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Title: The Green Check Jacket

Date of first publication: 1929

Author: Richard Austin Freeman (1862-1943)

Date first posted: Sep. 25, 2018

Date last updated: Sep. 25, 2018

Faded Page eBook #20180940

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


The visits of our old friend, Mr. Brodribb, even when strictly professional, usually took the outward form of a friendly call. On the present occasion there was no such pretence. The old solicitor entered our chambers carrying a small suit-case (the stamped initials on which, “R.M.,” I noticed, instantly attracted an inquisitive glance from Thorndyke, being obviously not Mr. Brodribb’s own) which he placed on the table and then shook hands with an evident air of business.

“I have come, Thorndyke,” he said, with unusual directness, “to ask your advice on a matter which is causing me some uneasiness. Do you know Reginald Merrill?”

“Slightly,” was the reply. “I meet him occasionally in court; and, of course, I know him as the author of that interesting book on Prehistoric Flint-mines.”

“Well,” said Brodribb, “he has disappeared. He is missing. I don’t like to use the expression; but when a responsible man is absent from his usual places of resort, when he apparently had no expectation of being so absent, and when he has made no provision for such absence, I think we may regard him as having disappeared in a legal sense. His absence calls for active inquiry.”

“Undoubtedly,” agreed Thorndyke; “and I take it that you are the person on whom the duty devolves?”

“I think so. I am his solicitor and the executor of his will—at least I believe so; and the only near relative of his whom I know is his nephew and heir, Ethelbert Crick, his sister’s son. But Crick seems to have disappeared, too; and about the same time as Merrill. It is an extraordinary affair.”

“You say that you believe you are Merrill’s executor. Haven’t you seen the will?”

“I have seen a will. I have it in my safe. But Merrill said he was going to draw up another, and he may have done so. But if he has, he will almost certainly have appointed me his executor, and I shall assume that he has and act accordingly.”

“Was there any special reason for making a new will?” Thorndyke asked.

“Yes,” replied Brodribb. “He has just come into quite a considerable fortune, and he was pretty well off before. Under the old will, practically the whole of his property went to Crick. There was a small bequest to a man named Samuel Horder, his cousin’s son; and Horder was the alternative legatee if Crick should die before Merrill. Now, I understood Merrill to say that, in view of this extra fortune, he wished to do rather more for Horder, and I gathered that he proposed to divide the estate more or less equally between the two men. The whole estate was more than he thought necessary for Crick. And now, as we have cleared up the preliminaries, I will give you the circumstances of the disappearance.

“Last Wednesday, the 5th, I had a note from him saying that he would have some reports ready for me on the following day, but that he would be away from his office from 10.30 a.m. to about 6.30, and suggesting that I should send round in the evening if I wanted the papers particularly. Now it happened that my clerk, Page, had to go to a place near London Bridge on Thursday morning, and, oddly enough, he saw Mr. Merrill come out of Edginton’s, the ship-fitters, with a man who was carrying a largish hand-bag. There was nothing in it, of course, but Page is an observant man and he noticed Merrill’s companion so far as to observe that he was wearing a Norfolk jacket of a greenish shepherd’s plaid and a grey tweed hat. He also noted the time by the big clock in the street near to Edginton’s—11.46—and that Merrill looked up at it, and that the two men then walked off rather quickly in the direction of the station. Well, in the evening, I sent Page round to Merrill’s chambers in Fig-tree Court to get the papers. He arrived there just after 6.30, but he found the oak shut, and though he rapped at the door on the chance that Merrill might have come in—he lives in the chambers adjoining the office—there was no answer. So he went for a walk round the Temple, deciding to return a little later.

“Well, he had gone as far as the cloisters and was loitering there to look in the window of the wig-maker’s shop when he saw a man in a greenish shepherd’s plaid jacket and a tweed hat coming up Pump Court. As the man approached Page thought he recognised him; in fact, he felt so sure that he stopped him and asked him if he knew what time Mr. Merrill would be home. But the man looked at him in astonishment. ‘Merrill?’ said he. ‘I don’t know anyone of that name.’ Thereupon Page apologised and explained how he had been misled by the pattern and colour of the jacket.

“After walking about for nearly half an hour, Page went back to Merrill’s chambers; but the oak was shut and he could get no answer by rapping with his stick, so he scribbled a note and dropped it into the letterbox and came away. The next morning I sent him round again, but the chambers were still shut up, and they have been shut up ever since; and nothing whatever has been seen or heard of Merrill.

“On Saturday, thinking it possible that Crick might be able to give me some news of his uncle, I called at his lodgings; and then, to my astonishment, I learned that he also was missing. He had gone away early on Thursday morning, saying that he had to go on business to Rochester, and that he might not be home to dinner. But he never came home at all. I called again on Sunday evening, and, as he had still not returned, I decided to take more active measures.

“This afternoon, immediately after lunch, I called at the Porter’s Lodge, and, having briefly explained the circumstances and who I was, asked the porter to bring the duplicate key—which he had for the laundress—and accompany me to Mr. Merrill’s chambers to see if, by chance, the tenant might be lying in them dead or insensible. He assured me that this could not be the case, since he had given the key every morning to the laundress, who had, in fact, returned it to him only a couple of hours previously. Nevertheless, he took the key and looked up the laundress, who had rooms near the lodge, who was fortunately at home and who turned out to be a most respectable and intelligent elderly woman; and we went together to Merrill’s chambers. The porter admitted us, and when we had been right through the set and ascertained definitely that Merrill was not there, he handed the key to the laundress, Mrs. Butler, and went away.

