The Night Express by Fred M. White
The Story of a Bank Robbery
A pelting rain volleyed against the great glass dome
of the terminus, a roaring wind boomed in the roof.
Passengers, hurrying along the platform, glistened in big
coats and tweed caps pulled close over their ears. By the
platform the night express was drawn up—a glittering mass
of green and gold, shimmering with electric lights, warm,
inviting, and cozy.
Most of the corridor carriages and sleeping berths were
full, for it was early in October still, and the Scotch exodus
was not just yet. A few late comers were looking anxiously
out for the guard. He came presently, an alert figure in
blue and silver. Really, he was very sorry. But the train
was unusually crowded, and he was doing the best he
could. He was perfectly aware of the fact that his questioners
represented a Cabinet Minister on his way to
Balmoral and a prominent Lothian baronet, but there
are limits even to the power of an express guard, on the
Grand Coast Railway.
"Well, what's the matter with this?" the Minister demanded.
"Here is an ordinary first-class coach that will do very well
for us. Now, Catesby, unlock one of these doors and turn
the lights on."
"Very sorry, my lord," the guard explained, "but it can't
be done. Two of the carriages in the coach are quite full, as
you see, and the other two are reserved. As a matter of
fact, my lord, we are taking a body down to Lydmouth.
Gentleman who is going to be buried there. And the other
carriage is for the Imperial Bank of Scotland. Cashier
going up north with specie, you understand."
It was all plain enough, and disgustingly logical. To
intrude upon the presence of a body was perfectly impossible;
to try and force the hand of the bank cashier equally out of
the question. As head of a great financial house, the Minister
knew that. A platform inspector bustled along presently,
with his hand to his gold-laced cap.
"Saloon carriage being coupled up behind, my lord,"
The problem was solved. The guard glanced at his
watch. It seemed to him that both the bank messenger and
the undertaker were cutting it fine. The coffin came presently
on a hand-truck—a black velvet pall lay over it, and
on the sombre cloth a wreath or two of white lilies. The
door of the carriage was closed presently, and the blinds
drawn discreetly close. Following behind this came a barrow
in charge of a couple of platform police. On the barrow
were two square deal boxes, heavy out of all proportion
to their size. These were deposited presently to the satisfaction
of a little nervous-looking man in gold-rimmed
glasses. Mr. George Skidmore, of the Imperial Bank,
had his share of ordinary courage, but he had an imagination,
too, and he particularly disliked these periodical trips
to branch banks, in convoy, so to speak. He took no risks.
"Awful night, sir," the guard observed. "Rather lucky
to get a carriage to yourself, sir. Don't suppose you would
have done so only we're taking a corpse as far as Lydmouth,
which is our first stop."
"Really?" Skidmore said carelessly. "Ill wind that
blows nobody good, Catesby. I may be overcautious, but
I much prefer a carriage to myself. And my people prefer it,
too. That's why we always give the railway authorities
a few days' notice. One can't be too careful, Catesby."
The guard supposed not. He was slightly, yet discreetly,
amused to see Mr. Skidmore glance under the
seats of the first-class carriage. Certainly there was nobody
either there or on the racks. The carriage at the far side
was locked, and so, now, was the door next the platform.
The great glass dome was brilliantly lighted so that anything
suspicious would have been detected instantly. The
guard's whistle rang out shrill and clear, and Catesby had
a glimpse of Mr. Skidmore making himself comfortable as he
swung himself into his van. The great green and gold serpent
with the brilliant electric eyes fought its way sinuously into
the throat of the wet and riotous night on its first stage of
over two hundred miles. Lydmouth would be the first stop.
So far Mr. Skidmore had nothing to worry him, nothing,
that is, except the outside chance of a bad accident. He
did not anticipate, however, that some miscreant might
deliberately wreck the train on the off chance of looting
those plain deal boxes. The class of thief that banks
have to fear is not guilty of such clumsiness. Unquestionably
nothing could happen on this side of Lydmouth.
