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The Old Man in the Corner
Baroness Orczy


[Illustration: "The old man in the corner."]



TO MY DEAR UNCLE AND AUNT
COUNT AND COUNTESS WASS OF CZEGE
IN REMEMBRANCE
OF MANY HAPPY DAYS SPENT
IN TRANSYLVANIA

_October, 1908_




CONTENTS

Chapter

     I.  THE FENCHURCH STREET MYSTERY
    II.  A MILLIONAIRE IN THE DOCK
   III.  HIS DEDUCTION
    IV.  THE ROBBERY IN PHILLIMORE TERRACE
     V.  A NIGHT'S ADVENTURE
    VI.  ALL HE KNEW
   VII.  THE YORK MYSTERY
  VIII.  THE CAPITAL CHARGE
    IX.  A BROKEN-HEARTED WOMAN
     X.  THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH ON THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY
    XI.  MR. ERRINGTON
   XII.  THE LIVERPOOL MYSTERY
  XIII.  A CUNNING RASCAL
   XIV.  THE EDINBURGH MYSTERY
    XV.  A TERRIBLE PLIGHT
   XVI.  NON PROVEN
  XVII.  UNDENIABLE FACTS
 XVIII.  THE THEFT AT THE ENGLISH PROVIDENT BANK
   XIX.  CONFLICTING EVIDENCE
    XX.  AN ALIBI
   XXI.  THE DUBLIN MYSTERY
  XXII.  FORGERY
 XXIII.  A MEMORABLE DAY
  XXIV.  AN UNPARALLELED OUTRAGE
   XXV.  THE PRISONER
  XXVI.  A SENSATION
 XXVII.  TWO BLACKGUARDS
XXVIII.  THE REGENT'S PARK MURDER
  XXIX.  THE MOTIVE
   XXX.  FRIENDS
  XXXI.  THE DE GENNEVILLE PEERAGE
 XXXII.  A HIGH-BRED GENTLEMAN
XXXIII.  THE LIVING AND THE DEAD
 XXXIV.  THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH IN PERCY STREET
  XXXV.  SUICIDE OR MURDER?
 XXXVI.  THE END




CHAPTER I

THE FENCHURCH STREET MYSTERY


The man in the corner pushed aside his glass, and leant across the
table.

"Mysteries!" he commented. "There is no such thing as a mystery in
connection with any crime, provided intelligence is brought to bear upon
its investigation."

Very much astonished Polly Burton looked over the top of her newspaper,
and fixed a pair of very severe, coldly inquiring brown eyes upon him.

She had disapproved of the man from the instant when he shuffled across
the shop and sat down opposite to her, at the same marble-topped table
which already held her large coffee (3d.), her roll and butter (2d.),
and plate of tongue (6d.).

Now this particular corner, this very same table, that special view of
the magnificent marble hall--known as the Norfolk Street branch of the
Aërated Bread Company's depôts--were Polly's own corner, table, and
view. Here she had partaken of eleven pennyworth of luncheon and one
pennyworth of daily information ever since that glorious
never-to-be-forgotten day when she was enrolled on the staff of the
_Evening Observer_ (we'll call it that, if you please), and became a
member of that illustrious and world-famed organization known as the
British Press.

She was a personality, was Miss Burton of the _Evening Observer_. Her
cards were printed thus:

[Illustration: Miss MARY J. BURTON. _Evening Observer_.]

She had interviewed Miss Ellen Terry and the Bishop of Madagascar, Mr.
Seymour Hicks and the Chief Commissioner of Police. She had been present
at the last Marlborough House garden party--in the cloak-room, that is
to say, where she caught sight of Lady Thingummy's hat, Miss
What-you-may-call's sunshade, and of various other things modistical or
fashionable, all of which were duly described under the heading "Royalty
and Dress" in the early afternoon edition of the _Evening Observer_.

(The article itself is signed M.J.B., and is to be found in the files of
that leading halfpennyworth.)

For these reasons--and for various others, too--Polly felt irate with
the man in the corner, and told him so with her eyes, as plainly as any
pair of brown eyes can speak.

She had been reading an article in the _Daily Telegraph_. The article
was palpitatingly interesting. Had Polly been commenting audibly upon
it? Certain it is that the man over there had spoken in direct answer to
her thoughts.

She looked at him and frowned; the next moment she smiled. Miss Burton
(of the _Evening Observer)_ had a keen sense of humour, which two years'
association with the British Press had not succeeded in destroying, and
the appearance of the man was sufficient to tickle the most ultra-morose
fancy. Polly thought to herself that she had never seen any one so pale,
so thin, with such funny light-coloured hair, brushed very smoothly
across the top of a very obviously bald crown. He looked so timid and
nervous as he fidgeted incessantly with a piece of string; his long,
lean, and trembling fingers tying and untying it into knots of wonderful
and complicated proportions.

Having carefully studied every detail of the quaint personality Polly
felt more amiable.

"And yet," she remarked kindly but authoritatively, "this article, in an
otherwise well-informed journal, will tell you that, even within the
last year, no fewer than six crimes have completely baffled the police,
and the perpetrators of them are still at large."

"Pardon me," he said gently, "I never for a moment ventured to suggest
that there were no mysteries to the _police_; I merely remarked that
there were none where intelligence was brought to bear upon the
investigation of crime."

"Not even in the Fenchurch Street _mystery_. I suppose," she asked
sarcastically.

"Least of all in the so-called Fenchurch Street _mystery_," he replied
quietly.

Now the Fenchurch Street mystery, as that extraordinary crime had
popularly been called, had puzzled--as Polly well knew--the brains of
every thinking man and woman for the last twelve months. It had puzzled
her not inconsiderably; she had been interested, fascinated; she had
studied the case, formed her own theories, thought about it all often
and often, had even written one or two letters to the Press on the
subject--suggesting, arguing, hinting at possibilities and
probabilities, adducing proofs which other amateur detectives were
equally ready to refute. The attitude of that timid man in the corner,
therefore, was peculiarly exasperating, and she retorted with sarcasm
destined to completely annihilate her self-complacent interlocutor.

"What a pity it is, in that case, that you do not offer your priceless
services to our misguided though well-meaning police."

"Isn't it?" he replied with perfect good-humour. "Well, you know, for
one thing I doubt if they would accept them; and in the second place my
inclinations and my duty would--were I to become an active member of the
detective force--nearly always be in direct conflict. As often as not my
sympathies go to the criminal who is clever and astute enough to lead
our entire police force by the nose.

"I don't know how much of the case you remember," he went on quietly.
"It certainly, at first, began even to puzzle me. On the 12th of last
December a woman, poorly dressed, but with an unmistakable air of having
seen better days, gave information at Scotland Yard of the disappearance
of her husband, William Kershaw, of no occupation, and apparently of no
fixed abode. She was accompanied by a friend--a fat, oily-looking
German--and between them they told a tale which set the police
immediately on the move.

"It appears that on the 10th of December, at about three o'clock in the
afternoon, Karl Müller, the German, called on his friend, William
Kershaw, for the purpose of collecting a small debt--some ten pounds or
so--which the latter owed him. On arriving at the squalid lodging in
Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, he found William Kershaw in a wild
state of excitement, and his wife in tears. Müller attempted to state
the object of his visit, but Kershaw, with wild gestures, waved him
aside, and--in his own words--flabbergasted him by asking him
point-blank for another loan of two pounds, which sum, he declared,
would be the means of a speedy fortune for himself and the friend who
would help him in his need.

"After a quarter of an hour spent in obscure hints, Kershaw, finding the
cautious German obdurate, decided to let him into the secret plan,
which, he averred, would place thousands into their hands."

Instinctively Polly had put down her paper; the mild stranger, with his
nervous air and timid, watery eyes, had a peculiar way of telling his
tale, which somehow fascinated her.

"I don't know," he resumed, "if you remember the story which the German
told to the police, and which was corroborated in every detail by the
wife or widow. Briefly it was this: Some thirty years previously,
Kershaw, then twenty years of age, and a medical student at one of the
London hospitals, had a chum named Barker, with whom he roomed,
together with another.

"The latter, so it appears, brought home one evening a very considerable
sum of money, which he had won on the turf, and the following morning he
was found murdered in his bed. Kershaw, fortunately for himself, was
able to prove a conclusive _alibi_; he had spent the night on duty at
the hospital; as for Barker, he had disappeared, that is to say, as far
as the police were concerned, but not as far as the watchful eyes of his
friend Kershaw were able to spy--at least, so the latter said. Barker
very cleverly contrived to get away out of the country, and, after
sundry vicissitudes, finally settled down at Vladivostok, in Eastern
Siberia, where, under the assumed name of Smethurst, he built up an
enormous fortune by trading in furs.

"Now, mind you, every one knows Smethurst, the Siberian millionaire.
Kershaw's story that he had once been called Barker, and had committed a
murder thirty years ago, was never proved, was it? I am merely telling
you what Kershaw said to his friend the German and to his wife on that
memorable afternoon of December the 10th.

"According to him Smethurst had made one gigantic mistake in his clever
career--he had on four occasions written to his late friend, William
Kershaw. Two of these letters had no bearing on the case, since they
were written more than twenty-five years ago, and Kershaw, moreover, had
lost them--so he said--long ago. According to him, however, the first of
these letters was written when Smethurst, alias Barker, had spent all
the money he had obtained from the crime, and found himself destitute in
New York.

"Kershaw, then in fairly prosperous circumstances, sent him a £10 note
for the sake of old times. The second, when the tables had turned, and
Kershaw had begun to go downhill, Smethurst, as he then already called
himself, sent his whilom friend £50. After that, as Müller gathered,
Kershaw had made sundry demands on Smethurst's ever-increasing purse,
and had accompanied these demands by various threats, which, considering
the distant country in which the millionaire lived, were worse than
futile.

"But now the climax had come, and Kershaw, after a final moment of
hesitation, handed over to his German friend the two last letters
purporting to have been written by Smethurst, and which, if you
remember, played such an important part in the mysterious story of this
extraordinary crime. I have a copy of both these letters here," added
the man in the corner, as he took out a piece of paper from a very
worn-out pocket-book, and, unfolding it very deliberately, he began to
read:--

"'Sir,--Your preposterous demands for money are wholly unwarrantable. I
have already helped you quite as much as you deserve. However, for the
sake of old times, and because you once helped me when I was in a
terrible difficulty, I am willing to once more let you impose upon my
good nature. A friend of mine here, a Russian merchant, to whom I have
sold my business, starts in a few days for an extended tour to many
European and Asiatic ports in his yacht, and has invited me to accompany
him as far as England. Being tired of foreign parts, and desirous of
seeing the old country once again after thirty years' absence, I have
decided to accept his invitation. I don't know when we may actually be
in Europe, but I promise you that as soon as we touch a suitable port I
will write to you again, making an appointment for you to see me in
London. But remember that if your demands are too preposterous I will
not for a moment listen to them, and that I am the last man in the world
to submit to persistent and unwarrantable blackmail.

  'I am, sir,
      'Yours truly,
          'Francis Smethurst.'

"The second letter was dated from Southampton," continued the old man in
the corner calmly, "and, curiously enough, was the only letter which
Kershaw professed to have received from Smethurst of which he had kept
the envelope, and which was dated. It was quite brief," he added,
referring once more to his piece of paper.

"'Dear Sir,--Referring to my letter of a few weeks ago, I wish to inform
you that the _Tsarskoe Selo_ will touch at Tilbury on Tuesday next, the
10th. I shall land there, and immediately go up to London by the first
train I can get. If you like, you may meet me at Fenchurch Street
Station, in the first-class waiting-room, in the late afternoon. Since I
surmise that after thirty years' absence my face may not be familiar to
you, I may as well tell you that you will recognize me by a heavy
Astrakhan fur coat, which I shall wear, together with a cap of the same.
You may then introduce yourself to me, and I will personally listen to
what you may have to say.

    'Yours faithfully,
        'Francis Smethurst.'

"It was this last letter which had caused William Kershaw's excitement
and his wife's tears. In the German's own words, he was walking up and
down the room like a wild beast, gesticulating wildly, and muttering
sundry exclamations. Mrs. Kershaw, however, was full of apprehension.
She mistrusted the man from foreign parts--who, according to her
husband's story, had already one crime upon his conscience--who might,
she feared, risk another, in order to be rid of a dangerous enemy.
Woman-like, she thought the scheme a dishonourable one, for the law, she
knew, is severe on the blackmailer.

"The assignation might be a cunning trap, in any case it was a curious
one; why, she argued, did not Smethurst elect to see Kershaw at his
hotel the following day? A thousand whys and wherefores made her
anxious, but the fat German had been won over by Kershaw's visions of
untold gold, held tantalisingly before his eyes. He had lent the
necessary £2, with which his friend intended to tidy himself up a bit
before he went to meet his friend the millionaire. Half an hour
afterwards Kershaw had left his lodgings, and that was the last the
unfortunate woman saw of her husband, or Müller, the German, of his
friend.

"Anxiously his wife waited that night, but he did not return; the next
day she seems to have spent in making purposeless and futile inquiries
about the neighbourhood of Fenchurch Street; and on the 12th she went to
Scotland Yard, gave what particulars she knew, and placed in the hands
of the police the two letters written by Smethurst."




CHAPTER II

A MILLIONAIRE IN THE DOCK


The man in the corner had finished his glass of milk. His watery blue
eyes looked across at Miss Polly Burton's eager little face, from which
all traces of severity had now been chased away by an obvious and
intense excitement.

"It was only on the 31st," he resumed after a while, "that a body,
decomposed past all recognition, was found by two lightermen in the
bottom of a disused barge. She had been moored at one time at the foot
of one of those dark flights of steps which lead down between tall
warehouses to the river in the East End of London. I have a photograph
of the place here," he added, selecting one out of his pocket, and
placing it before Polly.

"The actual barge, you see, had already been removed when I took this
snapshot, but you will realize what a perfect place this alley is for
the purpose of one man cutting another's throat in comfort, and without
fear of detection. The body, as I said, was decomposed beyond all
recognition; it had probably been there eleven days, but sundry
articles, such as a silver ring and a tie pin, were recognizable, and
were identified by Mrs. Kershaw as belonging to her husband.

"She, of course, was loud in denouncing Smethurst, and the police had no
doubt a very strong case against him, for two days after the discovery
of the body in the barge, the Siberian millionaire, as he was already
popularly called by enterprising interviewers, was arrested in his
luxurious suite of rooms at the Hotel Cecil.

"To confess the truth, at this point I was not a little puzzled. Mrs.
Kershaw's story and Smethurst's letters had both found their way into
the papers, and following my usual method--mind you, I am only an
amateur, I try to reason out a case for the love of the thing--I sought
about for a motive for the crime, which the police declared Smethurst
had committed. To effectually get rid of a dangerous blackmailer was the
generally accepted theory. Well! did it ever strike you how paltry that
motive really was?"

Miss Polly had to confess, however, that it had never struck her in that
light.

"Surely a man who had succeeded in building up an immense fortune by his
own individual efforts, was not the sort of fool to believe that he had
anything to fear from a man like Kershaw. He must have _known_ that
Kershaw held no damning proofs against him--not enough to hang him,
anyway. Have you ever seen Smethurst?" he added, as he once more fumbled
in his pocket-book.

Polly replied that she had seen Smethurst's picture in the illustrated
papers at the time. Then he added, placing a small photograph before
her:

"What strikes you most about the face?"

"Well, I think its strange, astonished expression, due to the total
absence of eyebrows, and the funny foreign cut of the hair."

"So close that it almost looks as if it had been shaved. Exactly. That
is what struck me most when I elbowed my way into the court that morning
and first caught sight of the millionaire in the dock. He was a tall,
soldierly-looking man, upright in stature, his face very bronzed and
tanned. He wore neither moustache nor beard, his hair was cropped quite
close to his head, like a Frenchman's; but, of course, what was so very
remarkable about him was that total absence of eyebrows and even
eyelashes, which gave the face such a peculiar appearance--as you say, a
perpetually astonished look.

"He seemed, however, wonderfully calm; he had been accommodated with a
chair in the dock--being a millionaire--and chatted pleasantly with his
lawyer, Sir Arthur Inglewood, in the intervals between the calling of
the several witnesses for the prosecution; whilst during the examination
of these witnesses he sat quite placidly, with his head shaded by his
hand.

"Müller and Mrs. Kershaw repeated the story which they had already told
to the police. I think you said that you were not able, owing to
pressure of work, to go to the court that day, and hear the case, so
perhaps you have no recollection of Mrs. Kershaw. No? Ah, well! Here is
a snapshot I managed to get of her once. That is her. Exactly as she
stood in the box--over-dressed--in elaborate crape, with a bonnet which
once had contained pink roses, and to which a remnant of pink petals
still clung obtrusively amidst the deep black.

"She would not look at the prisoner, and turned her head resolutely
towards the magistrate. I fancy she had been fond of that vagabond
husband of hers: an enormous wedding-ring encircled her finger, and
that, too, was swathed in black. She firmly believed that Kershaw's
murderer sat there in the dock, and she literally flaunted her grief
before him.

"I was indescribably sorry for her. As for Müller, he was just fat,
oily, pompous, conscious of his own importance as a witness; his fat
fingers, covered with brass rings, gripped the two incriminating
letters, which he had identified. They were his passports, as it were,
to a delightful land of importance and notoriety. Sir Arthur Inglewood,
I think, disappointed him by stating that he had no questions to ask of
him. Müller had been brimful of answers, ready with the most perfect
indictment, the most elaborate accusations against the bloated
millionaire who had decoyed his dear friend Kershaw, and murdered him in
Heaven knows what an out-of-the-way corner of the East End.

"After this, however, the excitement grew apace. Müller had been
dismissed, and had retired from the court altogether, leading away Mrs.
Kershaw, who had completely broken down.

"Constable D 21 was giving evidence as to the arrest in the meanwhile.
The prisoner, he said, had seemed completely taken by surprise, not
understanding the cause or history of the accusation against him;
however, when put in full possession of the facts, and realizing, no
doubt, the absolute futility of any resistance, he had quietly enough
followed the constable into the cab. No one at the fashionable and
crowded Hotel Cecil had even suspected that anything unusual had
occurred.

"Then a gigantic sigh of expectancy came from every one of the
spectators. The 'fun' was about to begin. James Buckland, a porter at
Fenchurch Street railway station, had just sworn to tell all the truth,
etc. After all, it did not amount to much. He said that at six o'clock
in the afternoon of December the 10th, in the midst of one of the
densest fogs he ever remembers, the 5.5 from Tilbury steamed into the
station, being just about an hour late. He was on the arrival platform,
and was hailed by a passenger in a first-class carriage. He could see
very little of him beyond an enormous black fur coat and a travelling
cap of fur also.

"The passenger had a quantity of luggage, all marked F.S., and he
directed James Buckland to place it all upon a four-wheel cab, with the
exception of a small hand-bag, which he carried himself. Having seen
that all his luggage was safely bestowed, the stranger in the fur coat
paid the porter, and, telling the cabman to wait until he returned, he
walked away in the direction of the waiting-rooms, still carrying his
small hand-bag.

"'I stayed for a bit,' added James Buckland, 'talking to the driver
about the fog and that; then I went about my business, seein' that the
local from Southend 'ad been signalled.'

"The prosecution insisted most strongly upon the hour when the stranger
in the fur coat, having seen to his luggage, walked away towards the
waiting-rooms. The porter was emphatic. 'It was not a minute later than
6.15,' he averred.

"Sir Arthur Inglewood still had no questions to ask, and the driver of
the cab was called.

"He corroborated the evidence of James Buckland as to the hour when the
gentleman in the fur coat had engaged him, and having filled his cab in
and out with luggage, had told him to wait. And cabby did wait. He
waited in the dense fog--until he was tired, until he seriously thought
of depositing all the luggage in the lost property office, and of
looking out for another fare--waited until at last, at a quarter before
nine, whom should he see walking hurriedly towards his cab but the
gentleman in the fur coat and cap, who got in quickly and told the
driver to take him at once to the Hotel Cecil. This, cabby declared, had
occurred at a quarter before nine. Still Sir Arthur Inglewood made no
comment, and Mr. Francis Smethurst, in the crowded, stuffy court, had
calmly dropped to sleep.

"The next witness, Constable Thomas Taylor, had noticed a shabbily
dressed individual, with shaggy hair and beard, loafing about the
station and waiting-rooms in the afternoon of December the 10th. He
seemed to be watching the arrival platform of the Tilbury and Southend
trains.

"Two separate and independent witnesses, cleverly unearthed by the
police, had seen this same shabbily dressed individual stroll into the
first-class waiting-room at about 6.15 on Wednesday, December the 10th,
and go straight up to a gentleman in a heavy fur coat and cap, who had
also just come into the room. The two talked together for a while; no
one heard what they said, but presently they walked off together. No one
seemed to know in which direction.

"Francis Smethurst was rousing himself from his apathy; he whispered to
his lawyer, who nodded with a bland smile of encouragement. The employés
of the Hotel Cecil gave evidence as to the arrival of Mr. Smethurst at
about 9.30 p.m. on Wednesday, December the 10th, in a cab, with a
quantity of luggage; and this closed the case for the prosecution.

"Everybody in that court already _saw_ Smethurst mounting the gallows.
It was uninterested curiosity which caused the elegant audience to wait
and hear what Sir Arthur Inglewood had to say. He, of course, is the
most fashionable man in the law at the present moment. His lolling
attitudes, his drawling speech, are quite the rage, and imitated by the
gilded youth of society.

"Even at this moment, when the Siberian millionaire's neck literally and
metaphorically hung in the balance, an expectant titter went round the
fair spectators as Sir Arthur stretched out his long loose limbs and
lounged across the table. He waited to make his effect--Sir Arthur is a
born actor--and there is no doubt that he made it, when in his slowest,
most drawly tones he said quietly;

"'With regard to this alleged murder of one William Kershaw, on
Wednesday, December the 10th, between 6.15 and 8.45 p.m., your Honour, I
now propose to call two witnesses, who saw this same William Kershaw
alive on Tuesday afternoon, December the 16th, that is to say, six days
after the supposed murder.'

"It was as if a bombshell had exploded in the court. Even his Honour was
aghast, and I am sure the lady next to me only recovered from the shock
of the surprise in order to wonder whether she need put off her dinner
party after all.

"As for me," added the man in the corner, with that strange mixture of
nervousness and self-complacency which had set Miss Polly Burton
wondering, "well, you see, _I_ had made up my mind long ago where the
hitch lay in this particular case, and I was not so surprised as some of
the others.

"Perhaps you remember the wonderful development of the case, which so
completely mystified the police--and in fact everybody except myself.
Torriani and a waiter at his hotel in the Commercial Road both deposed
that at about 3.30 p.m. on December the 10th a shabbily dressed
individual lolled into the coffee-room and ordered some tea. He was
pleasant enough and talkative, told the waiter that his name was William
Kershaw, that very soon all London would be talking about him, as he was
about, through an unexpected stroke of good fortune, to become a very
rich man, and so on, and so on, nonsense without end.

"When he had finished his tea he lolled out again, but no sooner had he
disappeared down a turning of the road than the waiter discovered an old
umbrella, left behind accidentally by the shabby, talkative individual.
As is the custom in his highly respectable restaurant, Signor Torriani
put the umbrella carefully away in his office, on the chance of his
customer calling to claim it when he had discovered his loss. And sure
enough nearly a week later, on Tuesday, the 16th, at about 1 p.m., the
same shabbily dressed individual called and asked for his umbrella. He
had some lunch, and chatted once again to the waiter. Signor Torriani
and the waiter gave a description of William Kershaw, which coincided
exactly with that given by Mrs. Kershaw of her husband.

"Oddly enough he seemed to be a very absent-minded sort of person, for
on this second occasion, no sooner had he left than the waiter found a
pocket-book in the coffee-room, underneath the table. It contained
sundry letters and bills, all addressed to William Kershaw. This
pocket-book was produced, and Karl Müller, who had returned to the
court, easily identified it as having belonged to his dear and lamented
friend 'Villiam.'

"This was the first blow to the case against the accused. It was a
pretty stiff one, you will admit. Already it had begun to collapse like
a house of cards. Still, there was the assignation, and the undisputed
meeting between Smethurst and Kershaw, and those two and a half hours of
a foggy evening to satisfactorily account for."

The man in the corner made a long pause, keeping the girl on
tenterhooks. He had fidgeted with his bit of string till there was not
an inch of it free from the most complicated and elaborate knots.

"I assure you," he resumed at last, "that at that very moment the whole
mystery was, to me, as clear as daylight. I only marvelled how his
Honour could waste his time and mine by putting what he thought were
searching questions to the accused relating to his past. Francis
Smethurst, who had quite shaken off his somnolence, spoke with a curious
nasal twang, and with an almost imperceptible soupçon of foreign accent,
He calmly denied Kershaw's version of his past; declared that he had
never been called Barker, and had certainly never been mixed up in any
murder case thirty years ago.

"'But you knew this man Kershaw,' persisted his Honour, 'since you wrote
to him?'

"'Pardon me, your Honour,' said the accused quietly, 'I have never, to
my knowledge, seen this man Kershaw, and I can swear that I never wrote
to him.'

"'Never wrote to him?' retorted his Honour warningly. 'That is a strange
assertion to make when I have two of your letters to him in my hands at
the present moment.'

"'I never wrote those letters, your Honour,' persisted the accused
quietly, 'they are not in my handwriting.'

"'Which we can easily prove,' came in Sir Arthur Inglewood's drawly
tones, as he handed up a packet to his Honour; 'here are a number of
letters written by my client since he has landed in this country, and
some of which were written under my very eyes.'

"As Sir Arthur Inglewood had said, this could be easily proved, and the
prisoner, at his Honour's request, scribbled a few lines, together with
his signature, several times upon a sheet of note-paper. It was easy to
read upon the magistrate's astounded countenance, that there was not the
slightest similarity in the two handwritings.

"A fresh mystery had cropped up. Who, then, had made the assignation
with William Kershaw at Fenchurch Street railway station? The prisoner
gave a fairly satisfactory account of the employment of his time since
his landing in England.

"'I came over on the _Tsarskoe Selo_,' he said, 'a yacht belonging to a
friend of mine. When we arrived at the mouth of the Thames there was
such a dense fog that it was twenty-four hours before it was thought
safe for me to land. My friend, who is a Russian, would not land at all;
he was regularly frightened at this land of fogs. He was going on to
Madeira immediately.

"'I actually landed on Tuesday, the 10th, and took a train at once for
town. I did see to my luggage and a cab, as the porter and driver told
your Honour; then I tried to find my way to a refreshment-room, where I
could get a glass of wine. I drifted into the waiting-room, and there I
was accosted by a shabbily dressed individual, who began telling me a
piteous tale. Who he was I do not know. He _said_ he was an old soldier
who had served his country faithfully, and then been left to starve. He
begged of me to accompany him to his lodgings, where I could see his
wife and starving children, and verify the truth and piteousness of his
tale.

"'Well, your Honour,' added the prisoner with noble frankness, 'it was
my first day in the old country. I had come back after thirty years with
my pockets full of gold, and this was the first sad tale I had heard;
but I am a business man, and did not want to be exactly "done" in the
eye. I followed my man through the fog, out into the streets. He walked
silently by my side for a time. I had not a notion where I was.

"'Suddenly I turned to him with some question, and realized in a moment
that my gentleman had given me the slip. Finding, probably, that I would
not part with my money till I _had_ seen the starving wife and children,
he left me to my fate, and went in search of more willing bait.

"'The place where I found myself was dismal and deserted. I could see no
trace of cab or omnibus. I retraced my steps and tried to find my way
back to the station, only to find myself in worse and more deserted
neighbourhoods. I became hopelessly lost and fogged. I don't wonder that
two and a half hours elapsed while I thus wandered on in the dark and
deserted streets; my sole astonishment is that I ever found the station
at all that night, or rather close to it a policeman, who showed me the
way.'

"'But how do you account for Kershaw knowing all your movements?' still
persisted his Honour, 'and his knowing the exact date of your arrival
in England? How do you account for these two letters, in fact?'

"'I cannot account for it or them, your Honour,' replied the prisoner
quietly. 'I have proved to you, have I not, that I never wrote those
letters, and that the man--er--Kershaw is his name?--was not murdered by
me?'

"'Can you tell me of anyone here or abroad who might have heard of your
movements, and of the date of your arrival?'

"'My late employés at Vladivostok, of course, knew of my departure, but
none of them could have written these letters, since none of them know a
word of English.'

"'Then you can throw no light upon these mysterious letters? You cannot
help the police in any way towards the clearing up of this strange
affair?'

"'The affair is as mysterious to me as to your Honour, and to the police
of this country.'

"Francis Smethurst was discharged, of course; there was no semblance of
evidence against him sufficient to commit him for trial. The two
overwhelming points of his defence which had completely routed the
prosecution were, firstly, the proof that he had never written the
letters making the assignation, and secondly, the fact that the man
supposed to have been murdered on the 10th was seen to be alive and
well on the 16th. But then, who in the world was the mysterious
individual who had apprised Kershaw of the movements of Smethurst, the
millionaire?"




CHAPTER III

HIS DEDUCTION


The man in the corner cocked his funny thin head on one side and looked
at Polly; then he took up his beloved bit of string and deliberately
untied every knot he had made in it. When it was quite smooth he laid it
out upon the table.

"I will take you, if you like, point by point along the line of
reasoning which I followed myself, and which will inevitably lead you,
as it led me, to the only possible solution of the mystery.

"First take this point," he said with nervous restlessness, once more
taking up his bit of string, and forming with each point raised a series
of knots which would have shamed a navigating instructor, "obviously it
was _impossible_ for Kershaw not to have been acquainted with Smethurst,
since he was fully apprised of the latter's arrival in England by two
letters. Now it was clear to me from the first that _no one_ could have
written those two letters except Smethurst. You will argue that those
letters were proved not to have been written by the man in the dock.
Exactly. Remember, Kershaw was a careless man--he had lost both
envelopes. To him they were insignificant. Now it was never _disproved_
that those letters were written by Smethurst."

"But--" suggested Polly.

"Wait a minute," he interrupted, while knot number two appeared upon the
scene, "it was proved that six days after the murder, William Kershaw
was alive, and visited the Torriani Hotel, where already he was known,
and where he conveniently left a pocket-book behind, so that there
should be no mistake as to his identity; but it was never questioned
where Mr. Francis Smethurst, the millionaire, happened to spend that
very same afternoon."

"Surely, you don't mean?" gasped the girl.

"One moment, please," he added triumphantly. "How did it come about that
the landlord of the Torriani Hotel was brought into court at all? How
did Sir Arthur Inglewood, or rather his client, know that William
Kershaw had on those two memorable occasions visited the hotel, and that
its landlord could bring such convincing evidence forward that would for
ever exonerate the millionaire from the imputation of murder?"

"Surely," I argued, "the usual means, the police--"

"The police had kept the whole affair very dark until the arrest at the
Hotel Cecil. They did not put into the papers the usual: 'If anyone
happens to know of the whereabouts, etc. etc'. Had the landlord of that
hotel heard of the disappearance of Kershaw through the usual channels,
he would have put himself in communication with the police. Sir Arthur
Inglewood produced him. How did Sir Arthur Inglewood come on his track?"

"Surely, you don't mean?"

"Point number four," he resumed imperturbably, "Mrs. Kershaw was never
requested to produce a specimen of her husband's handwriting. Why?
Because the police, clever as you say they are, never started on the
right tack. They believed William Kershaw to have been murdered; they
looked for William Kershaw.

"On December the 31st, what was presumed to be the body of William
Kershaw was found by two lightermen: I have shown you a photograph of
the place where it was found. Dark and deserted it is in all conscience,
is it not? Just the place where a bully and a coward would decoy an
unsuspecting stranger, murder him first, then rob him of his valuables,
his papers, his very identity, and leave him there to rot. The body was
found in a disused barge which had been moored some time against the
wall, at the foot of these steps. It was in the last stages of
decomposition, and, of course, could not be identified; but the police
would have it that it was the body of William Kershaw.

"It never entered their heads that it was the body of _Francis
Smethurst, and that William Kershaw was his murderer_.

"Ah! it was cleverly, artistically conceived! Kershaw is a genius. Think
of it all! His disguise! Kershaw had a shaggy beard, hair, and
moustache. He shaved up to his very eyebrows! No wonder that even his
wife did not recognize him across the court; and remember she never saw
much of his face while he stood in the dock. Kershaw was shabby,
slouchy, he stooped. Smethurst, the millionaire, might have served in
the Prussian army.

"Then that lovely trait about going to revisit the Torriani Hotel. Just
a few days' grace, in order to purchase moustache and beard and wig,
exactly similar to what he had himself shaved off. Making up to look
like himself! Splendid! Then leaving the pocket-book behind! He! he! he!
Kershaw was not murdered! Of course not. He called at the Torriani Hotel
six days after the murder, whilst Mr. Smethurst, the millionaire,
hobnobbed in the park with duchesses! Hang such a man! Fie!"

He fumbled for his hat. With nervous, trembling fingers he held it
deferentially in his hand whilst he rose from the table. Polly watched
him as he strode up to the desk, and paid twopence for his glass of milk
and his bun. Soon he disappeared through the shop, whilst she still
found herself hopelessly bewildered, with a number of snap-shot
photographs before her, still staring at a long piece of string,
smothered from end to end in a series of knots, as bewildering, as
irritating, as puzzling as the man who had lately sat in the corner.




CHAPTER IV

THE ROBBERY IN PHILLIMORE TERRACE


Whether Miss Polly Burton really did expect to see the man in the corner
that Saturday afternoon, 'twere difficult to say; certain it is that
when she found her way to the table close by the window and realized
that he was not there, she felt conscious of an overwhelming sense of
disappointment. And yet during the whole of the week she had, with more
pride than wisdom, avoided this particular A.B.C. shop.

"I thought you would not keep away very long," said a quiet voice close
to her ear.

She nearly lost her balance--where in the world had he come from? She
certainly had not heard the slightest sound, and yet there he sat, in
the corner, like a veritable Jack-in-the-box, his mild blue eyes staring
apologetically at her, his nervous fingers toying with the inevitable
bit of string.

The waitress brought him his glass of milk and a cheese-cake. He ate it
in silence, while his piece of string lay idly beside him on the table.
When he had finished he fumbled in his capacious pockets, and drew out
the inevitable pocket-book.

Placing a small photograph before the girl, he said quietly:

"That is the back of the houses in Phillimore Terrace, which overlook
Adam and Eve Mews."

She looked at the photograph, then at him, with a kindly look of
indulgent expectancy.

"You will notice that the row of back gardens have each an exit into the
mews. These mews are built in the shape of a capital F. The photograph
is taken looking straight down the short horizontal line, which ends, as
you see, in a _cul-de-sac_. The bottom of the vertical line turns into
Phillimore Terrace, and the end of the upper long horizontal line into
High Street, Kensington. Now, on that particular night, or rather early
morning, of January 15th, Constable D 21, having turned into the mews
from Phillimore Terrace, stood for a moment at the angle formed by the
long vertical artery of the mews and the short horizontal one which, as
I observed before, looks on to the back gardens of the Terrace houses,
and ends in a _cul-de-sac_.

"How long D 21 stood at that particular corner he could not exactly say,
but he thinks it must have been three or four minutes before he noticed
a suspicious-looking individual shambling along under the shadow of the
garden walls. He was working his way cautiously in the direction of the
_cul-de-sac_, and D 21, also keeping well within the shadow, went
noiselessly after him.

"He had almost overtaken him--was, in fact, not more than thirty yards
from him--when from out of one of the two end houses--No. 22, Phillimore
Terrace, in fact--a man, in nothing but his night-shirt, rushed out
excitedly, and, before D 21 had time to intervene, literally threw
himself upon the suspected individual, rolling over and over with him on
the hard cobble-stones, and frantically shrieking, 'Thief! Thief!
Police!'

"It was some time before the constable succeeded in rescuing the tramp
from the excited grip of his assailant, and several minutes before he
could make himself heard.

"'There! there! that'll do!' he managed to say at last, as he gave the
man in the shirt a vigorous shove, which silenced him for the moment.
'Leave the man alone now, you mustn't make that noise this time o'
night, wakin' up all the folks.' The unfortunate tramp, who in the
meanwhile had managed to get on to his feet again, made no attempt to
get away; probably he thought he would stand but a poor chance. But the
man in the shirt had partly recovered his power of speech, and was now
blurting out jerky, half--intelligible sentences:

"'I have been robbed--robbed--I--that is--my master--Mr. Knopf. The desk
is open--the diamonds gone--all in my charge--and--now they are stolen!
That's the thief--I'll swear--I heard him--not three minutes ago--rushed
downstairs--the door into the garden was smashed--I ran across the
garden--he was sneaking about here still--Thief! Thief! Police!
Diamonds! Constable, don't let him go--I'll make you responsible if you
let him go--'

"'Now then--that'll do!' admonished D 21 as soon as he could get a word
in, 'stop that row, will you?'

"The man in the shirt was gradually recovering from his excitement.

"'Can I give this man in charge?' he asked.

"'What for?'

"'Burglary and housebreaking. I heard him, I tell you. He must have Mr.
Knopf's diamonds about him at this moment.'

"'Where is Mr. Knopf?'

"'Out of town,' groaned the man in the shirt. 'He went to Brighton last
night, and left me in charge, and now this thief has been and--'

"The tramp shrugged his shoulders and suddenly, without a word, he
quietly began taking off his coat and waistcoat. These he handed across
to the constable. Eagerly the man in the shirt fell on them, and turned
the ragged pockets inside out. From one of the windows a hilarious voice
made some facetious remark, as the tramp with equal solemnity began
divesting himself of his nether garments.

"'Now then, stop that nonsense,' pronounced D 21 severely, 'what were
you doing here this time o' night, anyway?'

"'The streets o' London is free to the public, ain't they?' queried the
tramp.

"'This don't lead nowhere, my man.'

"'Then I've lost my way, that's all,' growled the man surlily, 'and
p'raps you'll let me get along now.'

"By this time a couple of constables had appeared upon the scene. D 21
had no intention of losing sight of his friend the tramp, and the man in
the shirt had again made a dash for the latter's collar at the bare idea
that he should be allowed to 'get along.'

"I think D 21 was alive to the humour of the situation. He suggested
that Robertson (the man in the night-shirt) should go in and get some
clothes on, whilst he himself would wait for the inspector and the
detective, whom D 15 would send round from the station immediately.

"Poor Robertson's teeth were chattering with cold. He had a violent fit
of sneezing as D 21 hurried him into the house. The latter, with another
constable, remained to watch the burglared premises both back and
front, and D 15 took the wretched tramp to the station with a view to
sending an inspector and a detective round immediately.

"When the two latter gentlemen arrived at No. 22, Phillimore Terrace,
they found poor old Robertson in bed, shivering, and still quite blue.
He had got himself a hot drink, but his eyes were streaming and his
voice was terribly husky. D 21 had stationed himself in the dining-room,
where Robertson had pointed the desk out to him, with its broken lock
and scattered contents.

"Robertson, between his sneezes, gave what account he could of the
events which happened immediately before the robbery.

"His master, Mr. Ferdinand Knopf, he said, was a diamond merchant, and a
bachelor. He himself had been in Mr. Knopf's employ over fifteen years,
and was his only indoor servant. A charwoman came every day to do the
housework.

"Last night Mr. Knopf dined at the house of Mr. Shipman, at No. 26,
lower down. Mr. Shipman is the great jeweller who has his place of
business in South Audley Street. By the last post there came a letter
with the Brighton postmark, and marked 'urgent,' for Mr. Knopf, and he
(Robertson) was just wondering if he should run over to No. 26 with it,
when his master returned. He gave one glance at the contents of the
letter, asked for his A.B.C. Railway Guide, and ordered him (Robertson)
to pack his bag at once and fetch him a cab.

"'I guessed what it was,' continued Robertson after another violent fit
of sneezing. 'Mr. Knopf has a brother, Mr. Emile Knopf, to whom he is
very much attached, and who is a great invalid. He generally goes about
from one seaside place to another. He is now at Brighton, and has
recently been very ill.

"'If you will take the trouble to go downstairs I think you will still
find the letter lying on the hall table.

"'I read it after Mr. Knopf left; it was not from his brother, but from
a gentleman who signed himself J. Collins, M.D. I don't remember the
exact words, but, of course, you'll be able to read the letter--Mr. J.
Collins said he had been called in very suddenly to see Mr. Emile Knopf,
who, he added, had not many hours to live, and had begged of the doctor
to communicate at once with his brother in London.

"'Before leaving, Mr. Knopf warned me that there were some valuables in
his desk--diamonds mostly, and told me to be particularly careful about
locking up the house. He often has left me like this in charge of his
premises, and usually there have been diamonds in his desk, for Mr.
Knopf has no regular City office as he is a commercial traveller.'

"This, briefly, was the gist of the matter which Robertson related to
the inspector with many repetitions and persistent volubility.

"The detective and inspector, before returning to the station with their
report, thought they would call at No. 26, on Mr. Shipman, the great
jeweller.

"You remember, of course," added the man in the corner, dreamily
contemplating his bit of string, "the exciting developments of this
extraordinary case. Mr. Arthur Shipman is the head of the firm of
Shipman and Co., the wealthy jewellers. He is a widower, and lives very
quietly by himself in his own old-fashioned way in the small Kensington
house, leaving it to his two married sons to keep up the style and
swagger befitting the representatives of so wealthy a firm.

"'I have only known Mr. Knopf a very little while,' he explained to the
detectives. 'He sold me two or three stones once or twice, I think; but
we are both single men, and we have often dined together. Last night he
dined with me. He had that afternoon received a very fine consignment of
Brazilian diamonds, as he told me, and knowing how beset I am with
callers at my business place, he had brought the stones with him,
hoping, perhaps, to do a bit of trade over the nuts and wine.

