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Christopher Quarles: College Professor and Master Detective, page 1
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CHRISTOPHER QUARLESCollege Professor and Master Detective
BY PERCY JAMES BREBNER
AUTHOR OF "PRINCESS MARITZA," "THE LITTLE GREY SHOE," ETC., ETC.
NEW YORKE. P. DUTTON & COMPANY681 FIFTH AVENUEPUBLISHERS
COPYRIGHT, 1914, BYE. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
Press ofJ. J. Little & Ives Co.New York
CHAPTER PAGEI. THE AFFAIR OF THE IVORY BOXES 1II. THE IDENTITY OF THE FINAL VICTIM 17III. THE RIDDLE OF THE CIRCULAR COUNTERS 32IV. THE STRANGE CASE OF MICHAEL HALL 48V. THE EVIDENCE OF THE CIGARETTE-END 67VI. THE MYSTERY OF "OLD MRS. JARDINE" 86VII. THE DEATH-TRAP IN THE TUDOR ROOM 102VIII. THE MYSTERY OF CROSS ROADS FARM 120IX. THE CONUNDRUM OF THE GOLF LINKS 137X. THE DIAMOND NECKLACE SCANDAL 156XI. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF DR. SMITH 175XII. THE AFFAIR OF THE STOLEN GOLD 195XIII. THE WILL OF THE ECCENTRIC MR. FRISBY 217XIV. THE CASE OF THE MURDERED FINANCIER 239XV. THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF THE FLORENTINE CHEST 258XVI. THE SEARCH FOR THE MISSING FORTUNE 280
THE AFFAIR OF THE IVORY BOXES
There was a substantial aspect about Blenheim Square, not of thatmonotonous type which characterizes so many London squares, but acertain grace and consciousness of well-being.
The houses, though maintaining some uniformity, possessedindividuality, and in the season were gay with window-boxes andflowers; the garden in the center was not too stereotyped in itsarrangement, and plenty of sunlight found its way into it. Theinhabitants were people of ample means, and the address wasundoubtedly a good one. There was no slum in close proximity, thatseamy background which so constantly lies behind a fair exterior oflife; it was seldom that any but respectable people were seen in thesquare, for hawkers and itinerant musicians were forbidden; and,beyond a wedding or a funeral at intervals, nothing exciting everseemed to happen there.
It looked particularly attractive when I entered it one spring morningearly and made my way to No. 12.
As I approached the house and noted that the square was still asleep,an old gentleman, clad in a long and rather rusty overcoat, shuffledtoward me from the opposite direction. He wore round goggles behindwhich his eyes looked unusually large, and a wide-awake hat was drawnover his silver locks.
He stopped in front of me and, without a word, brought his hand fromhis pocket and gave me a card.
"Christopher Quarles," I said, reading from the bit of pasteboard.
"My name. What is yours?"
"Murray Wigan," I answered, and the next instant was wondering why Ihad told him.
"Ah, I do not fancy we have met before, Detective Wigan. Perhaps wemay help each other."
"You knew Mr. Ratcliffe?" I asked.
"No, but I have heard of him."
"I am afraid that----"
He laid two fingers of a lean hand on my arm.
"You had better. It will be wise."
A sharp retort came to my tongue, but remained unspoken. I can hardlyexplain why, because in an ordinary way his manner would only haveincreased my resentment and obstinacy.
I was young, only just over thirty, but success had brought me somefame and unlimited self-confidence. I was an enthusiast, and have beenspoken of as a born detective, but the line of life I had chosen hadsadly disappointed my father. He had given me an excellent education,and had looked forward to his son making a name for himself, butcertainly not as a mere policeman, which was his way of putting it.
Indeed, family relations were strained even at this time, a fact whichmay have accounted for that hardness of character which people, evenmy friends, seemed to find in me.
My nature and my pride in my profession were therefore assailed by theold man's manner, yet the sharp answer remained unspoken.
"You will find that I am known to your people," he added while Ihesitated.
I did not believe him for a moment, but there was something socompelling in the steady gaze from the large eyes behind the gogglesthat I grudgingly allowed him to enter the house with me.
Early that morning, before the first milk-cart had rattled throughBlenheim Square, Constable Plowman had been called to No. 12 by thecook-housekeeper, who had found her master, Mr. Ratcliffe, dead in hisstudy. Plowman had at once sent for a doctor and communicated withScotland Yard. The doctor had arrived before me, but nothing had beenmoved by the constable, and the housekeeper declared that the room wasexactly as she had found it.
