“So your net has been sweeping
the quiet and pleasant waters of feminine conversation,”
remarked Thorndyke when we met at the dinner table
and I gave him an outline of my afternoon’s
“Yes,” I answered, “and
here is the catch cleaned and ready for the consumer.”
I laid on the table two of my notebooks
in which I had entered such facts as I had been able
to extract from my talk with Miss Gibson.
“You made your entries as soon
as possible after your return, I suppose?” said
Thorndyke “while the matter was still
“I wrote down my notes as I
sat on a seat in Kensington Gardens within five minutes
after leaving Miss Gibson.”
“Good!” said Thorndyke.
“And now let us see what you have collected.”
He glanced quickly through the entries
in the two books, referring back once or twice, and
stood for a few moments silent and abstracted.
Then he laid the little books down on the table with
a satisfied nod.
“Our information, then,”
he said, “amounts to this: Reuben is an
industrious worker at his business and, in his leisure,
a student of ancient and medieval art; possibly a
babbling fool and a cad or, on the other hand, a maligned
and much-abused man. “Walter Hornby is
obviously a sneak and possibly a liar; a keen man of
business, perhaps a flutterer round the financial
candle that burns in Throgmorton Street; an expert
photographer and a competent worker of the collotype
process. You have done a very excellent day’s
work, Jervis. I wonder if you see the bearing
of the facts that you have collected.”
“I think I see the bearing of
some of them,” I answered; “at least, I
have formed certain opinions.”
“Then keep them to yourself,
mon ami, so that I need not feel as if I ought
to unbosom myself of my own views.”
“I should be very much surprised
if you did, Thorndyke,” I replied, “and
should have none the better opinion of you. I
realise fully that your opinions and theories are
the property of your client and not to be used for
the entertainment of your friends.”
Thorndyke patted me on the back playfully,
but he looked uncommonly pleased, and said, with evident
sincerity, “I am really grateful to you for
saying that, for I have felt a little awkward in being
so reticent with you who know so much of this case.
But you are quite right, and I am delighted to find
you so discerning and sympathetic. The least I
can do under the circumstances is to uncork a bottle
of Pommard, and drink the health of so loyal
and helpful a colleague. Ah! Praise the gods!
here is Polton, like a sacrificial priest accompanied
by a sweet savour of roasted flesh. Rump steak
I ween,” he added, sniffing, “food meet
for the mighty Shamash (that pun was fortuitous, I
need not say) or a ravenous medical jurist. Can
you explain to me, Polton, how it is that your rump
steak is better than any other steak? Is it that
you have command of a special brand of ox?”
The little man’s dry countenance
wrinkled with pleasure until it was as full of lines
as a ground-plan of Clapham Junction.
“Perhaps it is the special treatment
it gets, sir,” he replied. “I usually
bruise it in the mortar before cooking, without breaking
up the fibre too much, and then I heat up the little
cupel furnace to about 600 C, and put the steak in
on a tripod.”
Thorndyke laughed outright. “The
cupel furnace, too,” he exclaimed. “Well,
well, ’to what base uses’ but
I don’t know that it is a base use after all.
Anyhow, Polton, open a bottle of Pommard and put
a couple of ten by eight ‘process’ plates
in your dark slides. I am expecting two ladies
here this evening with a document.”
“Shall you bring them upstairs,
sir?” inquired Polton, with an alarmed expression.
“I expect I shall have to,” answered Thorndyke.
“Then I shall just smarten the
laboratory up a bit,” said Polton, who evidently
appreciated the difference between the masculine and
feminine view as to the proper appearance of working
“And so Miss Gibson wanted to
know our private views on the case?” said Thorndyke,
when his voracity had become somewhat appeased.
“Yes,” I answered; and
then I repeated our conversation as nearly as I could
“Your answer was very discreet
and diplomatic,” Thorndyke remarked, “and
it was very necessary that it should be, for it is
essential that we show the backs of our cards to Scotland
Yard; and if to Scotland Yard, then to the whole world.
We know what their trump card is and can arrange our
play accordingly, so long as we do not show our hand.”
