The Man With The Cough by Mary Louisa Molesworth
I am a German by birth and descent. My name is Schmidt. But by
education I am quite as much an Englishman as a 'Deutscher', and by
affection much more the former. My life has been spent pretty equally
between the two countries, and I flatter myself I speak both
languages without any foreign accent.
I count England my headquarters now: it is 'home' to me. But a few
years ago I was resident in Germany, only going over to London now
and then on business. I will not mention the town where I lived. It
is unnecessary to do so, and in the peculiar experience I am about to
relate I think real names of people and places are just as well, or
I was connected with a large and important firm of engineers. I
had been bred up to the profession, and was credited with a certain
amount of 'talent; and I was considered--and, with all modesty, I
think I deserved the opinion--steady and reliable, so that I had
already attained a fair position in the house, and was looked upon as
a "rising man'. But I was still young, and not quite so wise as I
thought myself. I came very near once to making a great mess of a
certain affair. It is this story which I am going to tell.
Our house went in largely for patents--rather too largely, some
thought. But the head partner's son was a bit of a genius in his way,
and his father was growing old, and let Herr Wilhelm--Moritz we will
call the family name--do pretty much as he chose. And on the whole
Herr Wilhelm did well. He was cautious, and he had the benefit of the
still greater caution and larger experience of Herr Gerhardt, the
second partner in the firm.
Patents and the laws which regulate them are queer things to have
to do with. No one who has not had personal experience of the
complications that arise could believe how far these spread and how
entangled they become. Great acuteness as well as caution is called
for if you would guide your patent bark safely to port--and perhaps
more than anything, a power of holding your tongue. I was no
chatterbox, nor, when on a mission of importance, did I go about
looking as if I were bursting with secrets, which is, in my opinion,
almost as dangerous as revealing them. No one, to meet me on the
journeys which it often fell to my lot to undertake, would have
guessed that I had anything on my mind but an easy-going young
fellow's natural interest in his surroundings, though many a time I
have stayed awake through a whole night of railway travel if at all
doubtful about my fellow-passengers, or not dared to go to sleep in a
hotel without a ready-loaded revolver by my pillow. For now and
then--though not through me--our secrets did ooze out. And if, as has
happened, they were secrets connected with Government orders or
contracts, there was, or but for the exertion of the greatest energy
and tact on the part of my superiors, there would have been, to put
it plainly, the devil to pay.
One morning--it was nearing the end of November--I was sent for to
Herr Wilhelm's private room. There I found him and Herr Gerhardt
before a table spread with papers covered with figures and
calculations, and sheets of beautifully executed diagrams.
'Lutz,' said Herr Wilhelm. He had known me from childhood, and
often called me by the abbreviation of my Christian name, which is
Ludwig, or Louis. 'Lutz, we are going to confide to you a matter of
extreme importance. You must be prepared to start for London
'All right, sir,' I said, 'I shall be ready.'
'You will take the express through to Calais--on the whole it is
the best route, especially at this season. By travelling all night
you will catch the boat there, and arrive in London so as to have a
good night's rest, and be clear-headed for work the next
I bowed agreement, but ventured to make a suggestion.
'If, as I infer, the matter is one of great importance,' I said,
'would it not be well for me to start sooner? I can--yes,' throwing a
rapid survey over the work I had before me for the next two days--I
can be ready tonight.' Herr Wilhelm looked at Herr Gerhardt. Herr
Gerhardt shook his head.
'No,' he replied, 'tomorrow it must be,' and then he proceeded to
explain to me why.
