Man Who Found Out
Professor Mark Ebor, the scientist, led a double
life, and the only persons who knew it were his assistant,
Dr. Laidlaw, and his publishers. But a double life
need not always be a bad one, and, as Dr. Laidlaw and the
gratified publishers well knew, the parallel lives of this
particular man were equally good, and indefinitely produced
would certainly have ended in a heaven somewhere
that can suitably contain such strangely opposite characteristics
as his remarkable personality combined.
For Mark Ebor, F.R.S., etc., etc., was that unique
combination hardly ever met with in actual life, a man of
science and a mystic.
As the first, his name stood in the gallery of the great,
and as the second—but there came the mystery! For
under the pseudonym of “Pilgrim” (the author of that
brilliant series of books that appealed to so many), his
identity was as well concealed as that of the anonymous
writer of the weather reports in a daily newspaper. Thousands
read the sanguine, optimistic, stimulating little books
that issued annually from the pen of “Pilgrim,” and thousands
bore their daily burdens better for having read;
while the Press generally agreed that the author, besides
being an incorrigible enthusiast and optimist, was also—a
woman; but no one ever succeeded in penetrating the
veil of anonymity and discovering that “Pilgrim” and the
biologist were one and the same person.
Mark Ebor, as Dr. Laidlaw knew him in his laboratory,
was one man; but Mark Ebor, as he sometimes saw
him after work was over, with rapt eyes and ecstatic face,
discussing the possibilities of “union with God” and the
future of the human race, was quite another.
“I have always held, as you know,” he was saying one
evening as he sat in the little study beyond the laboratory
with his assistant and intimate, “that Vision should play
a large part in the life of the awakened man—not to be
regarded as infallible, of course, but to be observed and
made use of as a guide-post to possibilities——”
“I am aware of your peculiar views, sir,” the young
doctor put in deferentially, yet with a certain impatience.
“For Visions come from a region of the consciousness
where observation and experiment are out of the question,”
pursued the other with enthusiasm, not noticing the
interruption, “and, while they should be checked by reason
afterwards, they should not be laughed at or ignored.
All inspiration, I hold, is of the nature of interior Vision,
and all our best knowledge has come—such is my confirmed
belief—as a sudden revelation to the brain prepared to
“Prepared by hard work first, by concentration, by
the closest possible study of ordinary phenomena,” Dr.
Laidlaw allowed himself to observe.
“Perhaps,” sighed the other; “but by a process, none
the less, of spiritual illumination. The best match in the
world will not light a candle unless the wick be first suitably
It was Laidlaw’s turn to sigh. He knew so well the
impossibility of arguing with his chief when he was in the
regions of the mystic, but at the same time the respect
he felt for his tremendous attainments was so sincere that
he always listened with attention and deference, wondering
how far the great man would go and to what end this
curious combination of logic and “illumination” would
eventually lead him.
“Only last night,” continued the elder man, a sort of
light coming into his rugged features, “the vision came
to me again—the one that has haunted me at intervals
ever since my youth, and that will not be denied.”
Dr. Laidlaw fidgeted in his chair.
“About the Tablets of the Gods, you mean—and that
they lie somewhere hidden in the sands,” he said patiently.
A sudden gleam of interest came into his face as he
turned to catch the professor’s reply.
“And that I am to be the one to find them, to decipher
them, and to give the great knowledge to the world——”
“Who will not believe,” laughed Laidlaw shortly, yet
interested in spite of his thinly-veiled contempt.
“Because even the keenest minds, in the right sense
of the word, are hopelessly—unscientific,” replied the other
gently, his face positively aglow with the memory of his
vision. “Yet what is more likely,” he continued after a
moment’s pause, peering into space with rapt eyes that
saw things too wonderful for exact language to describe,
“than that there should have been given to man in the
first ages of the world some record of the purpose and
problem that had been set him to solve? In a word,” he
cried, fixing his shining eyes upon the face of his perplexed
assistant, “that God’s messengers in the far-off ages should
have given to His creatures some full statement of the
secret of the world, of the secret of the soul, of the meaning
of life and death—the explanation of our being here,
and to what great end we are destined in the ultimate fullness
Dr. Laidlaw sat speechless. These outbursts of mystical
enthusiasm he had witnessed before. With any other man
he would not have listened to a single sentence, but to Professor
Ebor, man of knowledge and profound investigator,
he listened with respect, because he regarded this condition
as temporary and pathological, and in some sense
a reaction from the intense strain of the prolonged mental
concentration of many days.
