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The Magic Stone

by H. C. Bailey



This is the first of a series of amusing short stories about the entertaining adventures of Mr. Reginald Fortune, detective at large. Each story is complete in itself. We think you will enjoy the whimsical Mr. Fortune



A NIGHTINGALE began to sing in the limes. Mr. Fortune smiled through his cigar smoke at the moon and slid lower into his chair. In the silver light his garden was a wonderland. He could see fairies dancing on the lawn. The fine odor of the cigar was glorified by the mingled fragrance of the night, the spicy scent of the lime flowers borne on a wind which came from the river over meadowsweet and hay. The music of the nightingale was heard through the soft murmur of the weir stream.

The head of the criminal investigation department was arguing that the case of the town clerk of Barchester offered an example of the abuse of the simpler poisons in married life.

Mr. Reginald Fortune, though his chief adviser, said no word.

The head of the criminal investigation department came at last to an end. "That’s the case, then.” He stood up and knocked over his coffee cup. There was a tinkling clatter, a profound silence, and then only the murmur of the water. The nightingale was gone. "Well, Fortune?”

Mr. Fortune sighed and raised himself. “Dear me, Lomas,” he said sadly, “why don’t you find something to do?”

The Honorable Sidney Lomas suffered from a sense of wrong and said so. It was a difficult and complex case and had given him much anxiety and he wanted Fortune’s advice and——

“She did for him, all right,” said Reggie Fortune succinctly, “and you’ll never find a jury to hang her. Why don’t you bring me something interesting?”

Lomas then complained of him, pointing out that a policeman’s life was not a happy one, that he did not arrange or even choose the crimes of his country. “Interesting? Good Gad, do you suppose I am interested in this female Bluebeard? I know my job’s not interesting. Work’s work.”

“And eggs is eggs. You have no soul, Lomas,” Reggie Fortune stood up. “Come and have a drink.” He led the way from the dim veranda into his study and switched on the light. “Now that,” he pointed to a pale, purple fluid, “that is a romantic liqueur: it feels just like a ghost story: I brought it back from the Pyrenees.”

“Whisky,” said Lomas morosely.

“My dear chap, are we downhearted?”

“You should go to Scotland Yard, Fortune.” Lomas clung to his grievance. “Perhaps you would find it interesting. What do you think they brought me this afternoon? Some poor devil had an epileptic fit in the British Museum.”

“Well, well,” Reggie Fortune sipped his purple liqueur, “the British Museum had made me feel queer. But not epileptic. On the contrary. Sprightly fellow. This is a nice story. Go on, Lomas.”

“That’s all,” Lomas snapped. “Interesting, isn’t it?”

“Then why Scotland Yard? You’re not a hospital for nervous diseases. Or are you, Lomas?”

“I wonder,” said Lomas bitterly. “Why Scotland Yard? Just so. Why? Because they’ve lost an infernal pebble in the fray. And will I find it for them please? Most interesting case.”

Reggie Fortune took another cigar and composed himself for comfort. “Begin at the beginning.” he advised, “and relate all facts without passion or recrimination.”

“There are no facts, confound you. It was in the ethnological gallery of the British Museum—where nobody ever goes. Some fellow did go and had a fit. He broke one of the glass cases in his convulsions. They picked him up and he came round. He was very apologetic, left them a fiver to pay for the glass and an address in New York. He was an American doing Europe and just off to France with his family. When they looked over the case afterward they found one of the stones it had was gone. The epileptic couldn’t have pocketed it in the confusion. Most likely a child. The thing is only a pebble with some paint on it. A pundit from the Museum came to me with his hair on end and wanted me to sift London for it. I asked him what it was worth and he couldn’t tell me. Only an anthropologist would want the thing, he said. It seems an acquired taste. I haven’t acquired it. I told him this was my busy day.”

Reggie Fortune smiled benignly. “But this is art,” he said. “This is alluring, Lomas. Have you cabled to New York?”

“Have I——?” Lomas stopped his whisky on the way to his mouth. “No, Fortune, I have not cabled New York. Nor have I sent for the military. The British Museum is still without a garrison.”

“Well, you know, this gentleman with the fit may be a collector.”

“Oh, Lord, no. It was a real fit. No deception. They had a doctor to him.”

Reggie Fortune was much affected. “There speaks the great heart of the people. The doctor always knows! I love your simple faith, Lomas. It cheers me. But I’m a doctor myself. My dear chap, has no one ever murmured into the ear of Scotland Yard that a fit can be faked?”

“I dare say I am credulous,” said Lomas. “But I draw the line somewhere. If you ask me to believe that a fellow shammed epilepsy, cut himself and spent a fiver to pick up a pebble, I draw it there.”