“When he was gone, I had a talk with Mrs. Butler, from which some rather startling facts transpired. It seemed that on Thursday, as Merrill was going to be out all day, she took the opportunity to have a grand clean-up of the chambers, to tidy up the lobby, and to look over the chests of drawers and the wardrobe and shake out and brush the clothes and see that no moth had got in. ‘When I had finished,’ she said, ‘the place was like the inside of a band-box; just as he liked to see it.’

“ ‘And, after all, Mrs. Butler,’ said I, ‘he never did see it.’

“ ‘Oh, yes, he did,’ says she. ‘I don’t know when he came in, but when I let myself in the next morning, I could see that he had been in since I left.’

“ ‘How did you know that?’ I asked.

“ ‘Well,’ says she, ‘I left the carpet-sweeper standing against the wardrobe door. I remembered it after I left and would have gone back and moved it, but I had already handed the key in at the Porter’s Lodge. But when I went in next morning it wasn’t there. It had been moved into the corner by the fireplace. Then the looking-glass had been moved. I could see that, because, before I went away, I had tidied my hair by it, and being short, I had to tilt it to see my face in it. Now it was tilted to suit a tall person and I could not see myself in it. Then I saw that the shaving-brush had been moved, and when I put it back in its place, I found it was damp. It wouldn’t have kept damp for twenty-four hours at this time of year,’—which was perfectly true, you know, Thorndyke.”

“Perfectly,” agreed Thorndyke, “that woman is an excellent observer.”

“Well,” continued Brodribb, “on this she examined the shaving soap and the sponge and found them both perceptibly damp. It appeared practically certain that Merrill had been in on the preceding evening and had shaved; but by way of confirmation, I suggested that she should look over his clothes and see whether he had changed any of his garments. She did so, beginning with those that were hanging in the wardrobe, which she took down one at a time. Suddenly she gave a cry of surprise, and I got a bit of a start myself when she handed out a greenish shepherd’s plaid Norfolk jacket.

“ ‘That jacket,’ she said, ‘was not here when I brushed these clothes,’ and it was obvious from its dusty condition that it could not have been; ‘and,’ she added, ‘I have never seen it before to my knowledge, and I think I should have remembered it.’ I asked her if there was any coat missing and she answered that she had brushed a grey tweed jacket that seemed to have disappeared.

“Well, it was a queer affair. The first thing to be done was to ascertain, if possible, whether that jacket was or was not Merrill’s. That, I thought, you would be able to judge better than I; so I borrowed his suit-case and popped the jacket into it, together with another jacket that was undoubtedly his, for comparison. Here is the suit-case and the two jackets are inside.”

“It is really a question that could be better decided by a tailor,” said Thorndyke. “The differences of measurement can’t be great if they could both be worn by the same person. But we shall see.” He rose, and having spread some sheets of newspaper over the table, opened the suit-case and took out the two jackets, which he laid out side by side. Then, with his spring-tape, he proceeded systematically to measure the two garments, entering each pair of measurements on a slip of paper divided into two columns. Mr. Brodribb and I watched him expectantly and compared the two sets of figures as they were written down; and very soon it became evident that they were, at least, not identical. At length Thorndyke laid down the tape, and picking up the paper, studied it closely.

“I think,” he said, “we may conclude that these two jackets were not made for the same person. The differences are not great, but they are consistent. The elbow creases, for instance, agree with the total length of the sleeves. The owner of the green jacket has longer arms and a bigger span than Merrill, but his chest measurement is nearly two inches greater and he has much more sloping shoulders. He could hardly have buttoned Merrill’s jacket.”

“Then,” said Brodribb, “the next question is, did Merrill come home in some other man’s coat or did some other man enter his chambers? From what Page has told us it seems pretty evident that a stranger must have got into those chambers. But if that is so, the questions arise: What the deuce was the fellow’s object in changing into Merrill’s clothes and shaving? How did he get into Merrill’s chambers? What was he doing there? What has become of Merrill? And what is the meaning of the whole affair?”

“To some of those questions,” said Thorndyke, “the answers are fairly obvious. If we assume, as I do, that the owner of the green jacket is the man whom Page saw at London Bridge and afterwards in the cloisters, the reason for the change of garments becomes plain enough. Page told the man that he had identified him by this very distinctive jacket as the person with whom Merrill was last seen alive. Evidently that man’s safety demanded that he should get rid of the incriminating jacket without delay. Then, as to his having shaved: did Page give you any description of the man?”

“Yes; he was a tallish man, about thirty-five, with a large dark moustache and a torpedo beard.”

“Very well,” said Thorndyke; “then we may say that the man who went into Merrill’s chambers was a moustached bearded man in a green jacket and that the man who came out was a clean-shaved man in a grey jacket, whom Page himself would probably have passed without a second glance. That is clear enough. And as to how he got into the chambers, evidently he let himself in with Merrill’s key; and if he did, I am afraid we can make a pretty shrewd guess as to what has become of Merrill, and only hope that we are guessing wrong. As to what this man was doing in those chambers and what is the meaning of the whole affair, that is a more difficult question. If the man had Merrill’s latchkey, we may assume that he had the rest of Merrill’s keys; that he had, in fact, free access to any locked receptacles in those chambers. The circumstances suggest that he entered the chambers for the purpose of getting possession of some valuable objects contained in them. Do you happen to know whether Merrill had any property of considerable value on the premises?”

“I don’t,” replied Brodribb. “He had a safe, but I don’t know what he kept in it. Principally documents, I should think. Certainly not money, in any considerable amounts. The only thing of value that I actually know of is the new will; and that would only be valuable—under certain circumstances.”

The abrupt and rather ambiguous conclusion of Mr. Brodribb’s statement was not lost either on Thorndyke or on me. Apparently the cautious old lawyer had suddenly realised, as I had, that if anything had happened to Merrill, those “certain circumstances” had already come into being. From what he had told us it appeared that, under the new will, Crick stood to inherit a half of Mr. Merrill’s fortune, whereas under the old will he stood to inherit nearly the whole. And it was a great fortune. The loss or destruction of the new will would be worth a good many thousand pounds to Mr. Crick.

