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Title: The Case of Laker, Absconded
Author: Arthur Morrison
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607721.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: September 2006
Date most recently updated: September 2006

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Title: The Case of Laker, Absconded
Author: Arthur Morrison





There were several of the larger London banks and insurance offices from
which Hewitt held a sort of general retainer as detective adviser, in
fulfilment of which he was regularly consulted as to the measures to be
taken in different cases of fraud, forgery, theft, and so forth, which
it might be the misfortune of the particular firms to encounter. The
more important and intricate of these cases were placed in his hands
entirely, with separate commissions, in the usual way. One of the most
important companies of the sort was the General Guarantee Society, an
insurance corporation which, among other risks, took those of the
integrity of secretaries, clerks, and cashiers. In the case of a
cash-box elopement on the part of any person guaranteed by the society,
the directors were naturally anxious for a speedy capture of the
culprit, and more especially of the booty, before too much of it was
spent, in order to lighten the claim upon their funds, and in work of
this sort Hewitt was at times engaged, either in general advice and
direction or in the actual pursuit of the plunder and the plunderer.

Arriving at his office a little later than usual one morning, Hewitt
found an urgent message awaiting him from the General Guarantee Society,
requesting his attention to a robbery which had taken place on the
previous day. He had gleaned some hint of the case from the morning
paper, wherein appeared a short paragraph, which ran thus:

SERIOUS BANK ROBBERY.--In the course of yesterday a clerk employed by
Messrs Liddle, Neal & Liddle, the well-known bankers, disappeared,
having in his possession a large sum of money, the property of his
employers--a sum reported to be rather over £15,000. It would seem that
he had been entrusted to collect the money in his capacity of
'walk-clerk' from various other banks and trading concerns during the
morning, but failed to return at the usual time. A large number of the
notes which he received had been cashed at the Bank of England before
suspicion was aroused. We understand that Detective-Inspector Plummer,
of Scotland Yard, has the case in hand.

The clerk, whose name was Charles William Laker, had, it appeared from
the message, been guaranteed in the usual way by the General Guarantee
Society, and Hewitt's presence at the office was at once desired in
order that steps might quickly be taken for the man's apprehension and
in the recovery, at any rate, of as much of the booty as possible.

A smart hansom brought Hewitt to Threadneedle Street in a bare quarter
of an hour, and there a few minutes' talk with the manager, Mr Lyster,
put him in possession of the main facts of the case, which appeared to
be simple. Charles William Laker was twenty-five years of age, and had
been in the employ of Messrs Liddle, Neal & Liddle for something more
than seven years--since he left school, in fact--and until the previous
day there had been nothing in his conduct to complain of. His duties as
walk-clerk consisted in making a certain round, beginning at about
half-past ten each morning. There were a certain number of the more
important banks between which and Messrs Liddle, Neal & Liddle there
were daily transactions, and a few smaller semi-private banks and
merchant firms acting as financial agents with whom there was business
intercourse of less importance and regularity; and each of these, as
necessary, he visited in turn, collecting cash due on bills and other
instruments of a like nature. He carried a wallet, fastened securely to
his person by a chain, and this wallet contained the bills and the cash.
Usually at the end of his round, when all his bills had been converted
into cash, the wallet held very large sums. His work and
responsibilities, in fine, were those common to walk-clerks in all
banks.

On the day of the robbery he had started out as usual--possibly a little
earlier than was customary--and the bills and other securities in his
possession represented considerably more than £15,000. It had been
ascertained that he had called in the usual way at each establishment on
the round, and had transacted his business at the last place by about a
quarter-past one, being then, without doubt, in possession of cash to
the full value of the bills negotiated. After that, Mr Lyster said,
yesterday's report was that nothing more had been heard of him. But this
morning there had been a message to the effect that he had been traced
out of the country--to Calais, at least, it was thought. The directors
of the society wished Hewitt to take the case in hand personally and at
once, with a view of recovering what was possible from the plunder by
way of salvage; also, of course, of finding Laker, for it is an
important moral gain to guarantee societies, as an example, if a thief
is caught and punished. Therefore Hewitt and Mr Lyster, as soon as might
be, made for Messrs Liddle, Neal & Liddle's, that the investigation
might be begun.

The bank premises were quite near--in Leadenhall Street. Having arrived
there, Hewitt and Mr Lyster made their way to the firm's private rooms.
As they were passing an outer waiting-room, Hewitt noticed two women.
One, the elder, in widow's weeds, was sitting with her head bowed in her
hand over a small writing-table. Her face was not visible, but her whole
attitude was that of a person overcome with unbearable grief; and she
sobbed quietly. The other was a young woman of twenty-two or
twenty-three. Her thick black veil revealed no more than that her
features were small and regular and that her face was pale and drawn.
She stood with a hand on the elder woman's shoulder, and she quickly
turned her head away as the two men entered.

Mr Neal, one of the partners, received them in his own room.
'Good-morning, Mr Hewitt,' he said, when Mr Lyster had introduced the
detective. 'This is a serious business--very. I think I am sorrier for
Laker himself than for anybody else, ourselves included--or, at any
rate, I am sorrier for his mother. She is waiting now to see Mr Liddle,
as soon as he arrives--Mr Liddle has known the family for a long time.
Miss Shaw is with her, too, poor girl. She is a governess, or something
of that sort, and I believe she and Laker were engaged to be married.
It's all very sad.'

'Inspector Plummer, I understand,' Hewitt remarked, 'has the affair in
hand, on behalf of the police?'

'Yes,' Mr Neal replied; 'in fact, he's here now, going through the
contents of Laker's desk, and so forth; he thinks it possible Laker may
have had accomplices. Will you see him?'

