«Published: 1897 Categorie(s): Fiction, Mystery & Detective Source: About Allen: Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen ...»
However, Sir Charles, we will do our best. I will set on the track without delay the best and cleverest detective in England."
"The very man I want," Charles said. "What name, Marvillier?" The principal smiled. "Whatever name you like," he said.
"He isn't particular. Medhurst he's called at home. We call him Joe. I'll send him round to your house this afternoon for certain."
"Oh no," Charles said promptly, "you won't; or Colonel Clay himself will come instead of him. I've been sold too often. No casual strangers! I'll wait here and see him."
"But he isn't in," Marvillier objected.
Charles was firm as a rock. "Then send and fetch him."
In half an hour, sure enough, the detective arrived. He was an odd-looking small man, with hair cut short and standing straight up all over his head, like a Parisian waiter.
He had quick, sharp eyes, very much like a ferret's; his nose was depressed, his lips thin and bloodless. A scar marked his left cheek—made by a sword-cut, he said, when engaged one day in arresting a desperate French smuggler, disguised as an officer of Chasseurs d'Afrique.
His mien was resolute. Altogether, a quainter or 'cuter little man it has never yet been my lot to set eyes on. He walked in with a brisk step, eyed Charles up and down, and then, without much formality, asked for what he was wanted.
"This is Sir Charles Vandrift, the great diamond king," Marvillier said, introducing us.
"So I see," the man answered.
"Then you know me?" Charles asked.
"I wouldn't be worth much," the detective replied, "if I didn't know everybody. And you're easy enough to know;
why, every boy in the street knows you."
"Plain spoken!" Charles remarked.
"As you like it, sir," the man answered in a respectful tone. "I endeavour to suit my dress and behaviour on every occasion to the taste of my employers."
"Your name?" Charles asked, smiling.
"Joseph Medhurst, at your service. What sort of work?
Stolen diamonds? Illicit diamond-buying?" "No," Charles answered, fixing him with his eye. "Quite another kind of job. You've heard of Colonel Clay?" Medhurst nodded. "Why, certainly," he said; and, for the first time, I detected a lingering trace of American accent.
"It's my business to know about him."
"Well, I want you to catch him," Charles went on.
Medhurst drew a long breath. "Isn't that rather a large order?" he murmured, surprised.
Charles explained to him exactly the sort of services he required. Medhurst promised to comply. "If the man comes near you, I'll spot him," he said, after a moment's pause. "I can promise you that much. I'll pierce any disguise. I should know in a minute whether he's got up or not. I'm death on wigs, false moustaches, artificial complexions. I'll engage to bring the rogue to book if I see him. Y may set your mind ou at rest, that, while I'm about you, Colonel Clay can do nothing without my instantly spotting him."
"He'll do it," Marvillier put in. "He'll do it, if he says it. He's my very best hand. Never knew any man like him for unravelling and unmasking the cleverest disguises."
"Then he'll suit me," Charles answered, "for I never knew any man like Colonel Clay for assuming and maintaining them."
It was arranged accordingly that Medhurst should take up his residence in the house for the present, and should be described to the servants as assistant secretary. He came that very day, with a marvellously small portmanteau. But from the moment he arrived, we noticed that Césarine took a violent dislike to him.
Medhurst was a most efficient detective. Charles and I told him all we knew about the various shapes in which Colonel Clay had "materialised," and he gave us in turn many valuable criticisms and suggestions. Why, when we began to suspect the Honourable David Granton, had we not, as if by accident, tried to knock his red wig off? Why, when the Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon first discussed the question of the paste diamonds, had we not looked to see if any of Amelia's unique gems were missing? Why, when Professor Schleiermacher made his bow to assembled science at Lancaster Gate, had we not strictly inquired how far he was personally known beforehand to Sir Adolphus Cordery and the other mineralogists? He supplied us also with several good hints about false hair and make-up; such as that Schleiermacher was probably much shorter than he looked, but by imitating a stoop with padding at his back he had produced the illusion of a tall bent man, though in reality no bigger than the little curate or the Graf von Lebenstein. High heels did the rest; while the scientific keenness we noted in his face was doubtless brought about by a trifle of wax at the end of the nose, giving a peculiar tilt that is extremely effective. In short, I must frankly admit, Medhurst made us feel ashamed of ourselves. Sharp as Charles is, we realised at once he was nowhere in observation beside the trained and experienced senses of this professional detective.
The worst of it all was, while Medhurst was with us, by some curious fatality, Colonel Clay stopped away from us.
