The Knight's Cross Signal Problem
"Louis," exclaimed Mr. Carrados, with the air of genial gaiety that
Carlyle had found so incongruous to his conception of a blind man,
"you have a mystery somewhere about you! I know it by your step."
Nearly a month had passed since the incident of the false Dionysius
had led to the two men meeting. It was now December. Whatever Mr.
Carlyle's step might indicate to the inner eye it betokened to the
observer the manner of a crisp, alert, self-possessed man of
business. Carlyle, in truth, betrayed nothing of the pessimism and
despondency that had marked him on the earlier occasion.
"You have only yourself to thank that it is a very poor one," he
retorted. "If you hadn't held me to a hasty promise----"
"To give me an option on the next case that baffled you, no matter
what it was----"
"Just so. The consequence is that you get a very unsatisfactory affair
that has no special interest to an amateur and is only baffling
because it is--well----"
"Exactly, Max. Your would-be jest has discovered the proverbial truth.
I need hardly tell you that it is only the insoluble that is finally
baffling and this is very probably insoluble. You remember the awful
smash on the Central and Suburban at Knight's Cross Station a few
"Yes," replied Carrados, with interest. "I read the whole ghastly
details at the time."
"You read?" exclaimed his friend suspiciously.
"I still use the familiar phrases," explained Carrados, with a smile.
"As a matter of fact, my secretary reads to me. I mark what I want to
hear and when he comes at ten o'clock we clear off the morning papers
in no time."
"And how do you know what to mark?" demanded Mr. Carlyle cunningly.
Carrados's right hand, lying idly on the table, moved to a newspaper
near. He ran his finger along a column heading, his eyes still turned
towards his visitor.
"'The Money Market. Continued from page 2. British Railways,'" he
"Extraordinary," murmured Carlyle.
"Not very," said Carrados. "If someone dipped a stick in treacle and
wrote 'Rats' across a marble slab you would probably be able to
distinguish what was there, blindfold."
"Probably," admitted Mr. Carlyle. "At all events we will not test the
"The difference to you of treacle on a marble background is scarcely
greater than that of printers' ink on newspaper to me. But anything
smaller than pica I do not read with comfort, and below long primer I
cannot read at all. Hence the secretary. Now the accident, Louis."
"The accident: well, you remember all about that. An ordinary Central
and Suburban passenger train, non-stop at Knight's Cross, ran past the
signal and crashed into a crowded electric train that was just
beginning to move out. It was like sending a garden roller down a row
of handlights. Two carriages of the electric train were flattened out
of existence; the next two were broken up. For the first time on an
English railway there was a good stand-up smash between a heavy
steam-engine and a train of light cars, and it was 'bad for the coo.'"
"Twenty-seven killed, forty something injured, eight died since,"
"That was bad for the Co.," said Carlyle. "Well, the main fact was
plain enough. The heavy train was in the wrong. But was the
engine-driver responsible? He claimed, and he claimed vehemently from
the first, and he never varied one iota, that he had a 'clear'
signal--that is to say, the green light, it being dark. The signalman
concerned was equally dogged that he never pulled off the signal--that
it was at 'danger' when the accident happened and that it had been for
five minutes before. Obviously, they could not both be right."
"Why, Louis?" asked Mr. Carrados smoothly.
"The signal must either have been up or down--red or green."
"Did you ever notice the signals on the Great Northern Railway,
"Not particularly, Why?"
"One winterly day, about the year when you and I were concerned in
being born, the engine-driver of a Scotch express received the 'clear'
from a signal near a little Huntingdon station called Abbots Ripton.
He went on and crashed into a goods train and into the thick of the
smash a down express mowed its way. Thirteen killed and the usual tale
of injured. He was positive that the signal gave him a 'clear'; the
signalman was equally confident that he had never pulled it off the
'danger.' Both were right, and yet the signal was in working order. As
I said, it was a winterly day; it had been snowing hard and the snow
froze and accumulated on the upper edge of the signal arm until its
weight bore it down. That is a fact that no fiction writer dare have
invented, but to this day every signal on the Great Northern pivots
from the centre of the arm instead of from the end, in memory of that
"That came out at the inquest, I presume?" said Mr. Carlyle. "We have
had the Board of Trade inquiry and the inquest here and no explanation
is forthcoming. Everything was in perfect order. It rests between the
word of the signalman and the word of the engine-driver--not a jot of
direct evidence either way. Which is right?"
"That is what you are going to find out, Louis?" suggested Carrados.
"It is what I am being paid for finding out," admitted Mr. Carlyle
frankly. "But so far we are just where the inquest left it, and,
between ourselves, I candidly can't see an inch in front of my face in
"Nor can I," said the blind man, with a rather wry smile. "Never mind.
The engine-driver is your client, of course?"
"Yes," admitted Carlyle. "But how the deuce did you know?"
"Let us say that your sympathies are enlisted on his behalf. The jury
were inclined to exonerate the signalman, weren't they? What has the
company done with your man?"
"Both are suspended. Hutchins, the driver, hears that he may probably
be given charge of a lavatory at one of the stations. He is a decent,
bluff, short-spoken old chap, with his heart in his work. Just now
you'll find him at his worst--bitter and suspicious. The thought of
swabbing down a lavatory and taking pennies all day is poisoning him."
"Naturally. Well, there we have honest Hutchins: taciturn, a little
touchy perhaps, grown grey in the service of the company, and
manifesting quite a bulldog-like devotion to his favourite 538."
"Why, that actually was the number of his engine--how do you know it?"
demanded Carlyle sharply.
"It was mentioned two or three times at the inquest, Louis," replied
"And you remembered--with no reason to?"
"You can generally trust a blind man's memory, especially if he has
taken the trouble to develop it."
"Then you will remember that Hutchins did not make a very good
impression at the time. He was surly and irritable under the ordeal. I
want you to see the case from all sides."
