"Then keep them to yourself, mon ami, so that I need not feel as if I ought to unbosom myself of my own views."
"I should be very much surprised if you did, Thorndyke," I replied, "and should have none the better opinion of you. I realise fully that your opinions and theories are the property of your client and not to be used for the entertainment of your friends."
Thorndyke patted me on the back playfully, but he looked uncommonly pleased, and said, with evident sincerity, "I am really grateful to you for saying that, for I have felt a little awkward in being so reticent with you who know so much of this case. But you are quite right, and I am delighted to find you so discerning and sympathetic. The least I can do under the circumstances is to uncork a bottle of Pommard, and drink the health of so loyal and helpful a colleague. Ah! Praise the gods! here is Polton, like a sacrificial priest accompanied by a sweet savour of roasted flesh. Rump steak I ween," he added, sniffing, "food meet for the mighty Shamash (that pun was fortuitous, I need not say) or a ravenous medical jurist. Can you explain to me, Polton, how it is that your rump steak is better than any other steak? Is it that you have command of a special brand of ox?"
The little man's dry countenance wrinkled with pleasure until it was as full of lines as a ground-plan of Clapham Junction.
"Perhaps it is the special treatment it gets, sir," he replied. "I usually bruise it in the mortar before cooking, without breaking up the fibre too much, and then I heat up the little cupel furnace to about 600 C, and put the steak in on a tripod."
Thorndyke laughed outright. "The cupel furnace, too," he exclaimed. "Well, well, 'to what base uses'—but I don't know that it is a base use after all. Anyhow, Polton, open a bottle of Pommard and put a couple of ten by eight 'process' plates in your dark slides. I am expecting two ladies here this evening with a document."
"Shall you bring them upstairs, sir?" inquired Polton, with an alarmed expression.
"I expect I shall have to," answered Thorndyke.
"Then I shall just smarten the laboratory up a bit," said Polton, who evidently appreciated the difference between the masculine and feminine view as to the proper appearance of working premises.
"And so Miss Gibson wanted to know our private views on the case?" said Thorndyke, when his voracity had become somewhat appeased.
"Yes," I answered; and then I repeated our conversation as nearly as I could remember it.
"Your answer was very discreet and diplomatic," Thorndyke remarked, "and it was very necessary that it should be, for it is essential that we show the backs of our cards to Scotland Yard; and if to Scotland Yard, then to the whole world. We know what their trump card is and can arrange our play accordingly, so long as we do not show our hand."
"You speak of the police as your antagonists; I noticed that at the 'Yard' this morning, and was surprised to find that they accepted the position. But surely their business is to discover the actual offender, not to fix the crime on some particular person."
"That would seem to be so," replied Thorndyke, "but in practice it is otherwise. When the police have made an arrest they work for a conviction. If the man is innocent, that is his business, not theirs; it is for him to prove it. The system is a pernicious one—especially since the efficiency of a police officer is, in consequence, apt to be estimated by the number of convictions he has secured, and an inducement is thus held out to him to obtain a conviction, if possible; but it is of a piece with legislative procedure in general. Lawyers are not engaged in academic discussions or in the pursuit of truth, but each is trying, by hook or by crook, to make out a particular case without regard to its actual truth or even to the lawyer's own belief on the subject. That is what produces so much friction between lawyers and scientific witnesses; neither can understand the point of view of the other. But we must not sit over the table chattering like this; it has gone half-past seven, and Polton will be wanting to make this room presentable."
"I notice you don't use your office much," I remarked.
"Hardly at all, excepting as a repository for documents and stationery. It is very cheerless to talk in an office, and nearly all my business is transacted with solicitors and counsel who are known to me, so there is no need for such formalities. All right, Polton; we shall be ready for you in five minutes."
The Temple bell was striking eight as, at Thorndyke's request, I threw open the iron-bound "oak"; and even as I did so the sound of footsteps came up from the stairs below. I waited on the landing for our two visitors, and led them into the room.
"I am so glad to make your acquaintance," said Mrs. Hornby, when I had done the honours of introduction; "I have heard so much about you from Juliet—"
"Really, my dear aunt," protested Miss Gibson, as she caught my eye with a look of comical alarm, "you will give Dr. Thorndyke a most erroneous impression. I merely mentioned that I had intruded on him without notice and had been received with undeserved indulgence and consideration."
"You didn't put it quite in that way, my dear," said Mrs. Hornby, "but I suppose it doesn't matter."
"We are highly gratified by Miss Gibson's favourable report of us, whatever may have been the actual form of expression," said Thorndyke, with a momentary glance at the younger lady which covered her with smiling confusion, "and we are deeply indebted to you for taking so much trouble to help us."
"It is no trouble at all, but a great pleasure," replied Mrs. Hornby; and she proceeded to enlarge on the matter until her remarks threatened, like the rippling circles produced by a falling stone, to spread out into infinity. In the midst of this discourse Thorndyke placed chairs for the two ladies, and, leaning against the mantelpiece, fixed a stony gaze upon the small handbag that hung from Mrs. Hornby's wrist.
"Is the 'Thumbograph' in your bag?" interrupted Miss Gibson, in response to this mute appeal.
"Of course it is, my dear Juliet," replied the elder lady. "You saw me put it in yourself. What an odd girl you are. Did you think I should have taken it out and put it somewhere else? Not that these handbags are really very secure, you know, although I daresay they are safer than pockets, especially now that it is the fashion to have the pocket at the back. Still, I have often thought how easy it would be for a thief or a pickpocket or some other dreadful creature of that kind, don't you know, to make a snatch and—in fact, the thing has actually happened. Why, I knew a lady—Mrs. Moggridge, you know, Juliet—no, it wasn't Mrs. Moggridge, that was another affair, it was Mrs.—Mrs.—dear me, how silly of me!—now, what was her name? Can't you help me, Juliet? You must surely remember the woman. She used to visit a good deal at the Hawley-Johnsons'—I think it was the Hawley-Johnsons', or else it was those people, you know—"
"Hadn't you better give Dr. Thorndyke the 'Thumbograph'?" interrupted Miss Gibson.
"Why, of course, Juliet, dear. What else did we come here for?" With a slightly injured expression, Mrs. Hornby opened the little bag and commenced, with the utmost deliberation, to turn out its contents on to the table. These included a laced handkerchief, a purse, a card-case, a visiting list, a packet of papier poudre, and when she had laid the last-mentioned article on the table, she paused abruptly and gazed into Miss Gibson's face with the air of one who has made a startling discovery.
"I remember the woman's name," she said in an impressive voice. "It was Gudge—Mrs. Gudge, the sister-in-law of—"
Here Miss Gibson made an unceremonious dive into the open bag and fished out a tiny parcel wrapped in notepaper and secured with a silk thread.
"Thank you," said Thorndyke, taking it from her hand just as Mrs. Hornby was reaching out to intercept it. He cut the thread and drew from its wrappings a little book bound in red cloth, with the word "Thumbograph" stamped upon the cover, and was beginning to inspect it when Mrs. Hornby rose and stood beside him.
"That," said she, as she opened the book at the first page, "is the thumb-mark of a Miss Colley. She is no connection of ours. You see it is a little smeared—she said Reuben jogged her elbow, but I don't think he did; at any rate he assured me he did not, and, you know—"
"Ah! Here is one we are looking for," interrupted Thorndyke, who had been turning the leaves of the book regardless of Mrs. Hornby's rambling comments; "a very good impression, too, considering the rather rough method of producing it."
He reached out for the reading lens that hung from its nail above the mantelpiece, and I could tell by the eagerness with which he peered through it at the thumb-print that he was looking for something. A moment later I felt sure that he had found that something which he had sought, for, though he replaced the lens upon its nail with a quiet and composed air and made no remark, there was a sparkle of the eye and a scarcely perceptible flush of suppressed excitement and triumph which I had begun to recognise beneath the impassive mask that he presented to the world.
"I shall ask you to leave this little book with me, Mrs. Hornby," he said, breaking in upon that lady's inconsequent babblings, "and, as I may possibly put it in evidence, it would be a wise precaution for you and Miss Gibson to sign your names—as small as possible—on the page which bears Mr. Reuben's thumb-mark. That will anticipate any suggestion that the book has been tampered with after leaving your hands."
"It would be a great impertinence for anyone to make any such suggestion," Mrs. Hornby began; but on Thorndyke's placing his fountain pen in her hand, she wrote her signature in the place indicated and handed the pen to Miss Gibson, who signed underneath.
"And now," said Thorndyke, "we will take an enlarged photograph of this page with the thumb-mark; not that it is necessary that it should be done now, as you are leaving the book in my possession; but the photograph will be wanted, and as my man is expecting us and has the apparatus ready, we may as well despatch the business at once."
To this both the ladies readily agreed (being, in fact, devoured by curiosity with regard to my colleague's premises), and we accordingly proceeded to invade the set of rooms on the floor above, over which the ingenious Polton was accustomed to reign in solitary grandeur.
It was my first visit to these mysterious regions, and I looked about me with as much curiosity as did the two ladies. The first room that we entered was apparently the workshop, for it contained a small woodworker's bench, a lathe, a bench for metal work and a number of mechanical appliances which I was not then able to examine; but I noticed that the entire place presented to the eye a most unworkmanlike neatness, a circumstance that did not escape Thorndyke's observation, for his face relaxed into a grim smile as his eye travelled over the bare benches and the clean-swept floor.
From this room we entered the laboratory, a large apartment, one side of which was given up to chemical research, as was shown by the shelves of reagents that covered the wall, and the flasks, retorts and other apparatus that were arranged on the bench, like ornaments on a drawing-room mantelpiece. On the opposite side of the room was a large, massively-constructed copying camera, the front of which, carrying the lens, was fixed, and an easel or copyholder travelled on parallel guides towards, or away, from it, on a long stand.
This apparatus Thorndyke proceeded to explain to our visitors while Polton was fixing the "Thumbograph" in a holder attached to the easel.
