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Title: That Damned Fellow Upstairs
Author: Edmund Pearson
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606281.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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That Damned Fellow Upstairs
Edmund Pearson




Mr. Pickwick knew an old man who said that the rooms in the Inns of
Court were 'queer old places'--odd and lonely.

'Not a bit of it!' said a sceptical friend.

Then the sceptic, who lived by himself in one of these rooms, died
one morning of apoplexy, as he was about to open his door. Fell with
his head in his own letterbox, and lay there for eighteen months. At
last, as the rent was not being paid, the landlords had the door
forced, 'and a very dusty skeleton in a blue coat, black knee-shorts
and silks, fell forward in the arms of the porter who opened the
door'.

Years after Mr. Pickwick's adventures were over, entrance was one day
forced into another queer old room in a London house, and, with a
tremendous clatter, out tumbled another skeleton, of a still stranger
kind.

The noise it made was not heard in America, since we were completely
absorbed, that summer, in the first Battle of Bull Run. The story
would be forgotten in England today, were it not for the admirable
essay published seven years ago by the late Sir John Hall, Bart. This
gentleman is respected by all those who appreciate scholarly
descriptions of curious events. It is probable, however, that of all
who see my retelling of the tale, only experts like Messrs. Alexander
Woollcott and S.S. Van Dine will be familiar with Sir John Hall's
work. And as it has been solemnly asserted, in print, that the names
of both Mr. Woollcott and Mr. Van Dine are but pseudonyms of the
writer of this piece, the circle is very much narrowed. So I feel
moderately safe in going ahead, especially as I have unearthed one or
two details on my own account.

Towards noon of a day in July, in that far-off year, Mr. Clay, the
manager of the Catalonian Cork-Cutting Company, was in the rear of his
premises in Northumberland Street, London. He heard two pistol shots
from within the house, one shot following the other at a five-minute
interval. He paid no attention, since he knew that one of the
residents of the house had, for a month past, anticipated Sherlock
Holmes in the eccentric custom of indoor pistol-practice.

After a few minutes, a rear window on the second floor was opened,
and there appeared the hero of the story. His conduct, his
accoutrement, and some of his speeches, have always recalled to me
those half-demented and curious persons who flit through the novels of
Mr. G.K. Chesterton. He was a man in his forties; wearing, I think,
side-whiskers, and carrying in one hand an umbrella, in the other,
half a pair of tongs. He put one foot on the sill, and seemed about to
jump twenty feet or more into the yard.

This horrified the Catalonian cork-cutter, not only because the
stranger's face was covered with blood, but because of the flagstones
and an area, with iron railings, directly below the window. He adjured
the bearer of the umbrella, in the name of God, to do nothing
desperate, but to tell him what was the matter.

'Murder is the matter!' replied the gory one, and continued his
preparations for a desperate leap.

Mr. Clay sent one of his employees for the police, and ran indoors to
try to get into the second-floor apartment. While he was banging at
the locked doors, he heard glass breaking, and on looking out again,
found that the mysterious person had jumped into the yard; fought off
a workman who tried to stop him; clambered over a high wall into the
next yard--still armed with the umbrella; gained an alley between the
houses; and made his way into the street.

Here, he was surrounded by a group of people who had come running
from various directions. He complained that someone who lived at
Number 16 had tried to murder him. One of the men in the street must
have secured the umbrella--perhaps while the wounded man was adjusting
his cravat, or brushing off his clothes--for the stranger asked for
the umbrella again, and said that he must be getting to his office.
This in spite of the fact that he had lost his hat; had a terrible
wound in the back of the neck; another, which was bleeding freely, on
his cheek; and that both his hair and whiskers were singed.

Duty was evidently the keynote of his character. He was an officer
and a gentleman, and to introduce him by name, he was Major William
Murray, late of the 10th Hussars, but a total stranger to all in the
street. As it will appear presently, deception was in his eyes a far
more grievous offence than personal violence, and to him
unsportsmanlike conduct seemed the blackest of sins. A man in the
crowd reasoned with him about going to his office.

'You are badly wounded,' said this one.

'Am I?' replied the Major.

'Indeed, you are fearfully wounded.'

Then the Major remarked:

'It's that damned fellow upstairs--Grey.'

'There is nobody named Grey in that house,' the man returned. 'But if
you mean the man I saw you go in with, about half an hour ago, his
name is Roberts.'

Then, at last, the Major allowed a faint note of bitterness to creep
into his tone.

'He told me,' he said, 'he told me, that his name was Grey.'

Meanwhile, much was going on in and about Number 16 Northumberland
Street. The occupants of that and nearby houses had all heard the
pistol shots, and one of them had heard other noises--as if someone
were beating a mattress. But no one gave much thought to the reports,
since they all knew the habit of their neighbour, Mr. Roberts, of
amusing himself by target practice. Roberts was, by profession, a
solicitor; actually he accommodated people by lending money. This he
did at no great disadvantage to himself--his idea of a proper rate of
interest being 133 1/3; per cent, per annum.