He smiled, with something between sympathy and
resignation as he met the other’s rapt gaze.
“But you have said, sir, at other times, that you consider
the ultimate secrets to be screened from all
“The ultimate secrets, yes,” came the unperturbed reply;
“but that there lies buried somewhere an indestructible
record of the secret meaning of life, originally known
to men in the days of their pristine innocence, I am convinced.
And, by this strange vision so often vouchsafed
to me, I am equally sure that one day it shall be given to
me to announce to a weary world this glorious and terrific
And he continued at great length and in glowing language
to describe the species of vivid dream that had come
to him at intervals since earliest childhood, showing in
detail how he discovered these very Tablets of the Gods,
and proclaimed their splendid contents—whose precise
nature was always, however, withheld from him in the
vision—to a patient and suffering humanity.
“The Scrutator, sir, well described ‘Pilgrim’ as the
Apostle of Hope,” said the young doctor gently, when he
had finished; “and now, if that reviewer could hear you
speak and realize from what strange depths comes your
The professor held up his hand, and the smile of a
little child broke over his face like sunshine in the
“Half the good my books do would be instantly
destroyed,” he said sadly; “they would say that I wrote
with my tongue in my cheek. But wait,” he added significantly;
“wait till I find these Tablets of the Gods! Wait
till I hold the solutions of the old world-problems in my
hands! Wait till the light of this new revelation breaks
upon confused humanity, and it wakes to find its bravest
hopes justified! Ah, then, my dear Laidlaw——”
He broke off suddenly; but the doctor, cleverly guessing
the thought in his mind, caught him up immediately.
“Perhaps this very summer,” he said, trying hard to
make the suggestion keep pace with honesty; “in your explorations
in Assyria—your digging in the remote civilization
of what was once Chaldea, you may find—what you
The professor held up his hand, and the smile of a
fine old face.
“Perhaps,” he murmured softly, “perhaps!”
And the young doctor, thanking the gods of science
that his leader’s aberrations were of so harmless a character,
went home strong in the certitude of his knowledge of
externals, proud that he was able to refer his visions to
self-suggestion, and wondering complaisantly whether in
his old age he might not after all suffer himself from
visitations of the very kind that afflicted his respected
And as he got into bed and thought again of his master’s
rugged face, and finely shaped head, and the deep
lines traced by years of work and self-discipline, he turned
over on his pillow and fell asleep with a sigh that was half
of wonder, half of regret.
It was in February, nine months later, when Dr. Laidlaw
made his way to Charing Cross to meet his chief
after his long absence of travel and exploration. The
vision about the so-called Tablets of the Gods had meanwhile
passed almost entirely from his memory.
There were few people in the train, for the stream of
traffic was now running the other way, and he had no difficulty
in finding the man he had come to meet. The shock
of white hair beneath the low-crowned felt hat was alone
enough to distinguish him by easily.
“Here I am at last!” exclaimed the professor, somewhat
wearily, clasping his friend’s hand as he listened to
the young doctor’s warm greetings and questions. “Here
I am—a little older, and much dirtier than when you last
saw me!” He glanced down laughingly at his travel-stained
“And much wiser,” said Laidlaw, with a smile, as he
bustled about the platform for porters and gave his chief
the latest scientific news.
At last they came down to practical considerations.
“And your luggage—where is that? You must have
tons of it, I suppose?” said Laidlaw.
“Hardly anything,” Professor Ebor answered. “Nothing,
in fact, but what you see.”
“Nothing but this hand-bag?” laughed the other, thinking
he was joking.
“And a small portmanteau in the van,” was the quiet
reply. “I have no other luggage.”
“You have no other luggage?” repeated Laidlaw, turning
sharply to see if he were in earnest.
