The Mystery of the Poisoned Dish of Mushrooms
by Ernest Bramah
Some time during November of a recent year, newspaper readers who
are in the habit of being attracted by curious items of quite
negligible importance might have followed the account of the tragedy
of a St. Abbots schoolboy which appeared in the Press under the
headings, "Fatal Dish of Mushrooms," "Are Toadstools Distinguishable?"
or some similarly alluring title.
The facts relating to the death of Charlie Winpole were simple and
straightforward and the jury sworn to the business of investigating
the cause had no hesitation in bringing in a verdict in accordance
with the medical evidence. The witnesses who had anything really
material to contribute were only two in number, Mrs. Dupreen and
Robert Wilberforce Slark, M. D. A couple of hours would easily have
disposed of every detail of an inquiry that was generally admitted to
have been a pure formality, had not the contention of an interested
person delayed the inevitable conclusion by forcing the necessity of
Irene Dupreen testified that she was the widow of a physician and
lived at Hazlehurst, Chesset Avenue, St. Abbots, with her brother.
The deceased was their nephew, an only child and an orphan, and was
aged twelve. He was a ward of Chancery and the Court had appointed
her as guardian, with an adequate provision for the expenses of his
bringing up and education. That allowance would, of course, cease
with her nephew's death.
Coming to the particulars of the case, Mrs. Dupreen explained that
for a few days the boy had been suffering from a rather severe cold.
She had not thought it necessary to call in a doctor, recognising it
as a mild form of influenza. She had kept him from school and
restricted him to his bedroom. On the previous Wednesday, the day
before his death, he was quite convalescent, with a good pulse and a
normal temperature, but as the weather was cold she decided still to
keep him in bed as a measure of precaution. He had a fair appetite,
but did not care for the lunch they had, and so she had asked him,
before going out in the afternoon, if there was anything that he would
especially fancy for his dinner. He had thereupon expressed a
partiality for mushrooms, of which he was always very fond.
"I laughed and pulled his ear," continued the witness, much
affected at her recollection, "and asked him if that was his idea of a
suitable dish for an invalid. But I didn't think that it really
mattered in the least then, so I went to several shops about them.
They all said that mushrooms were over, but finally I found a few at
Lackington's, the greengrocer in Park Road. I bought only
half-a-pound; no one but Charlie among us cared for them and I thought
that they were already very dry and rather dear."
The connection between the mushrooms and the unfortunate boy's
death seemed inevitable. When Mrs. Dupreen went upstairs after dinner
she found Charlie apparently asleep and breathing soundly. She quietly
removed the tray and without disturbing him turned out the gas and
closed the door. In the middle of the night she was suddenly and
startlingly awakened by something. For a moment she remained confused,
listening. Then a curious sound coming from the direction of the
boy's bedroom drew her there. On opening the door she was horrified
to see her nephew lying on the floor in a convulsed attitude. His eyes
were open and widely dilated; one hand clutched some bed-clothes
which he had dragged down with him, and the other still grasped the
empty water-bottle that had been by his side. She called loudly for
help and her brother and then the servant appeared. She sent the
latter to a medicine cabinet for mustard leaves and told her brother
to get in the nearest available doctor. She had already lifted Charlie
on to the bed again. Before the doctor arrived, which was in about
half-an-hour, the boy was dead.
In answer to a question the witness stated that she had not seen
her nephew between the time she removed the tray and when she found
him ill. The only other person who had seen him within a few hours of
his death had been her brother, Philip Loudham, who had taken up
Charlie's dinner. When he came down again he had made the remark:
"The youngster seems lively enough now."
Dr. Slark was the next witness. His evidence was to the effect that
about three-fifteen on the Thursday morning he was hurriedly called
to Hazlehurst by a gentleman whom he now knew to be Mr. Philip
Loudham. He understood that the case was one of convulsions and went
provided for that contingency, but on his arrival he found the patient
already dead. From his own examination and from what he was told he
had no hesitation in diagnosing the case as one of agaric poisoning.
He saw no reason to suspect any of the food except the mushrooms, and
all the symptoms pointed to bhurine, the deadly principle of Amanita
Bhuroides, or the Black Cap, as it was popularly called, from its
fancied resemblance to the head-dress assumed by a judge in passing
death sentence, coupled with its sinister and well-merited reputation.
It was always fatal.
Continuing his evidence, Dr. Slark explained that only after
maturity did the Black Cap develop its distinctive appearance. Up to
that stage it had many of the characteristics of Agaricus
campestris, or common mushroom. It was true that the gills were
paler than one would expect to find, and there were other slight
differences of a technical kind, but all might easily be overlooked in
the superficial glance of the gatherer. The whole subject of edible
and noxious fungi was a difficult one and at present very imperfectly
understood. He, personally, very much doubted if true mushrooms were
ever responsible for the cases of poisoning which one occasionally
saw attributed to them. Under scientific examination he was satisfied
that all would resolve themselves into poisoning by one or other of
the many noxious fungi that could easily be mistaken for the edible
varieties. It was possible to prepare an artificial bed, plant it with
proper spawn and be rewarded by a crop of mushroom-like growth of
undoubted virulence. On the other hand, the injurious constituents of
many poisonous fungi passed off in the process of cooking. There was
no handy way of discriminating between the good and the bad except by
the absolute identification of species. The salt test and the
silver-spoon test were all nonsense and the sooner they were forgotten
the better. Apparent mushrooms that were found in woods or growing in
the vicinity of trees or hedges should always be regarded with the
Dr. Slark's evidence concluded the case so far as the subpoenaed
witnesses were concerned, but before addressing the jury the coroner
announced that another person had expressed a desire to be heard.
There was no reason why they should not accept any evidence that was
tendered, and as the applicant's name had been mentioned in the case
it was only right that he should have the opportunity of replying
Mr. Lackington thereupon entered the witness-box and was sworn. He
stated that he was a fruiterer and greengrocer, carrying on a business
in Park Road, St. Abbots. He remembered Mrs. Dupreen coming to his
shop two days before. The basket of mushrooms from which she was
supplied consisted of a small lot of about six pounds, brought in by a
farmer from a neighbouring village, with whom he had frequent
dealings. All had been disposed of and in no other case had illness
resulted. It was a serious matter to him as a tradesman to have his
name associated with a case of this kind. That was why he had come
forward. Not only with regard to mushrooms, but as a general result,
people would become shy of dealing with him if it was stated that he
sold unwholesome goods.
The coroner, intervening at this point, remarked that he might as
well say that he would direct the jury that, in the event of their
finding the deceased to have died from the effects of the mushrooms
or anything contained among them, there was no evidence other than
that the occurrence was one of pure mischance.