“Well,” said Brodribb, after a pause, “what is to be done? I suppose I ought to communicate with the police.”

“You will have to, sooner or later,” said Thorndyke; “but meanwhile, leave these two jackets—or, at least, the green one—with me for the present and let me see if I can extract any further information from it.”

“You won’t find anything in the pockets but dirt. I’ve tried them.”

“I hope you left the dirt,” said Thorndyke.

“I did,” replied Brodribb, “excepting what came out on my fingers. Very well; I’ll leave the coats with you for to-day, and I will see if I can get any further news of Crick from his landlady.”

With this the old solicitor shook hands and went off with such an evident air of purpose that I remarked:

“Brodribb is off to find out whether Mr. Crick was the proprietor of a green plaid Norfolk jacket.”

Thorndyke smiled. “It was rather quaint,” said he, “to see the sudden way in which he drew in his horns when the inwardness of the affair dawned on him. But we mustn’t start with a preconceived theory. Our business is to get hold of some more facts. There is little enough to go on at present. Let us begin by having a good look at this green jacket.”

He picked it up and carried it to the window, where we both looked it over critically.

“It is rather dusty,” I remarked, “especially on the front, and there is a white mark on the middle button.”

“Yes. Chalk, apparently; and if you look closely, there are white traces on the other buttons and on the front of the coat. The back is much less dusty.”

As he spoke, Thorndyke turned the garment round, and then, from the side of the skirt, picked a small, hair-like object which he felt between his finger and thumb, looked at closely and handed to me.

“A bit of barley beard,” said I, “and there are two more on the other side. He must have walked along a narrow path through a barley field—the state of the front of his coat almost suggests that he had crawled.”

“Yes; it is earthy dust; but Polton’s extractor will give us more information about that. We had better hand it over to him; but first we will go through the pockets in spite of Brodribb’s discouragement.”

“By Jove!” I exclaimed, as I thrust my hand into one of the side pockets, “he was right about the dirt. Look at this.” I drew out my hand with a quite considerable pinch of dry earth and one or two little fragments of chalk. “It looks as if he had been crawling in loose earth.”

“It does,” Thorndyke agreed, inspecting his own “catch”—a pinch of reddish earth and a fragment of chalk of the size of a large pea. “The earth is very characteristic, this red-brown loam that you find overlying the chalk. All his outside pockets seem to have caught more or less of it. However, we can leave Polton to collect it and prepare it for examination. I’ll take the coat up to him now, and while he is working at it I think I will walk round to Edginton’s and see if I can pick up any further particulars.”

He went up to the laboratory floor, where our assistant, Polton, carried on his curious and varied activities, and when he returned we sallied forth together. In Fleet Street we picked up a disengaged taxicab, by which we were whisked across Blackfriars Bridge and a few minutes later set down at the corner of Tooley Street. We made our way to the ship-chandler’s shop, where Thorndyke proceeded to put a few discreet questions to the manager, who listened politely and with sympathetic interest.

“The difficulty is,” said he, “that there were a good many gentlemen in here last Thursday. You say they came about 11.45. If you could tell me what they bought, we could look at the bill-duplicate book and that might help us.”

“I don’t actually know what they bought,” said Thorndyke. “It might have been a length of rope; thinnish rope, perhaps, say twelve or fourteen fathoms or perhaps more. But I may be wrong.”

I stared at Thorndyke in amazement. Long as I had known him, this extraordinary faculty of instantaneous induction always came on me as a fresh surprise. I had supposed that in this case we had absolutely nothing to go on; and yet here he was with at least a tentative suggestion before the inquiry appeared to have begun. And that suggestion was clear evidence that he had already arrived at a hypothetical solution of the mystery. I was still pondering on this astonishing fact when the manager approached with an open book and accompanied by an assistant.

“I see,” said he, “that there is an entry, apparently about mid-day on Thursday, of the sale of a fifteen-fathom length of deep-sea lead-line, and my friend, here, remembers selling it.”

“Yes,” the assistant confirmed, “I remember it because he wanted to get it into his hand-bag, and it took the three of us to stuff it in. Thick lead-line is pretty stiff when it’s new.”

“Do you remember what these gentlemen were like and how they were dressed?”

“One was a rather elderly gentleman, clean-shaved, I think. The other I remember better because he had rather queer-looking eyes—very pale grey. He had a pointed beard and he wore a greenish check coat and a cloth hat. That’s all I remember about him.”

“It is more than most people would have remembered,” said Thorndyke. “I am very much obliged to you; and I think I will ask you to let me have a fifteen-fathom length of that same lead-line.”

By this time my capacity for astonishment was exhausted. What on earth could my colleague want with a deep-sea lead-line? But, after all, why not? If he had then and there purchased a Trotman’s anchor, a shark-hook and a set of International code signals, I should have been prepared to accept the proceeding without comment. Thorndyke was a law unto himself.

Nevertheless, as I walked homeward by his side, carrying the coil of rope, I continued to speculate on this singular case. Thorndyke had arrived at a hypothetical solution of Mr. Brodribb’s problem; and it was evidently correct, so far, as the entry in the bill-book proved. But what was the connection between a dusty jacket and a length of thin rope? And why this particular length? I could make nothing of it. But I determined, as soon as we got home, to see what new facts Polton’s activities had brought to light.

