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Title:      The Tragedy of a Third Smoker
Author:     Cutcliffe Hyne
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Date first posted:          April 2006
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Title:      The Tragedy of a Third Smoker
Author:     Cutcliffe Hyne



A STORY OF THE METROPOLITAN RAILWAY.


"I ABOMINATE detective stories," said the Q.C., laying down his cue along
the corner of the billiard - table and going across to the shelf where
the cigar - boxes stood. "You see, when a man makes a detective story to
write down on paper, he begins at the butt - end and works backwards. He
notes his points and manufactures his clues to suit 'em, so it's all
bound to work out right. In real life it's very different," - he chose a
Partaga, looking at it through his glasses thoughtfully -  "and I ought
to know; I've been studying the criminal mind for half my working life."

"But," said O'Malley, "a defending counsel is a different class of animal
from the common detective."

"Oh, is he?" said the Q.C.; "that's all you know about it." He dragged
one of the big chairs up into the deep chimney corner and settled himself
in it, after many luxurious shruggings; then he spoke on, between whiffs
at the Partaga.

"Now I'll just state you a case, and you'll see for yourself how we
sometimes have to ravel out things. The solicitor who put the brief in my
hands was, as solicitors go, a smart chap. He had built up a big business
out of nothing, but criminal work was slightly out of his line. He had
only taken up this case to oblige an old client, and I must say he made
an uncommonly poor show of it. I never had such a thin brief given me in
my life.

"The prisoner was to be tried on the capital charge; and if murder really
had been committed, it was one of a most cold - blooded nature. Hanging
would follow conviction as surely as night comes on the heels of day; and
a client who gets the noose given him always damages his counsel's
reputation, whether that counsel deserves it or not.

"As my brief put it, the case fined down to this:

"Two men got into an empty third - class smoking compartment at Addison
Road. One of them, Guide, was a drain contractor; the other, Walker, was
a foreman in Guide's employ. The train took them past the Shepherd's Bush
and Grove Road Hammersmith stations without anything being reported; but
at Shaftesbury Road Walker was found on the floor, stone dead, with a
wound in the skull, and on the seat of the carriage was a small miner's
pickaxe with one of its points smeared with blood.

"It was proved that Guide had been seen to leave the Shaftesbury Road
station. He was dishevelled and agitated at the time, and this made the
ticket collector notice him specially amongst the crowd of out - going
passengers. After it was found out who he was, inquiries were made at his
home. His wife stated that she had not seen him since Monday - the
morning of Walker's death. She also let out that Walker had been causing
him some annoyance of late, but she did not know about what. Subsequently
- on the Friday, four days later - Guide was arrested at the West India
Dock. He was trying to obtain employ as coal trimmer on an Australian
steamer, obviously to escape from the country. On being charged he
surrendered quietly, remarking that he supposed it was all up with him.

"That was the gist of my case, and the solicitor suggested that I should
enter a plea of insanity.

"Now, when I'd conned the evidence over - additional evidence to what
I've told you, but all tending to the same end - I came to the conclusion
that Guide was as sane as any of us are, and that, as a defence, insanity
wouldn't have a leg to stand upon. 'The fellow,' I said, 'had much better
enter a plea of guilty and let me pile up a long list of extenuating
circumstances. A jury will always listen to those, and feeling grateful
for being excused a long and wearisome trial, recommend to mercy out of
sheer gratitude.' I wrote a note to this effect. On its receipt the
solicitor came to see me - by the way, he was Barnes, a man of my own
year at Cambridge.

"'My dear Grayson,' said he, 'I'm not altogether a fool. I know as well
as you do that Guide would have the best chance if he pleaded guilty; but
the difficult part of it is that he flatly refuses to do any such thing.
He says he no more killed this fellow Walker than you or I did. I pointed
out to him that the man couldn't very conveniently have slain himself, as
the wound was well over at the top of his head, and had obviously been
the result of a most terrific blow. At the P.M. it was shown that
Walker's skull was of abnormal thickness, and the force required to drive
through it even a heavy, sharp - pointed instrument like the pickaxe,
must have been something tremendous.