"'I bought £25,000 worth of him,' added the jeweller, as if he were
speaking of so many farthings, 'and gave him a cheque across the dinner
table for that amount. I think we were both pleased with our bargain,
and we had a final bottle of '48 port over it together. Mr. Knopf left
me at about 9.30, for he knows I go very early to bed, and I took my new
stock upstairs with me, and locked it up in the safe. I certainly heard
nothing of the noise in the mews last night. I sleep on the second
floor, in the front of the house, and this is the first I have heard of
poor Mr. Knopf's loss--'

"At this point of his narrative Mr. Shipman very suddenly paused, and
his face became very pale. With a hasty word of excuse he
unceremoniously left the room, and the detective heard him running
quickly upstairs.

"Less than two minutes later Mr. Shipman returned. There was no need for
him to speak; both the detective and the inspector guessed the truth in
a moment by the look upon his face.

"'The diamonds!' he gasped. 'I have been robbed.'"




CHAPTER V

A NIGHT'S ADVENTURE


"Now I must tell you," continued the man in the corner, "that after I
had read the account of the double robbery, which appeared in the early
afternoon papers, I set to work and had a good think--yes!" he added
with a smile, noting Polly's look at the bit of string, on which he was
still at work, "yes! aided by this small adjunct to continued thought--I
made notes as to how I should proceed to discover the clever thief, who
had carried off a small fortune in a single night. Of course, my methods
are not those of a London detective; he has his own way of going to
work. The one who was conducting this case questioned the unfortunate
jeweller very closely about his servants and his household generally.

"'I have three servants,' explained Mr. Shipman, two of whom have been
with me for many years; one, the housemaid, is a fairly new comer--she
has been here about six months. She came recommended by a friend, and
bore an excellent character. She and the parlourmaid room together. The
cook, who knew me when I was a schoolboy, sleeps alone; all three
servants sleep on the floor above. I locked the jewels up in the safe
which stands in the dressing-room. My keys and watch I placed, as usual,
beside my bed. As a rule, I am a fairly light sleeper.

"'I cannot understand how it could have happened--but--you had better
come up and have a look at the safe. The key must have been abstracted
from my bedside, the safe opened, and the keys replaced--all while I was
fast asleep. Though I had no occasion to look into the safe until just
now, I should have discovered my loss before going to business, for I
intended to take the diamonds away with me--'

"The detective and the inspector went up to have a look at the safe. The
lock had in no way been tampered with--it had been opened with its own
key. The detective spoke of chloroform, but Mr. Shipman declared that
when he woke in the morning at about half-past seven there was no smell
of chloroform in the room. However, the proceedings of the daring thief
certainly pointed to the use of an anaesthetic. An examination of the
premises brought to light the fact that the burglar had, as in Mr.
Knopf's house, used the glass-panelled door from the garden as a means
of entrance, but in this instance he had carefully cut out the pane of
glass with a diamond, slipped the bolts, turned the key, and walked in.

"'Which among your servants knew that you had the diamonds in your house
last night, Mr. Shipman?' asked the detective.

"'Not one, I should say,' replied the jeweller, 'though, perhaps, the
parlourmaid, whilst waiting at table, may have heard me and Mr. Knopf
discussing our bargain.'

"'Would you object to my searching all your servants' boxes?'

"'Certainly not. They would not object, either, I am sure. They are
perfectly honest.'

"The searching of servants' belongings is invariably a useless
proceeding," added the man in the corner, with a shrug of the shoulders.
"No one, not even a latter-day domestic, would be fool enough to keep
stolen property in the house. However, the usual farce was gone through,
with more or less protest on the part of Mr. Shipman's servants, and
with the usual result.

"The jeweller could give no further information; the detective and
inspector, to do them justice, did their work of investigation minutely
and, what is more, intelligently. It seemed evident, from their
deductions, that the burglar had commenced proceedings on No. 26,
Phillimore Terrace, and had then gone on, probably climbing over the
garden walls between the houses to No. 22, where he was almost caught in
the act by Robertson. The facts were simple enough, but the mystery
remained as to the individual who had managed to glean the information
of the presence of the diamonds in both the houses, and the means which
he had adopted to get that information. It was obvious that the thief or
thieves knew more about Mr. Knopf's affairs than Mr. Shipman's, since
they had known how to use Mr. Emile Knopf's name in order to get his
brother out of the way.

"It was now nearly ten o'clock, and the detectives, having taken leave
of Mr. Shipman, went back to No. 22, in order to ascertain whether Mr.
Knopf had come back; the door was opened by the old charwoman, who said
that her master had returned, and was having some breakfast in the
dining-room.

"Mr. Ferdinand Knopf was a middle-aged man, with sallow complexion,
black hair and beard, of obviously Hebrew extraction. He spoke with a
marked foreign accent, but very courteously, to the two officials, who,
he begged, would excuse him if he went on with his breakfast.

"'I was fully prepared to hear the bad news,' he explained, 'which my
man Robertson told me when I arrived. The letter I got last night was a
bogus one; there is no such person as J. Collins, M.D. My brother had
never felt better in his life. You will, I am sure, very soon trace the
cunning writer of that epistle--ah! but I was in a rage, I can tell
you, when I got to the Metropole at Brighton, and found that Emile, my
brother, had never heard of any Doctor Collins.

"'The last train to town had gone, although I raced back to the station
as hard as I could. Poor old Robertson, he has a terrible cold. Ah yes!
my loss! it is for me a very serious one; if I had not made that lucky
bargain with Mr. Shipman last night I should, perhaps, at this moment be
a ruined man.

"'The stones I had yesterday were, firstly, some magnificent Brazilians;
these I sold to Mr. Shipman mostly. Then I had some very good Cape
diamonds--all gone; and some quite special Parisians, of wonderful work
and finish, entrusted to me for sale by a great French house. I tell
you, sir, my loss will be nearly £10,000 altogether. I sell on
commission, and, of course, have to make good the loss.'

"He was evidently trying to bear up manfully, and as a business man
should, under his sad fate. He refused in any way to attach the
slightest blame to his old and faithful servant Robertson, who had
caught, perhaps, his death of cold in his zeal for his absent master. As
for any hint of suspicion falling even remotely upon the man, the very
idea appeared to Mr. Knopf absolutely preposterous.

"With regard to the old charwoman, Mr. Knopf certainly knew nothing
about her, beyond the fact that she had been recommended to him by one
of the tradespeople in the neighbourhood, and seemed perfectly honest,
respectable, and sober.

"About the tramp Mr. Knopf knew still less, nor could he imagine how he,
or in fact anybody else, could possibly know that he happened to have
diamonds in his house that night.

"This certainly seemed the great hitch in the case.

"Mr. Ferdinand Knopf, at the instance of the police, later on went to
the station and had a look at the suspected tramp. He declared that he
had never set eyes on him before.

"Mr. Shipman, on his way home from business in the afternoon, had done
likewise, and made a similar statement.

"Brought before the magistrate, the tramp gave but a poor account of
himself. He gave a name and address, which latter, of course, proved to
be false. After that he absolutely refused to speak. He seemed not to
care whether he was kept in custody or not. Very soon even the police
realized that, for the present, at any rate, nothing could be got out of
the suspected tramp.

"Mr. Francis Howard, the detective, who had charge of the case, though
he would not admit it even to himself, was at his wits' ends. You must
remember that the burglary, through its very simplicity, was an
exceedingly mysterious affair. The constable, D 21, who had stood in
Adam and Eve Mews, presumably while Mr. Knopf's house was being robbed,
had seen no one turn out from the _cul-de-sac_ into the main passage of
the mews.

"The stables, which immediately faced the back entrance of the
Phillimore Terrace houses, were all private ones belonging to residents
in the neighbourhood. The coachmen, their families, and all the grooms
who slept in the stablings were rigidly watched and questioned. One and
all had seen nothing, heard nothing, until Robertson's shrieks had
roused them from their sleep.

"As for the letter from Brighton, it was absolutely commonplace, and
written upon note-paper which the detective, with Machiavellian cunning,
traced to a stationer's shop in West Street. But the trade at that
particular shop was a very brisk one; scores of people had bought
note-paper there, similar to that on which the supposed doctor had
written his tricky letter. The handwriting was cramped, perhaps a
disguised one; in any case, except under very exceptional circumstances,
it could afford no clue to the identity of the thief. Needless to say,
the tramp, when told to write his name, wrote a totally different and
absolutely uneducated hand.

"Matters stood, however, in the same persistently mysterious state when
a small discovery was made, which suggested to Mr. Francis Howard an
idea, which, if properly carried out, would, he hoped, inevitably bring
the cunning burglar safely within the grasp of the police.

"That was the discovery of a few of Mr. Knopf's diamonds," continued the
man in the corner after a slight pause, "evidently trampled into the
ground by the thief whilst making his hurried exit through the garden of
No. 22, Phillimore Terrace.

"At the end of this garden there is a small studio which had been built
by a former owner of the house, and behind it a small piece of waste
ground about seven feet square which had once been a rockery, and is
still filled with large loose stones, in the shadow of which earwigs and
woodlice innumerable have made a happy hunting ground.

"It was Robertson who, two days after the robbery, having need of a
large stone, for some household purpose or other, dislodged one from
that piece of waste ground, and found a few shining pebbles beneath it.
Mr. Knopf took them round to the police-station himself immediately, and
identified the stones as some of his Parisian ones.

"Later on the detective went to view the place where the find had been
made, and there conceived the plan upon which he built big cherished
hopes.

"Acting upon the advice of Mr. Francis Howard, the police decided to let
the anonymous tramp out of his safe retreat within the station, and to
allow him to wander whithersoever he chose. A good idea, perhaps--the
presumption being that, sooner or later, if the man was in any way mixed
up with the cunning thieves, he would either rejoin his comrades or even
lead the police to where the remnant of his hoard lay hidden; needless
to say, his footsteps were to be literally dogged.

"The wretched tramp, on his discharge, wandered out of the yard,
wrapping his thin coat round his shoulders, for it was a bitterly cold
afternoon. He began operations by turning into the Town Hall Tavern for
a good feed and a copious drink. Mr. Francis Howard noted that he seemed
to eye every passer-by with suspicion, but he seemed to enjoy his
dinner, and sat some time over his bottle of wine.

"It was close upon four o'clock when he left the tavern, and then began
for the indefatigable Mr. Howard one of the most wearisome and
uninteresting chases, through the mazes of the London streets, he ever
remembers to have made. Up Notting Hill, down the slums of Notting
Dale, along the High Street, beyond Hammersmith, and through Shepherd's
Bush did that anonymous tramp lead the unfortunate detective, never
hurrying himself, stopping every now and then at a public-house to get a
drink, whither Mr. Howard did not always care to follow him.

"In spite of his fatigue, Mr. Francis Howard's hopes rose with every
half-hour of this weary tramp. The man was obviously striving to kill
time; he seemed to feel no weariness, but walked on and on, perhaps
suspecting that he was being followed.

"At last, with a beating heart, though half perished with cold, and with
terribly sore feet, the detective began to realize that the tramp was
gradually working his way back towards Kensington. It was then close
upon eleven o'clock at night; once or twice the man had walked up and
down the High Street, from St. Paul's School to Derry and Toms' shops
and back again, he had looked down one or two of the side streets
and--at last--he turned into Phillimore Terrace. He seemed in no hurry,
he oven stopped once in the middle of the road, trying to light a pipe,
which, as there was a high east wind, took him some considerable time.
Then he leisurely sauntered down the street, and turned into Adam and
Eve Mews, with Mr. Francis Howard now close at his heels.

"Acting upon the detective's instructions, there were several men in
plain clothes ready to his call in the immediate neighbourhood. Two
stood within the shadow of the steps of the Congregational Church at the
corner of the mews, others were stationed well within a soft call.

"Hardly, therefore, had the hare turned into the _cul-de-sac_ at the
back of Phillimore Terrace than, at a slight sound from Mr. Francis
Howard, every egress was barred to him, and he was caught like a rat in
a trap.

"As soon as the tramp had advanced some thirty yards or so (the whole
length of this part of the mews is about one hundred yards) and was lost
in the shadow, Mr. Francis Howard directed four or five of his men to
proceed cautiously up the mews, whilst the same number were to form a
line all along the front of Phillimore Terrace between the mews and the
High Street.

"Remember, the back-garden walls threw long and dense shadows, but the
silhouette of the man would be clearly outlined if he made any attempt
at climbing over them. Mr. Howard felt quite sure that the thief was
bent on recovering the stolen goods, which, no doubt, he had hidden in
the rear of one of the houses. He would be caught _in flagrante
delicto_, and, with a heavy sentence hovering over him, he would
probably be induced to name his accomplice. Mr. Francis Howard was
thoroughly enjoying himself.

"The minutes sped on; absolute silence, in spite of the presence of so
many men, reigned in the dark and deserted mews.

"Of course, this night's adventure was never allowed to get into the
papers," added the man in the corner with his mild smile. "Had the plan
been successful, we should have heard all about it, with a long
eulogistic article as to the astuteness of our police; but as it
was--well, the tramp sauntered up the mews--and--there he remained for
aught Mr. Francis Howard or the other constables could ever explain. The
earth or the shadows swallowed him up. No one saw him climb one of the
garden walls, no one heard him break open a door; he had retreated
within the shadow of the garden walls, and was seen or heard of no
more."

"One of the servants in the Phillimore Terrace houses must have belonged
to the gang," said Polly with quick decision.

"Ah, yes! but which?" said the man in the corner, making a beautiful
knot in his bit of string. "I can assure you that the police left not a
stone unturned once more to catch sight of that tramp whom they had had
in custody for two days, but not a trace of him could they find, nor of
the diamonds, from that day to this."




CHAPTER VI

ALL HE KNEW


"The tramp was missing," continued the man in the corner, "and Mr.
Francis Howard tried to find the missing tramp. Going round to the
front, and seeing the lights at No. 26 still in, he called upon Mr.
Shipman. The jeweller had had a few friends to dinner, and was giving
them whiskies-and-sodas before saying good night. The servants had just
finished washing up, and were waiting to go to bed; neither they nor Mr.
Shipman nor his guests had seen or heard anything of the suspicious
individual.

"Mr. Francis Howard went on to see Mr. Ferdinand Knopf. This gentleman
was having his warm bath, preparatory to going to bed. So Robertson told
the detective. However, Mr. Knopf insisted on talking to Mr. Howard
through his bath-room door. Mr. Knopf thanked him for all the trouble he
was taking, and felt sure that he and Mr. Shipman would soon recover
possession of their diamonds, thanks to the persevering detective.

"He! he! he!" laughed the man in the corner. "Poor Mr. Howard. He
persevered--but got no farther; no, nor anyone else, for that matter.
Even I might not be able to convict the thieves if I told all I knew to
the police.

"Now, follow my reasoning, point by point," he added eagerly.

"Who knew of the presence of the diamonds in the house of Mr. Shipman
and Mr. Knopf? Firstly," he said, putting up an ugly claw-like finger,
"Mr. Shipman, then Mr. Knopf, then, presumably, the man Robertson."

"And the tramp?" said Polly.

"Leave the tramp alone for the present since he has vanished, and take
point number two. Mr. Shipman was drugged. That was pretty obvious; no
man under ordinary circumstances would, without waking, have his keys
abstracted and then replaced at his own bedside. Mr. Howard suggested
that the thief was armed with some anaesthetic; but how did the thief
get into Mr. Shipman's room without waking him from his natural sleep?
Is it not simpler to suppose that the thief had taken the precaution to
drug the jeweller _before_ the latter went to bed?"

"But--"

"Wait a moment, and take point number three. Though there was every
proof that Mr. Shipman had been in possession of £25,000 worth of goods
since Mr. Knopf had a cheque from him for that amount, there was no
proof that in Mr. Knopf's house there was even an odd stone worth a
sovereign.

"And then again," went on the scarecrow, getting more and more excited,
"did it ever strike you, or anybody else, that at _no_ time, while the
tramp was in custody, while all that searching examination was being
gone on with, no one ever saw Mr. Knopf and his man Robertson together
at the same time?

"Ah!" he continued, whilst suddenly the young girl seemed to see the
whole thing as in a vision, "they did not forget a single detail--follow
them with me, point by point. Two cunning scoundrels--geniuses they
should be called--well provided with some ill-gotten funds--but
determined on a grand _coup_. They play at respectability, for six
months, say. One is the master, the other the servant; they take a house
in the same street as their intended victim, make friends with him,
accomplish one or two creditable but very small business transactions,
always drawing on the reserve funds, which might even have amounted to a
few hundreds--and a bit of credit.

"Then the Brazilian diamonds, and the Parisians--which, remember, were
so perfect that they required chemical testing to be detected. The
Parisian stones are sold--not in business, of course--in the evening,
after dinner and a good deal of wine. Mr. Knopf's Brazilians were
beautiful; perfect! Mr. Knopf was a well-known diamond merchant.

"Mr. Shipman bought--but with the morning would have come sober sense,
the cheque stopped before it could have been presented, the swindler
caught. No! those exquisite Parisians were never intended to rest in Mr.
Shipman's safe until the morning. That last bottle of '48 port, with the
aid of a powerful soporific, ensured that Mr. Shipman would sleep
undisturbed during the night.

"Ah! remember all the details, they were so admirable! the letter posted
in Brighton by the cunning rogue to himself, the smashed desk, the
broken pane of glass in his own house. The man Robertson on the watch,
while Knopf himself in ragged clothing found his way into No. 26. If
Constable D 21 had not appeared upon the scene that exciting comedy in
the early morning would not have been enacted. As it was, in the
supposed fight, Mr. Shipman's diamonds passed from the hands of the
tramp into those of his accomplice.

"Then, later on, Robertson, ill in bed, while his master was supposed to
have returned--by the way, it never struck anybody that no one saw Mr.
Knopf come home, though he surely would have driven up in a cab. Then
the double part played by one man for the next two days. It certainly
never struck either the police or the inspector. Remember they only saw
Robertson when in bed with a streaming cold. But Knopf had to be got out
of gaol as soon as possible; the dual _rôle_ could not have been kept up
for long. Hence the story of the diamonds found in the garden of No. 22.
The cunning rogues guessed that the usual plan would be acted upon, and
the suspected thief allowed to visit the scene where his hoard lay
hidden.

"It had all been foreseen, and Robertson must have been constantly on
the watch. The tramp stopped, mind you, in Phillimore Terrace for some
moments, lighting a pipe. The accomplice, then, was fully on the alert;
he slipped the bolts of the back garden gate. Five minutes later Knopf
was in the house, in a hot bath, getting rid of the disguise of our
friend the tramp. Remember that again here the detective did not
actually see him.

"The next morning Mr. Knopf, black hair and beard and all, was himself
again. The whole trick lay in one simple art, which those two cunning
rascals knew to absolute perfection, the art of impersonating one
another.

"They are brothers, presumably--twin brothers, I should say."

"But Mr. Knopf--" suggested Polly.

"Well, look in the Trades' Directory; you will see F. Knopf & Co.,
diamond merchants, of some City address. Ask about the firm among the
trade; you will hear that it is firmly established on a sound financial
basis. He! he! he! and it deserves to be," added the man in the corner,
as, calling for the waitress, he received his ticket, and taking up his
shabby hat, took himself and his bit of string rapidly out of the room.




CHAPTER VII

THE YORK MYSTERY


The man in the corner looked quite cheerful that morning; he had had two
glasses of milk and had even gone to the extravagance of an extra
cheese-cake. Polly knew that he was itching to talk police and murders,
for he cast furtive glances at her from time to time, produced a bit of
string, tied and untied it into scores of complicated knots, and
finally, bringing out his pocket-book, he placed two or three
photographs before her.

"Do you know who that is?" he asked, pointing to one of these.

The girl looked at the face on the picture. It was that of a woman, not
exactly pretty, but very gentle and childlike, with a strange pathetic
look in the large eyes which was wonderfully appealing.

"That was Lady Arthur Skelmerton," he said, and in a flash there flitted
before Polly's mind the weird and tragic history which had broken this
loving woman's heart. Lady Arthur Skelmerton! That name recalled one of
the most bewildering, most mysterious passages in the annals of
undiscovered crimes.

"Yes. It was sad, wasn't it?" he commented, in answer to Polly's
thoughts. "Another case which but for idiotic blunders on the part of
the police must have stood clear as daylight before the public and
satisfied general anxiety. Would you object to my recapitulating its
preliminary details?"

She said nothing, so he continued without waiting further for a reply.

"It all occurred during the York racing week, a time which brings to the
quiet cathedral city its quota of shady characters, who congregate
wherever money and wits happen to fly away from their owners. Lord
Arthur Skelmerton, a very well-known figure in London society and in
racing circles, had rented one of the fine houses which overlook the
racecourse. He had entered Peppercorn, by St. Armand--Notre Dame, for
the Great Ebor Handicap. Peppercorn was the winner of the Newmarket, and
his chances for the Ebor were considered a practical certainty.

"If you have ever been to York you will have noticed the fine houses
which have their drive and front entrances in the road called 'The
Mount.' and the gardens of which extend as far as the racecourse,
commanding a lovely view over the entire track. It was one of these
houses, called 'The Elms,' which Lord Arthur Skelmerton had rented for
the summer.

"Lady Arthur came down some little time before the racing week with her
servants--she had no children; but she had many relatives and friends in
York, since she was the daughter of old Sir John Etty, the cocoa
manufacturer, a rigid Quaker, who, it was generally said, kept the
tightest possible hold on his own purse-strings and looked with marked
disfavour upon his aristocratic son-in-law's fondness for gaming tables
and betting books.

"As a matter of fact, Maud Etty had married the handsome young
lieutenant in the Hussars, quite against her father's wishes. But she
was an only child, and after a good deal of demur and grumbling, Sir
John, who idolized his daughter, gave way to her whim, and a reluctant
consent to the marriage was wrung from him.

"But, as a Yorkshireman, he was far too shrewd a man of the world not to
know that love played but a very small part in persuading a Duke's son
to marry the daughter of a cocoa manufacturer, and as long as he lived
he determined that since his daughter was being wed because of her
wealth, that wealth should at least secure her own happiness. He refused
to give Lady Arthur any capital, which, in spite of the most carefully
worded settlements, would inevitably, sooner or later, have found its
way into the pockets of Lord Arthur's racing friends. But he made his
daughter a very handsome allowance, amounting to over £3000 a year,
which enabled her to keep up an establishment befitting her new rank.

"A great many of these facts, intimate enough as they are, leaked out,
you see, during that period of intense excitement which followed the
murder of Charles Lavender, and when the public eye was fixed
searchingly upon Lord Arthur Skelmerton, probing all the inner details
of his idle, useless life.

"It soon became a matter of common gossip that poor little Lady Arthur
continued to worship her handsome husband in spite of his obvious
neglect, and not having as yet presented him with an heir, she settled
herself down into a life of humble apology for her plebeian existence,
atoning for it by condoning all his faults and forgiving all his vices,
even to the extent of cloaking them before the prying eyes of Sir John,
who was persuaded to look upon his son-in-law as a paragon of all the
domestic virtues and a perfect model of a husband.

"Among Lord Arthur Skelmerton's many expensive tastes there was
certainly that for horseflesh and cards. After some successful betting
at the beginning of his married life, he had started a racing-stable
which it was generally believed--as he was very lucky--was a regular
source of income to him.

"Peppercorn, however, after his brilliant performances at Newmarket did
not continue to fulfil his master's expectations. His collapse at York
was attributed to the hardness of the course and to various other
causes, but its immediate effect was to put Lord Arthur Skelmerton in
what is popularly called a tight place, for he had backed his horse for
all he was worth, and must have stood to lose considerably over £5000 on
that one day.

"The collapse of the favourite and the grand victory of King Cole, a
rank outsider, on the other hand, had proved a golden harvest for the
bookmakers, and all the York hotels were busy with dinners and suppers
given by the confraternity of the Turf to celebrate the happy occasion.
The next day was Friday, one of few important racing events, after which
the brilliant and the shady throng which had flocked into the venerable
city for the week would fly to more congenial climes, and leave it, with
its fine old Minster and its ancient walls, as sleepy, as quiet as
before.

"Lord Arthur Skelmerton also intended to leave York on the Saturday, and
on the Friday night he gave a farewell bachelor dinner party at 'The
Elms,' at which Lady Arthur did not appear. After dinner the gentlemen
settled down to bridge, with pretty stiff points, you may be sure. It
had just struck eleven at the Minster Tower, when constables McNaught
and Murphy, who were patrolling the racecourse, were startled by loud
cries of 'murder' and 'police.'

"Quickly ascertaining whence these cries proceeded, they hurried on at a
gallop, and came up--quite close to the boundary of Lord Arthur
Skelmerton's grounds--upon a group of three men, two of whom seemed to
be wrestling vigorously with one another, whilst the third was lying
face downwards on the ground. As soon as the constables drew near, one
of the wrestlers shouted more vigorously, and with a certain tone of
authority:

"'Here, you fellows, hurry up, sharp; the brute is giving me the slip!'

"But the brute did not seem inclined to do anything of the sort; he
certainly extricated himself with a violent jerk from his assailant's
grasp, but made no attempt to run away. The constables had quickly
dismounted, whilst he who had shouted for help originally added more
quietly:

"'My name is Skelmerton. This is the boundary of my property. I was
smoking a cigar at the pavilion over there with a friend when I heard
loud voices, followed by a cry and a groan. I hurried down the steps,
and saw this poor fellow lying on the ground, with a knife sticking
between his shoulder-blades, and his murderer,' he added, pointing to
the man who stood quietly by with Constable McNaught's firm grip upon
his shoulder, 'still stooping over the body of his victim. I was too
late, I fear, to save the latter, but just in time to grapple with the
assassin--"

"'It's a lie!' here interrupted the man hoarsely. 'I didn't do it,
constable; I swear I didn't do it. I saw him fall--I was coming along a
couple of hundred yards away, and I tried to see if the poor fellow was
dead. I swear I didn't do it.'

"'You'll have to explain that to the inspector presently, my man,' was
Constable McNaught's quiet comment, and, still vigorously protesting his
innocence, the accused allowed himself to be led away, and the body was
conveyed to the station, pending fuller identification.

"The next morning the papers were full of the tragedy; a column and a
half of the _York Herald_ was devoted to an account of Lord Arthur
Skelmerton's plucky capture of the assassin. The latter had continued to
declare his innocence, but had remarked, it appears, with grim humour,
that he quite saw he was in a tight place, out of which, however, he
would find it easy to extricate himself. He had stated to the police
that the deceased's name was Charles Lavender, a well-known bookmaker,
which fact was soon verified, for many of the murdered man's 'pals'
were still in the city.

"So far the most pushing of newspaper reporters had been unable to glean
further information from the police; no one doubted, however, but that
the man in charge, who gave his name as George Higgins, had killed the
bookmaker for purposes of robbery. The inquest had been fixed for the
Tuesday after the murder.

"Lord Arthur had been obliged to stay in York a few days, as his
evidence would be needed. That fact gave the case, perhaps, a certain
amount of interest as far as York and London 'society' were concerned.
Charles Lavender, moreover, was well known on the turf; but no bombshell
exploding beneath the walls of the ancient cathedral city could more
have astonished its inhabitants than the news which, at about five in
the afternoon on the day of the inquest, spread like wildfire throughout
the town. That news was that the inquest had concluded at three o'clock
with a verdict of 'Wilful murder against some person or persons
unknown,' and that two hours later the police had arrested Lord Arthur
Skelmerton at his private residence, 'The Elms,' and charged him on a
warrant with the murder of Charles Lavender, the bookmaker."




CHAPTER VIII

THE CAPITAL CHARGE


"The police, it appears, instinctively feeling that some mystery lurked
round the death of the bookmaker and his supposed murderer's quiet
protestations of innocence, had taken a very considerable amount of
trouble in collecting all the evidence they could for the inquest which
might throw some light upon Charles Lavender's life, previous to his
tragic end. Thus it was that a very large array of witnesses was brought
before the coroner, chief among whom was, of course, Lord Arthur
Skelmerton.

"The first witnesses called were the two constables, who deposed that,
just as the church clocks in the neighbourhood were striking eleven,
they had heard the cries for help, had ridden to the spot whence the
sounds proceeded, and had found the prisoner in the tight grasp of Lord
Arthur Skelmerton, who at once accused the man of murder, and gave him
in charge. Both constables gave the same version of the incident, and
both were positive as to the time when it occurred.

"Medical evidence went to prove that the deceased had been stabbed from
behind between the shoulder-blades whilst he was walking, that the wound
was inflicted by a large hunting knife, which was produced, and which
had been left sticking in the wound.

"Lord Arthur Skelmerton was then called and substantially repeated what
he had already told the constables. He stated, namely, that on the night
in question he had some gentlemen friends to dinner, and afterwards
bridge was played. He himself was not playing much, and at a few minutes
before eleven he strolled out with a cigar as far as the pavilion at the
end of his garden; he then heard the voices, the cry and the groan
previously described by him, and managed to hold the murderer down until
the arrival of the constables.

"At this point the police proposed to call a witness, James Terry by
name and a bookmaker by profession, who had been chiefly instrumental in
identifying the deceased, a 'pal' of his. It was his evidence which
first introduced that element of sensation into the case which
culminated in the wildly exciting arrest of a Duke's son upon a capital
charge.

"It appears that on the evening after the Ebor, Terry and Lavender were
in the bar of the Black Swan Hotel having drinks.

"'I had done pretty well over Peppercorn's fiasco,' he explained, 'but
poor old Lavender was very much down in the dumps; he had held only a
few very small bets against the favourite, and the rest of the day had
been a poor one with him. I asked him if he had any bets with the owner
of Peppercorn, and he told me that he only held one for less than £500.

"'I laughed and said that if he held one for £5000 it would make no
difference, as from what I had heard from the other fellows, Lord Arthur
Skelmerton must be about stumped. Lavender seemed terribly put out at
this, and swore he would get that £500 out of Lord Arthur, if no one
else got another penny from him.

"'It's the only money I've made to-day,' he says to me. 'I mean to get
it.'

"'You won't,' I says.

"'I will,' he says.

"'You will have to look pretty sharp about it then,' I says, 'for every
one will be wanting to get something, and first come first served.'

"'Oh! He'll serve me right enough, never you mind!' says Lavender to me
with a laugh. 'If he don't pay up willingly, I've got that in my pocket
which will make him sit up and open my lady's eyes and Sir John Etty's
too about their precious noble lord.'

"'Then he seemed to think he had gone too far, and wouldn't say anything
more to me about that affair. I saw him on the course the next day. I
asked him if he had got his £500. He said: "No, but I shall get it
to-day."'

"Lord Arthur Skelmerton, after having given his own evidence, had left
the court; it was therefore impossible to know how he would take this
account, which threw so serious a light upon an association with the
dead man, of which he himself had said nothing.

"Nothing could shake James Terry's account of the facts he had placed
before the jury, and when the police informed the coroner that they
proposed to place George Higgins himself in the witness-box, as his
evidence would prove, as it were, a complement and corollary of that of
Terry, the jury very eagerly assented.

"If James Terry, the bookmaker, loud, florid, vulgar, was an
unprepossessing individual, certainly George Higgins, who was still
under the accusation of murder, was ten thousand times more so.

"None too clean, slouchy, obsequious yet insolent, he was the very
personification of the cad who haunts the racecourse and who lives not
so much by his own wits as by the lack of them in others. He described
himself as a turf commission agent, whatever that may be.

"He stated that at about six o'clock on the Friday afternoon, when the
racecourse was still full of people, all hurrying after the day's
excitements, he himself happened to be standing close to the hedge which
marks the boundary of Lord Arthur Skelmerton's grounds. There is a
pavilion there at the end of the garden, he explained, on slightly
elevated ground, and he could hear and see a group of ladies and
gentlemen having tea. Some steps lead down a little to the left of the
garden on to the course, and presently he noticed at the bottom of these
steps Lord Arthur Skelmerton and Charles Lavender standing talking
together. He knew both gentlemen by sight, but he could not see them
very well as they were both partly hidden by the hedge. He was quite
sure that the gentlemen had not seen him, and he could not help
overhearing some of their conversation.

"'That's my last word, Lavender,' Lord Arthur was saying very quietly.
'I haven't got the money and I can't pay you now. You'll have to wait.'

"'Wait? I can't wait,' said old Lavender in reply. 'I've got my
engagements to meet, same as you. I'm not going to risk being posted up
as a defaulter while you hold £500 of my money. You'd better give it me
now or--'

"But Lord Arthur interrupted him very quietly, and said:

"'Yes, my good man.... or?'

"'Or I'll let Sir John have a good look at that little bill I had of
yours a couple of years ago. If you'll remember, my lord, it has got at
the bottom of it Sir John's signature in _your_ handwriting. Perhaps
Sir John, or perhaps my lady, would pay me something for that little
bill. If not, the police can have a squint at it. I've held my tongue
long enough, and--'

"'Look here, Lavender,' said Lord Arthur, 'do you know what this little
game of yours is called in law?'

"'Yes, and I don't care,' says Lavender. 'If I don't have that £500 I am
a ruined man. If you ruin me I'll do for you, and we shall be quits.
That's my last word.'

"He was talking very loudly, and I thought some of Lord Arthur's friends
up in the pavilion must have heard. He thought so, too, I think, for he
said quickly:

"'If you don't hold your confounded tongue, I'll give you in charge for
blackmail this instant.'

"'You wouldn't dare,' says Lavender, and he began to laugh. But just
then a lady from the top of the steps said: 'Your tea is getting cold,'
and Lord Arthur turned to go; but just before he went Lavender says to
him: 'I'll come back to-night. You'll have the money then.'

"George Higgins, it appears, after he had heard this interesting
conversation, pondered as to whether he could not turn what he knew into
some sort of profit. Being a gentleman who lives entirely by his wits,
this type of knowledge forms his chief source of income. As a
preliminary to future moves, he decided not to lose sight of Lavender
for the rest of the day.

"'Lavender went and had dinner at The Black Swan,' explained Mr. George
Higgins, 'and I, after I had had a bite myself, waited outside till I
saw him come out. At about ten o'clock I was rewarded for my trouble. He
told the hall porter to get him a fly and he jumped into it. I could not
hear what direction he gave the driver, but the fly certainly drove off
towards the racecourse.

"'Now, I was interested in this little affair,' continued the witness,
'and I couldn't afford a fly. I started to run. Of course, I couldn't
keep up with it, but I thought I knew which way my gentleman had gone. I
made straight for the racecourse, and for the hedge at the bottom of
Lord Arthur Skelmerton's grounds.

"'It was rather a dark night and there was a slight drizzle. I couldn't
see more than about a hundred yards before me. All at once it seemed to
me as if I heard Lavender's voice talking loudly in the distance. I
hurried forward, and suddenly saw a group of two figures--mere blurs in
the darkness--for one instant, at a distance of about fifty yards from
where I was.

"'The next moment one figure had fallen forward and the other had
disappeared. I ran to the spot, only to find the body of the murdered
man lying on the ground. I stooped to see if I could be of any use to
him, and immediately I was collared from behind by Lord Arthur
himself.'

"You may imagine," said the man in the corner, "how keen was the
excitement of that moment in court. Coroner and jury alike literally
hung breathless on every word that shabby, vulgar individual uttered.
You see, by itself his evidence would have been worth very little, but
coming on the top of that given by James Terry, its significance--more,
its truth--had become glaringly apparent. Closely cross-examined, he
adhered strictly to his statement; and having finished his evidence,
George Higgins remained in charge of the constables, and the next
witness of importance was called up.

"This was Mr. Chipps, the senior footman in the employment of Lord
Arthur Skelmerton. He deposed that at about 10.30 on the Friday evening
a 'party' drove up to 'The Elms' in a fly, and asked to see Lord Arthur.
On being told that his lordship had company he seemed terribly put out.

"'I hasked the party to give me 'is card,' continued Mr. Chipps, 'as I
didn't know, perhaps, that 'is lordship might wish to see 'im, but I
kept 'im standing at the 'all door, as I didn't altogether like his
looks. I took the card in. His lordship and the gentlemen was playin'
cards in the smoking-room, and as soon as I could do so without
disturbing 'is lordship, I give him the party's card.'

"'What name was there on the card?' here interrupted the coroner.

"'I couldn't say now, sir,' replied Mr. Chipps; 'I don't really
remember. It was a name I had never seen before. But I see so many
visiting cards one way and the other in 'is lordship's 'all that I can't
remember all the names.'

"'Then, after a few minutes' waiting, you gave his lordship the card?
What happened then?'

"''Is lordship didn't seem at all pleased,' said Mr. Chipps with much
guarded dignity; 'but finally he said: "Show him into the library,
Chipps, I'll see him," and he got up from the card table, saying to the
gentlemen: "Go on without me; I'll be back in a minute or two."

"'I was about to open the door for 'is lordship when my lady came into
the room, and then his lordship suddenly changed his mind like, and said
to me: "Tell that man I'm busy and can't see him," and 'e sat down again
at the card table. I went back to the 'all, and told the party 'is
lordship wouldn't see 'im. 'E said: "Oh! it doesn't matter," and went
away quite quiet like.'

"'Do you recollect at all at what time that was?' asked one of the jury.

"'Yes, sir, while I was waiting to speak to 'is lordship I looked at
the clock, sir; it was twenty past ten, sir.'

"There was one more significant fact in connection with the case, which
tended still more to excite the curiosity of the public at the time, and
still further to bewilder the police later on, and that fact was
mentioned by Chipps in his evidence. The knife, namely, with which
Charles Lavender had been stabbed, and which, remember, had been left in
the wound, was now produced in court. After a little hesitation Chipps
identified it as the property of his master, Lord Arthur Skelmerton.

"Can you wonder, then, that the jury absolutely refused to bring in a
verdict against George Higgins? There was really, beyond Lord Arthur
Skelmerton's testimony, not one particle of evidence against him,
whilst, as the day wore on and witness after witness was called up,
suspicion ripened in the minds of all those present that the murderer
could be no other than Lord Arthur Skelmerton himself.

"The knife was, of course, the strongest piece of circumstantial
evidence, and no doubt the police hoped to collect a great deal more now
that they held a clue in their hands. Directly after the verdict,
therefore, which was guardedly directed against some person unknown, the
police obtained a warrant and later on arrested Lord Arthur in his own
house."

"The sensation, of course, was tremendous. Hours before he was brought
up before the magistrate the approach to the court was thronged. His
friends, mostly ladies, were all eager, you see, to watch the dashing
society man in so terrible a position. There was universal sympathy for
Lady Arthur, who was in a very precarious state of health. Her worship
of her worthless husband was well known; small wonder that his final and
awful misdeed had practically broken her heart. The latest bulletin
issued just after his arrest stated that her ladyship was not expected
to live. She was then in a comatose condition, and all hope had perforce
to be abandoned.

"At last the prisoner was brought in. He looked very pale, perhaps, but
otherwise kept up the bearing of a high-bred gentleman. He was
accompanied by his solicitor, Sir Marmaduke Ingersoll, who was evidently
talking to him in quiet, reassuring tones.

"Mr. Buchanan prosecuted for the Treasury, and certainly his indictment
was terrific. According to him but one decision could be arrived at,
namely, that the accused in the dock had, in a moment of passion, and
perhaps of fear, killed the blackmailer who threatened him with
disclosures which might for ever have ruined him socially, and, having
committed the deed and fearing its consequences, probably realizing that
the patrolling constables might catch sight of his retreating figure,
he had availed himself of George Higgins's presence on the spot to
loudly accuse him of the murder.

"Having concluded his able speech, Mr. Buchanan called his witnesses,
and the evidence, which on second hearing seemed more damning than ever,
was all gone through again.

"Sir Marmaduke had no question to ask of the witnesses for the
prosecution; he stared at them placidly through his gold-rimmed
spectacles. Then he was ready to call his own for the defence. Colonel
McIntosh, R.A., was the first. He was present at the bachelors' party
given by Lord Arthur the night of the murder. His evidence tended at
first to corroborate that of Chipps the footman with regard to Lord
Arthur's orders to show the visitor into the library, and his
counter-order as soon as his wife came into the room.

"'Did you not think it strange, Colonel?' asked Mr. Buchanan, 'that Lord
Arthur should so suddenly have changed his mind about seeing his
visitor?'

"'Well, not exactly strange,' said the Colonel, a fine, manly, soldierly
figure who looked curiously out of his element in the witness-box. 'I
don't think that it is a very rare occurrence for racing men to have
certain acquaintances whom they would not wish their wives to know
anything about.'

"'Then it did not strike you that Lord Arthur Skelmerton had some
reason for not wishing his wife to know of that particular visitor's
presence in his house?'

"'I don't think that I gave the matter the slightest serious
consideration,' was the Colonel's guarded reply.

"Mr. Buchanan did not press the point, and allowed the witness to
conclude his statements.

"'I had finished my turn at bridge,' he said, 'and went out into the
garden to smoke a cigar. Lord Arthur Skelmerton joined me a few minutes
later, and we were sitting in the pavilion when I heard a loud and, as I
thought, threatening voice from the other side of the hedge.

"'I did not catch the words, but Lord Arthur said to me: "There seems to
be a row down there. I'll go and have a look and see what it is." I
tried to dissuade him, and certainly made no attempt to follow him, but
not more than half a minute could have elapsed before I heard a cry and
a groan, then Lord Arthur's footsteps hurrying down the wooden stairs
which lead on to the racecourse.'

"You may imagine," said the man in the corner, "what severe
cross-examination the gallant Colonel had to undergo in order that his
assertions might in some way be shaken by the prosecution, but with
military precision and frigid calm he repeated his important statements
amidst a general silence, through which you could have heard the
proverbial pin.