"He called the signalman--Mead--a 'lying young dog,' across the room,
I believe. Now, Mead, what is he like? You have seen him, of course?"
"Yes. He does not impress me favourably. He is glib, ingratiating, and
distinctly 'greasy.' He has a ready answer for everything almost
before the question is out of your mouth. He has thought of
"And now you are going to tell me something, Louis," said Carrados
Mr. Carlyle laughed a little to cover an involuntary movement of
"There is a suggestive line that was not touched at the inquiries," he
admitted. "Hutchins has been a saving man all his life, and he has
received good wages. Among his class he is regarded as wealthy. I
daresay that he has five hundred pounds in the bank. He is a widower
with one daughter, a very nice-mannered girl of about twenty. Mead is
a young man, and he and the girl are sweethearts--have been informally
engaged for some time. But old Hutchins would not hear of it; he seems
to have taken a dislike to the signalman from the first, and latterly
he had forbidden him to come to his house or his daughter to speak to
"Excellent, Louis," cried Carrados in great delight. "We shall clear
your man in a blaze of red and green lights yet and hang the glib,
'greasy' signalman from his own signal-post."
"It is a significant fact, seriously?"
"It is absolutely convincing."
"It may have been a slip, a mental lapse on Mead's part which he
discovered the moment it was too late, and then, being too cowardly to
admit his fault, and having so much at stake, he took care to make
detection impossible. It may have been that, but my idea is rather
that probably it was neither quite pure accident nor pure design. I
can imagine Mead meanly pluming himself over the fact that the life of
this man who stands in his way, and whom he must cordially dislike,
lies in his power. I can imagine the idea becoming an obsession as he
dwells on it. A dozen times with his hand on the lever he lets his
mind explore the possibilities of a moment's defection. Then one day
he pulls the signal off in sheer bravado--and hastily puts it at
danger again. He may have done it once or he may have done it oftener
before he was caught in a fatal moment of irresolution. The chances
are about even that the engine-driver would be killed. In any case he
would be disgraced, for it is easier on the face of it to believe that
a man might run past a danger signal in absentmindedness, without
noticing it, than that a man should pull off a signal and replace it
without being conscious of his actions."
"The fireman was killed. Does your theory involve the certainty of the
fireman being killed, Louis?"
"No," said Carlyle. "The fireman is a difficulty, but looking at it
from Mead's point of view--whether he has been guilty of an error or a
crime--it resolves itself into this: First, the fireman may be killed.
Second, he may not notice the signal at all. Third, in any case he
will loyally corroborate his driver and the good old jury will
Carrados smoked thoughtfully, his open, sightless eyes merely
appearing to be set in a tranquil gaze across the room.
"It would not be an improbable explanation," he said presently.
"Ninety-nine men out of a hundred would say: 'People do not do these
things.' But you and I, who have in our different ways studied
criminology, know that they sometimes do, or else there would be no
curious crimes. What have you done on that line?"
To anyone who could see, Mr. Carlyle's expression conveyed an answer.
"You are behind the scenes, Max. What was there for me to do? Still I
must do something for my money. Well, I have had a very close inquiry
made confidentially among the men. There might be a whisper of one of
them knowing more than had come out--a man restrained by friendship,
or enmity, or even grade jealousy. Nothing came of that. Then there
was the remote chance that some private person had noticed the signal
without attaching any importance to it then, one who would be able to
identify it still by something associated with the time. I went over
the line myself. Opposite the signal the line on one side is shut in
by a high blank wall; on the other side are houses, but coming below
the butt-end of a scullery the signal does not happen to be visible
from any road or from any window."
"My poor Louis!" said Carrados, in friendly ridicule. "You were at the
end of your tether?"
"I was," admitted Carlyle. "And now that you know the sort of job it
is I don't suppose that you are keen on wasting your time over it."
"That would hardly be fair, would it?" said Carrados reasonably. "No,
Louis, I will take over your honest old driver and your greasy young
signalman and your fatal signal that cannot be seen from anywhere."
"But it is an important point for you to remember, Max, that although
the signal cannot be seen from the box, if the mechanism had gone
wrong, or anyone tampered with the arm, the automatic indicator would
at once have told Mead that the green light was showing. Oh, I have
gone very thoroughly into the technical points, I assure you."
"I must do so too," commented Mr. Carrados gravely.
"For that matter, if there is anything you want to know, I dare say
that I can tell you," suggested his visitor. "It might save your
"True," acquiesced Carrados. "I should like to know whether anyone
belonging to the houses that bound the line there came of age or got
married on the twenty-sixth of November."
Mr. Carlyle looked across curiously at his host.
"I really do not know, Max," he replied, in his crisp, precise way.
"What on earth has that got to do with it, may I inquire?"
"The only explanation of the Pont St. Lin swing-bridge disaster of '75
was the reflection of a green bengal light on a cottage window."
Mr. Carlyle smiled his indulgence privately.
"My dear chap, you mustn't let your retentive memory of obscure
happenings run away with you," he remarked wisely. "In nine cases out
of ten the obvious explanation is the true one. The difficulty, as
here, lies in proving it. Now, you would like to see these men?"
"I expect so; in any case, I will see Hutchins first."
"Both live in Holloway. Shall I ask Hutchins to come here to see
you--say to-morrow? He is doing nothing."
"No," replied Carrados. "To-morrow I must call on my brokers and my
time may be filled up."
"Quite right; you mustn't neglect your own affairs for
this--experiment," assented Carlyle.