"You see," he said, in answer to a question from Miss Gibson, "I have a good deal to do with signatures, cheques and disputed documents of various kinds. Now a skilled eye, aided by a pocket-lens, can make out very minute details on a cheque or bank-note; but it is not possible to lend one's skilled eye to a judge or juryman, so that it is often very convenient to be able to hand them a photograph in which the magnification is already done, which they can compare with the original. Small things, when magnified, develop quite unexpected characters; for instance, you have handled a good many postage stamps, I suppose, but have you ever noticed the little white spots in the upper corner of a penny stamp, or even the difference in the foliage on the two sides of the wreath?"
Miss Gibson admitted that she had not.
"Very few people have, I suppose, excepting stamp-collectors," continued Thorndyke; "but now just glance at this and you will find these unnoticed details forced upon your attention." As he spoke, he handed her a photograph, which he had taken from a drawer, showing a penny stamp enlarged to a length of eight inches.
While the ladies were marvelling over this production, Polton proceeded with his work. The "Thumbograph" having been fixed in position, the light from a powerful incandescent gas lamp, fitted with a parabolic reflector, was concentrated on it, and the camera racked out to its proper distance.
"What are those figures intended to show?" inquired Miss Gibson, indicating the graduation on the side of one of the guides.
"They show the amount of magnification or reduction," Thorndyke explained. "When the pointer is opposite 0, the photograph is the same size as the object photographed; when it points to, say, x 4, the photograph will be four times the width and length of the object, while if it should point to, say, / 4, the photograph will be one-fourth the length of the object. It is now, you see, pointing to x 8, so the photograph will be eight times the diameter of the original thumb-mark."
By this time Polton had brought the camera to an accurate focus and, when we had all been gratified by a glimpse of the enlarged image on the focussing screen, we withdrew to a smaller room which was devoted to bacteriology and microscopical research, while the exposure was made and the plate developed. Here, after an interval, we were joined by Polton, who bore with infinite tenderness the dripping negative on which could be seen the grotesque transparency of a colossal thumb-mark.
This Thorndyke scrutinised eagerly, and having pronounced it satisfactory, informed Mrs. Hornby that the object of her visit was attained, and thanked her for the trouble she had taken.
"I am very glad we came," said Miss Gibson to me, as a little later we walked slowly up Mitre Court in the wake of Mrs. Hornby and Thorndyke; "and I am glad to have seen these wonderful instruments, too. It has made me realise that something is being done and that Dr. Thorndyke really has some object in view. It has really encouraged me immensely."
"And very properly so," I replied. "I, too, although I really know nothing of what my colleague is doing, feel very strongly that he would not take all this trouble and give up so much valuable time if he had not some very definite purpose and some substantial reasons for taking a hopeful view."
"Thank you for saying that," she rejoined warmly; "and you will let me have a crumb of comfort when you can, won't you?" She looked in my face so wistfully as she made this appeal that I was quite moved; and, indeed, I am not sure that my state of mind at that moment did not fully justify my colleague's reticence towards me.
However, I, fortunately, had nothing to tell, and so, when we emerged into Fleet Street to find Mrs. Hornby already ensconced in a hansom, I could only promise, as I grasped the hand that she offered to me, to see her again at the earliest opportunity—a promise which my inner consciousness assured me would be strictly fulfilled.
"You seem to be on quite confidential terms with our fair friend," Thorndyke remarked, as we strolled back towards his chambers. "You are an insinuating dog, Jervis."
"She is very frank and easy to get on with," I replied.
"Yes. A good girl and a clever girl, and comely to look upon withal. I suppose it would be superfluous for me to suggest that you mind your eye?"
"I shouldn't, in any case, try to cut out a man who is under a cloud," I replied sulkily.
"Of course you wouldn't; hence the need of attention to the ophthalmic member. Have you ascertained what Miss Gibson's actual relation is to Reuben Hornby?"
"No," I answered.
"It might be worth while to find out," said Thorndyke; and then he relapsed into silence.
COMMITTED FOR TRIAL
Thorndyke's hint as to the possible danger foreshadowed by my growing intimacy with Juliet Gibson had come upon me as a complete surprise, and had, indeed, been resented by me as somewhat of an impertinence. Nevertheless, it gave me considerable food for meditation, and I presently began to suspect that the watchful eyes of my observant friend might have detected something in my manner towards Miss Gibson suggestive of sentiments that had been unsuspected by myself.
Of course it would be absurd to suppose that any real feeling could have been engendered by so ridiculously brief an acquaintance. I had only met the girl three times, and even now, excepting for business relations, was hardly entitled to more than a bow of recognition. But yet, when I considered the matter impartially and examined my own consciousness, I could not but recognise that she had aroused in me an interest which bore no relation to the part that she had played in the drama that was so slowly unfolding. She was undeniably a very handsome girl, and her beauty was of a type that specially appealed to me—full of dignity and character that gave promise of a splendid middle age. And her personality was in other ways not less attractive, for she was frank and open, sprightly and intelligent, and though evidently quite self-reliant, was in nowise lacking in that womanly softness that so strongly engages a man's sympathy.
In short, I realised that, had there been no such person as Reuben Hornby, I should have viewed Miss Gibson with uncommon interest.
But, unfortunately, Reuben Hornby was a most palpable reality, and, moreover, the extraordinary difficulties of his position entitled him to very special consideration by any man of honour. It was true that Miss Gibson had repudiated any feelings towards Reuben other than those of old-time friendship; but young ladies are not always impartial judges of their own feelings, and, as a man of the world, I could not but have my own opinion on the matter—which opinion I believed to be shared by Thorndyke. The conclusions to which my cogitations at length brought me were: first, that I was an egotistical donkey, and, second, that my relations with Miss Gibson were of an exclusively business character and must in future be conducted on that basis, with the added consideration that I was the confidential agent, for the time being, of Reuben Hornby, and in honour bound to regard his interests as paramount.
"I am hoping," said Thorndyke, as he held out his hand for my teacup, "that these profound reflections of yours are connected with the Hornby affair; in which case I should expect to hear that the riddle is solved and the mystery made plain."
"Why should you expect that?" I demanded, reddening somewhat, I suspect, as I met his twinkling eye. There was something rather disturbing in the dry, quizzical smile that I encountered and the reflection that I had been under observation, and I felt as much embarrassed as I should suppose a self-conscious water-flea might feel on finding itself on the illuminated stage of a binocular microscope.
"My dear fellow," said Thorndyke, "you have not spoken a word for the last quarter of an hour; you have devoured your food with the relentless regularity of a sausage-machine, and you have, from time to time, made the most damnable faces at the coffee-pot—though there I'll wager the coffee-pot was even with you, if I may judge by the presentment that it offers of my own countenance."
I roused myself from my reverie with a laugh at Thorndyke's quaint conceit and a glance at the grotesquely distorted reflection of my face in the polished silver.
"I am afraid I have been a rather dull companion this morning," I admitted apologetically.
"By no means," replied Thorndyke, with a grin. "On the contrary, I have found you both amusing and instructive, and I only spoke when I had exhausted your potentialities as a silent entertainer."
"You are pleased to be facetious at my expense," said I.
"Well, the expense was not a very heavy one," he retorted. "I have been merely consuming a by-product of your mental activity—Hallo! that's Anstey already."
A peculiar knock, apparently delivered with the handle of a walking-stick on the outer door, was the occasion of this exclamation, and as Thorndyke sprang up and flung the door open, a clear, musical voice was borne in, the measured cadences of which proclaimed at once the trained orator.
"Hail, learned brother!" it exclaimed. "Do I disturb you untimely at your studies?" Here our visitor entered the room and looked round critically. "'Tis even so," he declared. "Physiological chemistry and its practical applications appears to be the subject. A physico-chemical inquiry into the properties of streaky bacon and fried eggs. Do I see another learned brother?"
He peered keenly at me through his pince-nez, and I gazed at him in some embarrassment.
"This is my friend Jervis, of whom you have heard me speak," said Thorndyke. "He is with us in this case, you know."
"The echoes of your fame have reached me, sir," said Anstey, holding out his hand. "I am proud to know you. I should have recognised you instantly from the portrait of your lamented uncle in Greenwich Hospital."
"Anstey is a wag, you understand," explained Thorndyke, "but he has lucid intervals. He'll have one presently if we are patient."
"Patient!" snorted our eccentric visitor, "it is I who need to be patient when I am dragged into police courts and other sinks of iniquity to plead for common thieves and robbers like a Kennington Lane advocate."
"You've been talking to Lawley, I see," said Thorndyke.
"Yes, and he tells me that we haven't a leg to stand upon."
"No, we've got to stand on our heads, as men of intellect should. But Lawley knows nothing about the case."
"He thinks he knows it all," said Anstey.
"Most fools do," retorted Thorndyke. "They arrive at their knowledge by intuition—a deuced easy road and cheap travelling too. We reserve our defence—I suppose you agree to that?"
"I suppose so. The magistrate is sure to commit unless you have an unquestionable alibi."
"We shall put in an alibi, but we are not depending on it."
"Then we had better reserve our defence," said Anstey; "and it is time that we wended on our pilgrimage, for we are due at Lawley's at half-past ten. Is Jervis coming with us?"
"Yes, you'd better come," said Thorndyke. "It's the adjourned hearing of poor Hornby's case, you know. There won't be anything done on our side, but we may be able to glean some hint from the prosecution."
"I should like to hear what takes place, at any rate," I said, and we accordingly sallied forth together in the direction of Lincoln's Inn, on the north side of which Mr. Lawley's office was situated.
"Ah!" said the solicitor, as we entered, "I am glad you've come; I was getting anxious—it doesn't do to be late on these occasions, you know. Let me see, do you know Mr. Walter Hornby? I don't think you do." He presented Thorndyke and me to our client's cousin, and as we shook hands, we viewed one another with a good deal of mutual interest.