“You speak of the police as
your antagonists; I noticed that at the ‘Yard’
this morning, and was surprised to find that they accepted
the position. But surely their business is to
discover the actual offender, not to fix the crime
on some particular person.”
“That would seem to be so,”
replied Thorndyke, “but in practice it is otherwise.
When the police have made an arrest they work for a
conviction. If the man is innocent, that is his
business, not theirs; it is for him to prove it.
The system is a pernicious one especially
since the efficiency of a police officer is, in consequence,
apt to be estimated by the number of convictions he
has secured, and an inducement is thus held out to
him to obtain a conviction, if possible; but it is
of a piece with legislative procedure in general.
Lawyers are not engaged in academic discussions or
in the pursuit of truth, but each is trying, by hook
or by crook, to make out a particular case without
regard to its actual truth or even to the lawyer’s
own belief on the subject. That is what produces
so much friction between lawyers and scientific witnesses;
neither can understand the point of view of the other.
But we must not sit over the table chattering like
this; it has gone half-past seven, and Polton will
be wanting to make this room presentable.”
“I notice you don’t use your office much,”
“Hardly at all, excepting as
a repository for documents and stationery. It
is very cheerless to talk in an office, and nearly
all my business is transacted with solicitors and
counsel who are known to me, so there is no need for
such formalities. All right, Polton; we shall
be ready for you in five minutes.”
The Temple bell was striking eight
as, at Thorndyke’s request, I threw open the
iron-bound “oak”; and even as I did so
the sound of footsteps came up from the stairs below.
I waited on the landing for our two visitors, and
led them into the room.
“I am so glad to make your acquaintance,”
said Mrs. Hornby, when I had done the honours of introduction;
“I have heard so much about you from Juliet ”
“Really, my dear aunt,”
protested Miss Gibson, as she caught my eye with a
look of comical alarm, “you will give Dr. Thorndyke
a most erroneous impression. I merely mentioned
that I had intruded on him without notice and had
been received with undeserved indulgence and consideration.”
“You didn’t put it quite
in that way, my dear,” said Mrs. Hornby, “but
I suppose it doesn’t matter.”
“We are highly gratified by
Miss Gibson’s favourable report of us, whatever
may have been the actual form of expression,”
said Thorndyke, with a momentary glance at the younger
lady which covered her with smiling confusion, “and
we are deeply indebted to you for taking so much trouble
to help us.”
“It is no trouble at all, but
a great pleasure,” replied Mrs. Hornby; and
she proceeded to enlarge on the matter until her remarks
threatened, like the rippling circles produced by
a falling stone, to spread out into infinity.
In the midst of this discourse Thorndyke placed chairs
for the two ladies, and, leaning against the mantelpiece,
fixed a stony gaze upon the small handbag that hung
from Mrs. Hornby’s wrist.
“Is the ‘Thumbograph’
in your bag?” interrupted Miss Gibson, in response
to this mute appeal.
“Of course it is, my dear Juliet,”
replied the elder lady. “You saw me put
it in yourself. What an odd girl you are.
Did you think I should have taken it out and put it
somewhere else? Not that these handbags are really
very secure, you know, although I daresay they are
safer than pockets, especially now that it is the
fashion to have the pocket at the back. Still,
I have often thought how easy it would be for a thief
or a pickpocket or some other dreadful creature of
that kind, don’t you know, to make a snatch
and in fact, the thing has actually happened.
Why, I knew a lady Mrs. Moggridge, you
know, Juliet no, it wasn’t Mrs. Moggridge,
that was another affair, it was Mrs. Mrs. dear
me, how silly of me! now, what was her
name? Can’t you help me, Juliet? You
must surely remember the woman. She used to visit
a good deal at the Hawley-Johnsons’ I
think it was the Hawley-Johnsons’, or else it
was those people, you know ”
“Hadn’t you better give
Dr. Thorndyke the ’Thumbograph’?”
interrupted Miss Gibson.
“Why, of course, Juliet, dear.
