"Section 17 of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Vol. 2. - This is a LibriVox recording. All LibriVox recordings are in the public domain. For more information, or to volunteer, please visit: librivox DOT org"
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"The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Vol. 2. The Missing Q.C.’s by John Oxenham, Part 2."
The Worshipful Company and its guests were working steadily and stolidly through the ponderous menus, and Jellicoe was in the highest of spirits, rattling away as though diseases of the brain existed not, and mentally patting himself on the back at the slightly less gloomy expression on his friend's face.
The dinner was half done when the vacant chair on Dallas's left hand was suddenly filled by a late arrival, who nodded genially to Jellicoe as he took his seat, and to apparently half the occupants of the room as he unfolded his napkin.
He ate little, drank nothing but Burgundy, and was puffing his cigar among the first. Then Jellicoe leaned across Dallas, and said to the new comer—
"Sir James, permit me to introduce my old college chum, Charles Dallas, of the Junior Bar; Dallas, this is Sir James Dyne."
Dallas turned and encountered a pair of keen dark eves shining out of a wonderfully handsome, clear-cut, clean-shaven face, crowned with a mass of silky white hair.
"We have met before, Mr. Dallas," said the old man, bowing.
"Indeed, Sir James, I do not remember having had that pleasure."
"You were acting junior to Sir Revel Revell in Regina v. Pauld, were you not?"
"I was; I remember now," with a smile. "You have a keen eye, Sir James. If the judges only had as good a memory for juniors as you have"
"Yes, a keen eye and a keen memory are two of the essentials of my special branch of the profession. I am seventy-two, Mr. Dallas, but I do not forget much which I wish to remember."
The great specialist sipped his coffee, and continued—
"Sir Revel and I had a warm bout that day. I see you think he came off best, but he was absolutely wrong, Mr. Dallas, absolutely wrong, though he won his case."
Here they became aware that " Sir James Dyne—Sir James Dyne " was being loudly called upon to respond to some toast, and he rose to his feet. "Gentlemen!" Then in an aside to Jellicoe, "What on earth is the toast, Jellicoe?"
Jellicoe, almost suffocating with laughter, told him, and the old man launched into a speech that convulsed the room, made the tears run down the cheeks of the Worshipful Masters and Wardens, and left them rosy red and limply happy.
As he sat down he lit another cigar, and turned to Dallas.
"Excuse the interruption, Mr. Dallas. And now what is your theory of this mysterious disappearance of Sir Charles Dossall, Mr. Peacock, and Sir Revel?"
"That question was on the tip of my tongue to ask you, Sir James."
A humorous twinkle came into the keen dark eye. "Well, like everybody else, except the police, I suppose, I have my theory too, and, do you know, I think it will prove to be the right one." He beamed confidentially towards the young man, drew out his watch, half unintentionally as it seemed, and sprang up suddenly as he caught sight of the time. "Will you pardon my running away? I have an appointment which I shall barely manage to keep. Come down and see me at my place, Mr. Dallas, at Barwood. I shall be delighted. Any Sunday you can spare the time. I dine at seven, sharp. Good-bye! Good-bye, Jellicoe !" and he was gone.
"Amusing old cuss, isn't he?" said Jellicoe, who had got past reverence point. "If he asks you down to his place, you go, Dallas; it will take you out of yourself, my boy. He has a wonderful establishment down there. I tackle the consultative and theoretical part of the business; Sir James handles the actual and desperate cases. For downright out-and-out mad loonies there never was a man like him."
"Do you often go down there?"
"Me? Never; if I can help it. It is interesting and all that, but one has to see so much of it that when I get the chance of an hour or two off, I get as far away from it as possible."
Next evening, Dallas received the following:—
“My dear Mr. Dallas,—
“I trust that you will believe me when I say that when I referred last night to Sir Revel Revell I had not the remotest idea that the matter was of more than ordinary interest to you; but I have since learned of your close connection with Sir Revel's family, and I am annoyed to think that any heedless words of mine may have added to the pain which this strange matter must be causing you.
