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Title: The Blue Sequin

Date of first publication: 1929

Author: Richard Austin Freeman (1862-1943)

Date first posted: July 11, 2018

Date last updated: July 11, 2018

Faded Page eBook #20180734

This ebook was produced by: Delphine Lettau, Mark Akrigg, Jen Haines & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net


Thorndyke stood looking up and down the platform with anxiety that increased as the time drew near for the departure of the train.

“This is very unfortunate,” he said, reluctantly stepping into an empty smoking compartment as the guard executed a flourish with his green flag. “I am afraid we have missed our friend.” He closed the door, and, as the train began to move, thrust his head out of the window.

“Now I wonder if that will be he,” he continued. “If so, he has caught the train by the skin of his teeth, and is now in one of the rear compartments.”

The subject of Thorndyke’s speculations was Mr. Edward Stopford, of the firm of Stopford and Myers, of Portugal Street, solicitors, and his connection with us at present arose out of a telegram that had reached our chambers on the preceding evening. It was reply-paid, and ran thus:

“Can you come here to-morrow to direct defence? Important case. All costs undertaken by us.—Stopford and Myers.

Thorndyke’s reply had been in the affirmative, and early on this present morning a further telegram—evidently posted overnight—had been delivered:

“Shall leave for Woldhurst by 8.25 from Charing Cross. Will call for you if possible.—Edward Stopford.

He had not called, however, and, since he was unknown personally to us both, we could not judge whether or not he had been among the passengers on the platform.

“It is most unfortunate,” Thorndyke repeated, “for it deprives us of that preliminary consideration of the case which is so invaluable.” He filled his pipe thoughtfully, and, having made a fruitless inspection of the platform at London Bridge, took up the paper that he had bought at the bookstall, and began to turn over the leaves, running his eye quickly down the columns, unmindful of the journalistic baits in paragraph or article.

“It is a great disadvantage,” he observed, while still glancing through the paper, “to come plump into an inquiry without preparation—to be confronted with the details before one has a chance of considering the case in general terms. For instance——”

He paused, leaving the sentence unfinished, and as I looked up inquiringly I saw that he had turned over another page, and was now reading attentively.

“This looks like our case, Jervis,” he said presently, handing me the paper and indicating a paragraph at the top of the page. It was quite brief, and was headed “Terrible Murder in Kent,” the account being as follows:

“A shocking crime was discovered yesterday morning at the little town of Woldhurst, which lies on the branch line from Halbury Junction. The discovery was made by a porter who was inspecting the carriages of the train which had just come in. On opening the door of a first-class compartment, he was horrified to find the body of a fashionably-dressed woman stretched upon the floor. Medical aid was immediately summoned, and on the arrival of the divisional surgeon, Dr. Morton, it was ascertained that the woman had not been dead more than a few minutes.

“The state of the corpse leaves no doubt that a murder of a most brutal kind has been perpetrated, the cause of death being a penetrating wound of the head, inflicted with some pointed implement, which must have been used with terrible violence, since it has perforated the skull and entered the brain. That robbery was not the motive of the crime is made clear by the fact that an expensively fitted dressing-bag was found on the rack, and that the dead woman’s jewellery, including several valuable diamond rings, was untouched. It is rumoured that an arrest has been made by the local police.”

“A gruesome affair,” I remarked, as I handed back the paper, “but the report does not give us much information.”

“It does not,” Thorndyke agreed, “and yet it gives us something to consider. Here is a perforating wound of the skull, inflicted with some pointed implement—that is, assuming that it is not a bullet wound. Now, what kind of implement would be capable of inflicting such an injury? How would such an implement be used in the confined space of a railway-carriage, and what sort of person would be in possession of such an implement? These are preliminary questions that are worth considering, and I commend them to you, together with the further problems of the possible motive—excluding robbery—and any circumstances other than murder which might account for the injury.”