"I have heard about you from my aunt," said he, addressing himself more particularly to me. "She appears to regard you as a kind of legal Maskelyne and Cooke. I hope, for my cousin's sake, that you will be able to work the wonders that she anticipates. Poor old fellow! He looks pretty bad, doesn't he?"
I glanced at Reuben, who was at the moment talking to Thorndyke, and as he caught my eye he held out his hand with a warmth that I found very pathetic. He seemed to have aged since I had last seen him, and was pale and rather thinner, but he was composed in his manner and seemed to me to be taking his trouble very well on the whole.
"Cab's at the door, sir," a clerk announced.
"Cab," repeated Mr. Lawley, looking dubiously at me; "we want an omnibus."
"Dr. Jervis and I can walk," Walter Hornby suggested. "We shall probably get there as soon as you, and it doesn't matter if we don't."
"Yes, that will do," said Mr. Lawley; "you two walk down together. Now let us go."
We trooped out on to the pavement, beside which a four-wheeler was drawn up, and as the others were entering the cab, Thorndyke stood close beside me for a moment.
"Don't let him pump you," he said in a low voice, without looking at me; then he sprang into the cab and slammed the door.
"What an extraordinary affair this is," Walter Hornby remarked, after we had been walking in silence for a minute or two; "a most ghastly business. I must confess that I can make neither head nor tail of it."
"How is that?" I asked.
"Why, do you see, there are apparently only two possible theories of the crime, and each of them seems to be unthinkable. On the one hand there is Reuben, a man of the most scrupulous honour, as far as my experience of him goes, committing a mean and sordid theft for which no motive can be discovered—for he is not poor, nor pecuniarily embarrassed nor in the smallest degree avaricious. On the other hand, there is this thumb-print, which, in the opinion of the experts, is tantamount to the evidence of an eye-witness that he did commit the theft. It is positively bewildering. Don't you think so?"
"As you put it," I answered, "the case is extraordinarily puzzling."
"But how else would you put it?" he demanded, with ill-concealed eagerness.
"I mean that, if Reuben is the man you believe him to be, the thing is incomprehensible."
"Quite so," he agreed, though he was evidently disappointed at my colourless answer.
He walked on silently for a few minutes and then said: "I suppose it would not be fair to ask if you see any way out of the difficulty? We are all, naturaly anxious about the upshot of the affair, seeing what poor old Reuben's position is."
"Naturally. But the fact is that I know no more than you do, and as to Thorndyke, you might as well cross-examine a Whitstable native as put questions to him."
"Yes, so I gathered from Juliet. But I thought you might have gleaned some notion of the line of defence from your work in the laboratory—the microscopical and photographic work I mean."
"I was never in the laboratory until last night, when Thorndyke took me there with your aunt and Miss Gibson; the work there is done by the laboratory assistant, and his knowledge of the case, I should say, is about as great as a type-founder's knowledge of the books that he is helping to produce. No; Thorndyke is a man who plays a single-handed game and no one knows what cards he holds until he lays them on the table."
My companion considered this statement in silence while I congratulated myself on having parried, with great adroitness, a rather inconvenient question. But the time was not far distant when I should have occasion to reproach myself bitterly for having been so explicit and emphatic.
"My uncle's condition," Walter resumed after a pause, "is a pretty miserable one at present, with this horrible affair added to his own personal worries."
"Has he any special trouble besides this, then?" I asked.
"Why, haven't you heard? I thought you knew about it, or I shouldn't have spoken—not that it is in any way a secret, seeing that it is public property in the city. The fact is that his financial affairs are a little entangled just now."
"Indeed!" I exclaimed, considerably startled by this new development.
"Yes, things have taken a rather awkward turn, though I think he will pull through all right. It is the usual thing, you know—investments, or perhaps one should say speculations. He appears to have sunk a lot of capital in mines—thought he was 'in the know,' not unnaturally; but it seems he wasn't after all, and the things have gone wrong, leaving him with a deal more money than he can afford locked up and the possibility of a dead loss if they don't revive. Then there are these infernal diamonds. He is not morally responsible, we know; but it is a question if he is not legally responsible, though the lawyers think he is not. Anyhow, there is going to be a meeting of the creditors to-morrow."
"And what do you think they will do?"
"Oh, they will, most probably, let him go on for the present; but, of course, if he is made accountable for the diamonds there will be nothing for it but to 'go through the hoop,' as the sporting financier expresses it."
"The diamonds were of considerable value, then?"
"From twenty-five to thirty thousand pounds' worth vanished with that parcel."
I whistled. This was a much bigger affair than I had imagined, and I was wondering if Thorndyke had realised the magnitude of the robbery, when we arrived at the police court.
"I suppose our friends have gone inside," said Walter. "They must have got here before us."
This supposition was confirmed by a constable of whom we made inquiry, and who directed us to the entrance to the court. Passing down a passage and elbowing our way through the throng of idlers, we made for the solicitor's box, where we had barely taken our seats when the case was called.
Unspeakably dreary and depressing were the brief proceedings that followed, and dreadfully suggestive of the helplessness of even an innocent man on whom the law has laid its hand and in whose behalf its inexorable machinery has been set in motion.
The presiding magistrate, emotionless and dry, dipped his pen while Reuben, who had surrendered to his bail, was placed in the dock and the charge read over to him. The counsel representing the police gave an abstract of the case with the matter-of-fact air of a house-agent describing an eligible property. Then, when the plea of "not guilty" had been entered, the witnesses were called. There were only two, and when the name of the first, John Hornby, was called, I glanced towards the witness-box with no little curiosity.
I had not hitherto met Mr. Hornby, and as he now entered the box, I saw an elderly man, tall, florid, and well-preserved, but strained and wild in expression and displaying his uncontrollable agitation by continual nervous movements which contrasted curiously with the composed demeanour of the accused man. Nevertheless, he gave his evidence in a perfectly connected manner, recounting the events connected with the discovery of the crime in much the same words as I had heard Mr. Lawley use, though, indeed, he was a good deal more emphatic than that gentleman had been in regard to the excellent character borne by the prisoner.
After him came Mr. Singleton, of the finger-print department at Scotland Yard, to whose evidence I listened with close attention. He produced the paper which bore the thumb-print in blood (which had previously been identified by Mr. Hornby) and a paper bearing the print, taken by himself, of the prisoner's left thumb. These two thumb-prints, he stated, were identical in every respect.
"And you are of opinion that the mark on the paper that was found in Mr. Hornby's safe, was made by the prisoner's left thumb?" the magistrate asked in dry and business-like tones.
"I am certain of it."
"You are of opinion that no mistake is possible?"
"No mistake is possible, your worship. It is a certainty."
The magistrate looked at Anstey inquiringly, whereupon the barrister rose. "We reserve our defence, your worship."
The magistrate then, in the same placid, business-like manner, committed the prisoner for trial at the Central Criminal Court, refusing to accept bail for his appearance, and, as Reuben was led forth from the dock, the next case was called.
By special favour of the authorities, Reuben was to be allowed to make his journey to Holloway in a cab, thus escaping the horrors of the filthy and verminous prison van, and while this was being procured, his friends were permitted to wish him farewell.
"This is a hard experience, Hornby," said Thorndyke, when we three were, for a few moments, left apart from the others; and as he spoke the warmth of a really sympathetic nature broke through his habitual impassivity. "But be of good cheer; I have convinced myself of your innocence and have good hopes of convincing the world—though this is for your private ear, you understand, to be mentioned to no one."
Reuben wrung the hand of this "friend in need," but was unable, for the moment, to speak; and, as his self-control was evidently strained to the breaking point, Thorndyke, with a man's natural instinct, wished him a hasty good-bye, and passing his hand through my arm, turned away.
"I wish it had been possible to save the poor fellow from this delay, and especially from the degradation of being locked up in a jail," he exclaimed regretfully as we walked down the street.
"There is surely no degradation in being merely accused of a crime," I answered, without much conviction, however. "It may happen to the best of us; and he is still an innocent man in the eyes of the law."
"That, my dear Jervis, you know, as well as I do, to be mere casuistry," he rejoined. "The law professes to regard the unconvicted man as innocent; but how does it treat him? You heard how the magistrate addressed our friend; outside the court he would have called him Mr. Hornby. You know what will happen to Reuben at Holloway. He will be ordered about by warders, will have a number label fastened on to his coat, he will be locked in a cell with a spy-hole in the door, through which any passing stranger may watch him; his food will be handed to him in a tin pan with a tin knife and spoon; and he will be periodically called out of his cell and driven round the exercise yard with a mob composed, for the most part, of the sweepings of the London slums. If he is acquitted, he will be turned loose without a suggestion of compensation or apology for these indignities or the losses he may have sustained through his detention."
"Still I suppose these evils are unavoidable," I said.
"That may or may not be," he retorted. "My point is that the presumption of innocence is a pure fiction; that the treatment of an accused man, from the moment of his arrest, is that of a criminal. However," he concluded, hailing a passing hansom, "this discussion must be adjourned or I shall be late at the hospital. What are you going to do?"
"I shall get some lunch and then call on Miss Gibson to let her know the real position."
"Yes, that will be kind, I think; baldly stated, the news may seem rather alarming. I was tempted to thrash the case out in the police court, but it would not have been safe. He would almost certainly have been committed for trial after all, and then we should have shown our hand to the prosecution."
He sprang into the hansom and was speedily swallowed up in the traffic, while I turned back towards the police court to make certain inquiries concerning the regulations as to visitors at Holloway prison. At the door I met the friendly inspector from Scotland Yard, who gave me the necessary information, whereupon with a certain homely little French restaurant in my mind I bent my steps in the direction of Soho.
SHOALS AND QUICKSANDS
When I arrived at Endsley Gardens, Miss Gibson was at home, and to my unspeakable relief, Mrs. Hornby was not. My veneration for that lady's moral qualities was excessive, but her conversation drove me to the verge of insanity—an insanity not entirely free from homicidal tendencies.