"Besides, I should prefer to drop in on Hutchins at his own home. Now,
Louis, enough of the honest old man for one night. I have a lovely
thing by Eumenes that I want to show you. To-day is--Tuesday. Come to
dinner on Sunday and pour the vials of your ridicule on my want of
"That's an amiable way of putting it," replied Carlyle. "All right, I
Two hours later Carrados was again in his study, apparently, for a
wonder, sitting idle. Sometimes he smiled to himself, and once or
twice he laughed a little, but for the most part his pleasant,
impassive face reflected no emotion and he sat with his useless eyes
tranquilly fixed on an unseen distance. It was a fantastic caprice of
the man to mock his sightlessness by a parade of light, and under the
soft brilliance of a dozen electric brackets the room was as bright as
day. At length he stood up and rang the bell.
"I suppose Mr. Greatorex isn't still here by any chance, Parkinson?"
he asked, referring to his secretary.
"I think not, sir, but I will ascertain," replied the man.
"Never mind. Go to his room and bring me the last two files of The
Times. Now"--when he returned--"turn to the earliest you have there.
"November the second."
"That will do. Find the Money Market; it will be in the Supplement.
Now look down the columns until you come to British Railways."
"I have it, sir."
"Central and Suburban. Read the closing price and the change."
"Central and Suburban Ordinary, 66-1/2-67-1/2, fall 1/8. Preferred
Ordinary, 81-81-1/2, no change. Deferred Ordinary, 27-1/2-27-3/4, fall
1/4. That is all, sir."
"Now take a paper about a week on. Read the Deferred only."
"27-27-1/4, no change."
"29-1/2-30, rise 5/8."
"31-1/2-32-1/2, rise 1."
"Very good. Now on Tuesday the twenty-seventh November."
"31-7/8-32-3/4, rise 1/2."
"Yes. The next day."
"24-1/2-23-1/2, fall 9."
"Quite so, Parkinson. There had been an accident, you see."
"Yes, sir. Very unpleasant accident. Jane knows a person whose
sister's young man has a cousin who had his arm torn off in it--torn
off at the socket, she says, sir. It seems to bring it home to one,
"That is all. Stay--in the paper you have, look down the first money
column and see if there is any reference to the Central and Suburban."
"Yes, sir. 'City and Suburbans, which after their late depression on
the projected extension of the motor bus service, had been steadily
creeping up on the abandonment of the scheme, and as a result of their
own excellent traffic returns, suffered a heavy slump through the
lamentable accident of Thursday night. The Deferred in particular at
one time fell eleven points as it was felt that the possible dividend,
with which rumour has of late been busy, was now out of the
"Yes; that is all. Now you can take the papers back. And let it be a
warning to you, Parkinson, not to invest your savings in speculative
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir, I will endeavour to remember." He lingered
for a moment as he shook the file of papers level. "I may say, sir,
that I have my eye on a small block of cottage property at Acton. But
even cottage property scarcely seems safe from legislative depredation
The next day Mr. Carrados called on his brokers in the city. It is to
be presumed that he got through his private business quicker than he
expected, for after leaving Austin Friars he continued his journey to
Holloway, where he found Hutchins at home and sitting morosely before
his kitchen fire. Rightly assuming that his luxuriant car would
involve him in a certain amount of public attention in Klondyke
Street, the blind man dismissed it some distance from the house, and
walked the rest of the way, guided by the almost imperceptible touch
of Parkinson's arm.
"Here is a gentleman to see you, father," explained Miss Hutchins, who
had come to the door. She divined the relative positions of the two
visitors at a glance.
"Then why don't you take him into the parlour?" grumbled the
ex-driver. His face was a testimonial of hard work and general
sobriety but at the moment one might hazard from his voice and manner
that he had been drinking earlier in the day.
"I don't think that the gentleman would be impressed by the difference
between our parlour and our kitchen," replied the girl quaintly, "and
it is warmer here."
"What's the matter with the parlour now?" demanded her father sourly.
"It was good enough for your mother and me. It used to be good enough
"There is nothing the matter with it, nor with the kitchen either."
She turned impassively to the two who had followed her along the
narrow passage. "Will you go in, sir?"
"I don't want to see no gentleman," cried Hutchins noisily.
"Unless"--his manner suddenly changed to one of pitiable
anxiety--"unless you're from the Company sir, to--to--"
"No; I have come on Mr. Carlyle's behalf," replied Carrados, walking
to a chair as though he moved by a kind of instinct.
Hutchins laughed his wry contempt.
"Mr. Carlyle!" he reiterated; "Mr. Carlyle! Fat lot of good he's been.
Why don't he do something for his money?"
"He has," replied Carrados, with imperturbable good-humour; "he has
sent me. Now, I want to ask you a few questions."
"A few questions!" roared the irate man. "Why, blast it, I have done
nothing else but answer questions for a month. I didn't pay Mr.
Carlyle to ask me questions; I can get enough of that for nixes. Why
don't you go and ask Mr. Herbert Ananias Mead your few questions--then
you might find out something."
There was a slight movement by the door and Carrados knew that the
girl had quietly left the room.
"You saw that, sir?" demanded the father, diverted to a new line of
bitterness. "You saw that girl--my own daughter, that I've worked for
all her life?"
"No," replied Carrados.
"The girl that's just gone out--she's my daughter," explained
"I know, but I did not see her. I see nothing. I am blind."
"Blind!" exclaimed the old fellow, sitting up in startled wonderment.
"You mean it, sir? You walk all right and you look at me as if you saw
me. You're kidding surely."
"No," smiled Carrados. "It's quite right."
"Then it's a funny business, sir--you what are blind expecting to find
something that those with their eyes couldn't," ruminated Hutchins
"There are things that you can't see with your eyes, Hutchins."
"Perhaps you are right, sir. Well, what is it you want to know?"