I need not attempt to give all the details of the matter with
which I was entrusted. Indeed, to 'lay' readers it would be
impossible. Suffice it to say, the whole concerned a patent--that of
a very remarkable and wonderful invention, which it was hoped and
believed the Government of both countries would take up. But to
secure this being done in a thoroughly satisfactory manner it was
necessary that our firm should go about it in concert with an English
house of first-rate standing. To this house--the firm of Messrs
Bluestone & Fagg I will call them--I was to be sent with full
explanations. And the next half-hour or more passed in my superiors
going minutely into the details, so as to satisfy themselves that I
understood. The mastering of the whole was not difficult, for I was
well grounded technically; and like many of the best things the idea
was essentially simple, and the diagrams were perfect. When the
explanations were over, and my instructions duly noted, I began to
gather together the various sheets, which were all numbered. But, to
my surprise, Herr Gerhardt, looking over me, withdrew two of the most
important diagrams, without which the others were valueless, because
'Stay,' he said; 'these two, Ludwig, must be kept separate. These
we send today, by registered post, direct to Bluestone & Fagg.
They will receive them a day before they see you, and with them a
letter announcing your arrival.'
I looked up in some disappointment. I had known of precautions of
the kind being taken, but usually when the employee sent was less
reliable than I believed myself to be. Still, I scarcely dared to
'Do you think that necessary?' I said respectfully. 'I can assure
you that from the moment you entrust me with the papers they shall
never quit me day or night. And if there were any postal delay--you
say time is valuable in this case--or if the papers were stolen in
the transit--such things have happened--my whole mission would be
'We do not doubt your zeal and discretion, my good Schmidt,' said
Herr Gerhardt. 'But in this case we must take even extra precautions.
I had not meant to tell you, fearing to add to the certain amount of
nervousness and strain unavoidable in such a case, but still, perhaps
it is best that you should know that we have reason for some special
anxiety. It has been hinted to us that some breath of this'--and he
tapped the papers--'has reached those who are always on the watch for
such things. We cannot be too careful.'
'And yet', I persisted, 'you would trust the post?'
'We do not trust the post,' he replied. 'Even if these diagrams
were tampered with, they would be perfectly useless. And tampered
with they will not be. But even supposing anything so wild, the
rogues in question knowing of your departure (and they are more
likely to know of it than of our packet by post), were they in
collusion with some traitor in the post office, are sharp enough to
guess the truth--that we have made a Masonic secret of it--the two
separate diagrams are valueless without your papers; your papers
reveal nothing without Nos. 7 and 13.'
I bowed in submission. But I was, all the same, disappointed, as I
said, and a trifle mortified.
Herr Wilhelm saw it, and cheered me up.
'All right, Lutz, my boy,' he said. 'I feel just like you--nothing
I should enjoy more than a rush over to London, carrying the whole
documents, and prepared for a fight with anyone who tried to get hold
of them. But Herr Gerhardt here is cooler-blooded than we are.'
The elder man smiled.
'I don't doubt your readiness to fight, nor Ludwig's either. But
it would be by no such honestly brutal means as open robbery that we
should be outwitted. Make friends readily with no one while
travelling, Lutz, yet avoid the appearance of keeping yourself aloof.
'Perfectly,' I said. 'I shall sleep well tonight, so as to be
prepared to keep awake throughout the journey.'
The papers were then carefully packed up. Those consigned to my
care were to be carried in a certain light, black handbag with a very
good lock, which had often before been my travelling companion. And
the following evening I started by the express train agreed upon. So,
at least, I have always believed, but I have never been able to bring
forward a witness to the fact of my train at the start being the
right one, as no one came with me to see me off. For it was thought
best that I should depart in as unobtrusive a manner as possible, as,
even in a large town such as ours, the members and employees of an
old and important house like the Moritzes' were well known.
I took my ticket then, registering no luggage, as I had none but
what I easily carried in my hand, as well as the bag. It was already
dusk, if not dark, and there was not much bustle in the station, nor
apparently many passengers. I took my place in an empty second-class
compartment, and sat there quietly till the train should start. A few
minutes before it did another man got in. I was somewhat annoyed at
this, as in my circumstances nothing was more undesirable than
travelling alone with one other. Had there been a crowded
compartment, or one with three or four passengers, I would have
chosen it; but at the moment I got in, the carriages were all either
empty or with but one or two occupants. Now, I said to myself, I
should have done better to wait till nearer the time of departure,
and then chosen my place.