"It is good of you to come—though I thought you would," Miss Gibson said impulsively, as we shook hands. "You have been so sympathetic and human—both you and Dr. Thorndyke—so free from professional stiffness. My aunt went off to see Mr. Lawley directly we got Walter's telegram."
"I am sorry for her," I said (and was on the point of adding "and him," but fortunately a glimmer of sense restrained me); "she will find him dry enough."
"Yes; I dislike him extremely. Do you know that he had the impudence to advise Reuben to plead 'guilty'?"
"He told us he had done so, and got a well-deserved snubbing from Thorndyke for his pains."
"I am so glad," exclaimed Miss Gibson viciously. "But tell me what has happened. Walter simply said 'Transferred to higher court,' which we agreed was to mean, 'Committed for trial.' Has the defence failed? And where is Reuben?"
"The defence is reserved. Dr. Thorndyke considered it almost certain that the case would be sent for trial, and that being so, decided that it was essential to keep the prosecution in the dark as to the line of defence. You see, if the police knew what the defence was to be they could revise their own plans accordingly."
"I see that," said she dejectedly, "but I am dreadfully disappointed. I had hoped that Dr. Thorndyke would get the case dismissed. What has happened to Reuben?"
This was the question that I had dreaded, and now that I had to answer it I cleared my throat and bent my gaze nervously on the floor.
"The magistrate refused bail," I said after an uncomfortable pause.
"Consequently Reuben has been—er—detained in custody."
"You don't mean to say that they have sent him to prison?" she exclaimed breathlessly.
"Not as a convicted prisoner, you know. He is merely detained pending his trial."
"But in prison?"
"Yes," I was forced to admit; "in Holloway prison."
She looked me stonily in the face for some seconds, pale and wide-eyed, but silent; then, with a sudden catch in her breath, she turned away, and, grasping the edge of the mantel-shelf, laid her head upon her arm and burst into a passion of sobbing.
Now I am not, in general, an emotional man, nor even especially impulsive; but neither am I a stock or a stone or an effigy of wood; which I most surely must have been if I could have looked without being deeply moved on the grief, so natural and unselfish, of this strong, brave, loyal-hearted woman. In effect, I moved to her side and, gently taking in mine the hand that hung down, murmured some incoherent words of consolation in a particularly husky voice.
Presently she recovered herself somewhat and softly withdrew her hand, as she turned towards me drying her eyes.
"You must forgive me for distressing you, as I fear I have," she said; "for you are so kind, and I feel that you are really my friend and Reuben's."
"I am indeed, dear Miss Gibson," I replied, "and so, I assure you, is my colleague."
"I am sure of it," she rejoined. "But I was so unprepared for this—I cannot say why, excepting that I trusted so entirely in Dr. Thorndyke—and it is so horrible and, above all, so dreadfully suggestive of what may happen. Up to now the whole thing has seemed like a nightmare—terrifying, but yet unreal. But now that he is actually in prison, it has suddenly become a dreadful reality and I am overwhelmed with terror. Oh! poor boy! What will become of him? For pity's sake, Dr. Jervis, tell me what is going to happen."
What could I do? I had heard Thorndyke's words of encouragement to Reuben and knew my colleague well enough to feel sure that he meant all he had said. Doubtless my proper course would have been to keep my own counsel and put Miss Gibson off with cautious ambiguities. But I could not; she was worthy of more confidence than that.
"You must not be unduly alarmed about the future," I said. "I have it from Dr. Thorndyke that he is convinced of Reuben's innocence, and is hopeful of being able to make it clear to the world. But I did not have this to repeat," I added, with a slight qualm of conscience.
"I know," she said softly, "and I thank you from my heart."
"And as to this present misfortune," I continued, "you must not let it distress you too much. Try to think of it as of a surgical operation, which is a dreadful thing in itself, but is accepted in lieu of something which is immeasurably more dreadful."
"I will try to do as you tell me," she answered meekly; "but it is so shocking to think of a cultivated gentleman like Reuben, herded with common thieves and murderers, and locked in a cage like some wild animal. Think of the ignominy and degradation!"
"There is no ignominy in being wrongfully accused," I said—a little guiltily, I must own, for Thorndyke's words came back to me with all their force. But regardless of this I went on: "An acquittal will restore him to his position with an unstained character, and nothing but the recollection of a passing inconvenience to look back upon."
She gave her eyes a final wipe, and resolutely put away her handkerchief.
"You have given me back my courage," she said, "and chased away my terror. I cannot tell you how I feel your goodness, nor have I any thank-offering to make, except the promise to be brave and patient henceforth, and trust in you entirely."
She said this with such a grateful smile, and looked withal so sweet and womanly that I was seized with an overpowering impulse to take her in my arms. Instead of this I said with conscious feebleness: "I am more than thankful to have been able to give you any encouragement—which you must remember comes from me second-hand, after all. It is to Dr. Thorndyke that we all look for ultimate deliverance."
"I know. But it is you who came to comfort me in my trouble, so, you see, the honours are divided—and not divided quite equally, I fear, for women are unreasoning creatures, as, no doubt, your experience has informed you. I think I hear my aunt's voice, so you had better escape before your retreat is cut off. But before you go, you must tell me how and when I can see Reuben. I want to see him at the earliest possible moment. Poor fellow! He must not be allowed to feel that his friends have forgotten him even for a single instant."
"You can see him to-morrow, if you like," I said; and, casting my good resolutions to the winds, I added: "I shall be going to see him myself, and perhaps Dr. Thorndyke will go."
"Would you let me call at the Temple and go with you? Should I be much in the way? It is rather an alarming thing to go to a prison alone."
"It is not to be thought of," I answered. "If you will call at the Temple—it is on the way—we can drive to Holloway together. I suppose you are resolved to go? It will be rather unpleasant, as you are probably aware."
"I am quite resolved. What time shall I come to the Temple?"
"About two o'clock, if that will suit you."
"Very well. I will be punctual; and now you must go or you will be caught."
She pushed me gently towards the door and, holding out her hand, said— "I haven't thanked you half enough and I never can. Good-bye!"
She was gone, and I stood alone in the street, up which yellowish wreaths of fog were beginning to roll. It had been quite clear and bright when I entered the house, but now the sky was settling down into a colourless grey, the light was failing and the houses dwindling into dim, unreal shapes that vanished at half their height. Nevertheless I stepped out briskly and strode along at a good pace, as a young man is apt to do when his mind is in somewhat of a ferment. In truth, I had a good deal to occupy my thoughts and, as will often happen both to young men and old, those matters that bore most directly upon my own life and prospects were the first to receive attention.
What sort of relations were growing up between Juliet Gibson and me? And what was my position? As to hers, it seemed plain enough; she was wrapped up in Reuben Hornby and I was her very good friend because I was his. But for myself, there was no disguising the fact that I was beginning to take an interest in her that boded ill for my peace of mind.
Never had I met a woman who so entirely realised my conception of what a woman should be, nor one who exercised so great a charm over me. Her strength and dignity, her softness and dependency, to say nothing of her beauty, fitted her with the necessary weapons for my complete and utter subjugation. And utterly subjugated I was—there was no use in denying the fact, even though I realised already that the time would presently come when she would want me no more and there would remain no remedy for me but to go away and try to forget her.
But was I acting as a man of honour? To this I felt I could fairly answer "yes," for I was but doing my duty, and could hardly act differently if I wished to. Besides, I was jeopardising no one's happiness but my own, and a man may do as he pleases with his own happiness. No; even Thorndyke could not accuse me of dishonourable conduct.
Presently my thoughts took a fresh turn and I began to reflect upon what I had heard concerning Mr. Hornby. Here was a startling development, indeed, and I wondered what difference it would make in Thorndyke's hypothesis of the crime. What his theory was I had never been able to guess, but as I walked along through the thickening fog I tried to fit this new fact into our collection of data and determine its bearings and significance.
In this, for a time, I failed utterly. The red thumb-mark filled my field of vision to the exclusion of all else. To me, as to everyone else but Thorndyke, this fact was final and pointed to a conclusion that was unanswerable. But as I turned the story of the crime over and over, there came to me presently an idea that set in motion a new and very startling train of thought.
Could Mr. Hornby himself be the thief? His failure appeared sudden to the outside world, but he must have seen difficulties coming. There, indeed, was the thumb-mark on the leaf which he had torn from his pocket-block. Yes! but who had seen him tear it off? No one. The fact rested on his bare statement.
But the thumb-mark? Well, it was possible (though unlikely)—still possible—that the mark might have been made accidentally on some previous occasion and forgotten by Reuben, or even unnoticed. Mr. Hornby had seen the "Thumbograph," in fact his own mark was in it, and so would have had his attention directed to the importance of finger-prints in identification. He might have kept the marked paper for future use, and, on the occasion of the robbery, pencilled a dated inscription on it, and slipped it into the safe as a sure means of diverting suspicion. All this was improbable in the highest degree, but then so was every other explanation of the crime; and as to the unspeakable baseness of the deed, what action is too base for a gambler in difficulties?
I was so much excited and elated by my own ingenuity in having formed an intelligible and practicable theory of the crime, that I was now impatient to reach home that I might impart my news to Thorndyke and see how they affected him. But as I approached the centre of the town the fog grew so dense that all my attention was needed to enable me to thread my way safely through the traffic; while the strange, deceptive aspect that it lent to familiar objects and the obliteration of landmarks made my progress so slow that it was already past six o'clock when I felt my way down Middle Temple Lane and crept through Crown Office Row towards my colleague's chambers.
On the doorstep I found Polton peering with anxious face into the blank expanse of yellow vapour.
"The Doctor's late, sir," said he. "Detained by the fog, I expect. It must be pretty thick in the Borough."
(I may mention that, to Polton, Thorndyke was The Doctor. Other inferior creatures there were, indeed, to whom the title of "doctor" in a way, appertained; but they were of no account in Polton's eyes. Surnames were good enough for them.)
"Yes, it must be," I replied, "judging by the condition of the Strand."
