Table of Contents

The Coin of Dionysius

Table of Contents

It was eight o’clock at night and raining, scarcely a time when a business so limited in its clientele as that of a coin dealer could hope to attract any customer, but a light was still showing in the small shop that bore over its window the name of Baxter, and in the even smaller office at the back the proprietor himself sat reading the latest Pall Mall. His enterprise seemed to be justified, for presently the door bell gave its announcement, and throwing down his paper Mr Baxter went forward.

As a matter of fact the dealer had been expecting someone and his manner as he passed into the shop was unmistakably suggestive of a caller of importance. But at the first glance towards his visitor the excess of deference melted out of his bearing, leaving the urbane, self-possessed shopman in the presence of the casual customer.

“Mr Baxter, I think?” said the latter. He had laid aside his dripping umbrella and was unbuttoning overcoat and coat to reach an inner pocket. “You hardly remember me, I suppose? Mr Carlyle—two years ago I took up a case for you——”

“To be sure. Mr Carlyle, the private detective——”

“Inquiry agent,” corrected Mr Carlyle precisely.

“Well,” smiled Mr Baxter, “for that matter I am a coin dealer and not an antiquarian or a numismatist. Is there anything in that way that I can do for you?”

“Yes,” replied his visitor; “it is my turn to consult you.” He had taken a small wash-leather bag from the inner pocket and now turned something carefully out upon the counter. “What can you tell me about that?”

The dealer gave the coin a moment’s scrutiny.

“There is no question about this,” he replied. “It is a Sicilian tetradrachm of Dionysius.”

“Yes, I know that—I have it on the label out of the cabinet. I can tell you further that it’s supposed to be one that Lord Seastoke gave two hundred and fifty pounds for at the Brice sale in ‘94.”

“It seems to me that you can tell me more about it than I can tell you,” remarked Mr Baxter. “What is it that you really want to know?”

“I want to know,” replied Mr Carlyle, “whether it is genuine or not.”

“Has any doubt been cast upon it?”

“Certain circumstances raised a suspicion—that is all.”

The dealer took another look at the tetradrachm through his magnifying glass, holding it by the edge with the careful touch of an expert. Then he shook his head slowly in a confession of ignorance.

“Of course I could make a guess——”

“No, don’t,” interrupted Mr Carlyle hastily. “An arrest hangs on it and nothing short of certainty is any good to me.”

“Is that so, Mr Carlyle?” said Mr Baxter, with increased interest. “Well, to be quite candid, the thing is out of my line. Now if it was a rare Saxon penny or a doubtful noble I’d stake my reputation on my opinion, but I do very little in the classical series.”

Mr Carlyle did not attempt to conceal his disappointment as he returned the coin to the bag and replaced the bag in the inner pocket.

“I had been relying on you,” he grumbled reproachfully. “Where on earth am I to go now?”

“There is always the British Museum.”

“Ah, to be sure, thanks. But will anyone who can tell me be there now?”

“Now? No fear!” replied Mr Baxter. “Go round in the morning——”

“But I must know to-night,” explained the visitor, reduced to despair again. “To-morrow will be too late for the purpose.”

Mr Baxter did not hold out much encouragement in the circumstances.

“You can scarcely expect to find anyone at business now,” he remarked. “I should have been gone these two hours myself only I happened to have an appointment with an American millionaire who fixed his own time.” Something indistinguishable from a wink slid off Mr Baxter’s right eye. “Offmunson he’s called, and a bright young pedigree-hunter has traced his descent from Offa, King of Mercia. So he—quite naturally—wants a set of Offas as a sort of collateral proof.”

“Very interesting,” murmured Mr Carlyle, fidgeting with his watch. “I should love an hour’s chat with you about your millionaire customers—some other time. Just now—look here, Baxter, can’t you give me a line of introduction to some dealer in this sort of thing who happens to live in town? You must know dozens of experts.”

“Why, bless my soul, Mr Carlyle, I don’t know a man of them away from his business,” said Mr Baxter, staring. “They may live in Park Lane or they may live in Petticoat Lane for all I know. Besides, there aren’t so many experts as you seem to imagine. And the two best will very likely quarrel over it. You’ve had to do with ‘expert witnesses,’ I suppose?”

“I don’t want a witness; there will be no need to give evidence. All I want is an absolutely authoritative pronouncement that I can act on. Is there no one who can really say whether the thing is genuine or not?”

Mr Baxter’s meaning silence became cynical in its implication as he continued to look at his visitor across the counter. Then he relaxed.

“Stay a bit; there is a man—an amateur—I remember hearing wonderful things about some time ago. They say he really does know.”

“There you are,” exclaimed Mr Carlyle, much relieved. “There always is someone. Who is he?”

“Funny name,” replied Baxter. “Something Wynn or Wynn something.” He craned his neck to catch sight of an important motor car that was drawing to the kerb before his window. “Wynn Carrados! You’ll excuse me now, Mr Carlyle, won’t you? This looks like Mr Offmunson.”

Mr Carlyle hastily scribbled the name down on his cuff.

“Wynn Carrados, right. Where does he live?”

“Haven’t the remotest idea,” replied Baxter, referring the arrangement of his tie to the judgment of the wall mirror. “I have never seen the man myself. Now, Mr Carlyle, I’m sorry I can’t do any more for you. You won’t mind, will you?”