Mr. Lackington expressed his thanks for the assurance, but said
that a bad impression would still remain. He had been in business in
St. Abbots for twenty-seven years and during that time he had handled
some tons of mushrooms without a single complaint before. He admitted,
in answer to the interrogation, that he had not actually examined
every mushroom of the half-pound sold to Mrs. Dupreen, but he weighed
them, and he was confident that if a toadstool had been among them he
would have detected it. Might it not be a cooking utensil that was the
Dr. Slark shook his head and was understood to say that he could
not accept the suggestion.
Continuing, Mr. Lackington then asked whether it was not possible
that the deceased, doubtless an inquiring, adventurous boy and as
mischievous as most of his kind, feeling quite well again and being
confined to the house, had got up in his aunt's absence and taken
something that would explain this sad affair? They had heard of a
medicine cabinet. What about tablets of trional or veronal or
something of that sort that might perhaps look like sweets? It was
all very well for Dr. Slark to laugh, but this matter was a serious
one for the witness.
Dr. Slark apologised for smiling—he had not laughed-and gravely
remarked that the matter was a serious one for all concerned in the
inquiry. He admitted that the reference to trional and veronal in this
connection had, for the moment, caused him to forget the surroundings.
He would suggest that in the circumstances perhaps the coroner would
think it desirable to order a more detailed examination of the body to
After some further discussion the coroner, while remarking that in
most cases an analysis was quite unnecessary, decided that in view of
what had transpired it would be more satisfactory to have a complete
autopsy carried out. The inquest was accordingly adjourned.
A week later most of those who had taken part in the first inquiry
assembled again in the room of the St. Abbots Town Hall which did
duty for the Coroner's Court. Only one witness was heard and his
evidence was brief and conclusive.
Dr. Herbert Ingpenny, consulting pathologist to St. Martin's
Hospital, stated that he had made an examination of the contents of
the stomach and viscera of the deceased. He found evidence of the
presence of the poison bhurine in sufficient quantity to account for
the boy's death, and the symptoms, as described by Dr. Slark and Mrs.
Dupreen in the course of the previous hearing, were consistent with
bhurine poisoning. Bhurine did not occur naturally except as a
constituent of Amanita Bhuroides. One-fifth of a grain would be fatal
to an adult; in other words, a single fungus in the dish might poison
three people. A child, especially if experiencing the effects of a
weakening illness, would be even more susceptible. No other harmful
substance was present.
Dr. Ingpenny concluded by saying that he endorsed his colleague's
general remarks on the subject of mushrooms and other fungi, and the
jury, after a plain direction from the coroner, forthwith brought in
a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence.
It was a foregone conclusion with anyone who knew the facts or had
followed the evidence. Yet five days later Philip Loudham was arrested
suddenly and charged with the astounding crime of having murdered his
It is at this point that Max Carrados makes his first appearance in
the Winpole tragedy.
A few days after the arrest, being in a particularly urbane frame
of mind himself, and having several hours with no demands on them that
could not be fitly transferred to his subordinates, Mr. Carlyle looked
round for some social entertainment and with a benevolent
condescension very opportunely remembered the existence of his niece
living at Groat's Heath.
"Elsie will be delighted," he assented to the suggestion. "She is
rather out of the world up there, I imagine. Now if I get there at
four, put in a couple of hours."
Mrs. Bellmark was certainly pleased, but she appeared to be still
more surprised, and behind that lay an effervescence of excitement
that even to Mr. Carlyle's complacent self-esteem seemed out of
proportion to the occasion. The reason could not be long withheld.
"Did you meet anyone, Uncle Louis?" was almost her first inquiry.
"Did I meet anyone?" repeated Mr. Carlyle with his usual precision.
"Um, no, I cannot say that I met anyone particular. Of course—"
"I've had a visitor and he's coming back again for tea. Guess who
it is? But you never will. Mr. Carrados."
"Max Carrados!" exclaimed her uncle in astonishment. "You don't say
so. Why, bless my soul, Elsie, I'd almost forgotten that you knew
him. It seems years ago What on earth is Max doing in Groat's Heath?"
"That is the extraordinary thing about it," replied Mrs. Bellmark.
"He said that he had come up here to look for mushrooms."
"Yes; that was what he said. He asked me if I knew of any woods
about here that he could go into and I told him of the one down
"But don't you know, my dear child," exclaimed Mr. Carlyle, "that
mushrooms growing in woods or even near trees are always to be
regarded with suspicion? They may look like mushrooms, but they are
"I didn't know," admitted Mrs. Bellmark; "but if they are, I
imagine Mr. Carrados will know."
"It scarcely sounds like it—going to a wood, you know. As it
happens, I have been looking up the subject lately. But, in any case,
you say that he is coming back here?"
"He asked me if he might call on his way home for a cup of tea,
and of course I said, 'Of course."'
"Of course," also said Mr. Carlyle. "Motoring, I suppose."
"Yes, a big grey car. He had Mr. Parkinson with him."
Mr. Caryle was slightly puzzled, as he frequently was by his
friend's proceedings, but it was not his custom to dwell on any topic
that involved an admission of inadequacy. The subject of Carrados and
his eccentric quest was therefore dismissed until the sound of a
formidable motor car dominating the atmosphere of the quiet suburban
road was almost immediately followed by the entrance of the blind
amateur. With a knowing look towards his niece Carlyle had taken up a
position at the farther end of the room, where he remained in almost
Carrados acknowledged the hostess's smiling greeting and then
nodded familiarly in the direction of the playful guest.
"Well, Louis," he remarked, "we've caught each other."
Mrs. Bellmark was perceptibly startled, but rippled musically at
the failure of the conspiracy.
"Extraordinary," admitted Mr. Carlyle, coming forward.
"Not so very," was the dry reply. "Your friendly little maid"—to
Mrs. Bellmark—"mentioned your visitor as she brought me in."
"Is it a fact, Max," demanded Mr. Carlyle, "that you have been to
-- er—Stonecut Wood to get mushrooms?"
"Mrs. Bellmark told you?"
"Yes. And did you succeed?"
"Parkinson found something that he assured me looked just like
Mr. Carlyle bestowed a triumphant glance on his niece.
"I. should very much like to see these so-called mushrooms. Do you
know, it may be rather a good thing for you that I met you."
"It is always a good thing for me to meet you," replied Carrados.
"You shall see them. They are in the car. Perhaps I shall be able to
take you back to town?"
"If you are going very soon. No, no, Elsie "—in response to Mrs.
Bellmark's protesting "Oh !"—"I don't want to influence Max, but I
really must tear myself away the moment after tea. I still have to
clear up some work on a rather important case I am just completing.
It is quite appropriate to the occasion, too. Do you know all about
the Winpole business, Max?"
"No," admitted Carrados, without any appreciable show of interest.
"Do you, Louis?"
"Yes," responded Mr. Carlyle with crisp assurance, "yes, I think
that I may claim I do. In fact it was I who obtained the evidence that
induced the authorities to take up the case against Loudham."
"Oh, do tell us all about it," exclaimed Elsie. "I have only seen
something in the indicator.
