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The Big Bow Mystery
Israel Zangwill





I


On a memorable morning of early December, London opened its eyes on a
frigid grey mist. There are mornings when King Fog masses his molecules
of carbon in serried squadrons in the city, while he scatters them
tenuously in the suburbs; so that your morning train may bear you from
twilight to darkness. But to-day the enemy's manoeuvring was more
monotonous. From Bow even unto Hammersmith there draggled a dull,
wretched vapour, like the wraith of an impecunious suicide come into a
fortune immediately after the fatal deed. The barometers and thermometers
had sympathetically shared its depression, and their spirits (when they
had any) were low. The cold cut like a many-bladed knife.

Mrs. Drabdump, of 11 Glover Street, Bow, was one of the few persons in
London whom fog did not depress. She went about her work quite as
cheerlessly as usual. She had been among the earliest to be aware of the
enemy's advent, picking out the strands of fog from the coils of darkness
the moment she rolled up her bedroom blind and unveiled the sombre
picture of the winter morning. She knew that the fog had come to stay for
the day at least, and that the gas-bill for the quarter was going to beat
the record in high-jumping. She also knew that this was because she had
allowed her new gentleman lodger, Mr. Arthur Constant, to pay a fixed sum
of a shilling a week for gas, instead of charging him a proportion of the
actual account for the whole house. The meteorologists might have saved
the credit of their science if they had reckoned with Mrs. Drabdump's
next gas-bill when they predicted the weather and made "Snow" the
favourite, and said that "Fog" would be nowhere. Fog was everywhere, yet
Mrs. Drabdump took no credit to herself for her prescience. Mrs. Drabdump
indeed took no credit for anything, paying her way along doggedly, and
struggling through life like a wearied swimmer trying to touch the
horizon. That things always went as badly as she had foreseen did not
exhilarate her in the least.

Mrs. Drabdump was a widow. Widows are not born but made, else you might
have fancied Mrs. Drabdump had always been a widow. Nature had given her
that tall, spare form, and that pale, thin-lipped, elongated, hard-eyed
visage, and that painfully precise hair, which are always associated with
widowhood in low life. It is only in higher circles that women can lose
their husbands and yet remain bewitching. The late Mr. Drabdump had
scratched the base of his thumb with a rusty nail, and Mrs. Drabdump's
foreboding that he would die of lockjaw had not prevented her wrestling
day and night with the shadow of Death, as she had wrestled with it
vainly twice before, when Katie died of diphtheria and little Johnny of
scarlet fever. Perhaps it is from overwork among the poor that Death has
been reduced to a shadow.

Mrs. Drabdump was lighting the kitchen fire. She did it very
scientifically, as knowing the contrariety of coal and the anxiety of
flaming sticks to end in smoke unless rigidly kept up to the mark.
Science was a success as usual; and Mrs. Drabdump rose from her knees
content, like a Parsee priestess who had duly paid her morning devotions
to her deity. Then she started violently, and nearly lost her balance.
Her eye had caught the hands of the clock on the mantel. They pointed to
fifteen minutes to seven. Mrs. Drabdump's devotion to the kitchen fire
invariably terminated at fifteen minutes past six. What was the matter
with the clock?

Mrs. Drabdump had an immediate vision of Snoppet, the neighbouring
horologist, keeping the clock in hand for weeks and then returning it
only superficially repaired and secretly injured more vitally "for the
good of the trade." The evil vision vanished as quickly as it came,
exorcised by the deep boom of St. Dunstan's bells chiming the
three-quarters. In its place a great horror surged. Instinct had failed;
Mrs. Drabdump had risen at half-past six instead of six. Now she
understood why she had been feeling so dazed and strange and sleepy.
She had overslept herself.

Chagrined and puzzled, she hastily set the kettle over the crackling
coal, discovering a second later that she had overslept herself because
Mr. Constant wished to be woke three-quarters of an hour earlier than
usual, and to have his breakfast at seven, having to speak at an early
meeting of discontented tram-men. She ran at once, candle in hand, to his
bedroom. It was upstairs. All "upstairs" was Arthur Constant's domain,
for it consisted of but two mutually independent rooms. Mrs. Drabdump
knocked viciously at the door of the one he used for a bedroom, crying,
"Seven o'clock, sir. You'll be late, sir. You must get up at once." The
usual slumbrous "All right" was not forthcoming; but, as she herself had
varied her morning salute, her ear was less expectant of the echo. She
went downstairs, with no foreboding save that the kettle would come off
second best in the race between its boiling and her lodger's dressing.

For she knew there was no fear of Arthur Constant's lying deaf to
the call of Duty--temporarily represented by Mrs. Drabdump. He was
a light sleeper, and the tram-conductors' bells were probably ringing
in his ears, summoning him to the meeting. Why Arthur Constant,
B.A.--white-handed and white-shirted, and gentleman to the very purse of
him--should concern himself with tram-men, when fortune had confined his
necessary relations with drivers to cabmen at the least, Mrs. Drabdump
could not quite make out. He probably aspired to represent Bow in
Parliament; but then it would surely have been wiser to lodge with a
landlady who possessed a vote by having a husband alive. Nor was there
much practical wisdom in his wish to black his own boots (an occupation
in which he shone but little), and to live in every way like a Bow
working man. Bow working men were not so lavish in their patronage of
water, whether existing in drinking-glasses, morning tubs, or laundress's
establishments. Nor did they eat the delicacies with which Mrs. Drabdump
supplied him, with the assurance that they were the artisan's appanage.
She could not bear to see him eat things unbefitting his station. Arthur
Constant opened his mouth and ate what his landlady gave him, not first
deliberately shutting his eyes according to the formula, the rather
pluming himself on keeping them very wide open. But it is difficult for
saints to see through their own halos; and in practice an aureola about
the head is often indistinguishable from a mist.

The tea to be scalded in Mr. Constant's pot, when that cantankerous
kettle should boil, was not the coarse mixture of black and green sacred
to herself and Mr. Mortlake, of whom the thoughts of breakfast now
reminded her. Poor Mr. Mortlake, gone off without any to Devonport,
somewhere about four in the fog-thickened darkness of a winter night!
Well, she hoped his journey would be duly rewarded, that his perks would
be heavy, and that he would make as good a thing out of the "travelling
expenses" as rival labour leaders roundly accused him of to other
people's faces. She did not grudge him his gains, nor was it her business
if, as they alleged, in introducing Mr. Constant to her vacant rooms, his
idea was not merely to benefit his landlady. He had done her an uncommon
good turn, queer as was the lodger thus introduced. His own apostleship
to the sons of toil gave Mrs. Drabdump no twinges of perplexity. Tom
Mortlake had been a compositor; and apostleship was obviously a
profession better paid and of a higher social status. Tom Mortlake--the
hero of a hundred strikes--set up in print on a poster, was unmistakably
superior to Tom Mortlake setting up other men's names at a case. Still,
the work was not all beer and skittles, and Mrs. Drabdump felt that Tom's
latest job was not enviable.

She shook his door as she passed it on her way back to the kitchen, but
there was no response. The street door was only a few feet off down the
passage, and a glance at it dispelled the last hope that Tom had
abandoned the journey. The door was unbolted and unchained, and the only
security was the latch-key lock. Mrs. Drabdump felt a whit uneasy,
though, to give her her due, she never suffered as much as most good
housewives do from criminals who never come. Not quite opposite, but
still only a few doors off, on the other side of the street, lived the
celebrated ex-detective Grodman, and, illogically enough, his presence in
the street gave Mrs. Drabdump a curious sense of security, as of a
believer living under the shadow of the fane. That any human being of ill
odour should consciously come within a mile of the scent of so famous a
sleuth-hound seemed to her highly improbable. Grodman had retired (with a
competence) and was only a sleeping dog now; still, even criminals would
have sense enough to let him lie.

So Mrs. Drabdump did not really feel that there had been any danger,
especially as a second glance at the street door showed that Mortlake had
been thoughtful enough to slip the loop that held back the bolt of the
big lock. She allowed herself another throb of sympathy for the labour
leader whirling on his dreary way towards Devonport Dockyard. Not that he
had told her anything of his journey, beyond the town; but she knew
Devonport had a Dockyard because Jessie Dymond--Tom's sweetheart--once
mentioned that her aunt lived near there, and it lay on the surface that
Tom had gone to help the dockers, who were imitating their London
brethren. Mrs. Drabdump did not need to be told things to be aware of
them. She went back to prepare Mr. Constant's superfine tea, vaguely
wondering why people were so discontented nowadays. But when she brought
up the tea and the toast and the eggs to Mr. Constant's sitting-room
(which adjoined his bedroom, though without communicating with it), Mr.
Constant was not sitting in it. She lit the gas, and laid the cloth; then
she returned to the landing and beat at the bedroom door with an
imperative palm. Silence alone answered her. She called him by name and
told him the hour, but hers was the only voice she heard, and it sounded
strangely to her in the shadows of the staircase. Then, muttering, "Poor
gentleman, he had the toothache last night; and p'r'aps he's only just
got a wink o' sleep. Pity to disturb him for the sake of them grizzling
conductors. I'll let him sleep his usual time," she bore the tea-pot
downstairs with a mournful, almost poetic, consciousness that soft-boiled
eggs (like love) must grow cold.

Half-past seven came--and she knocked again. But Constant slept on.

His letters, always a strange assortment, arrived at eight, and a
telegram came soon after. Mrs. Drabdump rattled his door, shouted, and at
last put the wire under it. Her heart was beating fast enough now, though
there seemed to be a cold, clammy snake curling round it. She went
downstairs again and turned the handle of Mortlake's room, and went in
without knowing why. The coverlet of the bed showed that the occupant had
only lain down in his clothes, as if fearing to miss the early train. She
had not for a moment expected to find him in the room; yet somehow the
consciousness that she was alone in the house with the sleeping Constant
seemed to flash for the first time upon her, and the clammy snake
tightened its folds round her heart.

She opened the street door, and her eye wandered nervously up and down.
It was half-past eight. The little street stretched cold and still in the
grey mist, blinking bleary eyes at either end, where the street lamps
smouldered on. No one was visible for the moment, though smoke was rising
from many of the chimneys to greet its sister mist. At the house of the
detective across the way the blinds were still down and the shutters up.
Yet the familiar, prosaic aspect of the street calmed her. The bleak air
set her coughing; she slammed the door to, and returned to the kitchen to
make fresh tea for Constant, who could only be in a deep sleep. But the
canister trembled in her grasp. She did not know whether she dropped it
or threw it down, but there was nothing in the hand that battered again
a moment later at the bedroom door. No sound within answered the clamour
without. She rained blow upon blow in a sort of spasm of frenzy, scarce
remembering that her object was merely to wake her lodger, and almost
staving in the lower panels with her kicks. Then she turned the handle
and tried to open the door, but it was locked. The resistance recalled
her to herself--she had a moment of shocked decency at the thought that
she had been about to enter Constant's bedroom. Then the terror came over
her afresh. She felt that she was alone in the house with a corpse. She
sank to the floor, cowering; with difficulty stifling a desire to scream.
Then she rose with a jerk and raced down the stairs without looking
behind her, and threw open the door and ran out into the street, only
pulling up with her hand violently agitating Grodman's door-knocker. In a
moment the first-floor window was raised--the little house was of the
same pattern as her own--and Grodman's full fleshy face loomed through
the fog in sleepy irritation from under a nightcap. Despite its scowl the
ex-detective's face dawned upon her like the sun upon an occupant of the
haunted chamber.

"What in the devil's the matter?" he growled. Grodman was not an early
bird, now that he had no worms to catch. He could afford to despise
proverbs now, for the house in which he lived was his, and he lived in it
because several other houses in the street were also his, and it is well
for the landlord to be about his own estate in Bow, where poachers often
shoot the moon. Perhaps the desire to enjoy his greatness among his early
cronies counted for something, too, for he had been born and bred at Bow,
receiving when a youth his first engagement from the local police
quarters, whence he had drawn a few shillings a week as an amateur
detective in his leisure hours.

Grodman was still a bachelor. In the celestial matrimonial bureau a
partner might have been selected for him, but he had never been able
to discover her. It was his one failure as a detective. He was a
self-sufficing person, who preferred a gas stove to a domestic; but in
deference to Glover Street opinion he admitted a female factotum between
ten A.M. and ten P.M., and, equally in deference to Glover Street
opinion, excluded her between ten P.M. and ten A.M.

"I want you to come across at once," Mrs. Drabdump gasped. "Something has
happened to Mr. Constant."

"What! Not bludgeoned by the police at the meeting this morning, I hope?"

"No, no! He didn't go. He is dead."

"Dead?" Grodman's face grew very serious now.

"Yes. Murdered!"

"What?" almost shouted the ex-detective. "How? When? Where? Who?"

"I don't know. I can't get to him. I have beaten at his door. He does not
answer."

Grodman's face lit up with relief.

"You silly woman! Is that all? I shall have a cold in my head. Bitter
weather. He's dog-tired after yesterday--processions, three speeches,
kindergarten, lecture on 'the moon,' article on cooperation. That's his
style." It was also Grodman's style. He never wasted words.

"No," Mrs. Drabdump breathed up at him solemnly, "he's dead."

"All right; go back. Don't alarm the neighbourhood unnecessarily. Wait
for me. Down in five minutes." Grodman did not take this Cassandra of the
kitchen too seriously. Probably he knew his woman. His small, bead-like
eyes glittered with an almost amused smile as he withdrew them from
Mrs. Drabdump's ken, and shut down the sash with a bang. The poor woman
ran back across the road and through her door, which she would not
close behind her. It seemed to shut her in with the dead. She waited in
the passage. After an age--seven minutes by any honest clock--Grodman
made his appearance, looking as dressed as usual, but with unkempt
hair and with disconsolate side-whisker. He was not quite used to that
side-whisker yet, for it had only recently come within the margin of
cultivation. In active service Grodman had been clean-shaven, like all
members of _the_ profession--for surely your detective is the most
versatile of actors. Mrs. Drabdump closed the street door quietly, and
pointed to the stairs, fear operating like a polite desire to give him
precedence. Grodman ascended, amusement still glimmering in his eyes.
Arrived on the landing he knocked peremptorily at the door, crying, "Nine
o'clock, Mr. Constant; nine o'clock!" When he ceased there was no other
sound or movement. His face grew more serious. He waited, then knocked,
and cried louder. He turned the handle but the door was fast. He tried to
peer through the keyhole, but it was blocked. He shook the upper panels,
but the door seemed bolted as well as locked. He stood still, his face
set and rigid, for he liked and esteemed the man.

"Ay, knock your loudest," whispered the pale-faced woman. "You'll not
wake him now."

The grey mist had followed them through the street door, and hovered
about the staircase, charging the air with a moist sepulchral odour.

"Locked and bolted," muttered Grodman, shaking the door afresh.

"Burst it open," breathed the woman, trembling violently all over, and
holding her hands before her as if to ward off the dreadful vision.
Without another word, Grodman applied his shoulder to the door, and made
a violent muscular effort. He had been an athlete in his time, and the
sap was yet in him. The door creaked, little by little it began to
give, the woodwork enclosing the bolt of the lock splintered, the panels
bent inwards, the large upper bolt tore off its iron staple; the door
flew back with a crash. Grodman rushed in.

"My God!" he cried. The woman shrieked. The sight was too terrible.

       *       *       *       *       *

Within a few hours the jubilant newsboys were shrieking "Horrible Suicide
in Bow," and _The Moon_ poster added, for the satisfaction of those too
poor to purchase, "A Philanthropist Cuts His Throat."




II


But the newspapers were premature. Scotland Yard refused to prejudice the
case despite the penny-a-liners. Several arrests were made, so that the
later editions were compelled to soften "Suicide" into "Mystery." The
people arrested were a nondescript collection of tramps. Most of them had
committed other offences for which the police had not arrested them. One
bewildered-looking gentleman gave himself up (as if he were a riddle),
but the police would have none of him, and restored him forthwith to his
friends and keepers. The number of candidates for each new opening in
Newgate is astonishing.

The full significance of this tragedy of a noble young life cut short
had hardly time to filter into the public mind, when a fresh sensation
absorbed it. Tom Mortlake had been arrested the same day at Liverpool on
suspicion of being concerned in the death of his fellow-lodger. The news
fell like a bombshell upon a land in which Tom Mortlake's name was a
household word. That the gifted artisan orator, who had never shrunk upon
occasion from launching red rhetoric at society, should actually have
shed blood seemed too startling, especially as the blood shed was not
blue, but the property of a lovable young middle-class idealist, who had
now literally given his life to the Cause. But this supplementary
sensation did not grow to a head, and everybody (save a few labour
leaders) was relieved to hear that Tom had been released almost
immediately, being merely subpoenaed to appear at the inquest. In an
interview which he accorded to the representative of a Liverpool paper
the same afternoon, he stated that he put his arrest down entirely to the
enmity and rancour entertained towards him by the police throughout the
country. He had come to Liverpool to trace the movements of a friend
about whom he was very uneasy, and he was making anxious inquiries at the
docks to discover at what times steamers left for America, when the
detectives stationed there had, in accordance with instructions from
headquarters, arrested him as a suspicious-looking character. "Though,"
said Tom, "they must very well have known my phiz, as I have been
sketched and caricatured all over the shop. When I told them who I was
they had the decency to let me go. They thought they'd scored off me
enough, I reckon. Yes, it certainly _is_ a strange coincidence that I
might actually have had something to do with the poor fellow's death,
which has cut me up as much as anybody; though if they had known I had
just come from the 'scene of the crime,' and actually lived in the house,
they would probably have--let me alone." He laughed sarcastically. "They
are a queer lot of muddle-heads, are the police. Their motto is, 'First
catch your man, then cook the evidence.' If you're on the spot you're
guilty because you're there, and if you're elsewhere you're guilty
because you have gone away. Oh, I know them! If they could have seen
their way to clap me in quod, they'd ha' done it. Luckily I know the
number of the cabman who took me to Euston before five this morning."

"If they clapped you in quod," the interviewer reported himself as
facetiously observing, "the prisoners would be on strike in a week."

"Yes, but there would be so many blacklegs ready to take their places,"
Mortlake flashed back, "that I'm afraid it 'ould be no go. But do excuse
me. I am so upset about my friend. I'm afraid he has left England, and I
have to make inquiries; and now there's poor Constant gone--horrible!
horrible! and I'm due in London at the inquest. I must really run away.
Good-by. Tell your readers it's all a police grudge."

"One last word, Mr. Mortlake, if you please. Is it true that you were
billed to preside at a great meeting of clerks at St. James's Hall
between one and two to-day to protest against the German invasion?"

"Whew! so I was. But the beggars arrested me just before one, when I was
going to wire, and then the news of poor Constant's end drove it out of
my head. What a nuisance! Lord, how troubles do come together! Well,
good-by, send me a copy of the paper."

Tom Mortlake's evidence at the inquest added little beyond this to the
public knowledge of his movements on the morning of the Mystery. The
cabman who drove him to Euston had written indignantly to the papers to
say that he picked up his celebrated fare at Bow Railway Station at about
half-past four A.M., and the arrest was a deliberate insult to democracy,
and he offered to make an affidavit to that effect, leaving it dubious to
which effect. But Scotland Yard betrayed no itch for the affidavit in
question, and No. 2138 subsided again into the obscurity of his rank.
Mortlake--whose face was very pale below the black mane brushed back from
his fine forehead--gave his evidence in low, sympathetic tones. He had
known the deceased for over a year, coming constantly across him in their
common political and social work, and had found the furnished rooms for
him in Glover Street at his own request, they just being to let when
Constant resolved to leave his rooms at Oxford House in Bethnal Green,
and to share the actual life of the people. The locality suited the
deceased, as being near the People's Palace. He respected and admired
the deceased, whose genuine goodness had won all hearts. The deceased
was an untiring worker; never grumbled, was always in fair spirits,
regarded his life and wealth as a sacred trust to be used for the benefit
of humanity. He had last seen him at a quarter past nine P.M. on the
day preceding his death. He (witness) had received a letter by the last
post which made him uneasy about a friend. He went up to consult deceased
about it. Deceased was evidently suffering from toothache, and was fixing
a piece of cotton-wool in a hollow tooth, but he did not complain.
Deceased seemed rather upset by the news he brought, and they both
discussed it rather excitedly.

By a JURYMAN: Did the news concern him?

MORTLAKE: Only impersonally. He knew my friend, and was keenly
sympathetic when one was in trouble.

CORONER: Could you show the jury the letter you received?

MORTLAKE: I have mislaid it, and cannot make out where it has got to. If
you, sir, think it relevant or essential, I will state what the trouble
was.

CORONER: Was the toothache very violent?

MORTLAKE: I cannot tell. I think not, though he told me it had disturbed
his rest the night before.

CORONER: What time did you leave him?

MORTLAKE: About twenty to ten.

CORONER: And what did you do then?

MORTLAKE: I went out for an hour or so to make some inquiries. Then I
returned, and told my landlady I should be leaving by an early train
for--for the country.

CORONER: And that was the last you saw of the deceased?

MORTLAKE (with emotion): The last.

CORONER: How was he when you left him?

MORTLAKE: Mainly concerned about my trouble.

CORONER: Otherwise you saw nothing unusual about him?

MORTLAKE: Nothing.

CORONER: What time did you leave the house on Tuesday morning?

MORTLAKE: At about five-and-twenty minutes past four.

CORONER: Are you sure that you shut the street door?

MORTLAKE: Quite sure. Knowing my landlady was rather a timid person, I
even slipped the bolt of the big lock, which was usually tied back. It
was impossible for any one to get in, even with a latch-key.

Mrs. Drabdump's evidence (which, of course, preceded his) was more
important, and occupied a considerable time, unduly eked out by
Drabdumpian padding. Thus she not only deposed that Mr. Constant had the
toothache, but that it was going to last about a week; in tragi-comic
indifference to the radical cure that had been effected. Her account of
the last hours of the deceased tallied with Mortlake's, only that she
feared Mortlake was quarrelling with him over something in the letter
that came by the nine o'clock post. Deceased had left the house a little
after Mortlake, but had returned before him, and had gone straight to
his bedroom. She had not actually seen him come in, having been in the
kitchen, but she heard his latch-key, followed by his light step up the
stairs.

A JURYMAN: How do you know it was not somebody else? (_Sensation, of
which the juryman tries to look unconscious_.)

WITNESS: He called down to me over the banisters, and says in his
sweetish voice, "Be hextra sure to wake me at a quarter to seven, Mrs.
Drabdump, or else I shan't get to my tram meeting." (_Juryman
collapses_.)

CORONER: And did you wake him?

MRS. DRABDUMP (breaking down): Oh, my lud, how can you ask?

CORONER: There, there, compose yourself. I mean did you try to wake him?

MRS. DRABDUMP: I have taken in and done for lodgers this seventeen years,
my lud, and have always gave satisfaction; and Mr. Mortlake, he wouldn't
ha' recommended me otherwise, though I wish to Heaven the poor gentleman
had never--

CORONER: Yes, yes, of course. You tried to rouse him?

But it was some time before Mrs. Drabdump was sufficiently calm to
explain that, though she had overslept herself, and though it would have
been all the same anyhow, she _had_ come up to time. Bit by bit the
tragic story was forced from her lips--a tragedy that even her telling
could not make tawdry. She told with superfluous detail how--when Mr.
Grodman broke in the door--she saw her unhappy gentleman-lodger lying on
his back in bed, stone dead, with a gaping red wound in his throat; how
her stronger-minded companion calmed her a little by spreading a
handkerchief over the distorted face; how they then looked vainly about
and under the bed for any instrument by which the deed could have been
done, the veteran detective carefully making a rapid inventory of the
contents of the room, and taking notes of the precise position and
condition of the body before anything was disturbed by the arrival of
gapers or bunglers; how she had pointed out to him that both the windows
were firmly bolted to keep out the cold night air; how, having noted this
down with a puzzled, pitying shake of the head, he had opened the window
to summon the police, and espied in the fog one Denzil Cantercot, whom he
called, and told to run to the nearest police-station and ask them to
send on an inspector and a surgeon; how they both remained in the room
till the police arrived, Grodman pondering deeply the while and making
notes every now and again, as fresh points occurred to him, and asking
her questions about the poor, weak-headed young man. Pressed as to what
she meant by calling the deceased "weak-headed," she replied that some of
her neighbours wrote him begging letters, though, Heaven knew, they were
better off than herself, who had to scrape her fingers to the bone for
every penny she earned. Under further pressure from Mr. Talbot, who was
watching the inquiry on behalf of Arthur Constant's family, Mrs. Drabdump
admitted that the deceased had behaved like a human being, nor was there
anything externally eccentric or queer in his conduct. He was always
cheerful and pleasant spoken, though certainly soft--God rest his soul.
No; he never shaved, but wore all the hair that Heaven had given him.

By a JURYMAN: She thought deceased was in the habit of locking his door
when he went to bed. Of course, she couldn't say for certain. (Laughter.)
There was no need to bolt the door as well. The bolt slid upwards, and
was at the top of the door. When she first let lodgings, her reasons for
which she seemed anxious to publish, there had only been a bolt, but a
suspicious lodger, she would not call him a gentleman, had complained
that he could not fasten his door behind him, and so she had been put to
the expense of having a lock made. The complaining lodger went off soon
after without paying his rent. (Laughter.) She had always known he would.

The CORONER: Was deceased at all nervous?

WITNESS: No, he was a very nice gentleman. (A laugh.)

CORONER: I mean did he seem afraid of being robbed?

WITNESS: No, he was always goin' to demonstrations. (Laughter.) I told
him to be careful. I told him I lost a purse with 3s. 2d. myself on
Jubilee Day.