"Pray accept my sincerest sympathy; and to show that you bear an old man no ill will, come down on Sunday and enliven my solitary table. Seven sharp. The carriage shall meet you at North Barwood Station by the 6.20 from Waterloo.
With the remembrance of Sir James's last words at the dinner still ringing in his ears, Dallas wrote accepting the invitation.
A fifteen-minutes' spin in the train, a rapid fifteen-minutes' drive through lovely lonely country lanes, prematurely darkened by the threatening of a storm, a panting halt while heavy iron gates were unlocked, a rapid passage up a long tree-lined approach, and Dallas was silently received by an ancient servitor in black silk stockings, with silky white hair, who handed his hat and coat to one of two stalwart footmen, and bowed the visitor into a small handsomely furnished room, half reception-room, half library.
As far as he could judge, the house seemed a very large one. The thing that struck him most was the absolute quiet, and the exquisite taste displayed in ill the appointments. Everything was rich and solid, and in perfect accord with Sir James Dyne's own impressive personality.
Sir James joined him almost instantly, and gave him warm greeting. "It was really very good of you to take pity on an old man's loneliness, Mr. Dallas—in the face of such a storm too," as a crash of thunder shook the house.
The low hum of a deep-toned gong rolled along the passages, and Sir James said, gaily—
"Let us to table at once. Everything here goes by clockwork, and if I am behind time the cook goes on sending up the courses, and I am the sufferer."
It was an admirable dinner, rendered doubly so by the old doctor's wonderful flow of anecdote and reminiscence. He knew something about everybody, and mostly to their detriment—that is, from the professional standpoint. Dallas found himself wondering at last if he himself were quite sane, or at all events whether, beyond himself and his host, there were any absolutely sane persons in existence.
The doctor evolved the theory that ninety-nine men out of a hundred are insane upon at least one subject, and that the way to cure them is, not by immuring them in asylums, but by a surgical operation which should deaden their susceptibilities upon the subject in question.
"Why you, yourself, Mr. Dallas, probably have some subject which touches you to the quick when you brood upon it. 'It makes you mad to think of it'—how commonly the expression is used; it is only a colloquialism, of course, but there is the germ of truth in it, as there is the germ of madness in every brain. Circumstances in some cases hatch out the germ, and so men go mad"— and so on and so on.
Of the Bar, Sir James seemed to hold no very high opinion. He proves satisfactorily to himself, that the Master of the Rolls was distinctly unsound in his upper strata, that at least two of the Lords Justices of Appeal were decided monomaniacs, and that the Lord Chief Justice was not far short of a drivelling idiot.
It was intensely amusing, and extremely interesting; for the doctor was a very clever man, and seemed to be exerting himself to the utmost in his guest's behalf.
Dallas had tried several times to bring round the conversation to the subject nearest his heart at the moment. But it was not till they were enjoying the after-dinner cigar that he succeeded in firing his question squarely into the doctor's batteries.
"Well now, Sir James, I want your theory as to the missing men. Where are they, and how did they get there?"
"Well, my dear boy," he said, slowly, "that question has exercised my mind in common with the rest of the world, and my theory is that they have been kidnapped."
"But, doctor! kidnapped in this nineteenth century?"
"Yes, I acknowledge all the difficulties of the case, but it seems to me the only possible explanation."
"But how?—why?—by whom?"
"Ah! that opens up a very wide field. How ?—the means would not be difficult to a determined man, The two latter questions hang together—answer the one and you solve the other. For instance, your client in the case had every reason to wish to stifle any further cross-examination by Sir Charles——"
"Yes; but he would hardly have made away with his own leader."
"That, of course, seems a difficulty— unless it were done as a blind."
Just then, the storm, which had been raging all through the dinner, culminated in one terrific crash, which caused both men to take their cigars from their mouths and hold their breath.
"Jove!" said the doctor, "that was heavy and close." He seemed restless. He got up and went to the window, and was met by a blinding flash.