Inside the house, during the talk on the street, was a Mr. Preston-
Lumb, an engineer. To him came young Mr. Roberts, son of the
moneylender.

'Oh! Mr. Lumb,' he cried--forgetting, in his excitement, the glories
of the hyphenated name, 'oh, Mr. Lumb, someone has been and murdered
Father!'

Thus, at last, we learn the real origin of the remark which Miss
Lizzie Borden called up the stairs to Bridget Sullivan, on another
warm and sanguinary noonday, many years afterwards.

Meanwhile, the man in the crowd, and most of the crowd, too, were
escorting the wounded Major, first to a chemist's for immediate
relief, and then to a bed in the Charing Cross Hospital. His injuries
were serious, but he was able, as they walked along, to give the First
Citizen a perfectly lucid account of the surprise attack which had
been made upon him by the fellow who said his name was Grey.

When the police arrived, and began to search for Mr. Roberts, another
inquirer came upon the scene. This was one Timms, a man who had been
engaged in washing down the back of the house. To him, shortly before
the shots were fired, had come Mr. Roberts, given him a shilling, and
asked him to go to the top of St. Martin's Lane, and buy a linnet. He
added that the price of the bird was ninepence. Now, Mr. Timms
returned, and was left in possession of the linnet, and of the
threepence change.

This, in a modern American murder trial, would have been a winsome
incident, to be repeated to the jury by the weeping lawyer for the
defence, coupled with a demand for the instant acquittal of the
prisoner, as one whose tender heart was solely concerned with
feathered songsters of the air.

The police, by means of ladders, at last effected an entrance to the
rooms of Mr. Roberts. To these locked apartments hardly anyone, not
even the moneylender's son, had ordinarily been admitted.

The officers looked at an amazing sight. The rooms were elaborately
overfurnished in the French style of the period of Louis Philippe.
There were half a dozen good watercolour paintings, with heavy gold
frames. Brackets and shelves were ornamented with statuettes and bric-
a-brac under glass covers. The floor space was crowded with ormolu
tables and boule cabinets. Everything in the room was filthy with dirt
and dust--the thick, black encrustation which follows years of
neglect. On the floor was a great heap of crumpled papers, also
powdered with dust, while the marble mantelpiece was scarred and
chipped by the bullets from Mr. Robert's pistol.

In the front room the ornate and dirty furniture was little
disarranged, but the other room showed the marks of a terrific fight.
Chairs and gilded tables had been upset. The dust had been beaten
down; the inlaid cabinets were smeared by bloody fingers. There were
splashes of blood on the walls, and a shower of drops of blood on the
glass covers over the ornaments. In places, the room looked 'as if a
bloody mop had been trundled round and round'.

The police found parts of the broken tongs, 'actually coated with
bits of flesh and blood', and another weapon of the fight, a broken
wine bottle, lying in a pool of blood. Near the wall in the front
room, his head a shocking mass of wounds, lay the owner of all this:
Roberts, the moneylender. He had a dozen or twenty injuries, any one
of which looked as if it alone should have been instantly fatal. Yet
he lived, and could talk.

He, also, was taken to the hospital, where, to the astonishment of
the surgeons, he lived for six days. Most of this time he was
conscious, but did not say much to help the police. He said that
Murray, whom he met by accident in the street, had come to his rooms
for a loan. And then, 'Murray shot himself in the neck, attacked me
with the tongs like a demon, and hit me with a glass bottle.'

Aside from the improbability of this, the chief wound of the Major
made the moneylender's story absurd, and indicated that Roberts had
done the shooting. The Major had said, from the start, that Roberts
was an utter stranger, whom he had met in the street; that he had been
asked to come to the house in Northumberland Street to discuss a
proposed loan to a company, and that he had been shot and almost
killed for no reason which he could imagine. He then defended his life
with the weapons that came to hand.

Young Roberts was brought to his bedside, but still the name meant
nothing.

'What Roberts?' said the Major.

'Why, the son of the Roberts who shot you,' was the reply.

Then the exasperation of Major Murray burst forth again.

'Why, damn him,' he said, 'he ought to be hanged for shooting a man
on the ground!'

To the sporting Major, especially at a time of the year when the
thoughts of all Englishmen were dwelling upon the approach of the
grouse season, it was scandalous that Roberts had not flushed him
before firing.

Since Roberts died without giving any reason for the fight, and since
it was a mystery to Major Murray, the police continued to search the
rooms for an explanation. At last, as in a detective story, they
believed they had found it in a few marks on a bloodstained sheet of
blotting paper. Holding this to the mirror, they deciphered the name
'Mrs. Murray', and an address: Elm Lodge, Tottenham. There were also
some fragments of letters from Mrs. Murray to Mr. Roberts.