Mr Carlyle could not pretend to misunderstand. He enjoyed the distinction of holding open the door for the transatlantic representative of the line of Offa as he went out, and then made his way through the muddy streets back to his office. There was only one way of tracing a private individual at such short notice—through the pages of the directories, and the gentleman did not flatter himself by a very high estimate of his chances.

Fortune favoured him, however. He very soon discovered a Wynn Carrados living at Richmond, and, better still, further search failed to unearth another. There was, apparently, only one householder at all events of that name in the neighbourhood of London. He jotted down the address and set out for Richmond.

The house was some distance from the station, Mr Carlyle learned. He took a taxicab and drove, dismissing the vehicle at the gate. He prided himself on his power of observation and the accuracy of the deductions which resulted from it—a detail of his business. “It’s nothing more than using one’s eyes and putting two and two together,” he would modestly declare, when he wished to be deprecatory rather than impressive, and by the time he had reached the front door of “The Turrets” he had formed some opinion of the position and tastes of the man who lived there.

A man-servant admitted Mr Carlyle and took in his card—his private card with the bare request for an interview that would not detain Mr Carrados for ten minutes. Luck still favoured him; Mr Carrados was at home and would see him at once. The servant, the hall through which they passed, and the room into which he was shown, all contributed something to the deductions which the quietly observant gentleman was half unconsciously recording.

“Mr Carlyle,” announced the servant.

The room was a library or study. The only occupant, a man of about Carlyle’s own age, had been using a typewriter up to the moment of his visitor’s entrance. He now turned and stood up with an expression of formal courtesy.

“It’s very good of you to see me at this hour,” apologized the caller.

The conventional expression of Mr Carrados’s face changed a little.

“Surely my man has got your name wrong?” he exclaimed. “Isn’t it Louis Calling?”

The visitor stopped short and his agreeable smile gave place to a sudden flash of anger or annoyance.

“No, sir,” he replied stiffly. “My name is on the card which you have before you.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Mr Carrados, with perfect good-humour. “I hadn’t seen it. But I used to know a Calling some years ago—at St Michael’s.”

“St Michael’s!” Mr Carlyle’s features underwent another change, no less instant and sweeping than before. “St Michael’s! Wynn Carrados? Good heavens! it isn’t Max Wynn—old ‘Winning’ Wynn?”

“A little older and a little fatter—yes,” replied Carrados. “I havechanged my name, you see.”

“Extraordinary thing meeting like this,” said his visitor, dropping into a chair and staring hard at Mr Carrados. “I have changed more than my name. How did you recognize me?”

“The voice,” replied Carrados. “It took me back to that little smoke-dried attic den of yours where we——”

“My God!” exclaimed Carlyle bitterly, “don’t remind me of what we were going to do in those days.” He looked round the well-furnished, handsome room and recalled the other signs of wealth that he had noticed. “At all events, you seem fairly comfortable, Wynn.”

“I am alternately envied and pitied,” replied Carrados, with a placid tolerance of circumstance that seemed characteristic of him. “Still, as you say, I am fairly comfortable.”

“Envied, I can understand. But why are you pitied?”

“Because I am blind,” was the tranquil reply.

“Blind!” exclaimed Mr Carlyle, using his own eyes superlatively. “Do you mean—literally blind?”

“Literally…. I was riding along a bridle-path through a wood about a dozen years ago with a friend. He was in front. At one point a twig sprang back—you know how easily a thing like that happens. It just flicked my eye—nothing to think twice about.”

“And that blinded you?”

“Yes, ultimately. It’s called amaurosis.”

“I can scarcely believe it. You seem so sure and self-reliant. Your eyes are full of expression—only a little quieter than they used to be. I believe you were typing when I came…. Aren’t you having me?”

“You miss the dog and the stick?” smiled Carrados. “No; it’s a fact.”

“What an awful infliction for you, Max. You were always such an impulsive, reckless sort of fellow—never quiet. You must miss such a fearful lot.”

“Has anyone else recognized you?” asked Carrados quietly.

“Ah, that was the voice, you said,” replied Carlyle.

“Yes; but other people heard the voice as well. Only I had no blundering, self-confident eyes to be hoodwinked.”

“That’s a rum way of putting it,” said Carlyle. “Are your ears never hoodwinked, may I ask?”

“Not now. Nor my fingers. Nor any of my other senses that have to look out for themselves.”

“Well, well,” murmured Mr Carlyle, cut short in his sympathetic emotions. “I’m glad you take it so well. Of course, if you find it an advantage to be blind, old man——” He stopped and reddened. “I beg your pardon,” he concluded stiffly.

“Not an advantage perhaps,” replied the other thoughtfully. “Still it has compensations that one might not think of. A new world to explore, new experiences, new powers awakening; strange new perceptions; life in the fourth dimension. But why do you beg my pardon, Louis?”

“I am an ex-solicitor, struck off in connexion with the falsifying of a trust account, Mr Carrados,” replied Carlyle, rising.

“Sit down, Louis,” said Carrados suavely. His face, even his incredibly living eyes, beamed placid good-nature. “The chair on which you will sit, the roof above you, all the comfortable surroundings to which you have so amiably alluded, are the direct result of falsifying a trust account. But do I call you ‘Mr Carlyle’ in consequence? Certainly not, Louis.”