“That’s the worst of credulity. It’s always sceptical in the wrong place. What was this pebble like?”

Lomas reached for a writing pad and drew the likeness of a fat cigar, upon which, parallel to each other, were two zigzag lines. “A greenish bit of stone, with those marks in red. That’s the museum man’s description. If it had been old, which it isn’t, it would have been a galet coloré. And if it had come from Australia, which it didn’t, it would have been a chu—chu something——

“Churinga.”

“That’s the word. The pundit from the Museum says it came from Borneo. They don’t know what the marks mean, but the thing is a sort of mascot in Borneo: a high-class insurance policy. The fellow who holds it can’t die. So the simple Bornese don’t part with their pebbles easily. There isn’t another known in Europe. That’s where it hurts the Museum pundit. I told him marbles were selling thirty a penny. Nice round marbles, all colors.”

“Yes. You have no soul, Lomas.”

“I dare say. I’m busy.”

“With nothing to show for it!” said Reggie reproachfully. “Green, was it? Green quartz, I suppose, or perhaps jade with the pattern in oxide of iron.”

“And I expect some child has swopped it for a green apple.”

“Lomas, dear,” Mr. Fortune expostulated, “this is romance. Ten thousand years ago the cave men in France painted these patterns on stones. And still in Borneo there’s men making them for magic. Big magic. A charm against death. And some bright lad comes down to Bloomsbury and throws a fit to steal one. My hat, he’s the heir of all the ages! I could bear to meet this epilept.”

“I couldn’t,” said Lomas. “I have to meet quite enough of the weak minded officially.”

But Reggie Fortune was deaf to satire. “A magic stone,” he murmured happily.

“Oh, take the case by all means,” said Lomas. “I’m glad I’ve brought you something that really interests you. Let me know when you find the pebble,” and announcing that he had a day’s work to do on the morrow he went with an air of inquiry to bed.

 

It was an enemy who said that Mr. Fortune had a larger mass of useless knowledge than any man in England. Mr. Fortune has been heard to explain his eminence in the application of science to crime by explaining that he knows nothing thoroughly, but a little of everything, thus preserving an open mind. This may account for his instant conviction that there was something for him in the matter of the magic stone. Or will you prefer to believe with Superintendent Bell that he has some singular faculty for feeling other men’s minds at work, a sort of sixth sense? This is mystical and no one is less mystical than Reggie Fortune.

To the extreme discomfort of Lomas he filled the time which their car took in reaching London with a lecture on the case. He found that three explanations were possible. The stone might have been stolen by some one who believed in its magical power, or by some one who coveted it for a collection, or by some one who meant to sell it to a collector.

“Why stop?” Lomas yawned. “It might have been snapped up by a kleptomaniac, or an ostrich, or a lunatic. Or perhaps some chap wanted to crack a nut. Or an oyster. Does one crack oysters?”

Reggie went on seriously. He thought it unlikely that the thing was stolen as a charm.

“Oh, don’t lose heart,” said Lomas. “Why not put it down to a brave from Borneo? The original owner comes over in his war paint to claim his long-lost, magic stone. Malay runs amuck in Museum. That would go well in the papers. Very plausible, too. Compare the mysterious Indians who are always hunting down their temple jewels in novels.”

“Lomas, you have a futile mind. Of course some fellow might want it for an amulet. It’s not only savages who believe in charms. How many men carried a mascot through the war? But your epileptic friend with the New York address doesn’t suggest this simple faith. I suspect a collector.”

“Well, I’ll believe anything of collectors,” Lomas admitted. “They collect heads in Borneo, don’t they? I know a fellow who collects shoes. Scalps or stamps or press-cuttings, it’s all very sad.”

“I want you to cable to New York and verify this epilept. Which I do not think. I’m going to look about for him here.”

"My dear Fortune!” Lomas sat up and put up an eyeglass to examine him. “Are you well? This is zeal. But what exactly are you looking for?”

“That’s what I want to find out,” said Reggie, and having left Lomas at Scot land Yard, he made a round of calls.

It is believed that there is no class or trade, from beggars to bishops, in which Reggie Fortune has not friends. The first he sought was a dealer in exotic curiosities. From him, not without diplomatic suppression of the truth, Mr. Fortune made sure that magic stones from Borneo were nothing accounted of in the trade, seldom seen and never sought. It was obvious that the subject did not interest his dealer who could not tell where Mr. Fortune would find such a thing. Old Demetrius Jacob was as likely a man as any.

“Queer name,” said Mr. Fortune.

