Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Jim Regan, Michael Lockey,
and Project Distributed Proofreaders
THE BOX WITH BROKEN SEALS
E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
James Crawshay, Englishman of the type usually described in
transatlantic circles as “some Britisher,” lolled apparently at his
ease upon the couch of the too-resplendent sitting room in the Hotel
Magnificent, Chicago. Hobson, his American fellow traveler, on the
other hand, betrayed his anxiety by his nervous pacing up and down the
apartment. Both men bore traces in their appearance of the long
journey which they had only just completed.
“I think,” Crawshay decided, yawning, “that I shall have a bath. I
feel gritty, and my collar—heavens, what a sight! Your trains,
Hobson, may be magnificent, but your coal is filthy. I will have a
bath while your friend, the policeman, makes up his mind whether to
come and see us or not.”
His companion treated the suggestion with scant courtesy.
“You will do nothing of the sort,” was his almost fierce objection.
“We’ve got to wait right here until Chief of Police Downs comes along.
There’s something crooked about this business, something I don’t
understand, and the sooner we get to the bottom of it, the better.”
The Englishman pacified himself with a whisky and soda which a waiter
had just brought in. He added several lumps of ice and drained the
contents of the tumbler with a little murmur of appreciation.
“It will be confoundedly annoying,” he admitted quietly, “if we’ve had
all this journey for nothing.”
Hobson moistened his dry lips with his tongue. The whisky and soda and
the great bucket of ice stood temptingly at his elbow, but he appeared
to ignore their existence. He was a man of ample build, with a big,
clean-shaven face, a square jaw and deep-set eyes, a man devoted to
and wholly engrossed by his work.
“See here, Crawshay,” he exclaimed, “if that dispatch was a fake, if
we’ve been brought here on a fool’s errand, they haven’t done it for
nothing. If they’ve brought it off against us, you mark my words,
we’re left—we’re bamboozled—we’re a couple of lost loons! There’s
nothing left for us but to sell candy to small boys or find a job on
“You’re such a pessimist,” the Englishman yawned.
“Pessimist!” was the angry retort. “I’ll just ask you one question, my
son. Where’s Downs?”
“I certainly think,” Crawshay admitted, “that under the circumstances
he might have been at the station to meet us.”
“He wouldn’t even talk through the ‘phone,” Hobson pointed out. “I had
to explain who we were to one of his inspectors. No one seemed to know
a goldarned thing about us.”
“They sent for him right away when you explained who you were,”
Crawshay reminded his companion.
Hobson found no comfort whatever in the reflection.
“Of course they did,” he replied brusquely. “There’s scarcely likely
to be a chief of police of any city in the United States who wouldn’t
get a move on when he knew that Sam Hobson was waiting for a word. I
haven’t been in the Secret Service of this country for fifteen years
for nothing. He’ll come fast enough as soon as he knows I’m waiting,
but all the same, what I want to know is, if that dispatch was on the
square, why he wasn’t at the station to meet us, and if it wasn’t on
the square, how the hell do we come out of this?”
Their conversation was interrupted by the tinkle of the telephone
which stood upon the table between them, the instrument which both men
had been watching anxiously. Hobson snatched up the receiver.
“Police headquarters speaking? Right! Yes, this is Sam Hobson. I’m
here with Crawshay, of the English Secret Service. We got your
dispatch.—What’s that?—Well?—Chief Downs is on the way, eh?—Just
started? Good! We’re waiting for him.”
Hobson replaced the receiver upon the instrument.
“Downs is coming right along,” he announced. “I tell you what it is,
Mr. Crawshay,” he went on, recommencing his walk up and down the
apartment, “I don’t feel happy to be so far away from the coast.
That’s what scares me. Chicago’s just about the place they’d land us,
if this is a hanky-panky trick. We’re twenty hours from New York, and
the City of Boston sails to-morrow at five o’clock.”
The Englishman shook himself and rose from his recumbent position upon
the sofa. He was a man of youthful middle-age, colourless, with
pleasant face, a somewhat discontented mouth, but keen grey eyes. He
had been sent out from Scotland Yard at the beginning of the war to
assist in certain work at the English Embassy. So far his
opportunities had not been many, or marked with any brilliant success,
and it seemed to him that the gloom of failure was already settling
down upon their present expedition.
“You don’t believe, then, any more than I do, that when a certain box
we know of is opened at the Foreign Office in London, it will contain
the papers we are after?”
“No, sir, I do not,” was the vigorous reply. “I think they have been
playing a huge game of bluff on us. That’s why I am so worried about
this trip. I wouldn’t mind betting you the best dinner you ever ate at
Delmonico’s or at your English Savoy that that box with the broken
seals they all got so excited about doesn’t contain a single one of
the papers that we’re after. Why, those blasted Teutons wanted us to
believe it! That’s why some of the seals were broken, and why the old
man himself hung about like a hen that’s lost one of its chickens.
They want us to believe that we’ve got the goods right in that box,
and to hold up the search for a time while they get the genuine stuff
out of the country. I admit right here, Mr. Crawshay, that it was you
who put this into my head at Halifax. I couldn’t swallow it then, but
when Downs didn’t meet us at the depot here, it came over me like a
flash that you were right that we were being flimflammed.”
“We ought, perhaps, to have separated,” the Englishman ruminated. “I
ought to have gone to New York and you come here. On the other hand,
you must remember that all the evidence which we have managed to
collect points to Chicago as having been the headquarters of the whole
“Sure!” the American admitted. “And there’s another point about it,