"He had heard the threatening voice _while_ sitting with Lord Arthur
Skelmerton; then came the cry and groan, and, _after that_, Lord
Arthur's steps down the stairs. He himself thought of following to see
what had happened, but it was a very dark night and he did not know the
grounds very well. While trying to find his way to the garden steps he
heard Lord Arthur's cry for help, the tramp of the patrolling
constables' horses, and subsequently the whole scene between Lord
Arthur, the man Higgins, and the constables. When he finally found his
way to the stairs, Lord Arthur was returning in order to send a groom
for police assistance.

"The witness stuck to his points as he had to his guns at Beckfontein a
year ago; nothing could shake him, and Sir Marmaduke looked triumphantly
across at his opposing colleague.

"With the gallant Colonel's statements the edifice of the prosecution
certainly began to collapse. You see, there was not a particle of
evidence to show that the accused had met and spoken to the deceased
after the latter's visit at the front door of 'The Elms.' He told Chipps
that he wouldn't see the visitor, and Chipps went into the hall directly
and showed Lavender out the way he came. No assignation could have been
made, no hint could have been given by the murdered man to Lord Arthur
that he would go round to the back entrance and wished to see him there.

"Two other guests of Lord Arthur's swore positively that after Chipps
had announced the visitor, their host stayed at the card-table until a
quarter to eleven, when evidently he went out to join Colonel McIntosh
in the garden. Sir Marmaduke's speech was clever in the extreme. Bit by
bit he demolished that tower of strength, the case against the accused,
basing his defence entirely upon the evidence of Lord Arthur
Skelmerton's guests that night.

"Until 10.45 Lord Arthur was playing cards; a quarter of an hour later
the police were on the scene, and the murder had been committed. In the
meanwhile Colonel McIntosh's evidence proved conclusively that the
accused had been sitting with him, smoking a cigar. It was obvious,
therefore, clear as daylight, concluded the great lawyer, that his
client was entitled to a full discharge; nay, more, he thought that the
police should have been more careful before they harrowed up public
feeling by arresting a high-born gentleman on such insufficient evidence
as they had brought forward.

"The question of the knife remained certainly, but Sir Marmaduke passed
over it with guarded eloquence, placing that strange question in the
category of those inexplicable coincidences which tend to puzzle the
ablest detectives, and cause them to commit such unpardonable blunders
as the present one had been. After all, the footman may have been
mistaken. The pattern of that knife was not an exclusive one, and he, on
behalf of his client, flatly denied that it had ever belonged to him.

"Well," continued the man in the corner, with the chuckle peculiar to
him in moments of excitement, "the noble prisoner was discharged.
Perhaps it would be invidious to say that he left the court without a
stain on his character, for I daresay you know from experience that the
crime known as the York Mystery has never been satisfactorily cleared
up.

"Many people shook their heads dubiously when they remembered that,
after all, Charles Lavender was killed with a knife which one witness
had sworn belonged to Lord Arthur; others, again, reverted to the
original theory that George Higgins was the murderer, that he and James
Terry had concocted the story of Lavender's attempt at blackmail on Lord
Arthur, and that the murder had been committed for the sole purpose of
robbery.

"Be that as it may, the police have not so far been able to collect
sufficient evidence against Higgins or Terry, and the crime has been
classed by press and public alike in the category of so-called
impenetrable mysteries."




CHAPTER IX

A BROKEN-HEARTED WOMAN


The man in the corner called for another glass of milk, and drank it
down slowly before he resumed:

"Now Lord Arthur lives mostly abroad," he said. "His poor, suffering
wife died the day after he was liberated by the magistrate. She never
recovered consciousness even sufficiently to hear the joyful news that
the man she loved so well was innocent after all.

"Mystery!" he added as if in answer to Polly's own thoughts. "The murder
of that man was never a mystery to me. I cannot understand how the
police could have been so blind when every one of the witnesses, both
for the prosecution and defence, practically pointed all the time to the
one guilty person. What do you think of it all yourself?"

"I think the whole case so bewildering," she replied, "that I do not see
one single clear point in it."

"You don't?" he said excitedly, while the bony fingers fidgeted again
with that inevitable bit of string. "You don't see that there is one
point clear which to me was the key of the whole thing?

"Lavender was murdered, wasn't he? Lord Arthur did not kill him. He had,
at least, in Colonel McIntosh an unimpeachable witness to prove that he
could not have committed that murder--and yet," he added with slow,
excited emphasis, marking each sentence with a knot, "and yet he
deliberately tries to throw the guilt upon a man who obviously was also
innocent. Now why?"

"He may have thought him guilty."

"Or wished to shield or cover the retreat of _one he knew to be
guilty_."

"I don't understand."

"Think of someone," he said excitedly, "someone whose desire would be as
great as that of Lord Arthur to silence a scandal round that gentleman's
name. Someone who, unknown perhaps to Lord Arthur, had overheard the
same conversation which George Higgins related to the police and the
magistrate, someone who, whilst Chipps was taking Lavender's card in to
his master, had a few minutes' time wherein to make an assignation with
Lavender, promising him money, no doubt, in exchange for the
compromising bills."

"Surely you don't mean--" gasped Polly.

"Point number one," he interrupted quietly, "utterly missed by the
police. George Higgins in his deposition stated that at the most
animated stage of Lavender's conversation with Lord Arthur, and when the
bookmaker's tone of voice became loud and threatening, a voice from the
top of the steps interrupted that conversation, saying: 'Your tea is
getting cold.'"

"Yes--but--" she argued.

"Wait a moment, for there is point number two. That voice was a lady's
voice. Now, I did exactly what the police should have done, but did not
do. I went to have a look from the racecourse side at those garden steps
which to my mind are such important factors in the discovery of this
crime. I found only about a dozen rather low steps; anyone standing on
the top must have heard every word Charles Lavender uttered the moment
he raised his voice."

"Even then--"

"Very well, you grant that," he said excitedly. "Then there was the
great, the all-important point which, oddly enough, the prosecution
never for a moment took into consideration. When Chipps, the footman,
first told Lavender that Lord Arthur could not see him the bookmaker was
terribly put out; Chipps then goes to speak to his master; a few minutes
elapse, and when the footman once again tells Lavender that his lordship
won't see him, the latter says 'Very well,' and seems to treat the
matter with complete indifference.

"Obviously, therefore, something must have happened in between to alter
the bookmaker's frame of mind. Well! What had happened? Think over all
the evidence, and you will see that one thing only had occurred in the
interval, namely, Lady Arthur's advent into the room.

"In order to go into the smoking-room she must have crossed the hall;
she must have seen Lavender. In that brief interval she must have
realized that the man was persistent, and therefore a living danger to
her husband. Remember, women have done strange things; they are a far
greater puzzle to the student of human nature than the sterner, less
complex sex has ever been. As I argued before--as the police should have
argued all along--why did Lord Arthur deliberately accuse an innocent
man of murder if not to shield the guilty one?

"Remember, Lady Arthur may have been discovered; the man, George
Higgins, may have caught sight of her before she had time to make good
her retreat. His attention, as well us that of the constables, had to be
diverted. Lord Arthur acted on the blind impulse of saving his wife at
any cost."

"She may have been met by Colonel McIntosh," argued Polly.

"Perhaps she was," he said. "Who knows? The gallant colonel had to
swear to his friend's innocence. He could do that in all
conscience--after that his duty was accomplished. No innocent man was
suffering for the guilty. The knife which had belonged to Lord Arthur
would always save George Higgins. For a time it had pointed to the
husband; fortunately never to the wife. Poor thing, she died probably of
a broken heart, but women when they love, think only of one object on
earth--the one who is beloved.

"To me the whole thing was clear from the very first. When I read the
account of the murder--the knife! stabbing!--bah! Don't I know enough of
_English_ crime not to be certain at once that no English_man_, be he
ruffian from the gutter or be he Duke's son, ever stabs his victim in
the back. Italians, French, Spaniards do it, if you will, and women of
most nations. An Englishman's instinct is to strike and not to stab.
George Higgins or Lord Arthur Skelmerton would have knocked their victim
down; the woman only would lie in wait till the enemy's back was turned.
She knows her weakness, and she does not mean to miss.

"Think it over. There is not one flaw in my argument, but the police
never thought the matter out--perhaps in this case it was as well."

He had gone and left Miss Polly Burton still staring at the photograph
of a pretty, gentle-looking woman, with a decided, wilful curve round
the mouth, and a strange, unaccountable look in the large pathetic eyes;
and the little journalist felt quite thankful that in this case the
murder of Charles Lavender the bookmaker--cowardly, wicked as it
was--had remained a mystery to the police and the public.




CHAPTER X

THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH ON THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY


It was all very well for Mr. Richard Frobisher (of the _London Mail_) to
cut up rough about it. Polly did not altogether blame him.

She liked him all the better for that frank outburst of manlike
ill-temper which, after all said and done, was only a very flattering
form of masculine jealousy.

Moreover, Polly distinctly felt guilty about the whole thing. She had
promised to meet Dickie--that is Mr. Richard Frobisher--at two o'clock
sharp outside the Palace Theatre, because she wanted to go to a Maud
Allan _matinée_, and because he naturally wished to go with her.

But at two o'clock sharp she was still in Norfolk Street, Strand, inside
an A.B.C. shop, sipping cold coffee opposite a grotesque old man who was
fiddling with a bit of string.

How could she be expected to remember Maud Allan or the Palace Theatre,
or Dickie himself for a matter of that? The man in the corner had begun
to talk of that mysterious death on the underground railway, and Polly
had lost count of time, of place, and circumstance.

She had gone to lunch quite early, for she was looking forward to the
_matinée_ at the Palace.

The old scarecrow was sitting in his accustomed place when she came into
the A.B.C. shop, but he had made no remark all the time that the young
girl was munching her scone and butter. She was just busy thinking how
rude he was not even to have said "Good morning," when an abrupt remark
from him caused her to look up.

"Will you be good enough," he said suddenly, "to give me a description
of the man who sat next to you just now, while you were having your cup
of coffee and scone."

Involuntarily Polly turned her head towards the distant door, through
which a man in a light overcoat was even now quickly passing. That man
had certainly sat at the next table to hers, when she first sat down to
her coffee and scone: he had finished his luncheon--whatever it
was--moment ago, had paid at the desk and gone out. The incident did not
appear to Polly as being of the slightest consequence.

Therefore she did not reply to the rude old man, but shrugged her
shoulders, and called to the waitress to bring her bill.

"Do you know if he was tall or short, dark or fair?" continued the man
in the corner, seemingly not the least disconcerted by the young girl's
indifference. "Can you tell me at all what he was like?"

"Of course I can," rejoined Polly impatiently, "but I don't see that my
description of one of the customers of an A.B.C. shop can have the
slightest importance."

He was silent for a minute, while his nervous fingers fumbled about in
his capacious pockets in search of the inevitable piece of string. When
he had found this necessary "adjunct to thought," he viewed the young
girl again through his half-closed lids, and added maliciously:

"But supposing it were of paramount importance that you should give an
accurate description of a man who sat next to you for half an hour
to-day, how would you proceed?"

"I should say that he was of medium height--"

"Five foot eight, nine, or ten?" he interrupted quietly.

"How can one tell to an inch or two?" rejoined Polly crossly. "He was
between colours."

"What's that?" he inquired blandly.

"Neither fair nor dark--his nose--"

"Well, what was his nose like? Will you sketch it?"

"I am not an artist. His nose was fairly straight--his eyes--"

"Were neither dark nor light--his hair had the same striking
peculiarity--he was neither short nor tall--his nose was neither
aquiline nor snub--" he recapitulated sarcastically.

"No," she retorted; "he was just ordinary looking."

"Would you know him again--say to-morrow, and among a number of other
men who were 'neither tall nor short, dark nor fair, aquiline nor
snub-nosed,' etc.?"

"I don't know--I might--he was certainly not striking enough to be
specially remembered."

"Exactly," he said, while he leant forward excitedly, for all the world
like a Jack-in-the-box let loose. "Precisely; and you are a
journalist--call yourself one, at least--and it should be part of your
business to notice and describe people. I don't mean only the wonderful
personage with the clear Saxon features, the fine blue eyes, the noble
brow and classic face, but the ordinary person--the person who
represents ninety out of every hundred of his own kind--the average
Englishman, say, of the middle classes, who is neither very tall nor
very short, who wears a moustache which is neither fair nor dark, but
which masks his mouth, and a top hat which hides the shape of his head
and brow, a man, in fact, who dresses like hundreds of his
fellow-creatures, moves like them, speaks like them, has no peculiarity.

"Try to describe _him_, to recognize him, say a week hence, among his
other eighty-nine doubles; worse still, to swear his life away, if he
happened to be implicated in some crime, wherein _your_ recognition of
him would place the halter round his neck.

"Try that, I say, and having utterly failed you will more readily
understand how one of the greatest scoundrels unhung is still at large,
and why the mystery on the Underground Railway was never cleared up.

"I think it was the only time in my life that I was seriously tempted to
give the police the benefit of my own views upon the matter. You see,
though I admire the brute for his cleverness, I did not see that his
being unpunished could possibly benefit any one.

"In these days of tubes and motor traction of all kinds, the
old-fashioned 'best, cheapest, and quickest route to City and West End'
is often deserted, and the good old Metropolitan Railway carriages
cannot at any time be said to be overcrowded. Anyway, when that
particular train steamed into Aldgate at about 4 p.m. on March 18th
last, the first-class carriages were all but empty.

"The guard marched up and down the platform looking into all the
carriages to see if anyone had left a halfpenny evening paper behind for
him, and opening the door of one of the first-class compartments, he
noticed a lady sitting in the further corner, with her head turned away
towards the window, evidently oblivious of the fact that on this line
Aldgate is the terminal station.

"'Where are you for, lady?' he said.

"The lady did not move, and the guard stepped into the carriage,
thinking that perhaps the lady was asleep. He touched her arm lightly
and looked into her face. In his own poetic language, he was 'struck all
of a 'eap.' In the glassy eyes, the ashen colour of the cheeks, the
rigidity of the head, there was the unmistakable look of death.

"Hastily the guard, having carefully locked the carriage door, summoned
a couple of porters, and sent one of them off to the police-station, and
the other in search of the station-master.

"Fortunately at this time of day the up platform is not very crowded,
all the traffic tending westward in the afternoon. It was only when an
inspector and two police constables, accompanied by a detective in plain
clothes and a medical officer, appeared upon the scene, and stood round
a first-class railway compartment, that a few idlers realized that
something unusual had occurred, and crowded round, eager and curious.

"Thus it was that the later editions of the evening papers, under the
sensational heading, 'Mysterious Suicide on the Underground Railway,'
had already an account of the extraordinary event. The medical officer
had very soon come to the decision that the guard had not been mistaken,
and that life was indeed extinct.

"The lady was young, and must have been very pretty before the look of
fright and horror had so terribly distorted her features. She was very
elegantly dressed, and the more frivolous papers were able to give their
feminine readers a detailed account of the unfortunate woman's gown, her
shoes, hat, and gloves.

"It appears that one of the latter, the one on the right hand, was
partly off, leaving the thumb and wrist bare. That hand held a small
satchel, which the police opened, with a view to the possible
identification of the deceased, but which was found to contain only a
little loose silver, some smelling-salts, and a small empty bottle,
which was handed over to the medical officer for purposes of analysis.

"It was the presence of that small bottle which had caused the report to
circulate freely that the mysterious case on the Underground Railway was
one of suicide. Certain it was that neither about the lady's person, nor
in the appearance of the railway carriage, was there the slightest sign
of struggle or even of resistance. Only the look in the poor woman's
eyes spoke of sudden terror, of the rapid vision of an unexpected and
violent death, which probably only lasted an infinitesimal fraction of a
second, but which had left its indelible mark upon the face, otherwise
so placid and so still."

"The body of the deceased was conveyed to the mortuary. So far, of
course, not a soul had been able to identify her, or to throw the
slightest light upon the mystery which hung around her death.

"Against that, quite a crowd of idlers--genuinely interested or
not--obtained admission to view the body, on the pretext of having lost
or mislaid a relative or a friend. At about 8.30 p.m. a young man, very
well dressed, drove up to the station in a hansom, and sent in his card
to the superintendent. It was Mr. Hazeldene, shipping agent, of 11,
Crown Lane, E.C., and No. 19, Addison Row, Kensington.

"The young man looked in a pitiable state of mental distress; his hand
clutched nervously a copy of the _St. James's Gazette_, which contained
the fatal news. He said very little to the superintendent except that a
person who was very dear to him had not returned home that evening.

"He had not felt really anxious until half an hour ago, when suddenly he
thought of looking at his paper. The description of the deceased lady,
though vague, had terribly alarmed him. He had jumped into a hansom, and
now begged permission to view the body, in order that his worst fears
might be allayed.

"You know what followed, of course," continued the man in the corner,
"the grief of the young man was truly pitiable. In the woman lying there
in a public mortuary before him, Mr. Hazeldene had recognized his wife.

"I am waxing melodramatic," said the man in the corner, who looked up at
Polly with a mild and gentle smile, while his nervous fingers vainly
endeavoured to add another knot on the scrappy bit of string with which
he was continually playing, "and I fear that the whole story savours of
the penny novelette, but you must admit, and no doubt you remember, that
it was an intensely pathetic and truly dramatic moment.

"The unfortunate young husband of the deceased lady was not much worried
with questions that night. As a matter of fact, he was not in a fit
condition to make any coherent statement. It was at the coroner's
inquest on the following day that certain facts came to light, which for
the time being seemed to clear up the mystery surrounding Mrs.
Hazeldene's death, only to plunge that same mystery, later on, into
denser gloom than before.

"The first witness at the inquest was, of course, Mr. Hazeldene himself.
I think every one's sympathy went out to the young man as he stood
before the coroner and tried to throw what light he could upon the
mystery. He was well dressed, as he had been the day before, but he
looked terribly ill and worried, and no doubt the fact that he had not
shaved gave his face a careworn and neglected air.

"It appears that he and the deceased had been married some six years or
so, and that they had always been happy in their married life. They had
no children. Mrs. Hazeldene seemed to enjoy the best of health till
lately, when she had had a slight attack of influenza, in which Dr.
Arthur Jones had attended her. The doctor was present at this moment,
and would no doubt explain to the coroner and the jury whether he
thought that Mrs. Hazeldene had the slightest tendency to heart disease,
which might have had a sudden and fatal ending.

"The coroner was, of course, very considerate to the bereaved husband.
He tried by circumlocution to get at the point he wanted, namely, Mrs.
Hazeldene's mental condition lately. Mr. Hazeldene seemed loath to talk
about this. No doubt he had been warned as to the existence of the small
bottle found in his wife's satchel.

"'It certainly did seem to me at times,' he at last reluctantly
admitted, 'that my wife did not seem quite herself. She used to be very
gay and bright, and lately I often saw her in the evening sitting, as if
brooding over some matters, which evidently she did not care to
communicate to me.'

"Still the coroner insisted, and suggested the small bottle.

"'I know, I know,' replied the young man, with a short, heavy sigh. 'You
mean--the question of suicide--I cannot understand it at all--it seems
so sudden and so terrible--she certainly had seemed listless and
troubled lately--but only at times--and yesterday morning, when I went
to business, she appeared quite herself again, and I suggested that we
should go to the opera in the evening. She was delighted, I know, and
told me she would do some shopping, and pay a few calls in the
afternoon.'

"'Do you know at all where she intended to go when she got into the
Underground Railway?'

"'Well, not with certainty. You see, she may have meant to get out at
Baker Street, and go down to Bond Street to do her shopping. Then,
again, she sometimes goes to a shop in St. Paul's Churchyard, in which
case she would take a ticket to Aldersgate Street; but I cannot say.'

"'Now, Mr. Hazeldene,' said the coroner at last very kindly, 'will you
try to tell me if there was anything in Mrs. Hazeldene's life which you
know of, and which might in some measure explain the cause of the
distressed state of mind, which you yourself had noticed? Did there
exist any financial difficulty which might have preyed upon Mrs.
Hazeldene's mind; was there any friend--to whose intercourse with Mrs.
Hazeldene--you--er--at any time took exception? In fact,' added the
coroner, as if thankful that he had got over an unpleasant moment, 'can
you give me the slightest indication which would tend to confirm the
suspicion that the unfortunate lady, in a moment of mental anxiety or
derangement, may have wished to take her own life?'

"There was silence in the court for a few moments. Mr. Hazeldene seemed
to every one there present to be labouring under some terrible moral
doubt. He looked very pale and wretched, and twice attempted to speak
before he at last said in scarcely audible tones:

"'No; there were no financial difficulties of any sort. My wife had an
independent fortune of her own--she had no extravagant tastes--'

"'Nor any friend you at any time objected to?' insisted the coroner.

"'Nor any friend, I--at any time objected to,' stammered the unfortunate
young man, evidently speaking with an effort.

"I was present at the inquest," resumed the man in the corner, after he
had drunk a glass of milk and ordered another, "and I can assure you
that the most obtuse person there plainly realized that Mr. Hazeldene
was telling a lie. It was pretty plain to the meanest intelligence that
the unfortunate lady had not fallen into a state of morbid dejection for
nothing, and that perhaps there existed a third person who could throw
more light on her strange and sudden death than the unhappy, bereaved
young widower.

"That the death was more mysterious even than it had at first appeared
became very soon apparent. You read the case at the time, no doubt, and
must remember the excitement in the public mind caused by the evidence
of the two doctors. Dr. Arthur Jones, the lady's usual medical man, who
had attended her in a last very slight illness, and who had seen her in
a professional capacity fairly recently, declared most emphatically that
Mrs. Hazeldene suffered from no organic complaint which could possibly
have been the cause of sudden death. Moreover, he had assisted Mr.
Andrew Thornton, the district medical officer, in making a postmortem
examination, and together they had come to the conclusion that death was
due to the action of prussic acid, which had caused instantaneous
failure of the heart, but how the drug had been administered neither he
nor his colleague were at present able to state.

"'Do I understand, then, Dr. Jones, that the deceased died, poisoned
with prussic acid?'

"'Such is my opinion,' replied the doctor.

"'Did the bottle found in her satchel contain prussic acid?'

"'It had contained some at one time, certainly.'

"'In your opinion, then, the lady caused her own death by taking a dose
of that drug?'

"'Pardon me, I never suggested such a thing; the lady died poisoned by
the drug, but how the drug was administered we cannot say. By injection
of some sort, certainly. The drug certainly was not swallowed; there was
not a vestige of it in the stomach.'

"'Yes,' added the doctor in reply to another question from the coroner,
'death had probably followed the injection in this case almost
immediately; say within a couple of minutes, or perhaps three. It was
quite possible that the body would not have more than one quick and
sudden convulsion, perhaps not that; death in such cases is absolutely
sudden and crushing.'

"I don't think that at the time any one in the room realized how
important the doctor's statement was, a statement which, by the way, was
confirmed in all its details by the district medical officer, who had
conducted the postmortem. Mrs. Hazeldene had died suddenly from an
injection of prussic acid, administered no one knew how or when. She
had been travelling in a first-class railway carriage in a busy time of
the day. That young and elegant woman must have had singular nerve and
coolness to go through the process of a self-inflicted injection of a
deadly poison in the presence of perhaps two or three other persons.

"Mind you, when I say that no one there realized the importance of the
doctor's statement at that moment, I am wrong; there were three persons,
who fully understood at once the gravity of the situation, and the
astounding development which the case was beginning to assume.

"Of course, I should have put myself out of the question," added the
weird old man, with that inimitable self-conceit peculiar to himself. "I
guessed then and there in a moment where the police were going wrong,
and where they would go on going wrong until the mysterious death on the
Underground Railway had sunk into oblivion, together with the other
cases which they mismanage from time to time.

"I said there were three persons who understood the gravity of the two
doctors' statements--the other two were, firstly, the detective who had
originally examined the railway carriage, a young man of energy and
plenty of misguided intelligence, the other was Mr. Hazeldene.

"At this point the interesting element of the whole story was first
introduced into the proceedings, and this was done through the humble
channel of Emma Funnel, Mrs. Hazeldene's maid, who, as far as was known
then, was the last person who had seen the unfortunate lady alive and
had spoken to her.

"'Mrs. Hazeldene lunched at home,' explained Emma, who was shy, and
spoke almost in a whisper; 'she seemed well and cheerful. She went out
at about half-past three, and told me she was going to Spence's, in St.
Paul's Churchyard, to try on her new tailor-made gown. Mrs. Hazeldene
had meant to go there in the morning, but was prevented as Mr. Errington
called.'

"'Mr. Errington?' asked the coroner casually. 'Who is Mr. Errington?'

"But this Emma found difficult to explain. Mr. Errington was--Mr.
Errington, that's all.

"'Mr. Errington was a friend of the family. He lived in a flat in the
Albert Mansions. He very often came to Addison Row, and generally stayed
late.'

"Pressed still further with questions, Emma at last stated that latterly
Mrs. Hazeldene had been to the theatre several times with Mr. Errington,
and that on those nights the master looked very gloomy, and was very
cross.

"Recalled, the young widower was strangely reticent. He gave forth his
answers very grudgingly, and the coroner was evidently absolutely
satisfied with himself at the marvellous way in which, after a quarter
of an hour of firm yet very kind questionings, he had elicited from the
witness what information he wanted.

"Mr. Errington was a friend of his wife. He was a gentleman of means,
and seemed to have a great deal of time at his command. He himself did
not particularly care about Mr. Errington, but he certainly had never
made any observations to his wife on the subject.

"'But who is Mr. Errington?' repeated the coroner once more. 'What does
he do? What is his business or profession?'

"'He has no business or profession.

"'What is his occupation, then?

"He has no special occupation. He has ample private means. But he has a
great and very absorbing hobby.'

"'What is that?'

"'He spends all his time in chemical experiments, and is, I believe, as
an amateur, a very distinguished toxicologist.'"




CHAPTER XI

MR. ERRINGTON


"Did you ever see Mr. Errington, the gentleman so closely connected with
the mysterious death on the Underground Railway?" asked the man in the
corner as he placed one or two of his little snap-shot photos before
Miss Polly Burton.

"There he is, to the very life. Fairly good-looking, a pleasant face
enough, but ordinary, absolutely ordinary.

"It was this absence of any peculiarity which very nearly, but not
quite, placed the halter round Mr. Errington's neck.

"But I am going too fast, and you will lose the thread.

"The public, of course, never heard how it actually came about that Mr.
Errington, the wealthy bachelor of Albert Mansions, of the Grosvenor,
and other young dandies' clubs, one fine day found himself before the
magistrates at Bow Street, charged with being concerned in the death of
Mary Beatrice Hazeldene, late of No. 19, Addison Row.

"I can assure you both press and public were literally flabbergasted.
You see, Mr. Errington was a well-known and very popular member of a
certain smart section of London society. He was a constant visitor at
the opera, the racecourse, the Park, and the Carlton, he had a great
many friends, and there was consequently quite a large attendance at the
police court that morning.

"What had transpired was this:

"After the very scrappy bits of evidence which came to light at the
inquest, two gentlemen bethought themselves that perhaps they had some
duty to perform towards the State and the public generally. Accordingly
they had come forward, offering to throw what light they could upon the
mysterious affair on the Underground Railway.

"The police naturally felt that their information, such as it was, came
rather late in the day, but as it proved of paramount importance, and
the two gentlemen, moreover, were of undoubtedly good position in the
world, they were thankful for what they could get, and acted
accordingly; they accordingly brought Mr. Errington up before the
magistrate on a charge of murder.

"The accused looked pale and worried when I first caught sight of him in
the court that day, which was not to be wondered at, considering the
terrible position in which he found himself.

"He had been arrested at Marseilles, where he was preparing to start for
Colombo.

"I don't think he realized how terrible his position really was until
later in the proceedings, when all the evidence relating to the arrest
had been heard, and Emma Funnel had repeated her statement as to Mr.
Errington's call at 19, Addison Row, in the morning, and Mrs. Hazeldene
starting off for St. Paul's Churchyard at 3.30 in the afternoon.

"Mr. Hazeldene had nothing to add to the statements he had made at the
coroner's inquest. He had last seen his wife alive on the morning of the
fatal day. She had seemed very well and cheerful.

"I think every one present understood that he was trying to say as
little as possible that could in any way couple his deceased wife's name
with that of the accused.

"And yet, from the servant's evidence, it undoubtedly leaked out that
Mrs. Hazeldene, who was young, pretty, and evidently fond of admiration,
had once or twice annoyed her husband by her somewhat open, yet
perfectly innocent, flirtation with Mr. Errington.

"I think every one was most agreeably impressed by the widower's
moderate and dignified attitude. You will see his photo there, among
this bundle. That is just how he appeared in court. In deep black, of
course, but without any sign of ostentation in his mourning. He had
allowed his beard to grow lately, and wore it closely cut in a point.

"After his evidence, the sensation of the day occurred. A tall,
dark-haired man, with the word 'City' written metaphorically all over
him, had kissed the book, and was waiting to tell the truth, and nothing
but the truth.

"He gave his name as Andrew Campbell, head of the firm of Campbell &
Co., brokers, of Throgmorton Street.

"In the afternoon of March 18th Mr. Campbell, travelling on the
Underground Railway, had noticed a very pretty woman in the same
carriage as himself. She had asked him if she was in the right train for
Aldersgate. Mr. Campbell replied in the affirmative, and then buried
himself in the Stock Exchange quotations of his evening paper.

"At Gower Street, a gentleman in a tweed suit and bowler hat got into
the carriage, and took a seat opposite the lady.

"She seemed very much astonished at seeing him, but Mr. Andrew Campbell
did not recollect the exact words she said.

"The two talked to one another a good deal, and certainly the lady
appeared animated and cheerful. Witness took no notice of them; he was
very much engrossed in some calculations, and finally got out at
Farringdon Street. He noticed that the man in the tweed suit also got
out close behind him, having shaken hands with the lady, and said in a
pleasant way: '_Au revoir_! Don't be late to-night.' Mr. Campbell did
not hear the lady's reply, and soon lost sight of the man in the crowd.

"Every one was on tenter-hooks, and eagerly waiting for the palpitating
moment when witness would describe and identify the man who last had
seen and spoken to the unfortunate woman, within five minutes probably
of her strange and unaccountable death.

"Personally I knew what was coming before the Scotch stockbroker spoke.

"I could have jotted down the graphic and lifelike description he would
give of a probable murderer. It would have fitted equally well the man
who sat and had luncheon at this table just now; it would certainly have
described five out of every ten young Englishmen you know.

"The individual was of medium height, he wore a moustache which was not
very fair nor yet very dark, his hair was between colours. He wore a
bowler hat, and a tweed suit--and--and--that was all--Mr. Campbell might
perhaps know him again, but then again, he might not--he was not paying
much attention--the gentleman was sitting on the same side of the
carriage as himself--and he had his hat on all the time. He himself was
busy with his newspaper--yes--he might know him again--but he really
could not say.

"Mr. Andrew Campbell's evidence was not worth very much, you will say.
No, it was not in itself, and would not have justified any arrest were
it not for the additional statements made by Mr. James Verner, manager
of Messrs. Rodney & Co., colour printers.

"Mr. Verner is a personal friend of Mr. Andrew Campbell, and it appears
that at Farringdon Street, where he was waiting for his train, he saw
Mr. Campbell get out of a first-class railway carriage. Mr. Verner spoke
to him for a second, and then, just as the train was moving off, he
stepped into the same compartment which had just been vacated by the
stockbroker and the man in the tweed suit. He vaguely recollects a lady
sitting in the opposite corner to his own, with her face turned away
from him, apparently asleep, but he paid no special attention to her. He
was like nearly all business men when they are travelling--engrossed in
his paper. Presently a special quotation interested him; he wished to
make a note of it, took out a pencil from his waistcoat pocket, and
seeing a clean piece of paste-board on the floor, he picked it up, and
scribbled on it the memorandum, which he wished to keep. He then
slipped the card into his pocket-book.

"'It was only two or three days later,' added Mr. Verner in the midst of
breathless silence, 'that I had occasion to refer to these same notes
again.

"'In the meanwhile the papers had been full of the mysterious death on
the Underground Railway, and the names of those connected with it were
pretty familiar to me. It was, therefore, with much astonishment that on
looking at the paste-board which I had casually picked up in the railway
carriage I saw the name on it, "Frank Errington."'

"There was no doubt that the sensation in court was almost
unprecedented. Never since the days of the Fenchurch Street mystery, and
the trial of Smethurst, had I seen so much excitement. Mind you, I was
not excited--I knew by now every detail of that crime as if I had
committed it myself. In fact, I could not have done it better, although
I have been a student of crime for many years now. Many people
there--his friends, mostly--believed that Errington was doomed. I think
he thought so, too, for I could see that his face was terribly white,
and he now and then passed his tongue over his lips, as if they were
parched.

"You see he was in the awful dilemma--a perfectly natural one, by the
way--of being absolutely incapable of _proving_ an _alibi_. The
crime--if crime there was--had been committed three weeks ago. A man
about town like Mr. Frank Errington might remember that he spent certain
hours of a special afternoon at his club, or in the Park, but it is very
doubtful in nine cases out of ten if he can find a friend who could
positively swear as to having seen him there. No! no! Mr. Errington was
in a tight corner, and he knew it. You see, there were--besides the
evidence--two or three circumstances which did not improve matters for
him. His hobby in the direction of toxicology, to begin with. The police
had found in his room every description of poisonous substances,
including prussic acid.

"Then, again, that journey to Marseilles, the start for Colombo, was,
though perfectly innocent, a very unfortunate one. Mr. Errington had
gone on an aimless voyage, but the public thought that he had fled,
terrified at his own crime. Sir Arthur Inglewood, however, here again
displayed his marvellous skill on behalf of his client by the masterly
way in which he literally turned all the witnesses for the Crown inside
out.

"Having first got Mr. Andrew Campbell to state positively that in the
accused he certainly did _not_ recognize the man in the tweed suit, the
eminent lawyer, after twenty minutes' cross-examination, had so
completely upset the stockbroker's equanimity that it is very likely he
would not have recognized his own office-boy.

"But through all his flurry and all his annoyance Mr. Andrew Campbell
remained very sure of one thing; namely, that the lady was alive and
cheerful, and talking pleasantly with the man in the tweed suit up to
the moment when the latter, having shaken hands with her, left her with
a pleasant '_Au revoir_! Don't be late to-night.' He had heard neither
scream nor struggle, and in his opinion, if the individual in the tweed
suit had administered a dose of poison to his companion, it must have
been with her own knowledge and free will; and the lady in the train
most emphatically neither looked nor spoke like a woman prepared for a
sudden and violent death.

"Mr. James Verner, against that, swore equally positively that he had
stood in full view of the carriage door from the moment that Mr.
Campbell got out until he himself stepped into the compartment, that
there was no one else in that carriage between Farringdon Street and
Aldgate, and that the lady, to the best of his belief, had made no
movement during the whole of that journey.

"No; Frank Errington was _not_ committed for trial on the capital
charge," said the man in the corner with one of his sardonic smiles,
"thanks to the cleverness of Sir Arthur Inglewood, his lawyer. He
absolutely denied his identity with the man in the tweed suit, and swore
he had not seen Mrs. Hazeldene since eleven o'clock in the morning of
that fatal day. There was no _proof_ that he had; moreover, according to
Mr. Campbell's opinion, the man in the tweed suit was in all probability
not the murderer. Common sense would not admit that a woman could have a
deadly poison injected into her without her knowledge, while chatting
pleasantly to her murderer.

"Mr. Errington lives abroad now. He is about to marry. I don't think any
of his real friends for a moment believed that he committed the
dastardly crime. The police think they know better. They do know this
much, that it could not have been a case of suicide, that if the man who
undoubtedly travelled with Mrs. Hazeldene on that fatal afternoon had no
crime upon his conscience he would long ago have come forward and thrown
what light he could upon the mystery.

"As to who that man was, the police in their blindness have not the
faintest doubt. Under the unshakable belief that Errington is guilty
they have spent the last few months in unceasing labour to try and find
further and stronger proofs of his guilt. But they won't find them,
because there are none. There are no positive proofs against the actual
murderer, for he was one of those clever blackguards who think of
everything, foresee every eventuality, who know human nature well, and
can foretell exactly what evidence will be brought against them, and act
accordingly.

"This blackguard from the first kept the figure, the personality, of
Frank Errington before his mind. Frank Errington was the dust which the
scoundrel threw metaphorically in the eyes of the police, and you must
admit that he succeeded in blinding them--to the extent even of making
them entirely forget the one simple little sentence, overheard by Mr.
Andrew Campbell, and which was, of course, the clue to the whole
thing--the only slip the cunning rogue made--'_Au revoir_! Don't be late
to-night.' Mrs. Hazeldene was going that night to the opera with her
husband--

"You are astonished?" he added with a shrug of the shoulders, "you do
not see the tragedy yet, as I have seen it before me all along. The
frivolous young wife, the flirtation with the friend?--all a blind, all
pretence. I took the trouble which the police should have taken
immediately, of finding out something about the finances of the
Hazeldene _ménage_. Money is in nine cases out of ten the keynote to a
crime.

"I found that the will of Mary Beatrice Hazeldene had been proved by
the husband, her sole executor, the estate being sworn at £15,000. I
found out, moreover, that Mr. Edward Sholto Hazeldene was a poor
shipper's clerk when he married the daughter of a wealthy builder in
Kensington--and then I made note of the fact that the disconsolate
widower had allowed his beard to grow since the death of his wife.

"There's no doubt that he was a clever rogue," added the strange
creature, leaning excitedly over the table, and peering into Polly's
face. "Do you know how that deadly poison was injected into the poor
woman's system? By the simplest of all means, one known to every
scoundrel in Southern Europe. A ring--yes! a ring, which has a tiny
hollow needle capable of holding a sufficient quantity of prussic acid
to have killed two persons instead of one. The man in the tweed suit
shook hands with his fair companion--probably she hardly felt the prick,
not sufficiently in any case to make her utter a scream. And, mind you,
the scoundrel had every facility, through his friendship with Mr.
Errington, of procuring what poison he required, not to mention his
friend's visiting card. We cannot gauge how many months ago he began to
try and copy Frank Errington in his style of dress, the cut of his
moustache, his general appearance, making the change probably so
gradual, that no one in his own _entourage_ would notice it. He
selected for his model a man his own height and build, with the same
coloured hair."

"But there was the terrible risk of being identified by his
fellow-traveller in the Underground," suggested Polly.

"Yes, there certainly was that risk; he chose to take it, and he was
wise. He reckoned that several days would in any case elapse before that
person, who, by the way, was a business man absorbed in his newspaper,
would actually see him again. The great secret of successful crime is to
study human nature," added the man in the corner, as he began looking
for his hat and coat. "Edward Hazeldene knew it well."

"But the ring?"

"He may have bought that when he was on his honeymoon," he suggested
with a grim chuckle; "the tragedy was not planned in a week, it may have
taken years to mature. But you will own that there goes a frightful
scoundrel unhung. I have left you his photograph as he was a year ago,
and as he is now. You will see he has shaved his beard again, but also
his moustache. I fancy he is a friend now of Mr. Andrew Campbell."

He left Miss Polly Burton wondering, not knowing what to believe.

And that is why she missed her appointment with Mr. Richard Frobisher
(of the _London Mail_) to go and see Maud Allan dance at the Palace
Theatre that afternoon.




CHAPTER XII

THE LIVERPOOL MYSTERY


"A title--a foreign title, I mean--is always very useful for purposes of
swindles and frauds," remarked the man in the corner to Polly one day.
"The cleverest robberies of modern times were perpetrated lately in
Vienna by a man who dubbed himself Lord Seymour; whilst over here the
same class of thief calls himself Count Something ending in 'o,' or
Prince the other, ending in 'off.'"

"Fortunately for our hotel and lodging-house keepers over here," she
replied, "they are beginning to be more alive to the ways of foreign
swindlers, and look upon all titled gentry who speak broken English as
possible swindlers or thieves."

"The result sometimes being exceedingly unpleasant to the real _grands
seigneurs_ who honour this country at times with their visits," replied
the man in the corner. "Now, take the case of Prince Semionicz, a man
whose sixteen quarterings are duly recorded in Gotha, who carried enough
luggage with him to pay for the use of every room in an hotel for at
least a week, whose gold cigarette case with diamond and turquoise
ornament was actually stolen without his taking the slightest trouble to
try and recover it; that same man was undoubtedly looked upon with
suspicion by the manager of the Liverpool North-Western Hotel from the
moment that his secretary--a dapper, somewhat vulgar little
Frenchman--bespoke on behalf of his employer, with himself and a valet,
the best suite of rooms the hotel contained.

"Obviously those suspicions were unfounded, for the little secretary, as
soon as Prince Semionicz had arrived, deposited with the manager a pile
of bank notes, also papers and bonds, the value of which would exceed
tenfold the most outrageous bill that could possibly be placed before
the noble visitor. Moreover, M. Albert Lambert explained that the
Prince, who only meant to stay in Liverpool a few days, was on his way
to Chicago, where he wished to visit Princess Anna Semionicz, his
sister, who was married to Mr. Girwan, the great copper king and
multi-millionaire.

"Yet, as I told you before, in spite of all these undoubted securities,
suspicion of the wealthy Russian Prince lurked in the minds of most
Liverpudlians who came in business contact with him. He had been at the
North-Western two days when he sent his secretary to Window and
Vassall, the jewellers of Bold Street, with a request that they would
kindly send a representative round to the hotel with some nice pieces of
jewellery, diamonds and pearls chiefly, which he was desirous of taking
as a present to his sister in Chicago.