“Queer fish,” he was informed. “Syrian, you know, with a bit of Greek. A lot of odd small stuff goes his way.”

Mr. Fortune filed Demetrius Jacob for reference and visited another friend, a wholesale dry-goods man, whose real interest in life was his collection of objects of savage art. A still more diplomatic economy of the truth brought out the fact that the friend did not possess a magic stone of Borneo and would do and pay a good deal to obtain one. He was excited by the mere thought. And Reggie Fortune, watching him as he expanded on the theme of magic stones said to himself: “Yes, old thing, a collector is the nigger in the wood pile.” The friend, returning to cold reality, mourned that his collection lacked this treasure and cheered up again at the thought that nobody else had it.

“Nobody?” said Reggie Fortune. “Really?”

The man was annoyed. “Well, I know old Tetherdown hasn’t. And he has the best collection in England. Of course with his money he can do anything.”

Reggie Fortune neatly diverting the conversation to harmless subjects, consulted his encyclopædic memory about old Tetherdown.

 

Lord Tetherdown was a little gentleman of middle age reputed by connoisseurs to be the shabbiest in London. He inherited great wealth and used it by living like a hermit and amassing an anthropological collection. That afternoon saw Reggie Fortune knocking at a little house in a back street of Mayfair. The door was opened by an old woman in an overall. Lord Tetherdown was not at home. Reggie Fortune exhibited great surprise.

“Really? But I counted on seeing him. Can you tell me when he’ll be back?”

“No, I can’t; he’s away.”

It appeared to Reggie that she was ill at ease. “Away?” he repeated. “Oh, that’s absurd. When did he go?”

“He was off last night.”

“Really? But didn’t he say when he’d be back?”

“No, he didn’t, young man.”

“It’s amazing.”

“I don’t know what call you have to be amazed, neither,” she cried.

“But I counted on seeing him to-day,” Reggie explained. “I had better come in and write a note.”

The old woman did not seem to think so, but she let him in and took him to a little room. Reggie Fortune caught his breath. For the place was ineffably musty. It was also very full. There was hardly space for both him and the woman. Cabinets lined the walls and in the corners, in between the cabinets, on top, on the mantel and the window sill were multitudes of queer things. A large and diabolical mask of red feathers towered above him and he turned from it to see a row of glittering little skulls made of rock crystal and lapis lazuli and carved with hideous realism. On the door hung a cloak made of many-colored bird skins and a necklace of human teeth with the green image of a demon as pendant. A golden dragon with crystal eyes gaped on the sideboard over the whisky decanter.

Reggie showed no surprise. He slid into a chair by the table and looked at the old woman.

“I don’t know what you want that you can’t say,” she grumbled. She unlocked a desk and put before him one sheet of paper, one envelope, pen and ink.

“Well, it's about a curio.” Reggie smiled upon her.

“The good Lord knows we’ve enough of them,” she cried. “That’s what took him away now.”

Reggie showed no interest and naturally while he went on writing that Mr. Fortune was anxious to consult Lord Tetherdown on a matter of anthropology she went on talking. He learned that it was a gentleman coming about a curio who took Lord Tether down away the night before and she made it plain that she thought little of gentlemen who came about curios.

“Didn’t he say when he would be back?” Reggie asked as he stood up to go.

“Not a word, I tell you.”

“Well, that’s strange.”

“Strange, is it? It’s plain you don’t know the master, young man. He’d go to the end of kingdom come for his pretties.”

“I hope he hasn’t gone so far as that,” said Reggie. He saw as he turned the corner of the street that she was still looking after him. “She knows more than she says,” he told himself, “or she’s more rattled than she’ll let on.” He went to Scotland Yard. Lomas was pleased to see him.

“And how do you like marbles, Fortune?” he said genially. “An intellectual game, I’m told. The glass ones are the trumps now, Bell says. I’m afraid you’re old-fashioned. Stone isn’t used by the best people.”

“Breakin’ upon this merry persifage,” said Reggie, “have you heard from New York?”

“New York is silent. Probably stunned by your searching question. But the American embassy speaks. Where’s that report, Bell?”

Superintendent Bell with an apologetic smile, for he always liked Mr. Fortune, read out: “James L. Beeton is a well-known and opulent citizen now traveling in Europe for his health. Present address not known.”

“For his health, mark you,” Lomas added.

“Yes. There is some good intelligence work in this business. But not at Scotland Yard.”

“He is very harsh with us, Bell. I fear he has had a bad day. The marbles ran badly for him. My dear Fortune, I always told you there was nothing in it.”

