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Author:Sax Rohmer


Some of Paul Harley’s most interesting cases were brought to his notice in an almost accidental way. Although he closed his office in Chancery Lane sharply at the hour of...
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  Some of Paul Harley’s most interesting cases were brought to his noticein an almost accidental way. Although he closed his office in ChanceryLane sharply at the hour of six, the hour of six by no means marked theend of his business day. His work was practically ceaseless. But even intimes of leisure, at the club or theatre, fate would sometimes cast inhis path the first slender thread which was ultimately to lead him intosome unsuspected labyrinth, perhaps in the underworld of London, perhapsin a city of the Far East.

  His investigation of the case of the man with the shaven skull affordedan instance of this, and even more notable was his first meeting withMajor Jack Ragstaff of the Cavalry Club, a meeting which took placeafter the office had been closed, but which led to the unmasking ofperhaps the most cunning murderer in the annals of crime.

  One summer’s evening when the little clock upon his table was rapidlyapproaching the much-desired hour, Harley lay back in his chair andstared meditatively across his private office in the direction of alarge and very handsome Burmese cabinet, which seemed strangely out ofplace amid the filing drawers, bookshelves, and other usual impedimentaof a professional man. A peculiarly uninteresting week was drawing toa close, and he was wondering if this betokened a decreased activity inthe higher criminal circles, or whether it was merely one of those usualquiescent periods which characterize every form of warfare.

  Paul Harley, although the fact was unknown to the general public,occupied something of the position of an unofficial field marshal of theforces arrayed against evildoers. Throughout the war he had undertakenconfidential work of the highest importance, especially in regard tothe Near East, with which he was intimately acquainted. A member ofthe English bar, and the last court of appeal to which Home Office andForeign Office alike came in troubled times, the brass plate upon thedoor of his unassuming premises in Chancery Lane conveyed little ornothing to the uninitiated.

  The man himself, with his tropical bronze and air of eager vitality,must have told the most careless observer that he stood in the presenceof an extraordinary personality. He was slightly gray at the temples inthese days, but young in mind and body, physically fit, and possessedof an intellectual keenness which had forced recognition from twohemispheres. His office was part of an old city residence, and hischambers adjoined his workroom, so that now, noting that his table clockregistered the hour of six, he pressed a bell which summoned Innes, hisconfidential secretary.

  “Well, Innes,” said Harley, looking around, “another uneventful day.”

  “Very uneventful, Mr. Harley. About a month of this and you will have toresume practice at the bar.”

  Paul Harley laughed.

  “Not a bit likely, Innes,” he replied. “No more briefs for me. I shallretire to Norfolk and devote my declining years to fishing.”

  “I don’t know that fishing would entirely satisfy me,” said Innes.

  “It would more than satisfy me,” returned Harley. “But every man to hisown ambition. Well, there is no occasion to wait; you might as well getalong. But what’s that you’ve got in your hand?”

  “Well,” replied Innes, laying a card upon the table, “I was just comingin with it when you rang.”

  Paul Harley glanced at the card.

  “Sir Charles Abingdon,” he read aloud, staring reflectively at hissecretary. “That is the osteologist?”

  “Yes,” answered Innes, “but I fancy he has retired from practice.”

  “Ah,” murmured Harley, “I wonder what he wants. I suppose I had bettersee him, as I fancy that he and I met casually some years ago in India.Ask him to come in, will you?”

  Innes retiring, there presently entered a distinguished-looking, elderlygentleman upon whose florid face rested an expression not unlike that ofembarrassment.

  “Mr. Harley,” he began, “I feel somewhat ill at ease in encroachingupon your time, for I am by no means sure that my case comes within yourparticular province.”

  “Sit down, Sir Charles,” said Harley with quiet geniality. “Officially,my working day is ended; but if nothing comes of your visit beyond achat it will have been very welcome. Calcutta, was it not, where we lastmet?”

  “It was,” replied Sir Charles, placing his hat and cane upon the tableand sitting down rather wearily in a big leather armchair which Harleyhad pushed forward. “If I presume upon so slight an acquaintance, I amsorry, but I must confess that only the fact of having met you sociallyencouraged me to make this visit.”

  He raised his eyes to Harley’s face and gazed at him with thatpeculiarly searching look which belongs to members of his profession;but mingled with it was an expression of almost pathetic appeal, ofappeal for understanding, for sympathy of some kind.

