born 1867 - 1942
The Mystery of the Vanished Petition Crown from Max Carrados
(Methuen, London, 1914)
The Mystery of the Vanished Petition Crown Max Carrados always seemed inclined to laugh quietly if anyone happened to mention the curious isappearance of the Willington Petition Crown. Why he should have been amused rarely came out at such times, perhaps because it is not expedient for one private collector openly to accuse another private collector of barefaced theft (whatever misgivings the majority may secretly admit of one another's morals), but the extent of his knowledge in the affair will emerge from the following pages. As a specialist in Greek tetradrachms Carrados would naturally only have a condescending interest in any of the non-classical branches of numismatics, but it was an interest that drew him to every word of coin news that appeared. As his delicate fingertips skimmed the morning paper headings at breakfast one day they "read" for him a line that promised some entertainment, and the item was duly blue-pencilled for consideration later. It was no effort for the blind man to pick out all the essentials of the newspaper's contents in this way; he could even, though not with the same facility, read the ordinary smaller type, but where there was no special reason for this it was his custom to mark off such paragraphs for his secretary's subsequent attention. This was in the nature of their ordinary daily routine, and an hour later Greatorex noticed and read aloud the following extract from the Daily Record: "RARE COIN DISAPPEARS "AUCTION ROOM SENSATION "Collectors and dealers who forgathered at Messrs. Lang & Leng's well-known sale-rooms yesterday in the hope of bidding for an exceptionally fine specimen of the celebrated Petition Crown of Charles II were oomed to disappointment. When the lot in question was reached and the coin was displayed at the tables it was discovered that something was wrong. The Petition Crown, which had previously been on view for several days and up to the hour of the sale, had disappeared and a comparatively valueless coin of a somewhat similar type occupied its numbered receptacle. "Immediate search among the other lots, both sold and unsold, failed to reveal any trace of the missing rarity and the whole affair is so far shrouded in mystery. "Piquancy is added to the incident by the fact that the last person to see and handle the coin was a well-known lady journalist, who, however, disclaims any numismatic cravings. After inspecting the coin merely as a rare and valuable curiosity the lady in question returned the tray containing it to the attendant in charge, who at once replaced it in the cabinet. As already stated, when it was next required the crown had vanished. "The Petition Crown holds the auction record among English coins, an example having realised £500 some years ago. It is generally stated that only fifteen specimens of this excessively rare coin were ever struck, and all but two or three are now in public collections and therefore out of the reach of enthusiasts. The crown owes its name to the interesting circumstances of its origin. The English engraver, Thomas Simon, having been supplanted in Charles the Second's favour by his Dutch rival, Roettier, the former put all his skill and genius into the creating of a super-coin, which took the form of a crown piece, with the following quaint inscription neatly engraved around the edge: ‘Thomas Simon most humbly prays your MAJESTY to compare this his try all piece with the Dutch, and if more truly drawn and embossd, more gracefully orderd, and more accurately engraven, to releive him.' "Sad to relate, although Simon's work is admittedly superior to that of 'the Dutch,' his petition was in vain. Still worse, the royal patron of the arts allowed his 'most humble's' salary and working expenses for several years to remain unpaid, so that after the engraver's death his widow had also to 'petition' -- for £2,164 long overdue." "That's rather like another plant where a string of pearls was changed some years ago," volunteered Greatorex, laying aside the paper in favour of his own reminiscences. He was a cheerful, mercurial youth who conceived that the more important part of his duty was to regale Mr, Carrados with his personal views on life and affairs, nor, strange to say, did his employer very often undeceive him. "Do you remember the one I mean, sir?" "Yes; they mulled that by not copying the sale label closely enough, and the attendant noticed it when the necklace was laid down again. There was a woman in that business also. But the two cases have nothing in common really." "How do you mean? Both were at auction sales; both -- " "True," interrupted Carrados, "but those things are only superficial. The essential motives fall into two quite. different classes. Good pearls are always readily saleable, and it is simply a matter of rearranging them and making them up in a different form. But what is a man going to do with a Petition Crown? Wear it on his watch-chain? As a marketable piece of loot he might as well carry off a Turner from the National Gallery, or, indeed, one of the lions from Trafalgar Square. Its trade value is about one and ninepence for the melting-pot." "Oh, come, sir," protested Greatorex. "This account speaks of a few other specimens knocking about. Surely in a year or two's time this one couldn't be positively identified as stolen?" Max Carrados turned to pull open a drawer of his desk and took out the top pamphlet of a number it contained. "Here is Lang's catalogue of this sale," he said, passing it across. "I haven't gone into it, but very likely that rown will be illustrated among the plates at the end. Just see." "Quite right, sir. It is Lot 64, and it is reproduced in one of those photographic process types here on Plate 2." "Take a glass and look into it. It is described as exceptionally fine, but you will almost certainly find a number of small cuts and dents here and there on the surface." "Yes; I see what you mean. They don't show ordinarily." "All the same they label the specimen as definitely as if it was a numbered bank-note. The simplest way out of that would be to carry it loose in your pocket for a few years. That would reduce its cabinet value to one-half, but it would effectually wipe out its identity. The trouble would be that whenever you started to dispose of it you would be pointedly asked for the pedigree. What collection had it come from last? All these little details are on record and easily available. No, it's amateur