“The choice of suitable implements is not very great,” I observed.

“It is very limited, and most of them, such as a plasterer’s pick or a geological hammer, are associated with certain definite occupations. You have a notebook?”

I had, and, accepting the hint, I produced it and pursued my further reflections in silence, while my companion, with his notebook also on his knee, gazed steadily out of the window. And thus he remained, wrapped in thought, jotting down an entry now and again in his book, until the train slowed down at Halbury Junction, where we had to change on to a branch line.

As we stepped out, I noticed a well-dressed man hurrying up the platform from the rear and eagerly scanning the faces of the few passengers who had alighted. Soon he espied us, and, approaching quickly, asked, as he looked from one of us to the other:

“Dr. Thorndyke?”

“Yes,” replied my colleague, adding: “And you, I presume, are Mr. Edward Stopford?”

The solicitor bowed. “This is a dreadful affair,” he said, in an agitated manner. “I see you have the paper. A most shocking affair. I am immensely relieved to find you here. Nearly missed the train, and feared I should miss you.”

“There appears to have been an arrest,” Thorndyke began.

“Yes—my brother. Terrible business. Let us walk up the platform; our train won’t start for a quarter of an hour yet.”

We deposited our joint Gladstone and Thorndyke’s travelling-case in an empty first-class compartment, and then, with the solicitor between us, strolled up to the unfrequented end of the platform.

“My brother’s position,” said Mr. Stopford, “fills me with dismay—but let me give you the facts in order, and you shall judge for yourself. This poor creature who has been murdered so brutally was a Miss Edith Grant. She was formerly an artist’s model, and as such was a good deal employed by my brother, who is a painter—Harold Stopford, you know, A.R.A. now——”

“I know his work very well, and charming work it is.”

“I think so, too. Well, in those days he was quite a youngster—about twenty—and he became very intimate with Miss Grant, in quite an innocent way, though not very discreet; but she was a nice respectable girl, as most English models are, and no one thought any harm. However, a good many letters passed between them, and some little presents, amongst which was a beaded chain carrying a locket, and in this he was fool enough to put his portrait and the inscription, ‘Edith, from Harold.’

“Later on Miss Grant, who had a rather good voice, went on the stage, in the comic opera line, and, in consequence, her habits and associates changed somewhat; and, as Harold had meanwhile become engaged, he was naturally anxious to get his letters back, and especially to exchange the locket for some less compromising gift. The letters she eventually sent him, but refused absolutely to part with the locket.

“Now, for the last month Harold has been staying at Halbury, making sketching excursions into the surrounding country, and yesterday morning he took the train to Shinglehurst, the third station from here, and the one before Woldhurst.

“On the platform here he met Miss Grant, who had come down from London, and was going on to Worthing. They entered the branch train together, having a first-class compartment to themselves. It seems she was wearing his locket at the time, and he made another appeal to her to make an exchange, which she refused, as before. The discussion appears to have become rather heated and angry on both sides, for the guard and a porter at Munsden both noticed that they seemed to be quarrelling; but the upshot of the affair was that the lady snapped the chain, and tossed it together with the locket to my brother, and they parted quite amiably at Shinglehurst, where Harold got out. He was then carrying his full sketching kit, including a large holland umbrella, the lower joint of which is an ash staff fitted with a powerful steel spike for driving into the ground.

“It was about half-past ten when he got out at Shinglehurst; by eleven he had reached his pitch and got to work, and he painted steadily for three hours. Then he packed up his traps, and was just starting on his way back to the station, when he was met by the police and arrested.

“And now, observe the accumulation of circumstantial evidence against him. He was the last person seen in company with the murdered woman—for no one seems to have seen her after they left Munsden; he appeared to be quarrelling with her when she was last seen alive, he had a reason for possibly wishing for her death, he was provided with an implement—a spiked staff—capable of inflicting the injury which caused her death, and, when he was searched, there was found in his possession the locket and broken chain, apparently removed from her person with violence.

