The Game Played in the Dark
by Ernest Bramah
"IT'S a funny thing, sir," said Inspector Beedel,
regarding Mr. Carrados with the pensive respect that he
always extended towards the blind amateur, "it's a funny
thing, but nothing seems to go on abroad now but what you'll
find some trace of it here in London if you take the trouble
"In the right quarter," contributed Carrados.
"Why, yes," agreed the inspector. "But
nothing comes of it nine times out of ten, because it's no
one's particular business to look here or the thing's been
taken up and finished from the other end. I don't mean
ordinary murders or single-handed burglaries, of course,
but" a modest ring of professional pride betrayed the quiet
enthusiast--"real First-Class Crimes."
"The State Antonio Five per cent. Bond
Coupons?" suggested Carrados.
"Ah, you are right, Mr. Carrados." Beedel
shook his head sadly, as though perhaps on that occasion
some one ought to have looked. "A man has a fit in the
inquiry office of the Agent-General for British Equatoria,
and two hundred and fifty thousand pounds' worth of faked
securities is the result in Mexico. Then look at that jade
fylfot charm pawned for one-and-three down at the Basin and
the use that could have been made of it in the Kharkov
'ritual murder' trial."
"The West Hampstead Lost Memory puzzle and
the Baripur bomb conspiracy that might have been smothered
if one had known."
"Quite true, sir. And the three children of
that Chicago millionaire--Cyrus V. Bunting, wasn't
it?--kidnapped in broad daylight outside the New York Lyric
and here, three weeks later, the dumb girl who chalked the
wall at Charing Cross. I remember reading once in a
financial article that every piece of foreign gold had a
string from it leading to Threadneedle Street. A figure of
speech, sir, of course, but apt enough, I don't doubt. Well,
it seems to me that every big crime done abroad leaves a
finger-print here in London--if only, as you say, we look in
the right quarter."
"And at the right moment," added Carrados.
"The time is often the present; the place the spot beneath
our very noses. We take a step and the chance has gone for
The inspector nodded and contributed a
weighty monosyllable of sympathetic agreement. The most
prosaic of men in the pursuit of his ordinary duties, it
nevertheless subtly appealed to some half-dormant streak of
vanity to have his profession taken romantically when there
was no serious work on hand.
"No; perhaps not 'for ever' in one case in a
thousand, after all," amended the blind man thoughtfully.
"This perpetual duel between the Law and the Criminal has
sometimes appeared to me in the terms of a game of cricket,
inspector. Law is in the field; the Criminal at the wicket.
If Law makes a mistake--sends down a loose ball or drops a
catch--the Criminal scores a little or has another lease of
life. But if he makes a mistake--if he lets a
straight ball pass or spoons towards a steady man--he is
done for. His mistakes are fatal; those of the Law are only
temporary and retrievable."
"Very good, sir," said Mr. Beedel,
rising--the conversation had taken place in the study at
The Turrets, where Beedel had found occasion to present
himself--"very apt indeed. I must remember that. Well, sir,
I only hope that this 'Guido the Razor' lot will send a
catch in our direction."
The 'this' delicately marked Inspector
Beedel's instinctive contempt for Guido. As a craftsman he
was compelled, on his reputation, to respect him, and he had
accordingly availed himself of Carrados's friendship for a
confabulation. As a man--he was a foreigner: worse, an
Italian, and if left to his own resources the inspector
would have opposed to his sinuous flexibility those rigid,
essentially Britannia-metal, methods of the Force that
strike the impartial observer as so ponderous, so amateurish
and conventional, and, it must be admitted, often so
curiously and inexplicably successful.
The offence that had circuitously brought "il
Rasojo" and his "lot" within the cognizance of Scotland Yard
outlines the kind of story that is discreetly hinted at by
the society paragraphist of the day, politely disbelieved by
the astute reader, and then at last laid indiscreetly bare
in all its details by the inevitable princessly
"Recollections" of a generation later. It centred round an
impending royal marriage in Vienna, a certain jealous
"Countess X." (here you have the discretion of the
paragrapher), and a document or two that might be relied
upon (the aristocratic biographer will impartially sum up
the contingencies) to play the deuce with the approaching
nuptials. To procure the evidence of these papers the
Countess enlisted the services of Guido, as reliable a
scoundrel as she could probably have selected for the
commission. To a certain point--to the abstraction of the
papers, in fact--he succeeded, but it was with pursuit close
upon his heels. There was that disadvantage in employing a
rogue to do work that implicated roguery, for whatever moral
right the Countess had to the property, her accomplice had
no legal right whatever to his liberty. On half-a-dozen
charges at least he could be arrested on sight in as many
capitals of Europe. He slipped out of Vienna by the Nordbahn
with his destination known, resourcefully stopped the
express outside Czaslau and got away across to Chrudim. By
this time the game and the moves were pretty well understood
in more than one keenly interested quarter. Diplomacy
supplemented justice and the immediate history of Guido
became that of a fox hunted from covert to covert with all
the familiar earths stopped against him. From Pardubitz he
passed on to Glatz, reached Breslau and went down the Oder
to Stettin. Out of the liberality of his employer's
advances he had ample funds to keep going, and he dropped
and rejoined his accomplices as the occasion ruled. A week's
harrying found him in Copenhagen, still with no time to
spare, and he missed his purpose there. He crossed to Malmo
by ferry, took the connecting night train to Stockholm and
the same morning sailed down the Saltsjon, ostensibly bound
for Obo, intending to cross to Revel and so get back to
central Europe by the less frequented routes. But in this
move again luck was against him and receiving warning just
in time, and by the mysterious agency that had so far
protected him, he contrived to be dropped from the steamer
by boat among the islands of the crowded Archipelago, made
his way to Helsingfors and within forty-eight hours was back
again on the Frihavnen with pursuit for the moment blinked
and a breathing-time to the good.
