you do nothing at
all. You come to tea. You come and look at me, and think me very
beautiful, which is quite nice and very well, but it does not give me
back my pearls."
"It will," said Quarles.
"I have no opinion. I only know I have not the pearls. I gave you the
empty case. I want it back with the earrings in it. I have heard that
Monsieur Quarles is very clever--that he finds out everything, but--"
"It takes time, contessa," he said, rising. "There is one thing I want to
see before I go."
"What is that?" she asked.
"The dress the maid was wearing that afternoon, and if she wore an apron
I want to see that too."
The contessa fetched them, and for some minutes Quarles examined
I did not think he had started a theory. I thought the contessa's words
had merely stung him into doing something. He had probably come to the
conclusion that he had been making rather a fool of himself.
However, he was theoretical enough that night in the empty room at
"I think the arrest was a mistake, Wigan," he began.
"Surely you are not influenced by the contessa's opinion?"
"Well, she probably knows more about French maids than you do. I am
inclined to trust a woman's intuition sometimes. The contessa is
delightfully vague. It is part of her great charm, and it is in
everything she does and says. She tells you something, but her real
meaning you can only guess at. She dances, but the steps she ought to do
and doesn't are the ones which really contain the meaning."
"Can she possibly be more vague, dear, than you are at the present
moment?" laughed Zena.
"I think this is a case in which one must try to get into the contessa's
atmosphere before any result is possible. You will agree, Wigan, that her
point of view is peculiar."
"I should call it idiotic," I answered.
"Your opinion is all cut and dried, I presume?"
"Absolutely," I answered. "I believe the maid took the jewels and handed
them to her confederates who were waiting in the corridor."
"It is possible," said Quarles, "but it seems curious that the contessa
should return just in time to see, not only the men in the corridor, but
also the maid leaving her room. Have you considered why only the earrings
"There was nothing else to steal," I answered.
"Why, everybody has talked of her jewels!" Zena exclaimed.
"Who told you so?" asked Quarles.
"She didn't suggest the pearls were sham?"
"That was thoughtless of her, since suspicion rests upon her. I am not
much surprised to hear that the much-talked-of jewelry is sham. There is
a vein of wisdom in the contessa, and we shall probably find she has put
her jewelry into safe keeping, and wears paste because it has just as
good an effect across the footlights. I should judge her wise enough not
to take risks, and to have an eye for the future. It was only her
superstition, and the fact that she wore the earrings fairly constantly,
which prevented her depositing them in a safe place too. Zena asked me
yesterday whether I should consider her a careless person. What do you
"It occurred to me that she might have put the case away when it was
empty and carelessly put the pearls somewhere else," said Zena.
"Such, a vague kind of person is capable of anything," I returned. "But
there is no doubt that a search in her room was made, and it is
significant that things were not tossed about anyhow, as one would expect
had a stranger made that search."
"True," said Quarles, "but if the maid took them there would have been no
disarrangement at all. She would have known where to look. If she had
wanted to suggest ordinary thieves she would have thrown things into
disorder on purpose."
"Naturally she did not know exactly where to look," I said.
"Why not? The contessa evidently trusts her implicitly. In any case, I
fancy we are drawn back to the supposition that the contessa is careless.
When Zena asked the question, I was reminded of one or two
inconsistencies in her surroundings. I should not call her orderly. Her
carelessness must form part of my theory."
"I am surprised to hear you have formed one," I said.
"I have found the woman far more interesting than the pearls," he
admitted, "but I am pledged to return the earrings, Wigan. You will find
her smile of delight an excellent reward."
I shrugged my shoulders a little irritably.
"Now I will propose three propositions against yours. First, the jewels
belonged to an idol, and were either sold or stolen--the contessa does
not know which. Such things are not usually sold, so we may assume they
were stolen. Their disappearance from the hotel may mean that they have
merely been recovered. The idea is romantic, but such happenings do
occur. Your French maid may have been pressed into the plot either
through fear or by bribery."
"My facts would fit that theory," I said.
"Secondly, the husband may be concerned," Quarles went on. "There may be
real love underlying his jealousy, he may think that if he can obtain
possession of the pearls his wife will return to him. Again, your French
maid may have been employed to this end."
"That theory would not refute my facts," I returned.
"Thirdly, the contessa herself. It is conceivable that for some reason
she wished to have the pearls stolen, perhaps for the sake of
advertisement--such things are done--or for the sake of insurance money,
or for some other reason which is not apparent. This supposition would
account for the contessa refusing to believe anything against the maid.