Mrs. Drabdump resumed her seat, weeping vaguely.

The CORONER: Gentlemen, we shall have an opportunity of viewing the room
shortly.

The story of the discovery of the body was retold, though more
scientifically, by Mr. George Grodman, whose unexpected resurgence into
the realm of his early exploits excited as keen a curiosity as the
reappearance "for this occasion only" of a retired prima donna. His
book, _Criminals I have Caught_, passed from the twenty-third to the
twenty-fourth edition merely on the strength of it. Mr. Grodman stated
that the body was still warm when he found it. He thought that death was
quite recent. The door he had had to burst was bolted as well as locked.
He confirmed Mrs. Drabdump's statement about the windows; the chimney
was very narrow. The cut looked as if done by a razor. There was no
instrument lying about the room. He had known the deceased about a month.
He seemed a very earnest, simple-minded young fellow, who spoke a great
deal about the brotherhood of man. (The hardened old man-hunter's voice
was not free from a tremor as he spoke jerkily of the dead man's
enthusiasms.) He should have thought the deceased the last man in the
world to commit suicide.

Mr. DENZIL CANTERCOT was next called: He was a poet. (Laughter.) He was
on his way to Mr. Grodman's house to tell him he had been unable to do
some writing for him because he was suffering from writer's cramp, when
Mr. Grodman called to him from the window of No. 11 and asked him to run
for the police. No, he did not run; he was a philosopher. (Laughter.) He
returned with them to the door, but did not go up. He had no stomach for
crude sensations. (Laughter.) The grey fog was sufficiently unbeautiful
for him for one morning. (Laughter.)

Inspector HOWLETT said: About 9.45 on the morning of Tuesday, 4th
December, from information received, he went with Sergeant Runnymede
and Dr. Robinson to 11 Glover Street, Bow, and there found the dead body
of a young man, lying on his back with his throat cut. The door of the
room had been smashed in, and the lock and the bolt evidently forced. The
room was tidy. There were no marks of blood on the floor. A purse full of
gold was on the dressing-table beside a big book. A hip-bath, with cold
water, stood beside the bed, over which was a hanging bookcase. There was
a large wardrobe against the wall next to the door. The chimney was very
narrow. There were two windows, one bolted. It was about eighteen feet to
the pavement. There was no way of climbing up. No one could possibly have
got out of the room, and then bolted the doors and windows behind him;
and he had searched all parts of the room in which any one might have
been concealed. He had been unable to find any instrument in the room in
spite of exhaustive search, there being not even a penknife in the
pockets of the clothes of the deceased, which lay on a chair. The house
and the back yard, and the adjacent pavement, had also been fruitlessly
searched.

Sergeant RUNNYMEDE made an identical statement, saving only that _he_ had
gone with Dr. Robinson and Inspector Howlett.

Dr. ROBINSON, divisional surgeon, said: "The deceased was lying on his
back, with his throat cut. The body was not yet cold, the abdominal
region being quite warm. Rigor mortis had set in in the lower jaw, neck,
and upper extremities. The muscles contracted when beaten. I inferred
that life had been extinct some two or three hours, probably not longer,
it might have been less. The bed-clothes would keep the lower part warm
for some time. The wound, which was a deep one, was five and a half
inches from right to left across the throat to a point under the left
ear. The upper portion of the windpipe was severed, and likewise the
jugular vein. The muscular coating of the carotid artery was divided.
There was a slight cut, as if in continuation of the wound, on the thumb
of the left hand. The hands were clasped underneath the head. There was
no blood on the right hand. The wound could not have been self-inflicted.
A sharp instrument had been used, such as a razor. The cut might have
been made by a left-handed person. No doubt death was practically
instantaneous. I saw no signs of a struggle about the body or the room.
I noticed a purse on the dressing-table, lying next to Madame Blavatsky's
big book on Theosophy. Sergeant Runnymede drew my attention to the fact
that the door had evidently been locked and bolted from within."

By a JURYMAN: I do not say the cuts could not have been made by a
right-handed person. I can offer no suggestion as to how the inflictor
of the wound got in or out. Extremely improbable that the cut was
self-inflicted. There was little trace of the outside fog in the room.

Police constable Williams said he was on duty in the early hours of the
morning of the 4th inst. Glover Street lay within his beat. He saw or
heard nothing suspicious. The fog was never very dense, though nasty to
the throat. He had passed through Glover Street about half-past four. He
had not seen Mr. Mortlake or anybody else leave the house.

The Court here adjourned, the coroner and the jury repairing in a body to
11 Glover Street, to view the house and the bedroom of the deceased. And
the evening posters announced "The Bow Mystery Thickens."




III


Before the inquiry was resumed, all the poor wretches in custody had been
released on suspicion that they were innocent; there was not a single
case even for a magistrate. Clues, which at such seasons are gathered by
the police like blackberries off the hedges, were scanty and unripe.
Inferior specimens were offered them by bushels, but there was not a
good one among the lot. The police could not even manufacture a clue.

Arthur Constant's death was already the theme of every hearth,
railway-carriage, and public-house. The dead idealist had points
of contact with so many spheres. The East-end and the West-end alike
were moved and excited, the Democratic Leagues and the Churches, the
Doss-houses and the Universities. The pity of it! And then the
impenetrable mystery of it!

The evidence given in the concluding portion of the investigation was
necessarily less sensational. There were no more witnesses to bring the
scent of blood over the coroner's table; those who had yet to be heard
were merely relatives and friends of the deceased, who spoke of him as he
had been in life. His parents were dead, perhaps happily for them; his
relatives had seen little of him, and had scarce heard as much about him
as the outside world. No man is a prophet in his own country, and, even
if he migrates, it is advisable for him to leave his family at home. His
friends were a motley crew; friends of the same friend are not
necessarily friends of one another. But their diversity only made the
congruity of the tale they had to tell more striking. It was the tale of
a man who had never made an enemy even by benefiting him, nor lost a
friend even by refusing his favours; the tale of a man whose heart
overflowed with peace and goodwill to all men all the year round; of a
man to whom Christmas came not once, but three hundred and sixty-five
times a year; it was the tale of a brilliant intellect, who gave up to
mankind what was meant for himself, and worked as a labourer in the
vineyard of humanity, never crying that the grapes were sour; of a man
uniformly cheerful and of good courage, living in that forgetfulness of
self which is the truest antidote to despair. And yet there was not quite
wanting the note of pain to jar the harmony and make it human. Richard
Elton, his chum from boyhood, and vicar of Somerton, in Midlandshire,
handed to the coroner a letter received from the deceased about ten
days before his death, containing some passages which the coroner read
aloud:--"Do you know anything of Schopenhauer? I mean anything beyond the
current misconceptions? I have been making his acquaintance lately. He is
an agreeable rattle of a pessimist; his essay on 'The Misery of Mankind'
is quite lively reading. At first his assimilation of Christianity and
Pessimism (it occurs in his essay on 'Suicide') dazzled me as an
audacious paradox. But there is truth in it. Verily the whole creation
groaneth and travaileth, and man is a degraded monster, and sin is over
all. Ah, my friend, I have shed many of my illusions since I came to this
seething hive of misery and wrongdoing. What shall one man's life--a
million men's lives--avail against the corruption, the vulgarity, and the
squalor of civilisation? Sometimes I feel like a farthing rushlight in
the Hall of Eblis. Selfishness is so long and life so short. And the
worst of it is that everybody is so beastly contented. The poor no more
desire comfort than the rich culture. The woman, to whom a penny school
fee for her child represents an appreciable slice of her income, is
satisfied that the rich we shall always have with us.

"The real old Tories are the paupers in the Workhouse. The radical
working men are jealous of their own leaders, and the leaders are jealous
of one another. Schopenhauer must have organised a Labour Party in his
salad days. And yet one can't help feeling that he committed suicide as a
philosopher by not committing it as a man. He claims kinship with Buddha,
too; though Esoteric Buddhism at least seems spheres removed from the
philosophy of 'the Will and the Idea.' What a wonderful woman Madame
Blavatsky must be! I can't say I follow her, for she is up in the clouds
nearly all the time, and I haven't as yet developed an astral body. Shall
I send you on her book? It is fascinating.... I am becoming quite a
fluent orator. One soon gets into the way of it. The horrible thing is
that you catch yourself saying things to lead up to 'Cheers' instead of
sticking to the plain realities of the business. Lucy is still doing the
galleries in Italy. It used to pain me sometimes to think of my darling's
happiness when I came across a flat-chested factory-girl. Now I feel her
happiness is as important as a factory-girl's."

Lucy, the witness explained, was Lucy Brent, the betrothed of the
deceased. The poor girl had been telegraphed for, and had started for
England. The witness stated that the outburst of despondency in this
letter was almost a solitary one, most of the letters in his possession
being bright, buoyant, and hopeful. Even this letter ended with a
humorous statement of the writer's manifold plans and projects for the
New Year. The deceased was a good Churchman.

CORONER: Was there any private trouble in his own life to account for the
temporary despondency?

WITNESS: Not so far as I am aware. His financial position was
exceptionally favourable.

CORONER: There had been no quarrel with Miss Brent?

WITNESS: I have the best authority for saying that no shadow of
difference had ever come between them.

CORONER: Was the deceased left-handed?

WITNESS: Certainly not. He was not even ambidexter.

A JURYMAN: Isn't Shoppinhour one of the infidel writers, published by the
Freethought Publication Society?

WITNESS: I do not know who publishes his books.

The JURYMAN (a small grocer and big raw-boned Scotchman, rejoicing in the
name of Sandy Sanderson and the dignities of deaconry and membership of
the committee of the Bow Conservative Association): No equeevocation,
sir. Is he not a secularist, who has lectured at the Hall of Science?

WITNESS: No, he is a foreign writer--(Mr. Sanderson was heard to thank
heaven for this small mercy)--who believes that life is not worth living.

The JURYMAN: Were you not shocked to find the friend of a meenister
reading such impure leeterature?

WITNESS: The deceased read everything. Schopenhauer is the author of a
system of philosophy, and not what you seem to imagine. Perhaps you
would like to inspect the book? (Laughter.)

The JURYMAN: I would na' touch it with a pitchfork. Such books should be
burnt. And this Madame Blavatsky's book--what is that? Is that also
pheelosophy?

WITNESS: No. It is Theosophy. (Laughter.)

Mr. Allan Smith, secretary of the Tram-men's Union, stated that he had
had an interview with the deceased on the day before his death, when he
(the deceased) spoke hopefully of the prospects of the movement, and
wrote him out a check for ten guineas for his Union. Deceased promised to
speak at a meeting called for a quarter past seven A.M. the next day.

Mr. Edward Wimp, of the Scotland Yard Detective Department, said that the
letters and papers of the deceased threw no light upon the manner of his
death, and they would be handed back to the family. His Department had
not formed any theory on the subject.

The coroner proceeded to sum up the evidence. "We have to deal,
gentlemen," he said, "with a most incomprehensible and mysterious case,
the details of which are yet astonishingly simple. On the morning of
Tuesday, the 4th inst., Mrs. Drabdump, a worthy hard-working widow, who
lets lodgings at 11 Glover Street, Bow, was unable to arouse the
deceased, who occupied the entire upper floor of the house. Becoming
alarmed, she went across to fetch Mr. George Grodman, a gentleman known
to us all by reputation, and to whose clear and scientific evidence we
are much indebted, and got him to batter in the door. They found the
deceased lying back in bed with a deep wound in his throat. Life had only
recently become extinct. There was no trace of any instrument by which
the cut could have been effected: there was no trace of any person who
could have effected the cut. No person could apparently have got in or
out. The medical evidence goes to show that the deceased could not have
inflicted the wound himself. And yet, gentlemen, there are, in the nature
of things, two--and only two--alternative explanations of his death.
Either the wound was inflicted by his own hand, or it was inflicted by
another's. I shall take each of these possibilities separately. First,
did the deceased commit suicide? The medical evidence says deceased was
lying with his hands clasped behind his head. Now the wound was made from
right to left, and terminated by a cut on the left thumb. If the deceased
had made it he would have had to do it with his right hand, while his
left hand remained under his head--a most peculiar and unnatural position
to assume. Moreover, in making a cut with the right hand, one would
naturally move the hand from left to right. It is unlikely that the
deceased would move his right hand so awkwardly and unnaturally, unless,
of course, his object was to baffle suspicion. Another point is that on
this hypothesis, the deceased would have had to replace his right hand
beneath his head. But Dr. Robinson believes that death was instantaneous.
If so, deceased could have had no time to pose so neatly. It is just
possible the cut was made with the left hand, but then the deceased was
right-handed. The absence of any signs of a possible weapon undoubtedly
goes to corroborate the medical evidence. The police have made an
exhaustive search in all places where the razor or other weapon or
instrument might by any possibility have been concealed, including the
bed-clothes, the mattress, the pillow, and the street into which it might
have been dropped. But all theories involving the wilful concealment of
the fatal instrument have to reckon with the fact or probability that
death was instantaneous, also with the fact that there was no blood about
the floor. Finally, the instrument used was in all likelihood a razor,
and the deceased did not shave, and was never known to be in possession
of any such instrument. If, then, we were to confine ourselves to the
medical and police evidence, there would, I think, be little hesitation
in dismissing the idea of suicide. Nevertheless, it is well to forget the
physical aspect of the case for a moment and to apply our minds to an
unprejudiced inquiry into the mental aspect of it. Was there any reason
why the deceased should wish to take his own life? He was young, wealthy,
and popular, loving and loved; life stretched fair before him. He had no
vices. Plain living, high thinking, and noble doing were the three
guiding stars of his life. If he had had ambition, an illustrious public
career was within his reach. He was an orator of no mean power, a
brilliant and industrious man. His outlook was always on the future--he
was always sketching out ways in which he could be useful to his
fellow-men. His purse and his time were ever at the command of whosoever
could show fair claim upon them. If such a man were likely to end his own
life, the science of human nature would be at an end. Still, some of the
shadows of the picture have been presented to us. The man had his moments
of despondency--as which of us has not? But they seem to have been few
and passing. Anyhow, he was cheerful enough on the day before his death.
He was suffering, too, from toothache. But it does not seem to have been
violent, nor did he complain. Possibly, of course, the pain became very
acute in the night. Nor must we forget that he may have overworked
himself, and got his nerves into a morbid state. He worked very hard,
never rising later than half-past seven, and doing far more than the
professional 'labour leader.' He taught, and wrote, as well as spoke and
organised. But on the other hand all witnesses agreed that he was looking
forward eagerly to the meeting of tram-men on the morning of the 4th
inst. His whole heart was in the movement. Is it likely that this was the
night he would choose for quitting the scene of his usefulness? Is it
likely that if he had chosen it, he would not have left letters and a
statement behind, or made a last will and testament? Mr. Wimp has found
no possible clue to such conduct in his papers. Or is it likely he would
have concealed the instrument? The only positive sign of intention is the
bolting of his door in addition to the usual locking of it, but one
cannot lay much stress on that. Regarding the mental aspects alone, the
balance is largely against suicide; looking at the physical aspects,
suicide is well-nigh impossible. Putting the two together, the case
against suicide is all but mathematically complete. The answer, then, to
our first question, Did the deceased commit suicide? is, that he did
not."

The coroner paused, and everybody drew a long breath. The lucid
exposition had been followed with admiration. If the coroner had stopped
now, the jury would have unhesitatingly returned a verdict of "murder."
But the coroner swallowed a mouthful of water and went on:--

"We now come to the second alternative--was the deceased the victim of
homicide? In order to answer that question in the affirmative it is
essential that we should be able to form some conception of the modus
operandi. It is all very well for Dr. Robinson to say the cut was made by
another hand; but in the absence of any theory as to how the cut could
possibly have been made by that other hand, we should be driven back to
the theory of self-infliction, however improbable it may seem to medical
gentlemen. Now, what are the facts? When Mrs. Drabdump and Mr. Grodman
found the body it was yet warm, and Mr. Grodman, a witness fortunately
qualified by special experience, states that death had been quite recent.
This tallies closely enough with the view of Dr. Robinson, who, examining
the body about an hour later, put the time of death at two or three hours
before, say seven o'clock. Mrs. Drabdump had attempted to wake the
deceased at a quarter to seven, which would put back the act to a little
earlier. As I understand from Dr. Robinson, that it is impossible to fix
the time very precisely, death may have very well taken place several
hours before Mrs. Drabdump's first attempt to wake deceased. Of course,
it may have taken place between the first and second calls, as he may
merely have been sound asleep at first; it may also not impossibly have
taken place considerably earlier than the first call, for all the
physical data seem to prove. Nevertheless, on the whole, I think we shall
be least likely to err if we assume the time of death to be half-past
six. Gentlemen, let us picture to ourselves No. 11 Glover Street, at
half-past six. We have seen the house; we know exactly how it is
constructed. On the ground floor a front room tenanted by Mr. Mortlake,
with two windows giving on the street, both securely bolted; a back room
occupied by the landlady; and a kitchen. Mrs. Drabdump did not leave her
bedroom till half-past six, so that we may be sure all the various doors
and windows have not yet been unfastened; while the season of the year is
a guarantee that nothing had been left open. The front door, through
which Mr. Mortlake has gone out before half-past four, is guarded by the
latch-key lock and the big lock. On the upper floor are two rooms--a
front room used by deceased for a bedroom, and a back room which he used
as a sitting-room. The back room has been left open, with the key inside,
but the window is fastened. The door of the front room is not only locked
but bolted. We have seen the splintered mortice and the staple of the
upper bolt violently forced from the woodwork and resting on the pin. The
windows are bolted, the fasteners being firmly fixed in the catches. The
chimney is too narrow to admit of the passage of even a child. This room,
in fact, is as firmly barred in as if besieged. It has no communication
with any other part of the house. It is as absolutely self-centred and
isolated as if it were a fort in the sea or a log-hut in the forest. Even
if any strange person is in the house, nay, in the very sitting-room of
the deceased, he cannot get into the bedroom, for the house is one built
for the poor, with no communication between the different rooms, so that
separate families, if need be, may inhabit each. Now, however, let us
grant that some person has achieved the miracle of getting into the front
room, first floor, 18 feet from the ground. At half-past six, or
thereabouts, he cuts the throat of the sleeping occupant. How is he then
to get out without attracting the attention of the now roused landlady?
But let us concede him that miracle, too. How is he to go away and yet
leave the doors and windows locked and bolted from within? This is a
degree of miracle at which my credulity must draw the line. No, the room
had been closed all night--there is scarce a trace of fog in it. No one
could get in or out. Finally, murders do not take place without motive.
Robbery and revenge are the only conceivable motives. The deceased had
not an enemy in the world; his money and valuables were left untouched.
Everything was in order. There were no signs of a struggle. The answer,
then, to our second inquiry, Was the deceased killed by another person?
is, that he was not.

"Gentlemen, I am aware that this sounds impossible and contradictory.
But it is the facts that contradict themselves. It seems clear that the
deceased did not commit suicide. It seems equally clear that the deceased
was not murdered. There is nothing for it, therefore, gentlemen, but to
return a verdict tantamount to an acknowledgment of our incompetence to
come to any adequately grounded conviction whatever as to the means or
the manner by which the deceased met his death. It is the most
inexplicable mystery in all my experience." (Sensation.)

The FOREMAN (after a colloquy with Mr. Sandy Sanderson): We are not
agreed, sir. One of the jurors insists on a verdict of "Death from
visitation by the act of God."




IV


But Sandy Sanderson's burning solicitude to fix the crime flickered
out in the face of opposition, and in the end he bowed his head to the
inevitable "open verdict." Then the floodgates of inkland were opened,
and the deluge pattered for nine days on the deaf coffin where the poor
idealist mouldered. The tongues of the Press were loosened, and the
leader-writers revelled in recapitulating the circumstances of "The
Big Bow Mystery," though they could contribute nothing but adjectives
to the solution. The papers teemed with letters--it was a kind of Indian
summer of the silly season. But the editors could not keep them out, nor
cared to. The mystery was the one topic of conversation everywhere--it
was on the carpet and the bare boards alike, in the kitchen and the
drawing-room. It was discussed with science or stupidity, with aspirates
or without. It came up for breakfast with the rolls, and was swept off
the supper-table with the last crumbs.

No. 11 Glover Street, Bow, remained for days a shrine of pilgrimage. The
once sleepy little street buzzed from morning till night. From all parts
of the town people came to stare up at the bedroom window and wonder with
a foolish face of horror. The pavement was often blocked for hours
together, and itinerant vendors of refreshment made it a new market
centre, while vocalists hastened thither to sing the delectable ditty of
the deed without having any voice in the matter. It was a pity the
Government did not erect a toll-gate at either end of the street. But
Chancellors of the Exchequer rarely avail themselves of the more obvious
expedients for paying off the National Debt.

Finally, familiarity bred contempt, and the wits grew facetious at the
expense of the Mystery. Jokes on the subject appeared even in the comic
papers.

To the proverb, "You must not say Bo to a goose," one added, "or else she
will explain you the Mystery." The name of the gentleman who asked
whether the Bow Mystery was not 'arrowing shall not be divulged. There
was more point in "Dagonet's" remark that, if he had been one of the
unhappy jurymen, he should have been driven to "suicide." A professional
paradox-monger pointed triumphantly to the somewhat similar situation in
"the murder in the Rue Morgue," and said that Nature had been
plagiarising again--like the monkey she was--and he recommended Poe's
publishers to apply for an injunction. More seriously, Poe's solution
was re-suggested by "Constant Reader" as an original idea. He thought
that a small organ-grinder's monkey might have got down the chimney with
its master's razor, and, after attempting to shave the occupant of the
bed, have returned the way it came. This idea created considerable
sensation, but a correspondent with a long train of letters draggling
after his name pointed out that a monkey small enough to get down so
narrow a flue would not be strong enough to inflict so deep a wound. This
was disputed by a third writer, and the contest raged so keenly about the
power of monkeys' muscles that it was almost taken for granted that a
monkey was the guilty party. The bubble was pricked by the pen of "Common
Sense," who laconically remarked that no traces of soot or blood had been
discovered on the floor, or on the nightshirt, or the counterpane. The
_Lancet's_ leader on the Mystery was awaited with interest. It said: "We
cannot join in the praises that have been showered upon the coroner's
summing up. It shows again the evils resulting from having coroners who
are not medical men. He seems to have appreciated but inadequately the
significance of the medical evidence. He should certainly have directed
the jury to return a verdict of murder on that. What was it to do with
him that he could see no way by which the wound could have been inflicted
by an outside agency? It was for the police to find how that was done.
Enough that it was impossible for the unhappy young man to have inflicted
such a wound, and then to have strength and will power enough to hide the
instrument and to remove perfectly every trace of his having left the bed
for the purpose." It is impossible to enumerate all the theories
propounded by the amateur detectives, while Scotland Yard religiously
held its tongue. Ultimately the interest on the subject became confined
to a few papers which had received the best letters. Those papers that
couldn't get interesting letters stopped the correspondence and sneered
at the "sensationalism" of those that could. Among the mass of fantasy
there were not a few notable solutions, which failed brilliantly, like
rockets posing as fixed stars. One was that in the obscurity of the fog
the murderer had ascended to the window of the bedroom by means of a
ladder from the pavement. He had then with a diamond cut one of the panes
away, and effected an entry through the aperture. On leaving he fixed in
the pane of glass again (or another which he had brought with him) and
thus the room remained with its bolts and locks untouched. On its being
pointed out that the panes were too small, a third correspondent showed
that that didn't matter, as it was only necessary to insert the hand and
undo the fastening, when the entire window could be opened, the process
being reversed by the murderer on leaving. This pretty edifice of glass
was smashed by a glazier, who wrote to say that a pane could hardly be
fixed in from only one side of a window frame, that it would fall out
when touched, and that in any case the wet putty could not have escaped
detection. A door panel sliced out and replaced was also put forward, and
as many trap-doors and secret passages were ascribed to No. 11 Glover
Street, as if it were a mediśval castle. Another of these clever theories
was that the murderer was in the room the whole time the police were
there--hidden in the wardrobe. Or he had got behind the door when Grodman
broke it open, so that he was not noticed in the excitement of the
discovery, and escaped with his weapon at the moment when Grodman and
Mrs. Drabdump were examining the window fastenings.

Scientific explanations also were to hand to explain how the assassin
locked and bolted the door behind him. Powerful magnets outside the door
had been used to turn the key and push the bolt within. Murderers armed
with magnets loomed on the popular imagination like a new microbe. There
was only one defect in this ingenious theory--the thing could not be
done. A physiologist recalled the conjurers who swallow swords--by an
anatomical peculiarity of the throat--and said that the deceased might
have swallowed the weapon after cutting his own throat. This was too much
for the public to swallow. As for the idea that the suicide had been
effected with a penknife or its blade, or a bit of steel, which had then
got buried in the wound, not even the quotation of Shelley's line:--

  "Makes such a wound, the knife is lost in it,"

could secure it a moment's acceptance. The same reception was accorded
to the idea that the cut had been made with a candle-stick (or other
harmless necessary bedroom article) constructed like a sword stick.
Theories of this sort caused a humorist to explain that the deceased had
hidden the razor in his hollow tooth! Some kind friend of Messrs.
Maskelyne and Cook suggested that they were the only persons who could
have done the deed, as no one else could get out of a locked cabinet. But
perhaps the most brilliant of these flashes of false fire was the
facetious, yet probably half-seriously meant letter that appeared in the
_Pell Mell Press_ under the heading of

  "THE BIG BOW MYSTERY SOLVED

  "Sir,--You will remember that when the Whitechapel murders were
  agitating the universe, I suggested that the district coroner was the
  assassin. My suggestion has been disregarded. The coroner is still at
  large. So is the Whitechapel murderer. Perhaps this suggestive
  coincidence will incline the authorities to pay more attention to me
  this time. The problem seems to be this. The deceased could not have
  cut his own throat. The deceased could not have had his throat cut for
  him. As one of the two must have happened, this is obvious nonsense. As
  this is obvious nonsense I am justified in disbelieving it. As this
  obvious nonsense was primarily put in circulation by Mrs. Drabdump and
  Mr. Grodman, I am justified in disbelieving _them_. In short, sir, what
  guarantee have we that the whole tale is not a cock-and-bull story,
  invented by the two persons who first found the body? What proof is
  there that the deed was not done by these persons themselves, who then
  went to work to smash the door and break the locks and the bolts, and
  fasten up all the windows before they called the police in?--I enclose
  my card, and am, sir, yours truly,

  "ONE WHO LOOKS THROUGH HIS OWN SPECTACLES."

