CASE OF THE CRUSADER’S AXE
I have heard people speak of Moris Klaw’s failures. So far as my information bears me, he never experienced any. “What,” I have been asked, “of the Cresping murder case? He certainly failed there.”
Respecting this question of his failure or success in the sensational case which first acquainted the entire country with the existence of Crespie Hall, and that brought the old world village of Cresping into such unwonted prominence, I shall now invite your opinion.
The investigation—the crime having baffled the local men—ultimately was placed in the hands of Detective-Inspector Grimsby; and through Grimsby I was brought into close touch with the matter. I had met Grimsby during the course of the mysterious happenings at the Menzies Museum, and at that time I also had made the acquaintance of Moris Klaw.
Thus, as I sat over my breakfast one morning reading an account of the Cresping murder case, I was no more than moderately surprised to see Inspector Grimsby walk into my rooms.
He declined my offer of a really good Egyptian cigarette. “Thanks all the same,” he said; “but there’s only one smoke I can think on.”
With that he lighted one of the cheroots of which he smoked an incredible quantity, and got up from his chair, restlessly.
“I’ve just run up from Cresping by the early train,” he began abruptly. “You’ve heard all about the murder, of course?”
I pointed to my newspaper, conspicuous upon the front page of which was—
THE MURDER AT CRESPIE HALL
“Ah, yes,” he said, absently. “Well, I’ve been sent down, and to tell you the white and unsullied truth I’m in a knot!”
I passed him a cup of coffee.
“What are the difficulties?” I asked.
“There’s only one,” he rapped back: “who did it!”
“It looks to me a very clear case against Ryder, the ex-butler.”
“So it did to me,” he agreed—“until I got down there! I’d got a warrant in my pocket all ready. Then I began to have doubts!”
“What do you propose to do?”
“Well,” he replied, “it wouldn’t do any good to make a mistake in a murder case; so what I should like to do would be to get another opinion—not official, of course!”
I glanced across at him.
“Mr. Moris Klaw?”
“You’ve changed your opinion respecting him?”
“Mr. Searles, his investigation of the Menzies Museum outrages completely stood me on my head! I’m not joking. I’d always thought him a crank, and in some ways I think so still; but at seeing through a brick wall I’d put all I’ve got on Moris Klaw any day!”
“But surely you are wasting time by coming to me?”
“No, I’m not,” said Grimsby, confidently. “Moris Klaw, for all his retiring habits, is not a man that wants his light hidden under a bushel! He knows that you are collecting material about his methods, and he’s more likely to move for you than for me.”
I saw through Grimsby’s plan. He wanted me to invite Moris Klaw to look into the Crespie murder case, in order that he (Grimsby) might reap any official benefit accruing without loss of self-esteem! I laughed.
“All right, Grimsby!” I said. “Since he has made no move, voluntarily, it may be that the case does not interest him; but we can try.”
Accordingly, having consulted an A.B.C. we presently entrained for Wapping, and as a laggard sun began to show up the dinginess and the dirtiness of that locality, sought out a certain shop, whose locale I shall no more closely describe than in saying that it is close to Wapping Old Stairs.
One turns down a narrow court, with a blank wall on the right and a nailed-up doorway and boarded-up window on the left. Through the cracks of the latter boarding, the inquiring visitor may catch a glimpse, beyond a cavernous place which once was some kind of warehouse, of Old Thames tiding muddily.
The court is a cul de sac. The shop of Moris Klaw occupies the blind end. Some broken marble pedestals stand upon the footway, among seatless chairs, dilapidated chests and a litter of books, stuffed birds, cameos, ink-stands, swords, lamps, and other unclassifiable rubbish. A black doorway yawns amid the litter.
Imagine Inspector Grimsby and I as entering into this singular Cumean cave.
Our eyes, at first, failed to penetrate the gloom. All about moved rustling suggestions of animal activity. The indescribable odour of old furniture assailed our nostrils together with an equally indescribable smell of avian, reptilian, and rodent life.
“Moris Klaw! Moris Klaw! the devil’s come for you!”
Thus, the scraping voice of the parrot. A door opened, admitting a little more light and Moris Klaw. The latter was fully dressed; whereby I mean that he wore his dilapidated caped black cloak, his black silk muffler and that rarest relic of his unsavoury reliquary, the flat-topped brown bowler.
