Malcolm Sage, Detective/Chapter 6
THE STOLEN ADMIRALTY MEMORANDUM
"WELL," cried Tims, one Saturday night, as he pushed open the kitchen door of the little flat he occupied over the garage. "How's the cook, the stove, and the supper?"
"I'm busy," said Mrs. Tims, a little, fair woman, with blue eyes, an impertinent nose, and the inspiration of neatness in her dress, as she altered the position of a saucepan on the stove and put two plates into the oven to warm.
This was the invariable greeting between husband and wife. Tims went up behind her, gripped her elbows to her side, and kissed her noisily.
"I told you I was busy," she said.
"You did, Emmelina," he responded. "I heard you say so, and how's his Nibs?"
The last remark was addressed to an object that was crawling towards him with incoherent cries and gurgles of delight. Stooping down, Tims picked up his eighteen-months-old son and held him aloft, chuckling and mouthing his glee.
"You'll drop him one of these days," said Mrs. Tims, "and then there'll be a pretty hullaballoo."
"Well, he's fat enough to bounce," was the retort. "Ain't you, Jimmy?"
Neither Tims nor Mrs. Tims seemed to be conscious that without variations these same remarks had been made night after night, week after week, month after month.
"How's Mr. Sage?" was the question with which Mrs. Tims always followed the reference to the bouncing of Jimmy.
"Like Johnny Walker, still going strong," glibly came the reply, just as it came every other night. "He was asking about you to-day," added Tims.
"About me?" Mrs. Tims turned, all attention, her cooking for the time forgotten.
"Yes, wanted to know when I was going to divorce you."
"Don't be silly, Jim," she cried. "What did he say, really now?" she added as she turned once more to the stove.
"Oh! he just asked if you were well," replied Tims, more interested in demonstrating with the person of his son how an aeroplane left the ground than in his wife's question.
"Anything else?" enquired Mrs. Tims, prodding a potato with a fork to see if it was done.
Tims was not deceived by the casual tone in which the question was asked. He was wont to say that, if his wife wanted his back teeth, she would get them.
"Nothing, my dear, only to ask if his Nibs was flourishin'," and with a gurgle of delight the aeroplane soared towards the ceiling.
Mrs. Tims had not forgotten the time when Malcolm Sage visited her several times when she was ill with pneumonia. She never tired of telling her friends of his wonderful knowledge of household affairs. He had talked to her of cooking, of childish ailments, of shopping, in a way that had amazed her. His knowledge seemed universal. He had explained to her among other things how cracknel biscuits were made and why croup was so swift in its action.
Tims vowed that the Chief had done her more good than the doctor, and from that day Malcolm Sage had occupied chief place in Mrs. Tims's valhalla.
"Quaint sort o' chap, the Chief," Tims would remark sometimes in connection with some professional episode.
"Pity you're not as quaint," would flash back the retort from Mrs. Tims, whose conception of loyalty was more literal than that of her husband.
Supper finished and his Nibs put to bed, Tims proceeded to enjoy his pipe and evening paper, whilst Mrs. Tims got out her sewing. From time to time Tims's eyes would wander over towards the telephone in the corner.
Finally he folded up the paper, and proceeded to knock out the ashes from his pipe preparatory to going to bed. His eyes took a last look at the telephone just as Mrs. Tims glanced up.
"Don't sit there watching that telephone," she cried, "anyone would think you were wanting——"
"Brrrrrrr—brrrrrrr—brrrrrr," went the bell.
"Now perhaps you're happy," cried Mrs. Tims as he rose to answer the call, whilst she put on the kettle to make hot coffee to fill the thermos flasks without which she never allowed the car to go out at night. It was her tribute to "the Chief."
In his more expansive moments Malcolm Sage would liken himself to a general practitioner in a diseased-infected district. It is true that there was no speaking-tube, with its terrifying whistle, a few feet from his head; but the telephone by his bedside was always liable to arouse him from sleep at any hour of the night.
As Tims had folded up his newspaper with a view to bed, Malcolm Sage was removing his collar before the mirror on his dressing-table, when his telephone bell rang. Rogers, his man, looked interrogatingly at his master, who, shaking his head, passed over to the instrument and took up the receiver.
"Yes, this is Malcolm Sage—Speaking—Yes." Then for a few minutes he listened with an impassive face. "I'll be off within ten minutes—The Towers, Holdingham, near Guildford—I understand."