“Why should I need more?” the professor added simply.
Something in the man’s face, or voice, or manner—the
doctor hardly knew which—suddenly struck him as
strange. There was a change in him, a change so profound—so
little on the surface, that is—that at first he had not
become aware of it. For a moment it was as though an
utterly alien personality stood before him in that noisy,
bustling throng. Here, in all the homely, friendly turmoil
of a Charing Cross crowd, a curious feeling of cold
passed over his heart, touching his life with icy finger, so
that he actually trembled and felt afraid.
He looked up quickly at his friend, his mind working
with startled and unwelcome thoughts.
“Only this?” he repeated, indicating the bag. “But
where’s all the stuff you went away with? And—have you
brought nothing home—no treasures?”
“This is all I have,” the other said briefly. The pale
smile that went with the words caused the doctor a second
indescribable sensation of uneasiness. Something was
very wrong, something was very queer; he wondered now
that he had not noticed it sooner.
“The rest follows, of course, by slow freight,” he added
tactfully, and as naturally as possible. “But come, sir,
you must be tired and in want of food after your long
journey. I’ll get a taxi at once, and we can see about the
other luggage afterwards.”
It seemed to him he hardly knew quite what he was
saying; the change in his friend had come upon him so
suddenly and now grew upon him more and more distressingly.
Yet he could not make out exactly in what it
consisted. A terrible suspicion began to take shape in his
mind, troubling him dreadfully.
“I am neither very tired, nor in need of food, thank
you,” the professor said quietly. “And this is all I have.
There is no luggage to follow. I have brought home nothing—nothing
but what you see.”
His words conveyed finality. They got into a taxi,
tipped the porter, who had been staring in amazement at
the venerable figure of the scientist, and were conveyed
slowly and noisily to the house in the north of London
where the laboratory was, the scene of their labours of
And the whole way Professor Ebor uttered no word,
nor did Dr. Laidlaw find the courage to ask a single
It was only late that night, before he took his departure,
as the two men were standing before the fire in
the study—that study where they had discussed so many
problems of vital and absorbing interest—that Dr. Laidlaw
at last found strength to come to the point with direct
questions. The professor had been giving him a superficial
and desultory account of his travels, of his journeys by
camel, of his encampments among the mountains and in
the desert, and of his explorations among the buried
temples, and, deeper, into the waste of the pre-historic
sands, when suddenly the doctor came to the desired point
with a kind of nervous rush, almost like a frightened boy.
“And you found——” he began stammering, looking
hard at the other’s dreadfully altered face, from which
every line of hope and cheerfulness seemed to have been
obliterated as a sponge wipes markings from a slate—“you
“I found,” replied the other, in a solemn voice, and
it was the voice of the mystic rather than the man of
science—“I found what I went to seek. The vision never
once failed me. It led me straight to the place like a
star in the heavens. I found—the Tablets of the Gods.”
Dr. Laidlaw caught his breath, and steadied himself
on the back of a chair. The words fell like particles of ice
upon his heart. For the first time the professor had uttered
the well-known phrase without the glow of light and wonder
in his face that always accompanied it.
“You have—brought them?” he faltered.
“I have brought them home,” said the other, in a
voice with a ring like iron; “and I have—deciphered
Profound despair, the bloom of outer darkness, the
dead sound of a hopeless soul freezing in the utter cold
of space seemed to fill in the pauses between the brief
sentences. A silence followed, during which Dr. Laidlaw
saw nothing but the white face before him alternately
fade and return. And it was like the face of a dead man.
“They are, alas, indestructible,” he heard the voice continue,
with its even, metallic ring.
“Indestructible,” Laidlaw repeated mechanically,
hardly knowing what he was saying.
Again a silence of several minutes passed, during
which, with a creeping cold about his heart, he stood
and stared into the eyes of the man he had known and
loved so long—aye, and worshipped, too; the man who had
first opened his own eyes when they were blind, and had
led him to the gates of knowledge, and no little distance
along the difficult path beyond; the man who, in another
direction, had passed on the strength of his faith into the
hearts of thousands by his books.
