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Title: The Trail of Behemoth

Date of first publication: 1929

Author: Richard Austin Freeman (1862-1943)

Date first posted: Sep. 8, 2018

Date last updated: Sep. 8, 2018

Faded Page eBook #20180912

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


Of all the minor dissipations in which temperate men indulge there is none, I think, more alluring than the after-breakfast pipe. I had just lit mine and was standing before the fire with the unopened paper in my hand when my ear caught the sound of hurried footsteps ascending the stair. Now experience has made me somewhat of a connoisseur in footsteps. A good many are heard on our stair, heralding the advent of a great variety of clients, and I have learned to distinguish those which are premonitory of urgent cases. Such I judged the present ones to be, and my judgment was confirmed by a hasty, importunate tattoo on our small brass knocker. Regretfully taking the much-appreciated pipe from my mouth, I crossed the room and threw the door open.

“Good morning, Dr. Jervis,” said our visitor, a barrister whom I knew slightly. “Is your colleague at home?”

“No, Mr. Bidwell,” I replied. “I am sorry to say he is out of town. He won’t be back until the day after to-morrow.”

Mr. Bidwell was visibly disappointed.

“Ha! Pity!” he exclaimed; and then with quick tact he added: “But still, you are here. It comes to the same thing.”

“I don’t know about that,” said I. “But, at any rate, I am at your service.”

“Thank you,” said he. “And in that case I will ask you to come round with me at once to Tanfield Court. A most shocking thing has happened. My old friend and neighbour, Giles Herrington, has been—well, he is dead—died suddenly, and I think there can be no doubt that he was killed. Can you come now? I will give you the particulars as we go.”

I scribbled a hasty note to say where I had gone, and having laid it on the table, got my hat and set forth with Mr. Bidwell.

“It has only just been discovered,” said he, as we crossed King’s Bench Walk. “The laundress who does his chambers and mine was battering at my door when I arrived—I don’t live in the Temple, you know. She was as pale as a ghost and in an awful state of alarm and agitation. It seems that she had gone up to Herrington’s chambers to get his breakfast ready as usual; but when she went into the sitting-room she found him lying dead on the floor. Thereupon she rushed down to my chambers—I am usually an early bird—and there I found her, as I said, battering at my door, although she has a key.

“Well, I went up with her to my friend’s chambers—they are on the first floor, just over mine—and there, sure enough, was poor old Giles lying on the floor, cold and stiff. Evidently he had been lying there all night.”

“Were there any marks of violence on the body?” I asked.

“I didn’t notice any,” he replied, “but I didn’t look very closely. What I did notice was that the place was all in disorder—a chair overturned and things knocked off the table. It was pretty evident that there had been a struggle and that he had not met his death by fair means.”

“And what do you want us to do?” I asked.

“Well,” he replied, “I was Herrington’s friend; about the only friend he had, for he was not an amiable or a sociable man; and I am the executor of his will.

“Appearances suggest very strongly that he has been murdered, and I take it upon myself to see that his murderer is brought to account. Our friendship seems to demand that. Of course, the police will go into the affair, and if it turns out to be all plain sailing, there will be nothing for you to do. But the murderer, if there is one, has got to be secured and convicted, and if the police can’t manage it, I want you and Thorndyke to see the case through. This is the place.”

He hurried in through the entry and up the stairs to the first-floor landing, where he rapped loudly at the closed “oak” of a set of chambers above which was painted the name of “Mr. Giles Herrington.”

After an interval, during which Mr. Bidwell repeated the summons, the massive door opened and a familiar face looked out: the face of Inspector Badger of the Criminal Investigation Department. The expression that it bore was not one of welcome, and my experience of the inspector caused me to brace myself up for the inevitable contest.

“What is your business?” he inquired forbiddingly.

Mr. Bidwell took the question to himself and replied:

“I am Mr. Herrington’s executor, and in that capacity I have instructed Dr. Jervis and his colleague, Dr. Thorndyke, to watch the case on my behalf. I take it that you are a police officer?”

“I am,” replied Badger, “and I can’t admit any unauthorised persons to these chambers.”

“We are not unauthorised persons,” said Mr. Bidwell. “We are here on legitimate business. Do I understand that you refuse admission to the legal representatives of the deceased man?”

In the face of Mr. Bidwell’s firm and masterful attitude, Badger began, as usual, to weaken. Eventually, having warned us to convey no information to anybody, he grudgingly opened the door and admitted us.

“I have only just arrived, myself,” he said. “I happened to be in the porter’s lodge on other business when the laundress came and gave the alarm.”

As I stepped into the room and looked round, I saw at a glance the clear indications of a crime. The place was in the utmost disorder. The cloth had been dragged from the table, littering the floor with broken glass, books, a tobacco jar, and various other objects. A chair sprawled on its back, the fender was dislodged from its position, the hearth-rug was all awry; and in the midst of the wreckage, on the space of floor between the table and the fireplace, the body of a man was stretched in a not uneasy posture.

I stooped over him and looked him over searchingly; an elderly man, clean-shaved and slightly bald, with a grim, rather forbidding countenance, which was not, however, distorted or apparently unusual in expression. There were no obvious injuries, but the crumpled state of the collar caused me to look more closely at the throat and neck, and I then saw pretty plainly a number of slightly discoloured marks, such as would be made by fingers tightly grasping the throat. Evidently Badger had already observed them, for he remarked:

“There’s no need to ask you what he died of, doctor; I can see that for myself.”