The results were disappointing. Polton’s dust extractor had been busy, and the products, in the form of tiny heaps of dust, were methodically set out on a sheet of white paper, each little heap covered with a watch-glass and accompanied by its written particulars as to the part of the garment from which it had come. I examined a few samples under the microscope, but though curious and interesting, as all dust is, they showed nothing very distinctive. The dust might have come from anyone’s coat. There was, of course, a good deal of yellowish sandy loam, a few particles of chalk, a quantity of fine ash, clinker and particles of coal—railway dust from a locomotive—ordinary town and house dust and some oddments such as pollen-grains, including those of the sow-thistle, mallow, poppy and valerian, and in one sample I found two scales from the wing of the common blue butterfly. That was all; and it told me nothing but that the owner of the coat had recently been in a chalk district and that he had taken a railway journey.

While I was working with the microscope, Polton was busy with an occupation that I did not understand. He had cemented the little pieces of chalk that we had found in the pockets to a plate of glass by means of pitch, and he was now brushing them under water with a soft brush and from time to time decanting the milky water into a tall sediment glass. Now, as most people know, chalk is largely composed of microscopic shells—foraminifera—which can be detached by gently brushing the chalk under water. But what was the object? There was no doubt that the material was chalk, and we knew that the foraminifera were there. Why trouble to prove what is common knowledge? I questioned Polton, but he knew nothing of the purpose of the investigation. He merely beamed on me like a crinkly old graven image and went on brushing. I dipped up a sample of the white sediment and examined it under the microscope. Of course there were foraminifera, and very beautiful they were. But what about it? The whole proceeding looked purposeless. And yet I knew that it was not. Thorndyke was the last man in the world to expend his energies in flogging a dead horse.

Presently he came up to the laboratory, and, when he had looked at the dust specimens and confirmed my opinion of them, he fell to work on the chalk sediment. Having prepared a number of slides, he sat down at the microscope with a sharp pencil and a block of smooth paper with the apparent purpose of cataloguing and making drawings of the foraminifera. And at this task I left him while I went forth to collect some books that I had ordered from a bookseller in the Charing Cross Road.

When I returned with my purchases about an hour later I found him putting back in a press a portfolio of large-scale Ordnance maps of Kent which he had apparently been consulting, and I noticed on the table his sheet of drawings and a monograph of the fossil foraminifera.

“Well, Thorndyke,” I said cheerfully, “I suppose, by this time, you know exactly what has become of Merrill.”

“I can guess,” he replied, “and so can you. But the actual data are distressingly vague. We have certain indications, as you will have noticed. The trouble will be to bring them to a focus. It is a case for constructive imagination on the one hand and the method of exclusion on the other. I shall make a preliminary circle-round to-morrow.”

“Meaning by that?”

“I have a hypothesis. It is probably wrong. If it is, we must try another, and yet another. Every time we fail we shall narrow the field of inquiry, until by eliminating one possibility after another, we may hope to arrive at the solution. My first essay will take me down into Kent.”

“You are not going into those wild regions alone, Thorndyke,” said I. “You will need my protection and support to say nothing of my invaluable advice. I presume you realise that?”

“Undoubtedly,” he replied gravely. “I was reckoning on a two-man expedition. Besides, you are as much interested in the case as I am. And now, let us go forth and dine and fortify ourselves for the perils of to-morrow.”

In the course of dinner I led the conversation to the products of Polton’s labours and remarked upon their very indefinite significance; but Thorndyke was more indefinite still, as he usually was in cases of a highly speculative character.

“You are expecting too much from Polton,” he said with a smile. “This is not a matter of foraminifera or pollen-grains or butterfly-scales; they are only items of circumstantial evidence. What we have to do is to consider the whole body of facts in our possession; what Brodribb has told us, what we know for ourselves and what we have ascertained by investigation. The case is still very much in the air, but it is not so vague as you seem to imply.”

This was all I could get out of him; and as the “whole body of facts” yielded no suggestion at all to me, I could only possess my soul in patience and hope for some enlightenment on the morrow.

About a quarter to eleven on the following morning, while Thorndyke was giving final instructions to Polton and I was speculating on the contents of the suit-case that was going to accompany us, footsteps became audible on our stairs. Their crescendo terminated in a flourish on our little brass knocker which I recognised as Brodribb’s knock. I accordingly opened the door, and in walked our old friend. His keen blue eye took in at once our informal raiment and the suit-case and lighted up with something like curiosity.

“Off on an expedition?” he asked.

“Yes,” replied Thorndyke. “A little trip down into Kent. Gravesend, in fact.”

“Gravesend,” repeated Brodribb with further awakened interest. “That was rather a favourite resort of poor Merrill’s. By the way, your expedition is not connected with his disappearance, I suppose?”

“As a matter of fact it is,” replied Thorndyke. “Just a tentative exploration, you know.”

“I know,” said Brodribb, all agog now, “and I’m coming with you. I’ve got a clear day and I’m not going to take a refusal.”

“No refusal was contemplated,” rejoined Thorndyke. “You’ll probably waste a day, but we shall benefit by your society. Polton will let your clerk know that you haven’t absconded, or you can look in at the office yourself. We have plenty of time.”

Brodribb chose the latter plan, which enabled him to exchange his tall hat and morning coat for a soft hat and jacket, and we accordingly made our way to Charing Cross via Lincoln’s Inn, where Brodribb’s office was situated. I noticed that Brodribb, with his customary discretion, asked no questions, though he must have observed, as I had, the striking fact that Thorndyke had in some way connected Merrill with Gravesend; and in fact with the exception of Brodribb’s account of his failure to get any news of Mr. Crick, no reference was made to the nature of our expedition until we alighted at our destination.

