Her Ladyship's Ancestors
A Story of the Mysterious Theft of a Priceless Portrait
W. A. CRAICK
I SEE that s o m e clairvoyant is going to tell the audience at Windsor Hall tonight, what became of the Hilton jewels,” said Larue, the portrait painter, as we sat around the fire in Hallam’s studio. “That affair crops up perennially. It’s something like those extraordinary murder mysteries where loony people are forever coming forward and confessing that they are the guilty parties. It’s my belief that nobody will ever solve the problem.”
“I’m entirely of your opinion,” said Collins, with a peculiar look in his eyes.
It happened so long ago now and nothing has been heard of the jewels or even the portraits since, that I imagine it will remain a mystery for ever.”
“All this is news to me,” interjected Babbington, who had but recently returned from a couple of years’ study in France. “I never heard a word about it.”
“That’s what comes of neglecting to read the papers my boy,” said Hallam.
“Didn’t you get any Canadian papers over in Paris?”
“Not very often and certainly not regularly,” replied Babbington. “But I’d like to hear about this affair.
I hope the rest of you don’t mind having the tale resurrected.”
“Not in the slightest,” protested Larue, speaking for the company. “You tell him about it, Hallam.”
“Why, there’s not much to tell,” said Hallam. “In fact, nobody seems to know much about it. The robbery or burglary took place last January on the night before Lady Hilton was going to give a big reception for Lord Megram, who had only just arrived in Canada on some Imperial mission. It was to be a very swell affair. Her ladyship had got her jewels up from the safety deposit vaults, so as to have everything ready. They were delivered by special messenger about five o’clock in the afternoon and Lady Hilton took them to her room to look them over. When she went down to dinner at six-thirty, she left them on her dressing-table, intending to put them away in Sir Abraham’s safe downstairs in the evening. But, while the family were at dinner, a burglar entered the house and carried them off. The thief or thieves, for it is thought there was more than one involved in the burglary, also made away -with two of the portraits from the hall, one of them the celebrated painting of Lady Hilton’s grandmother.”
“Extraordinary that the thieves should
have got off at that time of the day with such bulky objects as portraits,” said Babbington.
“I should say it was,” continued Hallam. “At any rate the detective department were completely baffled. They puzzled away at it for weeks but they couldn’t gain a clue. The whole affair created quite a stir here.”
The conversation drifted off after this to other subjects. About eleven Babbington got up to leave and, as he purposed walking in the direction of my quarters, I decided to accompany him. His stay in Paris had improved him wonderfully, and, while there were still some traces of that boorishness about him which had made him an object of dislike to many of the artists of our circle, still the rough edges had been noticeably rubbed down.
“Do you know,” said he after we had got started, “that Hilton affair appeals to me. I happen to have made the acquaintance over in Paris of a French detective, called Antoine Dubros, who used to tell me many stories of his work. The business is quite fascinating and I have several times longed for an opportunity to try my hand at a really intricate case. The Hilton robbery looks like something worth experimenting with and I have a
mind to apply some of Dubros’ ideas to its solution. Now, at the very outset, I should say that the odd thing about the theft was that the thieves should have taken the portraits as well as the jewels.” “Not necessarily,” I answered. “Next to the jewels, those portraits were among the most valuable objects in the house.”
“Quite so,” agreed Babbington. “It means that the burglar must have known something of art. Now, I take it, the average everyday burglar or housebreaker hasn’t sufficient knowledge of paintings to make any distinction between the crudest daub and the most perfect specimen. I’m going to begin right at this point and see if I can’t discover something. I imagine that the police worked from the other direction entirely, the commonplace economic direction, and ignored the influence of art on the burglar’s motives. I don’t wonder that they have been baffled. Tell me, were those portraits anything exceptional ?” “One of them certainly was,” I replied. “The picture of Lady Hilton’s grandmother was a wonderful piece of work. It came from the old country and created quite a furore here when it was first exhibited.”
“Indeed,” mused Babbington. “Then I perceive my first investigation must be in connection with that portrait.”
I did not meet Babbington for a couple of weeks after this conversation and then one morning he called me up and asked me to lunch with him and Collins. “Meet me at Collins’ studio,” said he, “at twelve o’clock.” I had not forgotten our talk and concluded that he had something to tell me about his researches.
“Well,” said I cheerily, as I shook hands with him, “have you made any discoveries yet?”
Babbington shook his head. “It’s certainly a puzzler,” he declared. “I wish I had Dubros here to give me an elucidation of his methods. By the way, Collins, you’re said to be pretty intimate with Sir Abraham—did you ever see those portraits that were stolen ?”