I entered and ascended the stairs, glad enough of the prospect of a warm and well-lighted room after my comfortless groping in the murky streets, and Polton, with a final glance up and down the walk reluctantly followed.
"You would like some tea, sir, I expect?" said he, as he let me in (though I had a key of my own now).
I thought I should, and he accordingly set about the preparations in his deft methodical way, but with an air of abstraction that was unusual with him.
"The Doctor said he should be home by five," he remarked, as he laid the tea-pot on the tray.
"Then he is a defaulter," I answered. "We shall have to water his tea."
"A wonderful punctual man, sir, is the Doctor," pursued Polton. "Keeps his time to the minute, as a rule, he does."
"You can't keep your time to a minute in a 'London Particular,'" I said a little impatiently, for I wished to be alone that I might think over matters, and Polton's nervous flutterings irritated me somewhat. He was almost as bad as a female housekeeper.
The little man evidently perceived my state of mind, for he stole away silently, leaving me rather penitent and ashamed, and, as I presently discovered on looking out of the window, resumed his vigil on the doorstep. From this coign of vantage he returned after a time to take away the tea-things; and thereafter, though it was now dark as well as foggy, I could hear him softly flitting up and down the stairs with a gloomy stealthiness that at length reduced me to a condition as nervously apprehensive as his own.
A SUSPICIOUS ACCIDENT
The Temple clock had announced in soft and confidential tones that it was a quarter to seven, in which statement it was stoutly supported by its colleague on our mantelpiece, and still there was no sign of Thorndyke. It was really a little strange, for he was the soul of punctuality, and moreover, his engagements were of such a kind as rendered punctuality possible. I was burning with impatience to impart my news to him, and this fact, together with the ghostly proceedings of Polton, worked me up to a state of nervous tension that rendered either rest or thought equally impossible. I looked out of the window at the lamp below, glaring redly through the fog, and then, opening the door, went out on to the landing to listen.
At this moment Polton made a silent appearance on the stairs leading from the laboratory, giving me quite a start; and I was about to retire into the room when my ear caught the tinkle of a hansom approaching from Paper Buildings.
The vehicle drew nearer, and at length stopped opposite the house, on which Polton slid down the stairs with the agility of a harlequin. A few moments later I heard his voice ascending from the hall—
"I do hope, sir, you're not much hurt?"
I ran down the stairs and met Thorndyke coming up slowly with his right hand on Polton's shoulder. His clothes were muddy, his left arm was in a sling, and a black handkerchief under his hat evidently concealed a bandage.
"I am not really hurt at all," Thorndyke replied cheerily, "though very disreputable to look at. Just came a cropper in the mud, Jervis," he added, as he noted my dismayed expression. "Dinner and a clothes-brush are what I chiefly need." Nevertheless, he looked very pale and shaken when he came into the light on the landing, and he sank into his easy-chair in the limp manner of a man either very weak or very fatigued.
"How did it happen?" I asked when Polton had crept away on tip-toe to make ready for dinner.
Thorndyke looked round to make sure that his henchman had departed, and said—
"A queer affair, Jervis; a very odd affair indeed. I was coming up from the Borough, picking my way mighty carefully across the road on account of the greasy, slippery mud, and had just reached the foot of London Bridge when I heard a heavy lorry coming down the slope a good deal too fast, considering that it was impossible to see more than a dozen yards ahead, and I stopped on the kerb to see it safely past. Just as the horses emerged from the fog, a man came up behind and lurched violently against me and, strangely enough, at the same moment passed his foot in front of mine. Of course I went sprawling into the road right in front of the lorry. The horses came stamping and sliding straight on to me, and, before I could wriggle out of the way, the hoof of one of them smashed in my hat—that was a new one that I came home in—and half-stunned me. Then the near wheel struck my head, making a dirty little scalp wound, and pinned down my sleeve so that I couldn't pull away my arm, which is consequently barked all the way down. It was a mighty near thing, Jervis; another inch or two and I should have been rolled out as flat as a starfish."
"What became of the man?" I asked, wishing I could have had a brief interview with him.
"Lost to sight though to memory dear: he was off like a lamplighter. An alcoholic apple-woman picked me up and escorted me back to the hospital. It must have been a touching spectacle," he added, with a dry smile at the recollection.
"And I suppose they kept you there for a time to recover?"
"Yes; I went into dry dock in the O. P. room, and then old Langdale insisted on my lying down for an hour or so in case any symptoms of concussion should appear. But I was only a trifle shaken and confused. Still, it was a queer affair."
"You mean the man pushing you down in that way?"
"Yes; I can't make out how his foot got in front of mine."
"You don't think it was intentional, surely?" I said.
"No, of course not," he replied, but without much conviction, as it seemed to me; and I was about to pursue the matter when Polton reappeared, and my friend abruptly changed the subject.
After dinner I recounted my conversation with Walter Hornby, watching my colleague's face with some eagerness to see what effect this new information would produce on him. The result was, on the whole, disappointing. He was interested, keenly interested, but showed no symptoms of excitement.
"So John Hornby has been plunging in mines, eh?" he said, when I had finished. "He ought to know better at his age. Did you learn how long he had been in difficulties?"
"No. But it can hardly have been quite sudden and unforeseen."
"I should think not," Thorndyke agreed. "A sudden slump often proves disastrous to the regular Stock Exchange gambler who is paying differences on large quantities of unpaid-for stock. But it looks as if Hornby had actually bought and paid for these mines, treating them as investments rather than speculations, in which case the depreciation would not have affected him in the same way. It would be interesting to know for certain."
"It might have a considerable bearing on the present case, might it not?"
"Undoubtedly," said Thorndyke. "It might bear on the case in more ways than one. But you have some special point in your mind, I think."
"Yes. I was thinking that if these embarrassments had been growing up gradually for some time, they might have already assumed an acute form at the time of the robbery."
"That is well considered," said my colleague. "But what is the special bearing on the case supposing it was so?"
"On the supposition," I replied, "that Mr. Hornby was in actual pecuniary difficulties at the date of the robbery, it seems to me possible to construct a hypothesis as to the identity of the robber."
"I should like to hear that hypothesis stated," said Thorndyke, rousing himself and regarding me with lively interest.
"It is a highly improbable one," I began with some natural shyness at the idea of airing my wits before this master of inductive method; "in fact, it is almost fantastic."
"Never mind that," said he. "A sound thinker gives equal consideration to the probable and the improbable."
Thus encouraged, I proceeded to set forth the theory of the crime as it had occurred to me on my way home in the fog, and I was gratified to observe the close attention with which Thorndyke listened, and his little nods of approval at each point that I made.
When I had finished, he remained silent for some time, looking thoughtfully into the fire and evidently considering how my theory and the new facts on which it was based would fit in with the rest of the data. At length he spoke, without, however, removing his eyes from the red embers—
"This theory of yours, Jervis, does great credit to your ingenuity. We may disregard the improbability, seeing that the alternative theories are almost equally improbable, and the fact that emerges, and that gratifies me more than I can tell you, is that you are gifted with enough scientific imagination to construct a possible train of events. Indeed, the improbability—combined, of course, with possibility—really adds to the achievement, for the dullest mind can perceive the obvious—as, for instance, the importance of a finger-print. You have really done a great thing, and I congratulate you; for you have emancipated yourself, at least to some extent, from the great finger-print obsession, which has possessed the legal mind ever since Galton published his epoch-making monograph. In that work I remember he states that a finger-print affords evidence requiring no corroboration—a most dangerous and misleading statement which has been fastened upon eagerly by the police, who have naturally been delighted at obtaining a sort of magic touchstone by which they are saved the labour of investigation. But there is no such thing as a single fact that 'affords evidence requiring no corroboration.' As well might one expect to make a syllogism with a single premise." "I suppose they would hardly go so far as that," I said, laughing.
"No," he admitted. "But the kind of syllogism that they do make is this—
"'The crime was committed by the person who made this finger-print.
"'But John Smith is the person who made the finger-print.
"'Therefore the crime was committed by John Smith.'"
"Well, that is a perfectly good syllogism, isn't it?" I asked.
"Perfectly," he replied. "But, you see, it begs the whole question, which is, 'Was the crime committed by the person who made this finger-print?' That is where the corroboration is required."
"That practically leaves the case to be investigated without reference to the finger-print, which thus becomes of no importance."
"Not at all," rejoined Thorndyke; "the finger-print is a most valuable clue as long as its evidential value is not exaggerated. Take our present case, for instance. Without the thumb-print, the robbery might have been committed by anybody; there is no clue whatever. But the existence of the thumb-print narrows the inquiry down to Reuben or some person having access to his finger-prints."
"Yes, I see. Then you consider my theory of John Hornby as the perpetrator of the robbery as quite a tenable one?" "Quite," replied Thorndyke. "I have entertained it from the first; and the new facts that you have gathered increase its probability. You remember I said that four hypotheses were possible: that the robbery was committed either by Reuben, by Walter, by John Hornby, or by some other person. Now, putting aside the 'some other person' for consideration only if the first three hypotheses fail, we have left, Reuben, Walter, and John. But if we leave the thumb-print out of the question, the probabilities evidently point to John Hornby, since he, admittedly, had access to the diamonds, whereas there is nothing to show that the others had. The thumb-print, however, transfers the suspicion to Reuben; but yet, as your theory makes evident, it does not completely clear John Hornby. As the case stands, the balance of probabilities may be stated thus: John Hornby undoubtedly had access to the diamonds, and therefore might have stolen them. But if the thumb-mark was made after he closed the safe and before he opened it again, some other person must have had access to them, and was probably the thief.
"The thumb-mark is that of Reuben Hornby, a fact that establishes a prima facie probability that he stole the diamonds. But there is no evidence that he had access to them, and if he had not, he could not have made the thumb-mark in the manner and at the time stated.
"But John Hornby may have had access to the previously-made thumb-mark of Reuben, and may possibly have obtained it; in which case he is almost certainly the thief.