To appreciate the exact significance of these
wanderings it is necessary to recall the conditions. Guido
was not zigzagging a course about Europe in an aimless
search for the picturesque, still less inspired by any love
of the melodramatic. To him every step was vital, each
tangent or rebound the necessary outcome of his
much-badgered plans. In his pocket reposed the papers for
which he had run grave risks. The price agreed upon for the
service was sufficiently lavish to make the risks worth
taking time after time; but in order to consummate the
transaction it was necessary that the booty should be put
into his employer's hand. Half-way across Europe that
employer was waiting with such patience as she could
maintain, herself watched and shadowed at every step. The
Countess X. was sufficiently exalted to be personally immune
from the high-handed methods of her country's secret
service, but every approach to her was tapped. The problem
was for Guido to earn a long enough respite to enable him to
communicate his position to the Countess and for her to go
or to reach him by a trusty hand. Then the whole fabric of
intrigue could fall to pieces, but so far Guido had been
kept successfully on the run and in the meanwhile time was
"They lost him after the Hutola,"
Beedel reported, in explaining the circumstances to Max
Carrados. "Three days later they found that he'd been back
again in Copenhagen but by that time he'd flown. Now they're
without a trace except the inference of these 'Orange peach
blossom' agonies in The Times. But the Countess
has gone hurriedly to Paris; and Lafayard thinks it all
points to London."
"I suppose the Foreign Office is anxious to
oblige just now?"
"I expect so, sir," agreed Beedel, "but, of
course, my instructions don't come from that quarter. What
appeals to us is that it would be a feather in our
caps--they're still a little sore up at the Yard about Hans
"Naturally," assented Carrados. "Well, I'll
see what I can do if there is real occasion. Let me know
anything, and, if you see your chance yourself, come round
for a talk if you like on--to-day's Wednesday?--I shall be
in at any rate on Friday evening."
Without being a precisian, the blind man was
usually exact in such matters. There are those who hold that
an engagement must be kept at all hazard: men who would miss
a death-bed message in order to keep literal faith with a
beggar. Carrados took lower, if more substantial, ground.
"My word," he sometimes had occasion to remark, "is subject
to contingencies, like everything else about me. If I make a
promise it is conditional on nothing which seems more
important arising to counteract it. That, among men of
sense, is understood." And, as it happened, something did
occur on this occasion.
He was summoned to the telephone just before
dinner on Friday evening to receive a message personally.
Greatorex, his secretary, had taken the call, but came in to
say that the caller would give him nothing beyond his
name--Brebner. The name was unknown to Carrados, but such
incidents were not uncommon, and he proceeded to comply.
"Yes," he responded; "I am Max Carrados
speaking. What is it?"
"Oh, it is you, sir, is it? Mr. Brickwill
told me to get to you direct."
"Well, you are all right. Brickwill? Are you
the British Museum?"
"Yes. I am Brebner in the Chaldean Art
Department. They are in a great stew here. We have just
found out that someone has managed to get access to the
Second Inner Greek Room and looted some of the cabinets
there. It is all a mystery as yet."
"What is missing?" asked Carrados.
"So far we can only definitely speak of about
six trays of Greek coins--a hundred to a hundred and twenty,
The line conveyed a caustic bark of tragic
"Why, yes, I should say so. The beggar seems
to have known his business. All fine specimens of the best
Eumenes--Evainetos--Kimons. The chief quite wept."
Carrados groaned. There was not a piece among
them that he had not handled lovingly.
"What are you doing?" he demanded.
"Mr. Brickwill has been to Scotland Yard,
and, on advice, we are not making it public as yet. We don't
want a hint of it to be dropped anywhere, if you don't mind,
"That will be all right."
"It was for that reason that I was to speak
with you personally. We are notifying the chief dealers and
likely collectors to whom the coins, or some of them, may be
offered at once if it is thought that we haven't found it
out yet. Judging from the expertness displayed in the
selection, we don't think that there is any danger of the
lot being sold to a pawnbroker or a metal-dealer, so that we
are running very little real risk in not advertising the
"Yes; probably it is as well," replied
Carrados. "Is there anything that Mr. Brickwill wishes me to
"Only this, sir; if you are offered a
suspicious lot of Greek coins, or hear of them, would you
have a look--I mean ascertain whether they are likely to be
ours, and if you think they are communicate with us and
Scotland Yard at once."