While he was speaking, Rogers, a little sallow-faced man with fish-like eyes and expressionless face, had moved over to the other telephone and was droning in a monotonous, uninflected voice, "Chief wants car in five minutes."
It was part of Malcolm Sage's method to train his subordinates to realise the importance of intelligent and logical inference.
Returning to the dressing-table, Malcolm Sage took up another collar, slipped a tie between the fold, and proceeded to put it on.
As he did so he gave instructions to Rogers, who, note-book in hand, and with an expression of indifference that seemed to say "Kismet," silently recorded his instructions.
"My address will be The Towers, Holdingham, near Guildford. Be on the look-out for messages."
Without a word Rogers closed the book and, picking up a suit-case, which was always ready for emergencies, he left the room. Two minutes later Malcolm Sage followed and, without a word, entered the closed car that had just drawn up before his flat in the Adelphi.
Rogers returned to the flat, switched the telephone on to his own room, and prepared himself for the night, whilst Malcolm Sage, having eaten a biscuit and drunk some of Mrs. Tims's hot coffee, lay back to sleep as the car rushed along the Portsmouth road.
In the library at The Towers three men were seated, their faces lined and drawn as if some great misfortune had suddenly descended upon them; yet their senses were alert. They were listening.
"He ought to be here any minute now," said Mr. Llewellyn John, the Prime Minister, taking out his watch for the hundredth time. Sir Lyster Grayne, First Lord of the Admiralty, shook his head.
"He should do it in an hour," said Lord Beamdale, the Secretary of War, "if he's got a man who knows the road."
"Sage is sure——" began Sir Lyster; then he stopped abruptly, and turned in the direction of the further window.
A soft tapping as of a finger-nail upon a pane of glass was clearly distinguishable. It ceased for a few seconds, recommenced, then ceased again.
Mr. Llewellyn John looked first at Sir Lyster and then on towards where Lord Beamdale sat, heavy of frame and impassive of feature.
Sir Lyster rose and walked quickly over to the window. As he approached the tapping recommenced. Swinging back the curtain he disappeared into the embrasure.
The others heard the sound of the window being raised and then closed again. A moment later Malcolm Sage appeared, followed by Sir Lyster, who once more drew the curtain.
At the sight of Malcolm Sage, Mr. Llewellyn John's features relaxed from their drawn, tense expression. A look of relief flashed momentarily into Lord Beamdale's fish-like eyes.
"Thank God you've come, Sage!" cried Mr. Llewellyn John, with a sigh of relief as he grasped Malcolm Sage's hand as if it had been a lifebelt and he a drowning man. "I think you have met Lord Beamdale," he added.
Malcolm Sage bowed to the War Minister, then with great deliberation removed his overcoat, carefully folded it, and placed it upon a chair, laying his cap on top. He then selected a chair at the table that gave him a clear view of the faces of the three Ministers, and sat down.
"Why did you come to the window?" enquired Sir Lyster, as he resumed his own seat. "Did you know this was the library?"
"I saw a crack of light between the curtains," replied Malcolm Sage. "It may be desirable that no one should know I have been here," he added.
"Something terrible has happened, Sage," broke in the Prime Minister, his voice shaking with excitement. He had with difficulty contained himself whilst Malcolm Sage was taking off his overcoat and explaining his reason for entering by the window. "It's—it's——" His voice broke.
"Perhaps Sir Lyster will tell me, or Lord Beamdale," suggested Malcolm Sage, looking from one to the other.
Lord Beamdale shook his head.
"Just a bare outline, Sir Lyster," said Malcolm Sage, spreading out his fingers before him.
Slowly, deliberately, and with perfect self-possession, Sir Lyster explained what had happened.
"The Prime Minister and Lord Beamdale came down with me on Thursday night to spend the weekend," he said. "Incidentally we were to discuss a very important matter connected with this country's er—foreign policy." The hesitation was only momentary. "Lord Beamdale brought with him a document of an extremely private nature. This I had sent to him earlier in the week for consideration and comment.
"If that document were to get to a certain Embassy in London no one can foretell the calamitous results. It might even result in another war, if not now certainly later. It was, I should explain, of a private and confidential nature, and consequently quite frankly expressed."