“Against all this is, of course, his known character—he is the gentlest and most amiable of men—and his subsequent conduct—imbecile to the last degree if he had been guilty; but, as a lawyer, I can’t help seeing that appearances are almost hopelessly against him.”

“We won’t say ‘hopelessly,’ ” replied Thorndyke, as we took our places in the carriage, “though I expect the police are pretty cocksure. When does the inquest open?”

“To-day at four. I have obtained an order from the coroner for you to examine the body and be present at the post-mortem.”

“Do you happen to know the exact position of the wound?”

“Yes; it is a little above and behind the left ear—a horrible round hole, with a ragged cut or tear running from it to the side of the forehead.”

“And how was the body lying?”

“Right along the floor, with the feet close to the off-side door.”

“Was the wound on the head the only one?”

“No; there was a long cut or bruise on the right cheek—a contused wound the police surgeon called it, which he believes to have been inflicted with a heavy and rather blunt weapon. I have not heard of any other wounds or bruises.”

“Did anyone enter the train yesterday at Shinglehurst?” Thorndyke asked.

“No one entered the train after it left Halbury.”

Thorndyke considered these statements in silence, and presently fell into a brown study, from which he roused only as the train moved out of Shinglehurst station.

“It would be about here that the murder was committed,” said Mr. Stopford; “at least, between here and Woldhurst.”

Thorndyke nodded rather abstractedly, being engaged at the moment in observing with great attention the objects that were visible from the windows.

“I notice,” he remarked presently, “a number of chips scattered about between the rails, and some of the chair-wedges look new. Have there been any plate-layers at work lately?”

“Yes,” answered Stopford, “they are on the line now, I believe—at least, I saw a gang working near Woldhurst yesterday, and they are said to have set a rick on fire; I saw it smoking when I came down.”

“Indeed; and this middle line of rails is, I suppose, a sort of siding?”

“Yes; they shunt the goods trains and empty trucks on to it. There are the remains of the rick—still smouldering, you see.”

Thorndyke gazed absently at the blackened heap until an empty cattle-truck on the middle track hid it from view. This was succeeded by a line of goods-waggons, and these by a passenger coach, one compartment of which—a first-class—was closed up and sealed. The train now began to slow down rather suddenly, and a couple of minutes later we brought up in Woldhurst station.

It was evident that rumours of Thorndyke’s advent had preceded us, for the entire staff—two porters, an inspector, and the station-master—were waiting expectantly on the platform, and the latter came forward, regardless of his dignity, to help us with our luggage.

“Do you think I could see the carriage?” Thorndyke asked the solicitor.

“Not the inside, sir,” said the station-master, on being appealed to. “The police have sealed it up. You would have to ask the inspector.”

“Well, I can have a look at the outside, I suppose?” said Thorndyke, and to this the station-master readily agreed, and offered to accompany us.

“What other first-class passengers were there?” Thorndyke asked.

“None, sir. There was only one first-class coach, and the deceased was the only person in it. It has given us all a dreadful turn, this affair has,” he continued, as we set off up the line. “I was on the platform when the train came in. We were watching a rick that was burning up the line, and a rare blaze it made, too; and I was just saying that we should have to move the cattle-truck that was on the mid-track, because, you see, sir, the smoke and sparks were blowing across, and I thought it would frighten the poor beasts. And Mr. Felton he don’t like his beasts handled roughly. He says it spoils the meat.”

“No doubt he is right,” said Thorndyke. “But now, tell me, do you think it is possible for any person to board or leave the train on the off-side unobserved? Could a man, for instance, enter a compartment on the off-side at one station and drop off as the train was slowing down at the next, without being seen?”

“I doubt it,” replied the station-master. “Still, I wouldn’t say it is impossible.”

“Thank you. Oh, and there’s another question. You have a gang of men at work on the line, I see. Now, do those men belong to the district?”

