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The body of a young man is found splayed out in the middle of one of the most august public squares in England. Soon it is discovered that the dead man was at the center of a beguiling web of entanglements and intrigue. Will the intrepid detectives get to the bottom of things and puncture the thick veil of corruption that seems to surround the case?
The room was a small one, and had been chosen for its remoteness from the dwelling rooms. It had formed the billiard room, which the former owner of Weald Lodge had added to his premises, and John Minute, who had neither the time nor the patience for billiards, had readily handed over this damp annex to his scientific secretary.
Along one side ran a plain deal bench which was crowded with glass stills and test tubes. In the middle was as plain a table, with half a dozen books, a microscope under a glass shade, a little wooden case which was opened to display an array of delicate scientific instruments, a Bunsen burner, which was burning bluely under a small glass bowl half filled with a dark and turgid concoction of some kind.
The face of the man sitting at the table watching this unsavory stew was hidden behind a mica and rubber mask, for the fumes which were being given off by the fluid were neither pleasant nor healthy. Save for a shaded light upon the table and the blue glow of the Bunsen lamp, the room was in darkness. Now and again the student would take a glass rod, dip it for an instant into the boiling liquid, and, lifting it, would allow the liquid drop by drop to fall from the rod on to a strip of litmus paper. What he saw was evidently satisfactory, and presently he turned out the Bunsen lamp, walked to the window and opened it, and switched on an electric fan to aid the process of ventilation.
He removed his mask, revealing the face of a good-looking young man, rather pale, with a slight dark mustache and heavy, black, wavy hair. He closed the window, filled his pipe from the well-worn pouch which he took from his pocket, and began to write in a notebook, stopping now and again to consult some authority from the books before him.
In half an hour he had finished this work, had blotted and closed his book, and, pushing back his chair, gave himself up to reverie. They were not pleasant thoughts to judge by his face. He pulled from his inside pocket a leather case and opened it. From this he took a photograph. It was the picture of a girl of sixteen. It was a pretty face, a little sad, but attractive in its very weakness. He looked at it for a long time, shaking his head as at an unpleasant thought.
There came a gentle tap at the door, and quickly he replaced the photograph in his case, folded it, and returned it to his pocket as he rose to unlock the door.
John Minute, who entered, sniffed suspiciously.
“What beastly smells you have in here, Jasper!” he growled. “Why on earth don’t they invent chemicals that are more agreeable to the nose?”
Jasper Cole laughed quietly.
“I’m afraid, sir, that nature has ordered it otherwise,” he said.
“Have you finished?” asked his employer.
He looked at the still warm bowl of fluid suspiciously.
“It is all right, sir,” said Jasper. “It is only noxious when it is boiling. That is why I keep the door locked.”
“What is it?” asked John Minute, scowling down at the unoffending liquor.
“It is many things,” said the other ruefully. “In point of fact, it is an experiment. The bowl contains one or two elements which will only mix with the others at a certain temperature, and as an experiment it is successful because I have kept the unmixable elements in suspension, though the liquid has gone cold.”
“I hope you will enjoy your dinner, even though it has gone cold,” grumbled John Minute.
“I didn’t hear the bell, sir,” said Jasper Cole. “I’m awfully sorry if I’ve kept you waiting.”
They were the only two present in the big, black-looking dining room, and dinner was as usual a fairly silent meal. John Minute read the newspapers, particularly that portion of them which dealt with the latest fluctuations in the stock market.
“Somebody has been buying Gwelo Deeps,” he complained loudly.
Jasper looked up.
“Gwelo Deeps?” he said. “But they are the shares–”
“Yes, yes,” said the other testily; “I know. They were quoted at a shilling last week; they are up to two shillings and threepence. I’ve got five hundred thousand of them; to be exact,” he corrected himself, “I’ve got a million of them, though half of them are not my property. I am almost tempted to sell.”
“Perhaps they have found gold,” suggested Jasper.
John Minute snorted.
“If there is gold in the Gwelo Deeps there are diamonds on the downs,” he said scornfully. “By the way, the other five hundred thousand shares belong to May.”
Jasper Cole raised his eyebrows as much in interrogation as in surprise.
John Minute leaned back in his chair and manipulated his gold toothpick.
“May Nuttall’s father was the best friend I ever had,” he said gruffly. “He lured me into the Gwelo Deeps against my better judgment We sank a bore three thousand feet and found everything except gold.”
He gave one of his brief, rumbling chuckles.