Saturday, 20 December 2014

Boy Science Detective: The Riddle of the Beard

[You may want to check the warning on this blog's translations.] 

Another translation: this is the third Boy Science Detective story by KOSAKAI Fuboku. Previously we had:
This one doesn't give away the endings to the previous stories, so you don't need to have read them to read this. The first story introduces the main character, boy genius Toshio Tsukahara and his bodyguard/assistant Ono. Toshio has a private laboratory and office a few streets away from his rich parents' house. The stories first appeared in a children's science magazine; and Toshio's investigations always involve a Dr Thorndyke style scientific element.

The puzzle in this one is quite well done, I think (although as always the culprit is fairly obvious). The story is also a spy story, and has a not very sympathetic MacGuffin in the national secret of a poison gas formula. At the time of the story, Japan had a small empire (the result of Meiji period militarism) and was a not very stable democracy, which had to struggle with the kind of militarism that would so disastrously come to dominate a few years later.

The story was first published from June to August 1925 in 子供の科学 (kodomo no kagaku, Children's Science), then collected in book form in 1926.

As always, I've put the translated story (whose Japanese original you can read online at Aozora Bunko here) after the break. Explanatory footnotes look like this[1] in the text; but you'll have to scroll to the end of the file to find them.



The Death of the Professor

             It was a cold, cold winter morning, the seventeenth of January. Four or five days ago a huge quantity of snow had fallen, more than we had known in years. Since that snowfall, the skies had continued cloudy, and today once again scattered flakes of white were floating down from the sky. 
             Toshio Tsukahara and I had finished breakfast and were sitting and talking on either side of the heater in the combined office and laboratory. Suddenly, at around ten, there was a knocking at the door. When I opened it, I saw a beautiful young lady of around twenty. Her eyelids were swollen and she was standing there clearly full of anxiety. 
             ‘Might I see Toshio Tsukahara?’ She gave me a visiting card, ‘Could you tell him that I have come to ask his help?’ 
             Toshio looked at the card I handed him and said, ‘Right, please show her in.’ 
             ‘Yukiko Endo’ was the the name on the visiting card. 
             A little later the young lady was sat facing Toshio across the table. 
             ‘I’m not sure if you know, but I’m Shinichi Endo’s daughter.’ 
             ‘Ah, Professor Endo’s daughter? Is the professor still doing his research?’ Toshio said. 
             Abruptly, the young lady’s face grew sad, ‘The fact is, last night father died.’ 
             ‘Wha—?’ Toshio leapt up in alarm. ‘Really?’ 
             ‘Yes. What is more, someone killed him.’ 
             Toshio grew even more surprised. Professor Endo was a Doctor of Engineering teaching at Todai.[1] He was the discoverer of a poison gas far more powerful than any previously discovered. Its means of production was a national secret; and it was even said that spies from Europe and America had come with the aim of stealing this secret. But apart from the professor, nobody knew whether the paper on which this method was written was hidden in a classroom at university or in his own home. So when I heard from his daughter that he had been killed, I wondered whether he had been killed by a spy intent on stealing the secret of the poison gas. 
             Toshio clearly had the same thought. ‘So is this the work of the spies there’s been so much talk of then?’ he asked. 
             ‘No. The police have taken my brother into custody as the culprit; but my brother could never have killed my father, I’m sure of it. That is why I have come here. I would like you to investigate the case.’ 
             ‘Please tell me all the circumstances.’