“No, sir; they are strangers, every one, and pretty rough diamonds some of ’em are. But I shouldn’t say there was any real harm in ’em. If you was suspecting any of ’em of being mixed up in this——”

“I am not,” interrupted Thorndyke rather shortly. “I suspect nobody; but I wish to get all the facts of the case at the outset.”

“Naturally, sir,” replied the abashed official; and we pursued our way in silence.

“Do you remember, by the way,” said Thorndyke, as we approached the empty coach, “whether the off-side door of the compartment was closed and locked when the body was discovered?”

“It was closed, sir, but not locked. Why, sir, did you think——?”

“Nothing, nothing. The sealed compartment is the one, of course?”

Without waiting for a reply, he commenced his survey of the coach, while I gently restrained our two companions from shadowing him, as they were disposed to do. The off-side footboard occupied his attention specially, and when he had scrutinised minutely the part opposite the fatal compartment, he walked slowly from end to end with his eyes but a few inches from its surface, as though he was searching for something.

Near what had been the rear end he stopped, and drew from his pocket a piece of paper; then, with a moistened finger-tip he picked up from the footboard some evidently minute object, which he carefully transferred to the paper, folding the latter and placing it in his pocket-book.

He next mounted the footboard, and, having peered in through the window of the sealed compartment, produced from his pocket a small insufflator or powder-blower, with which he blew a stream of impalpable smoke-like powder on to the edges of the middle window, bestowing the closest attention on the irregular dusty patches in which it settled, and even measuring one on the jamb of the window with a pocket-rule. At length he stepped down, and, having carefully looked over the near-side footboard, announced that he had finished for the present.

As we were returning down the line, we passed a working man, who seemed to be viewing the chairs and sleepers with more than casual interest.

“That, I suppose, is one of the plate-layers?” Thorndyke suggested to the station-master.

“Yes, the foreman of the gang,” was the reply.

“I’ll just step back and have a word with him, if you will walk on slowly.” And my colleague turned back briskly and overtook the man, with whom he remained in conversation for some minutes.

“I think I see the police inspector on the platform,” remarked Thorndyke, as we approached the station.

“Yes, there he is,” said our guide. “Come down to see what you are after, sir, I expect.” Which was doubtless the case, although the officer professed to be there by the merest chance.

“You would like to see the weapon, sir, I suppose?” he remarked, when he had introduced himself.

“The umbrella-spike,” Thorndyke corrected. “Yes, if I may. We are going to the mortuary now.”

“Then you’ll pass the station on the way; so, if you care to look in, I will walk up with you.”

This proposition being agreed to, we all proceeded to the police station, including the station-master, who was on the very tiptoe of curiosity.

“There you are, sir,” said the inspector, unlocking his office, and ushering us in. “Don’t say we haven’t given every facility to the defence. There are all the effects of the accused, including the very weapon the deed was done with.”

“Come, come,” protested Thorndyke; “we mustn’t be premature.” He took the stout ash staff from the officer, and, having examined the formidable spike through a lens, drew from his pocket a steel calliper-gauge, with which he carefully measured the diameter of the spike, and the staff to which it was fixed. “And now,” he said, when he had made a note of the measurements in his book, “we will look at the colour-box and the sketch. Ha! a very orderly man, your brother, Mr. Stopford. Tubes all in their places, palette-knives wiped clean, palette cleaned off and rubbed bright, brushes wiped—they ought to be washed before they stiffen—all this is very significant.” He unstrapped the sketch from the blank canvas to which it was pinned, and, standing it on a chair in a good light, stepped back to look at it.

“And you tell me that that is only three hours’ work!” he exclaimed, looking at the lawyer. “It is really a marvellous achievement.”

“My brother is a very rapid worker,” replied Stopford dejectedly.