"'I tell you, Grayson, I impressed upon the fellow that the case was as
black as ink against him, and that he'd only irritate the jury by holding
out; but I couldn't move him. He held doggedly to his tale - he had not
killed Andrew Walker.'

"'He's not the first man who's stuck to an unlikely lie like that,' I
remarked.

"' The curious part of it is,' said Barnes, 'I'm convinced that the man
believes himself to be telling the absolute truth.'

"'Then what explanation has he to offer?'

"'None worth listening to. He owns that he and Walker had a fierce
quarrel over money matters, which culminated in a personal struggle. He
knows that he had one blow on the head which dazed him, and fancies that
he must have had a second which reduced him to unconsciousness. When next
he knew what was happening, he saw Walker lying on the floor, stone dead,
though he was still warm and supple. On the floor was the pickaxe, with
one of its points slimy with blood. How it came to be so he couldn't
tell. He picked it up and laid it on a seat. Then in an instant the
thought flashed across him how terribly black things looked against
himself. He saw absolutely no chance of disproving them, and with the
usual impulse of crude minds resolved at once to quit the country. With
that idea he got out at the Shaftsbury Road Station, and being an
ignorant man and without money, made his way down to the Ratcliff Highway
- beg its pardon, St. George's High Street. Using that as a centre, he
smelt about the docks at Limehouse and Millwall trying for a job in the
stokehold; but as that neighbourhood is one of the best watched spots on
earth, it is not a matter for surprise that he was very soon captured.
That's about all I can tell you.'

"'I'm afraid it doesn't lighten matters up very much.'

"'I never said it would. The gist of this is down in your brief, Grayson.
I only came round to chambers because of your letter.'

"'Still,' I persisted, 'you threw out a hint that Guide had offered some
explanation.'

"'Oh, yes; but such a flimsy, improbable theory that no sane man could
entertain it for a minute. In fact, he knew it to be absurd himself.
After pressing him again and again to suggest how Walker could have been
killed (with the view of extorting a confession), he said, in his slow,
heavy way, "Why, I suppose, Mr. Barnes, someone else must ha' done it.
Don't you think as a man could ha' got into the carriage whilst I was
lying there stupid, and hit Walker with the pick and got out again afore
I come to? Would that do, sir?"

"'I didn't think,' added Barnes, drily, 'that it was worth following that
theory any deeper. What do you say?'

"I thought for a minute and then spoke up. 'Look here, Barnes; if in the
face of this cock - and - bull story Guide persists in his innocence,
there may be something in it after all; and if by any thousand - to - one
chance we could bring him clear, it would be a red feather in the caps of
both of us. Do you object to my seeing the man personally?'

'"It's a bit irregular,' said Barnes, doubtfully.

"' I know it is bang in the teeth of etiquette. But suppose we
compromise, and you come with me?'

"' No, I won't do that. My time's busy just now; and besides, I don't
want to run up the costs of this case higher than necessary. But if you
choose to shove your other work aside and waste a couple of hours, just
go and interview him by yourself, and we'll waive ceremony. I'll get the
necessary prison order, and send it round to you to - morrow.'

"Next afternoon I went down to see Guide in the waiting - room at the Old
Bailey. He was a middle - aged man, heavy - faced, and evidently knocked
half stupid by the situation in which he found himself. He was perhaps as
great a fool to his own interests as one might often meet with. There was
no getting the simplest tale out of him except by regular question  -
and  -  answer cross  -  examination. What little he did tell seemed
rather to confirm his guilt than otherwise; though, strange to say, I was
beginning to believe him when he kept on assuring me between every other
sentence that he did not commit the murder. Perhaps it was the stolid
earnestness of the fellow in denying the crime which convinced me. One
gets to read a good deal from facial expression when a man has watched
what goes on in the criminal dock as long as I have done;  and one can
usually spot guilt under any mask.