What else did we come here for?” With a slightly
injured expression, Mrs. Hornby opened the little bag
and commenced, with the utmost deliberation, to turn
out its contents on to the table. These included
a laced handkerchief, a purse, a card-case, a visiting
list, a packet of papier poudre, and when she
had laid the last-mentioned article on the table,
she paused abruptly and gazed into Miss Gibson’s
face with the air of one who has made a startling
“I remember the woman’s
name,” she said in an impressive voice.
“It was Gudge Mrs. Gudge, the sister-in-law
Here Miss Gibson made an unceremonious
dive into the open bag and fished out a tiny parcel
wrapped in notepaper and secured with a silk thread.
“Thank you,” said Thorndyke,
taking it from her hand just as Mrs. Hornby was reaching
out to intercept it. He cut the thread and drew
from its wrappings a little book bound in red cloth,
with the word “Thumbograph” stamped upon
the cover, and was beginning to inspect it when Mrs.
Hornby rose and stood beside him.
“That,” said she, as she
opened the book at the first page, “is the thumb-mark
of a Miss Colley. She is no connection of ours.
You see it is a little smeared she said
Reuben jogged her elbow, but I don’t think he
did; at any rate he assured me he did not, and, you
“Ah! Here is one we are
looking for,” interrupted Thorndyke, who had
been turning the leaves of the book regardless of Mrs.
Hornby’s rambling comments; “a very good
impression, too, considering the rather rough method
of producing it.”
He reached out for the reading lens
that hung from its nail above the mantelpiece, and
I could tell by the eagerness with which he peered
through it at the thumb-print that he was looking for
something. A moment later I felt sure that he
had found that something which he had sought, for,
though he replaced the lens upon its nail with a quiet
and composed air and made no remark, there was a sparkle
of the eye and a scarcely perceptible flush of suppressed
excitement and triumph which I had begun to recognise
beneath the impassive mask that he presented to the
“I shall ask you to leave this
little book with me, Mrs. Hornby,” he said,
breaking in upon that lady’s inconsequent babblings,
“and, as I may possibly put it in evidence,
it would be a wise precaution for you and Miss Gibson
to sign your names as small as possible on
the page which bears Mr. Reuben’s thumb-mark.
That will anticipate any suggestion that the book
has been tampered with after leaving your hands.”
“It would be a great impertinence
for anyone to make any such suggestion,” Mrs.
Hornby began; but on Thorndyke’s placing his
fountain pen in her hand, she wrote her signature
in the place indicated and handed the pen to Miss
Gibson, who signed underneath.
“And now,” said Thorndyke,
“we will take an enlarged photograph of this
page with the thumb-mark; not that it is necessary
that it should be done now, as you are leaving the
book in my possession; but the photograph will be
wanted, and as my man is expecting us and has the
apparatus ready, we may as well despatch the business
To this both the ladies readily agreed
(being, in fact, devoured by curiosity with regard
to my colleague’s premises), and we accordingly
proceeded to invade the set of rooms on the floor above,
over which the ingenious Polton was accustomed to
reign in solitary grandeur.
It was my first visit to these mysterious
regions, and I looked about me with as much curiosity
as did the two ladies. The first room that we
entered was apparently the workshop, for it contained
a small woodworker’s bench, a lathe, a bench
for metal work and a number of mechanical appliances
which I was not then able to examine; but I noticed
that the entire place presented to the eye a most unworkmanlike
neatness, a circumstance that did not escape Thorndyke’s
observation, for his face relaxed into a grim smile
as his eye travelled over the bare benches and the
From this room we entered the laboratory,
a large apartment, one side of which was given up
to chemical research, as was shown by the shelves of
reagents that covered the wall, and the flasks, retorts
and other apparatus that were arranged on the bench,
like ornaments on a drawing-room mantelpiece.
On the opposite side of the room was a large, massively-constructed
copying camera, the front of which, carrying the lens,
was fixed, and an easel or copyholder travelled on
parallel guides towards, or away, from it, on a long
This apparatus Thorndyke proceeded
to explain to our visitors while Polton was fixing
the “Thumbograph” in a holder attached
to the easel.