  “Go on, Sir Charles,” said Harley. He pushed forward a box of cigars.“Will you smoke?”

  “Thanks, no,” was the answer.

  Sir Charles evidently was oppressed by some secret trouble, thus Harleymused silently, as, taking out a tin of tobacco from a cabinet besidehim, he began in leisurely manner to load a briar. In this he desiredto convey that he treated the visit as that of a friend, and also,since business was over, that Sir Charles might without scruple speak atlength and at leisure of whatever matters had brought him there.

  “Very well, then,” began the surgeon; “I am painfully conscious thatthe facts which I am in a position to lay before you are very scanty andunsatisfactory.”

  Paul Harley nodded encouragingly.

  “If this were not so,” he explained, “you would have no occasionto apply to me, Sir Charles. It is my business to look for facts.Naturally, I do not expect my clients to supply them.”

  Sir Charles slowly nodded his head, and seemed in some measure torecover confidence.

  “Briefly, then,” he said, “I believe my life is in danger.”

  “You mean that there is someone who desires your death?”

  “I do.”

  “H’m,” said Harley, replacing the tin in the cupboard and strikinga match. “Even if the facts are scanty, no doubt you have fairlysubstantial grounds for such a suspicion?”

  “I cannot say that they are substantial, Mr. Harley. They are rathermore circumstantial. Frankly, I have forced myself to come here, and nowthat I have intruded upon your privacy, I realize my difficulties morekeenly than ever.”

  The expression of embarrassment upon the speaker’s face had grownintense; and now he paused, bending forward in his chair. He seemed inhis glance to appeal for patience on the part of his hearer, and Harley,lighting his pipe, nodded in understanding fashion. He was the last manin the world to jump to conclusions. He had learned by bitter experiencethat lightly to dismiss such cases as this of Sir Charles as comingwithin the province of delusion, was sometimes tantamount to refusingaid to a man in deadly peril.

  “You are naturally anxious for the particulars,” Sir Charles presentlyresumed. “They bear, I regret to say, a close resemblance to thesymptoms of a well-known form of hallucination. In short, with oneexception, they may practically all be classed under the head ofsurveillance.”

  “Surveillance,” said Paul Harley. “You mean that you are more or lessconstantly followed?”

  “I do.”

  “And what is your impression of this follower?”

  “A very hazy one. To-night, as I came to your office, I have everyreason to believe that someone followed me in a taxicab.”

  “You came in a car?”

  “I did.”

  “And a cab followed you the whole way?”

  “Practically the whole way, except that as my chauffeur turned intoChancery Lane, the cab stopped at the corner of Fleet Street.”

  “Your idea is that your pursuer followed on foot from this point?”

  “Such was my impression.”

  “H’m, quite impossible. And is this sort of thing constant, SirCharles?”

  “It has been for some time past.”

  “Anything else?”

  “One very notable thing, Mr. Harley. I was actually assaulted less thana week ago within sight of my own house.”

  “Indeed! Tell me of this.” Paul Harley became aware of an awakeningcuriosity. Sir Charles Abingdon was not the type of man who is lightlyintimidated.

  “I had been to visit a friend in the neighbourhood,” Sir Charlescontinued, “whom I am at present attending professionally, although I amactually retired. I was returning across the square, close to midnight,when, fortunately for myself, I detected the sound of light, patteringfootsteps immediately behind me. The place was quite deserted at thathour, and although I was so near home, the worst would have happened, Ifear, if my sense of hearing had been less acute. I turned in the veryinstant that a man was about to spring upon me from behind. He washolding in his hand what looked like a large silk handkerchief. Thisencounter took place in the shadow of some trees, and beyond the factthat my assailant was a small man, I could form no impression of hisidentity.”

  “What did you do?”

  “I turned and struck out with my stick.”

  “And then?”

  “Then he made no attempt to contest the issue, but simply ran swiftlyoff, always keeping in the shadows of the trees.”

  “Very strange,” murmured Harley. “Do you think he had meant to drugyou?”

  “Maybe,” replied Sir Charles. “The handkerchief was perhaps saturatedwith some drug, or he may even have designed to attempt to strangle me.”

  “And you formed absolutely no impression of the man?”