“Yes, but this is not only amazingly rapid; it is in his very happiest vein—full of spirit and feeling. But we mustn’t stay to look at it longer.” He replaced the canvas on its pins, and having glanced at the locket and some other articles that lay in a drawer, thanked the inspector for his courtesy and withdrew.

“That sketch and the colour-box appear very suggestive to me,” he remarked, as we walked up the street.

“To me also,” said Stopford gloomily, “for they are under lock and key, like their owner, poor old fellow.”

He sighed heavily, and we walked on in silence.

The mortuary-keeper had evidently heard of our arrival, for he was waiting at the door with the key in his hand, and, on being shown the coroner’s order, unlocked the door, and we entered together; but, after a momentary glance at the ghostly, shrouded figure lying upon the slate table, Stopford turned pale and retreated, saying that he would wait for us outside with the mortuary-keeper.

As soon as the door was closed and locked on the inside, Thorndyke glanced curiously round the bare, whitewashed building. A stream of sunlight poured in through the skylight, and fell upon the silent form that lay so still under its covering-sheet, and one stray beam glanced into a corner by the door, where, on a row of pegs and a deal table, the dead woman’s clothing was displayed.

“There is something unspeakably sad in these poor relics, Jervis,” said Thorndyke, as we stood before them. “To me they are more tragic, more full of pathetic suggestion, than the corpse itself. See the smart, jaunty hat, and the costly skirts hanging there, so desolate and forlorn; the dainty lingerie on the table, neatly folded—by the mortuary-man’s wife, I hope—the little French shoes and open-work silk stockings. How pathetically eloquent they are of harmless, womanly vanity, and the gay, careless life, snapped short in the twinkling of an eye. But we must not give way to sentiment. There is another life threatened, and it is in our keeping.”

He lifted the hat from its peg, and turned it over in his hand. It was, I think, what is called a “picture-hat”—a huge, flat, shapeless mass of gauze and ribbon and feather, spangled over freely with dark-blue sequins. In one part of the brim was a ragged hole, and from this the glittering sequins dropped off in little showers when the hat was moved.

“This will have been worn tilted over on the left side,” said Thorndyke, “judging by the general shape and the position of the hole.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Like that of the Duchess of Devonshire in Gainsborough’s portrait.”


He shook a few of the sequins into the palm of his hand, and, replacing the hat on its peg, dropped the little discs into an envelope, on which he wrote, “From the hat,” and slipped it into his pocket. Then, stepping over to the table, he drew back the sheet reverently and even tenderly from the dead woman’s face, and looked down at it with grave pity. It was a comely face, white as marble, serene and peaceful in expression, with half-closed eyes, and framed with a mass of brassy, yellow hair; but its beauty was marred by a long linear wound, half cut, half bruise, running down the right cheek from the eye to the chin.

“A handsome girl,” Thorndyke commented—“a dark-haired blonde. What a sin to have disfigured herself so with that horrible peroxide.” He smoothed the hair back from her forehead, and added: “She seems to have applied the stuff last about ten days ago. There is about a quarter of an inch of dark hair at the roots. What do you make of that wound on the cheek?”

“It looks as if she had struck some sharp angle in falling, though, as the seats are padded in first-class carriages, I don’t see what she could have struck.”

“No. And now let us look at the other wound. Will you note down the description?” He handed me his notebook, and I wrote down as he dictated: “A clean-punched circular hole in skull, an inch behind and above margin of left ear—diameter, an inch and seven-sixteenths; starred fracture of parietal bone; membranes perforated, and brain entered deeply; ragged scalp-wound, extending forward to margin of left orbit; fragments of gauze and sequins in edges of wound. That will do for the present. Dr. Morton will give us further details if we want them.”

He pocketed his callipers and rule, drew from the bruised scalp one or two loose hairs, which he placed in the envelope with the sequins, and, having looked over the body for other wounds or bruises (of which there were none), replaced the sheet, and prepared to depart.