“I did not falsify the account,” cried Carlyle hotly. He sat down, however, and added more quietly: “But why do I tell you all this? I have never spoken of it before.”

“Blindness invites confidence,” replied Carrados. “We are out of the running—human rivalry ceases to exist. Besides, why shouldn’t you? In my case the account was falsified.”

“Of course that’s all bunkum, Max,” commented Carlyle. “Still, I appreciate your motive.”

“Practically everything I possess was left to me by an American cousin, on the condition that I took the name of Carrados. He made his fortune by an ingenious conspiracy of doctoring the crop reports and unloading favourably in consequence. And I need hardly remind you that the receiver is equally guilty with the thief.”

“But twice as safe. I know something of that, Max…. Have you any idea what my business is?”

“You shall tell me,” replied Carrados.

“I run a private inquiry agency. When I lost my profession I had to do something for a living. This occurred. I dropped my name, changed my appearance and opened an office. I knew the legal side down to the ground and I got a retired Scotland Yard man to organize the outside work.”

“Excellent!” cried Carrados. “Do you unearth many murders?”

“No,” admitted Mr Carlyle; “our business lies mostly on the conventional lines among divorce and defalcation.”

“That’s a pity,” remarked Carrados. “Do you know, Louis, I always had a secret ambition to be a detective myself. I have even thought lately that I might still be able to do something at it if the chance came my way. That makes you smile?”

“Well, certainly, the idea——”

“Yes, the idea of a blind detective—the blind tracking the alert——”

“Of course, as you say, certain faculties are no doubt quickened,” Mr Carlyle hastened to add considerately, “but, seriously, with the exception of an artist, I don’t suppose there is any man who is more utterly dependent on his eyes.”

Whatever opinion Carrados might have held privately, his genial exterior did not betray a shadow of dissent. For a full minute he continued to smoke as though he derived an actual visual enjoyment from the blue sprays that travelled and dispersed across the room. He had already placed before his visitor a box containing cigars of a brand which that gentleman keenly appreciated but generally regarded as unattainable, and the matter-of-fact ease and certainty with which the blind man had brought the box and put it before him had sent a questioning flicker through Carlyle’s mind.

“You used to be rather fond of art yourself, Louis,” he remarked presently. “Give me your opinion of my latest purchase—the bronze lion on the cabinet there.” Then, as Carlyle’s gaze went about the room, he added quickly: “No, not that cabinet—the one on your left.”

Carlyle shot a sharp glance at his host as he got up, but Carrados’s expression was merely benignly complacent. Then he strolled across to the figure.

“Very nice,” he admitted. “Late Flemish, isn’t it?”

“No. It is a copy of Vidal’s ‘Roaring lion.’”


“A French artist.” The voice became indescribably flat. “He, also, had the misfortune to be blind, by the way.”

“You old humbug, Max!” shrieked Carlyle, “you’ve been thinking that out for the last five minutes.” Then the unfortunate man bit his lip and turned his back towards his host.

“Do you remember how we used to pile it up on that obtuse ass Sanders and then roast him?” asked Carrados, ignoring the half-smothered exclamation with which the other man had recalled himself.

“Yes,” replied Carlyle quietly. “This is very good,” he continued, addressing himself to the bronze again. “How ever did he do it?”

“With his hands.”

“Naturally. But, I mean, how did he study his model?”

“Also with his hands. He called it ‘seeing near.’”

“Even with a lion—handled it?”

“In such cases he required the services of a keeper, who brought the animal to bay while Vidal exercised his own particular gifts…. You don’t feel inclined to put me on the track of a mystery, Louis?”

Unable to regard this request as anything but one of old Max’s unquenchable pleasantries, Mr Carlyle was on the point of making a suitable reply when a sudden thought caused him to smile knowingly. Up to that point he had, indeed, completely forgotten the object of his visit. Now that he remembered the doubtful Dionysius and Mr Baxter’s recommendation he immediately assumed that some mistake had been made. Either Max was not the Wynn Carrados he had been seeking or else the dealer had been misinformed; for although his host was wonderfully expert in the face of his misfortune, it was inconceivable that he could decide the genuineness of a coin without seeing it. The opportunity seemed a good one of getting even with Carrados by taking him at his word.

“Yes,” he accordingly replied, with crisp deliberation, as he recrossed the room; “yes, I will, Max. Here is the clue to what seems to be a rather remarkable fraud.” He put the tetradrachm into his host’s hand. “What do you make of it?”

For a few seconds Carrados handled the piece with the delicate manipulation of his finger-tips while Carlyle looked on with a self-appreciative grin. Then with equal gravity the blind man weighed the coin in the balance of his hand. Finally he touched it with his tongue.

“Well?” demanded the other.

“Of course I have not much to go on, and if I was more fully in your confidence I might come to another conclusion——”

“Yes, yes,” interposed Carlyle, with amused encouragement.

“Then I should advise you to arrest the parlourmaid, Nina Brun, communicate with the police authorities of Padua for particulars of the career of Helene Brunesi, and suggest to Lord Seastoke that he should return to London to see what further depredations have been made in his cabinet.”