"Mr. Winslow took the order from M. Albert with a pleasant bow. Then he
went to his inner office and consulted with his partner, Mr. Vassall, as
to the best course to adopt. Both the gentlemen were desirous of doing
business, for business had been very slack lately: neither wished to
refuse a possible customer, or to offend Mr. Pettitt, the manager of the
North-Western, who had recommended them to the Prince. But that foreign
title and the vulgar little French secretary stuck in the throats of the
two pompous and worthy Liverpool jewellers, and together they agreed,
firstly, that no credit should be given; and, secondly, that if a cheque
or even a banker's draft were tendered, the jewels were not to be given
up until that cheque or draft was cashed.

"Then came the question as to who should take the jewels to the hotel.
It was altogether against business etiquette for the senior partners to
do such errands themselves; moreover, it was thought that it would be
easier for a clerk to explain, without giving undue offence, that he
could not take the responsibility of a cheque or draft, without having
cashed it previously to giving up the jewels.

"Then there was the question of the probable necessity of conferring in
a foreign tongue. The head assistant, Charles Needham, who had been in
the employ of Winslow and Vassall for over twelve years, was, in true
British fashion, ignorant of any language save his own; it was therefore
decided to dispatch Mr. Schwarz, a young German clerk lately arrived, on
the delicate errand.

"Mr. Schwarz was Mr. Winslow's nephew and godson, a sister of that
gentleman having married the head of the great German firm of Schwarz &
Co., silversmiths, of Hamburg and Berlin.

"The young man had soon become a great favourite with his uncle, whose
heir he would presumably be, as Mr. Winslow had no children.

"At first Mr. Vassall made some demur about sending Mr. Schwarz with so
many valuable jewels alone in a city which he had not yet had the time
to study thoroughly; but finally he allowed himself to be persuaded by
his senior partner, and a fine selection of necklaces, pendants,
bracelets, and rings, amounting in value to over £16,000, having been
made, it was decided that Mr. Schwarz should go to the North-Western in
a cab the next day at about three o'clock in the afternoon. This he
accordingly did, the following day being a Thursday.

"Business went on in the shop as usual under the direction of the head
assistant, until about seven o'clock, when Mr. Winslow returned from his
club, where he usually spent an hour over the papers every afternoon,
and at once asked for his nephew. To his astonishment Mr. Needham
informed him that Mr. Schwarz had not yet returned. This seemed a little
strange, and Mr. Winslow, with a slightly anxious look in his face, went
into the inner office in order to consult his junior partner. Mr.
Vassall offered to go round to the hotel and interview Mr. Pettitt.

"'I was beginning to get anxious myself,' he said, 'but did not quite
like to say so. I have been in over half an hour, hoping every moment
that you would come in, and that perhaps you could give me some
reassuring news. I thought that perhaps you had met Mr. Schwarz, and
were coming back together.'

"However, Mr. Vassall walked round to the hotel and interviewed the hall
porter. The latter perfectly well remembered Mr. Schwarz sending in his
card to Prince Semionicz.

"'At what time was that?' asked Mr. Vassall.

"'About ten minutes past three, sir, when he came; it was about an hour
later when he left.'

"'When he left?' gasped, more than said, Mr. Vassall.

"'Yes, sir. Mr. Schwarz left here about a quarter before four, sir.'

"'Are you quite sure?'

"'Quite sure. Mr. Pettitt was in the hall when he left, and he asked him
something about business. Mr. Schwarz laughed and said, "not bad." I
hope there's nothing wrong, sir,' added the man.

"'Oh--er--nothing--thank you. Can I see Mr. Pettitt?'

"'Certainly, sir.'

"Mr. Pettitt, the manager of the hotel, shared Mr. Vassall's anxiety,
immediately he heard that the young German had not yet returned home.

"'I spoke to him a little before four o'clock. We had just switched on
the electric light, which we always do these winter months at that hour.
But I shouldn't worry myself, Mr. Vassall; the young man may have seen
to some business on his way home. You'll probably find him in when you
go back.'

"Apparently somewhat reassured, Mr. Vassall thanked Mr. Pettitt and
hurried back to the shop, only to find that Mr. Schwarz had not
returned, though it was now close on eight o'clock.

"Mr. Winslow looked so haggard and upset that it would have been cruel
to heap reproaches upon his other troubles or to utter so much as the
faintest suspicion that young Schwarz's permanent disappearance with
£16,000 in jewels and money was within the bounds of probability.

"There was one chance left, but under the circumstances a very slight
one indeed. The Winslows' private house was up the Birkenhead end of the
town. Young Schwarz had been living with them ever since his arrival in
Liverpool, and he may have--either not feeling well or for some other
reason--gone straight home without calling at the shop. It was unlikely,
as valuable jewellery was never kept at the private house, but--it just
might have happened.

"It would be useless," continued the man in the corner, "and decidedly
uninteresting, were I to relate to you Messrs. Winslow's and Vassall's
further anxieties with regard to the missing young man. Suffice it to
say that on reaching his private house Mr. Winslow found that his godson
had neither returned nor sent any telegraphic message of any kind.

"Not wishing to needlessly alarm his wife, Mr. Winslow made an attempt
at eating his dinner, but directly after that he hurried back to the
North-Western Hotel, and asked to see Prince Semionicz. The Prince was
at the theatre with his secretary, and probably would not be home until
nearly midnight.

"Mr. Winslow, then, not knowing what to think, nor yet what to fear, and
in spite of the horror he felt of giving publicity to his nephew's
disappearance, thought it his duty to go round to the police-station and
interview the inspector. It is wonderful how quickly news of that type
travels in a large city like Liverpool. Already the morning papers of
the following day were full of the latest sensation: 'Mysterious
disappearance of a well-known tradesman.'

"Mr. Winslow found a copy of the paper containing the sensational
announcement on his breakfast-table. It lay side by side with a letter
addressed to him in his nephew's handwriting, which had been posted in
Liverpool.

"Mr. Winslow placed that letter, written to him by his nephew, into the
hands of the police. Its contents, therefore, quickly became public
property. The astounding statements made therein by Mr. Schwarz created,
in quiet, businesslike Liverpool, a sensation which has seldom been
equalled.

"It appears that the young fellow did call on Prince Semionicz at a
quarter past three on Wednesday, December 10th, with a bag full of
jewels, amounting in value to some £16,000. The Prince duly admired, and
finally selected from among the ornaments a necklace, pendant, and
bracelet, the whole being priced by Mr. Schwarz, according to his
instructions, at £10,500. Prince Semionicz was most prompt and
businesslike in his dealings.

"'You will require immediate payment for these, of course,' he said in
perfect English, 'and I know you business men prefer solid cash to
cheques, especially when dealing with foreigners. I always provide
myself with plenty of Bank of England notes in consequence,' he added
with a pleasant smile, 'as £10,500 in gold would perhaps be a little
inconvenient to carry. If you will kindly make out the receipt, my
secretary, M. Lambert, will settle all business matters with you.'

"He thereupon took the jewels he had selected and locked them up in his
dressing-case, the beautiful silver fillings of which Mr. Schwarz just
caught a short glimpse of. Then, having been accommodated with paper and
ink, the young jeweller made out the account and receipt, whilst M.
Lambert, the secretary, counted out before him 105 crisp Bank of England
notes of £100 each. Then, with a final bow to his exceedingly urbane and
eminently satisfactory customer, Mr. Schwarz took his leave. In the hall
he saw and spoke to Mr. Pettitt, and then he went out into the street.

"He had just left the hotel and was about to cross towards St. George's
Hall when a gentleman, in a magnificent fur coat, stepped quickly out of
a cab which had been stationed near the kerb, and, touching him lightly
upon the shoulder, said with an unmistakable air of authority, at the
same time handing him a card:

"'That is my name. I must speak with you immediately."

"Schwarz glanced at the card, and by the light of the arc lamps above
his head read on it the name of 'Dimitri Slaviansky Burgreneff, de la
IIIe Section de la Police Imperial de S.M. le Czar.'

"Quickly the owner of the unpronounceable name and the significant title
pointed to the cab from which he had just alighted, and Schwarz, whose
every suspicion with regard to his princely customer bristled up in one
moment, clutched his bag and followed his imposing interlocutor; as soon
as they were both comfortably seated in the cab the latter began, with
courteous apology in broken but fluent English:

"'I must ask your pardon, sir, for thus trespassing upon your valuable
time, and I certainly should not have done so but for the certainty that
our interests in a certain matter which I have in hand are practically
identical, in so far that we both should wish to outwit a clever rogue.'

"Instinctively, and his mind full of terrible apprehension, Mr.
Schwarz's hand wandered to his pocket-book, filled to overflowing with
the bank-notes which he had so lately received from the Prince.

"'Ah, I see,' interposed the courteous Russian with a smile, 'he has
played the confidence trick on you, with the usual addition of so many
so-called bank-notes.'

"'So-called,' gasped the unfortunate young man.

"'I don't think I often err in my estimate of my own countrymen,'
continued M. Burgreneff; 'I have vast experience, you must remember.
Therefore, I doubt if I am doing M.--er--what does he call
himself?--Prince something--an injustice if I assert, even without
handling those crisp bits of paper you have in your pocket-book, that no
bank would exchange them for gold.'

"Remembering his uncle's suspicions and his own, Mr. Schwarz cursed
himself for his blindness and folly in accepting notes so easily without
for a moment imagining that they might be false. Now, with every one of
those suspicions fully on the alert, he felt the bits of paper with
nervous, anxious fingers, while the imperturbable Russian calmly struck
a match.

"'See here,' he said, pointing to one of the notes, 'the shape of that
"w" in the signature of the chief cashier. I am not an English police
officer, but I could pick out that spurious "w" among a thousand genuine
ones. You see, I have seen a good many.'

"Now, of course, poor young Schwarz had not seen very many Bank of
England notes. He could not have told whether one 'w' in Mr. Bowen's
signature is better than another, but, though he did not speak English
nearly as fluently as his pompous interlocutor, he understood every word
of the appalling statement the latter had just made.

"'Then that Prince,' he said, 'at the hotel--'

"'Is no more Prince than you and I, my dear sir,' concluded the
gentleman of His Imperial Majesty's police calmly.

"'And the jewels? Mr. Winslow's jewels?'

"'With the jewels there may be a chance--oh! a mere chance. These forged
bank-notes, which you accepted so trustingly, may prove the means of
recovering your property.'

"'How?'

"'The penalty of forging and circulating spurious bank-notes is very
heavy. You know that. The fear of seven years' penal servitude will act
as a wonderful sedative upon the--er--Prince's joyful mood. He will give
up the jewels to me all right enough, never you fear. He knows,' added
the Russian officer grimly, 'that there are plenty of old scores to
settle up, without the additional one of forged bank-notes. Our
interests, you see, are identical. May I rely on your co-operation?'

"'Oh, I will do as you wish,' said the delighted young German. 'Mr.
Winslow and Mr. Vassall, they trusted me, and I have been such a fool. I
hope it is not too late.'

"'I think not,' said M. Burgreneff, his hand already on the door of the
cab. 'Though I have been talking to you I have kept an eye on the hotel,
and our friend the Prince has not yet gone out. We are accustomed, you
know, to have eyes everywhere, we of the Russian secret police. I don't
think that I will ask you to be present at the confrontation. Perhaps
you will wait for me in the cab. There is a nasty fog outside, and you
will be more private. Will you give me those beautiful bank-notes? Thank
you! Don't be anxious. I won't be long.'

"He lifted his hat, and slipped the notes into the inner pocket of his
magnificent fur coat. As he did so, Mr. Schwarz caught sight of a rich
uniform and a wide sash, which no doubt was destined to carry additional
moral weight with the clever rogue upstairs.

"Then His Imperial Majesty's police officer stepped quickly out of the
cab, and Mr. Schwarz was left alone."




CHAPTER XIII

A CUNNING RASCAL


"Yes, left severely alone," continued the man in the corner with a
sarcastic chuckle. "So severely alone, in fact, that one quarter of an
hour after another passed by and still the magnificent police officer in
the gorgeous uniform did not return. Then, when it was too late, Schwarz
cursed himself once again for the double-dyed idiot that he was. He had
been only too ready to believe that Prince Semionicz was a liar and a
rogue, and under these unjust suspicions he had fallen an all too easy
prey to one of the most cunning rascals he had ever come across.

"An inquiry from the hall porter at the North-Western elicited the fact
that no such personage as Mr. Schwarz described had entered the hotel.
The young man asked to see Prince Semionicz, hoping against hope that
all was not yet lost. The Prince received him most courteously; he was
dictating some letters to his secretary, while the valet was in the next
room preparing his master's evening clothes. Mr. Schwarz found it very
difficult to explain what he actually did want.

"There stood the dressing-case in which the Prince had locked up the
jewels, and there the bag from which the secretary had taken the
bank-notes. After much hesitation on Schwarz's part and much impatience
on that of the Prince, the young man blurted out the whole story of the
so-called Russian police officer whose card he still held in his hand.

"The Prince, it appears, took the whole thing wonderfully
good-naturedly; no doubt he thought the jeweller a hopeless fool. He
showed him the jewels, the receipt he held, and also a large bundle of
bank-notes similar to those Schwarz had with such culpable folly given
up to the clever rascal in the cab.

"'I pay all my bills with Bank of England notes, Mr. Schwarz. It would
have been wiser, perhaps, if you had spoken to the manager of the hotel
about me before you were so ready to believe any cock-and-bull story
about my supposed rogueries.'

"Finally he placed a small 16mo volume before the young jeweller, and
said with a pleasant smile:

"'If people in this country who are in a large way of business, and are
therefore likely to come in contact with people of foreign nationality,
were to study these little volumes before doing business with any
foreigner who claims a title, much disappointment and a great loss would
often be saved. Now in this case had you looked up page 797 of this
little volume of Gotha's Almanach you would have seen my name in it and
known from the first that the so-called Russian detective was a liar.'

"There was nothing more to be said, and Mr. Schwarz left the hotel. No
doubt, now that he had been hopelessly duped he dared not go home, and
half hoped by communicating with the police that they might succeed in
arresting the thief before he had time to leave Liverpool. He
interviewed Detective-Inspector Watson, and was at once confronted with
the awful difficulty which would make the recovery of the bank-notes
practically hopeless. He had never had the time or opportunity of
jotting down the numbers of the notes.

"Mr. Winslow, though terribly wrathful against his nephew, did not wish
to keep him out of his home. As soon as he had received Schwarz's
letter, he traced him, with Inspector Watson's help, to his lodgings in
North Street, where the unfortunate young man meant to remain hidden
until the terrible storm had blown over, or perhaps until the thief had
been caught red-handed with the booty still in his hands.

"This happy event, needless to say, never did occur, though the police
made every effort to trace the man who had decoyed Schwarz into the cab.
His appearance was such an uncommon one; it seemed most unlikely that no
one in Liverpool should have noticed him after he left that cab. The
wonderful fur coat, the long beard, all must have been noticeable, even
though it was past four o'clock on a somewhat foggy December afternoon.

"But every investigation proved futile; no one answering Schwarz's
description of the man had been seen anywhere. The papers continued to
refer to the case as 'the Liverpool Mystery.' Scotland Yard sent Mr.
Fairburn down--the celebrated detective--at the request of the Liverpool
police, to help in the investigations, but nothing availed.

"Prince Semionicz, with his suite, left Liverpool, and he who had
attempted to blacken his character, and had succeeded in robbing Messrs.
Winslow and Vassall of £10,500, had completely disappeared."

The man in the corner readjusted his collar and necktie, which, during
the narrative of this interesting mystery, had worked its way up his
long, crane-like neck under his large flappy ears. His costume of
checked tweed of a peculiarly loud pattern had tickled the fancy of some
of the waitresses, who were standing gazing at him and giggling in one
corner. This evidently made him nervous. He gazed up very meekly at
Polly, looking for all the world like a bald-headed adjutant dressed for
a holiday.

"Of course, all sorts of theories of the theft got about at first. One
of the most popular, and at the same time most quickly exploded, being
that young Schwarz had told a cock-and-bull story, and was the actual
thief himself.

"However, as I said before, that was very quickly exploded, as Mr.
Schwarz senior, a very wealthy merchant, never allowed his son's
carelessness to be a serious loss to his kind employers. As soon as he
thoroughly grasped all the circumstances of the extraordinary case, he
drew a cheque for £10,500 and remitted it to Messrs. Winslow and
Vassall. It was just, but it was also high-minded.

"All Liverpool knew of the generous action, as Mr. Winslow took care
that it should; and any evil suspicion regarding young Mr. Schwarz
vanished as quickly as it had come.

"Then, of course, there was the theory about the Prince and his suite,
and to this day I fancy there are plenty of people in Liverpool, and
also in London, who declare that the so-called Russian police officer
was a confederate. No doubt that theory was very plausible, and Messrs.
Winslow and Vassall spent a good deal of money in trying to prove a case
against the Russian Prince.

"Very soon, however, that theory was also bound to collapse. Mr.
Fairburn, whose reputation as an investigator of crime waxes in direct
inverted ratio to his capacities, did hit upon the obvious course of
interviewing the managers of the larger London and Liverpool _agents de
change_. He soon found that Prince Semionicz had converted a great deal
of Russian and French money into English bank-notes since his arrival in
this country. More than £30,000 in good solid, honest money was traced
to the pockets of the gentleman with the sixteen quarterings. It seemed,
therefore, more than improbable that a man who was obviously fairly
wealthy would risk imprisonment and hard labour, if not worse, for the
sake of increasing his fortune by £10,000.

"However, the theory of the Prince's guilt has taken firm root in the
dull minds of our police authorities. They have had every information
with regard to Prince Semionicz's antecedents from Russia; his position,
his wealth, have been placed above suspicion, and yet they suspect and
go on suspecting him or his secretary. They have communicated with the
police of every European capital; and while they still hope to obtain
sufficient evidence against those they suspect, they calmly allow the
guilty to enjoy the fruit of his clever roguery."

"The guilty?" said Polly. "Who do you think--"

"Who do I think knew at that moment that young Schwarz had money in his
possession?" he said excitedly, wriggling in his chair like a
Jack-in-the-box. "Obviously some one was guilty of that theft who knew
that Schwarz had gone to interview a rich Russian, and would in all
probability return with a large sum of money in his possession?"

"Who, indeed, but the Prince and his secretary?" she argued. "But just
now you said--"

"Just now I said that the police were determined to find the Prince and
his secretary guilty; they did not look further than their own stumpy
noses. Messrs. Winslow and Vassall spent money with a free hand in those
investigations. Mr. Winslow, as the senior partner, stood to lose over
£9000 by that robbery. Now, with Mr. Vassall it was different.

"When I saw how the police went on blundering in this case I took the
trouble to make certain inquiries, the whole thing interested me so
much, and I learnt all that I wished to know. I found out, namely, that
Mr. Vassall was very much a junior partner in the firm, that he only
drew ten per cent of the profits, having been promoted lately to a
partnership from having been senior assistant.

"Now, the police did not take the trouble to find that out."

"But you don't mean that--"

"I mean that in all cases where robbery affects more than one person the
first thing to find out is whether it affects the second party equally
with the first. I proved that to you, didn't I, over that robbery in
Phillimore Terrace? There, as here, one of the two parties stood to
lose very little in comparison with the other--"

"Even then--" she began.

"Wait a moment, for I found out something more. The moment I had
ascertained that Mr. Vassall was not drawing more than about £500 a year
from the business profits I tried to ascertain at what rate he lived and
what were his chief vices. I found that he kept a fine house in Albert
Terrace. Now, the rents of those houses are £250 a year. Therefore
speculation, horse-racing or some sort of gambling, must help to keep up
that establishment. Speculation and most forms of gambling are
synonymous with debt and ruin. It is only a question of time. Whether
Mr. Vassall was in debt or not at the time, that I cannot say, but this
I do know, that ever since that unfortunate loss to him of about £1000
he has kept his house in nicer style than before, and he now has a good
banking account at the Lancashire and Liverpool bank, which he opened a
year after his 'heavy loss.'"

"But it must have been very difficult--" argued Polly.

"What?" he said. "To have planned out the whole thing? For carrying it
out was mere child's play. He had twenty-four hours in which to put his
plan into execution. Why, what was there to do? Firstly, to go to a
local printer in some out-of-the-way part of the town and get him to
print a few cards with the high-sounding name. That, of course, is done
'while you wait.' Beyond that there was the purchase of a good
second-hand uniform, fur coat, and a beard and a wig from a costumier's.

"No, no, the execution was not difficult; it was the planning of it all,
the daring that was so fine. Schwarz, of course, was a foreigner; he had
only been in England a little over a fortnight. Vassall's broken English
misled him; probably he did not know the junior partner very intimately.
I have no doubt that but for his uncle's absurd British prejudice and
suspicions against the Russian Prince, Schwarz would not have been so
ready to believe in the latter's roguery. As I said, it would be a great
boon if English tradesmen studied Gotha more; but it was clever, wasn't
it? I couldn't have done it much better myself."

That last sentence was so characteristic. Before Polly could think of
some plausible argument against his theory he was gone, and she was
trying vainly to find another solution to the Liverpool mystery.




CHAPTER XIV

THE EDINBURGH MYSTERY


The man in the corner had not enjoyed his lunch. Miss Polly Burton could
see that he had something on his mind, for, even before he began to talk
that morning, he was fidgeting with his bit of string, and setting all
her nerves on the jar.

"Have you ever felt real sympathy with a criminal or a thief?" he asked
her after a while.

"Only once, I think," she replied, "and then I am not quite sure that
the unfortunate woman who did enlist my sympathies was the criminal you
make her out to be."

"You mean the heroine of the York mystery?" he replied blandly. "I know
that you tried very hard that time to discredit the only possible
version of that mysterious murder, the version which is my own. Now, I
am equally sure that you have at the present moment no more notion as to
who killed and robbed poor Lady Donaldson in Charlotte Square,
Edinburgh, than the police have themselves, and yet you are fully
prepared to pooh-pooh my arguments, and to disbelieve my version of the
mystery. Such is the lady journalist's mind."

"If you have some cock-and-bull story to explain that extraordinary
case," she retorted, "of course I shall disbelieve it. Certainly, if you
are going to try and enlist my sympathies on behalf of Edith Crawford, I
can assure you you won't succeed."

"Well, I don't know that that is altogether my intention. I see you are
interested in the case, but I dare say you don't remember all the
circumstances. You must forgive me if I repeat that which you know
already. If you have ever been to Edinburgh at all, you will have heard
of Graham's bank, and Mr. Andrew Graham, the present head of the firm,
is undoubtedly one of the most prominent notabilities of 'modern
Athens.'"

The man in the corner took two or three photos from his pocket-book and
placed them before the young girl; then, pointing at them with his long
bony finger--

"That," he said, "is Mr. Elphinstone Graham, the eldest son, a typical
young Scotchman, as you see, and this is David Graham, the second son."

Polly looked more closely at this last photo, and saw before her a young
face, upon which some lasting sorrow seemed already to have left its
mark. The face was delicate and thin, the features pinched, and the
eyes seemed almost unnaturally large and prominent.

"He was deformed," commented the man in the corner in answer to the
girl's thoughts, "and, as such, an object of pity and even of repugnance
to most of his friends. There was also a good deal of talk in Edinburgh
society as to his mental condition, his mind, according to many intimate
friends of the Grahams, being at times decidedly unhinged. Be that as it
may, I fancy that his life must have been a very sad one; he had lost
his mother when quite a baby, and his father seemed, strangely enough,
to have an almost unconquerable dislike towards him.

"Every one got to know presently of David Graham's sad position in his
father's own house, and also of the great affection lavished upon him by
his godmother, Lady Donaldson, who was a sister of Mr. Graham's.

"She was a lady of considerable wealth, being the widow of Sir George
Donaldson, the great distiller; but she seems to have been decidedly
eccentric. Latterly she had astonished all her family--who were rigid
Presbyterians--by announcing her intention of embracing the Roman
Catholic faith, and then retiring to the convent of St. Augustine's at
Newton Abbot in Devonshire.

"She had sole and absolute control of the vast fortune which a doting
husband had bequeathed to her. Clearly, therefore, she was at liberty
to bestow it upon a Devonshire convent if she chose. But this evidently
was not altogether her intention.

"I told you how fond she was of her deformed godson, did I not? Being a
bundle of eccentricities, she had many hobbies, none more pronounced
than the fixed determination to see--before retiring from the world
altogether--David Graham happily married.

"Now, it appears that David Graham, ugly, deformed, half-demented as he
was, had fallen desperately in love with Miss Edith Crawford, daughter
of the late Dr. Crawford, of Prince's Gardens. The young lady,
however--very naturally, perhaps--fought shy of David Graham, who, about
this time, certainly seemed very queer and morose, but Lady Donaldson,
with characteristic determination, seems to have made up her mind to
melt Miss Crawford's heart towards her unfortunate nephew.

"On October the 2nd last, at a family party given by Mr. Graham in his
fine mansion in Charlotte Square, Lady Donaldson openly announced her
intention of making over, by deed of gift, to her nephew, David Graham,
certain property, money, and shares, amounting in total value to the sum
of £100,000, and also her magnificent diamonds, which were worth
£50,000, for the use of the said David's wife. Keith Macfinlay, a lawyer
of Prince's Street, received the next day instructions for drawing up
the necessary deed of gift, which she pledged herself to sign the day of
her godson's wedding.

"A week later _The Scotsman_ contained the following paragraph:--

"'A marriage is arranged and will shortly take place between David,
younger son of Andrew Graham, Esq., of Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, and
Dochnakirk, Perthshire, and Edith Lillian, only surviving daughter of
the late Dr. Kenneth Crawford, of Prince's Gardens.'

"In Edinburgh society comments were loud and various upon the
forthcoming marriage, and, on the whole, these comments were far from
complimentary to the families concerned. I do not think that the Scotch
are a particularly sentimental race, but there was such obvious buying,
selling, and bargaining about this marriage that Scottish chivalry rose
in revolt at the thought.

"Against that the three people most concerned seemed perfectly
satisfied. David Graham was positively transformed; his moroseness was
gone from him, he lost his queer ways and wild manners, and became
gentle and affectionate in the midst of this great and unexpected
happiness. Miss Edith Crawford ordered her trousseau, and talked of the
diamonds to her friends, and Lady Donaldson was only waiting for the
consummation of this marriage--her heart's desire--before she finally
retired from the world, at peace with it and with herself.

"The deed of gift was ready for signature on the wedding day, which was
fixed for November 7th, and Lady Donaldson took up her abode temporarily
in her brother's house in Charlotte Square.

"Mr. Graham gave a large ball on October 23rd. Special interest is
attached to this ball, from the fact that for this occasion Lady
Donaldson insisted that David's future wife should wear the magnificent
diamonds which were soon to become hers.

"They were, it seems, superb, and became Miss Crawford's stately beauty
to perfection. The ball was a brilliant success, the last guest leaving
at four a.m. The next day it was the universal topic of conversation,
and the day after that, when Edinburgh unfolded the late editions of its
morning papers, it learned with horror and dismay that Lady Donaldson
had been found murdered in her room, and that the celebrated diamonds
had been stolen.

"Hardly had the beautiful little city, however, recovered from this
awful shock, than its newspapers had another thrilling sensation ready
for their readers.

"Already all Scotch and English papers had mysteriously hinted at
'startling information' obtained by the Procurator Fiscal, and at an
'impending sensational arrest.'

"Then the announcement came, and every one in Edinburgh read,
horror-struck and aghast, that the 'sensational arrest' was none other
than that of Miss Edith Crawford, for murder and robbery, both so daring
and horrible that reason refused to believe that a young lady, born and
bred in the best social circle, could have conceived, much less
executed, so heinous a crime. She had been arrested in London at the
Midland Hotel, and brought to Edinburgh, where she was judicially
examined, bail being refused."




CHAPTER XV

A TERRIBLE PLIGHT


"Little more than a fortnight after that, Edith Crawford was duly
committed to stand her trial before the High Court of Justiciary. She
had pleaded 'Not Guilty' at the pleading diet, and her defence was
entrusted to Sir James Fenwick, one of the most eminent advocates at the
Criminal Bar.

"Strange to say," continued the man in the corner after a while, "public
opinion from the first went dead against the accused. The public is
absolutely like a child, perfectly irresponsible and wholly illogical;
it argued that since Miss Crawford had been ready to contract a marriage
with a half-demented, deformed creature for the sake of his £100,000 she
must have been equally ready to murder and rob an old lady for the sake
of £50,000 worth of jewellery, without the encumbrance of so undesirable
a husband.

"Perhaps the great sympathy aroused in the popular mind for David Graham
had much to do with this ill-feeling against the accused. David Graham
had, by this cruel and dastardly murder, lost the best--if not the
only--friend he possessed. He had also lost at one fell swoop the large
fortune which Lady Donaldson had been about to assign to him.

"The deed of gift had never been signed, and the old lady's vast wealth,
instead of enriching her favourite nephew, was distributed--since she
had made no will--amongst her heirs-at-law. And now to crown this long
chapter of sorrow David Graham saw the girl he loved accused of the
awful crime which had robbed him of friend and fortune.

"It was, therefore, with an unmistakable thrill of righteous
satisfaction that Edinburgh society saw this 'mercenary girl' in so
terrible a plight.

"I was immensely interested in the case, and journeyed down to Edinburgh
in order to get a good view of the chief actors in the thrilling drama
which was about to be unfolded there.

"I succeeded--I generally do--in securing one of the front seats among
the audience, and was already comfortably installed in my place in court
when through the trap door I saw the head of the prisoner emerge. She
was very becomingly dressed in deep black, and, led by two policemen,
she took her place in the dock. Sir James Fenwick shook hands with her
very warmly, and I could almost hear him instilling words of comfort
into her.

"The trial lasted six clear days, during which time more than forty
persons were examined for the prosecution, and as many for the defence.
But the most interesting witnesses were certainly the two doctors, the
maid Tremlett, Campbell, the High Street jeweller, and David Graham.

"There was, of course, a great deal of medical evidence to go through.
Poor Lady Donaldson had been found with a silk scarf tied tightly round
her neck, her face showing even to the inexperienced eye every symptom
of strangulation.

"Then Tremlett, Lady Donaldson's confidential maid, was called. Closely
examined by Crown Counsel, she gave an account of the ball at Charlotte
Square on the 23rd, and the wearing of the jewels by Miss Crawford on
that occasion.

"'I helped Miss Crawford on with the tiara over her hair,' she said;
'and my lady put the two necklaces round Miss Crawford's neck herself.
There were also some beautiful brooches, bracelets, and earrings. At
four o'clock in the morning when the ball was over, Miss Crawford
brought the jewels back to my lady's room. My lady had already gone to
bed, and I had put out the electric light, as I was going, too. There
was only one candle left in the room, close to the bed.

"'Miss Crawford took all the jewels off, and asked Lady Donaldson for
the key of the safe, so that she might put them away. My lady gave her
the key and said to me, "You can go to bed, Tremlett, you must be dead
tired." I was glad to go, for I could hardly stand up--I was so tired. I
said "Good night!" to my lady and also to Miss Crawford, who was busy
putting the jewels away. As I was going out of the room I heard Lady
Donaldson saying: "Have you managed it, my dear?" Miss Crawford said: "I
have put everything away very nicely."'

"In answer to Sir James Fenwick, Tremlett said that Lady Donaldson
always carried the key of her jewel safe on a ribbon round her neck, and
had done so the whole day preceding her death.

"'On the night of the 24th,' she continued, 'Lady Donaldson still seemed
rather tired, and went up to her room directly after dinner, and while
the family were still sitting in the dining-room. She made me dress her
hair, then she slipped on her dressing-gown and sat in the arm-chair
with a book. She told me that she then felt strangely uncomfortable and
nervous, and could not account for it.

"'However, she did not want me to sit with her, so I thought that the
best thing I could do was to tell Mr. David Graham that her ladyship did
not seem very cheerful. Her ladyship was so fond of Mr. David; it always
made her happy to have him with her. I then went to my room, and at
half-past eight Mr. David called me. He said: "Your mistress does seem a
little restless to-night. If I were you I would just go and listen at
her door in about an hour's time, and if she has not gone to bed I would
go in and stay with her until she has." At about ten o'clock I did as
Mr. David suggested, and listened at her ladyship's door. However, all
was quiet in the room, and, thinking her ladyship had gone to sleep, I
went back to bed.

"'The next morning at eight o'clock, when I took in my mistress's cup of
tea, I saw her lying on the floor, her poor dear face all purple and
distorted. I screamed, and the other servants came rushing along. Then
Mr. Graham had the door locked and sent for the doctor and the police.'

"The poor woman seemed to find it very difficult not to break down. She
was closely questioned by Sir James Fenwick, but had nothing further to
say. She had last seen her mistress alive at eight o'clock on the
evening of the 24th.

"'And when you listened at her door at ten o'clock,' asked Sir James,
'did you try to open it?'

"'I did, but it was locked,' she replied.

"'Did Lady Donaldson usually lock her bedroom at night?'

"'Nearly always.'

"'And in the morning when you took in the tea?'

"'The door was open. I walked straight in.'

"'You are quite sure?' insisted Sir James.

"'I swear it,' solemnly asserted the woman.

"After that we were informed by several members of Mr. Graham's
establishment that Miss Crawford had been in to tea at Charlotte Square
in the afternoon of the 24th, that she told every one she was going to
London by the night mail, as she had some special shopping she wished to
do there. It appears that Mr. Graham and David both tried to persuade
her to stay to dinner, and then to go by the 9.10 p.m. from the
Caledonian Station. Miss Crawford however had refused, saying she always
preferred to go from the Waverley Station. It was nearer to her own
rooms, and she still had a good deal of writing to do.

"In spite of this, two witnesses saw the accused in Charlotte Square
later on in the evening. She was carrying a bag which seemed heavy, and
was walking towards the Caledonian Railway Station.

"But the most thrilling moment in that sensational trial was reached on
the second day, when David Graham, looking wretchedly ill, unkempt, and
haggard, stepped into the witness-box. A murmur of sympathy went round
the audience at sight of him, who was the second, perhaps, most deeply
stricken victim of the Charlotte Square tragedy.

"David Graham, in answer to Crown Counsel, gave an account of his last
interview with Lady Donaldson.

"'Tremlett had told me that she seemed anxious and upset, and I went to
have a chat with her; she soon cheered up and....'

"There the unfortunate young man hesitated visibly, but after a while
resumed with an obvious effort.

"'She spoke of my marriage, and of the gift she was about to bestow upon
me. She said the diamonds would be for my wife, and after that for my
daughter, if I had one. She also complained that Mr. Macfinlay had been
so punctilious about preparing the deed of gift, and that it was a great
pity the £100,000 could not just pass from her hands to mine without so
much fuss.

"'I stayed talking with her for about half an hour; then I left her, as
she seemed ready to go to bed; but I told her maid to listen at the door
in about an hour's time.'

"There was deep silence in the court for a few moments, a silence which
to me seemed almost electrical. It was as if, some time before it was
uttered, the next question put by Crown Counsel to the witness had
hovered in the air.

"'You were engaged to Miss Edith Crawford at one time, were you not?'

"One felt, rather than heard, the almost inaudible 'Yes' which escaped
from David Graham's compressed lips.

"'Under what circumstances was that engagement broken off?'

"Sir James Fenwick had already risen in protest, but David Graham had
been the first to speak.

"'I do not think that I need answer that question.'

"'I will put it in a different form, then,' said Crown Counsel
urbanely--'one to which my learned friend cannot possibly take
exception. Did you or did you not on October 27th receive a letter from
the accused, in which she desired to be released from her promise of
marriage to you?'

"Again David Graham would have refused to answer, and he certainly gave
no audible reply to the learned counsel's question; but every one in the
audience there present--aye, every member of the jury and of the
bar--read upon David Graham's pale countenance and large, sorrowful eyes
that ominous 'Yes!' which had failed to reach his trembling lips."




CHAPTER XVI

"NON PROVEN"


"There is no doubt," continued the man in the corner, "that what little
sympathy the young girl's terrible position had aroused in the public
mind had died out the moment that David Graham left the witness-box on
the second day of the trial. Whether Edith Crawford was guilty of murder
or not, the callous way in which she had accepted a deformed lover, and
then thrown him over, had set every one's mind against her.

"It was Mr. Graham himself who had been the first to put the Procurator
Fiscal in possession of the fact that the accused had written to David
from London, breaking off her engagement. This information had, no
doubt, directed the attention of the Fiscal to Miss Crawford, and the
police soon brought forward the evidence which had led to her arrest.

"We had a final sensation on the third day, when Mr. Campbell, jeweller,
of High Street, gave his evidence. He said that on October 25th a lady
came to his shop and offered to sell him a pair of diamond earrings.
Trade had been very bad, and he had refused the bargain, although the
lady seemed ready to part with the earrings for an extraordinarily low
sum, considering the beauty of the stones.

"In fact it was because of this evident desire on the lady's part to
sell at _any_ cost that he had looked at her more keenly than he
otherwise would have done. He was now ready to swear that the lady that
offered him the diamond earrings was the prisoner in the dock.

"I can assure you that as we all listened to this apparently damnatory
evidence, you might have heard a pin drop amongst the audience in that
crowded court. The girl alone, there in the dock, remained calm and
unmoved. Remember that for two days we had heard evidence to prove that
old Dr. Crawford had died leaving his daughter penniless, that having no
mother she had been brought up by a maiden aunt, who had trained her to
be a governess, which occupation she had followed for years, and that
certainly she had never been known by any of her friends to be in
possession of solitaire diamond earrings.

"The prosecution had certainly secured an ace of trumps, but Sir James
Fenwick, who during the whole of that day had seemed to take little
interest in the proceedings, here rose from his seat, and I knew at once
that he had got a tit-bit in the way of a 'point' up his sleeve. Gaunt,
and unusually tall, and with his beak-like nose, he always looks
strangely impressive when he seriously tackles a witness. He did it this
time with a vengeance, I can tell you. He was all over the pompous
little jeweller in a moment.

"'Had Mr. Campbell made a special entry in his book, as to the visit of
the lady in question?'

"'No.'

"'Had he any special means of ascertaining when that visit did actually
take place?'

"'No--but--'

"'What record had he of the visit?'

"Mr. Campbell had none. In fact, after about twenty minutes of
cross-examination, he had to admit that he had given but little thought
to the interview with the lady at the time, and certainly not in
connection with the murder of Lady Donaldson, until he had read in the
papers that a young lady had been arrested.

"Then he and his clerk talked the matter over, it appears, and together
they had certainly recollected that a lady had brought some beautiful
earrings for sale on a day which _must have been_ the very morning after
the murder. If Sir James Fenwick's object was to discredit this special
witness, he certainly gained his point.

"All the pomposity went out of Mr. Campbell, he became flurried, then
excited, then he lost his temper. After that he was allowed to leave the
court, and Sir James Fenwick resumed his seat, and waited like a
vulture for its prey.

"It presented itself in the person of Mr. Campbell's clerk, who, before
the Procurator Fiscal, had corroborated his employer's evidence in every
respect. In Scotland no witness in any one case is present in court
during the examination of another, and Mr. Macfarlane, the clerk, was,
therefore, quite unprepared for the pitfalls which Sir James Fenwick had
prepared for him. He tumbled into them, head foremost, and the eminent
advocate turned him inside out like a glove.

"Mr. Macfarlane did not lose his temper; he was of too humble a frame of
mind to do that, but he got into a hopeless quagmire of mixed
recollections, and he too left the witness-box quite unprepared to swear
as to the day of the interview with the lady with the diamond earrings.

"I dare say, mind you," continued the man in the corner with a chuckle,
"that to most people present, Sir James Fenwick's cross-questioning
seemed completely irrelevant. Both Mr. Campbell and his clerk were quite
ready to swear that they had had an interview concerning some diamond
earrings with a lady, of whose identity with the accused they were
perfectly convinced, and to the casual observer the question as to the
time or even the day when that interview took place could make but
little difference in the ultimate issue.

"Now I took in, in a moment, the entire drift of Sir James Fenwick's
defence of Edith Crawford. When Mr. Macfarlane left the witness-box, the
second victim of the eminent advocate's caustic tongue, I could read as
in a book the whole history of that crime, its investigation, and the
mistakes made by the police first and the Public Prosecutor afterwards.

"Sir James Fenwick knew them, too, of course, and he placed a finger
upon each one, demolishing--like a child who blows upon a house of
cards--the entire scaffolding erected by the prosecution.

"Mr. Campbell's and Mr. Macfarlane's identification of the accused with
the lady who, on some date--admitted to be uncertain--had tried to sell
a pair of diamond earrings, was the first point. Sir James had plenty of
witnesses to prove that on the 25th, the day after the murder, the
accused was in London, whilst, the day before, Mr. Campbell's shop had
been closed long before the family circle had seen the last of Lady
Donaldson. Clearly the jeweller and his clerk must have seen some other
lady, whom their vivid imagination had pictured as being identical with
the accused.

"Then came the great question of time. Mr. David Graham had been
evidently the last to see Lady Donaldson alive. He had spoken to her as
late as 8.30 p.m. Sir James Fenwick had called two porters at the
Caledonian Railway Station who testified to Miss Crawford having taken
her seat in a first-class carriage of the 9.10 train, some minutes
before it started.

"'Was it conceivable, therefore,' argued Sir James, 'that in the space
of half an hour the accused--a young girl--could have found her way
surreptitiously into the house, at a time when the entire household was
still astir, that she should have strangled Lady Donaldson, forced open
the safe, and made away with the jewels? A man--an experienced burglar
might have done it, but I contend that the accused is physically
incapable of accomplishing such a feat.

