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Title:  The Love Affair of George Vincent Parker
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
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Title:  The Love Affair of George Vincent Parker
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Strand Magazine, 1901

[The cases dealt with in this series of studies of criminal psychology
are taken from the actual history of crime, though occasionally names
have been changed where their retention might cause pain to surviving

THE student of criminal annals will find upon classifying his cases that
the two causes which are the most likely to incite a human being to the
crime of murder are the lust of money and the black resentment of a
disappointed love. Of these the latter are both rarer and more
interesting, for they are subtler in their inception and deeper in their
psychology. The mind can find no possible sympathy with the brutal greed
and selfishness which weighs a purse against a life; but there is
something more spiritual in the case of the man who is driven by jealousy
and misery to a temporary madness of violence. To use the language of
science it is the passionate as distinguished from the instinctive
criminal type. The two classes of crime may be punished by the same
severity, but we feel that they are not equally sordid, and that none of
us is capable of saying how he might act if his affections and his
self-respect were suddenly and cruelly outraged. Even when we indorse the
verdict it is still possible to feel some shred of pity for the criminal.
His offence has not been the result of a self-interested and cold-blooded
plotting, but it has been the consequence--however monstrous and
disproportionate--of a cause for which others were responsible. As an
example of such a crime I would recite the circumstances connected with
George Vincent Parker, making some alteration in the names of persons and
of places wherever there is a possibility that pain might be inflicted by
their disclosure.

Nearly forty years ago there lived in one of our Midland cities a certain
Mr. Parker, who did a considerable business as a commission agent. He was
an excellent man of affairs, and during those progressive years which
intervened between the Crimean and the American wars his fortune
increased rapidly.

He built himself a villa in a pleasant suburb outside the town, and being
blessed with a charming and sympathetic wife there was every prospect
that the evening of his days would be spent in happiness. The only
trouble which he had to contend with was his inability to understand the
character of his only son, or to determine what plans he should make for
his future.

George Vincent Parker, the young man in question, was of a type which
continually recurs and which verges always upon the tragic. By some trick
of atavism he had no love for the great city and its roaring life, none
for the weary round of business, and no ambition to share the rewards
which successful business brings. He had no sympathy with his father's
works or his father's ways, and the life of the office was hateful to
him. This aversion to work could not, however, be ascribed to viciousness
or indolence. It was innate and constitutional. In other directions his
mind was alert and receptive. He loved music and showed a remarkable
aptitude for it. He was an excellent linguist and had some taste in
painting. In a word, he was a man of artistic temperament, with all the
failings of nerve and of character which that temperament implies. In
London he would have met hundreds of the same type, and would have found
a congenial occupation in making small incursions into literature and
dabbling in criticism. Among the cotton-brokers of the Midlands his
position was at that time an isolated one, and his father could only
shake his head and pronounce him to be quite unfit to carry on the family
business. He was gentle in his disposition, reserved with strangers, but
very popular among his few friends. Once or twice it had been remarked
that he was capable of considerable bursts of passion when he thought
himself ill-used.

This is a type of man for whom the practical workers of the world have no
affection, but it is one which invariably appeals to the feminine nature.
There is a certain helplessness about it and a nave appeal for sympathy
to which a woman's heart readily responds--and it is the strongest, most
vigorous woman who is the first to answer the appeal.

We do not know what other consolers this quiet dilettante may have found,
but the details of one such connection have come down to us. It was at a
musical evening at the house of a local doctor that he first met Miss
Mary Groves. The doctor was her uncle, and she had come to town to visit
him, but her life was spent in attendance upon her grandfather, who was a
very virile old gentleman, whose eighty years did not prevent him from
fulfilling all the duties of a country gentleman, including those of the
magisterial bench.

After the quiet of a secluded manor-house the girl in the first flush of
her youth and her beauty enjoyed the life of the town, and seems to have
been particularly attracted by this refined young musician, whose
appearance and manners suggested that touch of romance for which a young
girl craves. He on his side was drawn to her by her country freshness and
by the sympathy which she showed for him. Before she returned to the
Manor-house friendship had grown into love and the pair were engaged.