Mr Carlyle’s groping hand sought and found a chair, on to which he dropped blankly. His eyes were unable to detach themselves for a single moment from the very ordinary spectacle of Mr Carrados’s mildly benevolent face, while the sterilized ghost of his now forgotten amusement still lingered about his features.

“Good heavens!” he managed to articulate, “how do you know?”

“Isn’t that what you wanted of me?” asked Carrados suavely.

“Don’t humbug, Max,” said Carlyle severely. “This is no joke.” An undefined mistrust of his own powers suddenly possessed him in the presence of this mystery. “How do you come to know of Nina Brun and Lord Seastoke?”

“You are a detective, Louis,” replied Carrados. “How does one know these things? By using one’s eyes and putting two and two together.”

Carlyle groaned and flung out an arm petulantly.

“Is it all bunkum, Max? Do you really see all the time—though that doesn’t go very far towards explaining it.”

“Like Vidal, I see very well—at close quarters,” replied Carrados, lightly running a forefinger along the inscription on the tetradrachm. “For longer range I keep another pair of eyes. Would you like to test them?”

Mr Carlyle’s assent was not very gracious; it was, in fact, faintly sulky. He was suffering the annoyance of feeling distinctly unimpressive in his own department; but he was also curious.

“The bell is just behind you, if you don’t mind,” said his host. “Parkinson will appear. You might take note of him while he is in.”

The man who had admitted Mr Carlyle proved to be Parkinson.

“This gentleman is Mr Carlyle, Parkinson,” explained Carrados the moment the man entered. “You will remember him for the future?”

Parkinson’s apologetic eye swept the visitor from head to foot, but so lightly and swiftly that it conveyed to that gentleman the comparison of being very deftly dusted.

“I will endeavour to do so, sir,” replied Parkinson, turning again to his master.

“I shall be at home to Mr Carlyle whenever he calls. That is all.”

“Very well, sir.”

“Now, Louis,” remarked Mr Carrados briskly, when the door had closed again, “you have had a good opportunity of studying Parkinson. What is he like?”

“In what way?”

“I mean as a matter of description. I am a blind man—I haven’t seen my servant for twelve years—what idea can you give me of him? I asked you to notice.”

“I know you did, but your Parkinson is the sort of man who has very little about him to describe. He is the embodiment of the ordinary. His height is about average——”

“Five feet nine,” murmured Carrados. “Slightly above the mean.”

“Scarcely noticeably so. Clean-shaven. Medium brown hair. No particularly marked features. Dark eyes. Good teeth.”

“False,” interposed Carrados. “The teeth—not the statement.”

“Possibly,” admitted Mr Carlyle. “I am not a dental expert and I had no opportunity of examining Mr Parkinson’s mouth in detail. But what is the drift of all this?”

“His clothes?”

“Oh, just the ordinary evening dress of a valet. There is not much room for variety in that.”

“You noticed, in fact, nothing special by which Parkinson could be identified?”

“Well, he wore an unusually broad gold ring on the little finger of the left hand.”

“But that is removable. And yet Parkinson has an ineradicable mole—a small one, I admit—on his chin. And you a human sleuth-hound. Oh, Louis!”

“At all events,” retorted Carlyle, writhing a little under this good-humoured satire, although it was easy enough to see in it Carrados’s affectionate intention—“at all events, I dare say I can give as good a description of Parkinson as he can give of me.”

“That is what we are going to test. Ring the bell again.”


“Quite. I am trying my eyes against yours. If I can’t give you fifty out of a hundred I’ll renounce my private detectorial ambition for ever.”

“It isn’t quite the same,” objected Carlyle, but he rang the bell.

“Come in and close the door, Parkinson,” said Carrados when the man appeared. “Don’t look at Mr Carlyle again—in fact, you had better stand with your back towards him, he won’t mind. Now describe to me his appearance as you observed it.”

Parkinson tendered his respectful apologies to Mr Carlyle for the liberty he was compelled to take, by the deferential quality of his voice.

“Mr Carlyle, sir, wears patent leather boots of about size seven and very little used. There are five buttons, but on the left boot one button—the third up—is missing, leaving loose threads and not the more usual metal fastener. Mr Carlyle’s trousers, sir, are of a dark material, a dark grey line of about a quarter of an inch width on a darker ground. The bottoms are turned permanently up and are, just now, a little muddy, if I may say so.”

“Very muddy,” interposed Mr Carlyle generously. “It is a wet night, Parkinson.”

“Yes, sir; very unpleasant weather. If you will allow me, sir, I will brush you in the hall. The mud is dry now, I notice. Then, sir,” continued Parkinson, reverting to the business in hand, “there are dark green cashmere hose. A curb-pattern key-chain passes into the left-hand trouser pocket.”

From the visitor’s nether garments the photographic-eyed Parkinson proceeded to higher ground, and with increasing wonder Mr Carlyle listened to the faithful catalogue of his possessions. His fetter-and-link albert of gold and platinum was minutely described. His spotted blue ascot, with its gentlemanly pearl scarfpin, was set forth, and the fact that the buttonhole in the left lapel of his morning coat showed signs of use was duly noted. What Parkinson saw he recorded but he made no deductions. A handkerchief carried in the cuff of the right sleeve was simply that to him and not an indication that Mr Carlyle was, indeed, left-handed.