"Light a cigar first," said the blind man, holding out his case and
waiting until the various sounds told him that his host was smoking
contentedly. "The train you were driving at the time of the accident
was the six-twenty-seven from Notcliff. It stopped everywhere until it
reached Lambeth Bridge, the chief London station on your line. There
it became something of an express, and leaving Lambeth Bridge at
seven-eleven, should not stop again until it fetched Swanstead on
Thames, eleven miles out, at seven-thirty-four. Then it stopped on and
off from Swanstead to Ingerfield, the terminus of that branch, which
it reached at eight-five."
Hutchins nodded, and then, remembering, said: "That's right, sir."
"That was your business all day--running between Notcliff and
"Yes, sir. Three journeys up and three down mostly."
"With the same stops on all the down journeys?"
"No. The seven-eleven is the only one that does a run from the Bridge
to Swanstead. You see, it is just on the close of the evening rush, as
they call it. A good many late business gentlemen living at Swanstead
use the seven-eleven regular. The other journeys we stop at every
station to Lambeth Bridge, and then here and there beyond."
"There are, of course, other trains doing exactly the same journey--a
service, in fact?"
"Yes, sir. About six."
"And do any of those--say, during the rush--do any of those run
non-stop from Lambeth to Swanstead?"
Hutchins reflected a moment. All the choler and restlessness had
melted out of the man's face. He was again the excellent artisan, slow
but capable and self-reliant.
"That I couldn't definitely say, sir. Very few short-distance trains
pass the junction, but some of those may. A guide would show us in a
minute but I haven't got one."
"Never mind. You said at the inquest that it was no uncommon thing for
you to be pulled up at the 'stop' signal east of Knight's Cross
Station. How often would that happen--only with the seven-eleven,
"Perhaps three times a week; perhaps twice."
"The accident was on a Thursday. Have you noticed that you were pulled
up oftener on a Thursday than on any other day?"
A smile crossed the driver's face at the question.
"You don't happen to live at Swanstead yourself, sir?" he asked in
"No," admitted Carrados. "Why?"
"Well, sir, we were always pulled up on Thursday; practically
always, you may say. It got to be quite a saying among those who used
the train regular; they used to look out for it."
Carrados's sightless eyes had the one quality of concealing emotion
supremely. "Oh," he commented softly, "always; and it was quite a
saying, was it? And why was it always so on Thursday?"
"It had to do with the early closing, I'm told. The suburban traffic
was a bit different. By rights we ought to have been set back two
minutes for that day, but I suppose it wasn't thought worth while to
alter us in the time-table so we most always had to wait outside Three
Deep tunnel for a west-bound electric to make good."
"You were prepared for it then?"
"Yes, sir, I was," said Hutchins, reddening at some recollection, "and
very down about it was one of the jury over that. But, mayhap once in
three months, I did get through even on a Thursday, and it's not for
me to question whether things are right or wrong just because they are
not what I may expect. The signals are my orders, sir--stop! go on!
and it's for me to obey, as you would a general on the field of
battle. What would happen otherwise! It was nonsense what they said
about going cautious; and the man who stated it was a barber who
didn't know the difference between a 'distance' and a 'stop' signal
down to the minute they gave their verdict. My orders, sir, given me
by that signal, was 'Go right ahead and keep to your running time!'"
Carrados nodded a soothing assent. "That is all, I think," he
"All!" exclaimed Hutchins in surprise. "Why, sir, you can't have got
much idea of it yet."
"Quite enough. And I know it isn't pleasant for you to be taken along
the same ground over and over again."
The man moved awkwardly in his chair and pulled nervously at his
"You mustn't take any notice of what I said just now, sir," he
apologized. "You somehow make me feel that something may come of it;
but I've been badgered about and accused and cross-examined from one
to another of them these weeks till it's fairly made me bitter against
everything. And now they talk of putting me in a lavatory--me that has
been with the company for five and forty years and on the foot-plate
thirty-two--a man suspected of running past a danger signal."
"You have had a rough time, Hutchins; you will have to exercise your
patience a little longer yet," said Carrados sympathetically.
"You think something may come of it, sir? You think you will be able
to clear me? Believe me, sir, if you could give me something to look
forward to it might save me from--" He pulled himself up and shook his
head sorrowfully. "I've been near it," he added simply.
Carrados reflected and took his resolution.
"To-day is Wednesday. I think you may hope to hear something from your
general manager towards the middle of next week."
"Good God, sir! You really mean that?"
"In the interval show your good sense by behaving reasonably. Keep
civilly to yourself and don't talk. Above all"--he nodded towards a
quart jug that stood on the table between them, an incident that
filled the simple-minded engineer with boundless wonder when he
recalled it afterwards--"above all, leave that alone."
Hutchins snatched up the vessel and brought it crashing down on the
hearthstone, his face shining with a set resolution.
"I've done with it, sir. It was the bitterness and despair that drove
me to that. Now I can do without it."
The door was hastily opened and Miss Hutchins looked anxiously from
her father to the visitors and back again.
"Oh, whatever is the matter?" she exclaimed. "I heard a great crash."
"This gentleman is going to clear me, Meg, my dear," blurted out the
old man irrepressibly. "And I've done with the drink for ever."
"Hutchins! Hutchins!" said Carrados warningly.
"My daughter, sir; you wouldn't have her not know?" pleaded Hutchins,
rather crest-fallen. "It won't go any further."
Carrados laughed quietly to himself as he felt Margaret Hutchins's
startled and questioning eyes attempting to read his mind. He shook
hands with the engine-driver without further comment, however, and
walked out into the commonplace little street under Parkinson's
"Very nice of Miss Hutchins to go into half-mourning, Parkinson," he
remarked as they went along. "Thoughtful, and yet not ostentatious."
"Yes, sir," agreed Parkinson, who had long ceased to wonder at his
"The Romans, Parkinson, had a saying to the effect that gold carries
no smell. That is a pity sometimes. What jewellery did Miss Hutchins
"Very little, sir. A plain gold brooch representing a
merry-thought--the merry-thought of a sparrow, I should say, sir. The
only other article was a smooth-backed gun-metal watch, suspended from
a gun-metal bow."