work, whoever it may be, Greatorex." "I was rather hoping that perhaps someone would bring it round here to offer sooner or later," remarked the adventurous Greatorex, still examining the plate. "I'll bet I could spot it by that scratch over his majesty's eye." "Then you will certainly be disappointed," was the unpromising reply. "If the coin really has been stolen -- and that's a palpable 'if' so far -- ten to one its immediate destination is the private drawer of some collector who will be content to handle and gloat over it in secret for the remaining days of his life." "And then I suppose it all comes out when he goes off?" "It may. But I have heard a curious story of an old fellow who had a few pieces in his collection that he never showed. When he thought that he only had a short time left he took a coal hammer and in five minutes the rarities were effectually put beyond any fear of identification." "My Sunday hat!" exclaimed Mr. Greatorex, compelled to a generous admiration. "Some collectors are hot stuff!" With that decorous epitaph the subject was laid to rest, with no indication that it would ever be raised again. But -- just as one may meet three piebald horses in the course of one short walk-the Petition Crown was fated to persist, and before lunch-time a telephone call from Mr. Carlyle had resurrected it. The period of interment had been just short of three hours. "Busy, Max?" chirruped the familiar voice of his friend the inquiry agent-incurably brisk and debonair even after its ten miles' journey along the wire. "Not to me? Dear old chap! Well, I dare say you've read all about the disappearance of Lord Willington's -- er -- Petition Crown in the paper this morning? I thought you might be interested as it's something in your line." "Greatorex is, at all events," replied Mr. Carrados. "He was half expecting that someone might bring it here in the course of the day. Do you -- strictly between ourselves, of course -- do you happen to have it for disposal, Louis?" "Do I happen to have it for disposal?" repeated Mr. Carlyle in a slightly mystified tone. "I thought you would have read that the coin has been stolen. However, Max, in my office at this moment there is a young lady who is very much concerned at being implicated in the affair. Frankly, as the auctioneers are naturally doing all that can be done to solve the riddle, I did not see how I could be of any real service to her, and I told her so. But she seemed so disappointed that as a -- er -- well --" "As a sort of forlorn hope?" suggested the listener maliciously. "Not at all; most certainly not!" protested Mr. Carlyle indignantly. "I explained that as you were both a keen coin collector yourself and an enthusiast in certain branches of criminal research, if -- if, mind you, Max-you cared to hear what she bad to say, you would be in an exceptional position to give her a word of advice. And that is really the long and the short of the whole matter, my mordacious friend." "Very likely, my ingenious sleuth, but I imagine that there is a small piece missing somewhere. You were not wont to turn young and beautiful suppliants from your office door. What is the real reason of this professional. reluctance on your part?" "Max," came along Mr. Carlyle's cautiously -- restrained voice-the listener could divine how near the moving lips were to the mouthpiece -- " I will speak to you as one gentleman to another when there is no danger of being overheard. Miss Frensham is young, but she is not beautiful, and to put it in that way is to pay her a noticeable compliment. She is also, I gather, regrettably hard up. Now, as I never conceal from my clients, my business is conducted on a purely financial basis, whereas you amuse yourself for -- the other thing. Doubtless I could earn a few honest but ill-spared guineas at this young lady's expense, but I cannot satisfy myself that she would be any the wiser for the outlay. And so -- " "All right, you old humbug," said Carrados amiably; "send her along. So far as the portents go I am with you in not seeing that there is much to be done for her, but if she finds any satisfaction in talking about it you can tell her that I shall be here for the next few hours." Miss Frensham evidently did foresee some satisfaction in talking about it, for she came at once. In view of her circumstances, Carrados could not but deem her rather extravagant, for nothing but a taxi from door to door could explain the promptness of her arrival. Mr. Carlyle had not maligned her looks: plain she undoubtedly was, not in any sense describably ugly but with a sort of pug-dog grotesquery. Her dress made no attempt to counteract physical deficiencies, but when she spoke Carrados's unemotional face instantly lit up with pleasure, for, unexpected in such a setting, her voice had the rare quality of gracious music. "How good of you to let me come in this way, Mr. Carrados!" she exclaimed as they shook hands. "I don't know which I have to thank the more -- you or Mr. Carlyle." "I think I shall claim the major share," said the blind man lightly. "Not for any particular merit, but because I am so very pleased to hear you." "To hear Oh, yes; of course he told me or I really should not have guessed. You know what it's all about?" "I infer that you are the lady of the paragraph," and the lifted hand indicated the open sheet of the Record lying nearby. "Yes, in a sense I am." Miss Frensham seemed troubled for a moment. "But I am not really a 'well-known lady journalist,' Mr. Carrados. I am only a very obscure one -- hardly a real journalist at all. That was just swank, and also because I felt sure that under that description no one who knew would ever think of me." "Oh," said Mr. Carrados with an amused and deepening interest, "so in addition to being the heroine of the adventure you wrote it up?" "Yes, ultimately I did. At first I was too upset to think about that. But I had gone to the place yesterday to see if there wasn't a 'news-story' in this Petition Crown -- nothing but 'news-stories' are worth while, you know -- and it seemed rather a pity to miss it when it turned out to be a very much better 'news-story' than I had ever expected. And then I knew that if I got my 'copy' taken I could keep my own name out. I had particular reasons for wishing that." Carrados nodded without showing any curiosity about the reasons. "What is it exactly that you want to do now?" he asked. "Well, I feel that I am really under suspicion of having taken the coin -- I don't see how they can think anything else in the