The train was roaring along now through the fierce gale at
sixty odd miles an hour, Skidmore had the carriage to himself,
and was not the snug, brilliantly lighted compartment
made of steel? On one side was the carriage with the
coffin; on the other side another compartment filled with
a party of sportsmen going North. Skidmore had noticed
the four of them playing bridge just before he slipped into
his own carriage. Really, he had nothing to fear. He
lay back comfortably wondering how Poe or Gaboriau
would have handled such a situation with a successful robbery
behind it. There are limits, of course, both to a
novelist's imagination and a clever thief's process of invention.
Three hours and twenty minutes later the express pulled
up at Lydmouth. The station clock indicated the hour to
be 11.23. Catesby swung himself out of his van on to the
shining wet platform. Only one passenger was waiting
there, but nobody alighted. Catesby was sure of this,
because he was on the flags before a door could be opened.
He came forward to give a hand with the coffin in the
compartment next to Skidmore's. Then he noticed, to his
surprise, that the glass in the carriage window was
smashed; he could see that the little cashier was huddled
up strangely in one corner. And Catesby could see also
that the two boxes of bullion were gone!
Catesby's heart was thumping against his ribs as he
fumbled with his key. He laid his hand upon Skidmore's
shoulder, but the latter did not move. The fair hair
hung in a mass on the side of his forehead, and here it was
fair no longer. There was a hole with something horribly
red and slimy oozing from it. The carpet on the floor
was piled up in a heap; there were red smears on the
cushions. It was quite evident that a struggle had taken
place here. The shattered glass in the window testified
to that. And the boxes were gone, and Skidmore had
been murdered by some assailant who had shot him through
the brain. And this mysterious antagonist had got off
with the bullion, too.
A thing incredible, amazing, impossible; but there it was.
By some extraordinary method or another the audacious
criminal had boarded an express train traveling at sixty
miles an hour in the teeth of a gale. He had contrived
to enter the cashier's carriage and remove specie to the
amount of eight thousand pounds! It was impossible
that only one man could have carried it. But all the same
it was gone.
Catesby pulled himself together. He was perfectly certain
that nobody at present on the train had been guilty
of this thing. He was perfectly certain that nobody had
left the train. Nobody could have done so after entering
the station without the guard's knowledge, and to
have attempted such a thing on the far side of the river
bridge would have been certain death to anybody. There was
a long viaduct here—posts and pillars and chains, with
tragedy lurking anywhere for the madman who attempted
such a thing. And until the viaduct was reached the
express had not slackened speed. Besides, the thief who
had the courage and intelligence and daring to carry out
a robbery like this was not the man to leave an express
train traveling at a speed of upwards of sixty miles an hour.
The train had to proceed, there was no help for it. There
was a hurried conference between Catesby and the stationmaster;
after that the electric lamps in the dead man's carriage
were unshipped, and the blinds pulled down. The
matter would be fully investigated when Edinburgh was
reached, meanwhile the stationmaster at Lydmouth would
telephone the Scotch capital and let them know there what
they had to expect. Catesby crept into his van again, very
queer and dizzy, and with a sensation in his legs suggestive
of creeping paralysis.
Naturally, the mystery of the night express caused a
great sensation. Nothing like it had been known since the
great crime on the South Coast, which is connected with
the name of Lefroy. But that was not so much a mystery
as a man hunt. There the criminal had been identified.
But here there was no trace and no clue whatever.
It was in vain that the Scotland Yard authorities tried to
shake the evidence of the guard, Catesby. He refused to
make any admissions that would permit the police even
to build up a theory. He was absolutely certain that Mr.
Skidmore had been alone in the carriage at the moment
that the express left London; he was absolutely certain
that he had locked the door of the compartment, and the
engine driver could testify that the train had never traveled
at a less speed than sixty miles an hour until the bridge
over the river leading into Lydmouth station was reached;
even then nobody could have dropped off the train without
the risk of certain death. Inspector Merrick was
bound to admit this himself when he went over the spot.
And the problem of the missing bullion boxes was quite
as puzzling in its way as the mysterious way in which Mr.
Skidmore had met his death.
There was no clue to this either. Certainly there had
been a struggle, or there would not have been blood marks
all over the place, and the window would have remained
intact. Skidmore had probably been forced back into
his seat, or he had collapsed there after the fatal shot
was fired. The unfortunate man had been shot through
the brain with an ordinary revolver of common pattern,
so that for the purpose of proof the bullet was useless.