The study was at the back of the house, a small room lined with books.In the center was a writing table, an electric lamp on it was stillburning, and, leaning back in his chair, his eyes fixed on vacancy,sat Mr. Ratcliffe. The doctor said he had been dead some hours.
On the blotting-pad immediately in front of him was a large bluestone--a sapphire--and arranged in a rough semicircle round the padwere the various boxes of one of those Chinese curiosities in whichbox is contained within box until the last is quite small.
They were of thin ivory, the largest being some three inches square,the smallest not an inch, and they were arranged in order of size.There was no confusion in the room, no sign of violence on the deadman. Curtains were drawn across the window, which was open a little atthe top.
At first my attention was somewhat divided; the old man interested meas well as the case.
He looked closely into the face of the dead man, then glanced at thecurtained window, and nodded his head in a sagacious way, as if he hadalready fathomed the mystery. He looked at the sapphire and at thesemicircle of boxes, but he did not attempt to touch anything, nor didhe say a word.
Well, it is easy enough to look wise; it is when a man opens his mouththat the test begins. I came to the conclusion that he was a venerablefraud, and that I had been a fool to let him come in. I dismissed himfrom my mind and commenced my own investigations.
On the window-sill there were marks which made it practically certainthat someone had entered the room that way, but neither then nor latercould I discover any footprints in the small garden which was someeight feet below the window.
The housekeeper, who had been with Mr. Ratcliffe a dozen years,explained that, on coming down that morning, she had gone into thestudy to draw the curtains as usual. The room was exactly as we sawit. Her master spent most of his time in his study when he was athome, and seemed to enjoy his own company. He went little intosociety, but a friend sometimes dined with him; indeed, his nephew,Captain Ratcliffe, had dined with him last night.
She had gone to bed before the captain left, and did not hear him go.She would not admit that her master was peculiar or eccentric in anyway, but said he had seemed worried and rather depressed lately. Theslightest noise in the house disturbed him, and she fancied he had gotinto the habit of listening for noises, for once or twice she had comeupon him in a listening attitude. She knew nothing about the sapphire,and had never seen the ivory boxes before.
The old man never asked a question; I do not think he said a singleword until we were leaving the house, and then he remarked in a casualmanner:
"A curious case, Detective Wigan."
"Some curious points in it
I was glad when the old fellow had shuffled off. He was a disturbinginfluence. His eyes behind those goggles seemed to have a paralyzingeffect upon me. I could not think clearly.
Certainly there were many curious points in the case, and my inquiriesquickly added to the number.
Mr. Ratcliffe had traveled extensively, was a linguist, and a farricher man than his neighbors had supposed. Collecting precious stoneshad been his hobby, and in a case deposited with his bankers therewere many valuable, and some unique, gems. Probably he had others withhim in the house, but none were found except the sapphire lying on theblotting-pad. Robbers might have taken them, the marks on thewindow-sill were suggestive, but I was doubtful on this point. Even ifrobbers had entered the room, how was Mr. Ratcliffe's death to beaccounted for? There was no mark upon the body, there was no trace ofpoison. The doctors declared he was in a perfectly healthy condition.There was no apparent reason for his death. Besides, if he had beenrobbed of his jewels, why should the sapphire have been left?
It was only natural, perhaps, that suspicion should fall upon the deadman's nephew. Might he not have left the house by the window? it wasasked. I had put the same question to myself.
Captain Ratcliffe's behavior, however, was not that of a guilty man,although there were certain things which told against him.
He answered questions frankly and without hesitation. He was in aline regiment, and was somewhat heavily in debt. It was close uponmidnight when he left his uncle, he said, and they had not gone intothe study at all. They had sat smoking and talking in the dining room,and just before he left they had both had a little whisky. The emptyglasses and the cigar ends in the dining room went to confirm thisstatement.
He knew about his uncle's hobby for stones, was surprised to find thathe was such a rich man, and declared that he had no idea he was hisheir. Mr. Ratcliffe had never helped him in any way; in fact, thatvery night he had refused, not unkindly but quite frankly, to lend hima sum of money he had asked for.
There had been no quarrel, and they had parted excellent friends.
I am convinced that a large section of the public wondered why CaptainRatcliffe was not arrested, and possibly some detectives would haveconsidered there was sufficient evidence against him to take thiscourse. I did not, although I had him watched.