             According to the young lady’s account, Professor Endo had always had an impatient disposition, but with the death of his wife five years ago he had grown still more short tempered. His son Nobukiyo was twenty-four this year. In character he was completely at odds with his father the professor, devoted to literature. He and the professor would be in conflict again and again; and for the last three years, with poor health a contributing factor, he had been recuperating and residing at — ryokan[2] in Suma,[3] writing stories and the like for his livelihood. During this time he had not once come home. 
             Then, six days ago, on the evening of the eleventh of January, when the professor came home from a meeting, he had caught the flu that was going round and had a high temperature. He hated calling a doctor and always took medicine on his own diagnosis. He had retired from university last April and lately had become much weaker of spirit. On the twelfth – perhaps he had become lonely because of the disease – he said that there was something he wanted to discuss, so please send a telegram summoning Nobukiyo. 
             The young lady sent a telegram to her brother that day, and again on the thirteenth; but his reply was that he didn’t want to come back. Hearing this, the professor told his daughter she should go to Suma and bring her brother back with her. Leaving the house in the care of the student houseboy[4] Saito and the old housekeeper, she set out on the night of the thirteenth. It took two full days to convince her brother, and it was early yesterday morning that they left Suma. They reached home around eleven o’clock[5] last night. 
             ‘But when we got home yesterday evening, father was terribly angry for some reason and would not let us into his sickroom. Mr. Saito came out and said it would be best to wait till tomorrow morning for the professor’s mood to improve; so my brother and I returned to our rooms. I slept deeply, exhausted by the journey. I was aware of nothing until the housekeeper told me this morning that father had been murdered.’ 
             At this point the young lady broke off, her eyes fixed on Toshio’s face. Then she went on, ‘When I asked about the circumstances, this is what I was told. Last night around one o’clock my father told Mr. Saito, who up till then had been watching over him, to please wake my brother and fetch him. When my brother arrived, father was resting in the half darkened room, his face covered by the quilt; but after telling Mr. Saito to go to bed, when my brother and father were alone, he would not even look my brother in the face and used harsh words to him. 
             At that my brother argued back, and after about ten minutes, without really learning what father wanted to discuss, he returned to his own room and went to sleep. But now that father has been strangled with a towel and grown cold, and on top to that since that towel has the letters of — ryokan in Suma where my brother had been staying, the policemen who came from the central police station have arrested him on suspicion and taken him away.’ 
             She spoke this far and softly wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. 
             ‘This towel: did your brother give any explanation of it?’ 
             ‘He said he couldn’t remember where he’d left it.’ 
             ‘How long has Mr. Saito been in the house?’ 
             ‘About half a year now. Father really liked him.’ 
             ‘Where is he now?’ 
             ‘He went to the central police station along with my brother, as a witness.’ 
             ‘And the professor’s body?’ 
             ‘It was delivered to the forensic medicine room of the university.’ 
             ‘Is there a microscope in your house?’ 
             ‘There’s one that father used.’ 
             ‘In that case I’ll have them show me the body, then come visit the house.’

             As soon as the young lady left, Toshio rang the central police station and asked for ‘Uncle P’, in other words for Detective Oda. Professor Endo’s case was not in Detective Oda’s hands; but through his mediation, Toshio got permission to see the professor’s body. With instruments for investigating blood and the usual detective bag, the two of us reached the forensic medicine room and found Detective Oda, who had gone there directly, waiting for us. 
             The dissection of the professor’s body was planned for that afternoon, and he was lying in the dissection room covered in a white sheet. Toshio removed the sheet and after a quick bow of respect he set to feeling all parts of the body. There was a deep strangling wound on the neck, and at the entrance to the right nostril a trace where just a little blood had flowed out. 
             After that – with what in mind I could not tell – Toshio took a ruler from his pocket and measured the length of the professor’s facial hair. The moustache was a splendid, jet black letter,[6] grown out as far as physically possible. From jaw to cheek there was no beard; but apparently he had not been shaved during his illness and there was a thick growth of black hair, less than two millimetres long. Toshio measured this short hair with fierce interest and recorded his findings in his notebook. Then pulling taut the moustache, he plucked out two or three hairs and carefully put them away. 
             After examining the beard, Toshio investigated with great energy each of the professor’s fingers. Finally he used tweezers to remove one or two very narrow hairs from under the nail of the right index finger. He stowed those away too. 
             ‘That will do,’ he said, looking very satisfied. 
             As Detective Oda likes seeing Toshio in detective mode, he came with us (stopping for lunch on the way) to the professor’s house in Sugamo.[7] 
             When we got there, Toshio said he was going to go all round the house once, and went in ahead of us. At the back door there were traces of a lot of snow having been removed, for some reason. Toshio stared at it for a while, then started walking. After he got to the entrance at the end of his circuit, the professor’s daughter came out to meet him from inside the house. 
             ‘Please show me to the professor’s bedroom,’ Toshio said to her. 
             In the bedroom there was a bed, with a white sheeted quilt on it. Toshio removed this and eagerly searched the sheet below. He plucked up a single hair from beneath the pillow and stowed it away. Then he investigated under the bed and in different parts of the room, but apparently found nothing worth noting. 
             ‘Please show me to the bathroom,’ he said suddenly. We looked at each other wondering what he was after; but the young lady silently led the way. 
             ‘Is it the housekeeper who heats the water?’ Toshio asked. 
             ‘No. As she’s so old, Mr. Saito has taken heating the bathwater.’ 
             ‘The housekeeper is that old?’ 
             ‘Her hearing is poor, and her sight too; but she served loyally for many years, so we still keep her on,’ the young lady replied. 
             The bathroom was about two tsubo[8] in area. In the corner there was a three foot square bathtub fitted; it was still wet. Toshio examined this eagerly and found that on the outside of the bath, in a place hard for the eye to spot, there was a reddish brown stain. He got the young lady to have the piece of wood with that spot in it cut out. 
             After finishing his inspection of the bathroom, he turned to her and asked her to lend him the microscope. She led us to Professor Endo’s study and got the microscope out for us. When she was gone, Toshio said, ‘Niisan, to start with please put this hair we got from the professor’s fingernail under the microscope.’ 
             I immediately put the hair on the glass plate and slid it under the microscope. When I looked through the eyepiece, the hair was formed like field horsetail, as shown in the picture. I had never seen a hair like it before.
             ‘Toshio, I don’t understand this. Have a look,’  I said. 
             Toshio looked for a while, then smiled brightly. 
             ‘You’ve got it, have you?’ I asked. 
             ‘I have. It’s bat’s hair.’ 
             ‘Huh? A bat?’ Detective Oda and I both shouted out together. A bat’s hair under the body’s nails! Well, what could it mean?

