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"The absent-minded coterie"

  from _The triumphs of Eugene Valmont_ (1906)

     by Robert Barr



SOME years ago I enjoyed the unique experience of
pursuing a man for one crime, and getting evidence
against him of another.  He was innocent of the
misdemeanor, the proof of which I sought, but
was guilty of another most serious offense, yet he
and his confederates escaped scot-free in
circumstances which I now purpose to relate.

  You may remember that in Rudyard Kipling's story,
"Bedalia Herodsfoot," the unfortunate woman's
husband ran the risk of being arrested as a simple
drunkard, at a moment when the blood of murder was
upon his boots.  The case of Ralph Summertrees was
rather the reverse of this.  The English
authorities were trying to fasten upon him a crime
almost as important as murder, while I was
collecting evidence which proved him guilty of an
action much more momentous than that of

  The English authorities have always been good
enough, when they recognize my existence at all, to
look down upon me with amused condescension.  If
to-day you ask Spenser Hale, of Scotland Yard, what
he thinks of Eugene Valmont, that complacent man
will put on the superior smile which so well
becomes him, and if you are a very intimate friend
of his, he may draw down the lid of his right eye
as he replies:
  "Oh, yes; a very decent fellow, Valmont, but he's
a Frenchman!" as if, that said, there was no need
of further inquiry.

  Myself, I like the English detective very much,
and if I were to be in a melee to-morrow, there is
no man I would rather find beside me than Spenser
Hale.  In any situation where a fist that can fell
an ox is desirable, my friend Hale is a useful
companion, but for intellectuality, mental acumen,
finesse--ah, well!  I am the most modest of men,
and will say nothing.

  It would amuse you to see this giant come into my
room during an evening, on the bluff pretense that
he wishes to smoke a pipe with me.  There is the
same difference between this good-natured giant and
myself as exists between that strong black pipe of
his and my delicate cigarette, which I smoke
feverishly, when he is present, to protect myself
from the fumes of his terrible tobacco.  I look
with delight upon the huge man, who, with an air of
the utmost good humor, and a twinkle in his eye as
he thinks he is twisting me about his finger,
vainly endeavors to obtain a hint regarding
whatever case is perplexing him at that moment.  I
baffle him with the ease that an active greyhound
eludes the pursuit of a heavy mastiff, then at last
I say to him, with a laugh:
  "Come, mon ami Hale, tell me all about it, and I
will help you if I can."

  Once or twice at the beginning he shook his
massive head, and replied the secret was not his. 
The last time he did this I assured him that what
he said was quite correct, and then I related full
particulars of the situation in which he found
himself, excepting the names, for these he had not
mentioned.  I had pieced together his perplexity
from scraps of conversation in his half-hour's
fishing for my advice, which, of course, he could
have had for the plain asking.  Since that time he
has not come to me except with cases he feels at
liberty to reveal, and one or two complications I
have happily been enabled to unravel for him.

  But, stanch as Spenser Hale holds the belief that
no detective service on earth can excel that
centering in Scotland Yard, there is one department
of activity in which even he confesses that
Frenchmen are his masters, although he somewhat
grudgingly qualifies his admission, by adding that
we in France are constantly allowed to do what is
prohibited in England.  I refer to the minute
search of a house during the owner's absence.  If
you read that excellent story entitled "The
Purloined Letter," by Edgar Allan Poe, you will
find a record of the kind of thing I mean, which is
better than any description I, who have so often
taken part in such a search, can set down.

  Now, these people among whom I live are proud of
their phrase, "The Englishman's house is his
castle," and into that castle even a policeman
cannot penetrate without a legal warrant.  This may
be all very well in theory, but if you are
compelled to march up to a man's house, blowing a
trumpet and rattling a snare drum, you need not be
disappointed if you fail to find what you are in
search of when all the legal restrictions are
complied with.  Of course, the English are a very
excellent people, a fact to which I am always proud
to bear testimony, but it must be admitted that for
cold common sense the French are very much their
superiors.  In Paris, if I wish to obtain an
incriminating document, I do not send the possessor
a carte postale to inform him of my desire, and in
this procedure the French people sanely acquiesce. 
I have known men who, when they go out to send an
evening on the boulevards, toss their bunch of keys
to the concierge, saying:
  "If you hear the police rummaging about while I'm
away, pray assist them, with an expression of my
distinguished consideration."

  I remember, while I was chief detective in the
service of the French Government, being requested
to call at a certain hour at the private hotel of
the Minister for Foreign Affairs.  It was during
the time that Bismarck meditated a second attack
upon my country, and I am happy to say that I was
instrumental in supplying the Secret Bureau with
documents which mollified that iron man's purpose,
a fact which I think entitled me to my country's
gratitude, not that I ever even hinted such a claim
when a succeeding ministry forgot my services.  The
memory of a republic, as has been said by a greater
man than I, is short.  However, all that has
nothing to do with the incident I am about to
relate.  I merely mention the crisis to excuse a
momentary forgetfulness on my part which in any
country might have been followed by serious results
to myself.  But in France--ah, we understand those
things, and nothing happened.

  I am the last person in the world to give myself
away, as they say in the great West.  I am usually
the calm, collected Eugene Valmont whom nothing can
perturb, but this was a time of great tension, and
I had become absorbed. I was alone with the
minister in his private house, and one of the
papers he wished was in his bureau at the Ministry
for Foreign Affairs; at least, he thought so, and
 "Ah! it is in my desk a the bureau.  How annoying! 
I must send for it!"

  "No, Excellency," I cried, springing up in a
self-oblivion the most complete; "it is here." 
Touching the spring of a secret drawer, I opened
it, and taking out the document he wished, handed
it to him.

  It was not until I met his searching look, and
saw the faint smile on his lips, that I realized
what I had done.

  "Valmont," he said quietly, "on whose behalf did
you search my house?"

  "Excellency," I replied in tones no less
agreeable than his own, "to-night at your orders I
pay a domiciliary visit to the mansion of Baron
Dumoulaine, who stands high in the estimation of
the President of the French Republic.  If either of
those distinguished gentlemen should learn of my
informal call, and should ask me in whose interests
I made the domiciliary visit, what is it you wish
that I should reply?"

  "You should reply, Valmont, that you did it in
the interests of the Secret Service."

  "I shall not fail to do so, Excellency, and in
answer to your question just now, I had the honor
of searching this mansion in the interests of the
Secret Service of France."

  The Minister for Foreign Affairs laughed; a
hearty laugh that expressed no resentment.

  "I merely wished to compliment you, Valmont, on
the efficiency of your search and the excellence of
your memory.  This is indeed the document which I
thought was left in my office."

  I wonder what Lord Lansdowne would say if Spenser
Hale showed an equal familiarity with his private
papers!  But now that we have returned to our good
friend Hale, we must not keep him waiting any



I WELL remember the November day when I first heard
of the Summertrees case, because there hung over
London a fog so thick that two or three times I
lost my way, and no cab was to be had at any price. 
The few cabmen then in the streets were leading
their animals slowly along, making for their
stables.  It was one of those depressing London
days which filled me with ennui and a yearning for
my own clear city of Paris, where, if we are ever
visited by a slight mist, it is at least clean,
white vapor, and not this horrible London mixture
saturated with suffocating carbon.  The fog was too
thick for any passer to read the contents bills of
the newspapers plastered on the pavement, and as
there were probably no races that day the newsboys
were shouting what they considered the next most
important event--the election of an American
President.  I bought a paper and thrust it into my
pocket.  It was late when I reached my flat, and,
after dining there, which was an unusual thing for
me to do, I put on my slippers, took an easy-chair
before the fire, and began to read my evening
journal.  I was distressed to learn that the
eloquent Mr. Bryan had been defeated.  I knew
little about the silver question, but the man's
oratorical powers had appealed to me, and my
sympathy was aroused because he owned many silver
mines, and yet the price of the metal was so low
that apparently he could not make a living through
the operation of them.  But, of course, the cry
that he was a plutocrat, and a reputed millionaire
over and over again, was bound to defeat him in a
democracy where the average voter is exceedingly
poor and not comfortably well-to-do, as is the
case with our peasants in France.  I always took
great interest in the affairs of the huge republic
to the west, having been at some pains to inform
myself accurately regarding its politics; and
although, as my readers know, I seldom quote
anything complimentary that is said of me,
nevertheless, an American client of mine once
admitted that he never knew the true inwardness--I
think that was the phrase he used--of American
politics until he heard me discourse upon them. 
But then, he added, he had been a very busy man all
his life.