Mr. Carlyle shook his head, hemmed and looked wise, and then gave
"But not a word of this outside, Elsie," he stipulated. "Some of
the evidence won't be given until next week and it might be serious."
"Not a syllable," assented the lady. "How exciting! Go on."
"Well, you know, of course, that the coroner's jury—very
rightly, according to the evidence before them—brought in a verdict
of accidental death. In the circumstances it was a reflection on the
business methods or the care or the knowledge or whatever one may
decide of the man who sold the mushrooms, a greengrocer called
Lackington. I have seen Lackington, and with a rather remarkable per
tinacity in the face of the evidence he insists that he could not have
made this fatal blunder-that in weighing so small a quantity as
half-a-pound, at any rate, he would at once have spotted anything that
wasn't quite all right."
"But the doctor said, Uncle Louis—"
"Yes, my dear Elsie, we know what the doctor said, but, rightly or
wrongly, Lackington backs his experience and practical knowledge
against theoretical generalities. In ordinary circumstances nothing
more would have come of it, but it happens that Lackington has for a
lodger a young man on the staff of the local paper, and for a
neighbour a pharmaceutical chemist. These three men talked things
over more than once—Lackington restive under the damage that had
been done to his reputation, the journalist stimulating and keen for
a newspaper sensation, the chemist contributing his quota of practical
knowledge. At the end of a few days a fabric of circumstance had been
woven which might be serious or innocent according to the further
development of the suggestion and the manner in which it could be met.
These were the chief points of the attack:
"Mrs. Dupreen's allowance for the care and maintenance of Charlie
Winpole ceased with his death, as she had told the jury. What she did
not mention was that the deceased boy would have come into an
inheritance of some fifteen thousand pounds at age and that this
fortune now fell in equal shares to the lot of his two nearest
relatives—Mrs. Dupreen and her brother, Philip.
"Mrs. Dupreen was by no means in easy circumstances. Philip Loudham
was equally poor and had no assured income. He had tried several
forms of business and now, at about thirty-five, was spending his
time chiefly in writing poems and painting watercolours, none of
which brought him any money so far as one could learn.
"Philip Loudham, it was admitted, took up the food round which the
"Philip Loudham was shown to be in debt and urgently in need of
money. There was supposed to be a lady in the case—I hope I need
say no more, Elsie."
"Who is she?" asked Mrs. Bellmark with poignant interest.
"We do not know yet. A married woman, it is rumoured, I regret to
say. It scarcely matters—certainly not to you, Elsie. To continue:
"Mrs. Dupreen got back from her shopping in the afternoon before
her nephew's death at about three o'clock. In less than half-an-hour
Loudham left the house and going to the station took a return ticket
to Euston. He went by the 3:41 and was back in St. Abbots at 5:43.
That would give him barely an hour in town for whatever business he
transacted. What was that business?
"The chemist next door supplied the information that although
bhurine only occurs in nature in this one form, it can be isolated
from the other constituents of the fungus and dealt with like any
other liquid poison. But it was a very exceptional commodity, having
no commercial uses and probably not half-a-dozen retail chemists in
London had it on their shelves. He himself had never stocked it and
never been asked for it.
"With this suggestive but by no means convincing evidence,"
continued Mr. Carlyle, "the young journalist went to the editor of The
Morning Indicator, to which he acted as St. Abbots correspondent, and
asked him whether he cared to take up the inquiry as a 'scoop.' The
local trio had carried it as far as they were able. The editor of the
Indicator decided to look into it and asked me to go on with the
case. This is how my connection with it arose."
"Oh, that's how newspapers get to know things?" commented Mrs.
Bellmark. "I often wondered."
"It is one way," assented her uncle.
"An American development," contributed Carrados. "It is a little
"It must be awful," said the hostess. "And the police methods! In
the plays that come from the States—" The entrance of the friendly
hand-maiden, bringing tea, was responsible for the platitudinous
wave. The conversation, in deference to Mr. Carlyle's scruples,
marked time until the door closed on her departure.
"My first business," continued the inquiry agent, after making
himself useful at the table, "was naturally to discover among the
chemists in London whether a sale of bhurine coincided with Philip
Loudham's hasty visit. If this line failed, the very foundation of the
edifice of hypothetical guilt gave way; if it succeeded . . . Well, it
did succeed. In a street off Caistor Square, Tottenham Court Road—
Trenion Street we found a man called Lightcraft, who at once
remembered making such a sale. As bhurine is a specified poison, the
transaction would have to be entered, and Lightcraft's book contained
this unassailable piece of evidence. On Wednesday, the sixth of this
month, a man signing his name as 'J. D. Williams,' and giving '25
Chalcott Place' as the address, purchased four drachms of bhurine.
Lightcraft fixed the time as about half-past four. I went to 25
Chalcott Place and found it to be a small boarding-house. No one of
the name of Williams was known there."
If Mr. Caryle's tone of finality went for anything, Philip Loudham
was as good as pinioned. Mrs. Bellmark supplied the expected note of
"Just fancy!" was the form it took.
"Under the Act the purchaser must be known to the chemist?"
"Yes," agreed Mr. Carlyle; "and there our friend Lightcraft may
have let himself in for a little trouble. But, as he says-and we must
admit that there is something in it-who is to define what 'known to'
actually means? A hundred people are known to him as regular or
occasional customers and he has never heard their names; a score of
names and addresses represent to him regular or occasional customers
whom he has never seen. This 'J. D. Williams' came in wi(h an easy air
and appeared at all events to know Lightcraft. The face seemed not
unfamiliar and Lightcraft was perhaps a little too facile in assuming
that he did know him. Well, well, Max, I can understand the
circumstances. Competition is keen-especially against the private
chemist—and one may give offence and lose a customer. We must all
"Except Charlie Winpole," occurred to Max Carrados, but he left the
retort unspoken. "Did you happen to come across any inquiry for
bhurine at other shops?" he asked instead.
"No," replied Carlyle, "no, I did not. It would have been an
indication then, of course, but after finding the actual place the
others would have no significance. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, nothing. Only don't you think that he was rather lucky to get
it first shot if our St. Abbots authority was right?"
"Yes, yes; perhaps he was. But that is of no interest to us now.
The great thing is that a peculiarly sinister and deliberate murder
is brought home to its perpetrator. When you consider the
circumstances, upon my soul, I don't know that I have ever unmasked a
more ingenious and cold-blooded ruffian."
"Then he has confessed, uncle?"