A suspicious phone call

Toshio went on to ask me to put under the microscope the hair taken from Professor Endo’s moustache and the hair fallen on the bed.

             I got out the two hairs and looked at them under the microscope. The hair taken from the body looked like A in the illustration above: the hair root was attached; the tip, that is the free end, was split up into three or four threads like a branching twig. The hair from the bed looked like B in the illustration: it was about the same length as the other; but you could see that each end had been cut with scissors. 
             Toshio looked into the microscope and said with satisfaction, ‘Niisan, the hair that was on the bed came from a false beard.’ 
             ‘What? A false beard?’ I asked in astonishment. 
             ‘That’s right. A hair cut at both ends didn’t come from a living human. — Right, next please investigate the bloodstain found on the bathtub. If it turns out to be human blood, that will be good.’ 
             To know whether a bloodstain is human blood or not, you can look at the form of the red blood cells in the stain; but a more certain method is to dissolve the bloodstain in salt water, mix that with ‘precipitin’ as it is called, and see whether precipitation occurs or not. 
             This precipitin is made by reapeatedly injecting human blood into a rabbit. In the rabbit’s blood, when human blood is mixed, a substance causing a white precipitation occurs. Taking this rabbit’s blood and separating out the pure blood, it is kept, so as not to spoil, in a glass tube. 
             I first put a little warm salt water on a plate. Into it, holding a narrow glass rod the bit of wood that Toshio had had cut out, I dissolved the bloodstain. After that I took out the precipitin we had brought with us and put that small amount into test tubes. I waited around fifteen minutes, then added the solution with the dissolved blood. When I did so, before my eyes a white precipitation appeared. 
             That experiment was not enough to be sure that it was human blood. That is, the blood of a humanoid animal, in other words, a monkey, causes the same precipitation. But it would be difficult to distinguish human and monkey blood without going back to our laboratory. In this case, it was hard to imagine that it was a monkey’s blood on the bath, and I thought that there was no reason not to suppose it was human blood. 
             While I was doing these tests, Toshio searched the study from corner to corner. He opened the drawers and rooted around in them, he took the books down from the shelves and shook them out. Finally his eye fell on the Maruzen[9] page-a-day calendar. This gave him an idea, it seemed: he picked it up and eagerly riffled through the pages. After a bit he shouted out, ‘Got it, got it!’ 