I turned to reconnoitre my companion, but I could not see his face
clearly, as he was half leaning out of the window. Was he doing so on
purpose? I said to myself, for naturally I was in a suspicious mood.
And as the thought struck me I half started up, determined to choose
another compartment. Suddenly a peculiar sound made itself heard. My
companion was coughing. He drew his head in, covering his face with
his hand, as he coughed again. You never heard such a curious cough.
It was more like a hen clucking than anything I can think of. Once,
twice he coughed; then, as if he had been waiting for the slight
spasm to pass, he sprang up, looked eagerly out of the window again,
and, opening the door, jumped out, with some exclamation, as if he
had just caught sight of a friend.
And in another moment or two--he could barely have had time to get
in elsewhere--much to my satisfaction, the train moved off.
'Now,' thought I, 'I can make myself comfortable for some hours.
We do not stop till M--: it will be nine o'clock by then. If no one
gets in there I am safe to go through till tomorrow alone; then there
will only be----Junction, and a clear run to Calais.'
I unstrapped my rug and lit a cigar--of course I had chosen a
smoking-carriage--and, delighted at having got rid of my clucking
companion, the time passed pleasantly till we pulled up at M--. The
delay there was not great, and to my enormous satisfaction no one
molested my solitude. Evidently the express to Calais was not in very
great demand that night. I now felt so secure that, notwithstanding
my intention of keeping awake all night, my innermost consciousness
had not I suppose quite resigned itself to the necessity, for, not
more than a hour or so after leaving M--, possibly sooner, I fell
It seemed to me that I had slept heavily, for when I awoke I had
great difficulty in remembering where I was. Only by slow degrees did
I realise that I was not in my comfortable bed at home, but in a
chilly, ill-lighted railway-carriage. Chilly--yes, that it was--very
chilly; but as my faculties returned I remembered my precious bag,
and forgot all else in a momentary terror that it had been taken from
me. No; there it was my elbow had been pressed against it as I slept.
But how was this? The train was not in motion. We were standing in a
station; a dingy deserted looking place, with no cheerful noise or
bustle; only one or two porters slowly moving about, with a sort of
sleepy 'night duty', surly air. It could not be the Junction? I
looked at my watch. Barely midnight! Of course, not the Junction. We
were not due there till four o'clock in the morning or so.
What, then, were we doing here, and what was 'here'? Had there
been an accident--some unforeseen necessity for stopping? At that
moment a curious sound, from some yards' distance only it seemed to
come, caught my ear. It was that croaking, cackling cough!--the cough
of my momentary fellow-passenger, towards whom I had felt an
instinctive aversion. I looked out of the window--there was a
refreshment room just opposite, dimly lighted, like everything else,
and in the doorway, as if just entering, was a figure which I felt
pretty sure was that of the man with the cough.
'Bah!' I said to myself, 'I must not be fanciful. I dare say the
fellow's all right. He is evidently in the same hole as myself. What
in Heaven's name are we waiting here for?'
I sprang out of the carriage, nearly tumbling over a porter slowly
'How long are we to stay here?' I cried. 'When do we start again
for---?' and I named the Junction.
'For---,' he repeated in the queerest German I ever heard--was it
German? or did I discover his meaning by some preternatural
cleverness of my own? 'There is no train for----for four or five
hours, not till---' and he named the time; and leaning forward
lazily, he took out my larger bag and my rug, depositing them on the
platform. He did not seem the least surprised at finding me there--I
might have been there for a week, it seemed to me.
'No train for five hours? Are you mad?' I said.
He shook his head and mumbled something, and it seemed to me that
he pointed to the refreshment-room opposite. Gathering my things
together I hurried thither, hoping to find some more reliable
authority. But there was no one there except a fat man with a white
apron, who was clearing the counter--and--yes, in one corner was the
figure I had mentally dubbed 'The man with the cough'.
I addressed the cook or waiter--whichever he was. But he only
shook his head--denied all knowledge of the trains, but informed me
that--in other words--I must turn out; he was going to shut up.