"Confessed, my dear Elsie," said Mr. Carlyle, with a tolerant
smile, "no, he has not confessed-men of that type never do. On the
contrary, he asserted his outraged innocence with a considerable show
of indignation. What else was he to do? Then he was asked to account
for his movements between 4.15 and 5 o'clock on that afternoon. Egad,
the fellow was so cocksure of the safety of his plans that he hadn't
even taken the trouble to think that out.. First he denied that he
had been away from St. Abbots at all. Then he remembered. He had run
down to town in the afternoon for a few things.—What things?—
Well, chiefly stationery.—Where had he bought it?—At a shop in
Oxford Street; he did not know the name.—Would he be able to point
it out?—He thought so.—Could he identify the attendant?—No,
he could not remember him in the least.—Had he the bill?—No, he
never kept small bills.—How much was the amount?—About three or
four shillings.—And the return fare to Euston was
three-and-eightpence. Was it not rather an extravagant journey?—He
could only say that he did so.—Three or four shillings' worth of
stationery would be a moderate parcel. Did he have it sent?—No, he
took it with him. —Three or four shillings' worth of stationery in
his pocket?— No, it was in a parcel.—Too large to go in his
pocket?—Yes.— Two independent witnesses would testify that he
carried no parcel. They were townsmen of St. Abbots who had travelled.
down in the same carriage with him. Did he still persist that he had
been engaged in buying stationery? Then he declined to say anything
further—about the best thing he could do."
"And Lightcraft identifies him?"
"Um, well, not quite so positively as we might wish. You see, a
fortnight has elapsed. The man who bought the poison wore a moustache
-- put on, of course—but Lightcraft will say that there is a
resemblance and the type of the two men the same."
"I foresee that Mr. Lightcraft's accommodating memory for faces
will come in for rather severe handling in cross-examination," said
Carrados, as though he rather enjoyed the prospect.
"It will balance Mr. Philip Loudham's unfortunate forgetfulness
for localities, Max," rejoined Mr. Carlyle, delivering the thrust
with his own inimitable aplomb.
Carrados rose with smiling acquiescence to the shrewdness of the
"I will be quite generous, Mrs. Bellmark," he observed. "I will
take him away now, with the memory of that lingering in your ears—
all my crushing retorts unspoken."
"Five-thirty, egad!" exclaimed Mr. Carlyle, displaying his imposing
gold watch. "We must—or, at all events, I must. You can think of
them in the car, Max."
"I do hope you won't come to blows," murmured the lady. Then she
added: "When will the real trial come on, Uncle Louis?"
"The Sessions? Oh, early in January."
"I must remember to look out for it." Possibly she had some faint
idea of Uncle Louis taking a leading part in the proceedings. At any
rate Mr. Carlyle looked pleased, but when adieux had been taken and
the door was closed Mrs. Bellmark was left wondering what the enigma
of Max Carrados's departing smile had been.
Before they had covered many furlongs Mr. Carlyle suddenly
remembered the suspected mushrooms and demanded to see them. A very
moderate collection was produced for his inspection. He turned them
"The gills are too pale for true mushrooms, Max," he declared
sapiently. "Don't take any risk. Let me drop them out of the window?"
"No." Carrados's hand quietly arrested the threatened action. "No;
I have a use for them, Louis, but it is not culinary. You are quite
right; they are rank poison. I only want to study them for.
"—a case I am interested in."
"A case! You don't mean to say that there is another mushroom
"No; it is the same."
"But—but you said—"
"That I did not know all about it? Quite true. Nor do I yet. But I
know rather more than I did then."
"Do you mean that Scotland Yard—"
"No, Louis." Mr. Carrados appeared to find something rather amusing
in the situation. "I am for the other side."
"The other side! And you let me babble out the whole case for the
prosecution! Well, really, Max!"
"But you are out of it now? The Public Prosecutor has taken it up?"
"True, true. But, for all that, I feel devilishly bad."
"Then I will give you all the whole case for the defence and so we
shall be quits. In fact I am relying on you to help me with it."
"With the defence? I-after supplying the evidence that the Public
Prosecutor is acting on?"
"Why not? You don't want to hang Philip Loudham—specially if he
happens to be innocent—do you?"
"I don't want to hang anyone," protested Mr. Carlyle. "At least —
not—as a private individual."
"Quite so. Well, suppose you and I between ourselves find out the
actual facts of the case and decide what is to be done. The more
usual course is for the prosecution to exaggerate all that tells
against the accused and to contradict everything in his favour; for
the defence to advance fictitious evidence of innocence and to lie
roundly on everything that endangers his client; while on both sides
witnesses are piled up to bemuse the jury into accepting the desired
version. That does not always make fQr impartiality or for justice. .
. . Now you and I are two reasonable men, Louis—"
"I hope so," admitted Mr. Carlyle. "I hope so."
"You can give away the case for the prosecution and I will expose
the weakness of the defence, so, between us, we may arrive at the
"It strikes me as a deuced irregular proceeding. But I am curious
to hear the defence all the same."
"You are welcome to all of it that there yet is. An alibi, of
"Ah!" commented Mr. Carlyle with expression.
"So recently as yesterday a lady came hurriedly, and with a certain
amount of secrecy, to see me. She came on the strength of the
introduction afforded by a mutual acquaintanceship with Fromow, the
Greek professor. When we were alone she asked me, besought me, in
fact, to tell her what to do. A few hours before Mrs. Dupreen had
rushed across London to her with the tale of young Loudham's arrest.
Then out came the whole story. This woman—well, her name is
Guestling, Louis—lives a little way down in Surrey and is married.
Her husband, according to her own account—and I have certainly
heard a hint about it elsewhere-leads her a studiedly outrageous
existence; an admired silken-mannered gentleman in society, a
tolerable polecat at home, one infers. About a year ago Mrs. Guestling
made the acquaintance of Loudham, who was staying in that
neighbourhood painting his pretty unsaleable country lanes and golden
sunsets. The inevitable, or, to accept the lady's protestations, half
the inevitable, followed. Guestling, who adds an insatiable jealousy
to his other domestic virtues, vetoed the new acquaintance and
thenceforward the two met hurriedly and furtively in town. Had either
of them any money they might have snatched their destinies from the
hands of Fate and gone off together, but she has nothing and he has
nothing and both, I suppose, are poor weak mortals when it comes to
doing anything courageous and outright in this censorious world. So
they drifted, drifting but not yet wholly wrecked."
"A formidable incentive for a weak and desperate man to secure a
fortune by hook or crook, Max," said Carlyle drily.
"That is the motive that I wish to make you a present of. But, as
you will insist on your side, it is also a motive for a weak and
foolish couple to steal every brief opportunity of a secret meeting.
On Wednesday, the sixth, the lady was returning home from a visit to
some friends in the Midlands. She saw in the occasion an opportunity
and on the morning of the sixth a message appeared in the personal
column of The Daily Telegraph—their usual channel of communication
-- making an assignation. That much can be established by the
irrefutable evidence of the newspaper. Philip Loudham kept the
appointment and for half-an-hour this miserably happy pair sat holding
each other's hands in a dreary deserted waiting-room of Bishop's Road
Station. That half-hour was from 4.14 to 4.45. Then Loudham saw Mrs.
Guestling into Praed Street Station for Victoria, returned to Euston
and just caught the 5.7 St. Abbots."
"Can this be corroborated—especially as regards the precise
time they were together?"