But a more delicate part of Parkinson’s undertaking remained. He approached it with a double cough.

“As regards Mr Carlyle’s personal appearance; sir——”

“No, enough!” cried the gentleman concerned hastily. “I am more than satisfied. You are a keen observer, Parkinson.”

“I have trained myself to suit my master’s requirements, sir,” replied the man. He looked towards Mr Carrados, received a nod and withdrew.

Mr Carlyle was the first to speak.

“That man of yours would be worth five pounds a week to me, Max,” he remarked thoughtfully. “But, of course——”

“I don’t think that he would take it,” replied Carrados, in a voice of equally detached speculation. “He suits me very well. But you have the chance of using his services—indirectly.”

“You still mean that—seriously?”

“I notice in you a chronic disinclination to take me seriously, Louis. It is really—to an Englishman—almost painful. Is there something inherently comic about me or the atmosphere of The Turrets?”

“No, my friend,” replied Mr Carlyle, “but there is something essentially prosperous. That is what points to the improbable. Now what is it?”

“It might be merely a whim, but it is more than that,” replied Carrados. “It is, well, partly vanity, partly ennui, partly”—certainly there was something more nearly tragic in his voice than comic now—“partly hope.”

Mr Carlyle was too tactful to pursue the subject.

“Those are three tolerable motives,” he acquiesced. “I’ll do anything you want, Max, on one condition.”

“Agreed. And it is?”

“That you tell me how you knew so much of this affair.” He tapped the silver coin which lay on the table near them. “I am not easily flabbergasted,” he added.

“You won’t believe that there is nothing to explain—that it was purely second-sight?”

“No,” replied Carlyle tersely; “I won’t.”

“You are quite right. And yet the thing is very simple.”

“They always are—when you know,” soliloquized the other. “That’s what makes them so confoundedly difficult when you don’t.”

“Here is this one then. In Padua, which seems to be regaining its old reputation as the birthplace of spurious antiques, by the way, there lives an ingenious craftsman named Pietro Stelli. This simple soul, who possesses a talent not inferior to that of Cavino at his best, has for many years turned his hand to the not unprofitable occupation of forging rare Greek and Roman coins. As a collector and student of certain Greek colonials and a specialist in forgeries I have been familiar with Stelli’s workmanship for years. Latterly he seems to have come under the influence of an international crook called—at the moment—Dompierre, who soon saw a way of utilizing Stelli’s genius on a royal scale. Helene Brunesi, who in private life is—and really is, I believe—Madame Dompierre, readily lent her services to the enterprise.”

“Quite so,” nodded Mr Carlyle, as his host paused.

“You see the whole sequence, of course?”

“Not exactly—not in detail,” confessed Mr Carlyle.

“Dompierre’s idea was to gain access to some of the most celebrated cabinets of Europe and substitute Stelli’s fabrications for the genuine coins. The princely collection of rarities that he would thus amass might be difficult to dispose of safely but I have no doubt that he had matured his plans. Helene, in the person of Nina Bran, an Anglicised French parlourmaid—a part which she fills to perfection—was to obtain wax impressions of the most valuable pieces and to make the exchange when the counterfeits reached her. In this way it was obviously hoped that the fraud would not come to light until long after the real coins had been sold, and I gather that she has already done her work successfully in several houses. Then, impressed by her excellent references and capable manner, my housekeeper engaged her, and for a few weeks she went about her duties here. It was fatal to this detail of the scheme, however, that I have the misfortune to be blind. I am told that Helene has so innocently angelic a face as to disarm suspicion, but I was incapable of being impressed and that good material was thrown away. But one morning my material fingers—which, of course, knew nothing of Helene’s angelic face—discovered an unfamiliar touch about the surface of my favourite Euclideas, and, although there was doubtless nothing to be seen, my critical sense of smell reported that wax had been recently pressed against it. I began to make discreet inquiries and in the meantime my cabinets went to the local bank for safety. Helene countered by receiving a telegram from Angiers, calling her to the death-bed of her aged mother. The aged mother succumbed; duty compelled Helene to remain at the side of her stricken patriarchal father, and doubtless The Turrets was written off the syndicate’s operations as a bad debt.”

“Very interesting,” admitted Mr Carlyle; “but at the risk of seeming obtuse”—his manner had become delicately chastened—“I must say that I fail to trace the inevitable connexion between Nina Brun and this particular forgery—assuming that it is a forgery.”

“Set your mind at rest about that, Louis,” replied Carrados. “It is a forgery, and it is a forgery that none but Pietro Stelli could have achieved. That is the essential connexion. Of course, there are accessories. A private detective coming urgently to see me with a notable tetradrachm in his pocket, which he announces to be the clue to a remarkable fraud—well, really, Louis, one scarcely needs to be blind to see through that.”

“And Lord Seastoke? I suppose you happened to discover that Nina Brun had gone there?”

“No, I cannot claim to have discovered that, or I should certainly have warned him at once when I found out—only recently—about the gang. As a matter of fact, the last information I had of Lord Seastoke was a line in yesterday’s Morning Post to the effect that he was still at Cairo. But many of these pieces——” He brushed his finger almost lovingly across the vivid chariot race that embellished the reverse of the coin, and broke off to remark: “You really ought to take up the subject, Louis. You have no idea how useful it might prove to you some day.”