It would also account for the men in the corridor, seen only by the
contessa, remember, and therefore, perhaps, without any real existence."
"Of the three propositions, I most favor the last," I said.
"So do I," Quarles answered. "The first one is possible, but I fail to
trace anything of the Oriental method in the robbery, the supreme
subtlety which one would naturally expect. The second, which would almost
of necessity require the help of the maid, would in all likelihood have
been carried out before this, since the contessa has always had the
pearls at hand. If she had only just got them out of the bank I should
favor this second proposition. You remember the contessa suggested that
her husband might at some time become more sensible. I should hazard a
guess that she is still in communication with him. The death of the
strife-stirring mother may bring them together again."
"That is rather an ingenious idea," I admitted.
"Now, the third proposition would appeal to me more were I not so
interested in the woman," Quarles said. "Is she the sort of woman, for
vain or selfish reasons, to enter into such a conspiracy with her maid? I
grant the difficulty of plumbing a woman's mind--even Zena's there; but
there are certain principles to be followed. A woman is usually thorough
if she undertakes to do a thing, and had the contessa been concerned in
such a conspiracy, we should have had far more detail given to us in
order to lead us in another direction. This third proposition does not
please me, therefore."
"It seems to me we come back to the French maid," said Zena.
"We do," said Quarles. "That is the leather case, Wigan. Does it tell you
I took it and examined it.
"You seem to have got some grease on it, Professor."
"It was like that. Greasy fingers had touched it--recently, I
judge--although, of course, the case may be an old one, and not made
especially for the earrings. It is only a smear, but it could not have
got there while the case was lying in a drawer amongst the contessa's
things. Now open it. You will find a grease mark on the plush inside,
which means that very unwashed fingers have handled it. That does not
look quite like a dainty French maid--for she is dainty, Wigan."
"That is why you examined her dress, I suppose."
"Exactly! There was no suspicion of grease upon it. Facts have prejudiced
you against Angélique. I do not see a thief in her, but I do see a
certain watchfulness in her eyes whenever we meet her. She knows
something, Wigan, and to-morrow I am going to find out what it is. I
think a few judicious questions will help us."
Quarles had never been more the benevolent old gentleman than when he saw
the French maid next day.
He began by telling her that he was certain she was innocent, that he
believed in her just as much as her mistress did.
"Now, when did you last see the pearls?" Quarles asked.
"The day before they were stolen."
"Your mistress was wearing them?"
"No, monsieur, but the case was on the dressing table. It was the case I
saw, not the pearls."
"So for all you know to the contrary, the case may have been empty?"
"I do not see why you should think that," she answered, and it was quite
evident to me that she was being careful not to fall into a trap.
"Just in the same way, perhaps, as you speak of the day before they were
stolen. We do not know they are stolen. Were the pearls very valuable?"
"I do not know. The contessa valued them."
"She wears one or two good rings, I noticed," said Quarles, "but I
understand the jewels she wears on the stage are paste."
"Yes, monsieur, all of it."
"Her real jewelry being at the bank!"
"That is so, monsieur."
"It is possible that the contessa has deceived us," Quarles went on, "and
wants to make us believe the earrings are stolen."
"Oh, no, monsieur!"
"I am sure."
"Come, now, why are you so sure? Tell me what you know, and we will soon
have you back at the Brunswick Hotel. Had you told the men in the
corridor that all the contessa's jewelry was sham?"
"I know nothing of--"
"Wait!" said Quarles. "Think before you speak. You do not realize how
much we know about the men in the corridor. The contessa saw them,
The girl began to sob.
Very gently Quarles drew the story from her. One of the men was her
brother. She had been glad to come to England to see him, but she found
he had got into bad hands. She had helped him a little with money. She
had talked about the contessa, and when he had spoken about her wonderful
jewels she had told him they were sham.
"Did he believe you?"
"No, monsieur, he laughed at me because I did not know the real thing
from paste. I said I did, and, to prove it, mentioned the pearls."
"Was this before you knew he had fallen into bad hands?"
"Yes, monsieur. On the afternoon the pearls were stolen he came to see
me at the hotel with a friend. How they got to our rooms I do not know. I
opened the door, thinking it was the contessa. My brother laughed at my
surprise, and said he and his friend wanted to see whether the
contessa's pearls were real--they had a bet about them. He thought I was
a fool, but I was quickly thinking what I must do. 'She is here,' I said.