“You did,” said Reggie grimly. “I’ll forgive you, but I won’t promise to for get. Do you know Lord Tetherdown?”

“The little rag bag who collects rags and bones? He has been a joke this ten years.”

“Lord Tetherdown is a very wealthy man,” said Superintendent Bell with respect.

“Yes. He’s gone. Now Lomas, stemming your cheery wit, apply your mind to this. Yesterday morning a rare specimen was stolen from the British Museum. Yesterday evening Lord Tetherdown, who collects such things, who hasn’t got that particular thing and would pay through the nose to get it, was called on by a man about a curio. Lord Tetherdown went out and vanished.”

“My dear fellow!” Lomas put up his eyeglass. “I admire your imagination. But what is it you want me to believe? That Tetherdown arranged for this accursed stone to be stolen?”

“I doubt that,” said Reggie thoughtfully.

“So do I. He’s a meek, shy little man. Well then, did the thief try to sell it to Tetherdown? Why should that make Tetherdown run away?”

“It might decoy him away.”

Lomas stared at him, apparently trying to believe that he was real. “My dear fellow!” he protested. “Oh, my dear fellow! This is fantastic. Why should any one suddenly decoy little Tetherdown? He never made an enemy. He would have nothing on him to steal. It’s an old joke that he doesn’t carry the worth of a shilling. He has lived in that hovel with his two old fogies of servants for years and some times he goes off mysteriously and the fellows in his club only notice he has been away when he blows in again.”

“You’re a born policeman, Lomas,” Reggie sighed. “You’re so commonplace.”

“Quite, quite,” said Lomas heartily. “Now tell me, you’ve been to Tetherdown’s place. Did his servants say they were surprised he had gone off?”

“The old dame said he often went off on a sudden,” Reggie admitted, and Lomas laughed. “Well, what about it? You won’t do anything?”

“My dear Fortune, I’m only a policeman, as you say. I can’t act without some reason.”

"Oh, my aunt!” said Reggie. “Reasons! Good night. Sleep sound.”

In comfortable moments since he has been heard to confess that Lomas was perfectly right, that there was nothing which the police could have done, but he is apt to diverge into an argument that policemen are creatures whose function in the world is to shut the stable door after the horse is stolen. A pet theory of his.

He went to the most solemn of his dubs and having soothed his feelings with muffins, looked up Lord Tetherdown in the peerage. The house of Tetherdown took little space. John William, Lord Tetherdown, had no male kin alive but his heir, who was his half brother, the Honorable Bishop Coppett. The Honorable George seemed from his clubs to be a sportsman. Mr. Fortune meditated.

On his way home he called on the Honorable George, whose taste in dwellings and servants was different from his half-brother’s. Mr. Coppett had a flat in a vast, new, and gorgeous block. His door was opened by a young man who used a good tailor and was very wide awake. But Mr. Coppett, like Lord Tetherdown, was not at home. His man, looking more knowing than ever, did not think it would be of any use to call again. Oh, no sir, Mr. Coppett was not out of town; he would certainly be back that night; but something like a wink flickered on the young man’s face—too late to see any one. If the gentleman would call up in the morning—not too early——

Reggie Fortune said that it didn’t much matter.

He went off to dine with her whom he describes as his friskier sister. The one who married a bishop. It made him sleep sound.

Thus the case of the magic stone was left to ferment for some fifteen hours. For which Mr. Fortune has been heard to blame himself and the conjugal bliss of bishops.

Over a deviled sole at breakfast—nature demanded piquant food—his mind again became active. He rang for his car. Sam, his admirable chauffeur, was told that he preferred to drive himself, which is always in him a sign of mental excitement.

“Country work, sir?” Sam asked anxiously, for he holds that only on Salisbury Plain should Mr. Fortune be allowed to drive. Mr. Fortune shook his head, and Sam swallowed and they came down upon Oxford Street like the wolf on the fold. The big car was inserted, a camel into the eye of a needle, into the alleyway where Lord Tetherdown’s house lurks.

Again the old woman in the overall was brought to the door. She recognized Reggie Fortune and liked him less than ever.

“There’s no answer,” she cired. “The master’s not back.”

“Really?”

“You heard what I said.”

“He’s not let you know when he’s coming back?”

“No, he hasn’t, nor I’ve no call to tell you if he had. You and your curios!” The door slammed.

 

Reggie went back to his car. When it stopped again in a shabby street by Covent Garden, Sam allowed himself to cough, his one protest from first to last. A devoted fellow. Reggie Fortune surveyed the shop of Demetrius Jacob, which displayed in its dirty window shelves covered with bad imitations of old pewter. Reggie frowned at it, looked at the name again and went in.