“I may see them?” he asked at last, in a low voice he
hardly recognized as his own. “You will let me know—their
Professor Ebor kept his eyes fixedly upon his assistant’s
face as he answered, with a smile that was more like the
grin of death than a living human smile.
“When I am gone,” he whispered; “when I have passed
away. Then you shall find them and read the translation
I have made. And then, too, in your turn, you must try,
with the latest resources of science at your disposal to aid
you, to compass their utter destruction.” He paused a
moment, and his face grew pale as the face of a corpse.
“Until that time,” he added presently, without looking
up, “I must ask you not to refer to the subject again—and
to keep my confidence meanwhile—ab—so—lute—ly.”
A year passed slowly by, and at the end of it Dr.
Laidlaw had found it necessary to sever his working connexion
with his friend and one-time leader. Professor
Ebor was no longer the same man. The light had gone
out of his life; the laboratory was closed; he no longer
put pen to paper or applied his mind to a single problem.
In the short space of a few months he had passed from
a hale and hearty man of late middle life to the condition
of old age—a man collapsed and on the edge of dissolution.
Death, it was plain, lay waiting for him in the shadows
of any day—and he knew it.
To describe faithfully the nature of this profound alteration
in his character and temperament is not easy, but
Dr. Laidlaw summed it up to himself in three words: Loss
of Hope. The splendid mental powers remained indeed
undimmed, but the incentive to use them—to use them
for the help of others—had gone. The character still held
to its fine and unselfish habits of years, but the far goal
to which they had been the leading strings had faded away.
The desire for knowledge—knowledge for its own sake—had
died, and the passionate hope which hitherto had animated
with tireless energy the heart and brain of this
splendidly equipped intellect had suffered total eclipse.
The central fires had gone out. Nothing was worth doing,
thinking, working for. There was nothing to work for
The professor’s first step was to recall as many of his
books as possible; his second to close his laboratory and
stop all research. He gave no explanation, he invited no
questions. His whole personality crumbled away, so to
speak, till his daily life became a mere mechanical process
of clothing the body, feeding the body, keeping it in good
health so as to avoid physical discomfort, and, above all,
doing nothing that could interfere with sleep. The professor
did everything he could to lengthen the hours of
sleep, and therefore of forgetfulness.
It was all clear enough to Dr. Laidlaw. A weaker man,
he knew, would have sought to lose himself in one form
or another of sensual indulgence—sleeping-draughts, drink,
the first pleasures that came to hand. Self-destruction
would have been the method of a little bolder type; and
deliberate evil-doing, poisoning with his awful knowledge
all he could, the means of still another kind of man. Mark
Ebor was none of these. He held himself under fine control,
facing silently and without complaint the terrible
facts he honestly believed himself to have been unfortunate
enough to discover. Even to his intimate friend and assistant,
Dr. Laidlaw, he vouchsafed no word of true explanation
or lament. He went straight forward to the end,
knowing well that the end was not very far away.
And death came very quietly one day to him, as he
was sitting in the arm-chair of the study, directly facing
the doors of the laboratory—the doors that no longer
opened. Dr. Laidlaw, by happy chance, was with him at
the time, and just able to reach his side in response to the
sudden painful efforts for breath; just in time, too, to
catch the murmured words that fell from the pallid lips
like a message from the other side of the grave.
“Read them, if you must; and, if you can—destroy.
But”—his voice sank so low that Dr. Laidlaw only just
caught the dying syllables—“but—never, never—give them
to the world.”
And like a grey bundle of dust loosely gathered up in
an old garment the professor sank back into his chair and
But this was only the death of the body. His spirit
had died two years before.
The estate of the dead man was small and uncomplicated,
and Dr. Laidlaw, as sole executor and residuary
legatee, had no difficulty in settling it up. A month after
the funeral he was sitting alone in his upstairs library, the
last sad duties completed, and his mind full of poignant
memories and regrets for the loss of a friend he had
revered and loved, and to whom his debt was so incalculably
great. The last two years, indeed, had been for him terrible.
To watch the swift decay of the greatest combination
of heart and brain he had ever known, and to realize
he was powerless to help, was a source of profound grief
to him that would remain to the end of his days.