"'With regard to the broken engagement,' continued the eminent counsel
with a smile, 'it may have seemed a little heartless, certainly, but
heartlessness is no crime in the eyes of the law. The accused has stated
in her declaration that at the time she wrote to Mr. David Graham,
breaking off her engagement, she had heard nothing of the Edinburgh
tragedy.

"'The London papers had reported the crime very briefly. The accused was
busy shopping; she knew nothing of Mr. David Graham's altered position.
In no case was the breaking off of the engagement a proof that the
accused had obtained possession of the jewels by so foul a deed.'

"It is, of course, impossible for me," continued the man in the corner
apologetically, "to give you any idea of the eminent advocate's
eloquence and masterful logic. It struck every one, I think, just as it
did me, that he chiefly directed his attention to the fact that there
was absolutely no _proof_ against the accused.

"Be that as it may, the result of that remarkable trial was a verdict of
'Non Proven.' The jury was absent forty minutes, and it appears that in
the mind of every one of them there remained, in spite of Sir James'
arguments, a firmly rooted conviction--call it instinct, if you
like--that Edith Crawford had done away with Lady Donaldson in order to
become possessed of those jewels, and that in spite of the pompous
jeweller's many contradictions, she had offered him some of those
diamonds for sale. But there was not enough proof to convict, and she
was given the benefit of the doubt.

"I have heard English people argue that in England she would have been
hanged. Personally I doubt that. I think that an English jury, not
having the judicial loophole of 'Non Proven,' would have been bound to
acquit her. What do you think?"




CHAPTER XVII

UNDENIABLE FACTS


There was a moment's silence, for Polly did not reply immediately, and
he went on making impossible knots in his bit of string. Then she said
quietly--

"I think that I agree with those English people who say that an English
jury would have condemned her.... I have no doubt that she was guilty.
She may not have committed that awful deed herself. Some one in the
Charlotte Square house may have been her accomplice and killed and
robbed Lady Donaldson while Edith Crawford waited outside for the
jewels. David Graham left his godmother at 8.30 p.m. If the accomplice
was one of the servants in the house, he or she would have had plenty of
time for any amount of villainy, and Edith Crawford could have yet
caught the 9.10 p.m. train from the Caledonian Station."

"Then who, in your opinion," he asked sarcastically, and cocking his
funny birdlike head on one side, "tried to sell diamond earrings to Mr.
Campbell, the jeweller?"

"Edith Crawford, of course," she retorted triumphantly; "he and his
clerk both recognized her."

"When did she try to sell them the earrings?"

"Ah, that is what I cannot quite make out, and there to my mind lies the
only mystery in this case. On the 25th she was certainly in London, and
it is not very likely that she would go back to Edinburgh in order to
dispose of the jewels there, where they could most easily be traced."

"Not very likely, certainly," he assented drily.

"And," added the young girl, "on the day before she left for London,
Lady Donaldson was alive."

"And pray," he said suddenly, as with comic complacency he surveyed a
beautiful knot he had just twisted up between his long fingers, "what
has that fact got to do with it?"

"But it has everything to do with it!" she retorted.

"Ah, there you go," he sighed with comic emphasis. "My teachings don't
seem to have improved your powers of reasoning. You are as bad as the
police. Lady Donaldson has been robbed and murdered, and you immediately
argue that she was robbed and murdered by the same person."

"But--" argued Polly.

"There is no but," he said, getting more and more excited. "See how
simple it is. Edith Crawford wears the diamonds one night, then she
brings them back to Lady Donaldson's room. Remember the maid's
statement: 'My lady said: "Have you put them back, my dear?"--a simple
statement, utterly ignored by the prosecution. But what did it mean?
That Lady Donaldson could not see for herself whether Edith Crawford had
put back the jewels or not, _since she asked the question_."

"Then you argue--"

"I never argue," he interrupted excitedly; "I state undeniable facts.
Edith Crawford, who wanted to steal the jewels, took them then and
there, when she had the opportunity. Why in the world should she have
waited? Lady Donaldson was in bed, and Tremlett, the maid, had gone.

"The next day--namely, the 25th--she tries to dispose of a pair of
earrings to Mr. Campbell; she fails, and decides to go to London, where
she has a better chance. Sir James Fenwick did not think it desirable to
bring forward witnesses to prove what I have since ascertained is a
fact, namely, that on the 27th of October, three days before her arrest,
Miss Crawford crossed over to Belgium, and came back to London the next
day. In Belgium, no doubt, Lady Donaldson's diamonds, taken out of their
settings, calmly repose at this moment, while the money derived from
their sale is safely deposited in a Belgian bank."

"But then, who murdered Lady Donaldson, and why?" gasped Polly.

"Cannot you guess?" he queried blandly. "Have I not placed the case
clearly enough before you? To me it seems so simple. It was a daring,
brutal murder, remember. Think of one who, not being the thief himself,
would, nevertheless, have the strongest of all motives to shield the
thief from the consequences of her own misdeed: aye! and the power
too--since it would be absolutely illogical, nay, impossible, that he
should be an accomplice."

"Surely----"

"Think of a curious nature, warped morally, as well as physically--do
you know how those natures feel? A thousand times more strongly than the
even, straight natures in everyday life. Then think of such a nature
brought face to face with this awful problem.

"Do you think that such a nature would hesitate a moment before
committing a crime to save the loved one from the consequences of that
deed? Mind you, I don't assert for a moment that David Graham had any
_intention_ of murdering Lady Donaldson. Tremlett tells him that she
seems strangely upset; he goes to her room and finds that she has
discovered that she has been robbed. She naturally suspects Edith
Crawford, recollects the incidents of the other night, and probably
expresses her feelings to David Graham, and threatens immediate
prosecution, scandal, what you will.

"I repeat it again, I dare say he had no wish to kill her. Probably he
merely threatened to. A medical gentleman who spoke of sudden heart
failure was no doubt right. Then imagine David Graham's remorse, his
horror and his fears. The empty safe probably is the first object that
suggested to him the grim tableau of robbery and murder, which he
arranges in order to ensure his own safety.

"But remember one thing: no miscreant was seen to enter or leave the
house surreptitiously; the murderer left no signs of entrance, and none
of exit. An armed burglar would have left some trace--_some one_ would
have heard _something_. Then who locked and unlocked Lady Donaldson's
door that night while she herself lay dead?

"Some one in the house, I tell you--some one who left no trace--some one
against whom there could be no suspicion--some one who killed without
apparently the slightest premeditation, and without the slightest
motive. Think of it--I know I am right--and then tell me if I have at
all enlisted your sympathies in the author of the Edinburgh Mystery."

He was gone. Polly looked again at the photo of David Graham. Did a
crooked mind really dwell in that crooked body, and were there in the
world such crimes that were great enough to be deemed sublime?




CHAPTER XVIII

THE THEFT AT THE ENGLISH PROVIDENT BANK


"That question of motive is a very difficult and complicated one at
times," said the man in the corner, leisurely pulling off a huge pair of
flaming dog-skin gloves from his meagre fingers. "I have known
experienced criminal investigators declare, as an infallible axiom, that
to find the person interested in the committal of the crime is to find
the criminal.

"Well, that may be so in most cases, but my experience has proved to me
that there is one factor in this world of ours which is the mainspring
of human actions, and that factor is human passions. For good or evil
passions rule this poor humanity of ours. Remember, there are the women!
French detectives, who are acknowledged masters in their craft, never
proceed till after they have discovered the feminine element in a crime;
whether in theft, murder, or fraud, according to their theory, there is
always a woman.

"Perhaps the reason why the Phillimore Terrace robbery was never
brought home to its perpetrators is because there was no woman in any
way connected with it, and I am quite sure, on the other hand, that the
reason why the thief at the English Provident Bank is still unpunished
is because a clever woman has escaped the eyes of our police force."

He had spoken at great length and very dictatorially. Miss Polly Burton
did not venture to contradict him, knowing by now that whenever he was
irritable he was invariably rude, and she then had the worst of it.

"When I am old," he resumed, "and have nothing more to do, I think I
shall take professionally to the police force; they have much to learn."

Could anything be more ludicrous than the self-satisfaction, the
abnormal conceit of this remark, made by that shrivelled piece of
mankind, in a nervous, hesitating tone of voice? Polly made no comment,
but drew from her pocket a beautiful piece of string, and knowing his
custom of knotting such an article while unravelling his mysteries, she
handed it across the table to him. She positively thought that he
blushed.

"As an adjunct to thought," she said, moved by a conciliatory spirit.

He looked at the invaluable toy which the young girl had tantalisingly
placed close to his hand: then he forced himself to look all round the
coffee-room: at Polly, at the waitresses, at the piles of pallid buns
upon the counter. But, involuntarily, his mild blue eyes wandered back
lovingly to the long piece of string, on which his playful imagination
no doubt already saw a series of knots which would be equally
tantalising to tie and to untie.

"Tell me about the theft at the English Provident Bank," suggested Polly
condescendingly.

He looked at her, as if she had proposed some mysterious complicity in
an unheard-of crime. Finally his lean fingers sought the end of the
piece of string, and drew it towards him. His face brightened up in a
moment.

"There was an element of tragedy in that particular robbery," he began,
after a few moments of beatified knotting, "altogether different to that
connected with most crimes; a tragedy which, as far as I am concerned,
would seal my lips for ever, and forbid them to utter a word, which
might lead the police on the right track."

"Your lips," suggested Polly sarcastically, "are, as far as I can see,
usually sealed before our long-suffering, incompetent police and--"

"And you should be the last to grumble at this," he quietly interrupted,
"for you have spent some very pleasant half-hours already, listening to
what you have termed my 'cock-and-bull' stories. You know the English
Provident Bank, of course, in Oxford Street; there were plenty of
sketches of it at the time in the illustrated papers. Here is a photo of
the outside. I took it myself some time ago, and only wish I had been
cheeky or lucky enough to get a snap-shot of the interior. But you see
that the office has a separate entrance from the rest of the house,
which was, and still is, as is usual in such cases, inhabited by the
manager and his family.

"Mr. Ireland was the manager then; it was less than six months ago. He
lived over the bank, with his wife and family, consisting of a son, who
was clerk in the business, and two or three younger children. The house
is really smaller than it looks on this photo, for it has no depth, and
only one set of rooms on each floor looking out into the street, the
back of the house being nothing but the staircase. Mr. Ireland and his
family, therefore, occupied the whole of it.

"As for the business premises, they were, and, in fact, are, of the
usual pattern; an office with its rows of desks, clerks, and cashiers,
and beyond, through a glass door, the manager's private room, with the
ponderous safe, and desk, and so on.

"The private room has a door into the hall of the house, so that the
manager is not obliged to go out into the street in order to go to
business. There are no living-rooms on the ground floor, and the house
has no basement.

"I am obliged to put all these architectural details before you, though
they may sound rather dry and uninteresting, but they are really
necessary in order to make my argument clear.

"At night, of course, the bank premises are barred and bolted against
the street, and as an additional precaution there is always a night
watchman in the office. As I mentioned before, there is only a glass
door between the office and the manager's private room. This, of course,
accounted for the fact that the night watchman heard all that he did
hear, on that memorable night, and so helped further to entangle the
thread of that impenetrable mystery.

"Mr. Ireland as a rule went into his office every morning a little
before ten o'clock, but on that particular morning, for some reason
which he never could or would explain, he went down before having his
breakfast at about nine o'clock. Mrs. Ireland stated subsequently that,
not hearing him return, she sent the servant down to tell the master
that breakfast was getting cold. The girl's shrieks were the first
intimation that something alarming had occurred.

"Mrs. Ireland hastened downstairs. On reaching the hall she found the
door of her husband's room open, and it was from there that the girl's
shrieks proceeded.

"'The master, mum--the poor master--he is dead, mum--I am sure he is
dead!'--accompanied by vigorous thumps against the glass partition, and
not very measured language on the part of the watchman from the outer
office, such as--'Why don't you open the door instead of making that
row?'

"Mrs. Ireland is not the sort of woman who, under any circumstances,
would lose her presence of mind. I think she proved that throughout the
many trying circumstances connected with the investigation of the case.
She gave only one glance at the room and realized the situation. On the
arm-chair, with head thrown back and eyes closed, lay Mr. Ireland,
apparently in a dead faint; some terrible shock must have very suddenly
shattered his nervous system, and rendered him prostrate for the moment.
What that shock had been it was pretty easy to guess.

"The door of the safe was wide open, and Mr. Ireland had evidently
tottered and fainted before some awful fact which the open safe had
revealed to him; he had caught himself against a chair which lay on the
floor, and then finally sunk, unconscious, into the arm-chair.

"All this, which takes some time to describe," continued the man in the
corner, "took, remember, only a second to pass like a flash through
Mrs. Ireland's mind; she quickly turned the key of the glass door,
which was on the inside, and with the help of James Fairbairn, the
watchman, she carried her husband upstairs to his room, and immediately
sent both for the police and for a doctor.

"As Mrs. Ireland had anticipated, her husband had received a severe
mental shock which had completely prostrated him. The doctor prescribed
absolute quiet, and forbade all worrying questions for the present. The
patient was not a young man; the shock had been very severe--it was a
case, a very slight one, of cerebral congestion--and Mr. Ireland's
reason, if not his life, might be gravely jeopardised by any attempt to
recall before his enfeebled mind the circumstances which had preceded
his collapse.

"The police therefore could proceed but slowly in their investigations.
The detective who had charge of the case was necessarily handicapped,
whilst one of the chief actors concerned in the drama was unable to help
him in his work.

"To begin with, the robber or robbers had obviously not found their way
into the manager's inner room through the bank premises. James Fairbairn
had been on the watch all night, with the electric light full on, and
obviously no one could have crossed the outer office or forced the
heavily barred doors without his knowledge.

"There remained the other access to the room, that is, the one through
the hall of the house. The hall door, it appears, was always barred and
bolted by Mr. Ireland himself when he came home, whether from the
theatre or his club. It was a duty he never allowed any one to perform
but himself. During his annual holiday, with his wife and family, his
son, who usually had the sub-manager to stay with him on those
occasions, did the bolting and barring--but with the distinct
understanding that this should be done by ten o'clock at night.

"As I have already explained to you, there is only a glass partition
between the general office and the manager's private room, and,
according to James Fairbairn's account, this was naturally always left
wide open so that he, during his night watch, would of necessity hear
the faintest sound. As a rule there was no light left in the manager's
room, and the other door--that leading into the hall--was bolted from
the inside by James Fairbairn the moment he had satisfied himself that
the premises were safe, and he had begun his night-watch. An electric
bell in both the offices communicated with Mr. Ireland's bedroom and
that of his son, Mr. Robert Ireland, and there was a telephone installed
to the nearest district messengers' office, with an understood signal
which meant 'Police.'

"At nine o'clock in the morning it was the night watchman's duty, as
soon as the first cashier had arrived, to dust and tidy the manager's
room, and to undo the bolts; after that he was free to go home to his
breakfast and rest.

"You will see, of course, that James Fairbairn's position in the English
Provident Bank is one of great responsibility and trust; but then in
every bank and business house there are men who hold similar positions.
They are always men of well-known and tried characters, often old
soldiers with good-conduct records behind them. James Fairbairn is a
fine, powerful Scotchman; he had been night watchman to the English
Provident Bank for fifteen years, and was then not more than forty-three
or forty-four years old. He is an ex-guardsman, and stands six feet
three inches in his socks.

"It was his evidence, of course, which was of such paramount importance,
and which somehow or other managed, in spite of the utmost care
exercised by the police, to become public property, and to cause the
wildest excitement in banking and business circles.

"James Fairbairn stated that at eight o'clock in the evening of March
25th, having bolted and barred all the shutters and the door of the back
premises, he was about to lock the manager's door as usual, when Mr.
Ireland called to him from the floor above, telling him to leave that
door open, as he might want to go into the office again for a minute
when he came home at eleven o'clock. James Fairbairn asked if he should
leave the light on, but Mr. Ireland said: 'No, turn it out. I can switch
it on if I want it.'

"The night watchman at the English Provident Bank has permission to
smoke, he also is allowed a nice fire, and a tray consisting of a plate
of substantial sandwiches and one glass of ale, which he can take when
he likes. James Fairbairn settled himself in front of the fire, lit his
pipe, took out his newspaper, and began to read. He thought he had heard
the street door open and shut at about a quarter to ten; he supposed
that it was Mr. Ireland going out to his club, but at ten minutes to ten
o'clock the watchman heard the door of the manager's room open, and some
one enter, immediately closing the glass partition door and turning the
key.

"He naturally concluded it was Mr. Ireland himself.

"From where he sat he could not see into the room, but he noticed that
the electric light had not been switched on, and that the manager
seemingly had no light but an occasional match.

"'For the minute,' continued James Fairbairn, 'a thought did just cross
my mind that something might perhaps be wrong, and I put my newspaper
aside and went to the other end of the room towards the glass partition.
The manager's room was still quite dark, and I could not clearly see
into it, but the door into the hall was open, and there was, of course,
a light through there. I had got quite close to the partition, when I
saw Mrs. Ireland standing in the doorway, and heard her saying in a very
astonished tone of voice: 'Why, Lewis, I thought you had gone to your
club ages ago. What in the world are you doing here in the dark?'

"'Lewis is Mr. Ireland's Christian name,' was James Fairbairn's further
statement. 'I did not hear the manager's reply, but quite satisfied now
that nothing was wrong, I went back to my pipe and my newspaper. Almost
directly afterwards I heard the manager leave his room, cross the hall
and go out by the street door. It was only after he had gone that I
recollected that he must have forgotten to unlock the glass partition
and that I could not therefore bolt the door into the hall the same as
usual, and I suppose that is how those confounded thieves got the better
of me.'"




CHAPTER XIX

CONFLICTING EVIDENCE


"By the time the public had been able to think over James Fairbairn's
evidence, a certain disquietude and unrest had begun to make itself felt
both in the bank itself and among those of our detective force who had
charge of the case. The newspapers spoke of the matter with very obvious
caution, and warned all their readers to await the further development
of this sad case.

"While the manager of the English Provident Bank lay in such a
precarious condition of health, it was impossible to arrive at any
definite knowledge as to what the thief had actually made away with. The
chief cashier, however, estimated the loss at about £5000 in gold and
notes of the bank money--that was, of course, on the assumption that Mr.
Ireland had no private money or valuables of his own in the safe.

"Mind you, at this point public sympathy was much stirred in favour of
the poor man who lay ill, perhaps dying, and yet whom, strangely
enough, suspicion had already slightly touched with its poisoned wing.

"Suspicion is a strong word, perhaps, to use at this point in the story.
No one suspected anybody at present. James Fairbairn had told his story,
and had vowed that some thief with false keys must have sneaked through
the house into the inner office.

"Public excitement, you will remember, lost nothing by waiting. Hardly
had we all had time to wonder over the night watchman's singular
evidence, and, pending further and fuller detail, to check our growing
sympathy for the man who was ill, than the sensational side of this
mysterious case culminated in one extraordinary, absolutely unexpected
fact. Mrs. Ireland, after a twenty-four hours' untiring watch beside her
husband's sick bed, had at last been approached by the detective, and
been asked to reply to a few simple questions, and thus help to throw
some light on the mystery which had caused Mr. Ireland's illness and her
own consequent anxiety.

"She professed herself quite ready to reply to any questions put to her,
and she literally astounded both inspector and detective when she firmly
and emphatically declared that James Fairbairn must have been dreaming
or asleep when he thought he saw her in the doorway at ten o'clock that
night, and fancied he heard her voice.

"She may or may not have been down in the hall at that particular hour,
for she usually ran down herself to see if the last post had brought any
letters, but most certainly she had neither seen nor spoken to Mr.
Ireland at that hour, for Mr. Ireland had gone out an hour before, she
herself having seen him to the front door. Never for a moment did she
swerve from this extraordinary statement. She spoke to James Fairbairn
in the presence of the detective, and told him he _must_ absolutely have
been mistaken, that she had _not_ seen Mr. Ireland, and that she had
_not_ spoken to him.

"One other person was questioned by the police, and that was Mr. Robert
Ireland, the manager's eldest son. It was presumed that he would know
something of his father's affairs; the idea having now taken firm hold
of the detective's mind that perhaps grave financial difficulties had
tempted the unfortunate manager to appropriate some of the firm's money.

"Mr. Robert Ireland, however, could not say very much. His father did
not confide in him to the extent of telling him all his private affairs,
but money never seemed scarce at home certainly, and Mr. Ireland had, to
his son's knowledge, not a single extravagant habit. He himself had been
dining out with a friend on that memorable evening, and had gone on with
him to the Oxford Music Hall. He met his father on the doorstep of the
bank at about 11.30 p.m. and they went in together. There certainly was
nothing remarkable about Mr. Ireland then, his son averred; he appeared
in no way excited, and bade his son good night quite cheerfully.

"There was the extraordinary, the remarkable hitch," continued the man
in the corner, waxing more and more excited every moment. "The
public--who is at times very dense--saw it clearly nevertheless: of
course, every one at once jumped to the natural conclusion that Mrs.
Ireland was telling a lie--a noble lie, a self-sacrificing lie, a lie
endowed with all the virtues if you like, but still a lie.

"She was trying to save her husband, and was going the wrong way to
work. James Fairbairn, after all, could not have dreamt quite all that
he declared he had seen and heard. No one suspected James Fairbairn;
there was no occasion to do that; to begin with he was a great heavy
Scotchman with obviously no powers of invention, such as Mrs. Ireland's
strange assertion credited him with; moreover, the theft of the
bank-notes could not have been of the slightest use to him.

"But, remember, there was the hitch; without it the public mind would
already have condemned the sick man upstairs, without hope of
rehabilitation. This fact struck every one.

"Granting that Mr. Ireland had gone into his office at ten minutes to
ten o'clock at night for the purpose of extracting £5000 worth of notes
and gold from the bank safe, whilst giving the theft the appearance of a
night burglary; granting that he was disturbed in his nefarious project
by his wife, who, failing to persuade him to make restitution, took his
side boldly, and very clumsily attempted to rescue him out of his
difficult position--why should he, at nine o'clock the following
morning, fall in a dead faint and get cerebral congestion at sight of a
defalcation he knew had occurred? One might simulate a fainting fit, but
no one can assume a high temperature and a congestion, which the most
ordinary practitioner who happened to be called in would soon see were
non-existent.

"Mr. Ireland, according to James Fairbairn's evidence, must have gone
out soon after the theft, come in again with his son an hour and a half
later, talked to him, gone quietly to bed, and waited for nine hours
before he fell ill at sight of his own crime. It was not logical, you
will admit. Unfortunately, the poor man himself was unable to give any
explanation of the night's tragic adventures.

"He was still very weak, and though under strong suspicion, he was left,
by the doctor's orders, in absolute ignorance of the heavy charges which
were gradually accumulating against him. He had made many anxious
inquiries from all those who had access to his bedside as to the result
of the investigation, and the probable speedy capture of the burglars,
but every one had strict orders to inform him merely that the police so
far had no clue of any kind.

"You will admit, as every one did, that there was something very
pathetic about the unfortunate man's position, so helpless to defend
himself, if defence there was, against so much overwhelming evidence.
That is why I think public sympathy remained with him. Still, it was
terrible to think of his wife presumably knowing him to be guilty, and
anxiously waiting whilst dreading the moment when, restored to health,
he would have to face the doubts, the suspicions, probably the open
accusations, which were fast rising up around him."




CHAPTER XX

AN _ALIBI_


"It was close on six weeks before the doctor at last allowed his patient
to attend to the grave business which had prostrated him for so long.

"In the meantime, among the many people who directly or indirectly were
made to suffer in this mysterious affair, no one, I think, was more
pitied, and more genuinely sympathised with, than Robert Ireland, the
manager's eldest son.

"You remember that he had been clerk in the bank? Well, naturally, the
moment suspicion began to fasten on his father his position in the
business became untenable. I think every one was very kind to him. Mr.
Sutherland French, who was made acting manager 'during Mr. Lewis
Ireland's regrettable absence,' did everything in his power to show his
goodwill and sympathy to the young man, but I don't think that he or any
one else was much astonished when, after Mrs. Ireland's extraordinary
attitude in the case had become public property, he quietly intimated
to the acting manager that he had determined to sever his connection
with the bank.

"The best of recommendations was, of course, placed at his disposal, and
it was finally understood that, as soon as his father was completely
restored to health and would no longer require his presence in London,
he would try to obtain employment somewhere abroad. He spoke of the new
volunteer corps organized for the military policing of the new colonies,
and, truth to tell, no one could blame him that he should wish to leave
far behind him all London banking connections. The son's attitude
certainly did not tend to ameliorate the father's position. It was
pretty evident that his own family had ceased to hope in the poor
manager's innocence.

"And yet he was absolutely innocent. You must remember how that fact was
clearly demonstrated as soon as the poor man was able to say a word for
himself. And he said it to some purpose, too.

"Mr. Ireland was, and is, very fond of music. On the evening in
question, while sitting in his club, he saw in one of the daily papers
the announcement of a peculiarly attractive programme at the Queen's
Hall concert. He was not dressed, but nevertheless felt an irresistible
desire to hear one or two of these attractive musical items, and he
strolled down to the Hall. Now, this sort of alibi is usually very
difficult to prove, but Dame Fortune, oddly enough, favoured Mr. Ireland
on this occasion, probably to compensate him for the hard knocks she had
been dealing him pretty freely of late.

"It appears that there was some difficulty about his seat, which was
sold to him at the box office, and which he, nevertheless, found
wrongfully occupied by a determined lady, who refused to move. The
management had to be appealed to; the attendants also remembered not
only the incident, but also the face and appearance of the gentleman who
was the innocent cause of the altercation.

"As soon as Mr. Ireland could speak for himself he mentioned the
incident and the persons who had been witness to it. He was identified
by them, to the amazement, it must be confessed, of police and public
alike, who had comfortably decided that no one _could_ be guilty save
the manager of the Provident Bank himself. Moreover, Mr. Ireland was a
fairly wealthy man, with a good balance at the Union Bank, and plenty of
private means, the result of years of provident living.

"He had but to prove that if he really had been in need of an immediate
£5000--which was all the amount extracted from the bank safe that
night--he had plenty of securities on which he could, at an hour's
notice, have raised twice that sum. His life insurances had been fully
paid up; he had not a debt which a £5 note could not easily have
covered.

"On the fatal night he certainly did remember asking the watchman not to
bolt the door to his office, as he thought he might have one or two
letters to write when he came home, but later on he had forgotten all
about this. After the concert he met his son in Oxford Street, just
outside the house, and thought no more about the office, the door of
which was shut, and presented no unusual appearance.

"Mr. Ireland absolutely denied having been in his office at the hour
when James Fairbairn positively asserted he heard Mrs. Ireland say in an
astonished tone of voice: 'Why, Lewis, what in the world are you doing
here?' It became pretty clear therefore that James Fairbairn's view of
the manager's wife had been a mere vision.

"Mr. Ireland gave up his position as manager of the English Provident:
both he and his wife felt no doubt that on the whole, perhaps, there had
been too much talk, too much scandal connected with their name, to be
altogether advantageous to the bank. Moreover, Mr. Ireland's health was
not so good as it had been. He has a pretty house now at Sittingbourne,
and amuses himself during his leisure hours with amateur horticulture,
and I, who alone in London besides the persons directly connected with
this mysterious affair, know the true solution of the enigma, often
wonder how much of it is known to the ex-manager of the English
Provident Bank."

The man in the corner had been silent for some time. Miss Polly Burton,
in her presumption, had made up her mind, at the commencement of his
tale, to listen attentively to every point of the evidence in connection
with the case which he recapitulated before her, and to follow the
point, in order to try and arrive at a conclusion of her own, and
overwhelm the antediluvian scarecrow with her sagacity.

She said nothing, for she had arrived at no conclusion; the case puzzled
every one, and had amazed the public in its various stages, from the
moment when opinion began to cast doubt on Mr. Ireland's honesty to that
when his integrity was proved beyond a doubt. One or two people had
suspected Mrs. Ireland to have been the actual thief, but that idea had
soon to be abandoned.

Mrs. Ireland had all the money she wanted; the theft occurred six months
ago, and not a single bank-note was ever traced to her pocket; moreover,
she must have had an accomplice, since some one else was in the
manager's room that night; and if that some one else was her accomplice,
why did she risk betraying him by speaking loudly in the presence of
James Fairbairn, when it would have been so much simpler to turn out
the light and plunge the hall into darkness?

"You are altogether on the wrong track," sounded a sharp voice in direct
answer to Polly's thoughts--"altogether wrong. If you want to acquire my
method of induction, and improve your reasoning power, you must follow
my system. First think of the one absolutely undisputed, positive fact.
You must have a starting-point, and not go wandering about in the realms
of suppositions."

"But there are no positive facts," she said irritably.

"You don't say so?" he said quietly. "Do you not call it a positive fact
that the bank safe was robbed of £5000 on the evening of March 25th
before 11.30 p.m."

"Yes, that is all which is positive and--"

"Do you not call it a positive fact," he interrupted quietly, "that the
lock of the safe not being picked, it must have been opened by its own
key?"

"I know that," she rejoined crossly, "and that is why every one agreed
that James Fairbairn could not possibly--"

"And do you not call it a positive fact, then, that James Fairbairn
could not possibly, etc., etc., seeing that the glass partition door was
locked from the inside; Mrs. Ireland herself let James Fairbairn into
her husband's office when she saw him lying fainting before the open
safe. Of course that was a positive fact, and so was the one that proved
to any thinking mind that if that safe was opened with a key, it could
only have been done by a person having access to that key."

"But the man in the private office--"

"Exactly! the man in the private office. Enumerate his points, if you
please," said the funny creature, marking each point with one of his
favourite knots. "He was a man who might that night have had access to
the key of the safe, unsuspected by the manager or even his wife, and a
man for whom Mrs. Ireland was willing to tell a downright lie. Are there
many men for whom a woman of the better middle class, and an
Englishwoman, would be ready to perjure herself? Surely not! She might
do it for her husband. The public thought she had. It never struck them
that she might have done it for her son!"

"Her son!" exclaimed Polly.

"Ah! she was a clever woman," he ejaculated enthusiastically, "one with
courage and presence of mind, which I don't think I have ever seen
equalled. She runs downstairs before going to bed in order to see
whether the last post has brought any letters. She sees the door of her
husband's office ajar, she pushes it open, and there, by the sudden
flash of a hastily struck match she realizes in a moment that a thief
stands before the open safe, and in that thief she has already
recognized her son. At that very moment she hears the watchman's step
approaching the partition. There is no time to warn her son; she does
not know the glass door is locked; James Fairbairn may switch on the
electric light and see the young man in the very act of robbing his
employers' safe.

"One thing alone can reassure the watchman. One person alone had the
right to be there at that hour of the night, and without hesitation she
pronounces her husband's name.

"Mind you, I firmly believe that at the time the poor woman only wished
to gain time, that she had every hope that her son had not yet had the
opportunity to lay so heavy a guilt upon his conscience.

"What passed between mother and son we shall never know, but this much
we do know, that the young villain made off with his booty, and trusted
that his mother would never betray him. Poor woman! what a night of it
she must have spent; but she was clever and far-seeing. She knew that
her husband's character could not suffer through her action.
Accordingly, she took the only course open to her to save her son even
from his father's wrath, and boldly denied James Fairbairn's statement.

"Of course, she was fully aware that her husband could easily clear
himself, and the worst that could be said of her was that she had
thought him guilty and had tried to save him. She trusted to the future
to clear her of any charge of complicity in the theft.

"By now every one has forgotten most of the circumstances; the police
are still watching the career of James Fairbairn and Mrs. Ireland's
expenditure. As you know, not a single note, so far, has been traced to
her. Against that, one or two of the notes have found their way back to
England. No one realizes how easy it is to cash English bank-notes at
the smaller _agents de change_ abroad. The _changeurs_ are only too glad
to get them; what do they care where they come from as long as they are
genuine? And a week or two later _M. le Changeur_ could not swear who
tendered him any one particular note.

"You see, young Robert Ireland went abroad, he will come back some day
having made a fortune. There's his photo. And this is his mother--a
clever woman, wasn't she?"

And before Polly had time to reply he was gone. She really had never
seen any one move across a room so quickly. But he always left an
interesting trail behind: a piece of string knotted from end to end and
a few photos.




CHAPTER XXI

THE DUBLIN MYSTERY


"I always thought that the history of that forged will was about as
interesting as any I had read," said the man in the corner that day. He
had been silent for some time, and was meditatively sorting and looking
through a packet of small photographs in his pocket-book. Polly guessed
that some of these would presently be placed before her for
inspection--and she had not long to wait.

"That is old Brooks," he said, pointing to one of the photographs,
"Millionaire Brooks, as he was called, and these are his two sons,
Percival and Murray. It was a curious case, wasn't it? Personally I
don't wonder that the police were completely at sea. If a member of that
highly estimable force happened to be as clever as the clever author of
that forged will, we should have very few undetected crimes in this
country."

"That is why I always try to persuade you to give our poor ignorant
police the benefit of your great insight and wisdom," said Polly, with
a smile.

"I know," he said blandly, "you have been most kind in that way, but I
am only an amateur. Crime interests me only when it resembles a clever
game of chess, with many intricate moves which all tend to one solution,
the checkmating of the antagonist--the detective force of the country.
Now, confess that, in the Dublin mystery, the clever police there were
absolutely checkmated."

"Absolutely."

"Just as the public was. There were actually two crimes committed in one
city which have completely baffled detection: the murder of Patrick
Wethered the lawyer, and the forged will of Millionaire Brooks. There
are not many millionaires in Ireland; no wonder old Brooks was a
notability in his way, since his business--bacon curing, I believe it
is--is said to be worth over £2,000,000 of solid money.

"His younger son Murray was a refined, highly educated man, and was,
moreover, the apple of his father's eye, as he was the spoilt darling of
Dublin society; good-looking, a splendid dancer, and a perfect rider, he
was the acknowledged 'catch' of the matrimonial market of Ireland, and
many a very aristocratic house was opened hospitably to the favourite
son of the millionaire.

"Of course, Percival Brooks, the eldest son, would inherit the bulk of
the old man's property and also probably the larger share in the
business; he, too, was good-looking, more so than his brother; he, too,
rode, danced, and talked well, but it was many years ago that mammas
with marriageable daughters had given up all hopes of Percival Brooks as
a probable son-in-law. That young man's infatuation for Maisie
Fortescue, a lady of undoubted charm but very doubtful antecedents, who
had astonished the London and Dublin music-halls with her extravagant
dances, was too well known and too old-established to encourage any
hopes in other quarters.

"Whether Percival Brooks would ever marry Maisie Fortescue was thought
to be very doubtful. Old Brooks had the full disposal of all his wealth,
and it would have fared ill with Percival if he introduced an
undesirable wife into the magnificent Fitzwilliam Place establishment.

"That is how matters stood," continued the man in the corner, "when
Dublin society one morning learnt, with deep regret and dismay, that old
Brooks had died very suddenly at his residence after only a few hours'
illness. At first it was generally understood that he had had an
apoplectic stroke; anyway, he had been at business hale and hearty as
ever the day before his death, which occurred late on the evening of
February 1st.

"It was the morning papers of February 2nd which told the sad news to
their readers, and it was those selfsame papers which on that eventful
morning contained another even more startling piece of news, that proved
the prelude to a series of sensations such as tranquil, placid Dublin
had not experienced for many years. This was, that on that very
afternoon which saw the death of Dublin's greatest millionaire, Mr.
Patrick Wethered, his solicitor, was murdered in Phoenix Park at five
o'clock in the afternoon while actually walking to his own house from
his visit to his client in Fitzwilliam Place.

"Patrick Wethered was as well known as the proverbial town pump; his
mysterious and tragic death filled all Dublin with dismay. The lawyer,
who was a man sixty years of age, had been struck on the back of the
head by a heavy stick, garrotted, and subsequently robbed, for neither
money, watch, or pocket-book were found upon his person, whilst the
police soon gathered from Patrick Wethered's household that he had left
home at two o'clock that afternoon, carrying both watch and pocket-book,
and undoubtedly money as well.

"An inquest was held, and a verdict of wilful murder was found against
some person or persons unknown.

"But Dublin had not exhausted its stock of sensations yet. Millionaire
Brooks had been buried with due pomp and magnificence, and his will had
been proved (his business and personalty being estimated at £2,500,000)
by Percival Gordon Brooks, his eldest son and sole executor. The younger
son, Murray, who had devoted the best years of his life to being a
friend and companion to his father, while Percival ran after
ballet-dancers and music-hall stars--Murray, who had avowedly been the
apple of his father's eye in consequence--was left with a miserly
pittance of £300 a year, and no share whatever in the gigantic business
of Brooks & Sons, bacon curers, of Dublin.

"Something had evidently happened within the precincts of the Brooks'
town mansion, which the public and Dublin society tried in vain to
fathom. Elderly mammas and blushing _débutantes_ were already thinking
of the best means whereby next season they might more easily show the
cold shoulder to young Murray Brooks, who had so suddenly become a
hopeless 'detrimental' in the marriage market, when all these sensations
terminated in one gigantic, overwhelming bit of scandal, which for the
next three months furnished food for gossip in every drawing-room in
Dublin.

"Mr. Murray Brooks, namely, had entered a claim for probate of a will,
made by his father in 1891, declaring that the later will made the very
day of his father's death and proved by his brother as sole executor,
was null and void, that will being a forgery."




CHAPTER XXII

FORGERY


"The facts that transpired in connection with this extraordinary case
were sufficiently mysterious to puzzle everybody. As I told you before,
all Mr. Brooks' friends never quite grasped the idea that the old man
should so completely have cut off his favourite son with the proverbial
shilling.

"You see, Percival had always been a thorn in the old man's flesh.
Horse-racing, gambling, theatres, and music-halls were, in the old
pork-butcher's eyes, so many deadly sins which his son committed every
day of his life, and all the Fitzwilliam Place household could testify
to the many and bitter quarrels which had arisen between father and son
over the latter's gambling or racing debts. Many people asserted that
Brooks would sooner have left his money to charitable institutions than
seen it squandered upon the brightest stars that adorned the music-hall
stage.

"The case came up for hearing early in the autumn. In the meanwhile
Percival Brooks had given up his racecourse associates, settled down in
the Fitzwilliam Place mansion, and conducted his father's business,
without a manager, but with all the energy and forethought which he had
previously devoted to more unworthy causes.

"Murray had elected not to stay on in the old house; no doubt
associations were of too painful and recent a nature; he was boarding
with the family of a Mr. Wilson Hibbert, who was the late Patrick
Wethered's, the murdered lawyer's, partner. They were quiet, homely
people, who lived in a very pokey little house in Kilkenny Street, and
poor Murray must, in spite of his grief, have felt very bitterly the
change from his luxurious quarters in his father's mansion to his
present tiny room and homely meals.

"Percival Brooks, who was now drawing an income of over a hundred
thousand a year, was very severely criticised for adhering so strictly
to the letter of his father's will, and only paying his brother that
paltry £300 a year, which was very literally but the crumbs off his own
magnificent dinner table.

"The issue of that contested will case was therefore awaited with eager
interest. In the meanwhile the police, who had at first seemed fairly
loquacious on the subject of the murder of Mr. Patrick Wethered,
suddenly became strangely reticent, and by their very reticence aroused
a certain amount of uneasiness in the public mind, until one day the
_Irish Times_ published the following extraordinary, enigmatic
paragraph:

"'We hear on authority which cannot be questioned, that certain
extraordinary developments are expected in connection with the brutal
murder of our distinguished townsman Mr. Wethered; the police, in fact,
are vainly trying to keep it secret that they hold a clue which is as
important as it is sensational, and that they only await the impending
issue of a well-known litigation in the probate court to effect an
arrest.'

"The Dublin public flocked to the court to hear the arguments in the
great will case. I myself journeyed down to Dublin. As soon as I
succeeded in fighting my way to the densely crowded court, I took stock
of the various actors in the drama, which I as a spectator was prepared
to enjoy. There were Percival Brooks and Murray his brother, the two
litigants, both good-looking and well dressed, and both striving, by
keeping up a running conversation with their lawyer, to appear
unconcerned and confident of the issue. With Percival Brooks was Henry
Oranmore, the eminent Irish K.C., whilst Walter Hibbert, a rising young
barrister, the son of Wilson Hibbert, appeared for Murray.

"The will of which the latter claimed probate was one dated 1891, and
had been made by Mr. Brooks during a severe illness which threatened to
end his days. This will had been deposited in the hands of Messrs.
Wethered and Hibbert, solicitors to the deceased, and by it Mr. Brooks
left his personalty equally divided between his two sons, but had left
his business entirely to his youngest son, with a charge of £2000 a year
upon it, payable to Percival. You see that Murray Brooks therefore had a
very deep interest in that second will being found null and void.

"Old Mr. Hibbert had very ably instructed his son, and Walter Hibbert's
opening speech was exceedingly clever. He would show, he said, on behalf
of his client, that the will dated February 1st, 1908, could never have
been made by the late Mr. Brooks, as it was absolutely contrary to his
avowed intentions, and that if the late Mr. Brooks did on the day in
question make any fresh will at all, it certainly was _not_ the one
proved by Mr. Percival Brooks, for that was absolutely a forgery from
beginning to end. Mr. Walter Hibbert proposed to call several witnesses
in support of both these points.

"On the other hand, Mr. Henry Oranmore, K.C., very ably and courteously
replied that he too had several witnesses to prove that Mr. Brooks
certainly did make a will on the day in question, and that, whatever his
intentions may have been in the past, he must have modified them on the
day of his death, for the will proved by Mr. Percival Brooks was found
after his death under his pillow, duly signed and witnessed and in every
way legal.

"Then the battle began in sober earnest. There were a great many
witnesses to be called on both sides, their evidence being of more or
less importance--chiefly less. But the interest centred round the
prosaic figure of John O'Neill, the butler at Fitzwilliam Place, who had
been in Mr. Brooks' family for thirty years.