The inquest was held ten days after the fight. The jury met in the
hospital, where they could most easily inspect the battered remains of
the man who lost the combat, and also question the winner of it. The
so-called Mrs. Murray appeared, heavily veiled. When she lifted this
veil, she disclosed 'the features of a remarkably pretty woman' of
about twenty-five. Her name was Anna Maria Moody. Seven or eight years
earlier, she had left her family 'to live under Major Murray's
protection', and she had called herself Mrs. Murray for five years.
The Major had taken Elm Lodge for her, and had always treated her in
the most 'noble-hearted manner', in accordance with his disposition,
which was 'amiable and kind'. When her baby was born, she was
embarrassed for funds, and was unwilling to ask for more money from
the Major, who, although apparently a bachelor, was 'under heavy
expenses'.

Someone told her of Roberts; she went to him, and found him willing
to lend her fifteen pounds, provided she signed a three-months' note
for twenty pounds.

She had never been able to pay the debt, but had continued to make
quarterly payments of five pounds, as interest. From the beginning,
Roberts had tried to make love to her, and offered to release her from
the debt, if she would leave Major Murray, and go to Scotland with
him.

It was believed that Miss Moody told the truth; that she was faithful
to the Major; and that she was forced to accept Roberts's company, and
go with him usually chaperoned by his wife to church and to
entertainments; and even to write affectionate notes to him; and that
all this was the craft of a helpless woman who was badgered and
threatened by a usurer. She said the two men had never met before the
day of the fight, and Major Murray had not known of the other's
existence.

The Major gave his testimony in the hospital ward; his throat
bandaged, and his neck too stiff to let him move his head. He unfolded
a tale which impressed everybody with its melodramatic qualities and
caused Thackeray to refer to the affair in Roundabout Papers.

Roberts had accosted him in the street; introduced himself as 'Grey',
and offered a loan of fifty thousand pounds to the Railway Palace
Hotel, of which project the Major was a director. The two men went to
Roberts's rooms, where the host left his guest alone for a few
minutes. (He went on the errand about the linnet, in order to get rid
of a possible witness.) He came back, stopped behind the chair in
which the Major was sitting, and, under pretence of looking for some
papers, held a pistol directly against the neck of his victim, and
fired. The Major fell to the floor, paralysed. Roberts left the room
again, and came back to see the Major beginning to move. He walked up
and again fired at his right temple. The outrush of blood from this
wound relieved the Major a little, and, as he said, 'I knew if I could
get on my feet I could make a fight for it.'

He opened his eyes and saw the tongs. With these in his hands, he
jumped up and attacked his intending murderer. Then occurred a fight
which raged all over the room. The tongs were smashed against
Roberts's skull, after which the Major found a large black wine-bottle
and smashed that in the same manner. Both men were up and down,
sprawled on the floor, and fighting desperately for whatever weapon
the Major tried to employ. Once, Murray caught up a metal vase and
threw it at the other's head but missed. Two or three times, Roberts
seemed to be down and out, but he would recover his feet, and--a
hideous sight--come lurching towards the Major, who was trying to find
an escape from the apartment. At last Roberts fell on his face as
though dead; the Major pushed him through into the front room, shut
the folding doors, and leaped out the window. He regarded the men in
the back yard as possible enemies, because he thought that people who
could listen to pistol shots and all the uproar or the fight, and take
no notice of it, must be associate ruffians in a den of thieves and
murderers.

Major Murray's story was corroborated by all the facts known to the
jury, who brought in a verdict of 'justifiable homicide'--this amidst
the applause of the crowd of spectators.

Roberts's motive for the attempt at murder seems absurdly inadequate
but it is probable that, in his desperate infatuation for Miss Moody,
he thought that with the Major out of the way he might somehow become
the heir to her affections. How he planned to dispose of the body is
not clear: perhaps, in the mass of other rubbish which filled his
strange dwelling, he thought that the corpse of a retired officer
would pass unnoticed.

Miss Moody, like Mr. Timms's linnet, disappears from the history.
Whether she was a member of the Major's family at a later date, I do
not know.

If you should be eccentric enough to look at The Times for April 1,
1907, you will find this, under Deaths:

MURRAY, on the 28th March, at Ossemsley Manor, Christchurch, Hants,
Major William Murray, late 97th Regiment, and 10th Hussars. Service
Newmilton, 9 a.m., Wednesday. Cremation, Woking. No flowers, by his
special request.

All the bullets of that damned fellow upstairs had not prevented the
gallant Major from reaching the hearty old age of eighty-eight. But
not even in the Crimea--if he was in that war, which is doubtful--did
he ever come so near death as on that day when he fought 'like a
demon' against a man whose name, and whose purpose, were alike, to
him, a mystery.



THE END



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