"[Our correspondent's theory is not so audaciously original as he seems
to imagine. Has he not looked through the spectacles of the people who
persistently suggested that the Whitechapel murderer was invariably
the policeman who found the body? _Somebody_ must find the body, if it is
to be found at all.--Ed. P.M.P.]"

The editor had reason to be pleased that he inserted this letter, for it
drew the following interesting communication from the great detective
himself:--

  "THE BIG BOW MYSTERY SOLVED

  "Sir,--I do not agree with you that your correspondent's theory lacks
  originality. On the contrary, I think it is delightfully original. In
  fact it has given me an idea. What that idea is I do not yet propose to
  say, but if 'One who looks through his own spectacles' will favour me
  with his name and address I shall be happy to inform him a little
  before the rest of the world whether his germ has borne any fruit.
  I feel he is a kindred spirit, and take this opportunity of saying
  publicly that I was extremely disappointed at the unsatisfactory
  verdict. The thing was a palpable assassination; an open verdict has a
  tendency to relax the exertions of Scotland Yard. I hope I shall not be
  accused of immodesty, or of making personal reflections, when I say
  that the Department has had several notorious failures of late. It is
  not what it used to be. Crime is becoming impertinent. It no longer
  knows its place, so to speak. It throws down the gauntlet where once it
  used to cower in its fastnesses. I repeat, I make these remarks solely
  in the interest of law and order. I do not for one moment believe that
  Arthur Constant killed himself, and if Scotland Yard satisfies itself
  with that explanation, and turns on its other side and goes to sleep
  again, then, sir, one of the foulest and most horrible crimes of the
  century will for ever go unpunished. My acquaintance with the unhappy
  victim was but recent; still, I saw and knew enough of the man to be
  certain (and I hope I have seen and known enough of other men to judge)
  that he was a man constitutionally incapable of committing an act of
  violence, whether against himself or anybody else. He would not hurt a
  fly, as the saying goes. And a man of that gentle stamp always lacks
  the active energy to lay hands on himself. He was a man to be esteemed
  in no common degree, and I feel proud to be able to say that he
  considered me a friend. I am hardly at the time of life at which a man
  cares to put on his harness again; but, sir, it is impossible that I
  should ever know a day's rest till the perpetrator of this foul deed is
  discovered. I have already put myself in communication with the family
  of the victim, who, I am pleased to say, have every confidence in me,
  and look to me to clear the name of their unhappy relative from the
  semi-imputation of suicide. I shall be pleased if any one who shares my
  distrust of the authorities, and who has any clue whatever to this
  terrible mystery or any plausible suggestion to offer, if, in brief,
  any 'One who looks through his own spectacles' will communicate with
  me. If I were asked to indicate the direction in which new clues might
  be most usefully sought, I should say, in the first instance, anything
  is valuable that helps us to piece together a complete picture of the
  manifold activities of the man in the East-end. He entered one way or
  another into the lives of a good many people; is it true that he
  nowhere made enemies? With the best intentions a man may wound or
  offend; his interference may be resented; he may even excite jealousy.
  A young man like the late Mr. Constant could not have had as much
  practical sagacity as he had goodness. Whose corns did he tread on? The
  more we know of the last few months of his life the more we shall know
  of the manner of his death. Thanking you by anticipation for the
  insertion of this letter in your valuable columns, I am, sir, yours
  truly,

  "George Grodman.

  "46 Glover Street, Bow.

  "P. S.--Since writing the above lines, I have, by the kindness of Miss
  Brent, been placed in possession of a most valuable letter, probably
  the last letter written by the unhappy gentleman. It is dated Monday,
  3 December, the very eve of the murder, and was addressed to her at
  Florence, and has now, after some delay, followed her back to London
  where the sad news unexpectedly brought her. It is a letter couched,
  on the whole, in the most hopeful spirit, and speaks in detail of his
  schemes. Of course there are things in it not meant for the ears of
  the public, but there can be no harm in transcribing an important
  passage:--

  "'You seem to have imbibed the idea that the East-end is a kind of
  Golgotha, and this despite that the books out of which you probably got
  it are carefully labelled "Fiction." Lamb says somewhere that we think
  of the "Dark Ages" as literally without sunlight, and so I fancy people
  like you, dear, think of the "East-end" as a mixture of mire, misery,
  and murder. How's that for alliteration? Why, within five minutes' walk
  of me there are the loveliest houses, with gardens back and front,
  inhabited by very fine people and furniture. Many of my university
  friends' mouths would water if they knew the income of some of the
  shopkeepers in the High Road.

  "'The rich people about here may not be so fashionable as those in
  Kensington and Bayswater, but they are every bit as stupid and
  materialistic. I don't deny, Lucy, I _do_ have my black moments, and
  I do sometimes pine to get away from all this to the lands of sun and
  lotus-eating. But, on the whole, I am too busy even to dream of
  dreaming. My real black moments are when I doubt if I am really doing
  any good. But yet on the whole my conscience or my self-conceit tells
  me that I am. If one cannot do much with the mass, there is at least
  the consolation of doing good to the individual. And, after all, is it
  not enough to have been an influence for good over one or two human
  souls? There are quite fine characters hereabout--especially in the
  women--natures capable not only of self-sacrifice, but of delicacy of
  sentiment. To have learnt to know of such, to have been of service to
  one or two of such--is not this ample return? I could not get to St.
  James's Hall to hear your friend's symphony at the Henschel concert.
  I have been reading Mme. Blavatsky's latest book, and getting quite
  interested in occult philosophy. Unfortunately I have to do all my
  reading in bed, and I don't find the book as soothing a soporific as
  most new books. For keeping one awake I find Theosophy as bad as
  toothache....'"

       *       *       *       *       *

  "The Big Bow Mystery Solved

  "Sir,--I wonder if any one besides myself has been struck by the
  incredible bad taste of Mr. Grodman's letter in your last issue. That
  he, a former servant of the Department, should publicly insult and run
  it down can only be charitably explained by the supposition that his
  judgment is failing him in his old age. In view of this letter, are the
  relatives of the deceased justified in entrusting him with any private
  documents? It is, no doubt, very good of him to undertake to avenge one
  whom he seems snobbishly anxious to claim as a friend; but, all things
  considered, should not his letter have been headed 'The Big Bow Mystery
  Shelved'? I enclose my card, and am, sir,

  "Your obedient servant,

  "Scotland Yard."

George Grodman read this letter with annoyance, and crumpling up the
paper, murmured scornfully, "Edward Wimp!"




V


"Yes, but what will become of the Beautiful?" said Denzil Cantercot.

"Hang the Beautiful!" said Peter Crowl, as if he were on the committee of
the Academy. "Give me the True."

Denzil did nothing of the sort. He didn't happen to have it about him.

Denzil Cantercot stood smoking a cigarette in his landlord's shop, and
imparting an air of distinction and an agreeable aroma to the close
leathery atmosphere. Crowl cobbled away, talking to his tenant without
raising his eyes. He was a small, big-headed, sallow, sad-eyed man, with
a greasy apron. Denzil was wearing a heavy overcoat with a fur collar.
He was never seen without it in public during the winter. In private he
removed it and sat in his shirt sleeves. Crowl was a thinker, or thought
he was--which seems to involve original thinking anyway. His hair was
thinning rapidly at the top, as if his brain was struggling to get as
near as possible to the realities of things. He prided himself on having
no fads. Few men are without some foible or hobby; Crowl felt almost
lonely at times in his superiority. He was a Vegetarian, a Secularist, a
Blue Ribbonite, a Republican, and an Anti-tobacconist. Meat was a fad.
Drink was a fad. Religion was a fad. Monarchy was a fad. Tobacco was a
fad. "A plain man like me," Crowl used to say, "can live without fads."
"A plain man" was Crowl's catchword. When of a Sunday morning he stood
on Mile-end Waste, which was opposite his shop--and held forth to the
crowd on the evils of kings, priests, and mutton chops, the "plain man"
turned up at intervals like the "theme" of a symphonic movement. "I am
only a plain man and I want to know." It was a phrase that sabred the
spider-webs of logical refinement, and held them up scornfully on the
point. When Crowl went for a little recreation in Victoria Park on Sunday
afternoons, it was with this phrase that he invariably routed the
supernaturalists. Crowl knew his Bible better than most ministers, and
always carried a minutely printed copy in his pocket, dog's-eared to mark
contradictions in the text. The second chapter of Jeremiah says one
thing; the first chapter of Corinthians says another. Two contradictory
statements _may_ both be true, but "I am only a plain man, and I want to
know." Crowl spent a large part of his time in setting "the word against
the word." Cock-fighting affords its votaries no acuter pleasure than
Crowl derived from setting two texts by the ears. Crowl had a
metaphysical genius which sent his Sunday morning disciples frantic
with admiration, and struck the enemy dumb with dismay. He had
discovered, for instance, that the Deity could not move, owing to already
filling all space. He was also the first to invent, for the confusion of
the clerical, the crucial case of a saint dying at the Antipodes
contemporaneously with another in London. Both went skyward to heaven,
yet the two travelled in directly opposite directions. In all eternity
they would never meet. Which, then, got to heaven? Or was there no such
place? "I am only a plain man, and I want to know."

Preserve us our open spaces; they exist to testify to the incurable
interest of humanity in the Unknown and the Misunderstood. Even 'Arry is
capable of five minutes' attention to speculative theology, if 'Arriet
isn't in a 'urry.

Peter Crowl was not sorry to have a lodger like Denzil Cantercot, who,
though a man of parts and thus worth powder and shot, was so hopelessly
wrong on all subjects under the sun. In only one point did Peter Crowl
agree with Denzil Cantercot--he admired Denzil Cantercot secretly. When
he asked him for the True--which was about twice a day on the average--he
didn't really expect to get it from him. He knew that Denzil was a poet.

"The Beautiful," he went on, "is a thing that only appeals to men like
you. The True is for all men. The majority have the first claim. Till
then you poets must stand aside. The True and the Useful--that's what we
want. The Good of Society is the only test of things. Everything stands
or falls by the Good of Society."

"The Good of Society!" echoed Denzil, scornfully. "What's the good of
Society? The Individual is before all. The mass must be sacrificed to the
Great Man. Otherwise the Great Man will be sacrificed to the mass.
Without great men there would be no art. Without art life would be a
blank."

"Ah, but we should fill it up with bread and butter," said Peter Crowl.

"Yes, it is bread and butter that kills the Beautiful," said Denzil
Cantercot, bitterly. "Many of us start by following the butterfly through
the verdant meadows, but we turn aside--"

"To get the grub," chuckled Peter, cobbling away.

"Peter, if you make a jest of everything, I'll not waste my time on you."

Denzil's wild eyes flashed angrily. He shook his long hair. Life was very
serious to him. He never wrote comic verse intentionally.

There are three reasons why men of genius have long hair. One is, that
they forget it is growing. The second is, that they like it. The third
is, that it comes cheaper; they wear it long for the same reason that
they wear their hats long.

Owing to this peculiarity of genius, you may get quite a reputation for
lack of twopence. The economic reason did not apply to Denzil, who could
always get credit with the profession on the strength of his appearance.
Therefore, when street arabs vocally commanded him to get his hair cut,
they were doing no service to barbers. Why does all the world watch over
barbers and conspire to promote their interests? Denzil would have told
you it was not to serve the barbers, but to gratify the crowd's
instinctive resentment of originality. In his palmy days Denzil had been
an editor, but he no more thought of turning his scissors against himself
than of swallowing his paste. The efficacy of hair has changed since the
days of Samson, otherwise Denzil would have been a Hercules instead of a
long, thin, nervous man, looking too brittle and delicate to be used even
for a pipe-cleaner. The narrow oval of his face sloped to a pointed,
untrimmed beard. His linen was reproachable, his dingy boots were down at
heel, and his cocked hat was drab with dust. Such are the effects of a
love for the Beautiful.

Peter Crowl was impressed with Denzil's condemnation of flippancy, and he
hastened to turn off the joke.

"I'm quite serious," he said. "Butterflies are no good to nothing or
nobody; caterpillars at least save the birds from starving."

"Just like your view of things, Peter," said Denzil. "Good morning,
madam." This to Mrs. Crowl, to whom he removed his hat with elaborate
courtesy.

Mrs. Crowl grunted and looked at her husband with a note of interrogation
in each eye. For some seconds Crowl stuck to his last, endeavouring not
to see the question. He shifted uneasily on his stool. His wife coughed
grimly. He looked up, saw her towering over him, and helplessly shook his
head in a horizontal direction. It was wonderful how Mrs. Crowl towered
over Mr. Crowl, even when he stood up in his shoes. She measured half an
inch less. It was quite an optical illusion.

"Mr. Crowl," said Mrs. Crowl, "then I'll tell him."

"No, no, my dear, not yet," faltered Peter, helplessly; "leave it to me."

"I've left it to you long enough. You'll never do nothing. If it was a
question of provin' to a lot of chuckleheads that Jollygee and Genesis,
or some other dead and gone Scripture folk that don't consarn no mortal
soul, used to contradict each other, your tongue'ud run thirteen to the
dozen. But when it's a matter of takin' the bread out o' the mouths o'
your own children, you ain't got no more to say for yourself than a
lamp-post. Here's a man stayin' with you for weeks and weeks--eatin' and
drinkin' the flesh off your bones--without payin' a far--"

"Hush, hush, mother; it's all right," said poor Crowl, red as fire.

Denzil looked at her dreamily. "Is it possible you are alluding to me,
Mrs. Crowl?" he said.

"Who then should I be alludin' to, Mr. Cantercot? Here's seven weeks come
and gone, and not a blessed 'aypenny have I--"

"My dear Mrs. Crowl," said Denzil, removing his cigarette from his mouth
with a pained air, "why reproach _me_ for _your_ neglect?"

"_My_ neglect! I like that!"

"I don't," said Denzil more sharply. "If you had sent me in the bill you
would have had the money long ago. How do you expect me to think of these
details?"

"We ain't so grand down here. People pays their way--they don't get no
_bills_" said Mrs. Crowl, accentuating the word with infinite scorn.

Peter hammered away at a nail, as though to drown his spouse's voice.

"It's three pounds fourteen and eightpence, if you're so anxious to
know," Mrs. Crowl resumed. "And there ain't a woman in the Mile End Road
as 'ud a-done it cheaper, with bread at fourpence threefarden a quartern
and landlords clamburin' for rent every Monday morning almost afore the
sun's up and folks draggin' and slidderin' on till their shoes is only
fit to throw after brides and Christmas comin' and sevenpence a week for
schoolin'!"

Peter winced under the last item. He had felt it coming--like Christmas.
His wife and he parted company on the question of Free Education. Peter
felt that, having brought nine children into the world, it was only fair
he should pay a penny a week for each of those old enough to bear
educating. His better half argued that, having so many children, they
ought in reason to be exempted. Only people who had few children could
spare the penny. But the one point on which the cobbler-sceptic of the
Mile End Road got his way was this of the fees. It was a question of
conscience, and Mrs. Crowl had never made application for their
remission, though she often slapped her children in vexation instead.
They were used to slapping, and when nobody else slapped them they
slapped one another. They were bright, ill-mannered brats, who pestered
their parents and worried their teachers, and were as happy as the Road
was long.

"Bother the school fees!" Peter retorted, vexed. "Mr. Cantercot's not
responsible for your children."

"I should hope not, indeed, Mr. Crowl," Mrs. Crowl said sternly. "I'm
ashamed of you." And with that she flounced out of the shop into the
back parlour.

"It's all right," Peter called after her soothingly. "The money'll be all
right, mother."

In lower circles it is customary to call your wife your mother; in
somewhat superior circles it is the fashion to speak of her as "the
wife," as you speak of "the Stock Exchange," or "the Thames," without
claiming any peculiar property. Instinctively men are ashamed of being
moral and domesticated.

Denzil puffed his cigarette, unembarrassed. Peter bent attentively over
his work, making nervous stabs with his awl. There was a long silence. An
organ-grinder played a waltz outside, unregarded; and, failing to annoy
anybody, moved on. Denzil lit another cigarette. The dirty-faced clock on
the wall chimed twelve.

"What do you think," said Crowl, "of Republics?"

"They are low," Denzil replied. "Without a Monarch there is no visible
incarnation of Authority."

"What! do you call Queen Victoria visible?"

"Peter, do you want to drive me from the house? Leave frivolousness to
women, whose minds are only large enough for domestic difficulties.
Republics are low. Plato mercifully kept the poets out of his. Republics
are not congenial soil for poetry."

"What nonsense! If England dropped its fad of Monarchy and became a
Republic to-morrow, do you mean to say that--?"

"I mean to say there would be no Poet Laureate to begin with."

"Who's fribbling now, you or me, Cantercot? But I don't care a
button-hook about poets, present company always excepted. I'm only a
plain man, and I want to know where's the sense of givin' any one person
authority over everybody else?"

"Ah, that's what Tom Mortlake used to say. Wait till you're in power,
Peter, with trade-union money to control, and working men bursting to
give you flying angels and to carry you aloft, like a banner, huzzahing."

"Ah, that's because he's head and shoulders above 'em already," said
Crowl, with a flash in his sad grey eyes. "Still, it don't prove that I'd
talk any different. And I think you're quite wrong about his being
spoilt. Tom's a fine fellow--a man every inch of him, and that's a good
many. I don't deny he has his weaknesses, and there was a time when he
stood in this very shop and denounced that poor dead Constant. 'Crowl,'
said he, 'that man'll do mischief. I don't like these kid-glove
philanthropists mixing themselves up in practical labour disputes they
don't understand.'"

Denzil whistled involuntarily. It was a piece of news.

"I dare say," continued Crowl, "he's a bit jealous of anybody's
interference with his influence. But in this case the jealousy did wear
off, you see, for the poor fellow and he got quite pals, as everybody
knows. Tom's not the man to hug a prejudice. However, all that don't
prove nothing against Republics. Look at the Czar and the Jews. I'm only
a plain man, but I wouldn't live in Russia not for--not for all the
leather in it! An Englishman, taxed as he is to keep up his Fad of
Monarchy, is at least king in his own castle, whoever bosses it at
Windsor. Excuse me a minute, the missus is callin'."

"Excuse _me_ a minute. I'm going, and I want to say before I go--I feel
it only right you should know at once--that after what has passed to-day
I can never be on the same footing here as in the--shall I say
pleasant?--days of yore."

"Oh, no, Cantercot. Don't say that; don't say that!" pleaded the little
cobbler.

"Well, shall I say unpleasant, then?"

"No, no, Cantercot. Don't misunderstand me. Mother has been very much put
to it lately to rub along. You see she has such a growing family. It
grows--daily. But never mind her. You pay whenever you've got the money."

Denzil shook his head. "It cannot be. You know when I came here first I
rented your top room and boarded myself. Then I learnt to know you. We
talked together. Of the Beautiful. And the Useful. I found you had no
soul. But you were honest, and I liked you. I went so far as to take my
meals with your family. I made myself at home in your back parlour. But
the vase has been shattered (I do not refer to that on the mantel-piece),
and though the scent of the roses may cling to it still, it can be pieced
together--nevermore." He shook his hair sadly and shambled out of the
shop. Crowl would have gone after him, but Mrs. Crowl was still calling,
and ladies must have the precedence in all polite societies.

Cantercot went straight--or as straight as his loose gait permitted--to
46 Glover Street, and knocked at the door. Grodman's factotum opened it.
She was a pock-marked person, with a brickdust complexion and a
coquettish manner.

"Oh! Here we are again!" she said vivaciously.

"Don't talk like a clown," Cantercot snapped. "Is Mr. Grodman in?"

"No, you've put him out," growled the gentleman himself, suddenly
appearing in his slippers. "Come in. What the devil have you been doing
with yourself since the inquest? Drinking again?"

"I've sworn off. Haven't touched a drop since--"

"The murder?"

"Eh?" said Denzil Cantercot, startled. "What do you mean?"

"What I say. Since December 4. I reckon everything from that murder, now,
as they reckon longitude from Greenwich."

"Oh," said Denzil Cantercot.

"Let me see. Nearly a fortnight. What a long time to keep away from
Drink--and Me."

"I don't know which is worse," said Denzil, irritated. "You both steal
away my brains."

"Indeed?" said Grodman, with an amused smile. "Well, it's only petty
pilfering, after all. What's put salt on your wounds?"

"The twenty-fourth edition of my book."

"_Whose_ book?"

"Well, _your_ book. You must be making piles of money out of _Criminals I
have Caught_."

"'Criminals _I_ have Caught,'" corrected Grodman. "My dear Denzil, how
often am I to point out that _I_ went through the experiences that make
the backbone of my book, not _you_? In each case _I_ cooked the
criminal's goose. Any journalist could have supplied the dressing."

"The contrary. The journeymen of journalism would have left the truth
naked. You yourself could have done that--for there is no man to beat
you at cold, lucid, scientific statement. But I idealised the bare
facts and lifted them into the realm of poetry and literature. The
twenty-fourth edition of the book attests my success."

"Rot! The twenty-fourth edition was all owing to the murder. Did you do
that?"

"You take one up so sharply, Mr. Grodman," said Denzil, changing his
tone.

"No--I've retired," laughed Grodman.

Denzil did not reprove the ex-detective's flippancy. He even laughed a
little.

"Well, give me another fiver, and I'll cry 'quits.' I'm in debt."

"Not a penny. Why haven't you been to see me since the murder? I had to
write that letter to the _Pell Mell Press_ myself. You might have earned
a crown."

"I've had writer's cramp, and couldn't do your last job. I was coming to
tell you so on the morning of the--"

"Murder. So you said at the inquest."

"It's true."

"Of course. Weren't you on your oath? It was very zealous of you to get
up so early to tell me. In which hand did you have this cramp?"

"Why, in the right of course."

"And you couldn't write with your left?"

"I don't think I could even hold a pen."

"Or any other instrument, mayhap. What had you been doing to bring it
on?"

"Writing too much. That is the only possible cause."

"Oh! I didn't know. Writing what?"

Denzil hesitated. "An epic poem."

"No wonder you're in debt. Will a sovereign get you out of it?"

"No; it wouldn't be the least use to me."

"Here it is, then."

Denzil took the coin and his hat.

"Aren't you going to earn it, you beggar? Sit down and write something
for me."

Denzil got pen and paper, and took his place.

"What do you want me to write?"

"Your Epic Poem."

Denzil started and flushed. But he set to work. Grodman leaned back in
his arm-chair and laughed, studying the poet's grave face.

Denzil wrote three lines and paused.

"Can't remember any more? Well, read me the start."

Denzil read:--

  "Of man's first disobedience and the fruit
   Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
   Brought death into the world--"

"Hold on!" cried Grodman. "What morbid subjects you choose, to be sure!"

"Morbid! Why, Milton chose the same subject!"

"Blow Milton. Take yourself off--you and your Epics."

Denzil went. The pock-marked person opened the street door for him.

"When am I to have that new dress, dear?" she whispered coquettishly.

"I have no money, Jane," he said shortly.

"You have a sovereign."

Denzil gave her the sovereign, and slammed the door viciously. Grodman
overheard their whispers, and laughed silently. His hearing was acute.
Jane had first introduced Denzil to his acquaintance about two years ago,
when he spoke of getting an amanuensis, and the poet had been doing odd
jobs for him ever since. Grodman argued that Jane had her reasons.
Without knowing them, he got a hold over both. There was no one, he felt,
he could not get a hold over. All men--and women--have something to
conceal, and you have only to pretend to know what it is. Thus Grodman,
who was nothing if not scientific.

Denzil Cantercot shambled home thoughtfully, and abstractedly took his
place at the Crowl dinner-table.




VI


Mrs. Crowl surveyed Denzil Cantercot so stonily and cut him his beef so
savagely that he said grace when the dinner was over. Peter fed his
metaphysical genius on tomatoes. He was tolerant enough to allow his
family to follow their Fads; but no savoury smells ever tempted him to be
false to his vegetable loves. Besides, meat might have reminded him too
much of his work. There is nothing like leather, but Bow beefsteaks
occasionally come very near it.

After dinner Denzil usually indulged in poetic reverie. But to-day he did
not take his nap. He went out at once to "raise the wind." But there
was a dead calm everywhere. In vain he asked for an advance at the office
of the _Mile End Mirror_, to which he contributed scathing leaderettes
about vestrymen. In vain he trudged to the City and offered to write the
_Ham and Eggs Gazette_ an essay on the modern methods of bacon-curing.
Denzil knew a great deal about the breeding and slaughtering of pigs,
smoke-lofts and drying processes, having for years dictated the policy of
the _New Pork Herald_ in these momentous matters. Denzil also knew a
great deal about many other esoteric matters, including weaving machines,
the manufacture of cabbage leaves and snuff, and the inner economy of
drain-pipes. He had written for the trade papers since boyhood. But there
is great competition on these papers. So many men of literary gifts know
all about the intricate technicalities of manufactures and markets, and
are eager to set the trade right. Grodman perhaps hardly allowed
sufficiently for the step backwards that Denzil made when he devoted his
whole time for months to _Criminals I have Caught_. It was as damaging as
a debauch. For when your rivals are pushing forwards, to stand still is
to go back.