"I think you must let me offer you a bed, Mr. Dallas; I couldn't think of letting you turn out in weather like this. Is there any necessity for your being back in town to-night — any early engagements for tomorrow?"
"None, doctor; but I wouldn't like to impose myself on you to that extent."
"Tut, tut; it is I who am under the obligation." He touched a button sunk in the floor under the table with his foot, and the old butler appeared.
"Oswald, have a room prepared for Mr. Dallas; he will stay the night."
The old man bowed and withdrew.
"An invaluable man that," said the doctor; "he has never spoken a word in his life. A clever fellow too. He was my coachman for over twenty years, and has been for twenty years my butler. I have often thought what an advantage it would be if there were a special race like that. No, he is not deaf, as you see; only dumb —born so."
The doctor was pacing the room restlessly, and the thunder was still rolling and crashing overhead.
"You will have to excuse me for a time, Mr. Dallas. A storm like this always has a bad effect on my patients. I shall make my nightly rounds earlier than usual, as I may be wanted—or stay," he said; "suppose you come with me—it will be an experience for you."
Dallas had no great inclination for the experience, but the doctor urged : " You may pick up some ideas that may come in useful in your profession some time. Never miss the opportunity of gaining novel experiences."
And Dallas went.
They crossed the hall, where the two stalwart footmen were dozing in big easy basket chairs, passed through a heavy door at the farther end with a tight-fitting green-baize-covered door behind it, down a long passage, through another big door, which the doctor opened with a pass key, into the working part of the establishment.
Here all was solid and grim. The extraordinary quiet of the doctor's house did not exist here. The sounds, strange and weird, were not obtrusively loud, they were muffled; but they were there, and Dallas began to wish he had remained behind.
They were passing a door, when the inmate commenced beating a furious tattoo on it with his fists. The occupants of some of the other rooms followed the example, and the corridor re-echoed with the muffled thunder.
A flame of anger flashed across the doctor's face. He dashed open the trap of the door where the noise had started, and said, angrily: "Silence!—at once!— or I will send for the strait waistcoat."
Dallas caught a glimpse of a man's face at the wicket, peering forth with wild, straining eyes, and he had an impression of a shaven, convict-like head.
With a thrill that shook him to his base, and left his knees a-trembling, Dallas recognised that the face was familiar to him. A light of responsive recognition flamed up into the wild eyes, and he could have sworn that the being inside was shouting his own name, when the doctor shot the wicket to with an angry oath.
"A bad case," he said, "a very bad case."
"Who in heaven's name was it ?" was the question pounding in Dallas's brain. "Who was it?—who was it?" The face was familiar, though, somehow, different. His brain was whirling confusedly after the answer to this riddle, when Sir James inserted his key into a door and flung it open.
"This is one of our punishment rooms, Mr. Dallas," he said, coolly. "You don't associate so much padding with a cell, do you?"
The doctor had entered, after touching an electric-light switch outside, and now stood in the centre of the padded room, looking round with an air of complacent approval.
"You couldn't hurt yourself here, however much you tried."
Dallas stepped inside, and looked round. Every inch of the walls and door and floor was thickly padded; it felt dreadfully oppressive. His brain was still painfully throbbing in its futile search for the connecting link between that face at the wicket and the someone in the outside world with whom he was acquainted. Who was it? Who in heaven's name was it? His brain felt like bursting.
Suddenly he was aware that Sir James was addressing him. Something peculiar in the old man's tone sent another shock through him. He looked up.
"Put it on, Mr. Dallas—put it on." The old man was holding out to him a strange-looking garment made of strong canvas.
"Why, doctor, what is it?"
"Put—it—on,—Mr. Dallas! Do you hear me? Put — it — on — at once, or I will send for the keepers."
Dallas looked up with amazement; the fine old face was working with fury; the devil himself was gleaming out of the keen dark eyes. "Put —it—on!" he said again, with a snarl. "Put—it —on,
confound you, put—it—on !"
Then, in a flash, Dallas recognised two things.
The face at the wicket of that other room was the face of Sir Charles Dossall; and the old man in front of him, stamping in fury, was, for the time being, as mad as any of his own patients.