             Toshio’s voice was so loud that it startled Uncle P (Detective Oda, that is) standing next to me. ‘What have you got, Toshio?’ he asked. 
             ‘The thing that shortened Professor Endo’s life.’ 
             ‘The secret of the poison gas,’ Toshio said, very pleased with himself. ‘Professor Endo’s killer was planning to get his hands on the secret of the discovery. He searched this study pretty thoroughly, it seems. But the professor was to smart for him. He hadn’t been so feeble as to hide it in the safe or in the drawers of his desk or in his books. He wrote the secret of producing the poison gas in this Maruzen page-a-day calendar over four or five pages towards the end of December. As a calendar came each year at the end of December, the professor doubtless meant to write it out again when the new calendar arrived. Nobody would ever imagine that a calendar that you pick up and turn over every day could hold a huge secret. That was Professor Endo’s master stroke. That meant that in the end the killer just couldn’t find it.’ 
             So saying Toshio put the page-a-day calendar in his pocket. ‘I’ll just borrow this calendar for a while. With this we can catch the killer, so don’t carelessly mention it to anyone. — By the way, niisan, how did the investigation of the bloodstain come out?’ 
             As he spoke, he looked at the white precipitate in the test tube. ‘So it was human blood. Right, could you ask the professor’s daughter to come here a moment, niisan?’ 
             When Miss Yukiko came in, Toshio asked her, ‘When was university supposed to start?’ 
             ‘On the twenty first.’ 
             ‘During the holiday did the professor go in to college?’ 
             ‘No, he shut himself up at home.’ 
             ‘Last night when you got back from Suma, did you go to the professor’s side?’ 
             ‘No, when he was in a bad mood, that would only make him angrier, so I stood at the bedroom door.’ 
             ‘You said the lights were low in the bedroom, didn’t you?’ 
             ‘Father hated sleeping in a bright room.’ 
             ‘Was the professor’s voice different than usual, perhaps?’ 
             ‘It was a little hoarse. That would be from his illness.’ 
             ‘Did he shave each day?’ 
             ‘He hated shaving.’ 
             ‘Recently, when would he have shaved?’ 
             ‘It was the morning of the day he took to his bed on, the eleventh. There was a meeting that evening, and he shaved for that, though he grumbled about it.’ 
             ‘When did he take a bath?’ 
             ‘On the evening of the thirteenth, when I set off to fetch my brother.’ 
             ‘But when I looked at it earlier, wasn’t it wet?’ 
             ‘As to that, the student houseboy Mr Saito takes a cold bath every morning.’ 
             Toshio thought for a bit and asked, ‘Did the professor have relatives?’ 
             ‘I have one uncle. He’s my father’s younger brother. Currently, he’s living in Korea, I think.’ 
             ‘What does he do?’ 
             ‘He doesn’t have a settled employment. He calls himself the Korean vagabond.’[10] 
             ‘He sounds a pretty eccentric sort. Not like the professor.’ 
             ‘He is quite eccentric. He takes pleasure in having things like a stick covered in snakeskin, a purse made from toadskin, a seal made from a wolf’s tooth.’ 
             Toshio’s face suddenly grew bright and cheerful. Just then Detective Shirai of the central police station came in, accompanied by a young man. 
             When the professor’s daughter saw him, she asked, ‘Oh, Mr. Saito. How are things with my brother?’ 
             Before the houseboy Saito could answer, Detective Shirai said, ‘We can’t send your brother back yet. I’ve come because I have a few questions for you.’ Then, noticing Detective Oda, he said, ‘Oda. What are you doing here?’ 
             ‘Showing Toshio around.’ 
             ‘Hey, Toshio, thanks for your trouble,’ Detective Shirai said in a slighting tone. 
             ‘I’m here at the request of Professor Endo's daughter. By the way, what was the result of the autopsy?’ Toshio asked. 
             ‘The cause of death was strangling.’ 
             ‘I knew that already,’ Toshio said laughing and turned to Saito, ‘Mr. Saito, I hear that the professor was in a really bad mood last night.’ 
             ‘Yes he really was.’ 
             ‘Was it you who went to fetch Master Nobukiyo at around one o’clock?’ 
             ‘Yes it was.’ 
             ‘The professor quarrelled with him?’ 
             ‘They did seem to be arguing about something. I went to bed, so I can’t very well say.’ 
             ‘This morning who was it that found that the professor had died?’ 
             ‘That was the housekeeper.’ 
             ‘What did she do?’ 
             At this point the young lady intervened. The housekeeper had grown faint at the shock of the professor’s death and now she was resting in a quiet part of the house, she told us. 
             ‘Come here a moment please, niisan; I’ve an errand I’d like you to go on,’ Toshio said. He gave me a meaningful glance, and left the room. I went out after him. 
             When we got to the entrance, Toshio spoke softly, ‘Sorry to ask this, but I want you to go into the storeroom at the back of the telephone room and hide there. I’m now going into the study, and I’m going to talk about this calendar. When I do, I’m sure someone’s going to come and make a phone call. When they do, listen to who they call at what number and what they say. Write it down on this and bring it to me. It’s fine of course if you can’t understand what they say.’ 
             I took the pencil and paper as instructed and crouched down in a corner of the dark storeroom. I waited, listening intently to hear who would make the phone call. One minute, two minutes, three minutes. At times like this a minute is like an hour. The place was completely silent and I could hear the beating of my heart. 
             After about ten minutes I heard the door to the telephone room softly opening. The voice that asked for ‘Ote 3257’[11] clearly belonged to the student houseboy Saito. 
             ‘Hello, is that Tsutaya of —Avenue, Block 4?[12] Please call Mr. Aoki.’ 
             A few minutes passed, then Saito started to say something; but as he seemed to be using code, I couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying. After he had talked for some three minutes, he stealthily closed the door again and went away. 
             I left the storeroom, wrote what I had heard on the paper, and went into the study. Toshio came out and took the paper from me, saying, ‘Good work.’ He gave it a quick look, then added something in his own hand and passed it to Detective Oda. 
             ‘Uncle P, sorry to ask, but I’d like you to go do some errands for me. I’ve written what I need on this.’ 
             If Toshio says something, Detective Oda does whatever he asks. 
             ‘Right then Shirai, I’ll just be heading off for a while,’ he said and left.