  I had allowed my paper to slip to the floor, for
in very truth the fog was penetrating even into my
flat, and it was becoming difficult to read,
notwithstanding the electric light.  My man came
in, and announced that Mr. Spenser Hale wished to
see me, and, indeed, any night, but especially when
there is rain or fog outside, I am more pleased to
talk with a friend than to read a newspaper.

  "Mon Dieu, my dear Monsieur Hale, it is a brave
man you are to venture out in such a fog as is
abroad to-night."

  "Ah, Monsieur Valmont," said Hale with pride,
"you cannot raise a fog like this in Paris!"

  "No.  There you are supreme," I admitted, rising
and saluting my visitor, then offering him a chair.

  "I see you are reading the latest news," he said,
indicating my newspaper.  "I am very glad that man
Bryan is defeated.  Now we shall have better

  I waved my hand as I took my chair again.  I will
discuss many things with Spenser Hale, but not
American politics; he does not understand them.  It
is a common defect of the English to suffer
complete ignorance regarding the internal affairs
of other countries.

  "It is surely an important thing that brought you
out on such a night as this.  The fog must be very
thick in Scotland Yard."

  This delicate shaft of fancy completely missed
him, and he answered stolidly:
  "It's thick all over London, and, indeed,
throughout most of England."

  "Yes, it is," I agreed, but he did not see that

  Still, a moment later, he made a remark which, if
it had come from some people I know, might have
indicated a glimmer of comprehension.

  "You are a very, very clever man, Monsieur
Valmont, so all I need say is that the question
which brought me here is the same as that on which
the American election was fought.  Now, to a
countryman, I should be compelled to give further
explanation, but to you, monsieur, that will not be

  There are times when I dislike the crafty smile
and partial closing of the eyes which always
distinguishes Spenser Hale when he places on the
table a problem which he expects will baffle me. 
If I said he never did baffle me, I would be wrong,
of course, for sometimes the utter simplicity of
the puzzles which trouble him leads me into an
intricate involution entirely unnecessary in the

  I pressed my finger tips together, and gazed for
a few moments at the ceiling.  Hale had lit his
black pipe, and my silent servant placed at his
elbow the whisky and soda, then tiptoed out of the
room.  As the door closed my eyes came from the
ceiling to the level of Hale's expansive

  "Have they eluded you?" I asked quietly.


  "The coiners."

  Hale's pipe dropped from his jaw, but he managed
to catch it before it reached the floor.  Then he
took a gulp from the tumbler.

  "That was just a lucky shot," he said.

  "Parfaitement," I replied carelessly.

  "Now, own up, Valmont, wasn't it?"

  I shrugged my shoulders.  A man cannot contradict
a guest in his own house.

  "Oh, stow that!" cried Hale impolitely.  He is a
trifle prone to strong and even slangy expressions
when puzzled.  "Tell me how you guessed it."

  "It is very simple, mon ami.  The question on
which the American election was fought is the price
of silver, which is so low that it has ruined Mr.
Bryan, and threatens to ruin all the farmers of the
West who possess silver mines on their farms. 
Silver troubled America, ergo silver troubles
Scotland Yard.

  "Very well; the natural inference is that some
one has stolen bars of silver.  But such a theft
happened three months ago, when the metal was being
unloaded from a German steamer at Southampton, and
my dear friend Spenser Hale ran down the thieves
very cleverly as they were trying to dissolve the
marks off the bars with acid.  Now crimes do not
run in series, like the numbers in roulette at
Monte Carlo.  The thieves are men of brains.  They
say to themselves,  What chance is there
successfully to steal bars of silver while Mr.
Hale is at Scotland Yard?'  Eh, my good friend?"

  "Really, Valmont," said Hale, taking another sip,
"sometimes you almost persuade me that you have
reasoning powers."

  "Thanks, comrade.  Then it is not a theft of
silver we have now to deal with.  But the American
election was fought on the price of silver.  If
silver had been high in cost, there would have been
no silver question.  So the crime that is bothering
you arises through the low price of silver, and
this suggests that it must be a case of illicit
coinage, for there the low price of the metal comes
in.  You have, perhaps, found a more subtle
illegitimate act going forward than heretofore. 
Some one is making your shillings and your half
crowns from real silver, instead of from baser
metal, and yet there is a large profit which has
not hitherto been possible through the high price
of silver.  With the old conditions you were
familiar, but this new element sets at naught all
your previous formulas.  That is how I reasoned the
matter out."

  "Well, Valmont, you have hit it, I'll say that
for you; you have hit it.  There is a gang of
expert coiners who are putting out real silver
money, and making a clear shilling on the half
crown.  We can find no trace of the coiners, but we
know the man who is shoving the stuff."

  "That ought to be sufficient," I suggested.

  "Yes, it should, but it hasn't proved so up to
date.  Now I came to-night to see if you would do
one of your French tricks for us, right on the

  "What French trick, Monsieur Spenser Hale?"  I
inquired with some asperity, forgetting for the
moment that the man invariably became impolite when
he grew excited.

  "No offense intended," said this blundering
officer, who really is a good-natured fellow, but
always puts his foot in it, and then apologizes. 
"I want some one to go through a man's house
without a search warrant, spot the evidence, let me
know, and then we'll rush the place before he has
time to hide his tracks."

  "Who is this man, and where does he live?"

  "His name is Ralph Summertrees, and he lives in a
very natty little bijou residence, as the
advertisements call it, situated in no less a
fashionable street than Park Lane."

  "I see.  What has aroused your suspicions against

  "Well, you know, that's an expensive district to
live in; it takes a bit of money to do the trick. 
This Summertrees has no ostensible business, yet
every Friday he goes to the United Capital Bank in
Piccadilly, and deposits a bag of swag, usually all
silver coin."

  "Yes; and this money?"

  "This money, so far as we can learn, contains a
good many of these new pieces which never saw the
British Mint."

  "It's not all the new coinage, then?"

  "Oh, no, he's a bit too artful for that!  You
see, a man can go round London, his pockets filled
with new-coined five-shilling pieces, buy this,
that, and the other, and come home with his change
in legitimate coins of the realm--half crowns,
florins, shillings, sixpences, and all that."

  "I see.  Then why don't you nab him one day when
his pockets are stuffed with illegitimate
five-shilling pieces?"

  "That could be done, of course, and I've thought
of it, but, you see, we want to land the whole
gang.  Once we arrested him without knowing where
the money came from, the real coiners would take

  "How do you know he is not the real coiner

  Now poor Hale is as easy to read as a book.  He
hesitated before answering this question, and
looked confused as a culprit caught in some
dishonest act.

  "You need not be afraid to tell me," I said
soothingly, after a pause.  "You have had one of
your men in Mr. Summertrees's house, and so learned
that he is not the coiner.  But your man has not
succeeded in getting you evidence to incriminate
other people."

  "You've about hit it again, Monsieur Valmont. 
One of my men has been Summertrees's butler for two
weeks, but, as you say, he has found no evidence."

  "Is he still butler?"


  "Now tell me how far you have got.  You know
that Summertrees deposits a bag of coin every
Friday in the Piccadilly Bank, and I suppose the
bank has allowed you to examine one or two of the

  "Yes, sir, they have, but, you see, banks are
very difficult to treat with.  They don't like
detectives bothering round, and while they do not
stand out against the law, still they never answer
any more questions than they're asked, and Mr.
Summertrees has been a good customer at the United
Capital for many years."

  "Haven't you found out where the money comes

  "Yes, we have; it is brought there night after
night by a man who looks like a respectable city
clerk, and he puts it into a large safe, of which
he holds the key, this safe being on the ground
floor, in the dining room."

  "Haven't you followed the clerk?"

  "Yes.  He sleeps in the Park Lane house every
night and goes up in the morning to an old
curiosity shop in Tottenham Court Road, where he
stays all day, returning with his bag of money in
the evening."

  "Why don't you arrest and question him?"

  "Well, Monsieur Valmont, there is just the same
objection to his arrest as to that of Summertrees
himself.  We could easily arrest both, but we have
not the slightest evidence against either of them,
and then, although we put the go-betweens in clink,
the worst criminals of the lot would escape."

  "Nothing suspicious about the old curiosity

  "No.  It appears to be perfectly regular."

  "This game has been going on under your noses for
how long?"

  "For about six weeks."

  "Is Summertrees a married man?"


  "Are there any women servants in the house?"

  "No, except that three charwomen come in every
morning to do up the rooms."

  "Of what is his household comprised?"

  "There is the butler, then the valet, and last
the French cook."