The place was like a lumber room. He saw nothing but damaged furniture which had never been good and little of that until he found out that the dusty thing on which he was standing was an exquisite Chinese carpet. Nobody was in the shop, nobody came, though the opening door had rung a bell. He made it ring again and still had to wait. Then there swept through the place a woman, a big woman and handsome in her dark, Oriental way. She did not see Reggie, she was too hurried or too angry, if her flush and her frown were anger. She banged the door and was gone.

Reggie rapped on a rickety desk. After a moment an old man shuffled into the shop, made something like a salaam and said: “You want? Yes?” Not so old after all, Reggie decided on a second glance. He shuffled because his slippers were falling off, he was bent because he cringed, his yellow face was keen and healthy and his eyes bright under black brows, but certainly a queer figure in that tight frock coat which came nearly to his heels and his stiff green skull cap.

“Mr. Jacob?” Reggie said.

“I am Demetrius Jacob.” He pronounced it in the Greek way.

“Well, I am interested in savage religions, you know, and I’m told you are the man for me.” Mr. Jacob again made salaam. “What I’m after just now is charms and amulets.” He paused and suddenly rapped out: “Have you got anything from Borneo?”

Demetrius Jacob showed no surprise or any other emotion. “Borneo? Oh, yes, I t’ink,” he smiled. “Beautiful t’ings.” He shuffled to a cupboard and brought out a tray which contained two skulls and a necklace of human teeth.

Reggie Fortune was supercilious. He demanded amulets, stone amulets and in particular a stone amulet like a cigar with zigzag painting.

Demetrius Jacob shook his head. “I not ’ave ’im,” he said sadly. “Not from Borneo. I ’ave beautiful galets colorés from France, yes, and Russia. But not the East. I never see ’im from the East but in the Museum.”

Reggie Fortune went away thinking that it took a clever fellow to be as guileless as that.

The car plunged through Piccadilly again to the flat of the Honorable George Coppett. Mr. Coppett’s man received him with a smile which was almost a leer. “I’ll see, sir,” he took Reggie’s card. “I’m afraid Mr. Coppett’s partic’larly busy.”

As Reggie was ushered in he heard a bell ring and a woman's voice high and angry, “Oh, yes, I will go. But I do not believe you, not one word.” A door was flung open and across the hall swept the big woman of Demetrius Jacob’s shop. She stopped and stared hard at Reggie. Either she did not recognize him or did not care who he was. She hurried out and the door banged behind her.

The Honorable George Coppett was a little man who walked like a bird. “Damn it, damn it,” he piped jumping about, “what the devil are you at, Brown?” He stared at Mr. Fortune and Brown gave him Mr. Fortune’s card. “Hallo, don’t know you, do I? I’m in the devil of a hurry.”

“I think you had better see me, Mr. Coppett,” said Reggie. Mr. Coppett swore again and bade him come in.

Mr. Coppett gave himself some whisky. “I say, women are the devil,” he said as he wiped his mouth. “Have one?” he nodded to the decanter. “No? Well, what’s your trouble, Mr. Fortune?”

“I am anxious to have some news of Lord Tetherdown.”

“Well, why don’t you ask him?” Mr. Coppett laughed.

“He’s not to be found.”

“What, gone off again, has he? Lord, he’s always at it. My dear chap, he’s simply potty about his curious. I don’t know the first thing about them, but it beats me how a fellow can fall for that old junk. One of the best and all that don’t you know, but it’s a mania with him. He’s always running off after some queer bit of tripe.”

“When do you expect him back?”

“My dear chap, he don’t tell me his little game. Old Martha might know.”

“She doesn’t.”

Mr. Coppett laughed again. “He always was a close old thing. He just pushes off, don’t you know, on any old scent. And after a bit he blows in again.”

“Then—you don’t know—when you’ll see him again?” Reggie said slowly.

“Give you my word I don’t,” Mr. Coppett cried. “Sorry, sorry.”

“So am I,” said Reggie. “Good morning, Mr. Coppett.”

Mr. Coppett did not try to keep him. But he was hardly beyond the outer door of the flat when he heard Mr. Coppett say, “Hallo, hallo!” He turned. The door was still shut. Mr. Coppett was using the telephone. He heard “Millfield, double three something,” and could not hear anything more. Mr. Fortune went downstairs pensively.

 

Pensive he was still when he entered Scotland Yard and sought Lomas’ room.

“Well, how goes the quest for the holy stone?” Lomas put up his eye glass. “My dear Fortune, you’re the knight of the rueful countenance.”