'Presently. Inspector Plummer and I are old friends. We met last, I
think, in the case of the Stanway cameo, some months ago. But, first,
will you tell me how long Laker has been a walk-clerk?'

'Barely four months, although he has been with us altogether seven
years. He was promoted to the walk soon after the beginning of the
year.'

'Do you know anything of his habits--what he used to do in his spare
time, and so forth?'

'Not a great deal. He went in for boating, I believe, though I have
heard it whispered that he had one or two more expensive
tastes--expensive, that is, for a young man in his position,' Mr Neal
explained, with a dignified wave of the hand that he peculiarly
affected. He was a stout old gentleman, and the gesture suited him.

'You have had no reason to suspect him of dishonesty before, I take it?'

'Oh, no. He made a wrong return once, I believe, that went for some time
undetected, but it turned out, after all, to be a clerical error--a mere
clerical error.'

'Do you know anything of his associates out of the office?'

'No, how should I? I believe Inspector Plummer has been making inquiries
as to that, however, of the other clerks. Here he is, by the bye, I
expect. Come in!'

It was Plummer who had knocked, and he came in at Mr Neal's call. He was
a middle-sized, small-eyed, impenetrable-looking man, as yet of no great
reputation in the force. Some of my readers may remember his connection
with that case, so long a public mystery, that I have elsewhere fully
set forth and explained under the title of 'The Stanway Cameo Mystery'.
Plummer carried his billy-cock hat in one hand and a few papers in the
other. He gave Hewitt good-morning, placed his hat on a chair, and
spread the papers on the table.

'There's not a great deal here,' he said, 'but one thing's plain--Laker
had been betting. See here, and here, and here'--he took a few letters
from the bundle in his hand--'two letters from a bookmaker about
settling--wonder he trusted a clerk--several telegrams from tipsters,
and a letter from some friend--only signed by initials--asking Laker to
put a sovereign on a horse for the friend "with his own". I'll keep
these, I think. It may be worth while to see that friend, if we can find
him. Ah, we often find it's betting, don't we, Mr Hewitt? Meanwhile,
there's no news from France yet.'

'You are sure that is where he is gone?' asked Hewitt.

'Well, I'll tell you what we've done as yet. First, of course, I went
round to all the banks. There was nothing to be got from that. The
cashiers all knew him by sight, and one was a personal friend of his. He
had called as usual, said nothing in particular, cashed his bills in the
ordinary way, and finished up at the Eastern Consolidated Bank at about
a quarter-past one. So far there was nothing whatever. But I had started
two or three men meanwhile making inquiries at the railway stations, and
so on. I had scarcely left the Eastern Consolidated when one of them
came after me with news. He had tried Palmer's Tourist Office, although
that seemed an unlikely place, and there struck the track.'

'Had he been there?'

'Not only had he been there, but he had taken a tourist ticket for
France. It was quite a smart move, in a way. You see it was the sort of
ticket that lets you do pretty well what you like; you have the choice
of two or three different routes to begin with, and you can break your
journey where you please, and make all sorts of variations. So that a
man with a ticket like that, and a few hours' start, could twist about
on some remote branch route, and strike off in another direction
altogether, with a new ticket, from some out-of-the-way place, while we
were carefully sorting out and inquiring along the different routes he
_might_ have taken. Not half a bad move for a new hand; but he made one
bad mistake, as new hands always do--as old hands do, in fact, very
often. He was fool enough to give his own name, C. Laker! Although that
didn't matter much, as the description was enough to fix him.

There he was, wallet and all, just as he had come from the Eastern
Consolidated Bank. He went straight from there to Palmer's, by the bye,
and probably in a cab. We judge that by the time. He left the Eastern
Consolidated at a quarter-past one, and was at Palmer's by
twenty-five-past--ten minutes. The clerk at Palmer's remembered the time
because he was anxious to get out to his lunch, and kept looking at the
clock, expecting another clerk in to relieve him. Laker didn't take much
in the way of luggage, I fancy. We inquired carefully at the stations,
and got the porters to remember the passengers for whom they had been
carrying luggage, but none appeared to have had any dealings with our
man. That, of course, is as one would expect. He'd take as little as
possible with him, and buy what he wanted on the way, or when he'd
reached his hiding-place. Of course, I wired to Calais (it was a Dover
to Calais route ticket) and sent a couple of smart men off by the 8.15
mail from Charing Cross. I expect we shall hear from them in the course
of the day. I am being kept in London in view of something expected at
headquarters, or I should have been off myself.'

'That is all, then, up to the present? Have you anything else in view?'

'That', all I've absolutely ascertained at present. As for what I'm
going to do'--a slight smile curled Plummer's lip--' well, I shall see.
I've a thing or two in my mind.'

Hewitt smiled slightly himself; he recognized Plummer's touch of
professional jealousy. 'Very well,' he said, rising, 'I'll make an
inquiry or two for myself at once. Perhaps, Mr Neal, you'll allow one of
your clerks to show me the banks, in their regular order, at which Laker
called yesterday. I think I'll begin at the beginning.'

Mr Neal offered to place at Hewitt's disposal anything or anybody the
bank contained, and the conference broke up. As Hewitt, with the clerk,
came through the rooms separating Mr Neal's sanctum from the outer
office, lie fancied he saw the two veiled women leaving by a side door.

