“Now you see the point about the handwriting. Suppose that someone turned up in your place who wrote a completely different hand from that in which you had applied for the vacancy, of course the game would have been up. But in the interval the rogue had learned to imitate you, and his position was therefore secure, as I presume that nobody in the office had ever set eyes upon you.
“Not a soul,” groaned Hall Pycroft.
“Very good. Of course it was of the utmost importance to prevent you from thinking better of it, and also to keep you from coming into contact with anyone who might tell you that your double was at work in Mawson’s office. Therefore they gave you a handsome advance on your salary, and ran you off to the Midllands, where they gave you enough work to do to prevent your going to London, where you might have burst their little game up. That is all plain enough.”
“But why should this man pretend to be his own brother?”
“Well, that is pretty clear also. There are evidently only two of them in it. The other is impersonating you at the office. This one acted as your engager, and then found that he could not find you an employer without admitting a third person into his plot. That he was most unwilling to do. He changed his appearance as far as he could, and trusted that the likeness, which you could not fail to observe, would be put down to a family resemblance. But for the happy chance of the gold stuffing, your suspicions would probably never have been aroused.”
Hall Pycroft shook his clenched hands in the air. “Good Lord!” he cried, “while I have been fooled in this way, what has this other Hall Pycroft been doing at Mawson’s? What should we do, Mr. Holmes? Tell me what to do.”
“We must wire to Mawson’s.”
“They shut at twelve on Saturdays.”
“Never mind. There may be some door-keeper or attendant –“
“Ah, yes, they keep a permanent guard there on account of the value of the securities that they hold. I remember hearing it talked of in the City.”
“Very good, we shall wire to him and see if all is well, and if a clerk of your name is working there. That is clear enough, but what is not so clear is why at sight of us one of the rogues should instantly walk out of the room and hang himself.”
“The paper!” croaked a voice behind us. The man was sitting up, blanched and ghastly, with returning reason in his eyes, and hands which rubbed nervously at the broad red band which still encircled his throat.