Now and again, to be sure, we ran up against somebody whom Medhurst suspected; but after a short investigation (conducted, I may say, with admirable cleverness), the spy always showed us the doubtful person was really some innocent and well-known character, whose antecedents and surroundings he elucidated most wonderfully. He was a perfect marvel, too, in his faculty of suspicion. He suspected everybody. If an old friend dropped in to talk business with Charles, we found out afterwards that Medhurst had lain concealed all the time behind the curtain, and had taken short-hand notes of the whole conversation, as well as snap-shot photographs of the supposed sharper, by means of a kodak. If a fat old lady came to call upon Amelia, Medhurst was sure to be lurking under the ottoman in the drawing-room, and carefully observing, with all his eyes, whether or not she was really Mme. Picardet, padded. When Lady Tresco brought her four plain daughters to an "At Home" one night, Medhurst, in evening dress, disguised as a waiter, followed them each round the room with obtrusive ices, to satisfy himself just how much of their complexion was real, and how much was patent rouge and Bloom of Ninon. He doubted whether Simpson, Sir Charles's valet, was not Colonel Clay in plain clothes; and he had half an idea that Césarine herself was our saucy White Heather in an alternative avatar. We pointed out to him in vain that Simpson had often been present in the very same room with David Granton, and that Césarine had dressed Mrs. Brabazon's hair at Lucerne: this partially satisfied him, but only partially. He remarked that Simpson might double both parts with somebody else unknown; and that as for Césarine, she might well have a twin sister who took her place when she was Mme. Picardet.
Still, in spite of all his care—or because of all his care— Colonel Clay stopped away for whole weeks together. An explanation occurred to us. Was it possible he knew we were guarded and watched? Was he afraid of measuring swords with this trained detective?
If so, how had he found it out? I had an inkling, myself— but, under all the circumstances, I did not mention it to Charles. It was clear that Césarine intensely disliked this new addition to the Vandrift household. She would not stop in the room where the detective was, or show him common politeness. She spoke of him always as "that odious man, Medhurst." Could she have guessed, what none of the other servants knew, that the man was a spy in search of the Colonel? I was inclined to believe it. And then it dawned upon me that Césarine had known all about the diamonds and their story; that it was Césarine who took us to see Schloss Lebenstein; that it was Césarine who posted the letter to Lord Craig-Ellachie! If Césarine was in league with Colonel Clay, as I was half inclined to surmise, what more natural than her obvious dislike to the detective who was there to catch her principal? What more simple for her than to warn her fellow-conspirator of the danger that awaited him if he approached this man Medhurst?
However, I was too much frightened by the episode of the cheque to say anything of my nascent suspicions to Charles. I waited rather to see how events would shape themselves.
After a while Medhurst's vigilance grew positively annoying. More than once he came to Charles with reports and shorthand notes distinctly distasteful to my excellent brother-in-law. "The fellow is getting to know too much about us," Charles said to me one day. "Why, Sey, he spies out everything. Would you believe it, when I had that confidential interview with Brookfield the other day, about the new issue of Golcondas, the man was under the easychair, though I searched the room beforehand to make sure he wasn't there; and he came to me afterwards with full notes of the conversation, to assure me he thought Brookfield—whom I've known for ten years—was too tall by half an inch to be one of Colonel Clay's impersonations."
"Oh, but, Sir Charles," Medhurst cried, emerging suddenly from the bookcase, "you must never look upon any one as above suspicion merely because you've known him for ten years or thereabouts. Colonel Clay may have approached you at various times under many disguises. He may have built up this thing gradually.
Besides, as to my knowing too much, why, of course, a detective always learns many things about his employer's family which he is not supposed to know; but professional honour and professional etiquette, as with doctors and lawyers, compel him to lock them up as absolute secrets in his own bosom. Y need never be afraid I will divulge one ou jot of them. If I did, my occupation would be gone, and my reputation shattered."
Charles looked at him, appalled. "Do you dare to say," he burst out, "you've been listening to my talk with my brother-in-law and secretary?" "Why, of course," Medhurst answered. "It's my business to listen, and to suspect everybody. If you push me to say so, how do I know Colonel Clay is not—Mr. Wentworth?" Charles withered him with a look. "In future, Medhurst," he said, "you must never conceal yourself in a room where I am without my leave and knowledge."
Medhurst bowed politely. "Oh, as you will, Sir Charles," he answered; "that's quite at your own wish. Though how can I act as an efficient detective, any way, if you insist upon tying my hands like that, beforehand?" Again I detected a faint American flavour.