“Oh yes, I’ve seen them,” replied Collins, indifferently. “They were nothing so very wonderful. Sir Abraham didn’t worry much over their loss; it was the jewels that bothered him—a pretty sore touch, you must admit, to be cleared out of a hundred thousand dollars’ worth at one crack.”
“That’s all very well,” answered Babbington, “but in my opinion, the theft of the portraits provides the real clue to the robbery. Why should the thief or thieves want to take pictures along, when they already had such a rich swag? Was there anything about the portraits of unusual interest? Who painted them?”
“One was by Larue. The other, I believe was done by an old English artist of the name of Gillespie,” said Collins.
“Gillespie, eh? Never heard of him,” remarked Babbington.
“As to there being anything extraordinary about them,” continued Collins, “I never knew of it. They were simply portraits, that’s all.”
“Well, well,” murmured Babbington, with a puzzled frown on his forehead. “The whole thing beats me. Get on^ your things Collins and let’s go to lunch.
The artist threw aside his palette and brush and, excusing himself, left the studio in order to wash up and change his coat in his chambers across the landing. Babbington meanwhile sauntered around the big room, poking into this and that corner, and pouring forth a steady stream of comment.
Presently in his ramble he reached a dingy corner of the big apartment where Collins had heaped together a lot of old unframed canvases. These Babbington began to turn over aimlessly, pausing now and then to examine one or other of them more closely. He was perfectly at his ease and did not hesitate to pry into such jf Collins’ private possessions as he felt, inclined to investigate.
I was not paying much attention to him when suddenly a low whistle of surprise attracted me to his side. He had unearthed a canvas that evidently possessed some extraordinary interest, for his whole manner betokened the keenest excitement.
“What do you make of that?” he exclaimed in suppressed tones.
At first I could scarcely discern the outline of the picture, so dim was the light. But soon its detail began to emerge from the obscurity and before my amazed eyes there appeared nothing more nor less than the celebrated portrait of Lady Hilton’s grandmother itself. There was absolutely no mistaking it. It was the veritable picture which had created such a sensation when it was first shown in the city.
“The Gillespie portrait,” whispered Babbington. “Now, how in the name of all that’s hqly, did that canvas ever come here?”
“Hush,” said I wamingly, “Collins may be back any moment.
“Right, oh,” murmured he hastily piling the pictures back on top of the stolen portrait. “It would hardly do for Collins to know we had found it, would it?”
“No, indeed,” said I. “You were not supposed to be looking at those canvases.”
“You’re right. Still, I’d like to confront him with the discovery and find out what’s what. It’s the very dickens of a mystery. You don’t suppose that Collins was the thief do you?”
“I’d hardly like to think so,” said I. “But, hush, here he comes.”
We had barely escaped from the dark corner and assumed attitudes of complete indifference, when the proprietor of the
studio hurried in, arrayed in his street clothes. Then we sallied out to lunch.
For the next few days I kept in close touch with my amateur detective friend, being quite willing to play Watson to his Holmes. At first he made no fresh discovery that would throw light on the mystery but, by the end of the week, he had come into the possession of an interesting fact which, coupled with the finding of the stolen portrait, increased our suspicions of Collins four-fold.
It was this. The artist had been at Sir Abraham Hilton’s house on the afternoon of the day of the robbery. Babbington had secured the information after worming himself into the confidence of the Hilton’s butler. It appeared that Collins had been sent for about four o’clock, had called about four-thirty, had had afternoon tea with Lady Hilton and had taken his departure towards six o’clock.
“If it weren’t for the existence of that hidden canvas, I wouldn’t think anything of the circumstance,” commented Babbington, “but the two together make me intensely suspicious. Can it be possible that our friend, Collins, is a bit of an artist-Raffies? What do we know about him anyway? He came here only a few years ago from Heaven knows where, and I for one never heard a word about his previous career. He’s a bit of an oyster,
you must admit—a good fellow, but d-
“Things certainly look black against him,” I replied. “At the same time it would hardly be the right thing to set the police after him. I could not have the heart to do that. Why not corner him some night when all the fellows are on hand and put it to him straight? If he can clear himself, well and good. If not, then let the law take its course.”
“Not a bad idea,” said Babbington. “Let’s do it. Next time we’re at Larue’s, I’ll spring the mine.”
Larue entertained quite frequently at his studio and not many days elapsed before an invitation went out from the portrait painter for an informal gathering.
About a dozen of us turned up, including Collins. Babbington arrived late, with every appearance of excitement in his bearing, and, as I expected plunged at once into his story.