"Nothing showy or expensive, eh?"
"Oh dear no, sir. Quite appropriate for a young person of her
"Just what I should have expected." He slackened his pace. "We are
passing a hoarding, are we not?"
"We will stand here a moment. Read me the letterpress of the poster
"This 'Oxo' one, sir?"
Carrados was convulsed with silent laughter. Parkinson had infinitely
more dignity and conceded merely a tolerant recognition of the
"That was a bad shot, Parkinson," remarked his master when he could
speak. "We will try another."
For three minutes, with scrupulous conscientiousness on the part of
the reader and every appearance of keen interest on the part of the
hearer, there were set forth the particulars of a sale by auction of
superfluous timber and builders' material.
"That will do," said Carrados, when the last detail had been reached.
"We can be seen from the door of No. 107 still?"
"No indication of anyone coming to us from there?"
Carrados walked thoughtfully on again. In the Holloway Road they
rejoined the waiting motor-car.
"Lambeth Bridge Station" was the order the driver received.
From the station the car was sent on home and Parkinson was instructed
to take two first-class singles for Richmond, which could be reached
by changing at Stafford Road. The "evening rush" had not yet commenced
and they had no difficulty in finding an empty carriage when the train
Parkinson was kept busy that journey describing what he saw at various
points between Lambeth Bridge and Knight's Cross. For a quarter of a
mile Carrados's demands on the eyes and the memory of his remarkable
servant were wide and incessant. Then his questions ceased. They had
passed the "stop" signal, east of Knight's Cross Station.
The following afternoon they made the return journey as far as
Knight's Cross. This time, however, the surroundings failed to
interest Carrados. "We are going to look at some rooms," was the
information he offered on the subject, and an imperturbable "Yes, sir"
had been the extent of Parkinson's comment on the unusual proceeding.
After leaving the station they turned sharply along a road that ran
parallel with the line, a dull thoroughfare of substantial, elderly
houses that were beginning to sink into decrepitude. Here and there a
corner residence displayed the brass plate of a professional occupant,
but for the most part they were given up to the various branches of
second-rate apartment letting.
"The third house after the one with the flagstaff," said Carrados.
Parkinson rang the bell, which was answered by a young servant, who
took an early opportunity of assuring them that she was not tidy as it
was rather early in the afternoon. She informed Carrados, in reply to
his inquiry, that Miss Chubb was at home, and showed them into a
melancholy little sitting-room to await her appearance.
"I shall be 'almost' blind here, Parkinson," remarked Carrados,
walking about the room. "It saves explanation."
"Very good, sir," replied Parkinson.
Five minutes later, an interval suggesting that Miss Chubb also found
it rather early in the afternoon, Carrados was arranging to take rooms
for his attendant and himself for the short time that he would be in
London, seeing an oculist.
"One bedroom, mine, must face north," he stipulated. "It has to do
with the light."
Miss Chubb replied that she quite understood. Some gentlemen, she
added, had their requirements, others their fancies. She endeavoured
to suit all. The bedroom she had in view from the first did face
north. She would not have known, only the last gentleman, curiously
enough, had made the same request.
"A sufferer like myself?" inquired Carrados affably.
Miss Chubb did not think so. In his case she regarded it merely as a
fancy. He had said that he could not sleep on any other side. She had
had to turn out of her own room to accommodate him, but if one kept an
apartment-house one had to be adaptable; and Mr. Ghoosh was certainly
very liberal in his ideas.
"Ghoosh? An Indian gentleman, I presume?" hazarded Carrados.
It appeared that Mr. Ghoosh was an Indian. Miss Chubb confided that at
first she had been rather perturbed at the idea of taking in "a black
man," as she confessed to regarding him. She reiterated, however, that
Mr. Ghoosh proved to be "quite the gentleman." Five minutes of
affability put Carrados in full possession of Mr. Ghoosh's manner of
life and movements--the dates of his arrival and departure, his
solitariness and his daily habits.
"This would be the best bedroom," said Miss Chubb.
It was a fair-sized room on the first floor. The window looked out on
to the roof of an outbuilding; beyond, the deep cutting of the railway
line. Opposite stood the dead wall that Mr. Carlyle had spoken of.
Carrados "looked" round the room with the discriminating glance that
sometimes proved so embarrassing to those who knew him.
"I have to take a little daily exercise," he remarked, walking to the
window and running his hand up the woodwork. "You will not mind my
fixing a 'developer' here, Miss Chubb--a few small screws?"
Miss Chubb thought not. Then she was sure not. Finally she ridiculed
the idea of minding with scorn.
"If there is width enough," mused Carrados, spanning the upright
critically. "Do you happen to have a wooden foot-rule convenient?"
"Well, to be sure!" exclaimed Miss Chubb, opening a rapid succession
of drawers until she produced the required article. "When we did out
this room after Mr. Ghoosh, there was this very ruler among the things
that he hadn't thought worth taking. This is what you require, sir?"
"Yes," replied Carrados, accepting it, "I think this is exactly what I
require." It was a common new white-wood rule, such as one might buy
at any small stationer's for a penny. He carelessly took off the width
of the upright, reading the figures with a touch; and then continued
to run a finger-tip delicately up and down the edges of the
"Four and seven-eighths," was his unspoken conclusion.
"I hope it will do sir."
"Admirably," replied Carrados. "But I haven't reached the end of my
requirements yet, Miss Chubb."
"No, sir?" said the landlady, feeling that it would be a pleasure to
oblige so agreeable a gentleman, "what else might there be?"
"Although I can see very little I like to have a light, but not any
kind of light. Gas I cannot do with. Do you think that you would be
able to find me an oil lamp?"
"Certainly, sir. I got out a very nice brass lamp that I have
specially for Mr. Ghoosh. He read a good deal of an evening and he
preferred a lamp."