  "Ah," cried I, "the French cook!  This case
interests me.  So Summertrees has succeeded in
completely disconcerting your man?  Has he
prevented him going from top to bottom of the

  "Oh, no!  He has rather assisted him than
otherwise.  On one occasion he went to the safe,
took out the money, had Podgers--that's my chap's
name--help him to count it, and then actually sent
Podgers to the bank with the bag of coin."

  "And Podgers has been all over the place?"


  Saw no signs of a coining establishment?" 

  "No.  It is absolutely impossible that any
coining can be done there.  Besides, as I tell you,
that respectable clerk brings him the money."

  "I suppose you want me to take Podgers's

  "Well, Monsieur Valmont, to tell you the truth, I
would rather you didn't.  Podgers has done
everything a man can do, but I thought if you got
into the house, Podgers assisting, you might go
through it night after night at your leisure."

  "I see.  That's just a little dangerous in
England.  I think I should prefer to assure myself
the legitimate standing of being amiable Podgers's
successor.  You say that Summertrees has no

  "Well, sir, not what you might call a business. 
He is by way of being an author, but I don't count
that any business."

  "Oh, an author, is he?  When does he do his

  "He locks himself up most of the day in his

  "Does he come out for lunch?"

  "No; he lights a little spirit lamp inside,
Podgers tells me, and makes himself a cup of
coffee, which he takes with a sandwich or two."

  "That's rather frugal fare for Park Lane."

  "Yes, Monsieur Valmont, it is, but he makes it up
in the evening, when he has a long dinner, with all
them foreign kickshaws you people like, done by his
French cook."

  "Sensible man!  Well, Hale, I see I shall look
forward with pleasure to making the acquaintance of
Mr. Summertrees.  Is there any restriction on the
going and coming of your man Podgers? "

  "None in the least.  He can get away either night
or day."

  "Very good, friend Hale; bring him here
to-morrow, as soon as our author locks himself up
in his study, or rather, I should say, as soon as
the respectable clerk leaves for Tottenham Court
Road, which I should guess, as you put it, is about
half an hour after his master turns the key of the
room in which he writes."

  "You are quite right in that guess, Valmont.  How
did you hit it?"

  "Merely a surmise, Hale.  There is a good deal of
oddity about that Park Lane house, so it doesn't
surprise me in the least that the master gets to
work earlier in the morning than the man.  I have
also a suspicion that Ralph Summertrees knows
perfectly well what the estimable Podgers is there

  "What makes you think that?"

  "I can give no reason except that my opinion of
the acuteness of Summertrees has been gradually
rising all the while you were speaking, and at the
same time my estimate of Podgers's craft has been
as steadily declining.  However, bring the man here
to-morrow, that I may ask him a few questions."



NEXT day, about eleven o'clock, the ponderous
Podgers, hat in hand, followed his chief into my
room.  His broad, impassive, immobile, smooth face
gave him rather more the air of a genuine butler
than I had expected, and this appearance, of
course, was enhanced by his livery.  His replies to
my questions were those of a well-trained servant
who will not say too much unless it is made worth
his while.  All in all, Podgers exceeded my
expectations, and really my friend Hale had some
justification for regarding him, as he evidently
did, a triumph in his line.

  "Sit down, Mr. Hale, and you, Podgers."

  The man disregarded my invitation, standing like
a statue until his chief made a motion; then he
dropped into a chair.  The English are great on

  "Now, Mr. Hale, I must first congratulate you on
the make-up of Podgers.  It is excellent.  You
depend less on artificial assistance than we do in
France, and in that I think you are right."

  "Oh, we know a bit over here, Monsieur Valmont!"
said Hale, with pardonable pride.

  "Now then, Podgers, I want to ask you about this
clerk.  What time does he arrive in the evening?"

  "At prompt six, sir."

  "Does he ring, or let himself in with a

  "With a latchkey, sir."

  "How does he carry the money?"

  "In a little locked leather satchel, sir, flung
over his shoulder."

  "Does he go direct to the dining room?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Have you seen him unlock the safe, and put in
the money?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Does the safe unlock with a word or a key?"

  "With a key, sir.  It s one of the old-fashioned

  "Then the clerk unlocks his leather money bag?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "That's three keys used within as many minutes.
Are they separate or in a bunch?"

  "In a bunch, sir."

  "Did you ever see your master with this bunch of

  "No, sir."

  "You saw him open the safe once, I am told?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Did he use a separate key, or one of a bunch?"

  Podgers slowly scratched his head, then said:
  "I don't just remember, sir."

  "Ah, Podgers, you are neglecting the big things
in that house!  Sure you can't remember?"

  "No, sir."

  "Once the money is in and the safe locked up,
what does the clerk do? "

  "Goes to his room, sir."

  "Where is this room?"

  "On the third floor, sir."

  "Where do you sleep?"

  "On the fourth floor with the rest of the
servants, sir."

  "Where does the master sleep?"

  "On the second floor, adjoining his study."

  "The house consists of four stories and a
basement, does it?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "I have somehow arrived at the suspicion that it
is a very narrow house.  Is that true?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Does the clerk ever dine with your master?"

  "No, sir.  The clerk don't eat in the house at
all, sir."

  "Does he go away before breakfast?"

  "No, sir."

  "No one takes breakfast to his room?"

  "No, sir."

  "What time does he leave the house?"

  "At ten o'clock, sir."

  "When is breakfast served?"

  "At pine o'clock, sir."

  "At what hour does your master retire to his

  "At half past nine, sir."

  "Locks the door on the inside?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Never rings for anything during the day?"

  "Not that I know of, sir."

  "What sort of a man is he?"

  Here Podgers was on familiar ground, and he
rattled off a description minute in every

  "What I meant was, Podgers, is he silent, or
talkative, or does he get angry?  Does he seem
furtive, suspicious, anxious, terrorized, calm,
excitable, or what?"

  "Well, sir, he is by way of being very quiet,
never has much to say for hisself; never saw him
angry or excited."

  "Now, Podgers, you've been at Park Lane for a
fortnight or more.  You are a sharp, alert,
observant man.  What happens there that strikes you
as unusual?"

  "Well, I can't exactly say, sir," replied
Podgers, looking rather helplessly from his chief
to myself, and back again.

  "Your professional duties have often compelled
you to enact the part of butler before, otherwise
you wouldn't do it so well.  Isn't that the case?"

  Podgers did not reply, but glanced at his chief. 
This was evidently a question pertaining to the
service, which a subordinate was not allowed to
answer.  However, Hale said at once:
  "Certainly.  Podgers has been in dozens of

  "Well, Podgers, just call to mind some of the
other households where you have been employed, and
tell me any particulars in which Mr. Summertree's
 establishment differs from them."

  Podgers pondered a long time.

  "Well, sir, he do stick to writing pretty close."

  "Ah, that's his profession, you see, Podgers. 
Hard at it from half past nine till toward seven, I

  "Yes, sir."

  "Anything else, Podgers?  No matter how trivial."

  "Well, sir, he's fond of reading, too; leastways,
he's fond of newspapers."

  "When does he read?"

  "I never seen him read 'em, sir; indeed, so far
as I can tell, I never knew the papers to be
opened, but he takes them all in, sir."

  "What, all the morning papers?"

  "Yes, sir, and all the evening papers, too."

  "Where are the morning papers placed?"

  "On the table in his study, sir."

  "And the evening papers?"

  "Well, sir, when the evening papers come, the
study is locked.  They are put on a side table in
the dining room, and he takes them upstairs with
him to his study."

  "This has happened every day since you've been

  "Yes, sir."

  "You reported that very striking fact to your
chief, of course?"

  "No, sir,.  I don't think I did," said Podgers

  "You should have done so.  Mr. Hale would have
known how to make the most of a point so vital."

  "Oh, come now, Valmont," interrupted Hale,
"you're chaffing us!  Plenty of people take in all
the papers!"

  "I think not.  Even clubs and hotels subscribe to
the leading journals only.  You said all, I think,

  "Well, nearly all, sir."

  "But which is it?  There's a vast difference."

  "He takes a good many, sir."

  "How many?"

  "I don't just know, sir."

  "That's easily found out, Valmont," cried Hale,
with some impatience, "if you think it really

  "I think it so important that I'm going back with
Podgers myself.  You can take me into the house, I
suppose, when you return?"

  "Oh, yes, sir!"

  "Coming back to these newspapers for a moment,
Podgers.  What is done with them?"

  "They are sold to the ragman, sir, once a week."

  "Who takes them from the study?"

  "I do sir."

  "Do they appear to have been read very

  "Well, no, sir; leastways, some of them seem
never to have been opened, or else folded up very
carefully again."