At the same time an insatiable curiosity possessed him.
The study of dementia was, of course, outside his special
province as a specialist, but he knew enough of it to understand
how small a matter might be the actual cause of how
great an illusion, and he had been devoured from the very
beginning by a ceaseless and increasing anxiety to know
what the professor had found in the sands of “Chaldea,”
what these precious Tablets of the Gods might be, and
particularly—for this was the real cause that had sapped
the man’s sanity and hope—what the inscription was that
he had believed to have deciphered thereon.
The curious feature of it all to his own mind was,
that whereas his friend had dreamed of finding a message
of glorious hope and comfort, he had apparently found
(so far as he had found anything intelligible at all, and
not invented the whole thing in his dementia) that the
secret of the world, and the meaning of life and death, was
of so terrible a nature that it robbed the heart of courage
and the soul of hope. What, then, could be the contents
of the little brown parcel the professor had bequeathed to
him with his pregnant dying sentences?
Actually his hand was trembling as he turned to the
writing-table and began slowly to unfasten a small old-fashioned
desk on which the small gilt initials “M.E.”
stood forth as a melancholy memento. He put the key
into the lock and half turned it. Then, suddenly, he
stopped and looked about him. Was that a sound at the
back of the room? It was just as though someone had
laughed and then tried to smother the laugh with a cough.
A slight shiver ran over him as he stood listening.
“This is absurd,” he said aloud; “too absurd for belief—that
I should be so nervous! It’s the effect of curiosity
unduly prolonged.” He smiled a little sadly and his
eyes wandered to the blue summer sky and the plane trees
swaying in the wind below his window. “It’s the reaction,”
he continued. “The curiosity of two years to be
quenched in a single moment! The nervous tension, of
course, must be considerable.”
He turned back to the brown desk and opened it without
further delay. His hand was firm now, and he took
out the paper parcel that lay inside without a tremor.
It was heavy. A moment later there lay on the table before
him a couple of weather-worn plaques of grey stone—they
looked like stone, although they felt like metal—on which
he saw markings of a curious character that might have
been the mere tracings of natural forces through the ages,
or, equally well, the half-obliterated hieroglyphics cut upon
their surface in past centuries by the more or less untutored
hand of a common scribe.
He lifted each stone in turn and examined it carefully.
It seemed to him that a faint glow of heat passed
from the substance into his skin, and he put them down
again suddenly, as with a gesture of uneasiness.
“A very clever, or a very imaginative man,” he said to
himself, “who could squeeze the secrets of life and death
from such broken lines as those!”
Then he turned to a yellow envelope lying beside them
in the desk, with the single word on the outside in the
writing of the professor—the word Translation.
“Now,” he thought, taking it up with a sudden violence
to conceal his nervousness, “now for the great solution.
Now to learn the meaning of the worlds, and why
mankind was made, and why discipline is worth while, and
sacrifice and pain the true law of advancement.”
There was the shadow of a sneer in his voice, and yet
something in him shivered at the same time. He held the
envelope as though weighing it in his hand, his mind pondering
many things. Then curiosity won the day, and he
suddenly tore it open with the gesture of an actor who
tears open a letter on the stage, knowing there is no real
writing inside at all.
A page of finely written script in the late scientist’s
handwriting lay before him. He read it through from
beginning to end, missing no word, uttering each syllable
distinctly under his breath as he read.
The pallor of his face grew ghastly as he neared the
end. He began to shake all over as with ague. His breath
came heavily in gasps. He still gripped the sheet of
paper, however, and deliberately, as by an intense effort
of will, read it through a second time from beginning to
end. And this time, as the last syllable dropped from
his lips, the whole face of the man flamed with a sudden
and terrible anger. His skin became deep, deep red, and
he clenched his teeth. With all the strength of his vigorous
soul he was struggling to keep control of himself.
For perhaps five minutes he stood there beside the table
without stirring a muscle. He might have been carved
out of stone. His eyes were shut, and only the heaving
of the chest betrayed the fact that he was a living being.