On emerging from the station, Thorndyke turned to the left and led the way out of the approach into a street, on the opposite side of which a rather grimy statue of Queen Victoria greeted us with a supercilious stare. Here we turned to the south along a prosperous, suburban-looking thoroughfare, and presently crossing a main road, followed its rather sordid continuation until the urban squalor began to be tempered by traces of rusticity, and the suburb became a village. Passing a pleasant-looking inn and a smithy, which seemed to have an out-patient department for invalid carts, we came into a quiet lane offering a leafy vista with glimpses of thatched and tiled cottages whose gardens were gay with summer flowers. Opposite these, some rough stone steps led up to a stile by the side of an open gate which gave access to a wide cart-track. Here Thorndyke halted, and producing his pocket map-case, compared the surroundings with the map. At length he pocketed the case, and turning towards the cart-track, said:

“This is our way, for better or worse. In a few minutes we shall probably know whether we have found a clue or a mare’s nest.”

We followed the track up a rise until, reaching the crest of the hill, we saw stretching away below us a wide, fertile valley with wooded heights beyond, over the brow of which peeped the square tower of some village church.

“Well,” said Brodribb, taking off his hat to enjoy the light breeze, “clue or no clue, this is perfectly delightful and well worth the journey. Just look at those charming little blue butterflies fluttering round that mallow. What a magnificent prospect! And where, but in Kent, will you see such a barley field as that?”

It was, indeed, a beautiful landscape. But as my eye travelled over the enormous barley field, its tawny surface rippling in golden waves before the summer breeze, it was not the beauty of the scene that occupied my mind. I was thinking of those three ends of barley beard that we had picked from the skirts of the green jacket. The cart-track had now contracted to a footpath; but it was a broader path than I should have looked for, running straight across the great field to a far-away stile; and half way along it on the left-hand side I could see, rising above the barley, the top of a rough fence around a small, square enclosure that looked like a pound—though it was in an unlikely situation.

We pursued the broad path across the field until we were nearly abreast of the pound, and I was about to draw Thorndyke’s attention to it, when I perceived a narrow lane through the barley—hardly a path, but rather a track, trodden through the crop by some persons who had gone to the enclosure. Into this track Thorndyke turned as if he had been looking for it, and walked towards the enclosure, closely scrutinising the ground as he went. Brodribb and I, of course, followed in single file, brushing through the barley as we went; and as we drew nearer we could see that there was an opening in the enclosing fence and that inside was a deep hollow the edges of which were fringed with clumps of pink valerian. At the opening of the fence Thorndyke halted and looked back.

“Well,” said Brodribb, “is it going to be a mare’s nest?”

“No,” replied Thorndyke. “It is a clue, and something more!”

As he spoke, he pointed to the foot of one of the principal posts of the fence, to which was secured a short length of rope, the frayed ends of which suggested that it had broken under a heavy strain. And now I could see what the enclosure was. Inside it was a deep pit; and at the bottom of the pit, to one side, was a circular hole, black as night, and apparently leading down into the bowels of the earth.

“That must be a dene hole,” said I, looking at the yawning cavity.

“It is,” Thorndyke replied.

“Ha,” said Brodribb, “so that is a dene hole, is it? Damned unpleasant-looking place. Dene holes were one of poor Merrill’s hobbies. He used to go down to explore them. I hope you are not suggesting that he went down this one.”

“I am afraid that is what has happened, Brodribb,” was the reply. “That end of rope looks like his. It is deep-sea lead-line. I have a length of it here, bought at the same place as he bought his, and probably cut from the same sample.” He opened the suit-case, and taking out the coil of line that we had bought, flung it down by the foot of the post. Obviously it was identical with the broken end. “However,” he added, “we shall see.”

“We are going down, are we?” asked Brodribb.

“We?” repeated Thorndyke. “I am going down if it is practicable. Not otherwise. If it is an ordinary seventy-foot shaft with perpendicular sides, we shall have to get proper appliances. But you had better stay above, in any case.”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Brodribb. “I am not such a back number as you think. I have been a mountain-climber in my time and I’m not a bit nervous. I can get down all right if there is any foothold, and I’ve got a rope to hang on to. And you can see for yourself that somebody has been down with a rope only.”

“Yes,” replied Thorndyke, “but I don’t see that that somebody has come up again.”

“No,” Brodribb admitted; “that’s true. The rope seems to have broken; and you say your rope is the same stuff?”

Thorndyke looked at me inquiringly as I stooped and examined the frayed end of the strange rope.

“What do you say, Jervis?” he asked.

“That rope didn’t break,” I replied. “It has been chafed or sawn through. It is quite different in appearance from a broken end.”

“That was what I decided as soon as I saw it,” said Thorndyke. “Besides, a new rope of this size and quality couldn’t possibly break under the weight of a man.”

Brodribb gazed at the frayed end with an expression of horror.

“What a diabolical thing!” he exclaimed. “You mean that some wretch deliberately cut the rope and let another man drop down the shaft! But it can’t be. I really think you must be mistaken. It must have been a defective rope.”

“Well, that is what it looks like,” replied Thorndyke. He made a “running bowline” at the end of our rope and slipped the loop over his shoulders, drawing it tight under his arms. Then he turned towards the pit. “You had better take a couple of turns round the foot of the post, Jervis,” said he, “and pay out just enough to keep the rope taut.”

He took an electric inspection-lamp from the suit-case, slipped the battery in his pocket and hooked the bull’s-eye to a button-hole, and when all was ready, he climbed down into the pit, crossed the sloping floor, and crouching down, peered into the forbidding hole, throwing down it a beam of light from his bull’s-eye. Then he stood up and grasped the rope.

“It is quite practicable,” said he; “only about twenty feet deep, and good foothold all the way.” With this he crouched once more, backed into the hole and disappeared from view. He evidently descended pretty quickly, to judge by the rate at which I had to pay out the rope, and in quite a short time I felt the tension slacken and began to haul up the line. As the loop came out of the hole, Mr. Brodribb took possession of it, and regardless of my protests, proceeded to secure it under his arms.