“You’re confused, Lomas. Don’t do it,” Reggie complained. “You’re not subtle at Scotland Yard, but hang it, you might be clear.”

“What can we do for you?”

“One of your larger cigars.” Reggie mumbled and took it. “Yes. What can you do? I wonder.” He looked at Lomas with a baleful eye. “Who lives at Millfield? Speaking more precisely, who lives at Millfield double three something?” Lomas suggested that it was a large order. “It is,” Reggie agreed gloomily. “It’s a nasty large order.” And he described his morning’s work. “There you are. The further you go the queerer.”

“Quite, quite,” Lomas nodded. “But what’s your theory, Fortune?”

“The workin’ hypothesis is that there’s dirty work doin’ when a magic stone gets stolen and the man who wants the magic stone vanishes on the same day; which is confirmed when a female connected with a chap who knows all about magic stones is found colloguing with the vanished man’s heir; and further supported when that heir, being rattled, runs to telephone to the chaste shades of Millfield—the last place for a sporting blood like him to keep his pals. I ask you, who lives at Millfield double three something?”

Lomas shifted his papers. “George Coppett stands to gain by Tetherdown’s death, of course,” he said. “And the only man so far as we know. But he’s not badly off, he’s well known, there’s never been anything against him. Why should he suddenly plan to do away with his brother? All your story might be explained in a dozen ways. There’s not an ounce of evidence, Fortune.”

“You like your evidence after the murder. I know that. My God, Lomas, I’m afraid.”

“My dear fellow!” Lomas was startled. “This isn’t like you.”

“Oh, many thanks. I don’t like men dying, that’s all. Professional prejudice. I’m a doctor, you see. What the devil are we talking for? Who lives at Millfield double three something?”

“We might get at it,” Lomas said doubtfully, and rang for Superintendent Bell. “But it’s a needle in a bundle of hay. And if Tetherdown was to be murdered, it’s done by now.”

“Yes, that’s comforting,” said Mr. Fortune.

Superintendent Bell brought a list of the subscribers to the Millfield exchange and they looked over the names in the thirty-fourth hundred. Most were shopkeepers and ruled out. “He doesn’t buy his fish in Millfield,” said Reggie Fortune. Over the doctors he hesitated.

“You think it’s some fellow in your own trade?” Lomas smiled.

“Brownrigg,” Reggie Fortune muttered. “I know him. 3358, Doctor Jerdan, the Ferns, Chatham Park Road. Where’s a medical directory? 3358, Doctor Jerden is not in the medical directory. Call up the divisional inspector and ask him what he knows about Doctor Jerdan.”

There was nothing, Superintendent Bell announced, known against Doctor Jerdan. He had been at the Ferns some time. He didn’t practice. He was said to take in private patients.

“Come on,” said Reggie Fortune and took the superintendent’s arm.

“My dear Fortune,” Lomas protested. “This is a bow at a venture. We can’t act, you know. Bell can’t appear.”

“Bell’s coming to be a policeman and appear when it’s all over. I’m going in to Doctor Jerdan who isn’t on the register. And I don’t like it, Lomas. Bell shall stay outside. And if I don’t come out again—well, you’ll have evidence, Lomas.”

 

Neither Reggie Fortune nor his chauffeur knew the way about in Millfield. They sat together and Mr. Fortune with a map of London exhorted Sam at the wheel and behind them Superintendent Bell held tight and Reggie thought of his sins.

The car came by many streets of little drab houses to a road in which the houses were large and detached, houses which had been rural villas when Victoria was queen. “Now go easy,” Reggie Fortune said. “Chatham Park Road, Bell. Quiet and respectable as the silent tomb. My God, look at that! Stop, Sam.”

What startled him was a hospital nurse on a doorstep.

“Who is she, sir?” Bell asked.

“She’s Demetrius Jacob’s friend and George Coppett’s friend—and now she’s Doctor Jerdan’s friend and in nurse’s rig. Keep the car back here. Don’t frighten them."

He jumped out and hurried on to the Ferns. “I don’t like it, young fellow, and that’s a fact,” said Bell, and Sam nodded.

The woman had been let in. Mr. Fortune stood a moment surveying the house which was as closely curtained as all the rest and like them stood back with a curving drive to the door. He rang the bell, had no answer, rang again, knocked and knocked more loudly. It sounded thunderous in the heavy quiet of the Chatham Park Road.

At last the door was opened by a man, a lanky, powerful fellow who scowled at Mr. Fortune and said: “We ain’t deaf.”

“I have been kept waiting,” said Reggie. “Doctor Jerdan, please.”

"Not at home.”

“Oh, I think so. Doctor Jerdan will see me.”