'Come in five minutes, when she is gone.' This was unexpected for them,
and they stepped back, and I shut the door. To get the door shut was all
I could think of. I was afraid. I waited; then I went to the bell, but I
did not ring. After all, he was my brother. Then Nella called out from my
room; I was on my way to fetch a clean frock for her from the contessa's
room when my brother came. Now I fetched it, and as I came out of the
room the contessa came in. It was a great relief."
"Did she say anything about the men in the corridor?"
"Not then--not until afterwards, when she found the pearls had
"And you said nothing?"
"No, it was wrong, but he was my brother. How he got the pearls I do
"Where is he now?"
"I do not know."
"But you are sure he stole the pearls?"
"Who else?" and she began to sob again.
"Perhaps when he hears you have been arrested, he will tell the truth."
"No, no, he has become bad in this country. I do not love England."
"Anyhow, we will soon have you out of this," said Quarles, patting her
shoulder in a fatherly manner. "I am afraid your brother is not much
good, but perhaps the affair is not so bad as you imagine."
We left her sobbing.
"A woman of resource," said Quarles.
"Very much so," I answered. "You do not think the arrest was a mistake
now, I presume?"
"Perhaps not; no, I am inclined to think it has helped us. It is not
every woman who would have got rid of two such blackguards so
"It is the very thinnest story I have ever heard," I laughed.
We walked on in silence for a few moments.
"My dear Wigan, I am afraid you are still laboring under the impression
that she stole the pearls."
"I am, and that she handed them to the men in the corridor, one of whom
may have been her brother or may not."
"She didn't steal them," said Quarles.
"Why, how else could the men have got in?" I said. "You are not likely to
see that rewarding smile on the contessa's face which you talked about."
"I think I shall, but first I must face the music and explain my failure.
We will go this afternoon. Perhaps she will give us tea, Wigan."
I am afraid I murmured, "There's no fool like an old fool," but not loud
enough for Quarles to hear.
When we entered the contessa's sitting-room that afternoon the child was
playing on the floor with a small china vase, taken haphazard from the
mantelpiece, I imagine.
Whether our entrance startled her, or whether she was in a destructive
mood, I cannot say, but she dashed down the vase and broke it in pieces.
"Oh, Nella! Naughty, naughty Nella!" exclaimed her mother.
The child immediately went to Quarles.
"I want to sit on your knee," she said.
"If mother will give you such things to play with, Nella, why, of course,
they get broken, don't they?" said Quarles.
"I thought you had brought my pearls," said the contessa.
"I have come to talk about them."
"That will not help--talk."
"Will it bring Angélique back? I am lost without Angélique."
"She will soon be back."
I smiled at his optimism.
"We saw her to-day," Quarles went on; and he told the girl's story in
detail, and in a manner which suggested that my mistake in having her
arrested was almost criminal.
The contessa seemed to expect me to apologize, but when I remained silent
she became practical.
"Still, I do not see my pearls, Monsieur Quarles."
"Contessa, your maid says you were looking at the earrings on the day
before the robbery. She saw the case on your dressing-table."
"Yes, I remember."
"Do you remember putting the case back in your drawer?"
"I mean, is there any circumstance which makes you particularly remember
"Was Nella crawling on the floor?"
"Why, yes. How did you guess that?"
"Didn't you meet the maid coming out of your room on the next afternoon?
She had gone to fetch a clean frock."
"Ah! yes, Nella got her frock dirty," said the contessa.
"Pretty frock," said the child.
"Was she playing with anything--anything off the mantelpiece?"
"Are you sure? You give her queer things to play with," and he pointed to
the fragments on the floor.
"It does not matter," said the contessa, a little angry at his criticism.
"I shall pay for it."
"Pretty frock," said the child again.
"Is it, Nella? I should like to see it."
The child slipped from his knee.
"Where are you going?" asked the contessa.
"To fetch my dirty, pretty frock."
"Don't be silly, Nella."
"I should like to see it," said Quarles.
"I wish you would take less interest in the child and more in my pearls."
"Humor the child and let her show me the frock, then we will talk about
With a bad grace the contessa went with Nella into the maid's room.
Quarles looked at me and at the fragments of the vase on the floor.
"Do you find them suggestive?"
"I am waiting to see the contessa in a real temper," I answered.
The child came running in with the frock, delighted to have got
her own way.
"Aye, but it is dirty," said Quarles, and he became absorbed in the
garment, nodding to the prattling child as she showed him tucks and lace.
"And now about my pearls," said the contessa.
Quarles put down the frock and stood up.
"There is the case," he said, taking it from his pocket; "we have got to
put the pearls into it, Contessa, may I look into your bedroom?"