In that inadequate light his vellum face looked older, his shaggy brows, his meagre beard, more toneless, than ever. Through the gold-trimmed pince-nez he peered for a moment, downwards from his great height. He removed the bowler.
“Good-morning, Mr. Searles! Good-morning, Inspector Grimsby! I am just from Paris. It is so good of you to call so early to tell me all about the poor murdered man of Cresping! Good-morning! Good-morning!”
Moris Klaw’s sanctum is certainly one of the most remarkable apartments in London. It is lined with shelves, which contain what I believe to be a unique library of works dealing with criminology—from Moris Klaw’s point of view. Strange relics are there, too; and all of them have histories. A neat desk, with flowers in a silver vase, and a revolving chair standing upon a fine tiger-skin are the other notable items of furniture.
The contrast on entering was startling. Moris Klaw placed his hat upon the desk, and from it took out the scent-spray without which he never travels. He played the contents upon his high, yellow forehead—filling the air with the refreshing odour of verbena.
“That shop!” he said, “it smell very strong this morning. It is not so much the canaries as the rats!”
“I trust,” began Grimsby, respectfully, “that Miss Klaw is quite well?”
“Isis will presently be here to say for herself,” was the reply. “And now—this bad business of Cresping. It seems I am just back in time, but, ah! it is a fortnight old!”
Grimsby cleared his throat. “You will have read—”
“Ah, my friend!” Moris Klaw held up a long, tapering, white hand. “As though you do not know that I never confuse my poor brain with those foolish papers. No, I have not read, my friend!”
“Oh!” said Grimsby, something taken aback. “Then I shall have to tell you the family history—”
Isis Klaw entered.
From her small hat, with its flamingo-like plume, to her dainty shoes, she was redolent of the Rue de la Paix. She wore an amazingly daring toilette; I can only term it a study in flame-tones. A less beautiful woman could never have essayed such a scheme; but this superb brunette, with her great flashing eyes and taunting smile had the lithe carriage of a Cleopatra, the indescribable diablerie of a ghaziyeh.
Inspector Grimsby greeted her with embarrassed admiration. Greetings over—
“We must hurry, father!” said the girl.
Moris Klaw reclaimed his archaic bowler.
“Mr. Searles and Inspector Grimsby will perhaps be joining us?” he suggested.
“Where?” began Grimsby.
“Where but by the 9.5 train for Uxley!” said Klaw. “Where but from Uxley to Cresping! Do I waste time, then—I?”
“You have been retained?” suggested Grimsby.
“Ah, no!” was the reply. “But I shall receive my fee, nevertheless!”
At the end of the court a cab was waiting. Outside the cavernous door a ramshackle man with a rosy nose bowed respectfully to the proprietor.
“You hear me, William,” said Moris Klaw, to this derelict. “You are to sell nothing—unless it is the washstand! Forget not to change the canaries’ water. The Indian corn is for the white rats. If there is no mouse in the trap by eight o’clock, give the owl a herring. And keep from the drink; it will be your ruin, William!”
We entered the cab. My last impression of the place was derived from the invisible parrot, who gave us God-speed with—
“Moris Klaw! Moris Klaw! the devil’s come for you!”
As we drove stationward, Grimsby, his eyes rarely leaving the piquant face of Isis Klaw, outlined the history of the Crespie family to the silent Moris. In brief it was this—
The late Sir Richard Crespie, having become involved in serious monetary difficulties, employed such methods of drowning his sorrows as were far from conducive to domestic felicity; and after a certain unusually violent outburst the home was broken up. His son, Roland, was the first to go; and he took little with him but his mother’s blessing and his father’s curses. Then Lady Crespie went away to her sister in London, only surviving her departure from the Hall by two years. Alone, and deserted, first by son and then by wife, the debauched old baronet continued on his course of heavy drinking for some years longer. The servants left him, one by one, so that in the end, save for faithful old Ryder, the butler, whose family had served the Crespies for time immemorial, he had the huge mansion to himself. Apoplexy closed his unfortunate career; and, since nothing had been heard of him for years, it was generally supposed that the son had met his death in Africa, whence he had gone on leaving home.