But the engagement was not looked upon with much favour by either of the
families concerned. Old Parker had died, and his widow was left with
sufficient means to live in comfort, but it became more imperative than
ever that some profession should be found for the son. His invincible
repugnance to business still stood in the way. On the other hand the
young lady came of a good stock, and her relations, headed by the old
country squire, objected to her marriage with a penniless young man of
curious tastes and character. So for four years the engagement dragged
along, during which the lovers corresponded continually, but seldom met.
At the end of that time he was twenty-five and she was twenty-three, but
the prospect of their union seemed as remote as ever. At last the prayers
of her relatives overcame her constancy, and she took steps to break the
tie which held them together. This she endeavoured to do by a change in
the tone of her letters, and by ominous passages to prepare him for the
coming blow.

On August 12th, 18?? she wrote that she had met a clergyman who was the
most delightful man she had ever seen in her life. 'He has been staying
with us,' she said, 'and grandfather thought that he would just suit me,
but that would not do.' This passage, in spite of the few lukewarm words
of reassurance, disturbed young Vincent Parker exceedingly. His mother
testified afterwards to the extreme depression into which he was thrown,
which was the less remarkable as he was a man who suffered from
constitutional low spirits, and who always took the darkest view upon
every subject. Another letter reached him next day which was more decided
in its tone.

'I have a good deal to say to you, and it had better be said at once,'
said she. 'My grandfather has found out about our correspondence, and is
wild that there should be any obstacle to the match between the clergyman
and me. I want you to release me that I may have it to say that I am
free. Don't take this too hardly, in pity for me. I shall not marry if I
can help it.'

This second letter had an overpowering effect. His state was such that
his mother had to ask a family friend to sit up with him all night. He
paced up and down in an extreme state of nervous excitement, bursting
constantly into tears. When he lay down his hands and feet twitched
convulsively. Morphia was administered, but without effect. He refused
all food. He had the utmost difficulty in answering the letter, and when
he did so next day it was with the help of the friend who had stayed with
him all night. His answer was reasonable and also affectionate.

'My dearest Mary,' he said. 'Dearest you will always be to me. To say
that I am not terribly cut up would be a lie, but at any rate you know
that I am not the man to stand in your way. I answer nothing to your last
letter except that I wish to hear from your own lips what your wishes
are, and I will then accede to them. You know me too well to think that I
would then give way to any unnecessary nonsense or sentimentalism. Before
I leave England I wish to see you once again, and for the last time,
though God knows what misery it gives me to say so. You will admit that
my desire to see you is but natural. Say in your next where you will meet
me. Ever, dearest Mary, your affectionate GEORGE.'

Next, day he wrote another letter in which he again implored her to give
him an appointment, saying that any place between their house and
Standwell, the nearest village, would do. 'I am ill and thoroughly upset,
and I do not wonder that you are,' said he. 'We shall both be happier and
better in mind as well as in body after this last interview. I shall be
at your appointment, coute qu'il coute. Always your affectionate GEORGE.'

There seems to have been an answer to this letter actually making an
appointment, for he wrote again upon Wednesday, the 19th. 'My dear Mary,'
said he, 'I will only say here that I will arrive by the train you
mention and that I hope, dear Mary, that you will not bother yourself
unnecessarily about all this so far as I am concerned. For my own peace
of mind I wish to see you, which I hope you won't think selfish. Du reste
I only repeat what I have already said. I have but to hear from you what
your wishes are and they shall be complied with. I have sufficient savoir
faire not to make a bother about what cannot be helped. Don't let me be
the cause of any row between you and your grandpapa. If you like to call
at the inn I will not stir out until you come, but I leave this to your

As Professor Owen would reconstruct an entire animal out of a single
bone, so from this one little letter the man stands flagrantly revealed.
The scraps of French, the self-conscious allusion to his own savoir
faire, the florid assurances which mean nothing, they are all so many
strokes in a subtle self-portrait.