In despair Denzil shambled toilsomely to Bethnal Green. He paused before
the window of a little tobacconist's shop, wherein was displayed a
placard announcing

  "PLOTS FOR SALE."

The announcement went on to state that a large stock of plots was to be
obtained on the premises--embracing sensational plots, humorous plots,
love plots, religious plots, and poetic plots; also complete manuscripts,
original novels, poems, and tales. Apply within.

It was a very dirty-looking shop, with begrimed bricks and blackened
woodwork. The window contained some musty old books, an assortment of
pipes and tobacco, and a large number of the vilest daubs unhung, painted
in oil on Academy boards, and unframed. These were intended for
landscapes, as you could tell from the titles. The most expensive was
"Chingford Church," and it was marked IS. 9d. The others ran from 6d. to
IS. 3d., and were mostly representations of Scottish scenery--a loch with
mountains in the background, with solid reflections in the water and a
tree in the foreground. Sometimes the tree would be in the background.
Then the loch would be in the foreground. Sky and water were intensely
blue in all. The name of the collection was "Original oil-paintings done
by hand." Dust lay thick upon everything, as if carefully shovelled on;
and the proprietor looked as if he slept in his shop-window at night
without taking his clothes off. He was a gaunt man with a red nose, long
but scanty black locks covered by a smoking-cap, and a luxuriant black
moustache. He smoked a long clay pipe, and had the air of a broken-down
operatic villain.

"Ah, good afternoon, Mr. Cantercot," he said, rubbing his hands, half
from cold, half from usage; "what have you brought me?"

"Nothing," said Denzil, "but if you will lend me a sovereign I'll do you
a stunner."

The operatic villain shook his locks, his eyes full of pawky cunning. "If
you did it after that, it _would_ be a stunner."

What the operatic villain did with these plots, and who bought them,
Cantercot never knew nor cared to know. Brains are cheap to-day, and
Denzil was glad enough to find a customer.

"Surely you've known me long enough to trust me," he cried.

"Trust is dead," said the operatic villain, puffing away.

"So is Queen Anne," cried the irritated poet. His eyes took a dangerous
hunted look. Money he must have. But the operatic villain was inflexible.
No plot, no supper.

Poor Denzil went out flaming. He knew not where to turn. Temporarily he
turned on his heel again and stared despairingly at the shop-window.
Again he read the legend

  "PLOTS FOR SALE."

He stared so long at this that it lost its meaning. When the sense of the
words suddenly flashed upon him again, they bore a new significance. He
went in meekly, and borrowed fourpence of the operatic villain. Then he
took the 'bus for Scotland Yard. There was a not ill-looking servant girl
in the 'bus. The rhythm of the vehicle shaped itself into rhymes in his
brain. He forgot all about his situation and his object. He had never
really written an epic--except "Paradise Lost"--but he composed lyrics
about wine and women and often wept to think how miserable he was. But
nobody ever bought anything of him, except articles on bacon-curing or
attacks on vestrymen. He was a strange, wild creature, and the wench felt
quite pretty under his ardent gaze. It almost hypnotised her, though, and
she looked down at her new French kid boots to escape it.

At Scotland Yard Denzil asked for Edward Wimp. Edward Wimp was
not on view. Like kings and editors, detectives are difficult of
approach--unless you are a criminal, when you cannot see anything
of them at all. Denzil knew of Edward Wimp, principally because of
Grodman's contempt for his successor. Wimp was a man of taste and
culture. Grodman's interests were entirely concentrated on the problems
of logic and evidence. Books about these formed his sole reading; for
_belles lettres_ he cared not a straw. Wimp, with his flexible intellect,
had a great contempt for Grodman and his slow, laborious, ponderous,
almost Teutonic methods. Worse, he almost threatened to eclipse the
radiant tradition of Grodman by some wonderfully ingenious bits of
workmanship. Wimp was at his greatest in collecting circumstantial
evidence; in putting two and two together to make five. He would collect
together a number of dark and disconnected data and flash across them the
electric light of some unifying hypothesis in a way which would have
done credit to a Darwin or a Faraday. An intellect which might have
served to unveil the secret workings of nature was subverted to the
protection of a capitalistic civilisation.

By the assistance of a friendly policeman, whom the poet magnetised into
the belief that his business was a matter of life and death, Denzil
obtained the great detective's private address. It was near King's Cross.
By a miracle Wimp was at home in the afternoon. He was writing when
Denzil was ushered up three pairs of stairs into his presence, but he got
up and flashed the bull's-eye of his glance upon the visitor.

"Mr. Denzil Cantercot, I believe," said Wimp.

Denzil started. He had not sent up his name, merely describing himself as
a gentleman.

"That is my name," he murmured.

"You were one of the witnesses at the inquest on the body of the late
Arthur Constant. I have your evidence there." He pointed to a file. "Why
have you come to give fresh evidence?"

Again Denzil started, flushing in addition this time. "I want money," he
said, almost involuntarily.

"Sit down." Denzil sat. Wimp stood.

Wimp was young and fresh-coloured. He had a Roman nose, and was smartly
dressed. He had beaten Grodman by discovering the wife Heaven meant for
him. He had a bouncing boy, who stole jam out of the pantry without any
one being the wiser. Wimp did what work he could do at home in a secluded
study at the top of the house. Outside his chamber of horrors he was the
ordinary husband of commerce. He adored his wife, who thought poorly of
his intellect but highly of his heart. In domestic difficulties Wimp was
helpless. He could not tell even whether the servant's "character" was
forged or genuine. Probably he could not level himself to such petty
problems. He was like the senior wrangler who has forgotten how to do
quadratics, and has to solve equations of the second degree by the
calculus.

"How much money do you want?" he asked.

"I do not make bargains," Denzil replied, his calm come back by this
time. "I came here to tender you a suggestion. It struck me that you
might offer me a fiver for my trouble. Should you do so, I shall not
refuse it."

"You shall not refuse it--if you deserve it."

"Good. I will come to the point at once. My suggestion concerns--Tom
Mortlake."

Denzil threw out the name as if it were a torpedo. Wimp did not move.

"Tom Mortlake," went on Denzil, looking disappointed, "had a sweetheart."
He paused impressively.

Wimp said, "Yes?"

"Where is that sweetheart now?"

"Where, indeed?"

"You know about her disappearance?"

"You have just informed me of it."

"Yes, she is gone--without a trace. She went about a fortnight before Mr.
Constant's murder."

"Murder? How do you know it was murder?"

"Mr. Grodman says so," said Denzil, startled again.

"H'm! Isn't that rather a proof that it was suicide? Well, go on."

"About a fortnight before the suicide, Jessie Dymond disappeared. So they
tell me in Stepney Green, where she lodged and worked."

"What was she?"

"She was a dressmaker. She had a wonderful talent. Quite fashionable
ladies got to know of it. One of her dresses was presented at Court. I
think the lady forgot to pay for it; so Jessie's landlady said."

"Did she live alone?"

"She had no parents, but the house was respectable."

"Good-looking, I suppose?"

"As a poet's dream."

"As yours, for instance?"

"I am a poet; I dream."

"You dream you are a poet. Well, well! She was engaged to Mortlake?"

"Oh, yes! They made no secret of it. The engagement was an old one. When
he was earning 36s. a week as a compositor, they were saving up to buy a
home. He worked at Railton and Hockes who print the _New Pork Herald_. I
used to take my 'copy' into the comps' room, and one day the Father of
the Chapel told me all about 'Mortlake and his young woman.' Ye gods! How
times are changed! Two years ago Mortlake had to struggle with my
calligraphy--now he is in with all the nobs, and goes to the 'At Homes'
of the aristocracy."

"Radical M.P.'s," murmured Wimp, smiling.

"While I am still barred from the dazzling drawing-rooms, where beauty
and intellect foregather. A mere artisan! A manual labourer!" Denzil's
eyes flashed angrily. He rose with excitement. "They say he always _was_
a jabberer in the composing-room, and he has jabbered himself right out
of it and into a pretty good thing. He didn't have much to say about the
crimes of capital when he was set up to second the toast of 'Railton and
Hockes' at the beanfeast."

"Toast and butter, toast and butter," said Wimp, genially. "I shouldn't
blame a man for serving the two together, Mr. Cantercot."

Denzil forced a laugh. "Yes; but consistency's _my_ motto. I like to see
the royal soul immaculate, unchanging, immovable by fortune. Anyhow, when
better times came for Mortlake the engagement still dragged on. He did
not visit her so much. This last autumn he saw very little of her."

"How do you know?"

"I--I was often in Stepney Green. My business took me past the house of
an evening. Sometimes there was no light in her room. That meant she was
downstairs gossiping with the landlady."

"She might have been out with Tom?"

"No, sir; I knew Tom was on the platform somewhere or other. He was
working up to all hours organising the eight hours' working movement."

"A very good reason for relaxing his sweethearting."

"It was. He never went to Stepney Green on a week night."

"But you always did."

"No--not every night."

"You didn't go in?"

"Never. She wouldn't permit my visits. She was a girl of strong
character. She always reminded me of Flora Macdonald."

"Another lady of your acquaintance?"

"A lady I know better than the shadows who surround me, who is more real
to me than the women who pester me for the price of apartments. Jessie
Dymond, too, was of the race of heroines. Her eyes were clear blue, two
wells with Truth at the bottom of each. When I looked into those eyes my
own were dazzled. They were the only eyes I could never make dreamy." He
waved his hand as if making a pass with it. "It was she who had the
influence over me."

"You knew her, then?"

"Oh, yes. I knew Tom from the old _New Pork Herald_ days, and when I
first met him with Jessie hanging on his arm he was quite proud to
introduce her to a poet. When he got on he tried to shake me off."

"You should have repaid him what you borrowed."

"It--it--was only a trifle," stammered Denzil.

"Yes, but the world turns on trifles," said the wise Wimp.

"The world is itself a trifle," said the pensive poet. "The Beautiful
alone is deserving of our regard."

"And when the Beautiful was not gossiping with her landlady, did she
gossip with you as you passed the door?"

"Alas, no! She sat in her room reading, and cast a shadow--"

"On your life?"

"No; on the blind."

"Always one shadow?"

"No, sir. Once or twice, two."

"Ah, you had been drinking."

"On my life, not. I have sworn off the treacherous wine-cup."

"That's right. Beer is bad for poets. It makes their feet shaky. Whose
was the second shadow?"

"A man's."

"Naturally. Mortlake's, perhaps."

"Impossible. He was still striking eight hours."

"You found out whose shadow? You didn't leave a shadow of doubt?"

"No; I waited till the substance came out."

"It was Arthur Constant."

"You are a magician! You--you terrify me. Yes, it was he."

"Only once or twice, you say?"

"I didn't keep watch over them."

"No, no, of course not. You only passed casually. I understand you
thoroughly."

Denzil did not feel comfortable at the assertion.

"What did he go there for?" Wimp went on.

"I don't know. I'd stake my soul on Jessie's honour."

"You might double your stake without risk."

"Yes, I might! I would! You see her with my eyes."

"For the moment they are the only ones available. When was the last time
you saw the two together?"

"About the middle of November."

"Mortlake knew nothing of the meetings?"

"I don't know. Perhaps he did. Mr. Constant had probably enlisted her in
his social mission work. I knew she was one of the attendants at the big
children's tea in the Great Assembly Hall early in November. He treated
her quite like a lady. She was the only attendant who worked with her
hands."

"The others carried the cups on their feet, I suppose."

"No; how could that be? My meaning is that all the other attendants were
real ladies, and Jessie was only an amateur, so to speak. There was no
novelty for her in handing kids cups of tea. I dare say she had helped
her landlady often enough at that--there's quite a bushel of brats below
stairs. It's almost as bad as at friend Crowl's. Jessie was a real brick.
But perhaps Tom didn't know her value. Perhaps he didn't like Constant to
call on her, and it led to a quarrel. Anyhow, she's disappeared, like the
snowfall on the river. There's not a trace. The landlady, who was such a
friend of hers that Jessie used to make up her stuff into dresses for
nothing, tells me that she's dreadfully annoyed at not having been left
the slightest clue to her late tenant's whereabouts."

"You have been making inquiries on your own account apparently?"

"Only of the landlady. Jessie never even gave her the week's notice, but
paid her in lieu of it, and left immediately. The landlady told me I
could have knocked her down with a feather. Unfortunately, I wasn't there
to do it, or I should certainly have knocked her down for not keeping her
eyes open better. She says if she had only had the least suspicion
beforehand that the minx (she dared to call Jessie a minx) was going,
she'd have known where, or her name would have been somebody else's. And
yet she admits that Jessie was looking ill and worried. Stupid old hag!"

"A woman of character," murmured the detective.

"Didn't I tell you so?" cried Denzil, eagerly. "Another girl would have
let out that she was going. But no, not a word. She plumped down the
money and walked out. The landlady ran upstairs. None of Jessie's things
were there. She must have quietly sold them off, or transferred them to
the new place. I never in my life met a girl who so thoroughly knew her
own mind or had a mind so worth knowing. She always reminded me of the
Maid of Saragossa."

"Indeed! And when did she leave?"

"On the l9th of November."

"Mortlake of course knows where she is?"

"I can't say. Last time I was at the house to inquire--it was at the end
of November--he hadn't been seen there for six weeks. He wrote to her, of
course, sometimes--the landlady knew his writing."

Wimp looked Denzil straight in the eyes, and said, "You mean, of course,
to accuse Mortlake of the murder of Mr. Constant?"

"N-n-no, not at all," stammered Denzil, "only you know what Mr. Grodman
wrote to the _Pell Mell_. The more we know about Mr. Constant's life the
more we shall know about the manner of his death. I thought my
information would be valuable to you, and I brought it."

"And why didn't you take it to Mr. Grodman?"

"Because I thought it wouldn't be valuable to _me_."

"You wrote _Criminals I have Caught_?"

"How--how do you know that?" Wimp was startling him to-day with a
vengeance.

"Your style, my dear Mr. Cantercot. The unique, noble style."

"Yes, I was afraid it would betray me," said Denzil. "And since you know,
I may tell you that Grodman's a mean curmudgeon. What does he want with
all that money and those houses--a man with no sense of the Beautiful?
He'd have taken my information, and given me more kicks than ha'pence for
it, so to speak."

"Yes, he is a shrewd man after all. I don't see anything valuable in your
evidence against Mortlake."

"No!" said Denzil in a disappointed tone, and fearing he was going to be
robbed. "Not when Mortlake was already jealous of Mr. Constant, who was a
sort of rival organiser, unpaid! A kind of blackleg doing the work
cheaper--nay, for nothing."

"Did Mortlake tell you he was jealous?" said Wimp, a shade of sarcastic
contempt piercing through his tones.

"Oh, yes! He said to me, 'That man will work mischief. I don't like your
kid-glove philanthropists meddling in matters they don't understand.'"

"Those were his very words?"

"His _ipsissima verba_."

"Very well. I have your address in my files. Here is a sovereign for
you."

"Only one sovereign! It's not the least use to me."

"Very well. It's of great use to me. I have a wife to keep."

"I haven't," said Denzil, with a sickly smile, "so perhaps I can manage
on it after all." He took his hat and the sovereign.

Outside the door he met a rather pretty servant just bringing in some tea
to her master. He nearly upset her tray at sight of her. She seemed more
amused at the _rencontre_ than he.

"Good afternoon, dear," she said coquettishly. "You might let me have
that sovereign. I do so want a new Sunday bonnet."

Denzil gave her the sovereign, and slammed the hall-door viciously when
he got to the bottom of the stairs. He seemed to be walking arm-in-arm
with the long arm of coincidence. Wimp did not hear the duologue. He was
already busy on his evening's report to headquarters. The next day Denzil
had a body-guard wherever he went. It might have gratified his vanity had
he known it. But to-night he was yet unattended, so no one noted that he
went to 46 Glover Street, after the early Crowl supper. He could not help
going. He wanted to get another sovereign. He also itched to taunt
Grodman. Not succeeding in the former object, he felt the road open for
the second.

"Do you still hope to discover the Bow murderer?" he asked the old
bloodhound.

"I can lay my hand on him now," Grodman announced curtly.

Denzil hitched his chair back involuntarily. He found conversation with
detectives as lively as playing at skittles with bombshells. They got on
his nerves terribly, these undemonstrative gentlemen with no sense of the
Beautiful.

"But why don't you give him up to justice?" he murmured.

"Ah--it has to be proved yet. But it is only a matter of time."

"Oh!" said Denzil, "and shall I write the story for you?"

"No. You will not live long enough."

Denzil turned white. "Nonsense! I am years younger than you," he gasped.

"Yes," said Grodman, "but you drink so much."




VII


When Wimp invited Grodman to eat his Christmas plum-pudding at King's
Cross, Grodman was only a little surprised. The two men were always
overwhelmingly cordial when they met, in order to disguise their mutual
detestation. When people really like each other, they make no concealment
of their mutual contempt. In his letter to Grodman, Wimp said that he
thought it might be nicer for him to keep Christmas in company than in
solitary state. There seems to be a general prejudice in favour of
Christmas numbers, and Grodman yielded to it. Besides, he thought that a
peep at the Wimp domestic interior would be as good as a pantomime. He
quite enjoyed the fun that was coming, for he knew that Wimp had not
invited him out of mere "peace and goodwill."

There was only one other guest at the festive board. This was Wimp's
wife's mother's mother, a lady of sweet seventy. Only a minority of
mankind can obtain a grandmother-in-law by marrying, but Wimp was not
unduly conceited. The old lady suffered from delusions. One of them was
that she was a centenarian. She dressed for the part. It is extraordinary
what pains ladies will take to conceal their age. Another of Wimp's
grandmother-in-law's delusions was that Wimp had married to get her into
the family. Not to frustrate his design, she always gave him her company
on high-days and holidays. Wilfred Wimp--the little boy who stole the
jam--was in great form at the Christmas dinner. The only drawback to his
enjoyment was that its sweets needed no stealing. His mother presided
over the platters, and thought how much cleverer Grodman was than her
husband. When the pretty servant who waited on them was momentarily out
of the room, Grodman had remarked that she seemed very inquisitive. This
coincided with Mrs. Wimp's own convictions, though Mr. Wimp could never
be brought to see anything unsatisfactory or suspicious about the girl,
not even though there were faults in spelling in the "character" with
which her last mistress had supplied her.

It was true that the puss had pricked up her ears when Denzil Cantercot's
name was mentioned. Grodman saw it, and watched her, and fooled Wimp to
the top of his bent. It was, of course, Wimp who introduced the poet's
name, and he did it so casually that Grodman perceived at once that he
wished to pump him. The idea that the rival bloodhound should come to him
for confirmation of suspicions against his own pet jackal was too funny.
It was almost as funny to Grodman that evidence of some sort should be
obviously lying to hand in the bosom of Wimp's hand-maiden; so obviously
that Wimp could not see it. Grodman enjoyed his Christmas dinner, secure
that he had not found a successor after all. Wimp, for his part,
contemptuously wondered at the way Grodman's thought hovered about Denzil
without grazing the truth. A man constantly about him, too!

"Denzil is a man of genius," said Grodman. "And as such comes under the
heading of Suspicious Characters. He has written an Epic Poem and read it
to me. It is morbid from start to finish. There is 'death' in the third
line. I dare say you know he polished up my book?" Grodman's artlessness
was perfect.

"No. You surprise me," Wimp replied. "I'm sure he couldn't have done much
to it. Look at your letter in the Pell Mell. Who wants more polish and
refinement than that showed?"

"Ah, I didn't know you did me the honour of reading that."

"Oh, yes; we both read it," put in Mrs. Wimp. "I told Mr. Wimp it was
very clever and cogent. After that quotation from the letter to the poor
fellow's _fiancťe_ there could be no more doubt but that it was murder.
Mr. Wimp was convinced by it too, weren't you, Edward?"

Edward coughed uneasily. It was a true statement, and therefore an
indiscreet. Grodman would plume himself terribly. At this moment Wimp
felt that Grodman had been right in remaining a bachelor. Grodman
perceived the humour of the situation, and wore a curious, sub-mocking
smile.

"On the day I was born," said Wimp's grand-mother-in-law, "over a hundred
years ago, there was a babe murdered."--Wimp found himself wishing it had
been she. He was anxious to get back to Cantercot. "Don't let us talk
shop on Christmas Day," he said, smiling at Grodman. "Besides, murder
isn't a very appropriate subject."

"No, it ain't," said Grodman. "How did we get on to it? Oh, yes--Denzil
Cantercot. Ha! ha! ha! That's curious, for since Denzil revised
_Criminals I have Caught_, his mind's running on nothing but murders.
A poet's brain is easily turned."

Wimp's eye glittered with excitement and contempt for Grodman's
blindness. In Grodman's eye there danced an amused scorn of Wimp; to the
outsider his amusement appeared at the expense of the poet.

Having wrought his rival up to the highest pitch, Grodman slyly and
suddenly unstrung him.

"How lucky for Denzil!" he said, still in the same naive, facetious
Christmasy tone, "that he can prove an alibi in this Constant affair."

"An alibi!" gasped Wimp. "Really?"

"Oh, yes. He was with his wife, you know. She's my woman of all work,
Jane. She happened to mention his being with her."

Jane had done nothing of the kind. After the colloquy he had overheard,
Grodman had set himself to find out the relation between his two
employees. By casually referring to Denzil as "your husband," he so
startled the poor woman that she did not attempt to deny the bond. Only
once did he use the two words, but he was satisfied. As to the alibi, he
had not yet troubled her; but to take its existence for granted would
upset and discomfort Wimp. For the moment that was triumph enough for
Wimp's guest.

"Par," said Wilfred Wimp, "what's a alleybi? A marble?"

"No, my lad," said Grodman, "it means being somewhere else when you're
supposed to be somewhere."

"Ah, playing truant," said Wilfred, self-consciously; his schoolmaster
had often proved an alibi against him. "Then Denzil will be hanged."

Was it a prophecy? Wimp accepted it as such; as an oracle from the gods
bidding him mistrust Grodman. Out of the mouths of little children
issueth wisdom; sometimes even when they are not saying their lessons.

"When I was in my cradle, a century ago," said Wimp's grandmother-in-law,
"men were hanged for stealing horses."

They silenced her with snapdragon performances.

Wimp was busy thinking how to get at Grodman's factotum.

Grodman was busy thinking how to get at Wimp's domestic.

Neither received any of the usual messages from the Christmas Bells.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day was sloppy and uncertain. A thin rain drizzled languidly.
One can stand that sort of thing on a summer Bank Holiday; one expects
it. But to have a bad December Bank Holiday is too much of a bad thing.
Some steps should surely be taken to confuse the weather clerk's
chronology. Once let him know that Bank Holiday is coming, and he writes
to the company for more water. To-day his stock seemed low, and he was
dribbling it out; at times the wintry sun would shine in a feeble,
diluted way, and though the holiday-makers would have preferred to take
their sunshine neat, they swarmed forth in their myriads whenever there
was a ray of hope. But it was only dodging the raindrops; up went the
umbrellas again, and the streets became meadows of ambulating mushrooms.

Denzil Cantercot sat in his fur overcoat at the open window, looking at
the landscape in watercolours. He smoked an after-dinner cigarette, and
spoke of the Beautiful. Crowl was with him. They were in the first floor
front, Crowl's bedroom, which, from its view of the Mile End Road, was
livelier than the parlour with its outlook on the backyard. Mrs. Crowl
was an anti-tobacconist as regards the best bedroom; but Peter did not
like to put the poet or his cigarette out. He felt there was something in
common between smoke and poetry, over and above their being both Fads.
Besides, Mrs. Crowl was sulking in the kitchen. She had been arranging
for an excursion with Peter and the children to Victoria Park. (She had
dreamed of the Crystal Palace, but Santa Claus had put no gifts in the
cobbler's shoes.) Now she could not risk spoiling the feather in her
bonnet. The nine brats expressed their disappointment by slapping one
another on the staircases. Peter felt that Mrs. Crowl connected him in
some way with the rainfall, and was unhappy. Was it not enough that he
had been deprived of the pleasure of pointing out to a superstitious
majority the mutual contradictions of Leviticus and the Song of Solomon?
It was not often that Crowl could count on such an audience.

"And you still call Nature Beautiful?" he said to Denzil, pointing to the
ragged sky and the dripping eaves. "Ugly old scare-crow!"

"Ugly she seems to-day," admitted Denzil. "But what is Ugliness but a
higher form of Beauty? You have to look deeper into it to see it; such
vision is the priceless gift of the few. To me this wan desolation of
sighing rain is lovely as the sea-washed ruins of cities."

"Ah, but you wouldn't like to go out into it," said Peter Crowl. As he
spoke the drizzle suddenly thickened into a torrent.

"We do not always kiss the woman we love."

"Speak for yourself, Denzil. I'm only a plain man, and I want to know if
Nature isn't a Fad. Hallo, there goes Mortlake! Lord, a minute of this
will soak him to the skin."

The labour leader was walking along with bowed head. He did not seem to
mind the shower. It was some seconds before he even heard Crowl's
invitation to him to take shelter. When he did hear it he shook his head.