'And where am I to spend the night, then?' I said angrily, though
clearly it was not the aproned individual who was responsible for the
position in which I found myself.
There was a 'Restauration', he informed me, near at hand, which I
should find still open, straight before me on leaving the station,
and then a few doors to the right, I would see the lights.
Clearly there was nothing else to be done. I went out, and as I
did so the silent figure in the corner rose also and followed me. The
station was evidently going to bed. As I passed the porter I repeated
the hour he had named, adding: 'That is the first train
He nodded, again naming the exact time. But I cannot do so, as I
have never been able to recollect it.
I trudged along the road--there were lamps, though very feeble
ones; but by their light I saw that the man who had been in the
refreshment-room was still a few steps behind me. It made me feel
slightly nervous, and I looked round furtively once or twice; the
last time I did so he was not to be seen, and I hoped he had gone
some other way.
The 'Restauration' was scarcely more inviting than the
station-room. It, too, was very dimly lighted, and the one or two
attendants seemed half asleep and were strangely silent. There was a
fire of a kind, and I seated myself at a small table near it and
asked for some coffee, which would, I thought, serve the double
purpose of warming me and keeping me awake.
It was brought me, in silence. I drank it, and felt the better for
it. But there was something so gloomy and unsociable, so queer and
almost weird about the whole aspect and feeling of the place, that a
sort of irritable resignation took possession of me. If these surly
folk won't speak, neither will I, I said to myself childishly. And,
incredible as it may sound, I did not speak. I think I paid for the
coffee, but I am not quite sure. I know I never asked what I had
meant to ask--the name of the town--a place of some importance, to
judge by the size of the station and the extent of twinkling lights I
had observed as I made my way to the 'Restauration'. From that day to
this I have never been able to identify it, and I am quite sure I
What was there peculiar about that coffee? Or was it something
peculiar about my own condition that caused it to have the unusual
effect I now experienced? That question, too, I cannot answer. All I
remember is feeling a sensation of irresistible drowsiness creeping
over me--mental, or moral I may say, as well as physical. For when
one part of me feebly resisted the first onslaught of sleep,
something seemed to reply: 'Oh, nonsense! you have several hours
before you. Your papers are all right. No one can touch them without
And dreamily conscious that my belongings were on the floor at my
feet--the bag itself actually resting against my ankle--my scruples
silenced themselves in an extraordinary way. I remember nothing more,
save a vague consciousness through all my slumber of confused and
chaotic dreams, which I have never been able to recall.
I awoke at last, and that with a start, almost a jerk. Something
had awakened me--a sound--and as it was repeated to my now aroused
ears I knew that I had heard it before, off and on, during my sleep.
It was the extraordinary cough!
I looked up. Yes, there he was! At some two or three yards'
distance only, at the other side of the fireplace, which, and this I
have forgotten to mention as another peculiar item in that night's
peculiar experiences, considering I have every reason to believe I
was still in Germany, was not a stove, but an open grate.
And he had not been there when I first fell asleep; to that I was
prepared to swear.
'He must have come sneaking in after me,' I thought, and in all
probability I should neither have noticed nor recognised him but for
that traitorous cackle of his.
Now, my misgivings aroused, my first thought, of course, was for
my precious charge. I stooped. There were my rugs, my larger bag,
but--no, not the smaller one; and though the other two were there, I
knew at once that they were not quite in the same position--not so
close to me. Horror seized me. Half wildly I gazed around, when my
silent neighbour bent towards me. I could declare there was nothing
in his hand when he did so, and I could declare as positively that I
had already looked under the small round table beside which I sat,
and that the bag was not there. And yet when the man, with a slight
cackle, caused, no doubt, by his stooping, raised himself, the thing
was in his hand!
Was he a conjuror, a pupil of Maskelyne and Cook? And how was it
that, even as he held out my missing property, he managed, and that
most cleverly and unobtrusively, to prevent my catching sight of his
face! I did not see it then--I never did see it!