  "Did you notice that extracts have been clipped
from any of them?"

  "No, sir."

  "Does Mr. Summertrees keep a scrapbook?"

  "Not that I know of, sir."

  "Oh, the case is perfectly plain!" said I,
leaning back in my chair, and regarding the puzzled
Hale with that cherubic expression of
self-satisfaction which I know is so annoying to

  "What's perfectly plain?" he demanded, more
gruffly perhaps than etiquette would have

  "Summertrees is no coiner, nor is he linked with
any band of coiners."

  "What is he, then?"

  "Ah, that opens another avenue of inquiry!  For
all I know to the contrary, he may be the most
honest of men.  On the surface it would appear that
he is a reasonably industrious tradesman in
Tottenham Court Road, who is anxious that there
should be no visible connection between a plebeian
employment and so aristocratic a residence as that
in Park Lane."

  At this point Spenser Hale gave expression to one
of those rare flashes of reason which are always an
astonishment to his friends.

  "That is nonsense, Monsieur Valmont," he said;
"the man who is ashamed of the connection between
his business and his house is one who is trying to
get into society, or else the women of his family
are trying it, as is usually the case.  Now
Summertrees has no family.  He himself goes
nowhere, gives no entertainments, and accepts no
invitations.  He belongs to no club; therefore,
to say that he is ashamed of his connection with
the Tottenham Court Road shop is absurd.  He is
concealing the connection for some other reason
that will bear looking into."

  "My dear Hale, the Goddess of Wisdom herself
could not have made a more sensible series of
remarks.  Now, mon ami, do you want my assistance,
or have you enough to go on with?"

  "Enough to go on with?  We have nothing more
than we had when I called on you last night."

  "Last night, my dear Hale, you supposed this man
was in league with coiners.  To-day you know he is

  "I know you say he is not."

  I shrugged my shoulders, and raised my eyebrows,
smiling at him.

  "It is the same thing, Monsieur Hale."

  "Well, of all the conceited--" and the good Hale
could get no farther.

  "If you wish my assistance, it is yours."

  "Very good.  Not to put too fine a point upon it,
I do."

  "In that case, my dear Podgers, you will return
to the residence of our friend Summertrees, and get
together for me in a bundle all of yesterday's
morning and evening papers that were delivered to
the house.  Can you do that, or are they mixed up
in a heap in the coal cellar?"

  "I can do it, sir.  I have instructions to place
each day's papers in a pile by itself in case they
should be wanted again.  There is always one week's
supply in the cellar, and we sell the papers of the
week before to the ragman."

  "Excellent.  Well, take the risk of abstracting
one day's journals, and have them ready for me.  I
will call upon you at half past three o'clock
exactly, and then I want you to take me upstairs to
the clerk's bedroom in the third story, which I
suppose is not locked during the daytime?"

  "No, sir, it is not."

  With this the patient Podgers took his departure.
Spenser Hale rose when his assistant left.

  "Anything further I can do?" he asked.

  "Yes; give me the address of the shop in
Tottenham Court Road.  Do you happen to have about
you one of those new five-shilling pieces which you
believe to be illegally coined?"

  He opened his pocketbook, took out the bit of
white metal, and handed it to me.

  "I'm going to pass this off before evening," I
said, putting it in my pocket, "and I hope none of
your men will arrest me."

  "That's all right," laughed Hale as he took his

  At half past three Podgers was waiting for me,
and opened the front door as I came up the steps,
thus saving me the necessity of ringing.  The house
seemed strangely quiet.  The French cook was
evidently down in the basement, and we had probably
all the upper part to ourselves, unless Summertrees
was in his study, which I doubted.  Podgers led me
directly upstairs to the clerk's room on the third
floor, walking on tiptoe, with an elephantine air
of silence and secrecy combined, which struck me as

  "I will make an examination of this room," I
said.  "Kindly wait for me down by the door of the

  The bedroom proved to be of respectable size when
one considers the smallness of the house.  The bed
was all nicely made up, and there were two chairs
in the room, but the usual washstand and swing
mirror were not visible.  However, seeing a curtain
at the farther end of the room, I drew it aside,
and found, as I expected, a fixed lavatory in an
alcove of perhaps four feet deep by five in width. 
As the room was about fifteen feet wide, this left
two-thirds of the space unaccounted for.  A moment
later I opened a door which exhibited a closet
filled with clothes hanging on hooks.  This left a
space of five feet between the clothes closet
and the lavatory.  I thought at first that the
entrance to the secret stairway must have issued
from the lavatory, but examining the boards
closely, although they sounded hollow to the
knuckles, they were quite evidently plain match
boarding, and not a concealed door.  The entrance
to the stairway, therefore, must issue from the
clothes closet.  The right-hand wall proved similar
to the match boarding of the lavatory, so far as
the casual eye or touch was concerned, but I saw at
once it was a door.  The latch turned out to be
somewhat ingeniously operated by one of the hooks
which held a pair of old trousers.  I found that
the hook, if pressed upward, allowed the door to
swing outward, over the stairhead.  Descending to
the second floor, a similar latch let me into a
similar clothes closet in the room beneath.  The
two rooms were identical in size, one directly
above the other, the only difference being that
the lower-room door gave into the study, instead of
into the hall, as was the case with the upper

  The study was extremely neat, either not much
used, or the abode of a very methodical man.  There
was nothing on the table except a pile of that
morning's papers.  I walked to the farther end,
turned the key in the lock, and came out upon the
astonished Podgers.

  "Well, I'm blowed!" exclaimed he.

  "Quite so," I rejoined; "you've been tiptoeing
past an empty room for the last two weeks.  Now, if
you'll come with me, Podgers, I'll show you how the
trick is done."

  When he entered the study I locked the door once
more, and led the assumed butler, still tiptoeing
through force of habit, up the stair into the top
bedroom, and so out again, leaving everything
exactly as we found it.  We went down the main
stair to the front hall, and there Podgers had my
parcel of papers all neatly wrapped up.  This
bundle I carried to my flat, gave one of my
assistants some instructions, and left him at work
on the papers.



I TOOK a cab to the foot of Tottenham Court Road,
and walked up that street till I came to J.
Simpson's old curiosity shop.  After gazing at the
well-filled windows for some time, I stepped
inside, having selected a little iron crucifix
displayed behind the pane; the work of some ancient

  I knew at once from Podgers's description that I
was waited upon by the veritable respectable clerk
who brought the bag of money each night to Park
Lane, and who, I was certain, was no other than
Ralph Summertrees himself.

  There was nothing in his manner differing from
that of any other quiet salesman.  The price of the
crucifix proved to be seven-and-six, and I threw
down a sovereign to pay for it.

  "Do you mind the change all I silver, sir?" he
asked, and I answered without any eagerness,
although the question aroused a suspicion that had
begun to be allayed:
 "Not in the least."

  He gave me half a crown, three two-shilling
pieces, and four separate shillings, all coins
being well-worn silver of the realm, the undoubted
inartistic product of the reputable British Mint. 
This seemed to dispose of the theory that he was
palming off illegitimate money.  He asked me if I
were interested in any particular branch of
antiquity, and I replied that my curiosity was
merely general, and exceedingly amateurish,
whereupon he invited me to look around.  This I
proceeded to do, while he resumed the addressing
and stamping of some wrapped-up pamphlets which I
surmised to be copies of his catalogue.

  He made no attempt either to watch me or to press
his wares upon me.  I selected at random a little
inkstand, and asked its price.  It was two
shillings, he said, whereupon I produced my
fraudulent five-shilling piece.  He took it, gave
me the change without comment, and the last doubt
about his connection with coiners flickered from my

  At this moment a young man came in who, I saw
at once, was not a customer.  He walked briskly to
the farther end of the shop, and disappeared behind
a partition which had one pane of glass in it that
gave an outlook toward the front door.

  "Excuse me a moment," said the shopkeeper, and
he followed the young man into the private office.

  As I examined the curious heterogeneous
collection of things for sale, I heard the clink of
coins being poured out on the lid of a desk or an
uncovered table and the murmur of voices floated
out to me.  I was now near the entrance of the
shop, and by a sleight-of-hand trick, keeping the
corner of my eye on the glass pane of the private
office, I removed the key of the front door
without a sound, and took an impression of it in
wax, returning the key to its place unobserved.  At
this moment another young man came in, and walked
straight past me into the private office.  I heard
him say:
  "Oh, I beg pardon, Mr. Simpson!  How are you,

  "Hello, Macpherson," saluted Rogers, who then
came out, bidding good night to Mr. Simpson, and
departed, whistling, down the street, but not
before he had repeated his phrase to another young
man entering, to whom he gave the name of Tyrrel.