“Don’t see any one but by appointment.”

“Doctor Jerdan will see me. Go and tell him so.” The door was shut in his face. After a moment or two he began knocking again. It was made plain to all the Chatham Park Road that something was happening at the Ferns and here and there a curtain fluttered.

Superintendent Bell got out of the car. “You stay here, son,” he said. “Don’t stop the engine.”

But before he reached the house, the door was opened and Reggie Fortune saw a sleek man who smiled with all his teeth. “So sorry you have been waiting,” he purred. “I am Doctor Jerdan’s secretary. What can I do for you?”

“Doctor Jerdan will see me.”

“Oh, no, I’m afraid not. Doctor Jerdan’s not at home.”

“Why say so?” said Reggie wearily. “Doctor Jerdan, please.”

“You had better tell me your business, sir.”

“Haven’t you guessed? Lord Tetherdown.”

“Lord who?” said the sleek man. “I don’t know anything about Lord Tetherdown.”

"But then you’re only Doctor Jerdan’s secretary,” Reggie murmured.

Something of respect was to be seen in the pale eyes that studied him. “I’ll see what I can do. Come in, sir. What’s your name?” He thrust his head forward like an animal snapping, but still he smiled.

“Fortune. Reginald Fortune.”

“This way.” The sleek man led him down a bare hall and showed him into a room at the back. “Do sit down, Mr. Fortune. But I’m afraid you won’t see Doctor Jerdan.” He slid out. Reggie heard the key turn in the lock. He glanced at the window. That was barred.

“Quite so,” said Reggie. “Now how long will Bell wait?”

 

He took his stand so that he would be behind the door if it were opened and listened. There was a scurry of feet and some other sound. The feet fell silent, the other sound became a steady tapping. “Good God, are they nailing him down?” he muttered, took up a chair and dashed it at the lock again and again. As he broke out he heard the beat of a motor engine.

Superintendent Bell, drawing near, saw a car with two men come up out of the garage of the Ferns. He ran into the road and stood in its way. It drove straight at him, gathering speed. He made a jump for the footboard and being a heavy man missed. The car shot by.

The respectability of Chatham Park Road then heard such a stream of swearing as never had flowed that way. For Sam has a mother’s love of his best car. But he was heroic. He swung its long body out across the road, swearing. The fugitives from the Ferns took a chance. Their car mounted the pavement, hit a gate post and crashed.

Superintendent Bell arrived to find Sam backing his own car to the curb while he looked complacently at its shining sides. “Not a scratch, praise God,” he said.

Superintendent Bell pulled up. “You’re a wonder, you are,” he said and gazed at the ruins. The smashed car was on its side in a jumble of twisted iron and bricks. The driver was underneath. They could not move him. There were reasons why that did not matter to him. “He’s got his,” said Sam. “Where’s the other? There were two of them.”

The other lay half hidden in a laurel hedge. He had been flung out, he had broken the railings with his head, he had broken the stone below, but his head was a gruesome shape.

 

In the hall of the Ferns Reggie Fortune stood still to listen. That muffled tapping was the only sound in the house. It came from below. He went down dark stairs into the kitchen. No one was there. The sound came from behind a doorway in the corner. He flung it open and looked down into the blackness of a cellar. He struck a light and saw a bundle lying on the ground, a bundle from which stuck out two feet that tapped at the cellar steps. He brought it up to the kitchen. It was a woman with her head and body in a sack. When he had cut her loose he saw the dark face of the woman of the shop and the flat. She sprang at him and grasped his arms. “Who are you?” she cried. “Where is Lord Tetherdown?”

“My name is Fortune, madame. And yours?”

“I am Melitta Jacob. What is that to you? Where have you put Lord Tetherdown?”

“I am looking for him.”

“You! Is he not here? Oh, you shall pay for it, you and those others!”

But Reggie was already running upstairs. One room and another he tried in vain and at last at the top of the house found a locked door. The key was in the lock. Inside on a pallet bed, but clothed, lay a little man with some days’ beard. The woman thrust Reggie away and flung herself down by the bedside and gathered the man to her bosom moaning over him. “My lord, my lord.”

“Oh, my aunt!” said Reggie Fortune. “Now, Miss Jacob, please.” He put his hand on her shoulder.

"He is mine,” she cried fiercely.

“Well, just now he’s mine. I’m a doctor.”

“Oh, is he not dead?” she cried.

“Not exactly,” said Reggie Fortune. “Not yet.” He took the body from her quivering arms.

“What is it, then?”

“He is drugged, and, I should say, starved. If you——” A heavy footstep drew near. She sprang up ready for battle and in the doorway fell upon Superintendent Bell.