"Certainly," replied the blind man. "Tell Mr.
Brickwill that he can rely on me if any indication comes my
way. Convey my regrets to him and tell him that I feel the
loss quite as a personal one.... I don't think that you and
I have met as yet, Mr. Brebner?"
"No, sir," said the voice diffidently, "but I
have looked forward to the pleasure. Perhaps this
unfortunate business will bring me an introduction."
"You are very kind," was Carrados's
acknowledgment of the compliment. "Any time . . . I was
going to say that perhaps you don't know my weakness, but I
have spent many pleasant hours over your wonderful
collection. That ensures the personal element. Good-bye."
Carrados was really disturbed by the loss
although his concern was tempered by the reflection that the
coins would inevitably in the end find their way back to the
Museum. That their restitution might involve ransom to the
extent of several thousand pounds was the least poignant
detail of the situation. The one harrowing thought was that
the booty might, through stress or ignorance, find its way
into the melting-pot. That dreadful contingency, remote but
insistent, was enough to affect the appetite of the blind
He was expecting Inspector Beedel, who would
be full of his own case, but he could not altogether dismiss
the aspects of possibility that Brebner's communication
opened before his mind. He was still concerned with the
chances of destruction and a very indifferent companion for
Greatorex, who alone sat with him, when Parkinson presented
himself. Dinner was over but Carrados had remained rather
longer than his custom, smoking his mild Turkish cigarette
"A lady wishes to see you, sir. She said you
would not know her name, but that her business would
The form of message was sufficiently unusual
to take the attention of both men.
"You don't know her, of course, Parkinson?"
inquired his master.
For just a second the immaculate Parkinson
seemed tongue-tied. Then he delivered himself in his most
"I regret to say that I cannot claim the
advantage, sir," he replied.
"Better let me tackle her, sir," suggested
Greatorex with easy confidence. "It's probably a sub."
The sportive offer was declined by a smile
and a shake of the head. Carrados turned to his attendant.
"I shall be in the study, Parkinson. Show her
there in three minutes. You stay and have another cigarette,
Greatorex. By that time she will either have gone or have
In three minutes' time Parkinson threw open
the study door.
"The lady, sir," he announced.
Could he have seen, Carrados would have
received the impression of a plainly, almost dowdily,
dressed young woman of buxom figure. She wore a light veil,
but it was ineffective in concealing the unattraction of the
face beneath. The features were swart and the upper lip
darkened with the more than incipient moustache of the
southern brunette. Worse remained, for a disfiguring rash
had assailed patches of her skin. As she entered she swept
the room and its occupant with a quiet but comprehensive
"Please take a chair, Madame. You wished to
The ghost of a demure smile flickered about
her mouth as she complied, and in that moment her face
seemed less uncomely. Her eye lingered for a moment on a
cabinet above the desk, and one might have noticed that her
eye was very bright. Then she replied.
"You are Signor Carrados, in--in the person?"
Carrados made his smiling admission and
changed his position a fraction--possibly to catch her
curiously pitched voice the better.
"The great collector of the antiquities?"
"I do collect a little," he admitted
"You will forgive me, Signor, if my language
is not altogether good. When I live at Naples with my mother
we let boardings, chiefly to Inglish and Amerigans. I pick
up the words, but since I marry and go to live in Calabria
my Inglish has gone all red--no, no, you say, rusty. Yes,
that is it; quite rusty."
"It is excellent," said Carrados. "I am sure
that we shall understand one another perfectly."
The lady shot a penetrating glance but the
blind man's expression was merely suave and courteous. Then
"My husband is of name Ferraja--Michele
Ferraja. We have a vineyard and a little property near
Forenzana." She paused to examine the tips of her gloves
for quite an appreciable moment. "Signor," she burst out,
with some vehemence, "the laws of my country are not good at
"From what I hear on all sides," said
Carrados, "I am afraid that your country is not alone."
"There is at Forenzana a poor labourer, Gian
Verde of name," continued the visitor, dashing volubly into
her narrative. "He is one day digging in the vineyard, the
vineyard of my husband, when his spade strikes itself upon
an obstruction. 'Aha,' says Gian, 'what have we here?' and
he goes down upon his knees to see. It is an oil jar of red
earth, Signor, such as was anciently used, and in it is
filled with silver money.
"Gian is poor but he is wise. Does he call
upon the authorities? No, no; he understands that they are
all corrupt. He carries what he has found to my husband for
he knows him to be a man of great honour.
"My husband also is of brief decision. His
mind is made up. 'Gian,' he says, 'keep your mouth shut.
This will be to your ultimate profit.' Gian understands, for
he can trust my husband. He makes a sign of mutual
implication. Then he goes back to the spade digging.
"My husband understands a little of these
things but not enough. We go to the collections of Messina
and Naples and even Rome and there we see other pieces of
silver money, similar, and learn that they are of great
value. They are of different sizes but most would cover a
lira and of the thickness of two. On the one side imagine
the great head of a pagan deity; on the other--oh, so many
things I cannot remember what." A gesture of circumferential
despair indicated the hopeless variety of design.