  I noted these three names in my mind.  Two others
came in together, but I was compelled to content
myself with memorizing their features, for I did
not learn their names.  These men were evidently
collectors, for I heard the rattle of money in
every case; yet here was a small shop, doing
apparently very little business, for I had been
within it for more than half an hour, and yet
remained the only customer.  If credit were given,
one collector would certainly have been sufficient,
yet five had come in, and had poured their
contributions into the pile Summertrees was to take
home with him that night.

  I determined to secure one of the pamphlets which
the man had been addressing.  They were piled on a
shelf behind the counter, but I had no difficulty
in reaching across and taking the one on top, which
I slipped into my pocket.  When the fifth young man
went down the street Summertrees himself emerged,
and this time he carried in his hand the
well-filled locked leather satchel, with the straps
dangling.  It was now approaching half past five,
and I saw he was eager to close up and get away.

  "Anything else you fancy, sir?" he asked me.

  "No, or, rather, yes and no.  You have a very
interesting collection here, but it's getting so
dark I can hardly see."

  "I close at half past five, sir."

  "Ah! in that case," I said, consulting my watch,
"I shall be pleased to call some other time."

  "Thank you, sir," replied Summertrees quietly,
and with that I took my leave.

  From the corner of an alley on the other side of
the street I saw him put up the shutters with his
own hands, then he emerged with overcoat on, and
the money satchel slung across his shoulder.  He
locked the door, tested it with his knuckles, and
walked down the street, carrying under one arm the
pamphlets he had been addressing.  I followed him
at some distance, saw him drop the pamphlets into
the box at the first post office he passed, and
walk rapidly toward his house in Park Lane.

  When I returned to my flat and called in my
assistant, he said:
  "After putting to one side the regular
advertisements of pills, soap, and what not, here
is the only one common to all the newspapers,
morning and evening alike.  The advertisements are
not identical, sir, but they have two points of
similarity, or perhaps I should say three.  They
all profess to furnish a cure for
absent-mindedness; they all ask that the
applicant's chief hobby shall be stated, and they
all bear the same address: Dr. Willoughby, in
Tottenham Court Road."

  "Thank you," said I, as he placed the scissored
advertisements before me.

  I read several of the announcements.  They were
all small, and perhaps that is why I had never
noticed one of them in the newspapers, for
certainly they were odd enough.  Some asked for
lists of absent-minded men, with the hobbies of
each, and for these lists, prizes of from one
shilling to six were offered.  In other clippings
Dr. Willoughby professed to be able to cure
absent-mindedness.  There were no fees and no
treatment, but a pamphlet would be sent, which, if
it did not benefit the receiver, could do no harm. 
The doctor was unable to meet patients personally,
nor could he enter into correspondence with them. 
The address was the same as that of the old
curiosity shop in Tottenham Court Road.  At this
juncture I pulled the pamphlet from my pocket, and
saw it was entitled, "Christian Science and
Absent-Mindedness," by Dr. Stamford Willoughby, and
at the end of the article was the statement
contained in the advertisements, that Dr.
Willoughby would neither see patients nor hold any
correspondence with them.

  I drew a sheet of paper toward me, wrote to Dr.
Willoughby, alleging that I was a very
absent-minded man, and would be glad of his
pamphlet, adding that my special hobby was the
collecting of first editions.  I then signed
myself, "Alport Webster, Imperial Flats,
London, W."

  I may here explain that it is often necessary for
me to see people under some other name than the
well-known appellation of Eugene Valmont.  There
are two doors to my flat, and on one of these is
painted, "Eugene Valmont"; on the other there is a
receptacle, into which can be slipped a sliding
panel bearing any nom de guerre I choose.  The same
device is arranged on the ground floor, where the
names of all the occupants of the building appear
on the right-hand wall.

  I sealed, addressed, and stamped my letter, then
told my man to put out the name of Alport Webster,
and if I did not happen to be in when anyone called
upon that mythical person, he was to make an
appointment for me.

  It was nearly six o'clock next afternoon when the
card of Angus Macpherson was brought in to Mr.
Alport Webster.  I recognized the young man at once
as the second who had entered the little shop,
carrying his tribute to Mr. Simpson the day before. 
He held three volumes under his arm, and spoke in
such a pleasant, insinuating sort of way, that I
knew at once he was an adept in his profession of

  "Will you be seated, Mr. Macpherson?  In what can
I serve you?"

  He placed the three volumes, backs upward, on my

  "Are you interested at all in first editions, Mr.

  "It is the one thing I am interested in," I
replied; "but unfortunately they often run into a
lot of money."

  "That is true," said Macpherson sympathetically,
"and I have here three books, one of which is an
exemplification of what you say.  This one costs a
hundred pounds.  The last copy that was sold by
auction in London brought a hundred and
twenty-three pounds.  This next one is forty
pounds, and the third ten pounds.  At these prices
I am certain you could not duplicate three such
treasures in any bookshop in Britain."

  I examined them critically, and saw at once that
what he said was true.  He was still standing on
the opposite side of the table.

  "Please take a chair, Mr. Macpherson.  Do you
mean to say you go round London with a hundred and
fifty pounds' worth of goods under your arm in this
careless way?"

  The young man laughed.

  "I run very little risk, Mr. Webster.  I don't
suppose anyone I meet imagines for a moment there
is more under my arm than perhaps a trio of volumes
I have picked up in the fourpenny box to take home
with me."

  I lingered over the volume for which he asked a
hundred pounds, then said, looking across at him:
  "How came you to be possessed of this book, for

  He turned upon me a fine, open countenance, and
answered without hesitation in the frankest
possible manner:
  "I am not in actual possession of it, Mr.
Webster.  I am by way of being a connoisseur in
rare and valuable books myself, although, of
course, I have little money with which to indulge
in the collection of them.  I am acquainted,
however, with the lovers of desirable books in
different quarters of London.  These three volumes,
for instance, are from the library of a private
gentleman in the West End.  I have sold many books
to him, and he knows I am trustworthy.  He wishes
to dispose of them at something under their real
value, and has kindly allowed me to conduct the
negotiations.  I make it my business to find out
those who are interested in rare books, and by such
trading I add considerably to my income."

  "How, for instance, did you learn that I was a

  Mr. Macpherson laughed genially.

  "Well, Mr. Webster, I must confess that I chanced
it.  I do that very often.  I take a flat like
this, and send in my card to the name on the door. 
If I am invited in, I ask the occupant the question
I asked you just now: 'Are you interested in rare
editions?'  If he says no, I simply beg pardon and
retire.  If he says yes, then I show my wares."

  "I see," said I, nodding.  What a glib young liar
he was, with that innocent face of his, and yet my
next question brought forth the truth.

  "As this is the first time you have called upon
me, Mr. Macpherson, you have no objection to my
making some further inquiry, I suppose.  Would you
mind telling me the name of the owner of these
books in the West End?"

  "His name is Mr. Ralph Summertrees, of Park

  "Of Park Lane?  Ah, indeed!"

  "I shall be glad to leave the books with you, Mr.
Webster, and if you care to make an appointment
with Mr. Summertrees, I am sure he will not object
to say a word in my favor."

  "Oh, I do not in the least doubt it, and should
not think of troubling the gentleman."

  "I was going to tell you," went on the young man,
"that I have a friend, a capitalist, who, in a way,
is my supporter; for, as I said, I have little
money of my own.  I find it is often inconvenient
for people to pay down any considerable sum.  When,
however, I strike a bargain, my capitalist buys the
books, and I make an arrangement with my customer
to pay a certain amount each week, and so even a
large purchase is not felt, as I make the
installments small enough to suit my client."

  "You are employed during the day, I take it?"

  "Yes, I am a clerk in the City."

  Again we were in the blissful realms of fiction!

  "Suppose I take this book at ten pounds, what
installments should I have to pay each week?"

  "Oh, what you like, sir.  Would five shillings be
too much?"

  "I think not."

  "Very well, sir; if you pay me five shillings
now, I will leave the book with you, and shall have
pleasure in calling this day week for the next

  I put my hand into my pocket, and drew out two
half crowns, which I passed over to him.

  "Do I need to sign any form or undertaking to pay
the rest?"

  The young man laughed cordially.

  "Oh, no, sir, there is no formality necessary. 
You see, sir, this is largely a labor of love with
me, although I don't deny I have my eye on the
future.  I am getting together what I hope will be
a very valuable connection with gentlemen like
yourself who are fond of books, and I trust some
day that I may be able to resign my place with the
insurance company and set up a choice little
business of my own, where my knowledge of values
in literature will prove useful."