With the passing of Sir Richard came Mr. Isaac Heidelberger, and he wasted no time in impressing his noxious personality upon the folks of Cresping. He was a German Jew, large and oily, with huge coarse features and a little black moustache that had been assiduously trained in a futile attempt to hide a mouth that had well befitted Nero. A week after Sir Richard’s burial, Mr. Heidelberger took possession of the Hall.
The new occupant brought with him one Heimer, a kind of confidential clerk, and, old Ryder the butler having been sent about his business, the two Jewish gentlemen proceeded to make themselves comfortable. The nature of their business was soon public property: the grand old Hall was to be turned into a “country mansion for paying guests.”
Very strained relations existed between the big Jew and the ex-butler, who, having a little money saved, had settled down in Cresping. One night, at the “Goblets”—the historic village inn—Heidelberger having swaggered into the place, there arose an open quarrel. Said Ryder—
“Sir Richard, with all his faults, was once a good English gentleman, and, but for such as you, a good English gentleman he might have died!”
“It was exactly a week later that the tragedy occurred.
“We come to it now, eh?” interrupted Moris Klaw at this point. “So—we also come to the station! I will ask you to reserve us a first-class carriage!”
Grimsby made arrangements to that end. And, as the train moved out of the station, resumed his story.
“What I gather is this,” he said.
[I condense his statement and append it in my own words.]
The “Goblets” was just closing its doors, and the villagers who nightly met there were standing in a group under the swinging sign, when a man came running down the street from the direction of the Hall, and, observing the gathering, ran up. It was Heimer, Isaac Heidelberger’s secretary. He was hatless and his flabby face, in the dim light, was ghastly.
“Quick!” he rasped, hoarsely. “Where does the doctor live?”
“Last house but one,” somebody said. “What’s the matter?”
“Murder!” cried Heimer, as he rushed off down the village street.
Such was the dramatic manner in which the news of the subsequently notorious case was first carried to the outside world. The facts, as soon made known throughout the length and breadth of the land, were, briefly, as follows.
Heidelberger and his secretary, who were engaged in making an inventory of the contents of the Hall and in arranging for such alterations of the rooms and laying out of the neglected grounds as they considered necessary, had practically reached the end of their task. In fact, had nothing intervened, Cresping would, on the following day, have seen the old mansion in the hands of an army of London workmen.
At about half-past seven in the evening, Heidelberger had entered the room occupied by Heimer and had mentioned that he expected a visitor. The secretary, who had more work than he could well accomplish, did not pause to inquire concerning him, believing the other to allude either to the architect or to Heidelberger’s man, who was coming down from London. Heidelberger had then gone up to the library, saying that he should not require Heimer again that night.
Between eight and half-past—Heimer was not sure of the time—there was a ring at the bell (that of the tradesmen’s entrance). Knowing that Heidelberger could admit the visitor directly to the library, Heimer, hearing nothing more, concluded that the two were closeted there.
The first intimation that he received of anything amiss was a loud and angry cry, apparently proceeding from the old banqueting hall directly overhead, and unmistakably in the voice of Heidelberger. Springing from his chair, he took a step towards the door, and then paused in doubt. There was an angry murmur from above, the tones of the Jew being clearly distinguishable; then a sudden scuffle and an oscillation of the floor as though two heavy men were at handigrips; next, a crash that shook the room, and a high-pitched cry of which he only partially comprehended the last word. This he asserted to be “holy.”
That Heimer stood transfixed at the open door throughout all this, suffices to brand him a coward. It was, in fact, only his stories of shadowy figures in the picture gallery and his general disinclination to leave his room after dusk that had prompted Heidelberger—a man of different mettle—to wire to London for the servant.
At this juncture, however, moved as much by a fear of the sudden silence as by any higher motive, he took a revolver from the table drawer, and, holding it cocked in one hand and seizing the lamp in the other, he crept, trembling, up a narrow little stair that led to a door beneath the minstrels’ gallery. To open it he had to place the lamp on the floor, and, at the moment of doing so, he heard a sound inside the hall like the grating of a badly oiled lock.