“I really think I must,” replied Carlyle grimly. “Two hundred and fifty pounds the original of this cost, I believe.”

“Cheap, too; it would make five hundred pounds in New York to-day. As I was saying, many are literally unique. This gem by Kimon is—here is his signature, you see; Peter is particularly good at lettering—and as I handled the genuine tetradrachm about two years ago, when Lord Seastoke exhibited it at a meeting of our society in Albemarle Street, there is nothing at all wonderful in my being able to fix the locale of your mystery. Indeed, I feel that I ought to apologize for it all being so simple.”

“I think,” remarked Mr Carlyle, critically examining the loose threads on his left boot, “that the apology on that head would be more appropriate from me.”

The Knight's Cross Signal Problem

Table of Contents

“Louis,” exclaimed Mr Carrados, with the air of genial gaiety that Carlyle had found so incongruous to his conception of a blind man, “you have a mystery somewhere about you! I know it by your step.”

Nearly a month had passed since the incident of the false Dionysius had led to the two men meeting. It was now December. Whatever Mr Carlyle’s step might indicate to the inner eye it betokened to the casual observer the manner of a crisp, alert, self-possessed man of business. Carlyle, in truth, betrayed nothing of the pessimism and despondency that had marked him on the earlier occasion.

“You have only yourself to thank that it is a very poor one,” he retorted. “If you hadn’t held me to a hasty promise——”

“To give me an option on the next case that baffled you, no matter what it was——”

“Just so. The consequence is that you get a very unsatisfactory affair that has no special interest to an amateur and is only baffling because it is—well——”

“Well, baffling?”

“Exactly, Max. Your would-be jest has discovered the proverbial truth. I need hardly tell you that it is only the insoluble that is finally baffling and this is very probably insoluble. You remember the awful smash on the Central and Suburban at Knight’s Cross Station a few weeks ago?”

“Yes,” replied Carrados, with interest. “I read the whole ghastly details at the time.”

“You read?” exclaimed his friend suspiciously.

“I still use the familiar phrases,” explained Carrados, with a smile. “As a matter of fact, my secretary reads to me. I mark what I want to hear and when he comes at ten o’clock we clear off the morning papers in no time.”

“And how do you know what to mark?” demanded Mr Carlyle cunningly.

Carrados’s right hand, lying idly on the table, moved to a newspaper near. He ran his finger along a column heading, his eyes still turned towards his visitor.

“‘The Money Market. Continued from page 2. British Railways,’” he announced.

“Extraordinary,” murmured Carlyle.

“Not very,” said Carrados. “If someone dipped a stick in treacle and wrote ‘Rats’ across a marble slab you would probably be able to distinguish what was there, blindfold.”

“Probably,” admitted Mr Carlyle. “At all events we will not test the experiment.”

“The difference to you of treacle on a marble background is scarcely greater than that of printers’ ink on newspaper to me. But anything smaller than pica I do not read with comfort, and below long primer I cannot read at all. Hence the secretary. Now the accident, Louis.”

“The accident: well, you remember all about that. An ordinary Central and Suburban passenger train, non-stop at Knight’s Cross, ran past the signal and crashed into a crowded electric train that was just beginning to move out. It was like sending a garden roller down a row of handlights. Two carriages of the electric train were flattened out of existence; the next two were broken up. For the first time on an English railway there was a good stand-up smash between a heavy steam-engine and a train of light cars, and it was ‘bad for the coo.’”

“Twenty-seven killed, forty something injured, eight died since,” commented Carrados.

“That was bad for the Co.,” said Carlyle. “Well, the main fact was plain enough. The heavy train was in the wrong. But was the engine-driver responsible? He claimed, and he claimed vehemently from the first and he never varied one iota, that he had a ‘clear’ signal—that is to say, the green light, it being dark. The signalman concerned was equally dogged that he never pulled off the signal—that it was at ‘danger’ when the accident happened and that it had been for five minutes before. Obviously, they could not both be right.”

“Why, Louis?” asked Mr Carrados smoothly.

“The signal must either have been up or down—red or green.”

“Did you ever notice the signals on the Great Northern Railway, Louis?”

“Not particularly. Why?”

“One winterly day, about the year when you and I were concerned in being born, the engine-driver of a Scotch express received the ‘clear’ from a signal near a little Huntingdon station called Abbots Ripton. He went on and crashed into a goods train and into the thick of the smash a down express mowed its way. Thirteen killed and the usual tale of injured. He was positive that the signal gave him a ‘clear’; the signalman was equally confident that he had never pulled it off the ‘danger.’ Both were right, and yet the signal was in working order. As I said, it was a winterly day; it had been snowing hard and the snow froze and accumulated on the upper edge of the signal arm until its weight bore it down. That is a fact that no fiction writer dare have invented, but to this day every signal on the Great Northern pivots from the centre of the arm instead of from the end, in memory of that snowstorm.”

“That came out at the inquest, I presume?” said Mr Carlyle. “We have had the Board of Trade inquiry and the inquest here and no explanation is forthcoming. Everything was in perfect order. It rests between the word of the signalman and the word of the engine-driver—not a jot of direct evidence either way. Which is right?”

“That is what you are going to find out, Louis?” suggested Carrados.