The fact was that Christopher Quarles lurked at the back of my mind. Ifound that he had spoken the truth when he said that he was known atScotland Yard. He was a professor of philosophy, and some two yearsago had made what seemed a perfectly preposterous suggestion in a casewhich had puzzled the police, with the result that he had beeninstrumental in saving an innocent man from the gallows. A chancesuccess was the comment of the authorities; my own idea was that hemust have had knowledge which he ought not to possess. Now it mightprove useful to cultivate the acquaintance of this mysteriousprofessor, so I called upon him one morning in his house at WestStreet, Chelsea, as keen upon a difficult trail as I had ever been inmy life.
The servant said the professor was at home and requested me to followher.
Through open doors I had a glimpse of taste and luxury--softlycarpeted rooms, old furniture, good pictures--and then the servantopened a door at the extreme end of the hall and announced me.
Astonishment riveted me to the threshold for the moment. Except for acheap writing-table in the window, a big arm-chair by the fireplace,and two or three common chairs against the wall, this room was empty.There was no carpet on the floor, not a picture on the whitewashedwalls. The window had a blind, but no curtains; there were no books,and the appointments of the writing-table were of the simplest kindpossible.
"Ah, I have been expecting you," said Quarles, crossing from thewindow to welcome me.
A skull-cap covered his silver locks, but he wore no glasses, andto-day there were few signs of age or deterioration of physical ormental force about him. His shuffling gait when he had met me inBlenheim Square that morning had evidently been assumed, and probablyhe had worn glasses to conceal some of the expression of his face.
"You had been expecting me?" I said.
"Two days ago I gave the servant instructions to bring you in wheneveryou came. Zena, my dear, this is Detective Wigan--my granddaughter whooften assists me in my work."
I bowed to the girl who had risen from the chair at the writing-table,and for a moment forgot the professor--and, indeed, everything else inthe world. Since no woman had ever yet succeeded in touching anysympathetic chord in me, it may be assumed that she was remarkable. Inthat bare room she looked altogether out of place, and yet herpresence transformed it into a desirable spot.
"You are full of surprises, professor," I said, with a keen desire tomake myself agreeable. "I enter your house and have a glimpse ofluxury through open doors, yet I find you in--in an empty room; youtell me I am expected, when until a few hours ago I had not determinedto call upon you; and now you further mystify me by saying this ladyis your helper."
"Philosophy is mysterious," he answered, "and I am interested in allthe ramifications of my profession. To understand one scienceperfectly means having a considerable knowledge of all othersciences."
"My grandfather exaggerates my usefulness," said the girl.
"I do not," he returned. "Your questions have constantly shown me theright road to travel, and to have the right road pointed out is halfthe battle. Sit down, Mr. Wigan--in the arm-chair--no, I prefersitting here myself. Zena and I were talking of Blenheim Square whenyou came in. A coincidence? Perhaps, but it may be something more. Inthese days we are loath to admit there are things we do notunderstand. This case puzzles you?"
The detective in me was coming slowly uppermost again, and Iremembered the line I had decided to take with this curious oldgentleman.
"It does. From first to last I am puzzled. To begin with, how came youto hear of the tragedy that you were able to be upon the scene sopromptly?"
"Are you here as a spy or to ask for help? Come, a plain answer,"said Quarles hotly, as though he were resenting an insult.
"Dear!" said the girl soothingly.
"Zena considers you honest," said the old man, suddenly calm again."My helper, as I told you, and not always of my opinion. Let thatpass. You are a young man with much to learn. I am not a detective,but a philosopher, and sometimes an investigator of human motives. Ifa mystery interests me I endeavor to solve it for my own satisfaction,but there it ends. I never give my opinion unless it is asked for, norshould I interfere except to prevent a miscarriage of justice. If thisis clear to you, you may proceed and tell me what you have done, howfar you have gone in the unraveling of this case; if you are notsatisfied, I have nothing more to say to you except 'Good morning!'"
For a moment I hesitated, then shortly I told him what I had done, andhe listened attentively.
"I have always worked alone," I went on, "not without success, as youmay know. In this case I am beaten so far, and I come to you."
"For two reasons. First--you will forgive my mentioning it again--yourprompt arrival puzzled me; secondly, I believe in Captain Ratcliffe,and am anxious to relieve him of the suspicion which undoubtedly restsupon him."
The old man rubbed his head through his skull-cap.
"You would like to find some reason to be suspicious of me?"
"Mr. Wigan does not mean that, dear," said Zena.
The professor shook his head doubtfully.