"That is very convenient. I suppose it is large enough to burn for a
"Yes, indeed. And very particular he was always to have it filled
"A lamp without oil is not very useful," smiled Carrados, following
her towards another room, and absent-mindedly slipping the foot-rule
into his pocket.
Whatever Parkinson thought of the arrangement of going into
second-rate apartments in an obscure street it is to be inferred that
his devotion to his master was sufficient to overcome his private
emotions as a self-respecting "man." At all events, as they were
approaching the station he asked, and without a trace of feeling,
whether there were any orders for him with reference to the proposed
"None, Parkinson," replied his master. "We must be satisfied with our
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Parkinson, with some constraint. "I
understand that you had taken the rooms for a week certain."
"I am afraid that Miss Chubb will be under the same impression.
Unforeseen circumstances will prevent our going, however. Mr.
Greatorex must write to-morrow, enclosing a cheque, with my regrets,
and adding a penny for this ruler which I seem to have brought away
with me. It, at least, is something for the money."
Parkinson may be excused for not attempting to understand the course
"Here is your train coming in, sir," he merely said.
"We will let it go and wait for another. Is there a signal at either
end of the platform?"
"Yes, sir; at the further end."
"Let us walk towards it. Are there any of the porters or officials
"No, sir; none."
"Take this ruler. I want you to go up the steps--there are steps up
the signal, by the way?"
"I want you to measure the glass of the lamp. Do not go up any higher
than is necessary, but if you have to stretch be careful not to mark
off the measurement with your nail, although the impulse is a natural
one. That has been done already."
Parkinson looked apprehensively round and about. Fortunately the part
was a dark and unfrequented spot and everyone else was moving towards
the exit at the other end of the platform. Fortunately, also, the
signal was not a high one.
"As near as I can judge on the rounded surface, the glass is four and
seven-eighths across," reported Parkinson.
"Thank you," replied Carrados, returning the measure to his pocket,
"four and seven-eighths is quite near enough. Now we will take the
next train back."
Sunday evening came, and with it Mr. Carlyle to The Turrets at the
appointed hour. He brought to the situation a mind poised for any
eventuality and a trenchant eye. As the time went on and the
impenetrable Carrados made no illusion to the case, Carlyle's manner
inclined to a waggish commiseration of his host's position. Actually,
he said little, but the crisp precision of his voice when the path lay
open to a remark of any significance left little to be said.
It was not until they had finished dinner and returned to the library
that Carrados gave the slightest hint of anything unusual being in the
air. His first indication of coming events was to remove the key from
the outside to the inside of the door.
"What are you doing, Max?" demanded Mr. Carlyle, his curiosity
overcoming the indirect attitude.
"You have been very entertaining, Louis," replied his friend, "but
Parkinson should be back very soon now and it is as well to be
prepared. Do you happen to carry a revolver?"
"Not when I come to dine with you, Max," replied Carlyle, with all the
aplomb he could muster. "Is it usual?"
Carrados smiled affectionately at his guest's agile recovery and
touched the secret spring of a drawer in an antique bureau by his
side. The little hidden receptacle shot smoothly out, disclosing a
pair of dull-blued pistols.
"To-night, at all events, it might be prudent," he replied, handing
one to Carlyle and putting the other into his own pocket. "Our man may
be here at any minute, and we do not know in what temper he will
"Our man!" exclaimed Carlyle, craning forward in excitement. "Max! you
don't mean to say that you have got Mead to admit it?"
"No one has admitted it," said Carrados. "And it is not Mead."
"Not Mead.... Do you mean that Hutchins--?"
"Neither Mead nor Hutchins. The man who tampered with the signal--for
Hutchins was right and a green light was exhibited--is a young
Indian from Bengal. His name is Drishna and he lives at Swanstead."
Mr. Carlyle stared at his friend between sheer surprise and blank
"You really mean this, Carrados?" he said.
"My fatal reputation for humour!" smiled Carrados. "If I am wrong,
Louis, the next hour will expose it."
"But why--why--why? The colossal villainy, the unparalleled audacity!"
Mr. Carlyle lost himself among incredulous superlatives and could only
"Chiefly to get himself out of a disastrous speculation," replied
Carrados, answering the question. "If there was another motive--or at
least an incentive--which I suspect, doubtless we shall hear of it."
"All the same, Max, I don't think that you have treated me quite
fairly," protested Carlyle, getting over his first surprise and
passing to a sense of injury. "Here we are and I know nothing,
absolutely nothing, of the whole affair."
"We both have our ideas of pleasantry, Louis," replied Carrados
genially. "But I dare say you are right and perhaps there is still
time to atone." In the fewest possible words he outlined the course of
his investigations. "And now you know all that is to be known until
"But will he come?" questioned Carlyle doubtfully. "He may be
"Yes, he will be suspicious."
"Then he will not come."
"On the contrary, Louis, he will come because my letter will make him
suspicious. He is coming; otherwise Parkinson would have telephoned
me at once and we should have had to take other measures."
"What did you say, Max?" asked Carlyle curiously.
"I wrote that I was anxious to discuss an Indo-Scythian inscription
with him, and sent my car in the hope that he would be able to oblige
"But is he interested in Indo-Scythian inscriptions?"
"I haven't the faintest idea," admitted Carrados, and Mr. Carlyle was
throwing up his hands in despair when the sound of a motor-car wheels
softly kissing the gravel surface of the drive outside brought him to
"By Gad, you are right, Max!" he exclaimed, peeping through the
curtains. "There is a man inside."
"Mr. Drishna," announced Parkinson a minute later.