Then, with the lamp held high above his head, he peered inside; and, considering the character of the man, it is worthy of note that he did not faint on the spot, for the feeble light, but serving, as it did, to intensify the gloom of the long and shadowy place, revealed a scene well calculated to shake the nerves of a stouter man than Heimer.
Less than six feet from where he stood, and lying flat on his back, with his head towards the light, was Heidelberger in a perfect pool of blood, his skull cleft almost to the chine! Beside him on the floor lay the fearful weapon that had wrought his end—an enormous battle-axe, a relic of the Crusades such as none but a man of herculean strength could possibly wield.
Sick with terror, and scarcely capable of keeping his feet, Heimer gave one glance around the gloomy place, which showed him that, save for the murdered man, it was empty; then he staggered down the narrow stairs and let himself out into the grounds. Slightly revived by the fresh night air, but fearful of pursuit by the unknown assassin, he ran, as fast as his condition would allow, into the village.
“Here it is–Uxley!” jerked Moris Klaw.
“Ah!” cried Moris Klaw, in a species of fanatic rapture—“look at the blood!”
We stood in the ancient banqueting-hall of Crespie. By a distant door I could see a policeman on duty. A ghostly silence was the marked feature of the place. Klaw’s harsh, rumbling voice echoed eerily about that chamber sacred to the shades of departed Crespies.
Isis Klaw stood beside her father. They were a wildly incongruous couple. The girl looked down at the bloodstained flooring with the calm scrutiny of an experienced criminologist.
“This spot must be alive with odic impressions,” she said softly.
A local officer, who formed one of the group, stared uncomprehendingly. Moris Klaw instinctively turned to him.
“You stare widely, my friend!” he said. “It is clear you know nothing of the psychology of crime! Let me, then, enlighten you. First: all crime” (he waved one long hand characteristically) “operates in cycles. Its history repeats itself, you understand. Second: thoughts are things. One who dies the violent death has, at the end, a strong mental emotion—an etheric storm. The air—the atmosphere—retains imprints of that storm.”
“Indeed!” said the officer.
“Yes, indeed! I shall not sleep in this place—as is my usual custom in such inquiries. Why? Because I am afraid of the shock of experiencing such an emotion as was this late Heidelberger’s! Ah! you are dense as a bull! Once, my bovine friend, I slept upon a spot in desolate Palestine where a poor woman had been stoned to death. In my dreams those merciless stones struck me! Upon the head and the face they crashed! And I was helpless—bound—as was the unhappy one who for her poor little sins had had her life crushed from her tender body!”
He ceased. No one spoke. In such moments, Moris Klaw became a magician; a weaver of spells. The most unimpressionable shuddered as though the strange things which this strangest of men told of, lived, moved, before their eyes. Then—
“Yonder is the axe, sir,” said the local man, with a sudden, awed respect.
Klaw walked over to where the huge battle-axe stood against a post of the gallery.
“Try to lift it, Mr. Klaw,” said Grimsby. “It will give you some idea of what sort of man the murderer must have been! I can’t raise it upright by the haft with one hand.”
Moris Klaw seized the axe. Whilst Grimsby, the local man and myself stared amazedly, he swung it about his head as one swings an Indian club! He struck with it—to right—to left; he laid it down.
“My father has a wrist of steel!” came the soft voice of Isis. “Did you not know that he was once a famous swordsman?”
Klaw removed his hat, took out the scent-spray and bathed his forehead with verbena.
“That is a man’s axe!” he said. “Isis, what do we know of such an axe? We, who have so complete a catalogue of such relics?”
Isis Klaw produced from her bag a bulky notebook.
“It is the third one,” she replied calmly, passing the open book to her father; “the one we thought!”
“Ah,” rumbled Klaw, adjusting his pince-nez, “Black Geoffrey’s axe!” He turned again to Palmer, the local officer. “All such antiques,” he said, “have histories. I collect those histories, you understand. This axe was carried by ‘Black Geoffrey,’ a very early Crespie, in the first Crusade. It slew many Saracens, I doubt not. But this does not interest me. In the reign of Henry VIII. we find it dwelt, this great axe, at Dyke Manor, which is in Norfolk. It was not until Charles II. that it came to Crespie Hall. And what happened at Dyke Manor? One, Sir Gilbert Myerly was slain by it! Who wielded it? Patience, my friends! All is clear to me! What a wonderful science is the Science of Cycles!”