"I know I can't offer you a drawing-room with duchesses stuck about it,"
said Peter, vexed.

Tom turned the handle of the shop door and went in. There was nothing
in the world which now galled him more than the suspicion that he was
stuck-up and wished to cut old friends. He picked his way through the
nine brats who clung affectionately to his wet knees, dispersing them
finally by a jet of coppers to scramble for. Peter met him on the stairs
and shook his hand lovingly and admiringly, and took him into Mrs.
Crowl's bedroom.

"Don't mind what I say, Tom. I'm only a plain man, and my tongue will say
what comes uppermost! But it ain't from the soul, Tom, it ain't from the
soul," said Peter, punning feebly, and letting a mirthless smile play
over his sallow features. "You know Mr. Cantercot, I suppose? The Poet."

"Oh, yes; how do you do, Tom?" cried the Poet. "Seen the _New Pork
Herald_ lately? Not bad, those old times, eh?"

"No," said Tom, "I wish I was back in them."

"Nonsense, nonsense," said Peter, in much concern. "Look at the good you
are doing to the working man. Look how you are sweeping away the Fads.
Ah, it's a grand thing to be gifted, Tom. The idea of your chuckin'
yourself away on a composin'-room! Manual labour is all very well for
plain men like me, with no gift but just enough brains to see into the
realities of things--to understand that we've got no soul and no
immortality, and all that--and too selfish to look after anybody's
comfort but my own and mother's and the kids'. But men like you and
Cantercot--it ain't right that you should be peggin' away at low material
things. Not that I think Cantercot's gospel any value to the masses. The
Beautiful is all very well for folks who've got nothing else to think of,
but give me the True. You're the man for my money, Mortlake. No reference
to the funds, Tom, to which I contribute little enough, Heaven knows;
though how a _place_ can know anything, Heaven alone knows. _You_ give us
the Useful, Tom; that's what the world wants more than the Beautiful."

"Socrates said that the Useful _is_ the Beautiful," said Denzil.

"That may be," said Peter, "but the Beautiful ain't the Useful."

"Nonsense!" said Denzil. "What about Jessie--I mean Miss Dymond? There's
a combination for you. She always reminds me of Grace Darling. How _is_
she, Tom?"

"She's dead!" snapped Tom.

"What?" Denzil turned as white as a Christmas ghost.

"It was in the papers," said Tom; "all about her and the lifeboat."

"Oh, you mean Grace Darling," said Denzil, visibly relieved. "I meant
Miss Dymond."

"You needn't be so interested in her," said Tom surlily. "She don't
appreciate it. Ah, the shower is over. I must be going."

"No, stay a little longer, Tom," pleaded Peter.

"I see a lot about you in the papers, but very little of your dear old
phiz now. I can't spare the time to go and hear you. But I really must
give myself a treat. When's your next show?"

"Oh, I am always giving shows," said Tom, smiling a little. "But my next
big performance is on the twenty-first of January, when that picture of
poor Mr. Constant is to be unveiled at the Bow Break o' Day Club. They
have written to Gladstone and other big pots to come down. I do hope the
old man accepts. A non-political gathering like this is the only occasion
we could both speak at, and I have never been on the same platform with
Gladstone."

He forgot his depression and ill-temper in the prospect, and spoke with
more animation.

"No, I should hope not, Tom," said Peter. "What with his Fads about the
Bible being a Rock, and Monarchy being the right thing, he is a most
dangerous man to lead the Radicals. He never lays his axe to the root of
anything--except oak trees."

"Mr. Cantycot!" It was Mrs. Crowl's voice that broke in upon the tirade.
"There's a _gentleman_ to see you." The astonishment Mrs. Crowl put into
the "gentleman" was delightful. It was almost as good as a week's rent to
her to give vent to her feelings. The controversial couple had moved away
from the window when Tom entered, and had not noticed the immediate
advent of another visitor who had spent his time profitably in listening
to Mrs. Crowl before asking to see the presumable object of his visit.

"Ask him up if it's a friend of yours, Cantercot," said Peter. It was
Wimp. Denzil was rather dubious as to the friendship, but he preferred to
take Wimp diluted. "Mortlake's upstairs," he said; "will you come up and
see him?"

Wimp had intended a duologue, but he made no objection, so he, too,
stumbled through the nine brats to Mrs. Crowl's bedroom. It was a queer
quartette. Wimp had hardly expected to find anybody at the house on
Boxing Day, but he did not care to waste a day. Was not Grodman, too, on
the track? How lucky it was that Denzil had made the first overtures,
so that he could approach him without exciting suspicion.

Mortlake scowled when he saw the detective. He objected to the police--on
principle. But Crowl had no idea who the visitor was, even when told his
name. He was rather pleased to meet one of Denzil's high-class friends,
and welcomed him warmly. Probably he was some famous editor, which would
account for his name stirring vague recollections. He summoned the eldest
brat and sent him for beer (people would have their Fads), and not
without trepidation called down to "Mother" for glasses. "Mother"
observed at night (in the same apartment) that the beer money might have
paid the week's school fees for half the family.

"We were just talking of poor Mr. Constant's portrait, Mr. Wimp," said
the unconscious Crowl; "they're going to unveil it, Mortlake tells me, on
the twenty-first of next month at the Bow Break o' Day Club."

"Ah," said Wimp, elate at being spared the trouble of manoeuvring the
conversation; "mysterious affair that, Mr. Crowl."

"No; it's the right thing," said Peter. "There ought to be some memorial
of the man in the district where he worked and where he died, poor chap."
The cobbler brushed away a tear.

"Yes, it's only right," echoed Mortlake, a whit eagerly. "He was a noble
fellow, a true philanthropist--the only thoroughly unselfish worker I've
ever met."

"He was that," said Peter; "and it's a rare pattern is unselfishness.
Poor fellow, poor fellow. He preached the Useful, too. I've never met his
like. Ah, I wish there was a heaven for him to go to!" He blew his nose
violently with a red pocket-handkerchief.

"Well, he's there, if there _is_," said Tom.

"I hope he is," added Wimp, fervently; "but I shouldn't like to go there
the way he did."

"You were the last person to see him, Tom, weren't you?" said Denzil.

"Oh, no," answered Tom, quickly. "You remember he went out after me; at
least, so Mrs. Drabdump said at the inquest."

"That last conversation he had with you, Tom," said Denzil. "He didn't
say anything to you that would lead you to suppose--"

"No, of course not!" interrupted Mortlake, impatiently.

"Do you really think he was murdered, Tom?" said Denzil.

"Mr. Wimp's opinion on that point is more valuable than mine,"
replied Tom, testily. "It may have been suicide. Men often get sick
of life--especially if they are bored," he added meaningly.

"Ah, but you were the last person known to be with him," said Denzil.

Crowl laughed. "Had you there, Tom."

But they did not have Tom there much longer, for he departed, looking
even worse-tempered than when he came. Wimp went soon after, and Crowl
and Denzil were left to their interminable argumentation concerning the
Useful and the Beautiful.

Wimp went West. He had several strings (or cords) to his bow, and he
ultimately found himself at Kensal Green Cemetery. Being there, he went
down the avenues of the dead to a grave to note down the exact date of a
death. It was a day on which the dead seemed enviable. The dull, sodden
sky, the dripping, leafless trees, the wet, spongy soil, the reeking
grass--everything combined to make one long to be in a warm, comfortable
grave away from the leaden _ennuis_ of life. Suddenly the detective's
keen eye caught sight of a figure that made his heart throb with sudden
excitement. It was that of a woman in a grey shawl and a brown bonnet,
standing before a railed-in grave. She had no umbrella. The rain plashed
mournfully upon her, but left no trace on her soaking garments. Wimp
crept up behind her, but she paid no heed to him. Her eyes were lowered
to the grave, which seemed to be drawing them towards it by some strange
morbid fascination. His eyes followed hers. The simple headstone bore the
name, "Arthur Constant."

Wimp tapped her suddenly on the shoulder.

"How do you do, Mrs. Drabdump?"

Mrs. Drabdump went deadly white. She turned round, staring at Wimp
without any recognition.

"You remember me, surely," he said; "I've been down once or twice to your
place about that poor gentleman's papers." His eye indicated the grave.

"Lor! I remember you now," said Mrs. Drabdump.

"Won't you come under my umbrella? You must be drenched to the skin."

"It don't matter, sir. I can't take no hurt. I've had the rheumatics this
twenty year."

Mrs. Drabdump shrank from accepting Wimp's attentions, not so much
perhaps because he was a man as because he was a gentleman. Mrs. Drabdump
liked to see the fine folks keep their place, and not contaminate their
skirts by contact with the lower castes. "It's set wet, it'll rain right
into the new year," she announced. "And they say a bad beginnin' makes a
worse endin'." Mrs. Drabdump was one of those persons who give you the
idea that they just missed being born barometers.

"But what are you doing in this miserable spot, so far from home?"
queried the detective.

"It's Bank Holiday," Mrs. Drabdump reminded him in tones of acute
surprise. "I always make a hexcursion on Bank Holiday."




VIII


The New Year drew Mrs. Drabdump a new lodger. He was an old gentleman
with a long grey beard. He rented the rooms of the late Mr. Constant, and
lived a very retired life. Haunted rooms--or rooms that ought to be
haunted if the ghosts of those murdered in them had any self-respect--are
supposed to fetch a lower rent in the market. The whole Irish problem
might be solved if the spirits of "Mr. Balfour's victims" would only
depreciate the value of property to a point consistent with the support
of an agricultural population. But Mrs. Drabdump's new lodger paid so
much for his rooms that he laid himself open to a suspicion of a special
interest in ghosts. Perhaps he was a member of the Psychical Society.
The neighbourhood imagined him another mad philanthropist, but as he did
not appear to be doing any good to anybody it relented and conceded his
sanity. Mortlake, who occasionally stumbled across him in the passage,
did not trouble himself to think about him at all. He was too full
of other troubles and cares. Though he worked harder than ever, the
spirit seemed to have gone out of him. Sometimes he forgot himself in
a fine rapture of eloquence--lashing himself up into a divine resentment
of injustice or a passion of sympathy with the sufferings of his
brethren--but mostly he plodded on in dull, mechanical fashion. He still
made brief provincial tours, starring a day here and a day there, and
everywhere his admirers remarked how jaded and overworked he looked.
There was talk of starting a subscription to give him a holiday on the
Continent--a luxury obviously unobtainable on the few pounds allowed
him per week. The new lodger would doubtless have been pleased to
subscribe, for he seemed quite to like occupying Mortlake's chamber the
nights he was absent, though he was thoughtful enough not to disturb the
hard-worked landlady in the adjoining room by unseemly noise. Wimp was
always a quiet man.

Meantime the twenty-first of the month approached, and the East-end was
in excitement. Mr. Gladstone had consented to be present at the ceremony
of unveiling the portrait of Arthur Constant, presented by an unknown
donor to the Bow Break o' Day Club, and it was to be a great function.
The whole affair was outside the lines of party politics, so that even
Conservatives and Socialists considered themselves justified in pestering
the committee for tickets. To say nothing of ladies! As the committee
desired to be present themselves, nine-tenths of the applications for
admission had to be refused, as is usual on these occasions. The
committee agreed among themselves to exclude the fair sex altogether as
the only way of disposing of their womankind, who were making speeches
as long as Mr. Gladstone's. Each committeeman told his sisters, female
cousins, and aunts, that the other committeemen had insisted on divesting
the function of all grace; and what could a man do when he was in a
minority of one?

Crowl, who was not a member of the Break o' Day Club, was particularly
anxious to hear the great orator whom he despised; fortunately Mortlake
remembered the cobbler's anxiety to hear himself, and on the eve of the
ceremony sent him a ticket. Crowl was in the first flush of possession
when Denzil Cantercot returned, after a sudden and unannounced absence
of three days. His clothes were muddy and tattered, his cocked hat was
deformed, his cavalier beard was matted, and his eyes were bloodshot.
The cobbler nearly dropped the ticket at the sight of him. "Hallo,
Cantercot!" he gasped. "Why, where have you been all these days?"

"Terribly busy!" said Denzil. "Here, give me a glass of water. I'm dry as
the Sahara."

Crowl ran inside and got the water, trying hard not to inform Mrs. Crowl
of their lodger's return. "Mother" had expressed herself freely on the
subject of the poet during his absence, and not in terms which would have
commended themselves to the poet's fastidious literary sense. Indeed, she
did not hesitate to call him a sponger and a low swindler, who had run
away to avoid paying the piper. Her fool of a husband might be quite sure
he would never set eyes on the scoundrel again. However, Mrs. Crowl was
wrong. Here was Denzil back again. And yet Mr. Crowl felt no sense of
victory. He had no desire to crow over his partner and to utter that
"See! didn't I tell you so?" which is a greater consolation than religion
in most of the misfortunes of life. Unfortunately, to get the water,
Crowl had to go to the kitchen; and as he was usually such a temperate
man, this desire for drink in the middle of the day attracted the
attention of the lady in possession. Crowl had to explain the situation.
Mrs. Crowl ran into the shop to improve it. Mr. Crowl followed in dismay,
leaving a trail of spilt water in his wake.

"You good-for-nothing, disreputable scare-crow, where have--"

"Hush, mother. Let him drink. Mr. Cantercot is thirsty."

"Does he care if my children are hungry?"

Denzil tossed the water greedily down his throat almost at a gulp, as if
it were brandy.

"Madam," he said, smacking his lips, "I do care. I care intensely. Few
things in life would grieve me more deeply than to hear that a child, a
dear little child--the Beautiful in a nutshell--had suffered hunger. You
wrong me." His voice was tremulous with the sense of injury. Tears stood
in his eyes.

"Wrong you? I've no wish to _wrong_ you," said Mrs. Crowl. "I should like
to _hang_ you."

"Don't talk of such ugly things," said Denzil, touching his throat
nervously.

"Well, what have you been doin' all this time?"

"Why, what should I be doing?"

"How should I know what became of you? I thought it was another murder."

"What!" Denzil's glass dashed to fragments on the floor. "What do you
mean?"

But Mrs. Crowl was glaring too viciously at Mr. Crowl to reply. He
understood the message as if it were printed. It ran: "You have broken
one of my best glasses. You have annihilated threepence, or a week's
school fees for half the family." Peter wished she would turn the
lightning upon Denzil, a conductor down whom it would run innocuously.
He stooped down and picked up the pieces as carefully as if they were
cuttings from the Koh-i-noor. Thus the lightning passed harmlessly over
his head and flew towards Cantercot.

"What do I mean?" Mrs. Crowl echoed, as if there had been no interval. "I
mean that it would be a good thing if you _had_ been murdered."

"What unbeautiful ideas you have to be sure!" murmured Denzil.

"Yes; but they'd be useful," said Mrs. Crowl, who had not lived with
Peter all these years for nothing. "And if you haven't been murdered,
what _have_ you been doing?"

"My dear, my dear," put in Crowl, deprecatingly, looking up from his
quadrupedal position like a sad dog, "you are not Cantercot's keeper."

"Oh, ain't I?" flashed his spouse. "Who else keeps him, I should like to
know?"

Peter went on picking up the pieces of the Koh-i-noor.

"I have no secrets from Mrs. Crowl," Denzil explained courteously. "I
have been working day and night bringing out a new paper. Haven't had a
wink of sleep for three nights."

Peter looked up at his bloodshot eyes with respectful interest.

"The capitalist met me in the street--an old friend of mine--I was
overjoyed at the _rencontre_ and told him the idea I'd been brooding over
for months, and he promised to stand all the racket."

"What sort of a paper?" said Peter.

"Can you ask? To what do you think I've been devoting my days and nights
but to the cultivation of the Beautiful?"

"Is that what the paper will be devoted to?"

"Yes. To the Beautiful."

"I know," snorted Mrs. Crowl, "with portraits of actresses."

"Portraits? Oh, no!" said Denzil. "That would be the True, not the
Beautiful."

"And what's the name of the paper?" asked Crowl.

"Ah, that's a secret, Peter. Like Scott, I prefer to remain anonymous."

"Just like your Fads. I'm only a plain man, and I want to know where the
fun of anonymity comes in. If I had any gifts, I should like to get the
credit. It's a right and natural feeling to my thinking."

"Unnatural, Peter; unnatural. We're all born anonymous, and I'm for
sticking close to Nature. Enough for me that I disseminate the Beautiful.
Any letters come during my absence, Mrs. Crowl?"

"No," she snapped. "But a gent named Grodman called. He said you hadn't
been to see him for some time, and looked annoyed to hear you'd
disappeared. How much have you let _him_ in for?"

"The man's in _my_ debt," said Denzil, annoyed. "I wrote a book for him
and he's taken all the credit for it, the rogue! My name doesn't appear
even in the Preface. What's that ticket you're looking so lovingly at,
Peter?"

"That's for to-night--the unveiling of Constant's portrait. Gladstone
speaks. Awful demand for places."

"Gladstone!" sneered Denzil. "Who wants to hear Gladstone? A man who's
devoted his life to pulling down the pillars of Church and State."

"A man who's devoted his whole life to propping up the crumbling Fads of
Religion and Monarchy. But, for all that, the man has his gifts, and I'm
burnin' to hear him."

"I wouldn't go out of my way an inch to hear him," said Denzil; and went
up to his room, and when Mrs. Crowl sent him up a cup of nice strong tea
at tea-time, the brat who bore it found him lying dressed on the bed,
snoring unbeautifully.

The evening wore on. It was fine frosty weather. The Whitechapel Road
swarmed with noisy life, as though it were a Saturday night. The stars
flared in the sky like the lights of celestial costermongers. Everybody
was on the alert for the advent of Mr. Gladstone. He must surely come
through the Road on his journey from the West Bow-wards. But nobody saw
him or his carriage, except those about the Hall. Probably he went by
tram most of the way. He would have caught cold in an open carriage, or
bobbing his head out of the window of a closed.

"If he had only been a German prince, or a cannibal king," said Crowl,
bitterly, as he plodded towards the Club, "we should have disguised Mile
End in bunting and blue fire. But perhaps it's a compliment. He knows his
London, and it's no use trying to hide the facts from him. They must have
queer notions of cities, those monarchs. They must fancy everybody lives
in a flutter of flags and walks about under triumphal arches, like as if
I were to stitch shoes in my Sunday clothes." By a defiance of chronology
Crowl had them on to-day, and they seemed to accentuate the simile.

"And why shouldn't life be fuller of the Beautiful?" said Denzil. The
poet had brushed the reluctant mud off his garments to the extent it was
willing to go, and had washed his face, but his eyes were still bloodshot
from the cultivation of the Beautiful. Denzil was accompanying Crowl to
the door of the Club out of good fellowship. Denzil was himself
accompanied by Grodman, though less obtrusively. Least obtrusively was he
accompanied by his usual Scotland Yard shadows, Wimp's agents. There was
a surging nondescript crowd about the Club, so that the police, and the
doorkeeper, and the stewards could with difficulty keep out the tide of
the ticketless, through which the current of the privileged had equal
difficulty in permeating. The streets all around were thronged with
people longing for a glimpse of Gladstone. Mortlake drove up in a hansom
(his head a self-conscious pendulum of popularity, swaying and bowing to
right and left) and received all the pent-up enthusiasm.

"Well, good-by, Cantercot," said Crowl.

"No, I'll see you to the door, Peter."

They fought their way shoulder to shoulder.

Now that Grodman had found Denzil he was not going to lose him again. He
had only found him by accident, for he was himself bound to the unveiling
ceremony, to which he had been invited in view of his known devotion to
the task of unveiling the Mystery. He spoke to one of the policemen
about, who said, "Ay, ay, sir," and he was prepared to follow Denzil, if
necessary, and to give up the pleasure of hearing Gladstone for an acuter
thrill. The arrest must be delayed no longer.

But Denzil seemed as if he were going in on the heels of Crowl. This
would suit Grodman better. He could then have the two pleasures. But
Denzil was stopped halfway through the door.

"Ticket, sir!"

Denzil drew himself up to his full height.

"Press," he said majestically. All the glories and grandeurs of the
Fourth Estate were concentrated in that haughty monosyllable. Heaven
itself is full of journalists who have overawed St. Peter. But the
doorkeeper was a veritable dragon.

"What paper, sir?"

"_New York Herald_" said Denzil, sharply. He did not relish his word
being distrusted.

"_New York Herald_" said one of the bystanding stewards, scarce catching
the sounds. "Pass him in."

And in the twinkling of an eye Denzil had eagerly slipped inside.

But during the brief altercation Wimp had come up. Even he could not make
his face quite impassive, and there was a suppressed intensity in the
eyes and a quiver about the mouth. He went in on Denzil's heels, blocking
up the doorway with Grodman. The two men were so full of their coming
_coups_ that they struggled for some seconds, side by side, before they
recognised each other. Then they shook hands heartily.

"That was Cantercot just went in, wasn't it, Grodman?" said Wimp.

"I didn't notice," said Grodman, in tones of utter indifference.

At bottom Wimp was terribly excited. He felt that his _coup_ was going
to be executed under very sensational circumstances. Everything would
combine to turn the eyes of the country upon him--nay, of the world, for
had not the Big Bow Mystery been discussed in every language under the
sun? In these electric times the criminal receives a cosmopolitan
reputation. It is a privilege he shares with few other artists. This time
Wimp would be one of them. And he felt deservedly so. If the criminal had
been cunning to the point of genius in planning the murder, he had been
acute to the point of divination in detecting it. Never before had he
pieced together so broken a chain. He could not resist the unique
opportunity of setting a sensational scheme in a sensational framework.
The dramatic instinct was strong in him; he felt like a playwright who
has constructed a strong melodramatic plot, and has the Drury Lane stage
suddenly offered him to present it on. It would be folly to deny himself
the luxury, though the presence of Mr. Gladstone and the nature of the
ceremony should perhaps have given him pause. Yet, on the other hand,
these were the very factors of the temptation. Wimp went in and took a
seat behind Denzil. All the seats were numbered, so that everybody might
have the satisfaction of occupying somebody else's. Denzil was in the
special reserved places in the front row just by the central gangway;
Crowl was squeezed into a corner behind a pillar near the back of the
hall. Grodman had been honoured with a seat on the platform, which was
accessible by steps on the right and left, but he kept his eye on Denzil.
The picture of the poor idealist hung on the wall behind Grodman's head,
covered by its curtain of brown holland. There was a subdued buzz of
excitement about the hall, which swelled into cheers every now and again
as some gentleman known to fame or Bow took his place upon the platform.
It was occupied by several local M.P.'s of varying politics, a number of
other Parliamentary satellites of the great man, three or four labour
leaders, a peer or two of philanthropic pretensions, a sprinkling of
Toynbee and Oxford Hall men, the president and other honorary officials,
some of the family and friends of the deceased, together with the
inevitable percentage of persons who had no claim to be there save cheek.
Gladstone was late--later than Mortlake, who was cheered to the echo when
he arrived, some one starting "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," as if it
were a political meeting. Gladstone came in just in time to acknowledge
the compliment. The noise of the song, trolled out from iron lungs, had
drowned the huzzahs heralding the old man's advent. The convivial chorus
went to Mortlake's head, as if champagne had really preceded it. His eyes
grew moist and dim. He saw himself swimming to the Millennium on waves of
enthusiasm. Ah, how his brother toilers should be rewarded for their
trust in him!

With his usual courtesy and consideration, Mr. Gladstone had refused to
perform the actual unveiling of Arthur Constant's portrait. "That," he
said in his postcard, "will fall most appropriately to Mr. Mortlake, a
gentleman who has, I am given to understand, enjoyed the personal
friendship of the late Mr. Constant, and has cooperated with him in
various schemes for the organisation of skilled and unskilled classes
of labour, as well as for the diffusion of better ideals--ideals of
self-culture and self-restraint--among the working men of Bow, who have
been fortunate, so far as I can perceive, in the possession (if in one
case unhappily only temporary possession) of two such men of undoubted
ability and honesty to direct their divided counsels and to lead them
along a road, which, though I cannot pledge myself to approve of it in
all its turnings and windings, is yet not unfitted to bring them somewhat
nearer to goals to which there are few of us but would extend some
measure of hope that the working classes of this great Empire may in due
course, yet with no unnecessary delay, be enabled to arrive."

Mr. Gladstone's speech was an expansion of his postcard, punctuated by
cheers. The only new thing in it was the graceful and touching way in
which he revealed what had been a secret up till then--that the portrait
had been painted and presented to the Bow Break o' Day Club, by Lucy
Brent, who in the fulness of time would have been Arthur Constant's wife.
It was a painting for which he had sat to her while alive, and she had
stifled yet pampered her grief by working hard at it since his death. The
fact added the last touch of pathos to the occasion. Crowl's face was
hidden behind his red handkerchief; even the fire of excitement in Wimp's
eye was quenched for a moment by a teardrop, as he thought of Mrs. Wimp
and Wilfred. As for Grodman, there was almost a lump in his throat.
Denzil Cantercot was the only unmoved man in the room. He thought the
episode quite too Beautiful, and was already weaving it into rhyme.

At the conclusion of his speech Mr. Gladstone called upon Tom Mortlake
to unveil the portrait. Tom rose, pale and excited. He faltered as he
touched the cord. He seemed overcome with emotion. Was it the mention of
Lucy Brent that had moved him to his depths?