The request astonished her, and it puzzled me.
"Why, yes, if you like."
She went to the door, and we all followed her.
"A dainty room," said the professor. "It is like you, contessa."
She laughed at the absurdity of the remark, and yet there was some truth
in it. The room wasn't really untidy, but it was not the abode of an
orderly person. A hat was on the bed, thrown there apparently, a pair of
gloves on the floor.
"I can always tell what a woman is like by seeing where she lives," said
Quarles. "There is no toy on the mantelpiece which Nella could break. A
pretty dressing-table, contessa."
He crossed to it and began examining the things upon it--silver-mounted
bottles and boxes.
He lifted lids and looked at the contents--powder in this pot, rouge in
that--and for a few moments the contessa was too astonished to speak.
Then there came a flash into her eyes resenting the impertinence.
"Ah!" exclaimed Quarles, turning from the table with a pot in his hand.
"I want it," said the child, stretching herself up for it.
"Evidently Nella has played with this before, contessa. A French
preparation for softening the skin, I see. I should guess she was playing
with it as she crawled about the floor that afternoon. You didn't notice
her. I can quite understand a child being quiet for a long time with this
to mess about with. There was grease on her frock, and look! the smoothed
surface of this cream bears the marks of little fingers, if I am not
mistaken. It is quite a moist cream, readily disarranged, easily smoothed
flat again. Let us hope there is no ingredient in it which will
He had dug his fingers into the stuff and produced the earrings.
"You will find a grease mark on the case," he went on. "It is evident you
could not have put the case away. Nella possessed herself of it when your
back was turned, and, playing with this cream, amused herself by burying
the pearls in it--just the sort of game to fascinate a child."
"I remember she was playing with that pot. I did not think she could get
the lid off."
"She did, and somehow the case got kicked under the bed."
"Naughty Nella!" said the contessa.
"Oh, no," said Quarles. "Natural Nella. May I wash my hands?"
Well, we had tea with the contessa, and I saw the smile which rewarded
I suppose he had earned it.
"When did you first think of the child?" I asked him afterwards.
"From the first," he answered; "but I was too interested in the mother to
work out the theory."
How exactly in accordance with the truth this answer was I will not
venture to say. That he was interested in the woman was obvious, and
continued to be obvious while she remained in London.
Zena and I were rather relieved when her professional engagements took
her to Berlin.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MADAME VATROTSKI
I firmly believe the contessa had succeeded in fluttering the professor's
heart, and I think it was fortunate that he was soon engaged upon another
case. The fact that it was also connected with theatrical people may have
made him go into it with more zest. The contessa had given him a taste
for the theater.
The three of us were in the empty room, and after a lot of talk which had
led nowhere, had been silent for some time.
"I never believe in any one's death until I have seen the body, or until
some one I can thoroughly trust has seen it," said Quarles, suddenly
breaking the silence.
"You have said something like that before," I answered.
"It still remains true, Wigan."
"Then you think she is alive?" Is it the advertisement theory you cling
to, or do you suppose she is a Nihilist?"
"I suppose nothing, and I never cling; all I know is that I have no proof
of death," said the professor, and he launched into a discourse
concerning the difficulties of concealing a body, chiefly, I thought, to
hide the fact that he had no ideas at all about the strange case of
The rage for the tango, the sensational revue, for the Russian ballet,
was at its height when Madame Vatrotski's name first appeared on the
hoardings in foot-long letters.
The management of the Olympic billed her extensively as a very paragon
of marvels, but most of the critics refused to endorse this opinion.
Perhaps they were anxious to do a good turn to the home artistes who had
been rather thrust aside by the foreign invasion of the boards of the
variety theaters; at any rate, they declared her dancing was a mere
pose, not always in the best of taste, and that her beauty was nothing
to rave about.
I had not seen this much-advertised dancer, but the Olympic management
could have had no reason to regret the expense they had gone to. Whether
her dancing was good or bad, whether her beauty was real or imaginary,
the great theater was full to overflowing night after night; her picture,
in various postures, was in all the illustrated papers, and paragraphs
concerning her were plentiful.
From beginning to end actual facts about her were difficult to get; but
allowing for all journalistic exaggeration, the following statement is
near the truth.
She was an eccentric rather than a beautiful dancer, and if she was not
actually a beautiful woman there was something irresistibly attractive
about her. Her origin was obscure, possibly she was not a Russian, and if
she had any right to the title of madame, no husband was in evidence. She
was quite young; upon the surface she was a child bent on getting out of
life all life had to give, and underneath the surface she was perhaps a
cold, calculating woman, with no other aim but her own gratification,
utterly callous of the sorrow and ruin she might bring to others.