"A biga or quadriga of mules?" suggested
Carrados. "An eagle carrying off a hare, a figure flying
with a wreath, a trophy of arms? Some of those perhaps?"
"Si, si bene," cried Madame Ferraja.
"You understand, I perceive, Signor. We are very cautious,
for on every side is extortion and an unjust law. See, it is
even forbidden to take these things out of the country, yet
if we try to dispose of them at home they will be seized and
we punished, for they are tesoro trovato, what you
call treasure troven and belonging to the State--these
coins which the industry of Gian discovered and which had
lain for so long in the ground of my husband's vineyard."
"So you brought them to England?"
"Si, Signor. It is spoken of as a land of
justice and rich nobility who buy these things at the
highest prices. Also my speaking a little of the language
would serve us here."
"I suppose you have the coins for disposal
then? You can show them to me?"
"My husband retains them. I will take you,
but you must first give parola d'onore of an English
Signor not to betray us, or to speak of the circumstance to
Carrados had already foreseen this
eventuality and decided to accept it. Whether a promise
exacted on the plea of treasure trove would bind him to
respect the despoilers of the British Museum was a point for
subsequent consideration. Prudence demanded that he should
investigate the offer at once and to cavil over Madame
Ferraja's conditions would be fatal to that object. If the
coins were, as there seemed little reason to doubt, the
proceeds of the robbery, a modest ransom might be the safest
way of preserving irreplaceable treasures, and in that case
Carrados could offer his services as the necessary
"I give you the promise you require, Madame,"
he accordingly declared.
"It is sufficient," assented Madame. "I will
now take you to the spot. It is necessary that you alone
should accompany me, for my husband is so distraught in this
country, where he understands not a word of what is spoken,
that his poor spirit would cry 'We are surrounded!' if he
saw two strangers approach the house. Oh, he is become most
dreadful in his anxiety, my husband. Imagine only, he keeps
on the fire a cauldron of molten lead and he would not
hesitate to plunge into it this treasure and obliterate its
existence if he imagined himself endangered."
"So," speculated Carrados inwardly. "A likely
precaution for a simple vine-grower of Calabria! Very well,"
he assented aloud, "I will go with you alone. Where is the
Madame Ferraja searched in the ancient purse
that she discovered in her rusty handbag and produced a
scrap of paper.
"People do not understand sometimes my way of
saying it," she explained. "Sette, Herringbone----"
"May I----?" said Carrados, stretching out
his hand. He took the paper and touched the writing with his
finger-tips. "Oh yes, 7 Heronsbourne Place. That is on the
edge of Heronsbourne Park, is it not?" He transferred the
paper casually to his desk as he spoke and stood up. "How
did you come, Madame Ferraja?"
Madame Ferraja followed the careless action
with a discreet smile that did not touch her voice.
"By motor bus--first one then another,
inquiring at every turning. Oh, but it was interminable,"
sighed the lady.
"My driver is off for the evening--I did not
expect to be going out--but I will 'phone up a taxi and it
will be at the gate as soon as we are." He despatched the
message and then, turning to the house telephone, switched
on to Greatorex.
"I'm just going round to Heronsbourne Park,"
he explained. "Don't stay, Greatorex, but if anyone calls
expecting to see me, they can say that I don't anticipate
being away more than an hour."
Parkinson was hovering about the hall. With
quite novel officiousness he pressed upon his master a
succession of articles that were not required. Over this
usually complacent attendant the unattractive features of
Madame Ferraja appeared to exercise a stealthy fascination,
for a dozen times the lady detected his eyes questioning her
face and a dozen times he looked guiltily away again. But
his incongruities could not delay for more than a few
minutes the opening of the door.
"I do not accompany you, sir?" he inquired,
with the suggestion plainly tendered in his voice that it
would be much better if he did.
"Not this time, Parkinson."
"Very well, sir. Is there any particular
address to which we can telephone in case you are required,
"Mr. Greatorex has instructions."
Parkinson stood aside, his resources
exhausted. Madame Ferraja laughed a little mockingly as they
walked down the drive.
"Your man-servant thinks I may eat you,
Signor Carrados," she declared vivaciously.
Carrados, who held the key of his usually
exact attendant's perturbation--for he himself had
recognized in Madame Ferraja the angelic Nina Brun, of the
Sicilian tetradrachm incident, from the moment she opened
her mouth--admitted to himself the humour of her audacity.
But it was not until half-an-hour later that enlightenment
rewarded Parkinson. Inspector Beedel had just arrived and
was speaking with Greatorex when the conscientious valet,
who had been winnowing his memory in solitude, broke in upon
them, more distressed than either had ever seen him in his
life before, and with the breathless introduction: "It was
the ears, sir! I have her ears at last!" poured out his tale
of suspicion, recognition and his present fears.
In the meanwhile the two objects of his
concern had reached the gate as the summoned taxicab drew
"Seven Heronsbourne Place," called Carrados
to the driver.
"No, no," interposed the lady, with decision,
"let him stop at the beginning of the street. It is not far
to walk. My husband would be on the verge of distraction if
he thought in the dark that it was the arrival of the
"Brackedge Road, opposite the end of
Heronsbourne Place," amended Carrados.