There were no finger marks on the carriage door, a proof
that the murderer had either worn gloves or that he had
carefully removed all traces with a cloth of some kind.
It was obvious, too, that a criminal of this class would
take no risks, especially as there was no chance of his being
hurried, seeing that he had had three clear hours for his work.
The more the police went into the matter, the more puzzled
they were. It was not a difficult matter to establish
the bona fides of the passengers who traveled in the next
coach with Skidmore, and as to the rest it did not matter.
Nobody could possibly have left any of the corridor coaches
without attracting notice; indeed, the very suggestion was
absurd. And there the matter rested for three days.
It must not be supposed that the authorities had been
altogether idle. Inspector Merrick spent most of his time
traveling up and down the line by slow local trains on the
off-chance of hearing some significant incident that might
lead to a clue. There was one thing obvious—the bullion
boxes must have been thrown off the train at some spot
arranged between the active thief and his confederates.
For this was too big a thing to be entirely the work of one
man. Some of the gang must have been waiting along the
line in readiness to receive the boxes and carry them to a
place of safety. By this time, no doubt, the boxes themselves
had been destroyed; but eight thousand pounds in gold
takes some moving, and probably a conveyance, a motor
for choice, had been employed for this purpose. But
nobody appeared to have seen or heard anything suspicious
on the night of the murder; no prowling gamekeeper
or watcher had noticed anything out of the common.
Along the Essex and Norfolk marshes, where the Grand
Coast Railway wound along like a steel snake, they had
taken their desolate and dreary way. True, the dead body
of a man had been found in the fowling nets up in the mouth
of the Little Ouse, and nobody seemed to know who he
was; but there could be no connection between this unhappy
individual and the express criminal. Merrick shook his
head as he listened to this from a laborer in a roadside
public house where he was making a frugal lunch on
bread and cheese.
"What do you call fowling nets?" Merrick asked.
"Why, what they catches the birds in," the rustic
explained. "Thousands and thousands of duck and teel
and widgeon they catches at this time of year. There's
miles of nets along the road—great big nets like fowl runs.
Ye didn't happen to see any on 'em as ye came along in
"Now I come to think of it, yes," Merrick said thoughtfully.
"I was rather struck by all that netting. So they
catch sea birds that way?"
"Catches 'em by the thousand, they does. Birds fly
against the netting in the dark and get entangled. Ducks
they get by 'ticing 'em into a sort of cage with decoys.
There's some of 'em stan's the best part of half a mile long.
Covered in over the top like great cages. Ain't bad sport,
Merrick nodded. He recollected it all clearly now. He
recalled the wide, desolate mud flats running right up to
the railway embankment for some miles. At high tide
the mud flats were under water, and out of these the great
mass of network rose both horizontally and perpendicular.
And in this tangle the dead body of a man had been found
after the storm.
There was nothing really significant in the fact that the
body had been discovered soon after the murder of Mr.
George Skidmore. Still, there might be a connection
between the two incidents. Merrick was going to make
inquiries; he was after what looked like a million to one
chance. But then Merrick was a detective with an imagination,
which was one of the reasons why he had been
appointed to the job. It was essentially a case for the
theoretical man. It baffled all the established rules of the
Late the same afternoon Merrick arrived at Little Warlingham
by means of a baker's cart. It was here that the
body of the drowned man lay awaiting the slim chances
of identity. If nothing transpired during the next eight
and forty hours, the corpse would be buried by the parish
authorities. The village policeman acted as Merrick's
guide. It was an event in his life that he was not likely
"A stranger to these parts, I should say, sir," the local
officer said. "He's in a shed at the back of the 'Blue
Anchor,' where the inquest was held. If you come this
way, I'll show him to you."
"Anything found on the body?"
"Absolutely nothing, sir. No mark on the clothing or
linen, either. Probably washed off some ship in the storm.
Pockets were quite empty, too. And no signs of foul play.
There you are, sir!"