"Not a word of it. They chose the waiting-room at Bishop's Road
for seclusion and apparently they got it. Not a soul even looked in
while they were there."
"Then, by Jupiter, Max," exclaimed Mr. Carlyle with emotion, "you
have hanged your client!"
Carrados could not restrain a smile at his friend's tragic note of
"Well, let us examine the rope," he said with his usual
"Here it is." It was a trivial enough shred of evidence that the
inquiry agent took from his pocket-book and put into the expectant
hand; in point of fact, the salmon-coloured ticket of a "London
General" motor omnibus.
"Royal Oak-the stage nearest Paddington—to Tottenham Court Road
-- the point nearest Trenion Street," he added significantly.
"Yes," acquiesced Carrados, taking it.
"The man who bought the bhurine dropped that ticket on the floor of
the shop. He left the door open and Lightcraft followed him to close
it. That is how he came to pick the ticket up, and he remembers that
it was not there before. Then he threw it into a wastepaper basket
underneath the counter, and that is where we found it when I called
"Mr Lightcraft's memory fascinates me, Louis;" was the blind man's
unruffled comment. "Let us drop in and have a chat with him?"
"Do you really think that there is anything more to be got in that
quarter?" queried Carlyle dubiously. "I have turned him inside out,
you may be sure."
"True; but we approach Mr. Lightcraft from different angles. You
were looking for evidence to prove young Loudham guilty. I am looking
for evidence to prove him innocent."
"Very well, Max," acquiesced his companion. "Only don't blame me if
it turns out as deuced awkward for your man as Mrs. G. has done.
Shall I tell you what a counsel may be expected to put to the jury as
the explanation of that lady's evidence?"
"No, thanks," said Carrados half sleepily from his corner. "I know.
I told her so."
"Oh, very well. I needn't inform you, then," and debarred of that
satisfaction Mr. Carlyle withdrew himself into his own corner, where
he nursed an indulgent annoyance against the occasional perversity of
Max Carrados until the stopping of the car and the variegated
attractions displayed in a shop window told him where they were.
Mr. Lightcraft made no pretence of being glad to see his visitors.
For some time he declined to open his mouth at all on the subject that
had brought them there, repeating with parrot-like obstinacy to every
remark on their part, "The matter is sub judice. I am unable to say
anything further," until Mr. Carlyle longed to box his ears and bring
him to his senses. The ears happened to be rather prominent, for they
glowed with sensitiveness, and the chemist was otherwise a lank and
pallid man, whose transparent ivory skin and well-defined moustache
gave him something of the appearance of a waxwork.
"At all events," interposed Carrados, when his friend turned from
the maddening reiteration in despair, "you don't mind telling me a
few things about bhurine—apart from this particular connection?"
"I am very busy," and Mr. Lightcraft, with his back towards the
shop, did something superfluous among the bottles on a shelf.
"I imagine that the time of Mr. Max Carrados, of whom even you may
possibly have heard, is as valuable as yours, my good friend," put in
Mr. Carlyle with scandalised dignity.
"Mr. Carrados?" Lightcraft turned and regarded the blind man with
interest. "I did not know. But you must recognise the unenviable
position in which I am put by this gentleman's interference."
"It is his profession, you know," said Carrados mildly, "and, in
any case, it would certainly have been someone. Why not help me to
get you out of the position?"
"How is that possible?"
"If the case against Philip Loudham breaks down and he is
discharged at the next hearing you would not be called upon further."
"That would certainly be a mitigation. But why should it break
"Suppose you let me try the taste of bhurine," suggested Carrados.
"You have some left?"
"Max, Max!" cried Mr. Carlyle's warning voice, "aren't you aware
that the stuff is a deadly poison? One-fifth of a grain—"
"Mr. Lightcraft will know how to administer it." Apparently Mr.
Lightcraft did. He filled a graduated measure with cold water, dipped
a slender glass rod into a bottle that was not kept on the shelves,
and with it stirred the water. Then into another vessel of water he
dropped a single spot of the dilution.
"One in a hundred and twenty-five thousand, Mr. Carrados," he said,
offering him the mixture.
Carrados just touched the liquid with his lips, considered the
impression and then wiped his mouth.
"Now for the smell."
The unstoppered bottle was handed to him and he took in its
"Stewed mushrooms!" was his comment. "What is it used for, Mr.
"Nothing that I know of."
"But your customer must have stated an application."
The pallid chemist flushed a little at the recollection of that
"Yes," he conceded. "There is a good deal about the whole business
that is still a mystery to me. The man came in shortly after I had
lit up and nodded familiarly as he said: 'Good-evening, Mr.
Lightcraft.' I naturally assumed that he was someone whom I could not
quite place. 'I want another half-pound of nitre,' he said, and I
served him. Had he bought nitre before, I have since tried to recall
and I cannot. It is a common enough article and I sell it every day. I
have a poor memory for faces I am willing to admit. It has hampered me
in business many a time. We chatted about nothing in particular as I
did up the parcel. After he had paid and turned to go he looked back
again. 'By the way, do you happen to have any bhurine?' he inquired.
Unfortunately I had a few ounces. 'Of course you know its nature?' I
cautioned him. 'May I ask what you require it for?' He nodded and held
up the parcel of nitre he had in his hand. 'The same thing,' he
replied, 'taxidermy.' Then I supplied him with half-an-ounce."
"As a matter of fact, is it used in taxidermy?"
"It does not seem to be. I have made inquiry and no one knows of
it. Nitre is largely used, and some of the dangerous poisons—
arsenic and mercuric chloride, for instance—but not this. No, it
was a subterfuge."
"Now the poison book, if you please."
Mr. Lightcraft produced it without demur and the blind man ran his
finger along the indicated line.
"Yes; this is quite satisfactory. Is it a fact, Mr. Lightcraft,
that not half-a-dozen chemists in London stock this particular
substance? We are told that"
"I can quite believe it. I certainly don't know of another."
"Strangely enough, your customer of the sixth seems to have come
straight here. Do you issue a price-list?"
"Only a localised one of certain photographic goods. Bhurine is
"You can suggest no reason why Mr. Phillip Laudham should be
inspired to presume that he would be able to procure this unusual drug
from you? You have never corresponded with him nor come across his
name or address before?"
"No. As far as I can recollect, I know nothing whatever of him."
"Then as yet you must assume that it was pure chance. By the way,
Mr. Lightcraft, how does it come that you stock this rare poison,
which has no commercial use and for which there is no demand?"
The chemist permitted himself to smile at the blunt terms of the
"In the ordinary way I don't stock it," he replied. "This is a
small quantity which I had over from my own use."
"Your own use? Oh, then it has a use after all?"
"No, scarcely that. Some time ago it leaked out in a corner of the
photographic world that a great revolution in colour photography was
on the point of realisation by the use of bhurine in one of the
processes. I, among others, at once took it up. Unfortunately it was
another instance of a discovery that is correct in theory breaking
down in practice. Nothing came of it."