The brown holland fell away--the dead stood revealed as he had been in
life. Every feature, painted by the hand of Love, was instinct with
vitality: the fine, earnest face, the sad kindly eyes, the noble brow,
seeming still a-throb with the thought of Humanity. A thrill ran through
the room--there was a low, undefinable murmur. Oh, the pathos and the
tragedy of it! Every eye was fixed, misty with emotion, upon the dead man
in the picture, and the living man who stood, pale and agitated, and
visibly unable to commence his speech, at the side of the canvas.
Suddenly a hand was laid upon the labour leader's shoulder, and there
rang through the hall in Wimp's clear, decisive tones the words--"Tom
Mortlake, I arrest you for the murder of Arthur Constant!"




IX


For a moment there was an acute, terrible silence. Mortlake's face was
that of a corpse; the face of the dead man at his side was flushed with
the hues of life. To the overstrung nerves of the onlookers, the brooding
eyes of the picture seemed sad and stern with menace, and charged with
the lightnings of doom.

It was a horrible contrast. For Wimp, alone, the painted face had fuller,
more tragical meanings. The audience seemed turned to stone. They sat or
stood--in every variety of attitude--frozen, rigid. Arthur Constant's
picture dominated the scene, the only living thing in a hall of the dead.

But only for a moment. Mortlake shook off the detective's hand.

"Boys!" he cried, in accents of infinite indignation, "this is a police
conspiracy."

His words relaxed the tension. The stony figures were agitated. A dull
excited hubbub answered him. The little cobbler darted from behind his
pillar, and leapt upon a bench. The cords of his brow were swollen with
excitement. He seemed a giant overshadowing the hall.

"Boys!" he roared, in his best Victoria Park voice, "listen to me. This
charge is a foul and damnable lie."

"Bravo!" "Hear, hear!" "Hooray!" "It is!" was roared back at him from all
parts of the room. Everybody rose and stood in tentative attitudes,
excited to the last degree.

"Boys!" Peter roared on, "you all know me. I'm a plain man, and I want to
know if it's likely a man would murder his best friend."

"No!" in a mighty volume of sound.

Wimp had scarcely calculated upon Mortlake's popularity. He stood on the
platform, pale and anxious as his prisoner.

"And if he did, why didn't they prove it the first time?"

"Hear, Hear!"

"And if they want to arrest him, why couldn't they leave it till the
ceremony was over? Tom Mortlake's not the man to run away."

"Tom Mortlake! Tom Mortlake! Three cheers for Tom Mortlake!" "Hip, hip,
hip, hooray!"

"Three groans for the police!" "Hoo! Oo! Oo!"

Wimp's melodrama was not going well. He felt like the author to whose
ears is borne the ominous sibilance of the pit. He almost wished he
had not followed the curtain-raiser with his own stronger drama.
Unconsciously the police, scattered about the hall, drew together. The
people on the platform knew not what to do. They had all risen and stood
in a densely packed mass. Even Mr. Gladstone's speech failed him in
circumstances so novel. The groans died away; the cheers for Mortlake
rose and swelled and fell and rose again. Sticks and umbrellas were
banged and rattled, handkerchiefs were waved, the thunder deepened. The
motley crowd still surging about the hall took up the cheers, and for
hundreds of yards around people were going black in the face out of mere
irresponsible enthusiasm. At last Tom waved his hand--the thunder
dwindled, died. The prisoner was master of the situation.

Grodman stood on the platform, grasping the back of his chair, a curious
mocking Mephistophelian glitter about his eyes, his lips wreathed into a
half smile. There was no hurry for him to get Denzil Cantercot arrested
now. Wimp had made an egregious, a colossal blunder. In Grodman's heart
there was a great, glad calm as of a man who has strained his sinews to
win in a famous match, and has heard the judge's word. He felt almost
kindly to Denzil now.

Tom Mortlake spoke. His face was set and stony. His tall figure was drawn
up haughtily to its full height. He pushed the black mane back from his
forehead with a characteristic gesture. The fevered audience hung upon
his lips--the men at the back leaned eagerly forward--the reporters were
breathless with fear lest they should miss a word. What would the great
labour leader have to say at this supreme moment?

"Mr. Chairman and gentlemen. It is to me a melancholy pleasure to have
been honoured with the task of unveiling to-night this portrait of a
great benefactor to Bow and a true friend to the labouring classes.
Except that he honoured me with his friendship while living, and that the
aspirations of my life have, in my small and restricted way, been
identical with his, there is little reason why this honourable duty
should have fallen upon me. Gentlemen, I trust that we shall all find an
inspiring influence in the daily vision of the dead, who yet liveth in
our hearts and in this noble work of art--wrought, as Mr. Gladstone has
told us, by the hand of one who loved him." The speaker paused a moment,
his low vibrant tones faltering into silence. "If we humble working men
of Bow can never hope to exert individually a tithe of the beneficial
influence wielded by Arthur Constant, it is yet possible for each of us
to walk in the light he has kindled in our midst--a perpetual lamp of
self-sacrifice and brotherhood."

That was all. The room rang with cheers. Tom Mortlake resumed his seat.
To Wimp the man's audacity verged on the Sublime; to Denzil on the
Beautiful. Again there was a breathless hush. Mr. Gladstone's mobile face
was working with excitement. No such extraordinary scene had occurred in
the whole of his extraordinary experience. He seemed about to rise. The
cheering subsided to a painful stillness. Wimp cut the situation by
laying his hand again upon Tom's shoulder.

"Come quietly with me," he said. The words were almost a whisper, but in
the supreme silence they travelled to the ends of the hall.

"Don't you go, Tom!" The trumpet tones were Peter's. The call thrilled an
answering chord of defiance in every breast, and a low ominous murmur
swept through the hall.

Tom rose, and there was silence again. "Boys," he said, "let me go. Don't
make any noise about it. I shall be with you again to-morrow."

But the blood of the Break o' Day boys was at fever heat. A hurtling mass
of men struggled confusedly from their seats. In a moment all was chaos.
Tom did not move. Half-a-dozen men headed by Peter scaled the platform.
Wimp was thrown to one side, and the invaders formed a ring round Tom's
chair. The platform people scampered like mice from the centre. Some
huddled together in the corners, others slipped out at the rear. The
committee congratulated themselves on having had the self-denial to
exclude ladies. Mr. Gladstone's satellites hurried the old man off and
into his carriage, though the fight promised to become Homeric. Grodman
stood at the side of the platform secretly more amused than ever,
concerning himself no more with Denzil Cantercot, who was already
strengthening his nerves at the bar upstairs. The police about the hall
blew their whistles, and policemen came rushing in from outside and the
neighbourhood. An Irish M.P. on the platform was waving his gingham like
a shillelagh in sheer excitement, forgetting his new-found respectability
and dreaming himself back at Donnybrook Fair. Him a conscientious
constable floored with a truncheon. But a shower of fists fell on the
zealot's face, and he tottered back bleeding. Then the storm broke in all
its fury. The upper air was black with staves, sticks, and umbrellas,
mingled with the pallid hailstones of knobby fists. Yells, and groans,
and hoots, and battle-cries blent in grotesque chorus, like one of
DvorŠk's weird diabolical movements. Mortlake stood impassive, with arms
folded, making no further effort, and the battle raged round him as the
water swirls round some steadfast rock. A posse of police from the back
fought their way steadily towards him, and charged up the heights of the
platform steps, only to be sent tumbling backwards, as their leader was
hurled at them like a battering-ram. Upon the top of the heap he fell,
surmounting the strata of policemen. But others clambered upon them,
escalading the platform. A moment more and Mortlake would have been
taken. Then the miracle happened.

As when of old a reputable goddess _ex machin‚_ saw her favourite hero in
dire peril, straightway she drew down a cloud from the celestial stores
of Jupiter and enveloped her fondling in kindly night, so that his
adversary strove with the darkness, so did Crowl, the cunning cobbler,
the much-daring, essay to ensure his friend's safety. He turned off the
gas at the meter.

An Arctic night--unpreceded by twilight--fell, and there dawned the
sabbath of the witches. The darkness could be felt--and it left blood and
bruises behind it. When the lights were turned on again, Mortlake was
gone. But several of the rioters were arrested, triumphantly.

And through all, and over all, the face of the dead man, who had sought
to bring peace on earth, brooded.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crowl sat meekly eating his supper of bread and cheese, with his head
bandaged, while Denzil Cantercot told him the story of how he had rescued
Tom Mortlake. He had been among the first to scale the height, and had
never budged from Tom's side or from the forefront of the battle till he
had seen him safely outside and into a by-street.

"I am so glad you saw that he got away safely," said Crowl, "I wasn't
quite sure he would."

"Yes; but I wish some cowardly fool hadn't turned off the gas. I like men
to _see_ that they are beaten."

"But it seemed--easier," faltered Crowl.

"Easier!" echoed Denzil, taking a deep draught of bitter. "Really, Peter,
I'm sorry to find you always will take such low views. It may be easier,
but it's shabby. It shocks one's sense of the Beautiful."

Crowl ate his bread and cheese shamefacedly.

"But what was the use of breaking your head to save him?" said Mrs.
Crowl, with an unconscious pun. "He must be caught."

"Ah, I don't see how the Useful _does_ come in, now," said Peter,
thoughtfully. "But I didn't think of that at the time."

He swallowed his water quickly, and it went the wrong way and added to
his confusion. It also began to dawn upon him that he might be called to
account. Let it be said at once that he wasn't. He had taken too
prominent a part.

Meantime, Mrs. Wimp was bathing Mr. Wimp's eye, and rubbing him generally
with arnica. Wimp's melodrama had been, indeed, a sight for the gods.
Only virtue was vanquished and vice triumphant. The villain had escaped,
and without striking a blow.




X


There was matter and to spare for the papers the next day. The striking
ceremony--Mr. Gladstone's speech--the sensational arrest--these would of
themselves have made excellent themes for reports and leaders. But the
personality of the man arrested, and the Big Bow Mystery Battle--as it
came to be called--gave additional piquancy to the paragraphs and the
posters. The behaviour of Mortlake put the last touch to the
picturesqueness of the position. He left the hall when the lights went
out, and walked unnoticed and unmolested through pleiads of policemen
to the nearest police station, where the superintendent was almost too
excited to take any notice of his demand to be arrested. But to do him
justice, the official yielded as soon as he understood the situation.
It seems inconceivable that he did not violate some red-tape regulation
in so doing. To some this self-surrender was limpid proof of innocence;
to others it was the damning token of despairing guilt.

The morning papers were pleasant reading for Grodman, who chuckled as
continuously over his morning egg, as if he had laid it. Jane was alarmed
for the sanity of her saturnine master. As her husband would have said,
Grodman's grins were not Beautiful. But he made no effort to suppress
them. Not only had Wimp perpetrated a grotesque blunder, but the
journalists to a man were down on his great sensation tableau, though
their denunciations did not appear in the dramatic columns. The Liberal
papers said that he had endangered Mr. Gladstone's life; the Conservative
that he had unloosed the raging elements of Bow blackguardism, and set in
motion forces which might have easily swelled to a riot, involving severe
destruction of property. But "Tom Mortlake" was, after all, the thought
swamping every other. It was, in a sense, a triumph for the man.

But Wimp's turn came when Mortlake, who reserved his defence, was brought
up before a magistrate, and by force of the new evidence, fully committed
for trial on the charge of murdering Arthur Constant. Then men's thoughts
centred again on the Mystery, and the solution of the inexplicable
problem agitated mankind from China to Peru.

In the middle of February, the great trial befell. It was another of the
opportunities which the Chancellor of the Exchequer neglects. So stirring
a drama might have easily cleared its expenses--despite the length of the
cast, the salaries of the stars, and the rent of the house--in mere
advance booking. For it was a drama which (by the rights of Magna Charta)
could never be repeated; a drama which ladies of fashion would have given
their earrings to witness, even with the central figure not a woman. And
there _was_ a woman in it anyhow, to judge by the little that had
transpired at the magisterial examination, and the fact that the country
was placarded with bills offering a reward for information concerning a
Miss Jessie Dymond. Mortlake was defended by Sir Charles Brown-Harland,
Q.C., retained at the expense of the Mortlake Defence Fund (subscriptions
to which came also from Australia and the Continent), and set on his
mettle by the fact that he was the accepted labour candidate for an
East-end constituency. Their Majesties, Victoria and the Law, were
represented by Mr. Robert Spigot, Q.C.

Mr. SPIGOT, Q.C, in presenting his case, said: "I propose to show that
the prisoner murdered his friend and fellow-lodger, Mr. Arthur Constant,
in cold blood, and with the most careful premeditation; premeditation
so studied, as to leave the circumstances of the death an impenetrable
mystery for weeks to all the world, though, fortunately, without
altogether baffling the almost superhuman ingenuity of Mr. Edward Wimp,
of the Scotland Yard Detective Department. I propose to show that the
motives of the prisoner were jealousy and revenge; jealousy, not only of
his friend's superior influence over the working men he himself aspired
to lead, but the more commonplace animosity engendered by the disturbing
element of a woman having relations to both. If, before my case is
complete, it will be my painful duty to show that the murdered man was
not the saint the world has agreed to paint him, I shall not shrink from
unveiling the truer picture, in the interests of justice, which cannot
say _nil nisi bonum_ even of the dead. I propose to show that the murder
was committed by the prisoner shortly before half-past six on the morning
of December 4th, and that the prisoner having, with the remarkable
ingenuity which he has shown throughout, attempted to prepare an alibi
by feigning to leave London by the _first_ train to Liverpool, returned
home, got in with his latch-key through the street door, which he had
left on the latch, unlocked his victim's bedroom with a key which he
possessed, cut the sleeping man's throat, pocketed his razor, locked the
door again, and gave it the appearance of being bolted, went downstairs,
unslipped the bolt of the big lock, closed the door behind him, and got
to Euston in time for the _second_ train to Liverpool. The fog helped
his proceedings throughout." Such was in sum the theory of the
prosecution. The pale, defiant figure in the dock winced perceptibly
under parts of it.

Mrs. Drabdump was the first witness called for the prosecution. She was
quite used to legal inquisitiveness by this time, but did not appear in
good spirits.

"On the night of December 3rd, you gave the prisoner a letter?"

"Yes, your ludship."

"How did he behave when he read it?"

"He turned very pale and excited. He went up to the poor gentleman's
room, and I'm afraid he quarrelled with him. He might have left his last
hours peaceful." (Amusement.)

"What happened then?"

"Mr. Mortlake went out in a passion, and came in again in about an hour."

"He told you he was going away to Liverpool very early the next morning?"

"No, your ludship, he said he was going to Devonport." (Sensation.)

"What time did you get up the next morning?"

"Half-past six."

"That is not your usual time?"

"No, I always get up at six."

"How do you account for the extra sleepiness?"

"Misfortunes will happen."

"It wasn't the dull, foggy weather?"

"No, my lud, else I should never get up early." (Laughter.)

"You drink something before going to bed?"

"I like my cup o' tea. I take it strong, without sugar. It always
steadies my nerves."

"Quite so. Where were you when the prisoner told you he was going to
Devonport?"

"Drinkin' my tea in the kitchen."

"What should you say if prisoner dropped something in it to make you
sleep late?"

WITNESS (startled): "He ought to be shot."

"He might have done it without your noticing it, I suppose?"

"If he was clever enough to murder the poor gentleman, he was clever
enough to try and poison me."

The JUDGE: "The witness in her replies must confine herself to the
evidence."

Mr. SPIGOT, Q.C.: "I must submit to your lordship that it is a very
logical answer, and exactly illustrates the interdependence of the
probabilities. Now, Mrs. Drabdump, let us know what happened when you
awoke at half-past six the next morning." Thereupon Mrs. Drabdump
recapitulated the evidence (with new redundancies, but slight variations)
given by her at the inquest. How she became alarmed--how she found the
street door locked by the big lock--how she roused Grodman, and got him
to burst open the door--how they found the body--all this with which the
public was already familiar _ad nauseam_ was extorted from her afresh.

"Look at this key (key passed to witness). Do you recognise it?"

"Yes; how did you get it? It's the key of my first-floor front. I am sure
I left it sticking in the door."

"Did you know a Miss Dymond?"

"Yes, Mr. Mortlake's sweetheart. But I knew he would never marry her,
poor thing." (Sensation.)

"Why not?"

"He was getting too grand for her." (Amusement.)

"You don't mean anything more than that?"

"I don't know; she only came to my place once or twice. The last time I
set eyes on her must have been in October."

"How did she appear?"

"She was very miserable, but she wouldn't let you see it." (Laughter.)

"How has the prisoner behaved since the murder?"

"He always seemed very glum and sorry for it."

Cross-examined: "Did not the prisoner once occupy the bedroom of Mr.
Constant, and give it up to him, so that Mr. Constant might have the two
rooms on the same floor?"

"Yes, but he didn't pay as much."

"And, while occupying this front bedroom, did not the prisoner once lose
his key and have another made?"

"He did; he was very careless."

"Do you know what the prisoner and Mr. Constant spoke about on the night
of December 3rd?"

"No; I couldn't hear."

"Then how did you know they were quarrelling?"

"They were talkin' so loud."

Sir CHARLES BROWN-HARLAND, Q.C. (sharply): "But I'm talking loudly to you
now. Should you say I was quarrelling?"

"It takes two to make a quarrel." (Laughter.)

"Was prisoner the sort of man who, in your opinion, would commit a
murder?"

"No, I never should ha' guessed it was him."

"He always struck you as a thorough gentleman?"

"No, my lud. I knew he was only a comp."

"You say the prisoner has seemed depressed since the murder. Might not
that have been due to the disappearance of his sweetheart?"

"No, he'd more likely be glad to get rid of her."

"Then he wouldn't be jealous if Mr. Constant took her off his hands?"
(Sensation.)

"Men are dog-in-the-mangers."

"Never mind about men, Mrs. Drabdump. Had the prisoner ceased to care for
Miss Dymond?"

"He didn't seem to think of her, my lud. When he got a letter in her
handwriting among his heap he used to throw it aside till he'd torn open
the others."

BROWN-HARLAND, Q.C. (with a triumphant ring in his voice): "Thank you,
Mrs. Drabdump. You may sit down."

SPIGOT, Q.C.: "One moment, Mrs. Drabdump. You say the prisoner had ceased
to care for Miss Dymond. Might not this have been in consequence of his
suspecting for some time that she had relations with Mr. Constant?"

The JUDGE: "That is not a fair question."

SPIGOT, Q.C.: "That will do, thank you, Mrs. Drabdump."

BROWN-HARLAND, Q.C.: "No; one question more, Mrs. Drabdump. Did you ever
see anything--say, when Miss Dymond came to your house--to make you
suspect anything between Mr. Constant and the prisoner's sweetheart?"

"She did meet him once when Mr. Mortlake was out." (Sensation.)

"Where did she meet him?"

"In the passage. He was going out when she knocked and he opened the
door." (Amusement.)

"You didn't hear what they said?"

"I ain't a eavesdropper. They spoke friendly and went away together."

Mr. GEORGE GRODMAN was called, and repeated his evidence at the inquest.
Cross-examined, he testified to the warm friendship between Mr. Constant
and the prisoner. He knew very little about Miss Dymond, having scarcely
seen her. Prisoner had never spoken to him much about her. He should not
think she was much in prisoner's thoughts. Naturally the prisoner had
been depressed by the death of his friend. Besides, he was overworked.
Witness thought highly of Mortlake's character. It was incredible that
Constant had had improper relations of any kind with his friend's
promised wife. Grodman's evidence made a very favourable impression on
the jury; the prisoner looked his gratitude; and the prosecution felt
sorry it had been necessary to call this witness.

Inspector HOWLETT and Sergeant RUNNYMEDE had also to repeat their
evidence. Dr. ROBINSON, police surgeon, likewise retendered his evidence
as to the nature of the wound, and the approximate hour of death. But
this time he was much more severely examined. He would not bind himself
down to state the time within an hour or two. He thought life had been
extinct two or three hours when he arrived, so that the deed had been
committed between seven and eight. Under gentle pressure from the
prosecuting counsel, he admitted that it might possibly have been between
six and seven. Cross-examined, he reiterated his impression in favour of
the later hour.

Supplementary evidence from medical experts proved as dubious and
uncertain as if the court had confined itself to the original witness. It
seemed to be generally agreed that the data for determining the time of
death of any body were too complex and variable to admit of very precise
inference; rigor mortis and other symptoms setting in within very wide
limits and differing largely in different persons. All agreed that death
from such a cut must have been practically instantaneous, and the theory
of suicide was rejected by all. As a whole the medical evidence tended to
fix the time of death, with a high degree of probability, between the
hours of six and half-past eight. The efforts of the prosecution were
bent upon throwing back the time of death to as early as possible after
about half-past five. The defence spent all its strength upon pinning the
experts to the conclusion that death could not have been earlier than
seven. Evidently the prosecution was going to fight hard for the
hypothesis that Mortlake had committed the crime in the interval between
the first and second trains for Liverpool; while the defence was
concentrating itself on an alibi, showing that the prisoner had travelled
by the second train which left Euston Station at a quarter-past seven, so
that there could have been no possible time for the passage between Bow
and Euston. It was an exciting struggle. As yet the contending forces
seemed equally matched. The evidence had gone as much for as against the
prisoner. But everybody knew that worse lay behind.

"Call Edward Wimp."

The story EDWARD WIMP had to tell began tamely enough with
thrice-threshed-out facts. But at last the new facts came.

"In consequence of suspicions that had formed in your mind you took up
your quarters, disguised, in the late Mr. Constant's rooms?"

"I did; at the commencement of the year. My suspicions had gradually
gathered against the occupants of No. 11 Glover Street, and I resolved to
quash or confirm these suspicions once for all."

"Will you tell the jury what followed?"

"Whenever the prisoner was away for the night I searched his room. I
found the key of Mr. Constant's bedroom buried deeply in the side of
prisoner's leather sofa. I found what I imagine to be the letter he
received on December 3rd, in the pages of a 'Bradshaw' lying under the
same sofa. There were two razors about."

Mr. SPIGOT, Q.C., said: "The key has already been identified by Mrs.
Drabdump. The letter I now propose to read."

It was undated, and ran as follows:--

  "Dear Tom,--This is to bid you farewell. It is best for us all. I am
  going a long way, dearest. Do not seek to find me, for it will be
  useless. Think of me as one swallowed up by the waters, and be assured
  that it is only to spare you shame and humiliation in the future that I
  tear myself from you and all the sweetness of life. Darling, there is
  no other way. I feel you could never marry me now. I have felt it for
  months. Dear Tom, you will understand what I mean. We must look facts
  in the face. I hope you will always be friends with Mr. Constant.
  Good-by, dear. God bless you! May you always be happy, and find a
  worthier wife than I. Perhaps when you are great, and rich, and famous,
  as you deserve, you will sometimes think not unkindly of one who,
  however faulty and unworthy of you, will at least love you till the
  end.--Yours, till death,

  "JESSIE."

By the time this letter was finished numerous old gentlemen, with wigs
or without, were observed to be polishing their glasses. Mr. Wimp's
examination was resumed.

"After making these discoveries what did you do?"

"I made inquiries about Miss Dymond, and found Mr. Constant had visited
her once or twice in the evening. I imagined there would be some traces
of a pecuniary connection. I was allowed by the family to inspect Mr.
Constant's cheque-book, and found a paid cheque made out for £25 in the
name of Miss Dymond. By inquiry at the Bank, I found it had been cashed
on November l2th of last year. I then applied for a warrant against the
prisoner."

Cross-examined: "Do you suggest that the prisoner opened Mr. Constant's
bedroom with the key you found?"

"Certainly."

BROWN-HARLAND, Q.C. (sarcastically): "And locked the door from within
with it on leaving?"

"Certainly."

"Will you have the goodness to explain how the trick was done?"

"It wasn't done. (Laughter.) The prisoner probably locked the door from
the outside. Those who broke it open naturally imagined it had been
locked from the inside when they found the key inside. The key would, on
this theory, be on the floor as the outside locking could not have been
effected if it had been in the lock. The first persons to enter the room
would naturally believe it had been thrown down in the bursting of the
door. Or it might have been left sticking very loosely inside the lock so
as not to interfere with the turning of the outside key, in which case it
would also probably have been thrown to the ground."

"Indeed. Very ingenious. And can you also explain how the prisoner could
have bolted the door within from the outside?"

"I can. (Renewed sensation.) There is only one way in which it was
possible--and that was, of course, a mere conjurer's illusion. To cause a
locked door to appear bolted in addition, it would only be necessary for
the person on the inside of the door to wrest the staple containing the
bolt from the woodwork. The bolt in Mr. Constant's bedroom worked
perpendicularly. When the staple was torn off, it would simply remain at
rest on the pin of the bolt instead of supporting it or keeping it fixed.
A person bursting open the door and finding the staple resting on the pin
and torn away from the lintel of the door, would, of course, imagine he
had torn it away, never dreaming the wresting off had been done
beforehand." (Applause in court, which was instantly checked by the
ushers.) The counsel for the defence felt he had been entrapped in
attempting to be sarcastic with the redoubtable detective. Grodman seemed
green with envy. It was the one thing he had not thought of.

Mrs. Drabdump, Grodman, Inspector Howlett, and Sergeant Runnymede were
recalled and reŽxammed by the embarrassed Sir Charles Brown-Harland as
to the exact condition of the lock and the bolt and the position of the
key. It turned out as Wimp had suggested; so prepossessed were the
witnesses with the conviction that the door was locked and bolted from
the inside when it was burst open that they were a little hazy about the
exact details. The damage had been repaired, so that it was all a
question of precise past observation. The inspector and the sergeant
testified that the key was in the lock when they saw it, though both the
mortice and the bolt were broken. They were not prepared to say that
Wimp's theory was impossible; they would even admit it was quite possible
that the staple of the bolt had been torn off beforehand. Mrs. Drabdump
could give no clear account of such petty facts in view of her immediate
engrossing interest in the horrible sight of the corpse. Grodman alone
was positive that the key was in the door when he burst it open. No, he
did not remember picking it up from the floor and putting it in. And
he was certain that the staple of the bolt was _not_ broken, from the
resistance he experienced in trying to shake the upper panels of the
door.