Casually enough Merrick bent over the still, white form
lying there. The dead face was turned up to the light,
Rembrandtesque, coming through the door. The detective
straightened himself suddenly, and wiped his forehead.
"Stranger to you, sir, of course?" the local man said
"Well, no," Merrick retorted. "I happen to know the
fellow quite well. I'm glad I came here."
Until it was quite too dark to see any longer Merrick
was out on the mud flats asking questions. He appeared
to be greatly interested in the wildfowlers and the many
methods of catching their prey. He learned, incidentally,
that on the night of the express murder most of the nets
and lures had been washed away. He took minute particulars
as to the state of the tide on the night in question;
he wanted to know if the nets were capable of holding up
against any great force. For instance, if a school of porpoises
came along? Or if a fish eagle or an osprey found
itself entangled in the meshes?
The fowlers smiled. They invited Merrick to try it for
himself. On that stormy east coast it was foolish to take
any risks. And Merrick was satisfied. As a matter of
fact, he was more than satisfied.
He was really beginning to see his way at last. By the
time he got back to his headquarters again he had practically
reconstructed the crime. As he stood on the railway
permanent way, gazing down into the network of the
fowlers below, he smiled to himself. He could have tossed
a biscuit on to the top of the long lengths of tarred and
knotted rigging. Later on he telephoned to the London
terminus of the Grand Coast Railway for the people there
to place the services of Catesby at his disposal for a day
or two. Could Catesby meet him at Lydmouth to-morrow?
The guard could and did. He frankly admitted that
he was grateful for the little holiday. He looked as if
he wanted it. The corners of his mouth twitched, his
hands were shaky.
"It's nerves, Mr. Merrick," he explained. "We all
suffer from them at times. Only we don't like the company
to know it, ye understand? To tell the truth, I've
never got over that affair at the Junction here eight years
ago. I expect you remember that."
Merrick nodded. Catesby was alluding to a great railway
tragedy which had taken place outside Lydmouth
station some few years back. It had been a most disastrous
affair for a local express, and Catesby had been
acting as guard to the train. He spoke of it under his breath.
"I dream of it occasionally even now," he said. "The
engine left the line and dragged the train over the embankment
into the river. If you ask me how I managed to
escape, I can't tell you. I never come into Lydmouth with
the night express now without my head out of the window
of the van right away from the viaduct till she pulls up at
the station. And what's more, I never shall. It isn't
fear, mind you, because I've as much pluck as any man.
It's just nerves."
"We get 'em in our profession, too," Merrick smiled.
"Did you happen to be looking out of the window on the
night of the murder?"
"Yes, and every other night, too. Haven't I just told
you so? Directly we strike the viaduct I come to my feet
"Always look out the same side, I suppose?"
"Yes, on the left. That's the platform side, you understand."
"Then if anybody had left the train there——"
"Anybody left the train! Why we were traveling at
fifty miles an hour when we reached the viaduct. Oh,
yes, if anybody had left the train I should have been bound
to see them, of course."
"But you can't see out of both windows at once."
"Nobody could leave the train by the other side. The
stone parapet of the viaduct almost touches the footboard,
and there's a drop of ninety feet below that. Of course
I see what you are driving at, Mr. Merrick. Now look
here. I locked Mr. Skidmore in the carriage myself, and I
can prove that nobody got in before we left London. That
would have been too dangerous a game so long as the train
was passing any number of brilliantly lighted stations,
and by the time we got into the open we were going at sixty
miles an hour. That speed never slackened till we were
just outside Lydmouth, and I was watching at the moment
that our pace dropped. I had my head out of the window
of my van till we pulled up by the platform. I am prepared
to swear to all this if you like. Lord knows how the thing
was done, and I don't suppose anybody else ever will."
"You are mistaken there," said Merrick drily. "Now,
what puzzles you, of course, is the manner in which the
murderer left the train."
"Well, isn't that the whole mystery?"
"Not to me. That's the part I really do know. Not
that I can take any great credit to myself, because luck
helped me. It was, perhaps, the most amazing piece of
luck I have ever had. It was my duty, of course, to take
no chances, and I didn't. But we'll come to that presently.
Let it suffice for the moment that I know how the murderer left
the train. What puzzles me is to know how he got on it.