  And then, after making a note in a little book he
took from his pocket, he bade me a most graceful
good-by and departed, leaving me cogitating over
what it all meant.

  Next morning two articles were handed to me.  The
first came by post and was a pamphlet on "Christian
Science and Absent-Mindedness," exactly similar to
the one I had taken away from the old curiosity
shop; the second was a small key made from my wax
impression that would fit the front door of the
same shop--a key fashioned by an excellent
anarchist friend of mine in an obscure street near

  That night at ten o'clock I was inside the old
curiosity shop, with a small storage battery in my
pocket, and a little electric glowlamp at my
buttonhole, a most useful instrument for either
burglar or detective.

  I had expected to find the books of the
establishment in a safe, which, if it was similar
to the one in Park Lane, I was prepared to open
with the false keys in my possession, or to take an
impression of the keyhole and trust to my anarchist
friend for the rest.  But to my amazement I
discovered all the papers pertaining to the concern
in a desk which was not even locked.  The books,
three in number, were the ordinary daybook,
journal, and ledger referring to the shop;
bookkeeping of the older fashion; but in a
portfolio lay half a dozen foolscap sheets, headed,
"Mr. Rogers's List," "Mr. Macpherson's," "Mr.
Tyrrel's," the names I had already learned, and
three others.  These lists contained in the
first column, names; in the second column,
addresses; in the third, sums of money; and then in
the small, square places following were amounts
ranging from two-and-sixpence to a pound.  At the
bottom of Mr. Macpherson's list was the name Alport
Webster, Imperial Flats, 10 pounds; then in the
small, square place, five shillings.  These six
sheets each headed by a canvasser's name, were
evidently the record of current collections, and
the innocence of the whole thing was so apparent
that, if it were not for my fixed rule never to
believe that I am at the bottom of any case until I
have come on something suspicious, I would have
gone out empty-handed as I came in.

  The six sheets were loose in a thin portfolio,
but standing on a shelf above the desk were a
number of fat volumes, one of which I took down,
and saw that it contained similar lists running
back several years.  I noticed on Mr. Macpherson's
current list the name of Lord Semptam, an eccentric
old nobleman whom I knew slightly.  Then turning to
the list immediately before the current one the
name was still there; I traced it back through list
after list until I found the first entry, which was
no less than three years previous, and there Lord
Semptam was down for a piece of furniture costing
fifty pounds, and on that account he had paid a
pound a week for more than three years, totaling a
hundred and seventy pounds at the least, and
instantly the glorious simplicity of the scheme
dawned upon me, and I became so interested in the
swindle that I lit the gas, fearing my little lamp
would be exhausted before my investigation ended,
for it promised to be a long one.

  In several instances the intended victim proved
shrewder than old Simpson had counted upon, and the
word "Settled" had been written on the line
carrying the name when the exact number of
installments was paid.  But as these shrewd persons
dropped out, others took their places, and
Simpson's dependence on their absent-mindedness
seemed to be justified in nine cases out of ten. 
His collectors were collecting long after the debt
had been paid.  In Lord Semptam's case, the payment
had evidently become chronic, and the old man was
giving away his pound a week to the suave
Macpherson two years after his debt had been

  From the big volume I detached the loose leaf,
dated 1893, which recorded Lord Semptam's purchase
of a carved table for fifty pounds, and on which he
had been paying a pound a week from that time to
the date of which I am writing, which was November,
1896.  This single document, taken from the file of
three years previous, was not likely to be missed,
as would have been the case if I had selected a
current sheet, I nevertheless made a copy of the
names and addresses of Macpherson's present
clients; then, carefully placing everything exactly
as I had found it, I extinguished the gas, and went
out of the shop, locking the door behind me.  With
the 1893 sheet in my pocket I resolved to prepare
a pleasant little surprise for my suave friend
Macpherson when he called to get his next
installment of five shillings.

  Late as was the hour when I reached Trafalgar
Square, I could not deprive myself of the felicity
of calling on Mr. Spenser Hale, who I knew was then
on duty.  He never appeared at his best during
office hours, because officialism stiffened his
stalwart frame.  Mentally he was impressed with the
importance of his position, and added to this he
was not then allowed to smoke his big black pipe
and terrible tobacco.  He received me with the
curtness I had been taught to expect when I
inflicted myself upon him at his office.  He
greeted me abruptly with:
  "I say, Valmont, how long do you expect to be on
this job?"

  "What job?" I asked mildly.

  "Oh, you know what I mean: the Summertrees

  "Oh, that!" I exclaimed, with surprise.  "The
Summertrees case is already completed, of course. 
If I had known you were in a hurry, I should have
finished up everything yesterday, but as you and
Podgers, and I don't know how many more, have been
at it sixteen or seventeen days, if not longer, I
thought I might venture to take as many hours, as I
am working entirely alone.  You said nothing about
haste, you know."

  "Oh, come now, Valmont, that's a bit thick.  Do
you mean to say you have already got evidence
against the man?"

  "Evidence absolute and complete."

  "Then who are the coiners?"

  "My most estimable friend, how often have I told
you not to jump at conclusions?  I informed you
when you first spoke to me about the matter that
Summertrees was neither a coiner nor a confederate
of coiners.  I secured evidence sufficient to
convict him of quite another offense, which is
probably unique in the annals of crime.  I have
penetrated the mystery of the shop, and discovered
the reason for all those suspicious actions which
quite properly set you on his trail.  Now I wish
you to come to my flat next Wednesday night at a
quarter to six, prepared to make an arrest."

  "I must know whom I am to arrest and on what

  "Quite so, mon ami Hale; I did not say you were
to make an arrest, but merely warned you to be
prepared.  If you have time now to listen to the
disclosures, I am quite at your service.  I promise
you there are some original features in the case. 
If, however, the present moment is inopportune,
drop in on me at your convenience, previously
telephoning so that you may know whether I am there
or not, and thus your valuable time will not be
expended purposelessly."

  With this I presented to him my most courteous
bow, and although his mystified expression hinted a
suspicion that he thought I was chaffing him, as he
would call it, official dignity dissolved somewhat,
and he intimated his desire to hear all about it
then and there.  I had succeeded in arousing my
friend Hale's curiosity.  He listened to the
evidence with perplexed brow, and at last
ejaculated he would be blessed.

  "This young man," I said, in conclusion, "will
call upon me at six on Wednesday afternoon, to
receive his second five shillings.  I propose that
you, in your uniform, shall be seated there with me
to receive him, and I am anxious to study Mr.
Macpherson's countenance when he realizes he has
walked in to confront a policeman.  If you will
then allow me to cross-examine him for a few
moments, not after the manner of Scotland Yard,
with a warning lest he incriminate himself, but in
the free and easy fashion we adopt in Paris, I
shall afterwards turn the case over to you to be
dealt with at your discretion."

  "You have a wonderful flow of language, Monsieur
Valmont, was the officer's tribute to me.  "I shall
be on hand at a quarter to six on Wednesday."

  "Meanwhile," said I, "kindly say nothing of this
to anyone.  We must arrange a complete surprise for
Macpherson.  That is essential.  Please make no
move in the matter at all until Wednesday night."

  Spenser Hale, much impressed, nodded
acquiescence, and I took a polite leave of him.



THE question of lighting is an important one in a
room such as mine, and electricity offers a good
deal of scope to the ingenious.  Of this fact I
have taken full advantage.  I can manipulate the
lighting of my room so that any particular spot is
bathed in brilliancy, while the rest of the space
remains in comparative gloom, and I arranged the
lamps so that the full force of their rays impinged
against the door that Wednesday evening, while I
sat on one side of the table in semidarkness and
Hale sat on the other, with a light beating down on
him from above which gave him the odd, sculptured
look of a living statue of Justice, stern and
triumphant.  Anyone entering the room would first
be dazzled by the light, and next would see the
gigantic form of Hale in the full uniform of his

  When Angus Macpherson was shown into this room,
he was quite visibly taken aback, and paused
abruptly on the threshold, his gaze riveted on the
huge policeman.  I think his first purpose was to
turn and run, but the door closed behind him, and
he doubtless heard, as we all did, the sound of the
bolt being thrust in its place, thus locking him

  "I--I beg your pardon," he stammered, "I expected
to meet Mr. Webster."

  As he said this, I pressed the button under my
table, and was instantly enshrouded with light.  A
sickly  smile overspread the countenance of 
Macpherson as he caught sight of me, and he made a
very creditable attempt to carry off the situation
with nonchalance.  

  "Oh, there you are, Mr. Webster; I did not notice
you at first." 