“Larue,” said he, “I want to impose on you to the extent of turning this room into a sort of inquisition chamber or confessional. No, I’m not going to tell you my misdeeds; It’s up to someone else to do that. Do you know, boys, ever since I heard that story of the robbery at old Sir Abraham Hilton’s the other night, I’ve been consumed with a desire to fathom the mystery. I’ve given it some study, with the result that now I’ve got two or three clues that will startle you.”
Every one in the room looked at Babbington in astonishment. No one, save myself, noted the sudden pallor of Collins’ cheeks.
“I’ve been making a few investigations lately,” continued Babbington, “and I’ve discovered three interesting things. Discovery No. 1 was purely accidental. It was nothing more nor less than one of the stolen portraits itself, which I found hidden in a certain artist’s studio in this city. Discovery No. 2, complementary to
No. 1—the artist in whose studio the portrait was found, visited the Hilton residence on the afternoon of the robbery and was shown the jewelry in the very room from which the things were taken within the next hour or so. Discovery No. 3, made only this evening, the aforesaid artist was actually seen to climb out of a window of Sir Abraham’s house with the portraits in his arms and presumably with the jewelry in his pockets.”
“Who the devil told you that?” demanded Collins abruptly, his caution betrayed for the moment.
The very unexpectedness of the question transferred the gaze of all present to the speaker and brought the obvious look of dismay on his face to their amazed attention. That he was the person to whom Babbington referred was apparent in an instant and at once the keenest curiosity was manifested in the outcome of the extraordinary situation.
“As for who told me,” resumed Babbington coolly, “I’ll divulge that later on. Meanwhile, the confessional is ready and I feel sure every man here will be eager to hear you clear yourself if you can.”
“If that’s the way of it,” replied Collins, with a short, nervous laugh, “I suppose I had better play the penitent. Of course, this being the confessional as you say, I presume I can count on having my secret preserved, especially as it involves others. Only on that condition can I consent to divulge the facts. Is that agreed?”
We all assented promptly, so eager were we to learn the explanation of a mystery that had baffled the keenest minds in the city for months.
“It’s quite true, as Babbington says, that I visited the Hilton’s on the afternoon of the day of the robbery,” began Collins. “I was sent for and the message was urgent. When I reached the house, I found Sir Abraham in a raging temper and Lady Hilton on the verge of tears. To understand the situation I shall have to let you into a little family secret, which I implore you not to betray.
“When the old gentleman was knighted and Mrs. Hilton became Lady Hilton, the honor completely turned the good woman’s head. From being a decent sort of common-sense body, she developed into an unbearable snob. One of her vagaries was to impress on society the fact that she came of good family and that her ancestors were people of distinction. Of course, those who know her plebeian origin simply laughed; others set her down as an ill-bred old woman. But her ladyship went on her way in happy ignorance of what was being said behind her back and continued to cultivate the hallucination that her progenitors were people of quality. You fellows have all met the type.
“‘All would have been well, if Lady Hilton had stopped at talking. There was no harm in that. But when she took to faking pictures of her ancestors, then the trouble began. Yes, Larue, her ladyship actually had the temerity to fake up portraits of her forebears. She had started harmlessly enough with paintings of herself, Sir Abraham and the three girls, which were done by that English artist, Handsombody, last time they were Continued from Page 48.
Continued on Page 107.
in London. Then, you probably remember, ; she had Connington copy daguerrotypes ; of Sir Abraham’s and her own parents. 1 After that, she should have let well enough alone, but she was keen to emulate Lady Meldrum, who could go back another generation or two, and she succumbed to temptation.
“You may wonder how I know all this. I'll tell you. Her ladyship came to my studio just after I got back from London two years ago, to look over some canvases that I had picked up on the other side for Sir Abraham’s gallery. Among them I had run across an old portraitstudy of a young Englishwoman, done by a chap called Gillespie, which I considered decidedly worth while. It needed a little fixing up and re-framing to make it presentable but otherwise it was in good shape.
“When Lady Hilton set eyes on it, I could see that it attracted her. She didn’t say anything just then, but she came back to it after awhile and I wasn’t greatly surprised at what she had to say.
“ ‘I declare, Mr. Collins,’ said she, ‘that person is the dead image of my maternal grandmother. The picture bears a striking likeness to a miniature of her, which I keep among my treasures at home. Could it be possible that it is her portrait?’
“ ‘It’s not at all impossible,’ said I, wishing to humor her. ‘Stranger things have happened.’
“The upshot of it was that her ladyship appropriated the painting and added it to her portrait gallery. She doubtless thought she had pulled the wool over my eyes but I hadn’t the slightest doubt even then that there was absolutely no connection between Gillespie’s beautiful model and her wretched grandmother. Anyway, as you all know, the portrait was exhibited at last year’s art show, a fine piece of work but an absolute fake as far as the title was concerned.