The first bank was quite close to Liddle, Neal & Liddle's. There the
cashier who had dealt with Laker the day before remembered nothing in
particular about the interview. Many other walk-clerks had called during
the morning, as they did every morning, and the only circumstances of
the visit that he could say anything definite about were those recorded
in figures in the books. He did not know Laker's name till Plummer had
mentioned it in making inquiries on the previous afternoon. As far as he
could remember, Laker behaved much as usual, though really he did not
notice much; he looked chiefly at the bills. He described Laker in a way
that corresponded with the photograph that Hewitt had borrowed from the
bank; a young man with a brown moustache and ordinary-looking fairly
regular face, dressing much as other clerks dressed--tall hat, black
cutaway coat, and so on. The numbers of the notes handed over had
already been given to Inspector Plummer, and these Hewitt did not
trouble about.

The next bank was in Cornhill, and here the cashier was a personal
friend of Laker's--at any rate, an acquaintance--and he remembered a
little more. Laker's manner had been quite as usual, he said; certainly
he did not seem preoccupied or excited in his manner. He spoke for a
moment or two--of being on the river on Sunday, and so on--and left in
his usual way.

'Can you remember _everything_ he said?' Hewitt asked. 'If you can tell
me, I should like to know exactly what he did and said to the smallest
particular.'

'Well, he saw me a little distance off--I was behind there, at one of
the desks--and raised his hand to me, and said, "How d'ye do?" I came
across and took his bills, and dealt with them in the usual way. He had
a new umbrella lying on the counter--rather a handsome umbrella--and I
made a remark about the handle. He took it up to show me, and told me it
was a present he had just received from a friend. It was a gorse-root
handle, with two silver bands, one with his monogram, C.W.L. I said it
was a very nice handle, and asked him whether it was fine in his
district on Sunday. He said he had been up the river, and it was very
fine there. And I think that was all.'

'Thank you. Now about this umbrella. Did he carry it rolled? Can you
describe it in detail?'

'Well, I've told you about the handle, and the rest was much as usual, I
think; it wasn't rolled--just napping loosely, you know. It was rather
an odd-shaped handle, though. I'll try and sketch it, if you like, as
well as I can remember.' He did so, and Hewitt saw in the result rough
indications of a gnarled crook, with one silver band near the end, and
another, with the monogram, a few inches down the handle. Hewitt put the
sketch in his pocket, and bade the cashier good-day.

At the next bank the story was the same as at the first--there was
nothing remembered but the usual routine. Hewitt and the clerk turned
down a narrow paved court, and through into Lombard Street for the next
visit. The bank--that of Buller, Clayton, Ladds & Co.--was just at the
corner at the end of the court, and the imposing stone entrance-porch
was being made larger and more imposing still, the way being almost
blocked by ladders and scaffold-poles. Here there was only the usual
tale, and so on through the whole walk. The cashiers knew Laker only by
sight, and that not always very distinctly. The calls of walk-clerks
were such matters of routine that little note was taken of the persons
of the clerks themselves, who were called by the names of their firms,
if they were called by any names at all. Laker had behaved much as
usual, so far as the cashiers could remember, and when finally the
Eastern Consolidated was left behind, nothing more had been learnt than
the chat about Laker's new umbrella.

Hewitt had taken leave of Mr Neal's clerk, and was stepping into a
hansom, when he noticed a veiled woman in widow's weeds hailing another
hansom a little way behind. He recognized the figure again, and said to
the driver: 'Drive fast to Palmer's Tourist Office, but keep your eye on
that cab behind, and tell me presently if it is following us.'

The cabman drove off, and after passing one or two turnings, opened the
lid above Hewitt's head, and said: 'That there other keb _is_
a-follerin' us, sir, an' keepin' about even distance all along.'

'All right; that's what I wanted to know. Palmer's now.' At Palmer's the
clerk who had attended to Laker remembered him very well and described
him. He also remembered the wallet, and _thought_ he remembered the
umbrella--was practically sure of it, in fact, upon reflection. He had
no record of the name given, but remembered it distinctly to be Laker.
As a matter of fact, names were never asked in such a transaction, but
in this case Laker appeared to be ignorant of the usual procedure, as
well as in a great hurry, and asked for the ticket and gave his name all
in one breath, probably assuming that the name would be required.

Hewitt got back to his cab, and started for Charing Cross. The cabman
once more lifted the lid and informed him that the hansom with the
veiled woman in it was again following, having waited while Hewitt had
visited Palmer's. At Charing Cross Hewitt discharged his cab and walked
straight to the lost property office. The man in charge knew him very
well, for his business had carried him there frequently before.

'I fancy an umbrella was lost in the station yesterday,' Hewitt said.
'It was a new umbrella, silk, with a gnarled gorse-root handle and two
silver bands, something like this sketch. There was a monogram on the
lower band--"C. W. L." were the letters. Has it been brought here?'

'There was two or three yesterday,' the man said; 'let's see.' He took
the sketch and retired to a corner of his room. 'Oh, yes--here it is, I
think; isn't this it? Do you claim it?' 'Well, not exactly that, but I
think I'll take a look at it, if you'll let me. By the way, I see it's
rolled up. Was it found like that?'

'No; the chap rolled it up what found it--porter he was. It's a fad of
his, rolling up umbrellas close and neat, and he's rather proud of it.
He often looks as though he'd like to take a man's umbrella away and
roll it up for him when it's a bit clumsy done. Rum fad, eh?'

'Yes; everybody has his little fad, though. Where was this found--close
by here?'

'Yes, sir; just there, almost opposite this window, in the little
corner.'

'About two o'clock?'

'Ah, about that time, more or less.'

Hewitt took the umbrella up, unfastened the band, and shook the silk out
loose. Then he opened it, and as he did so a small scrap of paper fell
from inside it. Hewitt pounced on it like lightning. Then, after
examining the umbrella thoroughly, inside and out, he handed it back to
the man, who had not observed the incident of the scrap of paper.