The visitor came into the room with leisurely self-possession that
might have been real or a desperate assumption. He was a slightly
built young man of about twenty-five, with black hair and eyes, a
small, carefully trained moustache, and a dark olive skin. His
physiognomy was not displeasing, but his expression had a harsh and
supercilious tinge. In attire he erred towards the immaculately
"Mr. Carrados?" he said inquiringly.
Carrados, who had risen, bowed slightly without offering his hand.
"This gentleman," he said, indicating his friend, "is Mr. Carlyle, the
celebrated private detective."
The Indian shot a very sharp glance at the object of this description.
Then he sat down.
"You wrote me a letter, Mr. Carrados," he remarked, in English that
scarcely betrayed any foreign origin, "a rather curious letter, I may
say. You asked me about an ancient inscription. I know nothing of
antiquities; but I thought, as you had sent, that it would be more
courteous if I came and explained this to you."
"That was the object of my letter," replied Carrados.
"You wished to see me?" said Drishna, unable to stand the ordeal of
the silence that Carrados imposed after his remark.
"When you left Miss Chubb's house you left a ruler behind." One lay on
the desk by Carrados and he took it up as he spoke.
"I don't understand what you are talking about," said Drishna
guardedly. "You are making some mistake."
"The ruler was marked at four and seven-eighths inches--the measure of
the glass of the signal lamp outside."
The unfortunate young man was unable to repress a start. His face lost
its healthy tone. Then, with a sudden impulse, he made a step forward
and snatched the object from Carrados's hand.
"If it is mine I have a right to it," he exclaimed, snapping the ruler
in two and throwing it on to the back of the blazing fire. "It is
"Pardon me, I did not say that the one you have so impetuously
disposed of was yours. As a matter of fact, it was mine. Yours
"Wherever it is you have no right to it if it is mine," panted
Drishna, with rising excitement. "You are a thief, Mr. Carrados. I
will not stay any longer here."
He jumped up and turned towards the door. Carlyle made a step forward,
but the precaution was unnecessary.
"One moment, Mr. Drishna," interposed Carrados, in his smoothest
tones. "It is a pity, after you have come so far, to leave without
hearing of my investigations in the neighbourhood of Shaftesbury
Drishna sat down again.
"As you like," he muttered. "It does not interest me."
"I wanted to obtain a lamp of a certain pattern," continued Carrados.
"It seemed to me that the simplest explanation would be to say that I
wanted it for a motor-car. Naturally I went to Long Acre. At the first
shop I said: 'Wasn't it here that a friend of mine, an Indian
gentleman, recently had a lamp made with a green glass that was nearly
five inches across?' No, it was not there but they could make me one.
At the next shop the same; at the third, and fourth, and so on.
Finally my persistence was rewarded. I found the place where the lamp
had been made, and at the cost of ordering another I obtained all the
details I wanted. It was news to them, the shopman informed me, that
in some parts of India green was the danger colour and therefore tail
lamps had to show a green light. The incident made some impression on
him and he would be able to identify their customer--who paid in
advance and gave no address--among a thousand of his countrymen. Do I
succeed in interesting you, Mr. Drishna?"
"Do you?" replied Drishna, with a languid yawn. "Do I look
"You must make allowance for my unfortunate blindness," apologized
Carrados, with grim irony.
"Blindness!" exclaimed Drishna, dropping his affectation of unconcern
as though electrified by the word, "do you mean--really blind--that
you do not see me?"
"Alas, no," admitted Carrados.
The Indian withdrew his right hand from his coat pocket and with a
tragic gesture flung a heavy revolver down on the table between them.
"I have had you covered all the time, Mr. Carrados, and if I had
wished to go and you or your friend had raised a hand to stop me, it
would have been at the peril of your lives," he said, in a voice of
melancholy triumph. "But what is the use of defying fate, and who
successfully evades his destiny? A month ago I went to see one of our
people who reads the future and sought to know the course of certain
events. 'You need fear no human eye,' was the message given to me.
Then she added: 'But when the sightless sees the unseen, make your
peace with Yama.' And I thought she spoke of the Great Hereafter!"
"This amounts to an admission of your guilt," exclaimed Mr. Carlyle
"I bow to the decree of fate," replied Drishna. "And it is fitting to
the universal irony of existence that a blind man should be the
instrument. I don't imagine, Mr. Carlyle," he added maliciously, "that
you, with your eyes, would ever have brought that result about."
"You are a very cold-blooded young scoundrel, sir!" retorted Mr.
Carlyle. "Good heavens! do you realize that you are responsible for
the death of scores of innocent men and women?"
"Do you realize, Mr. Carlyle, that you and your Government and your
soldiers are responsible for the death of thousands of innocent men
and women in my country every day? If England was occupied by the
Germans who quartered an army and an administration with their wives
and their families and all their expensive paraphernalia on the
unfortunate country until the whole nation was reduced to the verge of
famine, and the appointment of every new official meant the callous
death sentence on a thousand men and women to pay his salary, then if
you went to Berlin and wrecked a train you would be hailed a patriot.
What Boadicea did and--and Samson, so have I. If they were heroes, so
"Well, upon my word!" cried the highly scandalized Carlyle, "what
next! Boadicea was a--er--semi-legendary person, whom we may possibly
admire at a distance. Personally, I do not profess to express an
opinion. But Samson, I would remind you, is a Biblical character.
Samson was mocked as an enemy. You, I do not doubt, have been
entertained as a friend."
"And haven't I been mocked and despised and sneered at every day of my
life here by your supercilious, superior, empty-headed men?" flashed
back Drishna, his eyes leaping into malignity and his voice trembling
with sudden passion. "Oh! how I hated them as I passed them in the
street and recognized by a thousand petty insults their lordly English
contempt for me as an inferior being--a nigger. How I longed with
Caligula that a nation had a single neck that I might destroy it at
one blow. I loathe you in your complacent hypocrisy, Mr. Carlyle,
despise and utterly abominate you from an eminence of superiority that
you can never even understand."