"As to Walter Hornby, he may have had the means of obtaining Reuben's thumb-mark; but there is no evidence that he had access either to the diamonds or to Mr. Hornby's memorandum block. The prima facie probabilities in his case, therefore, are very slight."
"The actual points at issue, then," I said, "are, whether Reuben had any means of opening the safe, and whether Mr. Hornby ever did actually have the opportunity of obtaining Reuben's thumb-mark in blood on his memorandum block."
"Yes," replied Thorndyke. "Those are the points—with some others—and they are likely to remain unsettled. Reuben's rooms have been searched by the police, who failed to find any skeleton or duplicate keys; but this proves nothing, as he would probably have made away with them when he heard of the thumb-mark being found. As to the other matter, I have asked Reuben, and he has no recollection of ever having made a thumb-mark in blood. So there the matter rests."
"And what about Mr. Hornby's liability for the diamonds?"
"I think we may dismiss that," answered Thorndyke. "He had undertaken no liability and there was no negligence. He would not be liable at law."
After my colleague retired, which he did quite early, I sat for a long time pondering upon this singular case in which I found myself involved. And the more I thought about it the more puzzled I became. If Thorndyke had no more satisfactory explanation to offer than that which he had given me this evening, the defence was hopeless, for the court was not likely to accept his estimate of the evidential value of finger-prints. Yet he had given Reuben something like a positive assurance that there would be an adequate defence, and had expressed his own positive conviction of the accused man's innocence. But Thorndyke was not a man to reach such a conviction through merely sentimental considerations. The inevitable conclusion was that he had something up his sleeve—that he had gained possession of some facts that had escaped my observation; and when I had reached this point I knocked out my pipe and betook myself to bed.
On the following morning, as I emerged from my room, I met Polton coming up with a tray (our bedrooms were on the attic floor above the laboratory and workshop), and I accordingly followed him into my friend's chamber.
"I shan't go out to-day," said Thorndyke, "though I shall come down presently. It is very inconvenient, but one must accept the inevitable. I have had a knock on the head, and, although I feel none the worse, I must take the proper precautions—rest and a low diet—until I see that no results are going to follow. You can attend to the scalp wound and send round the necessary letters, can't you?"
I expressed my willingness to do all that was required and applauded my friend's self-control and good sense; indeed, I could not help contrasting the conduct of this busy, indefatigable man, cheerfully resigning himself to most distasteful inaction, with the fussy behaviour of the ordinary patient who, with nothing of importance to do, can hardly be prevailed upon to rest, no matter how urgent the necessity. Accordingly, I breakfasted alone, and spent the morning in writing and despatching letters to the various persons who were expecting visits from my colleague.
Shortly after lunch (a very spare one, by the way, for Polton appeared to include me in the scheme of reduced diet) my expectant ear caught the tinkle of a hansom approaching down Crown Office Row.
"Here comes your fair companion," said Thorndyke, whom I had acquainted with my arrangements, "Tell Hornby, from me, to keep up his courage, and, for yourself, bear my warning in mind. I should be sorry indeed if you ever had cause to regret that you had rendered me the very valuable services for which I am now indebted to you. Good-bye; don't keep her waiting."
I ran down the stairs and came out of the entry just as the cabman had pulled up and flung open the doors.
"Holloway Prison—main entrance," I said, as I stepped up on to the footboard.
"There ain't no back door there, sir," the man responded, with a grin; and I was glad that neither the answer nor the grin was conveyed to my fellow-passenger.
"You are very punctual, Miss Gibson," I said. "It is not half-past one yet."
"Yes; I thought I should like to get there by two, so as to have as long a time with him as is possible without shortening your interview."
I looked at my companion critically. She was dressed with rather more than her usual care, and looked, in fact, a very fine lady indeed. This circumstance, which I noted at first with surprise and then with decided approbation, caused me some inward discomfort, for I had in my mind a very distinct and highly disagreeable picture of the visiting arrangements at a local prison in one of the provinces, at which I had acted temporarily as medical officer.
"I suppose," I said at length, "it is of no use for me to re-open the question of the advisability of this visit on your part?"
"Not the least," she replied resolutely, "though I understand and appreciate your motive in wishing to do so."
"Then," said I, "if you are really decided, it will be as well for me to prepare you for the ordeal. I am afraid it will give you a terrible shock."
"Indeed?" said she. "Is it so bad? Tell me what it will be like."
"In the first place," I replied, "you must keep in your mind the purpose of a prison like Holloway. We are going to see an innocent man—a cultivated and honourable gentleman. But the ordinary inmates of Holloway are not innocent men; for the most part, the remand cases on the male side are professional criminals, while the women are either petty offenders or chronic inebriates. Most of them are regular customers at the prison—such is the idiotic state of the law—who come into the reception-room like travellers entering a familiar hostelry, address the prison officers by name and demand the usual privileges and extra comforts—the 'drunks,' for instance, generally ask for a dose of bromide to steady their nerves and a light in the cell to keep away the horrors. And such being the character of the inmates, their friends who visit them are naturally of the same type—the lowest outpourings of the slums; and it is not surprising to find that the arrangements of the prison are made to fit its ordinary inmates. The innocent man is a negligible quantity, and no arrangements are made for him or his visitors."
"But shall we not be taken to Reuben's cell?" asked Miss Gibson.
"Bless you! no," I answered; and, determined to give her every inducement to change her mind, I continued: "I will describe the procedure as I have seen it—and a very dreadful and shocking sight I found it, I can tell you. It was while I was acting as a prison doctor in the Midlands that I had this experience. I was going my round one morning when, passing along a passage, I became aware of a strange, muffled roar from the other side of the wall.
"'What is that noise?' I asked the warder who was with me.
"'Prisoners seeing their friends,' he answered. 'Like to have a look at them, sir?'
"He unlocked a small door and, as he threw it open, the distant, muffled sound swelled into a deafening roar. I passed through the door and found myself in a narrow alley at one end of which a warder was sitting. The sides of the alley were formed by two immense cages with stout wire bars, one for the prisoners and the other for the visitors; and each cage was lined with faces and hands, all in incessant movement, the faces mouthing and grimacing, and the hands clawing restlessly at the bars. The uproar was so terrific that no single voice could be distinguished, though every one present was shouting his loudest to make himself heard above the universal din. The result was a very strange and horrid illusion, for it seemed as if no one was speaking at all, but that the noise came from outside, and that each one of the faces—low, vicious faces, mostly—was silently grimacing and gibbering, snapping its jaws and glaring furiously at the occupants of the opposite cage. It was a frightful spectacle. I could think of nothing but the monkey-house at the Zoo. It seemed as if one ought to walk up the alley and offer nuts and pieces of paper to be torn to pieces."
"Horrible!" exclaimed Miss Gibson. "And do you mean to say that we shall be turned loose into one of these cages with a herd of other visitors?"
"No. You are not turned loose anywhere in a prison. The arrangement is this: each cage is divided by partitions into a number of small boxes or apartments, which are numbered. The prisoner is locked in one box and his visitor in the corresponding box opposite. They are thus confronted, with the width of the alley between them; they can see one another and talk but cannot pass any forbidden articles across—a very necessary precaution, I need hardly say."
"Yes, I suppose it is necessary, but it is horrible for decent people. Surely they ought to be able to discriminate."
"Why not give it up and let me take a message to Reuben? He would understand and be thankful to me for dissuading you."
"No, no," she said quickly; "the more repulsive it is the greater the necessity for me to go. He must not be allowed to think that a trifling inconvenience or indignity is enough to scare his friends away. What building is that ahead?"
We had just swung round from Caledonian Road into a quiet and prosperous-looking suburban street, at the end of which rose the tower of a castellated building.
"That is the prison," I replied. "We are looking at it from the most advantageous point of view; seen from the back, and especially from the inside, it is a good deal less attractive." Nothing more was said until the cab drove into the courtyard and set us down outside the great front gates. Having directed the cabman to wait for us, I rang the bell and we were speedily admitted through a wicket (which was immediately closed and locked) into a covered court closed in by a second gate, through the bars of which we could see across an inner courtyard to the actual entrance to the prison. Here, while the necessary formalities were gone through, we found ourselves part of a numerous and very motley company, for a considerable assemblage of the prisoners' friends was awaiting the moment of admission. I noticed that my companion was observing our fellow-visitors with a kind of horrified curiosity, which she strove, however, and not unsuccessfully, to conceal; and certainly the appearance of the majority furnished eloquent testimony to the failure of crime as a means of worldly advancement. Their present position was productive of very varied emotions; some were silent and evidently stricken with grief; a larger number were voluble and excited, while a considerable proportion were quite cheerful and even inclined to be facetious.
At length the great iron gate was unlocked and our party taken in charge by a warder, who conducted us to that part of the building known as "the wing"; and, in the course of our progress, I could not help observing the profound impression made upon my companion by the circumstance that every door had to be unlocked to admit us and was locked again as soon as we had passed through.
"It seems to me," I said, as we neared our destination, "that you had better let me see Reuben first; I have not much to say to him and shall not keep you waiting long."
"Why do you think so?" she asked, with a shade of suspicion.
"Well," I answered, "I think you may be a little upset by the interview, and I should like to see you into your cab as soon as possible afterwards."
"Yes," she said; "perhaps you are right, and it is kind of you to be so thoughtful on my account."
A minute later, accordingly, I found myself shut into a narrow box, like one of those which considerate pawnbrokers provide for their more diffident clients, and in a similar, but more intense, degree, pervaded by a subtle odour of uncleanness. The woodwork was polished to an unctuous smoothness by the friction of numberless dirty hands and soiled garments, and the general appearance—taken in at a glance as I entered—was such as to cause me to thrust my hands into my pockets and studiously avoid contact with any part of the structure but the floor. The end of the box opposite the door was closed in by a strong grating of wire—excepting the lower three feet, which was of wood—and looking through this, I perceived, behind a second grating, Reuben Hornby, standing in a similar attitude to my own. He was dressed in his usual clothes and with his customary neatness, but his face was unshaven and he wore, suspended from a button-hole, a circular label bearing the characters "B.31"; and these two changes in his exterior carried with them a suggestiveness as subtle as it was unpleasant, making me more than ever regretful that Miss Gibson had insisted on coming.