“I hadn’t been many minutes at the Hilton’s that afternoon before I discovered that my lady’s folly was like to get the family into a pretty scrape. It was Sir Abraham who enlightened me. He was quite outspoken and made no bones about explaining the whole situation. I had for some time been pretty intimate with them and they probably thought, seeing I had procured the portrait in the first place, that I might be able to help them out of their difficulty.
“I don’t suppose you fellows ever took much notice of the label on the picture. It was only put on a few months b-'ore the trouble. Well it read something like this, “Lady Elizabeth Winscott, Lady-in-Waiting to the Duchess of Kennington, b. 1795, d. 1860.’ Of course the inscription was a gross exaggeration, just as the picture itself was an absolute fraud. However, there it was and in her complacency, Lady Hilton never imagined that anyone could possibly detect the imposture. As a matter of fact her grandmother had been a junior housemaid at Kennington Castle and had married one of the Duke’s grooms.
“Sir Abraham, it seems, had lunched at noon at the Mount Royal Club with Lord Megram and two or three other notables and had got on quite confidential terms with the old nobleman. Megram was á keen old fellow, full of good stories and fond of art and music. He started talking about Sir Abraham’s collection, expressed his pleasurable anticipation of looking over the canvases the next evening and referred particularly to the Gillespie portrait of Lady Hilton’s grandmother, which some one present had been praising highly. Sir Abraham basked in the genial atmosphere of adulation and no doubt felt immensely flattered at such complimentary references to his tastes as an art lover.
“But our knightly patron presently pricked up his ears. His lordship began to reminisce. To Sir Abraham’s horror he learned that Megram was a connection of the ducal family of Kennington, that he had been brought up by the third duke and that he had actually been a boy at Kennington Castle at precisely the time that ‘Lady’ Elizabeth Winscott was living in a humble cottage on the estate, the wife of one of the grooms of the stable. You may well understand his consternation as he thought of confronting Lord Megram with the fake portrait.
“Fortunately no one present was alive to the situation and Sir Abraham got through the remainder of the lunch without having to make any explanation of his wife’s connection with the British aristocracy. He went home in a state of mingled rage and apprehension, wreaked his wrath on her ladyship and then sent a peremptory summons for me to come and help to find some loop-hole of escape from the impending scandal.
“I could perceive that there was no use in suggesting the temporary removal of the damaging inscription. Lady Hilton had already thought of that, only to have the idea condemned by her husband. He argued that the absence of the title would be sure to raise suspicions among the other guests and in that way lead to certain disclosure of the fraud.
“ ‘Well then,’ said I, ‘suppose you take down the picture for the time-being and make some excuse for its absence from the gallery.’
“ ‘That won’t do at all,’ groaned Sir Abraham, ‘Lord Megram expects to see it ¡ and I can’t imagine any reason good enough to explain its absence, without making some of the guests at least susj picious of the removal. No, that plan , won’t do.’
“I racked my brains to think of a way to surmount the difficulty. Sudden illness on the part of one or other of the Hiltons might be a good reason for the cancelling of the dinner or reception, but even so, Lord Megram would be almost certain, as a devotee of art, to ask to see the art gallery some time during his stay in the , city and the fat would be in the fire just the same. There seemed no possible way of getting round the obstacle without involving the Hiltons in some unpleasantness. At last I hit on a scheme, the very audacity of which made me fear that Sir Abraham would object to its execution.
“ ‘Sir Abraham,’ said I, ‘there’s only one way I can think of for you to get rid of that picture without causing idle people to ask bothersome questions. You must ' arrange to have it stolen.’
“ ‘Why, that’s an idea,’ said he, brighti ening up. ‘Only I’m afraid it would look j rather queer to have it taken just at this particular juncture, wouldn’t it? Some smart people might seek reasons for the theft and discover something.’
“ ‘Quite true,’ I replied, ‘but cover up the theft. Make it part of a much bigger j theft. In other words arrange a burglary that will astonish the public by reason of its magnitude. People hearing that you have been robbed of jewelry, silverware and pictures, will not stop to wonder why a certain portrait was taken. They will be thrilled at the daring of the robbers ; and will try to puzzle out how they did the | thing.’
“ ‘How would you propose to carry out ( the robbery?’ asked Sir Abraham, keenly interested.