"And you must remember——" began Mr. Llewellyn John excitedly.
"One moment, sir," said Malcolm Sage quietly, without looking up from an absorbed contemplation of a bronze letter-weight fashioned in the form of a sphinx.
Mr. Llewellyn John sank back into his chair, and Sir Lyster resumed.
"Just over an hour and a half ago, that is to say soon after eleven o'clock, it was discovered that the document in question was missing, and in its place had been substituted a number of sheets of blank paper."
"Unless it's found, Sage," cried Mr. Llewellyn John, jumping up from his chair in his excitement, "the consequences are too awful to contemplate."
For a few seconds he strode up and down the room, then returning to his chair, sank back into its comfortable depths.
"Where was the document kept?" enquired Malcolm Sage, his long, sensitive fingers stroking the back of the sphinx.
"In the safe," replied Sir Lyster, indicating with a nod a small safe let into the wall.
"You are in the habit of using it for valuable documents?" queried Malcolm Sage.
"As a matter of fact very seldom. It is mostly empty," was the reply.
"I have a larger safe in my dressing-room, in which I keep my papers. During the day I occasionally use this to save going up and down stairs."
"Where do you keep the key?"
"When there is anything in the safe I always carry it about with me."
"And at other times?"
"Sometimes in a drawer in my writing-table," said Sir Lyster; "but generally I have it on me."
"When was the document put into the safe?"
"At a quarter to eight to-night, just as the second dressing-gong was sounding."
"And you yourself put it in, locked the door, and have retained the key ever since?" Malcolm Sage had exhausted the interest of the sphinx and was now drawing diagrams with his forefinger upon the morocco surface of the table.
Sir Lyster nodded.
"I put the key in the pocket of my evening vest when I changed," he said. "After the other guests had retired, the Prime Minister raised a point that necessitated reference to the document itself. It was then I discovered the substitution."
"But for that circumstance the safe would not have been opened until when?" queried Malcolm Sage.
"Late to-night, when I should have transferred the packet to the safe in my dressing-room."
"Would you have examined the contents?"
"No. It is my rule to cut adrift from official matters from dinner-time on Saturday until after breakfast on Monday. It was only in deference to the Prime Minister's particular wish that we referred to the document to-night."
"I take it that the rule you mention is known to your guests and servants?"
"There is no doubt that it was the document itself that you put in the safe?"
"None; the Prime Minister and Lord Beamdale saw me do it."
"No doubt whatever," corroborated Mr. Llewellyn John, whilst Lord Beamdale wagged his head like a mandarin.
"Does anyone else know that it is missing?" asked Malcolm Sage after a short pause.
Sir Lyster shook his head.
"Only we three; and, of course, the thief," he added.
Malcolm Sage nodded. He had tired of the diagrams, and now sat stroking the back of his head.
"Has anyone left the house since the discovery; that is, as far as you know?" he queried at length.
"No one," said Sir Lyster.
"The servants, of course, have access to this room?"
"Yes; but only Walters, my butler, is likely to come here in the evening, except, of course, my secretary."
"Where does he dine?"
"Miss Blair," corrected Sir Lyster, "always takes her meals in her own sitting-room, where she works. It is situated at the back of the house on the ground floor."
Again Malcolm Sage was silent, this time for a longer period.
"So far as you know, then," he said at length, addressing Sir Lyster, "only three people in the house were acquainted with the existence of the document; you, the Prime Minister, and Lord Beamdale."
Sir Lyster inclined his head.
"You are certain of that?" Malcolm Sage looked up swiftly and keenly. "Your secretary and Lady Grayne, for instance, they knew nothing about it?"
"Nothing; of that I am absolutely certain," replied Sir Lyster coldly.
"And the nature of the document?" enquired Malcolm Sa'ge.
Sir Lyster looked across at Mr. Llewellyn John, who turned interrogatingly to Lord Beamdale.
"I am afraid it is of too private a nature to——" he hesitated.
"If you require me to trace something," said Malcolm Sage evenly, "you must at least tell me what that something is."
"It is a document which——" began Lord Beamdale, then he, too, paused.
"But, surely, Sage," broke in Mr. Llewellyn John, "is it not necessary to know the actual contents?"
"If you had lost something and would not tell me whether it was a dog or a diamond, would you expect me to find it?"