Behind the pebbles his eyes gleamed with excitement. It seemed as though his notes (how obtained I was unable to conjecture) had furnished him with a clue; although to me they seemed to have not the slightest bearing upon the case.
“Now, Mr. Grimsby,” continued Moris Klaw: “In a few words, what is the evidence against Ryder, the butler?”
“Well,” was the reply, “you will note where the axe used to hang, up there before the rail of the minstrels’ gallery. The theory is that the murderer rushed up, wrenched the axe from its fastening—”
“Theories, my friend,” interrupted Moris Klaw, “are not evidence!”
Isis gazed at Mr. Grimsby with a smile. He looked embarrassed.
“Sorry!” he said, humbly. “Here are the facts, then. In the right hand of the dead man was an open pocket knife. It is assumed… sorry! Several spots of blood were found on the knife. Do you want to see it?”
Moris Klaw shook his head.
“It has been ascertained,” continued Grimsby, “that Ryder went out at eight o’clock on the night of the murder and didn’t return until after ten. He was interrogated. Listen to this, Mr. Klaw, and tell me why I haven’t arrested him! He admitted that he was the man who rang the bell; he admitted being closeted with Heidelberger in the library; and he admitted that he was in the hall when the Jew met his death!”
“Good!” said Moris Klaw. “And he is still at large?”
“He is! He’s made no attempt to run away. I had his room searched, and found a light coat with both sleeves bloodstained! He had a cut on his left hand such as might be caused by the slash of a pocket knife! He said he had caught his hand on a doorlatch, but blankly declined to say what he was doing here on the night of the murder! Yet, I didn’t arrest him! Why?”
“Why?” said Moris Klaw. “Tell me.”
“Because I didn’t think it feasible that a man of his age could wield that axe—and I hoped to use Ryder as a trap to catch his accomplice!”
“Ah! clever!” rumbled Moris Klaw. “French, Mr. Grimsby! Subtle! But you have just seen what a poor old fool can do with that axe!”
I have never observed a man so suddenly lose faith in himself as did Grimsby at those words. He flushed, he paled; he seemed to become speechless.
“Tell me, Mr. Grimsby,” said Klaw, “what does the suspected man do that is suspicious? What letters does he write? What letters does he receive?”
“None!” replied the now angry Grimsby. “But he visits Dr. Madden, in Uxley, every day.”
“What for, eh?”
“The doctor says the interviews are of a purely professional nature; and I can’t very well suspect a man in his position!”
“You have done two silly things,” rumbled Moris Klaw. “You have wasted much time in the matter of Ryder, and you have accepted, unquestioned, the word of a doctor. Mr. Grimsby, I have known doctors who were most inspired liars!”
“Then you are of opinion—”
Klaw raised his hand.
“It is Dr. Madden we shall visit,” he said. “This Ryder cannot escape us. Isis, my child, I need not have troubled you. This is so simple a case that we need no ‘mental negatives’ to point out to us the culprit!”
“Mr. Klaw— —” began Grimsby, excitedly.
“My friend,” he was answered, “I shall make a few examinations and then we shall be off to Uxley. The assassin returns to London with us by the 3.45 train!”
As we drove through the village street, in the car which Grimsby had hired, upon the gate of one of the last cottages a tall, white-haired old man was leaning. His clear-cut, handsome features wore an expression of haggard sorrow.
“There he is!” rapped Grimsby. “Hadn’t I better make the arrest at once?”
“Ah, no, my friend!” protested Klaw. “But stop—I have something to say to him.”
The car stopping, Moris Klaw descended and approached the old man, who perceptibly paled at sight of us.
“Good-day, Mr. Ryder!” Klaw courteously saluted the ex-butler.
“Good-day to you, sir,” replied the old man civilly.
Whereupon Moris Klaw said a simple thing, which had an astounding effect.
“How is he to-day?” he inquired.
Ryder’s face became convulsed. His eyes started forth. He made a choking sound, staring, as one possessed, at his questioner.
“What… what… do you mean?” he gasped.