“But how the deuce am I going to get down?” I demanded.

“That’s all right, Jervis,” he replied persuasively. “I’ll just have a look round and then come up and let you down.”

It being obviously useless to argue, I adjusted the rope and made ready to pay out. He climbed down into the pit with astonishing agility, backed into the hole and disappeared; and the tension of the rope informed me that he was making quite a rapid descent. He had nearly reached the bottom when there were borne to my ears the hollow reverberations of what sounded like a cry of alarm. But all was apparently well, for the rope continued to draw out steadily, and when at last its tension relaxed, I felt an unmistakable signal shake, and at once drew it up.

As my curiosity made me unwilling to remain passively waiting for Brodribb’s return, I secured the end of the rope to the post with a “fisherman’s bend” and let myself down into the pit. Advancing to the sinister-looking hole, I lay down and put my head over the edge. A dim light from Thorndyke’s lamp came up the shaft and showed me that we were by no means the first explorers, for there were foot-holes cut in the chalk all the way down, apparently of some considerable age. With the aid of these and the rope, it appeared quite easy to descend and I decided to go down forthwith. Accordingly I backed towards the shaft, found the first of the foot-holes, and grasping the rope with one hand and using the other to hang on to the upper cavities, easily let myself down the well-like shaft. As I neared the bottom the light of the lamp was thrown full on the shaft-wall; a pair of hands grasped me and I heard Thorndyke’s voice saying: “Look where you are treading, Jervis”; on which I looked down and saw immediately below me a man lying on his face by an irregular coil of rope.

I stepped down carefully on to the chalk floor and looked round. We were in a small chamber in one side of which was the black opening of a low tunnel. Thorndyke and Brodribb were standing at the feet of the prostrate figure examining a revolver which the solicitor held.

“It has certainly been fired,” said the latter. “One chamber is empty and the barrel is foul.”

“That may be,” replied Thorndyke; “but there is no bullet wound. This man died from a knife wound in the chest.” He threw the light of his lamp on the corpse and as I turned it partly over to verify his statement, he added: “This is poor Mr. Merrill. We found the revolver lying by his side.”

“The cause of death is clear enough,” said I, “and it certainly wasn’t suicide. The question is——” At this moment Thorndyke stooped and threw a beam of light down the tunnel, and Brodribb and I simultaneously uttered an exclamation. At the extreme end, about forty feet away, the body of another man lay. Instantly Brodribb started forward, and stooping to clear the low roof—it was about four feet six inches high—hurried along the tunnel and Thorndyke and I followed close behind. As we reached the body, which was lying supine with a small electric torch by its side, and the light of Thorndyke’s lamp fell on the upturned face, Brodribb gasped:

“God save us! It’s Crick! And here is the knife.”

He was about to pick up the weapon when Thorndyke put out his hand.

“That knife,” said he, “must be touched by no hand but the one that dealt the blow. It may be crucial evidence.”

“Evidence of what?” demanded Brodribb. “There is Merrill with a knife wound in his chest and a pistol by his side. Here is Crick with a bullet wound in his breast, a knife by his side and the empty sheath secured round his waist. What more evidence do you want?”

“That depends on what you seek to prove,” said Thorndyke. “What is your interpretation of the facts that you have stated?”

“Why, it is as plain as daylight,” answered Brodribb, “incredible as the affair seems, having regard to the characters of the two men. Crick stabbed Merrill and Merrill shot him dead. Then Merrill tried to escape, but the rope broke. He was trapped and he bled to death at the foot of the shaft.”

“And who do you say died first?” Thorndyke asked.

It was a curious question and it caused me to look inquisitively at my colleague. But Brodribb answered promptly:

“Why, Crick, of course. Here he lies where he fell. There is a track of blood along the floor of the tunnel, as you can see, and there is Merrill at the entrance, dead in the act of trying to escape.”

Thorndyke nodded in a rather mysterious way and there was a brief silence. Then I ventured to remark:

“You seem to be losing sight of the man with the green jacket.”

Brodribb started and looked at me with a frown of surprise.

“Bless my soul!” he exclaimed, “so I am. I had clean forgotten him in these horrors. But what is your point? Is there any evidence that he has been here?”

“I don’t know,” said I. “He bought the rope and he was seen with Merrill apparently going towards London Bridge Station. And I gather that it was the green jacket that piloted Thorndyke to this place.”

“In a sense,” Thorndyke admitted, “that is so. But we will talk about that later. Meanwhile there are one or two facts that I will draw your attention to. First as to the wounds; they are almost identical in position. Each is on the left side, just below the nipple; a vital spot, which would be fully exposed by a man who was climbing down holding on to a rope. Then, if you look along the floor where I am throwing the light, you can see a distinct trace of something having been dragged along, although there seems to have been an effort to obliterate it; and the blood marks are more in the nature of smears than drops.” He gently turned the body over and pointed to the back, which was thickly covered with chalk. “This corpse has obviously been dragged along the floor,” he continued. “It wouldn’t have been marked in that way by merely falling. Further, the rope, when last seen, was being stuffed into a hand-bag. The rope is here, but where is the hand-bag? Finally, the rope was cut by someone outside, and evidently after the murders had been committed.”

As he concluded, he spread his handkerchief over the knife, and wrapping it up carefully without touching it with his fingers, placed it in his outside breast-pocket. Then we went back towards the shaft, where Thorndyke knelt down by the body of Merrill and systematically emptied the pockets.

“What are you searching for?” asked Brodribb.

“Keys,” was the reply; “and there aren’t any. It is a vital point, seeing that the man with the green jacket evidently let himself into Merrill’s chambers that same day.”