Something he murmured, to the effect that he supposed the bag was
what I was looking for. In what language he spoke I know not; it was
more that by the action accompanying the mumbled sounds, I gathered
his meaning, than that I heard anything articulate.
I thanked him, of course, mechanically, so to say, though I began
to feel as if he were an evil spirit haunting me. I could only hope
that the splendid lock to the bag had defied all curiosity, but I
felt in a fever to be alone again, and able to satisfy myself that
nothing had been tampered with.
The thought recalled my wandering faculties. How long had I been
asleep? I drew out my watch. Heavens! It was close upon the hour
named for the first train in the morning. I sprang up, collected my
things, and dashed out of the 'Restauration'. If I had not paid for
my coffee before, I certainly did not pay for it then. Besides my
haste, there was another reason for this--there was no one to pay to!
Not a creature was to be seen in the room or at the door as I passed
out--always excepting the man with the cough.
As I left the place and hurried along the road, a bell began, not
to ring, but to toll. It sounded most uncanny. What it meant, of
course, I have never known. It may have been a summons to the
workpeople of some manufactory, it may have been like all the other
experiences of that strange night. But no; this theory I will not at
present enter upon.
Dawn was not yet breaking, but there was in one direction a faint
suggestion of something of the kind not far off. Otherwise all was
dark. I stumbled along as best as I could, helped in reality, I
suppose, by the ugly yellow glimmer of the woebegone street, or road
lamps. And it was not far to the station, though somehow it seemed
farther than when I came; and somehow, too, it seemed to have grown
steep, though I could not remember having noticed any slope the other
way on my arrival. A nightmare-like sensation began to oppress me. I
felt as if my luggage was growing momentarily heavier and heavier, as
if I should never reach the station; and to this was joined the
agonising terror of missing the train.
I made a desperate effort. Cold as it was, the beads of
perspiration stood out upon my forehead as I forced myself along. And
by degrees the nightmare feeling cleared off. I found myself entering
the station at a run just as--yes, a train was actually beginning to
move! I dashed, baggage and all, into a compartment; it was empty,
and it was a second-class one, precisely similar to the one I had
occupied before; it might have been the very same one. The train
gradually increased its speed, but for the first few moments, while
still in the station and passing through its immediate entourage,
another strange thing struck me--the extraordinary silence and
lifelessness of all about. Not one human being did I see, no porter
watching our departure with the faithful though stolid interest
always to be seen on the porter's visage. I might have been alone in
the train--it might have had a freight of the dead, and been itself
propelled by some supernatural agency, so noiselessly, so gloomily
did it proceed.
You will scarcely credit that I actually and for the third time
fell asleep. I could not help it. Some occult influence was at work
upon me throughout those dark hours, I am positively certain. And
with the daylight it was dispelled. For when I again awoke I felt for
the first time since leaving home completely and normally myself,
fresh and vigorous, all my faculties at their best.
But, nevertheless, my first sensation was a start of amazement,
almost of terror. The compartment was nearly full! There were at
least five or six travellers besides myself, very respectable,
ordinary-looking folk, with nothing in the least alarming about them.
Yet it was with a gasp of extraordinary relief that I found my
precious bag in the corner beside me, where I had carefully placed
it. It was concealed from view. No one, I felt assured, could have
touched it without awaking me.
It was broad and bright daylight. How long had I slept?
'Can you tell me,' I enquired of my opposite neighbour, a
cheery-faced compatriot--'Can you tell me how soon we get
to---Junction by this train? I am most anxious to catch the evening
mail at Calais, and am quite out in my reckonings, owing to an
extraordinary delay at----I have wasted the night by getting into a
stopping train instead of the express.'
He looked at me in astonishment. He must have thought me either
mad or just awaking from a fit of intoxication--only I flatter myself
I did not look as if the latter were the case.