"Crime as crime does not interest me. It is only when I am impelled tostudy a case, against my will sometimes, that I become keen; and,whenever this happens, the solution of the mystery is likely to beunusual. My methods are not those of a detective. You argue fromfacts; I am more inclined to form a theory, and then look for facts tofit it. Not a scientific way, you may say, but a great many scientistsdo it, although they would strenuously deny the fact. I can show youhow the facts support my theory, but I cannot always produce theactual proof. In many cases I should be a hindrance rather than a helpto you."
"It is quite true, not a compliment," said the girl.
"First, the dead man," Quarles went on. "Quite a healthy man was themedical opinion--but his eyes. Did you particularly notice his eyes?You look into the brain through the eyes, see into it with greatpenetration if you have accustomed yourself to such scrutiny as I havedone. Mr. Ratcliffe had not been dead long enough for his eyes to losethat last impression received from the brain. They were still lookingat something, as it were, and they still had terror in them. Now hewas a traveler, one who must have faced danger scores of times; itwould take something very unusual to frighten him."
I acquiesced with a nod.
"We may take it, I think, that such a man would not be terrified byburglars."
I admitted this assumption.
"He was looking at the curtains which were drawn across thewindow--that is a point to remember," said the professor, marking offthis fact by holding up a finger. "Then the little boxes; did youcount them?"
"Yes, there were twenty-five."
"And the last one was unopened; did you open it?"
"Yes; it contained a minute head in ivory, wonderfully carved."
"I did not touch the box," said Quarles, "but if the toy was completeit would naturally contain such a head. Did you notice the nineteenthbox?"
"Had you done so you would have noticed that it was discolored likethe first and largest one, not clean and white like the others--andmore, beginning from the nineteenth box the semi-circular arrangementwas broken, as though it had been completed in a hurry, and possiblyby different hands."
I did not make any comment.
"The largest box had become discolored because it was the outside one,always exposed; I judged therefore that the nineteenth box wasdiscolored for the same reason. For some time it had been the outsidebox of the last few boxes. In other words, the toy in Mr. Ratcliffe'spossession had not been a complete one. This led me to look at boxeighteen, the last in Mr. Ratcliffe's series; it was just the size tocontain the sapphire. This suggested that the sapphire was the centralpoint of the mystery."
"You think the thieves were disturbed?"
"Then why didn't they take the sapphire?"
"Exactly. By the way, is the stone still at Scotland Yard?"
"Has it been tested?"
"Have it examined by the most expert man you can find. I think youwill find it is paste, a wonderful imitation, capable of standing sometests--but still paste."
"Then why did Mr. Ratcliffe--an expert in gems, remember--treasure itso carefully?" I asked.
"He didn't," Quarles answered shortly. "It is obvious that a man whopossessed such stones as were found in that packet at the bank wouldcertainly not make such a mistake; yet he was apparently playing withhis treasure when he met his death. My theory had three points, yousee. First, the sapphire was the sole object of the robbery; secondly,the thieves had substituted an exact duplicate for the real stone;thirdly, the stone must have some special fascination for Mr.Ratcliffe, or he would have put it in the bank for safety as he haddone with others."
"An interesting theory, I admit, but----"
"Wait, Mr. Wigan. I have said something about my methods. I began tolook for facts to support my theory. You remember the cook-housekeeper?"
"She spoke of her uncle's sensitiveness to noises; she had on one ortwo occasions surprised him in a listening attitude. That gave me aclew. What was he listening for? Mr. Ratcliffe had only given way tothis listening attitude recently; in fact, only since his return fromhis last voyage. It would seem that since his return his mentalbalance had become unstable. There was some constant irritation in hisbrain which brought fear, and in his dead eyes there was terror. Mytheory was complete; I had only to fit the facts into it. I suppose,Mr. Wigan, you have found out all about the people living on eitherside of Ratcliffe's house?"
"Both are families above suspicion," I answered. "I also tried OsseryRoad, the gardens of which run down to those on that side of BlenheimSquare. The house immediately behind No. 12 is occupied by a doctor."
"I know. I called upon him recently to put some scientific point tohim," said Quarles with a smile. "I came to the conclusion that hecould give me no information about Mr. Ratcliffe. Rather curiously, hedid not like Mr. Ratcliffe."
"So I discovered," I answered, and I was conscious of resenting theprofessor's active interference in the case. There is no telling whatdamage an amateur may do.
"His dislike was a solid fact," said Quarles. "I congratulate you onnot being put on a false scent by it. Many detectives would have been.The gardens end on to each other--a doctor, a knowledge of subtlepoisons--oh, there were materials for an excellent case ready tohand."