“Never mind, Mr. Ryder—never mind!” rumbled Klaw. “Isis, my child, remain with this gentleman and tell him all we know about the axe of ‘Black Geoffrey.’ He will be glad to hear it!”
The beautiful Isis obeyed without question. As the rest of us drove on our way, I could see the flame-coloured figure passing up the garden path beside the tall form of the old butler. Grimsby, a man badly out of his depth, watched until both became lost to view.
“I’ve got evidence,” he suddenly burst out, “that Ryder declared Heidelberger to be the direct cause of Sir Richard’s downfall! And I’ve got witnesses who heard him say, ‘Please God! the Jew won’t be here much longer!’ ”
“Good!” rumbled Moris Klaw. “Very good!”
During the remainder of the journey, Grimsby talked on incessantly, smoking cheroots the whole time. But Moris Klaw was silent.
Dr. Madden had but recently returned from his morning visits. He was a typical country practitioner, fresh-faced and clean-shaven, with iron-grey hair and a good head. He conveyed the impression, in some way, that he knew himself to be in a tight corner.
“What can I do for you, gentlemen?” he said, briskly.
“We have called, Dr. Madden,” rumbled Moris Klaw, wagging his finger impressively, “to tell you that Ryder is in imminent danger—imminent danger—of arrest!”
The doctor started.
“And therefore we want a word with one of your patients!”
“I do not understand you. Which of my patients?”
Moris Klaw shook his head.
“Let us be intelligent,” he said, “you and I, and not two old fools! You understand so perfectly which of your patients.”
Dr. Madden drummed his fingers on the table.
“Are you a detective?” he snapped.
“I am not!” replied Moris Klaw. “I am a student of the Science of Cycles—not motor cycles; and a humble explorer of the etheric borderland! You lay yourself open to grave charges, doctor!”
The doctor began to fidget nervously.
“If indeed I am culpable,” he said, “my culpability only dates from last night.”
“So!” rumbled Klaw. “He has been insensible?”
Dr. Madden started up.
“Mr. Klaw,” he replied. “I do not know whom you may be; but your penetration is uncanny. He had lost his memory!”
“What?—lost his memory! How is that?”
“He was thrown from his horse! Come; I see it is useless, now, to waste time. I will take you to him.”
As we filed out to the waiting car, I glanced at Grimsby. His stupefaction was almost laughable.
“What in heaven’s name is it all about, Mr. Searles?” he whispered to me. “I feel like a man in a strange country. People talk, and it doesn’t seem to mean anything!”
“Tell me, doctor,” said Moris Klaw, “about your patient.”
The doctor, without hesitation, now explained that he had been called to attend a Mr. Rogers, an artist, who was staying at Hinxman’s Farm, off the Uxley Road. On the evening of the tragedy Mr. Rogers went out on Bess, a mare belonging to the farm, and, not having returned by ten, some anxiety was felt concerning him, the mare possessing a very bad reputation. At about a quarter-past ten the animal returned, riderless, and Rogers was brought home later, in an insensible condition, by two farm hands, having been found beside the road some distance from the farm.
For some time Mr. Rogers lay in a critical condition, suffering from concussion. Finally, a change for the better set in, but the patient was found to have lost his memory.
“Last Saturday,” added the doctor, “a specialist whom I had invited to come down from London performed a successful operation.”
“Ah,” rumbled Moris Klaw; “so we can see him?”
“Certainly. He is quite convalescent. His memory returned to him completely last night.”
In a state of uncertainty which can well be imagined, we arrived at, and entered, Hinxman’s farm. Seated in the shade of the verandah, smoking his pipe, was a bronzed young man who wore a bandage about his head. He was chatting to the farmer when we arrived.
Moris Klaw walked up the steps, beside Dr. Madden.
“Good-day, Mr. Farmer,” he said amiably. (A rosy-cheeked girl-face was thrust from an open window)—“Good-day, Miss Farmer!” He removed the brown bowler. He turned to the bronzed young man. “Good-day, Sir Roland Crespie!”
When Grimsby and I had somewhat recovered from the shock of this dramatic meeting, and Sir Roland, Madden and Moris Klaw had talked together for a few moments, said Moris Klaw—
“And now Sir Roland will tell us all about the death of Mr. Heidelberger!”