"Dear, dear me," said Carrados softly, with sympathetic
understanding in his voice; "what a pity. You are interested in
photography, Mr. Lightcraft?"
"It is the hobby of my life, sir. Of course most chemists dabble in
it as a part of their business, but I devote all my spare time to
experimenting. Colour photography in particular."
"Colour photography; yes. It has a great future. This bhurine
process— I suppose it would have been of considerable financial
value if it had worked?"
Mr. Lightcraft laughed quietly and rubbed his hands together. For
the moment he had forgotten Loudham and the annoying case and lived in
"I should rather say it would, Mr. Carrados," he replied. "It would
have been the most epoch-marking thing since Gaudin produced the
first dry plate in '54. Consider it-the elaborate processes of
Dyndale, Eiloff and Jupp reduced to the simplicity of a single contact
print giving the entire range of chromatic variation. Financially it
will scarcely bear thinking about by artificial light."
"Was it widely taken up?" asked Carrados.
"The bhurine idea?"
"Yes. You spoke of the secret leaking out. Were many in the know?"
"Not at all. The group of initiates was only a small one and I
should imagine that, on reflection, every man kept it to himself. It
certainly never became public. Then when the theory was definitely
exploded, of course no one took any further interest in it."
"Were all who were working on the same lines known to you, Mr.
"Well, yes; more or less I suppose they would be," said the chemist
thoughtfully. "You see, the man who stumbled on the formula was a
member of the Iris—a society of those interested in this subject,
of which I was the secretary—and I don't think it ever got beyond
"How long ago was this?"
"A year—eighteen months. It led to unpleasantness and broke up
"Suppose it happened to come to your knowledge that one of the
original circle was quietly pursuing his experiments on the same
lines with bhurine—what should you infer from it?"
Mr. Lightcraft considered. Then he regarded Carrados with a sharp,
almost a startled, glance and then he fell to biting his nails in
"It would depend on who it was," he replied.
"Was there by any chance one who was unknown to you by sight but
whose address you were familiar with?"
"Paulden!" exclaimed Mr. Lightcraft. "Paulden, by heaven! I do
believe you're right. He was the ablest of the lot and he never came
to the meetings—a corresponding member. Southem, the original man
who struck the idea, knew Paulden and told him of it. Southem was an
impractical genius who would never be able to make anything work.
Paulden—yes, Paulden it was who finally persuaded Southem that
there was nothing in it. He sent a report to the same effect to be
read at one of the meetings. So Paulden is taking up bhurine again—
"Where does he live?" inquired Carrados.
"Ivor House, Wilmington Lane, Enstead. As secretary I have written
there a score of times."
"It is on the Great Western-Paddington," commented the blind man.
"Still, can you get out the addresses of the others in the know, Mr.
"Certainly, certainly. I have the book of membership. But I am
convinced now that Paulden was the man. I believe that I did actually
see him once some years ago, but he has grown a moustache since."
"If you had been convinced of that a few days ago it would have
saved us some awkwardness," volunteered Mr. Carlyle with a little
"When you came before, Mr. Carlyle, you were so convinced yourself
of it being Mr. Loudham that you wouldn't hear of me thinking of
anyone else," retorted the chemist. "You will bear me out so that I
never positively identified him as my customer. Now here is the book.
Southem, Potter's Bar. Voynich, Islington. Crawford, Streatham Hill.
Brown, Southampton Row. Vickers, Clapham Common. Tidey, Fulham. All
those I knew quite well-associated with them week after week. Williams
I didn't know so closely. He is dead. Bigwood has gone to Canada. I
don't think anyone else was in the bhurine craze— as we called it
"But now? What would you call it now?" queried Carrados.
"Now? Well, I hope that you will get me out of having to turn up at
court and that sort of thing, Mr. Carrados. If Paulden is going on
experimenting with bhurine again on the sly I shall want all my spare
time to do the same myself!"
A few hours later the two investigators rang the bell of a
substantial detached house in Enstead, the little country town twenty
miles out in Berkshire, and asked to see Mr. Paulden.
"It is no good taking Lightcraft to identify the man," Carrados had
decided. "If Paulden denied it, our friend's obliging record in that
line would put him out of court."
"I maintain an open mind on the subject," Carlyle had replied.
"Lightcraft is admittedly a very bending reed, but there is no reason
why he should not have been right before and wrong to-day."
They were shown into a ceremonial reception-room to wait. Mr.
Carlyle diagnosed snug circumstances and the tastes of an indoors,
comfort-loving man in the surroundings.
The door opened, but it was to admit a middle-aged matronly lady
with good-humour and domestic capability proclaimed by every detail
of her smiling face and easy manner.
"You wished to see my husband?" she asked with friendly courtesy.
"Mr. Paulden? Yes, we should like to," replied Carlyle, with his
most responsive urbanity. "It is a matter that need not occupy more
than a few minutes."
"He is very busy just now. If it has to do with the election"— a
local contest was at its height-"he is not interested in politics and
scarcely ever votes." Her manner was not curious, but merely reflected
a business-like desire to save trouble all round.
"Very sensible too, very sensible indeed," almost warbled Mr.
Carlyle with instinctive cajolery. "After all," he continued,
mendaciously appropriating as his own an aphorism at which he had
laughed heartily a few days before in the theatre, "after all, what
does an election do but change the colour of the necktie of the man
who picks our pockets? No, no, Mrs. Paulden, it is merely a-um-quite
The lady looked from one to the other with smiling amiability.
"Some little mystery," her expression seemed to say. "All right; I
don't mind, only perhaps I could help you if I knew."
"Mr. Paulden is in his dark-room now," was what she actually did
say. "I am afraid, I am really afraid that I shan't be able to
persuade him to come out unless I can take a definite message."
"One understands the difficulty of tempting an enthusiast from his
work," suggested Carrados, speaking for the first time. "Would it be
permissible to take us to the door of the dark-room, Mrs. Paulden, and
let us speak to your husband through it?"
"We can try that way," she acquiesced readily, "if it is really so
"I think so," he replied.
The dark-room lay across the hall. Mrs. Paulden conducted them to
the door, waited a moment and then knocked quietly.
"Yes?" sang out a voice, rather irritably one might judge, from
"Two gentlemen have called to see you about something, Lance—"
"I cannot see anyone when I am in here," interrupted the voice with
rising sharpness. "You know that, Clara—"
"Yes, dear," she said soothingly; "but listen. They are at the door
here and if you can spare the time just to come and speak you will
know without much trouble if their business is as important as they
"Wait a minute," came the reply after a moment's pause, and then
they heard someone approach the door from the other side.
It was a little difficult to know exactly how it happened in the
obscure light of the corner of the hall. Carrados had stepped nearer
to the door to speak. Possibly he trod on Mr. Carlyle's toe, for
there was a confused movement; certainly he put out his hand hastily
to recover himself. The next moment the door of the dark-room jerked
open, the light was let in and the warm odours of a mixed and vitiated
atmosphere rolled out. Secure in the well-ordered discipline of his
excellent household, Mr. Paulden had neglected the precaution of
locking himself in.