Heronsbourne Place had the reputation, among
those who were curious in such matters, of being the most
reclusive residential spot inside the four-mile circle. To
earn that distinction it was, needless to say, a
cul-de-sac. It bounded one side of Heronsbourne Park but did
not at any point of its length give access to that
pleasance. It was entirely devoted to unostentatious little
houses, something between the villa and the cottage, some
detached and some in pairs, but all possessing the endowment
of larger, more umbrageous gardens than can generally be
secured within the radius. The local house agent described
them as "delightfully old-world" or "completely modernized"
according to the requirement of the applicant.
The cab was dismissed at the corner and
Madame Ferraja guided her companion along the silent and
deserted way. She had begun to talk with renewed animation,
but her ceaseless chatter only served to emphasize to
Carrados the one fact that it was contrived to disguise.
"I am not causing you to miss the house with
looking after me--No. 7, Madame Ferraja?" he interposed.
"No, certainly," she replied readily. "It is
a little farther. The numbers are from the other end. But we
are there. Ecco!"
She stopped at a gate and opened it, still
guiding him. They passed into a garden, moist and sweet
scented with the distillate odours of a dewy evening. As she
turned to relatch the gate the blind man endeavoured
politely to anticipate her. Between them his hat fell to the
"My clumsiness," he apologized, recovering it
from the step. "My old impulses and my present helplessness,
alas, Madame Ferraja!"
"One learns prudence by experience," said
Madame sagely. She was scarcely to know, poor lady, that
even as she uttered this trite aphorism, under cover of
darkness and his hat, Mr. Carrados had just ruined his
signet ring by blazoning a golden "7" upon her garden step
to establish its identity if need be. A cul-de-sac that
numbered from the closed end seemed to demand some
"Seldom," he replied to her remark. "One goes
on taking risks. So we are there?"
Madame Ferraja had opened the front door with
a latchkey. She dropped the latch and led Carrados forward
along the narrow hall. The room they entered was at the back
of the house, and from the position of the road it therefore
overlooked the park. Again the door was locked behind them.
"The celebrated Mr. Carrados!" announced
Madame Ferraja, with a sparkle of triumph in her voice. She
waved her hand towards a lean, dark man who had stood beside
the door as they entered. "My husband."
"Beneath our poor roof in the most fraternal
manner," commented the dark man, in the same derisive
spirit. "But it is wonderful."
"The even more celebrated Monsieur Dompierre,
unless I am mistaken?" retorted Carrados blandly. "I bow on
our first real meeting."
"You knew!" exclaimed the Dompierre of the
earlier incident incredulously. "Stoker, you were right and
I owe you a hundred lire. Who recognized you, Nina?"
"How should I know?" demanded the real Madame
Dompierre crossly. "This blind man himself, by chance."
"You pay a poor compliment to your charming
wife's personality to imagine that one could forget her so
soon," put in Carrados. "And you a Frenchman, Dompierre!"
"You knew, Monsieur Carrados," reiterated
Dompierre, "and yet you ventured here. You are either a
fool or a hero."
"An enthusiast--it is the same thing as
both," interposed the lady. "What did I tell you? What did
it matter if he recognized? You see?"
"Surely you exaggerate, Monsieur Dompierre,"
contributed Carrados. "I may yet pay tribute to your
industry. Perhaps I regret the circumstance and the
necessity but I am here to make the best of it. Let me see
the things Madame has spoken of and then we can consider the
detail of their price, either for myself or on behalf of
There was no immediate reply. From Dompierre
came a saturnine chuckle and from Madame Dompierre a titter
that accompanied a grimace. For one of the rare occasions in
his life Carrados found himself wholly out of touch with the
atmosphere of the situation. Instinctively he turned his
face towards the other occupant of the room, the man
addressed as "Stoker," whom he knew to be standing near the
"This unfortunate business has brought
me an introduction," said a familiar voice.
For one dreadful moment the universe stood
still round Carrados. Then, with the crash and grind of
overwhelming mental tumult, the whole strategy revealed
itself, like the sections of a gigantic puzzle falling into
place before his eyes.
There had been no robbery at the British
Museum! That plausible concoction was as fictitious as the
intentionally transparent tale of treasure trove. Carrados
recognized now how ineffective the one device would have
been without the other in drawing him--how convincing the
two together and while smarting at the humiliation of his
plight he could not restrain a dash of admiration at the
ingenuity--the accurately conjectured line of inference--of
the plot. It was again the familiar artifice of the cunning
pitfall masked by the clumsily contrived trap just beyond
it. And straightway into it he had blundered!
"And this," continued the same voice, "is
Carrados; Max Carrados, upon whose perspicuity a
government--only the present government, let me in justice
say--depends to outwit the undesirable alien! My country; O
"Is it really Monsieur Carrados?" inquired
Dompierre in polite sarcasm. "Are you sure, Nina, that you
have not brought a man from Scotland Yard instead?"
"Basta! he is here; what more do you
want? Do not mock the poor sightless gentleman," answered
Madame Dompierre, in doubtful sympathy.
