«Published: 1897 Categorie(s): Fiction, Mystery & Detective Source: About Allen: Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen ...»
The suddenness of the movement threw me completely off my guard, and off my legs as well. I was clinging to the coat and holding him. As the support gave way I rolled over backward, in the mud of the street, and hurt my back seriously. As for Colonel Clay, with a nervous laugh, he bolted off at full speed in his evening coat, and vanished round a corner.
It was some seconds before I had sufficiently recovered my breath to pick myself up again, and examine my bruises. By this time Charles and the other pursuers had come up, and I explained my condition to them. Instead of commending me for my zeal in his cause—which had cost me a barked arm and a good evening suit—my brother-inlaw remarked, with an unfeeling sneer, that when I had so nearly caught my man I might as well have held him.
"I have his coat, at least," I said. "That may afford us a clue." And I limped back with it in my hands, feeling horribly bruised and a good deal shaken.
When we came to examine the coat, however, it bore no maker's name; the strap at the back, where the tailor proclaims with pride his handicraft, had been carefully ripped off, and its place was taken by a tag of plain black tape without inscription of any sort. We searched the breast-pocket. A handkerchief, similarly nameless, but of finest cambric. The side-pockets—ha, what was this? I drew a piece of paper out in triumph. It was a note—a real find—the one which the servant had handed to our friend just before at the Senator's.
We read it through breathlessly:— "DARLING PAUL,—I told you it was too dangerous.
You should have listened to me. You ought never to have imitated any real person. I happened to glance at the hotel tape just now, to see the quotations for Cloetedorps to-day, and what do you think I read as part of the latest telegram from England? 'Mr. Algernon Coleyard, the famous poet, is lying on his death-bed at his home in Devonshire.' By this time all New York knows. Don't stop one minute. Say I'm dangerously ill, and come away at once. Don't return to the hotel. I am removing our things. Meet me at Mary's. Your devoted, MARGOT."
"This is very important," Charles said. "This does give us a clue. We know two things now: his real name is Paul— whatever else it may be, and Madame Picardet's is Margot."
I searched the pocket again, and pulled out a ring.
Evidently he had thrust these two things there when he saw me pursuing him, and had forgotten or neglected them in the heat of the mêlée.
I looked at it close. It was the very ring I had noticed on his finger while he was playing Swedish poker. It had a large compound gem in the centre, set with many facets, and rising like a pyramid to a point in the middle. There were eight faces in all, some of them composed of emerald, amethyst, or turquoise. But one face—the one that turned at a direct angle towards the wearer's eye— was nota gem at all, but an extremely tiny convex mirror. In a moment I spotted the trick. He held this hand carelessly on the table while my brother-in-law dealt; and when he saw that the suit and number of his own card mirrored in it by means of the squeezers were better than Charles's, he had "an inspiration," and backed his luck—or rather his knowledge—with perfect confidence. I did not doubt, either, that his odd-looking eyeglass was a powerful magnifier which helped him in the trick. Still, we tried another deal, by way of experiment—I wearing the ring; and even with the naked eye I was able to distinguish in every case the suit and pips of the card that was dealt me.
"Why, that was almost dishonest," the Senator said, drawing back. He wished to show us that even far-Western speculators drew a line somewhere.
"Y es," the magazine editor echoed. "To back your skill is legal; to back your luck is foolish; to back your knowledge is —" "Immoral," I suggested.
"Very good business," said the magazine editor.
"It's a simple trick," Charles interposed. "I should have spotted it if it had been done by any other fellow. But his patter about inspiration put me clean off the track. That's the rascal's dodge. He plays the regular conjurer's game of distracting your attention from the real point at issue—so well that you never find out what he's really about till he's sold you irretrievably."
We set the New Y police upon the trail of the Colonel;
ork but of course he had vanished at once, as usual, into the thin smoke of Manhattan. Not a sign could we find of him.
"Mary's," we found an insufficient address.
We waited on in New Y for a whole fortnight. Nothing ork came of it. We never found "Mary's." The only token of Colonel Clay's presence vouchsafed us in the city was one of his customary insulting notes. It was conceived as follows:— "O ETERNAL GULLIBLE!—Since I saw you on Lake George, I have run back to London, and promptly come out again. I had business to transact there, indeed, which I have now completed; the excessive attentions of the English police sent me once more, like great Orion, "sloping slowly to the west." I returned to America in order to see whether or not you were still impenitent. On the day of my arrival I happened to meet Senator Wrengold, and accepted his kind invitation solely that I might see how far my last communication had had a proper effect upon you. As I found you quite obdurate, and as you furthermore persisted in misunderstanding my motives, I determined to read you one more small lesson. It nearly failed; and I confess the accident has affected my nerves a little. I am now about to retire from business altogether, and settle down for life at my place in Surrey. I mean to try just one more small coup;
and, when that is finished, Colonel Clay will hang up his sword, like Cincinnatus, and take to farming. You need no longer fear me. I have realised enough to secure me for life a modest competence; and as I am not possessed like yourself with an immoderate greed of gain, I recognise that good citizenship demands of me now an early retirement in favour of some younger and more deserving rascal. I shall always look back with pleasure upon our agreeable adventures together;
and as you hold my dust-coat, together with a ring and letter to which I attach importance, I consider we are quits, and I shall withdraw with dignity. Your sincere well-wisher, CUTHBERT CLAY, Poet."