  “None whatever, Mr. Harley. When you see the spot at which the encountertook place, if you care to do so, you will recognize the difficulties.It is perfectly dark there after nightfall.”

  “H’m,” mused Harley. “A very alarming occurrence, Sir Charles. It musthave shaken you very badly. But we must not overlook the possibilitythat this may have been an ordinary footpad.”

  “His methods were scarcely those of a footpad,” murmured Sir Charles.

  “I quite agree,” said Harley. “They were rather Oriental, if I may sayso.”

  Sir Charles Abingdon started. “Oriental!” he whispered. “Yes, you areright.”

  “Does this suggest a train of thought?” prompted Harley.

  Sir Charles Abingdon cleared his throat nervously. “It does, Mr.Harley,” he admitted, “but a very confusing train of thought. It leadsme to a point which I must mention, but which concerns a very well-knownman. Before I proceed I should like to make it clear that I do notbelieve for a moment that he is responsible for this unpleasantbusiness.”

  Harley stared at him curiously. “Nevertheless,” he said, “there must besome data in your possession which suggest to your mind that he has someconnection with it.”

  “There are, Mr. Harley, and I should be deeply indebted if you couldvisit my house this evening, when I could place this evidence, ifevidence it may be called, before you. I find myself in so delicate aposition. If you are free I should welcome your company at dinner.”

  Paul Harley seemed to be reflecting.

  “Of course, Sir Charles,” he said, presently, “your statement is veryinteresting and curious, and I shall naturally make a point of goingfully into the matter. But before proceeding further there are twoquestions I should like to ask you. The first is this: What is the nameof the ‘well-known’ man to whom you refer? And the second: If not hethen whom do you suspect of being behind all this?”

  “The one matter is so hopelessly involved in the other,” he finallyreplied, “that although I came here prepared as I thought with afull statement of the case, I should welcome a further opportunity ofrearranging the facts before imparting them to you. One thing, however,I have omitted to mention. It is, perhaps, of paramount importance.There was a robbery at my house less than a week ago.”

  “What! A robbery! Tell me: what was stolen?”

  “Nothing of the slightest value, Mr. Harley, to any one but myself--orso I should have supposed.” The speaker coughed nervously. “The thiefhad gained admittance to my private study, where there are severalcases of Oriental jewellery and a number of pieces of valuable gold andsilverware, all antique. At what hour he came, how he gained admittance,and how he retired, I cannot imagine. All the doors were locked as usualin the morning and nothing was disturbed.”

  “I don’t understand, then.”

  “I chanced to have occasion to open my bureau which I invariably keeplocked. Immediately--immediately--I perceived that my papers weredisarranged. Close examination revealed the fact that a short manuscriptin my own hand, which had been placed in one of the pigeonholes, wasmissing.”

  “A manuscript,” murmured Harley. “Upon a technical subject?”

  “Scarcely a technical subject, Mr. Harley. It was a brief account whichI had vaguely contemplated publishing in one of the reviews, a briefaccount of a very extraordinary patient whom I once attended.”

  “And had you written it recently?”

  “No; some years ago. But I had recently added to it. I may say that itwas my purpose still further to add to it, and with this object I hadactually unlocked the bureau.”

  “New facts respecting this patient had come into your possession?”

  “They had.”

  “Before the date of the attack upon you?”

  “Before that date, yes.”

  “And before surveillance of your movements began?”

  “I believe so.”

  “May I suggest that your patient and the ‘well-known man’ to whom youreferred are one and the same?”

  “It is not so, Mr. Harley,” returned Sir Charles in a tired voice.“Nothing so simple. I realize more than ever that I must arrange myfacts in some sort of historical order. Therefore I ask you again: willyou dine with me to-night?”

  “With pleasure,” replied Harley, promptly. “I have no other engagement.”

  That his ready acceptance had immensely relieved the troubled mind ofSir Charles was evident enough. His visitor stood up. “I am not prone tosickly fancies, Mr. Harley,” he said. “But a conviction has been growingupon me for some time that I have incurred, how I cannot imagine, butthat nevertheless I have incurred powerful enmity. I trust our evening’scounsel may enable you, with your highly specialized faculties, todetect an explanation.”

  And it was instructive to note how fluently he spoke now that he foundhimself temporarily relieved of the necessity of confessing the sourceof his mysterious fears.