“The actual cause of death,” said I, “is not quite evident. He doesn’t appear to have died from suffocation, but those are very unmistakable marks on the throat.”

“Uncommonly,” agreed Badger; “and they are enough for my purpose without any medical hair-splittings. How long do you think he has been dead?”

“From nine to twelve hours,” I replied, “but nearer nine, I should think.”

The inspector looked at his watch.

“That makes it between nine o’clock and midnight, but nearer midnight,” said he. “Well, we shall hear if the night porter has anything to tell us. I’ve sent word for him to come over, and the laundress, too. And here is one of ’em.”

It was, in fact, both of them, for when the inspector opened the door, they were discovered conversing eagerly in whispers.

“One at a time,” said Badger. “I’ll have the porter in first”; and having admitted the man, he unceremoniously shut the door on the woman. The night porter saluted me as he came in—we were old acquaintances—and then halted near the door, where he stood stiffly, with his eyes riveted on the corpse.

“Now,” said Badger, “I want you to try to remember if you let in any strangers last night, and if so, what their business was.”

“I remember quite well,” the porter replied. “I let in three strangers while I was on duty. One was going to Mr. Bolter in Fig Tree Court, one was going to Sir Alfred Blain’s chambers, and the third said he had an appointment with Mr. Herrington.”

“Ha!” exclaimed Badger, rubbing his hands. “Now, what time did you let him in?”

“It was just after ten-fifteen.”

“Can you tell us what he was like and how he was dressed?”

“Yes,” was the reply. “He didn’t know where Tanfield Court was, and I had to walk down and show him, so I was able to have a good look at him. He was a middle-sized man, rather thin, dark hair, small moustache, no beard, and he had a long, sharp nose with a bump on the bridge. He wore a soft felt hat, a loose light overcoat, and he carried a thickish rough stick.”

“What class of man was he? Seem to be a gentleman?”

“He was quite a gentlemanly kind of man, so far as I could judge, but he looked a bit shabby as to his clothes.”

“Did you let him out?”

“Yes. He came to the gate a few minutes before eleven.”

“And did you notice anything unusual about him then?”

“I did,” the porter replied impressively. “I noticed that his collar was all crumpled and his hat was dusty and dented. His face was a bit red, and he looked rather upset, as if he had been having a tussle with somebody. I looked at him particularly and wondered what had been happening, seeing that Mr. Herrington was a quiet, elderly gentleman, though he was certainly a bit peppery at times.”

The inspector took down these particulars gleefully in a large notebook and asked:

“Is that all you know of the affair?” And when the porter replied that it was, he said: “Then I will ask you to read this statement and sign your name below it.”

The porter read through his statement and carefully signed his name at the foot. He was about to depart when Badger said:

“Before you go, perhaps you had better help us to move the body into the bedroom. It isn’t decent to leave it lying there.”

Accordingly the four of us lifted the dead man and carried him into the bedroom, where we laid him on the undisturbed bed and covered him with a rug. Then the porter was dismissed, with instructions to send in Mrs. Runt.

The laundress’s statement was substantially a repetition of what Mr. Bidwell had told me. She had let herself into the chambers in the usual way, had come suddenly on the dead body of the tenant, and had forthwith rushed downstairs to give the alarm. When she had concluded the inspector stood for a few moments looking thoughtfully at his notes.

“I suppose,” he said presently, “you haven’t looked round these chambers this morning? Can’t say if there is anything unusual about them, or anything missing?”

The laundress shook her head.

“I was too upset,” she said, with another furtive glance at the place where the corpse had lain; “but,” she added, letting her eyes roam vaguely round the room, “there doesn’t seem to be anything missing, so far as I can see—wait! Yes, there is. There’s something gone from that nail on the wall; and it was there yesterday morning, because I remember dusting it.”

“Ha!” exclaimed Badger. “Now what was it that was hanging on that nail?”

“Well,” Mrs. Runt replied hesitatingly, “I really don’t know what it was. Seemed like a sort of sword or dagger, but I never looked at it particularly, and I never took it off its nail. I used to dust it as it hung.”

“Still,” said Badger, “you can give us some sort of description of it, I suppose?”

“I don’t know that I can,” she replied. “It had a leather case, and the handle was covered with leather, I think, and it had a sort of loop, and it used to hang on that nail.”

“Yes, you said that before,” Badger commented sourly. “When you say it had a case, do you mean a sheath?”

“You can call it a sheath if you like,” she retorted, evidently ruffled by the inspector’s manner, “I call it a case.”

“And how big was it? How long, for instance?”

Mrs. Runt held out her hands about a yard apart, looked at them critically, shortened the interval to a foot, extended it to two, and still varying the distance, looked vaguely at the inspector.

“I should say it was about that,” she said.

“About what?” snorted Badger. “Do you mean a foot or two feet or a yard? Can’t you give us some idea?”

“I can’t say no clearer than what I have,” she snapped. “I don’t go round gentlemen’s chambers measuring the things.”

It seemed to me that Badger’s questions were rather unnecessary, for the wall-paper below the nail gave the required information. A coloured patch on the faded ground furnished a pretty clear silhouette of a broad-bladed sword or large dagger, about two feet six inches long, which had apparently hung from the nail by a loop or ring at the end of the handle. But it was not my business to point this out. I turned to Bidwell and asked:

“Can you tell us what the thing was?”