By the Prosecution: "Don't you think, from the comparative ease with
which the door yielded to your onslaught, that it is highly probable that
the pin of the bolt was not in a firmly fixed staple, but in one already
detached from the woodwork of the lintel?"

"The door did not yield so easily."

"But you must be a Hercules."

"Not quite; the bolt was old, and the woodwork crumbling; the lock was
new and shoddy. But I have always been a strong man."

"Very well, Mr. Grodman. I hope you will never appear at the
music-halls." (Laughter.)

Jessie Dymond's landlady was the next witness for the prosecution. She
corroborated Wimp's statements as to Constant's occasional visits, and
narrated how the girl had been enlisted by the dead philanthropist as a
collaborator in some of his enterprises. But the most telling portion of
her evidence was the story of how, late at night, on December 3rd, the
prisoner called upon her and inquired wildly about the whereabouts of his
sweetheart. He said he had just received a mysterious letter from Miss
Dymond saying she was gone. She (the landlady) replied that she could
have told him that weeks ago, as her ungrateful lodger was gone now some
three weeks without leaving a hint behind her. In answer to his most
ungentlemanly raging and raving, she told him it served him right, as he
should have looked after her better, and not kept away for so long. She
reminded him that there were as good fish in the sea as ever came out,
and a girl of Jessie's attractions need not pine away (as she had seemed
to be pining away) for lack of appreciation. He then called her a liar
and left her, and she hoped never to see his face again, though she was
not surprised to see it in the dock.

Mr. FITZJAMES MONTGOMERY, a bank clerk, remembered cashing the cheque
produced. He particularly remembered it, because he paid the money to a
very pretty girl. She took the entire amount in gold. At this point the
case was adjourned.

DENZIL CANTERCOT was the first witness called for the prosecution on the
resumption of the trial. Pressed as to whether he had not told Mr. Wimp
that he had overheard the prisoner denouncing Mr. Constant, he could not
say. He had not actually heard the prisoner's denunciations; he might
have given Mr. Wimp a false impression, but then Mr. Wimp was so
prosaically literal. (Laughter.) Mr. Crowl had told him something of the
kind. Cross-examined, he said Jessie Dymond was a rare spirit and she
always reminded him of Joan of Arc.

Mr. CROWL, being called, was extremely agitated. He refused to take the
oath, and informed the court that the Bible was a Fad. He could not swear
by anything so self-contradictory. He would affirm. He could not
deny--though he looked like wishing to--that the prisoner had at first
been rather mistrustful of Mr. Constant, but he was certain that the
feeling had quickly worn off. Yes, he was a great friend of the prisoner,
but he didn't see why that should invalidate his testimony, especially as
he had not taken an oath. Certainly the prisoner seemed rather depressed
when he saw him on Bank Holiday, but it was overwork on behalf of the
people and for the demolition of the Fads.

Several other familiars of the prisoner gave more or less reluctant
testimony as to his sometime prejudice against the amateur rival labour
leader. His expressions of dislike had been strong and bitter. The
prosecution also produced a poster announcing that the prisoner would
preside at a great meeting of clerks on December 4th. He had not turned
up at this meeting nor sent any explanation. Finally, there was the
evidence of the detectives who originally arrested him at Liverpool Docks
in view of his suspicious demeanour. This completed the case for the
prosecution.

Sir CHARLES BROWN-HARLAND, Q.C., rose with a swagger and a rustle of his
silk gown, and proceeded to set forth the theory of the defence. He said
he did not purpose to call many witnesses. The hypothesis of the
prosecution was so inherently childish and inconsequential, and so
dependent upon a bundle of interdependent probabilities that it crumbled
away at the merest touch. The prisoner's character was of unblemished
integrity, his last public appearance had been made on the same platform
with Mr. Gladstone, and his honesty and highmindedness had been vouched
for by statesmen of the highest standing. His movements could be
accounted for from hour to hour--and those with which the prosecution
credited him rested on no tangible evidence whatever. He was also
credited with superhuman ingenuity and diabolical cunning of which he had
shown no previous symptom. Hypothesis was piled on hypothesis, as in the
old Oriental legend, where the world rested on the elephant and the
elephant on the tortoise. It might be worth while, however, to point out
that it was at least quite likely that the death of Mr. Constant had not
taken place before seven, and as the prisoner left Euston Station at 7.15
A.M. for Liverpool, he could certainly not have got there from Bow in the
time; also that it was hardly possible for the prisoner, who could prove
being at Euston Station at 5.25 A.M., to travel backwards and forwards to
Glover Street and commit the crime all within less than two hours. "The
real facts," said Sir Charles, impressively, "are most simple. The
prisoner, partly from pressure of work, partly (he had no wish to
conceal) from worldly ambition, had begun to neglect Miss Dymond, to whom
he was engaged to be married. The man was but human, and his head was a
little turned by his growing importance. Nevertheless, at heart he was
still deeply attached to Miss Dymond. She, however, appears to have
jumped to the conclusion that he had ceased to love her, that she was
unworthy of him, unfitted by education to take her place side by side
with him in the new spheres to which he was mounting--that, in short, she
was a drag on his career. Being, by all accounts, a girl of remarkable
force of character, she resolved to cut the Gordian knot by leaving
London, and, fearing lest her affianced husband's conscientiousness
should induce him to sacrifice himself to her; dreading also, perhaps,
her own weakness, she made the parting absolute, and the place of her
refuge a mystery. A theory has been suggested which drags an honoured
name in the mire--a theory so superflous that I shall only allude to it.
That Arthur Constant could have seduced, or had any improper relations
with his friend's betrothed is a hypothesis to which the lives of both
give the lie. Before leaving London--or England--Miss Dymond wrote to her
aunt in Devonport--her only living relative in this country--asking her
as a great favour to forward an addressed letter to the prisoner, a
fortnight after receipt. The aunt obeyed implicitly. This was the letter
which fell like a thunderbolt on the prisoner on the night of December
3rd. All his old love returned--he was full of self-reproach and pity for
the poor girl. The letter read ominously. Perhaps she was going to put an
end to herself. His first thought was to rush up to his friend, Constant,
to seek his advice. Perhaps Constant knew something of the affair. The
prisoner knew the two were in not infrequent communication. It is
possible--my lord and gentlemen of the jury, I do not wish to follow the
methods of the prosecution and confuse theory with fact, so I say it is
possible--that Mr. Constant had supplied her with the £25 to leave the
country. He was like a brother to her, perhaps even acted imprudently in
calling upon her, though neither dreamed of evil. It is possible that he
may have encouraged her in her abnegation and in her altruistic
aspirations, perhaps even without knowing their exact drift, for does he
not speak in his very last letter of the fine female characters he was
meeting, and the influence for good he had over individual human souls?
Still, this we can now never know, unless the dead speak or the absent
return. It is also not impossible that Miss Dymond was entrusted with
the £25 for charitable purposes. But to come back to certainties. The
prisoner consulted Mr. Constant about the letter. He then ran to Miss
Dymond's lodgings in Stepney Green, knowing beforehand his trouble would
be futile. The letter bore the postmark of Devonport. He knew the girl
had an aunt there; possibly she might have gone to her. He could not
telegraph, for he was ignorant of the address. He consulted his
'Bradshaw,' and resolved to leave by the 5.30 A.M. from Paddington,
and told his landlady so. He left the letter in the 'Bradshaw,' which
ultimately got thrust among a pile of papers under the sofa, so that he
had to get another. He was careless and disorderly, and the key found by
Mr. Wimp in his sofa, which he was absurdly supposed to have hidden there
after the murder, must have lain there for some years, having been lost
there in the days when he occupied the bedroom afterwards rented by Mr.
Constant. For it was his own sofa, removed from that room, and the
suction of sofas was well known. Afraid to miss his train, he did not
undress on that distressful night. Meantime the thought occurred to him
that Jessie was too clever a girl to leave so easy a trail, and he jumped
to the conclusion that she would be going to her married brother in
America, and had gone to Devonport merely to bid her aunt farewell. He
determined therefore to get to Liverpool, without wasting time at
Devonport, to institute inquiries. Not suspecting the delay in the
transit of the letter, he thought he might yet stop her, even at the
landing-stage or on the tender. Unfortunately his cab went slowly in the
fog, he missed the first train, and wandered about brooding
disconsolately in the mist till the second. At Liverpool his suspicious,
excited demeanour procured his momentary arrest. Since then the thought
of the lost girl has haunted and broken him. That is the whole, the
plain, and the sufficing story."

The effective witnesses for the defence were, indeed, few. It is so hard
to prove a negative. There was Jessie's aunt, who bore out the statement
of the counsel for the defence. There were the porters who saw him leave
Euston by the 7.15 train for Liverpool, and arrive just too late for the
5.15; there was the cabman (2138), who drove him to Euston just in time,
he (witness) thought, to catch the 5.15 A.M. Under cross-examination, the
cabman got a little confused; he was asked whether, if he really picked
up the prisoner at Bow Railway Station at about 4.30, he ought not to
have caught the first train at Euston. He said the fog made him drive
rather slowly, but admitted the mist was transparent enough to warrant
full speed. He also admitted being a strong trade unionist, SPIGOT,
Q.C., artfully extorting the admission as if it were of the utmost
significance. Finally, there were numerous witnesses--of all sorts and
conditions--to the prisoner's high character, as well as to Arthur
Constant's blameless and moral life.

In his closing speech on the third day of the trial, Sir CHARLES pointed
out with great exhaustiveness and cogency the flimsiness of the case for
the prosecution, the number of hypotheses it involved, and their mutual
interdependence. Mrs. Drabdump was a witness whose evidence must be
accepted with extreme caution. The jury must remember that she was unable
to dissociate her observations from her inferences, and thought that the
prisoner and Mr. Constant were quarrelling merely because they were
agitated. He dissected her evidence, and showed that it entirely bore out
the story of the defence. He asked the jury to bear in mind that no
positive evidence (whether of cabmen or others) had been given of the
various and complicated movements attributed to the prisoner on the
morning of December 4th, between the hours of 5.25 and 7.15 A.M., and
that the most important witness on the theory of the prosecution--he
meant, of course, Miss Dymond--had not been produced. Even if she were
dead, and her body were found, no countenance would be given to the
theory of the prosecution, for the mere conviction that her lover had
deserted her would be a sufficient explanation of her suicide. Beyond the
ambiguous letter, no tittle of evidence of her dishonour--on which the
bulk of the case against the prisoner rested--had been adduced. As for
the motive of political jealousy that had been a mere passing cloud. The
two men had become fast friends. As to the circumstances of the alleged
crime, the medical evidence was on the whole in favour of the time of
death being late; and the prisoner had left London at a quarter-past
seven. The drugging theory was absurd, and as for the too clever bolt
and lock theories, Mr. Grodman, a trained scientific observer, had
pooh-poohed them. He would solemnly exhort the jury to remember that if
they condemned the prisoner they would not only send an innocent man to
an ignominious death on the flimsiest circumstantial evidence, but they
would deprive the working men of this country of one of their truest
friends and their ablest leader.

The conclusion of Sir Charles's vigorous speech was greeted with
irrepressible applause.

Mr. SPIGOT, Q.C., in closing the case for the prosecution, asked the
jury to return a verdict against the prisoner for as malicious and
premeditated a crime as ever disgraced the annals of any civilised
country. His cleverness and education had only been utilised for the
devil's ends, while his reputation had been used as a cloak. Everything
pointed strongly to the prisoner's guilt. On receiving Miss Dymond's
letter announcing her shame, and (probably) her intention to commit
suicide, he had hastened upstairs to denounce Constant. He had then
rushed to the girl's lodgings, and, finding his worst fears confirmed,
planned at once his diabolically ingenious scheme of revenge. He told his
landlady he was going to Devonport, so that if he bungled, the police
would be put temporarily off his track. His real destination was
Liverpool, for he intended to leave the country. Lest, however, his plan
should break down here, too, he arranged an ingenious alibi by being
driven to Euston for the 5.15 train to Liverpool. The cabman would not
know he did not intend to go by it, but meant to return to 11 Glover
Street, there to perpetrate this foul crime, interruption to which he had
possibly barred by drugging his landlady. His presence at Liverpool
(whither he really went by the second train) would corroborate the
cabman's story. That night he had not undressed nor gone to bed; he had
plotted out his devilish scheme till it was perfect; the fog came as an
unexpected ally to cover his movements. Jealousy, outraged affection, the
desire for revenge, the lust for political power--these were human. They
might pity the criminal, they could not find him innocent of the crime.

Mr. Justice CROGIE, summing up, began dead against the prisoner.
Reviewing the evidence, he pointed out that plausible hypotheses neatly
dove-tailed did not necessarily weaken one another, the fitting so well
together of the whole rather making for the truth of the parts. Besides,
the case for the prosecution was as far from being all hypothesis as the
case for the defence was from excluding hypotheses. The key, the letter,
the reluctance to produce the letter, the heated interview with Constant,
the misstatement about the prisoner's destination, the flight to
Liverpool, the false tale about searching for a "him," the denunciations
of Constant, all these were facts. On the other hand, there were various
lacunś and hypotheses in the case for the defence. Even conceding the
somewhat dubious alibi afforded by the prisoner's presence at Euston at
5.25 A.M., there was no attempt to account for his movements between that
and 7.15 A.M. It was as possible that he returned to Bow as that he
lingered about Euston. There was nothing in the medical evidence to make
his guilt impossible. Nor was there anything inherently impossible in
Constant's yielding to the sudden temptation of a beautiful girl, nor in
a working girl deeming herself deserted, temporarily succumbing to the
fascinations of a gentleman and regretting it bitterly afterwards. What
had become of the girl was a mystery. Hers might have been one of those
nameless corpses which the tide swirls up on slimy river banks. The jury
must remember, too, that the relation might not have actually passed into
dishonour, it might have been just grave enough to smite the girl's
conscience, and to induce her to behave as she had done. It was enough
that her letter should have excited the jealousy of the prisoner. There
was one other point which he would like to impress on the jury, and which
the counsel for the prosecution had not sufficiently insisted upon. This
was that the prisoner's guiltiness was the only plausible solution that
had ever been advanced of the Bow Mystery. The medical evidence agreed
that Mr. Constant did not die by his own hand. Some one must therefore
have murdered him. The number of people who could have had any possible
reason or opportunity to murder him was extremely small. The prisoner had
both reason and opportunity. By what logicians called the method of
exclusion, suspicion would attach to him on even slight evidence. The
actual evidence was strong and plausible, and now that Mr. Wimp's
ingenious theory had enabled them to understand how the door could have
been apparently locked and bolted from within, the last difficulty and
the last argument for suicide had been removed. The prisoner's guilt was
as clear as circumstantial evidence could make it. If they let him go
free, the Bow Mystery might henceforward be placed among the archives of
unavenged assassinations. Having thus well-nigh hung the prisoner, the
judge wound up by insisting on the high probability of the story for the
defence, though that, too, was dependent in important details upon the
prisoner's mere private statements to his counsel. The jury, being by
this time sufficiently muddled by his impartiality, were dismissed, with
the exhortation to allow due weight to every fact and probability in
determining their righteous verdict.

The minutes ran into hours, but the jury did not return. The shadows of
night fell across the reeking, fevered court before they announced their
verdict--

"Guilty!"

The judge put on his black cap.

The great reception arranged outside was a fiasco; the evening banquet
was indefinitely postponed. Wimp had won; Grodman felt like a whipped
cur.




XI


"So you were right," Denzil could not help saying as he greeted Grodman a
week afterwards. "I shall _not_ live to tell the story of how you
discovered the Bow murderer."

"Sit down," growled Grodman; "perhaps you will after all." There was a
dangerous gleam in his eyes. Denzil was sorry he had spoken.

"I sent for you," Grodman said, "to tell you that on the night Wimp
arrested Mortlake I had made preparations for your arrest."

Denzil gasped, "What for?"

"My dear Denzil, there is a little law in this country invented for the
confusion of the poetic. The greatest exponent of the Beautiful is only
allowed the same number of wives as the greengrocer. I do not blame
you for not being satisfied with Jane--she is a good servant but a bad
mistress--but it was cruel to Kitty not to inform her that Jane had a
prior right in you, and unjust to Jane not to let her know of the
contract with Kitty."

"They both know it now well enough, curse 'em," said the poet.

"Yes; your secrets are like your situations--you can't keep 'em long. My
poor poet, I pity you--betwixt the devil and the deep sea."

"They're a pair of harpies, each holding over me the Damocles sword of an
arrest for bigamy. Neither loves me."

"I should think they would come in very useful to you. You plant one in
my house to tell my secrets to Wimp, and you plant one in Wimp's house to
tell Wimp's secrets to me, I suppose. Out with some, then."

"Upon my honour, you wrong me. Jane brought _me_ here, not I Jane. As for
Kitty, I never had such a shock in my life as at finding her installed in
Wimp's house."

"She thought it safer to have the law handy for your arrest. Besides, she
probably desired to occupy a parallel position to Jane's. She must do
something for a living; _you_ wouldn't do anything for hers. And so you
couldn't go anywhere without meeting a wife! Ha! ha! ha! Serve you right,
my polygamous poet."

"But why should _you_ arrest me?"

"Revenge, Denzil. I have been the best friend you ever had in this cold,
prosaic world. You have eaten my bread, drunk my claret, written my book,
smoked my cigars, and pocketed my money. And yet, when you have an
important piece of information bearing on a mystery about which I am
thinking day and night, you calmly go and sell it to Wimp."

"I did-didn't," stammered Denzil.

"Liar! Do you think Kitty has any secrets from me? As soon as I
discovered your two marriages I determined to have you arrested for--your
treachery. But when I found you had, as I thought, put Wimp on the wrong
scent, when I felt sure that by arresting Mortlake he was going to make a
greater ass of himself than even nature had been able to do, then I
forgave you. I let you walk about the earth--and drink--freely. Now it is
Wimp who crows--everybody pats him on the back--they call him the mystery
man of the Scotland Yard tribe. Poor Tom Mortlake will be hanged, and all
through your telling Wimp about Jessie Dymond!"

"It was you yourself," said Denzil, sullenly. "Everybody was giving it
up. But you said 'Let us find out all that Arthur Constant did in the
last few months of his life.' Wimp couldn't miss stumbling on Jessie
sooner or later. I'd have throttled Constant, if I had known he'd touched
her," he wound up with irrelevant indignation.

Grodman winced at the idea that he himself had worked _ad majorem
gloriam_ of Wimp. And yet, had not Mrs. Wimp let out as much at the
Christmas dinner?

"What's past is past," he said gruffly. "But if Tom Mortlake hangs, you
go to Portland."

"How can I help Tom hanging?"

"Help the agitation as much as you can. Write letters under all sorts of
names to all the papers. Get everybody you know to sign the great
petition. Find out where Jessie Dymond is--the girl who holds the proof
of Mortlake's innocence."

"You really believe him innocent?"

"Don't be satirical, Denzil. Haven't I taken the chair at all the
meetings? Am I not the most copious correspondent of the Press?"

"I thought it was only to spite Wimp."

"Rubbish. It's to save poor Tom. He no more murdered Arthur Constant
than--you did!" He laughed an unpleasant laugh.

Denzil bade him farewell, frigid with fear.

Grodman was up to his ears in letters and telegrams. Somehow he had
become the leader of the rescue party--suggestions, subscriptions
came from all sides. The suggestions were burnt, the subscriptions
acknowledged in the papers and used for hunting up the missing girl. Lucy
Brent headed the list with a hundred pounds. It was a fine testimony
to her faith in her dead lover's honour.

The release of the Jury had unloosed "The Greater Jury," which always
now sits upon the smaller. Every means was taken to nullify the value
of the "palladium of British liberty." The foreman and the jurors were
interviewed, the judge was judged, and by those who were no judges. The
Home Secretary (who had done nothing beyond accepting office under the
Crown) was vituperated, and sundry provincial persons wrote
confidentially to the Queen. Arthur Constant's backsliding cheered
many by convincing them that others were as bad as themselves; and
well-to-do tradesmen saw in Mortlake's wickedness the pernicious effects
of Socialism. A dozen new theories were afloat. Constant had committed
suicide by Esoteric Buddhism, as witness his devotion to Mme. Blavatsky,
or he had been murdered by his Mahatma or victimised by Hypnotism,
Mesmerism, Somnambulism, and other weird abstractions. Grodman's great
point was--Jessie Dymond must be produced, dead or alive. The electric
current scoured the civilised world in search of her. What wonder if the
shrewder sort divined that the indomitable detective had fixed his last
hope on the girl's guilt? If Jessie had wrongs why should she not have
avenged them herself? Did she not always remind the poet of Joan of Arc?

Another week passed; the shadow of the gallows crept over the days; on,
on, remorselessly drawing nearer, as the last ray of hope sank below the
horizon. The Home Secretary remained inflexible; the great petitions
discharged their signatures at him in vain. He was a Conservative,
sternly conscientious; and the mere insinuation that his obstinacy was
due to the politics of the condemned only hardened him against the
temptation of a cheap reputation for magnanimity. He would not even grant
a respite, to increase the chances of the discovery of Jessie Dymond. In
the last of the three weeks there was a final monster meeting of protest.
Grodman again took the chair, and several distinguished faddists were
present, as well as numerous respectable members of society. The Home
Secretary acknowledged the receipt of their resolutions. The Trade Unions
were divided in their allegiance; some whispered of faith and hope,
others of financial defalcations. The former essayed to organise a
procession and an indignation meeting on the Sunday preceding the Tuesday
fixed for the execution, but it fell through on a rumour of confession.
The Monday papers contained a last masterly letter from Grodman exposing
the weakness of the evidence, but they knew nothing of a confession. The
prisoner was mute and disdainful, professing little regard for a life
empty of love and burdened with self-reproach. He refused to see
clergymen. He was accorded an interview with Miss Brent in the presence
of a gaoler, and solemnly asseverated his respect for her dead lover's
memory. Monday buzzed with rumours; the evening papers chronicled them
hour by hour. A poignant anxiety was abroad. The girl would be found.
Some miracle would happen. A reprieve would arrive. The sentence would be
commuted. But the short day darkened into night even as Mortlake's short
day was darkening. And the shadow of the gallows crept on and on, and
seemed to mingle with the twilight.

Crowl stood at the door of his shop, unable to work. His big grey eyes
were heavy with unshed tears. The dingy wintry road seemed one vast
cemetery; the street lamps twinkled like corpse-lights. The confused
sounds of the street life reached his ear as from another world. He did
not see the people who flitted to and fro amid the gathering shadows of
the cold, dreary night. One ghastly vision flashed and faded and flashed
upon the background of the duskiness.

Denzil stood beside him, smoking in silence. A cold fear was at his
heart. That terrible Grodman! As the hangman's cord was tightening round
Mortlake, he felt the convict's chains tightening round himself. And yet
there was one gleam of hope, feeble as the yellow flicker of the gas-lamp
across the way. Grodman had obtained an interview with the condemned late
that afternoon, and the parting had been painful, but the evening paper,
that in its turn had obtained an interview with the ex-detective,
announced on its placard

  "GRODMAN STILL CONFIDENT"

and the thousands who yet pinned their faith on this extraordinary man
refused to extinguish the last sparks of hope. Denzil had bought the
paper and scanned it eagerly, but there was nothing save the vague
assurance that the indefatigable Grodman was still almost pathetically
expectant of the miracle. Denzil did not share the expectation; he
meditated flight.

"Peter," he said at last, "I'm afraid it's all over."

Crowl nodded, heart-broken. "All over!" he repeated, "and to think that
he dies--and it is--all over!"

He looked despairingly at the blank winter sky, where leaden clouds shut
out the stars. "Poor, poor young fellow! To-night alive and thinking.
To-morrow night a clod, with no more sense or motion than a bit of
leather! No compensation nowhere for being cut off innocent in the pride
of youth and strength! A man who has always preached the Useful day and
night, and toiled and suffered for his fellows. Where's the justice of
it, where's the justice of it?" he demanded fiercely. Again his wet eyes
wandered upwards towards heaven, that heaven away from which the soul of
a dead saint at the Antipodes was speeding into infinite space.

"Well, where was the justice for Arthur Constant if he, too, was
innocent?" said Denzil. "Really, Peter, I don't see why you should take
it for granted that Tom is so dreadfully injured. Your horny-handed
labour leaders are, after all, men of no aesthetic refinement, with no
sense of the Beautiful; you cannot expect them to be exempt from the
coarser forms of crime. Humanity must look to far other leaders--to the
seers and the poets!"

"Cantercot, if you say Tom's guilty I'll knock you down." The little
cobbler turned upon his tall friend like a roused lion. Then he added,
"I beg your pardon, Cantercot, I don't mean that. After all, I've no
grounds. The judge is an honest man, and with gifts I can't lay claim to.
But I believe in Tom with all my heart. And if Tom is guilty I believe in
the Cause of the People with all my heart all the same. The Fads are
doomed to death, they may be reprieved, but they must die at last."

He drew a deep sigh, and looked along the dreary Road. It was quite dark
now, but by the light of the lamps and the gas in the shop windows the
dull, monotonous Road lay revealed in all its sordid, familiar outlines;
with its long stretches of chill pavement, its unlovely architecture, and
its endless stream of prosaic pedestrians.

A sudden consciousness of the futility of his existence pierced the
little cobbler like an icy wind. He saw his own life, and a hundred
million lives like his, swelling and breaking like bubbles on a dark
ocean, unheeded, uncared for.