"'I was clearing away my breakfast things,' said John, 'when I heard the
master's voice in the study close by. Oh my, he was that angry! I could
hear the words "disgrace," and "villain," and "liar," and
"ballet-dancer," and one or two other ugly words as applied to some
female lady, which I would not like to repeat. At first I did not take
much notice, as I was quite used to hearing my poor dear master having
words with Mr. Percival. So I went downstairs carrying my breakfast
things; but I had just started cleaning my silver when the study bell
goes ringing violently, and I hear Mr. Percival's voice shouting in the
hall: "John! quick! Send for Dr. Mulligan at once. Your master is not
well! Send one of the men, and you come up and help me to get Mr. Brooks
to bed."

"'I sent one of the grooms for the doctor,' continued John, who seemed
still affected at the recollection of his poor master, to whom he had
evidently been very much attached, 'and I went up to see Mr. Brooks. I
found him lying on the study floor, his head supported in Mr. Percival's
arms. "My father has fallen in a faint," said the young master; "help me
to get him up to his room before Dr. Mulligan comes."

"'Mr. Percival looked very white and upset, which was only natural; and
when we had got my poor master to bed, I asked if I should not go and
break the news to Mr. Murray, who had gone to business an hour ago.
However, before Mr. Percival had time to give me an order the doctor
came. I thought I had seen death plainly writ in my master's face, and
when I showed the doctor out an hour later, and he told me that he would
be back directly, I knew that the end was near.

"'Mr. Brooks rang for me a minute or two later. He told me to send at
once for Mr. Wethered, or else for Mr. Hibbert, if Mr. Wethered could
not come. "I haven't many hours to live, John," he says to me--"my heart
is broke, the doctor says my heart is broke. A man shouldn't marry and
have children, John, for they will sooner or later break his heart." I
was so upset I couldn't speak; but I sent round at once for Mr.
Wethered, who came himself just about three o'clock that afternoon.

"'After he had been with my master about an hour I was called in, and
Mr. Wethered said to me that Mr. Brooks wished me and one other of us
servants to witness that he had signed a paper which was on a table by
his bedside. I called Pat Mooney, the head footman, and before us both
Mr. Brooks put his name at the bottom of that paper. Then Mr. Wethered
give me the pen and told me to write my name as a witness, and that Pat
Mooney was to do the same. After that we were both told that we could
go.'

"The old butler went on to explain that he was present in his late
master's room on the following day when the undertakers, who had come to
lay the dead man out, found a paper underneath his pillow. John O'Neill,
who recognized the paper as the one to which he had appended his
signature the day before, took it to Mr. Percival, and gave it into his
hands.

"In answer to Mr. Walter Hibbert, John asserted positively that he took
the paper from the undertaker's hand and went straight with it to Mr.
Percival's room.

"'He was alone,' said John; 'I gave him the paper. He just glanced at
it, and I thought he looked rather astonished, but he said nothing, and
I at once left the room.'

"'When you say that you recognized the paper as the one which you had
seen your master sign the day before, how did you actually recognize
that it was the same paper?' asked Mr. Hibbert amidst breathless
interest on the part of the spectators. I narrowly observed the
witness's face.

"'It looked exactly the same paper to me, sir,' replied John, somewhat
vaguely.

"'Did you look at the contents, then?'

"'No, sir; certainly not.'

"'Had you done so the day before?'

"'No, sir, only at my master's signature.'

"'Then you only thought by the _outside_ look of the paper that it was
the same?'

"'It looked the same thing, sir,' persisted John obstinately.

"You see," continued the man in the corner, leaning eagerly forward
across the narrow marble table, "the contention of Murray Brooks'
adviser was that Mr. Brooks, having made a will and hidden it--for some
reason or other under his pillow--that will had fallen, through the
means related by John O'Neill, into the hands of Mr. Percival Brooks,
who had destroyed it and substituted a forged one in its place, which
adjudged the whole of Mr. Brooks' millions to himself. It was a terrible
and very daring accusation directed against a gentleman who, in spite of
his many wild oats sowed in early youth, was a prominent and important
figure in Irish high life.

"All those present were aghast at what they heard, and the whispered
comments I could hear around me showed me that public opinion, at
least, did not uphold Mr. Murray Brooks' daring accusation against his
brother.

"But John O'Neill had not finished his evidence, and Mr. Walter Hibbert
had a bit of sensation still up his sleeve. He had, namely, produced a
paper, the will proved by Mr. Percival Brooks, and had asked John
O'Neill if once again he recognized the paper.

"'Certainly, sir,' said John unhesitatingly, 'that is the one the
undertaker found under my poor dead master's pillow, and which I took to
Mr. Percival's room immediately.'

"Then the paper was unfolded and placed before the witness.

"'Now, Mr. O'Neill, will you tell me if that is your signature?'

"John looked at it for a moment; then he said: 'Excuse me, sir,' and
produced a pair of spectacles which he carefully adjusted before he
again examined the paper. Then he thoughtfully shook his head.

"'It don't look much like my writing, sir,' he said at last. 'That is to
say,' he added, by way of elucidating the matter, 'it does look like my
writing, but then I don't think it is.'

"There was at that moment a look in Mr. Percival Brooks' face,"
continued the man in the corner quietly, "which then and there gave me
the whole history of that quarrel, that illness of Mr. Brooks, of the
will, aye! and of the murder of Patrick Wethered too.

"All I wondered at was how every one of those learned counsel on both
sides did not get the clue just the same as I did, but went on arguing,
speechifying, cross-examining for nearly a week, until they arrived at
the one conclusion which was inevitable from the very first, namely,
that the will _was_ a forgery--a gross, clumsy, idiotic forgery, since
both John O'Neill and Pat Mooney, the two witnesses, absolutely
repudiated the signatures as their own. The only successful bit of
caligraphy the forger had done was the signature of old Mr. Brooks.

"It was a very curious fact, and one which had undoubtedly aided the
forger in accomplishing his work quickly, that Mr. Wethered the lawyer
having, no doubt, realized that Mr. Brooks had not many moments in life
to spare, had not drawn up the usual engrossed, magnificent document
dear to the lawyer heart, but had used for his client's will one of
those regular printed forms which can be purchased at any stationer's.

"Mr. Percival Brooks, of course, flatly denied the serious allegation
brought against him. He admitted that the butler had brought him the
document the morning after his father's death, and that he certainly, on
glancing at it, had been very much astonished to see that that document
was his father's will. Against that he declared that its contents did
not astonish him in the slightest degree, that he himself knew of the
testator's intentions, but that he certainly thought his father had
entrusted the will to the care of Mr. Wethered, who did all his business
for him.

"'I only very cursorily glanced at the signature,' he concluded,
speaking in a perfectly calm, clear voice; 'you must understand that the
thought of forgery was very far from my mind, and that my father's
signature is exceedingly well imitated, if, indeed, it is not his own,
which I am not at all prepared to believe. As for the two witnesses'
signatures, I don't think I had ever seen them before. I took the
document to Messrs. Barkston and Maud, who had often done business for
me before, and they assured me that the will was in perfect form and
order.'

"Asked why he had not entrusted the will to his father's solicitors, he
replied:

"'For the very simple reason that exactly half an hour before the will
was placed in my hands, I had read that Mr. Patrick Wethered had been
murdered the night before. Mr. Hibbert, the junior partner, was not
personally known to me.'

"After that, for form's sake, a good deal of expert evidence was heard
on the subject of the dead man's signature. But that was quite
unanimous, and merely went to corroborate what had already been
established beyond a doubt, namely, that the will dated February 1st,
1908, was a forgery, and probate of the will dated 1891 was therefore
granted to Mr. Murray Brooks, the sole executor mentioned therein."




CHAPTER XXIII

A MEMORABLE DAY


"Two days later the police applied for a warrant for the arrest of Mr.
Percival Brooks on a charge of forgery.

"The Crown prosecuted, and Mr. Brooks had again the support of Mr.
Oranmore, the eminent K.C. Perfectly calm, like a man conscious of his
own innocence and unable to grasp the idea that justice does sometimes
miscarry, Mr. Brooks, the son of the millionaire, himself still the
possessor of a very large fortune under the former will, stood up in the
dock on that memorable day in October, 1908, which still no doubt lives
in the memory of his many friends.

"All the evidence with regard to Mr. Brooks' last moments and the forged
will was gone through over again. That will, it was the contention of
the Crown, had been forged so entirely in favour of the accused, cutting
out every one else, that obviously no one but the beneficiary under that
false will would have had any motive in forging it.

"Very pale, and with a frown between his deep-set, handsome Irish eyes,
Percival Brooks listened to this large volume of evidence piled up
against him by the Crown.

"At times he held brief consultations with Mr. Oranmore, who seemed as
cool as a cucumber. Have you ever seen Oranmore in court? He is a
character worthy of Dickens. His pronounced brogue, his fat, podgy,
clean-shaven face, his not always immaculately clean large hands, have
often delighted the caricaturist. As it very soon transpired during that
memorable magisterial inquiry, he relied for a verdict in favour of his
client upon two main points, and he had concentrated all his skill upon
making these two points as telling as he possibly could.

"The first point was the question of time, John O'Neill, cross-examined
by Oranmore, stated without hesitation that he had given the will to Mr.
Percival at eleven o'clock in the morning. And now the eminent K.C.
brought forward and placed in the witness-box the very lawyers into
whose hands the accused had then immediately placed the will. Now, Mr.
Barkston, a very well-known solicitor of King Street, declared
positively that Mr. Percival Brooks was in his office at a quarter
before twelve; two of his clerks testified to the same time exactly, and
it was _impossible_, contended Mr. Oranmore, that within three-quarters
of an hour Mr. Brooks could have gone to a stationer's, bought a will
form, copied Mr. Wethered's writing, his father's signature, and that
of John O'Neill and Pat Mooney.

"Such a thing might have been planned, arranged, practised, and
ultimately, after a great deal of trouble, successfully carried out, but
human intelligence could not grasp the other as a possibility.

"Still the judge wavered. The eminent K.C. had shaken but not shattered
his belief in the prisoner's guilt. But there was one point more, and
this Oranmore, with the skill of a dramatist, had reserved for the fall
of the curtain.

"He noted every sign in the judge's face, he guessed that his client was
not yet absolutely safe, then only did he produce his last two
witnesses.

"One of them was Mary Sullivan, one of the housemaids in the Fitzwilliam
mansion. She had been sent up by the cook at a quarter past four o'clock
on the afternoon of February 1st with some hot water, which the nurse
had ordered, for the master's room. Just as she was about to knock at
the door Mr. Wethered was coming out of the room. Mary stopped with the
tray in her hand, and at the door Mr. Wethered turned and said quite
loudly: 'Now, don't fret, don't be anxious; do try and be calm. Your
will is safe in my pocket, nothing can change it or alter one word of it
but yourself.'

"It was, of course, a very ticklish point in law whether the
housemaid's evidence could be accepted. You see, she was quoting the
words of a man since dead, spoken to another man also dead. There is no
doubt that had there been very strong evidence on the other side against
Percival Brooks, Mary Sullivan's would have counted for nothing; but, as
I told you before, the judge's belief in the prisoner's guilt was
already very seriously shaken, and now the final blow aimed at it by Mr.
Oranmore shattered his last lingering doubts.

"Dr. Mulligan, namely, had been placed by Mr. Oranmore into the
witness-box. He was a medical man of unimpeachable authority, in fact,
absolutely at the head of his profession in Dublin. What he said
practically corroborated Mary Sullivan's testimony. He had gone in to
see Mr. Brooks at half-past four, and understood from him that his
lawyer had just left him.

"Mr. Brooks certainly, though terribly weak, was calm and more composed.
He was dying from a sudden heart attack, and Dr. Mulligan foresaw the
almost immediate end. But he was still conscious and managed to murmur
feebly: 'I feel much easier in my mind now, doctor--have made my
will--Wethered has been--he's got it in his pocket--it is safe
there--safe from that--' But the words died on his lips, and after that
he spoke but little. He saw his two sons before he died, but hardly
knew them or even looked at them.

"You see," concluded the man in the corner, "you see that the
prosecution was bound to collapse. Oranmore did not give it a leg to
stand on. The will was forged, it is true, forged in the favour of
Percival Brooks and of no one else, forged for him and for his benefit.
Whether he knew and connived at the forgery was never proved or, as far
as I know, even hinted, but it was impossible to go against all the
evidence, which pointed that, as far as the act itself was concerned, he
at least was innocent. You see, Dr. Mulligan's evidence was not to be
shaken. Mary Sullivan's was equally strong.

"There were two witnesses swearing positively that old Brooks' will was
in Mr. Wethered's keeping when that gentleman left the Fitzwilliam
mansion at a quarter past four. At five o'clock in the afternoon the
lawyer was found dead in Phoenix Park. Between a quarter past four and
eight o'clock in the evening Percival Brooks never left the house--that
was subsequently proved by Oranmore up to the hilt and beyond a doubt.
Since the will found under old Brooks' pillow was a forged will, where
then was the will he did make, and which Wethered carried away with him
in his pocket?"

"Stolen, of course," said Polly, "by those who murdered and robbed him;
it may have been of no value to them, but they naturally would destroy
it, lest it might prove a clue against them."

"Then you think it was mere coincidence?" he asked excitedly.

"What?"

"That Wethered was murdered and robbed at the very moment that he
carried the will in his pocket, whilst another was being forged in its
place?"

"It certainly would be very curious, if it _were_ a coincidence," she
said musingly.

"Very," he repeated with biting sarcasm, whilst nervously his bony
fingers played with the inevitable bit of string. "Very curious indeed.
Just think of the whole thing. There was the old man with all his
wealth, and two sons, one to whom he is devoted, and the other with whom
he does nothing but quarrel. One day there is another of these quarrels,
but more violent, more terrible than any that have previously occurred,
with the result that the father, heartbroken by it all, has an attack of
apoplexy and practically dies of a broken heart. After that he alters
his will, and subsequently a will is proved which turns out to be a
forgery.

"Now everybody--police, press, and public alike--at once jump to the
conclusion that, as Percival Brooks benefits by that forged will,
Percival Brooks must be the forger."

"Seek for him whom the crime benefits, is your own axiom," argued the
girl.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Percival Brooks benefited to the tune of £2,000,000."

"I beg your pardon. He did nothing of the sort. He was left with less
than half the share that his younger brother inherited."

"Now, yes; but that was a former will and--"

"And that forged will was so clumsily executed, the signature so
carelessly imitated, that the forgery was bound to come to light. Did
_that_ never strike you?"

"Yes, but--"

"There is no but," he interrupted. "It was all as clear as daylight to
me from the very first. The quarrel with the old man, which broke his
heart, was not with his eldest son, with whom he was used to
quarrelling, but with the second son whom he idolised, in whom he
believed. Don't you remember how John O'Neill heard the words 'liar' and
'deceit'? Percival Brooks had never deceived his father. His sins were
all on the surface. Murray had led a quiet life, had pandered to his
father, and fawned upon him, until, like most hypocrites, he at last got
found out. Who knows what ugly gambling debt or debt of honour, suddenly
revealed to old Brooks, was the cause of that last and deadly quarrel?

"You remember that it was Percival who remained beside his father and
carried him up to his room. Where was Murray throughout that long and
painful day, when his father lay dying--he, the idolised son, the apple
of the old man's eye? You never hear his name mentioned as being present
there all that day. But he knew that he had offended his father
mortally, and that his father meant to cut him off with a shilling. He
knew that Mr. Wethered had been sent for, that Wethered left the house
soon after four o'clock.

"And here the cleverness of the man comes in. Having lain in wait for
Wethered and knocked him on the back of the head with a stick, he could
not very well make that will disappear altogether. There remained the
faint chance of some other witnesses knowing that Mr. Brooks had made a
fresh will, Mr. Wethered's partner, his clerk, or one of the
confidential servants in the house. Therefore _a_ will must be
discovered after the old man's death.

"Now, Murray Brooks was not an expert forger, it takes years of training
to become that. A forged will executed by himself would be sure to be
found out--yes, that's it, sure to be found out. The forgery will be
palpable--let it be palpable, and then it will be found out, branded as
such, and the original will of 1891, so favourable to the young
blackguard's interests, would be held as valid. Was it devilry or
merely additional caution which prompted Murray to pen that forged will
so glaringly in Percival's favour? It is impossible to say.

"Anyhow, it was the cleverest touch in that marvellously devised crime.
To plan that evil deed was great, to execute it was easy enough. He had
several hours' leisure in which to do it. Then at night it was
simplicity itself to slip the document under the dead man's pillow.
Sacrilege causes no shudder to such natures as Murray Brooks. The rest
of the drama you know already--"

"But Percival Brooks?"

"The jury returned a verdict of 'Not guilty.' There was no evidence
against him."

"But the money? Surely the scoundrel does not have the enjoyment of it
still?"

"No; he enjoyed it for a time, but he died, about three months ago, and
forgot to take the precaution of making a will, so his brother Percival
has got the business after all. If you ever go to Dublin, I should order
some of Brooks' bacon if I were you. It is very good."




CHAPTER XXIV

AN UNPARALLELED OUTRAGE


"Do you care for the seaside?" asked the man in the corner when he had
finished his lunch. "I don't mean the seaside at Ostend or Trouville,
but honest English seaside with nigger minstrels, three-shilling
excursionists, and dirty, expensive furnished apartments, where they
charge you a shilling for lighting the hall gas on Sundays and sixpence
on other evenings. Do you care for that?"

"I prefer the country."

"Ah! perhaps it is preferable. Personally I only liked one of our
English seaside resorts once, and that was for a week, when Edward
Skinner was up before the magistrate, charged with what was known as the
'Brighton Outrage.' I don't know if you remember the memorable day in
Brighton, memorable for that elegant town, which deals more in
amusements than mysteries, when Mr. Francis Morton, one of its most
noted residents, disappeared. Yes! disappeared as completely as any
vanishing lady in a music-hall. He was wealthy, had a fine house,
servants, a wife and children, and he disappeared. There was no getting
away from that.

"Mr. Francis Morton lived with his wife in one of the large houses in
Sussex Square at the Kemp Town end of Brighton. Mrs. Morton was well
known for her Americanisms, her swagger dinner parties, and beautiful
Paris gowns. She was the daughter of one of the many American
millionaires (I think her father was a Chicago pork-butcher), who
conveniently provide wealthy wives for English gentlemen; and she had
married Mr. Francis Morton a few years ago and brought him her quarter
of a million, for no other reason but that she fell in love with him. He
was neither good-looking nor distinguished, in fact, he was one of those
men who seem to have CITY stamped all over their person.

"He was a gentleman of very regular habits, going up to London every
morning on business and returning every afternoon by the 'husband's
train.' So regular was he in these habits that all the servants at the
Sussex Square house were betrayed into actual gossip over the fact that
on Wednesday, March 17th, the master was not home for dinner. Hales, the
butler, remarked that the mistress seemed a bit anxious and didn't eat
much food. The evening wore on and Mr. Morton did not appear. At nine
o'clock the young footman was dispatched to the station to make
inquiries whether his master had been seen there in the afternoon, or
whether--which Heaven forbid--there had been an accident on the line.
The young man interviewed two or three porters, the bookstall boy, and
ticket clerk; all were agreed that Mr. Morton did not go up to London
during the day; no one had seen him within the precincts of the station.
There certainly had been no accident reported either on the up or down
line.

"But the morning of the 18th came, with its initial postman's knock, but
neither Mr. Morton nor any sign or news from him. Mrs. Morton, who
evidently had spent a sleepless night, for she looked sadly changed and
haggard, sent a wire to the hall porter at the large building in Cannon
Street, where her husband had his office. An hour later she had the
reply: 'Not seen Mr. Morton all day yesterday, not here to-day.' By the
afternoon every one in Brighton knew that a fellow-resident had
mysteriously disappeared from or in the city.

"A couple of days, then another, elapsed, and still no sign of Mr.
Morton. The police were doing their best. The gentleman was so well
known in Brighton--as he had been a resident two years--that it was not
difficult to firmly establish the one fact that he had not left the
city, since no one saw him in the station on the morning of the 17th,
nor at any time since then. Mild excitement prevailed throughout the
town. At first the newspapers took the matter somewhat jocosely. 'Where
is Mr. Morton?' was the usual placard on the evening's contents bills,
but after three days had gone by and the worthy Brighton resident was
still missing, while Mrs. Morton was seen to look more haggard and
careworn every day, mild excitement gave place to anxiety.

"There were vague hints now as to foul play. The news had leaked out
that the missing gentleman was carrying a large sum of money on the day
of his disappearance. There were also vague rumours of a scandal not
unconnected with Mrs. Morton herself and her own past history, which in
her anxiety for her husband she had been forced to reveal to the
detective-inspector in charge of the case.

"Then on Saturday the news which the late evening papers contained was
this:

"'Acting on certain information received, the police to-day forced an
entrance into one of the rooms of Russell House, a high-class furnished
apartment on the King's Parade, and there they discovered our missing
distinguished townsman, Mr. Francis Morton, who had been robbed and
subsequently locked up in that room since Wednesday, the 17th. When
discovered he was in the last stages of inanition; he was tied into an
arm-chair with ropes, a thick wool shawl had been wound round his mouth,
and it is a positive marvel that, left thus without food and very
little air, the unfortunate gentleman survived the horrors of these four
days of incarceration.

"'He has been conveyed to his residence in Sussex Square, and we are
pleased to say that Doctor Mellish, who is in attendance, has declared
his patient to be out of serious danger, and that with care and rest he
will be soon quite himself again.

"'At the same time our readers will learn with unmixed satisfaction that
the police of our city, with their usual acuteness and activity, have
already discovered the identity and whereabouts of the cowardly ruffian
who committed this unparalleled outrage.'"




CHAPTER XXV

THE PRISONER


"I really don't know," continued the man in the corner blandly, "what it
was that interested me in the case from the very first. Certainly it had
nothing very out of the way or mysterious about it, but I journeyed down
to Brighton nevertheless, as I felt that something deeper and more
subtle lay behind that extraordinary assault, following a robbery, no
doubt.

"I must tell you that the police had allowed it to be freely circulated
abroad that they held a clue. It had been easy enough to ascertain who
the lodger was who had rented the furnished room in Russell House. His
name was supposed to be Edward Skinner, and he had taken the room about
a fortnight ago, but had gone away ostensibly for two or three days on
the very day of Mr. Morton's mysterious disappearance. It was on the
20th that Mr. Morton was found, and thirty-six hours later the public
were gratified to hear that Mr. Edward Skinner had been traced to London
and arrested on the charge of assault upon the person of Mr. Francis
Morton and of robbing him of the sum of £10,000.

"Then a further sensation was added to the already bewildering case by
the startling announcement that Mr. Francis Morton refused to prosecute.

"Of course, the Treasury took up the case and subpoenaed Mr. Morton as a
witness, so that gentleman--if he wished to hush the matter up, or had
been in any way terrorised into a promise of doing so--gained nothing by
his refusal, except an additional amount of curiosity in the public mind
and further sensation around the mysterious case.

"It was all this, you see, which had interested me and brought me down
to Brighton on March 23rd to see the prisoner Edward Skinner arraigned
before the beak. I must say that he was a very ordinary-looking
individual. Fair, of ruddy complexion, with snub nose and the beginning
of a bald place on the top of his head, he, too, looked the embodiment
of a prosperous, stodgy 'City gent.'

"I took a quick survey of the witnesses present, and guessed that the
handsome, stylish woman sitting next to Mr. Reginald Pepys, the noted
lawyer for the Crown, was Mrs. Morton.

"There was a large crowd in court, and I heard whispered comments among
the feminine portion thereof as to the beauty of Mrs. Morton's gown,
the value of her large picture hat, and the magnificence of her diamond
rings.

"The police gave all the evidence required with regard to the finding of
Mr. Morton in the room at Russell House and also to the arrest of
Skinner at the Langham Hotel in London. It appears that the prisoner
seemed completely taken aback at the charge preferred against him, and
declared that though he knew Mr. Francis Morton slightly in business he
knew nothing as to his private life.

"'Prisoner stated,' continued Inspector Buckle, 'that he was not even
aware Mr. Morton lived in Brighton, but I have evidence here, which I
will place before your Honour, to prove that the prisoner was seen in
the company of Mr. Morton at 9.30 o'clock on the morning of the
assault.'

"Cross-examined by Mr. Matthew Quiller, the detective-inspector admitted
that prisoner merely said that he did not know that Mr. Morton was a
_resident_ of Brighton--he never denied having met him there.

"The witness, or rather witnesses, referred to by the police were two
Brighton tradesmen who knew Mr. Morton by sight and had seen him on the
morning of the 17th walking with the accused.

"In this instance Mr. Quiller had no question to ask of the witnesses,
and it was generally understood that the prisoner did not wish to
contradict their statement.

"Constable Hartrick told the story of the finding of the unfortunate
Mr. Morton after his four days' incarceration. The constable had been
sent round by the chief inspector, after certain information given by
Mrs. Chapman, the landlady of Russell House. He had found the door
locked and forced it open. Mr. Morton was in an arm-chair, with several
yards of rope wound loosely round him; he was almost unconscious, and
there was a thick wool shawl tied round his mouth which must have
deadened any cry or groan the poor gentleman might have uttered. But, as
a matter of fact, the constable was under the impression that Mr. Morton
had been either drugged or stunned in some way at first, which had left
him weak and faint and prevented him from making himself heard or
extricating himself from his bonds, which were very clumsily, evidently
very hastily, wound round his body.

"The medical officer who was called in, and also Dr. Mellish who
attended Mr. Morton, both said that he seemed dazed by some stupefying
drug, and also, of course, terribly weak and faint with the want of
food.

"The first witness of real importance was Mrs. Chapman, the proprietress
of Russell House, whose original information to the police led to the
discovery of Mr. Morton. In answer to Mr. Pepys, she said that on March
1st the accused called at her house and gave his name as Mr. Edward
Skinner.

"'He required, he said, a furnished room at a moderate rental for a
permanency, with full attendance when he was in, but he added that he
would often be away for two or three days, or even longer, at a time.

"'He told me that he was a traveller for a tea-house,' continued Mrs.
Chapman, 'and I showed him the front room on the third floor, as he did
not want to pay more than twelve shillings a week. I asked him for a
reference, but he put three sovereigns in my hand, and said with a laugh
that he supposed paying for his room a month in advance was sufficient
reference; if I didn't like him after that, I could give him a week's
notice to quit.'

"'You did not think of asking him the name of the firm for which he
travelled?' asked Mr. Pepys.

"'No, I was quite satisfied as he paid me for the room. The next day he
sent in his luggage and took possession of the room. He went out most
mornings on business, but was always in Brighton for Saturday and
Sunday. On the 16th he told me that he was going to Liverpool for a
couple of days; he slept in the house that night, and went off early on
the 17th, taking his portmanteau with him.'

"'At what time did he leave?' asked Mr. Pepys.

"'I couldn't say exactly,' replied Mrs. Chapman with some hesitation.
'You see this is the off season here. None of my rooms are let, except
the one to Mr. Skinner, and I only have one servant. I keep four during
the summer, autumn, and winter season,' she added with conscious pride,
fearing that her former statement might prejudice the reputation of
Russell House. 'I thought I had heard Mr. Skinner go out about nine
o'clock, but about an hour later the girl and I were both in the
basement, and we heard the front door open and shut with a bang, and
then a step in the hall.

"'"That's Mr. Skinner," said Mary. "So it is," I said, "why, I thought
he had gone an hour ago." "He did go out then," said Mary, "for he left
his bedroom door open and I went in to do his bed and tidy his room."
"Just go and see if that's him, Mary," I said, and Mary ran up to the
hall and up the stairs, and came back to tell me that that was Mr.
Skinner all right enough; he had gone straight up to his room. Mary
didn't see him, but he had another gentleman with him, as she could hear
them talking in Mr. Skinner's room.'

"'Then you can't tell us at what time the prisoner left the house
finally?'

"'No, that I can't. I went out shopping soon after that. When I came in
it was twelve o'clock. I went up to the third floor and found that Mr.
Skinner had locked his door and taken the key with him. As I knew Mary
had already done, the room I did not trouble more about it, though I did
think it strange for a gentleman to look up his room and not leave the
key with me.'

"'And, of course, you heard no noise of any kind in the room then?'

"'No. Not that day or the next, but on the third day Mary and I both
thought we heard a funny sound. I said that Mr. Skinner had left his
window open, and it was the blind flapping against the window-pane; but
when we heard that funny noise again I put my ear to the keyhole and I
thought I could hear a groan. I was very frightened, and sent Mary for
the police.'

"Mrs. Chapman had nothing more of interest to say. The prisoner
certainly was her lodger. She had last seen him on the evening of the
16th going up to his room with his candle. Mary the servant had much the
same story to relate as her mistress.

"'I think it was 'im, right enough,' said Mary guardedly. 'I didn't see
'im, but I went up to 'is landing and stopped a moment outside 'is door.
I could 'ear loud voices in the room--gentlemen talking.'

"'I suppose you would not do such a thing as to listen, Mary?' queried
Mr. Pepys with a smile.

"'No, sir,' said Mary with a bland smile, 'I didn't catch what the
gentlemen said, but one of them spoke so loud I thought they must be
quarrelling.'

"'Mr. Skinner was the only person in possession of a latch-key, I
presume. No one else could have come in without ringing at the door?'

"'Oh no, sir.'

"That was all. So far, you see, the case was progressing splendidly for
the Crown against the prisoner. The contention, of course, was that
Skinner had met Mr. Morton, brought him home with him, assaulted,
drugged, then gagged and bound him, and finally robbed him of whatever
money he had in his possession, which, according to certain affidavits
which presently would be placed before the magistrate, amounted to
£10,000 in notes.

"But in all this there still remained the great element of mystery for
which the public and the magistrate would demand an explanation: namely,
what were the relationships between Mr. Morton and Skinner, which had
induced the former to refuse the prosecution of the man who had not only
robbed him, but had so nearly succeeded in leaving him to die a terrible
and lingering death?

"Mr. Morton was too ill as yet to appear in person. Dr. Mellish had
absolutely forbidden his patient to undergo the fatigue and excitement
of giving evidence himself in court that day. But his depositions had
been taken at his bedside, were sworn to by him, and were now placed
before the magistrate by the prosecuting counsel, and the facts they
revealed were certainly as remarkable as they were brief and
enigmatical.

"As they were read by Mr. Pepys, an awed and expectant hush seemed to
descend over the large crowd gathered there, and all necks were strained
eagerly forward to catch a glimpse of a tall, elegant woman, faultlessly
dressed and wearing exquisite jewellery, but whose handsome face wore,
as the prosecuting counsel read her husband's deposition, a more and
more ashen hue.

"'This, your Honour, is the statement made upon oath by Mr. Francis
Morton,' commenced Mr. Pepys in that loud, sonorous voice of his which
sounds so impressive in a crowded and hushed court. '"I was obliged, for
certain reasons which I refuse to disclose, to make a payment of a large
sum of money to a man whom I did not know and have never seen. It was in
a matter of which my wife was cognisant and which had entirely to do
with her own affairs. I was merely the go-between, as I thought it was
not fit that she should see to this matter herself. The individual in
question had made certain demands, of which she kept me in ignorance as
long as she could, not wishing to unnecessarily worry me. At last she
decided to place the whole matter before me, and I agreed with her that
it would be best to satisfy the man's demands.

"'"I then wrote to that individual whose name I do not wish to disclose,
addressing the letter, as my wife directed me to do, to the Brighton
post office, saying that I was ready to pay the £10,000 to him, at any
place or time and in what manner he might appoint. I received a reply
which bore the Brighton postmark, and which desired me to be outside
Furnival's, the drapers, in West Street, at 9.30 on the morning of March
17th, and to bring the money (£10,000) in Bank of England notes.

"'"On the 16th my wife gave me a cheque for the amount and I cashed it
at her bank--Bird's in Fleet Street. At half-past nine the following
morning I was at the appointed place. An individual wearing a grey
overcoat, bowler hat, and red tie accosted me by name and requested me
to walk as far as his lodgings in the King's Parade. I followed him.
Neither of us spoke. He stopped at a house which bore the name 'Russell
House,' and which I shall be able to swear to as soon as I am able to go
out. He let himself in with a latch-key, and asked me to follow him up
to his room on the third floor. I thought I noticed when we were in the
room that he locked the door; however, I had nothing of any value about
me except the £10,000, which I was ready to give him. We had not
exchanged the slightest word.

"'"I gave him the notes, and he folded them and put them in his
pocket-book. Then I turned towards the door, and, without the slightest
warning, I felt myself suddenly gripped by the shoulder, while a
handkerchief was pressed to my nose and mouth. I struggled as best I
could, but the handkerchief was saturated with chloroform, and I soon
lost consciousness. I hazily remember the man saying to me in short,
jerky sentences, spoken at intervals while I was still weakly
struggling:

"'"'What a fool you must think me, my dear sir! Did you really think
that I was going to let you quietly walk out of here, straight to the
police-station, eh? Such dodges have been done before, I know, when a
man's silence has to be bought for money. Find out who he is, see where
he lives, give him the money, then inform against him. No you don't! not
this time. I am off to the Continent with this £10,000, and I can get
to Newhaven in time for the midday boat, so you'll have to keep quiet
until I am the other side of the Channel, my friend. You won't be much
inconvenienced; my landlady will hear your groans presently and release
you, so you'll be all right. There, now, drink this--that's better.' He
forced something bitter down my throat, then I remember nothing more.

"'"When I regained consciousness I was sitting in an arm-chair with some
rope tied round me and a wool shawl round my mouth. I hadn't the
strength to make the slightest effort to disentangle myself or to utter
a scream. I felt terribly sick and faint."'

"Mr. Reginald Pepys had finished reading, and no one in that crowded
court had thought of uttering a sound; the magistrate's eyes were fixed
upon the handsome lady in the magnificent gown, who was mopping her eyes
with a dainty lace handkerchief.

"The extraordinary narrative of the victim of so daring an outrage had
kept every one in suspense; one thing was still expected to make the
measure of sensation as full as it had ever been over any criminal case,
and that was Mrs. Morton's evidence. She was called by the prosecuting
counsel, and slowly, gracefully, she entered the witness-box. There was
no doubt that she had felt keenly the tortures which her husband had
undergone, and also the humiliation of seeing her name dragged forcibly
into this ugly, blackmailing scandal.

"Closely questioned by Mr. Reginald Pepys, she was forced to admit that
the man who blackmailed her was connected with her early life in a way
which would have brought terrible disgrace upon her and upon her
children. The story she told, amidst many tears and sobs, and much use
of her beautiful lace handkerchief and beringed hands, was exceedingly
pathetic.

"It appears that when she was barely seventeen she was inveigled into a
secret marriage with one of those foreign adventurers who swarm in every
country, and who styled himself Comte Armand de la Tremouille. He seems
to have been a blackguard of unusually low pattern, for, after he had
extracted from her some £200 of her pin money and a few diamond
brooches, he left her one fine day with a laconic word to say that he
was sailing for Europe by the _Argentina_, and would not be back for
some time. She was in love with the brute, poor young soul, for when, a
week later, she read that the _Argentina_ was wrecked, and presumably
every soul on board had perished, she wept very many bitter tears over
her early widowhood.

"Fortunately her father, a very wealthy pork-butcher of Chicago, had
known nothing of his daughter's culpable foolishness. Four years later
he took her to London, where she met Mr. Francis Morton and married him.
She led six or seven years of very happy married life when one day, like
a thunderbolt from a clear, blue sky, she received a typewritten letter,
signed 'Armand de la Tremouille,' full of protestations of undying love,
telling a long and pathetic tale of years of suffering in a foreign
land, whither he had drifted after having been rescued almost
miraculously from the wreck of the _Argentina_, and where he never had
been able to scrape a sufficient amount of money to pay for his passage
home. At last fate had favoured him. He had, after many vicissitudes,
found the whereabouts of his dear wife, and was now ready to forgive all
that was past and take her to his loving arms once again.

"What followed was the usual course of events when there is a blackguard
and a fool of a woman. She was terrorised and did not dare to tell her
husband for some time; she corresponded with the Comte de la Tremouille,
begging him for her sake and in memory of the past not to attempt to see
her. She found him amenable to reason in the shape of several hundred
pounds which passed through the Brighton post office into his hands. At
last one day, by accident, Mr. Morton came across one of the Comte de la
Tremouille's interesting letters. She confessed everything, throwing
herself upon her husband's mercy.

"Now, Mr. Francis Morton was a business man, who viewed life practically
and soberly. He liked his wife, who kept him in luxury, and wished to
keep her, whereas the Comte de la Tremouille seemed willing enough to
give her up for a consideration. Mrs. Morton, who had the sole and
absolute control of her fortune, on the other hand, was willing enough
to pay the price and hush up the scandal, which she believed--since she
was a bit of a fool--would land her in prison for bigamy. Mr. Francis
Morton wrote to the Comte de la Tremouille that his wife was ready to
pay him the sum of £10,000 which he demanded in payment for her absolute
liberty and his own complete disappearance out of her life now and for
ever. The appointment was made, and Mr. Morton left his house at 9 a.m.
on March 17th with the £10,000 in his pocket.

"The public and the magistrate had hung breathless upon her words. There
was nothing but sympathy felt for this handsome woman, who throughout
had been more sinned against than sinning, and whose gravest fault seems
to have been a total lack of intelligence in dealing with her own life.
But I can assure you of one thing, that in no case within my
recollection was there ever such a sensation in a court as when the
magistrate, after a few minutes' silence, said gently to Mrs. Morton:

"'And now, Mrs. Morton, will you kindly look at the prisoner, and tell
me if in him you recognize your former husband?'

"And she, without even turning to look at the accused, said quietly:

"'Oh no! your Honour! of course that man is _not_ the Comte de la
Tremouille.'"




CHAPTER XXVI

A SENSATION


"I can assure you that the situation was quite dramatic," continued the
man in the corner, whilst his funny, claw-like hands took up a bit of
string with renewed feverishness.

"In answer to further questions from the magistrate, she declared that
she had never seen the accused; he might have been the go-between,
however, that she could not say. The letters she received were all
typewritten, but signed 'Armand de la Tremouille,' and certainly the
signature was identical with that on the letters she used to receive
from him years ago, all of which she had kept.

"'And did it _never_ strike you,' asked the magistrate with a smile,
'that the letters you received might be forgeries?'

"'How could they be?' she replied decisively; no one knew of my marriage
to the Comte de la Tremouille, no one in England certainly. And,
besides, if some one did know the Comte intimately enough to forge his
handwriting and to blackmail me, why should that some one have waited
all these years? I have been married seven years, your Honour.'

"That was true enough, and there the matter rested as far as she was
concerned. But the identity of Mr. Francis Morton's assailant had to be
finally established, of course, before the prisoner was committed for
trial. Dr. Mellish promised that Mr. Morton would be allowed to come to
court for half an hour and identify the accused on the following day,
and the case was adjourned until then. The accused was led away between
two constables, bail being refused, and Brighton had perforce to
moderate its impatience until the Wednesday.

"On that day the court was crowded to overflowing; actors, playwrights,
literary men of all sorts had fought for admission to study for
themselves the various phases and faces in connection with the case.
Mrs. Morton was not present when the prisoner, quiet and self-possessed,
was brought in and placed in the dock. His solicitor was with him, and a
sensational defence was expected.

"Presently there was a stir in the court, and that certain sound, half
rustle, half sigh, which preludes an expected palpitating event. Mr.
Morton, pale, thin, wearing yet in his hollow eyes the stamp of those
five days of suffering, walked into court leaning on the arm of his
doctor--Mrs. Morton was not with him.

"He was at once accommodated with a chair in the witness-box, and the
magistrate, after a few words of kindly sympathy, asked him if he had
anything to add to his written statement. On Mr. Morton replying in the
negative, the magistrate added:

"'And now, Mr. Morton, will you kindly look at the accused in the dock
and tell me whether you recognize the person who took you to the room in
Russell House and then assaulted you?'

"Slowly the sick man turned towards the prisoner and looked at him; then
he shook his head and replied quietly:

"'No, sir, that certainly was not the man.'

"'You are quite sure?' asked the magistrate in amazement, while the
crowd literally gasped with wonder.

"'I swear it,' asserted Mr. Morton.

"'Can you describe the man who assaulted you?'

"'Certainly. He was dark, of swarthy complexion, tall, thin, with bushy
eyebrows and thick black hair and short beard. He spoke English with
just the faintest suspicion of a foreign accent.'

"The prisoner, as I told you before, was English in every feature.
English in his ruddy complexion, and absolutely English in his speech.

"After that the case for the prosecution began to collapse. Every one
had expected a sensational defence, and Mr. Matthew Quiller, counsel
for Skinner, fully justified all these expectations. He had no fewer
than four witnesses present who swore positively that at 9.45 a.m. on
the morning of Wednesday, March 17th, the prisoner was in the express
train leaving Brighton for Victoria.

"Not being endowed with the gift of being in two places at once, and Mr.
Morton having added the whole weight of his own evidence in Mr. Edward
Skinner's favour, that gentleman was once more remanded by the
magistrate, pending further investigation by the police, bail being
allowed this time in two sureties of £50 each."




CHAPTER XXVII

TWO BLACKGUARDS


"Tell me what you think of it," said the man in the corner, seeing that
Polly remained silent and puzzled.

"Well," she replied dubiously, "I suppose that the so-called Armand de
la Tremouille's story was true in substance. That he did not perish on
the _Argentina_, but drifted home, and blackmailed his former wife."

"Doesn't it strike you that there are at least two very strong points
against that theory?" he asked, making two gigantic knots in his piece
of string.