“I am afraid I can’t,” he replied. “I have very seldom been in these chambers. Herrington and I usually met in mine and went to the club. I have a dim recollection of something hanging on that nail, but I have not the least idea what it was or what it was like. But do you think it really matters? The thing was almost certainly a curio of some kind. It couldn’t have been of any appreciable value. It is absurd, on the face of it, to suppose that this man came to Herrington’s chambers, apparently by appointment, and murdered him for the sake of getting possession of an antique sword or dagger. Don’t you think so?”

I did, and so, apparently, did the inspector, with the qualification that “the thing seemed to have disappeared, and its disappearance ought to be accounted for”; which was perfectly true, though I did not quite see how the “accounting for” was to be effected. However, as the laundress had told all that she knew, Badger gave her her dismissal and she retired to the landing, where I noticed that the night porter was still lurking. Mr. Bidwell also took his departure, and happening, a few moments later, to glance out of the window, I saw him walking slowly across the court, apparently conferring with the laundress and the porter.

As soon as we were alone, Badger assumed a friendly and confidential manner and proceeded to give advice.

“I gather that Mr. Bidwell wants you to investigate this case, but I don’t fancy it is in your line at all. It is just a matter of tracing that stranger and getting hold of him. Then we shall have to find out what property there was on these premises. The laundress says that there is nothing missing, but of course no one supposes that the man came here to take the furniture. It is most probable that the motive was robbery of some kind. There’s no sign of anything broken open; but then, there wouldn’t be, as the keys were available.”

Nevertheless he prowled round the room, examining every receptacle that had a lock and trying the drawers of the writing-table and of what looked like a file cabinet.

“You will have your work cut out,” I remarked, “to trace that man. The porter’s description was pretty vague.”

“Yes,” he replied; “there isn’t much to go on. That’s where you come in,” he added with a grin, “with your microscopes and air-pumps and things. Now if Dr. Thorndyke was here he would just sweep a bit of dust from the floor and collect any stray oddments and have a good look at them through his magnifier, and then we should know all about it. Can’t you do a bit in that line? There’s plenty of dust on the floor. And here’s a pin. Wonderful significant thing is a pin. And here’s a wax vesta; now, that ought to tell you quite a lot. And here is the end of a leather boot-lace—at least, that is what it looks like. That must have come out of somebody’s boot. Have a look at it, doctor, and see if you can tell me what kind of boot it came out of and whose boot it was.”

He laid the fragment, and the match, and the pin on the table and grinned at me somewhat offensively. Inwardly I resented his impertinence—perhaps the more so since I realised that Thorndyke would probably not have been so completely gravelled as I undoubtedly was. But I considered it politic to take his clumsy irony in good part, and even to carry on his elephantine joke. Accordingly, I picked up the three “clues,” one after the other, and examined them gravely, noting that the supposed boot-lace appeared to be composed of whalebone or vulcanite.

“Well, inspector,” I said. “I can’t give you the answer off-hand. There’s no microscope here. But I will examine these objects at my leisure and let you have the information in due course.”

With that I wrapped them with ostentatious care in a piece of note-paper and bestowed them in my pocket, a proceeding which the inspector watched with a sour smile.

“I’m afraid you’ll be too late,” said he. “Our men will probably pick up the tracks while you are doing the microscope stunt. However, I mustn’t stay here any longer. We can’t do anything until we know what valuables there were on the premises; and I must have the body removed and examined by the police surgeon.”

He moved towards the door, and as I had no further business in the rooms, I followed, and leaving him to lock up, I took my way back to our chambers.

When Thorndyke returned to town a couple of days later, I mentioned the case to him. But what Badger had said appeared to be true. It was a case of ascertaining the identity of the stranger who had visited the dead man on that fatal night, and this seemed to be a matter for the police rather than for us. So the case remained in abeyance until the evening following the inquest, when Mr. Bidwell called on us, accompanied by a Mr. Carston, whom he introduced as an old friend of his and of Herrington’s family.

“I have called,” he said, “to bring you a full report of the evidence at the inquest. I had a shorthand writer there, and this is a typed transcript of his notes. Nothing fresh transpired beyond what Dr. Jervis knows and has probably told you, but I thought you had better have all the information in writing.”

“There is no clue as to who the suspicious visitor was, I suppose?” said Thorndyke.

“Not the slightest,” replied Bidwell. “The porter’s description is all they have to go on, and of course it would apply to hundreds of persons. But, in connection with that, there is a question on which I should like to take your opinion. Poor Herrington once mentioned to me that he was subjected to a good deal of annoyance by a certain person who from time to time applied to him for financial help. I gathered that some sort of claim was advanced, and that the demands for money were more or less of the nature of blackmail. Giles didn’t say who the person was, but I got the impression that he was a relative. Now, my friend Carston, who attended the inquest with me, noticed that the porter’s description of the stranger would apply fairly well to a nephew of Giles’s, whom he knows slightly and who is a somewhat shady character; and the question that Carston and I have been debating is whether these facts ought to be communicated to the police. It is a serious matter to put a man under suspicion on such very slender data; and yet——”

“And yet,” said Carston, “the facts certainly fit the circumstances. This fellow—his name is Godfrey Herrington—is a typical ne’er-do-weel. Nobody knows how he lives. He doesn’t appear to do any work. And then there is the personality of the deceased. I didn’t know Giles Herrington very well, but I knew his brother, Sir Gilbert, pretty intimately, and if Giles was at all like him, a catastrophe might easily have occurred.”

“What was Sir Gilbert’s special characteristic?” Thorndyke asked.

