Sir Percy Blakeney did not pause in the sitting-room where an oil lamp suspended from the ceiling threw a feeble circle of light above the centre table. He went straight through to the bedroom. Here, too, a small lamp was burning which only lit up a small portion of the room— the writing-desk and the oak chest—leaving the corners and the alcove, with its partially drawn curtains, in complete shadow.
Blakeney pointed to the oak chest and to the desk.
“You tackle the chest, Ffoulkes, and I will go for the desk,” he said quietly, as soon as he had taken a rapid survey of the room. “You have your tools?”
Ffoulkes nodded, and anon in this squalid room, ill-lit, ill-ventilated, barely furnished, was presented one of the most curious spectacles of these strange and troublous times: two English gentlemen, the acknowledged dandies of London drawing-rooms, busy picking locks and filing hinges like any common house-thieves.
Neither of them spoke, and a strange hush fell over the room—a hush only broken by the click of metal against metal, and the deep breathing of the two men bending to their task. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes was working with a file on the padlocks of the oak chest, and Sir Percy Blakeney, with a bunch of skeleton keys, was opening the drawers of the writing-desk. These, when finally opened, revealed nothing of any importance; but when anon Sir Andrew was able to lift the lid of the oak chest, he disclosed an innumerable quantity of papers and documents tied up in neat bundles, docketed and piled up in rows and tiers to the very top of the chest.
“Quick to work, Ffoulkes,” said Blakeney, as in response to his friend’s call he drew a chair forward and, seating himself beside the chest, started on the task of looking through the hundreds of bundles which lay before him. “It will take us all our time to look through these.”
Together now the two men set to work—methodically and quietly—piling up on the floor beside them the bundles of papers which they had already examined, and delving into the oak chest for others. No sound was heard save the crackling of crisp paper and an occasional ejaculation from either of them when they came upon some proof or other of Heriot’s propensity for blackmail.
“Agnes de Lucines is not the only one whom this brute is terrorising,” murmured Blakeney once between his teeth; “I marvel that the man ever feels safe, alone in these lodgings, with no one but that weak-kneed Rondeau to protect him. He must have scores of enemies in this city who would gladly put a dagger in his heart or a bullet through his back.”
They had been at work for close on half an hour when an exclamation of triumph, quickly smothered, escaped Sir Percy’s lips.
“By Gad, Ffoulkes!” he said, “I believe I have got what we want!”
With quick, capable hands he turned over a bundle which he had just extracted from the chest. Rapidly he glanced through them. “I have them, Ffoulkes,” he reiterated more emphatically as he put the bundle into his pocket; “now everything back in its place and—”