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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Herapath Property By J. S. Fletcher Characters: 13015

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

the glass and the sandwich

Mr. Tertius, dismissed in such cavalier fashion by Barthorpe Herapath, walked out of the estate office with downcast head-a superficial observer might have said that he was thoroughly crestfallen and brow-beaten. But by the time he had reached the road outside, the two faint spots of colour which had flushed his cheeks when Barthorpe turned him away had vanished, and he was calm and collected enough when, seeing a disengaged taxi-cab passing by, he put up his hand and hailed it. The voice which bade the driver go to Portman Square was calm enough, too-Mr. Tertius had too much serious work immediately in prospect to allow himself to be disturbed by a rudeness.

He thought deeply about that work as the taxi-cab whirled him along; he was still thinking about it when he walked into the big house in Portman Square. In there everything was very quiet. The butler was away at Kensington; the other servants were busily discussing the mystery of their master in their own regions. No one was aware that Mr. Tertius had returned, for he let himself into the house with his own latch-key, and went straight into Herapath's study. There, if possible, everything was still quieter-the gloom of the dull November morning seemed to be doubly accentuated in the nooks and corners; there was a sense of solitude which was well in keeping with Mr. Tertius's knowledge of what had happened. He looked at the vacant chair in which he had so often seen Jacob Herapath sitting, hard at work, active, bustling, intent on getting all he could out of every minute of his working day, and he sighed deeply.

But in the moment of sighing Mr. Tertius reflected that there was no time for regret. It was a time-his time-for action; there was a thing to do which he wanted to do while he had the room to himself. Therefore he went to work, carefully and methodically. For a second or two he stood reflectively looking at the supper tray which still stood on the little table near the desk. With a light, delicate touch he picked up the glass which had been used and held it up to the light. He put it down again presently, went quietly out of the study to the dining-room across the hall, and returned at once with another glass precisely similar in make and pattern to the one which he had placed aside. Into that clear glass he poured some whisky, afterwards mixing with it some soda-water from the syphon-this mixture he poured away into the soil of a flower-pot which stood in the window. And that done he placed the second glass on the tray in the place where the first had stood, and picking up the first, in the same light, gingerly fashion, he went upstairs to his own rooms at the top of the house.

Five minutes later Mr. Tertius emerged from his rooms. He then carried in his hand a small, square bag, and he took great care to handle it very carefully as he went downstairs and into the square. At the corner of Orchard Street he got another taxi-cab and bade the driver go to Endsleigh Gardens. And during the drive he took the greatest pains to nurse the little bag on his knee, thereby preserving the equilibrium of the glass inside it.

Ringing the bell of one of the houses in Endsleigh Gardens, Mr. Tertius was presently confronted by a trim parlourmaid, whose smile was ample proof that the caller was well-known to her.

"Is the Professor in, Mary?" asked Mr. Tertius. "And if he is, is he engaged?"

The trim parlourmaid replied that the Professor was in, and that she hadn't heard that he was particularly engaged, and she immediately preceded the visitor up a flight or two of stairs to a door, which in addition to being thickly covered with green felt, was set in flanges of rubber-these precautions being taken, of course, to ensure silence in the apartment within. An electric bell was set in the door; a moment or two elapsed before any response was made to the parlourmaid's ring. Then the door automatically opened, the parlourmaid smiled at Mr. Tertius and retired; Mr. Tertius walked in; the door closed softly behind him.

The room in which the visitor found himself was a large and lofty one, lighted from the roof, from which it was also ventilated by a patent arrangement of electric fans. Everything that met the view betokened science, order, and method. The walls, destitute of picture or ornament, were of a smooth neutral tinted plaster; where they met the floor the corners were all carefully rounded off so that no dust could gather in cracks and crevices; the floor, too, was of smooth cement; there was no spot in which a speck of dust could settle in improper peace. A series of benches ran round the room, and gave harbourings to a collection of scientific instruments of strange appearance and shape; two large tables, one at either end of the room, were similarly equipped. And at a desk placed between them, and just then occupied in writing in a note-book, sat a large man, whose big muscular body was enveloped in a brown holland blouse or overall, fashioned something like a smock-frock of the old-fashioned rural labourer. He lifted a colossal, mop-like head and a huge hand as Mr. Tertius stepped across the threshold, and his spectacled eyes twinkled as their glance fell on the bag which the visitor carried so gingerly.

"Hullo, Tertius!" exclaimed the big man, in a deep, rich voice. "What have you got there? Specimens?"

Mr. Tertius looked round for a quite empty space on the adjacent bench, and at last seeing one, set his bag down upon it, and sighed with relief.

"My dear Cox-Raythwaite!" he said, mopping his forehead with a bandanna handkerchief which he drew from the tail of his coat. "I am thankful to have got these things here in-I devoutly trust!-safety. Specimens? Well, not exactly; though, to be sure, they may be specimens of-I don't quite know what villainy yet. Objects?-certainly! Perhaps, my dear Professor, you will come and look at them."

The Professor slowly lifted his six feet of muscle and sinew out of his chair, picked up a briar pipe which lay on his desk, puffed a great cloud of smoke out of it, and lounged weightily across the room to his visitor.

"Something alive?" he asked laconically. "Likely to bite?"

"Er-no!" replied Mr. Tertius. "No-they won't bite. The fact is," he went on, gingerly opening the bag, "this-er-this, or these are they."

Professor Cox-Raythwaite bent his massive head and shoulders over the little bag and peered narrowly into its obscurity. Th

en he started.