"Confound it all," shouted the incensed experimenter in a towering
rage, "confound it all, you've spoiled the whole thing now!"
"Dear me," apologised Carrados penitently, "I am so sorry. I think
it must have been my fault, do you know. Does it really matter?"
"Matter!" stormed Mr. Paulden, recklessly flinging open the door
fully now to come face to face with his disturbers-"matter letting a
flood of light into a darkroom in the middle of a delicate
"Surely it was very little," persisted Carrados.
"Pshaw," snarled the angry gentleman; "it was enough. You know the
difference between light and dark, I suppose?" Mr. Carlyle suddenly
found himself holding his breath, wondering how on earth Max had
conjured that opportune challenge to the surface.
"No," was the mild and deprecating reply—the appeal ad
misericordiam that had never failed him yet—"no, unfortunately
I don't, for I am blind. That is why I am so awkward."
Out of the shocked silence Mrs. Paulden gave a little croon of
pity. The moment before she had been speechless with indignation on
her husband's behalf. Paulden felt as though he had struck a suffering
animal. He stammered an apology and turned away to close the
unfortunate door. Then he began to walk slowly down the hall.
"You wished to see me about something?" he remarked, with
matter-of-fact civility. "Perhaps we had better go in here." He
indicated the reception room where they had waited and followed them
in. The admirable Mrs. Paulden gave no indication of wishing to join
Carrados came to the point at once.
"Mr. Carlyle," he said, indicating his friend, "has recently been
acting for the prosecution in a case of alleged poisoning that the
Public Prosecutor has now taken up. I am interested in the defence.
Both sides are thus before you, Mr. Paulden."
"How does this concern me?" asked Paulden with obvious surprise.
"You are experimenting with bhurine. The victim of this alleged
crime undoubtedly lost his life by bhurine poisoning. Do you mind
telling us when and where you acquired your stock of this scarce
"I have had—"
"No—a moment, Mr. Paulden, before you reply," struck in Carrados
with arresting hand. "You must understand that nothing so grotesque
as to connect you with a crime is contemplated. But a man is under
arrest and the chief point against him is the half-ounce of bhurine
that Lightcraft of Trenion Street sold td someone at half-past five
last Wednesday fortnight. Before you commit yourself to any statement
that it may possibly be difficult to recede from, you should realise
that this inquiry will be pushed to the very end."
"How do you know that I am using bhurine?"
"That," parried Carrados, "is a blind man's secret."
"Oh, well. And you say that someone has been arrested through this
"Yes. Possibly you have read something of the St. Abbots mushroom
"I have no interest in the sensational ephemera of the Press. Very
well; it was I who bought the bhurine from Lightcraft that Wednesday
afternoon. I gave a false name and address, I must admit. I had a
sufficient private reason for so doing."
"This knocks what is vulgarly termed 'the stuffing' out of the case
for the prosecution," observed Carlyle, who had been taking a note.
"It may also involve you in some trouble yourself, Mr. Paulden."
"I don't think that you need regard that very seriously in the
circumstances," said Carrados reassuringly.
"They must find some scapegoat, you know," persisted Mr. Carlyle.
"Loudham will raise Cain over it."
"I don't think so. Loudham, as the prosecution will roundly tell
him, has only himself to thank for not giving a satisfactory account
of his movements. Loudham will be lectured, Lightcraft will be fined
the minimum, and Mr. Paulden will, I imagine, be told not to do it
The man before them laughed bitterly.
"There will be no occasion to do it again," he remarked. "Do you
know anything of the circumstances?"
"Lightcraft told us something connected with colour photography.
You distrust Mr. Lightcraft, I infer?"
Mr. Paulden came down to the heart-easing medium of the street.
"I've had some once, thanks," was what he said with terse
expression. "Let me tell you. About eighteen months ago I was on the
edge of a great discovery in colour photography. It was my discovery,
whatever you may have heard. Bhurine was the medium, and not being
then so cautious or suspicious as I have reason to be now, and finding
it difficult—really impossible—to procure this substance
casually, I sent in an order to Lightcraft to procure me a stock.
Unfortunately, in a moment of enthusiasm I had hinted at the
anticipated results to a man who was then my friend—a weakling
called Southem. Comparing notes with Lightcraft they put two and two
together and in a trice most of the secret boiled over.
"If you have ever been within an ace of a monumental discovery you
will understand the torment of anxiety and self-reproach that
possessed me. For months the result must have trembled in the
balance, but even as it evaded me, so it evaded the others. And at
last I was able to spread conviction that the bhurine process was a
failure. I breathed again.
"You don't want to hear of the various things that conspired to
baffle me. I proceeded with extreme caution and therefore slowly.
About two weeks ago I had another foretaste of success and
immediately on it a veritable disaster. By some diabolical mischance
I contrived to upset my stock bottle of bhurine. It rolled down,
smashed to atoms on a developing dish filled with another chemical,
and the precious lot was irretrievably lost. To arrest the experiments
at that stage for a day was to lose a month. In one place and one
alone could I hope to replenish the stock temporarily at such short
notice and to do it openly after my last experience filled me with
Well, you know what happened, and now, I suppose, it will all come
* * * * *
A week after his arrest Philip Loudham and his sister were sitting
together in the drawing-room at Hazlehurst, nervous and expectant.
Loudham had been discharged scarcely six hours before, with such
vindication of his character as the frigid intimation that there was
no evidence against him afforded. On his arrival home he had found a
letter from Max Carrados—a name with which he was now familiar—
awaiting him. There had been other notes and telegrams— messages of
sympathy and congratulation, but the man who had brought about his
liberation did not include these conventionalities. He merely stated
that he proposed calling upon Mr. Loudham at nine o'clock that evening
and that he hoped it would be convenient for him and all other members
of the household to be at home.
"He can scarcely be coming to be thanked," speculated Loudham,
breaking the silence that had fallen on them as the hour approached.
"I should have called on him myself to-morrow."
Mrs. Dupreen assented absent-mindedly. Both were dressed in black,
and both at that moment had the same thought: that they were dreaming
"I suppose you won't go on living here, Irene?" continued the
brother, speaking to make the minutes seem tolerable.
This at least had the effect of bringing Mrs. Dupreen back into
the present with a rush.
"Of course not," she replied almost sharply and looking at him
direct. "Why should I, now?"
"Oh, all right," he agreed. "I didn't suppose you would." Then, as
the front-door bell was heard to ring: "Thank heaven!"
"Won't you go to meet him in the hall and bring him in?" suggested
Mrs. Dupreen. "He is blind, you know."