   It was a tense moment.  I spoke slowly and,

  "Sir, perhaps you are not unacquainted with the
name of Eugene Valmont." 

  He replied brazenly: 
  "I am sorry to say, sir, I never heard of the
gentleman before." 

  At this came a most inopportune "Haw-haw" that
blockhead Spenser Hale, completely spoiling the
dramatic situation I had elaborated with such
thought and care.  It is little wonder the English
possess no drama, for they show scant appreciation
of the sensational moments in life; they are not
quickly alive to the lights and shadows of events.

  "Haw-haw," brayed Spenser Hale, and at once
reduced the emotional atmosphere to a fog of
commonplace.  However, what is a man to do?  He
must handle the tools with which it pleases
Providence to provide him.  I ignored Hale's
untimely laughter.

  "Sit down, sir," I said to Macpherson, and he

  "You have called on Lord Semptam this week," I
continued sternly.

  "Yes, sir."

  "And collected a pound from him?"

  "Yes, sir." 

  "In October, 1893, you sold Lord Semptam a carved
antique table for fifty pounds?"

  "Quite right, sir."

  "When you were here last week you gave me Ralph
Summertrees as the name of a gentleman living in
Park Lane.  You knew at the time that this man was
your employer?"

  Macpherson was now looking fixedly at me, and on
this occasion made no reply.  I went on calmly:
  "You also knew that Summertrees, of Park Lane,
was identical with Simpson, of Tottenham Court

  "Well, sir," said Macpherson, "I don't exactly
see what you're driving at, but it's quite usual
for a man to carry on a business under an assumed
name.  There is nothing illegal about that."

  "We will come to the illegality in a moment, Mr.
Macpherson.  You and Rogers and Tyrrel and three
others are confederates of this man Simpson."
  "We are in his employ; yes, sir, but no more
confederates than clerks usually are."
  "I think, Mr. Macpherson, I have said enough to
show you that the game is what you call up.  You
are now in the presence of Mr. Spenser Hale, from
Scotland Yard, who is waiting to hear your
  Here the stupid Hale broke in with his: 
  "And remember, sir, that anything you be----"

  "Excuse me, Mr. Hale," I interrupted hastily, "I
shall turn over the case to you in a very few
moments, but I ask you to remember our compact, and
to leave it for the present entirely in my hands. 
Now, Mr. Macpherson, I want your confession, and I
want it at once."

  "Confession?  Confederates?" protested
Macpherson, with admirably simulated surprise.  "I
must say you use extraordinary terms, Mr.--Mr.-- 
What did you say the name was?"

  "Haw-haw," roared Hale.  "His name is Monsieur

  "I implore you, Mr. Hale, to leave this man to me
for a very few moments.  Now, Macpherson, what have
you to say in your defense?"

  "There nothing criminal has been alleged,
Monsieur Valmont, I see no necessity for defense. 
If you wish me to admit that somehow you have
acquired a number of details regarding our
business, I am perfectly willing to do so, and to
subscribe to their accuracy.  If you will be good
enough to let me know of what you complain, I shall
endeavor to make the point clear to you, if I can. 
There has evidently been some misapprehension, but
for the life of me, without further explanation, I
am as much in a fog as I was on my way coming here,
for it is getting a little thick outside."

   Macpherson certainly was conducting himself with
great discretion, and presented, quite unconsciously, 
a much more diplomatic figure than my friend Spenser 
Hale, sitting stiffly opposite me.  His tone was one mild
expostulation, mitigated by the intimation that 
misunderstanding speedily would be cleared away.  To 
outward view he offered a perfect picture of innocence
neither protesting too much nor too little.  I had,
however, another surprise in store for him, a trump
card, as it were, and I played it down on the table.

  "There!" I cried with vim, "have you ever seen
that sheet before?"

  He glanced at it without offering to take it in
his hand.

  "Oh, yes," he said, "that has been abstracted
from our file.  It is what I call my visiting list."

  "Come, come, sir," I cried sternly, "you refuse
to confess, but I warn you we know all about it. 
You never heard of Dr. Willoughby, I suppose?"

  "Yes, he is the author of the silly pamphlet on
Christian Science."

  "You are in the right, Mr. Macpherson; on
Christian Science and Absent-Mindedness."

  "Possibly.  I haven't read it for a long while."

  "Have you ever met this learned doctor, Mr.

  "Oh, yes.  Dr. Willoughby is the pen name of Mr.
Summertrees.  He believes in Christian Science and
that sort of thing, and writes about it." 
  "Ah, really.  We are getting your confession bit
by bit, Mr. Macpherson.  I think it would be better
to be quite frank with us."

   "I was just going to make the same suggestion to
you.  Monsieur Valmont.  If you will tell me in a
few words exactly what is your charge against
either Mr. Summertrees or myself, I will know then
what to say." 

  "We charge you, sir, with obtaining money under
false pretenses, which is a crime that has landed
more than one distinguished financier in prison." 

   Spenser Hale shook his fat forefinger at me, and
   "Tut, tut, Valmont; we mustn't threaten, we
mustn't threaten, you know"; but I went on without
heeding him.  

  "Take, for instance, Lord Semptam.  You sold a
table for fifty pounds, on the installment plan. 
He was to pay a pound a week, and in less than a
year the debt was liquidated.  But he is an
absent-minded man, as all your clients are.  That
is why you came  to me.  I had answered the bogus
Willoughby's advertisement.  And so you kept on
collecting and collecting for something more than
three years.  Now do you understand the charge?"

  Mr. Macpherson's head, during this accusation,
was held slightly inclined to one side.  At first
his face was clouded by the most clever imitation
of anxious concentration of mind I had ever seen,
and this was gradually cleared away by the dawn of
awakening perception.  When I had finished, an
ingratiating smile hovered about his lips.

  "Really, you know," he said, "that is rather a
capital scheme.  The absent-minded league, as one
might call them.  Most ingenious.  Summertrees, if
he had any sense of humor, which he hasn't, would
be rather taken by the idea that his innocent fad
for Christian Science had led him to be suspected
of obtaining money under false pretenses.  But,
really, there are no pretensions about the matter
at all.  As I understand it, I simply call and
receive the money through the forgetfulness of the
persons on my list, but where I think you would
have both Summertrees and myself, if there was
anything in your audacious theory, would be an
indictment for conspiracy.  Still, I quite see how
the mistake arises.  You have jumped to the
conclusion that we sold nothing to Lord Semptam
except that carved table three years ago.  I have
pleasure in pointing out to you that his
lordship is a frequent customer of ours, and has
had many things from us at one time or another. 
Sometimes he is in our debt; sometimes we are in
his.  We keep a sort of running contract with him
by which he pays us a pound a week.  He and several
other customers deal on the same plan, and in
return, for an income that we can count upon, they
get the first offer of anything in which they are
supposed to be interested.  As I have told you, we
call these sheets in the office our visiting lists,
but to make the visiting lists complete you need
what we term our encyclopedia.  We call it that
because it is in so many volumes ; a volume for
each year, running back I don't know how long.  You
will notice little figures here from time to time
above the amount stated on this visiting list. 
These figures refer to the page of the encyclopedia
for the current year, and on that page is noted the
next sale and the amount as it might be set down,
say, in a ledger." 
  "That is a very entertaining explanation, Mr.
Macpherson.  I suppose this encyclopedia, as you
call it, is in the shop at Tottenham Court Road?" 

  "Oh, no, sir.  Each volume of the encyclopedia is
self-locking.  These books contain the real secret
of our business, and they are kept in the safe at
Mr. Summertrees's house in Park Lane.  Take Lord
Semptam's account, for instance.  You will find in
faint figures under a certain date, 102.  If you
turn to page 102 of the encyclopedia for that year,
you will then see a list of what Lord Semptam has
bought, and the prices he was charged for them.  It
is really a very simple matter.  If you will allow
me to use your telephone for a moment I will ask
Mr. Summertrees, who has not yet begun dinner, to
bring with him here the volume for 1893, and within
a quarter of an hour you will he perfectly
satisfied that everything is quite legitimate."

  I confess that the young man's naturalness and
confidence staggered me, the more so as I saw by
the sarcastic smile on Hale's lips that he did not
believe a single word spoken.  A portable telephone
stood on the table, and as Macpherson finished his
explanation, he reached over and drew it toward
him.  Then Spenser Hale interfered.  

  "Excuse me," he said, "I'll do the telephoning. 
What is the call number of Mr. Summertrees?"

  "One forty Hyde Park."