circumstances -- and the only way of clearing myself is to find out who did take it. Knowing that I didn't, I naturally think that it must be the attendant there, because he seems to have been the only other person who could have done." "Reverse the argument, and the attendant, knowing that he didn't, naturally thinks that it must be you, because you seem to be the only other person who could have done. And so both sides get into difficulties along that obvious line. Suppose we ignore the two palpable suspects -- yourself and the attendant. Now who else might it have been?" "That is the difficulty, Mr. Carrados; it could have been no one else. I returned the coin to the attendant; he put it back in the case and remained on duty there until he displayed it on the tray to show round. Then it was discovered to have been taken." "I suppose," said Carrados tentatively, "you really were the last to nspect the coin? Sitting there you would probably have noticed if anyone else had asked for it?" "I only know what they said, but no one seemed to have any doubt about it. I went out to-to get some lunch and when I got back the sale was going on." "Ah," said the blind man thoughtfully. "Of course you would have to. Suppose you tell me the-the 'news-story' all through." "I hoped that you would let me," replied the girl. "But I was afraid of taking up too much of your time. Well, I have been living by journalism for some time now. Rather suddenly I had to support myself by some kind of work, and there was nothing else that I seemed able to do. I have always been fond of writing, and I had quite a lot of stories and articles and poems that I had been told by friends were quite good enough to print. I brought them to London with me, but somehow they didn't seem so much thought of here. I got to know one or two other girls who wrote, and they told me that my sort of stuff would be all right when I got into the peerage or became a leading lady, but if I wanted to live meanwhile it was absolutely necessary to cultivate a 'news-nose.' I soon saw what they meant: it wasn't absolutely necessary that it should be news you wrote, but it had to give the impression that it was." "Miss Frensham, I have been a practical journalist myself," remarked Carrados. "You had grasped the sacred torch." "At all events, I could just keep the domestic pot boiling after that. It was rather a near thing sometimes, but there was someone -- he is a sub-editor on the Daily Record actually-who helped me more than I can ever say. He told me of this sale. 'There's a coin to be sold that's expected to break the record,' he said; and he explained to me which it was. 'There ought to be a "news-story" in it if it does-say two hundred words in the ordinary way, four hundred if you can make it kick. I'll try and put it through.' I thought that I had made it kick, so I went to four hundred." "Yes," agreed her auditor, "I certainly think you can claim that amount of movement." "I didn't know anything about a coin auction, of course, but I looked up Simon in the biographical dictionary at the B.M. reading-room and then went on to the place. That was yesterday --he morning of the sale. There were two or three others -- men -- looking at the coins -- nothing to what I had expected -- and one attendant who gave out the drawers in which they were arranged as they were asked for. "I expected some sort of formality before they let me see the crown -- so valuable -- but there was really nothing at all. I just said, 'Can I see No. 64, please?' and he simply pulled one of the shallow drawers out of its case and put it down before me on the table. There were about a dozen other lots in the drawer, each in its separate little box. Then he turned his back on me to attend to something else. I believe that I could have picked up the coin and walked out of the place with it." "We are a trustful people both in war and peace," conceded Mr. Carrados. "But I think you would have found that you couldn't quite do that." "Well, I didn't try -- though it certainly did occur to me that there might be a stunt of some sort in it: you look out for them when one means a week's good keep. I made a few notes that I thought I could work in and then found that it was just one o'clock -- the sale was to begin at a quarter past. As the attendant took the coins away I asked him how fast they sold them. "'If you only want to see that lot sold, miss, a quarter to two will be in plenty of time. If you reckon a hundred lots to the hour you'll be well on the safe side.' "I thanked him and went out. That was really all I had to do with the coin. I never saw it again. When I got back to the sale-room the auction was going on. Even then there were only about twelve or fifteen people there. They sat at the tables -- I suppose you know how they are arranged, as a sort of hollow oblong, with the auctioneer at one end and the attendant showing the coins up and down the middle ? -- and a few sitting here and there about the room. I didn't sit down; I stood between the table and the door waiting for the price of Lot 64, which was the only thing I wanted. "When he got to it there was a slight stir of interest, though a more lethargic set of enthusiasts I never saw. I always imagined that collectors were a most excitable race who lost their heads at bidding and went on and on madly. These might have been buying arrowroot for all the emotion they showed." "Half of them would be dealers who had long ago got over all human enthusiasms; the remainder would be collectors, too afraid lest the others should think that they were keen on something. And then?" "The attendant was carrying the coin round on a little tray when one man picked it up and looked at it. 'Hull o!' he said and passed it to the next. 'This is the wrong lot,' said that one, and then the auctioneer leaned over and called to the attendant, 'Come, come, my lad -- No. 64,' and the attendant said, 'This is No. 64,' in an aggrieved way and showed him the numbered box. Then the attendant and those near that end began to look among the unsold lots, and after that they all turned out the sold lots -- they had mostly been put into little envelopes -- and when they came to the end of these every one looked at every one else and said nothing. Then I think they began it all over again-the hunting, I mean -- when the auctioneer hit on his desk. "'This is an important lot. Very sorry, but we can't go on with the selling until we know more where we are. I suppose someone did see the Petition Crown this morning?' "Two or three men said that they had, and the attendant, looking round, recognised me. 