"We are getting away from the point, professor," I said, somewhattartly.
"No, I am coming to it. I concentrated my attention on the house twodoors further down the road. It would not be difficult to creep alongthe garden wall even in the dark. Two Chinese gentlemen boarded there,I was told. No one had noticed them very particularly in theneighborhood. There are several boarding-houses in Ossery Road, andmany foreigners over here for study or upon business go to live inthem. I called, but the Chinese gentlemen were visiting in thecountry, and were not expected back for another fortnight. As a fact,they were not Chinamen at all, but Tibetans, and I do not fancy theywill come back."
"Tibetans. How do you know? You did not see them?"
"No, it is a guess; because on his last journey Mr. Ratcliffe wanderedin Tibet. I have correspondents in Northern India, and it was not verydifficult to get this information by cable. You do not know Tibet, Mr.Wigan?"
"Nor I, except from travelers' tales and through my correspondents. Acurious people, given to fetish worship in peculiar forms. I can tellyou of one strange place, strange as Lhasa. Were you to go therepresently--it might be too soon yet, I cannot say for certain--butpresently, I am convinced you would witness a scene of rejoicing,religious processions in the streets, men wearing hideous masks; andin a temple there you would find an idol with two blue eyes--eyes ofsapphire."
"For some time there has been only one," said Quarles; "the other wasstolen. You would find also in this temple talismans, ivory boxesfitting into each other, the smallest containing a little carved headrepresenting the head of the idol. Further, you would be told somestrange tales of this idol, of the psychic influence it possesses, andhow those who offend it remain always under that influence whichbrings terror. Were you present at a festival in this temple, youwould hear the idol speak. First you would find the great assembly inthe attitude of listening, and then from the idol you would hear asound, half sigh, half groan. I suppose the priests produce itmechanically--I do not know. It may be that----"
"If this be true the mystery is solved," I said.
"I think so," said Quarles. "The Tibetans followed Mr. Ratcliffe torecover the lost eye, I have no doubt of that, and to be ready for anyemergency had supplied themselves with a paste duplicate of the stone.Exactly how Mr. Ratcliffe died I can only conjecture. I remember thathis eyes evidently saw something, and I fancy terror killed him. TheTibetans had undoubtedly watched him constantly, and had found outthat he had the stone hidden in the boxes. Probably they expected tofind it so hidden, having discovered that Mr. Ratcliffe had discardedthe inner boxes of the talisman at the time of the robbery. Havingmade certain of this, I think that on the fatal night they made thecurious sound that the idol makes when speaking, expecting that hewould be listening for it, as their priests declared those whooffended the god always did, and as a curious fact Mr. Ratcliffeactually was, remember; then possibly they thrust between the curtainsone of those hideous masks which figure in so many religiousceremonies in Tibet. Mr. Ratcliffe was in a state of mind to give anysudden terror an enormous power
The professor rose abruptly from his chair. Evidently he had nointention of answering questions, and he meant the interview to cometo an end.
"Thank you," I said. "I shall take steps at once to find out if youare correct."
"For your own satisfaction, not mine," said Quarles; "I am certain.You asked how it was I came to Blenheim Square that morning. Chance!It is called that. I do not believe in chance. When I am impelled todo a thing, I do it because I recognize a directing will I am forcedto obey. We live in a world girt with miracles, in an atmosphere ofmystery which is beyond our comprehension. We find names for what wedo not understand, psychic force, mind waves, telepathy, and the like,but they are only names and do not help us much. Keep an open mind,Mr. Wigan; you will be astonished what strange imaginings will enterit--imaginings which you will discover are real truths. An empty mindin an empty room, there you have the best receptacle for that greatwill which guides and governs all thought and action. I speak as aphilosopher, and as an old man to a young one. Come to me if you likewhen you are in a difficulty, and I will help you if I am allowed to.Do you understand? Good-bye."
* * * * *
Subsequent inquiries made by Scotland Yard through the authorities inIndia established the fact that the sapphire eye of the image in Tibethad been stolen; that Mr. Ratcliffe was in Tibet at the time; and thatnot long after the tragedy in Blenheim Square the jewel was restoredto its place with much rejoicing and religious enthusiasm.
I was not disposed to like Professor Quarles nor to believe in himaltogether. I found it easy to see the charlatan in him, yet the factremained that he had solved the problem.
Certainly he was interesting, and, besides, there was hisgranddaughter, Zena. If only for the sake of seeing her, I felt sure Ishould have occasion to consult Christopher Quarles again.
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