'That will do, thanks,' he said. 'I only wanted to take a peep at
it--just a small matter connected with a little case of mine.
Good-morning.'

He turned suddenly and saw, gazing at him with a terrified expression
from a door behind, the face of the woman who had followed him in the
cab. The veil was lifted, and he caught but a mere glance of the face
ere it was suddenly withdrawn. He stood for a moment to allow the woman
time to retreat, and then left the station and walked toward his office,
close by.

Scarcely thirty yards along the Strand he met Plummer. 'I'm going to
make some much closer inquiries all down the line as far as Dover,'
Plummer said. 'They wire from Calais that they have no clue as yet, and
I mean to make quite sure, if I can, that Laker hasn't quietly slipped
off the line somewhere between here and Dover. There's one very peculiar
thing,' Plummer added confidentially. 'Did you see the two women who
were waiting to see a member of the firm at Liddle, Neal & Liddle's?'

'Yes. Laker's mother and his _fiancée_, I was told.'

'That's right. Well, do you know that girl--Shaw her name is--has been
shadowing me ever since I left the Bank. Of course I spotted it from the
beginning--these amateurs don't know how to follow anybody--and, as a
matter of fact, she's just inside that jeweller's shop door behind me
now, pretending to look at the things in the window. But it's odd, isn't
it?'

'Well,' Hewitt replied, 'of course it's not a thing to be neglected. If
you'll look very carefully at the corner of Villiers Street, without
appearing to stare, I think you will possibly observe some signs of
Laker's mother. She's shadowing _me_.'

Plummer looked casually in the direction indicated, and then immediately
turned his eyes in another direction.

'I see her,' he said; 'she's just taking a look round the corner. That's
a thing not to be be ignored. Of course, the Lakers' house is being
watched--we set a man on it at once, yesterday. But I'll put some one on
now to watch Miss Shaw's place too. I'll telephone through to
Liddle's--probably they'll be able to say where it is. And the women
themselves must be watched, too. As a matter of fact, I had a notion
that Laker wasn't alone in it. And it's just possible, you know, that he
has sent an accomplice off with his tourist ticket to lead us a dance
while he looks after himself in another direction. Have you done
anything?'

'Well,' Hewitt replied, with a faint reproduction of the secretive smile
with which Plummer had met an inquiry of his earlier in the morning,
'I've been to the station here, and I've found Laker's umbrella in the
lost property office.'

'Oh! Then probably he _has_ gone. I'll bear that in mind, and perhaps
have a word with the lost property man.'

Plummer made for the station and Hewitt for his office. He mounted the
stairs and reached his door just as I myself, who had been disappointed
in not finding him in, was leaving. I had called with the idea of taking
Hewitt to lunch with me at my club, but he declined lunch. 'I have an
important case in hand,' he said. 'Look here, Brett. See this scrap of
paper. You know the types of the different newspapers--which is this?'

He handed me a small piece of paper. It was part of a cutting containing
an advertisement, which had been torn in half.

               oast. You 1st. Then to-
               3rd L. No.197 red bl. straight
           time.

'I _think_,' I said, 'this is from the _Daily Chronicle_, judging by the
paper. It is plainly from the "agony column", but all the papers use
pretty much the same type for these advertisements, except the _Times_.
If it were not torn I could tell you at once, because the _Chronicle_
columns are rather narrow.'

'Never mind--I'll send for them all.' He rang, and sent Kerrett for a
copy of each morning paper of the previous day. Then he took from a
large wardrobe cupboard a decent but well-worn and rather roughened tall
hat. Also a coat a little worn and shiny on the collar. He exchanged
these for his own hat and coat, and then substituted an old necktie for
his own clean white one, and encased his legs in mud-spotted leggings.
This done, he produced a very large and thick pocket-book, fastened by a
broad elastic band, and said, 'Well, what do you think of this? Will it
do for Queen's taxes, or sanitary inspection, or the gas, or the
water-supply?'

'Very well indeed, I should say,' I replied. 'What's the case?'

'Oh, I'll tell you all about that when it's over--no time now. Oh, here
you are, Kerrett. By the bye, Kerrett, I'm going out presently by the
back way. Wait for about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour after I am
gone, and then just go across the road and speak to that lady in black,
with the veil, who is waiting in that little foot-passage opposite. Say
Mr Martin Hewitt sends his compliments, and he advises her not to wait,
as he has already left his office by another door, and has been gone
some little time. That's all; it would be a pity to keep the poor woman
waiting all day for nothing. Now the papers. _Daily News, Standard,
Telegraph, Chronicle_--yes, here it is, in the _Chronicle_'

The whole advertisement read thus:

             YOB.--H.R. Shop roast. You 1st. Then to-
             night. O2. 2nd top 3rd L. No.197 red bl.
             straight mon. One at a time.

'What's this,' I asked, 'a cryptogram?'

'I'll see,' Hewitt answered. 'But I won't tell you anything about it
till afterwards, so you get your lunch. Kerrett, bring the directory.'

This was all I actually saw of this case myself, and I have written the
rest in its proper order from Hewitt's information, as I have written
some other cases entirely.

To resume at the point where, for the time, I lost sight of the matter.
Hewitt left by the back way and stopped an empty cab as it passed.
'Abney Park Cemetery' was his direction to the driver. In little more
than twenty minutes the cab was branching off down the Essex Road on its
way to Stoke Newington, and in twenty minutes more Hewitt stopped it in
Church Street, Stoke Newington. He walked through a street or two, and
then down another, the houses of which he scanned carefully as he
passed. Opposite one which stood by itself he stopped, and, making a
pretence of consulting and arranging his large pocket-book, he took a
good look at the house. It was rather larger, neater, and more
pretentious than the others in the street, and it had a natty little
coach-house just visible up the side entrance. There were red blinds
hung with heavy lace in the front windows, and behind one of these
blinds Hewitt was able to catch the glint of a heavy gas chandelier.