'How soon we get to----Junction?' he repeated. 'Why, my good sir,
you left it about three hours ago! It is now eight o'clock. We all
got in at the Junction. You were alone, if I mistake not?'--he
glanced at one or two of the others, who endorsed his statement. 'And
very fast asleep you were, and must have been, not to be disturbed by
the bustle at the station. And as for catching the evening boat at
Calais'--he burst into a loud guffaw--'why, it would be very hard
lines to do no better than that! We all hope to cross by the midday
'Then--what train is this?' I exclaimed, utterly perplexed.
'The express, of course. All of us, excepting yourself, joined it
at the Junction,' he replied.
'The express?' I repeated. 'The express that leaves'--and I named
my own town--at six in the evening?'
'Exactly. You have got into the right train after all,' and here
came another shout of amusement. 'How did you think we had all got in
if you had not yet passed the Junction? You had not the pleasure of
our company from M--, I take it? M--, which you passed at nine
o'clock last night, if my memory is correct.'
'Then', I persisted, this is the double-fast express, which does
not stop between M---and your Junction?'
'Exactly,' he repeated; and then, confirmed most probably in his
belief that I was mad, or the other thing, he turned to his
newspaper, and left me to my extraordinary cogitations.
Had I been dreaming? Impossible! Every sensation, the very taste
of the coffee, seemed still present with me--the curious accent of
the officials at the mysterious town, I could perfectly recall. I
still shivered at the remembrance of the chilly waking in the
'Restauration'; I heard again the cackling cough.
But I felt I must collect myself, and be ready for the important
negotiation entrusted to me. And to do this I must for the time
banish these fruitless efforts at solving the problem.
We had a good run to Calais, found the boat in waiting, and a fair
passage brought us prosperously across the Channel. I found myself in
London punctual to the intended hour of my arrival.
At once I drove to the lodgings in a small street off the Strand
which I was accustomed to frequent in such circumstances. I felt
nervous till I had an opportunity of thoroughly overhauling my
documents. The bag had been opened by the Custom House officials, but
the words 'private papers' had sufficed to prevent any further
examination; and to my unspeakable delight they were intact. A glance
satisfied me as to this the moment I got them out, for they were most
The next morning saw me early on my way to--No. 909, we will
say--Blackfriars Street, where was the office of Messrs Bluestone
& Fagg. I had never been there before, but it was easy to find,
and had I felt any doubt, their name stared me in the face at the
side of the open doorway. 'Second-floor' I thought I read; but when I
reached the first landing I imagined I must have been mistaken. For
there, at a door ajar, stood an eminently respectable-looking
gentleman, who bowed as he saw me, with a discreet smile.
'Herr Schmidt?' he said. 'Ah, yes; I was on the lookout for
I felt a little surprised, and my glance involuntarily strayed to
the doorway. There was no name upon it, and it appeared to have been
freshly painted. My new friend saw my glance.
'It is all right,' he said; 'we have the painters here. We are
using these lower rooms temporarily. I was watching to prevent your
having the trouble of mounting to the second-floor.'
And as I followed him in, I caught sight of a painter's ladder--a
small one--on the stair above, and the smell was also unmistakable.
The large outer office looked bare and empty, but under the
circumstances that was natural. No one was, at the first glance, to
be seen; but behind a dulled glass partition screening off one corner
I fancied I caught sight of a seated figure. And an inner office, to
which my conductor led the way, had a more comfortable and inhabited
look. Here stood a younger man. He bowed politely.
'Mr Fagg, my junior,' said the first individual airily. 'And now,
Herr Schmidt, to business at once, if you please. Time is everything.
You have all the documents ready?'
I answered by opening my bag and spreading out its contents. Both
men were very grave, almost taciturn; but as I proceeded to explain
things it was easy to see that they thoroughly understood all I
'And now,' I went on, when I had reached a certain point, 'if you
will give me Nos. 7 and 13 which you have already received by
registered post, I can put you in full possession of the whole.
Without them, of course, all I have said is, so to say, preliminary
The two looked at each other.
'Of course,' said the elder man, 'I follow what you say. The key
of the whole is wanting. But I was momentarily expecting you to bring
it out. We have not--Fagg, I am right, am I not--we have received
nothing by post?'