Then, with a strange quietness, he lit a match and applied
it to the sheet of paper he held in his hand. The ashes
fell slowly about him, piece by piece, and he blew them
from the window-sill into the air, his eyes following them
as they floated away on the summer wind that breathed
so warmly over the world.
He turned back slowly into the room. Although his
actions and movements were absolutely steady and controlled,
it was clear that he was on the edge of violent
action. A hurricane might burst upon the still room any
moment. His muscles were tense and rigid. Then, suddenly,
he whitened, collapsed, and sank backwards into a
chair, like a tumbled bundle of inert matter. He had
In less than half an hour he recovered consciousness
and sat up. As before, he made no sound. Not a syllable
passed his lips. He rose quietly and looked about the room.
Then he did a curious thing.
Taking a heavy stick from the rack in the corner he
approached the mantlepiece, and with a heavy shattering
blow he smashed the clock to pieces. The glass fell in
“Cease your lying voice for ever,” he said, in a curiously
still, even tone. “There is no such thing as time!”
He took the watch from his pocket, swung it round
several times by the long gold chain, smashed it into
smithereens against the wall with a single blow, and then
walked into his laboratory next door, and hung its broken
body on the bones of the skeleton in the corner of the
“Let one damned mockery hang upon another,” he
said smiling oddly. “Delusions, both of you, and cruel as
He slowly moved back to the front room. He stopped
opposite the bookcase where stood in a row the “Scriptures
of the World,” choicely bound and exquisitely
printed, the late professor’s most treasured possession, and
next to them several books signed “Pilgrim.”
One by one he took them from the shelf and hurled
them through the open window.
“A devil’s dreams! A devil’s foolish dreams!” he
cried, with a vicious laugh.
Presently he stopped from sheer exhaustion. He turned
his eyes slowly to the wall opposite, where hung a weird
array of Eastern swords and daggers, scimitars and spears,
the collections of many journeys. He crossed the room and
ran his finger along the edge. His mind seemed to waver.
“No,” he muttered presently; “not that way. There
are easier and better ways than that.”
He took his hat and passed downstairs into the street.
It was five o’clock, and the June sun lay hot upon
the pavement. He felt the metal door-knob burn the palm
of his hand.
“Ah, Laidlaw, this is well met,” cried a voice at his
elbow; “I was in the act of coming to see you. I’ve a case
that will interest you, and besides, I remembered that you
flavoured your tea with orange leaves!—and I admit——”
It was Alexis Stephen, the great hypnotic doctor.
“I’ve had no tea to-day,” Laidlaw said, in a dazed
manner, after staring for a moment as though the other
had struck him in the face. A new idea had entered his
“What’s the matter?” asked Dr. Stephen quickly.
“Something’s wrong with you. It’s this sudden heat, or
overwork. Come, man, let’s go inside.”
A sudden light broke upon the face of the younger
man, the light of a heaven-sent inspiration. He looked
into his friend’s face, and told a direct lie.
“Odd,” he said, “I myself was just coming to see you.
I have something of great importance to test your confidence
with. But in your house, please,” as Stephen urged
him towards his own door—“in your house. It’s only
round the corner, and I—I cannot go back there—to my
rooms—till I have told you.”
“I’m your patient—for the moment,” he added stammeringly
as soon as they were seated in the privacy of the
hypnotist’s sanctum, “and I want—er——”
“My dear Laidlaw,” interrupted the other, in that
soothing voice of command which had suggested to many
a suffering soul that the cure for its pain lay in the powers
of its own reawakened will, “I am always at your service,
as you know. You have only to tell me what I can do
for you, and I will do it.” He showed every desire to
help him out. His manner was indescribably tactful and
Dr. Laidlaw looked up into his face.
“I surrender my will to you,” he said, already calmed
by the other’s healing presence, “and I want you to treat
me hypnotically—and at once. I want you to suggest to
me”—his voice became very tense—“that I shall forget—forget
till I die—everything that has occurred to me during
the last two hours; till I die, mind,” he added, with
solemn emphasis, “till I die.”
He floundered and stammered like a frightened boy.
Alexis Stephen looked at him fixedly without speaking.