"Two?"

"Yes. In the first place, if the blackmailer was the 'Comte de la
Tremouille' returned to life, why should he have been content to take
£10,000 from a lady who was his lawful wife, and who could keep him in
luxury for the rest of his natural life upon her large fortune, which
was close upon a quarter of a million? The real Comte de la Tremouille,
remember, had never found it difficult to get money out of his wife
during their brief married life, whatever Mr. Morton's subsequent
experience in the same direction might have been. And, secondly, why
should he have typewritten his letters to his wife?"

"Because--"

"That was a point which, to my mind, the police never made the most of.
Now, my experience in criminal cases has invariably been that when a
typewritten letter figures in one, that letter is a forgery. It is not
very difficult to imitate a signature, but it is a jolly sight more
difficult to imitate a handwriting throughout an entire letter."

"Then, do you think--"

"I think, if you will allow me," he interrupted excitedly, "that we will
go through the points--the sensible, tangible points of the case.
Firstly: Mr. Morton disappears with £10,000 in his pocket for four
entire days; at the end of that time he is discovered loosely tied to an
arm-chair, and a wool shawl round his mouth. Secondly: A man named
Skinner is accused of the outrage. Mr. Morton, although he himself is
able, mind you, to furnish the best defence possible for Skinner, by
denying his identity with the man who assaulted him, refuses to
prosecute. Why?"

"He did not wish to drag his wife's name into the case."

"He must have known that the Crown would take up the case. Then, again,
how is it no one saw him in the company of the swarthy foreigner he
described?"

"Two witnesses did see Mr. Morton in company with Skinner," argued
Polly.

"Yes, at 9.20 in West Street; that would give Edward Skinner time to
catch the 9.45 at the station, and to entrust Mr. Morton with the
latch-key of Russell House," remarked the man in the corner dryly.

"What nonsense!" Polly ejaculated.

"Nonsense, is it?" he said, tugging wildly at his bit of string; "is it
nonsense to affirm that if a man wants to make sure that his victim
shall not escape, he does not usually wind rope 'loosely' round his
figure, nor does he throw a wool shawl lightly round his mouth. The
police were idiotic beyond words; they themselves discovered that Morton
was so 'loosely' fastened to his chair that very little movement would
have disentangled him, and yet it never struck them that nothing was
easier for that particular type of scoundrel to sit down in an arm-chair
and wind a few yards of rope round himself, then, having wrapped a wool
shawl round his throat, to slip his two arms inside the ropes."

"But what object would a man in Mr. Morton's position have for playing
such extraordinary pranks?"

"Ah, the motive! There you are! What do I always tell you? Seek the
motive! Now, what was Mr. Morton's position? He was the husband of a
lady who owned a quarter of a million of money, not one penny of which
he could touch without her consent, as it was settled on herself, and
who, after the terrible way in which she had been plundered and then
abandoned in her early youth, no doubt kept a very tight hold upon the
purse-strings. Mr. Morton's subsequent life has proved that he had
certain expensive, not altogether avowable, tastes. One day he discovers
the old love letters of the 'Comte Armand de la Tremouille.'

"Then he lays his plans. He typewrites a letter, forges the signature of
the erstwhile Count, and awaits events. The fish does rise to the bait.
He gets sundry bits of money, and his success makes him daring. He looks
round him for an accomplice--clever, unscrupulous, greedy--and selects
Mr. Edward Skinner, probably some former pal of his wild oats days.

"The plan was very neat, you must confess. Mr. Skinner takes the room in
Russell House, and studies all the manners and customs of his landlady
and her servant. He then draws the full attention of the police upon
himself. He meets Morton in West Street, then disappears ostensibly
after the 'assault.' In the meanwhile Morton goes to Russell House. He
walks upstairs, talks loudly in the room, then makes elaborate
preparations for his comedy."

"Why! he nearly died of starvation!"

"That, I dare say, was not a part of his reckoning. He thought, no
doubt, that Mrs. Chapman or the servant would discover and rescue him
pretty soon. He meant to appear just a little faint, and endured quietly
the first twenty-four hours of inanition. But the excitement and want of
food told on him more than he expected. After twenty-four hours he
turned very giddy and sick, and, falling from one fainting fit into
another, was unable to give the alarm.

"However, he is all right again now, and concludes his part of a
downright blackguard to perfection. Under the plea that his conscience
does not allow him to live with a lady whose first husband is still
alive, he has taken a bachelor flat in London, and only pays afternoon
calls on his wife in Brighton. But presently he will tire of his
bachelor life, and will return to his wife. And I'll guarantee that the
Comte de la Tremouille will never be heard of again."

And that afternoon the man in the corner left Miss Polly Burton alone
with a couple of photos of two uininteresting, stodgy, quiet-looking
men--Morton and Skinner--who, if the old scarecrow was right in his
theories, wore a pair of the finest blackguards unhung.




CHAPTER XXVIII

THE REGENT'S PARK MURDER


By this time Miss Polly Burton had become quite accustomed to her
extraordinary _vis-à-vis_ in the corner.

He was always there, when she arrived, in the selfsame corner, dressed
in one of his remarkable check tweed suits; he seldom said good morning,
and invariably when she appeared he began to fidget with increased
nervousness, with some tattered and knotty piece of string.

"Were you ever interested in the Regent's Park murder?" he asked her one
day.

Polly replied that she had forgotten most of the particulars connected
with that curious murder, but that she fully remembered the stir and
flutter it had caused in a certain section of London Society.

"The racing and gambling set, particularly, you mean," he said. "All the
persons implicated in the murder, directly or indirectly, were of the
type commonly called 'Society men,' or 'men about town,' whilst the
Harewood Club in Hanover Square, round which centred all the scandal in
connection with the murder, was one of the smartest clubs in London.

"Probably the doings of the Harewood Club, which was essentially a
gambling club, would for ever have remained 'officially' absent from the
knowledge of the police authorities but for the murder in the Regent's
Park and the revelations which came to light in connection with it.

"I dare say you know the quiet square which lies between Portland Place
and the Regent's Park and is called Park Crescent at its south end, and
subsequently Park Square East and West. The Marylebone Road, with all
its heavy traffic, cuts straight across the large square and its pretty
gardens, but the latter are connected together by a tunnel under the
road; and of course you must remember that the new tube station in the
south portion of the Square had not yet been planned.

"February 6th, 1907, was a very foggy night, nevertheless Mr. Aaron
Cohen, of 30, Park Square West, at two o'clock in the morning, having
finally pocketed the heavy winnings which he had just swept off the
green table of the Harewood Club, started to walk home alone. An hour
later most of the inhabitants of Park Square West were aroused from
their peaceful slumbers by the sounds of a violent altercation in the
road. A man's angry voice was heard shouting violently for a minute or
two, and was followed immediately by frantic screams of 'Police' and
'Murder.' Then there was the double sharp report of firearms, and
nothing more.

"The fog was very dense, and, as you no doubt have experienced yourself,
it is very difficult to locate sound in a fog. Nevertheless, not more
than a minute or two had elapsed before Constable F 18, the point
policeman at the corner of Marylebone Road, arrived on the scene, and,
having first of all whistled for any of his comrades on the beat, began
to grope his way about in the fog, more confused than effectually
assisted by contradictory directions from the inhabitants of the houses
close by, who were nearly falling out of the upper windows as they
shouted out to the constable.

"'By the railings, policeman.'

"'Higher up the road.'

"'No, lower down.'

"'It was on this side of the pavement I am sure.'

"No, the other.'

"At last it was another policeman, F 22, who, turning into Park Square
West from the north side, almost stumbled upon the body of a man lying
on the pavement with his head against the railings of the Square. By
this time quite a little crowd of people from the different houses in
the road had come down, curious to know what had actually happened.

"The policeman turned the strong light of his bull's-eye lantern on the
unfortunate man's face.

"'It looks as if he had been strangled, don't it?' he murmured to his
comrade.

"And he pointed to the swollen tongue, the eyes half out of their
sockets, bloodshot and congested, the purple, almost black, hue of the
face.

"At this point one of the spectators, more callous to horrors, peered
curiously into the dead man's face. He uttered an exclamation of
astonishment.

"'Why, surely, it's Mr. Cohen from No. 30!'

"The mention of a name familiar down the length of the street had caused
two or three other men to come forward and to look more closely into the
horribly distorted mask of the murdered man.

"'Our next-door neighbour, undoubtedly,' asserted Mr. Ellison, a young
barrister, residing at No. 31.

"'What in the world was he doing this foggy night all alone, and on
foot?' asked somebody else.

"'He usually came home very late. I fancy he belonged to some gambling
club in town. I dare say he couldn't get a cab to bring him out here.
Mind you, I don't know much about him. We only knew him to nod to.'

"'Poor beggar! it looks almost like an old-fashioned case of
garroting.'

"'Anyway, the blackguardly murderer, whoever he was, wanted to make sure
he had killed his man!' added Constable F 18, as he picked up an object
from the pavement. 'Here's the revolver, with two cartridges missing.
You gentlemen heard the report just now?'

"'He don't seem to have hit him though. The poor bloke was strangled, no
doubt.'

"'And tried to shoot at his assailant, obviously,' asserted the young
barrister with authority.

"'If he succeeded in hitting the brute, there might be a chance of
tracing the way he went.'

"'But not in the fog.'

"Soon, however, the appearance of the inspector, detective, and medical
officer, who had quickly been informed of the tragedy, put an end to
further discussion.

"The bell at No. 30 was rung, and the servants--all four of them
women--were asked to look at the body.

"Amidst tears of horror and screams of fright, they all recognized in
the murdered man their master, Mr. Aaron Cohen. He was therefore
conveyed to his own room pending the coroner's inquest.

"The police had a pretty difficult task, you will admit; there were so
very few indications to go by, and at first literally no clue.

"The inquest revealed practically nothing. Very little was known in the
neighbourhood about Mr. Aaron Cohen and his affairs. His female servants
did not even know the name or whereabouts of the various clubs he
frequented.

"He had an office in Throgmorton Street and went to business every day.
He dined at home, and sometimes had friends to dinner. When he was alone
he invariably went to the club, where he stayed until the small hours of
the morning.

"The night of the murder he had gone out at about nine o'clock. That was
the last his servants had seen of him. With regard to the revolver, all
four servants swore positively that they had never seen it before, and
that, unless Mr. Cohen had bought it that very day, it did not belong to
their master.

"Beyond that, no trace whatever of the murderer had been found, but on
the morning after the crime a couple of keys linked together by a short
metal chain were found close to a gate at the opposite end of the
Square, that which immediately faced Portland Place. These were proved
to be, firstly, Mr. Cohen's latch-key, and, secondly, his gate-key of
the Square.

"It was therefore presumed that the murderer, having accomplished his
fell design and ransacked his victim's pockets, had found the keys and
made good his escape by slipping into the Square, cutting under the
tunnel, and out again by the further gate. He then took the precaution
not to carry the keys with him any further, but threw them away and
disappeared in the fog.

"The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against some person or
persons unknown, and the police were put on their mettle to discover the
unknown and daring murderer. The result of their investigations,
conducted with marvellous skill by Mr. William Fisher, led, about a week
after the crime, to the sensational arrest of one of London's smartest
young bucks.

"The case Mr. Fisher had got up against the accused briefly amounted to
this:

"On the night of February 6th, soon after midnight, play began to run
very high at the Harewood Club, in Hanover Square. Mr. Aaron Cohen held
the bank at roulette against some twenty or thirty of his friends,
mostly young fellows with no wits and plenty of money. 'The Bank' was
winning heavily, and it appears that this was the third consecutive
night on which Mr. Aaron Cohen had gone home richer by several hundreds
than he had been at the start of play.

"Young John Ashley, who is the son of a very worthy county gentleman who
is M.F.H. somewhere in the Midlands, was losing heavily, and in his case
also it appears that it was the third consecutive night that Fortune
had turned her face against him.

"Remember," continued the man in the corner, "that when I tell you all
these details and facts, I am giving you the combined evidence of
several witnesses, which it took many days to collect and to classify.

"It appears that young Mr. Ashley, though very popular in society, was
generally believed to be in what is vulgarly termed 'low water'; up to
his eyes in debt, and mortally afraid of his dad, whose younger son he
was, and who had on one occasion threatened to ship him off to Australia
with a £5 note in his pocket if he made any further extravagant calls
upon his paternal indulgence.

"It was also evident to all John Ashley's many companions that the
worthy M.F.H. held the purse-strings in a very tight grip. The young
man, bitten with the desire to cut a smart figure in the circles in
which he moved, had often recourse to the varying fortunes which now and
again smiled upon him across the green tables in the Harewood Club.

"Be that as it may, the general consensus of opinion at the Club was
that young Ashley had changed his last 'pony' before he sat down to a
turn of roulette with Aaron Cohen on that particular night of February
6th.

"It appears that all his friends, conspicuous among whom was Mr. Walter
Hatherell, tried their very best to dissuade him from pitting his luck
against that of Cohen, who had been having a most unprecedented run of
good fortune. But young Ashley, heated with wine, exasperated at his own
bad luck, would listen to no one; he tossed one £5 note after another on
the board, he borrowed from those who would lend, then played on parole
for a while. Finally, at half-past one in the morning, after a run of
nineteen on the red, the young man found himself without a penny in his
pockets, and owing a debt--gambling debt--a debt of honour of £1500 to
Mr. Aaron Cohen.

"Now we must render this much maligned gentleman that justice which was
persistently denied to him by press and public alike; it was positively
asserted by all those present that Mr. Cohen himself repeatedly tried to
induce young Mr. Ashley to give up playing. He himself was in a delicate
position in the matter, as he was the winner, and once or twice the
taunt had risen to the young man's lips, accusing the holder of the bank
of the wish to retire on a competence before the break in his luck.

"Mr. Aaron Cohen, smoking the best of Havanas, had finally shrugged his
shoulders and said: 'As you please!'

"But at half-past one he had had enough of the player, who always lost
and never paid--never could pay, so Mr. Cohen probably believed. He
therefore at that hour refused to accept Mr. John Ashley's 'promissory'
stakes any longer. A very few heated words ensued, quickly checked by
the management, who are ever on the alert to avoid the least suspicion
of scandal.

"In the meanwhile Mr. Hatherell, with great good sense, persuaded young
Ashley to leave the Club and all its temptations and go home; if
possible to bed.

"The friendship of the two young men, which was very well known in
society, consisted chiefly, it appears, in Walter Hatherell being the
willing companion and helpmeet of John Ashley in his mad and extravagant
pranks. But to-night the latter, apparently tardily sobered by his
terrible and heavy losses, allowed himself to be led away by his friend
from the scene of his disasters. It was then about twenty minutes to
two.

"Here the situation becomes interesting," continued the man in the
corner in his nervous way. "No wonder that the police interrogated at
least a dozen witnesses before they were quite satisfied that every
statement was conclusively proved.

"Walter Hatherell, after about ten minutes' absence, that is to say at
ten minutes to two, returned to the club room. In reply to several
inquiries, he said that he had parted with his friend at the corner of
New Bond Street, since he seemed anxious to be alone, and that Ashley
said he would take a turn down Piccadilly before going home--he thought
a walk would do him good.

"At two o'clock or thereabouts Mr. Aaron Cohen, satisfied with his
evening's work, gave up his position at the bank and, pocketing his
heavy winnings, started on his homeward walk, while Mr. Walter Hatherell
left the club half an hour later.

"At three o'clock precisely the cries of 'Murder' and the report of
fire-arms were heard in Park Square West, and Mr. Aaron Cohen was found
strangled outside the garden railings."




CHAPTER XXIX

THE MOTIVE


"Now at first sight the murder in the Regent's Park appeared both to
police and public as one of those silly, clumsy crimes, obviously the
work of a novice, and absolutely purposeless, seeing that it could but
inevitably lead its perpetrators, without any difficulty, to the
gallows.

"You see, a motive had been established. 'Seek him whom the crime
benefits,' say our French _confrères_. But there was something more than
that.

"Constable James Funnell, on his beat, turned from Portland Place into
Park Crescent a few minutes after he had heard the clock at Holy Trinity
Church, Marylebone, strike half-past two. The fog at that moment was
perhaps not quite so dense as it was later on in the morning, and the
policeman saw two gentlemen in overcoats and top-hats leaning arm in arm
against the railings of the Square, close to the gate. He could not, of
course, distinguish their faces because of the fog, but he heard one of
them saying to the other:

"'It is but a question of time, Mr. Cohen. I know my father will pay
the money for me, and you will lose nothing by waiting.'

"To this the other apparently made no reply, and the constable passed
on; when he returned to the same spot, after having walked over his
beat, the two gentlemen had gone, but later on it was near this very
gate that the two keys referred to at the inquest had been found.

"Another interesting fact," added the man in the corner, with one of
those sarcastic smiles of his which Polly could not quite explain, "was
the finding of the revolver upon the scene of the crime. That revolver,
shown to Mr. Ashley's valet, was sworn to by him as being the property
of his master.

"All these facts made, of course, a very remarkable, so far quite
unbroken, chain of circumstantial evidence against Mr. John Ashley. No
wonder, therefore, that the police, thoroughly satisfied with Mr.
Fisher's work and their own, applied for a warrant against the young
man, and arrested him in his rooms in Clarges Street exactly a week
after the committal of the crime.

"As a matter of fact, you know, experience has invariably taught me that
when a murderer seems particularly foolish and clumsy, and proofs
against him seem particularly damning, that is the time when the police
should be most guarded against pitfalls.

"Now in this case, if John Ashley had indeed committed the murder in
Regent's Park in the manner suggested by the police, he would have been
a criminal in more senses than one, for idiocy of that kind is to my
mind worse than many crimes.

"The prosecution brought its witnesses up in triumphal array one after
another. There were the members of the Harewood Club--who had seen the
prisoner's excited condition after his heavy gambling losses to Mr.
Aaron Cohen; there was Mr. Hatherell, who, in spite of his friendship
for Ashley, was bound to admit that he had parted from him at the corner
of Bond Street at twenty minutes to two, and had not seen him again till
his return home at five a.m.

"Then came the evidence of Arthur Chipps, John Ashley's valet. It proved
of a very sensational character.

"He deposed that on the night in question his master came home at about
ten minutes to two. Chipps had then not yet gone to bed. Five minutes
later Mr. Ashley went out again, telling the valet not to sit up for
him. Chipps could not say at what time either of the young gentlemen had
come home.

"That short visit home--presumably to fetch the revolver--was thought to
be very important, and Mr. John Ashley's friends felt that his case was
practically hopeless.

"The valet's evidence and that of James Funnell, the constable, who had
overheard the conversation near the park railings, were certainly the
two most damning proofs against the accused. I assure you I was having a
rare old time that day. There were two faces in court to watch which was
the greatest treat I had had for many a day. One of these was Mr. John
Ashley's.

"Here's his photo--short, dark, dapper, a little 'racy' in style, but
otherwise he looks a son of a well-to-do farmer. He was very quiet and
placid in court, and addressed a few words now and again to his
solicitor. He listened gravely, and with an occasional shrug of the
shoulders, to the recital of the crime, such as the police had
reconstructed it, before an excited and horrified audience.

"Mr. John Ashley, driven to madness and frenzy by terrible financial
difficulties, had first of all gone home in search of a weapon, then
waylaid Mr. Aaron Cohen somewhere on that gentleman's way home. The
young man had begged for delay. Mr. Cohen perhaps was obdurate; but
Ashley followed him with his importunities almost to his door.

"There, seeing his creditor determined at last to cut short the painful
interview, he had seized the unfortunate man at an unguarded moment from
behind, and strangled him; then, fearing that his dastardly work was not
fully accomplished, he had shot twice at the already dead body, missing
it both times from sheer nervous excitement. The murderer then must have
emptied his victim's pockets, and, finding the key of the garden,
thought that it would be a safe way of evading capture by cutting across
the squares, under the tunnel, and so through the more distant gate
which faced Portland Place.

"The loss of the revolver was one of those unforeseen accidents which a
retributive Providence places in the path of the miscreant, delivering
him by his own act of folly into the hands of human justice.

"Mr. John Ashley, however, did not appear the least bit impressed by the
recital of his crime. He had not engaged the services of one of the most
eminent lawyers, expert at extracting contradictions from witnesses by
skilful cross-examinations--oh, dear me, no! he had been contented with
those of a dull, prosy, very second-rate limb of the law, who, as he
called his witnesses, was completely innocent of any desire to create a
sensation.

"He rose quietly from his seat, and, amidst breathless silence, called
the first of three witnesses on behalf of his client. He called
three--but he could have produced twelve--gentlemen, members of the
Ashton Club in Great Portland Street, all of whom swore that at three
o'clock on the morning of February 6th, that is to say, at the very
moment when the cries of 'Murder' roused the inhabitants of Park Square
West, and the crime was being committed, Mr. John Ashley was sitting
quietly in the club-rooms of the Ashton playing bridge with the three
witnesses. He had come in a few minutes before three--as the hall porter
of the Club testified--and stayed for about an hour and a half.

"I need not tell you that this undoubted, this fully proved, _alibi_ was
a positive bombshell in the stronghold of the prosecution. The most
accomplished criminal could not possibly be in two places at once, and
though the Ashton Club transgresses in many ways against the gambling
laws of our very moral country, yet its members belong to the best, most
unimpeachable classes of society. Mr. Ashley had been seen and spoken to
at the very moment of the crime by at least a dozen gentlemen whose
testimony was absolutely above suspicion.

"Mr. John Ashley's conduct throughout this astonishing phase of the
inquiry remained perfectly calm and correct. It was no doubt the
consciousness of being able to prove his innocence with such absolute
conclusion that had steadied his nerves throughout the proceedings.

"His answers to the magistrate were clear and simple, even on the
ticklish subject of the revolver.

"'I left the club, sir,' he explained, 'fully determined to speak with
Mr. Cohen alone in order to ask him for a delay in the settlement of my
debt to him. You will understand that I should not care to do this in
the presence of other gentlemen. I went home for a minute or two--not in
order to fetch a revolver, as the police assert, for I always carry a
revolver about with me in foggy weather--but in order to see if a very
important business letter had come for me in my absence.

"'Then I went out again, and met Mr. Aaron Cohen not far from the
Harewood Club. I walked the greater part of the way with him, and our
conversation was of the most amicable character. We parted at the top of
Portland Place, near the gate of the Square, where the policeman saw us.
Mr. Cohen then had the intention of cutting across the Square, as being
a shorter way to his own house. I thought the Square looked dark and
dangerous in the fog, especially as Mr. Cohen was carrying a large sum
of money.

"'We had a short discussion on the subject, and finally I persuaded him
to take my revolver, as I was going home only through very frequented
streets, and moreover carried nothing that was worth stealing. After a
little demur Mr. Cohen accepted the loan of my revolver, and that is
how it came to be found on the actual scene of the crime; finally I
parted from Mr. Cohen a very few minutes after I had heard the church
clock striking a quarter before three. I was at the Oxford Street end of
Great Portland Street at five minutes to three, and it takes at least
ten minutes to walk from where I was to the Ashton Club.'

"This explanation was all the more credible, mind you, because the
question of the revolver had never been very satisfactorily explained by
the prosecution. A man who has effectually strangled his victim would
not discharge two shots of his revolver for, apparently, no other
purpose than that of rousing the attention of the nearest passer-by. It
was far more likely that it was Mr. Cohen who shot--perhaps wildly into
the air, when suddenly attacked from behind. Mr. Ashley's explanation
therefore was not only plausible, it was the only possible one.

"You will understand therefore how it was that, after nearly half an
hour's examination, the magistrate, the police, and the public were
alike pleased to proclaim that the accused left the court without a
stain upon his character."




CHAPTER XXX

FRIENDS


"Yes," interrupted Polly eagerly, since, for once, her acumen had been
at least as sharp as his, "but suspicion of that horrible crime only
shifted its taint from one friend to another, and, of course, I know--"

"But that's just it," he quietly interrupted, "you don't know--Mr.
Walter Hatherell, of course, you mean. So did every one else at once.
The friend, weak and willing, committing a crime on behalf of his
cowardly, yet more assertive friend who had tempted him to evil. It was
a good theory; and was held pretty generally, I fancy, even by the
police.

"I say 'even' because they worked really hard in order to build up a
case against young Hatherell, but the great difficulty was that of time.
At the hour when the policeman had seen the two men outside Park Square
together, Walter Hatherell was still sitting in the Harewood Club, which
he never left until twenty minutes to two. Had he wished to waylay and
rob Aaron Cohen he would not have waited surely till the time when
presumably the latter would already have reached home.

"Moreover, twenty minutes was an incredibly short time in which to walk
from Hanover Square to Regent's Park without the chance of cutting
across the squares, to look for a man, whose whereabouts you could not
determine to within twenty yards or so, to have an argument with him,
murder him, and ransack his pockets. And then there was the total
absence of motive."

"But--" said Polly meditatively, for she remembered now that the
Regent's Park murder, as it had been popularly called, was one of those
which had remained as impenetrable a mystery as any other crime had ever
been in the annals of the police.

The man in the corner cocked his funny birdlike head well on one side
and looked at her, highly amused evidently at her perplexity.

"You do not see how that murder was committed?" he asked with a grin.

Polly was bound to admit that she did not.

"If you had happened to have been in Mr. John Ashley's predicament," he
persisted, "you do not see how you could conveniently have done away
with Mr. Aaron Cohen, pocketed his winnings, and then led the police of
your country entirely by the nose, by proving an indisputable _alibi_?"

"I could not arrange conveniently," she retorted, "to be in two
different places half a mile apart at one and the same time."

"No! I quite admit that you could not do this unless you also had a
friend--"

"A friend? But you say--"

"I say that I admired Mr. John Ashley, for his was the head which
planned the whole thing, but he could not have accomplished the
fascinating and terrible drama without the help of willing and able
hands."

"Even then--" she protested.

"Point number one," he began excitedly, fidgeting with his inevitable
piece of string. "John Ashley and his friend Walter Hatherell leave the
club together, and together decide on the plan of campaign. Hatherell
returns to the club, and Ashley goes to fetch the revolver--the revolver
which played such an important part in the drama, but not the part
assigned to it by the police. Now try to follow Ashley closely, as he
dogs Aaron Cohen's footsteps. Do you believe that he entered into
conversation with him? That he walked by his side? That he asked for
delay? No! He sneaked behind him and caught him by the throat, as the
garroters used to do in the fog. Cohen was apoplectic, and Ashley is
young and powerful. Moreover, he meant to kill--"

"But the two men talked together outside the Square gates," protested
Polly, "one of whom was Cohen, and the other Ashley."

"Pardon me," he said, jumping up in his seat like a monkey on a stick,
"there were not two men talking outside the Square gates. According to
the testimony of James Funnell, the constable, two men were leaning arm
in arm against the railings and _one_ man was talking."

"Then you think that--"

"At the hour when James Funnell heard Holy Trinity clock striking
half-past two Aaron Cohen was already dead. Look how simple the whole
thing is," he added eagerly, "and how easy after that--easy, but oh,
dear me! how wonderfully, how stupendously clever. As soon as James
Funnell has passed on, John Ashley, having opened the gate, lifts the
body of Aaron Cohen in his arms and carries him across the Square. The
Square is deserted, of course, but the way is easy enough, and we must
presume that Ashley had been in it before. Anyway, there was no fear of
meeting any one.

"In the meantime Hatherell has left the club: as fast as his athletic
legs can carry him he rushes along Oxford Street and Portland Place. It
had been arranged between the two miscreants that the Square gate should
be left on the latch.

"Close on Ashley's heels now, Hatherell too cuts across the Square, and
reaches the further gate in good time to give his confederate a hand in
disposing the body against the railings. Then, without another instant's
delay, Ashley runs back across the gardens, straight to the Ashton Club,
throwing away the keys of the dead man, on the very spot where he had
made it a point of being seen and heard by a passer-by.

"Hatherell gives his friend six or seven minutes' start, then he begins
the altercation which lasts two or three minutes, and finally rouses the
neighbourhood with cries of 'Murder' and report of pistol in order to
establish that the crime was committed at the hour when its perpetrator
has already made out an indisputable _alibi_."

"I don't know what you think of it all, of course," added the funny
creature as he fumbled for his coat and his gloves, "but I call the
planning of that murder--on the part of novices, mind you--one of the
cleverest pieces of strategy I have ever come across. It is one of those
cases where there is no possibility whatever now of bringing the crime
home to its perpetrator or his abettor. They have not left a single
proof behind them; they foresaw everything, and each acted his part with
a coolness and courage which, applied to a great and good cause, would
have made fine statesmen of them both.

"As it is, I fear, they are just a pair of young blackguards, who have
escaped human justice, and have only deserved the full and ungrudging
admiration of yours very sincerely."

He had gone. Polly wanted to call him back, but his meagre person was no
longer visible through the glass door. There were many things she would
have wished to ask of him--what were his proofs, his facts? His were
theories, after all, and yet, somehow, she felt that he had solved once
again one of the darkest mysteries of great criminal London.




CHAPTER XXXI

THE DE GENNEVILLE PEERAGE


The man in the corner rubbed his chin thoughtfully, and looked out upon
the busy street below.

"I suppose," he said, "there is some truth in the saying that Providence
watches over bankrupts, kittens, and lawyers."

"I didn't know there was such a saying," replied Polly, with guarded
dignity.

"Isn't there? Perhaps I am misquoting; anyway, there should be. Kittens,
it seems, live and thrive through social and domestic upheavals which
would annihilate a self-supporting tom-cat, and to-day I read in the
morning papers the account of a noble lord's bankruptcy, and in the
society ones that of his visit at the house of a Cabinet minister, where
he is the most honoured guest. As for lawyers, when Providence had
exhausted all other means of securing their welfare, it brought forth
the peerage cases."

"I believe, as a matter of fact, that this special dispensation of
Providence, as you call it, requires more technical knowledge than any
other legal complication that comes before the law courts," she said.

"And also a great deal more money in the client's pocket than any other
complication. Now, take the Brockelsby peerage case. Have you any idea
how much money was spent over that soap bubble, which only burst after
many hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds went in lawyers' and
counsels' fees?"

"I suppose a great deal of money was spent on both sides," she replied,
"until that sudden, awful issue--"

"Which settled the dispute effectually," he interrupted with a dry
chuckle. "Of course, it is very doubtful if any reputable solicitor
would have taken up the case. Timothy Beddingfield, the Birmingham
lawyer, is a gentleman who--well--has had some misfortunes, shall we
say? He is still on the rolls, mind you, but I doubt if any case would
have its chances improved by his conducting it. Against that there is
just this to be said, that some of these old peerages have such peculiar
histories, and own such wonderful archives, that a claim is always worth
investigating--you never know what may be the rights of it.

"I believe that, at first, every one laughed over the pretensions of the
Hon. Robert Ingram de Genneville to the joint title and part revenues of
the old barony of Genneville, but, obviously, he _might_ have got his
case. It certainly sounded almost like a fairy-tale, this claim based
upon the supposed validity of an ancient document over 400 years old. It
was _then_ that a mediaeval Lord de Genneville, more endowed with muscle
than common sense, became during his turbulent existence much
embarrassed and hopelessly puzzled through the presentation made to him
by his lady of twin-born sons.

"His embarrassment chiefly arose from the fact that my lady's
attendants, while ministering to the comfort of the mother, had, in a
moment of absent-mindedness, so placed the two infants in their cot that
subsequently no one, not even--perhaps least of all--the mother, could
tell which was the one who had been the first to make his appearance
into this troublesome and puzzling world.

"After many years of cogitation, during which the Lord de Genneville
approached nearer to the grave and his sons to man's estate, he gave up
trying to solve the riddle as to which of the twins should succeed to
his title and revenues; he appealed to his Liege Lord and King--Edward,
fourth of that name--and with the latter's august sanction he drew up a
certain document, wherein he enacted that both his sons should, after
his death, share his titles and goodly revenues, and that the first son
born in wedlock of _either_ father should subsequently be the sole heir.

"In this document was also added that if in future times should any
Lords de Genneville be similarly afflicted with twin sons, who had equal
rights to be considered the eldest born, the same rule should apply as
to the succession.

"Subsequently a Lord de Genneville was created Earl of Brockelsby by one
of the Stuart kings, but for four hundred years after its enactment the
extraordinary deed of succession remained a mere tradition, the
Countesses of Brockelsby having, seemingly, no predilection for twins.
But in 1878 the mistress of Brockelsby Castle presented her lord with
twin-born sons.

"Fortunately, in modern times, science is more wide-awake, and
attendants more careful. The twin brothers did not get mixed up, and one
of them was styled Viscount Tirlemont, and was heir to the earldom,
whilst the other, born two hours later, was that fascinating, dashing
young Guardsman, well known at Hurlingham, Goodwood, London, and in his
own county--the Hon. Robert Ingram de Genneville.

"It certainly was an evil day for this brilliant young scion of the
ancient race when he lent an ear to Timothy Beddingfield. This man, and
his family before him, had been solicitors to the Earls of Brockelsby
for many generations, but Timothy, owing to certain 'irregularities,'
had forfeited the confidence of his client, the late earl.

"He was still in practice in Birmingham, however, and, of course, knew
the ancient family tradition anent the twin succession. Whether he was
prompted by revenge or merely self-advertisement no one knows.

"Certain it is that he did advise the Hon. Robert de Genneville--who
apparently had more debts than he conveniently could pay, and more
extravagant tastes than he could gratify on a younger son's portion--to
lay a claim, on his father's death, to the joint title and a moiety of
the revenues of the ancient barony of Genneville, that claim being based
upon the validity of the fifteenth-century document.

"You may gather how extensive were the pretensions of the Hon. Robert
from the fact that the greater part of Edgbaston is now built upon land
belonging to the old barony. Anyway, it was the last straw in an ocean
of debt and difficulties, and I have no doubt that Beddingfield had not
much trouble in persuading the Hon. Robert to commence litigation at
once.

"The young Earl of Brockelsby's attitude, however, remained one of
absolute quietude in his nine points of the law. He was in possession
both of the title and of the document. It was for the other side to
force him to produce the one or to share the other.

"It was at this stage of the proceedings that the Hon. Robert was
advised to marry, in order to secure, if possible, the first male heir
of the next generation, since the young earl himself was still a
bachelor. A suitable _fiancée_ was found for him by his friends in the
person of Miss Mabel Brandon, the daughter of a rich Birmingham
manufacturer, and the marriage was fixed to take place at Birmingham on
Thursday, September 15th, 1907.

"On the 13th the Hon. Robert Ingram de Genneville arrived at the Castle
Hotel in New Street for his wedding, and on the 14th, at eight o'clock
in the morning, he was discovered lying on the floor of his
bedroom--murdered.

"The sensation which the awful and unexpected sequel to the de
Genneville peerage case caused in the minds of the friends of both
litigants was quite unparalleled. I don't think any crime of modern
times created quite so much stir in all classes of society. Birmingham
was wild with excitement, and the employés of the Castle Hotel had real
difficulty in keeping off the eager and inquisitive crowd who thronged
daily to the hall, vainly hoping to gather details of news relating to
the terrible tragedy.

"At present there was but little to tell. The shrieks of the
chambermaid, who had gone into the Hon. Robert's room with his shaving
water at eight o'clock, had attracted some of the waiters. Soon the
manager and his secretary came up, and immediately sent for the police.

"It seemed at first sight as if the young man had been the victim of a
homicidal maniac, so brutal had been the way in which he had been
assassinated. The head and body were battered and bruised by some heavy
stick or poker, almost past human shape, as if the murderer had wished
to wreak some awful vengeance upon the body of his victim. In fact, it
would be impossible to recount the gruesome aspect of that room and of
the murdered man's body such as the police and the medical officer took
note of that day.

"It was supposed that the murder had been committed the evening before,
as the victim was dressed in his evening clothes, and all the lights in
the room had been left fully turned on. Robbery, also, must have had a
large share in the miscreant's motives, for the drawers and cupboards,
the portmanteau and dressing-bag had been ransacked as if in search of
valuables. On the floor there lay a pocket-book torn in half and only
containing a few letters addressed to the Hon. Robert de Genneville.

"The Earl of Brockelsby, next-of-kin to the deceased, was also
telegraphed for. He drove over from Brockelsby Castle, which is about
seven miles from Birmingham. He was terribly affected by the awfulness
of the tragedy, and offered a liberal reward to stimulate the activity
of the police in search of the miscreant.

"The inquest was fixed for the 17th, three days later, and the public
was left wondering where the solution lay of the terrible and gruesome
murder at the Castle Hotel."




CHAPTER XXXII

A HIGH-BRED GENTLEMAN


"The central figure in the coroner's court that day was undoubtedly the
Earl of Brockelsby in deep black, which contrasted strongly with his
florid complexion and fair hair. Sir Marmaduke Ingersoll, his solicitor,
was with him, and he had already performed the painful duty of
identifying the deceased as his brother. This had been an exceedingly
painful duty owing to the terribly mutilated state of the body and face;
but the clothes and various trinkets he wore, including a signet ring,
had fortunately not tempted the brutal assassin, and it was through them
chiefly that Lord Brockelsby was able to swear to the identity of his
brother.

"The various employés at the hotel gave evidence as to the discovery of
the body, and the medical officer gave his opinion as to the immediate
cause of death. Deceased had evidently been struck at the back of the
head with a poker or heavy stick, the murderer then venting his blind
fury upon the body by battering in the face and bruising it in a way
that certainly suggested the work of a maniac.

"Then the Earl of Brockelsby was called, and was requested by the
coroner to state when he had last seen his brother alive.

"'The morning before his death,' replied his lordship, 'he came up to
Birmingham by an early train, and I drove up from Brockelsby to see him.
I got to the hotel at eleven o'clock and stayed with him for about an
hour.'

"'And that is the last you saw of the deceased?'

"'That is the last I saw of him,' replied Lord Brockelsby.

"He seemed to hesitate for a moment or two as if in thought whether he
should speak or not, and then to suddenly make up his mind to speak, for
he added: 'I stayed in town the whole of that day, and only drove back
to Brockelsby late in the evening. I had some business to transact, and
put up at the Grand, as I usually do, and dined with some friends.'

"'Would you tell us at what time you returned to Brockelsby Castle?'

"'I think it must have been about eleven o'clock. It is a seven-mile
drive from here.'

"'I believe,' said the coroner after a slight pause, during which the
attention of all the spectators was riveted upon the handsome figure of
the young man as he stood in the witness-box, the very personification
of a high-bred gentleman, 'I believe that I am right in stating that
there was an unfortunate legal dispute between your lordship and your
brother?'

"'That is so.'

"The coroner stroked his chin thoughtfully for a moment or two, then he
added:

"'In the event of the deceased's claim to the joint title and revenues
of De Genneville being held good in the courts of law, there would be a
great importance, would there not, attached to his marriage, which was
to have taken place on the 15th?'

"'In that event, there certainly would be.'

"'Is the jury to understand, then, that you and the deceased parted on
amicable terms after your interview with him in the morning?'

"The Earl of Brockelsby hesitated again for a minute or two, while the
crowd and the jury hung breathless on his lips.

"'There was no enmity between us,' he replied at last.

"'From which we may gather that there may have been--shall I say--a
slight disagreement at that interview?'

"'My brother had unfortunately been misled by the misrepresentations or
perhaps the too optimistic views of his lawyer. He had been dragged into
litigation on the strength of an old family document which he had never
seen, which, moreover, is antiquated, and, owing to certain wording in
it, invalid. I thought that it would be kinder and more considerate if
I were to let my brother judge of the document for himself. I knew that
when he had seen it he would be convinced of the absolutely futile basis
of his claim, and that it would be a terrible disappointment to him.
That is the reason why I wished to see him myself about it, rather than
to do it through the more formal--perhaps more correct--medium of our
respective lawyers. I placed the facts before him with, on my part, a
perfectly amicable spirit.'

"The young Earl of Brockelsby had made this somewhat lengthy, perfectly
voluntary explanation of the state of affairs in a calm, quiet voice,
with much dignity and perfect simplicity, but the coroner did not seem
impressed by it, for he asked very drily:

"'Did you part good friends?'

"'On my side absolutely so.'

"'But not on his?' insisted the coroner.

"'I think he felt naturally annoyed that he had been so ill-advised by
his solicitors.'

"'And you made no attempt later on in the day to adjust any ill-feeling
that may have existed between you and him?' asked the coroner, marking
with strange, earnest emphasis every word he uttered.

"'If you mean did I go and see my brother again that day--no, I did
not.'

"'And your lordship can give us no further information which might
throw some light upon the mystery which surrounds the Hon. Robert de
Genneville's death?' still persisted the coroner.

"'I am sorry to say I cannot,' replied the Earl of Brockelsby with firm
decision.

"The coroner still looked puzzled and thoughtful. It seemed at first as
if he wished to press his point further; every one felt that some deep
import had lain behind his examination of the witness, and all were on
tenter-hooks as to what the next evidence might bring forth. The Earl of
Brockelsby had waited a minute or two, then, at a sign from the coroner,
had left the witness-box in order to have a talk with his solicitor.

"At first he paid no attention to the depositions of the cashier and
hall porter of the Castle Hotel, but gradually it seemed to strike him
that curious statements were being made by these witnesses, and a frown
of anxious wonder settled between his brows, whilst his young face lost
some of its florid hue.

"Mr. Tremlett, the cashier at the hotel, had been holding the attention
of the court. He stated that the Hon. Robert Ingram de Genneville had
arrived at the hotel at eight o'clock on the morning of the 13th; he had
the room which he usually occupied when he came to the 'Castle,' namely,
No. 21, and he went up to it immediately on his arrival, ordering some
breakfast to be brought up to him.