"Dossall! It was Sir Charles Dossall!" sprang to Dallas's lips, and then the doctor dashed at him. He stumbled, and in a moment Dallas slipped out of the room and slammed to the door, which closed with a vicious snap.
Dallas leaned panting against it. What was the meaning of it all? It was beyond him; but he must see Sir Charles again, if indeed it were really he. He listened at the door he was leaning against, but heard no sound; then he stole along to the door from which the face had peered, and slipped back the wicket. A face appeared there, but not the face he expected—not Sir Charles Dossall's—he had gone to the wrong door; but, good heavens! this was a face he knew better still, and the voice was the voice of Sir Revel Revell, and it said, "Dallas—Charley Dallas— thank God for the sight of you. Get me out of this? What in heaven's name is the meaning of it all?"
Before he could reply the door at the end of the corridor opened silently, and the old man Oswald appeared. He came noiselessly along, looking about questioningly for Sir James. Dallas closed the trap, and leaned for a moment against the wall to recover his balance. His heart was pounding like a sledge-hammer, and the blood surging up into his brain made him reel.
The old man came close up to him, his head and neck shaking threateningly from side to side, his deep-set eyes rolling, and his pent-house brows twitching in questioning, while a low guttural gurgle came from his throat.
Dallas braced himself up with an effort, and said as nonchalantly as he could, “Sir James is attending to his one of his patients. I am going back to the house,” and he strolled slowly away, curbing as best he could the mad impulse to dash through the door and out into the night.
He dared not turn round to look, but felt the old man's weird eyes following him. When he closed the door behind him on that hideous corridor, he felt as though he had awakened from a nightmare.
Then another fear confronted him—How was he to get out of the house? Those two big footmen in their basket chairs on either side of the hall were no merely spectacular adjuncts to the establishment, he could well imagine.
To enter on Sir James Dyne's invitation was one thing, to get out without his permission would probably prove a very different matter.
Dallas was quick-witted, however. He faced the difficulty, formed his plan, and acted on it at once. He saw at a glance that there was no chance of breaking out through the iron ribs of the conservatory. He walked quietly up to the door leading to the house, then dashed through it, and through the passage beyond, shouting, "Help! Help! Quick—help! "—through the double doors, into the big hall. As he expected, the two footmen had sprung out of their chairs, and were ready for emergencies.
Dallas checked himself in the middle of the hall, and turned to rush back the way he had come, shouting excitedly, " Come on—quick—the Doctor is being murdered." The two men sprang forward and followed him. They saw him dash through the door into the conservatory, and almost fell over his prostrate body as they thrust through after him.
"Never mind me," he yelled, " go on— quick—you'll be too late."
Then in a moment, as they sped on, he was back in the passage in the hall—fumbling at the lock of the great front door. But it defied all his efforts. He dashed into the small waiting-room. There was no time to unfasten the window. The men might be back in a moment. He seized a chair, dashed it twice against the glass, scrambled through, losing flesh and clothing in his passage, and dropped into a rose-bush, with a fervent "Thank God."
The rain beat down on his hot head, and he was grateful. He had escaped from hell, and the cooling drops were as the water of life to him.
Now to get out of the grounds, and back to London with the least possible delay. He sped down the avenue. No good trying the great iron gates; he knew they were kept locked. When he saw the lodge looming in front he turned off into the shrubbery, and forced his way through— drenched to the skin by the showers he shook down—till a high stone wall barred his way.
"Sure to be glass on top," he said to himself. He slipped out of his coat, and, holding it by the tails, flung the collar over the top of the wall. At the third throw it caught, and, with the slight assistance it gave, he hauled himself up. He got over at last, badly cut about the knees and hands, and dropped into the road, dragging the remains of the coat after him.
Then he settled down into a steady run for the station—remembered that the last train had probably gone, and that in any case he would almost certainly be stopped as an escaped lunatic if he presented himself there—and turned off into the fields in the direction of the copper-coloured glow in the sky, and the distant roar, which represented London.