We can dismiss every other passenger in the train, and we
need not look for an accomplice. There were accomplices, of
course, but they were not on the express. Why didn't Mr.
Skidmore travel in one of the corridor coaches?"
"He was too nervous. He always had a first-class carriage
to himself. We knew he was coming, and that was
why we attached an ordinary first-class coach to the train.
We shouldn't do it for anybody, but Lord Rendelmore,
the chairman of Mr. Skidmore's bank, is also one of our
directors. The coach came in handy the other night
because we had an order from a London undertaker to bring
a corpse as far as here—to Lydmouth."
"Really! You would have to have a separate carriage
"Naturally, Mr. Merrick. It was sort of killing two
birds with one stone."
"I see. When did you hear about the undertaking job?"
"The same morning we heard from the bank that Mr.
Skidmore was going to Lydmouth. We reserved a coach
at once, and had it attached to the Express. The other
carriages were filled with ordinary passengers."
"Why didn't I hear of this before?" Merrick asked.
"I don't know. It doesn't seem to me to be of much
importance. You might just as well ask me questions as
to the passengers' baggage."
"Everything is of importance," Merrick said sententiously.
"In our profession, there are no such things as
trifles. I suppose there will be no difficulty in getting at
the facts of this corpse business. I'll make inquiries here
So far Merrick professed himself to be satisfied. But
there were still difficulties in the way. The station people
had a clear recollection of the receipt of a coffin on the night
of the tragedy, and, late as it was, the gruesome thing had
been fetched away by the people whom it was consigned
to. A plain hearse, drawn by one horse, had been driven
into the station yard, the consignment note had been
receipted in the usual way, and there was an end of the
matter. Lydmouth was a big place, with nearly a quarter
of a million of inhabitants, and would necessarily contain
a good many people in the undertaking line. Clearly it was no
business of the railway company to take this thing any further.
Merrick admitted that freely enough. It was nearly dark
when he came back to the station, profoundly dissatisfied
with a wasted afternoon.
"No good," he told Catesby. "At the same time there
are consolations. And, after all, I am merely confirming
my suspicions. I suppose your people here are on the telephone.
If so, I should like to send a message to your head
office. I want the name of the firm in London who consigned
the coffin here. I suppose the stationmaster could
manage this for me."
An hour or so later the information came. Merrick,
at the telephone, wanted a little further assistance. Would
the Grand Coast Railway call up the undertaker's firm
whilst he held the line and ask the full particulars as to the
body sent from London to Lydmouth. For half an hour
Merrick stood patiently there till the reply came.
"Are you there? Is that Inspector Merrick? Oh, yes.
Well, we have called up Lincoln & Co., the undertakers.
We got on to the manager himself. He declares that the
whole thing is a mistake. They have not sent a corpse
over our trunk system for two months. I read the manager
the letter asking for special facilities, a letter on the
firm's own paper. The manager does not hesitate to say
the whole thing is a forgery. I think he is right, Inspector.
If we can do anything else for you——"
Merrick hung up the receiver and smiled as if pleased
with himself. He turned to his companion, Catesby.
"It's all right," he said. "Is there any way we can
get back to London to-night? The whole thing is perfectly
Though Merrick returned to London thoroughly satisfied,
he knew that the sequel was not just yet. There was
much conjuring work to be done before it would be possible
to place all the cards on the table. The Christmas
holidays had arrived before Merrick obtained a couple of
warrants, and, armed with these, he went down to Brighton
on Boxing Day, and put up at the Hotel Regina, registering
himself as Colonel Beaumont, sometime of the United
States Field Forces. Merrick could pose as an authority
on Cuba, for on one occasion he had been there for six
months on the lookout for a defaulting bank manager.
He had made certain changes in his appearance, and just
now he bore little resemblance to Inspector Merrick of
New Scotland Yard.
The big hotel on the front was full. There was a smart
dance that same night, preceded by a children's party and
Christmas tree. The house swarmed with young folks,
and a good many nationalities were represented. On
occasions like these somebody generally takes the lead,
and by common consent the part of the chief of the events
had been allotted to the Marquis de Branza.
