«Published: 1897 Categorie(s): Fiction, Mystery & Detective Source: About Allen: Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen ...»
The Seer strode forward. "Give me the envelope," he said. He took it in his hand, walked over towards the fireplace, and solemnly burnt it. "See—it crumbles into ashes," he cried. Then he came back to the middle of the room, close to the green light, rolled up his sleeve, and held his arm before Sir Charles. There, in blood-red letters, my brother-in-law read the name, "Charles Vandrift," in his own handwriting!
"I see how that's done," Sir Charles murmured, drawing back. "It's a clever delusion; but still, I see through it. It's like that ghost-book. Y ink was deep green; your light was our green; you made me look at it long; and then I saw the same thing written on the skin of your arm in complementary colours."
"Y think so?" the Seer replied, with a curious curl of the ou lip.
"I'm sure of it," Sir Charles answered.
Quick as lightning the Seer again rolled up his sleeve.
"That's your name," he cried, in a very clear voice, "but not your whole name. What do you say, then, to my right? Is this one also a complementary colour?" He held his other arm out. There, in sea-green letters, I read the name, "Charles O'Sullivan Vandrift." It is my brother-in-law's full baptismal designation; but he has dropped the O'Sullivan for many years past, and, to say the truth, doesn't like it. He is a little bit ashamed of his mother's family.
Charles glanced at it hurriedly. "Quite right," he said, "quite right!" But his voice was hollow. I could guess he didn't care to continue the séance. He could see through the man, of course; but it was clear the fellow knew too much about us to be entirely pleasant.
"Turn up the lights," I said, and a servant turned them.
"Shall I say coffee and benedictine?" I whispered to Vandrift.
"By all means," he answered. "Anything to keep this fellow from further impertinences! And, I say, don't you think you'd better suggest at the same time that the men should smoke? Even these ladies are not above a cigarette— some of them."
There was a sigh of relief. The lights burned brightly. The Seer for the moment retired from business, so to speak. He accepted a partaga with a very good grace, sipped his coffee in a corner, and chatted to the lady who had suggested Strafford with marked politeness. He was a polished gentleman.
Next morning, in the hall of the hotel, I saw Madame Picardet again, in a neat tailor-made travelling dress, evidently bound for the railway-station.
"What, off, Madame Picardet?" I cried.
She smiled, and held out her prettily-gloved hand. "Y es, I'm off," she answered archly. "Florence, or Rome, or somewhere. I've drained Nice dry—like a sucked orange.
Got all the fun I can out of it. Now I'm away again to my beloved Italy."
But it struck me as odd that, if Italy was her game, she went by the omnibus which takes down to the train de luxe for Paris. However, a man of the world accepts what a lady tells him, no matter how improbable; and I confess, for ten days or so, I thought no more about her, or the Seer either.
At the end of that time our fortnightly pass-book came in from the bank in London. It is part of my duty, as the millionaire's secretary, to make up this book once a fortnight, and to compare the cancelled cheques with Sir Charles's counterfoils. On this particular occasion I happened to observe what I can only describe as a very grave discrepancy,—in fact, a discrepancy of 5000 pounds. On the wrong side, too. Sir Charles was debited with 5000 pounds more than the total amount that was shown on the counterfoils.
I examined the book with care. The source of the error was obvious. It lay in a cheque to Self or Bearer, for 5000 pounds, signed by Sir Charles, and evidently paid across the counter in London, as it bore on its face no stamp or indication of any other office.
I called in my brother-in-law from the salon to the study.
"Look here, Charles," I said, "there's a cheque in the book which you haven't entered." And I handed it to him without comment, for I thought it might have been drawn to settle some little loss on the turf or at cards, or to make up some other affair he didn't desire to mention to me. These things will happen.
He looked at it and stared hard. Then he pursed up his mouth and gave a long low "Whew!" At last he turned it over and remarked, "I say, Sey, my boy, we've just been done jolly well brown, haven't we?" I glanced at the cheque. "How do you mean?" I inquired.
"Why, the Seer," he replied, still staring at it ruefully. "I don't mind the five thou., but to think the fellow should have gammoned the pair of us like that—ignominious, I call it!" "How do you know it's the Seer?" I asked.
"Look at the green ink," he answered. "Besides, I recollect the very shape of the last flourish. I flourished a bit like that in the excitement of the moment, which I don't always do with my regular signature."
"He's done us," I answered, recognising it. "But how the dickens did he manage to transfer it to the cheque? This looks like your own handwriting, Charles, not a clever forgery."