“Unamiability,” was the reply. “He was a most cantankerous, overbearing man, and violent at times. I knew him when I was at the Colonial Office with him, and one of his official acts will show the sort of man he was. You may remember it, Bidwell—the Bekwè affair. There was some trouble in Bekwè, which is one of the minor kingdoms bordering on Ashanti, and Sir Gilbert was sent out as a special commissioner to settle it. And settle it he did with a vengeance. He took up an armed force, deposed the king of Bekwè, seized the royal stool, message stick, state sword, drums, and the other insignia of royalty, and brought them away with him. And what made it worse was that he treated these important things as mere loot: kept some of them himself and gave away others as presents to his friends.

“It was an intolerably high-handed proceeding, and it caused a rare outcry. Even the Colonial Governor protested, and in the end the Secretary of State directed the Governor to reinstate the king and restore the stolen insignia, as these things went with the royal title and were necessary for the ceremonies of reinstatement or the accession of a new king.”

“And were they restored?” asked Bidwell.

“Most of them were. But just about this time Gilbert died, and as the whereabouts of one or two of them were unknown, it was impossible to collect them then. I don’t know if they have been found since.”

Here Thorndyke led Mr. Carston back to the point from which he had digressed.

“You are suggesting that certain peculiarities of temper and temperament on the part of the deceased might have some bearing on the circumstances of his death.”

“Yes,” said Carston. “If Giles Herrington was at all like his brother—I don’t know whether he was——” here he looked inquiringly at Bidwell, who nodded emphatically.

“I should say he was, undoubtedly,” said he. “He was my friend, and I was greatly attached to him; but to others, I must admit, he must have appeared a decidedly morose, cantankerous, and irascible man.”

“Very well,” resumed Carston. “If you imagine this cadging, blackmailing wastrel calling on him and trying to squeeze him, and then you imagine Herrington refusing to be squeezed and becoming abusive and even violent, you have a fair set of antecedents for—for what, in fact, did happen.”

“By the way,” said Thorndyke, “what exactly did happen, according to the evidence?”

“The medical evidence,” replied Bidwell, “showed that the immediate cause of death was heart failure. There were marks of fingers on the throat, as you know, and various other bruises. It was evident that deceased had been violently assaulted, but death was not directly due to the injuries.”

“And the finding of the jury?” asked Thorndyke.

“Wilful murder, committed by some person unknown.”

“It doesn’t appear to me,” said I, “that Mr. Carston’s suggestion has much present bearing on the case. It is really a point for the defence. But we are concerned with the identity of the unknown man.”

“I am inclined to agree with Dr. Jervis,” said Bidwell. “We have got to catch the hare before we go into culinary details.”

“My point is,” said Carston, “that Herrington’s peculiar temper suggests a set of circumstances that would render it probable that his visitor was his nephew Godfrey.”

“There is some truth in that,” Thorndyke agreed. “It is highly speculative, but a reasonable speculation cannot be disregarded when the known facts are so few. My feeling is that the police ought to be informed of the existence of this man and his possible relations with the deceased. As to whether he is or is not the suspected stranger, that could be settled at once if he were confronted with the night porter.”

“Yes, that is true,” said Bidwell. “I think Carston and I had better call at Scotland Yard and give the Assistant Commissioner a hint on the subject. It will have to be a very guarded hint, of course.”

“Was the question of motive raised?” Thorndyke asked. “As to robbery, for instance.”

“There is no evidence of robbery,” replied Bidwell. “I have been through all the receptacles in the chambers, and everything seems intact. The keys were in poor Giles’s pocket and nothing seems to have been disturbed; indeed, it doesn’t appear that there was any portable property of value on the premises.”

“Well,” said Thorndyke, “the first thing that has to be done is to establish the identity of the nocturnal visitor. That is the business of the police. And if you call and tell them what you have told us, they will, at least, have something to investigate. They should have no difficulty in proving either that he is or is not the man whom the porter let in at the gate; and until they have settled that question, there is no need for us to take any action.”

“Exactly,” said Bidwell, rising and taking up his hat. “If the police can complete the case, there is nothing for us to do. However, I will leave you the report of the inquest to look over at your leisure, and will keep you informed as to how the case progresses.”

When our two friends had gone, Thorndyke sat for some time turning over the sheets of the report and glancing through the depositions of the witnesses. Presently he remarked:

“If it turns out that this man, Godfrey Herrington, is not the man whom the porter let in, the police will be left in the air. Apart from Bidwell’s purely speculative suggestion, there seems to be no clue whatever to the visitor’s identity.”

“Badger would like to hear you say that,” said I. “He was very sarcastic respecting our methods of research,” and here I gave him an account of my interview with the inspector, including the “clues” with which he had presented me.

“It was like his impudence,” Thorndyke commented smilingly, “to pull the leg of my learned junior. Still, there was a germ of sense in what he said. A collection of dust from the floor of that room, in which two men had engaged in a violent struggle, would certainly yield traces of both of them.”

“Mixed up with the traces of a good many others,” I remarked.

“True,” he admitted. “But that would not affect the value of a positive trace of a particular individual. Supposing, for instance, that Godfrey Herrington were known to have dyed hair; and suppose that one or more dyed male hairs were found in the dust from the floor of the room. That would establish a probability that he had been in that room, and also that he was the person who had struggled with the deceased.”

“Yes, I see that,” said I. “Perhaps I ought to have collected some of the dust. But it isn’t too late now, as Bidwell has locked up the chambers. Meanwhile, let me present you with Badger’s clues. They came off the floor.”