The Korean Vagabond

After Oda had gone, the five of us – Detective Shirai, Toshio, the young lady, the houseboy and I – were silent for a while, each looking in the others’ faces. After a little, Detective Shirai asked Toshio in an unsettled voice, ‘Toshio, do you know who did it?’ 
             ‘Oh? Wasn’t Nobukiyo the murderer?’ Toshio said with a malicious expression. 
             ‘As to that the only evidence is that towel, you know —ʼ 
             ‘In that case how about collecting other evidence?’ 
             ‘That’s why I’m here. To ask about the motive for the crime.’ 
             ‘In that case, are we talking about property? With Professor Endo dead, the property should come to Nobukiyo as a matter of course, shouldn’t it?’ 
             ‘I wanted to ask if there weren’t recent circumstances to make him hungry for that property.’ 
             ‘And what do you say, Miss?’ Toshio said. 
             ‘As my brother’s condition was weak, he never went out. Every month on father’s orders I sent 150 yen; but even with that he had more than he needed,’ she answered. Then, in response to Detective Shirai’s questioning, on every point she spoke of her brother’s calm and serious character. Finally even Detective Shirai said, ‘Hmm, if you look at it like that, maybe the motive is the secret of the poison as after all.’ 
             Toshio had been paying little attention to the long question and answer. From time to time he would take his pocket watch out and consult it, distracted with some other worry; but exactly thirty minutes after Detective Oda had left, Toshio suddenly said loudly, ‘Mr. Shirai, please send Master Nobukiyo back quickly. You agree don’t you, Mr. Saito? That he didn’t do it.’ 
             ‘I don’t know,’ the houseboy said, a little thrown out. 
             Detective Shirai too, surprised by Toshio’s words, asked, ‘Why?’ 
             ‘Why, you ask? Because it wasn’t last night that the professor was killed.’ 
             ‘Huh?’ Shirai was startled. The rest of us were speechless too at this unexpected statement. 
             ‘It’s at least three days since the professor was killed.’ 
             ‘What?’ Shirai said. 
             ‘Ha ha ha, you don’t need to look so shocked. Like I said, since Nobukiyo came back last night, he can hardly be the killer.’ 
             ‘And the proof of that?’ Shirai said, breathlessly. 
             In response Toshio only became calmer, ‘As if that was a question! I know who did it too,’ he said. The professor’s daughter and the houseboy stared at Toshio. 
             ‘Who?’ Shirai asked. 
             ‘Everyone, please listen carefully. The man who killed Professor Endo was a beardless man with a hoarse voice. In winter he wears a muffler made by sewing batskins together.’ 
             ‘Why, in that case it’s my uncle. But he should be in Korea!’ the young lady cried out.