“Yes,” Brodribb agreed with a reflective frown; “it is. But tell us, Thorndyke, how you reconstruct this horrible crime.”

“My theory,” said Thorndyke, “is that the three men came here together. They made the rope fast to the post. The stranger in the green jacket came down first and waited at the foot of the shaft. Merrill came down next, and the stranger stabbed him just as he reached the bottom, while his arms were still up hanging on to the rope. Crick followed and was shot in the same place and the same manner. Then the stranger dragged Crick’s body along the tunnel, swept away the marks as well as he could, put the knife and the lamp by the body, dropped the revolver by Merrill’s corpse, took the keys and went up, sawed through the rope—probably with a pocket saw—and threw the end down the shaft. Then he took the next train to London and went straight to Merrill’s chambers, where he opened the safe or other receptacles and took possession of what he wanted.”

Brodribb nodded. “It was a diabolically clever scheme,” said he.

“The scheme was ingenious enough,” Thorndyke agreed, “but the execution was contemptible. He has left traces at every turn. Otherwise we shouldn’t be here. He has acted on the assumption that the world contains no one but fools. But that is a fool’s assumption.”

When we had ascended, in the reverse order of our descent, Thorndyke detached our rope and also the frayed end, which we took with us, and we then took our way back towards the town; and I noted that as we stood by the dene hole, there was not a human creature in sight; nor did we meet a single person until we were close to the village. It was an ideal spot for a murder.

“I suppose you will notify the police?” said Brodribb.

“Yes,” replied Thorndyke. “I shall call on the Chief Constable and give him the facts and advise him to keep some of them to himself for the present, and also to arrange for an adjournment of the inquest. Our friend with the green jacket must be made to think that he has played a trump card.”

Apparently the Chief Constable was a man who knew all the moves of criminal investigation, for at the inquest the discovery was attributed to the local police “acting on information received” from somebody who had “noticed the broken rope.”

None of us was summoned to give evidence nor were our names mentioned, but the inquest was adjourned for three weeks, for further inquiries.

But in those three weeks there were some singular developments, of which the scene was the clerks’ office at Mr. Brodribb’s premises in Lincoln’s Inn. There, late on a certain forenoon, Thorndyke and I arrived, each provided with a bag and a sheaf of documents, and were duly admitted by Mr. Page.

“Now,” said Thorndyke, “are you quite confident, Mr. Page, that you would recognise this man, even if he had shaved off his beard and moustache?”

“Quite confident,” replied Page. “I should know him by his eyes. Very queer eyes they were; light, greenish grey. And I should know his voice, too.”

“Good,” said Thorndyke; and as Page disappeared into the private office, we sat down and examined our documents, eyed furtively by the junior clerk. Some ten minutes later the door opened and a man entered; and the first glance at him brought my nerves to concert pitch. He was a thick-set, muscular man, clean-shaved and rather dark. But my attention was instantly arrested by his eyes—singularly pale eyes which gave an almost unhuman character to his face. He reminded me of a certain species of lemur that I once saw.

“I have got an appointment with Mr. Brodribb,” he said, addressing the clerk. “My name is Horder.”

The clerk slipped off his stool and moved towards the door of the private office, but at that moment Page came out. As his eyes met Horder’s, he stopped dead; and instantly the two men seemed to stiffen like a couple of dogs that have suddenly met at a street corner. I watched Horder narrowly. He had been rather pale when he came in. Now he was ghastly, and his whole aspect indicated extreme nervous tension.

“Did you wish to see Mr. Brodribb?” asked Page, still gazing intently at the other.

“Yes,” was the irritable reply; “I have given my name once—Horder.”

Mr. Page turned and re-entered the private office, leaving the door ajar.

“Mr. Horder to see you, sir,” I heard him say. Then he came out and shut the door. “If you will sit down, Mr. Brodribb will see you in a minute or two,” he said, offering a chair; he then took his hat from a peg, glanced at his watch and went out.

A couple of minutes passed. Once, I thought I heard stealthy footsteps out in the entry; but no one came in or knocked. Presently the door of the private office opened and a tall gentleman came out. And then, once more, my nerves sprang to attention. The tall gentleman was Detective-Superintendent Miller.

The superintendent walked across the office, opened the door, looked out, and then, leaving it ajar, came back to where Horder was sitting.

“You are Mr. Samuel Horder, I think,” said he.

“Yes, I am,” was the reply. “What about it?”

“I am a police officer, and I arrest you on a charge of having unlawfully entered the premises of the late Reginald Merrill; and it is my duty to caution you——”

Here Horder, who had risen to his feet, and slipped his right hand under the skirt of his coat, made a sudden spring at the officer. But in that instant Thorndyke had gripped his right arm at the elbow and wrist and swung him round; the superintendent seized his left arm while I pounced upon the revolver in his right hand and kept its muzzle pointed to the floor. But it was an uncomfortable affair. Our prisoner was a strong man and he fought like a wild beast; and he had his finger hooked round the trigger of the revolver. The four of us, locked together, gyrated round the office, knocking over chairs and bumping against the walls, the junior clerk skipped round the room with his eyes glued on the pistol and old Brodribb charged out of his sanctum, flourishing a long ruler. However, it did not last long. In the midst of the uproar, two massive constables stole in and joined the fray. There was a yell from the prisoner, the revolver rattled to the floor and then I heard two successive metallic clicks.

“He’ll be all right now,” murmured the constable who had fixed on the handcuffs, with the manner of one who has administered a soothing remedy.

“I notice,” said Thorndyke, when the prisoner had been removed, “that you charged him only with unlawful entry.”