“It is what I am being paid for finding out,” admitted Mr Carlyle frankly. “But so far we are just where the inquest left it, and, between ourselves, I candidly can’t see an inch in front of my face in the matter.”

“Nor can I,” said the blind man, with a rather wry smile. “Never mind. The engine-driver is your client, of course?”

“Yes,” admitted Carlyle. “But how the deuce did you know?”

“Let us say that your sympathies are enlisted on his behalf. The jury were inclined to exonerate the signalman, weren’t they? What has the company done with your man?”

“Both are suspended. Hutchins, the driver, hears that he may probably be given charge of a lavatory at one of the stations. He is a decent, bluff, short-spoken old chap, with his heart in his work. Just now you’ll find him at his worst—bitter and suspicious. The thought of swabbing down a lavatory and taking pennies all day is poisoning him.”

“Naturally. Well, there we have honest Hutchins: taciturn, a little touchy perhaps, grown grey in the service of the company, and manifesting quite a bulldog-like devotion to his favourite 538.”

“Why, that actually was the number of his engine—how do you know it?” demanded Carlyle sharply.

“It was mentioned two or three times at the inquest, Louis,” replied Carrados mildly.

“And you remembered—with no reason to?”

“You can generally trust a blind man’s memory, especially if he has taken the trouble to develop it.”

“Then you will remember that Hutchins did not make a very good impression at the time. He was surly and irritable under the ordeal. I want you to see the case from all sides.”

“He called the signalman—Mead—a ‘lying young dog,’ across the room, I believe. Now, Mead, what is he like? You have seen him, of course?”

“Yes. He does not impress me favourably. He is glib, ingratiating, and distinctly ‘greasy.’ He has a ready answer for everything almost before the question is out of your mouth. He has thought of everything.”

“And now you are going to tell me something, Louis,” said Carrados encouragingly.

Mr Carlyle laughed a little to cover an involuntary movement of surprise.

“There is a suggestive line that was not touched at the inquiries,” he admitted. “Hutchins has been a saving man all his life, and he has received good wages. Among his class he is regarded as wealthy. I daresay that he has five hundred pounds in the bank. He is a widower with one daughter, a very nice-mannered girl of about twenty. Mead is a young man, and he and the girl are sweethearts—have been informally engaged for some time. But old Hutchins would not hear of it; he seems to have taken a dislike to the signalman from the first and latterly he had forbidden him to come to his house or his daughter to speak to him.”

“Excellent, Louis,” cried Carrados in great delight. “We shall clear your man in a blaze of red and green lights yet and hang the glib, ‘greasy’ signalman from his own signal-post.”

“It is a significant fact, seriously?”

“It is absolutely convincing.”

“It may have been a slip, a mental lapse on Mead’s part which he discovered the moment it was too late, and then, being too cowardly to admit his fault, and having so much at stake, he took care to make detection impossible. It may have been that, but my idea is rather that probably it was neither quite pure accident nor pure design. I can imagine Mead meanly pluming himself over the fact that the life of this man who stands in his way, and whom he must cordially dislike, lies in his power. I can imagine the idea becoming an obsession as he dwells on it. A dozen times with his hand on the lever he lets his mind explore the possibilities of a moment’s defection. Then one day he pulls the signal off in sheer bravado—and hastily puts it at danger again. He may have done it once or he may have done it oftener before he was caught in a fatal moment of irresolution. The chances are about even that the engine-driver would be killed. In any case he would be disgraced, for it is easier on the face of it to believe that a man might run past a danger signal in absentmindedness, without noticing it, than that a man should pull off a signal and replace it without being conscious of his actions.”

“The fireman was killed. Does your theory involve the certainty of the fireman being killed, Louis?”

“No,” said Carlyle. “The fireman is a difficulty, but looking at it from Mead’s point of view—whether he has been guilty of an error or a crime—it resolves itself into this: First, the fireman may be killed. Second, he may not notice the signal at all. Third, in any case he will loyally corroborate his driver and the good old jury will discount that.”

Carrados smoked thoughtfully, his open, sightless eyes merely appearing to be set in a tranquil gaze across the room.

“It would not be an improbable explanation,” he said presently. “Ninety-nine men out of a hundred would say: ‘People do not do these things.’ But you and I, who have in our different ways studied criminology, know that they sometimes do, or else there would be no curious crimes. What have you done on that line?”

To anyone who could see, Mr Carlyle’s expression conveyed an answer.

“You are behind the scenes, Max. What was there for me to do? Still I must do something for my money. Well, I have had a very close inquiry made confidentially among the men. There might be a whisper of one of them knowing more than had come out—a man restrained by friendship, or enmity, or even grade jealousy. Nothing came of that. Then there was the remote chance that some private person had noticed the signal without attaching any importance to it then, one who would be able to identify it still by something associated with the time. I went over the line myself. Opposite the signal the line on one side is shut in by a high blank wall; on the other side are houses, but coming below the butt-end of a scullery the signal does not happen to be visible from any road or from any window.”

“My poor Louis!” said Carrados, in friendly ridicule. “You were at the end of your tether?”

“I was,” admitted Carlyle. “And now that you know the sort of job it is I don’t suppose that you are keen on wasting your time over it.”