"Good Lord!" he exclaimed. "A glass tumbler! And-is it a sandwich? Why, what on earth--"

He made as if to pull the glass out of the bag, and Mr. Tertius hastily seized the great hand in an agony of apprehension.

"My dear Cox-Raythwaite!" he said. "Pray don't! Allow me-presently. When either of these objects is touched it must be in the most, quite the most, delicate fashion. Of course, I know you have a fairy-like gentleness of touch-but don't touch these things yet. Let me explain. Shall we-suppose we sit down. Give me-yes-give me one of your cigars."

The Professor, plainly mystified, silently pointed to a cigar box which stood on a corner of his desk, and took another look into the bag.

"A sandwich-and a glass!" he murmured reflectively. "Um! Well?" he continued, going back to his chair and dropping heavily into it. "And what's it all about, Tertius? Some mystery, eh?"

Mr. Tertius drew a whiff or two of fragrant Havana before he replied. Then he too dropped into a chair and pulled it close to his friend's desk.

"My dear Professor!" he said, in a low, thrilling voice, suggestive of vast importance, "I don't know whether the secret of one of the most astounding crimes of our day may not lie in that innocent-looking bag-or, rather, in its present contents. Fact! But I'll tell you-you must listen with your usual meticulous care for small details. The truth is-Jacob Herapath has, I am sure, been murdered!"

"Murdered!" exclaimed the Professor. "Herapath? Murder-eh? Now then, slow and steady, Tertius-leave out nothing!"

"Nothing!" repeated Mr. Tertius solemnly. "Nothing! You shall hear all. And this it is-point by point, from last night until-until the present moment. That is-so far as I know. There may have been developments-somewhere else. But this is what I know."

When Mr. Tertius had finished a detailed and thorough-going account of the recent startling discovery and subsequent proceedings, to all of which Professor Cox-Raythwaite listened in profound silence, he rose, and tip-toeing towards the bag, motioned his friend to follow him.

"Now, my dear sir," he said, whispering in his excitement as if he feared lest the very retorts and crucibles and pneumatic troughs should hear him, "Now, my dear sir, I wish you to see for yourself. First of all, the glass. I will take it out myself-I know exactly how I put it in. I take it out-thus! I place it on this vacant space-thus. Look for yourself, my dear fellow. What do you see?"

The Professor, watching Mr. Tertius's movements with undisguised interest, took off his spectacles, picked up a reading-glass, bent down and carefully examined the tumbler.

"Yes," he said, after a while, "yes, Tertius, I certainly see distinct thumb and finger-marks round the upper part of this glass. Oh, yes-no doubt of that!"

"Allow me to take one of your clean specimen slides," observed Mr. Tertius, picking up a square of highly polished glass. "There! I place this slide here and upon it I deposit this sandwich. Now, my dear Cox-Raythwaite, favour me by examining the sandwich even more closely than you did the glass-if necessary."

But the Professor shook his head. He clapped Mr. Tertius on the shoulder.

"Excellent!" he exclaimed. "Good! Pooh!-no need for care there. The thing's as plain as-as I am. Good, Tertius, good!"

"You see it?" said Mr. Tertius, delightedly.

"See it! Good Lord, why, who could help see it?" answered the Professor. "Needs no great amount of care or perception to see that, as I said. Of course, I see it. Glad you did, too!"

"But we must take the greatest care of it," urged Mr. Tertius. "The most particular care. That's why I came to you. Now, what can we do? How preserve this sandwich-just as it is?"

"Nothing easier," replied the Professor. "We'll soon fix that. We'll put it in such safety that it will still be a fresh thing if it remains untouched until London Bridge falls down from sheer decay."

He moved off to another part of the laboratory, and presently returned with two objects, one oblong and shallow, the other deep and square, which on being set down before Mr. Tertius proved to be glass boxes, wonderfully and delicately made, with removable lids that fitted into perfectly adjusted grooves.

"There, my dear fellow," he said. "Presently I will deposit the glass in that, and the sandwich in this. Then I shall adjust and seal the lids in such a fashion that no air can enter these little chambers. Then through those tiny orifices I shall extract whatever air is in them-to the most infinitesimal remnant of it. Then I shall seal those orifices-and there you are. Whoever wants to see that sandwich or that glass will find both a year hence-ten years hence-a century hence!-in precisely the same condition in which we now see them. And that reminds me," he continued, as he turned away to his desk and picked up his pipe, "that reminds me, Tertius-what are you going to do about these things being seen? They'll have to be seen, you know. Have you thought of the police-the detectives?"

"I have certainly thought of both," replied Mr. Tertius. "But-I think not yet, in either case. I think one had better await the result of the inquest. Something may come out, you know."

"Coroners and juries," observed the Professor oracularly, "are good at finding the obvious. Whether they get at the mysteries and the secrets--"

"Just so-just so!" said Mr. Tertius. "I quite apprehend you. All the same, I think we will see what is put before the coroner. Now, what point suggests itself to you, Cox-Raythwaite?"

"One in particular," answered the Professor. "Whatever medical evidence is called ought to show without reasonable doubt what time Herapath actually met his death."

"Quite so," said Mr. Tertius gravely. "If that's once established--"

"Then, of course, your own investigation, or suggestion, or theory about that sandwich will be vastly simplified," replied the Professor. "Meanwhile, you will no doubt take some means of observing-eh?"

"I shall use every means to observe," said Mr. Tertius with a significant smile, which was almost a wink. "Of that you may be-dead certain!"

Then he left Professor Cox-Raythwaite to hermetically seal up the glass and the sandwich, and quitting the house, walked slowly back to Portman Square. As he turned out of Oxford Street into Orchard Street the newsboys suddenly came rushing along with the Argus special.

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