As he scrambled through the hedge a distant clang smote on his ears. It was the opening and closing of the iron gates of the lodge. He crouched low and endeavoured to stifle his quick panting. He heard the rapid pad of feet on the road, and in a minute two stalwart forms darted past in the direction of the station. He waited till they were out of hearing, then struck a bee-line for the coppery glow, through hedge and ditch, over field and furrow. What with mud and blood, and rain, and clothes in rags, he felt himself an awful object; but every step brought him nearer London, and brought rescue one step nearer to his friends.
At last, panting painfully, and thoroughly used up, he stumbled on to a high road. It ran the right way, and he followed it. He trudged and ran, and trudged again to recover breath. He seemed to have been on the go for hours, and doubted at last if his strength would hold out.
In time he came to scattered villas— then shops—and at last, thank heaven, a hansom rolling sleepily home to its suburban stable.
Dallas hailed it. The driver hesitated, and when he saw the dilapidated object before him he whipped up his tired horse and continued his homeward journey.
"Stop, man!" thundered Dallas, with all his remaining strength. "It's a matter of life and death, and here's a sovereign; another if you land me at Scotland Yard within half an hour."
The man backed up to the outstretched coin, took it, bit it, fumbled for a match, lighted it under his cape, examined the coin, and flung open the doors with—
"Right y'are, guv'nor! Yer a rummy looking lot, but quids is quids. Where's the corpse?"
Dallas tumbled in, and they rumbled away.
The horse was worn out, and it was close on midnight when it stumbled up reeking like a lime-kiln to the door of Scotland Yard. Dallas flung up the other sovereign and limped up the steps.
A couple of stalwart policemen confronted him.
"I want the Commissioner, quick ! don't stand ramping about here. Take me up at once, and send up some brandy; I'm going to faint."
A sergeant beckoned to one of his men, who took Dallas's other arm, and between them they led him off upstairs.
He did faint before they reached the top, and when he came to he found himself lying in the Chief Commissioner's own armchair, with the taste of brandy in his mouth.
Sir Edward was regarding him with a somewhat quizzical smile.
"Well, Mr. Dallas, has the Junior Bar been dining out? What is this strange story the sergeant hints at?"
Dallas held out his torn hands and pointed to the wounds in his lacerated knees, and, looking steadily into the Chief Commissioner's face, said quietly—
"The Junior Bar doesn't run to this extreme even in its most hilarious moments, Sir Edward.
"Do you know Sir James Dyne's house at Barwood ?" he continued.
The Chief Commissioner nodded with an accession of interest.
"I got these wounds in escaping from the house two hours ago. In a padded cell there you will find Sir Revel Revell; in another, Sir Charles Dossall; probably Peacock is in another. It was touch and go that I am not in another."
The Commissioner had started from his seat in amazement, and was eyeing him keenly from below his knitted brows.
"This is an astounding story, Mr. Dallas."
"It is more than astounding; it's true. I want a search warrant; I want a dozen picked men, and I want to get back as quick as we can go."
The Commissioner touched a bell. Kerr the sergeant came in.
"A dozen of your best mounted men to be ready in five minutes, Kerr. I shall go myself. Order a spare horse for Mr. Dallas.
"Now just a question or two, Mr. Dallas. How came you at Sir James Dyne's?"
"He invited me to dinner." And he briefly told his story.
The Commissioner was evidently much exercised.
"How did you open the front door?" he asked, suddenly.
"I didn't; I smashed a window with a chair and tumbled through it."
"Small room on right of hall." The Commissioner nodded.
"How did you pass the lodge?" he asked.
"I didn't try; I clambered over the wall. Hence the cuts. You seem to be acquainted with the place, Sir Edward."
"I dined there with Sir James last night, Mr. Dallas, and he took pride in pointing out the strength of his defences."
"Did he invite you to accompany him on his rounds?"
"He did, and I declined to go."
"Oh! I went!" said Dallas, feelingly.
Dallas borrowed a sergeant's cap and cape, and the cavalcade set off at a round trot for Barwood.