“Yes,” replied Miller, “until we have taken his finger-prints. Mr. Singleton has developed up three fingers and a thumb, beautifully clear, on that knife that you gave us. If they prove to be Horder’s finger-prints, of course, it is a true bill for the murder.”

The finger-prints on the knife proved undoubtedly to be Horder’s. But the case did not rest on them alone. When his rooms were searched, there were found not only Mr. Merrill’s keys but also Mr. Merrill’s second will, which had been missed from the safe when it was opened by the maker’s locksmith; thus illustrating afresh the perverse stupidity of the criminal mind.

“A satisfactory case,” remarked Thorndyke, “in respect of the result; but there was too much luck for us to take much credit from it. On Brodribb’s opening statement, it was pretty clear that a crime had been committed. Merrill was missing and someone had possession of his keys and had entered his premises. It also appeared nearly certain that the thing stolen must be the second will, since there was nothing else of value to steal; and the will was of very great value to two persons, Crick and Horder, to each of whom its destruction was worth many thousands of pounds. To both of them its value was conditional on the immediate death of Merrill, before another will could be made; and to Horder it was further conditional on the death of Crick and that he should die before Merrill—for otherwise the estate would go to Crick’s heirs or next of kin. The prima facie suspicion therefore fell on these two men. But Crick was missing; and the question was, had he absconded or was he dead?

“And now as to the investigation. The green jacket showed earthy dust and chalk on the front and chalk-marks on the buttons. The indication was that the wearer had either crawled on chalky ground or climbed up a chalky face. But the marks on the buttons suggested climbing; for a horizontal surface is usually covered by soil, whereas on a vertical surface the chalk is exposed. But the time factor showed us that this man could not have travelled far from London. He was seen going towards London Bridge Station about the time when a train was due—11.52—to go down to Kent. That train went to Maidstone and Gillingham, calling at Gravesend, Strood, Snodland, Rochester, Chatham and other places abounding in chalk and connected with the cement industry. In that district there were no true cliffs, but there were numerous chalk-pits, railway embankments and other excavations. The evidence pointed to one of these excavations. Then Crick was known to have gone to Rochester—earlier in the day—which further suggested the district, though Rochester is the least chalky part of it.

“The question was, what kind of excavation had been climbed into? And for what purpose had the climbing been performed? But here the personality of the missing man gave us a hint. Merrill had written a book to prove that dene holes were simply prehistoric flint-mines. He had explored a number of dene holes and described them in his book. Now the district through which this train had passed was peculiarly rich in dene holes; and then there was the suggestive fact that Merrill had been last seen coming out of a rope-seller’s shop. This latter fact was so important that I followed it up at once by calling at Edginton’s. There I ascertained that Merrill or his companion had bought a fifteen-fathom length of deep-sea lead-line. Now this was profoundly significant. The maximum depth of a dene hole is about seventy feet. Fifteen fathoms—ninety feet—is therefore the exact length required, allowing for loops and fastenings. This new fact converted the dene-hole hypothesis into what was virtually a certainty, especially when one considered how readily these dangerous pits lent themselves either to fatal accidents or to murder. I accordingly adopted the dene-hole suggestion as a working hypothesis.

“The next question was, ‘Where was this dene hole?’ And an uncommonly difficult question it was. I began to fear that the inquiry would fail from the impossibility of solving it. But at this point I got some help from a new quarter. I had given the coat to Polton to extract the dust and I had told him to wash the little lumps of chalk for foraminifera.”

“What are foraminifera?” asked Brodribb.

“They are minute sea shells. Chalk is largely composed of them; and although chalk is in no sense a local rock, there is nevertheless a good deal of variation in the species of foraminifera found in different localities. So I had the chalk washed out as a matter of routine. Well, the dust was confirmatory but not illuminating. There was railway dust, of the South Eastern type—I expect you know it—chalk, loam dust, pollen-grains of the mallow and valerian (which grows in chalk-pits and railway cuttings) and some wing scales of the common blue butterfly, which haunts the chalk—I expect he had touched a dead butterfly. But all this would have answered for a good part of Kent. Then I examined the foraminifera and identified the species by the plates in Warnford’s Monograph. The result was most encouraging. There were nine species in all, and of these five were marked as ‘found in the Gravesend chalk,’ two more ‘from the Kentish chalk’ and the other two ‘from the English chalk.’ This was a very striking result. More than half the contained foraminifera were from the Gravesend chalk.

“The problem now was to determine the geological meaning of the term Gravesend. I ruled out Rochester, as I had heard of no dene holes in that neighbourhood, and I consulted Merrill’s book and the large-scale Ordnance map. Merrill had worked in the Gravesend district and the adjacent part of Essex and he gave a list of the dene holes that he had explored, including the Clapper Napper Hole in Swanscombe Wood. But, checking his list by the Ordnance map, I found that there was one dene hole marked on the map which was not in his list. As it was evidently necessary to search all the dene holes in the district, I determined to begin with the one that he seemed to have missed. And there luck favoured us. It turned out to be the right one.”

“I don’t see that there was much luck in it,” said Brodribb. “You calculated the probabilities and adopted the greatest.”

“At any rate,” said Thorndyke, “there was Merrill and there was Crick; and as soon as I saw them I knew that Horder was the murderer. For the whole tableau had obviously been arranged to demonstrate that Crick died before Merrill and establish Horder as Merrill’s heir.”

“A diabolical plot,” commented Brodribb. “Horribly ingenious, too. By the way—which of them did die first in your opinion?”

“Merrill, I should say, undoubtedly,” replied Thorndyke.

“That will be good hearing for Crick’s next of kin,” said Brodribb. “And you haven’t done with this case yet, Thorndyke. I shall retain you on the question of survivorship.”



This story is Number Twenty Three 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 Green Check Jacket by Richard Austin Freeman]