'That lady was the last to see the lot before the sale, sir,' I heard him say. 'Better ask her.' "'Did you -- ?' began the auctioneer, and then, I suppose, recognising that I mightn't like to carry on a shouting conversation across the room, he added, 'Do you mind coming round here?' "I went round the tables to where he was sitting, and he continued: "'Did you see this lot before the sale? Our man thinks that you were the last to have it out.' 'Yes,' I admitted. 'I saw it, and it was there when I returned the drawer. Of course I don't know that I was the last, but it was about one o'clock.' 'No one had it out later, Muir?' 'No, sir. I've been on this spot ever since, and that tray hasn't been asked for.' "The auctioneer seemed to consider, and every one else looked first at one and then the other of us. I began to feel very uncomfortable. "'I suppose it really was the Petition Crown you saw at one o'clock?' he asked after a bit. 'I suppose it must have been,' I replied. 'I copied the "Petition" from the edge into this notebook.' 'Well, that fixes it all right. You see how awkward it is for us, Miss -- Miss -- ' "I gave him my name. "'Miss Frensham. We have to do the best we can in the circumstances. I can't say at the moment on whom the loss will fall -- if the coin really proves to have disappeared -- but the figure is considerable. Now every one else in the room is known to us by sight; we have the names and addresses of them all.' "'You have my name,' I said, 'and I am living at the Allied Arts Hostel in Lower Gower Street.' "'Thank you,' he replied, writing it down. 'But of course that means very little to us. Is there anyone convenient who knows you personally to whom we can refer? You must understand that this does not imply any sort of suspicion of your bona fides; it is only putting you on equal terms with the rest of the company.' "I thought for a moment. I saw a great many unpleasant possibilities. Most of all I knew that I wanted to keep this from my people. "'The editor of the Daily Record knows me slightly,' I replied; 'but I don't see that be can say anything beyond that. And as to suspicion, I am afraid that you already have some. If you have any ladies on your staff I am quite willing to turn out everything I have before them' -- I thought that perhaps this would settle the matter off-hand, and I couldn't help adding rather viciously: 'and after that I dare say the rest of the company will do the same before you.' "'Yes,' he considered, 'but you've been out for half-an-hour, so that that would really prove nothing. At lunch I suppose?' "I began to see that things were fitting in rather unpleasantly for me. 'Yes,' I said. "'Perhaps I had better note where you went. We don't know where this may land us, and in the end it may be to your interest to have a waitress or someone who can identify you over that time.' "'I'm afraid I can't do that,' I had to say. 'There was no one who noticed me.' "'Surely -- Well, anyhow, the place?' "I shook my head. He looked at me for a moment and then wrote something down. .. . You think that was very suspicious, Mr. Carrados?" "Your advocate never thinks that anything you do is suspicious," replied the suave listener. "Probably they would." "They seemed to. Well, Mr. Carrados, I don't mind telling you, but somehow I couldn't say it before that-I felt-unfriendly battery of eyes. . . . My lunch consisted of three very unladylike thick slices of bread-and-butter, and I ate them as I walked slowly up and down the stairs at a tube station. So, you see, there could be no corroboration." "Perhaps we shall do better-not even require it," he replied quietly. "What happened next?" "I don't think that there was much more. They gave up looking for the coin. The auctioneer said that he had telephoned to someone -- his solicitor or Scotland Yard, I imagined, but I didn't hear which -- to know what ought to be done, and he hoped that everyone would remain until they knew. Then the sale began again. I went across and sat down on a chair away from the table. I had no interest in the sale-in fact I hated it -- and after a time I took out my pad and tried to write the paragraph. Very soon the sale came to an end and the men began to go -- I suppose they had been told to. I waited, for I wasn't going to seem in a hurry, until I was the only person left. After a bit the man who had been selling came in and seemed rather surprised to see me still there. He said he hoped I didn't think that I was being detained, and I said, 'Oh, no, I was just finishing something.' He said that that was all right, only they were going to lock up the room then and have it thoroughly looked over to-day -- it was just possible that something might turn up, though he was rather afraid that it would remain a mystery to the end. He was quite nice about it, and told me several curious things that had happened in connection with sales in the past. Then I left and he locked the door after us and, I believe, took the key." Carrados laughed appreciatively. "Yes, it was rather like the proverb about the stolen horse, wasn't it?" said the girl. "But I suppose they felt that even the unlikeliest chance must be taken. Anyway, they have certainly sent inquiries both to my Hostel and to the Record office. That's chiefly why I want to have my poor character restored. Every one says, 'Of course, Miss Frensham, nobody would think for a moment 'But what else are they to think privately? The thing has gone and I am branded as the last to handle it." "Yes, yes," said Carrados, beginning to walk about the room and to touch one familiar object after another in his curiously unhesitating way. "That unfortunate 'last' has obsessed you and all the others until it has shut out every real consideration. Your account of the whole business -- quite clear so far as it goes -- is entirely based on the fact that you were the last, and the attendant knew you were the last, and the auctioneer was told you were the last, and all the others grasped it, and you all proceeded to revolve round that centre. There stands the man we want, as plain as a pikestaff for us, only you and your lastness get between so persistently that we cannot see him." "I'm very sorry," faltered Miss Frensham, rather taken aback. "That's all right, my dear young lady," said an entirely benevolent Carrados. "We are getting on very nicely on the whole, and soon you will begin to tell me the things I really want to know." "Indeed I will