"' But tell me,' I said, ' what did you quarrel about in the first
instance?'

"' Money,' said Guide, moodily.

"' That's vague. Tell me more. Did he owe you money?'

"' No, sir, it was t'other way on.'

"'Wages in arrear?'

"'No, it was money tie had advanced me for the working of my business.
You see Walker had always been a hard man, and he'd saved. He said he
wanted his money back, he knowing that I was pinched a bit just then and
couldn't pay. Then he tried to thrust himself into partnership with me in
the business, which was a thing I didn't want. I'd good contracts on hand
which I expected would bring me in a matter of nine thousand pounds, and
I didn't want to share it with any man, least of all him. I told him so,
and that's how the trouble began. But it was him that hit me first.'

"'Still, you returned the blow?'"

Guide passed a hand wearily over his forehead. 'I may have struck him
back, sir - I was dazed, and I don't rightly remember. But before God
I'll swear that I never lifted that pick to Andrew Walker - it was his
pick.'

"'But,' I persisted, 'Walker couldn't very conveniently have murdered
himself.'

"'No, sir, no - no, he couldn't. I thought of that myself since I been in
here, and I said to Mr. Barnes that perhaps somebody come into the
carriage when I was knocked silly, and killed him; but Mr. Barnes he said
that was absurd. Besides, who could have done it? '

"'Don't you know anybody, then, who would have wished for Walker's
death?'

"'There was them that didn't like him,' said Guide, drearily.

"That was all I could get out of him, and I went away from the prison
feeling very dissatisfied. I was stronger than ever in the belief that
Guide was in no degree guilty, and yet for the life of me I did not see
how to prove his innocence. He had not been a man of any strong character
to begin with, and the shock of what he had gone through had utterly
dazed him. It was hopeless to expect any reasonable explanation from him;
he had resigned himself to puzzlement. If he had gone melancholy mad
before he came up to trial, I should not have been one whit surprised.

"I brooded over the matter for a couple of days, putting all the rest of
my practice out of thought, but I didn't get any forwarder with it. I
hate to give anything up as a bad job, and in this case I felt that there
was on my shoulders a huge load of responsibility. Guide, I had
thoroughly persuaded myself, had not murdered Andrew Walker; as sure as
the case went into court, on its present grounding, the man would be
hanged out of hand; and I persuaded myself that then I, and I alone,
should be responsible for an innocent man's death.

"At the end of those two days only one course seemed open to me. It was
foreign to the brief I held, but the only method left to bring in my
client's innocence.

"I must find out who did really murder the man. I must try to implicate
some third actor in the tragedy.

"To begin with, there was the railway carriage; but a little thought
showed me that nothing was to be done there. The compartment would have
been inspected by the police, and then swept and cleaned and garnished,
and coupled on to its train once more, and used by unconscious passengers
for weeks since the uproar occurred in it.

"All that I had got to go upon were the notes and relics held at Scotland
Yard.

"The police authorities were very good. Of course, they were keen enough
to bring off the prosecution with professional eclat; but they were not
exactly anxious to hand over a poor wretch to the hangman if he was not
thoroughly deserving of a dance on nothing. They placed at my disposal
every scrap of their evidence, and said that they thought the reading of
it all was plain beyond dispute. I thought so, too, at first. They sent
an inspector to my chambers as their envoy.

"On one point, though, after a lot of thought, I did not quite agree with
them. I held a grisly relic in my hand, gazing at it fixedly. It was a
portion of Walker's skull - a disc of dry bone with a splintered aperture
in the middle.

"'And so you think the pickaxe made that hole,' I said to the inspector.

"'I don't think there can be any doubt about it, Mr. Grayson. Nothing
else could have done it, and the point of the pick was smeared with
blood.'