             At this moment, the houseboy Saito, who had been standing next to her, suddenly turned and ran off. 
             ‘Get him!’ Toshio said, pointing. I leapt on the houseboy and collared him. In response he put up a desperate struggle. 
             ‘Mr. Shirai, please hurry up and put Saito in handcuffs! He’s an accomplice.’ 
             Detective Shirai was thrown off balance, but at any rate he did as Toshio said and put the cuffs on Saito, who immediately lost all energy, his face as pale as a corpse’s. 
             Just then Detective Oda, who had gone out earlier, came in, panting for breath, ‘Toshio, we got them, no trouble,’ he said happily, wiping away the sweat which in spite of winter stood out on his forehead. 
             ‘Thank you,’ said Toshio and walked over to Saito, ‘I’m sorry Saito, but you’ll have to pay the penalty for your crime. Come on, make a full confession please. You see we’ve caught Mr. Aoki in the Tsutaya, too, or I should say, we’ve caught Miss Endo’s uncle.’ 
             Saito was silent, his eyes tight shut. 
             ‘Very well,’ said Toshio, ‘If you won’t talk. I’ll do it for you. Let me set out the facts of your crime. In other words, how you repaid Professor Endo’s kindness with emnity. 
            Becoming the agent of the professor’s brother, that is the Korean vagabond, on the evening of the thirteenth, when the professor’s daughter was sent to Suma, the two of you strangled the professor in his sickbed. You put the body in the bathtub, and to stop it decaying you fetched snow and packed the tub with it. When the lady and her brother returned last night, you carried the body and put it under the bed. In the bed the uncle, wearing a false beard, played the professor. Pretending to be angry he kept her from approaching closer. Then summoning Nobukiyo alone, he lowered the lights and kept his face half hidden, shouting at him and making a quarrel. Once Nobukiyo had gone to sleep, you got the body from under the bed. One of you had luckily come across the towel that Nobukiyo had dropped. You wound this around the professor’s neck to pin the guilt on Nobukiyo. 
             Right? That should be it. At some point the Korean vagabond became a spy for a foreign country. He aimed to steal an important national secret. But heaven does not aid the wicked. Even after his trouble in killing the professor, he couldn’t find his real object, the secret of the poison gas, could he? 
             While the daughter was away, you had the advantage of the housekeeper’s feeble old age. The two of you started with the study and searched this house from corner to corner until your eyes were red, I imagine. But when I got the secret that you were hoping for, you couldn’t stand that and forgetting the danger went to call the top man. I imagine that the conversation was a plan to kill me this evening and steal the secret. 
             That in the end was where your luck ran out. Thanks to that we managed to catch without difficulty major traitors, without letting a vital get into foreign hands. Hurrah for the Empire of Greater Japan![13] 
             Shirai, this is a win for you too. Right, hurry up and take Saito away and let Nobukiyo go please.’ 
             Detective Shirai had been listening entranced to Toshio’s unexpected explanation. He quickly regained focus. Urging Saito forward he took his leave of us and hurried out.
             Afterwards four people in all, Uncle P (that is, Detective Oda), the professor’s daughter and the two of us, were left in the study. The young lady wiped away tears of mixed sadness and happiness, and said, ‘Mr. Tsukahara, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am sad that my father has died; but I am so relieved that my brother has been cleared of suspicion, and the vital secret of the poison gas has not been lost. And all this is thanks to you. 
             Still what a horrible human being my uncle must be. It really shocked me. But how on earth did you understand it was uncle’s work?’ 
             Toshio said with some pride, ‘In this mystery, it was the professor’s beard that gave me the solution. I don’t mean his shaped moustache. I mean the tiny beard hairs growing from his jaw to his cheeks. Although he had fallen sick on the eleventh, when I looked at his face I was shocked at how little beard had grown. People hardly ever shave when they’re sick, so even if he’d shaved on the morning of the eleventh, I thought it must have grown longer than that by last night. I got out my ruler and measured the length of the hairs. They were about 1.5 mm. Not one was longer than two millimetres. Beard hair grows about 0.5 mm a day. So if the professor had been alive last night, it should have been at least 2.5 mm. With that I decided that he had not been killed last night. 