To begin with, he was immensely rich. He had vast
estates in Italy. He had been staying at the Regina for
the past month, and it was whispered that his bill had
reached three figures. He entertained lavishly; he was
the soul of hospitality; he was going to buy a palace in
Kings' Gardens, and more or less settle down in Brighton.
In addition to all this the Marquis was a handsome man,
very fascinating, and a prime favorite with all the boys and
girls at the Regina. He had his little peculiarities, of course—for
instance, he paid for everything in gold. All his
hotel bills were met with current coin.
Merrick had gleaned all this before he had been a day
at the Regina. They were quite a happy family, and the
Colonel speedily found himself at home. The Marquis
welcomed him as if he owned the hotel, and as if everybody
was his guest. The dance was a great success, as
also were the presents in connection with the cotillon
promoted by the Marquis.
At two o'clock the following morning the Marquis was
entertaining a select party in the smoking-room. The
ladies had all vanished by this time. The Marquis was
speaking of his adventures. He really had quite a talent
in that direction. Naturally, a man of his wealth was
certain to be the mark for swindlers. Merrick listened with
an approving smile. He knew that most of these stories
were true, for they had all been recorded from time to time
at Scotland Yard.
"You would have made an excellent detective, Marquis,"
he said. "You have made it quite clear where the police
blundered over that Glasgow tragedy. I suppose you read
all about the Grand Coast Railway murder."
The Marquis started ever so slightly. There was a
questioning look in his eyes.
"Did you?" he said. "Naturally one would, Colonel.
But a matter the most inexplicable. I gave him up. From
the very first I gave him up. If the guard Catesby was
not the guilty person, then I admit I have no theory."
One by one, the smoking-room company faded away.
Presently only Merrick and the Marquis remained, save
one guest who had fallen asleep in his chair. A sleepy
waiter looked in and vanished again. The hotel was absolutely
quiet now. Merrick, however, was wide awake
enough; so, apparently, was the Marquis. All the same,
he yawned ostentatiously.
"Let us to bed," he said. "To-morrow, perhaps——"
"No," Merrick said somewhat curtly. "I prefer to-night.
The last two words came crisply and with a ring of command
in them. The Marquis bowed as he dropped into
a chair and lighted a fresh cigarette. A little red spot
glowed on either of his brown cheeks, his eyes glittered.
"You want to speak to me, Colonel?" he said.
"Very much indeed. Now, you are an exceedingly clever
man, Marquis, and you may be able to help me. It happens
that I am deeply interested in the Grand Coast Express
murder; in fact, I have devoted the last two months to its
"With no success whatever, my dear Colonel?" the
"On the contrary, my dear Marquis, with absolute satisfaction.
I am quite sure that you will be interested in my
The Marquis raised his cigarette graciously.
"You are very good to give me your confidence," he said.
"Thank you. I will not bore you with any preliminary
details, for they are too recent to have faded from your
memory. Sufficient that we have a murder committed in
an express train; we have the disappearance of eight thousand
pounds in gold, without any trace of the criminal.
That he was on the train at the start is obvious. That he
was not in any of the carriages conveying ordinary passengers
is equally obvious. It is also certain that he left
the train after the commission of the crime. Doubtless
you read the evidence of the guard to prove that nobody
left the train after the viaduct leading to Lydmouth station
was reached. Therefore, the murderer contrived to make
his escape when the express was traveling at sixty miles
"Is not all this superfluous?" the Marquis asked.
"Well, not quite. I am going to tell you how the murderer
joined the train and how he left it after the murder and the
"You are going to tell me that! Is it possible?"
"I think so," Merrick said modestly. "Now, Mr. Skidmore
had a compartment to himself. He was locked in
the very last thing, and nobody joined the train afterward.
Naturally a—well—an amateur detective like myself
wanted to know who was in the adjoining compartments.
Three of these could be dismissed at once. But in the fourth
there was a corpse——"
"A corpse! But there was no mention of that at the
"No, but the fact remains. A corpse in a coffin. In a
dark compartment with the blinds down. And, strangely
enough, the firm of undertakers who consigned, or were
supposed to consign, the body to Lydmouth denied the whole
business. Therefore, it is only fair to suppose that the
whole thing was a put-up job to get a compartment in the
coach that Mr. Skidmore traveled by. I am going to assume
that in that coffin the murderer lay concealed. But let
me give you a light—your cigarette is out."