As we walked away from the mortuary, Thorndyke was silent and deeply thoughtful, and I gathered that he was piecing together the facts that he had acquired. At length Mr. Stopford, who had several times looked at him curiously, said:

“The post-mortem will take place at three, and it is now only half-past eleven. What would you like to do next?”

Thorndyke, who, in spite of his mental preoccupation, had been looking about him in his usual keen, attentive way, halted suddenly.

“Your reference to the post-mortem,” said he, “reminds me that I forgot to put the ox-gall into my case.”

“Ox-gall!” I exclaimed, endeavouring vainly to connect this substance with the technique of the pathologist. “What were you going to do with——”

But here I broke off, remembering my friend’s dislike of any discussion of his methods before strangers.

“I suppose,” he continued, “there would hardly be an artist’s colourman in a place of this size?”

“I should think not,” said Stopford. “But couldn’t you get the stuff from a butcher? There’s a shop just across the road.”

“So there is,” agreed Thorndyke, who had already observed the shop. “The gall ought, of course, to be prepared, but we can filter it ourselves—that is, if the butcher has any. We will try him, at any rate.”

He crossed the road towards the shop, over which the name “Felton” appeared in gilt lettering, and, addressing himself to the proprietor, who stood at the door, introduced himself and explained his wants.

“Ox-gall?” said the butcher. “No, sir, I haven’t any just now; but I am having a beast killed this afternoon, and I can let you have some then. In fact,” he added, after a pause, “as the matter is of importance, I can have one killed at once if you wish it.”

“That is very kind of you,” said Thorndyke, “and it would greatly oblige me. Is the beast perfectly healthy?”

“They’re in splendid condition, sir. I picked them out of the herd myself. But you shall see them—ay, and choose the one that you’d like killed.”

“You are really very good,” said Thorndyke warmly. “I will just run into the chemist’s next door, and get a suitable bottle, and then I will avail myself of your exceedingly kind offer.”

He hurried into the chemist’s shop, from which he presently emerged, carrying a white paper parcel; and we then followed the butcher down a narrow lane by the side of his shop. It led to an enclosure containing a small pen, in which were confined three handsome steers, whose glossy, black coats contrasted in a very striking manner with their long, greyish-white, nearly straight horns.

“These are certainly very fine beasts, Mr. Felton,” said Thorndyke, as we drew up beside the pen, “and in excellent condition, too.”

He leaned over the pen and examined the beasts critically, especially as to their eyes and horns; then, approaching the nearest one, he raised his stick and bestowed a smart tap on the under-side of the right horn, following it by a similar tap on the left one, a proceeding that the beast viewed with stolid surprise.

“The state of the horns,” explained Thorndyke, as he moved on to the next steer, “enables one to judge, to some extent, of the beast’s health.”

“Lord bless you, sir,” laughed Mr. Felton, “they haven’t got no feeling in their horns, else what good ’ud their horns be to ’em?”

Apparently he was right, for the second steer was as indifferent to a sounding rap on either horn as the first. Nevertheless, when Thorndyke approached the third steer, I unconsciously drew nearer to watch; and I noticed that, as the stick struck the horn, the beast drew back in evident alarm, and that when the blow was repeated, it became manifestly uneasy.

“He don’t seem to like that,” said the butcher. “Seems as if—— Hullo, that’s queer!”

Thorndyke had just brought his stick up against the left horn, and immediately the beast had winced and started back, shaking his head and moaning. There was not, however, room for him to back out of reach, and Thorndyke, by leaning into the pen, was able to inspect the sensitive horn, which he did with the closest attention, while the butcher looked on with obvious perturbation.

“You don’t think there’s anything wrong with this beast, sir, I hope,” said he.

“I can’t say without a further examination,” replied Thorndyke. “It may be the horn only that is affected. If you will have it sawn off close to the head, and sent up to me at the hotel, I will look at it and tell you. And, by way of preventing any mistakes I will mark it and cover it up, to protect it from injury in the slaughter-house.”