Miss Groves had already repented the appointment which she had given him.
There may have been some traits in this eccentric lover whom she had
abandoned which recurred to her memory and warned her not to trust
herself in his power.--My dear George,' she wrote--and her letter must
have crossed his last one--'I write this in the greatest haste to tell
you not to come on any account. I leave here today, and can't tell when I
can or shall be back. I do not wish to see you if it can possibly be
avoided, and indeed there will be no chance now, so we had best end this
state of suspense at once and say good-bye without seeing each other. I
feel sure I could not stand the meeting. If you write once more within
the next three days I shall get it, but not later than that time without
its being seen, for my letters are strictly watched and even opened.
Yours truly, MARY.'

About two miles upon the other side of the Manor-house, and four miles
from the Bull's Head Inn, there is a thriving grammar school, the head
master of which was a friend of the Groves family and had some slight
acquaintance with Vincent Parker. The young man thought, therefore, that
this would be the best place for him to apply for information, and he
arrived at the school about half-past one. The head master was no doubt
considerably astonished at the appearance of this dishevelled and
brandy-smelling visitor, but he answered his questions with discretion
and courtesy.

'I have called upon you,' said Parker, 'as a friend of Miss Groves. I
suppose you know that there is an engagement between us?'

'I understood that there was an engagement, and that it had been broken
off,' said the master.

'Yes,' Parker answered. 'she has written to me to break off the
engagement and declines to see me. I want to know how matters stand.'

'Anything I may know,' said the master, 'is in confidence, and so I
cannot tell you.'

'I will find it out sooner or later,' said Parker, and then asked who the
clergyman was who had been staying at the Manor-house. The master
acknowledged that there had been one, but refused to give the name.
Parker then asked whether Miss Groves was at the Manor-house and if any
coercion was being used to her. The other answered that she was at the
Manor-house and that no coercion was being used.

'Sooner or later I must see her,' said Parker. 'I have written to release
her from her engagement, but I must hear from her own lips that she gives
me up. She is of age and must please herself. I know that I am not a good
match, and I do not wish to stand in her way.'

The master then remarked that it was time for school, but that he should
be free again at half-past four if Parker had anything more to say to
him, and Parker left, promising to return. It is not known how he spent
the next two hours, but he may have found some country inn in which he
obtained some luncheon. At half-past four he was back at the school, and
asked the master for advice as to how to act. The master suggested that
his best course was to write a note to Miss Groves and to make an
appointment with her for next morning.

'If you were to call at the house, perhaps Miss Groves would see you,'
said this sympathetic and most injudicious master.

'I will do so and get it off my mind,' said Vincent Parker.

It was about five o'clock when he left the school, his manner at that
time being perfectly calm and collected.

It was forty minutes later when the discarded lover arrived at the house
of his sweetheart. He knocked at the door and asked for Miss. Groves. She
had probably seen him as he came down the drive, for she met him at the
drawing-room door as he came in, and she invited him to come with her
into the garden. Her heart was in her mouth, no doubt, lest her
grandfather should see him and a scene ensue. It was safer to have him in
the garden than in the house. They walked out, therefore, and half an
hour later they were seen chatting quietly upon one of the benches. A
little afterwards the maid went out and told Miss Groves that tea was
ready. She came in alone, and it is suggestive of the views taken by the
grandfather that there seems to have been no question about Parker coming
in also to tea. She came out again into the garden and sat for a long
time with the young man, after which they seem to have set off together
for a stroll down the country lanes. What passed during that walk, what
recriminations upon his part, what retorts upon hers, will never now be
known. They were only once seen in the course of it. At about half-past
eight o'clock a labourer, coming up a long lane which led from the high
road to the Manor-house, saw a man and a woman walking together. As he
passed them he recognised in the dusk that the lady was Miss Groves, the
granddaughter of the squire. When he looked back he saw that they had
stopped and were standing face to face conversing.