All other statements concerning her must at least be considered doubtful.
Her friends may have been too generous, her enemies unnecessarily bitter.
Personally I do not believe she was in any way connected with one of the
royal houses of Europe, as rumor said, nor that she was the morganatic
wife of an Austrian archduke.
I have said that I had never seen her. I may add that I was not in the
least interested in her.
Even when I read the headline in the paper, "Mysterious disappearance of
Madame Vatrotski," I remained unmoved; indeed, I had to think for a
moment who Madame Vatrotski was, and when the paragraph concluded that
the disappearance was probably a smart advertisement I thought no more
about the matter.
Before the end of the week, however, I was obliged to think a great deal
about this woman. It was a tribute to the dancer's popularity that her
disappearance caused widespread interest not only in London, but in the
provinces, and it speedily became evident that her friends were legion.
She had dined, or had had supper, at various times, with a score of
well-known men; she had received presents and offers of marriage from
them; she had certainly had two chances of becoming a peeress, she might
have become the wife of a millionaire, and half a dozen younger sons had
kept their families on tenter-hooks.
It was said the poet laureate had dedicated an ode to her--that Lovet
Forbes, the sculptor, was immortalizing her in stone, and Musgrave had
certainly painted her portrait.
From all sides there was a loud demand that the mystery must be cleared
up, and the investigation was entrusted to me.
From the outset it was apparent that Madame Vatrotski had played fast and
loose with her many admirers. She had not definitely refused either of
the coronets offered her, nor the millions. I say her behavior was
apparent, but I ought to say it was apparent to me, because many of
those who knew her personally would not believe a word against her.
This was the case with Sir Charles Woodbridge, a very level-headed man as
a rule, and also with Paul Renaud, the proprietor of the great dress
emporium in Regent Street, an astute individual, not easily deceived by
either man or woman.
Both these men were pleased to believe themselves the serious item in
Madame Vatrotski's life, and Sir Charles in hot-headed fashion, and
Renaud, in cold contempt, told me very plainly what they thought of me
when I suggested that the lady might not be so innocently transparent as
Up to a certain point it was comparatively easy to follow Madame's
movements. After the performance on Monday evening she had gone to supper
with Sir Charles at a smart restaurant, and many people had seen her
there. His car had taken her back to her rooms, and he had arranged to
fetch her next morning at half-past eleven and drive her down to
Maidenhead for lunch.
When Sir Charles arrived at her rooms next morning he was told she had
gone out and had left no message. He was annoyed, but he had to admit it
was not the first time she had broken an appointment with him.
It transpired that she had gone out that morning soon after ten, and
half-an-hour afterwards was at Reno's. Paul Renaud did not see her
there and had no appointment with her.
She made some trivial purchases--a veil, some lace and gloves, which were
sent to her rooms later in the day, and she left the shop about eleven.
The door-porter was able to fix the time, and was quite sure the lady was
Madame Vatrotski. She would not have a taxi, and walked away in the
direction of Piccadilly Circus. Since then she had disappeared
A taxi-driver came forward to say he believed he had taken her to a
restaurant in Soho, but after inquiry I came to the conclusion that the
driver was mistaken.
She sent no message to the theater that night, she simply did not turn
up. To appease the audience it was announced that she was suffering from
sudden indisposition; but, as a fact, the management did not know what
had become of her, and the maid at her rooms confessed absolute ignorance
concerning her mistress's whereabouts. I have no doubt the maid would
have lied to protect Madame, but on this occasion I think she was telling
It was after I had told Quarles the result of my inquiries, and we had
argued ourselves into silence, that he burst out with his remark about
the body, and of course what he said was true enough. Still, I was
inclined to think that Madame Vatrotski was dead. I did not believe she
had disappeared as an advertisement: there was no earthly reason why she
should, since her popularity had shown no signs of being on the wane, and
to attribute the mystery to a Nihilist plot was not a solution which
appealed to me.
"She may have returned to her rooms and met Sir Charles," Zena suggested,
after a pause. "Perhaps she found him waiting in his car at the door and
went off at once."
"Why do you make such a suggestion?" asked Quarles.
"She had plenty of time to keep the appointment; indeed, it almost looks
as if she had arranged her morning on purpose to keep it. If she had
gone with him at once her maid would not know she had returned."
Quarles looked at me.
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