tell you anything," she protested. "Of course you will -- as soon as I have the gumption to ask. In the meantime what do you really think of the celebrated Petition Crown now that you've seen it?" This light conversational opening struck Miss Frensham as rather an unpropitious way of grappling with the problem of the theft, but she had just professed her general willingness. "Well," she replied with conscientious effort, "it chiefly struck me as rather absurd that people should be willing to pay so much for this one when other coins, apparently almost like it, could be had for a few shillings." "Yes; very true." The blind man appeared to consider this naive expression deeply. "As a collector myself of course that goes home. You are not a collector, in any sense, Miss Frensham?" "No, indeed." "I was wondering," speculated Carrados in the same idle vein, "how you happened to know that." "Oh, very simply. There were about a dozen other lots in the drawer the man put before me. One of them consisted of quite a number of crown pieces, and they struck me as being so like the Petition Crown at a glance that out of curiosity I compared them. When it came to the sale they made only a few pounds for the lot." "You compared them -- side by side?" "Yes. I -- I "As she spoke Miss Frensham suddenly went very white, half rose from her chair, and sat down again. The charming voice trailed off into a gasp. "You remember something now? You -- possibly -- hanged them somehow?" "I did! I see it all. I remember exactly how it went. What a dreadful thing!" "Tell me what happened." "I was waiting for the attendant to turn so that I could tell him I had finished. It was then that I took up these two coins -- thePetition Crown and one from another box -- to compare. There was a man near me who had seemed to be watching-at feast I thought so -- and just then I looked up and caught his eyes on me. I suppose it made me nervous; anyway I dropped one of the crowns back into the drawer. It made a great clatter as it fell among the others and I felt that it would be almost a crime there to knock a coin like that. I just slipped the other into its place and pushed the drawer away as the attendant turned. And now I see clearly as can be that I returned them wrong." "That is our real starting-point," said Carrados happily. "Now we can proceed." "But it must have been found out. All the sold lots were looked over again." "Oh, yes; it must have been found out. But exactly when? The man who was observing you -- did you hear his name?" "Where did he sit during the sale?" "He sat -- yes, that's rather curious. You remember that after talking to the auctioneer I went and sat down away from the table? Well, when the selling was going on again this man kept hovering round. Presently he bent down to me and said, 'Excuse me, but you have taken my seat.' 'What on earth do you mean?' I retorted, for it was just at the time that I was feeling exasperated. 'There was nothing on the chair, and there are a dozen others there,' and I pointed to the whole empty row. Then he said, 'Oh, I beg your pardon' and went and sat down on another. "Isn't it splendid!" exclaimed Carrados in one of his rare bursts of enthusiasm. "No sooner have we got rid of you and the attendant as the only possible culprits than we find the real man absolutely fighting to make himself known -- doing everything he can to attract our attention -- struggling like a chicken emerging from its shell. Soon you will tell me that you found his hand on the back of your chair." "Oh!" cried Miss Frensham in sharp surprise. "How can you possibly know that?" "I did not; but it was worth while suggesting to you." "It's absolutely true. I certainly shouldn't have thought it worth while mentioning, but just at the end of the sale, when every one got up, he passed behind me, and stopping, he put his hand -- rather gratuitously it seemed -- on my chair and asked me if I had heard what the last lot made. I said that I wasn't taking the least notice, and he went away. What does it mean?" "At the moment it means that we must telephone to Lang's to keep the stable door locked -- don't put your trust in proverbs, Miss Frensham. And there are a few questions I want them to have settled before I call there." "I dare say I'm an idiot," said the lady frankly, "but I'm beginning to get rather excited. Isn't there anything that I can do to help?" "Why, yes," he smiled with friendly understanding. "Make out the list for me. We need the catalogue -- it's over there. Now which was the lot of crowns you compared with?" "This one -- No. 56," she replied, after studying the pages. 'Charles II, Crowns, various dates, in fine condition generally, 7.'" "That's sufficient. You have your pad? Now write: "Confidential. Please ascertain "(1) Who bought Lot 56? "(2) What man, if any, left the sale-room about one o'clock and returned before Lot 56 was sold? "(3) What man, if any, returned after the sale for something he had left in the room? 'Of course," he seemed to apologise, "that gives away the whole show to you." "Ye-es," replied Miss Frensham dutifully. Mr. Carrados insisted on his visitor remaining for lunch. He even arranged that no one else should be present on the occasion, and the guest, justly annoyed at this characteristic masculine act of delicacy, repaid him by discovering the appetite of the proverbial fairy. The ghosts of three slabs of bread-and-butter stood between her and that generous table; and, reflecting on that, the whimsical maiden sought her own means to dispel the spectre. "It is really my fault that the coin has gone," she found occasion to remark. "Almost as much as though I had taken it. If it never turns up again I can't he satisfied until I have made it good." Carrados was naturally horrified. Was she mad? Had she forgotten its record? "My dear young lady, don't be romantic. The coin is insured, or ought to be. Why, it would cripple you for years -- for ever." "Oh, no," she retorted airily. "We all expect to make our fortunes. And I really have some money that I don't use." "Yes?" he smiled, and in the character of her intimate adviser the words slipped out: "How much?" "Well," she considered with deliberate effect, "I think it varies. But" -- with devastating clearness -- "it is somewhere about three thousand pounds a year." "I beg your pardon?" stammered Carrados. "No, no; don't say it again. I heard perfectly. I see. I understand. You ran away from it?" "I ran away -- if you call it running away -- from several things. If you could see