He opened his parcel and produced from it a wide-mouthed bottle labelled “Ox-gall,” a sheet of gutta-percha tissue, a roller bandage, and a stick of sealing-wax. Handing the bottle to Mr. Felton, he encased the distal half of the horn in a covering by means of the tissue and the bandage, which he fixed securely with the sealing-wax.

“I’ll saw the horn off and bring it up to the hotel myself, with the ox-gall,” said Mr. Felton. “You shall have them in half an hour.”

He was as good as his word, for in half an hour Thorndyke was seated at a small table by the window of our private sitting-room in the Black Bull Hotel. The table was covered with newspaper, and on it lay the long grey horn and Thorndyke’s travelling-case, now open and displaying a small microscope and its accessories. The butcher was seated solidly in an arm-chair waiting, with a half-suspicious eye on Thorndyke, for the report; and I was endeavouring by cheerful talk to keep Mr. Stopford from sinking into utter despondency, though I, too, kept a furtive watch on my colleague’s rather mysterious proceedings.

I saw him unwind the bandage and apply the horn to his ear, bending it slightly to and fro. I watched him, as he scanned the surface closely through a lens, and observed him as he scraped some substance from the pointed end on to a glass slide, and, having applied a drop of some reagent, began to tease out the scraping with a pair of mounted needles. Presently he placed the slide under the microscope, and, having observed it attentively for a minute or two, turned round sharply.

“Come and look at this, Jervis,” said he.

I wanted no second bidding, being on tenterhooks of curiosity, but came over and applied my eye to the instrument.

“Well, what is it?” he asked.

“A multipolar nerve corpuscle—very shrivelled, but unmistakable.”

“And this?”

He moved the slide to a fresh spot.

“Two pyramidal nerve corpuscles and some portions of fibres.”

“And what do you say the tissue is?”

“Cortical brain substance, I should say, without a doubt.”

“I entirely agree with you. And that being so,” he added, turning to Mr. Stopford, “we may say that the case for the defence is practically complete.”

“What, in Heaven’s name, do you mean?” exclaimed Stopford, starting up.

“I mean that we can now prove when and where and how Miss Grant met her death. Come and sit down here, and I will explain. No, you needn’t go away, Mr. Felton. We shall have to subpœna you. Perhaps,” he continued, “we had better go over the facts and see what they suggest. And first we note the position of the body, lying with the feet close to the off-side door, showing that, when she fell, the deceased was sitting, or more probably standing, close to that door. Next there is this.” He drew from his pocket a folded paper, which he opened, displaying a tiny blue disc. “It is one of the sequins with which her hat was trimmed, and I have in this envelope several more which I took from the hat itself.

“This single sequin I picked up on the rear end of the off-side footboard, and its presence there makes it nearly certain that at some time Miss Grant had put her head out of the window on that side.

“The next item of evidence I obtained by dusting the margins of the off-side window with a light powder, which made visible a greasy impression three and a quarter inches long on the sharp corner of the right-hand jamb (right-hand from the inside, I mean).

“And now as to the evidence furnished by the body. The wound in the skull is behind and above the left ear, is roughly circular, and measures one inch and seven-sixteenths at most, and a ragged scalp-wound runs from it towards the left eye. On the right cheek is a linear contused wound three and a quarter inches long. There are no other injuries.

“Our next facts are furnished by this.” He took up the horn and tapped it with his finger, while the solicitor and Mr. Felton stared at him in speechless wonder. “You notice it is a left horn, and you remember that it was highly sensitive. If you put your ear to it while I strain it, you will hear the grating of a fracture in the bony core. Now look at the pointed end, and you will see several deep scratches running lengthwise, and where those scratches end the diameter of the horn is, as you see by this calliper-gauge, one inch and seven-sixteenths. Covering the scratches is a dry blood-stain, and at the extreme tip is a small mass of a dried substance which Dr. Jervis and I have examined with the microscope and are satisfied is brain tissue.”