“Easy, easy.” He received her on his large chest and made sure of her wrists. “Mr. Fortune—just got in by the window—what about this?”

‘That’s all right,” Reggie mumbled from the bed. “Send me Sam.”

“Coming, sir!” Sam ran in. “Those fellows didn’t do a get-away. They’re outed. Car smash. Both killed. Some smash.”

“Brandy, meat juice, ammonia,” murmured Mr. Fortune, who was writing, “and that. Hurry.”

“Beg pardon, ma’am.” Bell detached himself from Melitta Jacob. He took off his hat and tiptoed to the bed. “Have they done for him, sir?” he muttered.

Mr. Fortune was again busy over the senseless body. One of its hands was clenched. He opened the fingers gently and drew out a greenish lump painted with a zigzag pattern in red. "The magic stone,” he said. “A charm against death. Well, well.”

 

On his lawn which slopes to the weir stream Reggie Fortune lay in a deck chair and a syringa, waxen white, shed its fragrance about him. He opened his eyes to see the jaunty form of the Honorable Sidney Lomas tripping toward him.

“Stout fellow,” he murmured. “That’s cider cup. There was ice in it once.” And he shut his eyes again.

“I infer that the patient is out of your hands.”

“They’re going for their honeymoon to Nigeria.”

“Good gad!” said Lomas.

“Collecting, you see. The objects of art of the noble savage. She’s rather a dear.”

“I should have thought he’d done enough collecting. Does he understand yet what happened.”

“Oh, he’s quite lucid. Seems to think it’s all very natural.”

“Does he though?”

“Only he’s rather annoyed with brother George. He thinks brother George had no right to object to his marrying. That’s what started it, you see. Brother George came round to borrow his usual hundred or so and found him with the magnificent Melitta. It occurred to brother George that if Tetherdown was going to marry something had to be done about it. And then I suppose brother George consulted the late Jerdan.” Mr. Fortune opened his eyes. “By the way, who was Jerdan? I saw you hushed up the inquest as a motor smash.”

“Bell thinks he was the doctor who bolted out of the Antony case.”

“Oh, ah. Yes, there was some brains in that. I rather thought the late Jerdan had experience. I wonder what happened to his private patients at the Ferns. Creepy house. I say, was it Jerdan or his man who threw the fit at the Museum?”

“Jerdan himself, by the description.”

“Yes. Useful thing, medical training. Well, Jerdan saw he could get at Tetherdown through his hobby. He came with tales of anthropological treasures for sale. The old boy didn’t bite at first. Jerdan couldn’t hit on anything he wanted. But he found out at last what he did want. Hence the fit in the Museum. That night Jerdan turned up with the Borneo stone and told Tetherdown a friend of his had some more of the kind. Tetherdown fell for that. He went off to the Ferns with Jerdan. The last thing he remembers is sitting down in the back room to look at the stone. They chloroformed him, I think. There was lots of stuff in the place. Then they kept him under morphia and starved him. I suppose the notion was to dump his dead body somewhere so that the fact of his death could be established and George inherit.

“There could be no clear evidence of murder. Tetherdown is eccentric. It would look as if he had gone off his head and wandered about till he died of starvation. That was the late Jerdan’s idea. Melitta always thought George was a bad egg. He didn’t like her, you see, and he showed it. When Tetherdown vanished, she went off to George one time. He laughed at her, which was his error. She put on that nurse’s rig for a disguise and watched his rooms. When I rattled him and he rang up Jerdan, Jerdan came there and she followed him back to the Ferns and asked for Tetherdown. Jolly awkward for Jerdan with me knocking at the door. He was crude with her, but I don’t know that I blame him. An able fellow. Pity, pity. Yes. What happened to brother George?”

“Bolted. We haven’t a trace of him. Which is just as well, for there’s no evidence. Jerdan left no papers. He could have laughed at us if he had had the nerve.”

Reggie Fortune chuckled. “I never liked George. I called him up that night: ‘Mr. George Coppett? The Ferns speaking. It’s all out,’ and I hung up. I thought George would quit. George will be worrying quite a lot. So that’s that.”

“Yes, you have your uses, Fortune,” said Lomas. “I’ve noticed it before.”

Reggie Fortune fumbled in his pocket and drew out the magic stone. “Tetherdown said he would like me to have it. Cut him to the heart to give it up, poor old boy. Told me it saved my life.” He smiled. “I don’t care for its methods, myself. Better put it back in a glass case, Lomas.”

“What did Melitta give you?”

“Melitta is rather a dear,” said Mr. Fortune.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1961, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.