The Filigree Ball HTML version

22. A Thread In Hand
There are moments which stand out with intense force and clearness in every man's life.
Mine was the one which followed the reading of these lines which were meant for a
warning, but which in more than one case had manifestly served to open the way to a
repetition of the very crime they deplored. I felt myself under the same fascination. I
wanted to test the mechanism; to follow out then and there the instructions given with
such shortsighted minuteness and mark the result. But a sense of decorum prevented. It
was clearly my duty to carry so important a discovery as this to the major and subject
myself to his commands before making the experiment suggested by the scroll I had so
carefully deciphered. Besides, it would be difficult to carry out this experiment alone, and
with no other light ht than that afforded by my lantern. Another man and more lights
were needed.
Influenced by these considerations, I restored the picture to its place, and left the
building. As I did so, the first signs of dawn became visible in the east. I had expended
three hours in picking out the meaning concealed in the wavy lines of the old picture.
I was early at headquarters that morning, but not so early as to find the superintendent
alone. A group of men were already congregated about him in his small office, and when,
on being admitted, I saw amongst them the district attorney, Durbin and another famous
detective, I instinctively knew what matter was under discussion.
I was allowed to remain, possibly because I brought news in my face, possibly because
the major felt more kindly toward me than I thought. Though Durbin, who had been
speaking, had at first sight of me shut his mouth like a trap, and even went so far as to
drum an impatient protest with his fingers on the table before which he stood, neither the
major nor the district attorney turned an unkindly face toward me, and my amiable friend
was obliged to accept my presence with what grace he could.
There was with them a fourth man, who stood apart. On him the general attention had
been concentrated at my entrance and to him it now returned. He was an unpretentious
person of kindly aspect. To any one accustomed to Washington residents, he bore the
unmistakable signs of being one of the many departmental employees whose pay is
inadequate to the necessities of his family. Of his personal peculiarities I noted two. He
blinked when he talked, and stuttered painfully when excited. Notwithstanding these
defects he made a good impression, and commanded confidence. This I soon saw was of
importance, for the story he now entered upon was one calculated to make me forget my
own errand and even to question my own convictions.
The first intimation I received of the curious nature of his communication was through
the following questions, put to him by the major:
"You are sure this gentleman is identical with the one pointed out to you last night?"