He stepped briskly up the front steps and knocked sharply at the door.
'Mr Merston?' he asked, pocket-book in hand, when a neat parlourmaid
opened the door.

'Yes.'

'Ah!' Hewitt stepped into the hall and pulled off his hat; 'it's only
the meter. There's been a deal of gas running away somewhere here, and
I'm just looking to see if the meters are right. Where is it?'

The girl hesitated. 'I'll--I'll ask master,' she said.

'Very well. I don't want to take it away, you know--only to give it a
tap or two, and so on.'

The girl retired to the back of the hall, and without taking her eyes
off Martin Hewitt, gave his message to some invisible person in a back
room, whence came a growling reply of 'All right'.

Hewitt followed the girl to the basement, apparently looking straight
before him, but in reality taking in every detail of the place. The gas
meter was in a very large lumber cupboard under the kitchen stairs. The
girl opened the door and lit a candle. The meter stood on the floor,
which was littered with hampers and boxes and odd sheets of brown paper.
But a thing that at once arrested Hewitt's attention was a garment of
some sort of bright blue cloth, with large brass buttons, which was
lying in a tumbled heap in a corner, and appeared to be the only thing
in the place that was not covered with dust. Nevertheless, Hewitt took
no apparent notice of it, but stooped down and solemnly tapped the meter
three times with his pencil, and listened with great gravity, placing
his ear to the top. Then he shook his head and tapped again. At length
he said:

'It's a bit doubtful. I'll just get you to light the gas in the kitchen
a moment. Keep your hand to the burner, and when I call out shut it off
_at once_; see?'

The girl turned and entered the kitchen, and Hewitt immediately seized
the blue coat--for a coat it was. It had a dull red piping in the seams,
and was of the swallowtail pattern--livery coat, in fact. He held it for
a moment before him, examining its pattern and colour, and then rolled
it up and flung it again into the corner.

'Right!' he called to the servant. 'Shut off!'

The girl emerged from the kitchen as he left the cupboard.

'Well,' she asked, 'are you satisfied now?'

'Quite satisfied, thank you,' Hewitt replied.

'Is it all right?' she continued, jerking her hand toward the cupboard.

'Well, no, it isn't; there's something wrong there, and I'm glad I came.
You can tell Mr Merston, if you like, that I expect his gas bill will be
a good deal less next quarter.' And there was a suspicion of a chuckle
in Hewitt's voice as he crossed the hall to leave. For a gas inspector
is pleased when he finds at length what he has been searching for.

Things had fallen out better than Hewitt had dared to expect. He saw the
key of the whole mystery in that blue coat; for it was the uniform coat
of the hall porters at one of the banks that he had visited in the
morning, though which one he could not for the moment remember. He
entered the nearest post-office and despatched a telegram to Plummer,
giving certain directions and asking the inspector to meet him; then he
hailed the first available cab and hurried toward the City.

At Lombard Street he alighted, and looked in at the door of each bank
till he came to Buller, Clayton, Ladds & Co.'s. This was the bank he
wanted. In the other banks the hall porters wore mulberry coats,
brick-dust coats, brown coats, and what not, but here, behind the
ladders and scaffold poles which obscured the entrance, he could see a
man in a blue coat, with dull red piping and brass buttons. He sprang up
the steps, pushed open the inner swing door, and finally satisfied
himself by a closer view of the coat, to the wearer's astonishment. Then
he regained the pavement and walked the whole length of the bank
premises in front, afterwards turning up the paved passage at the side,
deep in thought. The bank had no windows or doors on the side next the
court, and the two adjoining houses were old and supported in place by
wooden shores. Both were empty, and a great board announced that tenders
would be received in a month's time for the purchase of the old
materials of which they were constructed; also that some part of the
site would be let on a long building lease.

Hewitt looked up at the grimy fronts of the old buildings. The windows
were crusted thick with dirt--all except the bottom window of the house
nearer the bank, which was fairly clean, and seemed to have been quite
lately washed. The door, too, of this house was cleaner than that of the
other, though the paint was worn. Hewitt reached and fingered a hook
driven into the left-hand doorpost about six feet from the ground. It
was new, and not at all rusted; also a tiny splinter had been displaced
when the hook was driven in, and clean wood showed at the spot.

Having observed these things, Hewitt stepped back and read at the bottom
of the big board the name, 'Winsor & Weekes, Surveyors and Auctioneers,
Abchurch Lane'. Then he stepped into Lombard Street.

Two hansoms pulled up near the post-office, and out of the first stepped
Inspector Plummer and another man. This man and the two who alighted
from the second hansom were unmistakably plain-clothes constables--their
air, gait, and boots proclaimed it.

'What's all this?' demanded Plummer, as Hewitt approached.

'You'll soon see, I think. But, first, have you put the watch on No.
197, Hackworth Road?'

'Yes; nobody will get away from there alone.'

'Very good. I am going into Abchurch Lane for a few minutes. Leave your
men out here, but just go round into the court by Buller, Clayton &
Ladds's, and keep your eye on the first door on the left. I think we'll
find something soon. Did you get rid of Miss Shaw?'

'No, she's behind now, and Mrs Laker's with her. They met in the Strand,
and came after us in another cab. Rare fun, eh! They think we're pretty
green! It's quite handy, too. So long as they keep behind me it saves
all trouble of watching _them_.' And Inspector Plummer chuckled and
winked.

'Very good. You don't mind keeping your eye on that door, do you? I'll
be back very soon,' and with that Hewitt turned off into Abchurch Lane.