Of the rapid dash through muddy streets and still more muddy country roads Dallas remembered nothing beyond a feeling of intense weariness and of desperate anxiety. Grit or instinct kept him in the saddle, however, and it was only when the panting party drew rein at the lodge gates at Barwood that he fell forward on his horse's neck, completely used up.
Of the subsequent operations—of the strategy needed to effect an entrance into the stronghold, of the breaking in of cell doors amid the shrieks and moans of the inmates, of the discovery of Sir James dancing a wild dance of death on poor old Oswald's body on the floor of the padded room—he heard and saw nothing.
His next recollection was of lying on a sofa in the dining-room, and of the murmur of conversation arising from a small group of men sitting round a table on which were food and wine. The Chief Commissioner he knew—the others puzzled him. Their faces seemed familiar, but their heads were clean shaven, and each face wore a strange, pinched, anxious look, which he had never seen there before. Their costumes, too, were curious. On the whole, he decided that they were convicts. He raised himself on his elbow to examine them more closely, and they came forward to overwhelm him with thanks almost too deep for utterance—Sir Revel, Sir Charles, and Mr. Peacock.
Nothing more is necessary to complete this record of a strange episode than the account of their adventures by the three principal actors therein.
Sir Charles Dossall's statement was as follows:—
"After leaving the courts on the evening of July 14, Mr. Peacock, Q.C., who held a brief with me in a certain case, dined with me at my house.
"After dinner, we had a lengthy discussion on certain points arising out of the case, and Mr. Peacock left about eleven p.m.
"Fifteen minutes later a letter was handed in to me, which ran thus:—
"' Dear Sir Charles,—
"' We regret exceedingly to trouble you at this time of night, but our client is here at our offices, and has been here for some hours, in a state of frantic excitement, respecting the new line of defence you have developed in the last question of your cross-examination to-night. She insists on an interview, and makes some very remarkable statements. She absolutely declines to stir out of this office till she has seen you.
"' We have no option but to comply with her request, and beg of you to favour us with your presence for a few minutes.
"' We send our senior's brougham with this, to save you as much inconvenience as possible. Again apologising for the annoyance.
"' We remain, dear Sir Charles,
"' Yours obediently,
"' George & George, "'
Sir Charles Dossall. per H. G.'
"This was written on plain note paper, and bore the marks of extreme haste, but no suspicion as to its genuineness ever entered my head. I put on coat and hat, told the footman I would be back shortly, and left the house.
"A brougham stood a few paces off, an elderly footman closed the door on me as I entered, and we drove off.
"The night was warm, the brougham was oppressive. I tried to open the windows—first one, then the other—but they seemed to have got jammed. Then I remember no more till I found myself in a padded room, with my head shaved."
One of the birds ensnared, the capture of the others was easy.
The letter to Mr. Peacock arrived by the last postal delivery at night, and ran as follows:—
"My dear Peacock,—
"I am in a terrible mess; you can help me out. For old friendship's sake come to me. At eleven o'clock to-night a brougham will be waiting for you at the corner of Russell Square. To make sure you are right, say the single word 'Charles' to the driver, and he will touch his hat . three times. This must seem to you very melodramatic—even childish, perhaps. Unfortunately, it is unavoidable under the circumstances:
"Come to me without fail, I beg of you.
"I went," said Mr. Peacock. "I entered the brougham; and after that the record of Sir Charles's experiences is identical with my own."
With simply the necessary alterations, the letter which Sir Revel received, also by the last post, was identical with Mr. Peacock's. It also purported to come from Sir Charles.
An examination of the carriage showed that the windows and doors were absolutely unmovable from the inside, and that a simple but ingenious contrivance in the roof enabled the driver at any moment to drop upon the rider's face a chloroformed cloth.
All Sir James Dyne's patients, except the three Q.C.'s, seemed genuinely mad. Whether they were so when first they passed through the doors of Barwood will never be known.
“End of The Missing Q.C.’s by John Oxenham, Part 2."
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