After that rebuff, however, Medhurst seemed put upon his mettle. He redoubled his vigilance in every direction. "It's not my fault," he said plaintively, one day, "if my reputation's so good that, while I'm near you, this rogue won't approach you. If I can't catchhim, at least I keep him away from coming near you!" A few days later, however, he brought Charles some photographs. These he produced with evident pride. The first he showed us was a vignette of a little parson. "Who's that, then?" he inquired, much pleased.
We gazed at it, open-eyed. One word rose to our lips simultaneously: "Brabazon!" "And how's this for high?" he asked again, producing another—the photograph of a gay young dog in a Tyrolese costume.
We murmured, "Von Lebenstein!" "And this?" he continued, showing us the portrait of a lady with a most fetching squint.
We answered with one voice, "Little Mrs. Granton!" Medhurst was naturally proud of this excellent exploit. He replaced them in his pocket-book with an air of just triumph.
"How did you get them?" Charles asked.
Medhurst's look was mysterious. "Sir Charles," he answered, drawing himself up, "I must ask you to trust me awhile in this matter. Remember, there are people whom you decline to suspect. I have learned that it is always those very people who are most dangerous to capitalists. If I were to give you the names now, you would refuse to believe me.
Therefore, I hold them over discreetly for the moment. One thing, however, I say. I know to a certainty where Colonel Clay is at this present speaking. But I will lay my plans deep, and I hope before long to secure him. Y shall be ou present when I do so; and I shall make him confess his personality openly. More than that you cannot reasonably ask. I shall leave it to you, then, whether or not you wish to arrest him."
Charles was considerably puzzled, not to say piqued, by this curious reticence; he begged hard for names; but Medhurst was adamant. "No, no," he replied; "we detectives have our own just pride in our profession. If I told you now, you would probably spoil all by some premature action. Y are too open and impulsive! I will mention this ou alone: Colonel Clay will be shortly in Paris, and before long will begin from that city a fresh attempt at defrauding you, which he is now hatching. Mark my words, and see whether or not I have been kept well informed of the fellow's movements!" He was perfectly correct. Two days later, as it turned out, Charles received a "confidential" letter from Paris, purporting to come from the head of a second-rate financial house with which he had had dealings over the CraigEllachie Amalgamation—by this time, I ought to have said, an accomplished union. It was a letter of small importance in itself—a mere matter of detail; but it paved the way, so Medhurst thought, to some later development of more serious character. Here once more the man's singular foresight was justified. For, in another week, we received a second communication, containing other proposals of a delicate financial character, which would have involved the transference of some two thousand pounds to the head of the Parisian firm at an address given. Both these letters Medhurst cleverly compared with those written to Charles before, in the names of Colonel Clay and of Graf von Lebenstein. At first sight, it is true, the differences between the two seemed quite enormous: the Paris hand was broad and black, large and bold; while the earlier manuscript was small, neat, thin, and gentlemanly. Still, when Medhurst pointed out to us certain persistent twists in the formation of his capitals, and certain curious peculiarities in the relative length of his t's, his l's, his b's, and his h's, we could see for ourselves he was right; both were the work of one hand, writing in the one case with a sharp-pointed nib, very small, and in the other with a quill, very large and freely.
This discovery was most important. We stood now within measurable distance of catching Colonel Clay, and bringing forgery and fraud home to him without hope of evasion.
To make all sure, however, Medhurst communicated with the Paris police, and showed us their answers. Meanwhile, Charles continued to write to the head of the firm, who had given a private address in the Rue Jean Jacques, alleging, I must say, a most clever reason why the negotiations at this stage should be confidentially conducted. But one never expected from Colonel Clay anything less than consummate cleverness. In the end, it was arranged that we three were to go over to Paris together, that Medhurst was to undertake, under the guise of being Sir Charles, to pay the two thousand pounds to the pretended financier, and that Charles and I, waiting with the police outside the door, should, at a given signal, rush in with our forces and secure the criminal.
We went over accordingly, and spent the night at the Grand, as is Charles's custom. The Bristol, which I prefer, he finds too quiet. Early next morning we took a fiacre and drove to the Rue Jean Jacques. Medhurst had arranged everything in advance with the Paris police, three of whom, in plain clothes, were waiting at the foot of the staircase to assist us. Charles had further provided himself with two thousand pounds, in notes of the Bank of France, in order that the payment might be duly made, and no doubt arise as to the crime having been perpetrated as well as meditated—in the former case, the penalty would be fifteen years; in the latter, three only. He was in very high spirits.