"Just like him!" Charles said, "to hold this one last coup over my head in terrorem. Though even when he has played it, why should I trust his word? A scamp like that may say it, of course, on purpose to disarm me."
For my own part, I quite agreed with "Margot." When the Colonel was reduced to dressing the part of a known personage I felt he had reached almost his last card, and would be well advised to retire into Surrey.
But the magazine editor summed up all in a word. "Don't believe that nonsense about fortunes being made by industry and ability," he said. "In life, as at cards, two things go to produce success—the first is chance; the second is cheating."
THE EPISODE OF THE
BERTILLON METHODWe had a terrible passage home from New Y ork. The Captain told us he "knew every drop of water in the Atlantic personally"; and he had never seen them so uniformly obstreperous. The ship rolled in the trough; Charles rolled in his cabin, and would not be comforted. As we approached the Irish coast, I scrambled up on deck in a violent gale, and retired again somewhat precipitately to announce to my brother-in-law that we had just come in sight of the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse. Charles merely turned over in his berth and groaned. "I don't believe it," he answered. "I expect it is probably Colonel Clay in another of his manifold disguises!" At Liverpool, however, the Adelphi consoled him. We dined luxuriously in the Louis Quinze restaurant, as only millionaires can dine, and proceeded next day by Pullman car to London.
We found Amelia dissolved in tears at a domestic cataclysm. It seemed that Césarine had given notice.
Charles was scarcely home again when he began to bethink him of the least among his investments. Like many other wealthy men, my respected connection is troubled more or less, in the background of his consciousness, by a pervading dread that he will die a beggar. To guard against this misfortune—which I am bound to admit nobody else fears for him—he invested, several years ago, a sum of two hundred thousand pounds in Consols, to serve as a nestegg in case of the collapse of Golcondas and South Africa generally. It is part of the same amiable mania, too, that he will not allow the dividend-warrants on this sum to be sent to him by post, but insists, after the fashion of old ladies and country parsons, upon calling personally at the Bank of England four times a year to claim his interest. He is well known by sight to not a few of the clerks; and his appearance in Threadneedle Street is looked forward to with great regularity within a few weeks of each lawful quarter-day.
So, on the morning after our arrival in town, Charles observed to me, cheerfully, "Sey, I must run into the City today to claim my dividends. There are two quarters owing."
I accompanied him in to the Bank. Even that mighty official, the beadle at the door, unfastened the handle of the millionaire's carriage. The clerk who received us smiled and nodded. "How much?" he asked, after the stereotyped fashion.
"Two hundred thousand," Charles answered, looking affable.
The clerk turned up the books. "Paid!" he said, with decision. "What's your game, sir, if I may ask you?" "Paid!" Charles echoed, drawing back.
The clerk gazed across at him. "Y Sir Charles," he es, answered, in a somewhat severe tone. "Y ou must remember you drew a quarter's dividend from myself—last week—at this very counter."
Charles stared at him fixedly. "Show me the signature," he said at last, in a slow, dazed fashion. I suspected mischief.
The clerk pushed the book across to him. Charles examined the name close.
"Colonel Clay again!" he cried, turning to me with a despondent air. "He must have dressed the part. I shall die in the workhouse, Sey! That man has stolen away even my nest-egg from me."
I saw it at a glance. "Mrs. Quackenboss!" I put in. "Those portraits on the Etruria! It was to help him in his make-up!
Y recollect, she sketched your face and figure at all ou possible angles."
"And last quarter's?" Charles inquired, staggering.
The clerk turned up the entry. "Drawn on the 10th of July," he answered, carelessly, as if it mattered nothing.
Then I knew why the Colonel had run across to England.