“That would hardly be fair, would it?” said Carrados reasonably. “No, Louis, I will take over your honest old driver and your greasy young signalman and your fatal signal that cannot be seen from anywhere.”

“But it is an important point for you to remember, Max, that although the signal cannot be seen from the box, if the mechanism had gone wrong, or anyone tampered with the arm, the automatic indicator would at once have told Mead that the green light was showing. Oh, I have gone very thoroughly into the technical points, I assure you.”

“I must do so too,” commented Mr Carrados gravely.

“For that matter, if there is anything you want to know, I dare say that I can tell you,” suggested his visitor. “It might save your time.”

“True,” acquiesced Carrados. “I should like to know whether anyone belonging to the houses that bound the line there came of age or got married on the twenty-sixth of November.”

Mr Carlyle looked across curiously at his host.

“I really do not know, Max,” he replied, in his crisp, precise way. “What on earth has that got to do with it, may I inquire?”

“The only explanation of the Pont St Lin swing-bridge disaster of ‘75 was the reflection of a green bengal light on a cottage window.”

Mr Carlyle smiled his indulgence privately.

“My dear chap, you mustn’t let your retentive memory of obscure happenings run away with you,” he remarked wisely. “In nine cases out of ten the obvious explanation is the true one. The difficulty, as here, lies in proving it. Now, you would like to see these men?”

“I expect so; in any case, I will see Hutchins first.”

“Both live in Holloway. Shall I ask Hutchins to come here to see you—say to-morrow? He is doing nothing.”

“No,” replied Carrados. “To-morrow I must call on my brokers and my time may be filled up.”

“Quite right; you mustn’t neglect your own affairs for this—experiment,” assented Carlyle.

“Besides, I should prefer to drop in on Hutchins at his own home. Now, Louis, enough of the honest old man for one night. I have a lovely thing by Eumenes that I want to show you. To-day is—Tuesday. Come to dinner on Sunday and pour the vials of your ridicule on my want of success.”

“That’s an amiable way of putting it,” replied Carlyle. “All right, I will.”

Two hours later Carrados was again in his study, apparently, for a wonder, sitting idle. Sometimes he smiled to himself, and once or twice he laughed a little, but for the most part his pleasant, impassive face reflected no emotion and he sat with his useless eyes tranquilly fixed on an unseen distance. It was a fantastic caprice of the man to mock his sightlessness by a parade of light, and under the soft brilliance of a dozen electric brackets the room was as bright as day. At length he stood up and rang the bell.

“I suppose Mr Greatorex isn’t still here by any chance, Parkinson?” he asked, referring to his secretary.

“I think not, sir, but I will ascertain,” replied the man.

“Never mind. Go to his room and bring me the last two files of The Times. Now”—when he returned—“turn to the earliest you have there. The date?”

“November the second.”

“That will do. Find the Money Market; it will be in the Supplement. Now look down the columns until you come to British Railways.”

“I have it, sir.”

“Central and Suburban. Read the closing price and the change.”

“Central and Suburban Ordinary, 66-1/2 - 67-1/2, fall 1/8. Preferred Ordinary, 81 - 81-1/2, no change. Deferred Ordinary, 27-1/2 - 27-3/4, fall 1/4. That is all, sir.”

“Now take a paper about a week on. Read the Deferred only.”

“27 - 27-1/4, no change.”

“Another week.”

“29-1/2 - 30, rise 5/8.”


“31-1/2 - 32-1/2, rise 1.”

“Very good. Now on Tuesday the twenty-seventh November.”

“31-7/8 - 32-3/4, rise 1/2.”

“Yes. The next day.”

“24-1/2 - 23-1/2, fall 9.”

“Quite so, Parkinson. There had been an accident, you see.”

“Yes, sir. Very unpleasant accident. Jane knows a person whose sister’s young man has a cousin who had his arm torn off in it—torn off at the socket, she says, sir. It seems to bring it home to one, sir.”

“That is all. Stay—in the paper you have, look down the first money column and see if there is any reference to the Central and Suburban.”

“Yes, sir. ‘City and Suburbans, which after their late depression on the projected extension of the motor bus service, had been steadily creeping up on the abandonment of the scheme, and as a result of their own excellent traffic returns, suffered a heavy slump through the lamentable accident of Thursday night. The Deferred in particular at one time fell eleven points as it was felt that the possible dividend, with which rumour has of late been busy, was now out of the question.’”

“Yes; that is all. Now you can take the papers back. And let it be a warning to you, Parkinson, not to invest your savings in speculative railway deferreds.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir, I will endeavour to remember.” He lingered for a moment as he shook the file of papers level. “I may say, sir, that I have my eye on a small block of cottage property at Acton. But even cottage property scarcely seems safe from legislative depredation now, sir.”

The next day Mr Carrados called on his brokers in the city. It is to be presumed that he got through his private business quicker than he expected, for after leaving Austin Friars he continued his journey to Holloway, where he found Hutchins at home and sitting morosely before his kitchen fire. Rightly assuming that his luxuriant car would involve him in a certain amount of public attention in Klondyke Street, the blind man dismissed it some distance from the house, and walked the rest of the way, guided by the almost imperceptible touch of Parkinson’s arm.

“Here is a gentleman to see you, father,” explained Miss Hutchins, who had come to the door. She divined the relative positions of the two visitors at a glance.