'Nothing whatever,' replied his junior. And the answer seemed
simplicity itself. Why did a strange thrill of misgiving go through
me? Was it something in the look that had passed between them?
Perhaps so. In any case, strange to say, the inconsistency between
their having received no papers and yet looking for my arrival at the
hour mentioned in the letter accompanying the documents, and
accosting me by name, did not strike me till some hours later.
I threw off what I believed to be my ridiculous mistrust, and it
was not difficult to do so in my extreme annoyance.
'I cannot understand it,' I said. 'It is really too bad.
Everything depends upon 7 and 13. I must telegraph at once for
enquiries to be instituted at the post office.'
'But your people must have duplicates,' said Fagg eagerly. 'These
can be forwarded at once.'
'I hope so,' I said, though feeling strangely confused and
'They must send them direct here,' he went on.
I did not at once answer. I was gathering my papers together.
'And in the meantime', he proceeded, touching my bag, you had
better leave these here. We will lock them up in the safe at once. It
is better than carrying them about London.'
It certainly seemed so. I half laid down the bag on the table, but
at that moment from the outer room a most peculiar sound caught my
ears--a faint cackling cough! I think I concealed my start. I turned
away as if considering Fagg's suggestion, which, to confess the
truth, I had been on the very point of agreeing to. For it would have
been a great relief to me to know that the papers were in safe
custody. But now a flash of lurid light seemed to have transformed
'I thank you,' I replied, 'I should be glad to be free from the
responsibility of the charge, but I dare not let these out of my own
hands till the agreement is formally signed.'
The younger man's face darkened. He assumed a bullying tone.
'I don't know how it strikes you, Mr Bluestone,' he said, 'But it
seems to me that this young gentleman is going rather too far. Do you
think your employers will be pleased to hear of your insulting us,
But the elder man smiled condescendingly, though with a touch of
superciliousness. It was very well done. He waved his hand.
'Stay, my dear Mr Fagg; we can well afford to make allowance. You
will telegraph at once, no doubt, Herr Schmidt, and--let me see--yes,
we shall receive the duplicates of Nos. 7 and 13 by first post on
'Exactly,' I replied, as I lifted the now locked bag. 'And you may
expect me at the same hour on Thursday morning.'
Then I took my departure, accompanied to the door by the urbane
individual who had received me.
The telegram which I at once dispatched was not couched precisely
as he would have dictated, I allow. And he would have been
considerably surprised at my sending off another, later in the day,
to Bluestone & Fagg's telegraphic address, in these words:
'Unavoidably detained till Thursday morning.--SCHMIDT.'
This was after the arrival of a wire from home in answer to mine.
By Thursday morning I had had time to receive a letter from Herr
Wilhelm, and to secure the services of a certain noted detective,
accompanied by whom I presented myself at the appointed hour at 909.
But my companion's services were not required. The birds had flown,
warned by the same traitor in our camp through whom the first hints
of the new patent had leaked out. With him it was easy to deal, poor
wretch! but the clever rogues who had employed him and personated the
members of the honourable firm of Bluestone & Fagg were never
The negotiation was successfully carried out. The experience I had
gone through left me a wiser man. It is to be hoped, too, that the
owners of 909 Blackfriars Street were more cautious in the future as
to whom they let their premises to when temporarily vacant. The
repainting of the doorway, etc., at the tenant's own expense had
already roused some slight suspicion.
It is needless to add that Nos. 7 and 13 had been duly received on
I have never known the true history of that extraordinary night.
Was it all a dream, or a prophetic vision of warning? Or was it in
any sense true? Had I, in some inexplicable way, left my own town
earlier than I intended, and really travelled in a slow train?
Or had the man with a cough, for his own nefarious purposes,
mesmerised or hypnotised me, and to some extent succeeded? I cannot
say. Sometimes, even, I ask myself if I am quite sure that there ever
was such a person as 'the man with the cough'!