“You see,” he said, in
answer to a question from Miss Gibson, “I have
a good deal to do with signatures, cheques and disputed
documents of various kinds. Now a skilled eye,
aided by a pocket-lens, can make out very minute details
on a cheque or bank-note; but it is not possible to
lend one’s skilled eye to a judge or juryman,
so that it is often very convenient to be able to
hand them a photograph in which the magnification
is already done, which they can compare with the original.
Small things, when magnified, develop quite unexpected
characters; for instance, you have handled a good
many postage stamps, I suppose, but have you ever
noticed the little white spots in the upper corner
of a penny stamp, or even the difference in the foliage
on the two sides of the wreath?”
Miss Gibson admitted that she had not.
“Very few people have, I suppose,
excepting stamp-collectors,” continued Thorndyke;
“but now just glance at this and you will find
these unnoticed details forced upon your attention.”
As he spoke, he handed her a photograph, which he
had taken from a drawer, showing a penny stamp enlarged
to a length of eight inches.
While the ladies were marvelling over
this production, Polton proceeded with his work.
The “Thumbograph” having been fixed in
position, the light from a powerful incandescent gas
lamp, fitted with a parabolic reflector, was concentrated
on it, and the camera racked out to its proper distance.
“What are those figures intended
to show?” inquired Miss Gibson, indicating the
graduation on the side of one of the guides.
“They show the amount of magnification
or reduction,” Thorndyke explained. “When
the pointer is opposite 0, the photograph is the same
size as the object photographed; when it points to,
say, x 4, the photograph will be four times the width
and length of the object, while if it should point
to, say, / 4, the photograph will be one-fourth the
length of the object. It is now, you see, pointing
to x 8, so the photograph will be eight times the
diameter of the original thumb-mark.”
By this time Polton had brought the
camera to an accurate focus and, when we had all been
gratified by a glimpse of the enlarged image on the
focussing screen, we withdrew to a smaller room which
was devoted to bacteriology and microscopical research,
while the exposure was made and the plate developed.
Here, after an interval, we were joined by Polton,
who bore with infinite tenderness the dripping negative
on which could be seen the grotesque transparency
of a colossal thumb-mark.
This Thorndyke scrutinised eagerly,
and having pronounced it satisfactory, informed Mrs.
Hornby that the object of her visit was attained,
and thanked her for the trouble she had taken.
“I am very glad we came,”
said Miss Gibson to me, as a little later we walked
slowly up Mitre Court in the wake of Mrs. Hornby and
Thorndyke; “and I am glad to have seen these
wonderful instruments, too. It has made me realise
that something is being done and that Dr. Thorndyke
really has some object in view. It has really
encouraged me immensely.”
“And very properly so,”
I replied. “I, too, although I really know
nothing of what my colleague is doing, feel very strongly
that he would not take all this trouble and give up
so much valuable time if he had not some very definite
purpose and some substantial reasons for taking a
“Thank you for saying that,”
she rejoined warmly; “and you will let me have
a crumb of comfort when you can, won’t you?”
She looked in my face so wistfully as she made this
appeal that I was quite moved; and, indeed, I am not
sure that my state of mind at that moment did not fully
justify my colleague’s reticence towards me.
However, I, fortunately, had nothing
to tell, and so, when we emerged into Fleet Street
to find Mrs. Hornby already ensconced in a hansom,
I could only promise, as I grasped the hand that she
offered to me, to see her again at the earliest opportunity a
promise which my inner consciousness assured me would
be strictly fulfilled.
“You seem to be on quite confidential
terms with our fair friend,” Thorndyke remarked,
as we strolled back towards his chambers. “You
are an insinuating dog, Jervis.”
“She is very frank and easy to get on with,”
“Yes. A good girl and a
clever girl, and comely to look upon withal. I
suppose it would be superfluous for me to suggest that
you mind your eye?”
“I shouldn’t, in any case,
try to cut out a man who is under a cloud,” I
“Of course you wouldn’t;
hence the need of attention to the ophthalmic member.
Have you ascertained what Miss Gibson’s actual
relation is to Reuben Hornby?”
“No,” I answered.
“It might be worth while to
find out,” said Thorndyke; and then he relapsed