"That is exactly what I was wondering,"
ventured Carrados mildly. "I am here--what more do you want?
Perhaps you, Mr. Stoker?"
"Excuse me. 'Stoker' is a mere colloquial
appellation based on a trifling incident of my career in
connection with a disabled liner. The title illustrates the
childish weakness of the criminal classes for nicknames,
together with their pitiable baldness of invention. My real
name is Montmorency, Mr. Carrados--Eustace Montmorency."
"Thank you, Mr. Montmorency," said Carrados
gravely. "We are on opposite sides of the table here
to-night, but I should be proud to have been with you in the
stokehold of the Benvenuto."
"That was pleasure," muttered the Englishman.
"This is business."
"Oh, quite so," agreed Carrados. "So far I am
not exactly complaining. But I think it is high time to be
told--and I address myself to you--why I have been decoyed
here and what your purpose is."
Mr. Montmorency turned to his accomplice.
"Dompierre," he remarked, with great
clearness, "why the devil is Mr. Carrados kept standing?"
"Ah, oh, heaven!" exclaimed Madame Dompierre
with tragic resignation, and flung herself down on a couch.
"Scusi," grinned the lean man, and
with burlesque grace he placed a chair for their guest's
"Your curiosity is natural," continued Mr.
Montmorency, with a cold eye towards Dompierre's antics,
"although I really think that by this time you ought to have
guessed the truth. In fact, I don't doubt that you have
guessed, Mr. Carrados, and that you are only endeavouring to
gain time. For that reason--because it will perhaps convince
you that we have nothing to fear--I don't mind obliging
"Better hasten," murmured Dompierre uneasily.
"Thank you, Bill," said the Englishman, with
genial effrontery. "I won't fail to report your intelligence
to the Rasojo. Yes, Mr. Carrados, as you have already
conjectured, it is the affair of the Countess X. to which
you owe this inconvenience. You will appreciate the
compliment that underlies your temporary seclusion, I am
sure. When circumstances favoured our plans and London
became the inevitable place of meeting, you and you alone
stood in the way. We guessed that you would be consulted and
we frankly feared your intervention. You were consulted. We
know that Inspector Beedel visited you two days ago and he
has no other case in hand. Your quiescence for just three
days had to be obtained at any cost. So here you are."
"I see," assented Carrados. "And having got
me here, how do you propose to keep me?"
"Of course that detail has received
consideration. In fact we secured this furnished house
solely with that in view. There are three courses before us.
The first, quite pleasant, hangs on your acquiescence. The
second, more drastic, comes into operation if you decline.
The third--but really, Mr. Carrados, I hope you won't oblige
me even to discuss the third. You will understand that it
is rather objectionable for me to contemplate the necessity
of two able-bodied men having to use even the smallest
amount of physical compulsion towards one who is blind and
helpless. I hope you will be reasonable and accept the
"The inevitable is the one thing that I
invariably accept," replied Carrados. "What does it
"You will write a note to your secretary
explaining that what you have learned at 7 Heronsbourne
Place makes it necessary for you to go immediately abroad
for a few days. By the way, Mr. Carrados, although this is
Heronsbourne Place it is not No. 7."
"Dear, dear me," sighed the prisoner. "You
seem to have had me at every turn, Mr. Montmorency."
"An obvious precaution. The wider course of
giving you a different street altogether we rejected as
being too risky in getting you here. To continue: To give
conviction to the message you will direct your man Parkinson
to follow by the first boat-train to-morrow, with all the
requirements for a short stay, and put up at Mascot's, as
usual, awaiting your arrival there."
"Very convincing," agreed Carrados. "Where
shall I be in reality?"
"In a charming though rather isolated
bungalow on the south coast. Your wants will be attended to.
There is a boat. You can row or fish. You will be run down
by motor car and brought back to your own gate. It's really
very pleasant for a few days. I've often stayed there
"Your recommendation carries weight. Suppose,
for the sake of curiosity, that I decline?"
"You will still go there but your treatment
will be commensurate with your behaviour. The car to take
you is at this moment waiting in a convenient spot on the
other side of the park. We shall go down the garden at the
back, cross the park, and put you into the car--anyway."
"And if I resist?"
The man whose pleasantry it had been to call
himself Eustace Montmorency shrugged his shoulders.
"Don't be a fool," he said tolerantly. "You
know who you are dealing with and the kind of risks we run.
If you call out or endanger us at a critical point we shall
not hesitate to silence you effectively."
The blind man knew that it was no idle
threat. In spite of the cloak of humour and fantasy thrown
over the proceedings, he was in the power of coolly
desperate men. The window was curtained and shuttered
against sight and sound, the door behind him locked.
Possibly at that moment a revolver threatened him; certainly
weapons lay within reach of both his keepers.
"Tell me what to write," he asked, with
capitulation in his voice.
Dompierre twirled his mustachios in relieved
approval. Madame laughed from her place on the couch and
picked up a book, watching Montmorency over the cover of its
pages. As for that gentleman, he masked his satisfaction by
the practical business of placing on the table before
Carrados the accessories of the letter.
"Put into your own words the message that I
outlined just now."