“ ‘It’s easily done, Sir Abraham,’ I answered. ‘I’ll be the burglar myself, if you like, and if you’ll set the stage for me, I’ll play the star part in the comedy without a hitch. At the proper time you can call in the police and the reporters and J within an hour or so the public will be reading about the daring burglary at Hilton House with details of the rich haul of jewels, silver and incidentally, valuable family portraits.’
“Sir Abraham jumped at my plan like a drowning man at a straw and we presently worked out the plans for a fake burglary. The rest of the story is soon told. I was shown the location of the jewelry in Lady Hilton’s room, an easy method of access through Sir Abraham’s study and the general lie of the place. It was decided that the deed should be done during the dinner hour as that would be the best time to get the servants out of the way. I left shortly before six. It was fortunately a wet night and as dark as Egypt even at that hour. Without leaving the grounds, I concealed myself in a summer house and waited until the hour set for the robbery.
All went well. At seven o’clock I climbed through the window of Sir Abraham’s den, made my way stealthily upstairs, entered Lady Hilton’s room, picked up the jewels, mixed up some of the drawers in the dressing-table and generally upset the room, walked downstairs again and slipped the stuff into a drawer of Bir Abraham’s desk. Then I got down grandma’s picture and another one beside it, by way of a blind, and carried them out the way I came in. Sir Abraham’s limousine was standing unattended near the side entrance. I placed the pictures in it and left them. Finally I sneaked out a side gate leading to a lane and made my way home as rapidly as possible. It was a pretty nervy piece of work, but I thought I had carried it through most successfully. • ( ■
“The supposed robbery was discovered right after dinner. A big fuss was raised. The police were sent for and every servant in the house, including the chauffeur, was locked up pending investigation. This gave Sir 'Abraham his opportunity, on pretence of calling on the chief of police, to run the limousine himself down to my studio, and sneak the pictures into the building.
“He gave me strict orders to destroy both pictures. I burned one of them but when it came to destroying the Gillespie portrait I didn’t have the heart for it. I simply couldn’t do it. It was too fine a piece of work to be destroyed for such a miserable reason. I put it aside, intending to get rid of it later on, but I’m afraid I didn’t conceal it carefully enough. I should have remembered Babbington’s free and easy ways and put it under lock and key. However, the secret’s out now, and there’s no use in ! raising a row about it.”
“But look here, Babbington,” he demanded abruptly. “I want to know who told you that they saw me climb out of the window at Hilton House with those portraits?”
“Nobody did, as far as I am aware,
Collins,” answered Babbington. “You can rest at ease on that point. I merely hazarded the statement to see what effect it would have on you. Up to that point I had a few sneaking doubts about your culpability. As soon as I had spoken I knew I was on the right track, for you promptly gave yourself away. However, it’s a capital story, a very neat exposure of duplicity in high life. Now, fellows, let’s all swear to preserve Collins’ secret.”
And we all swore.
Doing Without Europe
WHEN one considers the opportunities that confront the American manufacturer and the ease with which many of the problems connected with the establishment of new industries on this continent can be solved by industrial research, it is amazing to discover how backward we have been. In the automobile and upper leather manufactures, for example, chromium is of great importance. Most of the ore comes from South Africa, Austria, and Russia. Who knows but a substitute may be found if a competent expert is employed to find it? Cyanide of potassium is made in Germany and is much used in gold mining and electro-plating. The war has completely upset the industry. Who will be the first to employ an industrial research chemist co work out a process which will be profitable in America?
Ichthyol, a peculiar asphaltic material found in Austria, which finds application after appropriate cheimcal treatment as a very important medicament, has been cut off almost entirely. The raw material comes from a fossiliferous deposit near Seefeld, in the Austrian Tyrol. It is carefully selected and subjected to dry distillation. The distillate thus obtained is then sulphonated and subsequently neutralized with ammonia. The use of this material has greatly increased in the last few years. Since the beginning of the war its price has doubled. Already a firm in St. Louis has a material on the market which has been favorably recommended as an efficient substitute closely resembling ichthyol itself.
Chemical glassware has gone up markedly in price since the war. There is nothing mysterious in the making of glass —at least there ought not to be. But our glass industry, with the exception of plate glass, is in a low condition. That is because it has never been scientifically conducted. Its processes are still based upon formulae handed down from father to son. Often as many as twenty-four different ingredients are mixed together to form a batch of glass-making material, notwithstanding the fact that, scientifically speaking, only four are required. In glassmaking alone there is an enormous opportunity for industrial research since the war began.
There is one carbon that is manufactured in Europe that is superior to the American carbon, and that is the projector carbon used for moving-picture machines. The American manufacturer has not been able to produce a carbon which seems to be as satisfactory for the purpose as the German.—The Scientific American.