"It is exceedingly good of you, Dr. Jervis, to come and see me," he said heartily, making himself heard quite easily, to my surprise, above the hubbub of the adjoining boxes; "but I didn't expect you here. I was told I could see my legal advisers in the solicitor's box."
"So you could," I answered. "But I came here by choice because I have brought Miss Gibson with me." "I am sorry for that," he rejoined, with evident disapproval; "she oughtn't to have come among these riff-raff."
"I told her so, and that you wouldn't like it, but she insisted."
"I know," said Reuben. "That's the worst of women—they will make a beastly fuss and sacrifice themselves when nobody wants them to. But I mustn't be ungrateful; she means it kindly, and she's a deuced good sort, is Juliet."
"She is indeed," I exclaimed, not a little disgusted at his cool, unappreciative tone; "a most noble-hearted girl, and her devotion to you is positively heroic."
The faintest suspicion of a smile appeared on the face seen through the double grating; on which I felt that I could have pulled his nose with pleasure—only that a pair of tongs of special construction would have been required for the purpose.
"Yes," he answered calmly, "we have always been very good friends."
A rejoinder of the most extreme acidity was on my lips. Damn the fellow! What did he mean by speaking in that supercilious tone of the loveliest and sweetest woman in the world? But, after all, one cannot trample on a poor devil locked up in a jail on a false charge, no matter how great may be the provocation. I drew a deep breath, and, having recovered myself, outwardly at least, said—
"I hope you don't find the conditions here too intolerable?" "Oh, no," he answered. "It's beastly unpleasant, of course, but it might easily be worse. I don't mind if it's only for a week or two; and I am really encouraged by what Dr. Thorndyke said. I hope he wasn't being merely soothing."
"You may take it that he was not. What he said, I am sure he meant. Of course, you know I am not in his confidence—nobody is—but I gather that he is satisfied with the defence he is preparing."
"If he is satisfied, I am," said Reuben, "and, in any case, I shall owe him an immense debt of gratitude for having stood by me and believed in me when all the world—except my aunt and Juliet—had condemned me."
He then went on to give me a few particulars of his prison life, and when he had chatted for a quarter of an hour or so, I took my leave to make way for Miss Gibson.
Her interview with him was not as long as I had expected, though, to be sure, the conditions were not very favourable either for the exchange of confidences or for utterances of a sentimental character. The consciousness that one's conversation could be overheard by the occupants of adjacent boxes destroyed all sense of privacy, to say nothing of the disturbing influence of the warder in the alley-way.
When she rejoined me, her manner was abstracted and very depressed, a circumstance that gave me considerable food for reflection as we made our way in silence towards the main entrance. Had she found Reuben as cool and matter-of-fact as I had? He was assuredly a very calm and self-possessed lover, and it was conceivable that his reception of the girl, strung up, as she was, to an acute pitch of emotion, might have been somewhat in the nature of an anticlimax. And then, was it possible that the feeling was on her side only? Could it be that the priceless pearl of her love was cast before—I was tempted to use the colloquial singular and call him an "unappreciative swine!" The thing was almost unthinkable to me, and yet I was tempted to dwell upon it; for when a man is in love—and I could no longer disguise my condition from myself—he is inclined to be humble and to gather up thankfully the treasure that is rejected of another.
I was brought up short in these reflections by the clank of the lock in the great iron gate. We entered together the gloomy vestibule, and a moment later were let out through the wicket into the courtyard; and as the lock clicked behind us, we gave a simultaneous sigh of relief to find ourselves outside the precincts of the prison, beyond the domain of bolts and bars.
I had settled Miss Gibson in the cab and given her address to the driver, when I noticed her looking at me, as I thought, somewhat wistfully.
"Can't I put you down somewhere?" she said, in response to a half-questioning glance from me.
I seized the opportunity with thankfulness and replied—
"You might set me down at King's Cross if it is not delaying you;" and giving the word to the cabman, I took my place by her side as the cab started and a black-painted prison van turned into the courtyard with its freight of squalid misery.
"I don't think Reuben was very pleased to see me," Miss Gibson remarked presently, "but I shall come again all the same. It is a duty I owe both to him and to myself."
I felt that I ought to endeavour to dissuade her, but the reflection that her visits must almost of necessity involve my companionship, enfeebled my will. I was fast approaching a state of infatuation.
"I was so thankful," she continued, "that you prepared me. It was a horrible experience to see the poor fellow caged like a wild beast, with that dreadful label hanging from his coat; but it would have been overwhelming if I had not known what to expect."
As we proceeded, her spirits revived somewhat, a circumstance that she graciously ascribed to the enlivening influence of my society; and I then told her of the mishap that had befallen my colleague.
"What a terrible thing!" she exclaimed, with evidently unaffected concern. "It is the merest chance that he was not killed on the spot. Is he much hurt? And would he mind, do you think, if I called to inquire after him?"
I said that I was sure he would be delighted (being, as a matter of fact, entirely indifferent as to his sentiments on the subject in my delight at the proposal), and when I stepped down from the cab at King's Cross to pursue my way homewards, there already opened out before me the prospect of the renewal of this bitter-sweet and all too dangerous companionship on the morrow.
POLTON IS MYSTIFIED
A couple of days sufficed to prove that Thorndyke's mishap was not to be productive of any permanent ill consequences; his wounds progressed favourably and he was able to resume his ordinary avocations.
Miss Gibson's visit—but why should I speak of her in these formal terms? To me, when I thought of her, which I did only too often, she was Juliet, with perhaps an adjective thrown in; and as Juliet I shall henceforth speak of her (but without the adjective) in this narrative, wherein nothing has been kept back from the reader—Juliet's visit, then, had been a great success, for my colleague was really pleased by the attention, and displayed a quiet geniality that filled our visitor with delight.
He talked a good deal of Reuben, and I could see that he was endeavouring to settle in his own mind the vexed question of her relations with and sentiments towards our unfortunate client; but what conclusions he arrived at I was unable to discover, for he was by no means communicative after she had left. Nor was there any repetition of the visit—greatly to my regret—since, as I have said, he was able, in a day or two, to resume his ordinary mode of life.
The first evidence I had of his renewed activity appeared when I returned to the chambers at about eleven o'clock in the morning, to find Polton hovering dejectedly about the sitting-room, apparently perpetrating as near an approach to a "spring clean" as could be permitted in a bachelor establishment.
"Hallo, Polton!" I exclaimed, "have you contrived to tear yourself away from the laboratory for an hour or two?"
"No, sir," he answered gloomily. "The laboratory has torn itself away from me."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"The Doctor has shut himself in and locked the door, and he says I am not to disturb him. It will be a cold lunch to-day."
"What is he doing in there?" I inquired.
"Ah!" said Polton, "that's just what I should like to know. I'm fair eaten up with curiosity. He is making some experiments in connection with some of his cases, and when the Doctor locks himself in to make experiments, something interesting generally follows. I should like to know what it is this time."
"I suppose there is a keyhole in the laboratory door?" I suggested, with a grin.
"Sir!" he exclaimed indignantly. "Dr. Jervis, I am surprised at you." Then, perceiving my facetious intent, he smiled also and added: "But there is a keyhole if you'd like to try it, though I'll wager the Doctor would see more of you than you would of him."
"You are mighty secret about your doings, you and the Doctor," I said.
"Yes," he answered. "You see, it's a queer trade this of the Doctor's, and there are some queer secrets in it. Now, for instance, what do you make of this?"
He produced from his pocket a leather case, whence he took a piece of paper which he handed to me. On it was a neatly executed drawing of what looked like one of a set of chessmen, with the dimensions written on the margin.
"It looks like a pawn—one of the Staunton pattern," I said.
"Just what I thought; but it isn't. I've got to make twenty-four of them, and what the Doctor is going to do with them fairly beats me."
"Perhaps he has invented some new game," I suggested facetiously. "He is always inventing new games and playing them mostly in courts of law, and then the other players generally lose. But this is a puzzler, and no mistake. Twenty-four of these to be turned up in the best-seasoned boxwood! What can they be for? Something to do with the experiments he is carrying on upstairs at this very moment, I expect." He shook his head, and, having carefully returned the drawing to his pocket-book, said, in a solemn tone—"Sir, there are times when the Doctor makes me fairly dance with curiosity. And this is one of them."
Although not afflicted with a curiosity so acute as that of Polton, I found myself speculating at intervals on the nature of my colleague's experiments and the purpose of the singular little objects which he had ordered to be made; but I was unacquainted with any of the cases on which he was engaged, excepting that of Reuben Hornby, and with the latter I was quite unable to connect a set of twenty-four boxwood chessmen. Moreover, on this day, I was to accompany Juliet on her second visit to Holloway, and that circumstance gave me abundant mental occupation of another kind.
At lunch, Thorndyke was animated and talkative but not communicative. He "had some work in the laboratory that he must do himself," he said, but gave no hint as to its nature; and as soon as our meal was finished, he returned to his labours, leaving me to pace up and down the walk, listening with ridiculous eagerness for the sound of the hansom that was to transport me to the regions of the blest, and—incidentally—to Holloway Prison.
When I returned to the Temple, the sitting-room was empty and hideously neat, as the result of Polton's spring-cleaning efforts. My colleague was evidently still at work in the laboratory, and, from the circumstance that the tea-things were set out on the table and a kettle of water placed in readiness on the gas-ring by the fireplace, I gathered that Polton also was full of business and anxious not to be disturbed.
Accordingly, I lit the gas and made my tea, enlivening my solitude by turning over in my mind the events of the afternoon.