"'But would there be room to swing such a weapon in a third - class
Metropolitan railway carriage?"

"' We thought of that, and at first it seemed a poser. The roof is low,
and both Guide and Walker are tall men; but if Guide had gripped the
shaft by the end, so, with his right hand pretty near against the head,
so, he'd have had heaps of room to drive it with a sideways swing. I
tried the thing for myself; it acted perfectly. Here's the pickaxe: you
can see for yourself.'

"I did see, and I wasn't satisfied; but I didn't tell the inspector what
I thought. It was clearer to me than ever that Guide had not committed
the murder.

What I asked the inspector was this: 'Had either of the men got any
luggage in the carriage?'

"The inspector answered, with a laugh,'Not quite, Mr. Grayson, or you
would see it here.'

"Then I took on paper a rough outline of that fragment of bone, and an
accurate sketch of exact size of the gash in it, and the inspector went
away. One thing his visit had shown me. Andrew Walker was not slain by a
blow from behind by the pickaxe.

"I met Barnes whilst I was nibbling lunch, and told him this. He heard me
doubtfully. 'You may be right,' said he, 'but I'm bothered if I see what
you have to go upon.'

"'You know what a pickaxe is like?' I said.

"'Certainly.'

"'A cross - section of one of the blades would be what?'

"'Square - or perhaps oblong.'

"'Quite so. Rectangular. What I want to get at is this: it wouldn't even
be diamond shape, with the angles obtuse and acute alternately.'

"'Certainly not. The angles would be clean right - angles.'

"'Very good. Now look at this sketch of the hole in the skull, and tell
me what you see.'

"Barnes put on his glasses, and gazed attentively for a minute or so, and
then looked up. 'The pick point has crashed through without leaving any
marks of its edges whatever.'

"'That is to say, there are none of your right - angles showing.'

"'None. But that does not go to prove anything.'

"'No. It's only about a tenth of my proof. It gives the vague initial
idea. It made me look more carefully, and I saw this' - I pointed with my
pencil to a corner of the sketch.

"Barnes whistled. 'A clean arc of a circle,' said he, ' cut in the bone
as though a knife had done it. You saw that pickaxe. Was it much worn?
Were the angles much rounded near the point? '

"'They were not. On the contrary, the pick, though an old one, had just
been through the blacksmith's shop to be re - sharpened, and had not been
used since. There was not a trace of wear upon it: of that I am certain.'

"Barnes whistled again in much perplexity. At length said he, 'It's an
absolutely certain thing that Walker was not killed in the way they
imagine. But I don't think this will get Guide off scot - free. There's
too much other circumstantial evidence against him. Of course you'll do
your best, but - '

"'It would be more than a toss up if I could avoid a conviction. Quite
so. We must find out more. The question is, how was this wound made? Was
there a third man in it?'

"'Guide may have jobbed him from behind with some other instrument, and
afterwards thrown it out of window.'

"'Yes,' said I, 'but that is going on the assumption that Guide did the
trick, which I don't for a moment think the case. Besides, if he did
throw anything out of window, it would most assuredly have been found.
They keep the permanent way very thoroughly inspected upon the
Metropolitan. No, Barnes. There is some other agent in this case, animate
or inanimate, which so far we have overlooked completely; and an innocent
man's life depends upon our ravelling it out.'

"Barnes lifted his shoulders helplessly, and took another sandwich. 'I
don't see what we can do.'

"'Nor I, very clearly. But we must start from the commencement, and go
over the ground inch by inch.'

"So wrapped up was I in the case by this time, that I could not fix my
mind to anything else. Then and there I went out and set about my
inquiries.

"With some trouble I found the compartment in which the tragedy had taken
place, but learnt nothing new from it. The station and the railway people
at Addison Road, Kensington, were similarly drawn blank. The ticket
inspector at Shaftsbury Road, who distinctly remembered Guide's passage,
at first seemed inclined to tell me nothing new, till I dragged it out of
him by a regular emetic of questioning.