"Perhaps to make it altogether natural I had
better write on a page of the notebook that I always use,"
"Do you wish to make it natural?" demanded
Montmorency, with latent suspicion.
"If the miscarriage of your plan is to result
in my head being knocked--yes, I do," was the reply.
"Good!" chuckled Dompierre, and sought to
avoid Mr. Montmorency's cold glance by turning on the
electric table-lamp for the blind man's benefit. Madame
Dompierre laughed shrilly.
"Thank you, Monsieur," said Carrados, "you
have done quite right. What is light to you is warmth to
me--heat, energy, inspiration. Now to business."
He took out the pocket-book he had spoken of
and leisurely proceeded to flatten it down upon the table
before him. As his tranquil, pleasant eyes ranged the room
meanwhile it was hard to believe that the shutters of an
impenetrable darkness lay between them and the world. They
rested for a moment on the two accomplices who stood beyond
the table, picked out Madame Dompierre lolling on the sofa
on his right, and measured the proportions of the long,
narrow room. They seemed to note the positions of the window
at the one end and the door almost at the other, and even to
take into account the single pendent electric light which up
till then had been the sole illuminant.
"You prefer pencil?" asked Montmorency.
"I generally use it for casual purposes. But
not," he added, touching the point critically, "like this."
Alert for any sign of retaliation, they
watched him take an insignificant penknife from his pocket
and begin to trim the pencil. Was there in his mind any mad
impulse to force conclusions with that puny weapon?
Dompierre worked his face into a fiercer expression and
touched reassuringly the handle of his knife. Montmorency
looked on for a moment, then, whistling softly to himself,
turned his back on the table and strolled towards the
window, avoiding Madame Nina's pursuant eye.
Then, with overwhelming suddenness, it came,
and in its form altogether unexpected.
Carrados had been putting the last strokes to
the pencil, whittling it down upon the table. There had been
no hasty movement, no violent act to give them warning; only
the little blade had pushed itself nearer and nearer to the
electric light cord lying there . . . and suddenly and
instantly the room was plunged into absolute darkness.
"To the door, Dom!" shouted Montmorency in a
flash. "I am at the window. Don't let him pass and we are
"I am here," responded Dompierre from the
"He will not attempt to pass," came the quiet
voice of Carrados from across the room. "You are now all
exactly where I want you. You are both covered. If either
moves an inch, I fire and remember that I shoot by sound,
"But--but what does it mean?" stammered
Montmorency, above the despairing wail of Madame Dompierre.
"It means that we are now on equal
terms--three blind men in a dark room. The numerical
advantage that you possess is counterbalanced by the fact
that you are out of your element--I am in mine."
"Dom," whispered Montmorency across the dark
space, "strike a match. I have none."
"I would not, Dompierre, if I were you,"
advised Carrados, with a short laugh. "It might be
At once his voice seemed to leap into a
passion. "Drop that matchbox," he cried. "You are standing
on the brink of your grave, you fool! Drop it, I say; let me
hear it fall."
A breath of thought almost too short to call
a pause--then a little thud of surrender sounded from the
carpet by the door. The two conspirators seemed to hold
"That is right." The placid voice once more
resumed its sway. "Why cannot things be agreeable? I hate to
have to shout, but you seem far from grasping the situation
yet. Remember that I do not take the slightest risk. Also
please remember, Mr. Montmorency, that the action even of a
hair-trigger automatic scrapes slightly as it comes up. I
remind you of that for your own good, because if you are so
ill-advised as to think of trying to pot me in the dark,
that noise gives me a fifth of a second start of you. Do you
by any chance know Zinghi's in Mercer Street?"
"The shooting gallery?" asked Mr. Montmorency
a little sulkily.
"The same. If you happen to come through this
alive and are interested you might ask Zinghi to show you a
target of mine that he keeps. Seven shots at twenty yards,
the target indicated by four watches, none of them so loud
as the one you are wearing. He keeps it as a curiosity."
"I wear no watch," muttered Dompierre,
expressing his thought aloud.
"No, Monsieur Dompierre, but you wear a
heart, and that not on your sleeve," said Carrados. "Just
now it is quite as loud as Mr. Montmorency's watch. It is
more central too--I shall not have to allow any margin. That
is right; breathe naturally"--for the unhappy Dompierre had
given a gasp of apprehension. "It does not make any
difference to me, and after a time holding one's breath
becomes really painful."
"Monsieur," declared Dompierre earnestly,
"there was no intention of submitting you to injury, I
swear. This Englishman did but speak within his hat. At the
most extreme you would have been but bound and gagged. Take
care: killing is a dangerous game."
"For you--not for me," was the bland
rejoinder. "If you kill me you will be hanged for it. If I
kill you I shall be honourably acquitted. You can imagine
the scene--the sympathetic court--the recital of your
villainies--the story of my indignities. Then with stumbling
feet and groping hands the helpless blind man is led forward
to give evidence. Sensation! No, no, it isn't really fair
but I can kill you both with absolute certainty and
Providence will be saddled with all the responsibility.