"But——" began Mr. Llewellyn John.
"I'm afraid we are wasting time, gentlemen," said Malcolm Sage, rising. "I would suggest Scotland Yard. The official police must work under any handicap imposed. I regret that I am unable to do so."
He walked across to the chair where lay his cap and coat.
"Now, Sage," said Mr. Llewellyn John tactfully, "you mustn't let us down, you really mustn't." Then turning to Sir Lyster, he said, "I can see his point. If he doesn't know the nature of the document, he cannot form a theory as to who is likely to have taken it. Perhaps under the circumstances, Grayne, we might take Sage into our confidence; at least to such extent as he thinks necessary."
Sir Lyster made no response, whilst Lord Beamdale, whose economy in words had earned for him the sobriquet of "Lord Dumbeam," sat with impassive face.
"Perhaps I can help you," said Malcolm Sage, still standing by the chair on which lay his cap and coat. "At the end of every great war the Plans Departments of the Admiralty and the War Office are busy preparing for the next war. I suggest that this document was the Admiralty draft of a plan of operations to be put into force in the event of war occurring between this country and an extremely friendly power. It was submitted to the War Office for criticism and comment as far as land-operations were concerned. Another power, unfriendly to the friendly power, would find in this document a very valuable red-herring to draw across the path of its own perplexities."
"Good heavens!" cried Mr. Llewellyn John, starting upright in his chair. "How on earth did you know?"
"It seems fairly obvious," said Malcolm Sage, as he returned to his chair and resumed his stroking of the sphinx's back. "Who else knew of the existence of the document?" he enquired.
"No one outside the Admiralty and the War——" Sir Lyster stopped suddenly.
From the corridor, apparently just outside the library door, came the sound of a suppressed scream, followed by a bump against the woodwork.
Rising and moving swiftly across the room, Sir Lyster threw open the door, revealing a gap of darkness into which a moment later slid two figures, a pretty, fair-haired girl and a wizened little Japanese with large round spectacles and an automatic smile.
"I'm so sorry, Sir Lyster," faltered the girl, as she stepped timidly into the room, "but I was frightened. Someone had switched off the lights and I ran into——" She turned to the Japanese, who stood deprecating and nervous on the threshold.
"I lose my passage," he said, baring his teeth still further; "I go to find cigarette-case of my master. He leave it in beelyard-room. I go——"
With a motion of his hand, Sir Lyster dismissed the man, who slipped away as if relieved at getting off so lightly.
"You are up late, Miss Blair," he said coolly, turning to the girl.
"I'm so sorry," she said; "but Lady Grayne gave me some letters, and there was so much copying for you that——" She paused, then added nervously, "I didn't know it was so late."
"You had better go to bed, now," said Sir Lyster.
With a charming smile she passed out, Sir Lyster closing the door behind her. As he turned into the room his eye caught sight of the chair in which Malcolm Sage had been sitting.
"Where is Mr. Sage?" He looked from Mr. Llewellyn John to Lord Beamdale.
As he spoke Malcolm Sage appeared from the embrasure of the window through which he had entered, and where he had taken cover as Sir Lyster rose to open the door.
"You see, Sage is not supposed to be here," explained Mr. Llewellyn John.
"Your secretary has an expensive taste in perfume," remarked Malcolm Sage casually, as he resumed his seat. "It often characterises an intensely emotional nature," he added musingly.
"Emotional nature!" repeated Sir Lyster. "As a matter of fact she is extremely practical and self-possessed. You were saying——" he concluded with the air of a man who dismisses a trifling subject in favour of one of some importance.
"Diplomatists should be trained physiognomists," murmured Malcolm Sage. "A man's mouth rarely lies, a woman's never."
Sir Lyster stared.
"Now," continued Malcolm Sage, "I should like to know who is staying here."
Sir Lyster proceeded to give some details of the guests and servants. The domestic staff comprised twenty-one, and none had been in Sir Lyster's employ for less than three years. They were all excellent servants, of irreproachable character, who had come to him with good references. Seventeen of the twenty-one lived in the house. There were also four lady's-maids and five men-servants attached to the guests. Among the men-servants was Sir Jeffrey Trawler's Japanese valet.
There was something in Sir Lyster's voice as he mentioned this fact that caused Malcolm Sage to look up at him sharply.