Inspector Grimsby was all eyes when the young baronet began—
“You must know, then, that I, together with three others, have been engaged, since my departure from England, in a mining venture in West Africa. Up to the time when I left, and, for the sake of my health, came to England, our efforts had been attended by only moderate success. Thus, on arriving in Cresping, and taking lodgings with Hinxman as ‘Mr. Rogers’—for the circumstances under which I left home made me desirous of remaining unknown in the village—I, on learning that my father had just died and that the Hall had fallen into Heidelberger’s hands, realised that my slender capital would not allow of my buying him out. The facts of the case came as a great shock to me: and, without revealing my identity—the beard which I had cultivated in Africa, but which the doctors have removed, acting as an effectual disguise—I made inquiries concerning Ryder. I had little difficulty in finding him, and he alone, in Cresping, knew whom I really was.
“I now come to the events that immediately preceded Heidelberger’s death. There was one object in the old place for which I determined to negotiate, and which, owing to its associations, I particularly desired to retain. This was my mother’s portrait. I may mention here that, for certain reasons which I would prefer not to specify, I had rather have burnt the picture than see it fall into the hands of the Jew.
“With this object in view, then, I enlisted the services of Ryder, though from none other than myself would he have accepted the task. This brings me to the day prior to Heidelberger’s death, and, on that morning, I received news from Africa which led me to hope that I might, after all, be able to save my old home from an ignominious fate. Herein my hopes have since been realised, for I learnt to-day that the mine has made rich men of us all; and I assume that some ill-advised remark upon the part of Ryder, regarding Heidelberger’s possible expulsion, gave rise to the idea that the old man contemplated a violent deed.
“It therefore came about that he made an appointment with Heidelberger, an appointment which he duly kept; and it was solely due to my anxiety on Ryder’s behalf, and lest he should meet with some ill-treatment from the Jew—whom I knew for a man of most brutal disposition—that I took certain steps which, indirectly, brought about the tragedy.
“In common with most old mansions of the period, the Hall has its hidden entrances and exits—though, in accordance with certain ancient traditions, the secret of their existence is strictly preserved among the family. With a view, therefore, to becoming an unseen witness of the transactions between Ryder and Heidelberger, I made use of a passage that opens into a shrubbery some fifty yards from the west wing. Entering, and mounting the steps at whose foot the tunnel terminates, I found myself at the back of an old painting in the banqueting-hall. The frame of this picture forms a door which opens upon pressing a spring, but the apparatus, owing to its great age, works very stiffly. From this position, then, I could hear all that took place in the hall, where, I had anticipated, the negotiations would be conducted, as my mother’s picture hangs there.
“This proved to be the case; for I had but just gained the top of the steps when I heard the two enter the hall. Heidelberger spoke first.
“ ‘Think of you wanting to buy Lady Crespie’s picture, you sentimental old fool!’ he said. ‘If it had been another I could name who wanted it, the case would have been different!’
“Then I heard Ryder’s voice. ‘What do you mean, Mr. Heidelberger?’ he asked.
“I awaited the Jew’s reply with some curiosity. As I had anticipated, it consisted of a foul and unfounded imputation against my poor mother. It was, in fact, more than I could bear in silence, and the tolerance of old Ryder, too, had reached its limit. For, at the moment that I wrenched open the panel and sprang into the room to confront this slanderer, I heard the sound of a blow, followed by an animal-like roar of anger from Heidelberger.
“The next moment, he seized the old man by the throat. Before he had time to proceed further I struck him heavily with my fist, so that he released his grip and turned to face his new assailant.
“One tribute I must pay to Heidelberger. He was, seemingly, incapable of fear; for this sudden attack by a person he had not known to be present seemed only to arouse a new resentment. His face, as he turned and looked me up and down, contained no trace of fear.
“ ‘So it’s you that wants the picture, is it?’ he sneered. ‘I suppose you are— —’
“ ‘Stop!’ I said. ‘I am Roland Crespie, and can listen to no more of your foul slanders!’
“For a second he hesitated, looking from me to Ryder and then toward the picture, dimly discernible in the light of the candle which he had brought with him. Then, before I could divine his intention, he drew a knife from his pocket, and, opening a blade, took a step in the direction of the portrait. ‘You shall never have it!’ he said.