Juliet had been charming—as she always was—frank, friendly and unaffectedly pleased to have my companionship. She evidently liked me and did not disguise the fact—why should she indeed?—but treated me with a freedom, almost affectionate, as though I had been a favourite brother; which was very delightful, and would have been more so if I could have accepted the relationship. As to her feelings towards me, I had not the slightest misgiving, and so my conscience was clear; for Juliet was as innocent as a child, with the innocence that belongs to the direct, straightforward nature that neither does evil itself nor looks for evil motives in others. For myself, I was past praying for. The thing was done and I must pay the price hereafter, content to reflect that I had trespassed against no one but myself. It was a miserable affair, and many a heartache did it promise me in the lonely days that were to come, when I should have said "good-bye" to the Temple and gone back to my old nomadic life; and yet I would not have had it changed if I could; would not have bartered the bitter-sweet memories for dull forgetfulness.
But other matters had transpired in the course of our drive than those that loomed so large to me in the egotism of my love. We had spoken of Mr. Hornby and his affairs, and from our talk there had emerged certain facts of no little moment to the inquiry on which I was engaged.
"Misfortunes are proverbially sociable," Juliet had remarked, in reference to her adopted uncle. "As if this trouble about Reuben were not enough, there are worries in the city. Perhaps you have heard of them."
I replied that Walter had mentioned the matter to me.
"Yes," said Juliet rather viciously; "I am not quite clear as to what part that good gentleman has played in the matter. It has come out, quite accidentally, that he had a large holding in the mines himself, but he seems to have 'cut his loss,' as the phrase goes, and got out of them; though how he managed to pay such large differences is more than we can understand. We think he must have raised money somehow to do it."
"Do you know when the mines began to depreciate?" I asked.
"Yes, it was quite a sudden affair—what Walter calls 'a slump'—and it occurred only a few days before the robbery. Mr. Hornby was telling me about it only yesterday, and he recalled it to me by a ridiculous accident that happened on that day."
"What was that?" I inquired.
"Why, I cut my finger and nearly fainted," she answered, with a shamefaced little laugh. "It was rather a bad cut, you know, but I didn't notice it until I found my hand covered with blood. Then I turned suddenly faint, and had to lie down on the hearthrug—it was in Mr. Hornby's study, which I was tidying up at the time. Here I was found by Reuben, and a dreadful fright it gave him at first; and then he tore up his handkerchief to tie up the wounded finger, and you never saw such an awful mess as he got his hands in. He might have been arrested as a murderer, poor boy, from the condition he was in. It will make your professional gorge rise to learn that he fastened up the extemporised bandage with red tape, which he got from the writing table after rooting about among the sacred papers in the most ruthless fashion.
"When he had gone I tried to put the things on the table straight again, and really you might have thought some horrible crime had been committed; the envelopes and papers were all smeared with blood and marked with the print of gory fingers. I remembered it afterwards, when Reuben's thumb-mark was identified, and thought that perhaps one of the papers might have got into the safe by accident; but Mr. Hornby told me that was impossible; he tore the leaf off his memorandum block at the time when he put away the diamonds."
Such was the gist of our conversation as the cab rattled through the streets on the way to the prison; and certainly it contained matter sufficiently important to draw away my thoughts from other subjects, more agreeable, but less relevant to the case. With a sudden remembrance of my duty, I drew forth my notebook, and was in the act of committing the statements to writing, when Thorndyke entered the room.
"Don't let me interrupt you, Jervis," said he. "I will make myself a cup of tea while you finish your writing, and then you shall exhibit the day's catch and hang your nets out to dry."
I was not long in finishing my notes, for I was in a fever of impatience to hear Thorndyke's comments on my latest addition to our store of information. By the time the kettle was boiling my entries were completed, and I proceeded forthwith to retail to my colleague those extracts from my conversation with Juliet that I have just recorded.
He listened, as usual, with deep and critical attention.
"This is very interesting and important," he said, when I had finished; "really, Jervis, you are a most invaluable coadjutor. It seems that information, which would be strictly withheld from the forbidding Jorkins, trickles freely and unasked into the ear of the genial Spenlow. Now, I suppose you regard your hypothesis as having received very substantial confirmation?"
"Certainly, I do."
"And very justifiably. You see now how completely you were in the right when you allowed yourself to entertain this theory of the crime in spite of its apparent improbability. By the light of these new facts it has become quite a probable explanation of the whole affair, and if it could only be shown that Mr. Hornby's memorandum block was among the papers on the table, it would rise to a high degree of probability. The obvious moral is, never disregard the improbable. By the way, it is odd that Reuben failed to recall this occurrence when I questioned him. Of course, the bloody finger-marks were not discovered until he had gone, but one would have expected him to recall the circumstance when I asked him, pointedly, if he had never left bloody finger-prints on any papers."
"I must try to find out if Mr. Hornby's memorandum block was on the table and among the marked papers," I said.
"Yes, that would be wise," he answered, "though I don't suppose the information will be forthcoming."
My colleague's manner rather disappointed me. He had heard my report with the greatest attention, he had discussed it with animation, but yet he seemed to attach to the new and—as they appeared to me—highly important facts an interest that was academic rather than practical. Of course, his calmness might be assumed; but this did not seem likely, for John Thorndyke was far too sincere and dignified a character to cultivate in private life the artifices of the actor. To strangers, indeed, he presented habitually a calm and impassive exterior; but this was natural to him, and was but the outward sign of his even and judicial habit of mind.
No; there was no doubt that my startling news had left him unmoved, and this must be for one of two reasons: either he already knew all that I had told him (which was perfectly possible), or he had some other and better means of explaining the crime. I was turning over these two alternatives, not unobserved by my watchful colleague, when Polton entered the room; a broad grin was on his face, and a drawing-board, that he carried like a tray, bore twenty-four neatly turned boxwood pieces.
Thorndyke at once entered into the unspoken jest that beamed from the countenance of his subordinate.
"Here is Polton with a problem for you, Jervis," he said. "He assumes that I have invented a new parlour game, and has been trying to work out the moves. Have you succeeded yet, Polton?"
"No, sir, I haven't; but I suspect that one of the players will be a man in a wig and gown."
"Perhaps you are right," said Thorndyke; "but that doesn't take you very far. Let us hear what Dr. Jervis has to say."
"I can make nothing of them," I answered. "Polton showed me the drawing this morning, and then was terrified lest he had committed a breach of confidence, and I have been trying ever since, without a glimmer of success, to guess what they can be for."
"H'm," grunted Thorndyke, as he sauntered up and down the room, teacup in hand, "to guess, eh? I like not that word 'guess' in the mouth of a man of science. What do you mean by a 'guess'?"
His manner was wholly facetious, but I professed to take his question seriously, and replied—
"By a guess, I mean a conclusion arrived at without data."
"Impossible!" he exclaimed, with mock sternness. "Nobody but an utter fool arrives at a conclusion without data."
"Then I must revise my definition instantly," I rejoined. "Let us say that a guess is a conclusion drawn from insufficient facts."
"That is better," said he; "but perhaps it would be better still to say that a guess is a particular and definite conclusion deduced from facts which properly yield only a general and indefinite one. Let us take an instance," he continued. "Looking out of the window, I see a man walking round Paper Buildings. Now suppose I say, after the fashion of the inspired detective of the romances, 'That man is a stationmaster or inspector,' that would be a guess. The observed facts do not yield the conclusion, though they do warrant a conclusion less definite and more general."
"You'd have been right though, sir!" exclaimed Polton, who had stepped forward with me to examine the unconscious subject of the demonstration. "That gent used to be the stationmaster at Camberwell. I remember him well." The little man was evidently greatly impressed.
"I happen to be right, you see," said Thorndyke; "but I might as easily have been wrong."
"You weren't though, sir," said Polton. "You spotted him at a glance."
In his admiration of the result he cared not a fig for the correctness of the means by which it had been attained.
"Now why do I suggest that he is a stationmaster?" pursued Thorndyke, disregarding his assistant's comment.
"I suppose you were looking at his feet," I answered. "I seem to have noticed that peculiar, splay-footed gait in stationmasters, now that you mention it."
"Quite so. The arch of the foot has given way; the plantar ligaments have become stretched and the deep calf muscles weakened. Then, since bending of the weakened arch causes discomfort, the feet have become turned outwards, by which the bending of the foot is reduced to a minimum; and as the left foot is the more flattened, so it is turned out more than the right. Then the turning out of the toes causes the legs to splay outward from the knees downwards—a very conspicuous condition in a tall man like this one—and you notice that the left leg splays out more than the other.
"But we know that depression of the arch of the foot is brought about by standing for long periods. Continuous pressure on a living structure weakens it, while intermittent pressure strengthens it; so the man who stands on his feet continuously develops a flat instep and a weak calf, while the professional dancer or runner acquires a high instep and a strong calf. Now there are many occupations which involve prolonged standing and so induce the condition of flat foot: waiters, hall-porters, hawkers, policemen, shop-walkers, salesmen, and station officials are examples. But the waiter's gait is characteristic—a quick, shuffling walk which enables him to carry liquids without spilling them. This man walks with a long, swinging stride; he is obviously not a waiter. His dress and appearance in general exclude the idea of a hawker or even a hall-porter; he is a man of poor physique and so cannot be a policeman. The shop-walker or salesman is accustomed to move in relatively confined spaces, and so acquires a short, brisk step, and his dress tends to rather exuberant smartness; the station official patrols long platforms, often at a rapid pace, and so tends to take long strides, while his dress is dignified and neat rather than florid. The last-mentioned characteristics, you see, appear in the subject of our analysis; he agrees with the general description of a stationmaster. But if we therefore conclude that he is a stationmaster, we fall into the time-honoured fallacy of the undistributed middle term—the fallacy that haunts all brilliant guessers, including the detective, not only of romance, but too often also of real life. All that the observed facts justify us in inferring is that this man is engaged in some mode of life that necessitates a good deal of standing; the rest is mere guess-work."