I searched in my pocket and produced the paper packet, the existence of which I had forgotten, and having opened it, offered it to him with an ironical bow. He looked gravely at the little collection, and, disregarding the pin and the match, picked out the third object and examined it curiously.

“That is the alleged boot-lace end,” he remarked. “It doesn’t do much credit to Badger’s powers of observation. It is as unlike leather as it could well be.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “it is obviously whalebone or vulcanite.”

“It isn’t vulcanite,” said he, looking closely at the broken end and getting out his pocket lens for a more minute inspection.

“What do you suppose it is?” I asked, my curiosity stimulated by the evident interest with which he was examining the object.

“We needn’t suppose,” he replied. “I fancy that if we get Polton to make a cross section of it, the microscope will tell us what it is. I will take it up to him now.”

As he went out and I heard him ascending to the laboratory where our assistant, Polton, was at work, I was conscious of a feeling of vexation and a sense of failure. It was always thus. I had treated this fragment with the same levity as had the inspector, just dropping it into my pocket and forgetting it. Probably the thing was of no interest or importance; but whether it was or not, Thorndyke would not be satisfied until he knew for certain what it was. And that habit of examining everything, of letting nothing pass without the closest scrutiny, was one of the great secrets of his success as an investigator.

When he came down again I reopened the subject.

“It has occurred to me,” I said, “that it might be as well for us to have a look at that room. My inspection was rather perfunctory, as Badger was there.”

“I have just been thinking the same,” he replied. “If Godfrey is not the man, and the police are left stranded, Bidwell will look to us to take up the inquiry, and by that time the room may have been disturbed. I think we will get the key from Bidwell to-morrow morning and make a thorough examination. And we may as well adopt Badger’s excellent suggestion respecting the dust. I will instruct Polton to come over with us and bring a full-sized vacuum-cleaner, and we can go over what he collects at our leisure.”

Agreeably to this arrangement, we presented ourselves on the following morning at Mr. Bidwell’s chambers, accompanied by Polton, who, however, being acutely conscious of the vacuum-cleaner, which was thinly disguised in brown paper, sneaked up the stairs and got out of sight. Bidwell opened the door himself, and Thorndyke explained our intentions to him.

“Of course you can have the key,” he said, “but I don’t know that it is worth your while to go into the matter. There have been developments since I saw you last night. When Carston and I called at Scotland Yard we found that we were too late. Godfrey Herrington had come forward and made a voluntary statement.”

“That was wise of him,” said Thorndyke, “but he would have been wiser still to have notified the porter of what had happened and sent for a doctor. He claims that the death was a misadventure, of course?”

“Not at all,” replied Bidwell. “He states that when he left, Giles was perfectly well; so well that he was able to kick him—Godfrey—down the stairs and pitch him out on to the pavement. It seems, according to his account, that he called to try to get some financial help from his uncle. He admits that he was rather importunate and persisted after Giles had definitely refused. Then Giles got suddenly into a rage, thrust him out of the chambers, ran him down the stairs, and threw him out into Tanfield Court. It is a perfectly coherent story, and quite probable up to a certain point, but it doesn’t account for the bruises on Giles’s body or the finger-marks on his throat.”

“No,” agreed Thorndyke; “either he is lying, or he is the victim of some very inexplicable circumstances. But I gather that you have no further interest in the case?”

Bidwell reflected.

“Well,” he said, “I don’t know about that. Of course I don’t believe him, but it is just possible that he is telling the truth. My feeling is that, if he is guilty, I want him convicted; but if by any chance he is innocent—well, he is Giles’s nephew, and I suppose it is my duty to see that he has a fair chance. Yes, I think I would like you to watch the case independently—with a perfectly open mind, neither for nor against. But I don’t see that there is much that you can do.”

“Neither do I,” said Thorndyke. “But one can observe and note the visible facts, if there are any. Has anything been done to the rooms?”

“Nothing whatever,” was the reply. “They are just as Dr. Jervis and I found them the morning after the catastrophe.”

With this he handed Thorndyke the key and we ascended to the landing, where we found Polton on guard with the vacuum-cleaner, like a sentry armed with some new and unorthodox weapon.

The appearance of the room was unchanged. The half-dislodged table-cloth, the litter of broken glass on the floor, even the displaced fender and hearth-rug, were just as I had last seen them. Thorndyke looked about him critically and remarked:

“The appearances hardly support Godfrey’s statement. There was clearly a prolonged and violent struggle, not a mere ejectment. And look at the table-cloth. The uncovered part of the table is that nearest the door, and most of the things have fallen off at the end nearest the fireplace. Obviously, the body that dislodged the cloth was moving away from the door, not towards it, which again suggests something more than an unresisted ejectment.”

He again looked round, and his glance fell on the nail and the coloured silhouette on the wall-paper.

“That, I presume,” said he, “is where the mysterious sword or dagger hung. It is rather large for a dagger and somewhat wide for a sword, though barbaric swords are of all shapes and sizes.”

He produced his spring tape and carefully measured the phantom shape on the wall. “Thirty-one inches long,” he reported, “including the loop at the end of the handle, by which it hung; seven and a half inches at the top of the scabbard, tapering rather irregularly to three inches at the tip. A curious shape. I don’t remember ever having seen a sword quite like it.”