“He had actually inserted the blade in the canvas—as an examination will show—when I came upon him, and we closed in a desperate struggle.
“In what followed, one can almost trace the finger of destiny. Heidelberger was a more powerful man than myself, but in his fury he endeavoured to stab me with the knife which he held in his hand!
“I seized his wrist, but he wrenched it from my grasp. I leapt back from him—as he struck down with the knife—and to the left of one of the posts supporting the minstrels’ gallery.
“In the blindness of his anger, Heidelberger failed to perceive the proximity of this post. Moreover it was very dark under the gallery. He threw himself forward savagely—and struck his shoulder against the post. The impact was tremendous.
“Gentlemen! I tremble, now, to relate what happened! The axe of Black Geoffrey, which had hung for centuries before the rail above, was shaken from its place by the shock and its time-worn fastenings were torn bodily from their hold. At the instant that Heidelberger’s huge body struck the post, the great axe, as though detached by invisible hands, fell, blade downward, cleaving the head of the unfortunate man and remaining, with quivering shaft, upright in the oaken floor!
“The suddenness of the tragedy almost dazed me, and I was awakened to its awful reality by old Ryder’s cry—‘Oh, Master Roly!’ As Master Roly I had always been known to the old butler, and this name it was which some one stated to be ‘holy.’
“Our subsequent action was, perhaps, ill-advised. Removing the axe and raising the head of the victim, examination showed him to be dead, and, hearing hesitating footsteps upon the narrow stair beneath the gallery, we seized the candle and retreated through the secret panel, Ryder severely cutting his hand in endeavouring to force the rusty bolt into place. It was not until we stood in a lane bordering the grounds, where I had tethered the mare upon which I had ridden from the farm, that the seemingly guilty nature of our action dawned upon me. Now, however, was too late to atone for what I attribute to a momentary panic; and requesting Ryder to keep silence until he received instructions from me, I mounted the mare, intending to return to my lodgings and think the matter quietly over.
“By an unlucky accident, the brute threw me, at some distance from the farm, thereby all but bringing about a second tragedy; and what followed is already known to you.
“Of Ryder I need only say that rather than incriminate me he was prepared to pay the penalty for a deed which was in truth a visitation of God. Dr. Madden recognised me, of course, and to him also I am eternally indebted. I had proposed to make this statement before a magistrate later to-day.”
“You see,” said Moris Klaw, “I have done nothing! It would all have happened the same if I had been in Peru!”
Grimsby cleared his throat.
“Without casting any doubt upon Sir Roland’s word,” he began, “there’s no evidence to go to a jury that he didn’t—”
“Pull down the axe himself?” suggested Klaw.
Grimsby looked uncomfortable. “Well—is there?”
“There is!” rumbled Moris Klaw. “I am he! This case most triumphantly substantiates my theory of Cycles! Almost parallel it occurred hundreds of years ago, at Dyke Manor! The axe has repeated itself!”
“H’um!” said Grimsby. “Your theory of Cycles wouldn’t hold water with twelve good men and true, I’m afraid, Mr. Klaw!”
“Yes?” replied Moris Klaw. “No? You think not, eh? Well then, there is another little point. I am an old crank-fool, eh? So? But you? You are sublimely mad, my Grimsby! You say he, or Mr. Ryder, may have snatched down the black axe? Yes? Have you tried to reach the spot where it hung before the rail?”
“No,” confessed Grimsby, with the light as of the dawning of an unpleasant idea in his eyes.
“No,” said Klaw, placidly; “but I have. Mr. Grimsby, it is impossible to reach within three feet of the spot, from the stair or from the gallery; and no live thing but a giraffe could reach it from the floor!”
We were seated in the train, homeward-bound.
“For this case,” grumbled Klaw, “I get no credit. It will be said that it all came out without aid from you or from me. Never mind—I have my fee!”
He patted the haft of the great axe, which ghastly relic in some way he had arranged to appropriate. Grimsby was watching Isis Klaw out of the corner of his eye. From a dainty gold case she offered him a cigarette. Grimsby is no cigarette smoker, but he accepted, with alacrity.
The beautiful Isis took one also, and lay back puffing sinuous spirals from between her perfect red lips.