Charles positively reeled. "Take me home, Sey," he cried. "I am ruined, ruined! He will leave me with not half a million in the world. My poor, poor boys will beg their bread, unheeded, through the streets of London!" (As Amelia has landed estate settled upon her worth a hundred and fifty thousand pounds, this last contingency affected me less to tears than Charles seemed to think necessary.) We made all needful inquiries, and put the police upon the quest at once, as always. But no redress was forthcoming. The money, once paid, could not be recovered. It is a playful little privilege of Consols that the Government declines under any circumstances to pay twice over. Charles drove back to Mayfair a crushed and broken man. I think if Colonel Clay himself could have seen him just then, he would have pitied that vast intellect in its grief and bewilderment.
After lunch, however, my brother-in-law's natural buoyancy reasserted itself by degrees. He rallied a little.
"Seymour," he said to me, "you've heard, of course, of the Bertillon system of measuring and registering criminals."
"I have," I answered. "And it's excellent as far as it goes.
But, like Mrs. Glasse's jugged hare, it all depends upon the initial step. 'First catch your criminal.' Now, we have never caught Colonel Clay—" "Or, rather," Charles interposed unkindly, "when you did catch him, you didn't hold him."
I ignored the unkindly suggestion, and continued in the same voice, "We have never secured Colonel Clay; and until we secure him, we cannot register him by the Bertillon method. Besides, even if we had once caught him and duly noted the shape of his nose, his chin, his ears, his forehead, of what use would that be against a man who turns up with a fresh face each time, and can mould his features into what form he likes, to deceive and foil us?" "Never mind, Sey," my brother-in-law said. "I was told in New Y that Dr. Frank Beddersley, of London, was the ork best exponent of the Bertillon system now living in England;
and to Beddersley I shall go. Or, rather, I'll invite him here to lunch to-morrow."
"Who told you of him?" I inquired. "Not Dr. Quackenboss, I hope; nor yet Mr. Algernon Coleyard?" Charles paused and reflected. "No, neither of them," he answered, after a short internal deliberation. "It was that magazine editor chap we met at Wrengold's."
"He's all right," I said; "or, at least, I think so."
So we wrote a polite invitation to Dr. Beddersley, who pursued the method professionally, asking him to come and lunch with us at Mayfair at two next day.
Dr. Beddersley came—a dapper little man, with penthouse eyebrows, and keen, small eyes, whom I suspected at sight of being Colonel Clay himself in another of his clever polymorphic embodiments. He was clear and concise. His manner was scientific. He told us at once that though the Bertillon method was of little use till the expert had seen the criminal once, yet if we had consulted him earlier he might probably have saved us some serious disasters. "A man so ingenious as this," he said, "would no doubt have studied Bertillon's principles himself, and would take every possible means to prevent recognition by them.
Therefore, you might almost disregard the nose, the chin, the moustache, the hair, all of which are capable of such easy alteration. But there remain some features which are more likely to persist—height, shape of head, neck, build, and fingers; the timbre of the voice, the colour of the iris.
Even these, again, may be partially disguised or concealed; the way the hair is dressed, the amount of padding, a high collar round the throat, a dark line about the eyelashes, may do more to alter the appearance of a face than you could readily credit."
"So we know," I answered.
"The voice, again," Dr. Beddersley continued. "The voice itself may be most fallacious. The man is no doubt a clever mimic. He could, perhaps, compress or enlarge his larynx.
And I judge from what you tell me that he took characters each time which compelled him largely to alter and modify his tone and accent."
"Yes," I said. "As the Mexican Seer, he had of course a Spanish intonation. As the little curate, he was a cultivated North-countryman. As David Granton, he spoke gentlemanly Scotch. As Von Lebenstein, naturally, he was a South-German, trying to express himself in French. As Professor Schleiermacher, he was a North-German speaking broken English. As Elihu Quackenboss, he had a fine and pronounced Kentucky flavour. And as the poet, he drawled after the fashion of the clubs, with lingering remnants of a Devonshire ancestry."
"Quite so," Dr. Beddersley answered. "That is just what I should expect. Now, the question is, do you know him to be one man, or is he really a gang? Is he a name for a syndicate? Have you any photographs of Colonel Clay himself in any of his disguises?" "Not one," Charles answered. "He produced some himself, when he was Medhurst the detective. But he pocketed them at once; and we never recovered them."
"Could you get any?" the doctor asked. "Did you note the name and address of the photographer?" "Unfortunately, no," Charles replied. "But the police at Nice showed us two. Perhaps we might borrow them."
"Until we get them," Dr. Beddersley said, "I don't know that we can do anything. But if you can once give me two distinct photographs of the real man, no matter how much disguised, I could tell you whether they were taken from one person; and, if so, I think I could point out certain details in common which might aid us to go upon."
All this was at lunch. Amelia's niece, Dolly Lingfield, was there, as it happened; and I chanced to note a most guilty look stealing over her face all the while we were talking.