Meanwhile Polton, having picked up the broken glass and other objects, had uncovered the vacuum-cleaner and now started the motor—which was driven by an attached dry battery—and proceeded very systematically to trundle the machine along the floor. At every two or three sweeps he paused to empty the receiver, placing the grey, felt-like mass on a sheet of paper, with a pencilled note of the part of the room from whence it came. The size of these masses of felted dust, and the astonishing change in the colour of the carpet that marked the trail of the cleaner, suggested that Mrs. Runt’s activities had been of a somewhat perfunctory character. Polton’s dredgings apparently represented the accumulations of years.

“Wonderful lot of hairs in this old dust,” Polton remarked as he deposited a fresh consignment on the paper, “especially in this lot. It came from under that looking-glass on the wall. Perhaps that clothes brush that hangs under the glass accounts for it.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “they will be hairs brushed off Mr. Herrington’s collar and shoulders. But,” I added, taking the brush from its nail and examining it, “Mrs. Runt seems to have used the glass, too. There are three long hairs still sticking to the brush.”

As Thorndyke was still occupied in browsing inquisitively round the room, I proceeded to make a preliminary inspection of the heaps of dust, picking out the hairs and other recognisable objects with my pocket forceps, and putting them on a separate sheet of paper. Of the former, the bulk were pretty obviously those of the late tenant—white or dull black male hairs—but Mrs. Runt had contributed quite liberally, for I picked out of the various heaps over a dozen long hairs, the mousy brown colour of which seemed to identify them as hers. The remainder were mostly ordinary male hairs of various colours, eyebrow hairs and eyelashes, of no special interest, with one exception. This was a black hair which lay flat on the paper in a close coil, like a tiny watch-spring.

“I wonder who this negro was,” said I, inspecting it through my lens.

“Probably some African or West Indian Law student,” Thorndyke suggested. “There are always a good many about the Inns of Court.”

He came round to examine my collection, and while he was viewing the negro hair with the aid of my lens, I renewed my investigations of the little dust-heaps. Presently I made a new discovery.

“Why,” I exclaimed, “here is another of Badger’s boot-laces—another piece of the same one, I think. By the way, did you ascertain what that boot-lace really was?”

“Yes,” he replied. “Polton made a section of it and mounted it; and furthermore, he made a magnified photograph of it. I have the photograph in my pocket, so you can answer your own question.”

He produced from his letter-case a half-plate print which he handed to me and which I examined curiously.

“It is a singular object,” said I, “but I don’t quite make it out. It looks rather like a bundle of hairs embedded in some transparent substance.”

“That, in effect,” he replied, “is what it is. It is an elephant’s hair, probably from the tail. But, as you see, it is a compound hair; virtually a group of hairs agglutinated into a single stem. Most very large hairs are compound. A tiger’s whiskers, for instance, are large, stiff hairs which, if cut across, are seen to be formed of several largish hairs fused together; and the colossal hair which grows on the nose of the rhinoceros—the so-called nasal horn—is made up of thousands of subordinate hairs.”

“It is a remarkable-looking thing,” I said, handing back the photograph; “very distinctive—if you happen to know what it is. But the mystery is how on earth it came here. There are no elephants in the Temple.”

“I certainly haven’t noticed any,” he replied; “and, as you say, the presence of an elephant’s hair in a room in the middle of London is a rather remarkable circumstance. And yet, perhaps, if we consider all the other circumstances, it may not be impossible to form a conjecture as to how it came here. I recommend the problem to my learned friend for consideration at his leisure; and now, as we have seen all that there is to see—which is mighty little—we may as well leave Polton to finish the collection of data from the floor. We can take your little selection with us.”

He folded the paper containing the hairs that I had picked out into a neat packet, which he slipped into his pocket; then, having handed the key of the outer door to Polton, for return to Mr. Bidwell, he went out and I followed. We descended the stairs slowly, both of us deeply reflective. As to the subject of his meditations I could form no opinion, but my own were occupied by the problem which he had suggested; and the more I reflected on it, the less capable of solution did it appear.

We had nearly reached the ground floor when I became aware of quick footsteps descending the stairs behind us. Near the entry our follower overtook us, and as we stood aside to let him pass, I had a brief vision of a shortish, dapper, smartly-dressed coloured man—apparently an African or West Indian—who carried a small suit-case and a set of golf-clubs.

“Now,” said I, in a low tone, “I wonder if that gentleman is the late owner of that negro hair that I picked up. It seems intrinsically probable as he appears to live in this building, and would be a near neighbour of Herrington’s.” I halted at the entry and read out the only name painted on the door-post as appertaining to the second floor—Mr. Kwaku Essien, which, I decided, seemed to fit a gentleman of colour.

But Thorndyke was not listening. His long legs were already carrying him, with a deceptively leisurely air, across Tanfield Court in the wake of Mr. Essien, and at about the same pace. I put on a spurt and overtook him, a little mystified by his sudden air of purpose and by the fact that he was not walking in the direction of our chambers. Still more mystified was I when it became clear that Thorndyke was following the African and keeping at a constant distance in rear of him; but I made no comment until, having pursued our quarry to the top of Middle Temple Lane, we saw him hail a taxi and drive off. Then I demanded an explanation.

“I wanted to see him fairly out of the precincts,” was the reply, “because I have a particular desire to see what his chambers are like. I only hope his door has a practicable latch.”

I stared at him in dismay.

“You surely don’t contemplate breaking into his chambers!” I exclaimed.

“Certainly not,” he replied. “If the latch won’t yield to gentle persuasion, I shall give it up. But don’t let me involve you, Jervis. I admit that it is a slightly irregular proceeding.”