"The man you have just seen," Sir Lyster explained. "He has been the cause of some little difficulty in the servants'-hall. They object to sitting down to meals with a Chinaman, as they call him.
"He seems intelligent?" remarked Malcolm Sage casually.
"On the contrary, he is an extremely stupid creature," was the reply. "He is continually losing himself. Only yesterday morning I myself found him wandering about the corridor leading to my own bedroom. Walters has also mentioned the matter to me."
Sir Lyster then passed on to the guests. They comprised Mrs. Selton, an aunt of Sir Lyster; Sir Jeffrey and Lady Trawlor, old friends of their hostess; Lady Whyndale and her two daughters. There were also Mr. Gerald Nash, M. P., and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Winnington, old friends of Sir Lyster and Lady Grayne.
"Later, I may require a list of the guests," said Malcolm Sage, when Sir Lyster had completed his account. "You said, I think, that the key of the safe was sometimes left in an accessible place?"
"Yes, in a drawer."
"So that anyone having access to the room could easily have taken a wax impression."
"Sir Lyster flushed slightly.
"There is no one——" he began.
"There is always a potential someone," corrected Malcolm Sage, raising his eyes suddenly and fixing them full upon Sir Lyster.
"The question is, Sage," broke in Mr. Llewellyn John tactfully, "what are we to do?"
"I should first like to see the inside of the safe and the dummy packet," said Malcolm Sage, rising. "No, I will open it myself if you will give me the key," he added, as Sir Lyster rose and moved over to the safe.
Taking the key, Malcolm Sage kneeled before the safe door and, by the light of an electric torch, surveyed the whole of the surface with keen-sighted eyes. Then placing the key in the lock he turned it, and swung back the door, revealing a long official envelope as the sole contents. This he examined carefully without touching it, his head thrust inside the safe.
"Is this the same envelope as that in which the document was enclosed?" he enquired, without looking round.
The three men had risen and were grouped behind Malcolm Sage, watching him with keen interest.
"It's the same kind of envelope, but——" began
Sir Lyster, when Lord Beamdale interrupted.
"It's the envelope itself," he said. "I noticed that the right-hand top corner was bent in rather a peculiar manner."
Malcolm Sage rose and, taking out the envelope, carefully examined the damaged corner, which was bent and slightly torn.
"Yes, it's the same," cried Mr. Llewellyn John. "I remember tearing it myself when putting in the document."
"How many leaves of paper were there?" enquired Malcolm Sage.
"Eight, I think," replied Sir Lyster.
"Nine," corrected Lord Beamdale. "There was a leaf in front blank but for the words, 'Plans Department.'"
"Have you another document from the same Department?" enquired Malcolm Sage of Sir Lyster.
"I should like to see one."
Sir Lyster left the room, and Malcolm Sage removed the contents of the envelope. Carefully counting nine leaves of blank white foolscap, he bent down over the paper, with his face almost touching it.
When Sir Lyster re-entered with another document in his hand Malcolm Sage took it from him and proceeded to subject it to an equally close scrutiny, holding up to the light each sheet in succession.
"I suppose, Sir Lyster, you don't by any chance use scent?" enquired Malcolm Sage without looking up.
"Mr. Sage!" Sir Lyster was on his dignity.
"I see you don't," was Malcolm Sage's calm comment as he resumed his examination of the dummy document. Replacing it in the envelope, he returned it to the safe, closed the door, locked it, and put the key in his pocket.
"Well! what do you make of it?" cried Mr. Llewellyn John eagerly.
"We shall have to take the Postmaster-general into our confidence."
"Woldington!" cried Mr. Llewellyn John in astonishment. "Why."
Sir Lyster looked surprised, whilst Lord Beamdale appeared almost interested.
"Because we shall probably require his help."
"How?" enquired Sir Lyster.
"Well, it's rather dangerous to tamper with His Majesty's mails without the connivance of St. Martins-le-Grand," was the dry retort.
"But——" began Mr. Llewellyn John, when suddenly he stopped short.
Malcolm Sage had walked over to where his overcoat lay, and was deliberately getting into it.
"You're not going, Mr. Sage?" Sir Lyster's granite-like control seemed momentarily to forsake him. "What do you advise us to do?"
"Get some sleep," was the quiet reply.
"But aren't you going to search for——?" He paused as Malcolm Sage turned and looked full at him.