me, Mr. Carrados, you would understand that I am endowed with an almost supernatural plainness. It is too obvious even for the glass to conceal from. me. At school, where politeness is not one of the compulsory subjects, I was 'Pup,' 'Puggy,' 'Ki-ki,' 'Balcombe Beauty,' 'Snarleywow,' and other shafts of endearment. I was not petted. Even my mother found it a little trying. . . . And yet as I grew up I learned that I could be astonishingly popular with most men. The things I said were witty, the things I did were clever, my taste was exquisite, and they were all prepared to marry me. . . .But when I happened to wander into the society of strange men who had missed hearing of my pecuniary worth, my word! No one noticed that I hadn't a seat, no one thought of asking me to dance, to sing, to skate. They didn't see me. And if I opened my mouth they very rarely even heard me. And then if a really pretty girl happened to come into the circle! What an instant preening up of the fishy-eyed old men and a strutting round of the bored-to-death young ones! They didn't even take the trouble to hide anything from me: I might have been a man too. I could watch them licking their lips and arranging their attractions. Oh-h! do you wonder that I went sick among it all? There was a man my father wanted me to marry; well, at all events a decent sort of male, it seemed. I was beginning to think that I might as well when that came out. No, it doesn't really matter what. My father thought it needn't make any difference! Mother assured me that it was nicer not to notice these things! When I said that it made all the difference and that I had already noticed a great many things and that I was going away out into the world to see if it was the same everywhere and meant to begin by earning my own living of course, I raised a tremendous storm. Then -- if I must go-they wanted to arrange things for me, so that everything should be quite nice. But they'd been arranging for me all my life and that was just what I wanted to disarrange. In the end I got my way -- you see, I was in rather a strong position -- subject to certain conditions. Father stipulated that I didn't get into any 'damned mess,' or back I should have to go. Mother hoped that her girlie would remain unspotted from the world. So here I am. And that's the whole story, Mr. Carrados, and the reason why I'm so anxious to keep out of what I am sure my father would call a-ahem-mess." "Poor Louis!" thought his friend. Then aloud, "And is human nature entirely transformed by the five-mile radius, Miss Frensham?" "No," she admitted seriously. "But at least I know exactly where I am. There is no competition to carry my parcel or to run my errands -- I hope I haven't given the impression that I want it? -- but if anything I do does happen to get praised I can believe it honest; if I make a friend I can really feel that it is for myself. . . . I am no longer, as I heard of one 'admirer' dubbing me, 'The Girl with the Golden Mug.'" Both laughed. Then he grew almost pensive. "After laughing at that let me say something," he ventured at length. "When you needn't fear having to meet a man's eyes ever he may be privileged to an unusual frankness. . . . Think as little of looks as you do of lucre, Miss Frensham. I can know nothing of the features you so dispraise: to me you would always be the girl with the golden voice. I am sure that someone else will see you-as you think you are -- as little as I do, and to him You will always be the girl with the golden heart." "You kind man!" she responded. "Well . . . perhaps there is!" * * * * * When Carrados got down to Lang Lamp; Leng's a few hours later he found that the seller on the previous day had been Mr. Travis, a gentleman to whom he was by no means a stranger. "Very glad to have your suggestions, of course, Carrados," remarked Mr. Travis graciously. "Are you looking into it on Lord Willington's behalf? Miss Frensham's! You don't say so!" "I have a weakness for being on the winning side," remarked the blind man. "Well, as to that, I don't know that it's exactly a case of a winning side or a losing side. Unless you call us the losing side, egad! This is the room. You want to look -- to go round it?" "I should like to. One never knows." "Oh, we've been thoroughly over it this morning. Heaven knows what we could expect, but it seemed the natural thing to do. Yes, it's still being kept locked, since you asked." "Anyone wanting to go in for anything!" "No-only Mr. Marrabel, who called for his gloves after the sale; they'd been taken to the office though." "Marrabel!" thought the patient worker in the dark. "Yes, of course -- Marrabel the dilettante." "And, by the way, that reminds me," continued Mr; Travis. "Oh yes, sit anywhere you like. That list you sent through. You're not going to suspect Marrabel of any connection? Because, strangely enough, his name is the answer to each of your inquiries." "I should scarcely describe it as a case for suspicion," replied Carrados. "Still, one thinks of every one." "We can eliminate Mr. Marrabel at all events, I think. He did not look at any of the lots yesterday. He only bought No. 56, and both Muir and I noticed that he did not touch the coins when he got them -- just put them on an empty chair by his side until the hue and cry was raised, and then he passed the box over to the table for someone to verify -- all there and the correct number." "Very convincing," assented Carrados. "I mean it rather shows that there isn't much to be gained by looking for so-called 'clues' at this end, don't you think? Marrabel as a case in point. Of course we shall be delighted to put any information or facilities that we may have at your disposal, Carrados, both out of consideration for yourself and as due to your client. But what we chiefly want is to get the coin back. And the people we have put on to it seem to be extending themselves in that direction. By tomorrow every curio-dealer, pawnbroker, and leading collector will be on the look out. America will be notified, for they think that the coin may be quite likely offered there. A reward is being offered to make it worth anybody's while. In the next number of the Bric-abrac Collector there will be an ingenuous advertisement from a wealthy colonial anxious to buy rare milled silver coins; don't be deceived by it." "I won't," promised Mr. Carrados. "But all this must come rather expensive." "Doubtless it is. But the fact is, since the thing has gone, Willington's people are persuading themselves that it might have made a fantastic