A very short time after this Reuben Conway, a workman, was passing down
this lane when he heard a low sound of moaning. He stood listening, and
in the silence of the country evening he became aware that this ominous
sound was drawing nearer to him. A wall flanked one side of the lane, and
as he stared about him his eye caught something moving slowly down the
black shadow at the side. For a moment it must have seemed to him to be
some wounded animal, but as he approached it he saw to his astonishment
that it was a woman who was slowly stumbling along, guiding and
supporting herself by her hand against the wall. With a cry of horror he
found himself looking into the face of Miss Groves, glimmering white
through the darkness.

'Take me home!' she whispered. 'Take me home! The gentleman down there
has been murdering me.'

The horrified labourer put his arms round her, and carried her for about
twenty yards towards home.

'Can you see anyone down the lane?' she asked, when he stopped for

He looked, and through the dark tunnel of trees he saw a black figure
moving slowly behind them. The labourer waited, still propping up the
girl's head, until young Parker overtook them.

'Who has been murdering Miss Groves?' asked Reuben Conway.

'I have stabbed her,' said Parker, with the utmost coolness.

'Well, then, you had best help me to carry her home,' said the labourer.
So down the dark lane moved that singular procession: the rustic and the
lover, with the body of the dying girl between them.

'Poor Mary!' Parker muttered. 'Poor Mary! You should not have proved
false to me!'

When they got as far as the lodge-gate Parker suggested that Reuben
Conway should run and get something which might stanch the bleeding. He
went, leaving these tragic lovers together for the last time. When he
returned he found Parker holding something to her throat.

'Is she living?' he asked.

'She is,' said Parker.

'Oh, take me home!' wailed the poor girl. A little farther upon their
dolorous journey they met two farmers, who helped them.

'Who has done this?' asked one of them.

'He knows and I know,' said Parker, gloomily. 'I am the man who has done
this, and I shall be hanged for it. I have done it, and there is no
question about that at all.'

These replies never seem to have brought insult or invective upon his
head, for everyone appears to have been silenced by the overwhelming
tragedy of the situation.

'I am dying!' gasped poor Mary, and they were the last words which she
ever said. Inside the hall-gates they met the poor old squire running
wildly up on some vague rumour of a disaster. The bearers stopped as they
saw the white hair gleaming through the darkness.

'What is amiss?' he cried.

Parker said, calmly, 'It is your grand-daughter Mary murdered.'

'Who did it?' shrieked the old man.

'I did it.'

'Who are you?' he cried.

'My name is Vincent Parker.'

'Why did you do it?'

'She has deceived me, and the woman who deceives me must die.'

The calm concentration of his manner seems to have silenced all

'I told her I would kill her,' said he, as they all entered the house
together. 'She knew my temper.'

The body was carried into the kitchen and laid upon the table. In the
meantime Parker had followed the bewildered and heart-broken old man into
the drawing-room, and holding out a handful of things, including his
watch and some money, he asked him if he would take care of them. The
squire angrily refused. He then took two bundles of her letters out of
his pocket--all that was left of their miserable love story.

'Will you take care of these?' said he. 'You may read them, burn them, do
what you like with them. I don't wish them to be brought into court.'

The grandfather took the letters and they were duly burned.

And now the doctor and the policeman, the twin attendants upon violence,
came hurrying down the avenue. Poor Mary was dead upon the kitchen table,
with three great wounds upon her throat. How, with a severed carotid, she
could have come so far or lived so long is one of the marvels of the
case. As to the policeman, he had no trouble in looking for his prisoner.
As he entered the room Parker walked towards him and said that he wished
to give himself up for murdering a young lady. When asked if he were
aware of the nature of the charge he said, 'Yes, quite so, and I will go
with you quietly, only let me see her first.'

'What have you done with the knife?' asked the policeman.

Parker produced it from his pocket, a very ordinary one with a clasp
blade. It is remarkable that two other penknives were afterwards found
upon him. They took him into the kitchen and he looked at his victim.

'I am far happier now that I have done it than before, and I hope that
she is.' said he.

