“On the day after the expedition, I had the curiosity to open the panels and go through into the room that the murderers had occupied, which had now been locked up by the police. Looking round the room, my eye lighted on a shabby cloth cap lying on the still undisturbed mattress just below the pillow. I picked it up and looked it over curiously, for by its size I could see that it did not belong to either of the men whom I had secured. I took it over to the curtained window and carefully inspected its lining; and suddenly I perceived, clinging to the coarse cloth, a single short hair, which, even to the naked eye, had a distinctly unusual appearance. With a trembling hand, I drew out my lens to examine it more closely; and, as it came into the magnified field, my heart seemed to stand still. For, even at that low magnification, its character was unmistakable—it looked like a tiny string of pale gray beads. Grasping it in my fingers, I dashed through the opening, slammed the panels to, and rushed down to the parlor where I kept a small microscope. My agitation was so intense that I could hardly focus the instrument, but at last the object on the slide came into view: a broad, variegated stripe, with its dark medulla and the little rings of air bubbles at regular intervals. It was a typical ringed hair! And what was the inference?
“The hair was almost certainly Piragoff’s. Piragoff was a burglar, a ruthless murderer, and he had ringed hair. The man whom I sought was a burglar, a ruthless murderer, and had ringed hair. Then Piragoff was my man. It was bad logic, but the probabilities were overwhelming. And I had had the villain in the hollow of my hand and he had gone forth unscathed!
“I ground my teeth with impotent rage. It was maddening. All the old passion and yearning for retribution surged up in my breast once more. My interest in the new specimens almost died out. I wanted Piragoff; and it was only the new-born hope that I should yet lay my hand on him that carried me through that time of bitter disappointment.”
THE UTTERMOST FARTHING
Intense was the curiosity with which I turned to the last entry in Humphrey Challoner’s “Museum Archives.” Not that I had any doubt as to the issue of the adventure that it recorded. I had seen the specimen numbered “twenty-five” in the shallow box, and its identity had long since been evident. But this fact mitigated my curiosity not at all. The “Archives” had furnished a continuous narrative—surely one of the strangest ever committed to writing—and now I was to read the climax of that romantically terrible story; to witness the final achievement of that object that my poor friend had pursued with such unswerving pertinacity.
I extract the entry entire with the exception of one or two passages near the end, the reasons for the omission of which will be obvious to the reader.