“Irregular!” I repeated. “It is house-breaking, pure and simple. I can only hope that you won’t be able to get in.”

The hope turned out to be a vain one, as I had secretly feared. When we had reconnoitred the stairs and established the encouraging fact that the third floor was untenanted, we inspected the door above which our victim’s name was painted; and a glance at the yawning key-hole—diagnostic of an old-fashioned draw-latch—told me that the deed was as good as done.

“Now, Jervis,” said Thorndyke, producing from his pocket the curious instrument that he described as a “smoker’s companion”—it was an undeniable pick-lock, made by Polton under his direction—“you had better clear out and wait for me at our chambers.”

“I shall do nothing of the kind,” I replied. “I am an accessory before the fact already, so I may as well stay and see the crime committed.”

“Then in that case,” said he, “you had better keep a look-out from the landing window and call me if anyone comes to the house. That will make us perfectly safe.”

I accordingly took my station at the window, and Thorndyke, having knocked several times at the “oak” without eliciting any response, set to work with the smoker’s companion. In less than a minute the latch clicked, the outer door opened, and Thorndyke, pushing the inner door open, entered, leaving both doors ajar. I was devoured by curiosity as to what his purpose was. Obviously it must be a very definite one to justify this most extraordinary proceeding. But I dared not leave my post for a moment, seeing that we were really engaged in a very serious breach of the law and it was of vital importance that we should not be surprised in the act. I was therefore unable to observe my colleague’s proceedings, and I waited impatiently to see if anything came of this unlawful entry.

I had waited thus some ten minutes, keeping a close watch on the pavement below, when I heard Thorndyke quickly cross the room and approach the door. A moment later he came out on the landing, bearing in his hand an object which, while it enlightened me as to the purpose of the raid, added to my mystification.

“That looks like the missing sword from Herrington’s room!” I exclaimed, gazing at it in amazement.

“Yes,” he replied. “I found it in a drawer in the bedroom. Only it isn’t a sword.”

“Then, what the deuce is it?” I demanded, for the thing looked like a broad-bladed sword in a soft leather scabbard of somewhat rude native workmanship.

By way of reply he slowly drew the object from its sheath, and as it came into sight, I uttered an exclamation of astonishment. To the inexpert eye it appeared an elongated body about nine inches in length covered with coarse, black leather, from either side of which sprang a multitude of what looked like thick, black wires. Above, it was furnished with a leather handle which was surmounted by a suspension loop of plaited leather.

“I take it,” said I, “that this is an elephant’s tail.”

“Yes,” he replied, “and a rather remarkable specimen. The hairs are of unusual length. Some of them, you see, are nearly eighteen inches long.”

“And what are you going to do now?” I asked.

“I am going to put it back where I found it. Then I shall run down to Scotland Yard and advise Miller to get a search warrant. He is too discreet to ask inconvenient questions.”

I must admit that it was a great relief to me when, a minute later, Thorndyke came out and shut the door; but I could not deny that the raid had been justified by the results. What had, presumably, been a mere surmise had been converted into a definite fact on which action could confidently be taken.

“I suppose,” said I, as we walked down towards the Embankment en route for Scotland Yard, “I ought to have spotted this case.”

“You had the means,” Thorndyke replied. “At your first visit you learned that an object of some kind had disappeared from the wall. It seemed to be a trivial object of no value, and not likely to be connected with the crime. So you disregarded it. But it had disappeared. Its disappearance was not accounted for, and that disappearance seemed to coincide in time with the death of Herrington. It undoubtedly called for investigation. Then you found on the floor an object the nature of which was unknown to you. Obviously, you ought to have ascertained what it was.”

“Yes, I ought,” I admitted, “though I am not sure that I should have been much forrader even then. In fact, I am not so very much forrader even now. I don’t see how you spotted this man Essien, and I don’t understand why he took all this trouble and risk and even committed a murder to get possession of this trumpery curio. Of course I can make a vague guess. But I should like to hear how you ran the man and the thing to earth.”

“Very well,” said Thorndyke. “Let me retrace the train of discoveries and inferences in their order. First I learned that an object, supposed to be a barbaric sword of some kind, had disappeared about the time of the murder—if it was a murder. Then we heard from Carston that Sir Gilbert Herrington had appropriated the insignia and ceremonial objects belonging to the king of Bekwè; that some had subsequently been restored, but others had been given to friends as curios. As I listened to that story, the possibility occurred to me that this curio which had disappeared might be one of the missing ceremonial objects. It was not only possible: it was quite probable. For Giles Herrington was a very likely person to have received one of these gifts, and his morose temper made it unlikely that he would restore it. And then, since such an object would be of great value to somebody, and since it was actually stolen property, there would be good reasons why some interested person should take forcible possession of it. This, of course, was mere hypothesis of a rather shadowy kind. But when you produced an object which I at once suspected, and then proved, to be an elephant’s hair, the hypothesis became a reasonable working theory. For, among the ceremonial objects which form what we may call the regalia of a West African king is the elephant’s tail which is carried before him by a special officer as a symbol of his power and strength. An elephant’s tail had pretty certainly been stolen from the king, and Carston said nothing about its having been restored.

“Well, when we went to Herrington’s chambers just now, it was clear to me that the thing which had disappeared was certainly not a sword. The phantom shape on the wall did not show much, but it did show plainly that the object had hung from the nail by a large loop at the end of the handle. But the suspension loop of a sword or dagger is always on the scabbard, never on the hilt. But if the thing was not a sword, what was it? The elephant’s hair that you found on the floor seemed to answer the question.