Please don't fidget with your feet, Monsieur Dompierre. I
know that you aren't moving but one is liable to make
"Before I die," said Montmorency--and for
some reason laughed unconvincingly in the dark--"before I
die, Mr. Carrados, I should really like to know what has
happened to the light. That, surely, isn't Providence?"
"Would it be ungenerous to suggest that you
are trying to gain time? You ought to know what has
happened. But as it may satisfy you that I have nothing to
fear from delay, I don't mind telling you. In my hand was a
sharp knife--contemptible, you were satisfied, as a weapon;
beneath my nose the 'flex' of the electric lamp. It was only
necessary for me to draw the one across the other and the
system was short-circuited. Every lamp on that fuse is cut
off and in the distributing-box in the hall you will find a
burned-out wire. You, perhaps--but Monsieur Dompierre's
experience in plating ought to have put him up to simple
"How did you know that there is a
distributing-box in the hall?" asked Dompierre, with dull
"My dear Dompierre, why beat the air with
futile questions?" replied Max Carrados. "What does it
matter? Have it in the cellar if you like."
"True," interposed Montmorency. "The only
thing that need concern us now----"
"But it is in the hall--nine feet high,"
muttered Dompierre in bitterness. "Yet he, this blind
"The only thing that need concern us,"
repeated the Englishman, severely ignoring the interruption,
"is what you intend doing in the end, Mr. Carrados?"
"The end is a little difficult to foresee,"
was the admission. "So far, I am all for maintaining the
status quo. Will the first grey light of morning find
us still in this impasse? No, for between us we have
condemned the room to eternal darkness. Probably about
daybreak Dompierre will drop off to sleep and roll against
the door. I, unfortunately mistaking his intention, will
send a bullet through---- Pardon, Madame, I should have
remembered--but pray don't move."
"I protest, Monsieur
"Don't protest; just sit still. Very likely
it will be Mr. Montmorency who will fall off to sleep the
first after all."
"Then we will anticipate that difficulty,"
said the one in question, speaking with renewed decision.
"We will play the last hand with our cards upon the table if
you like. Nina, Mr. Carrados will not injure you whatever
happens--be sure of that. When the moment comes you will
"One word," put in Carrados with
determination. "My position is precarious and I take no
risks. As you say, I cannot injure Madame Dompierre, and you
two men are therefore my hostages for her good behaviour. If
she rises from the couch you, Dompierre, fall. If she
advances another step Mr. Montmorency follows you."
"Do nothing rash, carissima," urged
her husband, with passionate solicitude. "You might get hit
in place of me. We will yet find a better way."
"You dare not, Mr. Carrados!" flung out
Montmorency, for the first time beginning to show signs of
wear in this duel of the temper. "He dare not, Dompierre.
In cold blood and unprovoked! No jury would acquit you!"
"Another who fails to do you justice, Madame
Nina," said the blind man, with ironic gallantry. "The
action might be a little high-handed, one admits, but when
you, appropriately clothed and in your right complexion,
stepped into the witness-box and I said: 'Gentlemen of the
jury, what is my crime? That I made Madame Dompierre a
widow!' can you doubt their gratitude and my acquittal?
Truly my countrymen are not all bats or monks, Madame."
Dompierre was breathing with perfect freedom now, while from
the couch came the sounds of stifled emotion, but whether
the lady was involved in a paroxysm of sobs or of laughter
it might be difficult to swear.
. . . . . .
It was perhaps an hour after the flourish of
the introduction with which Madame Dompierre had closed the
door of the trap upon the blind man's entrance.
The minutes had passed but the situation
remained unchanged, though the ingenuity of certainly two of
the occupants of the room had been tormented into shreds to
discover a means of turning it to their advantage. So far
the terrible omniscience of the blind man in the dark and
the respect for his marksmanship with which his coolness had
inspired them, dominated the group. But one strong card yet
remained to be played, and at last the moment came upon
which the conspirators had pinned their despairing hopes.
There was the sound of movement in the hall
outside, not the first about the house, but towards the new
complication Carrados had been strangely unobservant. True,
Montmorency had talked rather loudly, to carry over the
dangerous moments. But now there came an unmistakable step
and to the accomplices it could only mean one thing.
Montmorency was ready on the instant.
"Down, Dom!" he cried, "throw yourself down!
Break in, Guido. Break in the door. We are held up!"
There was an immediate response. The door,
under the pressure of a human battering-ram, burst open with
a crash. On the threshold the intruders--four or five in
number--stopped starkly for a moment, held in astonishment
by the extraordinary scene that the light from the hall, and
of their own bull's-eyes, revealed.
Flat on their faces, to present the least
possible surface to Carrados's aim, Dompierre and
Montmorency lay extended beside the window and behind the
door. On the couch, with her head buried beneath the
cushions, Madame Dompierre sought to shut out the sight and
sound of violence. Carrados--Carrados had not moved, but
with arms resting on the table and fingers placidly locked
together he smiled benignly on the new arrivals. His
attitude, compared with the extravagance of those around
him, gave the impression of a complacent modern deity
presiding over some grotesque ceremonial of pagan worship.
"So, Inspector, you could not wait for me,
after all?" was his greeting.