"I smoke no more," the Marquis said. "My throat,
he is dry. And then——"
"Well, then, the first part is easy. The man gets out of
the coffin and proceeds to fill it with some heavy substance
which has been smuggled into the carriage under the pall.
He screws the lid down and presently makes his way
along the footboard to the next compartment. An athlete
in good condition could do that; in fact, a sailor has done
it in a drunken freak more than once. Mind you, I don't
say that murder was intended in the first instance; but will
presume that there was a struggle. The thief probably
lost his temper, and perhaps Mr. Skidmore irritated him.
Now, the rest was easy. It was easy to pack up the gold
in leather bags, each containing a thousand sovereigns,
and to drop them along the line at some spot previously
agreed upon. I have no doubt that the murderer and his
accomplices traveled many times up and down the line
before the details were finally settled. Any way, there
was no risk here. The broken packing cases were pitched
out also, probably in some thick wood. Or they might
have been weighted and cast into a stream. Are you
The Marquis gurgled. He had some difficulty in
"A little dangerous," he said. "Our ingenious friend
could not possibly screw himself down in the coffin after
returning to his compartment. And have you perceived
the danger of discovery at Lydmouth?"
"Precisely," Merrick said drily. "It is refreshing to
meet with so luminous a mind as yours. There were many
dangers, many risks to take. The train might have been
stopped, lots of things might have happened. It would
be far better for the man to leave the express. And he
"The express at top speed! Impossible!"
"To the ordinary individual, yes. But then, you see,
this was not an ordinary individual. He was—let us
suppose—an acrobat, a man of great nerve and courage,
accustomed to trapeze work and the use of the diving net."
"But Colonel, pardon me, where does the net come in?"
"The net came in at a place near Little Warlingham,
on the Norfolk coast. There are miles of net up there,
trap and flight nets close by the side of the line. These
nets are wide and strong; they run many furlongs without
supports, so that an acrobat could easily turn a somersault
on to one of these at a given spot without the slightest
risk. He could study out the precise spot carefully
beforehand—there are lightships on the sands to act as
guides. I have been down to the spot and studied it all
out for myself. The thing is quite easy for the class of man
I mean. I am not taking any great credit to myself, because
I happened to see the body of the man who essayed that
experiment. I recognized him for——"
"You recognized him! You knew who he was?"
"Certainly. He was Luigi Bianca, who used to perform
in London years ago, with his brother Joseph, on the
high trapeze. Then one of them got into trouble and subsequently
embarked, as the papers say, on a career of crime.
And when I saw the body of Luigi I knew at once that he
had had a hand in the murder of Mr. Skidmore. When
the right spot was reached the fellow took a header in the
dark boldly enough, but he did not know that the storm
had come with a very high October tide, and washed the
nets away. He fell on the sands and dislocated his neck.
But I had something to go on with. When I found out
about the bogus corpse I began to see my way. I have
been making careful inquiries ever since for the other
"The other criminal! You mean to insinuate——"
"I insinuate nothing," Merrick said coldly; "naturally
enough I wanted to find Joseph Bianca. He was the man
who picked up the gold; he was the man who hired a car
in London from Moss & Co., in Regent Street, for a week.
This was to recover the gold and incidentally also to take
up the thief who stole it. I wanted to find Joseph Bianca,
and I've done it!"
The Marquis leaped to his feet. As he did so the man
in the distant chair woke up and moved across the room.
"Don't make a fuss!" Merrick said quietly. "You
will be able to explain presently—perhaps what you are
doing here posing as a Marquis, and where you got all that
ready money from. Meanwhile, let me inform you that I
am Inspector Merrick, of Scotland Yard, and that this is
Sergeant Matthews. Joseph Bianca, you are my prisoner,
and I have a warrant for your arrest as an accessory before
and after the fact for the murder of Mr. George Skidmore.
Ask them to call us a cab, Matthews!"