"It is," he said. "I admit it—I can't deny it. Only fancy his bamboozling me when I was most on my guard! I wasn't to be taken in by any of his silly occult tricks and catch-words;
but it never occurred to me he was going to victimise me financially in this way. I expected attempts at a loan or an extortion; but to collar my signature to a blank cheque— atrocious!" "How did he manage it?" I asked.
"I haven't the faintest conception. I only know those are the words I wrote. I could swear to them anywhere."
"Then you can't protest the cheque?" "Unfortunately, no; it's my own true signature."
We went that afternoon without delay to see the Chief Commissary of Police at the office. He was a gentlemanly Frenchman, much less formal and red-tapey than usual, and he spoke excellent English with an American accent, having acted, in fact, as a detective in New Y for about ork ten years in his early manhood.
"I guess," he said slowly, after hearing our story, "you've been victimised right here by Colonel Clay, gentlemen."
"Who is Colonel Clay?" Sir Charles asked.
"That's just what I want to know," the Commissary answered, in his curious American-French-English. "He is a Colonel, because he occasionally gives himself a commission; he is called Colonel Clay, because he appears to possess an india-rubber face, and he can mould it like clay in the hands of the potter. Real name, unknown. Nationality, equally French and English. Address, usually Europe. Profession, former maker of wax figures to the Museé Grévin. Age, what he chooses. Employs his knowledge to mould his own nose and cheeks, with wax additions, to the character he desires to personate.
Aquiline this time, you say. Hein! Anything like these photographs?" He rummaged in his desk and handed us two.
"Not in the least," Sir Charles answered. "Except, perhaps, as to the neck, everything here is quite unlike him."
"Then that's the Colonel!" the Commissary answered, with decision, rubbing his hands in glee. "Look here," and he took out a pencil and rapidly sketched the outline of one of the two faces—that of a bland-looking young man, with no expression worth mentioning. "There's the Colonel in his simple disguise. Very good. Now watch me: figure to yourself that he adds here a tiny patch of wax to his nose— an aquiline bridge—just so; well, you have him right there;
and the chin, ah, one touch: now, for hair, a wig: for complexion, nothing easier: that's the profile of your rascal, isn't it?" "Exactly," we both murmured. By two curves of the pencil, and a shock of false hair, the face was transmuted.
"He had very large eyes, with very big pupils, though," I objected, looking close; "and the man in the photograph here has them small and boiled-fishy."
"That's so," the Commissary answered. "A drop of belladonna expands—and produces the Seer; five grains of opium contract—and give a dead-alive, stupidly-innocent appearance. Well, you leave this affair to me, gentlemen. I'll see the fun out. I don't say I'll catch him for you; nobody ever yet has caught Colonel Clay; but I'll explain how he did the trick; and that ought to be consolation enough to a man of your means for a trifle of five thousand!" "Y are not the conventional French office-holder, M. le ou Commissaire," I ventured to interpose.
"Y bet!" the Commissary replied, and drew himself up ou like a captain of infantry. "Messieurs," he continued, in French, with the utmost dignity, "I shall devote the resources of this office to tracing out the crime, and, if possible, to effectuating the arrest of the culpable."
We telegraphed to London, of course, and we wrote to the bank, with a full description of the suspected person.
But I need hardly add that nothing came of it.
Three days later the Commissary called at our hotel.
"Well, gentlemen," he said, "I am glad to say I have discovered everything!" "What? Arrested the Seer?" Sir Charles cried.
The Commissary drew back, almost horrified at the suggestion.
"Arrested Colonel Clay?" he exclaimed. "Mais, monsieur, we are only human! Arrested him? No, not quite.
But tracked out how he did it. That is already much—to unravel Colonel Clay, gentlemen!" "Well, what do you make of it?" Sir Charles asked, crestfallen.
The Commissary sat down and gloated over his discovery. It was clear a well-planned crime amused him vastly. "In the first place, monsieur," he said, "disabuse your mind of the idea that when monsieur your secretary went out to fetch Señor Herrera that night, Señor Herrera didn't know to whose rooms he was coming. Quite otherwise, in point of fact. I do not doubt myself that Señor Herrera, or Colonel Clay (call him which you like), came to Nice this winter for no other purpose than just to rob you."
"But I sent for him," my brother-in-law interposed.
"Yes; he meant you to send for him. He forced a card, so to speak. If he couldn't do that I guess he would be a pretty poor conjurer. He had a lady of his own—his wife, let us say, or his sister—stopping here at this hotel; a certain Madame Picardet. Through her he induced several ladies of your circle to attend his séances. She and they spoke to you about him, and aroused your curiosity. Y may betou your bottom dollar that when he came to this room he came ready primed and prepared with endless facts about both of you."