price. That is why we are only anxious to get it back again." "Oh!" Polite unconcern was Carrados's note. He seldom denied himself these rare moments when, perhaps, a week's patient labour ran down to a needle-point. "Of course I'm more interested in my client. But as the coin is all you want -- why, here it is!" "What -- what's -- that?" articulated Mr. Travis. "The Petition Crown," replied the arch-humbug, continuing to hold out his hand. "Delighted to be the means of restoring it to you, Travis. "It is the Petition Crown," murmured Travis. "Good God! You brought it?" "On the contrary, I found it here." "Found it? Where?" "Beneath the seat of this chair." "You knew that it was there? Do you mean that Miss Frensham told you?" "I knew that it should be here, and Miss Frensham certainly told me." "She hid it there?" "Not at all. She did not know that it was here. She told me where it was, but she did not know that she was telling me." "Then I'm hanged if I understand," complained Mr. Travis. "Can't you be human once in a way, Carrados? Damn it all, man, we went to school together!" "Sit down," said Carrados, "and I'll be as human as you like. Did you ever commit a crime, Travis?" "Not really," confessed the auctioneer with admirable sang-froid. "I robbed an orchard when I was ten, but that - "Robbing orchards at ten scarcely counts, does it? Well, I have the advantage because there is no form of villainy that I haven't gone through in all its phases. Theoretically, of course, but so far as working out the details is concerned and preparing for emergencies, efficiently and with craftsman-like pride. Whenever I fail to get to sleep at night -- rather frequently, I'm sorry to say -- I commit a murder, forgery, a robbery or what not, with all its ramifications. It's much more soothing than counting sheep and it never fails to get me off. The point is, that the criminal mind is rarely original, and I find that in nine cases out often that sort of crime is committed exactly as I have already done it. Being a collector myself, of course, I've robbed coin auctions frequently. I know precisely how it should be done and what is to be avoided. Marrabel did the correct things, but he overlooked the contingency of someone else also thinking of them." "But Marrabel, my dear fellow! He must be almost in Debrett. Think!" "Oh, yes. But he makes a speciality of getting choice things for nothing, provided there is no risk." "And there is no risk here?" "None at all; practically none if he's content to take his loss. But is he? We shall see. However, this is what has happened so far: "Miss Frensham started the business by mixing Lots 56 and 64 without knowing it at the time. She had come to get a newspaper par out of the sale if she could, and was taking an intelligent interest in the subject when she happened to catch Marrabel overlooking her. Well, being nervy and rather touchy she dropped the Petition Crown on to the other crowns in Lot 56 and put the one from that lot into box No. 64. "Marrabel evidently grasped that. It might prove a golden opportunity. Doubtless he took five minutes to consider the position. Then he hied him off to his Mayfair flat and returned with an appropriate coin in his pocket, well in time to purchase Lot 56. What did it cost him?" "Three-fifteen," said Mr. Travis. "You know well enough, Travis, that although a single-coin lot is generally taken up by someone as it goes round the table, half a dozen coins, like Lot 56, are seldom touched. At the most they are glanced at. When Muir turned them out on to his tray, what had been at the top naturally got hidden. When he returned them to the box, to hand over to the buyer, the Petition Crown perhaps came to the top again. Marrabel, seated in an unusually retiring position, doubtless received his booty with an appropriate gesture of unconcern and laid it carelessly on the next chair. Good. No risk so far. "He had at least four minutes in which to act. You and Muir thought he paid no attention to the purchase because he didn't hold the box and examine the contents. Quite natural; but of course you weren't actually watching him and he was out to mask his movements. All in good time the exchange was made. But now the element of risk came in: he had the thing in his possession. "Your amateur is always self-conscious. Marrabel could have walked off then, but that would certainly have put him in an equivocal position. Yet supposing it came to being searched? And Miss Frensham, you may remember, did throw out the suggestion. Whether he had reconnoitred in advance we need not speculate; but here beneath his chair, without moving, Marrabel found an ideal crevice for his loot: tight, hidden, accessible. "He could now move away from the dangerous spot, and he did when the chase began, putting his purchase on the table with a fine indifference for someone else to verify. He stayed away from this chair so long that a curious thing occurred. Miss Frensham took it. "In one way Marrabel was now on velvet. The leading suspect had drawn a red herring across his tracks, for if by any chance the crown should come to light here Miss Frensham was hopelessly involved. Then presently the situation eased; the sale was coming to an end and there was no suggestion now of search or of anyone being detained. His only desire was to recover the coin and to get away. But the lady seemed set here, and Marrabel, ignorant of her intentions, made his first bad move. He claimed the chair, fully expecting to be given it at once. "As it happened Miss Frensham didn't budge. She is far from being an ordinary meek young person, and the immediate events hadn't gone to soothe her. She was sitting there quietly writing, and, taken on the surface, it was sheerly an impertinence on the man's part. She had had occasion to notice Marrabel already. In strictly feminine terms she told him to go to the devil, and Marrabel, now beginning to feel jerky, veered off. "The sale comes to an end. Every one begins to go. Is Marrabel to hang about aimlessly until this chair is vacant and then deliberately come and sit here for no obvious reason? The man's tightened nerves won't hear of it. Act naturally and there is no risk at all. Return later -- to-morrow, next week, it doesn't matter, the coin is snugly waiting. And then, good heavens! the thing flashes on him. The chairs are all alike! Next week, to-morrow, even after the sale they may be rearranged, moved, taken to another room, and he will have to go sitting on one after another, an object for all to marvel