At Winsor & Weekes's information was not difficult to obtain. The houses
were destined to come down very shortly, but a week or so ago an office
and a cellar in one of them was let temporarily to a Mr Westley. He
brought no references; indeed, as he paid a fortnight's rent in advance,
he was not asked for any, considering the circumstances of the case. He
was opening a London branch for a large firm of cider merchants, he
said, and just wanted a rough office and a cool cellar to store samples
in for a few weeks till the permanent premises were ready. There was
another key, and no doubt the premises might be entered if there were
any special need for such a course. Martin Hewitt gave such excellent
reasons that Winsor & Weekes's managing clerk immediately produced the
key and accompanied Hewitt to the spot.

'I think you'd better have your men handy,' Hewitt remarked to Plummer
when they reached the door, and a whistle quickly brought the men over.

The key was inserted in the lock and turned, but the door would not
open; the bolt was fastened at the bottom. Hewitt stooped and looked
under the door.

'It's a drop bolt,' he said. 'Probably the man who left last let it fall
loose, and then banged the door, so that it fell into its place. I must
try my best with a wire or a piece of string.'

A wire was brought, and with some manoeuvring Hewitt contrived to pass
it round the bolt, and lift it little by little, steadying it with the
blade of a pocket-knife. When at length the bolt was raised out of the
hole, the knife-blade was slipped under it, and the door swung open.

They entered. The door of the little office just inside stood open, but
in the office there was nothing, except a board a couple of feet long in
a corner. Hewitt stepped across and lifted this, turning it downward
face toward Plummer. On it, in fresh white paint on a black ground, were
painted the words

            "BULLER, CLAYTON, LADDS & CO.,
                 TEMPORARY ENTRANCE."

Hewitt turned to Winsor & Weekes's clerk and asked, 'The man who took
this room called himself Westley, didn't he?'

'Yes.'

'Youngish man, clean-shaven, and well-dressed?'

'Yes, he was.'

'I fancy,' Hewitt said, turning to Plummer, 'I _fancy_ an old friend of
yours is in this--Mr Sam Gunter.'

'What, the "Hoxton Yob"?'

'I think it's possible he's been Mr Westley for a bit, and somebody else
for another bit. But let's come to the cellar.'

Winsor & Weekes's clerk led the way down a steep flight of steps into a
dark underground corridor, wherein they lighted their way with many
successive matches. Soon the cellar corridor made a turn to the right,
and as the party passed the turn, there came from the end of the passage
before them a fearful yell.

'Help! help! Open the door! I'm going mad--mad! O my God!'

And there was a sound of desperate beating from the inside of the cellar
door at the extreme end. The men stopped, startled.

'Come,' said Hewitt, 'more matches!' and he rushed to the door. It was
fastened with a bar and padlock.

'Let me out, for God's sake!' came the voice, sick and hoarse, from the
inside. 'Let me out!'

'All right!' Hewitt shouted. 'We have come for you. Wait a moment.'

The voice sank into a sort of sobbing croon, and Hewitt tried several
keys from his own bunch on the padlock. None fitted. He drew from his
pocket the wire he had used for the bolt of the front door, straightened
it out, and made a sharp bend at the end.

'Hold a match close,' he ordered shortly, and one of the men obeyed.
Three or four attempts were necessary, and several different bendings of
the wire were effected, but in the end Hewitt picked the lock, and flung
open the door.

From within a ghastly figure fell forward among them fainting, and
knocked out the matches.

'Hullo!' cried Plummer. 'Hold up! Who are you?'

'Let's get him up into the open,' said Hewitt. 'He can't tell you who he
is for a bit, but I believe he's Laker.'

'Laker! What, here?'

'I think so. Steady up the steps. Don't bump him. He's pretty sore
already, I expect.'

Truly the man was a pitiable sight. His hair and face were caked in dust
and blood, and his finger-nails were torn and bleeding. Water was sent
for at once, and brandy.

'Well,' said Plummer hazily, looking first at the unconscious prisoner
and then at Hewitt, 'but what about the swag?'

'You'll have to find that yourself,' Hewitt replied. 'I think my share
of the case is about finished. I only act for the Guarantee Society, you
know, and if Laker's proved innocent----'

'Innocent! How?'

'Well, this is what took place, as near as I can figure it. You'd better
undo his collar, I think'--this to the men. 'What I believe has happened
is this. There has been a very clever and carefully prepared conspiracy
here, and Laker has not been the criminal, but the victim.'

'Been robbed himself, you mean? But how? Where?'

'Yesterday morning, before he had been to more than three banks--here,
in fact.'

'But then how? You're all wrong. We _know_ he made the whole round, and
did all the collection. And then Palmer's office, and all, and the
umbrella; why--'

The man lay still unconscious. 'Don't raise his head,' Hewitt said. 'And
one of you had best fetch a doctor. He's had a terrible shock.' Then
turning to Plummer he went on, 'As to _how_ they managed the job, I'll
tell you what I think. First it struck some very clever person that a
deal of money might be got by robbing a walk-clerk from a bank. This
clever person was one of a clever gang of thieves--perhaps the Hoxton
Row gang, as I think I hinted. Now you know quite as well as I do that
such a gang will spend any amount of time over a job that promises a big
haul, and that for such a job they can always command the necessary
capital. There are many most respectable persons living in good style in
the suburbs whose chief business lies in financing such ventures, and
taking the chief share of the proceeds. Well, this is their plan,
carefully and intelligently carried out. They watch Laker, observe the
round he takes, and his habits. They find that there is only one of the
clerks with whom he does business that he is much acquainted with, and
that this clerk is in a bank which is commonly second in Laker's round.
The sharpest man among them--and I don't think there's a man in London
could do this as well as young Sam Gunter--studies Laker's dress and
habits just as an actor studies a character. They take this office and
cellar, as we have seen, _because it is next door to a bank whose front
entrance is being altered_--a fact which Laker must know from his daily
visits. The smart man--Gunter, let us say, and I have other reasons for
believing it to be he--makes up precisely like Laker, false moustache,
dress, and everything, and waits here with the rest of the gang. One of
the gang is dressed in a blue coat with brass buttons, like a
hall-porter in Buller's bank. Do you see?'