This is the record of the murder of Mary Groves by Vincent Parker, a
crime characterized by all that inconsequence and grim artlessness which
distinguish fact from fiction. In fiction we make people say and do what
we should conceive them to be likely to say or do, but in fact they say
and do what no one would ever conceive to be likely. That those letters
should be a prelude to a murder, or that after a murder the criminal
should endeavour to stanch the wounds of his victim, or hold such a
conversation as that described with the old squire, is what no human
invention would hazard. One finds it very difficult on reading all the
letters and weighing the facts to suppose that Vincent Parker came out
that day with the preformed intention of killing his former sweetheart.
But whether the dreadful idea was always there, or whether it came in
some mad flash of passion provoked by their conversation, is what we
shall never know. It is certain that she could not have seen anything
dangerous in him up to the very instant of the crime, or she would
certainly have appealed to the labourer who passed them in the lane.

The case, which excited the utmost interest through the length and
breadth of England, was tried before Baron Martin at the next assizes.
There was no need to prove the guilt of the prisoner, since he openly
gloried in it, but the whole question turned upon his sanity, and led to
some curious complications which have caused the whole law upon the point
to be reformed. His relations were called to show that madness was
rampant in the family, and that out of ten cousins five were insane. His
mother appeared in the witness-box contending with dreadful vehemence
that her son was mad, and that her own marriage had been objected to on
the ground of the madness latent in her blood. All the witnesses agreed
that the prisoner was not an ill-tempered man, but sensitive, gentle, and
accomplished, with a tendency to melancholy. The prison chaplain affirmed
that he had held conversations with Parker, and that his moral perception
seemed to be so entirely wanting that he hardly knew right from wrong.
Two specialists in lunacy examined him, and said that they were of
opinion that he was of unsound mind. The opinion was based upon the fact
that the prisoner declared that he could not see that he had done any

'Miss Groves was promised to me,' said he, 'and therefore she was mine. I
could do what I liked with her. Nothing short of a miracle will alter my

The doctor attempted to argue with him. 'Suppose anyone took a picture
from you, what steps would you take to recover it?' he asked.

'I should demand restitution,' said he 'if not, I should take the thief's
life without compunction.'

The doctor pointed out that the law was there to be appealed to, but
Parker answered that he had been born into the world without being
consulted, and therefore he recognised the right of no man to judge him.
The doctor's conclusion was that his moral sense was more vitiated than
any case that he had seen. That this constitutes madness would, however,
be a dangerous doctrine to urge, since it means that if a man were only
wicked enough he would be screened from the punishment of his wickedness.

Baron Martin summed up in a common-sense manner. He declared that the
world was full of eccentric people, and that to grant them all the
immunity of madness would be a public danger. To be mad within the
meaning of the law a criminal should be in such a state as not to know
that he has committed crime or incurred punishment. Now, it was clear
that Parker did know this, since he had talked of being hanged. The Baron
accordingly accepted the jury's finding of 'Guilty,' and sentenced the
prisoner to death.

There the matter might very well have ended were it not for Baron
Martin's conscientious scruples. His own ruling had been admirable, but
the testimony of the mad doctors weighed heavily upon him, and his
conscience was uneasy at the mere possibility that a man who was really
not answerable for his actions should lose his life through his decision.
It is probable that the thought kept him awake that night, for next
morning he wrote to the Secretary of State, and told him that he shrank
from the decision of such a case.

The Secretary of State, having carefully read the evidence and the
judge's remarks, was about to confirm the decision of the latter, when,
upon the very eve of the execution, there came a report from the gaol
visitors--perfectly untrained observers--that Parker was showing
undoubted signs of madness. This being so the Secretary of State had no
choice but to postpone the execution, and to appoint a commission of four
eminent alienists to report upon the condition of the prisoner. These
four reported unanimously that he was perfectly sane. It is an unwritten
law, however, that a prisoner once reprieved is never executed, so
Vincent Parker's sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life--a
decision which satisfied, upon the whole, the conscience of the public.

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