at. What's to be done? Why plainly to mark the chair before it is too late, and here, Travis, under my fingers, is the cross that our man broke his pencil on." "Very ingenious," admitted Mr. Travis, "and in the face of this evidence" -- delicately balancing the recovered crown upon a fingertip -- "it would be mean to argue. But, you know, Carrados, Miss Frensham did sit here last." "Inflexible man!" replied Carrados. "Well, when is your next sale?" "Friday-enamels. On view for one day only." "So much the better. You can have it in here? Keep it close till then and I will be here early. And just make sure that Marrabel is sent his catalogue, won't you?" * * * * * There was nothing at all unusual to be noticed about the sale-rooms on Thursday morning, and Mr. Marrabel strolled round in perfect composure. With praiseworthy restraint he had not hastened there, and the group of conspirators in the private office had to amuse themselves as best they could for at least two hours. Marrabel was interested in enamels, as he was in all precious things, and he wandered from point to point consulting his catalogue, examining a piece and marking a price as he had done a score of times before -- as every one else was doing then. Finally he sat down to review his list: nothing could be more natural. Satisfied, he rose to go. Outside the room an attendant came across to speak to him: the signal had been passed. "Do you mind stepping into Mr. Travis's office, sir? I think he wants to see you about something." The message was polite and not wholly unusual, but Marrabel's throat went dry. "Not now," he said, quickening his step. "I have an important Back in half an hour, tell him." It was too late for that easy manoeuvre to carry. Across the hall there was another form between him and the outer door. Nor did the first one obligingly retire. "Beg pardon, sir, but I understand it's rather particular, sir." Then Marrabel must have known that something had miscarried. "Oh, curse it, all right," he snapped and, watched at every step, he went. "It's about the Petition Crown that disappeared at the last coin sale." The urbane Travis never had a less relished job. "We have received certain information and we may have to take proceedings. Do you wish to make any statement?" Marrabel had dimly foreseen this possibility, and he had given some thought to a satisfactory explanation, but in the end he had left it to be decided by the circumstances of the moment, because there was no perfectly satisfactory explanation to be thought of. "Well," he said, affecting a light laugh, "that's an unnecessarily brutal way of putting it, because, as a matter of fact, I was bringing the crown to return to you, and I have it in my pocket at the moment. It was only this morning I discovered it when I came to look into that lot I bought. How it got there and how it came to be missed by the dolts who looked I can't say. Personally I didn't examine one of the coins until to-day." "I see," remarked Mr. Travis. "But I understand that you were leaving the place just now?" "You understand quite right. I intended handing you the crown, but when I got here and realised how cursed unpleasant it might be I funked it. I decided to send the damned thing back by post without a word." "At all events you have it for us now?" "Yes, here it is," and Marrabel took a coin from his pocket with alacrity, and laying it on the desk turned hopefully to go. "Thanks, but-one moment -- what is this?" The unhappy man looked at the coin he had just produced and turned paler than before. "I must have picked up the wrong one," he muttered, beginning to recognise the hopeless morass he was floundering into. "Look again," said a quiet voice as Mr. Carrados appeared on the scene. "Look closer at the coin you brought from your room this morning!" "You blind devil!" Lightly scratched on the surface of the silver he found the signature "Max Carrados" and the date of that very day. "This is your doing all through!" "If it is, it is only to show up a scoundrel. You didn't stick at getting two innocent people suspected by your scheme. Let them see you now." As if worked by machinery an inner door fell open and Miss Frensham and Muir walked in and stood silently regarding him. "At the sale," continued Carrados pitilessly, "you were both publicly put in a position of some suspicion by the disappearance of a coin. It is right that you should now know that it was deliberately stolen by Mr. Marrabel here. He is the thief and your perfect innocence is established." "Well, curse it all, it wasn't entirely my fault," snarled Marrabel. "I only accepted what was given me." "That will be for a judge and jury to assess. You'll give him in charge now, Travis?" At this prospect Marrabel's last vestige of pretence broke down. All the poltroonery in the man came to the surface with a rush. "For God's sake don't do that, Travis," he cried, clutching him by the sleeve. "I'll do anything you wish -- confess anything you like -- only don't have me sent to prison. I'll put all sorts of things your way, and I know crowds of people. Heavens! man, consider what it would mean to me -- one of your own class." "What shall we do, Carrados? We never like to prosecute." "I know you don't," replied the blind man. "I've already drawn up his confession. Read this and then sign it, Mr. Marrabel, and we will all be witnesses of the spontaneous act of reparation on your part." "What are you going to do with it?" asked the unfortunate wretch. "Keep it as a guarantee of future good behaviour, and to vindicate these others if the necessity occurs. And you needn't think of having me knifed to get it back again, because I shan't carry it in my pocketbook." Marrabel slowly signed and then stabbed the polished desk with the pen he held in a gust of passion that left his fingers pierced and bleeding. "I'd go willingly to hell if I could first see you skinned alive, Carrados," he said as he turned to leave. "I am sure you would," retorted Max Carrados pleasantly. "But I don't think that anything to do with me need affect your destination. Now go." This did not happen last year nor yet the year before. Miss Frensham married her sub-editor, and their children-now old enough to go to school -- frequently take prizes at quite important beauty competitions. Mr. Marrabel almost immediately left these inhospitable shores, and after a seemly interval appeared in flourishing conditions in New York. Not that American connoisseurs know less than English ones do, but they know less of Mr. Marrabel.