“And further,” Laidlaw continued, “I want you to ask
me no questions. I wish to forget for ever something I
have recently discovered—something so terrible and yet so
obvious that I can hardly understand why it is not patent
to every mind in the world—for I have had a moment of
absolute clear vision—of merciless clairvoyance. But I
want no one else in the whole world to know what it is—least
of all, old friend, yourself.”
He talked in utter confusion, and hardly knew what
he was saying. But the pain on his face and the anguish
in his voice were an instant passport to the other’s heart.
“Nothing is easier,” replied Dr. Stephen, after a hesitation
so slight that the other probably did not even notice
it. “Come into my other room where we shall not be disturbed.
I can heal you. Your memory of the last two
hours shall be wiped out as though it had never been.
You can trust me absolutely.”
“I know I can,” Laidlaw said simply, as he followed
An hour later they passed back into the front room
again. The sun was already behind the houses opposite,
and the shadows began to gather.
“I went off easily?” Laidlaw asked.
“You were a little obstinate at first. But though you
came in like a lion, you went out like a lamb. I let you
sleep a bit afterwards.”
Dr. Stephen kept his eyes rather steadily upon his
“What were you doing by the fire before you came
here?” he asked, pausing, in a casual tone, as he lit a
cigarette and handed the case to his patient.
“I? Let me see. Oh, I know; I was worrying my
way through poor old Ebor’s papers and things. I’m his
executor, you know. Then I got weary and came out for
a whiff of air.” He spoke lightly and with perfect naturalness.
Obviously he was telling the truth. “I prefer specimens
to papers,” he laughed cheerily.
“I know, I know,” said Dr. Stephen, holding a lighted
match for the cigarette. His face wore an expression of
content. The experiment had been a complete success.
The memory of the last two hours was wiped out utterly.
Laidlaw was already chatting gaily and easily about a
dozen other things that interested him. Together they
went out into the street, and at his door Dr. Stephen left
him with a joke and a wry face that made his friend laugh
“Don’t dine on the professor’s old papers by mistake,”
he cried, as he vanished down the street.
Dr. Laidlaw went up to his study at the top of the
house. Half way down he met his housekeeper, Mrs.
Fewings. She was flustered and excited, and her face was
very red and perspiring.
“There’ve been burglars here,” she cried excitedly, “or
something funny! All your things is just anyhow, sir. I
found everything all about everywhere!” She was very
confused. In this orderly and very precise establishment
it was unusual to find a thing out of place.
“Oh, my specimens!” cried the doctor, dashing up the
rest of the stairs at top speed. “Have they been touched
He flew to the door of the laboratory. Mrs. Fewings
panted up heavily behind him.
“The labatry ain’t been touched,” she explained, breathlessly,
“but they smashed the libry clock and they’ve ’ung
your gold watch, sir, on the skelinton’s hands. And the
books that weren’t no value they flung out er the window
just like so much rubbish. They must have been wild
drunk, Dr. Laidlaw, sir!”
The young scientist made a hurried examination of
the rooms. Nothing of value was missing. He began to
wonder what kind of burglars they were. He looked up
sharply at Mrs. Fewings standing in the doorway. For a
moment he seemed to cast about in his mind for something.
“Odd,” he said at length. “I only left here an hour
ago and everything was all right then.”
“Was it, sir? Yes, sir.” She glanced sharply at him.
Her room looked out upon the courtyard, and she must
have seen the books come crashing down, and also have
heard her master leave the house a few minutes later.
“And what’s this rubbish the brutes have left?” he
cried, taking up two slabs of worn gray stone, on the writing-table.
“Bath brick, or something, I do declare.”
He looked very sharply again at the confused and
“Throw them on the dust heap, Mrs. Fewings, and—and
let me know if anything is missing in the house, and
I will notify the police this evening.”
When she left the room he went into the laboratory
and took his watch off the skeleton’s fingers. His face
wore a troubled expression, but after a moment’s thought
it cleared again. His memory was a complete blank.
“I suppose I left it on the writing-table when I went
out to take the air,” he said. And there was no one present
to contradict him.
He crossed to the window and blew carelessly some
ashes of burned paper from the sill, and stood watching
them as they floated away lazily over the tops of the trees.