'Yes, I think so. It's pretty clear now.'

'A confederate watches at the top of the court, and the moment Laker
turns in from Cornhill--having already been, mind, at the only bank
where he was so well known that the disguised thief would not have
passed muster--as soon as he turns in from Cornhill, I say, a signal is
given, and that board'--pointing to that with the white letters--'is
hung on the hook in the doorpost. The sham porter stands beside it, and
as Laker approaches says, "This way in, sir, this morning. The front
way's shut for the alterations". Laker suspecting nothing, and supposing
that the firm have made a temporary entrance through the empty house,
enters. He is seized when well along the corridor, the board is taken
down and the door shut. Probably he is stunned by a blow on the
head--see the blood now. They take his wallet and all the cash he has
already collected. Gunter takes the wallet and also the umbrella, since
it has Laker's initials, and is therefore distinctive. He simply
completes the walk in the character of Laker, beginning with Buller,
Clayton & Ladds's just round the corner. It is nothing but routine work,
which is quickly done, and nobody notices him particularly--it is the
bills they examine. Meanwhile this unfortunate fellow is locked up in
the cellar here, right at the end of the underground corridor, where he
can never make himself heard in the street, and where next him are only
the empty cellars of the deserted house next door. The thieves shut the
front door and vanish. The rest is plain. Gunter, having completed the
round, and bagged some £15,000 or more, spends a few pounds in a tourist
ticket at Palmer's as a blind, being careful to give Laker's name. He
leaves the umbrella at Charing Cross in a conspicuous place right
opposite the lost property office, where it is sure to be seen, and so
completes his false trail.'

'Then who are the people at 197, Hackworth Road?'

'The capitalist lives there--the financier, and probably the directing
spirit of the whole thing. Merston's the name he goes by there, and I've
no doubt he cuts a very imposing figure in chapel every Sunday. He'll be
worth picking up--this isn't the first thing he's been in, I'll
warrant.'

'But--but what about Laker's mother and Miss Shaw?'

'Well, what? The poor women are nearly out of their minds with terror
and shame, that's all, but though they may think Laker a criminal,
they'll never desert him. They've been following us about with a feeble,
vague sort of hope of being able to baffle us in some way or help him if
we caught him, or something, poor things. Did you ever hear of a real
woman who'd desert a son or a lover merely because he was a criminal?
But here's the doctor. When he's attended to him will you let your men
take Laker home? I must hurry and report to the Guarantee Society, I
think.'

'But,' said the perplexed Plummer, 'where did you get your clue? You
must have had a tip from some one, you know--you can't have done it by
clairvoyance. What gave you the tip?'

'The _Daily Chronicle._'

'The _what_?'

'The _Daily Chronicle_. Just take a look at the "agony column" in
yesterday morning's issue, and read the message to "Yob"--to Gunter, in
fact. That's all.'

By this time a cab was waiting in Lombard Street, and two of Plummer's
men, under the doctor's directions, carried Laker to it. No sooner,
however, were they in the court than the two watching women threw
themselves hysterically upon Laker, and it was long before they could be
persuaded that he was not being taken to gaol. The mother shrieked
aloud, 'My boy--my boy! Don't take him! Oh, don't take him! They've
killed my boy! Look at his head--oh, his head!' and wrestled desperately
with the men, while Hewitt attempted to soothe her, and promised to
allow her to go in the cab with her son if she would only be quiet. The
younger woman made no noise, but she held one of Laker's limp hands in
both hers.

Hewitt and I dined together that evening, and he gave me a full account
of the occurrences which I have here set down. Still, when he was
finished I was not able to see clearly by what process of reasoning he
had arrived at the conclusions that gave him the key to the mystery, nor
did I understand the 'agony column' message, and I said so.

'In the beginning,' Hewitt explained, 'the thing that struck me as
curious was the fact that Laker was said to have given his own name at
Palmer's in buying his ticket. Now, the first thing the greenest and
newest criminal thinks of is changing his name, so that the giving of
his own name seemed unlikely to begin with. Still, he _might_ have made
such a mistake, as Plummer suggested when he said that criminals usually
make a mistake somewhere--as they do, in fact. Still, it was the least
likely mistake I could think of--especially as he actually didn't wait
to be asked for his name, but blurted it out when it wasn't really
wanted. And it was conjoined with another rather curious mistake, or
what would have been a mistake, if the thief were Laker. Why should he
conspicuously display his wallet--such a distinctive article--for the
clerk to see and note? Why rather had he not got rid of it before
showing himself? Suppose it should be somebody personating Laker? In any
case I determined not to be prejudiced by what I had heard of Laker's
betting. A man may bet without being a thief.