A newsboy passed along, clamouring "The Bow murderer, preparaitions for
the hexecution!"

A terrible shudder shook the cobbler's frame. His eyes ranged sightlessly
after the boy; the merciful tears filled them at last.

"The Cause of the People," he murmured brokenly, "I believe in the Cause
of the People. There is nothing else."

"Peter, come in to tea, you'll catch cold," said Mrs. Crowl.

Denzil went in to tea and Peter followed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meantime, round the house of the Home Secretary, who was in town, an
ever-augmenting crowd was gathered, eager to catch the first whisper of a
reprieve.

The house was guarded by a cordon of police, for there was no
inconsiderable danger of a popular riot. At times a section of the crowd
groaned and hooted. Once a volley of stones was discharged at the
windows. The newsboys were busy vending their special editions, and the
reporters struggled through the crowd, clutching descriptive pencils, and
ready to rush off to telegraph offices should anything "extra special"
occur. Telegraph boys were coming up every now and again with threats,
messages, petitions, and exhortations from all parts of the country to
the unfortunate Home Secretary, who was striving to keep his aching head
cool as he went through the voluminous evidence for the last time and
pondered over the more important letters which "The Greater Jury" had
contributed to the obscuration of the problem. Grodman's letter in that
morning's paper shook him most; under his scientific analysis the
circumstantial chain seemed forged of painted cardboard. Then the poor
man read the judge's summing up, and the chain became tempered steel. The
noise of the crowd outside broke upon his ear in his study like the roar
of a distant ocean. The more the rabble hooted him, the more he essayed
to hold scrupulously the scales of life and death. And the crowd grew
and grew, as men came away from their work. There were many that loved
the man who lay in the jaws of death, and a spirit of mad revolt surged
in their breasts. And the sky was grey, and the bleak night deepened, and
the shadow of the gallows crept on.

Suddenly a strange inarticulate murmur spread through the crowd, a vague
whisper of no one knew what. Something had happened. Somebody was
coming. A second later and one of the outskirts of the throng was
agitated, and a convulsive cheer went up from it, and was taken up
infectiously all along the street. The crowd parted--a hansom dashed
through the centre. "Grodman! Grodman!" shouted those who recognised the
occupant. "Grodman! Hurrah!" Grodman was outwardly calm and pale,
but his eyes glittered; he waved his hand encouragingly as the hansom
dashed up to the door, cleaving the turbulent crowd as a canoe cleaves
the waters. Grodman sprang out, the constables at the portal made way for
him respectfully. He knocked imperatively, the door was opened
cautiously; a boy rushed up and delivered a telegram; Grodman forced his
way in, gave his name, and insisted on seeing the Home Secretary on a
matter of life and death. Those near the door heard his words and
cheered, and the crowd divined the good omen, and the air throbbed with
cannonades of joyous sound. The cheers rang in Grodman's ears as the door
slammed behind him. The reporters struggled to the front. An excited knot
of working men pressed round the arrested hansom; they took the horse
out. A dozen enthusiasts struggled for the honour of placing themselves
between the shafts. And the crowd awaited Grodman.




XII


Grodman was ushered into the conscientious Minister's study. The doughty
chief of the agitation was, perhaps, the one man who could not be denied.
As he entered, the Home Secretary's face seemed lit up with relief. At a
sign from his master, the amanuensis who had brought in the last telegram
took it back with him into the outer room where he worked. Needless to
say not a tithe of the Minister's correspondence ever came under his own
eyes.

"You have a valid reason for troubling me, I suppose, Mr. Grodman?" said
the Home Secretary, almost cheerfully. "Of course it is about Mortlake?"

"It is; and I have the best of all reasons."

"Take a seat. Proceed."

"Pray do not consider me impertinent, but have you ever given any
attention to the science of evidence?"

"How do you mean?" asked the Home Secretary, rather puzzled, adding, with
a melancholy smile, "I have had to lately. Of course, I've never been a
criminal lawyer, like some of my predecessors. But I should hardly speak
of it as a science; I look upon it as a question of common-sense."

"Pardon me, sir. It is the most subtle and difficult of all the sciences.
It is, indeed, rather the science of the sciences. What is the whole of
Inductive Logic, as laid down, say, by Bacon and Mill, but an attempt
to appraise the value of evidence, the said evidence being the trails
left by the Creator, so to speak? The Creator has--I say it in all
reverence--drawn a myriad red herrings across the track, but the true
scientist refuses to be baffled by superficial appearances in detecting
the secrets of Nature. The vulgar herd catches at the gross apparent
fact, but the man of insight knows that what lies on the surface does
lie."

"Very interesting, Mr. Grodman, but really--"

"Bear with me, sir. The science of evidence being thus so extremely
subtle, and demanding the most acute and trained observation of facts,
the most comprehensive understanding of human psychology, is naturally
given over to professors who have not the remotest idea that 'things are
not what they seem,' and that everything is other than it appears; to
professors, most of whom by their year-long devotion to the shop-counter
or the desk, have acquired an intimate acquaintance with all the infinite
shades and complexities of things and human nature. When twelve of these
professors are put in a box, it is called a jury. When one of these
professors is put in a box by himself, he is called a witness. The
retailing of evidence--the observation of the facts--is given over to
people who go through their lives without eyes; the appreciation of
evidence--the judging of these facts--is surrendered to people who may
possibly be adepts in weighing out pounds of sugar. Apart from their
sheer inability to fulfil either function--to observe, or to judge--their
observation and their judgment alike are vitiated by all sorts of
irrelevant prejudices."

"You are attacking trial by jury."

"Not necessarily. I am prepared to accept that scientifically, on the
ground that, as there are, as a rule, only two alternatives, the balance
of probability is slightly in favour of the true decision being come to.
Then, in cases where experts like myself have got up the evidence, the
jury can be made to see through trained eyes."

The Home Secretary tapped impatiently with his foot.

"I can't listen to abstract theorising," he said. "Have you any fresh
concrete evidence?"

"Sir, everything depends on our getting down to the root of the matter.
What percentage of average evidence should you think is thorough, plain,
simple, unvarnished fact, 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but
the truth'?"

"Fifty?" said the Minister, humouring him a little.

"Not five. I say nothing of lapses of memory, of inborn defects of
observational power--though the suspiciously precise recollection of
dates and events possessed by ordinary witnesses in important trials
taking place years after the occurrences involved, is one of the most
amazing things in the curiosities of modern jurisprudence. I defy you,
sir, to tell me what you had for dinner last Monday, or what exactly you
were saying and doing at five o'clock last Tuesday afternoon. Nobody
whose life does not run in mechanical grooves can do anything of the
sort; unless, of course, the facts have been very impressive. But this by
the way. The great obstacle to veracious observation is the element of
prepossession in all vision. Has it ever struck you, sir, that we never
_see_ any one more than once, if that? The first time we meet a man we
may possibly see him as he is; the second time our vision is coloured and
modified by the memory of the first. Do our friends appear to us as they
appear to strangers? Do our rooms, our furniture, our pipes strike our
eye as they would strike the eye of an outsider, looking on them for the
first time? Can a mother see her babe's ugliness, or a lover his
mistress's shortcomings, though they stare everybody else in the face?
Can we see ourselves as others see us? No; habit, prepossession changes
all. The mind is a large factor of every so-called external fact. The eye
sees, sometimes, what it wishes to see, more often what it expects to
see. You follow me, sir?"

The Home Secretary nodded his head less impatiently. He was beginning to
be interested. The hubbub from without broke faintly upon their ears.

"To give you a definite example. Mr. Wimp says that when I burst open the
door of Mr. Constant's room on the morning of December 4th, and saw that
the staple of the bolt had been wrested by the pin from the lintel, I
jumped at once to the conclusion that I had broken the bolt. Now I admit
that this was so, only in things like this you do not seem to _conclude_,
you jump so fast that you _see_, or seem to. On the other hand, when you
_see_ a _standing_ ring of fire produced by whirling a burning stick, you
do _not_ believe in its continuous existence. It is the same when
witnessing a legerdemain performance. Seeing is not always believing,
despite the proverb; but believing is often seeing. It is not to the
point that in that little matter of the door Wimp was as hopelessly and
incurably wrong as he has been in everything all along. The door _was_
securely bolted. Still I confess that I should have seen that I had
broken the bolt in forcing the door, even if it had been broken
beforehand. Never once since December 4th did this possibility occur
to me, till Wimp with perverted ingenuity suggested it. If this is the
case with a trained observer, one moreover fully conscious of this
ineradicable tendency of the human mind, how must it be with an untrained
observer?"

"Come to the point, come to the point," said the Home Secretary, putting
out his hand as if it itched to touch the bell on the writing-table.

"Such as," went on Grodman, imperturbably, "such as--Mrs. Drabdump. That
worthy person is unable, by repeated violent knocking, to arouse her
lodger who yet desires to be aroused; she becomes alarmed, she rushes
across to get my assistance; I burst open the door--what do you think the
good lady expected to see?"

"Mr. Constant murdered, I suppose," murmured the Home Secretary,
wonderingly.

"Exactly. And so she saw it. And what should you think was the condition
of Arthur Constant when the door yielded to my violent exertions and flew
open?"

"Why, was he not dead?" gasped the Home Secretary, his heart fluttering
violently.

"Dead? A young, healthy fellow like that! When the door flew open, Arthur
Constant was sleeping the sleep of the just. It was a deep, a very deep
sleep, of course, else the blows at his door would long since have
awakened him. But all the while Mrs. Drabdump's fancy was picturing her
lodger cold and stark, the poor young fellow was lying in bed in a nice
warm sleep."

"You mean to say you found Arthur Constant alive?"

"As you were last night."

The Minister was silent, striving confusedly to take in the situation.
Outside the crowd was cheering again. It was probably to pass the time.

"Then, when was he murdered?"

"Immediately afterwards."

"By whom?"

"Well, that is, if you will pardon me, not a very intelligent question.
Science and common-sense are in accord for once. Try the method of
exhaustion. It must have been either by Mrs. Drabdump or myself."

"You mean to say that Mrs. Drabdump--!"

"Poor dear Mrs. Drabdump, you don't deserve this of your Home Secretary!
The idea of that good lady!"

"It was _you_!"

"Calm yourself, my dear Home Secretary. There is nothing to be alarmed
at. It was a solitary experiment, and I intend it to remain so." The
noise without grew louder. "Three cheers for Grodman! Hip, hip, hip,
hooray," fell faintly on their ears.

But the Minister, pallid and deeply moved, touched the bell. The Home
Secretary's home secretary appeared. He looked at the great man's
agitated face with suppressed surprise.

"Thank you for calling in your amanuensis," said Grodman. "I intended to
ask you to lend me his services. I suppose he can write shorthand."

The Minister nodded, speechless.

"That is well. I intend this statement to form the basis of an appendix
to the twenty-fifth edition--sort of silver wedding--of my book,
_Criminals I have Caught_. Mr. Denzil Cantercot, who, by the will I have
made to-day, is appointed my literary executor, will have the task of
working it up with literary and dramatic touches after the model of the
other chapters of my book. I have every confidence he will be able to do
me as much justice, from a literary point of view, as you, sir, no doubt
will from a legal. I feel certain he will succeed in catching the style
of the other chapters to perfection."

"Templeton," whispered the Home Secretary, "this man may be a lunatic.
The effort to solve the Big Bow Mystery may have addled his brain.
Still," he added aloud, "it will be as well for you to take down his
statement in shorthand."

"Thank you, sir," said Grodman, heartily. "Ready, Mr. Templeton? Here
goes. My career till I left the Scotland Yard Detective Department is
known to all the world. Is that too fast for you, Mr. Templeton? A
little? Well, I'll go slower; but pull me up if I forget to keep the
brake on. When I retired, I discovered that I was a bachelor. But it was
too late to marry. Time hung heavy on my hands. The preparation of my
book, _Criminals I have Caught_, kept me occupied for some months. When
it was published, I had nothing more to do but think. I had plenty of
money, and it was safely invested; there was no call for speculation. The
future was meaningless to me; I regretted I had not elected to die in
harness. As idle old men must, I lived in the past. I went over and over
again my ancient exploits; I re-read my book. And as I thought and
thought, away from the excitement of the actual hunt, and seeing the
facts in a truer perspective, so it grew daily clearer to me that
criminals were more fools than rogues. Every crime I had traced,
however cleverly perpetrated, was from the point of view of penetrability
a weak failure. Traces and trails were left on all sides--ragged edges,
rough-hewn corners; in short, the job was botched, artistic completeness
unattained. To the vulgar, my feats might seem marvellous--the average
man is mystified to grasp how you detect the letter 'e' in a simple
cryptogram--to myself they were as commonplace as the crimes they
unveiled. To me now, with my lifelong study of the science of evidence,
it seemed possible to commit not merely one but a thousand crimes that
should be absolutely undiscoverable. And yet criminals would go on
sinning, and giving themselves away, in the same old grooves--no
originality, no dash, no individual insight, no fresh conception! One
would imagine there were an Academy of crime with forty thousand
armchairs. And gradually, as I pondered and brooded over the thought,
there came upon me the desire to commit a crime that should baffle
detection. I could invent hundreds of such crimes, and please myself by
imagining them done; but would they really work out in practice?
Evidently the sole performer of my experiment must be myself; the
subject--whom or what? Accident should determine. I itched to commence
with murder--to tackle the stiffest problems first, and I burned to
startle and baffle the world--especially the world of which I had ceased
to be. Outwardly I was calm, and spoke to the people about me as usual.
Inwardly I was on fire with a consuming scientific passion. I sported
with my pet theories, and fitted them mentally on every one I met. Every
friend or acquaintance I sat and gossiped with, I was plotting how to
murder without leaving a clue. There is not one of my friends or
acquaintances I have not done away with in thought. There is no public
man--have no fear, my dear Home Secretary--I have not planned to
assassinate secretly, mysteriously, unintelligibly, undiscoverably.
Ah, how I could give the stock criminals points--with their second-hand
motives, their conventional conceptions, their commonplace details, their
lack of artistic feeling and restraint."

The crowd had again started cheering. Impatient as the watchers were,
they felt that no news was good news. The longer the interview accorded
by the Home Secretary to the chairman of the Defence Committee, the
greater the hope his obduracy was melting. The idol of the people would
be saved, and "Grodman" and "Tom Mortlake" were mingled in the exultant
plaudits.

"The late Arthur Constant," continued the great criminologist, "came to
live nearly opposite me. I cultivated his acquaintance--he was a lovable
young fellow, an excellent subject for experiment. I do not know when I
have ever taken to a man more. From the moment I first set eyes on him,
there was a peculiar sympathy between us. We were drawn to each other. I
felt instinctively he would be the man. I loved to hear him speak
enthusiastically of the Brotherhood of Man--I, who knew the brotherhood
of man was to the ape, the serpent, and the tiger--and he seemed to find
a pleasure in stealing a moment's chat with me from his engrossing
self-appointed duties. It is a pity humanity should have been robbed of
so valuable a life. But it had to be. At a quarter to ten on the night of
December 3rd he came to me. Naturally I said nothing about this visit
at the inquest or the trial. His object was to consult me mysteriously
about some girl. He said he had privately lent her money--which she was
to repay at her convenience. What the money was for he did not know,
except that it was somehow connected with an act of abnegation in which
he had vaguely encouraged her. The girl had since disappeared, and he
was in distress about her. He would not tell me who it was--of course
now, sir, you know as well as I it was Jessie Dymond--but asked for
advice as to how to set about finding her. He mentioned that Mortlake
was leaving for Devonport by the first train on the next day. Of old I
should have connected these two facts and sought the thread; now, as he
spoke, all my thoughts were dyed red. He was suffering perceptibly from
toothache, and in answer to my sympathetic inquiries told me it had been
allowing him very little sleep. Everything combined to invite the trial
of one of my favourite theories. I spoke to him in a fatherly way, and
when I had tendered some vague advice about the girl, I made him promise
to secure a night's rest (before he faced the arduous tram-men's meeting
in the morning) by taking a sleeping draught. I gave him a quantity of
sulfonal in a phial. It is a new drug, which produces protracted sleep
without disturbing digestion, and which I use myself. He promised
faithfully to take the draught; and I also exhorted him earnestly to bolt
and bar and lock himself in so as to stop up every chink or aperture by
which the cold air of the winter's night might creep into the room. I
remonstrated with him on the careless manner he treated his body, and he
laughed in his good-humoured, gentle way, and promised to obey me in all
things. And he did. That Mrs. Drabdump, failing to rouse him, would cry
'Murder!' I took for certain. She is built that way. As even Sir Charles
Brown-Harland remarked, she habitually takes her prepossessions for
facts, her inferences for observations. She forecasts the future in grey.
Most women of Mrs. Drabdump's class would have behaved as she did. She
happened to be a peculiarly favourable specimen for working on by
'suggestion,' but I would have undertaken to produce the same effect on
almost any woman. The key to the Big Bow Mystery is feminine psychology.
The only uncertain link in the chain was, Would Mrs. Drabdump rush across
to get _me_ to break open the door? Women always rush for a man. I was
well-nigh the nearest, and certainly the most authoritative man in the
street, and I took it for granted she would."

"But suppose she hadn't?" the Home Secretary could not help asking.

"Then the murder wouldn't have happened, that's all. In due course Arthur
Constant would have awoke, or somebody else breaking open the door would
have found him sleeping; no harm done, nobody any the wiser. I could
hardly sleep myself that night. The thought of the extraordinary crime
I was about to commit--a burning curiosity to know whether Wimp would
detect _the modus operandi_--the prospect of sharing the feelings of
murderers with whom I had been in contact all my life without being in
touch with the terrible joys of their inner life--the fear lest I should
be too fast asleep to hear Mrs. Drabdump's knock--these things agitated
me and disturbed my rest. I lay tossing on my bed, planning every detail
of poor Constant's end. The hours dragged slowly and wretchedly on
towards the misty dawn. I was racked with suspense. Was I to be
disappointed after all? At last the welcome sound came--the rat-tat-tat
of murder. The echoes of that knock are yet in my ear. 'Come over and
kill him!' I put my night-capped head out of the window and told her to
wait for me. I dressed hurriedly, took my razor, and went across to 11
Glover Street. As I broke open the door of the bedroom in which Arthur
Constant lay sleeping, his head resting on his hands, I cried, 'My God!'
as if I saw some awful vision. A mist as of blood swam before Mrs.
Drabdump's eyes. She cowered back, for an instant (I divined rather than
saw the action) she shut off the dreaded sight with her hands. In that
instant I had made my cut--precisely, scientifically--made so deep a cut
and drawn out the weapon so sharply that there was scarce a drop of blood
on it; then there came from the throat a jet of blood which Mrs.
Drabdump, conscious only of the horrid gash, saw but vaguely. I covered
up the face quickly with a handkerchief to hide any convulsive
distortion. But as the medical evidence (in this detail accurate)
testified, death was instantaneous. I pocketed the razor and the empty
sulfonal phial. With a woman like Mrs. Drabdump to watch me, I could do
anything I pleased. I got her to draw my attention to the fact that both
the windows were fastened. Some fool, by the by, thought there was a
discrepancy in the evidence because the police found only one window
fastened, forgetting that, in my innocence I took care not to refasten
the window I had opened to call for aid. Naturally I did not call for aid
before a considerable time had elapsed. There was Mrs. Drabdump to quiet,
and the excuse of making notes--as an old hand. My object was to gain
time. I wanted the body to be fairly cold and stiff before being
discovered, though there was not much danger here; for, as you saw by the
medical evidence, there is no telling the time of death to an hour or
two. The frank way in which I said the death was very recent disarmed all
suspicion, and even Dr. Robinson was unconsciously worked upon, in
adjudging the time of death, by the knowledge (query here, Mr. Templeton)
that it had preceded my advent on the scene.

"Before leaving Mrs. Drabdump, there is just one point I should like to
say a word about. You have listened so patiently, sir, to my lectures on
the science of sciences that you will not refuse to hear the last. A good
deal of importance has been attached to Mrs. Drabdump's oversleeping
herself by half an hour. It happens that this (like the innocent fog
which has also been made responsible for much) is a purely accidental
and irrelevant circumstance. In all works on inductive logic it is
thoroughly recognised that only some of the circumstances of a phenomenon
are of its essence and casually interconnected; there is always a certain
proportion of heterogeneous accompaniments which have no intimate
relation whatever with the phenomenon. Yet, so crude is as yet the
comprehension of the science of evidence, that _every_ feature of the
phenomenon under investigation is made equally important, and sought to
be linked with the chain of evidence. To attempt to explain everything is
always the mark of the tyro. The fog and Mrs. Drabdump's oversleeping
herself were mere accidents. There are always these irrelevant
accompaniments, and the true scientist allows for this element of (so to
speak) chemically unrelated detail. Even I never counted on the
unfortunate series of accidental phenomena which have led to Mortlake's
implication in a network of suspicion. On the other hand, the fact that
my servant, Jane, who usually goes about ten, left a few minutes earlier
on the night of December 3rd, so that she didn't know of Constant's
visit, was a relevant accident. In fact, just as the art of the artist or
the editor consists largely in knowing what to leave out, so does the art
of the scientific detector of crime consist in knowing what details to
ignore. In short, to explain everything is to explain too much. And too
much is worse than too little.

"To return to my experiment. My success exceeded my wildest dreams. None
had an inkling of the truth. The insolubility of the Big Bow Mystery
teased the acutest minds in Europe and the civilised world. That a man
could have been murdered in a thoroughly inaccessible room savoured of
the ages of magic. The redoubtable Wimp, who had been blazoned as my
successor, fell back on the theory of suicide. The mystery would have
slept till my death, but--I fear--for my own ingenuity. I tried to stand
outside myself, and to look at the crime with the eyes of another, or of
my old self. I found the work of art so perfect as to leave only one
sublimely simple solution. The very terms of the problem were so
inconceivable that, had I not been the murderer, I should have suspected
myself, in conjunction, of course, with Mrs. Drabdump. The first persons
to enter the room would have seemed to me guilty. I wrote at once (in a
disguised hand and over the signature of 'One who looks through his own
spectacles') to the _Pell Mell Press_ to suggest this. By associating
myself thus with Mrs. Drabdump I made it difficult for people to
dissociate the two who entered the room together. To dash a half-truth in
the world's eyes is the surest way of blinding it altogether. This
pseudonymous letter of mine I contradicted (in my own name) the next day,
and in the course of the long letter which I was tempted to write, I
adduced fresh evidence against the theory of suicide. I was disgusted
with the open verdict, and wanted men to be up and doing and trying to
find me out. I enjoyed the hunt more.

"Unfortunately, Wimp, set on the chase again by my own letter, by dint of
persistent blundering, blundered into a track which--by a devilish tissue
of coincidences I had neither foreseen nor dreamt of--seemed to the world
the true. Mortlake was arrested and condemned. Wimp had apparently
crowned his reputation. This was too much. I had taken all this trouble
merely to put a feather in Wimp's cap, whereas I had expected to shake
his reputation by it. It was bad enough that an innocent man should
suffer; but that Wimp should achieve a reputation he did not deserve, and
over-shadow all his predecessors by dint of a colossal mistake, this
seemed to me intolerable. I have moved heaven and earth to get the
verdict set aside, and to save the prisoner; I have exposed the weakness
of the evidence; I have had the world searched for the missing girl; I
have petitioned and agitated. In vain. I have failed. Now I play my last
card. As the overweening Wimp could not be allowed to go down to
posterity as the solver of this terrible mystery, I decided that the
condemned man might just as well profit by his exposure. That is the
reason I make the exposure to-night, before it is too late to save
Mortlake."

"So that is the reason?" said the Home Secretary, with a suspicion of
mockery in his tones.

"The sole reason."

Even as he spoke, a deeper roar than ever penetrated the study.

"A Reprieve! Hooray! Hooray!" The whole street seemed to rock with
earthquake and the names of Grodman and Mortlake to be thrown up in a
fiery jet. "A Reprieve! A Reprieve!" And then the very windows rattled
with cheers for the Minister. And even above that roar rose the shrill
voices of the newsboys, "Reprieve of Mortlake! Mortlake Reprieved!"
Grodman looked wonderingly towards the street. "How do they know?" he
murmured.

"Those evening papers are amazing," said the Minister, drily. "But I
suppose they had everything ready in type for the contingency." He turned
to his secretary.

"Templeton, have you got down every word of Mr. Grodman's confession?"

"Every word, sir."

"Then bring in the cable you received just as Mr. Grodman entered the
house."

Templeton went back into the outer room and brought back the cablegram
that had been lying on the Minister's writing-table when Grodman came in.
The Home Secretary silently handed it to his visitor. It was from the
Chief of Police of Melbourne, announcing that Jessie Dymond had just
arrived in that city in a sailing vessel, ignorant of all that had
occurred, and had been immediately despatched back to England, having
made a statement entirely corroborating the theory of the defence.

"Pending further inquiries into this," said the Home Secretary, not
without appreciation of the grim humour of the situation as he glanced at
Grodman's ashen cheeks, "I have reprieved the prisoner. Mr. Templeton was
about to despatch the messenger to the governor of Newgate as you entered
this room. Mr. Wimp's card-castle would have tumbled to pieces without
your assistance. Your still undiscoverable crime would have shaken his
reputation as you intended."

A sudden explosion shook the room and blent with the cheers of the
populace. Grodman had shot himself--very scientifically--in the heart. He
fell at the Home Secretary's feet, stone dead.

Some of the working men who had been standing waiting by the shafts of
the hansom helped to bear the stretcher.



THE END




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