"At eleven o'clock the Earl of Brockelsby called to see his brother and
remained with him until about twelve. In the afternoon the deceased went
out, and returned for his dinner at seven o'clock in company with a
gentleman whom the cashier knew well by sight, Mr. Timothy Beddingfield,
the lawyer, of Paradise Street. The gentlemen had their dinner
downstairs, and after that they went up to the Hon. Mr. de Genneville's
room for coffee and cigars.

"'I could not say at what time Mr. Beddingfield left,' continued the
cashier, 'but I rather fancy I saw him in the hall at about 9.15 p.m. He
was wearing an Inverness cape over his dress clothes and a Glengarry
cap. It was just at the hour when the visitors who had come down for the
night from London were arriving thick and fast; the hall was very full,
and there was a large party of Americans monopolising most of our
_personnel_, so I could not swear positively whether I did see Mr.
Beddingfield or not then, though I am quite sure that it was Mr. Timothy
Beddingfield who dined and spent the evening with the Hon. Mr. de
Genneville, as I know him quite well by sight. At ten o'clock I am off
duty, and the night porter remains alone in the hall.'

"Mr. Tremlett's evidence was corroborated in most respects by a waiter
and by the hall porter. They had both seen the deceased come in at seven
o'clock in company with a gentleman, and their description of the
latter coincided with that of the appearance of Mr. Timothy
Beddingfield, whom, however, they did not actually know.

"At this point of the proceedings the foreman of the jury wished to know
why Mr. Timothy Beddingfield's evidence had not been obtained, and was
informed by the detective-inspector in charge of the case that that
gentleman had seemingly left Birmingham, but was expected home shortly.
The coroner suggested an adjournment pending Mr. Beddingfield's
appearance, but at the earnest request of the detective he consented to
hear the evidence of Peter Tyrrell, the night porter at the Castle
Hotel, who, if you remember the case at all, succeeded in creating the
biggest sensation of any which had been made through this extraordinary
and weirdly gruesome case.

"'It was the first time I had been on duty at "The Castle," he said,
'for I used to be night porter at "Bright's," in Wolverhampton, but just
after I had come on duty at ten o'clock a gentleman came and asked if he
could see the Hon. Robert de Genneville. I said that I thought he was
in, but would send up and see. The gentleman said: "It doesn't matter.
Don't trouble; I know his room. Twenty-one, isn't it?" And up he went
before I could say another word.'

"'Did he give you any name?' asked the coroner.

"'No, sir.'

"'What was he like?'

"'A young gentleman, sir, as far as I can remember, in an Inverness cape
and Glengarry cap, but I could not see his face very well as he stood
with his back to the light, and the cap shaded his eyes, and he only
spoke to me for a minute.'

"'Look all round you,' said the coroner quietly. 'Is there any one in
this court at all like the gentleman you speak of?'

"An awed hush fell over the many spectators there present as Peter
Tyrrell, the night porter of the Castle Hotel, turned his head towards
the body of the court and slowly scanned the many faces there present;
for a moment he seemed to hesitate--only for a moment though, then, as
if vaguely conscious of the terrible importance his next words might
have, he shook his head gravely and said:

"'I wouldn't like to swear.'

"The coroner tried to press him, but with true British stolidity he
repeated: 'I wouldn't like to say.'

"'Well, then, what happened?' asked the coroner, who had perforce to
abandon his point.

"'The gentleman went upstairs, sir, and about a quarter of an hour later
he come down again, and I let him out. He was in a great hurry then, he
threw me a half-crown and said: "Good night."'

"'And though you saw him again then, you cannot tell us if you would
know him again?'

"Once more the hall porter's eyes wandered as if instinctively to a
certain face in the court; once more he hesitated for many seconds which
seemed like so many hours, during which a man's honour, a man's life,
hung perhaps in the balance.

"Then Peter Tyrrell repeated slowly: 'I wouldn't swear.'

"But coroner and jury alike, aye, and every spectator in that crowded
court, had seen that the man's eyes had rested during that one moment of
hesitation upon the face of the Earl of Brockelsby."




CHAPTER XXXIII

THE LIVING AND THE DEAD


The man in the corner blinked across at Polly with his funny mild blue
eyes.

"No wonder you are puzzled," he continued, "so was everybody in the
court that day, every one save myself. I alone could see in my mind's
eye that gruesome murder such as it had been committed, with all its
details, and, above all, its motive, and such as you will see it
presently, when I place it all clearly before you.

"But before you see daylight in this strange case, I must plunge you
into further darkness, in the same manner as the coroner and jury were
plunged on the following day, the second day of that remarkable inquest.
It had to be adjourned, since the appearance of Mr. Timothy Beddingfield
had now become of vital importance. The public had come to regard his
absence from Birmingham at this critical moment as decidedly remarkable,
to say the least of it, and all those who did not know the lawyer by
sight wished to see him in his Inverness cape and Glengarry cap such as
he had appeared before the several witnesses on the night of the awful
murder.

"When the coroner and jury were seated, the first piece of information
which the police placed before them was the astounding statement that
Mr. Timothy Beddingfield's whereabouts had not been ascertained, though
it was confidently expected that he had not gone far and could easily be
traced. There was a witness present who, the police thought, might throw
some light as to the lawyer's probable destination, for obviously he had
left Birmingham directly after his interview with the deceased.

"This witness was Mrs. Higgins, who was Mr. Beddingfield's housekeeper.
She stated that her master was in the constant habit--especially
latterly--of going up to London on business. He usually left by a late
evening train on those occasions, and mostly was only absent thirty-six
hours. He kept a portmanteau always ready packed for the purpose, for he
often left at a few moments' notice. Mrs. Higgins added that her master
stayed at the Great Western Hotel in London, for it was there that she
was instructed to wire if anything urgent required his presence back in
Birmingham.

"'On the night of the 14th,' she continued, 'at nine o'clock or
thereabouts, a messenger came to the door with the master's card, and
said that he was instructed to fetch Mr. Beddingfield's portmanteau, and
then to meet him at the station in time to catch the 9.35 p.m. up train.
I gave him the portmanteau, of course, as he had brought the card, and
I had no idea there could be anything wrong; but since then I have heard
nothing of my master, and I don't know when he will return.'

"Questioned by the coroner, she added that Mr. Beddingfield had never
stayed away quite so long without having his letters forwarded to him.
There was a large pile waiting for him now; she had written to the Great
Western Hotel, London, asking what she should do about the letters, but
had received no reply. She did not know the messenger by sight who had
called for the portmanteau. Once or twice before Mr. Beddingfield had
sent for his things in that manner when he had been dining out.

"Mr. Beddingfield certainly wore his Inverness cape over his dress
clothes when he went out at about six o'clock in the afternoon. He also
wore a Glengarry cap.

"The messenger had so far not yet been found, and from this
point--namely, the sending for the portmanteau--all traces of Mr.
Timothy Beddingfield seem to have been lost. Whether he went up to
London by that 9.35 train or not could not be definitely ascertained.
The police had questioned at least a dozen porters at the railway, as
well as ticket collectors; but no one had any special recollection of a
gentleman in an Inverness cape and Glengarry cap, a costume worn by
more than one first-class passenger on a cold night in September.

"There was the hitch, you see; it all lay in this. Mr. Timothy
Beddingfield, the lawyer, had undoubtedly made himself scarce. He was
last seen in company with the deceased, and wearing an Inverness cape
and Glengarry cap; two or three witnesses saw him leaving the hotel at
about 9.15. Then the messenger calls at the lawyer's house for the
portmanteau, after which Mr. Timothy Beddingfield seems to vanish into
thin air; but--and that is a great 'but'--the night porter at the
'Castle' seems to have seen some one wearing the momentous Inverness and
Glengarry half an hour or so later on, and going up to deceased's room,
where he stayed about a quarter of an hour.

"Undoubtedly you will say, as every one said to themselves that day
after the night porter and Mrs. Higgins had been heard, that there was a
very ugly and very black finger which pointed unpleasantly at Mr.
Timothy Beddingfield, especially as that gentleman, for some reason
which still required an explanation, was not there to put matters right
for himself. But there was just one little thing--a mere trifle,
perhaps--which neither the coroner nor the jury dared to overlook,
though, strictly speaking, it was not evidence.

"You will remember that when the night porter was asked if he could,
among the persons present in court, recognize the Hon. Robert de
Genneville's belated visitor, every one had noticed his hesitation, and
marked that the man's eyes had rested doubtingly upon the face and
figure of the young Earl of Brockelsby.

"Now, if that belated visitor had been Mr. Timothy Beddingfield--tall,
lean, dry as dust, with a bird-like beak and clean-shaven chin--no one
could for a moment have mistaken his face--even if they only saw it very
casually and recollected it but very dimly--with that of young Lord
Brockelsby, who was florid and rather short--the only point in common
between them was their Saxon hair.

"You see that it was a curious point, don't you?" added the man in the
corner, who now had become so excited that his fingers worked like long
thin tentacles round and round his bit of string. "It weighed very
heavily in favour of Timothy Beddingfield. Added to which you must also
remember that, as far as he was concerned, the Hon. Robert de Genneville
was to him the goose with the golden eggs.

"The 'De Genneville peerage case' had brought Beddingfield's name in
great prominence. With the death of the claimant all hopes of prolonging
the litigation came to an end. There was a total lack of motive as far
as Beddingfield was concerned."

"Not so with the Earl of Brockelsby," said Polly, "and I've often
maintained--"

"What?" he interrupted. "That the Earl of Brockelsby changed clothes
with Beddingfield in order more conveniently to murder his own brother?
Where and when could the exchange of costume have been effected,
considering that the Inverness cape and Glengarry cap were in the hall
of the Castle Hotel at 9.15, and at that hour and until ten o'clock Lord
Brockelsby was at the Grand Hotel finishing dinner with some friends?
That was subsequently proved, remember, and also that he was back at
Brockelsby Castle, which is seven miles from Birmingham, at eleven
o'clock sharp. Now, the visit of the individual in the Glengarry
occurred some time after 10 p.m."

"Then there was the disappearance of Beddingfield," said the girl
musingly. "That certainly points very strongly to him. He was a man in
good practice, I believe, and fairly well known."

"And has never been heard of from that day to this," concluded the old
scarecrow with a chuckle. "No wonder you are puzzled. The police were
quite baffled, and still are, for a matter of that. And yet see how
simple it is! Only the police would not look further than these two
men--Lord Brockelsby with a strong motive and the night porter's
hesitation against him, and Beddingfield without a motive, but with
strong circumstantial evidence and his own disappearance as condemnatory
signs.

"If only they would look at the case as I did, and think a little about
the dead as well as about the living. If they had remembered that
peerage case, the Hon. Robert's debts, his last straw which proved a
futile claim.

"Only that very day the Earl of Brockelsby had, by quietly showing the
original ancient document to his brother, persuaded him how futile were
all his hopes. Who knows how many were the debts contracted, the
promises made, the money borrowed and obtained on the strength of that
claim which was mere romance? Ahead nothing but ruin, enmity with his
brother, his marriage probably broken off, a wasted life, in fact.

"Is it small wonder that, though ill-feeling against the Earl of
Brockelsby may have been deep, there was hatred, bitter, deadly hatred
against the man who with false promises had led him into so hopeless a
quagmire? Probably the Hon. Robert owed a great deal of money to
Beddingfield, which the latter hoped to recoup at usurious interest,
with threats of scandal and what not.

"Think of all that," he added, "and then tell me if you believe that a
stronger motive for the murder of such an enemy could well be found."

"But what you suggest is impossible," said Polly, aghast.

"Allow me," he said, "it is more than possible--it is very easy and
simple. The two men were alone together in the Hon. Robert de
Genneville's room after dinner. You, as representing the public, and the
police say that Beddingfield went away and returned half an hour later
in order to kill his client. I say that it was the lawyer who was
murdered at nine o'clock that evening, and that Robert de Genneville,
the ruined man, the hopeless bankrupt, was the assassin."

"Then--"

"Yes, of course, now you remember, for I have put you on the track. The
face and the body were so battered and bruised that they were past
recognition. Both men were of equal height. The hair, which alone could
not be disfigured or obliterated, was in both men similar in colour.

"Then the murderer proceeds to dress his victim in his own clothes. With
the utmost care he places his own rings on the fingers of the dead man,
his own watch in the pocket; a gruesome task, but an important one, and
it is thoroughly well done. Then he himself puts on the clothes of his
victim, with finally the Inverness cape and Glengarry, and when the hall
is full of visitors he slips out unperceived. He sends the messenger for
Beddingfield's portmanteau and starts off by the night express."

"But then his visit at the Castle Hotel at ten o'clock--" she urged.
"How dangerous!"

"Dangerous? Yes! but oh, how clever. You see, he was the Earl of
Brockelsby's twin brother, and twin brothers are always somewhat alike.
He wished to appear dead, murdered by some one, he cared not whom, but
what he did care about was to throw clouds of dust in the eyes of the
police, and he succeeded with a vengeance. Perhaps--who knows?--he
wished to assure himself that he had forgotten nothing in the _mise en
scène_, that the body, battered and bruised past all semblance of any
human shape save for its clothes, really would appear to every one as
that of the Hon. Robert de Genneville, while the latter disappeared for
ever from the old world and started life again in the new.

"Then you must always reckon with the practically invariable rule that a
murderer always revisits, if only once, the scene of his crime.

"Two years have elapsed since the crime; no trace of Timothy
Beddingfield, the lawyer, has ever been found, and I can assure you that
it will never be, for his plebeian body lies buried in the aristocratic
family vault of the Earl of Brockelsby."

He was gone before Polly could say another word. The faces of Timothy
Beddingfield, of the Earl of Brockelsby, of the Hon. Robert de
Genneville seemed to dance before her eyes and to mock her for the
hopeless bewilderment in which she found herself plunged because of
them; then all the faces vanished, or, rather, were merged in one long,
thin, bird-like one, with bone-rimmed spectacles on the top of its
beak, and a wide, rude grin beneath it, and, still puzzled, still
doubtful, the young girl too paid for her scanty luncheon and went her
way.




CHAPTER XXXIV

THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH IN PERCY STREET


Miss Polly Burton had had many an argument with Mr. Richard Frobisher
about that old man in the corner, who seemed far more interesting and
deucedly more mysterious than any of the crimes over which he
philosophised.

Dick thought, moreover, that Miss Polly spent more of her leisure time
now in that A.B.C. shop than she had done in his own company before, and
told her so, with that delightful air of sheepish sulkiness which the
male creature invariably wears when he feels jealous and won't admit it.

Polly liked Dick to be jealous, but she liked that old scarecrow in the
A.B.C. shop very much too, and though she made sundry vague promises
from time to time to Mr. Richard Frobisher, she nevertheless drifted
back instinctively day after day to the tea-shop in Norfolk Street,
Strand, and stayed there sipping coffee for as long as the man in the
corner chose to talk.

On this particular afternoon she went to the A.B.C. shop with a fixed
purpose, that of making him give her his views of Mrs. Owen's mysterious
death in Percy Street.

The facts had interested and puzzled her. She had had countless
arguments with Mr. Richard Frobisher as to the three great possible
solutions of the puzzle--"Accident, Suicide, Murder?"

"Undoubtedly neither accident nor suicide," he said dryly.

Polly was not aware that she had spoken. What an uncanny habit that
creature had of reading her thoughts!

"You incline to the idea, then, that Mrs. Owen was murdered. Do you know
by whom?"

He laughed, and drew forth the piece of string he always fidgeted with
when unravelling some mystery.

"You would like to know who murdered that old woman?" he asked at last.

"I would like to hear your views on the subject," Polly replied.

"I have no views," he said dryly. "No one can know who murdered the
woman, since no one ever saw the person who did it. No one can give the
faintest description of the mysterious man who alone could have
committed that clever deed, and the police are playing a game of blind
man's buff."

"But you must have formed some theory of your own," she persisted.

It annoyed her that the funny creature was obstinate about this point,
and she tried to nettle his vanity.

"I suppose that as a matter of fact your original remark that 'there are
no such things as mysteries' does not apply universally. There is a
mystery--that of the death in Percy Street, and you, like the police,
are unable to fathom it."

He pulled up his eyebrows and looked at her for a minute or two.

"Confess that that murder was one of the cleverest bits of work
accomplished outside Russian diplomacy," he said with a nervous laugh.
"I must say that were I the judge, called upon to pronounce sentence of
death on the man who conceived that murder, I could not bring myself to
do it. I would politely request the gentleman to enter our Foreign
Office--we have need of such men. The whole _mise en scène_ was truly
artistic, worthy of its _milieu_--the Rubens Studios in Percy Street,
Tottenham Court Road.

"Have you ever noticed them? They are only studios by name, and are
merely a set of rooms in a corner house, with the windows slightly
enlarged, and the rents charged accordingly in consideration of that
additional five inches of smoky daylight, filtering through dusty
windows. On the ground floor there is the order office of some stained
glass works, with a workshop in the rear, and on the first floor landing
a small room allotted to the caretaker, with gas, coal, and fifteen
shillings a week, for which princely income she is deputed to keep tidy
and clean the general aspect of the house.

"Mrs. Owen, who was the caretaker there, was a quiet, respectable woman,
who eked out her scanty wages by sundry--mostly very meagre--tips doled
out to her by impecunious artists in exchange for promiscuous domestic
services in and about the respective studios.

"But if Mrs. Owen's earnings were not large, they were very regular, and
she had no fastidious tastes. She and her cockatoo lived on her wages;
and all the tips added up, and never spent, year after year, went to
swell a very comfortable little account at interest in the Birkbeck
Bank. This little account had mounted up to a very tidy sum, and the
thrifty widow--or old maid--no one ever knew which she was--was
generally referred to by the young artists of the Rubens Studios as a
'lady of means.' But this is a digression.

"No one slept on the premises except Mrs. Owen and her cockatoo. The
rule was that one by one as the tenants left their rooms in the evening
they took their respective keys to the caretaker's room. She would then,
in the early morning, tidy and dust the studios and the office
downstairs, lay the fire and carry up coals.

"The foreman of the glass works was the first to arrive in the morning.
He had a latch-key, and let himself in, after which it was the custom of
the house that he should leave the street door open for the benefit of
the other tenants and their visitors.

"Usually, when he came at about nine o'clock, he found Mrs. Owen busy
about the house doing her work, and he had often a brief chat with her
about the weather, but on this particular morning of February 2nd he
neither saw nor heard her. However, as the shop had been tidied and the
fire laid, he surmised that Mrs. Owen had finished her work earlier than
usual, and thought no more about it. One by one the tenants of the
studios turned up, and the day sped on without any one's attention being
drawn noticeably to the fact that the caretaker had not appeared upon
the scene.

"It had been a bitterly cold night, and the day was even worse; a
cutting north-easterly gale was blowing, there had been a great deal of
snow during the night which lay quite thick on the ground, and at five
o'clock in the afternoon, when the last glimmer of the pale winter
daylight had disappeared, the confraternity of the brush put palette and
easel aside and prepared to go home. The first to leave was Mr. Charles
Pitt; he locked up his studio and, as usual, took his key into the
caretaker's room.

"He had just opened the door when an icy blast literally struck him in
the face; both the windows were wide open, and the snow and sleet were
beating thickly into the room, forming already a white carpet upon the
floor.

"The room was in semi-obscurity, and at first Mr. Pitt saw nothing, but
instinctively realizing that something was wrong, he lit a match, and
saw before him the spectacle of that awful and mysterious tragedy which
has ever since puzzled both police and public. On the floor, already
half covered by the drifting snow, lay the body of Mrs. Owen face
downwards, in a nightgown, with feet and ankles bare, and these and her
hands were of a deep purple colour; whilst in a corner of the room,
huddled up with the cold, the body of the cockatoo lay stark and stiff."




CHAPTER XXXV

SUICIDE OR MURDER?


"At first there was only talk of a terrible accident, the result of some
inexplicable carelessness which perhaps the evidence at the inquest
would help to elucidate.

"Medical assistance came too late; the unfortunate woman was indeed
dead, frozen to death, inside her own room. Further examination showed
that she had received a severe blow at the back of the head, which must
have stunned her and caused her to fall, helpless, beside the open
window. Temperature at five degrees below zero had done the rest.
Detective Inspector Howell discovered close to the window a wrought-iron
gas bracket, the height of which corresponded exactly with the bruise at
the back of Mrs. Owen's head.

"Hardly however had a couple of days elapsed when public curiosity was
whetted by a few startling headlines, such as the halfpenny evening
papers alone know how to concoct.

"'The mysterious death in Percy Street.' 'Is it Suicide or Murder?'
'Thrilling details--Strange developments.' 'Sensational Arrest.'

"What had happened was simply this:

"At the inquest a few certainly very curious facts connected with Mrs.
Owen's life had come to light, and this had led to the apprehension of a
young man of very respectable parentage on a charge of being concerned
in the tragic death of the unfortunate caretaker.

"To begin with, it happened that her life, which in an ordinary way
should have been very monotonous and regular, seemed, at any rate
latterly, to have been more than usually chequered and excited. Every
witness who had known her in the past concurred in the statement that
since October last a great change had come over the worthy and honest
woman.

"I happen to have a photo of Mrs. Owen as she was before this great
change occurred in her quiet and uneventful life, and which led, as far
as the poor soul was concerned, to such disastrous results.

"Here she is to the life," added the funny creature, placing the photo
before Polly--"as respectable, as stodgy, as uninteresting as it is well
possible for a member of your charming sex to be; not a face, you will
admit, to lead any youngster to temptation or to induce him to commit a
crime.

"Nevertheless one day all the tenants of the Rubens Studios were
surprised and shocked to see Mrs. Owen, quiet, respectable Mrs. Owen,
sallying forth at six o'clock in the afternoon, attired in an
extravagant bonnet and a cloak trimmed with imitation astrakhan
which--slightly open in front--displayed a gold locket and chain of
astonishing proportions.

"Many were the comments, the hints, the bits of sarcasm levelled at the
worthy woman by the frivolous confraternity of the brush.

"The plot thickened when from that day forth a complete change came over
the worthy caretaker of the Rubens Studios. While she appeared day after
day before the astonished gaze of the tenants and the scandalized looks
of the neighbours, attired in new and extravagant dresses, her work was
hopelessly neglected, and she was always 'out' when wanted.

"There was, of course, much talk and comment in various parts of the
Rubens Studios on the subject of Mrs. Owen's 'dissipations.' The tenants
began to put two and two together, and after a very little while the
general consensus of opinion became firmly established that the honest
caretaker's demoralisation coincided week for week, almost day for day,
with young Greenhill's establishment in No. 8 Studio.

"Every one had remarked that he stayed much later in the evening than
any one else, and yet no one presumed that he stayed for purposes of
work. Suspicions soon rose to certainty when Mrs. Owen and Arthur
Greenhill were seen by one of the glass workmen dining together at
Gambia's Restaurant in Tottenham Court Road.

"The workman, who was having a cup of tea at the counter, noticed
particularly that when the bill was paid the money came out of Mrs.
Owen's purse. The dinner had been sumptuous--veal cutlets, a cut from
the joint, dessert, coffee and liqueurs. Finally the pair left the
restaurant apparently very gay, young Greenhill smoking a choice cigar.

"Irregularities such as these were bound sooner or later to come to the
ears and eyes of Mr. Allman, the landlord of the Rubens Studios; and a
month after the New Year, without further warning, he gave her a week's
notice to quit his house.

"'Mrs. Owen did not seem the least bit upset when I gave her notice,'
Mr. Allman declared in his evidence at the inquest; 'on the contrary,
she told me that she had ample means, and had only worked latterly for
the sake of something to do. She added that she had plenty of friends
who would look after her, for she had a nice little pile to leave to any
one who would know how "to get the right side of her."'

"Nevertheless, in spite of this cheerful interview, Miss Bedford, the
tenant of No. 6 Studio, had stated that when she took her key to the
caretaker's room at 6.30 that afternoon she found Mrs. Owen in tears.
The caretaker refused to be comforted, nor would she speak of her
trouble to Miss Bedford.

"Twenty-four hours later she was found dead.

"The coroner's jury returned an open verdict, and Detective-Inspector
Jones was charged by the police to make some inquiries about young Mr.
Greenhill, whose intimacy with the unfortunate woman had been
universally commented upon.

"The detective, however, pushed his investigations as far as the
Birkbeck Bank. There he discovered that after her interview with Mr.
Allman, Mrs. Owen had withdrawn what money she had on deposit, some
£800, the result of twenty-five years' saving and thrift.

"But the immediate result of Detective-Inspector Jones's labours was
that Mr. Arthur Greenhill, lithographer, was brought before the
magistrate at Bow Street on the charge of being concerned in the death
of Mrs. Owen, caretaker of the Rubens Studios, Percy Street.

"Now that magisterial inquiry is one of the few interesting ones which I
had the misfortune to miss," continued the man in the corner, with a
nervous shake of the shoulders. "But you know as well as I do how the
attitude of the young prisoner impressed the magistrate and police so
unfavourably that, with every new witness brought forward, his position
became more and more unfortunate.

"Yet he was a good-looking, rather coarsely built young fellow, with
one of those awful Cockney accents which literally make one jump. But he
looked painfully nervous, stammered at every word spoken, and repeatedly
gave answers entirely at random.

"His father acted as lawyer for him, a rough-looking elderly man, who
had the appearance of a common country attorney rather than of a London
solicitor.

"The police had built up a fairly strong case against the lithographer.
Medical evidence revealed nothing new: Mrs. Owen had died from exposure,
the blow at the back of the head not being sufficiently serious to cause
anything but temporary disablement. When the medical officer had been
called in, death had intervened for some time; it was quite impossible
to say how long, whether one hour or five or twelve.

"The appearance and state of the room, when the unfortunate woman was
found by Mr. Charles Pitt, were again gone over in minute detail. Mrs.
Owen's clothes, which she had worn during the day, were folded neatly on
a chair. The key of her cupboard was in the pocket of her dress. The
door had been slightly ajar, but both the windows were wide open; one of
them, which had the sash-line broken, had been fastened up most
scientifically with a piece of rope.

"Mrs. Owen had obviously undressed preparatory to going to bed, and the
magistrate very naturally soon made the remark how untenable the theory
of an accident must be. No one in their five senses would undress with a
temperature at below zero, and the windows wide open.

"After these preliminary statements the cashier of the Birkbeck was
called and he related the caretaker's visit at the bank.

"'It was then about one o'clock,' he stated. 'Mrs. Owen called and
presented a cheque to self for £827, the amount of her balance. She
seemed exceedingly happy and cheerful, and talked about needing plenty
of cash, as she was going abroad to join her nephew, for whom she would
in future keep house. I warned her about being sufficiently careful with
so large a sum, and parting from it injudiciously, as women of her class
are very apt to do. She laughingly declared that not only was she
careful of it in the present, but meant to be so for the far-off future,
for she intended to go that very day to a lawyer's office and to make a
will.'

"The cashier's evidence was certainly startling in the extreme, since in
the widow's room no trace of any kind was found of any money; against
that, two of the notes handed over by the bank to Mrs. Owen on that day
were cashed by young Greenhill on the very morning of her mysterious
death. One was handed in by him to the West End Clothiers Company, in
payment for a suit of clothes, and the other he changed at the Post
Office in Oxford Street.

"After that all the evidence had of necessity to be gone through again
on the subject of young Greenhill's intimacy with Mrs. Owen. He listened
to it all with an air of the most painful nervousness, his cheeks were
positively green, his lips seemed dry and parched, for he repeatedly
passed his tongue over them, and when Constable E 18 deposed that at 2
a.m. on the morning of February 2nd he had seen the accused and spoken
to him at the corner of Percy Street and Tottenham Court Road, young
Greenhill all but fainted.

"The contention of the police was that the caretaker had been murdered
and robbed during that night before she went to bed, that young
Greenhill had done the murder, seeing that he was the only person known
to have been intimate with the woman, and that it was, moreover, proved
unquestionably that he was in the immediate neighbourhood of the Rubens
Studios at an extraordinarily late hour of the night.

"His own account of himself, and of that same night, could certainly not
be called very satisfactory. Mrs. Owen was a relative of his late
mother's, he declared. He himself was a lithographer by trade, with a
good deal of time and leisure on his hands. He certainly had employed
some of that time in taking the old woman to various places of
amusement. He had on more than one occasion suggested that she should
give up menial work, and come and live with him, but, unfortunately, she
was a great deal imposed upon by her nephew, a man of the name of Owen,
who exploited the good-natured woman in every possible way, and who had
on more than one occasion made severe attacks upon her savings at the
Birkbeck Bank.

"Severely cross-examined by the prosecuting counsel about this supposed
relative of Mrs. Owen, Greenhill admitted that he did not know him--had,
in fact, never seen him. He knew that his name was Owen and that was
all. His chief occupation consisted in sponging on the kind-hearted old
woman, but he only went to see her in the evenings, when he presumably
knew that she would be alone, and invariably after all the tenants of
the Rubens Studios had left for the day.

"I don't know whether at this point it strikes you at all, as it did
both magistrate and counsel, that there was a direct contradiction in
this statement and the one made by the cashier of the Birkbeck on the
subject of his last conversation with Mrs. Owen. 'I am going abroad to
join my nephew, for whom I am going to keep house,' was what the
unfortunate woman had said.

"Now Greenhill, in spite of his nervousness and at times contradictory
answers, strictly adhered to his point, that there was a nephew in
London, who came frequently to see his aunt.

"Anyway, the sayings of the murdered woman could not be taken as
evidence in law. Mr. Greenhill senior put the objection, adding: 'There
may have been two nephews,' which the magistrate and the prosecution
were bound to admit.

"With regard to the night immediately preceding Mrs. Owen's death,
Greenhill stated that he had been with her to the theatre, had seen her
home, and had had some supper with her in her room. Before he left her,
at 2 a.m., she had of her own accord made him a present of £10, saying:
'I am a sort of aunt to you, Arthur, and if you don't have it, Bill is
sure to get it.'

"She had seemed rather worried in the early part of the evening, but
later on she cheered up.

"'Did she speak at all about this nephew of hers or about her money
affairs? asked the magistrate.

"Again the young man hesitated, but said, 'No! she did not mention
either Owen or her money affairs.'

"If I remember rightly," added the man in the corner, "for recollect I
was not present, the case was here adjourned. But the magistrate would
not grant bail. Greenhill was removed looking more dead than
alive--though every one remarked that Mr. Greenhill senior looked
determined and not the least worried. In the course of his examination
on behalf of his son, of the medical officer and one or two other
witnesses, he had very ably tried to confuse them on the subject of the
hour at which Mrs. Owen was last known to be alive.

"He made a very great point of the fact that the usual morning's work
was done throughout the house when the inmates arrived. Was it
conceivable, he argued, that a woman would do that kind of work
overnight, especially as she was going to the theatre, and therefore
would wish to dress in her smarter clothes? It certainly was a very nice
point levelled against the prosecution, who promptly retorted: Just as
conceivable as that a woman in those circumstances of life should,
having done her work, undress beside an open window at nine o'clock in
the morning with the snow beating into the room.

"Now it seems that Mr. Greenhill senior could produce any amount of
witnesses who could help to prove a conclusive _alibi_ on behalf of his
son, if only some time subsequent to that fatal 2 a.m. the murdered
woman had been seen alive by some chance passer-by.

"However, he was an able man and an earnest one, and I fancy the
magistrate felt some sympathy for his strenuous endeavours on his son's
behalf. He granted a week's adjournment, which seemed to satisfy Mr.
Greenhill completely.

"In the meanwhile the papers had talked of and almost exhausted the
subject of the mystery in Percy Street. There had been, as you no doubt
know from personal experience, innumerable arguments on the puzzling
alternatives:--

"Accident?

"Suicide?

"Murder?

"A week went by, and then the case against young Greenhill was resumed.
Of course the court was crowded. It needed no great penetration to
remark at once that the prisoner looked more hopeful, and his father
quite elated.

"Again a great deal of minor evidence was taken, and then came the turn
of the defence. Mr. Greenhill called Mrs. Hall, confectioner, of Percy
Street, opposite the Rubens Studios. She deposed that at 8 o'clock in
the morning of February 2nd, while she was tidying her shop window, she
saw the caretaker of the Studios opposite, as usual, on her knees, her
head and body wrapped in a shawl, cleaning her front steps. Her husband
also saw Mrs. Owen, and Mrs. Hall remarked to her husband how thankful
she was that her own shop had tiled steps, which did not need scrubbing
on so cold a morning.

"Mr. Hall, confectioner, of the same address, corroborated this
statement, and Mr. Greenhill, with absolute triumph, produced a third
witness, Mrs. Martin, of Percy Street, who from her window on the second
floor had, at 7.30 a.m., seen the caretaker shaking mats outside her
front door. The description this witness gave of Mrs. Owen's get-up,
with the shawl round her head, coincided point by point with that given
by Mr. and Mrs. Hall.

"After that Mr. Greenhill's task became an easy one; his son was at home
having his breakfast at 8 o'clock that morning--not only himself, but
his servants would testify to that.

"The weather had been so bitter that the whole of that day Arthur had
not stirred from his own fireside. Mrs. Owen was murdered after 8 a.m.
on that day, since she was seen alive by three people at that hour,
therefore his son could not have murdered Mrs. Owen. The police must
find the criminal elsewhere, or else bow to the opinion originally
expressed by the public that Mrs. Owen had met with a terrible untoward
accident, or that perhaps she may have wilfully sought her own death in
that extraordinary and tragic fashion.

"Before young Greenhill was finally discharged one or two witnesses were
again examined, chief among these being the foreman of the glassworks.
He had turned up at the Rubens Studios at 9 o'clock, and been in
business all day. He averred positively that he did not specially notice
any suspicious-looking individual crossing the hall that day. 'But,' he
remarked with a smile, 'I don't sit and watch every one who goes up and
downstairs. I am too busy for that. The street door is always left open;
any one can walk in, up or down, who knows the way.'

"That there was a mystery in connection with Mrs. Owen's death--of that
the police have remained perfectly convinced; whether young Greenhill
held the key of that mystery or not they have never found out to this
day.

"I could enlighten them as to the cause of the young lithographer's
anxiety at the magisterial inquiry, but, I assure you, I do not care to
do the work of the police for them. Why should I? Greenhill will never
suffer from unjust suspicions. He and his father alone--besides
myself--know in what a terribly tight corner he all but found himself.

"The young man did not reach home till nearly _five_ o'clock that
morning. His last train had gone; he had to walk, lost his way, and
wandered about Hampstead for hours. Think what his position would have
been if the worthy confectioners of Percy Street had not seen Mrs. Owen
'wrapped up in a shawl, on her knees, doing the front steps.'

"Moreover, Mr. Greenhill senior is a solicitor, who has a small office
in John Street, Bedford Row. The afternoon before her death Mrs. Owen
had been to that office and had there made a will by which she left all
her savings to young Arthur Greenhill, lithographer. Had that will been
in other than paternal hands, it would have been proved, in the natural
course of such things, and one other link would have been added to the
chain which nearly dragged Arthur Greenhill to the gallows--'the link of
a very strong motive.'

"Can you wonder that the young man turned livid, until such time as it
was proved beyond a doubt that the murdered woman was alive hours after
he had reached the safe shelter of his home?

"I saw you smile when I used the word 'murdered,'" continued the man in
the corner, growing quite excited now that he was approaching the
_dénouement_ of his story. "I know that the public, after the magistrate
had discharged Arthur Greenhill, were quite satisfied to think that the
mystery in Percy Street was a case of accident--or suicide."

"No," replied Polly, "there could be no question of suicide, for two
very distinct reasons."

He looked at her with some degree of astonishment. She supposed that he
was amazed at her venturing to form an opinion of her own.

"And may I ask what, in your opinion, these reasons are?" he asked very
sarcastically.

"To begin with, the question of money," she said--"has any more of it
been traced so far?"

"Not another £5 note," he said with a chuckle; "they were all cashed in
Paris during the Exhibition, and you have no conception how easy a thing
that is to do, at any of the hotels or smaller _agents de change_."

"That nephew was a clever blackguard," she commented.

"You believe, then, in the existence of that nephew?"

"Why should I doubt it? Some one must have existed who was sufficiently
familiar with the house to go about in it in the middle of the day
without attracting any one's attention."

"In the middle of the day?" he said with a chuckle.

"Any time after 8.30 in the morning."

"So you, too, believe in the 'caretaker, wrapped up in a shawl,'
cleaning her front steps?" he queried.

"But--"

"It never struck you, in spite of the training your intercourse with me
must have given you, that the person who carefully did all the work in
the Rubens Studios, laid the fires and carried up the coals, merely did
it in order to gain time; in order that the bitter frost might really
and effectually do its work, and Mrs. Owen be not missed until she was
truly dead."

"But--" suggested Polly again.

"It never struck you that one of the greatest secrets of successful
crime is to lead the police astray with regard to the time when the
crime was committed. That was, if you remember, the great point in the
Regent's Park murder.

"In this case the 'nephew,' since we admit his existence, would--even if
he were ever found, which is doubtful--be able to prove as good an
_alibi_ as young Greenhill."

"But I don't understand--"

"How the murder was committed?" he said eagerly. "Surely you can see it
all for yourself, since you admit the 'nephew'--a scamp, perhaps--who
sponges on the good-natured woman. He terrorises and threatens her, so
much so that she fancies her money is no longer safe even in the
Birkbeck Bank. Women of that class are apt at times to mistrust the Bank
of England. Anyway, she withdraws her money. Who knows what she meant to
do with it in the immediate future?

"In any case, she wishes to secure it after her death to a young man
whom she likes, and who has known how to win her good graces. That
afternoon the nephew begs, entreats for more money; they have a row; the
poor woman is in tears, and is only temporarily consoled by a pleasant
visit at the theatre.

"At 2 o'clock in the morning young Greenhill parts from her. Two minutes
later the nephew knocks at the door. He comes with a plausible tale of
having missed his last train, and asks for a 'shake down' somewhere in
the house. The good-natured woman suggests a sofa in one of the studios,
and then quietly prepares to go to bed. The rest is very simple and
elementary. The nephew sneaks into his aunt's room, finds her standing
in her nightgown; he demands money with threats of violence; terrified,
she staggers, knocks her head against the gas bracket, and falls on the
floor stunned, while the nephew seeks for her keys and takes possession
of the £800. You will admit that the subsequent _mise en scène_--is
worthy of a genius.

"No struggle, not the usual hideous accessories round a crime. Only the
open windows, the bitter north-easterly gale, and the heavily falling
snow--two silent accomplices, as silent as the dead.

"After that the murderer, with perfect presence of mind, busies himself
in the house, doing the work which will ensure that Mrs. Owen shall not
be missed, at any rate, for some time. He dusts and tidies; some few
hours later he even slips on his aunt's skirt and bodice, wraps his
head in a shawl, and boldly allows those neighbours who are astir to see
what they believe to be Mrs. Owen. Then he goes back to her room,
resumes his normal appearance and quietly leaves the house."

"He may have been seen."

"He undoubtedly _was_ seen by two or three people, but no one thought
anything of seeing a man leave the house at that hour. It was very cold,
the snow was falling thickly, and as he wore a muffler round the lower
part of his face, those who saw him would not undertake to know him
again."

"That man was never seen nor heard of again?" Polly asked.

"He has disappeared off the face of the earth. The police are searching
for him, and perhaps some day they will find him--then society will be
rid of one of the most ingenious men of the age."




CHAPTER XXXVI

THE END


He had paused, absorbed in meditation. The young girl also was silent.
Some memory too vague as yet to take a definite form was persistently
haunting her--one thought was hammering away in her brain, and playing
havoc with her nerves. That thought was the inexplicable feeling within
her that there was something in connection with that hideous crime which
she ought to recollect, something which--if she could only remember what
it was--would give her the clue to the tragic mystery, and for once
ensure her triumph over this self-conceited and sarcastic scarecrow in
the corner.

He was watching her through his great bone-rimmed spectacles, and she
could see the knuckles of his bony hands, just above the top of the
table, fidgeting, fidgeting, fidgeting, till she wondered if there
existed another set of fingers in the world which could undo the knots
his lean ones made in that tiresome piece of string.

Then suddenly--_à propos_ of nothing, Polly _remembered_--the whole
thing stood before her, short and clear like a vivid flash of
lightning:--Mrs. Owen lying dead in the snow beside her open window; one
of them with a broken sash-line, tied up most scientifically with a
piece of string. She remembered the talk there had been at the time
about this improvised sash-line.

That was after young Greenhill had been discharged, and the question of
suicide had been voted an impossibility.

Polly remembered that in the illustrated papers photographs appeared of
this wonderfully knotted piece of string, so contrived that the weight
of the frame could but tighten the knots, and thus keep the window open.
She remembered that people deduced many things from that improvised
sash-line, chief among these deductions being that the murderer was a
sailor--so wonderful, so complicated, so numerous were the knots which
secured that window-frame.

But Polly knew better. In her mind's eye she saw those fingers, rendered
doubly nervous by the fearful cerebral excitement, grasping at first
mechanically, even thoughtlessly, a bit of twine with which to secure
the window; then the ruling habit strongest through all, the girl could
see it; the lean and ingenious fingers fidgeting, fidgeting with that
piece of string, tying knot after knot, more wonderful, more
complicated, than any she had yet witnessed.

"If I were you," she said, without daring to look into that corner
where he sat, "I would break myself of the habit of perpetually making
knots in a piece of string."

He did not reply, and at last Polly ventured to look up--the corner was
empty, and through the glass door beyond the desk, where he had just
deposited his few coppers, she saw the tails of his tweed coat, his
extraordinary hat, his meagre, shrivelled-up personality, fast
disappearing down the street.

Miss Polly Burton (of the _Evening Observer_) was married the other day
to Mr. Richard Frobisher (of the _London Mail_). She has never set eyes
on the man in the corner from that day to this.



THE END





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