"A search would involve the very publicity you are anxious to avoid," was the reply.
"But——" began Mr. Llewellyn John, when Malcolm Sage interrupted him.
"The only effective search would be to surround the house with police, and allow each occupant to pass through the cordon after having been stripped. The house would then have to be gone through; carpets and boards pulled up; mattresses ripped open; chairs——"
"I agree with Mr. Sage," said Sir Lyster, looking across at the Prime Minister coldly.
"Had I been a magazine detective I should have known exactly where to find the missing document," said Malcolm Sage. "As I am not"—he turned to Sir Lyster—"it will be necessary for you to leave a note for your butler telling him that you have dropped somewhere about the house the key of this safe, and instructing him to have a thorough search made for it. You might casually mention the loss at breakfast, and refer to an important document inside the safe which you must have on Monday morning. Perhaps the Prime Minister will suggest telephoning to town for a man to come down to force the safe should the key not be found."
Malcolm Sage paused. The others were gazing at him with keen interest.
"Leave the note unfolded in a conspicuous place where anyone can see it," he continued.
"I'll put it on the hall-table," said Sir Lyster.
Malcolm Sage nodded.
"It is desirable that you should all appear to be in the best of spirits." There was a fluttering at the corners of Malcolm Sage's mouth, as he lifted his eyes for a second to the almost lugubrious countenance of Lord Beamdale. "Under no circumstances refer to the robbery, even amongst yourselves. Try to forget it."
"But how will that help?" enquired Mr. Llewellyn John, whose nature rendered him singularly ill-adapted to a walking-on part.
"I will ask you, sir," said Malcolm Sage, turning to him, "to give me a letter to Mr. Woldington, asking him to do as I request. I will give him the details."
"But why is it necessary to tell him?" demanded Sir Lyster.
"That I will explain to you to-morrow. That will be Monday," explained Malcolm Sage, "earlier if possible. A few lines will do," he added, turning to Mr. Llewellyn John.
"I suppose we must," said the Prime Minister, looking from Sir Lyster to Lord Beamdale.
"I hope to call before lunch," said Malcolm Sage, "but as Mr. Le Sage from the Foreign Office. You will refuse to discuss official matters until Monday. I shall probably ask you to introduce me to everyone you can. It may happen that I shall disappear suddenly."
"But cannot you be a little less mysterious?" said Sir Lyster, with a touch of asperity in his voice.
"There is nothing mysterious," replied Malcolm Sage. "It seems quite obvious. Everything depends upon how clever the thief is." He looked up suddenly, his gaze passing from one to another of the bewildered Ministers.
"It's by no means obvious to me," cried Mr. Llewellyn John, complainingly.
"By the way, Sir Lyster, how many cars have you in the garage?" enquired Malcolm Sage. "In case we want them," he added.
"I have two, and there are"—he paused for a moment—"five others," he added; "seven in all."
"Any carriages, or dog-carts?"
"No. We have no horses."
"A few of the servants have them," replied Sir Lyster, a little impatiently.
"The bicycles are also kept in the garage, I take it?"
"They are." This time there was no mistaking the note of irritation in Sir Lyster's voice.
"There may be several messengers from Whitehall to-morrow," said Malcolm Sage, after a pause. "Please keep them waiting until they show signs of impatience. It is important. Whatever happens here, it would be better not to acquaint the police—whatever happens," he added with emphasis. "And now, sir"—he turned to Mr. Llewellyn John—"I should like that note to the Postmaster-general."
Mr. Llewellyn John sat down reluctantly at a table and wrote a note.
"But suppose the thief hands the document to an accomplice?" said Sir Lyster presently, with something like emotion in his voice.
"That's exactly what I am supposing," was Malcolm Sage's reply and, taking the note that Mr. Llewellyn John held out to him, he placed it in his breast pocket, buttoned up his overcoat, and walked across to the window through which he had entered. With one hand upon the curtain he turned.
"If I call you may notice that I have acquired a slight foreign accent," he said, and with that he slipped behind the curtain. A moment later the sound was heard of the window being quietly opened and then shut again.
"Well, I'm damned!" cried Lord Beamdale, and for the moment Mr. Llewelyln John and Sir Lyster forgot their surprise at Malcolm Sage's actions in their astonishment at their colleague's remark.