"What fools we have been, Sey," my brother-in-law exclaimed. "I see it all now. That designing woman sent round before dinner to say I wanted to meet him; and by the time you got there he was ready for bamboozling me."
"That's so," the Commissary answered. "He had your name ready painted on both his arms; and he had made other preparations of still greater importance."
"You mean the cheque. Well, how did he get it?" The Commissary opened the door. "Come in," he said.
And a young man entered whom we recognised at once as the chief clerk in the Foreign Department of the Crédit Marseillais, the principal bank all along the Riviera.
"State what you know of this cheque," the Commissary said, showing it to him, for we had handed it over to the police as a piece of evidence.
"About four weeks since—" the clerk began.
"Say ten days before your séance," the Commissary interposed.
"A gentleman with very long hair and an aquiline nose, dark, strange, and handsome, called in at my department and asked if I could tell him the name of Sir Charles Vandrift's London banker. He said he had a sum to pay in to your credit, and asked if we would forward it for him. I told him it was irregular for us to receive the money, as you had no account with us, but that your London bankers were Darby, Drummond, and Rothenberg, Limited."
"Quite right," Sir Charles murmured.
"Two days later a lady, Madame Picardet, who was a customer of ours, brought in a good cheque for three hundred pounds, signed by a first-rate name, and asked us to pay it in on her behalf to Darby, Drummond, and Rothenberg's, and to open a London account with them for her. We did so, and received in reply a cheque-book."
"From which this cheque was taken, as I learn from the number, by telegram from London," the Commissary put in.
"Also, that on the same day on which your cheque was cashed, Madame Picardet, in London, withdrew her balance."
"But how did the fellow get me to sign the cheque?" Sir Charles cried. "How did he manage the card trick?" The Commissary produced a similar card from his pocket. "Was that the sort of thing?" he asked.
"Precisely! A facsimile."
"I thought so. Well, our Colonel, I find, bought a packet of such cards, intended for admission to a religious function, at a shop in the Quai Massena. He cut out the centre, and, see here—" The Commissary turned it over, and showed a piece of paper pasted neatly over the back; this he tore off, and there, concealed behind it, lay a folded cheque, with only the place where the signature should be written showing through on the face which the Seer had presented to us. "I call that a neat trick," the Commissary remarked, with professional enjoyment of a really good deception.
"But he burnt the envelope before my eyes," Sir Charles exclaimed.
"Pooh!" the Commissary answered. "What would he be worth as a conjurer, anyway, if he couldn't substitute one envelope for another between the table and the fireplace without your noticing it? And Colonel Clay, you must remember, is a prince among conjurers."
"Well, it's a comfort to know we've identified our man, and the woman who was with him," Sir Charles said, with a slight sigh of relief. "The next thing will be, of course, you'll follow them up on these clues in England and arrest them?" The Commissary shrugged his shoulders. "Arrest them!" he exclaimed, much amused. "Ah, monsieur, but you are sanguine! No officer of justice has ever succeeded in arresting le Colonel Caoutchouc, as we call him in French.
He is as slippery as an eel, that man. He wriggles through our fingers. Suppose even we caught him, what could we prove? I ask you. Nobody who has seen him once can ever swear to him again in his next impersonation. He is impayable, this good Colonel. On the day when I arrest him, I assure you, monsieur, I shall consider myself the smartest police-officer in Europe."
"Well, I shall catch him yet," Sir Charles answered, and relapsed into silence.
THE EPISODE OF THE
DIAMOND LINKS"Let us take a trip to Switzerland," said Lady Vandrift. And any one who knows Amelia will not be surprised to learn that we didtake a trip to Switzerland accordingly. Nobody can drive Sir Charles, except his wife. And nobody at all can drive Amelia.
There were difficulties at the outset, because we had not ordered rooms at the hotels beforehand, and it was well on in the season; but they were overcome at last by the usual application of a golden key; and we found ourselves in due time pleasantly quartered in Lucerne, at that most comfortable of European hostelries, the Schweitzerhof.
We were a square party of four—Sir Charles and Amelia, myself and Isabel. We had nice big rooms, on the first floor, overlooking the lake; and as none of us was possessed with the faintest symptom of that incipient mania which shows itself in the form of an insane desire to climb mountain heights of disagreeable steepness and unnecessary snowiness, I will venture to assert we all enjoyed ourselves. We spent most of our time sensibly in lounging about the lake on the jolly little steamers; and when we did a mountain climb, it was on the Rigi or Pilatus— where an engine undertook all the muscular work for us.
As usual, at the hotel, a great many miscellaneous people showed a burning desire to be specially nice to us.