“Now, as we came in, I had noticed on the door-post the West African name, Kwaku Essien. A man whose name is Kwaku is pretty certainly a negro. But if this was an elephant’s tail, its lawful owner was a negro, and that owner wanted to recover it and was morally entitled to take possession of it. Here was another striking agreement. The chambers over Herrington’s were occupied by a negro. Finally, you found among the floor dust a negro’s hair. Then a negro had actually been in this room. But from what we know of Herrington, that negro was not there as an invited visitor. All the probabilities pointed to Mr. Essien. But the probabilities were not enough to act on. Then we had a stroke of sheer luck. We got the chance to explore Essien’s chambers and seek the crucial fact. But here we are at Scotland Yard.”

That night, at about eight o’clock, a familiar tattoo on our knocker announced the arrival of Mr. Superintendent Miller, not entirely unexpected, as I guessed.

“Well,” he said, as I let him in, “the coloured nobleman has come home. I’ve just had a message from the man who was detailed to watch the premises.”

“Are you going to make the arrest now?” asked Thorndyke.

“Yes, and I should be glad if you could come across with me. You know more about the case than I do.”

Thorndyke assented at once, and we set forth together. As we entered Tanfield Court we passed a man who was lurking in the shadow of an entry, and who silently indicated the lighted windows of the chambers for which we were bound. Ascending the stairs up which I had lately climbed with unlawful intent, we halted at Mr. Essien’s door, on which the superintendent executed an elaborate flourish with his stick, there being no knocker. After a short interval we heard a bolt withdrawn, the door opened a short distance, and in the interval a black face appeared, looking out at us suspiciously.

“Who are you, and what do you want?” the owner of the face demanded gruffly.

“You are Mr. Kwaku Essien, I think?” said Miller, unostentatiously insinuating his foot into the door opening.

“Yes,” was the reply. “But I don’t know you. What is your business?”

“I am a police officer,” Miller replied, edging his foot in a little farther, “and I hold a warrant to arrest you on the charge of having murdered Mr. Giles Herrington.”

Before the superintendent had fairly finished his sentence, the dusky face vanished and the door slammed violently—on to the superintendent’s massive foot. That foot was instantly reinforced by a shoulder and for a few moments there was a contest of forces, opposite but not equal. Suddenly the door flew open and the superintendent charged into the room. I had a momentary vision of a flying figure, closely pursued, darting through into an inner room, of the slamming of a second door—once more on an intercepting foot. And then—it all seemed to have happened in a few seconds—a dejected figure, sitting on the edge of a bed, clasping a pair of manacled hands and watching Miller as he drew the elephant’s tail out of a drawer in the dressing-chest.

“This—er—article,” said Miller, “belonged to Mr. Herrington, and was stolen from his premises on the night of the murder.”

Essien shook his head emphatically.

“No,” he replied. “You are wrong. I stole nothing, and I did not murder Mr. Herrington. Listen to me and I will tell you all about it.”

Miller administered the usual caution and the prisoner continued:

“This elephant-brush is one of many things stolen, years ago, from the king of Bekwè. Some of those things—most of them—have been restored, but this could not be traced for a long time. At last it became known to me that Mr. Herrington had it, and I wrote to him asking him to give it up and telling him who I was—I am the eldest living son of the king’s sister, and therefore, according to our law, the heir to the kingdom. But he would not give it up or even sell it. Then, as I am a student of the Inn, I took these chambers above his, intending, when I had an opportunity, to go in and take possession of my uncle’s property. The opportunity came that night that you have spoken of. I was coming up the stairs to my chambers when, as I passed his door, I heard loud voices inside as of people quarrelling. I had just reached my own door and opened it when I heard his door open, and then a great uproar and the sound of a struggle. I ran down a little way and looked over the banisters, and then I saw him thrusting a man across the landing and down the lower stairs. As they disappeared, I ran down, and finding his door ajar, I went in to recover my property. It took me a little time to find it, and I had just taken it from the nail and was going out with it when, at the door, I met Mr. Herrington coming in. He was very excited already, and when he saw me he seemed to go mad. I tried to get past him, but he seized me and dragged me back into the room, wrenching the thing out of my hand. He was very violent. I thought he wanted to kill me, and I had to struggle for my life. Suddenly he let go his hold of me, staggered back a few paces, and then fell on the floor. I stooped over him, thinking that he was taken ill, and wondering what I had better do. But soon I saw that he was not ill; he was dead. Then I was very frightened. I picked up the elephant-brush and put it back into its case, and I went out very quietly, shut the door, and ran up to my rooms. That is what happened. There was no robbery and murder.”

“Well,” said Miller, as the prisoner and his escort disappeared towards the gate, “I suppose, in a technical sense, it is murder, but they are hardly likely to press the charge.”

“I don’t think it is even technically,” said Thorndyke. “My feeling is that he will be acquitted if he is sent for trial. Meanwhile, I take it that my client, Godfrey Herrington, will be released from custody at once.”

“Yes, doctor,” replied Miller, “I will see to that now. He has had better luck than he deserved, I suspect, in having his case looked after by you. I don’t fancy he would have got an acquittal if he had gone for trial.”

Thorndyke’s forecast was nearly correct, but there was no acquittal, since there was no trial. The case against Kwaku Essien never got farther than the Grand Jury.



This story is Number Nineteen 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 Trail of Behemoth by Richard Austin Freeman]