"I think we are getting rather away from the point, Mr. Drishna,"
interposed Carrados, with the impartiality of a judge. "Unless I am
misinformed, you are not so ungallant as to include everyone you have
met here in your execration?"
"Ah, no," admitted Drishna, descending into a quite ingenuous
frankness. "Much as I hate your men I love your women. How is it
possible that a nation should be so divided--its men so dull-witted
and offensive, its women so quick, sympathetic and capable of
"But a little expensive, too, at times?" suggested Carrados.
Drishna sighed heavily.
"Yes; it is incredible. It is the generosity of their large nature. My
allowance, though what most of you would call noble, has proved quite
inadequate. I was compelled to borrow money and the interest became
overwhelming. Bankruptcy was impracticable because I should have then
been recalled by my people, and much as I detest England a certain
reason made the thought of leaving it unbearable."
"Connected with the Arcady Theatre?"
"You know? Well, do not let us introduce the lady's name. In order to
restore myself I speculated on the Stock Exchange. My credit was good
through my father's position and the standing of the firm to which I
am attached. I heard on reliable authority, and very early, that the
Central and Suburban, and the Deferred especially, was safe to fall
heavily, through a motor bus amalgamation that was then a secret. I
opened a bear account and sold largely. The shares fell, but only
fractionally, and I waited. Then, unfortunately, they began to go up.
Adverse forces were at work and rumours were put about. I could not
stand the settlement, and in order to carry over an account I was
literally compelled to deal temporarily with some securities that were
not technically my own property."
"Embezzlement, sir," commented Mr. Carlyle icily. "But what is
embezzlement on the top of wholesale murder!"
"That is what it is called. In my case, however, it was only to be
temporary. Unfortunately, the rise continued. Then, at the height of
my despair, I chanced to be returning to Swanstead rather earlier than
usual one evening, and the train was stopped at a certain signal to
let another pass. There was conversation in the carriage and I learned
certain details. One said that there would be an accident some day,
and so forth. In a flash--as by an inspiration--I saw how the
circumstance might be turned to account. A bad accident and the shares
would certainly fall and my position would be retrieved. I think Mr.
Carrados has somehow learned the rest."
"Max," said Mr. Carlyle, with emotion, "is there any reason why you
should not send your man for a police officer and have this monster
arrested on his own confession without further delay?"
"Pray do so, Mr. Carrados," acquiesced Drishna. "I shall certainly be
hanged, but the speech I shall prepare will ring from one end of India
to the other; my memory will be venerated as that of a martyr; and the
emancipation of my motherland will be hastened by my sacrifice."
"In other words," commented Carrados, "there will be disturbances at
half-a-dozen disaffected places, a few unfortunate police will be
clubbed to death, and possibly worse things may happen. That does not
suit us, Mr. Drishna."
"And how do you propose to prevent it?" asked Drishna, with cool
"It is very unpleasant being hanged on a dark winter morning; very
cold, very friendless, very inhuman. The long trial, the solitude and
the confinement, the thoughts of the long sleepless night before, the
hangman and the pinioning and the noosing of the rope, are apt to prey
on the imagination. Only a very stupid man can take hanging easily."
"What do you want me to do instead, Mr. Carrados?" asked Drishna
Carrados's hand closed on the weapon that still lay on the table
between them. Without a word he pushed it across.
"I see," commented Drishna, with a short laugh and a gleaming eye.
"Shoot myself and hush it up to suit your purpose. Withhold my message
to save the exposures of a trial, and keep the flame from the torch of
"Also," interposed Carrados mildly, "to save your worthy people a good
deal of shame, and to save the lady who is nameless the unpleasant
necessity of relinquishing the house and the income which you have
just settled on her. She certainly would not then venerate your
"What is that?"
"The transaction which you carried through was based on a felony and
could not be upheld. The firm you dealt with will go to the courts,
and the money, being directly traceable, will be held forfeit as no
good consideration passed."
"Max!" cried Mr. Carlyle hotly, "you are not going to let this
scoundrel cheat the gallows after all?"
"The best use you can make of the gallows is to cheat it, Louis,"
replied Carrados. "Have you ever reflected what human beings will
think of us a hundred years hence?"
"Oh, of course I'm not really in favour of hanging," admitted Mr.
"Nobody really is. But we go on hanging. Mr. Drishna is a dangerous
animal who for the sake of pacific animals must cease to exist. Let
his barbarous exploit pass into oblivion with him. The disadvantages
of spreading it broadcast immeasurably outweigh the benefits."
"I have considered," announced Drishna. "I will do as you wish."
"Very well," said Carrados. "Here is some plain notepaper. You had
better write a letter to someone saying that the financial
difficulties in which you are involved make life unbearable."
"But there are no financial difficulties--now."
"That does not matter in the least. It will be put down to an
hallucination and taken as showing the state of your mind."
"But what guarantee have we that he will not escape?" whispered Mr.
"He cannot escape," replied Carrados tranquilly. "His identity is too
"I have no intention of trying to escape," put in Drishna, as he
wrote. "You hardly imagine that I have not considered this
eventuality, do you?"
"All the same," murmured the ex-lawyer, "I should like to have a jury
behind me. It is one thing to execute a man morally; it is another to
do it almost literally."
"Is that all right?" asked Drishna, passing across the letter he had
Carrados smiled at this tribute to his perception.
"Quite excellent," he replied courteously. "There is a train at
nine-forty. Will that suit you?"
Drishna nodded and stood up. Mr. Carlyle had a very uneasy feeling
that he ought to do something but could not suggest to himself what.
The next moment he heard his friend heartily thanking the visitor for
the assistance he had been in the matter of the Indo-Scythian
inscription, as they walked across the hall together. Then a door
"I believe that there is something positively uncanny about Max at
times," murmured the perturbed gentleman to himself.