“Good God!” exclaimed Stopford eagerly. “Do you mean to say——”

“Let us finish with the facts, Mr. Stopford,” Thorndyke interrupted. “Now, if you look closely at that blood-stain, you will see a short piece of hair stuck to the horn, and through this lens you can make out the root-bulb. It is a golden hair, you notice, but near the root it is black, and our calliper-gauge shows us that the black portion is fourteen sixty-fourths of an inch long. Now, in this envelope are some hairs that I removed from the dead woman’s head. They also are golden hairs, black at the roots, and when I measure the black portion I find it to be fourteen sixty-fourths of an inch long. Then, finally, there is this.”

He turned the horn over, and pointed to a small patch of dried blood. Embedded in it was a blue sequin.

Mr. Stopford and the butcher both gazed at the horn in silent amazement; then the former drew a deep breath and looked up at Thorndyke.

“No doubt,” said he, “you can explain this mystery, but for my part I am utterly bewildered, though you are filling me with hope.”

“And yet the matter is quite simple,” returned Thorndyke, “even with these few facts before us, which are only a selection from the body of evidence in our possession. But I will state my theory, and you shall judge.” He rapidly sketched a rough plan on a sheet of paper, and continued: “These were the conditions when the train was approaching Woldhurst: Here was the passenger-coach, here was the burning rick, and here was a cattle-truck. This steer was in that truck. Now my hypothesis is that at that time Miss Grant was standing with her head out of the off-side window, watching the burning rick. Her wide hat, worn on the left side, hid from her view the cattle-truck which she was approaching, and then this is what happened.” He sketched another plan to a larger scale. “One of the steers—this one—had thrust its long horn out through the bars. The point of that horn struck the deceased’s head, driving her face violently against the corner of the window, and then, in disengaging, ploughed its way through the scalp and suffered a fracture of its core from the violence of the wrench. This hypothesis is inherently probable, it fits all the facts, and those facts admit of no other explanation.”

The solicitor sat for a moment as though dazed, then he rose impulsively and seized Thorndyke’s hands.

“I don’t know what to say to you,” he exclaimed huskily, “except that you have saved my brother’s life, and for that may God reward you!”

The butcher rose from his chair with a slow grin.

“It seems to me,” said he, “as if that ox-gall was what you might call a blind, eh, sir?”

And Thorndyke smiled an inscrutable smile.

When we returned to town on the following day we were a party of four, which included Mr. Harold Stopford. The verdict of “Death by misadventure,” promptly returned by the coroner’s jury, had been shortly followed by his release from custody, and he now sat with his brother and me, listening with rapt attention to Thorndyke’s analysis of the case.

“So, you see,” the latter concluded, “I had six possible theories of the cause of death worked out before I reached Halbury, and it only remained to select the one that fitted the facts. And when I had seen the cattle-truck, had picked up that sequin, had heard the description of the steers, and had seen the hat and the wounds, there was nothing left to do but the filling in of details.”

“And you never doubted my innocence?” asked Harold Stopford.

Thorndyke smiled at his quondam client.

“Not after I had seen your colour-box and your sketch,” said he, “to say nothing of the spike.”




This story is Number Ten from the book

“The Famous Cases of Dr. Thorndyke

 Thirty-seven of his criminal

 investigations as set down by

 R. Austin Freeman.”


also known as


“Dr. Thorndyke His Famous Cases as

 Described by R. Austin Freeman”.


First published July 1929

Hodder & Stoughton, London




Misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected. Where multiple spellings occur, majority use has been employed.

Punctuation has been maintained except where obvious printer errors occur.

Book name and author have been added to the original book cover, together with the name and number of this story. The resulting cover is placed in the public domain.

[The end of The Blue Sequin by Richard Austin Freeman]