             In that case the man in his bed had to be a double, I thought. When I searched the bed, I found a hair from a false beard. It it was a double, you could see why he would get in a rage to keep you from coming close. It was a while since Nobukiyo had seen his father’s face, and the room was poorly lit; so he didn’t realise that it was his father’s double. 
             Well, if it was a double, I knew that that man must be the professor’s murderer; and of course it also showed that Saito had to be his accomplice. Well then, what would the motive have been? I hardly need to say that their aim was to steal the secret of the poison gas. But then the reason the culprits had stayed till last night was probably because they hadn’t been able to find the secret. With that thought I tried searching the study; and there was the secret, where the professor had hidden it. 
             My next puzzle was this: if they had killed him three days ago, where had they hidden the body all this time? At that, I remembered that, before coming in, I had seen that a lot of snow had been removed by the back door. The snow had probably been taken to keep the body cool. In that case I reckoned that the body must have been packed with snow in the bathtub. When I carefully examined the bath, I found that there was one single bloodstain on it. That bloodstain would probably be blood from the professor’s nose. There must have been more than that; but probably Saito washed it off, pretending to take a cold bath. 
             Finally I considered who could have been the professor’s double. I was sure that the double must be a man who resembled him, and asked if he had relatives. You said there was only your uncle. More than that, you said he was an eccentric who liked using things made of snakeskin or toadskin. That reminded me of the bat’s hair under the professor’s nails. I thought that as it was winter, your uncle might be wearing a muffler made of bats’ skins sewn together. I imagine the professor put up a fight when he strangled him, and in the struggle a bat’s hair got under the professor’s nail. And as it turned out, my conjecture was correct.’ 
             Nobukiyo was released without charge the same day. As Toshio had thought, the lead criminal was Professor Endo’s younger brother. He confessed that he had been paid a large sum by a certain great power to steal the secret of the poison gas. To that end he had bribed the houseboy Saito and killed the professor. As Toshio had suspected, the reason that he had not fled immediately after the murder was that he had not managed to find the secret. Another reason was to cast suspicion on the professor’s son, and so be able to hide safely. 
          And that was how thanks to Toshio the theft of the vital secret of the poison gas was prevented.


1. Todai: Toudai, short for Tokyo Daigaku, one of Japan’s most important universities.

2. Ryokan: a traditional Japanese guest house.

3. Suma, a district in Kobe.

4. A high school or college student from outside Tokyo working as a part time servant in the house where he lodged, typical of Meiji and Taisho Japan.

5. I’ve conjecturally changed the text here. Aozora Bunko’s text has ‘one o’clock’; but that seems to make a discrepancy with ‘one o’clock’ a couple of paragraphs earlier. The second one is not in error, as it’s confirmed later in the story. Of course, the correct time here might be something other than ‘eleven’.

6. (hachi) is the Japanese (Chinese) symbol for eight.

7. Sugamo: a district in northern Tokyo, not far from the university.

8. tsubo: 3.31 square metres.

9. Maruzen: , famous bookshop company and stationer.

10. vagabond: rounin (), a term best known for samurai without a lord.

11. Ote: presumably Otemachi in central Tokyo.

12. Place/business names are sometimes hard to translate, and I'm not confident of my translation here. I’m guessing Tsutaya is the name of a hotel.

13. Japan had phases of increased militarism in the late Meiji period. At the time of the story it had control of Korea and some other non Japanese territory.

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