   Hale at once called up Central, and presently
was answered from Park Lane.  We heard him say:
   "Is this the residence of Mr. Summertrees?  Oh,
is that you, Podgers?  Is Mr. Summertrees in?  Very
well.  This is Hale.  I am in Valmont's flat--
Imperial Flats--you know.  Yes, where you went with
me the other day.  Very well, go to Mr. Summertrees, 
and say to him that Mr. Macpherson wants the 
encyclopedia for 1893.  Do you get that?  Yes, 
encyclopedia.  Oh, don't understand what it is.  Mr. 
Macpherson.  No, don't mention my name at all.  Just 
say Mr. Macpherson wants the encyclopedia for the 
year 1893, and that you are to bring it.  Yes, you 
may tell him that Mr. Macpherson is at Imperial Flats, 
but don't mention my name at all.  Exactly.  As soon 
as he gives you the book, get into a cab, and come 
here as quickly as possible with it.  If Summertrees
doesn't want to let the book go, then tell him to
come with you.  If he won't do that, place him
under arrest, and bring both him and the book
here.  All right.  Be as quick as you can; we're

  Macpherson made no protest against Hale's use of
the telephone; he merely sat back in his chair with
a resigned expression on his face which, if painted
on canvas, might have been entitled, "The Falsely
Accused."  When Hale rang off, Macpherson said:
  "Of course you know your own business best, but
if your man arrests Summertrees, he will make you
the laughingstock of London.  There is such a thing
as unjustifiable arrest, as well as getting money
under false pretenses, and Mr. Summertrees is not
the man to forgive an insult.  And then, if you
will allow me to say so, the more I think over your
absent-minded theory, the more absolutely grotesque
it seems, and, if the case ever gets into the
newspapers, I am sure, Mr. Hale, you'll experience
an uncomfortable half hour with your chiefs at
Scotland Yard." 

  "I'll take the risk of that, thank you," said
Hale stubbornly.  

  "Am I to consider myself under arrest?" inquired
the young man.  

  "No, sir." 

   "Then, if you will pardon me, I shall withdraw. 
Mr. Summertrees will show you everything you wish
to see in his books, and can explain his business
more capably than I, because he knows more about
it; therefore, gentlemen, I bid you good night."

  "No you don't.  Not just yet awhile," exclaimed
Hale, rising to his feet simultaneously with the
young man.  

  "Then I am under arrest," protested Macpherson.

  "You're not going to leave this room until
Podgers brings that book."

  "Oh, very well, and he sat down again.

   And now, as talking is dry work, I set out
something to drink, a box of cigars, and a box of
cigarettes.  Hale mixed his favorite brew, but
Macpherson, shunning the wine of his country,
contented himself with a glass of plain mineral
water, and lit a cigarette.  Then he awoke my high
regard by saying pleasantly, as if nothing had
  "While we are waiting, Monsieur Valmont, may I
remind you that you owe me five shillings?"

  I laughed, took the coin from my pocket, and paid
 him, whereupon he thanked me.

  "Are you connected with Scotland Yard, Monsieur
Valmont?" asked Macpherson, with the air of a man
trying to make conversation to bridge over a tedious 
interval; but before I could reply Hale blurted out:
  "Not likely!"

  "You have no official standing as a detective,
then, Monsieur Valmont?"

  "None whatever," I replied quickly, thus getting
in my oar ahead of Hale.

  "That is a loss to our country," pursued this
admirable young man, with evident sincerity.

  I began to see I could make a good deal of so
clever a fellow if he came under my tuition.

  "The blunders of our police," he went on, "are
something deplorable.  If they would but take
lessons in strategy, say, from France, their unpleasant
duties would be so much more acceptably performed, with
much less discomfort to their victims."

  "France," snorted Hale in derision, "why, they
call a man guilty there until he's proven innocent."

  "Yes, Mr. Hale, and the same seems to be the case
in Imperial Flats.  You have quite made up your
mind that Mr. Summertrees is guilty, and will not be
content until he proves his innocence.  I venture
to predict that, you will hear from him before long
in a manner that may astonish you."
  Hale grunted and looked at his watch.  The time
passed very slowly as we sat there smoking and at
last even I began to get uneasy.  Macpherson,
seeing our anxiety, said that when he came in the
fog was almost as thick as it had been the week before, 
and that there might be some difficulty in getting a cab. 
Just as he was speaking the door was unlocked from
the outside, and Podgers entered, bearing a thick
volume in his hand.  This he gave to his superior,
who turned over its pages in amazement, and then
looked at the back, crying:
  "_Encyclopedia of Sport, 1893_!  What sort of a
joke is this, Mr. Macpherson?" 

  There was a pained look on Mr. Macpherson's face
as he reached forward and took the book.  He said
with a sigh: 
  "If you had allowed me to telephone, Mr. Hale, I
should have made it perfectly plain to Summertrees
what was wanted.  I might have known this mistake
was liable to occur.  There is an increasing demand 
for out-of-date books of sport, and no doubt Mr.
Summertrees thought this was what I meant.  There
is nothing for it but to send your man back to Park 
Lane and tell Mr. Summertrees that what we want is 
the locked volume of accounts for 1893, which we call 
the encyclopedia.  Allow me to write an order that 
will bring it.  Oh, I'll show you what I have written 
before your man takes it," he said, as Hale stood 
ready to look over his shoulder.

  On my note paper he dashed off a request such as
he had outlined; and handed it to Hale, who read it
and gave it to Podgers.

  "Take that to Summertrees, and get back as
quickly as possible.  Have you a cab at the door?"

  "Yes, sir." 

  "Is it foggy outside?" 

  "Not so much, sir, as it was an hour ago.  No
difficulty about the traffic now, sir." 

  "Very well, get back as soon as you can."

  Podgers saluted, and left with the book under his
arm.  Again the door was locked, and again we sat
smoking in silence until the stillness was broken by
the tinkle of the telephone.  Hale put the receiver
to his ear.

  "Yes, this is the Imperial Flats.  Yes.  Valmont. 
Oh, yes; Macpherson is here.  What?  Out of what? 
Can't hear you.  Out of print.  What, the encyclopedia's
out of print?  Who is that speaking?  Dr. Willoughby;

  Macpherson rose as if he would go to the telephone,
but instead (and he acted so quietly that I did not
notice what he was doing until the thing was done)
he picked up the sheet which he called his visiting
list, and walking quite without haste, held it in
the glowing coals of the fireplace until it
disappeared in a flash of flame up the chimney.  I
sprang to my feet indignant, but too late to make
even a motion toward saving the sheet.  Macpherson
regarded us both with that  self-depreciatory smile
which had several times lighted up his face.

  "How dared you burn that sheet?" I demanded.

  "Because, Monsieur Valmont, it did not belong to
you; because you do not belong to Scotland Yard;
because you stole it; because you had no right to it;
and because you have no official standing in this
country.  If it had been in Mr. Hale's possession I
should not have dared, as you put it, to destroy
the sheet, but as this sheet was abstracted from my
master's premises by you, an entirely unauthorized
person, whom he would have been justified in
shooting dead if he had found you housebreaking;
and you had resisted him on his discovery, I took
the liberty of destroying the document.  I have
always held that these sheets should not have been
kept, for, as has been the case, if they fell under
the scrutiny of so intelligent a person as Eugene
Valmont, improper inferences might have been drawn. 
Mr. Summertrees, however, persisted in keeping
them, but made this concession, that if I ever
telegraphed him or telephoned him the word
'Encyclopedia,' he would at once burn these
records, and he, on his part, was to telegraph or
telephone to me 'The encyclopedia is out of print,'
whereupon I would know that he had succeeded.

  "Now, gentlemen, open this door, which will save
me the trouble of forcing it.  Either put me
formally under arrest, or cease to restrict my 
liberty.  I am very much obliged to Mr. Hale for 
telephoning, and I have made no protest to so 
gallant a host as Monsieur Valmont is, because of 
the locked door.  However, the farce is now terminated.  
The proceedings I have sat through were entirely
illegal, and if you will pardon me, Mr. Hale, they
have been a little too French to go down here in
old England, or to make a report in the newspapers
that would be quite satisfactory to your chiefs.  I
demand either my formal arrest or the unlocking of
that door."

  In silence I pressed a button, and my man threw.
Open the door.  Macpherson walked to the threshold,
paused, and looked back at Spenser Hale, who sat
there silent as a sphinx.  

  "Good evening, Mr. Hale."

  There being no reply, he turned to me with the
same ingratiating smile:
  "Good evening, Monsieur Eugene Valmont," he said. 
"I shall give myself the pleasure of calling next
Wednesday at six for my five shillings."