Carrados was carrying a small leather case which he allowed Loudham
to relieve him of, together with his hat and gloves. The introduction
to Mrs. Dupreen was made, the blind man put in touch with a chair,
and then Philip Loudham began to rattle off the acknowledgment of
gratitude of which he had been framing and rejecting openings for the
"I'm afraid it's no good attempting to thank you for the
extraordinary service that you've rendered me, Mr. Carrados," he
began, "and, above all, I appreciate the fact that, owing to you, it
has been possible to keep Mrs. Guestling's name entirely out of the
case. Of course you know all about that, and my sister knows, so it
isn't worth while beating about the bush. Well, now that I shall have
something like a decent income of my own, I shall urge Kitty-Mrs.
Guestling-to apply for the divorce that she is richly entitled to, and
when that is all settled we shall marry at once and try to forget the
experiences on both sides that have led up to it. I hope," he added
tamely, "that you don't consider us really much to blame?"
Carrados shook his head in mild deprecation.
"That is an ethical point that has lain outside the scope of my
inquiry," he replied. "You would hardly imagine that I should disturb
you at such a time merely to claim your thanks. Has it occurred to you
why I should have come?"
Brother and sister exchanged looks and by their silence gave reply.
"We have still to find who poisoned Charlie Winpole."
Loudham stared at their guest in frank bewilderment. Mrs. Dupreen
almost closed her eyes. When she spoke it was in a pained whisper.
"Is there anything more to be gained by pursuing that idea, Mr.
Carrados?" she asked pleadingly. "We have passed through a week of
anguish, coming upon a week of grief and great distress. Surely all
has been done that can be done?"
"But you would have justice for your nephew if there has been foul
play?" Mrs. Dupreen made a weary gesture of resignation. It was
Loudham who took up the question.
"Do you really mean, Mr. Carrados, that there is any doubt about
"Will you give me my case, please? Thank you." He opened it and
produced a small paper bag. "Now a newspaper, if you will." He opened
the bag and poured out the contents. "You remember stating at the
inquest, Mrs. Dupreen, that the mushrooms you bought looked rather
dry? They were dry, there is no doubt, for they had then been gathered
four days. Here are some more under precisely the same conditions.
They looked, in point of fact, like these?"
"Yes," admitted the lady, beginning to regard Carrados with a new
and curious interest.
"Dr. Slark further stated that the only fungus containing the
poison bhurine—the Amanita called the Black Cap, and also by the
country folk the Devil's Scent Bottle—did not assume its forbidding
appearance until maturity. He was wrong in one sense there, for
experiment proved that if the Black Cap is gathered in its young and
deceptive stage and kept, it assumes precisely the same appearance as
it withers as if it was ripening naturally. You observe." He opened a
a second bag and, shaking out the contents, displayed another little
heap by the side of the first. "Gathered four days ago," he explained.
"Why, they are as black as ink," commented Loudham. "And the, phew!
"One would hardly have got through without you seeing it, Mrs.
"I certainly hardly think so," she admitted.
"With due allowance for Lackington's biased opinion I also think
that his claim might be allowed. Finally, it is incredible that
whoever peeled the mushrooms should have passed one of these. Who was
the cook on that occasion, Mrs. Dupreen?"
"My maid Hilda. She does all the cooking."
"The one who admitted me?"
"Yes; she is the only servant I have, Mr. Carrados."
"I should like to have her in, if you don't mind."
"Certainly, if you wish it. She is"-Mrs. Dupreen felt that she must
put in a favourable word before this inexorable man pronounced
judgment—"she is a very good, straightforward girl."
"So much the better."
"I will—" Mrs. Dupreen rose and began to cross the room. "Ring
for her? Thank you," and whatever her intention had been the lady
rang the bell.
A neat, modest-mannered girl, simple and nervous, with a face as
full, as clear and as honest as an English apple. "A pity," thought
Mrs. Dupreen, "that this confident, suspicious man cannot see her
"Come in, Hilda. This gentleman wants to ask you something."
"Yes, ma' am." The round, blue eyes went appealingly to Carrados,
fell upon the fungi spread out before her, and then circled the room
with an instinct of escape.
"You remember the night poor Charlie died, Hilda," said Carrados in
his suavest tones, "you cooked some mushrooms for his supper, didn't
"No, sir," came the glib reply.
"'No,' Hilda!" exclaimed Mrs. Dupreen in wonderment. "You mean
'yes,' surely, child. Of course you cooked them. Don't you remember?"
"Yes, ma'am," dutifully replied Hilda.
"That is all right," said the blind man reassuringly. "Nervous
witnesses very often answer at random at first. You have nothing to be
afraid of, my good girl, if you will tell the truth. I suppose you
know a mushroom when you see it?"
"Yes, sir," was the rather hesitating reply.
"There was nothing like this among them?" He held up one of the
"No, sir; indeed there wasn't, sir. I should have known then."
"You would have known then? You were not called at the inquest,
"If you had been, what would you have told them about these
mushrooms that you cooked?"
"I—I don't know, sir."
"Come, come, Hilda. What could you have told them—something that
we do not know? The truth, girl, if you want to save yourself?" Then
with a sudden, terrible directness the question cleft her trembling,
guilt-stricken little brain: "Where did you get the other mushrooms
from that you put with those that your mistress brought?"
The eyes that had been mostly riveted to the floor leapt to
Carrados for a single frightened glance, from Carrados to her
mistress, to Philip Loudham, and to the floor again. In a moment her
face changed and she was in a burst of sobbing.
"Oho, oho, oho!" she wailed. "I didn't know; I didn't know. I meant
no harm; indeed I didn't, ma'am."
"Hilda! Hilda!" exclaimed Mrs. Dupreen in bewilderment. "What is it
you're saying? What have you done?"
"It was his own fault. Oho, oho, oho!" Every word was punctuated by
a gasp. "He always was a little pig and making himself ill with food.
You know he was, ma'am, although you were so fond of him. I'm sure
I'm not to blame."
"But what was it? What have you done?" besought her mistress. "It
was after you went out on that afternoon. He put on his things and
slipped down into the kitchen without the master knowing. He said
what you were getting for his dinner, ma'am, and that you never got
enough of them. Then he told me not to tell about his being down,
because he'd seen some white things from his bedroom window growing by
the hedge at the bottom of the garden and he was going to get them. He
brought in four or five and said they were mushrooms and asked me to
cook them with the others and not say anything because you'd say too
many were not good for him. And I didn't know any difference. Indeed
I'm telling you the truth, ma'am."
"Oh, Hilda, Hilda!" was torn reproachfully from Mrs. Dupreen. "You
know what we've gone through. Why didn't you tell us this before?"
"I was afraid. I was afraid of what they'd do. And no one ever
guessed until I thought I was safe. Indeed I meant no harm to anyone,
but I was afraid that they'd punish me instead." Carrados had risen
and was picking up his things.
"Yes," he said, half musing to himself, "I knew it must exist: the
one explanation that accounts for everything and cannot be assailed.
We have reached the bed-rock of truth at last."