"Then he did remember that Guide had been carrying in his hand a
carpenter's straw bass, as he passed through the wicket. He did not
recollect whether he had mentioned this to the police: didn't see that it
mattered.

"I thought differently, and with a new vague hope in my heart, posted
back to the prison. I had heard no word of this hand  -  baggage from
Guide. It remained to be seen what he had done with it.

"They remembered me from my previous visit, and let me in to the prisoner
without much demur. Guide owned up to the basket at once. 'Yes,' he said,
'I had some few odd tools to carry from home, and as I couldn't find
anything else handy to put them in I used the old carpenter's bass. I had
an iron eye to splice on to the end of a windlass rope, a job that I like
to do myself, to make sure it's done safe. I never thought about telling
you of that bass before, sir. I didn't see as how it mattered.'

"' Where is the bass now?'

"'In the Left Luggage Office at Shaftsbury Road Station. Name of Hopkins.
I've lost the ticket.'

"' Where did you put your basket on entering the carriage at Addison
Road?'

"'On the seat, sir, in the corner by the window.'

"And with that I left him.

"' Now,' thought I, ' I believe I can find out whether you murdered
Walker or not,' and drove back to Hammersmith.

"I inquired at the cloak - room. Yes, the carpenter's bass was there,
beneath a dusty heap of other unclaimed luggage. There was demurrage to
pay on it, which I offered promptly to hand over, but as I could produce
no counterfoil bearing the name of Hopkins, the clerk, with a smile, said
that he could not let me have it, However, when he heard what I wanted,
he made no objection to my having an overhaul.

"The two lugs of the bass were threaded together with a hammer. I took
this away, and opened the sides. Within was a ball of marline, another of
spun - yarn, a grease - pot, and several large iron eyes. Also a large
marline - spike. It was this last that fixed my attention. It was brand
new, with a bone handle and a bright brass ferrule. Most of the iron also
was bright, but three inches of the point were stained with a faint dark
brown. From a casual inspection I should have put this down to the
marline - spike having been last used to make a splice on tarred rope;
but now my suspicions made me think of something else.

"I raised the stained point to my nose. There was no smell of tar
whatever. On the bright part there was the indefinable odour of iron; at
the tip, that thin coat of dark brown varnish had blotted this scent
completely away.

"I think my fingers trembled when I turned to the bass again.

"Yes, there, opposite to where the point of the marline - spike had been
lying - it was tilted up over the ball of spun - yarn - was a closed - up
gash in the side of the bass. The spike had passed through there, and
then been withdrawn. Round the gash was a dim discoloration which I knew
to be dried human blood.

"In my mind's eye I saw the whole ghastly accident clearly enough now.
The two men had been standing up, struggling. Guide had gone down under a
blow, knocked senseless, and Walker had stumbled over him. Pitching
forward, face downwards, on to the seat before he could recover, his head
had dashed violently against the carpenter's bass. The sharp marline -
spike inside, with its heel resting against the solid wall of the
carriage, had entered the top of his skull like a bayonet. No human hand
had been raised against him, and yet he had been killed.

"I kept my own particular ramblings in this case remarkably quiet, and in
court led up to my facts through ordinary cross - examination.

"At the proper psychological moment I called attention to the shape of
the puncture in Walker's skull, and then dramatically sprang the bass and
the marline - spike upon them unawares. After that, as the papers put it,
' there was applause in court, which was instantly suppressed.' "

"Oh, the conceit of the man," said O'Malley, laughing.

Grayson laughed too. "Well," he said, " I was younger then, and I suppose
I was a trifle conceited. The Crown didn't throw up. But the jury
chucked.us a 'Not guilty' without leaving the box, and then leading
counsel for the other side came across and congratulated me on having
saved Guide from the gallows. 'Now I'd have bet anything on hanging that
man,' said he."



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