Authors: Ellery Queen
Drury Lane's Last Case
A Drury Lane Mystery
It is with the revitalized relish of the professional gourmetâwho, having nibbled wearily at the morbid comestibles at his command, suddenly encounters a rare and delicious delicacyâthat I record herewith the last case to which that grand old man of the theatre, Mr. Drury Lane, lent his exceptional efforts.
It has been a privilege to serve as the silent stenographer of Mr. Lane's exploits; and surely no one will questionâif differing about the man himselfâthe remarkable plasticity of thought which he displayed in those investigations which I have entitled
The Tragedy of X
The Tragedy of r
The Tragedy of Z
. But it is more than a privilege, it is a duty, to record this extraordinary man's last investigation, which I have subtitled
The Tragedy of 1599
for reasons which will be apparent on a reading of these pages. I say “duty,” for, if Mr. Lane astounded his contemporaries and his public by the loftiness of his thinking processes in the three explorations into crime already recorded, he positively staggered them by his investigation of the case which terminated his career as self-appointed guardian of the law. And to withhold this amazing adventure from those who have followed Drury Lane's fortunes so patiently, encouragingly, and, at times, enthusiastically would be a lamentable cruelty.
It is my admittedly biased opinion that for sheer wonder and rarity there is no precedent in criminological history for the case set down between these covers.
retiring curator of the Britannic Museum
incoming curator of the Britannic Museum
patronne des arts
the Saxon librarian
a young scholar
special guard at the Britannic Museum
an omnibus driver
Chief of the Tarrytown Police Department
retired Inspector of Detectives
who makes his last bow
: Samuel Saxon (
who is dead
); Sir John Humphrey-Bond (
who is dead
); James Wyeth (
who is alive but does not appear
); museum employees, police, a district attorney, employees of the Rivoli Bus Company, 17 elderly Indiana schoolteachers, etc., etc.
It was a curious beard, an unorthodox beard, almost a humorous beard. Shaped like a Frenchman's spade, it fell in the quaintest wave, rippling from his invisible chin to two prim points below his invisible collar. There was something at once girlish and dignified in its series of perfect ringlets, like the majestic statuary brush of Zeus. But it was not its sharply two-pronged beauty nor its rhythmic volutions that caught the goggling eye. The true marvel was its colours.
It was a veritable Joseph's beard, dappled and pied and streaked like Joseph's coat, glinting in unexpected blacks and blues and greens. Had it faded under a playful sun? Or had its wearer for some inscrutable purpose of his own deposited his solemn length on a laboratory table and bathed his remarkable beaver in a pool of chemicals? Such an Olympian beard could have had an origin no less fantastic. This was, one felt, historic hair; a beard for a museum, to be preserved for admiring posterity.
Now Inspector Thumm, lately of the New York Police Department, at present retired and soothing his restless spirit with the balm of private detective agency work, was after forty years of policing inured against the surprises of mankind. But even he was first horrified, and then frankly fascinated, by the extraordinary brush on the chin of his Monday visitor this mild May morning. There was no precedent in the Inspector's experience for that mazing collection of multicoloured filaments. He stared and stared as if he could not see enough of it.
Finally he said: “Sit down,” in a feeble voice, glanced at his desk calendar to see if by some alchemy of forgetfulness it might not be All Fool's Day, and then sank into his own chair to scrape his broad blue jaws and regard his visitor with awed astonishment.
Rainbow-Beard sat down with perfect equanimity.
He was a tall thin man, Inspector Thumm observedâprecious little to go on, for the rest of him was clothed in as cryptic a mystery as his chin. He was heavily attired, as if his body were swathed in fold after fold of thick cloth; for the Inspector's trained eye caught the slenderness of the wrists peeping above the man's gloved hands and the leanness of his legsâundisguisable indications of thinness. Blue-tinted spectacles concealed the man's eyes. His nondescript fedora, which he had with charming insouciance failed to remove upon entering the Inspector's office, effectively disguised the shape of his head and the colour of his hair.
And he remained, quite like Zeus, supremely silent.
Thumm coughed. “Yes?” he said encouragingly.
The beard waggled, as if in amusement.
“Yes? What can I do for you?”
Very suddenly the lean legs whipped across each other, and the gloved hands clasped over one bony knee. “You're really Inspector Thumm, I fancy?” the apparition said in a slightly rusty voice. Thumm twitched nervously. It was like hearing a statue speak.
“That's me,” said the Inspector faintly. “And youââ?”
A hand waved. “Unimportant, Inspector. The fact isâhow shall I say it?âI've a rather extraordinary request to make of you.”
It would be extraordinary, thought the Inspector, if you didn'tâwith that get-up! Some of his normal shrewdness banished the astonishment in his eyes. His hand moved lightly behind the shelter of his desk and flicked a little lever. An almost inaudible hum developed which the gentleman with the motley beard apparently did not notice.
“People who sit in that chair generally have,” said the Inspector jovially.
A pointed little piece of tongue appeared in the hairy forest about the man's lips and, as if frightened by the strange hues of the underbrush, retreated hastily. “I may tell you, Inspector, I've been looking you up. What appealed to me was the fact that you seem not to be theâahâusual sort of private detective.”
“We aim to please.”
“Quite so. Quite so.â¦ Ahâyou're
private? I mean to say, you've no connexion now with the police, Inspector?” Thumm stared at him. “You see, I must be
. My business with you must be kept severely confidential.”
“I'm so close-mouthed,” growled Thumm, “that I won't tell even my best friends. If that's what's worrying you. Unless it's something off-colour. I'm death on rats, mister. The Thumm agency doesn't play around with crooks.”
“Oh, no, no,” said Rainbow-Beard quickly. “Nothing like that, I assure you. It's just that it's somethingâsomewhat peculiar, Inspector.”
“If it's about your wife and the boy-friend,” observed the Inspector, “nothing doin'. I'm not that kind of agency, either.”
“No, no, Inspector, not a domestic entanglement at all. Nothing of that sort. It isâwell, in a word,” said Rainbow-Beard, his breath agitating the flora on his chin, “I want you to
something for me.”
“Oh,” said Thumm; he shifted a little. “Keep what?”
“Envelope?” The Inspector scowled. “What's in it?”
Rainbow-Beard exhibited unexpected firmness. His lips clamped together. “No,” he said. “I won't tell you that. Surely it doesn't make any difference?”