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Black Cat

August 1898

A Frosty Morning.


THEN as I understand it, you know that there is a thousand-pound note in this room, and yet you can't find it. In other words, Mr. Van Rawlston, you wish to know whether a tiling can be lost when you know where it is."

The speaker's companion, a man of fifty, with the bearing of one accustomed to large affairs, frowned impatiently. A trusted and powerful financier, one grown gray in the management of huge interests, he chafed at the smallness of the mystery which yet seemed to reflect on his executorship of the estate to which the thousand-pound note belonged. And it was with some stiffness that he began:—

"Of course I understand that to a man of your experience this matter seems insignificant; but I am up to my ears in mystery. Mr. Barnes, the cleverest professional detective in New York, has spent hours in searching this room—without success. In despair I thought of you, with your cool, analytical brain, and I sent for you. But if you arc in a jesting humor—"

"A thousand pardons," said the other, seating himself in the carved oak library chair. "That's one for each of your pounds. But there, forgive me and I will be serious. I received your note late because I did not reach home until dinner time. But here I am within half an hour of reading your message. Now, then, about this thousand pounds sterling. You are sure that the money is in this room?"

"Therein lies the mystery. I had it in my hands this morning and within a few minutes it had vanished."

"Seemed to have vanished, I presume you mean."

"There was no seeming about it. It was a single bank note and I placed it on this table. Five minutes later it had disappeared."

"Disappeared is a better word by long odds. That it passed out of your sight I can believe. The question is, how was this disappearance managed, for I do not believe that it was accidental. From what you say I deduce that two or more persons besides yourself were present at the time of said disappearance of said bank note. Am I correct?"

"There were three, but really I can't see how you guessed there was more than one person with me."

"It cannot be otherwise. Had there been only one person in the room with you, you would know absolutely that he took the note. That you have a doubt as to the identity of the culprit shows that you suspect one of two or more persons."

"Mitchel, I am delighted that I sent for you. You are exactly the man who will recover this money."

What about Barnes? You mentioned his name."

"Yes, naturally my first thought was to send for a detective, and I remembered him in connection with that ruby robbery of yours which occurred at my house. He is now following a clue which he considers a good one, and will report during the evening."

"Good! Nothing would please me better than to succeed where Barnes fails. Every time I outwit him it is a feather in my cap, and another argument in favor of my theory that the professional detective is a much over-rated genius—but to your story, and be sure that you relate the exact circumstances of the affair."

As he finished speaking and leaned back in the padded library chair, the man's dark, clear-cut profile looked that of a scholar, an artist, anything but that of a detective. And indeed Mr. Robert Leroy Mitchel was both scholar and artist,—none the less so because of late years he had turned his trained powers of analysis to the study of crime and its motives, and to unraveling, as an amateur, certain mysterious offenses against the law, which had baffled the professional detective.

From cases involving life, death, millions of money or the jewels of a kingdom to the disappearance of a thousand-pound note might, indeed, have seemed a descent to the ordinary detective. Not so, however, to Mr. Mitchel, who valued mystery not in proportion to the sum involved, but to the opportunity it gave for the exercise of subtle analysis. And certainly such opportunities seemed abundantly promised by the narrative whose details Mr. Van Rawlston now unfolded for the first time.

"Some thirty years or more ago," began Mr. Van Rawlston, "there came into my office a young Englishman, who introduced himself as Thomas Eggleston. The object of his visit was curious. He wished to borrow four thousand dollars upon collateral, which proved to be an English bank note for one thousand pounds; an odd request considering that he could have changed his n...

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