'But, again, supposing it _were_ Laker? Might he not have given his
name, and displayed his wallet, and so on, while buying a ticket for
France, in order to draw pursuit after himself in that direction while
he made off in another, in another name, and disguised? Each supposition
was plausible. And, in either case, it might happen that whoever was
laying this trail would probably lay it a little farther. Charing Cross
was the next point, and there I went. I already had it from Plummer that
Laker had not been recognized there. Perhaps the trail had been laid in
some other manner. Something left behind with Laker's name on it,
perhaps? I at once thought of the umbrella with his monogram, and,
making a long shot, asked for it at the lost property office, as you
know. The guess was lucky: In the umbrella, as you know, I found the
scrap of paper. That, I judged, had fallen in from the hand of the man
carrying the umbrella. He had torn the paper in half in order to fling
it away, and one piece had fallen into the loosely flapping umbrella. It
is a thing that will often happen with an omnibus ticket, as you may
have noticed. Also, it was proved that the umbrella _was_ unrolled when
found, and rolled immediately after. So here was a piece of paper
dropped by the person who had brought the umbrella to Charing Cross and
left it. I got the whole advertisement, as you remember, and I studied
it. "Yob" is back-slang for "boy", and is often used in nicknames to
denote a young smooth-faced thief. Gunter, the man I suspect, as a
matter of fact, is known as the "Hoxton Yob". The message, then, was
addressed to some one known by such a nickname. Next, "H.R. shop roast".
Now, in thieves' slang, to "roast" a thing or a person is to watch it or
him. They call any place a shop--notably, a thieves' den. So that this
meant that some resort--perhaps the "Hoxton Row shop"--was watched. "You
1st then to-night" would be clearer, perhaps, when the rest was
understood. I thought a little over the rest, and it struck me that it
must be a direction to some other house, since one was warned of as
being watched. Besides, there was the number, 197, and "red bl.", which
would be extremely likely to mean "red blinds ", by way of clearly
distinguishing the house. And then the plan of the thing was plain. You
have noticed, probably, that the map of London which accompanies the
Post Office Directory is divided, for convenience of reference, into
numbered squares?'

'Yes. The squares are denoted by letters along the top margin and
figures down the side. So that if you consult the directory, and find a
place marked as being in D 5, for instance, you find vertical divisions
D, and run your finger down it till it intersects horizontal division 5,
and there you are.'

'Precisely. I got my Post Office Directory, and looked for "O 2". It was
in North London, and took in parts of Abney Park Cemetery and Clissold
Park; "2nd top" was the next sign. Very well, I counted the second
street intersecting the top of the square--counting, in the usual way,
from the left. That was Lordship Road. Then "3rd L". From the point
where Lordship Road crossed the top of the square, I ran my finger down
the road till it came to "3rd L", or, in other words, the third turning
on the left--Hackworth Road. So there we were, unless my guesses were
altogether wrong. "Straight mon" probably meant "straight moniker"--that
is to say, the proper name, a thief's _real_ name, in contradistinction
to that he may assume. I turned over the directory till I found
Hackworth Road, and found that No. 197 was inhabited by a Mr Merston.
From the whole thing I judged this. There was to have been a meeting at
the "H.R. shop", but that was found, at the last moment, to be watched
by the police for some purpose, so that another appointment was made for
this house in the suburbs. "You 1st. Then to-night"--the person
addressed was to come first, and the others in the evening. They were to
ask for the householder's "straight moniker"--Mr Merston. And they were
to come one at a time.

'Now, then, what was this? What theory would fit it? Suppose this were a
robbery, directed from afar by the advertiser. Suppose, on the day
before the robbery, it was found that the place fixed for division of
spoils were watched. Suppose that the principal thereupon advertised (as
had already been agreed in case of emergency) in these terms. The
principal in the actual robbery--the "Yob" addressed--was to go first
with the booty. The others were to come after, one at a time. Anyway,
the thing was good enough to follow a little further, and I determined
to try No. 197 Hackworth Road. I have told you what I found there, and
how it opened my eyes. I went, of course, merely on chance, to see what
I might chance to see. But luck favoured, and I happened on that
coat--brought back rolled up, on the evening after the robbery,
doubtless by the thief who had used it, and flung carelessly into the
handiest cupboard. _That_ was this gang's mistake.'

'Well, I congratulate you,' I said. 'I hope they'll catch the rascals.'

'I rather think they will, now they know where to look. They can
scarcely miss Merston, anyway. There has been very little to go upon in
this case, but I stuck to the thread, however slight, and it brought me
through. The rest of the case, of course, is Plummer's. It was a
peculiarity of my commission that I could equally well fulfil it by
catching the man with all the plunder, or by proving him innocent.
Having done the latter, my work was at an end, but I left it where
Plummer will be able to finish the job handsomely.'

Plummer did. Sam Gunter, Merston, and one accomplice were taken--the
first and last were well known to the police--and were identified by
Laker. Merston, as Hewitt had suspected, had kept the lion's share for
himself, so that altogether, with what was recovered from him and the
other two, nearly £11,000 was saved for Messrs Liddle, Neal & Liddle.
Merston, when taken, was in the act of packing up to take a holiday
abroad, and there cash his notes, which were found, neatly packed in
separate thousands, in his portmanteau. As Hewitt had predicted, his gas
bill _was_ considerably less next quarter, for less than half-way
through it he began a term in gaol.

As for Laker, he was reinstated, of course, with an increase of salary
by way of compensation for his broken head. He had passed a terrible
twenty-six hours in the cellar, unfed and unheard. Several times he had
become insensible, and again and again he had thrown himself madly
against the door, shouting and tearing at it, till he fell back
exhausted, with broken nails and bleeding fingers. For some hours before
the arrival of his rescuers he had been sitting in a sort of stupor,
from which he was suddenly aroused by the sound of voices and footsteps.
He was in bed for a week, and required a rest of a month in addition
before he could resume his duties. Then he was quietly lectured by Mr
Neal as to betting, and, I believe, dropped that practice in
consequence. I am told that he is 'at the counter' now--a considerable
promotion.


THE END




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